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BLACK SHEEP, SUCKERS & THE SEARCH FOR TRUTH

You’ve likely heard it said of someone stubborn in argument, ”That guy would argue black is white.”

And that reminds me of an old story about two scientists riding in a train and watching a flock of white sheep through the window. Suddenly one says “Look, over there is one black sheep.”

“Maybe“ , said the other.  “All we know is it’s black on the side we’re looking at.”

That story was intended as a joke, but it illustrates the main purpose of science: to explore and search for truth…BUT, to accept NO CONCLUSION until you’ve dug out all evidence for and against it. And then other scientists  must examine  your evidence and repeat the methods you used to get that conclusion.

Using that strategy science has, over the ages, drastically changed our world from what it was in our great great grandparents’ day: opened up the secrets of outer space, the oceans, the history of our earth, the workings of the human and animal bodies, the properties of all the ingredients of our earth, soil, water, atmosphere and more. And from that knowledge our methods of transportation, drugs, medical practices, entertainment, food production, manufacturing and communication--to name a few--would make the people of 120 years go, if they could see the world of today, go into fits of shock, amazement, excitement and fear. 

For the most part these are positive changes. Ordinary people of the Western world--and  to some extent all the world--live longer, healthier, materially better off, better-informed lives, with more opportunities and choices than ever before. But there are negative uses of science as well, particularly in the machinery of war, including enough nuclear weapons available to kill billions of people in a very brief time. And to satisfy the needs and desires now available to the world’s citizens our natural environment has suffered considerable damage already. That damage will continue to increase unless drastic measures are used to curb it. 

For thousands of years science was not looked upon as a good thing. Natural curiosity inspired some people to want to know more about the nature of the moon and stars, the causes of wind, thunder and lightning, the workings of the human body and much more. But if their interests and attempts to learn became public the governing and religious leaders were likely to warn them that the knowledge they sought  was evil. God (or other gods) held the knowledge and it was mankind’s fate simply to obey, not to question kings or priests. Those leaders knew that people interested in finding things out for themselves  were less willing  to obey the rulers in  a world where there was no real freedom of dissent. Such  thinking had to be stopped before more and more people would become disobedient.

Galileo in the 17th century concluded from his studies that the earth revolved around the sun. The church of the day said the opposite was claimed by the Bible. In 1633 they forced Galileo to say, basically, sorry, I was wrong. In 1600 the church in Poland executed Giordano Bruno by burning at the stake, also for, among other heresies,  not believing the earth to be centre of the universe.  Thousands of others were tortured and killed for  similar reasons. It was a long hard struggle for hundreds of years for scientists to slowly win the right to examine things logically.  Even into the 19th century physicians used bloodletting as a cure for various ailments, and many (including  U.S. President Washington) died of anemia as a result of that practice, the complete reverse of blood transfusion.

It is somewhat understandable in the centuries when most people were illiterate that they could accept the thousands of faulty misunderstandings of whatever seemed obvious and was accepted by the leaders of the day. It is much harder to understand today when doctors have learned, each for 20 to 40 years or more, through study and practice, the precise workings and interrelationships of every body part--and have saved hundreds of millions of lives that way. And yet some folks would dismiss them and instead trust some practitioner with little or no professional training ? Or a politician? Why?

Scientists make mistakes and learn from them, but better to trust their abilities, long tested over the years, than anyone else in their fields. Don’t trust the loud-mouthed fakers and deniers.


To comment on columns contact Esther or me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 306 384 8657 or 110 - 201 Cree Place Saskatoon,  S7K 7Z3

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Wednesday November 17, 2021