Inference and Prediction



By Lloyd Harrison Whitling
The wrong idea people share about science is that it is only about evidence and proof. Those are only results of science, that become apparent after science has been applied. Theories are hypotheses that have been sufficiently examined and verified so that most scientists regard them as true. Were evidence and proof the only features of science, much of what we regard to be reality nowadays would be necessarily deemed unreal.

Science is a process of discovery made according to a prescribed method that not too many people seem to comprehend. When done by those well enough schooled in the process to be deemed capable at a professional level, we recognize the participants by the name ‘scientists’; for the beginner level the rest of us occupy, we have no name. If we have enough interest to learn the practice, I have coined the name ‘Colligion’. I did so because I believe it to be important for the average person to be able to announce and justify interest without appearing to brag. A person like myself could be schooled in a way that enables acknowledgment of a desire to advance within the methodology while claiming only amateur status. The papers such a person might prepare would never be accepted as the final word, but as studied colligious works to be regarded separately from those who have earned the label scientist. I will leave it to others with the necessary credentials to accept the term and establish a system of grading for those Colligionists who choose to pursue it. I have written more about it here: wherein I also attempt to justify the term.

Contrary to popular opinion, scientists behaving according to the prescribed practice do not set out to prove or disprove something, but do aim to learn what is true about it, whatever it might be. To regard anything as too sacred to undergo investigation is not a scientific, but a religious statement or an unverified opinion. The same scientific criteria that applies to anything else, wherein a statement must pass through the process before we can regard it as correct, applies also to those about religion. That is equally true for any uninvestigated opinion regarded to be a sure thing, either way. That is so because it has been expressed without resorting to the established scientific method. That requires a mix of observation, prediction, math and logic that results in the making of a predictive statement for which an experiment can be designed or data gathered. Or, both.

While things may go willy-nilly at the gray edges of reality, simple math suffices for most of the world we all live in and at the level at which most of us deal with it. Logic is mainly of the “if-then” variety. There may be as many as a couple hundred logical fallacies to learn and apply, that would hopefully arm a person against those that certain people tend to invent on the fly while hoping to escape from a trap of their own contriving.

As said, not much of reality is solid or tangible. Most of it is about conditions that are invisible to the naked eyes, but whose influences can be observed in such a way as to render them predictable. 2+2 may not always equal 4, for an example, but it does so with an uncanny frequency that renders it predictable in a good, dependable manner while we await contrary evidence. If a shadow cast by an extremely fine object upon the screen of an optical comparator shows it to measure .0012″ thickness, we learn we can trust whether that can be verified by a well-calibrated set of micrometers. Have you ever met anyone who has seen an electron, other than as an image on an electronic microscope? Such submicroscopic particles are known to exist mainly as a result of inference and prediction, the results of which were refined over many decades (maybe a couple of millenniums?) to a point where dependable assumptions can be made about them.

So, how about spirits and souls? Most people insist they exist, and some insist their existence is proved. To resist such insistence gives rise to anger in response, whereas a simple statement of how an inference about them gave rise to predictable circumstances in some repeatable fashion remains completely absent. Even the apologetic statement, “You have to believe to understand,” evades the process in its failure to explain how one can believe with no presentation of anything by which to be convinced, other than with threats and induced fear. Pretending to believe, the resort of cowardice, for whatever purpose, is an act of disbelief, recognized in all times, and identified as hypocrisy. Even in these times, in some places, discovery of that can get you killed. It may otherwise offer the only way to stay alive.

The scientific process shows a great tendency, overall, to eventually refine information down so that all players arrive at one truth, whether or not they are aware of each other’s activities. What get described as exceptions to that are, in the main, incomplete scenarios still in play. New inferences may arise at any time about anything regarded as true that will give rise to new hypotheses that lead to renewed vigorous investigation and predictions needing to be tested. Through resolution of disparity, truth gets served and human knowledge increases.

Does this mean scientists are out to prove themselves right or wrong? No. It means the truth-seeking element in science is fully at play, and scientists’ strong curiosity senses a new opportunity to learn a thing or two. Does that make science weak, as some declare? No, for even the quaintest elements of religious belief are subject to scientific revision, and one more point of contention that for centuries irked the doctrinaires has become resolved among them. What stays lacking is their acceptance of facts no longer in dispute.

Like the notions about existent spirits and souls, even the enigma of existent gods gives rise to inferences that lead to negation of belief. While supporters of the various creeds turn to literature for their support, even the quantity of their differences dispels any notion of uniformity resultant from their investigations; over historical time, the evolution of the various creeds has only increased diversity in their numbers and plagued them all with absence of agreement. The kind of inference to which that gives rise can only lead the truth-seeking investigator to hypothesize the gods are and have always been absent and state that in the form of a prediction. If that does lead to any prediction, it must be that such will always be the case. The scientific process requires that such problems, and the claims that gave rise to them, must be held in abeyance until the presentation of new information warrants reconsideration, and to otherwise remain in a state of disregard as a farce. Farces do not deserve respect.

After decades of examining the growing diversity of religious beliefs, I feel safe to make my own prediction, stated in a concise form: A truly wise and all-knowing god would sooner fill Heaven forever with those who seriously disbelieved in its existence, than to admit one cowardly pretender for even the duration of an interview.

Copyright ©2010 by Lloyd H. Whitling. All rights reserved. Reposted in 2013 and 2014 with minor revisions. Permission to excerpt with proper credit, or to republish whole is granted providing this notice is included.