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N P UN IVEIGITY OF NORTIITEXAS Discover the power of ideas COURSEPACK BEHV 3200001 Science Skepticism amp Weird Behavior Edition Prepared by Jonathan Pinkston 0 COURSE PAC Ks ETC Table of Contents Readings by week pg 1 What is True pg 3 The Nature of Pseudoscience pg 9 Antiscience pg 22 Science and Hope pg 41 The Fine Art of Baloney Detection pg 57 The Most Precious Thing pg 75 Relativism Truth and Reality pg 96 Patternicity pg 122 Confronting Creationists pg 137 University of North Texas Jonathan Pinkston Course Number BEHV 3200001 Course Title Science Skepticism amp Weird Behavior Week 3 Hines T M 2003 The nature of pseudoscience In Pseudoscience and the paranormal 2nd ed pp 1342 New York Prometheus Books Week 4 Dawkins R 2004 What is true In A devil39s chaplain re ections on hope lies science and love pp 1419 Boston Houghton Mif in Schick T amp Vaughn L 2001 Relativism truth amp reality How to think about weird things Critical thinking for a new age 3rd ed pp 7093 New YorkMcGrawHill Week 5 Sagan C 1997 The Most Precious Thing In The Demon Haunted World Science as a Candle in the Dark pp 122 New York Ballantine Sagan C 1997 Science and Hope In The Demon Haunted World Science as a Candle in the Dark pp 2339 New York Ballantine Week 6 Sagan C 1997 Antiscience In The Demon Haunted World Science as a Candle in the Dark pp 245263 New York Ballantine Week 7 Sagan C 1997 The Fine Art of Baloney Detection In The Demon Haunted World Science as a Candle in the Dark pp 201218 New York Ballantine Week 8 Shermer M 2012 Patternicity In The believing brain from ghosts and god to politics and conspiracies how we construct beliefs and reinforce them as truths pp 5986 New York Times Books Week 15 Shermer M 2002 Confronting creationists twentyfive creationist a arguments twentyfive evolutionist answers In Why people believe weird things pseudoscience superstition and other confusions of our time pp 137 153 New York AWH Freeman Owl Book 1 2 What is 39Mquotrua39 A little teeming is a cierigesreus things This has never stmck me as an panti Culariy ptefeund or wise remiat39lti but it CDEIIES into its owtl in the special case where the little leamitig is in phiinse p4h3r as it often is A scientist quotwho has the ltetiietity to utter the tiwetd quotiL39flIequot39 is likely to encmmter 1 fntin of philosophical hecklingwLi1ith goes seething iiite this is no aizueelme 0 You x cernmitting an eat of faith when you cleirn that the scienti c z including z and logic is the pnitrilegedl y to Other cuituree might believe that 39m l39ii39lz is to be found in e tebhitis entrails or the FEVIFIQS ef e pmpihet up he peilet it is eniy year faith in j that ieeds you to flavour your brand of P r That strand of half39 haiteti pitilesephy goes by the name of utltutali relativism it is one at the Fnsirinnahi e Nonsense detected by Alan Seical and Jean BiTiCm0I1t at the Higher 5upers39tiTtian of Paul Grass and Netntan Levittiquot The feminist version is ably exposed by Daphne Partei atttii Netetta Kcaettge authors of Prnfsssing Ffemihismx Citmtiannry Ttties mm the Strange Wariti of Wemenis Studiesg Wiemenis Studies students new being taught 65 iegie is a tool at demination p0 the standard name and methods ef M1 iinqulry 1 sexist J0 J0 incemkpatibie with quotwernen Js ways of lmewing39 suzbisectitiet39 O the methathis at logic analysis ands 7 es alien 0 belonging to men and value intuirtinn as E Safer and more l ruiti u ejppmach to truth l tnw shnuidi scientists respond to the aiiegatiien that our faith in logic and stiemti c truth is just that faith not 39pI39iV39iiEgEdquot39 ifiaveutite in wetti over aitemative ltmthsi A tt1ii1in1ai response is that science gets ftes39uits As I it in River Du 0fEnl39en39i5 quotF39epve39s loriginxai E woneielful but the spherism deeswt sumwe liselstien from its I quotElilteitt ill 1 WHAquotl39 D5 39li39liUE39 Show me a cultural relatitriet at tl teet and I1quotI show you a P l If yeu are tinying to an lznternatiiohall cengress at anthropeltogiets or literary crttiea the reason you wiI probably get there the reaeeh you dehtt plummet into a pieughedi quotfield at is that ale39to1i Western eciehtittcalty trainee engineers have get their sums right Science boosts its claim to by its speetat ulart ability to ma ke matter and energy jiump through hoops en command and to predict what will happen amt when But is it stilt just our Western scienti c bias to be iIT1pE 55Ed ibjr acvct139ra te preciietion impressed by the puwert1 stirrgshet rockets armrr1d 1tipitEiTi to reach Satuirrr er intercept and repair the Hubble telescope impr39es39sed Ttry logic itself Well let s ctrnncede the point and think s0ciDingic39allj 39 everl ciem0cr39atica1ly Suppose we agree temporarilyquot to treat scten fre 0 D as iustor1etrutharnongrharr3r ami liar it alongside alii the rivali euntencisera Trobrtahd truth Kikuyu truth Maori trtuit truth Navaic truth Yarmmamn truth iiur1g Salt truth femjr1ist p Isiarnit truth Itintiu 5 The iiist is enrtless and therheiay hangs a revealing ebservatiotr1 In theonr peejple could switch al1 egiam39e from aI1 jft39J nE truth to arrj tntheir they decide it has greater merit Oh what basis might they 10 50 o6 wuultt one change hem sasy Kikuyu tru th the Naeaic R6 Such merit tiriven switches are rare With one crucially irrrptnrtant excep i0 Sciienrtifle g is the only member of the list which reguliarhr persuades C39DI1 VE I tS at its super139erit3r People are lDjFi tl ten other helief syetems far one reasert only they were br0ught up that way and they have never p anything izretter Whe11 people are lucky enough to be uttered the opportunity to vote with their feet deeturs and their liilld prosperquot whiiliel witch rjecthrs ritelir1e Even those Wh do not or carrrret avail themselves of a seienttfut ed11cattort cheese to bene t the techrrcirggr that is made pessiihte by the S Ci39e ti C edueatior1 at 0thers Admittedly i39lquot E1igiDi 15 rrrtssiortaries have suceesshalhr claimed te11verts39iI1 great nun1hers alt twer the 1ur1derc1evelepeti werid But they succeed not because of the merits of their rettgten but because of the scier1cehased teehnvohgy39 Eur which it is parrilortabhl but wrongly giv e11 credit Surely Christian God rnruet be superior to our Juju because Christ39s represen39tativ39ee came bearing titles teleacaepee chairieaws radios arhanace that prediaet 0x to the rrlinute and medicines that we k I5 339E3939lIl H39ll AND IEFIBIIILIITY So much for cultureli reiativisrrr A different of truthshechler prefers ta drop the name at lar1l Pripper or rrmre fashiona hlyfJ Thomas Kuhn There is no absoiut 39tmth Your selienti ct tmthe are metal hypa esae that these so tier failed tie 39be farsitie1JT destined te be superseded At after the next scienti c rermlution today39s quotmathsquot willll quaint and p it net attIJal ly tal se The best you seientiste can ihppve her is a series rat ap pmKimatinee which pregreeeiveiy tetut39gte errors but I39IrBquot39JEl39 eiIri1l ete theme The lt5ppperiar1 heckle p39 I7tl j3939 stems from the accidenttall fact tihet philOEQphE 1395 of sciertce are traditionally obsessed with one piece of scienti c histury the ccmparistmt between Newton39s and Eiilsteirts thesries ti gravittatirehr It is true t1ratNewtom s izrwerse square law has turned out to he an apprexirnatien an 53931 case of lEir391stein39s more genera f t lll if this is the hrtily piece at scienti c history yrzrti know pee might indeed conclude that all apparent are mere approxi ma tieris fated tn be superseded There is even a quite interesting sense in which all mar sensory peroeptirms the real things that we see with our own eyes may be regarded as unfalsi ed quothypothes es39 about the wurld trtttnerable to change This provides a good way to thin rabout i1ltu5inris such as the Nether Cuber The at patterrr of P rm paper is compatible with twin aiterrrative 39h3rpothesesquot of solidity So we see a solid Cube which after a few SE39lZOI1dS ips to a different cube their ips hack to the cujhe and so uzn Perhaps sense data only ester con rm pr rteiect reerrtai hypetheses39 abemt what is Quit there Well that is an iI39lt39EIE39 JEiI1g theory so is the p hihrstpher39sr noti nh that seiehce prtocveeds by conjecture and ref1rtati 0n and so is the analogy between the twor This 0 of thought alli per pertepts are hypo thE39 tiE2 medelsr in the brain might ieaui us ttr fear some uture blurring eat the distirtctien between treahty anti ihrsien our descemiarrtsr whose lives be even more dornir1at ed by currrputers capable of 16 wuwr Ia rant predilctitans quantum theory or sacwmeversim1 of it seems to he as time as aznrgrthmg we k1391owi Modem physics teaches us that tl1eLre is more to than meets the eye or than meets the all ma limnited human ET 39 DlV Ed as it was to cope with med um ized ubjerIs Vmcraviing at Vmec um speeds through medium distances in Africa In the face of these profound and sublime mysteries the low grade intellectual pnodlling of39pseu dnph usuvpl1ica1 seems unwcn1jy of adult attention 19 who brings me more joy than I could ever have imagined her mother Mary Ruth Doson and her grandparents jessie Rose Stevens Dolson 19351997 and Roger j Dolson Sr 19322003 PREFACE The first edition of Pseudoscience and the Paranormal appeared in 1988 Much has changed in the area of paranormal claims and beliefs since then but much has also remained the same To reflect this two new chapters have been added to the present book One chapter covers 3939alternative medicine and replaces that on health and nutrition quackery from the 1988 book Chapter 12 covers the actual science of several of the various hysterical responses that have broken out over alleged environmental health hazards such as power lines PCBs and cell phone radiation The chapter previously titled Psychoanalysis has been renamed quotPseudopsychoogy to reflect the fact that psychoanalysis is far from the only quack psychotherapy out there The other chapters have been updated and expanded as needed As in the 1988 book I have heavily referenced the text so that readers who would like to read more on a particular topic will be able to find the relevant primary sources with ease As with any book this was not a project I completed alone I would like to thank numerous friends and colleagues who helped in many ways among them by answering questions and tracking down obscure publications The lnterlibrary Loan staff at the Mortola Library on Pace University39s Pleasantville New York campus was especially helpful in tracking down often obscure articles Of course any errors are mine alone Terence Hines Chapter 1 THE NATURE OF PSEUDOSCIENCE What is pseudoscience It39s difficult to come up with a strict definition In the real world things are not clearly delineated but surrounded by gray areas that doom any hard definition As the term implies a pseudoscience is a doctrine or belief system that pretends to be a science What distinguishes pseudoscience from real science Radner and Radner 1982 and MacRobert 1986 have discussed criteria for separating real science from pseudoscience and for helping to decide whether a new claim is pseudoscientific The most common characteristic of a pseudoscience is the nonfalsifiable or irrefutable hypothesis This is a hypothesis against which there can be no evidence that is no evidence can show the hypothesis to be wrong It might at first seem that such a hypothesis must be true but a bit of reflection and several examples will demonstrate just the opposite Consider the following hypothesis l Terence Michael Hines am God incarnate and I created the universe thirty seconds agoquot Now you probably don39t believe this hypothesis but how would you go about disproving it You could argue You say you created the universe thirty seconds ago but I have memories from years ago So you39re not Godquot But I reply quotWhen I created the universe I created everyone complete with memories We could go on like this for some time and you would never be able to prove that I39m not God Nonetheless this hypothesis is clearly absurd Creationists who believe that the biblical story of creation is literal truth often adopt a similar irrefutable hypothesis They claim that the world was created less than ten thousand years ago As will be seen in chapter 13 vast amounts of physical evidence clearly refute this claim All one has to do is point to something older than ten 9 thousand years Backed into a corner by such evidence creationists often rephrase the creationist hypothesis in an irrefutable form They explain the clear geological and fossil evidence that dates back millions of years by claiming that God put that evidence there to test our faith An alternative version is that the evidence was manufactured by Satan to tempt us from the true path of redemption No evidence can refute either of these versions of the hypothesis since any new piece of geological or fossil evidence can be dismissed as having been placed there by God or Satan This does not make the hypothesis true it just makes it nonfalsifiable Such a hypothesis contributes nothing to our understanding of the physical world Another example of an irrefutable hypothesis comes from a doctrine not usually considered a pseudoscience but which meets the criteria as will be seen in chapter 5psychoanalysis Sigmund Freud believed that all males had latent homosexual tendencies but that in most males these tendencies were repressed Clearly homosexual males have homosexual tendencies But what about heterosexual males To determine whether the hypothesis that all males have repressed homosexual tendencies is false you could give some sort of test for homosexual tendencies What if you failed to find such tendencies The standard Freudian reply is that the tendencies have been so completely repressed that they don39t show up on the test Given this irrefutable hypothesis no test could show that heterosexual males don39t have latent homosexual urges No matter how sensitive the test the reply can always be made that the urges are so deeply repressed that they don39t show up on the test Those who are skeptical about pseudoscientific and paranormal claims are frequently accused of being closedminded in demanding adequate evidence and proof before accepting such a claim But who is really being closedminded As a scientist I can specify exactly the type of evidence that would be required to make me change my mind and accept the reality of astrology UFOs as extraterrestrial spacecraft or any other topic considered in this book But the believer who likes to paint him or herself as openminded and accepting of new possibilities is actually extremely closedminded After all the irrefutable hypothesis is really saying quotThere is no conceivable piece of evidence that will cause me to change my mindquot This is true closedmindedness One more point should be made about irrefutable hypotheses Although they are nonfalsifiable they are not nonverifiable That is they could be shown to be true The Freudian hypothesis about males latent homosexual urges could be verified if all males did show such urges on some sensitive test of sexual preferences So irrefutable hypotheses are only that irrefutabe They could be verified if the evidence to support the hypothesis existed Of course the promoters of irrefutable hypotheses have been forced to fall back on them precisely because no evidence exists to support them Thus an irrefutable hypothesis is a surefire sign of a pseudoscience A second characteristic of pseudoscience is the proponents unwillingness to look closely at the phenomenon they claim exists In other words careful controlled experiments that would demonstrate the existence of the phenomenon if it were rea are not conducted The reality of the phenomenon is uncritically accepted and the need for hard data and facts is belittled MacRobert 1982 gives an excellent example in the work of George Leonard 1976 who believes that official photographs from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration NASA show that quotsomebody else is on the moon Leonard contends that he has discovered this secret and is trying to inform the public about it in spite of a massive conspiracy of silence Leonard39s evidence consists of lowresolution NASA photographs many of them poor reproductions rather than crisp originals The objects Leonard sees such as huge bridges and construction equipment of various types are all just at the limit of resolution of the photos he uses MacRobert points out that when he had a chance to get better photos and see the terrain more clearly he didn39t One of his pictures is supposed to show mileslong bridges The photo is a very distant shot and the bridges are the vaguest smudges Equally good closeups have been taken of the bridge areas and if the bridges were there they would reach from one side of the photos to the other like a wall poster of the Golden Gate For some reason Leonard did not get those particular closeups readily available from NASA He was unwilling to look carefullyquot p 47 Oberg 1982 has discussed Leonard39s errors in detail It will be seen throughout this book that there is a general unwillingness on the part of promoters of pseudoscientific claims to look carefully at the evidence they put forth to support their claims This contrasts of course with the behavior of scientists who try to be extremely careful in examining evidence What Radner and Radner 1982 term 39looking for mysteriesquot is another common feature of pseudoscientific claims Here the proponent searches for allegedly unexplained phenomena and says in effect quotThere Science explain that If science can39t fully explain the phenomena reasonable explanations are ignored or dismissed and the proponent concludes that his pseudoscientific theory is supported This type of accumulation of stray events is best illustrated by UFOogists who claim that unidentified flying objects UFOs are extraterrestrial spacecraft Proponents of such claims compile long files of UFO sightings and other UFOrelated phenomena The skeptic is then told that unless he can explain away every single report the theory that UFOs are extraterrestrial craft must be true In other words the burden of proof is placed on the skeptic to disprove the claim 10 In reality the burden of proof should rest squarely on the one who is making the extraordinary claim This is because as we have seen it is often impossible to disprove even a clearly ridiculous claim Consider the claim that Santa Claus is a real living person What evidence might one offer for such a claim The proponent might point to the hundreds of children who say every year that they have seen Santa Claus They can39t all be lying can they Surely there is some grain of truth in all these reports And didn39t the astronauts on Apollo 8 report sighting Santa Claus from space when they were between the earth and the moon Skeptics will say that was just a Christmas joke but NASA could be hiding evidence from the public And how about packages that appear under the Christmas tree on Christmas morning inscribed something like To Susan from Santa Where did they come from The skeptic will point out that the vast majority of such inscriptions are written by parents to maintain their children39s belief in Santa but what about the small number of cases that cannot be explained away so simply They really do exist of course and are due mainly to packages getting mixed up in the mail But the skeptic will never be able to explain away every single piece of evidence that the proponent puts forth as evidence of the physical existence of Santa Claus This inability to explain away every bit of evidence should not of course convince one of the truth of the quotSanta Claus is real39 hypothesis The burden of proof must rest on the proponent He or she must bring forth clear acceptable evidence that Santa Claus is real and not simply demand that skeptics explain away miscellaneous reports to prove that Santa doesn39t exist This may seem like a silly example but the type of evidence listed above for the existence of Santa Claus would be more than sufficient to convince many proponents of pseudoscience that a real phenomenon exists In fact it was just such evidence the testimony of two little girls and some photographs that they faked that convinced none other than Sir Arthur Conan Doyle the creator of the fictional detective Sherlock Holmes that fairies really existed in the English countryside The story is important because it illustrates how reversal of the burden of proof can lead to the uncritical acceptance of the most absurd claims The story starts in Cottingley England in 1917 Two girs Esie Wright thirteen and a cousin Frances Griffiths ten caimed to have taken two photographs of fairies who played with them Three more photos were apparently taken in the summer of 1920 Sheaffer 197778 It was Doyle who brought the photos to the public s awareness and he later wrote a book arguing for the real existence of fairies based largely on these photos Doyle 1921 The photographs one of which is shown in figure 1 have always looked fake But neither this nor the inherent absurdity of the claim has stopped many people including Doyle from taking the existence of fairies seriously As Sheaffer 1978 points out UFOogists have been interested in fairy sightings believing they may be related to the UFO phenomenon and extraterrestrials Various reports of fairies leprechauns and the like are all brought together to argue that maybe there really is some substance to the reports And again the skeptic is challenged to explain away each and every report just as in the case of the Santa reports however it39s impossible to explain every case For example we can never expect each child who has reported seeing fairies to admit lying But the Cottingley photos can be explained They were and this should come as no great surprise to the reader a hoax The fairiesquot were cutouts from a children39s book and many years later Frances and Elsie admitted the hoax Cooper 1982 Crawley 2000 has described the creation of the photos and the hoax in detail Finally Sheaffer 1978 has subjected the photographs to computer enhancement and found evidence of a string that was used to hang the cutouts from shrubs while the photos were taken So what began as a hoax and concerned a clearly absurd hypothesis that fairies really exist turned into pseudoscientific belief that required sixty years and much effort to put to rest And none of this would have happened if the burden of proof had been on the proponents in the first place to provide adequate evidence of their caim such as a fairy or a leprechaun in a cage Instead the burden was shifted to the skeptics who were told 39 If you can39t explain away every photo and every report then fairies must exist Proponents of pseudoscience often complain that skeptics are unfair in demanding more proof for pseudoscientific claims than for the claims of quotestablishmentquot sciences This is both true and reasonable under the circumstances Extraordinary claims demand extraordinary proof For example consider the following two claims about transcendental meditation TM 1 TM can make you feel better 2 TM can teach you how to defy the law of gravity and float in the air at will Most people would accept the validity of the first claim based simply on the testimony of several people who say that they felt better after they learned how to meditate Clearly one would demand more proof for the second claim Most people wouldn39t accept statements from several people that they knew how to levitate at will Additional evidence would be needed Pictures wouldn39t do because the TM movement has been known to fake photos of people levitating Randi 1980 You39d probably demand that someone actually levitate right in front of you And you39d want a professional magician present as an observer to ensure that no trickery was involved In short you would demand more rigorous confirmation of the second claim than of the first So not only is the burden of proof on the proponents of pseudoscience to prove their claims but the burden on them is greater than on someone making a claim that does not challenge the bulk of known facts Proponents of pseudoscience often use myth and legend as support for their claims After all they reason myths and legends have been around for a long time so they must contain a kernel of hard truth In fact myths are primitive 11 attempts to explain natural phenomena in a way that the culture using the myth could understand Barnard 1966 Vitaliano 1973 Myths should never be taken literally Thus one can trace the modem Santa Claus myths back through Christian thought to Saint Nicholas and the customs surrounding the giving of gifts at Christmastime Revzin 1986 Nowhere of course is it ever suggested that the current image of Santa Claus complete with sleigh and reindeer is or ever was a real being But anyone who took the modern myth literally would be fooled into believing that such was the case Many proponents of pseudoscience have been similarly fooled Another characteristic of many pseudosciences is the failure of the proponents to change or update their theories in the light of new evidence For example in 1950 Immanuel Velikovsky put forward his theory of quotworlds in collisionquot see chapter 9 Knowledge of the solar system in particular and astronomy in general changed vastly in the thirtytwo years between 1950 and Veikovsky39s death in 1982 Yet not once during that period did Velikovsky change his theories to reflect this new knowledge Like many proponents of pseudoscience he felt the theory was written in stone It was so to speak revealed truth not to be changed by mere facts If the facts don39t fit the proponents of pseudoscience prefer to ignore the facts The theory must be preserved at all costs This is rather ironic as I suspect the general pubic s impression is that scientists are conservative closedminded stodgy folk who rarely change their minds In fact nothing could be further from the truth In the last thirty years all areas of scientific investigation have undergone radical changes New theories have appeared been useful for a time then given way to even newer theories as new data and facts have demonstrated that the old theories were inadequate Science changes so rapidly it is frequently difficult to keep up with the changes even in one s own field This is in contrast of course to the pseudoscientists whose theories almost never change Again if one looks at the actual behavior of scientists and pseudoscientists it is clear which is really the more openminded of the two groups The characteristics of pseudoscience discussed in this chapter may not permit one to determine with precision whether a specific claim or belief system is a pseudoscience But they do offer some useful guidelines As applied in the following chapters which examine various areas of pseudoscience these criteria should help readers determine whether specific claims and arguments are pseudoscientific or not THE PARANORMAL The paranormal can best be thought of as a subset of pseudoscience What sets the paranormal apart from other pseudosciences is a reliance on explanations for alleged phenomena that are well outside the bounds of established science Thus paranormal phenomena include extrasensory perception ESP telekinesis ghosts poltergeists life after death reincarnation faith healing human auras and so forth The explanations for these allied phenomena are phrased in vague terms of quotpsychic forces quothuman energy fields and so on This is in contrast to many pseudoscientific explanations for other nonparanormal phenomena which although very bad science are still couched in acceptable scientific terms Thus chelation therapy a popular bit of medical quackery is said to remove calcium from clogged arteries when the chemical ethylenediamine tetraacetate EDTA is given The specific claim is that EDTA binds to calcium thus destroying material blocking arteries Binding of one substance to another is a real and very important biochemical process However the claims of the chelation therapists are simply wrong Bennett 1985 Richmond 198586 Yetiv 1986 Green and Sampson 2002 and the therapy is not effective So the claims for chelation therapy are pseudoscientific but not paranormal However the boundary between paranormal and nonparanormal pseudosciences is often fuzzy Different individuals may give different types of explanations for the same alleged phenomena Thus the claims that UFOs are extraterrestrial spacecraft is generally a pseudoscientific one see chapters 7 and 8 But some UFOogists such as Vallee 1975 now argue that UFOs are really some sort of psychic projection This transforms the phenomenon into a paranormal one Similarly Mack 1999 argues that we live in a universe of many dimensions and that UFO aliens are spirits or some such from these other dimensions Another example concerns biorhythms discussed in chapter 6 The pseudoscientific explanation of these alleged effects is that the rhythms are set at the moment of birth in the individual s brain Mallardi 1978 Attempts are then made to tie the claims for biorhythms in with what is now known about biological rhythms in humans and animals Gittleson 1982 On the other hand a biorhythmist in Oregon explained that the concept of biorhythms works because it concerns itself with rhythmic flows of energy relating to the conscious levels of our being to the subconscious levels of creativity and intuition and to superconscious levels that relate to the spiritual tendencies of the human condition Holden 1977 p 5 I would classify this as a paranormal explanation 12 SCIENTIFIC MISTAKES N RAYS POLYWATERAND COLD FUSION The stories of N rays polywater and cold fusion are classic examples of scientific mistakes In all cases initial claims for the existence of a new phenomenon seemed to garner impressive experimental support Much interest was thereby generated until it became clear on further experimentation that the phenomena had never really existed Once this was clear scientists expended no further effort investigating the phenomena and these scientific dead ends were abandoned These stories are important for a discussion of pseudoscience and the paranormal for several reasons First they demonstrate once again this time in a scientific context that attempting to shift the burden of proof to the skeptic is not a legitimate means of defending otherwise untenable hypotheses Second when contrasted with claims about ESP discussed in chapter 4 these cases show how most incorrect ideas in science are handled Finally they show that under some circumstances scientists who become strongly attached to a particular claim will resort to some of the same techniques used by proponents of pseudoscientific claims such as nonfalsifiable hypotheses The following discussion of N rays is based on the excellent articles by Klotz 1980 and Nye 1980 The discussion of polywater is based on the book by Franks 1981 The reader should refer to these sources for much more detail on these fascinating episodes in the history of science Rene Blondlot 18491930 bears the dubious distinction of being the quotdiscoverer of N rays Blondlot was an outstanding physicist at the University of Nancy in France He made many important contributions to physics in the late 1800s The late 1800s and early 1900s were an exciting time in physics In 1895 X rays had been discovered and in the next few years other types of radiation were found alpha beta and gamma rays Thus as Klotz 1980 p 168 points out when Blondlot made known his discovery of N rays named after the University of Nancy in 1903 physics was psychologically prepared for the discovery of another new type of radiation Such a discovery had at the time ample precedent a precedent that it would have lacked even ten years previously One of the properties of N rays that Blondlot reported in his 1903 paper was that they increased the brightness of an electric spark Blondlot used subjective judgments of spark brightness as a measure of the presence of N rays in his experiments No instruments were used that could have given objective measures of brightness Bondot s reputation in physics was such that once he had reported N rays other physicists rushed to study this new phenomenon In the next few years a stream of papers appeared largely from other French laboratories confirming that N rays did in fact exist and detailing additional properties Bondot s own laboratory as might be expected led the research effort By this time Blondlot had adopted a new method for determining the presence of N rays A screen was painted with a chemical that became more luminous when N rays were projected onto it Again the judgments of luminosity were purely subjective Blondlot even specified that observers should not look directly at the screen Nye 1980 p 132 but observe it out of the corner of their eye In the course of further investigation it was found that the sun flames and incandescent objects were all sources of N rays Another French investigator Auguste Charpentier found that the human nervous system emitted N rays and this finding was soon quotconfirmedquot in Bondlot s laboratory Further when a portion of the nervous system was active that portion was said to emit more N rays Blondlot also discovered secondaryquot sources of N rays These were sources that absorbed N rays and then reemitted them The fluids of the human eye were alleged to be such secondary sources and amazingly when the eye was exposed to N rays it became more sensitive to dim illumination Text that could not ordinarily be read in dim light could be read after the eye was exposed to N rays Here then was an important new phenomenon confirmed by dozens of independent studies in many different laboratories many of the studies conducted by wellknown and highly respected scientists But other physicists especially those working outside France were skeptical about the existence of N rays They objected to the conclusions of Blondlot and others who based their results on subjective judgments of brightness Such judgments which are liable to be influenced by the observer39s beliefs are poor sources of data One experiment allegedly showing that N rays increased visual sensitivity was faulted as being due to nothing more than dark adaptation the phenomenon that accounts for the increase in ability to see in a dark room the longer one spends in such a room More devastating to the claims about N rays was the failure of other physicists outside France to repeat Bondot s results These failures were most striking when objective as opposed to subjective measures of brightness were used Nye 1980 chronicles the numerous failures to replicate Bondot39s results in the few years following his initial report One of the most telling pieces of evidence against the existence of N rays came in 1904 when American physicist 13 Robert W Wood decided to visit Blondlot s laboratory to see for himself whether Blondlot s experiments were valid Wood was an extraordinary man with many interests outside physics Seabrook 1941 One of his interests was exposing fraudulent spiritualist mediums Wood39s experiences in this endeavor must have helped him when he came to evaluate Blondlot s Nray experiments Blondlot had found that N rays were blocked by lead Wood observed demonstrations of Nray effects in Blondlot s laboratory and concluded as had other critics that the reported changes in brightness that Blondlot used to argue for the reality of N rays were figments of Blondlot s imagination and a result of his desire to validate the existence of N rays Nray experiments had to be carried out in a darkened laboratory so the changes in brightness due to the rays presence could be observed This gave Wood an opportunity to make several observations that proved Blondlot s judgments of brightness changes were a function of his beliefs and not of the presence or absence of N rays In one experiment Wood was to block an Nray source by inserting a sheet of lead between the source and a card with luminous paint on it Blondlot acting as observer made judgments about the paint39s brightness and therefore about the presence or absence of N rays Without telling Blondlot Wood changed the experiment in one slight but vitally important way He would indicate to Blondlot that the lead sheet was blocking the Nray source when it really wasn39t and vice versa If N rays really existed Blondlot s judgments of the brightness of the luminous paint should be a function of whether the lead screen really was between the card and the Nray source and should have had no relationship to whether or not he believed the sheet was blocking the source In fact Wood found that Blondlot s judgments depended on whether he believed the screen to be present or not For example if he believed the screen was present blocking N rays but it wasn39t he reported the paint to be less luminous If he was told the screen was not present allowing N rays to pass but it really was he reported the paint to be more luminous Similarly in two other situations Wood showed Blondlot s subjective brightness judgments to be a function of his belief Blondlot had claimed that an aluminum prism would produce a spectrum of N rays of different wavelengths just as a glass prism produces a spectrum of visible light of different wavelengths Wood found he could remove the aluminum prism from the path of the N rays without interfering with Blondlot s ability to see the Nray spectrum Later when Blondlot s laboratory assistant became suspicious of Wood Wood pretended to move the prism while leaving it in place This caused the assistant to report that the Nray spectrum was not present Finally Wood performed a similar substitution in an experiment designed to show that N rays increased visual sensitivity in dim light An Nray source was placed near a subject39s eyes The quotsubject of the experiment assured Wood that the hands of a clock which were normally not clearly visible to him became brighter and much more distinctquot Klotz 1980 p 174 when the Nray source was held near Wood then replaced the Nray source with a similarly shaped piece of wood a substance that was not an Nray source Nonetheless as long as the subject was unaware of the switch he continued to report that objects were brighter and more distinct when the piece of wood which he believed to be an Nray source was close to his eyes Wood39s report published in the British journal Nature in 1904 reprinted with a short commentary by Hines 1996 along with the failures of other laboratories to verify the existence of N rays led to the conclusion that N rays do not exist No further papers appeared on the topic after about 1907 Only Blondlot convinced until the end that N rays were real pursued his research on the topic until he died in 1930 At the height of the debate over the existence of N rays proponents adopted a nonfalsifiable hypothesis to account for critics inability to observe the rays The critics eyes weren39t sensitive enough When Wood initially told Blondlot that he couldn39t see any brightness difference on a screen when the rays were or were not present he was told quotthat was because my eyes were not sensitive enough so that proved nothing Seabrook 1941 p 238 Years later one of the early proponents of Nrays made a similar point quotIf an observer who is not convinced sees nothing you conclude that he does not have sensitive eyesquot Becquerel 1934 cited in Nye 1980 p 153 It is vital to note that Blondlot and the other proponents of N rays were not lying when they reported that they saw a brighter spark or luminous screen when they believed that N rays were present Sparks and luminous screens vary in brightness from moment to moment for several reasons Random changes in brightness that confirm an observer39s belief are much more likely to be noted than those that go against the belief Numerous similar instances where a belief can profoundly change the way in which someone perceives a stimulus will be noted throughout this book The case of N rays also illustrates how science handles the burden of proof Compare this to the discussion of academic studies of ESP in chapter 4 Assume that someone wished to argue today that N rays really do exist To bolster the case he goes back to the physics journals of 19031907 and assembles all the papers that argued that N rays are real The proponent then challenges the skeptic to explain in detail what was wrong in each of the published papers favorable to the existence of N rays Could the skeptic meet this challenge Certainly not there is simply not sufficient detail in the papers to pinpoint precisely what led the author to mistakenly conclude that N rays existed 14 Does the fact that the skeptic cannot pinpoint the methodological errors in each and every experiment supporting the existence of N rays mean that the existence of the rays should be accepted Of course not The general explanation for the favorable resuts such as reliance on subjective measures aong with the failure of welldesigned studies to validate the existence of N rays is more than enough to justify the conclusion that N rays do not exist Unlike proponents of pseudoscientific claims science places the burden of proof on the individuals who make extraordinary claims Blondlot and his colleagues failed to provide valid evidence for the existence of N rays Polywater initially known as anomalous water was quotdiscovered in the early 1960s by a Russian scientist named Nikdlai Fedyakin working at a laboratory about one hundred miles from Moscow This form of water had several extremely strange qualities It boiled at a temperature well above water39s normal boiling point and froze at a point well below water39s normal freezing point Further polywater was said to be a more stable form of the H20 molecule This led to at least one scientist making the dire prediction that if even the smallest amount of polywater was allowed to contaminate natural water supplies natural water molecules would spontaneously change into the more stable polywater form thus ending all life on earth due to the radically different characteristics of polywater Readers familiar with the work of Kurt Vonnegut jr will recognize at once the similarity between polywater and the mythical substance quotice nine created in Vonnegut s story Cat s Cradle Russian research on polywater quickly moved from the provinces to a prestigious laboratory in Moscow At first polywater attracted little attention in Western scientific circles When it did however there was an explosion of papers on the topic in numerous scientific journals Between 1962 and 1975 several hundred papers on polywater appeared For various technical reasons polywater could be produced only in minute quantities inside sealed glass tubes with equally minute diameters The debate over the existence of polywater turned on one crucial point whether the water produced in these tubes was pure H20 or whether it was impure the impurities leaching out of the glass and changing the properties of the pure water Proponents of polywater claimed they had produced pure polywater with no impurities That is the substance was pure H20 in a new and different molecular configuration Skeptics who tried to produce polywater in their laboratories consistently ended up with nothing more than impure water of the normal molecular configuration The proponents responded that the reason the skeptics couldn39t produce true polywater was that they hadn39t learned how to do it just right While such a rejoinder was appropriate at first it quickly became little more than a nonfalsifiable hypothesis that proponents used to explain away every failure by the skeptics to produce quottruequot polywater As the 1960s faded into the 1970s it became clear that polywater did not exist and claims for its reality were in fact based on impure water as the skeptics had argued from the first By the mid1970s polywater was a dead issue The similarities between the Nray and polywater episodes are instructive One striking similarity was the use by proponents of both phenomena of nonfalsifiable hypotheses in the defense of their claims Thus such techniques for defending untenable claims are not limited to pseudosciences and the paranormal They appear in legitimate science in those happiy rather rare situations where commitment to the reality of a certain phenomenon is stronger than the data on which that commitment is based The much more common use of nonfalsifiable hypotheses in pseudosciences and the paranormal is due simply to the neartotal lack of real phenomena in these areas to begin with As was the case with N rays it would probably be impossible to pinpoint the exact procedural errors made in every experiment that seemed to produce evidence of polywater We know of course the general nature of the errors made but that is different from an exact explanation for every case on record However as in the case of N rays and as will be noted again in the chapters on UFOs and ESP it is not necessary for the skeptic to explain away every seemingly positive instance of a claimed phenomenon before rejecting the phenomenon In the polywater case as well as in the case of N rays the total failure of careful experimentation to turn up evidence for the reality of the phenomenon combined with a general explanation for what went wrong was more than sufficient for scientists to reject the existence of the phenomenon The same principle of rejecting a finding even if no scientific flaw can be found in the experiment on the ground that the result cannot be replicated is universal in science Science is littered with experiments reporting some particular result that upon later attempts fails to replicate A personal example makes the point My master39s thesis Hines 1976 examined a particular question in the field of hemispheric asymmetries in the human brain In one of the experiments I obtained the results that I predicted I was quite excited by this Then I went back and tried to replicate the findings Two replications failed To this day I have no idea why the initial experiment succeeded in providing the anticipated results However the two failures to 15 replicate along with similar failures that were later reported in the literature convinced me that the initial positive result was incorrect In the cases of N Rays and polywater one can not specify the exact date on which these aberrations came to the attention of the scientific community much less the public at large Such is not the case with cold fusion the final scientific mistake to be considered here On Thursday March 23 1989 chemists Stanley Pons and Martin Fleischmann held a news conference at the University of Utah that was widely covered on the national news programs that evening They announced that they had discovered a method for producing nuclear fusion using simple equipment at room temperature The term quotcold fusionquot was immediately coined to describe this phenomenon Over the next few years great controversy raged over whether or not cold fusion was real or illusory The history of the controversy has been examined in detail in three books Close 1991 Huizenga 1992 Taubes 1993 Of the three that by Gary Taubes s is probably the most comprehensive Rothman 198990 has published an articlelength summary Nuclear fusion occurs when atomic nuclei are brought so close together that they stick to each other The mass of the stucktogether nuclei is less than that of the separate individual nuclei The extraquot mass is converted into energy with the amount of energy determined by Einstein39s famous equation E mcz where E is energy m is mass and c is the speed of light Since c2 is a huge number even a very small mass such as that of atomic nuclei will result in the release of a great amount of energy If this was all there was to it fusion would be easy However in order to get atomic nuclei close enough to actually fuse the natural repulsive force that exists between nuclei when they are brought close together must be overcome This takes a huge amount of energy The conventional method of achieving fusion is to use heat on the order of hundreds of millions of degrees to sufficiently speed up the nuclei so that the repulsive forces will be overcome Needless to say this is both difficult and expensive Still since fusion would be a relatively clean source of energy it produces little of the radioactive waste that nuclear fission does it has been the object of considerable research funds Given the clean nature of fusion energy and the great expense of obtaining it using the conventional superheated methods one can understand how attractive a method would be for obtaining this sort energy using cheap apparatus at room temperature This is exactly what Pons and Fleischmann claimed to have done at their news conference The news conference immediately raised suspicions on the part of many scientists The absolutely standard way to announce a new scientific result is to first publish it in a professional scientific journal in the relevant field Before a paper can be published in such a journal it is usually carefully reviewed by other scientists who are experts in the area of research the paper concerns These experts point out any flaws in the paper in terms of methodology statistical analysis citation of the relevant scientific literature and the like Only after a paper has passed this type of scrutiny called peer review will it be accepted for publication and finally published Peer review is one major but certainly not foolproof guard against the publication of the results of scientific mistakes and faulty experiment The time to hold the news conference is after the paper has actually been published and it is generally considered unethical to quotgo public with one s results before publication let alone before even submitting a paper to a journal which Pons and Fleischmann had done What did Pons and Fleischmann point to at their news conference that led them to argue that they had actually achieved cold fusion There were two measures that led them to the conclusion that fusion was taking place in their small fusion quotcellsquot which were really little more than large jars that held electrodes of palladium or platinum in a bath of heavy water D20 One was heat It was claimed that the cells produced more heat than would be expected if no fusion was occurring The other measure was gamma rays Fusion produces gamma rays and Pons and Fleischmann claimed to have found gamma rays coming from their fusion cells One might think that it is an easy matter to measure these two variables especially heat One would be wrong Both variables require very sensitive measurement requiring much experience Scientists with real experience in the measurement of these two variables in the conditions under which Pons and Fleischmann were operating were nuclear physicists Pons and Fleischmann as chemists had relatively little experience with such measurements Working outside one s area of specialization can be dangerous because one will probably be less aware of the subtleties and pitfalls of experimentation and measurement in a field in which one is not an expert The history of parapsychology for example is littered with scientists respected in their own fields who embarrassed themselves by making blunders when they assumed incorrectly that they were also experts in other areas of experimentation Pons and Feischmann39s unfamiliarity with measurement of gamma rays is one striking example of how they went wrong Fusion should result in gamma rays with an energy of 2224 KeV thousand electron volts Pons and Fleischmann did claim to measure gamma rays being emitted by their cold fusion cells but in the media and at scientific talks they gave they reported the gamma rays to have an energy of about 2500 Kev This is a major discrepancy but Pons and Fleischmann were not aware of it In general chemists didn39t spot the problem but 16 physicists did The initial reports of gamma rays at 2500 Kev were made before Pons and Fleischmann 1989 published their first report of their findings The problem had certainly been pointed out to them before their paper was published When their paper actually appeared in print an amazing thing had happened The paper reported gamma rays at 2224 Kev and there was no indication in that paper that gamma rays at 2500 KeV had ever been detected Other changes in the data took place between the verbal and the media presentations and the published paper The reasons for these changes are still not clear but it is difficult to interpret them charitably A second factor that caused scientists to be suspicious of Pons and Feischmann s claims at the news conference was the fact that if the claims of cold fusion were true several basic laws of physics would have been in jeopardy Recalling that extraordinary claims demand extraordinary proof it was obviously going to take more than claims unsubstantiated by published results to convince scientists that cold fusion had been demonstrated However since the apparatus used was relatively straightforward and was visible in the background in a videotape shown at the news conference and since Pons and Fleischmann did give a general description of their basic method for the next several months numerous laboratories around the world tried to replicate the results When groups of researchers attempt to replicate an exciting new finding even if that finding is artifactual some will quotsucceed in the replication while some will correctly fail to replicate The seeming successes may be due to various types of errors of experimentation In the heated atmosphere of the first few months following Pons and Feischmann s news conference it was the allegedly successful replications that got the lion39s share of attention both from the popular media and from Pons and Fleischmann who tended to dismiss failures as being due to not doing it rightquot Alas they failed to be explicit about what doing it rightquot consisted of in terms of exact methodology As time passed it was established that the seemingly successful replications were due to various sources of errors some quite subtle When these sources of error were eliminated so too was evidence for cold fusion Close 1991 discusses many of these replications and shows what went wrong to mislead the researchers into thinking that they had obtained fusion One laboratory in particular seemed to be especially able to replicate Pons and Feischmann s findings of excess heat in their fusion ces and to find tritium as well Standard physical theory requires that tritium be produced as a result of fusion Pons and Fleischmann had never reported finding any tritium but tritium as well as heat was reported in cold fusion cells in the laboratory ofjohn Bockris at Texas A amp M University The combined finding of tritium and heat was taken as strong support for the reality of cold fusion Alas the tritium appeared only sporadically and like other cold fusion findings could not be reproduced The actual pattern of the appearance of tritium suggested the possibility that it was fraudulently being added to some cold fusion cells Taubes 1993 The finding of excess heat in the fusion cells in Bockris39s lab has a particularly interesting explanation It is a perfect example of how disregard for the basic rules of scientific evidence kept the cold fusion debate going Even in the total absence of cold fusion sometimes a cold fusion cell would run a little hotter than expected while others would run slightly cooler That is not each and every cell would be at exactly the same temperature The temperature of the cells taken as a group would vary around some average Cells running cooler than expected were negative results and Bockris wasn39t interested in negative results which he said quotcan be obtained without skill and experiencequot quoted in Taubes 1993 p 322 Such negative results were simply tossed in a drawer and not considered When a cell ran slightly warmer than expected this was taken as evidence for cold fusion N rays and polywater died fairly quiet deaths once the scientific community realized the nature of the flaws in the experiments said to support these phenomena And neither had any following among the general public Such is not the case with cold fusion Disgraced in the eyes of the scientific community Fig 2 Pons left the academic world and in 1992 to work for a private industrial concern still looking for evidence of cold fusion The Japanese Ministry of Trade and Industry continued to support cold fusion work for a few years in the mid1990s But the attention the media gave cold fusion ensures that it will live on forever supported by a small group of true believers who will always insist that the ultimate proof of cold fusion is just around the corner with that one more crucial experiment that has to be done CONSPIRACY THEORIES While conspiracy theories are not necessarily pseudoscientific or paranormal in nature they do pop up in the belief systems of many proponents of these claims The best known example which will be discussed in chapter 8 is the belief that a vast government conspiracy exists that has kept the real evidence for the extraterrestrial nature of UFOs hidden from the public for the past fifty years or so In the alternative medicine movement it is sometimes believed that another conspiracy exists this time between the government and the drug companies to keep news of 17 effective treatments for cancer and other dreaded diseases from the public In general whether they concern pseudoscientific or paranormal topics or not the conspiracy theory belief systems do share a major component with the belief systems of other pseudoscientific proponents their inherent nonfalsiflability When the alleged evidence for a particular conspiracy has been refuted the proponent will often point to the very lack of evidence for the theory as evidence for the theory That is it is argued that the lack of evidence is not because the theory is false but instead is due to the supreme effectiveness of the conspiracy itself in seeing to it that no convincing evidence for the conspiracy can be found In this sort of cloudcuckooland any belief no matter how absurd can be sustained for a very longtime indeed Since the topic of this book is specifically pseudoscientific and paranormal claims it would not be appropriate to devote much space to conspiracy theories outside of these areas However let me simply make brief note of several excellent works critically examining two of the most well known nonparanormal conspiracy theories those holding that the Holocaust never happened and that President Kennedy was not killed by a single gunman Lee Harvey Oswald Lipstadt 1993 has written a chilling book on the Holocaust denial movement and Shermer 1994 has discussed the factual errors in the claims of the deniers Posner 1993 in an extremely detailed treatment discusses the problems with the various claims of a vast conspiracy to kill Kennedy As is the case with any conspiracy theory the Kennedy theory requires that a huge number of people be part of the conspiracy and that none of them come forward Our experience with real conspiracies such as those underlying Watergate the Pentagon Papers and the bombing of Cambodia show that it is essentially impossible for operations involving very many people to stay secret for long Gerlich 1998 has written an article discussing some of the specific issues raised by the JFK quotconspiracists Finally Pipes 1997 has written a fascinating history of conspiracy theories I found his discussion of the Freemasons and the Illuminati two groups conspiracy theorists have loved to hate for centuries especially interesting He also provides an excellent history of the Protocols of the Elders ofZion an antisemitic fraud produced by the Czar s secret police and first published in 1903 WHY STUDY PSEUDOSCIENTIFIC CLAIMS The serious examination of pseudoscientific and paranormal claims by scientists and scholars who are skeptical about the existence of such phenomena is not a recent development In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries the claims of spiritualists were carefully scrutinized by several scientists see chapter 2 A new interest in evaluating pseudoscientific claims arose during the early 1970s as scientists and educators became concerned with the pubics39s uncritical acceptance of almost every type of pseudoscientific claim This resulted in the formation in 1976 of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal CSICOP The members of CSICOP including scientists writers educators journalists and philosophers founded the organization because of the concern about the uncritical acceptance by wide sections of the public of many claims of paranormal phenomena as true even without testingquot Kurtz 197677 p 6 The objectives of CSICOP include critical unbiased objective research into pseudoscientific claims the publication of the results of these studies and a commitment not quotto reject on a priori grounds antecedent to inquiry any or all paranormal claims but rather to examine them openly completely objectively and carefully Kurtz 197677 p 6 This is very different from the usual approach of scientists and scholars whose typical response to pseudoscientific claims is simply to dismiss them as nonsense This latter is a most unfortunate attitude It is important to examine these claims objectively for at least four reasons First the claim may in fact be true Failure to examine it would then delay the acquisition of new perhaps important knowledge Second if the claim is false the scientific community which is heavily supported by the public through taxes has a responsibility to inform the public Ignoring a claim and not testing it leaves the field to the promoters of such claims and deprives the public of the information needed to make informed choices Third several important psychological issues relate to the study of pseudoscience and the paranormal Why for example do people so strongly believe in theories that not only have no evidence to support them but also have been shown time and again to be flat wrong Fourth and finally the unthinking acceptance of pseudoscientific claims poses real dangers Believers may act on their beliefs and cause physical harm even death to themselves and others In addition as our society becomes more dependent on science and technology we are all threatened by an increase in the uncritical acceptance of clearly incorrect nonscientific superstitions and related beliefs The rest of this section will consider in detail these reasons for the study of pseudoscientific claims 18 The Claims Might Be True There are several examples in the history of science of phenomena that were once considered to be pseudoscientific or paranormal in nature but were eventually shown to be real verifiable phenomena of considerable theoretical and practical interest and importance Perhaps the best example is hypnotism Hypnotism was first called quotmesmerismquot after the Viennese physician Franz Anton Mesmer who popularized it in the 1700s Mesmerism with its talk of animal magnetism was clearly a sham see pp 37475 but it did lead to the development of hypnosis which gained some respectability in the late nineteenth century through its use in psychotherapy In the twentieth century especially in the recent decades the scientific study of hypnosis has expanded greatly There are now several journals and many books devoted to the topic As is frequently the case when a pseudoscientific phenomenon is studied carefully and shown to represent a real phenomenon some initial claims for the phenomenon are found to have been overstated This is certainly the case with hypnosis as will be seen in chapter 8 The point here however is that there is a true hypnotic phenomenon that is well deserving of study Nash 2001 A second example of a phenomenon once scorned but then studied and confirmed scientifically is the case of meteorites Stones falling from the skies Absurd Ridiculousquot was the common attitude well into the eighteenth century Hall 1972 has pointed out that reports of stones falling from the skies were once treated by the scientific community with much the same contempt that is now reserved for reports of UFOs Yet meteorites are clearly real Might UFOs be real too To find out one has to study the phenomenon not just dogmatically insist that it is 3939impossible A final example is acupuncture the ancient Chinese technique for reducing pain that gained considerable Western attention after thenPresident Nixon renewed relations between the United States and the People39s Republic of China in the early 1970s The first reports of this technique certainly sounded unikey after all how could sticking needles in someone reduce his perception of pain However experimental work since the early 1970s has suggested that acupuncture for the relief of pain may be a real phenomenon pp 37778 although again initial reports of its effectiveness were rather exaggerated In all of these examples phenomena that were initially considered to be pseudoscientific and unworthy of study have been shown to have some basis These cases alone would justify the study of other pseudoscientific and paranormal phenomena although it must be realized that the quothit ratequot in this type of endeavor is very low Of the numerous paranormal claims considered in the remainder of this book the vast majority will be found to have no scientific support Responsibility to Inform the Public about the Truth of Paranormal Claims A glance at the occult books section in any moderately large bookstore is all that is needed to convince one of the huge market for pseudoscientific and paranormal claims in this country A 1997 poll Nisbet 1998 found that 45 percent of Americans believe in faith healing 30 percent in UFOs 37 percent in astrology and 25 percent in reincarnation to give a few results john Mack39s 1997 book Abduction Human Encounters with Aliens was a bestseller when it was published Every kind of pseudoscientific claim finds eager buyers Psychics palm readers tarot card readers mediums and the like rarely lack for victims willing to shell out fifteen twentyfive or even one thousand dollars for a reading Those who claim that Earth was visited in historical times by ancient astronauts or that there is a mysterious area off Florida39s east coast where ships and planes have disappeared or that they can bend keys with sheer mind power can make millions from books films and the lecture circuit In short the public spends a lot of time and money supporting the proponents of pseudoscience and the paranormal As will be seen in the following chapters there is not one bit of evidence to support these pseudoscientific claims and much evidence exists that flatly contradicts them This being the case the continued claims by proponents of pseudoscience constitute nothing short of consumer fraud And it is a massive fraud that costs the American public billions of dollars each year In this situation scientists have a strong responsibility to investigate pseudoscientific claims and to speak out vigorously when those claims are shown to be false Unfortunately communication of the real data on the truth of pseudoscientific claims is often hampered by the media Television and radio programs and newspapers are frequently more interested in presenting sensational claims than in carefully evaluating the truth of such claims The media both print and electronic have often acted with extreme irresponsibility in covering pseudoscience and the paranormal In the case of uncritical coverage of faith healers and psychic surgeons this lack of responsibility on the part of the media has resulted in injury and death 19 The case for speaking out is even clearer in the case of modern health and nutrition quackery now known as quotalternative medicinequot which in the early 1980s was a 10billionayear problem in the United States Pepper 1984 The figure must be much higher now The quacks and Charlatans victims are most likely to be those least able to defend themseves the desperate the elderly and the poor Only through careful evaluation of pseudoscientific claims and seeing that the results of those evaluations are reported by the popular media can the public be fully informed The proponents of pseudoscience and the paranormal who make vast sums of money selling their wares are unlikely to provide the public with accurate information Scientists then have a responsibility to inform the public Psychological Issues Ethical issues aside several important psychological issues are raised by the study of pseudoscience and the paranormal and people39s belief in them The major issue is why people come to believe in such claims in the first place What is it that convinces them for example that astrology is a valid method to guide their lives Or that biorhythms really predict when they are most likely to do well or poorly on an exam Second why do these beliefs persist so strongly in the face of clearly contradictory evidence The answers to these questions will be discussed throughout the remainder of this book Suffice it to say here that research on perception and especially memory has demonstrated the importance of cognitive illusions that are in many ways analogous to visual illusions These cognitive illusions provide the basis for both initial and continued belief in pseudoscientific and paranormal claims although other factors to be discussed are also important Dawes 2001 Shermer 1997 and Vyse 1997 have all written booklength treatments of the psychology of belief that go into much greater detail than I am able to here Lastly the widespread acceptance of paranormal and pseudoscientific belief raises important sociological questions Although these are beyond the scope of this book Goode 2000 has discussed them in detail Dangers of Paranormal Beliefs Skeptics are often asked quotWho cares if there really isn39t anything to astrology What does it hurt if someone believes in itquot I39ve found that this question is frequently asked by proponents of pseudoscientific claims when they have been backed into a corner by the evidence The answer can be made at three levels At a philosophical level most people would agree that it is harmful to hold invalid beliefs and that generally speaking one should base one s life on a correct view of how the world operates To do otherwise is to be deluded On a more practical and personal level one can consider pseudoscientific and paranormal claims in the context of consumer fraud People are being induced through false claims to spend their money often large sums on paranormal claims that do not deliver what they promise Presumably no one would ask quotWhat s the harm if the label says the cereal box contains sixteen ounces but it really only contains thirteen ouncesquot The situation is the same for paranormal claims except that the box is empty The personal damage done by uncritical acceptance of paranormal claims can be most clearly seen in faith healing and psychic surgery see chapter 10 and alternative medicine see chapter 11 People go to these fraudulent healers and often are convinced incorrectly that they have been cured Thus they may not seek legitimate medical help By the time they realize that they have not in fact been cured they may be beyond even medical help Nolen 1974 has documented such cases Of all the proponents of pseudoscience faith healers and psychic surgeons are the most dangerous they kill people Finally from the point of view of society at large uncritical acceptance of paranormal belief systems can be extremely damaging The classic example is the witchcraft craze that swept Europe between approximately the middle of the fourteenth and the beginning of the eighteenth centuries During that period well over two hundred thousand people were burned tortured or hanged as witches Robbins 1959 The belief in the reality of witches is a classic example of a paranormal belief It shares many characteristics with modernday paranormal belief systems We will see for example in chapters 7 and 8 that proponents of the reality of UFOs as extraterrestrial spacecraft argue that some of the strongest evidence for the reality of UFOs is the many reports of UFOs that have been seen and reported by reliable trained sane observers Yet even a short perusal of the literature on witchcraft will reveal hundreds of similar reports of witches turned in by reliable trustworthy witnesses Of course not one of these reports 20 was true Another similarity between the belief in witchcraft and the belief in numerous modern pseudoscientific claims is the presence of an irrefutable hypothesis as a cornerstone of the belief system For the poor individual accused of being a witch the irrefutable hypothesis spelled a slow and lingering death There was no possible piece of evidence that could show that the accused was not a witch Once an accusation was made no matter how flimsy the grounds for it the accused was arrested At this point the accused was asked to confess to the charges If the confession was not made the accused was tortured If a confession was still not made the torture continued Johannes Junius the burgomaster of Bamberg made this point in his last letter to his daughter before he was executed as a witch in August 1628 He described the several days of torture he endured without confessing and then says quotWhen at last the executioner led me back into the cell he said to me Sir I beg you confess something whether it be true or not Invent something for you cannot endure the torture which you will be put to and even if you bear it all yet you will not escape not even if you were an earl but one torture will follow another until you say you are a witch Robbins 1959 pp 29293 There was no way out If one confessed without torture to being a witch one was executed If one did not confess at once one was tortured until one did and was then executed If one confessed and later recanted the confession the torture started anew To make matters worse for the accused who might be willing to confess at once simply to escape torture one was asked to name acquaintances who had engaged in witchcraft If names were not forthcoming they were extracted again under torture These other individuals were then rounded up and tortured into confessing and naming still more quotwitchesquot and so the horrible cycle went on It should not be thought that in our modern and quotenlightenedquot age witchhunts are a thing of the past In the 1980s and 1990s hysteria over bizarre claims of mass abuse and killings usually of children by a wellorganized and highly secret group of Satan worshipers swept the United States Innocent parents and teachers were accused and many went to jail As in the medieval witch trials there was no physical evidence The victims of this modern witchhunt were not convicted on the basis of testimony extracted under torture but by something eerily similar the testimony of children who had been subjected to interrogation techniques such that they came to truly believe the fantastic accusations they were making chapter 12 The medieval witch delusion also provides what is presumably one of the first reported cases of quotspecial pleadingquot for a pseudoscientific claim Proponents of pseudoscience often claim that the usual rules of science are too strict tacitly admitting that their evidence is scientifically inadequate to prove their claims and that lessstringent criteria of proof should be allowed for this or that pseudoscientific claim In this vein Robbins 1959 notes a quotdistinguished professor of law at the University of Toulouse who advocates the suspension of rules in witch trials because not one out of a million witches would be accused or punished if regular legal procedure were followed p 34 An even more terrible pseudoscience the phony racial theories of the Nazis in the twentieth century resulted in loss of life on a scale vastly greater than that caused by the witchcraft delusion Although the role of the occult per se in the rise of Nazism has been overestimated it is clear that the racial theories upon which Hitler built the Holocaust were pure pseudoscience Another commonly heard defense of paranormal claims goes like this quotReality is relative lfl decide to believe in astrology then it becomes real in my own reality and works for mequot In other words belief determines the structure of reality An extreme version of this rather silly position is held by many parapsychologists who try to explain their critics repeated failures to find any evidence confirming the existence of ESP by saying that the critics don39t believe the phenomenon to be real and therefore for the critics it isn39t We39ll see in chapter 4 that a much better explanation is that the critics conduct better more tightly controlled experiments than do the believers In any event this position that belief determines reality puts its proponents in a rather unpleasant position In Nazi Germany millions of people really believed that Jews were subhuman If belief determines reality then this belief must really have been true This is an absurd position and those who hold that belief determines reality have never bothered to think their notion through to the repellent consequences of its logical conclusions The point is that truth is independent of belief When the proponents of a pseudoscientific claim maintain that belief determines reality it39s a safe bet that they can39t prove their point using legitimate rules of evidence The examples of the witch delusion and the Nazi horrors show the great damage done by the uncritical acceptance of pseudoscientific claims Others will be encountered throughout this book All might well have been avoided if the public had been educated in critical scientific thinking and had simply asked What evidence is there that what you are telling me is really true Of course not all pseudosciences have the vast potential for damage of the witch mania and the Nazi racial theories However if one accepts faulty evidence intellectual shoddiness and fraud and twisted logic in the case of relatively benign pseudosciences it becomes much easier to accept the same type of evidence when it is presented in 21 I4 Antiscience There39s no such thing as objective truth We make our own truth There39s no such things as objective reality We make our own reality There are spiritual mystical or inner ways of knowing that are superior to our ordinary ways of knowing If an experience seems real it is real If an idea feels right to you it is right We are incapable of acquiring knowledge of the true nature of reality Science itself is irrational or mystical It39s just another faith or belief system or myth with no more justification than any other It doesn39t matter whether beliefs are true or not as long as they39re meaningful to you a summary of New Age beliefs from Theodore Schick Jr and Lewis Vaughn How to Think About Weird Things Critical Thinking for a New Age Mountain View CA May eld Publishing Company 1995 f the established framework of science is plausibly in error or arbitrary or irrelevant or unpatriotic or impious or mainly serving the interests of the powerful then perhaps we can save ourselves the trouble of understanding what so many people think of as a complex difficult highly mathematical and counterintui tive body of knowledge Then all the scientists would have their 234 22 Antiscience comeuppance Science envy could be transcended Those who have pursued other paths to knowledge those who have secretly harboured beliefs that science has scorned could now have their place in the Sun The rate of change in science is responsible for some of the re it draws Just when we39ve nally understood something the scientists are talking about they tell us it isn39t any longer true And even if it is there39s a slew of new things things we never heard of things dif cult to believe things with disquieting implications that they claim to have discovered recently Scien tists can be perceived as toying with us as wanting to overturn everything as socially dangerous Edward U Condon was a distinguished American physicist a pioneer in quantum mechanics a participant in the development of radar and nuclear weapons in World War 11 research director of Corning Glass director of the National Bureau of Standards and president of the American Physical Society as well as late in his life professor of physics at the University of Colorado where he directed a controversial Air Forcefunded scientific study of UFOs He was one of the physicists whose loyalty to the United States was challenged by members of Congress including Congressman Richard M Nixon who called for the revocation of his security clearance in the late 1940s and early 1950s The superpatriotic chairman of the House Committee on UnAmerican Activities HCUA Rep J Parnell Thomas would call the physicist Dr Condom the 39weakest link in American security and at one point the 39missing link His view on Constitutional guarantees can be gleaned from the following response to a witness39s lawyer 39The rights you have are the rights given you by this Committee We will determine what rights you have and what rights you have not got before the Committee Albert Einstein publicly called on all those summoned before HCUA to refuse to cooperate In 1948 President Harry Truman at the Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and with Condon sitting beside him denounced Rep Thomas and HCUA on the grounds that vital scientific research 39may be made impossible by the creation of an 235 23 THE DEMONHAUNTED WORLD atmosphere in which no man feels safe against the public airing of unfounded rumors gossip and vilification39 He called HCUA39s activities 39the most unAmerican thing we have to contend with today It is the climate of a totalitarian country39 The playwright Arthur Miller wrote The Crucible about the Salem Witch Trials in this period When the drama opened in Europe Miller was denied a passport by the State Department on the grounds that it was not in the best interests of the United States for him to travel abroad On opening night in Brussels the play was greeted with tumultuous applause whereupon the US Ambassador stood up and took a bow Brought before HCUA Miller was chastised for the suggestion that Congressional investi gations might have something in common with witch trials he replied The comparison is inevitable sir39 Thomas was shortly afterwards thrown in jail for fraud One summer in graduate school I was a student of Condon39s I remember vividly his account of being brought up before some loyalty review board Dr Condon it says here that you have been at the forefront of a revolutionary movement in physics called39 and here the inquisitor read the words slowly and care illy 39quantum mechanics It strikes this hearing that if you could be at the forefront of one revolutionary movement you could be at the forefront of another Condon quick on his feet replied that the accusation was untrue He was not a revolutionary in physics He raised his right hand 39I believe in Archimedes Principle formulated in the third century BC I believe in Kepler39s laws of planetary motion discovered in the seventeenth century I believe in Newton39s laws 39 And on he went invoking the illustrious names of Bernoulli Fourier Ampere Boltzmann and Maxwell This physi cist39s catechism did not gain him much The tribunal did not But Truman39s responsibility for the witchhunt atmosphere of the late 1940s and early 1950s is considerable His 1947 Executive Order 9835 authorized inquiries into the opinions and associates of all federal employees without the right to confront the accuser or even in most cases to know what the accusation was Those found wanting were red His Attorney General Tom Clark established a list of subversive organizations so wide that at one time it included Consumer39s Union 236 24 Antiscience appreciate humour in so serious a matter But the most they were able to pin on Condon as I recall was that in high school he had a job delivering a socialist newspaper doortodoor on his bicycle Imagine you seriously want to understand what quantum mechan ics is about There is a mathematical underpinning that you must rst acquire mastery of each mathematical subdiscipline leading you to the threshold of the next In turn you must learn arithme tic Euclidian geometry high school algebra differential and integral calculus ordinary and partial differential equations vector calculus certain special functions of mathematical physics matrix algebra and group theory For most physics students this might occupy them from say third grade to early graduate school roughly fteen years Such a course of study does not actually involve learning any quantum mechanics but merely establishing the mathematical framework required to approach it deeply The job of the popularizer of science trying to get across some idea of quantum mechanics to a general audience that has not gone through these initiation rites is daunting Indeed there are no success il popularizations of quantum mechanics in my opin ion partly for this reason These mathematical complexities are compounded by the fact that quantum theory is so resolutely counterintuitive Common sense is almost useless in approaching it It39s no good Richard Feynman once said asking why it is that way No one knows why it is that way That39s just the way it is Now suppose we were to approach some obscure religion or New Age doctrine or shamanistic belief system sceptically We have an open mind we understand there39s something interesting here we introduce ourselves to the practitioner and ask for an intelligible summary Instead we are told that it39s intrinsically too difficult to be explained simply that it39s replete with 39mysteries39 but if we39re willing to become acolytes for fifteen years at the end of that time we might begin to be prepared to consider the subject seriously Most of us I think would say that we simply don39t have the time and many would suspect that the business about fteen years just to get to the threshold of understanding is evidence that the whole subject is a bamboozle if it39s too hard for us to understand doesn39t it follow that it39s too hard for us to criticize 25 THE DEMONHAUNTED WORLD knowledgeably Then the bamboozle has free rein So how is shamanistic or theological or New Age doctrine differ ent from quantum mechanics The answer is that even if we cannot understand it we can verify that quantum mechanics works We can compare the quantitative predictions of quantum theory with the measured wavelengths of spectral lines of the chemical elements the behaviour of semiconductors and liquid helium microprocessors which kinds of molecules form from their constituent atoms the existence and properties of white dwarf stars what happens in masers and lasers and which materials are susceptible to which kinds of magnetism We don39t have to understand the theory to see what it predicts We don39t have to be accomplished physicists to read what the experiments reveal In every one of these instances as in many others the predictions of quantum mechanics are strikingly and to high accuracy confirmed But the shaman tells us that his doctrine is true because it too works not on arcane matters of mathematical physics but on what really counts he can cure people Very well then let39s accumulate the statistics on shamanistic cures and see if they work better than placebos If they do let39s willingly grant that there39s something here even if it39s only that some illnesses are psychogenic and can be cured or mitigated by the right attitudes and mental states We can also compare the efficacy of alternative shamanistic systems Whether the shaman grasps why his cures work is another story In quantum mechanics we have a purported understanding of Nature on the basis of which step by step and quantitatively we make predictions about what will happen if a certain experiment never before attempted is carried out If the experiment bears out the prediction especially if it does so numerically and precisely we have confidence that we knew what we were doing There are at best few examples with this character among shamans priests and New Age gurus Another important distinction was suggested in Reason and Nature the 1931 book by Morris Cohen a celebrated philosopher of science To be sure the vast majority of people who are untrained can accept the results of science only on authority But there is 238 26 Antiscience obviously an important difference between an establishment that is open and invites every one to come study its methods and suggest improvement and one that regards the question ing of its credentials as due to wickedness of heart such as Cardinal Newman attributed to those who questioned the infallibility of the Bible Rational science treats its credit notes as always redeemable on demand while nonrational authoritarianism regards the demand for the redemption of its paper as a disloyal lack of faith The myths and folklore of many premodern cultures have explanatory or at least mnemonic value In stories that everyone can appreciate and even witness they encode the environment Which constellations are rising or the orientation of the Milky Way on a given day of the year can be remembered by a story about lovers reunited or a canoe negotiating the sacred river Since recognizing the sky is essential for planting and reaping and following the game such stories have important practical value They can also be help il as psychological projective tests or as reassurances of humanity39s place in the Universe But that doesn39t mean that the Milky Way really is a river or that a canoe really is traversing it before our eyes Quinine comes from an infusion of the bark of a particular tree from the Amazon rain forest How did premodern people ever discover that a tea made from this tree of all the plants in the forest would relieve the symptoms of malaria They must have tried every tree and every plant roots stems bark leaves tried chewing on them mashing them up making an infusion This constitutes a massive set of scientific experiments continu ing over generations experiments that moreover could not be duplicated today for reasons of medical ethics Think of how many bark infusions from other trees must have been useless or made the patient retch or even die In such a case the healer chalks these potential medicines off the list and moves on to the next The data of ethnopharmacology may not be systemati cally or even consciously acquired By trial and error though and carefully remembering what worked eventually they get there using the rich molecular riches in the plant kingdom 239 27 THE DEMONHAUNTED WORLD to accumulate a pharmacopoeia that works Absolutely essen tial lifesaving information can be acquired from folk medicine and in no other way We should be doing much more than we are to mine the treasures in such folk knowledge worldwide Likewise for say predicting the weather in a valley near the Orinoco it is perfectly possible that preindustrial peoples have noted over the millennia regularities premonitory indications causeandeffect relationships at a particular geographic locale of which professors of meteorology and climatology in some distant university are wholly ignorant But it does not follow that the shamans of such cultures are able to predict the weather in Paris or Tokyo much less the global climate Certain kinds of folk knowledge are valid and priceless Others are at best metaphors and codi ers Ethnomedicine yes astro physics no It is certainly true that all beliefs and all myths are worthy of a respectful hearing It is not true that all folk beliefs are equally valid if we39re talking not about an internal mindset but about understanding the external reality For centuries science has been under a line of attack that rather than pseudoscience can be called antiscience Science and aca demic scholarship in general the contention these days goes is too subjective Some even allege it39s entirely subjective as is they say history History generally is written by the victors to justify their actions to arouse patriotic fervour and to suppress the legitimate claims of the vanquished When no overwhelming victory takes place each side writes selfpromotional accounts of what really happened English histories castigated the French and vice versa US histories until very recently ignored the defacto policies of lebensraum and genocide toward Native Americans Japanese histories of the events leading to World War II minimize Japanese atrocities and suggest that their chief purpose was altruistically to free East Asia from European and American colonialism Poland was invaded in 1939 Nazi historians asserted because Poland ruthless and unprovoked attacked Germany Soviet historians pretended that the Soviet troops that put down the Hungarian 1956 and Czech 1968 Revolutions were invited in by general acclamation in the invaded nations rather than by 240 28 Antiscience Russian stooges Belgian histories tend to gloss over the atrocities committed when the Congo was a private fiefdom of the King of Belgium Chinese historians are strangely oblivious of the tens of millions of deaths caused by Mao Zedong39s Great Leap Forward that God condones and even advocates slavery was repeatedly argued from the pulpit and in the schools in Christian slave holding societies but Christian polities that have freed their slaves are mostly silent on the matter as brilliant widely read and sober a historian as Edward Gibbon would not meet with Benjamin Franklin when they found themselves at the same English country inn because of the late unpleasantness of the American Revolu tion Franklin then volunteered source material to Gibbon when he turned as Franklin was sure he soon would from the decline and fall of the Roman Empire to the decline and fall of the British Empire Franklin was right about the British Empire but his timetable was about two centuries early These histories have traditionally been written by admired academic historians often pillars of the establishment Local dissent is given short shrift Objectivity is sacrificed in the service of higher goals From this doleful fact some have gone so far as to conclude that there is no such thing as history no possibility of reconstructing the actual events that all we have are biased selfjustifications and that this conclusion stretches from history to all of knowledge science included And yet who would deny that there were actual sequences of historical events with real causal threads even if our ability to reconstruct them in their ill weave is limited even if the signal is awash in an ocean of selfcongratulatory noise The danger of subjectivity and prejudice has been apparent from the beginning of history Thucydides warned against it Cicero wrote The rst law is that the historian shall never dare to set down what is false the second that he shall never dare to conceal the truth the third that there shall be no suspicion in his work of either favouritism or prejudice Lucian of Samosata in How History Should Be Written published in the year 170 urged The historian should be fearless and 241 29 THE DEMONHAUNTED WORLD incorruptible a man of independence loving frankness and truth It is the responsibility of those historians with integrity to try to reconstruct that actual sequence of events however disappointing or alarming it may be Historians learn to suppress their natural indignation about affronts to their nations and acknowledge where appropriate that their national leaders may have commit ted atrocious crimes They may have to dodge outraged patriots as an occupational hazard They recognize that accounts of events have passed through biased human filters and that historians themselves have biases Those who want to know what actually happened will become 1lly conversant with the views of histori ans in other once adversary nations All that can be hoped for is a set of successive approximations by slow steps and through improving selfknowledge our understanding of historical events improves Something similar is true in science We have biases we breathe in the prevailing prejudices from our surroundings like everyone else Scientists have on occasion given aid and comfort to a variety of noxious doctrines including the supposed superiority of one ethnic group or gender over another from measurements of brain size or skull bumps or IQ tests Scientists are often reluctant to offend the rich and powerful Occasionally a few of them cheat and steal Some worked many without a trace of moral regret for the Nazis Scientists also exhibit biases connected with human chauvinisms and with our intellectual limitations As I39ve dis cussed earlier scientists are also responsible for deadly technolo gies sometimes inventing them on purpose sometimes being insuf ciently cautious about unintended sideeffects But it is also scientists who in most such cases have blown the whistle alerting us to the danger Scientists make mistakes Accordingly it is the job of the scientist to recognize our weakness to examine the widest range of opinions to be ruthlessly selfcritical Science is a collective enterprise with the errorcorrection machinery often running smoothly It has an overwhelming advantage over history because in science we can do experiments If you are unsure of the negotiations leading to the Treaty of Paris in l8l415 replaying the events is an unavailable option You can only dig into old 242 30 Antiscience records You cannot even ask questions of the participants Every one of them is dead But for many questions in science you can rerun the event as many times as you like examine it in new ways test a wide range of alternative hypotheses When new tools are devised you can perform the experiment again and see what emerges from your improved sensitivity In those historical sciences where you cannot arrange a rerun you can examine related cases and begin to recognize their common components We can39t make stars explode at our convenience nor can we repeatedly evolve through many trials a mammal from its ancestors But we can simulate some of the physics of supernova explosions in the laboratory and we can compare in staggering detail the genetic instructions of mammals and reptiles The claim is also sometimes made that science is as arbitrary or irrational as all other claims to knowledge or that reason itself is an illusion The American revolutionary Ethan Allen leader of the Green Mountain Boys in their capture of Fort Ticonderoga had some words on this subject Those who invalidate reason ought seriously to consider whether they argue against reason with or without reason if with reason then they establish the principle that they are laboring to dethrone but if they argue without reason which in order to be consistent with themselves they must do they are out of reach of rational conviction nor do they deserve a rational argument The reader can judge the depth of this argument Anyone who witnesses the advance of science rsthand sees an intensely personal undertaking There are always a few driven by simple wonder and great integrity or by frustration with the inad equacies of existing knowledge or simply upset with themselves for their imagined inability to understand what everyone else can who proceed to ask the devastating key questions A few saintly person alities stand out amidst a roiling sea of jealousies ambition backbit ing suppression of dissent and absurd conceits In some fields 243 31 THE DEMONHAUNTED WORLD highly productive elds such behaviour is almost the norm I think all that social turmoil and human weakness aids the enterprise of science There is an established framework in which any scientist can prove another wrong and make sure everyone else knows about it Even when our motives are base we keep stumbling on something new The American chemistry Nobel laureate Harold C Urey once confided to me that as he got older he was then in his seventies he experienced increasingly concerted efforts to prove him wrong He described it as 39the fastest gun in the West syndrome the young man who could outdraw the celebrated old gunslinger would inherit his reputation and the respect paid to him It was annoying he grumbled but it did help direct the young whipper snappers into important areas of research that they would never have entered on their own Being human scientists also sometimes engage in observational selection they like to remember those cases when they39ve been right and forget when they39ve been wrong But in many instances what is 39wrong39 is partly right or stimulates others to nd out what39s right One of the most productive astrophysicists of our time has been Fred Hoyle responsible for monumental contribu tions to our understanding of the evolution of stars the synthesis of the chemical elements cosmology and much else Sometimes he39s succeeded by being right before anyone else even understood that there was something that needed explaining Sometimes he39s succeeded by being wrong by being so provocative by suggest ing such outrageous alternatives that the observers and experi mentalists feel obliged to check it out The impassioned and concerted effort to 39prove Fred wrong39 has sometimes failed and sometimes succeeded In almost every case it has pushed forward the frontiers of knowledge Even Hoyle at his most outrageous for example proposing that the in uenza and HIV viruses are dropped down on Earth from comets and that interstellar dust grains are bacteria has led to signi cant advances in knowledge although turning up nothing to support those particular notions It might be useful for scientists now and again to list some of their mistakes It might play an instructive role in illuminating and 244 32 Antiscience demythologizing the process of science and in enlightening younger scientists Even Johannes Kepler Isaac Newton Charles Darwin Gregor Mendel and Albert Einstein made serious mis takes But the scienti c enterprise arranges things so that team work prevails what one of us even the most brilliant among us misses another of us even someone much less celebrated and capable may detect and rectify For myself I39ve tended in past books to recount some of the occasions when I39ve been right Let me here mention a few of the cases where I39ve been wrong at a time when no spacecraft had been to Venus I thought at first that the atmospheric pressure was several times that on Earth rather than many tens of times I thought the clouds of Venus were made mainly of water when they turn out to be only 25 per cent water I thought there might be plate tectonics on Mars when closeup spacecraft observations now show hardly a hint of plate tectonics I thought the highish infrared temperatures of Titan might be due to a sizeable green house effect there instead it turns out it is caused by a stratospheric temperature inversion Just before Iraq torched the Kuwaiti oil wells in January 1991 I warned that so much smoke might get so high as to disrupt agriculture in much of South Asia as events transpired it was pitch black at noon and the tempera tures dropped 46 C over the Persian Gulf but not much smoke reached stratospheric altitudes and Asia was spared I did not suf ciently stress the uncertainty of the calculations Different scientists have different speculative styles some being much more cautious than others As long as new ideas are testable and scientists are not overly dogmatic no harm is done indeed considerable progress can be made In the first four instances I39ve just mentioned where I was wrong I was trying to understand a distant world from a few clues in the absence of thorough spacecraft investigations In the natural course of planetary explo ration more data come in and we nd an army of old ideas ploughed down by an armamentarium of new facts Postmodernists have criticized Kepler39s astronomy because it emerged out of his medieval monotheistic religious views Darwin39s evolutionary biology for being motivated by a wish to perpetuate the 245 33 THE DEMONHAUNTED WORLD privileged social class from which he came or to justify his supposed prior atheism and so on Some of these claims are just Some are not But why does it matter what biases and emotional predisposi tions scientists bring to their studies so long as they are scrupulously honest and other people with different proclivities check their results Presumably no one would argue that the conservative view on the sum of fourteen and twentyseven differs from the liberal view or that the mathematical inction that is its own derivative is the exponential in the northern hemisphere but some other inction in the southern Any regular periodic inction can be represented to arbitrary accuracy by a Fourier series in Muslim as well as in Hindu mathematics Noncommutative algebras where A times B does not equal B times A are as selfconsistent and meaning il for speakers of IndoEuropean languages as for speakers of FinnoUgric Math ematics might be prized or ignored but it is equally true everywhere independent of ethnicity culture language religion ideology Towards the opposite extreme there are questions such as whether abstract expressionism can be 39great39 art or rap 39great39 music whether it39s more important to curb in ation or unemploy ment whether French culture is superior to German culture or whether prohibitions against murder should apply to the nation state Here the questions are oversimple or the dichotomies false or the answers dependent on unspoken assumptions Here local biases might very well determine the answers Where in this subjective continuum from almost 11ly inde pendent of cultural norms to almost wholly dependent on them does science lie Although issues of bias and cultural chauvinism certainly arise and although its content is continually being refined science is clearly much closer to mathematics than it is to fashion The claim that its findings are in general arbitrary and biased is not merely tendentious but specious The historians Joyce Appleby Lynn Hunt and Margaret Jacob in Telling the Truth About History 1994 criticize Isaac Newton he is said to have rejected the philosophical position of Descartes because it might challenge conventional religion and lead to social chaos and atheism Such criticisms amount only to the charge that scientists are human How Newton was buffeted by the intellec tual currents of his time is of course of interest to the historian of 246 34 Antiscience ideas but it has little bearing on the truth of his propositions For them to be generally accepted they must convince atheists and theists alike This is just what happened Appleby and her colleagues claim that 39When Darwin formu lated his theory of evolution he was an atheist and a materialist and suggest that evolution was a product of a purported atheist agenda They have hopelessly confused cause and effect Darwin was about to become a minister of the Church of England when the opportunity to sail on HMS Beagle presented itself His religious ideas as he himself described them were at the time highly conventional He found every one of the Anglican Articles of Faith entirely believable Through his interrogation of Nature through science it slowly dawned on him that at least some of his religion was false That39s why he changed his religious views Appleby and her colleagues are appalled at Darwin39s descrip tion of 39the low morality of savages their insufficient powers of reasoning their weak power of selfcommand and state that 39now many people are shocked by his racism But there was no racism at all as far as I can tell in Darwin39s comment He was alluding to the inhabitants of Tierra del Fuego suffering from grinding scarcity in the most barren and Antarctic province of Argentina When he described a South American woman of African origin who threw herself to her death rather than submit to slavery he noted that it was only prejudice that kept us from seeing her defiance in the same heroic light as we would a similar act by the proud matron of a noble Roman family He was himself almost thrown off the Beagle by Captain FitzRoy for his militant opposition to the Captain39s racism Darwin was head and shoul ders above most of his contemporaries in this regard But again even if he was not how does it affect the truth or falsity of natural selection Thomas Jefferson and George Washington owned slaves Albert Einstein and Mohandas Gandhi were imperfect husbands and fathers The list goes on indefinitely We are all awed and creatures of our times Is it fair to judge us by the unknown standards of the future Some of the habits of our age will doubtless be considered barbaric by later generations perhaps for insisting that small children and even infants sleep alone instead of with their parents or 247 35 THE DEMONHAUNTED WORLD exciting nationalist passions as a means of gaining popular approval and achieving high political office or allowing bribery and corruption as a way of life or keeping pets or eating animals and jailing chimpanzees or criminalizing the use of euphoriants by adults or allowing our children to grow up ignorant Occasionally in retrospect someone stands out In my book the Englishborn American revolutionary Thomas Paine is one such He was far ahead of his time He courageously opposed monarchy aristocracy racism slavery superstition and sexism when all of these constituted the conventional wisdom He was unswerving in his criticism of conventional religion He wrote in The Age of Reason 39Whenever we read the obscene stories the voluptuous debaucheries the cruel and torturous executions the unrelenting vindictiveness with which more than half the Bible is filled it would be more consistent that we called it the word of a demon than the word of God It has served to corrupt and brutalize mankind At the same time the book exhibited the deepest reverence for a Creator of the Universe whose existence Paine argued was apparent at a glance at the natural world But condemning much of the Bible while embracing God seemed an impossible position to most of his contemporaries Christian theologians concluded he was drunk mad or corrupt The Jewish scholar David Levi forbade his coreligionists from even touching much less reading the book Paine was made to suffer so much for his views including being thrown into prison after the French Revolution for being too consistent in his opposition to tyranny that he became an embittered old man Yes the Darwinian insight can be turned upside down and grotesquely misused voracious robber barons may explain their Paine was the author of the revolutionary pamphlet Common Sense Pub lished on 10 January 1776 it sold over half a million copies in the next few months and stirred many Americans to the cause of independence He was the author of the three bestselling books of the eighteenth century Later generations reviled him for his social and religious views Theodore Roosevelt called him a lthy little atheist despite his profound belief in God He is probably the most illustrious American revolutionary uncommemorated by a monument in Washington DC 36 Antiscience cutthroat practices by an appeal to Social Darwinism Nazis and other racists may call on survival of the ttest39 to justify genocide But Darwin did not make John D Rockefeller or Adolf Hitler Greed the Industrial Revolution the free enterprise system and corruption of government by the monied are adequate to explain nineteenthcentury capitalism Ethnocentrism xenophobia social hierarchies the long history of antiSemitism in Germany the Versailles Treaty German childrearing practices in ation and the Depression seem adequate to explain Hitler39s rise to power Very like these or similar events would have transpired with or without Darwin And modern Darwinism makes it abundantly clear that many less ruthless traits some not always admired by robber barons and Fuhrers altruism general intelligence com passion may be the key to survival If we could censor Darwin what other kinds of knowledge could also be censored Who would do the censoring Who among us is wise enough to know which information and insights we can safely dispense with and which will be necessary ten or a hundred or a thousand years into the future Surely we can exert some discretion on which kinds of machines and products it is safe to develop We must in any case make such decisions because we do not have the resources to pursue all possible technologies But censoring knowledge telling people what they must think is the aperture to thought police authoritarian government foolish and incompetent decisionmaking and long term decline Fervid ideologues and authoritarian regimes fmd it easy and natural to impose their views and suppress the alternatives Nazi scientists such as the Nobel laureate physicist Johannes Stark distinguished fanciful imaginary 39Jewish science including rela tivity and quantum mechanics from realistic practical 39Aryan science Another example 39A new era of the magical explanation of the world is rising said Adolf Hitler 39an explanation based on will rather than knowledge There is no truth in either the moral or the scienti c sense As he described it to me three decades later in 1922 the American geneticist Hermann J Muller ew from Berlin to 249 37 THE DEMONHAUNTED WORLD Moscow in a light plane to witness the new Soviet society firsthand He must have liked what he saw because after his discovery that radiation makes mutations a discovery that would later win him a Nobel Prize he moved to Moscow to help establish modern genetics in the Soviet Union But by the middle 1930s a charlatan named Trofim Lysenko had caught the notice and then the enthusiastic support of Stalin Lysenko argued that genetics which he called 39MendelismWeissmanismMorganism39 after some of the founders of the field had an unacceptable philosophical base and that philosophically 39correct39 genetics genetics that paid proper obeisance to communist dialectical materialism would yield very different results In particular Lysenko39s genetics would permit an additional crop of winter wheat welcome news to a Soviet economy reeling from Stalin39s forced collectivization of agriculture Lysenko39s purported evidence was suspect there were no experimental controls and his broad conclusions ew in the face of an immense body of contradictory data As Lysenko39s power grew Muller passionately argued that classical Mendelian genet ics was in ill harmony with dialectical materialism while Lysenko who believed in the inheritance of acquired characteris tics and denied a material basis of heredity was an 39idealist39 or worse Muller was strongly supported by NI Vavilov erstwhile president of the AilUnion Academy of Agricultural Sciences In a 1936 address to the Academy of Agricultural Sciences now presided over by Lysenko Muller gave a stirring address that included these words If the outstanding practitioners are going to support theories and opinions that are obviously absurd to everyone who knows even a little about genetics such views as those recently put forward by President Lysenko and those who think as he does then the choice before us will resemble the choice between witchcraft and medicine between astrology and astronomy between alchemy and chemistry In a country of arbitrary arrests and police terror this speech displayed exemplary many thought foolhardy integrity and 250 38 Antiscience courage In The Vavilov A air 1984 the Soviet emigre historian Mark Popovsky describes these words as being accompanied by 39thunderous applause from the whole hall and 39remembered by everyone still living who took part in the session Three months later Muller was visited in Moscow by a Western geneticist who expressed astonishment at a widely circulated letter signed by Muller that condemned the prevalence of 39MendelismWeissmanismMorganism39 in the West and that urged a boycott of the forthcoming International Congress of Genetics Having never seen much less signed such a letter an outraged Muller concluded that it was a forgery perpetrated by Lysenko Muller promptly wrote an angry denunciation of Lysenko to Pravda and mailed a copy to Stalin The next day Vavilov came to Muller in a state of some agitation informing him that he Muller had just volunteered to serve in the Spanish Civil War The letter to Pravda had put Muller39s life in danger He left Moscow the next day just evading so he was later told the NKVD the secret police Vavilov was not so lucky and perished in 1943 in Siberia With the continuing support of Stalin and later of Khrushchev Lysenko ruthlessly suppressed classical genetics Soviet school biology texts in the early 1960s had as little about chromosomes and classical genetics as many American school biology texts have about evolution today But no new crop of winter wheat grew incantations of the phrase 39dialectical materialism went unheard by the DNA of domesticated plants Soviet agriculture remained in the doldrums and today partly for this reason Russia worldclass in many other sciences is still almost hopelessly backward in molecular biology and genetic engineering Two generations of modern biologists have been lost Lysenkoism was not overthrown until 1964 in a series of debates and votes at the Soviet Academy of Sciences one of the few institutions to maintain a degree of independence from the leaders of party and state in which the nuclear physicist Andrei Sakharov played an outstanding role Americans tend to shake their heads in astonishment at the Soviet experience The idea that some stateendorsed ideology or popular prejudice would hogtie scientific progress seems 251 39 THE DEMONHAUNTED WORLD unthinkable For two hundred years Americans have prided themselves on being a practical pragmatic nonideological people And yet anthropological and psychological pseudo science has ourished in the United States on race for example Under the guise of creationism a serious effort continues to be made to prevent evolutionary theory the most powerful integrating idea in all of biology and essential for other sciences ranging from astronomy to anthropology from being taught in the schools Science is different from many another human enterprise not of course in its practitioners being in uenced by the culture they grew up in nor in sometimes being right and sometimes wrong which are common to every human activity but in its passion for framing testable hypotheses in its search for de nitive experi ments that confirm or deny ideas in the vigour of its substantive debate and in its willingness to abandon ideas that have been found wanting If we were not aware of our own limitations though if we were not seeking further data if we were unwilling to perform controlled experiments if we did not respect the evidence we would have very little leverage in our quest for the truth Through opportunism and timidity we might then be buffeted by every ideological breeze with nothing of lasting value to hang on to 252 40 2 Science and Hope Two men came to a hole in the sky One asked the other to lift him up But so beautiful was it in heaven that the man who looked in over the edge forgot everything forgot his companion whom he had promised to help up and simply ran off into all the splendour of heaven from an Iglulik Inuit prose poem early twentieth century told by Inugpasugjuk to Knud Rasmussen the Greenlandic arctic explorer was a child in a time of hope I wanted to be a scientist from my earliest school days The crystallizing moment came when I rst caught on that the stars are mighty suns when it first dawned on me how staggeringly far away they must be to appear as mere points of light in the sky I39m not sure I even knew the meaning of the word science then but I wanted somehow to immerse myself in all that grandeur I was gripped by the splendour of the Universe trans xed by the prospect of understanding how things really work of helping to uncover deep mysteries of exploring new worlds maybe even literally It has been my good fortune to have had that dream in part il lled For me the romance of science remains as appealing and new as it was on that day more than half a century ago when I was shown the wonders of the 1939 World39s Fair Popularizing science trying to make its methods and ndings accessible to nonscientists then follows naturally and 27 41 THE DEMONHAUNTED WORLD immediately Not explaining science seems to me perverse When you39re in love you want to tell the world This book is a personal statement re ecting my lifelong love affair with science But there39s another reason science is more than a body of knowledge it is a way of thinking I have a foreboding of an America in my children39s or grandchildren39s time when the United States is a service and information economy when nearly all the key manufacturing industries have slipped away to other countries when awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few and no one representing the public interest can even grasp the issues when the people have lost the ability to set their own agendas or knowledgeably question those in authority when clutching our crystals and nervously consulting our horoscopes our critical faculties in decline unable to distinguish between what feels good and what39s true we slide almost without noticing back into superstition and darkness The dumbing down of America is most evident in the slow decay of substantive content in the enormously in uential media the 30second sound bites now down to 10 seconds or less lowest common denominator programming credulous presentations on pseudoscience and superstition but especially a kind of celebration of ignorance As I write the number one video cassette rental in America is the movie Dumb and Dumber Beavis and Butthead remains popular and in uential with young TV viewers The plain lesson is that study and learning not just of science but of anything are avoidable even undesirable We39ve arranged a global civilization in which most crucial elements transportation communications and all other indus tries agriculture medicine education entertainment protecting the environment and even the key democratic institution of voting profoundly depend on science and technology We have also arranged things so that almost no one understands science and technology This is a prescription for disaster We might get away with it for a while but sooner or later this combustible mixture of ignorance and power is going to blow up in our faces A Candle in the Dark is the title of a courageous largely Biblically based book by Thomas Ady published in London in 28 42 Science and Hope 1656 attacking the witchhunts then in progress as a scam to delude the people Any illness or storm anything out of the ordinary was popularly attributed to witchcraft Witches must exist Ady quoted the 39witchmongers39 as arguing 39else how should these things be or come to pass For much of our history we were so fearful of the outside world with its unpredictable dangers that we gladly embraced anything that promised to soften or explain away the terror Science is an attempt largely successful to understand the world to get a grip on things to get hold of ourselves to steer a safe course Microbiology and meteorology now explain what only a few centuries ago was considered sufficient cause to burn women to death Ady also warned of the danger that the Nations will perish for lack of knowledge Avoidable human misery is more often caused not so much by stupidity as by ignorance particularly our ignorance about ourselves I worry that especially as the millen nium edges nearer pseudoscience and superstition will seem year by year more tempting the siren song of unreason more sonorous and attractive Where have we heard it before Whenever our ethnic or national prejudices are aroused in times of scarcity during challenges to national selfesteem or nerve when we agonize about our diminished cosmic place and purpose or when fanaticism is bubbling up around us then habits of thought familiar from ages past reach for the controls The candle ame gutters Its little pool of light trembles Darkness gathers The demons begin to stir There is much that science doesn39t understand many mysteries still to be resolved In a Universe tens of billions of light years across and some ten or fteen billion years old this may be the case forever We are constantly stumbling on surprises Yet some New Age and religious writers assert that scientists believe that what they fmd is all there is Scientists may reject mystic revelations for which there is no evidence except somebody s sayso but they hardly believe their knowledge of Nature to be complete Science is far from a perfect instrument of knowledge It39s just the best we have In this respect as in many others it39s like 29 43 THE DEMONHAUNTED WORLD democracy Science by itself cannot advocate courses of human action but it can certainly illuminate the possible consequences of alternative courses of action The scientific way of thinking is at once imaginative and disciplined This is central to its success Science invites us to let the facts in even when they don39t conform to our preconceptions It counsels us to carry alternative hypotheses in our heads and see which best t the facts It urges on us a delicate balance between noholdsbarred openness to new ideas however heretical and the most rigorous sceptical scrutiny of everything new ideas and established wisdom This kind of thinking is also an essential tool for a democracy in an age of change One of the reasons for its success is that science has builtin errorcorrecting machinery at its very heart Some may consider this an overbroad characterization but to me every time we exercise selfcriticism every time we test our ideas against the outside world we are doing science When we are selfindulgent and uncritical when we confuse hopes and facts we slide into pseudoscience and superstition Every time a scientific paper presents a bit of data it39s accompanied by an error bar a quiet but insistent reminder that no knowledge is complete or perfect It39s a calibration of how much we trust what we think we know If the error bars are small the accuracy of our empirical knowledge is high if the error bars are large then so is the uncertainty in our knowledge Except in pure mathematics nothing is known for certain although much is certainly false Moreover scientists are usually careful to characterize the veridical status of their attempts to understand the world ranging from conjectures and hypotheses which are highly tentative all the way up to laws of Nature which are repeatedly and systemati cally con rmed through many interrogations of how the world works But even laws of Nature are not absolutely certain There may be new circumstances never before examined inside black holes say or within the electron or close to the speed of light where even our vaunted laws of Nature break down and however valid they may be in ordinary circumstances need correction Humans may crave absolute certainty they may aspire to it 30 44 Science and Hope they may pretend as partisans of certain religions do to have attained it But the history of science by far the most successful claim to knowledge accessible to humans teaches that the most we can hope for is successive improvement in our understanding learning from our mistakes an asymptotic approach to the Universe but with the proviso that absolute certainty will always elude us We will always be mired in error The most each generation can hope for is to reduce the error bars a little and to add to the body of data to which error bars apply The error bar is a pervasive visible selfassessment of the reliability of our knowledge You often see error bars in public opinion polls an uncertainty of plus or minus three per cent say Imagine a society in which every speech in the Congressional Record every television commercial every sermon had an accompanying error bar or its equivalent One of the great commandments of science is 39Mistrust argu ments from authority Scientists being primates and thus given to dominance hierarchies of course do not always follow this commandment Too many such arguments have proved too pain illy wrong Authorities must prove their contentions like everybody else This independence of science its occasional unwillingness to accept conventional wisdom makes it dangerous to doctrines less selfcritical or with pretensions to certitude Because science carries us toward an understanding of how the world is rather than how we would wish it to be its ndings may not in all cases be immediately comprehensible or satisfying It may take a little work to restructure our mindsets Some of science is very simple When it gets complicated that39s usually because the world is complicated or because we39re complicated When we shy away from it because it seems too dif cult or because we39ve been taught so poorly we surrender the ability to take charge of our future We are disenfranchised Our self confidence erodes But when we pass beyond the barrier when the ndings and methods of science get through to us when we understand and put this knowledge to use many feel deep satisfaction This is true for everyone but especially for children born with a zest for knowledge aware that they must live in a future moulded by 31 45 THE DEMONHAUNTED WORLD science but so often convinced in their adolescence that science is not for them I know personally both from having science explained to me and from my attempts to explain it to others how gratifying it is when we get it when obscure terms suddenly take on meaning when we grasp what all the fuss is about when deep wonders are revealed In its encounter with Nature science invariably elicits a sense of reverence and awe The very act of understanding is a celebration of joining merging even if on a very modest scale with the magni cence of the Cosmos And the cumulative worldwide buildup of knowledge over time converts science into something only a little short of a transnational transgenerational metamind 39Spirit39 comes from the Latin word 39to breathe What we breathe is air which is certainly matter however thin Despite usage to the contrary there is no necessary implication in the word spiritual that we are talking of anything other than matter including the matter of which the brain is made or anything outside the realm of science On occasion I will feel free to use the word Science is not only compatible with spirituality it is a profound source of spirituality When we recognize our place in an immensity of light years and in the passage of ages when we grasp the intricacy beauty and subtlety of life then that soaring feeling that sense of elation and humility combined is surely spiritual So are our emotions in the presence of great art or music or literature or of acts of exemplary sel ess courage such as those of Mohandas Gandhi or Martin Luther King Jr The notion that science and spirituality are somehow mutually exclusive does a disservice to both Science may be hard to understand It may challenge cherished beliefs When its products are placed at the disposal of politicians or industrialists it may lead to weapons of mass destruction and grave threats to the environment But one thing you have to say about it it delivers the goods Not every branch of science can foretell the iture palaeontology can39t but many can and with stunning accuracy If you want to know when the next eclipse of the Sun will be you might try magicians or mystics but you39ll do much better with scientists They 32 46 Science and Hope will tell you where on Earth to stand when you have to be there and whether it will be a partial eclipse a total eclipse or an annular eclipse They can routinely predict a solar eclipse to the minute a millennium in advance You can go to the witch doctor to lift the spell that causes your pernicious anaemia or you can take vitamin B If you want to save your child from polio you can pray or you can inoculate If you39re interested in the sex of your unborn child you can consult plumbbob danglers all you want leftright a boy forwardback a girl or maybe it39s the other way around but they39ll be right on average only one time in two If you want real accuracy here 99 per cent accuracy try amniocentesis and sono grams Try science Think of how many religions attempt to validate themselves with prophecy Think of how many people rely on these prophe cies however vague however un ilfilled to support or prop up their beliefs Yet has there ever been a religion with the prophetic accuracy and reliability of science There isn39t a religion on the planet that doesn39t long for a comparable ability precise and repeatedly demonstrated before committed sceptics to foretell iture events No other human institution comes close Is this worshipping at the altar of science Is this replacing one faith by another equally arbitrary In my view not at all The directly observed success of science is the reason I advocate its use If something else worked better I would advocate the something else Does science insulate itself from philosophical criticism Does it de ne itself as having a monopoly on the 39truth39 Think again of that eclipse a thousand years in the future Compare as many doctrines as you can think of note what predictions they make of the future which ones are vague which ones are precise and which doctrines every one of them subject to human fallibility have errorcorrecting mechanisms built in Take account of the fact that not one of them is perfect Then simply pick the one that in a fair comparison works best as opposed to feels best If different doctrines are superior in quite separate and independent fields we are of course free to choose several but not if they contradict one another Far from being idolatry this is the means by which we can distinguish the false idols from the real thing 47 THE DEMONHAUNTED WORLD Again the reason science works so well is partly that builtin errorcorrecting machinery There are no forbidden questions in science no matters too sensitive or delicate to be probed no sacred truths That openness to new ideas combined with the most rigorous sceptical scrutiny of all ideas sifts the wheat from the chaff It makes no difference how smart august or beloved you are You must prove your case in the face of determined expert criticism Diversity and debate are valued Opinions are encouraged to contend substantively and in depth The process of science may sound messy and disorderly In a way it is If you examine science in its everyday aspect of course you nd that scientists run the gamut of human emotion person ality and character But there39s one facet that is really striking to the outsider and that is the gauntlet of criticism considered acceptable or even desirable There is much warm and inspired encouragement of apprentice scientists by their mentors But the poor graduate student at his or her PhD orai exam is subjected to a withering cross re of questions from the very professors who have the candidate39s future in their grasp Naturally the students are nervous who wouldn39t be True they39ve prepared for it for years But they understand that at this critical moment they have to be able to answer searching questions posed by experts So in preparing to defend their theses they must practise a very use 1l habit of thought they must anticipate questions They have to ask where in my dissertation is there a weakness that someone else might find I39d better identify it before they do You sit in at contentious scienti c meetings You fmd university colloquia in which the speaker has hardly gotten thirty seconds into the talk before there are devastating questions and comments from the audience You examine the conventions in which a written report is submitted to a scienti c journal for possible publication then is conveyed by the editor to anonymous referees whose job it is to ask did the author do anything stupid Is there anything in here that is suf ciently interesting to be published What are the de ciencies of this paper Have the main results been found by anybody else Is the argument adequate or should the paper be resubmitted after the author has actually demon strated what is here only speculated on And it39s anonymous the 34 48 Science and Hope author doesn39t know who the critics are This is the everyday expectation in the scienti c community Why do we put up with it Do we like to be criticized No no scientist enjoys it Every scientist feels a proprietary affection for his or her ideas and ndings Even so you don39t reply to critics wait a minute this is a really good idea I39m very fond of it it39s done you no harm please leave it alone Instead the hard but just rule is that if the ideas don39t work you must throw them away Don39t waste neurons on what doesn39t work Devote those neurons to new ideas that better explain the data The British physicist Michael Faraday warned of the powerful temptation to seek for such evidence and appearances as are in the favour of our desires and to disregard those which oppose them We receive as friendly that which agrees with us we resist with dislike that which opposes us whereas the very reverse is required by every dictate of common sense Valid criticism does you a favour Some people consider science arrogant especially when it purports to contradict beliefs of long standing or when it intro duces bizarre concepts that seem contradictory to common sense like an earthquake that rattles our faith in the very ground we39re standing on challenging our accustomed beliefs shaking the doctrines we have grown to rely upon can be profoundly disturb ing Nevertheless I maintain that science is part and parcel humility Scientists do not seek to impose their needs and wants on Nature but instead humbly interrogate Nature and take seriously what they nd We are aware that revered scientists have been wrong We understand human imperfection We insist on independent and to the extent possible quantitative veri ca tion of proposed tenets of belief We are constantly prodding challenging seeking contradictions or small persistent residual errors proposing alternative explanations encouraging heresy We give our highest rewards to those who convincingly disprove established beliefs Here39s one of many examples the laws of motion and the inverse square law of gravitation associated with the name of Isaac 35 49 THE DEMONHAUNTED WORLD Newton are properly considered among the crowning achieve ments of the human species Three hundred years later we use Newtonian dynamics to predict those eclipses Years after launch billions of miles from Earth with only tiny corrections from Einstein the spacecraft beautifully arrives at a predetermined point in the orbit of the target world just as the world comes ambling by The accuracy is astonishing Plainly Newton knew what he was doing But scientists have not been content to leave well enough alone They have persistently sought chinks in the Newtonian armour At high speeds and strong gravities Newtonian physics breaks down This is one of the great findings of Albert Einstein39s Special and General Relativity and is one of the reasons his memory is so greatly honoured Newtonian physics is valid over a wide range of conditions including those of everyday life But in certain circum stances highly unusual for human beings we are not after all in the habit of travelling near light speed it simply doesn39t give the right answer it does not conform to observations of Nature Special and General Relativity are indistinguishable from Newto nian physics in its realm of validity but make very different predictions predictions in excellent accord with observation in those other regimes high speed strong gravity Newtonian physics turns out to be an approximation to the truth good in circumstances with which we are routinely familiar bad in others It is a splendid and justly celebrated accomplishment of the human mind but it has its limitations However in accord with our understanding of human fallibility heeding the counsel that we may asymptotically approach the truth but will never illy reach it scientists are today investigating regimes in which General Relativity may break down For exam ple General Relativity predicts a startling phenomenon called gravitational waves They have never been detected directly But if they do not exist there is something fundamentally wrong with General Relativity Pulsars are rapidly rotating neutron stars whose icker rates can now be measured to fteen decimal places Two very dense pulsars in orbit around each other are predicted to radiate copious quantities of gravitational waves which will in time slightly alter the orbits and rotation periods of the two stars 50 Science and Hope Joseph Taylor and Russell Hulse of Princeton University have used this method to test the predictions of General Relativity in a wholly novel way For all they knew the results would be inconsistent with General Relativity and they would have over turned one of the chief pillars of modern physics Not only were they willing to challenge General Relativity they were widely encouraged to do so As it turns out the observations of binary pulsars give a precise veri cation of the predictions of General Relativity and for this Taylor and Hulse were corecipients of the 1993 Nobel Prize in Physics In diverse ways many other physi cists are testing General Relativity for example by attempting directly to detect the elusive gravitational waves They hope to strain the theory to the breaking point and discover whether a regime of Nature exists in which Einstein39s great advance in understanding in turn begins to fray These efforts will continue as long as there are scientists General Relativity is certainly an inadequate description of Nature at the quantum level but even if that were not the case even if General Relativity were everywhere and forever valid what better way of convincing ourselves of its validity than a concerted effort to discover its failings and limitations This is one of the reasons that the organized religions do not inspire me with con dence Which leaders of the major faiths acknowledge that their beliefs might be incomplete or erroneous and establish institutes to uncover possible doctrinal deficiencies Beyond the test of everyday living who is systematically testing the circumstances in which traditional religious teachings may no longer apply It is certainly conceivable that doctrines and ethics that may have worked fairly well in patriarchal or patristic or medieval times might be thoroughly invalid in the very different world we inhabit today What sermons evenhandedly examine the God hypothesis What rewards are religious sceptics given by the established religions or for that matter social and economic sceptics by the society in which they swim Science Ann Druyan notes is forever whispering in our ears 39Remember you39re very new at this You might be mistaken You39ve been wrong before Despite all the talk of humility show me something comparable in religion Scripture is said to be 37 51 THE DEMONHAUNTED WORLD divinely inspired a phrase with many meanings But what if it39s simply made up by fallible humans Miracles are attested but what if they39re instead some mix of charlatanry unfamiliar states of consciousness misapprehensions of natural phenomena and mental illness No contemporary religion and no New Age belief seems to me to take suf cient account of the grandeur magni cence subtlety and intricacy of the Universe revealed by science The fact that so little of the ndings of modern science is prefigured in Scripture to my mind casts further doubt on its divine inspiration But of course I might be wrong Read the following two paragraphs not to understand the science described but to get a feeling for the author39s style of thinking He is facing anomalies apparent paradoxes in physics 39asymmetries39 he calls them What can we learn from them It is known that Maxwell39s electrodynamics as usually understood at the present time when applied to moving bodies leads to asymmetries which do not appear to be inherent in the phenomena Take for example the recipro cal electrodynamic action of a magnet and a conductor The observable phenomenon here depends only on the relative motion of the conductor and the magnet whereas the cus tomary view draws a sharp distinction between the two cases in which either the one or the other of these bodies is in motion For if the magnet is in motion and the conductor at rest there arises in the neighbourhood of the magnet an electric eld with a certain de nite energy producing a current at the places where parts of the conductor are situated But if the magnet is stationary and the conductor in motion no electric eld arises in the neighbourhood of the magnet In the conductor however we nd an electromotive force to which in itself there is no corresponding energy but which gives rise assuming equality of relative motion in the two cases discussed to electric currents of the same path and intensity as those produced by the electric forces in the former case 38 52 Science and Hope Examples of this sort together with the unsuccessful attempts to discover any motion of the earth relative to the 39ether39 suggest that the phenomena of electrodynamics as well as of mechanics possess no properties corresponding to the idea of absolute rest They suggest rather that as has already been shown to the first order of small quantities the same laws of electrodynamics and optics will be valid for all frames of reference for which the equations of mechanics hold good What is the author trying to tell us here I39ll try to explain the background later in this book For now we can perhaps recognize that the language is spare technical cautious clear and not a jot more complicated than it need be You would not offhand guess from how it39s phrased or from its unostentatious title 39On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies that this article represents the crucial arrival of the theory of Special Relativity into the world the gateway to the triumphant announcement of the equivalence of mass and energy the de ation of the conceit that our small world occupies some 39privileged reference frame in the Universe and in several different ways an epochal event in human history The opening words of Albert Einstein39s 1905 paper are characteristic of the scienti c report It is refreshingly unselfserv ing circumspect understated Contrast its restrained tone with say the products of modern advertising political speeches authoritative theological pronouncements or for that matter the blurb on the cover of this book Notice how Einstein39s paper begins by trying to make sense of experimental results Wherever possible scientists experiment Which experiments suggest themselves often depends on which theories currently prevail Scientists are intent on testing those theories to the breaking point They do not trust what is intuitively obvious That the Earth is at was once obvious That heavy bodies fall faster than light ones was once obvious That blood sucking leeches cure most diseases was once obvious That some people are naturally and by divine decree slaves was once obvious That there is such a place as the centre of the Universe and that the Earth sits in that exalted spot was once obvious That there is 39 53 THE DEMONHAUNTED WORLD an absolute standard of rest was once obvious The truth may be puzzling or counterintuitive It may contradict deeply held beliefs Experiment is how we get a handle on it At a dinner many decades ago the physicist Robert W Wood was asked to respond to the toast To physics and metaphysics By metaphysics people then meant something like philosophy or truths you could recognize just by thinking about them They could also have included pseudoscience Wood answered along these lines the physicist has an idea The more he thinks it through the more sense it seems to make He consults the scientific literature The more he reads the more promising the idea becomes Thus prepared he goes to the laboratory and devises an experiment to test it The experiment is painstaking Many possibilities are checked The accuracy of measurement is refined the error bars reduced He lets the chips fall where they may He is devoted only to what the experiment teaches At the end of all this work through careful experimentation the idea is found to be worthless So the physicist discards it frees his mind from the clutter of error and moves on to something else The difference between physics and metaphysics Wood con cluded as he raised his glass high is not that the practitioners of one are smarter than the practitioners of the other The difference is that the metaphysicist has no laboratory For me there are four main reasons for a concerted effort to convey science on radio and TV in movies newspapers books computer programs theme parks and classrooms to every citizen In all uses of science it is insufficient indeed it is dangerous to produce only a small highly competent well rewarded priesthood of professionals Instead some fundamental understanding of the findings and methods of science must be available on the broadest scale As the pioneering physicist Benjamin Franklin put it In going on with these experiments how many pretty systems do we build which we soon nd ourselves obliged to destroy At the very least he thought the experience sufficed to help to make a vain Man humble 40 54 Science and Hope Despite plentiful opportunities for misuse science can be the golden road out of poverty and backwardness for emerging nations It makes national economies and the global civilization run Many nations understand this It is why so many graduate students in science and engineering at American graduate schools still the best in the world are from other countries The corollary one that the United States sometimes fails to grasp is that abandoning science is the road back into poverty and backwardness Science alerts us to the perils introduced by our worldaltering technologies especially to the global environment on which our lives depend Science provides an essential early warning system Science teaches us about the deepest issues of origins natures and fatesofour species oflife ofour planet ofthe Universe For the first time in human history we are able to secure a real understanding of some of these matters Every culture on Earth has addressed such issues and valued their importance All of us feel goosebumps when we approach these grand questions In the long run the greatest gift of science may be in teaching us in ways no other human endeavour has been able some thing about our cosmic context about where when and who we are The values of science and the values of democracy are concord ant in many cases indistinguishable Science and democracy began in their civilized incarnations in the same time and place Greece in the seventh and sixth centuries BC Science confers power on anyone who takes the trouble to learn it although too many have been systematically prevented from doing so Science thrives on indeed requires the free exchange of ideas its values are antithetical to secrecy Science holds to no special vantage points or privileged positions Both science and democracy encourage unconventional opinions and vigorous debate Both demand adequate reason coherent argument rigorous standards of evidence and honesty Science is a way to call the bluff of those who only pretend to knowledge It is a bulwark against mysticism against supersti tion against religion misapplied to where it has no business 41 55 THE DEMONHAUNTED WORLD being If we39re true to its values it can tell us when we39re being lied to It provides a midcourse correction to our mistakes The more widespread its language rules and methods the better chance we have of preserving what Thomas Jefferson and his colleagues had in mind But democracy can also be subverted more thoroughly through the products of science than any preindustrial demagogue ever dreamed Finding the occasional straw of truth awash in a great ocean of confusion and bamboozle requires vigilance dedication and cour age But if we don39t practise these tough habits of thought we cannot hope to solve the truly serious problems that face us and we risk becoming a nation of suckers a world of suckers up for grabs by the next charlatan who saunters along An extraterrestrial being newly arrived on earth scrutinizing what we mainly present to our children on television and radio and in movies newspapers magazines comics and many books might easily conclude that we are intent on teaching them murder rape cruelty superstition credulity and consumerism We keep at it and through constant repetition many of them nally get it What kind of society could we create if instead we drummed into them science and a sense of hope 42 56 12 The Fine Art ofBa1oney Detection The human understanding is no dry light but receives lIl 1SlOfl from the will and affections whence proceed sciences which may be called 39sciences as one would For what a man had rather were true he more readily believes Therefore he rejects difficult things from impatience of research sober things because they narrow hope the deeper things of nature from superstition the light of experience from arrogance and pride things not commonly believed out of deference to the opinion of the vulgar Numberless in short are the ways and sometimes imperceptible in which the affections colour and infect the understanding Francis Bacon Novum Organon 1620 My parents died years ago I was very close to them I still miss them terribly I know I always will I long to believe that their essence their personalities what I loved so much about them are really and truly still in existence somewhere I wouldn39t ask very much just ve or ten minutes a year say to tell them about their grandchildren to catch them up on the latest news to remind them that I love them There39s a part of me no matter how childish it sounds that wonders how they are 39Is everything all right I want to ask The last words I found myself saying to my father at the moment of his death were Take care 189 57 THE DEMONHAUNTED WORLD Sometimes I dream that I39m talking to my parents and sud denly still immersed in the dreamwork I39m seized by the overpowering realization that they didn39t really die that it39s all been some kind of horrible mistake Why here they are alive and well my father making wry jokes my mother earnestly advising me to wear a muf er because the weather is chilly When I wake up I go through an abbreviated process of mourning all over again Plainly there39s something within me that39s ready to believe in life after death And it39s not the least bit interested in whether there39s any sober evidence for it So I don39t guffaw at the woman who visits her husband39s grave and chats him up every now and then maybe on the anniversary of his death It39s not hard to understand And if I have dif culties with the ontological status of who she39s talking to that39s all right That39s not what this is about This is about humans being human More than a third of American adults believe that on some level they39ve made contact with the dead The number seems to have jumped by 15 per cent between 1977 and 1988 A quarter of Americans believe in reincarnation But that doesn39t mean I39d be willing to accept the pretensions of a 39medium39 who claims to channel the spirits of the dear departed when I39m aware the practice is rife with fraud I know how much I want to believe that my parents have just abandoned the husks of their bodies like insects or snakes moulting and gone somewhere else I understand that those very feelings might make me easy prey even for an unclever con or for normal people unfamiliar with their unconscious minds or for those suffering from a dissociative psychiatric disorder Reluctantly I rouse some reserves of scepticism How is it I ask myself that channellers never give us verifiable information otherwise unavailable Why does Alexander the Great never tell us about the exact location of his tomb Fermat about his Last Theorem James Wilkes Booth about the Lincoln assassination conspiracy Hermann Goering about the Reichstag re Why don39t Sophocles Democritus and Aristarchus dictate their lost books Don39t they wish future generations to have access to their masterpieces If some good evidence for life after death were announced I39d 190 58 The Fine Art of Baloney Detection be eager to examine it but it would have to be real scienti c data not mere anecdote As with the face on Mars and alien abduc tions better the hard truth I say than the comforting fantasy And in the final tolling it often turns out that the facts are more comforting than the fantasy The fundamental premise of 39channelling39 spiritualism and other forms of necromancy is that when we die we don39t Not exactly Some thinking feeling and remembering part of us continues That whateveritis a soul or spirit neither matter nor energy but something else can we are told reenter the bodies of human and other beings in the future and so death loses much of its sting What39s more we have an opportunity if the spiritual ist or channelling contentions are true to make contact with loved ones who have died JZ Knight of the State of Washington claims to be in touch with a 35000yearold somebody called 39Ramtha39 He speaks English very well using Knight39s tongue lips and vocal cords producing what sounds to me to be an accent from the Indian Raj Since most people know how to talk and many from children or professional actors have a repertoire of voices at their command the simplest hypothesis is that Ms Knight makes 39Ramtha39 speak all by herself and that she has no contact with disembodied entities from the Pleistocene Ice Age If there39s evidence to the contrary I39d love to hear it It would be considerably more impressive if Ramtha could speak by himself without the assist ance of Ms Knight39s mouth Failing that how might we test the claim The actress Shirley MacLaine attests that Ramtha was her brother in Atlantis but that39s another story Suppose Ramtha were available for questioning Could we verify whether he is who he says he is How does he know that he lived 35000 years ago even approximately What calendar does he employ Who is keeping track of the intervening millennia Thirty ve thousand plus or minus what What were things like 35000 years ago Either Ramtha really is 35000 years old in which case we discover something about that period or he39s a phoney and he39ll or rather she39ll slip up Where did Ramtha live I know he speaks English with an Indian accent but where 35000 years ago did they do that What l9l 59 THE DEMONHAUNTED WORLD was the climate What did Ramtha eat Archaeologists know something about what people ate back then What were the indigenous languages and social structure Who else did Ramtha live with wife wives children grandchildren What was the life cycle the infant mortality rate the life expectancy Did they have birth control What clothes did they wear How were the clothes manufactured What were the most dangerous predators Hunt ing and fishing implements and strategies Weapons Endemic sexism Xenophobia and ethnocentrism And if Ramtha came from the high civilization of Atlantis where are the linguistic technological historical and other details What was their writing like Tell us Instead all we are offered are banal homilies Here to take another example is a set of information chan nelled not from an ancient dead person but from unknown nonhuman entities who make crop circles as recorded by the journalist Jim Schnabel We are so anxious at this sinful nation spreading lies about us We do not come in machines we do not land on your earth in machines We come like the wind We are Life Force Life Force from the ground Come here We are but a breath away a breath away p we are not a million miles away a Life Force that is larger than the energies in your body But we meet at a higher level oflife We need no name We are parallel to your world alongside your world The walls are broken Two men will rise from the past the great bear the world will be at peace People pay attention to these puerile marvels mainly because they promise something like oldtime religion but especially life after death even life eternal A very different prospect for something like eternal life was once proposed by the versatile British scientist J BS Haldane who was among many other things one of the founders of population genetics Haldane imagined a far future when the stars have darkened and space is mainly lled with a cold thin gas Nevertheless if we wait long enough statistical uctuations in the density of this gas will occur Over immense periods of time the 192 60 The Fine Art of Baloney Detection uctuations will be suf cient to reconstitute a Universe something like our own If the Universe is in nitely old there will be an in nite number of such reconstitutions Haldane pointed out So in an in nitely old universe with an in nite number of appearances of galaxies stars planets and life an identical Earth must reappear on which you and all your loved ones will be reunited I39ll be able to see my parents again and introduce them to the grandchildren they never knew And all this will happen not once but an in nite number of times But in this re ection I have underestimated what in nity means In Haldane39s picture there will be universes indeed an in nite number of them in which our brains will have 1ll recollection of many previous rounds Satisfaction is at hand tempered though by the thought of all those other universes which will also come into existence again not once but an in nite number of times with tragedies and horrors vastly outstripping anything I39ve experienced this turn The Consolation of Haldane depends though on what kind of universe we live in and maybe on such arcana as whether there39s enough matter eventually to reverse the expansion of the uni verse and the character of vacuum uctuations Those with a deep longing for life after death might it seems devote them selves to cosmology quantum gravity elementary particle phys ics and especially transfinite arithmetic Clement of Alexandria a Father of the early Church in his Exhortations to the Greeks written around the year 190 dis missed pagan beliefs in words that might today seem a little ironic Far indeed are we om allowing grown men to listen to such tales Even to our own children when they are crying their heart out as the saying goes we are not in the habit of telling fabulous stories to soothe them In our time we have less severe standards We tell children about Santa Claus the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy for reasons we think emotionally sound but then disabuse them of these myths before they39re grown Why retract Because their wellbeing as 193 61 THE DEMONHAUNTED WORLD adults depends on them knowing the world as it really is We worry and for good reason about adults who still believe in Santa Claus On doctrinaire religions 39Men dare not avow even to their own hearts wrote the philosopher David Hume the doubts which they entertain on such subjects They make a merit of implicit faith and disguise to themselves their real infidelity by the strongest asseverations and the most posi tive bigotry This infidelity has profound moral consequences as the American revolutionary Tom Paine Wrote in The Age 0fReas0n39 In delity does not consist in believing or in disbelieving it consists in professing to believe what one does not believe It is impossible to calculate the moral mischief if I may so express it that mental lying has produced in society When man has so far corrupted and prostituted the chastity of his mind as to subscribe his professional belief to things he does not believe he has prepared himself for the commission of every other crime TH Huxley39s formulation was The foundation of morality is to give up pretending to believe that for which there is no evidence and repeating unintelligible propositions about things beyond the possibili ties of knowledge Clement Hume Paine and Huxley were all talking about reli gion But much of what they wrote has more general applications for example to the pervasive background importunings of our commercial civilization there is a class of aspirin commercials in which actors pretending to be doctors reveal the competing product to have only so much of the painkilling ingredient that doctors recommend most they don39t tell you what the mysterious ingredient is Whereas their product has a dramatically larger amount 12 to 2 times more per tablet So buy their product But 194 62 The Fine Art of Baloney Detection why not just take two of the competing tablets Or consider the analgesic that works better than the regularstrength product of the competition Why not then take the extrastrength competitive product And of course they do not tell us of the more than a thousand deaths each year in the United States from the use of aspirin or the apparent 5000 annual cases of kidney failure from the use of acetaminophen of which the bestselling brand is Tylenol This however may represent a case of correlation without causation Or who cares which breakfast cereal has more vitamins when we can take a vitamin pill with breakfast Likewise why should it matter whether an antacid contains calcium if the calcium is for nutrition and irrelevant for gastritis Commercial culture is full of similar misdirections and evasions at the expense of the consumer You39re not supposed to ask Don39t think Buy Paid product endorsements especially by real or purported experts constitute a steady rainfall of deception They betray contempt for the intelligence of their customers They introduce an insidious corruption of popular attitudes about scienti c objectiv ity Today there are even commercials in which real scientists some of considerable distinction shill for corporations They teach that scientists too will lie for money As Tom Paine warned inuring us to lies lays the groundwork for many other evils I have in front of me as I write the programme of one of the annual Whole Life Expos New Age expositions held in San Francisco Typically tens of thousands of people attend Highly questionable experts tout highly questionable products Here are some of the presentations How Trapped Blood Proteins Produce Pain and Suffering 39Crystals Are They Talismans or Stones 1 have an opinion myself It continues As a crystal focuses sound and light waves for radio and television this is a vapid misunder standing of how radio and television work so may it amplify spiritual vibrations for the attuned human Or here39s one 39Return of the Goddess a Presentational Ritual Another 39Synchronicity the Recognition Experience That one is given by Brother Charles Or on the next page You SaintGermain and Healing Through the Violet Flame It goes on and on with plenty of ads about opportunities running the short gamut from the dubious to the spurious that are available at the Whole Life Expo 195 63 THE DEMONHAUNTED WORLD Distraught cancer victims make pilgrimages to the Philippines where 39psychic surgeons having palmed bits of chicken liver or goat heart pretend to reach into the patient39s innards and withdraw the diseased tissue which is then triumphantly dis played Leaders of western democracies regularly consult astrolo gers and mystics before making decisions of state Under public pressure for results police with an unsolved murder or a missing body on their hands consult ESP 39experts39 who never guess better than expected by common sense but the police the ESPers say keep calling A clairvoyance gap with adversary nations is announced and the Central Intelligence Agency under Congres sional prodding spends tax money to fmd out whether submarines in the ocean depths can be located by thinking hard at them A 39psychic using pendulums over maps and dowsing rods in air planes purports to fmd new mineral deposits an Australian mining company pays him top dollars up front none of it returnable in the event of failure and a share in the exploitation of ores in the event of success Nothing is discovered Statues of Jesus or murals of Mary are spotted with moisture and thousands of kindhearted people convince themselves that they have wit nessed a miracle These are all cases of proved or presumptive baloney A deception arises sometimes innocently but collaboratively some times with cynical premeditation Usually the victim is caught up in a powerful emotion wonder fear greed grief Credulous acceptance of baloney can cost you money that39s what PT Barnum meant when he said 39There39s a sucker born every minute But it can be much more dangerous than that and when governments and societies lose the capacity for critical thinking the results can be catastrophic however sympathetic we may be to those who have bought the baloney In science we may start with experimental results data obser vations measurements 39facts39 We invent if we can a rich array of possible explanations and systematically confront each explana tion with the facts In the course of their training scientists are equipped with a baloney detection kit The kit is brought out as a matter of course whenever new ideas are offered for considera tion If the new idea survives examination by the tools in our kit 196 64 The Fine Art of Baloney Detection we grant it warm although tentative acceptance If you39re so inclined if you don39t want to buy baloney even when it39s reassuring to do so there are precautions that can be taken there39s a triedandtrue consumertested method What39s in the kit Tools for sceptical thinking What sceptical thinking boils down to is the means to construct and to understand a reasoned argument and especially impor tant to recognize a fallacious or fraudulent argument The question is not whether we like the conclusion that emerges out of a train of reasoning but whether the conclusion follows from the premises or starting point and whether that premise is true Among the tools Wherever possible there must be independent confirmation of the 39facts39 Encourage substantive debate on the evidence by knowledge able proponents of all points of view Arguments from authority carry little weight 39authorities39 have made mistakes in the past They will do so again in the future Perhaps a better way to say it is that in science there are no authorities at most there are experts Spin more than one hypothesis If there39s something to be explained think of all the different ways in which it could be explained Then think of tests by which you might systemati cally disprove each of the alternatives What survives the hypothesis that resists disproof in this Darwinian selection among multiple working hypotheses has a much better chance of being the right answer than if you had simply run with the rst idea that caught your fancy Try not to get overly attached to a hypothesis just because it39s yours It39s only a waystation in the pursuit of knowledge Ask yourself why you like the idea Compare it fairly with the This is a problem that affects jury trials Retrospective studies show that some jurors make up their minds very early perhaps during opening arguments and then retain the evidence that seems to support their initial impressions and reject the contrary evidence The method of alternative working hypotheses is not running in their heads 197 65 THE DEMONHAUNTED WORLD alternatives See if you can nd reasons for rejecting it If you don39t others will Quantify If whatever it is you39re explaining has some measure some numerical quantity attached to it you39ll be much better able to discriminate among competing hypotheses What is vague and qualitative is open to many explanations Of course there are truths to be sought in the many qualitative issues we are obliged to confront but finding them is more challenging If there39s a chain of argument every link in the chain must work including the premise not just most of them Occam39s Razor This convenient ruleofthumb urges us when faced with two hypotheses that explain the data equally well to choose the simpler Always ask whether the hypothesis can be at least in principle falsi ed Propositions that are untestable unfalsi able are not worth much Consider the grand idea that our Universe and everything in it is just an elementary particle an electron say in a much bigger Cosmos But if we can never acquire information from outside our Universe is not the idea incapa ble of disproof You must be able to check assertions out Inveterate sceptics must be given the chance to follow your reasoning to duplicate your experiments and see if they get the same result The reliance on carefully designed and controlled experiments is key as I tried to stress earlier We will not learn much from mere contemplation It is tempting to rest content with the first candidate explanation we can think of One is much better than none But what happens if we can invent several How do we decide among them We don39t We let experiment do it Francis Bacon provided a classic reason Argumentation cannot suf ce for the discovery of new work since the subtlety of Nature is greater many times than the subtlety of argument Control experiments are essential If for example a new medi cine is alleged to cure a disease 20 per cent of the time we must 198 66 The Fine Art of Baloney Detection make sure that a control population taking a dummy sugar pill which as far as the subjects know might be the new drug does not also experience spontaneous remission of the disease 20 per cent of the time Variables must be separated Suppose you39re seasick and given both an acupressure bracelet and 50 milligrams of meclizine You nd the unpleasantness vanishes What did it the bracelet or the pill You can tell only if you take the one without the other next time you39re seasick Now imagine that you39re not so dedicated to science as to be willing to be seasick Then you won39t separate the variables You39ll take both remedies again You39ve achieved the desired practical result further knowledge you might say is not worth the discomfort of attaining it Often the experiment must be done 39doubleblind39 so that those hoping for a certain finding are not in the potentially compromising position of evaluating the results In testing a new medicine for example you might want the physicians who determine which patients symptoms are relieved not to know which patients have been given the new drug The knowledge might in uence their decision even if only unconsciously Instead the list of those who experienced remission of symp toms can be compared with the list of those who got the new drug each independently ascertained Then you can determine what correlation exists Or in conducting a police lineup or photo identification the of cer in charge should not know who the prime suspect is so as not consciously or unconsciously to in uence the witness In addition to teaching us what to do when evaluating a claim to knowledge any good baloney detection kit must also teach us what not to do It helps us recognize the most common and perilous fallacies of logic and rhetoric Many good examples can be found in religion and politics because their practitioners are so often obliged to justify two contradictory propositions Among these fallacies are Ad hominem Latin for 39to the man attacking the arguer and not the argument e g the Reverend Dr Smith is a known 199 67 THE DEMONHAUNTED WORLD Biblical fundamentalist so her objections to evolution need not be taken seriously Argument from authority e g President Richard Nixon should be reelected because he has a secret plan to end the war in Southeast Asia but because it was secret there was no way for the electorate to evaluate it on its merits the argument amounted to trusting him because he was President a mistake as it turned out Argument from adverse consequences eg a God meting out punishment and reward must exist because if He didn39t society would be much more lawless and dangerous perhaps even ungovernable Or the defendant in a widely publicized murder trial must be found guilty otherwise it will be an encouragement for other men to murder their wives Appeal to ignorance the claim that whatever has not been proved false must be true and vice versa eg there is no compelling evidence that UFOs are not visiting the Earth therefore UFOs exist and there is intelligent life elsewhere in the Universe Or there may be seventy kazillion other worlds but not one is known to have the moral advancement of the Earth so we39re still central to the Universe This impatience with ambigu ity can be criticized in the phrase absence of evidence is not evidence of absence Special pleading often to rescue a proposition in deep rhetori cal trouble e g how can a merciful God condemn future generations to unending torment because against orders one woman induced one man to eat an apple Special plead you don39t understand the subtle Doctrine of Free Will Or how can there be an equally godlike Father Son and Holy Ghost in the same Person Special plead you don t understand the Divine Mystery of the Trinity Or how could God permit the followers of Judaism Christianity and Islam each in their own way A more cynical formulation by the Roman historian Polybius Since the masses of the people are inconstant full of unruly desires passionate and reckless of consequences they must be lled with fears to keep them in order The ancients did well therefore to invent gods and the belief in punishment after death 200 68 39 The Fine Art of Baloney Detection enjoined to heroic measures of loving kindness and compassion to have perpetrated so much cruelty for so long Special plead you don39t understand Free Will again And anyway God moves in mysterious ways Begging the question also called assuming the answer eg we must institute the death penalty to discourage violent crime But does the violent crime rate in fact fall when the death penalty is imposed Or the stock market fell yesterday because of a technical aajustment and pro ttaking by investors But is there any independent evidence for the causal role of 39adjustment and pro ttaking have we learned anything at all from this purported explanation Observational selection also called the enumeration of favourable circumstances or as the philosopher Francis Bacon described it counting the hits and forgetting the n1isses eg a state boasts of the Presidents it has produced but is silent on its serial killers Statistics of small numbers a close relative of observational selection eg they say I out of 5 people is Chinese How is this possible I know hundreds of people and none of them is Chinese Yours truly Or I ve thrown three sevens in a row Tonight I can39t lose9 My favourite example is this story told about the Italian physicist Enrico Fermi newly arrived on American shores enlisted in the Manhattan nuclear weapons project and brought facetoface in the midst of World War Two with US ag officers Soandso is a great general be was told What is the de nition of a great general Fermi characteristically asked I guess it39s a general who39s won many consecutive battles How many After some back and forth they settled on ve What fraction of American generals are great After some more back and forth they settled on a few per cent But imagine Fermi rejoined that there is no such thing as a great general that all armies are equally matched and that winning a battle is purely a matter of chance Then the chance of winning one battle is one out of two or 12 two battles 14 three 18 four 116 and ve consecutive battles 132 which is about three per cent You would expect a few per cent of American generals to win ve consecutive battles purely by chance Now has any of them won ten consecutive battles 201 69 THE DEMONHAUNTED WORLD Misunderstanding of the nature of statistics eg President Dwight Eisenhower expressing astonishment and alarm on discovering that fully half of all Americans have below average intelligence Inconsistency e g prudently plan for the worst of which a potential military adversary is capable but thriftily ignore scien ti c projections on environmental dangers because they39re not 39proved39 Or attribute the declining life expectancy in the former Soviet Union to the failures of communism many years ago but never attribute the high infant mortality rate in the United States now highest in the major industrial nations to the failures of capitalism Or consider it reasonable for the Universe to continue to exist forever into the future but judge absurd the possibility that it has in nite duration into the past Non sequitur Latin for 39it doesn39t follow e g our nation will prevail because God is great But nearly every nation pretends this to be true the German formulation was 39Gott mit uns9 Often those falling into the non sequitur fallacy have simply failed to recognize alternative possibilities Post hoc ergo propter hoc Latin for it happened after so it was caused by39 eg Jamie Cardinal Sin Archbishop of Manila 391 know of a 26yearold who looks 60 because she takes contraceptive pills Or before women got the vote there were no nuclear weapons Meaningless question e g What happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable object But if there is such a thing as an irresistible force there can be no immovable objects and vice versa Excluded middle or false dichotomy considering only the two extremes in a continuum of intermediate possibilities eg sure take his side my husband39s perfect I39m always wrong Or 39either you love your country or you hate it Or 39ifyou re not part of the solution you39re part of the problem Shortterm v longterm a subset of the excluded middle but so important I39ve pulled it out for special attention eg we can39t ajford programmes to feed malnourished children and educate preschool kids We need to urgently deal with crime on the streets Or why explore space or pursue fundamental science 202 70 The Fine Art of Baloney Detection when we have so huge a budget de cit Slippery slope related to excluded middle eg if we allow abortion in the rst weeks of pregnancy it will be impossible to prevent the killing of a fullterm infant Or conversely if the state prohibits abortion even in the ninth month it will soon be telling us what to do with our bodies around the time of conception Confusion of correlation and causation eg a survey shows that more college graduates are homosexual than those with lesser education therefore education makes people gay Or Andean earthquakes are correlated with closest approaches of the planet Uranus therefore despite the absence of any such correlation for the nearer more massive planet Jupiter the latter causes the former Straw man caricaturing a position to make it easier to attack e g scientists suppose that living things simply fell together by chance a formulation that wil 1lly ignores the central Darwin ian insight that Nature ratchets up by saving what works and discarding what doesn39t Or this is also a shorttermlongterm fallacy environmentalists care more for snail darters and spotted owls than they do for people Suppressed evidence or halftruths e g an amazingly accurate and widely quoted prophecy of the assassination attempt on President Reagan is shown on television but an important detail was it recorded before or after the event Or these government abuses demand revolution even if you can39t make an omelette without breaking some eggs Yes but is this likely to be a revolution in which far more people are killed than under the Or children who watch violent TV programmes tend to be more violent when they grow up But did the TV cause the violence or do violent children preferentially enjoy watching violent programmes Very likely both are true Commercial defenders of TV violence argue that anyone can distinguish between television and reality But Saturday morning children39s programmes now average 25 acts of violence per hour At the very least this desensitizes young children to aggression and random cruelty And if impressionable adults can have false memories implanted in their brains what are we implanting in our children when we expose them to some 100000 acts of violence before they graduate from elementary school 203 71 THE DEMONHAUNTED WORLD previous regime What does the experience of other revolutions suggest Are all possible revolutions against oppressive regimes desirable and in the interests of the people Weasel words eg the separation of powers of the US Constitution specifies that the United States may not conduct a war without a declaration by Congress On the other hand Presidents are given control of foreign policy and the conduct of wars which are potentially powerful tools for getting them selves reelected Presidents of either political party may there fore be tempted to arrange wars while waving the ag and calling the wars something else police actions armed incursions protective reaction strikes pacification safe guarding American interests and a wide variety of opera tions such as Operation Just Cause Euphemisms for war are one of a broad class of reinventions of language for political purposes Talleyrand said An important art of politicians is to nd new names for institutions which under old names have become odious to the public Knowing the existence of such logical and rhetorical fallacies rounds out our toolkit Like all tools the baloney detection kit can be misused applied out of context or even employed as a rote alternative to thinking But applied judiciously it can make all the difference in the world not least in evaluating our own arguments before we present them to others The American tobacco industry grosses some 50 billion per year There is a statistical correlation between smoking and cancer the tobacco industry admits but not they say a causal relation A logical fallacy they imply is being committed What might this mean Maybe people with hereditary propensities for cancer also have hereditary propensities to take addictive drugs so cancer and smoking might be correlated but the cancer would not be caused by the smoking Increasingly farfetched connections of this sort can be contrived This is exactly one of the reasons science insists on control experiments Suppose you paint the backs of large numbers of mice with cigarette tar and also follow the health of large numbers of nearly 204 72 The Fine Art of Baloney Detection identical mice that have not been painted If the former get cancer and the latter do not you can be pretty sure that the correlation is causal Inhale tobacco smoke and the chance of getting cancer goes up don39t inhale and the rate stays at the background level Likewise for emphysema bronchitis and cardiovascular diseases When the first work was published in the scienti c literature in 1953 showing that the substances in cigarette smoke when painted on the backs of rodents produce malignancies the response of the six major tobacco companies was to initiate a public relations campaign to impugn the research sponsored by the Sloan Ketter ing Foundation This is similar to what the Du Pont Corporation did when the first research was published in 1974 showing that their Freon product attacks the protective ozone layer There are many other examples You might think that before they denounce unwelcome research ndings major corporations would devote their consid erable resources to checking out the safety of the products they propose to manufacture And if they missed something if inde pendent scientists suggest a hazard why would the companies protest Would they rather kill people than lose pro ts If in an uncertain world an error must be made shouldn39t it be biased toward protecting customers and the public And incidentally what do these cases say about the ability of the ee enterprise system to police itself Aren39t these instances where government intrusion is in the public interest A 1971 internal report of the Brown and Williamson Tobacco Corporation lists as a corporate objective 39to set aside in the minds of millions the false conviction that cigarette smoking causes lung cancer and other diseases a conviction based on fanatical assump tions fallacious rumours unsupported claims and the unscienti c statements and conjectures of publicityseeking opportunists39 They complain of the incredible unprecedented and nefarious attack against the cigarette constituting the greatest libel and slander ever perpetrated against any product in the history of free enterprise a criminal libel of such major proportions and 205 73 THE DEMONHAUNTED WORLD implications that one wonders how such a crusade of calumny can be reconciled under the Constitution can be so outed and violated sic This rhetoric is only slightly more in amed than what the tobacco industry has from time to time uttered for public consumption There are many brands of cigarettes that advertise low 39tar39 ten milligrams or less per cigarette Why is this a virtue Because it is the refractory tars in which polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and some other carcinogens are concentrated Aren39t the low tar ads a tacit admission by the tobacco companies that cigarettes indeed cause cancer Healthy Buildings International is a forprofit organization recipient of millions of dollars over the years from the tobacco industry It performs research on secondhand smoke and testi fies for the tobacco companies In 1994 three of its technicians complained that senior executives had faked data on inhalable cigarette particles in the air In every case the invented or 39corrected39 data made tobacco smoke seem safer than the techni cians measurements had indicated Do corporate research departments or outside research contractors ever fmd a product to be more dangerous than the tobacco corporation has publicly declared If they do is their employment continued Tobacco is addictive by many criteria more so than heroin and cocaine There was a reason people would as the 1940s ad put it walk a mile for a Camel More people have died of tobacco than in all of World War II According to the World Health Organiza tion smoking kills three million people every year Worldwide This will rise to ten million annual deaths by 2020 in part because of a massive advertising campaign to portray smoking as advanced and fashionable to young women in the developing world Part of the success of the tobacco industry in purveying this brew of addictive poisons can be attributed to widespread unfamiliarity with baloney detection critical thinking and scienti c method Gullibility kills 206 74 I The Most Precious Thing All our science measured against reality is primitive and childlike and yet it is the most precious thing we have Albert Einstein 18791955 As I got off the plane he was waiting for me holding up a scrap of cardboard with my name scribbled on it I was on my way to a conference of scientists and TV broadcasters devoted to the seemingly hopeless prospect of improving the presentation of science on commercial television The organizers had kindly sent a driver 39Do you mind if I ask you a question he said as we waited for my bag No I didn39t mind Isn39t it confusing to have the same name as that scientist guy It took me a moment to understand Was he pulling my leg Finally it dawned on me I am that scientist guy I answered He paused and then smiled 39Sorry That39s my problem I thought it was yours too He put out his hand My name is William F Buckley Well he wasn39t exactly William F Buckley but he did bear the name of a contentious and wellknown TV interviewer for which he doubtless took a lot of goodnatured ribbing As we settled into the car for the long drive the windshield 6 75 The Most Precious Thing wipers rhythmically thwacking he told me he was glad I was 39that scientist guy39 he had so many questions to ask about science Would I mind No I didn39t mind And so we got to talking But not as it turned out about science He wanted to talk about frozen extraterrestrials languish ing in an Air Force base near San Antonio 39channelling39 a way to hear what39s on the minds of dead people not much it turns out crystals the prophecies of Nostradamus astrology the shroud of Turin He introduced each portentous subject with buoyant enthusiasm Each time I had to disappoint him 39The evidence is crummy I kept saying 39There39s a much simpler explanation He was in a way widely read He knew the various speculative nuances on let39s say the 39sunken continents of Atlantis and Lemuria He had at his fingertips what underwater expeditions were supposedly just setting out to fmd the tumbled columns and broken minarets of a oncegreat civilization whose remains were now visited only by deep sea luminescent sh and giant kraken Except while the ocean keeps many secrets I knew that there isn39t a trace of oceanographic or geophysical support for Atlantis and Lemuria As far as science can tell they never existed By now a little reluctantly I told him so As we drove through the rain I could see him getting glummer and glummer I was dismissing not just some errant doctrine but a precious facet of his inner life And yet there39s so much in real science that39s equally exciting more mysterious a greater intellectual challenge as well as being a lot closer to the truth Did he know about the molecular building blocks of life sitting out there in the cold tenuous gas between the stars Had he heard of the footprints of our ancestors found in 4millionyearold volcanic ash What about the raising of the Himalayas when India went crashing into Asia Or how viruses built like hypodermic syringes slip their DNA past the host organism39s defences and subvert the reproductive machinery of cells or the radio search for extraterrestrial intelligence or the newly discovered ancient civilization of Ebla that advertised the virtues of Ebla beer No he hadn39t heard Nor did he know even 7 76 THE DEMONHAUNTED WORLD vaguely about quantum indeterminacy and he recognized DNA only as three frequently linked capital letters Mr Buckley wellspoken intelligent curious had heard virtually nothing of modern science He had a natural appetite for the wonders of the Universe He wanted to know about science It39s just that all the science had gotten ltered out before it reached him Our cultural motifs our educational system our communications media had failed this man What society permit ted to trickle through was mainly pretence and confusion It had never taught him how to distinguish real science from the cheap imitation He knew nothing about how science works There are hundreds of books about Atlantis the mythical continent that is said to have existed something like 10000 years ago in the Atlantic Ocean Or somewhere A recent book locates it in Antarctica The story goes back to Plato who reported it as hearsay coming down to him from remote ages Recent books authoritatively describe the high level of Atlantean technology morals and spirituality and the great tragedy of an entire popu lated continent sinking beneath the waves There is a New Age Atlantis the legendary civilization of advanced sciences chie y devoted to the science of crystals In a trilogy called Crystal Enlightenment by Katrina Raphaell the books mainly responsi ble for the crystal craze in America Atlantean crystals read minds transmit thoughts are the repositories of ancient history and the model and source of the pyramids of Egypt Nothing approximating evidence is offered to support these assertions A resurgence of crystal mania may follow the recent nding by the real science of seismology that the inner core of the Earth may be composed ofa single huge nearly perfect crystal ofiron A few books Dorothy Vitaliano s Legends of the Earth for example sympathetically interpret the original Atlantis legends in terms of a small island in the Mediterranean that was destroyed by a volcanic eruption or an ancient city that slid into the Gulf of Corinth after an earthquake This for all we know may be the source of the legend but it is a far cry from the destruction of a continent on which had sprung forth a preternaturally advanced technical and mystical civilization What we almost never fmd in public libraries or newsstand 8 77 The Most Precious Thing magazines or primetime television programmes is the evidence from sea oor spreading and plate tectonics and from mapping the ocean oor which shows quite unmistakably that there could have been no continent between Europe and the Americas on anything like the timescale proposed Spurious accounts that snare the gullible are readily available Sceptical treatments are much harder to find Scepticism does not sell well A bright and curious person who relies entirely on popular culture to be informed about something like Atlantis is hundreds or thousands of times more likely to come upon a fable treated uncritically than a sober and balanced assessment Maybe Mr Buckley should know to be more sceptical about what39s dished out to him by popular culture But apart from that it39s hard to see how it39s his fault He simply accepted what the most widely available and accessible sources of information claimed was true For his naivete he was systematically misled and bamboozled Science arouses a soaring sense ofwonder But so does pseudo science Sparse and poor popularizations of science abandon ecological niches that pseudoscience promptly lls If it were widely understood that claims to knowledge require adequate evidence before they can be accepted there would be no room for pseudoscience But a kind of Gresham39s Law prevails in popular culture by which bad science drives out good All over the world there are enormous numbers of smart even gifted people who harbour a passion for science But that passion is unrequited Surveys suggest that some 95 per cent of Americans are scientifically illiterate That39s just the same fraction as those African Americans almost all of them slaves who were illiterate just before the Civil War when severe penalties were in force for anyone who taught a slave to read Of course there39s a degree of arbitrariness about any determination of illiteracy whether it applies to language or to science But anything like 95 per cent illiteracy is extremely serious Every generation worries that educational standards are decay ing One of the oldest short essays in human history dating from Sumer some 4000 years ago laments that the young are disas trously more ignorant than the generation immediately preceding 9 78 THE DEMONHAUNTED WORLD Twentyfour hundred years ago the ageing and grumpy Plato in Book VII of the Laws gave his de nition of scienti c illiteracy Who is unable to count one two three or to distinguish odd om even numbers or is unable to count at all or reckon night and day and who is totally unacquainted with the revolution of the Sun and Moon and the other stars All freemen I conceive should learn as much of these branches of knowledge as every child in Egypt is taught when he learns the alphabet In that country arithmetical games have been invented for the use of mere children which they learn as pleasure and amusement I have late in life heard with amazement of our ignorance in these matters to me we appear to be more like pigs than men and I am quite ashamed not only of mysel but of all Greeks I don39t know to what extent ignorance of science and mathematics contributed to the decline of ancient Athens but I know that the consequences of scienti c illiteracy are far more dangerous in our time than in any that has come before It39s perilous and foolhardy for the average citizen to remain ignorant about global warming say or ozone depletion air pollution toxic and radioactive wastes acid rain topsoil erosion tropical deforestation exponen tial population growth Jobs and wages depend on science and technology If our nation can39t manufacture at high quality and low price products people want to buy then industries will continue to drift away and transfer a little more prosperity to other parts of the world Consider the social rami cations of ssion and ision power supercomputers data 39highways39 abor tion radon massive reductions in strategic weapons addiction government eavesdropping on the lives of its citizens high resolution TV airline and airport safety foetal tissue transplants health costs food additives drugs to ameliorate mania or depres sion or schizophrenia animal rights superconductivity morning after pills alleged hereditary antisocial predispositions space stations going to Mars nding cures for AIDS and cancer How can we affect national policy or even make intelligent decisions in our own lives if we don39t grasp the underlying 10 79 The Most Precious Thing issues As I write Congress is dissolving its own Of ce of Technology Assessment the only organization speci cally tasked to provide advice to the House and Senate on science and technology Its competence and integrity over the years have been exemplary Of the 535 members of the US Congress rarely in the twentieth century have as many as one per cent had any significant background in science The last scienti cally literate President may have been Thomas Jefferson So how do Americans decide these matters How do they instruct their representatives Who in fact makes these decisions and on what basis Hippocrates of Cos is the father of medicine He is still remembered 2500 years later for the Hippocratic Oath a modi ed form of which is still here and there taken by medical students upon their gradua tion But he is chie y celebrated because of his efforts to bring medicine out of the pall of superstition and into the light of science In a typical passage Hippocrates wrote Men think epilepsy divine merely because they do not understand it But if they called everything divine which they do not understand why there would be no end of divine things Instead of acknowledging that in many areas we are ignorant we have tended to say things like the Universe is permeated with the ineffable A God of the Gaps is assigned responsibility for what we do not yet understand As knowledge of medicine improved since the fourth century BC there was more and more that we understood and less and less that had to be attributed to divine intervention either in the causes or in the treatment of disease Deaths in childbirth and infant mortality have decreased lifetimes have lengthened and medicine has improved the quality of life for billions of us all over the planet In the diagnosis of disease Hippocrates introduced elements of the scienti c method He urged careful and meticulous Although claims can be made for Theodore Roosevelt Herbert Hoover and Jimmy Carter Britain had such a Prime Minister in Margaret Thatcher Her early studies in chemistry in part under the tutelage of Nobel laureate Dorothy Hodgkin were key to the UK39s strong and successful advocacy that ozone depleting CFCs be banned worldwide ll 80 THE DEMONHAUNTED WORLD observation Leave nothing to chance Overlook nothing Combine contradictory observations Allow yourself enough time Before the invention ofthe thermometer he charted the temperature curves of many diseases He recommended that physicians be able to tell from present symptoms alone the probable past and future course of each illness He stressed honesty He was willing to admit the limitations of the physician39s knowledge He betrayed no embarrassment in confiding to poster ity that more than half his patients were killed by the diseases he was treating His options of course were limited the drugs available to him were chie y laxatives emetics and narcotics Surgery was performed and cauterization Considerable further advances were made in classical times through to the fall of Rome While medicine in the Islamic world ourished what followed in Europe was truly a dark age Much knowledge of anatomy and surgery was lost Reliance on prayer and miraculous healing abounded Secular physicians became extinct Chants potions horoscopes and amulets were widely used Dissections of cadavers were restricted or outlawed so those who practised medicine were prevented from acquiring firsthand knowledge of the human body Medical research came to a standstill It was very like what the historian Edward Gibbon described for the entire Eastern Empire whose capital was Constantinople In the revolution of ten centuries not a single discovery was made to exalt the dignity or promote the happiness of mankind Not a single idea had been added to the speculative systems of antiquity and a succession of patient disciples became in their turn the dogmatic teachers of the next servile generation Even at its best premodern medical practice did not save many Queen Anne was the last Stuart monarch of Great Britain In the last seventeen years of the seventeenth century she was pregnant eighteen times Only ve children were born alive Only one of them survived infancy He died before reaching adulthood and before her coronation in 1702 There seems to be no evidence of some genetic disorder She had the best medical care money could buy Diseases that once tragically carried off countless infants and 12 81 The Most Precious Thing children have been progressively mitigated and cured by science through the discovery of the microbial world via the insight that physicians and midwives should wash their hands and sterilize their instruments through nutrition public health and sanitation measures antibiotics drugs vaccines the uncovering of the molecular structure of DNA molecular biology and now gene therapy In the developed world at least parents today have an enormously better chance of seeing their children live to adult hood than did the heir to the throne of one of the most powerful nations on Earth in the late seventeenth century Smallpox has been wiped out worldwide The area of our planet infested with malaria carrying mosquitoes has dramatically shrunk The number of years a child diagnosed with leukaemia can expect to live has been increas ing progressively year by year Science permits the Earth to feed about a hundred times more humans and under conditions much less grim than it could a few thousand years ago We can pray over the cholera victim or we can give her 500 milligrams of tetracycline every twelve hours There is still a religion Christian Science that denies the germ theory of disease if prayer fails the faith il would rather see their children die than give them antibiotics We can try nearly itile psychoanalytic talk therapy on the schizophrenic patient or we can give him 300 to 500 milligrams a day of chlozapine The scienti c treatments are hun dreds or thousands of times more effective than the alternatives And even when the alternatives seem to work we don39t actually know that they played any role spontaneous remissions even of cholera and schizophrenia can occur without prayer and without psychoanalysis Abandoning science means abandoning much more than air conditioning CD players hair dryers and fast cars In huntergatherer preagricultural times the human life expectancy was about 20 to 30 years That39s also what it was in Western Europe in Late Roman and in Medieval times It didn39t rise to 40 years until around the year 1870 It reached 50 in 1915 60 in 1930 70 in 1955 and is today approaching 80 a little more for women a little less for men The rest of the world is retracing the European increment in longevity What is the cause of this stunning unprecedented humanitarian transition The germ theory of disease public health measures medicines and medical 13 82 THE DEMONHAUNTED WORLD technology Longevity is perhaps the best single measure of the physical quality of life If you39re dead there39s little you can do to be happy This is a precious offering from science to humanity nothing less than the gift of life But microorganisms mutate New diseases spread like wild re There is a constant battle between microbial measures and human countermeasures We keep pace in this competition not just by designing new drugs and treatments but by penetrating progres sively more deeply toward an understanding of the nature of life basic research If the world is to escape the direst consequences of global population growth and 10 or 12 billion people on the planet in the late twenty rst century we must invent safe but more efficient means of growing food with accompanying seed stocks irrigation fertilizers pesticides transportation and refrigeration systems It will also take widely available and acceptable contraception significant steps toward political equality of women and improvements in the standards of living of the poorest people How can all this be accomplished without science and technology I know that science and technology are not just cornucopias pouring gifts out into the world Scientists not only conceived nuclear weapons they also took political leaders by the lapels arguing that their nation whichever it happened to be had to have one first Then they manufactured over 60000 of them During the Cold War scientists in the United States the Soviet Union China and other nations were willing to expose their own fellow citizens to radiation in most cases without their know ledge to prepare for nuclear war Physicians in Tuskegee Alabama misled a group of veterans into thinking they were receiving medical treatment for their syphilis when they were the untreated controls The atrocious cruelties of Nazi doctors are wellknown Our technology has produced thalidomide CFCs Agent Orange nerve gas pollution of air and water species extinctions and industries so powerful they can ruin the climate of the planet Roughly half the scientists on Earth work at least parttime for the military While a few scientists are still perceived as outsiders courageously criticizing the ills of society and provid ing early warnings of potential technological catastrophes many 14 83 The Most Precious Thing are seen as compliant opportunists or as the willing source of corporate pro ts and weapons of mass destruction never mind the longterm consequences The technological perils that science serves up its implicit challenge to received wisdom and its perceived dif culty are all reasons for some people to mistrust and avoid it There39s a reason people are nervous about science and technology And so the image of the mad scientist haunts our world down to the whitecoated loonies of Saturday morning children39s TV and the plethora of Faustian bargains in popular culture from the eponymous Dr Faustus himself to Dr Franken stein Dr Strangelove and Jurassic Park But we can39t simply conclude that science puts too much power into the hands of morally feeble technologists or corrupt power crazed politicians and so decide to get rid of it Advances in medicine and agriculture have saved vastly more lives than have been lost in all the wars in history Advances in transportation communication and entertainment have transformed and unified the world In opinion poll after opinion poll science is rated among the most admired and trusted occupations despite the misgivings The sword of science is doubleedged Its awesome power forces on all of us including politicians a new responsibil ity more attention to the longterm consequences of technology a global and transgenerational perspective an incentive to avoid easy appeals to nationalism and chauvinism Mistakes are becoming too expensive Do we care what39s true Does it matter where ignorance is bliss 39Tis folly to be wise wrote the poet Thomas Gray But is it Edmund Way Teale in his 1950 book Circle of the Seasons understood the dilemma better At a large dinner party recently I asked the assembled guests ranging in age I guess from thirties to sixties how many of them would be alive today if not for antibiotics cardiac pacemakers and the rest of the panoply of modern medicine Only one hand went up It was not mine 15 84 THE DEMONHAUNTED WORLD It is morally as bad not to care whether a thing is true or not so long as it makes you feel good as it is not to care how you got your money as long as you have got it It39s disheartening to discover government corruption and incom petence for example but it is better not to know about it Whose interest does ignorance serve If we humans bear say hereditary propensities toward the hatred of strangers isn39t selfknowledge the only antidote If we long to believe that the stars rise and set for us that we are the reason there is a Universe does science do us a disservice in de ating our conceits In The Genealogy of Morals Friedrich Nietzsche as so many before and after decries the unbroken progress in the self belittling of man brought about by the scienti c revolution Nietzsche mourns the loss of 39man39s belief in his dignity his uniqueness his irreplaceability in the scheme of existence For me it is far better to grasp the Universe as it really is than to persist in delusion however satisfying and reassuring Which attitude is better geared for our longterm survival Which gives us more leverage on our future And if our naive selfconfidence is a little undermined in the process is that altogether such a loss Is there not cause to welcome it as a maturing and character building experience To discover that the Universe is some 8 to 15 billion and not 6 to 12 thousand years old improves our appreciation of its sweep and grandeur to entertain the notion that we are a particularly complex arrangement of atoms and not some breath of divinity at the very least enhances our respect for atoms to discover as now seems probable that our planet is one of billions of other worlds in the Milky Way galaxy and that our galaxy is one of billions more majestically expands the arena of what is possible No thinking religious person believes this Old hat writes one of the referees of this book But many scienti c creationists not only believe it but are making increasingly aggressive and successful efforts to have it taught in the schools museums zoos and textbooks Why Because adding up the 39begats39 the ages of patriarchs and others in the Bible gives such a gure and the Bible is 39inerrant39 16 85 The Most Precious Thing to nd that our ancestors were also the ancestors of apes ties us to the rest of life and makes possible important if occasionally rue il re ections on human nature Plainly there is no way back Like it or not we are stuck with science We had better make the best of it When we nally come to terms with it and 1lly recognize its beauty and its power we will nd in spiritual as well as in practical matters that we have made a bargain strongly in our favour But superstition and pseudoscience keep getting in the way distracting all the 39Buckleys39 among us providing easy answers dodging sceptical scrutiny casually pressing our awe buttons and cheapening the experience making us routine and comfortable practitioners as well as victims of credulity Yes the world would be a more interesting place if there were UFOs lurking in the deep waters off Bermuda and eating ships and planes or if dead people could take control of our hands and write us messages It would be fascinating if adolescents were able to make telephone handsets rocket olf their cradles just by thinking at them or if our dreams could more often than can be explained by chance and our knowledge of the world accurately foretell the future These are all instances of pseudoscience They purport to use the methods and ndings of science while in fact they are faithless to its nature often because they are based on insuf cient evidence or because they ignore clues that point the other way They ripple with gullibility With the uninformed cooperation and often the cynical connivance of newspapers magazines book publishers radio television movie producers and the like such ideas are easily and widely available Far more dif cult to come upon as I was reminded by my encounter with Mr 39Buckley39 are the alternative more challenging and even more dazzling ndings of science Pseudoscience is easier to contrive than science because dis tracting confrontations with reality where we cannot control the outcome of the comparison are more readily avoided The standards of argument what passes for evidence are much more relaxed In part for these same reasons it is much easier to present pseudoscience to the general public than science But this isn39t enough to explain its popularity 17 86 THE DEMONHAUNTED WORLD Naturally people try various belief systems on for size to see if they help And if we39re desperate enough we become all too willing to abandon what may be perceived as the heavy burden of scepticism Pseudoscience speaks to powerful emotional needs that science often leaves unfulfilled It caters to fantasies about personal powers we lack and long for like those attributed to comic book superheroes today and earlier to the gods In some of its manifestations it offers satisfaction of spiritual hungers cures for disease promises that death is not the end It reassures us of our cosmic centrality and importance It vouchsafes that we are hooked up with tied to the Universe Sometimes it39s a kind of halfway house between old religion and new science mistrusted by both At the heart of some pseudoscience and some religion also New Age and Old is the idea that wishing makes it so How satisfying it would be as in folklore and children39s stories to il l our heart39s desire just by wishing How seductive this notion is especially when compared with the hard work and good luck usually required to achieve our hopes The enchanted sh or the genie from the lamp will grant us three wishes anything we want except more wishes Who has not pondered just to be on the safe side just in case we ever come upon and accidentally rub an old squat brass oil lamp what to ask for I remember from childhood comic strips and books a top hatted moustachioed magician who brandished an ebony walking stick His name was Zatara He could make anything happen anything at all How did he do it Easy He uttered his commands backwards So if he wanted a million dollars he would say 39srallod noillim a em evig39 That39s all there was to it It was something like prayer but much surer of results I spent a lot of time at age eight experimenting in this vein Although it39s hard for me to see a more profound cosmic connection than the astonishing ndings of modern nuclear astrophysics except for hydrogen all the atoms that make each of us up the iron in our blood the calcium in our bones the carbon in our brains were manufactured in red giant stars thousands of light years away in space and billions of years ago in time We are as I like to say starstu 18 87 The Most Precious Thing commanding stones to levitate 39esir enots39 It never worked I blamed my pronunciation Pseudoscience is embraced it might be argued in exact propor tion as real science is misunderstood except that the language breaks down here If you39ve never heard of science to say nothing of how it works you can hardly be aware you39re embracing pseudoscience You39re simply thinking in one of the ways that humans always have Religions are often the stateprotected nurseries of pseudoscience although there39s no reason why reli gions have to play that role In a way it39s an artefact from times long gone In some countries nearly everyone believes in astrology and precognition including government leaders But this is not simply drummed into them by religion it is drawn out of the enveloping culture in which everyone is comfortable with these practices and affirming testimonials are everywhere Most of the case histories I will relate in this book are American because these are the cases I know best not because pseudoscience and mysticism are more prominent in the United States than elsewhere But the psychic spoonbender and extraterrestrial channeller Uri Geller hails from Israel As tensions rise between Algerian secularists and Muslim funda mentalists more and more people are discreetly consulting the country39s 10000 soothsayers and clairvoyants about half of whom operate with a licence from the government High French officials including a former President of France arranged for millions of dollars to be invested in a scam the ElfAquitaine scandal to nd new petroleum reserves from the air In Germany there is concern about carcinogenic Earth rays39 undetectable by science they can be sensed only by experienced dowsers brandishing forked sticks 39Psychic sur gery39 ourishes in the Philippines Ghosts are something of a national obsession in Britain Since World War Two Japan has spawned enormous numbers of new religions featuring the supernatural An estimated 100000 fortunetellers ourish in Japan the clientele are mainly young women Aum Shinrikyo a sect thought to be involved in the release of the nerve gas sarin in the Tokyo subway system in March 1995 features 19 88 THE DEMONHAUNTED WORLD levitation faith healing and ESP among its main tenets Followers at a high price drank the 39miracle pond water from the bath of Asahara their leader In Thailand diseases are treated with pills manufactured from pulverized sacred Scripture Witches are today being burned in South Africa Australian peacekeeping forces in Haiti rescue a woman tied to a tree she is accused of ying from rooftop to rooftop and sucking the blood of children Astrology is rife in India geomancy widespread in China Perhaps the most success il recent global pseudoscience by many criteria already a religion is the Hindu doctrine of transcendental meditation TM The soporific homilies of its founder and spiritual leader the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi can be seen on television in America Seated in the yogi position his white hair here and there ecked with black surrounded by garlands and oral offerings he has a look One day while channel sur ng we came upon this visage You know who that is asked our fouryearold son God The worldwide TM organization has an estimated valuation of 3 billion For a fee they promise through meditation to be able to walk you through walls to make you invisible to enable you to y By thinking in unison they have they say diminished the crime rate in Washing ton DC and caused the collapse of the Soviet Union among other secular miracles Not one smattering of real evidence has been offered for any such claims TM sells folk medicine runs trading companies medical clinics and 39research39 universities and has unsuccess illy entered politics In its oddly charismatic leader its promise of community and the offer of magical powers in exchange for money and fervent belief it is typical of many pseudosciences marketed for sacerdotal export At each relinquishing of civil controls and scienti c education another little spurt in pseudoscience occurs Leon Trotsky described it for Germany on the eve of the Hitler takeover but in a description that might equally have applied to the Soviet Union of 1933 Not only in peasant homes but also in city skyscrapers there lives alongside the twentieth century the thirteenth A hun dred million people use electricity and still believe in the 20 89 The Most Precious Thing magic powers of signs and exorcisms Movie stars go to mediums Aviators who pilot miraculous mechanisms created by man39s genius wear amulets on their sweaters What inexhaustible reserves they possess of darkness ignorance and savagery Russia is an instructive case Under the Tsars religious supersti tion was encouraged but scienti c and sceptical thinking except by a few tame scientists was ruthlessly expunged Under Communism both religion and pseudoscience were systematically suppressed except for the superstition of the state ideological religion It was advertised as scienti c but fell as far short of this ideal as the most unselfcritical mystery cult Critical thinking except by scientists in hermetically sealed compartments of know ledge was recognized as dangerous was not taught in the schools and was punished where expressed As a result post Communism many Russians view science with suspicion When the lid was lifted as was also true of virulent ethnic hatreds what had all along been bubbling subsurface was exposed to view The region is now awash in UFOs poltergeists faith healers quack medicines magic waters and oldtime superstition A stunning decline in life expectancy increasing infant mortality rampant epidemic disease subminimal medical standards and ignorance of preventive medicine all work to raise the threshold at which scepticism is triggered in an increasingly desperate population As I write the electorally most popular member of the Duma a leading supporter of the ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky is one Anatoly Kashpirovsky a faith healer who remotely cures diseases ranging from hernias to AIDS by glaring at you out of your television set His face starts stopped clocks A somewhat analogous situation exists in China After the death of Mao Zedong and the gradual emergence of a market economy UFOs channelling and other examples of Western pseudoscience emerged along with such ancient Chinese practices as ancestor worship astrology and fortune telling especially that version that involves throwing yarrow sticks and working through the hoary tetragrams of the I Ching The government newspaper lamented that the superstition of feudal ideology is reviving in our 21 90 THE DEMONHAUNTED WORLD countryside It was and remains a rural not primarily an urban af iction Individuals with 39special powers gained enormous follow ings They could they said project Qi the 39energy field of the Universe out oftheir bodies to change the molecular structure of a chemical 2000 kilometres away to communicate with aliens to cure diseases Some patients died under the ministra tions of one ofthese masters of Qi Gong who was arrested and convicted in 1993 Wang Hongcheng an amateur chemist claimed to have synthesized a liquid small amounts of which when added to water would convert it to gasoline or the equivalent For a time he was funded by the army and the secret police but when his invention was found to be a scam he was arrested and imprisoned Naturally the story spread that his misfortune resulted not from fraud but from his unwillingness to reveal his secret formula to the government Similar stories have circulated in America for decades usually with the government role replaced by a major oil or auto company Asian rhinos are being driven to extinction because their horns when pulverized are said to prevent impotence the market encompasses all of East Asia The government of China and the Chinese Communist Party were alarmed by certain of these developments On 5 December 1994 they issued a joint proclamation that read in part Public education in science has been withering in recent years At the same time activities of superstition and igno rance have been growing and antiscience and pseudoscience cases have become frequent Therefore effective measures must be applied as soon as possible to strengthen public education in science The level of public education in science and technology is an important sign of the national scientific accomplishment It is a matter of overall importance in economic development scienti c advance and the progress of society We must be attentive and implement such public education as part of the strategy to modernize our socialist country and to make our nation powerful and prosperous Ignorance is never socialist nor is poverty 22 91 The Most Precious Thing So pseudoscience in America is part of a global trend Its causes dangers diagnosis and treatment are likely to be similar every where Here psychics ply their wares on extended television commercials personally endorsed by entertainers They have their own channel the 39Psychic Friends Network a million people a year sign on and use such guidance in their everyday lives For the chief executives of major corporations for nancial analysts for lawyers and bankers there is a species of astrologer soothsayerpsychic ready to advise on any matter If people knew how many people especially the very rich and powerful ones went to psychics their jaws would drop through the oor says a psychic from Cleveland Ohio Royalty has traditionally been vulnerable to psychic frauds In ancient China and Rome astrol ogy was the exclusive property of the emperor any private use of this potent art was considered a capital offence Emerging from a particularly credulous Southern California culture Nancy and Ronald Reagan relied on an astrologer in private and public matters unknown to the voting public Some portion of the decisionmaking that in uences the future of our civilization is plainly in the hands of charlatans If anything the practice is comparatively muted in America its venue is worldwide As amusing as some of pseudoscience may seem as confident as we may be that we would never be so gullible as to be swept up by such a doctrine we know it39s happening all around us Transcen dental meditation and Aum Shinrikyo seem to have attracted a large number of accomplished people some with advanced degrees in physics or engineering These are not doctrines for nitwits Something else is going on What39s more no one interested in what religions are and how they begin can ignore them While vast barriers may seem to stretch between a local singlefocus contention of pseudoscience and something like a world religion the partitions are very thin The world presents us with nearly insurmountable problems A wide variety of solutions are offered some of very limited worldview some of portentous sweep In the usual Darwinian natural selection of doctrines some thrive for a time while most quickly vanish But a few sometimes as history has shown the 23 92 THE DEMONHAUNTED WORLD most scruffy and least prepossessing among them may have the power to change profoundly the history of the world The continuum stretching from illpractised science pseudo science and superstition New Age or Old all the way to respectable mystery religion based on revelation is indistinct I try not to use the word 39cult39 in this book in its usual meaning of a religion the speaker dislikes but try to reach for the headstone of knowledge do they really know what they claim to know Everyone it turns out has relevant expertise In certain passages of this book I will be critical of the excesses of theology because at the extremes it is dif cult to distinguish pseudoscience from rigid doctrinaire religion Nevertheless I want to acknowledge at the outset the prodigious diversity and complexity of religious thought and practice over the millennia the growth of liberal religion and ecumenical fellowship during the last century and the fact that as in the Protestant Reformation the rise of Reform Judaism Vatican II and the socalled higher criticism of the Bible religion has fought with varying degrees of success its own excesses But in parallel to the many scientists who seem reluctant to debate or even publicly discuss pseudo science many proponents of mainstream religions are reluctant to take on extreme conservatives and fundamentalists If the trend continues eventually the eld is theirs they can win the debate by default One religious leader writes to me of his longing for disciplined integrity in religion We have grown far too sentimental Devotionalism and cheap psychology on one side and arrogance and dogmatic intolerance on the other distort authentic religious life almost beyond recognition Sometimes I come close to despair but then I live tenaciously and always with hope Honest religion more familiar than its critics with the distortions and absurdities perpetrated in its name has an active interest in encouraging a healthy skepticism for its own purposes There is the possibility for religion and science to forge a potent partnership against pseudoscience Strangely I think it would soon be engaged also in opposing pseudoreligion 93 The Most Precious Thing Pseudoscience differs from erroneous science Science thrives on errors cutting them away one by one False conclusions are drawn all the time but they are drawn tentatively Hypotheses are framed so they are capable of being disproved A succession of alternative hypotheses is confronted by experiment and observa tion Science gropes and staggers toward improved understand ing Proprietary feelings are of course offended when a scienti c hypothesis is disproved but such disproofs are recognized as central to the scientific enterprise Pseudoscience is just the opposite Hypotheses are often framed precisely so they are invulnerable to any experiment that offers a prospect of disproo so even in principle they cannot be invalidated Practitioners are defensive and wary Sceptical scrutiny is opposed When the pseudoscienti c hypothesis fails to catch fire with scien tists conspiracies to suppress it are deduced Motor ability in healthy people is almost perfect We rarely stumble and fall except in young and old age We can learn tasks such as riding a bicycle or skating or skipping jumping rope or driving a car and retain that mastery for the rest of our lives Even if we39ve gone a decade without doing it it comes back to us effortlessly The precision and retention of our motor skills may however give us a false sense of confidence in our other talents Our perceptions are fallible We sometimes see what isn39t there We are prey to optical illusions Occasionally we hallucinate We are errorprone A most illuminating book called How We Know What Isn39t S0 The Fallibilily of Human Reason in Everyday Life by Thomas Gilovich shows how people systematically err in understanding numbers in rejecting unpleasant evidence in being in uenced by the opinions of others We39re good in some things but not in everything Wisdom lies in understanding our limitations 39For Man is a giddy thing teaches William Shakespeare That39s where the stuffy sceptical rigour of science comes in Perhaps the sharpest distinction between science and pseudo science is that science has a far keener appreciation of human imperfections and fallibility than does pseudoscience or 39inerrant39 revelation If we resolutely re ise to acknowledge where we are liable to fall into error then we can confidently expect that error even serious error profound mistakes will be our companion 25 94 THE DEMONHAUNTED WORLD forever But if we are capable of a little courageous self assessment whatever rue il re ections they may engender our chances improve enormously If we teach only the ndings and products of science no matter how use il and even inspiring they may be without communicat ing its critical method how can the average person possibly distinguish science from pseudoscience Both then are presented as unsupported assertion In Russia and China it used to be easy Authoritative science was what the authorities taught The distinc tion between science and pseudoscience was made for you No perplexities needed to be muddled through But when profound political changes occurred and strictures on free thought were loosened a host of confident or charismatic claims especially those that told us what we wanted to hear gained a vast following Every notion however improbable became authorita tive It is a supreme challenge for the popularizer of science to make clear the actual tortuous history of its great discoveries and the misapprehensions and occasional stubborn refusal by its practi tioners to change course Many perhaps most science textbooks for budding scientists tread lightly here It is enormously easier to present in an appealing way the wisdom distilled from centuries of patient and collective interrogation of Nature than to detail the messy distillation apparatus The method of science as stodgy and grumpy as it may seem is far more important than the findings of science 26 95 FOUR RelativismTruth and Reality There is nothing so l E GIVE YOU A PARAlBlE powerful as 39 39 and often nothing 1 so stitangei DAE3i LWEBSTER l3oL1r rr1en came upon a duck 0r what seemed a ClUCl quotlt quacks like a duck lt waddles like a cluck lt395 a cluClltll said the first man quotTo you itls a Cluck but to me it39s not a duck llor we each create QUIT dwn iArealityquot said the szeceimcl man quotln your society it may be a d39uCllt but in mine it39s not re ality is socially constructedquot said the third than quotYour Concepmal gihnheniel may classify as a Cl1icl but 39 mine dQe n39th ereality is c0mtitlLIte3id conceptual sche iesquot sai dy 0 l6iiI39ltlh 0 CllSlClJ si0n may seem IQ be a Strange me but you may have engagecl in Such a discussion yovurself Have you 96 ever been told quotWhat39s true for you isn39t true for mequot lf so you have come face toface with the problem of relativism The problem is this Does reality exist independently of our ways of representing it or do individuals societies or conceptual schemes create their own realities by representing it in different ways Those who accept the first alter native are called quotexternal realistsquot or realistsquot for short because they do not believe that reality depends on our thoughts about it Those who accept the second alternative are called quotrelativistsquot because they believe that the way the world is depends on what we think about it To say that reality exists independently of how we represent it to ourselves is not to say that there is one correct way to represent it Re ality can be represented in many different ways just as a territory can be mapped in many different ways Consider for example road maps topographical maps and relief maps These maps use different sym bols to represent different aspects of the terrain and the symbols that appear on one map may not appear on another Nevertheless it makes no sense to say that one of these maps is the correct map Each can provide an accurate representation of the territory Relativism is appealing to many people because they incorrectly assume that realism entails absolutism the view that there is only one correct way to represent reality As Alan Bloom reveals There is one thing a professor can be absolutely certain of almost every student entering the university believes that truth is relative The relativity of truth is not a theoretical insight but a moral postu late the condition of a free society or so they see it That it is a moral issue for students is revealed by the character of their response when challenged a combination of disbelief and indignation quotAre you an absolutistquot the only alternative they know uttered in the same tone as quotAre you a monarchistquot or quotDo you really believe in witches Absolutism is considered morally objectionable because it leads to intolerance After all weren39t all persecutions in history perpetrated by those who believed in objective reality and knew that their view of it was the correct one Relativism on the other hand is supposed to foster tolerance implying that different views are entitled to equal re spect because they39re equally true We have seen that relativists are wrong in assuming that realism implies absolutism From the fact that reality exists independently of our representations of it it doesn39t follow that there is one correct way to represent reality It remains to be seen whether they are correct in assuming that relativism fosters tolerance To evaluate that claim we39ll have to take a closer look at the various types of relativism As scarce as truth is the supply has always been in excess of the demand JosH BILLINGS RELATIVISM TRUTH AND REALITY 89 97 The mind does not create what it per ceives any more than the eye creates the rose RALPH WALDO EMERSON WE EACH CREATE OUR OWN REALITY The view of the second man is that we each create our own reality Many people past and present have embraced this idea and thought it both liberating and profound Actress Shirley MacLaine for ex ample declared in the introduction to her book Out on a Limh If my search for inner truth helps give you the reader the gift of in sight then I am rewarded But my first reward has been the journey through myself the only journey worth taking Through it all I have learned one deep and meaningful lesson LIFE LIVES and REALITY are only what we each perceive them to be Life doesn39t happen to us We make it happen Reality isn t separate from us We are creating our reality every moment of the day For me that truth is the ultimate freedom and the ultimate responsibility Later to the amazement of her friends she followed this claim to its logical conclusion to solipsism the idea that quotI alone existquot and create all of reality In Its All in the Playing she tells how she scan dalized guests at a New Year39s Eve party when she expressed solipsis tic sentiments I began by saying that since I realized I created my own reality in every way I must therefore admit that in essence Iwas the only person alive in my universe I could feel the instant shock waves undulate around the table I went on to express my feeling of total responsibility and power for all events that occur in the world because the world is hap pening only in my reality And human beings feeling pain terror de pression panic and so forth were really only aspects of pain terror depression panic and so on in me I knew I had created the reality of the evening news at night It was my reality But whether anyone else was experiencing the news separately from me was unclear because they existed in my reality too And if they reacted to world events then I was creating them to react so I would have someone to interact with thereby enabling myself to know me better3 In 1970 long before MacLaine spoke of creating reality a book called The Seth Material was published It was to be one of many best sellers based on the words of a putative entity named Seth a person ality quotno longer focused in physical realityquot and quotchanneledquot by novelist lane Roberts A major theme of the book is that physical re ality is our own creation Seth says that we form the physical universe as unselfconsciously as we breathe We aren39t to think of it as a prison from which we will one day escape or as an execution chamber from which all escape is impossible Instead weform matter in order to operate in three 90 FOUR RELATIVISMTRUTHAND REALITY 98 dimensional reality develop our abilities and help others Without realizing it we project our ideas outward to form physical reality Our bodies are the materialization of what we think we are We are all creators then and this world is our creation4 So do we each make physical reality At one time biologist Ted Schultz was attracted to this idea but soon came to have doubts about it I began to wonder about the logical extensions of quotconsensus realityquot personal realityquot and the power of belief Supposing a schizophrenic was totally convinced that he could fly Could he If so why weren t there frequent reports from mental institutions of miracles performed by the inmates What about large groups of people like the Jehovah39s Witnesses who devoutly believed that Jesus would return on a partic ular day Hadn39t he failed to appear twice in that religions history in 1914 and 1975 forcing the faithful to reset the dates What if the inhabitants of some other solar system believed astronomical physics to work differently than we believe they do on earth Could both be true at the same time If not which would the universe align itself with Does the large number of Catholics on earth make the Catholic Cod and saints a reality Should I worry about the conse quences of denying the Catholic faith Before Columbus was the earth really flat because everyone believed it to be Did it only quotbe comequot round after the consensus opinion changed5 What could be more appealing than the notion that if we just be lieve in something it will become true Just the same as Schultz in dicates there are serious problems with the idea that belief alone can transfigure reality For one thing it involves a logical contradiction If it39s true that our beliefs can alter reality then what happens when different people have opposing beliefs Let39s say that person A be lieves p a statement about reality and 1 therefore becomes true Per son B however believes notp and it becomes true We would then have the same state of affairs both existing and not existing simulta neously a logical impossibility What if A believes that all known terrorists are dead and B believes that they39re not dead What if A be lieves that the Earth is round and B believes it39s flat Since the suppo sition that our beliefs create reality leads to a logical contradiction we must conclude that reality is independent of our beliefs Solipsists can avoid this problem because in their view there is only one person in the world and hence only one person doing the believing But is it reasonable to believe that there is only one person in the world and that that person creates everything there is by merely thinking about it Consider your own experience The truth is not only stranger than you imagine it is stronger than you can imagine J B S HALDANE WE EACH CREATE OUR OWN REALITY P g 99 Th e Crime of Gabriel Gale a I l r A number of writers have wrestled with the problem of solipsism According to science writer Martin Gardner none have expressed this struggle quite as eloquently as author C K Chesterton Although there has never been a sane solip sist the doctrine often haunts young minds C K Chesterton is a case in point ln his autobiography he writes about a period in his youth during which the notion that maybe nothing existed except himself and his own phaneron sense experiences had caused him considerable anguish He later became a realist and there are many places in his writings where he warns against the psychic dangers of solipsistic speculation But nowhere did CK defend his realism with more passionate intensity than in a story called quotThe Crime of Cabriel Cale quot lt can be found in The Poet and the Lumztz39c my fa vorite among CiK39s many collections of mystery stories about detectives other than Father Brown Since this book may be hard to come by here is a brief summary of the story39s plot Gabriel Cale poet artist and detective is accused of a terrible crime lt seems that on a wild and stormy night Cale had thrown a rope around the neck of a young man who was preparing for the Anglican ministry After dragging the poor fellow into a wood Cale pinned him for the night against a tree by forcing the two prongs of a large pitch fork into the trunk on either side of the man39s neck After Cale is arrested for at tempted murder he suggests to the police that they obtain the opinion of his victim The surprising reply conies by telegraph quotCan riever be 5uf ciently grateful to Gale 1 I quot39 39 i 39I quotquot1 for his great kindness which more than saved my life quot it turns out that the young man had been going through the same insane phase that had tormented CK in his youth He was on the verge of believing that his phaneron did not depend on anything that was not en tirely inside his head Gabriel Cale always sensitive to the psychoses of others having felt most of them himself had realized that the man39s mind was near the snapping point Gale39s remedy was radical By pinning the man to the tree he had convinced him not by logic no one is ever convinced by logic of anything important but by an overpow ering experience He found himself firmly bound to something that his mind could in no way modify quotWe are all tied to trees and pinned with pitchforksquot Cale tells the halfcomprehending police quotAnd as long as these are solid we know the stars will stand and the hills will not melt at our word Can39t you imagine the huge tide of healthy relief and thanks like a hymn of praise from all nature that went up from that captive nailed to the tree when he had wrestled till the dawn and received at last the great and glorious news the news that he was only a manquot The story ends when the man now a curate remarks casually to an atheist quotGod wants you to play the game quot quotHow do you know what Cod wantsquot asks the atheist You never were Cod were youquot quotYesquot says the clergyman in a queer voice quotI was God once for about fourteen hours But l gave it up I found it was too IiI39ll l2l39l of a strairiquot395 92 FOUR RELATVISMTRUTHAND REALITY You have a leaking faucet You position a bucket to catch the drops You leave the room When you return the bucket is full of water the sink is over owing and the carpet is soaked Simple events like this and billions of other experiences lead us to believe that causal sequences continue whether we39re experiencing them or not as though they were independent of our minds You open a closet door and surprise books fall on your head The last thing on your mind was Falling books lt39s as though such events were causally connected to something outside our minds You fall asleep on your bed When you awaken the next day everything in the room is just as it was before you drifted off lt s as though your room continued to exist whether you were thinking about it or not You hold a rose in your hand You see it feel it smell it Your senses converge to give you a unified picture of this flower as though it existed independently lf it39s solely a product of your mind this convergence is more difficult to account for Every day of your life you39re aware of a distinction between ex periences that you yourself create like daydreams thoughts imagin ings and those that seem forced on you by an external reality like unpleasant smells loud noises cold wind If there is an independent world this distinction makes sense lf there isn39t and you create your own reality the distinction is mysterious The point is that the existence of an independent world explains our experiences better than any known alternative We have good reason to believe that the world which seems independent of our minds really is We have little if any reason to believe that the world is our minds own creation Science writer Martin Gardner in an essay on solipsism puts the point like this We who of course are not solipsists all believe that other people exist ls it not an astonishing set of coincidences astonishing that is to anyone who doubts an external world that everybody sees es sentially the same phaneron phenomena We walk the same streets of the same cities We find the same buildings at the same locations Two people can see the same spiral galaxy through a telescope Not only that they see the same spiral structure The hypothesis that there is an external world not dependent on human minds made of sometlaing is so obviously useful and so strongly confirmed by experi ence down through the ages that we can say without exaggerating that it is better confirmed than any other empirical hypothesis So useful is the posit that it is almost impossible for anyone except a madman or a professional metaphysician to comprehend a reason for doubting it7 wE EAcH CREATE oun OWN REALITY 93 101 I never know how much of what I say is true BETrE MIDLER Whoever tells the truth is chased out of nine villages TURKISH PROVERB The belief that there is an external reality is more than just a con venient fiction or a dogmatic assumption it is the best explanation of our experience While it39s ludicrous to believe that our minds create external real ity it39s perfectly reasonable to believe that our minds create our beliefs about external reality As we have seen the mind is not merely a pas sive receiver of information but an active manipulator of it In our at tempt to understand and cope with the world each of us forms many different beliefs about it This diversity of belief can be expressed by saying that what39s true for me may not be true for you Different peo ple take different things to be true But taking something to be true doesn39t make it true The view that each of us creates our own reality is known as subjectivism This view is not unique to the twentyfirst century how ever It flourished in ancient Greece over 2500 years ago The ancient champions of subjectivism are known as Sophists They were pro fessors of rhetoric who earned their living by teaching wealthy Athenians how to win friends and influence people Because they did not believe in objective truth however they taught their pupils to argue both sides of any case which created quite a scandal at the time The words sopliistic and soplaistical are used to describe arguments that appear sound but are actually fallacious The greatest of the Sophists Protagoras famously expressed his subjectivism thus quotMan is the measure of all things of existing things that they exist and of nonexisting things that they do not existquot Reality does not exist independently of human minds but is created by our thoughts Consequently whatever anyone believes is true Plato ca 427347 BC saw clearly the implications of such a view If whatever anyone believes is true then everyone39s belief is as true as everyone else39s And if everyone39s belief is as true as everyone else39s then the belief that subjectivism is false is as true as the belief that subjectivism is true Plato put it this way quotProtagoras for his part admitting as he does that everybody39s opinion is true must ac knowledge the truth of his opponents belief about his own belief where they think he is wrong398 Protagorean subjectivism then is self refuting If it39s true it s false Any claim whose truth implies its false hood cannot possibly be true lt39s ironic that Protagoras taught argumentation because in a Protagorean world there shouldn39t be any arguments Arguments arise when there is some reason to believe that someone is mistaken lf be lieving something to be true made it true however no one could ever be mistaken everyone would be infallible It would be impossible for anyone to have a false belief because the mere fact that they believed 94 FOUR RELATVSMTRUTHAND REALITY 102 something would make it true So if Protagoras39s customers took his philosophy seriously he would be out of a job If no one can lose an argument there39s no need to learn how to argue That subjectivism renders disagreement futile often goes unno ticed As Ted Schultz observes Paradoxically many New Agers having demonstrated to their satis faction that objective truth is the unattainable bugaboo of thick headed rationalists often become extremely dogmatic about the minutiae of their own favorite belief systems After all if what is quottrue for youquot isn39t necessarily quottrue for mequot should I really worry about the exact dates and locations of the upcoming geological up heavals predicted by Ramtha or the coming of the quotspace brothersquot in 2012 predicted by Jose Arguellas9 If the New Agers are right no one should worry about such things for if everyone manufactures their own truth no one could ever be in error Much as we might like to be infallible we know that we aren39t Even the most fervently relativistic New Ager must confess that he or she dials a wrong number bets on a losing racehorse or forgets a friend s birthday These admissions reveal that reality is not consti tuted by our beliefs The operative principle here is just because you believe sornethiing to be true doesn t mean that it is lf believing something to be so made it so the world would contain a lot fewer unfulfilled desires unrealized ambitions and unsuccessful projects than it does REALITY IS SOCIALLY CONSTRUCTED The basic idea behind the third man39s claim is that if enough people believe that something is true it literally becomes true for everyone We don39t each create our own separate realities we all live in one reality but we can radically alter this reality for everybody if a suffi cient number of us believe If within our group we can reach a kind of consensus a critical mass of belief then we can change the world Probably the most influential articulation of this idea was a book called The Crack in the COSMIC Egg by Joseph Chilton Pearcelo In it Pearce asserted that people have a hand in shaping physical reality even the laws of physics We can transform the physical world or parts of it if enough of us believe in a new reality If we attain a group con sensus we can change the world any way we want for everyone You may not be com ing from where I m coming from but I know that relativism isn39t true for me ALAN GARFINKEL Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored ALDoUs HUXLEY REALITY IS SOCIALLY CONSTRUCTED 95 103 The iSolltal Hoax New Agers are not the only ones who believe that reality is socially constructed Social con structivists can be found in many literature communications and sociology departments as well Sociologists Bruno Latour and Steve Woolgar for example claim that the molecular structure of thyrotropin releasing factor TRF was socially constructed in the halls and lounges of a laboratory They write It was not simply that TRF was conditioned by social forces rather it was constructed by and constituted through microsocial phe nomena Argument between scientists transforms some statements into figments of one39s subjective imagination and others into facts of nature 1 Latour and Woolgar seem to be saying that scientists possess a particularly powerful form of psychokinesis ln the process of making up their minds they brought the structure of the molecule into existence Latour and Wool gar39s scientific construc tivism is no more plausible than Pearce39s or Watson39s however Not even scientists can make something true by simply believing it to be true To show just how intellectually bank rupt the constructivist position is Alan Sokal a physicist at New Yo p lLlnivriiIy 1 T P n In recent years this extraordinary thesis that if enough people believe in something it suddenly becomes true for everyone has been enormously influential lt got its single biggest boost from the hundredth monkey phenomenon mentioned in Chapter 1 a story told by Lyall Watson in his book Lzfeticle This tale has been told parody of constructivist reasoning entitled Transgressing the Boundaries Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravityquot to a leading constructivist journal Social Text The editors of the journal didn39t rec ognize that it was a parody however even though it was filled with bogus claims that even a freshman physics student should have been able to spot Why did Sokal do it ln an article in Lingua Franca revealing the parody which was reported on the front page of the New York Times Sokal explains While my method was satirical my motiva tion was utterly serious What concerns me is the proliferation not just of nonsense and sloppy thinking per se but of a particular kind of nonsense and sloppy thinking one that denies the existence of objective reali ties or when challenged admits their existence but downplays their practical rele vance At its best a journal like SOCIdl Text raises important issues that no scientist should ignore questions for example about how corporate and government fund ing influence scientific work Unfortunately epistemic relativism does little to further the discussion of these n1atters 392 and retold in a bestselling book by Ken Keyes called The Hundredtla Monkey in a lm with the same name and in several articles Here39s the story Watson tells of reports coming from scientists in the 19505 about wild Japanese monkeys on the island of Koshima 96 FOUR RELATVlSMTRUTHAND REALITY 104 After the monkeys were given raw sweet potatoes for the first time one of the monkeys named lmo learned to wash the sand and grit off the potatoes by dunking them in a stream In the next few years lmo taught this skill to other monkeys in the colony quotThen something ex traordinary took placequot says Watson The details up to this point in the study are clear but one has to gather the rest of the story from personal anecdotes and bits of folk lore among primate researchers because most of them are still not quite sure what happened And those who do suspect the truth are reluctant to publish it for fear of ridicule So I am forced to im provise the details but as near as l can tell this is what seems to have happened ln the autumn of that year 1958 an unspeci ed number of monkeys on Koshima were washing sweet potatoes in the sea because lmo had made the further discovery that salt water not only cleaned the food but gave it an interesting new flavor Let us say for arguments Sake that the number was ninety nine and that at eleven o39clock on a Tuesday morning one further convert was added to the fold in the usual way But the addition of the hundredth monkey apparently carried the number across some sort of threshold pushing it through a kind of critical mass because by the evening almost everyone in the colony was doing it Not only that but the habit seems to have jumped natural barriers and to have appeared spontaneously like glycerin crystals in sealed laboratory jars in colonies on other islands and on the mainland in a troop at Takasakiyamal 3 Watson uses the story to support the consensustruth thesis But you might ask at this point quotIs the story true Did these events really happenquot Many people who retold the story in books and articles never bothered to ask this question If it did happen it would be of enormous scienti c interest But it still wouldn39t constitute proof of the thesis that a critical mass of hu mans can make something true for everyone else For one thing the evidence could easily support alternative hypotheses perhaps the potatowashing habit wasn39t really spread but resulted from inde pendent experimentation and learning by different monkeys in other words other monkeys learned it the way lmo did On the other hand if the story didn39t happen this wouldn39t prove that the consensustruth thesis was false either It would simply mean that one potential piece of empirical evidence that would justify our believing in the thesis was not valid As it turns out the story didn39t happen at least not as told by Watson and others See the accompanying boxes on pages 99 and 102 for a critical evaluation of the Watson story lt is proof of a base and low mind for one to wish to think with the masses or majority merely be cause the majority is the majority Truth does not change be cause it is or is not believed by a major ity of the people GIORDANO BRUNO REALITY IS SOCIALLY CONSTRUCTED f 105 Most men live like raisins in a cake of custom BRAND BLANSHARD The exact contrary of what is generally believed is often the truth EAN DE LA BRUYERE Regardless of the literal truth of Watson39s story though we can still scrutinize his thesis in Lzfeticle he says quotWhen enough of us hold something to be true it becomes true for everyonequot 4 If by this he means that consensus belief by groups of people can literally alter physical reality Pearce s notion he39s mistaken It39s just as implausible to believe that the thoughts of a group of people or monkeys create external reality as it is to believe that the thoughts of an individual person create external reality But it is not at all implausible to believe that social forces influence individual thoughts What we believe is largely a function of the society in which we were brought up For example if we were raised in a Hindu society we may believe that God is an impersonal force If we were raised in a Buddhist society we may believe that there is no God And if we were raised in a Christian society we may believe that God is an immaterial person But the fact that society believes something to be true doesn39t make it true If it did societies would be infallible and we know that s not the case Societies used to believe that the Earth was flat that the sun orbited the Earth and that storms were caused by angry gods In each case society was wrong We must conclude then that just becausequot a group of people believe that something is true doesn39t mean that it is Groups are just as prone to error as individuals are perhaps more so We can39t justify our beliefs by claiming that everyone shares them for everyone may be mistaken To attempt to do so is to commit the fallacy ofappeal to tloe masses What39s more if society were infallible it would be impossible to disagree with society and be correct Since truth is whatever society says it is any claim that society is wrong would have to be false Thus social reformers could never justifiably claim that truth is on their side According to social Constructivism then our founding fathers were deluded in believing that there were truths that applied univer sally to all people regardless of what society they belonged to truths like everyone is created equal everyone has the right to life liberty and the pursuit of happiness and everyone has the right to alter or abolish any government that becomes destructive of these rights If truth is relative to society no such universal truths exist Whatever society says goes Here39s tyranny of the majority with a vengeance But suppose as may well be the case that our society agrees with our founding fathers that not all truth is socially constructed Does 98 FOUR RELATlVISMTRUTHAND REALITY 106 l I l S p tlieuindredth llllclvnlce Lyall Watson a writer specializing in paranor mal topics was the first to tell the hundredth monkey story which seemed to support the idea of paranormal group consciousness The story focuses on a troop of macaques living on islands in Japan and is documented by references to re search reports by Japanese primatologists The story says that the monkeys suddenly and mirac ulously learned the habit of potato washing Surprisingly few people questioned whether Watson39s story ever actually happened Ron Amundson a professor of philosophy did ques tion it He checked to see if Watson39s story accurately reflected what was contained in the research reports He concluded that it did not Here are excerpts from his analysis There was nothing mysterious or even sud den in the events of 1958 Nineteen fifty eight and 1959 were the years of maturation of a group of innovative youngsters The human hippies of the 1960s now know that feeling ln fact 1958 was a singularly poor year for habit acquisition on Koshima Only two monkeys learned to wash potatoes dur ing that year young females named Zabon and Nogi An average of three a year had learned potato washing during the previous five years There is no evidence that Zabon and Nogi were psychic or in any other way unusual Let us try to take Watson seriously for a moment longer Since only two monkeys learned potato washing during 195 8 accord ing to Watson39s own citation one of them must have been the quotl liunclreclth Monkeyquot Watson leaves quot unSpecifiecl quot whiil1 monkey 39 i i ir 107 y Phenomenon 39al I 1 it was so l am quotforced to improvisequot and quotsay for argument39s sakequot that it was Zabon This means that poor little Nogi carries the grim metaphysical burden of being the quotal most everyone in the colonyquot who accord ing to Watson suddenly and miraculously began to wash her potatoes on that autumn afternoon Watson claims that the potatowashing habit quotspontaneouslyquot leaped natural barri ers ls there evidence of this Well Japanese primatologists Masao Kawai and Atsuo Tsumori report that the behavior was ob served off Koshima in at least five different colonies Their reports specifically state that the behavior was observed only among a few individual monkeys and that it had not spread throughout a colony There is no report of when these behaviors occurred They must have been observed sometime between 1953 and 1967 But there is noth ing to indicate that they followed closely upon some supposed miraculous event on Koshirna during the autumn of 1958 or that they were in any other way remarkable ln fact there is absolutely no reason to believe in the 1958 miracle on Koshima There is every reason to deny it Watson39s descrip tion of the event is refuted in great detail by the very sources he cites to validate it in contrast to Watson39s claims of a sudden and inexplicable event quotSuch behavior patterns seem to be smoothly transmitted among individuals in the troop and handed down to the next generationquot according to Tsumori 395 REALITY IS SOCIALLY CONSTRUCTED One must accept the truth from whatever source it comes MAIMoNIDEs The truth may not be helpful but the concealment of it cannot be MELVN KONNER this conclusion mean that social constructivism is false According to the constructivist doctrine it does You see social constructivism faces the same problem that subjectivism does lf every society39s belief is as true as every others then a society39s belief that reality is not socially constructed is also true Just as a subjectivist must recognize the truth of another individuals opposing view so a social constructivist must recognize the truth of another society39s opposing view Social constructivists would have us believe that no one can le gitimately criticize another society As long as a society is acting on what it believes to be true no one can defensibly claim that what it39s doing is wrong Suppose for example that during World War ll the German people agreed with the Nazis that the Jews were a plague on humankind and needed to be eradicated lf so then according to so cial Constructivism the Holocaust was justified Since the Nazis were acting on what their society believed to be true they were doing the right thing Like Protagoras social constructivists have to consider the Nazis view as true as everyone else39s If you disagree if you believe that the Nazis were wrong even if they had the support of the German people then you can39t be a social constructivist for you have admitted that society can be mis taken Given the history of civilization such a conclusion seems un avoidable Society has been wrong about many things that kings have a divine right to rule that letting blood cures disease or that women are inferior to men just to name a few So the doctrine of social con structivism has little to recommend it Since social constructivism holds that what makes a proposition true is that society believes it to be true it follows that whenever in dividuals disagree about the truth of a proposition what they must re ally disagree about is whether their society believes it or not But are all our disputes really about what society believes Suppose we dis agree about whether the universe contains black holes Can we really resolve this dispute by simply polling the members of our society Of course not Even disagreements about the truth of various moral prin ciples can39t be settled by opinion surveys Whether abortion is morally justified for example can39t be determined by simply canvassing the populace So truth must be more than just social consensus Even if truth were manufactured by society it wouldn39t be any eas ier to find for there is no single society to which each of us clearly be longs Suppose for example that you were a black Jewish communist living in Bavaria during the 19405 Which would be your real soci ety The blacks The Jews The communists The Bavarians Unfor tunately there is no way to answer this question because we all belong to a number of different societies none of which can claim to be our I00 FOUR RELATIVlSMTRUTHAND REALITY 108 real society So not only is social constructivism not a very reasonable theory it39s not a very useful one either REALITY IS CONSTITUTED BY CONCEPTUAL SCHEMES Common sense tells us that neither individuals nor societies are infal lible Both can believe things that are false and something can be true even if no individual or society has ever believed it To preserve these insights some relativists like the fourth man have claimed that truth is relative not to individuals or societies but to conceptual schemes A conceptual scheme is a set of concepts for classifying objects These concepts provide categories into which the items of our experience can be placed Just as the post office uses pigeonholes to sort mail into deliverable piles so we use conceptual schemes to sort things into meaningful groups Different people may sort things differently how ever One person may believe that an item falls under one concept while someone else may believe that it falls under another So even though two people share the same concepts they may apply them differently 16 To account for individual and social fallibility the conceptual rel ativist must maintain that simply believing something to fall under a certain concept isn39t enough to make it so There must be a fact of the matter as to how it should be classified and that fact can39t be deter mined solely by belief What then is it determined by According to the conceptual relativist it is determined at least in part by the world So the conceptual relativist must admit that the world plays a role in determining what39s true 7 Although the world constrains the truth conceptual relativists do not believe that the world uniquely determines the truth for in their view there is no one way that the world is Rather different concep tual schemes create different worlds For the conceptual relativist the relationship between conceptual schemes and the world is analogous to that of a cookie cutter and cookie dough Just as cookie dough takes on whatever shape is im parted to it by a cookie cutter so the world takes on whatever prop erties are imputed to it by a conceptual scheme The world has some properties that are not affected by the conceptual scheme just as the dough has some properties that are not affected by the cookie cutter These properties allow the conceptual relativist to account for mis taken classifications Nevertheless in an important sense the world is a product of a conceptual scheme As philosopher Nelson Goodman puts it conceptual schemes are ways of making worldsl8 So people with different conceptual schemes live in different worlds Truth has no special time of its own Its hour is now aways ALBERT SCHWEITZER REALITY IS CONSTITUTED BY CONCEPTUAL SCHEMES P 109 E Jquot39ilwiekE ua ieE On Good Myth and Bad Myth Psychologist Maureen O39Hara was the first to publish a skeptical analysis of Lyall Watson39s hundredthmonkey story of a paranormal criti cal mass of consciousness She39s aware that many people have embraced the tale as a sig ni cant myth She acknowledges the impor tance of myth in our lives but contends that as a myth the Watson story is quotprofoundly non humanisticquot and a quotbetrayal of the whole idea of human empowermentquot There are major contradictions in the pres ent idealization of critical mass seen not only in the Hundredth Monkey story but in the ideologies of such organizations as est Bhagwan Rajneesh and the Aquarian con spiratorsquot In promoting the idea that al though our ideas are shared by only an enlightened few for the time being if we really believe them in some magical way what we hold to be true becomes true for everyone proponents of the critical mass ideal ignore the principles of both human ism and democratic open society The basis for openness in our kind of society is the belief that for good or ill each of us holds his or her own beliefs as a responsible par ticipant in a pluralistic culture Are we really willing to give up on this ideal and promote instead a monolithic ideology in which what is true for a quotcritical massquot of people becomes true for everyone The idea gives me the willies My objection to the lquotl UnlI tClIl1 Monkey Phenomenon tlien is not that it is iii rniyth but that it is bad myth and that it draws its force not from the collective imagination but by masquerading as science lt leads us as l have tried to show in the direction of propaganda manipulation totalitarianism and a worldview dominated by the power ful and persuasive in other words busi ness as usual I most emphatically cannot agree that the quotHundredth Monkey myth empowers quot ln fact I believe it to be a betrayal of the whole idea of human empowerment In this myth the individual as a responsible agent disappears what empowers is no longer the moral force of one39s beliefs not their empiri cal status rather it is the number of people who share them Once the magic number is reached curiosity science art criticism doubt and all other such activities subver sive of the common consensus become un necessary or even worse lndividuals no longer have any obligation to develop their own worldview within such a collective it will come to them from those around Nor are we called on to develop our argu ments and articulate them for by magic those around us will catch them anyway This is not a transformation myth impelling us toward the fullest development of our capacities but one that reduces us instead to quite literally nothing more than a mind less herd at the mercy of the Great Com municatorsquot The myth of the Hundredth Monkey Phenomenon is niore chillingly Orwellian than Aquarian399 II1 MHe Z quot 39 quot LL 11 2as5 lgquot u fu 0 Z lg T E i One of the most influential proponents of this view is philoso pher and historian Thomas Kuhn His preferred term for a conceptual scheme is paradigm In his text The Structure of Scienti c Revolutions see Chapter 2 Kuhn uses the word paradigm to refer to particular scien tific theories as well as the concepts methods and standards used to I02 FOUR RELATVlSMTRUTHAND REALITY arrive at those theories Paradigms tell scientists what39s real and how to go about investigating reality They indicate what sorts of puzzles are worth solving and what sorts of methods will solve them Normal science says Kuhn involves trying to solve the puzzles generated by a paradigm Good theories make predictions that go be yond the data they were intended to explain Scientists investigate these predictions to see if they are borne out by the facts lf not they have a puzzle on their hands Scientists try to solve these puzzles by utilizing the conceptual resources provided by the paradigm But sometimes no solution can be found ln that case the scienti c com munity enters a state of crisis and begins to look for a new paradigm that would explain the anomaly When such a paradigm is found the scientific community undergoes what Kuhn calls a paradigm shift Since paradigms de ne reality undergoing a paradigm shift is like being transported to an alien universe Kuhn describes it this way Examining the record of past research from the vantage of contemporary historiography the historian of science may be tempted to exclaim that when paradigms change the world itself changes with them Led by a new paradigm scientists adopt new instruments and look in new places Even more important during revolutions scientists see new and different things when looking with familiar instruments in places they have looked before lt is rather as if the professional community had been suddenly transported to another planet where familiar objects are seen in a different light and are joined by unfamiliar ones as well Of course nothing of quite that sort does occur there is no geographical transplan tation outside the laboratory everyday affairs usually continue as before Nevertheless paradigm changes do cause scientists to see the world of their research engagement differently In so far as their only recourse to that world is through what they see and do we may want to say that after a revolution scientists are responding to a different world In Kuhn s view scientists don39t discover reality they invent it There is no way the world is for each paradigm makes its own world ls this theory plausible Let39s examine some of the implications of this view The assumption behind the view that different paradigms create different worlds is that all observation is theory laden What we ob serve says Kuhn is determined by the theory we accept For ex ample those who believe that the Earth is the center of the solar system see a sunrise very differently from those who believe that the sun is the center of the solar system Because each paradigm manu factures its own data there are no neutral data that can be used to make objective comparisons between paradigms As a result no para digm can be considered to be objectively better than any other A harmful truth is better than a use ful lie THoMAs MANN REALITY IS CONSTITUTED BY CONCEPTUAL SCHEMES I03 111 Facts are facts and will not disappear on account of your likes I04 AWAHARLAL NEHRU Even if we grant that all observation is theory laden however it doesn39t follow that there are no paradigmneutral data because two paradigms may share some theories in common For example propo nents of the geocentric Earthcentered view of the solar system as well as those of the heliocentric suncentered view could agree that during a sunrise the perceived distance between the sun and the hori zon gets larger They could also agree on other observationally rele vant theories like the theory of the telescope the compass and the sextant So the dependence of data on theory doesn39t rule out objec tive comparisons between paradigms What39s more there is reason to believe that at least some ob servations are not theory laden If our paradigm determined every thing that we observed then it would be impossible to observe anything that didn39t fit our paradigm But if we never observed any thing that didn39t fit our paradigm if we never perceived any anom alies there would never be any need to undergo a paradigm shift So Kuhn39s theory undermines itself if we accept his theory of ob servation we must reject his history of science Neurophysiological research into the nature of perception pro vides further reason for believing that not all observation is theory laden Psychologist Edward Hundert explains lf someone loses the primary visual cortex say because of a tumor they lose their vision they go almost totally blind But if they just lose the secondary or tertiary visual cortex they manifest an unusual condition called visual agnosia In this Condition visual acuity is nor mal the person could correctly identify the orientation of the quotE39squot on the eye chart But they lose the ability to identify name or match even simple objects in any part of their visual field This model can be translated into psychological terms as endorsing a functional distinction between quotperceptionquot input analysis and quotcognitionquot central processing It is easy to see the evolutionary advantage of this whole scheme with its quotupwardquot input analysis if our transducers were hooked di rectly to our central systems we would spend most of our time seeing hearing etc the world the way we remember believe or expect the world to be The recognition of novelty of unexpected stimuli has extremely obvious evolutionary advantage and is made possible only by the separation of transducers and central systems by quotdumbquot input analyzers If all observation were theory laden we would never be able to ob serve anything new Since we can observe new things some observa tions must be theory free Hundert suggests that there are two types of observation recognition and discrimination Recognition may in FOUR RELATIVISM TRUTH AND REALITY 112 volve the use of theory but discrimination does not By keeping these two f1lI1CllOl 1S separate the brain allows us to deal with the unex pected Access to an objective reality then seems to be a necessary condition of survival lt also seems to be a necessary condition of communication If the world really was constituted by conceptual schemes it would be dif ficult to account for the fact that people with different conceptual schemes can understand and communicate with one another Philoso pher Roger Trigg explains The result of granting that quotthe worldquot or realityquot cannot be conceived as independent of all conceptual schemes is that there is no reason to suppose that what the peoples of very different communities see as the world is similar in any way Unfortunately however this supposition is absolutely necessary before any translation or comparison between languages of different societies can take place Without it the situation would be like one where the inhabitants of two planets which differed fundamentally in their nature met each other and tried to communi cate So few things if any would be matters of common experience that their respective languages would hardly ever run parallel Because translation is possible among all the different conceptual schemes we know of the world must not be constituted by concep tual schemes Translation requires a common point of reference Consequently some people argue that the very notion of an alternate conceptual scheme makes no sense Philosopher Donald Davidson for example claims that if we can translate an alien39s utterances into our own our conceptual schemes must be essentially the same And if we can39t translate their utterances we have no reason to suppose that they even have a conceptual scheme As long as we don39t consider truth to be relative to conceptual schemes however we do not need to reject the notion of alternate conceptual schemes Without getting too technical we can say that people who use different concepts have different conceptual schemes We can even say that people with different conceptual schemes expe rience the world in different ways What we can39t say is that people with different conceptual schemes live in different worlds because that statement generates all the problems already discussed Different conceptual schemes represent the world differently they don39t create different worlds Instead of viewing conceptual schemes as cookie cutters we can view them as maps A territory as mentioned earlier can be mapped in many different ways and each map provided that it is an accurate Reality is that which when you stop be Iieving in it doesn t go away PHILIP K DICK REALITY IS CONSTITUTED BY CONCEPTUAL SCHEMES 113 All generalizations are dangerous even this one I06 ALEXANDRE DUMAS FILS one can be considered true Each science for example can be con sidered a different map of reality The map provided by biology may contain very few of the concepts contained in the map provided by physics just as a topographical map may contain very few of the sym bols contained in a road map But both biology and physics can be considered to be maps of the same reality just as topographical and road maps can be considered maps of the same territory and both can be considered to be true Whether you consult a biologist or a physi cist will depend on what you want to do just as whether you con sult a topographical or a road map will depend on where you want to go Different theories like different maps are good for different things So there is no one best theory just as there is no one best map What we must not forget is that as mathematician Alfred Korzybski famously noted quotthe map is not the territ0ryquot24 People using differ ent maps are not necessarily traversing different territories and con trary to what Kuhn seems to suggest changing the map we39re using doesn39t change the territory we39re traversing The territory is what it is and is not affected by our representations of it THE RELATVST S PETARD The considerations presented in this chapter weigh heavily against relativism But the most serious flaw of relativism in all its forms is a purely logical one It39s self refuting because its truth implies its falsity According to the relativist whether a subjectivist a social con structivist or a conceptual relativist everything is relative To say that everything is relative is to say that no unrestricted universal gen eralizations are true an unrestricted universal generalization is a state ment to the effect that something holds for all individuals societies or conceptual schemes But the statement quotNo unrestricted universal generalizations are truequot is itself an unrestricted universal generaliza tion So if relativism in any of its forms is true it39s false As a result it cannot possibly be true To avoid such selfcontradiction the relativist may try to claim that the statement quotEverything is relativequot is only relatively true But this claim won39t help because it just says that relativists or their soci ety or their Conceptual scheme take relativism to be true Such a claim should not give the nonrelativist pause for the fact that relativists take relativism to be true is not in question The question is whether a non relativist should take relativism to be true Only if relativists can pro vide objective evidence that relativism is true should a nonrelativist believe that it39s true But this evidence is precisely the kind that rela tivists can39t provide for in their view there is no objective evidence FOUR RELATIVISM TRUTH AND REALITY 114 Relativists then face a dilemma If they interpret their theory ob jectively they defeat themselves by providing evidence against it lf they interpret their theory relativistically they defeat themselves by failing to provide any evidence for it Either way relativists defeat themselves Philosopher Harvey Siegel describes the dilemma this way First the framework relativist must in order to join the issue with the nonrelativist defend framework relativism non relativistically To quotdefendquot framework relativism relativistically ie according to my framework framework relativism is true correct warranted etcquot is to fail to defend it since the non relativist is appropriately unim pressed with such frameworkbound claims But to defend framework relativism nonrelativistically is to give it up since to defend it in this way is to acknowledge the legitimacy of frameworkneutral criteria of assessment of claims which is precisely what the framework relativist must deny Thus to defend framework relativism relativistically is to fail to defend it to defend it nonrelativistically is to give it up Thus framework relativism is selfdefeating And anything that is self defeating cannot be true The problem with relativists is that they want to have their cake and eat it too On the one hand they want to say that they or their society or conceptual scheme is the supreme authority on matters of truth But on the other hand they want to say that other individuals societies or conceptual schemes are equally authoritative Relativists can39t have it both ways As philosopher W V O Quine explains Truth says the cultural relativist is culturebound But if it were then he within his own culture ought to see his own culturebound truth as absolute He cannot proclaim cultural relativism without rising above it and he cannot rise above it without giving it up26 lf individual social or conceptual relativism were true there would be no standpoint outside yourself your society or your conceptual scheme from which to make valid judgments But if there were no such standpoint you would have no grounds for thinking that relativism is true ln proclaiming that truth is relative quotthen relativists hoist them selves on their own petard they blow themselves up so to speak FACING REALITY The arguments presented in the previous section indicate that truth isn39t relative to individuals societies or conceptual schemes Belief can be relative because different individuals societies and conceptual One must accept the truth from whatever source it comes MAIMoNDEs FACING REALITY I07 115 The truth may not be helpful but the concealment of it cannot be MELvIN KONNER schemes often have different beliefs But the existence of relative be liefs doesn39t mean that truth is relative for as we39ve seen you can39t make something true by simply believing it to be true The upshot then is that quotlliliere is an external reality that is ilnd39ependenit 39 39 T of our represe2ntations of it ln other words there is a way that the world is We can represent the world to ourselves in many different ways but that which is being represented is the same for all of us The concept of objective reality is not optional something we can take or leave Each time we assert that something is the case or we think that something is a certain way we assume that there is objec tive reality Each time relativists deny objective reality they entangle themselves in selfrefutation and contradictions ln the very argument over the existence of objective reality both those who accept it and those who deny it must assume it or the argument would never get off the ground quotBut waitquot you say quotStill there must be some things that are true for me and not true for you If I say that I hate opera isn39t that state ment true for me If I love Bart Simpson have a pain in my left leg or am bored silly by discussions of politics aren39t these assertions true for mequot Clearly there are things about ourselves that are relative that are a certain way to us and a different way to others Personal charac teristics peculiarities of psychology and physiology are relative to persons Jane likes pizza but lack doesn39t Jane has a mole on her nose and Jack doesn39t The effects that anything might have on a per son are also relative to that person Jane is intrigued by quantum me chanics but lack isn39t loud music gives lane a headache but notlack Certain states of affairs then may be relative to individuals But tloe trutlo about tlaose states of a airs isn39t relative Let39s say that Jane loves white wine andjack doesn39t On their first dinner date lane says quotI love white winequot ls Jane s statement true for her but not true for Jack No Her statement reports a fact about herself and because she does love white wine her statement is true It39s not true for her and false for Jack it39s just true If lack says quotI don39t love white winequot his statement refers to a fact about himself and is also true for both of them ln each statement the quotlquot refers to a different person and so the statements correctly report on different states of affairs Now we can consider the question raised at the beginning of this chapter Does realism lead to intolerance and arrogance The answer I08 FOUR RELATIVlSMTRUTHAND REALITY 116 is no The realist believes that when there s disagreement it39s theoret ically possible to determine the truth through rational argument After all if there is a way that things are then the only way to resolve dis putes is by appeal to the way things are But as Trigg points out there is no reason why someone who believes that basic disagreement can admit of solution firstly should arrogantly assume that he himself has a monopoly of truth and secondly should then make others ac cept his views by force The mere fact that a disagreement is capable of solution does not of itself suggest which side is right When two sides contradict each other whether in the fields of morality religion or any other area each will recognize if they are objectivists that at least one side must be mistaken There need be no contradiction be tween strongly believing that one is right and yet realizing that one could be wrong Arrogance is not entailed by any objectivist theory True realists might indeed be tempted to force their views on others But so might relativists Relativists might use force to get a person to agree with them because they have no other recourse After all relativists can39t persuade anyone by appealing to objective stan dards or using rational argument Since relativists don39t believe that39s possible if they want to persuade someone what is left besides force and manipulation Certainly dogmatism isn39t ruled out by relativism lt crops up among relativists just as it does among some realists It39s apparent for example among some people who have espoused New Age subjec tivism So relativism doesn39t entail tolerance any more than realism entails intolerance Also relativists who do embrace the virtue of tolerance once again get themselves stuck in contradictions Is their statement that tolerance of other views is a good thing an objectively true statement or not lf it39s objectively true the relativists are denying their rela tivism because they regard something as objectively true lf their statement means that it39s only relatively true that tolerance is a good thing then they must admit that the opposite view could be equally justified Consequently relativists can39t consistently claim that every one should be tolerant There39s no contradiction at all for the realist who says all of the fol lowing Statements are objectively true or false it39s often difficult to tell whether statements are true or false we may be mistaken about their truth or falsity and because of our fallibility we must be tolerant of those who have opposing views and uphold their right to disagree Understand this as well Just because there is an objective real ity and thus objective truth doesn39t mean that people can39t View this Truth is a great irt FRANZ LISZT Truth does not do so much good in the world as the appear ance of it does evil DUC FRANCOIS DE LA ROCHEFOUCAULD FACING REALITY I09 117 IIO objective reality differently In fact some people are tempted by rela tivism precisely because they are aware that there are different per spectives on reality and plenty of disagreements about those perspectives But it doesn39t follow from the existence of differing per spectives and disagreements that there is no objective reality or ob jective truth STUDY QUESTIONS 1 Can an individual make a statement true simply by believing it to be true Why or why not Can a society make a statement true simply by believing it to be true Why or why not Can a statement be true in one conceptual scheme and false in an other Why or why not Consider this statement No universal generalizations are true Can this statement be true Why or why not Is it reasonable to believe that everything we experience including the people we meet is a creation of our own minds Why or why not EVALUATE THESE CLAIMS ARE THEY REASONABLE WHY OR WHY NOT 1 2 Don39t pick up that toad Toads cause warts Everyone knows that Recent polls indicate that 90 percent of Americans believe in angels Therefore angels must exist Millions of people use psychic hot lines So there must be something to them The tax system in this country is unfair and ridiculous Just ask anyone The people of Ireland have believed in leprechauns for centuries Leprechauns must be real DISCUSSION QUESTIONS 1 A person can39t make something true by simply believing it to be true Can a person make something morally right by simply believing it to be right Can a culture or society make something right by simply believing it to be right Evaluate your answers to these questions by examining their implications Identify as many as possible of the different cultural or societal groups that you belong to Is there any objective way to determine which of these groups is your real group If so which group is it If not what are the implications for social constructivism Suppose that two people have different beliefs about something they are looking at Does it follow that they perceive it differently Does it follow that they are perceiving different things Is there any way to FOUR RELATIVISM TRUTH AND REALITY 118 tell which if either of these alternatives are Correct Explain your an swers by means of speci c examples FIELD PROBLEM In June 1989 the prodemocracy movement in China had captured the at tention of people all over the world Thousands of students gathered in the famed Tiananmen Square to demand greater freedom and democratic re forms in the Chinese government The government responded with a mas sive military crackdown on the dissidents in the square wounding and killing several of them People who believed in universal human rights eth ical objectivists condemned the killings as a tragic immoral act People in the Chinese government who rejected the notion of universal human rights ethical relativists said that according to the values of Chinese society the crackdown was morally right Assignment Pretend for a moment that you are a Chinese of cial who uses moral relativism to defend the crackdown In one paragraph state your case Then take the other side and pretend that you are a citizen of a Western na tion who uses the concept of universal moral rights to condemn the crack down In one paragraph present your argument Compare the arguments Which do you think is strongest CRITICAL READING AND WRITING I Read the passage below and answer the following questions 1 What is the claim being made in this passage 2 Are any reasons offered to support the claim 3 Are morphic elds physically possible Why or why not 4 Would the existence of morphic fields lend support to the notion that reality is socially constructed Why or why not 5 What kind of evidence would convince you that morphic elds exist II Write a 200 word critique of this passage focusing on how well its claim is supported by good reasons and why you think accepting the claim would be reasonable or unreasonable Passage 3 Related to the hundredthmonkey idea is the extraordinary theory of mor phic resonancequot put forth by biologist and author Rupert Sheldrake His no tion is that all organisms and structures in the universe have the form morph that they do because they exist in quotmorphic eldsquot that shape them These energy elds contain the form or pattern of objects with every type of object being determined by its own eld According to Sheldrake the behavior of animals and people also creates morphic elds which in turn shape future behavior Thus if you teach mice in London to navigate a maze the morphic eld for the species changes and suddenly mice in Paris can navigate the same maze much easier quotWithin the CRITICAL READING AND WRITING 119 I2 present centuryquot he says quotit should have become progressively easier to learn to ride a bicycle drive a car play the piano to use a typewriter owing to the cumulative morphic resonance from the large number of people who have already acquired these skillsquot Sheldrake cites several phenomena that he says are best explained by his theory of morphic resonance These include alleged instances of sponta neous animal learning similar to the hundredthmonkey phenomenon cases in which humans seem to learn something faster after other humans learn it First and the ability of some organisms such as atworms to regen erate parts and repair physical damage SUGGESTED READINGS Gardner Martin The Whys ofa Philosophical Scrivener New York Quill 1983 Krausz Michael Relativism Interpretation and Confrontation Notre Dame lnd University of Notre Dame Press 1989 Schef er lsrael Science and Subjectivity Indianapolis BobbsMerrill 1967 Searle John The Construction of Social Reality New York Free Press 1995 Siegel Harvey Relativism Refuted Dordrecht The Netherlands D Reidel 1987 Trigg Roger Reason and Commitment London Cambridge University Press 1973 NOTES 1 Allan Bloom The Closing of the American Mind New York Simon and Schuster 1987 p 25 2 Shirley MacLaine Out on a Limh New York Bantam Books 1983 3 Shirley MacLaine It39s All in the Playing New York Bantam Books 1987 pp 17172 4 Jane Roberts The Seth Material New York Bantam Books 1970 p 124 5 Ted Schultz A Personal Odyssey through the New Agequot in Not Nec essarily the New Age Buffalo Prometheus Books 1988 p 345 6 Martin Gardner The Whys ofa Philosophical Scrivener New York Quill 1983 pp 3031 7 lbid p 15 8 Plato quotTheaetetusquot 171 a trans F M Cornford in The Collected Dia logues of Plato ed Edith Hamilton and Huntington Cairns Princeton Princeton University Press 1961 p 876 9 Schultz quotPersonal Odysseyquot p 342 10 Joseph Chilton Pearce The Cracle in the Cosmic Egg New York Julian Press 1971 1 1 Bruno Latour and Steve Woolgar quotThe Social Construction of Scien ti c Factsquot in Readings in the Philosophy of Science From Positivism to Post modernism ed Theodore Schick Mountain View Calif May eld 2000 p 203 FOUR RELATIVISM TRUTH AND REALITY 120 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 Alan Sokal quotA Physicist Experiments with Cultural Studiesquot Lingua Franca MayJune 1996 62 64 Lyall Watson Lifetide New York Bantam Books 1979 pp 14748 Ibid pp 14849 Ron Amundson The Hundredth Monkey Debunkedquot in The Fringes of Reason A Wlaole Earth Catalog ed Ted Schultz New York Harmony Books 1989 pp 17580 Israel Schef er Science and Sulnjectioity Indianapolis BobbsMerrill 1967 p 36ft Chris Swoyer quotTrue Forquot in ReIatiuism Cognitive and Moral ed Jack W Meiland and Michael Krausz Notre Dame Ind University of Notre Dame Press 1982 p 97 Nelson Goodman Ways of World Making Indianapolis Hackett 1978 Maureen O39Hara quotOf Myths and Monkeys A Critical Look at Criti cal Massquot in Schultz Fringes of Reason pp 18285 Thomas S Kuhn Tlae Structure of Scienti c Revolutions Chicago Univer sity of Chicago Press 1970 p 1 1 1 Edward Hundert Can Neuroscience Contribute to Philosophyquot in Mindwaves ed Colin Blakemore and Susan Green eld Oxford Black well 1987 pp 413 42021 Roger Trigg Reason and Commitment London Cambridge University Press 1973 pp 1516 Donald Davidson Presidential Addressquot speech made to the seventi eth annual eastern meeting of the American Philosophical Association Atlanta December 28 1973 Alfred Korzybski Science and Sanity 4th ed Lakeville Conn Interna tional NonAristotelian Library 1933 p 58 Harvey Siegel Relativism Refuted Dordrecht The Netherlands D Reidel 1987 pp 4344 W V O Quine quotOn Empirically Equivalent Systems of the Worldquot Erlaenntnis 9 1975 32728 Trigg Reason and Commitment pp 13536 NOTES 121 II3 e Patternicity lmaotisre THAT iron ARE A HOMINID waLK1No ALONG THE AVANNA of an Afriiean valley three rnillion years ago You hear a rustle in the grass Is it just the wind or is it a dangerous predator Your answer could mean hife or death E ifyoii assume that the 39rustle in the grass is a dangerous predator but it turns out that it is just the wind you have made what called a Type I A error in cognition also lcnown as afoIsepositive or believing something is real when it is not That is you have found a nonexistent pattern You connected A a rustle in the grass to a dangerous predator but in this case e was not connected to B No harm You niove away from the rustling sound become more alert and cautious and nd another path H to your destination If you assumte that the rustle in the grass is just the wind but it turns quotI7 out that it is a dangerous preclator you have made what is called a Tjzp et II V error in rognition also known as a false negati ve or helie39ving something is not real when it is i mat is yovu have missed areal pattern You failed to corineet A a rustle in the grass to B a dangerous predator and in this case A was connected to B rmrre lunch Congratulations you have won p o Darwin Award You are no longer a member of the hominid gene pool Our brains are7 belief engines evolved patternrecognition machines that connect the dots and create meaning out of the patterns that we think 39we see in nature Sometimes A realIy is connected to B sometimes it is iit3t The baseball player who A doesn t shave and B hits a home run farms a false association between A and B hutit is a relatively harmless 122 were most successful at nd learning sopiens I call this process prttternicity or the tendency to potteerns in both meaningful and meriningless noise brain to distinguish between true and false patterns We have n detection governor to modulate the patter son has to do with the relative costs of making Type I and Type ll errors in cognition which I describe in the following formula ancestral environn1ents so the default pos 60 quotl39he Biology of Belief one When the association is real however we have learned something valuable about the environment from which we can make predict aid in survival and reproduction We ions that are the descendants of those who ing patterns This process is called association and is fundamental to all animal behavior from elegrms to H nd me39oningfuI Unfortunately we did not evolve a baloney detection network in the ommn nrecognition engine er rea P Cr1 lt C111 Patternicity P will occur whenever the cost C of making a Type I error TI is less than the cost C of making a Type II error Til The problem is that assessing the difference between a Type I and Type II error is highly problematic especially in the split second tim ing that often determined the difference between life and death in our ition is to assume that all patterns are real that is assume that all rustles in the grass are danger ous predators and not the wind This is the basis for the evolution of all forms of patternicity including superstition and magical thinking There was a natural selection for the cognitive process of assuming that all patterns are real and that all pat ternicities represent real and important phenomena We are the descen dants of the primates who most successfully employed patternicity Note what I am arguing here This is not just a theory to explain why people believe weird things It is a theory to explain why people beli39eve things Full stop Patternicity is the process of seeking and nding patterns connecting the dots linking A to B Again this is nothing rnore than asso ciation learning and all animals do it It is how organisms adapt to their g environments when evolution is too slow Genes are selected everechangin me generations for and against in changing environments but this takes ti of time Brains learn and they can learn almost instantaneously atirne is f not an issue in Ma 2008 paper entitled 123 The Evolution of Superstitions and J J Patternicfty 51 SuperstitionLillte Beliaviouiquott Harvard b y y U imsitr 011 Helsinlci bioquot 3 0 a q mbglst Kevin R Foster and of III theo1quotY through e vol iE1lnnIll p tested all earner Version relative costs and bene ts of diiferernrt fl 1 lng latOU1 used to assess the For example to whom should you i Q atl lishlps between organisms er help in evolutionary theory altruistically helpin U 39 A T 3 Others 5eem3 P391390blematic because 39 p m1nasel shgene39 model shouldn r w h d Hpam tonasp ruleinameglagor p l resources and never help anyone No Willlam D lIarnilton stateas that ble p pr1t1shevolut1onary l310lOg1st between two individuals ma Occur Cl liposltlve Social interaction T E mlate i e55 139 exceeds the cost 3 of thn t e lng l b of the genem example may make an ahmi e socia action A sibling for y e V t st1c sa pT cost of doing so is surpassed by the flleff 01 another sibling when the its genes into the em generation thgrod lac hene ts derwed from gettingquot you are more likely to help a full broth gtht E surviving sibling That is a half brother more than H T Her an YOU are ahalf brother and or T acol v than Water39 mp ete stranger Blood really is thicker Of course or 39 ganisms do not con a 1 a S and selection made them for us andllnlollltf lcrlnllk Such calculations Nat guids behavior in Thequot Sciences of Good mfd Es pvlrth mpral emotions that iOI1317 advantages of bein r vi wor ed oubthe evolm to blood relatives but to fillet Sgllbljlll lfllopllatlvel Znd altruism not only have become honora h s D em ers an even strangers wh ll quot 391 YfF1 ndsorrel t39 A t 5j t 39 0 tions Examples include food redistribdlfs though posltwe Social mterac hers sofa tribe In this c0meXtp evollutio Sncimd t wl Sharing ampI1 1QI1g me1n that Sails be generous and helpful to onquot a 06 A with a rule of thumb nice and generous to us Even unrelated 00 in llflmves and those Wm are such positive attributes trigger in our brtgillern ers of a clan who exhibit nice to me so B should be nice it a oral Pattern A Cg WaS return the favor In The Mind Gfthe r1 dl 1 help 03 D O8 W111 quot i 8V e pT YZ can be seen between clans and tribes wh 39 emonslrllted that thus e nect belne cial exchanges also known lastrailh t13ey palmclpated in mutualll opening trade borders between two Count39 Ven in the modern worlds agglesSiOnS between them and dosin tlE tends to lower tensions and sanctionsv increases the liltelihoocl thagtg E porders imposing trade b th good exams T I A A I i na Ions Wi 1 ght These 13i1mst our Species P emlclh95 that have worked for and Foster and Kokko us 39 p a ed Halniltonas rule to deri b p F ve their own formula 62 The Biology cfBelief to demonstrate that whenever the cost of believing that a false pattern real is less than the cost of not believing a real P31lemi natural Selection will favor the patternicityfi Through a series of cornpleic formulas that included additional stimuli wind in the trees and prior EVEIJIS P33 experience with predators and wind the authors demonstrated that the juebtility of individuals hun1an or otherwise to assign causegt1 probabilities to all sets of events that occur around them will often force them to lump Causal aS50Cigtiou5 with noI1 causal ones From here the evolutionary rationale for superstition is clear natural selection W39l11 favour strategies that make many incorrect causal associations in opder to establish those that are essential for survival and reproductionquot l other words we tend to find meaningful patterns whethEr th 3Y 3 397 there or not and there is a perfectly good reason to do so in this sense pate ternicities such as superstition and magical thinking arenot somucl1 errors in cognition as they are natural processes of a learning brain We can no more elirniiiate superst39itious learning than we can elirlll ilt 311 1eu uiug Although true pattern recognition helps us survive4 falsp 0 tern recognition does not necessarily get us killed and so the pattepnle city phenomenon endured the winnowing process of natural selection Because we must make associations in order to survive and reproduce natural selectioI1 favored all associationmaking strategi a EVEN lhquot33 39 that resulted in false positives With this evolutionary perspective we can now understand that people believe weird things because of our evoIvetc l Heed 150 believe rioriweird things The Evolution of Patternicity Anecdotal association is a form of patternicity that is allkpoodcomm V q r t 39 w cer and that leads to faulty conclusions I heard that Aunt n re s ca pt 0su Om cu went into remission after she imbibed extract of seaweed Hey me works Then again maybe it doesn t Who can tell There is only one sure re method of proper pattern recognition and that is science Only when a group of cancer patients taking seaweed ext tact 15 quot 0H1P3r 3 O 3 control group can we draw a valid conclusion and 1quot10 la1W3 5 then As I write this there is a mayor brouhaha over a form of anecdo a a t PO V f 39 O me quotarents of association involving vaccinations and autism Wlilli 5393 P autistic children claiming that shortly after they took their children in fur A the MMR 39lTlEaSl S mumps rubella V393CClI1E2ll1EY WEIE Bl dl gr JJ I R R 4U 124 Pntteriiicity a 63 nosed with autism quotlhis is patternicity where it really counts 011 National Autism Awareness Day in 2009 Larry King hosted a debate on his show in which he had on one side of his table a couple of medical researchers and experts on autism and vaccines who explained that no coiinection between the two has ever been niade that the allegedly toxic chemical thimerosal was removed from vaccines in 1999 and that children born after thirrierosal was removed are still being diagnosed with autism On the other side of the table were the actor Jim Carrey and his ex Plnyboy bunny partner Jen ny McC39arthy with videos of her adorable son exhibit ing obvious signs of autisni Who are you going to believe a couple of nerdy brainiacs with expertise or a couple of glamorous nianiacs with celebrity It was a classic case of the verriotional brain running roughshod over the ratiorial brain as McCarthy tugged on the heartstrings of view ers while the scientists struggled to elucidate how proof is established in science through careful controlled experiments and epidemiological studies Once again the rational bit was in the emotional horse s mouth but the reins gave no direction that day k0 problem we face is that superstition and belief in magic are mils lions of years old whereas science with its methods of controlling for intervening variables to circumvent false positives is only a few hundred years old Anecdotal thinking comes naturally science requires train iiig Any medical huclcster promising that A will cure B has only to advertise a handful ofsuccessful anecdotes in the form of testimonials B F Skinner was the first scientist to systematically study supersti tious behavior in animals noting that when food was presented to pigeons at random intervals instead of more predictable schedules of reinforcement afor which pecking a key inside a box in which the pigeon was placed would result in delivery of the food through a small food hopper see gure l the pigeons exhibited an odd assortment of behaviors such as sicle toside hopping or twirling around counter clockwise before pecking the key It was an avian rain dance of sorts The pigeons did this because they were put on something called a tvorieble interval Vi schedule of reinforcement in which the time interval between getting the food reward for peclcing a key varied In that inter val of time betfween pecking the key and the hopper delivering the food whatever the pigeons happened to be doing was scored in their little brains as a pattern 39 Supporting my thesis that such patternicities were important in the 64 The Biology 0fBEll3f Figure 1 Patternicitv i139vPige m 3939 0 j V pgg Y P 1 b ct at California State Inside a SljI11l39E1quot box 111 Do11glasANaar1l1s rSarIlJrym learning in the U39niversitY Fu1lerto1F1 where I Icon ucrl tb je k at the twu keys above to 19705 one of our Pllgeogs Ea I Be1DgfPSkinnEr ddscwejred that ifhe recedv lrahnll lgd tlle food reinforcement whatever the pigeon hap ran OIIIY E 7 0Z g A cg g j d id be repeated pa thfore the delivery of the foo W0 1 V V llimed ttlie39 3 Splnnirlg around once to the left before Peckmg in genes ms P N P c A j H i i su erst1tionPH0T0 the le Tl1lS 1S pigeon patternlcity 01 the leamlng 0 3 P BY THE AU TIIOR V H H w t 5 Skinner at han in environments evolutmn Of respionse behaviors ml C fa gated in the same part of noted leach response was almoslla way Etion toward some feature 1 z X P rrenqaw i i the cases and 1tg enera11Y i 1Ve an Q twas to condition the bird to a p 8 Z quotwernen i A 2 z 9 ofthecage i P t axe v 39 V tilt rather than mere 0 f l 39 011d tosomeaaif 0 39 nmmrjlit 39 i a 0 i 39i ntensel quot Jquot vi i an ese S11l IfSt1tlO11Sl3EhaVl0I iWE1 e1 ctevasere PT 39 c c d e as it P E matterof fteenseconsorsoaa repeated typically ve of SIX mall m a f there were a causal relation Skinner concluded The blrd be M365 35 j N j pf a e P dalthou hsucharela between its behavior and the presentation o oo 8 E L 25 Patternicity 65 tion is lacking 5 In the bird s lJrain A twirling around once and packs ing the key was connected to B food Tllrat is basic patternicity If you doubt its potency as a force in human ibehavior just visit a Las Vegas casino and observe people playing the slots with their varied atternptvs to nd a pattern between A pulling the slot machine handle and B the payoff Pigeons may have bird brains but when it CO1 I1eS to such basic patternicities our brains are little diiferent M lnspivred by Slltinner s classic experim ents Koichi Ono of Komazawa University in Japan ran h39uman subjects through the equivalent of a Skin ner box by having them sit in a booth in which there were tl1ree levers395 Independent of their pulling the levers but unlcnown to them the sub jects were then exposeidv to a number counter that granted them one point at a quottime which was followed by a ashing light and buzzer a scaled down slot machine as it were The points were delivered in a VI schedule of I 39lI1fCJl Cf3ll1El l just like the pigeons of on average either 30 seconds with a range of 3 to 57quot seconds or 60 seconds a range of 25 to 95 seconds Before the experi1nent began the subjects were instructed The experiinenter does not require you to do anything speci c But you do something you may get points on the counter Now try to get as many points as possible I 39 Since the subjects could not predict when the points would be delvivs ered because the schedule of delivery was variable and people just seem to have a nvatural propensity to pull levers some ofthern inferred a connection between A pulling the handles and B getting points Pat ternicity And there were some doozies Subject I happened to get a point after pulling the levers in the order of left middle right right middle left and so repeated that pattern three more tiroes Subject 5 began the session with short pulls of all the levers with the points accumulating quite independently of his pulls but then by chance he happened to be l391olding the midclle lever when at point was delivered so thereafter he performed the superstitious ritual of three short pulls followed by holds ing kn iniddle lever Of course the longer he held the lever the greater the cliance that he would get another point because they were delivered on a variable time sczhedule After minute nine of the thirty rninute ses sion Subject 5 had r ritual down pat Subject 15 developed the strang est rite of all Five minutes into her session a point was delivered the y tnornent she hap pened to touch the point counter lhereafter she started h tuching anything everything within reach and of course since o The Biology ofBieIi39ef the points continued to be delivered this odd touching behavior was rein forced At the tennminute mark she got a point just as she happened to junip on the floor whereby she promptly abandoned touching and took up jumping as her new strategy clirnaxing a point being scored when she touched the ceiling leading her to end the session early from ceiling touching exhaustion Technically speaking in Ono s words superstitions behavior de ned as behavior produced by response independent schedules of reinforcer delivery in only an accidental relation exists between rltesponses and delivery of reinforcers 39Ihat s a fancy way of saying that supersti tions are just an accidental form of learning This is patternicity Can such learned superstitious patternicities be unlearned They can In 1963 Skinner s Harvard colleagues Charles Catania and David Cutts put humans through the pigeon paces by instructing each of twentyasix undergraduate subjects to press one of two different buttons on a box whenever a yellow light ashed and to try to accumulate asniany points as possible on a counter Whenever the subject gained a point a green light ashed A red light indicatedthat the session was over which was when the subject reached one hundred points Llnibeknownst to the sub jects only the right button could generate points and those points were delivered on a VI schedule of reinforcement with an average time between point delivery of thirty seconds results were revealing in that human brains are no less superstitious than bird brains most of the subjects quickly developed superstitious butto n pushin39g patterns between the left and right buttons because if they pressed the left button just before the right button happened to deliver a point that particular pattern was rein forced Once subjects established a superstitious buttonpushing pattern they stuck with that pattern throughout the session because they contin ued to be reinforced for it To extinguish the Type l false positive pattern Catania and Cutts introduced what is called a changeover delay COD which added a period of time between presses on the left button and subsequent rein forced presses on the right button thereby untangling them from any meaningful pattern That is where A the left button was incorrectly associated with B a point a superstitious pattern was established but by separating A and B in time the association link was disconnected its you might expect and certainly hope humans needed a longer COD than pigeons because presumably we have a greater cognitive capacity 12d Pottsrnicity 6739 for holding associations in memory than birds do But this is a double edged sword Our greater capacity for learning is often olfset by our greater capacity for magical thinking Superstition in pigeons can be easily extinguished in humans it is much more dit cult7 V Hardwired Patternicity Patter icity is C0i11mon39across theaninial kingdom Early studies in the 1950s by Niko Tinbergen and Konrad Lorenz who pioneered the study 390lctholog39y the evolutionary origins of quotanimal behavior clemonstmted the Capacity of many organisms to rapidly form lasting patterns Lorenz l reliample documentsd impririting a type of phasedependent learn mg whereby the youth of a species at a critical period in their develop nnilpnt will form a xed and lasting pattern of memory for whoever or w atever appears before them during that brief span of time In the baby greylag geese that Lorenz studied for example the object of gaze in the plrpticalll period of thirteen to sixteen hours old is normally a mother and a s e becomes imprinted in their brains To test this hypothesis the mischievous Lorenz made certain that it was he who was in the duck llngs vispal eld at the critical moment and thereafter momma Kon rad led his flock around the grounds of his research station3 L VA form of reverse imprinting can be found in humans in the incest t3l3 l Twcl P p 3 f l l I 0W1I1g39 up in close proximity to each other during a Etlttcal pleriod in childhood are unlikely to find each other sexually attrac pg W5 3S Br zllts Evolution has programmed within us a rule of thumb don t mate P 39 those with whom you ve grown up because they are very likely V0111 SIl3lII 1gs and are thus too genetically similar Again we don t make genetic calculationb Natural selection did the calculating for us and Ell f10Wl 3d u3pW1th eHt0t39i0 Ss in this case incest disgust Our brains are llEVEl0pmentally sensitive to forming incest patternicities and that hap pens even with people we grow up with who are stepsiblings or others not genetically related to us This is a Type I error a false positive and it evolved l339i i USE 111 Eileolithic past the other people in our childhood homes were most likely blood relatives A Slit his studies of herring gulls Niko T inbergen observed that when the El3911ClPEITCE3 TVEl the mother gull s yellow beak with a red dot it promptly began pecking at it which triggered the mother to regurgitate some food or her chick to eat Further experimental studies of this phenomenon 72 171 tBl l gj ofl elief the position of the dot on the screen when they tlrst became aware of the desire to act and 2 press a button that also recorded the position of the dot on the screen The difference between 1 and 2 was two hundred millie seconds That is twotenths of a second lapsed betweien thinking about pressing the button and actually pressing the button The EEG record ings for each trial revealed that the brain activity involved in the ilnitia tion of the action was primarily centered in the secondary motor cortex and that part of the brain became active three hundred milliseconds before subjects reported their rst niwnrenerssl of in conscious decision to net quotThat is the awareness of our intention to do something trails the ini tial wave of brain activity associated with that action by about three hundred milliseconds three tenths of a suecond lapsed between the brain making a choice and our awareness of the choice Add to this pro cessing time the other twotenths of a seconcl to act on the choice and it rneans that a quotfull half second passes between our brainiquots intention to do something and our awareness of the actual act of doing it The neural activity that precedes the intention to act is inaccessible to our conscious rnind so we experience a sense of free will But it is an illusion caused by the fact that we cannot identify the cause of the awareness of our inten tion to act Together these studies show how deeply ingrained pattern icity is in our brains hardwired into our unconscious and genetrating patterns beneath our awareness A nal example in our facial recognition patternicity is the now well documented facial reeting found in nearly evielry human group around the world eaclept where it is culturally suppressed as in Japan When greeting over a distance people smile and nod and triendly they raise their ejmebirows in a rapid movement for approximately onessiath of a second In the 19603 the Austrian ethologist Ireniius Eibl Eibesfeldt traa versed the globe lming people with an ingeniously devised camera equipped with an angle lens in which the camera appeared to be pointed in one direction but the was actually talcing place at at lninetya degree angle from where it was pointing n the facial expressions of people from urban Europe to rural Polynesia were 39uno39btrusive1y39 mea sured and later analyzed slow motion There is an innate pattern of greeting everrwher39e in die world that people are born understanding without any cultural training The pattern not just for happy greetings Eibl Eibesfeldt also recorded remarkable similarities across radiczallg dill ferent cultures in other emotional erpressions such as anger characterised facial pattern icities See gurgte394 4 ml 129 Mimic r p cry is another form of patt39ernicity f of patt ernicity discussed above Foste1 3 iteinples V l l s Pattemiciry quotIhe Innate Pattern of t T z T J p u i FaceG p r e P The Austr39ian ethologist Irenaus Eihl Ei e fngcgis Around the World people with a hidden lens as they greeted o l tra rsed the globe i t 39 39 31101 er p ver a d raise 39 quot39339t31139C people srnile and nod a i 611 eyebrows lming He discovered that nd if friendlw the 111 3 rapid movement for V P V 39 0 Y i Y Sec di is an example of innate fagta Ur appmXlm ampte391l 011ES1Xth of a EIBESFELDT errroroor NEW YORK H patternicity FROM IRENAUS EIBL e i 39 e OLT RINEHART ANDWINST e t o 0N197o lbll Dpening the corners of the I n ib s nn0uthfrlt Z quot P on the ground and even hitting at ES3CiI31f3 Cillsts stamp he since been corroborated l at quot n 1 3933 E research quot t byPa ultEkrnan andt s semeda body OfunC0ntE T p 8 P i ogether theyhaire pres s a e evidence for the evolutionary origins of Mlmicklngp Patterns 1111riser on the evolution 1 predators who normally avoid ealtlingll dE I1ted thlpee such I i u W 39Iquot0ll1S q Uwtand 75 The Biology of Belief S T c for sex ee511Pe TT T vttern of soliciting contact T T leeee to the eeele eeelile eeliconeenhanced breasts liPr imP391quotquot tSquot makeup normTal stin1u1suCaSt51 c P P 4 T 39hh is to extend the T T T T h th checks 111 35 y to enhance the 6 52 rouge ee elee e T y T r P lyehavioral egg any i 3 J quot 1 d th like all trigger an even stronger emotional an T response V dquot tum of ourTse M T 39 A T st as real an 113 2 What Wome Prefer In men 15 Ju l t s eh Trrow waists T A 39 y A t Tller than them witmaa A W me Mel eeeeetee ee eeee Wge eeeceilar builds 5YInrnetricaTl faces and and TVoad shoulders lean any muasnd Chins les are a1I h raCteriStiESl Sh 0 T tnwaws u p A deer eemeleeeleedebeelle eeefe1estosterone and other horntonesi 311d the related to E1 300 at 3 anee e 39 quot I T c mates with whom T V T U ah i terms of selectinga T Saree as Preeeeee fee eeeee heaeytlyeis so much more visually attended to to have Children Because eeeeee it e V T is almost T V T 0 u ernormal stnnu us T T bl Inert howeveT13 Pornog caphi as a s algtuany the title of a parody in T pom or won1en r j l p entirely a BUY thing T T J h T I rust vacu p quot quot1 ClO1 I1EStIC c ores T l P g which no clothe P4 P e i ind 9 med the whole heeeee e 1eTmeeeehic h the plot conceTrns the heroine and e3PeCia Y remeeee eezeele elf 63 one right nian wrotet Barrett TSEEX e di g and eepee ee the eeeetde t ed toeoccur until after a P1 390P0395al of mstybel explicit lmplied pr Ialit 3 Ofthe book Z0 memeeee Wheee eeeehl uteorrns of ePre Prog1 an1rned Putternicities in super There arernanyo 61quot 39 a T TT atjre y T T T T T T 1 territorial impel T s T O v p y for example our nature T mamal Stlmuh Teeee 1e e x es ecially l1teral T P I y T desire to protect what 18 ours P t v A 111 WhEh We haee e eeeee to has been T T T i ll suit andI1at10I1 5 0 3quot n t 1 139 1t0rV 1 the form ee lee eeelzelmoetles ethere is a competlli g instinct to r 39As arre I1 1 V i P T usurped by m0C16I 1 11tY p pS T us with wh0Se 5 PH 3 g ticall SYI101TYm0 eeeeeee fee eee e eeeellleel edle le Ijrelcel hoveever territory has ntalcen on T T 391lsurvive ITntlten1o erI1WT T T T T 11 E31165 W1 T T if 1 cl t391Cl1 can direct L ese TT 39 tl39l0Weru an eeeemeeeeel eemeeeeellei eeleeestaeef trust funds that endure for seem eeeeeeee et eeeemeeeel eeee eh i I P I39TI1339IllEI39l lI l1lEI Sl1lPf0I tl1Ele3II1l1l eLe2l ti 3n5rand m the eeeee meeeee 139 39 h th eat nvestures p T T T1gdd1sutesw1t 139 0 Meet eeeeee el emmeee eeeeeeet elevor39st ea brief Pbsical attack i T II 7quot Tgt V vocal cries a dvlf W01 Comes l 39 T b39tten in fact in V J A T g T P Th d5hovedoreven 1 V f eeeee eemeeee mee eeeeeee eel eee fimatologists triggered Inale rheslls T cc T 39T 0A 0 e 1Taboratorr are gaze eeeeeee m1es and annals and even asTsre55W meeeeee ee melee threelfnlne elee t rig at the rnonkeyS with anT open T as sim39s ar1 0l i T y meeeee eeweee eheel llin ll lihe SSIRMPAP system theCl0vS r l EYE mouth Once againhre u asga Sign Stimulus to get o an innate releasing lid and open rnout Z serve T T 131 Pnrrernicity o 7 7 mechanisin of Ta nger and thereby release the xed action pattern of aggres sion or reciprocal threat display In this research we also nd direct evi dence for the IRM in singleTcell recording from the brain stem of monkeys in which there is a signi cant increase in neuronal activity when the exper irnenter stares at the monkey the breaking of the gaze decreases neuronal activity along with aggressive responses Patternicity and Control Pa39tteTrnicities do not occur randomly but are instead related to the con text and environment of the organisrn to quotwhat ex is in control of its environrnent Psychologists cal People who rate high on internal locus of contr they Tniake things happen and stances whereas people who sc to think that cTi rcum stances ar happen to then133 quotl39l1e thinki tent it believes that it I this locus of control ol tend to believe that that they are in control of their circum ore high on external locus of control tend e beyond their control and that things just ng here is that having a high internal locus of control leads you to be more con dent in your personal judgment more skeptical of outside authorities and sources of inforrnation and have a lower tendency to confornii to external in u who consider then1selveTs quot sllteptics about the paranormal and super natural tend to score high in intetrnol locus of control whereas self reported believers in ESP spiritualisrn Treincarnation and mystical experiences in general tend to rate hig h in external locus ofcontroI3 i Locus of control is also mediated by levels of certainty or uncertainty in physical and social environrnentsT Bronislaw MalinowskiT s fanious studies of superstitions among the Tirobriand Islanders in the South Paci c clenionstrated that as the level of uncertainty in the environn1ent increases so too does the level of superstitious behavior Malinovvski noted this in particular among the Trobriand TsherTmTen the farther out to sea they sailed the more uncertain the conditions grew along with the uncertainty of success at a catch Their levels of superstitious rituals rose with their levels of uncertainty We nd Ina gic wherever the elements of chance and accident and the emotional play between hope and fear have a wide and extensive rangeT Malinowski explained We do not nd magic wherever the pursuit is certain reliable and well under the control of rational meth ods and technoTlogiTcal processes Further we nd magic where the ele ment of danger is consvpicuousfei 39 ences In fact people 78 E39l1eBioIogyofBeiief quothave made a similar observation on superstitions among athletes Patigrnllclry quot 79 most notablyquot baseball players As elders succeeding overt 90 percent of the time they exhibit almost no superstitious rituals but when they piclc R up a bat and go to the plate where they are sure to fail at least seven out of ten tirnes they suddenly become rnaical tihinkersi einploying all manner ofbizarre ritualistic behaviors in order to cope with the uncertainty 1 0 Risk and control were tested in a 1977 study that founcl that if you p 5 show parachute jumpers about to leap out of a plane a photographic repre 3 sentation of noise such as the snow on a television screen they are far more likely to see a noneaisten1 embedcfled gure than if you presented it to them earlier Uncertainty rnakes people anxious and anxiety is related to magical thinllting A 1994 study for eaatniple showed that anxious rstyear MBA students are quotfar more conspiratorially minded than their more secure second 3rear coileagues Even such base ernotions as hunger can in uence your perceptual patternicit y A 1942 study found that when ambiguous iniages are shown to both hungry and satiated people the former are more likely to see food And apropos the current recessirmi economic environments inay lead to inisperce39ptions where P one erper irnent children from poor neighborhoods and worildngclass farnilies tend to overestimate the size of coins conipared to the estirnates made by children from wealthy neighborhoods and families27 The relationship between piersonality belieif and patter39nicity was if explored by eiperirnenta39l psychologist Susan Blaclltrnore famous for her A dramatic reversal from believer to skeptic of the paranormal after years 1 ma lBgraclecl image in the upper left of conducting research trying to nd the elusive erifects of ESP What she K Parquot iil1or1nal but the lheliweps de mor ogller lhan WEre Sk ptics of the idisciorv er39ed was that People who believe in ESP tend to look at data sBt5 H y mATI0NS CQU39RT39ESY OF SUSAN sLACKMo1i El entl C t1on mistakes ILLUS and see evidence ofthe paranormal whereas skeptics do not In one stud u i V L p z for example Bliaclcrnorei and her colleagues had subjects cvornplete a r paranormal belief scale then presented them with photographs of q x rnon objects with varying degrees of degeneration into noise 0 percent 20 percent St percent and 70 percent and asked quotthem if they xco1i39ld5 recognize and identify each object The results revealed that bell 39 j were signi cantly Inorer likely than nonbeiievers to see objects in the noisiest images but to rnisidrentif y them See gure 5 in other words they saw more patterns but made inore Type false positive errors t A similar e ect was found in an er jzperiinent in which subjects we b asked to determine the probability of the roll of a die Try it yours Imagine that you have a die in your hancl that you roll three consecut p vG Fi quot 539 Pattem ciw and Belief Psy h logist Susan B c t 1T quot I i S lacl1nore d e V farms 0f the in p iscovered that believers in ESP AW paranormal were more lquotkv e I L V and other 1 e y to see an object in the maxi Wines and note the W as R a t J e tcoineWhiih 15 i quotly p S or 513 Most PeDpl c ao 1he following sequences is more I the rm because it Seeing pk at the seconcloutco1ne is more II1 fact both are e luall l k eL b1 e a Streak of 23 is more imPT0b r each roll a 2 is as likei e ice have no imemo d mH 0 F P K ytoco1neu a5a 5 F D quot trY a39n quotit 1539 called T petitioin uvofdrmce apnd arid It ObsquotThis psnych logical 1 erentlr 39When believers f A c i 1 c s e1E39VerS and ska ta V C 07B 111 ESP are M P 1C5 h 3tYi e sequences as s139gI1i c39ant1r 39r ti11fhn1ce they tend to rate 31 1537 rililncl gea39ter II1EEl1 Tli11g39 in random seE1e than skeptics do Oreiireci link between at t 39 ntrol oaer the environment waslddeifirdnmty and Percewed levels rnstrated In a 2008 study was I39D quot31 1 J 132 30 The Biology ofBeiief desbriptively titled Lacking Control Increases Illusory Pattern Percep tion by inanagernent researchers Iennifer Whitson at the University of Texas Austin and Adam Galinsky from Northwestern University who studied how psychological states are affected by corporate environnients De ning an illusory pattern perception a form of patternicity as the identi cation of a coherent and meaningful interrelationship among a set of randorn or unrelated stininl i such as the tendency to perceive false correlations see iniaginary gures form superstitious rituals and ernbrace conspiracy beliefs among others the researchers czondncted six exper iments to test the thesis that when individuals are unable to gain a sense of control objectively they will try to gain it perceptually 3quot Why do people do this Because Whitson eicplained to me as she trited to gain a sense of control in a quiet corner of a busy airport jetting between cone ferences feelings of control are essential for our wel1being we think clearer and make better decisions when we feel we are in control 397Lack ing control is highly aversive and one fundamental way we can bolster our sense of control is to understand whats going on So we instinctively seek out patterns to regain control even if those patterns are illuso39ry Whitson and Galinsky sat subjects before a computer screen telling one group they rnust guess which of two images ernbodied an underlying C011 cept the computer had selected For eiiarnple they might see a capital and a lowercase if colored underlined or surrounded by a circle or square Sub jects would then guess at an underlying concept such as all capital As are red There was no actual underlying conce pts the cornputer was pro grammed to randomly tell the subjects they were either correct or incor rect Consequently they developed a sense of lacking control Another group did not receive randomized feedback and so felt more in control in the second part of the experiment subjects were shown twentyfour snowy photographs half of which contained hidden images such as a hand horses a chair or the planet Saturn whereas the other halfjust consisted of grainy random dots See gure 6 for an example of Saturn dots versus random dots Although nearly every subject correctly identii ed the hidden Eignres subjects in the lackof control group found rnore patterns in the photo graphs that had no embedded images compared to subjects in the baseline p group less ofcoml 1 e 133 Whitson conjectured In a second experiment Whitson and Galinslciy had subjects vividly V recall an eiiperience p which they either had full control or lacked cons I tro1 over a situation The siibjects then read stories in which outcornes oi Pa i eri39ifcity o O rlt Figure 6 Filid the Hidden Pattern M03 People can see the hidd I Can You out 8139 gure B n the 0 on the hquotdd w j 1 en gure in the photograph on the right If lENNIFER WIIl39T3N situations for the characters stiftious beh avjms Such 02 FE ipere pp o success such as having subjects were then ked whet preceded by unconnected and super S OI11iI1lJf p A ji c I g e 01 enteril gameetlr gi that hone g idea approved in the meeting Ihe fteenth w 0 G was related to the outcome 3 might the characters behavior Those who had recalled an which they lacked control perceived 3 Si eXPquot31 i nCe in v han tho quot it 1 39 so who recalled an exp eriience control subjects who read a story about an e r e i 39 quot AHIPIUYEE who failed tr 39 o receive a promotion tended to believe that a behi quot i r 39 I1d the sc e2 Consider 9 ll Whitson 5285 lodsphracy was the Cause J j eseQ i by skeptics in debunking Cons 3 w enlme ppyironment caused by the te r S nil 0 the generation of a conspiracy I rerninded her piracy theories There we saw an unst 131 rrotristi attacks that led directl l i a E Z dalrnot hidden C0 l 3 only it wasllsflraq theOneS39 But 911 was gets of al Qaeda to y planes into buildig I15Pracy by nineteen incin 1ish administration j V i e inoan inside 39ob b h at s the difference between t ies It may be that even t hollgh we were t Id hes W0 Conspifar 39 0 quot Immediately that it was 3l Qaeda there wa T j 5 a terrible uncertaint e A y about the future a Sens quot r r V a e of eading to the sea1Ch for hidden hinkthe f 0uj Maybe I suspect this is j t Y ound i partially true but there is 1110 ther factor that 133 Iltioned the time spent I 81 32 lhe Biol0gquot fl ellef i y hatlwill 7 39 T T th cons iracy theoriest I call Togentzclty that comes 1 P1l1lgep in irllnd that research CIDIISIS39 m hapterlorni Ti the exvl re 1 the He quot3 T T s 1 a what the thl k 15 e p V T have testablisie T t mll Shows that Tonal People d ltin other words thell have farmed a Cause of an Event tlldeglluslhollsfdldllthen continue to gampther Tinforrnation to 391l1nkbetw39ecn A an F hey l J A w 39 fthe can even think of V T V s pl T T t 1r gss1bil1t1es 1TT Y r g y Support that Causal hnlll were al l39i11k is established Whith they usually alternatives once the rst caus A cannot V T 3 Ta sorting game V T t Tever1tS11C 3 P T Interest1 g1V It appears that 1 llgadll1es even faster causal links p T T hieve a g w Pm 39quot quot J a TT T loss or a failure to ac TT ted event Observers 39 T 11 ifit 18 an unerPe C e v support for those links etpeciacgrusal explana ns when at Wmmng team especially fans pmduce moire ferior0PPonent an Upset 1053 or vice T n j t unexpectedly loses to avast 3 1 acted 31 A5 a lifelong observer of the verse than if the event went as eP f example I can attest to the fact k v T iT1LosA g 155La erS i0rl quot l quot39j T T T usually successfu T h m 13 explanations as V thed u to sue SIT P N that 10113 Wmm g Stleaks ale 10 nd th natural talent of the PlaVEI5 smooth teamwork hard wor ates d 0Z enS of Column inches and hours Whereas the cCas10n39a l s ijgenee rch for this that and the other cause of mdw talk me 391 the ell 68 d back payroll diSPl1tes too much travel Kobe and Shaqs feud Phi s ta S and so an anything but the fact that I quot 39 O l J N 39 too many Hollywood CllS L39I39al3 them I the other team inst otltplayed ctical ndmg by Whitson and Galinsky The most mmgu dgtlln t lldlionship between lack of control and pats came when they teste ere T H T ipu1atedbydeSCribTT Y T ktControlwasn1aI1l7 g tern Perceptlony 1n the stock mar 11 e volatile One group of subiects was 111 the m ket environment as elhis A Ahead lfor investors with a SlT I017l T TT r d Roug l3Sl P i j V T T e shown aheadlme that rea vesting In the Stgglt p T tddthelinethatln T E par391srePh 1e5 Pt that 1nT lmineseid or stabie the other sleep market was like walkl gh lr ufjllcagmooth Elaili g Ahead for Investors A ream quot was shown a headlinlg D 3 P O ha included the line that investing in with a short lparagfap 39 55 l T 13 id of fioweTrs quot Subjects V V g V p V the stock market was hke Wllaterdgsets of inforniation about stocks they ire TT A it 9 were then exposed to ullcor taternents about the finances of two comps read a series of ltweI1 iYquot our 5 i it l I T A had sixteen iP 3ltlW 2 V Tt1veT CoII1P311l39 s T ies some posmve and mm ne lle CorI1PaI1Y B had eight Positive and and ght negative statemelps though the ratio of positive to negative four negative Statement vbllllth coT139i1PEnies 2391li subiiects eXPos ed to the statements was the same or o 0 8 rerniniscent of a 1976 study by Harvard psychologi x her colleague udith Rodin now president of the Roc in a New England nursing home Residents were i opportunity to see weTelltly lms but with some var dents on the fourth floor z inuld choose the night o flanger and healthier lives than the o P that were watered by the sta it Putternicity is 83 volatile marlltet condition Rough Seas Ahead likely to invest in Company B compared to those 7stableun1arlltet condition Smooth Sailing Ahead Why Because those subjects in the volatile market condition rem statements made about Company B whereas tho condition accurately Why should this be This is the result of something called illusory correlation tion of a causal relation39ship between two sets of variables exists or the overestimation ofa co illusory correlation e ect is stron subjects exposed to the embered more negative se in the stable niarket remembered the number of negative statements the percep where none nnection between two variables The gest when people form false associa tions between X membership in a statistically small groupand Y rare and usually negative traits or behaviors Trivially for example people tend to recall the days when they X washed their car and Y it rained nontrivially white ArnericansT typically overestimate the rate that X Afric39an Americans are Y arrestedflz What can we do about illusory pattern detection sky created a sense oflacllti one group to contemplate illusory correlation and the broader problem of In their final experiment T 7l1its on and Galin ng control in two groups of subjects then aslcecl and a irm their most important values py life a proven technique for reducing learned hellplessness The researchers then presented those san1e snowy pictures nding that those who lacked con trol but had no opportunity Tfor self af rm terns than did those in the selfa irmatiori ln1erestingly researchl protocol time in her life and science ation saw more nonexistent pat condition Whitson confessed to me she originally devised this when she was going through a particularly stressful feeling rather out of control herself Call it therapeutic It seems to work Before undergoing surgery Whitson re ected people given details about what is going to happen h rve less anxiety and may even recover faster Knowledge is another form of control This is st Ellen Langer and kefeller Foundation given plants and the iation of control Resi who were in charge of watering the plants and 1 the week they wanted to view the lm lived ther residents even those given plants was the sense of control that had the 134 B were signi cantly less 34 0 The Biology ofB39eIief T A T 39 r V R 5 H P3 ff A h lth d wellebe1rig 3 Pf391 h3P5 this 15 What V0 aPPaI lte leheeblidlbf Chndili in the title Acharactefs rejoinder to Dr PElT1 mealvi A v 1D55 5 proclamation that all events are linked up in this best of all pos gble worlds Tis wellquot said quotA replied Candide but we must cultivate our 81 T y 3 3 A gardens The Power and Perils of Patternicity Occasionally I am challenged about the harm of people embracing super stitions along the lines of Oh coins on shermgra let P30PtEthV l p delusions Whats the harm Setting aside for t e mornerg guns a reading of one s astrology chart in the newspaperT1t39o tT5 E Tm real after dinner cookie my general answeris that it Ito 1V 0uS whim world than a fantasy world The in factT can be ea y seri our patternicities are of the Type 1 f315B P051l1VetYPe39 What s the harm Ask the victims of lohn Patrick Bedelltl1 rU m u A A K wo who attacked guards at the entrance of the Pentagon in Tth r Tm an now appears to have been a right wing extremist and 51 1 hind th Internet posting he said that he intended to expo 11 d dd ta ghoot 9quot11 deniolitions Apparently the delusional Be eT 1nt1eIiT 9nT1 Deagh way intothe Pentagon to nd out What T3311 haPPe39net 0 i quot by conspiracy T T T T T Death by theory provides another case in point In April 2000 a terl T yearold girl named Candace Newrnaker began treatment for something called cttochment disorder APB Candacelsi 3d0PllVe mother of Our T7 T Ieane Newmaker was having trouble handling what she cogsideredgio be Candaces disciplinary problems Nhen l e S llghli hf391 mm 3T T ist a iliatecl with the soAecalled Association for Treatment and Training the Attachment of Children 34 she was told Candace needed attachment T1TnT j A ze 39 therapy AT based on the theory that if a normalhattachmen 3t5de formed during the critical first two years than IE i E f C T 1 A Ca T 0v 0 later This is a little like arguing that if irnprinting in a baby duckling 053 not happen in the early critical period it can be done at a later time it Can A A A 39 7 T d A for this later iattachme t According to the theory behindA in or of T T T T d tT 3 Sim process to be successful the child ITll1St 1 STt be 511bJ3CteT an E ri ed confrontation and restraint in order to release SUPP05 Y1quot P A abandonment anger The Pmcess 139ePe3t5 01 35 19113 35 395 eC 5S rl 39 135 Patternicity 85 hours days even weeksauntil the child is physically exhausted and emotionally reduced to an infantile state Then the parents cradle rock and bottlefeed the child implementing a reattachment This would be like taking afu11 grown duck and attempting to reduce it back to its duckling stage quotthrough physical and emotional constraints and then seeing if it will attach to its mother That s the theory anyway The practice resulted in something rather di erent and deadly Candace was taken to Evergreen Colorado where she was treated by Connell Watkins a nationally prominent attachinent therapist and past I clinical director for the Attachment Center at Evergreen along with her associate Iulie Ponder a recently licensed family counselor from Califora nia The treatment was conducted in Watkins s home and videotaped According to trial transcripts Watkins and Ponder conducted more than four days of holding therapies in which they grabbed or covered Can dace s face 138 times shook or bounced her head 392 times and shouted into her face 133 times When this failed to break her they put the tiny sixtyeight pound Candace inside a annel sheet and covered her with sofa pillows while several adults with a cornbined weight of nearly seven hundred pounds lay on top of her so that she could be reborn Ponder told Candace that she was a teeny little baby in the womb commanding her to conie out head rst and push with your feet In response Can dace screamed I can t breathe I can t do it Soniebody s on top of me I want to die now Please Air According to AT theory Candace s reaction was a sign of her emotional resistance she needed more confrontation to reach the rage necessary to break through the wall and achieve ernotional healing Putting theory into practice Ponder admonished her You re gonna die Candace begged Please please ll can t breathe Ponder instructed the others to press more on top on the premise that AD children exaggerate their distress Can dace voinited then cried I gotta poop Her mother entreated l know it s hard but Fm waiting for you 39 After forty minutes of this torture Candace went silent Ponder rebuked her Quitter quitter Someone joked about performing a ACsection while Ponder patted a dog that meandered by After thirty more minutes of silence Watkins sarcastically remarked Let s look at this twerp and see what s going on is there a kid in there somewhere There you are lying in your own vomit aren t you tired Candace Newrnaker was not tired she was dead This ten yearold 86 o The Biology ofBelief child died of cerebral edema and herniation caused by hypoxicaischemic encephalopathy the autopsy report clinically stated The procrimvate cause of Canclace s death was su hcation and her therapists received the minimum sentence of sixteen years for reckless child abuse resulting in death The ultimate cause was pseudoscienti c quackery mastqueradingi as psychological science In their penetrating analysis of the case At to ch mam Therapy on Trial Jean Mercerllarry Sarner and nda Rosa write However bizarre or idiosyncratic these treatments appear a and how ever ineifective or harmful they may be to children they39 emerge from a complex internal logic based unfortunately on faulty premises 35 These therapists killed Candace not because they were evil but because they were in the grip of as pseudoscienti c belief grounded in superstition and magical thinllting Hence an extreme example of the power and the peril of patternicity and the deadly force of b elief dependent realism 136 Confronting Creationists Twenty ve Creationist Arguments Twentyfive Evolutionist Answers ate in his life Charles Darwin received many letters asking for his views on God and religion On October 13 1880 for example he answered a letter from the editor of a book on evolution and free thought who was hoping to dedicate it to him Knowing that the book had an antireligious slant Darwin dissembled quotMoreover though I am a strong advocate for free thought on all subjects yet it appears to me whether rightly or wrongly that direct arguments against Christianity amp theism produce hardly any effect on the public amp freedom of thought is best promoted by the gradual illumination of men39s minds which follow from the advance of science It has therefore been always my object to avoid writing on religion amp I have con ned myself to sciencequot in Desmond and Moore 1991 p 645 In classifying the relationship of science and religion I would like to suggest a threetiered taxonomy The sameworlds model Science and religion deal with the same subjects and not only is there overlap and conciliation but someday science may subsume religion completely Frank T ipler39s cosmology 1994 based on the anthropic principle and the eventual resurrection of all humans through a supercomputer39s virtual reality in the far future of the universe is one example Many humanists and evolutionary psychologists foresee a time when science not only can explain the purpose of religion it will replace it with a viable secular morality and ethics 137 137 13 8 Part 3 Evolution and Creationism The separateworlds model Science and religion deal with different subjects do not con ict or overlap and the two should coexist peacefully with one another Charles Darwin Stephen Jay Gould and many other scientists hold this model The cori ictirigworlds model One is right and the other is wrong and there can be no reconciliation between the two viewpoints This model is predominantly held by atheists and creationists who are often at odds with one another This taxonomy allows us to see that Darwin39s advice is as applicable today as it was a century ago Thus let us be clear that refuting creation ists39 arguments is not an attack on religion Let us also be clear that cre ationism is an attack on science all of science not just evolutionary biol ogy so the counterarguments presented in this chapter are a response to the antiscience of creationism and have nothing whatsoever to do with antireligion If creationists are right then there are serious problems with physics astronomy cosmology geology paleontology botany zoology and all the life sciences Can all these sciences be wrong in the same direc tion Of course not but creationists think they are and worse they want their antiscience taught in public schools Creationists and religious fundamentalists will go to absurd lengths to protect their beliefs from science The Summer 1996 issue of the National Center for Science Education39s Reports notes that in Marshall County Kentucky elementary school superintendent Kenneth Shadowen found a rather unique solution to a vexing problem with his fth and sixth graders science textbooks It seems that the heretical textbook Discovery Works claimed that the universe began with the Big Bang but did not pre sent any quotalternativesquot to this theory Since the Big Bang was explained on a twopage spread Shadowen recalled all the textbooks and glued together the offending pages Shadowen told the Louisville CourierJournal quotWe39re not going to teach one theory and not teach another theoryquot and that the textbook39s recall quothad nothing to do with censorship or anything like thatquot August 23 1996 Al p 1 It seems doubtful that Shadowen was lobbying for equal time for the Steady State theory or In ationary Cosmology Perhaps Shadowen found his solution by consulting librarian Ray Martin39s quotReviewing and Correcting Encyclopediasquot a guide for Christians on how to doctor books Encyclopedias are a vital part of many school libraries They represent the philosophies of present day humanists This is obvious by the bold display 138 Chapter I 0 Confronting Creationists 13 9 of pictures that are used to illustrate painting art and sculpture One of the areas that needs correction is immodesty due to nakedness and posture This can be corrected by drawing clothes on the gures or blotting out entire pictures with a magic marker This needs to be done with care or the magic marker can be erased from the glossy paper used in printing encyclopedias You can overcome this by taking a razor blade and lightly scraping the surface until it loses its glaze Regarding evolution cutting out the sections is practical if the portions removed are not thick enough to cause damage to the spine of the book as it is opened and closed in normal use When the sections needing correction are too thick paste the pages together being careful not to smear portions of the book not intended for correction Christian School Builder April 1983 pp 205207 Fortunately creationists have failed in their topdown strategy of pass ing antievolution procreationism laws Ohio Tennessee and Georgia recently rejected creationist legislation but their bottomup grassroots campaign bent on injecting Genesis into the public school curriculum has met with success In March 1996 for example Governor Fob James used a discretionary fund of taxpayers money to purchase and send a copy of Phillip Johnson39s antievolution book Darwin on Trial to every high school biology teacher in Alabama Their success should not be surprising Politically the United States has taken a sharp tum to the right and the political strength of the religious right has grown What can we do We can counter with our own literature For example the National Center for Science Education Eugenie Scott39s Berkeleybased group specializing in tracking creationist activities countered Govemor J ames39s mailing with a mailing that included a critical review of Johnson39s book We can also try to understand the issue thoroughly so that we are prepared to counter pro creationist arguments wherever we meet them The following is a list of arguments put forth by creationists and answers put forth by evolutionists The arguments are primarily attacks on evolutionary theory and secondarily in a minor way positive statements of creationists own beliefs The arguments and answers are simplified due to space constraints nonetheless they provide an overview of the principal points of the debate This list is not meant to substitute for critical reading however While these answers might be adequate for casual conversation they would not be adequate for a formal debate with a wellprepared cre ationist Numerous books offer fuller discussions eg Berra 1990 Bowler 1989 Eve and Harrold 1991 Futuyma 1983 Gilkey 1985 Godfrey 1983 Gould 1983 a 1991 Lindberg and Numbers 1986 Numbers 1992 Ruse 1982 and especially Strahler 1987 139 HO Part 3 Evolution and Creationism What Is Evolution Before reviewing creationists arguments against evolution a brief sum mary of the theory itself might be useful Darwin39s theory outlined in his 1859 On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection can be summa rized as follows Gould l987a Mayr 1982 1988 Evolution Organisms change through time Both the fossil record and nature today make this obvious Descent with modi cation Evolution proceeds via branching through common descent Offspring are similar to but not exact replicas of their parents This produces the necessary variation to allow for adaptation to an everchanging environment Graclualism Change is slow steady stately Natura nonfacit saltum Nature does not make leaps Given enough time evolution accounts for species change Multiplication of speciation Evolution does not just produce new species it produces an increasing number of new species Natural selection The mechanism of evolutionary change co discovered by Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace operates as follows A Populations tend to increase inde nitely in a geometric ratio 248163264128256512 B In a natural environment however population numbers stabilize at a certain level C Therefore there must be a quotstruggle for existencequot because not all of the organisms produced can survive D There is variation in every species E In the struggle for existence those individuals with variations that are better adapted to the environment leave behind more offspring than individuals that are less well adapted This is known in the jargon of the trade as differential reproductive success Point E is crucial Natural selection and thus evolutionary change oper ate primarily at the local level It is just a game of who can leave behind the most offspring that is who can most successfully propagate their genes into the next generation Natural selection has nothing to say about evolutionary 140 Chapter 10 Confronting Creationists 141 direction species progress or any of the other teleological goals such as human inevitability or the necessary evolution of intelligence which are commonly attributed to it There is no ladder of evolutionary progress with humans at the top only a richly branching bush with humans as one tiny twig among millions There is nothing special about humans we just happen to be extremely good at differential reproductive success we leave behind lots of offspring and are good at getting them into adulthood a trait that could eventually cause our demise Of the five points of Darwin39s theory the most controversial today are gradualism with Niles Eldredge 1971 1985 Eldredge and Gould 1972 and Stephen Jay Gould 1985 1989 1991 and their supporters pushing for a theory called punctuated equilibrium which involves rapid change and stasis to replace gradualism and the exclusivity of natural selection with Eldredge Gould and others arguing for change at the level of genes groups and populations in addition to individual natural selection Somit and Peterson 1992 Ranged against Eldredge Gould and their supporters are Daniel Dennett 1995 Richard Dawkins 1995 and those who opt for a strict Darwinian model of gradualism and natural selection The debate rages while creationists sit on the sidelines hoping for a double knockout They will not get it These scientists are not arguing about whether evolution happened they are debating the rate and mechanism of evolutionary change When it all shakes down the theory of evolution will be stronger than ever It is sad that while science moves ahead in exciting new areas of research finetuning our knowledge of how life originated and evolved creationists remain mired in medieval debates about angels on the head of a pin and animals in the belly of an Ark Philosophically Based Arguments and Answers 1 Creation science is scienti c and therefore should be taught in public school science courses Creationscience is scientific in name only It is a thinly disguised religious position rather than a theory to be tested using scienti c methods and therefore it is not appropriate for public school science courses just as call ing something Muslimscience or Buddhascience or Christianscience would not mean that it requires equal time The following statement from the Institute for Creation Research which must be adhered to by all faculty 141 142 Part 3 Evolution and Creationism members and researchers is a powerful illumination of creationist beliefs quotThe scriptures both Old and New Testaments are inerrant in relation to any subject with which they deal and are to be accepted in their natural and intended sense N all things in the universe were created and made by God in the six days of special creation described in Genesis The creationist account is accepted as factual historical and perspicuous and is thus fundamental in the understanding of every fact and phenomenon in the created universequot in Rohr 1986 p 176 Science is subject to disproof and is everchanging as new facts and theories reshape our views Creationism prefers faith in the authority of the Bible no matter what contradictory empirical evidence might exist quotThe main reason for insisting on the universal Flood as a fact of history and as the primary vehicle for geological interpretation is that God39s Word plainly teaches it No geological dif culties real or imagined can be allowed to take precedence over the clear statements and necessary inferences of Scripturequot in Rohr 1986 p 190 Here is an analogy Professors at Caltech declare Darwin39s Origin of Species dogma the authority of this book and its author absolute and any further empirical evidence for or against evolution irrelevant 2 Science only deals with the hereandnow and thus cannot answer histor ical questions about the creation of the universe and the origins of life and the human species Science does deal with past phenomena particularly in historical sciences such as cosmology geology paleontology paleoanthropology and archeology There are experimental sciences and historical sciences They use different methodologies but are equally able to track causality Evolutionary biology is a valid and legitimate historical science 3 Education is a process of learning all sides of an issue so it is appropri ate for creationism and evolution to be taught sidebyside in public school science courses Not to do so is a violation of the principles of education and of the civil liberties of creationists We have a right to be heard and besides what is the harm in hearing both sides Exposure to the many facets of issues is indeed a part of the general educational process and it might be appropriate to discuss creationism in courses on religion history or even philosophy but most certainly not science similarly biology courses should not include lectures on American Indian creation myths There is considerable harm in teaching creationscience as science because the consequent blurring of the line between religion and science means that students will not understand 142 Chapter 10 Confronting Creationists 143 what the scienti c paradigm is and how to apply it properly Moreover the assumptions behind creationism comprise a twopronged attack on all the sciences not just on evolutionary biology One if the universe and Earth are only about ten thousand years old then the modern sciences of cosmology astronomy physics chemistry geology paleontology paleoanthropology and early human history are all invalid Two as soon as the creation of even one species is attributed to supernatural intervention natural laws and inferences about the workings of nature become void In each case all science becomes meaningless 4 There is an amazing correlation between the facts of nature and the acts of the Bible It is therefore appropriate to use creationscience books and the Bible as reference tools in public school science courses and to study the Bible as a book of science alongside the book of nature There is also an amazing correlation between acts in the Bible for which there are no facts in nature and between facts in nature for which there are no acts in the Bible If a group of Shakespeare scholars believe that the universe is explained in the bard39s plays does that mean science courses should include readings of Shakespeare Shakespeare39s plays are literature the Bible contains scriptures sacred to several religions and neither has any pretensions to being a book of science or a scientific authority 5 The theory of natural selection is tautological or a form of circular rea soning Those who survive are the best adapted Who are the best adapted Those who survive Likewise rocks are used to date fossils and fossils are used to date rocks Tautologies do not make a science Sometimes tautologies are the beginning of science but they are never the end Gravity can be tautological but its inference is justified by the way this theory allows scientists to accurately predict physical effects and phenomena Likewise natural selection and the theory of evolution are testable and falsi able by looking at their predictive power For example population genetics demonstrates quite clearly and with mathematical prediction when natural selection will and will not effect change on a population Scientists can make predictions based on the theory of natural selection and then test them as the geneticist does in the example just given or the paleontologist does in interpreting the fossil record Finding hominid fossils in the same geological strata as trilobites for instance would be evidence against the theory The dating of fossils with rocks and vice versa could only be done after the geological column was established The geological column exists nowhere in its entirety because strata are disrupted convoluted and always incomplete for a variety of reasons But 143 144 Part 3 Evolution and Creationism strata order is unmistakably nonrandom and chronological order can be accurately pieced together using a variety of techniques only one of which is fossils 6 There are only two explanations for the origins of Ufe and existence of humans plants and animals either it was the work of a creator or it was not Since evolution theory is unsupported by the evidence ie it is wrong creationism must be correct Any evidence that does not support the theory of evolution is necessarily scientific evidence in support of creationism Beware of the eitheror fallacy or the fallacy of false alternatives If A is false B must be true Oh Why Plus shouldn39t B stand on its own regardless of A Of course So even if evolutionary theory turns out to be completely wrong that does not mean that ergo creationism is right There may be alternatives C D and E we have yet to consider There is however a true dichotomy in the case of natural versus supernatural explanations Either life was created and changed by natural means or it was created and changed by supernatural intervention and according to a supernatural design Scientists assume natural causation and evolutionists debate the various natural causal agents involved They are not arguing about whether it happened by natural or supernatural means And again once you assume supernatural intervention science goes out the window so there can be no scientific evidence in support of creationism because natural laws no longer hold and scienti c methodology has no meaning in the world of creationists 7 Evolutionary theory is the basis of Marxism communism atheism immorality and the general decline of the morals and culture of America and therefore is bad for our children This partakes of the reductio ad absurdum fallacy Neither the theory of evolution in particular nor science in general is no more the basis of these quotismsquot and Americans socalled declining morals and culture than the printing press is responsible for Hitler39s Mein Kampf or Mein Kampf is responsible for what people did with Hitler39s ideology The fact that the atomic bomb the hydrogen bomb and many even more destructive weapons have been invented does not mean we should abandon the study of the atom Moreover there may well be Marxist communist atheistic and even immoral evolutionists but there are probably just as many capitalist theist agnostic and moral evolutionists As for the theory itself it can be used to support Marxist communist and atheistic ideologies and it has but so has it been used especially in America to lend credence to laissez faire capitalism The point is that linking scientific theories to political ideologies is tricky business and we must be cautious of making 144 Chapter 10 Confronting Creationists 145 connections that do not necessarily follow or that serve particular agendas eg one person39s cultural and moral decline is another person39s cultural and moral progress 8 Evolutionary theory along with its bedfellow secular humanism is really a religion so it is not appropriate to teach it in public schools To call the science of evolutionary biology a religion is to so broaden the definition of religion as to make it totally meaningless In other words religion becomes any lens that we look through to interpret the world But that is not what religion is Religion has something to do with the service and worship of God or the supernatural whereas science has to do with physical phenomena Religion has to do with faith and the unseen science focuses on empirical evidence and testable knowledge Science is a set of methods designed to describe and interpret observed or inferred phenomena past or present and aimed at building a testable body of knowledge open to rejection or con rmation Religion whatever it is is certainly neither testable nor open to rejection or confirmation In their methodologies science and religion are 180 degrees out of phase with each other 9 Many leading evolutionists are skeptical of the theory and nd it problem atic For example Eldredge and Gould39s theory of punctuated equilibrium proves Darwin wrong If the world39s leading evolutionists cannot agree on the theory the whole thing must be a wash It is particularly ironic that the creationists would quote a leading spokesman against creationism Gould in their attempts to marshal the forces of science on their side Creationists have misunderstood either naively or intentionally the healthy scienti c debate among evolutionists about the causal agents of organic change They apparently take this normal exchange of ideas and the self correcting nature of science as evidence that the eld is coming apart at the seams and about to implode Of the many things evolutionists argue and debate within the eld one thing they are certain of and all agree upon is that evolution has occurred Exactly how it happened and what the relative strengths of the various causal mechanisms are continue to be discussed Eldredge and Gould39s theory of punctuated equilibrium is a refinement of and improvement upon Darwin39s theory of evolution It no more proves Darwin wrong than Einsteinian relativity proves Newton wrong 10 quotThe Bible is the written Word of God all of its assertions are histor ically and scientifically true The great Flood described in Genesis was an historical event worldwide in its extent and effect We are an organization of Christian men of science who accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior 145 146 Part 3 Evolution and Creationism The account of the special creation of Adam and Eve as one man and one woman and their subsequent Fall into sin is the basis for our belief in the necessity of a Savior for all mankindquot in Eve and Harrold 1991 p 55 Such a statement of belief is clearly religious This does not make it wrong but it does mean that creationscience is really creation religion and to this extent breaches the wall separating church and state In private schools funded or controlled by creationists they are free to teach whatever they like to their children But one cannot make the events in any text historically and scienti cally true by at only by testing the evidence and to ask the state to direct teachers to teach a particular religious doctrine as science is unreasonable and onerous 11 All causes have effects The cause of quotXquot must be quotXlikequot The cause of intelligence must be intelligent God Regress all causes in time and you must come to the first cause God Because all things are in motion there must have been a prime mover a mover who needs no other mover to be moved God All things in the universe have a purpose therefore there must be a purposeful designer God If this were true should not nature then have a natural cause not a supernatural cause But causes of quotXquot do not have to be quotXlikequot The quotcausequot of green paint is blue paint mixed with yellow paint neither one of which is greenlike Animal manure causes fruit trees to grow better Fruit is delicious to eat and is therefore very unmanurelike The rstcause and primemover argument brilliantly proffered by St Thomas Aquinas in the fourteenth century and more brilliantly refuted by David Hume in the eighteenth century is easily turned aside with just one more question Who or what caused and moved God Finally as Hume demonstrated purposefulness of design is often illusory and subjective quotThe early bird gets the wormquot is a clever design if you are the bird not so good if you are the worm Two eyes may seem like the ideal number but as psychologist Richard Hardison notes cheerfully quotWouldn39t it be desirable to have an additional eye in the back of one39s head and certainly an eye attached to our fore nger would be helpful when we39re working behind the instrument panels of automobilesquot 1988 p 123 Purpose is in part what we are accustomed to perceiving Finally not everything is so purposeful and beautifully designed In addition to problems like evil disease deformities and human stupidity which creationists conveniently overlook nature is lled with the bizarre and seemingly unpurposeful Male nipples and the panda39s thumb are just two examples aunted by Gould as purposeless and poorly designed structures If God designed life to t neatly together like a jigsaw puzzle then what do you do with such oddities and problems 146 Chapter 10 Confronting Creationists 147 12 Something cannot be created out of nothing say scientists Therefore from where did the material for the Big Bang come From where did the first life forms that provided the raw material for evolution originate Stanley Miller39s creation of amino acids out of an inorganic quotsoupquot and other biogenic molecules is not the creation of life Science may not be equipped to answer certain quotultimatequottype questions such as what there was before the beginning of the universe or what time it was before time began or where the matter for the Big Bang came from So far these have been philosophical or religious questions not scientific ones and therefore have not been a part of science Recently Stephen Hawking and other cosmologists have made some attempts at scienti c speculations on these questions Evolutionary theory attempts to understand the causality of change after time and matter were quotcreatedquot whatever that means As for the origin of life biochemists do have a very rational and scienti c explanation for the evolution from inorganic to organic compounds the creation of amino acids and the construction of protein chains the first crude cells the creation of photosynthesis the invention of sexual reproduction and so on Stanley Miller never claimed to have created life just some of its building blocks While these theories are by no means robust and are still subject to lively scienti c debate there is a reasonable explanation for how you get from the Big Bang to the Big Brain in the known universe using the known laws of nature Scienti cally Based Arguments and Answers 13 Population statistics demonstrate that if we extrapolate backward from the present population using the current rate of population growth there were only two people living approximately 6300 years before the present 4300 BCE This proves that humans and civilization are quite young If the Earth were old say one million years over the course of 25000 genera tions at a 05 percent rate of population growth and an average of 25 chil dren per family the present population would be 10 to the power of 2100 people which is impossible since there are only 10 to the power of 130 elec trons in the known universe If you want to play the numbers game how about this Applying their model we nd that in 2600 BCE the total population on Earth would have been around 600 people We know with a high degree of certainty that in 2600 BCE there were ourishing civilizations in Egypt Mesopotamia the Indus River Valley and China If we give Egypt an extremely generous onesixth of the world39s population then 100 people 147 148 Part 3 Evolution and Creationism built the pyramids not to mention all the other architectural monuments they most certainly needed a miracle or two 3 or perhaps the assistance of ancient astronauts The fact is that populations do not grow in a steady manner There are booms and busts and the history of the human population before the Industrial Revolution is one of prosperity and growth followed by famine and decline and punctuated by disaster In Europe for instance about half of the population was killed by a plague during the sixth century and in the fourteenth century the bubonic plague wiped out about onethird of the population in three years As humans struggled for millennia to fend off extinction the population curve was one of peaks and valleys as it climbed uncertainly but steadily upward It is only since the nineteenth century that the rate of increase has been steadily accelerating 14 Natural selection can never account for anything other than minor changes within species microevohrtion Mutations used by evolutionists to explain macroevolution are always harmful rare and random and cannot be the driving force of evolutionary change I shall never forget the four words pounded into the brains of the students of evolutionary biologist Bayard Brattstrom at California State University Fullerton quotMutants are not monsters His point was that the public perception of mutants twoheaded cows and the like at the county fair is not the sort of mutants evolutionists are discussing Most mutations are small genetic or chromosomal aberrations that have small effects slightly keener hearing a new shade of fur Some of these small effects may provide bene ts to an organism in an ever changing environment Moreover Ernst Mayr39s 1970 theory of allopatric speciation seems to demonstrate precisely how natural selection in conjunction with other forces and contingencies of nature can and does produce new species Whether they agree or disagree with the theory of allopatric speciation and punctuated equilibrium scientists all agree that natural selection can produce significant change The debate is over how much change how rapid a change and what other forces of nature act in conjunction with or contrary to natural selection No one and I mean no one working in the field is debating whether natural selection is the driving force behind evolution much less whether evolution happened or not 15 There are no transitional forms in the fossil record anywhere includ ing and especially humans The whole fossil record is an embarrassment to evolutionists Neanderthal specimens for example are diseased skeletons distorted by arthritis rickets and other diseases that create the bowed legs 148 C7uqterI0 Cb1 0ntz39ngCreatz390nz39sts 149 brow ridge and larger skeletal structure Homo erectus and Australopithecus are just apes Creationists always quote Darwin39s famous passage in the Origin of Species in which he asks quotWhy then is not every geological formation and every stratum 1ll of such intermediate links Geology assuredly does not reveal any such nely graduated organic chain and this perhaps is the gravest objection which can be urged against my theoryquot 1859 p 310 Creation ists end the quote there and ignore the rest of Darwin39s chapter in which he addresses the problem One answer is that plenty of examples of transitional forms have been discovered since Darwin39s time Just look in any paleontology text The fossil Arche0pteryx part reptile part bird is a classic example of a transi tional form In my debate with Duane Gish I presented a slide of the newly discovered Ambulocetus nutaz2s a beautiful example of a transitional form from land mammal to whale see Science January 14 1994 p 180 And the charges about the Neanderthals and Homo erectus are simply absurd We now have a treasure trove of human transitional forms A second answer is a rhetorical one Creationists demand just one transi tional fossil When you give it to them they then claim there is a gap between these two fossils and ask you to present a transitional form between these two If you do there are now two more gaps in the fossil record and so on ad infmitum Simply pointing this out refutes the argument You can do it with cups on a table showing how each time the gap is lled with a cup it creates two gaps which when each is lled with a cup creates four gaps and so on The absurdity of the argument is visually striking A third answer was provided in 1972 by Eldredge and Gould when they argued that gaps in the fossil record do not indicate missing data of slow and stately change rather quotmissingquot fossils are evidence of rapid and episodic change punctuated equilibrium Using Mayr39s allopatric specia tion where small and unstable quotfounderquot populations are isolated at the periphery of the larger population39s range Eldredge and Gould showed that the relatively rapid change in this smaller gene pool creates new species but leaves behind few if any fossils The process of fossilization is rare and infrequent anyway but it is almost nonexistent during these times of rapid speciation because the number of individuals is small and the change is swift A lack of fossils may be evidence for rapid change not missing evidence for gradual evolution 16 The Second Law of Thermodynamics proves that evolution cannot be true since evolutionists state that the universe and life move from chaos to 149 150 Part 3 Evolution and Creationism order and simple to complex the exact opposite of the entropy predicted by the Second Law First of all on any scale other than the grandest of all the 600millionyear history of life on Earth species do not evolve from simple to complex and nature does not simply move from chaos to order The history of life is checkered with false starts failed experiments local and mass extinctions and chaotic restarts It is anything but a neat TimeLifebook foldout from single cells to humans Even in the big picture the Second Law allows for such change because the Earth is in a system that has a constant input of energy from the Sun As long as the Sun is burning life may continue thriving and evolving automobiles may be prevented from rusting burgers can be heated in ovens and all manner of other things in apparent violation of the Second Law may continue But as soon as the Sun burns out entropy will take over and life will cease and chaos come again The Second Law of Thermodynamics applies to closed isolated systems Since the Earth receives a constant input of energy from the Sun entropy may decrease and order increase although the Sun itself is running down in the process Thus because the Earth is not strictly a closed system life may evolve without violating natural laws In addition recent research in chaos theory suggests that order can and does spontaneously generate out of apparent chaos all without violating the Second Law of Thermodynamics see Kauffman 1993 Evolution no more breaks the Second Law of Thermodynamics than one breaks the law of gravity by jumping up 17 Even the simplest of life forms are too complex to have come together by random chance Take a simple organism consisting of merely 100 parts Mathematically there are 10 to the power of 158 possible ways for the parts to link up There are not enough molecules in the universe or time since the beginning to allow for these possible ways to come together in even this simple life form let alone to produce human beings The human eye alone defies explanation by the randomness of evolution It is the equivalent of the monkey typing Hamlet or even quotTo be or not to bequot It will not happen by random chance Natural selection is not random nor does it operate by chance Natural selection preserves the gains and eradicates the mistakes The eye evolved from a single lightsensitive cell into the complex eye of today through hundreds if not thousands of intermediate steps many of which still exist in nature see Dawkins 1986 In order for the monkey to type the thirteen letters opening Hamlet39s soliloquy by chance it would take 26 to the power of 13 trials for success This is sixteen times as great as the total number of seconds that have elapsed in the lifetime of our solar system But if each correct letter is preserved and each incorrect letter eradicated 150 Chapter 10 Confronting Creationists 151 the process operates much faster How much faster Richard Hardison 1988 wrote a computer program in which letters were quotselectedquot for or against and it took an average of only 3352 trials to produce the sequence of letters TOBEORNOTTOBE It takes the computer less than ninety seconds The entire play can be done in about 45 days 18 Hydrodynamic sorting during the Flood explains the apparent progres sion of fossils in geological strata The simple ignorant organisms died in the sea and are on the bottom layers while more complex smarter and faster organisms died higher up Not one trilobite oated upward to a higher stratum Not one dumb horse was on the beach and drowned in a lower stratum Not one ying pterodactyl made it above the Cretaceous layer Not one moronic human did not come in out of the rain And what about the evidence provided by other dating techniques such as radiometry 19 The dating techniques of evolutionists are inconsistent unreliable and wrong They give false impressions of an old Earth when in fact it is no older than ten thousand years as proven by Dr Thomas Barnes from the University of Texas at El Paso when he demonstrated that the halflife of the Earth39s magnetic field is 1400 years First of all Barnes39s magnetic eld argument assumes that the decay of the magnetic eld is linear when geophysics has demonstrated that it fluctuates through time He is working from a false premise Second not only are the various dating techniques quite reliable on their own but there is considerable independent corroboration between them For example radiometric dates for different elements from the same rock will all converge on the same date Finally how can creationists dismiss all dating techniques with a sweep of the hand except those that purportedly support their position 20 Classification of organisms above the species level is arbitrary and man made Taxonomy proves nothing especially because so many of the links between species are missing The science of classi cation is indeed manmade like all sciences and of course it cannot prove anything about the evolution of organisms absolutely But its grouping of organisms is anything but arbitrary even though there is an element of subjectivity to it An interesting crosscultural test of taxonomy is the fact that Westerntrained biologists and native peoples from New Guinea identify the same types of birds as separate species see Mayr 1988 Such groupings really do exist in nature Moreover the goal of modern cladistics the science of classi cation 151 152 Pan 3 Evolution and Creationism through nested hierarchies of similarities is to make taxonomy less subjective and it successfully uses inferred evolutionary relationships to arrange taxa in a branching hierarchy such that all members of a given taxon have the same ancestors 21 If evolution is gradual there should be no gaps between species Evolution is not always gradual It is often quite sporadic And evolutionists never said there should not be gaps Finally gaps do not prove creation any more than blank spots in human history prove that all civilizations were spontaneously created 22 quotLiving fossilsquot like the coelacanth and horseshoe crab prove that all life was created at once The existence of living fossils organisms that have not changed for millions of years simply means that they evolved a structure adequate for their relatively static and unchanging environment so they stopped once they could maintain their ecological niche Sharks and many other sea creatures are relatively unchanged over millions of years while other sea creatures such as marine mammals have obviously changed rapidly and dramatically Evolutionary change or lack of change as the case may be all depends on how and when a species immediate environment changes 23 The incipient structure problem refutes natural selection A new struc ture that evolves slowly over tune would not provide an advantage to the organism in its beginning or intermediate stages only when it is com pletely developed which can only happen by special creation What good is 5 percent of a wing or 55 percent You need all or nothing A poorly developed wing may have been a welldeveloped something else like a thermoregulator for ectothermic reptiles who depend on external sources of heat And it is not true that incipient stages are completely useless As Richard Dawkins argues in The Blind Watchmaker 1986 and Climbing Mount Improbable 1996 5 percent vision is significantly better than none and being able to get airborne for any length of time can provide an adaptive advantage 24 Homologous structures the wing of a bat the ipper of a whale the arm of a human are proof of intelligent design By invoking miracles and special providence the creationist can pick and choose anything in nature as proof of God39s work and then ignore the rest Homologous structures actually make no sense in a special creation 152 Chapter 10 Confronting Creationists 153 paradigm Why should a whale have the same bones in its ipper as a human has in its arm and a bat has in its wing God has a limited imagination God was testing out the possibilities of His designs God just wanted to do things that way Surely an omnipotent intelligent designer could have done better Homologous structures are indicative of descent with modi cation not divine creation 25 The whole history of evolutionary theory in particular and science in general is the history of mistaken theories and overthrown ideas Nebraska Man Piltdown Man Calaveras Man and Hesperopithecus are just a few of the blunders scientists have made Clearly science cannot be trusted and modern theories are no better than past ones Again it is paradoxical for creationists to simultaneously draw on the authority of science and attack the basic workings of science Furthermore this argument reveals a gross misunderstanding of the nature of science Science does not just change It constantly builds upon the ideas of the past and it is cumulative toward the future Scientists do make mistakes aplenty and in fact this is how science progresses The selfcorrecting feature of the scientific method is one of its most beautiful features Hoaxes like Piltdown Man and honest mistakes like Hesperopithecus are in time exposed Science picks itself up shakes itself off and moves on Debates and Truth These twenty ve answers only scratch the surface of the science and philosophy supporting evolutionary theory If confronted by a creationist we would be wise to heed the words of Stephen Jay Gould who has encountered creationists on many an occasion Debate is an art form It is about the winning of arguments It is not about the discovery of truth There are certain rules and procedures to debate that really have nothing to do with establishing fact which they are very good at Some of those rules are never say anything positive about your own position because it can be attacked but chip away at what appear to be the weaknesses in your opponent39s position They are good at that I don39t think I could beat the creationists at debate I can tie them But in courtrooms they are terrible because in courtrooms you cannot give speeches In a courtroom you have to answer direct questions about the positive status of your belief We destroyed them in Arkansas On the second day of the twoweek trial we had our victory party Caltech lecture 1985 153
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