Dispatches from the Creation Wars

More on George Sim Johnston

Christopher O’Brien, an anthropologist from Cal State-Chico, picks up on my fisking of George Sim Johnston’s very bad article about the Darwin exhibit at the AMNH and adds a bit more detail specifically concerning Johnston’s claims about human evolution. I also came across an old post of his that contains a really great passage that I want to quote in full. I’ll put the long quote below the fold and urge you to read it:

As Brown points out in response: “teach the controversy” is nothing more than “verbal ju-jitsu”, playing on the sensibility of fairness. But science is not “fair” as Brown has already noted and instead “has its own rules of engagement”. The letter-writer does not comprehend the fact that the intelligent design crowd has never played by the rules of scientific engagement. The irony is that her example of continental drift, if she knew the particulars its rise as the predominant explanation for current continental locations, demonstrates the precise opposite point she is trying to make.

Alfred Wegener first proposed his idea of continental drift in 1912. And when he was soundly rejected by the scientific community what did he do? Write popular books to convince the non-scientific public the scientists were wrong? Appeal to the media and claim there was a controversy the rest of the scientific world was ignoring? Start a publicity campaign to get the idea in high school science classes? No. He did what every decent, ethical, hardworking scientist does: he “…devoted the rest of his life to doggedly pursuing additional evidence to defend his theory”. The theory of plate tectonics overtook existing explanations for one reason and one reason only: other scientists, through hard work and sweat, developed, documented and disseminated mounds of evidence in support of the idea. They developed hypotheses and tested them. Eventually, existing observations could not be explained by other ideas as readily as they could be explained by continental drift. This is what science achieves when the “rules of engagement” are adhered to.

The best intelligent design can currently achieve is front runner of a prima donna popularity contest among the scientifically illiterate. It seeks scientific parity without having done the dirty (and lonely) work of science.

Hear, hear. Jonathan Witt can refer to the “robust scientific research program” that ID supposedly has until he is blue in the face, but the fact is that they haven’t produced any research that makes a positive case for ID in ten years and there’s no reason to believe they’ll do so any time soon. They’ve got a hell of a PR campaign going and they’re very media savvy, but their credibility is an inch deep and a mile wide. Scratch just below the surface and you find nothing more than a collection of catchphrases and bad arguments.

I know I’ve quoted this article from Bruce Gordon a dozen times, but it’s because it so perfectly sums up the problem with ID. Gordon is himself an ID advocate, a former DI fellow and Dembski’s assistant director for the Michael Polanyi Center at Baylor before it was shut down. And he absolutely nails the problem with the ID movement when he writes:

Design theory has had considerable difficulty gaining a hearing in academic contexts, as evidenced most recently by the the Polanyi Center affair at Baylor University. One of the principle reasons for this resistance and controversy is not far to seek: design-theoretic research has been hijacked as part of a larger cultural and political movement. In particular, the theory has been prematurely drawn into discussions of public science education where it has no business making an appearance without broad recognition from the scientific community that it is making a worthwhile contribution to our understanding of the natural world…

But inclusion of design theory as part of the standard discourse of the scientific community, if it ever happens, will be the result of a long and difficult process of quality research and publication. It also will be the result of overcoming the stigma that has become attached to design research because of the anti-evolutionary diatribes of some of its proponents on the one hand and its appropriation for the purpose of Christian apologetics on the other…

If design theory is to make a contribution to science, it must be worth pursuing on the basis of its own merits, not as an exercise in Christian ‘cultural renewal,’ the weight of which it cannot bear.

Just like President Bush’s attempts to pose as a cowboy can be ridiculed as “all hat and no cattle”, the ID movement he supports is, up to this point, all PR and no research.

Comments

  1. #1 Steve Reuland
    April 7, 2006

    I thought it was Rob Crowther who referred to ID’s “robust research program”.

  2. #2 Ed Brayton
    April 7, 2006

    Steve-

    Perhaps it was. I get Crowther, Luskin, Witt and Francisco confused sometimes. I think it’s because they all share a brain.

  3. #3 Mr. Upright
    April 7, 2006

    Wow! That’s a whole brain they share? Color me amazed.

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