And why it is okay – even necessary -for lay people to critique science theories.
From lawyer and social analyst Edward Sisson: “God of the gaps” assumes that science steadily fills-in gaps. But this is an artifact of the sociological rule that Stephen Jay Gould noted, that widely-accepted theories (i.e., filled-in former gaps) are never rejected until someone comes along to offer a more persuasive replacement theory.
But an existing theory may be false for reasons evident to a rational layperson, due to inherent conflicts in its underlying logic, or due to reliance on falsified assumptions, etc., which a reasoning mind can identify even if the particular person does not have the specialized training necessary to construct an alternative theory. Juries in civil court cases (i.e., laypeople) do this kind of thing hundreds, perhaps thousands, of times each year, in product liability cases, design defect cases, medical malpractice cases, patent infringement cases, etc., where an expert for the plaintiff presents a technical theory and the lawyer for the defense, perhaps relying on an expert, identifies holes in the plaintiff’s theory, without having to develop an alternative theory.
The sociological problem in the science world is that there is no funding for the role of a defense-only advocate, whose only job is to poke holes in the plaintiff’s theory, without having to present an alternative theory. Of course, if the defense CAN present an alternative theory, so much the better; but there is no requirement to do so. In the science world, the only funded career-path is for theory-creators.
In the criminal context, it would be as if defendant X could not simply have a defense counsel, but had to hire his own prosecution team whose job was to prove that mister Z was the real criminal; and the trial would be a competition of presentations between the two prosecution teams, where the jury had to decide that either X or Z did the crime.
If we had a scientific system in which there was a regular, funded career path for people to debunk existing theories, without replacing them, what we would see is that issues once thought to have been answered by science (filled-in gaps) would suddenly go blank again, leaving the gap re-opened, with nothing replacing it. We would not see a steady, but false, impression of gaps being steadily filled.
It is to keep this from happening that we are told that only credentialed scientists are allowed to reject theories, and that laypeople are not allowed to do so.
The problem with this argument is that individuals, by the time they reach college age, are pretty much “set” in their level of intelligence and analytical ability. Many have a sufficient intellectual ability to analyze theories, identify logical inconsistencies, etc. All of these people have the ability, should they wish to, to go into science and develop knowledge necessary to be able to present credible new theories — but only a few do. Those who choose not to, still retain the intellectual ability to discredit theories, and later in life, they may find themselves involved in some situation where they apply their minds to some theory to see if it is internally logically consistent, etc. They cannot be ruled out-of-bounds in this, in deference to those few who chose to develop the additional expertise necessary to construct new theories.