Vox Day Hits Grand Slam: “Engineering Is The Acid Test of Science”

A little over ten years ago–hard to believe it was that long ago–Vox Day threw a Molotov Cocktail on the New Atheist elitists in The Irrational Atheist (TIA). It was groundbreaking in that, while not being a book about apologetics, there are plenty of such resources out there written by others, Vox took a completely outside-the-box approach: he put the truth claims of Dennett, Hitchens, Harris, and Dawkins to the test.

It was an unfair fight: Vox destroyed the High Church Atheist cabal. Most importantly, Vox provided a blueprint for how to critically assess Atheists.

Tangential to the debates over Atheism is a fundamental debate over what constitutes science. Vox partially addressed this in TIA in the course of his takedown of Dawkins & Co.

Of particular concern over the past century has been the “peer review” paradigm, cited by scientists as an appeal to their authority, a claim that their proclamations–because they are “peer reviewed”–can be trusted as science. Vox, of course, has rightly called this “peer review” appeal to account, particularly when reproducible, experimental data is lacking.

Examples in this debate include hot-button issues: anthropogenic global warning and macroevolution (i.e. the theory of evolution by natural selection). In both instances, we have mathematical models that neither jibe with historical data nor serve as reliable predictive models, even as “scientific consensus” embraces them as if they are Holy Writ.

(To be fair: Vox is no Young Earth Fundamentalist. He does, however, express a healthy skepticism of the claims of those in the pro-evolution scientific community, as they don’t stack up with the data.)

In his latest salvo, Vox provides a tangible example-from the world of exercise, of which, as a weightlifter and martial artist, he has a strong grasp–of how to test the claims of science, something recognized by strength expert Mark Rippetoe.

One thing that many people, both scientists and uncredentialed laymen fail to understand is that science is not, fundamentally, about knowledge. It primarily concerns understanding. What Rippetoe is saying here is that in the field of exercise science, men like him know what works and what doesn’t. The paucity of “truly useful information” to which he refers is the deeper scientific understanding required to further improve upon what is already known.

The primary utility of science is not being able to say that something works, much less to make something work, but rather, to explain why it works. Or, conversely, to explain why something should work if the theory is put into application. This, of course, is why it is so easy for non-scientists to detect scientific fraud; when the theory is put into application and it fails, this is fairly strong evidence that the theory, i.e. the science, is incorrect.

Engineering is the acid test of science.

That last quote is gold: that is because engineering is the application of science. If the pronouncements of science are true, then, in general, engineers in relevant fields ought to be able to take it to the bank and produce new technologies. Understanding radiation is impressive; using that understanding to produce weapons or provide electricity to homes, or perform medical diagnoses or treat disease, is a serious BFD.

In the world of exercise, you have a very large, real-life swath of people willing to test the strength of a hypothesis. Currently, the endurance community is fighting hard to break the 2-hour barrier in the marathon. Any science that advances that cause is welcome, and there are athletes ready to test it.