One of those arguments concerned the trustworthiness or otherwise of the senses when it comes to deducing the validity of evidence from design. How, for example, can we be sure that we interpret that evidence correctly through our senses?Now, as much as I’d like to handle both halves of this thought together, one doesn’t actually follow from the other at all. The former idea doesn’t even lead to the latter. We cannot be sure that the evidence we receive through our senses is correct. Humans are simply too limited in their faculties, too arbitrary in their judgments, and too prone to variance from one person to the next. I may well be able to say that one thing is hotter than another, but I need a thermometer to tell me how much variance there is. And I’m sure we’ve all been in the situation where two people are in the same room and one is complaining about how hot it is while the other is reaching for a sweater. This is why we have scientific instruments. This is why we have systems of measurement. This is why we’re taught not to trust our senses in situations where we need rigorous methodology because our senses will fail us. It then follows that if we can’t trust our senses, we can’t be sure that we interpret the evidence we gather through our senses. This is why Cooper’s thoughts do not follow each other in a logical way. He’s asking us to be sure that we can interpret evidence of the validity of design when it is by following the scientific process that we realize that design is, in fact, not evident. This is why we had prominent creationist dentist Don McLeroy trying to get confirmed to the Texas School Board by informing everyone that somebody has to stand up to the experts. Scientists are experts and we should listen to them primarily because they are experts. Those who tout creationism want us to look at the world without the burden of knowledge or expertise so they can say, “Look, how can that possibly come about by chance? It must be designed,” and we will nod in agreement because it sure looks that way to the untrained eye and we’ll all be significantly dumber for the experience. Either way, Cooper then takes a shot at Lucretius. So I guess we can add him to the stable of philosophers our author neither understands nor correctly interprets.
This, for the Stoic, was the fatal weakness in the Epicurean argument which, as Lucretius stated it, runs: The nature of phenomena cannot be understood by the eyes. Lucretius said this not because he believed the eyes themselves to be at fault, but because it was a failing of the mind to perceive things correctly or accurately through the senses. In fairness to Lucretius, he did go on to qualify this statement, recognising that this dictum, though it appeared to answer the creationist on a philosophical level, could not usefully be translated into everyday experience, for: (24) "This is to attack belief at its very roots--to tear up the entire foundation on which the maintenance of life is built. If you did not dare trust your senses so as to keep clear of precipices and other such things to be avoided and make for their opposites, there would be a speedy end to life itself." (25)Okay, does anybody but me see what Cooper did there? What? I’m the only one reading along? Damn. We have two different citations here. Both are from a Penguin Classics edition of Lucretius’s On the Nature of the Universe. The first part of the citation, given up until the (24) apparently comes four pages before the second part of the citation. So unless Penguin has taken to adding commercial interruptions to the middle of their books, something is missing. What that something is, I don’t know. Moreover, this isn’t a simple ellipsis that ignores a few words or a sentence. This is a completely unacknowledged (in text) jump of four pages. Further, I’m pretty sure that even though Cooper claims Lucretius is the one making the statement, the first part of that quote comes from the writer/editor/translator/whatever of the Penguin Classics book in question. Something about how Lucretius is referred to by name tells me that. I’m also not entirely convinced that the second part of the quote actually comes from Lucretius, either. It smacks of third-party commentary to me. But on this one I can’t actually say. I’m generally pretty good at divining the meaning of Cooper’s useless citations save this situation. But, hey, if you want to try to find it, be my guest. Anyway, Cooper goes on:
But such sophistry[…], shockwave-flash@http://www.youtube.com/v/G2y8Sx4B2Sk&hl=en&fs=1" href="http://www.youtube.com/v/G2y8Sx4B2Sk&hl=en&fs=1" id="">
[…]was to cut no ice at all with the Stoic Cicero. It smacked too much of that special pleading for which Cicero, as an advocate in law, had little patience. For if our reasoning powers could be trusted to interpret what our senses were telling us on a day to day basis when it came to such vital matters as personal safety and survival, then they could surely be trusted to interpret less vital phenomena such as evidence from design in the universe around us, which spoke so eloquently and forcefully of the universe having been created by an infinite and omnipotent intelligence. As a creationist, the Stoic Cicero simply could not appreciate the Epicurean viewpoint of Lucretius:Except this is absolutely, completely, and utterly wrong and it’s why we have to suffer the Don McLeroys of the world. Yes, I can trust my senses and my reasoning to get me through the day. But my senses also tell me that there are connections in phenomena that simply do not exist. This is why faith is an almost entirely unreasonable activity in which to engage. I cannot tell you how many times I had conversations back in my church days that hinged on god having revealed some tiny part of the big, cosmic plan through something entirely random. There would be people who said that they couldn’t find their socks, so they left the house thirty seconds later and because of that just narrowly avoided being in a bad car accident. Therefore god hid their socks from them to save them from a car accident. First off, it’s really too fucking bad god didn’t bother to hide footwear from the poor people who were in a car accident. Second, it’s really fucking selfish to say that god didn’t want ME to get in an accident but was perfectly okay letting someone else get in one. Third, chances are that if the person in question couldn’t find socks today, they probably couldn’t find them on other days, either, and simply only remembered this one incident because of the whole car accident thing. This is why we can’t trust our senses. We put too much emphasis on certain things and ignore others. We pick and choose our sense data in order to serve our own story about how the universe does or should work. We, in short, find evidence of design in everything because we reject the information that refutes design. This is exactly what Cooper is doing. He’s cherry-picking favorable quotes from those he imagines are his allies and cherry-picking negative quotes from those he imagines are his enemies. In truth I’m pretty sure that Zeno, Chrysippus, and Cicero would be just as likely as Epicurus and Lucretius to wipe the floor with Cooper in a philosophical debate. Stoicism is many things, but literalist Christianity is not on the list. Believe me, the tendency to quote-mine favorable phrases is not limited to deluded writers of stupid books. This is why we’re constantly forced to be on guard against the Christian nation crowd. They’d love us to believe that Adams, Washington, and Jefferson were actually closet fundies. If you think that I’m going out on a limb by drawing that parallel remember that there is a wide swath of the Christian religion that believes it is the only answer to all the world’s problems and that it has been that way since before it existed. It’s a delusional, megalomaniacal belief system. This isn’t to say that all Christians are that way, but that there is a subset that most definitely is. They pop up on a fairly regular basis and make things miserable for everyone, including Christians who don’t quite believe the same things they do. Anyway, here’s the Cicero quote Cooper uses to confront Lucretius (note the ellipses):
In the heavens there is nothing accidental, nothing arbitrary, nothing out of order, nothing erratic. Everywhere is order, truth, reason, constancy ...I cannot understand this regularity in the stars, this harmony of time and motion in their various orbits through all eternity, except as the expression of reason, mind and purpose ...Their constant and eternal motion, wonderful and mysterious in its regularity, declares the indwelling power of a divine intelligence. If any man cannot feel the power of God when he looks upon the stars, then I doubt whether he is capable of any feeling.And the following commentary:
To Cicero's mind, it was the greatest irony that a thinker like Lucretius who bleated most about his unshakeable faith in the innate powers of matter to create itself and arrange itself into a meaningful and purposeful order without any outside aid or influence, found himself unable to trust that same matter when it came to perceiving or even explaining this fact!But that’s the thing. We can’t trust ourselves to properly perceive or explain the nature of the universe. That’s why we have science. Without rational, measurable ways of examining our world and replicable ways of recording those observations we’re left with nothing but superstition. Y’know, like superstition and saying the world was created out of nothing based on a two-thousand and something year-old book. We wouldn’t want that now, would we?