Friday, 26 March 2010

Do You Have Magic Without A Magician?

Is it any wonder that many seem to resort to ridicule when such a ridiculous straw man is posited? Arguments like that don't even need to be reduced to the absurd, they've brought the absurd with them.

But in that mess of an mental enema there is underlying a very important point into the creationist mindset. It's no good explaining to them that their fundamental idea on the origin of life is not going to come from spontaneous generation out of decaying plant matter exposed to light, much less macroscopic life-forms. There's so much wrong that it could only be considered fractally wrong.

Consider the simple creationist argument for design: have you ever heard of a watch without a watchmaker? The idea being that agency begets structure. Take away the agency and there's a void. How can the structure cause itself? Even if there's an external cause for the structure it is still so complex that it can only lead us to the conclusion that it was a product of agency.

In other words, how do you have magic without a magician?

Yet this is the kind of rhetoric I've heard numerous times from various creationists. "Evolution is a fairy tale", "evolution works by magic", etc. The irony being that what they are positing is in-fact magic. The magic by the work of a magician of course, they just prefer the term miracle.

This to my mind shows insight into creationist thinking. Instead of working to see how the scientific explanation works, they've in effect removed God from their own thinking and are expecting science to come up with an explanation that looks and acts exactly like God. The failure of a scientific explanation to fit into those stringent mental parameters leaves them with nothing but incredulity at what's on offer.

This might seem like a trivial thing to say, but it's an incredibly important point to fully comprehend. I've been through such an argument before, the expression of evolution by magic when explaining it meticulously using only natural processes and known causation. The explanation just won't gel because they are looking for an explanation to fill a God-shaped hole.

In the above case, it's life coming from non-life but the principle is the same. Scientists working on the problem are looking to how life can arise biochemically and how digital replication can begin. Explanations aren't there yet, but the principles that scientists are working on rest fully within the laws of physics. Yet the creationist straw man is positing exactly what they believe actually happened, only without a divine being in there. It's not the biochemists who are appealing to magic, it's the creationists who claim they are.

Magic without a magician? How absurd. We all know that only magicians can make magic, and that magician is God.

If only we could live in a world where such ignorance was mocked mercilessly instead of being passed off as an irrefutable proof of God. Quite an odd proof too:
  1. If evolution was true, then life should spontaneously form when taking the lids off peanut butter jars
  2. Life has never been observed spontaneously forming through this procedure
  3. Only God can create life
  4. Life exists
  5. Therefore God exists


Stephen said...

I really hate it when these idiots conflate and misrepresent theories. Why do they always try to discuss abiogenesis when they argue against the theory of evolution?

The beauty of the theory of evolution is that finding out 'how it all began' is interesting, but ultimately unimportant. Once you have entities that self-propagate with slight variations that influence propagation efficiency, those entities will inevitably evolve in response to selective pressures in their environment. That statement holds for any entity meeting the above criteria. There is no requirement for any particular starting point.

In the case of life on Earth, we have some constraints on what that starting point would have been. It must have been something that gave rise to the DNA-RNA-Protein replication mechanism that we now have. I don't think that we will ever know for sure how life began on this planet, but given that we know how it ended up, we can at least have an educated guess at how it started.

This is where the 'magic' comes into it in the eyes of a creationist. They parse "we don't know" as "we can't know" and therefore feel justified using God to explain the unknowable. What I really don't get is how 'disproving' natural abiogenesis is meant to be a fatal blow for evolution by natural selection. At best, it argues for a god who flicked the switch on life and then sat back to watch his Rube Goldberg device run.

Sorry for the rant, but when they try to argue biology I actually know enough to spot the bullshit and am pissed off enough to say something about it.

Reasonably Aaron said...

I get the impression the religious believers are merely trying to frame evolution into their preconceived religious notions. The straw men they set up are stuffed with bible quotes.

Take Ray Comfort for example who believes evolution cannot happen because the first human would have no mate. Notice that this is exactly what his religious belief states, that there was one man and one woman was created from his rib.

The same thing is happening with peanut butter dude - it's his religion which says that we came from dirt but that's okay because goddidit.

Kel said...

Agreed Stephen, it really bugs me too. Last night I attempted to watch Expelled, and pretty much threw the towel in when "evolution cannot explain the origin of life" came on. It was ridiculous before that, but once they hit the origin of life that's when my brain imploded. It's a completely ridiculous straw man, yet one that perpetuates.

I see the same thing Aaron, though after having Dan Barker explain the mindset during his talk at the GAC I can now understand why it is such arguments come about. It's an absolutist mindset, take one thing out you need to put an equivalent piece in the same way. Sort of like tweaking one of the physical constants to watch the whole universe fall apart - or move your toilet one inch to the left without moving the pipes along with it.

negentropyeater said...

You forgot step 0. in the peanut butter proof of God.

step 0. is always implicit, and rarely made explicit.

step 0.: I want there to be an afterlife. I'm scared at the idea that there is none. I'm scared at the idea that there is no benevolent creator that looks after mankind and will come and save us in case we get into really deep shit. I want there to be an invisible hand, a powerful magician that can shape and guide humanity in the right direction. I want there to be a purpose in life that is bigger than us.
Science has never proven that this isn't true. Therefore, I assume that it is true. God exists.

Then the rest follows, circle reasoning which serves to confirm one's wishful thinking and help to relieve one's angst.

Step 0. is where faith begins, from the mega ignorant creationist nutcase à la Ray Comfort with the banana proof of God or this peanut butter proof of God to the highly educated and sophisticated believer à la Ken Miller with his quantum proof of God. Religions and spirituality make sure that step 0. is always kept alive, passed on from generations to generations, and is always ready to be exploited.