Why Science is Not Myth

By James Wallace Harris, Monday, June 29, 2015

My book club was discussing Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari when Linda said she liked how the author compared capitalism to religion. Tim replied that many things are like religion, including atheism. Cayce then added everything boils down to myths, including science. I knew what Tim and Cayce were getting at, that we all use our beliefs like a religion, and that we understand aspects of reality through stories, but I objected that science should be called another myth. Cayce then countered that I should show him a photograph of an electron. Tim then commented that science often gets corrupted and misused. Cayce then said that science can’t prove anything, and can only offer a probability that never approached certainty.

Flammarion_Woodcut

I wanted to argue more, but by then, it seemed like we were getting into a private discussion, boring the rest of the group. However, I think it’s extremely important to define why science is not myth. First I think we need to define the word myth. For our purposes I’d say myths are stories that explain reality. However, one definition of myth is a false story – “That’s just a myth.” I’m not sure if Cayce was arguing that science is a myth because it’s just another story explaining reality, or that no story can explain the absolute truth about reality, so they are all myths.

I believe it’s important to distinguish that science is not myth because it’s the only cognitive tool our species has developed to explain how reality works. Myths, religions and philosophy have failed at explaining reality, and what sets science apart is its success. Science is the only system of thought that has consistently worked even though it doesn’t offer absolute certainty, or answers to all questions.

One reason why myths sometimes appear to work is believers assume our reality is not the real reality, that we live in an illusion, and a higher reality contains the truth to our existence. Some believers in myths believe reality is mutable and thought can shape reality. However, I’m working on the assumption that there is an external reality, that it’s part of a single reality, and reality can be understood by observation.

To assume science is just another myth, is to suggest that reality is unknowable. It implies that the knowledge we’ve gained from science is just another illusion. I reject that for two reasons. First, science is a method, not a belief. Second, the results of science is too consistent.

Myths impose concepts on reality. Science reveals patterns in reality. Myths come from the inner world of our subjective minds. Science studies objective reality outside our brains. Science and myth are polar opposites.

Too many people today think the data collected by the process of scientific research as something you can accept or reject. There are two problems here. One, the current results of science can be uncertain, and two, people want to believe what they want to believe. It’s unfair to judge science because people don’t like the results, or the results are inconclusive. Science constantly refines what we know about reality because it never stops gatherings new information. Myths never do that.

Myths are popular memes. We keep myths going because people like them. For instance the idea of heaven. There has never been on shred of evidence that heaven exists, but most people believe in it.

Myths are ideas we want to be true. Scientific ideas are ones we prove to be true. Myths require no evidence. Science does.

The reason science is not myth is because science is a technique not an idea. The results of the scientific method are statistical data. Mythology produces infinite possibilities. Science shows us consistent patterns.

Science does not depend on belief. Gravity works whether you believe in it or not. So does evolution and climate change. Electrons exist without us seeing them. Seven billion plus people use electrons every day. Electrons are immensely dependable and predictable. Cayce was holding an iPhone when he asked for a photograph of an electron. I should have pointed out that an iPhone is better evidence of electrons than any picture.

Mythology produced countless human cultures before the advent of science. Since the advent of science culture is homogenizing around consistent scientific results. The Comanche of North America, the Australian aborigines, or even the Israelites of the Old Testament could imagine living in any kind of reality they wanted, but they could never have built a Boeing 777 or IMAX theater. Citizens around the Earth are seeing a consistent reality because science showed us how to build cars, computers, cell phones and CT scanners.

Humans around the globe rebel against science because they want their myths. This is why I’m making such a fuss about refusing to accept science as myth. We have a clear choice. We can live in the illusion of what we want to believe, or we can use science to study how reality actually works and adapt our minds and culture to what’s real.

JWH

3 thoughts on “Why Science is Not Myth”

  1. Sapiens is a superior book. It changed how I see the world. I would suggest, “Science Wars” from audible, and also “Doubt”. Certainty is the death of science and the start of myth. No growth can happen after certainty (as “Sapien” says). It’s safe to say I agree with your essay. Science is not myth or faith it is a method and it can be any method that works. Generally we test it one of two ways, Corresponding Theory of Truth or Coherent Theory of reality. I only presuppose the rules of logic (consistency, coherence and non-contradiction). Math itself needs more than the laws of logic for its foundation (Godol’s incompleteness theorem).

    Science is not Universal, necessary or certain, but rather particular (to the data), contingent (to the web of understanding) and never certain.

    Our categories of nature are made by us. Kind, essences, forms, ideals or even species are our labels nothing more. They are not “necessary” we use them because they work. Darwin and his most dangerous idea allowed for his evolution because he realized that species is a fluid concept (he overthrew 2 millennia of dogma). Species are not absolutes (“universals”).

    I saw a presentation that argued for the geocentric universe. He uses auxulliary hypothesis and changes the web of knowledge (Quine shows why science will always have that problem)and defends the earth as the center of the universe. Scientific truths aren’t necessarily correct because there can always be another to explain the data even if it is goofy.

  2. Folks like myth because science tells them uncomfortable truths that deny their desires. Science tells us we are not special, we are not acsendant beings and in the end we are just gonna stop being and be reduced to rotting meat.

    Also, for some idiot reasons they can’t accept a lack of certainty in their universe. Why they think there should be absolutes is boggling but it does seem to be true.

    As to civilization, as long as we have rule of law and science we can have civilization just fine, in fact I suspect we’d have a way better and rational civilization and I for one would love to be there for that future. The end of superstition would be a boon for all mankind.

    Hell, if we could get them to understand there is no post-death life maybe they would start looking at real actual life extention and better medical technologies. Also not killing each other over whose imaginary best friend is the best and correct. That’d be nice for a change.

    Damned humans. Such an assbackwards species.

  3. If you had produced a photo of an electron, it wouldn’t have changed any minds. People who do not comprehend the differences — do not want to make the effort to comprehend — between belief and reality would just tell you you have the right to believe that’s a photo of an electron and they have the right to believe it is not. The will feel magnanimous about that, failing to recognize that “belief” is an entirely inappropriate and incorrect scaffolding for understanding reality.

    That kind of assertion amounts to a complete rejection of pretty much everything we’ve learned since Newton and Galileo. It’s sad so many people are so comfortable with deliberate willful medieval ignorance.

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