Re: Skepticism - its uses and abuses

From: Iain Strachan <>
Date: Sat Dec 17 2005 - 06:43:21 EST

I must say I had rather hoped that the discussion wouldn't evolve into yet
another excuse to have a diatribe against YEC's, but would address the wider
issue of skepticism.

But as far as the "dishonesty" of YEC scientists is concerned, I'll point
out that I have a YEC former colleague, who is a good scientist in his field
& I would not accuse him of dishonesty- I respect his scientific abilities,
and feel also that he is honest, and knows the problems of the YEC model. In
fact he spent a long time proving from the GR equations that Humphries'
"Starlight and Time" could not work - there was no interpretation of the
distance metrics that could explain the observational data - under
Humphries' model, we would not be able to see anything further away than
6000 light years, because the light would not have reached us yet.
Humphries invited him to investigate different forms of the distance metric
(I think), but none of them yielded any different answers, or hope of
resurrecting Humphries' model from Bill's clear refutation. Bill then wrote
it all up in a LaTeX document with 160 equations, & all Humphries did was
accuse him of rocking the boat. But Bill, I would say is at least honest,
but steadfast in his view that the literal Biblical interpretation is
right. He writes various astronomy articles in the AiG Tech Journal. I do
feel that Russel Humphries behaved disgracefully towards Bill in this
respect, and AiG continue to promote Humphries cosmology despite the fact
that Bill has decisively refuted it. (Bill retains some hope that rotating
universe models might offer a way forward for it, but has not had the time
to investigate, and doesn't sound too optimistic).

Returning to skepticism in general ...

For me, watching the experience of my friends at the hands of various
practitioners in alternative medicine has tended to make me a much more
skeptical person, just seeing how they've been taken for a ride. One of the
main sources of most of the problems appears to have been a machine called
the "Oberon" device that a doctor used to examine her. It supposedly zapped
her brain with 4GHz microwave radiation and then produced a scan on computer
screen of her liver (how can a brain scan give an image of your liver, for
goodness sake?), and told her that her liver was in very bad condition and
not functioning properly, despite the fact that all conventional tests
showed it was functioning normally. This was a devastating diagnosis, and
within 24 hours she developed a buzzing noise in her head (probably stressed
out by the diagnosis). The doctor told her that it could have been caused
by the EM radiation emitted by the machine. She then went and looked it all
up on the web, and decided that she was electrosensitive & subsequetly found
she couldn't tolerate sitting in front of a VDU monitor, then the
television, then couldn't use the telephone ( because her husband and
various web sites told her that the EM radition from the speaker coils in
the phone could affect her) ( !! yes !! this is starting to sound worse
than YEC science!!). She now insists on unplugging at the mains any
appliances that are not in use, and has the mains electricity switched off
at night. Meanwhile, I did some digging on the "oberon machine" on the web,
and found the Russian so-called institite that manufactured it. They had a
web-page that explained the principles of operation of the device in pidgin
English. Total pseudo-science and technobabble. They were claiming that
the machine operated on the principle of quantum entanglement and
action-at-a-distance, which was presumably how they were claiming that a
scan of the brain could produce an image of different bodily organs. So one
usage of this quack device and one quack doctor telling her it had made her
electrosensitive has reduced this poor woman's life to one of running away
from electricity and isolation from all her friends. During the summer she
was sleeping in a tent by a lake to get away from the emanations from the
steet lamps outside her house.

Perhaps the above explains why I've become a more skeptical person in recent
months. Certainly in the health field there are a lot of charlatans out
there who want to make money out of you.

There was also some discussion of the placebo effect earlier. Michael
pointed out how a missionary cured someone with a placebo because the
subject KNEW it would work. I still feel this is dishonest, but acknowledge
the powerful effect belief has on the state of the body. There was recently
an article in my wife's old college magazine of a college prank that had
spectacular results. The perpetrators stole some headed notepaper, and
delivered to everyone in college a note purporting to be from the Vice
Principal saying that the fish at lunch had been contaminated by bacteria -
that there was probably nothing to worry about but that if anyone felt
unwell, to go to the college sanatorium. The effect was dramatic. People
were taken ill, temperatures, fainting etc right left and centre & some were
rushed to hospital. The sanatorium couldn't cope with the epidemic of
sickness that had no physical cause at all apart from a lie that had been
planted into peoples' heads.

But there is an honest way to exploit the belief/health/illness link, which
is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, part of which involves challenging some of
the wrong beliefs that may make you ill. Clearly it can't cure a complaint
that has real physical causes (e.g. cancer) but it can help the body to
fight illnesses, and even has been prescibed for cancer sufferers - a
positive stance can help to fight cancer, again, apparently because of the
immune system/brain link. (Some treatments for cancer work by artificially
stimulating the immune system with interferon injections).


On 12/17/05, Don Winterstein <> wrote:
> Merv Bitikofer wrote:
> "There may be many YEC who have intentionally used deceit and are
> deserving of the charge -- I don't question that either. But to imply that
> these false motives are universal to that camp is, I think, to make the
> accuser guilty of their own accusation."
> The large majority of YECs are almost certainly YEC out of ignorance. I
> don't fault them--at least, not as long as they don't actively promote the
> YEC model--because I don't know everything either. I fault those who have
> scientific credentials, work with scientific data, claim that such data
> support a young Earth even after others point out their errors to them,
> and then claim to be authorities on matters of age. I don't know any such
> YECs personally, but there's been much reference to some of them in this
> forum, and I've read a bit of their literature. Such people appear largely
> responsible for the vitality of the YEC model in contemporary America.
> In light of geologic, paleontologic and other data, arguments supporting a
> young Earth have no merit. The YEC model warrants no vitality.
> Don
> ----- Original Message -----
> *From:* Mervin Bitikofer <>
> *To:*
> *Sent:* Thursday, December 15, 2005 4:59 AM
> *Subject:* Re: Skepticism - its uses and abuses
> I write this as a continuation of the thread below -- but also as a
> response to Randy Isaac's ASA neutrality clarification.
> Snippet from Don Winterstein's post:
> "Jesus certainly seemed to encourage unquestioning faith. This aspect of
> his teaching continues to nag at me: If you have childlike faith in Jesus,
> aren't you likely also to have childlike faith in Joseph Smith, etc.? The
> Apostles, of course, quickly became aware and taught that you don't believe
> just anybody (e.g., I John 4:1). "
> I was not intending in my previous posts to attempt a resurrection of YEC
> scientific arguments. I think it quite possible that an organization such
> as the ASA in their neutral and impartial evaluation of evidence will draw
> a conclusion that could seem to outsiders a departure from neutrality. But
> how many impartial judges, when they become aware of a great body of
> evidence in a case (and scientists are aware of much evidence) are going to
> remain undecided? I wasn't trying to defend YEC science (or even
> necessarily their theology -- although I don't write off the all theological
> aspects of it as easily as some others here do.) I was only objecting to
> the blanket attribution of false motives and deceitful or (willful)
> ignorance to some in particular whom I think may be in honest disagreement.
> There may be many YEC who have intentionally used deceit and are deserving
> of the charge -- I don't question that either. But to imply that these
> false motives are universal to that camp is, I think, to make the accuser
> guilty of their own accusation.
> In light of the above, I'm afraid my continued thoughts below will be
> misconstrued as an attempt to throw more fuel on the YEC "scientific
> conspiracy" fire. So I will give this assurance up front, that my questions
> are here aimed more at the evolutionary "philosophy", and metaphysical
> conclusion that seems for many to follow so hard on the heals of (or
> perhaps precede?) their science. I am treading a fine line here -- freely
> throwing in my voice with that aspect of YEC argument that raises questions
> about where science stops and religion begins. I think this a very live and
> valid challenge, and certainly not one monopolized solely by YEC but by many
> other Christians. So, once again, I do accept (at least for myself) that
> young earth *science* has ceased to be a scientifically viable
> consideration.
> I agree with Don, that the Bible throws a lot of exhortation towards the
> "unquestioning acceptance" model of apprehending Truth, but it also does
> tell us to question and not accept just everything. And it 'nags' at me too
> that the former seems to 'win out' over the latter if one just attempts a
> 'proof-texting' approach to deciding an argument. One of the passages that
> ought to leave just about all of us squirming uncomfortably begins at II
> Timothy 4:3: "For the time will come when men will not put up with sound
> doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them
> a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.
> They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths."
> How many of us will hang around among a group of folks if we feel at
> significant odds with their teaching? And we may have valid reasons for
> finding a different church/discussion group/Bible study/whatever... Our
> Spirit-led intuitions may be telling us that the Truth is not being promoted
> among that group and we wish to find a different one where it is. But then
> how can we be so sure that we aren't just surrounding ourselves with people
> that will say what "our itching ears want to hear"? When this natural
> polarization happens, is it a harmful 'narrowing' of our vision that
> prevents us from seeing and hearing God's truth? Or is it the painful (but
> predicted) division predicted by Jesus himself where his word of Truth
> separates brother from brother and father against son? Religious
> conservatives will see the latter happening, while culturally sensitive
> pluralists (castigatingly called 'liberal') will adopt the former view. YEC
> will invoke this "itching ears" passage to attack the scientific
> establishment itself. And while (again!) I don't think their conspiracy
> message captures enough truth to convincingly bring down evolution, I do
> think that all establishments (including science) are well warned about our
> collective capacity for self-deceit. This is one aspect of this debate
> that ought to be appreciated as a positive contribution (yes -- even from
> those 'dreaded' YEC!) [Is there beginning to be some humor in my apparent
> need to frantically disassociate myself from 'them'?] When YEC accuse the
> keepers of scientific literature of shutting them out, and thus creating the
> self-fulfilling prophecy that YEC literature isn't to be found in
> peer-reviewed journals, I don't doubt that such "loose conspiracy" does
> happen -- on many fronts. Exceptions will probably prove the rule on this.
> Science probably has a slight bit more immunity to this problem than the
> associated philosophies and religions. I think the 'loose conspiracy'
> accusation begins to carry immense weight when addressing evolutionary
> philosophy in the guise of science that so permeates our educational
> system. And just because I think YEC or ID people may have their own
> 'itching ears' issues won't prevent me from acknowledging the valuable
> contributions they do make in the form of challenges to a vast
> establishment. (And yes -- positive contribution can come in the form of
> 'tearing down', even in the absence of presenting alternative or better
> hypotheses). Demolition workers earn their wages just like the builders
> do.
> My point is that this 'itching ears' possibility is a potential
> destabilizer for any kind of group commitment to a perceived Truth.
> Obviously we ultimately have to move beyond it to settle on the "Truth" that
> matches God's created reality. At some point we worship the Creator among
> and surrounded by those who, with us, acknowledge that Truth. My question
> is does that ever happen on this of the grave? Or are we assigned the lot
> of always doubting and suspecting our own itching ears while we are here?
> --merv

After the game, the King and the pawn go back in the same box.
- Italian Proverb
Received on Sat Dec 17 06:46:33 2005

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