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Distinguishing rationalization from logic

By Flint C.

Posted May 29, 2005

Many essays discussing creationist argument (see for example Dawkins's recent essay "God's Gift to Kansas" and its discussion at www.pandasthumb.org/pt-archives/001070.html) emphasize the logical problems with an eliminative argument, that creation need not be demostrated directly, but can instead be deduced from the fact that all other possible explanations have been eliminated.  In practice, evolution is the only alternative considered, so the implication is that if evolution can be discredited, creationism wins by default.

Something strikes me as not quite right here. I have never yet seen what I consider a conclusion of Divine creation based on an eliminative argument. But to support this claim, I need to distinguish between what I consider a logical progression, and what I consider a rationalization.

Without question, the presentations from (especially) Dembski, but most of the ID school generally, take the form of an eliminative approach. They say, life is too complicated to have evolved blindly. And this being creationism's only real competitor, once we eliminate it creationism remains. Many have pointed out the logical error here: Not A does not imply B.The problem is, they are pointing out a logical error in what was not a logical process.

I should think it would be pretty obvious that creation is not deduced in any way, as a proposed answer to "What's going on here, anyway?" The creationist answer is hardly a logical conclusion, but is rather already known, it is axiomatic, a priori, not subject to doubt or question. All of these superficially eliminative arguments are attempts to rationalize a foregone conclusion. It's apparently not considered persuasive to say "I believe this because its true" except to someone who already shares the same belief. Others are too likely to accept different truths.

Surely nobody thinks that Dembski, initially objective and agnostic, sat down with his mathematical training (and no biological knowledge) and by a sequence of symbolic manipulations within the rules of his discipline derived the conclusion that life could not have evolved -- at which time he experienced a blinding flash of insight and leapt up shouting "I must henceforth worship Jesus Christ, whom I have found in my equations!"

One pundit on this topic (I forget who) had a more useful proposal: That humans are born able to accept what they are told implicitly and unthinkingly, because being able to follow directions without question or analysis was for a few hundred thousand years (or more) an essential survival trait, without which children could not have reached the age where they could reproduce. And cognitive development being what it is, especially with constant reinforcement, by the time the child reaches the age where certain notions can be usefully questioned, they can no longer be neurologically displaced.

(I saw a study where a roomful of people underwent some sort of brain scan while watching a video of someone lighting up a cigarette. Half the people watching had never smoked, the other half were ex-smokers who had quit for at least ten years. The smokers' brains lit up like Las Vegas as they watched, while those who had never smoked showed nothing. There are in this sense no ex-smokers in the same way there are no ex-alcoholics. There are only smokers and alcoholics currently not smoking or drinking. There is what I consider intriguing evidence that religious belief also becomes neurologically hardwired. Perhaps there is some physical age before which this wiring becomes indelible? Also, recent studies suggest that religious indoctrination is perhaps considerably more likely to "take" in some brains than in others.)

Some time back, as evidence in favor of design, Michael Behe wrote [Behe 1994]: "(if) random evolution is true, there must have been a large number of transitional forms between the Mesonychid and the ancient whale. Where are they? It seems like quite a coincidence that of all the intermediate species that must have existed between the Mesonychidand whale, only species that are very similar to the end species have been found." The implicit logic is that the default is design.

Consider that Behe used the whale fossil claim to buttress his Belief, but that when his whale claim became obsolete in light of clear contrary evidence, Behe's Belief didn't budge an iota. And this, ultimately, is why we are not really seeing eliminative logic. Eliminative logic says Because no A, therefore B. Produce lots of A, and B doesn't move! While I can't say what life experiences lead to religious faith, I've seen no indication that it is achieved through incorrect logical inference.

Some critics imply that creationists hijack the language, but this may also be misleading, because it implies that they know better but are doing so as a tactic in part of a larger battle. I submit that this isn't so. They are describing the world according to their own model. What Dawkins and others don't seem (at least to me) to quite realize is that believers Believe. Their minds are stuffed with crystalline certainties based on no evidence or experience they can share effectively with nonbelievers, and which do not seem capable of being altered through evidence or experience. The creationist strives to find some way, ANY way, to make external reality fit and support those certainties. Reality can be interpreted across a broad range. Trained-in Truths cannot.

Eliminating evolution (assuming it were possible) by finding genuinely fatal faults with the theory doesn't have the benefit of somehow making creationism correct, but it does have the benefit of eliminating the most immediately threatening challenger.  This doesn't leave creationism as the default, but rather as the winner and still champion (at least in the minds of the creationists).

References

M. J. Behe. 1994. Experimental support for regarding functional classes of proteins to be highly isolated from each other. pp. 60-71 in Buell and Hearn 1994.

Discussion