Maintain A Healthy Skepticism Of Science

When I was about seven years old, I visited my grandparents, and I came across a science textbook in the attic. The book belonged to my uncle. I do not know when it was published but I found it to be fascinating. My favorite chapter was about the future and it included predictions of what “scientist” expected humans and our environment to be like in the year 2000. Scientists in the 40s and 50s, or at least the authors of this science textbook, believed that by 2000 science would solve most of the world’s problems. The book had drawings of people driving flying cars, standing on moving sidewalks and harvesting food hydroponics labs in our home. Dick Tracy WatchThey predicted we would all have a Dick Tracy watch. Dick Tracy was a futuristic comic strip detective who had a cell phone watch for you young folks. We still do not have watches like Dick Tracy’s but the Apple Watch is getting closer every year.

I found most of the textbook’s predictions to be very exciting, especially the phone watch, but there was one prediction that shook me to the core. The authors of the textbook believed as humans evolved, we would have less and less hair. There was a cartoon-like drawing where the entire family was bald. Wow, that was terrifying. I did not want to be bald and I sure as heck was not interested in having a bald wife. I began to warn all the adults in my life about this impending tragedy but none of them seemed too concerned. Then it hit me, none of them are worried about this because they were all going to be dead. I was going to be the one stuck with a bald wife. 

Something happened in the late 1960s and the attitudes of scientists changed. The scientists of the 40s, 50s, and much of the 60s had an overly optimistic belief that science would solve any problem faced by man. By 1970, many scientists became whiny doomsday prophets.  Some came to believe man is the problem and not the solution.  I was eleven when we celebrated the first earth day and every school kid in America was bombarded with terrifying predictions about our environment. It was up to us kids; we had to save spaceship earth. The predictions of a coming ice age and worldwide mass starvations were terrifying. That is right, when I was in school, way back in the 1970s, scientists believed we were headed into an ice age and not facing global warming. In the 70s scientist claimed the evidence was clear and that the preceding twenty years had been the sharpest increase in temperatures in recorded history. I remember dreaming about how I planned to survive the coming ice age with my bald wife and two bald kids for several years. 

When I was about ten, I told my Papaw, “Papaw, did you know scientists have proven that we evolved from chimpanzees?” He looked at me, grinned and said, “I know they think they have.” My Papaw loved science and history just like me. Papaw did not have a formal education, but he read every Reader’s Digest cover to cover and read all the condensed books they published. It was amazing what he knew about the world but he was always skeptical of new science. In any conversation about new science, he would often say, “well, we will just have to wait and see.”  

Some in society now demand we accept science as absolute truth. I suppose that it might be okay if these people would distinguish between scientific knowledge and theory. Much of what is passed off as scientific knowledge these days is simply the prevailing scientific theory. People who question the prevailing theory and say, “let’s wait and see,” are painted by society as ignorant or fools. If you can say, “most scientist believe…” then whatever comes after that must be true.

This blind faith in prevailing scientific theory completely ignores the fact throughout history the prevailing scientific theory has been prove wrong over and over again. In the 1700s doctors thought bloodletting was a good idea and in the early 1900s, many believed lobotomies might be the cure for some forms of mental illness. When I was in High School I was taught dinosaurs were killed by a volcano, it was unlike there were planets like ours in space, and that Pluto was a planets. We were taught evolution just like today but virtually all the factual details have changed.  Forget anything you learned in school about Neanderthals before 2000.  It was all wrong. Oh, and get this, DNA has also proven that we did not evolve from Chimpanzees. Yes, most scientists still believe in evolution and that we have a common ancestor with Chimps but DNA and new discovery has forced text to be rewritten.  We did not evolve from Chimps. Neanderthals were not dumb, and they did live and even inbreed with humans, and most humans from Europe carry the DNA of Neanderthals. 

I am now the Papaw in my family, and like my Papaw before me, life has taught me to be skeptical of new scientific theories. I am convinced that in time, many of the scientific theories and conclusions our children are being taught in school today will be proven to be partially or entirely wrong. Why, because that is the history of science. Every new generation of humankind believes they have got it all figured out only to have the next generation come along and prove much of what they believed was only partially right, or in some cases, just plain wrong. You don’t believe me, well, let’s just wait and see.

 

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