Thursday, February 21, 2008

Florida Board Games (continued) ... Circular Reasoning

... To continue the discussion from yesterday, it is not just the creationists in Florida who need to improve the way they handle controversies of this kind.

The Naturalistic Scientific Establishment (NSE -- I just made that up) is also to blame. On their side of the debate, they have created a straw man in the way they use the word "scientific." Insisting that evolution is scientific, as compared to its "unscientific" counterpart, "intelligent design" (ID), the NSE aims to defend rational thought against the idiocy of the religious nutcases who lurk within our science labs, heaven-bent on destroying the enlightened progress of the educated.

Think I'm exaggerating?

Check out the website (here) of those who seek to defend "strong science education in Florida" through their mission to:
... convince the citizens of Florida that they need good science education standards. In order to have good standards, we all need to get involved in the science education standards process. We want to encourage everyone to read the standards so that they know what is being taught to their children in public school science class. We want scientists and science teachers to review and suggest improvements in the standards. We want newspapers, radio stations and television reporters to talk about the science standards and why they are important to Florida. We want to do this so that the quality of Florida's science education standards will be top notch.
Now who could argue with a mission like that? Only a creationist moron apparently because, deeper in the website, we find this little gem:
Pseudoscience permeates Florida society today. This includes UFOs, crystals, ghosts, alternative medicine and a host of other unscientific belief systems. These belief systems are unscientific and reflect the unproved belief that there is something magical about our universe that goes beyond the physical laws that govern the natural world.
Eager to indict the motives and intellectual capabilities of the crazy creationists, these folks label "UFOs, crystals, ghosts and alternative medicine" as "belief systems." Regardless of your view on these topics, is it even logical to call a UFO a "belief system"? This is just silly. Each of these may stem from some belief system but none of them constitutes a belief system. This is nothing but a textbook case of an ad hominem attack meant to demean the opponent, or the motives of the opponent, with which one disagrees. Besides, this is not a scientific argument, it is a philosophical argument -- one with which (ahem!) scientists are not equipped to deal. In any case, it is a lame way to argue and does nothing to address the actual issues involved. But it gets worse ...
One of the most dangerous pseudosciences is creationism or its beguiling cousin Intelligent Design. It denies one of the fundamental principles of biology - evolution. It denies that every living creature on this planet evolved from prior living creatures.
This is classic: Creationism and ID (equivalent terms in the minds of the NSE) are nothing more than pseudoscientific nonsense on par with UFOs, crystals and alternative medicine. The NSE presupposes that there is nothing "beyond the physical laws that govern the natural world," defines science as an activity that must unquestioningly adhere to that definition, then dismisses out of hand any other view or project as heretical.

Can you think of any other academic discipline or method of inquiry in which a complete disregard for any alternative explanation is eliminated before even considering the data in question?

As a thought experiment, consider this: A deceased woman is found laying next to her car with a severe gash in the side of her head, a pool of blood surrounding her body, and her purse strewn on the pavement next to her. A police detective approaches the scene and announces that only accidental causes will be considered in his evaluation of the woman's death. Would you, as a member of the woman's family, accept the detective's pronouncement?

I sure hope not. Yet that is the equivalent of the pronouncement made by the NSE across this nation every day when it comes to considering the origin and diversity of life on planet Earth. The NSE insistence that mechanistic processes are the only ones allowed at the table is an arbitrary one. Worse, this betrays a clear case of circular logic.

According to the NSE, those pseudoscientific creationists have the audacity to "deny the fundamental principle of biology -- evolution" and that "every living creature on this planet evolved from prior living creatures." But wait a second -- isn't the veracity of this statement the very question that the scientific community is supposed to be asking?

The NSE assumes its Naturalistic premise is true, then blasts anyone who does not accept the premise as being a "pseudoscientist." You have to give them this: The position from which they argue is not a bad place to argue from -- for one simple reason. By constructing the rules of the debate in such a way you can never be wrong!

Not bad. But not scientific either.

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