“Science Can’t Explain That!”


Let’s start with a quick example. Your friend loses his cellphone and comes to you claiming that your child stole it. Immediately you balk at this suggestion, for two reasons: one your angelic two-year old isn’t a thief! Secondly, your friend hasn’t seen his cellphone since last week when he was in vacation in Tahiti! I’m assuming you the reader don’t live in Tahiti, if you do, get off the net as soon as you’re done with this article and go enjoy a nice swim (but I digress!)  Now imagine your friend responds with this: “Prove that your kid didn’t steal my phone.”  Do you begin down a path to eliminate every single possibility that your kid is a kleptomaniac? Likely not.  You may recognize at this point that you can’t prove beyond all doubt that you aren’t harboring a cellphone theifr; however that is not the way to bet.

Now your friend delivers this priceless gem: “If you can’t explain what happened to my cellphone then your kid MUST have taken it!”

I doubt that I need to explain why this line of reasoning is a complete non-starter- (but I will anyway).   Let’s focus on two key points.

First, there may be any number of reasons why your friend can’t find his cellphone (In fact he doesn’t even have enough information to determine that it’s even been stolen). Just because he can’t explain what happened to his phone does not give him license to make up stories about people’s children.

Secondly, and in my opinion more importantly, even if you can’t prove that your child didn’t steal the phone, he still needs to provide strong evidence (note: not proof) that your child stole the phone. In other words the onus of the evidence is on the claimant.

Now, how many times have you heard said or in fact said yourself: “Science can’t explain that”. This is often taken as license to insert some creative non-evidenced, intuitive explanation- that is almost undoubtedly inaccurate- to explain some phenomena.

Yes modern science today can’t explain everything (though quite frankly it can explain an awful lot) but so what? 500 years ago we couldn’t explain why things fell down.  We thought disease was a result of demonic possessions or bad air (in the case of Malaria) and that taking baths resulted in sickness. The explanations to these mysteries were all non-intuitive, and would never have been found if we didn’t do the hard work of discovery. And guess what, what do you think people were saying then? Yes you guessed it: “Science can’t explain that”.

Science can’t explain that” and it’s more insidious and completely presumptuous cousin “Science will NEVER explain that” –used in this way- are nothing more than the sort of intellectual laziness that keeps humanity in the dark.  Whatever the case, the solution of a mystery is not some default dissatisfactory “explanation” that is internally inconsistent and which cannot itself be verified.

Just like your fictitious friend who blames your two year old of theft, if one claims an explanation for a phenomena, one needs to provide strong evidence, and not merely to assert that because “science can’t explain it”  their default belief is true.

I’m sure your (perhaps) hypothetical two-year old would agree!

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