The Intersection

These Are So Not Good Criticisms

Well, I’ve read through the Discovery Institute critique of my work (PDF). I am not impressed. Neither is Carl Zimmer, who has experience with this sort of thing. PZ, meanwhile, has a good refutation of Casey Luskin’s attack on my credentials.

[To tell you the truth, PZ, Luskin's criticism is actually even weaker than you say, because if we were act like good Kantians and generalize it it into a universal law, that would mean that journalism in this country would cease to exist, save in the few cases where journalists happen to have advanced degrees in the subjects they're reporting on. In which case, why would they be "reporting" in the first place?]

Anyway, reading through the DI criticisms, I don’t think they dismantle my facts in any significant way at all. Everything is pretty much in the realm of interpretation, and I’m generally exhorted to present ID more in the way that DI wants ID to be presented. Except…I don’t agree with their presentation. What Luskin calls “14 major factual and logical errors” in my book, I call 14 differences of opinion. (And my opinion is right!)

Take example one: “Mr. Mooney overpraises Darwin.” Well, I disagree. Some “error.”

Here are the titles of the other entries:

Error #2: Mr. Mooney claims ID traces itself to the theological arguments of William Paley. [I don't know about "traces itself"; those aren't my words. But yeah, there's a clear intellectual lineage here.]

Error #3: Mr. Mooney critiques a blatantly false, straw-man version of intelligent design. [I disagree. Just because DI wants ID presented in the most PR-friendly way possible doesn't mean that I have to go along with them on this.]

>Error #4: Mr. Mooney implies there are no peer-reviewed scientific publications supporting ID. [My point is misconstrued, see here. Carl Zimmer also does a literature search and reaffirms my point. But hey, at least this is a factual criticism, even if it's wrong!]

Error #5: Mr. Mooney alleges that the controversy over evolution is “manufactured”. [Yup, I sure do.]

Error #6: Mr. Mooney insinuates that Discovery Institute opposed Dover’s ID Policy because Discovery Institute allegedly believes ID is unconstitutional. [Not really. I implied that DI may have switched from pushing for the outright teaching of ID to a more modest stance out of legal strategy.]

Error #7: Mr. Mooney implies it is inappropriate to “teach the controversy” over evolution. [Yup. It is inappropriate. Did I merely "imply" that? I'm quite happy to shout it from the rooftops.]

Error #8: Mr. Mooney insinuates the Santorum Amendment inappropriately “singles out” evolution. [Yes. It does.]

Error #9: Mr. Mooney argues that intelligent design is not science because some of its proponents have Christian religious beliefs and motives. [Actually, I critique ID's scientific pretensions, while also discussing religious motivations, which I deem relevant to the discussion.]

Error #10: Mr. Mooney argues that Discovery Institute is “disingenuously pretending that modern science basically amounts to institutionalized atheism”. [That's my interpretation, yes.]

Error #11: Mr. Mooney appeals to authority as a valid argument against ID. [I use many arguments of different types against ID, and cite authorities to support some of those arguments. But the whole chapter does not reduce to "argument from authority."]

Error #12: Mr. Mooney’s misrepresents Stephen Meyer’s peer-reviewed pro-ID science article. [I disagree. Luskin misrepresents my own account, however, when he writes that "Mr. Mooney insinuates that the journal editor, Dr. Richard Von Sternberg, may not have subjected the paper to peer-review despite the fact that it was clearly peer-reviewed." That's false. It's also a good example of a real "error." I make no such implication and indeed, I call the journal in question a "peer-reviewed biology journal."]

Error #13: Mr. Mooney claims the Kitzmiller v. Dover case is the “death knell” of ID. [Yup.]

Error #14: An Error of Omission–Mr. Mooney ignores the real “war”–the attack upon the academic freedom of scientists who support intelligent design in science and the media. [Sorry I didn't write the book you wanted.]

All in all, this is pretty thin soup. Mostly the critique boils down to the claim that I should depict ID more in the way that ID promoters want it depicted. Well, sorry. I’m not an apologist, and I’m entitled to my critical opinion.

I do appreciate all the attention, though.


  1. #1 RBH
    September 18, 2006

    Error #11: Mr. Mooney appeals to authority as a valid argument against ID.

    Um, there are circumstances when appeal to competent authority is perfectly legitimate. When I want to know about plumbing I consult a plumber, not a drywall installer. Similarly, when I want to know about paleontology I consult a paleontologist, not a junior lawyer like Luskin.

  2. #2 J-Dog
    September 18, 2006

    Excellent fisking!

    Good thing you have a longer fuse than me, because I have much more of a tendency when dealing with the DI to use good old short, crisp Anglo-Saxon terms, and Casey is “disengenuous” to you is “liar, liar” to me…

    BTW – I recommend saving your response somewhere. Based on previous ID / creationist behavior, they will trot out their “14 criticisms” as often as possible. For years and years… and years… Darwin’s been dead since 1882, and they are still after him, so CYA young man!

  3. #3 Patrick Orlob
    September 18, 2006

    That was pretty much the way I saw it, too. The DI’s criticims were tantamount to claiming that you were saying their apples were oranges, when in fact you were simply calling them braeburns. (Hmmm… Maybe I should stay away from the contrived fruit metaphors.)

  4. #4 coturnix
    September 18, 2006

    Does it take too much out of air time if you laughed for a few seconds before responding to each one of your opponents statements?

  5. #5 somnilista, FCD
    September 18, 2006

    Mr. Mooney appeals to authority as a valid argument against ID

    Even to the degree this may be true, “appeal to authority” is only fallacious when the “experts” are not. For example, appealing to MDs as experts on the “ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the origination and complexity of life” would be a fallacious appeal to authority. It makes about as much sense as asking physicists about their favorite brand of toothpaste.

  6. #6 dogscratcher
    September 18, 2006

    I’m not trying to be snarky, but but can you fairly equate Luskin’s “paper” with “the Discovery Institute critique of my work?” Are they that monolithic or is this just Luskin’s critique?

    If he is in fact their current “spokesclown,” then I withdraw my snark.

    Do you suppose Luskin passed this around to the other “fellows?” Has this critique been internally “peer reviewed” at the DI?”

    I’m too drunk to think about it. Sorry.

  7. #7 RobertC
    September 18, 2006

    Just thinking back to my years of high school debate-

    When we had a killer point, we slowed down, made it clear, simple, concise.

    When debaters are losing, we’d come up with as many little arguments as possible, spew them out REALLY fast, and hope something sticks, or the other team misses something. And great teams would respond-with clear, simple answers.

    I really think debate was great for my science career-it teaches you to think about what evidence makes a point, how to formulate a criticism, and how to answer a question or critique.

    I find it sad how many people don’t get the art of rhetoric or debate, and think a mountain of whines is evidence. That, or they are just looking for something to latch onto to preserve their worldview.

  8. #8 Joseph O'Donnell
    September 19, 2006

    Error #11: Mr. Mooney appeals to authority as a valid argument against ID.

    What makes this all the more deliciously ironic is that Casey chose to attack your credentials. Attacking the lack of credentials of an opponent is a kind of ‘appeal to authority’, by essentially establishing that the person speaking in question is not an authority on the issue and should not be trusted. The fact of the matter is that when you cite information from individuals who are authorities, it’s not a fallacy in any respect.

    People who have done the scientific legwork, had their papers published and such are authorities on their subject areas. This is why in this debates we bring up the fact the DI has few biologists in it and few people who do any meaningful scientific work at all. They simply aren’t doing the science to back up the claims they are making.

    You can’t go far wrong in a debate if you’re not an authority yourself, by citing people who are an authority on the subject. Especially when you can summarise what is said as clearly and effectively as Chris Mooney does.

  9. #9 SteveF
    September 19, 2006

    Excellent response Chris, treated with the precise amount of contempt it deserved.

  10. #10 rubble
    September 19, 2006

    If the ID proponents want to appeal to authority, let ‘em. We’ve got all the aces, while they have just deuces and treys. We win on the authority side, hands down.

    But in all seriousness, that’s fallacious. Instead of appealing to authority, we need to appeal to evidence, specifically where we test our ideas against the physical data. After all, authorities can be wrong, but nature is never “wrong”; nature simply is what it is, and we try to understand nature through science. That’s the true Achilles’ heel of ID: there simply is no attempt to scientifically test ID, and I suspect that there never will be.

  11. #11 Doc Bill
    September 19, 2006

    However, dealing with creationists, and Discovery Institute creationists in particular, is a political exercise, not scientific.

    For example, if one posted the following on the Panda’s Thumb website:

    “Chris Mooney is a penguin.”

    there would be many comments to the contrary and soon a correction would be made:

    “Sorry, our mistake. Chris Mooey is a fine young man, not a penguin.”

    However, if the Discovery Institute issued a report declaring Chris Mooney is a penguin, the follow-up would be quite different:

    “Darwinian pressure group supresses academic freedom! Panda’s Thumb dogmatists fear truth. Penguin followers targeted by atheist Darwinists.”

    Nothing in particular would be said about Mooney being or impersonating a penguin, but six months later the DI would trot out the old assertion:

    “And in other news, Chris Mooney is still a penguin.”

    as if nothing ever happened. Thus, Meyer’s paper, Behe’s nonsense, Dembski’s drool, “misrepresentation of intelligent design,” ad nauseum is up-chucked over and over again unchanged.

    Unfortunately for us all, the Discovery Institute’s actual arguments are even sillier than the penguin example, but just a persistent.

    p.s. Chris Mooney looks to be a fine young man who would be fond of penguins.

  12. #12 BC
    September 19, 2006

    Kind of reminds me of stuff that goes on in the Answers in Genesis (hard-core, literal-biblical creationism) world. I’ve seen a number of occasions when John Sarfati (who has a PhD) would slam people for not having a degree in a field relevant to evolution. Of course, what Sarfati doesn’t say is that his only degree is in Chemistry. You have to understand that creationists aren’t really interesting in fighting fair. They’re fighting for God. Anything that they can use to promote their view is fair game, but they’ll attack you as being underhanded if you do the same. The key fact is that so much of their audience will only hear their side of the story.

  13. #13 Frank Lundburg
    September 21, 2006

    The best way to deal with the “intelligent design” folks is to ignore them. Even to debate them gives them dignity on their terms. And their terms have no scientific validity. Ignoring them, denying them publicity, relegates them to the minority they really are.

  14. #14 Steve Case
    November 17, 2006

    I do not think that ignoring the ID or any of their derivatives, is a good idea (pun intended). I really respect Carl Zimmer and Chris for taking them on mostly because there are several reasons for encouraging dialogue, rather then debate. Dialogue puts an emphasis on people listening, interacting and learning rather than asserting that my truth is better than your truth. Dialogue is the compromise position because it says “let’s talk and let’s listen – let’s find out about each other and discover what the real issues are for each of us. Dialogue creates a teachable moment when we can talk about what science is, what it can do and what its limits are. Dialogue expands the frame to a whole spectrum of issues of concern.

    It is been my observation that the IDC folks are not as concerned about the science and/or scientific evidence as they are about the implications of the work. For the most part, public polling indicates that science and scientists are still held in pretty high regard. By engaging in dialogue we become a active citizen participating in the betterment of our community. The outcome of dialogue may be agreeing to disagree but one is encouraged to discuss shades of grey and to understand that neither certainty nor total agreement is likely to be found – not in a free county.

    A blog like this (and The Loom) is a great place for this kind of dialogue. Chris is a gifted writer with a rich understanding of science – well prepared to take on this kind of cultural discussion. Chris, thanks for taking the heat!

    One of the Dodos