In 2003, the late science fiction author Michael Crichton delivered a lecture at Caltech entitled, “Aliens Cause Global Warming.” The purpose of the lecture was to take to task the sort of science that uses political and social pressure to enforce groupthink. His lecture is often cited in critiques and criticisms of global warming.
The pertinent portion of his lecture, for the purposes of this article, is the following:
“I want to pause here and talk about this notion of consensus, and the rise of what has been called consensus science. I regard consensus science as an extremely pernicious development that ought to be stopped cold in its tracks. Historically, the claim of consensus has been the first refuge of scoundrels; it is a way to avoid debate by claiming that the matter is already settled. Whenever you hear the consensus of scientists agrees on something or other, reach for your wallet, because you’re being had.
Let’s be clear: the work of science has nothing whatever to do with consensus. Consensus is the business of politics. Science, on the contrary, requires only one investigator who happens to be right, which means that he or she has results that are verifiable by reference to the real world. In science consensus is irrelevant. What is relevant is reproducible results. The greatest scientists in history are great precisely because they broke with the consensus.
There is no such thing as consensus science. If it’s consensus, it isn’t science. If it’s science, it isn’t consensus. Period.”
The sort of consensus Crichton had in mind is that which isn’t supported by much than a faulty appeal to authority or popular opinion. He used the Drake Equation for the probability of the existence of alien life to make his point. The Drake Equation is essentially a series of guesses that can be as big or small a number as you care to conceive. As such, it’s pretty much useless for any real calculations. It was used at one point as a propped up justification for funding SETI and their namesake search for extraterrestrial intelligence. Crichton’s point is that both SETI and the Drake Equation seem to get a pass by consensus science when they would howl if creationists came up with such speculation.
Later in the lecture he added:
“Finally, I would remind you to notice where the claim of consensus is invoked. Consensus is invoked only in situations where the science is not solid enough.
Nobody says the consensus of scientists agrees that E=mc2. Nobody says the consensus is that the sun is 93 million miles away. It would never occur to anyone to speak that way.”
His thoughts on the subject of consensus science resonate with the creationist. Thanks to the Galileo affair, we understand the danger of appealing to consensus science as a pat answers. It is a matter of historical records that once upon a time well-meaning theologians hitched Christianity’s cart to the horse of a geocentric cosmology. Even though the Bible is silent on the subject of Earth’s physical place in the universe, Christians found that geocentrism resonated nicely with the Bible’s anthropocentric focus. Accordingly, we found proof texts for geocentrism, interpreting some passages to support this particular cosmology when the Bible said no such thing. Of course, geocentrism was wrong. Christendom still feels the sting of that mistake, which is used to prop up a religion versus science dichotomy that, for many, is a stumbling block to the faith.
On January 8, 2006, science fiction author Orson Scott Card wrote a defense of Intelligent Design called “Creation and Evolution in the Schools”:
Real science never has to resort to credentialism. If someone with no credentials at all raises a legitimate question, it is not an answer to point out how uneducated or unqualified the questioner is. In fact, it is pretty much an admission that you don’t have an answer, so you want the questioner to go away.
Expertism is the “trust us, you poor fools” defense. Essentially, the Darwinists tell the general public that we’re too dumb to understand the subtleties of biochemistry, so it’s not even worth trying to explain to us why the Designists are wrong. “We’re the experts, you’re not, so we’re right by definition.”
In other words, as Richard Feynman has quipped:
“Science is the belief in the ignorance of the experts.”
Most creationists don’t have to be reminded of this when it comes to evolution, but I’ve noted one arena of debate within the young earth creationists movement where some of my fellow creationists seem to have fallen for the temptation of an appeal to consensus, credentialism and expertism.
I’m speaking, of course, of Gary Bates, CEO of Creation Ministries International and author of the best-selling book Alien Intrusion. Mr. Bates was kind enough to respond (sort of) to two of my posts: Gary Bates Thinks ET Could Potentially Falsify The Bible and Why ET Probably Doesn’t Need To Be Saved Anyway. Disappointingly, he offered nothing of substance to answer my counter-arguments to his anti-alien dogma. Instead he answered a straw man argument of my position and then said the following:
“Moreover, unlike your individual considered opinion, the opinions espoused in these articles on creation.com are derived from a ‘multitude of counsellors’ including theologians and scientists with the aim of defending Genesis.”
Needless to say, this appeal to consensus and expertism, in lieu of actually addressing the arguments I presented, was very disappointing. I find such tactics troubling for they are yet more evidence that anti-alien dogma within Christianity are based on logical fallacies. This state of affairs can only be detrimental to the faith and could become a stumbling block to the Gospel if aliens actually exist.
I encourage my readers to arm themselves with the truth. My new book, Strangers and Aliens, may well be the most hated book in Creationism, but it does not negate the fact that truth is not built upon logical fallacies and appeals to consensus. The very God who self-identified as Truth would not reveal anything, directly or indirectly, that was based on logical error.
You can read the truth of the matter for yourself and see why the UFO phenomenon is irrelevant to the question of extraterrestrial life and how current anti-alien dogma within Christianity is premised upon logical fallacies, including arguments from silence (specifically, in the idea that aliens do not exist because the Bible does not mention them) and, yes, appeals to consensus. Pick up a copy of Strangers and Aliens today on Amazon.