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The unspeakable arrogance of paranormal believers

GhostsYes, I’m controversially turning a cliché on its head again. It’s the people who doubt paranormal claims who are meant to be arrogant. They think they know it all, there are things science can’t explain, you can’t prove it isn’t true, you need to open your mind, and so on. Utter nonsense, of course, but even if it were true, it would be nothing compared to the arrogance of people who push their preferred flavour of woo.

There are many, many different beliefs out there. Even in one small area, some people believe dead people can communicate with us through mediums, some believe their spirits are tied to a specific place where they exist as ghosts, some believe they get reincarnated, the precise details of which are generally dependent on how nice they were when they were alive. All good fun, but you’d struggle to believe all of them at once. Read More…

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In defence of scientism

DNAThis is going to sound a little strange, given the title of this post, but I’m not entirely convinced that such a thing as scientism actually exists – at least, not in the real world, outside those areas of apologists’ brains responsible for manufacturing pejorative boo-words to describe their opponents. It’s certainly pretty hard to find anyone who identifies as a “scientismist”.

One of the reasons I’m dubious of the existence of scientism is that it seems no one can agree on exactly what it is. In different hands, it can mean anything from the adoption of scientific styles and approaches by other fields to the belief that science is not only the best but the only way of answering any question in any field. This lack of agreement is another classic sign that it’s a boo-word, rather than a description of a genuine phenomenon. Read More…

What’s in a miracle? – A scientific system of canonization

MiracleI recently wrote a summary of the process of becoming a saint in the Catholic Church. Well, now I want to pick up on something that’s been bothering me about it – it’s those miracles.

To head off any objections, I’m not interested in an argument about whether miracles are possible – such debates always get bogged down in semantics and evidence-free speculation. But it might surprise you to know that I think the definition of a miracle is fundamentally a scientific one, albeit with the thoroughly unscientific attitude that if we can’t explain it, we should just stop trying, give it a special name and say Goddidit. Read More…

The Unscientific Method Explained

I’ve had my share of arguments with people who cling to beliefs that have no decent evidence to support them, or even a huge amount of evidence against them. Eventually, after one of these exchanges, it dawned on me that we were approaching the question from different directions. I was using the scientific method, they were employing the unscientific method.

For reference, as a point of comparison, here’s a flowchart to show roughly how the scientific method works: Read More…

How and why the how/why distinction is irrelevant

“Science answers the how questions, and religion answers the why questions” – that’s a common claim from people who are arguing that science poses no threat to religion, or that they’re Non-Overlapping Magisteria, in Stephen Jay Gould’s rather grand phrase. It’s another one of those many ideas and beliefs that I’ve previously accepted, but am now starting to question.

It’s not controversial that science tells us how things work. The precise position is a little more complicated than that, because the scientific method only really draws provisional conclusions, and is more about the best way of finding out how things work, rather than dictating that this is right and that’s wrong, but it’s perfectly reasonable to say that if a question begins “How”, you’ll want to turn to science to answer it. Read More…

Why should I be scared of being proved wrong?

FlashI was following a discussion earlier where the claim was made that science is increasingly getting stuck at certain points, various scientific theories are evidence-free, and that the discoveries of the next century will consign atheism to an insignificant rump, if not oblivion. That was meant to be a taunt, but it missed the mark in a big way.

The arguments entirely failed to convince me, but while I must confess that I’m not particularly keen on the idea that my search for answers might be taking me on a trajectory away from truth and towards some sort of epistemological dead end, I was surprised and slightly amused that atheists were expected to react badly to the idea that evidence might eventually prove them wrong. Read More…

It’s about time Christians stopped playing at science

Planet SIf you take a stroll through the website for Answers in Genesis (and to be honest, I recommend that you don’t), you’ll find a huge number of articles that deal with scientific evidence. You’ll also find numerous arguments that proper scientists can be creationists, and a huge amount of devotion to notable scientists from the past who were Christians.

In AiG world, any scientist who believed in God is taken as evidence that science doesn’t disprove creationism. I used to think this was funny, if tiresome – the idea that Isaac Newton’s theological views have any bearing on the current scientific consensus on the age of the Earth or the origins of the universe is unintentionally hilarious – but it’s part of a trend that increasingly worries me. Read More…

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