Strength In Numbers?

Homeopathy is a popular but worthless “alternative medicine” that involves diluting disease compounds in water to a degree that there is little chance that any of the compound molecules remain in the resulting container of water that is then marketed as cures for everything from asthma to cancer. Proponents claim that the water’s “memory” inoculates the patient from the disease.
In a recent debate over the efficacy of homeopathy “drugs”, a spokesperson for homeopathy seriously made the statement…

If [the homeopathic drugs] didn’t work beyond the placebo effect, why do people keep buying them?

Let’s have some audience participation. Here are your possible responses to this rhetorical question.

  1. Because claims of the drug’s efficacy are true.
  2. Because of the placebo effect.

In the absence of any other evidence, the only warranted answer is #2, and is amazingly even part of the question. If you chose the 1st option, you may well be among those who employ the same basic argument in other domains of inquiry. One of the most common defenses of religion I have heard is in a rhetorical question of the same form.

If there were no truth in my religion beyond a placebo effect, why do so many people believe it?

I’ll give you the same 2 basic options.

  1. Because claims of the religion’s efficacy are true.
  2. Because of the placebo effect.

If there is efficacy in either homeopathy or religion, it will not be demonstrated by someone pointing out the number of believers. In fact, if a believer employs this argument to their own particular religion which promises to provide superior wisdom to its faithful, then it has failed since the argument that the reliability of a claim increases as the number of believers increases is a logical fallacy called argumentum ad populum. To persist in this argument will require holding that the god of your religion has his own rules of logic, not a direction I’d suggest you take.

Science And Faith

The following is my own over-simplified comparison of science and faith. I’m posting it for the purpose of generating conversation. Please substantiate your opinions with evidence and argumentation. I’m especially interested in hearing from those who think that faith is based on evidence. I hear this from time to time, but have never been able to tease out exactly the relationship between the two. Where does evidence end and faith begin? What principle warrants stepping beyond the evidence into faith?


Asymmetric Science Camp


There is going to be a science fair in Kentucky! It’s always great to see kids interested in science, and to see adults interested in their children’s intellectual development. Before we take a closer look at this science fair, I’d like to remind us of an important lesson in the history of science.

Back in the 14th century, there was considerable controversy over whether the Earth was spinning, or whether the Earth was actually stationary while the Sun and planets circled the Earth. A man named Nicole Oresme decided to assess this problem by critically examining all the arguments.

First, Oresme lists 3 of the strongest arguments of his day for a stationary Earth..

  1. Our senses experience the Sun and the planets rising and setting as if the Earth were the center of the universe. It is therefore most reasonable to believe our perceptions and conclude that the Earth is, in fact, spinning.
  2. If the Earth were actually spinning eastward, we should experience a constant wind from the east. We do not. Hence, the Earth is not spinning.
  3. When a man on a fast-moving ship shoots an arrow straight into the air, it will fall behind the ship close to point where it had been released. In the same way, if the Earth were spinning, an arrow shot straight into the air should fall at a point west of the point it was released. This does not happen, and therefore the earth is not spinning. (This argument was borrowed from Ptolemy.)

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Causal Alignment Of The Mind

It is surprising to many that a substantial percentage of science-fiction writers and their hardcore fans are skeptics who do not subscribe to UFO mythologies, cryptozoology, alternative medicines, 9/11 conspiracies or the paranormal.

credulityvsscientific-understandingIt seems that the greater the degree of scientific knowledge (in this case a produce of exploring what is plausible though science fiction), the less one quickly believes in the unsubstantiated fantastical. This can be mapped to a curve on the Y axis of credulity that extends along the X axis of scientific knowledge and critical thinking. This lends credence to the idea that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.
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