Friday, December 09, 2005

Dembski vs. Shermer on Audiomartini

Well, yesterday, Audiomartini hosted a debate between IDiot William Dembski and Skeptic Hero Michael Shermer, which can be found here. Below are my thoughts, as I listen for the first time.

1) In Dembski's very first statement, he tries to tie intelligent design to actual sciences like archeology and scientific endeavors like SETI by defining ID as "the study of patterns in nature that are best explained as the product of intelligence." He equates the patterns created by humans when making stone arrowheads and the potential radio patterns of alien cultures as being equivalent to his "unnamed higher intelligence", i.e. God. This is disingenuous at best. We all know that studying stone arrowheads is not what the Discovery Institute means by "intelligent design".

2) Shermer's response is polite, but to the point. He says that while Dembski's definition is a good one, as it should be, coming from an IDer, that everything he mentions, from evolution to the so-called "fine tuning" of cosmological constants have natural explanations.

3) Dembski then brings up Paley. *Gag* Old arguments don't equate to good ones. He goes all the way back to Cicero and pre-Socratic philosophers, for Freya's sake!

The host then asks if ID is just creationism warmed over. Hehe.

4) Shermer says that it is, and points out that if there IS a supernatural force at work, it is beyond the realm of scientific endeavor. Of course, he then points out that, like the electromagnetic forces, what was once mysterious and unexplained can quickly become integrated into science once we get a grasp of what's going on, from a purely natural perspective.

5) Dembski responds by saying that the "intelligent designer" need not be God, and that many IDers don't think it is. He never admits the point that HE believes it's God, even if he is an "old earth" creationist, and not a strict fundamentalist.

The host then asks what the "provable tenants" of ID are. Dembski's response:

6) There are two prongs:

A. Are there reliable methods of design detection? He then points out that there's a chance that the intelligent designer might mimic the effects of chance! That's right, folks, Dembski said that even if there is an intelligent designer, we might not be able to tell the difference! My question is this: If you can't tell the difference, then why bother calling anything ID? What an IDiot.

B. What happens when we apply these methods, which he claims we have, to the natural world? He claims that they are actually pointing us to an intelligence behind the systems of nature. Of course, his methods are "statistical" in nature, so they are hotly disputed. I'm guessing that, by statistical, he means that if something is astronomically unlikely, then it must have been designed. Hasn't this guy ever heard of the Theory of Big Numbers? He claims that we can't depend on random luck too much in science. He's right about that.

Notice that he never answers the question. Smooth, hunh? Well, the host cut Dembski off before it became "Willy's All ID Funtime Hour" and asked Shermer what he thought of the randomness point.

7) Shermer ripped that point apart, saying that evolution is not really random, but actually self-organized emergent behavior.

The host then tries to equate science with religion. Shermer's response:

8) He points out that if science is a religion, then so is the government, etc. He points out that science has certain metaphysical assumptions, i.e. that we look for only natural causes for phenomena, but that that's as far as it goes towards religion.

9) Dembski jumped on that point, and tries to pooh-pooh natural-only, materialistic reasons for everything in the world. *Sigh*

10) When Dembski's pushed on the prediction angle of ID, he then starts to bash on evolution, saying how there are no clear "Darwinian" paths to various things. Notice that he's making an "either-or" argument. There are unknown things in evolution, so the parts of evolution that are unknown must prove ID. Like I said, IDiot.

11) Dembski actually admits that there is jury-rigged design! If it's jury-rigged, then is it really designed? Shermer pounds on him for using the term "Darwinian", and then brings out Stuart Kaufman as an example of good science that is still controversial.

12) Dembski really likes the word teleology, too. He likes to say that ID is just positing a purposeful component to the world. Apparently, the universe has some kind of intelligence that we aren't aware of, since purpose implies intelligence.

13) Shermer then points out that if we were to find some kind of intelligent designer, it would HAVE to be an alien, and nothing more, since it would then have to be something that affects and resides in the physical world. He says that you can't be outside space and time, and thus God can't work in the universe and still be outside space and time.

14) Dembski then freaks out and says that without teleology, the world wouldn't look the way it does. He seems to think this weird built-in purpose is a necessity. He brings up "directed evolution", for Freya's sake! Directed evolution! ARGH! This guy is terrified of randomness. It's like he has to have a purpose that's been given to him. He seems to believe that we can't have a reason to live that comes solely from within. Maybe he's read The Purpose Driven Life one time to many. I dunno.

The host then changes the subject, bringing up irreducible complexity. Dembski jumps around the definition really quickly, not really saying anything new.

15) When asked for two quick examples of irreducible complexity, though, he brings up the bacterial flagellum (surprise surprise, he brings up Michael Behe's favorite) and the blood-clotting cascade.

The host quickly flips over to Shermer, since he has now apparently realized that Dembski is just a gasbag that will blow forever if allowed to. Shermer's response:

16) Essentially, he says that Dembski is full of crap, although he does it a lot nicer than I would have. He brings up co-option and exaptation, and points out that both Dembski's examples have had explanations proffered in detail, specifically in response to Behe and Dembski and their ilk.

17) Dembski's rebuttal is that it's all speculative, since we don't have a historical pathway that shows these evolutionary developments. Essentially, when a reasonable, rational, natural, but only possibly accurate, explanation is given to him, he sticks his fingers in his ears and goes, "Nyah Nyah Nyah! I can't hear you! It's not real!" Pathetic. For someone who is positing an unseen meddler as a necessary component of the universe, he seems to be very fixated on seeing things happen from beginning to end, without any extrapolation. I guess only HE gets to extrapolate from given data to conclusion.

The host then asks Dembski if we should just fill in the gaps in our knowledge with "Holy Spackle"! I love that phrase. I think I'll steal it. HOLY SPACKLE! HOLY SPACKLE!

18) Dembski disagrees, and tries to bring up engineering principles. Shermer then points out that this brings God down to the level of a tinkering engineer. Hehe.

Note that Dembski has now started specifically talking about God as engineer, and thus indicating that he believes the intelligent designer is God.

19) Shermer and Dembski then get into a little tiff about whether God is just a "ramped up" human or not. Dembski tries to turn it around, but it doesn't really fly. He's missing Shermer's point, that there doesn't have to be anything supernatural or spooky about the principals Dembski's pointing out. He's trying to say that, in effect, God doesn't have to be injected into the physical world, to explain the physical world. Dembski's biases are so prominent, though, that he can't wrap his head around this concept long enough to even comment on it.

The host then goes back to Dembski and asks him once again about provable points of ID. Dembski's response:

20) Limits of evolvability. As a practical example, he says that we may, one day, be able to develop an antibiotic that exceeds the ability of bacteria to evolve resistance to it.

The host then points out that all of ID is "some day, maybe" and nothing now. Dembski refutes, and brings up Douglas Axe. This guy is shaky at best. Axe's claim to fame? The fact that the NY Times wrote an article about him. Ooooooohhhhhh.

The host then asks Shermer what's wrong with teaching ID, and Shermer lays it out nicely.

21) He says that ID fits in nicely with religious creationism, and that it engenders introducing religion into science. He then points out that there's nothing wrong with talking about it in other kinds of classes. He also says that science classes should be talking about the gaps in the theories of science, but that ID has more of an agenda than just doing science.

The host then brings up the Wedge Document, and reads some of it aloud.

22) Dembski, as a Senior Fellow of the Discovery Institute, then says that he had no hand in creating the Wedge document, and that it was just a money-making scheme, devised to draw funding from the people who would support them. Essentially, he goes, "Not me! Not me!"

He literally calls the Wedge Document fluff! Hahahahahaha!

The last portion is talking about the Dover Panda Trial, and there's not much content there.

All in all, I'd say that while Gasbag Dembski got the most air-time, Michael Shermer ended up sounding better. I hope this gets wide play, so that more and more people wind up hearing how much Dembski just sticks to the Discovery Institute's "pary line", hitting the same talking points over and over again, while Shermer tries to inject some rationality and reason into what he's saying.

Once again, Michael Shermer shows why he's one of my heroes.


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