Everything's good looking to the blind
Posted by aogThursday, 31 August 2006 at 19:35 TrackBack Ping URL

One of the things that has become difficult over time is to tell when a post at Brothers Judd is serious or trolling. I have come to the conclusion that any post involving “Darwinism” is in the latter category (especially since I have never been able to grasp the subtle distinction between “Darwinism” and evolutionary theory). A case in point tickled my fancy the other day. It starts out with this:

Evolutionists argue that the scientific law of entropy (the tendency of matter to go towards greater disorder) does not contradict evolutionary theory because they claim the law of entropy does not apply in open systems such as our Earth

Of course, everyone who studies entropy claims this. There isn’t anyone who claims differently. Every scientific definition of entropy includes the phrase “closed system” (e.g., as in the Second Law of Thermodynamics).

Beyond that, of course, increasing system entropy is hardly incompatible with locally decreasing entropy, just as overall increasing wealth in a nation doesn’t prevent people from becoming poorer. One would think someone with a regular trope of “nothing costs more” would be able to grasp this. But Judd doesn’t put up these articles to persuade or even make an argument, but simply to provoke. Still, it’s better than yet another article about baseball.

Comments — Formatting by Textile
Michael Herdegen Friday, 01 September 2006 at 03:14

Yeah - I too have learned to auto-ignore certain categories of postings.

Brit Friday, 01 September 2006 at 04:46

Provoke yes, but to provoke what? Not debate.

The Darwinism/evolutionary theory distinction is unfathomable. Peter’s one is ‘Darwinism Writ Large’, which I don’t understand either.

Annoying Old Guy Friday, 01 September 2006 at 07:56

“Provoke” as in “don’t provoke your brother”. The goal is to get an emotional reaction.

I think that the distinction is that OJ likes the results of evolutionary theory but not the axioms that lead to it, so he creates an artificial distinction. This allows him to assign all the good parts to evolutionary theory and all the bad parts to Darwinism. The criteria are therefore OJ’s personal preferences, not anything in the actual theory. That is why we can’t grasp it.

Brit Friday, 01 September 2006 at 08:11

I think he calls anyone who argues that evolutionary theory is corrosive to religion a ‘Darwinist’. I don’t actually mind him being eccentric and illogical: the real problem is that he’s turning the blog into a crashing bore.

Peter Burnet Friday, 01 September 2006 at 10:39

Aha. So here is where you are hiding out these days, you pagans. Don’t you know you can run, but…

Have any of you read this?

Annoying Old Guy Friday, 01 September 2006 at 12:43

Let me make clear that I am not claiming there no good arguments against evolutionary theory, nor that it is any where near the pinnacle of scientific thought. I will not deny that evolutionary theory has been badly misused by despots, progressives, and militant atheists. I am saying that repeatedly citing obviously stupid counter-arguments is trolling.

I may took a look at the book, but if the review blurb is at all accurate, there seems little point. All of them seem to cite this defining thesis:

If Darwin’s theory of evolution were true, there would be be in every species a constant and ruthless competition to survive: a competition in which only a few in any generation could survive. But it is perfectly obvious that human life is not like that, however it may be with other species. This inconsistency, between Darwin’s theory and the facts of human life, is what I mean by Darwinism’s dilemma.

That’s a silly argument. My first thought was “how can someone look at the Middle East, Africa, or much of Asia and not think that there is a constant and ruthless competition to survive even among humans?”.

It is also similar to the flawed entropy argument in the original post, where local violations of a general and statistical law are treated as if they were global violations. Because certain demes avoid ruthless internal competition for survival (and even that’s debatable) doesn’t mean that such competition occurs nowhere.

It’s also clear to anyone with even a passing knowledge of biology that there are other species which internally have no such competition, the hymenoptera being the classic example. But dealing with that involves acknowledge the various layers of reality, which certain webloggers are adamantly opposed to doing.

The biggest flaw in the cited passage is that it presumes an unwarranted effeciency on the part of evolution. This is a common mistake and leads to a misreading of the entire theoretical framework. Evolution doesn’t produce perfect or even optimal designs. It produces things that are good enough, and even that is tempered with context. The pressure of evolution is the pressure of Nature, a ruthless and inexorable one over time, but slow and gentle in the short term. It’s the way tree roots break concrete, not the way a jackhammer does.

Brit Friday, 01 September 2006 at 13:16

That blurb was enough for me, too - that first sentence being plain daft. My initial thought was: oh dear, somebody thinks they’re arguing against what they think is the selfish gene theory, without having read The Selfish Gene. A book which does, after all, spend several painstaking chapters explaining the evolution of altruism in social animals.

The question is, is Stove’s book about people, or about the theory of evolution? If it’s the former, it likely says nothing much about the latter. If it’s about the latter, his musings on the former are likely irrelevant, even if they’re interesting. If the late Stove - well-known in academic circles for contrarianism and iconoclasm, and for occasionally missing the point by a country mile - is bashing away at the more lunatic theories of what is sometimes called ‘social darwinism’, then it’s probably entertaining enough, but empty. If Stove thinks that by bashing thus he’s somehow sticking it to the ‘darwinists’, he’s probably suffering from the usual case of Straw Man Syndrome.

Peter Burnet Friday, 01 September 2006 at 13:58

OK, so don’t read it.

At least we on our side read our Mayr and Dawkins.

Annoying Old Guy Friday, 01 September 2006 at 14:38

My side is “people who have some basic understanding the subjects they critique”. Are you on a different side?

I don’t have much of an interest in directly discussing the validity of evolutionary theory, I just like to rip up shoddy arguments.

On the flip side, would you read a book arguing against Catholicism which started with the thesis statement “since Christianity aims to produce sinless followers …”?

Peter Burnet Friday, 01 September 2006 at 15:12

My first thought was “how can someone look at the Middle East, Africa, or much of Asia and not think that there is a constant and ruthless competition to survive even among humans??.

AOG, you think such big, sweeping thoughts. My first thought was funny old Aunt Betty and gentle Uncle Herb. Made sense, so I bought the book. Really liked it, but then my tastes have always run to the contrarian. But hey, calm down, I won’t get mad if you don’t read it.

Now, I swear to You Know Who that I stumbled upon the book, which I had never heard of, by pure chance while browsing through the Dartmouth Co-op bookstore in Hanover N.H. Anyone want to talk miracles?

cjm Friday, 01 September 2006 at 15:57

genocide is a feature, not a bug. compete or die.

Annoying Old Guy Friday, 01 September 2006 at 22:17

Genetically, it’s hard to commit genocide since all humans are the same species. What we call tribes and races are just breeds and could presumably be re-created given a moderate amount of time.

Brit Saturday, 02 September 2006 at 04:31

Gimme a break, Peter. I’ve spent more than enough of my time reading the so-called arguments against evolutionary theory, and so far they have all been silly, and so far they have all been written by either a mathematician, a politics prof or a lawyer. Now you’re chucking a well-known Aussie philosophy grump at me for some more armchair ramblings.

Find me something written by a biologist with some biological evidence and an alternative theory to the theory of evolution, and I’ll read it.

Peter Burnet Saturday, 02 September 2006 at 06:07

Quite right, Brit. Enough with dilettentes and autodidacts. From now on I’m not listening to one critical word about religion unless it comes from someone with post-graduate training in theology. Down with the Renaissance man!

Do you always get this agitated when someone recommends a book to you?

Brit Saturday, 02 September 2006 at 06:30

No I just objected to “At least we on our side read our Mayr and Dawkins.”

It’s not a question of Berlinski versus Mayr. Mayr and Dawkins are just popularisers. It’s a question of Berlinski versus biology.

Jeff Guinn Saturday, 02 September 2006 at 07:30

Up to about three years ago, OJ periodically produced a Carl Stove article claiming to have confounded Darwinism. So while I haven’t read the book Peter cites, I have read a fair amount of Stove’s production.

I was not impressed — he topples a strawman of his own making.


Would you mind sending me the book?

Annoying Old Guy Saturday, 02 September 2006 at 11:53

Mr. Guinn;

I have it on order, I’ll read it and have it ready for you.

Mr. Burnet;

From now on I’m not listening to one critical word about religion unless it comes from someone with post-graduate training in theology.

That seems basically sound, although Brit was only asking for the equivalent of an undergraduate degree. I certainly understand your frustration with militant atheists who clearly have no grasp of actual Christian theology.

Brit Saturday, 02 September 2006 at 13:49

I’d settle for a GCSE, if it was at least the same subject.

Which people Peter chooses to listen to when it comes to criticisms of religion is up to Peter. All I’m saying is that I’ve paid my dues with all these jokers and have-a-go heroes.

Life’s too short.

Peter Burnet Sunday, 03 September 2006 at 06:58


It isn’t an inability to grasp Christian or any other theology that disturbs me. I can’t grasp half of it myself. It’s the growing inability of the doctrinaire or even everyday rationalist to comprehend, respect or even take an interest in the religious mindset, which is grounded in the actual enigmas of human nature and experience and not in forcing them into logical syllogisms. The result is instinctive scoffing and contempt and some very, very strange history. Just as the most dangerous Christian is the one without any doubts whatsoever (or sense of humour), so the single-minded rationalist who eagerly anticipates the eclipse of religion in public life as a great accomplishment in the march of progress is a threat to us all, both in private and public life. Do you honestly think condoms will defeat AIDS and that social policy will bring down the divorce rate? Will Europe will stand up to the Islamists? And I haven’t even started on the hereafter. :-)

Getting back to the book, the reason I recommended it to you infidels is because Stove makes very clear at the start that he accepts all the physical evidence and has no brief for religious explanations either. I thought it might help some of us here get past the “You’re stupid! No, you’re stupid!” stage we seem to have locked ourselves into. Brit is quite right that he is a philosopher, but that is why he is well-qualified to challenge the internal logic of the theory, as are lawyers and mathematicians. He is grumpy, wild and very funny, especially on Dawkins, so he definitely isn’t for prudes who insist the subject can only be discussed in solemn tones with charts galore and mind-numbingly turgid language. His focus is entirely on comparing the reality of human nature and experience with what the Darwinists say forms us. But there are also a few wondeful jabs at the faithful. My favourite was his cheeky dig on the challenge of Christianity for those who just can’t seem to get it out of their heads that one and three are different numbers.

Peter Burnet Sunday, 03 September 2006 at 07:20

BTW, thanks for feeding Jeff the book. Jeff, I’m happy to share books, but cross-border customs procedures make it a bit of a hassle.

Annoying Old Guy Sunday, 03 September 2006 at 10:11

Mr. Burnet;

I don’t like to call people stupid, although I do not hestitate to call their theses stupid.

The thing I find incomprehensible in your view is that failing to grasp even the most basic axioms of thing A is, to me, a sure sign of disrespect and disdain. Getting back to the original cite, the inability or, more likely, refusal, to understand the most fundamental part of the definition of “entropy” before using it as an argument shows a complete disrepect for the subject. That indicates that the subject is not worth even the smallest effort at comprehension and what is more disrespectful than that?

I will pass on commenting on the rest of your rant because I don’t believe any of those things, although I know those who do.

As for Stove, I will read the book, but hitting the point above again, it doesn’t seem to be fruitful to read a proof of the internal contradictions of a theory that has nothing to do with actual evolutionary theory. It’s the classic straw-man and is rightly scoffed at. I also don’t need convincing that Dawkins has gone off the rails, much like Andrew Sullivan. In both cases I like their eary work but at some point in the past they turned in to moonbats and I stopped paying attention.

P.S. Those of us in computer science know that there are really only three numbers: 0, 1, and N.

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