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Sunday, February 7, 2010

An Evening with Dr David Berlinski

The stars fell on South Florida in another way this past weekend in addition to all of the out of town visitors descending on the area for the Super Bowl. First Alliance Church Church was the venue Saturday night for an open and frank discussion on Intelligent Design and some of the failings of Darwinian theory. First to speak was Dr Tom Woodward. Woodward is the author of Doubts About Darwin: A History of Intelligent Design and Darwin Strikes Back: Defending the Science of Intelligent Design, (review). Dr Woodward gave an informative powerpoint demonstration that had me taking copious notes as he spoke. Especially interesting from his discussion were the photos he had from one of the major medical schools in the Ukraine. Dr Woodward had one of the more popular ID/origin of life DVDs made with subtitles in Russian. The students were listening with rapt attention when the documentary suddenly ended. A confrontation ensued involving a bit of shouting between the faculty and med students. When the movie was stopped by the school's staff after 20 minutes, numerous students loudly protested and demanded to be shown the rest of the presentation. Only after professors assured them that they would show them the rest of the movie the next day did the students grudgingly accept. Apparently, the theory of Intelligent Design is little known in that country.

Next up was Dr David Berlinski. Dr Berlinski was, shall we say, highly critical of the arguments put forward by the so-called "New Atheists", naming Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and Daniel Dennett, and in particular Daniel Dennett whose writings he described as rather "terse" and "unreadable" and chided Richard Dawkins for hardly dedicating any time in his books to countering the arguments put forward by such intellectual heavyweights as Thomas Aquinas when he would be much better served in doing so. Vox Day mentioned much the same in his book The Irrational Atheist using the illustration of Dawkins merely waving "a dead chicken over the keyboard" in his acutely underpowered rebuttal of numerous points raised by Aquinas. Berlinski stated that when he compared the likes of the "New Atheists" with someone from the previous generation like Bertram Russell, he found the arguments raised by the "New Athiests" to be inferior. Additionally, he felt that the New Atheists seem more convinced of their position that God does not exist and they generally less likely to leave open the possibility that they could be incorrect. One of the few "new" things about the current crop of atheists according to Berlinski is a greater emphasis on "science" and "reason" as if these two words fell almost exclusively into the intellectual domain that they inhabit.

On the day before the lecture I emailed another blogger whose opinion I highly respect. I asked him, that if he had the chance to ask Dr Berlinski a question, what would it be? I knew that the lecture would be a sort of informal affair and I assumed there would be a Question and Answer period afterward. He promptly emailed back his question...Ask him what he thinks of Richard Dawkins's Ultimate 747 argument against the existence of God...

I was slightly suprised. I had assumed that this blogger would try to tap Berlinski's experience in molecular biology and and would propose a question more along the lines of the accuracy of predictive models put forward by evolutionary biologists when compared to the harder sciences. But I was intrigued by his question, drawing upon Berlinski's background in philosophy and I assurred him I would ask his question if the opportunity presented itself, and it did.

Having just mentioned the "New Atheists" just before the Q & A period I thought it would segue neatly into the proposed question. I was the first audience member called upon and I began...
"Speaking of the "New Atheists" Dr Berlinski, there is a particular argument put forward by Richard Dawkins, his 'Ultimate 747' argument. Have you had a chance to examine it and if so, what do you think of it?" Momentary silence followed as Woodward and Berlinski exchanged glances with one another. I'm not sure if Berlinski understood the context of the question being framed in reference to Dawkins's Ultimate 747 argument because he then began to mention the 747 argument that was previously posited by Fred Hoyle. He then asked me if the particular argument I mentioned from Dawkins argues against the existance of God and I said "yes". I think he now understood me. I won't get into the amount of derision Berlinski showed for the philosophical shortcomings of Richard Dawkins, but his reply went back to the aforementioned Thomas Aquinas, stating that Dawkins appears to be ignorant of something that theologians have been aware of for centuries. That there is more than one way to look at "beginning", "end" and "eternity". I nodded and thanked him for his answer. Perhaps Mr Berlinski thought I was more well-read in Aquinas than I am and perhaps took for granted that I fully understood his reply. I made a mental note to look into the matter further when I got home. Using such key words and a common search engine I quickly located this paper from Forham University which raises the following concepts in relation to the writings of Thomas Aquinas..

"The question still arises whether the world could have always existed, and to explain the truth of this matter, we should first distinguish where we agree with our opponents from where we disagree with them. If someone holds that something besides God could have always existed, in the sense that there could be something always existing and yet not made by God, then we differ with him: such an abominable error is contrary not only to the faith but also to the teachings of the philosophers, who confess and prove that everything that in any way exists cannot exist unless it be caused by him who supremely and most truly has existence. However, someone may hold that there has always existed something that, nevertheless, had been wholly caused by God, and thus we ought to determine whether this position is tenable."

This of course is just the beginning of the scholarly paper cited and it goes into much greater depth should anyone be interested into exploring the matter further. I know that I will. I think that it's interesting that an agnostic has caused me to examine my faith in a more constructive and meaningful manner. In speaking with Dr Berlinski briefly outside after the lecture, I got the impression that the argument put forward by Dawkins falls more along the lines of the anecdotal and that the subject he wishes to discuss is a quite a bit more in-depth than his Ultimate 747 argument seeks to address.


Ginx said...

Was this followed by a homeopathy discussion, a brief lunch, then a phrenology demonstration?

GCT said...

So, Berlinski didn't know the argument you cited, but was sure that it was wrong. Typical.

JD Curtis said...

I believe that Berlinski was referring to the "who designed the Designer?" component of Dawkins's argument.

GCT said...

Which isn't part of the Ultimate 747 argument. Epic fail by both you and Berlinski.

Human Ape said...

Dr Berlinski Is, shall we say, full of shit.

tinkbell13 said...

Dr. Berlinski belongs to that regime of Christians who use the magic letters (DR) to create an illusion of being educated in science. Which, of course makes creationism a valid and scientific theory!!!!

Professor Fairytales. Too bad the Supreme Court disagrees.

GCT said...

To be fair, Berlinski claims to be a secular Jewish agnostic. He has a doctorate in philosophy and has written some books on mathematics, although Mark Perakh has pointed out that Berlinski has no peer-reviewed scientific papers. He is, as Human Ape put it, full of shit, of course, and this proves it. That he'd be willing to criticize an argument that he's not heard simply because it came from Dawkins shows that he's not dealing with the arguments but dealing with the person - classic ad hominem thinking.

SmartLX said...

JD, I'm interested in Aquinas' own sources. Who laid out the proof that "everything that in any way exists cannot exist unless it be caused by him who supremely and most truly has existence" to which he refers?

SmartLX said...

And more specifically, what is the proof?

Anon #9999 said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
JD Curtis said...

I had no inkling whatsoever that Berlinski is anything more than a self-proclaimed "secular Jew". In fact one person last Saturday asked if if he would like to have faith. He answered by saying that if faith is a gift then it's one that he doesnt have and it's not really a fair question to ask him if he would like to have faith because he can't compare it to anything and doesnt really know what it would be like to have it.

JD Curtis said...

Congrats 9999. You just earned the distinction of having the first ever comment to be deleted on my blog. Please go away, unless you can substantiate your claim that Vox Day is a "Hitler admirer".

tinkbell13 said...

Ok, GCT that is fair. However,

He is a creationist, nevertheless. This doofus is also associated with The Discovery Institute. Sorry, pulled this from Wikipedia, but it is a good general statement as to why this guy is full of crap;

A critic of evolution, Berlinski is a Senior Fellow of the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture, a Seattle-based think-tank that is hub of the intelligent design movement. Berlinski shares the movement's disbelief in the evidence for evolution, but does not openly avow intelligent design and describes his relationship with the idea as: "warm but distant. It's the same attitude that I display in public toward my ex-wives."[5] Berlinski is a scathing critic of "Darwinism", yet,
Though the Discovery Institute portrays Berlinski as a scholarly writer and mathematician,[6] Mark Perakh, a critic of the intelligent design movement, contends that Berlinski's writings are not scientific, but popular, and that Berlinski "has no known record of his own contribution to the development of mathematics or of any other science."[7]

No doubt, JD's next intelligent post will be discussing how this guy connects Darwin and Hitler.

All that JD has done is drag out the name of someone with a PHD and a proper, secular background who opposes Darwin because he thinks that this is worthy of an argument. Even, though, Darwin has become almost irrelevant. This is really indicative of the creationist movement and the way that they parade these PHD's trying to create an illusion of scientific credibility to their Christian agenda. Which brings me back to what I initially said.

Too bad the Supreme Court disagrees.

JD Curtis said...

Sorry, but I just changed the settings. Either create an account or you can't comment here. I have the cahones to create a profile and comment. Please do the same. Pardon me if anyone commented anonymously in the past and were relatively civil about it. All it takes is one a**hole to screw it up for the rest.

tinkbell13 said...

Must have been pretty bad.

JD Curtis said...

Berlinski is not a Creationist. At all. He's just critical of Darwinian evolution.

JD Curtis said...

Here's the you tube clip in which Ben Stein interviews him.

tinkbell13 said...

Not true... Reresearch it. He is a fellow at the Discovery Institute. Described as the "hub" of intelligent design.

JD Curtis said...

GCT, I don't own The God Delusion but in the Wiki entry it includes the "who designed the Designer?" component. If they are wrong, do you have a better link that explains his argument more accurately? Here's the Wiki explanation. Link

tinkbell13 said...


You will see his name listed clearly there.

Their mission is to:

supports research by scientists and other scholars challenging various aspects of neo-Darwinian theory;

supports research by scientists and other scholars developing the scientific theory known as intelligent design;

supports research by scientists and scholars in the social sciences and humanities exploring the impact of scientific materialism on culture.

encourages schools to improve science education by teaching students more fully about the theory of evolution, including the theory's scientific weaknesses as well is its strengths.

How does this not make him a creationist?

JD Curtis said...

He doesnt propose Creationism and if you can show me where he does, I concede the point.

tinkbell13 said...

JD- Perhaps you are not clear on what Creationism and Intelligent Design are. They are very interrelated, and ID is supposedly the scientific theory that gives cred to Creationism. I think that it is fair to say that if, you are a senior fellow at an institute that clearly has an agenda supporting ID, you are a Creationist. Let me put this to you another way. If you are a bishop in a Catholic church (fellow), it is fair to say that you are a Catholic (ID) and that you believe in God (Creationism).

You might want to read the God Delusion before you attempt to argue it or discuss it. Amazing.

JD Curtis said...

I read about the argument. If you would like to explain his 'Ultimate 747' argument, go ahead.

You still havent shown a link to an article in which Berlinski proposes Creationism. I doubt you ever will.

tinkbell13 said...
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tinkbell13 said...

JD, I am gonna explain that idea to you. I am constantly offering you help, and it sounds as though you may be asking for it. So, I am gonna drag the book out, and here it goes.

Okay... Fred Hoyle stated that the probability of life originating on Earth is no greater than the chance that a hurricane, sweeping through a scrapyard would have the luck in assembling a Boeing 747. This is the argument that ID and creationist's use, defaulting to God. They believe that improbability is the evidence for design.

What Dawkins says is that Darwinian natural selection is the only known solution of where the information comes from. He wants us to "seek out graded ramps of slowly increasing complexity.

The punchline is this;
"However statistically improbable the entity you seek to explain by invoking a designer, the designer himself has got to be at least as improbable. God is the Ultimate Boeing 747"

That is it, very simple. Evidence in natural selection. As far as Belinski goes, if you fail to make the connection, too bad. I am not arguing anything with you any further, I have supplied you with the information that you asked for, which I am happy to do.

Seriously, JD, how can you be opposed to Dawkin's arguments if you have never read them first hand? I really do not get it. I have read the Bible four times since I was 18. I also read crap from major religious "thinkers" to understand more. You really need to start trying to deepen your faith by learning, instead of these empty debates that rhetorically go nowhere.

tinkbell13 said...

And, just to be safe- here is a link on natural selection.


A key component of understanding the process of natural selection is to understand that these variations occur very slowly over time. In a lab, they use bacteria and fruit flies to simulate these processes because of the rapid pace of their life span.

GCT said...

Thanks Tink for succinctly summing up the argument for JD. It is a shame that JD and Berlinski don't feel like they need to actually know Dawkin's argument in order to know that it is wrong, while hypocritically attacking Dawkins for supposedly being unaware of the arguments that he (Dawkins) deals with. I'll let the irony sink in and hope that JD gets it.

But, to describe it in a slightly different way:

The argument from ID is that the complexity of life is such that it rises to a threshold that outstrips what evolution is capable of. It must have been designed. Yet, any being that is capable of such designs as creating universes and knowing all there is to know must be horrendously complex in itself, far outstripping chance and evolution (if the ID argument is to be believed) and therefore could not have arisen through natural processes. The designer must be so complex as to necessitate a designer of its own. So, the IDist is hoisted by her own petard. By claiming that things that are uber-complex must be designed, they have just proclaimed that their uber-uber-complex god must also be designed. Else, they engage in special pleading (which is what theists do when they blithely disregard the "Who created god?" argument in the first place).

I don't expect JD to understand a single word of this, or to even read it. I suspect he'll simply make some smug remark about how the "Who designed the designer" argument is infantile and has been dealt with, even though it hasn't and this new wrinkle won't be ironed out by wishful thinking.

The Maryland Crustacean said...

So if I understand your explanation of the ultimate 747 argument, it is just another twist of the same old Dawkinsian drivel and child's argument, "Who created God?"

tinkbell13 said...

And, there you have what religion does to a person right there- could not have said it better myself. LOL. I like this in particular- another twist of the same old Dawkinsian drivel and child's argument, "Who created God?" Here is the answer- read from the beginning, slowly. It works.

Yes, JD will huff and puff, but he will fail to blow the house down. I almost did not want to do it because he will not understand it, and he will run around with his head cut off, and the obvious things he are going to say (Macro, etc) are way too detailed for blogging and it all comes down to actually reading. Which he will never do.

He will never get the irony.

tinkbell13 said...
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tinkbell13 said...

This is why Dawkins does not publicly debate most of these fools. Besides most of them not even being scientists themselves, he knows that they are only opposing him publicly for the attention, and most of them have never even read his books. Berlinski is a fellow at an institute, and he has no scholarly publications!!!!! Insane.

GCT said...

MD Crustacean,
Who created god? When you can come up with a satisfactory answer that doesn't rely on special pleading, then you can be nonchalant about it.

Further, this is a specialized argument based on the claims of complexity made by ID creationists that shows that their argument is self-defeating. Once again, if they claim that the level of complexity needed to create the world is such that a designer is needed, then that designer must also be so complex as to require designing. Good luck with that one.

tinkbell13 said...

ID gets A for effort. They really try, they really do. But, back to what I said way back..... Too bad the Supreme Court does not concur.

GCT said...

No, actually they don't try. I don't see a single ID proponent actually proposing lab work or doing it. Their scientific output is precisely zero. They write op-eds and try to leach off of the output of real scientists, claiming that it somehow supports their religious agenda. I would fail them for effort. Of course, if they actually did lab work, they would find out that it doesn't support them anymore than any other lab work, so they're stuck between a rock and a hard place. It's much better for them and easier to simply whinge and complain about the mean, evil Darwinists that won't simply believe their rubbish.

JD Curtis said...

It appears that Dawkins implies that "natural selection" is the mechanism at work and there is no apparent need of a "designer". If that is the case than why did Francis Crick come up with such a theory as Pan spermia in order to explain how the first life on this planet came about? Due to the high probability of natural selection being successful?

JD Curtis said...

Who created god? When you can come up with a satisfactory answer that doesn't rely on special pleading, then you can be nonchalant about it.

Christians have believed that God is eternal and without end. There is nothing illogical about that whatsoever unless you first assume that God is a creature like you and me.

tinkbell13 said...

Told you- I called it. Macro, gut reaction. So simple.

I am sorry- I really should have qualified why I would get them an A for effort.

I would give them this because they really attempt to create the illusion that they are evidence based. They manage, really well to appear to people who do not know any better, to sound as though they are qualified to be discussing and contributing to the discussion. However, you cannot look too close, which is what the Supreme Court did. That is why they judged that creationism and intelligent design is not science, it is not evidence based, and it cannot be taught as such.

I agree.... The man is a fellow with no scholarly publication. Insane.

GCT said...

You continue to show your ignorance.

First of all, Crick has since changed his mind based on the evidence.

Secondly, panspermia (one word) is a theory to explain abiogenesis, not evolution. That you are conflating the two means that you are either intentionally trying to muddy the waters or you simply don't know what you are talking about.

"Christians have believed that God is eternal and without end. There is nothing illogical about that whatsoever unless you first assume that God is a creature like you and me."

Actually, it's special pleading, as I already pointed out. Your contention is that everything had to be created, except god who seems to get a free pass simply because. It's illogical and irrational. Once you can explain this without resorting to special pleading, then you can be nonchalant about the "Who designed the designer?" question. Until then, you don't get to simply wave your hands about and act as if the question has been answered when it clearly has not.

tinkbell13 said...

JD- I would suggest that you reread what has been posted. You are refuting Dawkins based on a paraphrase of what I have written with no first hand knowledge of the concept, which you have admitted. I have supplied you with the information, why do you not read it and try to learn what it is saying.... Instead, you refute with your ID nonsense about extraterrestial life.

If you will look, the 747 argument does not discuss this. It is saying that natural selection provides evidence of incremental changes that occur over time as life adapts and evolves. What he is saying is that, statistically speaking, claiming a designer by default is equally as impossible an explanation. If you knew anything about Dawkins, he has never claimed that he knows how life began. Only religion does that. The only thing that he is explicit about is that he does not believe it was by "intelligent design". The difference is is that with all of the advances in science, he believes that we are closer than we have ever been, and that the answer will be found.

That is fine.... I wish those hardworking "scientists" all the best as they try to unravel that undeniable evidence that will make us all believe that life was created via "intelligent design". But, first, they need to know how to do sciencey things like data collection, labs, and publish those reports.

SmartLX said...

While panspermia is a possible (albeit unlikely) alternative explanation to abiogenesis for the origin of life on Earth, the source of the panspermia (a race of alien planet-seeders, probably) is an older form of life which would also have to be explained. Using panspermia a second time sets up an infinite regress; eventually you have to confront the fact that the first life in the universe developed on its own planet without interstellar help. The question once again becomes whether that life was the product of special creation or abiogenesis followed by some kind of evolution.

In short, panspermia ultimately solves nothing.

I was serious, before; to what earlier philosophical "proof" of "him who supremely and most truly has existence" was Aquinas referring?

JD Curtis said...

I was unaware the Crick had changed his mind.

LX, I think you are asking something that would only lead to moe deep questions and would require stud for months, if not years. I believe Berlinski touched on that outside when he was speaking to several of us. That it's nowere near the type of subject that can be quickly paraphrased and summarized. It does seem interesting though. Did you check out the Fordham paper that I linked to up above?

Tink, if you'll notice, I put up what Berlinski said, not my own argument.

SmartLX said...

I didn't expect you to lay the whole thing out, JD. The name of a philosopher prior or contemporary to Aquinas and maybe a key word would be plenty, e.g. "Socrates' elephant argument". Then I could go off and find it myself. If you don't know who he's talking about, though, we're both stuck.

The Fordham paper is entirely a translation of Aquinas. It's mostly concerned with arguing that something created by God can have always existed. The proof of God is only mentioned as an aside, which is disappointing because elsewhere in the piece Aquinas refers to specific philosophers, such as Augustine.

JD Curtis said...

Summa Theologica was his masterpiece yet it is a tome. Berlinski suggested studying Medievel Latin in order to understand it better.

Tink, one of the concepts that Berlinski is credited with is that of "forward looking algorithms".

"As Berlinski (2000) has argued, genetic algorithms need something akin to a “forward looking memory” in order to succeed. Yet such foresighted selection has no analogue in nature. In biology, where differential survival depends upon maintaining function, selection cannot occur before new functional sequences arise. Natural selection lacks foresight." Link

GCT said...

Your last quote from Berlinski only shows that he's ignorant of genetic algorithms too. There's no need for "forward looking memory" in GAs. They simply set selection conditions and then allow the sample set to evolve, which leads to all kinds of novel answers to questions, etc.

JD Curtis said...

"Look — The suggestion that Darwin's theory of evolution is like theories in the serious sciences — quantum electrodynamics, say — is grotesque. Quantum electrodynamics is accurate to thirteen unyielding decimal places. Darwin's theory makes no tight quantitative predictions at all.

Look — Field studies attempting to measure natural selection inevitably report weak to non-existent selection effects.

Look — Darwin's theory is open at one end since there are no plausible account for the origins of life.

Look — A great many species enter the fossil record trailing no obvious ancestors and depart for Valhalla leaving no obvious descendents.

Look — Where attempts to replicate Darwinian evolution on the computer have been successful, they have not used classical Darwinian principles, and where they have used such principles, they have not been successful.

Look — Tens of thousands of fruit flies have come and gone in laboratory experiments, and every last one of them has remained a fruit fly to the end, all efforts to see the miracle of speciation unavailing.

Look — The remarkable similarity in the genome of a great many organisms suggests that there is at bottom only one living system; but how then to account for the astonishing differences between human beings and their near relatives — differences that remain obvious to anyone who has visited a zoo?

But look again — If the differences between organisms are scientifically more interesting than their genomic similarities, of what use is Darwin's theory since its otherwise mysterious operations take place by genetic variations?

These are hardly trivial questions. Each suggests a dozen others. These are hardly circumstances that do much to support the view that there are "no valid criticisms of Darwin's theory," as so many recent editorials have suggested." Dr David Berlinski

Check out his website sometime www.davidberlinski.org

GCT said...

All that shows is how ignorant he is.

I've already given you links to evidences of macroevolution including observed instances of speciation. Also, a quick google search for genetic algorithms (I think I've already provided some links to you) would disabuse you of the notion that they don't work. And, the notion that evolution is not a hard science is grotesquely inaccurate. The theory of evolution is quite possibly the most well supported scientific theory we have! Read a book.

Reynold said...

As GCT said, look at the evidence he previously gave. I'll just say to go to the "Panda's Thumb" or the "Talk Reason" websites and do a search on Berlinski's name.