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Thursday, 5 August 2010

The False Dichotomy Fallacy - Creationism's Moral Failing

Read any serious scientific paper and you will see evidence and discussions which support the hypothesis or theory under consideration. The authors may refer to opposing or alternative hypotheses but only to compare and contrast their results or arguments. Any evidence against any opposing hypothesis is completely irrelevant to that task, as are any deficiencies in that evidence.

The authors know that their hypothesis will only stand if they can show firm evidence supporting it, or if they don’t they will quickly learn from the peer review process which will give their paper short shrift. The humiliation of having a paper rejected on the grounds that ‘the author has presented no evidence supporting his/her conclusions nor his/her underlying hypothesis’ is not a good career move in an ambitious young scientist, who will never be an old scientist unless they learn better science.

Now compare that to a reading of any ‘creation science’ article – which is never subjected to the peer review process by submitting it to respected fellow scientist regarded as experts in the particular field. Almost invariably, the entire thrust of the article will be attacking established science, and in particular, established science which conflicts with the creationist view. There will rarely be a presentation of hard evidence supporting creationism or ‘intelligent design’ to give it it’s alternative name.

It’s as though the author wants you to believe that there are only two possible hypotheses: the established scientific view with all it’s supporting evidence, or the creationist view. You are expected to believe that, if they can cast doubt on the scientific view, their own view will somehow gain strength from it and if they can destroy it, their preferred view will automatically be accepted as the correct one.

A moments thought should lead you to see the fallacy there. There are not just two possible alternative hypotheses. In fact there are an almost infinite number, limited only by human imagination. Each hypothesis must stand (or fall) on its own. If no evidence is available to support it, it falls by default. No single theory, no matter how fond it's proponents are of it, has the special distinction of being accepted as the right one in the absence of any supporting evidence.

But that is exactly what the author wants you to believe. This is the false dichotomy fallacy. It is the scientific and intellectual equivalent of a deliberate lie designed to mislead. Creation ‘scientists’ use this fallacy for two reasons:

  • They have no evidence for their creation hypothesis, so have none to present and no conclusions to draw from it.
  • They want to mislead you into believing their hypothesis even though they have no evidence for it.

This neatly illustrates the intellectual dishonesty of creationism. It is the technique of the confidence trickster who has identified his mark and is playing to his weaknesses.

It is dishonest in it’s pretence of using scientific methodology. Just using scientific-sounding words and aping a scientific style of writing is not science. It is dishonest because:

  • it deliberately sets out to mislead and to deceive and so reveals a hidden agenda that the writer wants to conceal from you.
  • it exploits an assumed ignorance and/or lack of critical thinking ability in its target readership.
  • it betrays an awareness of this ignorance and intellectual deficit, yet fails to correct it. Instead it assiduously seeks to perpetuate and exploit it it.

Creation science shows the moral bankruptcy of creationism. Not surprisingly, proponents of it are loud in their claim to occupy the moral high-ground, as they shout out from the moral gutter in which they live.


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  1. In a way, I see false dichotomies as arising from a misuse of an exhaustive use of proof by contradiction.

    Of course, in mathematics, we can (depending on the field) list a finite number of cases or possibilities, and use proof by contradiction to eliminate all but one of them. As Sherlock Holmes has said: "When you have excluded the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth."

    Unfortunately, this of course does not extend into real life, or the field of scientific theories.

    I recognize that I'm probably wrong, and that apologists probably really do believe the dichotomy (or are intentionally misusing it). I just prefer to err on the side of ignorance over malice.

  2. I'm sure you are right in many cases. The false dichotomy is used through ignorance and/or a lack of intellectual rigour or agility. Many of them will themselves have been victims of perpetrators who know they have to use trickery and guile to get others into following their lead, incidentally so showing their own lack of belief in the thing they're trying to impose on others.

    In many instances though the perpetrator has no such defence. Having had it pointed out to them ad nauseam that this is what they're doing, they never-the-less continue to use it as a tactic, so showing the dishonesty and moral bankrupcy of their professed belief.

  3. "I just prefer to err on the side of ignorance over malice" you are too nice by half! kudos for that, but i'm way, way, waaaay past being that nice.

    and Rosa, (i hope i am not assuming too much by using 'Rosa') excellent article. just next time, i would put "creation science" in airquotes! no need to encourage them!

  4. Are you asking me to attack this post as well?

    1. Er... no. For how long have you had this difficulty with comprehension?

      I note that you merely implicitly bragged about doing so though, and once again failed to deliver...


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