August 10, 2007

The Dumbest Argument of All

There's an argument I see put forth by Creationits frequently, and when I hear or read it I find myself assuming that the person advancing it looks just like the gentleman in the photo to the right. It goes something like this: All you scientists think yer so smart... well, if you'ns undertand evilution so good, how come you can't make no cell in yer fancy labratories? Haw haw, evilution ain't nuthin' but a Jesus-hatin' librul lie!

OK, that's not really an argument so much as a red herring put forth by someone who isn't quite as bright as a herring you'd find swimming in a school somewhere off the coast of Norway, but you get my drift. If you don't, then just look around for a guy who calls himself James Collins who likes to haunt science blogs. I've seen him make this argument on The Panda's Thumb, and here's one instance of his argument from NeuroLogica:

If evolutionists want to end the arguments all they have to do is, get their brilliant heads together and assemble a 'simple' living cell. This should be possible, since they certainly have a very great amount of knowledge about what is inside the 'simple' cell.

After all, shouldn't all the combined Intelligence of all the worlds scientist be able the do what chance encounters with random chemicals, without a set of instructions, accomplished about 4 billion years ago,according to the evolutionists, having no intelligence at all available to help them along in their quest to become a living entity. Surely then the evolutionists scientists today should be able to make us a 'simple' cell...

Build us a cell, from scratch, with the required raw material, that is with NO cell material, just the 'raw' stuff, and the argument is over. But if the scientists are unsuccessful, perhaps they should try Mother Earth's recipe, you know, the one they claim worked the first time about 4 billion years ago, so they say. All they need to do is to gather all the chemicals that we know are essential for life, pour them into a large clay pot and stir vigorously for a few billion years, and Walla, LIFE!

...The truth is, the evolutionists would love to have an explanation for how the first cell came into being, but they now realize that the 'simplest' cell is unimaginably complex and it is totally impossible for life to happen without an intelligent cause. Of course they hate God so he is out of their picture...

The best clue in the world that evolution is a myth is the very fact that scientists can't make a cell from scratch. And why is that? Because it is too complex.Of course they are trying desperately now to do just that, and if by chance they were ever successful it would only prove that it could never have happen by 'accident.'
Of course, this argument is fallacious and just plain stupid in so many ways. For example, it's incorrect to assume that cells are "unimaginably complex." Biology has an increasingly good idea of the internal workings of cells, right down to the molecular level. Not perfect knowledge, but clearly nothing that leaves us unable to imagine how complex a cell is. And of course the conclusion to this argument is very telling; Collins demands that scientists be able to create a cell from the "raw materials" (which means what? Protons and electrons?) in the laboratory, then concludes by saying that even if scientists did do that, it would only prove his initial assertion that cells are too complex to arise on their own to be correct. So, if scientists can't make a cell "from scratch," Collins feels his argument is justified... and if they can make a cell "from scratch," then his argument is justified.

This is such transparently muddle-headed imbecility that it deserve its own category of logical fallacy. For lack of a better name, I'll call it "argument from irreducible stupidity." Even to put forth an argument constructed in this manner indicates to me that there's something organically wrong with such an individual. Despite this being pointed out, such arguments are essentially cut-and-pasted on the web and drooled out of slack jaws in the real world time and again.

But there's an even deeper level of dumb at work behind an argument like this. Is such evidence demanded of any other discipline? In other words, if one requires surgery, does one demand of the surgeon that he can build an entire human body and bring it to life before accepting that the surgeon can do the surgery? Does one demand that one's mechanic build a car starting with molten metal before allowing him to do your tune up? Of course not; in fact, anybody who did so would be seen as not only rather moronic, but very likely insane and, certainly, an asshole. I don't use that word lightly here; imagine walking into an auto shop and demanding of the mechanics there what's being demanded of scientists by people adopting this argument. I'd bet good money that the response one would receive would include the words "off" and a four-letter word beginning with the sixth letter of the alphabet. In this instance, that's an entirely appropriate response.

Moreover, those who insist on a religious explanation for the origins of life don't feel bound to provide similar proof. Let's be generous for a moment and assume that there are 50,000,000 scientists in the world who work in fields relevant to the question of cell biology, such as biochemistry and genetics. This would be a tiny fraction of the billions of religious believers. Narrow down that field to those who believe that some deity directly produced the first cell. Perhaps that would be 1,000,000,000 people the world over (it might well be more, but it probably wouldn't be less). Now, let's demand the same sort of proof that those making the "argument from irreducible stupidity" are demanding. In order to provide that level of proof, they will need to all pray that God poof a new cell into exist. Such a cell will need to be distinctive from all other cells so that we can tell that it's brand new with no room for ambiguity. With all the religious people in the world, certainly they should all be able to get together and pray a simple new organism into existence. Since the posited deity is said to be omnipotent, it sholdn't be difficult to prove this organism's uniqueness. For example, the deity could create a single cell 3' in diameter with a cell membrane made from spun gold and is covered with cilia ending in little twinkly lights. I leave the specifics up to those willing to engage in such an experiment.

Of course, there will be no such individuals. Instead, those that would even have the intellectual fortitude to make an excuse would come up with something like "God doesn't work that way." This would beg the question of whether God had ever worked that way, and why He should have done so one occasion (or some other limited number of occasions, I suppose) but not now. Then we'd get some drivel about "matters of faith" and the like. We'd certainly never see our hypothetical giant 24-karat fiber-optic-ciliated cell.

Of course, no amount of reasoning will ever put a dent in the tremendously thick heads of those who wield the "argument from irreducible stupidity." By doing so, they have already demonstrated themselves to be incapable of reasoning in the first place, at least in any valid way that would make it possible for someone who didn't look like the fellow in the photo above to have a meaningful conversation with them.

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