Thursday, August 9, 2012

Neil Degreasse Tyson on Scientific Progress

I recently came across this quote:

“Every great scientific truth goes through three phases. First, people deny it. Second, they say it conflicts with the Bible. Third, they say they’ve known it all along.” —Neil Degrasse Tyson
I found it in a clip from Real Time with Bill Maher.

I think that it generalizes a bit too much. Everything goes through the first phase for varying lengths of time, because new knowledge is not instantaneously distributed. Also, science is a process that resists paradigm shifts until overwhelming evidence is brought forth. There are some major scientific theories,such as quantum mechanics, that did not go through phases 2 and 3. People found no conflict with the bible and quantum mechanics (some more liberal churches even took it as a method of God's divine intervention), and they certainly didn't say they knew it all along because it is so darn counter-intuitive.

The big bang theory is another matter though. The term "Big Bang" was coined to poke fun at the theory (phase 1). Many prominent Christians spoke out against the theory because it proposed a naturalistic origin to the cosmos as well as a timescale that was incompatible with their literal interpretation of the Bible (phase 2). Now, most Christians accept the Big Bang claiming that it was already fully described in Gen 1:1-2 (phase 3).

The heliocentric model is another good example. The Geocentric model was pretty good for all practical purposes, so there was pushback (phase 1). The official church position was geocentrism, citing verses such as 1 Chronicles 16:30, Ecclesiastes 1:5, Psalms 93:1 96:10 104:5, Job 28:24, and Isaiah 48:13 among others to demonstrate that the earth stood firm and did not move through the heavens culminating in the infamous trial of Galileo in 1633 (phase 2). The church did not lift its ban on heliocentric books until 1758 and did not allow them to be printed in Rome until 1822. The church finally apologized in 2000. Now people simply say they were wrong in their interpretation of the Bible all along and that it doesn't actually support Geo-centrism, although they do not now claim that the Bible supports Heliocentrism (phase 3).

The theory of evolution is currently in phase 2 and has been for roughly 150 years, though a growing number of denominations are moving into phase 3.

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