Friday, May 23, 2008

On Argumentation

In my last post, I responded to some misstatements made by a Darwinbot that had visited the blog. I demonstrated--by appeals to Darwin himself and to some of the most notable paleontologists of our genertion--that the idea that the fossil record supports Darwinian macroevolution is absurd. Here's a portion of the Darwinbot comment that appeared in response to that post...
You make your little points, twist quotes, name drop, and delete any real threats. Deleting posts is not defending the faith..
True, deleting posts is not defending the faith. I very carefully explained why I felt compelled to delete his previous comment--if he chose to read that explanation, he also chose not to accept it. But he also fails to realize that what he does--making stale assertions contrary to demonstrable facts and reason--is not a positive defense of his position.

He accused me of twisting quotes. This, of course, is untrue. Were there any truth to this claim on his part, he could have been expected to provide the quotes in full, thereby showing where I had twisted them. He doesn't do this, and that is precisely because these men said and meant exactly what I credited them with saying.

I "name drop." By this, I assume he is implying that I was guilty of a faulty appeal to authority. This logical fallacy comes in many forms. In our age, a common example is appealing to a well-known celebrity regarding a subject on which he or she is no authority. If, for example, Oprah is followed as an expert on theology, or we buy a new car on the authority of Tiger Woods, or we are impressed by Richard Dawkins' appeal to magazine editor Thomas Flynn on a question of biblical interpretation, we have stupidly accepted a fallacious argument.

A more subtle form of this fallacy is to appeal to someone who is a recognized authority in the field at issue, but to ignore the fact that his opinions are in the minority, to pretend that he speaks for the majority of the experts in that field. As an example, Answers in Genesis touts their having a PhD astronomer--Jason Lisle--on their staff, as though his claim that the universe is young counteracts the opposite assertion on the part of virtually every other astronomer in the known universe. :) Similarly, a faulty appeal to authority might involve citing someone who is indeed in the particular discipline at issue but who is not well-recognized or considered an expert.

Of course, none of this applies to my use of Stephen Jay Gould, Niles Eldredge, and Steven Stanley to refute the Darwinbot idea that the fossil record supports Darwin. These men are among the most prominent paleontologists of our generation. Indeed, Gould was arguably the most well-known expert on the fossil record. What's more, the particular statements of these men that I quoted have not been refuted by any paleontologists since. Again, my AD seems to be grasping at straws.

I "make little points" and "delete any real threats." Believe me, the statements I chose not to delete were the heart of AD's original steamrolling comment. There were no "real threats" anywhere in his writing, as you can well imagine from the portions to which you have been subjected. And so the "little points" I am accused of making just so happen to be the complete refutation of his--AD's--most important point--that Darwinian evolution has been validated by the fossil record.

Now, were there really something wrong with my argument, a meaningful rebuttal (a truth-seeking discussion) might look something like this...
Your allusion to Gould and Stanley is fallacious for this reason... Evidence contrary to their views has since surfaced, and here's an example of it... Eldredge made an error in critical thinking that can be demonstrated thus...
You see the sort of thing, what reasoned argumentation would look like. But that's not what AD treats us to. And that's because there's no meat on that bone. His is an untenable position, and his weak posturing is the best that he (or others seeking to defend that position) can do.

I'm open to meaningful discussion about whether or not the fossil record validates Darwinism. Darwin recognized that it did not in his day. The leading paleontologists of our day concur. But I'd be happy to be shown the evidence or reasoning that I've overlooked.

1 comment:

Ken Wytsma said...

I always love reading your blog... and now it is becoming more and more 'interesting' :)

Glad that you keep writing and putting so much time and energy into being precise.