Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Kirk Durston vs PZ Myers

PZ Myers has a brief account of his encounter with Kirk Durston in Edmonton (Alberta, Canada) last weekend [An ugly debate in Edmonton].

PZ discovered what many of us already knew about Kirk ...
He's a good debater, because he relies on a powerful tactic: he'll willingly make stuff up and mangle his sources to make his arguments. I'm at a disadvantage because I won't do that.
Exactly. It's hard to debate someone who lies with a straight face, especially if they act like a Christian while doing it.

Here's what I had to say last year about my encounter with Kirk Durston [Kirk Durston's Proof of God].
It was a very frustrating experience. Like most Intelligent Design Creationists, Durston was all over the map in terms of spreading lies and misconceptions about science. This scattergun approach seems to be very successful for them. I assume it's because no one person can address all of the problems with their presentation. Most people will catch one or two flaws but they'll assume that everything else has to be correct.
Sounds like nothing has changed.


  1. Apparently, neither you nor PZ have heard of the "Gish gallop", which Durston appears to use a variant of. The only way to succeed when faced with this kind of thing is to pin them down on their own "theories" and force them to bring out the inconsistencies in them. Also, a lot of pre-debate practice defending against the "gallop" helps.

  2. You can read about the "Gish gallop" here:

    I also recommend http://www.discord.org/~lippard/hnta.html

  3. Can't really bend this one in favor of PZ. He looked bad.
    I can understand Allen's desire to want to smooth it out in favor of PZ, but it really won't help in this instance.
    And the Gish gallop, I don't know... No reason to not hold PZ accountable for his poor performance. Also, we won't always have a MacNeill Smooth Over Attempt to fall back on. Didn't even work this time.

    MacNeill isn't the most honest with this stuff anyway. Emotions can do alot of clouding.

    I guess I'm taking a hardline approach because there will be no improvement in performance if we force ourselves to believe in self-bolstering ploys of a MacNeill..... or anyone else for that matter.

  4. Kirk has all his functional information stuff that he's working on as part of his PhD. If PZ wasn't prepared for that, I guess it could have been somewhat challenging.

    Someone on PZs blog asked about Durston and information. I tried to reply with this brief summary, but the comment won't go through so I'll just post it here:

    .e. 113, Durston seems to be doing at least part of his PhD on trying to quantify biological information. Here is an excerpt from one of his essays:

    Darwinian theory also requires another prediction:

    P2- Since an average, 300 amino acid protein requires approximately 500 bits of functional information to encode, and even the simplest organism requires a few hundred protein-coding genes, variation and natural selection should be able to consistently generate the functional information required to encode a completely novel protein.

    Functional information is information that performs a function. When applied to organisms, functional information is information encoded within their genomes that performs some biological function. Typically, the amount of functional information required to encode an average, 300 amino-acid protein is in the neighborhood of 500 bits and most organisms contain thousands of protein-coding genes in their genome. Most combinations of amino acids will not produce a stable, three dimensional folded protein structure. Furthermore, the sequence space that encodes a stable folding protein tends to be surrounded by non-folding sequence space. Thus, to generate a novel protein with a stable fold, an evolutionary pathway must cross non-folding sequence space via a random walk, where natural selection will be inoperative. Thus, it requires functional information to properly specify a biological protein with a stable secondary structure. Recent computer simulations have failed to generate 32 bits of functional information in 2 x 10^7 trials, unless the distance between selection points is kept to 2, 4, and 8-bit steps. Such small gaps between selection points are highly unrealistic for biological proteins, which tend to be separated by non-folding regions of sequence space too large for the evolution of a novel protein to proceed by selection. Organic life requires thousands of different proteins, each requiring an average of 500 bits to encode. 32 bits is far too small to encode even one, average protein. An approximate and optimistic upper limit can be computed for the distance between selection points that could be bridged over the history of organic life if we postulate 1030 bacteria, replicating every 30 minutes for 4 billion years, with a mutation rate of 10-6 mutations per 1000 base pairs per replication. The upper limit falls between 60 and 100 bits of functional information, not sufficient to locate a single, average folding protein in protein sequence space. The Darwinian prediction P2, therefore, appears to be falsified. Variation and natural selection simply does not appear to have the capacity to generate the amount of functional information required for organic life


    Here's more formal examples of his research:



    There was an interesting debate with Jeff Shallit at Shallit's blog:


    He concludes one post by saying:

    In general, biology is about 50 years behind the rest of science when it comes to information theory and how it relates to protein structure and function. Hazen's paper, simple approach as it is, should have been published 50 years ago, within 10 years of Shannon's original paper. Leon Brillouin actually published a similar paper to Hazen's albeit more rigorous, in 1951. The Darwinists saw the implications and abandoned ship. I've personally, on several occasions, run into Darwinists who deliberately recommend against applying information theory to biopolymers.

    He also recommends papers by a few other people on the "information" front:

    Szostak, J.W. (2003) Functional information: Molecular messages. Nature, 423, 689.

    Hazen, R.M. et al. (2007) Functional information and the emergence of biocomplexity. PNAS, 104, 8574-8581


    I would have been interested to see PZ debate him on these concepts. Also, since he attacks the AVIDA program for not producing biologically meaningful quantities of evolution through it's simulations of evolution, the response of the AVIDA group (maybe Wesley Elsberry, who now works there).

  5. In my opinion, Myers won on the science, hands-down. Even if he was incredibly boring in the process.

    But in terms of the overall debate? This was not a debate about evolution vs intelligent design, it was a debate about whether or not God exists.

    Myers accuses Durston of peddling "bad science", and I'm prone to partially agree with him. I don't have a problem with the scientific method that IDers use, because I actually find it to be quite novel.

    However, they draw very bad conclusions. Durston himself last night insisted that the natural cannot be used to continually explain the natural, but I see no reason why any natural phenomenon can't be explained by natural processes.

    I find the insistence that we need an intelligent designer -- most often God -- is just an attempt to try to skip to the beginning. Let's face it, the universe has been around for a long time and we'll probably never understand how everything has worked from the very beginning.

    This being said, Myers accuses Durston of peddling bad history, yet Durston peddles bad history himself.

    For one thing, Myers applies a reductionist argument to Rudolph Rummel's work. No self-respecting academic would ever suggest that their work is a dead end. In fact, that should be considered an insult to any academic.

    What Durston clearly used Rummel's work for is for the basis of his argument, and when one takes a look at Rummel's work, it confirms the basis of Durston's argument, even if it doesn't wholly justify it.

    As Myers notes, Hitler was not an atheist. But nor was he a Catholic. Hitler had refused Sacrement for most of his adult life -- thereby no longer being a Catholic -- and had actually embraced a religion based on bizarre occultism in the last years of his life (which obviously corresponded with the Nazi regime in Germany).

    But to claim that atheism was not a core value of the Soviet Union, in particular, is flagrantly false to the extent that it's laughable. Joseph Stalin entrenched atheism in the Russian Constitution in 1936.

    If Myers really wants to accuse Durston of pushing bad history, the least he could do is not do so himself.

  6. Allen MacNeil says,

    Apparently, neither you nor PZ have heard of the "Gish gallop"

    PZ and I have been around a lot longer than you think.

    One thing about Gish, he obfuscated and misled, but he usually didn't tell flat-out lies. Some the modern IDiots actually say things that they know to be untrue.

  7. Here's Durston, with a highly fallacious bit on "design detection":


    I commented about it here:


    and in the comment which followed that one.

    I didn't exactly follow all of his "reasoning." The math isn't the problem, the question is what the variables and his figures are supposed to mean.

    However, as I implied in my linked comments, the biggest problems are that he doesn't bring in natural selection, other than to basically fob off its abilities, and he assumes that "intelligence" (which in this case has to mean god, since humans cannot design life from scratch (if we do make life in the near future, it will be by copying, mostly), and certainly could not have designed itself), god, has a probability of "one," so he defaults to god without an iota of evidence of design, or of specific cause producing specific effect.

    He is obviously disingenuous to the hilt--and he apparently ignored all of this horseshit in the debate with PZ because he knew PZ could destroy it.

    Glen Davidson

  8. someone who lies with a straight face, especially if they act like a Christian while doing it.

    But then, you repeat yourself.

  9. Larry Moran wrote: "One thing about Gish, he obfuscated and misled, but he usually didn't tell flat-out lies."

    Some of the things he's said are hard to explain without concluding that he was engaged in intentional deception.





  10. I meant to link my blog post on Durston and his erroneous claims about Avida before. Perhaps better late than never...

    Kirk Durston and Misrepresentation of AvidaWhich is basically an extended necropsy on Kirk's sentence that attempted to spin Avida results his way:

    Recent computer simulations have failed to generate 32 bits of functional information in 2 x 10^7 trials, unless the distance between selection points is kept to 2, 4, and 8-bit steps.
    I conclude that:

    So about the only thing Durston managed to get right in that sentence was copying one number from the original paper, where he limited himself to one significant digit. That seems excessively non-functional.
    Wesley R. Elsberry