Sunday, 29 May 2011

Pyrrhic Arguments

Some arguments are just worth winning, the intellectual ground sacrificed is just too great. Ken Miller's argument for an interventionist deity that worked in the uncertainty of quantum mechanics would be one of those instances because it treats an interventionist deity as indistinguishable from no deity at all.

These arguments are Pyrrhic victories, and it baffles me as to why people would want to take them. I've found this in creationist arguments often when something that's treated as bad design or a remnant of evolutionary history is searched for even the most tenuous of function in order to serve the view that it was all designed by an omnipotent being.

Biologists treat the appendix as a vestigial organ, the argument goes, but the appendix plays a [minor] role in our immune system so it has function. of course that doesn't address what a vestigial organ is, but it does seem to save the day on the topic of useless design - except...

The appendix can also cause problems, it's prone to infection itself and can be both very painful and potentially fatal. And it can be removed without serious problem, so what little it gives is hardly something that gives a supposedly omnipotent omniscient deity credit. As a design solution, it's hardly an elegant one, and conjures up the problem of evil. It might be a victory of rhetoric, but the cost is far too great.

I think part of the issue is that, in general, we aren't good at thinking through the implications of what we say. And in a discussion, not being able to answer a question is in a lot of cases worse than giving a bad answer. After all, it takes understanding the topic at hand in order to be able to show why its not a good answer. So I would suggest that it's an exercise we all should try to do, to see whether or not such arguments give us a victory worth having. Otherwise arguments just serve as a rhetorical tool - something that does nothing to advance a position and will be picked apart by knowledgeable opponents.

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