Science & Faith
8/3/13 at 06:00 PM 39 Comments

On Being Skeptical of “Skeptics”: Dialogue on Darwin's Deeper Doubt

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I will postpone the promised sequel to Darwin's Deeper Doubt in order to interact with two of my readers.

Steve Pond commented on Darwin's Deeper Doubt:

Sorry, but whatever Darwin's thoughts on this and that what has it got to do with the work done of evolution over the past 150 years? Mike's article shows how for him just how powerful the argument from authority is. If Darwin was shown to be a rapist it would have no bearing on evolution what so ever.

Steve, in the last paragraph of Darwin's Deeper Doubt I wrote:

I shall leave you hanging, for the moment, as to what we can discern from this episode in the history of science. In my next blog I shall explore the latest word on this matter, as articulated in Alvin Plantinga's book Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism (2011). Plantinga quotes Darwin's "horrid doubt" and then takes it to the next level of analysis in light of everything we have learned about human reasoning and science since the time of Darwin.

So, that makes your criticism a mere straw man argument (knocking down an argument that another person does not make, and implying that you have defeated their argument). I never claimed anything that you attributed to me. My last paragraph quoted above makes clear the topical distinction between my last blog (historical) and the one to come (state of the art today). Patience, my friend.

SkepticNY said this about Darwin's Deeper Doubt (claiming that I got the history wrong):

Mr. Keas are you truly this ignorant of Darwin's true feelings or are you again being knowingly dishonest? Only two possibilities.

I responded:

What, then, do you think is the meaning of this letter that Darwin sent to William Graham? Your criticisms over that past year usually contain nothing substantial. Document your claims. How about starting today?

SkepticNY, apparently lacking documentation to show how my essay misrepresented “Darwin's true feelings” (which is a historical question), changed the subject in his next posting below. He switched subjects from what Darwin thought to what we know to be true through science today, and he suggested (as Steve Pond did above) that I inferred directly from Darwin’s thoughts to the latest on the subject today (another straw man argument, my dear skeptic). In SkepticNY’s own words:

Mr. Keas lets for the sake of argument say it was discovered that Darwin on his deathbed said "I believe Evolution by Natural Selection is false and that the God of the bible poofed all life into existence - boy was I wrong." This would not change one bit the fact of the Theory of Evolution. Nor would it validate Intelligent Design. No biology books would need to be changed. Science would not care in the least. Nothing would change. If it was discovered that Albert Einstein really had doubts about his Theory of General Relativity nothing in physics would change. No GPS's would need to be re-calibrated. Nothing in science would change. All it would be is a curious historical anecdote - nothing more. So your point is what???

My overall point (by patient, oh many readers, who got my point upon the first read of my essay) was here in the penultimate paragraph:

Darwin's dilemma is jolting. On the one hand he wishes to reject the design inference on the level of natural laws on the basis of a counterfactual thought experiment about evolution turning out only unconscious animals. If there are no conscious creatures, then this implies no purpose (perhaps at least no recognizable purpose from within the universe if there are no intelligent creatures within the cosmos to perceive it). On the other hand Darwin admits that his own intuitions about regularity and order in nature cry out intelligent design. His strategy to undercut this intuition is to doubt the reliability of evolved creatures to draw truthful conclusions about such important questions.

Let’s review the most important part of Darwin’s letter upon which my historical argument is based. Darwin wrote:

But I have had no practice in abstract reasoning and I may be all astray. Nevertheless you have expressed my inward conviction, though far more vividly and clearly than I could have done, that the Universe is not the result of chance. But then with me the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man's mind, which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy. Would any one trust in the convictions of a monkey's mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind?

So Darwin doubted the reliability of evolved creatures to exercise certain higher order thinking skills (thinking that goes beyond mere survival). But in so doing, he began to undermine any good reason he would have to believe in his own theory, which itself is an exercise in higher order thinking skills.

If we bring this forward to today, we shall see that most believers in naturalism (the belief that only natural--not supernatural--causes operate in the universe) unwittingly shoot themselves in the foot in a manner similar to Darwin. But that, of course is what I promised to deliver in the sequel blog by reporting on the very latest on this discussion, which takes place primarily in the fields of the philosophy of mind and epistemology, with reference to the latest in evolutionary biology. My next blog will address this subject.

So, let’s briefly review the dialogue with my two readers thus far. First we get Pond’s straw man argument. Not a promising start, when a commenter destroys an argument that a blogger never made. Then we get SkepticNY’s claim that I flunked the history of science and don’t know “Darwin's true feelings.” When asked to document his case, SkepticNY promptly changed the subject from history of science to what we known to be true through scholarship today (without, or course, offering any specific arguments from today on the subject of the reliability of evolved brains, a topic to which we will turn in my next blog).

Perhaps aware of the inadequacy of his own response, SkepticNY later unleashed an amusing tirade. I quote it in full:

Why would I want to explain to you why storks are not responsible for babies being born or that Thor is not responsible for thunder? Or that the Holocaust actually happened? Most – if not all – the claims & assertions you and the DI make can be easily refuted by a simple 10 second google search. My responses to you are to see if I can get a simple honest response and/or correction or future post from you that would correct the egregious errors of fact you make - you have failed every time. Your misunderstanding & misrepresentation (either intentional or not) of modern biological evolution, your constant attacks (either intentional or not) on the scientific method & the meaning of science, your love of the opinions of a few non-experts while ignoring thousands & thousands of true experts, your ignoring (either intentional or not) of the massive amount of data & research in virtually all fields of science that do not support your assertions but establish the truth of biological evolution beyond any shadow of a doubt, your seemingly willful ignorance of all that is science, your pathological obsession of Charles Darwin & your omission of the fact that we now have 150 years of research since 1859 that confirm his theory from every angle possible, your endless attacks on real research & real data, your disingenuous cherry-picking of data & quote mining, your equating of science and atheism, your bypassing of peer-review and your ridiculous claims that there are peer-reviewed studies that prove ID, you ignore that fact that virtually the entire scientific community think your assertions of ID are lunacy but latch on to the lone nuts who might agree with you, your tiresome and silly “god-of-the gaps” arguments, you never ever correct the mistakes you make even after they are pointed out time & time again, you never saying exactly what the “Theory of ID” actually is, your willful injection of magic into science, your inability to accept the fact that supernatural ID magic is not falsifiable and is thus religion, your constant moving of the “goal-posts” when proof of evolution is provided, and finally you not realizing that if evolution is false this does not make ID true. That being said. My point here is that it appears that the folks over at the Discovery Institute are pathological liars and are dishonest to the core and your association with them Mr. Keas is to me reprehensible. I will continue to call you out on it.

Apparently SkepticNY did not get his fellow skeptic’s memo (Steve Pond’s point quoted above) about not using “arguments from authority” in matters where one can readily evaluate evidence to reach reasonable conclusions. Note the “argument from authority” in SkepticNY’s block of prose, which may be summarized in this way: The vast majority of scientists believe in the evolution of all life from non-life by a material process that shows no indication of having been guided. "The scientific majority says it, I believe it, that settles it." That's SkepticNY’s statement of faith. If he has good evidence-based reasons for rejecting the hundreds of evidence-based scientific arguments I’ve presented (or linked to) over the past year, he somehow never gets around to documenting them. Curious. This gives the rest of us good reasons to be skeptical about the colorful claims he made above (which echo the hollow claims he routinely makes below my blogs). I normally do not take the time to respond to every “argument from authority” that SkepticNY makes because I’m afraid many of my other readers would begin yawning.

I have already responded to the other unsubstantiated claims above in previous blogs where I provide links to resources that in turn cite the peer reviewed journal articles and other relevant resources. But it appears that SkepticNY has permanently closed his mind to questioning the authority of what the majority of scientists say today. Sometimes a minority perspective in science turns out to be correct. For example, Galileo held a viewpoint about physics and cosmology that had a smaller percentage of supporters than the comparable situation today in regard to intelligent design dissenters in the face of the majority view of unintelligent (unguided) evolution. If folks in Galileo’s day had simply followed SkepticNY’s strategy of “arguments from authority” (invoking the authority of what most scientists believe without ever giving good arguments), we would have missed out on some major discoveries about nature.

SkepticNY, here’s a bit of advice. Instead of attempting character assassination (“that guy is either stupid or lying, etc.”), just simply document what the errors are. And please offer specific evidential arguments, not the generalities that abound in your long post above. Pounding the table and yelling “liar” or “stupid” was the way many people handled disagreement in middle school. Truth in science is not determined by majority vote (which your post appears to assume), but by the best evidence-based arguments. If I post a historical blog (such as my last one), don’t keep talking about the “150 years of research since 1859.” My readers are well aware of my many other non-historical blogs that deal exclusively with recent research. Most readers can spot a mere complainer from a mile: Lots of smoke, but not much light. SkepticNY, I want to believe the best in you and hope that you could change. I’m rooting for you. You to Mr. Pond. In any case, thanks to both of you for being regular readers of my blog. Peace.

PS: As a historian/philosopher of science I find Darwin interesting to study. SkepticNY, do you really want to rain on my parade by calling this “your pathological obsession of Charles Darwin”? We can learn something about the human condition by studying people from all ages (and how they conceived of nature, the human mind, etc.). Indeed, the historian/philosopher of science does just that, among many other things. I teach a masters level course online that deals with this. My students include scientists, engineers, science teachers, etc. It’s really more fun than you might think.

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