Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The World's Not "Broken"

Ah, Uncommon Descent -- the flagship blog of the intelligent design movement. You know, the one where they talk about all the science done by ID creationists?

But there's precious little science done by ID creationists, so what to do to fill the space? Ranting about materialism, global warming, a few sneers by Denyse O'Leary (the World's Worst reporter™) about things she doesn't understand, and a bit of good ol' fashioned evangelism -- that's what.

In their latest, lawyer and CPA Barry Arrington proclaims that "In fact, the whole world and everyone in it is broken. We recognize that there is the way things are and there is the way things should be and the two are not the same."

What does "broken" mean here? It has many different meanings. It can mean "no longer in one piece". If a rock has been cleaved in two by a meteorite strike, we might say "this rock was broken by the impact". But I don't think that's the sense Barry has in mind.

It can also mean "no longer in working order". I'm guessing that's the sense Barry has in mind. But I reject the metaphor. If the claim is that the "whole world" is broken, how universal is it? What would it mean to point to an cloud, for example, and say it is "broken"? Most of the clouds I see are doing just fine.

How about when you apply it to people? Well, I'm certainly broken in this sense: I have asthma and other health problems. But how about a healthy newborn baby? In what sense is he/she "no longer in working order"? It seems that in this sense, Barry's claim is wrong.

Barry goes on to say that what he means by "broken" is that "there is the way things are and there is the way things should be and the two are not the same". Well, that's not the usually-understood sense of the word. After all, I think people shouldn't lie about science and scientists the way the Discovery Institute routinely does. But I wouldn't say that the world or Seattle or even Discovery is "broken" because I find their behavior reprehensible.

Barry's not content to insist on "broken" as a good description. He also insists that there is "universal awareness of our own brokenness in particular and the world’s brokenness in general". Not so. I reject the metaphor entirely.

But let me be more charitable than I usually am. Let's say Barry is really talking about moral or ethical rules and how we know them and why we follow them. He seems to think there is a universal and unchanging moral code. I don't. And neither do most Christians, because their god also once prohibited wearing clothes made of two different fabrics, and eating pork, and eating oysters -- all things that most Christians either don't follow or think no longer apply.

Barry also seems to think our knowledge of moral rules represents some insuperable difficulty for materialists. But, of course, it doesn't. There are good popular books (such as The Moral Animal) and more technical books (such as Darwinism and Human Affairs) that explain why. Barry, I suppose, could read them, but like most creationists, simply prefers to bluster.

Anyway, I don't need to say much more, since a commenter called "Learned Hand" is dissecting Barry's stupidities in more detail and more eloquently than I can. And in making Barry and self-satisfied, puffed-up commenters such as "StephenB" appear so foolish -- how long before he/she is banned?


William Spearshake said...

Learned Hand has even taken on Gordon (KairosFocus) Mullings.

"I’m sorry KF, but you don’t seem to be having quite the same conversation as the rest of us. If you’d like to join it I’d be happy to discuss things with you, but your digressions are neither interesting nor significant to me. And for myself, I find your writing to be extremely turgid. I’ve asked a couple of times that you make an effort to make your points as clearly and succinctly as possible; I got more block-quote digressions, martyrdom claims, fishing anecdotes, and doomsday prophecies."

At this rate, he is not long for UD. Especially after Gordo's "corrections".

Piotr Gąsiorowski said...

Did you notice how hastily Barry Arrington ran away from the discussion? The only thing he said directly to LH was #3 (a smokescreen to cover his retreat):

LH @ 1:

Here’s the thing about your comment: You didn’t actually attempt to refute (far less refute) a single thing I said. Note to LH: A mishmash of
ad hominem and tu quoque does not an argument make.

LH's characterisation of KF's debating style is hilarious but dead accurate, by the way.

William Spearshake said...

After getting thoroughly beaten up on the original post, Barry opted to create a new post criticizing a comment made by one of his opponents.

"Sometimes it is useful to highlight some of the more aggressively stupid things that materialists say:

Stephen B:
How do you decide if the government has over-stepped its authority?

Aurelio Smith:
In a democracy, you can assert it and see if anyone agrees.

This is the entire OP. Aside from the obnoxiously arrogant and rude first sentence, the little coward did not include a link to the original comment. Maybe it is because he didn't want people to see how Learned Hand and a couple others were completely ripping apart his argument, and the arguments made by Barry's "fellow traveller". Or maybe it was because he had so blatantly quoted Aurelio Smith out of context that even his cheering squad could see through it.

This was Aurelio Smith's actual words, in context.

"In a democracy, you can assert it and see if anyone agrees. In a democracy, you can protest and campaign for change. You can vote against a government you don’t like and persuade others to do likewise."

William Spearshake said...

Barry keeps doubling down. Incapable of being able to counter the arguments presented by Learned Hand and others in his Broken OP, he posted a separate OP calling Aurelio Smith aggresively stupid, with no link to the original thread.

He has now posted another separate OP quoting a comment made by W J Murray made on Barry's original OP (again, with no link provided). He ended the most recent OP with the following:

"WJM’s interlocutor at this time was a buffoon who styles himself “hrun0815.” Said buffoon responded to the comment as follows:

“Yes, yes, WJM. TL;DR about your whole diatribe.” I take it that “TL;DR” is internet shorthand for “too long; didn’t read.” If that is the case, hrun0815 has proven himself unworthy of being taken seriously on these pages, and I would encourage our readers and posters simply to ignore him."

So, his responses to well presented arguments against his opinions is to call his opponents aggresively stupid buffoons. I must have missed that class on argument techniques in law school. [for the record, I never went to law school, but it wouldn't have sounded right if I said marine biology school].

Piotr Gąsiorowski said...

Learned Hand is also a lawyer (he says so somewhere in the "Broken" thread), so apparently, as in other walks of life, there are highly intelligent lawyers, and there are not quite so highly imtelligent ones.

Brave, brave, brave Sir Barry!

Paul said...

Barry goes on to say that what he means by "broken" is that "there is the way things are and there is the way things should be and the two are not the same". Well, that's not the usually-understood sense of the word.

I think this understanding is reminiscent of Platonism, as well as the religious notion of The Fall. I think it goes beyond a moral interpretation and includes things like being appalled that spiders give birth to many more offspring than actually survive, fruits fall to the ground without being eaten (at least by something bigger than bacteria that can appreciate the taste), stars explode and take planets with them, etc.

It's not always religiously motivated. I vaguely remember Annie Dillard riffing on similar thoughts in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (which I read over 30 years ago, so take it with a grain of salt).

So I don't think it is that unusual, but I've long believed it's an awfully ungrateful way of looking at the universe. Humans have some notion of how things should behave in an "orderly" fashion, and it is these preconceptions that approximate reality. The Platonist fallacy is to imagine that reality is a poor approximation to human preconception.

Plato can be put in historical context, but there is no excuse for such a viewpoint today.

I often reflect that for all the toil, the pain, the shortness of life, reality is still a lot more than we could ever ask for. I imagine a hypothetical rebuttal from the God of Genesis: "You idiot! What are you smiling about? Can't you see that it's all messed up? It's supposed to be much better, and this mess is all your fault because of Original Sin."

(OK, sorry, but it still seems pretty amazing to me.)

In this sense, I feel that part of religious indoctrination is to feel less grateful for the world as it actually is, and this is where the "broken" thing is coming from.

William Spearshake said...

Barry and Learned Hand continue to spar.

Barry: "I understand your snark though; you think that if my writing at UD reflects my practice, I could not possibly win."

Learned Hand: "I don’t think that your blogging demonstrates the quality of your briefs; just the quality of your thinking and character."

It still amazes me that Learned Hand has not been banned. Could it be that Barry is too stupid to realize that e has been insulted?

Piotr Gąsiorowski said...

It seems Learned Hand has been banned. Barry got rid of him without warning, in mid conversation and with a question left unanswered.;f=14;t=7640;st=2550#entry240945

Jeffo said...

And now Learned Hand has been silently banned after trying to conduct a civil discussion on this thread:
It's been very enlightening to read the site the past few days. What an intellectual graveyard.