Category Archives: Pseudoscience
G’day. I’m engaged in a little project right now on the various forms of creationism, including intelligent design creationism, and while reading up on the latter, I couldn’t help but notice how intellectually bereft it is, even though it’s got a nice shiny coat of sciencey-sounding language to dress it up.
For example, there’s meaningless jargon like ‘irreducible complexity’ and ‘specified complexity’ terms used by ID proponents to disquise arguments from ignorance, more candidly expressed as, “I don’t understand how the complexity of life could have come about by natural processes, therefore no one can, therefore ID.”
The idea of ID is that whatever we don’t currently understand about the origin and diversity of life, it’s impossible to understand at all, so that we may as well not even ask the question, much less look for answers.
It implies that ID proponents are somehow wiser than those closed-minded Darwinian theorists and know the future state of knowledge better than anyone else.
It implies impossibly certain knowledge of what we can ultimately understand for all time — and this strikes me as an incredibly arrogant and presumptuous line of thinking, especially by non-scientists and would be so even if they were somehow scientists.
ID teaches those who accept it to fatalistically give up any form of meaningful inquiry, not just in biology, but in every field of science, for the basic premise of ID, that the mysteries of the universe are forever unsolvable, would cripple scientific work.
To paraphrase the character of a friend of mine in a Call of Cthulhu many years ago, it seems “cowardice in the face of Reason.”
I consider it a surrender to ignorance, a failure of intellectual nerve. I find it to essentially say, “Science isn’t as easy as just invoking a god to fill that gap in our current knowledge, so let’s just give up on it.”
My view is that it is the latest misguided attempt by perfectly intelligent, educated people to justify their religious views in a modern world, and though the marketing campaign for ID has claimed the fight with Evolution is about fairness and ‘teaching the controversy,’ it’s really not…
…but a politicized conflict between science and antiscience.
Nothing more, no matter how slick the packaging and presentation to the public is.
Sunday Evening Commentarium is a regular installment posted at 6:00 PM Eastern Time each Sunday, on a question or matter bringing itself to my attention during the previous week.
The above was something I’d posted to Facebook earlier today, though in plain text, on the wonder felt even — no, better — especially by religious nonbelievers toward our connection to the universe, not the trivial sorts promised by mysticism or supernaturalism, but our actual, deeper connection and our awareness of it.
This feeling of the sublime I think is something that anyone who’s seen the night sky, or beheld a waterfall, seen the Earth from orbit, or better still, seen it from the orbit of another planet in our solar system though a spaceprobe’s camera, can relate to.
There’s the serious misconception (I think it’s myopic) that reality is dull, lifeless, drab, uninteresting, and that another world, an ideal perfect world beyond this one, is far better and much to be preferred over this life, this ‘vale of tears.’
I understand this, but I also think it’s wasteful and shameful — reality has both beauty and horror, not one or the other — and the phrase “none are so blind as those who will not see” applies just as easily to dogmatic belief as dogmatic denial, and many times in the same individuals.
The desire to believe fantasy as truth, to denigrate the real, and to spead this desire and denigration to others by indoctrinating the young and vulnerable, is one of the greatest — if you’ll excuse my use of the word — sins — against the human mind, crippling its ability to appreciate what actually is over what never was nor likely will be.
Supernaturalism promises wonders, but it only promises them — there is no instance it it ever having fulfilled that promise — and I think it would take better evidence than someone’s favored holy book to show otherwise.
In the entire recorded history of our species, brief flash of time though that’s been, no mystery that has ever been adequately looked into and explained has ever been shown to have an occult or supernatural cause, and the cases that haven’t been explained are just that — only unexplained, and only through a lack of data — not vindication of anyone’s pet doctrine.
Supernaturalism poisons the mind, and dulls the imagination, starving it of and blinding it to the real wonders and feeling of awe that comes from understanding of what is, supplanting these with unrealistic and unreasonable expectations of centrality to the universe, imposing on us a false sense of purpose and meaning rather than letting us find our own, endangering our personal integrity and intellectual honesty in uncritically accepting tales told originally by those ancients whose knowledge and understanding of the world pales before our own in the modern era.
To be frank, even with what little I’ve learned about the worlds discovered through science and philosophy, I find reality far more interesting and preferrable to believing the evidently unreal. As a former religionist, I’ve thrown off the chains of doctrine and dogma, freed my mind from its demons — and its gods — and my only regret is not having done it before I did.
I’ve no reason to believe in anyone’s god, least of all the one I walked with as a child and now without as a man, no idols, no gods, no devils, no celestial saviors nor tyrants, no myths except those I may free myself of whenever they are brought to my notice.
It seems so strange now, having been so focused on an imagined hereafter that both the awesomeness and terror of the world around me seemed dull and distant, but now seems so sharp and clear.
I’m not a scientist, not yet, but from what I see now, reality, however it turns out to be, is far preferrable, far stranger and for more interesting that anything any human mind can imagine.
Even mine….especially mine.
And to me, the unending search for truth is far more important than the supposed guardianship of it by those absolutely convinced they’ve already found it in millennia-old books or the claimed revelations of bronze-age hermits.
No one owns a sense of the numinous, no matter their belief or conviction. Appreciation of the truly wondrous can happen to anyone, and belongs to us all as a species.
As a supporter of full civil rights for everyone, including LGBT peeps, I think this needs to be said.
Is science fatally biased? Does it actually constitute a partisan special interest? Should we rightly ignore scientific claims or dismiss them as pseudoscience or a hoax when they or their implications disagree with our political views or religious beliefs?
Not unless reality itself is a partisan special interest, not as I understand it, and I have over the years taken great pains to do just that — To understand science as best a layman can, if nothing else as an educational pursuit.
Science is far from solely the purview of academics, though like any learned skill, it takes training and experience to do well. But anytime you methodically try out an idea in the real world using some reliable observational method, employing these to reach a more accurate view of the outcome, then you’re doing science, even if you do it in a kitchen while microwaving different popcorn brands to compare their kernel popping rates rather than experimenting with test-tubes of exotic chemicals in a lab while wearing a respirator.
But because it’s done by people, and people are flawed, science is messy, imperfect, sometimes prone to error, and with regard to the context of discovery, culturally dependent. But it’s the process of justifying discoveries, not just making them, that best reflects the virtues of science, its universality in the process of testing our hypotheses to see if they really make the cut.
Discovery is all well and good, but a new idea, no matter how revolutionary, must be put to the test, or it is of no use. Science uses methods designed from the bottom up, confidently established by the repeated testing over centuries of accumulated experience to do what it does — to tell us how the natural world works — and it does this better than anything else to date.
It’s the process of justification more so than initial discovery that makes science progressive in its findings, ever closer getting us to a clearer picture of the world.
Science is not itself an ideology, or a belief system, or a philosophical position on the way things are, but is a set of methods, though far from pristine and perfect, the system of values, assumptions and techniques of which work very well when not hobbled by external ideological interference.
Most ideologies by their very nature do not lend themselves well to an objective search for truth, especially those whose doctrines favor, promote, nurture, and exploit the biases of their adherents, especially those whose doctrines involve some form of fact denial, or which fail to acknowledge established facts of human behavior — including the realities of human greed and selfishness…and altruism.
I’ve heard from people I know a view which I think is mistaken, that double-blinding an experiment or study is irrelevant when the researchers involved have a bias or vested interest in the outcome, such as the political or financial implications, of a study they are conducting.
The problem I have with this view, the reason I think it’s mistaken, is that it ignores the whole purpose of blinding studies in the first place, showing an unfortunate lack of understanding of what blinding is and why it’s done.
For those unfamiliar, double-blinding in a nutshell:
Double-blinding is a procedure that involves keeping certain key pieces of information out of the hands of both subjects and experimenters in a study. For instance, it would be used in a medical study testing the safety and effectiveness of a new drug on human patients, in which neither those in the test group nor the control group know which one they are in, and whether they’re taking the real drug or a placebo…
…and most importantly, neither do those directly conducting the study while it’s being carried out.
Because experimenter expectation and bias can unconsciously influence the results of such a study, through the interaction of patients and experimenters and subtle behavioral cues given out and not consciously noticed by either, double-blinding is an essential tool for sidestepping this problem by effectively taking it out of the picture.
Best of all, it works.
Merely criticizing a such a protocol as ineffective by cynically accusing those using it of a suspected vested interest or bias, when this is not only irrelevant to the method used but also not even established, sounds suspiciously like an ad hominem attack or a fallacious appeal to motive.
Sure, you could argue that a given study wasn’t properly blinded, but how would you know?
Without proper grounds from credible experts in that field who’ve looked at the study in question, you’d need the data and the expertise to understand it, full knowledge of scientific methodology, and of access to records of or even direct observation of the conduct of the study yourself before you can rightly make that argument.
In short, you need to have a basis for knowing what you’re talking about. Failing all else, you’d need to be an expert in the field yourself — not a likely prospect without training, knowledge background, and experience.
Any valid argument to that effect requires much more than suspicion of ideological interests, more than just allegations of academic misconduct supported only by, for example, hacked and stolen emails, possibly doctored and posted anonymously online without any real context.
If you don’t like the facts, however politically or theologically inconvenient, it does little good to attack the fact-finders…
…for doing so shows that you can’t tell science from politics or religion.
Tools of Thinking: Understanding the World Through Experience & Reason, by Professor James Hall, via the Teaching Company, 2005
Your Deceptive Mind: A Scientific Guide to Critical Thinking Skills, by Steven Novella M.D. via the Teaching Company, 2012