Sunday, February 7, 2010

An Open Mind: seeking truth rather than knowing it

It has been commonly assumed that life started in some ‘primordial soup’ of chemicals on the planet, and that somehow these chemicals begat life. How life began was still a mystery, but this ‘primordial soup’ idea seemed the most plausible. However, on February 3rd, the 80-year-old theory involving the origin of life was overturned. Quoting the linked article, the primordial soup idea could not provide the “sustained driving force to make anything react, and without an energy source, life as we know it can’t exist.” The new idea is that life began at hydrothermal vents in the ocean, where there is bountiful energy and already-existing chemical processes that resemble what today’s cells use for respiration.

One goal of reasonable people is to never become attached to your beliefs about the world in any way. If we do this, we can easily and happily accept new and better ideas, discarding the old. This is how science works: being able to converge on truth by letting the evidence speak for itself. It can be a slow process sometimes - in this case an 80-year process - but it is sure and steady.

One reason I reject religion is its inability to find truth. There is no objective guide to what is correct and incorrect in religion; things cannot be falsified. So when someone has a new idea, who is to say whether they are right or wrong? This is why there are so many sects of all the different religions instead of a single unified one. How can we know which ideas are right? There are many competing ideas in science too, but they will be resolved eventually, just like all the other debates before them.

When we compare science to religion as far as a branching tree of ideas, we can visualize that religion, since the beginning, has branched off constantly, wandering about and creating thousands of incompatible and unverifiable ideologies, and has so far discovered nothing about the world. Visualizing the creation and discarding of ideas in science, we can see that science converges on itself, slowly weeding out the incorrect ideas and replacing them with good ones. New branches of ideas are common, but unless observations continue to validate their claims, the branch disappears entirely. If the new idea is validated, the entire scientific community accepts the idea and jumps on the train. Using this objective and evidence-based method, science has been our one and only way of making discoveries about the world.

To me, humbly and slowly approaching the truth by studying the world is better than having a faith-based belief that you already know the truth. Which one sounds better to you?

- Evan

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