Home » Darwinism, Evolution, Intelligent Design » Penance among the pagans: Robert Wright grovels before George Johnson

Penance among the pagans: Robert Wright grovels before George Johnson

I know both Robert Wright and George Johnson. I invited Wright to the NATURE OF NATURE conference at Baylor back in 2000, where he debated Michael Shermer. And I met Johnson at a Templeton event in Santa Fe back in 1999.

Robert Wright George Johnson

Go here for their Bloggingheads discussion, which really amounts to a confessional in which Wright is the penitent and Johnson the confessor. Wright can’t fall enough over himself for giving ID too much place at his Bloggingheads forum. Discourse in our culture has become truly pathetic.

Johnson, when he’s not intoning “yeah” and “umh,” comes across as a condescending prig. He dismisses Michael Behe’s views on design because they “conveniently dovetail with his religious belief.” These atheists and agnostics really need to get out more. Don’t they realize that their Darwinian naturalism “conveniently dovetails with their unbelief”?

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26 Responses to Penance among the pagans: Robert Wright grovels before George Johnson

  1. 1

    Hi William,

    I’m glad to see you and Behe commenting on this diavlog.

    Unfortunately, when I click on your first link I get “This account has been suspended.” Sounds ominous to me. I hope everything is ok.

  2. Discourse in our culture has become truly pathetic.

    Johnson, when he’s not intoning “yeah” and “umh,” comes across as a condescending prig.

    Unedited.

  3. Pay special attention to the last 1/4 of the show. Wright goes to great lengths to show his sympathies for the concept of a “transcendant cause”… even though he insists that natural selection is most likely that cause.

  4. Hmmm. There might be a market out there for spine transplants.

    Journalism – and here I do not mean the US “Big Hair” stuff – is one of the most dangerous professions in the world.

    You do it because you want people to know.

    In my view, there was no reason for Wright not to just stand by his – and his staff’s – program.

    It wasn’t false or defamatory. Some prima donnas didn’t like it. So?

    You never get anywhere in the news business if your big move is confessing your alleged sins against top people.

    I feel badly for Wright. I wish he could meet Canada’s Maclean’s Magazine’s Ken Whyte, who – faced with a demand for protection money from Islamists – just ended the interview. He won the subsequent court case they launched, and was named Journalist of the Year for 2008.

    If you are operating a free medium in a free society, it is okay to tell people to back off.

  5. No doubt public discourse on a number of issues has become pathetic. Several years ago the director of Gettysburg, Ronald F. Maxwell, described our culture as being in a “straitjacket”. His sin? He dared to paint a balanced picture of North and South in his movie. He didn’t expect the vitriol simply because he tried to tell the story of Gettysburg from both sides.

  6. I don’t know how anyone could watch such an exchange. It was really painful. I mean, a hummingbird and a tortoise having a diavlog? Whatever.

    Here’s something that always catches my attention: Wright says that Miller effectively refuted Behe by showing how the blood cascade ‘could have‘ evolved?

    In fact, in all the literature I read on ND, that phrase comes up time and again. It seems all ND has to do is show how something ‘could have’ happened and that’s good enough for science. How does that get past peer-review!?

    Heck, in that case, all ID has to do is show how an intelligent agent ‘could have’ designed life and there ya go! Gosh, they make it easy for us, don’t they?. What, me worry? When you’ve got ‘could have’ as an evidently super sharp tool in the bag, its a cinch.

    Thanks to Dembski, Behe, and Myers though, who are obviously not satisfied with ‘could haves’, it’s Intelligent Design that is now firmly in the driver’s seat.

    ND will just have to make due bitching in the back seat.

  7. I tried to watch. I felt whatever intelligence I possess being drained through my eye sockets.

    Couldn’t do it.

  8. Bill, like, don’t “harsh my buzz”, man.

    I was, like, so totally happy trippin’ after my hash and meditation session this evening until I listened to that diavlog.

    Serious bummer….

  9. Thanks to Dembski, Behe, and Myers though, who are obviously not satisfied with ‘could haves’, it’s Intelligent Design that is now firmly in the driver’s seat.

    http://www.sculpturegallery.co.....ariot.html

  10. Oramus @ 6

    Here’s something that always catches my attention: Wright says that Miller effectively refuted Behe by showing how the blood cascade ‘could have‘ evolved?

    In fact, in all the literature I read on ND, that phrase comes up time and again. It seems all ND has to do is show how something ‘could have’ happened and that’s good enough for science. How does that get past peer-review!?

    Behe’s claim was that there is no conceivable way that an Irreducibly Complex system could have evolved.

    Biologists conceived of ways the cited systems could have evolved.

    Behe’s claim was thus refuted.

    Simple.

  11. Seversky:

    Behe’s claim was that there is no conceivable way that an Irreducibly Complex system could have evolved.

    That is not Dr Michael Behe’s claim.

    Not even close.

    Perhaps you were thinking of some other Behe.

    As for “simple”- yours was a very simple strawman.

    It would help you case if you actually knew what it is you are trying to argue against.

  12. Cabal,

    I didn’t see any driver’s seats in your link.

    Are you trying to erect another strawman?

    Or do you not understand English?

  13. Seversky:

    Joseph is right. Have you even read DARWIN’S BLACK BOX? Behe is not claiming to offer a mathematical proof. Nor is claiming that Darwinists can’t conceive of how IC systems might have formed. He offers IC as an obstacle to Darwinian processes, providing theoretical as well as empirical grounds for why they do indeed pose an obstacle. Yes, Darwinian imagine how IC systems might form and offer fabulous tales to that end. But that’s a far cry from detailed testable Darwinian pathways to such systems.

  14. Also the debate isn’t about “evolution” per se.

    Dr Behe and all IDists doubt the mechanism of accumulating genetic accidents can account for the diversity of living organisms and all their specified complexity.

    So all you have to do is demonstrate said mechanism can do the job.

  15. Oramus:

    Heck, in that case, all ID has to do is show how an intelligent agent ‘could have’ designed life and there ya go!

    Actually, that’s something I would like to hear! Can you propose a mechanism by which an intelligent agent could have designed life? Or how about the bacterial flagellum? If it’s too complex to have arisen by natural causes (RM+NS), how do you think an intelligent agent might have produced it?

  16. NormO:

    Can you propose a mechanism by which an intelligent agent could have designed life?

    Design is a mechanism.

    Or how about the bacterial flagellum?

    A targeted search perhaps.

    If it’s too complex to have arisen by natural causes (RM+NS), how do you think an intelligent agent might have produced it?

    Strawman. ID is NOT about mere complexity.

    ID does NOT say “it’s too complex”.

    But as I said a targeted search should do the trick. Dawkins agrees.

    SciAm 2003 had an article titled “Evolving Inventions”. It was about targeted searches and what they can accomplish.

    IOW organisms were designed to evolve- ie evolved by design.

  17. Design is a mechanism.

    Well, ‘mechanism’ sounds a bit ambitious, but with sufficient R&D included, maybe it would be possible to get to phase2:

    Production and implementation.

    Wouldn’t it take some effort to determine the quality of a design before we know it can survive alone in nature?

  18. Cabal,

    I didn’t see any driver’s seats in your link.

    Are you trying to erect another strawman?

    Or do you not understand English?

    It was the best I could come up with at the moment; the point was of course that it’s fine with a driver on the bus but if you’re going to a football game you better have a qualified team on board too.

    Clear enough?

  19. Johnson suggests that maybe someone like Behe could be invited to appear on BloggingHeads on Pseudoscience Sunday.

    Great.

    Then maybe someone like Johnson could be invited to appear on Materialist Moron Monday. Seems totally fair and conciliatory to me…

  20. William Dembski @ 13

    Joseph is right. Have you even read DARWIN’S BLACK BOX? Behe is not claiming to offer a mathematical proof. Nor is claiming that Darwinists can’t conceive of how IC systems might have formed. He offers IC as an obstacle to Darwinian processes, providing theoretical as well as empirical grounds for why they do indeed pose an obstacle. Yes, Darwinian imagine how IC systems might form and offer fabulous tales to that end. But that’s a far cry from detailed testable Darwinian pathways to such systems.

    Yes, I am aware Behe is not claiming to offer mathematical proof. What he does write, in what is probably the most oft-quoted passage from the book is:

    By irreducibly complex I mean a single system composed of several well-matched, interacting parts that contribute to the basic function, wherein the removal of any one of the parts causes the system to effectively cease functioning. An irreducibly complex system cannot be produced directly (that is, by continuously improving the initial function, which continues to work by the same mechanism) by slight, successive modifications of a precursor system, because any precursor to an irreducibly complex system that is missing a part is by definition nonfunctional. An irreducibly complex biological system, if there is such a thing, would be a powerful challenge to Darwinian evolution. (p. 39)[My emphases]

    In this passage, and indeed in the whole thrust of his argument, Behe is asserting the stronger claim that evolution “cannot” under any circumstances account for the observed complexity.

    If he had made the lesser claim that Intelligent Design was the more probable explanation it is unlikely that there would have been such a furore surrounding his book. The heated debate that was ignited by its publication shows that I was hardly the only one to gain the impression he was making the stronger claim.

    Even here, we had Professor Steve Fuller writing only a few threads back:

    So, peer review might have stopped Michael Behe from saying that Darwinian processes could not possibly explain the bacterial flagellum. Rather it would have limited him to saying that no agreement has been reached on such an explanation, and that it is difficult to see how agreement could be reached on the matter. This re-specification would have spared Behe from having to face a plethora of alternative accounts of how the flagellum could have evolved, none of which have been shown to be correct – but are no less possible.

    and

    To senseorsensibility: My point is that Behe tripped up rhetorically by overstating his claim, which in context had to do with his wanting to meet Darwin’s own original rhetorically exaggerated claim. A good editor could have ensured that Behe never explicitly claimed that something is ‘impossible’. ‘Improbable’ would have sufficed for his purposes.

    Perhaps you should take this up with him as well.

    If Behe wishes to revise his claim to the lesser one of improbability or clarify that such was the original intent of his book, that is not a problem.

    What is a problem is that while, as you point out, evolutionary biology is as yet unable to map out step-by-step the genetic pathways that lead from precursor systems to those alleged to be irreducibly complex, ID can do no better.

    Even though such a discovery would be groundbreaking in itself, the fact remains that even if you could demonstrate beyond a reasonable doubt that some extraterrestrial intelligence was behind the life we see around us, it would still tell us nothing about how this designer achieved it.

    In other words, ID could do no better than evolution in terms of the detailed explanations you are requiring of the latter.

  21. Seversky:

    In this passage, and indeed in the whole thrust of his argument, Behe is asserting the stronger claim that evolution “cannot” under any circumstances account for the observed complexity.

    Blind watchmaker evolution- get that straight.

    If IC was designed to evolve, well that is still ID.

    Dr Behe argues only against an accumulation of genetic accidents leading to IC.

    Even though such a discovery would be groundbreaking in itself, the fact remains that even if you could demonstrate beyond a reasonable doubt that some extraterrestrial intelligence was behind the life we see around us, it would still tell us nothing about how this designer achieved it.

    Once we infer design then someone will go about that- trying to figure out “how”.

    Stonehenge- first design determined and then years of work to figure out “how”.

    In other words, ID could do no better than evolution in terms of the detailed explanations you are requiring of the latter.

    Give ID the resources evolutionists have and then get back to me in 150 years.

  22. Joseph: “Give ID the resources evolutionists have and then get back to me in 150 years.” If 40% or so of the American people question RM & NS as being sufficient then you should have a HUGE base of funding!!

    I can see the argument, I can. But there are millions and millions of people in the US alone who agree with the ID paradigm and whom I’m sure would be happy to fund research. I would LOVE to see that research being done! Get together, pick a research agenda, get the funding! It can’t be that hard!! Not with that high a percentage of the American public behind you!! Just ask for one month . . . or maybe even one day! of offerings being targeted for this basic research!! You’ve got a HUGE funding base!! Use it!! :-)

  23. ellazimm:

    If 40% or so of the American people question RM & NS as being sufficient then you should have a HUGE base of funding!!</blockquote?

    So people = money?

    Those 40% are already giving plenty of money to the government.

    But there are millions and millions of people in the US alone who agree with the ID paradigm and whom I’m sure would be happy to fund research.

    I bet those people have other issues that are more pressing.

    But anyway the government should take the taxes those people pay and funnel that to ID and not to the evolutionists.

    How many evolutionists directly fund evolutionary research?

    What is evolutionary research?

    That is what I would love to see- actual evolutionary research that would support the claims of evolutionists.

    Where is it?

  24. Seversky: In this passage, and indeed in the whole thrust of his argument, Behe is asserting the stronger claim that evolution “cannot” under any circumstances account for the observed complexity.

    Since the “accounting for” has taken the form of imaginary evolutionary pathways I take it you believe this argument is philosophical and not empirical.

  25. Wow, the diavlog is very telling. Here is what I got out of it.

    (1) Absolute morals do exist afterall. Robert Wright and George Johnson make a case for absolute moral law when they imply that “ironclad pledges” would have to be kept (so they decide against making any). The fact that one “ought” to keep his pledge is not something evolution can explain.

    (2) Materialist explanation or nothing. Instead of letting the evidence take us wherever it leads as Behe suggests (and any honest scientist should), George Johnson is clear that unless it is a materialistic path we shouldn’t even consider it. That would make it difficult for SETI scientists or even archaelogists to disregard the non-materialistic intelligence behind their finds.

    (3) Anyone care to take on Behe? They can’t even come up with the name of a materialist scientist who can take Behe on. Behe actually is able to argue in simple terms everyone can understand and they’re having trouble thinking of someone who can do the same to go up against him. Maybe because they’ve been hiding behind all the scientific jargon no one has been able to understand for decades.

    (4) Bottom-up = chaos? Quite amusing that Johnson felt bottom-up organization led to the Behe diavlog fiasco (because Bob Wright had gone on a meditation retreat, his staffers made the decision to have Behe on). Don’t they preach that bottom-up is able to come up with really neat things. It doesn’t even work in their organization when the mastermind is unavailable in a transcendental state in some remote place.

    (5) Starting to call each other religious fanatics. Wright calls Richard Dawkins an Atheist Crusader. Most would agree.

    (6) If only these crackpot publications would just go along. Johnson doesn’t think the NY Times should even review Behe’s books (or for that matter any “carckpot” who disagrees with what Johnson believes) as that would lend legitimacy to their views. See ms to me that’s intolerance at best and communism at worse.

  26. absolutist, @25, notes that the Blogginheads leader and his “confessor” can’t come up with a materialist who could take on Behe. Dawkins’ name comes up, though, if briefly. Wouldn’t Behe mop the floor with Dawkins? I don’t even think it would be a fair fight if the subject matter fell within topics covered in Darwin’s Black Box, or Edge of Evolution. Frankly, I think Dawkins would get beaten up pretty good if the topic under discussion came out of The Selfish Gene.

    But all of this will remain pure speculation as these debates will NEVER take place.

    How about that phayr. . . prhyngu . . . phya. . . guy Meyers. He is a biologist, isn’t he? Why doesn’t he debate Behe’s work with Behe? Isn’t his website well-known among the lay scientist? It seems as though he should be able to correct poor Behe at bloggingheads.

    I read some of his critiques of Behe and came away with the idea that Behe doesn’t know anything about poker. I may have read the nub of his argument wrong, but in my defense, the nub of his argument was exceedingly short. The rest from others was just sycophantic piling on. . .

    So, the “content developers” at Bloggingheads couldn’t find these guys? That seems just a little strange to me as everybody on either side of the debate seems to know about everyone else. Even if we grant that this one came “from the bottom up” and that it was “a mistake”, why all the hand-wringing? Bloggingheads, you are about discourse, aren’t you? Well then, cut the confessional and get a discourse started.

    If you are unsure about how to do this, perhaps you should stop taking advice from the likes of G Johnson. He doesn’t seem to be very helpful. . .

    BTW, kudos to Dr. Dembski for seeing conversation for what it was — a confession, complete with pontification on the part of G Johnson. Wright seems to have his hand in all types of religion — east and west.

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