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Number: 395 Date: 18 Mar 94 15:29:04 From: Brett J. Vickers To: All Subject: Gish/Shermer Debate: An Account (Part 2 of 2) From: bvickers@lambada.ics.uci.edu (Brett J. Vickers) Organization: University of California, Irvine I apologize for being so late with this second part of the summary. A paper and a proposal deadline both hit me this past week. GISH'S TURN It was Gish's turn to speak now. I fully expected Gish to use the same arguments he always uses in these debates, and he did not disappoint me. He used most of his old standbys including: - Evolution and creationism are equally unscientific since we couldn't be there when the earth was created. They therefore deserve equal time in the classroom. - The metamorphosis of butterflies could not have evolved by random chance. - There are no transitional fossils, especially before the Cambrian. - There are no triceratops ancestors in the fossil record. - Australopithecines were all really apes. - All neanderthals were just modern humans with rickets. - Haeckel's recapitulation is a false argument yet it's still in the textbooks. - Nebraska and Piltdown man proves that evolutionists will believe anything. - Probability arguments prove that protein A could not have evolved. He didn't get to his typical thermodynamic or "hydrogen-to-human" arguments in his opening talk. He did briefly touch on them in his rebuttals, though. As usual, Gish distorted, selectively quoted evolutionists, and stretched the truth. Gish supporters showed their support (claps, amens, etc.) whenever Gish presented a particularly silly caricature of evolution. At one point, he flashed a slide of an orangutan on the screen and said, "Oops, I don't know how that got in there. That's a picture of my grandson. He's a creationist too." Somehow I don't doubt it. Needless to say, this comment was met with cheers from the amen squad. I have to admit that I laughed too. Like always, Gish never once attempted to provide any scientific evidence for creation. As usual he spent all his time tearing down evolutionary strawmen, ridiculing evolutionists, and selectively quoting experts. Gish spent a lot of time on punctuated equilibrium, arguing that evolutionists created it solely to explain the existence of all those gaps in the fossil record. He attempted to equate punctuated equilibrium with the "hopeful monster" theory, implying that evolutionists seriously believe one species could give birth to an offspring of another species. (Nevermind the fact that Goldschmidt's saltationism is thoroughly discredited and accepted by just about no one.) To an unsophisticated audience (or the amen squad), Gish's false characterization of evolution was buyable. Gish misused quotes from Newsweek science reporter Sharon Begley ("Darwin is increasingly under attack by scientists") without specifying that it is the mechanism of evolution, not its fact, that is under debate. Gish spent quite a bit of time on the lack of precambrian transitional forms. He argued that evolution could be disproved simply by the fact that we have no transitional forms between the simplist unicellular lifeforms and the earliest Cambrian fauna (brachiopods, fish, trilobites, etc.) Again, what Gish failed to explain is that such transitional fossils are difficult to find due to their soft parts. Furthermore, with the Ediacaran and Burgess finds, many of them are now known. Gish then focused on one of his favorite issues: the lack of transitional dinosaur fossils. He stated that no ancestral forms of triceratops have ever been found. He said we should expect to find forms with short horns, then increasingly longer horns. Apparently, he completely ignores such fossils as Protoceratops and Monoclonius. He also misunderstands evolution when he suggests that we should find gradually increasing horn lengths over time. (While I'm not a molecular biologist, wouldn't something like horn length be controlled by regulatory genes? If so, it would be a relatively rapid transition from short horns to long horns if a mutation were to turn off that gene or set of genes.) Perhaps one of Gish's most outrageous lies was the suggestion that all neanderthals were simply modern humans with rickets. He provided no support for this statement other than "X-rays prove they had arthritis." I don't see how arthritis in a few neanderthal individuals proves they all had rickets. I suspect Gish was fabricating this claim. In fact, he seemed a bit flustered when responding to Shermer's later challenge on the topic. Next, Gish illustrated his usual total lack of understanding of basic probability. He put up on the screen a figure showing a protein with a number of amino acids. He then went on to state that the probability of the first amino acid in the polymer being just right was 1/20, the probability of two being just right was 1/400, and so on. The Gish supporters were clucking their tongues and smirking in self-satisfaction over his probability arguments; to them, he was proving evolution impossible. What Gish of course fails to realize is that he was calculating not the probability of DNA and proteins evolving, but of one particular protein coming together out of a jumble of amino acids. It's the old a posteriori probability fallacy covered hundreds of times before in talk.origins. If I've got 52 cards and I deal myself a 5-card hand, the a priori probability that I would have dealt myself that hand would have been 1/(52*51*50*49*48), or 1 in 300 million. Nevertheless I beat the odds, right? Well not really. The probability of an event occurring *after* it has already occurred is meaningless because it is always 1. As usual Gish also failed to take into account the fact that evolution is a cumulative success-conserving and failure-eradicating process. Proteins didn't just come together at all at once. Finally, Gish brought up Hoyle and Wickramasinghe and used the completely flawed 747-from-a-junkpile argument. What he conveniently failed to mention is that these guys also think insects are more intelligent than people and that the first living molecules were planted on earth long ago. THE REBUTTALS Following Gish's completely typical and unsurprising talk, I was hoping that Shermer would be able to select a couple of his arguments and thorougly expose them for what they were: distortions. While Shermer did okay in some respects, he was not as clear or as complete as he could have been. He also seemed a little flustered at first, trying to tackle each and every one of Gish's claims in turn. Fifteen minutes was obviously not enough time to do this, so he was giving himself too much of a task. Nevertheless, he tried. He started by tackling Gish's probability argument. He explained that through selection, a computer could evolve text in such a way that it would produce the text TOBEORNOTTOBE in relatively few generations. While this is true, Shermer didn't emphasize the random and selective nature of this process enough. I suspect many in the audience were confused, and I know that the Gish supporters weren't understanding it. Shermer also mentioned that Hoyle and Wickramasinghe were quacks, but he never really stated why. I kept waiting for him to expose some of their more silly beliefs, but he never did. Nevertheless, I don't suppose the strength or weakness of an argument rests on the quackery of its proponents. Shermer was often unspecific. He stated Gish was wrong in assuming that evolution was linear and argued instead that evolution was a "branching bush." That's all he said. He didn't clarify, and I suspect that many of the Gish supporters had no idea what he meant. He ended his rebuttal by stating that, contrary to what Gish had said, the gaps in the fossil record were evidence *for* evolution. This did not sit well with the audience, as there was a lot of noticeable mumbling. In his rebuttal, Gish used this statement to argue that evolution is so malleable that it can incorporate any evidence possible, even the lack of it. He argued that stasis was not evidence for evolution but for creation. Shermer had set himself up. Gish went on to refute Shermer's TOBEORNOTTOBE example. He argued that the only reason a computer was able to achieve those famous words was because the computer program was created by a human, much in the same way that humans and all other living beings are created by God. The only reason Gish was able to make this fallacious argument was because Shermer had not spent enough time detailing the nature of selection algorithms. Finally, Gish refused to accept that the recent ancestral whale fossil find presented earlier by Shermer was a transitional fossil. It couldn't be a transitional fossil, argued Gish, because it had arms and legs. According to Gish, this creature was more like a wolf than a whale. AUDIENCE Q&A I did not take very many notes on this portion of the debate, because most of the questions by the audience were pretty boring. However, things got pretty interesting when George Jammal got up to ask Gish a question. I don't think Gish recognized him at first, but when Jammal gave his name, Gish loudly called him a liar and said he would not answer questions from a liar. Undaunted, Jammal proceeded to ask Gish what the first predators off Noah's Ark ate. When Gish responded by calling him a liar, Jammal became visibly furious and started yelling something along the lines of, "I lied to expose cheaters and liars!" He ranted for a while, but I couldn't quite make it out even though I was only a couple rows back from him. I just sat there cringing as I listened to him yell; he was making Gish look like an icon of diplomacy, objectivity and honesty in comparison. A couple audience members challenged Shermer on his Holocaust revisionist::creationist analogy, and they were, in my opinion, correct. Shermer sort of fumbled around with words, stating that he hadn't meant to ridicule creationists, only to draw an obvious parallel. It was too late though; the damage had already been done. Questions to Gish included questions about his religious beliefs as well as questions about the lack of submitted research by creationists to respectable journals. Gish responded by stating that creationists don't submit because they would be refused. Shermer's response to this was a good one in my opinion. He stated that controversial papers are published in journals all the time, and he used examples (which I don't recall now) to back this claim up. SUMMARY While I wouldn't say that Shermer got trounced (as apparently Dr. Chambliss did), he certainly didn't come close to stomping on Gish. Gish is a skilled rhetorician; he's good at picking and choosing small or controversial points of evolutionary theory which he then blows up into unrealistic caricatures. He's the master of the straw-man argument. He used it in his probability arguments, his transitional fossil arguments, his design arguments, and his Piltdown/Nebraska man arguments. While it's not difficult to see through these tactics if you're versed in the practices of creationists, I suspect it's very hard to detect if you've never confronted a creationist before. The tactics were probably impossible to detect by Gish supporters who were ready to latch onto any shred of evidence that evolution might be flawed. Shermer failed on a couple counts. First, while he was a good speaker, his presentation was not focused enough. It might have been better if he had picked one or two main arguments and developed them in depth. Instead, he seemed to be all over the map. There's no way you can prevent a skilled rhetorician like Gish from distorting an argument if you've only developed it superficially. Second, Shermer fell into the cheap-shot rhetoric trap with his Holocaust revisionism analogy. He lost credibility with the creationists (as well as some of the evolutionists, like me) in the audience on this point. Later attempts to justify the remarks only made him look sillier. After debates like these, I often wonder what the best debate strategy is. As Tim Thompson, Rich Trott, and Wayne Broughton pointed out, Gish spends no time defending creation. He devotes it all to an attack on and a distortion of evolution. How is it possible to correct these distortions when the audience most likely only has a superficial understanding of evolution? The only way to truly prove Gish wrong is to spend a significant amount of time on each and every scatter-shot claim he makes. This takes more time than is allowed by a debate format. Since it's not feasible to expect that all such claims can be countered, I see only two possible strategies remaining: 1) refute, in *detail*, only one or two of Gish's arguments, or 2) attack the plausibility of creationism in much the same way that Gish does for evolution. To be honest, I don't like either one of these strategies very much. They both leave too much unsaid. -- Brett J. Vickers bvickers@ics.uci.edu ================================================== Number: 441 Date: 20 Mar 94 02:09:02 From: James J. Lippard To: All Subject: Gish/Shermer Debate: An Account (Part 2 of 2) From: lippard@skyblu.ccit.arizona.edu (James J. Lippard) Organization: University of Arizona In article , schwartz@roke.cse.psu.edu (Scott Schwartz) writes... >bvickers@lambada.ics.uci.edu (Brett J. Vickers) writes: > After debates like these, I often wonder what the best debate > strategy is. ... Since it's not feasible to expect that all such > claims can be countered, I see only two possible strategies > remaining: 1) refute, in *detail*, only one or two of Gish's > arguments, or 2) attack the plausibility of creationism in much the > same way that Gish does for evolution. To be honest, I don't like > either one of these strategies very much. They both leave too much > unsaid. > >It doesn't matter what they leave unsaid. This isn't a lecture or other >scholarly activity, it is a battle of rhetoric and _nothing else_. In a >public debate, especially one of this kind, your only goal is to defeat >your opponent in the mind of the audience. You pick your strategy and >tactics accordingly, and don't get distracted with ideas of scholarly >fairness or completeness. Argue only what you can win, and force your >opponent to argue what you want him to. Study his past debates and >preempt arguments you know he will make. Win the coin toss so you get >to go first. State upfront what the criteria for winning will be, and >make sure your opponent cannot meet them (don't simply assume your >audience will make a reasoned judgement of the various positions they >hear; you must define the voting criteria if you expect them to decide >correctly). > >A few years back R. Day posted a very nice description of a debate he >had in Manitoba. Check it out in the archives for an example of how to >do things. The most resounding defeat of Gish I've ever witnessed (and Gish himself admitted that he lost the debate) was when Philip Kitcher debated him at the University of Minnesota in 1985 (I have a videotape). Kitcher went first, and began by saying that, despite the fact that this was a creation vs. evolution debate, Gish wasn't going to say anything about the creation story in Genesis. He went on to say that this is quite odd, because that's the only reason most people were there for the debate--to see if the story in Genesis could be literally true or not. So he presented the creationists' story for them, and pointed out how the claims of flood geology are incompatible with the geological column, and how this has been known since before evolution ever came to be an issue. (He did this very well--very clearly and with humor, comparing creationism (the "fish to fish, Gish to Gish" theory, with a nice slide depicting various organisms identical all the way down through the fossil record, including Gish's face) to evolution (the "fish to Gish" theory, with Gishes only at the top--along with occasional mutations (Kitcher had Isaac Asimov's face for the mutation).) Kitcher ended up preempting most of Gish's standard presentation, but Gish had no choice but to give it anyway. Jim Lippard Lippard@CCIT.ARIZONA.EDU Dept. of Philosophy Lippard@ARIZVMS.BITNET University of Arizona Preparing to punt academia for a return to the Tucson, AZ 85721 computer world. (Got a job to offer in the SF area?)

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