The 1981 Miller-Morris Debate

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In 1981 Kenneth Miller and YEC Henry Morris (founder of the Institute for Creation Research) debated whether “… the theory of evolution is superior to the theory of special creation as an explanation for all the scientific evidence related to origins.” Greg Laden has videos of it, as does NCSE’s Youtube channel (audio is from a tape of the debate with visuals added by NCSE staffer Steve Newton), and now NCSE has posted a transcript of the audio here.

Question for commenters: What arguments, if any, do contemporary ID proponents offer that Morris does not? (When commenting on specifics from the debate please give a video number (of four) and an approximate time in the video or transcript so others can locate it,)

273 Comments

I was one of the organizers of that debate - the sole “evolutionist” - on an otherwise Fundamentalist Protestant Christian creationist ad hoc committee comprised of members of the Brown Unversity chapter of the Campus Crusade for Christ (I was a member of that organization too, but merely as its resident skeptic, having then recently embraced Deism.). The debate was held in Brown’s hockey rink arena and I still recall the scores of busses that had arrived from all over southern New England, from local Fundamentalist Protestant Christian churches. The atmosphere was a mixture between a Religious Revival meeting and a circus event until Ken spoke and silenced the audience with his credible refutations of Morris’s breathtaking inanity.

During the Q & A session a few science literate Brunonians - including friends who were in the combined undergraduate - medical school program (These included a then close friend of mine whom I had known since our high school days at Stuyvesant High School and several Bronx High School of Science alumni too) - played a team-tag game of asking Morris questions about science and philosophy which he couldn’t answer (We were also embarrassed by the sad, but unfortunate, fact that there were fellow Brunonians in the audience who were creationists.). Afterwards, at the end of the debate, I was confronted by some of my Fundamentalist Protestant Christian friends who accused me and Ken Miller (and my fellow science literate Brunonians of course) of being mean and disrespectful to the kindly, grandfatherly, Dr. Henry Morris.

John Kwok said:

Afterwards, at the end of the debate, I was confronted by some of my Fundamentalist Protestant Christian friends who accused me and Ken Miller (and my fellow science literate Brunonians of course) of being mean and disrespectful to the kindly, grandfatherly, Dr. Henry Morris.

Sore losers! Con artists who look kindly and grandfatherly still scam millions from people.….and should be imprisoned for fraud.

Being charitable I regard ole ‘Enry Morris as the grandfather of all creationist conmen.

Some years ago I debated John Mackay of Oz and loads of fundies were bussed in to heckle.

You cannot debate a creationist as they are not interested in truth

Sore losers! Con artists who look kindly and grandfatherly still scam millions from people.….and should be imprisoned for fraud.

That kindly and grandfatherly look was probably a most important factor in his ability to fool people. On the other hand, Ken Ham looks like an angry peach pit but also is a scam artist.

I won’t have time to watch the videos until later, but I would nominate three of the more novel “ID/New Creationist” arguments that I am pretty sure were not argued in their current form in 1981:

1) Irreduceable Complexity. (Closely related to the Argument from Design, but I think it has enough novelty and literature to be considered on its own.)

2) The Information Argument (the proposition that biological processes can destroy information but not create it). This argument is like a weird cousin to the old Second Law of Thermodynamics canard, as filtered through the minds of computer science undergrads.

3) The Fine-Tuning Argument, which is the current trendy thing in philosophy of religion circles.

Joel said:

2) The Information Argument (the proposition that biological processes can destroy information but not create it). This argument is like a weird cousin to the old Second Law of Thermodynamics canard, as filtered through the minds of computer science undergrads.

Basically, as you point out, the SLOT and Creationist Information Theory (CIT … no comments on how to pronounce that) are the same: “An unmade bed cannot make itself.”

I offer that the SLOT argument had a stronger connection to reality, there honestly being a SLOT and something called entropy, though they were grossly misused by creobots. The CIT argument, however, is based on a “Law of Conservation Of Information” that doesn’t exist, and its usage of terms like “information” and “complexity” absolutely disconnect from any meaning in the words.

This was happening during the time I and some of my fellow physicists were dealing with the grotesque mangling of thermodynamics that Morris and Gish were promulgating since the early 1970s.

You will notice in that debate that Morris trots this out quite early in his list of refutations of his equally grotesque caricature of evolution. Gish did this also when he was badgering biology teachers in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

Morris came up with this shtick sometime before 1973; and both he and Gish apparently discovered that it was an extremely intimidating “demolition” of “claims of evolutionists.” It holds a primary place in Morris’s book What is Creation Science which came out around 1981; and Thomas Kindell is using Morris’s thermodynamic “argument” and graphs even today.

The ICR website still carries all of Morris’s original thermodynamic “arguments” even though they have been debunked over and over. This is the nature of ID/creationism.

Joel said: 1) Irreduceable Complexity.

Check the Wikipedia article on IC under the heading “Forerunners”

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irredu[…]#Forerunners

In 1974, Young Earth Creationist Henry M. Morris introduced a similar concept in his book Scientific Creationism in which he wrote; “This issue can actually be attacked quantitatively, using simple principles of mathematical probability. The problem is simply whether a complex system, in which many components function unitedly together, and in which each component is uniquely necessary to the efficient functioning of the whole, could ever arise by random processes.”[27]

TomS said: Check the Wikipedia article on IC under the heading “Forerunners”

Yeah. I think the primary innovation of Behe was to focus on the argument on the molecular biology level. Like CIT, it’s not a new argument, it just raises the “fog factor” involved.

TomS said:

Joel said: 1) Irreduceable Complexity.

Check the Wikipedia article on IC under the heading “Forerunners”

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irredu[…]#Forerunners

In 1974, Young Earth Creationist Henry M. Morris introduced a similar concept in his book Scientific Creationism in which he wrote; “This issue can actually be attacked quantitatively, using simple principles of mathematical probability. The problem is simply whether a complex system, in which many components function unitedly together, and in which each component is uniquely necessary to the efficient functioning of the whole, could ever arise by random processes.”[27]

Indeed. In Morris’s writings there is a famous graph that embodies Morris’s fundamental misconceptions about evolution violating the second law of thermodynamics. It has “Information” along the vertical axis and “Time” along the horizontal axis.

A straight line labeled the “Historical Arrow of Time” slants upward to the right, and has additional labels “Evolution” and “Decreasing Entropy”.

Another straight line labeled the “Thermodynamic Arrow of Time” slants downward to the right and has additional labels “Second Law” and “Increasing Entropy.”

The caption for the graph (despite the Information and Time axes) is “Time’s Arrows – Evolution vs. Science.”

Morris was clearly conflating all those words from the very beginning. My own impression is that he was so taken with his own “discovery” of this conflict that he actually manufactured, that this was much of what drove him and Gish to start a foundation to promulgate this “most devastating argument against evolution.”

Once they had this undeniable “proof” in hand, it was simply a matter of “exposing all the dark secrets of the evolutionists” as further evidence of how desperate scientists were in attempting to cover this up.

That was pretty much the shtick early on. ID was just waiting in the wings for a court decision.

TomS said:

Joel said: 1) Irreduceable Complexity.

Check the Wikipedia article on IC under the heading “Forerunners”

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irredu[…]#Forerunners

In 1974, Young Earth Creationist Henry M. Morris introduced a similar concept in his book Scientific Creationism in which he wrote; “This issue can actually be attacked quantitatively, using simple principles of mathematical probability. The problem is simply whether a complex system, in which many components function unitedly together, and in which each component is uniquely necessary to the efficient functioning of the whole, could ever arise by random processes.”[27]

Seems to me that the IC argument is nothing more than the Fine Tuned argument, which in turn is really just another God of the Gaps argument. Ironically, Morris characterized the God of the Gaps theology proposed by Theistic Evolutionists as “bad theology”.

Oh heavens. Now we’re discussing “kinds” of creobot arguments.

Oh heavens. Now we’re discussing “kinds” of creobot arguments.

But did they evolve or were they intelligently designed?

Henry J said:

Oh heavens. Now we’re discussing “kinds” of creobot arguments.

But did they evolve or were they intelligently designed?

Good question, but as is always the case with that question there’s the difficulty of identifying who the intelligent designer might be.

mrg said:

TomS said: Check the Wikipedia article on IC under the heading “Forerunners”

Yeah. I think the primary innovation of Behe was to focus on the argument on the molecular biology level. Like CIT, it’s not a new argument, it just raises the “fog factor” involved.

That’s right. In fact, in a book review Henry Morris chided Dembski for ignoring the YEC formulations of Dembski’s and Behe’s arguments. In response, Dembski claimed that

By contrast, much of my own work on intelligent design has been filling in the details of these otherwise intuitive, pretheoretic ideas of creationists.

Nice conceptual trail there!

Wow. So ID creationism really is kind of dead after all. If the great PandasThumb is now reduced to photos, “look at the crazy stuff Luskin/O’Leary/Dembski posted on the blog”, and reexamining 30 year old debates, that’s a pretty good indication of just how inert ID creationism has become.

No doubt creationism, and its anti-science crusade, continue on, but apparently not so much in the form of “intelligent design”.

Good riddance to bad rubbish.

Yeah. I think the CIT argument, one of ID’s star attractions, jumped the shark a while back. They’ve gone about as far with it as they could, all they can do now is shuffle the same mumbo jumbo around in various ways, while the opposition (that means us) keeps figuring out better ways to shoot it full of holes.

David Fisher, in his recent popularization Much Ado About (Practically) Nothing offers a mixture of science and autobiography on the applied physics of the noble gases. Quite enjoyable.

From memory, I may have some details wrong:

Along the way he mentions how he was the scientist in a debate with Morris that stayed pretty close to questions about the age of the earth. Morris summarized a point from some geophysical paper at some point, Fisher thought the paper sounded familiar and asked for more details, and soon realized the paper was one he himself had authored. He got to hand Morris his head regarding what the paper actually said.

The audience, of course, wasn’t impressed. They thought it was a mean unfair trick or something. Morris himself, as Fisher later learned and which will surprise no one here, continued to misquote Fisher in later debates.

ID died with Dover. Pre-Dover, I think that these guys thought that they could change the world

Jose Fly said:

Wow. So ID creationism really is kind of dead after all. If the great PandasThumb is now reduced to photos, “look at the crazy stuff Luskin/O’Leary/Dembski posted on the blog”, and reexamining 30 year old debates, that’s a pretty good indication of just how inert ID creationism has become.

No doubt creationism, and its anti-science crusade, continue on, but apparently not so much in the form of “intelligent design”.

Good riddance to bad rubbish.

Clicked submit too quickly …

Post Dover, I think that they are merely trying to maintain the troops. Note that post-dover a lot of the messages have moved from bad science to things like “Darwinism led to Nazi Germany”. This certainly plays to the fears of the true believers but to everybody else it is distasteful.

I think that recent statements by the Pope can be seen in a similar way. He has given up speaking to the world at large, instead he is playing to the distrust of the secular of his true believers.

MichaelJ said:

ID died with Dover. Pre-Dover, I think that these guys thought that they could change the world

Jose Fly said:

Wow. So ID creationism really is kind of dead after all. If the great PandasThumb is now reduced to photos, “look at the crazy stuff Luskin/O’Leary/Dembski posted on the blog”, and reexamining 30 year old debates, that’s a pretty good indication of just how inert ID creationism has become.

No doubt creationism, and its anti-science crusade, continue on, but apparently not so much in the form of “intelligent design”.

Good riddance to bad rubbish.

ID has one thing that YEC generally lacked, which is a thorough hostility to science. True, they usually call it “materialism” or “naturalism,” but of course the whole point is that science demands legitimate evidence, which they consider to just be totally unfair.

They’re not always very good at disguising their general contempt for science, however. Never mind that they don’t mind using science’s results as technology to rubbish science.

Creationists usually attack science piecemeal, and do hope to use science to “prove” their nonsense. IDiots’ new strategy is to oppose science altogether and to wish to replace it with theology. The Wedge:

Design theory promises to reverse the stifling dominance of the materialist worldview, and to replace it with a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions.

They “argue” that science is wrong altogether, and that it must be replaced with theological junk that only they consider to be ‘science.’ Creationists often do want this, however they have little conception of even how they oppose science, and most would never make broad-based attacks on science.

In line with this, IDiots are especially demonizing of scientists, who “foist their materialism” (the standards used by science, and not too unlike those used in courts) upon everyone else. They are actually the nastiest and most evil well-poisoners of all of the creationists.

Glen Davidson

Just for fun– before I read all the comments I’ll leave mine. I watched (really listened, just cool pics, no video) to the videos. I had never heard of this debate until I began paying attention to “the controversy” in the past couple of years.

As far as the creationist side is concerned, the debate could have occured yesterday. All of Morris’ arguments are still heard and I’ve heard nothing really new recently. We don’t hear so much about the dino/human tracks anymore(I was waiting for Miller to really take that down, but was it too new in ‘81 for him to be more decisive?). It was so bad that I didn’t even listen to his entire spiel, once I figured out all of video 1 was Morris, after about 20 minutes, I went right to the end. I skipped through much of his rebuttal too.

I listened to all of Miller’s talk and that’s the only time this really seemed like a 30 year old (really, 30?!) debate. I kept thinking of things more recently learned. He was really excellent.

If I have time to look at the transcript, I might scan more of Morris’ arguments. Some of the audio wasn’t so great.

Now I’ll read what everyone else said.

MichaelJ said:

ID died with Dover. Pre-Dover, I think that these guys thought that they could change the world

I would go so far as to say it died mid-Dover. I think when most of the ID experts backed out and insisted they would only testify if they had their own legal representation, it became pretty clear to the school board that this was an interest group that did not really have the local’s interests at heart. Whether it was science at that point was almost irrelevant; very few school boards are going to implement some NGO’s strategy if they think that NGO is going to cut and run on them come crunch time.

So, I know a lot of pepole may disagree with me on this and that’s fine, this is just my opinion and I don’t have any real data to back it up, but…I would guess that ID’s failure to gain traction after Dover is about 50% due to the SBOE’s loss, and about 50% due to the way the DI conducted itself.

Maybe its 60/40 or 70/30, but I think you get my point: even when you ideologically agree with a known traitor, you generally aren’t going to trust them. The DI betrayed the the local school board they claimed to be fighting for. Other school boards probably took notice.

That ID creationism is dead is something I’ve been saying in various forums for a few years now. I think I may have even posted that view here a couple of times.

It’s surprising though how YEC suffered even bigger legal losses (i.e. SCOTUS) yet continues to thrive in its own way. “Museums”, theme parks, TV channels, fake journals, etc. But IDC seems to have just withered on the vine. It only seems to live on in the form of a handful of blogs and occasional mention (and subsequent abandonment) in backwater school districts.

Is it because YEC is directly tied to the Bible and fundamentalist Christianity, whereas IDC’s attempt to portray itself as secular ended up being its demise? I think so, and the irony of that has to be savored.

Henry J said:

Oh heavens. Now we’re discussing “kinds” of creobot arguments.

But did they evolve or were they intelligently designed?

Only one pair of creobot arguments were on the ark, but after escaping back into the wild they spawned myriad variations.

Creobot arguments are, however, subject to the 2LOT. Since Creobot information is a constant (value: 1 Genesis worth), as their number proliferate sensibility entropy takes over and they each get a little more nonsensical than the last generation.

Jose Fly said:

It’s surprising though how YEC suffered even bigger legal losses (i.e. SCOTUS) yet continues to thrive in its own way. “Museums”, theme parks, TV channels, fake journals, etc.

It continues to thrive only in venues where it can’t be made to actually answer questions.

That’s why it always dies in courts.

Jose Fly said: Is it because YEC is directly tied to the Bible and fundamentalist Christianity, whereas IDC’s attempt to portray itself as secular ended up being its demise?

I think early on there were people – Mike Denton comes to mind – who honestly thought that if they sat down and really dug into the matter, they could show that evo science was bogus.

The first problem was that they couldn’t: evo science is very well established, and all they could do was come up with cosmetic revisions of old arguments. The second problem was that they had no substantial constituency for a secular attack on evo science: the hardcore antiscience cranks were too few in number, and so the only real constituency were the fundies who only reluctantly (and very inconsistently) pretended they were secular when they did so at all.

However, I think ID’s arguments and, to an extent, tactics, have been picked up by the creobot community. The only question is how long ID will continue to pretend it’s not the creobot sock puppet it effectively always was.

stevaroni said: Creobot arguments are, however, subject to the 2LOT. Since Creobot information is a constant (value: 1 Genesis worth), as their number proliferate sensibility entropy takes over and they each get a little more nonsensical than the last generation.

This is more true than might be realized. In my tinkerings on JFK assassination conspiracy theories, they have tended to become more baroque over time. Why? Because the straightforward ones were taken first. To do anything new requires going off into less plausible directions. It’s sort of like the evolution of the peacock’s tail.

Henry J said:

Oh heavens. Now we’re discussing “kinds” of creobot arguments.

But did they evolve or were they intelligently designed?

Designed? No doubt. Intelligently? Hmmm.…

mrg said:

In my tinkerings on JFK assassination conspiracy theories, they have tended to become more baroque over time.

One of the first things I did when I had spare time off in Dallas was to make the pilgrimage to Dealy plaza.

It’s amazing how quickly the conspiracy loose any veneer of sensibility once you stand in the place yourself.

If you go up to the infamous sixth floor and look down on the street (it’s a museum nowadays, you can’t stand in the actual window, but you can stand in the next one) you can’t help thinking to yourself “Geeze, this would have been an easy shot. It feels like I could probably have hit Kennedy guy with a freakin’ baseball from here”.

My point is, I guess, that it’s amazing how a little bit of actual information can quickly dissipate the crackpot cloud of manufactured controversy.

Works the same way with science.

And while Wood is excellent, he is hardly the pre-eminent historian of the period. Merely one of a small group.

If you didn’t convert every post into a mirror of narcissism, your points would be clearer to address. Just a suggestion.

There are many legitimate reasons to oppose the Ground Zero Mosque.

Ask M. Zuhdi Jasser, who, as a former United States Navy Lieutenant Commander (He was a medical officer.), I find far more credible than my West Point alumnus cousin who is now an executive director of a CAIR state chapter:

http://www.nypost.com/p/news/opinio[…]z4ATF9v7cBDM

Ask Mansoor Ijaz, who, as a strong Wall Street supporter of Bill Clinton, tried unsuccessfully to bring Osama bin Laden from the Sudan to the United States for trial back in the mid 1990s:

http://onfaith.washingtonpost.com/o[…]n_first.html

And finally, ask my friend Shireen Qudosi, who spoke out against the Ground Zero Mosque, shortly before Jasser did:

http://www.qudosi.com/religion/57-u[…]-failed-idea

Jasser, Ijaz and Qudosi understand why the Ground Zero Mosque should never be built. Unfortunately such similar sophisticated understanding has yet to penetrate the thick skull of my cousin former United States Army chaplain James Yee.

I have no interest or desire in further derailing this thread, since the issue of the Ground Zero Mosque is quite independent with regards to the legacy of the Miller-Morris 1981 debate, of which I am still proud to have served as the sole “evolutionist” on the ad hoc campus committee which organized it.

Malchus said:

And while Wood is excellent, he is hardly the pre-eminent historian of the period. Merely one of a small group.

If you didn’t convert every post into a mirror of narcissism, your points would be clearer to address. Just a suggestion.

I respectfully beg to differ. Gordon Wood is widely regarded as the preeminent American historian on the American Revolution and the drafting of the United States Constitution. It was he who first recognized the radical nature of the American Revolution, and this understanding has greatly informed Ken Miller’s understanding of the rationale behind public support of Intelligent Design creationism in Ken’s “Only A Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America’s Soul”.

Your other risible ad hominem comment regarding me is unworthy of comment; I was merely stating it in recognition that I am biased favorably toward Wood partly for the very reason I stated (But you need not take my word, but rather Ken Miller’s, as I have just noted.).

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