On public displays of pseudoscience
A few things I believe to be true:
- My family cares deeply about me.
- I am not wearing socks.
- 3 + 4 = 7
- I enjoy the book I’m currently reading.
- Cognito ergo sum.
- Credo in unum Deum, Patrem omnipotentem, factorem coeli et terrae, visibilium omnium, et invisibilium.
- One does not simply walk into Mordor.
- Possession of a pound of cocaine is a felony.
None of these have been scientifically tested. Science isn’t the only source of legitimate knowledge. In the same sense that nails are one of the many tools we use to attach objects to eachother, science is one of tools we use to decide if something is true.
If I were attaching one piece of paper to another, I wouldn’t use a nail. Maybe a rubber cement would work better for the paper. Similarly, a needle and thread would do a better job with a split seam than a hammer and nail. It’s not that I don’t believe in nails—it’s just that different tasks call for different jobs.
Whether we’re talking about the dubious claims of the creation museum or dubious health claims made at Whole Foods, the important question is not whether a claim is scientifically proven as it is whether people are relying on it being scientifically proven. If I’m trusting my house to be held together with nails, it’s a big problem if it was actually constructed with rubber cement.
When I started writing this, I thought my conclusion would be so what. Maybe somebody wants to buy some food with claims about probiotics that have no scientific grounding. But … if somebody is paying extra for a food believing the advertising claims are tested and reliable? That’s sort of a problem. And if somebody is buying a homeopathic remedy in lieu of something that isn’t a placebo? That’s a problem.
Although … maybe peole aren’t shopping at whole foods because of dubious health claims. And maybe there’s something more to the creation museum than bad biology. Maybe organic food is a values-based decision. Maybe patronizing a Creation Museum is about staking a claim against a society that seems to take a cavalier and hostile view of what you hold most sacred. Maybe the patrons of the Creation Museum have no more plan to become evolutionary biologists than you or I have. Sure, it’s not science. But maybe it taps into something else. Maybe for some people that’s more important.
I suppose we could take a stand and say that, scientifically, this is all junk. But, scientifically at least, I’m having trouble trouble proving why it’s any of my business. I mean, I love telling other people what to believe—but that’s because I love meddling, not because I love science.