RE: [asa] Sins of pseudoscience

From: Alexanian, Moorad <>
Date: Mon Jan 21 2008 - 15:18:38 EST

I wish I were as certain so that I could throw the first stone, but I am not and I cannot.



From: on behalf of Loren Haarsma
Sent: Mon 1/21/2008 12:53 PM
To: _American Sci Affil
Subject: [asa] Sins of pseudoscience

    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.


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Received on Mon Jan 21 15:20:31 2008

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