Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Cherry-Picking, the new Normal? I, for One, Hope Not!

Interesting post over on the Patheos Blog Unsystematic Theology: "A Big Problem with Intelligent Design: “Don’t Look at My Bad Side”"  It reminded me of people who prefer to cherry-pick rather than look at a complete picture.

The idea of cherry-picking is to only pick the things you like, or want, and ignore the rest.  It's a logical fallacy called 'fallacy of incomplete evidence' and, more specifically, is the act of pointing to individual cases or data that seem to confirm a particular position, while ignoring a significant portion of related cases or data that may contradict that position.  Sound familiar?  Between the pseudo-news services of Fox and Breitbart and the hamster-haired lying misogynist we certainly see examples of cherry-picking on a daily basis.  Although since ol' hamster-hair creates his own 'facts' out of thin air, he might not be guilty of cherry-picking as often as folks like Bill O'Reilly or Ann Coulter.

The shame is that it's a fairly common practice and one I've found many Creationists employ, especially when discussing their faith.  Take a look at the Old Testament.  When you read the Bible you read a lot of serious stuff, including slavery, genocide, murder, prostitution . . . you know the things Christians like to say they are against.  The New Testament shows most things in a much rosier light, sort of like the Old Testament God created marijuana.  But do most Christians pay much attention to the darker side of their holy book?  No, they cherry-pick the stuff they like and try and ignore the rest.  Some Christian religions even argue that people shouldn't read the Bible, but only hear about it through views filtered through their various clergy.

Creationists of the Intelligent Design (ID) stripe do something identical.  They look at biology and marvel at the complexity, the beauty, and the functionality and claim that such things could not have occurred naturally.  But they ignore, or rationalize away, the simplicity, the ugliness, and the non-functional that also exists -- like I said -- cherry-picking.  They also like to ignore actual scientific evidence that doesn't support their ideas -- which is currently all scientific evidence -- while twisting science to try and make it sound supportive of Creationism.

Questions like 'why is there sin, cancer, evil, or even carnivores?' tend to rationalized away by most theists using stories involving human failure, sin, and Adam (of Adam & Eve fame, not Levine).  ID proponents simply ignore them.  They like to claim they are focused on biology, and yet their guiding document says that one of its goals is:
"To see design theory application in specific fields including molecular biology, biochemistry, paleontology, physics, and cosmology in the natural sciences, psychology. ethics, politics, theology, and philosophy in the humanities, to see its influence in the fine arts." (Wedge Strategy Document, page 4)
So while ID proponents like to avoid conversations that bring up the darker-side of their belief set -- because they are 'focused on biology' -- their objectives go far beyond biology.  They want to be firmly entrenched in biology before opening other conversations about things they would rather ignore, including minor details like the identity of their design and the age of the Earth.

We discussed the issue with identifying the designer just recently ("Why Won't ID Proponents Identify Their Designer?"), but forgot to mention this quote:
"ID is an intellectual movement, and the Wedge strategy stops working when we are seen as just another way of packaging the Christian evangelical message." (Philip E. Johnson, Inteview Citizen's Magazine (1999))
Johnson is considered the 'Daddy Rabbit' of the modern ID movement.  He also formulated their 'big-tent' approach.  Here is a brief explanation of that example of cherry-picking:
"Intelligent design has been described by its proponents as a 'big tent' belief, one in which all theists united by having some kind of creationist belief (but of differing opinions as regards details) can support. If successfully promoted, it would reinstate creationism in the teaching of science, after which debates regarding details could resume." (Wikipedia: Intelligent Design Movement)
So theist groups are supposed to ignore their matters of faith until such time science is pretty much trashed and then 'let the debates begin'.  I can see why many religious organizations dismiss ID, especially after the cavalier way ID proponents dismiss their beliefs, calling them 'differing opinions'.  So we have both avoiding identifying their designer and ignoring the many differences between religious beliefs in order to attack actual science.  Some serious cherry-picking there!

I almost want ID proponents, and their 'big-tent' to win, just to see the carnage that follows in the ecumenical debates.  I know, I know, it wouldn't be worth it, but oh to have a bowl of popcorn to see a cage match between Stephen C. Meyer and little kennie ham!

I do so enjoy ID proponents who claim science is too unwilling to examine alternative views -- and yet how often are theists willing to look at alternatives? Let's ask Wild Bill Dembski, once the darling of the ID Movement, who was threatened with being fired if he failed to toe the theological line.  His own comments show how truly close-minded theists can be. Here's a small quote:
" . . . this entire incident left so bad a taste in my mouth that I resolved to leave teaching, leave the academy, and get into a business for myself, in which my income would not depend on political correctness or, for that matter, theological correctness." (Dembski: Disillusion with Fundamentalism)
Since then, he's left the fold and apparently resigned his senior fellowship at the DI. Theists do some serious cherry-picking, and if you pick the 'wrong' cherries, you will more than likely get kicked out of that particular theist club organized religious group.

So, you see, cherry-picking is a fairly common tactic and can be the result of a conscious decision or even an unconscious prejudice.  What's important, is not just to recognize when you are doing it, but try and avoid it.  

You might be asking yourself if scientists are ever guilty of cherry-picking, and the answer is  -- of course.  However, you have to remember that science is also a self-correcting activity.  What one scientist publishes, other scientists attempt to replicate.  Logical fallacies, such as cherry-picking, in data or methodology can't be hidden under such scrutiny (just ask the Cold Fusion guys: Martin Fleischmann and Stanley Pons).  

But what mechanism does theology have to correct its cherry-picking (and other logical fallacies)?  Looking at the evidence of folks like Ham and Meyer, there is none.  Meyer writes a book, get critiqued and then writes a second book claiming to address his critics and then fails to do so.  Little kennie says anything he wants and then cites the Bible and God as his source -- oh yea, lots of self-correcting there.  The cherry-picking is more the normal course of events than an exception.

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