I was once at a social function where, in attendance, among many other people, were a number of highly respected academics. I found myself in a conversation taking place between about a half dozen people. One of the people involved in the conversation was a highly respected physicist; noted for a number of past, perhaps not “world-class” sort of achievements in his field, but fairly significant ones nonetheless. Of course, you can’t be dumb and be a successful physicist. It just doesn’t work. You have to be really, really smart. And, this man was obviously really, really smart. Well, at one point the topic of conversation, for reasons unclear to me, somehow suddenly turned to the unlikely subject of UFOs — more specifically, that alien autopsy video that made a buzz in the mid 1990s. The physicist in question proclaimed loudly, and with a certain type of snicker reeking of “I know so much more than you people!”: “Oh come now! Don’t be silly. The video is of course a fake. I know it for a fact.”
“Wow! How do you know that?” Someone replied.
“Well,” he said (paraphrasing somewhat, here) “I’m a physicist. And, I happen to know that whatever the thing is in that video, it’s not an alien. The science of physics tells us that. You see, it’s a physical impossibility for aliens to be visiting the earth. I’m a physicist, so I know. And, if aliens can’t possibly be visiting the earth, then all of the ufo sightings and related phenomena — this film included — must be due to some other phenomena than aliens actually visiting the earth. And, as such, whatever that thing is in the video, it’s not an alien. And, I’m a physicist. So, I know.”
The people were enthralled. “Why?” They asked. “Why can’t they be visiting Earth?”
The physicist continued:
“You see, if aliens inhabited any nearby star-systems, with our current technology, we would have detected evidence of them a long time ago. This means that if aliens actually do exist, they inhabit star systems that are very, very, very distant. And, if they inhabit such distant star-systems, it would take them far too long to get here. Physics tells us that traveling at faster than the speed of light is impossible. And, if they exist, they must exist on planets that are at least thousands of light years away. Even if they had the technology to travel at speeds very close to the speed of light, what alien would spend a few thousand years to get here, fly around in our skies for a bit, then spend a few thousand years to get back home? So, you see, there are no such things as UFOs. That’s a fact. Science tells us that. And, I’m a physicist.”
My mouth was agape at this man’s utter lack of any rationality or sense of logic. Here was one highly intelligent idiot. This man was a respected physicist for cryin’ out Pete’s sake! Can you see how this highly intelligent man was actually a very small-thinker?
Here’s the problem with his argument: His declaration of scientific “fact” is based almost entirely on assumption and has little to nothing to do with physics or any science. (1) He assumes to know the potential nature and motives of potential alien entities of which he has absolutely no experience. (2) He assumes that our current understanding of physical laws is the final, unalterable, infallible word and any future discovery is an absolute impossibility. (3) He assumes that aliens would have discovered methods of communications similar to our own, thus being detectable by us. (4) He assumes to know the lifespans of alien entities, of which he has absolutely no experience. (5) He assumes that any aliens which might be visiting earth must fit exactly with his entirely fanciful notions of what an “alien” actually would be.
The argument he poses argues not against any kind of objective fact, but instead argues only against his own baseless assumptions. It’s a straw-man argument — he invents, out of thin air, an argument to argue against. Then claims victory over the actual argument when he knocks down his own straw-man. He further claims that this argument against assumption, is actually scientific fact. He even goes so far as to throw in a little argumentum ad verecundiam for good measure with his repeated “Well, I’m a physicist” bit. Read: “Trust me. I know! I’m am one of the enlightened ones. You are the unknowing heathens. My word is law.” In reality, his argument isn’t “Science proves the film is fake.” His argument is actually “What I know of our current understanding of science, mixed with a few baseless assumptions here and there, argues against the existence of the only type of alien that my small-mind can conceive of at this time.”
Can you see how this man was highly intelligent, yet, at the same time, a very small thinker? I mean, he’s obviously very intelligent — he was smart enough to know enough about physics — a very difficult and complex subject. He was even smart enough to be a physicist of some note — which basically means that he was smart enough to impress a lot of other people who were also smart enough to know a great deal about this very complex subject. But, he was a very small thinker. His brain didn’t think out the entire problem thoroughly. It didn’t find extant possibilities and lead him to explore those possibilities. It merely found the very first “sounds right” assumptions and married him to those ideas, forcing him to manufacture an argument against them.
I think Dawkins fits this bill.
He’s a very, very, very smart idiot. Evidence can be seen by some of his absurd statements and behaviors:
Example: I have been witness to a number of times when Dawkins has refuted a claim that evolution is not “random chance.” or doesn’t “happen by accident” Recently, I saw a video of him interviewing Ted Haggard, and while I can’t remember the exchange verbatim, and don’t have access to a transcript, it went quite close to this:
Haggard says something about evolution happening by accident.
Dawkins becomes noticeably angry for some reason and replies that evolution doesn’t happen by accident. He asks Haggard something like “Who says it happens by accident?”
Haggard counters with something to the effect of “Evolutionists do”
Dawkins responds with something like “Out of everyone I’ve ever met, not a single one! You know nothing about evolution!”
Well, Dr. Dawkins, unless you’ve had the extreme misfortune to have never met any evolutionists except really dumb ones.(And, if that were indeed the case, I suppose it would explain quite a lot.) I think you might be mistaken.
Ok, here’s where Dawkins shows himself to be that small-thinker: I understand where he’s coming from — evolution in the end-product stages involves determined direction, albeit determined from, as far as our current understanding permits, a non-intelligent actor. Nevertheless, if something has direction, as evolution in certain stages does — I.e. the less adaptable disappear, the more apt go on, etc. — then it can’t be considered random. Well, at least those aspects of it can’t be considered random.
Some of the confusion comes from the fact that many people have a misconception of what “random” really means, and thus erroneously apply it to evolutionary processes — thinking the whole thing is entirely, 100% random in all of its workings. You can demonstrate this misconception quite easily by asking someone to write down five random numbers. Humans are actually incapable of performing the task at all — they will always place limits on their choices; they will always actually choose from a finite set, thus making the choices non-random. (you’ll never get anyone writing down a number that is ten to the sixth power long for example) But, nevertheless, from most people, you’ll get something like, say, 5, 17, 26, 9, 147. Ask them to do it a few more times, and you’ll get a similar answer. But, you’ll almost never see them duplicate a number in the same series of five choices. They unconsciously restrict themselves from picking the same number twice. But, they still believe their choices to be random. Of course, they aren’t random at all — they’ve placed direction on their choices. They’ve restricted duplicate numbers. And, if you have direction or rules, etc. you don’t have randomness. Most people don’t understand this, so they don’t really understand what Dawkins means by “evolution is not random.”
Dawkins is wrong of course — his assertion is actually highly disingenuous. But, I believe, he relies on people’s ignorance of randomness in order to sneak in his assertion and hide his small-mindedness. And, as such, Dawkins appears to be smart… but, only to small thinkers. The fact of the matter is: With his “not by accident” dribble Dawkins is not commenting on the true nature of the evolutionary process, as we know it, at all. He’s commenting on people’s intellectual short-comings. But, he’s doing this while remaining blind to his own small-mindedness. (Maybe it’s on purpose, but I suspect not. I suspect he’s just incapable of seeing it.) Dawkins’ assertion that evolution is not random chance because of some direction in some stages of evolutionary processes, is more or less equivalent to me saying that roulette is not based on random chance because the surface of the roulette wheel contains inconsistencies that influence the motion of the ball. Of course, that’s absurd. There may be some directional influence to be found somewhere in the chain, but the game is based on random chance — no random chance — no roulette. No random chance — no evolution. To accept Darwinian evolution is to accept that life exists in its present form due to random chance. If Dawkins denies this then he’s an idiot. He’s not simply wrong regarding this point. He’s an idiot! If I say the ocean doesn’t exist, I’m not simply wrong — I’m an idiot. Same thing.
The best way I can think to illustrate this is to pose a question to Richard Dawkins himself:
Dawkins refutes the phrase “Life evolved by accident. ” He says evolution isn’t random, and no scientist he has ever met thinks it is. So, my question to Mr. Dawkins is this:
“Is the base mechanical process for evolutionary change genetic mutation? And, if so, please explain the non-random mechanism at work which determines the exact nature of each mutation. That is to say: Please provide a complete and precise description of the non-random process which determines whether, when a mutation takes place in, say, a fruit-fly for example, it will result in, say, a slightly curved wing, instead of a thicker, coarser hair, or etc., etc., etc.,”
What’s that you now say? To the best of our current understanding the exact nature of the mutation at the genetic level is random? Interesting! So, by saying “Evolution is not random.” what you *really* mean is “Evolution is indeed random.” …yeah… Richard Dawkins — a shining example of exemplary rationality, reason and logic! In fact, random genetic mutation was proven by Dr. Joshua Lederberg in the 1950s… come on Dawkins! Get with the times, would ya? You’re about 50 years behind the rest of us here. See:
See, there’s only two possibilities: Genetic mutations (the base catalyst for all of evolution) either occurs randomly with respect to direction, or they don’t.
If they do, then evolution is indeed random as, at it’s base level, it functions entirely on a random process, and thus, Dawkins is either an idiot (you can claim he’s simply and honestly mistaken on this one point, but considering his area of expertise, the length of time he has spent in that field of study, and the monumental wrongness about something so fundamental to the subject — I say lands him firmly in the arena of “idiot” — albeit a smart one.) Or, he’s lying in order to further his own agenda and believes that the great un-anointed, ignorant masses — the non-“Brights”, or the “Dims” if you will, won’t be smart enough to catch him on it.
Or, if genetic mutations are non-random with respect to direction, then science has to provide a mechanism for the determinacy that is taking place. “Just trust us” wont cut it. That’s not science. If Dawkins’ claim is that evolution is not random, then the onus is on him to provide evidence. Thus, my question to Dawkins: “Where is your testable model for non-random gene mutation?” If you can’t provide one, then kindly shut-the-fuck up about evolution not being random. You can say “It’s not entirely random, even though the very foundational mechanism is completely random.” But, “It’s not by accident.” is a lie. And, I suspect you know it.
But, does any of this really surprise you? Dawkins is largely, but not totally, not a scientist. He has done good science, but then, whether by accident or design, he tries to marry that with all of his proselytizing — so that the less “bright” among us will associate one with the other. Since he’s a scientist they think all that he says is science, or has the scientific stamp of approval. Well, I call BULLSHIT! This is the man who came up with the meme hypothesis — a hypothesis for which there is NO empirical evidence, and which, if accepted, serves nicely to further the philosophical ideals that he spends so much of his time preaching about. And selling DVDs about. What in the FUCK does that tell you?
Scientism is quickly becoming the new religion. And, Dawkins is one of the high-priests. It’s just the same old shit; “bright,” new, shiny shovel. The same shit that has been going on since the dawn of history. Open your eyes and stop it from spreading. What the world needs is truly independent thought on an individual level. We don’t need another religion — especially not one that claims to be something other than what it is. Especially not one that deceitfully masquerades as rationality, reason, logic and critical thinking. It’s not a critical way of thinking — it’s THEIR way of thinking.
An illustration of Scientism as the new religion:
A thousand years ago or so, perhaps something bad happened to any given society. Perhaps they got sick in some way, or their crops failed, or whatever. The masses had no idea what was causing it, or what they could do about it. So, they would go to the great temple an ask the holy men: “Hey! You guys that are so smart; you guys that are ‘plugged-in’ with the direct line to knowledge: We’re just simple farmers and barrel makers and we’re ignorant. So, we want you — the ones in the know — to tell us what is going on.”
The holy men would say “Ok. Let us go talk to the gods… because we can, and you can’t”
A little while later the priests would emerge from the temple and say: “Ok. We’ve exercised all of our strange, esoteric skills that you, the uninitiated masses, have no hope of ever comprehending. We’ve done the best ‘science’ of the day and we’ve discovered that the gods are angry because you’re not sacrificing enough goats. The gods want ten goat sacrifices per week. So, in order to cure the village of famine, sacrifice ten goats a week.”
And, that was it. Nobody said: “Hey wait a minute! How did you figure this out? How did you talk to the gods? What is the exact mechanism which determined this?” They didn’t say this because they were the ignorant masses and the people they would have to question were the great enlightened ones — the ones who possessed something that they didn’t — true knowledge. So, everyone just accepted it as revealed truth without questioning it. They trusted the priests to police themselves in their ideas. After all, it was all based on objective information — they tossed chicken bones and looked at where the bones landed. They didn’t influence the bones in any way. And, all of the priests saw where the bones landed. The priests all agreed with each other’s findings — so, it must be true. So, nobody really questions. They just trust the enlightened ones, and the next day when they go to work on the farm, or making barrels, you hear a lot of talk of “Hey! Did you hear what the priests said about these failing crops? We have to sacrifice more goats!”
Even if they did press for more information, it wouldn’t have mattered much. The priests would have shown them the best science of the day: “See, we tossed these chicken bones and the smallest bones all fell inside of the consecrated circle. That means the gods are angry because they want something more than what they’re getting. So, to determine what they wanted we then cut open the belly of a pig. Upon doing this, we saw that the intestines were a bright pink in color — that means sacrifices are needed. The heart had a strange lump on it and that refers to goats. If the lump would have been on the liver, you see, then that would have meant cows. Also, the day after we asked the gods how many goats per week they needed, four goats were born in the village that day. So, there you go! That’s science! And, if you can come up with a system that works better, I’d like to see it!”
“Ah! I see! It all makes perfect sense! I’m sorry I ever doubted you. You have proven your findings according to the best science of the day.” The villager would have said, and run off to sacrifice some goats.
Now, flash forward a couple of thousand years to the year 2006. People are still troubled by things to which solutions and answers elude them. Perhaps they are troubled by some illness which has stricken the village. Maybe there is an outbreak of dippydoodelitis that’s been around for awhile and people are afraid of dying from it. “What can we do?” They all scream.
And then what happens? People go to the temple — they turn on their T.V. And, they hear a 5 second sound bite on the evening news: “A new study out today reveals that you are 70% more likely to contract dippydoodelitis if you regularly drink cheese flavored beverages.” And, they don’t question. Just like that, a whole bunch of the great, ignorant masses start cutting down their cheese flavored beverage intake. The next day at the office you hear talk of “Hey! Did you hear what they discovered about cheesy drinks?” And, if someone in the office is actually seen drinking a cheese flavored beverage, you’ll hear things like “Hey man! Don’t you watch the news?” Nobody questions it. They just log it as fact. Pretty soon, they don’t even remember where they heard it. They “just know” that “cheese flavored beverages are a CAUSE of dippydoodelitis.”
They don’t question because the information came from the enlightened ones, using the best science of the day. It came from the ones “in the know” The ones that possess something that the ignorant masses don’t — true knowledge. Besides, it must have been peer reviewed before it was released, right? All the scientists must have seen the same objective data and come to the same conclusions, right? They must have all seen that all of the smallest chicken bones fell inside of the consecrated circle!
And, even if they did question, it wouldn’t make much difference. The scientists would have shown them the best science of the day: “See, we polled this cross section of the population. We set-up a control group. We factored in these various confounders and measured them against acceptable error margins that were arrived at using this algorithm… yadda, yadda, yadda. Then we ran a computer model simulation using data from previous meta-studies.”
And, the villager would have said “Ah! I see! It all makes perfect sense! I’m sorry I ever doubted you. You have proven your findings according to the best science of the day.”
Think about it. Same shit — “bright,” shiny, new shovel.
Dawkins isn’t a priest. No matter how much he seemingly wants to be one, he isn’t. He has no direct line to universal truth. He’s proselytizing his own beliefs — nothing more. And, when he steps outside of the strict realm of plainly demonstrable empirical data in the expression of his ideas science abandons him — even if a lot of scientists don’t. Even when he doesn’t step outside of that realm he’s merely expressing the best science of the day. He’s tossing chicken bones and reading pig guts. Sure, his chicken bones and pig guts are incredibly more complex, and far, far, far more accurate in making useful predictions than those of the ancient holy men. But, it’s nothing more than simply the best science of the day. Dawkins, and those of his ilk, have no more access to universal truth than anyone reading this. There’s nothing to say that humans might discover something in the next few hours that makes Dawkins’ chicken bones seem as entirely absurd as those of the ancient holy-men.
Of course, I’m not saying science is bad. It’s the single most useful tool that man has ever devised — by a long, long, long shot. We need science! More science! Lots of science! Good science! But, dogma is dogma — be it supernatural or naturalistic. Dogma is dogma. It is very important to recognize when science starts becoming scientism. It is very important to recognize exactly when someone starts using science to push dogma. When someone tells you that an entirely naturalistic world view is the correct world-view, no matter what they say, no matter who they are, they are speaking as a dogmatist and not as a scientist.
Critical thinking is a noble ideal. It’s important. People must think critically. But, it means absolutely nothing if the thinking is not independent. And, never trust a zealot, at the very least, not without questioning the hell out of him. It doesn’t matter if his pitch sounds decidedly unreligious or not.
And, oh yeah… fuck the “Brights,” you pretentious bunch of pseudo-intelligentsia!
Ok, ok, I realize that people such as Daniel Dennett, and Richard Dawkins have argued that the term is not pretentious (Dawkins attempting to separate the noun from the adjective – yeah, what a brilliant man. Hey Dawkins — I’m going to invent a noun to refer to a certain type of atheist — one who vigorously proselytizes his naturalistic world-view. I’m going to call them the Pedophilias. But, don’t get offended if I claim you to hold membership as one of these Pedophilias — You must, of course, differentiate the noun from the adjective! After all, whether there is a statistical tendency for Pedophilias to be pedophilies is a matter for research. Isn’t it?”)
Anyway, they say the term shouldn’t be taken as pretentious. This is just more evidence of exactly how bright the brights actually are, in my humble opinion. Any person of sound, rational mind would have to think that anyone who was “bright” (the adjective in this case; not the noun) would have to realize how the word would be taken before they decided on it. If they didn’t, then they’re not very “bright“, are they? I mean, I’m not a “Bright” but if I was starting a movement and I got the idea to call ourselves the “Intelligents” I’m sure I would have happened upon the notion that certain other groups, especially ones who held opinions counter to ours, would take that as an implication that we were claiming ourselves intelligent, and them less so. I would then think “Well, how do I want to handle this fact?” If I wanted to stick it to those of a differing opinion just a little, then I’d go ahead with the adoption of that term. Does anyone honestly believe that the “Brights” didn’t do this? I mean, one of their most notable members is the guy who came up with, and wholly believes in the meme concept! If they didn’t do this then it’s just dumb to be a Bright, case closed. And, the real humor of the term must actually be derived from the irony of its application. Or, of course, they could just be fucking liars. But, it’s gotta be one or the other — liars or numb-skulls.
Some have said that the choice for the word “bright” was inspired by the homosexual community’s “reclaiming” of the word “gay” — a positive word, the adoption of which offsets any trends to use negative words in referring to the community, such as fag, or queer, or so on. As such, with the “Brights” they wanted something positive that would offset the usage of negative terms such as infidel, or heathen, etc. But again, how bright are the Brights? They actually believe it’s the same thing? Well, it’s not. There isn’t any offensive connotations inherent with someone implying that you’re not “gay.” If someone refers to themselves as gay it doesn’t scream “I’m better than you!” like the term “bright” does. Come on! You can call me “not very gay”, referring strictly to the word as used to describe an emotional state, and I wouldn’t be that bothered. If you call me “not very bright,” I’m going to take that as an insult. I suspect most people would feel the same way. Are the brights too dim-witted to see this? By their own claims, it would seem so. And, again, the irony of it! It would be kind of like the homosexual community suddenly referring to themselves as “not heterosexual mother-fuckers” and then claiming that the term isn’t deriding heterosexuals in any way. So, I think it’s safe to say the brights either knew full well what the term implied and what kind of reaction it would get from non-naturalists, and it was adopted, at least in part, because of that — to poke at those of a differing opinion. Or, the brights are really just pretty fucking dim.
So, yeah… my statement still stands: “Fuck the brights.” If you are currently calling yourself a bright just stop, right now! Just stop! Don’t be such a pretentious dick-head. Just call yourself a fucking naturalist for fuck’s sake! There’s nothing negative about that term… unless you’re worried that people might think you’re partial to running around the woods naked on weekends, or something. But, be strong! Re-claim the word!
And, do you remember what I said at the beginning about starting a movement called “the Infallibles?” Well, scratch that. I’m going to call it the “Evenbrighters.” The Evenbrighter movement holds that a naturalistic world-view is just as faith based as any non-naturalistic world-view. But, the term in no way is meant to refer to the “Brights” movement, or suggest that merely because our name might imply, to some who don’t fully understand our meaning, that we are smarter than the Brights and therefore our notions hold more weight than theirs. It doesn’t mean any of that at all.
I’m sorry if anyone felt that this post may have been a little harsh and biting, but as Dawkins himself has said “Let’s now stop being so damned respectful!” And, well, I agree.