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Sunday, August 10, 2008

Ray Comfort *Seems* to be Logical

Ray has now used two quotes by prominent biologists:
"Biology is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose." Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker

To suppose that the eye, with all its inimitable contrivances for adjusting the focus to different distances, for admitting different amounts of light, and for the correction of spherical and chromatic aberration, could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest possible degree." Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species
Despite being a fundamentalist atheist, I have read neither book. They were too dry for my liking and, besides, I'm much more passionate about physics. Even though I have never read The Origin of Species, I could still recite that passage from it by heart, almost in its entirety. It is the staple of quote mining and one of Ray's favorites.

I learned recently that Ray actually posted a note regarding this quote mine of Darwin:
Just a note to those of you who have been accusing me of being deceitful, because I have quoted Charles Darwin “out of context.” There’s really no need to get upset, because his admittance that believing that the eye could have happened by natural selection (by accident) “seems I freely confess absurd to the highest degree” doesn’t show that Darwin didn’t believe his own theory. He used the word “seems.” That’s his qualifier. Further on in his writings he said that he actually believed it.
Why do you put quotes around "out of context"? You quoted him "out of context" as it was a rhetorical statement setting up the discussion -- much like Hawking uses a rhetorical statement regarding God as a cause before discussing the self-containment of the universe.

But let's move on. Ray clearly acknowledges that Darwin was using the qualifier "seems." Further, he acknowledges that Darwin "actually" believes the eye evolved. So, the question is, then, why quote Darwin on it? Just because you have acknowledged it doesn't mean that you aren't being deceitful; on the contrary, it proves that you are. You cannot plead ignorance any longer.

Again, though, let's move on to the substance of this post: Darwin and Dawkins both saying that the complexity of organisms "seems" designed. Ray takes the statements so that he can respond, in part:
I can't help but wonder if Richard Dawkins is sometimes an embarrassment to the atheist world. Why would he admit that creation has an "appearance of having been designed for a purpose" (Intelligent Design) and yet deny that there is a Creator?
He then goes on to describe how an airplane seems designed and how foolish it would be to conclude that it wasn't:
A plane has an appearance of having been designed for a purpose. It has wings. They appear to have a purpose. The plane also has engines that give the appearance of being designed for a purpose. It has seating designed for the purpose of passengers, windows that are designed for passengers to look out of, and doors designed for passengers to enter and exit.

The whole plane has the appearance of having been designed for a purpose. So what sort of crazy-man would I be to say that the whole appearance of design was designed by no-one?
It is the nature of the universe, though, as we are discovering. Reality seems to operate differently than how it genuinely operates. The history of science attests to this:

1. The Sun seems/appears to rise in the east and set in the west, after which the moon makes an appearance. It seems that the Sun, like the Moon, orbits Earth. The heliocentric model, though, shows that this is not the case -- even though some creationists still claim the Sun orbits the Earth.
2. The idea that the Earth is spherical seems absurd. If the Earth is truly spherical, how come the people on the bottom of the Earth don't fall off? I wonder if, at some point, people had argued this.
3. Here's a big one: the idea that time is relative seems utterly absurd. This is something that I had initially rejected as ludicrous until I learned of the theory of relativity. We now understand that time is not absolute and constant; it is indeed relative. With the theory of relativity, we learn of such things as gravitational time dilation.
4. Another on the above: curvature of space. Curve your mind around that one.

Perhaps let's abandon scientific theories and let's go with one of Ray's favorites: the airplane. The idea of an object (An-225 Mriya) that weighs over half a million pounds seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest possible degree. With the understanding of science, though, we understand it to be a reality.

Just because it seems absurd that things work a certain way and just because they appear to work a different way does not mean that they work that way: contrary to the evidence. Nothing so well supported, I don't think, seems more absurd than the theory of relativity. And just with the creationists who oppose the theory of evolution just because their Bible says life was created, there are the creationists who oppose the theory of relativity just because their Bible says the Earth is the center of the universe (or solar system). That seems logical.


Kaitlyn said...

Scientists and rational thinkers have to accept the seemingly absurd despite the patent ridiculousness of these ideas due to our commitment to objectivity and materialism. Conclusions follow the evidence in spite of what makes the most sense to us.

All of science hinges on the absurd because if the Universe made perfect sense to us, there would be no need for science to begin with.

DisComforting Ignorance said...

I have been trying to think of what you were trying to say before replying. I'm not sure I quite understood the point you were trying to make. What other type of thinking is there besides rational?

I don't think science is about accepting the seemingly absurd ideas due to our commitment to objectivity and rationalism. I think science is about accepting that which is based on evidence due to our commitment to reality. I was merely pointing out a few things which seem absurd due to our perspective and mindset but that are, nevertheless, true. This was in response to Ray's claim about the foolishness of accepting something even though it appears to be working to the contrary.

In light of new evidence and new theories and new models, what "makes the most sense" changes. For example, the concept of a round Earth. While it may have used to seem absurd because it appears flat, the concept of a flat Earth now seems absurd due to advances in science.

This idea extends over into many other areas, such as the Monty Hall problem in mathematics. It appears there is no increase in odds of switching your choice on the second stage and seems absurd to suggest that you're more likely to win if you switch your choice, even though you have no idea which is the winning door. It's in light of science and critical thinking that we understand what's going on.

Science is about the study of knowledge (that is it's definition), so the only time there would be no need for science is if we knew everything.