Science's Feet of Clay
Updated: Nov 4, 2019
The god of Western civilization is science. We view it as infallible, definitive and absolute in its trustworthiness. Scientists are our high priests and their word is final and uncontested. But we are deluding ourselves to believe this myth. The reality is that science is highly flawed, scientists have biases and agendas, data can be manipulated and the system through which science is funded makes it extremely vulnerable to corruption. In short, science is not simply some altruistic pursuit of knowledge- it's a for-profit industry with vested interests.
While many scientists, researchers and skeptics alike have raised the alarm on this reality before, most people dismissed them as quacks, religious nuts, conspiracy theorists or deniers. Popular journals, media outlets and magazines publicly shamed these dissenters and labeled their heretical message a "war on science" (see National Geographic's March 2015 front cover for proof). Of course it helps that they conflate the truly bizarre and outlandish claims with those that actually have merit. But it appears the facade is starting to crumble and the ugly truth is beginning to be exposed by sources which can't be easily ignored. The magazine First Things recently published an absolutely amazing article titled Scientific Regress which cites scientific investigations which indicate the majority of scientific discoveries, studies and findings published in so-called peer reviewed journals are absolute rubbish. The Week also picked up the story and ran a shorter summary article titled Big Science is Broken, which was equally scathing but not equally impressive. One of the sources the First Things article cites is a 2005 scientific investigation published by Stanford statistics professor John Ioannidis called Why Most Published Research Findings are False. Professor Ioannidis is no quack- he's one of the most cited scientists across scientific literature and his findings do not cast modern scientific methods in a positive light.
The First Things article identifies several contributing factors to the fallible tendencies of science: human error and bias, the selective nature of scientific journals and outright fraud. The first issue should be apparent to all, but many argue that the scientific method itself eliminates human error and bias. This is a very idealistic and naive assumption however and is only a general rule of thumb that even when true, often takes lifetimes to take effect- hence the phrase "Science advances one funeral at a time." It also ignores the fact that many scientific ideas based on minuscule amounts of empirical evidence or even falsified data gain traction and become bandwagons due to confirmation bias, peer pressure and the experimenter effect. Professor of physics at the University of Manchester, H.S. Lipson once said, "In fact evolution became in a sense a scientific religion; almost all scientists have accepted it, and many are prepared to 'bend' their observations to fit with it."
The second issue is the highly selective reporting of scientific research associated with scientific journals. While most view the peer-reviewed method as guarding against bad science, the truth is scientific journals often just filter out new or unpopular ideas and select what research to publish for the same reasons the nightly news selects material- for the "wow" factor. They're fighting for the attention of donors and patrons and both the scientists who submit research for publishing and the editors and boards of scientific journals are acutely aware of this fact. False positives and breakthroughs secure more funding and simply pave the way for future research with consequences rarely being more than quiet retractions. So it should be no surprise that the most under-reported issue in science is the blatant fraud. But the sad reality is that a 2011 covert survey of scientists found that about 10% had deliberately falsified data and more than 50% had engaged in selective data reporting in order to produce favorable results.
The First Things article is so thorough that it would be difficult to read and not come away utterly convinced that science is corrupt, highly flawed and completely unworthy of the worship our society offers it. The author paints a pretty bleak picture of the future of science as well, with more and more truth being drowned in the ever-growing sea of false publications. While disheartening, it should be a wake up call to those who subscribe to "scientism" or the "Cult of Science" to be far more skeptical of scientific beliefs, trends and research- it's more than likely absolutely incorrect. More importantly, this revelation should encourage Christians who have had their confidence in scripture rocked due to allegedly proven scientific scrutiny. Our society has put far too much faith in science but now we're beginning to admit that the emperor has no clothes.
As I challenge all my students when I teach biblical worldview, why are Christians taking man's word over God's? Who is likely the more credible, knowledgeable and unbiased source? Let's return to the solid foundation of biblical truth rather than continue to stand on the shifting sands of the opinion, pride and arrogance of man.