Guide to Clear Thinking

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Definition:  Attributing personal attributes to inanimate objects or concepts.
Catch-phrase:  Mother Nature.
Examples:   Molecules assembled themselves into primitive proteins, then began to reproduce themselves. When it was no longer safe on the ground, they evolved wings and became birds and other such statements (fish evolved gills, birds developed feathers, bats invented sonar, primitive cells evolved membranes, etc.)  Portraying evolution as a tinkerer, cobbing parts together to invent novel structures.  “But we’re just beginning the study of biochemistry; evolution has had billions of years of practice” (Carl Sagan, Cosmos).  Evolution as game theory.  Evolution as selfish genes.

  • Analogy
    Definition:  Improperly drawing parallels while ignoring pertinent differences.
    Catch-phrase:  A pretty face is like a melody.
    Examples:   A million monkeys typing on a million typewriters could, given enough time, reproduce the works of Shakespeare.  Richard Dawkins in The Blind Watchmaker tries to illustrate natural selection achieving highly improbable results with an impertinent computer analogy Thermodynamics: comparing increase in complexity due to biological evolution to crystal growth, growth from embryo to adult, the water cycle or purifying metals by heat.  Comparing SETI to archaeology (see 09/24/2005 story)  Hillbilly talk: Thicker than warts on a pickleAs tough as shimmying up a thorn tree with an armload of eels  Barr’s Inertial Principle: “Asking a group of scientists to revise their theory is like asking a group of cops to revise the law.”  Comparisons that omit essential differences.  The following have actually been used in creation-evolution debates or anti-creation rhetoric:  David Morofka, in a debate: “Is it any more incredible that a bird should come from a dinosaur, than that a bird should come from an egg?”   Later in the same debate: “Criticizing evolution because there are gaps in the fossil record is no more logical or convincing than criticizing medicine because there are gaps in our ability to heal the sick.”   Jared Diamond: “One can no more master biology while denying the fact of evolution than one can understand chemistry while refusing to admit the existence of atoms.”   William Howells: “Evolution is a fact, like digestion.”  Ben Bova: “To insist that Genesis be inserted into biology texts [note the straw man] and to pretend that religious mythology can explain biological phenomena [note the loaded words] are about equivalent to believing that straw can be woven into gold.”

    • Comment:  Analogies are useful to illustrate a point or add color to speeches, but should not be used to prove a point.

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