Accepting answers when evidence is sufficient

This post from one of my (and my kids’) favorite science educators (host of Emily’s Wonder Lab) really grabbed me today. I remember how easy it has been for me to use science for my own convenience – accepting the vast majority of the consensus, unless I didn’t personally like the answer, and then the most basic question I had about the most inconsequential pieces of information became proof that there simply “wasn’t enough evidence” to accept something. To me it’s another illustration of how hard-line YEC is really not about science at all. .

There’s an interesting narrative that pops up on my page every time a group of people don’t want to believe scientific experts.
It goes: “Well as YOU should know, science is about asking questions and not just blindly following what people tell you.”
This gets the first part about science right: Asking questions.
We should always have a critical eye on the things people tell us to believe. We can ask questions like “Who is the source?” “What evidence are they providing?” “Has anyone else verified this?”
But this narrative conveniently leaves out the rest of the scientific process - which is accepting answers when the evidence is sufficient.
If we stopped at “Asking Questions” humans would never learn anything. We’d never be able to build knowledge. If we’re stuck trying to reinvent the wheel, we’ll never make the car.
Yes, it’s great to ask questions - but you have to THEN be willing to thoughtfully review the evidence afterward. You have to THEN be willing to accept an answer when evidence is sufficient.
You can’t remain at the Question stage simply because you don’t like the answer.

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I’m reminded of certain other empirical evidence that gets denied, and not by YECs.

People like to keep that “Get out of conclusion free” card handy to play whenever it’s needed.

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I think it’s worth making the point that there comes a stage with every scientific theory at which continuing to try to challenge it is no longer an option.

In particular, once a scientific theory has commercial or practical real-world applications, or once there are other scientific theories that depend on it, or once you reach the point at which continuing to question it would put people’s lives in danger, you’ve passed the point of no return: it’s hard, indisputable facts that you’re dealing with.

People who insist on challenging scientific theories that have reached that level are either making things up, trying to invent their own alternative reality, telling outright lies, living in cloud cuckoo land, or simply haven’t a clue what they are talking about.

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Yeah, that’s a good point. And that might be why some of the big YEC-teaching organizations are so invested in trying to convince people that theories like evolution and deep time are not really in that category.

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And of course, trying to convince people that they are not in that category when in reality they are is lying. Especially if the person making such a claim has a PhD in the subject concerned.

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There are quite a few young-earthers who work in the oil industry, but all of them use old-earth assumptions to find oil. If young-earth models were right, they ought to be better for finding oil, not irrelevant as Snelling and Ham are claiming here. But in reality, young-earth models do not even tell you to look in the wrong place for oil; they are not coherent enough to tell you anything about where to find something geologically.

Kuhn’s paradigm shift model and similar claims about replacing established theories overlook the key factor that a new idea must explain the evidence better than the old one. It is not sufficient to find a problem with the existing model, or even to provide a better explanation for that particular problem. You need to look at the evidence as a whole and see what works the best across the board.
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Yep, that’s the key. I used to think I could take down the entire theory of evolution because I learned three or four “gotcha” questions from YEC apologetics. :grimacing:

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For what it’s worth, a good way to think about things such as this is to come up with a maturity model for scientific findings as an indication as to which ones could feasibly be challenged and which ones couldn’t. There are five levels that we could consider:

  1. Frontier: subjects at the very early stages of investigation, concerning questions that are characterised by little or no data, and a lot of speculation. Research tends to focus on developing the theories and devising experiments to obtain data to support them.
  2. Controversy: subjects where there is a certain amount of data available, but no real consensus on the explanation for the data. There may be two or more possible candidates, but no clear leader. Research tends to focus on coming up with experiments that can differentiate between which explanations are correct and which ones are not.
  3. Consensus: subjects where one clear leader has emerged as an explanation for the data, and researchers working in the field have reached an agreement as to which explanation is correct. Research is no longer focused on differentiating between competing explanations but on working out applications, filling in the details, and expanding into new frontiers.
  4. Application: subjects that find application in real-world situations to solve real-world problems: building computers, sending probes throughout the Solar System, curing diseases, finding oil. Research is focused on making them more reliable, more efficient, and safer.
  5. Foundation: scientific theories that have other theories that depend on them. These are the most well established facts in science, because if they turned out to be wrong then everything else on which they depended would also have to be wrong. Research is focused on trying to determine what, if any, their limits are, usually under extreme conditions.
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