Sunday, January 11, 2015

In Practice, the Origins Debate is Often Misinformed

Strong Beliefs, Weak Knowledge

When it comes to the origins debate, it sometimes seems that everyone is an expert. Consider international business consultant Greg Satell who shared his wisdom yesterday, at the Forbes website, in a piece entitled “How The War On Science Affects Us All.” Satell begins with the centuries-old demarcation problem which attempts to define what is and isn’t science.

On the surface, the term “scientific” seems to be a fairly arbitrary distinction.  After all, both alien hunters and SETI scientists are both engaged in a search for truth, but the difference is that the work of scientists, when properly done, is reproducible and testable and that makes all the difference. Science matters not because of its greater truth, but its lesser solipsism.

So real science is “reproducible and testable.” The army of philosophers working on the demarcation problem can now put down their pens—Satell has solved the problem. No matter that Satell’s finding immediately fails on his own example. Why is the SETI scientist’s radio recording of 3.1415 “reproducible and testable” while the alien hunter’s video recording of a saucer flying overhead is not?

Satell next tells his readers that skeptics doubt evolution because after all, “no one actually saw humans evolve.” Satell gives no references or examples because there are none, at least none from any serious skeptics. This straw man argument tells us more about Satell than about skeptics.

Satell next moves to the topic of the age of the Earth, explaining that “The bible says that the earth is several thousand years old.” Again no reference is given because the Bible doesn’t actually say this. That is one interpretation. And while it may well be correct, it nonetheless is an interpretation. There is no passage that says “the earth is several thousand years old,” and that is an important distinction.

Unfortunately such ignorance, misrepresentation and inaccuracy unusual. Too often the topic of origins is informed by simplistic Warfare Thesis stereotypes and straw men rather than informed judgment. People will always disagree but let’s at least be knowledgeable in our disagreement.