There's nothing more depressing than seeing someone who is hideously, gloriously, spectacularly out of his depth, intellectually speaking. Like this yahoo:
I have a strong desire to help people understand the way culture determines our decisions and faith for us. We all like to think that we make our own decisions and direct our own lives, but if our culture puts blinders on us, we simply decide whatever the culture dictates. We think we are free when we are not, which is the least free of all. My particular issue is how our culture can determine what we believe and don’t believe, regardless of the facts. The most blatant example of this, but by no means the only one, is mass acceptance of the theory of evolution. Certainly one can believe in evolution from study, but most people accept it without facts or reasoning. Not only have they not seriously considered contrary evidence, most unwittingly self-censor. In this blog I will address this and other issues from a sociological, as well as other, scientific points of view. I hope you find the discussion fascinating and enlightening, and I look forward to debate that sharpens us all.
Well, that's certainly ambitious, isn't it? Let's see how well that's working out, shall we?
Cascading problem in science
The Oct 9, 2007 issue of the New York Times discussed in its Science section a sociological phenomenon called "cascading." Author John Tierney here introduces me to a new term, but it beautifully describes an experience I had as a Boy Scout. Though that was so many years ago, it still burns in my memory that I was so taken in. It was over a merit badge, and it has to do with estimating distances. We were taught a technique for estimating, and then asked to apply the technique for the width of a stream we could not cross. The scout master gave the same assignment to about five of us boys at one time and then went down the row asking our answers. I was the last boy, and as I heard each boy ahead of me agree with the first, I concluded that my answer, far different from theirs, must be wrong. By the time the pointed finger of scout master got to me, I agreed with the answer of all the others. Then he scratched his head with that finger and said, "That’s amazing: Every one of you got it wrong!" He announced the right answer, and it was very close to the one I had swallowed. Too late to get that badge now!
All right, then, so we've established that AFB (I'll call the author "AFB" since he chooses to remain anonymous, which is cool, and probably a good idea given what's coming) was a total Milquetoast as a Boy Scout. And where are we going with this? Like you had to ask:
The specific examples given in the article dealt with health, but if the phenomenon is true in one area of science, we should not close our eyes to its reach in all aspects of science. (Life in general, for that matter, but the impact would be so much more consequential in science.) In the early pages of Icons of Evolution, Jonathan Wells talks of how his training as an embryologist brought him to the realization that the evolutionary parallel argued for embryonic development was flawed, but he assumed that the evidence in all other fields must be robust. After all: everyone knew it was true. I think the last paragraph of Mr. Tierney’s article could well be applied here:
“’This is a matter,’ he continued, “of such enormous social, economic and medical [make that scientific] importance that it must be evaluated with our eyes completely open. Thus I would hate to see this issue settled by anything that smacks of a Gallup poll.’ Or a cascade.”
Quite right, since succumbing to peer pressure from four fellow Scouts is exactly equivalent to decades worth of research and overwhelming evidence that supports biological evolution. Where to begin pointing out the flaws?
Well, there's the fact that, while AFB superficially went along with his buddies, he really believed that the answer was different, and if you want to draw an analogy, that suggests that some of the worldwide evolutionary cabal genuinely does not believe in evolution -- they're just putting on a show. One wonders how you'd establish that, but let us not tarry here -- we have bigger fish to fillet.
AFB also seems to think it's appropriate to generalize from five Scouts standing next to each other to hundreds of thousands of research scientists working independently worldwide over a span of more than a century. Sure, and what's not to like about that comparison? But here's the best part.
If AFB wanted to prove that his compatriots were wrong, he could simply show his work. He could start from scratch and show his calculations, to finally demonstrate beyond a shadow of a doubt the right answer, at which point his buds would have to accept his logic. And, failing all that, he could finally just arrange for a boat to cross the river and measure the damned distance with a chunk of rope or something.
In short, if AFB thinks he knows better regarding the distance across the river, it should be fairly trivial for him to make his case. Which, sadly, today's anti-evolutionists are wholly incapable of doing, which means AFB's analogy is, quite frankly, crap.
So, in closing, AFB might want to reconsider that ambition of his to provide debate that "sharpens us all." Someone here definitely needs his saw sharpened, and I'm reasonably sure it's not the rest of us.