Field of Science

Response from a non-football fan aka debate attendee

While I was not able to attend the seminal debate between PZ Myers and Jerry Bergman addressing the question "Should intelligent design be taught in the schools?" several of my colleagues did. (Big shoutout to my peeps.) One attendee had a particularly eloquent synopsis for me that they kindly said I could post. I have included a few comments, in black, and only edited for anonymity.

... you didn't miss much. PZ did clean up the floor with Bergman. But I have to be honest - Bergman was so disorganized and so off topic the whole time I almost felt sorry for him. He came across as someone dangerously close to having a treatable mental illness. He squandered most of his opening 20 minutes blithering on about his own upbringing (although he conveniently failed to describe his sham PhD). In one sentence (and he did this *multiple* times) he would go from the irreducible complexity of quarks (I kid you not (thank you Sarah Palin for ruining this phrase)) to the multiple functions of the human appendix to the horrors of Nazi Germany. There was just no following the guy. And oh - the delusions of persecution (another sign of psychiatric pathology). There are apparently scores of ID-loving biologists in fine universities across the country who are afraid to "come out of the closet" for fear of losing their jobs. In spite of this, they have published about 1000 (Bergman's number) papers in the scientific literature on ID. Of course, there was not a single citation offered, nor an explanation as to how one gets published from in the closet. Pseudonyms? (Clearly, I gravitate to those of a more sarcastic nature)Bergman himself has been ostracized from the Jehovah's Witnesses (he was one for years) and the atheists (he was one for years), and now all his Nobel laureate friends won't write back to him now that he's an ID'er. That last one sounded like a pretty bad delusion of grandeur to me. And - it was all on Powerpoint slides. He never actaully answered the question, which was Should ID Be Taught in Schools? He did go on and on about his own groundbreaking work in the development of MRI and other imaging technologies and his cutting-edge research on mutations in cancer cells. Oh - and he was among the first to prove that so-called junk DNA isn't junk after all. Hard to believe that a CV like that can't get you a better job than at a community college in Ohio .....In any event, he (Jerry Bergman) freely admitted (multiple times) that ID has no actual stated theory, mechanistic explanations for how things work, empirical data to go on, or predictive power. But, since evolution is only (his words) "From the goo to you, by way of the zoo" then ID must be right. How *do* you debate someone that far off the rails?

PZ was spot on, and used what I thought were several interesting tacks besides science. For instance, he pointed out the ethical responsibility teachers have when they agree to work within a curriculum and framed it in a very compelling argument.
(This is a great point until you realize how tenuous the hold of science is in these issues. If the curriculum is changed to a creationist one, then teachers would also have a legal, note I didnt say ethical, responsibility to work within this curriculum. Cheri Yecke almost derailed the last Minnesota science standards, not to mention Kansas, Texas, Florida, etc.) He also talked about how new ideas in science get vetted, starting at the highest levels, and how ID has attempted to do an end-run around the whole process.

Sadly, but not surprisingly, there were plenty of bible-clutching home-schooled teenagers there drinking the koolaid with their parents/teachers. One teenages had the ignorance to trot out the "But it's *only* a theory" whine when the Q&A started. PZ answered it beautifully, without condescension.
(Clearly a missed opportunity)

(and probably the most important point my friend made was....)On the whole, I doubt a single mind in the audience was opened or enlightened, much less changed (and herein lies our greatest hurtle). One debater was prepared and focused, and the other would probably benefit from medication.

Many thanks for giving me a run down of the "debate" and allowing to post these comments. And I truly am sorry and wish I had been there to see PZ toss his notes over his shoulder when he realized they would be superfluous.


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Stephanie Zvan said...

The notes tossing is the part I'm really sorry I missed too. Oh, well. I'm sure he'll get another chance at one of these things.

Joshua said...

I was not present but from other descriptions the claim made wasn't that quarks were irreducibly complex but that carbon atoms were irreducibly complex. It really is an off the wall claim either way.

The Lorax said...

Wasn't there either Joshua, but I have heard several instances of leptons and women and some other nonsense that really didn't relate in any way shape or form.