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The Value of Vertigo

by Daniel Loxton, Aug 03 2010

"Value of Vertigo" bannerIn June of 2009, philosopher of biology Michael Ruse took a group of grad students to the Answers in Genesis Creation Museum in Kentucky (and also some mainstream institutions) as part of a course on how museums present science. In a critical description of his visit, Ruse reflected upon “the extent to which the Creationist museum uses modern science to its own ends, melding it in seamlessly with its own Creationist message.” Continental drift, the Big Bang, and even natural selection are all presented as evidence in support of Young Earth cosmology and flood geology.

While immersing himself in the museum’s pitch, Ruse wrote,

Just for one moment about half way through the exhibit…I got that Kuhnian flash that it could all be true — it was only a flash (rather like thinking that Freudianism is true or that the Republicans are right on anything whatsoever) but it was interesting nevertheless to get a sense of how much sense this whole display and paradigm can make to people.

This comment was severely criticized, but it’s profoundly relevant to skepticism. Continuing from the theme of my previous post (on “The Reasonableness of Weird Things”) I’d like to argue that the experience Ruse describes — the fleeting sense of “Could it be true?” vertigo — is one of the most important experiences skeptics can have.

Ruse

Michael Ruse’s disappearing-down-the-rabbit-hole feeling may seem surprising. After all, he’s been down in the trenches fighting Answers in Genesis-style Young Earth creationism for a very long time. For example, Ruse was a key witness in the pivotal 1981 case of McLean v. Arkansas. Nicknamed “Scopes II,” McLean v. Arkansas challenged and overturned an Arkansas law that required “balanced treatment for creation science and evolution science.” Judge Overton’s ruling effectively crippled the legal strategy of demanding “equal time” for so-called “scientific creationism.” (The final blow came in 1987, when the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in Edwards v. Aguillard that it is unconstitutional to teach creationism in public schools.)

But Ruse’s moment of vertigo is not as surprising as it may appear. Indeed, he put effort into achieving this immersion: “I am atypical, I took about three hours to go through [the creation museum] but judging from my students most people don’t read the material as obsessively as I and take about an hour.” Why make this meticulous effort, when he could have dismissed creationism’s well-known scientific problems from the parking lot, or from his easy chair at home?

According to Ruse, the vertiginous “what if?” feeling has a practical value. After all, it’s easy to find problems with a pseudoscientific belief; what’s harder is understanding how and why other people believe. “It is silly just to dismiss this stuff as false,” Ruse argues (although it is false, and although Ruse has fought against “this stuff” for decades). “A lot of people believe Creationism so we on the other side need to get a feeling not just for the ideas but for the psychology too.”

The Goblin Universe

I agree with this sentiment, and I would take it a step further. Ruse is describing an access point, a matter of practical utility: when we can put ourselves in another person’s shoes, we are better able to find ways to communicate. This is no doubt true, but the feeling of vertigo also tells us some important things about ourselves.

The Junior Skeptic format (each issue being a detailed primer on a single topic) calls for the sort of intense, full-immersion research that can lead to this off-balance feeling. A given topic may require me to read a dozen or more pro-paranormal books, one after another — each of them designed to persuade readers that a mysterious phenomenon is real. Sometimes, this immersion triggers a hall-of-mirrors feeling, a feeling of double-exposure, and I find myself standing (ever so briefly) in what John Napier called “the Goblin Universe.”

In his classic book Bigfoot: The Yeti and Sasquatch in Myth and Reality, Napier (then Director of Primate Biology at the Smithsonian) wrote that the sheer myth-laden wooliness of paranormal topics make it

intellectually necessary from time to time to abandon the real world and, like Persephone, enter the dark regions of another world which I like to call the Goblin Universe. It is simple enough to apply reason to what is reasonable, but it is much more difficult to argue logically about the illogical. …  If you see me disappearing down a mental rabbit hole from time to time you will know where I am headed. I will be traveling unwillingly into the Goblin Universe.

Napier got lost in his Goblin Universe, concluding on poor evidence that sasquatches are real. But he was right to stress the value of trying to see these myths from the inside. Riffing on Napier’s notion, anthropologist Margerie Halpin wrote,

Most of us, however, have not personally experienced Sasquatch, the Loch Ness monster, U.F.O. beings, God, or the Devil, and we accept reigning social consensus that they do not exist…. How different are we, we wonder, from most of the other human beings on the planet, whom we have reason to believe still accept the Goblin Universe as real?

Why This Matters

The skeptic’s task is not to score rhetorical points, but to seek genuine understanding of fringe claims. We want to learn what is true, what is fake, what the difference between these may be — and (if I may borrow a phrase) learn why people believe weird things.

Late at night, hands cramping from note-taking, eyes bleary with research, I can sometimes catch a glimpse of the Goblin Universe: ”Holy shit, what if there really is a Bigfoot? What if ghosts actually do exist? What if 9/11 was an inside job? What if….”

Sometimes this feeling is uncomfortable, sometimes it is thrilling — but always it comes to me as something of a relief. Here’s why:

  1. If it doesn’t even occur to us that the claim we’re examining could just possibly be true, we’re not honest investigators;
  2. If we can’t feel the persuasiveness of a claim, we don’t really understand it.

To my mind, this is where the rubber meets the road: are we really willing to look fairly at weird claims? And, is understanding something we’re psychologically capable of achieving?

Prior Plausibility

Now, I hasten to clarify what I’m not saying. I’m not suggesting that all claims have an equal chance of being true (they don’t) or that we can’t find out which claims are true and which aren’t (usually we can, and with great confidence). Science-based thinking gives considerable weight to the prior plausibility of claims, which is the basis of the maxim that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” As Steven Novella has observed, “The principle is based upon two premises: that we know stuff and that not all evidence is created equal.”

Evolution by natural selection, for example, is both intrinsically logical and confirmed in practice by 150 years of scientific research. The “who knows what’s true, let’s teach the controversy” posturing by Intelligent Design proponents is pure sleight of hand. (“Presto! The burden of proof has vanished!”) In fact, creationists would have to offer stupendous amounts of jaw-droppingly extraordinary evidence to even begin to balance the mass and power of the evidence for evolution — which they don’t have. I know that (I wrote a book about evolution), and veteran evolution defender Michael Ruse was an expert back when I was flipping hockey cards against the back wall of my elementary school.

What if…?

What I’m talking about is an internal exercise, a way of testing our own understanding and fairness. This is the exercise of asking ourselves, “Seriously — what if they’re on to something? Do I really know that they’re not?”

In some cases it’s not too difficult to see a paranormal belief from the inside. I can say with informed confidence that the case for Bigfoot is horrible, but the universe wouldn’t have to be altered very much for the Bigfoot hypothesis to be true — and, like Fox Mulder, I want to believe. I find it relatively easy to watch the Patterson-Gimlin film and see some part of what Bigfoot proponents see.

Other chasms are harder to cross. I was a theist in my early life, so I find it natural enough to imagine myself in theistic shoes. And yet, not even as a Christian did Young Earth creationism seem remotely plausible to me. It’s just too at odds with the natural world we see every day. I don’t know how to go down that rabbit hole, but I admire Michael Ruse for finding a way — if only for an instant.

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The Value of Vertigo, 4.9 out of 5 based on 22 ratings

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70 Responses to “The Value of Vertigo”

  1. I think Skeptics are kidding themselves if they think that it is impossible for them to go down the rabbit hole. I knew a woman who used to frequent our skeptics in the pub meetup group who seriously contended that she didn’t have one unexamined belief. To me, this is a great way to end up cloistered and confused, anyone can be tricked and anyone can be mistaken, avoiding/limiting that is what the scientific method is all about.

    • tmac57 says:

      Excellent point.I don’t think that anyone can honestly claim to be using skeptical thinking if they don’t acknowledge that they could be wrong about something that they are pretty sure of…
      Of course, I could be wrong :)

    • ZenMonkey says:

      Completely agree. I’ve seen a critical thinker go down that hole and not come back, and now she has a completely twisted idea about what skepticism and science are. This goes along with how we need to admit to the beliefs we hold that are irrational (at least to ourselves); we all have some, but as long as we’re aware of that and don’t start constructing a worldview around that irrationality, we can avoid too many problems with cognitive dissonance and remain critical thinkers.

  2. highnumber says:

    It’s always a worthy exercise to try to understand our fellow humans. Fantastic article and it is a perfect companion to your previous post.

  3. Jeff Wagg says:

    Excellent article, Daniel. I think we’re already down a rabbit hole, however ours has walls of reason and empirical evidence. It’s still a rabbit hole though… there are things down here with us that simply aren’t true. The difference for us is that we’re trying to dig them out while others are trying to prop up the walls with them.

  4. kabol says:

    great article.

    so many skeptical people originally came from a place of unquestioning belief of some form or other and eventually embraced skepticism — it certainly wouldn’t seem human for there to not be the occasional deja-vu.

  5. Great topic, Daniel.

    I often encounter this line of thinking in my own thoughts and I think it’s an important part of a thorough investigative process.

    I can also see this as a realisation – Ruse’s lightbulb going on (or off?) could be resultant of the propaganda effect of the AiG museum, rather than a personal ‘epiphany’.

    However this arises, it’s a useful way to keep ourselves in check.

    Once ‘believers’ have this very thought, ‘what if I’m wrong?’ they’re on the path to skepticism.

  6. Rick says:

    I think that this is the very reason that people like me that have been on both sides of the issue have an obvious advantage over those that haven’t. I have read dozens of books and researched the Christian viewpoints on creation, doctrine, theology, apologetics, hermeneutics, and Biblical history. I then starting reading books by skeptics, scientists, textual critics, secular Christian studies authors, and books on psychology. I came away as a non believer, but it gained a lot of knowledge on both sides of the issue that is extremely helpful.

  7. Fiona says:

    This is an excellent post. I agree that it’s important to try and understand irrational beliefs from the inside out as much as possible, as long as you don’t let yourself get permanently sucked down into that rabbit hole.

    It’s important because irrational thinking is in fact natural to the human condition. I honestly don’t think there’s a single human being alive who doesn’t have *any* irrational beliefs whatsoever. Rational thinking is something that has to be constantly practiced, whereas seeing patterns and connections that aren’t really there come extremely naturally to the human mind (I’m thinking here of Steven Novella’s post about our tendency to see an agent behind events).

  8. paul barry says:

    I really liked this article.

    Instead of listening to SGU and other skeptic podcasts, for the last year I have been listening to podcasts like Paranexxus, Pairanormal radio, Sasquatchwatch, UFO podcasts… Linking from one to another on Itunes makes it easy to get a head full of this stuff. I am talking almost exclusively listening to paranormal stuff for a long time (except for Skeptoid, of course).

    Many of these podcasts address UFOs, ghosts, cryptozoology, and consipiracy theories as part of one encompassing theme. In most cases they have praise for science, while not practicing it, and a claim that they are skeptical, while showing disdain for skeptics who debunk them regularly. Very rarely is a skeptical viewpoint included in any topic.

    What I have found is that you can listen to an intelligent speaker on almost any of these subjects, and start thinking it COULD BE TRUE… after listening endless stories. But the bottom line is all they have to offer is stories.

    I knew it was called going down the rabbit hole, but had never heard the “goblin universe”

    By the way, most of them aren’t dicks. Like some skeptics are. (referencing Phil Plait :).

  9. As a former fundamentalist and someone who has consumed vast quantities of paranormal literature and media, I can easily see why someone might slip down the rabbit hole. Some crazy ideas, in the right circumstances don’t seem crazy at all. Especially when your peers, parents and respected leaders espouse the same ideas. There is a lot of in-group/out-group stuff to supplement belief systems.

  10. Ben Radford says:

    Well put. I also have had a few such moments, where totally bogus arguments seem to make sense for a few fleeting moments despite my having plenty of factual and logical arguments against them. However as a practical matter, I’m not sure there’s much we can “learn” from such experiences, or anything skeptics can tease out and use. Except, of course, that we all are prone to such lapses.

    • paul barry says:

      What can be learned is this: don’t go down the rabbit hole looking for answers without a solid science based education, and a well grounded understanding of the philosophy of science, and a skeptical viewpoint… and when you have a friend who may not be so lucky who is going into the Goblin Universe, stop them. That’s the practical part.

      paul

    • Leo says:

      I don’t know Ben. It seems to me that when we have these moments that if we can puzzle out why it suddenly seems to make sense, then we can use that knowledge to communicate the skeptical position a little bit better.

    • MadScientist says:

      When I’m asleep I have all sorts of strange delusions – dreams appear to make sense – but only while asleep. Once any thought goes into the matter it’s obvious that there was no sense at all. I wonder if we can have such lapses of reason while awake, similar to waking hallucinations.

  11. billgeorge says:

    Interesting topic. A brief loss of reason (skeptically frozen) is perhaps most prevalent when the hope/hopessness concerns the health of yourself or a loved one.

    Some of us believe we are tough and dignified with science and reason – then trauma strikes and find yourself praying or chasing medical alternatives when the answers are none.

    • MadScientist says:

      Oooh, the old “them atheists come praying when they’re dying” lie which the religious love to spout. Well, that and the lies about deathbed conversions. Tell us one that hasn’t been heard in 2000 years – or are the religious incapable of original lies?

      • billgeorge says:

        You can partake in prayer or medical quackery and not believe in any of it – desperation can do that, but still hold on to a degree of reason.

        Conversely, how common is it when you hear the religous/pseudo believers – through a crisis or not – find their faith is a delusion or wasted dollars on medical shams?

  12. MadScientist says:

    It’s Michael Ruse so that does not surprise me at all. Ruse is a creationist – he just believes he’s not the same kind of creationist as Ken Ham. As for me, I can’t really tell the difference between Ruse and Ham – I think Ruse is very confused.

    • If it were true that “Ruse is a creationist,” that would surprise me a great deal — conflicting as it does with his many public statements of agnosticism or non-belief. Citation, please?

      On the matter of “the difference between Ruse and Ham,” I would again point out that Ruse was a key player in the fight to keep Ken Ham-style “creation science” out of public schools.

      • MadScientist says:

        Oh, please, enough of the apologetics with “Ruse was a key player” – so was Francis Collins and Collins is a more obvious creationist, but as I said, Ham believes in the wrong type of creationism. Ruse says one thing but does another so I do not believe what he claims in public. What is the value of a trip to Ham’s circus? PZ and others have gone for a laugh and to see for themselves what an abomination Ham’s creation is, but they never pretended that there would be any educational value to it. Ruse on the other hand espouses a respect for others’ beliefs no matter how silly they are and does not seem to oppose all forms of creationism, he only opposes some forms like Behe’s. There’s some bizarre dissonance going on there.

      • You’re still not offering support for your statement that “Ruse is a creationist.”

        As for “apologetics,” are you suggesting that Ruse should not be applauded for his genuinely important role in the legal battle opposing creationism in schools?

      • MadScientist says:

        The case with Ruse being a creationist is not so simple, but I have no reason to believe he is not a creationist. First let’s settle what it means to be a creationist – I can think of a number of notions. One for example is the notion that a creationist is a person who has the silly belief in the literal truth of the Genesis stories, and people like Ruse are not this type of creationist. I find that definition of creationist to be insignificant and that the title is merely used to poo-poo those with the “wrong” creationist view. The most sensible definition of a creationist, in my opinion, is anyone who believes that the universe was created by an intelligent supernatural being – that class of creationist encompasses Collins and Ruse (and many non-Abrahamic superstitions).

        Now why is Ruse a creationist despite the fact that he featured in the ID battle? My claim is that he is a creationist because his actions and words are consistent with the belief that there is a supernatural creator. He has not rejected the idea that there may be a supernatural creator, he has a tendency to believe there is and that tendency is so strong that he gets these “kuhnian flashes” when visiting Ham’s circus. That is also consistent with his “respect” for these ridiculous beliefs and his apparent inability to understand the distinction between respecting individuals and respecting their superstitious beliefs; it is also consistent with his insistence on being known as an ‘agnostic’. So – there’s the theory, but perhaps you could ask Ruse himself to clarify the matter – it would surprise me to get a straight answer from him though; he always waffles.

        As for *your* suggestion that I’m suggesting that Ruse should *not* be applauded for his role in the ID battle, that is *your* straw man. When Ruse is criticized, saying “Oh, but he was *so important* in the war against Behe” is no justification. Do you believe that if there were no Ruse or Collins that Behe would have won? Ruse played a good part, but making an idol of him is plain silly.

      • The case with Ruse being a creationist is not so simple, but I have no reason to believe he is not a creationist. … The most sensible definition of a creationist…is anyone who believes that the universe was created by an intelligent supernatural being – that class of creationist encompasses Collins and Ruse…

        That’s not the common usage, nor the usage in this article, but it hardly matters: Ruse is not a creationist by your definition either. (If you have evidence that Ruse does think the universe was created by a supernatural being, by all means cite it.)

      • MadScientist says:

        I say if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck … but you needn’t believe me.

        In what sense do you use “creationist” – in the sense used by other superstitious cults to deride the people who believe in the literal interpretation of Genesis? I find that hypocritical at best since the very same people believe in a literal interpretation of selected parts of Genesis – specifically that an intelligent supernatural creature created the universe. People need to think about their conceptions of “creationist”.

      • Jackweline says:

        So what you’re saying here MadScientist is that you’re an idiot with a predetermined conclusion, and you’re not going to let anyone tell you that you’re wrong?

    • Jason Loxton says:

      I am afraid you have your timeline rather off. Although Ruse (as one of the world’s foremost philosophers of biology) continues to play an important role in the defense of evolution from the religious Right and post-modern Left, his main legal contribution (which Daniel was referring to) occurred in 1981, with McLean v. Arkansas Board of Education. This was “Third Wave” Creationism, and predates ID, Behe, and Collins by many years (making your comments rather confusing). If you are interested, a good overview of the relevant history can be had in the closing chapter of Edward Larson’s Pulitzer Prize winning Summer for the Gods (amongst other places).

      As for Ruse being a ‘Creationist’…

      Well, sure, if you redefine the term to mean ‘anyone who will not outright champion the impossibility of God having created the universe,’ then I suppose he is. But so am I, and so is anyone who understands the nature of science. It would be a pretty weird definition (akin to defining ‘Christian’ as anyone who doesn’t think it is demonstrably impossible that Jesus was the son of God), and one that ignores common usage, group self-definition, and most importantly, makes the term irrelevant.

      P.S. If you are interested in what Ruse thinks, and aren’t satisfied with his many books and essays, I’d suggest you just write him. He has also been very forthcoming in correspondence with me.

      • MadScientist says:

        You’re right; I’m confusing Ruse’s long-running chats with Dembski and his role in keeping creationism out of public schools.

  13. Max says:

    It’s interesting to read about crazy stuff that turned out to be true, like MKULTRA, rogue waves, giant squids, synesthesia, stuff that skeptics might have been inclined to dismiss too quickly.
    Last week, Wired reported that “a wind-powered vehicle officially traveled downwind faster than the wind.”
    http://www.wired.com/autopia/2010/07/its-settled-downwind-faster-than-the-wind-officially-possible/

    I can’t wait to find out if ball lightning exists.

    • MadScientist says:

      Yep, there’s ball lightning. You’ll be lucky to see it, but it’s cool. Just keep away from it.

  14. Earl Newton says:

    I absolutely love this post. As someone who has one foot firmly planted in both spiritual (“Please don’t tell me what’s reasonable to believe, thank you”) and skeptical (“Please, let’s not mix our beliefs with law and politics”), I am so delighted to see politeness and understanding championed as virtues in the skeptic community. Being right is certainly a good thing, but not without empathy.

  15. Earl Newton says:

    That should be spiritual and skeptical “worlds”, and I should be going to bed. No sleep-typo means everyone will think the “woo woo” can’t type. :D

  16. Brian The Coyote says:

    Of course we need to follow down the rabbit how now and then. Two of many good reasons are that it is good intellectual exercise and it can be fun! It may also give us a little empathy to help on the “Don’t Be a Dick” front. Most Woo-Consumers don’t deserve derision. The Woo-Pushers, yeah be a dick all day and all night with my blessing.

    If we don’t make an honest effort to delve into what’s being said we risk becoming not skeptics but just contrarians and deniers.

  17. NightHiker says:

    It seems to me there are two separate issues at stake (if you pardon the pun).

    The presumption all of us have succumbed and still succumb to non rational, emotionally driven beliefs, is obviously correct. I would add that this does not need to concern only holy or “wooly” beliefs, though – for example, while I know that I will eventually die, and sooner than later, I live my life as if I would not. And when I read the works of Kurzweil, Bova, and others, while I remain skeptical about their time frames, if not the overall idea that we may beat aging, it leaves me with some faith that they will come to be true and I will not die, at least not as soon, even though the more rational approach might be that I would not live long enough to benefit from such research. I think that is the general behavior of most people, skeptical or not, towards things that would harm us but we can’t do much about. And, as I said, it doesn’t come just on matters of religion or the supernatural. We might have faith we will get a promotion even when we don’t deserve it, or that a given romantic interest will reciprocate when they likely won’t, and so on. We all go down such rabbit hole, and more often than we would like to admit.

    However, the fact we all go down some rabbit hole eventually doesn’t mean we should make an effort to go down every rabbit hole that shows up, even if just to take a peek. The general feeling of going down any rabbit hole should suffice to gather some empathy towards the process in general. So, I don’t need to go down the creationist’s rabbit hole to understand the creationist’s motivations to do so – they’re essentially the same motivations I have to go down my own rabbit holes. It’s enough that I understand it on intellectual terms, and plan my arguments and actions to take it in account, which I do.

    So, while I agree in principle with this argument about the overabundance of rabbit holes, I can’t help but develop a feeling there is some sort of agenda behind Ruse’s argument specifically, taking into consideration his recent history.

  18. LovleAnjel says:

    Excellent post. Every once in a while I peer closely down the rabbit hole and feel like I could fall in. I’m glad I’m not the only one.

  19. BrianG says:

    I submit “convertigo” as a new word defined as the feeling you described here.

  20. Trimegistus says:

    Ruse isn’t a skeptic, not at all. Look at the tone of the quoted passage. He’s a true believer. He’s just mad because not enough people share his particular set of irrational beliefs. His moment in the Creationist Museum was that of a fanatic being tempted by a new kind of fanaticism (like a Weimar communist wondering how he’d look in a Brownshirt outfit).

  21. Patrick says:

    I’m kind of hung up on how a serious skeptic (if he is one) could suggest Republicans are wrong on everything. Even if its a dig or a throw-away line it is still a stupid statement.

    Given the immense complexity of the world, human interaction, differing incentives and pay off matrices, no reasonable skeptic can conclude republicans (or anyone in particular) are wrong all the time on every issue. I can already point to several instances in which Democrats were wrong (war on poverty, TANF reforms, education) and instances in which Republicans were surprisingly right (gay marriage – haha, tricked you here. It appears that several of the judges overturning gay marriage bans are Republicans, or at least nominated by Republicans). I’m not saying Republicans are always right either.

    I’m not affiliated with any party, nor have I ever been a member of any party. All I’m saying is that a good skeptic should be willing to admit the possibility that they can be wrong.

    • LovleAnjel says:

      I think it was for laughs but yeah, kind of a stupid thing to say.

    • Patrick says:

      Btw, I really want to see this place now. I want to see how they explain T-Rex was a vegan…

      • MadScientist says:

        Well, duh! T-Rex was a vegan because Adam didn’t eat the apple yet! Soon after T-Rex became non-vegan, the flood got rid of him for the sin of being non-vegan. Don’t ya read the babble?

      • Brian The Coyote says:

        Just say they all ate manna and you can close it up with just that one sweep of the hand.

    • doofus says:

      Concur. The remark did not belong in the context.

      I’m independent, but a bit of a political historian. Both parties have had their high and low moments.
      Let’s remember, Republican’s voted for the Civil Rights act by a 80% (yes) to 20% (no) ratio, where Democrats were 65/35.

  22. Patrick says:

    I’m going to try and go back and read Ruse’s musings on the museums, but I gota get over the fact that he taught an entire course on constructivism… . Well, I hope his course on constructivism wasn’t anything like political constructivist theory (junk political science) I was exposed to in grad school.

  23. Kenneth Polit says:

    Interesting post, of course I could never see myself at the creation “museum”. I wouldn’t waste my time. Young-earth creationism is, to quote Archie Bunker, “Crapola”. If that makes me a dick, then so be it. I’m a dick and proud of it.

    • Gary says:

      I have only a finite number of years to live and I don’t want to waste my time with Crapola. I’m happy to be a dick also.

    • MadScientist says:

      But some people insist you must experience the craptitude for yourself in order to be able to understand it. I always marvel at the notion that nonsense can be “understood” – certainly people will make excuses for believing it, but a true understanding should always lead to rejecting the nonsense.

      • Max says:

        The point is not to understand the nonsense, but to understand the people who believe it.

      • @Max: Both things are true. Skeptical investigators are scholars of nonsense, spending tremendous effort to gain detailed knowledge of things that don’t exist.

        In this case, Ruse is a career specialist in the evolution / creation battle. He was certainly on site to study what the museum said and how it said it. His flash of understanding or empathy followed from that.

    • I could never see myself at the creation “museum”. I wouldn’t waste my time. … If that makes me a dick, then so be it.

      @Kenneth Polit: What it makes you is not directly familiar with the specific contents of the creation museum — no more and no less. Most people are not required to offer an informed opinion about this particular museum in Kentucky, so I expect that’s fine.

  24. paul barry says:

    By the way, my understanding of “Going down the rabbit hole” means that you have bought into that particular belief. I’m assuming that going into the “Goblin Universe” may mean that you are there learning about it, but not yet believing in it.

    Also Mr. Radford, aren’t your books, and your work, and your Monstertalk podcast, examples of what we can learn from entering the Goblin Universe, and how things there are false? I think they are, and they educate the skeptic, but I hope they will also pull some people OUT of the rabbit hole.

    Also, Madscientist. your description of creationist is very broad, I would disagree with it. And I don’t think Ruse is a creationist by the generally accepted understanding, and I don’t think anyone here thinks he is an ‘idol’.

  25. Frank John Reid says:

    I’m rather an old coot, and every Jesuit and most nuns (even grammar school nuns) had absolutely no trouble assenting both to Darwinian evolution and to a transcendant cause of the existence of anything for which what-it-is is not the full explanation of that-it-is. Perhaps I’m hopelessly sophistocated, but I cannot see how this assimilates to Rev. Ham’s dinosaurs-on-the-Ark–or even to the tiresome, absolutely pre-Leibnitzian arguments over ID. (Decades and decades ago, the people who made Certs mints produced commercials featuring debate over whether Certs was a candy mint or a breath mint–resolved in the proposition that Certs was two mints in one. Ah! The clear rational air of that lost era!)

  26. Gary says:

    Great article Daniel, Thanks! As I read it I couldn’t help but think about how I love to go to the movies and be taken away for 2 hrs….Harry Potter, Star Wars, Star Trek, The Golden Compass, Lord of the Rings, The Book of Eli, and any Michael Moore movie. I’m sure many of us watch and live vicariously through the(a) character(s)for that period of time, maybe believing, hoping,crying for the duration. The second I leave the theater its back to reality and out of the rabbit hole. Then there are those that carry it too far. Go to Yahoo and type in Jediism…..its a religion? Oh Christ!!!!

  27. WScott says:

    The skeptic’s task is not to score rhetorical points…

    Heretic! ;)

    MadScientist @12: The word you’re looking for is “Theist” not “Creationist.” You can argue against either position, or both; but to claim they mean the same thing is nonsense.

    Kenneth Polit @ 23: I wouldn’t have any interest in going to Ham World either. But then, I’m not interested in trying to convince YECs that they’re wrong. If you actually want to persuade other people on a subject, then some understanding of why they believe what they believe is often the best tool you can have.

    • MadScientist says:

      Theist vs. Creationist? Obviously one is Right, eh? It is sophistry to believe that there is any fundamental difference; bullshit is bullshit and it’s ridiculous to distinguish as if one bit of bullshit were more respectable than the other.

      • paul barry says:

        If you think Ken Miller and Duane Gish have no fundamental difference, you are the sophist.

      • WScott says:

        You continue to miss the point. Personally, I happen to agree that they’re both bullshit, but they are NOT THE SAME bullshit. The majority of Theists are not Creationists, and to pretend otherwise is arguing a straw man, and not a particularly convincing one at that.

      • WScott says:

        To clarify: this was in response to MadScientist, not paul barry. Sorry.

  28. Nicole says:

    I don’t think anyone has commented on the hilarious graphic included in this post. Well done, sir!

    Some beliefs are easy to see from the other side, others not, even when you’ve once been a believer yourself! But I think I understand and appreciate the reasons for doing so.

  29. Zop says:

    Yeah as long as some statement is against religion it’s most probably true.

  30. TryUsingLogic says:

    “…I got that Kuhnian flash that it could all be true — it was only a flash (rather like thinking that Freudianism is true or that the Republicans are right on anything whatsoever)”

    As an Agnostic free market conservative and social moderate, I always find anyone that would make a statement like this about Republicans has his head stuck in the rabbit hole. Most of America’s Republicans and Democrats [said to be 80% of citizens] are religious for some crazy reason. But Ruse’s implication by his political jab is a great example of why we know anyone can believe weird things. I don’t think it was useful in the discussion of this topic. Republicans tend to understand free markets and liberal democracy and Democrats tend to be in the dark about Big Government and Socialism.

    Your article is great! Thanks!

  31. Jerry Tourte says:

    I think one of the most important tools of the scientific method is the idea of falsification. When I peer into a rabbit-hole, I try to ask myself what evidence I would need to see to be convinced that the concept in question is plausible. If there is any evidence presented, could it be fake? What would it take to get me to believe in something?
    The corollary is also useful in conversation, i.e., “What would convince you that this belief is false?” If the answer is nothing, it’s not a rabbit-hole, but a super-massive black hole.

  32. Stephen says:

    So this challenges skeptics to go down the rabbit hole and at least imagine ‘could this be true?’ A brave act indeed, and underlines a necessary open-mindedness. Conversely could we conceive of a creationist or fundamentalist doing the same with his or her antithetical beliefs? As if.