Letters to the edirtor

December 17, 2005
(Page 2 of 2)

(Editor's note: Due to an error by the editorial page editor, this letter was left out of the "A Better Christmas" list. The Herald-Mail apologizes for the error. The writer will receive $100.)

The Rev. Robertson's use of a logical fallacy

To the editor:

Immediately after the entire Dover, Pa., Board of Education was voted out of office because of opposition to the mixing of religion and science in school text books, The Rev. Pat Robertson issued an apocalyptic warning. "If there is a disaster in your area, don't turn to God - you just rejected him from your city." Robertson is one to be feared, since he recently recommended the assassination of an unlikable Latin American ruler.

Robertson seems not to have recognized that he committed a commonly used logical fallacy. Logicians call this faulty reasoning the "post hoc ergo propter hoc" fallacy. Translated it means "after therefore because of" and takes note of the human tendency to see a misplaced connection between a preceding event (supposed cause) and a following event (supposed effect).


When properly used, the identification of cause and effect in observations is the very essence of science. An invariant connection between cause and effect makes it possible to predict future behavior in natural events. On the other hand, misplaced connections lead to very spurious conclusions.

A practical illustration of this logical fallacy is the resort to a rain dance to induce rain. If the rain dance is a daily ritual, there will indeed be rain after one of the dances at some point in the future. But is there any causal relationship in the dance and the rain at a chance event? This is most improbable.

This faulty logic has a long history and is still used by apocalyptic evangelists to scare people into accepting whatever momentary absurdity they are espousing.

Dover is likely to suffer some misfortune in its future. To assert that any such event is the result of the fury of an enraged deity is a shameful scare tactic accepted only by the gullible.

The Rev. Robertson is not authorized to be so generous in calling forth the powers of a deity that others can only take on faith. In addition, his view of a powerful deity surely lacks a sense of justice.

Presumably, the whole city of Dover will be punished, yet only a small portion of the eligible voters were responsible for the policy decision. Why should they suffer for the actions of others?

Hopefully the expansive power of the religious right will decline as the public becomes aware of the faulty reasoning of its leadership. This overreach is just as obvious a power grab as that of other segments of our society and should be treated with the same disdain.

Allan Powell

Copernicus, Galileo used bad science, too

To the editor:

The letters section has featured several pro-Darwinian evolution letters lately that show a lack of good scientific reasoning. But Hans Buhrer's letter in the Dec. 4 issue has so much bad science, which is strange for a mathematician. Even worse is his knowledge of history in his complaints about the Catholic Church, Galileo and Giordano Bruno.

As Buhrer notes, a theory like the Copernican heliocentric version of the solar system needs proof. There was none. With the instruments then available, proofs such as the stellar parallax could not be carried out. What Galileo put forward in his ideas about the tides and comets was really bad science; just take the time to read it.

Then he capped it off with his "Dialogue On The Great World Systems" in which he decided to set the church straight on the meaning of scripture. The upshot was house arrest in one of the best apartments in town provided by a cardinal.

In the process, he had the time and means to produce his really best scientific work, "Discourses Concerning Two New Sciences." This work on statics and kinetics is a joy to read.

By the way, the theory of Copernicus was not correct, since it required the use of circular orbits and epicycles just like the previous systems. It was really only another alternative geometrical method to make astronomical predictions; the same basic discrepancies with observations remained.

Only the work of Kepler solved the problem - a heliocentric model with elliptical orbits.

In the case of Bruno, Buhrer needs to look up the record. After Bruno was ordained a priest, he began to espouse heretical views, which obviously was not the way to start out in his profession. Keeping on the move throughout Europe, he managed to get excommunicated by the Calvinists in Geneva and the Lutherans in Germany and made a lot of points with Elisabeth I with some anti-Catholic writings.

He came back home and got into trouble, not for anything so mundane as Copernican astronomy or plurality of inhabited worlds. He was convicted for teaching that Christ was not God but a really skillful magician, that the Holy Ghost is the soul of the world and that the Devil will be saved.

We might not consider that grounds for capital punishment, but at least we need to get the crime correctly stipulated.

Any study of history of science will show Buhrer that the church was the founder of the religious orders and universities that provided the scientists, philosophers and lawyers, doctors and teachers who made Western Civilization.

Lastly, I would like to see the evidence (step by step) that in 13 billion years nothing became a bunch of hydrogen that by chance became you and I, writing letters to the editor. If starting from nothing is too tough I'll spot you the initial singularity and any form of the Big Bang you want.

Richard Giovanoni

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