Re: Dembski and Nelson at MIT and Tufts

Kevin O'Brien (
Mon, 5 Apr 1999 17:14:22 -0600

>Please don't get upset. My comments weren't in response to your email.
>(Notice the "to" at the top of my original email).

I was frustrated rather than upset, however, I have made the same comments
you were addressing, so I decided to chime in.

>You go on to say:
>"[W]hat I deny them is the ability to claim that their ignorance about a
>subject is better than other people's knowledge."
>Do you really think they will stand up and argue: "We're ignorant of
>biological evidences and concepts. Furthermore, our ignorance is better
>than biologists' knowledge"?

Obviously not, but they must believe it at some level, otherwise they would
not be doing these lectures. At the very least you should have had a career
biologist (who has actually done research) instead of a mathematician,
because he could have followed-up Paul's lecture with examples of how a
different philosophical point of view would influence the interpretation of
data. He might have even provided some evidence to support the overall
claims of the lecture series.

>If they're that misguided, their
>incompetence will take care of itself. MIT and Tufts students aren't

But neither will you inflence the very people you wish to influence either.
No matter how beneficial the medicine, it won't do any good if the patient
refuses to take it. No matter how important your message, having it
delievered by someone ignorant of basic biological research technique won't
convince biologists that they should heed it.

>To reason, "They're not biologists (by which is presumably meant: they
>don't have Ph.D's in biology)....

That's part of it: no formal training (though you don't have to have a
Ph.D. to have formal training). But more important is that they lack
experience, since they had never done any research in biology either.

>...therefore, they're ignorant of the
>relevant biological knowledge to critique Neo-Darwinism" is pure ad

This is what I mean about refusing to get my point. I never said nor
implied that they did not have "relevant biological knowledge [of]
Neo-Darwinism"; anyone can get that knowledge out of a book, which is why I
keep telling people to read the scientific literature. Also, I never said
nor implied that they could not critique evolution. And I have never said
nor implied that they cannot go to a bunch of biologists and say, "We think
we have a new perspective on how to look at evolutionary change and we would
like to tell you about it." What I have said and implied is that they do
not really understand how this "relevant biological knowledge" was
developed, tested and interpreted, because they have no training and
experience in how this done, and you cannot get that understanding simply by
reading about it. That is not an ad hominem; that is a statement of fact.

Therefore, if they go in front of a bunch of hardcore biologists and say,
"We have a better way to interpret biological data," then display ignorance
of how that is actually done, they won't accomplish anything except to
acquire the reputation among biologists as being arrogant, ignorant,
meddling outsiders. Their message will be lost, no matter how sensible it
might otherwise be.

>I don't see why these discussions so quickly take a turn toward
>vitriol and ad hominem.

I ask myself that same question; I've just learned to live with it.

>If you object to what Nelson and Dembski will say at MIT and Tufts
>(knowledge of which is at the moment not available), you can easily find
>one of their many published arguments, and refute it. Better yet, find
>out what they do say on April 7 and 8, and refute that.

I've been in private conversation with Paul since before the weekend. He
could have easily reassured me by saying that that he and Dembski would in
fact be simply offering some alternative ideas as interested amateurs. In
point of fact, he never disputed my description of the tone of the lecture
series. That suggests to me that I am mostly right about my suspicions. As
for refuting what they say, if I am right there will be plenty of others who
will do that for me; no one believes what I say on this listserv anyways.

Kevin L. O'Brien