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Wednesday 9 June 2021

The Death Of Science In Our Day?


One of the most consistent realities of mankind is his inherent trust in his institutions. This is both a positive and a negative at different times. We need to have at least some trust in our institutions, otherwise society cannot function. If you do not trust the postman to safely deliver your package you will not buy or sell online, because you will have no confidence in the institution. However, if you blindly trust this system this is not wise, because things can go wrong. This is why people can take out insurance on their products sold or bought online. The buyer knows that they can always ask for a refund if the package does not arrive in good condition, and the seller knows that they can make a claim on insurance if it is not their fault. We understand that the system can be trusted, but we also know that it is not completely fault-proof. However, the postman has such a good track record, our trust in this institution is quite strong. Indeed, it is probably one of the most reliable institutions in our society.

Another institution that can be said to have a good track record is science. This is partly true and partly false. Science has improved our lives considerably. Though, as the author and philosopher Vox Day points out, once science reaches the point of reliability it is promoted to the class of engineering. Whether it is the plumbing that keeps our cities clean, or the combustion that moves our cars, and planes along, or the technology that moves much of our modern infrastructure, these are not so much achieved by breakthroughs in experimental science, as by increasing skills and complexity in engineering. That is not to say that science is not involved, it often is, but applied science is generally of the old and tested kind, that has borne fruit for some time now. Plumbing, building infrastructure, roads, transport, and many other things all pre-date the development of modern science, and while modern science has helped accelerate our society’s technological progress, it is not the infallible guide to a Star Trek-like utopia that many think it is.

We also must note that science has made some things in the world worse, not better. Gain of function research is the prime example which comes to mind. But other examples could be given, like chemical weapons and the downside effects technology is having on a lot of people’s health. So, it is not all a rosy reputation for the scientific community, but overall, most of us would agree it has improved our lives remarkably, and is a significant achievement of mankind. But it was not an inevitable achievement.   

Science flourished in the Christian universities of medieval Europe, precisely because they were Christian. As Rodney Stark reminds us,

The so-called Scientific Revolution of the sixteenth century has been misinterpreted by those wishing to assert an inherent conflict between religion and science. Some wonderful things were achieved in this era, but they were not produced by an eruption of secular thinking. Rather, these achievements were the culmination of many centuries of systematic progress by medieval Scholastics, sustained by that uniquely Christian twelfth-century invention, the university. Not only were science and religion compatible, they were inseparable—the rise of science was achieved by deeply religious Christian scholars.[1]

The university was originally a specifically Christian religious institution devoted to truth, study, and the contemplation of reality, all of which found their source in the Christian view of God. It is important to understand that without the foundational Christian belief in an ordered reality, set up by a consistent God, who only deals in truth, that science as a discipline would not be possible.

It is also important to understand what science is,

…science is not merely technology. A society does not have science simply because it can build sailing ships, smelt iron, or eat off porcelain dishes. Science is a method utilized in organized efforts to formulate explanations of nature, always subject to modifications and corrections through systematic observations (emphasis author’s).[2] 

Anyone who has studied theology understands why the scientific method developed out of theological institutions, it is because the theologian’s goal is truth, and the way to find truth is to observe what the word of God, and church fathers, and other theologians have said, to form a hypothesis, and then confirm or debunk this in the context of community. Take this process and apply it to nature and you have the birth of peer reviewed science. This method was uniquely Christian and uniquely western, and hence science flourished first in the Christian West.

Once you understand the necessity, not the coincidence, but the necessity of Christianity for science to flourish, then you can understand why we are witnessing its decay in the modern age. This is not just my opinion, this is an important discussion that has been going on among scientists for about a decade now. It is called the replication crisis:

The replication crisis (or replicability crisis) refers to a methodological crisis in science, in which scientists have found that the results of many scientific experiments are difficult or impossible to replicate on subsequent investigation, either by independent researchers or by the original researchers themselves.[1] Since the reproducibility of experiments is an essential part of the scientific method, this has potentially grave consequences for many fields of science in which significant theories are grounded on experimental work which has now been found to be resistant to replication.

The replication crisis has been particularly widely discussed in the field of psychology (and in particular, social psychology) and in medicine, where a number of efforts have been made to re-investigate classic results, and to attempt to determine both the validity of the results, and, if invalid, the reasons for the failure of replication.[2][3][3]

The crisis effects many aspects of science:

According to 2016 pool on 1,500 scientists 70% of them failed to reproduce another scientist's experiments (50% failed to reproduce their own experiment). These numbers differ among disciplines:[4]

chemistry: 90% (60%),

biology: 80% (60%),

physics and engineering: 70% (50%),

medicine: 70% (60%),

Earth and environment science: 60% (40%).

In 2009 2% of scientists admitted to falsify study at least once and 14% admitted to personally know someone who did. Misconducts were reported more frequently by medical researchers than others.[5][4]

This crisis has been written about very widely, as Vox Science[5] informs us,

Much ink has been spilled over the “replication crisis” in the last decade and a half, including here at Vox. Researchers have discovered, over and over, that lots of findings in fields like psychology, sociology, medicine, and economics don’t hold up when other researchers try to replicate them.

This conversation was fueled in part by John Ioannidis’s 2005 article “Why Most Published Research Findings Are False” and by the controversy around a 2011 paper that used then-standard statistical methods to find that people have precognition…

A recent write-up by Alvaro de Menard, a participant in the Defense Advanced Research Project’s Agency’s (DARPA) replication markets project (more on this below), makes the case for a more depressing view: The processes that lead to unreliable research findings are routine, well understood, predictable, and in principle pretty easy to avoid. And yet, he argues, we’re still not improving the quality and rigor of social science research.

This amounts to an astonishing conclusion: a lot of modern science in unreliable. As another Vox Science article informs us, “half of the studies you read about in the news are wrong.”[6] You might retort that the fact that scientists are uncovering these findings shows us that peer review is doing its job and improving science, but that is not the conclusion we have just read, as Menard said above, “we’re still not improving the quality and rigor of social science research.” But wait, there is more.

Not only can many studies not be replicated, what is fascinating is that the less reliable studies are being quoted more…a lot more: “A New Replication Crisis: Research that is Less Likely to be True is Cited More: Papers that cannot be replicated are cited 153 times more because their findings are interesting, according to a new UC San Diego study.”[7]

If your first thought at hearing this is, “Yeah, but how do we know we can trust that study?” Then you are now fully up to speed. This is the problem, science is becoming less trustworthy. The strict structures which enabled it to flourish, such as a quest for truth in honour of an almighty judge who was watching over your work, have more and more diminished in recent years. Science requires the scientist to have a strict dedication to truth being discovered in a community of open and honest inquirers who are dedicated to testing their work to be true. But in modern science profit motives and publishing recognition have corrupted this. As Havenaar[8] notes,

Fierce competition, strong incentives to publish, and commercial interest have inadvertently lead to both conscious and unconscious bias in the scientific literature. And, the higher the vested interest in a field, the stronger the bias is likely to be. For example, a study of meta-analyses on anti-depressants found that meta-analyses sponsored by industry were 22 times less likely to report caveats than those performed independently.

Recognizing that this can happen is basic common sense, humans respond to incentives, and when the wrong incentives are in place it can corrupt any institution. For example, when the incentive in science becomes publish or perish, this inverts the scientific process and method, and the science becomes about the researcher and not the research, because if the researcher does not put out enough studies they will fall behind in their field.

These issues, while being widely recognized now, are not all new, as those who are aware of the Piltdown Man hoax will know.[9] The scientific method is only as good as the person who is putting it into use, and as Jeremiah told us, so many years ago, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9). Human corruption needs the right boundaries to reign it in, and direct our efforts in an honest way, and our modern society has removed many of those boundaries.  

And just to show that quoting the Bible here is not just apt, it is accurate, it appears that the human desire to be entertained, that is corrupting us all in some way in the modern world, is also affecting science:

The paper reveals that findings from studies that cannot be verified when the experiments are repeated have a bigger influence over time. The unreliable research tends to be cited as if the results were true long after the publication failed to replicate. 

“We also know that experts can predict well which papers will be replicated,” write the authors Marta Serra-Garcia, assistant professor of economics and strategy at the Rady School and Uri Gneezy, professor of behavioral economics also at the Rady School. “Given this prediction, we ask ‘why are non-replicable papers accepted for publication in the first place?’”

Their possible answer is that review teams of academic journals face a trade-off. When the results are more “interesting,” they apply lower standards regarding their reproducibility.

The link between interesting findings and nonreplicable research also can explain why it is cited at a much higher rate—the authors found that papers that successfully replicate are cited 153 times less than those that failed.[10]

Science, as an institution, is vulnerable to the very same things every other human institution is vulnerable to; mankind’s fallibility. Science has such a large bank of trust, because so many people have been positively affected by it in how we live, and how we function as a society. If nothing else, we Aussies are deeply indebted and grateful to the inventor of the air conditioner, and are delighted that his science turned into reliable and replicable engineering that we rely on every year from November to around about mid-February. But we have to recognize that it is often not trustworthy.

I want to now return to something we saw at the beginning of this article, from Rodney Stark, he reminded us, “…science is not merely technology. A society does not have science simply because it can build sailing ships, smelt iron, or eat off porcelain dishes.” The Roman’s had the most advanced civilization of their day, with incredible technology like plumbing and roads so versatile some are still in use today, but they did not have science proper, neither did the Greeks, nor did the incredibly advanced for their era Chinese. “Science is a method utilized in organized efforts to formulate explanations of nature, always subject to modifications and corrections through systematic observations." Science as a method which has aided in the advance of the modern Western world ahead of any previous civilization, only flourished because of the strict Christian framework behind it. And this is important: it needs that framework for it to continue to flourish.

The pyramids might have outlasted ancient Egypt and the red headed Pharoah’s like Ramses II, but can science outlive the rejection of Christianity? Is it a coincidence that science is in deep and increasing trouble in an era where the conditions which helped it flourish have been systematically rejected? Could we possibly see the death of science in our day? You would have thought that this idea was completely inconceivable, but note this comment from Vox Science:

While other researchers I spoke with pushed back on parts of Menard’s pessimistic take, they do agree on something: a decade of talking about the replication crisis hasn’t translated into a scientific process that’s much less vulnerable to it. Bad science is still frequently published, including in top journals — and that needs to change.[11]

How can a morality crisis be solved by the very culture that caused it? Wouldn’t that require a deep and abiding change in the wider culture? Once you recognize that our moral decline is increasing, and the effects this is having on every aspect of our culture, you recognize it is not inconceivable that we could see the death of science in our day, or at the very least, in those parts of the West which have abandoned the Christianity which made it great.

List of References

[1] Stark, Rodney 2006. The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success, Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition, chapter one.

[2] Ibid, chapter one.   

[3] Replication Crisis, Infogalactic,

[4] Ibid.

[5] Piper, Kesley 2020, “Science has been in a “replication crisis” for a decade. Have we learned anything?”, Vox Science, accessed 9/06/2020,

[6] Resnick, Brian 2017, “Study: half of the studies you read about in the news are wrong” Vox Science, accessed 9/06/2020,

[8] Havenaar, Matthias 2018, “Is medical research facing a replication crisis?” Castor, accessed 9/06/2021

[9] Wayman, Erin 2012, “How to Solve Human Evolution’s Greatest Hoax” Smithsonian Magazine, accessed 9/06/2021,

[10] Clark, Christine, 2021, “A New Replication Crisis: Research that is Less Likely to be True is Cited More”,

UC San Diego News Center accessed 9/06/2021,

[11] Piper, Kesley 2020, “Science has been in a “replication crisis” for a decade. Have we learned anything?”, Vox Science, accessed 9/06/2020,

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