Arrgh, Bergman!

I had this terrible debate with Jerry Bergman years ago, and a video was hosted on YouTube by someone else (thank you very much!), and I just put a copy on my own channel. Here it is. You may have already seen it, and I summarized it long ago. This is the debate where Bergman announced that carbon was irreducibly complex, and therefore proved that the universe was designed, and that atheists have been protesting and getting removed from schools the periodic table of the elements, a persecution that he documented in his rambling, awful book, The Slaughter of the Dissidents.

Also, by the way, lots of credit to Mark Borrello, the moderator of the debate, who I thought did an exemplary job of giving both sides fair and equal time.

But this debate was also critical in defining my antipathy to debate, and it’s in those words, “both sides”. There are not two sides here. They are not equal. There is a reasonable, evidence-based side (in this case, mine) and there is a whining man-child side where “facts” can be made up as you go, and debate is a scheme designed to elevate nonsense to the same level as science. This is not sour grapes; I think, by any estimation, I “won” this debate to the point where creationists in the audience came up to me afterwards to admit it, although usually with the excuse that Bergman was bad and a smarter Christian debater would have clobbered me. I also don’t think it was my talent that won out, though — I don’t think I’m a particularly good debater — but just that even in a format contrived to give the weakest arguments every benefit, science is hard to overcome.


  1. Patrik Holmstrom says

    I will respectfully quibble about their only being one side. In my thinking there are definitively two sides but one is informed and the other is either ignorant or lying (there might exist some other corner cases but I expect none of them are “better” than ignorant or lying).

  2. Sastra says

    If the audience is already heavily weighted towards creationism, then “there are two sides” is a step towards science. The venue matters a lot. It’s unlikely that Bergman’s fans would have otherwise voluntarily exposed themselves to a legitimate version of evolution, let alone arguments against creationism.

    A case of ‘nowhere to go but up.’

  3. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says


    Nice point.

  4. Patrik Holmstrom says

    I often wish that more scientific disputes could be resolved by the methods of the unfortunately late professor of “World health” and statistics informer extraordinaire Hans Rosling doing his fact smack-down.

    Don’t trust the media (Swedish professor vs Danish journalist with English subtitles)

    One of his top hits (Why the world population won’t exceed 11 billion) :

  5. jimfoley says

    I corresponded with Bergman many years ago, on the subject of Nebraska Man. I reviewed an article he was writing and pointed out a number of obvious errors in his article. It took more iterations than it should have before he finally conceded that some of his central claims were false, and he said something to the effect of “Wow, you’re really good at this”. I couldn’t help but reflect that a PhD is not a sign of brilliance, even a mediocre plodder can get one eventually. Or, in Bergman’s case, six (I believe is the figure I last heard). And they’ll still be a mediocre plodder afterwards.

  6. billyjoe says

    Rather than say “there are two sides”, or “there is only one side”, it would be better, and more accurate, to say “there is no controversy”.

  7. John Morales says


    Rather than say “there are two sides”, or “there is only one side”, it would be better, and more accurate, to say “there is no controversy”.

    But there is. It’s a cultural controversy, not a scientific one.

    (Also, “two sides” referred to the debate positions, explicitly. Context matters)

  8. zetopan says

    “I couldn’t help but reflect that a PhD is not a sign of brilliance”
    Bergman’s PhD in “Human Biology” is from a diploma mill (Columbia Pacific University).
    “Columbia Pacific University (CPU) was a totally unaccredited diploma mill which happily allowed creationist teachings, until California shut it down in 1997.”
    Bergman has written a ton of truly idiotic apologetics, including claiming that the Galileo affair was actually caused by secular scientists trying to discredit the Catholic church.

  9. emergence says

    All of my science teachers to date have acknowledged that evolution is real. None of them have attacked the periodic table or tried to censor it.

    We know that carbon can form nautrally from nuclear fusion or fission. This idea about carbon being irreducibly complex is basically just a muddled argument from fine tuning that has no bearing on any sort of evolutionary process.

    This Bergman guy seems dense even by creationist standards.

  10. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    Can carbon form via fission? I didn’t know that, and it makes me curious.

    How does that work – instead of emitting alphas or neutrons, the nucleus just fragments?

  11. blf says

    Heh. I was going to try and describe the mildly deranged penguin’s Periodic Table of Cheese — obviously vastly more important than a doodle of mere alchemical stuff — but a check for prior art with Generalissimo Google revealed numerous other such tables: Both tables of cheeses, and Mendeleev’s table made from cheese. And, apparently, he sketched an early version of his table on the back of an invitation to a cheese tasting (which apparently still exists and is in the Mendeleev Museum in St Petersburg).