Scientific ignorance

According to one sampling, even 16% of science teachers in the USA believe that the Earth is only a few thousand years old. They must be woefully ignorant of elementary geology, astronomy, and radioactivity.

The rocks at the summits of the Himalaya mountains are known to be the metamorphosed product of tiny organisms that lived in the sea. How can they have got there? There's hardly enough oxygen in the atmosphere to supply an ordinary human's breathing up there. There certainly isn't enough water for Noah's Flood to wash these micro-seashells up there, and still you only have white mud, not rocks.

The general population is even more ignorant, chiefly because the best educational medium ever devised, the broadcast services, is paid for by people who care nothing for public science education. If you want to promote brand names like Excedrin, Tylenol, Motrin, or Advil, then you have no use for words like acetyl-salicylic acid, acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or naproxen. JBS Haldane reported that tiny amounts of acid potassium phosphate in water were known to boost by 20% the efforts of manual workers without unpleasantness. I suspect that "sports drinks" depend upon it, but I've seen no mention of it. After all, it's obviously an unnatural "chemical". (N.B. our drinking supplies are full of dihydrogen monoxide, a chemical that causes metals to rust, and is a chief constituent of acid rain. Visit if you do not know its other name.)

Some of the best-known names in science are Galileo, Newton, Lavoisier, Pasteur, Jenner, Koch, Walter Reed, Darwin, Mendel, Faraday, Kelvin, Maxwell, Curie, Rutherford, Planck, Einstein, Hawking, Crick, and Watson. But the most fundamental principle of science is simpler than any of their discoveries. It was enunciated quite clearly (in Latin) by the devout theologian Baruch Spinoza. It amounts to the proposition that if there is a Creator who is One, eternal, all-wise, all-powerful, and flawless, then the Creator's first Act of Creation was to decide the principles of operation of the Universe to be created.

We now call these principles the Laws of Nature, and admittedly do not know all of them. But the phrase is misleading, because human laws can be broken or subverted, and are designed to be changed, or democratic nations wouldn't need legislatures.

But the principles of operation of the Universe, when we assume them to be invariant, give experimental results consistent enough that the work of Kepler, Copernicus, Galileo and Newton showed that the bodies in the 'heavens' obeyed the same 'laws' of motion as those on earth. Applying this to a trifling discrepancy in the orbit of the planet Saturn then was used to compute the position of the formerly unknown planet (Uranus) causing it. Even more important, an exception to Newton's formulation is the case of Mercury, where a tiny observational discrepancy was finally explained by an extension to Newton's discoveries. The exception comes from the mathematical consequences of the fact that there is a maximum speed at which any signal can travel. It is the speed of the fastest known signal carrier, electromagnetic radiation, e.g. visible light. Astonishingly enough, this leads to the conclusion that the effective mass of an object at very high speeds will increase. So the effect of Newton's formulation of gravity has to be adjusted by the fact that it acts upon a planet whose mass is not quite constant. We also find from these results that energy is equivalent to mass, in a proportion described by Einstein's most famous equation.

Now if the Lord God Almighty decreed these laws, is it reasonable to suppose that He would suffer them to be suspended in response to flattery, pleading, or bribery from anything so puny as a group of the inhabitants of a tiny, very temporary planet? If he did, how can the rest of these humans count upon any evidence whatsoever? Forgeries like the Piltdown Man, and the Shroud of Turin, and more relics of Christ's bones than a human skeleton could possibly weigh, are fairly well established as the work of misguided or fraudulent persons.

Scholars suspect that some of the content of the Holy Scriptures (Hebrew, Christian, Islamic, or Mormon) includes forgeries. But if supernatural intervention is possible, then forgeries by prayer would be possible too, and they'd be undetectable.

J.B.S. Haldane was asked for a test that, if proven, would refute Darwin's theory of Evolution. His answer was "Rabbit fossils in the pre-Cambrian!" So, if a group of "Creationist" believers wished it, they could pray for the Lord God actually and miraculously to place genuine rabbit fossils in the rocks of the Pre-Cambrian, and cause them to be discovered. This would meet the atheist Haldane's stated criterion. It would, of course, amount to a falsehood uttered by the Almighty Himself! It would not merely disprove Darwin's theory, it would undermine the entire edifice upon which our technological civilization is built.

There are "recent creation" theorists who account for the visibility of galaxies millions of light-years distant by supposing that the speed of light in the week of Creation was many times higher than it is now. But Einstein's energy equation, (Energy created) = (mass destroyed) x (speed of light)_squared does not care that the speed of light is about one thousand million feet per second. If in the past it were only ten times as high, the stars then would be emitting a hundred times as much energy. The light spectrum now arriving would be much brighter and bluer, in fact it would seem to be blue-shifted, the opposite of the 'red shift' that we actually observe. So if a galaxy seems to be a million 'slow light years' away, then if we assume that the speed of light when it left was ten times higher, it must be at least ten times as far away as we thought. The idea that the speed of light has changed dramatically in the last ten thousand years is simply ridiculous, but when I try to pursue it with the question "What would it do to the spectrum of an element?" I arrive at absurdities that are imponderable.
I suspect that the actual stability of atoms or their nuclei would be upset.
On the other hand, the phrase "in the past", applied to the entire Universe, presumes that our entire galaxy shares the same chronology as Earth, i.e. absolute time. The application of Einstein's equations, which is in fact required to obtain accurate results from the GPS satellite system, serves to support his conclusion that absolute time does not exist.

The defense team in O.J. Simpson's trial alleged that the evidence presented by the prosecution had been falsified by the police. Nobody, to my knowledge, even in the most superstitious parts of the USA, has alleged that evidence was miraculously falsified.

Nevertheless, although the possibility of supernatural intervention is consistent only with the sort of capricious world that is ruled by quarreling deities, belief in such a possibility is widespread even in countries crucially dependent upon scientific laws and technology.

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