Pharyngula

Saletan is at it again

I don’t say this lightly, but Saletan is one of the more dishonest pundits out there — I’ve read multiple columns by this guy where he lies with numbers and fudges the evidence to fit his preconceptions, and this is no exception. He’s once again arguing that creationism is compatible with science, and he has to make some dodgy claims to do so. Look here:

And what about the engineers in Ken Ham’s videos—the guys who made demonstrable contributions to science and technology while declaring themselves young-Earth creationists? Those men are what a good social scientist would call “evidence.” They back up the hypothesis that you can be a perfectly good engineer while believing nonsense about the origins of life. We can’t wave that evidence away, any more than we can wave away fossils.

The alternative hypothesis, advanced by McElwee, is that “to espouse [creationism] is to preclude practicing science.” The engineers in Ham’s video falsify that hypothesis. They espouse creationism while successfully practicing science.

Do you see the lie? He eases into it so artfully; these are guys who made “contributions to science and technology” drifts into “you can be a perfectly good engineer” and then he wraps it up by noting that the engineers in Ham’s claims practice science.

Engineers can practice real science, but an engineer is not the same thing as a scientist. I agree that creationists can be perfectly good engineers, but how can you trust the scientific acumen of someone who insists that the earth is only 6,000 years old? That says right there that they have no respect for the evidence. How can Saletan ignore Ham’s bogus distinction between historical and observational science, in which he flatly rejects any possibility of inference about the past from the present? This creationism is utterly incompatible with biology, anthropology, geology, astronomy, climate science, geochemistry, cosmology, and any other science that deals with cause and effect and history. These sciences apparently do not matter to Saletan, as long as engineers make satellites and doctors do surgery.

Saletan cites Ham’s videos as falsifying the claim that creationism is incompatible with science. Ken Ham makes a big deal of this, too.

There are a few problems there. Who says Ray Damadian invented the MRI? Why, Ray Damadian. The Nobel Committee disagrees, since they gave the 2003 prize to Lauterbur and Mansfield for their work on the MRI. Damadian contributed to some aspects of the engineering, but he didn’t ‘invent’ the thing — there was a whole series of people who contributed.

But even if he had been the sole inventor, as Ray Damadian and creationists love to pretend, it doesn’t change the fact that creationism, and Ham’s ignorant redefinition of science, does irreparable harm to science and science education. That two non-scientists, Ken Ham and William Saletan, are urging everyone to ignore lies and delusions and misrepresentations, does not change the fact that any science that takes history seriously gets flushed away by their foolishness.

The image of creationism as an oncoming threat rather than a receding symptom is just another hypothesis. So is the claim that you can’t practice good science while being a creationist. These hypotheses are much beloved among liberals, atheists, and scientists. But the facts are opposed to them. Give them up.

“Much beloved”? What the fuck? What we see is bad science being promoted by a kook with a religious agenda, and useful idiots like Saletan promoting blissful neglect and agreeing with creationists. I am not giving up on biology, which is what Saletan is asking me to do. I am giving up on Saletan.

Comments

  1. […] By PZ Myers […]

  2. #2 David
    February 22, 2014

    There are many scientists who believe in religious creation myths. There are biologists who believe that G*d pooled the big bang into creation while saying “fiat lux” and there are physicists who believe He directed where genetic variation would appear to ultimately produce Adam and Eve. There are even biologists who believe in parts of creationism, away from their own narrow field of specialization. No need to bring engineers into this. Not that they aren’t perfectly nice people.

    The only thing that proves is that religion is a very opaque blindfold.

  3. #3 Green Eagle
    Los Angeles
    February 23, 2014

    Saletan conveniently ignores a third possibility, of course: That like himself and Ken Ham, these “engineers” are simply lying about evolution, because there’s money in bilking the rubes.

  4. #4 will motill
    February 23, 2014

    perfect place to troll just sayin….
    eh cant resist

    god creates unicorn in box with poison diabolical device what is the quantum probability of for the state of the unicorn being alive or dead ?
    what is the state for the quantum probability that god removes unicorn before the box is opened
    Ooooo see they are compatible

  5. #5 will motill
    February 23, 2014

    observation unicorn is neither wave or particle

    oh this site needs a edit button

  6. #6 Bruce Godfrey
    United States
    February 23, 2014

    Science is what keeps existing despite the opinions of people. Saletan, arguably more so than Ham, is a hothouse of logical fallacies, so much so that the piece should probably appear in a philosophy department final exam.

  7. #7 Air Betty
    February 23, 2014

    Engineers can practice real science, but an engineer is not the same thing as a scientist.

    I used to work for Environmental Engineers who used Biology, Chemistry and more in their work. And so they weren’t scientists? I guess it would be helpful for me to read a primer on what’s the difference between engineers and scientists. I realize that this is a science blog, so it’s geared for scientists. I’m just a drive-by advocate of science, thanks to the dark years of Bush W.

    Also – this post is the best one yet at refuting (and refudiating) Ham Denial Industries. So thanks for that.

  8. #8 will motill
    February 23, 2014

    theory and experiment
    to
    practical application
    maybe

  9. #9 delosgatos
    February 23, 2014

    I’d say using science isn’t the same thing as doing science. You can be really good at picking which picture to hang in the foyer even if you can’t paint worth a damn.

  10. #10 JSintheStTes
    USA
    February 23, 2014

    Ah, ha! An anagram! Let’s see… Saletan = Le Satan! The anti-Christ! Yes, I got it in one!

    Creationism is a belief. Science is a methodology. There’s a wonderful Rabbi teaching Bible Studies (Old Testament) in the Humanities Dept. at SCSU. Mr Satan, err, Saletan should take the course from a descendant of one of the writers of said Bible!

  11. #11 Chris
    February 24, 2014

    @Air Betty: “Engineers aren’t necessarily scientists, but scientists are usually engineers,” may be a good way to put it.

  12. #12 Politicalguineapig
    February 24, 2014

    David: There are many scientists who believe in religious creation myths.

    They’re in the wrong line of work then, and any ‘results’ they get from their ‘experiments’ should be disregarded by serious scientists.

  13. #13 jane
    February 24, 2014

    Politicalguineapig – Depends upon whether the subject of their work has any relevance to either the evolution of life on Earth, on the one hand, or the creation of the Universe, on the other. Do you really mean to say that if a materials scientist happens to admit he believes a myth related to either of those, his work on developing new aluminum alloys should be scarequoted down from experiments and results to “experiments” and “results”? It’s a very serious matter, often a de facto accusation of fraud, to say that all of a person’s data are “results” to be automatically rejected. It’s usually not done without actual evidence of malfeasance unless the speaker has financial or ideological interests in suppressing specific data. It would reflect considerable hubris to think one can make such a claim without seeing, reading or understanding the work in question.

  14. #14 Politicalguineapig
    February 24, 2014

    Jane: Depends upon whether the subject of their work has any relevance to either the evolution of life on Earth, on the one hand, or the creation of the Universe, on the other. Do you really mean to say that if a materials scientist happens to admit he believes a myth related to either of those, his work on developing new aluminum alloys should be scarequoted down from experiments and results to “experiments” and “results?”

    Yes, I absolutely do. Creationism is completely and utterly incompatible with bedrock science (evolution, tectonic plates, physics.). People who can’t understand basic fundamental concepts of science shouldn’t be anywhere near a lab.

  15. #15 jane
    February 25, 2014

    “Can’t” is unsupported verbal judo, not fact; you don’t know the intellectual capacity of every creationist scientist out there. They “don’t” understand (or they do and pretend not to to keep the pastor happy). Either way, so what? I will admit that there are scientific concepts I truly CAN’T understand – because the math is way over my head, and perhaps also too weird for me to accept as in the case of M theory – but I manage to get by well enough in my own field, fortunately unrelated to those.

    I know several practicing monotheists, including Christians, Mormons, Muslims and Jews, who are highly reputed researchers in their fields, with publication records far more extensive than mine. One of them is an evolutionary biologist, so I know what he believes about evolution; for the rest, I don’t know. If I found out that the devoutly Christian senior chemist believed in intelligent design, I would not instantly conclude that all his publications of novel chemical structures were somehow false and he shouldn’t be in or “anywhere near” a chem lab. In the real world, people and their behaviors are not that simplistic and that easily judged as black or white.

    I keep trying to argue with gnus that this line of argument is counterproductive; if you want to get theists to take another look at the evidence for specific physical facts, publicly announcing that they are pathetic and sinister morons who should be fired and blackballed from their jobs is not the way to do it..

  16. #16 Politicalguineapig
    February 25, 2014

    Jane: If I found out that the devoutly Christian senior chemist believed in intelligent design, I would not instantly conclude that all his publications of novel chemical structures were somehow false and he shouldn’t be in or “anywhere near” a chem lab.

    Again, I would assume that this chemist *is* willing to falsify data. His pastor might tell him that so and so medication is against God’s will; he amends the data so that the drug is never released. Therefore, he might come up with good results, but the data he provides should either be gone over with a fine-tooth comb or never used at all.
    Alloys should be neutral, but if they were used in spaceflight, he’d be tempted to sabotage them.

    A chemist in the UK sense would lie about medication, especially to women.

    If people are going to have their pastors, priests or Bibles think for them, they need to know that science is not for them. I wouldn’t say they should be fired- they should just be shunted to areas where they can do as little harm as possible.

    The evolutionary biologist is either weak in his faith or probably a stealth creationist. Sooner or later his faith and his job will collide, and he’ll have to choose a side.

    God and science have nothing to do with one another; God’s small minded and sadistic, while science can be as big as the universe or as small as an atom and just ticks over dispassionately.

  17. #17 jane
    February 25, 2014

    Yikes. You really are dedicated to a strictly Manichaean worldview in which anyone who is not on your team is simply Bad. I am quite certain that my Christian chemist friend would not participate in research looking for new abortifacient drugs, but equally certain that he would not falsify the structures of new potential anti-cancer compounds. I highly doubt that he thinks of spaceflight as evil, but am certain that he would never think of committing murder by sabotaging alloys made for spacecraft, were that his job. This is a real person, who is complicated, certainly imperfect, but basically decent. He’s not a cartoon Untermensch. The same is true of most of the vast majority of the world’s population who profess belief in some theistic or non-theistic religion other than the civil religion of scientism. Your lurid speculations don’t convince me that the vast majority of the world’s population are evil, deranged schemers; they only convince me that someone who believes that is himself probably not to be trusted too far. For sure, you are not going to convert many religious people to your beliefs by telling them that they are evil vermin, any more than someone who tells you that you’re a servant of Satan because you haven’t joined their church yet is liable to convert you.

  18. #18 Dr. John Messerly
    United States
    February 27, 2014

    Wonderful takedown of creationist nonsense. Of course you can be a creationist and engineer a bridge, play bridge or jump off one. No of this changes the fact that young-earth creationism is equivalent to flat earth theory. I blog about the meaning of life from an atheist perspective at reasonandmeaning.com

  19. #19 Jim
    February 27, 2014

    Creationism is as compatible with science as insanity is with a large segment of our population. Ken Hambone is as compatible with Saleton as feces is with dreck. These moronic cretins deserve as much ridicule as we can lather on them in the form of compatible offal.

  20. #20 Politicalguineapig
    March 2, 2014

    jane: Hypothetically, if the Pope declared that prime numbers were anathema, would you trust that math would be the same, regardless of any individual’s religious beliefs? Would you trust your chemist friend to turn in the same quality work on cancer drugs that affect gendered cancers?

  21. #21 Politicalguineapig
    March 2, 2014

    For instance, would he do a better job on drugs used for prostate cancers, (which affects men) then he’d do on something used to treat breast cancer, since God has a profound dislike of women?

    I think religious people can be good, I just don’t trust them to leave the religion at home and not let it seep into their science.

  22. #22 David Marjanović
    Museum für Naturkunde, Berlin
    March 2, 2014

    Hypothetically, if the Pope declared that prime numbers were anathema,

    all except the most badass Jesuits would consider him crazy and quietly ignore him thereafter.

  23. #23 jane
    March 3, 2014

    My first reply here crashed when I tried to post it, so let’s try again:

    David’s response is correct, based, again, on the fact that real people who happen to have been raised to believe in religions are not cartoon Untermenschen. Likewise, the fact that monotheism is traditionally patriarchal does not mean that all believing Jews, Christians and Muslims of any sex think God hates women, or themselves hate women and would like to sabotage breast cancer research. That starts to look like actual paranoia. If it is not, then you need to get out more and meet some of the fellow Americans whom you so glibly dehumanize. It is hard to imagine how anyone can live to adulthood in America without meeting and having to learn to work with people who are religious and are not monsters.

  24. #24 Jim
    March 5, 2014

    Jane @ 23
    It appears that religion will forever rule your life and thought. You can still brush yoyr teeth, drive your car and live without religious nonsense. Once ingrained, religious insanity is difficult to eliminate, of course depending on the brain so affected. Pathetic.

  25. #25 jane
    March 5, 2014

    Who me? How many times have I had to say I AM NOT A MONOTHEIST? Namecalls, ad homs and strawmen are all you have to offer – now, that’s pathetic! So is hating and fearing anyone who is not Just Like You.

  26. #26 Politicalguineapig
    March 5, 2014

    Jane: It is hard to imagine how anyone can live to adulthood in America without meeting and having to learn to work with people who are religious and are not monsters.

    I do know some religious people; I went to a Catholic women’s college. But I’ve said it before; I do not trust people to leave the religion at home or at church. I see a cross on an ob/gyn or on a pharmacist whose attention I’m trying to get- we’re done. I can’t trust them with my health. I do trust my friends, but they aren’t scientists, thankfully.

    As for your chemist friend, I don’t think he’d deliberately set out to kill people, but he might do a sloppy job on drugs for diseases that he disapproves of.

  27. #27 jane
    March 5, 2014

    Suit yourself about your own decisions, though I think your standards are needlessly limiting. My physician wears hijab and she’s the best doctor I’ve ever dealt with in terms of being non-ideological and admitting that I have the right to my own values. I might be a little bit leery of an overtly Christian ob-gyn, especially a male one, but I don’t require ideological purity from the person who dishes out an antibiotic – I just need someone to hand over the bag and say goodbye. As for my Christian chemist friend, he would not devote his life to a career he was deliberately trying to sabotage – that’s just ridiculous.

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