For His Substance-Free Contribution to the Debate with Stephen Meyer, American Spectator Readers Pummel John Derbyshire
Congratulations to The American Spectator for having such sensible readers. Sometimes it's gratifying to find that the people who should know better actually do.
In January, the conservative magazine featured paired articles by Stephen Meyer and John Derbyshire arguing respectively for and against intelligent design. Derbyshire "argued" only in the limited sense of tossing off snide insults and trying to paint ID absurdly with the brush of "Occasionalism," a medieval theological concept about which it's not really worth going into further detail.
Now in the letters section of the March issue, readers pummel Mr. Derbyshire for failing to "address the scientific arguments for ID," "completely fail[ing] to address any of the issues raised by Stephen C. Meyer," offering only "ad hominem attacks on those scientists who are proponents of Intelligent Design as the 'inference to the best explanation' to describe the biodiversity of life on planet Earth," and more.
Writes Don Hibbard of Howell, MI:
Mr. Derbyshire expends a great deal of ink attempting to discredit Intelligent Design (ID) by linking ID-ers to Occasionalism and other metaphysical straw men instead of dealing with the criticisms of evolutionary orthodoxy. If the genesis of matter and life forming due to a non-material agent is too metaphysical to allow scientific acceptance, perhaps Mr. Derbyshire can expound on how materialistic occasionalism (everything happens because time and chance make it happen) is more reasonable, despite the facts that the spontaneous generation of matter ex nihilo (big bang), generation of life from non-life, and subsequent living transitional life forms (molecules to man) have never been observed. I think it is legitimate to expect answers to these points supported with observational and repeatable examples devoid of hand-waving and "just so" storytelling. Or, an honest "we don't yet know" will suffice.
Derbyshire responds with the excuse that he's "a commentator on social, cultural, and political issues." So you shouldn't look to him for an analysis of the relevant science in a "magazine of social, cultural, and political commentary." Instead he directs readers to old articles from the TalkOrigins website and commends what he evidently regards as an incomprehensible paragraph from Nick Matzke's "review" of Darwin's Doubt at Panda's Thumb.
Derbyshire hails Matzke as a "paleobiologist" -- which in fact he's not -- and asks, in wonderment and admiration at the latter's arcane prose, "Is this the kind of thing TAS readers want in the magazine?" The point seems to be, I can't understand what Matzke says and neither could you, so let's both agree that he must be right.
Derb, who notes that he has "a university degree and a longstanding interest" in math, is impressed that at TalkOrigins he gets 3,130 hits for the phrase "information theory" and 2,150 for "transitional forms," while Matzke's review has "9,400 words and several elaborate diagrams." These large numbers assure John Derbyshire that he's on the right track.
But wait a minute. A journalist's cardinal rule is that with art and effort, anything can be explained to anyone. If Derbyshire hasn't made that effort, and doesn't understand the scientific argument about ID even at a sufficient level to write about it as a journalist, why did he undertake to comment? As a thoughtful person, on what grounds does he hold an opinion at all?
In the same section, Stephen Meyer responds to some letter writers, who, unlike Derbyshire, raise substantive objections to his "probabilistic reasoning." Dr. Meyer replies in a similarly edifying spirit. It makes for an informative exchange. The contrast with John Derbyshire is illuminating.
As an aside, it would be interesting to ask Dr. Matzke how he feels about having an admirer like Derbyshire, formerly a senior editor at National Review who was booted from NR for insisting on his right to publish crude insults directed at African-Americans. Derbyshire has since gone on to enjoy an association with the toxic Taki Magazine where he serves in the self-described role of "race reporter" alongside Robert Weissberg, the latter having been ousted from National Review about the same time that Derbyshire was, for white nationalist associations.
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