Bad Astronomy, by Philip Plait

by Derwood Hunsdale-Talbot on August 20, 2009

bad-astronomyDespite what some may claim, debunking is not the goal of science and skeptical thought. However, it appears that in some cases, it is inevitable. Skepticism, from which science grew, is simply a desire to know, rather than simply believe. Science is the method the skeptic uses to reveal truths about the physical world around us.

The discoveries of science occasionally contradict the strongly held beliefs of individuals and conflict ensues. At face value, this is a good thing. The “Believer” is himself being skeptical of the evidence revealed by science. The problem arises when The Believer wants something to be scientifically true, but refuses to play by the very clear rules of science to support their contention. And you can’t have it both ways. For an extreme example, you can believe that the earth is flat. You have every right to publish books and blogs and found an organization–or even a church–that makes the flat-earth claim. However, the moment you claim to have physical, testable evidence to support your position, you cross over into the realm of science, and you must then play by the rules.

Some Believers don’t understand the rules. Some purposefully misinterpret the rules in an effort to make their position sound more tenable. Some are just loonies.

The great majority of scientists pretty much ignore science-abusing Believers. Most researchers feel their time can be spent on more important issues than reflexology, homeopathy and revealing the role of advanced reptoids in running a shadow government. That’s for the best, for all of us. But totally ignoring the Believers is not best. Young Earth Creationists (people who believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible and so hold that the Earth is about 6,000 years old and that species we created at that time identical to how we see them today) have attempted (sometimes with dismaying success) over the past thirty years or so to have their religious belief taught in public schools as a viable scientific explanation of human origins. When patently non-scientific ideas gain credence, through ignorance, deception or in an effort to entertain (e.g. TV and radio programs dedicated to pseudoscience), the pursuit of legitimate science can be impaired, to the detriment of all of us.

Thankfully, we have coming to our rescue people such as Dr. Philip Plait, who, wielding the swords of evidence and reason gently, entertainingly but thoroughly debunks some of the most popular pseudoscientific ideas that have grown, weed-like into the public consciousness lately.

Dr. Plait chides but is never mean-spirited in his arguments. He takes on a subject such as the belief that men have never walked on the moon, clearly presenting each of the positions held by “Moon Landing Hoax” folks, and shows how they have misinterpreted the evidence. He does the same with UFOs, astrology, and even certified loonies such as Immanuel Velikovsky, whose book Worlds in Collision contended that the planet Venus was somehow spun off from Jupiter a few thousand years ago.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Craig McQueen August 21, 2009 at 3:58 am

“…and that species we created at that time identical to how we see them today…”

That’s misrepresenting YEC. They generally don’t believe in “fixity of species”.

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