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Seven Rules For Spotting Bogus Science 759

keynet writes "Robert L. Park is a professor of physics at the University of Maryland at College Park and the director of public information for the American Physical Society, wrote a list of warning signs to help federal judges detect scientific nonsense. (OK, so it hasn't worked and the Patent Office sure hasn't got a copy.) As he says, 'There is no scientific claim so preposterous that a scientist cannot be found to vouch for it'. What he doesn't say is that there are plenty more who will invest in it or base legislation on it."
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Seven Rules For Spotting Bogus Science

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  • Bogus science (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 07, 2003 @10:06AM (#5458010)
    Can you say "Global Warming"?
  • by feed_me_cereal ( 452042 ) on Friday March 07, 2003 @10:16AM (#5458097)
    Why don't they just use the Crackpot Index [ucr.edu] to judge them?
  • by Qzukk ( 229616 ) on Friday March 07, 2003 @10:17AM (#5458100) Journal
    From the article: Ancient folk wisdom, rediscovered or repackaged, is unlikely to match the output of modern scientific laboratories.

    Now would be a good time to point out that science still doesn't understand how aspirin (derived from salicylic acid, which was discovered at least 2000 years ago, works.
  • by caffeineboy ( 44704 ) <skidmore.22 @ o s u . edu> on Friday March 07, 2003 @10:17AM (#5458101)
    This is just a shortened version of The physics Crackpot Index [ucr.edu].

    It's written for physics but seems to apply pretty well to any science...

  • by Mac Degger ( 576336 ) on Friday March 07, 2003 @10:26AM (#5458193) Journal
    "Hmm -- by which we have come to the state of affairs where FDA approves a treatement on the basis that there is any statistical significance that it's better than the placebo effect. Thousands of hideously expensive prescription and OTC drugs result, many of which achieve less incremental benefit than the placebo against which they are tested."

    Huh? First you say that the treatments have to work better than a placebo, then you say that that produces treatments which work worse than placebo's? You are contradicting yourself there.

    Anyway, I think you're off the mark anyway, seeing as a treatment only gets FDA approved if it does better than the placebo by something like 10% in Phase III trials, due to the costs involved (if it only helps 10% of the people, it's not worth having).
  • by Simon Hibbs ( 74836 ) on Friday March 07, 2003 @10:31AM (#5458247)

    Warning sign number 2 :

    >2. The discoverer says that a powerful establishment is trying to suppress
    >his or her work.

    Well, a member of the secret scientific establishment brotherhood would say that, wouldn't he?

    I'd like to add another tell-tale sign :

    8. The scientific study was funded or conducted under the auspices of a media company.

    Recently in the UK we've had a number of TV documentaries about controversial theories. One was an investigation into homeopathic medicine. The other was into the idea that otherwise very mild diseases might lead to obesity. In both cases the TV company funded a small scale test.

    The problem was that the tests involved only about 100 subjects, far too small to have any statistical validity whatsoever. They said so in the show, but is that enough? Several people I've talked to afterwards recieved the impression that the tests in the show proved something.

    Far from promoting an understanding of science, the shows succeeded in missleading the public not only as to the validity of the theories under examination, but also as to the value of such small scale tests.

    I've never come across this kind of thing in the UK before, is this happening on TV in other countries too?

    Simon Hibbs
  • bogus rules (Score:1, Interesting)

    by g4dget ( 579145 ) on Friday March 07, 2003 @10:33AM (#5458273)
    Park's rules are as bogus as the junk science he tries to expose. Let's just look at them:
    • [The discoverer pitches the claim directly to the media.]
      The discoverer may not have much choice in the matter. For example, a reviewer may have leaked the story, or he may worry that someone else is going to scoop him, or he may work (horrors of horrors) for an institution with a PR department (meaning just about any university, research lab, or company).
    • [The discoverer says that a powerful establishment is trying to suppress his or her work.]
      Just because you are paranoid doesn't mean they aren't out to get you anyway. Sure, scientists rarely reason like "well, if this guy is right, I'm going to lose my research funding/market/whatever". Thinking usually is more along the lines of "well, this guy obviously can't be right, because we get so much money for our way that a lot of people with a lot of money think we are right; so this guy must be wrong, end of story".
    • [The scientific effect involved is always at the very limit of detection.]
      Like a lot of particle physics or astrophysics these days.
    • [Evidence for a discovery is anecdotal.]
      All scientific evidence is anecdotal in some sense. Just because someone has impressive sounding credentials doesn't mean his scientific anecdotes (=research results) are necessarily true. Just look at Schoen. Ultimately, the only way to know for certain is to reproduce the results. All one can ask of a scientific paper is that it contains all the information necessary to reproduce the results. If the results can't be practically reproduced or verified some other way (occasionally, experiments work like a public key cryptosystem), then they just don't matter.
    • [The discoverer says a belief is credible because it has endured for centuries.]
      This statement is followed by a pretty nasty put-down of things like traditional medicinal knowledge. Of course, such knowledge isn't "scientific knowledge". But that doesn't mean that it's not true, and it certainly doesn't mean that a court should disregard it. In fact, most evidence a court hears is not scientific evidence.
    • [The discoverer has worked in isolation.]
      Einstein worked in isolation--does that make relativity "junk science"?
    • [The discoverer must propose new laws of nature to explain an observation.]
      Again, like a lot of astrophysics.

    With his rules, Park demonstrates simultaneously that he is too gullible when it comes to "reputable" sources and that he is too prejudiced when it comes to sources that he doesn't know. I don't know whether that makes Park a quack, but I do know that it makes him the kind of person that seriously hurts the scientific community and scientific discourse.

    Scientific truth depends not on "warning signs", it depends on logical consistency and experimental reproducibility, and it depends only on that. Sadly, that often means that science can't give definitive answers because logical consistency or experimental reproducibility can be very hard to achieve or verify. But that is no excuse to substitute Park's own unscientific approach for them.

  • Huh? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jbennetto ( 41159 ) on Friday March 07, 2003 @10:35AM (#5458294)
    Afterall, according to the rules, Quantum Physics could be considered bogus.

    By which of these rules, exactly? Even when it was first proposed, Quantum physics was NOT pitched directly to the media, was NOT claimed to be suppressed by the establishment, was NOT at the edge of detection, was NOT based on anecdotal evidence, was NOT based on centuries-old information, and was NOT developed by one person in isolation. Yes, it was a radically new theory that descriped new laws of nature, but atomic-scale physics was already known to be different, since Rutherford and before.

    Yes, science is often weird and disturbing and hard to understand, but that's not a reason to confuse it with pseudo-science.

    (Anti-disclaimer: IAAP)
  • by Titusdot Groan ( 468949 ) on Friday March 07, 2003 @10:37AM (#5458308) Journal
    All well and good, but this adviser has his own axe to grind:

    ... as does, quite obviously, the poster:

    The FDA basically perpatuates it's own existence and creates a monopoly-prone environment thru the high regulatory barrier to market-entry.

    How is the inefficiency of a bureaucratic government agency in ANY way a condemnation of the double-blind test? And this high regulatory barrier is actually a result of the political fall out of such things as the thalidomide disaster; blame Congress not the FDA.

    I've got nothing against the scientific method, it's a valuable tool, however it's also a tool with limitations, and one of those is that those who practice technology mostly use it for profit, and that in turn is more than a little likely to skew the results.

    This is just bizarre. How is a scientific tool designed to eliminate bias used to skew results?

    I've been involved with getting two different products (medical imaging and genetic diagnostics) approved by the FDA. I've seen lot's of problems but none related to the FDA's maintaining of monopolies and certainly nothing to suggest double-blind tests are being used to skew results.

  • by pyrrhos ( 227998 ) on Friday March 07, 2003 @10:53AM (#5458480)
    I personally agree with is list since this is aproximately how I also evaluate any new idea.

    However, more generally, making rules for evaluating innovation is a dangerous thing. Like art, there are no rules of what is art and what is not and creating rules for that can only be tyrannic. Who's to decide? There are plenty of scientists working alone in their backyard, UFO's might exist, and extrasensory comunication is not much more freaky than the Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen distant-action paradox.

    By the way, this list rules out the validity of religion as well on all seven points :-)

  • by Black Parrot ( 19622 ) on Friday March 07, 2003 @11:25AM (#5458836)

    > Can you spell "Evolution makes up so many rules and was proposed by a 'scientist' working on his own"

    Tell us about some of those rules "evolution" makes up.

    Also, FYI, Darwin was in consultation with his colleagues. In fact he had to rush to press before he was ready because he was about to get scooped by someone else working within the same intellectual milleu and coming to an identical conclusion.

    Evolution isn't a problem for anyone except those who have made special creation a central article of faith for their religion.

  • Re:Oh puhleaase. (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 07, 2003 @11:32AM (#5458905)
    Creationism is *non-scientific* nonsense. It is a theory looking for evidence. That is not how science is conducted.

    It is in the evolutionist world. The theory of evolution was first described by who? Charles Darwin.
    At the time, there was no evidence for evolution. In fact, there still isn't. How you interpret something as evidence is totally based on your presuppositions.
    We had a presentation a few months ago at work about the human and mouse genomes (DNA, if you don't know what genome means) and similarities between them.
    Apparently there is a big section of one mouse chromosome that is identical to a section of a human chromosome. The presenter said this is clearly evidence for evolution, because it's obvious this section never changed over the years of mice evolving into humans. (Even though it moved from one chromosome in the mouse to a totally different one in humans.)

    I took it to be the exact opposite, as evidence for creation, and I'll tell you why.

    I'm a computer programmer, as I'm sure a few other readers of this board are. I have only ever written one program totally from scratch. That was the first one I did. Everything else has had something taken from my previous work. Even if I need to translate something from Perl to PHP, or something like that, there are elements of all my previous work in any new program I write. Why is it assumed that God doesn't work the same way? Aren't we supposed to be made in God's image? Why should He have done everything from scratch?

    See what I mean? In a field as vague as this, evidence supports what you want it to support.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 07, 2003 @11:45AM (#5459009)
    Just a LITTLE note, all demarcation rules between "science" and "pseudo-science" have been shown NOT to work. In the philosophy of science this past phase is now known as the "demarcation debacle" in which these rules cannot be applied generally especially in apriori fashion. They have misclassified many instances of what is considered good science as pseudo-science and pseudo-science as science, and they have been shown to arise because of hidden biases/agendas of the people that proposed them. Claim evaluation is case-by-case process that isn't necessarily easy to do.
  • by hughk ( 248126 ) on Friday March 07, 2003 @11:50AM (#5459054) Journal
    What would have really been useful was a version of this test to apply to business plans in the high-tech industry so that VCs didn't go chasing after fool's gold.

    Of course, what happened is that we had the high-tech bubble which then popped. Now the VCs are so suspicious that very few high-tech business plans ever attract funding.

  • Re:How we are wired (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 07, 2003 @12:04PM (#5459157)
    Equally, we are wired to understand basic physics, so we should sypmathize with how difficult it is for us to understand quantum mechanics.

    Keep in mind that it wasn't until fairly recently that humans began to merge time and space into one train of thought...in less modern times those two concepts were totally separate. The human mind is a function of its environment. I'm sure that our great great grandchildren will have no problems firing off some quantum problems and explaining why the hell Schrodinger works. It's just a matter of progressing to that stage.

  • Science != Truth (Score:3, Interesting)

    by nyssa ( 250538 ) <greg.grahamtx@net> on Friday March 07, 2003 @12:04PM (#5459159) Homepage
    I agree that these seven rules are useful for judging bogus science, but I reject the implication that if it's not scientific, it is not true. Just because someone cannot point to a scientific reason, doesn't mean that various herbal or eastern medicines don't work. There is much about the workings of the human body that scientists cannot explain, so I'm not surprised that there are centuries-old non-scientific medical practices that cure millions of people every year.

    In the same way, science is unable to deal with any reality that is not observable or verifiable. Theology and metaphysics are by definition unscientific, but that doesn't mean that they don't deal with truth; it just shows the limitations of science.

    I'm not knocking science; I'm just saying that it's not ultimate truth.
  • Blurry photos (Score:2, Interesting)

    by QuackQuack ( 550293 ) on Friday March 07, 2003 @12:07PM (#5459189) Journal
    This once again perpetuates the myth that all UFO photos are blurry and therefore suspect. There are many, many CLEAR photos of strange flying objects going back decades.

    The real problem is there is no way to conclusively authenticate or disprove many of these except for the obvious fakes that photo experts can weed out.

    It's also interesting that the skeptics, in addition to arguing that the blurry, grainy photos are probably fake, also often argue that the good, clear photos are probably fakes because they are too good and clear!
  • Re:Oh puhleaase. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by bogado ( 25959 ) <bogado AT bogado DOT net> on Friday March 07, 2003 @12:14PM (#5459267) Homepage Journal
    The point is not that, off course that if you have evidence that the universe is older then 5 minutes is more simple and requires a lesser leap of faith. But this dosent mean that this did actualy happen, it just means that it is simpler.

    We choose what we believe, if I think that it's more rational to believe that the universe is billions of years old and that all the science makes science, it is a choice I made (and I did that choice). But believing that god created the universe as it is now and the devil spreaded evidence of a diferent way so we would doubt gods words is also a choice. I dindt done this shoice, but I would not say its a worst one.

    tring to make everyone believe that one way is better then other is what make wars...
  • by stinky wizzleteats ( 552063 ) on Friday March 07, 2003 @12:15PM (#5459285) Homepage Journal

    Can you spell Creationism?

    Are you trying to suggest that judicial activism [eagleforum.org] is an exclusive phenomenon of the religious right? I've seen many recent and amazing examples of selective memory with regard to the behavior [williamcooper.com] of past administrations. When we religious folk practice such selective reasoning, the word most often used to describe it is, I believe, hypocrisy.

  • Goodbye to My Karma (Score:4, Interesting)

    by masq ( 316580 ) on Friday March 07, 2003 @12:26PM (#5459397) Homepage Journal
    1. The discoverer pitches the claim directly to the media... An attempt to bypass peer review by taking a new result directly to the media, and thence to the public, suggests that the work is unlikely to stand up to close examination by other scientists.

    The world of science is being affected by the media far more than the media is affected by science. If somebody comes up with an anti-gravity machine, for example, it is QUITE possible that they will try to secure their place in history by announcing it directly to the media, to prevent the news from leaking prematurely or other scientists from stealing the idea, or, heaven forbid, patenting it before the originator can claim "prior art". The other scientists can examine it to their hearts content, ONCE the originator has had his day in the sun. Look at Apple's secrecy with their products. News leaks KILL these people. The same psychological principles hold true for a scientist who comes up with something completely new. Look at the greatest invention of the 20th Century, the Segway [snicker].

    2. The discoverer says that a powerful establishment is trying to suppress his or her work.

    Yes, conspiracy theorists often seem like quackpots. But to discount the POSSIBILITY of establishment interference is to deny basic economic theories of self-preservation. Don't you think it's possible that oil companies would fight to stop alternative fuels from coming forth, or would they welcome their own doom joyously? Would Microsoft welcome a perfect disassembler that would reveal all their source code, or would they see this as a threat? Does Microsoft support Java for its cross-platform functionality? How about a pill that took the place of food, would MacDonalds say, "Sounds good, who cares about the bottom line and the millions of jobs we're going to lose?" If the establishment didn't want to preserve the status quo at all costs, FUD wouldn't exist. But it DOES exist, and I see it being used daily to kill small innovators (BeOS, anyone?). NOBODY welcomes a better product or idea if it's coming from a competitor.

    3. The scientific effect involved is always at the very limit of detection. Alas, there is never a clear photograph of a flying saucer, or the Loch Ness monster. Thousands of published papers in para-psychology, for example, claim to report verified instances of telepathy, psychokinesis, or precognition. But those effects show up only in tortured analyses of statistics. The researchers can find no way to boost the signal, which suggests that it isn't really there.

    Nice science - If we can't prove something exists, it doesn't. This ignores the reality that our scientific methods are still in their infancy. *Of course* we can't prove aliens exist in the billions of galaxies out there, we can't even make our own space shuttles work without exploding. And just because I've never been to China doesn't mean that it doesn't exist. There are enough people who claim to have been there, and many even have photographs of it, but I've never been there, so I wisely discount these "tourists" as quacks. Same goes for religious experiences, aliens, telepathy, precognition, etc. 100 years ago, Nuclear Power would have seemed insane, but not because it is "crazy", but because our own limitations prevented it from becoming reality for us. Everything is "at the very limit of detection" at one time or another.

    4. Evidence for a discovery is anecdotal. If modern science has learned anything in the past century, it is to distrust anecdotal evidence. Because anecdotes have a very strong emotional impact, they serve to keep superstitious beliefs alive in an age of science. The most important discovery of modern medicine is not vaccines or antibiotics, it is the randomized double-blind test, by means of which we know what works and what doesn't. Contrary to the saying, "data" is not the plural of "anecdote."

    See my last answer. Anecdotal evidence is not hard science, but it points toward science. The millions of people who speak in tongues should direct scientists toward examining the possibility and searching to explain and understand the phenomena. Scientists must keep their minds open, not closed.

    5. The discoverer says a belief is credible because it has endured for centuries. There is a persistent myth that hundreds or even thousands of years ago, long before anyone knew that blood circulates throughout the body, or that germs cause disease, our ancestors possessed miraculous remedies that modern science cannot understand. Much of what is termed "alternative medicine" is part of that myth. Ancient folk wisdom, rediscovered or repackaged, is unlikely to match the output of modern scientific laboratories.

    Acupuncture. Works.

    And a lot of "old wives tales" have a logical scientific basis that was undiscovered until much later. But people recognized that certain things worked for them, for whatever reasons (like bread poultices, washing regularly to prevent illness, etc.) And I still think the Pyramids, the ancient batteries, and Captain Kidd's Island security system are pretty cool. Oh yeah, crop circles, Bermuda Triangle, blah blah blah. We don't understand everything, but we also shouldn't discount everything we don't understand, either. I personally don't understand wrestling, so it must be a hoax, too... No, wait, bad example...

    6. The discoverer has worked in isolation.

    Didn't ALL the great scientists work in isolation? It's hard to say "Nobody understands me" when everybody you know works at your lab 8 hours a day and is in total agreement with your seemingly insane ideas. Same with persecution. Persecution never happened, since everybody was on the same page. "You're right, dude, the world ISN'T flat!" "The world revolves around the WHAT?? Oh, yeah, right. Okay, cool. I'll change the history books." "God isn't smiting the sinners with the Black Plague, it's just a disease? Damn, shoulda known. Thanks for the update."

    7. The discoverer must propose new laws of nature to explain an observation. A new law of nature, invoked to explain some extraordinary result, must not conflict with what is already known. If we must change existing laws of nature or propose new laws to account for an observation, it is almost certainly wrong.

    That Einstein guy was a quack. Same with Newton. Same with Copernicus. Our knowledge of the world is full and complete and needs no revision. Thank you.

  • Re:Typical Slashdot (Score:3, Interesting)

    by KalvinB ( 205500 ) on Friday March 07, 2003 @12:53PM (#5459689) Homepage
    "What gets dated are the layers of deposition ON TOP of your cat"

    And? They have no idea how long it took for those layers to form. No way to verify the numbers they come up with.

    When's the last time you buried anything close to the surface? By the time you're 6 feet in the ground, according to evolutionists who will date the rock you're buried in, you'll be millions of years old.

    It's all based on unproven assumptions. You can observe the formation of tree rings. You can't observe the formation of sedimentary layers. You have NO idea how the dirt got there to form the layers. You have NO idea how many people/animals walked on the dirt causing it to be more compact. You have NO idea how many people/animals geological events dumped dirt in that area. You have NO idea how many rivers or whatnot have come and gone removing layers.

    Evolutionists make a professional out of ignoring the obvious unknown variables. They of all people should be aware of the fact the earth doesn't stay constant. Animals and people bury things. Sometimes very deep. Like in wells that have since collasped. Now you're millions of years old because so many layers are above you even though you actually died yesterday.

    Hence the cave example. Caves go down down down millions of years so "millions" of years of dirt are above you significantly falsifying your true age to Evolutionists.

  • Pathological Science (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 07, 2003 @12:55PM (#5459726)
    "On December 18, 1953, Dr. Irving Langmuir gave a colloquium at the Research Laboratory that will long be remembered by those in his audience. The talk was concerned with what Langmuir called "the science of things that aren't so," and in it he gave a colorful account of several examples of a particular kind of pitfall into which scientists may sometimes stumble."

    One of the best papers ever on this sort of thing is now, finally, on line here [princeton.edu] - N-Rays, Mitogenic Rays, Allison Effect and much more.
  • Re:Dangit... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by DrXym ( 126579 ) on Friday March 07, 2003 @01:18PM (#5460011)
    I went into Boots the other day (a large chemist chain in the UK and Ireland). On sale (at the pharmacy counter) no less was a gold plated stress relief bracelet for 44. On the front of the plastic packing it said "believed by many to relieve stress".

    In other words it doesn't do a damned thing. I'm sure in some cultures past or present, ludicrous notions such as drinking tea made from horse shit, sleeping on a bed of dead fish or smearing pig fat in your armpits would be "believed by many to relieve stress". It doesn't mean it actually does.

    Shame on Boots the Chemist for selling this junk and various other homeopathic / aromatherapy 'remedies'. Is it any wonder why people believe in this nonsense when a 'reputable' company like Boots peddles such shit from its pharmacy counter? If they sell it, it must work right?

  • Re:Science != Truth (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Reziac ( 43301 ) on Friday March 07, 2003 @01:39PM (#5460252) Homepage Journal
    But do these 'millions of people' get well because of, or *in spite of* said ancient folk remedies?

    And if ancient folk remedies were really all that great, why is the average human lifespan so much shorter where that's the only medicine available? (Even when other living conditions are good.)

  • by Mr. Firewall ( 578517 ) on Friday March 07, 2003 @02:17PM (#5460655) Homepage

    There are [sic] a surprising number of us right here who are willing to believe the stories about zero-point energy, anti-gravity devices, "Echelon", oil-is-an-unlimited-resource, global-warming-is-unproven, the "Elbrus E2K", and so on.

    Excuse me, but it is the proponents of the "global warming" myth who are failing the test. It was they who went to the popular Press without first submitting their theories to the rigors of peer review. It is they who talk incessantly of "conspiracies" by "evil corporations" (and let's not forget that "evil President Bush" person!) to destroy the planet. It is they who are using anecdotal evidence ("disappearing" polar ice caps, a heat wave somewhere, et. al. ad infinitum ad nauseum) to bolster their claim. It is they who are invoking ancient superstitions about "Gaia" or whatever the hell the Earth Goddess' name is this week. It is they who are using tiny temperature swings, at the edge of detection and well within the limits of normal fluctuations for this planet, to predict doom and disaster for us all unless we repent and go back to a stone-age hunter-gatherer culture.

    And finally, it is the "global warming" promoters, not the skeptics, who are studiously ignoring ample evidence of a 200-year-long global warming period a thousand years ago that not only did NOT bring gloom and doom to the planet but actually brought a period (lasting, coincidentally, two hundred years!) of then-unparalleled peace, prosperity, and social and scientific progress.

    Please don't lump rational skeptics in with the religious nutcases.

  • by Danathar ( 267989 ) on Friday March 07, 2003 @02:27PM (#5460762) Journal
    Absense of evidence is not evidence of absense...


    Just because I can't prove flying pink elephants(or extraterrestrials) DON'T exist does NOT mean that they DO infact exist.

    Now if you have a credible theory about the existance of flying pink elephants(or UFO's) you might go looking for them and you might convince others to come with you and help.

    Does this make your search goofy or un-scientific? Only to those who disagree with your theory. They of course do NOT need to help you out and should politely stay out of the way.

    The problem is that there are some scientists who are not satisfied with letting people explore theories that they disagree with, in fact some of these people actively try to keep people from doing research. Why? Because the very idea that somebody thinks differently then them might cause somebody else to think differently about THEIR theory, which is a risk they would like to avoid.

    This line of activity not only happens in Science, it happens in religion as well. Surprised?
  • by feed_me_cereal ( 452042 ) on Friday March 07, 2003 @06:44PM (#5463418)
    Religion creates a self-consistent view of the world and history. However unlikely and construed this world view is, science cannot disprove this world view because it is self-consistent (i.e. all inconsistencies are explained away by saying that is what God willed).

    The notion of an all-powerfull being does not a consistent world make! Don't you watch the simpsons?

    Homer: "Could God microwave a burrito SO hot, that He himself could not eat it?"

    This outlines a contradiction in the all-powerful-being explanation. If god can do anything, then god can make something undestroyable by anyone including himself. If god can do anything, then god can also destroy this thing. BOOM! contradiction!

    Either way, if a religious argument is one not based on observations but rather information passed from someone else, then there is another serious problem:

    Let's assume you have an arbitrary but consistent explanation for how the universe was created (that is, you have no evidence for your proposal, so it is a religious argument). I propose that the set of all of these explanations is infinitely large. Given that, independant of all other factors, the probability of any one of these explanations being correct approaches zero, making it impossible to guess. This makes evidence necesary to even consider a theory for how the universe was created.

    Now is there an infinite number of specific explanations? There are additive properties to any explanation, such as it took x years to create the earth, or whatever. You'll have to keep generalizing on your theory in order to get a FINITE probability that your theory is correct. I can't prove this yet, but I would guess that generalizing that much would probably meet the definition of agnostic (since the trend is heading this way as you remove all stringency and specificity from a system)

    Basically, you can't prove a consistent argument wrong, but you can prove that there's absolutely no reason to believe in it.

    The fact that supporters of an argument cannot formulate their beliefs in terms of scientific principles does nothing to prove or disprove their beliefs.

    Descartes said "I think; therefore I am.". If you want to get right down to it, this is the only thing you can prove about the universe. Everything other than your existence could be an illusion. Therefore we have to make some assumptions if we're going to carry on with life, such as, if I walk outside of my house I won't be eaten by invisible monsters. However, the only reasonable assumptions you can make are those based off of your observations and logic. So, you can certainly say that religious people are misguided.

    I could make several other sociological arguments against religion, but I think I'll cut this here before I get completely off-topic... I feel myself slipping into rant-mode...

Machines that have broken down will work perfectly when the repairman arrives.