Stranger Fruit

Creationist credentialing redux

Creationists have long used credentials to make their case for them. Demsbki has posted a link to a SSRN (i.e. grey literature) paper by Edward Sisson (who is an architect and lawyer) in which he ?relates lessons learned not only about evolution, molecular biology, and ?intelligent design,? but also about the accumulated ?bad habits? that have developed and encrusted the conduct of science in the 130 years since the foundation of the research-oriented universities in the 1870s.? It?s actually an address to architecture students, but I guess by the standards of ID literature it counts as a research paper. And why should we take Sisson?s views seriously? Let?s allow he tell us himself:

So, in sum: I have an MIT bachelor of science (graduating with a 4.6 out of 5.0 possible GPA), as well as a law degree magna cum laude.  One of my brothers has an MIT Ph.D. in science.  My other brother has a masters degree in engineering.  My father has a bachelor of science and was in the top 2% of his class, as well as a masters degree in political science.  Both of my grandfathers had bachelor-of-science degrees, and one a graduate engineering degree as well.  One of my great-uncles had a bachelor of science and led a government research laboratory, affiliated with the University of Wisconsin, for more than 20 years; one of my great-great uncles not only had an MIT bachelor of science, he served on the board of MIT, and is honored today at NC State for his leadership role in founding a scientific and technical school in North Carolina (which became NC State). Two of my four great-grandfathers had bachelor-of-science degrees; one of them was a professor at UC Berkeley for many years, the other a key member of the groundbreaking Johns Hopkins? Chesapeake Zoological Laboratory.  The other two great-grandfathers were a long-time U.S. congressman and a career Ambassador to the US; both had law degrees.  A great-great grandfather spent 20 years with what is now NOAA, the last 7 of those as the agency head; a great-great-great-great grandfather helped found the original professional medical societies of both Maryland and the District of Columbia, was the first President of the DC medical society, and was a trustee of what is now George Washington University; a great-great-great-great uncle was a Professor of Pharmacology at the medical school of that same George Washington University.

Thus my heritage going back many generations is uniformly a heritage of secular higher education, usually in science and engineering.  It is this deep, broad background in science, combined with my own credentialed accomplishments in diverse fields, that gives me the self-confidence not to be intimidated by the emotional attacks of the transitory majority of the day – whether in science, or in the law, or in the arts. 

Wow. Argumentum ad genelogicum. My dad was an engineer (as are many in my family) … maybe I should design airplanes.

Sisson claims

that Darwin, because his theory enabled scientists of all fields to claim that religion was inaccurate and useless are regards the natural world, tempted science into a diversion of massive proportions, into almost two centuries of wasted effort, and that science needs to return to the point at which it stood when Buffon postulated that yes, species in nature can vary from one generation to the next, but only within the limits permitted by the ?interior mold.?

Indeed. And there are 60+ pages of this.


  1. #1 Sven DiMilo
    February 22, 2009

    My grandfather shoveled bullshit all his life…

  2. #2 Wallace Turner
    February 22, 2009

    This is clearly an argument from personal experience. He’s been counting the years back through all the generations of his illustrious ancestors and worked out the world is less that ten thousand years old.

  3. #3 abb3w
    February 22, 2009

    Salem Hypothesis.

    That is all….

  4. #4 Charles Philip Arthur George Windsor
    February 22, 2009

    And, what pray, is wrong with genealogy as a qualification for expertise at a job?

    That’s why I’m dashed good at polo and huntin’, shootin’ and fishin’.

  5. #5 John Pieret
    February 22, 2009

    Well, we’ve always known they want to turn science back 200 years but it’s the first time I’ve seen them admit it outright.

  6. #6 carey
    February 22, 2009

    Wow. I had no idea it worked that way. I just totalled up the more immediate sheepskins to get 7 PhDs, 2 JDs, 4 MS, and scads of BS. Which means that I am eminently qualified to authoritatively reject his ‘argument’. Further, my great-great-grandmother was a hooker, so I know a putz when I see one.

  7. #7 TR
    February 22, 2009

    That last sentence hurt my brain. Also, who the fuck puts their undergrad GPA as a credential?

  8. #8 Heraclides
    February 22, 2009

    Credentials by association, eh?

    His (Sisson’s) credentials seem to be an undergraduate degree from many years ago, with nothing in the area of science since. Could I also suggest that he seems to think a lot of himself?

    Thus my heritage going back many generations is uniformly a heritage of secular higher education, usually in science and engineering.

    This could also be read as “I am the odd one out, the black sheep of my family”. The point is, you can “spin” this either way.

    More seriously, what really matters it what argument was presented and how it stacks up. If the quote provided is representative, it would seem the argument presented wasn’t so hot.

  9. #9 Art
    February 22, 2009

    I think he contradicts his own argument:

    He argues that he comes from a long line of thinkers, engineers and learned people.

    Then: … “Buffon postulated that yes, species in nature can vary from one generation to the next, but only within the limits permitted by the “interior mold.””

    The first point presents itself as him claiming that science and reason are part of his heritage and “interior mold” by way of his family history.

    The second a glorified claim from Buffon that there are strong limits on how far a heir may deviate from the familial legacy.

    Which strongly suggests that either Buffon was wrong or Sisson was adopted.

  10. #10 Nick (Matzke)
    February 22, 2009

    Wow, I thought I’d seen everything, but I guess not.

    In one part of the essay Sisson claims he’s serious because he got an A in a hard graded science class, in another part he claims you can’t trust anyone who learned their science through one of those graded, lecture-based science courses because all students of such courses have been indoctrinated.

    In various parts of the essay Sisson trumpets the Kansas Kangaroo Courts, and legal methods, cross-examination, etc. as being superior to scientific ones; but then he fails to mention how in the Kitzmiller case (where, unlike in Kansas, there was an actual trained judge and actual rules of evidence, etc.) ID and ID-based criticisms of evolution simply melted under cross-examination.

    Sisson never explains this, but apparently he heard somewhere that fossil endogenous retrovirus sequences in animal DNA are good proof of common ancestry, and he doesn’t like this, so he devotes a long rambling discussion to why he doesn’t buy it. Bizarrely, he chooses to argue that the process of insertion of DNA into a germline cell just doesn’t work, basically claiming that the insertion of such virus DNA in germline cells has never been observed, and that it’s impossible because immune systems would prevent it, infected animals would die out, and insertion of DNA requires breakdown of the nuclear envelope which only occurs during mitosis and eggs & sperm cells don’t mitose.

    But apparently he’s never heard of any of the following:

    * immune systems aren’t perfect, people get sick sometimes

    * in fact, they get sick and sometimes don’t even die & survive to reproduce

    * any time anyone gets sick from a virus a bunch of their cells have been successfully been infected by viruses, and the viral sequences have been inserted, copied, etc.

    * not all the stages of germline cell production are well-protected. Notably, there is a key part of the process that is far from sterile and everything is potentially exposed to the environment, let alone whatever cuts, abrasions, sores etc. might introduce

    * above and beyond all of that, we are all infected all the time with a fair number of benign viruses that cause little to no sickness & also aren’t extinguished by the immune system, so there is no particular reason to even think that the ancestors of fossil viruses were highly damaging to their hosts, to the competitiveness of the males, etc.

    * then, another thing he doesn’t know is that the “germline” isn’t just the eggs and sperm, it is all the cell generations in-between the gametes and the next generation of gametes, i.e. gametes –> zygote –> early embryo –> gamete production cells (going continually throughout life in males) –> gametes. This is dozens (or more) cell generations, not all of them isolated, viral infections could take place at any point

    * and finally, like all creationists he has no sense of population genetics, all you need is for successful insertion of viral DNA in the germline maybe once a million years within an ancestral population of 100,000s or millions, over the 10s of millions of years since early placental mammals.

    Bleah. There’s lots of other stuff but that’s his favorite, and he hasn’t even reached the level of a competent undergrad.

  11. #11 Alan Kellogg
    February 23, 2009

    How he says it does not reflect well on the teaching of English composition in this country.

  12. #12 Joshua Zelinsky
    February 23, 2009

    Nick, Sisson’s claim about the nuclear envelope is particularly interesting since if he were correct retroviruses wouldn’t be able to reproduce at all. Maybe he should talk to the HIV-deniers?

  13. #13 B
    February 23, 2009

    Bachelor of Science in WHAT?

    _Every_ undergrad degree from MIT is a Bachelor of Science because of the General Institute Requirements. He has a Bachelor of Science in Architecture–which is quite possibly one of the easier (science-light) degrees at MIT.

    I’m not surprised he left that part out. Also, a 4.6/5.0 in architecture? That’s slacking. Do that in Physics.

  14. #14 DLC
    February 23, 2009

    If I were grading this I’d give it an incomplete.
    Sisson shows an incomplete (although not quite Hovind-level)knowledge of logic; an incomplete knowledge of chemistry, biology and physics. In short, despite all his family’s scholarly achievements, he’s incomplete.

  15. #15 Chris Saretto
    February 24, 2009

    I think he’s using the “My Cousin Vinny” argument. You know, when his fiance was on the stand. Obviously because her father, two brothers and three uncles were mechanics she’s qualified to testify about the Postitraction of 1968 Buick Skylark.

    If ID was so perfect how come we still get sick?? And if bring science back 200 years, can he be hung as a heretic??

  16. #16 Daniel M
    February 26, 2009

    This needs a new “defence” name – like the chewbacca defence. I hesitate to call it the Sisson defence, but it obviously goes like this:

    Because I’m so awesome, and I’m awesome enough to say that everyone agrees with me on my awesomeness, I’m at liberty to say that Chewbacca is a wookie. Look at the silly monkey! silly monkey!

  17. #17 KeithB
    February 26, 2009

    “I think he’s using the “My Cousin Vinny” argument. You know, when his fiance was on the stand. Obviously because her father, two brothers and three uncles were mechanics she’s qualified to testify about the Postitraction of 1968 Buick Skylark. ”

    However, she proved her own competence when she answered the judges’ “trick” question!

    (But it is a good name for this kind of argument!)

  18. #18 KeithB
    February 26, 2009

    And the funny thing is that even if science *did* reset, it would pretty much turn out the same way as soon as someone asked (and actually tried to answer) “What is this “interior mold”? How does it “know” when to activate? How do ring species fit into this “mold”…and so on.

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