A few more words about Menuge’s review of WIDF

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A FEW MORE WORDS ABOUT A CREATIONIST’S “REVIEW OF WIDF ANTHOLOGY

On February 19 Dr. Ian Musgrave posted to the Panda’s Thumb a brief rebuttal ( see here ) to Angus Menuge’s supposed “review” of the anthology Why Intelligent Design Fails (WIDF).

Ian replied only to Menuge’s treatment of Ian’s chapter in the anthology, showing that Menuge’s review of that chapter is a chunk of piffle. I fully agree with Ian’s opinion, and may add that the same can be said about Menuge’s treatment of every other chapter in the anthology. His “review” of chapter 11, of which I was the author, is a good example.(The text of my chapter is available online see here).

I know next to nothing about Menuge (I believe I heard he has a degree in chemistry) but his review of my chapter betrays his ignorance of the subject discussed in my chapter. In that chapter I demonstrated Dembski’s misinterpretation of the No Free Lunch theorems by Wolpert & MacReady. Dembski’s thesis boiled down to the assertion that the NFL theorems prohibit evolution, which, therefore, is impossible. Of course, the NFL theorems do nothing of the sort, and Dembski displayed an impressive, for a mathematician, lack of understanding of the matter.

And what has Menuge found worth rebutting in my chapter? In his review there is not a single word regarding the main points of my chapter. Instead, he found there a single statement worth (in his view) discussing, which is a secondary point, in no way crucial for my argument. Even about that statement he could not say anything of substance.

In that statement I claimed that the question of natural evolutionary algorithms being capable of climbing up the naturally occurring fitness landscapes belongs in the discussion of anthropic coincidences. Menuge referred to my statement using the words that I “admit” (rather than “state”) my notion. By this trick Menuge apparently tried to create the impression that the statement in question negated my thesis about Dembski’s misuse of the NFL theorems.

In fact I had nothing to “admit,” and it must be clear to any reader of an average intelligence that my notion about anthropic coincidences in no way contradicted my critique of Dembski’s fallacious discourse. It is obvious that Menuge just could not come up with any reasonable rebuttal of my chapter, so he resorted to an irrelevant and meaningless comment about a secondary point, while avoiding discussion of the gist of my chapter. Quite likely, he had no choice as he probably just could not comprehend my arguments because of his insufficient understanding of the NFL theorems and all the related stuff, but had the gall to pretend to be capable of judging it.

In view of the above, Menuge’s conclusion that the arguments in the anthology in question are “not so fatal “ for ID as the authors of the anthology claimed is nothing more than the usual for ID advocates attempt to present their dreams as reality.

12 Comments

So … are all the authors going to send a nice neat polite extensive commentary on the review to the said journal’s editors? I would assume until demonstrated otherwise the editors are on the level even if one of their contributors is not.

Cheers – MrG / http://www.vectorsite.net/gblog.html

Menuge has degrees in philosophy and computer programmer - definitely not chemistry.

I find it exceedingly difficult to follow most of these philosophers in general and their views about science in particular. They seem to keep making up new terms or create new definitions for existing terms. They use very long sentences with many qualifiers. I find it quite hard to follow them.

I write computer code. I specify very complex logical statements with multiple nested levels of if( condition ) then { this } else{ that } constructs. And the condition itself could be a complex one based on “and” “not” and “or” conjunctions. So it is not that I am unable to comprehend long complex conditional statements or follow the logic of the statements. Either the syntax of their sentences is ambiguous or I don’t understand their grammar for their syntax.

Since English is not my mother tongue I am not able to say categorically, “their syntax is ambiguous”. How do native born English speakers rate the preciseness and the clarity of these philosophy papers?

Mark -

Maybe Mengue ought to read my Amazon.com review - it is the most recent one posted at the book’s Amazon page - since it opens with:

It should not be construed as irony that I am posting this review on Darwin’s 200th birthday, nor should it be seen as a deed worthy of celebration, and yet, I admit that I am doing so in homage to his memory. One of Darwin’s most important early sources of inspiration which led inexorably to his celebrated voyage as the naturalist aboard HMS Beagle was William Paley’s “Natural Theology”, the earliest - and in many respects, still the most successful exposition - of what could be described as Intelligent Design creationism. However, for the rest of his life, Darwin discovered compelling evidence that “Intelligent Design” could not be responsible for explaining the origin and current complexity of Earth’s biodiversity; indeed his hastily-written “summary”, “On the Origin of Species”, is often regarded as Darwin’s elegant refutation of Paley’s arguments; a clever observation ignored completely by such latter-day delusional Intelligent Design advocates like philosopher and mathematician William Dembski and biochemist Michael Behe. Their inane, quite absurd, notions of inferring design as the product of an Intelligent Designer - one never specified in their “scientific” literature, but, in reality, the Christian GOD, which, they have admitted to in their religious writings - is rebuked consistently and concisely in “Why Intelligent Design Fails: A Scientific Critique of the New Creationism”. Edited by physicists Matt Young and Taner Edis, this slender volume still remains, almost five years after its original publication date, one of the very best refutations of Intelligent Design creationism I’ve read, and one which is still worthy of a wide readership, especially by educators and others who remain skeptical of the claims for “fairness” and teaching the “strengths and weaknesses of evolution” demanded emphatically by Intelligent Design advocates for the science classrooms of North America, and, increasingly, throughout the world.

Ravilyn Sanders said:

I find it exceedingly difficult to follow most of these philosophers in general and their views about science in particular…Since English is not my mother tongue I am not able to say categorically, “their syntax is ambiguous”. How do native born English speakers rate the preciseness and the clarity of these philosophy papers?

Ravilyn,

Like any academic field, philosophy contains its own trade terms with specific meanings, which can make it difficult for outsiders to follow even when the author is being clear and precise. But the field also has its share of people who throw around big words and revel in being obtuse just for the sake of sounding important. Postmodern philosophers have developed such a bad reputation for this that Alan Sokal hoaxed a postmodernist journal into publishing a complete nonsense paper, just by throwing a bunch of their typical terms in with some physics terms to make word salad. Type his name into google and you should find it easily. You could say they fell victim to a pre-Poe version of Poe’s law, as the editors of the journal were not able to tell a spoof of their own work from the real thing.

Dr. Menuge is not (AFAIK) a postmodernist, but from what I’ve seen of his writing he throws around unnecessary big words like one.

…and my apologies ahead of time to any clear-and-simple writing postmodernist philosophers…

I think in fairness to philosophers in general, that we should note they don’t deal with such simple and clearly described items as bits in a computer system or the fundamental particles in physics. Philosophers deal with things that are fuzzy and complex and often ambiguous themselves. Kind of like biologists, really. At least the computer scientist knows (until quantum computing comes in) that he’s dealing with 1’s and 0’s and nothing else. The physicist knows that even in theory one cannot distinguish one electron from another, while the biologist knows that even two just split asexually reproducing organisms won’t be identical. That is, BTW, why sciences like biology, paleontology and geology are more “hard sciences” than physics and chemistry: the former group all deal with things where every instance is in significant respects unique.

Philosophers have it even harder than biologists in some ways because they can so seldom point to an actual physical thing that their fancy words signify while the biologist lumbered with a long name for an organism or mechanism can often point you to a photo or drawing of his favourite subject that at least lets you know if your understanding is in the ballpark.

None of that, or course, excuses philosophers (or anyone else for that matter) who arrogantly assume they can comprehend any subject under the sun without actual study of it and then use jargon-filled blather to pull the wool over the eyes of the even less well-informed.

Mike from Ottawa said:

I think in fairness to philosophers in general, that we should note they don’t deal with such simple and clearly described items as bits in a computer system or the fundamental particles in physics. Philosophers deal with things that are fuzzy and complex and often ambiguous themselves. Kind of like biologists, really. At least the computer scientist knows (until quantum computing comes in) that he’s dealing with 1’s and 0’s and nothing else. The physicist knows that even in theory one cannot distinguish one electron from another, while the biologist knows that even two just split asexually reproducing organisms won’t be identical. That is, BTW, why sciences like biology, paleontology and geology are more “hard sciences” than physics and chemistry: the former group all deal with things where every instance is in significant respects unique.

Philosophers have it even harder than biologists in some ways because they can so seldom point to an actual physical thing that their fancy words signify while the biologist lumbered with a long name for an organism or mechanism can often point you to a photo or drawing of his favourite subject that at least lets you know if your understanding is in the ballpark.

None of that, or course, excuses philosophers (or anyone else for that matter) who arrogantly assume they can comprehend any subject under the sun without actual study of it and then use jargon-filled blather to pull the wool over the eyes of the even less well-informed.

If I could quibble a little, I think philosophy was better off when it was more closely allied with science in the past.

Contrary to what many folks think, physics has to deal with some very difficult epistemological and ontological issues. Just building detectors and equipment to collect data involves extremely subtle analyses of what is being detected and how this detection is manifested in the instrument being designed and built. This happens at all levels, not just with elementary particles and frontier physics.

The same can be said for biological concepts. Chemistry has had many of the same issues.

In the past, philosophy was quite helpful in sorting out concepts and ideas that lead to deeper insights from bogus dead-ends. But since philosophy became separated from the attempts to understand the universe, it became more like an exercise in vacuous scholasticism. The post-modernist crap has been one of the unfortunate results.

Mike Elzinga said: In the past, philosophy was quite helpful in sorting out concepts and ideas that lead to deeper insights from bogus dead-ends. But since philosophy became separated from the attempts to understand the universe, it became more like an exercise in vacuous scholasticism. The post-modernist crap has been one of the unfortunate results.

I’d add that clarity of thought and writing should be a goal of all disciplines. Unnecessary complexity impedes argument resolution and progress. Scientists have a hard time with simplification because scientific arguments tend to be complex themselves and use trade terms. But IMO this is quite different from the obtuseness you see in creationism. It often seems to me that creationists go out of their way to talk in coded language and hide their point. This is not helpful to anyone, and only makes sense if the point is to prevent resolution of an argument.

Jack Krebs Wrote:

Menuge has degrees in philosophy and computer programmer - definitely not chemistry.

Pity. He’d make an excellent Intelligent Electron “Theorist”.

Mike Elzinga said: …physics has to deal with some very difficult epistemological and ontological issues. Just building detectors and equipment to collect data involves extremely subtle analyses of what is being detected and how this detection is manifested in the instrument being designed and built. This happens at all levels, not just with elementary particles and frontier physics.

The same can be said for biological concepts.…

Random aside, but I recall that some mysterious feature of a prokaryotic chromosome turned out to be an artefact of the preparation of samples for electron microscopy.

More generally, you are very very correct. Original experimental results are plagued by concerns with whether the results you are reporting correspond in any way to the logical conclusions you are drawing from them. Particularly strong examples of this problem can be found in molecular biology, where there are simply a staggering number of inferences used to draw conclusion (which are all very valid, but oh-so confusing).

Biologist, like every other science, often have to find words to describe phenomenon they do not entirely understand at the present. When a problem is poorly understood, any attempt to communicate core concepts is likely to be confusing.

The first thing I will say about Angus is that he is a very nice guy - we have stayed in each other’s homes.

However he does have the weakness of certain philosophers whoi dabble in science - McCalla is another - in that he does not grasp what science is. It is easy to philosophise about science if you havent used a bunsen burner or geological hammer.

I felt he got his witness at Kansas all wrong expecially his agnosticism on the age of the earth. Here he shot himself in the foot.

However this may well be a consequence of this university affiliation as if he came out for an old earth he could lose his job at Concordia University Mequeon cos as it is an LCMS institution a YEC position is assumed if not required. Their biology faculty are YEC as are many others.

Perhaps too many Christian colleges put a straightjacket on their faculty. One nod to an old earth and you are out.

Kurt Wise and Marcus Ross, both good blokes, are in the same position. Admit an earth older than 10,000 years and they will lose their job, church , friends etc.

Cosequently much of Angus’s philosophy can be erudite but sidesteps any question of geological time , which to me is the most crucial question of all and more important than evolution itself. That is what I argued in my chapter in Debating Design - and I must acknoweldge Angus’s help and encouragement enabling me to get that into print.

Michael Roberts – “However this may well be a consequence of this university affiliation as if he came out for an old earth he could lose his job at Concordia University Mequeon cos as it is an LCMS institution a YEC position is assumed if not required.”

But then why do a “review” of WIDF at all? Why not just stay out of it? The book has been out for years, seems to me that Menuge has gone out looking for trouble. And though he may be a nice guy in person, you gotta question the intellectual honesty of someone who writes a dismissive review of a book chapter without ever addressing the chapter’s main argument.

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This page contains a single entry by Mark Perakh published on February 19, 2009 7:42 PM.

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