Friday, February 20, 2009


Err Presumptive

Moral senseRichard B. Hoppe has a wonderful takedown of creationists at The Panda's Thumb (and not just because he links to a post of mine). It involves the "presuppositional" argument claiming that "creation scientists" and (real) scientists use the same evidence, but that they interpret it from different starting points, Biblical creationism and "man's reason." Richard quotes Georgia Purdom, a geneticist in the employ of Answers in Genesis:

I had a friendly "debate" with a gentleman afterwards concerning the merits of presuppositionalism vs. evidentialism. This person believed there was "neutral ground" where evolutionists and creationists can debate the evidence and that the evidentialist approach was better to use with non-Christians. I tried to help him see that neutral ground does not exist because both sides have presuppositions–creationists start with the authority of the Word of God and evolutionists start with the authority of human reasoning. If we as creationists agree to "leave the Bible out of it," then we are starting with the same presuppositions as the evolutionists and will not be effective.

It is amusing to see the tacit admission that "creation science" is ineffectual against evidence and that the only way for it to win is to change the subject. But Richard then takes the creationists' case and runs a bulldozer right through it (in a way that warms the cockles of this lawyer's heart):

Now, the presupposition of the U.S. justice system is (purportedly) that one is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. But if we adopt the AIG/ICR philosophical/apologetic position regarding presuppositions, no amount of evidence that seems to support guilt can alter the presumption of innocence. Hence if I'm ever charged with a crime, I want AIG creationists on the jury: I'm guaranteed an acquittal, because, you see, evidence doesn't count in evaluating presuppositions! And doing CSI becomes infinitely easier: Decide who's guilty beforehand and simply interpret the evidence appropriately.

My only disagreement is with Richard's (tongue-in-cheek) suggestion that it would be a good thing to have an AiG-packed jury. Based on past experience, I doubt that their "starting point" would be "man's laws," anymore than it is "man's reason." After all, the Constitution of the United States has never seemed to bother them any.

And, if they were rooting around in their Bibles for evidence of my guilt, I'm pretty sure they'd find some.

It is amusing to see the tacit admission that "creation science" is ineffectual against evidence and that the only way for it to win is to change the subject.

This is of course the main purpose of the presupp argument: it's a form of special pleading (I think). It's often deployed in reply to the obvious question: "If evolution is such a crock, why do all those smart scientists believe it?".

But then we get a shell game in which "creation evidence" is presented anyways, implying that evidence can distinguish between the alternatives. So it's not clear whether the creationist is making the straightforward empirical accusation of closed-mindedness, or the epistemological claim of incommensurability. But propagandist like Ham are never loath to exploit that sort of ambiguity.
I think what they are doing is trying to demonstrate an internal consistency to their views. If you accept that the Bible is literally true in Genesis, you can give "explanations" of the evidence that at least don't contradict the creation account. The fact that the "explanations" are even harder to believe than the original account doesn't seem to bother them ... in for a penny on denialism, in for a pound.
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