“What’s this?” she said, holding up a piece of purple Amethyst crystal I had lying on my desk. (She was a guest at my house during a recent party.) I just laughed and said it was given to me as a joke by a scientist (a geology professor presenting at “The Amazing Meeting 2”). “Huh?” says she. Well, I said, some people believe crystals can focus “energy” for healing, or some such nonsense. The scientist joked about how people could believe such crap, and then explained some real properties of crystals, minerals, etc. But woos pop up everywhere, including my house apparently. Turns out she believed in all sorts of woo: crystal therapy, Reiki, you name it.
We had a discussion about “energy” (that all-encompassing new age term that explains any mysterious supposed healing or psychic force that no scientific instrument can detect). Then she came out with this old chestnut:
Before we had tools that could detect atoms, atoms still existed. So how do we know that science won't develop tools in the future that will show crystals have healing properties we can’t measure now?
This is a common piece of drivel woos parrot when forced to admit there is no evidence for their fantasy stories. Regular readers will recognize this as Five Apples No. 11.
I told her, the answer is – you don’t. There are almost certainly things we don’t know about now that will be discovered in the future. But you draw the wrong conclusion from this. You think this means anything you like the sound of, is worthy of consideration. But it’s not. Something is only worthy of consideration if there is a reason to suppose it is true.
The scientific method is based on this philosophy. It has served us well, preventing many wrong ideas from gaining foothold (for very long, anyway) and providing all the amazing discoveries that surround us. The people who did discover atoms (radio waves, etc), were all scientists applying this method, not new agers with “open minds”. An earlier version of this woman would have said, “How do you know science won't develop tools in the future to show that humors exist?” to justify bloodletting. By focusing uncritically on bloodletting she would never have discovered germ theory any more than a crystal healer today will discover anything useful. Germ theory was discovered by science.
Or as I said at the end of Five Apples: I actually have four apples and an orange. These people are so busy making up stories about a fifth apple, they’ll never realize the orange even exists.