Dr. Shallit Takes the Fifth - Evolution News & Views

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Dr. Shallit Takes the Fifth

On a very important question that goes to the heart of the debate about Darwinism and intelligent design, Dr. Jeffrey Shallit is exercising his right to remain silent. Dr. Shallit had recently used the example of S.E.T.I. research on a blog post in which he ridiculed author and editor Tom Bethell for defending intelligent design. Mr. Bethell pointed out that it's perfectly appropriate for scientists use the inference to design under certain circumstances, and he believes that biology is one of them. Dr.Shallit ridiculed him, calling him a "blathering buffoon", a 'liar', 'gullible', 'dishonest', and ''simply stupid' and categorizing his views as "Idiocy". I was taken back by Dr. Shallit's incivility and lack of professionalism- he's a professor responsible for teaching students appropriate standards of discourse, for goodness sake- and I responded to his post.

I replied that the analogy between the inference to design in S.E.T.I. research and the inference to design in biology was to some extent valid, and asked Dr. Shallit a question:

If the scientific discovery of a 'blueprint' [in a signal from space] would justify the design inference, then why is it unreasonable to infer that the genetic code was designed?

It's a simple enough question, and it gets to the heart of the debate over intelligent design. If the receipt of a coded signal from space - for example a blueprint to build a complex device- would be immediately recognized as designed, why do Darwinists insist that the inference to design in biology isn't at least a reasonable inference, open to the same kind of scientific investigation to which we would subject a coded 'blueprint' signal picked up by a radio telescope?

I have twice asked Dr. Shallit, a leading professor of computer science who studies and teaches information theory, to answer this simple question, which after all, hinges on information theory. These are Dr. Shallit's replies:

Dear Prof. Egnor:

I wonder if you see any irony in the fact that, while intelligent design proponents are complaining about the suppression of their views and the unwillingness of scientists to debate, you attack me from a weblog that does not allow comments, while the Panda's Thumb and Recursivity are open to comments from everyone ... including you.

Oddly, Dr. Shallit makes this claim from his own blog. He's hardly being denied an opportunity to respond, and I happily link to his answers. I have nothing to do with the administrative decisions made at Evolution News and Views, but I suspect that we don't accept comments because of some fairly evident problems with simple civility in the Darwinist blogsphere (something that Dr. Shallit knows a bit about).

Then he asks, obviously piqued:

P. S. Is it your general practice to steal copyrighted photos from people's websites without asking their permission?

I had included Dr. Shallit's portrait on my post- I didn't know it was copyrighted! Sorry- it was a nice photo, and it did liven up the post. It seems a minor point- what about the scientific question that I asked...?

Then he brings this up, out of left field:

Dr. Egnor says nothing at all about his friend Tom Bethell's support for crackpot views on AIDS. Apparently, where Dr. Egnor comes from, if you discourage efficacious treatment for a life-threatening disease, that's just fine. He's in good company: other prominent creationists, such as Phillip Johnson, maintain the same views. Here's an issue where a word from Egnor, a medical doctor, could really have an impact. The silence from Dr. Egnor is deafening.

Of course, I didn't ask Dr. Shallit anything about AIDS, I asked him about the genetic code and the inference to design...

Next, he writes:

If you're going to cite me, Prof. Egnor, please spell my name correctly. Thanks
.

And finally,

So I'll make you a deal, Prof. Egnor: you answer my questions, and I'll answer yours. You first
.

Ok. Actually, only one was a question- "Is it your general practice to steal copyrighted photos... ", and my answer is- no. I apologize, and I apologize in advance for any other slights I might have committed.

It seems to me (and I'm sure I'm not alone) as if Dr. Shallit is trying to avoid answering my question. Now, if I may, I'd like to repeat my question (this is the third try!):

If the scientific discovery of a 'blueprint' [in a signal from space] would justify the design inference, then why is it unreasonable to infer that the genetic code was designed?

Dr. Shallit teaches information theory. He should have no trouble explaining why Darwinists deny that the design inference is relevant to understanding biological complexity. Perhaps if I rephrased my question, Dr. Shallit would feel comfortable answering it:

Why is the design inference accepted by astronomers but not by biologists?

Please Dr. Shallit, I'd like to know your answer.