This past Friday night, the evil young-earth creationist society-in-disguise, the IDEA club at the University of Oklahoma, opponent of all things scholarly and scientific, invited two lecturers who are, as I understand it (being no great expert in things satanic, least of all in Discovery Institute treachery) affiliated with the Discovery Inst, a leading Intelligent Design thinktank. One John West was called to speak on "7 myths of Darwinian evolution" or something similar, and Casey Luskin to speak on Academic Freedom and the Kitzmiller vs Dover trial.
Before I begin my synopsis of the night's events, the blogger known as ERV apparently believes that my church is a cult. I stand firmly opposed to such an appellation. Just because we believe that my pastor is the 2nd coming of Jesus Christ, just because we are flogged in the baptistry for questioning him, just because we believe that everyone except for members in good standing (and who give at least 23.4% of their annual income to the church) are on their way to Hell, just because leaving the church whether for conscience' sake or because one's job was transferred out of town (or because one's parents were transferred out of town) means a death sentence to be carried out as soon as possible in the dead of night with a solid silver crucifix, just because most of our church's budget is spent towards stockpiling assault weapons and most of our Sunday School curriculum deals with proper utilisation of high explosives, just because we believe that Charles Darwin was THE Antichrist, in the flesh, and that Richard Dawkins is the Beast, doesn't mean we're a cult. So, I'm only too happy to sort that all out.
Anyway, I'd estimate the audience at around 120, probably a bare majority of whom were sympathetic to ID. After John West's opening lecture, which I found to be pretty good, actually, if a tad repetitive, ERV approached the mic to ask a few questions. She engaged in a several minute long debate with West about some alleged misrepresentation, and I, to be honest, lost track of the topic, partly b/c I was myself waiting in line to ask a question and was fairly nervous (as I usually get before asking questions in front of an audience). I don't think anyone begrudged her the lengthy amount of time she took to interact with West, though I do think most were disappointed that the organisers only thought they could allow time for 4 questions. I didn't get to ask mine but instead ceded my place in line for last question to someone who would challenge West, since I was going to ask a sympathetic question. It turned out that questioner had failed to understand what I thought was a fairly elementary point from West but stubbornly would not let it go that perhaps HE was the one who was confused, not West.
I talked briefly to Ms. Smith in person during the intermission. She was cordial enough and we agreed that non-moderated blogs are more fun and valuable. Like so many bloggers (not excluding myself), her online persona is quite a bit more strident than her real-life character, and like so many (excluding myself), the former is more profane than the latter.
Luskin stirred the pot when he was speaking on academic freedom. His session was also quite interesting and valuable, I thought. Then near the end he brought up, almost as an aside, ERV's blog as an example of the kind of "welcome" that ID receives in the scholarly/academic arena. He pointed out the treatment of a commenter on ERV's blog who apparently was treated with sexual discrimination (see here ERV's admission thereof as well as numerous commenters expressing their salacious approval) (sexual discrimination b/c, as my best friend the BlackBlogger pointed out, neither she nor her commenters posted a request for above-the-waist nudity to any male commenter) after what I guess was a substantial period of time spent commenting at ERV's blog and annoying her and her commenters. I thought Luskin's presentation was strong in most of its parts except this part. This part was unnecessary and weak for a few reasons, including the following:
1) I don't have a beef with ERV moderating her comments, actually, and no one should. If someone wants to cut off someone they consider a troll, it's their blog. Maybe said commenter should get their own blog (and in this case, I believe the commenter does). Shoot, I myself was notified of my being banned from an atheist blog just a few weeks ago. You don't see me crying about it, do you? Stuff happens.
2) ERV is not exactly a scholarly arena, so I didn't really see the relevance. ERV's reasoning is very often sloppy, she makes clumsy unsupported assertions when the whim strikes, and she links to irrelevant essays in answer to challenges, and she often stretches the limits of what can fairly be described as literacy in the English language, among other things (such as flipping Casey Luskin off when they dare ask her to step down off the mic - see further down). Further, I was recently told that some of her commenters are "practicing scientists", and at least one (Albatrossity) is a biology professor at a major state university in the Midwest, yet they can barely be troubled to engage elementary questions such as these or to answer other challenges closer to their fields of study/research with much more than invective and argumenta ad incredulum. Point is, Luskin could have easily found evidence of this kind of suppression over at Pharyngula or something else, plus (though it may seem difficult at first) even more outlandish and boorish behavior.
3) He seemed to be trying to throw a bone to OU students and/or take a swipe at a local Darwinian interest. I guess I can understand that, but as the extracurricular discussions afterwards showed, it's not like their side is all that skilled in arguing for their side anyway, which is not to say they're not good at childish insults.
Anyway, when Luskin's talk was complete, ERV got up first to take the first question. I wished I had jumped up there more quickly, but I was a little hesitant because I was obviously a sympathetic questioner rather than an opponent. The problem was that when ERV got up, she decided to make the entire question period about her and defending her actions on her blog. I wonder why bother, though? Was she unwilling to let her actions stand on their own? Was she desirous of taking up the entire time so that no more nefarious and evil ID information could be distributed to the hapless cultists of Trinity Baptist or the unwashed hoi polloi of the unconvinced that were there? Only God and ERV know. Once it became obvious that she wanted to dominate the entire Q&A session, of which time was obviously limited b/c the moderator had made it clear, the eminent BlackBlogger, who was standing directly behind ERV in line for the mic, decided to speak up. He asked, in order to be heard throughout the auditorium "Could we please let someone else ask a question?" The moderator also tried to intervene but was far too gentle, actually, to dissuade her, and she argued continually for around 90 more seconds, so that the talking ranged between Luskin's wanting to answer her challenge, ERV's insistence on more time to herself on the mic, the BlackBlogger's (and to a lesser extent, my) requests for her to step down, and the moderator becoming more and more stern. He finally did win out in the contest, but by no means did he, the BlackBlogger, or I ever "scream", as ERV would later put it.
As ERV returned to her seat, disgusted, my face was turned toward the stage, but after a wave of muttering, turned again to look at her, as Luskin said something like "Did she just flip me off? She did, she flipped me off. Well, OK." I don't know what else there is to say when such a high scholarly authority as ERV resorts to 3rd-grade expressions of disapproval. Luskin was mortally wounded, of course. Crowd opinion, which had been against her b/c of its high concentration of Trinity Baptist cultists and the skilled presentations by West and Luskin, was turned immediately! From then on, everyone was hostile to ID and clamored to join the nearest secular humanist and Darwinian campus organisation, so powerful was the rebuttal from ERV's single finger!
My turn was next, actually, and I prefaced my question by stating that I have been on her blog for a few weeks commenting and have not been moderated. ERV and her commenters have stated they consider that I acted honorably in this. I would agree and appreciate that statement, and at the same time I failed to mention pertinent information, and in this I regret that I unintentionally turned the tables on Luskin, who I thought had done a fine job. I should have said something more like, "I've been commenting on her blog for a couple of weeks and ERV has never moderated any of my comments. I have, however, been treated with gratuitous and fairly powerful derision, irrelevant and prejudicial insult, and abundant profanity while there." This would have been a fuller statement of the actual fact of my interaction there, and I apologise openly to Mr. Luskin for my less than fair statement, which served to obscure the actual issues at hand and to, as it were, throw him under the bus on account of a minor, peripheral part of his presentation which ERV hubristically inflated and in which inflation I unwittingly assisted.
After a few more unremarkable questions, we adjourned and security asked us to leave the building but that we could stand around outside the front door for awhile if we wished. My friends and I gathered there, and later ERV and a group of her friends arrived. I, not wishing to lose the opportunity to discuss, walked over to a few of them as they were discussing the Wedge document. I later had the opportunity to talk with Aseem, the President of the Center For Inquiry, and Scott, the VP. Both were very cordial, but neither equipped to deal with the questions we were asking. For example, I asked them to provide their strongest general line of evidence that the variety of life that we see today is best explained by unguided nat sel working on random mutations from one or a few common ancestors. Scott responded "the fossil record". I asked him about the arguments that Henry Gee has recently forwarded, to which he had no answer, and then explained the massive assumptions that must be brought to bear in the case of EACH AND EVERY fossil. It's not evidence at all. We discussed the nature of evidence, the impossibility that naturalism is true, and how we as Christians can know that other religions are false (ie, via internal critique). Aseem, for whatever reason, didn't stick around for the pummeling his worldview was taking, but Scott exhibited an astonishing (for a college-age Darwinian proponent) level of intellectual honesty and stuck around.
Meanwhile, the BlackBlogger (as he told me on the phone the next day) had asked one of ERV's friends, who apparently is a past President of the CFI, to define the steps of the scientific method, which had actually appeared on the screen during the presentations that night. Said gentlemen responded with "first you make a hypothesis, then you perform an experiment, then you submit it to a peer-reviewed journal". Wrong answer. The BlackBlogger rightly and patronisingly patted him on the shoulder with a "OK, maybe I should go find someone who knows what they're talking about", went to ERV and said something to the effect of "I think you should educate your betas about what the scientific method is". "Betas" meaning "beta males", as opposed to alpha males. Not a really nice thing to say, but that's sure how her posse looked to us, and I don't know too many who'd accuse ERV of excessive niceness. BB and ERV then began what looked to me to be a fairly heated antagonistic conversation, part of which she has apparently chronicled here (he's the "creationist law student" she refers to). Among other things, he asked her to name "the 5 amino acids". What he meant to request, and misspoke, was the 5 nucleotides. He also asked a few other fairly elementary (for a grad-level student in the sciences) questions. The reason for this was the astonishing ignorance of one of her fanboys about the basic scientific method; he had heard a little about ERV but found it hard to believe that she could actually be a real scientist, given her inability during the Q&A period to engage questions asked of her and her penchant rather to mock the speakers and defend her blogging. I later recommended that he *ask* such a person about their positions before engaging them, since you don't always know what you're going to get, and he agreed.
Overall, a good evening for ID and a just short of embarrassing performance on the part of campus Darwinians. One hopes for a more honest and better-equipped showing at the upcoming Dembski-Ruse debate.