New CSICOP Essay

My latest essay for CSICOP’s Creation Watch site is now up. This time: Why you should be suspicious of creationist and ID arguments even if you know very little of the science involved. Enjoy!

Comments

  1. #1 RPM
    August 22, 2006

    Biologists are nearly unanimous in the view that common descent is real, and that natural selection is the primary mechanism guiding the pattern of that descent.

    Common descent would provide evidence of evolution whether natural selection occurs or not. Natural selection does not guide descent — reproduction guides descent. Darwin described evolution as “descent with modification”. Natural selection plays a large role in the modification, but the descent is due to reproduction.

  2. #2 JasonJ
    August 22, 2006

    ” A real science does not employ propaganda and legal barriers to prevent relevant questions from being asked, nor does it rely on enforcing rules of reasoning that allow no alternative to the official story.”

    Kinda makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside doesn’t it?

    How do you combat this kind of anti-intellectualism anyhow? I sometimes believe that we are better off ignoring some people. But I’d like to ask you a question that I once asked you a while back, before you moved your blog to scienceblogs. What is it specifically that you fault Dennett and Dawkins anyway? I just don’t get it, perhaps you can enlighten me.

  3. #3 Arundo Hilla
    August 23, 2006

    The terrifying thing about periods of political and religious orthodoxy such as these anti-evolution forces represent, is that they can end up unleashing terrible forces that end up destroying the lives of entire generations. Let me give you a few examples. There are a lot of similarities between the right-wing fundamentalists and the Lysenkoists in Stalin’s USSR. Thats the psudoscientific drivel that led to massive starvation in both the USSR and later, in Mao’s China during the Great Leap Forward (which was actually a huge leap backward, and perhaps the worst human-caused disaster in history, in which – and this is a very conservative figure that is probably a fraction of the real figure – 30 million people died in China)

    A common feature of these periods of orthodoxy is the persecution of scientists and teachers who refuse to toe the party line.

    I read a survey recently that put the US near the bottom of a long list of developed nations in the percentage of Americans who understand evolution. That doesn’t bode well for America’s continued leadership in science, which is essential for our economic well-being (if you still subscribe to the theory that profit made by companies ‘headquartered’ in a country will lead to jobs – in THAT country.. how optimistic..)

    Lets pray that the US doesn’t enter its own ‘Cultural Revolution’. Now that would be a real tragedy.. and the end of the US as a real global leader, even if we still had 30,000 nuclear bombs and thought we were.. the intelligent would vote with their feet and move elsewhere..

    I suppose that is what ‘they’ want.. though.. sobering thought..

    Will 2030 see America as being a nation of the very poor, jobless and bitter, remembering the middle class past, and the very rich, living off their – largely inherited wealth?
    :(

    Maybe that is why they want to eliminate the estate tax…

  4. #4 Brian
    August 23, 2006

    Nice essay. The problem I consistently see in the debate is that people from the creationism or ID movement make some off-the-cuff statement (like Behe saying we have no idea whatsoever how blood clotting or the eye came to be), and it takes a long time to explain the truth of the matter. It seems like an idiot can make a great impact with an accessible (but wrong) idea that will take much longer to adequately explain the truth of. This of course ties in to psychology as well… what do people want to believe and why do they believe it without questioning? I am reminded of Carcharodon megalodon, in which the ancient shark is said to be the direct ancestor to the great white, or is essentially just a super-sized version of today’s predator. We’ve known for a while that this is not true and that today’s Great White seems more closely related to mako sharks than C. megalodon, but people are so intoxicated by the idea of a 50 foot long (usually larger in fiction) shark that it’s exceedingly hard to shake the idea.

    I also get tired of the creationist and ID camps throwing Darwin’s name around and identifying anyone who believes in evolution as a Darwinist. Darwin had some great ideas and a lot of important things he came up with have stood up to the tests so far, but he wasn’t 100% correct and there are far more influences on evolution than I think anyone could have imagined at the time On the Origin of Species was written. Perhaps that’s why Darwin always looked so tired and sad in photos of him during his old age… he knew creationists would not give him any rest.

    Anyway, nice essay, keep up the good work.

  5. #5 pwe
    August 23, 2006

    If Behe is correct, then there is a simple test that can show with near certainty that a given biological system could not have evolved gradually via natural selection. Moreover, there are, according to him, numerous systems that satisfy this test. I ask again, is that plausible? Could scientists really have failed to notice so simple a criterion? Or is it more likely that there is a flaw in Behe’s logic?

    Ooh, Jason, don’t you know that all the evilutionist biologists have known it all the time, but they have never told the general public? Now Behe makes this secret public, and all the evilutionists jump at this Hero of Democracy. Bad, bad, bad!!!

    No, really, the IDists will say that you commet the error of appealing to authority or something like that. I’m not saying your essay is bad; only that it won’t convince anybody else than those already convinced ;-)

    Try to imagine the IDists counter moves and address them, that would bring you into the lead position, methinks.

    Apart from that, I agree with Brian that it’s a nice essay.

  6. #6 DF
    August 23, 2006

    I don’t think the essay is intended to “convince” anyone – instead it is a direct appeal to lay people, who may have no strong opinion either way, to start their investigations of ID with a healthy dose of skepticism – especially in regard to the claim that scientists have got it completely wrong in areas that overlap evolution including thermodynamics. Similar arguments could be applied to global warming etc.

    It is intersting that thermodynamics is derivable from quantum mechanics which suggests that thermodynamics is rather well understood. I’ll bet a mathematically oriented individual – even one so illustrious as the Isaac Newton of information theory – would have a hard time deriving even the ideal gas law from QM.

    Of course, it is possible that scientists have it completely wrong but, if so, that understanding will come not from IDers but from continuing research by the same scientists who are being disparaged by the ID community.

    I wonder if the people who make so many claims about about how badly scientist are off-track regarding such things as the 2nd Law or biology travel on aeroplanes, use computers or see their doctor? I’m sure that when something is seriously wrong with them they pull out the old Radio Biola.

  7. #7 pwe
    August 23, 2006

    DF: I don’t think the essay is intended to “convince” anyone – instead it is a direct appeal to lay people, who may have no strong opinion either way, to start their investigations of ID with a healthy dose of skepticism – especially in regard to the claim that scientists have got it completely wrong in areas that overlap evolution including thermodynamics. Similar arguments could be applied to global warming etc.

    Yes, you may have a point here. However, those same lay people can read essays by IDists to be skeptical towards evolutionists. I fully agree that it would be a fine thing to encourage people to be more skeptical, even towards much evolutionist argumentation. However, in the particular case (with Michael Behe) I don’t think merely being skeptical is enough, because the IDists say the very same thing. That is, we have skeptics fighting with skeptics, and what are we lay people to think then? That they are all wrong?

  8. #8 David Holmes
    August 23, 2006

    I don’t see any contradiction in creationism and evolution. I find it impossible to believe anything at all derived from nothing. I do have a problem with religion exploited this mystery. I don’t think it takes a trained scientist to see a void in accepting evolution alone as the answer to how life came into being. I understand completely those who believe this but I’m not one of them. And I’m sure I’m not alone. There’s a blind spot on each side of the argument.

  9. #9 David D.G.
    August 23, 2006

    “I don’t see any contradiction in creationism and evolution. I find it impossible to believe anything at all derived from nothing. I do have a problem with religion exploited this mystery. I don’t think it takes a trained scientist to see a void in accepting evolution alone as the answer to how life came into being. I understand completely those who believe this but I’m not one of them. And I’m sure I’m not alone. There’s a blind spot on each side of the argument.”

    The difference is that science acknowledges blind spots. Religion fills them in with fairy tales, most of which don’t fit with what science HAS ascertained, and then has the temerity to claim to have trumped science. That’s what is so galling about it.

    ~David D.G.

  10. #10 DF
    August 23, 2006

    PWE,

    You raises some interesting points and, especially, the question of “what are we to believe if we have no special information.”

    I’d say – and hope – that lay people who spend some time thinking about this would conclude that, even though each side is skeptical of the other, not all skepticism has equal weight. One simple example is flying – we don’t fly on planes because we are aerospace engineers but because we trust engineers (and others) based a relatively good record.

    Another example is that there are those who are skeptical of the moon landings. Most of us are in no postion to prove conclusively based on physical evidence that they happened, but most of us believe they did. So, without special expertise there are three main options when “skeptics meet skeptics” – (i) decide that one side is more credible than the other because of things that side has done and proved and the relative absence of such things on the other side; (ii) decide that both sides have similar levels of credibility; and, (iii) actually investigate the claims of both sides. I’d recommend (iii) but it isn’t always possible. We make lots of decisions and judgments based on (i) type arguments. If we feel a case falls into category (ii) then we have to decide if its worth educating ourselves in more detail or not. Often it isn’t – e.g., what’s the best way to grow tomatoes may not be a subject of interest to everyone despite there being competing schools of thought.

    But in science vs ID I think its very clear that we are in category (i), i.e., the claims of skepticism on each don’t carry equal weight and not by a long chalk.

  11. #11 Al
    August 23, 2006

    Jason,
    Of course the only ones to be persuaded by the simplistic and transparently misleading anti-evolution arguments are those who want to be thus misled. But would they be willing to abandon science altogether? Some would, but I think the majority would realize the mistake in that, capable as they are when they consider the losses they would incur when the subject is removed from evolution. The reason they cannot see their losses in rejecting evolution is that they incur losses in accepting evolution. Those losses are being forced to give up their fantasies of immortality, special status and status as the ultimate creatures in the universe. These fantasies are dear to them. Furthermore they realize that when it comes to evolution they can have their cake and eat it too by claiming their fantasies while pirating the benefits that those in society who understand evolution provide for all of society. So if one hopes to impact the minds of those who will not be persuaded by rational considerations, one must lay the seed of the thought of what they are giving up when they reject science. One must link in their minds the rejection of evolution with the rejection of all of science, and indeed they are linked, for if one chooses to be irrational about such a basic foundation of science as evolution then he has already abandoned much of science. So, my response to the oft cited,lame arguement of a supposed violation of the second law of thermodynamics is that if the second law of thermodynaics precludes biological systems from gaining complexity then by that logic (mistaken as it is) babies could not grow; babies being more complex than embryos, and older babies being more complex, by virtue of their size alone if nothing else, than younger babies. I like the babies arguement beccause it gets the attention of the emotions of minds that are not persuaded by rationality, babies being warm cuddlies. Then, of course, the rejoinder is that God intervenes on physical laws in the case of human life at least if not all life; and God, being God, can intervene selectively at will. This is a fine philosophical arguement, but it exposes the anti-evolution stance for what it is, a religious stance not a scientific one. Of course there is no violation of the second law of thermodynamics in either evolution or babies growing, but if he wishes to pursue that train of philosophical thought, the scientist has the opportunity to pose his own question. If God can intervene with the second law of thermodynamics in the case of babies growing, why can’t he also be the force behind the direction of evolution by means of natural selection? This mystical view of reality is abhorant to me but it will not be surrendered by those who adhere to it. The only way to persuade those with a mystical view of the merits of evolution is to allow them to cling to their fantasies as much as possible while living in the real world as much as possible. This compromise, while it saddens me to realize that those for whom it is neccessary are unable to appreciate the wonders of nature at any but the shallowest level, seems to me the only way to make progress with the minds of the mystical.
    Al

  12. #12 Ingrid
    August 23, 2006

    *Applause*
    Irriducible Complexity is so bogus. It’s fancy talk for: I don’t understand Darwinian evolution… it must be incorrect!

    Michael Behe and others are merely proclaiming their stupidity in the language of pseudoscience. “The Wedg(ie) of Truth” must be applied.

  13. #13 CJO
    August 23, 2006

    Well said.

    It’s funny, but this line of reasoning is essentially where I started when I first got involved in this debate a couple of years ago. I would find myself saying things like “you can’t possibly believe that ALL scientists are soooo stupid or soooo corrupt that they’re propping up this theory even though its claims call for a violation of a fundamental principle in physics (or logic).”

    I was naive.
    Your closing line goes right to the point. These people have a medieval, anti-Enlightenment worldview. Their problem really is with science as a whole, and the very practice of free and skeptical inquiry.

  14. #14 pwe
    August 24, 2006

    DF, you say:

    I’d say – and hope – that lay people who spend some time thinking about this would conclude that, even though each side is skeptical of the other, not all skepticism has equal weight. One simple example is flying – we don’t fly on planes because we are aerospace engineers but because we trust engineers (and others) based a relatively good record

    I agree with you here – it’s just that I happen to be skeptical towards some varietis of evolution, eg. evolutionary psychology/sociology. I am aware that I am not alone in this, and we don’t need the IDists to tell us that there are flaws here. Not all science is good science, after all the DI Fellows all have a Ph.D. after their names :-)

    But as Jason writes: “And if you reject these assumptions? Well, then I suspect you have issues with science unrelated to the merits of evolutionary theory.”

    As for your three categories, I personally put the IDists into category (i), because I can’t figure out what their position really is. Phil Johnson one day writes that the Bible should be kept out of science and the next day that it’s a choice between God and Darwin. Will Dembski one day writes that ID es pure science, not theology, and the next day writes that ID is the same as the logos hymn in the Gospel of John chap. 1. How can you anyone trust these guys?

    I personally liked some of Dembski’s articles, when I started reading them – here appeared to be a serious challenge to the more extemist evolutionists (cf. above), but without religious mumbo-jumbo. However, I soon found out that apparently Dembski didn’t really have a position.

    But such things take some time to look through, and I fear that for many lay people it may be difficult to spot the difference between the DI Fellows and real scientists, especially if you are not really sure about established science either :-)

    BTW, I have read Jason’s essay more closely, and I still think it’s fine and very appropriate. Occasionally it sounds a bit like something from an apologetics ministry, but that may be difficult to avoid.

    In particular I find it recommendable that Jason uses longer quotes from the “baddies” instead of just a sentence and a half.

  15. #15 SLC
    August 24, 2006

    Re David Holmes.

    This comment is an example of the big lie perpetrated by creationists. The theory of evolution has nothing whatever to do with the origin of life. Repeat again, the theory of evolution has nothing whatever to do with the origin of life. It only provides an explanation of what happened after life began. The explanation for the origin of life is an entirely separate issue.

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