Thursday, April 14, 2005

Horowitz, Update

In Monday's post I reported on an exchange between Professor Michael Berube and David Horowitz, hosted by Horowitz's online magazine FrontPage. I took a long excerpt from Berube's account of the exchange. It seemed that FrontPage had deleted quite a lot of what Berube had actually written, and then turned around and took Berube to task for not addressing every point Horowitz had made previously in the exchange.

Well, Horowitz has now explained the situation. Here's the correction in its entirety:

In our feature lead last weekend, Bérubé vs. Horowitz: Is the Left in Bed With Terrorists? we ran a debate about between Prof. Michael Bérubé and David Horowitz.

In the final round, when Prof. Berube emailed his final response, he did not put his answer at the bottom of the exchange by his name as is the procedure at Frontpage Symposium. Instead, he inserted his comments in an interlineated format which answered Horowitz's comments point by point and he put his very last paragraph below his name. He did this without flagging his interlineated replies throughout the text or informing the moderator, Jamie Glazov, of what he did. The moderator therefore scrolled down and assumed the final paragraph was Prof. Berube's final answer.

However, clearly it was not Prof. Bérubé's final answer, and we learned this from his recent post on his blog in which he stated that we had cut his replies from the exchange and then criticized him for not giving a more complete answer. We wish, of course, that he had contacted us before launching this attack to ascertain what had gone wrong. Now that we have been apprised of the mistake we will of course post the full text of Prof. Berube's final response -- in its full delineated form -- along with David Horowitz's rejoinder in the next few days.

See the original for links.

In this post Berube seems inlcined to take this correction at face value. However, in the second update to his original post Berube points out the obvious reasons why this explanation does not hold water:

If this is a mix-up, and an honest one, then of course I will withdraw the charge of fraud, and I certainly expect them to withdraw the charge of intellectual laziness. I have to say, though, that I don’t get it. Perhaps the fact that I interlineated my response to David threw them off? But that doesn’t make any sense, for four reasons: one, I’ve interlineated responses to their questions before. I do believe it is standard practice in long e-mail communications that attempt to simulate “dialogue,” after all. Two, they sent me a 3200-word e-mail and I returned to them a 4300-word email. In other words, I added about 1100 words to the exchange, and the return e-mail was quite obviously substantially longer as a result. I’ve gone over the text many times (oy), and I don’t see how someone could think that I’d replied with only a single, snippy, off-topic paragraph. Three, I had no other feasible way to respond to the scope and breadth of David’s remarks except by interlineating. Replying at the very end of all his remarks would have made hash of the exchange (and, in fact, I thought I was doing Mr. Glazov a favor by lining up the various arguments point by point and replying to each one). Four, a full eight days had elapsed between March 25, when Glazov sent me David’s remarks, and April 3, when I sent my reply. During that time, Glazov sent me two prompts (gracious ones), and I assured him I was working on the reply but would need a few days. It doesn’t make sense that I would wait a week in the course of this exchange and then reply to David’s many charges with a single paragraph.

At the same time, it doesn’t make sense that they would pull a stunt that would allow me such a slam-dunk response, either. As I said above, they printed everything written by all parties in the 2003 forum, and whatever else one can say about FrontPage (and there is plenty!), they do not have a history of legerdemain on this order.

If this was an honest mistake then it represents incompetence of a rare order. For that reason, I do not believe this was an honest mistake. As Berube points out, it's not plausible that Glazov could have looked at the lengthy e-mail Berube sent and have come to the conclusion that the final paragraph was the sum total of Berube's response. Before running an article accusing Berube of intellectual laziness for not replying to Horowitz's points, surely they could have taken the elementary precaution of reading the entire e-mail.

And notice that Horowitz is critical of Berube for not contacting him about the mix-up before blogging about it. It seems to me that Horowitz/Glazov might have asked Berube if he really intended a single paragraph to represent his entire reply to Horowitz.

David Horowitz has proven, through his repeated over-the-top, bomb-throwing television appearances, that he never deserves to be given the benefit of the doubt. I don't know what happened here, but I don't find his explanation convincing.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Breakpoint Says Darwinists Stonewall the Facts. Yawn.

Over at Breakpoint Charles Colson and Anne Morse have this to say about the evidence, such as it is, in support of evolution:

All well and good, but Darwinism, at least, has been empirically proven, right?

Wrong. Sure, there's evidence that evolution takes place within a species—but the fossil record has not yielded evidence of one species becoming another, as Darwin confidently predicted. This lack of evidence has not gone unnoticed by sociologist Rodney Stark. Stark calls himself neither an evolutionist nor an advocate of Intelligent Design; instead, he says, he is merely a scholar pursuing the evidence where it leads. In For the Glory of God (Princeton University Press, 2003), Stark offers startling evidence that Darwinists have covered up mounting flaws in their theory. He concludes that the battle over evolution is hardly a case of “heroic” scientists fighting off the persecution of religious fanatics. Instead, from the start, evolution “has primarily been an attack on religion by militant atheists who wrap themselves in the mantle of science in an effort to refute all religious claims concerning a creator—an effort that has also often attempted to suppress all scientific criticisms of Darwin's work.”

Golly! A sociologist says evolution is a lot of nonsense. Well, QED.

Of course, Stark's ravings have been refuted numerous times: See here and here for two examples. Here's one small example of Stark's level of understanding of biology:

The biological world is now classified into a set of nested categories. Within each genus (mammals, reptiles, etc.) are species (dogs, horses, elephants, etc.) and within each species are many specific varieties, or breeds (Great Dane, Poodle, Beagle, etc.).

That's not even close. Mammals and reptiles are classes, way up the taxonomic hierarchy. Horses and elephant represent families, not species. This is elementary stuff, folks.

When anti-evolutionists get criticized they immediately assume the martyr pose. They wail about censorship and discrimination and all the rest. So I think it's important to point out that the reason anti-evolutionists are treated with such hositility is that they prove, over and over again, that they haven't the foggiest idea what they're talking about. They combine maximum ignorance with maximum arrogance.

And the stuff about fossils is one of the sillier creationist canards. Have a look here for an overview of the fossil evidence. As I've commented before, it's so much easier to go through life as a right-wing religious hack. You get to mouth off about subjects you know nothing about, without any contraints from facts or evidence, before an audience of people who mostly want to hear authority figures parrot what they already believe.

Colson and Morse seal the deal with this familiar anecdote:

Behe's thesis faced a challenge from the nation's leading expert on cell structure, Dr. Russell Doolittle at the University of California-San Diego. Doolittle cited a study on bloodletting in the journal Cell that supposedly disproved Behe's argument. Behe immediately read the article—and found that the study proved just the opposite: It supported his theory. Behe confronted Doolittle, who privately acknowledged that he was wrong—but declined to make a public retraction.

After you've lied about the fossil record and quoted a cartoonishly extreme sociologist, what else is there to do but whip out a phony anecdote? This version of the Doolittle-Behe exchange is nonsense. See Ian Musgrave's lengthy commentary on the subject here.

Okay, Colson and Morse believe that there is no good evidence for evolution. So what would be an example of a claim that is well-supported by evidence? You'll never guess!

As historian Paul Johnson notes, Christianity is a historical religion that deals in facts and events. Among those facts is that Jesus, the Son of God, was born of a virgin, in a specific time and place. Johnson cites the mounting archaeological discoveries that have almost universally supported the biblical accounts. And the life of Jesus, he notes, is better authenticated than most other figures of antiquity, like Aristotle and Julius Caesar. As Johnson puts it, “It is not now the men of faith; it is the skeptics who have reason to fear the course of discovery.”

What's especially depressing about this is the fact that this essay originally appeared in Christianity Today. I've long thought of CT as a place I could go for sensible Christian commentary on contemporary issues. I seldom agree with their view of things, but they usually provide food for thought. But if they're going to be running this sort of dishonest garbage I guess I'll have to start turning elsewhere.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

ID in A Thousand Words

ID proponent Mark Hartwig offers up this explanation of ID “thoery.” It's posted at the website The Reality Check. With a name like that, you just know you're dealing with right-wing cranks.

Anyway, here's an excerpt:

In contrast to what is called creation science, which parallels Biblical theology, ID rests on two basic assumptions: namely, that intelligent agents exist and that their effects are empirically detectable.

Its chief tool is specified complexity. That's a mouthful, and the math behind it is forbidding, but the basic idea is simple: An object displays specified complexity when it has lots of parts (is complex) arranged in a recognizable, delimited pattern (is specified).

For example, the article you're now reading has thousands of characters, which could have been arranged in zillions of ways. Yet it fits a recognizable pattern: It's not just a jumble of letters (which is also complex), but a magazine article written in English. Any rational person would conclude that it was designed.

The effectiveness of such thinking is confirmed by massive experience. As Dembski points out, “In every instance where we find specified complexity, and where [its] history is known, it turns out that design actually is present.” (Emphasis in Original).

From here Hartwig goes on to hit the standard talking points about the flagellum and all the rest.

Actually, Hartwig makes a serious blunder when he says that Dembski's notion of “complexity” has to do with the number of parts a system possesses. In reality, Dembski uses the term “complex” to indicate that the system has a low probability of forming by “chance” (whatever that means). Dembski is quite explicit in his writing that standard Darwinian mechanism can, in principle, craft multi-part systems. Hartwig is confusing Dembski's specified complexity with Behe's irreducible complexity.

This is not a small error, either, since one of the chief problems with Dembski's method is that, as a practical matter, we never have enough information to do a meanignful probability calculation regarding the formation of a complex system. But that is a subject for a different post.

Actually, it was something else that really struck me. Hartwig's essay weighs in at 1048 words. In that tiny amount of space he has managed to explain ID theory in its entirety.

You can read Dembski's collected works and learn nothing about specified complexity beyond what Hartwig describes. The math in Dembski's books is forbidding only because he is careful to make it so. If he explained his ideas clearly it would be obvious to everyone that his arguments are not correct. You can read Behe if you like, but after reading the sentence about how irreducibly complex structures can't evolve gradually you will have absorbed everything he has to offer.

Try to imagine giving a coherent summary of modern evolutionary biology in just over a thousand words. It couldn't be done. Evolution is so rich, rests on so many different pillars, makes contributions to so many different areas of science, relies on so many different methods, and has so much evidence supporting it that you could do no more than give the vaguest outline of what it is all about in so short an essay.

ID proponents have been clamoring for equal time for well over a decade. In all those years their scientific thinking has not progressed beyond what can be explained to laymen in a thousand words. Surely that says everything you need to know about the scientific potential of Intelligent Design.

Cohen on Creationism

Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen has a good column in today's paper decrying the resurgence of creationism:

It is odd to amble around the Galapagos and see the handiwork of evolution yet at the same time bear in mind that many Americans do not accept evolution at all. It is belittled as a mere "theory," which is a misunderstanding of the scientific term, and even in some places where it is grudgingly accepted, it is supposed to share the curriculum with creationism, as if that is an alternative theory. It is, of course, just a fancy term for the creation according to Genesis, a matter of religious belief and not scientific theory or fact. It can have its place, but not in the science curriculum.

The fight over evolution is an odd and sad one. There is nothing about Darwinian theory that cannot be ascribed to God -- Darwin himself referred to “the Creator” in his “The Origin of Species” -- and back when I was in college and studying evolution, my teacher began the semester by saying, behold the world of God or behold something else: It is entirely up to you. Yet, 19 states are considering proposals that would require schools to question evolution, which are nothing less than proposals to inject religion into the curriculum. But why stop there? Why not introduce such skepticism into astronomy and have the sun revolve around the earth or have the earth stand still? These are questions that Clarence Darrow put to William Jennings Bryan at the so-called Scopes Monkey Trial in 1925. Amazingly, they still linger.

Well said. Still, there is one annoying instance of sloppy phrasing we ought to point out:

They do so not just because, as Darwin himself conceded, there are holes in the theory of evolution but because of an evolving political weakness in which intellectual honesty counts for less and less.

The point about intellectual honesty is well-taken and spot-on. But it's a poor choice of words to say there are “holes” in the theory of evolution. There are certainly open questions and unresolved issues. But the questions are open and the issues unresolved not because of some fundamental defect in the theory. Rather, there is simply the practical problem that in many cases we lack the data necessary to resolve between competing explanations. Using the term “holes” suggests that scientists have made certain observations that are fundamentally incompatible with current theory. That is not the case. It would be a pity if people came away with that message after a casual reading of the column.

I would also suggest that it is poor form to use Darwin as the spokesperson for modern evolutionary theory. Darwin deserves every bit of praise that he gets from scientists, but the fact remains that nearly 150 years have passed since The Origin of Species was published. Modern evolutionary theory is very different from anything Darwin had in mind.

Monday, April 11, 2005

How Sleazy is David Horowitz?

Just in case you were wondering how sleazy and disgusting a lot of perfectly mainstrem right-wing pundits are, have a look at this essay by Professor Michael Berube of Penn State University. He was participating in what he thought was an online debate with David Horowitz, hosted at Horowitz's website. Here's Berube:

I took part in an email exchange with one of David’s personal assistants, Jamie Glazov, over the past couple of weeks, with the understanding that it would be published in FrontPage. Like my earlier exchange with FrontPage in 2003, this one was long and full of back-and-forths, and my part of it certainly went well over 860 words.

But when I went to the FrontPage site to check out the “debate,” I found that almost all my replies to David had been cut from the “conversation,” and that Glazov and Horowitz, after chopping all the stuff I’d written, slapped me upside the head for not replying to them:

FP: Prof. Berube, it was clear to you that, in this second round, you just had your final turn. We had ascertained that this would be your final opportunity to discuss each of the points that Mr. Horowitz would raise, and that Mr. Horowitz would then have a final reply. And yet, this is all you have to contibute [sic] to what was supposed to be an intellectual dialogue.

Mr. Horowitz, what is your take here on Prof. Berube’s contribution to our second and last round?

DH: This answer from Michael Berube is disappointing but not surprising. As I have already observed, the left has become so intellectually lazy from years of talking to itself (and “at” everyone else) that it has lost the ability to conduct an intellectual argument with its opponents.

Well, holy infant Jesus with a rattlesnake, folks – what a shabby little stunt. First they refuse to publish my responses, and then they chastise me for not responding to them? What is going on over there at FrontPage – are they smoking crack, or are they just giving up altogether? Did they think maybe I wouldn’t notice that fifteen paragraphs of mine had somehow disappeared from the text of the “debate”? And did they forget that I have my own website, where I can call them out on this stuff for the benefit of the savviest readers on the Internet? Or maybe they were hoping I wouldn’t keep my own copy of the exchange? I did, of course, and I’ll reproduce it below – so you all can see just how bad things have gotten with D. Ho & Co.

Berube gives a nice summary later on:

But whatever the reason, we now know this: Horowitz isn’t just a far-right ideologue. He’s also a sorry old fraud.

Indeed he is. But the fact remains you can find him on television chatting with Dennis Miller or Sean Hannity any day of the week. It's important to realize that for pundits of the Coulter/Horowitz/Hannity mode, facts, truth and logic are totally irrelevant. All that matters is that they be seen to be supremely confident and never at a loss for words.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Richards Revisits Relativity

In this post from last Tuesday, I took pro-ID blogger Jay Richrds to task for suggesting that he had discovered a flaw in Einstein's reasoning about relativity.

Well, Mr. Richards has now updated the post in which he made that suggestion. The update, in its entirety, runs as follows:

Update: In this post, I erred in not clearly distinguishing Jim Holt's summary of Einstein's argument, from Einstein's argument itself. (Incidentally, I am not a skeptic of special or general relativity. Nor am I an expert on either.)

Holt claimed (as have other science writers) that Einstein showed that time is a fiction. That's not correct, either in fact or as an interpretation of Einstein. What Einstein argued is that time is relative. What does that mean? Physicist David Mobley offers this helpful critique of my post and explanation of special relativity.

Allow me to refresh your memory as to what Richards said in his original post:

Similarities aside, Holt summarizes Einstein's argument on special relativity nicely, so nicely, in fact, that it reveals what I have long suspected is a mistake in Einstein's argument.

So the idea that Richards simply erred in not carefully distinguishing Einstein's argument from Holt's summary of that argument does not really hold water. The phrase “...what I have long suspected is a mistake in Einstein's argument” makes it clear that Holt's article was merely the excuse to bring up the subject. The error, says Richards clearly, lies with Einstein.

But no matter. Let us move on to the other problem with this update. Contrary to Richards' assertion, Holt does not claim that Einstein showed that time was a fiction. (David Mobley makes the same error in the link above, but his post is worth reading anyway for its interesting description of relativity).

Here is what Holt actually said:

A century ago, in 1905, Einstein proved that time, as it had been understood by scientist and layman alike, was a fiction. (Emphasis added).

Holt clarifies this point later on:

Suppose—to make things vivid—that the speed of light is a hundred miles an hour. Now suppose I am standing by the side of the road and I see a light beam pass by at this speed. Then I see you chasing after it in a car at sixty miles an hour. To me, it appears that the light beam is outpacing you by forty miles an hour. But you, from inside your car, must see the beam escaping you at a hundred miles an hour, just as you would if you were standing still: that is what the light principle demands. What if you gun your engine and speed up to ninety-nine miles an hour? Now I see the beam of light outpacing you by just one mile an hour. Yet to you, inside the car, the beam is still racing ahead at a hundred miles an hour, despite your increased speed. How can this be? Speed, of course, equals distance divided by time. Evidently, the faster you go in your car, the shorter your ruler must become and the slower your clock must tick relative to mine; that is the only way we can continue to agree on the speed of light. (If I were to pull out a pair of binoculars and look at your speeding car, I would actually see its length contracted and you moving in slow motion inside.) So Einstein set about recasting the laws of physics accordingly. To make these laws absolute, he made distance and time relative.

It was the sacrifice of absolute time that was most stunning. Isaac Newton believed that time was regulated by a sort of cosmic grandfather clock. “Absolute, true, mathematical time, of itself, and from its own nature, flows equably without relation to anything external,” he declared at the beginning of his “Principia.” Einstein, however, realized that our idea of time is something we abstract from our experience with rhythmic phenomena: heartbeats, planetary rotations and revolutions, the ticking of clocks.

Nowhere does Holt say Einstein showed that time is a fiction. In fact, his article does an excellent job of describing the basic elements of Einstein's reasoning.

There's a lesson in this. When an ID proponent describes someone else's work, always go back and check the original source. And if the original source is not available, assume that the ID proponent is misrepresenting it.