In today’s spotlight I wish to directly take on the issue of what to believe when responsible scientists disagree. This is something we have addressed in the past. However, it is also of critical importance so visiting the subject one more time from a different perspective, may be helpful.
You can pick any number of subjects and find strong disagreements between fully credible scientists, experts in their field. Take for example global warming. 40% of qualified scientists doubt that global warming is man made, according to the National Association of Scholars.1 However, if I turn the page and read Skeptical Science, I find them reporting that there’s a 97% consensus among scientists on global warming.2
Politics or Science?
So two questions arise immediately. The first, “Do scientists really disagree?” and/or second, “Is it those reporting the information with some agenda that cherry-pick the data?” The fact is, when you study any issue that has traction among the public and politicians, you find that agendas do drive the articles and scientists do disagree.
So, should creationism, or some version of it, be taught in schools? According to many the idea of teaching creationism is not only so much nonsense, it actually undermines scientific education. Indeed, they urge that science must defend evolution! Richard Katskee, writing for US News, has this to say about the issue, “Should we teach creationism in public-school science classes? Of course we should—if we want to violate the Constitution, dumb down our students, and make our nation an international laughingstock . . . Real science begins with a question and looks for the answer wherever it may be found. It isn’t about dogma; it’s about open inquiry. Unlike creationists, real scientists aren’t afraid to change their hypothesis if the facts don’t support it.”3
Evolution Bad Science?
Now contrast that to the arguments made by those who want creationism, or intelligent design, taught in schools. These proponents argue that intelligent design is not a criticism of evolution, and that teaching evolution and intelligent design together sharpens minds and advances critical thinking, is demanded by many parents, should be protected free speech, is an important historical matter, and further, that evolution is bad science. Why bad science? Because evolution is closer to a philosophy than it is a science.4, 5
Now our first show this month featured Professor J. Scott Turner and we heard many scientific arguments that would agree with a statement that evolution is incomplete at best and undeveloped as a true science at worst. So again, just these two simple examples illustrate how difficult it is today to sort out matters when scientists disagree and they very often do, especially on those subjects we are most interested in.
Ignorance and Disputes
So, coming a full 360 degrees around, the question remains, what are we to do when responsible scientists disagree? Dr. Monsrs has this to say, “Science and scientists are involved in many different types of controversies. When these are based upon the results of research experiments, the disputes usually are valuable for science. When these are based upon emotions, politics, or ignorance, these disputes usually are not able to be resolved and often are a waste of scientists’ precious time.”6
We should be no different when it comes to making our decisions than the scientist. A clear rational mind examines the data, evaluates the methodology, considers any and all relevant context, carefully assesses both sides of the position, and finally forms their own conclusion based on facts. Unfortunately, how many of us actually take the time to do so even when the arguments are headed toward the ballot we will mark with our decisions.
My thoughts anyway.
- Staff. 2011. “Estimated 40 Percent of Scientists Doubt Manmade Global Warming.” National Association of Scholars.
- Staff. “The 97% Consensus on Global Warming.” Skeptical Science.
- Katskee, R. B. 2009. “Creationism Left Out of Science Education for Valid Reasons.” U.S. News and World Report. February 10, 2009.
- Wellman, J. 2013. “5 Crucial Reasons to Teach Creationism in Public Schools.” Patheos. December 26, 2013.
- Miller, K. 2001. “Reconciling Science and Faith.” PBS.
- Dr. M. 2015. “What Happens When Scientists Disagree? Part I: Background to Controversies Involving Scientists.” Dr. M On Science, Research and Scientists.