June 04, 2008

Looney Louisiana Lawyer Lying for DA LAWD

Hoo boy. I thought Don McElroy's gibberings, of which I wrote in the previous entry, were gibberific, but I just ran across a letter to the editor in Louisiana's The Advocate online written by an attorney from Baton Rouge, Bert K. Robinson. All I can say is that if this letter is representative of how Robinson argues in court, look elsewhere for legal representation! The flaws in logic and willful mischaracterizations of factual material bespeak either dishonesty or some sort of intellectual defect. I can't tell which, but I can certainly respond to some of this junk.

Letter: Assumptions and evolution issue

...One evangelist proudly wrote that after young people hear his preaching for a few months, they convert. His pulpit: the schoolroom; his mission: to imbue impressionable youngsters with the pure doctrine of naturalistic evolution.

Big deal! As an attorney, let me try my cases with no opposition on the other side, and it would be like shooting fish in a barrel. No opposing viewpoints...
By "evangelist" here, Robinson is referring to a biology teacher. He's one of those benighted souls who equated biology to religion. The reason that biology is taught in science classrooms and mystical incantations about gods and demons isn't is because science is based on empirical observation, not spiritualism. The mission is education, and it's that mission to which Robinson is objecting. He's upset that his preferred dogma finds no place in science, as will become abundantly clear as we proceed.
Naturalistic gradualists such as Darwin (not a trained scientist; his degree was in religion) assume everything is material, i.e., "natural." Bingo. They win the argument without anything to support it because it is an assumption from the get-go...
It's not an assumption but an observation that there has been no evidence found for the supernatural having any role in the rise of diversity on planet earth, a place to which I suggest Robinson pay a visit someday. As soon as someone discovers some specific bit of data that can be explained only by resorting to something other than known physical laws, that will have to be incorporated into evolutionary theory. Scientific method doesn't rule things in or out on a permanent basis; it is always open to considering new data, but you have to have the data first for it to be considered. Saying things like "I believe" or "I don't understand" or "for the Bible tells me so" don't constitute data, just opinions. It is Robinson who is making assumptions here; assumptions are things created as starting points from which to address areas of ignorance. In science, we don't stop with the ignorance. We recognize the shortcomings in human knowledge and seek to address them based on new evidence that comes to light.
I recently realized that evolutionists and communists have much in common, i.e., they both assume that everything is natural, i.e., matter. Making that assumption, communists imprisoned thousands of Christians who believe in the supernatural. If you assume there is no supernatural because all is assumed to be material, those who believe in the supernatural must, ipso facto, be crazy. Similarly American evolutionists frequently satirize opponents of gradualistic evolution as insipid, dull and stupid...
And Robinson is giving us grounds for why people like him should be so satirized. "Evolutionists" are like Communists because we don't accept supernatural involvement in biology based on popular opinion or authoritarian assertion but demand evidence? Let's use Robinson's own argument by analogy fallacy in a religious context, then.

It is equally valid (that is to say, not at all) to argue from this position that Christians are just like Neolithic cannical headhunters from the Assam region of India. Like those cannibals, Christians believe that there is a deity who demands belief on pain of torture. Like Robinson, in fact, they also asserted that there was a supernatural hand at work in the rise of life on earth and that the universe was created by a deity. See? Christians are a lot like late Stone Age Assamese headhunters!

For the record, I don't think that anyone who believes in the supernatural is crazy. No doubt some are, but most are simply ignorant of the fact that much of what they ascribe to the supernatural is explicable by physical laws. They don't know the laws. Now, what is a bit crazy and/or stupid is the rejection of natural explanations that fit everything else we know about how the universe works in favor of stubbornly clinging to belief in the unobservable which some people name "faith." In Robinson's case, and the cases of those who argue in similar ways to that in which he does here, I think they're stupid because they're making a stupid argument. It's a bit like saying that wombats are like Communists because they both have a backbone and breathe air. Stupid arguments like this one, in fact, presuppose that there are people in the world who will be swayed by them — why use it otherwise? All Robinson is doing is cherry-picking some particular trait and ignoring anything that doesn't fit his argument. Gee, a Creationist ignoring evidence for something. How unique. Of course, one would hope that one's lawyer wouldn't ignore evidence, which is why I maintain that Bert Robinson shouldn't be your choice if you ever need to hire an attorney. Can you imagine this kind of argument before a judge?

"Your honor, my client is innocent. I can tell because innocent people wear black shoes and don't urinate in public. Look at my client's shoes! Is he urinating in front of the jury? You must find him not guilty!" Sound stupid? Yes, of course. Arguments from analogy usually do if you think about them, especially when the analogy is between two very complex phenomena. There's certainly more to being a Communist than a belief that everything is material (and that isn't even a necessary part of Communism, anyhow), but the reduction engaged in by Robinson suits his agenda here. Still comes out sounding dumb, though.
The late Dr. Stephen J. Gould, arguably the world's leading evolutionist and atheist, well understood the issues and declared that there is no room in evolutionary theories for a god. Frank Zindler, editor of the magazine American Atheist, recently said evolutionary biology established there were no Adam and Eve, therefore no fall and no original sin, and no need for any Jesus fella. Zindler understood the implications of evolution very well — better than many Christians.
There's no room in evolutionary theory for a god... so? If you don't start from the assumption that the creation myths in Genesis must be interpreted literally, that hardly matters. There's no room in evolutionary theory for a god, by the way, because we don't find evidence that one was involved. We don't find evidence that all of humanity is descended from a single pair of humans who were sculpted out of clay or dust and the subsequent incestuous couplings of their offspring. We don't see evidence that there was a necessity for mankind to be redeemed because somebody ate a piece of fruit at the behest of a talking snake in contradiction to words spoken by a spirit in the sky. That's not to say that room couldn't be made for any of this if somebody did find testable evidence for it. Otherwise, these things remain in the domain of religious belief, not science. Anyone is free to believe in them, but to expect that this belief be incorporated into and taught to students as if it were scientific in nature is ridiculous. I could as easily say that the nuclei of cells are really tracking devices implanted into eukaryotes by the Betelgeusian Intelligence Authority (the infamous BIA!) and have every bit as much evidence to back it up. Should that be taught in a biology class as well? Just how much time should researchers devote to following up on it? How many millions of dollars in grant money should be set aside to investigate my claim?
Evolutionists are upset with anyone who questions their assumption of gradual naturalism, because to them that is heresy. However, Darwinian evolution is fading, unable to withstand fatal flaws in the fossil record etc. So members of the faith have been forced to come up with such silly theories as punctuated equilibrium (e.g., a turtle laid an egg, and a bird flew out of it) and panspermia (aliens invaded Earth). They believe that stuff and give those theories multisyllable, scientific-sounding names.
Yes, those "flaws in the fossil record" are certainly grievous problems for evolutionary biologists. How are we ever going to explain all those Precambrian gerbils and Ordovician ostriches that people keep digging up?

Oh, wait... we don't have to because they don't exist. The fossil record has done nothing but support evolutionary theory. We simply don't find more derived organisms preceding their putative ancestors. Conversely, evolutionary theory keeps making predictions that are borne out later by fossil evidence, such as in the cases of Tiktaalik, Gerobatrachus, Onychonycteris, dinosaur feathers, and so on. Of course, what Robinson means by "flaws" is "gaps." It's the Creationist argument that unless we find fossils of every single organism that has ever existed then fossils that do exist are somehow evidence against evolutionary processes. Again, this is a pretty good indication that Robinson isn't a very good attorney. It's like saying that a suspect in a crime can't be convicted unless the crime itself can be reproduced in every detail during a trial. If you want to be obstinate enough about it, one could say that we never have every single bit of evidence for anything that has ever or will ever exist. It's another very stupid argument; some degree of inference is always necessary in considering what always amounts to partial evidence for the genesis of any phenomenon.

As far as Robinson's contention about the contents of Gould's theory of punctuated equilibrium, I am probably not as conversant with it as others. Still, I do think I grasp the basic idea. Punctuated equilibrium is the assertion that evolution proceeds not gradually but instead that taxa remain as they are for very long periods of time and then undergo evolution in rapid bursts of diversification over relatively much briefer periods, then the new taxa remain the same for a long period. Diversify, maintain, repeat. As far as I can recall, neither Dr. Gould nor anyone else has ever asserted that diversification takes the form of instantaneous leaps between branches of the tree of life. That's a figment of Robinson's apparently fevered imagination. What we would expect under a punctuated equilibrium model is that there would be one species of turtle that would persist for a long time and then suddenly diversify into two or more species of turtle in a short time. Cumulatively, over a very long period of time, the subtle differences from repeated diversifications would add up and we would eventually get something that wasn't a turtle at all. We would never expect flying turtles, though, because whether one subscribes to punctuated equilibrium or not, evolutionary processes aren't entirely random but are constrained by prior states. The body plan of a turtle and bird are too different for the former to give rise to the latter in all likelihood. Not so for certain kinds of bipedal dinosaurs, though, and interestingly enough there's lots of evidence to support that, both from the fossil record and from molecular investigations.

Of course, there's an even more basic reason that we wouldn't expect a bird to fly out of a turtle egg. It's one that's so simple, so grounded in basic powers of observation, that most children could explain it in satisfactory terms. That Robinson misses it is yet more evidence that he's probably not a good attorney.

You see, hatchling birds don't fly, dummy. Birds are born without the feathers needed for flight. They're born with their eyes closed and lacking muscular coordination. Baby birds don't fly.

One would expect that a good attorney, in considering the evidence for the argument he's about to present, would know that.

Readers, if you ever get arrested in Baton Rouge, make sure you don't hire Bert K. Robinson to represent you. Considering the argument he's presented to The Advocate, one must wonder if the man has ever won a single case.

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