Gene Expression

Most of you could probably guess that my first post on Harun Yahya was meant to highlight what a joke the whole affair was. You see, making fun of Harun Yahya and his fellow travelers is a guiltless pleasure: you get to be snobby and elitist toward those idiotic moronic knuckle-draggers, and, you feel righteous about it because you’re on the side of the angels!. How much of a hilarious incident was this? The first segment of Bloggingheads.tv was devoted to it, and the two pundits, neither of whom had a science background, thought it was pretty sneer and smirk worthy. That’s what I told Ali when he asked me what I thought of the article, basically, I’d been laughing my ass off about how stupid those primitive Muslims were. Now, I know that not all Muslims are primitive let alone stupid. Nevertheless, Harun Yahya & company’s “proofs” about the falsity of evolution were so transparently a product of a sub-standard mentality that it isn’t hard to trigger the atheist schemas which attempt to portray all religious people as barely above apes. Fundamentally, Creationism without sophistry is more of a problem for religious people who value their intellects because it is so nakedly propagandistic to the neutral observer.

i-aeb379ea83b21ffe371f29b770af172c-Kirkcameroncrocoduck.JPGSome of Ken Ham’s books are in this same category, I recall once opening up one of his anti-evolution tracts and seeing a “snake,” which looked like it had been drawn by a six year old, dancing around the letters “E V O L U T I O N = S A T A N.” I wasn’t persuaded. Remember Kirk Cameron’s attempt to prove God “100%”? We all knew what we were in for. This is the unfortunate, but likely necessary, byproduct of a free society where all have the right to say their piece, or propagandize for it. There is a clear & simple remedy to these mind farts produced by the digestion of ideas in a free society: the truth shall set you free!

No, what frightens me are the true sophists, those who hide their obscurantism in the garb of technique so as to hold themselves above refutation from the eye of the broadly educated public. The primitive prototype of this rhetorical strategy is the old Second Law of Thermodynamics “trick.” I say trick because no Creationist who has pulled this one out before my eyes has continued the tactic when I point out the problems with using this tack against evolutionary theory; in fact, few have shown me in their subsequent exchange that they actually know what the Second Law of Thermodynamics is! But as I said, this was a primitive prototype. Selection works upon culture as well as genetics, and the sophisticated Creationists have moved on to new, more opaque, horizons. William “Information Theory” Dembski and Michael “Irreducible Complexity” Behe are the next models, their arguments are more difficult to decompose in a few sentence, and the nature of the critique of evolution often tends to select for more cognitive aptitude on the part of the interlocutor. But I suspect this isn’t the end, a few years ago someone on my blog argued that Fisher’s Fundamental Theorem of Natural Selection rendered evolution impossible. Now, I have read R.A. Fisher’s work and I could point to the chapter in The Genetical Theory of Natural Selection which addressed the “problems” that the individual brought up, but the very fact that I was having to do this took me by surprise. I have read that other Creationists are now attempting to “disprove” evolution via Haldane’s Dilemma. Again, it isn’t as if one can’t respond in a clear and logical manner, but this takes more and more time and energy as well as having to enter into a more thorough didactic exchange because of the necessary axioms needed for comprehension (some making more sophisticated Creationist claims basically require a basic introduction to evolutionary biology they make so many fundamental but non-transparent errors).

But these more refined and sophisticated attacks show that the evolutionary selective processes have, and will continue to generate, arguments which require proportionally greater cognitive heavy lifting to respond. If I hadn’t known what Fisher’s Fundamental Theorem of Natural Selection was I might not have had any response handy. In debate parlance one could say that the Creationist would have “flowed” their argument because of my lack of rebuttal. Similarly, my more mathematically inclined friends can be trotted out to debunk William Dembski’s claims (or even the not mathematically inclined, since some of the assumptions and caricatures of evolutionary theory are problematic). Science is fundamentally a culture built around good faith. You make a sincere argument and others engage you, take time out of their lives to rebut or support, and so the process of knowledge accumulation proceeds. But this ecosystem is vulnerable to invasion from those who engage in cryptic behavior, giving the false signal that their interest is in academic discourse when the reality is that they are playing a different game on the broad canvas of culture. Dembski and Behe have no realistic hope of convincing academics, their goal is to seem credible enough to do an end around and receive public acclamation. Ultimately the issue that they bring up is that the public must put faith in science, and scholars must put faith in each other. And as we know, faith is often a rickety base upon which build the foundation of a stable enterprise.

Comments

  1. #1 michael vassar
    July 24, 2007

    The issue of good faith as essential to science ultimately requires that representatives of science not engage seriously with opponents of established bad faith.

    This is also true in public policy. Much of my debate with James Hughes, Ana Lita, and the IEET and IHEU in general at the most recent conference regarded this point in the realm of public policy, where I would assert that the majority of serious errors are the result of bad faith, not sincere failure to evaluate information correctly.

    The ad-homium is a dangerously powerful weapon, but it is simply not possible to progress beyond a certain point without it.

  2. #2 Kinch1967@mac.com
    July 24, 2007

    Whilst I have no time for these simplistic creationists, good luck taking on the Muslims :). It’s one thing to take the stick to Christian fundamentalists who (despite a certain amount of left wing fantasizing) are not really likely to turn up with a pitchfork army and execute a fatwa on you… this, however, is another kettle of fish entirely.

  3. #3 Daniel Dare
    July 24, 2007

    There is no logical solution to the problem of creationism. In the final analysis it is possible to keep finding more and more abstruse and improbable objections, demanding higher and higher unattainable standards of proof. (What about some proof that scripture is true I hear you say….)

    At the end of the day empirical hypotheses can’t be proved. It’s not like mathematical propositions. It is a matter of posterior probability. And that depends in part on your prior probability. Start off with the prior that evolution is impossible (i.e. P(H)=0) and find that no amount of evidence will ever prove you wrong in your own mind’s certainty.

    What to do? Well I always try to remember the following: Every minute I spend arguing with creationists is a minute I could have been watching a Michelle Pfeiffer DVD.

  4. #4 Caledonian
    July 24, 2007

    This ceased being a scientific debate ages ago. Patiently and reasonably explaining the facts of the matter to people over and over isn’t going to accomplish anything.

  5. #5 Tyler DiPietro
    July 25, 2007

    I think one thing this post possibly overlooks is that the creationists have a comparative advantage over professional scientists that they would be sacrificing if they pursued this strategy. Creationism is easy for laypeople because it’s really a series of intuitive soundbytes (“where’s the missing link?”, “why are there still apes?”, etc.) that can be picked up and parroted by anyone. Meanwhile, understanding why these talking-points are utter gibberish requires quite a bit of work even for an intelligent and educated non-specialist. I think creationists going for arcane scientific concepts like “Haldane’s Dilemma” may stand to lose their current memetic advantage.

  6. #6 razib
    July 25, 2007

    I think creationists going for arcane scientific concepts like “Haldane’s Dilemma” may stand to lose their current memetic advantage.

    that’s true, but they aren’t aiming for the tards, but the more sentient element of the species. that’s the dangerous thing.

  7. #7 Caledonian
    July 25, 2007

    But the nature of the target group works against the creationists – sure, you can convince thoughtful people of anything if you control the information they have access to, but there’s far too much easily-available data showing the invalidity of creationism for prosetylization of the concept among smarties.

    It’s only the people who don’t question things deeply and/or want to support a pre-existing social committment that are really vulnerable to creationism – mostly because science doesn’t spread to them easily if at all.

  8. #8 Tarik Bulut
    October 12, 2009

    Harun Yahya is a “big loser” in Turkey. No logical man takes him seriously really, so he searches fame abroad. As a Turkish man, I am ashamed of him and he puts dirt on our nation. Enough said :)