Thursday, 14 December 2006

Intelligent Design: Not so Stupid

In October, Professor Steve Jones gave a lecture entitled "Why Intelligent Design is Stupid". His notes have been published on the UCL website.

Several flaws in his arguments were posted by James Miller on the GenevaNet discussion list. I think they are worthy of a wider audience:

1. He persistently and very heavily relies on argumentum ad hominem. Anyone who believes in anything different from him is "stupid" (p.1); they are people who believe in "myths" and "magic" (p.1); they are by implication "book burners" - i.e., fascists with all the baggage that entails - and are guilty of "ignorance, idleness and incuriosity" (p.2). And his opponents' arguments are "cunning"; they use "tricks" (p.2) and so on throughout.

2. He argues ad misericordiam - he appeals to pity. He's speaking from "Darwin's bunker" (p1), using under siege imagery. Science is under "active attack" (p.4). This is to gain sympathy from his audience.

3. Despite his bluster, the shoe of arguing ad ignorantiam is actually on his foot. He argues that creationism must be false because it cannot (to his limited empirical knowledge) be proved true. His argument is in effect, "Of course evolution is true; we know of no better scientific theory."

4. He argues ad novitatem. Evolution is a more modern theory than creationism, so it is more likely to be true than ancient theories.

5. He uses logical non sequiturs. Darwin spent 8 years studying barnacles, so the theory of evolution must be true (p.2). George Bush is open to hearing creationist arguments, so creationism must be false (p.1). Birds and bats and squirrels fly by different methods, therefore they can't have been designed (p.8). (Sailing ships, paddle steamers and screw-driven ships cross the sea by different methods, so by that logic they can't have been designed either.)

6. He indulges in circulus in demonstrando - arguing in circles. Evolution is the only possible scientific explanation for life because (for him) only evolution counts as a scientific theory. Later he argues that there's no need to debate creationism simply because evolution is true and there's no need to debate it (p.4).

7. He commits a clear fallacy of composition. Someone who studies a subject knows more about it that someone who doesn't. Darwin studied biology for years and the creationists didn't. So evolution is more likely to be true than creationism.

8. He converts a conditional premise. If evolution is true, then selective breeding of a species would be possible. Selective breeding is possible, therefore evolution is true. A comparative argument: If fairies live in your garden, there will be dew on the grass in the morning. There was dew on my grass this morning; therefore, fairies live in my garden.

9. He repeatedly begs the question. In response to the ID question, "What use is part of eye?" he simply asserts part of an eye is more use than no eye at all (p.3). No it isn't. An eye that doesn't see is no better than no eye that doesn't see! Later he asserts that the fact a Boeing 747 needed a designer proves nothing because birds can fly more efficiently "without a designer" (p.7).

10. He gives us an ad hoc explanation fallacy. A Boeing 747 could have been created by wind blowing through a hangar long enough to randomly assemble the parts, or it could have been designed and built. That much he admits. (In fact, it was designed and built.) But, Jones says, earth could have been created or evolved by chance; however, the only possibility acceptable to science is a random series of events.

11. He appeals to the gallery - argumentum ad populum. George Bush, boo hiss, is open to creationist arguments. So are Islamic terrorists. So you (his audience) shouldn't be open to such nasty arguments.

12. He employs the No true Scotsman fallacy. No Scotsman puts sugar in his porridge. "But I do," says wee Jimmy from Glasgow.  "Ah, but no true Scotsman puts sugar in his porridge." No scientist believes in creationism. But I have a book written by 50 scientists who do believe in it. Ah, well, no true scientist believes in creationism. Ergo - to believe in creationism means you are not a scientist.

13. He uses one or two red herrings to throw anyone critical of his argument off the scent. Instead of dealing with the question for evolutionism, "What use is part of an eye?" - in other words before eyes evolved, how did one blind creature have an advantage over another blind creature in order to survive the natural selection process? - instead of dealing with that, he throws in a red herring: "Why do we need microscopes if the eye was designed?" (Answer: we don't "need" microscopes - ha ha). A comparative argument: “Why do we need houses if skin was designed?”

14. Finally, there are quite a few straw men wandering around Prof. Jones' notes. For example: questioning evolution, which has never been observed and can never be proved, is equivalent to denying 2 + 2 = 4, which no creationist has ever doubted as far as I'm aware.