Dispatches from the Creation Wars

The DI blog is all abuzz over this “report” about media misrepresentation of the relationship between the Templeton Foundation and the ID movement. Written by Joseph Campana (Who? Good question), it’s a Wiki posting that tries valiantly to focus on one minor misstatement in a New York Times article written over a year ago in order to distract attention from the real issue. He begins:

In the past few years, the media has created confusion about the scholarly track record of the intelligent design (ID) research community, as related to funding from the John Templeton Foundation (JTF). The JTF is a philanthropic organization that funds research exploring science, philosophy, spirituality, theology, and their interplay. Charles L. Harper Jr., senior vice president of the JTF, was a central figure in this media drama, as he was falsely reported in the New York Times as claiming that ID scholars failed to respond to requests for grant proposals from the JTF. This false claim has been circulated around the internet, and even cited on Wikipedia,[1] to promote a myth that members of the ID research community do not do research. The facts reveal that the media has badly misreported the alleged unresponsiveness of the ID research community and that ID scholars have indeed received funding from the JTF for scientific research, including research that is explicitly related to intelligent design.


There are several issues here, all jumbled together:

1. Do ID advocates do actual research that might confirm ID?
2. Have they ever applied to the JTF for funding for such research?
3. Has the JTF funded such ID research in the past?

First, let’s look at the substance of the claim of media misrepresentation. The accusation revolves around a single sentence in a NY Times article by Laurie Goodstein from December 2005. Here’s the paragraph that contains the inaccuracy:

The Templeton Foundation, a major supporter of projects seeking to reconcile science and religion, says that after providing a few grants for conferences and courses to debate intelligent design, they asked proponents to submit proposals for actual research. “They never came in,” said Charles L. Harper Jr., senior vice president at the Templeton Foundation, who said that while he was skeptical from the beginning, other foundation officials were initially intrigued and later grew disillusioned. “From the point of view of rigor and intellectual seriousness, the intelligent design people don’t come out very well in our world of scientific review,” he said.

And here is Campana’s response to the offending passage:

Being focused on the research of the ID community, ResearchID.org was naturally curious about insinuations of Harper and the New York Times that the JTF does not fund ID research. Our investigator asked Charles Harper about these claims in the New York Times article, particularly where the article makes ID researchers look unresponsive to JTF requests for research proposals.

In response to an inquiry about whether the JTF put out a call to ID scholars for grant requests, Harper specifically stated that, “No such request [for proposals] was made. There never was a call-for-proposals to the ID community. All I said [to the reporter] is that, like anybody else, ID people could apply and proposals submitted would be reviewed on their merits. No blackballing.”

So this whole stink is over the fairly irrelevant question of whether the JTF formally asked ID advocates to submit proposals, or whether ID advocates had merely failed to submit proposals for such research for the JTF to fund. Okay, so let’s rewrite that first sentence in Goodstein’s article so instead of this:

“The Templeton Foundation, a major supporter of projects seeking to reconcile science and religion, says that after providing a few grants for conferences and courses to debate intelligent design, they asked proponents to submit proposals for actual research. “They never came in,” said Charles L. Harper Jr….

It says this:

The Templeton Foundation, a major supporter of projects seeking to reconcile science and religion, says that after providing a few grants for conferences and courses to debate intelligent design, they waited for ID proponents to apply for grants to do actual research that might confirm their ideas. “They never came in,” said Charles L. Harper Jr….

Does this minor point make any real difference to the point being made? I don’t think so. Whether there was a formal call for grant applications or not, Harper’s point remains the same. As the article quotes:

“From the point of view of rigor and intellectual seriousness, the intelligent design people don’t come out very well in our world of scientific review,” he said.

Campana contacted Harper to get his disavowal of the minor claim that a formal request was sent to ID advocates; did he ever bother to ask him whether he would also disavow that direct quote? It appears not. And in fact, Pete Irons today contacted Pamela Thompson, Vice President for Communications at the Templeton Foundation, and she confirmed that the last line, the important line, does in fact reflect both Harper’s and the JTF’s position:

It is important to note, Charles Harper and I are one hundred percent in agreement on the issue of ID. The John Templeton Foundation does NOT support the ID movement.

In Laurie Goodstein’s article she says “they (JTF) asked proponents to submit proposals for actual research.” This is not true, JTF has NEVER done this, and Charles Harper said – JTF has not received proposals from ID proponents for serious scientific research. And I quote from the NYT article “From the point of view of rigor and intellectual seriousness, the intelligent design people don’t come out very well in our (JTF) world of scientific review.”

So she confirmed that while the first statement about a formal call for applications was false, the real point of the article, that ID advocates don’t do very well in terms of actual research and scientific review, remains true and valid. Thompson also posted a reply to Campana’s post on the JTF website today. It says:

In response to errors and misrepresentations stated in the February 28, 2007 ResearchID.com blog post:

1. The John Templeton Foundation has never made a call-for-proposals to the ID Community.
2. The Henry Schaefer grant was from the Origins of Biological Complexity program. Schaefer is a world’s leading chemist, and his research has nothing whatsoever to do with ID.
3. Bill Dembski�s grant was not for the book ‘No Free Lunch.’ Dembski was given funds to write another book on Orthodox Theology, which was not on ID, however he has never written the book.

From our FAQ…

Does the Foundation support I.D.?

No. We do not support the political movement known as “Intelligent Design.” This is for three reasons 1) we do not believe the science underpinning the “Intelligent Design” movement is sound, 2) we do not support research or programs that deny large areas of well-documented scientific knowledge, and 3) the Foundation is a non-political entity and does not engage in, or support, political movements.

It is important to note that in the past we have given grants to scientists who have gone on to identify themselves as members of the Intelligent Design community. We understand that this could be misconstrued by some to suggest that we implicitly support the Intelligent Design movement, but, as outlined above, this was not our intention at the time nor is it today.

Campana distorts what Goodstein’s article said about the JTF’s position on ID. He writes:

The New York Times article also describes the JTF as being formerly pro-ID but becoming disillusioned with ID. But Harper responded to the article’s claim saying, “This is completely false. It is a creation of media narrative manufacture.

But that’s not what Goodstein’s article said. It said, “…while he (Harper) was skeptical from the beginning, other foundation officials were initially intrigued and later grew disillusioned.” Being “intrigued” is not the same thing as being “pro-ID”. I know many people, including at least one outspoken critic of ID, who was initially intrigued by the ID movement and had high hopes that it would provide evidence of divine activity. Alas, after years of watching the ID movement engage in dishonest public relations campaigns rather than do any actual research, they gave up on it. I suspect that is exactly what happened with many people at the JTF.

I have been told directly by a member of the advisory board of the Templeton Foundation that there were some with high hopes for ID among the leadership there in the early days, but over the last few years, as it has become clear that there just isn’t any real research to be done that might confirm or disconfirm the idea, they’ve distanced themselves from ID. Campana is correct when he points out that JTF did provide funding for several conferences and book projects dealing with ID, but not for any actual research on ID.

Indeed, on the question of research that might confirm ID, the entire record of the ID movement is absolutely abysmal. The few bits of research that ID advocates claim as support, like Axe (2000 and 2004) and Behe and Snoke (2004) not only don’t support ID, they actually support evolution (as I’ve explained before). They keep telling us that there’s research being done under double secret probation at a hidden location (I think it’s being done in Dr. Evil’s volcano lair), the fact that they’ve had to so blatantly distort research in the past to pretend it supports them suggests that this claim should be taken with a beaker full of salt. The IDers claim that the research is on the way, at this point, ranks up there with Wimpy’s promise to pay us Tuesday for a hamburger today.

Comments

  1. #1 llDayo
    March 1, 2007

    I bet the research is being guarded by sharks with frikkin’ laser beams attached to their heads making it impossible to present the evidence. Seriously, how do you get past sharks AND lasers?! This seems to be where the DI made its mistake.

  2. #2 SteveF
    March 1, 2007

    I just checked the citations for the Behe and Snoke paper. Here is the interesting conclusion to the following paper (note that 3 refers to Behe and Snoke, PTE refers to a bacterial phosphotriesterase and PLL to microbial lactonases):

    Afriat, L. et al. (2006) The latent promiscuity of newly identified microbial lactonases is linked to a recently diverged phosphotriesterase. Biochemistry, 45, 13677-13686.

    To conclude, the functional and structural homologies noted above indicate that PTE evolved from an as yet unknown PLL, using its promiscuous paraoxonase activity as an essential starting point. As demonstrated by the properties of SsoPox, the paraoxonase activity of PLLs can be considerably high, even without compromising the lactonase activity, and perhaps while acquiring other activities such as aryl esterase. In that respect, SsoPox resembles a “generalist” intermediate (11, 55) from which PTE may have emerged. The recent specialization as a phosphotriesterase, as seen in P. diminuta PTE, possibly through an insertion into loop 7, did not completely eradicate the ancestor’s lactonase activity. Indeed, this presumed vestige of PTE’s past has enabled us to trace the footsteps of its divergence and assign a function to the newly identified PLLs. We thus portray a highly reasonable scenario for the virtually overnight divergence (on evolutionary time scales) of PTE. The same scenario may have occurred independently in lactonases belonging to another superfamily (44, 45, 48). Most importantly, this scenario obeys an oft-forgotten essence of evolutionary processes: They usually occur smoothly while maintaining fitness throughout. Such “tinkering” (56) scenarios (see also refs 57-59) stand in contrast to unreasonable models which assume “leaps in thin air”, such as the evolution of completely novel activities via multiple and simultaneous amino acid changes (3) (for another critical assessment of this model, see ref 2).

  3. #3 Ed Brayton
    March 1, 2007

    IlDayo wrote:

    I bet the research is being guarded by sharks with frikkin’ laser beams attached to their heads making it impossible to present the evidence. Seriously, how do you get past sharks AND lasers?!

    The same way you get past mutated sea bass with bad temperaments, I imagine: toothpaste and dental floss.

  4. #4 khan
    March 1, 2007

    3. Bill Dembski�s grant was not for the book ‘No Free Lunch.’ Dembski was given funds to write another book on Orthodox Theology, which was not on ID, however he has never written the book.

    That says a lot about the man.

  5. #5 Joe Meert
    March 1, 2007

    This Joseph C. Campana may just be a pseudonym. WhoIs has the owner of ResearchID wiki listed as private and just from looking through the site, Joey C does not seem to have a very good handle on science in general. My guess is that he is some college student on a pro-ID crusade like Salvador T. Cordova. He doesn’t understand what’s going on, but he wants to be a part of it. An ID groupie if you will.

    Cheers

    Joe Meert

  6. #6 Gary Fouty
    March 1, 2007

    “Hidden location”? Isn’t that where
    Dick Cheney lives? Another faith-based initiative?

  7. #7 J-Dog
    March 1, 2007

    From what I can know about Orthodox Theology, I think they got exactly what they asked for. Sort of like a book about “Famous Irish That Don’t Drink”, “Jewish Sports Legends(not including Hank Greenberg”), or “Detailed Analysis and Compendium of ID Science”.

  8. #8 Mustafa Mond, FCD
    March 1, 2007

    The Templeton Foundation, a major supporter of projects seeking to reconcile science and religion, says that after providing a few grants for conferences and courses to debate intelligent design, they asked proponents to submit proposals for actual research. “They never came in,” said Charles L. Harper Jr., senior vice president at the Templeton Foundation, who said that while he was skeptical from the beginning, other foundation officials were initially intrigued and later grew disillusioned. “From the point of view of rigor and intellectual seriousness, the intelligent design people don’t come out very well in our world of scientific review,” he said.

    They must have finally realized how effective that quote is if they rebutting it now. Better late than never, I guess.

    The few ID activities Templeton did fund would not fit under the categorization of actual scientific research to be published in the peer-reviewed scientific literature; the usual meaning (to a scientist) of “research funding”. Mostly they would instead be termed “book advances.”

  9. #9 triviality
    March 1, 2007

    Who is Joseph Campana? Joseph Campana owns and runs with the moribund researchintelligentdesign.org, an ID wiki.

    Out of the top 5 contributors at researchintelligentdesign.org, JosephCCampana lead the pack with a 5752 edits. The next most active contributor DLH (David L. Hagen) has a gob smacking 762(!), hottly followed by Idadvisors with 584 (yawn), and SierraEcho at a distant 398 edits (zzz…).

    Compare that to Wikipedia which has over 5000 contributors who have made more than 2000 edits.

  10. #11 mark
    March 1, 2007

    Do real science researchers sit around and wait for potential funders to come knocking at their doors, or do they go about knocking on the doors of potential funders? Where else have ID research proposals been turned down, and what were those proposals?

  11. #12 ben
    March 1, 2007

    I bet the research is being guarded by sharks with frikkin’ laser beams attached to their heads making it impossible to present the evidence

    Actually, I have it on good authority* that it’s actually dogs with bees in their mouths, and when they bark they shoot bees at you.

    ———

    *Homer J Simpson

  12. #13 ben
    March 1, 2007

    Do real science researchers sit around and wait for potential funders to come knocking at their doors, or do they go about knocking on the doors of potential funders? Where else have ID research proposals been turned down, and what were those proposals?

    These questions, of course, give the lie to the whole moronic “we would be doing research that would support ID, but we’re being oppressed by the Evil Darwinist Conspiracy” story. Please. They can’t even tell us what their theory is, let alone give examples of what research into it they would do if they were allowed to. It really stretches credulity to think that, were there potentially fruitful avenues of inquiry that would lend empirical support to their religious beliefs, they would be unable to find financial support for it from the usual bunch of victims (i.e., the same dupes who seem to have endless cash to pony up to buy Falwell, Hinn, etc., their large houses and fancy cars).

    Not only can’t they show us any ID research, they can’t even tell us what it might look like if they could.

  13. #14 Gvlgeologist
    March 1, 2007

    The issue that I note is the idea of contacting a specific institution to make a proposal. Generally, a major funding agency such as NSF will have funding for a wide variety of topics, and in areas of active research, the proposals for grants will roll in by researchers eager to do actual research. Occasionally, agencies will put out Calls for Proposals on a specific topic, and again the proposals will roll in.

    In the case of ID, the JTF call for proposals was apparently made, just not specificaly to the DI. Since when is it the responsibility of the funding agency to ask each “research” group (or in this case the only group) to submit a grant proposal?

    So what’s the story? Either the DI is too clueless to apply for money when it’s available, or maybe, just maybe, they’re not doing any research. Aside from the small inaccuracy in the NYT article, this again shows that the DI not only doesn’t do scientific research, it doesn’t even know how to do scientific research.

  14. #15 Gvlgeologist
    March 1, 2007

    Sorry for the redundant post (re mark and ben’s). In the 15 minutes it took me to compose my post (and talk to a student who came in) you guys beat me to it. At least we’re all seeing through the BS.

  15. #16 dhogaza
    March 1, 2007

    “Jewish Sports Legends(not including Hank Greenberg”)

    I’m sure there’s been at least one biography of Sandy Koufax published :)

  16. #17 J-Dog
    March 1, 2007

    I am sure that I saw on a DI website that Sandy recanted on his deathbed…Just kidding.

    Thanks for the catch. Now can I finish up my Jameson’s with out further interruptions me boyo?

  17. #18 Ed Darrell
    March 1, 2007

    J-Dog — Sandy is dead? Whatever will Annie do now without her faithful, pupil-less, canine companion?

  18. #19 KeithB
    March 1, 2007

    Well, Einstein did, and I imagine that Nobel prizewinners can, and since Dembski is the Isaac Newton of Information Theory…

  19. #20 KeithB
    March 1, 2007

    Aagh! Forgot to include the quote I was responding too:
    “Do real science researchers sit around and wait for potential funders to come knocking at their doors…?”

  20. #21 Sastra
    March 1, 2007

    3. Bill Dembski’s grant was not for the book ‘No Free Lunch.’ Dembski was given funds to write another book on Orthodox Theology, which was not on ID, however he has never written the book.

    khan wrote:
    That says a lot about the man.

    I think that also says a lot about the Templeton Foundation.

  21. #22 RBH
    March 1, 2007

    3. Bill Dembski’s grant was not for the book ‘No Free Lunch.’ Dembski was given funds to write another book on Orthodox Theology, which was not on ID, however he has never written the book.

    Consistent with the expert report for which he was paid but didn’t testify about (thus rendering it useless) in Kitzmiller.

  22. #23 Crudely Wrott
    March 1, 2007

    The more I’ve learned about Dembski, and as he’s peeled himself like an onion, revealing nothing new, the less I like what he says and what he stands for. He meets my criteria for “petulant adolescent”. According to the standard test whereby I make my judgments.

    It’s kind of a shame to watch a shipmate slide over the falls at the ends of the earth, his hands outstretched, pleading, reaching desperately out to you.

    But there he goes . . . sheesh.

  23. #24 chris
    March 1, 2007

    Which do you think will be released to the public first, legitimate research on ID, or Duke Nukem 3?

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