No, You Can't Have It

I can recall one of the very first creationist types I met, way back when I was in the navy. He proudly proclaimed that he knew evolution was false, because a dog would never give birth to a cat. It floored me that someone with a tech background could have so completely failed in both the application of logic and in having the requisite knowledge to be preaching on the subject.

Through the years I’ve seen far too many similar argument, in which the demand for some evidence, either unreasonable at its face or required of the strawman version of the theory, is made, and the inability to provide said evidence is immediately (and erroneously) taken as the death knell of the theory in question. Basically these people are insisting on seeing a smoking gun, when the victim has been quite obviously stabbed to death.

Here’s a nice article that addresses this phenomenon:

Less Wrong: You’re Entitled to Arguments, But Not (That Particular) Proof

(ceteris paribus is a Latin phrase used in the post, and one I can’t recall having seen before. It means “all other things being equal” and has nothing to do with stories about whales)

And in a burst of evolutionary irony, the post has some useful appendices

3 thoughts on “No, You Can't Have It

  1. Ceteris paribus is one of the most common (and necessary) statements in social science.

    For example: “Ceteris paribus, an increase in demand causes an increase in price.” Yes, it will–but given almost any time passing, other things aren’t equal. That increase in price (even an expected increase) may cause supply to increase, causing the price to stabilize or even decrease. Or it may lead to increased supply of substitutes, stabilizing or lowering the price. The possibility of higher prices also drives the development and deployment of substitutes. One reason for fiber optic cable was the potentially high price of stringing more and more copper.

    A good social scientist knows when she has to deal with the ceterises not being paribus. It’s one reason real social science (as opposed to “blackboard social science”) will never be physics.

  2. This is one of my great pet peeves. What really fries me, though, more even than the outright denial and incomprehensible logic, is when people don’t realize that the same logic that has given rise to something they find abhorrent also gives rise to something they find useful (usually technology or medicine). Then, in some mis-guided attempt at journalistic integrity, the media finds it necessary to give equal coverage of the nuts and cranks (even though they are in the minority), only further emboldening them. I like to tell people that they’re perfectly free to not believe in evolution or the big bang, but if they don’t they need to give back their cell phones and wireless broadband connections and stop taking any drugs or medicines developed via microbiology.

  3. Sarah Palin apparently gave birth to Trig Palin. The Creationist stance is then an evidenced product of evolution – and not gradual but rather catastrophist.

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