Pharyngula

Phillip Skell has a long and sleazy history of lying to support creationism. His usual tactic (actually, his only tactic) is to claim that evolution is irrelevant to science, denying the importance of the theory to understanding discoveries about the natural world, and refusing to believe that it has any application at all to anything. In a clear and straightforward op-ed, Stuart Faulk points out how easy it is to pick up any popular science magazine and find counterexamples to Skell’s claims. And then he picks up a knife, sticks it in, and twists:

Given how easily Skell’s arguments can be dismissed, it is reasonable to ask why he would make them in the first place. He is just as capable of reading Scientific American as I am, and probably more qualified.

The short answer is that this is not a debate about factual truth and science, but about public opinion and religion. What Skell neglects to mention (but any Web search will show) is that he has long supported creationist causes. His guest viewpoint is but one of many letters supporting “intelligent design” and opposing the teaching of evolution in public schools, which he equates to “indoctrination of students to a worldview of materialism and atheism.”

That’s an important approach we have to take more often. The vocal charlatans of creationism are actually relatively few in number, and their histories need to be directly addressed and made public. Skell is most definitely not an impartial scientist looking at the evidence objectively: he has his made up, ignores the evidence (where he is even aware of it—professionally, he is a chemist), and then uses his faux authority to claim that the biological sciences lack substantial evidence that we actually have, all in the service of his religious dogma.

One interesting fact emerges at the end of the piece. Stuart Faulk is Skell’s son-in-law. I’d like to know how the family copes with Skell’s uninformed obnoxiousness…

Comments

  1. #1 Kobra
    March 4, 2009

    I would hope that Skell’s family would mock him (Skell, not Faulk) to his face.

  2. #2 PGPWNIT
    March 4, 2009

    Religion … poisons … everything.

  3. #3 Joe
    March 4, 2009

    Skell’s son-in-law? Damn, poor man. Skell’s daughter must be a real hottie if Faulk joined that family despite the old man.

  4. #4 Rev. BigDumbChimp
    March 4, 2009

    One interesting fact emerges at the end of the piece. Stuart Faulk is Skell’s son-in-law. I’d like to know how the family copes with Skell’s uninformed obnoxiousness?

    Ouchy

  5. #5 LisaJ
    March 4, 2009

    Now that is hilarious. Waita go father in law.

  6. #6 DGKnipfer
    March 4, 2009

    I have great sympathy for Stuart Faulk. I do not discus religion with many people in my own family (wife included). I love them all but they prefer to cling to their faith in the face of all evidence.

  7. #7 Desert Son
    March 4, 2009

    What DGKnipfer said.

    No kings,

    Robert

  8. #8 bc23.5
    March 4, 2009

    I think a Pharyngula Thanksgiving special is a great idea to draw in more readers and viewers, (yes, viral video Pharyngula style at the Skell house.) Oh to be a fly on the wall during the holidays!

  9. #9 JD
    March 4, 2009

    Religion is optional and evolution is not.

  10. #10 Gavin Sullivan
    March 4, 2009

    His name is spelled Philip, btw.

  11. #11 Paul Lamb
    March 4, 2009

    Isn’t it curious that when the Creationists want to disparage science they paint with a broad brush, labeling “scientists” as those leading the world to doom. But when they want to claim credit for their own system, they need the term “scientist” to be broadly defined so that they can use a chemist to make assertions about biology.

  12. #12 Marc Abian
    March 4, 2009

    Kinda OT, but I’ve been wondering.

    In some environments bacteria cooperate via quorum sensing but in one of these environments quorum sensing mutants propogate. It is hypothesised that these are cheaters, happy to leech off the quorum sensing of others. How do such societies stay alive if cheating is evolutionary favourable? Wouldn’t evolution ultimately push the community to extinction by selfish short sightedness?

  13. #13 Eric
    March 4, 2009
  14. #14 charley
    March 4, 2009

    Given how easily Skell’s arguments can be dismissed, it is reasonable to ask why he would make them in the first place. He is just as capable of reading Scientific American as I am, and probably more qualified.

    Vocal creationists routinely make claims and raise questions that have been conclusively addressed thousands of times. They ignore these answers and move on to a new audience, including children. This clearly shows that:

    -They have no interested in learning anything
    -They are intentionally misleading people
    -They are preying on ignorance

    They should not be debated or reasoned with, but treated like the scum they are.

  15. #15 Mozglubov
    March 4, 2009

    And I thought I had it rough with my girlfriend’s dad… but he’s just a wildly successful scientist and businessman, so, even if I find him intimidating, I don’t feel the need to argue with him. If he believed in creationist nonsense, that would make things awkward…

  16. #16 Sastra
    March 4, 2009

    Skell and Faulk probably practice “Dinner Table Diplomacy” when they’re together in family. They agree to disagree, and set aside the topic for other, more comfortable topics and pursuits. It’s a wise and reasonable approach for “dinner table” situations.

    I have a problem, though, when people want to apply Dinner Table Diplomacy to the larger culture — particularly when it comes to anything which makes religious people uncomfortable. “Why can’t we all just get along and only talk about happy things we agree on?” is what Greta Christina memorably called ‘The Argument from Shut Up.’

    “His guest viewpoint is but one of many letters supporting “intelligent design” and opposing the teaching of evolution in public schools, which he equates to ‘indoctrination of students to a worldview of materialism and atheism.’”

    We’ve given ourselves a rather difficult task. We have to make it clear to the general public that saying ‘evolution is more consistent with atheism than with theism’ is not the same as saying ‘evolution is the same thing as atheism.’ To me, and I think most of us here, there’s a clear difference. To others — especially the religious — not so much.

    Most people do not approach the existence of God scientifically. Arguments that they ought to do so, are separate from whether or not evolution happened.

  17. #17 Dan!
    March 4, 2009

    That is what I wish I could say to my creationist relatives, only worse! Its so hard not to attack them, for “the sake of the family.”

    Oh yeah, check out this scholarly article that suggests atheists have higher IQs than theists and even agnostics:

    The intelligence?religiosity nexus: A representative study of white adolescent Americans
    Nyborg, Helmuth
    The present study examined whether IQ relates systematically to denomination and income within the framework of the g nexus, using representative data from the National Longitudinal Study of Youth (NLSY97). Atheists score 1.95 IQ points higher than Agnostics, 3.82 points higher than Liberal persuasions, and 5.89 IQ points higher than Dogmatic persuasions. Denominations differ significantly in IQ and income. Religiosity declines between ages 12 to 17. It is suggested that IQ makes an individual likely to gravitate toward a denomination and level of achievement that best fit his or hers particular level of cognitive complexity. Ontogenetically speaking this means that contemporary denominations are rank ordered by largely hereditary variations in brain efficiency (i.e. IQ). In terms of evolution, modern Atheists are reacting rationally to cognitive and emotional challenges, whereas Liberals and, in particular Dogmatics, still rely on ancient, pre-rational, supernatural and wishful thinking.

  18. #18 James F
    March 4, 2009

    I suspect that the entire Dissent from Darwin list fits Skell’s profile, minus a handful of philosophical relativists. And yes, we need to call them out on it more.

  19. #19 Stella
    March 4, 2009

    I can’t think of a single reason why a chemist would blatantly disregard relevant evidence when he opines about evolutionary theory. What exactly is he doing with chemicals if he doesn’t understand scientific method?

    By the way, I stumbled upon your blog last week and I’m rapidly becoming a big fan. Keep up the good work!

  20. #20 James C
    March 4, 2009

    Skell is clearly wilfully ignorant. Before opening his mouth and making himself look a fool by saying that there are no practical applications of evolutionary theory (ET) I think he should have first had a walk around his Uni and asked each department in turn if this was true, it might have shocked him if he had. As a chemist and computer programmer I can agree there is little use of ET in chemistry (so far anyway, when we have abiogenesis worked out I bet it will play its part!) and I?m not a biologist so won?t comment on areas outside my expertise (another thing Skell should take note of).

    However in Computer Science ET has a huge range of practical, real-world applications. So vast is the number of applications there is no way I could do them justice in a single blog post, but sufficed to say it is used heavily in intelligent robotics, economics/scheduling programs, vision/sound recognition to name but a few.

    His argument when boiled down is essentially ?ET has few uses in chemistry, therefore it?s worthless?, which makes about as much sense as ?paint brushes have few uses in chemistry, therefore are worthless?, without him ever having spoken to an artist. Ironically enough ET is most often used in problems where explicit programming (i.e. intelligently designed code!) is impossible and he probably encounters machines running such code every day without him even knowing it (think intelligent fuel management systems in cars for starters!).

  21. #21 Rev. BigDumbChimp
    March 4, 2009

    Skell and Faulk probably practice “Dinner Table Diplomacy” when they’re together in family. They agree to disagree, and set aside the topic for other, more comfortable topics and pursuits. It’s a wise and reasonable approach for “dinner table” situations.

    I have to do this with my William Donohue meets Bill O’Rielly wanna be brother in law. As long as religion, the catholic church or anything to do with politics are kept out of the conversation we’re fine.

  22. #22 raiko
    March 4, 2009

    The good part is that these people are so easily spotted. Anyone who claims evolution is irrelevant to science or that creationism/ID is a proper alternative must be a lieing charlatan or at least undereducated in the subjects s/he is talking about. There is seriously no other possibility, unless we’re talking about a comedian.

  23. #23 Norman Doering
    March 4, 2009

    His usual tactic (actually, his only tactic) is to claim that evolution is irrelevant to science, denying the importance of the theory to understanding discoveries about the natural world, and refusing to believe that it has any application at all to anything.

    I just found out that the banana in Ray Comfort’s old video is another pragmatic example of the importance of understanding evolution. If we didn’t understand evolution we’d be losing our bananas:

    http://normdoering.blogspot.com/2009/03/pretending-to-think-like-ray-comfort.html

    It’s not just that wild bananas have seeds and that ancient bananas were barely edible, but also the fact that the common banana Ray used in his video was cultivated and made seedless. His banana example cannot sexually reproduce. It’s a clone. Those bananas are grown from offshoots of the parent plant rather than through the process of sex and fertilization that might otherwise take place.

    One result of that is that the banana’s genetic information hasn’t changed as much as it could have if it were mixing its genes up sexually and evolving that way. The problem is that the world of plant diseases has evolved and changed and our commercial bananas were in danger because they haven’t kept up. However, genetic engineering may come to the rescue.

    That ties into another question Ray doesn’t understand — why sex evolved… But you’ll have to read my blog for the rest of that and the banana links.

  24. #24 Victor Bogado da Silva Lins
    March 4, 2009

    About evolution being useful, I don’t know if you already seen this, but I found it very interesting and eye opener.

    http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/paul_ewald_asks_can_we_domesticate_germs.html

    It is a talk about how pathogenic germs evolve into killer or mild streams and how we can setup the evoution pressures to make deadly diseases into mild ones.

  25. #25 Mike
    March 4, 2009

    I’ve already used evolution at least three times today, and it’s only 11AM. I have found that a particular protein kinase is activated by certain DNA damaging agents, and I’m trying to identify putative substrates for that kinase. In the process, I have used GenBank and NCBI Blast to search for conserved sequences in DNA damage response proteins that could be phosphorylated by my kinase. I only keep the hits in which the site is conserved across most mammalian species.

    If you really did disbelieve in evolution, and tried to do what I’m doing, how would you ever go about (a) searching for these sites, or (b) explaining why these sites are conserved in the first place?

    Goddidit, I suppose?

  26. #26 Dan J
    March 4, 2009

    As Sastra mentioned,

    I have a problem, though, when people want to apply Dinner Table Diplomacy to the larger culture — particularly when it comes to anything which makes religious people uncomfortable. “Why can’t we all just get along and only talk about happy things we agree on?” is what Greta Christina memorably called ‘The Argument from Shut Up.’

    This reminded me of Paul Spinrad’s recent post at BoingBoing, Big Tent Atheism, where he implies that perhaps atheists should keep their mouths shut. Even worse, he says, “I think closeted atheists who participate in other religious activities are the future of atheism.”

    The creationists will go to any length to promote their sky-fairy. Simply implying in mainstream media that atheists should just ‘shut up’ (IMHO) makes it even tougher for us to speak our minds, as well as making it more imperative that we do so.

    Kudos to Stuart Faulk for speaking his mind, even when it means standing up to (and calling out) a family member.

  27. #27 raven
    March 4, 2009

    Stuart Faulk is Skell’s son-in-law. I’d like to know how the family copes with Skell’s uninformed obnoxiousness?Stuart Faulk is Skell’s son-in-law. I’d like to know how the family copes with Skell’s uninformed obnoxiousness?

    Liars like Skell are beyond braindead christofascists and on into pure evil.

    My best guess, the normal people in the family haven’t talked to him in years. He is probably as good a parent as he is a scientist or human being—not worth mentioning. Fundie households are known for high rates of child abuse and dysfunctional families.

  28. #28 T. Bruce McNeely
    March 4, 2009

    What exactly is he doing with chemicals if he doesn’t understand scientific method?

    Ingesting them?

  29. #29 Louis
    March 4, 2009

    You feel sorry for Faulk? Pfff! The only differences between Faulk’s family-in-law gatherings and mine are:

    a) Dr Skell is a publicly known, educated, outspoken creationist.
    b) I have to deal with creationism (of a different yet suspiciously familiar kind) and all kinds of woo in Punjabi as opposed to English as my in-laws are from Punjab.

    Dealing with easily refuted creationist drivel in my own language with an educated person like Skell? Luxury! (But of course we ‘ad it tough…)

    I DEMAND your sympathy and I DEMAND it now. In fact, just like Jonny-Boy and his recent meltdown over Teh Profanity and Teh Daily Grail DRAMA (Oh the huge manatee), I DEMAND that you (Yes YOU PZ Miersh) take my DEMANDS seriously right now and post an extensive and wholly sympathetic post immediately if not sooner. Any comments in the thread that are not 100% sympathetic will result in my immediately calling the Internet Police, The Royal Society, The Nobel committee, your boss, your friends’ bosses and the Prime Minister.

    So there.

    With knobs on.

    Louis

  30. #30 Patricia, OM
    March 4, 2009

    :he has his made up … PZ you better do a cootie check. Looks like you forgot mind. ;)

  31. #31 www.10ch.org
    March 4, 2009

    Evolution, after all, is still happening; that is why it is useful.

  32. #32 MarkW
    March 4, 2009

    Marc Abian @ #12:

    As no-one else has picked it up…

    I would guess that in your scenario, once the cheaters exceed a certain proportion of the population, cheating is no longer favourable, so evolutionary pressure comes to bear against the cheaters. There will be an equilibrium between cheaters and non-cheaters.

    IIRC Dawkins addresses a similar scenario in The Selfish Gene.

  33. #33 Louis
    March 4, 2009

    {Ok, serious boots on}

    To Raven and others bashing Skell the man:

    Oh come on people. I love a good “bash the creationist” as much as the next bloke but we cannot speak about what we do not know.

    For all we know Dr Skell is an excellent parent (for all we know he’s not), and he’s not an utterly useless scientist by any means. We know people can compartmentalise their science and their religion, chaps like Skell rarely (if ever) encounter evolutionary biology in their work and since the last arse that sat on them was creationist christianity they still bear the impression of its buttocks. Check out the Salem hypothesis, there’s a reason behind it.

    People aren’t black or white, good or evil, there are many shades of grey (or I suppose, brown!). In my tongue in cheek post above (#29) I mention my very real, very woo oriented parents in law. They are utterly lovely people, generous to a fault, kind, loving, just not particularly educated and certainly not very familiar with relevant science. Do their (often arrogantly ignorant) pronouncements about matters scientific make me want to lay about me with a spade? Why yes of course they do, but they don’t make me question their humanity or their status as a child abuser. And I’ve got the laying about me with a spade down to only once a month…. ;-) And yes, occasionally they do need sitting on their arses and being thoroughly told off for when their bronze age ideas impinge unpleasantly on other people’s lives. And trust me, I do it!

    Take the guy’s drivel to pieces by all means, call him out on his obvious mendacity and blinkered prejudice too whilst you’re at it. Laugh at the imagined strained silence at Thanksgiving dinner. But please don’t insinuate he is a child abuser, bad parent or simply a bad human without any basis in fact. Let’s go with the actual DATA. We’ve got enough of that to destroy Skell’s ridiculous assertions a thousand times over (and this has been done), we don’t need to make shit up.

    And before anyone calls me a concern troll, notice that a) I am demonstrably not, and b) I’m not even asking for common decency (I’ve never even fucking met the stuff for starters!). Bash away by all means, but at least restrict it to stuff we can validly bash, let’s not descend to Skell’s level and make shit up.

    Louis

  34. #34 AnthonyK
    March 4, 2009

    Louis, calm down. Creationism makes no more sense in Punjabi than it does in English. On the upside, presumably you get to hear a brief translation and then laugh. That, they will understand.

  35. #35 Glen Davidson
    March 4, 2009

    Meanwhile, at the Vatican conference, Skell’s dishonest claims are being denied:

    Organisms’ common ancestry aids medical research, says biologist

    By Carol Glatz
    Catholic News Service

    ROME (CNS) — Charles Darwin’s theory that all living organisms have descended from one common biological species is a scientific fact that has tremendously aided medical research, said an evolutionary biologist attending a Vatican-sponsored conference.

    A common biological ancestry is the basis upon which all scientific research is conducted, said Douglas Futuyma, a professor of ecology and evolution at the State University of New York at Stony Brook.

    For example, using mice, monkeys and other nonhuman species to research diseases and possible new cures gives data that is valuable and pertinent to promoting medical advancements for humans because of the similar genetic heritage of different species, he said.

    Futuyma was one of dozens of scientists, theologians and philosophers invited to speak at a conference in Rome March 3-7 marking the 150th anniversary of the publication of Charles Darwin’s “Origin of Species” in which he put forth his theory on evolution.

    The conference, titled “Biological Evolution: Facts and Theories,” was sponsored and organized by the Pontifical Council for Culture’s Science, Technology and the Ontological Quest project, the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, and several of Rome’s pontifical universities.

    In his talk, Futuyma said modern genetic discoveries have confirmed what Darwin and others concluded from studying and comparing the anatomy and embryos of different species — that all living organisms descend from a common ancestry.

    “The common ancestry of all forms of life is a scientific fact,” he said.

    And this common heritage has proven to be “deeply useful” because it “provides a rationale for advancing medical research through research on other organisms,” he said.

    Some of the latest research in evolutionary biology has also shown that there seems to be “a molecular clock” or a clocklike process that determines when one species will split and another branch will be added to the evolutionary tree, he said.

    He said this discovery has enabled researchers to determine and track very accurately the evolution of organisms that have left behind no fossil record, like bacteria for example.

    Gennaro Auletta, who teaches the philosophy of science at Rome’s Pontifical Gregorian University and heads the culture council’s project, said the aim of the five-day conference was to offer a critical appraisal of Darwin’s theories of natural selection and evolution.

    Modern scientific discoveries have modified and added greater detail to Darwin’s findings, he said in an interview published March 4 in the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano.

    For example, he said, many now see that “the evolution and development of an organism is the result of a co-evolution — a co-adaptation” between the organism and its environment, which are constantly interacting with each other.

    No living creature can directly control its own evolution, he said, but by creating an environmental niche, an organism responds to its physical surroundings in such a way that it can foster its own continued existence.

    By creating this niche, the organism is “able to modulate the effects of natural selection on itself and therefore influence, albeit indirectly, its own evolution,” Auletta said.

    The study of the evolutionary path from bacteria to human beings has shown how each successive species acquired ever more sophisticated capacities to perceive, deal with and control their environment, he said.

    “This is the key point because it means that intelligence is something that is encouraged by evolution” because increased intelligence helps the organism better adapt and survive in its environment, he said.

    Therefore, it would be reasonable to expect that over a long enough period of time something like the human being would have emerged because intelligence is something that goes in the direction of evolution, he added.

    Theologians and many scientists recognize the universe “is not just a random jumble of elements, but is a structure that we can define as being, if not intelligent, then at least intelligible,” he said.

    However, Auletta said, this has nothing to do with the claims of intelligent design, which accepts that life has evolved over the eons but that because it is so complex its development has been guided by a supreme being or intelligent agent, which some identify as God.

    Intelligent design “is not a scientific theory even if it tries to pass itself off as one,” he said.

    He said Catholic theologians understand the distinction between God, who is the first cause of the universe, and his autonomous creatures and creation.

    “The way he works, God does not suppress second causes,” that is, the laws of nature and the universe, he said.

    http://www.catholicnews.com/data/stories/cns/0900998.htm

    There’s some unnecessary twaddle thrown in there, but the substantive matters are being discussed reasonably well, it seems.

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/6mb592

  36. #36 Louis
    March 4, 2009

    AnthonyK,

    I agree, I’d argue it makes even LESS sense. Hence why I shall now hold my breath until I get lots of sympathy or until it really hurts.

    Of course I suppose the possibility exists that I’m not actually serious….

    Louis

  37. #37 AnthonyK
    March 4, 2009

    Seriously? No of course we don’t know Skell personally, but we do, from his published persona, that he’s dishonest (lies about his religious motivation) and foolish (doesn’t “believe” in evolution and thinks that is in any way relevant). He’s a godbot, and a godbotting godbot at that.
    So why not heap scorn on him? And as much as possible? Why should someone with stupid views, designed to keep people ignorant, get anything less than clever abuse?
    I agree with you about “child abuser” taunts though – if only because it cheapens child abuse itself – but other than that, fair game.
    And remember, he’s got his god to protect him. Hell, his god is telling him to say these things!

  38. #38 Louis
    March 4, 2009

    AnthonyK,

    You misunderstand me. Please reread what I wrote, it’s pretty clear.

    Heap all the scorn you want on Skell for what he DOES. You’ll never, ever, EVER find me say that anyone who lies, weasels and distorts like Skell does deserves anything other than public ridicule for it.

    As I said above, ridicule him (heavily) for what he DOES do. Imagining his behaviour re: creationism makes him a bad parent, a child abuser or generally an awful human being is, however, just fucking stupid. Insinuating these sorts of things about him without evidence (even on the balance of probability) is exactly the kind of thing Skell does: i.e. makes shit up and hand waves about it.

    I can, and do, know that Skell is a disingenuous twat when it comes to creationism etc. I have no knowledge (and severely doubt anyone here does either, I am however willing to be proven wrong about that) of whether he is a child abuser (for example). I’ll mock him mercilessly for the former (his intellectual and public dishonesty) but not the latter (some spurious crap someone has made up about him).

    See the difference?

    Louis

  39. #39 raven
    March 4, 2009

    {Ok, serious boots on}

    To Raven and others bashing Skell the man:

    My best guess,…

    Point is 1/4 taken.
    1. I said, “best guess”.

    2. Yeah, I know people who are into New Age woo (popular on the WC) and even a few fundies who are otherwise more or less normal people and certainly not malevolently evil.

    3.Skell is in a different category. He has scientific training, enought to know that he is flat out lying. He has been told the truth enough times in plain English.

    He is also a public, repetitive liar. He is putting out a considerable effort to mislead anyone he can. He also libels and slanders real scientists routinely. They are all atheistic baby killers and so on.

    This is just evil incarnate. My statement about fundie families having high rates of child abuse and being dysfunctional is not an opinion. It is based on common statistical evidence. The states with the highest rates of social problems such as divorce, teen age pregnancy, child poverty and so on are all in the lands of the christofascist tribes, i.e. Red states. One of the main correlations between familial sexual child abuse is fundamental religion according to the US FBI.

  40. #40 Louis
    March 4, 2009

    To reinforce this: Skell et al are fair game for what they DO do, they are not fair game for what they don’t do.

    Rocket science this ain’t.

    Louis

  41. #41 Bjørn Østman
    March 4, 2009

    One interesting fact emerges at the end of the piece. Stuart Faulk is Skell’s son-in-law. I’d like to know how the family copes with Skell’s uninformed obnoxiousness…

    Ouch!

    Actually, I’m a little envious. And except for the Punjab issue, I imagine it would be fun to be in your shoes once in a while, Louis.

  42. #42 AnthonyK
    March 4, 2009

    Yes and no. Not being a hypocrite myself I have to say that I have heaped every kind of personal abuse on the creationists who post here, but then they choose to post here.
    And I happen to think that swearing can be big and clever, like an elephant with a philosophy degree. So – Skell – why bother? But if he were posting here I would feel able to say anything I like to heap scorn on him. As a bit part on a post on Pharyngula, nah, no point.
    You’re a mite grumpy for a new poster (if you are). You aren’t suddenly going to go all stupid and self-righteous on us are you?

  43. #43 NewEnglandBob
    March 4, 2009

    Phillip Skell is a liar for jesus. His kind make carnival barkers look like upstanding members of the community.

    These liars are one step above the bottom, which is suicide bombers for religion.

  44. #44 DesertBioProf
    March 4, 2009

    When I was a graduate student at Penn State, Skell used to occationally show up at biology seminars to disrupt the Q&A with creationist babble. His most common question:

    “If there was no Evolutionary Theory, how whould that affect your work?”

    The best answer I ever heard:

    “I wouldn’t have done it.”

    I once had to tell Skell to buzz off as he was harassing a very famous speaker at happy hour after his seminar. The speaker’s response: “Who the hell is that nut?”

  45. #45 Louis
    March 4, 2009

    Raven,

    Yup, Skell is a lying piece of shit re: creationism who should know better. No disagreement from me. You and I will stand side by side and excoriate him for it.

    Yup, there’s a correlation between religious fanaticism and child abuse etc. (the world over as it happens). No disagreement from me. You and I will stand side by side and investigate it, and try to change it if possible.

    So?

    Not a single thing you’ve said gives any evidence that Skell specifically deserves to have insinuations made about his parenting ability or child abuser status. Whether or not it is your best guess or not. You made that specific insinuation based on a non-specific generality and the demonstrable fact that Skell is a turd in other areas.

    You’ve conflated valid specific criticism on one issue (Skell’s dishonest creationism and assorted public mendacity), and a general correlation on an unrelated issue (child abuse/bad parenting and religion), to make specific insinuations about that unrelated issue (Skell’s personal status as a child abuser or bad parent). That’s simply not valid! That’s what I’m taking issue with.

    Take a classic fundy example: Atheists don’t believe in god. Stalin and Pol Pot (among others) committed genocide. Stalin and Pol Pot didn’t believe in god and were therefore atheists. My (fundy) best guess is therefore that Richard Dawkins, an atheist, would support genocide or commit it if he could.

    You and I know the italicised stuff is spurious crap. The correlation in this case is much less valid than the one you mention I grant you, but it’s the pattern of reasoning I want to draw attention to. That flitting between the general and the specific, between things we have evidence for and mere correlations is what the problem is. (Actually in the case of religious extremism and various unpleasant attributes I’d argue that there was a causative link, but one that underlies both phenomena rather than one that exists between them).

    As said above very simply: criticise the guy for what he DOES. Fuck me, there’s enough of it! Don’t insinuate he does other things simply because he falls into some demographic without other evidence to support that specific insinuation. That’s not only not fair, it’s utterly illogical and EXACTLY the kind of bullshit the fundy god-whallopers pull.

    Louis

  46. #46 AnthonyK
    March 4, 2009

    Got it. But your posts are too long. That, in itself, is becoming a little suspicious…..

  47. #47 raven
    March 4, 2009

    His guest viewpoint is but one of many letters supporting “intelligent design” and opposing the teaching of evolution in public schools, which he equates to “indoctrination of students to a worldview of materialism and atheism.”

    Louis, maybe you should direct your comments about asumptions to Skell. According to him, scientists are all atheists who use evolution to destroy children’s religion. This is a lie and slanders scientists. For one thing, not all scientists or evolutionary biologists are atheists. Evolution is a scientific fact and theory and has nothing to do with philosophy or religion. And they study and teach evolution because it is a fact, a well established theory, and incidentally, criticallu useful for agriculture and medicine.

    And maybe Skell compartmentalizes his defects and is just the kooky old man in the basement at home, ranting and raving on the internet. Or maybe not but I wouldn’t want to be related to him.

  48. #48 AnthonyK
    March 4, 2009

    I wouldn’t want to be related to him

    Sadly you are though he would deny it.

  49. #49 Louis
    March 4, 2009

    AnthonyK: LOL no I am very very far from being a new poster! Long posts = suspicious? Double LOL! I’ve never been brief in my long and occasionally illustrious posting career. I think you are seeing things that aren’t there. Ask around, I’m an old hand! Oh and if my posts get long it’s usually because I’m explaining something to someone who is trying very hard not to understand them. ;-)

    Raven: I **DO** direct my comments to people like Skell too, especially to them, and I agree I wouldn’t want to be related to him either (in anything other than the standard sense AnthonyK mentions).

    None of this defeats the central point I’ve been making: Skell is a creationist turd, this we know. We have plenty of material to beat him up with, him and his kind grant us multifarious gifts of turdhood with which to beat them up on a regular basis. The fact that Skell is a turd who makes stuff up does not give us the excuse to make stuff up or commit the same generalities and slander by association that he does. Come on, you and I know we’re better than that. I hope we’re not playing some team game where anything our team does is okay because it’s our team that does it, because rational that ain’t.

    Louis

  50. #50 J-Dog
    March 4, 2009

    I can vouch for Louis’ bona fides!

    He’s a long-time anti-Creo anti_IDer at ATBC (After The Bar Closes) the forum part of Pandas Thumb. He’s smart, educated, funny and English, (not necessarily in that order) and I’d trust him to cover my back in a scrum.

  51. #51 Monado in Toronto
    March 4, 2009

    Mark Abian [12] asked,

    In some environments bacteria cooperate via quorum sensing but in one of these environments quorum sensing mutants propogate. It is hypothesised that these are cheaters, happy to leech off the quorum sensing of others. How do such societies stay alive if cheating is evolutionary favourable? Wouldn’t evolution ultimately push the community to extinction by selfish short sightedness?

    The short answer is yes. Carl Zimmer addressed this in his book Parasite Rex. There are bacterial colonies that live on the surface of a liquid. Most bacteria make filaments(?) that help them to stick together as a mat and continue to float. Some freeload on the others’ biochemical work and don’t make their share. They multiply faster. Eventually, they overload the “honest” bacteria and the whole colony sinks away from the oxygen that they need. Everyone dies. Sic transit gloria mundi.

  52. #52 MH
    March 4, 2009

    Louis: “Ask around, I’m an old hand!”

    Indeed you are! Over the last few years, your science posts at AtBC have been some of the best I’ve ever read, and your commentary on creationists has been some of the funniest.

  53. #53 Intelligent Designer
    March 4, 2009

    Paul Lamb @ 11 said:

    Isn’t it curious that when the Creationists want to disparage science they paint with a broad brush, labeling “scientists” as those leading the world to doom.

    That’s a pretty broad brush you are painting with.

  54. #54 Intelligent Designer
    March 4, 2009

    Monado said,

    Some freeload on the others’ biochemical work and don’t make their share. They multiply faster. Eventually, they overload the “honest” bacteria and the whole colony sinks away from the oxygen that they need. Everyone dies. Sic transit gloria mundi.

    Are we talking about the stockmarket here?

  55. #55 amphiox
    March 4, 2009

    The seventh day of creation actually began some time not long before the invention of the scientific method, and is still ongoing.

    There are no more miracles because the big guy is resting.

  56. #56 Qwerty
    March 4, 2009

    I remember when my sister told me she believed the earth was only 6,000 years old. After I pushed my lower jaw back into its upright position, I was speechless. I would bet that Skell’s daughter holds a position closer to her husband’s than her father’s. The family gatherings must be interesting. (I avoid discussing evolution, the earth’s age, religion, politics, and my “gay lifestyle” with my sister who was a lesbian until she found Jebus.)

  57. #57 John Scanlon FCD
    March 4, 2009

    Glen D quoted:

    Some of the latest research in evolutionary biology has also shown that there seems to be “a molecular clock” or a clocklike process that determines when one species will split and another branch will be added to the evolutionary tree, he said.

    Unnecessary twaddle? Yes indeed! The Catholic News reporter can’t help thinking there’s yet another mysterious Cause in there, rather than an intelligible Effect.

  58. #58 Azkyroth
    March 5, 2009

    Just tell me Mr. Faulk’s wife didn’t decide to do the hyphenated-combination-last-name thing. :P

  59. #59 Hugh Troy
    March 5, 2009

    Skell has fallen prey to the reality distorting syndrome that is faith in religious dogma. When a scientist falls prey to this syndrome it is quite sad to see all rationality slipping away, like Frank Tipler and his foray into fantasy.
    Atheism and science are perfectly matched. They compliment each other.
    Creationists/ pious religiousists of whatever stripe need their fantasy of a supernatural magic sky fairy to prop up their fragile egos.

  60. #60 ACW
    March 5, 2009

    Marc Abian’s question at #12 has drawn two answers, one “no” and one “yes”. The actual story is more nuanced and interesting, and is best summarized as “it depends”. The best introduction to the evolutionary dynamics of cooperation and cheating is probably still Axelrod’s “The Evolution of Cooperation”.

  61. #61 J. A. Baker
    March 6, 2009

    And let’s not forget that evolutionary theory has applications beyond biology. *cough* GENETIC ALGORITHMS! *cough*

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