Pharyngula

Cafe Scientifique, or Lewis Wolpert

You are going to have to make a choice about tonight’s educational experience. You could come out to the Common Cup Coffeehouse in Morris, Minnesota at 6:00 to attend our Cafe Scientifique, in which Arne Kildegaard will make the electricity industry and current renewable energy policy fascinating, OR if you happen to be in London at 7:30, you could listen to Lewis Wolpert debate William Lane Craig on “Is God a delusion?” There is a six hour time difference between London and Morris, but I don’t think it’s possible to both attend the debate and fly across the Atlantic in 4½ hours, so you should just face the fact that you’re going to have to pick one or the other.

Sorry about that. We should have consulted each other before scheduling these events.

Comments

  1. #1 Louis
    February 27, 2007

    I saw Prof Wolpert debate IDC with Prof Steve Fuller last week. It was tragic. Fuller was flannelling and producing the usual thinly veiled po/mo blather he always does to “defend” IDC, but what was worse was that Wolpert was nigh on useless. I’m sorry to say that one of my scientific and personal heros is no counter-creationist! He acted in a very patrician way and had unfortunately assumed that Fuller was an unintelligent idiot. Fuller IS an idiot, but not THAT sort of idiot! Delusion and lack of intellect being two very different things.

    Sporting analogies abound, but what with the England rugby match this weekend being a thorough defeat by the deserving and brilliant Irish, it wasn’t a good week for hero worship! At the Wolpert/Fuller debate few no honest spectator could come to any other conclusion than Fuller was a snakeoil salesman and that Wolpert had failed to prepare, treat the subject seriously and was unaware that trotting out disjointed bits of data would be insufficient. Our team just didn’t turn up. Luckily the opposition were really awful, but we shouldn’t rely on this. Contrast this with the England match, we didn’t turn up and our opposition were brilliant thus we got humiliatingly defeated. Both should be a lesson to Wolpert, I hope he demonstrates a better debating ability this week.

    Louis

  2. #2 SteveF
    February 27, 2007

    I might make it tonight, but like Louis I don’t hold out much hope, or at least Wolpert might be right but I don’t expect him to put in a great performance. Lane Craig is a very polished speaker and a veteran of the debate format. On the other hand, I saw Wolpert briefly debate Andy Mackintosh, head of Truth in Science, on Newsnight and it was a poor performance.

    I think Louis makes a good point in a wider sense here. I remember reading some of the points Steve Jones made in his “Why Creationism is Wrong” lecture for the Royal Society. He spent some time talking about the AIDS virus as good evidence for evolution. Well, this is true, but it is also the kind of evolution that creationists are happy to accept. I got the impression that Jones didn’t really know a great deal about creationism and I wonder if the same might apply to some other “celebrity” biologists like Wolpert. I suspect they might associate creationism with people like Hovind and Baugh as opposed to the likes of Dembski and Behe who put a thin veneer of scientific credibility on their arguments.

  3. #3 Michael I
    February 27, 2007

    I don’t think it’s possible to both attend the debate and fly across the Atlantic in 4½ hours

    One just needs one of those special Wolf, Ram & Hart jets…

  4. #4 TheBrummell
    February 27, 2007

    I don’t think it’s possible to both attend the debate and fly across the Atlantic in 4½ hours

    It’s the 21st century – we’re living in the future, damnit! Where’s my suborbital transport?

    Heinlein put a suborbital port in Winnipeg. Not that far from Morris.

  5. #5 AbsolutelyNoFaith
    February 27, 2007

    I had not heard of Craig before and just checked out his web site. My, oh my. Such shallow, easily refuted crap. So much of it is just mental gymnastics twirling and whirling around the central issue. His section on Existence of God is almost all arguing from the gaps, with the only real gap being the origin of all matter and existence. That’s it? The fact that we have no idea how space and time came into being, it must be God? Give me a break.

    The rest is just the same word games that philosophers like to play all based upon the foundation that Christianity is true, without any actual evidence that it is.

    He also likes to discuss other authors mostly in order to show, by contrast, that he is more “rational”, and he throws in lots of scientific-sounding buzzwords to lend credence to his claim of rationality and reason being the center of his arguments for the truth of Christianity.

    To give an example, this is from his article On the Alleged Metaphysical Superiority of Timelessness

    “Brian Leftow argues that timeless beings are metaphysically superior to temporal beings in view of their truer presence and unity. Leftow’s argument that a timeless being has truer presence is based on a systematic misconstruction of tensed vs. tenseless theories of time, which invalidates his argument. Leftow’s argument that temporal beings have less unity is based on a misunderstanding and reductionistic interpretation of the Special Theory of Relativity. Whether one adopts a presentist or non-presentist ontology, Leftow’s further claim that temporal beings do not have their existence all at once is erroneous.”

    That should give you an idea of the level of discourse to be expected. No matter how polished, anyone with a modicum of knowledge of the standard arguments and logical fallacies commonly found in such debates, and a merely good ability to debate would wipe the floor with him. The trick is to not be dazzled by the light show and just relentlessly yank open the curtain and show the emptiness behind it.

    Now, this guy against Dawkins or Dennet or Harris, or lots of others would be worth seeing. I’m sorry to hear that his opponent in this debate may not be up to the job. That may be why he’s debating him. Check out the transcript to this debate to get an idea of the levels of his arguments. (we don’t know how the universe came into being, so therefore God exists; the universe is complex, so therefore God exists; the “facts” of Jesus’ life show his Godhood (facts like the empty tomb, his return, etc… i.e. facts without any actual historical evidence beyond the bible), so therefore God exists; God can be immediately known and experienced, so therefore God exists; and the best of all, no one’s proven he doesn’t exist, so therefore God exists.)

    Give me a break. Sigh.

    I appreciate all of the work biologists and geologists have done to show the silliness of YEC and the IDC crowd. For once, though, I’d like to see an anthropologist or archaeologist get into the mix and bring up the evidence that religion is a completely human-created artifact. This becomes even more obvious when you point to a more modern religion like Christianity. Even Judaism is fairly modern (1500 BCE at the oldest). What religions do we find the earliest evidence of? They sure aren’t of the Judeo-Christian-Islamic family of religions.

    Even if you believe that the earth is only 6000 years old, where’s the evidence of the religion outside of stories handed down from the late bronze-age? Where’s the archaeological evidence for this particular God’s worship from earlier time? There isn’t any. Even within a very narrow and relatively modern time frame, the modern forms of religion are obviously human inventions, and not even very old ones at that. The earliest evidence for some type of religious practices seems to indicate very naturalistic beliefs with a great deal of sympathetic magic involved and spirits of the natural world the prime movers. Even the god of the Bible is most likely the evolution from an earlier sky god of the nomadic herders of south-west Asia.

    Anyway, too bad I won’t be able to be at either event. Geography and reality keep me away.

    ANF
    Off on his high horse this morning.

  6. #6 PZ Myers
    February 27, 2007

    The Future is a two-edged sword. Advances in the velocity of transportation will be offset by advances in PowerPoint technology that will inflate the length of the talks.

  7. #7 SteveF
    February 27, 2007

    WLC is also a fellow of the Discovery Institute. He writes stuff mainly on the cosmological side in this regard and I think he is an Old Earth Creationist, as opposed to a theistic evolutionary type (though I might be wrong on this). He’s a pretty big name in Christian apologetics. Infidels have some stuff on him:

    http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/theism/christianity/craig.html

  8. #8 Scott Hatfield
    February 27, 2007

    He may be THE name in Christian apologetics for many, since many seem to think Craig’s revival of the Kalam Cosmological Argument is nifty. Wonder how many of them would think that if they knew the source!

    Meanwhile, at the Acronymolympics, I have to say: you’re right, WLC’s an OEC, not a TE. I don’t think anyone with DI is a TE or even has TE sympathies. In fact, DI says TE is DOA, AFAIK, NOMA or no NOMA. LOL, BYOB!…SH

  9. #9 poke
    February 27, 2007

    I’ll go to the Wolpert debate if stops raining!

  10. #10 Jason
    February 27, 2007

    Does it ever stop raining in London?

  11. #11 fardels bear
    February 27, 2007

    Wolpert v. Fuller would truly be an ugly spectacle. Wolpert is one of the few scientists who try to meet the Science Studies folks on their own ground and he usually doesn’t do a very good job at debating them either in print or in a speaking situation. He regularly gets his facts wrong, misrepresents his opponents positions, etc. Since Fuller does the same thing it must have been a truly horrible forensic event. When Wolpert goes against more coherent opponents, say Harry Collins, he really doesn’t do well at all.

    Which is too bad because the real psychos, like the creationist/ID crowd often do sound slick to audiences and they need a really sharp opponent to point out the crap they are spewing.

  12. #12 Steve Watson
    February 27, 2007

    Was Dawkins not available, or something? The “God [is a] Delusion” trope is his, anyway.

  13. #13 G. Tingey
    February 27, 2007

    Well, it’s raining in London NOW – and the mating frogs in my garden are VERY happy.

  14. #14 Steven Carr
    February 27, 2007

    When will William Lane Craig debate Jeffery Jay Lowder or Doug Kreuger?

    He has been ducking them for years.

  15. #15 David Wilford
    February 27, 2007

    I scanned through Wolpert’s new book on the subject of religion, “Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast” (2006) and wasn’t taken by it as I was by his marvelous “The Unnatural Nature of Science” (1991), which I bought at the Science Museum of Minnesota’s bookstore back in 1991. (Sadly, the SMM’s bookstore has declined in the number and quality of books they now sell as well, in favor of stuff that makes a quick buck, plus at one time a magnet that was a rip off one of my wife’s works of art, but we won’t talk about _that_.)

    Wolpert is much better at defending science from religion than he is at understanding and therefore explaining religion. (Which is odd, given Wolpert’s own Jewish upbringing.) So for my money, Richard Dawkins is by far the better representative of the rationalist side in any no-holds-barred debate with the sort of rhetorical tricksters that are fellow travellers of the Discovery Institute. Indeed, it’s indicative that when H. Allen Orr reviewed three books on the subject of science and religion, he devoted one paragraph to Wolpert and almost all the rest of his review to Dawkins. Yes, Orr was critical of Dawkins, but he at least knew what was most worth critisizing.

  16. #16 Steven Carr
    February 27, 2007

    Richard Dawkins has a long-standing policy of not debating creationists.

    And Craig is a creationist, and an inerrantist to boot.

    Craig will be debating Mike Begon, who I don’t think has written any books on atheism and naturalism , unlike the people Craig refuses to debate against (Lowder and Kreuger)

  17. #17 Ed Darrell
    February 27, 2007

    I once crossed the Atlantic in just over two hours, with Lauren Bacall.* Sure, it was not a green machine, but there are days when I miss the Concord.

    * Really. No kidding. January 1, 1979. The only other time I got close to the Concord, Ray Charles was aboard. No piano, alas.

  18. #18 Bryson Brown
    February 27, 2007

    The Kalam stuff I have looked at– in particular, the arguments purporting to show the absurdity of an infinite past. He argued that it was absurd because (for instance) in an infinite history of the solar system, there would have been as many orbits of Saturn around the sun as there had been orbits of Jupiter– even though any finite interval will include more orbits for Jupiter than for Saturn, and the difference is greater the longer the interval. Utterly lame for anyone who understands even a little bit about the modern (post Cantor) view of infinity. Infinity means never having to say ‘we’re out.’ This means, given an infinite past for our familiar solar system, that you can order 2 orbits of Saturn for every orbit of Jupiter, or 100 orbits of Saturn for every orbit of Jupiter, and still never run out (of either)–and vice versa, of course. So what? The cardinality of both is equal– it’s the bottom-level sort of infinity, the smallest number where you never run out. Craig seems incapable of understanding this. Not a strong recommendation for a philosopher…

  19. #19 G. Tingey
    February 28, 2007

    Off-topic, but …
    I miss sitting outside the “King’s Arms” at Hampton Court, after the annual flower/gardening show, pint (of Gall & Woodhouse’s Tanglefoot) in hand, pile of plants and tools in bags to take home, whilst the Great White Paper Dart (aka Concorde) looped overhead to land at Heathrow …..

    On topic: Does anyone know how the debate went?

  20. #20 Mustafa Mond, FCD
    February 28, 2007

    Selva heard it on the radio.

  21. #21 Marc
    February 28, 2007

    The debate went pretty much like people predicted. Obviously everything MLC said was rubbish, but LW never really called him out on it. Interestingly (at least to me) it was estimated that between 90 and 95% of the people there were religious.

    MLC hung his argument on a few points and all of them were available to rip to shreds.

    Instead of questions from the audience they got John Humphries – a journalist – to ask them both questions. There was a fun moment when MLC admitted that there was no way he’d change his mind no matter what LW said, mere minutes after asking his audience to keep an open mind. You’ve got love religous hypocrisy.

    However the most ridiculous LW oversight was when MLC admitted in the post debate chat that he didn’t believe in evolution (MLC technically said macro evolution but we know they’re the same thing). I was anticipating LW taking him to school.

    My understanding is that LW is a professor of developmental biology. Surely along the way he must have picked up a better understanding of evolution than most. And yet he didn’t hammer the guy into the ground. He just said that they had different opinions on the matter. DIFFERENT OPINIONS!!! I’m sure you do.

    There’s no way that if a biology student wrote that in an evolutionary biology exam LW would give them any credit. Then why not hold this guy to the same standards? It’s not a difference of opinion! One is correct and the other is the delusions of an idiot. Simple.

    LW also doesn’t really seem to know all that much about the bible. That leaves him open to be steamrollered when MLC says that the most believeable explanation for the resurrection (note the facts; an empty grave and some guys claiming to have seen something) is some dude rising from the dead. You could tell how few athiests were there by the very widely spaced chuckles that rang out at that point. LW didn’t even point out that the Gospels are completely contradictory.

    Essentially the religious guy was wrong, and PZ or Dawko would have sent him packing. However whether by design or ignorance, Wolpert didn’t engage his arguments head on and our side suffered for it.

  22. #22 David Marjanovi?
    February 28, 2007

    Even the god of the Bible is most likely the evolution from an earlier sky god of the nomadic herders of south-west Asia.

    There’s a “biography” out there that says it started with a “mountain and weather god of Moabite shepherds” after which came the tradition of worshipping the war god alone after a victory. Unfortunately I haven’t read that book. And I bet you’ll find apologists that will claim this as stepwise revelation of The Truth®. (Strangely enough, few of them will be Muslims, but I digress.)

    Incidentally, “mountain and weather god” reminds me of the Hittite chief god, who is a generic Indo-European one who sits on a mountain above the clouds, throws lightning bolts and makes thunder. The last Hittites are mentioned several times in the Bible. Would be interesting to see if the book (I don’t remember the reference) claims in the end that YHWH is the same as Zeus and Thor. Theogony becoming phylogeny…

    Does it ever stop raining in London?

    Sure. About 10 times a day on average, I think. 😛

    in an infinite history of the solar system

    Now that is lame. It is obvious that the solar system is not as old as the universe.

  23. #23 David Marjanovi?
    February 28, 2007

    Even the god of the Bible is most likely the evolution from an earlier sky god of the nomadic herders of south-west Asia.

    There’s a “biography” out there that says it started with a “mountain and weather god of Moabite shepherds” after which came the tradition of worshipping the war god alone after a victory. Unfortunately I haven’t read that book. And I bet you’ll find apologists that will claim this as stepwise revelation of The Truth®. (Strangely enough, few of them will be Muslims, but I digress.)

    Incidentally, “mountain and weather god” reminds me of the Hittite chief god, who is a generic Indo-European one who sits on a mountain above the clouds, throws lightning bolts and makes thunder. The last Hittites are mentioned several times in the Bible. Would be interesting to see if the book (I don’t remember the reference) claims in the end that YHWH is the same as Zeus and Thor. Theogony becoming phylogeny…

    Does it ever stop raining in London?

    Sure. About 10 times a day on average, I think. 😛

    in an infinite history of the solar system

    Now that is lame. It is obvious that the solar system is not as old as the universe.

  24. #24 Bryson Brown
    March 1, 2007

    For David M., re. Infinite histories– the point is to have a concrete example to hang our conceptual puzzles about infinity on. Craig has no alternative mathematical theory of infinity, but still claims to be able to show (by crude appeals to intuition) that an infinite past is ruled out on conceptual grounds. If he were right, this would also apply to a metrically finite but open-ended continuous view of time like the one that’s standard in big-bang cosmology.

  25. #25 Keith Douglas
    March 3, 2007

    Bryson Brown: Craig has repeatedly been corrected by Grünbaum and other science-oriented philosophers about the infinity thing and other scientific misunderstandings. I can only assume that he’s either mindnumbingly stupid, deliberately dishonest, or suffering from doublethink. Shame, since he probably could have been a good logician.

  26. #26 Kristy Lacy
    April 29, 2007

    I agree with Steve Carr…lol

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