Whom the gods destroy, they first make mad


(Who said that, first?)

Vox Day writes a column at the abominable WorldNet Daily. Also he blogs.  Frequently he demonstrates the flight of reason from those pages, such as his column on July 7, in which he wrote:

What is interesting is observable evidence shows that even professional evolutionary biologists are increasingly frightened to expose themselves to the ridicule that the softness of their science renders them liable. Consider this recent post at the science blog Pharyngula by Dr. P.Z. Myers, a biologist and associate professor at the University of Minnesota, Morris, entitled Don’t Debate Creationists.

Why does that demonstrate Day’s flight from reason?  Here, let me explain.

First, Day establishes as his premise that real biologists, scientists who practice in the real world and actually understand Darwin and evolution, are “afraid to expose themselves to the ridicule that the softness of their science renders them liable.”  In short, he’s saying they don’t talk to the public.

His evidence?  He cites a blog post by P. Z. Myers, an evolutionary development biologist at the University of Minnesota, Morris, a co-founder of and frequent contributor to the evolution-promoting weblog Panda’s Thumb, and the creator and author of the science weblog Pharyngula.

So, what Day is saying is that Myers doesn’t bother to expose himself to public scrutiny despite Myers’ being a distinguished researcher and teacher who daily exposes himself to tens of thousands of readers on two of the most heavily trafficked blogs in the world — generally, many times each day — in addition to his work exposing himself to other scientists via his research publications, and through his teaching several classes. 

Right.  And preachers never speak, Pope Benedict is not Catholic, and polar bears don’t defecate on the ice or in the water.  Nor is the sky blue.

Of such evidence are most rants at WorldNet Daily made.

16 Responses to Whom the gods destroy, they first make mad

  1. […] usual, when a critic can’t find any holes in my argument, he simply invents them: First, Day establishes as his premise that real biologists, scientists who practice in the real […]

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  2. […] Vox Day, Pat Sullivan, time to stand up for free debate, civilized answers, and no threats — where are you? Explore posts in the same categories: Accuracy, Science and faith, Citizenship, Creationism, Ethics, Intelligent Design, Science […]

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  3. Dave says:

    Thanks for the reference, mpb. I read Follett, but got rid of it because it wasn’t technical enough for modern textbook editing. I replaced it with Garner’s “Dictionary of Modern American Usage.”

    Anti-intellectualism is a grand old tradition in the US, initially tied to anti-European sentiments. The majority of practical Americans have always regarded the college graduate with a mixture of awe and mistrust. But I think it really accelerated in the late nineteenth century with the new postsecondary emphasis on practical education and specialization, along with the disintegration of the older, perhaps illusory model of the “educated gentleman.”

    I’m all in favor of practical education in some sense, but we now have a prevalent attitude that no one can talk across disciplines because everyone is an expert only in their own narrow field. From behind their little fences, experts sneer at anyone with “useless” knowledge; and so I infuriated engineering students by discussing philosophy, and liberal arts students by discussing physics. Meanwhile, everyone’s uninformed opinions are solicited and amplified by the media.

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  4. […] Whom the gods destroy, they first make mad […]

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  5. mpb says:

    PS– if you haven’t used WorldCat, it will not only give the citation but the nearest library to a book.
    http://worldcat.org/oclc/787135&tab=editions

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  6. mpb says:

    Ed, you have a separate post here,

    The people I grew up among had a saying, “Knowledge is the glory of God.” James Madison said education is necessary because knowledge always rules ignorance, and knowledge is essential for people to rule themselves. I worry about a nation where people think otherwise.

    It seems this country, at least a significant segment (white-collar? middle-class?) has always been hostile to knowledge and being educated (anti-intellectual). It shows up when a college degree becomes the new high school diploma (both in knowledge gained and as a job application requirement). It shows up looking for work with an advanced degree (over qualified or impressive or too thoughtful). It shows up at city council meetings when “belief” supersedes evidence or lack thereof for committing major changes. It shows up as personal attacks rather than discussion. It shows up as leadership bragging about their lack of knowledge.

    [I’m not talking about the stuffed shirts that parade their superiority of “knowledge” or credentials. That’s a different thing.]

    When was the last time you heard in an ordinary civic discussion anything about “knowledge” and the ability and duty of anyone to acquire it? (Remember Teach-ins? or the intense reading and discussion to master the intricacies of what “civil disobedience” meant? Sigh, whatever happened to the revolution?)

    Dave at 2:51 last paragraphs describe “scientism” as defined by Wilson Follett, Modern American Usage. [Wilson Follett; Modern American Usage, a Guide by Editor Jacques Barzun (Hardcover – 1966)]

    Is there a positive correlation between reliance on scientism (appearances) and anti-intellectualism? Is this what happens when we become “learners” and not students? The result of emulating “C students from Yale”?

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  7. […] to Ed Here is my response to the evolutionist Ed Darrell, as a continuation of this comment thread. It may take awhile to complete this post because of the […]

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  8. Dave says:

    This is, of course, a totally different rabbit hole, so I’m going to stray from your original post.

    Your answer is quite close to the one given by Myers, and it reminds me of the general problem of scientific knowledge as a cultural product. (I don’t think you are affirming the value of all knowledge, are you? You end up with a political statement, so perhaps you primarily value knowledge for its political value. But I’ll stick with scientific knowledge acquired for its intrinsic value.)

    Many people who know absolutely nothing about science (and I know you are not one of those) feel that scientific knowledge is valuable in itself, as a cultural product. They don’t understand it themselves, and they don’t know anyone who does; but they think it is important for someone to know it, and they want that person to tell them what to think about related issues. They don’t really value knowledge much at all, since they can’t be troubled to read a scientific journal, a textbook, a popular science book, a popular science magazine, or sometimes even a newspaper.

    But they know that scientists are smarter than them, so anyone who can translate scientific language for them seems very important, and anyone who speaks in the name of science seems to be authoritative, so they eagerly mimic them and speak always in the name of science that they don’t personally understand. Are these people ruling themselves?

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  9. Ed Darrell says:

    There’s no compelling reason to wake up from ignorance other than it’ll save your life. Why should we know anything?

    I’m quite flabbergasted at such sentiment. The people I grew up among had a saying, “Knowledge is the glory of God.” James Madison said education is necessary because knowledge always rules ignorance, and knowledge is essential for people to rule themselves.

    I worry about a nation where people think otherwise.

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  10. Dave says:

    Well, it looks like the attribution to Euripides is unsourced “common knowledge.” Shame on me. It certainly could be a paraphrase, or a thematic summary, from one of his works. Some also think it came from Aeschylus. But it appears that the specific phrasing can be found in The Masque of Pandora, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (Routledge, 1875, p. 39).

    Ah, the real American Spectator, on paper . . . I loved reading that. Back then, conservative newspaper editors at least plagiarized its writers. Now, most “conservatives” would not even be able to understand them.

    As I noted in my comments, this escalation requires me to respond with a full post, rather than a comment; so that will have to come later.

    I will simply note here that you seem to believe that evolutionary theory describes in detail certain natural processes that have been harnessed for technological purposes; so that it is fully expressed in nature, and fully implemented by technical specialists. This, however, has nothing to do with why anyone outside that specialty must believe all the assertions of evolutionary theory. Why must we wake up from our ignorance?

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  11. Ed Darrell says:

    Dave, I’ll repeat here what I put at your blog, especially with regard to the claim that evolution isn’t necessary to modern biology:

    It’s interesting to see comments from someone so familiar with the philosophy of science and so utterly unfamiliar with biology. Difficult to know where to start.

    You’re ahead of me on science philosophy. But that doesn’t answer any question of science. Science is always what’s done on the lab bench, or observed in the wild, and frankly, most scientists don’t give a whit for philosophy other than their own internal desires to get things right. If only creationists had such respect for the facts, we’d be well on the way to some agreement.

    1. Isn’t entelechy the current problem with religious opposition to science? That’s the usual foundation people use in testifying to state school boards. ‘Evolution can’t be true if it says humans were not made by God, if it says God doesn’t exist, or if it says humans don’t need salvation.’ In any case, Kuhn uses evolution as the model of science correctly applied, waiting for acceptance. Kuhn clearly considered it science, and good science, with good theory.

    2. I love the way you hurl schoolyard names instead of discussing the issues. That’s not exactly what Kuhn thought useful. “Evolution groupies?”

    3. Facts are that evolution is observed. Fruit flies kept in labs to test pesticides, for example, have a nasty (for the researchers) tendency to speciate. Over a few generations they develop into a new species. This is trouble because sometimes the new species has resistance to the pesticide being tested, or special vulnerability to it, either of which can invalidate the testing. But apart from actual speciation, every step of evolution has been observed. The five classic steps Darwin proposed can readily be observed in anyone’s yard: Species producing more offspring than can survive to adulthood, food being in short supply for all the offspring, competition for resources, heritability of mutations, spreading of beneficial mutations due to the competition for resources. To claim that such things are not observed is to demonstrate astounding lack of familiarity with the natural world — those are key observations of forestry, farming, animal husbandry and wildlife management.

    Now, if you’d care to falsify evolution, you can come up with a set of observations that suggest any of those stages do not generally apply. Those observations are among the most unfalsifiable, but not because they are dogmatic. They were known long before Darwin, and the general observations simply apply throughout the living world we know. It’s important and interesting to note that creationists long ago gave up all research that might falsify any of these general observations. Even creationists recognize when God’s creation has stacked the facts against them.

    4. Patterson is wrong if that’s what he said. Evolution doesn’t “allow” random mutation. Mutation is a fact of life, observed in all living things, and it is necessary for evolution to proceed, to provide fodder for natural and sexual selection. While mutation is not really random (parts of the genome are more susceptible than other parts, and mutations occur more frequently in those parts), it is unexpected, and undirected. But even if we allow it to be described as random, that in no way affects falsifiability: Either such mutations occur, or they don’t. Again, this is a key area in which creationists have given up the argument. Since they could not demonstrate that mutations do not occur, they have instead tried to move the goalposts, claiming that mutations somehow make evolution unfalsifiable. What a bizarre idea, that the fact that a piece of information is so common makes it wrong! (It’s been a while since I read that whole piece from Patterson; he could well have made such a gross error. In any case, as you describe it, it’s wrong.)

    Why is it a stupid idea to get a recorded example of intelligent design? We have recorded instances of evolution. You’re arguing that they should not be counted, but that an unobserved instance of intelligent design should be counted? Now I wonder if you’re as deep into science philosophy as you appear. An observed instance of intelligent design would falsify at least part of evolution theory, but there has never been such an observation — and that is where the scientists make their stand. You may call it “dogmatic” to demand actual evidence, but in the real world such dogma is useful. It’s called “honesty” in many circles. It’s telling that creationists complain that requiring honesty is unfair.

    So, I suppose the fair thing to do would be to ask you to concede the entire argument. We have recorded and well documented cases of evolution in things like broccoli, radishes, Brussels sprouts and Canola. In none of those cases is there any evidence of an intelligent, non-human designer tinkering with the processes (Artificial selection was sometimes substituted for natural selection — but you’re not arguing against the selection process, right? That would be to concede evolution in every other respect.). The new species are well-known, often with dramatically different characteristics. Canola, for example, was evolved from rapeseed. Rapeseed oil, while very low in cholesterol, is poisonous. Canola is not poisonous, and consequently of great use to humans.

    Oh, and each of those species I mentioned come from the same origins — mustard. Jesus really knew what he said in that parable, didn’t he?

    There are dozens of other cases of evolution known — the new apple maggot in America, resistance to DDT in mosquitoes, immunity to malaria in humans, new species of fruit flies, grapefruit, beef, etc., etc., etc. Evolution offers hundreds of examples of evolution, in the wild, in the lab, in domestication, over the past 2,000 years — and you say it’s unfair to ask even one such example from intelligent design?

    Do you know what “special pleading” is? You’re making such a plea now.

    5. Is there any step of evolution you claim has not been observed? Which one? Mutation? Natural selection? Sexual selection? Competition for resources? Speciation? Which one is it you have evidence against? It’s not going to get your cat to answer questions — not that your cat couldn’t provide answers, but that you appear particularly unwilling to listen to the evidence available, especially if it doesn’t come in a form that reeks of magic. The Bible offers talking asses, but it also says the stones cry out when people refuse to listen. Paleontology and geology give voice to the stones; you refuse to hear. Why should I think you’d listen to your cat in any case?

    6. Kuhn’s right. Science is only good for solving puzzles. Intelligent design, absolutely inept at solving any puzzle, isn’t science by Kuhn’s definition.

    7. I don’t know where you studied molecular biology, but in our department the molecular guys were quite interested in how natural selection got some compounds to work, and especially why. Knowing how a living thing produces a particular chemical often leads to new ways to synthesize the stuff — go back and read the history of the synthesis of urea, for example. Similarly, it was a team of biologists including molecular guys who developed new ways to create human insulin as a substitute for the bovine, porcine and equine insulin used to treat humans. Of course, the fact that diabetes functions the same in all mammals due to mammalian relatedness is one of the great examples of applied evolution in medicine. Evolution informed the diagnosis of the causes of diabetes and the original treatments, and it was essential to the eventual development of the genetic engineering tools that led to the creation of human insulin-producing E. coli, not to mention the evolutionary models that went into just figuring out which genes to get and where to place them.

    The molecular guy may not know that he can produce a rhododendron from wheat, after a hundred years of applied evolution on the wheat species he’s working on. So what? Dobzhansky was right: Evolution pulls all the life sciences together and makes biology a real, useful science, rather than simply stamp collecting (or bug or leaf collecting). It takes teams to make some things work. But teams that don’t understand the gross effects of minor mutations don’t get very far. There is not a single lab on Earth working on an intelligent design solution to any disease — not because of any unholy bias against intelligent design, but because intelligent design isn’t real, it doesn’t work in nature as IDists claim it should, and so it offers only dead ends in real research.

    In contrast, you can go to your stockbroker today and buy shares in companies that stake their existence on Darwin-style evolution theory: ConAgra, Monsanto, Genentech, Pfizer, Sandoz, etc., etc., etc. In the real world, evolution works. In the marketplace of ideas, evolution is a superior puzzle-solver. In the marketplace of economics, intelligent design is dead, and evolution rules. That’s not conspiracy. It’s reality.

    Wake up and smell the coffee.

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  12. Ed Darrell says:

    Got a citation to Euripides? That was how it was attributed in the old American Spectator, before it fell. It shows up in Bartlett’s, attributed to a “fragment;” I can’t find the fragment. Boswell noted it was commonly known, but its origins were not. I’d like to have a solid citation.

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  13. Dave says:

    Your quote, by the way, is a distortion of something Euripides wrote: “Whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad.”

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  14. Dave says:

    I think it is very productive to show others how shallow the reasoning of a fool is, although sometimes that has to be done by implication if they are irrational. The real issue is that the subject is inherently esoteric to the layperson, and scientists who study it are engaged mostly in puzzle-solving, not in trying to make it understandable to the layperson.

    That is why most of the “debating” centers on defining the broad metaphysical implications, in simplistic terms, because that is the only way the layperson can make sense of the issue. And, frankly, evolutionists were winning on that level for a long time, until social Darwinism and eugenics were discredited by their evident moral failings. Now the evolutionists have no rational broader message for the layperson, and the evidence shows that he tends to fall back on traditional religious beliefs.

    You would do better to attack the whole idea of debate as a method of resolving philosophical questions, as Socrates did in “Gorgias.”

    The science of genetics is very important for epidemiology and agricultural research. However, no molecular biologist is concerned with how natural selection functioned in the past to bring a particular species into existence, or if instead it happened by random mutation, or whether in a million years his wheat strain will evolve into a rhododendron. He is concerned with changing one variable at a time and getting a desired result consistently, an application of Mendelian genetics on a microscopic level.

    The problem with the quote is that every idiot in the world uses it, without knowing anything about the context; and so it means whatever they want it to mean. Reading an array of Santayana’s works makes it clear that he has no patience for the empty liberty of modern liberalism, but rather sees progress as the natural process of growth in a healthy society rooted in tradition and guided by reason.

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  15. Ed Darrell says:

    Myers doesn’t say debate is pointless — he argues that debating with hoaxsters and fools is not productive. There’s a difference. Check out his post; Myers offers several ways to debate the subject without engaging in pointless street theatre. Also, you may want to check out my other posts on evolution and the intelligent design baloney, such as here,
    https://timpanogos.wordpress.com/2007/04/10/fearful-idists-cant-meet-ethics-challenge-in-dallas/, and here,
    https://timpanogos.wordpress.com/2006/10/09/intelligent-design-a-pig-that-doesnt-fly/.

    Evolution has no significance for anyone who is completely immune to infectious, viral and mutation diseases — such as typhoid, HIV and cancers — and who needs no food.

    If you know anyone in that category, I’d like to study them.

    I’ve thought about the whole quote from Santayana. I think the one-line summary does the trick. But I may provide the complete quote somewhere, sometime.

    Thanks for dropping by.

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  16. Dave says:

    Myers says that public debate is pointless. By his own account, public education about evolutionary theory is also a failure. Perhaps it actually has no significance for real people.

    By the way, you should distinguish yourself from the illiterate mob by not quoting Santayana only in part.

    How about a fuller context for that quote:

    “Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. When change is absolute there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for possible improvement: and when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

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