Dan Popp
Bulverism and "science denial"
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By Dan Popp
May 30, 2015

You are the dumbest smart person I have ever met in my life. – Del Spooner, I, Robot

After watching a panel discussion on C-SPAN called "Anti-Science: Denial in the Face of Facts" all I can say is: Prepare to be Bulverized. "Bulverism" is a term coined by C.S. Lewis for a certain logical fallacy that magically turns arguments about facts into allegations about motives.
    In other words, you must show that a man is wrong before you start explaining why he is wrong. The modern method is to assume without discussion that he is wrong and then distract his attention from this (the only real issue) by busily explaining how he became to be so silly. In the course of the last fifteen years I have found this vice so common that I have had to invent a name for it. I call it "Bulverism." Some day I am going the write the biography of its imaginary inventor, Ezekiel Bulver, whose destiny was determined at the age of five when he heard his mother say to his father – who had been maintaining that two sides of a triangle were together greater than the third – "Oh, you say that because you are a man." "At that moment," E. Bulver assures us, "there flashed across my opening mind the great truth that refutation is no necessary part of argument. Assume your opponent is wrong, and then explain his error, and the world will be at your feet. – C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock
In 80 minutes of profundities from the panel I heard all sorts of explanations for how people who don't believe in "Climate Change" (or whatever they're calling it this week) or in neo-Darwinism came to be hostile to Science. It seems that it never occurred to any of these bright people to actually listen to the arguments being presented by their opponents.

I've been a Christian for decades, and I've talked to many Christians and heard many sermons and read a few books, too, from the Evangelical viewpoint, and only once or twice have I heard anything like the straw men invented by the members of this panel: in essence, "You must distrust Science because, Gawd." It was humorous to hear that one of the suggestions for overcoming the supposed anti-science mindset of Christians is to talk to them about Stewardship of the planet. OK, talk to me about stewardship. My first question to you is going to be, "How does the exhaust from my car harm the planet – specifically? What is the scientific evidence that I'm a bad steward?" So immediately Bulverism falls on its face and we're back to talking about data.

I've heard many people, including non-Christians, questioning this or that received "scientific" conclusion based on contrary evidence. Will anyone on the panel acknowledge that there is evidence that seems to poke holes in their theory? If not, they're just dishonest. But if they will, in fact, admit that not all the data align perfectly in favor of their view as of right now, then they should be able to hold a rational discussion about the discrepancies, instead of merely consigning all opposition to the Dark Ages and dismissing them as religious nuts.

And if we religious nuts are using scientific evidence, how is it that we're "anti-science?"

I may surprise readers when I say that I agree with Darwin about his theory. Specifically he postulated that the fossil record should show "innumerable transitional forms" between the clearly defined species that were known then, if his theory of "insensibly fine gradations" were correct. In the ensuing century-and-a-half scientific research into the fossil record has falsified Darwin scientificallyaccording to a scientist named Charles Darwin. So mine is the scientific view on that. Here's a funny description of the unscientific view:
    Being an evolutionist means there is no bad news. If new species appear abruptly in the fossil record, that just means evolution operates in spurts. If species then persist for eons with little modification, that just means evolution takes long breaks. If clever mechanisms are discovered in biology, that just means evolution is smarter than we imagined. If strikingly similar designs are found in distant species, that just means evolution repeats itself. If significant differences are found in allied species, that just means evolution sometimes introduces new designs rapidly. If no likely mechanism can be found for the large-scale change evolution requires, that just means evolution is mysterious. If adaptation responds to environmental signals, that just means evolution has more foresight than was thought. If major predictions of evolution are found to be false, that just means evolution is more complex than we thought. – Cornelius Hunter
My Freshman Biology teacher taught us that "life does not arise from non-life," and that this was the foundational tenet of biological science. Until humans dug up that gem of wisdom, people believed that flies arose spontaneously from garbage. But flies did arise spontaneously (though circuitously) from something less than garbage if the members of the panel are correct. It seems to me that they are "anti-science" on this question I am "pro science."

One of the participants talked about the profit motives of preachers, but neglected to mention how much money Al Gore (a failed preacher) makes from his hypocritical schlock. That doesn't make any difference to the facts, of course; it only makes a difference in the mind of a Bulverist.

One of the writers (and writers outnumbered scientists on this small panel) said that Evangelical and Fundamentalist Christians deny Science because we're "apocalyptic." But in the Apocalypse, there's no mention of man-made climate change. Revelation 11:18 does talk about God "destroy[ing] those who destroy the earth," but (A) The destruction of the physical planet has already begun by God at that point in the prophecy, so this is not the kind of destruction He's talking about, and (B) Why would Christians, even if interpreting this incorrectly, want to destroy the planet so they could themselves be destroyed by God? That's not even a smart idea for a dumb person.

Clearly there was a lot of ignorance on display in regard to the Bible, what Christians believe and even what Evangelicals say. I'm starting to think that C-SPAN is "Watters' World" with more clothing.

Before I close I have to comment on the jaw-dropping lack of self-awareness exhibited by the learned shamans at the table. One said that Christian parents in Kansas didn't have enough faith because they wanted Intelligent Design to be taught alongside neo-Darwinism. He thought they should allow for a free marketplace of ideas. But his intellectual bb gun was pointed at himself; the Christians were the ones trying to re-establish the "marketplace," and he is the one too afraid of a competing idea to let it be uttered.

Several lamented informational bubbles, different pools of facts and "silos," apparently oblivious to the fact that they were participating in just such an intellectual hothouse.

At this symposium of smart, dumb people, appeals to authority were rampant, questions were begged, and prejudices were affirmed with applause. The take-away? There's really only one thing you need to worry your pretty little heads about: Everyone who disagrees with us has been duped by self-interested shamans.

Trust us.
    When someone says science teaches such and such, he is using the word incorrectly. Science doesn't teach it; experience teaches it. If they say to you science has shown such and such, you might ask, "How does science show it – how did the scientists find out – how, what, where?" Not science has shown, but this experiment, this effect, has shown. And you have as much right as anyone else, upon hearing about the experiments (but we must listen to all the evidence), to judge whether a reasonable conclusion has been arrived at. – Richard P. Feynman, Manhattan Project scientist
© Dan Popp

 

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