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July 17, 2007


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I have a couple of trolls at my blog who are using my wife as an analogy for God. Not just her existance, but me being married to her. When I pointed out that I actually have evidence supporting my claim, the guy (Justin) has handwaved it away.

Yes, they drive me a little nuts, but it takes away some of the boredom, and gives my brain some exercise in finding the flaws to their *ahem* "reasoning".

Anyway, good post. I used Sagan's "invisible dragon in my garage" analogy, but Justin didn't seem to grasp the concept (not surprisingly).

the teapot's a good one: it comes from Bertrand "T3h Aw3sum" Russell, and it's much less offensive to the fundies than the Invisible Pink Unicorn or the FSM. it's converted a few folks over here.



We know Justin is a dimwitted lying asshat from what he posted in that thread over at Ryan's place, so don't be surprised if the obvious does escape him completely.


It seems Egnor and Chopra share the same idea about the mind and brain, and even use a similar analogy to express it, Chopra uses the brain as a radio and the mind as a radio transmitter. I guess if great minds think alike there is no reason to suppose the stupid don't.

That latest thread of Chopra's that you linked to has some thoroughly crap analogies that Chopra's followers triumphantly wheel out only to have them explode in their face. In fact, analogies were all they had.

The problem is the expression "reasoning by analogy."

Analogy is a great way to teach. It is a good way to open people up to ideas that don't intuitively resonate. You touched on this fact when you said "the analogy was to help explain it."

So, teaching by analogy can be the best approach.

And understanding by analogy is fine, too. Really abstract notions can be given more "body" in your head via analogy.

Keeping things on the topic of I.D, I'll give an example:

America's economy is like the world; it's a system. Now, in economics, we can look at the whole and be amazed that every business and every craftsman someone ends up with precisely the materials it/he needs, when he needs them. Indeed, the incredible complexity of the system boggles the mind.

There is just no way all of this precise meeting of needs occurred randomly. If it had, it wouldn't work so well. Surely, someone designed the economy.

The analogy here draws attention to the fact that when we look at complex systems, we see patterns. We see complexity and we see things interacting with an efficiency that, intuitively, feels very carefully crafted.

The analogy, one hopes, loosens the listener's attachment to his "gut sense" that "all this stuff must have been planned," by providing him a real world example of a similar system that we all intuitively know developed organically.

Which brings us back to the beginning. The problem is the term "reasoning" by analogy. Analogy doesn't do reasoning, it does analogy.

It's like saying "I'm reasoning via photography." It strips the word "reasoning" of its meaning.

Good comment, eric.

And yeah, I remember an analogy I thought was entertaining:

Evolution is like capitalism.
ID is like Communism.

Great post.

I agree that analogies can be useful when explaining difficult or technical topics, but I think that sometimes it is overused, and used too soon in teaching.

In physics or math it is often useful when trying to determine whether a statement is valid to think about the extreme cases. This often quickly shows whether or not the statement holds for all cases.

Because I have this habit, I often notice when analogies don't hold up as well as a professor would like, which is why I hate it when they begin the lecture with an analogy and spend the majority of the time elaborating on it. This may make the students feel good about themselves for being able to "understand" the concept, but when they have to do real problems or think about the concept in a new way, they are limited by the analogy they learned.

To me that is the biggest danger of analogies - they may hold for the point you are making, and indeed for most situations, but in new and unusual circumstances the breakdown of the analogy may be extremely subtle and lead you unwittingly to the wrong conclusion.

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