The End of the World: Science or Religion? | Seth Shostak

Harold Camping died last month. In case you don’t remember, Camping, the president of evangelical Family Radio, predicted that the world would end in 2011. Twice.

He made these prognostications on the basis of numerology, which sounds like it might be a sophomore-level math subject, but isn’t. The data for the calculations Camping used to forecast rapture and Armageddon were numbers he found sprinkled throughout the Bible.

His procedures wouldn’t impress a referee for a peer-reviewed, academic journal. And unsurprisingly, many scientists waved off Camping’s doomsday dates as both silly and wrong. Well, it’s true that havoc and destruction were a no-show. But silly? Didn’t Camping follow the rules of science?

via The End of the World: Science or Religion? | Seth Shostak.

Along the lines of the posts this week, Seth Shostak has a brief article on the demarcation of science.  Was Harold Camping engaging in science?  For that matter, is SETI?

Falsifiability takes another blow in this post.  It seems pretty fair to say that the demarcation problem, that is the criteria for determining what is and is not science, remains far from solved.

3 thoughts on “The End of the World: Science or Religion? | Seth Shostak

  1. I think, Seth makes the confusion I mentioned in my post. In case of SETI, the null-hypothesis that extraterrestrial intelligence does not exist is falsifiable, in principle. If the signals are discovered, it will be proven false. Whether we can discover them with today’s technology is a different matter.

    Seth, essentially, asks, “if SETI is science, why Camping’s predictions are not scientific?” I think, they are. In Camping’s case, scientific method worked just as expected — it proved his predictions wrong.

    I don’t see why we cannot use scientific method to verify all kinds of nonsense. Just visit a science fair in any middle school. If a theory is “successfully” falsified (like Newton’s mechanics or Aether), it just proves its falsifiability. Science offers a method. What we try to verify or learn with scientific method may have nothing to do with science, but scientific method remains scientific method. Consider “Myth Busters”


  2. Presumably Camping had a theory, and then plugged some data (numbers from the Bible) into that theory and cranked out a result. If so, then I suppose he was doing science, and his theory (or his data) was falsified. On the other hand, perhaps he was just doing crazy stuff, and that wouldn’t be science at all.


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