PZ Myers posted Entry 785 on February 3, 2005 11:55 AM.
Trackback URL: http://www.pandasthumb.org/cgi-bin/mt/mt-tb.fcgi/783

Doing Things With Words quotes a beautiful example from Carl Sagan:

Most curious is [Kepler's] view of the origin of the lunar craters, which make the moon, he says, "not dissimilar to the face of a boy disfigured by smallpox." He argued correctly that the craters are depressions rather than mounds. From his own observations he noted the ramparts surrounding many craters and the existence of central peaks. But he thought that their regular circular shape implied such a degree of order that only intelligent life could explain them. He did not realize that great rocks falling out of the sky would produce a local explosion, perfectly symmetric in all directions, that would carve out a circular cavity--the origin of the bulk of the craters on the moon and the other terrestrial planets. He deduced instead "the existence of some race rationally capable of constructing those hollows on the surface of the moon. This race must have many individuals, so that one group puts one hollow to use while another group constructs another hollow."

At least the Discovery Institute can take solace from the fact that they've now actually been compared to a scientist. It's far more flattering than they deserve, even though it was a scientist who was wrong

Commenters are responsible for the content of comments. The opinions expressed in articles, linked materials, and comments are not necessarily those of PandasThumb.org. See our full disclaimer.

Comment #14889

Posted by Douglas Theobald on February 3, 2005 12:33 PM (e)

Many years ago, Johannes Kepler wrote:

When things are in order, if the cause of the orderliness cannot be deduced from the motion of the elements or from the composition of matter, it is quite probably a cause possessing a mind….
If you direct your mind to the towns on the moon, I shall prove to you that I see them ….

In the spotted parts of the moon the perfectly round shape of the hollows, and their arrangement or a certain equality of the distances between them, are artificial and produced by some architectural mind. For that scooping out into the form of a circle cannot be accomplished by any motion of the elements.

From Kepler’s posthumously published work on lunar astronomy, Somnium, as quoted by ID-ist Paul Nelson in his talk “How Do We Detect Intelligent Causes?” (PN-Helsinki2.ppt) given at a conference on ID held at the Helsinki University of Technology on Oct, 22 2004.

Comment #14891

Posted by Dan on February 3, 2005 12:53 PM (e)

Dr. Myers - thanks for the links, here and at Pharyngula.

Douglas - thanks for providing more detail. I’m glad to see that some members of the ID crowd are willing to admit that their arguments are still the ones Hume rejected.

Comment #14892

Posted by Great White Wonder on February 3, 2005 1:05 PM (e)

Somewhere an ID rube is thinking:

Yes but what are the odds of those meteorites landing in such a way as to make the moon look exactly like a child with smallpox???

The handiwork of a master sculptor is staring right at you and you deny what any child can see.

Comment #14894

Posted by Douglas Theobald on February 3, 2005 1:27 PM (e)

Well, Nelson may be acutely aware of the Kepler problem, yet he still adheres to the Keplerian logic. What’s funny is that in the past I have facetiously brought up the issue of moon craters as examples of design in arguments with both ID-ists and YECs. If I’d known about the Kepler blunder earlier, I would have rubbed it in a bit more “forefully”. An additional interesting point is that while ID-ists and other creationists will readily admit that moon craters have a nice non-intelligent cause, that conclusion is an inference for which we have no direct observational support. To my knowledge, nobody has ever watched a lunar impact (though there is the questionable Giordano Bruno impact). The only observed impact I know of, the comet that hit Jupiter, left no signs of a crater. Certainly a lot of extrapolation from micro-impacts to macro-impacts going on here.

Comment #14898

Posted by Bill Ware on February 3, 2005 1:58 PM (e)

A great example of ID. The craters are so perfectly round and well shaped that they must have been of intelligent origins. Yet the understanding of meteor impacts later demonstrated that no intelligence was required. This is a great example that most people can understand compared to the complex biological processes that most IDers use as examples today.

Thanks for pointing this out.

Comment #14899

Posted by Bill Ware on February 3, 2005 2:01 PM (e)

A great example of ID. The craters are so perfectly round and well shaped that they must have been of intelligent origins. Yet the understanding of meteor impacts later demonstrated that no intelligence was required. This is a great example that most laymen can understand compared to the complex biological processes that most IDers use as examples today.

Thanks for pointing this out.

Comment #14900

Posted by Bill Ware on February 3, 2005 2:05 PM (e)

Oops, I got several errors when I hit preview and then post the first time, so I reset the page and hit Post again. Sorry about the double entry.

Comment #14901

Posted by Nick (Matzke) on February 3, 2005 2:46 PM (e)

There may be one example of a meteor impact on the moon telescopically observed from Earth, by an amateur astronomer in 1953. See the 2003 New York Times story, free online here.

She said that although there was a good deal of uncertainty in their study, she was “about 90 percent” confident that the crater was the one created by the fireball Dr. Stuart observed. “There’s no other object that stands out as a candidate,” she said.

Dr. Stuart, who died in the 1960’s, was not one to make wild claims. “He was very careful to eliminate all the other possibilities,” she said. “At the time, scientists didn’t even agree that craters were caused by impacts. So he was very conservative.”

Comment #14902

Posted by Steve Reuland on February 3, 2005 2:46 PM (e)

At least Kepler can be forgiven for having no plausible theory on hand to account for the craters. The IDists have no such excuse.

Comment #14903

Posted by Osmotic on February 3, 2005 2:49 PM (e)

It is a nice example to help illustrate problems with arguments from ignorance and common ID reasoning PZ, but I would’ve preferred you left out this shot:

“At least the Discovery Institute can take solace from the fact that they’ve now actually been compared to a scientist. It’s far more flattering than they deserve, even though it was a scientist who was wrong … “

Statements like this allow those who can’t see through them to the main point to dismiss you as someone who attacks his opponents with ad hominem. It’s better to keep this kind of commentary to the comments section for idle banter and joking around. If you keep all your punches above the belt, you don’t give anyone cause to dismiss you as a dirty fighter.

Plus, it’s just plain nicer.

Comment #14904

Posted by Osmotic on February 3, 2005 2:53 PM (e)

It is a nice example to help illustrate problems with arguments from ignorance and common ID reasoning PZ, but I would’ve preferred you left out this shot:

“At least the Discovery Institute can take solace from the fact that they’ve now actually been compared to a scientist. It’s far more flattering than they deserve, even though it was a scientist who was wrong … “

Statements like this allow those who can’t see through them to the main point to dismiss you as someone who attacks his opponents with ad hominem. It’s better to keep this kind of commentary to the comments section for idle banter and joking around. If you keep all your punches above the belt, you don’t give anyone cause to dismiss you as a dirty fighter.

Plus, it’s just plain nicer.

Comment #14905

Posted by steve on February 3, 2005 2:54 PM (e)

And the circularity of the craters is Extremely Fine-Tuned. Every day, more cosmological proof of ID comes in.

Comment #14906

Posted by Osmotic on February 3, 2005 3:00 PM (e)

Steve Reuland wrote,

“At least Kepler can be forgiven for having no plausible theory on hand to account for the craters. The IDists have no such excuse.”

I guess that depends on how broadly define “IDists”. I think you have in mind the organismic design argument supporters who rely the features of organisms (from eyes to immune systems) to make their case.

But there is more to design arguments than that. Would you call a fine-tuning argument supporter an “IDist”?

Also, curse you double post glitch. Curse you!!!

Comment #14908

Posted by steve on February 3, 2005 3:12 PM (e)

Someone who claims, with no idea how probable the phenomenon is, that a phenomenon implies the existence of an untestable magic being, is using ID Logic.

Comment #14909

Posted by steve on February 3, 2005 3:14 PM (e)

I don’t see any reason to bash Kepler. He was early. Since his time, we’ve had a few hundred years of dramatic progress achieved by ignoring religious claims about the world in favor of evidence-based claims. If Kepler were around today, he’d probably grok what that means.

Comment #14912

Posted by Douglas Theobald on February 3, 2005 3:58 PM (e)

Nick wrote:

There may be one example of a meteor impact on the moon telescopically observed from Earth, by an amateur astronomer in 1953.  See the 2003 New York Times story ….

Cool story. But, as devil’s advocate, I note that all Dr Leon Stuart saw was a fireball that some later astronomers have concluded likely coincides with a rather new, small crater. Nobody directly observed an impact, since Stuart saw no asteroid or any other object hurling into the moon. Just the fireball. To someone wishing for “objectivity in origins”, the causal origin of the crater is still in question.

Comment #14913

Posted by Steve Reuland on February 3, 2005 4:00 PM (e)

Osmotic wrote:

But there is more to design arguments than that. Would you call a fine-tuning argument supporter an “IDist”?

Well, they sometimes call themselves IDists, but as we’ve discussed here in the past (and as your comment strongly implies), they’re really very different kinds of arguments, and in some key aspects, completely inconsistent with each other. The fact that they get lumped together is a mistake IMO, one which gets promulgated for the purposes of upping ID’s perceived support. Or what you might call the “shotgun” approach.

When I refer to IDists, it’s almost always the anti-evolution type IDists. They’re by far the most common, and the most relevant to our primary focus (which is evolution).

Comment #14914

Posted by Great White Wonder on February 3, 2005 4:55 PM (e)

Osmosis

Statements like this allow those who can’t see through them to the main point to dismiss you as someone who attacks his opponents with ad hominem.

There is nothing ad hominem about taking a dump on the Discovery Institute’s standing in the scientific community.

Comment #14935

Posted by Joe McFaul on February 3, 2005 9:10 PM (e)

Statements like this allow those who can’t see through them to the main point to dismiss you as someone who attacks his opponents with ad hominem.

I guess I should point out that calling the DI dishonest and disingenuous when it misrepresents the facts and spins the evidence is not an ad hominem attack. Dismissing the Discovery Institute because it is “right wing” would be an example of an ad hominem attack. If the accusation is both accurate and relevant to the matter at hand, it’s not an ad hominem.

Comment #14936

Posted by Bryson Brown on February 3, 2005 9:33 PM (e)

I suppose the main difference between Kepler and the IDists (or ers? I’ve seen both…) is that the IDists have heard of a process that really can explain the relations between living things. They just refuse to accept it (their efforts at dancing around evolutionary algorithms have become particularly clownish). But the lesson is beautifully clear here: If you don’t get the processes right, you can’t get a reliable probability estimate for an observed outcome. Naive views on how easy it is to ‘calculate’ probabilities are at the root of a lot of ID nonsense.

Comment #14937

Posted by Osmotic on February 3, 2005 10:41 PM (e)

Joe McFaul writes,

I guess I should point out that calling the DI dishonest and disingenuous when it misrepresents the facts and spins the evidence is not an ad hominem attack. Dismissing the Discovery Institute because it is “right wing” would be an example of an ad hominem attack. If the accusation is both accurate and relevant to the matter at hand, it’s not an ad hominem.

I agree. It is not ad hominem to point out when someone is being misleading when they are being misleading or dishonest. It is logically relevant to judging the overall correctness of their reasoning, and therefore not ad hominem. That’s not what PZ Myers said. He didn’t write piece outlining examples of dishonesty at the DI or misleading arguments. He joked about the DI actually being compared to scientists, and said it is more than they deserve. As PZ knows, Michael Behe is a scientist, even if his arguments related to ID are extremely flawed and fail to meet common demarcation criteria for science.

I don’t see how you can read his quote as anything but a little snippy shot at the DI.

Notice many of the articles criticizing Panda’s Thumb repeat a charge that PT is just or mostly ad hominem attacks on the good ID folk? I agree that is preposterous. It’s a sign of significant lack of judgment or dishonesty if the person making the charge is familiar enough with the site. But I guarantee those who place initial credulity in those charges will find confirmation in that characterization when they read something like what PZ Myers wrote. I doubt PZ wants that.

And there’s no real need for it. Save the understandable frustration and humor for chitchat.

Comment #14958

Posted by Great White Wonder on February 4, 2005 1:51 PM (e)

Osmotic

He joked about the DI actually being compared to scientists, and said it is more than they deserve.

I didn’t laugh when I read that. I said “Damn right. I wish more scientists would step up and say the Discovery Institute stands for anti-science and any “scientist” who willingly signs up to peddle their agenda is a disgusting hypocrite.”

Notice many of the articles criticizing Panda’s Thumb repeat a charge that PT is just or mostly ad hominem attacks on the good ID folk? I agree that is preposterous.

You agree that it is preposterous and yet you propose that posters should censor themselves to avoid preposterous characterizations of what they say?

That is absurd because it is impossible. There are far too many preposterous characterizations of evolutionary biologists to imagine taking a defensive approach to even a small fraction of them.

It is not ad hominem to point out when someone is being misleading when they are being misleading or dishonest.

Ad hominem schmad hominem. The Discovery Institute is the embodiment of dishonesty and dissembling. It is a bad tasteless joke as far as science is concerned. That fact is well-documented here and elsewhere. The documentation does not need to be repeated every time the conclusion is recited.

When I am in an argument and I say that someone is clueless, I look forward to the “ad hominem” charge. That gives me a chance to explain in detail why the person is clueless, to point out that when it comes to making baseless unsupported attacks creationist apologists are the undisputed champions, and to point out that my opponent is trying to change the subject but if we want to discuss the litany of documented creationst lies I am always happy to do so.

Rather than worry about being perceived as an aggressive bulldog that ruthlessly shreds its scientifically ignorant and dishonest opponents to pieces, how about we work to create a situation where websites like the IDEA Center, the Discovery Institute, Answers in Genesis and other pseudo-science promoting venues are afraid to post utter and complete bullcrap because they know they will be mercilessly taken to task for their lazy lie peddling?

Comment #15091

Posted by Mike Walker on February 7, 2005 12:30 AM (e)

Here’s a modern day example of Kepler’s crater theory from the one and only Richard C Hoagland (the astronomy equivalent of the Discovery Institute people without - thankfully - the political backing).

Here’s the article - it seeks to explain the unusual and fascinating features found on Iapetus from recent photos by the Cassini probe, most notably the miles high “wall” that appears to track completely around the moon at the equator.

http://www.enterprisemission.com/moon1.htm

In our opinion, Cassini’s discovery of “the Great Wall of Iapetus” now forces serious reconsideration of a range of staggering possibilities … that some will most certainly find … upsetting:

That, it could really be a “wall” … a vast, planet spanning, artificial construct!!

I can just hear him now… “teach the controversy!!”

After all, if it walks like a duck… :)