Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Debunking Corner - Creationism is an intellectual black hole

Stephen Law has put up a whole chapter of his latest book on his blog and it is about a couple of the standard tricks employed by bullshit merchants down the ages.  He chooses a group that are past masters to illustrate his point - Creationists.

This is an excellent overview and strongly recommended for all.  Here is just a few tasters but please read the whole thing here.

“But It Fits!” is one of the most popular strategies for immunizing beliefs against refutation. In fact, “But it fits!” does double duty. Not only is it a great immunizing strategy, it can also be used to create the illusion that a ridiculous belief system is not, after all, ridiculous, but at least as well confirmed as its rivals. I’ll explain how “But It Fits!” works by means of a particularly impressive example: Young Earth Creationism.
. . .

How, you may be wondering, can any sane, reasonably well-educated person believe that Young Earth Creationism is just as scientifically credible and well-confirmed as its more orthodox scientific rivals? After, isn’t there overwhelming empirical evidence against Young Earth Creationism? What about the fossil record, which reveals the species currently living on this planet have evolved from common ancestors over many millions of years? And of course, you might well add that the fossil record is merely one piece of evidence for the theory of evolution. The theory is also powerfully confirmed by discoveries in genetics (indeed, an overwhelming case for evolution can now be made even without appealing to the fossil record at all) . Surely there’s also a mountain of evidence that the universe is much older than ten thousand years. For example:
. . .
How, then, do so many Young Earth Creationists convince themselves that their theory is not falsified by the empirical evidence? How are they persuaded that it is in fact scientifically confirmed? Let’s begin by looking at how they approach the fossil record.
. . .

To summarize: Young Earth Creationism is supposedly:
(i) not falsified by the empirical evidence, but actually consistent with it.
(ii) good science
(iii) at least as well confirmed as the theory of evolution, etc.
All three of these claims are false. To begin to see why, let’s start with an analogy.
. . .
The claim that Young Earth Creationism is at least as well confirmed as its scientific rivals relies crucially on what we might call the “fit” model of confirmation. According to the “fit” model, confirmation is all about “fitting” the evidence. But more is required for genuine confirmation than mere “fit”, which any theory, no matter how absurd, can, in principle, achieve. So what else is required?
. . .

While scientists and philosophers of science may disagree on the details, most would sign up to something like the following.
In order for a theory to be strongly confirmed by the data, at least three conditions must be met. The theory must make predictions that are:
(i) clear and precise,
(ii) surprising, and
(iii) true

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