Just Begging For
That Bill Of Goods!
I was just wondering if you had a chance to look at Lee Strobel's books, The Case for Christ and The Case for Faith, and what you think about the claims and what some believe is evidence contained in them.
From: "Positive Atheism Magazine" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Re: just wondering
Date: December 05, 2001 2:29 PM
I don't think you're "just wondering" but, rather, are trying to sell books -- or an ideology (I cannot tell you which is worse, logging onto a philosophical forum for the purpose of marketing books or trying to market an ideology under any pretense).
We do not accept promotions for books as submissions to our Forum. You are welcome to express your views in your own words (as long as those views do not consist entirely of commercial advertisements for books and the like), but we do not wish to be on any spam lists.
As for so-called scientific claims for the supernatural, many claims for the supernatural are subject to scientific scrutiny. Unfortunately, those who continue to stump for the supernatural haven't been entirely truthful with the results of the scrutiny that has been aimed at such claims.
The one element of scientific inquiry that supercedes all other aspects is honesty. If we are unwilling to follow truth wherever she may lead, then we have not submitted to Liberal Scientific Method; we therefore deserve the open ridicule that much of the scientific community has launched against those who claim that there's something to the claims for the supernatural. Such claims have been weighed and found wanting. Since the supernaturalists have not prevailed, either in the laboratory or in the field, then their only remaining resort is to bring this discussion to the forum of public opinion. Had the supernaturalists prevailed in the lab and the field, then we wouldn't need a Lee Strobel to tell us where science had failed.
Thus, the "faithful" ought to crawl into the cave of "faith" where they aren't making the pretense of public scientific inquiry. This way, at least they can still be considered honest when they assert their confessions of faith amongst themselves. In private. As long as they admit that it's "faith," then they remain honest. But as soon as they bring the word "science" into the picture, then they had better be submitting to the results of rigorous scientific inquiry. If they use the word science but do not submit to the results of the rigorous and public scrutiny from the rest of the scientific community, then that community is justified in denouncing them as among the lowest classes of liars.
Positive Atheism Magazine
Six years of service to
people with no reason to believe
Added: December 6, 2001
To: "Positive Atheism" <email@example.com>
Sent: December 06, 2001 10:16 AM
Subject: Re: just wondering
Dear Mr. Walker,
I was not trying to sell you books nor was I trying to impose an ideology, I was simply trying to get an opinion of an apologetic book from an informed person who has spent a considerable amount of time refuting such claims. However, I would like, if it is possible, to get a more through understanding of exactly who is "much of the scientific community." Have there really not been any supernaturalists in the field or in the lab, and if there are any what have their finding been? What areas have been found wanting? Strobel seems to have at least someone of authority from the scientific community in his favor. He interviews, what he calls, some of the leading people in their fields, is this an exaggeration? Or have they put their reputation on the line knowing that their information is unfounded? If you could answer any questions I would be grateful.
From: "Positive Atheism Magazine" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Re: just wondering
Date: December 06, 2001 1:56 PM
I was not trying to sell you books nor was I trying to impose an ideology, I was simply trying to get an opinion of an apologetic book from an informed person who has spent a considerable amount of time refuting such claims.
Our Guidelines for Submission clearly explain that we do not accept URLs or the titles of books or articles as the equivalent of a discussion. In this Forum you write out your ideas in your own words and we hold our discussions in that manner. Since we are very clear about this, we have every reason to assume that someone who sends us a letter whose only item of information is a URL or a book title is trying to sell web pages or books or the like.
Also, this entire web site has, as her target audience, people who are already atheists, and this fact is clearly stated in various key places on our web site (as if you cannot tell just by logging on). We are not here to try to "recruit" theists to the atheistic viewpoint, and have plainly stated that we'd just as soon see most of the theists who have written to us remain theists!
Thus, if somebody tries to convince our audience of a viewpoint other than atheism (as opposed to some variant within atheism or some aspect of atheism), then we have every reason to assume that such a person is trying to sell us an ideology. We do invite theists to make their case, but we do this for the purpose of showcasing the fact that an atheist is someone who has yet to encounter a convincing argument for becoming a theist.
Meanwhile, the remainder of this, your second letter, contains but one kind of information: The remainder of your letter says nothing but that I ought to get Strobel's book and that I ought to consider subscribing to the ideology extolled therein.
Even after I asked you to provide an argument rather than plug books, you continued to plug Strobel's books rather than provide an argument! Then you had the audacity to tell me you weren't doing this?
(And many of them want us to let them come into the public schools and teach this immorality to other people's kids -- disguised as science, of course!)
However, I would like, if it is possible, to get a more through understanding of exactly who is "much of the scientific community."
How come I have such an overwhelming sense of doubt as to your sincerity, here? Just as I didn't think you were "just wondering" but, rather, were setting us up for a pitch of some sort, I here have a powerful suspicion that you do not seek a more thorough understanding at all, but seek, instead, to set us up for a pitch of some sort. You certainly didn't hear me say that we want arguments, not simply book titles or even book reviews.
Since our target audience consists of atheists, my response will be aimed toward that audience:
Science is an ongoing discussion; thus, "much of the scientific community" consists of those who engage in those discussions -- those portions of this one ongoing discussion. Many who tell the public or tell their small group of followers that they are engaged in the mainstream scientific discussions are actually off in their own little world, publishing their own journals according to their own standards and telling the public (or their small group of followers) that this is "science" just like the mainstream scientific communities practice, the "much of the scientific community" to which I referred in my last reply.
These discussions usually take place in refereed journals. Anybody is qualified to submit material to any refereed journal (grade-school student Emile Rosa was recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association; Einstein was a patent clerk when he published his "Theory of Special Relativity"). However, not every work is deemed acceptable to be published in such a journal: this is what makes them refereed. Furthermore, some groups and individuals know better than to even bother submitting their ideas to refereed journals, knowing that what they practice is not the same "science" that is practiced by that "much of the scientific community" I mentioned. This "much of the scientific community" that I keep talking about plays by a specific set of rules when submitting ideas for the scrutiny of their peers. The scrutiny that these people invite upon their own work is intense, to say the least. They don't like it when others, people who have not shown the fortitude to invite much if any scrutiny upon their work, go about getting their work called "science" nonetheless.
For example, one such group consists of the so-called Young-Earth Creationists. Eugenie Scott and H. P. Cole surveyed 68 likely journals, looking for Creationist manuscripts. Out of 135,000 submissions from 1980 to 1983, only 18 (0.01 percent) dealt with scientific support for Creationism. Of these 18 articles, 12 were submitted to a single journal -- a science education journal and not a scientific journal proper -- definitely not the appropriate place to scrutinize genuinely new findings! Fifteen of the manuscripts were rejected on grounds of poor scholarship. Three were still under review during the survey but were subsequently rejected, according to a later report from Dr. Scott. (Derived from "Science, Religion, Politics, Law, and Education" by Tim Berra.)
Creationists have since begun publishing their own journals -- not because these wicked mainstream journals are so utterly prejudiced against The People Of God but because Creationists must play by a different set of rules in order to convince their followers that they even have a case for their position. Creationists cannot make a convincing case by submitting to the same rules and standards of scrutiny that everybody else does! So the Creationists publish their own journals, reviewed by boards which consist of people who must sign a statement in order to be admitted to that board, a statement to the effect that the prospective board member already believes in Christian Creationism. Gee! They already know the truth! How scientific of them! They don't even need to engage in science any more, because they already know the facts! There is no more need for any fact-finding missions!
No, I'll take science which admits the obvious: we don't know everything and have quite a few things to learn. We are highly fallible beings, prone to making mistakes and to exploiting and to being exploited. There's a sucker born every minute: if we are not so keenly aware of this fact that we've made the effort of erecting a system to address these problems, then we have, in effect, invited the P. T. Barnums of this world to take us for whatever we've got that's not nailed down. Real science assumes all these things. But the fallibility and corruptibility of the human is about all that science takes for granted, everything else is always and forever up for grabs. Any and all claims of fact are always subject to being overthrown: even the prestigious "Laws of Gravitation." Yes, even that favorite among Fundamentalist Christians, the Second Law of Thermodynamics, is not only up for discussion, but a fifth grader is fully qualified to overthrow it if she or he presents ample and convincing evidence to this "much of the scientific community" (about which I wrote earlier) and this "scientific community" finds that the fifth grader's evidence withstands their scrutiny. In fact, even the First Law of Thermodynamics is up for grabs, as is the Zeroth Law of Thermodynamics.
What happens is that scientists come up with an idea and they document what it would take to prove or disprove their idea. They develop a series of experiments that others may try to replicate. Then they submit this to the greater scientific community specifically for the purpose of challenging them try to shoot down the new idea. This is how ideas are fine-tuned and, yes, rejected if found wanting.
So, when I speak of the consensus of "much of the scientific community" I am talking about the results of science as it is practiced the world over (except by these elite groups who, by publishing their own elite journals, skirt rules and standards by which the rest of us abide -- and yet they insist that the rest of us ought to nevertheless take them seriously when they do this).
None of this stops these and other individuals and groups from misrepresenting to the public both what science is and what science has said. One sure way to capture the public's trust is to appear to have "science" on your side. Thus, the greater scientific community is constantly having to deal with various quacks who tell the public this or that about science in order to sell their ideology, product, or some other bill of goods.
This works (in part) because science, as practiced the way the members of the greater scientific community practice it, actually protects us from error and falsehood and quackery by the very nature of how it treats data and facts and concepts and claims and the like. When I hear language that tends to tread with caution, I have reason to suspect that I am not as likely to be dealing with a quack. But when I hear language that steps boldly and is overly confident and, in essence, reveals either an ignorance or an outright disregard for that special caution which acknowledges the fallibility of human reason and the tendency of some humans to exploit others, then I can safely write off an individual as a quack unless and until that person shows me otherwise.
Because of all these quacks running around, trying to sell everything from books to ideologies to proposals before various local school boards across the country, whenever one makes a decision that is based upon whether or not "science" backs up this or that claim, it pays to have a good basic understanding of what liberal scientific method even is and how it works -- and what it is not; that is, to familiarize oneself with the telltale signs that one is dealing with a quack, such as the language and concepts commonly used by such individuals versus the language and concepts commonly used by members of the greater scientific community to describe things and events and processes.
For this reason, I have repeatedly described Liberal Scientific Method in my responses in our Letters section. One need merely type these words into our Search on the Front Page to have one of numerous attempts on my part to describe Liberal Scientific method in terms that almost anybody can understand. In fact, just in our Letters section alone, as of this writing, I describe Liberal Scientific Method in over sixty-four different dialogues (plus those that, at this writing, have yet to be posted, such as this one).
As you can probably tell, it is my firm opinion that a good foundation in what Liberal Scientific Method is will help our readers and their children avoid the traps and pitfalls of just about any form of quackery imaginable -- including Christian Creationism, whose only purpose is to slip Christian evangelism (that is, Christian morality) into our public schools by disguising it as scientific inquiry. And because so many Americans lack a basic grasp of what science even is (and the Christian Creationists know this), they have succeeded in convincing school boards across the country to allow them to have access to our children for the purpose of teaching our kids their corrupt and extremely damaging morals and ethical values (such as those that would prompt people to think it is okay to tell children that something that is not science is, in fact, science; such as those that would prompt people to want to teach their own family's values and religious traditions to the children of other families -- this is not morality: this is not behavior that I'd want my kids to be taught or shown by any adult!).
Strobel seems to have at least someone of authority from the scientific community in his favor.
Well, good for him!
As I explained above, there's a sucker born every minute, and one of the most effective ways to sell a bill of goods to the public is to pretend to be "scientific." They sold cigarettes to my father's generation by wearing white coats and placing the letters "Dr." in front if the actors' names on the ads.
They apparently worked on you (at least in part) by using the notion that science involves anything even remotely resembling "authority." What has always attracted me about science is the pronounced absence of that very concept: authority! In science, everyone (including you -- even as I write this) is on equal standing! The reason I love science so much probably has a lot to do with why I have always disdained religions of the monotheistic variety.
Those who pretend to be scientific are almost always selling something that people desperately want justification for buying! Those who can tell that smoking is bad for you just by smoking a few cigarettes would just love to have a doctor tell them that, "No, this stuff is actually good for you!" Those who read a book wherein one of the characters shakes his fist at the sky and shouts, "Sun, stand thou still!" would just love to be told that there's real, boner-fried "scientific" evidence that the Earth actually stopped rotating for a day (but not that the Sun actually "stood still," of course!).
I have a pretty good idea that I've encountered an individual who wants to be deceived when that person, after two e-mails (and after I specifically asked you to instead present an argument in your own words), is still touting a book that purports to sell the bill of goods rather than going out and purchasing some basic books on scientific method in an attempt to independently verify that the "scientific" author's yarn squares with the general consensus put forth by that "much of the scientific community" which I mentioned in my last letter. No. It doesn't square with very "much of the scientific community" at all, otherwise, we wouldn't need a Strobel to try to convince us that it's scientific.
If what Strobel is saying were scientific, we could simply examine the claims and see for ourselves how scientific they are! We could open up any mainstream scientific journal or grab a sampling of scientific magazines tailored for the popular audience (or even youngsters) and those journals would be replete with the very "bill of goods" that Strobel is trying to sell us. And every one of these journals (even the ones for kids) would be recommended by most if not all of the members of the Royal Society and the National Academy.
If what Strobel is saying were scientific, the National Academy of Sciences wouldn't have erected a special section on its web site attempting to show that what Strobel is saying not only is not scientific, but is outright fraud! (See: "Science and Creationism: A View from the National Academy of Sciences" Second Edition.)
No, someone wants to be deceived when he finds he must step outside the mainstream of Liberal Scientific Method and travel to the very fringes in order to find someone willing to cloak the lies he wants to hear into scientific language, endorsed by people who claim to work in scientific fields: that fairy tales are science, that deceit is morality, that prayer and meditation and meeting attendance cure alcoholism, that if you hold on to the tin cans and answer a bunch of questions you get to join the master race, that cigarettes are good for you, that the United States of America was founded by pious Christians -- whatever is easier than facing reality!
Positive Atheism Magazine
Six years of service to
people with no reason to believe
Material by Cliff Walker (including unsigned editorial commentary) is copyright ©1995-2006 by Cliff Walker. Each submission is copyrighted by its writer, who retains control of the work except that by submitting it to Positive Atheism, permission has been granted to use the material or an edited version: (1) on the Positive Atheism web site; (2) in Positive Atheism Magazine; (3) in subsequent works controlled by Cliff Walker or Positive Atheism Magazine (including published or posted compilations). Excerpts not exceeding 500 words are allowed provided the proper copyright notice is affixed. Other use requires permission; Positive Atheism will work to protect the rights of all who submit their writings to us.