The Dilbert Past


I linked to Scott Adams’ blog in the Grapefruit notables a little while back. Only a few weeks after launching his blog, he got himself into a spot of controversy with this post on the debate between Evolution and Intelligent Design. A scientist/blogger known as PZ Myers responded with ‘Scott Adams is a Wally’.

And then, of course, it keeps going: I’m really only blogging this to conveniently link to all the steps of the debate. So, in chronological order:

  1. Scott responds to general criticism in his comments here, before specifically responding to Myers’ response in this post.
  2. Myers responds to the response with an attempt to summarise Adams position.
  3. Adams responds with a discussion of who he finds credible, which seems to be his point in all this.
  4. Myers explains what his problem with Adams’ original post is.
  5. Adams encourages people to tell him why he’s stupid.
  6. Myers responds by explaining what he thought Adams was wrong about. And he uses a Calvin and Hobbes picture so he gets bonus points.
  7. Someone at spoofs Adams’ original post.
  8. The results of Adams’ ‘Why I’m Stupid’ post are posted.

And I think that brings us up to date. If anyone can be bothered reading all, or some, of that: what do you think? I think Adams thinks he’s debunking pathetic excuses for debate. I think Myers thinks he’s stopping a popular thinker from even suggesting there is a debate. I think Adams isn’t quite used to how debates on the internet go. I think Myers is a bit battle-hardened by them.


6 Responses to “The Dilbert Past”

  1. I agree that Adams probably wasn’t quite expecting the blowback from his original post (nor would I have been, for that matter), but he did kinda go off the rails in the middle there. I blame the personal manner in which Myers’ initially responded for the sh!tfight that ensued, it wasn’t at all necessary or particularly helpful to his cause.

  2. Rereading Adam’s first post it seems his original aim was merely to comment on the convoluted structure of the debate between evolution and ID. People natually assumed that it was an actual debate about evolution/ID and attacked with fervour, as Scott had said that he was undecided (and therefore needed convincing) and threw in a bunch of badly used arguments and terms for each side into his post. His points about the different arguments were only meant to illustrate the nature of the debate not an attack on each side but due to a lack of clarity in their phrasing they appeared that way. After talking about misrepresenting the arguments for each side, he misrepresented the arguments for both sides, initiating a typical net flame war. Scott criticises people for misrepresenting him, not realising that he did it first.

    Then, like in all good debates, he changes topic halfway through and argues that because he’s stupid he’s unable to look up and understand primary sources so he needs a credible peron to convince him, of which there are none. The topic is now Scott’s opinion of who’s credible. A wonderfully ego-centric and not very helpful defense. He also mentions that he was being ironic – which until the invention of some kind of irony symbol for use on the net will remain a handy strategy.

    He didn’t define what part of the darwinism/ID debate he was talking about. Some people assumed he was talking about the recent Kansas School Board’s decision to include ID in its science classes hence argued against ID being a science; others picked some version of the general debate between evolution and creationism and argued that. He also didn’t cite sources – necessary for a rational debate – which shows poor essay writing skills. It was only a blog so one isn’t expected to go to great lengths but a couple of links aren’t hard to do.

    As an effort to discuss evolution or how debates work, it’s a failure. Debating was popular in Ancient Greece. Since then I’m sure someone has written a comprehensie classification of debating techniques. Scott’s just rediscovering them for himself. As an attempt to start a flame war, it’s a success.

    There seems to me to be a spectrum of beliefs out there about this topic. From literal readings of the bible and creationism, to ID without evolution then ID with evolution, to pure science. The multitude of possible positions and the range of topics (religion / philosophy / science) make this debate muddled. Not helping is that everyone is sure that they are right and want to convince others of the truth of their position. There aren’t many undecided people out there who care enough to pay attention so the debates are largely wasted.

    On teaching ID in schools, I think that teachers teaching something lends a lot of weight to that subject in the students’ eyes. While being taught the current accepted wisdom in each subject, students should be exposed to lots of ideas and taught to think critically and have an open mind. (I remember in Physics we worked our way through the history of astronomy and discussed the prevaling theory of each time – why it was believed then and why it was abandonned.) It also should be remembered that most people are idiots and will forget what they learned in school so it’s probably all irrelevant anyway.

    That was a good post about Dilbert’s mother.

  3. The issue of whether ID should be taught in schools seems the only interesting and worthwhile aspect of the debate to me. But even then, I can’t see why people aren’t happy to teach these options in religious education classes.

    Adams has just made another post talking about that very issue. He suggests that modern scientists are the ones that define what science is, and that therefore it’s some shifting thing that depends on who has power (I think. I’m paranoid about misrepresenting him).

    As far as I can see, science isn’t just some shifting idea, there’s no different interpretations of what it’s supposed to be (but plenty as to how to go about it). No matter how you look at it, the Bible, or any other religious text, is secondary evidence, like reading any book one finds that says something happens.

    It simply can’t be given weight above physical evidence of what happened. People sometimes write down untrue things. People more rarely artificially fossilize things.

  4. Scott makes scientists sound like an exclusive gentlemen’s club, desperate to exclude things that might shake their world belief and ID like some plucky whistleblower trying to bring down the evil corporation. He does like to poke bears.

    He doesn’t state that the definition of science shifts depending on who has the power.

  5. He says “You can’t argue with the people who MAKE the definitions” which suggests that scientists these days are redefining the word.

    Your summary is better though.

  6. I meant to reply to James, too, but I was distracted by the sheer size of Andy’s post. I agree that PZ’s tone was a very argumentative one, which I’m familiar with from various internet debates. But then, you could almost call Adams’ post “flamebait” — even Adams admits to liking to rile people up in one of his responses, which is bad net-behaviour. Doesn’t he know the Internet is full of pointless arguments?