Bergman gave the argument FOR Intelligent Design, and Myers gave the argument AGAINST.

I have never seen an argument against Intelligent design so well made. It would seem that Intelligent Design is a point of view rather than a coherent theory, one that emerges as a socio political side-effect of the struggle between atheism and religion, one that has many proponents but no valid scientific published research to support it. Intelligent design, according to what I saw argued, makes little internal coherent sense. It is based on a two step process of reasoning: Irreducible complexity, which is shown in the argument to be a trivial redefinition of how the world works, and a second step that there must be a designer, but this second step can neither be described nor disproved. In the end Intelligent design is a useless, senseless puddle of piddle with no merit or value of any kind whatsoever.

And THAT, dear reader, was Bergman’s argument!

PZ Myers response was, essentially, to take his carefully compiled stack of index cards that he had brought in preparation for a vigorous debate and toss them over his shoulder into a heap, as they clearly would have no use. But really, the debate was won for the evolutionists half way through Bergman’s bizarre opening presentation. The first third of his opening remarks were biographical, and he attempted to make the argument that because he was a Jehovah’s Witness, then an Atheist, then a Theist, and because people treated him badly, that he must therefore be right. The middle of his argument was that everything but leptons was irreducibly complex. A carbon atom, for instance, can not be taken apart and still be a carbon atom. The last part of his argument was … oh, really, who cares. Just more senseless yammering as far as I could tell.

There were four or five of us, variously, standing in the back of the room and honestly, we were trying to behave. Amanda was the best behaved. She mostly glowered (and passed a few notes) but could not avoid the occasional face-palm. Eventually, since she is ten months pregnant, she had to go and sit down somewhere. My Facebook friend, scientist Jafsica reminded me of a person who is really really bothered by someone scratching their fingers on a black board standing in a room where a thousand people were scratching their fingers on the blackboard. Bergman would not stop saying truly idiotic things (“Something is irreducibly complex if it has irreducible complexity” and “A person made of just a lepton would not function as a person”) and Jafsica was eventually reduced to a quivering mass of wince. Steven rolled his eyes so many times I thought he had gone bowling. My friend Kammy was studiously incensed at Bergman’s truly over the top self aggrandizing victim hood, and after we heard for the fifth or sixth time how he was repeatedly ostracized because of his “scientific” beliefs, Kammy leaned over to me and whispered “Maybe he’s just a dick? ‘think he ever thought of that?”

PZ’s main arguments were succinct: None of this yammering about Intelligent Design argued for it being taught in the schools. Science needs good theory and methods, and data to test the theories, that is the bread and butter of a science curriculum, and ID has none of that. ID has been around for quite some time and has produced nothing. The science standards have adopted the consensus of the scientific community, and anything that is part of that consensus should be considered for school curriculum. Intelligent Design is not part of that consensus. PZ also made numerous more specific arguments regarding Intelligent Design’s bankruptcy and Evolution’s supremacy. He pointed out that carbon atoms might be irreducibly complex but we know how they are made (they are being made in stars as we speak). He pointed out that Bergman’s constant harping about “vestigial organs” (he wrote a book about it, you know!) was totally wrong … “vestigial” does not mean “no function.” It means that an organ once had a different, generally much expanded function, but now has a reduced function. Like a tail for balance and signaling becoming a coccyx that has a few muscles attached to it. And so on.

Mark Borrello did an excellent job as moderator, ruthlessly keeping the speakers in line (who truthfully were pretty well behaved most of the time) and controlling audience questions politely but firmly. Well, firmly.

(Only kidding, he was polite as well.)

There was one very very low moment in the debate that has to be mentioned and for which we await Dr. Bergman’s apology. Long after it was clear that Myers had trounced Bergman and Evolution had won the day, near the end of the evening, as the very last questions were being asked, Bergman played the Holocaust card. He actually made the statement that it had been well proven that Evolution (and atheism, by his model) had caused the Holocaust. Never mind 600 years of Christian powered antisemitism. Never mind the inquisition. Never mind the thousands of pages of 18th, 19th and early 20th century writings by mainly Christian authors on the evil and untrustworthy nature of the Jewish People. Never mind the role of the church. Never mind the work of both evolutionists and creationists in 19th and early 20th century England, the US and Europe against racism and antisemitism.

Evolution (and by his model atheism) caused the holocaust, stated Dr. Bergman quite plainly and clearly. This drew cat calls and jeers from the up-’till-then perfectly behaved audience, and caused Borrello to step in and say a word or two. Bergman’s teabagger-esque invoking of the Holocaust was utterly incorrect, wrong, and despicable, and tells us one thing that was not entirely clear up until that point: Not only is Bergman a moron (which was clear from the moment he opened his mouth at the beginning of the evening), but he is also an ass and not worthy of the meanest podium. I intend to write a letter to the organizers of this debate suggesting that he not be invited back and that an apology be demanded, acquired, and forwarded.

UPDATE:

Twin Cities blogger Kittywumpus has a review of the debate here, and PZ Myer’s post-game analysis is here.

Comments

  1. #1 jafsica
    November 17, 2009

    That was painful.
    Well put, Greg.

  2. #2 Steve R
    November 17, 2009

    “Long after it was clear that Myers had trounced Bergman and Evolution had one the day” I think you mean “won the day”. Damned autocorrect.

    Great post though. I think you summed up the debate pretty well.

  3. #3 jafsica
    November 17, 2009

    Maybe the grammatical errors in Bergman’s presentation started to rub off on Greg. They certainly made me feel like I was losing brain cells.

  4. #4 Greg Laden
    November 17, 2009

    Hold on, guys, I noticed that error in the first draft and fixed it right away! You must have read this post in the first few seconds (before i added Steve in, as well, most likely!)

    Hey, La Casita wasn’t bad food, was it?

  5. #5 Kammy
    November 17, 2009

    One of the best moments was when Bergman was given the chance to ask PZ a question directly and asked him if he could name a single person who supported ID and was granted tenure and PZ said no. After just the right amount of pause to let Bergman think he’d just scored a point, PZ said “But what’s the problem with that?”

    That and the questioner who after Bergman insisted something was irreducibly complex, stepped back to the mic and said, “No, it isn’t.”

    For such amoral (according to Bergman) people we were a very well behaved lot I thought. :)

  6. #6 jafsica
    November 17, 2009

    We were well behaved! I held my tongue a /lot/. And, I stifled several laughs. I’m very proud of myself.

  7. #7 jolly
    November 17, 2009

    I’ve often wondered, if Hitler was such an atheist, why are the neo-nazis so religious?

  8. #8 Stephanie Z
    November 17, 2009

    Glad an ent…er, infor…um…time was had by all. Very cool to meet people at La Casita.

  9. #9 Rorschach
    November 17, 2009

    I’ve often wondered, if Hitler was such an atheist, why are the neo-nazis so religious?

    Well they’re not.
    Good thing it’s not relevant.

  10. #10 Mike Haubrich, FCD
    November 17, 2009

    I sincerely and nearly walked out when he pulled in the Hitler thing. I could not sincerely believe that this guy, who had thought it was all “Science” that had fixed him up good as a theist, was not going to do this.

    Of course he lost me at “My dad was an atheist-agnostic,” how the world was against him because he was no longer a JW, then the world was against him because he was no longer an atheist…and now he has no friends. Ouch.

    But, his stopper on irreducible complexity was “Can a woman who is just a lepton reproduce?” I had no clue what was supposed to mean.

  11. #11 James
    November 17, 2009

    I wasn’t there last night … but did Dr Bergman include the appendix in the list of “vestigial organs”? Because we’re pretty sure what that does now. The appendix repopulates the gut with flora – helping us to survive things like cholera.

  12. #12 Greg Laden
    November 17, 2009

    James, yes, and it is still vestigial.

    Jessica, I’m pretty sure the guy sitting in front of us who went up to “ask a question” was specifically going to complain about you. Or maybe me.

  13. #13 JimV
    November 17, 2009

    Re #11: Yes, but it is still a vestigial organ – see Dr. Myer’s definition of vestigial in the main post. Example: cigarette lighters in cars which are now used to power electronic equipment are vestigial organs – see my thesis on how the only “intelligent design” which we have actually observed (i.e., design work by engineers like myself) actually is just a sped-up, memory-enhanced version of how evolution searches a solution-space, using the same basic techniques and producing similar, kludgy results. Unfortunately, said thesis is too long to fit in this margin.

  14. #14 Greg Laden
    November 17, 2009

    I think cigarette lighters are not vestigial. Vestigial is an organ with a reduced function. Now, cigarette lighters not only have expanded function, but they also have colonized more areas in the car. In an SUV there may be six or seven of the things. Sommetimes they are even installed on the OUTSIDE of the vehicle!

  15. #15 J-Dog
    November 17, 2009

    So, this means that effective immediately, Ben Stein and Billy Dembski and Mike Behe will also formally apologise for being liars and wasting our time?

    While we are waiting for that, thanks for the info and the laughs.

  16. #16 Steven R
    November 17, 2009

    Good point about the cigarette lighters, Greg. That’s almost exactly how evolution works, though. If a new organ is needed, it doesn’t come up from scratch. It’s generally created by reusing and modifying whatever existing and underused organ is best suited for the task.

  17. #17 Raging Bee
    November 17, 2009

    But, his stopper on irreducible complexity was “Can a woman who is just a lepton reproduce?” I had no clue what was supposed to mean.

    Sounds to me like Bergman is confusing “lepton” with “lesbian.” Did he say anything about the “lepton lifestyle?”

  18. #18 Greg Laden
    November 17, 2009

    Bergman’s idea is simple: Anything that can’t be reduced without changing what it is is irreducibly. Which is, by definition, true. And, not really related to intelligent design.

    He sees leptons and bosons as the fundamental irreducible thingies, thus everything but them was created by an intelligent designer, which requires a large logical leap from irreducibly complex to “designed by an intelligent designer.”

  19. #19 Betul
    November 17, 2009

    On a different note, I really do not understand what people mean by “intelligent” design. What is so intelligent about it?

  20. #20 Greg Laden
    November 17, 2009

    That would have been a good question to bring up at the debate, but the level was so low it never got to that point.

  21. #21 Jud
    November 17, 2009

    He sees leptons and bosons as the fundamental irreducible thingies

    What Bergman knows about fundamental physical theories I barfed up one night at a bar after too many Jagermeisters.

  22. #22 Joshua Zelinsky
    November 17, 2009

    James, in addition to JimV’s comment note that while the repopulation hypothesis is common it isn’t (as I understand it) accepted necessarily as demonstrated to complete satisfaction.

    Bergman sounds like an absolute idiot. Was this actually a good use of PZ’s time or the time of anyone else present?

  23. #23 Chrisj
    November 17, 2009

    So if the only things you can have without a designer are quarks and leptons, which of them does the design work?

  24. #24 Bodach
    November 17, 2009

    “and Jafsica was eventually reduced to a quivering mass of wince”
    I would have liked to see that. Nice turn of phrase.
    Thanks for the review.

  25. #25 chris
    November 17, 2009

    @Chrisj #23

    That was my first thought as well. If everything is irreducibly complex, and therefore designed, EXCEPT for two things, where did they come from? Or are they the designers? Maybe it is a team effort, like Lennon/McCartney. If so then could you tell which thing they designed was a “lepton” and which was a “boson”, like you can with Beatles songs?

  26. #26 Ted Meissner
    November 17, 2009

    Yeah, his redefinition of vestigial and irreducible complexity was making us twitch up front, too. It’s why I asked him (and you notice, he couldn’t answer) how he was *not* moving the goal from Behe’s definition, now that it’s been debunked.

  27. #27 Talen Lee
    November 17, 2009

    Intelligent Design is a fine example of a vestigial conceptual organ. Once the well-developed organ of Creationism, with its big, wide, reassuring buttresses of ‘Don’t worry, god will deal with it,’ it’s trying to survive in a world of evidence. As it is, just like the appendix, all it can do is desperately expel bad smells when the situation is already rather dire.

    (Hmm. Maybe the joke needs work.)

  28. #28 Raging Bee
    November 17, 2009

    He sees leptons and bosons as the fundamental irreducible thingies…

    And a woman who is just a lepton still can’t reproduce, no matter how big her bosons are. Unless, of course, she’s the Whore of Babylepton.

    Sorry, this sort of “debate” just brings out the silly in me…

  29. #29 abb3w
    November 17, 2009

    Greg Laden: He pointed out that carbon atoms might be irreducibly complex but we know how they are made (they are being made in stars as we speak).

    Science Trivia: also occasionally by uranium decay. Being one of the more hideously stable nucleon configurations, C12 nuclei get barfed out every so often in much the same way (if less often than) the vanilla He4 “alpha particle” does. (Isotopes bigger than that usually get thrown in the “spontaneous fission” category.)

    Of course, the Uranium is originally just starstuff, also.

    JimV: Example: cigarette lighters in cars which are now used to power electronic equipment are vestigial organs – see my thesis on how the only “intelligent design” which we have actually observed (i.e., design work by engineers like myself) actually is just a sped-up, memory-enhanced version of how evolution searches a solution-space, using the same basic techniques and producing similar, kludgy results. Unfortunately, said thesis is too long to fit in this margin.

    Or see historian George Basalla’s book The Evolution of Technology (ISBN 0-521-29681-1)… although I don’t think he covers vestigial technologies.

    I suspect the “telnet” server Service still installed by default on WinXP (and probably later) might qualify.

  30. #30 jafsica
    November 17, 2009

    Greg, do you remember the “question” he asked? I couldn’t hear most of the people, maybe partially because I was still wincing and trying to recover from hearing the phrase “irreducible complexity” a few too many times.

    It was interesting to hear his specialty while he was studying human biology: MRIs.

  31. #31 Greg Laden
    November 17, 2009

    I don’t remember the question, we may have to look back at the video… (or not)

  32. #32 Derek
    November 17, 2009

    Maybe I’m sick, but I’d be curious to see what the IDers and creationists thought about the debate.
    Any blog posts up yet in their camp?

  33. #33 jafsica
    November 17, 2009

    Did he glare at us? That would have been funny.

  34. #34 Glen Davidson
    November 17, 2009

    Well Christ, I’m a person made of a single lepton, after all.

    About as intelligent a response as his claim(s) deserves, at least.

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/mxaa3p

  35. #35 Andy
    November 17, 2009

    Yes – that guy who went back to the mic and said, “no it isn’t”? I missed what his question was, too. Dammit.

  36. #36 Eric
    November 17, 2009

    Who doesn’t give up their seat to a 10-month pregnant woman?!

  37. #37 DouglasG
    November 17, 2009

    The “No it isn’t” guy — if I remember correctly — asked about his definition of IC. I think he was trying to get at it is carbon (or not carbon) by definition rather than some strange IC property.

    Which brings me to a question I would have liked to ask. So, if you remove something from this Irreducibly Complex carbon atom it is no longer carbon. Thus, if you remove something from a human — such as a vestigial appendix — are they no longer human? My humanity is at stake here!

  38. #38 D. C. Sessions
    November 17, 2009

    Hey, the number “2″ is irreducibly complex: you can’t divide it without making it something other than two.

  39. #39 Mike Haubrich, FCD
    November 17, 2009

    Jafsica and Greg – His “question” was – how many professors does he PZ know who do ID research and have been granted tenure at a research institution?

    Points made by Side A: We are persecuted and Hitler.
    Points Made by side B: So what, no, and furthermore ID ain’t science Also convincing point that you don’t want to retard scientific and intellectual capacity by teaching ID.

  40. #40 Greg Laden
    November 17, 2009

    Oh, that question.

  41. #41 JSug
    November 17, 2009

    Or see historian George Basalla’s book The Evolution of Technology (ISBN 0-521-29681-1)… although I don’t think he covers vestigial technologies.

    I suspect the “telnet” server Service still installed by default on WinXP (and probably later) might qualify.

    In the technology world, we don’t call such things “vestigial”, we call them “legacy”. But it’s the same concept. Good examples of legacy hardware on a modern PC: PS/2 keyboard and mouse ports, as well as serial and parallel communications ports. These things became ubiquitous because they were used by all manner of peripherals. They’re still useful, but only in a reduced and highly specialized way. Most people who have bought a new computer in the last 10 years or so have no use for them because almost all peripherals are now connected via USB.

  42. #42 Sasha
    November 17, 2009

    The “no it isn’t” guy asked if a car was irreducibly complex because if you take out the … (not sure which part he said, lets say the transmission), it wouldn’t work as a car. Bergman said yes. The guy said that even without being able to move, it would work as a wonderful stereo system. Bergman said something along the lines of, well then it would be another irreducibly complex system. The guy came back and said “No, it isn’t.” It would still be a great heater even if you took out the speakers/cd player etc. I’m sure they could have gone on all the way down to the quarks.

  43. #43 Greg Laden
    November 17, 2009

    Another feature of vestigial organs in animals (as opposed to computers) is that they usually exist for developmental reasons. The appendix is really at one end of a wide range of organs that run from quite large to quite small across different organisms, and they get there because the same original tissue is incorporated differently in the developmental process. Same with the human and ape tail bone.

  44. #44 kittywhumpus
    November 17, 2009

    It was a good use of my time, I don’t know how Dr. Myers feels. Things like this remind me to think critically and assess my own assumptions for their validity. People will often go to any length to retain their dearly held beliefs *coughhitlercough*, and it’s good to be reminded that I need to be applying scrutiny to myself, as well.

  45. #45 llewelly
    November 17, 2009

    Sommetimes they are even installed on the OUTSIDE of the vehicle!

    Well, you wouldn’t want someone smoking inside your car. They might ash on your upholstery, or stink it up with smoke.

  46. #46 Qwerty
    November 17, 2009

    Perhaps Dr. Bergman’s brain is vestigial?

  47. #47 Tom Krawford
    November 17, 2009

    Intelligent design is actually an updated version of, I think the 8th through the 10th or 11th Century when Religion became the main tool for Pre European post Roman authority getting so called barbarians to work together against the Norse, the Moors and the Magyars.

    One argument against ID I have not heard: Science has Math and Physics to back up its claims. We can even infer factual knowledge based in part on informal logic.

    How does Math and Physics back up ID? If ID is going to use inference and Enthymeme to back up its claims, how can such an irreducible inherent element responsible for so much human nature account for so many reoccurring human variables of that “inherent” nature such as homosexuality?

    Where is the math and physics that defines what is or is not “evil” or what is or is not natural in any terms let alone logical?

  48. #48 Greg Laden
    November 17, 2009

    Actually, irreducible complexity was originally based on a mathematical argument. ID, per se, is based on the “Watchmaker” arguments of Paley of the just before Darwin days of natural history.

    Physics certainly did come up during this ‘debate.’

  49. #49 Tracy Walker
    November 17, 2009

    Hilarious review of what must have been a painful experience. Many thanks, Greg.

  50. #50 JimV
    November 17, 2009

    I thought someone might challenge me on the cigarette lighter vestigiality. For me it is – none of my family or current circle of friends smoke, but many people still do, so I jumped the gun on that. Thanks to the other commenters who gave better examples.

    I really think the analogy between biological and technological evolution is quite striking, and to my mind destroys the whole ID “only magic can create complex stuff” premise (there being no magic in my design work, or my thinking in general). I will have to get that book referenced above.

  51. #51 Jeffrey Campbell
    November 17, 2009

    I’m the “No it isn’t” guy!

    I approached the mic to point out that Bergman’s definition of IC is not the same as Behe’s and that, under Behe’s definition, Bergman’s slide that listed a car as irreducibly complex was BS.

    After naming the mousetrap as classic ‘Behe’ IC example (take out the spring and it’s a pile of junk), I noted that with a car you could remove everything but the engine, alternator, and electronics to make an excellent gas-powered entertainment system. His response was something like “but that system is irreducibly complex” to which I responded “No it’s not.”. That caught a lot of laughs, which kept a lot of folks from hearing me explain that you could remove the alternator and electronics and still have a perfectly good heater.

    All in all, I’d say the event was a roaring success. I had a hell of a good time :)

  52. #52 Greg Laden
    November 17, 2009

    “”No it isn’t”” was great.

    A heater! OK, cool. I figured it would be something like that.

  53. #53 nixscripter
    November 17, 2009

    Wow. I wish I could have made it to the debate. I might have liked it — or, maybe not if the ID argument was that incoherent.

    Completely unrelated, but I do hope that there is no trouble here:

    Eventually, since she is ten months pregnant, she had to go and sit down somewhere.

    If I remember my biology class, that’s one month too long.

  54. #54 Greg Laden
    November 17, 2009

    How many weeks in a month? Four. How many weeks in a pregnancy? 40, on average, 41.5 or so for first timers. Human pregnancy is ten months long or more.

    Thaks Kammy for pointing this out last night!

  55. #55 Kammy
    November 17, 2009

    Yeah, they don’t tell you the 40 week thingy til after you’re well and truly pregnant. It’s a trick!!! I still can’t believe I fell for it.

    Also, to say that a woman is 10 or 11 months pregnant is a funny way of saying she’s had enough and would like to be done being pregnant oh, say a month or so ago. :)

    Personally, I don’t think I ever looked prettier than I did when I was very pregnant. That nice round belly is beautiful. After I gave birth, I just looked hung over and tired for about 2 years. :P

  56. #56 Ben
    November 18, 2009

    I feel that from the remarks made about the debate, I think that if Intelligent Design is to be taken seriously, then a much larger picture has to be considered, and not just irreducible complexity, and mathematical improbability.

    Perhaps creationism and Intelligent design will be taken more seriously when scientists start to engineer life artificially. Then perhaps there will be an evolution of thinking as no doubt there through progression of design in the coming years, more and more complex creatures will be attempted. Then maybe, just maybe people will begin to understand who and what, people living in ancient historical times were describing in their writings

  57. #57 Mike Haubrich, FCD
    November 18, 2009

    How many weeks in a month? Four. How many weeks in a pregnancy? 40, on average, 41.5 or so for first timers. Human pregnancy is ten months long or more.

    Are we talking “moons” or “months” here? Cause I really want to hold that baby!

  58. #58 Ouchimoo
    November 18, 2009

    I didn’t find it to be a waste of time. It got me out of my speech club after all, harhar. I feel mean for saying this, but I did like the politely done snide marks against the IDer. Especially after his announced that all scientists favored Nazism. With even the moderator smacking him down with ‘the Jewish scientists didn’t’. So, if anything, I got some laughs from that night. Oh and I got a free book from a creationist with a return address. Yay, pen pals I guess. . . O_o
    Although he didn’t say anything about what he thought about the debate so I can’t say what his take was.

  59. #59 Zack Ross
    November 30, 2009

    Well stated that he was out of line in playing the Holocaust card! They would have been better off to have William Dembski to argue his points against the evolutionist fraud. I believe that Jesus Christ should not just be modeled but worshiped as the son of the one true God. Hitler was an idiot with no regard for human life. Jesus Christ was someone who crossed the barrier and reached out to those who even the Jewish people of his time could care less for. Although I’m not a proponent of evolution, I would never stoop to say it caused the Holocaust. I am happy to see more and more debates being brought about to counter the problems with evolution and have evolutionists point out problems with Theists. I believe this is a healthy way to come and argue and work together. At the end of the day we all live in this world together and we have to get along, but we won’t get along if we use outlandish claims as “Evolution caused the Holocaust”. I would not welcome him as a debater. This becomes the problem with evolutionists and theists debating. You will need to find a reputable supporter of the claim against evolution or our side of the argument will continue to be lost within the scientific community. His opinions concern me as a believer in that I want to have a reputable voice within the scientific community and not make outlandish claims that will push them further away. Please understand that not all Theists believe and argue like Bergman.