Are Scientists always right, consistently infallible?

Major update: 8th January 2022

Are Scientists always right, consistently infallible?

You can’t question Science

Scientist in a white lab coat. Are Scientists always right, consistently infallible?

People are prone to accept without question a ‘scientific’ view, but are Scientists always right?
Some adverts on TV have people in white lab coats to make it more credible.

What is worrying is that some, or perhaps many people, are willing to totally accept what is said.

I am not saying that we become anti-science but I would like to see people have more of an open mind on things.

So I will say it again: Scientists are not infallible.
They can and do get things wrong!
To give just one example of how ‘Science’ changes it’s views:

Intersex babies – are Scientists always right?

What is ‘intersex’? Here it explains this situation:

It’s hard to know exactly how many people are intersex, but estimates suggest that about 1-2 in 100 people born in the U.S. are intersex.
There are many different ways someone can be intersex.
Some intersex people have genitals or internal sex organs that fall outside the male/female categories — such as a person with both ovarian and testicular tissues.
Other intersex people have combinations of chromosomes that are different than XY ( usually associated with male) and XX (usually associated with female), like XXY.
And some people are born with external genitals that fall into the typical male/female categories, but their internal organs or hormones don’t.

‘What’s intersex?’ by Planned Parenthood [i]

In the mid and late part of the 20th century a scientist, Dr John Money had a theory that was accepted by virtually all other scientists.
The theory was, that the sex of a baby remained ‘fluid’ until about 2 years old, therefore a baby could be ‘programmed’ by it’s surroundings to be a boy, or a girl.
This was mainly relating to ‘Intersex’ babies:

Sometimes doctors do surgeries on intersex babies and children to make their bodies fit binary ideas of ‘male’ or ‘female’.
Doctors always assign intersex babies a legal sex (male or female, in most states), but, just like with non-intersex people, that doesn’t mean that’s the gender identity they’ll grow up to have.”

‘What’s intersex?’ by Planned Parenthood [i]

This fluid sexuality theory quashed other suggestions for many decades.

In 2003 it was thought that the sex of a baby was determined in the womb by a small part of the brain. [ii]

But in 2018 it is now believed that

Medical researchers at Melbourne’s Murdoch Children’s Research Institute have made a new discovery about how a baby’s sex is determined — it’s not just about the X-Y chromosomes, but involves a ‘regulator’ that increases or decreases the activity of genes which decide if we become male or female…
The Y chromosome carries a critical gene, called SRY, which acts on another gene called SOX9 to start the development of testes in the embryo.
High levels of the SOX9 gene are needed for normal testis development.
However, if there is some disruption to SOX9 activity and only low levels are present, a testis will not develop resulting in a baby with a disorder of sex development.
Lead author of the study, Professor Andrew Sinclair, said that 90 percent of human DNA is made up of so called ‘junk DNA or dark matter’ which contains no genes but does carry important regulators that increase or decrease gene activity…”

‘Geneticists make new discovery about how a baby’s sex is determined’ by Science Daily [iii]

Science does change it’s views.

Calculating the distance of stars

If I said that scientists have come up with two distances for the Polaris star and one calculation is 30 percent closer, would that cast doubt on star distancing?

Polaris… was discovered by Astronomer William Herschel in the year 1780, and up until 1990, was estimated to be 425 light years away from the Earth.
A European Space Agency’s Hipparcos Satellite put the estimate at 434 light years away in 1990, but all that may have changed.
A new study has indicated that the star is only 323 light years away, 111 light years closer than previously thought…
‘Polaris presents certain anomalies that have so far defied a straightforward interpretation,’ said study leader David Turner of Canada’s Saint Mary’s University. ‘Our high-resolution spectroscopic observations of Polaris may signal the beginning of a new era in understanding the star.’ “

‘Space: Polaris, The North Star is Closer Than Previously Thought’ By Jim Donahue November 30, 2012 [xi]

Then later in 21 Mar 2020:

Polaris is the nearest Cepheid to us and as such holds a special place in our understanding of Cepheids in general and the Leavitt Law*.
In the past couple of decades, we have learned many new things about the star as a Cepheid and as the primary component of a multiple star system.
As such, we are more precisely measuring the mass, radius and evolution of Polaris.
However, as we learn more, it is becoming clear that we understand less.
There is evidence that Polaris is much less massive than stellar evolution models suggest and that Polaris is a much younger star than its main sequence companion.
In this work, we review some of the recent measurements and their connections with past studies.
We then present new stellar evolution models and populations synthesis calculations to compare with the new mass measurements by Evans et al. (2018).
We find that the mass discrepancy for Polaris is about 50%.
We also find that there is a likely age discrepancy between Polaris and its companion, but that there is also a very small probability that the discrepancy is not real.”

‘The Curious Case of the North Star: the continuing tension between evolution models and measurements of Polaris’ by Hilding R. Neilson, Haley Blinn [xiii]

* Leavitt law in astronomy is called: ‘A period-luminosity relation’ which is a relationship linking the luminosity of pulsating variable stars with their pulsation period. (Especially for Classical Cepheid variables). [xii]

Hilding R. Neilson continues the explanation:

That information, combined with new Hubble Space Telescope “parallax” measurements — another way to calculate the distance to the star — lead to very precise numbers on Polaris’s mass and distance. Those measurements say it’s about 3.45 times the mass of the sun, give or take 0.75 solar masses. That’s way less than the mass you get from stellar evolution models, which suggest a value of about seven times the mass of the sun…
One possibility is that at least one of the measurements here is just wrong, the researchers wrote.”

‘The Curious Case of the North Star: the continuing tension between evolution models and measurements of Polaris’ by Hilding R. Neilson, Haley Blinn [xiii]

Does it matter about getting it right?
Yes, because a lot of things hinge on it:

Solid knowledge of the distance to Polaris will facilitate efforts to determine the Hubble constant and constrain parameters for the mysterious dark energy.
A reliable distance to Polaris would enable further calibration of the famed Cepheid relations, which lie at the heart of establishing the cosmic distance scale.”

‘Astronomers clash over the distance to the famed North Star’ by Canadian Astronomical Society 30 Nov 2012 [x]

And more reasons for it needing to be correct:

The debate isn’t just academic.
Astronomers have used stars like Polaris for decades as ‘standard candles’ in calibrating cosmic distances and estimating how fast the universe is expanding.
If this very basic measurement of Polaris’s distance were to remain in dispute, it would arguably cast doubt on the cosmological distance scale as a whole, and cause astronomers to wonder about the reliability of distance measurements for much of Hipparcos’s 120,000 star catalogue.”

‘Polaris: Not So Close After All – Astronomer rebuts report that the North Star is 111 light-years nearer than thought By Bruce Dorminey [ix]

How scientists try to work out the distances of stars

Astrophysicists have a few ways to calculate the mass, age and distance of a star like Polaris:

One method is a stellar evolution model, said new study co-author Hilding R. Neilson, an astrophysicist at the University of Toronto.
Researchers can study the brightness, color and rate of pulsation of the star and use that data to figure out how big and bright it is and what stage of life it’s in.
Once those details are worked out, Neilson told Live Science, it’s not hard to figure out how far away the star is;
it’s fairly simple math once you know how bright the star really is and how dim it looks from Earth.”

‘Something strange is going on with the North Star’ By Rafi Letzter published March 11, 2020 [ix]

Method number two:

But there are other ways to study Polaris, and those methods don’t agree with the stellar evolution models.
‘Polaris is what we call an astrometric binary,’ Neilson said, ‘which means you can actually see its companion going around it, sort of like a circle being drawn around Polaris. And that takes about 26 years…’
With that information, you can apply Newton’s laws of gravity to measure the masses of the two stars.”

‘Something strange is going on with the North Star’ By Rafi Letzter published March 11, 2020 [ix]

Method number three, the trigonometric parallax (Hubble Space Telescope parallax) measurements:

Distances to stars comparatively near to our Sun can be measured using a technique known as trigonometric parallax..
Trigonometric parallax can be used to measure the distance of close stars. ESA Hubble [x]

Distances to stars comparatively near to our Sun can be measured using a technique known as trigonometric parallax.
This can only be done if the star is close enough to show an apparent shift in position relative to much more distant background stars, shown in the upper right of this image.
This requires viewing the star on two different occasions, when Earth is on opposite sides of the Sun (seen lower left). Telescopes like Hubble can then precisely measure the very small angular displacement of the star between observations.
When this value is combined using geometry with the value for Earth’s orbital diameter, a precise distance can be calculated. Land surveyors commonly use this triangulation technique.”

‘Stellar parallax’ ESA Hubble [xi]

Areas of science can be in a state of flux

It is good that we get closer and closer to the correct answer.
But we are on this learning journey and we don’t actually know at any point in time which is the correct and final answer.

Scientists can declare something as fact, and then years later it is discovered to be false!
Over the years, the rock solid, scientific answers do change!

Sir Karl Popper believes this and it has been written about him:

In his view, science is so valuable because of its open- mindedness, because any of its achievements may at any time be given up and newer achievements may be hoped for to replace the relinquished ones.
Science, says Popper, is at constant war with itself, and it progresses by revolutions and internal conflicts.”

Science in Flux [iv]

A new scientific idea comes along, and the old scientific idea is thrown out.
Remember, what a scientist says is not necessarily correct and true.
Even though they sound very convincing, the opinions of scientists do change.

So in other words, the ‘facts’ that the scientists are giving us now may be correct, or they may be just tossed aside and a new figure given.
The problem is that we don’t know where we are along this line of progressive knowledge.
At any and every time the scientists may be convinced that they have got to the final, correct, figure – but we just don’t know that for sure.

Late 1880's Bausch & Lomb Optical Company microscope.
Late 1880’s Bausch & Lomb Optical Company microscope [v]

Don’t go beyond what the Bible says

Let’s hold tightly onto what is written in the Bible, which cannot be wrong, but we may interpret it incorrectly!

We need to realise that when we look at the Bible, we’re not sorting out the myth from the truth.
There are different ways of looking at what is written in the Bible, and many agree with four sub-methods of Scriptural interpretation:

  • the literal: teaches what God and our ancestors did
  • the allegory: where our faith and belief is hidden
  • the moral: gives us the rule of daily life
  • the spiritual: direct words to us now

Another problem can be that the translation we are using may be slightly wrong – I’ve seen a group of Bible translators spend one whole session on one word, in this case it was ‘slave’ trying to give it the correct rendering in todays language. (The reason behind this particular example was that the modern word ‘slave’ was very different from the Hebrew meaning of that word).

Over many centuries mankind’s view of the Earth and what was the centre of our universe has changed:

Many mythological cosmologies included an axis mundi, the central axis of a flat Earth that connects the Earth, heavens, and other realms together.
In the 4th century BC Greece, philosophers developed the geocentric model, based on astronomical observation;
This model proposed that the centre of the Universe lies at the centre of a spherical, stationary Earth, around which the Sun, Moon, planets, and stars rotate.
With the development of the heliocentric model by Nicolaus Copernicus in the 16th century, the Sun was believed to be the centre of the Universe, with the planets (including Earth) and stars orbiting it.”

‘History of the centre of the Universe’ Wikipedia [vi]

Later scientists had more theories based on their calculations of their time:

In a treatise in 1755, Immanuel Kant elaborated on Wright’s idea about the structure of the Milky Way.
In 1785, William Herschel proposed such a model based on observation and measurement, leading to scientific acceptance of galactocentrism, a form of heliocentrism with the Sun at the centre of the Milky Way.”

‘History of the centre of the Universe’ Wikipedia [vi]

Later still more insights were found so the theories changed:

The 19th century astronomer Johann Heinrich von Mädler proposed the Central Sun Hypothesis, according to which the stars of the universe revolved around a point in the Pleiades.

‘History of the centre of the Universe’ Wikipedia [vi]

And again:

In 1917… Curtis was able to estimate that Andromeda was 500,000 light-years away.
As a result, Curtis became a proponent of the so-called “island Universes” hypothesis, which held that objects previously believed to be spiral nebulae within the Milky Way were actually independent galaxies.”

‘History of the centre of the Universe’ Wikipedia [vi]

Then in 1925

Edwin Hubble settled the debate about whether other galaxies exist in 1925 when he identified extragalactic Cepheid variable stars for the first time on astronomical photos of M31…
Hubble also demonstrated that the redshift of other galaxies is approximately proportional to their distance from Earth (Hubble’s law).
This raised the appearance of our galaxy being in the centre of an expanding Universe.
However, Hubble rejected the findings philosophically:
‘…if we see the nebulae all receding from our position in space, then every other observer, no matter where he may be located, will see the nebulae all receding from his position.
However, the assumption is adopted.
There must be no favoured location in the Universe, no centre, no boundary; all must see the Universe alike…’..”

‘History of the centre of the Universe’ Wikipedia [vi]

Throughout these changing scientific facts, many Christians would have been influenced by these new findings.
From our earthly viewpoint it does look as if we are at the centre of the universe.
Scientists then confirmed this idea but the Bible doesn’t actually say that.
Then science proved that the Earth orbits the sun and that we are in a HUGE universe.
Many Christians would have been shaken by that, but their interpretation had gone further than what the Bible is saying.

So let’s hold lightly onto what the scientists tell us, because in a few decades they may be proved wrong.
See an article on: What is truth?
And remember the big spanner in all these calculations is that God the Creator can do what he likes – the Bible tells us that he spoke things into being.
Can we really trust Wikipedia, education, TV and newspapers?

Jesus said:

I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.”

Matthew 5:18

[i] ‘What’s intersex?’ by Planned Parenthood
[ii] Thanks to the Horizon Programme BBC2 “The Boy Who Turned Into a Girl” 31/07/03
[iii] ‘Geneticists make new discovery about how a baby’s sex is determined’ by Science Daily
[iv] Springer Link
[v] Photo credit: Smithsonian Institution
[vi] ‘History of the centre of the Universe’ Wikipedia
[vii] Scientist image: thanks to Serif RESOURCE CD.
[viii] ‘North Star Closer to Earth Than Thought’ – Famous star’s distance was overestimated in previous studies, astronomers say. By Andrew Fazekas
[ix] ‘Polaris: Not So Close After All – Astronomer rebuts report that the North Star is 111 light-years nearer than thought’ By Bruce Dorminey. Science. 18 Jan 2019
[x] ‘Astronomers clash over the distance to the famed North Star’ by Canadian Astronomical Society 30 Nov 2012
[xi] ‘Space: Polaris, The North Star is Closer Than Previously Thought’ By Jim Donahue November 30, 2012
[xii] ‘Period-luminosity relation’ Wikipedia
[xiii] ‘The Curious Case of the North Star: the continuing tension between evolution models and measurements of Polaris’ by Hilding R. Neilson, Haley Blinn
[ix] ‘Something strange is going on with the North Star’ By Rafi Letzter published March 11, 2020
[x] Image Credit: NASAESA, and A. Feild (STScI)
[xi] ‘Stellar parallax’ ESA Hubble

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5 responses to “Are Scientists always right, consistently infallible?”

  1. I doubt they would believe that. People are capable of believing all kinds of things and I suspect they have something in their heads that justifies only giving “lip service.”

  2. I totally agree with you when you say “but ultimately one should be careful about how far one goes in the other direction.” if you have got the ‘Fundamentalist’ type of Christianity in mind (where the words ‘severe’ ‘judgemental’ ‘legalistic’ and ‘joyless’ may describe them).
    On the other hand I would disagree – if someone didn’t WHOLEHEARTEDLY embrace the teachings of Jesus and commit themselves to Him then they would be at best just be showing lip service and at worst would actually be a fraud.

  3. It seems unfortunately that that is the case. Although me and my housemates might giggle when an advert proclaims the products was developed WITH SCIENCE!!! the fact is many people will take that as confirmation.

    Similarly news stories often take extreme bits of preliminary research and sensationalise them, then people get confused when a contradictory article is published the next day.

    So care should be taken to understand how science works, but ultimately one should be careful about how far one goes in the other direction.

  4. Thanks Adam for your comment.
    I am not against science – it is a wonderful tool to discover things, and I guess scientists know their fallibility, but I’m not so sure the general public are so aware of the fallibility side of it – hence my post.
    My unwritten assumption is that a number of people see Christians as ‘blindly accepting’ the Bible. For me that is the ‘faith’ bit in something we believe to be true.
    The post was emphasizing what I have observed, and feel is not recognised, that there are people who accept the statements of science without questioning it – a ‘blindly accepting’ it through ‘faith’ if you like.
    I hope I have fully understood your comment.

  5. But both scientists and religious-types are examining an allegedly unchanging source – reality and the Bible respectively – and then making potentially fallible observations about it.

    Thus to compare the source of one with the interpretation with the other is to make a false comparison. The source of both remains fairly consistent and the interpretations of both can be wrong.

    As such to dismiss one as fallible whilst accepting another is ultimately unfounded, at least on this line of reasoning.

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