Introduction to the Scientific Method

The Big Bang Theory is actually not a theory at all. In order for a scientific notion to be accepted as a theory, the notion must pass a five-step test known as the Scientific Method. Webster defines the Scientific Method as “principles and procedures for the systematic pursuit of knowledge involving the recognition and formulation of a problem, the collection of data through observation and experiment, and the formulation and testing of hypotheses.”

Although I was once primarily a history and logic teacher, I did have one science course in which I taught a seventh and eighth grade earth-science class. In order for my students to more easily remember the steps of the Scientific Method, I created an acronym that I called POHEC, which helped explained the elements as defined by the dictionary.

P is for Prediction. The first step involves simple guesswork at that which is believed to be likely to occur. O is for Observation. Observe the situation and take some notes. H is for hypothesis. This is where the change must begin in our common understanding of science. When people casually throw around the word “theory,” what they usually mean to say is “hypothesis,” a concept to which we will soon return to study in more detail. E is for experiment. This is where the scientist is supposed to attempt to prove his hypothesis to be incorrect, sometimes for the entirety of his life. The hypothesis is said to become a conclusion only if the hypothesis withstands all of the scientist’s attempts to prove it incorrect. C is for conclusion, this being the fifth and final step in the Scientific Method, where a hypothesis becomes a theory.

Distinguishing a Hypothesis from a Law or Theory

If a man were to talk about how 9/11 was an “inside job,” or that footage of Neil Armstrong walking on the moon was actually filmed somewhere in Hollywood, or that the Rothschild family secretly owns more than half the world’s wealth, some might call this man a “conspiracy theorists.” However, by the standards of the Scientific Method, a more accurate description of such a man would be “conspiracy hypothesist.” Chances are that such ideas are mostly conjecture, and there is little evidence to reinforce the argument. If it’s easy to disprove, emotionally charged, or has yet to be challenged from every possible angle, the argument is merely at step number three of the Scientific Method, and there is no scientific theory—just a hypothesis.

For some inexplicable reason, we are taught in grade school that gravity is a law. However, gravity is more readily understood as a theory. A law, according to Webster, is (1) “a binding custom or practice of a community,” (2) “a rule or order that it is advisable or obligatory to observe,” or, much to the chagrin of the Atheist, (3) “the revelation of the will of God set forth in the Old Testament.” The list continues. But nowhere does the word “science” or “physics” appear in any of the definitions for “law.” Gravity has survived the five steps of the scientific method. Having made accurate predictions, painstaking observations, calculated hypotheses, and innumerable experiments, a conclusion is held, and it’s safe to categorize gravity for what it is: a theory.

When the Atheist asks, “You don’t believe in the Big Bang Theory, so I’m assuming you don’t believe in the theory of gravity either?” make sure to explain that they are making a fallacious comparison. Here, it is unfair to compare a theory and a hypothesis because the scales of logic are tilted off-balance. Secular physicists are merely disguising a hypothesis as a theory—something that has been occurring for so long that some of us forget our bearings and take the popular misnomer for granted.

A Game of Best Guesses

Having made the transition from teaching to a career in law, specifically medical malpractice, I’m often searching for new ways to prove or disprove scientific legal theories. Our law, in the correct sense of the word, opines on good science versus junk science in a U.S. Supreme Court case called Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc.[i] Therein, Jason Daubert was a child who was born with serious birth defects, and his father sued Dow Pharmaceuticals.[ii] It was alleged that the birth defects had been caused by the mother’s ingestion of Bendectin, a prescription antinausea drug that was marketed by Dow.[iii] But Dow claimed that Bendectin couldn’t cause birth defects in humans, and that there was no way that the father could prove that Bendectin caused these defects.[iv] There was no “generally accepted” scientific study, Dow held, that found the drug capable of causing malformations in fetuses. At the time, it was clear that studies had to be “generally accepted” in order to be admissible. So both the federal trial and appeals courts sided with Dow.[v]

However, the Supreme Court wanted to hear the case, especially Justice Harry Blackmun. He had an affinity for cases involving medicine and science, as he’s most famous for his opinion in the seminal abortion case, Roe v. Wade. As a young man from the Midwest, he was unsure whether he wanted to attend law school or medical school. Before being nominated to the Supreme Court, Blackmun had worked at a prestigious firm doing tax and estate work. Eventually, he probated the wills of the Mayo Brothers, the founders of the famous Mayo Clinic, and soon found himself as general counsel of the clinic, a job that let him apply his legal skills to his interest in science and medicine.[vi] Here, in Daubert, he wrote the majority opinion.

He held that the “general acceptance” standard was good law, but that it was not the only appropriate standard for admitting scientific expert testimony. (1) Whether the theory can be tested is an important factor because scientific methodology is based on forming hypotheses, and testing them to see whether they can be falsified. (2) Whether the theory has been subjected to peer review and publication is another important factor because “submission to the scrutiny of the scientific community is a component of ‘good science.’” (3) Whether the theory has a known error rate is yet another important, this time a negative factor, which could perhaps hold a theory to be junk science. And (4) whether the theory has “general acceptance” was held to be a good factor for distinguishing good science from junk science because it may help the weight of the testimony should it be relevant within a community of scientists.[vii]

Blackmun’s reasoning for expanding admissibility of scientific expert testimony from solely “general acceptance” to any or all of these four factors was because “it would be unreasonable to conclude that the subject of scientific testimony must be ‘known’ to a certainty; arguably, there are no certainties in science.”[viii] These factors were said to be helpful in distinguishing good science from junk science.[ix] In the end, Jason’s father then won another chance to get his expert’s scientific testimony admitted for the sake of his son.[x]

In the Beginning Was the Big Bang, and the Big Bang Was God

A man named George Lemaître first developed the idea of a Big Bang Hypothesis. After serving in the Belgian Army in World War I, he dedicated his life to mathematics, physics, and astronomy, and he also studied the work of Albert Einstein. Eventually, he would attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he became acquainted with Edwin Hubble,[xi] who famously debunked the notion that the universe is static, and held that the universe is actually expanding.[xii]

A few years later, Lemaître became a professor of astrophysics at the Catholic University of Louvain. It was around that time when he first proposed something he called his “hypothesis of the primeval atom.” He held that, if the universe was expanding, then it was expanding from a single point in time. He called that point a “superatom,” and suggested that the expansion of the universe had resulted from the explosion of this tiny particle. Lemaître’s Big Bang Hypothesis would eventually earn him praise from many scientists, including Einstein himself.

Another interesting accomplishment of Lemaître is that he was an ordained Roman-Catholic priest. And, during the 1950s, Pope Pius XII held that the Big Bang was compatible with creationism. He saw this new Big Bang Hypothesis as an explanation of how God created the universe, and the Pope praised Lemaître for finding common ground with religion and science. Lemaître believed that religion and science were just different ways of interpreting the world, and, while he believed both to be equally valid, he preferred to keep religion out of his science. Whether something started from God or from nothing, Lemaître said, “is a philosophical question which cannot be settled by physical or astronomical considerations.”[xiii]

Science Evolves

On the one hand, Neil deGrasse Tyson, popular astrophysicist, once said, “The good thing about science is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it.”[xiv] Today, based on my common experiences, I’d say that this is the typical view that the Atheist has when it comes to science. On the other hand, Max Planck, originator of quantum physics and Nobel Prize winner,[xv] once said “A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.”[xvi] Even Friedrich Nietzsche, perhaps the most infamous God-hating author of all time, admitted that “there is no such thing as science ‘without any presuppositions.’”[xvii]

After working on the radar in the war-effort in the mid-1940s, Thomas S. Kuhn studied at Harvard, earning his Ph.D. in physics. Soon thereafter, he was asked to teach a course on science for the humanities, because Harvard’s reforming president believed that every educated person should know something about science. So Kuhn began teaching on the history of scientific case studies. Preparation for the course forced him to study both old and new scientific texts, from Aristotle to modern times. This experience inspired him to write a controversial book.[xviii]

The Structure of Scientific Revolutions is an exposé on the limitations of science. Therein, Kuhn writes that “myths can be produced by the same sorts of methods and held for the same sorts of reasons that now lead to scientific knowledge.”[xix] That’s because science is rarely the addition of new theories stacked on top of old theories. Rather, it’s a process of trying to force old theories to fit into new theories. Kuhn wrote

[A] discovery like that of oxygen or X-rays does not simply add one more item to the population of the scientist’s world. Ultimately it has that effect, but not until the professional community has re-evaluated traditional experimental procedures, altered its conception of entities with which it has long been familiar, and, in the process, shifted the network of theory through which it deals with the world.[xx]

Over long periods of time, when unresolved anomalies accumulate, “scientists take a different attitude toward existing paradigms, and the nature of their research changes accordingly.”[xxi] Kuhn continues on this theme of the paradigm shift, preaching on the scientist’s “willingness to try anything” as a “response to crisis.”[xxii] This is how scientific revolutions occur. And this is why Kuhn could never accept that there was some one, full, objective truth about nature.[xxiii]

For example, consider the shift from the Ptolemaic understanding of the universe to the Copernican understanding. The Ptolemaic system, also known as geocentric cosmology, held that the earth was the center of the universe. As it had developed before and after the time of Christ, no other system had performed so well at predicting the changing positions of stars and planets. However, it was a cumbersome theory, making it difficult for cosmologists to make precise predictions concerning the movement of planets and stars. In contrast, the Copernican understanding, also known as heliocentric cosmology, held that the sun was the center of the universe. As the Copernican system was developing during the 16th century, it was eventually adopted as it was less cumbersome than its predecessor, and cosmologists could predict the position of planets and stars more accurately.[xxiv] Then, in 1923, through the eyepiece of a telescope, Edwin Hubble discovered that there were universes outside our own,[xxv] and mankind started to realize that they would probably never know the center of anything cosmological ever again.

Lastly, keeping all this in mind, also consider the oldest account of cosmology that we have, The Epic of Gilgamesh. It dates back to as early as 1700 B.C., to a city called Nineveh, Mesopotamia, located between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, the oldest known civilization, in modern-day Iraq. It’s the epic tale of a king, Gilgamesh, and his search for immortality. On his travels, he meets a “scorpion man,” who offers Gilgamesh directions through “the tunnel into which the sun plunges when it sets and moves through the earth.”[xxvi] The tunnel is deep and dark, the scorpion man tells Gilgamesh, with no light at all. He is to travel “ever downward,” and “faster than the wind,” because, should he fail to make the journey in fewer than twelve hours, there would be no refuge from the sun’s “deadly fire” when it comes time for the sun to set. Although no one had ever survived the journey, the scorpion man nevertheless wished Gilgamesh Godspeed on this journey to “the edge of the world.”[xxvii]

Conclusion

The Big Bang is a mere hypothesis. There are five steps to the scientific method, and a hypothesis becomes a conclusion only after passing all five steps. The reason why the Big Bang has never and will never become a theory is because it is impossible to conduct an experiment on such a grand scale. With no possible means for passing the fourth step, which would involve creating multiple galaxies from nothing, this hypothesis will likely remain in infancy forever. Thus, the proper scientific classification for this idea is, “The Big Bang Hypothesis.”

Hypotheses and theories are subjective, as explained in Justice Blackmun’s four-factor Daubert analysis. (1) Whether a theory has been tested, (2) whether it has been subjected to peer review or publication, (3) whether it has a known error rate, or (4) whether it has general acceptance is helpful in distinguishing good science from junk science. But, at the same time, “arguably, there are no certainties in science.” Just because something is admissible in court doesn’t mean it’s true. Although the Big Bang has been subjected to peer review and is generally accepted, it has never been tested. And, because it has never been tested, there is no known error rate. If the world were a courtroom, perhaps some judges would let the Big Bang Hypothesis slip into admissible evidence at trial. But each of these factors apply only to scientific theories. That’s why, if I were the judge in this fictitious courtroom, I’d be sure to see this hypothesis rejected before the Daubert analysis even began.

Even if this hypothesis, in the correct sense of the word, is good science, it still doesn’t negate God’s existence. When Georges Lemaître developed what would come to be called the Big Bang, he knew that his idea on the expanding “superatom” was just a hypothesis. Pope Pius saw the hypothesis as an explanation of how God created the universe. Likewise, the Atheist sees the Big Bang how he wishes to see it. Either way, both the Pope and the Atheist stand as men of faith with nothing more than their preferred faiths and worldviews.

The good thing about science is that it evolves, whether or not the Atheist believes in it. At least, my theory of evolving science passes all four Daubert factors, which is impressive for any single theory to do. The tests, the peer review, the error rates, and the general acceptance is all evident from the history of science, from Ptolemy to Copernicus to Kuhn. Furthermore, sometimes questions of science do require answers from scientists, and I’m thankful for the discoveries and inventions that we have because of them. However, sometimes seemingly contradictory questions of science don’t require answers from scientists. Rather, sometimes all that’s needed is a mediator, like Justice Blackmun, in order for scientists to see that the real issue is a question of worldview. Whether the earth, the sun, or some foreign galaxy is the center of the universe, or the multiverse, is a question of perspective. In four thousand years, when future civilizations are looking back on us, perhaps our science will seem as silly and trite as the mythology of Mesopotamia seems to us.

Here, the Atheist, by choosing to see the Big Bang how he wishes to see it, has accomplished nothing more than the creation of a new mythology. The Atheist has created that which he hoped to destroy. Next to the mythology of Mesopotamia, there also stands the Atheist’s creation myth of the Big Bang Hypothesis.

When all the science, whether good or bad, is stripped away, the Atheist’s mythology is left with a narrative that sounds something like this: Fourteen billion years ago,[1] nothing created something. And that something found order and form all by itself. Then, a couple men from the UK got a divine revelation from the entrails of some books that they had written themselves, and everybody believed what they said because they had English accents.

 

[1] You should already be laughing.


 

Endnotes:

[i] Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 509 U.S. 579, 582 (1993).

[ii] Id.

[iii] Id.

[iv] Id.

[v] Id. at 582 & 585.

[vi] Linda Greenhouse, Justice Blackmun, Author of Abortion Right, Dies, the New York Times (Mar. 4, 1999), http://www.nytimes.com/1999/03/05/us/justice-blackmun-author-of-abortion-right-dies.html?pagewanted=all; see also Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973).

[vii] Daubert at 593-94.

[viii] Id. at 590.

[ix] Id. at 591.

[x] Id. at 597.

[xi] http://www.britannica.com/biography/Georges-Lemaitre.

[xii] http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/hubble/story/the_story.html.

[xiii] http://wgbhnews.org/post/big-bang-theory-roman-catholic-creation.

[xiv] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yRxx8pen6JY.

[xv] http://www.britannica.com/biography/Max-Planck.

[xvi] Robert Greene, The 48 Laws of Power, 398 (Penguin Books) (2000).

[xvii] Friedrich Nietzsche, The Basic Writings of Nietzsche, 587 (Walter Kaufmann trans., The Modern Library) (2000).

[xviii] John Naughton, Thomas Kuhn: the man who changed the way the world looked at science, The Guardian (Aug. 18, 2012), http://www.theguardian.com/science/2012/aug/19/thomas-kuhn-structure-scientific-revolutions.

[xix] Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 3 (The University of Chicago Press, 4th ed.) (2012).

[xx] Id. at 7.

[xxi] Id. at 91.

[xxii] Id.

[xxiii] Ian Hacking, Introductory Essay to The Structure of Scientific Revolutions at xxxv.

[xxiv] The Structure of Scientific Revolutions at 68-69.

[xxv] Dick Teresi, The Cosmic Egoist, The New York Times (Sep. 3, 1995), http://www.nytimes.com/1995/09/03/books/the-cosmic-egoist.html?pagewanted=all.

[xxvi] Stephen Mitchell, The Epic of Gilgamesh: A New English Version, 159-63, Free Press (2004).

[xxvii] Id.

 

This article has 2 comments

  1. I’ve always felt like the Big Bang was just made up. Whenever I ask someone to explain it to me, they just say “science” like that was all they had to say. Like just by saying the word “science” they were justified. Nobody ever breaks it down. it’s frustrating. But this was good.

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