Monday, April 25, 2005

Berlinski's Descent Continues

I offered some thoughts about David Berlinski in this previous post. He has been active since then.

First came this essay for The Daily Californian on April 1, 2005. I am assuming Berlinski intended it to be taken seriously, despite the date of its publication. The essay begins as follows:


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. At Internet web sites such as The Panda's Thumb or Talk Reason, where various eminences repair to assure one another that all is well, it is considered clever beyond measure to attack critics of Darwin's theory such as William Dembski by misspelling his name as William Dumbski.


Now, I am a contributor to both The Panda's Thumb and Talk Reason. I can say with some confidence that no one affilitated with either of those sites considers it even slightly clever, let alone clever without measure, to misspell William Dembski's name.

Furthermore, no one at Talk Reason has ever engaged in that practice. Nor have any of the editors of The Panda's Thumb. It is true that on three occasions commenters at The Panda's Thumb engaged in that activity. But of course, commenters are free to write whatever they want (within certain minimal standards of good taste), and the views expressed in comments belong solely to the person leaving the comment.

So Berlinski began his essay with a bald-faced lie. How would he react when that was pointed out to him?

Berlinski wrote the following e-mail to the editors of Talk Reason, as part of an exchange of letters. Please note that though Berlinski begins by asking that this letter not be posted, he subsequently gave his permission to post it in a later e-mail:


Dear Editors:

Thank you for your response. I am uninterested in posting this letter anywhere. It is intended for your eyes. I am obliged to ask you to
attend precisely to what I, in fact, wrote, and not what you imagine I wrote. The sentence in question is as follows:

1) At Internet web sites such as /The Panda's Thumb /or /Talk Reason/, where various eminences repair to assure one another that all is well, it is considered clever beyond measure to attack a critic of Darwin's theory such as William Dembski by misspelling his name as William Dumbski.

a Note that my reference to /The Panda's Thumb/ and /Talk Reason/ is disjunctive and not conjunctive; and that

b as a matter of logic and English grammar, 1) does /not/ imply that William Dembski's name was misspelled at /either/ The Panda's Thumb /or/ Talk Reason, although, /in fact/, it was misspelled at /The Panda's Thumb /and not /Talk Reason/.

In this regard, compare 1) with

3) At Internet web sites such as /The Panda's Thumb /or /Talk Reason/, where various eminences repair to assure one another that all is well, it is considered clever beyond measure to attack a critic of Darwin's theory such as William Dembski by insisting that his mathematical results are written in Jello.

That Dembski's mathematical results are written in Jello was a claim made at /neither/ The Panda's Thumb /nor/ Talk Reason; still the claim
was considered clever beyond measure at both sites, no doubt because it /was/ clever, if not clever beyond measure.

What is at issue is whether you regard infantile verbal abuse ranging from the distasteful /(William Dumbski, How creationists suck/) to the contemptuous (/The Art of ID Stuntmen/, /Icons of Obfuscation/) as clever. I have no way directly of knowing, of course. For all I know you may collectively wince when you read such stuff. If so, you have not winced conspicuously, the more so, I am minded to add, since you seem either to have written or to endorsed some of the stuff in question.

Sincerely yours,

David Berlinski


Breathtaking, don't you think? “The Art of ID Stuntmen is the title of a collection of 24 essays posted at Talk Reason (Full disclosure: I wrote one of those essays, and a letter to the editor of mine is reprinted there as well). In those essays it is documented in considerable detail that the most prominent ID proponents engage in all manner of intellectually dishonest practices.

The phrase “Icons of Obfuscation” is a parody of the title of Jonathan's Wells' book Icons of Evolution. It has been amply documented elsewhere (see Alan Gishlik's lengthy discussion for one especially good example) that Wells' book was shot through with errors, and was mostly an exercise in propaganda.

The assertion that William Dembski's mathematical results were written in jello comes from this review of Dembski's book No Free Lunch. The author of that review was David Wolpert, who was one of the discoverers of the No Free Lunch theorems referred to in Dembski's title.

Despite this, Berlinski feels that ID is treated with unwarranted contempt by Panda's Thumb and Talk Reason. In his mind, that is sufficient justification for inventing a specific insult out of whole cloth, and claiming that the contributors to those sites consider that invented slur to be clever beyond measure.

This is not a man who should be describing others as wearing pink tasseled slippers and conical hats covered in polka dots.

But just in case you think Berlinski was having an off day when he wrote that ridiculous e-mail, consider his latest missive. It is provided courtesy of Rob Crowther at the Discovery Institute's blog. After providing a quotation from Susan Blackmore in which she gave a brief description of natural selection and lamented the fact that so many people seem not to understand it (no source is given for the quote), Berlinski offers the following:


It is, indeed, odd that so many people seem to miss Darwin’s great insight. What is odder still is that the insight is so easy to demonstrate. All that is required are ten packs of cards and ten friends. Here are the steps involved, which can really be followed by anyone with an open mind:


  1. Distribute one pack of cards to each of your ten friends;
  2. Ask everyone to shuffle their pack seven times (the least number of shuffles required to insure a random deck);
  3. Now ask everyone to select five cards from his or her deck; no peeking;
  4. Then ask everyone to replace from one to four cards in his or her hand with new cards; again, no peeking.
  5. Select.


That’s it. Nothing more is involved. Design by natural selection should now be obvious. It’s right there in front of your eyes. As Susan Blackmore says, “it simply has to happen.”

This experiment can be performed by high-school students as well as the elderly.

David Berlinski


I repeat, this is not a man who should be describing others as wearing pink tasseled slippers and conical hats covered in polka dots.

The logic behind natural selection is indeed very simple. Even ID proponents like William Dembski and Michael Behe understand it. They have no problem with the idea that natural selection can, in principle, craft complex structures (they claim simply, and wrongly, that there are certain special kinds of complexity found in nature that natural selection can not construct). Yet here is Berlinski mocking the idea that natural selection can craft anything interesting at all.

It is simply unbelievable that a normally serious magazine like Commentary wants anything to do with this guy. But it is entirely understandable that the dishonest buffoons of the Discovery Institute would enjoy his company.

4 Comments:

At 9:32 PM, Blogger Dan said...

Berlinski writes:
a Note that my reference to /The Panda's Thumb/ and /Talk Reason/ is disjunctive and not conjunctive; and that

b as a matter of logic and English grammar, 1) does /not/ imply that William Dembski's name was misspelled at /either/ The Panda's Thumb /or/ Talk Reason, although, /in fact/, it was misspelled at /The Panda's Thumb /and not /Talk Reason/.

This shows that he has no grasp of English grammar, where "or" often functions as the truth-functional "and." This doesn't seem to be the case w/ Berlinski's words, but compare: "You can check for yourself; just ask Alice or Bob." Clearly, the grammar of that sentence indicates that both Alice and Bob are able to corroborate the information. I think that Berlinski's sentence is analogous.

 
At 11:53 PM, Anonymous TonyB said...

I'll tell you why Commentary cherishes the prolix rhetoric of David Berlinski. He's a mathematician, which indicates to the world that he must be smart. Unfortunately, mathematical talent doesn't extend to other fields any more than any other specialization bestows universal expertise. Still, people fall for it, including the Commentary folks.

 
At 12:59 AM, Anonymous tristero said...

As it is written in Ecclesiastes, there is a time for every purpose. And when it comes to the pretensions of the IDiots, there is a time for mockery, which should not be wasted.

 
At 12:57 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Berlinski's buffoonery is easy to understand: he's got nothing left.

How many times have I watched others utterly destroy the concept of "intelligent design" as a legitimate scientific "theory", only to have a Discovery Institute shill like Berlinski or Beckwith issue some pathetic retort along the lines of "there is a logical fallacy in sentence 4".

Clueless punks.

 

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