Thursday, October 25, 2007

Debate at Waterloo

Tonight I debated Kirk Durston at the University of Waterloo on the topic, should a scientist believe in god? Eventually I'll post my slides and other information here, but for the moment, you can use this spot to post comments about the debate.

Here's my closing statement. I didn't get to read all of it because of time constraints (we were given only 5 minutes). If you read it, you will see the great debt I owe to P. Z. Myers and Carl Sagan.


Anonymous said...

you seem like you can disprove creationism. heres a website i found that will offer you 250 000 USD if u can disprove it

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Dear Anonymous:

"Dr. Dino" is Kent Hovind, a crackpot and convicted felon currently serving a 10-year sentence in a US prison for tax evasion and other charges. His claims are so ludicrous even fellow creationists disavow him.

What do you think the probability is that such a deluded and dishonest person would actually pay up on such a wager?

And why is it that the best spokesman you can come up with for creationism is such a moral reprobate? Do you think Jesus would be proud of such a spokesman?

Anonymous said...

Will audio and/or video of the debate be made available at some point?

Jeffrey Shallit said...

The Campus [Crusade] for Christ people said they were recording it and would make it available at some point. As soon as they do, I'll post a link.

Matt said...

Fantastic use of the scintillation counter to demo a lack of causality in the decay of Uranium nuclei.

Some scientists refuse to debate creationists, feeling that it's not very constructive. Obviously you did debate. What was your aim, to convert the believers, or sway the undecided, or merely represent and raise awareness of the mainstream scientific viewpoint, or some other reason? Also, would you ever participate in such a debate again?

Thanks for representing the testable theories, rational conclusions, and downplaying dogma and revelation.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

What was your aim, to convert the believers, or sway the undecided, or merely represent and raise awareness of the mainstream scientific viewpoint, or some other reason?

I just like to argue.

Anonymous said...

Don't keep us in suspense: are you for it or agin it?

andrew said...

The challenge is a known fraud:

Eamon Knight said...

I see from the C4C site that Joe Boot was through there the evening before. He was at Carleton U last winter for a "Does God Exist?" debate with someone from CFI. If I'd been blogging at the time I would have taken notes and posted a review.

George said...

Hi Jeffrey,

I just wanted to thank you for your involvement in yesterday's debate. Your level of preparedness amazed me many times during your speech. It is truly great to see more and more scientists not being afraid to get their hands dirty in disproving religious claims! Very inspiring and informative! I scribbled down some of the books that you recommended! Thanks again!

Anonymous said...

Nuclear proliferation brings the spectre of mass destruction,
or a dirty bomb that could render major cities unliveable for thousands
of years.

I was under the impression that dirty bombs are not particularly dangerous.

Amol said...

This sounds very interesting. I would be eager to hear an audio or watch video if you have that.

Unknown said...

I've seen Kirk Durston debate before. You might be interested in my write-up of the debate.

Erdos56 said...

I look forward to watching the video.

I wasn't familiar with Mr. Durston prior to this but took a moment to read some of his materials. His ID arguments appear to parallel Behe/Dembski in invoking a highly quantized and sparse search space for evolution as an algorithm. He allows selection/variation might be useful for searching local adaptive topographies, but then puts vast, insurmountable ridges and canyons between those adaptive zones, whether in arguing for "taxonomic limits" (but not providing any references) to speciation or for the improbability of protein discovery.

It strikes me as odd that an intelligent designer would choose a design system that allows significant variation (enough for hybrid vigor, immune system functionality and founder-effect diversity acceleration) but then put barriers to preserve the fixity of "kinds" (maybe what Durston thinks are his categories). Or that the ID agent would allow for some functional change but not the discovery of proteins (presumably at all in Durston's sparse bit world).

I don't see much new in his ID materials, but hope he had more compelling things to discuss in your debate.

CC said...

Um ... yeah, about that Kent Hovind dingbat ...

Frankly, it's just depressing when the best you can expect out of creationist commenters is, "Hey, there's that website over there!"

That's a good little stenographer. Have a biscuit.

O'Brien said...

...slavishly adhering to the 2000-year-old dogmas
of illiterate sheepherders, blindly following the prejudices and
bigotry of past ages...

That is a vapid mischaracterization. Clearly, your education does not extend to the socio-historical setting of the Biblical texts.

Anonymous said...

We know these things not because of prayer, or religious revelation, or
sacred texts, or meditation, or sacrificing of goats, or altered states
of consciousness,

I dunno, I like to think of rational inquiry as an altered state of consciousness.

Anatoly said...

Howdy, I just read about your and Durston's debate in the UW newspaper (I picked it up today since I don't go to UW). Great job! Truly spectacular.

Anonymous said...

'Nova' tackles 'intelligent design'

Unknown said...

I thought overall you had a very good debate, although I always nitpick and think there are things that could go better in these things. I especially thought the refutation of his sources and mentioning of God of the Gaps were poignant.

I don't know much about Durston, but it seems like you spent a lot of time critiquing creationist ideas even though you started out by saying your argument applied to anything supernatural, which seems a bit inconsistent (and someone might notice that). A lot of your claims involving creationism didn't seem to apply to Durston due to what is apparently his literalist but noncreationist Christian belief, which would put you in the awkward position of showing that creationist interpretations of the Bible are more reasonable if you were to continue that line of argument.

The important thing to stress, imo, is the difference in methodology and credulity between these experiences and the blinders most religious people take in the transition from 'supernatural thing seems to happen' to 'God of the Bible is true'. The entire topic is whether a *scientist* should have these beliefs after all, in which case the entire point is compartmentalization vs. consistency.

All of Durston's primary arguments were of this fashion:
1) Argument from ignorance/failed logical deduction
2) Supply the answer of God, possibly after mentioning the supernatural in general.

His arguments about evolution and abiogenesis are equivalent to an argument from ignorance and faulty premises, as you pointed out. It's good to highlight that kind of thing, lest his work be seen as anything but what it is - an attempt to rule out naturalistic explanations, which is quite antithetical to science itself. After supposedly showing how unlikely it was, he then postulated 'the designer'. For this he gave no scientific test and alluded to the fact that all he had was that it 'did' happen. This isn't enough! ;) He doesn't even have a reasonable argument for how this type of complexity can be effectively identified as the result of 'intelligence'.

His other argument was the cosmological argument propped up with scientific ideas. It remains a philosophical problem, however, to which the answer 'God' provides no answer. His arguments against an actual infinite rely on exclusions that would surely destroy his Creator-God's ability to exist, as timelessness is not something that must be special to God nor must such a thing have any properties similar to a creator.

Now, he also made some other gaffes, but it's always easier to see them in retrospect. For instance, he tries to say that the many world hypothesis is not scientific and then ignores it, however his very own ideas in replacement are anything but scientific. You also let him get away with claiming you abandoned causality in your isotope example, when in fact the entire point is that causality seems far stranger than we generally realize. Another example would be entanglement.

OK, I've ranted enough. Great debate, you should do more!