Friday, September 01, 2006

Separating creationist sheep from "ID" goats

Sistine ChapelOkay, I got my wish. Genesis for the rest of us, as a series, has drawn more commentary than anything else I've posted on my own forum.

Still, the invigorating feeling of being read is tempered by frustration over, well, a single strand of commentary that refuses to die. No, I don't think there is anything to be gained by engaging "intelligent design" as if it contained the flawed beginnings of a legitimate science. Herewith a philosophically and religiously influenced explanation.

RazorFirst, some pragmatic philosophy. Hanlon's razor may be the only rule you'll ever need: Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity. In other words, never assume malice when stupidity will suffice. Truer words no educational administrator ever uttered.

To me, Hanlon's razor has at least one very important implication that I've never seen discussed with any degree of care. If stupidity is in fact the modal state of humanity, then outright malice deserves extremely careful scrutiny when it happens. In this instance, at least, rarity suggests virulence.

Sheep and goatsFor this reason I divide opponents of evolution into two camps: creationist sheep and "ID" goats. I'm sorry, Jason Harrow, I'd much rather deal with a young earth creationist than a proponent of "intelligent design." The former is merely stupid; the latter should know better and is acting maliciously.

If you believe the world is six to ten thousand years old and came together in 144 hours, you probably deserve some measure of pity. Forgive them, father; they know not what they do. Liar tarotFun with rocks, a trip down the Grand Canyon, serious zoo time -- these remedies are the beginning of wisdom. I'm sure it'd be fun enlightening the masses who believe that Joan of Arc was Noah's wife, as if death by fire were so readily confused with salvation from water.

But if you pretend to speak the language of science and hide behind academic credentials in order to deceive school boards, judges, and parent/teacher associations, you are a deliberate enemy of the truth. There's a four-letter word for you. I'll let the pictures do the talking.

Tyler!In other words, what separates creationist sheep from "ID" goats is the difference between garden-variety negligence and intentional tortiousness. Every dog knows the difference between being stumbled over and being kicked. There's even a Supreme Court case that hinges entirely on the difference between the "really stupid" and the "really mean." Justice Tyler barked the opinion of the Court. Really stupid people can and should be taught. Really mean people should be ostracized.

And now a little dose of religion. The sheep-and-goat metaphor comes from one of the parables of Jesus. See Matthew 25:31-46. Sheep are saved; goats are damned. Verse 40 is especially revealing: "And the King will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.'" VipersIt really is amazing how "the political church" has done all within its power to render Christianity irrelevant after birth and before death. We get a steady diet of talk about abortion, gay marriage, and creationist claptrap, while war, famine, pestilence, and death ride the planet. Ye generation of vipers.


Anonymous Lloyd Braun said...

Not being blocked by a system admin helps posting comments. Any hoo

I would suggest that the ID folks are negotiating their theology through their perceptions of the visual world, something we all tend to do in some form or fashion. As evolutionists, you are as well negotiating your theology (the nonexistence of an intellegent being through the lens of physical reality). Though I am not an ID or a traditional creationist (though I am not an atheist either.... at the very least I KNOW I am not a Scientist) I am not willing to call their endeavors dishonest for the same reasons I don't call Falwell or Roberts dishonest in their theological manifestations -- Rather they are a product of their natural inputs -- for many a dispensational theology that tells them the physical world is actually important -- including governments, schools, etc.... to their theological understandings. The problem perhaps arrises in taking the mystical and attempting to justify it in physical terms.
I agree that the Church has done a poor job in handling just about every issue its faced: we suck at humanity endeavors, the only political insights that make their way to consciousness are those, as Jim suggested, that are of end of life, beginning of life, and the occasional suggestion to assasinate a world leader. Still, I have a confidence that the church still works.
It was some of the churchs that were on the front lines in Katrina when the Government was not. While Roberts was blowing fumes about God's Punishment on the French Quarter, Churches such as the Hilltop Ministries in California were organizing relief efforts and moving people to St. Tammany Louisiana. I say all this, not to disagree with your comment Jim, because its a comment we need to hear, but to say don't sell the rest of us short. And do cut the ID guys a break --Do you know how hard it is to be sexy as a goat.

9/01/2006 12:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It strikes me as a little bit of cognitive dissonance to mention Hanlon's razor and then to call the ID folks malicious without first eliminating the possibility that they are stupid (or, to put it more charitably, confused).

It seems to me that the better explanation is that the ID folks are passionate and their passion has led to confusion. They mistakenly see modern science as edging God out, and correctly see the teaching of modern science in the classroom as at least implicitly atheistic. The ID folks try to counter this by putting forward what they see as Truth, forgetting that they have stepped outside the boundaries of science. Their error is made easier by the fact that few (even among scientists) see the boundaries of science or even that boundaries exist. Many people act foolishly even though they know better without acting maliciously, and I don't think you've shown the opposite case with regard to the ID folks. Further, it is frequently more illuminating (though maybe less fun) to take the more charitable path and assume good motives in those with whom you disagree.

9/01/2006 2:38 PM  
Blogger Jason Harrow said...

Perhaps Professor Chen's analysis here is correct - perhaps, as he said, people who believe in creationism are "merely stupid," and perhaps those that believe in ID are worse, because they are malicious. I do not know enough about sociological facts to know how stupid or malicious the American population is, and having lived exclusively in major US cities and going to an Ivy League university, I don't have enough experience with either the sheep or the goats that the Professor refers to to make a definitive call on that.

But oh what a gloomy view of humanity this represents! We have all, on this site, bemoaned our own minority status in this arena (in Oct of 05, the ratio was 51%/30%/15% for creationism/divinely-guided evolution/undirected evolution respectively). Even among those with college degrees in this country, those who believe in undirected evolution comprise a scant 25% of the populace. So employers beware: Professor Chen has made it known that 75% of the college-educated population in this country is either stupid or malicous. An upside of this view is that it provides an easy explanation for the boom in the outsourcing business.

But a downside is that it just can't possibly be right. People don't believe in creationism because they're dolts, of course, but rather because they grew up religious and never had their minds changed or opened. Perhaps this is what the disagreement has been about all along: according to Professor Chen's view, stupid people aren't worth engaging, because even if we change their mind, they're still just dummies who USED to believe in creationism. What do we care if that guy is on our side or not?

Don't get me wrong: I don't think everyone in the country has a little bit of Einstein in them just waiting to be unleashed by the power of science. Neither, though, do I think that 3 out of 4 college grads are imbeciles who, if Oliver Wendell Holmes were around, he would want sterilized. I think people come from all different places and bring their biases with them. I admit that I am always amazed when I hear of smart, seemingly reasonable people who are of a strong religious bent (it's just so illogical and incosistent), but then I realize that not everyone has my background. And then I try to understand why they believe what they believe and then, if I think they are serious and reasonable people, I try to change their minds.

It's not called being stupid or malicious, professor - the word you're looking for and are grossly mischaracterizing is "religous." I'm not religious, I disagree with the views of the people who are, and I think religion has caused a lot of problems in this world.

But why don't you put up another post where you call them more animal names, professor? In my experience, that really earns you respect and authority in this field.

9/01/2006 4:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jason wrote "And then I try to understand why they believe what they believe and then, if I think they are serious and reasonable people, I try to change their minds."

And if long experience (nearly 20 years in my case) demonstrates that they're not "reasonable people", in the sense that their beliefs are immune to evidence and they persistently assert falsehoods in the face of evidence of their falsity? And they'rre using those falsehoods to influence local and state boards of education to pollute the teaching of science? What then? Sigh and walk away?

I used to default to "ignorance" on the ignorance-malice scale. Now with these ID folks -- particularly the leaders at the Disco Institute -- I default to malice, a default learned through long hard experience in their deceptive manipulations of local and state boards of education.


9/01/2006 5:42 PM  
Anonymous D. Burk said...

Hanlon's razor has also been re-formulated as a corollary of Clarke's Third Law: A sufficiently advanced degree of stupidity is indistinguishable from malice.

9/04/2006 10:05 PM  
Blogger Jim Arvo said...

Hello Jason,

You are quite right in asserting that it is *possible* that some supernatural agency had a hand in "designing" life on Earth, and that some ID folks may well have good and serious intentions of discerning the signs of such. However, there is a fundamental sticking point in labeling this pursuit "science": the hypothesis is inherently untestable. If one postulates the intervention of an arbitrarily powerful entity whose methods and motives are unknown (and perhaps unknowable), then there are *no* observations that can possibly falsify this premise. Every conceivable observation is compatible with the existence of such a being (or a design team of such beings) as he/she/it/they may have decided to hide their tracks or intervene in the most subtle of ways. This premise invites gaps in understanding to be misconstrued as evidence of intervention. Beehe's IC is an excellent example. Labeling a structure "Irreducibly Complex" is simply a concession that we cannot imagine how it could have formed naturally (which in every case I am aware of is an incorrect statement, but that's a different matter). Giving the label any more credence than that is an argument from ignorance, and could have the chilling effect of thwarting further investigation.

Thus, I think it is inherently incompatible with the philosophy of science to introduce an unobservable, untestable, unlimited agency to explain hitherto unexplainable phenomena. If science is ultimately unable to explain something, then it should remain unexplained by science. If there is a supernatural agency that creates by fiat, then science will undoubtedly hit a brick wall at that point. So be it. Science, under its normal methodology, cannot peer beyond such a wall, and any promise that it might is fatuous. Neither could science delineate such a wall, as there is no way to distinguish between ignorance and providence. Therefore, it's difficult for me to see how ID is anything short of a perversion of science--the co-opting of a good name to lend credence to ideas outside its purview.

9/12/2008 6:46 PM  

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