Bloggin' 'bout science and life

Tag: religion

We Scientists Work On Things We Don’t Completely Understand

This afternoon I’ve been reflecting on the debate last night between Bill Nye and Ken Ham over evolution and creationism (see here), and reading the various critiques and criticisms in the blogosphere.  A few can be found here, here and here.  In this short post, I won’t add to this critique.  Rather, I want to put down a few thoughts on science and religion.

Scientists work on things we don’t completely understand.  This is a given about doing science.  If we knew everything about something, a scientist would have no reason to figure it out.  The debate last night centered on something I’ve thought about for a very long time in interacting with people who question evolution and science in general.  Much of the basis of Ham’s argument to Nye was essentially, “Admit you don’t know.”

However, criticizing science for what we don’t yet understand shows a complete misunderstanding about what science is.  That is the entire point of science – working on things we don’t know.  In fact, if you want to engage a scientist at the most fundamental level, don’t ask them, “what have you found?” but rather ask them “what is your question?”  And what flows from that is “what is your prediction?”


Evolution, Intelligent Design, and Education

This article first appeared as an editorial I wrote for the Valley News on 4 September 2005.  I thought it was probably a good time, given the bills currently before the New Hampshire legislature, to post it again.


What is science, and what is science trying to accomplish? The goal of science is to investigate what we as humans can empirically know but do not yet understand about the workings of nature. Scientists do this by constructing sets of hypotheses (based on what we have already learned) about some feature of nature that we do not understand, testing these hypotheses by making observations and performing experiments, and then updating our understanding based on which hypotheses are supported and refuted by these observations and experiments. This results in a never ending cycle of hypothesis generation, testing, and updating of our understanding.

Having been raised a Methodist and now being a member of the Church of Christ at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, I know the power of God in people’s lives. Also, my scientific training and my career as a practicing scientist show me that nothing in science denies the existence or actions of God. In fact, science can only be mute on these issues, since we cannot empirically test the existence, actions or methods of God.


Phenomenon Versus Theory – Juxtaposing Evolution and Gravity

The phrase “theory of evolution” is sometimes used pejoratively by people who do not want to acknowledge that populations and species of biological organisms evolve. In fact, the legislature of the state in which I reside – New Hampshire – is now considering legislation (e.g., see here and here) “requiring the teaching of evolution as a theory in public schools”. As any scientist will tell you, the meaning of the word theory in science is very different from its common usage.

Pondering this difference got me to thinking about how the theory of evolution stacks up to other more readily accepted scientific theories, at least in the public’s mind. We all have an intuitive understanding of many physical phenomena, and so I wanted to compare how the theory of evolution stacked up against our scientific understanding of something as familiar as, say, gravity.


A Commentary on Theology and Biology

From a letter by Michael Jinkins, President and Professor of Theology, Louisville Seminary:


If sophomore biology threatens your faith, your theology has bigger problems than Charles Darwin.


Updated 3 May 2015: to include Michael Jinkins’ position and place of employment for context.


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