Friday, March 15, 2013

What Darwin Didn't Know- Ch 1 - The Scope of Challenges Pt 4 - Interactivity - Pt 1

Book cover: What Darwin Didn't Know
I've dove into Geoffrey Simmons' "What Darwin Didn't Know" (2004), to evaluate an anti-evolution book.

I'm maintaining an index of my responses here.

Today's Chapter - 1: The Scope of Challenges - Part 4: Interactivity - Part 1



It's not often I get the chance to summarize a section. I found this one to be more summarizable, so I'm going for the gold.

This section on "interactivity" is true to the title of the book, but it also could have been renamed to "What Geoffrey Simmons Didn't Know." He spends about half his efforts painstakingly detailing all kinds of things he doesn't know yet.

I'm not sure how that's a rebuttal of evolution, but there it is. The section was missing a thesis and I found it difficult to follow what his point was supposed to be.

Poking Holes - Bad Reasons for Falsification

I've already touched on this before, but I thought I'd spend some time explaining what's going on here.

Simmons is full-throttle engaged in the game of "poking holes in evolution", where one points out every little thing we don't know. The only reason this isn't a full-fledged God-of-the-Gaps argument is because he's not explicitly making that claim. He doesn't really make any assertions outside of "welp, here's another thing we don't know about."

This can be a point of frustration, because we've fallen from talking about positively demonstrating claims, and we've descended into rhetoric and misconception. I intended this review, of the whole book, as a case study in analyzing an anti-evolution book. I try to lay out every reasoning or factual error I come across, for the sake of education. Little did I know that'd be on a sentence by consecutive sentence basis.

There's a Hurricane!

It's like we're talking about a hurricane on the east coast of the U.S. We have satellite images, a network of Doppler radar stations and ground observations, all confirming the existence of this hurricane.

Simmons, with several supporters trailing behind him, walks in the door and starts attempting to cast doubt as to whether there's a hurricane at all. To the rest of us, Hurricane Fartexplosion (they need better names) is very well established as an existing objective phenomenon.

"Here's a list of one thousand geographic locations beneath the supposed hurricane where we have no data for wind speed or direction", he declares, while handing out print-offs.

How would that disprove the existence of the hurricane? We don't need an omniscient-level base of knowledge for every little detail of anything related to the hurricane, before coming to a reasonable conclusion that it exists. Datapoint after datapoint, we try to explain that he's making the same reasoning error over and over - it's very monotonous.

"What's worse", he continues, "right smack-dab in middle of this alleged hurricane, people are reporting sunshine and calm air - so much for there being a hurricane, huh?"

Well yes - of course there is. We, who took "Hurricane 101" in Weather-University, are quite familiar with the "eye of the hurricane" - a hole in the middle created by the cyclic nature of the phenomenon. We find it ironic that he's citing a key aspect of hurricanes as a refutation that the hurricane exists.

He, and his fellow hurricane-deniers, aren't buying our explanations. We're clearly just conjuring ad-hoc rationalizations to explain something that obviously disproves the "hurricane theory" (hypothesis).

Undaunted, he provides yet more arguments, "How could a little warm water produce a multi-state-wide windy phenomenon?" We're still working on that, but we try to explain, shortly before being interrupted with more, "It's so unlikely that all these clouds just happened to be positioned to move in just at the right direction to create one cohesive spiral... it couldn't have just happened by itself."

Silence befell us, as we begin to realize - this guy has no clue what he's talking about. Each subsequent argument reveals a deeper and deeper depraved ignorance, to the degree that he doesn't know what air is. He's starkly unfamiliar with key words, like "wind" or "convection". His arguments are riddled with misconceptions and reasoning errors that make the whole argument a colossal waste of time - as, within his entire position on the existence of the hurricane, not a single coherent intelligible argument could be found.

If that wasn't frustrating enough, all his supporters - anyone who was on "his side" of the argument - thought he had intellectually demolished us and we were desperately grasping at straws for any ability to save face, when in reality, it was the other way around.

Every time we pointed out that not knowing a small detail about the hurricane doesn't disprove the existence of the hurricane, from our perspective, that should have been the end of the discussion, since they're clearly reasoning errors that don't even vaguely refute the broader confirmations, such as the satellite imagery, Doppler radar, etc. From their perspective, we were making feeble and pathetic attempts to explain away what were clearly problems with the "hurricane theory" that cast significant doubts on its very existence.

It's true - there's much about hurricanes we don't yet understand. We're working on it. The fact that our current models don't account for a particular aspect of the phenomenon isn't a reason to cast doubt that hurricanes exist at all. That'd be a bizarre conclusion to draw - but only slightly less bizarre than concluding that hurricanes are caused by Zeus because we don't know how the aspect works.

... but that's Simmons' entire approach in this book.

This is the frustration I feel when attempting to assess the claims made in this book. It's asinine, but unless one is familiar with the science, epistemology, logical fallacies and education in basic evolutionary concepts, it's going to be lost that person - to the degree that we're just talking past each other.

It's not dissimilar from the criticism that many atheists try to "disprove" the Bible without having a sufficient knowledge of it - and it's a legitimate criticism. I myself avoid it for that reason. That error applies to other topics, other than the Bible, too (hint hint - evolution).

My review of this book has devolved into pointing out the same logical fallacies again and again. It's not like, after pointing out the mutation/accident equivocation the first time, that the book is going to magically change so that the next 300 times he makes that same error, now will magically vanish. So what do I do? Just review each chapter listing out a histogram of the frequency of each type of logical fallacy?

At that point, I'd probably just stop.

Many many questions

Simmons spends a great deal of this section asking questions, such as:

How can the sight of a tennis ball's shape, size, color, and speed be sent to dozens of spots in the brain at the same time, be recombined into a functional brain, and then result in an action - all in less than a second?
It's a great question actually. He could probably stand to familiarize himself with neural nets, which are notable for "parallel processing", but even if we didn't know that - it's a great question... one worth pursuing.

... and?

He keeps doing this... just asking questions. He asks about how babies know to breastfeed, how that evolved, the evolution of tongues and teeth. They're great questions, as I've said.

... and?

He points out that we have missing data for much of this information, which is true.

... and?

At no point does asking a question, and not getting an answer, refute what we do know... and the time and brainpower needed to write this section was utterly wasted under that reasoning error.

From here on out, I think I'll simply answer these types of argument with this:

  • Not knowing something doesn't disprove something else we do know.

... but if your entire approach is rhetoric, trying to "cast doubt" on something, and your target is not the informed people who already accept evolution, but rather the incredulous who want someone to affirm their present beliefs, then this is great!

Simmons presents many items from evolution that are complex and astonishing, just hoping to hop on that marvelous Train of Incredulity. The entire section is just one big whopping Argument from Incredulity.

Tired of hearing that word? Incredulity incredulity incredulity. Now you know how I feel reading this book.


To be continued in Part 2 of Part 4 of Chapter 1...

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