The ‘Why’ and ‘How’ of the Creation-Abiogensis/Big Bang ‘Debate’

Hello there, all my moral, just, secular people,

Today’s post was inspired by a television show which aired on the ABC (Australia) entitled Q&A, which every week presents a handful of politicians, public figures, theologians and atheists, for an open discussion and Questions from the live and internet audiences, hence the name Q&A. This weeks program was a special program, because it put forward only two panelists, along with the host, and these where the Atheist Richard Dawkins, and Catholic priest George Pell. Richard Dawkins has made appearances on the show before, but this was the first time he went ‘head-to-head’ with only a Christian joining him on the panel. The show has made quite and impact in the media, with a lot of discussion about it going on even on the radio the next morning. The show can be viewed in full right here at this link here -> http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xi1EDDuMksw. I will surely be making my comments on the show over the next few days, but here is today’s rant.

During the show, this oft quoted argument was brought up by George Pell, he said (not an exact quote) “Science can tell us a lot about the ‘how’, with evolution and the big bang, but it doesn’t tell us a lot about they ‘why.'” This argument is talked about by Roy Williams in his book I am reading at the moment, and I have heard it from others too. This whole argument is both a red-herring and a non-sequiter, and Richard Dawkins summarized it very well, “That’s just not a valid question.” The whole question of ‘why’ does the universe exist, is not relevant, its like asking why unicorns aren’t very good at snooker. In that way it is a non-sequiter.

Even if you do grant that ‘why’ is a valid question, it is not a question for the science, nor is it a question which could change the fact that the big bang or abiogenesis happened. The question is for philosophers and humanists.

The ‘Why’ question, “Why are we here.” Is also a good example of the unstated major premace fallacy, the question just assumes that there must be some meaning for our existence, when it is quite plausible that we could have no purpose to exist.

This question is also a red herring because it side-steps the real question of the ‘how’. This is the whole problem with Roy Williams’ book, at the start he asks the ‘why’ and the ‘how’ question, and he says, “Science knows the how, but not the why, I’ll write a book about the why.” In this way he can write a whole book without having to address a single question about ‘how’.
It is a really annoying question, because to people who are not aware of the fact that ‘why’ is not a logical question, the argument can have some weight. Most people like to have a purpose for their life, and this is where they get all caught up. The miss the point that Atheism has a point too, “We only live for 80 or so years, and we have no afterlife to look forward too, so lets just make the world as good as possible in this short time.”

I will leave you with my favourite quote from the entire evening where George Pell accidentally walks all over his own argument to try to just contradict Richard Dawkins on everything,
“Dawkins: the only thing that might convince me that Christianity is true is if a 700 ft Jesus walked into the room and said ‘I exist’, and I’m not even sure if that would convince me.
Pell: I’d say ‘you are hallucinating’.”

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Fallacy Frenzy: Moving the Goalposts

Hi there, follow skeptics,

I am going to continue my on-going run of logical fallacies. Today I am going to be talking about a very common logical fallacy, not only used in discussions involving skepticism, but in everyday life. It is the argument called ‘moving the goalposts’. It is essentially a dirty, intellectually dishonest tactic to ensure that your opposition never reaches the full set of criteria for approval. It is not technically a logical fallacy, because there is no fault in logic in this argument, but it is usually counted as a fallacy because it is a common tactic, and it is not a very honest one at that.

The basis of this debating tactic is that you can always ask for more and more proof of something, all the time knowing that you will always be able to ask for more proof without ever having to concede defeat. I will explain it using the evolution/creation argument because it is a very common use of this arguing tactic.
A creationist states to an evolution proponent that there is a big gap between whales and land mammals, which must be filled in order to prove evolution.
The evolution proponent then proceeds to go out and do all the work, and manages to find a transitional fossil between mammals and a whale.
The creationist then has two options, he can either ask for a transitional fossil between two different species, or he can ask for fossils between the whale and the whale-mammal hybrid, or between the whale-mammal hybrid and the mammal. (notice this is also a god of the gaps argument in this case, I will deal with that logical fallacy later)
This is a moving the goalposts fallacy. This process can continue on for ever, with the creationist just asking for more and more proof, and the evolutionist providing it, and then the creationist asking for more.
No matter how hard the evolutionist works and how much proof he finds, it will always be just below the creationists criteria.

Another common example of this argument tactic is used by proponents of god in general. However, despite being a moving the goalposts strategy, it works in reverse to the previous example. God is usually described as the gap in our knowledge about the universe. This has been the general theory of god since its beginning.
When it was not understood how lighting and thunder was made, god was accepted as the creator of this thunder. An atheist at the time would have said that lightning is natural, the normal response would be “prove it.” So the atheist goes out and proves that lightning does not need god to explain it away. The god-believer will then say, “god makes the planets go around.” The atheist goes out and proves that there is no need for god to explain the planets motions.

This process continues to the stage where god is just the so-called ‘writer-of-the-rulebook’, and he decided upon the physical laws, and now just sits back and watches the action unfold. According to god proponents, god still exists, so they are happy, despite the fact that god is being pushed into an ever smaller corner. This is also an example of moving the goalposts.

That’s all for today, I will leave you with a quote from Bertrand Russell, “Logical errors are, I think, of greater practical importance than many people believe; they enable their perpetrators to hold the comfortable opinion on every subject in turn.” Bertrand Russell, a British philosopher, logican, mathematician, historian and social critic of some note.

Homeopathic college in Australia website review

Hello from me,
I was browsing the internet yesterday, as is the norm, when I stumbled across homeopathycollege.com.au, which is the official website for the Sydney College of Homeopathic Medicine. It’s sad that what I thought was mostly an English and European pseudoscience has infiltrated Australia. I thought I might go over some of my thoughts on the website.
There is a handy ‘about homeopathy’ tab amongst others which explains the underlying principles of homeopathy. One thing I noticed is that right at the top the website says ‘Homeopathy is a system of medicine based on principles laid down over 200 years ago’ and here is one of the main problems with homeopathy, it’s based on 200 hundred year old crap. It hasn’t changed anything about its philosophy in the last 200 years.
Another claim thrown around commonly in the introduction is that homeopathy is both safe and effective. I agree with half of that statement. Yeah, it’s safe because it’s just water, no, it’s not effective because it’s just water. In the last paragraph the website states that ‘Homeopathy’s effectiveness in a wide range of conditions is increasingly being verified by high quality clinical and laboratory trials (both human and animal)’. This is completely wrong. Homeopathy effectiveness has been proved by poorly designed, non-double-blinded studies which do not control for placebo and the like. Homeopathy has been shown to have no effect when studied using large, rigorous, double-blinded studies.
That’s it on my review of this homeopathic site. I will leave you with a skeptical Quote from Undoubtedly the most famous of all skeptics, James Randi, “I do not expect that homeopathy will ever be established as a legitimate form of treatment, but I do expect that it will continue to be popular.”