When you listen to people like Ken Ham the ill informed could be forgiven for accepting his creationist hypothesis. This belief in his utterly rediculous proposition is rendered all the more understandable if we consider how those of us who value the enlightenment talk about scientific fact.
Often in debate or in the media we refer to scientific fact as a subject which one can either believe in or not. By stating that we ‘believe’ in evolution or that we believe that the earth is 4.54 billion years old we are actually offering up scientific fact as a matter of faith and therefore conjecture. In doing so we provide an opportunity for people like Ham to engage in a pseudo debate with the scientific community. Ostensibly these debates focus upon why your belief is any more credible than my belief. As belief is entirely subjective it is easy to see why so many become confused.
So for all of us who want to share enlightenment with those who are shrouded in superstition and idolisation I believe it is time to reevaluate the language we use. I suggest that we should abandon any reference to belief and rather be clear about what we understand to be fully evidenced facts.
Immediately this will invite accusations of a sense of superiority and arrogance for those of us who adopt this tack. However if we are clear about the difference between hypothesis and theory, and if we also understand the power of language to effect thought, we should be able to both explain ourselves and get our message across more effectively.
We need to be able to explain to people that a hypothesis, such as creationism, is merely a proposal to explain an observation or account for known facts. On the other hand a theory emerges following experimentation and observation to test the validity of a hypothesis. Therefore the theory of evolution has been evidenced following countless independent, peer reviews of the available evidence. Conversely creationism has no known corroborative evidence, has not been peer reviewed, lacks experimental data sets and is simply an unsubstantiated hypothesis.
Furthermore, once a theory is established, further peer review and experiment can lead to a point where the theory is proven to be true. The theory becomes an established fact no longer a matter for debate. Those of us who are familiar with the scientific method, should be confident in saying so.
For example a long standing theory that explains the possible origin of the universe is the big bang theory of inflation. This has been tested through experimentation over the last 35 years and has become a cornerstone of cosmology. Not because cosmologists “believe” in it (although they may say themselves that they do) but because the available experimental, peer reviewed, evidence seems to support the theory.
As a result of the findings of the BICEP2 team the theory of inflation could well be moving towards established fact. However, in order for that to be true, the available evidence will be independently verified, tested through prolific experimentation, modeled and remodeled with every scientific mind doing their very best to disprove the theory. However, once this process is complete, should BICEP2 findings be corroborated, then we should not shy away from stating that we do understand how the universe came into being. Big bang inflation will be a fact, not a belief.
So why is changing our language such an issue? Firstly I have no doubt that when the scientific community presents inflation as an explanation for the origins of the universe there will be many who dismiss it. No one is ever going to convince the likes of Ken Ham that he is wrong.
His anti scientific rhetoric, whilst making him wealthy, does present a danger to all our futures. If successive generations grow up believing such drivel we will have numerous associated problems for years to come. Many of these lost individuals will permeate their silly superstition throughout society. Politicians will have to pander to it for votes and scientific endeavour will be undermined whilst valuable resources are lost trying to justify something which is patently absurd.
However, if we strive to change the language we use it will change future generations understanding. Quite simply language is the tool we use to describe our perception both to others and to ourselves. If we change the frame of reference within the language we use that will inevitably lead to a change in thought, perception and understanding.
For example many people in the UK bemoan what they see as political correctness. We no longer say wife or husband but rather partner, we don’t use derogatory names such as poof or nigger but rather say homosexual (gay) or black person etc.
The point is that whilst these adjustments in language can seem difficult for the generation that changes its use, subsequent generations will simply adopt that language as a their means of describing their world. These derogatory terms, and the pernicious ideas they stem from, will simply disappear from common parlance and, subsequently, thought.
Similarly if we start now talking about scientific fact rather than belief we will introduce into the lexicon the idea that some things have already been proven to be true. They are not matters for further debate but are, instead, the foundations upon which we can further our understanding.
Whilst Ken Ham will never accept such statements of fact his grandchildren may do so without hesitation.