Scientific consensus: a crutch for scientism

Time for a triad of quotes. To start, look out for the word consensus in this statement from the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2009:

As the U.S. Senate considers climate change legislation, AAAS joined with leading scientific organizations to send a letter to all senators reaffirming the scientific consensus that climate change is occurring and that greenhouse gases from human activities are the primary driver.

Second is this highly biased letter to the editor from Tom Fehringer in 2013; while it makes reference to evidence, note too its reliance on consensus:

Evolution has overwhelming evidence to support it, whereas creationism has none…

In an article about people that reject scientific consensus, Steven Novella MD made the following observation, “It seems absurd, when you really look at it, to substitute your own opinion based upon reading a smattering of simplified popular writings for that of the consensus of scientific experts who live and breath[e] the science. Humility and reason dictate that the consensus view should be given appropriate respect…Just be extremely cautious before you believe your opinions trump those of hundreds or thousands of working scientists.”…

The short version of this is that, due to overwhelming evidence there is a scientific consensus in support of the theory of evolution; there isn’t any scientific evidence to support creationism; and the attempts to discredit science and evolution are invalid and misleading.

Now, remembering that word (consensus), read this analysis from Jay W. Richards in 2017:

So how do we distinguish, as Andrew Coyne puts it, “between genuine authority and mere received wisdom? And how do we tell crankish imperviousness to evidence from legitimate skepticism?” Do we have to trust whatever we’re told is based on a scientific consensus unless we can study the science ourselves? When can you doubt a consensus? When should you doubt it?

Your best bet is to look at the process that produced, defends and transmits the supposed consensus. I don’t know of any complete list of signs of suspicion. But here’s a checklist to decide when you can, even should, doubt a scientific “consensus,” whatever the subject

A consensus should be based on solid evidence. But a consensus is not itself the evidence. And with well-established scientific theories, you never hear about consensus. No one talks about the consensus that the planets orbit the sun, that the hydrogen molecule is lighter than the oxygen molecule, that salt is sodium chloride, that bacteria sometimes cause illness, or that blood carries oxygen to our organs. The very fact that we hear so much about a consensus on climate change may be enough to justify suspicion.

To adapt that old legal rule, when you’ve got solid scientific evidence on your side, you argue the evidence.

When you’ve got great arguments, you make the arguments.

When you don’t have solid evidence or great arguments, you claim consensus.

Quote sources

  1. Somers, B. (2009). AAAS Joins Leading Scientific Organizations in Letter to Senators Reaffirming Scientific Consensus on Climate Change. Available https://www.aaas.org/news/aaas-joins-leading-scientific-organizations-letter-senators-reaffirming-scientific-consensus. Last accessed 1st May 2017
  2. Fehringer, T. (2013) Scientific Consensus in Support of the Theory of Evolution [letter to the editor]. South Platte Sentinel, July 10. Available http://www.southplattesentinel.com/2013/07/scientific-consensus-support-theory-evolution/. Last accessed 1st May 2017
  3. Richards, J.W. (2017). Heading into Today’s March, Here’s When to Doubt a Scientific “Consensus”. Evolution News and Science Today. Available https://www.evolutionnews.org/2017/04/heading-into-todays-march-heres-when-to-doubt-a-scientific-consensus/. Last accessed 1st May 2017
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Intelligence that escapes Talk.Origins

The next day [Phillip] Johnson spoke to the four hundred students in [Will] Provine’s evolutionary biology class for non-majors [at Cornell University]. All the students had read his book [Darwin on Trial] and so Johnson spent most of the time answering questions. At first the questions seemed mainly to come from the sort of person who gets his information from the Usenet Group Talk.Origins…

“What sort of thing is life?” asked Johnson. “An artifact of intelligence, or a natural phenomenon?” Those impressed with the findings of modern science, including the Talk.Origins crowd, and a few Christian scientists, had already decided this issue, and wanted to talk about the age of the earth and miracles. Johnson kept pressing the point that intelligence coming from intelligence was no miracle. His skeptical interlocutors simply did not know what to say…

One graduate student left murmuring that theism was possible after all, and arguing with his own kind against their intolerance. Johnson’s infectious questioning had found another carrier.

Quote source

Reynolds, J.M. (1995) Que Res Vitas? Phil Johnson Takes His Case to the East. Available http://www.arn.org/docs/orpages/or161/pjlect.htm. Last accessed 14 Mar 2016.

The absolutism of scientism reined in

In a fresh challenge to claims that there is scientific “consensus” on climate change, Prof Ivar Giaever has resigned from the American Physical Society, where his peers had elected him a fellow to honour his work. The society, which has 48,000 members, has adopted a policy statement which states: “The evidence is incontrovertible: global warming is occurring.”

But Prof Giaever, who shared the 1973 Nobel award for physics, told The Sunday Telegraph. “Incontrovertible is not a scientific word. Nothing is incontrovertible in science.”

Quote source

Sherwell, P. (2011). War of Words over Global Warming as Nobel Laureate Resigns in Protest. InfoWars. Available http://www.infowars.com/war-of-words-over-global-warming-as-nobel-laureate-resigns-in-protest/. Last accessed 30th Nov 2015.

Scientism is weak on the origin of consciousness

This loaded statement came from RationalWiki:

We do not know why or even when consciousness evolved.

But that statement assumes that scientism and naturalism should be taken literally!

Now compare that with the following:

If we make a really conscious robot, if we ‘synthesize’ consciousness and the unity of consciousness from non-conscious materials, what we have done is to assemble components that form a unified physical thing at which consciousness is manifested.  But this neutral description of what we have done leaves open two possibilities:

  1. The one is that consciousness simply comes into existence without cause at that complex configuration of physical components but is in no way caused by or emergent from that complex configuration.  In this case we have not synthesized consciousness from nonconscious materials; we have simply brought together certain material components at which consciousness appears.
  2. The other possibility is that consciousness comes into manifestation at the complex configuration of physical components ab extra, from outside the natural sphere.  A crude theological way of thinking of this would be that a purely spiritual being, God, ‘implants’ consciousness in sufficiently complex physical systems.

On both (1) and (2), consciousness arises at a certain level of material complexity, but not from matter. On (1) it just arises as a matter of brute fact. On (2), consciousness comes from consciousness.  On neither does consciousness have a natural origin. On (1) consciousness does not originate from anything. On (2) it has a non-natural origin.

Quote sources

  1. RationalWiki (2014). Consciousness. Available http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Consciousness. Last accessed 1st Aug 2015.
  2. Vallicella, B. (2013). The Relevance of Conscious Robots for the Philosophy of Mind. Maverick Philosopher. Available http://maverickphilosopher.typepad.com/maverick_philosopher/2013/08/the-relevance-of-conscious-robots-for-the-philosophy-of-mind.html. Last accessed 1st Aug 2015.

Believe in The Incarnation, not liberal theologians

Liberal theologians often assert that modern scientific man cannot believe in the miracles widely accepted in a more primitive age. The following reasons have been advanced…:

The ancients were more ignorant than the moderns. Back then, they were unscientific, and could believe in miracles like the virginal conception. Now that we are scientific and modern, we know how babies are conceived, so we should not believe those stories.

Comment: the ancients knew very well how babies are made—needing both a man and a woman, although they did not know certain details about spermatozoa and ova. In fact, Joseph (Mt. 1:19) and Mary (Lk. 1:34) questioned the announcements of the Virginal Conception because they did know the facts of life, not because they did not! Similarly, ancients didn’t know about bacterial enzyme-catalyzed hydrolysis of basic amino acids producing diaminoalkanes which strongly stimulate olfactory receptors, but they knew that a corpse will stink after a few days, and they informed Jesus of this before He raised Lazarus from the dead.

Quote source

Sarfati, J. (2014). The Virginal Conception of Christ. Creation Ministries International. Available http://creation.com/the-virginal-conception-of-christ. Last accessed 30th May 2015

Leftist rhetoric and its fallacious inferences

Here as elsewhere many on the Left substitute the hurling of epithets for serious discussion.  Why think carefully and responsibly when you can shout: sexist, intolerant, xenophobic, homophobic, racist, bigoted, Islamophobic, etc.?

One of the basic errors of the Left is the assumption that we are all equal.  It [is] simply not the case.  Men on average are taller than women on average.  That’s just the way it is.  Now it is good to be tall, but it is also good to be nurturing, and women on average are more nurturing than men on average.  No one can responsibly be labelled a sexist or a bigot for pointing out such plain facts as these.

Leftists often compound their error with a fallacious inference.  They infer that since there is no equality of outcome, then there must have been sexism, or racism, etc. at work.  Non sequitur!

Finally, if atheists draw their inspiration from natural science and oppose religion as superstition, then they ought to give some thought as to how they will ground empirically and scientifically key tenets of the leftist worldview.  If you say that we are all equal, with equal rights, and equal dignity, and equal value as persons, etc. what is the basis of all that?  Why isn’t this just residual ideological claptrap left over after the death of God and the collapse of Christianity?

Quote source

Vallicella, B. (2014). When Atheists Eat Their Own: The Sexism Charge. Maverick Philosopher. Available http://maverickphilosopher.typepad.com/maverick_philosopher/2014/10/atheists-eating-their-own-the-sexism-charge.html. Last accessed 14th Mar 2015.

Theistic evolution: believed by clowns

Theistic evolutionists argue that evangelicals must accept the theory of evolution in order to be taken seriously by the scientific community, but R. Albert Mohler Jr. says that even perhaps the most prominent theistic evolutionist finds it hard to gain acceptance among his scientific peers.

Since last summer Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, has been engaged in a debate over the origin of the universe and mankind, and those who oppose him say Christians risk being intellectually marginalized in the larger culture if they hold to a young earth and creationist view…

“Even with all of Francis Collins’ achievements, qualifications, and experience, the bare fact that he is a ‘believing Christian’ is enough to draw the active opposition of many in the scientific establishment,” Mohler wrote…

When President Obama appointed Collins to lead the National Institutes of Health, evolutionary scientist P.Z. Myers said, “I don’t want American science to be represented by a clown.”

“This is the predicament of those who argue that evangelicals must accept some form of theistic evolution—the guardians of evolution still consider them clowns,” Mohler wrote.

Quote source

Roach, E. (2011). Theistic evolutionists, too, face ‘suspicion, condescension,’ Mohler observes. Baptist Press. Available http://www.bpnews.net/34515/theistic-evolutionists-too-face-suspicion-condescension-mohler-observes. Last accessed 28th Feb 2015.