Saturday, December 26, 2009

The World's Worst Journalist Attacks!

So, it looks like Denyse O'Leary, the world's worst journalist™, didn't like my simple example showing that Stephen Meyer's claims about information are false.

Meyer claims information can only come from a mind. But this is clearly not true. For example, meteorologists collect information all the time about the environment: wind speed, wind direction, precipitation, etc. Based on this information, they make predictions about the weather. But this information did not come from a mind - it came from the environment.

O'Leary is unable to refute this argument, so all she can do is babble in response, as follows:

What mind indeed? If we experience either snow or dull, freezing rain here tomorrow, why should I be surprised? This is the season officially known as winter.

Well, that certainly showed me!

When confronted with my simple counterexample to Meyer's silly claim, it seems intelligent design advocates have three choices:

1. They can deny that things like wind speed, wind direction, etc. are actually information. Then they have to claim that weather forecasters make their predictions without any information as input at all. This hardly seems like it will convince anyone.

2. They can claim that the physical world's attributes are the products of a mind. But then everything is designed, so it is pointless to claim they have a novel argument for the designedness of biological organisms, since their claim is universal.

3. They can concede that wind speed, wind direction, etc. are information, but not the particular kind of information they had in mind. This is not likely to convince anyone either, since by Meyer's own definition these measures qualify as information. Nor is it likely to convince anyone who has examined the many critiques of Dembski's CSI.

So expect the intelligent design advocates to resort to more childish tactics. Already the commenters have taken to making fun of my name, and calling me stupid and dishonest. Yup, that's the way to answer the argument.

19 comments:

Anonymous said...

As to option #2, wouldn't they be uncomfortable with suggesting that there is something that is not designed?

Tom S

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Well, that's always struck me as a problem with, for example, Paley's argument. Paley says, if we found a watch on the heath, we would know it is designed - and he explicitly compares it to a stone. He then uses the comparison between the stone and the watch to conclude that the watch is designed and (implicitly) the stone is not. But Christians such as Paley presumably believe everything is designed by God, so in reality he is comparing two designed things.

Anebo said...

My God, but you're clever (and I'm saying that without irony, hard as that is to believe anymore). But ID followers have, of course another way out of the dilemma you've created, namely to charge meteorologists with magic for diving the weather, in which case their information comes from the devil. I wish that was irony too, but I would bet money I could find creationists making that argument without much trouble if I dared google it.

Right after the Dover trial, someone on a list of Philologists I subscribe to posted as a joke an argument that modern historical linguistics is false because it contradicts the tower of Bible story. About six months later I found creationists actually arguing that, and now it is increasingly a standard part of the creationist attack on science (that lets god himself create English as a proper vessel for the KJV--as to where the English speakers were between 3000 BC and 1000 AD, well...)

Miranda said...

"Already the commenters have taken to making fun of my name, and calling me stupid and dishonest. Yup, that's the way to answer the argument. "

I'm sure you're innocent of that tactic.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Miranda:

Congratulations! Yet another "tu quoque" fallacy! And yet another failure to actually address the argument.

Miranda said...

I knew you'd say "tu quoque."
Just because I didn't address the argument doesn't make you any less hypocritical for using the same tactic your opponents use.

Miranda said...

"Already the commenters have taken to making fun of my name, and calling me stupid and dishonest. Yup, that's the way to answer the argument. "

I read the commenters and saw that what you attribute to "the" commenters can really only be attributed to "some" commenters.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

I read the commenters and saw that what you attribute to "the" commenters can really only be attributed to "some" commenters.


What exactly is your native language, Miranda?

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Just because I didn't address the argument doesn't make you any less hypocritical for using the same tactic your opponents use.

When I claim someone is stupid or dishonest, I give evidence for that claim. As far as I can remember, I don't make fun of people's names and claim it is an argument.

Nice try, though.

Jim Lippard said...

Option #2 is the good Bishop Berkeley's solution... not only is everything is an idea, everything's an artifact.

One could then try to distinguish divine artifacts from human artifacts, but that would still undermine the Paley argument from design--you'd be back to human artifact vs. nature.

Looks like most in the discussion thread are taking route #3, arguing that there's a distinction between mere "information" and CSI or FSCI ("functionally specified complex information"). Now they need a definition that distinguishes them and doesn't suffer from the problems of the definitions that have already been proposed.

Tommy Blanchard said...

I find O'Leary's response interesting. I am not sure whether she really understands your criticism of Meyer's claim (or perhaps she doesn't understand Meyer's claim in the first place). She says "the information that explains how the butterfly emerges from the mess of the pupa, after the caterpillar has done its bit by constantly eating leaves, is vastly more complex than the information that explains why rain falls or snow blankets".

Interpreting this in the most charitable way that I can, I take her to be saying that the information encoded by a butterfly's DNA (which contains "instructions" on how to go from caterpillar to butterfly) is "vastly more complex" than the information collected by meteorologists. Now, there is a large ambiguity left over - by "vastly more complex", does she mean that the butterfly DNA has more information? If so, she is agreeing with you - she has admitted that a non-mind can create information, but it is only a small amount when compared to other things (which is all that is needed to contradict Meyer's claim). Perhaps, by "vastly more complex", she is accepting option #3, and thinks the butterfly DNA just has a different sort of information. Then, of course, she really needs to specify why it is that the type of information you brought up fails to fall into the definition of information Meyer gives, otherwise she isn't saying anything relevant.

Bryce said...

"They can concede that wind speed, wind direction, etc. are information, but not the particular kind of information they had in mind. This is not likely to convince anyone either, since by Meyer's own definition these measures qualify as information."

Can you tell me the page number where Meyer distinguishes between types of information? Thanks.

Takis Konstantopoulos said...

All that is interesting. I don't know who O'Leary is but two things appear to be true, based on reading some of the things she's writing.

First, her sentences are somewhat confusing. For example:

Well, Shallit managed to trash a workshop he has never taken (and wouldn’t need to, if he has tenure at your expense). One taught by an expert in non-tenured survival. If that is what you want, vote for it.


Why would you "take" a workshop? What does "to take a workshop" mean? Is this a Canadian expression? The second sentence, "one taught by an expert in non-tenured survival" is undecipherable.

Second, she doesn't understand what a scientist/mathematician means by the word INFORMATION. It looks very unlikely she has any understanding of the concept. Now, being a Catholic Christian, she is probably confusing a scientific term with theological doctrines. This is why she seems to be confused.

In a previous posting you produced an example showing how obfuscating O'Leary's writings are. Although I haven't read much of what she wrote, I will tend to agree with your evaluation.

Takis Konstantopoulos said...

I forgot to add the following: I observed that Ms O'Leary does not allow for comments in her blogs. Does this mean that she considers her postings as authoritative and beyond discussion/challenge?

It reminds me of the day I went to a (kind of Protestant) church with some acquaintances and asked a question to the priest after he finished preaching. I was told I was not allowed to comment and that I had to step out.

Ms O'Leary's approach seems to be a religious one. So it doesn't matter how much you challenge her. She will keep defending her faith ad infinitum.

Miranda said...

Takis, Google on "Take a workshop" and you'll find 70,000 hits.

"one taught by an expert in non-tenured survival" is very easy to understand.

"she is probably confusing a scientific term with theological doctrines."

I don't think there ARE any theological doctrines about information.

"Ms O'Leary does not allow for comments in her blogs."

But if you want, you can comment on her essay here:

http://www.uncommondescent.com/darwinism/darwinism-and-academic-culture-mathematician-jeffrey-shallit-weighs-in/

Jeffrey Shallit said...

What does "to take a workshop" mean? Is this a Canadian expression?

Nope, it's standard North American English. To "take a workshop" means to "attend a workshop", just like to "take a course" means to "attend a course".

"one taught by an expert in non-tenured survival" is O'Leary's usual smear against faculty and, specifically, tenured faculty. Like most ignorant people, she is hostile towards anyone who knows more than she does. This hostility towards intellectual achievement is common in North America. By this phrase, she attempts to denigrate me (since I am "tenured") and elevate herself (since she is an "expert" in surviving without the benefit of tenure).

Takis Konstantopoulos said...

Thanks for letting me know what "to take a workshop" means. Apologies for not knowing and for not googling it. And thanks for making me read the second sentence more carefully. In it, Ms O'Leary is, indeed, trying to denigrate tenured academics. The fact that she is in a job where tenure does not exist has nothing to do with her arguments.

However, I still see a lot of theological motivation in O'Leary's writings, self-righteousness being one of them.

Miranda, I think that the very fact that O'Leary prohibits comments from her blogs says a lot about her position. I am not interested in writing anything related to the specific posting, I was just commenting on the O'Leary's methods. (Also, by the way, I don't like to write in religious sites like uncommondescent.com)

athel said...

The problem with calling your post The World's Worst Journalist Attacks is that it implies that all the other journalists are better than Denyse O'Leary. If only it were true!

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Bryce:

Meyer discusses different flavors of information on many pages of the book:

p. 86 - he gives his definition of information

p. 91 - he draws a distinction between his definition and Shannon

pp. 105-106 - more discussion of "specified information" versus what everyone else calls information.

etc.