Thursday, January 29, 2009

X=whatever works

For those of you who don't remember high school Algebra, other than the zombie-like expression on the face of your fellow detainees, you cannot solve for two variables if you only have one equation. You need two. Three variables, three equations. Four variables, four equations, and so on.

When it comes to less stringent sciences, like economics, the variables are endless and the equations are few. That's why it's so frightening when the government decides to "help" the economy along. All they're doing is adding another variable into a sea of unknowns.

Now let's apply what we've learned to something even less tangible: the creation of the universe and, more specifically, life.

Science has attempted to explain the origins of life with a few known variables. For example, depth of fossils, nitrogen content in the atmosphere, the decay rate of certain radioactive particles, etc. While the scienctific community has opened our understanding of the natural world, no human being can ever claim to have the answer to the million dollar question: where did it all come from?

One of the first things I learned while working on my engineering degree is the art/science of making assumptions. Assumptions allow us to plug in a likely number where one doesn't exist. The further one goes back in time, the larger the pool of unknown variables. The scientist has no choice but to plug in more and more assumptions to get his answer. So if x in the equation is the age of the Earth, he'll plug in his last assumption. How about one-hundred billion years? Yes, that will work nicely. Now to the next assumption...

See where I'm going with this? This same scientist's "Age of the Earth" equation also involved hundreds, if not thousands, of assumptions. Which leads us to the next thing I learned as a young engineer: margin of error. The more assumptions one makes, the greater the margin of error. Even on something as "simple" as building a skyscraper, a few wrong assumptions and the whole thing comes toppling down. Aren't we glad that humans didn't design the planet?

The point of this post is not to argue the age of the Earth. That's simply another impossible-to-know variable in a long list. The point of this post is bring home this point: no human can assume to know the origins of life. It's all guesswork. Much of it with very good arguments. It must have very good arguments because there simply exists no proof. Or, at best, circumstantial evidence.

But I can make my point even more easily than that. I don't even need Algebra.

to be continued....

1 comment:

Aaron Grayhek said...

I think the important thing to keep in mind is that all science including evolutionary biology is legitmate science. Even if the conclusions are not provable as no scientific theory is provable empirically, otherwise you would have to test every instance of every phenomenon infinitely and come up with the same result every time. This is not possible thus all scientific theory, whether we accept it or not is nothing more than man's best guess. Mr. Spock would be very disappointed.