Monday, 14 March 2016

Again, with the nonsense

Jim Linville shared a post that Creation Film Productions put on FB back in 2011. It reads as follows: "A question that the evolutionist cannot truthfully answer...If evolution is true, how did mathematics begin? Did 2 + 2 = 17 at one point in time? Mathematics seem to suddenly pop with every civilization. For bible believing christians, that's an easy question to answer. God made mathematics and gave it to us." Now, first off, Creation Film Productions, there's two questions there: before professing special expertise on mathematics one might want to learn how to count to two. That notwithstanding, there is a less pedantic observation to be made: Creation Film Productions has made a crucial conceptual error, which has led it to spout off nonsense.

The crucial conceptual error is a failure to distinguish between two senses of the word "mathematics." Like many (probably most) fields, "mathematics" refers both to a set of techniques (in the case of the example given, the technique is known as addition) and the content of the knowledge generated via those techniques (in this case, that two plus two invariably equals four). What they fail to grasp is that it is the case that two plus two have always equaled four, even if our techniques for knowing that to be the case have varied and in fact at one point did not exist at all. As such, given that their question is predicated upon a fundamental conceptual error all the "evolutionist" needs to do is to identity that error. Then she or he can such a person can truthfully answer these questions. The first question ("Where did mathematics come from?") is answered by studying the history of mathematical techniques. It is a life-long endeavour for which the present author is utterly unqualified to speak to. It is also not an endeavour that is properly speaking within the primary ambit of evolutionary science, and as such Creation Film Productions further demonstrates a conceptual inability to distinguish between the fields of biology and history. The second answer ("Did 2+2 = 7 at one point in time?") is answered with a simple "No," although that "No" can be expanded, without any lack of charity, to read "Are you off your rocker? Of course it didn't. That's genuinely insane."

Of course, they're not insane. What they are ignorant. I use that word in the precise sense of uninformed. They are in fact so uninformed that what they think is a gotcha in fact reveals them as utterly unqualified to even formulate a rational question. Consequently they spout off inanities as if they were sage. This is another instance of what, in my immediately previous post, I described as a longer cycle of decline. Here I follow Lonergan, and his argument that the inability to recognize the necessity for specialist knowledge is the most egregious cause of societal decline. That perhaps needs some qualification. The problem is not that people spout off nonsense. There will always be nonsense. The problem occurs when institutions become incapable of distinguishing between the incompetent nonsense-peddler and the competent communicator of hard-won knowledge. Then nonsense, rather than being relegated to the margins where it belongs, becomes the basis for policy decisions. Instead of the persons most knowledgeable about biology determining what should be taught in biology classrooms it becomes persons with little to no knowledge on the matter. Instead of climate scientists adjudicating whether climate change is occurring it becomes, again, persons with little to no relevant knowledge. Instead of scholars of religion defining the diversity among modern of Islam it becomes those who cannot even distinguish between a Muslim, a Hindu, and a Sikh. Eventually a situation arises whereat any sober public discussion of policy becomes impossible. That is the situation which Canadian politics was approaching under our past prime minister, who spent ten years actively attacking the institutions that keep nonsense to the sidelines, and seems to be the situation current in American politics today. It is a dangerous situation, because under such conditions the possibility of reversing the decline becomes greatly vitiated.

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