Intelligent Design

Stray (and final) observations on the Bloggingheads brouhaha

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’bout time for this BhTV dust-up to exit, stage left. Before it does, however, a few observations:

1. Don’t worry, Bob, George, Sean, Carl, et al. — “respectability” is not transitive.

If it were, what Francis Bacon (1620) called “the kingdom of opinions” would be a lot more fluid than it is. Let’s suppose A knows B, and B knows C. And let’s define “respectability” as “no smart person I admire will ever think I’m crazy or a crackpot.”

Now, suppose A thinks of himself and his colleague B as respectable — but then B has a lapse of judgment and talks publicly to his acquaintance C, whom A sees as a crackpot. Does A = B = C, with precious respectability leaching uncontrollably via a transitive relation over to dangerous person C?

Of course not. Moreover, it’s infantilizing to treat one’s audience as if they were unable to make judgments about “respectability” on their own. Grown-ups weigh evidence and arguments, and then decide using their wisdom. Toddlers need to be protected.

2. Nuance and accuracy matter.

When Bob Wright and George Johnson call Michael Behe “a closet creationist” [see 25:30 of their dialogue] or when numerous commentators claim that Paul Nelson says the Earth is 6000 years old (just google it), when I pointedly declined to do so — such slovenliness is telling.

Here’s a lesson in Persuasion 101. Walking roughshod over the actual views of one’s interlocutor, or anyone for that matter, conveys hostile indifference to the actual content of the other person’s thinking. This can be very effective, if “I don’t give a damn about the details, because you’re an idiot anyway” is the attitude one wishes to project.

But if the audience cares about relevant distinctions — such as the genuine differences between intelligent design, old-earth creationism, and young-earth creationism — then showing that one is either too lazy or too hostile to note those distinctions is not likely to be persuasive. Rather, this attitude will have the opposite effect: “I don’t care, you shouldn’t either, and if you do, you’re stupid.”

Telling one’s audience they are idiots — now, there’s a promising rhetorical strategy.

3. If you don’t want people to pay attention to intelligent design, don’t talk about it.

One would think this is obvious, but apparently it isn’t. Francis Crick understood that what one talks about displays one’s real interests. His “gossip test” — “what you are really interested in is what you gossip about” (What Mad Pursuit, p. 17)– when applied to the day-to-day content of PZ Myer’s blog Pharyngula, or Phil Plait’s Bad Astronomy blog, unmistakably exhibits their ongoing worries about ID.

To a lesser degree, Sean Carroll and Carl Zimmer also worry about ID, or more generally about the interface between the natural sciences dealing with the cosmic and biological past, on the one hand, and theology or philosophy on the other. The Bloggingheads controversy only highlighted that.

There is no escaping the central logical problem, of course. If you take the main message of evolutionary theory (Carl and PZ), or physical cosmology (Phil and Sean) to be

THE WORLD AND ITS CREATURES WERE NOT DESIGNED BY AN INTELLIGENCE, BUT AROSE FROM UNDIRECTED NATURAL CAUSES

then concepts such as “intelligent design” are never going to be far from one’s consciousness. Making the whole point of one’s theory the negation of someone else’s worldview (or theory) only ensures the other person’s view is always going to be talked about, like it or not. Logic guarantees it.

4. Comparing ideas one doesn’t like to Holocaust denial only trivializes Holocaust denial.

Again, one would think this is obvious, but — guess not [see 21:50 here, George Johnson’s comments]. From an unthinking perspective, saying “X is just like Holocaust denial” might seem the rhetorical equivalent of a high-yield thermonuclear device. There, obliterated that guy.

Actually, the trope “X is just like Holocaust denial” is the rhetorical equivalent of crystal meth. Big rush the first few times, not so much with steady use, and eventually you grind your teeth and your skin turns to spotty mush. It’s the user who ends up making no sense.

My father-in-law escaped from Poland in 1940, steps ahead of the Gestapo. My Israeli in-laws lost family between 1939 and 1945. Nothing is “just like” Holocaust denial.

24 Replies to “Stray (and final) observations on the Bloggingheads brouhaha

  1. 1
    bevets says:

    When you have no basis for an argument, abuse the plaintiff. ~ Cicero

  2. 2
    bFast says:

    One blogger on Panda’s Thumb said:

    I honestly believe that certain evolutionists (specifically Carroll, Zimmer, Plait, and Myers) have, as a result of their actions, genuinely succeeded in creating a public impression that evolutionists are UNABLE to handle the scientific and scholarly challenges posed by Dr. Michael Behe and other critics of evolution.

    I say, well said!

  3. 3

    Paul, it seems that the link for the distinction between intelligent design, old-earth creationism, and young-earth creationism is not working properly. I couldn’t open the PDF.

  4. 4
    Mr. Lim says:

    Paul,

    … numerous commentators claim that Paul Nelson says the Earth is 6000 years old (just google it), when I pointedly declined to do so — such slovenliness is telling.

    I’ve seen this claim about you made by several people, but don’t recall any of your writing being cited. Just to clarify, do you take a young earth position? I’m not an ID proponent, just to be upfront, but I think it’s fair to give you the chance to clarify your position.

  5. 5
    Lenoxus says:

    Making the whole point of one’s theory the negation of someone else’s worldview (or theory) only ensures the other person’s view is always going to be talked about, like it or not. Logic guarantees it.

    Indeed, the whole point and definition of the “theory of evolution”, at least the semi-imaginary one referred to time and again on this blog, is the negation of design, full stop. That’s because positive evolutionary predictions and sub-theories like common descent, genetic drift, “microevolution”, a fossil record with transitionals, and the gaining of novel functions by small genetic changes are repeatedly absorbed into ID, which insists that all evolution is allowed to use as evidence is whatever gaps are left, and if it can’t, design is demonstrated by default.

    In the ID world, “evolution” is re-defined from a theory of “biological change over time by means of genetic change and selection” (or something like that) to “the naturalistic development of FCSI” (or something like that).

    In defense of blogs like Pharyngula, anti-evolutionary arguments draw much subject-matter attention because (a) some of them do give pause or even genuine head-scratching, (ii) others are entertainingly silly (like the now-memed “pygmies + dwarfs”), and (3) because Pharyngulites, accurately or no, perceive anti-evolutionary forces as having significant political power. In this last regard, I see a fascinating parallel to this blog — both blogs have a vague sense that the world is out to get them.

    4. Comparing ideas one doesn’t like to Holocaust denial only trivializes Holocaust denial.

    Comparing Blaming them for the Holocaust itself, on the other hand…

  6. 6
    Lenoxus says:

    Hmm, that should be

    Comparing Blaming them for the Holocaust itself, on the other hand…

  7. 7
    anonym says:

    In the future, everyone will be a Holocaust denier for fifteen minutes.

    Apparently Dennett was comparing belief in God to Holocaust denial (follow that to its logical conclusion!) at his recent debate with Alvin Plantinga. Have the friends and allies been co-ordinating their rhetorical strategy or is this just an embarrassing coincidence (or misreporting)?

  8. 8
    jerry says:

    “both blogs have a vague sense that the world is out to get them.”

    When people like you roam this site, what are we to think? As I just said on another thread, why are you her?. Isn’t too long before you or your compatriots show up with negative comments.

    It seems like there is a contest going on of who can get the first negative comment in and who can get the most negative comments on a thread.

  9. 9
    Lenoxus says:

    jerry:

    When people like you roam this site, what are we to think?

    I meant “out to get them” in a more substantial way than disagreement — Pharynguloids associate ID with politically powerful religious groups, while this site associates evolution with a politicially powerful materialism/secularism (especially in the politics of academia, but also in subtle and not-so-subtle associations with the Third Reich).

    As I just said on another thread, why are you her?

    The instinct that drives some of us to post is probably like this fellow’s. (I’ll bet you’ve felt that way about something on the Internet too!) For example, you are wrong about my being her — in fact, she’s someone else. lol like i never make typos 😉

  10. 10
    CannuckianYankee says:

    Re: 9 “The instinct that drives some of us to post is probably like this fellow’s.”

    Thanks, Lenoxus – Short and funny. Everybody should check it out.

  11. 11
    Joseph says:

    Lenoxus:

    In the ID world, “evolution” is re-defined from a theory of “biological change over time by means of genetic change and selection” (or something like that) to “the naturalistic development of FCSI” (or something like that).

    ID didn’t redefine anything.

    “Evolution” has always had more than one meaning.

    The definition that ID argues against was provided by Richard Dawkins and is supported by Darwin.

    That said there aren’t any anti-evolution arguments.

    There are plenty of anti- blind watchmaker arguments.

    BTW what are the positive evolutionary predictions based on the proposed mechanisms?

  12. 12
    Joseph says:

    Lenoxus,

    No one blames Darwinists for the Holocaust.

    Darwinism may have been required but it wasn’t the only factor.

  13. 13
    tragic mishap says:

    Lenoxus:

    http://www.idthefuture.com/200.....rsuit.html

    On this podcast, if you would care to listen, Richard Weikart explains very clearly the relationship of Darwin’s and Malthus’ contributions to Nazi ideology. He also explains, again in plain, understandable English, how this is not the only contributing factor. It’s quite reasonable to believe that Nazis would have done exactly what they had done without evolutionary theory. But that’s not what happened. There’s a difference between accusing someone of holding a belief like unto Holocaust denial and making a true argument about the origins of the Holocaust. One is merely an opinion comparing two otherwise unrelated things and is merely a rhetorical device. The other is an argument based on historical evidence. I noticed you made no effort to actually debate the matter, which is wise because you would lose.

    That’s because positive evolutionary predictions and sub-theories like common descent, genetic drift, “microevolution”, a fossil record with transitionals, and the gaining of novel functions by small genetic changes are repeatedly absorbed into ID, which insists that all evolution is allowed to use as evidence is whatever gaps are left, and if it can’t, design is demonstrated by default.

    Actually, ID makes a point to define Darwinism as the primary idea it is against. I think your brain is filtering the term “Darwinism” as “evolution” generally and maybe you should re-read a lot of the things where you think this distinction is not made. It is true sometimes we use the term “evolution” when we shouldn’t. If you are confused about what we mean all you have to do is ask and we’d be happy to correct our terminology. Most of the time though, we mean “Darwinian evolution”.

  14. 14
    jerry says:

    “I meant “out to get them” in a more substantial way than disagreement”

    The bloggingheads example is a blatant effort to censor and indicative of what goes on behind the scenes. These were not trivial people in the game. To call Michael Behe a crackpot and to use that assumed truth as a way to limit discussion is an unconcealed attempt to suppress. We maintain that there is no evidence for any mechanism of macro evolution and challenge anyone to produce the evidence. When no one responds and the typical response is to squelch, then yes the pattern is more than disagreement and in your words an attempt to get them.

    We have had all sorts of people who deny there is any attempt to suppress ID but there are enough instances to show that is nonsense. So those who take such a position are suspect immediately. Actually by taking that position they are immediately classified as disingenuous on everything else they say on the topic.

  15. 15
    Lenoxus says:

    Joseph:

    “Evolution” has always had more than one meaning.

    Good point!

    BTW what are the positive evolutionary predictions based on the proposed mechanisms?

    I’m not going to bother repeating what I’m sure you’ve heard before on the subject. Instead I’m going to say this: arguments specifically “for” blind-watchmaker are rather like arguments “for” atheism, in that they are both negative, so they can never be exhaustive. Situations like the giraffe laryngeal nerve and the existence of psuedogenes suggest a process that must work gradually and cannot forsee the future — but by no means prove it. A sighted watchmaker can always have his reasons.

    Darwinism may have been required but it wasn’t the only factor.

    So you wouldn’t even “blame” Nazism, because it wasn’t the only factor? Sorry, but I still kinda see the UD attitude to Darwinism as blaming it. (In any case, what is specifically blamed is the concept of natural selection, for leading to social Darwinism. Yet natural selection, as a theory by itself, is never opposed here on UD! I’ve actually proposed a hypothesis against it — that some intermediate organisms are supernaturally kept alive when they otherwise would die — but no one’s accepted it as a possibility worth studying.)

  16. 16
    jerry says:

    “Situations like the giraffe laryngeal nerve and the existence of psuedogenes suggest a process that must work gradually and cannot forsee the future — but by no means prove it. A sighted watchmaker can always have his reasons.”

    Gradualism will leave a trail and no such trail exists. That is the essence of the debate. So to evoke gradualism is a self defeating strategy. Why do you think this site exists and there is a controversy and they cannot make us shut up.

    By appealing to gradualism you are essentially giving up. You have nothing so why not just admit it.

  17. 17
    Lenoxus says:

    jerry:

    Gradualism will leave a trail and no such trail exists.

    Could you elaborate? Forget fossils for a moment, because perhaps it is debatable whether fossilization is rare/common. What would you expect genetically if gradualism were the case? (I’m using psuedogenes as just one of many examples. Another is that the rate of genetic drift has given us ways to calculate the amount of time between two species, and these have corresponded to what fossils have told us. If there were any saltation events, the molecular clock would be “cut short” and give us the wrong data.)

  18. 18
    tsmith says:

    Yet natural selection, as a theory by itself, is never opposed here on UD!

    natural selection is a tautology…if its fit, it survives…how do you know its fit? it survives…

    its rather meaningless….

  19. 19
    tsmith says:

    Sorry, but I still kinda see the UD attitude to Darwinism as blaming it.

    I think Jacob says it best:

    A direct line runs from Darwin, through the founder of the eugenics movement-Darwin’s cousin, Francis Galton-to the extermination camps of Nazi Europe.” (Brookes, Martin.,”Ripe old age,” Review of “Of Flies, Mice and Men,” by Francois Jacob, Harvard University Press, 1999. New Scientist, Vol. 161, No. 2171, 30 January 1999, p.41).

  20. 20
    Joseph says:

    Lenoxus,

    ID explains pseudogenes also.

    Ya see no one says the design had to be perfect or if it started out perfect that it had to remain that way.

    Also the theory of evolution doesn’t have any predictions based on an accumulation of genetic accidents- ie the proposed mechanism.

    The giraffe’s laryngeal nerve?

    There isn’t any evidence that the blind watchmaker could make such a thing.

    Also nerve length has to do with timing.

    Something the blind watchmaker doesn’t understand.

  21. 21
    tgpeeler says:

    To Lenoxus and others who think as he apparently does, and would agree to this quote from Paul’s blog that: “THE WORLD AND ITS CREATURES WERE NOT DESIGNED BY AN INTELLIGENCE, BUT AROSE FROM UNDIRECTED NATURAL CAUSES”

    This is demonstrably false. Not only false, but impossible to be true, ever. Here’s the Cliff Notes version.

    I presume that “arose from undirected natural causes” is code for, or includes, a fundamental commitment to materialism, which entails the reduction of every explanation for every thing to the laws of physics. (This is the Cliff Notes version, remember.)

    Given that, a modus tollens argument is suggested. Modus tollens being an argument of the form: if P, then Q, not Q, therefore not P.

    If materialism is true (it’s not but play along)
    Then physics must be able to explain everything.
    But physics cannot explain everything (see below).
    Therefore, materialism is false.

    The “if then” piece of this is based on the first principle of identity and therefore unassailable. If all that is real is matter and energy then physics (undirected natural processes) explains everything because that’s part of what materialism means.

    The “but physics can’t explain everything” is what needs to be proven. See the following.

    Life, which is how I’ll prove my case, is inextricably linked to information. See Crick, Dawkins, Sober, Mayr, Monod, Dennett, Kuppers, Yockey, Dembski, Behe, Meyers, etal. The point being that no one doubts this on either side of the issue. Indeed, Dawkins makes the claim that life IS information in River Out of Eden, among other places. He’s wrong, of course, since life is more than information, but at least he finally got something right. No information, no life.

    Information is inextricably linked to language. This is essentially true by definition and not subject to dispute. If you don’t think so, try to imagine information apart from a language. No language, no information.

    All languages, whether natural or man-made, are comprised of symbols and rules. A symbol is one thing that represents another thing. These symbols, in the case of English, our alphabet, in the case of the genetic language, A,C,G, and T, are arranged according to certain rules to arrange these symbols in certain ways to form meaningful statements (or functioning biological macromolecules, say). This is also true by definition. It’s what a language IS.

    However, and I’ve checked, nothing in physics EVER deals with the representation of one thing for another, i.e. symbols. Nothing in physics EVER tells us why “CAT” means a certain kind of mammal and “ACT” means to do something, something done, or the segment of a play. In fact, physics is written in the second (?) most amazing language in the universe, mathematics (I’d say the first is the genetic language but that’s just a guess). Which, no surprise, has its own set of symbols and rules which are used to communicate truths about the PHYSICAL universe.

    Since physics cannot ever account for symbols or rules, it can never account for language, information, and therefore life.

    So, from where I sit, things look fairly bleak for the materialists, naturalists, or physicalists. Modus tollens is a valid form of argument. Therefore, true premises lead to necessarily true conclusions. See Aristotle and every other sane philosopher since. Since my argument is valid and the premises are true, then the conclusion necessarily follows.

    Again, if materialism is true, then physics could explain everything. But physics can’t explain symbols and rules, language, information, life, therefore not everything, so materialism is false. Always has been and always will be. And anyone with a shred of intellectual integrity, i.e. a commitment to reason, knows this at some level.

    What does physics have to say about why it’s wrong to be rude to a waiter? In other words, moral laws. What does physics have to say about why if I consistently spend more than I make (HELLO, U.S. government) I will ALWAYS end up broke? In other words, economic laws. What does physics have to say about why modus tollens is a valid form of argument? In other words, the laws of reason. I could go on.

    Final Answer: the case is closed. The game is over. The fat lady is singing. I can hear her on my iPod. Kudos to Dembski, Behe, Meyer and the others who are doing the heavy lifting.

    The ONLY thing that we have ever known of that can relate one thing to another or define rules (or discover them) are living things. And since living things are necessarily and inextricably linked to information, which physics cannot explain, the materialists lose. Darwinian evolution or neo-darwinian evolution, or evo-devo, or the latest and greatest incarnation of the materialist story of life are DOA. Heck, they are dead on conception since it is impossible that they can be true. I hope this helps.

    Regards,

    p.s. John the gospel writer “got this” some 2,000 years ago when he opened with “in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

    Hmmm. “Word” is a translation of the Greek word logos. Life and information. The idea goes waaaaay back.

    p.p.s. If anyone wants to quarrel with me about this, I have a suggestion. Since the form of the argument is valid the only avenue of approach (infantry officer talk now) into my position is the truth of the premises. So tell me how materialism doesn’t entail physics, or that life and information aren’t inextricably linked, or that information is possible without language, or that language is possible without symbols and rules, or that physics can explain symbols and rules. All it takes is ONE example and I’m toast. Good luck. I’ll check back from time to time to see what’s what.

  22. 22
    Nakashima says:

    Mt Tgpeeler,

    Information is inextricably linked to language. This is essentially true by definition and not subject to dispute.

    It is a neat trick to define this to be true, and then ask people to challenge it. Personally, I think this is one of the weakest links in your argument, which is why you define it to be true rather than prove it to be true. If you could unpack the words and be more specific it would help me understand your point. If we take information to be a measure of compressability, how is it inextricably linked to “language”?

  23. 23
    tgpeeler says:

    Mr. Nakshima, why would we necessarily take information to be a measure of compressibility? Shannon (I believe, not being a Shannon or information theory expert) would have defined information as a reduction in uncertainty. So what?

    I am merely making the point, which is completely uncontroversial by the way, that you can’t have life without information. Explain to me how DNA and the whole protein coding system does not involve information. You can’t. Crick, Dawkins, Kuppers, Yockey, etal, and these are the materialists, that deny any explanatory role to anything other than physics, acknowledge that life and information are virtually equivalent. Show me a living organism that doesn’t have DNA or RNA and I will back off on my assertion.

    Regards,

  24. 24
    tgpeeler says:

    Mr. Nakashima, I actually gave a short talk, about 1 hour, on this topic this weekend. If you would send your email address to me I will forward to you my powerpoint slides and an mp3 file of the talk. This would give you a more thorough understanding of my argument.

    Regards,

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