To: All Msg #126, Feb0393 05:00PM Subject: Kibitzing on Colby/Johnson I have agreed to let
To: All Msg #126, Feb-03-93 05:00PM
Subject: Kibitzing on Colby/Johnson
I have agreed to let Chris Colby be my surrogate in a debate with Phillip
Johnson. I agreed with Mickey Rowe that it was worth a shot at limiting
the T.O. Irregulars to a single champion to reduce the number of people
Professor Johnson would have to respond to. I had hoped that this would
entice Professor Johnson into actually living up to his spoken wish that
there would be a fair and frank exchange of ideas on the subject of
To be completely honest, I have yet to see Professor Johnson respond
in any manner conducive to establishing dialog. Furthermore, I have seen him
make a number of statements that strike me as out-and-out ludicrous. To avoid
the temptation of responding to Johnson directly, I set up this side thread
which is a meta-discussion of the Colby/Johnson debate. Hence the title of
this post. I am neither requesting nor hoping for response from Professor
Johnson. I am merely kibitzing (looking on, giving unwanted commentary
For the length of Professor Johnson's visit to talk.origins I will be a
Talk.Origins Kibitzer Extraordinaire, Really (or TOKER, for short). I invite
anyone interested to join in. All you need to do is comment on the ongoing
Colby/Johnson affair, and include the word "Kibitz" or "Kibitzing" in your
subject line. Our goal is to provide (what we feel to be) insightful
commentary, realizing full well that Professor Johnson is not expected to
reply to us. (This offer is not valid for Chris Colby, even though he has
yet to receive any meaningful answer from Phillip as of yet). Professor
Johnson, if you need help setting up a kill file for the TOKER's, just send
me e-mail and I would be more than happy to oblige.
And now, for my first foray into kibitzing...
I have received e-mail from Brad Knight, which he has given me permission
to post. I think that the questions Brad brings up would make an excellent
starting point for TOKER's. I would like to hear the comments/criticisms of
others on this post.
> Johnson really doesn't appear to have a good enough
> scientific background to debate evolution with Chris on a scientific level.
This is also my belief. If they ever got to science, I am confident that
Chris would hand Phillip his head. It does raise the interesting question
as to what Prof. Johnson's qualification are for the role of prosecutor
against this branch of mainstream science, however. If Professor Johnson does
not have the scientific background to even debate Chris Colby, what credence
should we give to him as an expert witness as to what evolution says/implies.
> I don't think he wants to debate the science of evolution either, even
> though he may debate "around" it. And Chris really seems interested only in
> the scientific aspect of the debate and appears to quickly become frustrated
> with Johnson.
I think Chris's apparent frustration is justified. Johnson doesn't only
"debate 'around'" the science of evolution, he also applies many ad populum
arguments that look good, but are nothing more than rhetorical tricks. For
example, look at one of Johnson's recent posts were he provides a word count
of his book versus Chris's FAQ wrt "cumulative selection". Now, this sounds
like a pretty impressive argument, and for people who aren't following closely
it would score big rhetorical points, but this reply in no way shape or form
touches on Chris's core argument.
Chris admits that he was sloppy in failing to make the distinction
between "cumulative selection" and single "selection" events. Chris is
completely correct in noting, however, that in _Darwin on Trial_, Phillip
Johnson fails to consistently apply the phrase "cumulative selection" as
needed. Johnsons repeatedly says "selection" where he should use "cumulative
selection". In my reading of _Darwin on Trial_, this failure to clearly
denote "cumulative selection" where it is appropriate is NOT mere sloppiness
on Johnson's part. Professor Johnson leaves off the word "cumulative" when
it is to his rhetorical advantage to do so. Chris has quite correctly noted
that if one consistently separates "selection" from "cumulative selection"
his FAQ will be considerably strengthened, whereas _Darwin on Trial_ would
be weakened almost to the point of idiocy.
You know the old saying, "When the facts are on your side argue the facts.
When the law is on your side argue the law."? The problem here is that neither
the law nor the facts are on Prof. Johnson's side, so he is attempting to
divert the jury's (in this case the readers of talk.origins) attention from
the case at hand. An admirable stunt if you can pull it off, but in the end
it has nothing it adds nothing of worth to the merits of the discussion.
> I'm wondering if Johnson doesn't really only have objections to a worldview
> which he is calling "Darwinism" and if his objections aren't really
> philosophical in nature rather than scientific.
In this, I agree with you. Johnson seems to be concerned only with
philosophical worldviews. One of the major problems is that Johnson is
being exceedingly overbroad in his attack. So far, every statement he has
made against evolution in this regard can equally well be made against any
branch of the Natural Philosophy as developed within the framework of the
the Western Empirical methodology lumped under the name of science.
Of course the scientific discipline known as evolution partakes of the
essence of "pragmatic atheism"*, but so does chemistry. Sure evolution is
cultural imperialism, but reread the argument Johnson quotes about "scientific
missionaries" and you will find that General Relatitivity is another example
of the same. To attempt to indict evolution because it effects the religious
beliefs of the Maori is ludicrous. No sane person would argue that we
shouldn't teach heliocentrism because it was also believed to have a
deleterious effect on religious beliefs (as is more than amply demonstrated by
the reaction of the Christian community to the Copernican model). Johnson is
waging a war against the empirical methodology known as science. That he at
present is limiting his attacks to a small brush conflict against evolution in
no way lessens the scope of Johnson's war.
* By "pragmatic atheism" I mean the common belief that each of us has that
God does not continually and capriciously act in the Universe. For example,
if I could not find my car keys, I would think that I had misplaced them,
or dropped them, or somesuch. I would NOT start nor end with the belief that
God had miraculously zapped them out of existence (even though I personally
would have to admit that this is a possibility). It is this exclusion of
the divine from everyday affairs, that I have chosen to define as "pragmatic
atheism". I feel that this is a quality inherent in the scientific method.
> Does he want to attack evolution on philosophical grounds? Or attack merely
> the atheism of some adherents to evolution or what?
Since it is readily apparent that attacking an idea based on its misuse
by adherents of the idea is cleary specious, it appears that Johnson is
attacking evolution on philosophical grounds. Unfortunately, he either fails
to grasp or refuses to elucidate that this attack is not merely limited to
evolution but is instead an attack on the whole of the scientific method. I
believe that the first of these is the correct intepretation, because most of
the Theistic Anti-Evolutionists** I have met fail to grasp this point. The
divide science into two camps, evolution/geology and everything else. They
fail to realize that this is a false classification system.
As an example of my last statement, take Bob Bales. He requires that
evidence for an "Old Earth" meet much more exacting criteria than he would
require for any other branch of science. Matthew Wiener's recently posted
example dealing with the orbital period of Pluto strikes dead center at
elucidating the absurd double standard Bob applies the fields of evolution
and geology when compared with any other branch of science. For Bob, what's
good enough for astrophysics, just won't cut it when it is applied to the age
of the Earth question.
** For those of you who want to argue over the question of whether Johnson
is a Creationist or not, go elsewhere. If Theistic Anti-Evolutionist is
not an accurate description of Johnson's beliefs as demonstrated by what
he has posted here, I will help Lionel eat his pointy little cap.
E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank