Asymmetry

When I started this site, I had been struck by the remarkable symmetry between the objections raised by ID proponents to evolution, and the objections raised by ID opponents to ID – both “sides” seemed to think that the other side was motivated by fear of breaking ranks; fear of institutional expulsion; fear of facing up to the consequences of finding themselves mistaken; not understanding the other’s position adequately; blinkered by what they want, ideologically, to be true, etc.  Insulting characterisations are hurled freely in both directions. Those symmetries remain, as does the purpose of this site, which is to try to drill past those symmetrical prejudices to reach the mother-lode of genuine difference.

But two asymmetries now stand out to me:

The first is that ID proponents seem most of the time to be arguing against a claim made by very few (not even Dawkins) – that science shows that there is no DesignerScience does so such thing.  Even if scientists were to show, convincingly, a step by step account of life’s history from “mud to man”, we would be in no position to say that life was undesigned.  Scientific findings do not show that “materialism is true”.  They cannot.  Such a conclusion is outside scientific methodology.

But ID proponents go further than this – they argue that because science cannot conclude that there is no designer, that we are entitled to conclude that there is.  And so the first asymmetry is this:

  • ID proponents claim that current scientific explanations are inadequate, therefore ID. They make no testable hypotheses about the nature of the designer, and consider it outside their domain of enquiry.
  • ID opponents agree that scientific explanations are inadequate, and that a Designer is perfectly possible. They provide copious testable hypotheses for postulated non-design processes, and iteratively test them, rejecting some, retaining others, and leading, step by step, to an ever-more detailed picture.

The second asymmetry is this:

  • ID proponents dislike engaging with ID opponents; they readily bar people from their forums, and disable comments.
  • ID opponents are positively eager to engage with ID proponents, following them to ID websites, and inviting them to their own.

I suggest that an uncommitted observer, blind to the content of the arguments, might conclude that ID proponents are making the stronger claim, with the weaker case.

59 thoughts on “Asymmetry

  1. A further symmetry: each side believes that it is drawing the distinction between scientific inquiry and metaphysical speculation in the right place, and the other side is drawing it in the wrong place.

    ID proponents would say that design theory is a fully legitimate scientific theory, but that the line from empirical theory to speculative metaphysics is crossed at the point where one identifies the designer(s). But they characterize the critics of ID as “materialists”, hence the persistent conflation of “Darwinism” and “materialism.” (Of course ID proponents don’t see it as a conflation, and ID critics do.)

    By contrast, ID critics would say that since everyone (or almost everyone) in the ID camp is a theist (as well as ‘conservative’, i.e. reactionary, on social and sexual issues), it is the ID proponents who are smuggling their metaphysics (and their politics) into the science.

    One contributing factor of the stalemate, I believe, is an insufficient appreciation of the range of metaphysical positions. ID proponents take it for granted that there are really only three possibilities: materialism, dualism, and idealism. (Further, they believe that dualism and idealism are compatible with theism, but that materialism is not. They are probably right about that.) So, if one is not a dualist or an idealist, then one is a materialist. They also have a very restrictive conception of materialism — which, to call it by its correct name, is Epicureanism.

    (For those unfamiliar: Epicureanism was founded by Epicurus, 341 BCE – 270 BCE, who taught that all that exists consists of atoms and empty space, and that the atoms are governed by “necessity” and also by “chance”. This is why “chance and necessity” arises so many times in the rhetoric of ID proponents — because Dembski, who has a PhD in philosophy as well as one in mathematics, is explicit in reviving the Platonic/Stoic critique of Epicureanism. This is why he defines “design” as “the set-theoretic complement of chance and necessity”.)

    There are considerable weaknesses in Epicurean metaphysics, such as its inability to adequately account for consciousness, meaning, value, free will, and rationality. (There’s a very complicated story here about how Epicureanism was revived in the 16th century and how the priority of consciousness, meaning, value, free will, and rationality came into increasingly sharper focus over the next 100+ years, culminating in Kant’s extraordinary attempt to “limit knowledge in order to make room for faith”.) By associating “Darwinism” with “materialism,” ID proponents are tying evolutionary theory to a fatally flawed metaphysical doctrine.

    This is, I believe, one of the main reasons why ID proponents are so resistant to any emergentism in metaphysics: if emergentist metaphysics is an option on the table, then Epicurus’ hyper-reductive materialism is not the only game in town as the metaphysics that evolutionary theory needs.

  2. I think there is asymmetry in usefulness. I haven’t been able to find an ID proponent who can list for me any scientific advance resulting from the assumption of immaterial agents pushing stuff around.

    KF once opined that a background of regularity is necessary in order to distinguish exceptions or miracles. I agree.

    But I haven’t seen any list of exceptions that are anything other than unverifiable testimony. One can believe or disbelieve in private events and private observations, but I haven’t seen anyone explain how they can be incorporated into science or become part of scientific understanding.

  3. Thanks for the summary KN! That’s a fascinating history and connection.

    A question then: does materialism in general suffer from the same weaknesses as epicureanism? And can you elaborate on why epicurean metaphysics could not adequately account for consciousness? Just curious.

  4. Robin:
    Thanks for the summary KN! That’s a fascinating history and connection.

    A question then: does materialism in general suffer from the same weaknesses as epicureanism? And can you elaborate on why epicurean metaphysics could not adequately account for consciousness? Just curious.

    Over the course of the 19th and 20th centuries, increasingly “liberal” versions of materialism were developed. These days, most philosophers who identify as “naturalists” are emergentists of some sort or other.

    The problem with epicurean metaphysics and consciousness is best illustrated by Leibniz’s “mill argument””

    Moreover, it must be confessed that perception and that which depends upon it are inexplicable on mechanical grounds, that is to say, by means of figures and motions. And supposing there were a machine, so constructed as to think, feel, and have perception, it might be conceived as increased in size, while keeping the same proportions, so that one might go into it as into a mill. That being so, we should, on examining its interior, find only parts which work one upon another, and never anything by which to explain a perception.

    The argument here goes as follows:

    (1) everything material can be explained in mechanistic terms;
    (2) mechanistic explanation consists in understanding how each part functions in relation to the other parts;
    (3) but even if we were to understand how each part of a conscious machine functions in relation to the other parts, we would not thereby understand consciousness;
    (4) therefore consciousness is not explained in mechanistic terms;
    (5) therefore consciousness is not anything material.

  5. Ah. I’m just reading Nagel’s Mind and Cosmos – that’s why I was going to ask you about property and substance dualism. I’ll start a thread on it in a bit.

  6. Looks like number 3 in KN’s argument is fallacious, because it assumes its conclusion:

    (3) but even if we were to understand how each part of a conscious machine functions in relation to the other parts, we would not thereby understand consciousness

    On further thought, point (2) is also suspect. Is mechanistic explanation entirely an understanding of how each part relates to another part? What about the WHOLE? This line of reasoning looks unscientifically primitively mechanical to me.

  7. That picture for the post reminded me of Geraldton (a town in Western Australia). So I googled “Geraldton trees” (without the quotes), and the first image to show up was full of trees growing horizontally.

    It’s a place of steady strong westerly winds.

  8. Thanks for that background, KN.

    Yes, the ID proponents do seem to take Darwinism and materialism to imply the kind of stark mechanistic view that you describe there. Some of today’s non-theistic materialists seem to agree, while others disagree.

  9. In fairness, I was only explicating Leibniz’s argument — it’s not mine! I thought it worth mentioning as an example of how one might argue that materialism cannot explain consciousness. But I might not have given Leibniz the most charitable interpretation. I’ll have to look at it again.

  10. Neil Rickert,

    Neil Rickert:
    Thanks for that background, KN.

    Yes, the ID proponents do seem to take Darwinism and materialism to imply the kind of stark mechanistic view that you describe there.Some of today’s non-theistic materialists seem to agree, while others disagree.

    I have a ‘big story’ in the back of my head about how the ‘Epicureanization’ of evolutionary theory by popularizers like Jacques Monod and Richard Dawkins allowed social conservatives to scapegoat “Darwinism” for the destabilization of traditional social structures produced by capitalism. In other words, I have a Marxist analysis of the creationism vs. evolution debate. Maybe some of that ‘big story’ will come out here and there.

  11. Ah, that’s because your notion of utility is asymmetrical. Science is trying to figure out how the universe works, and ID is trying to save souls from consignment to hell. With such different goals, you would expect different approaches.

    What ID does is preaches. Incessantly. And science really has no room for preachers.

  12. Please start a thread with your “big story”. I would like to see it.

    (note: Your first attempt to reply to me went into moderation – I’m not sure why. Since your second attempt worked, I trashed the one in moderation.)

  13. Neil Rickert:
    Please start a thread with your “big story”.I would like to see it.

    (note:Your first attempt to reply to me went into moderation – I’m not sure why.Since your second attempt worked, I trashed the one in moderation.)

    Yes, the one in moderation was posted in the wrong place in the thread.

    How might I go about posting the ‘big story’? Would I request admin privileges from Lizzie?

  14. A designer is possible. However, when it comes to the idea of a god making everything conform to the regularities we can model mathematically, I follow Laplace and Ockham.

  15. She already gave you author privileges.

    When at the site (assuming you are logged in), you should see a bar across the top, with the word “New”. Hold your mouse over that, and you should see a menu. Click on “post” to start a new post.

  16. Limited sampling perhaps here.
    I have for years fought on behalf of YEC creationism and always being censored or punished with expulsion is the the norm from the evolutionists side. If creationist side does it also its much less.
    Everybody gets sucky and truly finds offensive everything opposite to ones own conclusions..
    People don’t argue with kindness or justice enough.
    I have no problem but I’m also very very confident and never feel a sting from the opposition intellectually or morally.
    Some creationists are like most people super sensitive. Anyways both sides tend to be people who think they are smarter, they might be, then most people and being corrected is painful whether rightly or wrongly.
    They can’t take it.
    Everyone should lighten up.
    Creationists are the ones more accurate and so should be the bigger man.

    By the way.
    Evolutionists do strive to show nature has no evidence of a creator.
    Maybe not saying there is no creator but thats not the point.
    Creation is the great and dominant evidence for a creator.
    The bible says this.

  17. Robert Byers:
    Limited sampling perhaps here.
    I have for years fought on behalf of YEC creationism and always being censored or punished with expulsion is the the norm from the evolutionists side. If creationist side does it also its much less.

    That’s possible Robert, good point.

    Everybody gets sucky and truly finds offensive everything opposite to ones own conclusions..
    People don’t argue with kindness or justice enough.
    I have no problem but I’m also very very confident and never feel a sting from the opposition intellectually or morally.
    Some creationists are like most people super sensitive. Anyways both sides tend to be people who think they are smarter, they might be, then most people and being corrected is painful whether rightly or wrongly.
    They can’t take it.
    Everyone should lighten up.

    Point taken 🙂

    Creationists are the ones more accurate and so should be the bigger man.

    By the way.
    Evolutionistsdo strive to show nature has no evidence of a creator.
    Maybe not saying there is no creator but thats not the point.
    Creation is the great and dominant evidence for a creator.
    The bible says this.

    Well, we certainly disagree on that 🙂

  18. I once offered such shapes as an analogy for natural selection. Buds grow in all directions, and the wind blows from all directions, but those in the direction of the commonest wind suffer most attrition. The result is a tree that may look designed for the purpose of reducing airflow, or has been actively bent by the breeze. Like all analogies, of course, it falls down when someone points out that the tree has a firmly anchored trunk – micro-sculpting is permitted, but not macro-sculpting!

  19. Lizzie: Robert Byers:
    Limited sampling perhaps here.
    I have for years fought on behalf of YEC creationism and always being censored or punished with expulsion is the the norm from the evolutionists side. If creationist side does it also its much less.

    With all respect due, Byers…
    It is generally true that creationist/ID fora are less tolerant of dissent. Uncommon Descent is one of the worst, but not the only one.

    If I may be personal for a moment, it is not your creationism that creates intolerance towards you so much as your willful ignorance about evolution, (and science in general) coupled with hints (or worse) of misogyny and antisemitism.

    It would be a minimal courtesy to those to whom you address your comments to attempt to understand that which you criticise.

    And misogyny and racism are unacceptable in any civilised forum

  20. To be fair, accusations of “wilful ignorance” are SOP on both “sides”, and tolerance of racism low on both, I’d say.

    Not sure about misogyny. It’s hard for me to judge.

  21. Ahhh! Ok. Got it. That certainly seems like the argument against materialism that many ID proponents are attacking. William is certainly fixated on that view.

    I guess the problem I have with that syllogism is the premise that everything material can be explained in mechanistic terms. That premise itself is never proven or even supported and simple chemistry experiments can quickly demonstrate that the premise is false. But at least I know the concept that the IDers are fighting against.

  22. Premise one is simply wrong snd demonstrably so. It died with quantum mechanics and isn’t coming back.

  23. davehooke:
    Byers, when have you ever been censored?

    I want to know too. I’ve seen him on several forums and never seen censorship or expulsion. Mockery, yes.

  24. Keep in mind that Byers believes – for whatever reason – that being limited in where you can share your religious beliefs and practices is a form of censorship. He regularly insists that moving an off-topic post from one thread to another is a form of censorship. Clearly Robert needs to look up what “censorship” really means, but at any rate I suspect that’s the basis of his claim.

  25. Lizzie:
    To be fair, accusations of “wilful ignorance” are SOP on both “sides”, and tolerance of racism low on both, I’d say.

    Not sure about misogyny.It’s hard for me to judge.

    Internet accusations are frequently false. But sometimes not. Sometimes one can point one’s interlocutor to items of evidence in favour of one’s argument, only to have them refuse to make the effort to read them, let alone discuss them.

    I believe, though stand ready to assess any evidence to the contrary, that (mostly covert) misogyny is rife on conservative/religious-fundamentalist fora

  26. I’m glad you posted this, because it aligns very neatly with some work I’ve been doing on the causes of “irrational” behavior. (Irrationality is hard to define in this context, but for now let’s just assume that it includes all varieties of creationism.)

    I worked initially on a model of rational ignorance, in which irrational behavior would stem largely from people who were (a) ignorant of the relevant facts, and (b) had little incentive to educate themselves on those facts. That maps fairly well to the online debate, where the average non-expert commenter can earn more kudos by being fierce and snarky than by being thoughtful and factually accurate.

    Lately I’ve expanded that by using a related economic model called “rational irrationality.” It essentially assumes that as the “price” of irrationality goes down, the “consumption” of irrationality goes up on an abstract demand curve. “Price” in this context would be the negative consequences of getting your beliefs and/or actions wrong, while “consumption” is related to how careful you are about your beliefs. When the price is negligible, people tend to believe whatever makes them happiest. When the price rises, they are forced to scrutinize their beliefs more carefully.

    (For example, someone who is inclined to believe in homeopathy might as well do so while they’re healthy. When they get sick, though, the price rises and they’re more likely to see a real doctor. When they’re VERY sick, they’re MUCH more likely to see a real doctor.)

    This connects to your thoughts about asymmetry. On all levels, creationists *invest* very little in the factual accuracy of their beliefs. The opinion leaders, particularly, do not have much incentive to moderate their beliefs in the face of evidence. See, for example, the extreme reluctance Dr. Dembski shows to empirically testing his supposedly proven detection tools or addressing errors in his theories. He, like less expert creationist commenters, succeeds when his beliefs are *popular* rather than when they are *true.* He argues accordingly, as do those who follow his beliefs and models.

    Legitimate scientific experts, on the other hand, are invested in the *accuracy* of their beliefs at least as much as, and probably more than, the *popularity* of those beliefs. Where popularity is beneficial to practicing scientists, it is largely as a proxy for accuracy (particularly, such as with string theory, where accuracy is opaque to most observers). As a result, they cleave more closely to the facts.

    To relate this back to the model, Dr. Dembski has a very low price line. If his beliefs are inaccurate, not much happens to him—he makes his money and earns his kudos by being popular within his ideological community and defending orthodoxy. (See his self-criticism re: the Flood.) Dr. Arbitrary Biologist, on the other hand, has a very high price line. If her theories are inaccurate, she loses prestige and kudos and suffers other significant setbacks whether or not those theories are popular. She accordingly has more incentives to scrutinize her beliefs and theories to avoid inaccuracy. Both individuals will argue according to their priorities: soft persuasion and factual engagement, respectively.

    These are very preliminary thoughts, very hastily written, so I would appreciate your feedback. I am working on a book along these lines so it would be very helpful to hear what others engaged in these discussions think.

  27. You are looking at this in the context of group psychology, though you did not use that term.

    I think that’s probably right. You have a group of people for whom approval by the group is more important than factual truth. So what looks irrational to us might actually be quite rational given their own basis for evaluation.

    How this works with modern technology is also interesting. Most of us see technology as a way of getting out more and better information. But it can also be used (and is being used) to bind these self-supporting groups more tightly, and make them more resistant to accurate information. Those of us outside the right wing bubble see this, and get the impression of increasing irrationality. But those inside the bubble probably see it as an increase in cohesiveness of the group.

    Long term, the bubble has a problem. Members of the group are aging, and will die off. The group can only survive if it can recruit new members. However, children naturally grow to be distrustful of what their elders tell them, and anxious to find out for themselves. We saw some of that happening in the last election.

  28. damitall2: With all respect due, Byers…
    It is generally true that creationist/ID fora are less tolerant of dissent. Uncommon Descent is one of the worst, but not the only one.

    If I may be personal for a moment, it is not your creationism that creates intolerance towards you so much as your willful ignorance about evolution, (and science in general) coupled with hints (or worse)of misogyny and antisemitism.

    It would be a minimal courtesy to those to whom you address your comments to attempt to understand that which you criticise.

    And misogyny and racism are unacceptable in any civilised forum

    These charges of racism or misogyny are as false as the charge of willfull ignorance of science.
    People coming to different conclusions is fair and square even if wrong.
    Intolerance towards me is unjustified and silly.
    Remember it makes the accuser also the judge before the a trial.
    I never have said anything on in the public I didn’t believe and was proud of and would say for all ears.
    Some people just can’t take being corrected or instructed.
    I hope i can, I think I can, but I’ll leave that up to the jury.
    Not the accuser.

  29. davehooke:
    Byers, when have you ever been censored?

    When haven’t I !!!
    It seems most forums or bloggers only exist to promote their ideas but still want the prestige of being open forums for all sides.
    I have been banned on Christian forums!!
    The rule should be freedom of thought unless malice is employed or distracting away from the subject.
    Its conclusions or ideas people find offensive, sincerely even, and want to silence.
    All right don’t say somebody’s baby is less attractive then most babies but don’t punish them for the opinion sincerely believed in.
    I t might be true or true enough or whatever.

    I note lots of censorship everywhere in origin etc forums and blogs.
    Freedom of speech between adults should trump feelings being hurt about historic differences in ideas.

  30. Robin:
    Keep in mind that Byers believes – for whatever reason – that being limited in where you can share your religious beliefs and practices is a form of censorship. He regularly insists that moving an off-topic post from one thread to another is a form of censorship. Clearly Robert needs to look up what “censorship” really means, but at any rate I suspect that’s the basis of his claim.

    No. I plead not guilty. I complain very little.
    I know what censorship is.
    Its control of what can be said by a boss.
    My father censored me in his home a great deal. Right or wrong . He was the boss.
    However in a civilization professing freedom of thought and speech, censorship is a enemy unless rules have truly been broken.

  31. Learned Hand,

    I don’t agree there is ever irrationality in human beings.
    Everything a person does is rational completely.
    They just are wrong or unjust in their conversation.
    Creationists are not irrational, I understand your accusing us,
    Irrational means dumb thinking.
    Creationists think or thinking is better.
    In the end its all about drawing conclusions from the evidence.
    The bible is evidence to some of us. Then there’s a lack of evidence to work with. Then there is a failure to appreciate the evidence or the lack of it.
    No irrationality going on in these subjects that tend to get attention from above average thoughtful people.
    Just investigation problems.

  32. There is a dark side to a democracy in a culture with plenty of food, energy, resources, and efficient distribution systems. Large numbers of irrational beliefs and behaviors can be sustained without serious consequences for a while. There is less and less motivation to “get right with reality” because consequences can be made to be absorbed by others.

    After a while, the number of irrational individuals begins to outnumber or filibuster the rational individuals. In a democracy where everybody can vote, that doesn’t bode well for the future of that democracy.

    It’s that “Tragedy of the Commons” notion again; zero-sum games won by non-cooperation. There is little time or chance in reality for the “Tit-for-Tat” players to establish better overall cooperative behaviors in the population. Democracy gets taken over by irrational, wealthy individuals who have the power to filibuster the will of the rational majority.

  33. Robert Byers: These charges of racism or misogyny are as false as the charge of willfull ignorance of science.
    People coming to different conclusions is fair and square even if wrong.
    Intolerance towards me is unjustified and silly.
    Remember it makes the accuser also the judge before the a trial.
    I never have said anything on in the public I didn’t believe and was proud of and would say for all ears.
    Some people just can’t take being corrected or instructed.
    I hope i can, I think I can,but I’ll leave that up to the jury.Not the accuser.

    http://www.freeratio.org/thearchives/showpost.php?p=5007821&postcount=78
    http://www.creationconversations.com/forum/topics/does-genesis-explain-why-women-are-so-zealous-about-their-looks?xg_source=activity

    http://www.fstdt.com/QuoteComment.aspx?QID=85092&Page=2

  34. Neil Rickert,

    However, children naturally grow to be distrustful of what their elders tell them, and anxious to find out for themselves.

    I rather think we start out having variable levels of trust and curiosity. Young children as a rule seem to believe what they are told but curiosity can lead them to test that information against reality. That’s when the conflict starts and is why, perhaps, pragmatism is winning out over faith, dogma and authority. One may not start out by questioning authority but when each new experience demonstrates authority’s assertions don’t gel with reality and one starts examining the basis of those assertions, faith is a common casualty.

    My mum, bless her and her marvellous strawberry jam*, achieved my loss of faith in authority at a very early age by asserting God would punish me (there and then, it seemed, as I try to recall) for illicitly tasting those irresistible (I can resist anything but temptation**) paper-sealed pots.

    Hence scientific explanations, based on observed fact and subject to scrutiny by anyone with a table, test tube and thermometer is a real threat to fixed dogma based on no more than a distillation of made-up stories. I think to remain resistant to the facts of reality involves a lack of curiosity that seems common in many that I encountered in my recent experience at UD.

    * I may have told this story before with damson “cheese” as the essential ingredient but I can still taste the whole strawberry that one could fish out from each pot without leaving too much evidence.

    **O. Wilde

    PS (added in edit)

    Of course experience teaches that almost any form of social order is preferable to anarchy. There are pragmatic reasons for moral order and rules of behaviour emerge naturally in any social group. Which is why my career in crime never developed.

    Checked Wilde quote -wrong! – corrected (but not except)

  35. Robert Byers: When haven’t I !!!
    It seems most forums or bloggers only exist to promote their ideas but still want the prestige of being open forums for all sides.
    I have been banned on Christian forums!

    No comment on Christian forums.

    When have you been censored for your pro-ID views?

  36. I know what censorship is.
    Its control of what can be said by a boss.

    Incorrect Robert. That is not censorship. Here’s the definition of censorship:

    The suppression or proscription of speech or writing that is deemed obscene, indecent, or unduly controversial.

    Nothing you’ve presented here or on Panda’s Thumb or on After the Bar Closes has ever been censored Robert. Moving of a post to another thread is not a form of suppression or proscription. Banning people from a site and moderating posts, otoh, are forms of censorship. So the only folks doing any form of censorship are “Christian” sites like UD.

  37. Robert Byers: I don’t agree there is ever irrationality in human beings.
    Everything a person does is rational completely.
    They just are wrong or unjust in their conversation.
    Creationists are not irrational, I understand your accusing us,
    Irrational means dumb thinking.
    Creationists think or thinking is better.

    There are a couple of ideas in here. The first is that no one ever acts irrationally. Some economists would agree with you, at least in the abstract. But I think that requires an essentially uselessly constrained definition of “rational.” I would rather define “rationality” as meaning “governed by reason” (more or less, I’m still struggling to find a better operational definition). And under that standard, people behave irrationally all the time–whenever they do something for any reason other than reason.

    This would include people who make decisions for the “wrong” reasons, like peer pressure, confirmation bias, and other psychological factors that undermine rational thought.

    If we expand the definition more and say that irrational thinking is “sub-optimal” thinking, then we capture people who are simply not trying their hardest to engage facts empirically. I think that includes creationists, homeopathists, astrologers, etc. These people are rational in the formal sense–they are doing and believing things that maximize their utility. A professional astrologer, for example, behaves as if astrology is effecting even though it’s empirically not. She’s “rational” because behaving as if astrology is real is how she gets paid and maintains her social circle. So she’s “rational” in the economic sense, but not in the sense I mean because she’s investing herself in an empirically false belief.

    This connects to your second thought, which is that “creationist thought is better” (obviously a paraphrase). Creationist thought might be better if we’re measuring how good “thought” is by how much value it returns to the thinker. If creationist thought makes you feel good, gives you a community, makes you feel like the noble underdog, etc., then it can be better than scientific thinking which is more difficult and (for some people) only pays one simple return: it is more likely to return empirically true answers.

    But since I’m interested in thinking that results in accurate and reliable conclusions, not simply economic utility, I’m using a broader definition. Essentially I’m using the economic definition of “rationality” to explain why people fall victim to the more generally understood sort of “irrationality.” Thank you for your comment, which has helped me refine an explanation of my approach.

    Incidentally, the next project will be an explanation of how laypeople such as ourselves can accurately select beliefs whose truth or falseness depends on technical arguments we are not equipped (due to training, education, or other resource limitations) to analyze. In other words, is creationist thinking or scientific thinking “better”? I would suggest that if creationist thinking were better, there would be more creationists making scientific discoveries. The fact that all scientific progress has been ceded to non-theistic scientific methods is the sort of thing that even us non-experts can use to determine which worldview is more likely to be accurate.

    Once again, this is a hasty writeup of preliminary thoughts. My apologies if it’s a little tedious. The hardest part of writing for me (other than getting started) is paring it down and making it readable.

  38. Neil Rickert: Long term, the bubble has a problem. Members of the group are aging, and will die off. The group can only survive if it can recruit new members. However, children naturally grow to be distrustful of what their elders tell them, and anxious to find out for themselves. We saw some of that happening in the last election.

    I’m dubious–I suspect that irrationality is an intrinsic problem that will never go away. Which is one reason why I think it’s worthwhile exploring why it happens and how to communicate with irrational people (and, I hope, will result in a fat tail for book sales).

    It also makes me wonder how I’m irrational, since I suspect everyone is in one way or another. It’s an uncomfortable sort of self-regard.

  39. Mike Elzinga: After a while, the number of irrational individuals begins to outnumber or filibuster the rational individuals. In a democracy where everybody can vote, that doesn’t bode well for the future of that democracy.

    It’s that “Tragedy of the Commons” notion again; zero-sum games won by non-cooperation. There is little time or chance in reality for the “Tit-for-Tat” players to establish better overall cooperative behaviors in the population. Democracy gets taken over by irrational, wealthy individuals who have the power to filibuster the will of the rational majority.

    This is very interesting, but I’m not sold yet. One of the nice things about using a price-curve model is that it implies that irrationality isn’t a permanent condition (for most healthy people, at least). As consequences increase, the price line goes up and people “consume” less irrationality. In other words, as irrational beliefs cause negative consequences conditions change to favor less irrationality.

    Consider creationism: currently, the problems it causes for public education are fairly diffuse and hard to define. But if creationists were able to force their material into public schools, degrading the ability of graduates to compete and hurting domestic biotech, I suspect we’d see a renewed and fairly popular push for better educational standards. It’s a self-correcting problem.

    Of course, self-correcting problems don’t always correct themselves in time. There can be a disastrous discontinuity before the point where rising prices discourage irrational thought. There are some interesting chaos-theory graphs showing this, I think. I don’t have the math to really understand the details, but I think they’re interesting illustrations of the thought. I wish I had one online I could link to, it would make the point much clearer.

  40. Robin,

    I have NEVER been censored on this forum. Didn’t say I was!
    Yet its happened elsewhere in loads.
    Evolutionists are largely from the left wing and that is the wing in control of the establishment and desperate to maintain its positions.
    The right historically believes in freedom more and in practice it serves its interests as its always counter establishment these days.
    I found evolutionists always control discussions more then creationists.

  41. Learned Hand,

    If one is moved to opinions because of peer pressure its still rational.
    The peer pressure was more important. The person is unaware of thier error.
    I don;’t see any irrational thinking in people. JUst error. The anatomy of error is another thing.
    If people are very upset then still they act rationally but there is a confusu=ion in their reasoning. Yet they think they are acting correct.
    Its all about accuracy and error in human thought.

    You say creationists are irrational as opposed to scientists.
    We say we do as much science as our opponents on the origin subjects in contention.
    Its not SCIENCE verses creationism.
    Thats a error of analysis or any ways a definition not accepted.
    Its just a accusation.
    It all com,es down to the merits of the evidence of nature as to what evolutionists etc try to say is true.
    We say the evidence ain’t there and saying we are not rejecting science will not work.
    Present the evidence and not the degrees. If they can !!

  42. Robert, your comment above baffles me. I have trouble taking you seriously when you make claims like that. While I’m certain you believe what you’ve written, given that you believe such your ability to make simple assessments of of factual situations is questionable at best.

    For example, you say you have found that “evolutionists always control discussions more than creationists.” Now, granted I can’t be certain how you are defining “evolutionist” and “creationist”, but given the complete control to the point of banning people I consider “evolutionists” from places like Uncommon Descent, CreationWiki, Evolutionary News and Views, AIG, and so on. By contrast, no one has ever been banned from Pandas’ Thumb – they don’t even have the software to do that. One person has been banned from here – not for posting anything related to either theology or science, but for posting a picture of a naked women from the waist down. To my knowledge, Talk Rational has never banned anyone. PZ Myers certainly does, but he bans “evolutionists” and theists alike simply for for sexist, racist, or other offensive comments.

    So really Robert, how can you defend your claims? In what sense are you suggesting that “evolutionists always control discussions more than creationists”? Where exactly are you collecting your data points for this assessment?

  43. Robert Byers:
    Learned Hand,

    If one is moved to opinions because of peer pressure its still rational.
    The peer pressure was more important. The person is unaware of thier error.
    I don;’t see any irrational thinking in people. JUst error. The anatomy of error is another thing.
    If people are very upset then still they act rationally but there is a confusu=ion in their reasoning. Yet they think they are acting correct.
    Its all about accuracy and error in human thought.

    You say creationists are irrational as opposed to scientists.
    We say we do as much science as our opponents on the origin subjects incontention.
    Its not SCIENCE verses creationism.
    Thats a error of analysis or any ways a definition not accepted.
    Its just a accusation.
    It all com,es down to the merits of the evidence of nature as to what evolutionists etc try to say is true.
    We say the evidence ain’t there and saying we are not rejecting science will not work.
    Present the evidence and not the degrees. If they can !!

    That’s just wrong, Byers. Creationists do very little science, and that which they do is done badly, even sometimes dishonestly. You cannot point to any good creationist science.
    And saying the evidence ain’t there is not true either, and won’t make go away.

  44. We say the evidence ain’t there and saying we are not rejecting science will not work.

    Robert, have you ever served on a jury? Are you familiar with the concept of expert witness?

    None of what goes on in science determines TRVTH. But it does speak to what educated people believe about the way the world works.

  45. Robert Byers: Evolutionists are largely from the left wing and that is the wing in control of the establishment

    Contradiction. Not that I have the energy to explain it to Byers.

  46. Robin,

    I insist. I have been around and seen or been punished /banned aplenty.
    There are more evolutionist forums but still it defines them as typical liberals.
    Creationist ones are slow to bann and even then its because of rare personalities unlike most creationists.
    Thers a cultural thing here in identity.
    I think I’m a nice Canadian Evangelical dude but always have to walk on tippy toes.
    In fact this is the one evolutionist forum where I EVER found the host to be clearly reasonable and plain good natured. It shines through the forum. Really rare.
    Of coarse few women do run these things but still.
    The way I see it IS that the usual boss is a evolutionist striving to control conversation and opinion and very hostile to creationist criticism.
    They seem to be sincerely shocked to be corrected and that done well.
    They can’t take it and its a reflection on their nature and intellect as far as I have seen it for years.
    Indeed its as if they smell a disaster coming in a beloved old idea.

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