Aww. Michael Egnor Notices Me

| 40 Comments

Well, I see that physician and Discovery Institute shill Michael Egnor has noticed me.

Egnor, a man whose arrogance and ignorance has already led to the coining of a new word, is unhappy about my critique of Tom Bethell. So unhappy, in fact, that he has to resort to forging fake quotes from my article.

Egnor claims that I called Bethell “a liar” - he uses those two words, and puts them in quotes. Any reasonable person would come to the conclusion that they appear in my article. Only problem is, the word “liar” doesn’t appear anywhere in my piece, as a text search will easily confirm. Gee, a Discovery Institute spokesman misleading the public - what is the world coming to?

Read more of the silly saga at Recursivity

40 Comments

Egnor claims that I called Bethell “a liar”

Well, you do say “Bethell then goes on to repeat a common lie”, which is pretty close to “a liar”.

Oh, dear, another troll with reading comprehension problems.

Did you even bother to read my piece?

“What I said was, “Bethell then goes on to repeat a common lie of the intelligent design movement…” Repeating a lie doesn’t necessarily make one a liar; it is possible to repeat a lie from sheer ignorance.”

Repeating a lie doesn’t necessarily make one a liar; it is possible to repeat a lie from sheer ignorance.

How’s your reading comprehension? I said “which is pretty close to ‘a liar’.” Bethell exaggerated slightly, just as you did, for a polemical effect.

BTW, why do so many people like you have knee-jerk reaction to criticism as “trolling”? Shouldn’t we expect a higher level of integrity on the pro-science side?

You realize this is not even grammatical:

Well, you do say “Bethell then goes on to repeat a common lie”, which is pretty close to “a liar”.

To what does “which” refer?

So don’t blame anyone for not understanding what you wrote.

What are you babbling about?

Egnor didn’t exaggerate; he attributed to me something I did not say.

I didn’t exaggerate about anything; I quoted from my own piece, which you evidently haven’t read in its entirety. Troll hint: read the link that says “Read more of the silly saga…”.

So don’t blame anyone for not understanding what you wrote.

What I wrote was clear as crystal and you understood it. Egnor has some justification for thinking Shallit called him “a liar”, regardless of whether or not a rigorous textual analysis would come to that conclusion.

An honest, rational response from Shallit would have said something like, “Yes, I understand how you might think that, but what I actually said was …” However, such polite responses probably result in fewer blog hits.

Instead, both types of blogs (pro- and anti-science) choose language and attitudes that are polarizing.

Back to this “trolling” accusation: The implicit message is “either your for us or against us.” This is also a polarizing attitude and tends to suppress healthy criticism.

Michael Egnor has noticed me. Hmm. He must be selective. He never noticed this:

http://www.amazon.com/gp/blog/post/[…]GQ9POBBL83YO

;)

attributed to me something I did not say.

What you said is a matter of opinion, as in:

He said: You provided sex for money. She said: You’re calling me a whore? He said: I didn’t say that!

Well, he did. :-)

More troll babbling.

I never called Egnor a liar, nor implied that he was. You can’t even keep the players straight. Egnor is not Bethell. Bethell is not Egnor.

If you use quotes, you had damn well better be quoting what the person actually said, unless you make it clear you are paraphrasing.

What I wrote was clear as crystal and you understood it.

You have a funny definition of “crystal clear”.

I’m not saying of course that one can’t infer meaning from muddled grammar. I assume you meant that accusing someone of repeating a common lie is pretty close to calling somebody a liar. In general, it would be, unless of course that person specifically points out the distinction, as J.S. has done. He actually accused Bethell of being ignorant as opposed to being a liar.

The use of double quotes indicates a verbatim quotation, troll.

Egnor has some justification for thinking Shallit called him “a liar”, regardless of whether or not a rigorous textual analysis would come to that conclusion.

You can see that Shallit never used the word “liar” simply by reading the article. If you consider reading the article to be “a rigorous textual analysis”, then your standard for rigor is abysmally low.

What you said is a matter of opinion

No, it’s right there on the web page. It isn’t even the case that what he meant is a matter of opinion, since Shallit presumably knows perfectly well what he meant.

Aw, come on, the point is that Egnor likely suspects that Bethell is a liar, at least through laziness, ignorance, and carelessness. If you’re reading Shallit’s “Bethell then goes on to repeat a common lie,” and you’re an IDist, you project your suspicions onto Shallit.

People like Nathan and Egnor (and apparently Bethell) have difficulty with the distinctions made by careful writers like Shallit, hence they exchange a falsehood for Shallit’s well-chosen non-committal statement (“pretty close” is simply not true). Perhaps Nathan can’t quite grasp the significance of writing “repeat a common lie” without adding that Bethell is a liar, for the one is readily demonstrable (like evolution is), and the other would require much data and argumentation, well outside of the scope of a blog, to properly (and legally) demonstrate, if one wished to do so.

If IDists and creationists could grasp what is required to properly make an assertion, like “repeat a common lie,” vs. the hypothetical “Bethell is a liar,” no doubt we’d not have the problems from them that we do. “It looks like Shallit is calling Bethell a liar” is the linguistic equivalent of “It looks like design,” and only buffoons think that these are sufficient to produce solid conclusions. But we have buffoons in large quantities.

Glen D http://tinyurl.com/2kxyc7

If the scientific discovery of a ‘blueprint’ would justify the design inference, then why is it unreasonable to infer that the genetic code was designed?

Uh, because the genome and genetic code have all of the indications of having evolved without teleological processes, and none of the marks of design?

Gee, Egnor, you’re really incompetent at these matters. I hope you don’t wander around doing brain surgery on computers, since you apparently can’t distinguish between designed machines and evolved living things.

Again, of course, it’s “science” by really, really dumb analogy. After all, you’d conclude that aliens designed a complex blueprint for a rationally thought out machine, wouldn’t you? Then why wouldn’t you also conclude that a “Designer” whose methods, goals, capabilities, and mental processes are completely unknown and apparently not analogous with our own, made a genetic code which fits the predictions of non-teleological evolution?

Like I was going to ask Behe at one of his talks when he was going on about how finding design would lead to investigation, his example being if we found alien-designed machines, how would anyone distinguish between designed machines and designed organisms? Unfortunately for me, they allowed a bunch of college students to ask some pretty useless questions (and one ranted on and on about how stupid scientists were not to infer design, based on Behe’s fictional claim that everyone agrees that organisms appear to be designed) before community members could ask theirs, so I didn’t get my question in.

Well, Egnor, I’m asking you, how would you distinguish between machines and life, since you buffoons claim that they’re due to the same sorts of design processes? I’ll tell you how actual scientists would make the distinction, and they’d look for the evidence of rational thought processes in machines, as well as for evident purpose, novelty, and “borrowing” not restricted by inheritance. In life, scientists would look for evolutionary processe to have produced it, would expect no rational thought processes to be evident in their production (assuming that this life hasn’t been tinkered with, of course), and would expect life to be restricted in its innovations to what inherited information could be modified by evolutionary means. Totally different markers, Egnor, which readily distinguish life from designed objects underneath the superficial similarities.

And I’ve asked this several places (including at PT, from Paul Nelson, who promptly ignored it), but would any IDist finally tell me why the “Designer” designed mostly conjugating prokaryotes to produce different patterns of taxonomy and recombination than those found among the sexually reproducing organisms? Funny thing, the patterns fit the predictions of non-teleological evolution, but surely the IDists have some kind of design explanation for the differences. I mean, they wouldn’t just ignore such an important test case, would they?

Glen D http://tinyurl.com/2kxyc7

I don’t know if the DI practices the disappearing posts that ID does, or conveniently edits out bits which people have pointed out are inaccurate or worse. But I’m going to play it safe, archiving Egnor’s made-up “quote” here:

Egnor Wrote:

Dr. Shallit criticizes Mr. Bethell on another point. After calling Mr. Bethell “gullible” and “a liar,” Professor Shallit ridicules Bethell’s observation that Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (S.E.T.I.) research demonstrates that, under appropriate circumstances, the scientific inference to intelligent design in nature can be a legitimate interpretation of data.

Glen D http://tinyurl.com/2kxyc7

Nathan Parker -

The main issue here is inappropriate use of quotation marks by Egnor.

Egnor could even have said -

In my view, Shallit implicitly calls Bethell a liar

And he could even have supported that subjective interpretation with quotes from Shallit, including the one you mentioned.

I don’t agree - Shallit essentially called Bethell a crackpot; I didn’t see a strong implication of conscious, rational, voluntary dishonesty.

But that would be an error of interpretation.

However, when Egnor says

Shallit calls Bethell “a liar”

That is an outright mis-statement.

Quotation marks mean that the speaker said exactly what is in the quotation marks; if not, one should clarify.

Accusing Bethell of lying would be no more unreasonable than accusing anyone who is known to utter mistruths of lying. Lying, ignorance, and delusion are the only explanations, outside of a theatrical venue. I generously include all irrational, involuntary compulsions to utter mistruths under the rubric “delusion”, even if the utterer knows what he is doing but can’t voluntarily stop himself. I’m that kind of generous guy.

However, Shallit did not call Bethell a “liar” directly, and in my view, left open the possibility that Bethell might be delusional, broadly defined.

Therefore Egnor was wrong.

The word “troll” is not applied to those who dispute, but to those whose disputes are seen as being trivially false, to the point that they may be arguing merely for the sake of arguing.

Erratum -

Please read my post above as saying

After calling Mr. Bethell “gullible” and “a liar

Forunately, my meaning is not changed. Still, given that block quotes are the same in implication as regular quotes, it was an ironic slip-up on my part.

I admitted my error and corrected it, and discussed how it impacted on my original statement. Would any creationist who has made an error in the past like to follow my example?

I don’t know if the DI practices the disappearing posts that ID does

Oops, the “ID” was supposed to be “UD”.

Glen D http://tinyurl.com/2kxyc7

Nathan Parker Wrote:

BTW, why do so many people like you have knee-jerk reaction to criticism as “trolling”? Shouldn’t we expect a higher level of integrity on the pro-science side?

emphasis added, natch

Does this mean that Nathan feels it is obvious that Egnor is anti-science? Shouldn’t we expect a higher level of integrity from ID proponents? ID proponents are, of course, PRO-science since ID is supposed to be a scientific theory. And ID proponents are, for the most part profoundly religious, and therefore have an additional reason to tell the truth. What’s their religiosity good for if it isn’t correlated with integrity?

Give me a break. I am no fan of the ID movement and no fan of the DI, but there is not a dime’s worth of substantive difference between what you wrote and the claim that you called Bethell a liar.

You wrote, in your rather hideously written post, that he repeats a lie.

You wrote “It goes without saying that Bethell gets the details wrong”

Yes, you are correct on a slight technicality. But it is not worth the pixels you are using to crow about it.

Sometimes PT posts legitimate critiques of things that come out of the DI. This ain’t one of them. This is Bush League. This, by its petty, trivial nature, dilutes those legitimate critiques.

Will you be reporting when they mix metaphors or dangle participles?

Heddle wrote: “there is not a dime’s worth of substantive difference between what you wrote and the claim that you called Bethell a liar.”

Well, then, Heddle, I’ll be sure not to call upon you the next time I need a dime.

Heddle also wrote: “You wrote, in your rather hideously written post, that he repeats a lie.”

It seems to me that someone who trots out the clause “in your rather hideously written post” in a sentence chiding me for my writing style is beyond help. And irony.

Oh come now, heddle. Shallit called Bethell a “buffoon”. According to the free dictionary, a buffoon is “a ludicrous or bumbling person; a fool”. Such a person could eaily repeat a lie without knowing it is a lie. The tone of Shallit’s piece clearly takes Bethell to task for not knowing what he is talking about rather than for being a liar. It is quite obvious that there is substantial difference between what Shallit wrote and what Egnor said he wrote.

Nathan Parker Wrote:

Shouldn’t we expect a higher level of integrity on the pro-science side?

Nathan Parker says ID side is “anti-science”.

There are different meanings possible for the hypothetical “Bethell is a liar”, unsurprisingly. In the broadest sense of “liar,” it probably would not be unfair to suppose “Bethell repeats a common lie” at least implies that he is a liar, because in that sense, telling a single lie could be construed as defining the person as a liar. As in, during a heated argument, if one catches the other out in a lie, one might feel justified by that one instance to say that the other is a liar.

Even that broad definition it is entirely inappropriate to say that Shallit called Bethell “a liar” in quotes like Egnor did, because by no means is that a quote from Shallit, as the punctuation and context indicate that it is.

More importantly, the sense that a single lie makes a person into “a liar” is more appropriate for a heated argument than for reasoned discussions, or even a blog (well, the two aren’t mutually exclusive, but blogs aren’t exactly the same as writing something for a journal). That is to say, one is justified in saying that a certain statement is a “common lie” on a blog, it is far more questionable ethically to call someone “a liar” on the same blog (without additional instances of “lying”), because the context would imply that the person not infrequently lies. The broadest definition of “a liar,” as one who has told or repeated “a common lie”, doesn’t work there, for in published works the word “liar” is typically taken in a more narrow meaning, that the person is characterizable by lying, rather than having been caught out in an error, or even a falsehood.

It seems likely that Shallit wrote what he did precisely because he didn’t want to say that Bethell may be characterized by “lying,” even if it were true. Heddle is a well-known Calvinist, so it isn’t surprising that he understands the charge of Bethell’s having repeated a “common lie” as being very similar to saying that Bethell is “a liar,” for in his theology one sin makes one into a sinner, and one lie makes one into a liar.

But that isn’t how the world understands those words. The rest of us understand Shallit as avoiding the charge that Bethell is “a liar”, through the expedient of merely stating that Bethell repeated “a common lie”. Of course the modifier “common” itself tends to suggest a possible unwitting uptake of that “lie,” rather than its necessarily being a deliberate falsehood. I’m not sure why we shouldn’t call Bethell a liar, considering that he’s been answered well and he repeats the same mindless drivel (he can’t be that dumb), the point is that Shallit didn’t do so.

We’re fighting to keep religionists such as Heddle from determining the meaning of words and science, and I think this demonstrates the necessity for keeping up the fight. The theology that one lie makes a person “a liar” is far too restrictive for normal discourse and for the distinctions that we wish to be able to make. And even within that theological standard, the problem of the quote marks just hasn’t been answered by any of the apologists for Egnor.

Glen D http://tinyurl.com/2kxyc7

The rest of us understand Shallit as avoiding the charge that Bethell is “a liar”, through the expedient of merely stating that Bethell repeated “a common lie”. Of course the modifier “common” itself tends to suggest a possible unwitting uptake of that “lie,” rather than its necessarily being a deliberate falsehood.

IOW, Shallit was really questioning Bethell’s intelligence, not his integrity.

heh.

besides all the debate on jargon… I thought Egnor buried himself nicely with his actual question to Shallit:

If the scientific discovery of a ‘blueprint’ would justify the design inference, then why is it unreasonable to infer that the genetic code was designed?

IF???

If a tree falls in the forest…

Is the question posed by Egnor what the DI would consider “scientific” at this point?

Jeebus, what an assinine question. However, coming from Egnor, it’s no shocker that’s for sure.

If the scientific discovery of a ‘blueprint’ would justify the design inference, then why is it unreasonable to infer that the genetic code was designed?

Try this Dr. Egnor: If A implies B, why is it unreasonable to infer that C implies B?

… IF we discovered a fossil rabbit in pre-cambrian rocks…

If the scientific discovery of a ‘blueprint’ would justify the design inference, then why is it unreasonable to infer that the genetic code was designed?

Or putting it another way: If the genetic code and genomes have evolved, as all of the evidence indicates, why can’t we simply assume that an alien blueprint would have evolved as well?

Work that out, Egnor, and maybe you’ll see why actual evidence is used for honest scientific inference, rather than inept analogies. If we evaluated real designs as sloppily as IDists evaluate what they claim to be “design”, we might as well assume that helicopters evolved instead of being designed, since of course life is, like, “really complex” and Apache helicopters are “really complex”.

This is the funny thing. The only people who actually care about how to discover whether or not intelligence is responsible for found objects are on our side (Dembski’s “it’s complex doesn’t count). The IDists avoid the issue like a plague, for they know that “life looks designed” plays well, while actually finding marks of design in non-engineered life is impossible. That’s why “it’s really complex” is claimed to be the way to find design, when it would actually be unable to identify 90% (guessing, but it’s probably close) of human design, and would determine that innumerable erosion and weathering features in fact are designed (of course Dembski throws in “specified,” paradoxically not specifying what that term means so that IDists can make it up as they go along).

Glen D http://tinyurl.com/2kxyc7

This thread has some superb analysis!

And now for the less superb:

Michael Egnor Wrote:

If the scientific discovery of a ‘blueprint’ would justify the design inference, then why is it unreasonable to infer that the genetic code was designed?

Egnor asks in effect, since we can use forensic evidence (motive, means and opportunity) to detect natural independent agents in criminology and SETI, why can’t we detect other natural processes (which also makes up agents)?

Yes, we can, in spite of lack of motive. We can observe how natural processes change the genome.

But Egnor wants to remain egnorant about observing changes in the genome as we do to detect evolution. Which btw is way faster and more informative than observing changes in the genetic code. Instead he claims that there is a specifiable “blueprint”, without actually, um, specify anything. How can he, when ID won’t?

But there isn’t any specifiable structures, there is only specifiable changes. Let me give an illustrative example from the viewpoint of the egnorant one.

Information is in its technical sense slightly related to complexity as for example in Kolmogorov complexity. In common with the basic result that no one complexity measure can characterize all possible structures, Kolmogorov complexity is not well defined. In practice we can pick a specific compression scheme to compare information content, but we can’t do much else with that type of information measure.

Specifically, we can identify both Shannon and Kolmogorov information associated with genomes. It isn’t practically useful AFAIK, but doable. But instead of giving references and use a large apparatus with strict measures I will use a convenient analogy.

Apparently a model for allele frequencies in asexual populations looks like Bayes theorem. Bayes theorem is also a model for trial and error bayesian inferences. There it decides which hypotheses should be weakened or strengthened. By that model we could call the population’s alleles hypotheses and the frequencies its current theory of the environment. This is information that the population picks up in its genome at selection by the environment. It is contingent, changing environment will lose the meaning of the information. Over time it will make the population forget the old environment and learn about the new one.

Not an especially exciting observation except for the analogies we can make. But more interestingly we can confirm from this bayesian model a lot of what we know about frequentist information measures:

- We can’t point to a specific feature of a system and say “this is the information”. What we can say is that we can observe information change.

In the Kolmogorov complexity case, comparing differences in compression before and after by the chosen compression method. In the Shannon information case, data loss over a channel by the chosen coding method. In the analogy I used it is by observing allele frequencies change as the generations pass.

- We can see that information is a relative, not absolute, measure. And information isn’t an object, nor a specific characteristic. Instead it is a property of the whole system.

Information needs extrinsic models (is semantic) to be useful. Yet that usefulness consist solely in observing changes, not in communicating intrinsic information.

- We can see that intrinsic information isn’t specifiable or communicable as we can only measure changes.

Finally, we can also extract the usual well known consequences for biology:

- We can see that information isn’t an interesting measure or concern for biology. Well, duh! Genetic or phenotypic information is contingent on the environment, and genomes doesn’t exhibit static and communicable information.

Okay, so what we can observe is changes by a chosen specification. Above it was by observing changes in allele frequencies, or more precise distributions. Observing distributions in alleles and their changes among populations genomes is exactly what evolution already tells us to do. And, I might add, in a much more, um, informative fashion.

This thread is kind of fascinating. I’ve seen someone go to great lengths to defend a quote mine, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen such effort being put into such a defense directly in the face of the person being inaccurately quoted.

See, I started to thinking about “the genome as a learning machine” metaphor.

First, a minor point. The above is another analogy to why we can’t read out the internal symbolic (semantic) states of a genome/phenome. Would we expect to read out another’s brain thusly?

Second, a pun point, brought on by too little coffee no doubt. If asexual populations learn by something analogous to trial and error, how does sexual populations learn faster, more efficiently?

Sex is “shake and bake”. Mix good ingredients well and then multiply from the dough. The former doesn’t translate easily into the learning metaphor. (Um, trial and error creativity, perhaps.) But the later looks kind of like learning by positive reinforcement.

Ah, so sex is a reward! Who would have thought it? :-P

“the genome as a learning machine”.

Now I’m making the creationistic fallacy too. Obviously I meant “the population as a learning machine”.

Egnor asks in effect, since we can use forensic evidence (motive, means and opportunity) to detect natural independent agents in criminology and SETI, why can’t we detect other natural processes (which also makes up agents)?

But does ID even show any interest in the classic motive, means, or opportunity? Nor, by the way, a couple more: perpetrator and deed.

ID has never explicitly told us what is the immediate product of a design - only, at best, that somewhere in the history of life that something-or-other had to be designed. Which would be like a forensic expert telling the district attorney, “I’m not sure what they did, but somebody had to have done something.”

Maybe Professor Plum did it with the lead pipe. Or maybe it was Col. Mustard with the wrench. Or…

“I’m not sure what they did, but somebody had to have done something.”

interpolating the likely previous line by same imaginary forensic expert:

“I mean, the vic’s dead, right?”

can you imagine an entire spoof of a Law and Order episode entirely using the projection and “gut instinct” ID supporters use on a daily basis?

man, that would be hilarious.

oh, nevermind, that’s kinda what happened in the Kitzmiller case. spoofs are only good if there isn’t already a real-world case example.

(somehow i managed to post this in a diff thread first).

Tom S Wrote:

ID has never explicitly told us what is the immediate product of a design - only, at best, that somewhere in the history of life that something-or-other had to be designed. Which would be like a forensic expert telling the district attorney, “I’m not sure what they did, but somebody had to have done something.”

Add the fact that what little detail ID has provided (in its typical noncommittal fashion) is either fully consistent with evolution (some IDers have conceded an old earth and common descent, and no others have specifically claimed otherwise or directly challenged them) or completely at odds with classic creationism (Behe’s designed ancestral cell), and what do you have? A “between the lines” concession that mainsteam science is right, that classic creationism (e.g. YEC and OEC) is a scientific as well as legal failure, and that the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy is nothing but a desperate (but alas, successful) attempt to keep the political support of rank & file YECs and OECs.

In a few weeks I will revisit the questions I posed on Talk Origins (Tom S was one of the few who kept the threads going). So anti-evolution activists will have another opportunity to prove me wrong.

Syntax Error: not well-formed (invalid token) at line 3, column 49, byte 225 at /usr/local/lib/perl5/site_perl/5.12.3/mach/XML/Parser.pm line 187

Oleg,

It looks like Egnor has permanently stolen the title of The Ted McGinley of Intelligent Design away from Dembski. In his latest article there is no need to read past the very first word, other than for entertainment value.

Jeffrey, it looks like you have been Egnored again.

Oh yeah, and he asks the same stupefyingly moronic question again, “If the scientific discovery of a ‘blueprint’ would justify the design inference, then why is it unreasonable to infer that the genetic code was designed?”

Of course that has been answered well and voluminously on this thread. Which, given the obtuseness and pathological repetition evident in IDists, is an invitation for him to repeat the same excruciatingly stupid question.

It’s official, Egnor, you are an unintelligent and intellectually dishonest jackass.

Glen D http://tinyurl.com/2kxyc7

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This page contains a single entry by Jeffrey Shallit published on September 11, 2007 6:54 AM.

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