Mike the Mad Biologist

Senator Brownback Is a F-cking Moron

And in other news, dog bites man. Would the NY Times have printed an op-ed allowing a flat-earther to explain why he believes the earth is flat? Because that’s what they did when they ran Brownback’s defense of intelligent design creationism. And there’s nothing original in Brownback’s op-ed either.

First, Brownback makes this declarative statement:

The heart of the issue is that we cannot drive a wedge between faith and reason. I believe wholeheartedly that there cannot be any contradiction between the two. The scientific method, based on reason, seeks to discover truths about the nature of the created order and how it operates, whereas faith deals with spiritual truths. The truths of science and faith are complementary: they deal with very different questions, but they do not contradict each other because the spiritual order and the material order were created by the same God.

No, science tests materialist, physical explanations of phenomena against available data. Not even a likelihood fanatic like me thinks that I have some approximation of the ‘truth’ based on the science I do. As to the contradiction, there can be a contradiction: certainly millions of biblically literalist creationists think there is.

Brownback further establishes that he is scientifically illiterate:

Faith seeks to purify reason so that we might be able to see more clearly, not less. Faith supplements the scientific method by providing an understanding of values, meaning and purpose.

(an aside: can we please stop referring to religion as ‘faith’? It’s dishonest.)

I don’t see how ‘faith’ supplements the scientific method. Again, the scientific method is a tool for understanding the physical world around us: how it works and why it looks the way it does. It is not a guide to moral behavior–and should not claim to be either.

Then Brownback raises the microevolution/macroevolution canard:

The question of evolution goes to the heart of this issue. If belief in evolution means simply assenting to microevolution, small changes over time within a species, I am happy to say, as I have in the past, that I believe it to be true. If, on the other hand, it means assenting to an exclusively materialistic, deterministic vision of the world that holds no place for a guiding intelligence, then I reject it.

When Brownback says he supports the concept of microevolution, what is left unsaid is that he does not believe that macroevolution–the evolution of novel species–occurs (if he actually thinks that species can dramatically change through time or split and diverge, then, erm, that is macroevolution). So did God create every natural ‘kind’, including the 300,000 species of beetles? Or how about this guy:

800px-Nacktmull
“How come I’m not in the Creationist Museum?”

No merciful God would design that. Then comes another time-honored creationist dodge–biologists disagree about the particulars of evolutionary theory, so the theories of common descent and natural selection must be wrong:

There is no one single theory of evolution, as proponents of punctuated equilibrium and classical Darwinism continue to feud today.

Unlike ‘faith’, punctuated equilibrium and gradual evolution can be tested by data. And of course, no intelligent design creationist screed would be complete without the double-barreled action of misunderstanding natural selection and randomness:

Many questions raised by evolutionary theory — like whether man has a unique place in the world or is merely the chance product of random mutations — go beyond empirical science and are better addressed in the realm of philosophy or theology.

First, even staunch neutralists would acknowledge that many human traits have been shaped by natural selection–which is not a random process. Second, this is really crappy philosophy. Why can’t man have a unique place in the world–including the unique responsibility to safeguard all life–and have also been the product of an unguided process? As Camus wrote in A Fourth Letter to a German Friend:

But I know something in it [the world] has a meaning and that is man, because he is the only creature to insist on having one. This world has at least the truth of man, and our task is to provide its justification against fate itself. And it has no justification but man; hence he must be saved if we want to save the idea we have of life. With your scornful smile you will ask me: what do you mean by saving man? And with all my being I shout to you that mean not mutilating him and yet giving a chance to the justice that man alone can conceive.

How material reality can undermine the elegance, the passion, the humanity of such thoughts escapes me. And I find it glorious and wonderful that a hairless ape, who is a minor offshoot of the primates, could devise such ideals. A materialist origin of humanity is only threatening if your ego and your sense of self-worth require that you are endowed with a special nature–as opposed to earning that status through righteous acts.

Finally, Brownback falls back on the false declarative statement:

While no stone should be left unturned in seeking to discover the nature of man’s origins, we can say with conviction that we know with certainty at least part of the outcome. Man was not an accident and reflects an image and likeness unique in the created order.

Umm, what about this:

bush_chimps2

OK, that was a cheap shot. But you get the idea–we’re not that different from other primates. I don’t how one proves or disproves that “man was not an accident” (although repeating it over and over is definitely not the way to do it).

The whole piece just shows how ignorant Brownback is about biology and science: science isn’t the data, it’s the process of testing ideas.

an aside: There’s much more wrong with Brownback’s op-ed, but it’s so boring to have to refute the same old creationist bullshit over and over. Check out these fine people for more.

Comments

  1. #1 J-Dog
    June 1, 2007

    Insult to chimps… at least they are honest.

  2. #2 Zuska
    June 1, 2007

    I appreciate the effort you went to, to deconstruct Brownback’s op-ed. But I don’t think it is useful or effective or even accurate to characterize what he is putting out as based on ignorance of biology. You could sit Brownback down with a biology text and a tutor for a semester-long course, and he could earn an A in the course, and it would make no difference, because he isn’t interested in the biology, he’s interested in using theology to advance a political career. Also, in using politics to advance a theological worldview. The biology is irrelevant. He may believe it, he may not. Doesn’t matter. In fact, he concedes that evolution (of some sort) actually occurs – he’s not an idiot, he’s not uneducated. But he knows how to talk so that the people he’s talking to, hear the message he wants to deliver. What matters, ultimately, for Brownback, is God, and he will find a way to reconcile everything else in life with that, even evolution; he can even manage to say in an op-ed “Yes, evolution, but no, not really, it’s creationism”. You can’t counter that kind of thinking with mere facts. It isn’t as if he’s ignorant of the facts, or as if you could just present him with a certain tipping point number of facts that would make him go “oh! I see! Well, then, I must have been all wrong! My bad!” For him, the consequences of being willing to accept evolution as a “truth”, as a worldview, are so dire, that evolution must be opposed as strongly as possible even if one knows that scientifically speaking it’s actually correct. What the ID folks are opposing is not scientific accuracy; they are opposing science as a worldview, as the primary way of understanding the world. Creationism makes Man (and I do mean Man, not woman) special in a way that evolution can never make him special, no matter what wonderful works of literature and art we produce. Evolution puts us beside the animals; Creationism gives us dominion over them, and makes us like God, not like apes. Creationism helps maintain patriarchy, the dominion of man over woman; evolution threatens the God-ordained wifely submission to her husband. I could go on…it worries me that scientists are so often trying to do battle with creationists with facts, when the creationists are waging a war of ideas and worldviews.

  3. #3 Edward
    June 1, 2007

    Zuska hits the nail on the head. The creationists are interested in creating a justification for their prejudices, not in getting their facts correct. We see the same falsehoods over and over from the creationists. It is important to continue to correct those falsehoods, but we need to also go further and expose the bigotry behind the falsehoods. Some of these groups would be classified as hate groups if they didn’t hide being the shield of being religious groups.

    However, it is equally false to attack all religious groups based on the hate mongering of a few. The question should not be: are you a theist or atheist? It should be: do you use your world-view to justify your own self-importance and discriminate against others or do you reach out to others and truly try to understand them? There are theists and atheists in both groups.

  4. #4 Coin
    June 1, 2007

    Would the NY Times have printed an op-ed allowing a flat-earther to explain why he believes the earth is flat?

    They didn’t just print an op-ed, they gave him his own column!

    (I kid, I kid)

    The truths of science and faith are complementary: they deal with very different questions, but they do not contradict each other because the spiritual order and the material order were created by the same God.

    I find this quote just fascinating. It’s like De Vries’ “methodological naturalism” compromise in reverse.

  5. #5 Tegumai Bopsulai, FCD
    June 1, 2007

    Here’s another oddity:

    The premise behind the question seems to be that if one does not unhesitatingly assert belief in evolution, then one must necessarily believe that God created the world and everything in it in six 24-hour days. But limiting this question to a stark choice between evolution and creationism does a disservice to the complexity of the interaction between science, faith and reason.

    He’s pointing out a false dichotomy. Fine. But then:

    If belief in evolution means simply assenting to microevolution, small changes over time within a species, I am happy to say, as I have in the past, that I believe it to be true. If, on the other hand, it means assenting to an exclusively materialistic, deterministic vision of the world that holds no place for a guiding intelligence, then I reject it.

    He hasn’t rejected the false dichotomy, he’s just moved the line. Apparently accepting microevolution does not mean giving in to materialism, etc., but accepting macroevolution does.

  6. #6 Anita
    June 1, 2007

    What’s really sad is that there are enough of these moron’s to support a museum. It seems that some portions of our population are de-evolving. May they live long enough to see their descendants swinging in the trees!

  7. #7 Alex
    June 3, 2007

    OK creationism believes that god made every kind, species isnt necessarily a kind. When you say 300,000 different species of beetles they still are all Beatles, they are the same KIND of animal. There are many errors in your Article

  8. #8 Mike the Mad Biologist
    June 3, 2007

    Alex,

    macroevolution is evolution at the species level. Brownback has argued that he only accepts microevolution which is evolution within a species. Are you claiming that God is now only involved in evolution at, let’s say, the level of Families. You’ll run into the same problem, no matter where you set the ‘divine’ cutoff point.

    P.S.-Capitalizing Random words is Weird.

  9. #9 Mike the Mad Biologist
    June 3, 2007

    Zuska,

    I don’t disagree: I thought the part about Camus wasn’t exactly a factual refutation, but maybe I wasn’t clear.

  10. #10 Arnold
    June 3, 2007

    Creationists would be wise to include a baby panda in their museum to symbolize god’s warm-fuzzy benevolent side. I was reading along and took a look at that little guy in the “likelihood” post you linked to and immediately everything in my mental process dissolved into a single “AWWWwwwwwwwww…”. I’m not even that sentimental, but damn if baby pandas aren’t the cutest bastards on the planet!

  11. #11 NJ
    June 3, 2007

    Hey! No dissing the naked mole rats if you please!

  12. #12 J Daley
    June 4, 2007

    More baby panda breaks, please.

  13. #13 J Daley
    June 4, 2007

    Also, re: Alex

    When you say 300,000 different species of beetles they still are all Beatles, they are the same KIND of animal.

    There were actually only four Beatles, and they were all the same species.

  14. #14 Thomas Robey
    June 4, 2007

    It is interesting that the gentleman from Kansas is making such a stand on this issue. I suppose he will guarantee some votes in the primary with this position, but to the rest of us, he seems more and more a moron. So please do not confuse my statements as supporting the man. I do however see something deep in his arguments that strikes a chord with me. Those that have read Gould (or a previous post of mine) will recognize this quote:

    “the magisterium of science covers the empirical realm: what the Universe is made of (fact) and why does it work in this way (theory). The magisterium of religion extends over questions of ultimate meaning and moral value. These two magisteria do not overlap, nor do they encompass all inquiry (consider, for example, the magisterium of art and the meaning of beauty).”

    Maybe this is where Brownback is coming from regarding his perspectives on faith and empiricism.

    A lot of people – many scientists included – see existence as consisting of more than empirically derived explanations. I think this is fine. It’s been a part of human existence for millennia. The problem that Brownback is running into is that an issue at the periphery of his personal faith (an issue trumpeted as critical to that faith by certain religio-politico groups) conflicts directly with a central tenet of science.

    For me it’s too bad that we can’t talk about the different roles science and faith play in people’s lives without inciting the vitriol of the creation-evolution ‘debate.’

  15. Thomas,

    I agree with you about the different roles of religion and science, but I don’t think Brownback sees it that way. He really does state that ‘faith’ is part of the scientific method, when, in fact, the scientific method requires informed skepticism. I think he’s just a creationist trying to dress us his beliefs in pseudo-sciencey gooblegook.

  16. #16 Coin
    June 4, 2007

    It is interesting that the gentleman from Kansas is making such a stand on this issue. I suppose he will guarantee some votes in the primary with this position, but to the rest of us, he seems more and more a moron.

    It seems quite possible that his aim here is neither to impress us or to gain primary votes. His campaign has settled down into the 2-3% polling doldrums in a way that I think it’s too late to expect it will ever come out, and Brownback is not doing the kinds of things one would expect necessary, things like consistently showing up to his day job as U.S. senator, if he actually believed that someday his campaign would transition into “serious contender” status. I don’t think Brownback’s reason for campaigning right now is actually to win the Republican primary.

    Of course this raises the question of what specifically it is Brownback is trying to do right now with all this campaigning and op-ed writing and such.

  17. #17 Science Avenger
    June 5, 2007

    Actually there were six Beatles (Stu Suttcliffe and Pete Best were the others). As to whether or not they were the same “kind”, we await with baited breath a definition of that most meddlesome of creationist terms.

  18. #18 Coin
    June 5, 2007

    Actually there were six Beatles (Stu Suttcliffe and Pete Best were the others). As to whether or not they were the same “kind”, we await with baited breath a definition of that most meddlesome of creationist terms.

    You gloss over the long-running controversy on the taxonomy of George Martin.

  19. #19 Rick
    June 5, 2007

    Did you hear about the cat who ate cheese? He waited by the mousehole with baited breath.

    For absolutely no reason other than to be pendantic, its “bated breath”.

  20. #20 Bob
    June 5, 2007

    Yeah, why all the hate for naked mole rats? They’re endearingly feisty for a start.

  21. #21 Jonathan Vos Post
    June 5, 2007

    “… Actually there were six Beatles (Stu Suttcliffe and Pete Best were the others)…”

    Billy Preston and Yoko One have been redefined by revisionists, too. And let’s not forget that Paris Hilton is in jail right now because, in part, the judge was not impressed that Ms. Hilton relied on the legal advice of John Lennon’s junkie sidekick Elliot Mintz. She is apparently not clear on the acronyms IANAL and TINLA. Although I’m sure that she has her own interpretation of IANAL.

  22. #22 Science Avenger
    June 5, 2007

    Billy Preston and Yoko One have been redefined by revisionists, too.

    OK, so Sutcliffe and Best weren’t members for the good times. But seriously, freedom of speech is one thing, mentioning Yoko as a Beatle is below the belt.

  23. #23 hikayeler
    October 2, 2008

    woww wery good thanks!

  24. #24 sohbet
    March 5, 2009

    thank you very much for good blog and write

  25. #25 mirc
    March 14, 2009

    thanks

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