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Uber Genius

Tricks Theists Play (Part 1)

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Now before someone has a TIA, I'm a theist. But I also abhor bad arguments and misrepresentations of scripture, and science. 

 

In 2001 or 2002 I was invited by a Christian friend to see a presentation by an Aussie named Ken Ham. It was not just eye-opening, but a jaw-dropping experience.

I listened for an hour to claims about scripture which were not supported historically or from scripture. But more disturbing was the misrepresentation about scientific claims, scientific knowledge, and how one should approach these discussions with "skeptics."

Now have no intention of being drawn into debates about young-earth vs. old-earth theories, or detailed entailment so of "How God created." My primary concern is to highlight bad arguments coming from Ham and his ministry. My hope is that I can dissuade theists from using such constructions in favor of sound and compelling rational arguments. 

Now Ham has changed some of his approach in the last 15 years so my notes may no longer be representative of his views.

1 - Evolution and the Big Bang Model of cosmology are just "Theories!"

Now if you have read some of my other, "Tricks," treads you will be familiar with this informal fallacy...equivocation.

The Oxford dictionary defines the word "Equivocation," as, "The use of ambiguous language to conceal the truth or to avoid committing oneself."

This equivocation is always meant to deceive. But it only deceives the uneducated and those to lazy to do the research.

"Theory" in scientific parlance means an inductive inference about the data that has withstood the test of time, hundreds or thousands of confirmatory experiments, and is accepted by all the experts as knowledge.

In common usage it is equivocal to a hypothesis. That is a inference that explains data.

The trick Ham wants you to miss is he is substituting common usage for scientific usage. Just the way new atheists often want to misrepresent atheism as lack of belief or faith as a way of knowing. If we doesn't pay attention to the fact that "atheism" and "faith" have specific meanings in the fields of philosophy and theology respectively, we can be dragged into equivocations meant to misguide and conflate, with statements like, "common usage is ..."

2 - "We're you there?"

Here we find the most damning argument against Ham and his methodology. After Ham's presentation a student asked the question, "How do you account for all the dinosaur fossils that are millions of years old." Without missing a beat Ham responded, "We're you there?" 

His point was to create skepticism about scientific findings unless we had first-hand knowledge of the events.

I decided not to embarrass the fellow. But I did ask him after the talk how he demonstrated the validity of the historical info about Jesus' death and resurrection. He blurted out a bunch of one-liners, to which I responded, "We're you there?" Puzzled, he hesitated and then kept giving me evidence as if he had deleted the cognitively dissonant revelation altogether.

Point is Ham's epistemic approach destroys all scientific and historical knowledge. In fact legal knowledge is greatly injured as well as no one on a jury could every "know' something based on eye-witness testimony.

Ham is perhaps the Christian equivalent of the plethora of Internet infidels found out on places like YouTube. This is a step below the new atheists in that they are unaware of historic claims, and philosophical claims, and logic in general. Both appeal to a poorly educated audiences focusing on rhetorical flourish alone. (P.S. I have relatives that fall for this Answers in Genesis propaganda)

Please share other theistic tricks you have run into.

However, beware not to regurgitate internet infidel propaganda mindlessly. They create straw men of theistic arguments and attack those as "fallacious." 

Straw arguments always make poor substitutes for real ones.

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Honestly, the most common thing I encounter when theists (really, atheists too, for that matter) debate about evolution is that they don't really have any idea what it is or how it works. Even if you don't believe evolution happens, or if you are fine with evolution but don't believe that natural selection is what drives it, whatever your contention is, there is no point debating it if you don't know what you're arguing against. The statements I most commonly hear that put up a red flag that I'm talking to someone who doesn't understand evolution:

1.)" You think we came from goo! How can a bunch of chemicals turn into living things!?" This has nothing to do with evolution. This is a criticism of abiogenesis, which is an entirely separate claim. Absolutely feel free to contend with it, but that's not evolution. The theory of evolution by natural selection describes the mechanism by which living organisms diversify over time due to heredity and mutations. Evolution doesn't come into the picture until living things already exist. 

2.) "Mutations can't add new information." Yes, they certainly can. The entirety of our DNA consists of only 4 amino acids in various pair combinations. If they are arranged in different ways, they code for different proteins, and this determines your entire biology. If one or more of the amino acids are altered at an allele, it will work differently than it did before, if it still works at all. There are only a handful of ways the mutations occur (translation, deletion, addition, etc.) and only 4 acids to work with, but there are countless combinations that can be created from these changes. If they can change in structure, they can change in output. 

3.) "Microevolution happens but macroevolution doesn't happen" These are the exact same things, only over different periods of times. This is like saying minutes pass, but hours do not pass. The thing that makes up either one of these things in seconds, but if enough time goes on, minutes become hours. If you take issue with macroevolution, you must necessarily disagree with microevolution because the same process (change of a single organism) is what causes both. Or, if you are still okay with micro-evolution, you must at least not agree with the process by which it occurs. 

4.) "I didn't come from an ape." You are an ape. Ape is a taxonomic classification, like a mammal. Saying you didn't come from an ape is exactly like saying you didn't come from a mammal. Perhaps you mean chimp or gorilla or some other specific species of primate. Even if you mean that nobody who believes in evolution believes humans descended from chimps or gorillas. The theory is that humans and chimps and other primates descended from a common ancestor who was also a primate but was not any of the currently living species. 

Also, I often see a misunderstanding of what speciation is. What constitutes a new species is when a population diverges and the genetic changes that accumulate as they adapt to different environments diverge so much that they no longer produce viable offspring when they mate. There is some grey-area between species and subspecies (like donkeys and horses, who can breed a hybrid mule that is almost always sterile, but in some cases can produce offspring.) But if two organism types cannot produce viable offspring, they are different species, no matter how similar they are. This matters when talking about examples of speciation being observed because it has been observed multiple times. If you have an objection to something else, you should figure out what to call it, because speciation is something observed relatively often in populations, especially lab-organisms that have short lifespans and breeding cycles. 

As for other issues commonly discussed when there is contention between science and religion, I often hear "you think we came from nothing?" This is a straw man, as most people who accept the Big Bang theory (which many theists do, as well) don't claim it came out of nothing. Most people I have ever heard discuss it doesn't claim anything about what caused the Big Bang, what happened "before" it (before is a weird word to use if time started at that point, but that's beyond my comprehension, so I'll use it anyway.) There seems to be a really common problem of people assuming that if you don't believe God did something, you must claim to know how it came to be, when plenty of times, that's not happening, and it totally derails any productive conversation. In most of these cases, the person who doesn't believe in God is happy to tell you they don't know what came before or caused the Big Bang (or whatever they think happened) and simply doesn't think the only options are "nothing" or "God was responsible."

Personally, I'm of the mind that, if you are going to discuss something with someone who has a different perspective or background, you should always make an attempt to summarize their position, and ask them if you've accurately portrayed what they believe or what they are making a case for. If they say that you haven't gotten it right, just try and see where you're missing something instead of running ahead and arguing against something nobody actually believes. 

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On 12/4/2018 at 12:44 PM, Uber Genius said:

Now before someone has a TIA, I'm a theist. But I also abhor bad arguments and misrepresentations of scripture, and science. 

 

In 2001 or 2002 I was invited by a Christian friend to see a presentation by an Aussie named Ken Ham. It was not just eye-opening, but a jaw-dropping experience.

I listened for an hour to claims about scripture which were not supported historically or from scripture. But more disturbing was the misrepresentation about scientific claims, scientific knowledge, and how one should approach these discussions with "skeptics."

Now have no intention of being drawn into debates about young-earth vs. old-earth theories, or detailed entailment so of "How God created." My primary concern is to highlight bad arguments coming from Ham and his ministry. My hope is that I can dissuade theists from using such constructions in favor of sound and compelling rational arguments. 

Now Ham has changed some of his approach in the last 15 years so my notes may no longer be representative of his views.

1 - Evolution and the Big Bang Model of cosmology are just "Theories!"

Now if you have read some of my other, "Tricks," treads you will be familiar with this informal fallacy...equivocation.

The Oxford dictionary defines the word "Equivocation," as, "The use of ambiguous language to conceal the truth or to avoid committing oneself."

This equivocation is always meant to deceive. But it only deceives the uneducated and those to lazy to do the research.

"Theory" in scientific parlance means an inductive inference about the data that has withstood the test of time, hundreds or thousands of confirmatory experiments, and is accepted by all the experts as knowledge.

In common usage it is equivocal to a hypothesis. That is a inference that explains data.

The trick Ham wants you to miss is he is substituting common usage for scientific usage. Just the way new atheists often want to misrepresent atheism as lack of belief or faith as a way of knowing. If we doesn't pay attention to the fact that "atheism" and "faith" have specific meanings in the fields of philosophy and theology respectively, we can be dragged into equivocations meant to misguide and conflate, with statements like, "common usage is ..."

2 - "We're you there?"

Here we find the most damning argument against Ham and his methodology. After Ham's presentation a student asked the question, "How do you account for all the dinosaur fossils that are millions of years old." Without missing a beat Ham responded, "We're you there?" 

His point was to create skepticism about scientific findings unless we had first-hand knowledge of the events.

I decided not to embarrass the fellow. But I did ask him after the talk how he demonstrated the validity of the historical info about Jesus' death and resurrection. He blurted out a bunch of one-liners, to which I responded, "We're you there?" Puzzled, he hesitated and then kept giving me evidence as if he had deleted the cognitively dissonant revelation altogether.

Point is Ham's epistemic approach destroys all scientific and historical knowledge. In fact legal knowledge is greatly injured as well as no one on a jury could every "know' something based on eye-witness testimony.

Ham is perhaps the Christian equivalent of the plethora of Internet infidels found out on places like YouTube. This is a step below the new atheists in that they are unaware of historic claims, and philosophical claims, and logic in general. Both appeal to a poorly educated audiences focusing on rhetorical flourish alone. (P.S. I have relatives that fall for this Answers in Genesis propaganda)

Please share other theistic tricks you have run into.

However, beware not to regurgitate internet infidel propaganda mindlessly. They create straw men of theistic arguments and attack those as "fallacious." 

Straw arguments always make poor substitutes for real ones.

Respectfully,

Evolution and the BB are the current, prevalent theories. They are strong as they seem to include forensic evidence, but devoted believers know that science will always harmonize with the scriptures, especially as the science evolves. No Christian should tie themselves to theories that are counter to the scriptures or in current fashion possibly only.

The "were you there?" argument comes from God's remarks to Job. Mr. Ham is capable to explain why dating of fossils to millions of years is erroneous.

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8 minutes ago, Billiards Ball said:

Respectfully,

Evolution and the BB are the current, prevalent theories. They are strong as they seem to include forensic evidence, but devoted believers know that science will always harmonize with the scriptures, especially as the science evolves. No Christian should tie themselves to theories that are counter to the scriptures or in current fashion possibly only.

The "were you there?" argument comes from God's remarks to Job. Mr. Ham is capable to explain why dating of fossils to millions of years is erroneous.

So I am making no comment whatsoever on creation. I have said other places it may very well be the case that God created everything in a literal 6-day period, but we don't want to argue fallaciously. So my point is to NOT misrepresent science or the Bible or make bad arguments. That is all.

As to God using the argument with Job, where does your analogy fail? In other words what makes that defense of Ham a false analogy?

Finally, "No, Christian should tie themselves to theories counter to the scriptures," runs into "No Christian should misrepresent both scripture and science in order to maintain their false views of both!"

most Evangelical scholars and many church fathers found that when the Bible called the Earth ancient it was because it was not young! There are seven current conservative Bible-inerrantist theories of Gen. 1-2:4 currently. Ham's is not the majority thesis. But there are good exegetes that represent that view. Ham is neither a Bible scholar or a scientific scholar. He is a propagandist. So if we hold to a young-earth view then let us do so with arguments that are cogent and don't destroy all history, and testimony including the rest of the history in the Bible and testimony about Jesus coming as savior of the world. That epistemic destruction seems obviously bad to anyone trying to tell people about Jesus!

 

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On December 4, 2018 at 10:05 PM, masonlandry said:

Honestly, the most common thing I encounter when theists (really, atheists too, for that matter) debate about evolution is that they don't really have any idea what it is or how it works. Even if you don't believe evolution happens, or if you are fine with evolution but don't believe that natural selection is what drives it, whatever your contention is, there is no point debating it if you don't know what you're arguing against. The statements I most commonly hear that put up a red flag that I'm talking to someone who doesn't understand evolution:

1.)" You think we came from goo! How can a bunch of chemicals turn into living things!?" This has nothing to do with evolution. This is a criticism of abiogenesis, which is an entirely separate claim. Absolutely feel free to contend with it, but that's not evolution. The theory of evolution by natural selection describes the mechanism by which living organisms diversify over time due to heredity and mutations. Evolution doesn't come into the picture until living things already exist. 

2.) "Mutations can't add new information." Yes, they certainly can. The entirety of our DNA consists of only 4 amino acids in various pair combinations. If they are arranged in different ways, they code for different proteins, and this determines your entire biology. If one or more of the amino acids are altered at an allele, it will work differently than it did before, if it still works at all. There are only a handful of ways the mutations occur (translation, deletion, addition, etc.) and only 4 acids to work with, but there are countless combinations that can be created from these changes. If they can change in structure, they can change in output. 

3.) "Microevolution happens but macroevolution doesn't happen" These are the exact same things, only over different periods of times. This is like saying minutes pass, but hours do not pass. The thing that makes up either one of these things in seconds, but if enough time goes on, minutes become hours. If you take issue with macroevolution, you must necessarily disagree with microevolution because the same process (change of a single organism) is what causes both. Or, if you are still okay with micro-evolution, you must at least not agree with the process by which it occurs. 

4.) "I didn't come from an ape." You are an ape. Ape is a taxonomic classification, like a mammal. Saying you didn't come from an ape is exactly like saying you didn't come from a mammal. Perhaps you mean chimp or gorilla or some other specific species of primate. Even if you mean that nobody who believes in evolution believes humans descended from chimps or gorillas. The theory is that humans and chimps and other primates descended from a common ancestor who was also a primate but was not any of the currently living species. 

Also, I often see a misunderstanding of what speciation is. What constitutes a new species is when a population diverges and the genetic changes that accumulate as they adapt to different environments diverge so much that they no longer produce viable offspring when they mate. There is some grey-area between species and subspecies (like donkeys and horses, who can breed a hybrid mule that is almost always sterile, but in some cases can produce offspring.) But if two organism types cannot produce viable offspring, they are different species, no matter how similar they are. This matters when talking about examples of speciation being observed because it has been observed multiple times. If you have an objection to something else, you should figure out what to call it, because speciation is something observed relatively often in populations, especially lab-organisms that have short lifespans and breeding cycles. 

As for other issues commonly discussed when there is contention between science and religion, I often hear "you think we came from nothing?" This is a straw man, as most people who accept the Big Bang theory (which many theists do, as well) don't claim it came out of nothing. Most people I have ever heard discuss it doesn't claim anything about what caused the Big Bang, what happened "before" it (before is a weird word to use if time started at that point, but that's beyond my comprehension, so I'll use it anyway.) There seems to be a really common problem of people assuming that if you don't believe God did something, you must claim to know how it came to be, when plenty of times, that's not happening, and it totally derails any productive conversation. In most of these cases, the person who doesn't believe in God is happy to tell you they don't know what came before or caused the Big Bang (or whatever they think happened) and simply doesn't think the only options are "nothing" or "God was responsible."

Personally, I'm of the mind that, if you are going to discuss something with someone who has a different perspective or background, you should always make an attempt to summarize their position, and ask them if you've accurately portrayed what they believe or what they are making a case for. If they say that you haven't gotten it right, just try and see where you're missing something instead of running ahead and arguing against something nobody actually believes. 

"Now have no intention of being drawn into debates about young-earth vs. old-earth theories, or detailed entailment so of "How God created." My primary concern is to highlight bad arguments coming from Haand his ministry. My hope is that I can dissuade theists from using such constructions in favor of sound and compelling rational arguments. "

 

I was not intending to broach the topic of creation at all here.

My point was to highlight a much greater problem in our culture, namely bad arguments that destroy much more knowledge than they want to destroy. In this case Ham while trying to make us skeptical of science, makes us skeptical of all testimony, including the testimony found in every book of the Old and New Testaments. 

And most egregious, Ham's method wipes out the witness of Jesus in the Gospels and Acts. What an incredibly foolish way to argue as a Christian!

I would prefer we engage the creation hypotheses elsewhere as I'm afraid that people are already trying to move from clear thinking to creation vs evolution.

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18 minutes ago, Uber Genius said:

So I am making no comment whatsoever on creation. I have said other places it may very well be the case that God created everything in a literal 6-day period, but we don't want to argue fallaciously. So my point is to NOT misrepresent science or the Bible or make bad arguments. That is all.

As to God using the argument with Job, where does your analogy fail? In other words what makes that defense of Ham a false analogy?

Finally, "No, Christian should tie themselves to theories counter to the scriptures," runs into "No Christian should misrepresent both scripture and science in order to maintain their false views of both!"

most Evangelical scholars and many church fathers found that when the Bible called the Earth ancient it was because it was not young! There are seven current conservative Bible-inerrantist theories of Gen. 1-2:4 currently. Ham's is not the majority thesis. But there are good exegetes that represent that view. Ham is neither a Bible scholar or a scientific scholar. He is a propagandist. So if we hold to a young-earth view then let us do so with arguments that are cogent and don't destroy all history, and testimony including the rest of the history in the Bible and testimony about Jesus coming as savior of the world. That epistemic destruction seems obviously bad to anyone trying to tell people about Jesus!

 

As to God using the argument with Job, where does your analogy fail? In other words what makes that defense of Ham a false analogy?

**It doesn't. It wasn't an argument made IMHO, it was an icebreaker/grabber statement. Ken Ham said "where were you then?" and left off there, really? That's all he said at that time? I sometimes say the same thing, "Were either of us there?" to help uniformitarians focus when they say things about the past with 100% certainty, but lacking credulity.

Finally, "No, Christian should tie themselves to theories counter to the scriptures," runs into "No Christian should misrepresent both scripture and science in order to maintain their false views of both!"

**Did Mr. Ham misrepresent either, do you think?

most Evangelical scholars and many church fathers found that when the Bible called the Earth ancient it was because it was not young! There are seven current conservative Bible-inerrantist theories of Gen. 1-2:4 currently. Ham's is not the majority thesis. But there are good exegetes that represent that view. Ham is neither a Bible scholar or a scientific scholar. He is a propagandist. So if we hold to a young-earth view then let us do so with arguments that are cogent and don't destroy all history, and testimony including the rest of the history in the Bible and testimony about Jesus coming as savior of the world. That epistemic destruction seems obviously bad to anyone trying to tell people about Jesus!

**Why assume Mr. Ham's main outreach is to unbelievers or a subset of unbelievers including scientists? He has a great ministry for Christians. But speaking as a very active witness, I avoid discussing the age of the Earth or evolution "between kinds" with unbelievers. But if it comes up, I have some information to share, including some "grabbers".

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40 minutes ago, Billiards Ball said:

As to God using the argument with Job, where does your analogy fail? In other words what makes that defense of Ham a false analogy?

**It doesn't. It wasn't an argument made IMHO, it was an icebreaker/grabber statement. Ken Ham said "where were you then?" and left off there, really? That's all he said at that time? I sometimes say the same thing, "Were either of us there?" to help uniformitarians focus when they say things about the past with 100% certainty, but lacking credulity.

Now you are making an ad hoc explanation in order to explain away something that Ham not only said, but defended saying. His point was to destroy testimony as a way of gaining understanding of our world. He makes this on other videos I have seen. So this is not an honest way of communicating. Both His and yours. 

 Secondly your analogy is false because you being a man make yourself out to be like GOD! God knows everything as an essential attribute of his nature. It seems absurd to have to bring this up, but NEITHER YOU NOR KEN HAM KNOW EVERYTHING BY YOUR NATURE. Making it impossible to analogize God's knowledge with man's as you did to defend Ham's ham-handed statement, "Were you there?"

 

Edited by Uber Genius

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27 minutes ago, Billiards Ball said:

Did Mr. Ham misrepresent either, do you think?

Yes. Although his epistemological error and logical fallacy were the subject of my post.  

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29 minutes ago, Billiards Ball said:

Why assume Mr. Ham's main outreach is to unbelievers or a subset of unbelievers including scientists?

I don't make that assumption. I am saying that he has made an argument that we should eliminate testimony as a valid source of knowledge. 

So if we adopt his view, evangelists (not Ham per se), and scientists, and lawyers, and historians, and school teachers teaching things other than math and a few hard sciences, will find they are out of a job!

Or Ham could admit that he didn't realize the ramifications of his advice and now rejects the whole, "Were you there," approach as hopelessly epistemologically flawed... I'm not holding my breath here. 

So why are you so interested in saving Ken Ham that your would rewrite history about what he was saying to make it sound as if it weren't fallacious? 

You recognize that even if we conclude that Ham is a suffering from some mental disorder (He's not but for arguments sake) it does nothing whatsoever to injure the inference that the Earth is young and Gen 1-2:4 is best interpreted as a literal 6 days? 

 

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Ad hominem

Attacking the attributes of the person arguing in order to draw attention away from the details of their argument.

This is a fallacy.

So let's say I have argued that Roger Federer is the greatest athlete that has ever lived, I give evidence in support of premises which in turn support arguments. But then you find out the real reason I think he is the best is because I am a tennis groupie who stalks tennis players and especially Federer. My argument for his greatness stands and falls on the arguments, premises, and evidence that underlie them. My lunacy in no way impacts my argument. 

Likewise Ken Ham may do a poor job of articulating his support for a young Earth. But that in no way invalidates the YEC inference. It doesn't touch it. In fact there may be laudable ways in which he has uniquely added to the body of knowledge of the YEC inference that are valid epistemically and logically, and should be used by every person arguing that inference.

So Again, do these errors mean YEC is wrong? Not a bit. They impact Nothing,nada, niente, nichts, ナッシング

But my focus was on specific logical and epistemic errors and how devastating they can be to the overall project of evangelism. As Christians we should defend our worldview accurately and free of manipulative or poorly thought out rhetorical devices that are fallacious. Jesus was a great intellect who crushed the false religious leaders of his day using logic and knowledge of the fallacy of these men's false religious view in order to drive people from following those leaders. We need to do likewise and extinguish the false ideas of the atheists and other world religions we encounter.   

 

 

 

 

 

Edited by Uber Genius

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