Re: [asa] Sins of pseudoscience

From: Iain Strachan <>
Date: Mon Jan 21 2008 - 14:08:05 EST

Interesting post, Loren.

However, I think sometimes it's more complex than just pride or sloth (the
sins you mention); sometimes it can be a survival mechanism that makes one
cling on to falsehood.

I've a friend who believes she is sensitive to just about all kinds of
electromagnetic fields, from mobile phone radiation right down to the mains
AC, which she switches off at night. While I believe (of course I could be
wrong) that this is pseudoscience, the alternative was unacceptable to her;
before she came upon this explanation which she can "do" something about
(avoid EMF exposure), she was suicidally depressed. Swallowing all the
pseudo-science about "electro-sensitivity" has given her a reason not to
kill herself - has told her that she doesn't have mental health problems -
that the problems are in the environment and not in her head. My wife and I
have had to bail her out on occasion when she was on the brink of suicide;
but now all that is put down to the effect of EMF's. It is a coping

In the same manner, victims of rape and other sexual abuse often blame
themselves. They feel shame for allowing the abuse to happen; that it was
their fault, they asked for it; they should have done something to stop it.
No matter how much it's true that they could not control what happened to
them, you can't tell them that it's not their fault. Why is that? Because
the alternative - that they were truly out of control - is totally
unacceptable. The feeling of shame is actually easier to live with than the
fear that they might have the same thing happen and be similarly out of
control. Of course they should have stopped it; they argue; that way they
can believe they could stop it if it happened again.

Likewise, the YEC David Anderson I wrote about earlier told me "if I
believed, as you do, that the earth is billions of years old, I would give
up my faith and become an atheist". What is one to do? Be responsible for
the collapse of someone's faith? Or is it better to be an atheist than to
base one's faith on a lie? If someone's faith cannot survive at the same
time as accepting billions of years/common ancestry etc, is one to say that
this faith is worthless?

I kind of think not - if you examined what we all thought and believed,
there is probably some bit of irrational dishonesty that we all cling on to
for dear life. If we applied rigorous scientific scrutiny to all aspects of
our faith, we'd probably lose it. I believe God answers prayer, but I doubt
if I could come up with hard scientific evidence that this happens. So
when we ask our fellow Christians to pray about that situation and it
improves, then we give thanks to God for answered prayer. But if it doesn't
get better (e.g. the person being prayed for dies, the failing marriage does
fail), then we sort of rationalise it - it was God's will.

Equally, Dawkins clings on to the idea that God if He exists has to be a
part of the material universe, and that His existence is a scientific
question, because that's the only way he can demolish the horrific idea that
there might be a God (via his Ultimate Boeing 747 gambit).

I think the sad fact is that all of us are dishonest. I honestly believe
that ;-)


On Jan 21, 2008 5:53 PM, Loren Haarsma <> wrote:

> From the ASA's front webpage:
> "The American Scientific Affiliation (ASA) is a fellowship of men and
> women in science and disciplines that relate to science who share a common
> fidelity to the Word of God and a commitment to integrity in the practice
> of science."
> From time to time, we discuss how to put some theological backbone
> into that statement about scientific integrity.
> Like many of you, I hesitate to say that someone is "lying" when they
> repeat some bad science / folk science / pseudoscience claims which are
> certainly false, but which they believe to be true. But even if it isn't
> "lying," there can be real sin in these situations, and it might be
> useful, at times, to call it sin.
> For some time I've been wondering how best to do that. I offer the
> following thoughts for discussion.
> When a bad bit of pseudoscience is repeated -- whether it is a
> terribly flawed argument about origins issues, or a claim about some
> alternative medicine quackery, or a bit of conspiracy theory about how
> "big business" is suppressing engines which can burn water, or anything of
> the sort -- the person who is repeating the pseudoscience might genuinely
> believe it. They might even think that they are doing good by repeating
> the pseudoscience claims. What might be the sin in these cases?
> There is the sin of sloth. If you are aware that your claim is
> outside the consensus of most experts, you ought to put some serious
> effort into studying and testing the claim before repeating it.
> There is often the sin of pride. If you are aware that your claim is
> outside the consensus of most experts, it ought to make you humble and
> cautious in your claims, not proudly proclaiming that you and your small
> group are obviously right and the consensus of experts is obviously both
> wrong and stupid.
> Real harm comes to people who hear the pseudoscience repeated, since
> this can hinder them from ultimately getting at the truth. (And in the
> case of medical quackery, it can cause real physical harm to people.)
> Real harm comes to the good reputation hard-working experts whose
> consensus opinion is discarded whenever pseudoscience claims are
> accompanied (as they often are) by the claim that those experts are all
> stupid, biased, immoral, or all of the above.
> Real harm comes to the cause for which the pseudoscience is being
> advanced. Those who hear the pseudoscience and recognize it as
> pseudoscience will be prone to think badly of the cause behind it. It is
> a terrible shame when the cause being hurt this way is the gospel of
> Christ and the church.
> But it seems to me that those who repeat pseudoscience are not all
> guilty in equal measure. It depends whether one simply accepts and
> occasionally discusses it, or actively promotes it, or actually invents
> it. Some analogies might be useful.
> If someone hears a bit of (false, hurtful) gossip about a member of
> their church, and doesn't repeat the gossip themselves, but doesn't
> investigate it, and then thoughtlessly discusses it with fellow church
> members when the topic is brought up by someone else, that is sin. If
> someone hears a bit of gossip, doesn't investigate it, then goes around
> repeating it, that is worse. But if someone pulls together a few
> factoids, assumes the worst, and makes up a false bit of gossip on the
> basis of those factoids, and then starts spreading that gossip, then I
> think that is sin of pride and sloth almost on the level of outright lying
> (even if that person falsely believes that they have actually "deduced"
> the truth of the gossip they invented).
> Another analogy: Some of you might remember, around 1980, some
> photocopied fliers went around some churches claiming that a prominent
> company was openly giving company profits to the satanic church, and that
> the symbol on their products was proof of this satanic connection. Lies.
> But some well-meaning Christians copied these fliers and posted them from
> church to church, generating and spreading copies of copies of copies, and
> for a few months the lies kept spreading. (This same claim was repeated
> and spread in the mid-90's via email forwarding.) Those who started the
> fliers certainly sinned. But those who merely copied and distributed the
> fliers without first adequately investigating the claim, whatever their
> motives, also committed sins of sloth and pride to some extent, and caused
> real harm.
> We must always be quick to examine sin in our own lives, and slow to
> point fingers at others. But there are appropriate times to confront a
> brother or sister in Christ, out of love, to speak a word of warning, to
> name a sin for what it is, and to point out the harm it can cause.
> Loren
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Received on Mon Jan 21 14:09:31 2008

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