Exposing PseudoAstronomy

September 3, 2008

Terminology – Wrong By Association

Filed under: logical fallacy,terminology — Stuart Robbins @ 8:30 pm
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This post is meant to discuss some of the very subtle ways that – often religious people – go about biasing their audience against evidence-based astronomy:  Association Fallacy.  This is a logical fallacy where the purveyor of the information introduces a hasty generalization or red herring about people who argue against them in an effort to make you think that they are wrong simply due to that association.

For example, let’s say that Spock is a Vulcan. Spock is also a vegetarian. The Associaiton Fallacy would then be that Dr. McCoy would assume all vegetarians are Vulcans. In this particular case, and as used below, this is a form of the ad hominem fallacy: A is both B and C, therefore B is C.

Okay, that’s a very contrived example, but it’s a decent illustration of how this fallacy works.  I’ve encountered this from two main groups of people who hold pseudo-astronomic concepts:  Intelligent Design proponents, and Creationists.

Intelligent Design proponents (IDers) claim, “Certain features of the Universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process,” and so an “intelligent designer” had some sort of hand in making, designing, or guiding it.  Whenever IDers try to point out an argument against them, they claim that it comes from a “Darwinist.”  That word implies that someone worships Darwin, or believes everything they say.  Since ID’s audience is generally people who don’t agree with Darwin’s theory of Evolution, then using the term “Darwinist” makes them wrong simply by being termed as such. They also add an “ist” or an “ism” to the end of “Darwin” to make it sound more like a belief system than science (after all, when talking about gravity we don’t say we’re following Newtonism, or that all scientists are Newtonists).

Similarly, Creationists do this to their critics by terming them, “Evolutionists,” or “Secular Scientists.”  There are two associations there, the former is discussed in the previous paragraph.  The latter is an attempt to say that anyone who argues against Creationism is godless.  And since the creationism audience is generally very religious, then making the association that anyone who is against their arguments does not believe in a god, and hence is amoral and not to be trusted.

I point these out because I think it’s humorous to listen to IDers or Creationists make their arguments and then say, “But the DARWINISTS will tell you …” or, “SECULAR SCIENTISTS disagree from what the Bible teaches us …”

I am not a “Darwinist.”  Yes, I think that Evolution is the current scientific theory that best explains the data.  I think there are some problems with it in terms of explaining all the mechanisms, etc., but the theory itself of change over time is as established as the Theory of Gravity, Relativity, Quantum Mechanics, or Atomic Theory, and no other scientific theory has been proposed that better explains the data and is also falsifiable.  But that means that I understand a scientific concept – NOT that I am a “Darwin-worshiper.”

Which begs the question:  What does this have to do with astronomy?  Absolutely nothing, really.  Evolution deals with how new species arise.  It has nothing to do with whether the Earth is flat, or the Sun less then 6000 years old, or if we went to the moon.  But when people make arguments to propagate their own pseudo-astronomy-of-choice, they often try to associate people who are against them with something their audience believes is “bad.”  Darwin for ID, secularism for creationists, or government apologist for hoaxes.



Filed under: introduction — Stuart Robbins @ 7:25 pm

Welcome to my blog.  This first post is to explain the purpose of this blog.  Over the past several months, I have grown more interested in the “skeptical” movement and I have started to pay more attention to the very pseudo-scientific claims that are made by many people regarding astronomy-related stuff.  A lot of people don’t really pay much attention to it because many claims really are fairly silly – such as the flat-Earth society claims, those of the hollow Earth group, or advanced cities on the moon or Mars.

But some claims are more insidious and – in my opinion – deserve to be addressed and refuted.  For example, there are many Creationist claims that deal with astronomy that are just outright lies or deceit – such as the claim by the ICR (Institute for Creation Research) that the solar neutrino problem is still a problem, or that new information about secondary craters completely destroys everything we know about a lunar timeline.

And then there are some of the more interesting things like hoaxes.  Is NASA hiding evidence of life on Mars?  Or did we really go to the moon with Apollo astronauts?  (By the way, the answers are “no” and “yes” to those.)

I really haven’t found an outlet that addresses all of these things in one place other than – to some extent – Phil Plait’s Bad Astronomy website and blog.  However, he discusses many many more things on his blog than just pseudo-science, and I want this to be fairly focused.

Throughout the coming posts, I plan on addressing everything I mentioned above with real science.  In other words, what evidenced-based research has discovered as opposed to fantastical claims, speculation, or faith.  My intent is to not resort to ad hominem attacks by bashing anyone’s character because, while they may be fun, they really don’t accomplish anything.  I also don’t plan on bashing religious beliefs of any kind – those are called “faith” for a reason.  However, when people make scientific claims based upon religion, then I will address them because it is something that is testable, falsifiable, and within the realm of science.

If any readers of this blog (hi Mom, hi Dad) come across any claims that they want me to address, go ahead and e-mail me!

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