Argument by Incomprehensibility

| 25 Comments

There was a panel discussion at Florida State University on May 17th on “After Dover”, featuring Eugenie Scott of the National Center for Science Education, Rob Pennock of Michigan State University, and Stephen Gey, Michael Ruse, and Joseph Travis of Florida State University. Patricia Deborah Blum moderated the discussion. (Thanks to “Vyoma” for the correction.)

There was a question and answer session at the end, and one of the questioners in particular captured my attention. I have transcribed the exchange. The apparent goal of the questioner was to present such obtuse, obfuscated language as to leave the panelists too baffled to answer. However, he slipped up by using a stock phrase with known meaning, but in an inappropriate context.

(Continue reading … on the Austringer)

25 Comments

Q: I’m asking for someone to put a single-celled organism into a test tube, it doesn’t even have to be ten to the ninth cubic kilometers, the volume of the primordial soup, put it in a test tube and make a human out of it.

Wow, that guy sure knows how to make an ass of onesself.

Q: I’m asking for someone to put a single-celled organism into a test tube, it doesn’t even have to be ten to the ninth cubic kilometers, the volume of the primordial soup, put it in a test tube and make a human out of it.

As opposed to what? Breathing on a lump of clay and bringing it to life? Yeah, that sounds way more likely…

Q: I’m asking for someone to put a single-celled organism into a test tube, it doesn’t even have to be ten to the ninth cubic kilometers, the volume of the primordial soup, put it in a test tube and make a human out of it.

Been there, done that, got the fertility clinic t-shirt.

It’s called invitro fertilization. You know, test tube babies.

If anyone wants to watch the program go to http://www.research.fsu.edu/dover/ and click on “Click here to watch the forum live online”. The introductions begin about 15 minutes into the recording so skip ahead unless you like to watch people milling about for 15 minutes or so. Hopefully fsu will keep the program available or someone can volunteer to host it. I just finished watching and I enjoyed it very much.

I think this also reinforces the importance of questioning the questioner until you get a straight question. Sometimes the questioner may not know much of what they are trying to say simply because as an ordinary member of the public, they are not sure about these things. They may be trying to repeat some canard that they were told, but were not sure about it. But their qeustions should not be dismissed, because to do so would reinforce the stereotype of scientists as out of touch and dismissive.

Plus, when you expose someone as a nitwit, you can get the audience more on your side.

Hello,

I was at the FSU panel. This might be a niggling point, but the moderator’s name was Deborah Blum, not Patricia. Austringer has her name wrong (I tried to post over there but have been getting some sort of SQL error).

Also, for those who want to view archived video of the entire forum discussion, including this young nut-job’s efficient demonstration of his sheer ignorance, it’s online at http://mediasite.oddl.fsu.edu/media[…]ac646c24217d

I’d also like to note that there were a number of creationists in the audience, although only two of them made it to the microphones for the Q&A. Most of them were not disruptive, but one could tell from the reactions to certain points being made by the panelists that they disagreed strongly. Several of them appeared to be taking notes in little purple notebooks (which perhaps were distributed for the purpose). While I can’t prove it, I found it very suspicious that a school bus was picking up passengers who were clearly not school-age after the forum ended. We have numerous evangelical churches here in Tallahassee, and it’s likely that one of them used this bus to ship a number of fundamentalists to the the forum. There were rumors of some kind of protest against it circulating, but there were no protestors outside. The event was very well-publicized locally.

Wesley R. Elsberry Wrote:

“Three billion base pairs” appears to be a specific reference to the size of either the human or chimpanzee genome. From this clue, I would surmise that Q’s difficulty is after all not the “origin of species”, but rather the “origin of THE species”, that is, human evolution in particular.

Wesley, for someone who normally displays impeccable logic, you completely blew it above by going from “human or chimp” to just “human.” You know the fossil record — all sorts of intermediates in our lineage (and extinct branches) but almost nothing but one huge “gap” leading to modern chimps and their apparent recent “abrupt appearance.” Typical conflation of abiogenesis and evolution aside, “Q” is clearly leading up to an argument for recent “special creation” of chimpanzees, not humans.

Seriously, “Q” obviously did his homework; I thought I was the only one on earth to bring up the “cubic kilometers” thing. This is not a confused pup, but a wannabe scam artist.

Frank J Wrote:

Seriously, “Q” obviously did his homework; I thought I was the only one on earth to bring up the “cubic kilometers” thing. This is not a confused pup, but a wannabe scam artist.

Only if you consider printing out someone else’s website doing one’s homework. His gibberish question was read from printer paper in his hand (I was close enough to the microphone to see this). Also, you may note in the video, Eugenie Scott mentions by name a website at which she’s read this question before. If you have watched the video, you may also note the somewhat awkward phrasing that “Q” uses when asking the question. To me, it sounded as if he wasn’t very familiar with several of the terms he apeared to be mouthing.

Vyoma,

Given your additional information, “Q” seems to be more scammed than scammer. Yes, I know I probably default to the latter too much, to compensate for what I think is too much defaulting to the former. Unless he admits his errors, though, “wannabe” is still a fair assessment.

Wesley, for someone who normally displays impeccable logic, you completely blew it above by going from “human or chimp” to just “human.” You know the fossil record — all sorts of intermediates in our lineage (and extinct branches) but almost nothing but one huge “gap” leading to modern chimps and their apparent recent “abrupt appearance.” Typical conflation of abiogenesis and evolution aside, “Q” is clearly leading up to an argument for recent “special creation” of chimpanzees, not humans.

Except that I don’t believe that I have ever heard an antievolutionist argue for special creation of chimpanzees and subsequent evolutionary divergence of humans. I have heard many an antievolutionist argue that humans and chimpanzees are in two different “kinds”, with no evolutionary history shared between the two. If you have a reference for the former, I would like to see it.

I’m surprised Eugenie Scott wasn’t asked to:

“Give an example of an evolutionary process which increases the information content of the genome”.

Since this is a question that evolutionary biologists supposedly can’t answer (according to creationists !). I am of course referring to the “From a frog to a prince” nonsense from a few years back.

I think you guys are missing the obvious counter-punch of sending scientists to their churches with printed out questions from websites about direct contradictions and inconsistencies in the Bible.

Ahem.

All joking aside, I find questioning questioners is a very useful tactic in any number of forums. You can get to their real concerns and find out if they know what they are talking about very quickly that way, and if they don’t and cannot explain what they are saying, the rest of the audience catches on very quickly.

[It was a joke, Wesley]

Crud. That’s what I get for posting late at night and replying early in the morning.

If Merriam-Webster is in the market for an illustrative example of that wonderful word “bafflegab“*, they need look no further.

*(I’ve only seen the word used in connection with creo-speak, but I imagine that’s only because I don’t get out much.)

I’m surprised Eugenie Scott wasn’t asked to:

“Give an example of an evolutionary process which increases the information content of the genome”.

Actually, Dr. Scott was asked about increasing information in genetics. She said that we knew a number of processes that did precisely that. The questioner (a different one from Q) asked if she was denying that there was a barrier to increasing genetic information, and she said, yes, she was denying that. She did not respond as if the questioner had delivered the “magic bullet” of “no increasing genetic information” on target, and the questioner seemed puzzled by this outcome.

I tend to think of SciCre argumentation, and even some of the ID argumentation, as a search for a “magic bullet”. By this, I don’t mean it in the sense that Ehrlich did when searching for a cure for syphilis. I mean it in the sense of werewolf movies. There, the magic bullet is simply a silver slug that will destroy the lycanthrope on contact. Those wielding the magic bullet need invest no other effort in dealing with the lycanthrope, are not required to be pure in spirit, and certainly have no need to *understand* lycanthropy in any deep sense. Similarly, the SciCre “professionals” are engaged in the peddling of “magic bullets”, which retain their magic only so long as they aren’t used on real lycanthropes. The magic bullet users, as Scott relates, remain secure in their faith that the evil lycanthropes can be held at bay or vanquished, right up until the time the magic bullet is fired – and is found to have lost its virtue.

Instead of magic bullets like “too little moon dust” or “materialistic philosophy”, more good would come of trying to understand what exactly evolutionary biology is. As it is, creationist belief has tended more and more to resemble evolutionary biology. In little more than a century and a half, we have seen a change from general adherence to the doctrine of special creation to a range of beliefs, at the most different from evolutionary biology, creation of each separate “kind” (which when defined at all, tends to be defined such that the term “clade” comes close to fitting the concept), and at the least different, a belief in physical common descent but separate imbuement of spirit.

(Source)

I’d modify this previous statement by not quibbling over any difference between SciCre and ID argumentation, since further study has shown those to have a superset/subset relationship.

Wesley R. Elsberry Wrote:

Except that I don’t believe that I have ever heard an antievolutionist argue for special creation of chimpanzees and subsequent evolutionary divergence of humans.

I never did either. My tongue-in-cheek comment was meant to note that antievolutionists would have a better (though still fatally flawed) case if they did argue for “special creation” of chimpanzees. Not necessarily subsequent divergence of humans, but rather that humans are on the “tree” and that chimpanzees are “special” due to their poor fossil record. I often imagine what a ball they’d have if the fossil situation were reversed.

Frank J Wrote:

Given your additional information, “Q” seems to be more scammed than scammer.

When you get right down to it, I think this could describe a lot of people in the neo-creationist movement. As frustrated as I get with them myself, I also do feel a certain degree of sympathy for them; if I didn’t, I probably wouldn’t expend what small efforts I can muster to dispel their ignorance. The fact is, we’ve all been victimized by someone on account of our sheer naivete at some point in our lives. The people who have locked onto the run-of-the-mill neo-creationist foot-soldier (not the “bright lights” such as Dembski and Johnson, of course) have merely found a particularly easy way to exploit the ignorance of others for their own gain — be that for ego, money, or their Napoleonic views of culture as it should be in their own eyes. Really, there isn’t much difference between an ID “general” like Dembski and any given pimp or con-man… they’ve just got a different sort of hook!

They may be trying to repeat some canard that they were told, but were not sure about it. But their qeustions should not be dismissed, because to do so would reinforce the stereotype of scientists as out of touch and dismissive.

african or european?

I wonder if this so-called question presented to the panel was a form of hero-worship emulation of some of the leaders of the ID/creationist movement.

The IDC leaders have often made use of such gibberish to bamboozle their followers into believing they have slain an evil agent (the scientist) of the devil. They brag to their flock that the scientists were so flummoxed by the astute question that they couldn’t answer it. They then portray this as another victory for ID/creationism and another proof of how stupid and arrogant scientists are in the face of the brilliant hero who knows science better that the scientists do.

I would guess that there was an IDC audience there who went back to their churches and reported the “victory” they witnessed first hand.

I wonder if this so-called question presented to the panel was a form of hero-worship emulation of some of the leaders of the ID/creationist movement.

beyond hero worship. It’s probably more related to the overall immediate acceptance of authority figures who even remotely tout the creo line.

OTOH, that does kinda sound like hero worship, as these folks seem to think the likes of Behe and Johnson will “save them from the evil materialists”.

there’s assuredly some common psychology there, and I’m sure there’s even a term for it.

If Merriam-Webster is in the market for an illustrative example of that wonderful word “bafflegab“*, they need look no further.

A friend of mine was a lawyer, and he pointed out that lawyers learn the first rule of argument early.

Do it.

If you have the facts on your side, argue the facts.

If you have the law on your side, argue the law.

If you don’t have either, just argue.

Most jurors assign inordinate weight to the volume and passion of the argument. And it’s a good tool if you have to distract them from the quality.

I wonder if this so-called question presented to the panel was a form of hero-worship emulation of some of the leaders of the ID/creationist movement.

No, it’s standard fundie procedure to regurgiquote lots of “questions that will stun evolutionists” that they read on some creationsit crapsite or another. Wells had his list of “unanswerable questions”, so did others. The pig-ignorant fundies don’t understand any of these questions, or any of the answers. They’ve just been told that they are the “silver bullets” that will kill “evolutionism”. It probably baffles them to no end that not only do “evolutionists” answer these silly questions pretty easily, but don’t seem to think they’re all that profound.

The best way to expose this whole scam is to simply ask the questioner what it is he’s asking. The fact is, he hasn’t the faintest idea. He has no idea what any of these big words mean. (shrug)

The best way to expose this whole scam is to simply ask the questioner what it is he’s asking. The fact is, he hasn’t the faintest idea. He has no idea what any of these big words mean. (shrug)

hence my theory that the bridge scene in Holy Grail was a poke at just those kinds of people.

think about it:

the bridge guard asks a bunch of VERY silly questions, and the one time he tries to ask a “stumper” he gets tossed on his *ss as soon as he’s asked to clarify.

Python was always astute to the subleties of argument.

Over on The Austringer, this comment was entered in the thread:

# Joe Says: May 23rd, 2006 at 8:21 am

This is WAAAY too funny! Wait until I tell the folks!!

Vyoma said: “While I can’t prove it, I found it very suspicious that a school bus was picking up passengers who were clearly not school-age after the forum ended. We have numerous evangelical churches here in Tallahassee, and it’s likely that one of them used this bus to ship a number of fundamentalists to the the forum.”

I was on that bus, unless there was another one. The occupants (including me) were members of the University Research Magazine Association (URMA). URMA was a co-sponsor of the Vigil After Dover, which was scheduled to coincide with our annual meeting. Eugenie Scott hung out with us on Thursday evening.

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This page contains a single entry by Wesley R. Elsberry published on May 19, 2006 12:08 AM.

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