A couple of months ago, I was flipping through channels on my POOP TV* and caught a few minutes of one of those really bad, direct to cable movies they run all the time on the Syfy channel. The movie was Savage Planet and before I changed the channel, I chanced to hear the following lines of dialog spoken by one of the characters in the movie:
“I always believed there had to be a scientific explanation for everything. Science was the only answer. Since I’ve been here, I’m rapidly becoming a skeptic.”
I hit the record button on my DVR remote so I could preserve that line of dialog for a potential future blog post. However, I didn’t continue watching the program, and I stopped the recording after the dialog, so I only have a few minutes recorded.
I don’t really know what the character was specifically talking about, but I imagine it had something to do with the killer space bears the reviews say the movie contains. Regardless, this quote is an epic fail on the part of the writers of the movie. They apparently buy into the philosophy that “science doesn’t know everything”, which is really a misunderstanding of science, since science is a process, and not a body of knowledge or answers.
To quote the Wikipedia article on science,
“Science is a systematic enterprise of gathering knowledge about the world and organizing and condensing that knowledge into testable laws and theories.”
Science is not the answer, it is the means to an answer; it is they way to provide the explanation. If it is beyond your ability to explain scientifically, that is not a failure of science; that is a failure of your ability and knowledge base. Lacking a scientific explanation for a phenomenon does not make that phenomenon supernatural or paranormal, it simply means you haven’t found the scientific explanation yet. It can be very frustrating to not have the answer for something. It can be even more frustrating to know that the answer to that question may never be discovered during your lifetime, but that is no reason to engage in a god of the gaps fallacy and invent some supernatural explanation just so you can have an answer.
The dialog is also a profound misunderstanding of skepticism and the skeptical community. While the word skepticism can technically mean any questioning attitude, skepticism is about challenging claims lacking empirical evidence. It is also about challenging and examining the evidence that is used to support a claim. Skepticism is a crucible for inquiry in which claims are subjected to the fires of scientific scrutiny to burn away the extraneous fluff, leaving only scientific knowledge and/or more questions to be answered.
I don’t really expect any better for a low budget sci-fi movie that likely went straight to Syfy, but I wanted to blog about it because I’ve heard the “Science doesn’t have all the answers” gambit many times before, and I wanted to give my take on why that concept is so wrong.
*POOP TV: Picture Out Of Picture. I have a 40” HDTV sitting next to my 60” HDTV. When I was researching buying a new 60” HDTV, I wanted to get a model with PIP (Picture In Picture) because my then current TV had it, and it was pretty nifty for watching one football game while keeping track of another. I discovered that it would cost a lot more extra to get any of the current models with PIP, more than the cost of buying a second, smaller HDTV. So I bought a budget model 32” LCD TV to go next to my new 60” model. I found that I liked the setup not just for watching two football games at the same time, but also for watching TV while playing video games, especially when I am just performing some boring, repetitive action to level up a character, exploit a flaw in the game to generate endless amounts of money, or get some achievement. I liked the POOP TV setup so much that a couple years later, I sold my 32” TV to a friend and upgraded the POOP TV to a 40” model.
I have no wife or kids, I have to spend my money on something, right?