Saturday, January 1, 1994

Provine vs. Johnson in Palo Alto, CA

The debate between Will Provine and Philip Johnson features an unfortunate excess of the circumstantial ad hominem.  Indeed, both speakers lead with this fallacy in their respective opening statements, but whereas Provine moves on to start bringing in evidence, Johnson relies primarily on this fallacy to make his persuasive arguments.  Johnson goes on to make the case that if something looks complex and functional, it must therefore be designed, harking all the way back to Paley.

Mostly, Johnson and Provine hash over the usual arguments for and against evolution, but there were a few fascinating moments.  Provine briefly but forcefully attacks the idea free will as an excuse for retributive thinking, resulting in untold suffering, and launches a couple other flanking attacks on supernaturalism which seem fairly far afield from the subject matter.  Johnson makes a few arguments which make it sound as if he was seriously considering launching the intelligent design movement posthaste, if only he can find a math geek and maybe a lab geek to get things rolling.

What makes this debate stand out from others is that the speakers were good-naturedly ribbing each other throughout. This was explained early on when they indicated that they are personal friends and intend to go out for a beer afterwards.  Overall, I’d give it a 4.0 or so.

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