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i-710d005c8660d36282911838843a792d-ClockWeb logo2.JPGSo, why do Creationists and other quacks try so hard to sound all ‘scienc-y’? (June 15, 2005)

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Check this guy out – Jim Pinkoski – in the posts AND in the comments here, here and here.

OK, he’s a creationist, but he is not even trying to be consistently within ONE version of creationism. He freely switches between YEC and OEC and IDC and when asked ONLY for internal logical consistency, not even evidence, he starts using all caps and bold and calls everyone stupid and liars and exhibits all symptoms of a persecution complex. What gives? He appears intelligent and literate and definitely can draw cool cartoons. He is not an idiot, yet he behaves like one. How did he get to be that way?

As you expect from me by now, this is the time for some pop-sociology. And I’ll do one up on David Brooks and divide all people into not two but THREE categories. And I’ll even order them in chronological order of predominance in history. Here we go…

A) Religious thinking – If people I respect say an explanatory system is true than it MUST be true. It will always be true, as the people who do not believe it are not people I respect.

B) Philosophical thinking – If an explanatory system has internal consistency and internal logic than it MUST be true. It will remain true until somebody is able to demonstrate where the internal logic breaks.

C) Scientific thinking – If an explanatory system is well supported by empirical data than it is tentatively accepted AS true. It will remain generally accepted until new empirical data lead to a development of a new explanatory system that is better supported by data.

Religious thinking was the norm for most people for most of history. During that long period most people were illiterate anyway, so reading the Bible (or other stuff) and thus learning by thinking independently was impossible. One had to trust one’s parents, neighbors, friends and, of course, the experts on this – the priests.

Philosophical thinking was the domain of a small number of people throughout history. This mode of thinking became more widespread during 16th through 19th century, as the great philosophers made their mark on human understanding of the world and the literacy spread through the populations. Most of the exercise, though, was independent of the real world. The premium was on internal consistency. In oher words, arm-chair philosophers were involved in a “he said – she said” debate, each trying to poke logical holes in others’ constructs.

Theologians were quick to join in. Bible is so incredibly internally inconsistent, they had a huge job to do: to pick what statements to read literally, which ones to understand metaphorically, which ones to conveniently forget. Each theologian tried to hammer an internally consistent interpretation of the Bible. It was important as people could read the Bible themselves and needed guidance from the Church in order not to get disilluioned.

It was important for theologians to do philosophical thinking because the masses were expecting it. Though most people were unable to do it themselves, they were still capable of discriminating between what appeared to be an argument from authority appealing to religious thinking and the argument from logic appealing to philosophical thinking. The latter seemed more modern and sophisticated and was thus prefered even by the most uneducated. It was the way the world was thinking at the time. Of course, much hand-waiving and many logical fallacies could have easily passed by the people’s BS-meter, but it had to have the APPEARANCE (through the use of specific terminology and the style of argument) of being philosophical and employing logic as a tool.

In the mid-19th century, Darwin published the Origin of Species. Sure, the book had its effect on the biology of the day and the theology of the day. But most importantly, it had revolutionized the way Western societies think.

Darwin built his edifice not just by paying attention to internal logic but by paying attention to the REAL WORLD. Up till then, philosophers built grand theories with no grounding in reality, while scientists published emipirical data with no attempts to build grand theories based on such data (some scientists played philsophers, of course, building grand theories WITHOUT supporting data). Darwin was the first to demonstrate that a hugely innovative grand theory can be built entirely on emipirical knowledge about the world – and not just idealized notions of “force” or “energy” of physics, but dirty, messy, readily-observable data of biology. Since then, no more arm-chair philosophizing was sufficient. The Origin ushered in the age of the “Show me the data!” mindset.

Suddenly, internal logic was not enough any more. Even the most uneducated wanted to be shown the empirical evidence. What were theologians to do? They immediately recognized that application of scientific thinking would swiftly destroy their religion. They did something very smart instead. Instead of playing the science game, they declared religion and science to be two separate “ways of knowing” (the “non-overlapping magisteria” in Stephen Jay Gould’s terminology) and continued with philosophical thinking as the proper method in theology. They under-emphasized the historical and scientific aspects of the Bible and over-emphasized the ethical messages instead. This made religion immune to empiricism. By doing this, they saved religion for another century and a half, and more!

But not everybody was that smart. Throughout the past 150+ years, there were true believers who grew up in the age of scientific thinking and were not satisfied with merely philosophical arguments of the theologians. They wanted to have the cake and eat it, too. They wanted everything in the Bible to be true AND supported by scientific evidence. Unfortunately for them, stuff written in the Bible was not consistent with the empirical data. Week after week, as new issues of scientific journals came out, the biblical story about the world got more and more refuted by hard data. With every passing year, there was less and less in the Bible that remained correct. Science is doing exactly what early smart theologians understood so well – slowly exterminating religion by exposing its factual errors and making it irrelevant.

So, did they get smart and adopt the theological/philosophical defense of religion? Oh, no. They are pretending that their religion is scientific. They adopted the terminology and the style of argument of science and they are selling their wares to the uneducated. The uneducated are incapable of discerning what is true what is not. But they are magnetically drawn to arguments that SEEM to be scientific. This is the age of reason, after all, the “Show me the data!” era.

One takes information and advice from “experts” these days. “Because I say so” is not an accepted argument any more, and neither is a purely logical construct. An argument has to have an appearance of being based on research. Alternative medicine quacks prey on the ignorance of the masses the same way. While they used to just advertise their wares with say-so, today they invent “research data” out of the thin air because when packaged that way – IT SELLS! Historical revisionists do the same – forge the documents. New-age mystics all quote statistics. Creationists pull their “data” straight out of their asses, like this guy Jim Pinkoski does. But they will keep pretending to be scientific because they have to. No other packaging sells today. Their understanding of, and criteria for what is considered to be “hard evidence” is disturbingly different from the scientific criteria, but the uneducated people do not know that. If it has a bar-graph and some numbers it looks scientific thus it can be trusted.

One of the failures of both science education in schools and science reporting in the media (including popular science on nature cable channels) is the style of presentation: “here are the facts and believe me they are true because I am the expert”. How can a lay person discriminate between a genunine scientist and a pseudo-scientist if their presentations have exactly the same style? What both the schools and the media have to do is teach people how to discriminate between quacks and the real McCoy, how science WORKS, how are data evaluated, who is to be trusted and why, how to find additional information, what is the nature of the evidence. Until this is done broadly and done well, Creationists will keep winning the hearts and minds even if they loose in courts. Their message is SIMPLER than ours. Their message is more PLEASANT than ours. Their message is exactly what their audience WANTS to hear. And it is covered with a veneer of science-sounding language. It is an uphill battle to counter this if the audience is unreceptive to begin with, and uneducated on top of that. We have a lot of work to do.

If only people knew the Bible better! The way people employ scientific thinking today, and the way the Bible flunks on every count, there would be more atheists today if the religious belief was transmitted by dilligent reading of the Bible instead of relying on the chosen interpretations of local priests and televangelists.

Comments

  1. #1 Mustafa Mond, FCD
    December 22, 2006

    I think PZ reposted some of those articles, maybe you could dig up the updated links.

    Then, can you explain why there are PYGMIES+DWARFS?

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