Science Deniers: Embracing Science to Deny Its Existence

In a recent poll on, I asked our readers what they would like for me to write about as my next article. While I threw out some suggestions, the most interesting one, to me, was suggested by one of our readers. Why do people believe in a flat-earth, but not ghosts?

The question itself, aside from just being a damned good one, assumes a few things. First, it implies that the scientific evidence for the planet not being flat is so clear cut and obvious that nobody in their right mind could possibly deny such a fact. Second, what it is really saying is that, assuming the previous statement is true, that if someone were still ridiculous enough to not believe that the Earth was a globe, why then would they not be open to the idea to other ridiculous things in which there’s no real scientific data at all? The question also only represents a special percentage of flat-earther’s. Surely, some probably do believe in ghosts but how many didn’t. Was it even fair to say how can a certain demographic believe this one thing and not the other?

While in no way to be considered official, I did an informal poll. Posing as a flat-earther on the Flat Earth Society Facebook page I asked, “How many of you believe in the supernatural?” The results were overwhelming and surprising. Of 283 people 206 voted that they DID NOT believe in the supernatural, 31 voted that they believed in the supernatural, and 46 answered NOT SURE. In addition to the cut-and-dry results of the poll, some of the comments in the thread were mind-blowing. My favorite being, “Ghosts, Demons, and such are just stories that we tell kids. There has never been, and never will be, any scientific evidence that such things exist.” For once in my life I was at a loss for words as to how to respond. When I finally did try to debate, I was promptly kicked from the group. I imagine making logical and intelligent conversation was a dead giveaway that I was not a true believer.

So, let’s get a few things straight before I launch into the meat of this essay. For one, the Earth is round without question. If you think otherwise, you’re not going to be a fan of this article. The planet’s spherical property has been a well-established fact that has been proven multiple times for centuries. Long before science was mainstream, and we were still burning people at the stake for embracing knowledge we knew this information. Since then, modern advancement has relied on this truth to propel technology forward. We launch spaceships, satellites, people, and even entire facilities into orbit. Radio, Satellite TV, and even the internet, all which are things flat-earthers enjoy the use of, all function of the principal that not only is the Earth is round but has gravitational pull. When you get down to it, there is no real debate for the shape of our Earth. However, despite this, there is a scary rise in the number of people who believe otherwise. The more advanced we become as a species the harder a certain percentage of people push against the progress.

It is of very important note that one part of my superfan’s comment was correct. There is, with out a doubt, no scientific evidence to support any notion that the supernatural exists. Kick and scream all you want. But, when it comes to physical controlled and verified data, none exists. The problem is when this comment comes out of the mind of someone who adamantly denies that the planet, we live on is scientifically proven to be a sphere does the comment not sit right with me. If we can all agree that it’s ridiculous to think that there is a world-wide conspiracy to fool everyone into thinking the planet is round, how why is the supernatural out of bounds? There are several parts of this that I, as a logical human being, have a hard time computing about the situation. On the one hand we have people who are staunch science deniers and conspiracy theorists who are on the same level of thinking as people who campaign against vaccination, climate change, and biological evolution. But, in the same breath use science to dispute the possibility of the supernatural. The real question is how can someone exist in both these camps? Surely you must be one or the other, right? Well, unfortunately the answer isn’t so easy to find. In my search to understand where these people were coming from and how their thinking could be so far off the mark, but logical in other areas I ended up in a rabbit hole I didn’t expect to go down. As it turned out, the answer to my question was in psychology.

Sparing you the details of my journey, my search did eventually lead me to a very interesting paper written by Jeremy P. Shapiro (Assistant Professor of Psychological Sciences, Case Western Reserve University). In this document Shapiro sheds light on the problematic nature that is the psychology of science deniers. He writes:

“Widespread rejection of scientific findings presents a perplexing puzzle to those of us who value an evidence-based approach to knowledge and policy. Yet many science deniers do cite empirical evidence. The problem is that they do so in invalid, misleading ways. As a psychotherapist, I see a striking parallel between a type of thinking involved in many mental health disturbances and the reasoning behind science denial. As I explain in my book “Psychotherapeutic Diagrams,” dichotomous thinking, also called black-and-white and all-or-none thinking, is a factor in depression, anxiety, aggression and, especially, borderline personality disorder. In this type of cognition, a spectrum of possibilities is divided into two parts, with a blurring of distinctions within those categories. Shades of gray are missed; everything is considered either black or white. Dichotomous thinking is not always or inevitably wrong, but it is a poor tool for understanding complicated realities because these usually involve spectrums of possibilities, not binaries.”

Aside from the realization that we can probably classify science-deniers as mentally ill, we do get some insight into their way of thinking. Because of this selective process of all-or-nothing we see a huge amount of cherry-picking facts that are liked while discounting the rest. Simply put, these are not people who are interested in looking at the big picture but rather just the parts which support their argument. For us who are accustomed to using logic it would be hard to understand how any facts can be discounted in favor of building a flimsy argument for no other reason than to be right about something. But Shapiro breaks it down further;

“In my observations, I see science deniers engage in dichotomous thinking about truth claims. In evaluating the evidence for a hypothesis or theory, they divide the spectrum of possibilities into two unequal parts: perfect certainty and inconclusive controversy. Any bit of data that does not support a theory is misunderstood to mean that the formulation is fundamentally in doubt, regardless of the amount of supportive evidence. Similarly, deniers perceive the spectrum of scientific agreement as divided into two unequal parts: perfect consensus and no consensus at all. Any departure from 100 percent agreement is categorized as a lack of agreement, which is misinterpreted as indicating fundamental controversy in the field.”

Furthermore, science deniers [and flat-earther’s] misapply the concept of “proof.” Proof exists in mathematics and logic but not in science. Research builds knowledge in progressive increments. As empirical evidence accumulates, there are more and more accurate approximations of ultimate truth but no final end point to the process. Deniers exploit the distinction between proof and compelling evidence by categorizing empirically well-supported ideas as “unproven.” Such statements are technically correct but extremely misleading, because there are no proven ideas in science, and evidence-based ideas are the best guides for action we have.

Deniers use a three-step strategy to mislead the scientifically unsophisticated. First, they cite areas of uncertainty or controversy, no matter how minor, within the body of research that invalidates their desired course of action. Second, they categorize the overall scientific status of that body of research as uncertain and controversial. Finally, deniers advocate proceeding as if the research did not exist.

For example, climate change skeptics jump from the realization that we do not completely understand all climate-related variables to the inference that we have no reliable knowledge at all. Similarly, they give equal weight to the 97 percent of climate scientists who believe in human-caused global warming and the 3 percent who do not, even though many of the latter receive support from the fossil fuels industry.

This same type of thinking can be seen among creationists. They seem to misinterpret any limitation or flux in evolutionary theory to mean that the validity of this body of research is fundamentally in doubt. For example, the biologist James Shapiro (no relation to Jeremy P. Shapiro) discovered a cellular mechanism of genomic change that Darwin did not know about. Shapiro views his research as adding to evolutionary theory, not upending it. Nonetheless, his discovery and others like it, refracted through the lens of dichotomous thinking, result in articles with titles like, “Scientists Confirm: Darwinism Is Broken” by Paul Nelson and David Klinghoffer of the Discovery Institute, which promotes the theory of “intelligent design.” Shapiro insists that his research provides no support for intelligent design, but proponents of this pseudoscience repeatedly cite his work as if it does.”

This is the same methodology that corrupts the thinking of anyone who is dead set that the Earth is flat. But it is not to be confused with being less intelligent. It’s a superior intellect that leads them to interpret facts into the model in which their ideas are representative. Without this intelligence it would not be possible to convince others to join them in their mode of thinking. But it is that non-binary approach that leads that superior intellect down such an incorrect path and ultimately leads to such destructive ideas. Where I initially wanted to shoe-horn these people into a group that I deemed mentally inferior, instead I find that they are simply stuck in a way of thinking that only allows them to see things in a mode of black and white. It’s after coming to this realization that I can finally extrapolate the answer to the original question.

Now seeing the place from which this mode of thinking originates, it’s not surprising that the overwhelming majority of flat-earth supporters reject the idea of supernatural presence. In the case for a flat-earth there is science to deny, evidence to overlook, and bad data to pull from. Seeing any flaw within the hundreds of thousands of scientific documents and explanations gives the denier something to deny. However, with paranormal studies there is simply nothing to do this with. The total lack of data backed evidence for a subject that is so hard to grasp puts people who think in a non-binary format in a very easy decision-making process. There is no data, therefore there is no deeper truth. In the end it may be one example where dichotomous thinking may lead a person to a reasonable conclusion. Then again, we may be living on a flat-earth, pumping our babies full of unneeded vaccines, while ghosts are the real cause of climate change.

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