The last episode of the excellent BBC program The Story of Science aired this week. The whole series has been a complete delight and left me even surer than ever (if that’s possible) that science is the best and most enthralling way possible of understanding the universe and our place in it.
Ever since the enlightenment, the scientific method has consistently succeeded in getting ever closer to explaining the phenomena we experience around us. It has provided sufficiently accurate models of matter, energy, space and time that we can build rockets, control them with computers and reach distant planets. It has provided explanations of the diversity of life and the information behind it to define our existence on earth and our relationship to every other organism. It allows us to manipulate the genetic code and create organisms suited to our needs. It gives us the means to communicate instantly and effortlessly across continents, with sound, pictures and the written word.
What all of this demonstrates is that science works. The evidence is all around us; everywhere and everyday.
It is all the more surprising then that so many people are anti-science or sceptical of its claims to usefulness. I fail to understand, particularly in the relatively science literate west, how for example, Homeopathy can be such a lucrative business, when its claims can be shown to be totally bogus, with no rational mechanism by which they could be otherwise.
Similarly,the level of belief in creationism found in the U.S, one of the most technologically innovative nations in the world is astounding. When you consider that the same physics that informs their nuclear power industry is the same physics that proves the earth to be 4.5 Billion years old, how do they reconcile a biblical creation with switching the lights on at night?
What was so good about The Story of Science and the Channel 4 program Genius of Britain(also worth watching) was the emphasis on how science is done, the assumptions it makes and the use of the scientific method to attempt to falsify those assumptions. It cast scientists as real people, with real questions to ask about the world, thus overturning the B-movie stereotypical scientist the media still like to portray.
We cannot have enough of this positive portrayal of science and scientists on our screens. My hope is that it will rejuvenate an interest in understanding the world scientifically and encourage more young people to study for science degrees at college.
Not least I hope it will persuade the general public that science is not just dogma, or opinion. It is simply the best method found so far for revealing the truth about the world.
"Religion is a hypothesis about the world: the hypothesis that things are the way they are, at least in part, because of supernatural entities or forces acting on the natural world. And there's no good reason to treat it any differently from any other hypothesis. Which includes pointing out its flaws and inconsistencies, asking its adherents to back it up with solid evidence, making jokes about it when it's just being silly, offering arguments and evidence for our own competing hypotheses...and trying to persuade people out of it if we think it's mistaken. It's persuasion. It's the marketplace of ideas. Why should religion get a free ride"