Thursday, November 15, 2012

I Don't Know

Inspired by a post here: 

"But you can't prove me wrong" is one of the most disingenuous arguments you can ever use.  It is the equivalent of saying "I know what you are but what am I!"

It is an argument I hear a lot.

First off it always used when someone wants to argue about things that happened that the believe that happened outside of the observable perview of science.  Like the origin of the universe, or life or geological deep time.  Now let's be equal in our honesty.  I don't know how the universe got started.  I have read some great theories, I have even read some great evidence to support those theories but at the end of the day I don't know.  That is not the same as say we will never know or that it is unknowable.  Lots of things that people once considered unknowable are pretty common knowledge today.

Science is is looking into all sorts of things. They observe and when they can't the devise new ways of observing.  When we hit the limits of what we could see with the naked eye Galileo invented the telescope.  A tool that in a very true sense was a death sentence for him (he was confined to his home for the rest of his life).  I can now buy a telescope a thousand times better at Wal-Mart for under a 100 bucks.   When telescope reached it's limits even when they got bigger and more powerful we used radio telescopes and x-ray telescopes.  Even that wasn't enough so we started launching the things into space.  All the time asking ourselves "What's beyond this?" and coming to "I don't know".

"Not proving it to be wrong" though is not science and you can't show anything that way.

I can say I have a best friend named Harvey.  I can provide you with all sorts of "Evidence" to support my claim and really you can't prove me wrong.  Sure you could follow me around for the next 5 years to see if I interact with Harvey, but I can still say "you have not proved me wrong".

Now say I make the same claim of my great grandfather who died almost hundred years ago.  HE had a best friend named Harvey. You can't follow him around now.  But you can't prove it wrong.

The issue here is "you can't prove it wrong" is not an argument.  It's a dodge, it is there to fill in for what we really have to say and that is "I don't know".  Scientists say I don't know all the time.  Sometimes it is even "Wow! I don't know!" and it's followed by "Let's find out!"

In science and research we look to find something that would "prove you wrong" all the time.  The difference is we are looking for the anomaly, the errant point of data that would cause our hypothesis to fail.  We call this H0, the null hypothesis.  If the null is true then we know we are wrong.  If the null is false though, we know we are right.

I am not sure how the Gap Theory (which is not really a scientific theory at all) has a null hypothesis.

So I have to ask.  What would need to be true to make the Gap Theory false?  For it to be a good theory then there needs to be an answer to this question.

What would need to be true to say prove evolution false?  That is is EASY. Find a newer form of animal below an earlier one in older rock strata.  Show me a fossil of a bunny that is older than a fossil of an Eoraptor. Do that and the whole theory of Evolution goes back to square 1.  Show me a rock that floats and you do the same to the theory of gravity.


  1. You stole my post tile from yesterday and I want it back!


  2. Haha! I didn't catch that. Well I thought I was all clever too. ;)
    I will rush off to read your post!

  3. Tim,
    As a parent, I get ?s from the boys that get an " I don't know" answer. More often than not, it's followed up by "Let's find out." Hopefully, we're raising future scientist...they are already professed non-believers.