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Generalising Russell’s Law?

Barbara O’Brien reports on a spoof global warming denial site which many people – including ‘comedian’ Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage, and possibly Senator Jim Inhofe’s staff – took for the real thing.

Russell’s Law states that it’s impossible to distinguish a creationist from a parody of a creationist.  This incident makes me wonder if it’s possible to generalise Russell’s Law to all forms of denialism.

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Dembski’s ongoing antics

For someone who presents themselves as a “serious intellectual”, William Dembski‘s “debating style” seems to be better suited to the elementary school playground than an adult discussion. First he comes up with his childish “Darwin vise grip”. This was followed by his foray into voice acting to attack Judge Jones on the Kitzmiller verdict:

In late 2006 Dembski created and published a Flash animation, The Judge Jones School of Law at the intelligent design website, OverwhelmingEvidence.com. [41] [42][43][44] In it he originally depicted John E. Jones III, the presiding judge in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District, as a flatulent mouthpiece of the ACLU. In an email Dembski, after it was published that he provided the voiceover, offered to let Judge Jones provide his own voice for the animation and to reduce the frequency of flatulence in the animation if Jones agreed to participate. [45] This prompted critics, among them Richard Dawkins, to question Dembski’s motive and the scholarliness of such tactics. [46][47][48]

(from the William Dembski article on Wikipedia; authorship available here)

Continuing in this vein of high intellectual discourse, Dembski has replied to Jerry Coyne’s scathing review of Behe’s latest work of fiction (The Edge of Evolution)…comparing Coyne to Herman Munster.

Come to think of it, “your ugly, nyaa, nyaa” is a more convincing argument than anything else the IDists have come up with. Once again, Russell’s Law comes into play.

Really?

Through some misfortune I ended up a the creationist blog Telic Thought, and reading a so-called “inductive argument for ID” which goes like this

1) No known non-intelligent processes exist that produced living organisms on Earth.
2) All researched non-intelligent processes to produce living organisms appear exceedingly improbable and implausible.
3) All known processes that produce living organisms are intelligently designed (biologists designing living organisms).
4) Therefore, by inductive reasoning, it is probable that the processes that produced living organisms on Earth were intelligently designed.

I’m still not sure if Telic Thought is a serious ID site, or if it’s a very subtle parody. It goes back to Russell’s Law – that it’s impossible to distinguish a creationist from a parody of a creationist (see here, for a nice example).

To begin with, the first sentence is obviously too silly for words, but for arguments sake let’s assume it isn’t a parody, and that the author was talking about the de novo creation of living things. Of course, in that case the statement should be [n]o known non-intelligent processes exist that produced [de novo] living organisms on Earth.  Again, assuming that this isn’t a parody, the poster had a PZ Myers post in mind, about the possibility creating “designer” organisms in the lab…although, of course, mimicking what exists isn’t de novo creation of living things.  (I’m more convinced that this post is a parody).

His second point is the assertion that [a]ll researched non-intelligent processes to produce living organisms appear exceedingly improbable and implausible.  Yep – for humans, it’s only one out of a few million sperm that actually fertilise an egg, and when you average that over the fertile lifespan of the average male, it’s incredibly implausible that any given human is ever born.  In fact, the probability that just that one sperm gave rise to you is much, much greater than the number of humans that has existed in the world.  And yet, exceedingly improbable and implausible events have given rise to 6.5 billion of us.  Obviously no one could ever be born without an intelligent designer picking out that one sperm.  If we (charitably? or uncharitably?) assume that the person meant the origin of life on earth…well, what’s the basis for the assumption that the process was exceedingly improbable and implausible?  Quite on the contrary, I suspect that it’s highly probable that, given the right set of conditions, life-like things could have arisen spontaneously.  Of course, the non-intelligent bit is just filler – there are no “intelligent” alternatives that have produced life.

The third point is based on the (rather silly) second point, but anyway, says [a] ll known processes that produce living organisms are intelligently designed (biologists designing living organisms)…except that (a) there are no designed living organisms, and (b) any human-created organisms are just copies of what already exists.

And based on four deeply flawed premises he concludes [t]herefore, by inductive reasoning, it is probable that the processes that produced living organisms on Earth were intelligently designed.  Nope.  All he has actually done is conclude that A = A.  He asserts that we don’t know any mechanisms which created “living things” (maybe someone should explain sex to this guy), and concludes that we don’t know any mechanisms which give rise to living things.  Parody of a creationist or not?  I just can’t tell.