Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Just Say "No"

 
The Discovery Institute promotes Intelligent Design Creationism and they are all agog over Stephen Meyer's new book, Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design.

Disco is upset with Francisco Ayala, a leading evolutionary biologist who did not have kind things to say about the book. So, what to do?

All they could think of was to challenge Ayala to a debate: Leading Intelligent Design Advocate Challenges Former President of American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) to Debate.

Should Ayala accept? I say no way. Discuss.


24 comments :

  1. I'd say no.
    debates with creationists can't be won. they have a position which cannot be falsified, and all a debate does is give them an opportunity to cram the audience and torture a poor unsuspecting athiest/skeptic/scientist with garbage. you can't engage with someone who plays by no rules.

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  2. Absolutely not! Garth2 is correct. A debate with creationists only gives them what they think is credibility - "Look, we are important enough to have real scientists debate us!" Very few biologists know how to deal with the 'Gish Gallop' of many creationists. Also, I like Dawkins statement on why he will not debate Bananna Boy Comfort.

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  3. Never wrestle with a pig, he enjoys it and you just get dirty.

    Or in other words, Hell NO. There is nothing to be gained by it and you give them what they and their follower think is credibility.

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  4. One should accept such invitations if really new arguments are available.
    As I haven't heard any new one the last 5 years (since Dover I mean) I suppose NO is the only possible answer.

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  5. The only really successful debates on creationism, that changed anyone's mind, occurred in a courtroom, where a precise issue has been defined, and where scientists could cross-examine creationist witnesses and make them stick to the subject of the questions.

    In other forums, it's rarely successful. The best course is to lay out the case for science unopposed, to an audience that is undecided.

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  6. Creationists don't really care if they are right or not. All they care is that people think there is a controversy.

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  8. If--and I know it's a big IF--Ayala can get these guys to agree to a debate in a truly open forum--say The Boston Public Library or a major urban Museum of Science--where the audience won't be packed with the usual DI suspects, then I think Ayala should agree to a debate. And clean his clock.

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  9. No. Not a good idea. These aren't equivalent things and we shouldn't help create the illusion that they are.

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  10. I live close enough to UCR that I could go, and I'd love to see them debate.

    But, apart from amusing me, I don't think there would be any point to a debate.

    So I think Ayala should say that he's too busy doing real science.

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  11. I will swim against the tide a bit.

    I think the short answer is "Hell, no!" but the longer answer is, "Yes, if you are really a good debater, and there will be a good number of open-minded people resent."

    Most scientists are probably ill-equipped to handle Creationist techniques like the "Gish Gallop." They risk not only making themselves look bad, but making the opposition appear to be legitimate.

    But there are a few people who can take on Creationists in a debate, provided the moderation is fair, and the audience is balanced.

    People like pre-doc biologist Abbie Smith. She's rough-and-tumble and can stand up to such people. Being a student, Abbie has no high, established credentials, so she's risking less herself, and giving little bragging rights to her opposition, who may very well limp home with their tails between their legs.

    PZ Myers, though a PhD and working scientist, is capable of handling debates well, but even he's been put at a disadvantage, as in a radio debate where afterward the Christian station holding it allowed PZ's opponent to come on the show unopposed afterward to have his wounds licked by the hosts.

    Christopher Hitchens is able to make almost any opponent look bad in a debate, regardless of the subject. Since he's not a scientist, he's not risking science's reputation, anyway.

    So, mostly, I say, no. But tough young students who know their stuff and can express themselves well are a definite exception. They can truly make Creationists' eyes bleed.

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  12. Public debates are not the proper forum where scientific issues are resolved. Let Stephen Meyer publish his ideas in some peer reviewed journal and let his peers answer him.

    Unfortunately (a) its not theatre, and (b) its unlikely his ideas would be accepted for peer reviewed publication (or else why release it in book form first?)

    Science does not work by trying to marshall public opinions for or against a particular theory. So my two cents worth - no debate.

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  13. Before we admit a debate between creationism and evolution I think the DI should make sure they've got the correct version of creationism.
    Perhaps they should go through a few preliminary rounds of debating creationists of other religions - such as the flying spaghetti monster, the Scandinavian and Greek myths and the various tribal creationists.
    If its clear that the Christian Creation story is the one backed by the evidence we can move onto round two, where we can have a debate between Behe and Nelson of the DI who have widely different interpretations of this one religious story.
    When all this is sorted out they should come back to us and ask again.

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  14. No. See that was simp-le. Larry I hope you would write to Ayala and tell him why it is such a bad idea to debate creationists

    Truti

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  15. These "meet me by the flag pole after school" challenges that are employed by creationists are pretty puerile.

    If Ayala (or anyone else) should agree, they should make the terms of the debate to be 'Resolved: Evidence for god is manifested in nature.' That way, at least the terms of the debate shift away from these jackasses trotting out the same facile arguments against evolution without ever having to defend their own embarrassingly weak premise.

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  16. Prof. Ayala should agree to a debate if and only if he is prepared to spend a great deal of time studying everything his opponent has ever written or spoken on the subject. This is what Ken Miller did when he was dragooned by his first year biology students into debating Henry Morris. He read everything he could find that Morris had written or given a talk on. He prepared short responses to every conceivable talking point that Morris was likely to bring up. He was thus able to easily wipe up the floor with Morris. If Prof. Ayala is not prepared to spend the time in preparation, he should decline.

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  17. SLC: "Prof. Ayala should agree to a debate if and only if he is prepared to spend a great deal of time studying everything his opponent has ever written or spoken on the subject."

    This is where most debaters fail. Every lawyer tries to know more about his opponent's case than his opponent knows. Witness the "cdesign proponentsists" surprise that Forrest & Matzke visited upon the ID crowd at the Kitzmiller trial. The Dishonesty Institute went to the trouble of smearing Barbara Forrest to get her off the witness list. Why? Because she knew so much about ID and its history.

    Researching your opponent's case is arduoous and inefficient. But necessary. No debate should proceed without it.

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  18. The hallmark of delusional disorder is the fact that no argument, no form of evidence presented, will change the mind of the patient.

    In short: debate is futile. ( http://contusio-cordis.blogspot.com/2010/02/war-on-science.html )

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  19. These debates have been done before and the creationists got their comeuppance. In 2002 Meyer, Behe and Wells ended looking like chumps at a debate at Case Western after Ken Miller and Lawrence Krauss worked them over. And that came after awesome preparation by the two of them. About an hour into the debate it was fire at will time and the retreat turned into a rout. But will Ayala take this trouble of preparation? I am not sure. A simple fact based attack (for instance Meyer writes that ACLU sued the Dover Board blandly without offering any context) or going for the terms he obfuscates, "complexity" information" etc., alone would leave Meyer reeling. Or else one could try Pedro Irigonegaray's style in Kansas, which was combative and had Behe squealing "Momma".

    Truti

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  20. Truti,
    Is the Case Western debate online at all anywhere, either in mp3 or mp4 format?

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  21. No

    A debate only proves who is better at rhetoric, not who is right or who is providing the best information.

    There is nothing in the format to ensure the accuracy of statements. The format is perfect for abuse by unethical debaters, and I have never read of an ethical person associated with the Disco institute.

    In the end it is the glib polished presenter who "wins" the debate, the subject is irrelevant, and in the case of scientific subjects, this is of no benefit.

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  22. There should be no debate with ID proponents until they have a theory, can propose experiments based on that theory and have a track record of successful peer reviewed publication which equals that of the scientific field they propose to debate. Other than that, I like the idea that they debate the Mormons, Moslems, Christians, vegetarians...they'd probably lose that last one...

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  23. John,

    I have mixed up the events. Miller and Krauss pwned Meyer+Wells at a debate that happened during the Ohio Board of Edn troubles in 2002. The debate happened in Columbus and not at Case. The other Xpt I have read is Miller taking apart Behe at a debate at AMNH. I met Miller twice after that at Case. At Case at a weekend symposium on evolution in 2004 which among others starred Miller, Numbers and Pennock. And after that at the post-Kitzmiller celebration at Case in Jan 2006. That time was funny because Dembski threw a blustery challenge to "Darwinists" inviting them to debate. Patricia Princehouse, Case Prof, offered to host the debate inviting Dembski and Miller. Miller turned up, Dembski like the weasel and whiner he is, kept away. Meyer is challenging Ayala because he thinks Ayala is in his dotage and woolly headed and not an active scientist these days. He won't dare challenge Krauss or Miller or PZ because he fears getting mauled by active scientists. Heck, Miller's TA/RA/GA team is bigger than a typical biology class! Compare that with Meyer's resources - Slimy Sal, Shifty Luskin, Weasel Willie, Jackass Jay etc., Ayala's first choice should be to ignore the call to debate. The 2nd choice would be be do it at a time of his choosing with some pugnacious 2nds who will make short work of Meyer, leaving him gibbering in no time.

    Truti

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  24. If you criticize someone's work -- book, paper or whatever -- you have to be prepared to face off with the author over those criticisms and objections if you want to claim any sort of intellectual honesty.

    So, unless Ayala simply never debates anyone, he pretty much has to accept this. Many of you are saying that debates are pointless, but if Ayala does not share that opinion refusing to debate someone that he started criticizing is essentially the equivalent of running away.

    If you think debating creationists is bad or pointless, ignoring their books or papers is the best way to start. Not by hammering on their books and then denying them the chance to respond and take it on.

    Although it is reasonable to limit the debate to the topics of the book alone.

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