Posts Tagged ‘falsification


Saints and Science

The Roman Catholic Church (and others similarly, I believe) has a system for designating a hierarchical status of Sainthood – and various lesser beatified statuses – to deceased notables.

The Scientific Method, which has produced vast changes and improvements in knowledge and the human condition, is a rather different system. The following is a brief (especially for including just one aspect of the Scientific Method) comparison and contrast of the two systems.

The system for canonizing (a higher step in beatification) a Roman Catholic Saint is formal and specific. Well, sorta specific. The position of ‘Promoter of the Faith‘ has disappeared and is replaced by the ‘Promoter of Justice‘. These positions ostensibly have the same function – to provide evidence against a candidate’s canonization – but very different procedures. Now, skeptical or contradictory evidence is considered only if church authorities are in the mood.

The net process for achieving Sainthood is, essentially: (1) die (2) be popular with a bishop who can make a convincing case for your coolness (heroic virtue) ; this gets you on the ‘OK to pray to‘ list (3) get lucky enough that a sick person (or other person in need of supernatural intervention) prays to you for healing, instead of praying to an actual Saint or to the all-powerful God of the Universe (4) get luckier, so that the sick person claims that a prayer to you has healed them ; this is irrespective of any medical treatment they received (5) get so terrifically lucky that the sick person was not so horribly ill as to die (6) get lucky all over again with another person in need of supernatural intervention.

The Roman Catholic Church will examine these fortuitous events according to these generalized criteria: (1) is the candidate dead? (check!) (2) did someone pray to the candidate for something to happen? (check!) (3) did that something happen? (check!) (4) did someone else pray to the candidate for something to happen? (check!) (3) did that something happen? (check!). That makes a Saint.

The Roman Catholic Church will NOT examine these fortuitous events according to these generalized criteria: (1) did lots (thousands? millions?) of people pray to the candidate for something to happen? (2) did those somethings not happen? (3) did lots (thousands? millions?) of people pray to non-Catholic, or even non-Christian, dead persons for something to happen? (4) did those somethings happen without benefit of Church sponsorship? (5) did the two somethings that did happen, happen for non-supernatural reasons (medicine, human intervention, a generous donor)?

Quite a system they’ve got there, there in that Roman Catholic Church. Hell, folks could pray to Dusty Cat (may he rest in peace), have nice things happen, and the Holy See wouldn’t consider his feline soul to be beatified. It should – no real, substantial difference there. Dusty’s soul was beautiful, though.

Science is a bit less hierarchical. It can be political and competitive, but such is not always a detraction. In fact, as with the Free Enterprise System, competition is good.

The Scientific Method is fundamentally the opposite of beatification. Beatification seeks proof. Hey, we all want proof, right? It’s what we are evolved to seek – a correlation such as ‘eat red stuff, get sick‘ or ‘prayer, then healed‘. The Scientific Method instead seeks falsification.

Prior to the Scientific Method, science was not terribly different from beatification. The result was that it was subject to ‘false positives‘ – favorable results that were unrelated to the supposed cause. It too often ignored contradictory evidence. Vast amounts of work were wasted on alchemy, which really went out of its way to ignore negative results. You couldn’t falsify an alchemist’s pet supposition or belief.

All that sort of b.s. diminished to a tiny remnant when science began to depend on falsifiability. Gee, sometimes science falsifies falsifications! It has become absolutely insistent on only accepting results which have survived many attempts at falsification. In fact, even after a scientific theory – we don’t use the word ‘Law‘ any more – is accepted as ‘true’ (good enough for practical work), Science still re-checks periodically. The recent news from CERN‘s OPERA experiment regarding superluminal neutrinos is the latest example. CERN’s press release (not a peer-reviewed article claiming a reliable result) indicated the possiblility (with reservations noted) of neutrinos moving faster than the Cosmic Speed Limit – the speed of light. Everyone suspected a systematic error, and, by golly, there was one. But scientists always try. Newton (you know – the guy with the apple and that Law) needed some correction, and Einstein might get some too!

We owe modern life and the accelerating progress of knowledge to the Scientific Method. As for deceased Saints causing actual miracles, “Paris Hilton will win the Nobel Prize for Physics before that happens.

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Basic Understanding

A nation of sheep will beget a government of wolves.
- Edward R. Murrow

Intellectual Property Notice

All original material Copyright James R. Stone 2010, except where specifically noted. Some images licensed under Creative Commons, or GNU Free Documentation License, or unlicensed and public domain.

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