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How Not to Debate — Lawrence Krauss in Toronto

When someone opens what should be a scholarly debate with name-calling, innuendo, and accusations of dishonesty, it’s hard to respect that person. Dr. Lawrence Krauss acted like an arrogant bully, which is too bad. It doesn’t reflect his genuine scientific achievements. But his intemperate rant during the Krauss, Meyer, Lamoureux “What’s Behind It All? God, Science, and the Universe” debate Saturday night in Toronto was in no way worthy of scholarship.

Krauss claimed the he didn’t know who he would be debating and would not have come if he had. (Whom did he think he would- be debating, with the topic at hand?) In fact, if he has as little respect for religion as he exhibited during the debate, why debate on this topic at all? Surely it couldn’t have been to have an opportunity to insult people of faith and declare his superiority, could it? (If that sounds snide, please excuse me.)

This was followed by an inaccurate portrayal of Discovery Institute’s policy about teaching of intelligent design in public schools. In fact he accused Dr. Meyer of lying. But since Discovery Institute in fact does not advocate teaching intelligent design in public school classrooms, and never has, all I can say is that either Dr. Krauss has not done his homework, or he himself was engaged in misrepresentation. He continued to insult Meyer, saying he wasn’t done with his “disparaging.” That’s the truth, anyway.

Why the overt hostility? Why not offer legitimate arguments, rather than wasting time belittling his opponent? Is it because he had no argument that did not involve bluster and mockery? Maybe it was because he was playing to the atheists in the crowd, who appreciated his every jibe.

At one point in his talk he switched to physics, which is his field. That was a welcome relief. At last some content! He argued that the universe came into being because of quantum fluctuations, and showed some actual data, though he couldn’t resist throwing in occasional cheap shots at Meyer. That was the one moment where he made a scientific argument as his contribution to the debate.

As time went on, though, it became clear he understood nothing of biology, comparing proteins to snowflakes, and didn’t understand Meyer’s argument about the rarity of functional protein folds either. He kept declaring that natural selection did it, and then that the intelligent design argument was “God did it.” (It’s not, by the way.) He presented few reasoned arguments, and ignored statements and arguments from both Lamoureux and Meyer, simply declaring his “facts” to be obvious and universally held. This was not a principled and reasoned case, it was a declaration of dogma.

Even where he should have known better, he seemed blind to the obvious. For example, he described an evolutionary algorithm, a program that learned how to play Go, and said that this was evidence that there was no need for a designer. He didn’t seem to realize that someone wrote the program that learned.

It would have been much more interesting if he had stuck to fields he knows well. He made an argument against the fine-tuning of the universe, for example. It would have been nice to hear more about that. Instead, Krauss presented a caricature of intelligent design and then mocked it all throughout the debate.

I can only assume he doesn’t know what intelligent design is. He also doesn’t know how to engage in an intelligent debate.

Ann Gauger

Senior Fellow, Center for Science and Culture
Dr. Ann Gauger is Director of Science Communication and a Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute Center for Science and Culture, and Senior Research Scientist at the Biologic Institute in Seattle, Washington. She received her Bachelor's degree from MIT and her Ph.D. from the University of Washington Department of Zoology. She held a postdoctoral fellowship at Harvard University, where her work was on the molecular motor kinesin.



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