Readers in Council,
The Japan Times,
5-4 Shibaura 4-chome,
Minato-ku, Tokyo 108-0023
I was interested to read the language Mary Walters uses in her letter “Baffling divide over evolution,” (January 11, 2005) in which she describes her take on the science versus religion debate in America. Specifically, I was interested to read her statements about scientific discoveries and theories that are “eventually proven,” followed by the assertion that it is a “fact that the Earth revolves around the sun.” Of course, she is not incorrect. But neither is she as correct as she thinks.
Consider the heliocentric model of the solar system. Contrary to what many people probably believe, the sun centered Copernican model did not supersede the old Earth centered Ptolemaic model in a sudden burst of enlightenment following the persecution of Galileo Galilei, and it is more correct to say that the heliocentric model of the solar system demonstrates that the Earth revolves around the Sun, not that it “proves” it. It only slowly came to replace the geocentric model as advocates of the latter died out, and advocates of the former replaced them. So, people did not suddenly realize that the old idea was wrong and the new one was correct. The heliocentric model was just a more parsimonious exposition of the behavior of newly observable cosmic bodies. It fulfilled the scientific principle of Ohkam’s Razor: the simplest explanation is the best - “best” not being synonymous with “correct.” Even in this day and age we can still devise Earth centered models of the cosmos that work. They are just really cumbersome, awkward and not worth the bother. So we ought to be careful to speak about it being “proven” that the Earth revolves around the Sun. All motion in the cosmos is relative motion, remember, and we can only describe the Earth revolving around the Sun in relation to other cosmic bodies.
In fact, we ought to be more careful talking cavalierly about what science “proves,” because if you regard proof as immutably reliable, then it must be admitted that science doesn’t prove very much. The process of testing propositions through experimentation and correction is a process of demonstration, not advocacy, and that is why “scientific truth” is so moot. I have no problem with that. But in their critiques the religious invest science with an expectation of immutable certainty that it does not claim of itself, and simultaneously they try to cast their positions with an element of Reason that they do not merit. So in the end the advocates of Intelligent Design are trying to be more scientific even than the real scientists are, which is ridiculous. Only people who misunderstand both religion and science get mixed up in this.