Thursday, February 28, 2019

A Response To The Panda's Thumb Argument Against Intelligent Design

A standard objection to the argument for design is the "Panda's Thumb" argument – if we look at some living systems, they appear to have instances of poor design. Does this imply that God cannot have designed it?A quantitative standard of design helps in understanding this issue. Suppose I look at a Mercedes-Benz, and decide that the hubcaps are not aerodynamic enough. Should I conclude that the Mercedes-Benz is not a designed system? Or should I simply say that it is designed but does not have the highest possible level of design?

In the case of the Mercedes-Benz, perhaps I have missed some other function of the hubcaps. For example, perhaps they are designed for good looks instead of aerodynamics. In the same way, some authors have made much of the poor design of certain living systems without taking into account their other possible functions in a larger system. For example, peacock tails may make peacocks less efficient, but they have the function of pleasing people. Shade trees convert sunlight less efficiently than algae, but shade trees provide shade for humans, and algae doesn't.

It is possible for a system to have undetected design. If we do not observe the function for which something is designed, then we will not see its functional dependence on anything. A young child looking at a piece of scientific equipment designed to create nanosecond digital pulses may see nothing but a box with blinking lights and not see any function at all. We can therefore talk about "detected design." If we see no design, we cannot prove that it is undesinged, we can only say that we see no evidence of design. With a quantitative measure of design, we may also say that we see only a certain degree of design.

As Augustine of Hippo argued, no thing but God can be perfect in every way. Therefore every created thing has "imperfections" to some degree. We therefore can speak of a hierarchy of design, from inanimate objects to "lower" life forms to "higher" ones, with increasing quantitative measure of design. This is warranted, for example, by the narrative of Genesis 1, which sets mankind over animals, animals over plants, and plants over the rest. Jesus also said, "Are you not much more valuable than they?"

Finding something further down in degree of design does not imply that no thing has design. In the same way, finding a simple little ditty written by Mozart does not mean he was a poor composer. People make various things for various uses, and there is no logical reason why God could not do the same.

We must also distinguish between poor design and systems with good design but which have purposes that we do not like. A shark is a well designed killing machine. This raises the question of the problem of evil, which is a separate question. A well-designed, destructive system does not imply the lack of existence of design. It may imply a well-designed instrument of wrath.

David Snoke, Toward a Quantitative Theory of Design

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Are The Roman Catholic Holy Days Of Obligation Biblical?

  • Introduction:
          -The Roman Catholic hierarchy has invented an annual series of holy days of obligation for faithful adherents to observe, which comprises a liturgical calendar. Examples of such mandatory days for Catholics to comply with would include All Saints Day, Assumption of Mary, and Good Friday. These mandatory days of observance take place throughout Rome's liturgical calendar. The question that this article strives to answer is whether or not church government has the authority to command us to set aside specific days for penitential purposes.
  • The New Testament Does Not Speak Of Holy Days Of Obligation:
          -While the Jewish people of the Old Testament participated in obligatory religious celebrations such as Pentecost, the Passover, and the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Leviticus 23), there are no such stipulations in the New Testament for Christians. In other words, there are no listings of, examples of, or any implicit or explicit commandments for a church hierarchy mandating special days of observance which are dedicated to specific people, events, or for a designated purpose found for Christians in the New Covenant Scriptures. If Jesus Christ intended for us to follow a universally binding liturgical calendar, then it is strange that the authors of the New Testament nowhere wrote down such instructions. Christ was the fulfillment to the Old Covenant celebrations. The priesthood, animal sacrifices, dietary regulations, and other aspects of the Mosaic Law were only "shadows" of the greater things to come (Hebrews 10:1). These things all pointed to His work on the cross.
  • The Roman Catholic Church Goes Even Further Beyond The Teaching Of Scripture By Making The Observance Of Specific Holy Days Of Obligation A Requirement For Salvation:
          -The Catechism of the Catholic Church plainly says that willingly and intentionally failing to observe holy days of obligation is a mortal sin (CCC #2181). It is mortal sins that constitute an instantaneous loss of all saving grace (CCC #1861). But the Bible nowhere recognizes such an idea. Nowhere in the New Testament do we see people losing their salvation because they failed to observe a holiday mandated by elders in the church. We cannot merit our justification before God by making reparation for sin. We cannot merit our salvation by rituals and observances. If a person wishes to be saved, then he needs to approach God by faith (Romans 5:1; Ephesians 2:8-9).
  • Comments On The Observance Of Ash Wednesday:
          -During Ash Wednesday, palm branches are burned. Then, the ashes are rubbed on the forehead by a priest in the shape of a cross. Sacramental graces are imparted to partakers because the ashes were previously blessed. That is heresy. What does make atonement for sins according to Scripture is the sacrificial work of Jesus Christ (Isaiah 53:11; 1 Peter 1:18-19). We must trust place our trust in His work alone for salvation. Moreover, Christ expressly scolded the religious leaders of His day for openly making known their times of religious fasting (Matthew 6:16-18). Placing ashes on one's forehead certainly qualifies as a violation of this warning against pride. Catholics should be giving up Lent during the Lenten season. Roman Catholic Ann Naffziger of Busted Halo confirms:

          "You won’t find a listing of the Holy Days of Obligation in the Bible because they aren’t there. They aren’t there because they weren’t instituted when the Bible was written and compiled. Like so many things in our Catholic tradition, the practice of celebrating Holy Days developed over a period of centuries as Church leaders reflected on the importance of particular events..."
  • Mandating Special Days Of Obligation Is A Sign Of Apostasy:
          -The New Testament nowhere requires the observation of any "holy days of obligation." In fact, we have been given the liberty of deciding which days that we individually choose to observe to be specifically glorifying God (Romans 14:1-6; Colossians 2:13-17). We should be glorifying Him on a daily basis. We should always be serving Him. But mandating the observance of certain "holidays" on other members of the church is legalism (Galatians 4:9-11).

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Did Roman Emperor Constantine Invent The Trinity?

Long before the Council of Nicea, people considered Jesus divine:

*Ignatius: "God Himself was manifested in human form" (AD 105).
*Clement: "It is fitting that you should think of Jesus Christ as of God." (AD 150).
*Justin Martyr: "Being the first-begotten Word of God, is even God"; "Both God and Lord of hosts"; "The Father of the universe has a Son. And even God" (AD 160).
*Irenaeus: "Our Lord, and God, and Savior, and King"; "He is God, for the name Emmanuel indicates this" (AD 180).
*Tertullian: "Christ our God" (AD 200).
*Origen: "No one should be offended that the Savior is also God" (AD 225).
*Novatian: "He is not only man, but God also" (AD 235).
*Cyprian: "Jesus Christ, our lord and God" (AD 250).
*Methodius: "He truly was and is...with God, and being God" (AD 290).
*Lactantius: "We believe Him to be God" (AD 304).
*Arnobius: "Christ performed all miracles...the duty of Divinity" (AD 305).

James Garlow and Peter Jones in Cracking Da Vinci's Code, cited by Garry Poole and Lee Strobel, Exploring the Da Vinci Code, p. 90

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Christian Interaction With The Problem of Evil

  • General Points Of Consideration:
          -This argument is an attempt to judge God according to human standards. However, He is the One who is superior to us (not the other way around). His ways are not our ways. Our thoughts are not His thoughts. As finite creatures, we are not able to understand the thoughts and intents of God. He transcends our intellectual faculties. People often ask why God allows bad things to happen to good people, but the truth is that we are stiff-necked. He is not our genie. Why should our pain and suffering be stopped?
          -How come God does not instantly resolve all the problems of this word? He certainly has the power to do so. However, it does not follow that the human race would be pleased with His instantaneous solution. " one does evil for evil’s sake. We do evil to get good things, such as money, sex, and power. Take away pleasure and the incentive to do evil would vanish. But if God were to stop evil by ending pleasure, would the human race continue? If it did, would anyone like the pleasureless world that remains?" (Frank Turek, Stealing From God, p. 142)
          -God could simply refuse to pardon the iniquity of sinners and cast them into an eternity of eternal punishment. He could in the twinkling of an eye erase our existence. It is not as though He is indebted to us for anything. God could mechanically control us to make us serve Him. Nonetheless, He is patient and merciful. God is giving us an opportunity to repent of our sins (Acts 17:26-31; 2 Peter 3:9). We need to adopt an eternal rather than temporal perspective of things.
  • A Consideration Of Free Will 
          -God allows us to make immoral decisions because He wanted us to have free will. He wanted us to have freedom and thus to lovingly come to Him on our own. He gave us free will because He loves us. He made us to be His children, not to function in the manner of robots or puppets. If He did the latter, then He would not really love us. We would not be autonomous. We would not truly be unique as persons. 
          -As long as we have free will in this world, evil inevitably remains a possibility. Free will is a greater good. The freedom to make rational decisions is a gift in and of itself. God created us with the intention of having a relationship. The tree of knowledge of good and evil serves as an object lesson. When He restores everything back to its originally perfect order, our sin nature will be removed. We will be so consumed by God's majestic glory and presence that we would never be tempted by sin, which utterly destroys the possibility of any future rebellion. Nothing will be lacking.
  • Morally Sufficient Reasons For The Toleration Of Evil:
          -God may allow evil to exist as a way to test our faith, even though suffering oftentimes wears us down. It is because of our suffering that we learn patience, courage, and self-sacrifice (Romans 5:3-5; 1 Peter 4:12-19). The existence of suffering points to our inherent inadequacy and our need of God.
          -God may allow evil to exist with the intent of showing us that our poor decisions lead to negative consequences that are contrary to His will. What He really wants for us is goodness. He condemns murder, adultery, theft, lying etc.
          -So, the existence of evil is not inherently incompatible with the existence of an all-knowing, all-powerful, and infinitely good God. The existence of evil is a problem for all worldviews. How that issue is addressed depends on our worldview.
          -"Nagasawa gives an argument from evil against atheism -- or, more precisely, against what he calls "existentially optimistic" atheism, the sort of atheism which regards the world as a place worth being happy and grateful to be alive in. He argues that the fact that the world's evil and suffering seems embedded in basic systems (like evolution) is a problem for these existentially optimistic atheists, and so in a sense the problem of evil applies just as much to (existentially optimistic) atheism as to theism. Theists actually have an advantage in replying to the problem of evil, because of their view that there is so much more to the world than material reality that might factor into the balance of evil and good in the world." (
  • Since God Already Knows Everything, Why Did He Create An Angel Who Would Defy Him And Corrupt His Creation?:
          -Satan, who was created without sin, became fallen in the same way that Adam and Eve became fallen. They abused the free will that God had given them by choosing evil instead of righteousness. Perhaps God has a plan in which He is even more so glorified with the entrance of sin into the world than without. There is much mystery surrounding the fall of Satan. God in His wisdom has chosen not to reveal how all that took place.
  • The Problem Of Evil Is A Criticism That Backfires Because It Assumes An Objective Standard Of Good Which Cannot Exist If There Is No God: 
          -If objective evil exists, then, by definition, objective good must also exist. If there is an objective good, then there is a standard of morality that exists beyond humanity. It exists beyond nature. It is divine. This universal moral code governs the moral laws of each civilization. This moral law implies that there must be a moral law giver. It is philosophically impossible for evil to exist on its own as an entity, as it is a perversion of what is good. Evil and good can exist at the same time. Good can exist apart from evil.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

The Book Of Job And The Problem Of Evil

          Job was regarded as the holiest man on earth in his day (Job 1:1; 8). He even performed sacrifices for his sons daily (Job 1:4-7), showing his obedience and loyalty to God. Despite his piety, God allowed very terrible things to happen to that man. Job ended up getting a bunch of sores and later lost everything that he owned to storms, including his family. In the end, however, God blessed Him with much more riches and also another family. While we are not promised full restitution of our losses in this life, they will be granted to us in eternity (Revelation 21:4).

          This trial of faith showed that Job was indeed a righteous man. He clung to God, despite losing everything. Job's world was turned upside down. In the end, Satan was proven wrong and saw that he was, in truth, a faithful man. God was proven correct in His moral assessment of Job. While suffering, his three closest earthly companions did the natural thing of trying to comfort him by giving possible explanations for all of the mishaps taking place in his life. They suggested that his problems were possibly a result of committing a wrongful action or having a sinful lifestyle. 

          Surely, they thought, Job must have done something worthy of divine retribution in order for his life to be made such a nightmare. All of this, however, would be utterly unsatisfactory to him. He would have none of their reasoning. Job knew in his heart that such claims were false. He knew from his own experience that he was innocent. He was, in fact, a righteous man in the sight of God. His ways were blameless or without fault. Thus, Job maintained the integrity of his ways by not calling into question the goodness of God.

          Job began to question and ponder why God would allow him to undergo all the pain that he was made to endure. He complained to God about his predicaments and pointed to the fact that he had done nothing worthy of condemnation (Job 31). What happened to him did not seem right or fair, and understandably so. Job demanded answers, but God gave no specific explanation for Him not preventing that man's suffering. Nor are we. Undoubtedly, he was confused and anguished.

          Job continually placed his trust in his Creator. In response to his plea, God reminded Job about the fact that He is infinitely superior to mankind in every way. After all, He created life. He would understand how it works. Job was but a small creation in a vast solar system. How could he even begin to understand fully its inner workings? This brings to light the deficiencies that human perception carries with it. Job could not even conquer the beasts of the sea. Who was Job to put God on trial and make Him answer for His decisions? What is earthly suffering compared to the bliss of eternity?

          Job was simply not able to understand how God works. All that could be done on the part of Job was for him to firmly rely on God. This story is very much relatable to us in the modern world. God's control over nature and His ultimate purposes are to be trusted no matter where they seem to take us. This story emphasizes the importance of trusting in God. His wisdom knows no bounds. Our will should be that His will be done. We are not promised a life without problems. Our troubles have their ultimate answers in God.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

A Short And Sweet Refutation Of The Roman Catholic History Argument

          The Roman Catholic Church is known for making claims of possessing the fullness of God given truth, beginning with the Lord Jesus Christ bestowing the authority of the keys exclusively to the Apostle Peter. He allegedly carried that on in a chain of apostolic successors. These bishops are said to have preserved inspired oral tradition for the past 2,000 years. It is oftentimes claimed by apologists for Rome that the church fathers were unanimous in their acceptance of various distinctive Roman Catholic dogmas. Following are a number of points to keep in mind when confronted by such assertions:

           1.) Church history offers descriptions of what people have done in the past. Its purpose is not to prescribe what our beliefs ought to be. The only kind of apostolic tradition that has been reliably preserved for us is that recorded in the New Testament. Further, it is improper to view church history in a monolithic way. Historical data is subject to interpretation. Church history contains all sorts of theological developments, schisms, and reforms; it all contributes to the richness and diversity of thought within Christian tradition. 

           2.) Longevity does not prove truth. Do Buddhism and Hinduism contain more truth than Christianity just because they are older religions? The fact that an institution has been around for a long time does not make its claims more valid or truthful. It can still be questioned. Heresy is still heresy, even if it was introduced early in church history or believed by a majority of professing Christians.

           3.) Even if we unanimously agreed to accept Papal authority, that would only eliminate doctrinal conflict in a question begging, tautological sense. That would still not reveal to us whether we should be in communion with Rome (i.e. whether we are right or wrong in our decision making). A case for Roman Catholicism would still need to be made.

            4.) Both the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches make identical claims of having been established directly by Jesus Christ, but maintain contradictory teachings. They dispute each other's claims to authority. In fact, not a single known patristic author can be cited as agreeing with every uniquely Roman Catholic dogma.

            5.) The church fathers sometimes contradicted each other, and even themselves. Therefore, we have reason to not put them on par with the authority of divine Scripture. These men, no matter how godly or theologically gifted, were not inspired by God. Sometimes church fathers made factual errors. Irenaeus, for example, taught that Jesus Christ lived to be more than fifty years of age, even though gospel tradition indicates otherwise (John 8:57). Another weakness of patristic analysis of biblical passages was their pagan background (i.e. converts to Christianity) and a lack of familiarity with the Jewish context of the New Testament.

           6.) Divine revelation exists independently of the writings of church fathers. They are not to be treated as a smokescreen to bypass exegetical questions. We do not have to accept everything that patristic authors taught without reservation. There is also the issue of who specifically gets to determine which early writers were actually church fathers? Whose writings are more authoritative than others on what topics? Who gets to decide what "tradition" is?

           7.) Heresy was present among the people of God even during the first century (Acts 20:28-32; 1 John 4:1-4). Even people taught directly by the apostles sometimes abandoned the faith (2 Timothy 4:14). So the argument that we should trust the church fathers because they lived closer to the time of Christ is a false one. Scripture is the only safe and reliable guide existing for the development of doctrine.

           8.) We do not have every document written by each church father on every subject. Neither were we present in the early church to take surveys of what everybody believed. Our knowledge of this period is fragmantary. This point alone demonstrates the Roman Catholic claim of unanimous consensus in early church history to be vacuous.

            9.) Being deep in history can also reinforce Protestant beliefs. Protestantism itself arose from a historical context where the Reformers sought to address what they perceived to be deviations from the teachings of Jesus and the early Church. They emphasized direct access to the Scriptures, the priesthood of all believers, and justification by faith alone.

Monday, February 18, 2019

God's Free Gift Of Justification

IGNORANCE: Do you think that I am such a fool as to think that God can see no further than I; or that I would come to God in the best of my performances?

CHRISTIAN: Why, how dost thou think in this matter?

IGNORANCE: Why, to be short, I think I must believe in Christ for justification.

CHRISTIAN: How! think thou must believe in Christ, when thou seest not thy need of him! Thou neither seest thy original nor actual infirmities; but hast such an opinion of thyself, and of what thou doest, as plainly renders thee to be one that did never see the necessity of Christ's personal righteousness to justify thee before God. How, then, dost thou say, I believe in Christ?

IGNORANCE: I believe well enough, for all that.

CHRISTIAN: How dost thou believe?

IGNORANCE: I believe that Christ died for sinners; and that I shall be justified before God from the curse, through his gracious acceptance of my obedience to his laws. Or thus, Christ makes my duties, that are religious, acceptable to his Father by virtue of his merits, and so shall I be justified.

CHRISTIAN: Let me give an answer to this confession of thy faith.

1. Thou believest with a fantastical faith; for this faith is nowhere described in the word.

2. Thou believest with a false faith; because it taketh justification from the personal righteousness of Christ, and applies it to thy own.

3. This faith maketh not Christ a justifier of thy person, but of thy actions; and of thy person for thy action's sake, which is false.

4. Therefore this faith is deceitful, even such as will leave thee under wrath in the day of God Almighty: for true justifying faith puts the soul, as sensible of its lost condition by the law, upon flying for refuge unto Christ's righteousness; (which righteousness of his is not an act of grace by which he maketh, for justification, thy obedience accepted with God, but his personal obedience to the law, in doing and suffering for us what that required at our hands;) this righteousness, I say, true faith accepteth; under the skirt of which the soul being shrouded, and by it presented as spotless before God, it is accepted, and acquitted from condemnation.

IGNORANCE: What! would you have us trust to what Christ in his own person has done without us? This conceit would loosen the reins of our lust, and tolerate us to live as we list: for what matter how we live, if we may be justified by Christ's personal righteousness from all, when we believe it?

CHRISTIAN: Ignorance is thy name, and as thy name is, so art thou: even this thy answer demonstrateth what I say. Ignorant thou art of what justifying righteousness is, and as ignorant how to secure thy soul, through the faith of it, from the heavy wrath of God. Yea, thou also art ignorant of the true effects of saving faith in this righteousness of Christ, which is to bow and win over the heart to God in Christ, to love his name, his word, ways, and people, and not as thou ignorantly imaginest....

Now, while I was gazing upon all these things, I turned my head to look back, and saw Ignorance come up to the river side; but he soon got over, and that without half the difficulty which the other two men met with. For it happened that there was then in that place one Vain-Hope, a ferryman, that with his boat helped him over; so he, as the other I saw, did ascend the hill, to come up to the gate; only he came alone, neither did any man meet him with the least encouragement. When he was come up to the gate, he looked up to the writing that was above, and then began to knock, supposing that entrance should have been quickly administered to him; but he was asked by the men that looked over the top of the gate, Whence come you? and what would you have? He answered, I have ate and drank in the presence of the King, and he has taught in our streets. Then they asked him for his certificate, that they might go in and show it to the King: so he fumbled in his bosom for one, and found none. Then said they, Have you none? but the man answered never a word. So they told the King, but he would not come down to see him, but commanded the two shining ones, that conducted Christian and Hopeful to the city, to go out and take Ignorance, and bind him hand and foot, and have him away. Then they took him up, and carried him through the air to the door that I saw in the side of the hill, and put him in there. Then I saw that there was a way to hell, even from the gate of heaven, as well as from the City of Destruction.

Excerpts taken from John Bunyan, The Pilgrim's Progress

Friday, February 15, 2019

How Come People Cannot Be Saved After Death?

  • Discussion:
          -Although the notion of having a second chance for salvation after death may sound reasonable and even desirable, Scripture says clearly and forcefully that our fate is sealed at the moment of physical death. Consider this excerpt from the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus:

           "Now the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s bosom; and the rich man also died and was buried. In Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far away and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried out and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus so that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue, for I am in agony in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your life you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus bad things; but now he is being comforted here, and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you there is a great chasm fixed, so that those who wish to come over from here to you will not be able, and that none may cross over from there to us." (Luke 16:22-26)

          No additional chances for salvation exist for the souls of unbelieving men when they enter the direct presence of God. We will all have to face our Creator at some point in time. The day of judgement is inescapable and unavoidable. Thus, those who have not trusted in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior in this life will be eternally condemned. Hebrews 9:27 and Revelation 20:11-15 also reflect these biblical truths.

          What needs to be understood is that God does not have to save any of us from our sins. He offers to us eternal life because He is loving and merciful. The better question to ask is not why man cannot be saved after death, but why God ought to save anyone at all? Why has He not destroyed us all already? That is the fate which man deserves. 

        This is simply the way that God has ordained things to be. Who are we to call into question the morality of His decisions? He tells us that we will not have another opportunity to repent after death. So right now is the best time to repent of sin. Today is the day of redemption (2 Corinthians 6:2). 

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

A Sermonette On Humility

        What is humility? It does not mean that a man believes himself to be intellectually inferior or physically unappealing. There is nothing virtuous in such because anyone can think that way. It is not impressive. Moreover, having low self-confidence can be symptomatic of an addiction to pity. That does nothing to improve a person's character. Knowing what humility is and putting that correct understanding into practice is a foundational aspect of knowing God. It is to those people that He bestows grace. Knowing what humility is and putting that correct understanding into practice will shape how we regularly conduct ourselves in private and in public.

        True humility involves people not making themselves the center of attention. It entails people doing good deeds for the genuine benefit of others. It necessitates people doing good for the sake of goodness, not to bolster one's own ego. Humility means putting other people before ourselves. It entails that a person not overestimate his own abilities. Humility requires self-discipline. Humility requires self-sacrifice. Humility is required in order to be a truly virtuous person. Every other virtue springs forth from humility. This is not to say that care of the self is unimportant, since we must be self-sufficiency to help those less fortunate than ourselves.

          Human beings on an individual level have a tendency to compare themselves to others. If we discover that we have greater talents than somebody else, then we are prone to develop a triumphalistic attitude. We become puffed-up. If we find out that somebody else has greater talents than do we, then our sense of dignity is prone to be injured. We become jealous and angry. In either result, this notion of people comparing themselves to others is not helpful. It is a hopeless attempt to find a reason to preserve arrogance. But God is the standard of perfection. If we truly wish to better ourselves, then we must turn to Him and make great efforts to follow Him. We should use whatever gifts that God has bestowed upon us in a manner that glorifies His eternal name.

         Having a heart and mind consumed by pride is a dangerous thing. It distorts our sense of reality and can get us into trouble. If a person does not humbly submit to God, then how can he recognize the nature of his sinfulness and the need of salvation? In remaining prideful, individuals essentially make themselves their own gods. They are essentially saying that God is unnecessary. That is idolatry. Pride is the root of all evil. Pride is injurious to relationships with family and friends. Pride by its very nature is destructive. It is in a state of humility that love grows. It is in a state of humility that true honor flourishes.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Who Will Stop The Profitable Industry Of Junk Science?

"Should we believe the headline, “Drinking four cups of coffee daily lowers risk of death”? How about, “Mouthwash May Trigger Diabetes. . .”? Should we really eat more, not less, fat? And what should we make of data that suggest people with spouses live longer? These sorts of conclusions, from supposedly scientific studies, seem to vary from month to month, leading to ever-shifting “expert” recommendations. However, most of their admonitions are based on flawed research that produces results worthy of daytime TV.

Misleading research is costly to society directly because much of it is supported by the federal government, and indirectly, when it gives rise to unwise, harmful public policy.

Social science studies are notorious offenders. A landmark study in the journal Nature Human Behaviour in August reported the results of efforts to replicate 21 social science studies published in the prestigious journals Nature and Science between 2010 and 2015.

The multi-national team actually “conducted high-powered replications of the 21 experimental social science….One out of the four Nature papers and seven of the seventeen Science papers evaluated did not replicate, a shocking result for two prestigious scientific journals. The authors noted two kinds of flaws in the original studies: false positives and inflated effect sizes.

Science is supposed to be self-correcting. Smart editors. Peer review. Competition from other labs. But when we see that university research…are so often wrong, there must be systematic problems. One of them is outright fraud – “advocacy research” that has methodological flaws or intentionally misinterprets the results.

Another is the abject failure of peer review, which is especially prevalent at “social science” journals. The tale of three scholars who tested the integrity of journals’ peer review is revealing. They wrote 20 fake papers using fashionable jargon to argue for ridiculous conclusions, and tried to get them placed in high-profile journals in fields including gender studies, queer studies, and fat studies. Their success rate was remarkable: By the time they took their experiment public on [October 2nd], seven of their articles had been accepted for publication by ostensibly serious peer-reviewed journals. Seven more were still going through various stages of the review process. Only six had been rejected.

The articles were designed to be an easy call for reviewers to reject. For example, one dismissed “western astronomy” as sexist and imperialist, and made a case for physics departments to study feminist astrology or practice interpretative dance instead.

In the absence of outright, proven fraud or plagiarism, universities provide little oversight over their scientists, in contrast to industry where monitoring quality-control is de rigeur. Universities claim that peer review is sufficient, but as discussed above, in many fields, it is unreliable, or at best, spotty. The peers are in on the game. In a research-publishing version of The Emperor’s New Clothes, editors wink and nod if the researcher seems to be following the rules. And there are no consequences if a researcher’s findings are repudiated by others’ subsequent research. Their ultimate product is a published paper. The way the game operates is publish, get grants (thanks, taxpayers) and progress up the academic ladder."