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The Prejudice of Theory

July 30, 2010

In life, we all must battle personal prejudice.  While obvious targets of prejudice, such as race and gender, dominate the debate, other more subtle ones influence everyone daily.  Moreover, as they affect deeply held beliefs, accepted as unquestionably true, most do not recognize them as prejudice at all.

Debates on subjects like evolution vs. intelligent design (or creationism) highlight the problems with subtle prejudices.  The belief closes the mind to ideas, facts, and theories that contradict the belief’s conclusion. People on the evolutionary side see the fossil record as definitive proof supporting Darwin’s conclusions in Origins of Species[i].  Others on the creationism side dismiss every bit of science that does not support their preconceived notion.  Produce a discovery that challenges Darwin and a supporter will automatically bombard you with numerous other discoveries to support him.  Dare to lay out the case for natural selection and a creationist will declare, “You might have evolved from monkeys, but I did not!”

While one side enjoys the support of a majority of scientists, the other side has the evangelical tradition firmly behind it.  This is a very public debate and passions are high among people from both camps.  What both sides fail to realize is they are prejudice against information and discoveries that go against their theory’s conclusions.  In other words, they only accept, as true, new information that supports their particular belief.

Galileo’s observations that Earth is not the center of the universe illustrates the danger of only accepting supporting information and excluding contradicting information.  Building on the works of Copernicus and Kepler, Galileo’s telescopic observations caused the Catholic Church to try him for heresy[ii].  The Church closed its mind to any information that contradicted its long-held belief that Earth was the center of the universe.

Even within the scientific community, prejudice exists.  A popular theory among archeologists in North America is the “Clovis First” theory.  The predominant hypothesis states that the people associated with the Clovis culture[iii] (around 11,000 B.C.E.) were the first inhabitants of the Americas.  The discovery of sites that predate the Clovis period were dismissed outright or thought to be misdated.  Sites that predate the Clovis period include Topper in South Carolina, the Paisley Caves complex in Oregon, the Monte Verde site in Chile, South America, and Channel Islands of California.  A discussion among archaeologists could soon come to blows over the topic.

Now, it seems one of the most popular theories of the 20th Century stands challenged, the Big Bang Theory. Georges Lemaître, a Belgian Roman Catholic priest, professor of physics and astronomy at the Catholic University of Louvain, first put the theory forward.  As observations supporting the theory have multiplied, the scientific community has generally accepted it.  Still, problems with the theory do exist.  Recently, an associate professor at National Tsing Hua University in Taiwan, Wun-Yi Shu put forward a new model that has no bang at all[iv].  Time will surely tell if Professor Shu is right but at the very least, his work does deserve to be explored without the prejudice received by the scientists that disputed Clovis.

Regardless of its source, an irrational belief that suppresses observations, discoveries, or rational thinking is dangerous to the progress of humanity.  It is arrogant to place limits on subjects not understood.  We do it anyway.  In religion, we place restrictions on God based on our feeble ability to understand God.  In science, we restrict possibilities to well-defined parameters and dismiss data that does not fall within.  It is only when a genius, like Galileo, dares to contradict, our preconceived notions change.  Even then, that change can take years, even centuries.

It is best to accept that the knowledge we have not discovered is infinite and our understanding is limited to the small bits we think we know.  We are better off understanding that new information does not diminish the truth; it only changes our perception of it.  It is not an insult to God to place our planet within a solar system and not at the center of the universe, nor is it an insult to understand the method by which our existence took place.  In the end, everything we know, understand, or believe is simply a theory based on the best information available.  Always keep an open-mind and put aside prejudice in all forms.  This way you will improve your personal theories.


[i] Darwin, Charles, and Gillian Beer. On the Origin of Species. New York: Oxford UP, 2008. Print.

[ii] “Galileo Affair.” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Web. 30 July 2010. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Galileo_affair&gt;.

[iii] Hirst, K. Kris. “Clovis – The History of Clovis.” About Archaeology – The Study of Human History. Web. 30 July 2010. <http://archaeology.about.com/od/clovispreclovis/qt/clovis_people.htm&gt;.

[iv] Shu, Wun-Yi. “Cosmological Models with No Big Bang.” National Tsing Hua University. Web. 30 July 2010. .

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2 comments

  1. […] from:  The Prejudice of Theory « MHBenton's Blog By admin | category: National TSING HUA University | tags: are-related, […]


  2. […] more: The Prejudice of Theory « MHBenton's Blog By admin | category: Catholic University of LOUVAIN | tags: belgian, catholic, […]



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