Darwinism Evolution Intelligent Design

The Best Defense Is to Pretend There Is No Offense

Spread the love

Richard Dawkins and Jerry Coyne today have provided still further lessons in evolutionary logic (for a primer on evolutionary logic, go here). Their article in the Guardian titled “One Side Can Be Wrong” at least gets one thing right (though the irony is lost on them), namely, that their side is indeed wrong.

But the real lesson here is their contribution to the art of conflict and war — Sun Tzu and Clausewitz take note. We’ve all heard the chestnut, “The best defense is a good offense.” Dawkins and Coyne go this one better: “The best defense is to pretend there is no offense.” Consider how they treat ID’s mascot, the bacterial flagellum:

The claim that something – say the bacterial flagellum – is too complex to have evolved by natural selection is alleged, by a lamentably common but false syllogism, to support the “rival” intelligent design theory by default. This kind of default reasoning leaves completely open the possibility that, if the bacterial flagellum is too complex to have evolved, it might also be too complex to have been created. And indeed, a moment’s thought shows that any God capable of creating a bacterial flagellum (to say nothing of a universe) would have to be a far more complex, and therefore statistically improbable, entity than the bacterial flagellum (or universe) itself – even more in need of an explanation than the object he is alleged to have created…. In fact, the bacterial flagellum is certainly not too complex to have evolved, nor is any other living structure that has ever been carefully studied. Biologists have located plausible series of intermediates, using ingredients to be found elsewhere in living systems. But even if some particular case were found for which biologists could offer no ready explanation, the important point is that the “default” logic of the creationists remains thoroughly rotten.

Not only are Dawkins and Coyne not offering any scientifically rigorous evolutionary explanation for how the bacterial flagellum emerged but they’re telling us that they don’t need to. Imagine your financial advisor telling you your account is safe with him and that it’s not necessary for you to see a statement of your account.

Dawkins and Coyne need to make a movie. It would be about two con men. The movie would be called “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.” Michael Caine would play Dawkins and Steve Martin would play Coyne. But wait, that’s already been done.

16 Replies to “The Best Defense Is to Pretend There Is No Offense

  1. 1
    Daniel512 says:

    If the best defense is to pretend there is no offense imagine how that tactic works in a football (soccer) game, say, versus Brazil.

    They are going to lose and by lots of goals… poor goal-keeper Dawkins.

  2. 2
    Conspirator says:

    “And indeed, a moment’s thought shows that any God capable of creating a bacterial flagellum (to say nothing of a universe) would have to be a far more complex”

    Why would that be the case? I can think of no reason why we must accept the above premise. Any good engineer would try to accomplish a given task in the simplest way they can. A more complex solution for a physical system may entail that more can go wrong.

    Also, notice who is making the theological argument. I thought we are supposed to talk about science not theology?

    Pretentious arguments on what God would or would not do are silly. There is no logical incoherence in the concept of God creating a flagellum. Dawkins and Coyne have no other vantage-point sufficient to make any other claims that God can’t do something (only that they want it to be that way.)

    The key issue is not what the designer would do if such a being existed. Rather, the issue is whether or not creative intelligence is required to account for some features on nature.

    Dawkins is starting to bore me.

  3. 3
    Bombadill says:

    Perfectly put, Conspirator. You beat me to it. What rediculous “logic” they are employing. Perhaps now Dawkins is finally realizing that any discussion of origins forces one into a Theological discussion. And perhaps now he’ll see that science and theology are not mutually exclusive after all.

  4. 4
    SteveB says:

    “The claim that something – say the bacterial flagellum – is too complex to have evolved by natural selection is alleged, by a lamentably common but false syllogism, to support the “rival” intelligent design theory by default.”

    I’m not sure I understand this (trying to give Dawkins et al the benefit of the doubt). If there is insufficient evidence to claim that it arose by unguided causes, why is it “false sylogism” to claim this as evidence that it must have arisen by guided ones?

    Not guided. Guided. What else is there?

  5. 5
    jimbo says:

    Once again, Dawkins and co. prove that if you assume that God does not exist, you can prove that God does not exist. Next they will prove that 2 + 2 = 5 (by assuming that “2” is a number that when added to itself equals 5) and that cats are the same things as dogs (by assuming that dogs are the same thing as cats).

    What kind of “science” is it that he is supposed to be responsible for the public understanding of?

  6. 6
    Lurker says:

    Conspirator,
    I think the comment about the designer being more complex is an accurate one. Isn’t it a philosophical truth that the creator is more complex/sophisticated/intelligent than the object he creates?

    Even so, who cares? It’s a non-argument against ID. Whether or not the designer is more/less complex than the object of creation has no bearing on the existence of the designer.

  7. 7
    SteveB says:

    “And indeed, a moment’s thought shows that any God capable of creating a bacterial flagellum (to say nothing of a universe) would have to be a far more complex…entity”

    I think conspirator misread Dawkins’ argument: it is not that the flagellum has to be more complex (although this is a common line of argument with neodarwinists–see the Panda’s Thumb, for example), but that _God_ has to be much more complex.

    No disagreement here. While I don’t necessarily think this is a better argument–conspirator’s comments about the scientist relying on theological arguments still apply–it is a different one, requiring a different response.

    Namely, even if we don’t know much about the designer, recognizing that the universe is designed gets us much closer to understanding its true nature, which is the goal of the scientific endeavor–or at least one of them. Furthermore, it is better than believing a just-so story created to fit into the constraints required by philosophical naturalism.

    Bottom line: I’d much rather get it partially right than completely wrong. From my vantage point, I at least have a chance of learning something about his “more complex entity;” he has made an a-priori decision to not even look.

  8. 8
    carbuncleup says:

    They assume the designer is God without explaining why. (The answer is that it suits their aims of refuting ID) However, it is hypothetically possible that intelligent life evolved through natural mechanisms and with different chemistry elsewhere in the universe and that those beings then designed the life we have on this planet. The designer may be more complicated than the flagellum but the designer is not necessarily designed. Thus invoking an infinite regression of “who designed the designer” does not refute ID.

  9. 9
    DonaldM says:

    To follow up to conspirator, Dawkins has bored me for a long time. The absolute arrogance he displays is appalling for someone of his stature.
    He and Coyne and those of their ilk so smugly believe that with a vigorous wave of their rhetorical wands, they can, by employing the corret Potter-like mind charm, make the poor “muggles” (the non-scientific masses), believe that ID doesn’t really exist. Unfortunately for them, they didn’t read enough of their Harry Potter books. If they had, they would know what happened to one poor wizard who had his attempted mind charm back-fire, and had his own mind re-programmed instead. Dawkins reminds me a lot of Professor Gilderoy Lockart in “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets”, lots of hutzpah, nothing of substance, but real good at memory and mind charms that make people believe he’s done all these wonderful things. But in the end…

    One day, Dawkins, et.al. will realize the monumental error they have made in attempting to ignore ID by pretending there’s nothing there.

  10. 10
    jzs says:

    Dawkins should ask where the “positive evidence” is for things like string theory, or for things like the intelligent extraterrestrial communications that SETI seeks, multiple universes, etc.

  11. 11
    DaveScot says:

    Carbuncleup

    Excellent point. I would have made it if you hadn’t.

    There’s a phrase that describes the root Dawkin’s illogic.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carbon_chauvinism

  12. 12
    SteveB says:

    Carbuncleup said (and someone else agreed):
    “However, it is hypothetically possible that intelligent life evolved through natural mechanisms and with different chemistry elsewhere in the universe and that those beings then designed the life we have on this planet. The designer may be more complicated than the flagellum but the designer is not necessarily designed.”

    Sure it’s hypothetically possible, but pretty much anything is hypothetically possible, including Dawkins’ musings. Does anyone really believe this? And more importantly, is there any evidence?

    It seems like one of the key arguments of ID is that everything we know about evolution suggests that this unguided and arbitrary process is not capable of creating intelligence out of nothing. Thus, to take evolution’s greatest problem and put it off to some theoretically distant “elsewhere” doesn’t solve the problem at all.

    If evolution is capable of producing an unseen designer, it’s capable of producing the less-complex entities we see all around us every day. But standard-issue ID (to the extent that there is such a thing) argues that evolution is simply not capable of this.

  13. 13
    DaveScot says:

    “If evolution is capable of producing an unseen designer, it’s capable of producing the less-complex entities we see all around us every day.”

    Wrong. Non sequitur.

  14. 14
    johnnyb says:

    As far as Dawkins is concerned, I’m not sure why anyone has ever paid him much mind. He basically speaks in logical fallacy as if it were a dialect of the human language. He can, in the same book, make the existence of “us” both 100% dependent on physical causes, and then invoke the “us” to “rebel” against those causes. He can create a “simulation” of evolution that works by matching to a pre-designed model. He also thinks that belief in non-material causes at all is sufficient to consider someone a quack, but then uses that belief as evidence that non-material causes don’t exist. Not only that, he somehow thinks that genes are the unit of selection, not organisms. Not only is this silly from the very nature of natural selection, but, contrary to the arguments of gene selection proponents, the mechanisms listed would require genes to be somewhat sentient (for example, altruistic behavior is often thought of as gene selection, but this is totally absurd, because it suggests that the individual genes are somehow responsible for making the individual want to keep their genes. That’s quite a lot of power for a few hundred or thousand individual base-pairs).

    Anyway, how Dawkins managed to reach the status that he has obtained is quite simply beyond me. Gould was 100x the thinker and writer than Dawkins ever was.

  15. 15
    SteveB says:

    Dave believes–or at least accepts as a hypothetical
    possibility–“that intelligent life evolved through
    natural mechanisms and with different chemistry
    elsewhere in the universe and that those beings then
    designed the life we have on this planet.”

    Sounds like science-fiction to me, but in an effort to
    keep an open mind: Can any evidence whatsoever be
    brought to bear to support this hypothesis?

    While I’m pretty sure I know the answer already, I had
    to ask the question because barring any real evidence
    of a real “elsewhere” and real “different
    chemistry,” this is a completely vacuous argument. To
    take evolution’s greatest problem–that an unguided,
    purely materialistic process can produce complex,
    self-aware intelligence (it can’t even produce the
    bacterial flagellum, which is why this obscure little
    structure has been referred to as ID’s mascot)–and
    punt it out into the unknowably-distant ether solves
    nothing.

    -sb

  16. 16
    dancingphil says:

    I think the most powerful point made in the article was the following:

    “In all cases there is a hidden (actually they [ID proponents] scarcely even bother to hide it) “default” assumption that if Theory A has some difficulty in explaining Phenomenon X, we must automatically prefer Theory B without even asking whether Theory B (creationism in this case) is any better at explaining it.”

    Any thoughts? I’m not well versed enough in current discussions to know if this has been addressed. It does seem like a point that needs to be addressed.

Leave a Reply