Re: [asa] Sins of pseudoscience

From: D. F. Siemens, Jr. <>
Date: Mon Jan 21 2008 - 15:57:40 EST

It seems to me that your illustrations are examples of irrational or
insane behavior, with the danger that the individuals will harm
themselves, at least. As to the abandonment of faith if the universe is
old, would divine grace abandon a poor soul who has fallen for such a
delusion? I have more confidence in God's love. However, the redeemed
also face judgment, which I suspect will be painful to those who have
turned the immature away from faith.
Dave (ASA)

On Mon, 21 Jan 2008 19:08:05 +0000 "Iain Strachan"
<> writes:
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 strategy.

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
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
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
(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,
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
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 16:03:02 2008

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