Monday, November 16, 2009

I thought it went really well, until he brought up Hitler.

The discussion was civil, and though there was some eye rolling, sighing, and muttering in the audience, no one shouted; no one gesticulated wildly; no one hurled insults.

Right up until the Hitler reference, everyone was playing relatively nicely.

This was a debate between two men, and the question was "Should Intelligent Design Be Taught in the Schools?" The two men were Dr. Jerry Bergman and Dr. P.Z. Myers.

I came in wondering if I could tell who the creationists were just by looking at them, and I looked at the relatively empty room (I was early), wondering which side I should sit on. I observed the tables at the front, and observed that one had a computer, water bottle, and papers on it while the other had nothing but a microphone. I chose to sit on the side of the room in front of the empty table because I knew from previous observation that Dr. Myers had not arrived yet. I was just thinking "Is this like a wedding, where there's a bride's side and a groom's side?" when the woman sitting near me asked "Is this like a wedding?"

I had brought my knitting, so I had something to do. I have to use all the baby-free minutes I have.

My initial thoughts were that this whole debate does not really seem like a debate to me because a debate is supposed to present two sides of an issue, and creationism/ID does not equal evolution. The question "Should ID be taught alongside evolution" answers itself:

No. Can we have beer now?

Dr. Bergman, on the "Yes" side of the debate, spent the first half of his twenty minutes talking about himself and all the atheists he knows. In fact, he was an atheist! Many of his friends were atheists! But he found the atheist movement to be deficient, scholarly. He defined evolution as "from the goo to you by way of the zoo." There's nothing like a catchy, rhyming phrase laden with panting sarcasm to make me warm to your argument. He said that "you cannot judge a religion by those who don't follow it," and that sentence still does not make sense to me. He talked about debunking Darwinism step by step, stating that doing scientific research was what led him to theism and creationism.

I was wondering what this had to do with teaching ID in schools.

He conducted a survey with three thousand Ph.D. scientists, which showed that they overwhelmingly rejected "orthodox Darwinism," flashing some questions up on the screen that were clearly intelligently designed to produce ambiguous answers that could be interpreted to support his hypothesis.

He told me that "everyone is a creationist," that it's "not a good idea to teach religion in a science class," and that "you don't teach astronomy in a math class."

At this point, I noticed that my chest was really tight.

"The problem is," he said, "we don't teach enough about evolution." Science equals religion, he went on. Apparently if you say it's a fact, and it's true, then it's a religion. I think there's supposed to be something about evidence in there, but he thinks that the only answer you ever get from scientists is "evolution did it," or "it evolved that way." He's very concerned that we "cannot teach the problems with evolution" and that "atheism is taught in the schools, legally, indoctrinating students in a world view." Yup. That's how I came to my atheism: in my 10th grade biology class with Mr. Rosendahl, when that red-faced round white man preached to a rapt, entranced audience about frogs from his entitled throne of High School Biology Teacher.

It's the same crap. Atheists are winning, indeed, we have already won, and the poor Christians are persecuted. Ah! To be part of the persecuted, overwhelming majority group, dictating policy and whining in the corner about how nobody likes you.

Then he went into irreducible complexity, and I heard groaning all around me. Did you know that Carbon 12 is irreducibly complex? Neither did I. Someone else can better go into the weirdness that ensued during this section, as I stopped taking notes.

Then it was Dr. Myers' turn. So far, I had not heard a cohesive position in support of teaching ID/creationism alongside evolution in schools. Dr. Myers answered the question: "No, emphatically no. It's not science, so there's nothing to teach."

Science, he went on, needs a mechanism or theory and evidence or data showing that the observed mechanism works. You need real world observations to plug into the theory. ID has neither a mechanism nor data. There is no theory, which has been admitted to by proponents of ID. So what are we supposed to teach? How do we focus our research without a theory? How do we get data to support these positive claims distinguished from evolution; something that shows specifically that a designer did it?

I found him to be clear, concise, soft spoken, organized, and polite.

Dr. Myers pointed out that complaining about evolution is not part of a positive idea of science. You need theory and data if you want to teach intelligent design. If these cannot be provided, it cannot be taught. "Teaching is not a playground for teachers to spout off whatever they want." They are ethically and legally bound by states and districts. "They are responsible to students to give them accurate information to make informed decisions. Teaching creationism is a violation of professional responsibility."

Dr. Bergman? Rebuttal?

I teach Darwin's finches, too.
There's no theory, yes.
There are thousands of published papers, though, by ID people who are "in the closet." One individual has over 600 papers in major journals.
The appendix serves several functions, there are no vestigial organs.

(But why should it be taught? I am still wondering.)

There are quite a few studies that creationist students are 1-2 grades ahead of public school students.

(Citation and study design, please.)

Irreducible complexity, Aristotle, we need a heart, brain stem, kidney...

(I am just transcribing my notes, now. I mean, this is done, right?)

The periodic table of the elements is irreducibly complex, and a teacher was fired for teaching it.
Everything is irreducibly complex.
Show me the radio that works on a single lepton.

(What do radios have to do with evolution? Aside from the fact that humans evolved to the point where we could make one.)

Evolution is in the way of our knowledge of the biological world.

He equated god and evolution, you know the old game. There was nothing really new here. There's the God of the Gaps, and scientists have Evolution of the Gaps. But he "strongly supports the scientific method."

Dr. Myers? Rebuttal?

If the papers are not about ID, then they are not ID papers.
Dr. Bergman's definition of vestigial organs is peculiar; it's not the same as the biological definition. "No use" is not the same as "reduced function."
"That's the strangest definition of irreducible complexity I have ever heard," he said. Irreducible complexity is about biochemical pathways, specifically, and applying it to a carbon molecule makes no sense. Irreducible complexity has been refuted, and does not disprove evolution. When it comes to carbon molecules, it's not "little angels knitting them together"
People do teach the periodic table.
Yes, teachers have lost their jobs for not doing their jobs.
There is no positive case for ID, it's just complaining about evolution.
Schools have the right to set their curricula.

Question from Dr. Bergman to Dr. Myers: Do you know of any out of the closet ID'ers who have gotten tenure?
Dr. Myers: No. The problem there is?

Question from Dr. Myers to Dr. Bergman: How can you say that the Carbon 12 atom is irreducibly complex?
Dr. Bergman: restated the same thing.
Dr. Myers: That's not a useful argument for ID.
Dr. Begman: Yes it is.
Dr. Myers: open-mouthed silence.

During the questions from the audience section, Dr. Bergman quoted from Dr. Dawkin's book "The Greatest Show on Earth," (I think he said page 451, but I am tired, and the baby is crying), and he used to quote to conclude that genes are not the boss, there is a boss above the genes. Dr. Myers replied "Richard Dawkins would be mad at me if I let it slide that you quoted his book, supporting intelligent design. Natural processes are quite capable of producing increasingly complex information."

Question: "You admitted that ID has no theory in your rebuttal. For me that was 'game over.' Do you want to take that back?"

It was soon after this that he brought up Hitler. Hitler had enormous support from the scientists, he said, holding up a book called "Hitler's Ethic: The Nazi Support of Evolutionary Progress." Oh, man. Really? Did you have to? See, right up until then, I was just feeling sorry for his rambling and inferior performance, and then... he brought up Hitler. No scientists, he said, openly opposed Hitler. Really? You want to say that again? You want some time to think about it, first?

It's the same old thing. Arguments from authority. Disparage science and scientists, but talk about all the support you have from science and scientists. Mislead with weird things like the irreducible complexity of a radio.

It was a good evening out, though. I figured out some things on the knitting pattern I am working on, and I got to thank Dr. Myers for his admirable job of sticking to the question.

My comment on the evaluation was: I think that the conversations and questions were remarkably civil, given the subject matter, but as an intellectual discussion, I do not feel that the "yes" side of the argument presented a rational case, based on evidence, for the teaching of ID/creationism in the public school science classroom.

And I'd just like to point out that, some of my best friends are Christian.


Greg said...

Nice review.

My question is this: Is a stable isotope that degrades into an element of the same name NOT irreducibly complex, and thus not created by an "intelligent designer"?

Oh, another question: Are leptons always female, or are some of them male?

Talen said...

There is simply no smart-arse comment I can concoct that adequately weaves together this narrative and pins it to the wall that is not served so much better by the simple image of a mother sitting in the front row, knitting. Just think, in five seconds you did more and more useful things than Bergman did all night.

HEP Brian said...

I'm really trying to understand this Carbon argument. So if you change the microphysical structure, you change the emergent properties. Sure, fine, how is this irreducible complexity, and what the heck does it have to do with evolution and/or ID?

Jeff Orchard said...

Thanks for the synopsis (and even while the baby cried... I admire your dedication and ability to separate sources of angst).

JBlilie said...

"Dr. Bergman, on the "Yes" side of the debate, spent the first half of his twenty minutes talking about himself and all the atheists he knows. In fact, he was an atheist! Many of his friends were atheists!"

I'll bet he even let's atheists use his bathroom!

kittywhumpus said...

Jeff: Fortunately, my husband was tending to the baby. Even so, it was a clarion call to wrap it up, just like the time on the clock, ticking toward midnight.

Greg: I think Dr. Bergman would turn that around by asking you, "Have you ever seen a woman made of a single lepton?" Did I really hear him say that?

HEP Brian: This is why I stopped taking notes during his IC/carbon12/radios/watches/humans torrent. I think Dr. Bergman's answer would be EVERYTHING is irreducibly complex. As for the "How is this supportive of ID?" he might say "Because it is."

kittywhumpus said...

JBlilie: Funnily enough, I had that same comment pop into my mind last night.

Tim said...

When he brought up the "medicine isn't concerned with theories" crap, my wife (a DVM) and I had to chuckle. Aside from the fact, as my wife immediately pointed out, he's a PhD and not an MD meaning he's not a practicing physician, it reminded us of a conversation we were having over dinner only an hour or so earlier. I had wondered why it seems easy for some medical professions to get sucked in by woo, and she brought up a good point. Novel diseases and disorders are often first encountered by doctors, not researchers. Recently my wife encountered a unique case for which there seemed to be no documentation in the literature. So, she contacted the unofficial expert in the specific area who helped her determine a treatment plan, and it worked. Now, neither she nor the expert she consulted have bothered to present the case to any journals so you can be certain that any further trials of the treatment will only be informal and thus wouldn’t follow typical clinical protocols. Unfortunately, doctors too often have to rely on anecdotes from other professionals in lieu of tested, controlled procedures.
So in some sense he’s right. The process of peer-review and well controlled, double-blind trials can take a back seat for a practicing physician presented with something like an idiopathic illness. But again, he’s supposedly in research so he should be concerned with good science.

conelrad said...

That 'Darwin-of-the-gaps' trope appeared in Dr. Behe's most recent book, & I assume that's where Dr. Bergman got it. Sometimes it is hard to tell if these guys are serious.

kittywhumpus said...

"Darwin-of-the-Gaps" is clearly a lost Thomas Hardy novel, and they are just confused.

Anonymous said...

No scientists spoke out against Hitler?

You mean... like Einstein? He just looooved Hitler, until he fled Germany.

Tim said...

Creationists don't debate in a pro forma manner. They copy what Fox News does. William Buckley is dead isn't he?


Qwerty said...

At least you had something constructive to do. I was surrounded by "believers" as I found out when some of them asked questions. The young lady next to me was the one who asked "but it's only a theory and you call it a fact" question. While Dr. Bergman rambled on and on, she spent her time texting on her cell phone. Dr. Bergman even bores "the true believers."

Anyhow, I found your account to be quite accurate. You did leave out the part when someone mentioned that the Jewish scientists opposed Hitler and many immigrated to America.

But, in brief, you are correct. It was the same old "hash" delivered from the Creationist Cafe. "Irreducible complexity=design" and "Hitler=atheism/bad."

If I go to more of these debates, I'll have to take up knitting. Do you give lessons?

llewelly said...

"Did you know that Carbon 12 is irreducibly complex?"
Carbon 12 was created by God. Carbon 13 and Carbon 14, however evolved through micro-evolution. (Or would that be nano-evolution?) Noah only needed two atoms of each element on his ark; he didn't need two of every isotope.

kittywhumpus said...

Qwerty: That young lady appeared to me to be around 15, but I did not get a close look at her. Would you say that was accurate?

I think that a number of homeschoolers may have brought their charges, but I have no evidence for that.

I left out a number of things, such as the moderator's interjection regarding the scientists who fled the country. I was exhausted with my own notes, and still agape that the debate landed on Hitler.

llewelly: That Noah was an organized, busy little... um... guy, wasn't he? I can barely handle my household of three humans and two cats. I'd be lost with an ark.

Wanderin' Weeta said...

Madame Defarge?

Poor Bergman. He must have been quaking in his boots, watching you.

HEP Brian said...

llewelly: Hmm, for nuclear processes I'd say it's "femto-evolution" :D

Qwerty said...

Kitty, I thought she was older. Somewhere around 17 to 19 years old. I thought she was possible a college freshmen. She had the question written down and sprang to her feet when the Q session began. I can't help but feel she thougbt, "I'll show this godless evilutionist."

She did spend most of the first twenty minutes texting someone. I was tempted to ask her what was so all fired important, but didn't.

I sat near the back on the Jerry Bergman side and when PZ said morals were culturally driven, most of the heads near me were shaking an emphatic "no."

My head was thinking "huh?" when Bergman spent most of his first twenty minutes detailing his background instead of addressing the debate's central issue.

A poster at PZ's blog had it right
(August Berkshire) when he said that many of the atheists in the room could have given PZ a better debate than Bergman.

Bergman's style of debate reminded me of that song "I Was Born a Ramblin' Man."

Tracy Walker said...

Perhaps the single lepton woman is a sign that Bergman is heading towards a juvenile and esoteric form of Zen. It does sound like a bad koan.

DrivingAnalytical said...

I'd love to have been there, but my comment isn't directed at the debate: I couldn't escape an image of the guillotine during the French Revolution, with the women sitting at the front, doing their knitting... I won't paste a link, but search for 'le tricoteuse'...

DrivingAnalytical said...

oops... make that 'la tricoteuse'... pardon my French...

the Procrastinatrix said...

Are you the LSG Kittywhumpus I know? If I'd have known you were there I'd have given you a big squishy hug. I was there in the back with Greg Laden and some other lovely people wondering if Dr. Bergman had ever considered he might just be a dick and that's why none of the atheists wanted to talk to him. Kammy :)

darkerstar1 said...

Hey same high school bioligy teacher, must of been him that made me an athiest too (though I was before I met him but meh, science is a religion so it was a miracle of Darwin's design) Go Rangers!

marjotse said...

On the Hitler comments, I guess he never read Hitler's Gift: The True Story of the Scientists Expelled by the Nazi Regime By Jean Medawar and David Pyke..... Research a little bit of research is all that it takes...

kittywhumpus said...

the Procrastinatrix: I am, indeed, the same AAC/LSG kittywhumpus. I had not brought up my attendance on any boards because I was not sure if I would be able to get away from babywhumpus.

darkstar: You mean there are TWO Mr. Rosendahl's? We were Winhawks.

marjotse: He could only wave around so many books; his, Prof. Dawkins, and one Hitler book was already pushing it.

Qwerty said...

I still keep thinking about how inept Dr. Jerry Bergman was during this debate. The topic was his and it was "Should Intelligent Design Be Taught in the Schools?"

Did Bergman at any point give any reasons for teaching ID in schools?

I can't remember any. All I remember is a lot of talk about his background, his books, complexity, ID, and more complexity, but never any reasons for teaching ID in the schools.

PZ addressed the topic with his reasons why teachers cannot teach it (curriculum) and used ID proponents to explain why it isn't even a viable theory or good science, but Bergman gave no positive reasons for teaching it.

An empty chair could have beat Bergman in this debate by default!

It boggles the mind that creationists think this mindless crap known as ID should be taught to anyone.

Jeff Orchard said...

I wonder, is there a blog somewhere in which the patrons are equally convinced of the exact opposite of our consensus here? There must be such a parallel universe. I'd love to read what they're saying on the other side. Anyone know of such a blog?

kittywhumpus said...

Qwerty: Along those lines (ineptness), I had a comment elsewhere about how it would have been too infuriating to listen to, which had originally been my concern, but the ineptness just made it both laughable and sad.

Jeff: I wish you had not asked that because now I feel compelled to see if I can find one. I am sure that there is.

Nullarbor said...

Yes, Creationism ought to be taught, together with Winnie the Pooh, though it's much less brainy.

Eric said...

Brief comment on one item you wrote:
"He said that 'you cannot judge a religion by those who don't follow it,' and that sentence still does not make sense to me."

I didn't find this hard to interpret or lacking sense. Maybe some parenthetical remarks will clarify.

You cannot (should not) judge a religion (e.g., Christianity, Islam) by those (professing adherents) who do not follow it (e.g., Ku Klux Klan, terrorists, child molester priests).

I suspect Bergman's point was that some people have rejected theistic religion because of the behavior of religious hypocrites who did not obey its moral codes or ethical standards.

Anonymous said...

I love the "open mouth silence" part of your review...I laughed out loud when I read that.

Regarding the young lady with the comment/question that "Evolution is a theory, and creationism is another theory, so why shouldn't they be taught side by side?" I thought PZ missed a great opportunity to explain and define the difference between a "scientific theory" and a plain old lay-persons theory. I have talked to a lot of creationist who slept through high school biology, or something, and just don't know the difference.

The definition for a scientific theory pasted from Wikipedia: "In the sciences, a scientific theory (also called an empirical theory) comprises a collection of concepts, including abstractions of observable phenomena expressed as quantifiable properties, together with rules (called scientific laws) that express relationships between observations of such concepts. A scientific theory is constructed to conform to available empirical data about such observations, and is put forth as a principle or body of principles for explaining a class of phenomena."

The definition of a plain old theory (from the dictionary) is "a proposed explanation whose status is still conjectural, in contrast to well-established propositions that are regarded as reporting matters of actual fact."

If you are like that young lady, and don't know any better (and wasn't taught science at home school), it makes sense that when it comes to theories, her guess involving supernatural bible hokus pokus is just as valid as the scientists supposed stab in the dark involving evolution.

In conversations with creationists, it usually helps to point out that the "theory of evolution" is just as "theoretical" as the "theory of gravity"

I wish PZ would have pointed out that difference in the definition of theory. Other than that he hit it out of the park.

Marcel Kincaid said...

I wonder, is there a blog somewhere in which the patrons are equally convinced of the exact opposite of our consensus here? There must be such a parallel universe.

Not a parallel universe, just a gathering of ignorant and stupid people.