A Response to Berlinski

| 96 Comments

I wrote a letter to the editor of “The Daily Californian” concerning David Berlinski’s op-ed piece that ran there on April 1. I reproduce it here as an open letter.

Re: David Berlinski’s little white lies

David Berlinski claims to be looking for what is true. It is odd, then, that he spreads easily-discovered falsehoods in his April 1st essay.

Is it really considered “clever beyond measure” for biologists at the Panda’s Thumb or TalkReason websites to misspell William Dembski’s surname as “Dumbski”? Google has made it easy to check, and Google doesn’t find even one such instance at the TalkReason web site. Google does find three pre-Berlinski instances of use of the “Dumbski” misspelling on the Panda’s Thumb, but all of those are in the sections of public comment and have not issued from that weblog’s contributing biologists. There no indication that anyone congratulated those making the comments for their wit.

Besides inventing infractions by critics, Berlinski’s approach to etiquette is one-sided. Berlinski notes Dembski’s extensive academic training, but overlooks Dembski’s documented penchant for invidious comparisons. In 1998, Dembski compared biologists to the old Soviet regime, a charge he repeated in 1999 and 2003. He referred to biologists opposed to him at Baylor University as practicing “intellectual McCarthyism” in 2001. In 2002, Dembski analogized ID to be like Socrates and the scientific community to be like the Athenian court that ordered his death. Nor does maturity seem to be coming to Dembski, as in 2004 he compared evolutionary biologists to the Taliban. (The website http://tinyurl.com/58kwe documents several further instances of invidious comparisons by Dembski’s fellow ID advocates.)

Berlinski’s thesis that criticism of Dembski’s arguments has nowhere risen above the level of misspelling Dembski’s surname is absurd. I have a published a critical book review of the Cambridge University Press volume that Berlinski cites. John Wilkins and I wrote a peer reviewed paper published in “Biology and Philosophy” that notes serious problems in Dembski’s “explanatory filter”. I extensively criticized other arguments of Dembski’s in online essays, and I spelled Dembski’s name correctly throughout. I’m not alone. For a book that takes ID claims seriously and shows why they are wrong or unconvincing, I recommend “Why Intelligent Design Fails” from another academic publisher, Rutgers University Press. I contributed to a chapter therein that critiques Dembski’s arguments.

Berlinski’s falsehoods and mischaracterizations are not clever.

96 Comments

Problem: Berlinski can point to the April 1 publishing date and accuse the opposition of not having a sense of humour. I suppose in response one might accuse him of not being funny. :)

Berlinski prefers superciliousness to humor, so it would be quite a new approach if he were suddenly trying to be funny (instead of doing it inadvertently).

From WordNet: invidious – containing or implying a slight or showing prejudice

Are Dembski’s (quoted above) analogies invidious? I don’t think they are intended to contain or imply a slight, so much as to reflect on Dembski’s experience - as to whether they show prejudice, that depends upon whether the reason he used the analogy was true or not. They certainly aren’t as abusive as the language generally used of anybody opposed to evolution on Panda’s Thumb. Methinks you protest too much.

Let’s see… misspelling a name is a breach of etiquette worthy of being the basis of an op-ed article, but noting that the person whose name was misspelled has compared his critics to the Soviets, Sen. McCarthy, and the Taliban is too trivial to rate a mention. Ok, I think I’ve got where aCTa is coming from. I think “invidious” is a demure understatement of the reality. Mark Perakh and I covered this territory in detail last year.

aCTa also overlooks the specificity of Berlinski’s claim, that the biologists on Panda’s Thumb were the parties responsible for misspelling Dembski’s name and laughing it up. Berlinski’s claim wasn’t about the “language generally used” here. As one of the those very specifically accused by Berlinski, am I wrong to protest an out-and-out falsehood printed in the media? I don’t think so.

That’s an odd definition of ‘invidious.’ I think it is more generally read to mean ‘antagonistic,’ or ‘hostile,’ with a connotation of arbitrariness. In any event, under either your definition or mine, yes, Dembski’s rash comparisons of honest scientists to mass murderers and perpetrators of atrocities is invidious.

Syntax Error: mismatched tag at line 1, column 988, byte 988 at /usr/local/lib/perl5/site_perl/5.12.3/mach/XML/Parser.pm line 187

Syntax Error: not well-formed (invalid token) at line 14, column 16, byte 2876 at /usr/local/lib/perl5/site_perl/5.12.3/mach/XML/Parser.pm line 187

Let’s just cut to the chase: otoh, anti-evolutionists are often good misguided folk, and occasionally frankly and honestly religious who don’t care a fig about science and say so. On the other hand, a considerable number of those who “lead the charge” and especially those who continue to do battle no matter how often they’ve been shown to be ignorant in the areas of biology and evolution, are very often arrogantly ignorant of biology and of the philosophy of science, so that once they’re out of their small stock of criticisms they begin to resort to distortions, lies, and attacks on the actual experts in the science they’re criticizing.

What’s Berlinski supposed to be doing at this point, telling us relevant facts? Does he have any? He remains decidedly opposed to a science that he doesn’t understand, but he has nothing credible to say, and so he says nothing other than to make false charges, bring up irrelevant stories, and to hold biologists up to ridicule.

I’m apprehensive like others here that all criticisms of his latest screed will be answered with, “where’s your sense of humor?”, and, “didn’t you notice the date?” But it can’t be helped, since Berlinski has run out of “bright ideas” and will opt to go for the dim ones.

But I promise not to call Dimski by the name “Dumbski”, or Berdimski by the name “Berdumbski”. Of course the foregoing sentence is unclever and meaningless to any honest discussion, but I’m willing to operate on Berlinski’s level as long as he can only flail.

OK, I confess, I confess that a weekend of watching Adam Sandler movies led me to intentionally misspell the D-meister’s name as D*mbski, which I can’t do now, since I vowed to cease and desist.

However, I am outraged that I, a chemist, have been swept up with biologists, of all ilk, who were out in the forest partying while I was slaving away in a laboratory doing serious work. As for Berlinski failing to cite me specifically for my Sandleresque attempt at humor, I guess the planets weren’t lined up in my favor. He should know.

A malicious man disguises himself with his lips, but in his heart he harbors deceit. Though his speech is charming, do not believe him, for seven abominations fill his heart. His malice may be concealed by deception, but his wickedness will be exposed in the assembly. (Proverbs 26:24-26)

And let us not forget the exposure of William Dembski’s dishonest subterfuges at amazon.com. Certainly this duplicitous behavior is invidious.

Is there a web page “clearing house” somewhere that gives a quick but thoroughly documented summary of the unprofessional conduct of creationists like Dembski who are employed in the academy?

Berlinski’s condemnations certainly are lame.  Which leads to a rather obvious creative misspelling of his name…

I’ve tightened things up by a judicious cast of messages to the Bathroom Wall.

“The Daily Californian”

that’s the UC Berkely campus paper, isn’t it? It was over a decade ago since i was a grad student there, but it seems familiar.

cheers

http://www.dailycal.org/article.php?id=18178

oh god. the humanity! I just confirmed it for myself. To see my alumn, the school that when i was there, contributed as much to evolutionary theory as any school in CA, if not the country, publish such drivel. Now i can understand free speech and all, but really! At least publish a rebuttal opinion alongside, or clarify the paper’s use of Berlinski’s ramblings as purely for some April Fools fun.

*sigh*

well, at least the article is appropriately titled:

“Academic Extinction”

indeed.

R. Appell - You are not the first to be banned for pointing out the ‘secret’ radicalism of the ID movement. I was banned there several years ago for posting an article documenting Johnson’s ties to Ahmanson. The twisted pseudologic of the ARNite was that it was an ‘ad hominem’ attack.

The truth, it seems, is often offensive to the IDC movement.

The ARN board is a seething pit of anti-intellectualism, populated by arrogant, overconfident anti-science nitwits like Salvador and Warren Bergerson and Bertvan.

I did not affirm in my editorial that at both The Panda’s Thumb and Talk Reason William Dembski was described as dumb: I observed merely that at both sites such objurgations were considered “clever beyond measure.” This is the perfect truth, as a scan of posted comments might reveal. The fact that these comments were posted on a site self-described as appropriate to a urinal hardly persuades me that my observations were mistaken. May I observe, in addition, that whether William Dembski may have responded to gross intellectual vulgarity by intemperate remarks of his own is hardly relevant to the point at issue. A chaque jour suffit sa peine. I have, in addition, never claimed that criticisms of Dembski’s work inevitably fail to rise beyond the level of the causal insult. I have, after all, published my own critique of his work in Commentary. If contributors to The Panda’s Thumb or Talk Reason do not wish to be treated as fools, they should take more care not to write like one.

Syntax Error: not well-formed (invalid token) at line 9, column 39, byte 595 at /usr/local/lib/perl5/site_perl/5.12.3/mach/XML/Parser.pm line 187

David Berlinski wrote:

I did not affirm in my editorial that at both The Panda’s Thumb and Talk Reason William Dembski was described as dumb: I observed merely that at both sites such objurgations were considered “clever beyond measure.”

You’d have to be some kind of dimbulb to believe that. He’s lying. Or a dimbulb.

If contributors to The Panda’s Thumb or Talk Reason do not wish to be treated as fools, they should take more care not to write like one.

Haven’t seen any articles against Relativity over here, Berdumbski.

Just for the record, Steve: “Berdumbski” is not clever beyond measure.

I just posted a review of Berlinski’s mega-specious Wichita Eagle piece from last month here for anyone interested.

Wesley:

neither is Berlinski.

I observed merely that at both sites such objurgations were considered “clever beyond measure.” This is the perfect truth, as a scan of posted comments might reveal.

Do you have any evidence for this at all? Has anyone ever written anything to indicate that they think “Dumbski” is clever beyond all measure, or is it simply something you say?

The fact that these comments were posted on a site self-described as appropriate to a urinal hardly persuades me that my observations were mistaken.

So do you supposes that “the bathroom wall” is filled with cleverness beyond measure? Would “cleverness beyond measure” be consigned to the “bathroom wall”?

May I observe, in addition, that whether William Dembski may have responded to gross intellectual vulgarity by intemperate remarks of his own is hardly relevant to the point at issue.

If you believe that, show some evidence for your claims. And of course it does matter that Dembski has often been intemperate, since one has considerably less obligation to be respectful toward those who have treated biologistis intemperately.

I have, in addition, never claimed that criticisms of Dembski’s work inevitably fail to rise beyond the level of the causal insult. I have, after all, published my own critique of his work in Commentary.

Was that supposed to be “casual insult”? To be sure, he does produce “causal insults” when he claims a “cause” whose effective actions remain beyond our ken.

Why his poor tactics are defended by yourself after you have noted some of Dembski’s errors remains a mystery. The very rare use of the word “Dumbski” on this forum may be considered cheap, throwaway insult, hurled in haste because dumb arguments are dumb no matter if one has two doctorates or is in fact intelligent. And Dembski has yet to bring up an actual causal model, instead supposing that ascription of responsibility to a “designer” can be done via mathematical calculations.

If contributors to The Panda’s Thumb or Talk Reason do not wish to be treated as fools, they should take more care not to write like one.

You could write using number consistently if you want to appear less foolish than the “fools” on Panda’s Thumb. I make mistakes as well, but for one who comes in evincing great superiority as you did, I’d think you’d make less mistakes in reiterating the same unevidenced charges in such a short post.

Anyway, you can’t treat us like fools. You can only try. That you get so very much wrong in the attempt leaves the issue open to attacks on the other side.

And I’m going to mention once again the fact that I was arguing for physics (thermodynamics in the brain) in my Commentary letter (Feb., 2005), and you mostly brushed such concerns aside. Then in the Wichita paper you faulted evolution for not conforming to highly precise physics (which is true of much “real world” physics).

The question is, do you really care about physics in scientific matters, or is it simply a cudgel to use against a theory you appear to oppose even without much in the way of meaningful argumentation? Are percentages in weather prediction, and faulty forecasts, an argument against meteorology, or is it to be agreed that chaotic effects in many systems preclude exact prediction in a number of cases?

Berlinski seems to still be somewhat upset by collection of essays and letters at Talkreason disseminating his comments in Commentary.

Berlinski’s anti-scientific scandal

Has Darwin met his match in Berlinski?

Accusing scientific response to ID to be largely rethorical, he hides ID proponents’ inabilities to present any relevant scientific theory of ID. In fact, ID proponents are routinely ignoring scientific criticisms of their work in favor of rethoric, wedging their way into school curricula.

Berlinski’s dislike of sites which expose the vacuity of intelligent design, as well as his own comments seems to have led him to drop any efforts to verify his claims. Luckily we have such eminences as Welsey Elsberry, to help set the record straight… Once again…

Just for the record, Steve: “Berdumbski” is not clever beyond measure.

That’s the spirit, keep us on our toes. If we’re not reminded that “Dumbski” and “Berdumbski” are not clever, pretty soon we’ll be thinking that “Wearing pink tasseled slippers and conical hats covered in polka dots, Darwinian biologists are persuaded that a plot is afoot to make them look silly,” is clever.

Berlinski’s bio describes him as follows:

Berlinski (Ph.D. in mathematics, Princeton University) is a lecturer and essayist… a longtime friend of the late Marcel Schützenberger, with whom he collaborated on the mathematical critique of Darwinism. Berlinski is a fellow of the Discovery Institute’s Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture.

Apparently he has not been well-trained in logic or rhetoric, since his essay and response are an excellent case study for identifying logical fallacies. I counted a bunch:

3 fallacies of distraction:

Appeal to Pity: the reader is persuaded to agree by sympathy

False Dilemma: two choices are given when in fact there are three options

From Ignorance: because something is not known to be true, it is assumed to be false

2 fallacies of Motive:

Prejudicial Language: value or moral goodness is attached to believing the author (the part about conical hats is particularly egregious)

Popularity: a proposition is argued to be true because it is widely held to be true

4 Fallacies of Changing the Subject:

Attacking the Person:(1) the person’s character is attacked (2) the person’s circumstances are noted

Appeal to Authority where the authority is not an expert in the field

Anonymous Authority where the authority in question is not named

Style Over Substance where the manner in which an argument (or arguer) is presented is felt to affect the truth of the conclusion (i.e., D*mbski)

2 of Missing the Point

Begging the Question: the truth of the conclusion is assumed by the premises

Straw Man: the author attacks an argument different from (and weaker than) the opposition’s best argument

Then I got tired. But I did learn a new word

objurgations

from the verb, meaning

to denounce harshly:CASTIGATE –(Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary)

Thanks, David. Now all I have to do is use it in a sentence.

Frank Wrote:

Apparently he has not been well-trained in logic or rhetoric, since his essay and response are an excellent case study for identifying logical fallacies.

I’m not sure that your conclusion follows, Frank. What are the odds that one person could pack so many logical fallacies into such a short space without having some background in the subject? It is said that James Joyce had a list of words which he intended to use within “Ulysses” and crossed them off as he had occasion to use them. Perhaps the hypothesis of a list of fallacies to be deployed has greater explanatory power than the chance hypothesis that someone simply stumbles across all of those techniques.

But of course I read the Panda’s Thumb, the more so when so many vexed contributors are taking me to task. Where else could a man of my tastes find so much by way of misspelled indignation on a rainy afternoon in Paris? Having so solemnly insisted that they are as pure as the driven snow – maybe purer – the contributors that I have now read confirm the thesis that I have already made. PvM appears to believe that I am upset by the fact that Talk Reason disseminated my Commentary essays on their site. If only they had. It might have improved opinion there remarkably. What Talk Reason did do was, in fact, allow me to answer a number of criticisms. Appropriate? Yes, of course. Meritorious? Hardly. Glenn Davison appear put out that I did not properly answer his letter in Commentary. I’m sorry for it. If he will make his case again, privately if he wishes, I will try to do better. And for the record – and for all my fans out there – I do not find it my responsibility to defend ID, or anything else, for that matter, since I do not support ID, or anything else, for that matter.

Water under the bridge to me. Perhaps I’ll take up your offer.

Berlinski:

Where else could a man of my tastes find so much by way of misspelled indignation on a rainy afternoon in Paris?

If you’re going to be superciliously pedantic, you might do well to spell-check and grammar-check your own comments.

Glenn Davison appear put out that I did not properly answer his letter in Commentary

Of course, I’m just being pedantic here.

More substantially, that you can claim not to be an ID supporter, yet associate yourself with the Discovery Institute (and, I presume, accept their money?) causes me to think you a hypocrite of the highest order.

Hey Lenny,

ever met Harry Greene in the MVZ over at Berkeley?

just thought with your interest in snakes and evolution, he would be a natural acquaintance.

cheers

ack! I guess i’m dating myself; he’s over at cornell now.

http://www.eeb.cornell.edu/greene/greene.html

Hey Lenny,

ever met Harry Greene in the MVZ over at Berkeley?

just thought with your interest in snakes and evolution, he would be a natural acquaintance.

cheers

We’ve emailed a few times, but never met in the flesh.

Also emailed a few times with herpetologist Jake Socha about flying snakes — for a time, he and I were, as far as we could tell, the only ones in the US who were keeping them.

I can’t imagine a large trade in that species. where did you manage to find one?

any interesting behavioral notes? I’ve never even heard of one in captivitiy before.

Did you or Socha publish anything on the species?

cheers

I can’t imagine a large trade in that species. where did you manage to find one?

any interesting behavioral notes? I’ve never even heard of one in captivitiy before.

Did you or Socha publish anything on the species?

Socha has published peer-reviewed stuff. Me, I just did a piece for one of the hobbyist magazines.

As for behavior, they’re very fast, very nervous, very apt to bite. Rear-fang venomous, but it’s REALLY hard for them to get a fang in ya — only managed to get me once. Made my thumb go numb, but no big deal.

“As for behavior, they’re very fast, very nervous, very apt to bite.”

hmm, kinda what I would have expected. gotta be fast and nervous to get the nerve to jump from tree to tree, I’d wager.

BTW, I finished the first draft of the ngo proposal. I posted it on the google group, and you should have recieved an email copy from there.

anxiously awaiting input.

cheers

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Wesley R. Elsberry published on April 5, 2005 3:30 AM.

Hobbit Fossils Damaged… was the previous entry in this blog.

Einstein’s Black Box is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

Categories

Archives

Author Archives

Powered by Movable Type 4.361

Site Meter