1915 was a momentous year for science. That was the year Einstein published The Foundation of the General Theory of Relativity, in which he demonstrated that Newton’s theory of gravity was wrong or at least substantially incomplete. Newton’s theory had dominated physics for over 225 years, and, to the great surprise of many, it had fallen. With the benefit of hindsight it is easy to be complacent about the inevitable success of Einstein’s theory, but history shows that general relativity was not accepted immediately by the scientific community. In fact, many scientists clung tenaciously to Newton, and there was fierce resistance to the new theory.
Over the holidays I watched a biography of Einstein (does this mean I’m a nerd?). I learned from that program that the debate over general relatively raged for several years. Why? Because to test the theory empirically scientists needed to take photographs of starlight during a total eclipse of the sun, and at that time there were numerous obstacles to performing that experiment. Total eclipses are rare and often happen in geographically remote areas. Also, World War I was raging, making travel to the eclipse sites difficult. Finally, photographic equipment was still quite primitive. In fact, because of problems with photographic equipment, the first experiment purported to falsify the theory. The theory did not withstand its first empirical test until Lord Eddington’s famous experiment off the coast of Africa in 1919, which was later confirmed by experiments in Australia in 1921.
Newton’s theory was arguably the most successful theory in the history of science. For over 200 years there was not merely a “consensus” that the theory was correct. It was unquestioned received scientific dogma. And it was wrong. But old, widely accepted theories die hard, and many scientists resisted general relatively until Eddington’s experiments made resistance all but futile. Even then there were diehards who believed that Eddington’s calculations were wrong or suffered from confirmation bias. It was not until the 1960’s that it was definitively shown that the deflection of starlight by the sun was the full amount predicted by Einstein.
Maybe 2010 will be another 1915. The scientific consensus over global warming is unraveling if it has not already completely unraveled. On December 8, 2010 a report was released showing that more than 1,000 scientists are now dissenting from the global warming orthodoxy. See here.
What does this have to do with ID? The most successful tactic of the Darwin lobby is to recite the mantra, “The overwhelming consensus among biologists is that Darwinian evolution is an accurate theory.” That is true. Our response is that the overwhelming consensus among physicists in 1915 was that Newtonian gravity was accurate. They were wrong. Until recently the overwhelming consensus among climatologists was that the anthropomorphic global warming theory is accurate. They were wrong too.
The overwhelming consensus of biologists is that Darwin was right. Are they wrong? Obviously, the fact that there is an overwhelming consensus does not mean they are wrong. But as we saw in 1915 and 2010, it does not mean they are necessarily right either, because an overwhelming consensus of scientists can be dead wrong. Finding truth generally and scientific truth in particular is not an activity in nose counting. At the moment he discovered general relatively Albert Einstein was correct, and every other physicist in the world was wrong. The fact that he was in a minority never phased him. Einstein was once asked how he would have felt if Eddington’s experiment had shown his theory was false. He replied, “I would have felt very sorry for the poor Lord, because the theory is correct.”
So to our Darwinist friends I say, go ahead and rely on consensus, received wisdom and authority if that helps you sleep at night or makes you feel better as you whistle past the graveyard. We in the ID community will argue the evidence.