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Peer Review and Scientific Progress

For centuries, learned and wise academics found no reason to doubt that the laws of physics in the heavens were different from what they were on earth. Terrestrial objects were felt to seek their place at rest close to the center of the earth but in the heavens objects moved in constant and perfect circular motion. This seemed to explain the world satisfactorily and had permeated all areas of learning.

Academia was resistant to looking at discrepancies that might discredit this paradigm and not very friendly to new theories that actually did a better job of explaining the data. In fact, there was reluctance to admit that data ought to be examined. When Francis Bacon proposed a new method of natural philosophy, it was not accepted by the universities, which remained committed to Aristotle's thought. Rather Societies of Natural Philosophy were set up for the purpose of investigation and discussion of experimental data.

Even Isaac Newton did not publish in the academic Journals of the Universities, but used an alternative method of dissemination for his revolutionary ideas. They were eventually accepted because there had been several generations of preparation. By appreciating Newton's work, it became obvious that the laws of motion were not only the same in the earthy and heavenly spheres, but things were much more satisfactorily explained on this basis.

Thomas Kuhn wrote in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions that the progress of knowledge does not proceed smoothly, with steady accumulation of new information, but there is rather a strong resistance to change until an essentially revolutionary overthrow of the old paradigm takes place. Human nature makes it very difficult to say, “I was wrong,” and to live in the academic community, where survival depends on approval of peers, a powerful herd mentality develops. If you want your degree, position, tenure and funding, you will hardly dare to point out that your department head has spent his academic life barking up the wrong tree.

Those who see the evidence for intelligent design / creation in the structure of life are constantly amazed at the suppression – even censorship – of these data and arguments in the mainstream scientific press, yet are constantly berated for not publishing. And among those in the Christian community who think that the evidence lies in favor of evolution, there is not only a scramble to harmonize evolution or long ages with the Bible, there is also an attempt to characterize those who see things differently as dwelling on the intellectual fringe and endangering the message of the gospel by tying it to a particular view of science. Of course, they stand vulnerable to similar charges if their theology is tied to the Big Bang as that theory drifts into deeper and deeper trouble scientifically.

So, also, those who see scientific problems with relativity and quantum mechanics, find themselves excluded from the table ever since those ideas ascended to the throne as ruling paradigms. Contemporaries of Einstein disputed his conclusions and their arguments have not been answered, only ignored. The scientific method does not require a majority vote of all or any portion of the scientific community nor does it require an elitist pedigree. Now it may be true in general that if an idea is rejected by most scientists, it is more likely to be wrong, and if it is accepted widely that it is probably right. Similarly, an academic observer would probably maintain that articles appearing in Nature are generally more credible than articles in The Bible Science Newsletter. Yet in the area of radiometric isochron dating and the mixing model, the mainstream journals got it all wrong.

What the public wants, of course, is to have ideas screened by qualified people who can tell them what is reasonable and what is not. Yet the problem is that the intellectually qualified people may have been socialized to reject outlying ideas for reasons that are not scientific or rational. This is even more difficult to detect when all they have to do is say, “I don't like it,” and especially when they can add, “I would explain it, but you could not possibly understand without a PhD in the field.”

Thus is seems that it is up to those who either are unencumbered by ulterior motives because they are somewhat peripheral to the system or are courageous enough to mention the Emperor's lack of adequate drapery and face the adverse consequences of his wrath. Where do these people publish? Usually in some sort of a shadow system that allows an airing of the ideas without censorship.

Those ideas need to be evaluated on the basis of the evidence by people who are not only willing to dig into them and make up their own minds, but are also willing to be called all sorts of names by the establishment for daring to question their authority. Perhaps these are people who have had previous experience in such an enterprise and take their courage, at least in part, from commitment to a higher cause. Thus certain creationists may be more willing to look at the case against relativity because they have already run the gauntlet in opposing evolution.

But in some cases, the opposition to some popular idea comes not only from the evidence but from the effects. For example while it is true that God could have used evolution to create human beings, aside from the evidence of whether or not He really did is the question, “If He did, what does that do to our concept of His nature and His Word.” Creationists have pointed out that evolution produces far-reaching problems with the authority of Scripture, beyond just a simple question of, “How long were the days of Genesis 1.” Further, if God used a clumsy, wasteful, impersonal, competitive, agonizingly slow process to form us, does this sound like the loving Father Who dotes on every detail of our lives, rewards humility and self sacrifice, intervenes at times miraculously and will ultimately bring history to a swift conclusion?

Could a person be a Christian – depending on the death of Jesus on the Cross and resurrection from the dead for forgiveness of sins and reconciliation to God – in addition living a spiritual life, and yet all the while believing that God used evolution to create us? Yes, of course. According to the Scripture, the requirement for being born again does not include a theology exam. Now as a caution, there are certain errors that are more likely to lead the believer astray, but it is possible to be mistaken about many things and still walk with God. And even great saints, used by God to accomplish much for the kingdom, may have defects in their understanding (and character as well.)

Well then, regarding relativity and quantum theory, is there any concern based on the Bible? Could not God have made the speed of light the same in all frames of reference and constructed us all of quarks? Of course He could have. But the question remains, “Did He?” And beyond that, if He did, what does that mean for other areas of concern? There is no Biblical doctrine that hangs on quantum theory, although Einstein, no evangelical, said, “God does not play dice with the universe.” And concerning relativity, the simple-minded stereotype of “well, then, everything is relative” is not the point, although among the Jerry Springer crowd, that might actually be considered valid.

What relativity does that is of concern is to make paradox and irrationality the norm as long as a mathematical expression can be generated. There are some self contradictory aspects to time dilatation, because it might be possible to define either twin in the famous twin paradox as fixed and either as moving – so then for which one does time slow down relative to the other? Both? Depends on your frame of reference? Mutually canceling effects? It gets a little hairy.

Quantum mechanics has added to this mix the concept that a particle can be a wave and a wave a particle, and finally, with the Copenhagen interpretation, the concept that a particle does not exist until it is observed. This then gave rise in the popular scientific press to the statement that the universe had to evolve intelligent life in order to observe it so it could exist. (It makes you wonder whether intelligent life has happened yet!)

But, one might state, “Every theory has problems and these are still the best we have.” That is probably what the Ptolemaic astronomers said as they added yet another epicycle to their system, but failed to see that there was a far better explanation.

A better explanation is what Common Sense Science claims to have. And to determine if they are right, their evidence needs to be examined. It is not by the opinion of an academic that this is “fringe” or by the refusal of another to look at anything not published in the top journals that the truth or falsity of the theory will be determined, but by the congruence with known facts and prediction of unexpected findings.

An honest scientist would do well to give this material a look. An honest scientist would do well to give this material a look. In Europe it has been published in the January 2003 Galilean Electrodynamics, a peer reviewed physics journal, and a significant number of European physicists accept the CSS model of the atom.

Ross S. Olson MD