Over at Why Evolution Is True, Jerry Coyne featured a comment from a reader giving very precise criteria for his/her own conversion to believing evolution. Provided with several examples, however, said reader suddenly became intently interested in the fine print and actual wording of both their own statement and those of the responses. Why am I not surprised?
I guess it’s because I’ve seen this more times than I can count, enough that I’m coining a phrase, if only for my own use: “Attorney for god.” What I mean by this is the supremely selective application of interpretation, attention to small details, and meticulous definitions of terms in order to produce loopholes and caveats in support of their standpoint – actions that are never applied in the least against their beliefs. When it comes to such things as relying on what science has determined over the past several hundred years, these ersatz attorneys are quick to point out how we haven’t seen any species evolve into another (which is incorrect info anyway,) or that geological and radiometric dating haven’t taken into account the possibility that atomic processes just might have occurred with different speeds in the past. Yet if we consider talking snakes and a worldwide flood, somehow their intellectual rigor evaporates, and of course is deemed unnecessary.
It certainly provides no small amount of amusement. I suspect they believe they’re promoting an air of philosophical and epistemological sophistication (and in no small part trying to stump those evilutionists,) while only betraying their complete lack thereof. I’ve written before about double-standards, but this is even worse, and more juvenile: this is elaborate effort to deny – perhaps only to themselves – that their beliefs lack even the slightest connection to rational thought, and are emotionally driven instead. “I don’t believe in a 4.5 billion-year-old earth because it doesn’t make sense!” – yet the alternatives require countless properties never demonstrated and remarkably mythical.
In many cases, no doubt, it’s not even a matter of applying intellect in any way. Efforts such as Blas’ in the linked post are often intended only to score points for themselves, as if reality is determined by who wins a debate. There really are people who assume that the strength of their position lies in finding any weakness whatsoever in any opposing position – not by actually having a strong position of their own. If applying rules selectively leads to their emotional supplication, then it’s perfectly legitimate, right?
Unfortunately, those who endorse critical-thinking and even just the scientific methods can be exploited by such tactics. Such pursuits require a certain level of rigor, and especially the consideration that any standpoint or conclusion may be wrong; in most of the professional sciences, putting one’s work up for dissection is standard practice. So we respond honestly, even when suspecting that in most cases such challenges have no honesty behind them. When considered from the standpoint of having any effect whatsoever on the originator of the questions, it’s an abject waste of time.
Except when it takes place publicly, such as in a forum or open discussion. Then the dodges and the double-standards can become obvious, and show any ulterior motives (and emotional blindness) in sharp relief. There is often no feedback from any listeners, so it can seem like efforts to answer forthrightly fall on empty ears, but everyone has their own experiences where they realized one person in a conversation wasn’t being honest, and these discoveries can mean a lot more than repeated facts. Small battles also have impact.
Attorneys, by nature, aren’t trying to obtain ‘truth’ in any court case – they represent their client (and, too often, not even that, but only themselves.) They have one standpoint to consider, and put their efforts solely into that end of things. But reality is not a court case, nor a matter of public opinion; as humans, our efforts to fathom what is are only effective and worthwhile if we don’t advocate at all, but serve as the jury instead. A jury that only listens to one side isn’t a jury, and obviously, finding reality in such a case is highly unlikely. Being this one-sided is effective if you’re afraid of what reality may bring, but if anyone has stopped being scared of monsters under the bed, honest consideration of every argument is the only thing that leads to knowledge.