If you’re a hipper person than I, you may already know about the Great Blog Pissing Match of the moment. It’s an unlikely faceoff — Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams vs. biology professor Paul Z. Myers. The topic: Evolution vs. intellectual design.
Well, not exactly. Adams started it by bemoaning the amount of misconceptions in the whole evolution-ID discourse as most of us poor laymen know it. It’s not really a brilliant post — his last three paragraphs couldn’t be more misguided — but somewhere in the mess, there’s an interesting point about the difficulty of getting a rational opinion in the midst of an emotional argument.
Dr. Myers didn’t take too kindly to this. In a classic case of using a bazooka to kill a mosquito, he mixes sound refutations of Adams’ scientific flaws with a few straw man arguments, determined to bring the man down with his blog post. He takes Adams’ use of the word “Darwinist” to imply that Adams has adopted the Intellectual Design school’s terminology — after all, anyone who’s been following the debate would know that. Then there’s this:
Umm, OK…so Adams begs incomprehension. If that’s the case, why is he making the argument? I guess because, as he says at the beginning of his essay, ignorance “doesn’t stop anyone from having a passionate opinion.” Give that man a mirror!
But did Adams have a passionate opinion?
Well, now he might, but it would be about Myers’ reading comprehension skills, not Intelligent Design. His response is both amusing and withering, and he distills his point nicely:
Both sides misrepresent the others’ position (either intentionally or because they don’t know better or because of bias) and then attack the misrepresentation. Therefore, neither side is credible (to me).
To nit-pick, that point wasn’t completely clear in his initial post, and he did say a few things at the end of said initial post that would make any rational biologist a little cranky. But both posts make clear that his problem isn’t so much with the basic point of evolution but with the hysterics that override rational thought on the matter, and he holds up Myers’ post as evidence.
So Myers offers a response that makes you wonder if he took that same all-science, no-humanities curriculum that drove Lazlo to the tunnels in Real Genius. He has five bullet points, all misrepresenting Adams. He follows up the next day, telling all of Adams’ “followers” (very few of whom, as far as I could see, expressed even the slightest bit of advocacy in Intelligent Design — and I’m sure Adams and the bulk of his fans would disavow anyone who did) to get lost. Take a hike. He still doesn’t see that the discussion is less about evolution than it is a metadiscussion about the discussion itself, and he accuses Adams of “peddling dumb ideas.”
It’s really a classic case of two people who think they’re arguing opposite sides of a point when, in reality, they’re looking at two different bodies of evidence. Myers thinks Adams is being intellectually dishonest because he didn’t find the reputable scientists. Adams is saying he found a bunch of stuff that was intellectually dishonest, and Myers isn’t helping matters.
But then Adams makes a muck of things himself with a bizarre rant about credibility. To me — and apparently to several of the people who made comments — it reads as if no one who studies a topic can be credible on that topic because they will develop preconceived notions. Somewhere in Paris, there’s a guy in a coffeehouse spouting post-postmodernist thoughts along these lines, and we can only hope the rioters burned his car last week.
There are two possibilities when someone claims to have been misunderstood. The first is that the listener wasn’t paying attention or lacked the power of comprehension to understand it. The second is that the writer didn’t explain his point.
So we have someone who didn’t understand the initial point arguing with someone who refuses to explain his subsequent points, and they’re too busy accusing each other of intellectual dishonesty or cognitive dissonance to see what they’re doing wrong, even as those of who have left comments try desperately to slap them back into the sensible world.
And that, to me, is why the blogosphere gives me a headache.