Bruce Lipton, Nut

In an earlier post, asking for targets for me to scrutinize, Yakaru suggested I look over Bruce Lipton. I was a bit slow in jumping into the topic, so Yakaru made a post of his own.

I’ll still make my contribution, and skimming over Lipton’s website, I’m drawn to a book excerpt he posted: “The Nature of Dis-ease.” The title alone is an ideological red flag. I’ve seen a lot of altie gurus use it in the past, trying for some kind of clever wordplay. I tend to see another aspect to this word splitting: I think it promotes the idea that health is the default state of being. It’s a meme that’s going to need more and more critical scrutiny because as medicine advanced, we’ve been able to lead healthier lives. It’s because of modern science-based medicine and our society’s infrastructure that we generally take health for granted and see disease as an aberration instead of an integral part of life.

Onto the article itself:

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A Touch of Moral Philosophy

I recently (for a given value of ‘recent’) had an anti-abortionist named laodeciapress comment on my post, “‘Potential’ People” a few times before moving on. In our argument, he hinted at objective morality, a concept which I currently find incoherent. Combined with today’s Doggerel that discussed confusion between fact and theory, it got me thinking about a sort of moral equivalent of theory and fact.

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Doggerel #5: “Theory”

Welcome back to “Doggerel,” where I discuss words and phrases that are misused, abused, or just plain meaningless.

Today’s entry is a word that’s commonly misunderstood on forums and comment threads about science. In colloquial language, “theory” implies guesswork. “It works in theory, but not in practice” is a phrase used to describe an idea that sounds reasonable, but doesn’t work, speaking of theories as if they were restricted to thought experiments. Often in fiction, “pragmatic” characters will criticize a dreamer or intellectual’s plan asserting “this is no time to test your theories!” or similar arguments. This definition of “theory” is more consistent with what a skeptic would call a hypothesis, not a theory.

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Obligatory Easter Post

I may consider Christianity to be just another form of woo in terms of science and epistemology, but it’s pervasive where I live and wields undue political influence. That’s why I tend to devote more time to talking about it. Of course, like many American atheists, I used to be a Christian, but it tended to be in a far vaguer sense than the mainstream.

The typical Easter story never made sense to me.

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Give Me Targets

I know my readership hasn’t been restored to the levels of my old blog, but if you are reading, please be so kind as to give me a target for criticism. I’ve been in the skeptical blogosphere long enough that a lot of woo tends to blend together, so I end up posting “skepticism 101” topics and general observations. It might be fun to pick out a specific, possibly even obscure bit of woo for analysis. Of course, I have a suspicion that having a specific target will raise the likelihood of attracting defenders, including trollish sorts, so be ready for a troll roast. I know I am.

Trouble in Team Silence

My brother got into a bit of a rant this morning about Armored Core V, and I honestly can’t blame him. I still love Armored Core, but I acknowledge there are numerous flaws. The past couple of weeks he’s been researching how the persistent online war is fought, since the English instruction manual’s about six pages. He was enthusiastic at first, but his discoveries have really worn that down to nothing. The game’s status quo is discouraging, and the lack of support for American players doesn’t help.

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Newage Culture: An Overview

I discover Yakaru has a blog! It’s got a good post on the front page right now: Blaming the Victim: Comments on Louise Hay. It deals with one of the familiar tropes in both religion and newage that serves to protect the higher-ups when they can’t make good on a promise. It’s given me some motivation to share my extended thoughts on newage culture.

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“Potential” People

I was reading the comments at one of PZ’s posts when I thought of this:

1. Anti-abortionists often ask the rhetorical question, “What if your parents had chosen to abort you?” to implicitly assert that abortion is wrong because a hypothetical past abortion would result in the non-existence of a fully sentient person in the present.

2. Many people are the product of premarital sex.

3. If the parents of these people had chosen premarital abstinence instead of having sex, they would not exist, therefore hypothetical past abstinence would result in the non-existence of a fully sentient person in the present.

4. Therefore, by the same logic, abstinence before marriage is immoral. And yet, belief that abortion is immoral quite often coincides with a belief that premarital abstinence is a moral obligation.

Of course, the “logic” is absurd and relies on a variation of the Historian’s Fallacy, viewing past decisions as if the participants had the same hindsight a person from the present does, instead of judging the decisions based on the information available to the people at the time they made their decisions. We do not have the luxury of being able to see into the future to see which sex acts will result in the next generation. This is the real world, not Star Trek: we don’t have people from the future popping in to inform us which decisions are the “right” ones.

All I know for sure is that the past and present contain real people. The people of the future are on much shakier ground. If the future’s fixed, the question is moot, since there’s nothing that will prevent them from becoming real. If it isn’t fixed, why should one possible future person have superior rights to another possible future person?

If the future isn’t fixed, every decision, not just abortion or contraception, has an impact on which future is realized. This would mean that if abortion is “murder” because it prevents a future person from developing, so would seemingly inconsequential decisions that end up doing the same thing. Staying home on a Saturday instead of going out and unintentionally meeting the woman of my dreams and thus potentially raise a family would have the same sort of consequences for potential people as aborting them. Even if you enter explicit intention into it, it gets into the problem in the opening of this post: Abstinence would be “murder” because it’s an act that would obviously prevent the development of potential persons.

Of course, a big part of the main debate is about whether zygotes/fetuses/embryos are “persons” or not, or about when in development they become persons, but that’s a different argument for a different post. This one’s specifically about the fallacious rhetorical value of the “potential person” argument.

Doggerel #4: “Shill!”

Welcome back to “Doggerel,” where I discuss words and phrases that are misused, abused, or just plain meaningless.

It’s a common accusation, and a convenient one. Accusing a skeptic of being a shill for some industry, pharmaceutical companies, or any allegedly evil organization is a popular appeal to motive and ad hominem fallacy. Even if the skeptic does indeed have ties to an organization, that doesn’t mean the evidence or arguments he presents should be ignored. If anything, it means they should be examined a little bit of extra scrutiny, not simply ignored.

A big problem with this doggerel, however, is that it’s commonly used against anyone who disagrees with the accuser, not just those with demonstrable organizational ties. Simply assuming that everyone who comes to a position out of profit motive demonstrates great cynicism as well as an unwillingness to consider alternative views or motives. Skeptics generally take up the viewpoints that appear to have the best evidence in their favor. If we’re mistaken, present evidence and ask critical questions. Jumping to the conclusion of selfishness and malice instead of considering the possibility that we might be mistaken or even that we might be right does nothing productive.

Even in the event that someone does have ties to such an organization, it’s still cynical to assume there’s a profit motive, especially since causation doesn’t have to flow one way. People might join an organization because they honestly believe in what the organization is doing. Researchers might join a pharmaceutical company and endorse their products because they honestly consider them good for society. Those same researchers might reject a quack’s claimed alternative because they have reasons to suspect fraud. There are honest people out there, just like there are selfish ones. Reckless use of this fallacy is tantamount to denying human diversity.

Advice to my opponents: Don’t use this argument without exceptionally clear evidence of a connection. Even then, you should maintain focus on the quality of evidence, especially independent lines of evidence. Simply asserting bias without looking at the evidence and its countermeasures against those biases is seen as manipulative and reflexive. Using it on someone simply because they disagree with you on a topic makes you look like an egotistical black-and-white thinker who can’t deal with the idea that other people can think independently and come to a different conclusion as a result of their exploration of the issue. Think carefully before you use this line of argument.

The Doggerel Index

Naturally, with a new Doggerel series and how big the old one got, I’m going to need an index for easy reference. Feel free to drop suggestions in the comments.

  1. Supernatural
  2. You’re a Girl!
  3. You’re Just Jealous!
  4. Shill!
  5. Theory
  6. Impossible!
  7. You’re Just an Anonymous Blogger!
  8. Mystery
  9. Open-Minded
  10. I’m Not Arguing to Convince Anybody!
  11. You Skeptics Think We’re All Stupid!
  12. “You Skeptics Think We’re All Liars!”