Jan 042023

Below is a piece I wrote for my Unitarian Universalist group

Hi, I’m Shane – son, husband, and father of two young girls. And I believe in the Scientific Method.

Now I realize that might sound a little silly at first – this is church, not a science class – but hear me out.

For those that haven’t been in school recently, let me offer a quick refresher. The Scientific Method is a process of acquiring knowledge through experimentation. You start with a question (“why is the sky blue”), you form a hypothesis (a guess at an answer, “maybe the particles that make up the sky – oxygen, carbon dioxide – are blue”), you perform an experiment (“collecting CO2 by breathing out into a balloon and observing its color)”, and finally you analyze your results and come to a conclusion (“when I looked at the balloon, it was still clear, not blue – so carbon dioxide is NOT the reason the sky is blue”).

In this case, we didn’t solve our original problem – but we did gain knowledge about it – and we are closer to our answer than before. And that’s typical of the scientific method. Often times it requires many iterations of trying different hypotheses before you arrive at a conclusion that answers your question. 

BUT – even then (and this may come to a surprise to some of you) you’re never 100% certain. There are some widely accepted theories that have been rigorously tested but even then, their status as laws can be broken.

Consider this example – raise your hand if you were taught that Pluto was a planet? Me too! For almost 80 years it was widely accepted to be the 9th planet in our solar system. Until in the early 2000s when astronomers started observing thousands of other objects in the Kuiper Belt that were more similar to Pluto than they were the rest of our planets. So they said ‘Hey, we were wrong, we can’t keep thinking about Pluto as a planet so we’re going to recategorize it. Sorry Pluto!”

And that is the most fascinating part of the scientific method to me. That you can be wrong after so many years, and it’s okay. In fact, it’s expected that you’re wrong. Most experiments fail their hypotheses, and only once in a blue moon do scientists come out with something significant.

I believe in the Scientific Method because it forces me to be curious, and wonder why things work. It forces me to take the time to do some research and come up with my own opinions. It forces me to test my opinions, and finally it forces me to accept that I can be wrong.

I’m talking about the scientific method because I feel it’s incredibly important right now. We’re living in a time when many people are guided not by science, but by ideas that have no backing. And that concerns me, because there’s a major difference between a scientist and a conspiracist. A scientist welcomes the idea of being wrong – it happens all the time; while a conspiracist chooses to believe only the data that proves their point right – their idea is certain and infallible.

A scientist says “We’ve observed within 95% accuracy that this vaccine is effective.” Note there’s still a 5% chance of being wrong built into that statement.

A conspiracist says “The virus is no different than the flu because anything that suggests otherwise is fake news.” Notice there is no amount of evidence that can be given to change this person’s mind because they’re choosing to believe something that throws out all conflicting information.

Just yesterday I came across a tweet from one of the researchers behind a COVID vaccine – he states: “Scientists that adapt their views based on new and reproducible data are not guilty of flip-flopping – they’re guilty of being good scientists…..Scientists that refuse to adapt their views in the face of new and reproducible data are not guilty of being consistent – they’re guilty of being stubborn.”

I believe in the scientific method because it embodies having an open mind. An open mind to ideas you’ve never considered. An open mind to looking at things differently. An open mind to be wrong. And I believe all of those are needed in order to be an effective Unitarian Universalist.

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