Saturday, September 13, 2008

Matt Damon on Sarah Palin

Watching Jimmy Kimmel last night, I witnessed a clip of actor Matt Damon, who displayed a near rage at the idea of Sarah Palin holding a high position of power in our country. His disdain for her expresses itself, of all things, concerning giant lizards.

"I mean, I want to know if she believes dinosaurs existed 4,000 years ago. I mean, that's an important issue to me," said Damon with a villifying tone, revealing a seething anger at the prospect of someone like Palin holding the populace of our Republic in her "ignorant" hands. The implication here of course, is whether Palin, who openly affirms her Christian worldview, has the gall to believe that the book of Genesis has a trustworthy bearing on natural history. Of course, Christians who believe in the young earth no more than thousands of years old, which was created in six, twenty-four hour periods are in a minority among broader Christendom in the West. This makes them the ultimate object of scorn therefore, among academic elite, scientists, media pundits, and apparently, Hollywood actors who hold no interest in a Christian worldview other than to dismiss it as irrational and foolish.

One may argue that Damon indeed does hold a Christian worldview. However, if he does, he should treat Mrs. Palin with much more respect, for that is what Christians are called to do. His concern about her judgment concerning ultimate matters of origins should be handled in a more diplomatic manner, like a British butler kindly pontificating upon Mrs. Smithington's wart with the utmost respect--not saying too much, mind you--and not saying too little either. Mrs. Smithington is a fine disposition to behold regarding her gentleness, efficient prowess in handling her children and home, and very wise in advising her aristocratic husband. To wit, says the Butler, "Might'n we not regard small blemishes under the broader auspices of a grander scheme of inherent qualities of character, including love, decency, wisdom and self-control, such as we behold in her?" Well said, Jeeves. Don't upset the apple cart by joining in the laughter.

Nevertheless, Damon's vehemence castigates not merely the idea of someone ignorant enough to reject the scientific establishment's status quo concerning carbon dating, geological columns, and other data used to support an old universe. Rather, Damon is purporting the idea that such people are who hold to a "literal" hermeneutic of the Bible are indeed dangerous.

This danger which Damon wants us to comprehend is that people like Palin are apparently driven by blind, emotional apprehension to unwarranted presuppositions and because of this desparate clinging to irrational thought, such a person cannot be trusted to manage a country in a world facing issues that deal with evidence, evidence and more evidence.

Is the economy in trouble? We must examine the evidence, and the evidential solutions at our disposal. Is health care in dire straights? Let us discover solutions based upon numbers, reason and inquiry. All issues therefore, whether global warming, war & terrorism, education reform, agriculture, social welfare, mass media entertainment and "censorship" fall under the rubric of rational, intelligent thought based upon sound reason and evidence as the basis of beneficial solutions for the American public and the world abroad. And, it is reasoned, how can such a person who believes in a hermeneutic as silly as that which is the basis of young earth creationism be rational, reasonable, intelligent, and capable of waying opposing options in such lofty and truly thorny matters as those described above? After all, if someone like Palin holds office, it is argued, we may just end up with a Bible-quoting, theocratic president who offers only black and white scenarios regarding foreign policy, social issues, environmental action, and economic stragety, in a world where it is clear and obvious that not all matters are solved simply, and that answers are found not in either the black or the white, but in the gray.

At first glance, Damon's lividity against Palin's conservative Christian worldview seems extreme and silly. Dinosaurs? Dude. What is your deal? Nonetheless, if we pry a little and get at Damon's real concers, we see a grander picture concerning Palin and others who believe the things she does about the Bible and ultimate matters.

On the other hand, we should notice that Damon commits a logical fallacy of the most popular kind, an ad hominem argument (argument against the man). This argument presents irrelevant information about an opponent in order to dismiss the opponent and her position as unacceptable. Damon's rheticoral statement implies that Palin is unworthy of holding public office because of her cosmogeny--her beliefs about the origin of the universe. One wonders if Damon would have the same misgivings about a Hindu candidate who believed in millions of gods, and propounded the idea that evil is maya--mere illusion, and that there are no distinctions between good and evil?

Damon's implied logic may form a "sound argument":

1) those who hold irrational beliefs are untrustworthy and dangerous--especially regarding public office holding;
2) Palin holds irrational beliefs;
therefore
3) Palin is untrustworthy and dangerous--especially regarding public office holding.

However, just because an argument flows logically from its premises and is "sound," does not mean it is valid. Just because someone holds a belief that is irrational (Damon has to prove that Palin's alleged beliefs are actually irrational), does not mean that the person holding those beliefs are necessarily untrustworhty and dangerous--especially regarding public office holding. One may believe that it is rational to seek terrorists where they dwell and destroy them where they live. Let us grant that this view is indeed irrational. That has no bearing whatever on one's ability to produce a sound, economic policy. The former idea is entirely irrelevant to one's ability to understand complex economic issues, and implement new laws and tax reforms in order to boost the economy of a nation.

Lastly, his is an abusive ad hominem fallacy, which attacks the character of a person in order to offer evidence against her. Just because someone believes in a young earth (1o,ooo years old, let us say), does not mean that the person is entirely irrational, incapable of using reason, or undesirous of using reason, evidence, compassion, courage, or integrity in making important decisions.

And anyway, who is Matt Damon? Where was he educated? In Hollywood? He's just an actor. Therefore, his argument against Palin is irrelevant and Damon himself is unworthy of debate in the public forum. I mean, I want to know if Damon thinks that all of life came from one, single-celled organism. I mean, that's really important to me if I am going to accept Damon as a pundit regarding national elections.


15 comments:

Brian said...

Not sure if your ad hom attack on Damon was you just being ironical, but to dismiss Damon's point on the merit that he's "just an actor" has no bearing on the brunt of his point. His point being that someone who holds onto a belief without evidence, and uses that belief to make decisions that affect the lives of millions of people, is something that should most certainly be considered dangerous. She, similar to bush, has put the war in Iraq in the hands of God, and Palin I believe even said a prayer that they were doing god's will in Iraq.

Now I wonder, do you think those kinds of comments would be allowed in today’s society if instead of saying it's god's will, they said it's the will of "Poseidon" or "Thor." They would most certainly be ridiculed for those beliefs, and rightly so. However, since their brand of irrational beliefs happens to follow the tradition brand of lunacy in American culture, it's "okay" to believe such things.

And whether Sarah Palin is a creationist is important, because it calls into questions what she basis her decisions on. Not surprisingly, she has also been a denier of "human-induced global warming" which is common among creationists and also goes against the available evidence.

If you were someone who didn't rely on faith to discern things, you would understand what a dangerous prospect someone who makes decisions based on emotions and deeply rooted religious beliefs that have no basis in reality is to people who care about civil liberties and the future of this planet.

Sarah Palin is an end-times believer, and with that comes all short-term thinking that comes along with the belief that a god-man named Jesus will come riding through the clouds with a sword to vanquish the evil godless liberals and those who haven't obeyed his supposed commandments and taken him as their savior.

You're a good man Chris, and I like you, but belief in a personal god is completely unfounded.

Cheers,

Brian

p.s. Are you a young earth creationist?

chris van allsburg said...

Brian,
Good to see I lured you away from your studies in the neuroscience profession! Thank-you for your comments.

You are correct in stating that Damon's problem with Palin's ideas about dinosaurs have implications regarding the political enterprise, which I affirm in this post (6th paragraph).

As far as my belief in God, I think my belief in him is "properly basic" as Plantinga says.

My views on Genesis are that while young earth creationism is a viable hermeneutic, there are also other interpretations that support an old earth. My default position is a young earth, but I am not settled upon the issue.

Sincerely,
Chris

Yes, I was using irony in my ad hominem attack on Damon.


I

chris van allsburg said...

Brian,
Forgot to say I deeply share your concerns about premillennial dispensationalism and its view of history regarding a pretribulation rapture. I think this eschatological paradigm lends itself toward a defeatism because it affirms a negative view of history: "the worse it gets on planet earth, the better, cuz that means Jesus is coming back."

And, I share your concern abou the war in Irag being God's will. I'm against the war. In fact, I'd like to see every single one of our troops in all 135 or so countries they are in around the world come home and serve on our homefront and work toward a secure, sovereign nation.

Lastly, I like you too!
Chris

Brian said...

Hey Chris,

You say, “My default position is a young earth, but I am not settled upon the issue.” If someone besides myself, perhaps a Christian colleague, were to ask you when you believe dinosaurs went extinct, what would you say? What, if anything, is stopping you from accepting the widely held scientific view of origins through the processes of evolution?

Also, I’m happy to hear that you share my concern of those who believe end-times prophecies, or as you said, “premillennial dispensationalism.” And it’s funny to me that a country that is in so much debt, and has countless issues back home, spends billions of dollars on foreign aid both monetarily and militarily. Of course by funny, I don’t mean “haha funny” but confusing funny.

Cheers,

Brian

chris van allsburg said...

Brian,

My main beef with Darwinism is its assertion that "random mutation acting on natural selection is capable of accounting for the complexity of life and the universe," (Anika Smith, evolutionnews.org).

And, I'd have to say that as my default position, I'd say dinosaurs probably went extinct after the flood, as those that propigated in the post deluvian era were hunted by humans and killed.

But, even if people like me, you, Matt Damon or Sarah Palin disagree over such matters or origins, that most certainly does not mean that we couldn't solve things like economic policy, social policy, even global warming issues, by means of reasoned discussion, examination of the evidence from all points of view, and a heart committed to prosper the people of our land while maintaining their freedoms and responsibilities.

And yes, the U.S. is in an incredible amount of debt, our jobs are going oversees to China or down south to Mexico, and no longer can a man support his family on his income alone, unless he is in the medical profession, for example, or some other white collar career.


That's why we moved out of Michigan. There simply aren't any jobs there.

Brian said...

Hey Chris,

(For future reference, the theory of evolution has made leaps and bounds beyond what Darwin proposed 150 years ago.) So your main beef with the Theory of Evolution is the theory of evolutions central tenets of random mutation and natural selection. If you agree that random mutations happen, and natural selection happens (which I assume you do, as even creationists accept those), then what’s stopping the accumulation of small changes to make big changes? Especially considering that sometimes mutations to hox (developmental) genes can create extra limbs or completely different configurations of body parts.

Why is your default position that dinosaurs were hunted and killed by humans, when there is not a shred of evidence for this position? You’re a smart man so why would you take on a belief without evidence as the default instead of a null hypothesis where you start by simply saying, “ I don’t know” and working from there. Why do you hold your religious beliefs to a different level of scrutiny than you do beliefs about big foot or ufo’s?

I agree that people with different creeds are sometimes willing to set aside their beliefs and work together, but if you look at Sarah Palin and how she’s conducted herself both personally and politically, you’d see she’s not very capable of that. She pushes her personal agenda and beliefs on others through for instance pro-life stances, while claiming that she cares about keeping the government out of people’s lives.

Although I’m not a U.S. citizen, if Obama gets elected and fixes the mess the republicans have made the last 8 years, I’m hoping to head down to California for grad school in a couple years.

Cheers,

Brian

T. Michael W. Halcomb said...

Chris,
Good post.

and you're right, it was quite tough to get a job in MI. keep up the good work "jeeves".

chris van allsburg said...

Brian,
The key concept in my beef with a Darwinian paradigm of origins, is that ALL OF LIFE arose from the aforementioned concept.
Yours,
Chris

Brian said...

Hey Chris,

So is it just that you don't understand how that's explained that's the problem, or are there specific arguments for why you don't accept it.

Have a look at pages like,

http://tolweb.org/tree/ or
http://evolution.berkeley.edu/evosite/evohome.html

There's a lot of information out there. It would be a shame for you to remain ignorant about something which has an overwhelming amount of evidence in its favor.

Cheers,

Brian

chris van allsburg said...

Thank you Brian,
I most certainly will give these a look.

Yours,
Chris

chris van allsburg said...

"The central idea of biological evolution is that all life on Earth shares a common ancestor, just as you and your cousins share a common grandmother." From the Berkeley website.

Since this statement is the progenetor of my main problem with the theory, I am wondering what you mean when you say I simply do not understand it? Again, your help is appreciated.

Thanks,
Chris

chris van allsburg said...

The Berkeley site also says this:

"Through the process of descent with modification, the common ancestor of life on Earth gave rise to the fantastic diversity that we see documented in the fossil record and around us today. Evolution means that we're all distant cousins: humans and oak trees, hummingbirds and whales."

My problem is--and I'm open to the evidence--is that it seems just too far fetched. That's it, really--for me. It's just too hard to believe. And I mean that with sincerity and not with sarcasm.

Yours,
Chris

Brian said...

Is it too far fetched to believe that a clump of cells becomes a human being in 9 months? Think of the processes of cell replication, gene expression, etc. that goes on during prenatal development. If you can believe that one cell can become trillions of cells in the process of 9 months, think about what could be accomplished with similar mechanisms over 3.5 billion years.

It's evident how even small mutations can completely alter the physical and mental capabilities of humans. Take Fragile X patients for example. All that happens differently in their genome is a mutation that causes a tri-nucleotide repeat expansion that extends beyond 200 repeats of 3 amino acids bonded together. These three amino acids are Cytosine, Guanine, and another Guanine.

Now, when this tri-nucleotide sequence is repeated over 200 times, the Fragile X protein is not expressed properly, and thus does not do it's function of regulating other proteins. Since these other proteins aren't regulated, it leads to symptoms including enlarged testicles, flat feet, everted ears, and mental retardation or autistic behaviors. All this from one mutation.

Now, I completely understand how it's hard to believe that we all share a common ancestor, as you'll remember I was once a creationist and that very thought held me back from accepting the science behind evolution. (Here's a post I made once on headtochrist which I reposted on IIDB on the evidence for evolution http://iidb.infidels.org/vbb/showthread.php?t=201635 )

The biggest evidence for me was when we compare the genes of species. Did you know that mice and humans have 99% of the same genes, except we just have different versions of the genes. In fact, the closer we are to a common ancestor, the more similar our genes are. This has held up in every instance.

That is why our genes are so similar to those of Chimpanzees, Orangutans, and Gorillas. In fact, they're so similar, that if we look at a specific section of our DNA, we find the mutation that stopped our ability to make our own vitamin C. All other mammals (aside from Guinnea Pigs who also have lost this ability but through a different mutation) can produce their own vitamin C and don't need to eat Oranges, etc. to prevent themselves from getting scurvy, but not humans and other higher primates. We all have lost this ability, and the mutation that happened in our genes is EXACTLY the same in all higher primate species. Think about that for a second. We have the exact same mutation in all our genomes that prevents us from being able to synthesize our own vitamin C.

This isn't a one time thing, this is seen all throughout the animal kingdom. There are even things called Endogenous Retroviruses which are viruses that permanently reside in the DNA of individuals and gets passed on with the genes. If the theory of common descent is accurate, we should find that the closer we are to a species in the animal kingdom, the more similar our Endogenous Retroviruses will be in our genomes. That's exactly what we find. You probably didn't know that we even share some of the same ERV's with whales, because they are also mammals, and we shared a common ancestor who had a virus that affected their DNA.

Now this is just a brief sampling of the evidence for evolution out there. There are hundreds of thousands of scientists working every day, using what we know through the study of evolution and evolutionary processes to cure diseases, make better crops, etc.

Since my time is limited, although I'd love to field any more questions you have, I'll point you to a really great and civilized discussion forum that has an awesome evolution/creation section with some experts in various fields of science. www.talkrational.org.

I know your time may also be limited, but I'd really like for you to finally accept the theory of evolution because I hate to see people remain in the dark about something with so much evidence for it.

All the best my friend!

Brian

chris van allsburg said...

Brian,
thank you for the post. I did know that we share the same genes or DNA similarities with other animals up to 90% or in the ballpark. But, my question is, why does this similarity demand the idea of a common ancestor? Why couldn't life share these similarities in order for biospheres to function properly in animal interactions? In other words, if Lions only shared 2% of the DNA as antelopes, wouldn't it make protein consumption difficult if not impossible? And so forth...

Also, you noted that if the sequence of the amino acids is not done correctly, we get mututations, albeit ones incongruent for natural selection: mental retardatoin, flat feet, bigger balls (but then again...).

I still wonder if the theory of common ancestor is warranted simply due to similarites in DNA and genes. I mean, I do believe in common ancestors plural, but the DNA similarity could be for reasons of biospheric congruence.

Morover, you noted the wonder of human life forming in the womb: and as a father of two beauties, and I testify. But, what is produced there except human life? There are definite parameters to this cell replication. This analogy to the one organism as our common ancestor producing all of life, including plants, animals and etc., is not the same. The former has a set mode of design and outcome, while the latter is left open to speculation. The former has been observed, the latter hasn't. I see the weakness of the argument here.

Lastly, let us grant that all of life, meaning plants and animals share this common ancestor from the primordial soup. Why does this necessitate atheism? I can still believe that God exists and that Jesus rose from the dead in this scenario. I would simply have to reinterpret Genesis 1 and Genesis 1 only. Maybe Genesis 2 or part of it.

Yours,
Chris

Brian said...

Hey Chris,

This similarity of genes does not demand a common ancestor, but it was one of the predictions of the theory of evolution. Darwin didn’t even know what genes or DNA was when he wrote his theory of common descent, he just knew that certain creatures were more like some creatures than other creatures. The ToE has as evidence something called nested hierarchies. (http://evolution.berkeley.edu/evosite/lines/IVDhierarchies.shtml ) Now sure this doesn’t prove evolution, but it provides evidence for evolution, as it’s exactly the kind of thing we’d see if animals shared common ancestors.

Now regardless of whether you think that genes being similar is because of “biospheric congruence”, how does that explain the deleterious mutations like the vitamin C pseudogene, or what I mentioned about Endogenous Retroviruses. If our genes are only similar because we all live in the same biosphere or need to have similar genes for digesting the material of other living organisms, how does that explain certain animals that are evidenced of having a common ancestor all having the same retrovirus in their DNA, whereas other animals which don’t share that common ancestor don’t have that. (http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/comdesc/section4.html#retroviruses)

The reason I mentioned human life forming from a zygote in the womb, was not as an attempt to offer an argument or evidence for evolution, but merely to offer something that helped me come to grasp with “amoeba to man” evolution. The idea of one common ancestor leading to all the descendents makes more sense if you take into account the vast amount of time (upwards of 3.5 billion years) involved, and the knowledge that mutations and natural selection do happen. With that, there is no mechanism to prevent mutations to add up over successive generations in populations, for populations to diverge and adapt to different climates, etc., and for new species to come about.

In regards to your last point, all life sharing a common ancestor does most certainly not necessitate atheism, and I don’t believe I have ever claimed it did. My parents are both “evolutionists” and yet are devout Christians. For me personally, as a creationist, when I found out the evidence for evolution, my god belief slowly disintegrated after my creationist beliefs. But that was for two main reasons. Firstly, my faith wasn’t that strong and I relied on things like bible prophecy, evidence for creationism, and probably some hell fear too to keep me believing. Secondly, because if the bible was wrong in some parts, how could I be expected to believe the rest on equally as little evidence. The answer was I couldn’t, and I eventually realized that the Christian god had no more evidence in his favor than Zeus, or Thor. You’re an atheist for every god but one, I just take it one god further for the same reasons you don’t accept those other gods.

Cheers,

Brian