Darwinian Debating Device #9: “The Humpty Dumpty Gambit”
|October 17, 2014||Posted by Barry Arrington under Darwinian Debating Devices|
Update. We are republishing this as part of the Darwinian Debating Devices series. The essence of the Humpty Dumpty gambit, of which Elizabeth Liddle is a master, is treating words as if they are infinitely malleable.
In my Demands of Charity post Elizabeth Liddle writes: “My beef is not against inferring design; it’s against inferring intentional design from the pattern exhibited by an object alone and refusing to investigate what other processes, including non-intentional “design” process are also candidates.”
In one sentence Ms. Liddle has used a patently absurd oxymoron and grossly misrepresented the ID project. Let’s see how:
Ms. Liddle refers to “non-intentional ‘design'” without seeming to realize that the phrase is a self referentially incoherent oxymoron. The World English Dictionary defines “design” as follows:
1. to work out the structure or form of (something), as by making a sketch, outline, pattern, or plans
2. to plan and make (something) artistically or skillfully
3. ( tr ) to form or conceive in the mind; invent
4. ( tr ) to intend, as for a specific purpose; plan
5. obsolete ( tr ) to mark out or designate Noun
6. a plan, sketch, or preliminary drawing
7. the arrangement or pattern of elements or features of an artistic or decorative work: the design of the desk is Chippendale
8. a finished artistic or decorative creation
9. the art of designing 10. a plan, scheme, or project 11. an end aimed at or planned for; intention; purpose
12. ( often plural; often foll by on or against ) a plot or hostile scheme, often to gain possession of (something) by illegitimate means
13. a coherent or purposeful pattern, as opposed to chaos: God’s design appears in nature 14. philosophy argument from design another name for teleological argument
What is common to all of these senses of the word “design”? You guessed it: intentionality. Thus, the phrase “unintentional design” is akin to “red blueness” or, perhaps better, “correct error.”
Elizabeth, no amount of scare quotes around the word design will save the phrase. It is a linguistic nullity.
Elizabeth might respond, that with her scare quotes she can make the word mean anything she wants it to mean, even its opposite. This, of course, is the Humpty Dumpty approach to language.
[Humpty Dumpty says to Alice]: ‘And only one for birthday presents, you know. There’s glory for you!’
‘I don’t know what you mean by “glory”,’ Alice said.
Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. ‘Of course you don’t — till I tell you. I meant “there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!”‘
‘But “glory” doesn’t mean “a nice knock-down argument”,’ Alice objected.
‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’
‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’
‘The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master — that’s all.’
Through the Looking Glass, by Lewis Carroll
Here is how Ms. Liddle channels Humpty:
Elizabeth said, ‘Mindless forces with no end in mind are responsible for the design of all living things.’
‘I don’t know what you mean by ‘design’ in that sentence,’ Barry said.
Elizabeth smiled contemptuously. ‘Of course you don’t — till I tell you. I meant “non-intentional design!”‘
‘But’ “non-intentional design” is an oxymoron, because intentionality is inherent in the word design,’ Barry objected.
‘When I use a word, ‘Elizabeth said, in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less, and if I want to use “design” to describe a process that has no intentionality, who is to stop me?’
‘The question is,’ said Barry, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’
‘The question is,’ said Elizabeth, ‘which is to be master — that’s all.’
Yesterday, Ms. Liddle told me that if I received a radio signal from outer space that specified the prime numbers between 1 and 100, I would have no warrant to be certain the signal was designed by an intelligent agent. Today, she tells me that “non-intentional design” is a meaningful concept. Ms. Liddle, thank you for your contributions to this blog on behalf of our opponents.
Finally, a word about the how Ms. Liddle has grossly misrepresented the ID project. She says the ID community refuses “to investigate what other processes,” that might account for the data. Rubbish. I would direct Ms. Liddle to The Edge of Evolution by Michael Behe, in which Dr. Behe explores the limits of Darwinian evolution. To sum up the book in a sentence: “Researches observed in the lab literally trillions of reproductive events by bacteria under intense selection pressure. The bacteria did not develop any significant new biological information.”
Ms. Liddle: News flash. ID proponents have not refused to investigation Darwinian processes. In fact, ID proponents have investigated these processes thoroughly and found that they are indeed responsible for minor variations in phenotype and genotype. These same investigations have revealed, however, that Darwinian processes, even over trillions of reproductive events, do not result in major changes in phenotype and genotype as Darwinists claim.