Pharyngula

Chris Matthews, who has lately been hammering the Republicans for their problem with science in general and evolution in particular, had a guest on to ‘debate’ the issue: Tom Tancredo, the ignorant Republican congressman who ran for president in the last election, and was one of the candidates who proudly announced that he did not believe in evolution. It was awful. Two people who know nothing about the science babbling at each other. While Matthews’ heart might have been in the right place, he was more interested in stammering out apologies for believing a god might have guided evolution, and sat their stunned and incomprehending as Tancredo blithered out falsehood after falsehood. Tancredo was simply inane.

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What an appalling waste of time. At one point, the two were proudly comparing their backgrounds in science — they both went to Catholic schools as kids. In other words, all the knowledge they have is based on the brief high school level exposure to evolution they might have gotten 30 or 40 years ago, and both have gone on in careers where they’ve never had to think about science again. Why are they debating evolution with one another, and why does MSNBC think this tripe is worth airing to a national audience? Both were out of their depth.

Matthews should have brought on someone qualified to address the topic. We have a host of smart scientists who seem to be fairly comfortable standing before a lay audience and explaining the basics of evolution: bring in Eugenie Scott, Neil Shubin, Jerry Coyne, Kevin Padian, or even Ken Miller (especially if you want to go over and over that nonsensical line that god did it via evolution): any one of them would have destroyed Tancredo. Or even me: I don’t have the prestige of any of those luminaries, but even a guy from a small liberal arts college can demolish Tancredo’s awful arguments.

So what did Tancredo claim?

“There’s Darwinian evolution, and there’s Intelligent Design…the one is equal to the other in terms of the number of people who support it in terms…especially of their backgrounds and the research out there.” Absolutely false. If you go to any biologist, there is maybe a one in a thousand chance you’ll find that he or she gives even a moment’s consideration to intelligent design. ID is a fringe theory held by a tiny minority of scientists. The number of IDists in biology is probably about equal to the number of kooks who have made it through graduate school. To claim parity is simply a damnable lie.

“Crossing a species there is no evidence of that you have to make an assumption. I’m just saying that assuming that is just as tough as assuming that there is intelligent design.” No. We do of course have direct evidence of interspecies hybrids, if that’s what he’s talking about; we also have evidence of species evolving into new species, if that’s what he’s trying to say. His conclusion is sloppy thinking: it is easier to assume natural processes occurred than to postulate magic events without evidence. At least for a scientist, that is — deranged right wing politicians may differ.

“In intelligent design, there is no argument about whether the world was made 8 thousand or 8 billion years ago.” This is a symptom of a problem, not a virtue. The evidence is overwhelming that the earth is approximately 4.5 billion years old. Any so-called scientific discipline that believes there is ambiguity and that 8 thousand years is just as good a guess as 8 billion is bankrupt.

“You can see on the micro level we see evolution but we cannot make the assumption on it about the macro level cause there’s nothing there to look at, we have no scientific data.” I have a special level of contempt for people who make this bogus macro/micro level argument — they always get it backwards. Macro evolution is on rock solid ground, and has been for 150 years. Darwin’s work was largely on a macroevolutionary level: the evidence from paleontology, biogeography, systematics, comparative anatomy and physiology, and embryology, all disciplines that Darwin drew upon, describes the big picture of life’s history, and shows common descent. In recent years, molecular biology has provided an even greater body of evidence; where Darwin had to speculate that maybe there were multiple origins for the different kingdoms of life, we now know that they can all be traced back to one common root. When a developmental biologist compares the molecules behind the evolution of eyes in a sea anemone and a cow, he is describing macroevolution. We have scientific data out the wazoo on this one.

In Darwin’s day, micro evolution was the wobbly leg of the structure of evolutionary theory. He didn’t have an explanation for heredity. That has also changed, of course: we now have a robust understanding of genetics, and especially of population genetics. Speciation is complex and there are all kinds of details that we don’t fully understand, but it also is not doubted by scientists.

“Here’s a group of people highly educated, well rounded, and well respected in their field who believe in evolution, Darwinian evolution. Here’s a group of people, highly respected, who believe in intelligent design. These are two theories.” The people who believe in intelligent design do not have any kind of parity with the proponents of evolution. Few IDists have any training in the relevant biology; most are philosophers, theologians, lawyers, engineers, and dentists, among other fields. The few who do have legitimate qualifications in any kind of biological sub-discipline, like Michael Behe, are either pariahs in their own departments or have to seek shelter under the umbrella of conservative think tanks, like the Discovery Institute.

And no, they are not two theories. Evolution is a legitimate theory in the scientific sense: it is well supported by the evidence, and provides a productive, integrated, explanatory framework that guides ongoing research and ties together a large body of data. Intelligent Design creationism does not qualify as a scientific theory at all. At best, it is a highly speculative hypothesis, one assembled without any reasonable evidence, and so far it has been a spectacular failure at provoking any useful research.

Tom Tancredo is an ignorant old fool who knows nothing and simply puked up creationist talking points. Chris Matthews also knows nothing and was a lousy representative for the scientific view. The whole show was pointless, except as an aid to creationists who want to sow doubt and confusion.

Comments

  1. #1 Heraclides
    May 7, 2009

    Debates are pointless anyway, they are “about” “winning the audience”, not conveying information or anything of substance. Just my thoughts, anyway.

  2. #2 discipleofkitsch
    May 7, 2009

    “the whole show was pointless”

    It happens a lot.

  3. #3 ChrisKG
    May 7, 2009

    PZ, You said, “ID is a fringe theory held by a tiny minority of scientists.” I doubt this is factual. I understand your point but this will be quote-mined to death. Can you imagine someone from the DI saying PZ Myers says, “ID is a….theory held by…scientists.”

    Chris

  4. #4 IST
    May 7, 2009

    This, even if more along the lines of a discussion than a debate, was a spectacular aid to creationist twits everywhere… It gave their bogus hypotheses equal footing with real science, conveyed their beliefs rather well, and completely failed to explain natural selection and the evidence for it.

  5. #5 Ray S.
    May 7, 2009

    Doubt and confusion is exactly what they want, along with guilt and a sense of worthlessness. because if you have all that, they have (they think) the perfect solution in Jebus.

    I appreciate that Matthews is doing this; I wouldn’t actually mind him going through Congress one at a time to expose them, Republican or Democrat. Watching them react like cockroaches when the light is turned on is fun. If only Matthews would allow someone on with a stronger light to assist.

  6. #6 Anonymous
    May 7, 2009

    What debate? The “opposing” side’s description of their “common ground” was a summation of the ID position.

  7. #7 Dunc
    May 7, 2009

    I do like the fact that he admits that the people on the pro-evolution side are “highly educated, well rounded, and well respected in their field”, whereas those on the ID side are merely “highly respected”. “Highly respected” by whom and for what, he neglects to mention…

  8. #8 Rick Schauer
    May 7, 2009

    Slightly off topic, here is a link to President Obama’s science blog!!!!
    http://blog.ostp.gov/
    It’s run by the Office of Science and Technology and is a new blog that, well…invites comments about the direction we should take as a nation in the area of science and technology. I’m sure there are a few people here who would enjoy sounding off there. Cheers!

  9. #9 Felix
    May 7, 2009

    It’s astonishing the amount of mental gymnastics one must go through to outright dismiss evidence for evolution, while at the same time holding ID up as the pinnacle of scientific achievement.

    If they want to subscribe to pseudo-science, we can always comply. I hear drilling into your skull to remove the demons inside works wonderfully on Creationists.

  10. #10 CharmedQuark
    May 7, 2009

    I happened upon that interview – wow it was cringe inducing. I was extremely disappointed in Chris Matthews. Assuming Matthews will continue to pursue this isse, any chance of trying to get him to have a Biologist on his show?

  11. #11 JeffS
    May 7, 2009

    I feel bad for Chris Matthews in a way. He is in no way prepared to handle a well rehearsed (note, not researched) ID proponent. Having no real knowledge himself, its difficult for him to realize the outright lies. He should, but he doesn’t. He thinks finding common ground (like God guided evolution) is a good thing. He doesn’t understand it not only gives some credibility to creationists, it puts evolution on shakey ground. Evolution shows that no God had a hand in our existence. Saying that God guided evolution is confusing at best.

    Hopefully they will bring someone with an ounce of intelligence on to set things straight.

    Still, I give him credit for going after these people.

  12. #12 Jake
    May 7, 2009

    Despite cringing throughout- I have to hand it to Chris. I think he realized he did not know enough facts to debate evolution/ID so he brought the subject back to the scientific method and how reasonable people will be when confronted with evidence. If you make people acknowledge that they will be reasonable and not simply reject out of hand based on belief then you have the ability to show the clear differences between science and fluff.

  13. #13 Amanduh
    May 7, 2009

    I’m sorry, but how could Tancredo say that he believes evolution was god-initiated and then turn around and claim that “macro” evolution does not occur/we have no transitional fossils? So what, he thinks god made us not exactly as we are, but slightly differently, and then allowed a small amount of adaptation to happen within species only?

    How the hell is that different than my fundie dad saying god created everything in 7 days and since then there have been slight adaptations?

  14. #14 Sigmund
    May 7, 2009

    Matthews quote at the beginning of the Tancredo section is interesting.
    “Most of us sort of believe, I think, that God created the Earth. We have a belief in a deity. We also believe that somehow he did it through evolution. There was some kind of guidance to it from the beginning certainly and he knew what he was doing, he or she if you want to get really broad-minded, knew what he was doing. And he did it his way. He didn’t do it in seven days, like we were thought, but he did it his way.”
    That is a pretty good description of both Intelligent Design and of theistic evolution. Both Michael Behe and Ken Miller would have no problem with that as a definition of their stance on evolution. Its probably also true that the vast majority of Americans (including anti-science individuals like Tancredo) can agree with it as a statement of their personal understanding of evolution. I find this worrying. Is it any wonder that the accomodationalist position hasn’t worked?

  15. #15 GBJ
    May 7, 2009

    I couldn’t take the stupidity. Had to turn it off.

  16. #16 Rick Schauer
    May 7, 2009

    That video is a perfect example of cognitive dissonance. Matthews seemingly suffers a little less than Trancredo..but both demonstrate a lazy or inept ability to study (gather facts), evaluate and synthesize conclusions based on REALITY v. sky-fairies. Pity.

  17. #17 C Barr
    May 7, 2009

    Intelligent Design isn’t even a “speculative hypothesis”. Intelligent Design is a political tactic.

  18. #18 RamblinDude
    May 7, 2009

    Like all creationists, Tancredo will say these same stupid things over and over again and then say that he only ?Looks at the evidence in front of him.? Well, in a minimal way, this liar for jesus is telling the truth?as the only “evidence” he will allow in front of him, the only ?evidence? he will focus his attention on, is from creationist sources. Like all creationists, the only investigation he will do is in trying to assimilate that endlessly circulation bank of lies that is spoon-fed to him by those same creationist sources.

    That said, I didn?t think Mathews was so terrible in the exchange. He?s not qualified to deal with IDiocy, and it?s too bad an actual scientist wasn?t there to refute Tancredo properly, but his pro-science stance did come through loud and clear. I hope he keeps hammering on about this issue.

    PZ on ?Hardball,? now there?s a thought.

  19. #19 Stanton
    May 7, 2009

    Tom Tancredo?
    The same guy who advocated fighting Al Qaeda by dropping an atomic bomb on Mecca for no reason beyond to lash out at them, thereby declaring war against the Islamic World forever and ever and ever?

  20. #20 Kel
    May 7, 2009

    The stupid, it burns!

  21. #21 Stacy
    May 7, 2009

    “Intelligent design research”
    Hahahahahahahaha! :-)

  22. #22 DJ
    May 7, 2009

    Wow, talk about unethical journalism…

    I guess the ID gets equal time/weight in the media because they treat it like a political issue. I agree with PZ’s assessment.

    Damn 24 hour news channels, good thing there are 24 hour science channels too, though I doubt they have the same audience.

  23. #23 DJ
    May 7, 2009

    PZ,

    Maybe send Matthews your assessment/review in an email. You agree that his motives are pure, might as well help him out.

    Sorry about the double post.

  24. #24 Gorogh
    May 7, 2009

    @Stanton, #19

    The same guy who advocated fighting Al Qaeda by dropping an atomic bomb on Mecca for no reason beyond to lash out at them, thereby declaring war against the Islamic World forever and ever and ever?

    This is one of the worst cases of idiocy I ever heard about. It is hardly fallacious (well logically, yes, but surely not psychologically) to assume that a person so short-sighted and ignorant is by no means able of holding a valid position on such a complex issue such as evolution. I mean… facts… theories… science… molecular biology, dating methods… too much information. Modifying Lovecraft, “the most maddening thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the religious mind to even try to correlate some of its contents”.

  25. #25 rmp
    May 7, 2009

    I was screaming at the TV last night while this was on. I’m pretty sure the wife and kid were thinking about getting me a tranquilizer.

  26. #26 James Sweet
    May 7, 2009

    I had to turn it off after Matthews dismissed the atheist position out of hand. Yep, once again, I am a non-person when it comes to the state of political debate in this country.

    I think a lot of the people who accuse folks like Hitchens of “preaching to the choir” are missing the point that this choir has been severely under-preached to. I used to see stuff like Matthews’ outright dismissal of the naturalist argument and feel pretty alone. Now, thanks to all the “Ditchkins”es out there, I don’t feel alone anymore, I just feel like Matthews is being an asshole. :)

  27. #27 Gorogh
    May 7, 2009

    Ah… mhm read some more context, which is still stupid, but not outrageously stupid:

    Talk show host Pat Campbell (search) asked the Littleton Republican how the country should respond if terrorists struck several U.S. cities with nuclear weapons.

    “Well, what if you said something like ? if this happens in the United States, and we determine that it is the result of extremist, fundamentalist Muslims, you know, you could take out their holy sites,” Tancredo answered.

    “You’re talking about bombing Mecca,” Campbell said.

    “Yeah,” Tancredo responded.

    from the first best google source.

  28. #28 CalGeorge
    May 7, 2009

    Matthews: “He or she … knew what he was doing, and he did it his way, he didn’t do it in seven days, as we were taught, but he did it his way…”

    Oh my gosh, God is Frank Sinatra!

    And now, the end is here
    And so I face the final curtain
    My friend, I’ll say it clear
    I’ll state my case, of which I’m certain
    I’ve lived a life that’s full
    I traveled each and ev’ry highway
    And more, much more than this, I did it my way

    Regrets, I’ve had a few
    But then again, too few to mention
    I did what I had to do and saw it through without exemption
    I planned each charted course, each careful step along the byway
    And more, much more than this, I did it my way

    Yes, there were times, I’m sure you knew
    When I bit off more than I could chew
    But through it all, when there was doubt
    I ate it up and spit it out
    I faced it all and I stood tall and did it my way

    Good-bye, Frank! Don’t let the door hit you on the way out!

  29. #29 recovering catholic
    May 7, 2009

    It never ceases to amaze me (though it should, by now) that so many people profess to have an intimate and complete understanding of evolutionary theory based on the fact that they 1) have had a biology course and or 2) read stuff on the internet. And on that basis they feel qualified to pontificate on evolution.

    This is analagous to someone having had up through basic algebra and pontificating on topology or even quantum mechanics. As Stephen Jay Gould said years ago, it’s very strange indeed that only biological scientists are called upon by amateurs to defend their science. What’s worse, the principles of evolution are easily accessible to virtually anybody who takes the time to study them.

  30. #30 uksceptic
    May 7, 2009

    Am I missing something what does ID and evolution have to do with Climate change?

    The so called news debate was terrible. Journalists should have a fundemental understanding of the topic they are entering a debate about. It’s not like the ID side are going to come up with anything new, 10 mins online could have prepared Matthews better for that debate. Instead he keeps blurring it all up with respecting beliefs, talking about the scientific method, talking about politics and talking about climate change for reasons best known to himself.

    I am not a scientist yet feel confident I could have performed better than Matthews. He does nothing to help science or the ‘scientific method’ he keeps going on about although shows not evidence of having any understanding of.

    The reason ID seems to do so well in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary is because it sits in an uncomfortable place. It presents itself as science but really it is a religious and political issue hence its protection in the mainstream media from any harsh critism. As soon as the critism becomes to harsh then out comes the belief card or the teaching the controversy card.

    Interviews like this play exactly into the hands of the IDiots.

  31. #31 africangenesis
    May 7, 2009

    It was obvious from the beginning that Matthews real concern was the climate change. I’m sure he is much more informed on that issue.

  32. #32 Thanny
    May 7, 2009

    I was watching that yesterday. Well, actually, it was on the TV while I was in the room for other reasons, and I absorbed some of the stupidity emanating from the device.

    I found myself cursing the idiocy and dishonesty of Tancredo over and over, lamenting the fact that Matthews was utterly incapable of spotting the bad information.

    One other thing that struck me was a comment by Matthews that described the natural materialist position (evolution is responsible for life, and there’s no room for gods) as one extreme of the argument. How is the mainstream scientific position an extreme?

  33. #33 Pierce R. Butler
    May 7, 2009

    Formatting breakdown: Tancredo’s comments fail to appear in Comic Sans with a Gumby picture.

    It’s the end of Traditional Values as we know them – and I feel scared!

  34. #34 Gorogh
    May 7, 2009

    @Thanny, #32

    One other thing that struck me was a comment by Matthews that described the natural materialist position (evolution is responsible for life, and there’s no room for gods) as one extreme of the argument. How is the mainstream scientific position an extreme?

    Probably not extreme in terms of frequencies/acceptance, but extreme logically. The assumption “goddidit” on the one, Laplace’s position exemplifying the other end of the spectrum. No?

  35. #35 Thomas Winwood
    May 7, 2009

    #1: I maintain that if you groom every sentence you write in the hope of making it impossible to be quotemined, you’ll never manage to write anything.

  36. #36 MartyM
    May 7, 2009

    I have to wonder, how many people actually saw this when it aired live? Depends on the time of day, I guess I don’t watch Hardball (or Matthews for that matter) ever so I don’t know what time it aired. My point is damage control. I wonder how much damage it may have caused to the public’s view of science. Of course the web reruns probably do more damage than did the initial airing.

  37. #37 rtp10
    May 7, 2009

    Chris Matthews was so far out of his depth. Why did he think he could debate someone in a topic he has no knowledge on? It makes no sense.

  38. #38 Rorschach
    May 7, 2009

    This lack of clarity of argument and generally muddled thinking seems to be endemic these days,and its not exclusively american by any means,although seems awfully prevalent over there.
    I hadnt seen much of Matthews prior,but Im less than impressed what he let this total moron get away with.
    Matthews is not doing the science side any favors at all by being so unprepared in debating liars for jebus.

  39. #39 bobxxxx
    May 7, 2009

    We have scientific data out the wazoo on this one.

    – PZ Myers

    This just got added to my list of favorite quotes.

    I’m sure most people here have heard Tancredo’s lies before. Nobody can repeat lies for countless years like creationist scum.

  40. #40 Pierce R. Butler
    May 7, 2009

    … the one is equal to the other in terms of the number of people who support it in terms?especially of their backgrounds and the research out there. … Here’s a group of people, highly respected, who believe in intelligent design.

    So far I’ve come up with three hypotheses about this:

    1) Tancredo has not seen Expelled.

    2) Tancredo has seen Expelled, but denies its thesis.

    3) Tancredo has seen Expelled, and accepts it, but thinks that things have changed in academia since its release.

    There’s a fourth hypothesis, that Tancredo may not be able to help with: that’s it’s not too early in the morning to begin drinking. Are you with me, Ditchkins?

  41. #41 nigelTheBold
    May 7, 2009

    This can’t last. ID is the last desperate, futile attempt to storm the walls of science, and tear it down to their level.

    I think it is interesting that IDers wish to abandon the rigours of the scientific method. They want to allow what amounts to “gut feelings” to guide science. Perhaps this is an indirect (as well as direct) result of their religious beliefs. After all, to accept religion as real, one must accept the rather squidgy epistemology of, “It feels right to me.” If it works for their religion (which is real), why shouldn’t it work for science as well?

  42. #42 Gorogh
    May 7, 2009

    Has anyone ever attempted a conclusive (and didactically refined) analysis of what ID-proponents would have to deny – for consequence’s sake – of modern advancements in science and technology, given they deny all kinds of well established methods and theories regarding evolution? If I am not mistaken, while logically an argumentum ad consequentiam, this might be a powerful illustration of ID’s futility.

  43. #43 Foggg
    May 7, 2009

    It’s a microcosm of the US.
    Someone who doesn’t care enough about the subject to inform himself beyond a few theological platitudes, vs…
    Someone who has imbibed a half dozen talking points from the ubiquitous ID propaganda machine, and beyond that doesn’t care.
    And not Joe and Fred shooting the bull at the bar — no, one merely hosts a daily full hr on a national US network (rerun twice more before midnight), the other’s merely a multi-term US Congressman.

  44. #44 Rey Fox
    May 7, 2009

    “Matthews should have brought on someone qualified to address the topic. ”

    Sure, if they were interested in advancing public knowledge, but that’s not the case at all. It’s all about theater, that’s why the news sources will be continually pushing this false equivalency. So they can manufacture a “controversy”, and have their talking heads argue from the mushy middle so that people can be soothed.

  45. #45 Coriolis
    May 7, 2009

    Considering how often the main stream cable news shows even pick up this issue (i.e. nearly never), I think it’s good enough if this manages to raise some ruckus. Sure Matthews can’t handle Tancredo’s lies, but he did do well to show him squirming at least some of the time, and to even pick up the issue.

    And if it’s popular, who knows, maybe we’ll even get someone with a clue there next time.

  46. #46 Kausik Datta
    May 7, 2009

    Slightly OT, but interesting nevertheless for the Pharyngulites:
    The OSTP blog

    The above-mentioned weblink points to the recently started OSTP blog as the face of President Obama’s community science initiative. Perhaps the Pharyngulites would care to give it a little try? I am sure there are many regular Pharyngulites here who would be able to offer incredibly valuable opinions on the subject of Science and Science Education there.

    So far the responses in that blog have been largely (not completely, though) free from woo-woo, but there is no guarantee how much longer it would remain so. We need to weigh in as much as and as early as possible.

  47. #47 Anonymous
    May 7, 2009

    I maintain that if you groom every sentence you write in the hope of making it impossible to be quotemined, you’ll never manage to write anything.

    To support #35 Thomas Winwood?s point, I mine the following quotes:
    I maintain?. groom every sentence ?. making it impossible to be quotemined?.
    I maintain that ? you’ll never ? to write anything.
    (W)rite in ? hope ? write anything.
    I ? groom ? you ? in the hope of making it?

  48. #48 shonny
    May 7, 2009

    PZ, you are a glutton for punishment!
    Or one prof with extremely high BS-tolerance level.
    Guess tutorials helped your tolerance, but in your spare time . . . !

    Someone ought to tell Matthews what ‘hard ball’ means, because nowhere is it synonymous with arse-licking. At least to my best of knowledge.

    Managed only 30 seconds of the BS session, because it oozed of stoopid like the hole in the head of a godbot.

  49. #49 Fred the Hun
    May 7, 2009

    What I find ever harder to understand, Is that fact that people still watch the shit that is on television. Doesn’t anyone one have more important things to do?! Disclaimer, I went cold turkey on the tube in 2005 and have never looked back. If I want to be entertained I read the comments on blogs such as this one ;-)

  50. #50 TechSkeptic
    May 7, 2009

    why does MSNBC think this tripe is worth airing to a national audience?

    Money. We gotta stop believing that our current state of journalism has anything to do with truth finding. Some of it does, but there is a right wing audience and a left wing audience. Both of them think they are right and will read/view news that appeals to their sensibilities. By acknowledging that they will not get 100% of the audience, they maximize what they can get. Fox identified an audience and has attacked that market. By doing do they have raised viewership with such tripe as americanidol and Bill O’reilly. They now command large ad revenue.

    This stopped being about finding truth and getting to the heart of the matter years ago, if not decades.

    So this interview of two buffoons bumping in to each other is simply more marketing. Welcome to a country based as close to pure capitalism as any country ever has been.

  51. #51 shonny
    May 7, 2009

    Posted by: Fred the Hun Author Profile Page | May 7, 2009 10:12 AM
    What I find ever harder to understand, Is that fact that people still watch the shit that is on television. Doesn’t anyone one have more important things to do?! Disclaimer, I went cold turkey on the tube in 2005 and have never looked back. If I want to be entertained I read the comments on blogs such as this one ;-)

    Good move, FTH. Did the same, but particularly selectively on US American programs; un-funny comedies, biased reporting, dead-boring movies (show a gun or a car exploding, and you know the whole story can be summarized in milliseconds by the word ‘crap’), American Happy Holidays with Hitler, and even nature programs. Somehow it seems all fucked up when producers are catering to an American audience.
    But for some reason these programs pop up on Scandianvian TV as well. Thankfully, – there’s an off button!

  52. #52 TWhitley
    May 7, 2009

    Chris Matthews is trying to get his Republican guests to say publicly that they believe in evolution. When they can’t bring themselves to say that, he marvels that their fear of backlash from their constituencies can be so great as to make them reject accepted scientific fact. It’s a noble mission he’s on! He’s not a scientist–he’s not even the best interviewer around!–but at least he’s trying something that I don’t see anyone else trying. Let’s give him a break!

    What I saw happen in the Tancredo interview was that the guest acted put-upon that Matthews could suggest such a crazy concept as ‘rejecting science’! The guest, Tancredo, then proceeded to equate some ‘God-created-the-Earth-and-along-with-that-the-process-of-evolution’-gobbledygook with the term ‘intelligent design’. I heard in Tancredo’s responses the introduction of what we might call ‘weak ID’. It includes only 1) a belief that a Creator is needed, but 2) that some evidence of evolution is undeniable.

    As Sigmund says in Comment #14 above, ‘the vast majority of Americans can agree with [that] as a statement of their personal understanding of evolution.’

    Once those tenets of ‘weak ID’ are laid down, the basis is set for picking and choosing your facts. Tancredo sure did. As other posters have analyzed, his crazy-quilt of beliefs is not internally consistent, but it probably appears good enough to the majority of Americans who don’t like to look too closely at controversial subjects. And, since the term ‘intelligent design’ has been so casually thrown in there–with no fuss over the actual claims of ID-proponents–any of the ID claims can be mixed in, as Tancredo did quite craftily. [I don't know his background, but I feel that Tancredo would not be able to recite the ID credo--I feel he's just regurgitating some stuff that it feels good to say without bothering too much about the details.]

    I came away from the interview yesterday concerned that this mutation of creationism –> ID –> weak-ID could be very dangerous in that it no longer seeks to represent itself as religious belief (creationism) nor as a scientific research program (ID), but simply as common sense shared by a majority of incurious people. That is, by most Americans.

    As such, it is most difficult to dislodge. After all, once an idea installs itself in the minds of incurious people, by what mechanism can one hope to combat it? Museums? Continuing education? Popular science articles? Please, these are incurious people we’re talking about! See what I mean? Dangerous!

  53. #53 IST
    May 7, 2009

    Fred> there’s a small amount of the shit that’s on television that’s actually entertaining, which is why mine still gets use… mostly sports, occasionally House or soemthing else I find amusing. But, yes, I usually do have more important things to do. The sad part is that a fair number of people don’t, and wouldn’t be entertained by the comments on this blog. American television targets the average American; what does that tell you about the state of the viewership?

  54. #54 Varlo
    May 7, 2009

    I believe you are being a bit hard on Matthews. His specialty is politics, and because of his background he is quite knowledgeable there. At least he is trying, although with limited weaponry. OT, the gay bashing Miss California is whining that it is intolerant to criticize her for nudie photos (which she evidently lied about when entering the contest). Oh my, how it hurts when the intolerance is incoming. I am sure she is vapidly unaware of the irony.

  55. #55 Greg Esres
    May 7, 2009

    You really need to cut Matthews some slack. Pretty much all scientists suck in the role that Matthews was playing; they simply aren’t aggressive enough.

    Why not help put together a training program for people that want to attack the anti-science folks and are actually capable of doing so effectively?

  56. #56 dkahn400
    May 7, 2009

    I’m not convinced Tancredo is as ignorant as he pretends. He’s simply repeating as much of the creationist schtick as he thinks will both avoid offending his constituency and sound reasonably plausible to the layman. Some of Matthews’ questions were so long I wondered whether the interview would run out of time before Tancredo had a chance to bluster an answer.

  57. #57 Eidolon
    May 7, 2009

    Nigel @41:

    I disagree. most certainly can last since there is no dynamic for change. The true believers (if I dare use that word) are in hog heaven and none of the media are willing to take them on.

    In other news, Jadehawk found this site a bit ago and this tract should be good for a few mm Hg blood pressure in anyone with a brain:

    http://www.chick.com/reading/tracts/0055/0055_01.asp

    Have a day.

  58. #58 Scott from Oregon
    May 7, 2009

    So let’s put Tancredo in government and let him use his expertise to help control the imaginations and purse strings of 300 million people…

    And then put Mathews on TV as an “expert” and let him sell you his version of how we need people like Tancredo in Washington planning and manipulating the fate (and purse strings) of 300 million people…

    Sure. Makes sense. Sounds rational and reasonable.

    Sure.

  59. #59 PZ Myers
    May 7, 2009

    I will not cut Matthews any slack. That’s the problem — we think ignorance is OK. It isn’t.

    I do not expect Matthews to run out and get a degree in biology. What I expect is that when he hosts a show on evolution, and goes out of his way to bring in a pig-ignorant fool of a creationist for a guest, he at least makes the effort to bring in a competent biologist to rebut the stupidity, since he can’t.

  60. #60 Anonymous
    May 7, 2009

    Few IDists have any training in the relevant biology; most are philosophers, theologians, lawyers, engineers, and dentists, among other fields

    Teeth – Gods biggest practical joke…

    Seriously if I was intelligently designed, why are my teeth falling out of my face and needing to be pulled and drilled like mad?

  61. #61 Anonymous
    May 7, 2009

    If you have n data points, you can always fit them exactly with a n-1th degree polynomial. Your R-squared will be 100%! Yet you will never be able to predict what your next data point will be with such a theory–you’ve overfit the data. Likewise, for IDiots, everything requires a decision by the designer–even a decision not to intervene represents an adjustable parameter in the theory.

    Reslt: A “theory” that can’t predict anything–by definition, not science.

    You can show this mathematically using Akaike information Criterion (AIC).

  62. #62 Glen Davidson
    May 7, 2009

    It’s hard even to respond to Tancredo, since he’s so ignorant he’s often not even wrong. This, though:

    “Here’s a group of people, highly respected, who believe in intelligent design. These are two theories.”

    Argumentum ad populum does not a theory make, moron. And you’d lose by the numbers anyway, if you were counting up Ph.Ds.

    Even prominent IDiots admit that there’s no theory, including Phillip Johnson, Paul Nelson, and Michael Medved. Even if the dolt merely knew ID, rather than science, he’d not make such an ass of himself.

    What is more, who among the IDiots is actually respected? Phillip Johnson, I’ll grant, still probably is fairly respected in the area of law–but not at all in science. Behe used to be an IDiot-scientist with some respect, however I don’t think there’s much left after Dover. Wells is about as respectable as Stein in science. Dembski? Christ, what a dweeb.

    There might be some respected in theological or professional circles, while in biology they have nearly zero respect, to a person. And why would they? Perverting science is their only tactic, as they can’t win at all on any theoretical grounds.

    Unfortunately, his many misrepresentations won’t hurt him or ID much. Yet Tancredo is so ignorant that it doesn’t seem (from this account, at least) that he even used the better PR nonsense that the IDiots put out, so it’s not all that bad, either.

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

  63. #63 MrFire
    May 7, 2009

    Dear PZ:

    Thanks for tirelessly re-iterating many of the fallacies and other critical points of ‘interest’ in creationist thinking, whenever you make a post like this. It’s useful to people like me, who have a scientific background (and therefore feel obliged to be somewhat authoritative on the matter) but still need to get their thoughts collected, sharpened, and in order. Of course, there’s any number of great books out there, but it’s good to see current affairs dissected and addressed in real-time, like I do on this blog. Please keep it up! (as if you wouldn’t :))

  64. #65 uncle frogy
    May 7, 2009

    the epitaph of creationism by PZ Myers
    “”Intelligent Design creationism did not qualify as a scientific theory at all. At best, it was a highly speculative hypothesis, one assembled without any reasonable evidence, and had been a spectacular failure at provoking any useful research.””
    (The History of Science 2075)

  65. #66 humble student
    May 7, 2009

    The interview was clearly not aimed at a scientificly proficient audience, in that it featured no evidence for the ‘theories’ suggested.
    My issue is that as an intelligent (so they say) individual who is a Biological Sciences BSc student studying for a 2nd year level exam in Evolutionary Biology, where can you really go for intelligent opinions (based on fact or even some kind of research) on the subject??
    Having taken the class and plodded through lecture notes, trying to find some ‘in vivo’ evolutionary opinions dragged me here and to be honest, I would like to see a good, serious debate between a creationalist and an evolutionist – no put-downs just sticking to answering questions and proving points as opposed to disproving. The contrast would be great for learning and would also answer a couple personal questions I have.
    Everyone here seems to ‘know’ that religious people are kooks but at least they put their hands up and admit they have no idea how life began and leave it in the hands of the ‘creator’ but I have as yet to understand from a scientist how energy (which cannot be created or destroyed – supposed fact) a)came to be, then b)’decided’ to assemble itself into an atom, then c)molecule, then d)cell, bringing us up to evolution.
    I am not looking for an intellectual brawl so please save your put downs for someone who has time to waste, just some references or even a response with some scientific weight behind it.
    Thanks.

  66. #67 JoeBlotto
    May 7, 2009

    I don’t mean to nitpick on something that wasn’t the main point of the article, but…

    You suggest that their brief exposure to science curriculums must have been exclusively in high school, as they went to Catholic schools as children (unless I am reading into that statement too far)…

    I went to/survived Catholic schools for 12 years. I wavered on things back then, but now am a staunch atheist and skeptic. I look to the likes of PZ, Phil Plait, and Richard Dawkins as some of the most intelligent people alive today. I know and trust in my science, but I can’t say that anything ever taught to me growing up IN A SCIENCE CLASS was untrue or does not match exactly the views of this blog or true science in general.

    Didn’t mean to nitpick, but I thought you should know that not ALL religious-minded educational institutions are spewing pure nonsense.

  67. #68 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    May 7, 2009

    I would like to see a good, serious debate between a creationalist and an evolutionist

    There is a place for such a debate. It is called the peer reviewed scientific literature. That is where the debate of science (evolution) is carried out daily, constantly questioning itself, like all science does. Science is only refuted by more science. Which must be published in the scientific literature. However, creationism (religion) is not scientific since it never publishes any papers there. And religion cannot refute science. So, publish your papers if you want a serious scientific debate.

  68. #69 Eidolon
    May 7, 2009

    Humble:

    You have conflated abiogenesis with evolution – two different issues. That said, The Constancy of energy/mass is about as close to a “fact” as you can get. For a quick example, in particle physics we can see the creation of matter from energy and a change in mass depending on energy given a particle. Ol’ Einstein and his equations appear to be correct to the best of our ability to measure, which is pretty considerable.

    For your other point on origins of the universe, let me commend “The First Three Minutes” by Steven Weinberg. as reading that can help inform you on where cosmology is at. At least for now, as it is a very active area.

  69. #70 Eidolon
    May 7, 2009

    Humble:

    You have conflated abiogenesis with evolution – two different issues. That said, The Constancy of energy/mass is about as close to a “fact” as you can get. For a quick example, in particle physics we can see the creation of matter from energy and a change in mass depending on energy given a particle. Ol’ Einstein and his equations appear to be correct to the best of our ability to measure, which is pretty considerable.

    For your other point on origins of the universe, let me commend “The First Three Minutes” by Steven Weinberg. as reading that can help inform you on where cosmology is at. At least for now, as it is a very active area.

  70. #71 co
    May 7, 2009

    John Denker has a nice response to the IDers’ woo: http://www.av8n.com/physics/intelligent-design.htm

  71. #72 Janine, OMnivore
    May 7, 2009

    For those people who are wondering why MSNBC would have something like this on, just remember that, once upon a time, MSNBC aired a show titled Alan Keyes Is Making Sense.

  72. #73 RF Engineer
    May 7, 2009

    PZ, I would like to point out to you that most graduate Engineers ( a relatively tough degree ) accept evolution as a fact.
    At least me and the majority of my colleuges. Any dentists out there who can comment?

  73. #74 Josh
    May 7, 2009

    Wow–there pretty much wasn’t anything accurate about science or evolution in that entire clip. At least I couldn’t find it among all the word salad being tossed around. My thoughts pretty much echo what PZ wrote, except that I suspect any doubt and confusion from this will get sown without any additional work by creationists. I think the mere airing of this eight minute segment, if it did anything at all, acted to weaken–just a little bit more–science literacy in the US.

    What I mean by that is this: Tancredo is so blindingly ignorant about science in general, and evolution in particular, that pretty much everything he says in that clip can be dismissed outright–he basically doesn’t appear to know anything (or he’s lying for the base…). Yet despite this ignorance, he’s given a platform from which to answer questions with a presumption of authority. As others have pointed out, the goal is likely just theater and controversy(!!!), but when the topic is science-related, I put forth that there is, by default, a high risk of spreading misinformation (=decrease in literacy) because everything science seems to be poorly understood by the general public.

    If I got on that show to discuss the world series, but didn’t remember which teams were involved because I hadn’t bothered to watch any of the fucking games, I predict that viewers would quickly dismiss me as ignorant and move on*. But when it’s a science topic on the table, the American public as a whole is so poorly educated that blowhards can just get on camera and wave around some big words or fucking lie, and many people won’t be able to discriminate the good information from the bad. I think that this leads to people accepting bad information as being good more often than we’d like to think. If a single person accepts any of Tancredo’s blitherings as being accurate, then I think that we’re all a tiny bit worse off than we were before (if a solid understanding of science, by the general public, is seen as “good” and a poor understanding of science, by the general public, is seen as “bad”).

    Unfortunately, if I were to form an opinion based on this clip, I’d put Matthews in the same category as Tancredo. His blithering didn’t convince me that he has the first fucking idea of what he’s talking about. If you don’t even know what questions to ask, then perhaps you should stick to those topics with which you have at least a passing familiarity. He so far hasn’t convinced me that he knows much more about science or evolution than Tancredo. When I start hearing “the missing link” and “no transitional fossils” and “lets keep the scientific method in mind,” I think I can safely dismiss the speaker as a credible authority. I saw little difference between the two “sides” in this clip. I personally don’t care about his motives; I care about whether or not he’s helping. I don’t think that he is, despite maybe having his heart in the right place. By not knowing what you’re talking about, it’s quite possible to do more “harm” than “good,” even if you’re trying to do something nobel.

    Maybe I’ll write to Matthews and ask to have me on the next time he decides to talk about the Daytona 500. I don’t follow racing; I don’t know any of the major participants involved, beyond what I hear about in the course of daily life; I don’t really know any of the more specific rules that drivers need to abide by while on the track–it sounds like I’d be a perfect guest for his show.

    *terrible analogy I know–I didn’t want to spend forever on it.

  74. #75 IST
    May 7, 2009

    @ humble student> If you’ve actually sat a class in Ev. Theory, you’re better off just asking your personal questions in a form that might draw an answer. There are plenty of people here who are capable of providing those.

    As for your debate, I’ve yet to see one like that because one side of it has no support for their evidence, and tends to simply make vacuous or fallacious claims about the other’s evidence rather than stating their own case. Try talkorigins.org or panda’s thumb also, as they are related directly to that debate. The FAQ at talk origins would probably cover whatever it is your after.

    You’re looking for a response for how non-life organised into life? That’s abiogenesis, which is not related, necessarily, to natural selection. There’s a separate FAQ on abiogenesis on talkorigins for that:http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/abioprob/

    Also, try googling : Oparin and Haldane, primordial soup, abiogenesis (the Wiki article isn’t all that bad).
    This link :http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/abioprob/originoflife.html is pretty informative as well.

  75. #76 Greg Harrison
    May 7, 2009

    Thanks for reviewing this – I think I’ll skip the Tancredo and avoid the nausea.

    This, on the other hand, cheered me up: This morning, I showed my four-year old son an article on the evolution of whales (Nov 2001 National Geographic). (my sons love dinosaurs and fossils of all kinds, so I knew they’d like to see this). I pointed to one of the images of early whales, and said “Ambulocetus”. My son immediately asked me: “But Daddy, where is the Basilosaurus?” It was on the next page.

  76. #77 Ryan Egesdahl
    May 7, 2009

    How appropriate a story for the National Day of Prayer. Wait…you didn’t forget that it was the National Day of Prayer, did you?

    I just pray that people eventually see the National Day of Prayer for the ridiculous event that it is.

  77. #78 momus
    May 7, 2009

    The point of talk TV and talk radio is profits, the shows are inexpensive to produce and generate significant ad revenue. Beyond that their point is pointlessness. In the US, no one would watch knowledgeable people (eggheads and pointy-headed librils) systematically debunk ID or other sacred beliefs.

    The cause Matthews appears to have taken up is global warming. He’s going after some well-known politicians who are GW skeptics by asking whether they “believe” in the scientific method. Since, they guests usually dodge that question he goes after their other sciency beliefs, “Darwinism” being the most contentious. Hence, the jumping back and forth.

  78. #79 Keanus
    May 7, 2009

    I steamed through both interviews. And then sent an email to Matthews taking him to task for being uninformed, being too sympathetic to both Spence and Tancredo, and supporting the false equivalence of science and religion by speaking of “believing” in science. I agree with DJ (#23) that PZ should send Matthews his comments. Someone needs to whack Matthews up side of the head with a two by four!

  79. #80 Andrew Sinnott
    May 7, 2009

    I don’t know if this has been suggested but can we start abbreviating Intelligent Design to IDC. Like Young Earth Creationism (YEC) and Old Earth Creationism (OEC) it’s just another form of creationism and I think the more we include the ‘C’ in ID, and never let anyone avoid calling it for what it really is, the closer we’ll get to people realizing how bogus this ‘theory’ is. People intermittently peg ‘creationism’ on to the end and I think this needs to become staple. Think about it, people start to google Intelligent Design Creationism instead of just ID and the first results they get will include all the reasons why this is just another form of religious waffle.

  80. #81 Alex
    May 7, 2009

    ID is NOT a fringe theory. It is a fringe idea.

  81. #82 Glen Davidson
    May 7, 2009

    I don’t know if this has been suggested but can we start abbreviating Intelligent Design to IDC.

    Google it, along with “intelligent” and “design.”

    That abbreviation has definitely been used, but seems not to have really taken off. One problem, I think, is that mostly a group is generally allowed to come up with its own names, provided that they aren’t absurdly grandiose, or some such thing. So a lot will stick with “intelligent design” and “ID,” following that tradition.

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

  82. #83 Andrew Beaumont
    May 7, 2009

    Not only does Tancredo seemingly have no grasp of anything related to biology, he can barely spit out a cogent sentence.

    Unfortunately people like my friend use this sort of confusion to support their delusions. They use the same talking points as provided by their religious institutions.

    At least my friend doesn’t claim that his version is a valid scientific theory; he just thinks that there’s a global conspiracy within the scientific community to remove God from the equation. In his own words: “I’m claiming the scientists are being ignorant of the facts.”

  83. #84 Shiloh
    May 7, 2009

    I second the idea of contacting the Matthews show with a statement like this. Maybe if more people demand accurate representations of the facts by informed individuals like the ones PZ mentioned we will one day be able to watch these kinds of TV discussions (that either inform/misinform) without cringing.

  84. #85 TomC
    May 7, 2009

    Slightly off topic but deals with evolution and TV. Fox & Friends had Casey Luskin on Wed 6th telling the world how horribly wrong science textbooks are. Of course, without offering what they should say. It appears to me he dissembled rather well when directly asked if this was a evolution and creation issue. Also favorite quote “We don’t support the teaching of creationism…” May be a surprise to the rest of D.I.

  85. #86 Lilie Schoenack
    May 7, 2009

    Maybe PZ can write a book that addresses all the talking points of the creationists – call it “Creationist’s Propaganda”. Of course we will be seeing these talking points for years to come, even though we all know how fallacious they are – many of them have debunked for decades. It’d be nice to have a guidebook to all the most common talking points and why they are false.

  86. #87 James F
    May 7, 2009

    #86

    Don’t forget Mark Isaak’s The Counter-Creationism Handbook.

  87. #88 Matt
    May 7, 2009

    This makes me furious. Creationists will just point to this and sleep well at night. ANY ambiguity and they think that the case for creationism is won and closed. Aaargh! Idiots.

    I would suggest a boycott of MSNBC, but what’s the point…?

  88. #89 Josh
    May 7, 2009

    …had Casey Luskin on Wed 6th telling the world how horribly wrong science textbooks are.

    Textbooks are often pretty bad. But somehow I doubt that the Great Lusk was referring to the same issues that I am…

  89. #90 uzi
    May 7, 2009

    I’d like to ask this person, in front of a large crowd, to explain the difference between a hypothesis and a theory. I think a glazed look of silence, and the “tap dance” to avoid answering is all one could expect to hear.

  90. #91 James F
    May 7, 2009

    Hang on…at the GOP debate Tancredo affirmed that he didn’t believe in evolution. Now he says he believes in microevolution?

    FLIP FLOP!

  91. #92 Joe
    May 7, 2009

    Ugh. I hate the “They’re both equally valid theories” argument. ID IS NOT EVEN A THEORY. It makes no predictions, and has no specifics. The proponents refuse to even define ID because they know once they do, REAL scientists will shoot it full of holes. Just like no Creationist will ever define “kind” because they know once they do, they will be promptly shown evidence of “cross-kind” evolution.

    Also, it always gets me when there are Catholic IDiots. I was raised Catholic, and even went to Catholic school. They taught that the Adam and Even story was a pretty story with a moral about obeying God (never mentioned the whole “knowledge is evil” part of it), and that evolution was how speciation works. When you’re more backward than the Vatican, you know you’re in trouble.

  92. #93 Qwerty
    May 7, 2009

    This wasn’t a debate about evolution versus intelligent design as much as a discussion about the “GOP’s problem with evolution.” Matthews seems to be baiting more than debating Tancredo.

    And I don’t think that Matthews needs to be a biology expert to question Tancredo on this, but he was so unprepared and/or fawning to Tancredo that he did his subject a disservice. (After all Barbara Forrest isn’t a biologist but she has studied the various permutations of creationism.)

    As for Tancredo thinking that scientists who support ID have the same numbers as those who don’t may not be a lie as he proabably thinks Casey Luskin is a great scientist!

    A question a nonscientist could have asked Tancredo: Do you support ID over evolution in order to keep the support of the Evangelical base of the your party?

    Or: Has ID acheived any significant breakthoughs in the field of medicine?

    I am sure Tancredo would have spouted the same crap, but then, at least, the interview might have been useful.

  93. #94 MDMX
    May 7, 2009

    Being from Colorado I have known for a long time that Tancredo is a fool. The sad thing is that he was originally a teacher and his first national political posting was in the Reagan Education department. So of course he is completely ignorant.

    I am surprised that he didn’t use the opportunity to bash Mexicans.

  94. #95 Disciple of "Bob"
    May 7, 2009

    Dear Rep. Tancredo:

    Can you describe for our audience some of the medical breakthroughs over the years that derive from the science of intelligent design?

  95. #96 astrounit
    May 7, 2009

    Chris Matthews demonstrates, once again, what a lousy, inane and cheap trick that “interviewing” business is all about nowadays.

    Quick! Pass me the ketchup so i can inhale those greasy fast-food fries.

    They’ve actually managed to be WORSE than not being on the air at all.

    Dispicable.

  96. #97 ???
    May 7, 2009

    “Highly respected” by whom and for what, he neglects to mention…

    Highly respected by Larry Fafarman, probably.

  97. #98 teammarty
    May 7, 2009

    When I went to catholic school back in the 70′s, they did have a fairly basic evolution section. After every sentence, the teacher added “of course, it’s a sin to believe this”.

  98. #99 ???
    May 7, 2009

    Was Tom Tancredo’s brain intelligently designed? Or just a random mutation?

  99. #100 Notagod
    May 7, 2009

    Chris Matthews, has a nasty habit of constantly asking for a response from the guest, stopping (seemingly until the guest begins to respond), then adding or embellishing his point. I think that is good and effective if the guest is one who habitually avoids the actual questions but, Chris does this habitually and the method becomes irritating when practiced without regard to the guest being interviewed. I don’t like listening to him because he uses the technique habitually instead of effectively.

    It is good that he expressed a need for knowledge through use of the scientific method but, he failed miserable on a lot of his points in regard to scientific thought. I don’t think he understands that the scientific method should be applied to his god idea as well as any other human quest for knowledge.

  100. #101 Owlmirror
    May 7, 2009

    Everyone here seems to ‘know’ that religious people are kooks but at least they put their hands up and admit they have no idea how life began and leave it in the hands of the ‘creator’ but I have as yet to understand from a scientist how energy (which cannot be created or destroyed – supposed fact) a)came to be, then b)’decided’ to assemble itself into an atom, then c)molecule, then d)cell, bringing us up to evolution.

    Sigh… so much misunderstanding, packed into one little paragraph.

    OK. Let’s tackle the second half of that first.

    When cells are analyzed, what is seen? Organic chemicals; as you say, “molecules” — but a huge, enormous number of molecules in many differenct configurations. The molecules combine and interact in many different ways, forming the various membranes and apparatuses and engines of the cell.

    What is not seen? Any hint of vitalism or spiritual essence being necessary for any of the cell’s molecules to work.

    As far as we can tell, it’s all just molecules — a vast and immensely complex set of molecules, true, but no hint of anything extra. The chemicals involved don’t “decide” to do anything; they just react the way they do because of the electrical charges and physical configurations of their constituent atoms. Hemoglobin is not a tiny man with a penchant for ferrying oxygen; it’s a chemical that reacts with oxygen in a certain way in certain situations.

    How atoms form molecules that have the properties that they do is a question at the intersection of physics and chemistry. Again, when analyzed, all we see are protons and neutrons of a certain number forcing the electrons into a particular configuration, which can join with another atom with its protons and neutrons forcing its electrons into a particular configuration. Combinations of these atoms can form structions with particular geometry, which in turn forces the resulting molecule to interact with other molecules in a particular way.

    Again, we see no vitalism or spiritual essence being necessary to explain how atoms form molecules. There is no “deciding” going on, just physics and geometry.

    How matter and energy came to “be”, and formed into atoms in the first place, is a question for cosmology and physics. At this point in time we have an approximate idea, based on high-energy physics research and cosmological observations (WMAP, etc) of what went on when the universe formed and condensed into matter.

    Of course, there are gaps in our knowledge. There is no overarching theory of physics. The exact method of how molecules first combined into the chemical reactions that we call “life” is not known.

    But… there is also no hint that any intelligence in the form of a non-physical agent exists, or is necessary to explain anything. As noted, there is no hint of any vital fluid invovled, no magical guiding essence. All of our current observations form a picture that involves life as an emergent property of chemistry; a series of cranes bootstrapping themselves into larger and larger sizes with different shapes, rather than the result of some magical skyhook “pulling” life up out of nothing.

    Which brings us back to the first part of your paragraph: The “hands of the creator” is ultimately an incoherent concept to hypothesize. If we begin with the assumption that life is the deliberate creation of an intelligence of some sort, certain things must necessarily follow about that intelligence; for example, that it knows all of the physics and complex organic chemistry that I sketched out above, including the really complicated parts that we currently don’t know. That’s an enormous amount of knowledge. So we are left with the unanswered question of how this purported intelligence arose; what its origins are, and how it gained all of this vast amount of knowledge, which for us, with our far smaller intelligences, was hard-won with immense effort by examining the universe itself. So by positing a creator, we are left with unanswered questions that are far bigger than that the questions that the creator was posited for in the first place!

    Is any of this making sense over there?

  101. #102 bobxxxx
    May 7, 2009

    Everyone here seems to ‘know’ that religious people are kooks but at least they put their hands up and admit they have no idea how life began and leave it in the hands of the ‘creator’

    WTF? This person thinks a blog full of atheists would invoke his magic fairy to solve scientific problems. The stupidity of Christian scum continues to amaze me.

  102. #103 Ragutis
    May 7, 2009

    Another voice encouraging y’all to email Matthews/MSNBC. I kept mine simple, essentially “I appreciate what you’re trying to do, but you don’t know enough about the science or the state of the Evolution vs. Creationism fight to challenge people who are deeply invested in watering down science education and experienced in making their fallacious arguments sound reasonable. You also made the error of assuming that Tancredo and Pense would be/were being honest with you.”

    I suggested he contact Scott or Miller if he wanted to pursue the evolution angle, or Mooney if he wanted get back to his original point that a significant portion of Republicans are anti-science.

  103. #104 Lynna
    May 7, 2009

    Owlmirror @#101: “Hemoglobin is not a tiny man with a penchant for ferrying oxygen; it’s a chemical that reacts with oxygen in a certain way in certain situations.” Excellent!

  104. #105 inkadu
    May 7, 2009

    After the last Matthews interview, I think I’ll skip this one.

    Matthews obviously doesn’t know anything about evolution, and only slightly more about arguing. The trick on TV is to ask short questions and try to trap your guest into saying something unpopular. It’s not even good debate.

  105. #106 Felix
    May 7, 2009

    ID is a crapothesis held by a tiny minority of scientists.

    There, fixed it for you.

  106. Teeth – Gods biggest practical joke…

    Seriously if I was intelligently designed, why are my teeth falling out of my face and needing to be pulled and drilled like mad?

    Entropy. Or maybe meth.

  107. #108 Kel
    May 7, 2009

    Everyone here seems to ‘know’ that religious people are kooks but at least they put their hands up and admit they have no idea how life began and leave it in the hands of the ‘creator’

    Does not compute. You are basically saying that the religious people are putting in a God in the absence of an answer, playing a god of the gaps… which is fine. A god of the gaps is not a logical fallacy, but it does mean that God is nothing more than an expression of human ignorance.

    Just think 200 years ago we did not know how life came to be, so Goddidit right? Nope, turns out life evolved over billions of years. Only 100 years ago we did not know how the universe came to be so they said “goddidit”, but now we have the big bang theory. We may not know about the origin of life, or have a complete model of how planets form but to say “Goddidit” IS expressing an opinion on the matter. It’s saying “I don’t know nor do I want to find out” which is the opposite of knowledge. It’s basking in ignorance by making an unknown and unknowable entity the answer to all things undiscovered.

    Consider these two different answers to the origin of life:
    a) I don’t know how so we should investigate
    b) God did it
    Now which one of these answers is being humble in the face of ignorance? Which one of these answers is more likely to teach us about the origins of life? Which one of these answers tells us anything about the nature of reality? “God did it” is an expression of ignorance that tells us precisely nothing about how the universe works – it’s the bronze age mentality whereby God is a place holder in the absence of a proper answer… and given how much we have discovered where that place holder has been replaced with knowledge (evolution, plate tectonics, big bang, standard model, etc.) it is safe to say that God has failed as a hypothesis. We may not know how life started, but we know how we did: we evolved over billions of years. God is dead, enough gaps have been filled to show that God is NOT the cause of things.

  108. #109 Dave
    May 7, 2009

    >ID is a fringe theory

    Ouch. Please don’t debase the word theory in this way. A theory is the ultimate expression of our understanding of nature. We need to protect its meaning.

    At best, ID is a fringe _conjecture_.

  109. #110 Kel
    May 7, 2009

    At best, ID is a fringe _conjecture_.

    lol, though it’s best to go one step further. ID is at best refuted fringe conjecture.

  110. #111 Dave
    May 7, 2009

    OK, so I read a little further, and I found:

    “Intelligent Design creationism does not qualify as a scientific theory at all. At best, it is a highly speculative hypothesis, one assembled without any reasonable evidence, and so far it has been a spectacular failure at provoking any useful research.”

    Better, but I don’t think that ID even qualifies as a hypothesis.

    Here are some simple definitions that I like:

    Conjecture: An explanation of nature that can’t be tested.

    Hypothesis: An explanation of nature that make predictions that can be tested.

    Theory: An explanation of nature that can be and has been tested exhaustively, and has not been found to be false.

    I’m not aware of any predictions made by ID that can be tested. So to me, it can rise only to the level of conjecture.

    We in the scientific community have done a really awful job of explaining these concepts and why they are so important and how they represent the scientific method.

    [OK, so I've exposed my biggest pet peeve. When evolution opponents mock it as "just a theory," we need to correct them. When even PZ Myers calls ID a theory (albeit fringe), we don't do ourselves any favors...]

  111. #112 the pro from dover
    May 7, 2009

    Redneck Tommy has turned from a one trick pony into a two trick pony. Now that he is totally ousted from Colorado politics, he has to turn to another position in the Republican nanotent. Perhaps Sarah Palin’s 2012 running mate? Of course that’s only if Newt turns it down. Maybe someday he’ll realize that his stupidity and heartlessness (along with Musgrave, Haggerty, and Dobson) was instrumental in delivering the Centennial state to the Democrats. Naaah-it was Satan. And to think he was once the Pro’s representative in Congress! Do I miss him? Not so much.

  112. #113 Notagod
    May 7, 2009

    Everyone here seems to ‘know’ that religious people are kooks but at least they put their hands up and admit they have no idea how life began and leave it in the hands of the ‘creator’ but I have as yet to understand from a scientist how energy (which cannot be created or destroyed – supposed fact) a)came to be, then b)’decided’ to assemble itself into an atom, then c)molecule, then d)cell, bringing us up to evolution.

    Involving a creator is much less than stating “I don’t know”. When they involve a creator they have the responsibility of demonstrating the nature of it and explaining where it came from. The only explanation I’ve ever hear from christians is that their creator was ALWAYS there, even before the universe. If you are having a hard time understanding how natural processes can evolve simple elements into more complex structure, the thought of a fully functioning super creature just poofing into existence should really be blowing your mind.

  113. About teeth: anything suboptimal or just plain nasty is because of the Fall. Smallpox, bad backs, candiru fish, lions eating people instead of fruit, black plague, mosquitos, ichneumon wasps, appendicitis, whatever – it’s the Fall.

    It’s just a teeny-tiny refinement from the basic creo “theory”.
    Good: goddidit
    Bad: it’s the Fall

    The Fall is of course god’s punishment on all of life for a couple of people eating a piece of fruit, so goddidit too. But that’s a bit sophisticated for most Xians. Though I understand Michael Behe is on board with that.

  114. #115 -ID62-
    May 7, 2009

    The level of understanding of evolution in our country is simply pathetic. I watched last night and felt the same way that PZ did.
    and…
    “religion poisons everything”

  115. #116 Bernie Lohr
    May 7, 2009

    You know… Maybe it’s finally time for a comprehensive poll (a real one, not on the internet). Should make for a good psych / sociology graduate project. Ask everyone who’s received a Ph.D. in biology, geology, etc. in, say, the last 40 years, whether they give any credence to ID. Not all will answer of course, but you should be able to get a fairly substantial and representative dataset.

    That might finally shut up the folks who keep claiming that when it comes to evolution and ID “the one is equal to the other in terms of the number of people who support it” The numbers will tell the story.

  116. #117 anthonzi
    May 7, 2009

    Ain’t no transitional fossils! Don’t wanna see ‘em no how! /blindfold

  117. #118 skat1140
    May 7, 2009

    “Im not a theologian, Im not a scientist …”
    I’m just a ignoramus with a bad hairpiece.

  118. #119 arensb
    May 7, 2009

    We do of course have direct evidence of interspecies hybrids, if that’s what he’s talking about; we also have evidence of species evolving into new species, if that’s what he’s trying to say.

    I’m afraid it’s worse than you think. I’m pretty sure that creationists have some sort of notion that of there being platonic ideals of species. Cats are cats because they look like cats. This, I think, is the essence of “kinds”; it’s kindergarden taxonomy: there’s the horsey kind, the ducky kind, the piggy kind, and so forth. And presumably all bacteria, viruses, and unicellular eukaryotes are in the “teeny” kind.

    If I’m right, then presumably they think that eels and sea snakes are of the same “kind”. Ditto timber wolves and Tasmanian wolves. Perhaps also dolphins and shharks. I’m sure if you search Wilkins’s writings for “essentialism”, you can find something interesting.

    In short, I’m pretty sure what Tancredo was saying was that the offspring of a lizardy momma and a lizardy poppa are always going to be of the lizardy “kind”, and will never be of the kitty “kind”.

  119. #120 James F
    May 8, 2009

    arensb #119 wrote:

    This, I think, is the essence of “kinds”; it’s kindergarden taxonomy: there’s the horsey kind, the ducky kind, the piggy kind, and so forth. And presumably all bacteria, viruses, and unicellular eukaryotes are in the “teeny” kind.

    You’ve just explained baraminology! Tell Richard Sternberg!

  120. #121 Denis Alexander
    May 8, 2009

    Sadly, this is the country we live in: http://tinyurl.com/cpa8ja

  121. #122 the pro from dover
    May 8, 2009

    In regards to Mr. Alexander’s post why is it only evolution that the issue of belief comes in? There are never polls about belief in continental drift, gravitation, or the equivalence of electricity and magnetism. Most scientifically educated people would recoil at the phrasing of the question. Would there be any change in responses if the question was “Do you believe that the theory of evolution is the best current explanation for the diversification of species on Earth that is amenable to testing using the scientific method?”

  122. #123 Wayne Hollyoak
    May 8, 2009

    If ID is the case in nature, then it doesn’t really matter how well you argue for it. A poor argument for it is better then all the eloquent and scientific sounding arguements the scientific establishment can come up with against ID.

    Looks like the most popular arguement against ID is that it is “not science”. Yet, you have to ask the question, “How do you account for all the design that’s present in nature?” After all, the ecosystem on earth is the most complex and finely tuned system known to man. The scientific establishment wants to credit something that they insist has no intelligence with the whole thing.

    Pride makes people do weird stuff…

  123. #124 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    May 8, 2009

    “How do you account for all the design that’s present in nature?”

    There is no design in nature. That is the lie of ID. And we know that. You are just too wrapped up in your imaginary deity to see the real evidence of bad design all over the world.

  124. #125 Owlmirror
    May 8, 2009

    Well, there might be what could be called design. There’s been an ongoing debate about the word design itself.

    The problem is that “ID”iots use the word “design”, and equivocate in the definition that specifies an intelligence as the designer, thus assuming the conclusion.

  125. #126 Josh
    May 8, 2009

    Yet, you, Wayne, if you want ID to be science, have to ask the question “what test can I devise that will allow me to potentially disprove the idea of a designer?”

    If your designer isn’t falsifiable, then it doesn’t matter if the “design” in nature is apparent or real, because ID isn’t science.

  126. #127 Rev. BigDumbChimp
    May 8, 2009

    Looks like the most popular arguement against ID is that it is “not science”. Yet, you have to ask the question, “How do you account for all the design that’s present in nature?”

    It’s not science. Period. if you think you see design that doesn’t make it science. You have to show that it is design. It’s a no better argument than idiots like Ray Comfort make when you ask them to demonstrate Creationism and they say “Just look around you”.

    After all, the ecosystem on earth is the most complex and finely tuned system known to man. The scientific establishment wants to credit something that they insist has no intelligence with the whole thing.

    No, scientists aren’t giving credit to “something”, there are many things that act on the world, and there is no evidence or reason to believe that there someone or something with intelligence driving it. You making claims like “JUST LOOK HOW COMPLEX IT IS” doesn’t change that.

    Pride makes people do weird stuff…

    Irony meter goes boom.

    ID is the definition of pride gone wild. They make claims with exactly zero evidence backing them and then claim that the massive amounts of evidence supporting Evolution is either, wrong, made up or misinterpreted by the scientists. Scientists mind you that are aside from a few ulteriorly motivated dissenters, wholeheartedly in agreement over the validity of the theory and the strength of the evidence supporting it.

    The people who support ID should spend less time trying to poke holes in the Theory of Evolution and more time doing science to support their idea.

    Remember, Intelligent Design is not a scientific theory, it is only an idea. Until the ID folks some up with a testable theory supported by the weight of the evidence it will not and should not be taken seriously beyond some fanciful daydreaming and as an example of bad science.

  127. #128 Josh
    May 8, 2009

    After all, the ecosystem on earth…

    Ecosystem? Singular? You might want to go do some research on this word…

    As for the rest:

    …is the most complex and finely tuned system known to man.

    That’s an interesting assertion. How are you assessing “most complex” known to man? Can you defend this assertion?

  128. #129 scooter
    May 8, 2009

    Is Mathews’ I did it My Way analysis of teleological evolution the Sinatra Version or the Sid Vicious cover?

    This is bonehead vs bonierhead

  129. #130 dillon
    May 8, 2009

    At the precise moment one of these liars states for the millionth time that there are no “transitional fossils”, I would like to come running up and smash a limestone archaeopteryx fossil over their head. In court I could claim that I hit them with a non-existent item.

  130. #131 Josh
    May 8, 2009

    …smash a limestone archaeopteryx fossil over their head.

    Uh, could you, uh, maybe not do that with an Archaeopteryx? There aren’t that many specimens. We really can’t spare one.

    Maybe use a big fucking ammonite instead…?

  131. #132 Rev. BigDumbChimp
    May 8, 2009

    At the precise moment one of these liars states for the millionth time that there are no “transitional fossils”, I would like to come running up and smash a limestone archaeopteryx fossil over their head. In court I could claim that I hit them with a non-existent item.

    Just toss it over their head.

  132. #133 Chris
    May 8, 2009

    This video presents an astonishing depth of stupid. Depth and breadth of, and pridefulness in, stupidity; two lifetimes journeyed without exerting the slightest effort to alleviate the stupid.

    And gross dishonesty.

    Stupid AND dishonest.

    sigh….

  133. #134 Ichthyic
    May 9, 2009

    “How do you account for all the design that’s present in nature?”

    how do you account for flatearthers and geocentrists?

  134. #135 Kel
    May 9, 2009

    Looks like the most popular arguement against ID is that it is “not science”. Yet, you have to ask the question, “How do you account for all the design that’s present in nature?” After all, the ecosystem on earth is the most complex and finely tuned system known to man. The scientific establishment wants to credit something that they insist has no intelligence with the whole thing.

    Okay, I’ll play your game. The scientific consensus is that through a few naturalistic processes that we understand as the laws of physics, the illusion of design is created. Scientists believe that these fundamental forces have the explanatory power to explain what we see in nature. So if you want to argue design, you have to do one of two things:
    1. show that the forces of nature are inadequate to explain a given phenomenon
    2. show that the forces of nature were themselves designed.

    Without doing either, the argument from design is an argument from ignorance. It’s projecting the will to have God in the picture of human knowledge rather than having a strong reason to believe that is the case. It is nothing more than a god of the gaps argument where the gaps are in your own personal incredulity to understand the mechanisms of nature.

  135. #136 Ichthyic
    May 9, 2009

    If ID is the case in nature, then it doesn’t really matter how well you argue for it.

    actually, in the sense that if it IS accurate, it should allow us to make useful predictions, it DOES matter. The ToE has allowed us to make countless VERY useful predictions over the last 150 years, and continues to do so.

    http://www.talkorigins.org/indexcc/CA/CA215.html

    ID, OTOH, by its very nature, can’t. In fact it’s utterly useless as anything beyond a study in a sociological anomaly.

    Fact is, even if there IS a god, there’s no useful evidence indicating such, nothing useful in the idea or concept of such to enable us to predict anything useful at all.

    so, even if creationists got what they want, it would be an empty, pyrrhic, victory, as they would be left entirely empty handed with nowhere to go and nothing to do.

    Nope, the only way any form of creationism would work is if you actually had any putative “creator” show us how it interacts with the natural world, so we could then form hypotheses and make predictions about any specific organism.

    When you talk to god next, why don’t you ask him to get right on that, eh?

  136. #137 VietnamEraVet
    May 9, 2009

    G Bush and Dick Cheney are both proof that evolution sometimes works in reverse..

  137. #138 Observer
    May 9, 2009

    The real issue which was not touched here is those that think evolution means that all life was created in six days exactly as outlined in the Bible. Tancreedo, actually, took a more moderate position than others allowing for evolution with divine guidance behind it. That at least allows for the scientific method but I have personally talked with who insist the word is no more than 6000 years old, that every single animal insect and what ever was once on an ark and that evil came into the world because of the influence of a talking snake. Try talking about evolution and scientific evidence with them!!

  138. #139 reader
    May 9, 2009

    Maybe Chris M. should have well educated science students from 9th grade on his show instead!

    First Prize Essay Science Contest: 9th Grader

    In Darwin?s Footsteps
    By Regina Parker

    EXCERPT

    http://www.allianceforscience.org/files/active/0/First%20Place%20Essay%20-%20Parker.pdf

    http://www.allianceforscience.org/files/active/0/First%20Place%20Essay%20-%20Parker.pdf

    Gehring?s work supports natural selection by answering one of the greatest riddles of Darwinian evolution – How can there be a sudden emergence of a new species with no apparent immediate ancestor? Central to the answer is the homeobox gene theory.

    Dr. Gehring discovered the homeodomain, a master control gene conserved in all multicellular organisms (8). The homeodomain is a 180 base pair sequence of DNA that regulates gene expression. This master control gene instructs individual cells to specialize and form different body parts. It explains how every cell can have the exact same DNA, yet perform different tasks. By discovering the homeodomain Dr. Gehring revolutionized embryology, incorporated it into the field of molecular biology, provided fuel for the explosion of evolutionary and developmental (evo-devo) biology, and gave a surprising new direction to stem cell research.

    While Gehring was busy studying invertebrates, other scientists turned their attention to homeodomains in mammals (2, 3, 6). Gehring?s discovery of the homeobox led to the discoveries of Nanog and Fbx15, homeodomains in mice which may re-direct stem cell research in a way that avoids debate over the use and sacrifice of human embryos (1).

    Japanese researchers have been able to capitalize on Gehring?s homeodomain discovery to reprogram adult specialized cells into a pluripotent (i.e., embryonic) state (1, 6, 12). Now this has received public attention! Indeed, the true bounty of Gehring?s discovery has yet to be revealed.

    In the meantime, Gehring continues to painstakingly study the genetics of the fruit fly because he knows this work provides the critical building blocks for medical breakthroughs.

    evolutionary developmental biology

    http://www.allianceforscience.org/2009_essay_winners

    “Alliance For Science” – 2009 High School Essay Winners

    This is pro-science advocacy group, very active in the DC area. They recently sponsored an essay contest for high school students.

    http://www.biozentrum.unibas.ch/gehring/gehring_pub.html

  139. #140 Kel
    May 9, 2009

    Tancreedo, actually, took a more moderate position than others allowing for evolution with divine guidance behind it.

    That’s still not evolution, that’s just creationism with fossils.

  140. #141 Rev. BigDumbChimp
    May 9, 2009

    Tancreedo, actually, took a more moderate position than others allowing for evolution with divine guidance behind it. That at least allows for the scientific method

    Fail.

  141. #142 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    May 9, 2009

    In science god is not allowed to be the result of or cause of any observation. There is not any way anything involving god is scientific, just religious. When will the godbots ever learn…

  142. #143 Kel
    May 9, 2009

    All this demonstrates once again that God is nothing more than a substitute for knowledge; that God is a personification of ignorance. Don’t know something? God did it! It’s now 2009, there is really no excuse to maintain this ignorance. Shame on the media for spreading lies and misinformation.

  143. #144 Tom
    May 9, 2009

    Matthews is an idiot; he knows little about politics and even less about political science. He was “gofer” for Tip O’Neill and a low level speech writer for Jimmy Carter!

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