April 2, 2007

Out of bullets -- throw gun -- run

Michael Egnor is taking a lot of heat. He deserves it, of course, but to this point I have not contributed. I am far more interested in discussing the overarching assumptions people like Egnor make than the bits of scientific (antibiotic resistance) or historical (eugenics, Nazis etc.) minutiae they periodically offer up. These are delaying tactics and border skirmishes in the larger battle and they usually end with the creationist being handed his hat on the data or having to slide helplessly into solipsism.

The larger issue, for me, is how and why peole like Egnor comes to believe what they believe, and how they manage the rational defense of those beliefs. Are their ideas consistent or do they quickly devolve into self-contradictory incoherence? Are the arguments truly connected logically and/or empirically or are there inherent assumptions that are glossed over? Do they tend to lose the plot of discussion fairly rapidly, descending into misdirection (movement of goalposts), pleas of persecution, and accusative association (e.g. Darwinists are atheists)?

With his latest blog, Egnor has caused me to take notice. Amazingly, he's gone from 60 to Zero (the decline in argumentation I speak of above) rather faster than most. The shiniest gem from this post's collection of silliness is the following stunningly sophisticated dismissal of materialism:
Materialism is nonsense, because if matter and energy are all that exist, then truth doesn't exist (it's neither matter nor energy). If truth doesn't exist, then materialism can't be true.
[I'm often struck by how the apparently differing levels of thoughtfulness between people can be accounted for by this observation: It's not that we don't all think stupid things at times, it's that some of us have the common sense to recognize those stupidities for what they are; insufficiently informed conceits, and consequently keep them under wraps.]

There are some other examples of Egnor's ignorance in the blog, such as,
Those who claim that randomness can generate biological complexity seem to lack an understanding of the vastness of what statisticians call “combinatorial space.”
If a “random” origin of biological complexity were shown scientifically to be true, I’d have no problem with it, as a scientist or as a Christian. I’d just figure that it was one more of God’s designs that's opaque to me.
But the best part comes at the end:
What if intelligent design were shown to be right, by scientific evidence? Most atheists would feel their faith in materialism greatly endangered, if not untenable. I suspect that is the cause for all their vitriol. Is Darwinism true? I’ll believe it if I see it. Is intelligent design true? Atheists won’t see it, because they won’t believe it.
So, is he channeling Nimoy? You know, in that episode where Spock fries an android's brain by telling it "I'm lying." I mean, correct me if I'm wrong but if ID were shown to be right "by scientific evidence" wouldn't that be supportive of materialism by its use of an operationally materialistic tool - methodological naturalism? [Of course this ignores the obvious fact that intelligent design is an uncontroversial materialistic inference, we see it all the time in archeology and forensics.] Presumably this twisted knot of rhetoric is meant to distract us so that he can steal a spaceship and make good his escape.

And then we come to it, the "vitriol" argument. At least Egnor started out with something resembling (however remotely) science, as opposed to other ID hacks who sing "Poor, Poor Pitiful Me" with every whining press release. How quickly we've gone from discussion of ID "theory" to "Why do you all hate and persecute us so?" Never mind that it is science that is being attacked from without (school boards) and within (i.e., "methodological naturalism is narrow and restrictive"). This is all just another version of the complaint of militant Christians which I usually paraphrase as "Why do you unfairly discriminate against us by keeping us from pushing our religion upon you?"

Of course Egnor finishes with the now standard bout of creationist projection, in effect saying he is the one with the open mind, and those nasty evilutionists (atheists, of course) just aren't intellectually open enough to see the forest ("I know there's only one tree, but if you just believe in the forest first, you'll see it!").

My thanks to Michael Egnor for helping to elucidate the arc of ID argumentation. Sometimes the descent happens so quickly it makes your head spin.


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