Monday Madness: Where logic dares not tread.

And “sometimes” is “mostly.”
About once a week, I check on Uncommon Descent, mostly because I am interested in learning about the ways that pseudoscientists react to things, and how they use logic. Or not.

I have two things to point out. The first about our good friend Joel Borofsky, Dembski’s research assistant, who claimed that he doesn’t “necessarily” help out with Intelligent Design stuff, then admitted that he does “sometimes” work on ID stuff. (Why would he feel the need to hide that when he is a moderator and poster at UD? Oh yeah, because of this.)

Why, it's time to slice and dice with DICER!It seems that Joel is starting down the path of quote mining, misrepresentation, and concluding based upon selected quotes and warped logic, that Richard Dawkins should not be a part of the discussion of evolution. Joel defended himself against calling for the Internet Infidels site to be taken down six years ago thus:

That one from 2000 was made when I was 16 years old as well. It’s one of those things I look at and laugh because it shows where I’ve come from. I certainly think it’s a very weak argument and wouldn’t ascribe to the structure at all.

Then he says this on Uncommon Descent:

If he admits that he could never see DE as being false, even if there were no evidence, he has shown his bias to the tune of ignoring facts, and therefore should not be in the discussion.

Besides the fact that Richard Dawkins has never indicated that he could never see Evolution as false, some part of Joel’s statement holds true. And that is, when someone does continue to contradict themselves, we should probably stop listening to them. However, Dawkins has not, and it would be nice to see Joel or someone else demonstrate this without quote mining and playing with what all the pronouns mean. But, as one UD commenter points out:

Joel, today you wrote this:

Dawkins’ character is the issue. He sits there and says how he applauded his professor for admitting his fault, but then acts as if though he will never accept any other view than Darwinian evolution; even if the facts are contrary to his opinion. It shows that he truly is not open minded to the issue.

Only yesterday, you wrote this:

The purpose of ad hominem is to focus the debate onto the person, or to argue from emotion, instead of looking at the key points of the argument.

On Joel’s blog, he stated his position on ad hominem attacks very clearly:

As Christians, we are to be above this.

It seems that he is not above this, not even in the same fortnight, and that according to his own reasoning, he should not be a part of the debate because of his blatant internal contradictions.
Finally, the first comment on Joel’s post was William Dembski himself:

Brilliant! Let me encourage a Jon Stewart slicing and dicing of pro-Darwinian videos pointing up the contortions, contradictions, and confusions to which Darwinians like Dawkins must descend to insulate their dying theory.

I have taught you well, my young apprentice. Soon I will teach you the art of not contradicting yourself to the same audience one day apart. Your abuse of logic makes you stronger – gives you focus. If you can master contradictory arguments to sway different audiences, you will become a strong IDer.

And I thought things were going to get dull when DaveScot left. I’m so glad I called it when I did – we now have Joel.

Now, on the topic of bad logic, Denyse O’Leary, Dembski’s new co-blogger at UD, has decided that merely asserting a convenient position is enough to foil counter-arguments.

She argued that because Michael Shermer wrote a book called Why Darwin Matters, that therefore, Darwin does not matter because Shermer has to assert it.

First, I find the title of Shermer’s book interesting. If Darwin really mattered, Shermer wouldn’t be writing a book insisting that he does.

To which “Sophophile” responds:

Let’s test that reasoning on a few other book titles taken from

Why Religion Matters
Class Matters
Why Gender Matters
Science Matters
Why Geography Matters
Race Matters
Why Sinatra Matters
Culture Matters
Why New Orleans Matters
Democracy Matters
Why Love Matters
Children Matter
Character Matters
Your Work Matters to God
Spirit Matters
God is No Laughing Matter
What Matters Most: The Power of Living Your Values
Scripture Matters
Thoughts Matter
Your Mind Matters
Life Matters
Humility Matters
Why Truth Matters
Animals and Why They Matter
Why Freedom Matters

and quite appropriately for this blog:

Design Matters

Denyse, would you care to reconsider your statement?

Rather than consider that her logic was bad, she instead decides that denying logic is the best course of action. She responded with another post:

The answer is certainly not. Indeed, sophophile confirms just what I was trying to say – that when you have to explain why Darwin matters, he doesn’t.

That’s just dumb. Sophopile didn’t confirm anything of the sort, they countered her argument with counter examples. The idea is, that if you apply Denyse’s logic to these examples, you end up with a conclusion that you are not willing to accept, such as, that love, laughing at god, scripture, truth, and all these other things don’t matter because someone felt the need to write a book asserting that they do matter.

The next logical step is that if you have reason to believe that any of these counter-examples matter, then you are compelled to either:

  1. Abandon the argument that you used since it seems to lead to false conclusions,
  2. Reconsider that such things as freedom, life, and religion don’t matter because you believe your argument is flawless, OR
  3. Abandon logic and re-assert yourself.

Denyse chose to go with “3.” She decided to say that some of the counter-examples might not be good enough, and tosses out the rest:

Notice that the examples *I* gave below of things that matter and require no explanation were efficient personal gas mileage and cures for cancer – not the abstractions listed by sophophile above. I did that for a reason: You will know if you saved money or if a loved one was cured of cancer. I can’t pour into those phrases just any meaning I like and make it work for you.

I personally know a few people that don’t think that gas mileage matters. So her example is not as self-evident as she makes it out to be. I could just mention that there’s a book called Why Jesus Matters but don’t you think that that’s a little abstract? Heh. And sophophile swoops in for the kill:

If science really needed faith, Denyse O’Leary wouldn’t be writing a book insisting that it does.

Denyse O’Leary does have a good point, though. When someone has to keep re-asserting a claim over and over again, as if the mere assertion was enough, it does imply that the asserter doesn’t have evidence to back up their claim. Post after post at Uncommon Descent falls into this category. And let’s see, what did Joel Borofsky state three times in the post I diced above?

…In other words, we can only celebrate our wrongness when it fits within the naturalistic ideal.

…In other words, we can only celebrate our wrongness when it fits within the naturalistic ideal.

…In other words, we can only celebrate our wrongness when it fits within the naturalistic ideal.

Hmm, someone’s grasping at straws. He’s good – he sounds just like them, which suggests that he “mostly” works on ID stuff, rather than “sometimes.” Keep up the good work, Joel, and don’t let Bill know that you’re really a mole. Tell us more!

To finish, although we’re seeing the same poor logic and pitiful defense of that poor logic at Uncommon Descent, I would like to compliment them over there. Whereas UD used to be a joke because of the crappy logic, empty rhetoric, and fascistic silencing of dissent, Denyse O’Leary and the other co-moderators seem to be doing a better job, because dissenting opinion is actually getting through. I wrote about the horrible way in which UD was run as a blog back in January, with everything from deleting mistakes, censoring even light criticism, and blissfull ignorance of how stupid they looked to other bloggers, and now I feel I need to revise my position.

Uncommon Descent has changed. It is no longer the laughing stock of the blogosphere because of a rabid fear of being proven wrong that censored all disagreement in its comment section and resorts to ad hominem attacks instead of putting forward evidence. It is now the laughing stock of the blogosphere because it is continually being proven wrong in the comments section of the blog and ad-hominem attacks are applauded.

Including dissenting opinions in the comments is a very adult and honorable thing to do, and I commend them for it. But I wonder if it is even worth it for them to blog anymore – this is not helping their pseudoscientific movement in any way.


Published by

Karl Haro von Mogel

Karl Haro von Mogel serves as BFI’s Director of Science and Media and as Co-Executive Editor of the Biofortified Blog. He has a PhD in Plant Breeding and Plant Genetics from UW-Madison with a minor in Life Sciences Communication. He is currently a Postdoctoral Scholar researching citrus genetics at UC Riverside.