April 11, 2008

Bad Argument Addendum

There's been an update in the world of prostelyzers, it seems:

"Hard Hats" are the new "Watch".

This all means I've had another God Botherer drop by the house today. He was a new fellow, apparently just visiting town for a short while, and was brought 'round by a woman who had been here before and perhaps should have known better. Still, much of faith involves believing in the impossible, so they - or should I say he, as she was mostly interested in nodding while staying two steps behind him and off to one side like all the women they've sent so far - worked on converting me.

"Friend, would you expect God, in all his myriad of forms, to expect something different from any of us than he would expect from any other?"

Bit of a shaky start, that. He got rattled off question one when I told him I was an atheist, so what God, in any of his guises, expected was pretty irrelevant to me.

We ambled merrily through the usual arguments, with him bringing out a scripture quote about how the devil clouds the minds of unbelievers, and I pointed out that the front pieces of the Quaran often had the exact same commentary, specifically mentioning Jews and Christians should be pitied because they were blinded by the devil from accepting Mohammed. He countered that the Bible had been around far longer than Islam, and I suggested that this could explain why it didn't mention that faith by name, but the idea remained.

Then it was off to parents teaching their children, and isn't that what God was doing, as a loving parent should? Which made for a lively discussion on the difference between God and humans: humans raise other humans. What's God raising, then? The gnostics believed, after all, that we mere humans could achieve an equal standing with Jesus Christ, without intervention of any church; any chance they were right?

He decided to discuss why his Bible was better than any others: it mentions the name Jehovah over 7,000 times! He was really quite proud of that, so I felt a little sad to remind him of the sheer number of Bibles available in English alone - you can get 114 of them here, for crying out loud - and that perhaps some others of them could make a similar claim? Plus, the fact that I was still an atheist made the point fairly moot.

Then came... I'm not sure how to describe this... He mentioned the complexity of life, and I tried to head off the inevitable by interjecting the rather silly "watchmaker" and "junkyard airplane" arguments. But I may as well have been trying to stop the flow of lemmings on a Disney Special: he kept plowing on with what he was sure was a killing stroke, certain to lay low my resistance and bring forth my joyous conversion (or at least a visit to the local Kingdom Hall).

"If you were out in the woods, and you saw a hard hat, you wouldn't think it got there spontaneously, would you? Well, no! Of course you wouldn't! You'd know that someone would have to have made the thing and brought it with them into the woods."

That this was the exact same argument as the 200 year old watchmaker argument didn't seem to make much difference. So, for his benefit, I went over my own objections to the allusion:

My first objection is that I know what a hard hat is; I see them every day. I've seen them being made, being used, and being discarded. I know where they come from, why they're here, and what they do. I know full well that they are inanimate, nonliving things (I had been corrected from using "organic" and "inorganic" quite a while back). In short, I'm familiar with them; but even if I weren't I could find something to compare them to with relative ease. Their component parts are understandable: plastics of various types; some cloth; adhesives; perhaps metal bits, too. I'm pretty sure I could make one of my own.

Humans, on the other hand, are (as far as we can tell) unique. There is no other place to drop a human into for another intelligence to stumble upon and wonder. For the allusion to work, instead of a hard hat (or a watch) you'd have to create something completely new, made of nothing I'd recognize as flesh or fabric. Even an amorphous blob I could probably guess at - unless it was slime mold which is really really cool, but also pretty confusing categorically speaking.

Anyhow, think you could pull that off? I don't.

Objection the second: if, twenty meters further along, you happened upon a hard hat bush, would you then change your mind? If a whole new species of plant was discovered that sprouted shelled seeds astoundingly hard hat-like, resembling our own invention so closely that they would fool even the sharpest of eyes, would you then admit that the hard hat you found could indeed have gotten there without anyone making it and bringing it with them?

Or would you simply shrug and say "That God - what a prankster! Moving on..."

Because I think I know the answer you'd give.


posted by Thursday at 8:54 pm


Anonymous Mike Haubrich, FCD said...

The Hardhat Bush. I long to see one, or a clutch of hardhat eggs. For that matter, I would love to see watch seeds fluttering in the wind, looking for a bit of soil in which to implant and grow into watch trees.

I would take one inside and plant it in a pot, so that as each watch wore out and started losing time I could neatly harvest a new watch.

The watchmaker argument was elegant when first proposed, but I doubt that even Paley would find it all that interesting were he still around today.

Good post.

9:19 am  
Blogger Thursday said...

I've always been partial to time growing on trees, myself... It would disprove so many aphorisms!

'Tis true about Paley: so many elegant sayings are brought low by ugly fact. That the fact in this case is quite lovely is beside the point. 8)

Thanks for the comment.

6:47 pm  

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