Of telepathic gifts and well-chewed morsels

LET us be clear. We think skeptics are the most witty, pithy and intelligent of people. The type who can get their profound insights across in 300 lively, well-chosen words. We insist you prove us right by flooding us with splendid examples of the genre. The author of the best contribution in each issue will receive a suitable telepathic gift. The worst example will earn an unsuitable telepathic gift. Here are the rules

  • the editor will cut brutally if necessary
  • discuss the issue, not the personality
  • preference will be given to fresh fare, rather than well-chewed morsels.

In light of this, we publish herewith Robert Mann’s last word in the discussion following his article. All correspondence on this is now closed.

The Editor

Robert Mann Replies

How could such an experienced journalist as Gordon McLauchlan attribute to me the extremist belief that “only Christians have true values?” There are more than enough real offences lately, without getting offended over something I never said.

I’m well aware some atheists and agnostics are better citizens than some Christians. One can find lurid examples of wrongdoing among any large group. For instance, one would get a biased assessment of anti-religion (“rationalism” on the basis of the bloodthirsty French revolutionaries.

Vincent Gray asks “why do we have to believe in Christianity just because Newton did?” (my emphasis). No-one suggested any such thing. Some leading scientists have been Christians. Indeed, I mentioned one of the top three, Rutherford, was not; yet Peter Graham accuses me of the “implication that being Christian is essential to being a great scientist” — and calls my logic faulty! Gray claims scientism doesn’t exist. But Gray doesn’t appear to acknowledge any other way of knowing than science. My discussion of scientism is not rebutted, let alone refuted. He accuses me of mounting “a full frontal attack on scientific method.” But to state as he complains I did — that our civilisation has been declining for the past two to three decades — is not to attack scientific method! Insofar as science bears on this question, many “social science” indices support the impression of decline. I still don’t know of any scientist who disputes the “top three” list.

Peter Graham stating I cited no references to it, goes through a form of disputing but doesn’t get around to offering any different conclusion or method. Odd.

Mr Ring asserts a falsehood — that Hans Kung has been excommunicated — so why should we take his word about Hitler? And if indeed the Roman Catholic church did fail to excommunicate Hitler, does this illuminate any issue I was discussing? Gray asserts “the genetic code … explains heredity and evolution, and enables us to cure disease and provide improved crops.” The last two claims are irrelevant, the first two are at least to the point — but wrong.

As Professor John Morton wrote, DNA is obviously not the sort of thing that can cause other things, as if paint could leap from tubes onto canvas to produce a Turner, or percussions and vibrations a work of Mozart. Anyone who thinks DNA explains evolution needs to learn of the four categories of cause and thus see Dawkins is blithely ignoring half of them. Space is available to deal with only these less paltry points; if they are the best anti-religion can produce, religion is greatly encouraged. The main arguments of my article remain unchallenged.

R.L. Mann

Pseudoscientists and Young’s Law

In a letter to the Autumn 1997 NZ Skeptic, Hugh Young proposed a law he called “Young’s law”, which states, “Pseudoscientists who formulate Theories Of Everything often base them on something peripheral to their former career”. Hugh Young used Dr Ron Every as an example of “Young’s Law”. This is a bad example for several reasons:

  1. Ron Every is not a “pseudoscientist”. He graduated as a dentist in Dunedin, then completed a postgraduate doctoral degree in the US, 1938. After he retired from dentistry, his scientific researches continued at Yale University, Kingseat Psychiatric Hospital, Free University of Berlin, University of Chicago and Otago School of Dentistry, as well as the Zoology Department of Canterbury University, which Hugh remarked, “gained (Every) a degree of respectability”. In 1971 Ron Every was awarded by the International Association for Research in Stomatology (teeth morphology) a medal and diploma for best researcher. Could this be an award for pseudoscience! Hugh suggests Every reversed the conventional Freudian wisdom that says aggression resides in the anus. What nonsense!

  2. The claim that Every has a “Theory that Everything is based on tooth grinding” is also nonsense. Tooth grinding is not just a bad habit in humans called bruxism. It’s not possible here to detail the scientific evidence showing the role of tooth grinding (thegosis) in the evolution and function of teeth and behaviour in mammals, including Homo sapiens.

  3. It’s ridiculous to say ideas on teeth are peripheral to dentistry and dental research (Every’s first career). Besides, many of Every’s theories were formulated and published in the scientific literature before he retired as a dentist in 1965. Several more theories were published during his second career as a researcher in palaeontology, anthropology, and other disciplines.

Lastly, Hugh Young was critical about the last thing he heard of Ron Every — it is a pity he did not hear of Ron Every’s death last year and the eulogies of several eminent scientists on his excellent scientific work.

Dale Every
You can make up your own mind on this topic at the Skeptics Conference, which will have presentations on both thegosis and distinguishing science from pseudoscience.

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