When we started this blog, one of the first things we posted was Discovery Institute: Enemies of the Enlightenment. We knew exactly what we were doing.
Unlike the typical, walking around, drooling creationist, who is usually no more evil than any other ignoramus or mental defective, most professional creationists are aware of the fraud in which they are engaged, but they do it because it’s easy money. Or in the case of creationist politicians, they may know better, but lacking integrity, they do it for the votes. The Discoveroids, however, are very different in their motivations.
We’ve outlined our thinking on this over several posts, for example: Who Are the Creationists?, and also Science, Creationism, and Everything, and also The Infinite Evil of Creationism. We rarely link to those, but if you haven’t seen them, they’re definitely worth a look — at least in our humble opinion.
Okay, now let’s get back to the Discoveroids. We’ve always recognized their inherently malevolent purpose. What’s interesting is that lately, they’ve been getting more bold — or sloppy — in revealing what they really are. In a recent post, Discoveroids: All Theology, All the Time, we described Egnor’s explicit declaration of his attachment to 13th Century thinking — which is obviously pre-Enlightenment. Today they’re doing it again.
At the Discoveroids’ creationist blog we read What Darwin’s Darlings Need to Know about David Hume. It was written by Michael Flannery, one of their “fellows.” A previous post of his inspired us to write Beyond Despicable, in which he blamed Darwin for the atrocities of Stalin. He also plays the Hitler card — see Discovery Institute: Hitler, Hitler, Hitler, Part VI.
Flannery’s latest post is one of the worst ever; but it’s actually good for us, because it reveals quite starkly the Discoveroids’ virulent anti-Enlightenment campaign. Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us:
There is little question that David Hume (1711-1776), patron saint of nearly every skeptic who came after him, has profoundly influenced Darwin’s most passionate believers. [He lists a few. Their names come up again at the end.] But Darwin’s contemporary and natural selection’s co-discoverer, Alfred Russel Wallace, was unimpressed by Hume, and his Miracles and Modern Spiritualism delivered a detailed response to Hume’s many claims and assertions about belief and the miraculous that Darwin’s darlings would do well to heed.
We need to digress a bit for some background. You know how highly we esteem David Hume, described by Wikipedia as “a Scottish historian, philosopher, economist, diplomat and essayist known today especially for his radical philosophical empiricism and scepticism.” He was one of the principal inspirations for the American Revolution and the rights preserved in the American Constitution. Benjamin Franklin knew David Hume and greatly appreciated his work.
Of particular interest to this blog, Hume wrote a powerful rebuttal to William Paley’s famous watchmaker analogy, a primitive theistic argument upon which the Discoveroids rely heavily. It’s one of their main arguments in support of their “theory” of intelligent design. You can read David Hume’s rebuttal here.
And then there’s Alfred Wallace. He gets credit, along with Darwin, for the notion of natural selection. However, as we’ve pointed out before — see, for example, Discoveroids Adopt Alfred Wallace as Godfather — the man went bonkers late in life and became a full-blown mystic. That’s why the Discoveroids love him.
Okay, back to Flannery’s post. He tells us:
Referring to Hume’s An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, Wallace took careful note of Hume’s definition of a miracle, which was that a miracle “is a violation of the laws of nature” and that it “is a transgression of a law of nature by a particular volition of the Deity, or by the interposition of some invisible agent.”
What’s wrong with that? Oh, wait — Wallace believed in miracles, which is one of the reasons the Discoveroids love him. Let’s read on:
Wallace protested that “both these definitions are bad or imperfect. The first assumes that we know all the laws of nature, that the particular effect could not be produced by some unknown law of nature overcoming a law we do know.” Why, he added, must products of intelligence in nature invariably violate natural laws? Wallace suggests that Hume’s assertions about the violation of natural laws are assumed without, in his words, “a shadow of proof.”
Amazing. The Discoveroids are attempting to raise Wallace to the status of being a better thinker than Hume. Quite understandable, really. Despite the unquestioned fact that Wallace recognized the role of natural selection in evolution, he was — especially late in his life — a confused, fumbling, inherently deranged pre-Enlightenment thinker. Flannery continues:
Wallace burrows further into Hume’s argument. Hume insisted that one test for a miracle should be “uniform experience,” which he asserts “amounts to a proof.” For example, that a seemingly healthy man should die would not be considered a miracle because it has on occasion occurred, but that a dead man should rise from the grave would clearly be a miracle because, according to Hume, it has never been observed to occur. Upon such reasoning Hume built his case for discounting all miracles simply because of their sheer improbability.
No, not merely because of improbability — it’s impossibility that miracles are made of. This is getting tedious. We’ll skip a bit until we come to this:
It should be said that Wallace objected to Hume’s assumption that every miraculous act had to come directly from God in some unmediated sense. Wallace believed that there were an “infinite number of intelligent beings who may exist in the universe between ourselves and the Deity.” And before we get too taken aback at this statement as merely exchanging Hume’s blasphemy for Wallace’s heresy, it is worth a reminder that Thomas Aquinas in his Summa Theologica believed that God governs many things through angels that allows for a sharing of the causality inherent in God’s nature — the First Cause.
Aquinas again. The Discoveroids only like pre-Enlightenment thinkers. Here’s more:
In any case, it is clear that Wallace was unimpressed by Hume’s skepticism. He felt Hume’s arguments failed the test of logic and posed simplistic — even naïve — formulations about religion and religious claims.
This is how the thing ends:
What a shame that such “informed” and “rational” men of “science” as Shermer, Dennett, and Dawkins have been so limited in their reading as to continue to praise ideas long since refuted.
Yes, the Enlightenment has been refuted — by Wallace! Therefore, all modern scientists — especially “Darwinists” — are fools! Or so the Discoveroids want you to believe.
Copyright © 2015. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.
Hume anticipated this objection. Note that his argument was not that miracles could not occur (we are, after all, talking about the man who showed that you can’t prove that the sun will rise in the east tomorrow morning, despite having done so the last few million times anyone’s checked). Hume’s point was that any supposed observation of a violation of the laws of nature (by any sort of agent) was more reasonably explained as a bad observation or false report (i.e. his point was epistemological, not ontological). His final argument was, in fact, that if you could substantiate such a thing to the point that it would be more incredible if the report were false than if it were true, this might simply mean that there were natural processes, laws of nature, of which we had not previously been aware.
It is difficult to refute an idea when you do not actually understand it.
If a miracle is NOT a suspension of natural law but can happen quite naturally, then screw gawd I can get it done on my own.
“Of particular interest to this blog, Hume wrote a powerful rebuttal to William Paley’s famous watchmaker analog”
…this bit, and wikipedia, are slightly backwards, meaning, well, entirely backwards. Hume wrote before Paley. I’ve even read that Paley thought he was doing a rebuttal of Hume. Obviously the Argument From Design goes back further and Hume was critiquing that tradition. Paley went extra-science-y in an attempt to respond, most of us think he failed, but most of us also agree that Darwin’s response to Paley is much more satisfactory than Hume’s, even if Hume makes bare-bones philosophical objections that are correct. (e.g. Dawkins says as much)
Whether or not Darwin was heavily influenced by Hume, as Flannery claims without documentation, I cannot really judge. I have yet to see an instance of Darwin using the word “Hume”. Basically Darwin was waaaaaaay more interested in science and biology than he was in abstract philosophical or theological arguments.
Another irony for the Discorrhoids to contend with is as follows: All of the different intelligences which are known to us, including the tiny subset of those capable of design, are uniformly the product of evolution, a natural materialistic process governed by natural laws. Consequently, we have nothing to suggest that intelligent design, if true, is anything but a product of evolution, that most execrable of natural materialistic processes governed by natural laws…
The DI and many other creationists believe that if a question or observation has been answered or explained in their Bible, then it falls under the umbrella of religion. Any answer/explanation that differs from theirs (no matter the method) is seen as an attempt to refute their religion.
@NicholasMatzke Yeah, this is what I don’t get either. Hume would have had a really difficult refuting or rebutting Paley’s watchmaker book when he died 26 years before it was published. This is seriously backwards.
“Darwin’s darlings.” Nice, Flannery. I’m sure your designer would be impressed and delighted by your alliteration-cum-insult.
Isn’t the point that Hume rebutted Paley’s argument before Paley made it? Not much difference than any other creationist writing today – 99.9% of their arguments have already been rebutted.
On Hume influencing Darwin:
I can’t think of anything that would count in the 0.1%.
Unless you meant to say that only 99.9% of their arguments were rebutted before they were made by the creationists.
Hume would have had a really difficult refuting or rebutting Paley’s watchmaker book when he died 26 years before it was published. This is seriously backwards.
Simple. Hume used the same time machine that Darwin used, when he invented the racism and genocide practiced by Christendom before Chuck was born… And the Holocaust after he was dead.
Nicholas J. Matzke says: “Hume wrote before Paley.”
I wasn’t aware of that. It makes Paley’s argument look even sillier.
TomS – some creationist might come up with something novel just by random mutation of previous arguments.
There is also the criticism of Kant which predates Paley’s “Natural Theology”. Of course, Kant is fabulously unreadable, but it might be worthwhile for those seriously interested in Paley’s argument to take a look at the section on the “Physico-theological” proof of “Critique of Pure Reason”.
Also, I think that most people read only the first few pages of “Natural Theology”. There is one passage in the book which raises a difficulty and suggests a solution. I’m not going to copy it here, but my take on it is this:
God did not have to give humans the power of sight by “contrivances” – the omnipotent Deity could just at well just give us sight directly. I am not aware of much discussion about this difficulty.
And there are a couple of passages of Cicero where he brings up difficulties which I have not seen treated widely.
Creationists should tread carefully on this ground. If God finds it necessary on occasion to violate the natural laws He has established, then he’s a clumsy Designer. If on the other hand He has arranged the laws of nature in advance so that He can do everything He needs to without violating them, then miracles, as violations of natural law, don’t exist, though there may be events which look like miracles to human beings.
And if God does not have to violate the laws of nature to achieve His purposes, but does it anyway, then he’s just an arbitrary monarch of the sort the Hebrews, and the Jews of Jesus’ day, would have known all too well, but with super-powers.
There is a difficulty, of course, which is that Wallace’s argument against Hume does make some sense. Hume can only argue from probability. It’s perfectly reasonable to argue that by far the greatest probablility with regard to miracles is that they are false reports, the result of mistake, fraud, hallucination, fabulation, whatever. There are plainly events reported as miracles that can be shown to be natural events; how many more supposed miracles are actually natural events, but have not been shown to be? Potentially, at least, all of them.
But still Hume’s argument relies on the probability of false positives. High, certainly. But the other side of the equation is simply not known. Nobody knows the probability of a genuine miracle. Believers can say that it may be low, but it still exists. Wallace’s further argument, which assists them, is that we cannot know what the probability really is, because we can’t tell a genuine miracle from a manifestation of unknown natural law.
Turn that on its head, and you see its weakness. Wallace is actually arguing that to believe that there are miracles is to rely on ignorance. So it’s an argument from ignorance, which should ring alarm bells with anyone. But still, ignorance exists, and will always exist. It’s a fact, and it has to be dealt with. There are yet more things that exist than are dreamt of in our philosophy.
What we can say is along the lines of Hume’s consideration of experiential reality, plus a development, which is that every single advance in knowledge of natural law has resulted in miracles falling back into the category of natural events. As more becomes known, more is explained naturally. By extrapolation, then, if all were known, all would be explained naturally. Rather like the sun rising, if this process of demystificaion has happened all along, then we can reasonably expect that it will go on happening, and if we can reasonably expect that, we can reasonably expect that all reported miracles are actually natural events.
We will never know everything, of course. But the record is plain. Experience is plain. Miracles exist in the gaps, but the gaps narrow and miracles disappear.
But do they all disappear?
I confess don’t know. I’ll go with the argument from probability; but I take Wallace’s point, that it’s never going to be complete. Well, neither am I, but I exist anyway.
Question for the Discoveroids: How does refuting this philosopher or that thinker, etc., etc., in any way call evolution into question?
Evolution is not a philosophy. It is a well-observed, well-documented fact of nature. It is science. Our understanding of science derives from empirical evidence, not from the musings of philosophers.
The reason the Discotute relies so heavily on philosophical arguments is that they have absolutely NO physical evidence that would support their idea of a Grand Old Designer.
Having the appearance of design is not proof of design. To the contrary, an elegant adaptation that is easily mistaken for design just shows how well natural selection works.
If we assume that their arguments against evolution were sound, that does not establish any alternative.
Anyway, Intelligent Design is not an alternative. It does not attempt to give an account for what happens in the world of life.
A design alone is not enough to accomplish a purpose. There must also be action. Production. Materials. Time.
“Necessity is the mother of invention.” A design is a response to an unfulfilled desire. But an omnipotent agent never has an unfilled desire and therefore has no point to design. Design is constrained. Contrivance is the mark of the constrained. The supernatural is not constrained by the laws of nature. Design is marked by following the laws of nature.
But their arguments against evolution are not sound.
That should be enough for the moment.
Miracles, if they occur at all, do so rarely. So any claim that a miracle has occurred is a claim that a specific improbable event occurred, which requires suitably weighty evidence. If preachers regularly turned water into wine, we would find the Cana story less improbable but, but, by the same token, less miraculous. Hume wins.
But Nick is of course correct; it would be better if the Curmudgeon, like the article he cites, were to speak, not of “Paley’s argument” but of “the argument popularised by Paley”. I’m not sure how different it is from Aquinas’ arguments, anyway.
I just took a look at the Wikipedia article on “Watchmaker analogy” and found it really poor.
It makes next to no reference to the many prominent people, from Cicero to Voltaire, who used it before Paley.
It makes no reference to Kant’s discussion of the physico-theological argument.
And here I will doubtless get a lot of static, but so be it: Why does it feature Dawkins so prominently?
Paul Braterman suggests:
Paley’s writings were popular for quite some time, so regardless of the argument’s ancient lineage, it’s generally known as “Paley’s watchmaker argument,” and that’s a convenient label for a common theological argument. But the next time I mention it, I’ll try not to suggest that he originated it.
[smug smiley icon]
For Intelligent Design to exist as anything more than an argument from ignorance, it’s advocates need to demonstrate that the existence of the supernatural realm is either real or has some measurable probability of being real. Since the supernatural cannot be observed – by definition (else it would not be “super”natural) – proponants must rely on the musings of mystics and religious philosophers to bolster their argument that it exists.
At the end of the day, the argument is one of contrasting probabilities – is it more probable that a event occurred due to natural causes, known or unknown, or supernatural intervention. At present, we know with 100% certainty that the natural world exists, and we know with equal certainty that there is much we have yet to learn about it (the nature of “dark” energy and “dark” matter being obvious examples.) In contrast, we do not have any evidence whatsoever that a supernatural realm exists at all, and even if the arguments of philosophers could be taken seriously, we would still have no knowledge of how that realm might interact with the natural world, or what the powers and intentions of its supernatural inhabitants might be.
Therefore the probability that an event was the result of natural causes, however improbable, will always be greater than than the probability that it was the result of a supernatural cause. The “god of the gaps” is always less likely than the unknown but natural cause.
Supernatural beings and their stories were most likely invented to explain things that humans did not understand. The problem seems to be (to my thinking, at least) that we humans have morphed (evolved?) the stories beyond simple explanations and “just-so” stories to become part of our personal identity and emotional make-up. The old beings are no longer relied on solely to explain mysteries, assist in the richness of crops and the fertility of woman, or demonstrate moral lessons such as the gods of the Greeks and Romans were. These beings have instead become personal and internalized to be a fundamental part of who we are, and part of our tribal identity. Thus challenges to them become existential threats. In my view this is what drives organizations such as the DI, AiG, and others.
Paul Braterman says: “[smug smiley icon]”
Mumble, grumble …
I wonder why there were smart people (like Darwin, Voltaire, etc.) who took the Watchmaker analogy seriously.
The only think that I could think of is the Industrial Revolution. It used to be that if you wanted a watch, you went to a watchmaker. This is an analogy for an artisan, not a designer. Especially for upper-caste people, who could not take interest in what a tradesman did. All that one knew was if one wanted a suit, one went to a tailor, and shortly thereafter, there appeared a suit.
Today, everyone knows that there are a number of processes that end up with a suit or a timepiece. There is a lot more to it than “design”. There are the people who determine the market for the object (marketing). There is the need to obtain the necessary raw materials (a purchasing agent), the tools (a tool and die maker), production, distributing the object (wholesalers), selling it (retailers).
It is not enough to design something for it to come into existence. But in 18th century Europe it was only being to be realized that artisans were on their way out, and the only the workers, who were probably were illiterate, and certainly didn’t shape opinion, would think of that.
The Curmudgeon: [Thoughtful, open-minded icon]
Ed: “Since the supernatural cannot be observed – by definition (else it would not be “super”natural) – [proponents of Intelligent Design] must rely on the musings of mystics and religious philosophers to bolster their argument that it exists.”
Well-stated — and illustrates concisely why Intelligent Design has no place in any science classroom, public or parochial.
Ed (again): “Supernatural beings and their stories were most likely invented to explain things that humans did not understand. The problem seems to be (to my thinking, at least) that we humans have morphed (evolved?) the stories beyond simple explanations and “just-so” stories to become part of our personal identity and emotional make-up. The old beings are no longer relied on solely to explain mysteries, assist in the richness of crops and the fertility of woman, or demonstrate moral lessons such as the gods of the Greeks and Romans were. These beings have instead become personal and internalized to be a fundamental part of who we are, and part of our tribal identity. Thus challenges to them become existential threats. In my view this is what drives organizations such as the DI, AiG, and others.”
Wow, Ed! Two home runs in one single post!
There are three stages of fallacy:
First is to detect a pattern when there is none.
Second is to attribute a purpose to the pattern.
Third is to deduce super powers.
The third may be “only” a secret conspiracy. Whatever, it has to be able to explain away the contradictions that are detected in step two.