ED vs. LOGICAL FALLACIES, PART 19: INCREDULITY

Reading reviews of the Ben Stein trainwreck Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed (which is a funny title, but probably not in the way they intended) is good fun. I suppose there's no definitive way to determine if a film is good or bad, but here's a hint: it's not looking good when you make a piece of red meat for ultra-conservative nutcase Americans and Fox News calls it "sloppy, all-over-the-place, poorly made (and not just a little boring) 'exposé' of the scientific community" and calls its director "either completely nuts or so avaricious that he's abandoned all good sense to make a buck." Good times.

Rather than dignify the creationist nonsense that Stein regurgitates, let's talk about the amusing lengths to which creationism advocates go to turn their little fairy tale into a legitimate science. Specifically, the effort to sell this to the courts as Intelligent Design: All Scientific and Shit revolves around the idea of "irreducible complexity." It is, of course, based on a ridiculously transparent logical fallacy – the Argument from Incredulity.

This fallacy is basically the assertion that something cannot be true (or should be presumed false) because one personally finds it impossible, implausible, or incomprehensible. In other words, "I don't believe that, ergo it isn't true." If this sounds like a fairly silly thing upon which to base an entire belief system and sociopolitical movement, you're not alone in your skepticism.

Irreducible Complexity is the argument that certain biological processes are too complex to be explained by evolutionary theory. Of course "too complex to be explained by science" means that the correct explanation is provided by Genesis.** Here's the problem, though…there are plenty of explanations for every phenomenon purported to support this theory. Creationists simply respond that these explanations are not plausible (ginandtacos preferred whipping boy, Michael Behe, provides a great example of this logic in Kitzmiller v Dover). In other words, "I don't understand it / I don't believe it, therefore it is not true."

Try it out! It's fun. For example, a friend of mine once explained to me how the internet works. I did not understand a goddamn bit of it. It just went directly over my head. Therefore….there is no existing theory that can explain how the internet works except "God made it." Neither can I believe anyone would use an argument this stupid. Therefore it can't be happening. The copious evidence to the contrary that is created every time a creationist opens his or her mouth does not persuade me.

**Not the band

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10 Responses to “ED vs. LOGICAL FALLACIES, PART 19: INCREDULITY”

  1. Cassie Says:

    My only source for explanations of universal mysteries is Phil Collins.

  2. Peggy Says:

    HOW EARLY DO YOU HAVE TO GET UP to be the first one to say that you turn to Phil Collins for your intellectual and spiritual guidance???

    Actually it seems that Cassie may have beaten me by being up late rather than early. CURSES. I knew teaching high school was a bad idea.

    I was going to close with some lyrics from a Genesis song, but I can't think of any, so, uh… yeah.

  3. Brandon Says:

    Nice post, and I agree that this particular logical fallacy is at the root of much pseudoscientific and religious thinking. The amazing thing to me, however, is that evolution is really such an intuitive and easy to grasp concept, even for a relatively scientifically illiterate person such as myself. I can understand people shrugging off string theory and quantum mechanics as nonsensical gibberish and taking shelter under the creationist umbrella, but natural selection is something we see every day. So I think it has more to do with people refusing to even try and understand it than it does with people simply not being able to grasp the concepts after giving it the ole' college try.

    Regarding the film, it looks epically bad. And morally repugnant, as they apparently try to link Darwin to Nazism. I think a person could write a whole book detailing all the logical fallacies contained in this film. Fortunately, Richard Dawkins, who was duped under false pretenses into giving an interview, gives a very nice summary:

    http://richarddawkins.net/article,2394,Lying-for-Jesus,Richard-Dawkins

  4. BK Says:

    When I was in college I attended a "lecture" by an intelligent design proponent. He hit all the 'high' points – violation of the 2nd (?) law of thermodynamics, the inability of science to reproduce the event that started life in the primordial soup, etc…

    Needless to say, in about the first 6 minutes of question and answer four of us (all biochemistry/molecular biology or biolgy majors) had managed to destruct everything he said to this large group of faculty and students – much to the applause of the biology faculty who had remained suprising silent during the lecture.

    It's been ten years since then and I had thought the issue of ID had been to some degree publicly discarded by the zealots after their fake PhD scientists had been continously beat up by undergrads – given the new film and the attention its getting on talk radio and in conservative circles, I guess not.

  5. Ed Says:

    There's no reason to believe that the idea would get less popular since the entire premise is that being disproven doesn't disprove it.

  6. Jeff Says:

    It disturbs me that more and more people in this country believe there is an equivalence between faith and reason, or that scientists are acting on faith to "believe" in evolution just as they believe otherwise. Rather than learn the concept behind evolution, they simply call it unknowable and believe whatever. It's frustrating to find people who seem to think ignorance is a good substitute for faith.

  7. JDryden Says:

    There's a curious split in the 'faith-based' community between those with educations (however specious) and those without, and I think I've solved (without evidence and only the shoddiest of in/deductive reasoning, but surely that's appropriate here) the nature of the split. To wit: people with educations who 'believe' in ID are lying in order to sell a marketable product to those without educations. Simply put, 'faith' is *not* incompatible with reason–Isaac Newton, Einstein, Erasmus, Milton, and C.S. Lewis all pretty much are living testaments to this. But reason, and education, are mighty hard. They require the acquisition of knowledge, which is time-consuming and effortful, and the co-ordination of acquired knowledge (even more so). Who has time for that? Much easier to declare 'faith' to be universal and therefore not the *opposite* of reason, but a blanket that covers all mind-sets/values, *including* reason.

    Which leads us to folks with questionable (or even not-questionable) credentials realizing that oh my Lord is there a buck to be made telling high school drop-outs who want to feel smugly superior to all them fancy-book-learned-smarty-pants that they don't *need* reason or knowledge–*faith* works just as well and even better! Hence, no need to feel inadequate because you don't understand mitosis or because 'primodial soup' sounds like something you'd order at a weird-ass restaurant (if we could tear you away from TGI Fridays). You don't *need* to know that stuff, 'cause none of it's true! God and Baby Jesus did it all! End of story. Read the first book of Genesis? Cool! You're done! Grats! You need now only pay a small fee to me every so often to have me spoon-feed you specious justifications for your mindless faith. And we both go home happy.

    One has to admire the sickening efficacy of the symbiosis.

  8. rob mccolley Says:

    ben stein was on CBS sunday morning this week. he ranted against the brave sex-abuse victim, a teenager at the FLDS compound in texas. he referred to her act of self-preservation as "probably a crank call."

    let's hang him up by his balls.

    also in that "news" program were a feature about a hand model's hands, and a long, long profile about craig ferguson and his show on . . . wait for it . . . CBS!

    ed murrow is currently SPINNING in his grave, because rolling over wasn't good enough.

  9. rob mccolley Says:

    oh crap.

    now that i've googled it, i find that ben stein has been making ludicrous commentaries on CBS sunday for YEARS! and here was i, still thinking of him as jimmy kimmel's straight man . . . and richard nixon's straight man, of course.

    i guess i've just proved the old corollary once again: nobody watches CBS

  10. Christina Jones-Barnes Says:

    Therefore….there is no existing theory that can explain how the internet works except “God made it.”

    Wait! Al Gore really is God!!??!eleven!one!

    I knew it!