For the sake of anti-science

Michael Hawkins, in a recent post at the atheist/evolutionist site (n.b. – his conflation, not mine) ‘For the Sake of Science’ tells a tale of his youth where he encountered his first ‘anti-science’ stance. In his story, he first learns about the earth spinning on its axis via a kindergarten teacher. Fascinated by this new knowledge, he excitedly shares it with his young neighbor friend as soon as he gets the chance. Alas, there is a problem; his friend is skeptical of his claims! He thus concludes:

I really had no response to this. I had basically been told some facts which were consistent with observation. I didn’t have a full grasp (nay, nary a tenuous grasp) on gravity or anything that would have helped me explain to David [the young friend] why he was wrong. I was only able to repeat what I was convinced was true. This was the first time I had been frustrated by someone taking an anti-science stance. I didn’t know his position was in opposition to science since I was about 5 or 6, but that’s what it was. Fortunately, his position can be excused since he was about the same age. But this raises an interesting question.

What is everyone else’s excuse?

It is always interesting to me that those who claim to speak for science, nay, have a blog presumed to exist ‘For the Sake of Science’, display so little knowledge of what science actually is. Let’s begin with a breakdown of what happened.

Young Mikey gained new information from a teacher, a trusted authority, about certain natural phenomena. So far so good; that is the purpose of educators, to convey the most current information about such things.  Lil’ Mike then shared this information with his friend as fact; his friend responded with skepticism. Michael concludes this is ‘anti-science’ because he considered it a denial of what is plainly true, much as those evil evolution deniers do. However, nothing which transpired between Hawkins and his friend qualifies as ‘scientific’ except perhaps, the reaction of his very young friend!

Like many evolutionists Hawkins concludes that the word of an educators or expert is equivalent to science – it’s not; science relies on repeated observation, and experimentation, not the opinion of experts or authorities, who have repeatedly been proved wrong in their claims. Indeed, an ‘appeal to authority’ is an oft used logical fallacy. However, one key component of science is skepticism; that is not taking what someone claims at face value, not even the supposed experts – exactly the attitude his friend displayed.

So what really happened was that Michael heard something from someone he trusted, a claim that appealed to his own thinking – and so he adopted it as true, which is actually an act of faith not science. His friend questioned that claim, which is the beginning of rigorous scientific inquiry. So in this case it was actually Micheal himself who was being ‘anti-science’.

The question I have for Michael is why as a grown-up who is supposed to be trained in science, is he still defending such faith-based thinking?

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19 Responses to For the sake of anti-science

  1. Bettawrekonize says:

    THEY FOUND WATER ON THE MOON!!!!!

  2. jackhudson says:

    Yeah, I think that is just an excuse our government is making for viciously attacking the moon without provocation; sort of a lunar WMD, except its, uh, WOM (Water On the Moon) 🙂

  3. A creationist quote-mining? Crazy.

    But I had been presented with the facts so convincingly that I never once doubted it to be true. The fact that is also made sense with how night and day, and then seasons, occur iced it for me.

    What made me excited about the information was that it was entirely consistent with what I had observed (daylight, seasons). In addition, the facts had been presented in far more in depth than I could re-convey them; I hadn’t the memory (I was 5 or 6) to recall all the details or to explain my childhood friend’s question. Nor did I have the background necessary to adequately defend why it made sense.

    Good to see you still exist, though.

  4. jackhudson says:

    Michael, I am not sure how the entire quote of your conclusion as well as a link to the whole post constitutes a ‘quote-mine’, nonetheless you seem to have missed the point.

    Skepticism on behalf of your friend, particularly given you admitted inability to respond to his questions, is not anti-scientific; indeed, the heart of science is questioning claims, even when those claims seem to fit our casual observations.

    Good to see you as well.

  5. He was ignorant of the evidence. I knew it, could explain a sliver of it, and knew it was consistent with observation. His question was one which I was unable to answer. As a result of my inability to answer, he concluded that I was wrong. Since one of biology professors couldn’t recently answer a question of mine concerning the particulars of cellular communication as it pertains to contact inhibition, is it then appropriate for me to make any conclusions about the process? Should I say it just doesn’t happen because he can’t explain a particular inquiry? That isn’t scientific.

  6. jackhudson says:

    He was ignorant of the evidence. I knew it, could explain a sliver of it, and knew it was consistent with observation. His question was one which I was unable to answer. As a result of my inability to answer, he concluded that I was wrong. Since one of biology professors couldn’t recently answer a question of mine concerning the particulars of cellular communication as it pertains to contact inhibition, is it then appropriate for me to make any conclusions about the process? Should I say it just doesn’t happen because he can’t explain a particular inquiry? That isn’t scientific.

    Well, it may not be scientific per se to dismiss a claim out of hand, or to dismiss it based on the ignorance of a single person; however, it is also not scientific to blindly accept such a claim, and certainly isn’t scientific to not question it.

    Even though your young friend was incorrect, he was relying on observation as well; the observation that in one’s normal experience on a spinning object, the tendency is to be flung from that object. Of course ,neither of you was familiar with gravity, an understanding of which requires something more than mere observation.

    So again my point simply was that you were incorrect to accuse him of being ‘anti-science’.

  7. So I would then be pro-science to just deny the fact of contact inhibition?

  8. Bettawrekonize says:

    That’s not what he said.

  9. jackhudson says:

    It’s really not abour denying any facts, it’s about being skeptical of claims made absent sufficient evidence – or merely on the authority of others. Apparently the the evidence in that case was sufficient for you, but not for your friend – that didn’t make him anti-science, nor does it others who are skeptical of certain claims.

  10. So then yes, since the specifics of contact inhibition have not been explained to me, I should deny that it happens, especially if I can base that denial on some obtuse observation. That’s totally science!

    Creationists…

  11. jackhudson says:

    So then yes, since the specifics of contact inhibition have not been explained to me, I should deny that it happens, especially if I can base that denial on some obtuse observation. That’s totally science!

    Well, no, rather if you accepted it blindly without questioning why it occurred, or whether it occurred as explained, or what evidence there was that it occurred, then you would be no different than anyone you accuse of being anti-science.

    Or does being ‘scientific’ in your mind amount to blindly accepting what one is told? That would seem to be the opposite by most estimations.

  12. I gave David the basics. I told him how it spins and that explains seasons. Ignoring that, he said that because trees don’t spin, I must be wrong. It’s very simple – and you’re very wrong. As always.

  13. jackhudson says:

    Interesting how the story keeps changing as we go along; first you claim you, “really had no response” to his skepticism, and now he is ignoring your well reasoned arguments. Perhaps it is your memory that is suffering here, not my point.

    Nonetheless, my simple point is skepticism is integral to science; we don’t accept scientific claims on their face merely because someone in authority makes them. It may be that a science education now consists primarily of parroting what one’s professor says, but the primary goal of the science education I recieved was critical thinking – perhaps wrong to some, but I think more useful in the end.

  14. Are you kidding?

    I finally got home and started telling my friend David all about how earth was spinning and how it rotated around the sun, not the other way around.

    Those are the basics. He said this.

    If the earth is spinning, why are all the trees standing still? Why aren’t they spinning too?

    He ignored the consistency of a spinning Earth with night and day and changing seasons, instead pointing out something I could not explain and then concluding I must be wrong. The story is consistent, through and through.

    This is a gaps argument. Someone cannot explain X, thus X is not true or has some basis inconsistent with what the aforementioned someone has given. This is not science. This is how creationism works – and I know you must know that.

    If David’s stance was pro-science (or skeptical, as you define it), he would have shown doubt to my claims, but he would not have said they were wrong based upon some faulty reasoning. He was thinking like a child, and I could only respond as one. His stance was anti-science in that 1) it was wrong and 2) it was a denial of evidence based upon a poor observation which could not be explained to him at the time. That isn’t skepticism; it’s denial-ism.

  15. jackhudson says:

    This is a gaps argument. Someone cannot explain X, thus X is not true or has some basis inconsistent with what the aforementioned someone has given. This is not science. This is how creationism works – and I know you must know that.

    All science is advanced by ‘gaps’ arguments – indeed that is the purpose of science, to work to fill in the gaps of our knowledge about natural phenomena.

    Newton’s explanation of gravity had gaps that didn’t conform to observations – noting these gaps, and responding to them, Einstein offered new explanations about the nature of gravity. You provided you friend with an explanation and some observations; your friend noted where your explanation fell short. If his desire was merely to thwart further inquiry, one might say it was ‘anti-science’, but otherwise, such objection should lead to further inquiry, which is what actually drives science.

    In this case, it would push a more mature person to wonder “Why aren’t the trees spinning as well?” which might lead one to understand the effect gravity has on objects on our planet. What it shouldn’t lead to is mere harrumphing about how ‘anti-science’ the skeptic is.

    If David’s stance was pro-science (or skeptical, as you define it), he would have shown doubt to my claims, but he would not have said they were wrong based upon some faulty reasoning. He was thinking like a child, and I could only respond as one. His stance was anti-science in that 1) it was wrong and 2) it was a denial of evidence based upon a poor observation which could not be explained to him at the time. That isn’t skepticism; it’s denial-ism.

    I think you are giving your youthful explanations to him more credit than they might deserve; indeed, considering that some of the great minds of the past believed the sun revolved around the earth, the fact that your friend didn’t believe the earth to be spinning does not in and of itself mean he was ‘denying evidence’ or anti-science per se; that he was wrong is now obvious, but why it is obvious is result of knowledge gained by people who were themselves skeptical of the explanations they were given at the time. Again, skepticism, even of answers we might consider to be sufficient or obvious, is simply not anti-science, as has been proved repeatedly in history.

  16. Sigh. Honestly.

    Doubt in and of itself is not scientific. The fact that we happen to be talking about a scientific topic seems to have clouded your thoughts. Here’s why.

    Say I told him that we were standing on a piece of land on which Indians had once lived (which probably would have been true). Not believing me, he asks why he doesn’t then see a single tipi. From this he concludes that I must be mistaken. That isn’t scientific thinking. It’s doubt based upon erroneous reasoning; it’s illogical.

    But you seem to be missing the point. He staked out a position that runs counter to scientific thinking and scientific fact (the latter being the more important point in the original post). This was frustrating because I knew he was wrong but couldn’t say why. Now for the majority of Americans, I feel a similar frustration because although I can often explain why they are wrong, they just don’t care (so is the curse of dogma).

    Your whole argument is like saying a person is thinking scientifically because he doubts evolution because he thinks it’s inconsistent with the second law of thermodynamics. His horribly faulty reason is only ‘scientific’ in the most watered, superficial definitions.

  17. jackhudson says:

    Doubt in and of itself is not scientific. The fact that we happen to be talking about a scientific topic seems to have clouded your thoughts. Here’s why.

    Say I told him that we were standing on a piece of land on which Indians had once lived (which probably would have been true). Not believing me, he asks why he doesn’t then see a single tipi. From this he concludes that I must be mistaken. That isn’t scientific thinking. It’s doubt based upon erroneous reasoning; it’s illogical.

    Why wouldn’t he be wrong to question your claim? Imagine I wanted to build on certain piece of land; you come along and say, “You can’t build there – that is an important archeological site where a native American village stood for centuries. Now, should I just put away from my blueprints and walk away? Wouldn’t it be reasonable to question the claim and ask for solid evidence? How is that not ‘scientific’?

    But you seem to be missing the point. He staked out a position that runs counter to scientific thinking and scientific fact (the latter being the more important point in the original post). This was frustrating because I knew he was wrong but couldn’t say why. Now for the majority of Americans, I feel a similar frustration because although I can often explain why they are wrong, they just don’t care (so is the curse of dogma).

    Actually, he apparently staked out a claim (based on his statement) that was commensurate with his own observations and experience. And you couldn’t say why he was wrong because you did not yet have either the knowledge or ability to explain why his observation was wrong. That wasn’t your fault, but true nonetheless. That doesn’t make him unscientific, nor does it make any adult who sees the shortcoming of materialistic claims ‘unscientific’.

    Your whole argument is like saying a person is thinking scientifically because he doubts evolution because he thinks it’s inconsistent with the second law of thermodynamics. His horribly faulty reason is only ’scientific’ in the most watered, superficial definitions.

    Actually, I am not sure how you extrapolated out to evolution and the second law; it’s a much simpler case than that – he had contrary observations, you didn’t have the facts to respond to them, so his skepticism was justified, even if they were wrong. I believe in my radical leftist days we referred to it as ‘questioning authority’; sad that young people have become so unquestioning.

  18. Wouldn’t it be reasonable to question the claim and ask for solid evidence?

    It would. In my scenario, he didn’t ask for evidence. He used poor reasoning to come to a conclusion which said nothing of any evidence I may have.

    so his skepticism was justified

    His conclusion was not justified, even when we set aside the actual facts; his conclusion did not address other evidence.

  19. jackhudson says:

    Well, I think this dead horse is well beaten; we’ll leave it at that.

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