Truth and Theory, Creation and Evolution

There is no such thing as truth, everything is theory.  How’s that for a provocative statement?

I am watching a PBS documentary on the recent court case on Intelligent Design. Those on the side of science are arguing that their theory is scientific and the ID design theory isn’t. The opposition argues that evolution is but a theory, and therefore not fact.

A  tempest in a teapot, both are wrong – as there is no way to know what is factual. The theory of gravity is not factual, although the results of what we call gravity are observable each time we drop something (or, more painfully, trip over something).  Newton stewed over the matter of the location of the center of gravitational force until he worked out the math showing it to be a point source. Early astronomers showed predictability in planetary motions using an Earth centric universe – complex, but predictable.

The core of science is to create a theory that provides predictability, and experimental repeatability. It also suggests a reduction to the simplest solution – Occam’s Razor doesn’t exactly apply, but it is close enough. Yet those rules do not ensure truth, it is quite possible that the universe was designed by an intelligent and omnipotent being on 9 September, 1935 (the day before I was born).  He created it all – the fossil evidence, the back copies of the NY Times about the Titanic, and my parents.

Obviously that is ridiculous, although there were times I had that childhood illusion that has been so well expressed in literature and film – a world in which I was the only being, and the rest were actors. It usually comes when stricken by a fit of conscience.

The obligation of education is to teach critical thinking, not a set of  “truths”.  All “truths” are a matter of faith in some way. I believed in the Einsteinian theory (the space/time continuum making gravitation less a force in the Newtonian sense than a curvature of the route) until some new evidence from high energy physics that adds to it (not refutes, adds) the quantum nature of particles.  I confess I’m not overly sanguine on 13 dimensional strings as the nature of matter – but more as I don’t like limiting reality to a particular sub-atomic theory than as a resistance to it.

I have no problem with the teaching of Creationism, as an alternate theory. But in doing so I’d insist that there be a reference to an old Christian hymn which has the line “a thousand ages in Thy sight are but an evening gone”.

As I stand on my porch on a sunny day at noon I have a theory that the sun is shining normally. Given the light takes about nine minutes to get here, my theory could be wrong.  In nine minutes I may be fried by a super nova, or on my way to being frozen should the sun have “winked out”. Neither is likely – years of observation of distant stars have shown us a life cycle not consistant with a solar change of state without warning. But it is possible! It is also possible that all the oxygen molecules in the room where I’m typing could collect at the opposite end and I’d suffocate. Brownian motion is a statistical thing of interactions.

Truth is our best current guess, our best current theory. Belief, or faith, is not inconsistant with that as long as it is presented in context. God could exist, and be the Intelligent Designer of a universe that spent about 14 billion years evolving – or He could exist and have created the appearance of that evolution. Either way, that is some God. Critical thinking is the goal of education, not specific facts.

Personally I believe that the current science is asymptotically approaching an accurate portrayal of the reality of the universe – but like all such curves will never get there. Knowledge is fractal, it can always be subdivided.

There is a moral compass often used in these arguments, and I hesitate to go there as it is not really relevant. The advocates of the various forms of creationism often use the Ten Commandments and accuse the advocates of evolution relativist morals – their opponents decry the many immoral things done in the name of God over the millenia (and yet today) in the name of  a God (whatever His name be). I look at them both and say I don’t give a damn whether the Rules came from a God or were evolved in the social evolution of our species – I just live by those rules (or try to).

It would be nice if there is a God, at 74 eternal life sounds like a good alternative to a future of oblivion. I don’t have a choice, either I will find a life after death or I won’t. I cannot imagine a God, whatever His name, who would deny me entry through the Pearly Gates for not knowing His name – as long as I’ve lived my life according to either His commandments or the code evolved randomly by mankind.

Those latter paragraphs were for those who would argue the virtues of their position, and not really the relevant part of this commentary. Scientific theory is an evolving thing,  getting closer to reality all the time. Only those who ignore the alternatives, on one side or the other, are ignorant (by definition, to ignore is to be ignorant).

Best, Jon