Saturday, January 28, 2006

Methodological Materialism Versus the Monsters Inc. Fallacy.

by Pharma Bawd

If you haven’t seen Monsters Inc. you should, it’s a great movie! (Trailer here.)
(This happened before Christmas. It took me a while to find the time...)

My children, boys four and five years old, got the movie Monsters Inc. on DVD as an early Christmas gift. The movie is an animated “film” by Pixar, the story line revolves around the misadventures of two monsters, Mike and Sully, who live in the city Monstropolis and work at the scream factory. It seems that monsters refine the screams of human children to create a clean renewable source of power to run their city. They collect the screams by jumping out of closets and scaring children then going back through the closet into their own world.

The boys have watched it at least a dozen times which was great until just recently. We had put them to bed, after they watched Monsters Inc. yet again, and my husband and I had settled down to watch our own movie, we were about thirty minutes into it when both boys came running out and leapt into our arms with tears in their eyes.

Boys: “There’s a monster in our closet!”

Know-it-all Daddy: (Gives me that look.) “Told’ja so.”

(We’ve had a running argument about how much TV the boys are watching, particularly Monsters Inc. He thinks they watch too much TV, I think there’s no other way for me to get through the day. Have you ever tried to cook dinner with a four year old and a five year old underfoot after schmoozing doctors to prescribe more erectile dysfunction medication all day long? Trust me, that’s the point where the last vestiges of your sanity leave you. Better to put them in front of the TV for 30 minutes while I boil the spaghetti.)

Me: “Boys, remember we talked about the movie? The monsters aren’t real it’s just a story like Pinocchio and the Lion King.”

4 year old: “Uh huh, but there’s a monster in the closet.”

Me: “But monsters aren’t real remember? Mike and Sully are just characters in the movie honey, they’re pretend, people drew them on the computer.”

5 year old: “It’s not Mike and Sully mommy, it’s a real monster!”

Me: “Well I’ve never seen a real monster before. Can you show me?”

4 year old: (Buries head in my chest.)

5 year old: “No mommy! We’re scared!”

Fearless Daddy: (Puffing out chest) “Well, I’m not scared of monsters. I’ll go take a look.”

Me: “I’ll go with daddy, if there’s a monster there he’ll scare it away. You wanna come too?”

Boys: “Ok.”

We walk down the hall, boys holding my hands. "Brave husband the Monster Slayer" grabs a flashlight on the way. We turn on the lights and look in the room...

It’s a terrifying sight! I admit. The room is a disaster area, not getting too much cleaning done around here with the Holidays, we’re going out of town for Christmas so I’ve been letting their room slide while I get other things done. Books, crayons, stuffed dogs bears and other assorted fauna, a wagon, blocks, puzzle pieces all lie strewn about the room.

Despite the chaos there are clearly no monsters in the room. Besides that, even if there were a monster in the closet there’s no way he’s coming through the closet door tonight. Toys, clothes, a blanket, four pairs of shoes, one of the pillows from the couch, a Fisher Price Castle and God only knows what else are piled in front of the closet door making it impassable.

Ungrateful Daddy: “Well, I’d look inside the closet but....”

Me: “Hey, the mess is always here, you can come and clean it up any day of the week.”

Lazy Daddy: “I’m not the maid,” (flexing muscles) “I’m the monster exterminator remember?”

Me: “Well the maid’s off this week so start cleaning tough guy.”

We slide most of the toys out of the way and I pile the clothes in the hall to take to the laundry room. The boys stand in the hall.

Valiant Daddy: “I’m gonna open the door now, you’d better stand back Mommy!" (He winks at me.) "Just in case.”

The boys crowd against my legs as Fearless Daddy opens the closet door wide open.

It’s empty.

Almost completely empty. There are a few “good” clothes hanging up, Candyland and Sorry! are on top of the shelf, there are nice shoes, probably outgrown now, in the corner. (Why don’t they hide all their junk in their closet like I did when I was a kid?)

Thorough Daddy: (Shining flashlight around closet.) “Nope, no monsters living in this closet.”

5 year old: “No daddy, they don’t live in the closet they live in their world.”
4 year old: (nodding sagely) “Yeah, they come through the door.”

Perplexed Daddy: “But the door’s open, there’re no monsters inside the closet so they can’t come out of the closet.”

5 year old: (Incredulously) “They can open the door in their world and come through into ours.”

Confused Daddy: (to me) “Did you take them to see Narnia? I thought we were going to wait until after we got home from your mom’s...”

Me: (Appalled) “They’re talking about Monsters Inc.” (How can he not know this? Yet I have the script memorized.) “You spend too much time on that stupid laptop. I told you you were missing the whole movie.”

Comprehending Daddy: “Oh yeah, hold on a sec’, I’ll be right back.”

I start explaining to the boys that there really is no monster world, Monstropolis was just part of the movie, it was all make believe and there’s no way monsters can come out of their closet.

Smart Daddy: “Boys do you remember when I tore out the wall between the kitchen and the dining room?” (Showing them a picture of the bare studs from when we remodelled the kitchen. They nod.) “See this?” (He pulls out electronic stud-finder) “This can detect those 2x4 boards in your closet.”

Stud Daddy: (He starts using the stud finder in the closet, it beeps and a red light comes on.) “See? There’s a board there. And there’s another one,... and another...” (Working around closet.)

Whack Daddy: “So you see there’s no way a monster can come through this wall.” (He knocks his hand against it hard. Whack! Whack! Whack!).

The boys look at each other.

5 year old: “But they don’t come through the wall Daddy they come through the door. The door opens into their world.”

Master of the obvious Daddy: “But the door’s open, there is no monster world inside the closet.”

4 year old: “You can only get to their world when the door is turned on.”

Certain Daddy: “But there are no monsters, there is no monster world.”

5 year old: “But, how do you know?”

Authoritative Daddy: “Because I do. I’ve never seen any monsters, nobody I know has ever seen a monster, I’ve never seen a picture of a real monster, I can see there is no monster world in the closet. There is only this world, that we're in, and there are no monsters in it.”

4 year old: “I saw a monster.”

5 year old: “Me too, I saw it too. They’re real Daddy, they can come through the door. But you can only get into their world if they turn it on from their side. You can’t see them now but if they turn on the door they can come through to scare you.”

(In the movie closet doors operate as a sort of dimensional gate into the monster world. But they only work if the monsters have turned the door on from their side. So you can go into your closet check around for monsters find none, close the door in confidence that there is nothing hidden within, only to have a monster leap out moments later.)

Frustrated Daddy: “Look boys, there’s no such thing as monsters, right mommy?" (I nod) "There is no monster world. Mommy went to college for a long time, she’s a scientist, I’m sure someone would have told her, if there were a monster world she would know. There is no monster world. There are no monsters.”

5 year old: “But you and Mommy aren’t afraid of monsters.”

Daddy: “No, we’re not. We don’t believe in monsters.”

5 year old: “So if you don’t believe in them you’ll never see one. They won’t come out when you’re around because you aren’t afraid of them. They can’t get any scream from you. It doesn’t matter if they’re not in the closet, they’re in the monster world, and if you aren’t afraid of them you’ll never see them because they can’t get any scream from you. You have to be afraid of them if you’re ever going to see them. The monsters are there but they’ll only come out if you beleive in them because then you would be afraid of them.”

That’s when it hit me. This is just like arguing with,...

an Intelligent Design Creationist!

Dembski and the other Intelligent Design Creationist’s arguments against the use of methodological materialism to guide scientific inquiry are flawed and are as intellectually substantial as the basic premise of Monsters Inc. They’re simple enough for a five year old to make. And difficult for intelligent adults to prove they're wrong off the top of their heads.

The fact of the matter is that anyone making an extraordinary claim:

"There are monsters in my closet.", "An Intelligent Designer is responsible for the complexity and diversity of life on earth.", "I have ESP.", "I was kidnapped by aliens and taken to the plant Zoltan for sexual experimentation.",....;

has the burden of proof placed upon them. This is because, for one thing, it is frequently impossible to prove a negative: "There is no undetectable monster world connected to your closet."; but, if there were a monster world, it would be relatively easy to prove. I'd be convinced by a single real live monster offered as evidence. But we (adults) all know that no "monsters" will be forthcoming from any closets. Likewise, proof of Intelligent Design should be simple to produce if it exists. Irreducible Complexity and Complex Specified Information fail as evidence for Intelligent Design providing it no more sound a basis in evidence than my children's assertions that there are monsters in their closet. (Excuse me, monsters in another world who can use their closet door to enter this world. Or, however it goes...).

So the Intelligent Design Creationists must continue to labor under the burden of proof. As it seems that they prefer PR to research, I am not hopeful that they will succeed in producing such evidence anytime soon.

Now, as for my children, it wouldn't really be a satisfactory ending for me to inform them that their arguments are flawed, the burden of proof is upon them, and they just don't recognize when they have lost and argument... Only to have them sobbing under the covers all night long. So, they ended up sleeping in our bed that night. The next morning though we promptly placed the burden of proof on them by installing a web-cam in their room to monitor closet door activity.

To date, no monster entries into our world have been documented. ;-) And yesterday the webcam was being used to take pictures up their nostrils, so I think things are going to be OK. Eventually, my children will grow out of this and acquire a lifetime of experience showing them that there is no such thing as a monster. That experience will serve as sufficient proof for the non-existence of monsters that they will discount anyone else's claims to the contrary without extraordinary evidence in support of those claims.

As for the Intelligent Design Creationists... Well, I don't know about them.

"That no testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle, unless the
testimony be of such a kind, that its falsehood would be more miraculous,
than the fact, which it endeavours to establish...." --David Hume
Update: The 27th Skeptic's Circle is up at Photon in the Darkness.

The only blog inspired by a Bumper Sticker.

Comments on "Methodological Materialism Versus the Monsters Inc. Fallacy."


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (2/09/2006 8:28 AM) : 

Justfound your blog (through Aetiology). Great post, I too have felt that talking to crationsist types is like talking to little kids that have not yet developed critcal thinking. By the way we ahndled mosnters in clsoet by the simple expedient of ging in the closet with a baseball bat and beating the monsters so badly they will never return. Too bad ya can't do that with creationists.


Blogger Pharma Bawd said ... (2/10/2006 6:42 PM) : 

Hee, hee.

We might try the baseball bat routine next time.

Regarding the Creationists, I really don't care what they believe or teach their children, it's just when they try to force their religion on my children in public schools that gets my dander up.


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (12/28/2008 12:52 PM) : 

According to Monsters Inc, monsters aren't out to get you, they just need your help to run their electricity generators. Why would the kids be scared if they believe that?


Anonymous viagra online said ... (1/27/2011 7:51 AM) : 

Great film indeed, love the new one called, Monsters versus Aliens, another funny and intelligent, full of great effects movie.


Anonymous price per head said ... (6/20/2012 7:02 PM) : 

Good article, read with great interest.


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