Intelligent Design

The Application of Double Standards is the Surest Sign of a Failed Argument

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In 2009, outspoken Darwinist and opponent of intelligent design, PZ Myers, presented a lecture at the Atheist Alliance International 2009 conference in Burbank, California. The Richard Dawkins Foundation kindly posted it on youtube:

As per usual, Myers blasts Intelligent Design and the Discovery Institute for allegedly erroneously presuming that complex structures only arise from intelligent agents, implicating that one needs to demonstrate something other than complexity to demonstrate intent. Curiously, PZ Myers adamently asserts in his introductory remarks that he has attended ID conferences and lectures; that he as read the literature and hence qualifies as an authorotative expert on the topic of Intelligent Design. One can only wonder whether Myers was awake during these lectures that he claims to have attended, for had he been paying attention, he would have known that ID proponents have traditionally concurred with PZ Myer’s assessment that complexity can arise by entirely undirected processes involving chance and necessity. Myers, therefore, proceeds to massacre any pretense to fair scholarly enquiry. As a self-proclaimed skeptic, it is a curious thing that Myers does not extend to his critics the same charitable and accurate representation of their position as he expects ID proponents to offer in return.

Like so many in his field, PZ Myers is an expert at keeping his cohort of devoted and devout followers in the dark regarding what is really going on in the origins controversy. Sadly, the fact-free rants of Myers, and the other usual suspects, about Intelligent Design, appear to be the only exposure to ID that his flock receive, as they unquestioningly hang on to his every word, offer no repudiation when the floor is opened for questions, and seem to find his strawmen charicatures of Intelligent Design hilariously comical.

The neo-atheist movement, of which PZ Myers is a part, dismisses anyone who would harbour skepticism of Darwinian theory as a mere fundamentalist, one who blindly and unthinkingly accepts what he is told to believe without pause for critical thought or reflection. As a consequence, such individuals often exhibit a jaw-dropping ignorance of the rich variety of scientific scholarship and intellectual thought coming out of our side of the divide. It does not cross their mind to invest their time in listening to what we have to say regarding these matters. The exact same attitude is exhibited by religiously-minded fundamentalists who possess no interest in understanding any viewpoint besides their own.

Having claimed eroneously that the core premise of the Intelligent-Design argument is that living systems exhibit complexity and must therefore have been designed, PZ Myers proceeds to refute this simplsitic characature of the contentions of ID as defined by the proponents themselves. He puts up a slide of a pile of driftwood, and points out that the random complex pattern of the driftwood is the product of chance, not design. In so doing, he completely ignores the extensive commentary developed by William Dembski, Stephen C Meyer, Jay Richards, and others, regarding the fundamental distinction between mere complexity (‘Shannon information’ or information-carrying-capacity) and information-content (that is, complex specified information).  Myers subsequently offers a few more examples in the same vein. Given that this fundamental distinction has been employed by advocates of ID for over a decade now, it is illuminating that PZ Myers has failed to pick up on it. Should we be surprised? After all, Myers is one of the “reviewers” of Meyer’s book who wrote a response to the book before having read it – self-admittedly so.

And so, I have a question for PZ Myers. As you now claim to have read Meyer’s book, having read of the fundamental distinction here described (and more thoroughly in Signature in the Cell), are you prepared to repudiate your previous comments concerning the nature of ID claims? Obviously you would expect I.D proponents to accurately represent your arguments. Why do you hold I.D. proponents to such a reasonable standard of intellectual engagement – a standard with which you yourself are unwilling to comply?

9 Replies to “The Application of Double Standards is the Surest Sign of a Failed Argument

  1. 1
    DLH says:

    Myers appears unable (or unwilling) to distinguish between “random” complexity versus “intelligent” complexity. e.g., between sand and a computer chip. Both are “complex” and both could have the same “Shanon information”. Yet one exhibits obvious evidence of an intelligent cause, the other does not. By refusing to see, he becomes unable to. See C.S. Lewis’ eloquent description of the dwarves in the Stable in “The Last Battle”.

  2. 2
    Ilion says:

    At the same time, “randomness” has no power nor ability to cause anything.

    To speak of “random causes” is literally to speak of non-causes; it is to speak of events or states coming to be without any cause.

  3. 3
    Matteo says:

    But Myers and his acolytes have a devastating retort to the point of your post, which is to shriek “Courtier’s Reply! Courtier’s Reply!!” and declare victory.

  4. 4
    kairosfocus says:

    Onlookers:

    I need to ask a question, or two.

    1] At what point does persistent negligent or willful misrepresentation of the Design side of the controversy — in the teeth of easily accessible corrective information and direct pleas for correction [e.g. cf the UD Weak Argument Correctives, IDEA Centre etc if you can’t make it to the level of Design Inference and Evo Informatics and the ever growing stream of peer reviewed papers and popular to technical and semi-tech books] — become calculated deception based on willful lying and slander?

    2] At what point do we make it plain that persistent willful misrepresentation is uncivil and will be treated as a betrayal of the pact of the civil peace of justice?
    __________________

    Y’see teh highly machiavellian operate on teh premise of what hey calcuoate tehy can get away with. If they see no penalties or adverse consequences for them, or low risk, they will continue to push.

    So, the answer has to be: the retreat stops.

    Here.

    Now.

    With us.

    Time to push back, and expose the rot. To the taxpayers who are paying your salaries and providing the resources being abused to deceive a generation in the name of and under false colours of science and science education.

    And if you think that is “harsh” or “sancti8monious,” think about what it must be to live for 15 or more years as the target of willful lies and slander, as Messrs Dembski and Behe have.

    (And yes, when you know or should know the truth but willfully propagate a long since corrected falsehood, like the above case with Mr Myers illustrates, sorry but it is L-Y-I-N-G. [Hear that AIG, P and a few others?] The same holds for any number of points in the Weak Argument Correctives etc, much less the real ID books and papers.)

    As I have been saying:

    It’s 1979, and time to stop the grand charge cold. Then turn it back.

    GEM of TKI

    PS: Ilion, there are cases where random distributions of energy and configurations allow a population to under go various dynamical processes, e.g. any activation process. Think of evaporation as a simple example.

  5. 5
    Ilion says:

    Ilion:At the same time, “randomness” has no power nor ability to cause anything.
    .
    To speak of “random causes” is literally to speak of non-causes; it is to speak of events or states coming to be without any cause.

    KF:PS: Ilion, there are cases where random distributions of energy and configurations allow a population to under go various dynamical processes, e.g. any activation process. Think of evaporation as a simple example.

    It is not “randomness” causing the outcome state(s). The outcome state(s) is/are the result of really-existing specific prior state(s) acted upon by specific causes of state-changes (say, energy, or force, or chemical reaction, etc).

    In a computer program — such as ‘Avida,’ for example — as in real life, there is no such number as “random number.” Rather, all the inputs to an execution of a program are real and specific numbers; the inputs certainly may be random-with-respect to one another, but not a one of them is random-with-respect to the output which results from the program’s computations upon its inputs.

    ====
    Ilion:To speak of “random causes” is literally to speak of non-causes; it is to speak of events or states coming to be without any cause.

    To speak of “randomness” is to speak of a lack of correlation between two or more things.

    Thus, to speak of a “random cause” is literally to claim that there is a lack of correlation between an effect and its cause. That is, to speak of a “random cause” is literally to utter an oxymoron.

    Now, notice what you said: “… there are cases where random distributions of energy and configurations allow …” — you are using the word “random” equivocally. I doubt not that the equivocation is unintentional, but it is still an equivocation.

    I said that there can be no such thing as a “random cause” — there can be no cause which lacks correlation with its effect(s), and there can be no effect which lacks correlation with its cause(s).

    You attempted to dispute what I’d said by pointing out that causes may lack correlation one with another … as though I had even hinted otherwise, and as though that observation addresses what I did say.

    Really, KF! I don’t know how else to explain this to you. Will this be the instance of explanation that finally is understood?

  6. 6
    Ilion says:

    oops, to explain a bit more …

    My point in mentioning computer programs (and specifically ‘Avida‘) is that the false claims continuously advanced by DarwinDefenders about “evolutionary algorithms” play off the misunderstanding and/or equivocation about “random numbers” as inputs to a program execution.

  7. 7
    gpuccio says:

    Very good post, and very good points.

    The misrepresentation about the concept of complexity is a die hard tool of anti IDists. I have been reading that same stupid argument for years, and each time the person who offers it is invariably and arrogantly certain that he is giving a deep and obvious truth, so perfect and beautiful that only retarded IDists dare not see it.

    KF, you are probably right: sometimes, maybe most times, it’s just obvious calculated deception. But I am sure that sometimes it’s just cognitive blindness (what is usually called “stupidity”). I suppose Myers should be placed in the first category (I don’t want to think of him as stupid).

    The best form of this silly argument is what I call “the infamous argument of the deck of cards”, which can be simply reduced to the statement that each time we shuffle a deck of cards, we have a sequence whose probability is so low that it did never happen before and will happen no more in the whole history of the universe. So, that random sequence is extremely complex. And yet it happens, without having been designed.

    Such a creatibe implementation of bad reasoning is usually enough to convince cultivated people, with a thoorough scientific education, that ID is a club of fools who for ideological reasons cannot see what others can see clearly.

    In the same line, I have seen people who have not even the most basic understanding of statistics openly criticize Dembski for his work, as though he were a complete fool in his own field, and possibly with arguments such as the infamous deck of cards.

    Some of our more correct interlocutors here have asked that we clarify our positions about issues that, while not being strictly related to ID, are often discussed here, such as the age of earth and the theory of common descent. I have done that many times.

    I could ask, in the same line of thought, that the more reasonable darwinists who take part in the debate here may choose to clarify what they think of positions such as Myers’, and in particular of the “mere complexity” or “deck of cards” arguments.

    IOW, how many of the darwinists who post here are willing to admit that there is a difference between the mere concept of complexity (Shannon’s information), and the concept of specified complexity which is the foundation of ID theory? (I am not asking that they accept the concept of CSI as it is, they can keep all possible reservations: what I am asking is if they admit that the concept of CSI, true or false that it is, is not the same thing as the concept of mere complexity, and that therefore argument such as Myers’s are flatly wrong).

  8. 8
    gpuccio says:

    Ilion:

    I think I understand what you are trying to say, but I the issue should be clarified better.

    When we speak of random causes, we are not really stating that the causes are random relatively to the effect. In the usual sense, randomness is not a property of the single cause (any cause, at least in classical physics, acts deterministically), but a property of a system. A system is random when deterministic causes act in such a way that a deterministic description of the system becomes impossible, and yet the system can be effectively described by means of an appropriate mathemathical model of the statistical kind.

    So, in ID we are simply saying that random systems cannot create CSI. Nor can deterministic systems (those which can be realistically described in terms of strict mathematical non probabilistic laws). The specific formal properties of CSI can only be the output of a conscious intelligent designer.

    It is true, however, that in quantum mechanics the statistical part has all another meaning. In QM, probabilities are intrinsic in the model, and are not another way of describing unknown deterministic interactions. This double aspect of probability theory should always be kept in mind, because it has important implications at all levels.

  9. 9
    Bantay says:

    Those who follow PZ’s every word are as fickle as the science he believes supports his rants. And the more the current trend toward a design world view continues, the more fickle science will be to people like PZ, Dawkins and Harris, among others. In the end, it will be people like PZ, Dawkins and others of their ilk who may be considered religious fundamentalists. ..because someday, faith will be all that people like PZ will have to hold dogmatically to the naturalist position.

    And like all of us, someday PZ will die. And when he dies, his caricatures, misinformation and dishonest, unjust, sophomoric attacks will die with him. At the present rate of development of a design world view, I suspect that 100 years from now, nobody will know his name or care about what PZ stands for, for the simple reason that what he stands for and believes in is already 150 years out of date.

    He knows as long as he believes what he does, that he will have no ultimate hope….So why should anyone else, right PZ? Hey PZ, you might as well try to make everyone else as miserable as you, even those who do hold to a scholarly, objective, reasonable and yes, both scientific AND honest position….people who also happen to hold to an ID position but aren’t afraid to be skeptical of it.

    I see people like PZ as an amateur intellectual charlatan. He will go down in history, but nobody will remember him for his rants. People like PZ want an hour of glory, but all he’s going to get from me is a cursory moment….about as long as it takes to click a mouse for a new page.

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