Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Science and the gospels: best not to confuse them

On a radio programme about the forensic investigation service the other day, Helena Kennedy QC, one of Britain's leading lawyers, pointed out that it would be wrong to put science on a pedestal and take it for gospel.

Helena Kennedy: a powerful statement on science and gospel
I immediately thought of the case of Shirley McKie. A former police detective in Scotland, she was accused of having left a fingerprint on a door frame at a murder scene. Because she denied ever having been in the house, she was suspended, then dismissed and finally charged with perjury. But in 1999 she was acquitted of any wrongdoing and eventually won £750,000 of compensation from the police for her treatment. 

Shirley McKie: rather proves Kennedy's point
I imagine McKie would not be at all inclined to put the fingerprint experts who testified against her on a pedestal, unless it was a very high one from which she could push them off. Two other experts later maintained that the fingerprint wasn’t hers. The whole business did little to enhance the standing of forensic science.

But then I got to thinking a little more about Helena Kennedy’s statement. It occurred to me that, while it is perfectly true, it becomes much stronger if you turn it round.

Don’t you get tired of all those people who keep telling us that revelation is the best guide to understanding nature? That scripture shows that the universe is 6000 years old? That the creation of the world in seven days isn’t to be seen as a metaphor for a long process but has to be accepted as a statement of literal truth?

Helena Kennedy is right. We shouldn’t take science for gospel. But I'd like to put it to her that we make an even worse mistake if we treat the gospels as science.

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