There is No Such Thing as Settled Science

One of the books I started reading recently is a textbook I bought a few years ago for the kids’ high-school-level lessons. I loathed biology in when I was high school (I’m pretty sure it had everything to do with the teacher, of whom I was also not a fan), but Exploring Creation with Biology by Dr. Jay L. Wile and Marilyn F. Durnell is proving to be rather interesting.

Module #1 is an overview titled “Biology: The Study of Life,” and it contains a reminder more of us need to read:

At the end of the previous section, we said that if a theory survives the scientific method and becomes a scientific law, it is “reasonably trustworthy.” Why did we say reasonably?” Aren’t all scientific laws completely trustworthy? If a hypothesis survives scientific scrutiny and becomes a theory, and the theory goes through more significant scientific scrutiny and becomes a law, isn’t it 100% reliable? No, it is not. You see, in order to test hypotheses and theories, scientists must gather data. In order to gather data, they must perform experiments and make observations. Since these experiments and observations are designed and performed by imperfect humans, the data collected might, in fact, be flawed. As a result, even though there might be an enormous amount of data supporting a scientific law, if the data are flawed, the law is most likely wrong! In addition, it is simply impossible, even after centuries of experimentation, to test all implications of a scientific law completely. Thus, even though years and years of experimentation exist in support of a scientific law, some clever person somewhere might devise an experiment that produces data which contradicts the law. Thus, scientific laws can be demonstrated false when the experiments that support them are shown to be flawed or when someone finds a new kind of experiment that contradicts the law. Both of these situations occur frequently in the pursuit of science, and they are best studied by example.

The authors go on to give a couple of examples, one of which is the theory of spontaneous generation. In short, Aristotle observed that maggots sometimes form on meat, so he hypothesized that the nonliving meat must somehow create the living maggots; therefore many life forms likely originate this way. It took centuries to discredit his theory, and it did not die quietly. As a matter of fact, many people in our world today believe in a form of spontaneous generation called abiogenesis: “The idea that long ago, very simple life forms spontaneously appeared through chemical reactions.”

Some scientists say that since all life is made up of chemicals, it is possible that long ago on the earth, there was no life; there were just chemicals. These chemicals began reacting and, through the reaction of these chemicals, a “simple” life form suddenly appeared.

As we go through this course, you’ll see how such an idea is simply inconsistent with everything that we know about life. At this time, however, we want to make a simple point regarding abiogenesis. Back when scientists believed in spontaneous generation, they had experiments which allegedly backed up their claim. Even before Pasteur’s authoritative refutation of spontaneous generation, these experiments were shown to be flawed. Rather than giving up on their law, however, those who fervently believed in spontaneous generation just said, “Well, okay, these experiments are wrong. However, look at these other experiments. Although we now know that life forms which we see with our own eyes cannot spontaneously generate, microorganisms can.”

Do you see what the proponents of spontaneous generation did? Because they wanted so badly to believe in their theory, they simply pushed it into an area in which they did not have much knowledge. …

Well, nowadays, scientists have pushed the theory of spontaneous generation back to another area that we are ignorant about. They say that although Pasteur’s experiments show that microorganisms can’t arise from nonliving substances, some (unknown) simple life form might have been able to spontaneously generate from some (unknown) mixture of chemicals at some (unknown) point way back in earth’s history.

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