Tuesday, June 05, 2012

A scientist beats up PZ

As if the Fowl Atheist didn't have enough trouble with all the religious people methodically exposing his rank idiocy whenever he opens his mouth, now even atheist scientists are calling him out on his clueless nonsense. David Sloan Wilson points out the obvious, which is that PZ Myers doesn't act or think in a scientific manner where religion is concerned.
In the spirit of science as a process of constructive disagreement, Evolution: This View of Life is pleased to feature a critique of my previous article "The New Atheism and Evolutionary Religious Studies: Clarifying Their Relationship" by evolutionist and prolific blogger PZ Myers, titled "You Want Evidence that Religion is Bad for Our Species? OPEN YOUR EYES." Unfortunately, Myer's critique raises the issue of whether he is functioning as a scientist at all on the subject of religion.

Imagine Myers teaching a class on his academic specialty -- evolutionary developmental biology (evo-devo) -- and telling his students that all they must do to understand the topic is to open their eyes. This would be absurd. The whole point of science is to understand topics that are too complex to be self-evident. I have written about the problem of scientists who use their reputation in one topic area to hold forth on other topic areas without doing the same homework that a good science journalist would do, and even without functioning as a scientist in any way at all. PZ Myers has a fine reputation as an evolutionary developmental biologist, but on the topic of religion he is defrocked.
As longtime readers here know, it's not just the subject of religion concerning which PZ is hapless, but pretty much every subject he attempts to address outside of his own professional specialty. He's equally incompetent with regards to philosophy, politics, and economics, just to name three more. And even with regards to his scientific specialty, he hasn't mastered it sufficiently to be confident of winning a debate on evolution by natural selection with me. But for the purposes of both amusement and edification, consider PZ's inept response to Wilson, especially the specific questions he poses:

Rather than condescendingly telling us about evolutionary dynamics, I’d like Wilson to get specific.

1. How does depriving girls of an education benefit women?

2. How does raising girls with the expectation that their purpose in life is to bear children benefit women?

3. How does throwing acid in their faces when they demand independence from men benefit women?

4. How do honor killings benefit women?

5. How does stoning rape victims benefit women?

6. How does female genital mutilation benefit women?

7. How does letting women die rather than giving them an abortion benefit women?

What is amusing here is the way that PZ throws out these questions as if they are at all difficult to answer, as if he is making some sort of cogent point simply by asking them. Now, I'm sure Wilson would come up with some different answers, but as will be seen by the answers I provide, by asking some of them, Myers is doing little more than demonstrating the very unscientific attitude of which he is accused! It's important to understand that one need not find these answers to be absolutely conclusive or even convincing to recognize that they are scientifically valid answers, which is to say that they can be used to generate hypotheses and then subsequently put to the scientific test, at least to the extent that social science can reasonably be considered science.

1. Because educating women is strongly correlated with reducing their disposition and ability to reproduce themselves. Educating them tends to make them evolutionary dead ends. "Germany now has the highest number of childless women in the world. This trend has been going on since at least the 90s. What we also know is that the higher the level of education, the more likely a woman is to remain childless." -Professor Norbert Schneider, Mainz University. 40% of German women with college degrees are childless. Does PZ seriously wish to claim that not reproducing is intrinsically beneficial to women? Does he really find it hard to understand how not reproducing is evolutionary disadvantageous?

2. Because raising girls with the expectation that their purpose in life is to bear children allows them to pursue marriage at the age of their peak fertility, increase the wage rates of their prospective marital partners, and live in stable, low-crime, homogenous societies that are not demographically dying. It also grants them privileged status, as they alone are able to ensure the continued survival of the society and the species alike. Women are not needed in any profession or occupation except that of child-bearer and child-rearer, and even in the case of the latter, they are only superior, they are not absolutely required.

3. Because female independence is strongly correlated with a whole host of social ills. Using the utilitarian metric favored by most atheists, a few acid-burned faces is a small price to pay for lasting marriages, stable families, legitimate children, low levels of debt, strong currencies, affordable housing, homogenous populations, low levels of crime, and demographic stability. If PZ has turned against utilitarianism or the concept of the collective welfare trumping the interests of the individual, I should be fascinated to hear it.

4. Because female promiscuity and divorce are strongly correlated with a whole host of social ills, from low birth and marriage rates to high levels of illegitimacy.

5. I don't see how this benefits women in any way. The effect in dramatically reducing the number of false rape accusations would, of course, benefit men, but since there is no reliable penalty for false rape accusations in modern society, reducing it would be of little benefit to them.

6. By reducing female promiscuity, which is strongly correlated with a whole host of social ills, from low birth and marriage rates to high levels of illegitimacy. But it may not even do so, in which case there wouldn't appear to be any case for it, since female genital mutilation tends to make health matters worse, unlike male genital mutilation, which appears to improve health matters somewhat.

7. Because far more women are aborted than die as a result of their pregnancies going awry. The very idea that letting a few women die is worse than killing literally millions of unborn women shows that PZ not only isn't thinking like a scientist, he's quite clearly not thinking rationally at all. If PZ is going to be intellectually consistent here, then he should be quite willing to support the abortion of all black fetuses, since blacks disproportionately commit murder and 17x more people could be saved by aborting black fetuses than permitting the use of abortion to save the life of a mother. 466 American women die in pregnancy every year whereas 8,012 people died at the hands of black murderers in 2010.

The scientific attitude would be to develop a hypothesis and test it as best one is able. But it's quite clear that PZ doesn't want to consider the possibility of anything beyond his philosophical commitment to the unicorn of so-called "equality". Wilson is right to observe that PZ's behavior with regards to these matters is entirely unscientific, indeed, one might even surmise that it is outright anti-scientific.

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Anonymous Anonymous September 01, 2012 8:22 PM  

This is crazy.

Do you think we should also repeal laws allowing self-defense to be used as a defense against charges of murder?

Otherwise you are essentially granting fetuses a greater right to life than everybody else.

Blogger eye (both of them) July 07, 2015 2:19 PM  

7. Abortion doesn't end life, it prevents life. If you want to get technical zygotes are alive, but so are all cells in the body. Zygotes aren't humans, neither are embryo's. Fetus's are human when their brain has developed to the point they have consciousness. You may disagree with this, but calling everyone with this view a murderer or a murder advocate isn't going to make anyone change it (and I assume that if you really do believe abortion to be murder you'd want to change our view). Then you go on about mandatory abortions (something you'll find no proponents of anywhere) on black women, because their hypothetical children will statistically be more likely to grow up poor and become criminals. How the hell does that even make sense in your mind? Do you actually think increased statistical chance of murdering someone is a literal consequence of a black skin color? Instead of, you know, the on average lower social class, greater chance of poverty, and poorer education all of which being indirect consequences of systematic racism only having ended a measly 60 years ago and all that crap.

None of these hypotheses are plausible and I'm pretty sure you know it. Floating above already put it funnier than I ever could but: Science is not about testing every single (variation of the same) hypothesis you possibly can come up with no matter how obvious the answer.

Blogger eye (both of them) July 07, 2015 2:20 PM  

1. When PZ Meyers asks: "How does X benefit women?", you know he doesn't mean how it benefits their reproductive chances, but their well-being, right? Not all women care about their own DNA. Being forced to live life in one way with no choice in the matter is not beneficial to the well-being of women (or people in general). Liberty is one of the cornerstones of western society.

2. I personally think this question is flawed, most religions I know of teach women that their purpose in life is to serve some sort of God and/or follow some set of rules and dogmas, not to bear children. Do you agree with PZ Meyers' narrative about what religion teaches women?

3 No actual utilitarian would justify systematically throwing acid in women's face using the utilitarian metric (minimize suffering for the whole of humanity). A society where young women fear to even go outside due to the threat of getting acid thrown on them (say parts of Iran) seems a lot less beneficial to the well-being of women than a society where their marriage has a higher change of not lasting forever. As for those other things you mentioned: strong currencies, affordable housing, low levels of debt, low levels of crime, demographic stability and homogeneous population (how are those last two intrinsically positive exactly? North Korea has one of the most demographically stable, most homogeneous populations on the planet, partially because no-one wants to immigrate to it)... How are any of those consequences from throwing acid in women's faces to "keep them in line" (usually after they refuse a marriage proposal)? The countries with the highest incidence of acid throwing are in the third world. Some of them have extremely high crime rates (Bangladesh, Afghanistan), the acid throwing's country with the largest economy (India) is also one of the largest international debtors. The country with the worst currency in the world (Iran) is also a country where acid throwing is prevalent. I guess I can't argue with affordable housing: You can live in one of their slums for the price of two sticks and a piece of corrugated steel! But seriously, I want to know how your mind can even arrive at such conclusions without taking a detour through crazytown.

4 You're "hypothesizing" here that the threat of (once again) you or a loved one getting in a divorce or growing up with a single parent as a kid is somehow less beneficial for human well-being than the threat of you or a loved one being murdered. Sure... You go do that research, let us all know what you find out.

5. "I don't see how this benefits women in any way." Me either.

6. How important is "reducing female promiscuity"? Please do tell how horribly we are suffering right now in our western society with our promiscuous women that we could alleviate it by scarring all newborn girls for life (in some cases sewing their vagina's shut), preventing them from ever enjoying sex (and thereby essentially turning all sex they'll ever have in their lives into an experience which feels like a rape)?

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