Frank Turek: Straw Man Warrior

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Another Christian show captured by my DirecTV’s recorder. This time it is Frank Turek, spouting nonsense from his book, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist. He stood on a stage with all the high-tech audio/video found in most BFCs these days (BFC=”Big Fucking Church”). His audience looked on with memorized lack of education, soaking up strawman after strawman argument regarding evolution, atheism, and life in general.

It was an hour long program and, as tempted as I am to refute it point by point, I’m going to just highlight a few things.

He starts by inventing his own definition for “worldview” -real definitions in use by academia today apparently aren’t to his liking and leave to many gaps. This is his main straw man: he re-shapes the definition of worldview in order to set up what he sees as the only appropriate worldview, which is his.

A worldview, according to Turek, is an explanation of why things are the way they are and “the true worldview must have explanatory power and scope to explain all of the “pieces” of the puzzle we call reality.” And he includes “10 things” that must be explained by any worldview.

First, this simply isn’t a definition of “worldview” that real academics use. At least not fully. What Turek is doing is limiting the definition of worldview to the narrow, bigoted range that his own worldview encompasses, while simultaneously poisoning the well (a type of ad hominem fallacy) by denigrating other ways of viewing the world as not “the true worldview.”

His “10 things” that “must be explained” are:

  1. origin of the universe out of nothing
  2. the extreme fine-tuning of the universe
  3. origin of order and the 4 natural forces
  4. origin of reason and laws of logic
  5. the origin of the laws of mathematics
  6. the origin of objective morality
  7. origin and design of life and consciousness
  8. the origin and design of new life forms
  9. the origin of intelligence
  10. origin of personality

He admits that a worldview can include other things as well, but these things, he insists, must be explained. He doesn’t, however, state that a worldview must support its explanations with evidence, so, by his own narrow and bigoted definition, goddidit works.

But the concept of “worldview” is one that is well discussed in philosophy and comes from the German term, Weltanschauung, which “denotes a comprehensive set of opinions, seen as an organic unity, about the world as the medium and exercise of human existence. Weltanschauung serves as a framework for generating various dimensions of human perception and experience like knowledge, politics, economics, religion, culture, science, and ethics[1].”

According to Belgian philosopher Leo Apostle, a worldview should include, at minimum, these 6 things:

  1. An explanation of the world
  2. A futurology, answering the question “where are we heading?”
  3. Values, answers to ethical questions: “What should we do?”
  4. A praxeology, or methodology, or theory of action.: “How should we attain our goals?”
  5. An epistemology, or theory of knowledge. “What is true and false?”
  6. An etiology. A constructed world-view should contain an account of its own “building blocks,” its origins and construction.

This seems a bit more like a comprehensive perspective on the world than simply explaining things by starting with a conclusion (goddidit) then asking questions with this answer pre-inserted.

But Turek’s goal isn’t to put forth his own cult of Christianity as “the true worldview” rather he seeks to create additional strawman arguments of evolution that he can knock down for his undereducated and gullible audience. Throughout the “10 things” list above, Turek takes about 2/3 of the program listing them and pointing out largely invented positions of evolution and science. Expectedly, he uses the terms “atheist” and “Darwinist” interchangeably throughout the program, again using the poisoning the well fallacy in his argumentation as if one can not believe in Christian superstitions as well as the fact of evolution.

Nearer the end of his presentation, Turek does what most creationist nutters with an audience do, which is quote mine scientists to distort their words. He does so with Richard Dawkins by quoting page 1 of The Blind Watchmaker:

“Biology is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of being designed for a purpose.”

He then rants on about how if things look designed they must be, using the “looks like a duck; quacks like a duck… ” joke. But he clearly doesn’t intend for his audience to actually pick up a Dawkins book to check the quote for themselves, which, in its original context is:

We animals are the most complicated things in the known universe. The universe that we know, of course, is a tiny fragment of the actual
universe. There may be yet more complicated objects than us on other planets, and some of them may already know about us. But this doesn’t alter the point that I want to make. Complicated things, everywhere, deserve a very special kind of explanation. We want to know how they came into existence and why they are so complicated. The explanation, as I shall argue, is likely to be broadly the same for complicated
things everywhere in the universe; the same for us, for chimpanzees, worms, oak trees and monsters from outer space. On the other hand, it will not be the same for what I shall call ‘simple’ things, such as rocks, clouds, rivers, galaxies and quarks. These are the stuff of physics. Chimps  and dogs and bats and cockroaches and people andworms and dandelions and bacteria and galactic aliens are the stuff of
biology.
The difference is one of complexity of design. Biology is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose. Physics is the study of simple things that do not tempt us to invoke design. At first sight, man-made artefacts like computers and cars will seem to provide exceptions. They are complicated and obviously designed for a purpose, yet they are not alive, and they are made of metal and plastic rather than of flesh and blood.

We animals are the most complicated things in the known universe. The universe that we know, of course, is a tiny fragment of the actual universe. There may be yet more complicated objects than us on other planets, and some of them may already know about us. But this doesn’t alter the point that I want to make. Complicated things, everywhere, deserve a very special kind of explanation. We want to know how they came into existence and why they are so complicated. The explanation, as I shall argue, is likely to be broadly the same for complicated things everywhere in the universe; the same for us, for chimpanzees, worms, oak trees and monsters from outer space. On the other hand, it will not be the same for what I shall call ‘simple’ things, such as rocks, clouds, rivers, galaxies and quarks. These are the stuff of physics. Chimps  and dogs and bats and cockroaches and people andworms and dandelions and bacteria and galactic aliens are the stuff of biology.

The difference is one of complexity of design. Biology is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose. Physics is the study of simple things that do not tempt us to invoke design. At first sight, man-made artefacts like computers and cars will seem to provide exceptions. They are complicated and obviously designed for a purpose, yet they are not alive, and they are made of metal and plastic rather than of flesh and blood.

It has a far different context than the one Turek intended for his audience. The same is true for the Francis Crick quote he offered:

“The origin of life appears at the moment to be almost a miracle, so many are the conditions which would have had to have been satisfied to get it going.”

What Turek didn’t share with his audience was the name of the book, which was Life Itself: Its Origin and Nature[2]. Nor did he share with them the words before and after the quote or that the text they reside in is a overwhelmingly in support of evolution. Here’s the proper quote with more context:

An honest man, armed with all the knowledge available to us now, could only state that in some sense, the origin of life appears at the moment to be almost a miracle, so many are the conditions which would have had to have been satisfied to get it going. But this should not be taken to imply that there are good reasons to believe that it could not have started on the earth by a perfectly reasonable sequence of fairly ordinary chemical reactions.

I could go on and on about the poor science, poor academics and poor philosophy being produced by Turek to his audience. They were drinking it like the Kool-Aid it is. But like I’ve said previously, these guys aren’t preaching to smart audiences. They pick their audiences very carefully and prefer to fill the seats in front of them with head nodding, side-hugging, kool-aid drinking believers who won’t ask uncomfortable questions.

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  1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Worldview []
  2. Crick, Francis (1981). Life Itself: Its Origin and Nature. New York: Simon and Shuster []
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