Wednesday, November 15, 2006

I choose neither

Kurt Vonnedude

When not blaming It for all the World's ills, another favourite, and all-pervasive, gag used to fog thought or debate about important issues is the old...

You're either with Us or against Us


And the gag works best of all if the supposed dichotomy is presented in such a way that people will be damned for the company they keep if they favour the 'wrong', or should I say unfashionable, option.

So, if you don't buy into the particular Global Warming paradigm being thrust down our necks well then you just have to be an apologist for the oil industry

You think the Global War on Terror is horseshit? Well, obviously, you just luuuuuuurve terrorists

and my personal favourite...

If you reject Darwinism then you must be a fundamentalist crazy. Or, more perniciously, you are a fool and your doubts only serve to further the agenda of fundamentalist crazies. Best shut up and come over to the 'Our' side, even if you think Darwinism is crap.

The output of the human brain, the most wondrous object in the known universe, reduced to a series of binary decisions. Even simpler than a traffic light.

An impressive achievement

If you're a dick

And so, whenever I encounter someone who phrases issues along the lines of 'With Us or against Us' the trusty old 'Dick-O-Meter' flashes into overdrive.

Sorry, believing that life sprung up spontaneously from inert sludge, a feat that no-one has ever come near to replicating in a lab, is just as irrational and faith-driven as believing that G-d did it. And demanding that people must believe in one or the other doesn't make it any less so.

Bogus certainty about bogus dichotomies is responsible for more death and suffering than any individual religious or political ideology.

You could do away with all religions and all political ideologies tomorrow and the dicks in charge would still find bullshit issues to divide us, to be certain about and to kill each other over. Humanity's inanate appetite for tribalism is partly responsible but it also has to be said that there are a lot of people out there who simply find it easier to hurt each other rather than think things through on their own,

There's an audio of a cracking interview with Kurt Vonnegut available on this page here. The first time I heard it I burst out laughing. I suspect Vonnegut had a chuckle himself afterwards. Vonnegut is well known for being a secular humanist so he must be part of the herd of independent minds that believes in Darwinian Evolution, right?


clank clank whirrr wibble

does not compute


Here's a transcript of the best bit, at the end of the interview-

VONNEGUT: Where you can see tribal behavior now is in this business about teaching evolution in a science class and intelligent design. It’s the scientists themselves are behaving tribally.

INSKEEP: How are the scientists behaving tribally?

VONNEGUT: They say, you know, about evolution, it surely happened because their fossil record shows that. But look, my body and your body are miracles of design. Scientists are pretending they have the answer as how we got this way when natural selection couldn’t possibly have produced such machines.

INSKEEP: Does that mean you would favor teaching intelligent design in the classroom?

VONNEGUT: Look, if it’s what we’re thinking about all the time; if I were a physics teacher or a science teacher, it’d be on my mind all the time as to how the hell we really got this way. It’s a perfectly natural human thought and, okay, if you go into the science class you can’t think this? Well, alright, as soon as you leave you can start thinking about it again without giving aid and comfort to the lunatic fringe of the Christian religion. Also, I think that, you know, it’s tribal behavior. I don’t think that Pat Robertson, for instance, doubts that we evolved. He is simply representing a tribe.

INSKEEP: There are tribes on both sides here in your view?


INSKEEP: May I ask what tribes, if any, you have belonged to over the years?

VONNEGUT: Well, it’s an ancestral tribe. These were immigrants from north of Germany who came here about the time of the Civil War, but anyway, these people called themselves free thinkers. They were impressed, incidentally, by Darwin. They’re called Humanists now: people who aren’t so sure that the Bible is the Word of God.

INSKEEP: Who are denounced by some religious people as secular humanists?

VONNEGUT: Well, that’s exactly what I am. The trouble with being a secular humanist is that we don’t have a congregation. We don’t meet, so it’s a very flimsy tribe, but there’s a wonderful quotation from Nietzsche. Nietzsche said, Only a person of deep faith can afford the luxury of skepticism. Something perfectly wonderful is going on. I do not doubt it, but the explanations I hear do not satisfy me.

I like Kurt Vonnegut


de said...

KV rocks*, and indeed being unconvinced by Natural Selection et al does not make you a frothing loony.

Do you remember the school example? Red moths and grey moths, trees and pollution. You know, red moths lost out as grey was the "in" colour for the entirety of the indsutrial revolution. That was always a bit thin to explain the whole of life.

(*insert inane homage to Slaughterhouse Five here)

PS I don't think evolution has anything to say about sludge per se. You need species to do Darwin.

Stef said...

A very fair point about the Darwin/ sludge/ species thing

Darwin cuts in after the spontaneous generation from sludge thing

Darwinism actually has nothing to say about the creation of life at all

Not that you'd notice from the way it is sold

Frank O'Dwyer said...

I like KV too, but this is total arse:

"They say, you know, about evolution, it surely happened because their fossil record shows that. But look, my body and your body are miracles of design. Scientists are pretending they have the answer as how we got this way when natural selection couldn’t possibly have produced such machines."

That's an argument? Ignore evidence to the contrary and assert "couldn't possibly" with NO evidence.

There are two independent sets of evidence for 'evolution' - the fossil record and molecular biology. Either one on its own would be enough. This is always going to trump argument from personal incredulity such as the quote above.

Stef said...


There are some who argue that neo-darwinists scampered over to molecular biological side of things once it was clear the flaws in the supposed palaeontological support for evolution were never going to be ironed out

I suggest a rematch on this one at a later date

PS The peppered moths in those pictures were stuck on the trees before being photographed. Peppered moths don't rest on tree trunks and, as with most moths, they happen to be nocturnal. Total cacca - and cacca that still occasionally turns up in texts on natural selection

Stef said...

PPS Funniest evolution news story in recent months...

Human beings evolved in response to predation by Eagles...

“The findings suggest that birds of prey have been one of the most important selective forces in primate evolution for a long time,”

Stef said...


Or how about this one...

Social division might split humans into two sub-species 100,000 years from now, an evolution expert has claimed. The descendants of the genetic upper class would be tall, slim, healthy, attractive, intelligent, and creative. They would be a far cry from the "underclass" humans, who will have evolved into dim-witted, ugly, squat goblin-like creatures.

Some of these guys should move into stand-up, really

Stef said...

Of course, I mentioned the KV quote not because I'm pretending that's he's an expert on evolutionary theory but because...

- he's not stupid
- he's a secular humanist
- he has a couple of things to say about how tribalism affects the positions people take - observations that personal experience lead me to agree with

I only emphasised the tribalism surrounding the evolutionary debate rather than all the other dichtomies out there because it amuses me so

Frank O'Dwyer said...

Still, it remains much like saying "They say, you know, about gravity, it surely exists because things fall and F=ma and Newton and Einstein and all that. But look, I don't understand any of that. Scientists are pretending they have the answer but I say gravity couldn't possibly make things fall."

And gravity really is one of the deeper mysteries of the universe that scientists are still trying to figure out!

The thing about 'evolutionary theory' (which covers a multitude and ranges from "fact" to "pretty good theory" to "best we have got so far" depending on what exact aspect you are talking about) is that it actually has made testable predictions that panned out and that continue to pan out. When somebody can tell you what to look for and where to stand and what will happen, and then it does happen, that is impressive. That is science.

All of that is something that the creationists and ID crew and purveyors of alternative theories in general would give their right bollock to be able to do. Instead they either make no predictions at all, or every falsifiable prediction they make has already been falsified. It is just not true that all of these theories are 'faith driven' or on an equal footing.

Stef said...


My faith driven comment was made with specific reference to abiogensis and the generation of life from non living matter. If you have any info on anyone who has come anywhere near to doing that, please share.

Re. evidence/ testing/ falsification of Evolutionary Theory

There are ID proponents who are currently trying to express their ideas in a falsifiable way e.g. Behe, Dembski but it's not easy. The same hurdles apply to proponents of Neo-Darwinism.

Again, if you can point me to examples of falsifiable macroevolutionary theories please share.

Virtually every piece of 'evidence' I've seen or read in support of evolution can at best be classed as a 'just so' story with no real predictive or explanatory power whatsoever

We can revisit this another time.

The point of the original post was that people are deliberately restricted in their thinking by being presented with false dichotomies and strong-armed into taking sides by virtue of the company they would have to keep. This is a barrier to free thinking across the board - in science, in politics, in enviromentalism. I'll stand by that.

Frank O'Dwyer said...


re abiogenesis:

If you have any info on anyone who has come anywhere near to doing that, please share.

Why should that be relevant? Nobody has created a dinosaur in the lab have they? Yet there is evidence dinosaurs happened. How the whole thing got started is a separate issue anyway - we know it did get started.

Again, if you can point me to examples of falsifiable macroevolutionary theories please share.

This is pretty good:
29+ Evidences for Macroevolution

(I've linked the molecular sequence piece because it is probably the most convincing).

Or this.

Or even just the fact that Darwin predicted that there would be a unit of heredity, and now we know it is DNA, he predicted the relatedness of humans and apes - and what do you know the gene sequences are very close...etc.

Virtually every piece of 'evidence' I've seen or read in support of evolution can at best be classed as a 'just so' story with no real predictive or explanatory power whatsoever

I understand that, certainly there are the just so stories. But see above.

What is really funny is that sometimes you get people who claim that evolutionary theory is a) false and b) a tautology.

Honestly I take your point about the tribal thing and I like your brand of scepticism. But, actually the whole tribal thing is not a bad rule of thumb. When you look around and find yourself in the company of a bunch of loons it doesn't mean you are wrong necessarily, but it is a good time to check your sums. As the saying goes the race is not always to the swift nor the battle to the strong, but that's the way to bet. :-)

Stef said...


Re. the appearance of Life

Yup, it is separate from Darwinism as discussed in the first couple of comments above.

If true, Darwinistic evolution could apply just as equally to created Life as Life that just appeared 'spontaneously'

Having said that evolutionists do assume that life did just spring up as part of the total package. There's no evidence that it did and nobody has been able to replicate it.

And I'm not sticking God into that particular gap. That would be just as bogus as saying 'well it just happened randomly' and shelving the issue, as has basically occurred.

What really tickles me is when people go on and come up with junk like Drake's equation

and actually pretend that there's anything like any way we could even start to guess the probability of Life coming to existence on a planet.

and I'm not one of those people who Neo-Darwinism Evolution is 'false' - quite the opposite, I'm not convinced that it is falsifiable at all

and re. the tautology point I think that's directed at the concept of 'Survival of the Fittest' - the sticking point being is there any scientific basis for predicting what actually constitutes the fittest beforehand, before it has got round to competing and surviving? Again, I'm not convinced that there is

I'll chuck something else up on this as separate post at some point over the next few weeks and let you know about it. If you've got time please feel free to have a go.

... If you think you're hard enough

Ho Ho ;)

Re. the tribal thing

Evolution isn't necessarilly the best example but there are an awful lot of issues facing us today where vested interests go out of their way to promote dicks and give them a disproportionate hearing in order to piss in the pool and turn people off certain ways of thinking. It's a deliberate strategy.

A better example than evolution would be the persistent conflation in the media of 'conspiracy theories' about state sponsored terror, which have a grounding in demonstrable fact and history, and moobat nonsense about Elvis sightings, UFOs and all that other nonsense, which don't.