Rand vs. Dawkins

Richard Goode's picture
Submitted by Richard Goode on Tue, 2012-11-27 10:02

One of Ayn Rand's better essays is called The Argument From Intimidation.

There is a certain type of argument which, in fact, is not an argument, but a means of forestalling debate and extorting an opponent's agreement with one's undiscussed notions. It is a method of bypassing logic by means of psychological pressure. It consists of threatening to impeach an opponent's character by means of his position, thus impeaching the position without debate. Example: "Anyone who would question that the perpetrator of mass murder on American soil didn't deserve what he got needs to have their head examined." The falsehood of the position is asserted arbitrarily and offered as proof of the opponent's immorality.

In today's epistemological jungle, this method is used more frequently than any other type of irrational argument. It should be classified as a logical fallacy and may be designated as "The Argument from Intimidation."

The essential characteristic of the Argument from Intimidation is its appeal to moral self-doubt and its reliance on the fear, guilt or ignorance of the victim. It is used in the form of an ultimatum demanding that the victim renounce a given idea without discussion, under threat of being considered morally unworthy. The pattern is always: "Only those who are evil (dishonest, heartless, insensitive, ignorant, deluded, etc.) can hold such an idea."

You can read the whole thing (minus "Goblian interpolations") here. But I've given you the gist of it.

Rand vs. Dawkins

I'm currently reading The Greatest Show on Earth: the Evidence for Evolution by Richard Dawkins. I've just finished reading Chapter One and, so far, Dawkins has not presented one jot of evidence. Not even a skerrick. In lieu of evidence, Dawkins commits the logical fallacy that Rand identified and dubbed the Argument from Intimidation. Not just once, but ... umpteen times.

First, though, to warm up, Dawkins likens creationists to Holocaust-deniers ...

Imagine you are a teacher of more recent history, and your lessons on twentieth-century Europe are boycotted, heckled or otherwise disrupted by well-organized, well-financed and politically muscular groups of Holocaust-deniers. ... Holocaust-deniers ... are vocal, superficially plausible, and adept at seeming learned. They are supported by the president of at least one currently powerful state, and they include at least one bishop of the Roman Catholic Church. Imagine that, as a teacher of European history, you are continually faced with belligerent demands to 'teach the controversy', and to give 'equal time' to the 'alternative theory' that the Holocaust never happened but was invented by a bunch of Zionist fabricators. Fashionably relativist intellectuals chime in to insist that there is no absolute truth: whether the Holocaust happened is a matter of personal belief; all points of view are equally valid and should be equally 'respected'.

The plight of many science teachers today is not less dire. When they attempt to expound the central and guiding principle of biology; when they honestly place the living world in its historical context - which means evolution; when they explore and explain the very nature of life itself, they are harried and stymied, hassled and bullied, even threatened with loss of their jobs. At the very least their time is wasted at every turn. They are likely to receive menacing letters from parents, and have to endure the sarcastic smirks and close-folded arms of brainwashed children. They are supplied with state-approved textbooks that have had the word 'evolution' systematically expunged, or bowdlerized into 'change over time'. Once, we were tempted to laugh this kind of thing off as a peculiarly American phenomenon. Teachers in Britain and Europe now face the same problems, partly because of American influence, but more significantly because of the growing Islamic presence in the classroom - abetted by the official commitment to 'multiculturalism' and the terror of being thought racist.

... and blames Muslims, multiculturalists and their pusillanimous appeasers for resistance to his ideas in the classroom.

Next, Dawkins ingratiates himself with the Pope, the Archbishop of Canterbury, "senior clergy," other "educated priests and professors of theology" and "thoughtful and rational churchmen and women" all of whom tout the luke-warm liberal doctrine of theistic evolution and supposedly agree with Dawkins that

Nowadays there is nothing to debate. Evolution is a fact and, from a Christian perspective, one of the greatest of God's works.

Dawkins reproduces an open letter to the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, jointly penned by himself and the then Bishop of Oxford, Richard Harries.

Dear Prime Minister,

We write as a group of scientists and Bishops to express our concern about the teaching of science in the Emmanuel City Technology College in Gateshead. Evolution is a scientific theory of great explanatory power, able to account for a wide range of phenomena in a number of disciplines. It can be refined, confirmed and even radically altered by attention to evidence. It is not, as spokesmen for the college maintain, a 'faith position' in the same category as the biblical account of creation which has a different function and purpose. The issue goes wider than what is currently being taught in one college. There is a growing anxiety about what will be taught and how it will be taught in the new generation of proposed faith schools. We believe that the curricula in such schools, as well as that of Emmanuel City Technology College, need to be strictly monitored in order that the respective disciplines of science and religious studies are properly respected.

Yours sincerely

The Rt Revd Richard Harries, Bishop of Oxford; Sir David Attenborough FRS; The Rt Revd Christopher Herbert, Bishop of St Albans; Lord May of Oxford, President of the Royal Society;Professor John Enderby FRS, Physical Secretary, Royal Society; The Rt Revd John Oliver, Bishop of Hereford; The Rt Revd Mark Santer, Bishop of Birmingham; Sir Neil Chalmers, Director, Natural History Museum; The Rt Revd Thomas Butler, Bishop of Southwark; Sir Martin Rees FRS, Astronomer Royal; The Rt Revd Kenneth Stevenson, Bishop of Portsmouth; Professor Patrick Bateson FRS, Biological Secretary, Royal Society; The Rt Revd Crispian Hollis, Roman Catholic Bishop of Portsmouth; Sir Richard Southwood FRS; Sir Francis Graham-Smith FRS, Past Physical Secretary, Royal Society; Professor Richard Dawkins FRS

Note how the authors, chillingly, want school curricula to be "strictly monitored" for conformance to doctrines approved by Dawkins.

Here are some further excerpts from the remainder of Chapter One. I've bolded some words to identify the numerous occasions on which Dawkins resorts to Rand's Argument from Intimidation and his also numerous (and as yet unargued for) assertions that evolution is a fact.

Bishops and theologians who have attended to the evidence for evolution have given up the struggle against it. Some may do so reluctantly, some, like Richard Harries, enthusiastically, but all except the woefully uninformed are forced to accept the fact of evolution.

More than 40 per cent of Americans deny that humans evolved from other animals, and think that we - and by implication all of life - were created by God within the last 10,000 years. ... I shall be using the name 'history-deniers' for those people who deny evolution: who believe the world's age is measured in thousands of years rather than thousands of millions of years, and who believe humans walked with dinosaurs. ... they constitute more than 40 per cent of the American population. ... I shall from time to time refer to the history-deniers as the '40-percenters'.

To return to the enlightened bishops and theologians, it would be nice if they'd put a bit more effort into combating the anti-scientific nonsense that they deplore. All too many preachers, while agreeing that evolution is true and Adam and Eve never existed, will then blithely go into the pulpit and make some moral or theological point about Adam and Eve in their sermons without once mentioning that, of course, Adam and Eve never actually existed! If challenged, they will protest that they intended a purely 'symbolic' meaning, perhaps something to do with 'original sin', or the virtues of innocence. They may add witheringly that, obviously, nobody would be so foolish as to take their words literally. But do their congregations know that? How is the person in the pew, or on the prayer-mat, supposed to know which bits of scripture to take literally, which symbolically? Is it really so easy for an uneducated churchgoer to guess? In all too many cases the answer is clearly no, and anybody could be forgiven for feeling confused.

Think about it, Bishop. Be careful, Vicar. ... Shouldn't you take greater care, when speaking in public, to let your yea be yea and your nay be nay? Lest ye fall into condemnation ...

The history-deniers themselves are among those that I am trying to reach in this book. But, perhaps more importantly, I aspire to arm those who are not history-deniers but know some - perhaps members of their own family or church - and find themselves inadequately prepared to argue the case.

Evolution is a fact. Beyond reasonable doubt, beyond serious doubt, beyond sane, informed, intelligent doubt, beyond doubt evolution is a fact. ...Evolution is a fact, and this book will demonstrate it. No reputable scientist disputes it, and no unbiased reader will close the book doubting it. Why, then, do we speak of 'Darwin's theory of evolution', thereby, it seems, giving spurious comfort to those of a creationist persuasion - the history-deniers, the 40-percenters - who think the word 'theory' is a concession, handing them some kind of gift or victory?

Even the undisputed theory that the moon is smaller than the sun cannot, to the satisfaction of a certain kind of philosopher, be proved ... But massive accretions of evidence support it so strongly that to deny it the status of 'fact' seems ridiculous to all but pedants. The same is true of evolution.

A scientific theorum has not been - cannot be - proved in the way a mathematical theorem is proved. But common sense treats it as a fact in the same sense as the 'theory' that the Earth is round and not flat is a fact, and the theory that green plants obtain energy from the sun is a fact. All are scientific theorums: supported by massive quantities of evidence, accepted by all informed observers, undisputed facts in the ordinary sense of the word.

This book will take inference seriously - not mere inference but proper scientific inference - and I shall show the irrefragable power of the inference that evolution is a fact.

The slow drifting apart of South America and Africa is now an established fact in the ordinary language sense of 'fact', and so is our common ancestry with porcupines and pomegranates.

Our present beliefs about many things may be disproved, but we can with complete confidence make a list of certain facts that will never be disproved. Evolution and the heliocentric theory weren't always among them, but they are now.

Biologists often make a distinction between the fact of evolution (all living things are cousins), and the theory of what drives it (they usually mean natural selection, and they may contrast it with rival theories such as Lamarck's theory of 'use and disuse' and the 'inheritance of acquired characteristics'). But Darwin himself thought of both as theories in the tentative, hypothetical, conjectural sense. This was because, in those days, the available evidence was less compelling and it was still possible for reputable scientists to dispute both evolution and natural selection. Nowadays it is no longer possible to dispute the fact of evolution itself - it has graduated to become a theorum or obviously supported fact - but it could still (just) be doubted that natural selection is its major driving force.

By the time Darwin came to publish On the Origin of Species in 1859, he had amassed enough evidence to propel evolution itself, though still not natural selection, a long way towards the status of fact. Indeed, it was this elevation from hypothesis towards fact that occupied Darwin for most of his great book. The elevation has continued until, today, there is no longer a doubt in any serious mind, and scientists speak, at least informally, of the fact of evolution. All reputable biologists go on to agree that natural selection is one of its most important driving forces, although - as some biologists insist more than others - not the only one. Even if it is not the only one, I have yet to meet a serious biologist who can point to an alternative to natural selection as a driving force of adaptive evolution - evolution towards positive improvement.

In the rest of this book, I shall demonstrate that evolution is an inescapable fact, and celebrate its astonishing power, simplicity and beauty. Evolution is within us, around us, between us, and its workings are embedded in the rocks of aeons past.

I'm now half of the way through Chapter Two. It's a big improvement on Chapter One, but there's still no evidence for evolution in sight ... stay tuned.

[Cross-posted from Eternal Vigilance.]


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Ellis

Richard Goode's picture

What sort of mechanism is [divine intervention]?

According to string theory, there are up to 26 dimensions (including the familiar three spatial dimensions and time). Did you ever wonder what occupies those extra 22 dimensions?

What good would something like that be in the province of science?

None whatsoever. Science operates according to methodological naturalism.

Hence

Jules Troy's picture

It is more plausable that evolution is true.

Angela

Richard Goode's picture

From acceptinig Evolution as a fact it logicaly follows that the basic Christian premise has collapsed.

Good point.

I don't accept evolution as a fact.

Jules

Richard Goode's picture

Aliens using us in aome great petri dish experiment is more plausable than divine intervention.

What Ellis said.

But then you would still have to account for the origin of aliens.

God using us in some great Petri dish experiment is more plausible than aliens using other aliens using other aliens ... using other aliens in some great Petri dish experiment.

Reed

ding_an_sich's picture

"Incorrect. If the actual cause is intelligent then the true explanation wouldn't be considered a natural mechanism."
Well then I'm not really concerned with that. Offer me a proof of God or something to engage in debates if you wish.

"But you like philosophy. It's God you have a problem with."
I've become sick of philosophy as of late. And, no, God is not my problem. It's the Judeo-Christian God that's my problem.

"What's the difference?"
One is externally caused but not internally caused.

Ellis

reed's picture

Yeah, but, if we want to provide an explanation for life and it's biodiversity we need some sort of natural mechanism to account for it, correct?
Incorrect. If the actual cause is intelligent then the true explanation wouldn't be considered a natural mechanism.

Great, God created everything. Now we're doing philosophy. Lame.
But you like philosophy. It's God you have a problem with. Eye

And my experience tells me that human beings have autonomy, and not free will.
What's the difference?

Reed

ding_an_sich's picture

"Free will. Mind over matter."

"It wouldn't be any good at all in the province of science - free will is scientifically impossible."

Yeah, but, if we want to provide an explanation for life and it's biodiversity we need some sort of natural mechanism to account for it, correct?

Great, God created everything. Now we're doing philosophy. Lame.

And my experience tells me that human beings have autonomy, and not free will.

Steve

reed's picture

You and I both believe in free will - this belief comes from our experience not science.

Richard doesn't believe in free will - I presume his scientific beliefs trump his experience of apparent free will.

Reed

Jules Troy's picture

Haha free will is scientifically impossible? As a christian believing in the omniscient all powerful goblin do you not know that it does not matter what you do?  After all he knows all events past present and future, your path is pre-ordained so you are either going to heaven or hell and there is nothing you can do about it!

I will live my life how I damn well please with my freewill intact.

Ellis

reed's picture

What sort of mechanism is [divine intervention]?
Free will. Mind over matter.

What good would something like that be in the province of science?
It wouldn't be any good at all in the province of science - free will is scientifically impossible.

Collapsing premise

Xray's picture

Submitted by Richard Goode on Tue, 2012-11-27 12:02

"Next, Dawkins ingratiates himself with the Pope, the Archbishop of Canterbury, "senior clergy," other "educated priests and professors of theology" and "thoughtful and rational churchmen and women" all of whom tout the luke-warm liberal doctrine of theistic evolution and supposedly agree with Dawkins that

Nowadays there is nothing to debate. Evolution is a fact and, from a Christian perspective, one of the greatest of God's works."
(end quote RG)

The irony is that seeing Evolution as "one of the greatest of God's works" undercuts the ground on which the edifice of the Christian ideology rests: that Jesus was sacrificed by God to wash away the original sin committed by the 'original couple' Adam &Eve.

Accepting Evolution is incompatible with the idea of original sin, and without the idea of original sin, there is no need for a Christ.

From acceptinig Evolution as a fact it logicaly follows that the basic Christian premise has collapsed.

Hahah

Jules Troy's picture

When I See one I shall ask him and then we will all know!!

 

"looks to the sky, squints..shit..still nothing"

Jules

ding_an_sich's picture

"Aliens using us in aome great petri dish experiment is more plausable than divine intervention."

But then you would still have to account for the origin of aliens. Eye

Dr. Goode

ding_an_sich's picture

"Divine intervention?"

What sort of mechanism is that? What good would something like that be in the province of science?

Erm

Jules Troy's picture

Aliens using us in aome great petri dish experiment is more plausable than divine intervention.  

How did I reach this place?

Richard Goode's picture

I hope I don't misunderstand adaptive/fitness landscapes

I hope I don't either! It's been a while.

what occurs is further optimization from the peak A, which is now a valley on the landscape. What you get is a new landscape

Yes, I think you're right. The question is, under what circumstances does the adaptive landscape change? The arrows, which represent selection pressures, must change direction. I think this is where adaptationists have recourse to such things as population bottlenecks, genetic drift and the founder effect.

I've just realised that Dawkins has a book called Climbing Mount Improbable which, going by the title, probably proffers such adhockeries. But perhaps not altogether convincingly. The last paragraph of a review of the book by John Horgan on Slate reads

I know Dawkins knows how utterly improbable we are, because I have discussed the matter with him. Yet he seems to think that if he allows us weak-minded mortals to perceive that naked truth too directly, we will succumb to creationism or mysticism or theories such as Gaia, which is wishful thinking dressed up as science. Of course, most of us will succumb. But Dawkins should at least give us the chance to savor one of the great paradoxes of our era before we slip into darkness: The more that science explains our existence, the more implausible we seem.

I'm tempted to take a detour. (Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of Dawkins, I will fear no evil.)

there is probably a mechanism that is far more fundamental than natural selection.

Divine intervention?

Dr. Goode

ding_an_sich's picture

I hope I don't misunderstand adaptive/fitness landscapes, but it seems, going off of the picture, that an organism at A cannot reach the peak C. Instead, what occurs is further optimization from the peak A, which is now a valley on the landscape. What you get is a new landscape, and not a change from some peak to another peak, which cannot occur due to the direction in which the arrows are pointing. I guess genotypes seek certain pathways towards optimization? If this is the case, then I don't see anything implausible about adaptive/fitness landscapes.

"I think the theory of evolution by natural selection gives an inadequate account of biodiversity."

I think it does as well, but on the grounds that there is probably a mechanism that is far more fundamental than natural selection. But I take it that you would disagree with that too.

So, what would be an adequate account of biodiversity?

Btw, I'll add those two books to my reading list.

Adaptive landscapes

Richard Goode's picture

So, I take it you're against natural selection?

I think the theory of evolution by natural selection gives an inadequate account of biodiversity.

Have you read Darwin's account of it and the argument he puts forward in favor of it?

No, but I've read the account given by Dawkins in The Selfish Gene (which is a must read) ... and studied the philosophy of biology. (Two texts I recommend are The Nature of Selection by Elliot Sober and Sex and Death by Kim Sterelny and Paul Griffiths.)

If so, what do you find objectionable?

Its implausibility. Are you familiar with the metaphor of adaptive landscapes?

For a creature at A to evolve into the creature at C, the creature must move from A to C but only in the direction of the arrows. Unless ... what?

Dr. Goode

ding_an_sich's picture

"In Chapter Two, Dawkins talks about Platonic essentialism and the history of evolutionary theory. He talks about selective breeding, especially of dogs. He then says that natural selection is just like artificial selection, but with nature doing the selecting, and on a much grander scale. He introduces the concept of the "hairpin bend".

for any two animals there has to be a hairpin path linking them, for the simple reason that every species shares an ancestor with every other species: all we have to do is walk backwards from one species to the shared ancestor, then turn through a hairpin bend and walk forwards to the other species.

Basically, Dawkins claims that if you start off with some cabbages, by selective breeding you could, given a long enough time, produce human beings. But can you really extrapolate from the successes of dog breeders? Sure, we have hundreds of breeds of dog, but at the end of the day they're all subspecies of Canis lupus."

So, I take it you're against natural selection? Have you read Darwin's account of it and the argument he puts forward in favor of it? If so, what do you find objectionable?

Dawkins - Blind Watchmaker

reed's picture

In the Blind Watchmaker Dawkins creates a computer program to mimic evolution (selective adaptation) of organisms.

He creates a program that is a trait interpreter... then he creates the first generation... and starts the program running.
His program then produces generations of organisms exhibiting or not exhibiting the predetermined traits.

Dawkins is a Blind Watchmaker.

Dogs, cows and cabbages

Richard Goode's picture

You say that Darwin [sic] does not provide any evidence (so far) for evolution in chapter two. Is he arguing for natural selection and other microevolutionary processes? Or is he dealing with the origin of life, like abiogenesis or some such thing?

In Chapter Two, Dawkins talks about Platonic essentialism and the history of evolutionary theory. He talks about selective breeding, especially of dogs. He then says that natural selection is just like artificial selection, but with nature doing the selecting, and on a much grander scale. He introduces the concept of the "hairpin bend".

for any two animals there has to be a hairpin path linking them, for the simple reason that every species shares an ancestor with every other species: all we have to do is walk backwards from one species to the shared ancestor, then turn through a hairpin bend and walk forwards to the other species.

Basically, Dawkins claims that if you start off with some cabbages, by selective breeding you could, given a long enough time, produce human beings. But can you really extrapolate from the successes of dog breeders? Sure, we have hundreds of breeds of dog, but at the end of the day they're all subspecies of Canis lupus.

Maybe...

ding_an_sich's picture

Richard Dawkins isn't presenting any argument whatsoever. He does say that, "In the rest of this book, I shall demonstrate that evolution is an inescapable fact, and celebrate its astonishing power, simplicity and beauty. Evolution is within us, around us, between us, and its workings are embedded in the rocks of aeons past". So maybe chapter one is a preface of sorts. But this is being really nice to Dawkins, which I'm not apt to do, especially after reading that God-awful book "The God Delusion".

You say that Darwin does not provide any evidence (so far) for evolution in chapter two. Is he arguing for natural selection and other microevolutionary processes? Or is he dealing with the origin of life, like abiogenesis or some such thing?

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