Sunday, June 7, 2009

AtF: Monkeys with Typewriters

We can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Chapter 1 is almost finished. However, there’s more than enough time for Cooper to pull out of his look at what he thinks the views of god were amongst the early pagans and take a swipe at the Enlightenment.
It matters not, it seems, how eloquently one may fulminate against creationism, charging it with every superstition under the sun, if one then declares that the reasoning powers of him who so fulminates cannot be trusted. Whether expressed in ancient times or in modern, it is still a case of shooting oneself in the philosophical foot, and it has effectively disarmed the materialist cause at every turn.
Um, about that… First of all, it’s really tough to argue against someone when they, themselves, are only trying to argue against a straw man. I’m sure anyone who has spent more than five minutes on a comment thread on the internet can fully understand that idea. Also, it’s wonderful the way he’s shifted the goalposts over the course of about two sentences. If you recall from last week, Cooper attempted to argue that Lucretius’s view was that the senses were not valid for experiencing the world. Now, literally one sentence later, he’s shifted the argument from untrustworthy senses to untrustworthy reasoning. It’s lovely, really. Cooper then proves that he’s an untrustworthy narrator when he decides to bring David Hume in to the picture:
It bedeviled the 18th century Enlightenment philosopher David Hume, whose philosophy in a nutshell stated that it was only reasonable to believe in God. But as we know that God does not exist, then our reasoning powers cannot be trusted. What Hume, along with every other materialist philosopher, was really trying to say, of course, was that no one's reasoning powers could be trusted but his own, thus making himself the only sure point of reference in the universe.
Note here how Cooper gives us Hume’s philosophy “in a nutshell” without any citations whatsoever. It’s also amazing how he managed to compose a nearly impenetrable muddle of Hume’s philosophy using only two sentences. If there were some sort of obfuscation Olympics I’m sure we’d be forced to give Cooper gold, silver, and bronze. If we take a look at Hume the first thing we discover is that he’s from a branch of philosophy known as the empiricists. This should tell us something immediately: namely that he trusts nothing without evidence. We are, therefore, back on the familiar terrain of last week’s discussion of Lucretius. Hume lays his critique of reason out in A Treatise of Human Nature thusly (go down to section 4 “Of the Modern Philosophy”):
The opinions of the antient [sic] philosophers, their fictions of substance and accident, and their reasonings concerning substantial forms and occult qualities, are like the spectres in the dark, and are deriv'd from principles, which, however common, are neither universal nor unavoidable in human nature. The modern philosophy pretends to be entirely free from this defect, and to arise only from the solid, permanent, and consistent principles of the imagination. Upon what grounds this pretension is founded must now be the subject of our enquiry.
This is actually a critique of the attitudes of the modern philosophy of Hume's time, notably that humanity has gotten past its superstitions. We have not. Therefore we must not fully trust human reason. We need, in short, external evidence. One could then assume that we’d draw the absolute opposite of Cooper’s conclusion that Hume “[made] himself the only sure point of reference in the universe.” It’s important to remember, as I’m sure I’ve pointed out before, that the goal here isn’t to engage Enlightenment philosophy, but to subvert it. Thus it’s entirely possible that Cooper’s tendency towards poor discipline in citation and lack of ability to stick to any one topic or argument for more than a paragraph (or, at times, a sentence) is done in service to his overall goal. In this, of course, I accuse him of intellectual dishonesty. This is not a charge one levels with flippancy, but here it’s warranted. The other option, of course, is that Cooper is merely a gigantic moron. I find it hard to take that one off the table, either… Anyway, since he can’t actually cite any Hume to back up his absurd claim, Cooper immediately switches over to Immanuel Kant and the Critique of Pure Reason. In his characteristically quote-mining fashion he claims:
But such was the philosophical mess into which this led him, that Kant, the inheritor of Hume's mantle, once painfully lamented the fact that: ..."it remains a scandal to philosophy and to human reason in general that the existence of things outside us must be accepted merely on faith, and that if anyone thinks good to doubt their existence, we are unable to counter his doubts by any satisfactory proof." (27)
Now, to be fair to Cooper, I have owned a copy of Critique of Pure Reason for years that I’ve barely spent time reading. Kant is, on many, many levels, impenetrable. Either way, for the case in question, which is a footnote to the second edition wherein he was attempting to explain a superficially minor correction to the concept of the Transcendental Dialectic, Kant was, not surprisingly, saying something very different than what Cooper thought he was saying. If we understand the Transcendental Dialectic, we in fact find out that Kant’s argument is the exact opposite of Cooper’s. Kant, being a good empiricist and follower of Hume, found pure reason suspect in understanding the universe. The Transcendental Dialectic, then, was an attempt to explain the limits of where pure reason could take the philosopher. He argues that the Ontological Argument is the terminal point of the process of Pure Reason (modified slightly, I suppose, as the Cosmological Proof and argument from design get in there, too. But I’m pretty sure that in Kant’s argument the latter two serve to support the former). Anyway, it should be no real surprise that Cooper’s use of Kant starts with an ellipsis. Here’s the whole thing:
The only addition, properly so called--and that only in the method of proof--which I have made in the present edition, consists of a new refutation of psychological idealism, and a strict demonstration--the only one possible, as I believe--of the objective reality of external intuition. However harmless idealism may be considered--although in reality it is not so--in regard to the essential ends of metaphysics, it must still remain a scandal to philosophy and to the general human reason to be obliged to assume, as an article of mere belief, the existence of things external to ourselves (from which, yet, we derive the whole material of cognition for the internal sense), and not to be able to oppose a satisfactory proof to any one who may call it in question. As there is some obscurity of expression in the demonstration as it stands in the text, I propose to alter the passage in question as follows: "But this permanent cannot be an intuition in me. For all the determining grounds of my existence which can be found in me are representations and, as such, do themselves require a permanent, distinct from them, which may determine my existence in relation to their changes, that is, my existence in time, wherein they change."
Okay, there’s actually way more to the footnote than that. But this pretty much brings the entire point to bear. In context the word “scandal” takes on a different character. It’s actually more mocking. The “scandal” is not a lament to Kant, but, it seems, a tongue-ever-so-slightly-in-cheek attack against those who propose to use pure reason to reach conclusions that work against the evidence of the world around them. Basically, Cooper’s lack of reading comprehension and zeal to make sure everyone understands that those who stand against the Bible do so knowingly and intentionally completely misses the fact that Immanuel Kant is making fun of him. Kant died a couple centuries before Cooper was born and yet somehow manages to still be smarter. Sadly, Cooper then applies the Chief Wiggum approach to getting out of a deep hole. He digs up, stupid:
No creationist could have expressed the materialist's dilemma more concisely, and Kant has highlighted a phenomenon that has not only ensured throughout history that creationism would always hold the higher ground when it came to the expression of simple logic, but which also led out of sheer frustration to the birth and rigours of the empiricist school of thought in the 1920s.
Um, I think this is the second time that Cooper has randomly decided that the empiricists started their thing in the 1920s. Everybody repeat after me: Hume and Kant were empiricists. That’s why we call them “Empiricists.” Either way, after this brief foray in to the Enlightenment, he goes back to make Cicero’s words serve his purpose for arguing what amounts to irreducible complexity:
Is it not a wonder that anyone can bring himself to believe that a number of solid and separate particles by their chance collisions and moved only by the force of their own weight could bring into being so marvelous and beautiful a world? If anybody thinks that this is possible, I do not see why he should not think that if an infinite number of examples of the twenty-one letters of the alphabet, made of gold or what you will, were shaken together and poured out on the ground it would be possible for them to fall so as to spell out, say, the whole text of the Annals of Ennius. In fact I doubt whether chance would permit them to spell out a single verse!
Yup. He went there. Then he went further:
Now where have we heard that analogy before? This argument, which was the Roman equivalent of today's monkeys and typewriters tapping out the works of Shakespeare, has endured simply because it has always proved to be unanswerable by the materialist in any but the most strained and unlikely terms.
Of course the monkeys with typewriters analogy was originally used in service of science. It offered a thought experiment to answer Creationist arguments that there’s no possible way life could have arisen on Earth by mere chance. The Creationist argument goes that there’s a, say, one-in-a-billion chance for life to arise on Earth. The counterargument then is that if you have a billion Earth-like planets and don’t give any of those planets priority, you’re probably going to get life on one of those planets. The main problem is that Creationists argue from the idea that we are, somehow, special. We are, of course, special because god chose us in their estimation. If we aren’t special their entire theology falls apart completely. Science argues that we aren’t special. We are here because conditions happened to be such that the planet Earth was capable of bringing about lifeforms of ever-evolving complexity. Assuming we don’t destroy ourselves in the meantime, given enough time and opportunity we will continue to evolve and a million years from now whomever our descendents are will look upon Homo sapiens in the same way we look at Homo erectus or Neanderthals. This is the nature of evolution. I actually hate the monkeys with typewriters analogy. As I recall, it was an off-the-cuff comment made at a symposium somewhere. Unfortunately it’s that sort of comment that tends to get remembered and capture the imagination. It implies design and an end point where we know evolution has neither. Writing is also a creative force (at least with Shakespeare. It’s less so with Cooper) that implies and requires design. No one would read the random tappings of monkeys on typewriters precisely because there’s no organization or purpose. Monkey writing also cannot solve the problems evolution does solve, namely survival and extension. It’s a pointless exercise. Kind of like writing long-ass chapters attempting to argue that all philosophers were either for or against the Bible. Actually, that gives me a thought. We should pit an infinite number of Bill Coopers with an infinite number of typewriters against those monkeys. In the end we'll see which side comes up with more interesting writings. I know I'd bet on the monkeys in that one...


ExPatMatt said...

Hey Geds,

Personal Failure pointed me to your blog as you're reviewing this book and I just had it referred to me by a fundie friend of mine.

Just wait until you get to the bit where he talks about Beowulf.... (chuckle)

Good work so far, btw, I'll be reading along with interest.



Geds said...

Hi, Matt. Thanks for stopping by.

Um, sorry about that random, really, really long comment over on your blog.

Also, Beowulf? Really? I can barely contain my excitement.

I've actually tried my best not to read ahead. I kind of enjoy the surprise factor of every new and bizarre sentence in After the Flood. So I honestly did not know Beowulf gets dragged in to the whole sordid mess.

ExPatMatt said...

I only skipped through it, to be honest, and the chapter heading caught my eye - you won't be disappointed...

No worries on the long comment, it took long enough to get anyone to actually step up and defend young earth 'evidences' and, well, you saw what they had to resort to.

I do think that the evidences I listed on that post are fair examples of what we would expect to see 'After the Flood' and the fact that none of the regular fundies are going near it with an ark-pole is rather telling.

I think they know that the evidence isn't there, but they believe that it is...belief trumps reality every time from what I've seen!


Da Bomb said...

hey EPM,

"No worries on the long comment, it took long enough to get anyone to actually step up and defend young earth 'evidences' and, well, you saw what they had to resort to.

I do think that the evidences I listed on that post are fair examples of what we would expect to see 'After the Flood' and the fact that none of the regular fundies are going near it with an ark-pole is rather telling."

That's because I have never seriously looked into evidence in that specific area :)
I could try but I would do the same as you...just quote what others say and not done the walk about the world looking at strata.

Geds said...

Matt (mind if I call you Matt?):

One of the things about hitting After the Flood is that it really is kind of like going out in to the middle of nowhere and kicking a puppy. It's a soft target and no one is going to rise to defend the book. That is part of what makes it so fascinating to me, though. The author simply six-day creationism and Biblical literalism to its logical conclusion. I think it's telling, then, that nobody seems to be willing to defend the "historical" account that would inevitably arise from such a premise.

You could easily accuse me of making a lazy attack against a version of Christianity that no one believes. But I see quite a bit of value in saying, "If you believe in Biblical literalism then that means you have to agree that the scope of your belief extends far beyond the creation/evolution debate.

Also, it's laughably bad history. But it's instructively bad...

Da Bomb:

Are you really trying to say that you could defend the "evidence" for a young Earth?

Da Bomb said...

"Are you really trying to say that you could defend the "evidence" for a young Earth?"

I didn't say young earth... we were talking about the Flood :)

I don't know if the earth is old or not...we hear qualified people say different things from both sides and little old we are stuck in the middle choosing who we want to believe.

Geds said...

The Flood? As in Noah's Flood? I'd love to see the evidence for that. Not to mention the answer to the questions, "Where did all the water go?" and "How did anyone breath?" Although answering that second question requires an understanding of the nature of the Earth's atmosphere and the effect that a sudden, massive increase the amount of water would have on it...

Also, your comment about "qualified people on both sides" is a logical fallacy. It's how those of us in the United States are getting screwed up because we've got the news reporting that, say, "Some people say Barack Obama is a Christian. Some other people say Barack Obama is a secret Muslim terrorist," without offering any context.

To make the argument by analogy (erm, again, I guess), the idea that "some qualified people" say the Earth is really, really old and "some qualified people" say it isn't is the equivalent of trying to decide whether to take a home made rocket in to space and consulting a NASA engineer and a guy who has watched every shuttle launch on TV. I would tend to pay a lot more attention to the NASA engineer. There's a lot more to being qualified than simply stating you are or having some tangential relationship to the topic at hand.

ExPatMatt said...

Da Bomb,

I wasn't specifically talking about you. Nobody has even mentioned the 'evidences' in the original post, have they?

Not even to say that they're not a fair representation of what we'd expect from a Flood.

You have to wonder why that is.

I actually have studied geology to a certain degree (as a civil engineer), so I'm not totally ignorant of the topic. And even if I was - the arguments from the traditional geology side are so much more comprehensive and explanatory (how do you think oil companies decide where to drill next; it certainly isn't utilizing 'Flood Geology').

As to the young/old earth thing... My previous post had a list of evidences for an old earth and did you see how that elf-girl (Eaowyn?) creationist debunked them all? She said they were all in error. That's it. 'They're all wrong'. No explanation, no rationale, no evidence, just a flat out assertion based on the fact that she believes differently so they must be wrong.

Whereas you'll see creationist blogs with a list of evidences for...whatever... and a visiting atheist/skeptic will go through, point-by-point and at the very least discuss each of the issues. Why is it hardly ever the other way 'round?

It's no secret that the vast majority of creationists haven't got a clue what evolution is or what the theory states (and generally have a bad science education all-round); you have to wonder why that is?


ExPatMatt said...


Sorry for spamming up your thread!

Geds said...

No worries. It's the most interesting thing that's happened here since Sunday.

Guess that's what I get for being too lazy to post. But, y'know, GTA IV is very important...

Da Bomb said...

"Where did all the water go?"

I thought this was interesting.

big a said...

Da Bomb,

you're not familiar with a scientific tenet called "Occam's Razor" are you? Even if you are, you need to take it to heart more.

AIG has once again produced an utterly preposterous explanation (using their own fictitious book as evidence that their book is correct, as fundamentalists so often do). To make matters worse, they then stack speculation and assumption upon one another - the idea that mountains exceeding 2 miles in height didn't exist until after the flood simply because that was be biblically inconvenient is beyond laughable.

Da Bomb said...

"the idea that mountains exceeding 2 miles in height didn't exist until after the flood simply because that was be biblically inconvenient is beyond laughable."

So what was the evidence for you stating this?

big a said...

Way to miss the point.

First and foremost, I am disinterested in explaining widely known scientific facts relating to plate tectonics and the actual age of the earth because:
A. you'd just shake your head and try to me all that scientific fact exists because God is "testing our faith" by seeing if we're faked out by him, and the world run by the natural laws he supposedly created...
and B. Anyone who looks at anything from Answers in Genesis and says "Hmm, I'm intrigued" couldn't possibly have the potential to understand anyway.

Now then, with that bit of foolishness cast aside. Let's get to the crux of the issue: you and AIG still haven't got a single shred of proof, or even circumstantial evidence to support the presence of a worldwide flood, much less the idea that mountains didn't exist prior to the flood. In fact, your book mentions Abraham ascending a mountain (Mount Moriah) to sacrifice his son, Isaac, prior to Noah's flood.

I suppose now you'll tell me how one thing in your book disproves another thing in your book, but how your book is still somehow an infallible authority...

You really need a new book.

Da Bomb said...

"A. you'd just shake your head and try to me all that scientific fact exists because God is "testing our faith"

No I would not say God is trying to trick us,

"you and AIG still haven't got a single shred of proof, or even circumstantial evidence to support the presence of a worldwide flood, much less the idea that mountains didn't exist prior to the flood."

You still havn't provided evidence for why mountains were definately big before the world wide flood.

"In fact, your book mentions Abraham ascending a mountain (Mount Moriah) to sacrifice his son, Isaac, prior to Noah's flood."

Get to know the Bible better, Abraham existed AFTER the flood.

"You really need a new book."

Try studying it may be surprised :)

big a said...

Da Bomb,

For once, you are correct, I got my Abraham-Noah chronology mixed up. Kudos to your more intimate knowledge of a work of fiction and mythology.

As to evidence, look to Geds' above posts, which I see you have, and have rejected on the basis of "I just don't trust athiests"

Who's the narrowminded jackass now?

Da Bomb said...

"Who's the narrowminded jackass now?"

I don't mean to be narrow minded. It so happens that people trust other people that agree with you more so.

I suppose you do this also?

I appreciate Geds help regarding geology. I plan to do some more study on it.
I've been searching "Reasons to believe". They are more down your guys line of thought regarding science.

big a said...

"I suppose you do this also?"

No, I don't, but I'm also not a disingenuous little prick playing at evangiposting and trying to pretend to be nonthreatening by hiding behind other peoples' fucked up theology.

I'll have a meaningful and thoughtful discussion with anyone about anything and consider their points carefully. Your points, in fact, were considered carefully and dismissed for the bullshit they were. I even cited specific reasons.

I'd tell you to go to hell, but yknow what, you can take your "heaven". Anywhere you're not will be a much better place in my book.

And don't you dare give me that "I'll pray you find God again" crap. It's insulting for the both of us.

JohnLloydScharf said...

Hmmmm.... and we know there is enough matter in the known Universe for a billion planets of which one would be an "Earth" with life on it how?