Tuesday, September 01, 2009

One Flew Over the Darwinists' Nest

Sean Carroll is one of those open-minded science types who are always generously offering the rest of us lectures on the importance of intellectual freedom and open inquiry--at least when the subject of discussion is buried in the annals of history. When it comes to people debating issues today, however, there are other things which must be taken into consideration.

Like whether Carroll agrees with them.

He is particularly upset about Bloggingheads.tv running a dialogue between John McWhorter and Intelligent Design advocate Michael Behe, a professional scientist. "Unfortunately," he says, "I won’t be appearing on Bloggingheads.tv any more."

So there.

Bloggingheads.tv is a site that bills itself as "a place where great minds don't think alike," a slogan that sounds suspiciously like a description of a place where great minds don't actually think alike. Carroll's problem with the site is that it included a dialogue with someone he doesn't think like--namely, Michael Behe--and he doesn't think this is something that a site designed for discussion between people who don't agree should do.

Here is Carroll, expounding on his reasons from opposing open discussion on bloggingheads.tv:

Here’s the distinction I want to draw, which might admittedly be a very fine line. If someone wants to talk about ID as a socio/religio/political phenomenon worth of study by anthropologists and sociologists, that’s fine. (Presumably the right people to have that discussion are anthropologists or sociologists or historians/philosophers of science, not biochemists who have wandered into looney land.) If someone wants to talk to someone who believes in ID about something that person has respectable thoughts about, that would also be fine with me. If you want to talk to a theologian about theology, or a politician about politics, or an artist about art, the fact that such a person has ID sympathies doesn’t bother me in the least.

But if you present a discussion about the scientific merits of ID, with someone who actually believes that such merits exist — then you are wasting my time and giving up on the goal of having a worthwhile intellectual discussion. Which is fine, if that’s what you want to do. But it’s not an endeavor with which I want to be associated.
In other words, a site dedicated to discussions between people who don't agree shouldn't run any dialogues that includes people who don't agree with Carroll. And if it does, then Carroll's not going to be associated with it. He'll just go back over to his own blog, where the only people to disagree with are the people who agree with him.

This is a man who stands on principle.

G. K. Chesterton and George Bernard Shaw once debated the question, "Do we agree?" Carroll and Bloggingheads.tv are now debating the question of whether two people who don't agree should debate the question of whether two people who don't agree should debate. About whether two people who don't agree should debate, that is.

Of course, the difference is that Chesterton and Shaw conducted their debate in full knowledge that it was a joke.

After Bloggingheads-tv posted the dialogue, it apparently received complaints from Carroll and his allies, on the grounds that people like Behe were "crackpots." So it took the post down. But then the hard-to-please Carroll, who complained that the site should never have posted the dialogue in the first place, got upset when the site took it down:
Then, to make things more bizarre, the dialogue suddenly disappeared from the site. I still have very little understanding why that happened. The reason given was that it was removed at McWhorter’s behest, because he didn’t think it represented him, Behe, or BH.tv very well. I’m sure that is the reason it was removed, although I have no idea what McWhorter was thinking — either when he proposed the dialogue, or while he was doing it, or when he asked that it be taken down.
In other words, Carroll complained about the post being put up. Bloggingheads.tv took the post down. Then Carroll complained that the site took the post down.

If only Bloggingheads.tv would act in as non-erratic a fashion as Carroll, maybe he would come back and be associated with the site again. Then it wouldn't, like, be so bizarre.

But Carroll gives the reason he was upset that the site took the post down:
That feeds right into the persecution complex of the creationists, who like nothing more than to complain about how they are oppressed by the system.
Carroll is against giving people he disagrees with any excuse to complain that they are oppressed by the system. And the best way to do that, he suggests, is by never giving them a chance to speak in the first place. It's so simple, really.

Oh, but then there's the last part of the saga: Bloggingheads.tv put the post back up! And if you think this pleased the dyspeptic Carroll, why, you're just not paying attention.

Remember, these Intelligent Design people are crackpots. Unlike Carroll. Who's not.


Jim Willmot said...

Funny how the rules of Cohran's blog demand no name calling and yet he implies that scientist Sean Carrol's boycott of Bloggerhead is insane (one flew over the Darwin Nest). Reading Carrol's reasons for the boycott make perfect sense...he first states that Bebe has every right to discuss his beliefs in a philosophy forum. However, his problem is that Bebe's inference of intelligent design is not science and should not be billed as science, which the ID/creationism crowd are constantly trying to do. How can a rational person argue with this? The evidence is overwhelming that complex life forms evolved from simple life forms...even Bebe agrees with this...yet he has a problem with the details and resorts to the argument of credulity....it is just so amazing it must have been divinely designed...despite the evidence that natural selection can create any number of intricate and amazing systems, given 3.8 billion years. Science is asking questions that may never be answered...religion gives answers that may never be questioned. Martin...it is you that that inhabit the cuckoos nest...

Lee said...

> The evidence is overwhelming that complex life forms evolved from simple life forms...even Bebe agrees with this...

Behe does not "even" agree with this; Behe agrees with this.

If that comes as a surprise, then perhaps you do not yet grasp the point of ID.

Martin Cothran said...


There is a difference between hurling hateful epithets--which is what I mean by "name-calling", and poking fun at someone, which is what I was doing with the title.

And I don't have any problem with someone advocating evolution. My problem is with people who, out of one side of their mouth talk about the freedom of thought and open discourse, and out of the other endorse censorship.

That's the problem.

Anonymous said...


So Sean Carroll is upset? What could have lead you to the conclusion?
Maybe this, quoting from Sean,

{It’s too easy to guess at what someone else is thinking, then argue against that, rather than work to understand where they are coming from.}

Amusing I must say. Sean Carroll has had a serious full-time job on his hands working towards tenure, doggedly, since he completed his PhD in physics in 1993. Never has he sounded upset, not even when he was denied tenure a few years back at UChicago. Cosmology and theoretical physics in general is a tough area and rejection is the norm.

No scientist has demanded that Bloggingheads take down the video in question. McWhorter did. And when BHTV did take it down, it is scientists again who pointed us out to the link of the archived version, which is where I saw a clueless McWhorter play Larry King to a very contented Behe. Of course we will never know why all these worthies who cry "Persecution!", Behe, Chapman and the entire DI crowd can't run a real blog. Instead what we have is a DI ENV that disables comments and even cuts out links to other blogs. Another worthy Dr. Egnor won't even share his email ID!


Lee said...

Sometimes people cry "Persecution!" when they're really being persecuted.

Martin Cothran said...

So Sean Carroll is upset? What could have lead you to the conclusion?

Uh,let's see. How about:

"Certainly none of we scientists who were disturbed that the dialogue existed in the first place ever asked that it be removed.

"...we were a little perturbed..."

"...we were a bit startled..."

If you think Carroll is passionless creature of some sort I don't necessarily have a problem with that. Maybe he is pure Vulcan, I don't know.

But it doesn't change the point that he doesn't want a site that claims to offer a platform for people with diverse views to allow certain kinds of diverse views.

Anonymous said...


So you agree Sean is disturbed, startled, and perturbed, not upset. Thanks!

And yes he doesn't want a site that claims to provide a platform for divergent views to allow people who ignore science to argue with scientists. Divergent views informed by science are OK. Disagreement in the face of scientifically established explanations is not OK. Since BHTV will not defer to Sean and Carl decided it is best they leave BHTV. Wright is free to host anyone he wants. As for the videos by now it should be clear to all conspiracy theorists that it is not the scientists who had it taken down. It is McWhorter himself who no doubt embarrassed by the feedback he received from fellow academics, decided he had made a mistake of enormous proportions. These things do happen. This is not ancient times when the scope of human knowledge was rather limited and there were polymaths. Today an academic in the humanities may know nothing about the state of science in biology. So when serious academics seek knowledge in fields other than their own they turn to fellow academics. McWhorter must have done a quick read on the credentials of Carl Zimmer and Sean Carroll and must have also looked up the home page of Lehigh's Biology Department, and must have concluded that he had made a mistake in doing a Larry King with Behe.


Lee said...

I looked up "upset" at http://thesaurus.reference.com and the number one word out of the gate was "disturbed."

Now, whether Sean Carroll really was upset/disturbed or not, it is clear where Martin got the idea that he might be.

Martin Cothran said...


Maybe you could expound on the important differences between being disturbed and perturbed on one hand, and being upset on the other for those of us who just aren't getting the fundamental difference.

I am also wondering why the people who advocate Behe being blackballed from bloggingheads.tv think it is so important to point out that they didn't request the post be taken down once it was up. Why is the former less deserving of the label "censorship" than the latter?

And while you're at it, maybe you could give an actual reason why Behe should not have been invited on bloggingheads.tv. So far, unlike Behe, who you have criticized, I haven't seen an actual argument from you.