Twisting recent history (creationism), 1


It’s only nine months since Judge John Jones’ extremely well-reasoned and carefully-written decision in Kitzmiller vs. Dover Area School District, which declared unconstitutional the efforts by the school board in Dover, Pennsylvania, to sneak creationism into their schools’ biology curriculum. But the revisionists are out in force. On August 8, Joe Carter at Evangelical Outpost posted “10 ways Darwinists help intelligent design,” in extreme length.

Other people were bothered by the post, too. I see that Matt over at Pooflingers fisked the thing, too. I haven’t read his post yet — his is no doubt more incisive than what I’ve written below. But can there be too much taking to task those who would sacrifice our children’s education on a cross of hooey?

You can go read the entire thing at Evangelical Outpost if you want. I’ll post the list of ten, with corrections. History revisionism is an ugly thing, especially when the court decision is still fresh, available and an easy and educational read, and especially on things scientific, where one’s errors may be easier to spot. In keeping with the ethical standards of this blog, to expose hoaxes about bathtubs wherever they may appear, here goes; Joe says scientists help the pseudo-science of intelligent design:

#1 By remaining completely ignorant about ID while knocking down strawman versions of the theory. – Whether due to intellectual snobbery or intellectual laziness, too many critics of ID never bother to understand what the term means, much less learn the general tenets of the theory. Instead, they knock down a strawman version of ID that they have gleaned from other, equally ill-informed, critics. The belligerent or paranoid advocates of ID will assume that the misrepresentation is due to dishonesty or a conspiracy by “Darwinists.” But even those who are more charitable will agree that when a critic misrepresents the theory, it undermines their own credibility.

One of the great difficulties of criticizing the non-science nonsense of intelligent design is the simple fact that there is nothing to know about it. No ID advocate has ever posed a hypothesis of intelligent design that can be tested, nor has any ever gone farther to propose a theory of intelligent design. The most diligent scientist can read 5,000 pages of hoakum on intelligent design, and accurately summarize what the brahmins of ID say they think it is, and the next ID advocate can say — will say — that the scientist has misdescribed what ID really is.

This is why court cases are useful in debunking ID, and why ID advocates do all they can to avoid ever getting into a court. As Ben Franklin observed, truth wins in a fair fight. That is why we have evidence rules in federal courts. When evidence is required to meet standards of accuracy and reality, even a judge not trained in science can see that intelligent design has no clothes, and not even a skeleton to hang clothes on.

Science advocates knock down “straw-man” versions of intelligent design because that is all that any ID advocate has ever described. If ID advocates get beyond the straw-man description, those explanations will be knocked down, too, if they are as fact-free and scientifically vacuous as ID is today.

There is no laboratory in the U.S., nor anywhere else on Earth, where ID is being tested in any way. Even ID advocates like Michael Behe at Lehigh University do not do research in ID. Indeed one can say that intelligent design is to biology what cold fusion is to nuclear physics — but lacking the experimental support that cold fusion has.
Next, Joe writes:

#2 By claiming that ID is stealth creationism. — Resorting to this red herring is one of the most common arguments made against ID. While it’s true that ID could be used to promote a particular religious agenda, this is not a sufficient argument against it being a legitimate scientific research program. There is no a priori reason why a research program could not be completely in adherence to accepted scientific methods and yet be completely compatible with a particular religious viewpoint.

Well, his reasoning is correct — there is no inherent reason that intelligent design couldn’t be science, were anyone to bother to develop a hypothesis and test it. But no one has. Lacking hypotheses and data, of course, doesn’t make ID “stealth creationism,” the religious dogma that was banned from classrooms as non-science in several court cases across the 1980s.

However, while there is no inherent reason that ID must be stealth creationism, the simple facts show that it is. The very first book published that mentioned “intelligent design” had been written to say “creationism.” When the Supreme Court ruled creationism out of bounds for science classes (because it is religious dogma), the publisher went through the text with a word processor, deleting “creationism” and replacing it with “intelligent design.”

So, while there is no barrier to ID advocates actually doing science, they don’t; and while they probably could have developed a concept of intelligent design that did not involve creationism at its root, they didn’t.

Perhaps it helps ID to lable it stealth creationism, but scientists won’t stop doing that, simply because it’s true: Intelligent design as described and publicized, is nothing but stealth creationism.

#3 By resorting to “science of the gaps” arguments. – Critics of ID often claim that the theory relies on a “God of the Gaps” “argument. (Don’t understand how something occurred? Well…God did it. Case closed.) As scientific reasoning, this method is obviously flawed. Yet the critics of ID often resort to the same tactic, only instead of saying “God did it” they claim “Science will find it.”

The problem is that this almost never happens. Closing a “science gap” almost always leads to the discovery of other, even more difficult to explain gaps in knowledge. For example, when evolution was first proposed by Darwin, there was no explanation for the mechanism of transmission of traits from one generation to the next. With the discovery of DNA, Watson and Crick closed that particular “gap.”

But as physicist David Snoke notes, no one today has an adequate explanation for how this highly complicated molecule arose out of nowhere. Also, we do not have an adequate explanation within chemical evolutionary theory for the appearance of the mechanism that gives us a readout of the information, or for the appearance of methods that replicate information with out error, or for the appearance of the delicate balance of repair and maintenance of the molecular systems that use the information stored in DNA.

Oh, that’s just wrong. As Joe notes, science DID close the information gap. Darwin himself knew nothing of genes — they weren’t discovered until three decades after his death — but he did note that there must be some agent in reproduction that preserves traits to be passed along to offspring. Genes are those agents, and genes are made up of strands of DNA. As we’ve delved deeper into how reproduction works, we’ve closed several gaps.

And Joe missed some of the latest gap closings. He says no one knows how DNA could arise? That’s silly. Scientists have discovered that some forms of RNA arise spontaneously, and they know that RNA can self-replicate; RNA is very close to DNA. It’s no particular stretch to see that DNA could have arisen from an RNA-dominated life form. There really is quite a bit of research on the topic.

But the bottom line is, the existence of a gap in knowledge does not imply a deity is required. “God of gaps” arguments are false for asserting that a deity is responsible; they do NOT imply that science cannot go there. Joe misapplies the claim.

#4 By claiming that ID isn’t science since it’s not published peer-reviewed literature…and then refusing to allow publications of ID papers in peer-reviewed journals. – The hypocrisy of snubbing ID because it lacks peer-review was exposed by the treatment of Richard Sternberg, a journal editor who made the career-killing mistake of actually publishing an article that was sympathetic to ID.

That’s scurrilous, and false. Joe alleges that scientists refuse to publish ID papers. That’s a total falsehood. Every paper ever written that is even slightly supportive of intelligent design that has been submitted to science journals, has been published. Both of them. The claim that ID is not science is based on a careful analysis of those publications, and the incredible dearth of any similar publications.

By comparison, there are about 10,000 papers published every year in science and medical journals that explore various facets of evolution, or which reveal new confirmations of the theory found in nature. That’s right: 10,000 a year. “Intelligent design” has been around as a concept at least since 1989. That’s about 18 years. And there are two papers in what science, federal law and the federal courts regard as peer-review journals. One of them was published when the editor, in his last act before his term ended, violated the rules of the society that published the journal, and secretly sneaked in a review of ID claims — the article posed no new data, no new science, involved no research, and posed no hypothesis or theory of intelligent design. The skullduggery on publishing has all been on the ID side.

180,000 papers on evolution, 2 on ID. Which one do you think would meet the “preponderance of evidence” rule?

But Joe’s claim, that journals are biased against publishing creationist and ID papers, was litigated in federal court, in 1981, in the Arkansas trial. In that case, striking down an Arkansas law that required equal time for creationism with evolution, creationists claimed that the reason they had no peer-review publications was that scientists refused to print any creationist research. Judge William Overton understood this was a serious claim, and if true, could tip the scales in favor of letting creationism into science classes. So he asked for evidence. Creationists were unable to produce a single article written in support of creationism which had ever been submitted to any science journal. The reality is that there are no papers published on creationism or ID because the advocates do not write them; advocates do not write the papers because, as I noted above, they do no research to write about.

The Sternberg case is an interesting one, and it, too, was dissected in the Pennsylvania trial. Sternberg was the guy who violated the rules to sneak in an ID paper into a journal. The society that published the journal issued a statement that they found the paper improbable, and noting that it was published without normal review by other scientists. Sternberg alleged that his career was in jeopardy — but in federal court, no one could find anything to suggest that Sternberg’s career was affected in any way. He has been enlisted to speak at creationism conferences around the world, expenses paid. He has his NIH job, still. He has his research privileges at the Smithsonian, still. If this is “retaliation,” scientists are really bad at it.

Joe’s claims are directly contradicted by the facts. Anyone who reads the transcript of the Pennsylvania trial knows that.

#5 By making claims that natural selection is responsible for all behaviors and biological features. — Instead of saying that “God created X”, Darwinists tend to claim that “Sex selection created X.” Take, for instance, this statement made by zoologist Richard Dawkins:

“Why did humans lose their body hair? Why did they start walking on their hind legs? Why did they develop big brains? I think that the answer to all three questions is sexual selection,” Dawkins said. Hairlessness advertises your health to potential mates, he explained. The less hair you have on your body, the less real estate you make available to lice and other ectoparasites. Of course, it was worth keeping the hair on our heads to protect against sunstroke, which can be very dangerous in Africa, where we evolved. As for the hair in our armpits and pubic regions, that was probably retained because it helps disseminate “pheromones,” airborne scent signals that still play a bigger role in our sex lives than most of us realize.

Joe needs to read more. What causes the speed of the American antelope? Not sexual selection — predators. The antelope can run in bursts up to about 70 miles per hour. What’s that? No predator in America can run that fast, so there’s no natural selection spur for the speed? Well, either that, or there was such a predator once, and it has gone extinct. That was where creationists used to complain that natural selection was just a guess — and then, within the past couple of decades, fossils of an American cheetah that could run in bursts up to 70 mph were found . . . evolution is full of such predictions-fulfilled by later research. Joe pretends these things don’t exist. Had he read Darwin, he’d probably remember Darwin’s fantastic prediction that there must be an insect with an incredibly long proboscis to pollenate an African flower that has a throat about 11 inches long. When he made that observation in 1859, critics called it crazy. The moth that pollenates the flower, with a proboscis 11-inches long, was not discovered until the 20th century — it flies at night. Evolution is a theory that involves natural and sexual selection. No serious student of evolution claims either mechanism is responsible for all evolution. Joe is setting up straw-man arguments, even while he complains about them. Ironic, no?

(Incidentally, Dawkins’ claim that it was sexual selection that led to no body hair among the human end of the great ape clan is not a universal judgment; there is a campt that argues it was necessary to go hairless to move north, ironically — humans need sunlight to make vitamin D, necessary to fix calcium for bone development. Where the sun shines less, hirsuteness tends to cause rickets, this school argues. Another camp argues that hairlessness makes it easier to avoid lice and other parasites, and there are diseases like typhus, borne by lice, that could easily select for hairlessness by killing of those with more body hair. Joe simply does not understand the breadth of the science that backs discussion on these issues, or in this case, that there is discussion at all.)

(Continued, in the next post.)

3 Responses to Twisting recent history (creationism), 1

  1. […] Twisting recent history (creationism), 1 Share this:TwitterStumbleUponDiggRedditFacebookEmailLinkedInPinterestTumblrLike this:Like2 bloggers like this. […]

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  2. frank says:

    Back in my satellite operations days I worked the daily operations side of the house for APEX, the Advanced Photovoltaic and Electronics eXperiments. One day I walked into the payload area and one of the experimenters came up to me and said, “My instrument isn’t giving me the numbers I expect.” The average non-scientist or employee of the Discovery Institute would be upset. This guy was thrilled. Sure he would have to do diagnostics on the box to make sure it was working properly, but if it checked out he would be able to publish a paper, give presentations, and so on. It would mean fame, fortune, and girls. Well, it would mean that the next time he asked for funding he’d probably get it.

    I assume that if a real biologist found something that casts doubt on evolution during their research, they’d be all over it, too. It seems to me (as a non-scientist) that being able to replace a major theory like evolution would be their holy grail. The fact that evidence keeps piling up in favor of evolution, and zero against it is a pretty strong indication to me that the Discovery Institute’s dreams of unseating evolution with “an invisible man who lives in the sky did it” in mainstream biology is forever out of reach.

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  3. elbogz says:

    The intelligent design community is still winning the war on one battle front. That one is located in the churches. I am a frequent listener to Christian radio, and it seems as if new revival of Darwin bashing has begun. But they are not rewriting history; they are just repeating the same arguments.

    As a Christian man it really makes me sad to see this. They come into the churches and set up their game of 3 card Monte, display their magic rocks, hang a poster of how all the dinosaurs fit on the ark, and show of a really really big number on their calculator, and proclaim “LOOK! PROOF OF GOD!” They look you in the eye and say, if you believe in Darwin, then you can’t believe in God. Why? Because the calculator says so, that’s why.

    I agree with your argument that there is still a danger of science being really screwed up in our schools. But for me, it cuts much deeper than that. Children in the Church are being told these crazy stories about science in the name of God. One day they are going to be looking at 200 million years of Geology in the side of a mountain in Utah, and realize that in order to believe what the church taught them about science, they would have to believe that the dinosaurs tread water during most of Noah’s flood to end up way above the Cambrian explosion fossils. The day that happens is they day they will ask, which do I believe, these rocks, or what someone told me. They walk away, not only after being told a lie about science, but also, a lie about God. They are destroying their own church, in the name of some silly science.

    The real problem is, Americans have such a poor knowledge of science you could tell them anything, and they would believe it. It doesn’t matter that the claims of the ID movement have been refuted. Few in the church even have any formal science training, to ask any sort of intelligent question. They speaker sounds good, and them rocks sure are pretty!

    The net result of this is the statistics stay the same. No ones beliefs change. Seventy percent will still believe the Science of Ann Coulter. The next batch of politician come along and feed on this, and its déjà vu, all over again. We have another Dover School board, with a new slogan and a new banner.

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