Dialectic, not debate

I am learning to hate debate.

Really hate debate. It’s everywhere, and it’s bad and wrong, and I think it’s contributing to our social ills — all of social media is soaking in this ridiculous debate culture, and it’s stunting and poisoning our interactions.

Sounds like hyperbole, I know, but I can’t help it — my eyes cross and steam trickles out of my ears at just the word “debate”. And I’m not alone: here’s an article from a scientist who won’t debate science.

In fact, as a general rule, I refuse to debate basic science in public. There are two reasons for this: first, I’m a terrible debater and would almost certainly lose. The skills necessary to be a good scientist (coding, caring about things like “moist static energy”, drinking massive amounts of coffee) aren’t necessarily the same skills that will convince an audience in a debate format. It is very fortunate that things like the atomic model of matter do not rest on my ability to be charming or persuasive.

But second, and maybe more importantly: once you put facts about the world up for debate, you’ve already lost. Science isn’t a popularity contest; if it were, I’d definitely vote to eliminate quantum mechanics, set π to 1, and put radium back in toothpaste. I really, really don’t want sea levels to rise, rainfall patterns to shift, and heat waves to intensify. Climate change is definitely not my first choice. But physics and chemistry don’t care what I, or anyone else, wants.

On the first point: I agree, debate is a very specific skill, and it takes practice to do well. It’s not something that is part of scientific training. Maybe it’s used more in law, but law ain’t reality. There are useful skills involved in debating, like logic and rhetoric, and maybe it’s good for kids to do some of it in high school…but after that, it’s not relevant to most real world interactions, which are an order of magnitude more complex than anything dealt with in debating.

On the second point: YES. This is the cardinal sin of the debate mentality, that you reduce the problems of the world to two sides, and you settle the issue with rhetoric and a popularity contest. That’s not how anything works. It’s a garbage strategy for simultaneously avoiding dealing with the real issues, elevating the two artificially simplified positions to an equal standing, and allowing the most golden-tongued babbler to come away with a sense of accomplishment. So you’ve got hacks like William Lane Craig acquiring a reputation as a great debater, when all he is is someone who recites horseshit with great confidence.

This attitude that debate, no matter how bogus the subject, is healthy has permeated everything. So the media, instead of explaining a subject with sufficient depth that the consumer comes away having learned something, instead takes the lazy approach of pitting experts against assholes, putting them on panels and letting them yell it out, and allowing the audience on both sides feel like they won. This is why Kellyanne Conway still gets invited on talk shows — she’s a lying crapnugget, but the media munerators who organize these spectacles just want the conflict. This applies to Jack Kingston, Corey Lewandowski, any of that mob of demented liars who do the talk show circuit. Why? It’s not as if you’re going to receive any insight from them…but the media just keeps on booking the same ol’ goofballs and wasting our time.

This is why people are playing games with that flat earth nonsense. Being a contrarian gets you a platform, automatically, and the wrongness gets amplified.

So lately I’ve said on my youtube hangouts that I’m not going to bother with the creationists who beg me to invite them on — they have nothing of value to contribute. They’ve been getting a bit irate, like this flaming nutcase who calls himself seeksmostprophecy, or something goofy like that.

You like to talk about creationists, slandering them, calling them names and you don’t allow them to participate. No honest discourse there. You disqualify yourself as a scientist.

Yes, I call myself a scientist, which means I understand and accept the evidence that says the earth is old, and organisms evolved. Arguing otherwise disqualifies them from rational discourse — there are more interesting things to discuss than their ignorance. What really annoys them is when you tell them they don’t get to freeload off your expertise, and they’re not going to get equal billing with even a mediocre, unknown scientist.

But still, it’s incessant: every time you point out some failure of reason or knowledge by some guy on the internet, his defenders will rush in with their ploy to salvage his reputation: debate! Debate him now!

My God, your a professor! LOL,

Your dimwitted almost child like analysis of doctor Jordans immense knowledge wisdom and expertise is almost comical to the degree of being woefully sad and pathetic.

Id love to see this brainwashed tepid clown debate the professor.

He would chew what little you have to offer up and spit it out like the diseased refuse it is..

You could have just shown that he was wrong about the sum of 2 + 2, and they’ll whine at you that you have to resolve this great conflict with a debate. No, I don’t. I’ve just explained why he’s wrong, given you the correct answer, and you don’t get to prolong your time in the spotlight with more clueless yammering.

So, no, fuck off. Sometimes that’s all you can say.

Or you can be more, umm, smooth about it, like Jay Smooth. He’s suggesting that you don’t give the trolls air to breathe.

Note that this does not mean you ignore the trolls, but that you use whatever platform you’ve got to express yourself and your disagreement, and you don’t let them commandeer your platform to promote nonsense. Discuss and disagree, but don’t enable further promotion of bad ideas. Dialectic, not debate.

You might also check out a pair of philosophers arguing about “Is Debate Useful?” over tea, or whatever stronger stuff ContraPoints is drinking. They’re not quite as dismissive as I am, but still, they think it’s a question worth pondering.

I’ve come to my conclusion.

No, you’re not going to change my mind by debating me. But maybe if you can put together a coherent, constructive argument otherwise, I might consider it.

Visceral horror

For years, I was involved in these uncomfortable debates within the atheist community where one side would argue “Reason and Science!” and the other would say “Emotions matter!”, and I would uneasily argue that they both matter — uneasy because I’m happier talking about science and am not at all charismatic or able to draw on any kind of emotional sympathy. Old Nerd Talking, that’s me.

But right now, in the court of public opinion, we’re seeing the debate play out, and what’s clearly winning is emotion — and, I think, reason as well, but it’s the feelings that are driving the discourse. I think that’s important. It really settles the argument that both are necessary. What’s punching everyone in the gut so hard is that the Republicans have thrown away any attempt to mask their lack of humanity.

An example: when my kids were very young, I let them watch what I thought was a harmless, fun, children’s movie. I didn’t realize that it was a horror movie.

That movie was Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Does anyone remember this character?

It was striking: my kids were fine with the movie, until this guy shows up — a villain called The Child Catcher who snatches up children and drags them away from their families. He affected them immediately in a way that no other monster movie ever did. They’d cover their eyes. They’d run out of the room. They probably had nightmares about him, because all I had to do was say the words “Child Catcher!” and they’d shudder. I think if they had the choice of being attacked by the wolfman or the Child Catcher, the wolfman would win every time.

I got to visit my little grandson a few weeks ago. He’s 7 months old. Babies are fine-tuned, sensitive people detectors, and you could see it in his behavior, the way his eyes would light up and he’d squirm with happiness when he saw his mommy and daddy. He’s barely a person, he’s new and squishy and helpless, and the first concept his newly developed brain is forming is a love for his parents. I realized that I’d die fighting anyone trying to separate them.

It’s totally irrational. But this stuff matters. Donald Trump and the entire Republican party have steered themselves right into Child Catcher territory.

I’d like to think this would lead to their downfall, but unfortunately, Trumpsters also love children, and the only way they can resolve the dissonance is to dehumanize brown children even more — they aren’t babies, they’re future MS-13 gang members! That’s precisely what we’re seeing right now, and it could make everything even worse.

It’s getting easier to retaliate against the Peterasts

I have just been lectured in a YouTube comment about how I, and all of us leftist college professors, are examples of Professor Peterson’s warnings about the misuse of American tax dollars in support of the Cultural Marxist tactic of “critical theory,” by which they intend to destroy Western Civilization in order to make all of us live like they do in Venezuela and North Korea. Therefore I must post this video.

I’m a product of “Western Civilization”, I live within it and benefit from it, and think the economic chaos in Venezuela is tragic and destructive, and no sane person would want to live under North Korea’s totalitarianism. Jordan Peterson is utterly bonkers, and his fans are all infected with a serious case of the stupids.

P.S. Did you know Karl Marx is also a product of “Western Civilization”, and that he was not a post-modernist?

How to respond to a creation “museum”

There are creationist “museums” all over the place — I’ve been to ones in Kentucky, Washington state, and Missouri, and maybe a few others, but they’re all rather forgettable. I haven’t been to the the Big Valley Creation Science Museum in Alberta (how could I, what with the Royal Tyrrell right nearby?), but someone visited it and posted a summary. Harry Nibourg, the guy who runs it all, sounds like an enthusiastic glad-hander who is happy to give anyone a tour of his personal garbage heap. But I think these tourists summed it up well.

While I was there, a retired English couple had been making their way around the exhibits. As they reached the end, Harry asked them what their professions were. Turns out they’re retired biology teachers.

Harry asked,” Did you understand what you were looking at, and did it change your minds?

In the polite manner that only the English can achieve, the husband replied, “Well, you see, I think your museum is a crock of shit.”

Harry offered that they should “agree to disagree.”

That last line…is there any other phrase that is a better example of passive-aggressive truculence and an admission of a failure to defend one’s ideas than “agree to disagree”? Hate it.

Why does Jordan Peterson hate education?

Sheesh. Jordan Peterson came out with a video in collaboration with the awful PragerU, and it’s basically an anti-education screed, relying on misrepresenting universities, students, postmodernism, Marxism, and all the things he hates uncomprehendingly. So I responded to it.

I include my sorta script down below, but I’m not sure how comprehensible it’ll be, since the video is just me commenting on still frames from the PragerU BS. You’ll probably find ContraPoints on Peterson’s incoherence more enlightening.

[Read more…]

Big fish on the hook. I repeat, BIG FISH.

I predicted that the creationist clickbait in the title of that stupid article about all animals originating at the same time would snag a few doofuses. I was right. Look who is tweeting about it: Eric Erickson and Ted Cruz.

Unfortunately, that means the nonsense will be spread even further.

Wake up. Dr Oz is a quack.

Here’s Oz, promoting astrology now.


The laws of karma and retributive justice aren’t actually laws, you know

I’ve been lucky to have never received a chastising letter from an administrator like the one below. A former professor at San Diego State University made a suggestion that a university provost receive an accelerated review — that is not a condemnation, but a recommendation that an impartial committee evaluate his performance — and the provost was a mite bit upset. He responded by asking Jesus to shower him with an unending curse.

I’m thinking that the suggestion for an accelerated review was wise and justified, and maybe there is more to the story than the former professor has made public. The provost has resigned from his position.

I still get email

People, I’m out of town! I’m taking a break! How about if the loons also take a little time off and stop pestering me with silly complaints?

No, they won’t. This guy is irate about an ancient quote from me — something I said and still stand by about how we shouldn’t be nice to the frauds of creationism. I get sent this quote fairly regularly.

In his book on Intelligent Design, Dr. Jonathan Wells gives the following quote from a University of Minnesota professor named Paul Z. Myers:

“The only appropriate response should involve some form of righteous fury, much butt-kicking, and the public firing of some teachers, many schoolboard members, and vast numbers of sleazy far-right politicians…It’s time for scientists to break out the steel-toed boots and brass knuckles, and get out there and hammer on the lunatics and idiots.”

This was in the chapter on Darwinists, their strident nature and willingness to employ machiavellian tactics to achieve their war on traditional and orthodox Christians.

“Machiavellian”? Saying that we ought to be blunt and undiplomatic and angry about the lies of creationists is kind of the opposite of Machiavellian. But this fellow goes on to really teach me a lesson.

Notice Myers uses the term “righteous fury”. How ironic. There is nothing righteous about him. I recall Professor Johanneson in my college days in Los Angeles who also was from the University of Minnesota, and who even way back in the 60’s was wildly and radically liberal. I was given a C in his class after getting all As on his tests. His explanation was “I must insure that people like you do not succeed”). I appreciated his honesty if not his world view!

Uh, what? I do not know this Johanneson fellow. He’s complaining about his grade in a class in the 1960s? I was at best 12 years old; I rather doubt that I had much to do with his grade. I also rather doubt the truth of his story; there are rather strong requirements about openness and documenting grades, and if a professor downgraded him with the intent of doing him harm there are all kinds of avenues for getting redress. More likely he did well on exams (but maybe not as well as he remembers) and that there were other components that were part of his grade.

But OK, if we accept his unlikely story as true, I will condemn the actions of Dr Johanneson. It hardly has anything to do with me, though. I guess this gomer just assumes Minnesota professors are all alike.

But the same sort of arrogant (and sometimes violent) dismissal of any views that are Biblically based, are imposed on our kids by University professors all over (yes even Texas) and they appear to be cut from the same cloth, a robe of virulent, ungodly and egotistical humanism.

They can not totally suppress the truth, and I think God for Scientists like Jonathan Sarfati, Henry Morris, Jonathan Wells and oh, don’t forget the founder of modern science, Sir Issac Newton who wrote more on religion than he did science!!


Creationists don’t get to call others egotistical. Sorry, guy, but you’re engaged in wholesale denial of physics, chemistry, geology, and biology, which takes an amazing lack of humility. Your short list of creationists is mostly loons — and Newton is not remembered for his writings on religion.

It is nice to see that I could write something in 2005 that still irritates creationists.

It’s a cult

Every day now, I get several messages/emails from Jordan Peterson fans. Nothing could convince me more that we’re dealing with a cult-like network of bewilderingly brainwashed people. The messages take several familiar forms.

  • “It’s his opinion and belief. Science and evidence don’t apply.” They are desperate to carve out an exemption from minimal standards of evidence for him. This is a common refrain from defenders of religious belief as well.

  • “Technically, he might be wrong about that one thing, but I like what he’s saying anyway.” My personal schtick in dealing with Peterson has been to focus on specific false claims and scientific misrepresentations. They don’t matter. His followers don’t care. The pseudo-scientific veneer is just that, a game to borrow the respectability of science while not caring at all about rigor.

  • “He has done so much good for young men!” How do we know that? Because he says so. It’s an ‘end justifies the means’ kind of argument with no evidence of a positive result. Again, this is a very religious defense, where we’re supposed to accept the conclusion as valid because of an assertion irrelevant to the truth-claim.

  • “You’re just criticising him for the hits!” Somehow, that someone is popular has become a defense in itself — you’re only reason for criticizing the cult leader can’t possibly be because he’s wrong, but is simply an opportunistic attempt to get the attention of his crowds of followers (never mind that those zealous followers are annoyingly thick and I’d rather they went away.)

  • Meaningless drivel. You would not believe the lengths they go to to justify Peterson’s claim that a Chinese painting of intertwined snake-gods is an actual representation of the structure of DNA. An example:

    First, keep in mind that a representation doesn’t need to be a detailed model of how something functions, just a portrayal of that function. Which, DNA is essentially just a carrier of genetic information used to structure the development, appearance, and function of living beings. Passed on to children, in many species, from two parents.

    The image, is of Fuxi and Nüwa. In Chinese mythology, they’re credited with either being the first humans, or otherwise the creators of humanity. Which they made together, out of clay. In the image shown by Peterson, they also strongly represent (although I don’t entirely understand why, something to do with who they are, how they are arranged, and the things they are holding) the male-female and yin and yang interrelation. This duality of yin and yang is somewhat unique compared to many other dualistic systems, in that the two parts are also together a whole that is greater than the parts.

    All together, the image seems to me, to represent the idea of two beings coming together, to create something new, similar to themselves, but also with variation, as in the story, they are going from being half-human, half-snakes, to just humans.

    So, by my view, it’s not a model of DNA with any understanding of what the molecule is, it’s parts, or even that there is such a physical thing (And I don’t believe this is what Peterson was saying either). But it is a representation of DNA’s actual effect and function in the world, as it appeared to the people passing along these myths and creating these images. A sort of first-conceptual glimmering of an idea, that has grown to our current deep and detailed understanding of DNA.

    Now, Peterson seems to put a special emphasis on the two snakes being intertwined, I’m not sure of the mythological significance of that, and it shows up in far to many different cultures for me to research it easily. But like I said previously, you could always try asking him?

  • That’s just noise. Long-winded ahistorical noise. Our understanding of DNA did not evolve out of contemplation of mythology. This person seems to believe that contriving a post-hoc rationale is just as powerful as making observations and testing hypotheses.

  • “Debate him.” Jesus christ, but I hate the debate obsession. Creationists do this, too — they desperately want a contrived situation where their ideas are placed on a par with the bulk of the scientific consensus, even if they haven’t earned it, and they want it personified into a one-on-one conflict. It’s trial by combat. I have zero interest in debating J. Random Crackpot on a stage where he has rigged the game to give him every advantage, and I have nothing to gain.

I regret ever trying to address any of Peterson’s crappy arguments, but that’s exactly what they’re hoping for — they can’t win on reason and evidence, so they resort to a war of attrition with endless hordes of delusional fanboys bombarding me with garbage logic. I hate it, but years of conflict with religious fanatics has made me stubborn, and they’re nothing different.