As I often do, I sent a link to my article, Idiot of the Week? Or Liar of the Week?, to the target of my criticism, Robert Meyer, and invited a response. That has led to a brief exchange of e-mails, which I will reprint here along with a further response to the last one from Mr. Meyer. I will put his words in italics and mine in regular type. Here is the first response he made, interspersed with the reply I made in e-mail:
Checked out your article. Interesting disscussion. But, of course saying that Punctuated Equilibrium is nothing like the Hopeful Monster theory, etc. rings hallow when there is little functional difference in principle.
Again, your ignorance of this subject is stunningly obvious. There is an enormous difference, not only in principle but in reality. But I doubt you have ever bothered to read even a single paper by Goldschmidt, on his “hopeful monster” notion, or by Gould and Eldredge on PE. Nowhere do Gould and Eldredge advocate saltation as a source of speciation, which is what Goldschmidt advocated. PE does not require any mechanism for speciation that is any different from any other model of evolution. In fact, the genius of PE was that it applied normal speciation mechanisms and population genetics to the question of what the fossil record would look like as a result. If the dominant mode of speciation is allopatric rather than sympatric, as numerous studies on population genetics going back to at least Mayr’s work in the 50s and 60s have shown, then the patterns found in the fossil record are what would be expected. Again, even a cursory familiarity with genetics and evolutionary theory would help you avoid making silly statements like this.
This is not a case where saying “that’s stupid” is just a way of saying “I disagree” – this is objectively stupid. PE is not a theory of genetics, it is the application of genetics to paleontology. Goldschmidt’s argument for hopeful monsters required an entirely different mechanism for speciation. They are not only different in function and principle, they aren’t even addressing the same question. PE does not address the question of what causes speciation, it only addresses how modes of speciation common to all of evolutionary theory would impact the patterns in the fossil record. Goldschmidt was suggesting an entirely new mechanism for speciation, one that is rejected by all evolutionary theorists, including Gould.
I also noted that your website seemed to be another infidel preaching to the congregation forum. I suppose this is your greater service to mankind-your attempt at sweeping away the theological debris of slavery and catapulting us into a new age of liberating enlightenment! Well have at it my friend, but it ain’t going to happen arguing about the origins of formations of bones!
You are clearly throwing around terms you don’t even understand in an attempt to sound far more educated than you are. The phrase “formations of bones” isn’t even coherent, nor do I address any such thing on my blog.
For you and I, it comes down to one simple axiom. Either I am wrong or else you are wrong in what you believe(although technically we could both be wrong). If I’m wrong I’m no worse off then you are in being correct; not so the other way around. I can’t live with such an untenable predicament, I hope that you can. As I stated, the test of a philosophy is not in the living with it, as much as the dying by it. No witty remarks can change your position.
Pascal’s Wager is no more compelling now than it was when he thought of it.
And I should have added at the time, but did not, that Pascal’s Wager has exactly nothing to do with the substance of my critique of Meyer’s article. He made the following claims: that Gould “admitted” that there were no transitional fossils and that therefore evolution was “in crisis”; that he therefore invented PE as a way to get out of that dilemma; and that PE was identical to Goldschmidt’s “hopeful monster” speciation hypothesis. All three of those arguments are completely and utterly false, and anyone with even a cursory understanding of basic biology would know that they were. The fact that Meyer made them can only mean one of two things – either he is ignorant of the subject and doesn’t know that they’re false, in which case he shouldn’t be making bold claims on the subject in the first place, or he is not ignorant of the subject and is simply lying. Here is the second e-mail from Mr. Meyer, in response to what was written above.
I’ll call your bluff here. Since you took the time to inform me that I’m stupid, then I’m sure that you won’t mind giving me some links or a few book titles that will help “educate” me as you say. I do like to keep abreast of the lastest (sic) developments in the opposition camp. And since your (sic) a professional debater, that shouldn’t be too threatening. I’m really not interested in any links that are devoted to mud-slinging though. One can go through all the trappings of presenting themselves as a technician, yet convince nobody on account of their presentation style.
There is no bluff to call. The one who was bluffing was you, in claiming to know what Gould “admitted” and believed without ever bothering to read anything he wrote on the subject. I already gave you a link in my original response to Gould’s article on the very arguments that you made. I’d start there. But frankly, you don’t need the latest developments; you need to understand the very basics of evolutionary theory. But see, here’s the thing – you should already have done that research. An intellectually honest person takes the time to understand a subject before making bold claims about it. There are lots of subjects about which I know virtually nothing. You know why you’ll never hear me criticizing, for example, Steven Hawking’s theories on black hole formation? Because I am not competent to offer such a criticism. I know virtually nothing about the physics of cosmology and it would take an enormous amount of study before I would feel qualified to speak on that subject. So I don’t.
What baffles me about not only this article, but millions like it, is that people who obviously know nothing about a subject nonetheless spout off about it. One would think that even if they were not at all concerned with intellectual honesty or whether they really were correct in their claims, they would at least avoid doing so just to avoid looking foolish when someone who actually does know the field points out why they’re wrong. But then perhaps Mr. Meyer just assumed that no one who read that website would know enough about it to offer a critique of it. But that still leaves the issue of intellectual honesty in place.
Here’s a good place to start, since you’re making claims specifically about PE. If you do not know what the terms “allopatric speciation” or “cladogenesis” mean, then you have no business making any statements whatsoever about what PE says or what it was designed to explain. Those are very basic concepts in evolution. You don’t need a PhD to understand them. You just need a layman’s understanding of the concepts. And if you want to get a basic understanding of PE, I recommend reading this FAQ by my friend Wes Ellsberry.
I really think you missed the whole purpose of the editorial though. Noboby is going to mistake an opinion piece for a technical research paper.
And no one thinks it should be a technical research paper. But if you’re going to say “Scientist X says Y”, then you damn well better have read the work of scientist X to know if he really DID say Y. Is that in any way unreasonable? Are you really going to take the position that since it wasn’t a “technical research paper”, there are no standards for accuracy that you are obligated to maintain? Opinion pieces that contain either outright falsehoods or lies about the views of someone should be held to the same standards of honesty and intellectual rigor as any other claim, shouldn’t they?
The editorial was presented as a philosophical piece to illustrate the lengths scholars will go to, in order to avoid having to consider the possibility of creationism; hence the quotation from Nagel.
But what you actually illustrated was the lengths YOU would go to in falsely representing the views of Gould. Every single statement you made about Gould’s views was not only false, it was the exact opposite of what he actually believed and said on the subject. You didn’t just get it a little bit wrong. You didn’t just interpret something differently. Your representation of his views was 180 degrees opposite to his actual views.
As far as Nagel is concerned, I couldn’t possibly care less why this obscure law professor is an atheist, since I am neither an atheist nor would I share his reasons for being one if I was. I am interested in the falsity of your statements about evolution, and particularly about Gould’s views on it, something you seem frantic not to discuss.
You are evidently more benevolent then myself. If I thought someone’s writing were foolish or silly, it would serve my cause better if I just let them hang themselves by continuing on. And besides, some people actually liked the piece.
I’m not interested in “serving a cause” other than making sure that false statements get corrected. My cause, if I have one, is simply pursuit of the truth. Your statements were completely false. And I don’t care if a million people “liked” your article, it was still wrong.
You go to the ends of the earth to spell out the technical distinctions between PE and Hopeful Monster-and you do it well.
What I spelled out were not “technical distinctions”, they are enormous differences. PE and Goldschmidt’s hypothesis are not just “technically distinct”, they address entirely different questions. One doesn’t have to “go to the ends of the earth” (you do have a talent for the meaningless rhetorical flourish) to understand or show the differences. One merely has to have a basic understanding of the ideas. Which, again, one really should have before making claims about it.
In doing so you miss the larger point though. Neither hypothesis would be neccessary if Darwin’s original theory had panned out. Yet neither Gould or Goldschmidt consider the possibility that evolution may never have happened. You’re not trying to tell me that evolution is any more than a metaphysical hypothesis are you? Oops another dumb statement.
You’re right, that’s another dumb statement, and another meaningless bit of rhetoric attached to a silly claim. And here again, even a basic understand would help you avoid these ridiculous statements. Darwin’s “original theory” was a very broad and simple model of the natural history of life on earth – the notion that all modern life forms are derived from a common ancestor through descent with modification as a result of natural selection. That theory has “panned out” very well. It has been confirmed by a century and a half of research. But there were many things that Darwin did not understand, which is hardly surprising since he didn’t even know about Mendelian genetics. But it is simply false to say that PE was developed because evolution hadn’t “panned out”. PE was not developed to explain away anything, it was developed the way all theories are developed, to explain a set of data. And – yet again – if you had taken the time to actually read Gould and Eldredge’s work on the subject, you would know this.
I think the problem your (sic) going to encounter gaining converts is that in saying “your position dumb-my position enlightened”(I’m not just talking about my piece), it that there are only so many 160+ I.Q. folks on the Bell curve, and you can’t reach them all with arcane arguments. Few people are going to spent the time trying to understand.
LOL. This just becomes more and more ridiculous as it goes along. I have no interest in “gaining converts” (converts to WHAT?). My interest is simply in countering nonsense. Your article was nonsense. One does not need a 160 IQ to understand basic evolutionary theory. But I find it fascinating that you seem more interested in who is going to be convinced than you are in making sure that the statements you make on the subject are accurate. This is not an exercise in persuasion. There is a basic truth here. Either Gould had the views that you attributed to him or he did not. If he did not, then you should not claim that he did. We can at least agree on that, can’t we?