Our post-critical thinking society
In a 2016 guest blog article from Scientific American (‘commentary invited by editors of Scientific American Mind’), Dr Julia Shaw, a German-Canadian psychologist and popular science writer, drops a bomb in her article entitled, ‘I’m a Scientist, and I Don’t Believe in Facts: The benefits of a post-truth society’. Shaw writes,
I’m a factual relativist. I abandoned the idea of facts and “the truth” some time last year. I wrote a whole science book, The Memory Illusion, almost never mentioning the terms fact and truth. Why? Because much like Santa Claus and unicorns, facts don’t actually exist. At least not in the way we commonly think of them.1
Now, if we just apply some basic critical thinking to this paragraph, we will find that it falls apart immediately. Shaw says that she abandoned “the truth” some time last year. Is that true? Is anything in her entire article true? If so, her premise has been refuted completely. If not … why bother reading it at all?
Well, let me tell you a secret about science; scientists don’t prove anything. What we do is collect evidence that supports or does not support our predictions.
This is actually no secret! The only reason this doesn’t go without saying is that the popular understanding of science has been muddled and turned upside down in recent generations, such that science has been conflated with “truth” in totally inappropriate ways. The only way we can actually arrive at certain truth is by divine revelation: this is why science began in a Christian setting with the understanding that it plays a ministerial (subservient) role under the headship of theology (divine revelation from Scripture).
And, when we have lots and lots of replications and variations that all say the same thing, then we talk about theories or laws. Like evolution. Or gravity2. But at no point have we proved anything. [emphasis in bold added]
Once again we see the time-honored brainwashing tactic of lining up the idea of evolution with the idea of gravity, implying they are equally well-supported ideas (e.g. Neil deGrasse Tyson did the same). But when has anyone ever replicated the evolution of a single cell to a human being? Never once, obviously. Note also the seemingly irrelevant mention of evolution here: what does evolution even have to do with this article? Why bring it up? Constant repetition is another brainwashing tactic, as is the idea of using celebrity endorsements to grant emotional weight to an idea!
Scientists slowly break down the illusions created by our biased human perception, revealing what the universe actually looks like. In an incremental progress, each study adds a tiny bit of insight to our understanding.
Now that’s very interesting: apparently, we have biased human perception, yet scientists are able to slowly break down this illusion. But are these scientists not, themselves, human? If human perception is biased, then we are always going to be doomed, unless we can find some kind of non-human source of truth to correct and inform our biased perception. By the way, that is exactly what Scripture is! Also, if Shaw has abandoned the idea of “the truth”, then how can she turn around and say our science is progressing in incremental stages? What are we supposedly getting closer to, if not “the truth”?
But while the magic of science should make our eyes twinkle with excitement, we can still argue that the findings from every scientific experiment ever conducted are wrong, almost by necessity. They are just a bit more right (hopefully) than preceding studies.
How do we sort out the tiny bit of truth from the great mountain of error in our science, especially if we are biased by our human perception? This seems utterly hopeless. And indeed, without God, it is. Divine revelation is the only sure foundation on which to build a worldview. Everything else is, as Jesus said, like building a house on a foundation of sinking sand.
You need just to look back through history to see the different iterations of facts to make this insight seem obvious. Aristotle thought that the heart was the home of intelligence, and believed that the brain was a cooling mechanism for it. Of course now this seems ridiculous, but give it time and I’m sure some of our facts today will seem equally misinformed.
Does this include ‘facts’ such as evolution? Would Shaw be willing to turn her scrutiny against the idea that humans descended from apes? Extremely doubtful.
Knowledge is like Schrödinger’s cat. Simultaneously reality and delusion. Truth and lie. The role of scientists is to slowly break into the box, listen to it, study it, so maybe, one day, we’ll find out whether our insights are dead or alive.
Schroedinger’s cat is a thought experiment that effectively acts as a reductio ad absurdum for the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics. The point is that a cat cannot be both dead and alive simultaneously. Does Shaw understand this? It doesn’t seem so. Knowledge cannot be both reality and delusion. This is so incoherent that it is staggering to think this sort of thing passes as intelligent thought in our modern society.
In closing, I quote:
So, it’s ok that society is post-fact. Facts are so last century.
Is that a fact?