Orson Scott Card’s Rhetorical Looney Toons

Posted on 5th February 2006 by Ryan Somma in Enlightenment Warrior

Orson Scott Card’s “Ender’s Game” is the brilliant tale of a child prodigy coming of age in a world at war with extraterrestrials. It tackles deep ethical conundrums and delves into many fantastic science fiction concepts. The book, I believe, will last for decades as one of the masterpieces of science fiction literature.

That’s why I was so surprised, after reading through his prolific collection of opinion pieces, to find Orson Scott Card was less than thoughtful in real life and more than a bit emotionally immature. Take this odd statement about Homosexual Marriage:

Any homosexual man who can persuade a woman to take him as her husband can avail himself of all the rights of husbandhood under the law. […] So it is a flat lie to say that homosexuals are deprived of any civil right pertaining to marriage. To get those civil rights, all homosexuals have to do is find someone of the opposite sex willing to join them in marriage.” (source)

Uncle Orson also takes issue with the overzealous fans of the Star Wars films who embrace the Jedi religion:

It’s one thing to put your faith in a religion founded by a real person who claimed divine revelation, but it’s something else entirely to have, as the scripture of your religion, a storyline that you know was made up by a very nonprophetic human being.” (source)

Ironic, considering Card’s a devout Mormon, a religion the Smithsonian Institute once released a statement questioning the “Book of Mormon” historical veracity.

There’s also this little nonsensical gem:

Your trust in rationality makes you irrational.” – Children of the Mind

…and don’t even get me started on his silly diatribe about Star Trek fan culture. I intend to add Star Trek to the “Great Films” section of this site one day, where I’ll explain Card’s ignorance on this subject.

All of these confusing, contradictory, and misinformed statements were insufficient to warrant me posting a refutation of Card, but the man recently attacked my sacred cow: Evolutionary Theory.

OSC claims Evolutionary Theorists are making mostly logically fallacious arguments, but fails to cite a single example to support his claim. In other words, he’s engaging the logical fallacy of the straw man.

I have provided his list of mischaracterizations, with my explanations for why they are fallacious:

The Darwinist answer [to Intelligent Design] was immediate. Unfortunately, it was also illogical, personal, and unscientific. The main points are:

1. Intelligent Design is just Creation Science in a new suit (name-calling).

The judge in the Dover case agreed with this statement. When challenged, ID revealed itself as Creationism. It’s origins are in creationism and its internal documents reveal a wholly religious motivation for their activism.

2. Don’t listen to these guys, they’re not real scientists (credentialism).

No one is making this argument. This is a Straw Man. Evolutionary Theorist have acknowledged that ID has many scientists, but the Discovery Institute’s 100 supporters was easily dwarfed by “Project Steve,” where the signatures of scientists named “Steve” or “Stephanie” were gathered in support of Evolutionary Theory. This is not credentialism, this is consensus.

ID is the one claiming credentialism, by emphasizing their tiny list of dissention.

3. If you actually understood science as we do, you’d realize that these guys are wrong and we’re right; but you don’t, so you have to trust us (expertism).

“Trust Us”? When have scientists ever said “Trust Us”? This is the very anti-thesis of everything Science stands for! What is the Scientific Method, but another way of saying, “This is what I saw. This is how I saw it. Go see for yourself.”???

There are thousands of papers on Evolution and the blogs have been painstakingly tackling every single one of ID’s arguments with scientific observations, AND IT’S BEEN WONDERFUL! The disputation has worked wonders to educate the public on Evolutionary Theory and the Scientific Method.

IDer’s are the ones asking people to stop exploring. What is “irreducible complexity,” except another way of saying, “Give up, you’ll never figure it out”?

4. They got some details of those complex systems wrong, so they must be wrong about everything (sniping).

Such an argument could be extremely unfair to ID proponents in certain contexts, but no one is making such an argument. Supporters of Evolutionary Theory are extremely thorough at refuting each and every point in the chain of arguments IDers put forth, just as I am putting forth this thorough refutation of his mischaracterizations.

Until he provides an example, I’ll file this point away as another Straw Man.

5. The First Amendment requires the separation of church and state (politics).

No one is making this argument. There is nothing wrong with Intelligent Design on its own, but it does not meet the proper criteria for Science. It cannot be taught in a High School Biology class because to do so would require teaching many other alternative beliefs about our origins, such as “FSM.”

Scientists have said there is nothing wrong with teaching ID in a PHILOSOPHY class, but it is not science, for a single reason I will mention further down.

6. We can’t possibly find a fossil record of every step along the way in evolution, but evolution has already been so well demonstrated it is absurd to challenge it in the details (prestidigitation).

Wrong again. What is the peer-review process if not the perpetual challenging of various scientific principles? What does OSC think scientists are referring to when they talk about Falsifying Hypotheses?

Science continues to challenge, dispute, and research evolution. We are always striving to figure out every single tiny little itty-bitty detail of how evolution occurred. Evolutionary Theorists don’t poo-poo the gaps in our understanding of this process; they try to figure them out. Challenging “it in the details” is what Science is all about.


7. Even if there are problems with the Darwinian model, there’s no justification for postulating an “intelligent designer” (true).

I’m not sure what his point is here. What kind of “justifications” is he talking about? Philosophical? Ethical? WTF? I’ll file this one away with his Homosexuals are able to enter heterosexual marriages, so what are they complaining about? abuse of logic.

People are free to postulate an Intelligent Designer all they want. I personally believe in one, and that belief exists right next to my belief in a universe completely explainable through natural processes.

Someone please tell me where Evolutionists are making these logical fallacies. Certainly not in the Dover ID case. Not on the Panda’s Thumb, or National Geographic, or Discovery, or Nature, or New Scientist Magazine, or American Scientist, or Carl Zimmer, or Pharyngula, or Chris Mooney, or Steven J Gould, or any Scientific Journal anywhere in the world. No, only the absolute fringe elements or a few isolated scientists might be making such statements… We can’t be certain, because OSC was too lazy to cite them.

Instead, the majority have made the following argument:

1. ID lacks a falsifiable hypothesis. It relies solely on discrediting Evolution for its support; therefore, it is not science.

Unfortunately, OSC’s version of this argument is far less eloquent:

7. Yes, there are problems with the Darwinian model. But those problems are questions. “Intelligent design” is an answer, and you have no evidence at all for that.

OSC further misrepresents Evolutionary Theorists by focusing on Darwin, as many ID proponents do. The flaw here is that Darwin was merely the spark for Evolutionary Theory, and we know he got many things wrong, but Science is an evolving body of knowledge. Darwin’s errors were corrected in the decades of footnotes on his work by others who reviewed his hypotheses with additional knowledge. It’s difficult for religionists to grasp the evolving nature of scientific thought; after all, they usually only have one, unchanging book through which to interpret the world.

With this mountain of evidence confronting me, I must assume the brilliance I found in Orson Scott Card’s “Ender’s Game” was purely chance. Similar to the monkeys banging on typewriters for millions of years, Card’s book is the result of the sheer volume of writing he produces. He would have to write something brilliant sometime, even if accidentally.

I’m sure if I read “Ender’s Game” again today, I might find it less than thoughtful as well.

1 Comment

  1. Though you accurately point out Card’s mistakes in logic, you do yourself a disservice by pointing out the statement in Children of Mind about rationality. The character uses that phrasing to intentionally offer a superficial paradox, but she clearly intends to convey that trusting other actors to analyze circumstances through reason is unlikely.

    Comment by Daniel — October 16, 2009 @ 2:23 pm

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