Monday, January 20, 2014

Coyne's Bad Logic Bowl XLVIII

Jerry Coyne is all excited over the fact that an account that predates the Jewish writing of the Noahic flood has striking similarities. On his site he writes:
We’ve known since at least 1872 that the Great Flood detailed in Genesis is a descendant of earlier flood myths from Mesopotamia. And there may be some credibility to the presence of at least some serious floods then, based on the fact that Mesopotamia is a giant flood plain and the presence of some archeological evidence for a big flood around 5000 BC. But what we didn’t know until now is that those earlier flood myths also incorporated a boat onto which species of wild animals were sequestered to save them—two by two! This clearly shows, as if we didn’t know it already, that the Genesis story of Noah and the Ark isn’t true, but was simply an embroidery of earlier flood stories.
Coyne's logic is so bad one wonders why he is allowed to teach.

We are only discussing the logic--not the truth of any sort of flood. Coyne's logic is wrong--very wrong, regardless of whether or not the flood is global, local or a total fabrication. His logic is so bad that I would consider it embarrassing if we were on the same side.

It is trivial to understand how wrong he is. Imagine:

  • 5000 years ago there is some cataclysmic event. Maybe it's a flood. Or a volcano. Or an earthquake. 
  • A description of the event is passed from generation to generation, starting with the survivors, and originally confined to the area of the event. 
  • Eventually the people split into different groups or tribes. Their stories begin to diverge. Not totally--but they are distinguishable. 
  • 3000 years later group A writes down its version of the ancient event. 
  • 500 years later group B writes down its version--which has similarities. 

Coyne's faulty logic is that the similarities between A and B combined with the later date for B means we now know (Coyne likes to say we know things--he is almost always incorrect in how he uses that word) that B's account isn't true.

It may be that B's account is not true. But we don't know that. The two groups may be describing the same actual event (or the same ancient myth.) Furthermore, it may be that people B did a better job at preserving the story from generation to generation.

We don't know that B's account is not true. And Coyne doesn't know it. What we do know is that Coyne has a serious problem with basic critical thinking.

No comments:

Post a Comment