Monday, May 25, 2009

AtF: Lying

Welcome to Part 2 of the Memorial Day Weekend After the Flood 2-fer. I hope you’re as excited as I am. Just look at these nipples… (Hmm, there’s an interesting question. Does the male nipple…oh, never mind…) Anyway, we’re finally at the point where Cooper manages to irrefutably connect Stoicism to Paley. I’ve been teasing it for weeks, so I’m sure it’s a relief to finally see it arrive. We’ll start with the (ahem) necessary background knowledge. From Cooper:
However, apart from the new and lofty concept voiced by Xenophanes, Plato and Chrysippus of the Creator of the universe, another concept was to follow which, in the hands of Chrysippus and his colleagues, was to lend the voice of the Stoic school an almost irresistible authority.
Wait for it.
It was the concept of 'evidence from design', an argument for that divinely inspired intent and purpose which was observable throughout the universe and which convinced the Stoic, as it convinces the creationist of today, of the scientific and philosophical correctness of his model.
Wait for it.
Refined and brilliantly expressed by Paley at the beginning of the last century, the importance of evidence from design was not lost on earlier classical theorists who were quick to give it its permanent setting in the idea of creationism.
Almost there…
A later Stoic, the Roman Cicero, was to give the concept perhaps its highest expression in pre-Christian times, and his words are worth quoting at a little length:
Okay, let’s just do that, Bill Cooper.
When you see a sundial or a water-clock, you see that it tells the time by design and not by chance. How then can you imagine that the universe as a whole is devoid of purpose and intelligence when it embraces everything, including these artifacts themselves and their artificers? Our friend Posidonius as you know has recently made a globe which in its revolution shows the movements of the sun and stars and planets, by day and night, just as they appear in the sky. Now if someone were to take this globe and show it to the people of Britain or Scythia would a single one of those barbarians fail to see that it was the product of a conscious intelligence?
Oh no he di’int. He just pulled out the Watchmaker God analogy, but used Cicero’s version. I am sunk. I have nothing more to say that could possibly count as an argument against Bill Cooper’s book now. That’s it, folks. There’s nothing more to see here. I’m going home. Oh. Wait. Never mind. I still have things to say. What this passage of Cicero (from the ever so hateful De Natura Deorum,* might I add. Follow the link, do an in-page search for “water-clock” and you’ll find the passage if you so desire) actually demonstrates is Solomon’s admission that there’s nothing new under the sun. Except Solomon was completely and totally wrong about that, since for the last hundred and fifty years there has been something new under the sun. See, the debate between Cotta and Vellius from the pages of De Natura Deorum may well have continued forward endlessly in to eternity were it not for that new thing under the sun: Darwin’s Origin of the Species. Perhaps there was no answer to Cicero. For that matter, perhaps there was no answer to William Paley. Both posited a watchmaker god and a clockwork universe and often the best answer from the non-religious aspect was to take the deist approach and say, “So fine, there was a god, but god walked away right after the moment of creation.” Since Darwin, though, it’s been perfectly acceptable to counter the Watchmaker God with science. That's the reason there's a book by Dawkins called The Blind Watchmaker. What Cooper is doing here by bringing in Cicero’s water-clock and Paley’s watchmaker is admitting that theism hasn’t come up with anything to add to the origin debate in some two thousand years. This is not in and of itself a problem. You can take a Ken Miller-esque approach and leave room for god. You cannot, however, take a Bill Cooper- or Ken Ham-esque approach and say, “Nope, the Bible is 100% literal and accurate.” We know too much. The discussion has moved beyond Six-Day Creationism and a 6000 year-old planet. Or, well, it should have. Sadly, we’re still fighting over this ground even though the literalists have lost every battle since the Scopes Monkey Trial. The only team with a worse record than the Creationists over the last century is the Chicago Cubs. Oh, yeah. I went there. Either way, he shows off his spectacularly tin-eared understanding of science and the debate immediately thereafter. I suppose that I should point out that this book wasn’t written after Kitzmiller v. Dover. It was actually written in the early ‘90s. Still, we were plenty well-informed about things like evolution and the whole “universe being more than 6000 years old” thing by then. Oh, yeah, and Dawkins wrote The Blind Watchmaker in 1986. Either way, let’s move on:
With these beautifully simple words, Cicero gives voice to an idea which even today is the most difficult for the materialist to refute, for it is nigh impossible to explain away convincingly, say, the indescribable complexity of living organisms, or even merely parts thereof, as the product of blind chance or accident.
No. It’s not difficult to refute. It’s far from impossible to explain away convincingly. Maybe it’s easier now than in 1995, but I’m pretty sure that’s because of our ever-expanding lists of fossils, the mapping of the human genome, and the fact that biologists have made it a point to increase the public education on the issue, not because some wonderful, magical, completely unexpected find cropped up in 2003 or something (well, y'know, except for that time Darwinus masillae showed up and reversed the rotation of the Earth and gave everyone a puppy). The problem is that people like Cooper and Ken Ham and Michael Behe** and all the other Biblical literalists/creation “scientists” are willfully ignorant on the topic. They say science doesn’t have an answer because they have not bothered to figure out what science has said. All they want to do is make the same damn arguments theists have been making for two thousand years and ignore anything that creates a dissenting viewpoint. Then they call the scientists the ones who are stifling dissent and free inquiry. The reason Creation “Science” doesn’t disappear isn’t because they have important things to say. It’s because they refuse to let the rest of the world move on without making us listen to their spectacularly uninformed opinions on the nature of the universe. And this is the problem. It’s not that they simply write books to circulate to their equally spectacularly uninformed buddies. They’re not just writing websites with weird fonts and randomly capitalized words. They’re trying to take over school boards and pick science curriculum. They’re arguing that the larger world isn’t allowing free thought and inquiry in order to attempt to make sure that everyone’s children never actually learn science and instead get educated in strictly religious beliefs. The reason I’m undertaking this bizarre little project is because I realized one day that this isn’t a matter of letting scientists fight it out against the literally religious. If creation “science” has its way that’s the end of history as a discipline, too. Jericho was founded some two or three thousand years before the world was created in the bizarro world of creation science. The plow was invented at about the time the world popped in to existence. Dinosaurs roamed the world at the same time as the Old Kingdom period in Egypt, Sargon I in Mesopotamia, and the proto-imperial period in China. Think about that for just a moment. How could I teach or discuss history if I had to pretend like the world was younger than its oldest city? How could I honestly discuss the movement of people and tribes if I had to agree with Bill Cooper that every people group on the planet came from one family on a boat that survived a flood and re-populated the world over the course of about four or five thousand years? It’s completely and totally absurd. Yet these are discussions we’re having today in a supposedly educated society. I have had discussions with friends in which they try to convince me the world is six thousand years old. Hell, one of the reasons I finally realized it was good that things ended with Her is because I woke up (metaphorically) one day and realized, “Holy shit. How could we possibly have agreed on how to raise children?” (I was actually fully awake and standing up when it happened, so, y'know...) The big problem is that the Biblical literalists are lying. Cooper tells us that science has never come up with a reasonable response to the watchmaker analogy. What he’s actually saying is that he has never bothered to listen to any of the scientifically rigorous responses science has formulated. It's like when a company makes the news for making some horribly terrible or dangerous product. They always put a spokesperson up on TV who says, "We haven't heard any complaints." I always mentally replace that with, "We haven't listened to any complaints." What he’s really saying is that he doesn’t care about anything other than his tiny, insular way of looking at the world. And he’s telling the rest of us that we have to hold the same opinions he does. ---------------------------- *EDIT: Forgot to put the link to De Natura Deorum in. Oops. **EDIT: As Daniel E. Harper has pointed out in the comments, this gives the impression Behe is a full-on 6-Day Creationist. He's not. He was just on my mind since I'd brought up Kitzmiller. He's not an honest scientist, either, so I'm leaving him in there.

6 comments:

Fiat Lex said...

The only team with a worse record than the Creationists over the last century is the Chicago Cubs.
Yep. You remember I'm a Cubs fan, right? And I always say it was a conscious choice based on intentional masochism?

With a baseball team the emotional dynamic is very simple. Very clear-cut. Every time they play I want them to win and expect them to lose. When they win, I can be happy for them, but happy with sheepish reservations, because I didn't expect it. When they lose, I can be smug and self-satisfied because I expected it, but sad because I wanted them to win.

No matter what happens, I get a mixture of positive and negative. The proportions are just a little different. By hedging my emotional bets, I make sure I'm never completely devastated by my team's inevitable failure. But I also rob myself of the intense happiness a true fan experiences when their team does something awesome.

When you're dealing with a young-earth Creationist in person there's a similar thing that happens. Except they're the Cub fan and you're the Cubs. "Winning" is agreeing with them; "losing" is disagreeing with them. Unlike the 2002 All-Star Game, there are no ties.

jessa said...

Okay. I read William Paley's "Natural Theology" in school. The guy is a kook. Oh, and for a while, his was recognized as the best argument against Darwinism. There is a little bit of good stuff in there, but it is hopelessly bogged down with crazy.

"The conclusion of which the first examination of the watch.. suggested [after he uses studying a watch and musing on its origins as an analogy to studying and musing on the origins of life], was, that is must have had, for the cause and author of that construction, an artificer, who understood its mechanism, and designed its use. This conclusion is invincible." I especially like that last bit, in all of its smugness.

Once Paley "establishes" that the world was created, he argues that the creation is good. This is my favorite bit. One evidence of this is that "the Deity has superadded pleasure to animal sensations, beyond what was necessary for any other purpose..." The best part is how he supports this particular claim.

"The air, the earth, the water, teem with delighted existence... [The insects] sportive motions, their wanton mazes, their gratuitous activity, their continual change of place without use or purpose, testify to their joy, and is one of the most cheerful objects that can be looked upon... Plants are covered with aphides, greedily sucking their juices, and constantly, as it should seem, in the act of sucking. It cannot be doubted but that this is a state of gratification. What else should fix them so close to the operation, and so long? ... If we look to what the waters produce, shoals of the fry of fish frequent the margins of rivers, of lakes, and of the sea itself. These are so happy, that they know not what to do with themselves. Their attitudes, their vivacity, their leaps out of the water, their frolics in it... all conduce to show their excess of spirits, and are simply the effects of that excess... [after describing seeing a cloud of shrimp swimming and jumping out of the water] If any motion of a mute animal could express delight, it was this: if they had meant to make signs of their happiness, they could not have done it more intelligibly."

Daniel E. Harper said...

The problem is that people like Cooper and Ken Ham and Michael Behe and all the other Biblical literalists/creation “scientists” are willfully ignorant on the topic.Behe is an IDer, not a straightline creationist. He's also a PhD biochemist, and doesn't deserve the approbation of the scare quotes. Not that I'm defending ID (believe me, I'm not defending ID, or Behe for that matter) but the author of Darwin's Black Box doesn't belong on the same list with a series of YECs.

Otherwise an excellent post.

Geds said...

Behe's a member of the Discovery Institute and his fellow faculty at Lehigh pretty much try to make it as obvious as possible that they have nothing to do with him. He actually has this official disclaimer on his faculty page: "My ideas about irreducible complexity and intelligent design are entirely my own. They certainly are not in any sense endorsed by either Lehigh University in general or the Department of Biological Sciences in particular. In fact, most of my colleagues in the Department strongly disagree with them."

He might be an actual biochemist who's capable of getting a job at a major university, but he consistently violates the actual scientific process of free inquiry and experimentation. There was an episode during Kitzmiller when he denied that science had ever said anything substantive about an issue (probably "irreducible complexity"). The lawyer for the other side trucked out forty-some books and journal articles and said, "You mean you've never heard of any of these?"

Either way, I might be skating close to the No True Scotsman fallacy there, but I stand by my claim. Science performed with an end goal in mind that ignores massive amounts of data to the contrary really shouldn't count...

Daniel E. Harper said...

I wasn't arguing that Darwin's Black Box is science, not in the least, nor am I trying to defend Behe from your completely accurate response to my comment. I'm simply saying that as the rest of the post was focused on 6-day literalists, it was a bit unfair to namecheck Behe without a disclaimer.

There are a handful of PhD scientists with degrees in relevant fields (Kurt Wise, Steve Austin) who are also practicing YECs, but who openly acknowledge that they use different heuristic methods for truth-gathering in their professional and personal lives. Basically, they "believe" that evolutionary science cannot be correct on faith, but use the data of modern science in their work because it gives them accurate results.

Geds said...

Okay, I'll give you that. I guess it didn't occur to me that I was placing Behe officially in to the 6-Day Creationist camp there. I was just going for the ol' "Rule of Threes" there and since I'd already mentioned Kitzmiller I think Behe was on my mind. As long as we can agree that it's tough to call Behe an honest scientist, we're probably on the same page...