In a recent speech, former astronaut Julie Payette, now the Governor General of Canada, displayed her unquestioning belief that science alone is worthy of our total trust and mocked those who are “still questioning whether life was a divine intervention or whether it was coming out of a natural process let alone, oh my goodness, lo and behold random process!”
Aside from the fact that her office is to represent the Queen of England, head of the Church of England, and a monarch who has made it clear in recent speeches that she is a woman of faith, there are at least three substantial problems with Her Excellency Julie Payette’s public, perhaps unwitting, embrace of scientism.
Scientism is the belief that science explains literally everything. In this view, even logic, mathematics, beauty, and the laws of physics have a natural explanation, including the origin of nature itself. Setting aside the logical difficulty of having nature bring itself into existence, scientism is essentially atheism in the guise of science. If there is a war on science today, it is being advanced by the damage done to the credibility of science by atheistic story-telling and science fiction that fails to stand the test of reproducibility, which brings me to the second problem with the Governor General’s speech.
Contrary to her belief that science has shown us how life began, real science has utterly failed to reproduce such an amazing feat. Maybe someday, highly intelligent scientists will figure out how to build a simple life form, which will underscore the need for intelligent design, but we have not reached that milestone yet, much less demonstrated how such a stupendously improbable miracle occurred in natural conditions. In reality, we only have creative scenarios and stories, but one must not confuse creative story-telling with the discipline of good science. Creative scenarios without reproducibility equals science fiction. By confusing creative stories and science fiction with good science, the Governor General unwittingly promoted bad science. If anything, the advancement of science shows that the requirements for a natural explanation for life are growing increasingly fantastic, with the discovery of molecular machines, molecular computers, and digital software encoded within the DNA of every living organism. Nature does not write software, but the knowledge of what does is the elephant in the room of scientism.
The third problem with the Governor General’s example of unquestioning faith in science is the corruption that has reached crisis proportions in certain areas of science itself, with a special nod to the biological sciences. In 2012 the journal Nature published an exposé which found that 89% of “landmark” papers in the field of cancer research, could not be reproduced. This launched a series of studies the results of which were summarized in a 2017 Nature article stating that the failure to reproduce scientific findings, in at least certain fields in science, are “the norm”. There are ideas of how to rectify this, but until that fine day occurs, unquestioning faith in science is naïve. Quite simply, science, like anything else people do, has a corruption problem fuelled by competition to win funding, the pressure to publish, and the lack of support for publishing negative results. If there is a war on science, another major contributor is the corrupting influence of human nature when faced with stiff competition for money, tenure, and academic status.
The bottom line is that we need to apply the same critical thinking skills to scientific claims as we would to religious claims, political assertions, and legal opinions. As a scientist myself, it pains me to say, thanks to scientism as well as the corrupting influence of funding and power, modern science is not the pinnacle of truth that a former astronaut, Her Excellency the Right Honourable Julie Payette, and the general public believe it to be. Good science plus human nature equals modern science … which turns out to be a mix of the good, the meaningless, and the absurd. As I have argued elsewhere, good science, following the scientific method, provides compelling evidence that the origin of life has the fingerprints of an intelligent creator all over its DNA.
References and further reading:
‘Peer-review fraud scheme uncovered in China’, The Scientist, 2017
Metascience: Reproducibility Blues‘, Nature, March, 2017
‘Quackery infiltrates the BMJ’, Science-Based Medicine, May 2017
‘Publish houses of brick, not mansions of straw’, Nature, May 2017
‘National academies release sweeping review of research misconduct’, Physics Today, April 2017
‘Ranking major and minor research misbehaviors: results from a survey among participants of four World Conferences on Research Integrity’, Research Integrity and Peer Review, Nov. 2016
Study: Peer Reviewers Swayed by Prestige, The Scientist, Sept. 2016
Psychologists fail to replicate well-known behaviour linked to learning, Nature, Sept. 2016