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...