|N HIS BOOK WHY PEOPLE BELIEVE WEIRD THINGS, MICHAEL SHERMER lists a slew of bizarre phenomena that people swallow: UFOs; alien abduction; ESP; psychic communication; ghosts; haunted houses; cold fusion, excitedly touted not long ago in some “scientific” circles.
And I can add to the list: that the earth is flat; that the Holocaust never happened; that black helicopters will soon land United Nations troops in the United States to take over the government; that President Obama is the antichrist; that the George W. Bush administration perpetrated the 9/11 attack; that a sewage stain under a Chicago bridge was a signal from the Virgin Mary; that you can blow yourself up, murder scores of innocent people in the process, and on the merits of that ghastly act be admitted into Paradise to have all your sensuous desires fulfilled.
There seems no limit to human softheadedness.
The antidote to all this, in Shermer’s view, is “the scientific method.” That method is not infallible, to be sure; but whatever errors it might acquire, Shermer says—whether committed “honestly or dishonestly,” “unknowingly or knowingly”—“in time it will be flushed out of the system by lack of external verification” (p. 21). And lest anyone accuse him of going easy on science, Shermer (who is not a scientist) notes that despite certain “built-in [self-correcting] mechanisms, science remains subject to problems and fallacies ranging from inadequate mathematical notation to wishful thinking” (ibid.).
Yet Shermer, of all people—and in a book written precisely to expose human gullibility—goes off the deep end on one of science’s most glaring “wishful” pursuits. He does that on the issue of “intelligent design,” which he puts in the same category as the belief in UFOs or alien abduction. Taking on the notion of irreducible complexity, a bedrock argument of intelligent design proponents, Shermer tries to make the case that the human eye, for example, does not provide evidence of irreducible complexity. All parts need not be working at the same time for vision to be possible. “Lots of people,” he says, “are visually impaired with a variety of different diseases and injuries to the eyes, yet they are able to function reasonably well and lead a full life” (p. xx).
It’s an astonishing observation. Did it ever dawn on Shermer that he is dealing here with an already existing eye? One would think that a person whose mission was to debunk nonsense would know, instinctively, that there’s a huge difference between a damaged existing eye and an eye emerging from scratch, so to speak. But it gets even better: “Natural selection,” Shermer argues, “did not create the human eye out of a warehouse of used parts laying [sic] around with nothing to do, any more than Boeing created the 747 without the 10 million halting steps and jerks and starts from the Wright Brothers to the present” (ibid.).
But which is more complex—a Boeing 747 or the human eye? And would any rational person take the view that such an aircraft could come into being by anything akin to natural selection? A careful logician making Shermer’s case would probably have stayed clear of the Boeing illustration at all cost! What makes the belief in UFOs wackier than the belief that living things came into existence through some natural process over billions of years, with no special intelligence involved? Why does that not fly in the face of reason and common sense?
Christians might admit that we also believe things that others could consider fantastic—the Incarnation, for example. But we openly anchor our belief on the biblical revelation and admit that those things have no scientific warrant to support them. How much it would clear the air if scientists also would openly admit that much of what they believe about origins is simply that: belief! So-called “simple” people are not the only deluded souls on the planet. Some of our most sophisticated minds fall into their own pet fantasies.
Roy Adams is an associate editor of the Adventist Review. This article was published January 21, 2010.