Friday, September 9, 2011

The Relativity of Wrong: Governor Perry should read Asimov

Some of my Facebook friends and family got into a discussion about Governor Perry's claim that evolution is "just a theory" (alongside global warming) and shouldn't taught in school. Leo James (a bit of nespotic promo: singer/songwriter and world-class juggler) had this to say:
"Rick Perry thinks we shouldn't talk or teach about evolution and climate change since the scientists aren't certain yet. We are not certain of anything, should we just not talk anymore either? Perhaps we shouldn't teach gravity until we find the higgs-boson particle and become sure that we understand the simple forces that make up the universe. ... Remember children, gravity is just a theory."
It reminded me of one of my all-time favorite essays: The Relativity of Wrong by scientist and master of science fiction Isaac Asimov.

Asimov's thesis is that there are degrees of knowledge, from a raw theory with no supporting data, to a theory so thoroughly proved that we can call it a certain. This is nothing new to scientists – it's the essence of science itself. But Asimov explains it so much better than anyone else:
"... [When] people thought the earth was flat, they were wrong. When people thought the earth was spherical, they were wrong. But if you think that thinking the earth is spherical is just as wrong as thinking the earth is flat, then your view is wronger than both of them put together.

"The basic trouble, you see, is that people think that 'right' and 'wrong' are absolute; that everything that isn't perfectly and completely right is totally and equally wrong."
Asimov goes on to explain in layman's terms why ideas like "right" and "wrong" are themselves misleading. Knowledge doesn't come in absolutes.

Governor Perry and other creationists misuse the very foundations of human knowledge and understanding when they try to divide science into "right" and "wrong." It shows a profound misunderstanding of how science progresses, and of the meaning of the word "knowledge" itself.

Governor Perry is asking us to elect him the leader of the most powerful country in the world, a nation whose military budget exceeds that of all other nations combined, and which has led the rest of the world in scientific discoveries for the last century. It's frightening to think this could actually happen.

Asimov's essay should be required reading for all politicians.

2 comments:

  1. My favorite quote from that essay is "The basic trouble, you see, is that people think that 'right' and 'wrong' are absolute; that everything that isn't perfectly and completely right is totally and equally wrong." -Asimov

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    -Leo James

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  2. If you think that climate change isn't backed up by science but are sure there is hard evidence that God created the world several thousand years ago, you just might be a redneck.
    And Asimov rocks.

    ReplyDelete

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