Monday, December 31, 2007

What is Science?

Since I did a "What is Intelligence Design" post it only seems fair to put down what I consider science as well. I think I'm going to approach this more as a how I see science working than just a definitional explanation. Hold that thought, I guess I should define things first. Science, to me, is a collection of explanations about the world around us. That doesn't sound very strong, so let me add that science is like a snapshot in time. The explanations are the BEST explanations based on what we know right now! Science is based on a number of things including observations, experiments, and inference based on the evidence. To better understand, here is how I think it works:

You get up one morning and there is a tree down in your yard. That's a FACT, it is observable, something that no one can deny, there is a tree down in your yard. The question for science isn't to confirm there is a tree down but to EXPLAIN why there is a tree down. Again, remember this is a snapshot in time, so my first explanation is to look a tree. No sign of cutting, no car tracks or crash signs in the tree, it just fell over. So it didn't look like it was acted upon by man, so how about by nature. You remember the storm that came through late last night and your first HYPOTHESIS is the storm blew down the tree. This is a pretty good hypothesis, because you have seen both trees and branches blown down in other storms. You look around the neighborhood and don't see any other trees down, so you question why did your tree go down and no others. SO far it's storm = tree falling.

Since you have other trees, some of which the same type and age as the one that fell down, you are concerned, so you call in an expert. The expert does a little testing and determines there was a problem with the trees roots, weakening them, which made it more susceptible to the storm. Your hypothesis gets confirmation from the expert and you now have formed a theory about how the tree fell down. You start with a phenomena and you investigate to determine explanations! Your original idea about the storm is still correct, but as you learn more, you refine the explanation. Weak roots plus the storm = tree falling -- case closed, or is it?

Later that day your neighbor comes by and mentions the tree down. He goes back into his house and several minutes later comes back. "Look, my security camera caught your tree falling, you might want to see this. SO you go over and he replays a scene caught off to the side by his motion sensor security camera and lighting system. You see a large area of cardboard or Styrofoam flying in the precursor winds to the actually storm. It flies up and gets caught in the upper branches of your tree. You slowly watch the winds increase and push against the Styrofoam and after a while the tree falls. The time stamps jumps to an hour later and the video reveals the storm. New evidence, a new snapshot. It wasn't the actual storm, but a combination of pre-storm winds, weak roots, and something acting like a sail in the tree that all contributed to the tree falling. While you are satisfied with the answer, you still have the tree expert check all your trees to make sure the root problem doesn't exist in the rest of them. You consider the case pretty well closed, but you also know there might have been other contributing factors. Soil density, depth of planting, even drainage issues that could have helped, but for now the explanation is enough for you to work with.
That is how science works to me. You make an observation, investigate and even experiment, and as you learn more, your explanation becomes either stronger or actually changes. This is science! I guess I could also plan an experiment and get a Styrofoam panel and wait for the next storm, but I think the answer is good enough for me without losing any more of my trees. If it wasn't, I guess I could experiment on my neighbors trees . . . naw, his security system might catch me :-)

One of my friends claims that obviously God wanted the tree down and while I wasn't planning to address religious issues here, I can't let that comment go because he might be right! Maybe God sent the storm, the root rot, the Styrofoam knowing my tree would be damaged. Can I prove or disprove any of that? Not in the slightest. Maybe God reached down and flicked his finger at my tree and knocked it down, the winds, sail, and disease were just coincidences. Who knows, but I can't disprove it -- I also can't prove it, well not until I ask God himself after I pass away. Since I have no plans on dying right now I do plan on acting on what I see as the best explanation, the wind, the sail, and the disease. While I cannot prevent the wind or even something like the sail from happening again. I did fertilize the roots of all my trees to make sure they are strong enough to not fall down in the same way.

When I do pass on, I hope I'll remember to ask God about my tree. Who knows, maybe at that time I'll know all the answers. In the meantime I will have to keep thinking, investigating, and forming answers, answers that fit all the evidence at my disposal!

My answer fits the evidence better than my friend's. I asked him how God knocked down my tree and he couldn't offer any details. I didn't bother getting him into a discussion on which God did it -- he doesn't like those type of questions. But I did try and press him for details. He threw up his hands and pointed to the tree, the video clip of the sail, and last nights weather report and said all the evidence of God's handiwork was right there. You know he's right, it may very well be -- but I can't prove the hand of God, I can only theorize on wind, sail, and disease. One fits the evidence, and the other requires belief. You tell me, which one is science?

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