Monday, June 26, 2017

Why I am sceptical of science and scientists

You might think this strange because if you know me I work in academia most of the time and since I dabble in mathematics you would think that I should not be negative towards science, for after all isn't mathematics a part of science?

In large science faculties, it is true that mathematics is part of the science faculty but I do not think mathematics is part of science. Science deals with observations of phenomena in our world. From, particulars it abstracts to the general. Science deals then with induction.

Mathematics does not deal with induction, it does not look at particulars and then infer to the general. No, mathematics deal with deduction, from the general we go down to particulars. In this regard, I think really that mathematics should be part of philosophy.

We do not sample every triangle we could find, measure their internal angles to be a total of 180 degrees and assert that all triangles have an internal angle of 180 degrees. We use logical proofs starting from axioms.

Today science enjoys a celebrity status. If you want to gain the trust of people just tack on the word "science" into what you are doing. So we have library science, meat science, dairy science and game science and what not. The field I work in my consulting is "Data Science". Funny but I went to a conference last month and a leading practitioner in the field, a professor himself, complained that there is no "science" in data science.

The world has evolved to the point that science is operating like a religion. What is awful is that it is operating like a cult as well. In the age of the Internet, things have evolved and it is easy to be arrogant and know it all. Because the Internet gives one a capacity to be semi-anonymous, people are happy to be rude and insulting to those who disagree with them. It is easy now to express without hesitation one's disdain for a fellow who might be slow in catching one's level of knowledge.

Here are my reasons ordered by importance

1. It does not always work. The reason is that when scientists observe, they are only observing a sample of a phenomenon and when one produces generalisations from these, it by default left out some parts of the phenomenon. Today the approach taken by computer scientist in doing Artificial Intelligence (AI) is to abandon the idea of deterministic certainty, but embrace and live with uncertainty and work on probabilities. Ask yourself, does the science you believe in behave in an arrogant certainty?  AI computer scientists have chucked the idea that something can be determined with certainty from the world. So the models they create for a phenomenon using AI are probabilistic. 

2. Most scientists today have no training in philosophy. I worked for a while in computer science and the computer scientists I have encountered have no appreciation of the role philosophy plays in their craft.If they are not scared of it, they either consider it as useless or indifferent towards it. The same is true in physical science. Steven Hawking said philosophy is dead. No offence but I think Hawking and I will be long gone and philosophy will be around. This is bad science and bad scholarship. The reason why we have this situation of science acting like religion is that philosophers have allowed them to roam, be arrogant and unchecked.

For example, the issue of causality vs correlation. When I went back to statistics, my colleagues and textbooks reminded me that correlation does not imply causation.
This is illustrated in a Chinese saying:
Does the flowers blooming bring about spring? Or does spring bring about the blooming of the flowers? You might think it is the latter for sure - but think and pause for a moment. It is an epistemological question - meaning - how to we know something is true or real..

Also this - is there only one way of explaining a physical phenomenon? Should we entrust our lives and our view of the world into the what scientists say?

Here is one quote from a philosopher of science about science...

Even though some scientists and many pseudo-scientists voice their allegiance to that (scientific) method, no modern philosopher of science would be unaware of at least some of its shortcomings. Modern developments in the philosophy of science have pinpointed and stressed deep-seated difficulties associated with the idea that science rests on a sure foundation acquired through observation and experiment and with the idea that there is some kind of inference procedure that enables us to derive scientific theories from such base in a reliable way. There is just no method that enables scientific theories to be proven true or even probably true.

                                                      ---- A. F Chalmers (What is This Thing Called Science)

Maybe I am influenced too much by the mathematician I admire and respect who said...

I do not believe in empirical science, I only believe in a priori truth.
                                                            - Kurt Godel

Later I will add more, like my thesis that scientists are not altruistic people who are also influenced by personal agenda using science to advance their goal.
Please remind me.


Gregory Jackson said...

This is a great post, Doctor. I hope to copy it only my blog and respond to it. You have many worthwhile insights for Christian believers.

LPC said...

Thank you, Pastor Greg,
I plan to provide some documentation on the history of scientific theories next time.