Apologetics

I’m reading “Why Darwin Matters” for a book club. While reading it, I’ve decided it really is about apologetics. The fact that it spends it’s time on evolution and intelligent design is just a completely worked out example.

Apologetics is the defense of faith using the tools of logic and debate. The word probably will be extended to other ongoing debates, mostly those that live the the realm of the fuzzy sciences, like sociology, political science, criminology, sometime biology, less so in the fields of math and physics.

Ideas show up and are extremely attractive–the idea posits a view of the world that is attractive—and people begin accumulating defenses. The is an asymetrical battle of wits. Creating a large pile of attractive sounding soundbites is effortless and makes and arguement to a casual observer look unbeatable. Especially in the field of social sciences, refuting a claim is intellectually and sometimes economically expensive.

An example is the Intelligent Design vs Evolution debate. It only takes a flippant remark to claim eyes are unexplained by evolution. The painstaking tracing of the evolution of the eye from single cell light detecting tissues to modern complex eyes is enough work to keep post docs busy for years. Upon the publication of the hundredth tome of irrefutable proof, an evolution doubter could say then say, “Well, but you have explained how the nose evolved.”

I think on many of these debates, we could save ourselves a lot of bickering by skipping the the heart of the matter: the techniques.

Universal qualifiers. Statements with universal qualifiers are probably wrong. Note I say probably, because there are some fields of thought were universal qualifiers are just fine, like algebra and mathematical physics. Example of inappropriate use of universal qualifiers would be say, “All public policies need to be extensible to all similar cases” or “Not all gun control laws work all the time, so no gun control laws are better” The abuse of universal qualifiers is so common it isn’t surprising that Aristotle first line of business in the field of logic was setting down a theory of valid and invalid syllogisms.

Confusing perferences with truth. Confusing value judgements with truth. I’d prefer we pull out of Iraq–I prefer the risk of not finishing the war to the risk of finishing a war, I judge the war there to be a collosal mistake. On these grounds, I can have good name calling debate with anyone in favor of the war. To move out of statements of preference, I and proponent of the other policies would have to engage in the hard work of collecting data, defining methodologies and establishing standards for truth in a world where events are often random, data collection is expensive and analysis even more so.

And there are many more.

On the other hand, being apathetic or apolitical is something of similar logical lapse. Not attempting the answer the pressing questions of the day is an appeal to authority. Someone is going to be making these policy decisions.

And on the third hand, accumulating viral ideas–attractive but not supported by hard data– from the internet or floating around in society, is another form of appeal to authority–the authority of the mob.

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