Monday, December 15, 2008

The Case for a Creator: Chapter Three, Part 1

It's been a while since I had the stomach for this book -- and given I only got through discussing two chapters and reading the third, that's saying something.

But with the holidays looming and the religious right braying about the imaginary "War on Christmas," and with the blog and much of what I have to do either having slowed or taking lots of render breaks, I thought I should come back to this and try to get at least another chapter out of the way before the end of the year. I do still intend to get through the whole book. Eventually.

If you missed the previous two chapters, you can find them here:

Chapter One
Chapter Two

And now we move on to Chapter Three: Doubts about Darwinism.

Like Chapter Two, the introductory pages to Chapter Three are massively tedious. Here's a taste of it, starting at the beginning and skipping a bit here and there:

There were one hundred of them -- biologists, chemists, zoologists, physicists, anthropologists, molecular and cell biologists, bio-engineers, organic chemists, geologists, astrophysicists, and other scientists. Their doctorates came from such prestigious universities as Cambridge, Stanford, Cornell, Yale, Rutgers...[He lists 8 more.]

They included professors from Yale Graduate School, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology...[he lists 20 more, and a vague "and elsewhere."]

Among them was the director of the Center for Computational Quantum Chemistry...[et cetera.] [page 31]

You see, I trust, where this is going. In a book of about 300 pages, 10% of the way in, Strobel has gone for broke with the Argument from Authority, with over a hundred scientists who wanted to...what? Present evidence that discredited evolution? Present alternative interpretations of the existing evidence?

But no, it's nothing of that sort at all. Apparently this lot of ~100 scientists "wanted the world to know one thing: they are skeptical." [ibid]

The argumentation here is so massively flawed as to be positively breathtaking. In one page, not only has Strobel managed to present an entirely invalid and overstated Argument from Authority, but he's made it a twofer and also presented an Argument from Incredulity:

Their statement was direct and defiant. "We are skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life," they said. "Careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged." [page 32]

Setting aside Strobel's attempt to lionize the dissenters by using such descriptors as "defiant," it's astonishing that over 100 scientists should apparently have no idea how science works. Of course the evidence is given careful examination! That's what evolutionary biologists fucking do. It is given careful examination, and experimentation, and is proven reliable again, and again, and again. If it wasn't, despite what the creationist/ID proponents seem to want to believe, it would be discarded.

Am I supposed to be impressed that over 100 scientists -- many of them from areas of science that are not relevant to evolutionary theory -- are "skeptical"? The National Center for Science Education has a list of nearly 1000 scientists who are not skeptical of evolution, who accept it as a "vital, well-supported, unifying principle of the biological sciences" -- and that's only a partial list of the ones named Steve.

You want to play the numbers game, Strobel? Because we can, but you lose.

He goes on to make several claims that evolution is and has always been a controversial theory. He (partially) quotes historian Peter Bowler. When I say partially, well:

[A]ccording to historian Peter Bowler, substantive scientific critiques of natural selection started so early that by 1900 "its opponents were convinced it would never recover." [ibid]

Where to begin with the problems here. First off, as I said, this is a partial quote. The first part of the quote, the part that provides context to the second, is in Strobel's own words. It may be an accurate paraphrase, but it may be a fabrication. There's actually no way to tell, because while he does provide an endnote citation for this quote, like the Dennett quote in Chapter Two he does not directly cite the specific work of Peter Bowler in which this quote, and its context, can be found. Instead, the source he gives is:

See: Getting the Facts Straight (Seattle: Discovery Institute Press, 2001), 11. [page 309]

The Discovery Institute, if you are unfamiliar, is a religious organization masquerading as pseudo-science1. Since their whole goal is to present Intelligent Design as an alternative to evolution, it seems reasonable to assume that their pamphlet "Getting the Facts Straight" will be biased. So, once again, I find it alarming that Strobel neglects to quote Bowler directly; either he has not done his due diligence to ensure that he is accurately representing Bowler's statement, or he is intentionally obfuscating the source and context of the quote.

Since Bowler is (according to Wikipedia) a vocal critic of creationism, and proponent of evolution, it seems to me his views would be unlikely to be properly supported in such works.

Even if the quote is completely accurate to Bowler's statement, the fact is that we are 108 years beyond 1900, and the theory of evolution has not only "recovered," but it is still the only cohesive, scientific explanation for the diversity of life as it is observed.

There is no controversy, and anyone who tells you there is, is trying to sell you something. Like this book, for example.

Moving on to the first subheading, and at last, the first interview with someone who will hopefully help build the eponymous Case. This first one is Jonathan Wells, who Strobel not-so-subtly indicates is a man with not one, but two Ph.Ds. The heading is ""Interview #1: Jonathan Wells, Ph.D, Ph.D."

Right. As I said in my wrap up of Chapter Two, Strobel's obviously misleading tactics have compelled me to look into the subjects of his interviews, and the claims they make. We already knew, by Strobel's own admission, that he would only be speaking to people who he knew would say what he wanted to hear. So, what is there to know about Jonathan Wells?

Well, first off, he is a member of the Unification Church established by Sun Myung Moon -- aka, the Moonies. (Sun Myung Moon's followers believe that Moon is the second coming of Christ, fulfilling Jesus' unfinished mission.)

As Strobel points out, Wells does in fact have a Ph.D a the relevant field of biology. And while Strobel does acknowledge (in an endnote) Wells' association with the Moonies, and even goes on record as disagreeing "thoroughly" with their theology, he does not see fit to reveal that Moon in fact paid for Wells' doctorate, and that, in Wells' own words:

Father's words, my studies, and my prayers convinced me that I should devote my life to destroying Darwinism, just as many of my fellow Unificationists had already devoted their lives to destroying Marxism. When Father chose me (along with about a dozen other seminary graduates) to enter a Ph.D. program in 1978, I welcomed the opportunity to prepare myself for battle.

Oh, and one more thing: Wells is a Senior Fellow at the aforementioned Discovery Institute.

Since I keep railing on Strobel's rhetorical fallacies, I will not commit one of my own by attacking Wells the person instead of his arguments. But if this information cannot be said to undermine the credibility of Strobel's first interviewee, it certainly makes his impartiality on the subject somewhat questionable.

Not that we, the readers, could have expected impartiality when Strobel has already stated that there will be nothing of the sort. But Strobel takes this intellectual dishonesty to dizzying, previously unimaginable new heights. In the run-up to the actual text of the interview with Wells, he throws a quick little end-note on the end of the paragraph. Follow the end-note and Strobel tells us this:

Note that all interviews have been edited for conciseness, clarity, and content. [page 309]

I just about shit myself when I read that. Not only has Strobel openly admitted to selecting only those who would agree with his conclusion, but he has also -- again openly -- edited the interviews "for content," more than likely selecting only those statements that support his conclusion.

This guy was a journalist?

I should point out that we are, at this point, five pages into a thirty-seven page chapter. Given how long this entry is already, I think I'll leave off Wells' actual interview until next time. Savor the anticipation.

  1. I find it hard to imagine what kind of "science" they do, since the foregone conclusion to any mysterious or even mundane observation is "God did it." No need for any kind of research, or even intellectual curiosity. You've chosen the answer before you even bother to ask the question. Seems like it'd be a pretty short day at the office.


Carniphage said...

You can't use rational arguments against the faithful. (I have tried) . Faith is all about rejecting rationality. Using logic against a theist is like using a knife to cut air.

The right weapon is humor. Mock the crap out of the them. The funnier the joke, the more they shut up.

Rin said...

I say this as one of the theists of our group....

this book is not helping our case.

No offense to your friend who suggested it to you, but its done nothing but offer up another example of a religious patsy who is more about pushing others into his beliefs so he wouldn't feel alone, rather than exploring the reasoning behind his choice in faith.

I may believe in God, but I'm open to discussion about spirituality and our larger human destiny. This author is tailoring things to adhere to his reality, and that is an extremely slippery slope.

Brandon Miletta said...

Oops, I posted a comment on your previous blog but meant to stick it on here. Read it :P

-Brandon Miletta

TheGamut said...

"When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth." Unfortunately, what remains is as confusing as what was eliminated.

Yet, it's Human nature to fill in gaps with assumptions. If it helps one to get around in life, bully. The problem is when one begins to insist their assumptions are the truth because others cannot satisfactorily disprove them (especially when the person equally cannot disprove the counter-concepts).

The absence of proof does not necessarily make a statement untrue. That is also unfortunate as so many things could be settled so easily.

I always favor mathematics over divine concepts, but even mathematics doesn't answer everything. My assumption is to believe that we don't know everything there is to know about math systems (and as each discovery proves, we don't). My assumption is that there will eventually be math-based answers for everything we encounter. Yet logically, the possibilities are infinite, and we will continue to encounter new things needing further understanding. Others choose to assume divine design or influence.

I cannot prove I'm right. They cannot prove they're right. My friends do not try to prove they're right or that I'm wrong on those things. We end up at the same destination by different roads. They're cool with it. I'm cool with it, too.

It's so easy to smack down those who insist their assumption of the unprovable is right, but the better way is to nod, smile and forget. Resisting them (including insulting them) gives shape to what they can't define. It gives them the idea that there actually is something to their notion. After all, why resist something that isn't real? (Keep in mind, the inverse is true, too, yet I would not try to push my assumptions on others unless my opinion was requested.)

People, who have claimed their assumption is the truth, are not open for debate.

Of course with logic being the sneaky $*#@% it is, many things I've stated are assumptions. I assumed the availability of a comment was a request for feedback, but that could be wrong. The core of my being tells me there is no theistic entity out there. I cannot seriously entertain those thoughts in any solution, but I can accept that I could be wrong about anything, even that.

What people seem to miss is that faith is a part of life. Everyone has faith or they would do nothing. Is the act of doing something with the expectation (assumption) of a result without seeing the result nothing more than faith? To put it simply, you put a foot in front of the other and expect to go forward when walking. Yet, that's never guaranteed. (Do not try to tell me that you've never tripped over something.)

The leap from everyday faith that, as second nature, we completely discount to filling the gaps in what we don't know in our perceived universes is not such a big leap after all. Some of us just fill the gaps with number, others with feelings, others with spaghetti, etc. It's all faith.

Are we really that different? Not in my mind... especially when non-theists attempt to push their beliefs on theists as equally as theists do to others.

(Yes. The spaghetti reference is a joke. I'm just saying that my beliefs are no more valid than theistic beliefs.)

Dorkman said...

I've previously addressed the concept of faith.

TheGamut said...

Sorry. I hadn't gotten that far back. Preaching to the choir, I suppose. :)