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Can YOU refute this nonsense?
Try it!

by Diane Vera

Copyright © 2002 by Diane Vera. All rights reserved.

Until very recently, there existed an organization called the Flat Earth Society, devoted to arguing that the Earth is flat, not a sphere. Below are some articles about them:

They don't seem to exist anymore, as far as I can tell. I am unable to find a website seriously espousing flat-earth views. I did find this parody, which at first I thought was the real thing:

When they existed, the flat-earth folks were notorious for WINNING debates. They presented lots and lots of "scientific" arguments that were impossible to refute unless you happened to have a strong background in physics.

Try reading the Flat Earth Society parody website. Even the parody site makes some arguments that are hard for people without a strong background in physics to refute -- although that site also makes some obviously nonsensical arguments that can be easily refuted by anyone with even an eighth grade education.

Another bunch of people who are notoriously good at winning debates -- and who still do exist, alas -- are the so-called "scientific creationists." See the list of some creationist websites, and some rebuttals, on the Bible and science page on my Counter-Evangelism site.

We should all be grateful to the organized atheist movement for bothering to refute this stuff, because the creationists do pose a real political threat to science education.

Try reading this stuff. If you don't have a strong background in biology and geology, you will soon discover that many of the arguments, on both sides, are way over your head.

You may even discover that some of the creationists seem, superficially, more reasonable than their opponents. Why? Because the creationists' number one aim is the persuade the public, so they've gotten good at it. On the other hand, most genuine scientists are more interested in just doing their research rather than arguing about it.

If you yourself don't have a solid background in biology and geology, you really cannot know the truth of these matters for yourself. The best you can do, and that case, is to trust that the vast majority of biologists and geologists know what they are talking about -- well, most of the time, at least.

Both biology and geology have developed to the point where you need to devote years of study to them in order to have anything approaching an authoritative understanding of them. When these sciences were still young, the greatest discoveries were often made by amateurs. But not anymore. These days, it is far less common for an amateur to do better than a professional scientist.

Think for yourself! -- but know your limitations.

Science isn't perfect. Scientists do make mistakes, some of which have taken centuries to correct. And there are some aspects of human experience to which the scientific method doesn't lend itself very easily, such as spirituality.

Nevertheless, regarding those aspects of human experience which science has studied in depth, the scientific method has proven to be, by far, the best method of seeking truth. It's not perfect, but there's nothing better. How can nonscientists know this? First, the proof of the pudding is in the eating -- the technology and medical advances that have been developed as a result of advances in science. Second, nonscientists can, without too much difficulty, learn enough about scientific methodology to understand why science has such a good track record, compared to other types of reasoning.

(See my list of links to articles on the methods of science. See also the article Odds Are Stacked When Science Tries to Debate Pseudoscience by Lawrence M. Krauss.)

But before you conclude that you should base your spirituality on science, please read the section on Philosophy vs. science at the end of my article Why do Satanists need philosophy?

Also, I would certainly not say that we should defer to the opinion of professors on absolutely every topic. Social sciences are a fuzzier area than natural sciences, due to the complexity of the human mind and due to the enormous variety in human personality and experience. If someone with a Ph.D. in psychology makes a generalization that flatly contradicts my own experience, I'll believe my own experience -- at least for me, though the Ph.D.'s opinion may very likely be true for lots of other people. Likewise, if some historian of religion claims that there were no Satanist groups before LaVey's Church of Satan, whereas I have a friend who says he briefly belonged to a pre-LaVey Satanic coven back in the early-to-mid-1960's, then I'm going to believe my friend.

Still, even in the social sciences, I would not presume to challenge scholarly opinion on matters too far outside my own experience or the experience of people I personally know and trust. For example, I would never claim that I know more about ancient history than an archeologist does.

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