Why do we still believe in science?

Eric Friedenlund

Eric Friedenlund

PRAIRIE DU CHIEN – I tend to be overly analytical. As an intractable problem, I can think of a solution until the cows come home. The farmer was usually asleep before I arrived.

My analytical side comes from my interest in science. Reading about relativity and quantum mechanics either leaves me wondering or scratching my head. Sometimes both. Our intuition is based a little on theories based on complex mathematics. As three-dimensional beings, we find it difficult to imagine a four-dimensional space-time universe.

Science, though rigorous in interpretation, provides us with a window into the world. Scientific theory does not base its conclusions on public opinion, but instead on peer-reviewed evidence. This is what we call the scientific method.

Tom Cruise’s words in “A Few Good Men” come to mind. While seeking to uncover the truth about Colonel Jessup’s guilt, Cruise’s Lt. Cuffee says, “I don’t care what I believe. All that matters is what I can prove.”

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A nation in love with conspiracy theories would do well to remember this line.

When science meets philosophy and religion, confusion about what we believe and what we can prove gets messy. Fritjof Capra, a world-renowned expert on systems thinking, draws parallels between Western science and Eastern religion in his book The Tao of Physics. In his view, both science and religion show us that we are part of a larger system than ourselves. Capra wrote, “Science does not need magic, magic does not need science, but man needs both.”

On the other hand, Sabine Hossenfelder, author of The Physics of Existence, is absurd in mixing science and religion. “That’s not science,” he said of “theories that introduce parallel universes that cannot be observed.” It’s religion masquerading as science under the guise of mathematics.” He drew the ire of other scientists and writers for claiming that science denies free will. He was called a “free will denier” by science writer John Horgan.

Yet for all his controversy, he displays a refreshing sense of humility. “I want scientists to consider the limits of their discipline. Sometimes the only scientific answer we can give is ‘we don’t know.’

For those science deniers who think this allows us to disbelieve global warming and other controversial hypotheses, think again. Hossenfelder was referring to scientific theories beyond the observable universe, such as events that preceded the Big Bang. Science works pretty well for these deductions in our observable universe, thank you.

We’ve used Newton’s laws of motion to land people on the moon and robots on Mars with incredible precision. Although the predictions of relativity and quantum mechanics are counterintuitive, they have been repeatedly proven experimentally.

Your television brings you Sunday Night Football, while your car drives you safely to work. You’re reading this column digitally or in print because your microwave cooks your mac and cheese and the scientific method works. Science is related to our daily life and it makes a conditional believer out of all of us.

Every day on my walks in the woods, I see a wonderful sight: the leaves twirl around their stems like partners in a graceful Irish dance. I could not speak of any wind, and the adjacent leaves did not move. Nature was playing with me and I could not follow her hand.

My analytical side wondered what could have caused such a strange phenomenon. Searching this thread, I found that the most likely explanation is isolated air currents, not magic.

Still, my curious side watched in wonder. Science allows it. We can find secrets in the world without abandoning the analytical side. We can trust science.

Friedenlund lives in Prairie du Chien: epfrydenlund@gmail.com.

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