Field of Science

Supremely incompatible accounts of an ID/evolution debate

This is really strange.

It's not that I don't know that when two opposing sides debate, they will often walk away with different observations of what went down. We are human, and we are biased. We will naturally focus on the wins we get in, and automatically downplay our losses. So when Shermer/Prothero debates Meyer/Sternberg on Nevember 30th, it is not unsurprising that they will each report that the debate went well on December 1st.

But this is just waaaay over the top in that category. The accounts are parsecs apart.

Jonathan Wells and Robert Crowther each posted victory cries on the discotute's website, Evolution New & Views.

It was all shaping up to be a serious heavyweight bout. And then Meyer and Sternberg simply KO'd the competition in the opening round. If I were being generous I might say that Prothero tripped over his own arrogance and impaled himself on his condescension, but let's be honest; he was completely knocked out by Sternberg. I think Sternberg earned a third degree tonight, one in evolutionary bulldozing.
I read this first, and though to myself that surely he is exaggerating, but perhaps Prothero did somehow trip and make a fool of himself, perhaps misspeaking on some factual issue.

More Crowther:
To call the debate a massacre would be a discredit to Sitting Bull. The only thing I can say is that Shermer needs to add a point to his booklet on how to debate "creationists" — namely, leave Donald Prothero at home in his van by the river.

This guy is to be taken seriously? I had to remind myself not to laugh every so often during his presentation — it was so pathetic and ill-informed. Basically, Shermer and Prothero blathered on about supernaturalism, and Meyer ceded his time to Sternberg, who made an interesting presentation about whale evolution


Some of the best points came later in the debate, when Sternberg slammed Prothero with factual put down after factual put down, citing the current literature time and again. His command of the subject matter — from population genetics to junk DNA — was so far and above beyond Shermer and Prothero's knowledge, so far above their pay grade, that it was almost painful to watch him school them point after point.
Wow, right? Even if we expect the "winners" to exaggerate somewhat more than slightly, this is as far as I can tell an account of rare kind of resounding victory in a creationism/ID vs. evolution battle.

So, I looked around after an account from Shermer or Prothero, and found Prothero's on Panda's Thumb.
My subjective summary of it is that our side did very well: I caught them off-guard with new arguments they had no answer for;
Wait, what? I had to double-check that there weren't two different debates, but no.

More Prothero:
we both pushed them hard on the fact that neither of them ever addressed the topic of the debate, “Origins of Life.” I could tell that they were rattled a number of times, and I definitely shook up Meyer and got under his skin with my answers.


We both chastised them on ignoring the debate topic entirely, but to their minds, the debate was about Neo-Darwinian gradual selection.


At another point, I tried to get in a complete rebuttal to Sternberg’s weird whale argument, highlighting his invalid assumptions about population size, reproductive rates, and the constancy of point mutations, and arguing that a lot of people are looking at evo/devo to explain the suite of soft-tissue modifications that whales show. Somewhere in there, Meyer used the “condescending” sympathy line but their rebuttal to evo/devo was so garbled that they ended up arguing with each other about those hypothetical reconstructions of 12-winged dragonflies and completely missed the point of evo/devo. (I never got a chance to set that one straight). I knew they were desperate when they suddenly pulled out their “junk DNA” kit of lies, and I slammed them with endogenous retroviruses, pseudogenes, and the onion argument — and then Sternberg got all tangled up admitting these were real but trying to dismiss their importance. Even though the moderator let them get away with more time and interruptions, I feel like we held our own, and most of their garbage got a least a partial challenge and rebuttal from our side.

We then each took a few questions from the audience and moderator, and most were a piece of cake to answer.


We must have done something right to rattle Meyer as we did, getting under his skin so that he tried to question my qualifications to talk about molecular biology (and then I cut in with “I have a degree in biology”), pull out his “condescension” sympathy line, and now the DI flacks are now busy trying to spin and lie their way out of the debacle.


Several of the fence-sitters in the audience said I’d convinced them and beat the creationists soundly.
I mean, can these two accounts, supposedly of the same event, really be more at odds? I don't know who the heck Crowther is, but I do know Prothero. I read his book, I heard him talk, we've emailed, and he commented here. This gives me some feeling that he knows what he is talking about, that he isn't some kind of lunatic paleontologist, and that his words carry some weight. (I also know Shermer quite well, and can say the same things about him and his area of expertise.) But Crowther? I have no clue. I hesitate to Google him before I have written this... may I'll do it later. Stephen Meyer is a philosopher. Perhaps you see what I am getting at...?

But, do read both accounts and compare them yourself. And if we're real lucky, a video of the whole debate will go up in the near future, and we can all see for ourselves (that is the plan). I'll for sure see it and write about the experience.

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