The Debate That Never Was

Apparently, there was going to be a debate between atheist JT Eberhard and cl, the author of the blog, the warfare is mental.  These two had a series of email exchanges in an attempt to set up the rules prior to debate.  JT, the atheist, wanted another dime-a-dozen “existence of god” debate where the atheist doesn’t really have to defend any belief. cl began to probe to see if JT would be open to a debate where the atheist would actually try to make a positive case for a change.  Eberhard replied:

What would a positive case for the non-existence of something look like? The best I can think of is, “I know of no evidence to support the existence of this thing.” What more could someone possibly do?

Well, one thing Eberhard could do is address PZ Myers point, given that Myers is a much more influential atheist.  For Myers dismisses Eberhard’s attempt to make atheism as mere disbelief in God and even labels it as “stupid”:

Now you see, that’s just stupid. There are lots of atheists who take this blinkered stance that atheism is just one specific idea about rejecting god-belief, and it has absolutely no philosophical foundation and should have no political or social consequences. And that’s nonsense. This commenter is deluding himself as thoroughly as any god-walloper.

If there is no god, if religion is a sham, that has significant consequences for how we should structure our society. You could argue over how we should shape our culture — a libertarian atheist would lean much more towards a Darwinian view, for instance, than I would — but to pretend that atheism is just an abstraction floating in the academic ether is silly.

So Ebergard could have debated about the philosophical foundation of atheism and its political or social consequences, but he preferred the safety of not having to defend his own beliefs.

Since Eberhard wanted to frame the debate where he would “be arguing that there’s no good evidence for god. Important distinction on the *good*,”  cl asked him to define “evidence”  as he didn’t want the goal-posts to get moved.  Eberhard began to get flustered.  He cited the dictionary which made it clear that he was going to rely on his own subjectivity when determining whether or not “good evidence” existed.  So he lost interest in the debate, as he explained on his own blog:

I recently accepted a blogalog with a commenter named cl.  It has proven frustrating due to the endless and superfluous minutia of just trying to get a conversation started (such as demands that I define “evidence”).

Did you get that?  The atheist wanted a debate where he would “be arguing that there’s no good evidence for god. Important distinction on the *good*” but huffed and puffed about defining evidence (let alone “good”) as “endless and superfluous minutia” and then banned his would-be opponent.

I’m not surprised by this.  For as I just noted:

 So let me provide a better way to phrase this trait.  Given that Gnu atheism is a movement, we need to define it from this context.  All movements that are trying to change culture need to go on the offensive.  And the Gnu way of going on the offensive is to demand evidence for theism.  That way, they get to play judge and jury.  They get to put theists in the position of having to justify themselves.  It’s all about posturing and positioning.

Unfortunately, many theists get easily played by this tactic.  They think the Gnu is honest and sincere in wanting “evidence.”  So they try to provide evidence, only to consistently find the evidence they supply does not count.  All the time, they are on the defensive without realizing there is no reason at all that they should have to justify their theism to a closed-minded Gnu.  Yet by attempting to provide evidence for the Gnu, they are working to validate the authoritative posture the Gnus sneakily adopt.

So a more accurate way of viewing the Gnu is not as someone who places a high value on “evidence,” but as someone who pays lip service to the need for evidence and who seeks to use the concept of “evidence” as a rhetorical and propagandistic tool to adopt an authoritative posture in the culture wars.

When Eberhard realized he was going to have to actually define what he meant by “good evidence for God,” the posturing and positioning was in danger and so he backed out.  He wanted to sit in judgment, not explain himself.

When a Gnu atheist wants to debate whether there is evidence for the existence of God, I know many Christians view this as a sincere request, as if the person is searching.  But in most cases, it’s just a tactic members of the Gnu movement use in their culture war.

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27 Responses to The Debate That Never Was

  1. Crude says:

    When Eberhard realized he was going to have to actually define what he meant by “good evidence for God,” the posturing and positioning was in danger and so he backed out. He wanted to sit in judgment, not explain himself.

    I’ve long noticed something about atheists and skeptics in general: they hate, absolutely hate, being placed in any position where they have to defend an idea, rather than be on the offense against someone else defending an idea. The Cult of Gnu for a long time was based around exactly that – one reason for the so-thin defining of atheist as ‘lack of God belief’ was an attempt to avoid being in a position of making a claim that in principle needed to be defended. And it’s why Dawkins, when cornered, always defines himself as an agnostic rather than an atheist (you’d think they would change his entry on wikipedia), among others.

    So yeah, just asking to define ‘evidence’ and ‘good’ causes a whole lot of problems for Gnu-style atheists – because there’s no way to vaguely define those terms in a satisfactory way, and if the definition of either is bad, they’re on the defensive immediately.

  2. apollyon911 says:

    It’s always easier to attack an idea than defend one. Hence the vacuous claims of ‘no evidence’ for God. Even on the offensive atheists demonstrate their lack of knowledge. What are the odds of them being able to successfully defend an idea?

  3. The Deuce says:

    So Ebergard could have debated about the philosophical foundation of atheism and its political or social consequences, but he preferred the safety of not having to defend his own beliefs.

    At the very least, all atheists who claim to be open to debate with theists should expect to have to both defend and explain the implication that objective truth both exists and can be accessed by the human mind by use of reason despite the human mind being a purely mechanistic and material machine.

  4. Nikolaj Mikkelsen says:

    I read the entire email exchange. It is clear to me what went wrong; perhaps it was just a misunderstanding. It began alright with JT stating,

    “I know of no evidence to support the existence of this thing.”

    However cl restated this incorrectly as,

    “there’s no evidence for God”

    Those are two very different propositions. The latter one cannot be supported.

  5. Michael says:

    “I know of no evidence to support the existence of this thing.”

    However cl restated this incorrectly as,

    “there’s no evidence for God”

    Those are two very different propositions. The latter one cannot be supported.

    True. And the former one is just JT’s subjective opinion/perception. I’m not sure why a debate should center around one person’s perceptions.

  6. Nikolaj Mikkelsen says:

    But

    “I know of evidence to support the existence of this thing.”

    is also opinion/perception. The only way to begin the conversation is for one side to present evidence and the other side to evaluate it.

    cl’s insistence on obtaining precise goalposts for good evidence is not possible because nobody could define such parameters for an unknown.

    For example we might list good evidence for Bigfoot, in order of preference: a live specimen, a dead specimen, a fleshy head, a fleshy limb. But what if we were only provided a DNA sample? We didn’t include that in the list. Suppose an analysis of the DNA indicated an unknown species of ape. This would be very interesting — why should this evidence not count just because we didn’t specify it at the outset?

    Thus when making the case for the existence of something, requiring that the opposition define “good evidence” may actually hurt the case. The best we can do is agree to be as reasonable as we can, even if that ideal has no precise definition. The best we can do is evaluate arguments on their own merit.

    I poked through that guy’s site and found that he doesn’t appear to fully accept evolution. I would confront him about that first. If we couldn’t agree on the evidence of evolution then other conversation would be moot. http://www.thewarfareismental.net/b/2008/01/07/the-fossil-reco/

  7. Michael says:

    But
    “I know of evidence to support the existence of this thing.”
    is also opinion/perception.

    Indeed.

    The only way to begin the conversation is for one side to present evidence and the other side to evaluate it.

    Conversation? I have never met a Gnu who was truly interested in “conversation.” So I would have to ask the Gnu to provide “good evidence” that a) he/she is interested in a conversation and b) is capable of having a conversation about these issues. After all, a Gnu can’t really expect me to believe these things on faith.

    cl’s insistence on obtaining precise goalposts for good evidence is not possible because nobody could define such parameters for an unknown.

    What JT would be defining are his needs, given the subjective nature of evidence. He believes there is “no good evidence” for God, but it’s a rather meaningless claim from my viewpoint given no one has the slightest clue as what his brain would perceive as evidence. So it’s not a question of precisely positioning the goalposts. It’s an issue of whether the goalposts should remain completely hidden.

    For example we might list good evidence for Bigfoot, in order of preference: a live specimen, a dead specimen, a fleshy head, a fleshy limb. But what if we were only provided a DNA sample? We didn’t include that in the list. Suppose an analysis of the DNA indicated an unknown species of ape. This would be very interesting — why should this evidence not count just because we didn’t specify it at the outset?

    Yes, that would be the very question you could pose to the skeptic. You could ask the skeptic why it is they were willing to accept a fleshy limb, but not DNA samples. Of course, the skeptic doesn’t have to worry about being in that awkward position of having to come up with ad hoc excuses if he/she simply refused to say what would count as evidence in the first place. It’s much safer for the skeptic to adopt the “I’ll know it when I see it” smokescreen.

    Thus when making the case for the existence of something, requiring that the opposition define “good evidence” may actually hurt the case.

    You have not made that case.

    The best we can do is agree to be as reasonable as we can, even if that ideal has no precise definition. The best we can do is evaluate arguments on their own merit.

    But JT describes himself as an “atheist activist.” Activists are incapable of being as reasonable as we can and evaluating arguments on their own merit. Activists are beholden to their agenda.
    So, if a Gnu atheist is truly interested in doing the best we can do, he/she has to break away from the Gnu movement and begin a journey that values truth more than the cause.

  8. Crude says:

    cl’s insistence on obtaining precise goalposts for good evidence is not possible because nobody could define such parameters for an unknown.

    As Mike said, the requirement doesn’t have to be giving universally-accepted-as-correct definitions, but a clear statement of one’s own standards – even if that standard is ultimately subjective.

    Thus when making the case for the existence of something, requiring that the opposition define “good evidence” may actually hurt the case.

    Or, it may actually help the case. Or it may expose the critic as being unreasonable. You say that “the best we can do is evaluate an argument on its own merit”. Great – the problem is, there’s no way to do that without at some point asking what qualifies as good evidence. The very standard you’re appealing to here (‘the merits of an argument’) are very bit as much in need of a definition, and typically imprecise, as the thing you’re suggesting it’s not reasonable to ask for (to define ‘good evidence’).

    I poked through that guy’s site and found that he doesn’t appear to fully accept evolution. I would confront him about that first.

    That seems like an attempt to change the subject to something largely unrelated. Cl didn’t hinge this discussion on evolution whatsoever.

    I have a great idea: atheists who insist on a critical evaluation of the question ‘Is there good evidence for God’s existence?’ should clarify from the start what they consider to be good evidence in general terms, with specific examples given. If they can’t do that, they can be judged as either inept or dishonest, and justly ignored.

  9. Nikolaj Mikkelsen says:

    Michael, you misunderstood the Bigfoot example. The point was that we couldn’t list all possible evidences at the outset. We might fail to list them all, and in any case we may not know all possible evidences. We didn’t list DNA at the beginning because we didn’t think of it, not because we would reject it. It was an example to illustrate this point, no more.

    At least we have some idea of what properties a Bigfoot creature might have. However a deity is a vague concept on its own. It would be like someone saying to you, “Prove that a frompkinpoof does not exist.” Your immediate response would be, “Hang on, what is a frompkinpoof and what is the evidence you have that it exists?” There are limitless types of deity claims; our only option is to ask for the definition and the corresponding evidence.

    The best we can do is pledge to evaluate evidence and arguments as fairly and as reasonably as we can. I don’t see any other way.

    I have nothing to say about JT or cl or Gnu or whatever. I don’t keep up with any of that. I am only conveying some baseline ideas here.

  10. Nikolaj Mikkelsen says:

    “That seems like an attempt to change the subject to something largely unrelated. Cl didn’t hinge this discussion on evolution whatsoever.”

    No, it’s a crucial point because this is about standards for evidence. If someone does not accept evolution then he clearly has a different standard for evidence than I have. I already know that he and I are on different pages.

  11. Michael says:

    Michael, you misunderstood the Bigfoot example. The point was that we couldn’t list all possible evidences at the outset. We might fail to list them all, and in any case we may not know all possible evidences. We didn’t list DNA at the beginning because we didn’t think of it, not because we would reject it. It was an example to illustrate this point, no more.

    I understood the Bigfoot example just fine. In fact, it helped to underscore my point about the need to get the skeptic to spell out what he wants. Now, no one is asking the atheist to list all possible evidences at the outset. And certainly no one is asking for such a list such that anything that is not on the list cannot count as evidence. All that is being asked is what the atheist would count as evidence. Give us an idea of what to shoot for.

    For example, there are plenty of atheists who would only count some miraculous appearance from God Himself as evidence. If that’s what the atheist has in mind, I can’t help, as I cannot make God appear before the atheist. So is that what the atheist has in mind? Who can say? The atheist doesn’t want to lay his cards on the table and tell us what he would count as evidence for God.

    The best we can do is pledge to evaluate evidence and arguments as fairly and as reasonably as we can. I don’t see any other way.

    A pledge? So the best the atheist can do is ask me to have FAITH that he/she will evaluate evidence and arguments as fairly and as reasonably as he/she can? Faith? Don’t you find that to be rather ironic?

    Look, given the way the human brain is so indebted to confirmation and disconfirmation bias, the whole notion of a theist and atheist evaluating evidence and arguments as fairly and as reasonably as they can is simplistic idealism. It’s a nice thought and a nice sentiment. But that’s not how reality works.

    I am only conveying some baseline ideas here.

    I understand the baseline ideas. I’m just well beyond them here.

  12. Nikolaj Mikkelsen says:

    Again, a person can only claim that

    “For each argument proffered for a deity that I have encountered, I have found the argument unconvincing.”

    and nobody can claim that

    “There is no good evidence for God.”

    The latter would require knowledge of all past, present, and future evidence.

    Michael, you skipped over the main point I made:

    At least we have some idea of what properties a Bigfoot creature might have. However a deity is a vague concept on its own. It would be like someone saying to you, “Prove that a frompkinpoof does not exist.” Your immediate response would be, “Hang on, what is a frompkinpoof and what is the evidence you have that it exists?” There are limitless types of deity claims; our only option is to ask for the definition and the corresponding evidence.

  13. Crude says:

    No, it’s a crucial point because this is about standards for evidence. If someone does not accept evolution then he clearly has a different standard for evidence than I have. I already know that he and I are on different pages.

    On different subjects, in different spheres. And in this case, cl’s “not accepting evolution” is something you gleaned from looking at his post, seeing him rejecting gradualism – not exactly an outlandish view even among people who do accept evolution – and implying that he had poor standards of reason.

    I don’t know why you’re blowing smoke here, Nik, but it simply isn’t working. Eberhard dropped a debate and banned cl because cl wanted him to lay down his standards of what qualifies as good evidence for God. You can wax philosophical about epistemic debates, but among reasonable people, cl’s request comes across as entirely mundane – and Eberhard’s response, as inane.

    If you don’t like the fact that Gnu atheism is intellectually bankrupt, I’d suggest ‘not acting like them’. Not ‘trying to find a way to defend them’.

  14. Michael says:

    Again, a person can only claim that

    “For each argument proffered for a deity that I have encountered, I have found the argument unconvincing.”

    and nobody can claim that

    “There is no good evidence for God.”

    Yes! I agree. The problem is that people like Dawkins and Coyne, and all their followers, like to claim “there is no evidence for God” when what they really mean is for each argument proffered for a deity that they have encountered, they have found the argument unconvincing. In other words, their atheism is an opinion and a perception.

    Michael, you skipped over the main point I made:

    At least we have some idea of what properties a Bigfoot creature might have. However a deity is a vague concept on its own. It would be like someone saying to you, “Prove that a frompkinpoof does not exist.” Your immediate response would be, “Hang on, what is a frompkinpoof and what is the evidence you have that it exists?” There are limitless types of deity claims; our only option is to ask for the definition and the corresponding evidence.

    Except that I do not go around demanding that atheists prove there is no God. Nor do I think atheists are being irrational for being atheists. The problem comes from the Gnu MOVEMENT, which arrogantly insists that I, as a Christian, somehow explain and justify myself before them as if they are qualified to pass such judgment. If the Gnu atheists were intellectually honest, they would qualify their “no evidence” claims for what they are – personal opinions.

    Nikolaj, you skipped over an important point I made:

    A pledge? So the best the atheist can do is ask me to have FAITH that he/she will evaluate evidence and arguments as fairly and as reasonably as he/she can? Faith? Don’t you find that to be rather ironic?

  15. Nikolaj Mikkelsen says:

    Crude and Michael, as I said earlier, I have nothing to say about JT or cl or Gnu or whatever. I don’t keep up with any of that. I am only calling out what I read in the email exchange. One side stated,

    “I know of no evidence to support the existence of this thing.”

    and the other side incorrectly restated that as,

    “There’s no evidence for God.”

    I don’t know why this mistake wasn’t caught by either side, but that doesn’t concern me. It is enough to observe that conversation descended into mutual confusion.

    Michael, I thought you were making a rhetorical flame in your “FAITH” paragraph. I didn’t mention faith, you did. Unless you are claiming that atheists cannot be reasonable and fair, or cannot be sincere in applying those principles, then your important point doesn’t contain a point. In any debate, both sides should pledge to be reasonable and fair. I had assumed that would be an uncontroversial idea.

    Crude, If a person does not accept evolution, I know that something is drastically different between that person and myself with regard to our relationship with evidence. If the evidence for evolution is not good enough for him, then it is moot debating about another topic for which the evidence less clear than evolution.

  16. Crude says:

    Nikolaj,

    Crude, If a person does not accept evolution, I know that something is drastically different between that person and myself with regard to our relationship with evidence.

    And what happens if, as in cl’s case, that they do accept evolution, but they reject some sub-claims with regards to it?

    What’s more, how exactly do you know ‘something is drastically different between that person’? How do you know you’re aware of the same evidence they are, and vice versa?

    Again, you’re getting twitchy here and are looking for some reason, any reason, to support a shutdown of debate with someone like cl. The post you cite by cl doesn’t even have him ‘rejecting evolution’ – what he rejected is gradualism, and his reasons for doing so involved arguments by other scientists in the evolutionary field, and not creation scientists. Sorry, it just doesn’t fly: you’ll have to do better.

    Or is this all you really have?

    It is enough to observe that conversation descended into mutual confusion.

    It didn’t. Eberhard was pretty clear: he regarded defining ‘good evidence’ as so threatening, that he ended the debate before it began, and apparently banned cl from his blog in the aftermath. Your defense so far has been to broadly gesture in the direction that ‘well, it’s hard to define such things perfectly’ – but a perfect definition wasn’t desired. Eberhard’s definition, was, and that’s exactly what Eberhard was afraid of giving and discussing.

    I agree with you that being reasonable and fair is important in these exchanges. The problem is, and you’re loathe to except this, is that Eberhard was neither. That atheists can. in principle, be fair does not mean that, in practice, they are.

    And when they talk derisively about the status of evidence for God, and refuse to even lay down their standards of what would qualify as good evidence, it typically means they’re either ignorant or not debating honestly.

  17. Michael says:

    I don’t know why this mistake wasn’t caught by either side, but that doesn’t concern me. It is enough to observe that conversation descended into mutual confusion.

    My guess is that cl had mistakenly assumed JT was trying to make some point of significance. If the whole issue of dispute is that JT doesn’t know of any evidence for God, then it can all be dismissed with two words – “So what?” JT is entitled to his subjective perceptions and opinions, but who cares about them? cl probably thought he was trying to make some truth claim about the world, and thus the cause for the mistake.

    As for faith, you did not type out the word “faith”, but you did call for a pledge. Now, I am not saying atheists cannot be reasonable and fair, or cannot be sincere in applying those principles. But I do know, from experience, that there are many atheists who cannot or will not be reasonable or fair or sincere in applying those principles. Thus, when you call for some “pledge,” you are asking for a leap of faith. But atheists are supposed to disdain faith. So instead of the atheist asking others to have faith, why can’t the atheist practice what he preaches and simply provide evidence he can be reasonable and fair and sincere in applying those principles.? And a good first step would be for the atheist to stop hiding the goalposts and lay out what he would count as evidence for God.

  18. Nikolaj Mikkelsen says:

    Crude, I had looked at several articles tagged evolution and creationism in addition to the link I gave. The author has some typical anti-evolution misconceptions, such as those regarding microevolution and macroevolution, the Cambrian explosion, and what the terms gradualism and punctuated equilibrium mean. He said the fossil record indicates that “life was stuck on Earth much like a flower in a geranium pot”. This is not someone who understands or accepts evolution.

    Ignorance of evolution on its own is fine, but ignorance that is wedded to a cocksure anti-evolution stance is another matter. That is correlative with a host of problems (predetermined views, blindness to evidence, incuriosity, Dunning-Kruger effect) that pose a barrier to meaningful conversation.

  19. Nikolaj Mikkelsen says:

    Michael, the danger of doggedly advocating a certain viewpoint, as you do here and elsewhere on this blog, is that it can go too far into spinning every little issue — no matter how trivial — into another justification for your viewpoint. This is commonplace on blogs, including yours.

    The thing you are missing is the principle of charity. Rather than constantly spinning things, interpreting them in the weakest possible manner in order to bolster your position, you should aim to do the opposite: interpret them in the strongest manner. It is an essential component of honest debate and of intellectual honesty in general.

    You agreed with me that what JT initially said was correct: “I know of no evidence to support the existence of this thing.” It is the same point I made in my comments here regarding frompkinpoofs, which you agreed with.

    What would a positive case for the non-existence of something look like? The best I can think of is, “I know of no evidence to support the existence of this thing.” What more could someone possibly do? If I need to lead off with my positive case, that would be my opening. This is why in structured debate the affirmative side always leads, otherwise the negative side would stand up, say they know of no evidence to support the opposing side, and sit down.

    Now applying the principle of charity, we shouldn’t pretend that he didn’t start out with that; we shouldn’t pretend that he didn’t mean it; we shouldn’t pretend that that’s not his view. When someone misstates his position, our conclusion shouldn’t be that he changed his position.

    When cl misstated JT’s position as “there’s no evidence for God”, and JT didn’t object, we shouldn’t conclude that JT suddenly changed his position. He didn’t say that he changed it. JT probably thought that cl was referring to the opening I quoted above.

    We could spin this either way. One could say that cl is maliciously poisoning the debate by getting JT to implicitly accept a different argument than he made, hoping that nobody would notice. But I haven’t taken that position or any particular position — I have only observed that the debate went astray the moment cl misstated JT’s argument. Frankly, I have a low opinion of both sides for missing such an obvious mistake. Send them back to Philosophy 101.

    The “point of significance” JT made was simply that cl should begin the debate with defining terms and presenting evidence, for the above-quoted reasons. They are the same reasons in my earlier point about frompkinpoofs. Someone presenting evidence cannot just be “dismissed”.

    Our friend Crude shows the antithesis of the principle of charity, on steroids. Despite my repeated clarifications that “I have nothing to say about JT or cl or Gnu or whatever; I don’t keep up with any of that,” he continues to spin absurd interpretations of my comments, which have now become even conspiratorial. Despite my neutral, non-combative stance here, he has taken liberty to attack, disdain, and disrespect me. This behavior is characteristic of the Pharyngula horde.

    I am not picking on you in particular. It is a truism that we are keen to spot bad behavior among outsiders, but are either blind or indifferent to bad behavior among insiders and ourselves. In this regard, this blog is exactly like Pharyngula.

    Usually when I write comments such as these, they get deleted. I expect that, but I hope you will nonetheless take away something from it.

  20. cl says:

    This whole scenario repeated itself again, this time, with a different gaggle of Gnus. You can read all about it here.

    Nikolaj,

    “It is clear to me what went wrong; perhaps it was just a misunderstanding.”

    It’s actually not clear to you at all: pedantry doesn’t absolve the need for a clear definition WRT evidence.

    “cl’s insistence on obtaining precise goalposts for good evidence is not possible because nobody could define such parameters for an unknown.”

    That’s invalid. To obtain precise goalposts, one needs only a precise definition of evidence. Note that you already did five times better than JT. You at least *TRIED* to sketch out “good evidence” WRT Bigfoot. Therefore, what you say is not possible, is possible.

    “Crude, If a person does not accept evolution, I know that something is drastically different between that person and myself with regard to our relationship with evidence.”

    Why are you talking to Crude about your assumptions about what I believe? Is that how you pursue truth? Asking debating third-parties about third-parties without ever asking the third party? Yeah, you’re right: there are some big differences in the way we do things 🙂

    “The author has some typical anti-evolution misconceptions, such as those regarding microevolution and macroevolution, the Cambrian explosion, and what the terms gradualism and punctuated equilibrium mean.”

    You are revealing your own ignorance about evolution here. Is Larry Moran “anti-evolution” by your standards? My post actually DISPELS the common misconceptions about micro / macro, and my comments regarding the Cambrian are correct.

    “Ignorance of evolution on its own is fine, but ignorance that is wedded to a cocksure anti-evolution stance is another matter.”

    What about your own ignorance of what I actually believe WRT evolution? You seem pretty cocksure that you know what I believe, but, you don’t. You’re trying to paint me as something I’m not, and your remarks have already shown your own paucity of knowledge WRT evolution.

    “The thing you are missing is the principle of charity.”

    LOL! No, that’s what *YOUR* missing pal! You didn’t give any of my posts any charity at all. You simply skimmed them and decided I was “anti-evolution” and that I’m incapable of meaningful conversation because of that. Your remark is pure hypocrisy. Send yourself back to Philosophy 101, then Charity A. You need it.

  21. cl says:

    This is just a post to sign up for the comment feed, feel free to delete.

  22. Nikolaj Mikkelsen says:

    Hello, cl.

    I don’t know what you are calling “pedantry”. Is it the distinction between “I know of no evidence to support the existence of this thing” and “there’s no evidence for God”? That is not a pedantic distinction; those are very different claims with very different implications, especially in a debate setting.

    I believe I addressed the question of evidence earlier in this thread,

    …you misunderstood the Bigfoot example. The point was that we couldn’t list all possible evidences at the outset. We might fail to list them all, and in any case we may not know all possible evidences. We didn’t list DNA at the beginning because we didn’t think of it, not because we would reject it. It was an example to illustrate this point, no more.

    At least we have some idea of what properties a Bigfoot creature might have. However a deity is a vague concept on its own. It would be like someone saying to you, “Prove that a frompkinpoof does not exist.” Your immediate response would be, “Hang on, what is a frompkinpoof and what is the evidence you have that it exists?” There are limitless types of deity claims; our only option is to ask for the definition and the corresponding evidence.

    The case is therefore twofold: first, we can’t possibly list evidence for a deity without a very concrete definition of the deity (what it does, etc), and second, we should not even attempt to do so because it makes it more difficult for the person making the claim. If you are making a claim, you may have evidence not even considered by others, so why would you want to effectively exclude it by requiring them to guess it ahead of time?

    It appears that you disagree with the frompkinpoof example above, and I would like to know why.

    Re evolution, I originally made the point in passing. In my experience, non-acceptance of evolution is indicative of some important issues, and unless those issues are addressed dialogue is likely to descend into mutual unintelligibility. I did not say that dialogue should be cut off, only that evolution should be the starting point in this case.

    The remainder of your comment consists of your complaints that I pegged you as an anti-evolutionist. I quite wonder what you are running from, since in your latest blog post you say that you are not an “evolutionist”. You could make a semantic point here, saying that not being for something doesn’t imply that you are against it, which I would concede to some degree. However with evolution there is scant middle ground, if there is any at all.

    I arrived at my conclusion by noticing several common anti-evolution tropes in your posts. For instance saying that the Cambrian indicates that “life was stuck on Earth much like a flower in a geranium pot” is one of them. That’s wrong, but it is thought to be right in the anti-evolution camp. The tale of Dembski’s fiasco with this misconception should be instructive. That article contains some rebuttals (I fixed the misspelling of “Ediacaran”),

    Until almost 1950 the absence of metazoan fossils older than Cambrian age continued to puzzle evolutionists and earth historians alike. Other than the remains of single-celled creatures and the matlike stromatolites, it did indeed look as if larger creatures had arisen with a swiftness that made a mockery of Darwin’s theory of evolution. This notion was finally put to rest, however, by the discovery of the Ediacaran and Vendian fossil faunas of latest Precambrian age….

    Intensive searching of strata immediately underlying the well-known basal Cambrian deposits in the years between 1950 and 1980 showed that the larger skeletonized fossils (such as the trilobites and brachiopods) that supposedly appeared so suddenly were in fact preceded by skeletonized forms so small as to be easily overlooked by the pioneering geologists….

    The long-accepted theory of the sudden appearance of skeletal metazoans at the base of the Cambrian was incorrect: the basal Cambrian boundary marked only the first appearance of relatively large skeleton-bearing forms, such as the brachipods and trilobites, rather than the first appearance of skeletonized metazoans. Darwin would have been satisfied. The fossil record bore out his conviction that the trilobites and brachipods appeared only after a long period of evolution of ancestral forms. (pages 36-37)

    If after reading that article you are not convinced that Dembski was ultimately being intellectually dishonest, then we have encountered an impasse. Conversation would seem futile if we can’t agree on some basic tenets of intellectual honesty. For instance I could not engage in conversation with Dembski without first addressing his behavior shown in that article. That’s just how I work.

  23. cl says:

    Cheers again.

    “…those are very different claims with very different implications, especially in a debate setting.”

    Sure, but you’re assuming we don’t know that just because you didn’t see an exact string literal match between what he said and I said, and neither of which matter until we get a definition for “evidence.” In fact, both statements—either JT’s “I know of no evidence” or my paraphrase “there is no evidence”—are absolutely meaningless until both parties understand exactly what is meant by “evidence.” You’re basically focusing on my looseness with words and trying to claim that this had some over-arching bearing on why the debate went south. No, that’s not it. It went south because JT wouldn’t even assent to a reasonable request for definitions. Had he done that, we could have clarified the discrepancy between his original statement and my paraphrase—if the issue even came up at all.

    “…first, we can’t possibly list evidence for a deity without a very concrete definition of the deity…”

    Well sure, but you’re proceeding on the assumption that we were just tossing around a vague, undefined concept of God. That JT and I would be debating the God of the Bible was the implicit assumption. Of course, there are particulars that would have been clarified up front, but “God of the Bible” provides a concrete enough foundation to build on. Your criticism is founded upon a mistaken assumption.

    “I did not say that dialogue should be cut off, only that evolution should be the starting point in this case.”

    “Should” according to your pre-committed worries about me being an anti-evolutionist or whatever, but it wasn’t *YOUR* debate. JT and I agreed to debate the God of the Bible. It would be silly for either one of us to require a preliminary debate on evolution, especially given my unconventional stance on the matter.

    “You could make a semantic point here, saying that not being for something doesn’t imply that you are against it, which I would concede to some degree.”

    I assume most readers are intelligent and forward-thinking enough to figure that out for themselves, but, even despite that, I *DID* issue a “semantic point” in the post. It’s not my fault you missed it. I specifically told readers not interpret my post as an “attack” on evolutionism! But I guess that doesn’t matter once you’ve already decided I’m “anti-evolution” or whatever. The world just isn’t that black-and-white. Don’t let the culture wars force you to think in black-and-white when color abounds.

    “I arrived at my conclusion by noticing several common anti-evolution tropes in your posts.”

    Nonsense. All you did was *ASSERT* that said posts were anti-evolution, without evidence or argumentation, and I challenged that (cf. the Moran comment). Now, here, you actually do address a point, but unfortunately only after dodging mine. Nonetheless, as a courteous interlocutor, I’ll address your point anyways.

    “If after reading that article you are not convinced that Dembski was ultimately being intellectually dishonest…”

    What a sad criteria you use to judge others. Translated: If I don’t cast my lot in with you and accuse of Dembski of intellectual dishonesty, I’m somehow beyond rational discussion. As if you or anybody else can read minds. If Dembski or anyone else says something controversial or even flat-out wrong, I don’t automatically leap to the assumption of dishonesty, since that’s such a quick way to poison any reasonable discussion. If you think I’m unaware that people disagree with Dembski, you’re mistaken. I’m not talking about trilobytes here, I’m talking about the accelerated rate of evolution in a relatively short period of time that led to most major phyla. I would *EXPECT* a creative God to precede trilobytes with lesser skeletal forms that antiquated methods and tools might overlook. That doesn’t pose any threat whatsoever to the argument implied.

    …then we have encountered an impasse.”

    We’ve already encountered an impasse: you predecided I was “anti-evolution” then spent Lord knows how many paragraphs arguing from this misunderstood notion. Then, you accused Dembski of “intellectual dishonesty,” yet failed to engage with the criticism I already gave WRT the micro / macro thing (is dodging intellectually honest?). Then, you implied that those who won’t leap to accuse Dembski are incapable of reasonable discussion. This sort of dodging and snobbery is all the cue I need. That’s just how *I* work.

  24. Nikolaj Mikkelsen says:

    Cheers, cl. I would like to first make a meta-comment that I sense an increasing level of disrespect coming from you. I will do my best to engage thoughtfully, and I hope you do the same. If we both assume the worst about each other then it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    I will also reiterate what I said here before: I have nothing to say about JT or cl or Gnu or whatever; I don’t keep up with any of that. I only read the email exchange above.

    While I don’t think your rephrase of JT’s position was malicious, I do think it had unintended consequences. If I say that I am not aware of any evidence for something, the statement stands on its own. Since I don’t know what the evidence is, I can’t describe what it looks like. But if I say that no evidence exists, that implies that I have in mind what I’m looking for, and furthermore that I have concluded, somehow, that it doesn’t exist. You would be right to challenge that. And the first step in challenging that would be to ask what exactly evidence means there, and how could I possibly (and effectively omnisciently) know that it doesn’t exist?

    The “God of the Bible” is indeed a vague concept. Wikipedia reports 41,000 Christian denominations, and I would say that there are practically as many concepts of the Christian God as there are Christians. I wasn’t being flippant when I listed “what it does, etc” as criteria. The span ranges from YEC all the way to deism-like Christianity with Jesus playing a ceremonial role.

    Frankly I am still puzzled as to why one can’t just present the evidence, as the point about frompkinpoofs still applies. Evidence can be almost anything, and I would leave it to the person making the claim to define what constitutes evidence. Leaving it to others only weakens the claimant’s argument, which we want to make as strong as possible.

    The first comment I made here regarding evolution was that you didn’t “appear to fully accept evolution”. I later shortened it to “anti-evolution”. Aren’t you just playing up my looseness with words here? If I promise to stop calling you an anti-evolutionist, will you promise to stop taking offense when I point out cases where you don’t fully accept evolution?

    It is indeed a not-fully-accepting-evolution trope to claim that the Cambrian shows that “life was stuck on Earth much like a flower in a geranium pot”. This is a common misconception among the not-fully-accepting-evolution crowd. Therefore you can’t exactly blame me for pegging you as not fully accepting evolution. This is the same misconception that Dembski so ardently and mistakenly holds, as the explained in the article.

    Additionally, because you said that you are not an “evolutionist”, you can’t exactly blame me for pegging you as not fully accepting evolution.

    You didn’t indicate what you were talking about regarding Larry Moran, and you still have not. In any case I do not see how it could possibly matter because I am certain that Larry Moran would scoff at your claim that “life was stuck on Earth much like a flower in a geranium pot”. That is in stark opposition to the expectation that God would “precede trilobytes with lesser skeletal forms”.

    In addition to refuting Cambrian misconceptions, the article is also a psychological tale about Dembski. He is not being called dishonest because he opposes some point in science. No, his dishonesty is a straightforward case of quote-mining, done intentionally and repeatedly even after it was brought to his attention. (He did it even again a few years later in his debate with Hitchens, after that article was published.) Dembski is ideologically committed to a particular answer, and for this reason, presumably, he becomes dishonest. When I say that non-acceptance of evolution is indicative of other problems, I am referring to cases like this one.

    It boils down to whether intellectual honesty is held to be a central value. Where that is not the case, I just don’t see a basis for meaningful discussion.

  25. cl says:

    If we both assume the worst about each other then it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    Yeah, I agree, so why did you do it? Before even so much as asking me a single question, you went ahead and assumed the worst about me: that I’m “anti-evolution” and that this is cause for concern WRT to my rational integrity, blah blah blah. It comes across as stuffy and chauvinist.

    It’s not disrespect. It’s disinterest. I’m simply disinterested in having “discussion” with this sort of crap going on. Maybe we can hit it off better some other time, but I’m done here.

  26. Nikolaj Mikkelsen says:

    cl, it is difficult to understand your huffiness because you already stated that you are not an evolutionist. My original assessment was therefore correct: that you don’t appear to fully accept evolution.

    Earlier you complained that I should not be focusing on your looseness with words, but you continue to be oh-so-outraged that I shortened “not appear to fully accept evolution” to “anti-evolution”, even after I conceded the point. I wonder what more you could possibly want.

    Remember, cl, you came to me. You knew my position when you came here: that non-acceptance evolution is indicative of more fundamental issues. I gave an example of this with the Dembski article. In my experience it continues to be true.

  27. Michael says:

    I am not picking on you in particular. It is a truism that we are keen to spot bad behavior among outsiders, but are either blind or indifferent to bad behavior among insiders and ourselves. In this regard, this blog is exactly like Pharyngula.

    Usually when I write comments such as these, they get deleted. I expect that, but I hope you will nonetheless take away something from it.

    LOL. So how’d those expectations turn out for ya?

    As for your whole accusation of spinning, you are not making much sense, as I am still trying to figure out where I abandoned the principle of charity.

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