The Naturalistic Fallacy

Üdvözöllek skeptics,

Tonight I am going to be talking about the naturalistic fallacy. When it comes to fallacies, it doesn’t get much more fallacious than this. The naturalistic fallacy is an argument used relentlessly by naturopaths, herbalists, homeopaths, and dozens of other pseudoscientific claims. In a nut-shell, the naturalistic fallacy is the claim that something is naturally better because it is found in nature or that it contains only natural products. At almost every level, there is something wrong with the naturalistic fallacy.

The most fundamental problem with the naturalistic fallacy is that there is nothing inherently different or special about things from nature. At the chemical level, there is nothing different about the vitamin C found in oranges and vitamin C which is produced in a laboratory.
If a company creates a banana flavoured confectionery out of flavour chemicals they extracted from a banana, they can call it natural. But if they manufacture these chemicals at the factory, rather than getting the from the banana, then they can no longer call it natural. There is nothing different between the two chemicals.

Another issue with the naturalistic argument, other than the argument which says “its better because its natural”, is the one that says, “if its natural, its good.” and there is something wrong with this argument for a very basic reason. Anybody who has watched survival shows on the television knows that there are very few things you can eat in the wild. No doctor would recommend going out into the forest and eating a random plant. Most of what you find in nature is dangerous or has no benefit to eat.
Nature doesn’t care about us, there isn’t any natural selection towards plants that are safe to eat, in fact, the natural selection is towards plants which are not safe to eat.

There is no advantage to a plant for it to be safe to eat the flowers (reproductive organ) off of it. If it was tasty and safe for animals to eat the reproductive organs of a specific plant, this species would soon go extinct, because there is no way for the organisms to pass down their genes t the next generations if they cannot reproduce. Some may say “aha, what about all the plants which are safe to eat, bananas, oranges, pears, apples, strawberries, the list goes on.” and this brings up another argument against the naturalistic fallacy.

All of the foods we eat today are not the foods that were found in the wild thousands of years ago when we first started to cultivate. The banana plant which we all know and love was just a stupid, disgusting little herb thousands of years ago, not the extravagant yellow fruits we know of today. We have selectively bred our food over the years to make it tasty and safe to eat. There is cyanide in apple seeds, because thousands of years ago, before we bred them, they had a lot of cyanide on them, now they have very little in them, because of our selective breeding.
The point is that the things we think of as nature are actually our own designs, which we have sculpted over the years to be tasty, safe and look good on a plate. It’s not nature just because it comes out of the ground, and it certainly doesn’t mean we haven’t interfered with it at some time.

Food or drugs are not better because they are natural, being natural does not make them safe, and a lot of the things we thin of as natural today are not what we found in the ground thousands of years ago.

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Science is the Only Way to Test Reality

Hello there skeptics,

Today I am going to be blogging about the wonderfulness of science, and how it is not some abstract way of looking at the universe (as the post-modernists will have you believe), it is actually a fundamental part of the universe, and is THE way to test reality.

Something my mother has told me for a long time since I came out of the closet about being a skeptic and an atheist, is “Science is not the only way of knowing things, there are plenty of other ways.” I’ve never asked her what these other ways might be, but should could be talking about either of two lists of ‘ways of finding out things’ :-
1. The ignorant list – she could be talking about things like logic, philosophy etc., in which she is just being ignorant and does not know that both logic and philosophy stem from science.
2. The post-modernist list – She really means what she says, and thinks the other ways of knowing are things like belief, spiritualism, mysticism etc., in which she is also being ignorant, because these things are either testable by science or not real.

I will start with a distinction, the fact that science is able to test anything is not just some blatant statement, its true. Anything which is real (reality), is testable by science. Now you may say, “Supernatural things are not testable by science”, this is a common misconception, supernatural things like ghosts and spirits are testable by science, but once they are testable by science they are not supernatural. A common misunderstanding is that there are things that science can test, there are supernatural things which cannot be tested, but are real, and there are things which don’t exist. This is wrong. Things are either real, (have some sort of measurable effect on the universe) or they are not real. Ghosts, for example, they could be real, and in which case, they are testable by science, or they could not be real, in which they are not testable by science. If something can be measured, (demon possessions, spirit hauntings, homeopathy, acupuncture etc.) then it is part of the real world and can be tested by science. There is no possibility of something having an effect on the universe around us (curing a patients cancer, making a possessed person’s head spin 360°, create the universe etc.), and not be testable by science.

That is because science is just measuring the world around us, in the purest and simplest form, and this is amazing to me, because it is the only discipline where you know that the same thing will be found over and over again. Think of the greatest three scientists of the last two centuries, Darwin, Tesla, Einstein. If these people were never to have existed, then somebody else would have made their discoveries instead. Somebody else, probably Wallace, would have published the theory of evolution, somebody else would have invented the Tesla coil (albeit with a different name) and AC electricity, and somebody else would have theorized special and general relativity. This is true because the outcomes of science are based on reality.

Science by definition, is the measuring and describing of the world around us, and it is the one and only way to find out things about the reality of the world we live in. I will eave you with a quote from

The Job of Skeptics in Science

Greetings, skeptical and freethinking fellows,

I was recently addressed with a question from a family member about what makes being a scientific skeptic any different from being a scientist. They were obviously looking for the “Oh, we desire much more proof and are very cynical of everything new that comes up.”, looking for the big follow-up “Bam! You’re just a closed-minded skeptic.” But they didn’t get the response they were hoping for, and I will be extrapolating on my response to them today.

I will start with an opening difference between a skeptic and a scientist, and how it is useful to have a skeptical group in the scientific world.
What it means to be a scientist. A scientist is a person who devotes their entire career to a small topic in science, such as archaeology,  paleontology, nuclear physics, neurology or cardiology. Now that’s great, we need scientists spending as much time on a topic that they specialize in, so that all the details can be figured out, but a scientist can be very ignorant on fields that are not important to him, and this means that they can be very gullible on topics that do not relate to their interests and specialties. An engineer needs no knowledge of biology to get through university, so it is quite possible that this engineer could be a young earth creationist.

Skeptics are often the people set with the task of just stepping back a little, and looking at the whole picture. I will use the analogy of a wall, where the wall is science. Each scientist can be working on his little 2 x 2 inch part of the wall, and not have any idea what is going on in the other thousand 2 x 2 inch segments of wall. The skeptic is the person who just looks at the whole wall from 20 feet away, so that the whole picture can be seen. Obviously, when you stand 20 feet away, you cannot get the details of all of the little cracks and crevices of the wall, that is the scientists job, but the skeptic looks at the whole picture.

It is also the skeptics job to defend the wall from outside scientists who also want a look at the wall but aren’t doing a very good job of it. If somebody who isn’t part of the group inspecting the  wall decides to come over and take a hammer to the wall (creationists, homeopaths, acupuncturists, PSI researchers and ghost hunters), then it is the skeptics job to shoo away the person attacking the wall and tell them that it is wrong for them to be attacking the wall.

Of course, the skeptic can’t know all the details of all of the wall. He just needs to take the important bits from each scientist, and stitch together all the parts to make a wall.
Science is a brick wall, the closer you are to the wall, the more you understand what is in front of your face, but the more ignorant you become of the other parts of the wall.

I will leave you with a quote from Miguel De Unamuno, “The skeptic does not mean him who doubts, but him who investigates or researches, as opposed to him who asserts and thinks that he has found” Miguel De Unamuno, a Spanish Playwright, poet, author, essayist, novelist and philosopher.

Ad Hominem Logical Fallacy

Yesterday I blogged about the logical fallacy known as post hoc ergo propter hoc, or post hoc, and how it is used, and why it is an illogical argument. Today I will be continuing the logical fallacy blitz with the fallacy known as an Ad Hominem attack. This is a common argument used by a lot of different groups, even including skeptics sometimes, so it is important to understand this fallacy to make sure you don’t use it someday when arguing with a conspiracy theorist or a UFOligist. It is also used in politics a lot, especially at the moment in Queensland where there is a political election coming up in a few days.

The most recent use of this argument is by the Labor party in the campaign for the up-coming election. Due to the fact that the Labor Party is fighting an extremely up-hill battle (the latest poll shows that they could win as little as 12 of 89 seats in parliament), they are resorting to attacking the politicians themselves rather than just putting forward good policies or proposed plans. The most common one is the ‘Campbell’s web’ advertisement, which attacks Campbell Newman (the leader of the LNP) and his personal finances not the policies he is proposing or the political view-point he argues for.It is a prime example of an ad hominem attack, because they are attacking the arguer, and not the arguments.

I also mentioned that skeptics fall into this trap often. This is one reason why it is important to know about logical fallacies. The first is that you can call your opponent bluff when he uses one, the second is that you can also question your own arguments with them, to make sure your logic is valid, os that you can correct them, and not the person you are arguing with.

Skeptics often use this logical fallacy when they are arguing with people such as UFOligists, conspiracy theorists and homeopaths. They often fall into saying things like “This is just stupid, how could you honestly believe that what you are saying is true, it is ridiculous!”, or something of the like. This is a logical fallacy. You cannot just simply disregard an argument because it is silly, it is a logical fallacy. However, it is not a logical fallacy to say “The notion of homeopathy is just outrageous, and here is why.” That is not a logical fallacy. If you explain your ad hominem attack with logically sound arguments, then it is not a logical fallacy, it is just good use of the arguing technique of ‘making the other person look like an idiot.’

Ad Hominem attacks are usually last gasp attempts to salvage some victories in the dieing moments of a debate when the fallacious arguer realizes that he is losing by a large margin.

That’s all for me today, I will leave you with a quote from Thomas H. Huxley, “Science is simply common sense at its best; that is, rigidly accurate in observation, and merciless to fallacy in logic.” Thomas H. Huxley, most often known of as Darwin’s bulldog and refiner of agnosticism.

Homeopathic college in Australia website review

Hello from me,
I was browsing the internet yesterday, as is the norm, when I stumbled across homeopathycollege.com.au, which is the official website for the Sydney College of Homeopathic Medicine. It’s sad that what I thought was mostly an English and European pseudoscience has infiltrated Australia. I thought I might go over some of my thoughts on the website.
There is a handy ‘about homeopathy’ tab amongst others which explains the underlying principles of homeopathy. One thing I noticed is that right at the top the website says ‘Homeopathy is a system of medicine based on principles laid down over 200 years ago’ and here is one of the main problems with homeopathy, it’s based on 200 hundred year old crap. It hasn’t changed anything about its philosophy in the last 200 years.
Another claim thrown around commonly in the introduction is that homeopathy is both safe and effective. I agree with half of that statement. Yeah, it’s safe because it’s just water, no, it’s not effective because it’s just water. In the last paragraph the website states that ‘Homeopathy’s effectiveness in a wide range of conditions is increasingly being verified by high quality clinical and laboratory trials (both human and animal)’. This is completely wrong. Homeopathy effectiveness has been proved by poorly designed, non-double-blinded studies which do not control for placebo and the like. Homeopathy has been shown to have no effect when studied using large, rigorous, double-blinded studies.
That’s it on my review of this homeopathic site. I will leave you with a skeptical Quote from Undoubtedly the most famous of all skeptics, James Randi, “I do not expect that homeopathy will ever be established as a legitimate form of treatment, but I do expect that it will continue to be popular.”