Practical skepticism on “science doesn’t know everything”

I could spend hours and hours responding to really poorly thought out and terribly spelled comments to my blog posts on Doubtful News. But it would be pointless. Half the people wouldn’t read it and the other half would just argue and put up another bunch of syntactical garbage. I typically conclude that people who are vehemently and rudely opposed to what I say have their reasons for being that way, whatever they may be. Perhaps they value personal experiences and what they are told by people they trust. They probably don’t have any experience in critical thinking or were not given the tools to learn how to be objective. Or, they simply prefer to hold a position that is comforting to them in some way – by making them seem special or powerful. I’m trying to understand why some people feel the need to comment as they do but it’s hard because I can’t put myself in their place and imagine I would react the same.

I thought I would share some of the responses that I did not post and answer them on this blog. I don’t post lousy comments to any of my blogs because I employ a strict moderation policy of added value. These folks didn’t give evidence, they made fallacious arguments that didn’t add to the discussion but distracted from it and they are often rude and ignorant. I’ve heard these same arguments countless times before. It would be worthwhile to take some time and formulate a full response. I expect to refer to these piece often as these same situations arise. For the first response, I tackle “AnnMarie” and her position that science can’t explain everything.

science
I wrote a piece that was extremely skeptical about 19-year-old “celebrity medium” Tyler Henry and disagreed that we need ANY such TV shows that portray psychic powers as “reality”. I question why Tyler is doing a TV show instead of demonstrating his powers to scientists and parapsychologists studying mediumship who could learn about life after death. This would be valuable for humanity, not just the Kardashians…

“AnnMarie” writes:

Science can’t prove a great deal. They cannot disprove them either. They are, now, just finding information that there very well could be a ‘soul’… good lord. Science has been behind the times before, this is not new. There are great many things they have not yet invented ways to test. In the past, they have had to change their views and opinions due to this. I know 1 person in particular who is amazing at this, upon meeting a person, stranger, out of nowhere, dead on information. They exist. The real ones just tend to keep to themselves because of a society made up of people like you. No one wants to be a science experiment or labeled freak.

AnnMarie does not seem to be a fan of science and sees it as just one way of knowing about the world. She concludes that she has seen evidence herself that psychic powers are real and remain hidden because of critics who might call them names or subject them to laboratory testing. We can conclude from this that AnnMarie is not familiar with how science works and why it’s the best way of knowing about nature. This same argument is trotted out for those who like mystery in the world – UFOs, ghosts, Bigfoot, generally all paranormal claims – and are perturbed that science doesn’t take those things seriously.

Science doesn’t “prove” anything like a math equation would be a “proof”. A scientific process to answer a question – in this case, “Does psychic power exist?” – would give you the best answer based on evidence, feasibility and probability. Is it likely that this thing is happening, how might it be happening and what is sound evidence for or against it?

Science is always behind the times or else we’d not need it. But it’s not stagnant, it’s constantly changing and refining the best conclusions. Occasionally, it overturns what we know but that’s rare and is backed by substantial work, not just one study or observation.

“Science knows it doesn’t know everything or else it’d STOP.”

AnnMarie is missing the key point that science is a process that is far more reliable than revelation or intuition or personal interpretation as a way of knowing about the world. Using scientific findings about psychical research that has been going on for over a hundred years, we can reasonably conclude that psychic mediums are not communicating with the dead or accessing anomalous knowledge but they are, essentially, good guessers that say things you want to here or sound dramatic. There is a TON of research on this as well. But AnnMarie doesn’t want to hear that. She is invested in her belief. That’s OK, as long as it doesn’t interfere with the rights of others. But she did put up a counter claim so I’m free to answer it.

Regarding current research, I don’t understand why she would object to psychics being studied in order to convince a larger portion of the population which would elevate the field and open the doors to tremendous insight and hidden knowledge. It doesn’t make sense to be against that, except if you were afraid it would show that they aren’t that “psychic”, which is likely why this isn’t the usual path celebrity psychics take. My position is that it’s a moral obligation to show the world you are genuine before presenting yourself as a genuinely psychic and taking money for it. It’s very likely you are unintentionally or deliberately scamming people. 

At the core of the claim that science doesn’t know everything is a logical fallacy. Actually, a few fallacies. First, just because we can’t handily explain everything scientifically right now does not mean science knows nothing. AnnMarie might look around and see how blessed we are in our high standard of living and long lives thanks to science. Second, if science hasn’t gotten a probable answer to a question yet, it may be that it will someday. But until then, you can’t stick in your pet belief in that gap and say it’s reasonable, that’s a form of argument from ignorance – we don’t know therefore my idea is good. Third, all opinions are not equally valid. An informed opinion based on solid, repeatable, relatable evidence is more valuable and more likely to reflect the truth. Since I’m considering scientific evidence, existing verified conclusions about the world, controlled experiments, and scores of opinions of people who have looked into this question while AnnMarie is considering her own perception, what’s on television (which is a scientific-based invention) and a popular cultural opinion about something pretty neat (that we wish was true), I’d say I get the star for being more informed about my opinion.

AnnMarie’s response is based on her emotion. In that way, it makes sense. However, it doesn’t make logical, scientific, or even moral sense. She wants me to prove it false. Well, AnnMarie, I contend that Elvis’ ghost visits me on random days every week and only I can hear and see him provide me his views on the latest top 40 hits. Prove me wrong. You can’t, you can call me silly and say there is no reason for that to be true. I can do the same to your claim, although, it’s not quite as silly as mine.

If you don’t restrict yourself to things that are backed by some evidence, or if there is at least some logical reason to suppose they might be true, you will believe in absolutely anything.
~Understanding Science

More Practical Skepticism responses coming soon.

About idoubtit

Fluent in science, animals, paranormal culture. Expert in weird news. Doubtfulnews.com SpookyGeology.com

0 thoughts on “Practical skepticism on “science doesn’t know everything”

      1. R.W.: I don’t see the point of that statement. It’s pseudo-profound, meant to be inflammatory. And it depends on people choosing one over the other. Most don’t. They rely on each when it works for them, when it’s convenient. I don’t read atheism blogs so I’m not clear what he normally writes about with regards to science and religion. Saying “science” doesn’t know everything is assuming that science is a group of people. If we say the same about religion, and assume it’s the best information from this field, it’s not true that they don’t know anything. They know their own doctrines and texts. They know what they are told to do or not to do. They know how to interpret things via that worldview. Of course, it all depends on what you mean by “know” which is all over the place. So, in essence, that statement makes know/no sense.

        I don’t wish to get sidetracked on an anti-religion tangent. But I want to point out, in case anyone is leaning that way, that thinking science will find the answer to everything is scientism – with which I don’t agree. http://www.csicop.org/specialarticles/show/over-reliance_on_science

    1. There is HARDLY a comparison between my typos and people who say U for you, ov for of and wif for with. Repeatedly. Don’t be pedantic and lose the point.

  1. Alas, the person you’re talking about just doesn’t seem to understand what science is or how it works. As you pointed out, it’s a process for learning, a method of gathering data, doing research, and reaching conclusions based on that information. Science isn’t ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, it is simply a tool used to attempt to explain observable facts. Psychics and their kin are fond of pointing out instances when science has allegedly failed, or seems to have been wrong, because they know that if their practices are examined with rigorous scrutiny it would expose what’s really going on. So they attempt to discredit scientific procedures

  2. And before you get the inevitable “Science has been wrong before” comment, I would like to refer them to this wonderful essay ‘The relativity of Wrong’ by Isaac Azimov, that many people have heard or seen only a small snippet of, but the whole thing, while long, is well worth reading in full, and worth bookmarking for future reference:

    http://hermiene.net/essays-trans/relativity_of_wrong.html

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