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Authoritative Thinking

Continuing from yesterday’s analysis of my debate on the Bob Enyart radio show (first half-hour now on yesterday’s blog), I wanted to point out a particular trick that Bob used in our debate. Perhaps it is because he believes in authoritative doctrine, that he assumes that science is authoritative too. So his style of attack was to attack the author rather than the substance. I called him out on that a few times, but he kept doing it.

This is common with Creationists. Ray Comfort does this all the time as well. Claims about Charles Darwin being a racist or a sexist are the Creationist way of de-legitimizing the science of evolution by natural selection. But even if those attacks on the character of Darwin were true (and I don’t think that they are) that would have nothing to do with his observations which anyone could observe. While “The Origin of Species” is a book about observation, it is not a book that required Darwin’s particular observations. Anyone can go to the Galapagos Islands and observe the finches. Similar observations can be made in relation to other animals too.

The Gospel accounts are different in that they are authoritative observations. The Gospels are dependent upon the authority of the book’s author. If Matthew didn’t write the Gospel of Matthew (and he didn’t) then the book has no authority because the author if the book is claiming to have been a witness to certain events in time and place. If Matthew was an untrustworthy individual, prone to fanciful tales, then the book’s authority is also damaged because the account is dependent on the author’s testimony. If Darwin was prone to fanciful tales or it could be shown that he didn’t actually write the books attributed to him, it makes no difference. The books aren’t dependent on his authority. They stand or fall on their own authority.

Enyart doesn’t understand this and that is why he kept trying to link Darwin to Hitler. He was trying to undermine the authority of Darwin in an attempt to undermine the current theory of evolution by natural selection. So he would say things like, “The Darwinist Nazi Regime” whenever we were talking about the Nazis.

He was trying to show that if Hitler used Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection as the basis for his eugenics, then that proves that evolution is evil and therefore not true. What I tried to get across to his audience was that Social-Darwinism is not the same as evolution by natural selection. Evolution by natural selection is an observation of what has happened and what is happening while Social-Darwinism is not an observation at all.

The authority issue came up a few other times in the debate as well. Enyart kept trying to use the authority of Einstein to prove his point. Aside from the fact that Einstein wasn’t a believer in Enyart’s god (which he actually admitted to briefly in the debate) he still kept trying to use Einstein’s name to go against the claims and theories of modern scientists.

Enyart also made statements about how Dawkins was proven wrong on some point and then implied that atheism was somehow undermined. While I can’t speak for whether Dawkins was actually proven wrong about some statement he made by some other scientists, it certainly wouldn’t undermine atheism because Dawkins isn’t the authoritative Pope of atheism. Dawkins being a person of science, I think if he were proven wrong about something, he would be delighted and move on.

One of the things I kept trying to empress upon Enyart was that the Scientific Method is the only authority that matters in science. In the recent Wakefield study relating to autism that was discredited, it wasn’t that Wakefield was a fraud that was the problem; it was that his study was a fraud. Wakefield could be a fraud in some other area of his life and his study could still have been valid. But as it is, he was fraudulent in his study.

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