Monday, January 28, 2013

Critical Thinking: Case Study on How to Lay the Smack Down

So, this meme has been floating around the intertubes for a couple of years. It popped up again in my feed. It's such a great example of a poor argument. I've commented on it before, but not to the degree that you will soon experience. In the comments section, a friend and former roommate of mine from U of H gave a pretty good example of how to deconstruct a poor argument. So, sit back and enjoy, how to lay the smack down on facebook with Seth Robertson:

Note: I want to make clear that my intent (in this particular post) is not to post things that are deliberately anti-religious. The fact that this meme has to do with religion is incidental. The main point is that this meme is a poor argument for the existence of God and does not adequately address the professor's concerns. This does not necessarily imply there is no God, it only suggests that the particular argument in the meme is a poor one to use as an argument for God's existence. There are also poor atheist arguments, and as I see them in my news feed, I will post them too. And again, a poor argument against there being a god doesn't mean we ought to conclude that there is one. It only tells us that the particular argument being used is a poor one.

That said, we should not suppose that arguments are irrelevant to what we should or should not believe. In perennial issues, such as God's existence, while we should not attach our assent or dissent to just one argument, we should be sensitive to the relative strength of arguments on either side. That sensitivity should be reflected in the degree of certainty we hold in certain beliefs.

First read the argument (dialectic) then check out my friend's comments which I've posted below.

Professor : You are a Christian, aren’t you, son ?

Student : Yes, sir.

Professor: So, you believe in GOD ?

Student : Absolutely, sir.

Professor : Is GOD good ?

Student : Sure.

Professor: Is GOD all powerful ?

Student : Yes.

Professor: My brother died of cancer even though he prayed to GOD to heal him. Most of us would attempt to help others who are ill. But GOD didn’t. How is this GOD good then? Hmm?

(Student was silent.)

Professor: You can’t answer, can you ? Let’s start again, young fella. Is GOD good?

Student : Yes.

Professor: Is satan good ?

Student : No.

Professor: Where does satan come from ?

Student : From … GOD …

Professor: That’s right. Tell me son, is there evil in this world?

Student : Yes.

Professor: Evil is everywhere, isn’t it ? And GOD did make everything. Correct?

Student : Yes.

Professor: So who created evil ?

(Student did not answer.)

Professor: Is there sickness? Immorality? Hatred? Ugliness? All these terrible things exist in the world, don’t they?

Student : Yes, sir.

Professor: So, who created them ?

(Student had no answer.)

Professor: Science says you have 5 Senses you use to identify and observe the world around you. Tell me, son, have you ever seen GOD?

Student : No, sir.

Professor: Tell us if you have ever heard your GOD?

Student : No , sir.

Professor: Have you ever felt your GOD, tasted your GOD, smelt your GOD? Have you ever had any sensory perception of GOD for that matter?

Student : No, sir. I’m afraid I haven’t.

Professor: Yet you still believe in Him?

Student : Yes.

Professor : According to Empirical, Testable, Demonstrable Protocol, Science says your GOD doesn’t exist. What do you say to that, son?

Student : Nothing. I only have my faith.

Professor: Yes, faith. And that is the problem Science has.

Student : Professor, is there such a thing as heat?

Professor: Yes.

Student : And is there such a thing as cold?

Professor: Yes.

Student : No, sir. There isn’t.

(The lecture theater became very quiet with this turn of events.)

Student : Sir, you can have lots of heat, even more heat, superheat, mega heat, white heat, a little heat or no heat. But we don’t have anything called cold. We can hit 458 degrees below zero which is no heat, but we can’t go any further after that. There is no such thing as cold. Cold is only a word we use to describe the absence of heat. We cannot measure cold. Heat is energy. Cold is not the opposite of heat, sir, just the absence of it.

(There was pin-drop silence in the lecture theater.)

Student : What about darkness, Professor? Is there such a thing as darkness?

Professor: Yes. What is night if there isn’t darkness?

Student : You’re wrong again, sir. Darkness is the absence of something. You can have low light, normal light, bright light, flashing light. But if you have no light constantly, you have nothing and its called darkness, isn’t it? In reality, darkness isn’t. If it is, well you would be able to make darkness darker, wouldn’t you?

Professor: So what is the point you are making, young man ?

Student : Sir, my point is your philosophical premise is flawed.

Professor: Flawed ? Can you explain how?

Student : Sir, you are working on the premise of duality. You argue there is life and then there is death, a good GOD and a bad GOD. You are viewing the concept of GOD as something finite, something we can measure. Sir, Science can’t even explain a thought. It uses electricity and magnetism, but has never seen, much less fully understood either one. To view death as the opposite of life is to be ignorant of the fact that death cannot exist as a substantive thing.

Death is not the opposite of life: just the absence of it. Now tell me, Professor, do you teach your students that they evolved from a monkey?

Professor: If you are referring to the natural evolutionary process, yes, of course, I do.

Student : Have you ever observed evolution with your own eyes, sir?

(The Professor shook his head with a smile, beginning to realize where the argument was going.)

Student : Since no one has ever observed the process of evolution at work and cannot even prove that this process is an on-going endeavor. Are you not teaching your opinion, sir? Are you not a scientist but a preacher?

(The class was in uproar.)

Student : Is there anyone in the class who has ever seen the Professor’s brain?

(The class broke out into laughter. )

Student : Is there anyone here who has ever heard the Professor’s brain, felt it, touched or smelt it? No one appears to have done so. So, according to the established Rules of Empirical, Stable, Demonstrable Protocol, Science says that you have no brain, sir. With all due respect, sir, how do we then trust your lectures, sir?

(The room was silent. The Professor stared at the student, his face unfathomable.)

Professor: I guess you’ll have to take them on faith, son.

Student : That is it sir … Exactly ! The link between man & GOD is FAITH. That is all that keeps things alive and moving.


I believe you have enjoyed the conversation. And if so, you’ll probably want your friends / colleagues to enjoy the same, won’t you?

Forward this to increase their knowledge … or FAITH.

By the way, that student was EINSTEIN.

Seth's Comments:
Problems with this letter:

1. Einstein never did this. It does not even match with Einstein's religious beliefs. Einstein was agnostic.

2. If this was a real professor, he should be reprimanded or fired for harassing a student.

3. If this was a real professor, he should be reprimanded or fired for being a total idiot.

3. If this was a philosophy professor, he'd be the worst philosopher ever. Excluding Heidegger.

4. The professor begins with a very poorly articulated version of the infamous"problem of evil." A better version of it goes like this. God is always good (all-good). If one has the power, it is good to intervene to stop an evil thing from happening. God has the power to do anything (all-powerful). But there is evil in the world, which means that God did not intervene (even though he could have, because he is all-powerful. That means that there is a good thing that God didn't do. So God is not simultaneously all-good and all-powerful.

5. This "problem of evil" is a big deal. It is such a big deal that not only does it have its own name, but attempted solutions to it have their own name (theodicies). It's not easy to solve.

6. Even if it was easy to solve, the student never even tries. At no point does he offer a counter-argument to the problem of evil. Personally, I think it is possible to solve the problem of evil. The student doesn't bother. That's no way to win an argument.

7. The professor then says " Science says you have 5 Senses you use to identify and observe the world around you." Actually, science doesn't say that. We clearly have more than five senses. In addition to the obvious five, there are also senses like balance and proprioception (you can close your eyes, move your hand to the left, and still tell roughly where your hand is). In fact, I think the commonly agreed upon number of senses for now is somewhere around 20 or 21.

8. Next, the professor gives a just terrible argument that no agnostic or atheist one in her right mind would make. It goes like this: We don't perceive God with sight, smell, taste, sound, or touch, so "science says" God does not exist. Evidently, by "science," the professor means some version of hyper-radical empiricism that no scientist ever actually believed in. If we could only believe in the existence of things that we personally perceived, I would not be justified in believing that my great-great grandfather existed, or that atoms existed, or that planets that were too far away to see with the naked eye existed.

9. The more philosophically robust version of the terrible argument that the professor ran goes like this: as science progresses, we create new scientific theories that explain phenomenon naturalistically that were previously thought of as only explainable supernaturallistically. Thus, there is less and less of a motivation to posit a theoretical supernatural entity as the cause of events in our world.

10. Let me re-emphasize that no scientist thinks that we are only justified in believing things that we can directly perceive.

11. The student then goes on to deploy some quasi-Augustinian argument about the nature of heat and light. He says that "heat is energy." More accurately it is molecular kinetic energy. But whatevs. The student then says that cold is the absence of heat, so there is no such thing as cold. This is a non-sequiter. There is such a thing as "cold." It is roughly any atmosphere below a certain threshold of molecular kinetic energy. It is subjective to humans, but that doesn't mean it does not exist.

12. The student does the same thing with light. I swear, the only point of this section is to rehash an ancient argument provided by Augustine that the author must have thought was neat because it is totally irrelevant to any point. The student says , "In reality, darkness isn’t. If it is, well you would be able to make darkness darker, wouldn’t you?" Again, this is a non-sequiter. Just because "darkness" occurs when there is lower than a certain threshold of light particles and reflective surfaces does not mean that "darkness" does not exist.

13. Same thing with death.

14. The student tries to get to the point. It seems to be that the problem of evil assumes duality. Well, Christianty cerainly assumes duality in many cases too (heaven & hell, right and wrong, for example).

15. The student says "Science can't even explain a thought." Wait what?

16. The student says "To view death as the opposite of life is to be ignorant of the fact that death cannot exist as a substantive thing" Aww, that is very touching and profound. But it has absolutely nothing to do with anything the professor said.

17. The student then tries to turn the tables on the professor, but arguing that unobserved entities and processes do exist. This is actually fair. The problem is that his individual arguments are so bad.

18. The student says " Since no one has ever observed the process of evolution at work and cannot even prove that this process is an on-going endeavor." What? We've observed evolution happening tons and tons and tons of time.

19. The student then says "Are you not teaching your opinion, sir? Are you not a scientist but a preacher?" This implies that evolutionary theory is just an opinion. If you're a creationist, fine, but evolutionary theory is not "just like your opinion, man." Further, at the collegiate level, it is very common for professors to give a lecture about their opinions on certain matters. That's why they are professors.

20. "(The class was in uproar.)" Yeah right. If this actually happened, everyone would be sitting there, abashed, waiting for this student to get down off her pulpit so class can continue. It would be awkwardly silent, not uproarious. Also, hopefully, students would transfer out of the class because the professor is a moron.

21. The student asks if anyone has seen the professor's brain. There is a dis-analogy between this argument and the "we-can't-observe-God-so-he-doesn't-exist" argument. We could, in principle, observe the professors brain. It'd be easy. It would not be so easy to observe God.

22. Then, it says "The link between man & GOD is FAITH. That is all that keeps things alive and moving." Is this really a Christian principle? That it is faith that keeps things alive and moving? Then who do unfaithful people live or move around? There are lots of them. And they're living. And they are moving. If there were no people, there could be no faith. But the planets would still move. And plants would still live. So this claim must be false.

In conclusion, this "article" is really problematic. If Christians want to be afforded any intellectual respect, we / they can't keep arguing against idiot strawmen like the "professor" from the article. Christians as a whole have to stop their anti-intellectualism - if they have any faith at all they should believe that the things they believe in would be proven by science, given enough time. Instead, they'd rather forward chain letters containing no real substance, but managing to make the Christian reader feel giddy that some down-home country boy sitting in that great cesspit of sin (the American college classroom) had proved the atheist college professor (who probably had pre-marital sex and voted for Obama) wrong.

Oh yeah. And that down-home country boy in the American college classroom / cesspit of sin was Einstein.

1 comment:

  1. Since I know said guest commentator, this pretty much made my night :)