Darwinian Debating Device #1: Jeffrey Shallit Style Ad Hominem
|September 25, 2014||Posted by Eric Anderson under Darwinian Debating Devices, Darwinist rhetorical tactics, Information, Origin Of Life|
A week or so ago, Cornelius Hunter referenced a paper by Christoph Adami titled “Information-theoretic considerations concerning the origin of life” available here.
Hunter cites the NewScientist article about Adami’s paper, “Chances of first life improved by weighted dice” and highlights in particular the remarkable statement: “Christoph Adami of Michigan State University in East Lansing decided to study the origin of life purely in terms of information theory, so he could ignore the chemistry involved.”
The article continues:
“[Adami] assumed that molecules must exceed a certain length in order to have enough information to self-replicate. These long molecules are made from different kinds of short molecules, called monomers. Adami calculates that if you start with an equal number of each type of monomer, the odds of getting a self-replicating molecule are very low. But if you adjust the distribution of monomers in the environment to match the distribution within a potential self-replicator, the chances improve by many orders of magnitude.”
The idea of having the right proportion of monomers is certainly helpful to naturalistic abiogenesis theories – indeed, in my informal challenge to materialists over the years, I have even offered it as a given. But it doesn’t get us anywhere in the real world due to the host of other insurmountable obstacles facing a naturalistic abiogenesis scenario. Furthermore, Adami certainly didn’t demonstrate that there is any reason to expect the right proportion of monomers to exist in any particular prebiotic soup. It is just assumed.
Then we have the hopelessly naïve Darwinian fairytale that follows. Adami swoons at the awesome power of Natural Selection: “You only have to make this very first step, where you are getting some crappy replicator. The moment evolution can actually work with it, you’re done.” Sure you are. That is just silly, even setting aside the daunting fact that no-one has ever been able to identify such a creature as that elusive “self-replicating molecule” Darwinists keep talking about.
So Hunter is right to point to Adami’s effort, well intentioned though it may be, as a “cartoon hypothesis” that skips over details and relies on sheer logical possibility, rather than practical reality.
One might even think that a committed Darwinist would also see the yawning weaknesses in Adami’s proposal and either acknowledge them or at least keep quiet. But in the case of Jeffrey Shallit, one would be wrong.
Jeffrey Shallit is a professor in the Computer Science department at University of Waterloo and, by all accounts, is very capable and extremely knowledgeable in his field. Certainly someone who is capable of focused and substantive critique.
So let’s see what keen insight and precision argumentation the Good Professor brings to the table.
Shallit jumps in with the first comment:
“It’s funny to see how allergic creationists are to genuine science. To anyone without an agenda, Adami’s paper is an interesting piece of work that is quite modest in its goals and conclusions.
I guess it must really gall you that Adami publishes in respected venues, gets his work written up in New Scientist, and has an active lab with many graduate students, while you’re stuck as an adjunct at a 5th-rate bible school.”
Shallit is right that Adami’s paper is indeed “quite modest.” Certainly if we are talking about scientific content. No disagreement there. Indeed, Adami’s idea does virtually nothing for the OOL problem. Hunter is quite right to pick it apart as another example of evolutionary storytelling – albeit with a bit of math thrown in.
But let’s assume for a moment that reasonable minds can differ on whether Adami’s paper is helpful in moving forward our understanding of abiogenesis. Does Shallit offer any additional explanation or support on that front? Does he carefully explain to Hunter, as a university professor should no doubt be able to do, where Hunter went wrong and why Adami’s proposal is useful?
Not at all. Shallit’s comment consists of: (i) a kneejerk assertion that Adami’s paper is good science (albeit with modest goals and conclusions) and that those who criticize it must be creationists who are allergic to genuine science, and (ii) an insult about Hunter’s position as an adjunct professor at Biola University. Not an impressive start.
But perhaps we should cut Shallit some slack with his first shot across the bow. After all, we’ve all dashed off a too-hastily-written comment in a blog thread and then realized later we could have exercised a bit more temperance. After a couple of other commenters point out Shallit’s failure to make any substantive critique, he has another chance. Does he come back with any substantive response to either Hunter’s original post or to any of the commenters? Unfortunately not.
Shallit (to date) has made 8 additional comments, consisting of the following:
1. Insult. “Typical creationist behavior” consists of “not knowing the literature.”
2. Insult. “I’m sorry your reading comprehension is so poor.”
3. Bluff. Claim that “we already know what ‘creates information’ [presumably some natural process that does not require intelligence] . . . You are welcome to attend my class CS 462 in the winter term, where we reveal the mysterious answer. Hint: it’s not very mysterious, and we’ve known the answer for some time.” As I pointed out, if Shallit’s bluff were true, he would be sitting on a Nobel Prize right now and would not be revealing the secret in some college computer science class.
4. Insult. [Shallit seems to be obsessed with the concept of “creationists”.]
5. Insult. “Biola is a laughingstock.”
6. Appeal to authority. [This one is at least based on substance (how rarely Behe and Dembski have been cited by evolutionary biologists (surprise!)), but misses the point and is essentially an appeal to authority, while unfortunately failing to provide any substantive critique.]
7. Insult. Insults Hunter’s blog.
8. Insult. Implies there is no such thing as an “honest creationist.” [Boy, he is obsessed with “creationists,” isn’t he?]
None of Shallit’s comments address the substance of Hunter’s post or the substantive aspects of abiogenesis or the role of information in that process. Funny that a well-versed computer science professor who knows a ton about information theory could not manage a single substantive comment on the very topic of the opening post. Feel free to read through the thread here to get a small psychological sampling of his attitude and behavior.
To be sure, some of the other commenters were put off by Shallit’s behavior and made intemperate comments of their own, so perhaps we should give Shallit a bit of a break in terms of his comments.
But the thread nevertheless provides a remarkable window into the kind of arrogance and attitude that often accompanies the Darwinian paradigm. Shallit is not alone by any means, but he provides just another live example of the kinds of debating tactics and rhetoric that are so often employed: bluffs, the near-paranoid circling of wagons to protect “science” against those evil “creationists,” appeals to authority. All weighed down with a heavy dose of personal insults.
When Shallit suggested readers take his CS 462 course, I couldn’t help but wonder why in the world anyone would want to take a class from someone who is so biased and unprofessional. But maybe the exchange on Hunter’s site is atypical. Perhaps Shallit, in other contexts, is a wonderfully-engaging and capable instructor who is able to set aside his personal biases and approach the topic objectively.
Perhaps. But as for today’s assignment, Professor, you received an “F”.
UPDATE 2014-09-26 H/T Joe @34:
Shallit has responded briefly. Shallit:
Believe it or not, they have a whole thread devoted to how horrible I am.
Nope. It is a thread devoted to failed Darwinist debating tactics, of which Shallit happens to be today’s Exhibit A. I’m not interested in how horrible he may be. I have granted that he is probably a wonderful guy in most contexts. I am simply pointing out — with specific examples — how an otherwise smart and wonderful guy can flail about and utterly fail when it comes to defending the sacred cow of materialistic evolution. I don’t intend to do any thread on how horrible Shallit is, nor do I have any particular interest in that. If he continues to make terrible arguments in support of materialistic evolution or against ID, however, I certainly might include those examples in a future thread.
My supposed “bluff” is my claim that we know what produces information. But it’s not a bluff. Ask any mathematician or computer scientist if they know how to produce information in the normally-understood (Kolgomorov) sense of the word, and the answer is easy. [Presumably he meant Kolmogorov, not Kolgomorov.]
Seriously? “Kolmogorov information”? If Shallit thinks that is the issue in question then he has no idea what is required for biology or living systems and has no idea what the topic is that is even under discussion. I suspect that Shallit does know that Kolmogorov information is not the issue, but is perhaps hoping that he can slip it by his readers with the “information in the normally-understood sense of the word,” assertion. Fortunately for those who actually follow the issues surrounding abiogenesis, it is clear that this is yet another bluff.
Any process generating truly random bits will generate strings with high Kolmogorov information with very very high probability.
Don’t expect creationists to understand this, however.
Again, missing the issue entirely. Shallit has either not read up on what is required for complex, functional, specified systems or he hasn’t understood what he has read. Hint: Kolmogorov information isn’t going to get you anywhere. And no, it isn’t an answer to what Hunter pointed out on his blog. And, no, it isn’t related to where Adami was trying to go, which is the paper that started this whole discussion.
Again, Shallit couples his lack of substance on the issue with an insult about “creationists.”
It is remarkable that you can point out, with detail, how someone’s debating approach fails and they keep right at it.