Science is better at disproving things than it is at proving them. The Popperian sentiment, as discussed by Richard Feynman in this video is that science can never know if something is right…it can only know if it’s wrong.
When the logical or practical implications of an idea don’t match reality, then that idea is wrong. So, when a theory exists that replaced another theory, the implication is that the newer theory described reality, predicted outcomes, or was more consistently accurate than its predecessor.
For example, consider the following hypothesis: Radioactive decay used to go a lot faster than it does now. At some point in history, radioactive decay slowed down to its current rate.
Background: radioactive decay, as simply as I can put it, is the process of unstable, radioactive material naturally losing particles over time. Scientific convention says that radioactive decay is measurable and consistent. Each radioactive material has its own half-life, and these half-lives are well understood. Half-life refers to the amount of time it takes for half the radioactive material’s to be lost. More specifically, half-life is measured using the probability that 50% of the atom’s particles will be lost, and this is often computed logarithmically. When radioactive material loses its particles, it actually is converted to another element; for instance, certain isotopes of Uranium convert to distinct isotopes of lead. There are many examples of various radioactive isotopes decaying into other isotopes.
This radioactive-decay-rate-change hypothesis would be very appealing to young Earth Creationists (assuming that many of them know what radioactive decay is), because it would support their notion that the Earth is very young; however, in order for this idea to have much merit, it ought to be able to demonstrate some of the following things:
1. It ought to be logically sound
2. It ought to agree with experiment or, at the very least, observation
3. It ought to allow for accurate predictions
4. It ought to paint a picture that is difficult to refute
5. It ought to be more correct than any competing idea
Let’s walk through these bullet points.
Is this hypothesis logically sound? What sort of evidence would support its soundness? For me, the logical soundness of the idea that radioactive decay rate has changed over time could be demonstrated with any of the following observations:
1. We see inconsistency in observed decay rates
2. We see geological evidence that would support this (melting in particular strata, other energy increase events)
3. We could stimulate increased decay rate
But none of these observations are actually observed. So, there is already a serious problem with the hypothesis that decay frequency changes in meaningful ways over time
Does this hypothesis agree with experiment or observations? Since we cannot manage to speed up decay rate, despite enormous efforts to do so, we fail to corroborate on that front. A couple years ago, physicists noticed that solar flares could have minor impacts on decay of manganese-54 and chlorine-36. However, as far as I can tell, we haven’t noticed this happening with other isotopes. Moreover, the change in decay rate was relatively small and did not appear to affect overall half-life in general…certainly not to the extent where one could logically justify the notion that the Earth began in 4004 BC.
Does the changing decay rate hypothesis allow us to make accurate predictions about anything? One thing it might imply is that, going forward, we will continue to observe changes in decay rate; yet, we haven’t seen decay rate change, even though we’ve been paying attention since the late 1800s. This, I think is another nail in the coffin for this hypothesis.
Does changing decay rate paint a picture of reality that makes it difficult to refute? Consider for a moment, this example: if we suppose that water freezes at 0 degrees celsius, then it should follow that anytime the temperature is at-or-below that level, water, when exposed for a prolonged amount of time, would freeze. It would be rather difficult to refute this water freezing hypothesis, unless of course you could demonstrate that water doesn’t freeze after prolonged exposure to temperatures at-or-below 0 degrees celsius. It turns out that water, with prolonged exposure, does freeze at this temperature.
This changing decay rate should be similarly difficult to refute, and paint a picture that makes sense, given our observations. Assuming that decay rate used to go much faster, but at some point decreased, there should be some sort of natural phenomenon or evidence that demonstrates that. In fact, it would be remarkably clear if that was the case. But no. We don’t see any evidence of any of that.
This leads into the final item: is this hypothesis more correct than any competing hypothesis? No. And so far, there hasn’t been anything compelling about this hypothesis. It’s ridiculous. Hypothesis fail.
The reason young Earth creationists are so frustrated with science is because science doesn’t agree with their ideas. Therefore, according to many young Earth creationists, all scientists are in a conspiracy with the government and the media, with the intent of disproving God. Makes sense, right? If the science doesn’t agree, kill the science.
The real reason science disagrees with Young Earth Creationist dogma is because the ideas are shit, and its advocates are idiots.
Does science disprove God? I don’t know. I don’t think so. I think nearly every single statement in the Christian bible could be proven false, and you would still fail to disprove God (of the Deism or Pantheism variety, not to mention the God of other monotheistic or polytheistic religions). But like I mentioned at the begging of this post, science is better at disproving than it is at proving. I doubt that science (alone) could ever disprove God. But the real question is: why do we believe in a God? Part of the reason is because the bible explained things that we once did not understand. For instance, we now understand a rainbow is caused by reflection, refraction, and dispersion of light in water droplets. Genesis explains that rainbows are God’s reminder to himself not to kill everyone with a flood, again.
It’s a little bit crazy that the people who are so adamantly rejecting science are not at all adamantly opposed to these silly fairy tales. Motivated reasoning much?