Curmudgeon’s Creative Challenge #5

We’ve been neglectful. We haven’t had a Curmudgeonly contest since November of last year.

To remind you of all the intellectual thrills we’ve provided in the past, our earlier contests were: #1 (Creationism is to evolution as _____ is to _______), followed by #2 (The typical Discoveroid’s next job will be _______), and then #3 (The Discoveroids are the dregs of _____), and most recently Creative Challenge #4 ( The creationists’ biggest lie is _____).

Today’s contest was inspired by David Klinghoffer, the intellectual slasher at the blog of the neo-theocrats at the Discovery Institute‘s creationist public relations and lobbying operation, the Center for Science and Culture (a/k/a the Discoveroids, a/k/a the cdesign proponentsists).

Klinghoffer’s name has some of the resonance of Red Skelton’s Clem Kadiddlehopper. We refer to him as a slasher because of his creationist oeuvre which we last described here. He’s so good at it that the Discoveroids have bestowed him the exalted title of “senior fellow” — i.e., flaming, full-blown creationist.

It was Klinghoffer’s latest post that did it for us. It’s titled Can We Defend the Dignity of Human Life in Secular, Even Scientific Terms?, and although it’s not worth reading (trust us!) it contains a question he asked that really got us going. It’s actually his title question, but it’s expressed a bit more elaborately in the body of his otherwise valueless essay:

Can the unique dignity of human life — the idea of human exceptionalism — be adequately defended in secular, even scientific terms, without reference to religious teaching?

Think about it. He’s asking if something unmeasurable, perhaps even undefinable, can be defended (not described or detected, but defended) scientifically. You gotta admit, that could be one of the dumbest questions ever uttered by any human, anywhere, at any time. So it occurred to us that although you certainly can’t do better, the readers of this humble blog could try to formulate an equally stupid question. We’re asking quite a bit here, but we really want to see what you can do.

This is your opportunity to achieve eternal glory by asking a Klinghoffer-esque style of question — something like this, but maybe you can phrase it better:

Can _____ be defended using only scientific terms?

An acceptable variation would be:

Can _____ be defended without using religious terms?

So there’s the challenge. You know the rules: Enter the contest as many times as you wish, but you must avoid profanity, vulgarity, childish anatomical analogies, etc. Also, avoid slanderous statements about individuals. Feel free to comment on the entries submitted by others — with praise, criticism, or whatever — but you must do so tastefully.

Your Curmudgeon will decide if there’s a winner, and whenever we get around to it we’ll announce who the winner is. There is no prize — as always in life’s great challenges, the accomplishment is its own reward. We now throw open the comments section, dear reader. Go for it!

Copyright © 2012. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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48 responses to “Curmudgeon’s Creative Challenge #5

  1. FIrst poster gets to pwon the contest:

    Can God be defended without using religious terms?

    You can send me my prize now! kthanksbye.

  2. Not bad at all, b2blogcom.

  3. Can Republicanism be defended using only scientific terms?
    Can Republicanism be defended without using religious terms?

    Or without Emetrol?

  4. As stupid as Kilnghoffer’s question was, I once had my boss tell me that he wanted advance notice of any unplanned outages.
    The only response was:
    head tilt, exit room, face palm, alcohol

  5. In the spirit of the contest,
    Can ID be defined using only scientific terms?
    Also, wasn’t this covered by Spock in Star Trek “The Voyage Home”
    Q) What was Kiri-kin-tha’s first law of metaphysics?
    A) “Nothing unreal exists.”

  6. I’ll toss one in: Can the delight of devouring a platter of beef be defended using only botanical terms?

  7. Can the government adequately defend anarchy in a court of law using only legal terms outlined in said government’s constitution?

    P.S. – Just started reading the Curmudgeon, huge fan!! 🙂

  8. David says: “Just started reading the Curmudgeon”

    It’s never too late.

  9. Can my liking for apple pie be defended using only scientific terms?

    How many hundreds of thousands of words must this man use to say “Darwin = atheism”, “Darwin = Hitler”, and “Watch implies watchmaker”?

  10. Q: Can beer be defended without using religious terms?

    A: Sure, but if it’s good enough you’re sure going to struggle not to.

  11. NeonNoodle

    When I was but a lad working part-time retail, my boss also regularly asked stupid questions. My favorite was “You always have a ready answer, don’t you?” [Translation: “How dare you have a reasonable response to my blame-shifting accusation?”] Not to dignify the question, but the only reply I could think of came via Sam Spade: “What do you want me to do, learn to stutter?” Smart-alecky, but to the point.
    Back to the question: “Can Doofus Klawhammer be defended using only scientific terms?” Operators are standing by.

  12. First an entry, then I’ll go back to see what fun others have created.

    This one is directly inspired by Curmie’s rules:

    Can childish anatomical analogies be defended using only scientific terms?

    and now …

    Curmie wrote: “I’ll toss one in: Can the delight of devouring a platter of beef be defended using only botanical terms?”

    No, but some veggies and a bit of mint jelly would go nicely with it.

  13. Can the concept of a personal soul be defended using only scientific terms?

    Can the concept of a personal soul be defended without using religious terms?

    It is an idea that is often referenced outside a religious context and it seems odd to think that I don’t have a soul. Was the concept hijacked by religion or was it always a religious idea?

  14. “No, but some veggies and a bit of mint jelly would go nicely with it.”

    In South Texas you can get a green pepper jelly that is both sweet and on fire at the same time. It is so so good.

    My second entry:

    Can green hot pepper jelly be described using only diesel mechanic terms?

  15. Can Klinklehoppersloppindropper defend the spelling of his name without referring io his drivers license?

  16. NeonNoodle

    Q: Can Dimwit Kornhusker be defined without using equine anatomical terms?
    A: Neigh

  17. Can the claim that “weasels and rats both recognize human exceptionalism” be defended using … well … a working human brain?

  18. Can the social functional externalities of a free market economy be full rectified by an ecclesiastical diversion into kumquat market futures with curvaceously mocking squirrels.

  19. That last “by” should be “with”, it changes the whole meaning. 😉

  20. johnpieret

    Can the greatness of Shakespeare’s writing be defended using only scientific terms?

    My favorite of Klingadingaling’s tropes was when he claimed religion was good because it gave him a “enchantment” the same way his 8 year old son found enchantment in Dragons & Dungeons.

  21. Ceteris Paribus

    Can an ID creationist fundagelical engage in a debate about evolution without knowing either the exact number of angels (rounded to the nearest integer) which can dance on the head of a pin, or how to spell the word “Hitler”?

  22. Bob Carroll

    Can flatulence be so defended? Check Ben Franklin’s essay (or should that be assay?)

  23. Bob Carroll asks: “Can flatulence be so defended?”

    No problem. You’re among friends here.

  24. Bob Carroll

    Supposed New England tombstone: (except for the last line.)
    Wherever you are,
    Let the wind blow free.
    I held it in,
    See what happened to me!

  25. Can the existence of the invisible, incorporeal dragon in my garage be defended using only scientific terms?

  26. will Fraser

    I like the last 2 questions but am totaling a shot
    at the quiz from the article’s beginning.
    #1 Creationism is to evolution as
    ” I Touch Myself” is to ” Jumping Jack Flash”
    #2 The typical Discoveroids next job is
    Jerry Sandusky’s personal assistant.
    #3The Discoveroids are the dregs of humanity and their mothers swim out to troop ships.
    #4 The Discoveroids biggest lie is Kadinklebergsteinodoro bakes pot
    brownies on weekends so he can face work
    on Monday( he really just does Hari Krishna
    Onward to the Curminator’s last two
    intellectual mind expanders.
    Can Hamid Karzai’s hats be defended using only scientific terms.
    Can Rick Santorum’s position on anything be defended without using religious terms.
    That’s it. Goodnight Jon Boy.

  27. #1. Can the existence of an Intelligent Designer who intervened on Earth at an unspecifed place and an unspecified time by an unspecified mechanism for an unspecified purpose be proven using only scientific terms?

    #2. Can a Darwin-to-Hitler link be proven using actual facts?

    #3. Can a Presidential candidate be endorsed using only scientific terms?

    #4. Can a restaurant, book, or movie be reviewed using only scientific terms?

    #5. Can an orgasm be announced using only scientific terms?

  28. Let me rephrase #1.

    #1. Can the interference of Designers who are of unknown plurality, and invisible and inaudible and odorless, and who did anything or nothing for an unspecified purpose at an unspecifed place and unspecified time, by unspecified mechanisms, which violate the laws of nature or obey them, be tested using *ANY* scientific terms?

  29. Diogenes, your #5 can be performed in terms of orbital mechanics.

  30. The whole “moral argument” as advanced by theists can be summed up by challenging the theists to answer the following question:

    #6. Can religious values be defended by, or derived from, only statements of fact?

    If the theists restrict themselves only to statements of FACT, they cannot
    answer this question. They are absolutely determined to evade this question every way they can, but they cannot answer it.

    What Klinghoffer and all creationists are exploiting is the “is-ought” problem that David Hume wrote about. In every discussion of morality, there is always a place where the speaker switches from fact-statements “is” to value-statements “ought”, and this switch is made without proof. Religious apologists know this problem exists, and they do not really bother to advance a solution. Rather, they assert that postulating God solves the problem by the mere process of asserting a cause without evidence.

    In other words, your teacher asks you “what is 756.6 / 387.9 = ?” and the monotheist replies “The answer exists in the mind of God, who is all-knowing. Therefore I have solved the problem, by postulating the existence of an answer inaccessible to me and not provided to you.”

    Of course, everyone who does not address the is-ought problem, Creationists and religionists included, has “smuggled in” some kind of value that exists at a subconscious level, and which they cannot talk about explicitly, because talking about it out loud would make that value look ridiculous. So it’s implicit.

    Thus, when the monotheist says “God decides all moral laws”, he is smuggling in the value “cowardice”: you must do what genocidal war deities tell you to do, because they can punish you, and because avoidance of pain and pursuit of pleasure is the natural “ought.”

    All moral arguments with creationists get reduced to their desire to implicitly smuggle in the “ought” of cowardice, which they try to portray as an absolute advantage of religious belief; whereas rationalists are hampered by having to tell the truth and not smuggle in subconscious instincts. We do not have the freedom of engage in lying and cunning and innuendo that creationists enjoy.

    Thus, all moral arguments with monotheists can reduced to explicitism (us) and innuendoism (them). They can smuggle and use innuendo, and we can’t.

  31. Can the proposition that 1 equals 2 be defended?

  32. Tomato Addict asks: “Can the proposition that 1 equals 2 be defended?”

    Yes, every day, but don’t get me started on politics.

  33. Curmie: “Yes, every day, but don’t get me started on politics.”

    Why stop now? 😉

  34. Ceteris Paribus

    @TA re: 1=2: Don’t know the answer to that one, but have seen a math prof wearing a t-shirt that said:
    “2+2=5 for sufficiently large values of 2”

    @Diogenies re: David Hume’s supposed “is-ought problem”: I have heard Richard Carrier mention that Hume himself proffered solutions to logically move from an is to an ought, but mostly that part of Hume’s argument has been overlooked. Sounds awfully similar to what quote miners do with questions in Darwin that he himself answers in following paragraphs Haven’t tried to find the actual references in Hume myself, but heard someone give this simple example of getting from is to ought:

    1. A surgeon is in the business of minimizing the pain and suffering of her patients.
    2. Science shows that a microbial infection is the likely result of using unsterilized surgical instruments.
    3. Therefore surgeons should sterilize their instruments prior to surgery.

  35. But how do you derive #1 from fact-statements? Why “ought” a surgeon do his business?

    The general rule is

    (Value-statement) + (Fact-statement) –> Policy

    But how do you derive value-statement from facts?

    IDiots like Klinghoffer have to smuggle in their values: e.g. fear of genocidal Middle Eastern war deity.

  36. Diogenes asks: “But how do you derive #1 from fact-statements?”

    It’s not impossible. Consider this fact: No one wants to be robbed, raped, or killed. Therefore …

  37. “No one”? That is appeal to the values of the majority. A few people do want to be robbed, raped, or killed.

    You have smuggled in the belief that we “ought” to act on the values of the majority.

  38. Diogenes says:

    You have smuggled in the belief that we “ought” to act on the values of the majority.

    Well, okay. Some people want to be killed. Therefore …

  39. I’m not trying to be annoying. I’m trying to get you to identify where value-statements are smuggled in. If you can’t identify that, you can’t argue with the creationist moral argument. You have to refine your ability to refute the moral argument.

    Consider your favorite historian, Richard Weikart. He says we must acknowledge that humans are created in the image of god or else Darwin –> Holocaust. His logic is, Darwinism “says” that morality is based on instinct, and instincts evolved, so they were “created by blind chance.” Since instincts were “created by blind chance”, they have no value, thus all moral systems are equally valid. Thus, Darwin –> Holocaust. Got it?

    OK, it’s trash. But tens of thousands of creationists think it’s gospel. Merely ridiculing the IDiots will not suffice. These authoritarian a**holes think they’re the true intellectuals, the morally superiors, the defenders of Liberty and, as Ben Stein said, that “Science leads to killing people.” They think they think.

    If you want to argue with that, it will not do just to mock it, you have to extract where they smuggled in their value-statements. Just mocking them will not suffice. They really think they are intellectually superior and they think they’ve proved their thesis.

  40. Diogenes says: “I’m not trying to be annoying. I’m trying to get you to identify where value-statements are smuggled in.”

    I’m aware of the issue. But sometimes reality does compel certain behavior. We need food, therefore we should eat. I realize that someone can choose to starve to death. Death is the price of ignoring reality. Nevertheless, I agree that we shouldn’t lock people up for the “crime” of not eating. The imperative can be ignored, but it exists. Thinking as I do doesn’t cripple my understanding of the errors of creationists, as their morality is unrelated to reality.

  41. Ceteris Paribus

    Statement 1 is merely definitional: A medical professional is by definition assumed to have some altruistic intent with regard to the welfare of their patients. Otherwise, a surgeon could just go to work in the meat cutting business, and get regular working hours as a bonus.

    If you don’t like sneaking a value in that way, then you can invoke the ancient Greek axiom that the first duty of a physician is to do no harm to their patient.

    But someone could object and ask what is it that is special about classical Greek morality? Problem is, we have to choose something, otherwise it is just turtles all the way down.

  42. @Ceteris Paribus:Statement 1 is merely definitional:

    In that case, you certainly can’t get to an ought. Your definition is what Hume calls a relation of ideas; “surgeons ought to sterilize their instruments” is, what?

    Is it a matter of fact? You can’t get that out of a relation of ideas.

    Is it a relation of ideas? Then you have to prove that the person doing surgery either does fit the definition of “surgeon”, or ought to. And you are are right back at an “is-ought” problem.

    In other words, why should anyone accept your definition of “surgeon”? Turtles all the way down. Embrace it. The theists don’t have anything better; they just call the top turtle of the stack “God”.

  43. Ceteris Paribus

    @Gabriel Hanna: “In other words, why should anyone accept your definition of “surgeon”?

    Then write any definition you like, just don’t try to reduce it to the tautology that “a surgeon is someone who does surgery using surgical procedures”.

    We’re talking about empirically testable facts such as disease is caused by germs, and no longer bothering with what ritual practices are prescribed by a deity for the purposes of human or animal sacrifice.

    We have come some way beyond the arguments used by the enlightened framers of the constitution, who at their time didn’t have much more to work with than “We hold these truths to be self evident.”

  44. Ceteris Paribus

    (Yes, yes – the ‘self evident truths’ are found in the Declaration of Independence, and are not part of the Constitution, which happened after even more enlightenment.)

  45. retiredsciguy

    I like the work of slow typists. Their posts are short and succinct.

  46. Others beat me to all the fun answers, so I’ll be serious, and get right to the scam artists’ achilles heel:

    “What happened when” can be defended using only scientific terms, and without either religious terms or reference to any other explanation that one finds “weak.” So now that we have all had our fun, let’s get busy and start asking the scam artists questions that they desperately want to evade. And show the fence-sitters that the scam artists know that they are peddling nonsense.

  47. Ceteris Paribus: @TA re: 1=2: Don’t know the answer to that one, but have seen a math prof wearing a t-shirt that said:
    “2+2=5 for sufficiently large values of 2″

    Here is the proof for 1=2. The proof for 2+2=5 follows directly.

    Meanwhile, the Bureau of Incomplete Statistics reports that 2 out of 3

  48. Tomato Addict says: “Here is the proof for 1=2”

    Think you can fool us? All you did was prove that 2=1. That’s different!

    For true enlightenment, see Two Plus Two Equals Three. The comments are better than my post.