As I’ve stated before, I used to think of myself as quite a pragmatic scientist. If I couldn’t touch, hold or measure something, then I was deeply sceptical about its existence. I now feel slightly embarrassed at this arrogance.
There’s a certain class of scientific thinker who is so blinkered about knowledge that they dismiss out of hand anything which hasn’t solidly been proven using the scientific method. In my experience, these people are also quite likely to identify as militant atheists and be fans of Richard Dawkins (a man for whom I hold the utmost respect, but I also believe he’s wrong about certain things).
“Do you really believe that what we currently know [makes a small circle with his hands] is the same thing as all knowledge [makes a large circle using his hands and arms]?”Russell Brand (I’m paraphrasing)
In my opinion, it’s not particularly scientific to say, “Yeah it’s bollocks” to all spiritual, supernatural and religious questions.
A better and more truly scientific stance would be agnosticism. In other words, we could say, “There isn’t enough evidence either way to prove X is true or not true, therefore I’m going to simply say I don’t know.”
In other words, it’s surprising to me how closed-minded a lot of people are, even if they profess to be scientific thinkers.
“Being 100% certain, or closed-minded, is incompatible with the scientific method.“[Bollinger, R. 2019]
A key tenet of real science is that we have to remain open to possibilities which, at face value, may seem preposterous.
This may mean that we intuit, or predict, things which may be wrong. And it can be hurtful to our egos to have to admit we were wrong.
I mean, I get it: being certain feels comforting. But certainty is often not fully aligned with reality.
Don’t be arrogant in your certainty. True science is humble.
Before physicists discovered the experimental evidence for quantum theory, it seemed utterly unscientific and ridiculous. It’s incompatible with well-established (Newton’s/Einstein’s) physics. Even Einstein couldn’t believe that quantum theory could be true. And yet, AND YET, nowadays it’s very much a mainstream pillar of physics, with a strong evidence base to match.
“99% of mad ideas may well be crazy and prove to be untrue. But 1% of them might just be absolute genius. Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.“[Bollinger, R. 2019]
So, don’t be so quick to mock or pour scorn on ideas for which we don’t (yet) have much evidence. They might seem too ridiculous to be true, but the more honest and truly scientific attitude is to simply say, “We don’t (yet) know.“
[UPDATE 28/08/2019: I’m not saying we should automatically accept all religious ideas and conspiracy theories as true until disproven. I’m saying we should say “we don’t know” until science can either prove or disprove a particular set of beliefs.]