Friday, February 07, 2014

Same Old Thing In Brand New Drag

Years ago an old friend of mine and I were walking down a road in London, talking about a “new” push in education that was taking place back in the states. Kansas was, at the time, debating whether the theory of Intelligent Design. She had heard of it and was convinced that it was, as it claimed to be, a new way of looking at the way science it taught.

If you are unaware of this “theory,” it was the theory that every complex system requires a designer so some intelligent force must have created the universe. The proponents of Intelligent Design claimed that it was not “Religion” (so as to not run afoul of the Establishment Clause of the first amendment) because they never mention God. Well, technically that was true. But then, I have never mentioned this friend to whom I was talking. But those who know both of us know who she is.

And just as those in the know are aware of who I am talking about, the proponents of “Intelligent Design” all knew who they were talking about when they talk about the Designer as well. It was at best, intellectually sloppy to call it science and at worst it was highly disingenuous (bordering on downright dishonest).

I bring this story up because I have just finished watching the recent “debate” between Bill Nye and Ken Ham. For those of you who do not know – Bill Nye is an engineer, actor, comedian who is best known in The States as Bill Nye, The Science Guy. Mr. Ham is an expatriated Australian, living in the US who runs one of these museums that claims to have evidence (if not actual proof) that the contents of The Bible are literally true and should be taken as an account of the origin of the universe. In the “debate” (which was more of a lecture, really – or actually a set of lectures followed by Q&A) Mr. Ham discussed his “Historical Science” which he claims is the only valid explanation of everything.

The only thing I can give him that I would not also have to give the “Intelligent Design” crowd is that he at least makes no bones about letting you know where he stands. He proudly proclaims that his “Science” is based in his faith. The problem is that he confuses that faith with Science. All the arguments that he made were based on the logical fallacy of Affirming The Antecedent (a logical fallacy that can be roughly stated as B must be true because A says that B should be true, and since B is true, then A must be as well) I which he stated that he believed The Bible to be the indisputable word of God, and that it “predicted” things that actually happened in the past, it therefore must be the inerrant Word and must be believed.

The whole exercise could have been boiled down to the question that was asked of Bill Nye by someone (presumably looking to convert him) asking what evidence it would take to prove to him the cosmology as defined in Genesis was accurate. Mr. Nye was surprisingly open to the potential. He did not (as Mr. Ham did later) completely rule it out.

He pointed-out that Science is always looking to expand the information it has to work with. He said on a number of occasions that all it would take is some evidence of the timelines (that have an impressive amount of evidence supporting them) may be incorrect; such as fossils of vastly different eras being found in the same strata.  Asked a similar question, Ken Ham committed the logical fallacy of Denying the Antecedent. He said that there was no amount of evidence that would ever change his mind because there was no such evidence. By this time, I was familiar enough with his line of argument to be able to complete his statement: “Any evidence you produce will either be wrong, misinterpreted by you, or can be bent to somehow retroactively prove to have been making my point all along.”

To those of you without a background in formal logic (and not much of one is needed – I took only a couple classes thirty years ago in college) the entire debate can be boiled down to the following exchange.

Ham: “I believe the Bible – the bible says x – x is true. Any argument you make that contradicts x is wrong or can be otherwise interpreted. It is sinful not to believe x. Therefore x.”
Nye: “There is evidence of y. This is the evidence.”
Ham: “y is not x. x is true. y is false.”
Nye: “What is your evidence?”
Ham: “The Bible says x.”
Nye: “Here is evidence to the contrary.”
Ham: “That evidence is wrong, sinful, misinterpreted, or supports otherwise x.”
The entire two hours told me very little except that which I already knew, Mr. Ham believes a specific interpretation of a book that he will believe regardless of what is said to him and Mr. Nye believes that evidence should be supportable and make useful predictions.

The one point that I didn’t hear from Mr. Ham (but could have missed – I was packing while listening) was the consequence argument. If x is true, how does this impact me in any way? Mr. Nye repeatedly asked him to show one prediction that his “science” makes. Pointing out the benefit of Science is that it makes testable prediction, it tells us what we can expect and if that expectation is not met, it tells us how to determine why not. Mr. Ham’s “historical science” has no such predictive component that ever made plain, so it must be considered to be non-existent.

The only apparent benefit of the time, was that it was mildly entertaining and perhaps those people listening might have heard something more than self-affirming pseudo-science. Unfortunately, as I once heard it put: To the true skeptic, no evidence will be sufficient. To the believer, none will be required.

Or as I once told a friend after being dragged to an intelligent design symposium: “Faith is the ability to sustain a belief despite all the evidence to the contrary.”
Wherever you are today I hope that you’re having an enlightening day!

Don Bergquist – 07 February 2014 – Glebe, New South Wales, Sydney

No comments: