How Much Do Scientists *Really* Know?

It is a common view that science has provided answers as to how the universe was formed, how long it has existed, and how it functions. Impressive! For example, note the following image, a map of the history of the universe by physicists from the Bellarmine University.

Note the question mark on the left, immediately after the “Big Bang.” The implication that many read into such images is that “science knows everything” about the universe, except this tiny slither of time.

However, according to physicists, around 96% of the universe consists of Dark Matter and Dark Energy, which have so far eluded detection. This means that only about 4% of the universe has been studied so far. But how much, even of that, is fully understood?

Dr. Stephen Quake, Lee Otterson Professor in the School of Engineering and Professor of Bioengineering and Applied Physics at Stanford University, California, has been studying the microbes that live within our bodies. A mind-boggling number of these are known to exist within us. However, science knows very little about most of them! Dr. Quake’s new survey of these foreign DNA fragments has found that 99 percent of microbes inside us are completely unknown to science.

His team of scientists were initially investigating less invasive ways to predict whether a patient’s body would reject a transplanted organ. Rather than suffering the unpleasant experience of having a tissue biopsy taken, the researchers were working on a new method where a simple blood sample would suffice. The idea was that if they found fragments of the organ donor’s DNA circulating in a patient’s blood, it was a good indication that the body was rejecting the transplant.

Along with the patient’s DNA and potentially that of the organ donor, the technique gives an insight into that person’s microbiome — the combined genetic material of the microorganisms that live throughout our bodies. Of all the non-human DNA floating around in there, the team found that an amazing 99 percent didn’t match anything in existing genetic databases.

“We found the gamut,” says Dr. Quake. “We found things that are related to things people have seen before, we found things that are divergent, and we found things that are completely novel. I’d say it’s not that baffling in some respects because the lens that people examined the microbial universe was one that was very biased.”

The team set about categorizing the unknown DNA, and found that most of it belonged to a general group known as proteobacteria — which includes E. coli and Salmonella as well as many others. The team also found a huge amount of viruses that were hitherto unknown to science.

“We’ve doubled the number of known viruses in that family through this work,” Dr. Quake said. “We’ve now found a whole new class of human-infecting ones that are closer to the animal class than to the previously known human ones, so quite divergent on the evolutionary scale.”

Consequently, around 96% of the physics of the universe, and over 99% of the organisms that live within us, are unknown to science! How much confidence does this engender in the theory of man’s evolutionary origins? Should we place our trust in this explanation, considering that it involves, not just our own lives, but the future of mankind?

An interesting article, written by Caleb A. Scharf in Scientific American on March 12, 2014, listed a number of headings which deal with the things that science doesn’t know:

  • We don’t know why the universe exists
  • We don’t know what dark matter, or dark energy, is
  • We don’t know whether life exists anywhere else
  • We probably haven’t really figured out the quantum world
  • We don’t understand our own biology
  • We don’t know how the Earth works
  • We can’t prove or solve many of our own mathematical conjectures and problems
  • We don’t know how to make an artificial intelligence

Most of the above points are included in the 4% of the universe that can be detected and analysed using conventional scientific methods. The late Sir Karl Raimund Popper, an Austrian Jewish-British philosopher and professor, regarded as one of the 20th century’s greatest philosophers of science, once said:

“Science is not a system of certain, or well-established statements; . . . we do not know: we can only guess. And our guesses are guided by the unscientific, the metaphysical.”

So, where is the best guidance to be found? I suggest this is done in two phases: begin with the section on The Fundamentals, then take the link at the foot of that page…

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