Orson Scott Card, Intelligent Design advocate

Echoed on the Panda's Thumb

Orson Scott Card has written a long essay defending Intelligent Design.

Oy, but it is depressing.

It's a graceless hash, a cluttered and confusing mish-mash of poorly organized complaints about those darned wicked "Darwinists". He lists 7 arguments. Then he repeats his list, expanding on them. Then he goes on and on, hectoring scientists about how they should behave. For a professional writer, it's just plain bad writing—I'm struggling with how to address his arguments, but he's written such a gluey mass of tangled ranty irrationality that it's hard to get a handle on it. Ugly, ugly, ugly…and why do these guys all seem to think the way to defend the ideas of ID is to whine about the perfidy of all those scientists? Not once does he bring up any evidence for ID.

Card can't discuss the evidence, because he doesn't know or understand the evidence. That's apparent when he begins by praising Behe's Darwin's Black Box, and regurgitates the argument from irreducible complexity. Irreducible complexity is not a problem for evolution, and Behe is a tired old fraud who hasn't had a new idea in 15 years. That Card would be impressed with DBB says only that he doesn't know much biology and that the depth of his thinking is remarkably shallow.

Oh, well. I'll try the brute force approach and discuss each of Card's arguments in turn. This will get long.

His first complaint is that ID and creationism aren't the same thing, and we're just being mean to conflate them.

1. Intelligent Design is just Creation Science in a new suit (name-calling).

1. You have to be ignorant of either Creation Science or Intelligent Design—or both—to think that they're the same thing. Creation Science is embarrassing and laughable—its authors either don't understand science or are deliberately deceiving readers who don't understand it. Frankly, Creation Science is, in my opinion, a pack of pious lies.

Card hasn't read the testimony in the Kitzmiller case, I presume. That was one of the points made: that the textbook the ID proponents were pushing on the schools began its editorial history as a creationist tract. The founding father of the Intelligent Design movement, Phillip Johnson, wrote this:

"If we understand our own times, we will know that we should affirm the reality of God by challenging the domination of materialism and naturalism in the world of the mind. With the assistance of many friends I have developed a strategy for doing this,...We call our strategy the "wedge."

What is disingenuous is to claim that ID proponents are not driven by the same ideological motives of the old-school creationists: all that has changed is that they've become more clever about hiding those motives. If creationism is a pack of pious lies, then so is ID; ID is even less honest than upfront creationism.

But the problems that the Designists raise with the Darwinian model are, in fact, problems. They do understand the real science, and the Darwinian model is, in fact, inadequate to explain how complex systems, which fail without all elements in place, could arise through random mutation and natural selection.

There's a series of false assertions. The Designists do not raise legitimate problems; I've looked, and a good problem would be one that prompts interesting research. They just don't, and I note that Card fails to list any of these "problems". The IDists assert problems, which is trivial and easy to do, given that our knowledge is incomplete—the real issue is whether they can provide tools to approach the answer. They don't.

They also don't understand the real science. Behe's work is glib nonsense that ignores any rebuttals, Dembski doesn't understand the theorems he criticizes, and Wells' Icons of Evolution is an embarrassing example of poor scholarship. I don't see any evidence that these people actually understand evolution (and sometimes, that they get it completely wrong), which leads into Card's next complaint.

2. Don't listen to these guys, they're not real scientists (credentialism).

2. Real science never has to resort to credentialism. If someone with no credentials at all raises a legitimate question, it is not an answer to point out how uneducated or unqualified the questioner is. In fact, it is pretty much an admission that you don't have an answer, so you want the questioner to go away.

That is correct, degrees aren't that big a deal, and I've said so myself. What matters is evidence, logic, and methodology—claiming that those on the side of evolution are the ones practicing credentialism is exactly backwards, though.

It's the Discovery Institute and other creationists before them who wave around lists of "X hundred scientists who doubt evolution!" Project Steve was set up to mock that tactic. It's Jonathan Wells who got a Ph.D. as a tactic to use in his goal of "destroying Darwinism". My side relies on the evidence and the science; the ID side relies on authority and propaganda.

Card continues this practice of getting the problem backwards in his next complaint.

3. If you actually understood science as we do, you'd realize that these guys are wrong and we're right; but you don't, so you have to trust us (expertism).

3. Expertism is the "trust us, you poor fools" defense. Essentially, the Darwinists tell the general public that we're too dumb to understand the subtleties of biochemistry, so it's not even worth trying to explain to us why the Designists are wrong. "We're the experts, you're not, so we're right by definition."

Behe and his group don't think we're stupid. They actually make the effort to explain the science accurately and clearly in terms that the lay audience can understand. So who is going to win this argument? Some people bow down before experts; most of us resent the experts who expect us to bow.

The irony is that there are plenty of Darwinists who are perfectly good writers, capable of explaining the science to us well enough to show us the flaws in the Designists' arguments. The fact that they refuse even to try to explain is, again, a confession that they don't have an answer.

I find this the most infuriatingly dishonest of Card's arguments. It's transparently stupid.

Where are these "Darwinists" who tell the public they're too dumb to understand biochemistry? Look at most of the people promoting evolution, and what do you see? College professors, professional educators, who put most of their day-to-day effort into teaching 18-22 year old kids subjects like biochemistry. We know the subject is difficult, but if we thought people couldn't learn it, we'd be out of a job. Another category of people promoting evolution are the popularizers, scientists and journalists and writers, who are explicitly reaching out to the general public to explain these ideas. Is Carl Zimmer demanding that people bow down before him? Yeah, there are writers who patiently try to explain things—here's a list—we don't refuse to explain, instead the creationists refuse to listen.

Card's claims aren't just nonsense, they're offensive nonsense.

Now watch: more reversals.

4. They got some details of those complex systems wrong, so they must be wrong about everything (sniping).

4. When Darwinists do seem to explain, it's only to point out some error or omission in the Designists' explanation of a biochemical system. Some left-out step, or some point where they got the chemistry wrong. They think if they can shoot down one or two minor points, then the whole problem will go away.

Wow. This is ironic. All Intelligent Design creationism has are god-of-the-gaps arguments—and all Card himself has been able to do in this essay is claim that IDists point out flaws in evolutionary explanations. We aren't to rely on credentialism, but on the actual evidence for a position…so pointing out that the Designists have a poor understanding of the evidence seems like a valid criticism to me.

They ignore several facts:

The Designists are explaining things to a lay audience, and Behe, at least, tells us up front that he's leaving out a lot of steps ... but those steps only make the system more complex, not less.

Yes, biological systems are complex, and more complex than the caricatures of creationists suggest. This, however, is not an argument for design. Evolution, as a process built on the refinement of random events, is extremely good at generating complexity. Which will produce the more complex arrangement of parts, a guy with a milling machine, or a winter storm at the beach that throws up a tangled pile of driftwood?

The Designists are working from secondary sources, so they are naturally several years behind. Of course a scientist who is current in the field will understand the processes better, and can easily dismiss the Designists as using old, outmoded models of how the systems work.

"Several years behind"? They haven't even started! You do not build a research program on secondary sources, but on direct observations of phenomena in nature. Shouldn't we dismiss ideas generated by people who understand the processes more poorly than we do, that are based on interpretations of secondary sources, and are base on old, outmoded models? Whose side is Card on here?

What they never seem to show is how the new understanding reveals a system that is not complex after all, one in which each step in the process confers independent benefits on the organism and therefore could have evolved through random mutation and natural selection alone.

They don't do this because the current findings rarely reveal a simpler process than was previously thought. Almost invariably, they find that the system is more complex and therefore harder to explain, and therefore the Designists have even more of a point than they thought.

Errm, name some, Mr Card. I think you're making stuff up.

In comparisons of extant organisms, we are going from one complex, highly derived form to another; that's what we'd expect. But when we look at individual systems, we do see patterns of change that sometimes involve increases in complexity over time, and sometimes decreases (again, what we'd expect; evolution does not impose a direction against or in favor of complexity). We can look at the history of many components and see a pattern of evolutionary change…for instance, in the evolution of the immune system, which also happens to be one of the icons of Intelligent Design creationism.

5. The first amendment requires the separation of church and state (politics).

5. The church and state argument is deliberately misleading. First, the Designists are not, in fact, advocating "God." They are very careful not to specify who or what the Intelligent Designer might be. So they are not advocating for any particular religion, or any religion at all. For all anyone knows, the supposed Intelligent Designers might be an alien species of mortal, ungodlike beings.

I actually have some sympathy with this argument. I think court cases are stop-gap measures to prevent the advance of ignorance into our public school system, but don't actually address the root causes of the problem. If we focus only on case-by-case attempts to block the creationist challenges without actually getting out there and educating people, we're doomed.

However, Card's argument is flawed in two ways. One, as I mentioned above, the motivations of the founders of the Intelligent Design creationism movement are religious, and the followers are blatantly so—see Bill Buckingham and Sharon Lemburg. It's built with a religious goal, and the majority of it's proponents see it as a clever ploy to advance religion into the public schools.

Two, it wouldn't matter if they were peddling little green men, ala the Raelians—it's still wild speculation with no supporting evidence, and doesn't warrant inclusion in the public school system. That's the nub of the problem, not religion, but the unscientific nature of the speculation.

6. We can't possibly find a fossil record of every step along the way in evolution, but evolution has already been so well-demonstrated it is absurd to challenge it in the details (prestidigitation).

6. The "we can't possibly find every step along the way" argument is an old one that doesn't actually fit the current situation. It is the correct answer when defending the idea of evolution against those who believe in an ex nihilo creation in six days.

The fossil record is very clear in showing the divergence of species, with old ones going extinct and new ones arising over a long period of time. And the general progression is from simpler to more-complex organisms. The fact that evolution takes place is obvious. You don't have to find some improbable fossil graveyard where each generation conveniently lay down next to their parents' bodies when it came time to die.

But fossils only show physical structures, and the Intelligent Design argument concedes the point. The Designists (or at least the smart ones) are not arguing for biblical literalism. They freely admit that evolution obviously takes place, that simple organisms were followed by more complex ones.

They also accept the other obvious arguments for evolution, like the similarity of genes among different species. They have no problem with the idea that chimps are so genetically similar to us because we share a common ancestor.

Whoops. Mr Card is showing his lack of knowledge of the subject. Many of the IDists certainly do deny common descent: Paul Nelson, for instance, and Phillip Johnson, and perhaps he should read some of Casey Luskin's babble. I would love to know what that Moonie, Jonathan Wells, thinks about common descent. Perhaps these are not the "smart ones"?

Their argument isn't against evolution per se. Nor are they doubting that natural selection takes place. Their argument is that the Darwinian model is not a sufficient explanation.

So "we can't find fossils representing every step of evolution" has nothing to do with the issues being raised. The Designists are not anti-evolution. They are anti-Darwin.

Read Johnson. Their argument is against naturalism. It's even deeper than Card knows: they are fighting against the foundations of all of science.

Look, this is amusing, but it's also pathetic. Card is sitting there at his computer, trying to tell us what IDists believe, and he's getting it all wrong; he's trying to tell us what scientists believe, and he's not only getting it wrong, he's telling stories that are 180° reversals of the scientific position. He's a caricature of the ranting right-wing poseur, making up his "facts" as he goes along to support an uninformed position. Some pundit.

7. Even if there are problems with the Darwinian model, there's no justification for postulating an "intelligent designer" (true).

7. Yes, there are problems with the Darwinian model. But those problems are questions. "Intelligent design" is an answer, and you have no evidence at all for that.

Quite right. There are problems in evolution; if there weren't, it wouldn't be a very interesting field of study. Intelligent Design creationism is an assertion without evidence, but I wouldn't go so far as to dignify it by calling it so much as an answer—the Flying Spaghetti Monster is also an "answer". We should have higher standards than that.

There's much more in Card's article. He goes on at length complaining about those wretched scientists who are trying to push their Darwinian religion on everyone, but it's all undercut by his sublime and unreasoning ignorance of what scientists actually say. I mean, seriously, he's ranting about "Darwinists"; there aren't any real Darwinists anywhere, it's a code word used by creationists and nothing more, so you have to understand that I read this kind of thing with a superior smirk, watching the little whiner reveal how little he knows of the subject every time he uses the word.

Here's one excerpt from his protracted temper tantrum to show you what I mean.

Evolution happens and obviously happened in the natural world, and natural selection plays a role in it. But we do not have adequate theories yet to explain completely how evolution works and worked at the biochemical level.

That is a true statement, according to our present state of scientific knowledge.

And when Darwinists scream that we do too know how to explain evolution, and it's natural selection, so just stop talking about it, they are dogmatists demanding that their faith—the faith that Darwin's model will be found to explain everything when we just understand things better—be taught in the public schools.

His potted summary in bold is something I, and virtually all of the biologists I know, would mostly agree with. (The one problem is that phrase "at the biochemical level", which means something rather specific to most of us; I hope he's not trying to suggest that there are mechanisms other than physics and chemistry operating on the molecules of life, which would be just silly. I think he just wanted a nicely pretentious science-y word to toss into his statement, so I'll let it pass.)

It's pretty much exactly what we want taught in school. We then want the instructors to go on and explain what evolution is and cover the major concepts and lines of evidence supporting it, of course; mentioning some of the problems real scientists work on is a fine idea, we'd just rather the genuine areas of controversy were discussed, rather than the bogus baloney the Discovery Institute likes to talk about, and it would really help if before they discussed the bleeding edge they were prepared with the fundamental concepts first.

Ah, but that last paragraph…that's where Orson Scott Card the pompous opinionated twit bellows out. There are no "Darwinists". We aren't screaming that we know how to explain all of evolution. We don't think it's all natural selection. We aren't telling people to stop talking about it. We aren't being dogmatic, we aren't demanding "faith" be taught in public schools. This is nothing but Card's straw man.

We are saying that evidence should be taught, that students should understand the best available theory that explains that evidence. We want students to question using the tools of observation and reason and experiment, not revealed knowledge and the dicta of authoritarian dogma. We don't think speculation of the sort the Discovery Institute pushes warrants serious commitment in the school curriculum; if you want to talk about it, fine, go ahead (everyone does anyway!), just don't pretend it is a substantive issue.

I like some of Card's writing. It's sad to see that in addition to being a hateful homophobe, he's also an apologist for bad science and poor science teaching with a feeble grasp on what science is actually about.


For more painful reading, Card has a discussion board on his essay.

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I've always strived to keep my admiration for someone's creative work separate from my loathing of the same person's politics or other views, but I just can't bring myself to read Card since I first came upon his disgusting anti-gay stuff some years back. I think I can live a long happy life of reading SF even if I don't read Ender's Game.

If his homobigotry hadn't already left me in the deepest contempt of him, I would have lost any respect for Card that I held.

By Kristjan Wager (not verified) on 21 Jan 2006 #permalink

Yup, he horribly mischaracterises "Darwinism" and mildly misunderstands the issues. In his defence, he does also give the ID proponents a well-deserved slating.

I like Cards's science fiction. In fact one of his books in the Ender series, Xenocide, was instrumental in my realizing I had been misled about the evidence against evolution (and my subsequent deconversion). I don't understand how someone who can write so well about a group of people who are fed religious beliefs to keep them oppressed can be so obtuse when it comes to his own beliefs. Hopefully he is merely misinformed and will take the time to investigate the facts.

Card is a mediocre, Mormon Sci-Fi writer that has cruised on one clever book (Ender's Game) and has otherwise just re-written various Mormon tales to an audience that is, by-and-large, ignorant of the origins of his tales. The danger of Card is that due to his audience's ignorance of his plagiarized plots, they tend to think he's a creative genius instead of a mediocre writer who steals ideas from the Book of Mormon and cobbles them together, and thus he's elevated to s a status of competency he does not deserve.

From what I have read of Card, he seemed to have a firly good understanding of basic biology. His use of genetics in his Bean series, for example, is supprisinly accurate. The problem is that he is VERY religious. He sticks mormonism into everything he writes.

PZ,

Card is a writer of infinitely malleable sentences, most beautiful, many intriguing, and all artificial. Outside their novels, most writers are a little thoughtless, many are shallow, and Card is a fundementalist Mormon, too. That doesn't help here, he thinks as a fundementalist. The likes of Faulkner, Hemingway, and Steinbeck were anything but shallow, but neither were they damned by a mindless religion; Card is so damned.

The rest of my point is, why put yourself to all this effort, to preach to the choir and waste your energy on this tedious tool of the tabernacle clergy?

Sure, Identify it, put it out there, but then let nature take its course, and the ignorant will gravitate toward the ignorant.

Go birdwatching, grade papers, and we'll start the OSC books boycott.

Orson Scott Card can't help himself. As an article of faith, he thinks he knows who the creator is. Card is a devout member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Mormons believe that godhead is attainable and that the God of the Bible (and of the Book of Mormon) was once as we are. Given that background and world view, how can Card resist intelligent design? Someday he expects to be an intelligent designer himself. (When Card is god of his own universe, I hope he divinely inspires his creatures to write better scriptures than the hackneyed Book of Mormon.)

While Card is a Mormon, he is not a "fundamentalist Mormon." In fact, he has gotten in spats with the church for some of his writings.

I've met Scott and spent time talking with him, and was very surprised how open-minded he seemed. (This was about 5-6 years ago, when I had several meals with him at a sci-fi convention.) However, this article seems very naive, much more so than I would expect from him. He's a man of quite incisive intelligence, and it surprises me even more to see such fallible logic.

This said, he lost a child a few years ago, and perhaps his world-view has changed.

When a person finds Joseph Smith more convincing than Charles Darwin, there really is no need to go into the details.
They're just mad I tell you.
Mad.

By Ick of the East (not verified) on 21 Jan 2006 #permalink

Interesting to see a lot of former-enjoyers of Card out there (I'm one too). First read Ender's Game, and in my usual style, went out and got everything I could find of his. I only found his anti-gay and his religious stuff in more recent years when I went on more of a used-book hunt. What a complete disappointment for someone who has talent, and is good at explaining the work he does (he has a how to write sci-fi book out there that is pretty good -- I think it's out of print but bought it used years ago).

Great analysis as always PZ.

The church and state argument is deliberately misleading. First, the Designists are not, in fact, advocating "God." They are very careful not to specify who or what the Intelligent Designer might be.

I think the proper response to this one is that it's flagrant bullshit. The IDists are most certainly advocating God -- that's the whole point of their movement, in their own words! And what sense would it make to complain about "natrualism" being a barrier to accepting ID if ID only posits natural entities?

Just because they've framed their argument in such a way that it isn't logically necessary for the designer to be God doesn't mean this isn't what they're advocating to the public. How many prominent ID advocates believe the designer is a space alien? Zero, by my last count.

And even still, some of their arguments do logically necessitate that the designer is God. Cosmological fine-tuning, for example, would require a god of some sort, not just a space alien.

For those who dallied in USENET in the early to mid 90s, Card's homophobic polemic was widely disseminated, despite threats to sue anyone who emailed or posted it.

As for writing, yeah, Ender's Game and a few others are remarkable books, but he's written some stinkers too. Lost Boys is so bad it's hard to believe it was written by the same person. Tortured reasoning and writing.

It seems Scott has hit a problem that plagues many SF authors, the explosion of knowledge and the attempt of the nonscientist writer to keep pace. After all, in some areas of science, we are beginning to see discoveries which were undreamed of twenty years ago. Faulkner, Hemingway, and Steinbeck wrote of things they knew, had seen, or had second hand accounts. The SF writer dreams up societies and civilizations and scientific advances without the advantage of observation. At the same time, get a scientific concept wrong and you are pilloried so you do research.
In the good old days of notecards and reference books, knowledge was exposed more slowly and you knew which journals or books to look to for information. The proliferation of websites promoting all sorts of ideas, good, bad or just plain ugly, increases the chances writers will pick up nutjob or incorrect information since the temptation is there to do an hour's research instead of hours or days of research. We mistake ease of access with quality of knowledge contained.
It is unfair to criticize Scott as a one hit wonder as many of us are one hit wonders in one way or another. About once a decade, the latest set of Young Turks in the SFWA decide that there is too much deadwood in the organization and set about pruning the membership. It never succeeds because if they did do away with everyone who managed to publish a DAW S&S fifteen years ago, there would not be enough people left to pay the dues to keep the organization going.
Educate Scott, if you feel he is wrong. Maybe he just has not reviewed the same information you have. Maybe he is not willfully, obdurately ignorant. If he refuses to be corrected, then is the time to excoriate him.
Evolution isn't that difficult of an idea to pick up with a little reading; the world's first herdsman or first farmer was also the world's first evolutionist.

"Educate Scott, if you feel he is wrong. Maybe he just has not reviewed the same information you have. Maybe he is not willfully, obdurately ignorant."

All evidence is firmly to the contrary. Personally I'm quite glad I discovered noxious opinions before I read any of his books. Saved me bothering with them.

It's a shame about Card. Yes, Ender's Game was fantastic. I read his most recent, the incoherent Magic Street, and I could only shake my head sadly. To think this is the man who used to go to conventions around the country holding his satirical "Secular Humanist Revival" meetings and warning against the kinds of religious extremists who are (irony of ironies) the very folks supporting ID.

Another SF writer who has gone over to kookville is James P. Hogan.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is going on with these people?

"Ender's Game" wasn't so great, anyway. I always got the feeling that the writer was more interested in stringing long, convoluted sentences around just to hear his own voice. This was when I was in high school back in the 80s, and I knew nothing of Card's interesting opinions. I finished the book just because I used to feel one had to complete those books they started, no matter how awful (I'm smarter than that now).

I never read another of his door-stoppers. My opinion: you are missing out on nothing by skipping Card's work. If you want far-out sci-fi transhumanism read Greg Bear, instead.

Now remind me to never find out what Bear has said in public about all this stuff...

Some commenters seem to think that PZ should either ignore Cards posting or simply indicate that it is wrong and leave it at that. I beg to differ. I want to express my appreciation for PZ and others like him who have explained in detail why many superficially impressive writings are wrong.

About 35 years ago, I recall a friend asking me what I thought of von Danikens books about aliens and UFOs and Chariots of the Gods and suchlike. I remember being embarrassed that about all I could say was that I thought he was wrong. I really didnt know enough about the subject to say anything more than that. I subsequently started reading articles in The Skeptical Enquirer about spoon bending and other popular nonsense. I started to learn some basics about science, experimental protocols, statistics, and human biases as a result. It would have been better if Id been able to learn some of this in grade school, but the skeptical articles gave me a second chance to learn.

It is true that a given article explaining exactly why someones argument is deficient or defective or just plain wrong is not likely to produce a lot of converts. However, if one believes in the importance of reasoned argument, I think that the practice of critical analysis is an essential element in teaching others.

PZ fights for what he believes in. I hope that he can continue to do so for many more years.

I'm also a former Card reader. Oddly enough, I lost patience with Card's apparent lack of passion for his work long before I became annoyed with his homophobia and latent Fundamentalism. And maybe it's only reasonable that he's gone this route -- his goals as a science fiction writer (to reach an audience largely concerned with the marvels of the technological future and the endless horizons of humanity's free reach achieved thereby) and as a member of a self-important religious cult (to funnel an audience into a narrow and self-aggrandizing mode of thought and encourage them to give up their independence of thought along with 10% of their income) are irreconcilable with one another. What I saw beginning in the mid '90's was the cognitive dissonance as he gradually attempted to suck his science-fiction audience into his religious funnel. He has to a startling degree failed -- almost every time he's brought up in discussion, it's to talk about what a crappy writer he's become and how obnoxious his real views about the world are. Which is a sad thing for me to contemplate because I really did like his early work. He once possessed a truly fantastic imagination, and there are Card books out there that people exposed to the bullshit above would simply not credit as being written by the same man. The darkening of that intellectual light in the name of self-aggrandizing "faith" is a painful thing to see.

By slippytoad (not verified) on 21 Jan 2006 #permalink

Maybe he's planning a new Sci-Fi book about the Intelligent Designer, and he's just seeding the market. If he can get all of the fundie's to buy his books, he'll have millions in new revenue.

I'd like to unecho the praise for Xenocide. That novel, not Card's disgusting anti-gay bigotry, is what made me stop reading Card's fiction.

Ever read a book that was so bad that it ruined your remembered enjoyment of the author's other books? It's not an experience that has happened to me often, but it has happened. For me, Xenocide was that book. Parts of the "Gloriously Bright" thread would have made a good story on their own, but they were spoiled by being embedded in the rest of the novel. Reading Xenocide made me interpret Ender's Game and Speaker for the Dead differently, and not for the better. It magnified literary flaws in those books that I'd previously been willing to overlook.

And, from reading Xenocide and Speaker for the Dead, it doesn't surprise me that Card has now revealed himself as yet another apologist for creationism. The portrayal of scientific research in those books is laughably bad. I have the sense from those novels that Card doesn't think scientists are very bright. He certainly doesn't have a good idea of what scientists do.

Card is right about Columbus, though. FWIW.

By John Wendt (not verified) on 21 Jan 2006 #permalink

Science fiction has never had very much to do with science. As a genre, it's a lot closer to mythological narratives like the Sanskrit puranas than to realist fiction. The subject matter may be science or technology, but the tune never goes with the lyrics. As Michael Crichton pointed out in an opinion piece in SCIENCE a couple of years ago, real science is exceedingly dull to the vast majority of people and commercial science fiction writers must tart it up radically in order to make a living. (Chrichton ought to understand these things--he's a world-class charlatan.)

What I don't understand from this essay is why Card needs to 'contribute' to this debate. Obviously he is part of that large group of people, who, unhindered by any knowledge, just have to ventilate their opinion.

But his essay shows clearly how ID works for many people, by playing to their feelings that there must be something other than naturalistic explanations for existence.

It will be hard ignoring his IDiocy, while reading his SciFi...

Mr. Meyer's,

I took the time to read most of your rebuttal to Mr. Card because you were patient and concerned enough to not let such ignorance and blindingly obdurate crappola pass without recognizing it as such. I needed no convincing but I Thank you for taking the time to let these fools know their baseless B.S. isn't passing the smell test with folks more informed than they are.

If conflating Intellectual Deception with Cretinism is mean than so Behe it. Idiocy Defined = Cretinism = G*d based Ca-Ca. Mean is inflicting stupidity on the masses. That's mean.

Count me in as a long-since-ex Card reader. Xenocide was about as far as I got--the pompous prose had me skipping whole pages towards the end of that book.

It does seem to be the fate of most successful scifi and fantasy authors that there reaches a point in their career where their editor is either unable or reluctant to keep their charge in check. The result is interminable storylines spattered with preachy prose riddled with some underlying personal agenda.

Robert Jordan and Terry Goodkind are two popular fantasy authors I've had to give up on - Jordan for his deadly dull barely-even-plodding pacing and Goodkind for his multi-chapter diatribe against pacifism.

Even the greats of scifi are not immune. Compare the length of Asimov's early novels with the bloated tomes of his later works (Nemesis was his worst bloating offense) and Arthur C. Clarke seemed to become obsessed with repeating his famed "invention" of the satellite, scattering his books with all sorts of predictions that have no relevence whatsoever to the story.

In the end, I guess it's human nature to want to use whatever fame or notoriety you have to promote causes near and dear to your heart, to make a difference in the world. Sadly Orson Scott Card did not choose his cause wisely.

The danger of Card is that due to his audience's ignorance of his plagiarized plots, they tend to think he's a creative genius instead of a mediocre writer who steals ideas from the Book of Mormon and cobbles them together,

Fair's fair, most of the Book of Mormon is ripped off from contemporary sci-fi novels of the time, so in a way, he's just 'giving back'.

By george cauldron (not verified) on 21 Jan 2006 #permalink

From what I have read of Card, he seemed to have a fairly good understanding of basic biology.

Funny, it was his stunning *lack* of knowledge about basic biology that drove the final nail in the Card-coffin for me. For reference, it's in Whatever of Earth (first book), a single line so mind-bogglingly stupid that it literally took my breath away.

Good job I wasn't a Card "fan-boy", it may have had long term psychological effects.

Maybe he's planning a new Sci-Fi book about the Intelligent Designer, and he's just seeding the market. If he can get all of the fundie's to buy his books, he'll have millions in new revenue.

He can't be sci-fi's answer to Lahaye and Jenkins -- he's a Mormon, and let us not forget, the hardcore paleo-christians who buy those books hate Mormons. They don't even think they're christians. (Even tho Mormons act just like them.)

Besides, isn't lovable old Vox Day trying to become the Christian Right's favorite sci-fi writer? :-)

By george cauldron (not verified) on 21 Jan 2006 #permalink

why do these guys all seem to think the way to defend the ideas of ID is to whine about the perfidy of all those scientists?

I think deep down we know the answer to that question.

Not once does he bring up any evidence for ID.

You act surprised.

By george cauldron (not verified) on 21 Jan 2006 #permalink

Orson Scott Card is also a culture-warrior crackpot who in essays has claimed that blue-staters aren't real Americans and they brought the 9/11 attacks upon themselves because their wicked liberal lifestyles infuriated Osama as much as they infuriate real Americans.

Funny, it was his stunning *lack* of knowledge about basic biology that drove the final nail in the Card-coffin for me. For reference, it's in Whatever of Earth (first book), a single line so mind-bogglingly stupid that it literally took my breath away.

What was the line?

Fair's fair, most of the Book of Mormon is ripped off from contemporary sci-fi novels of the time, so in a way, he's just 'giving back'.

Actually, most of it is cribbed from the King James bible and it has those errors, plus errors of its own making (like the iron sword, domestic horses, etc.)

Kirk sez:

"This said, he lost a child a few years ago, and perhaps his world-view has changed."

That may be, and I'd like to add that he was also one of the many (like LGF's Chaz Johnson) who, shortly after the attacks of 9/11, spun viciously right-wards, politically. In fact, this may be an attempt by him at another kind of pious lie -- or rather, a politically expedient one. He may know full well what he's selling is B.S., but because it aids those he perceives to be his political allies, he'll put whatever talents he has has a writer and fabricator to work...

Anyway, on the creative tip, I've never thought he held a candle to Frank Herbert or, later, Dan Simmons. Although he does a great portrayal of teenage boy inner life, IMHO.

"Card is a mediocre, Mormon Sci-Fi writer that has cruised on one clever book (Ender's Game) and has otherwise just re-written various Mormon tales to an audience that is, by-and-large, ignorant of the origins of his tales."

I would disagree. Yes, his writing is inconsistent, I've avoided reading the obviously Mormon stuff, and I can't comment on his politics. But I think his "Red Prophet" series is even better than the Ender series. Yes, it's got a strong mystical bent, but it's well written fantasy and a well designed world.

I've read the Ender story about 25 years ago, then the Ender novel. The second in the series was passable, the third I could not finish. I also read the Alvin trilogy. I gave up on OSC right about there and then.

He is in my state so he gives book readings locally every now and then, yet I coul dnever get myself to get out of bed to go see him.

On the other hand I risked life and limb (and speeding tickets) to go see Greg Bear - possibly the best SF writer today (I wrote a long list of "Essential SF" on my blog recently). We chatted after the signing for a little while. Gotta love a guy whose favourite recent book - and he read the whole thing! - is Gould's Structure. I hope he uses the insights from it for a novel soon.

David Brin is also good on biology, and he has written and published theoretical science papers that I thought were pretty good. I read his blog regularly and it mostly makes me mad. After a long and excellent series on the threats to Enlightement he is still capable of giving the Righties the benefit of the doubt, to consider them legitimate and to try to forge some kind of middle ground.

I must say, I'm really disappointed in that Card essay -- I thought he was smarter than that. His comment:
You have to be ignorant of either Creation Science or Intelligent Design -- or both -- to think that they're the same thing.
....is just nuts. I've found over the years that the more I've learned about ID, the more it starts to resemble that old-time religion, Creation Science. You have to be completely ignorant of the ID movement not to see the commonality.

The closest I've ever seen him get to ID before is in one of the Ender sequels, where he gets sort of vitalistic -- but in a SF context, it's easy to accept that as a plot device. In SF, you can expect some things that aren't exactly science-as-we-know-it.

The last thing I read by Card was the Alvin Maker series, which started out really well, but I think he got tired of writing it about two books before finally dragging it out to a horribly weak non-conclusion. In fact, he seem to have trouble with endings in general. I probably won't boycott Card -- but I won't go out of my way to read him, either.

Gregory writes:
"...David Brin's blog, who seems to be partly in your camp, and partly nodding his head at Card's points. It's an odd post, to say the least, one that had me scratching my head at more than a few points."

I don't read OSC's article as defending ID, per se. If you can get past the faulty reasoning in OSC's first 6 points, I think both he and Brin are trying to point out that the lay public often can't tell the difference between faith-that-science-will-find-the-answers, and the True Faith of ID. (Especially when one side deliberately tries to conflate the two.) A scientist's sputtering incredulous response to these hackneyed ID'ists just doesn't play well in Peoria (or Ohio, or Kansas, ...). People don't like being told they're stupid, even more so when it's true. ;-)

The ID'ists are playing their political cards well. I don't know what form it needs to take, but the "right" side in this debate needs to come up with a consistent political message. We're fighting an emotional appeal with logic. The logic may be correct, and certainly wins court cases, but it doesn't win votes.

Yes, better science education is a good answer, but that's a long term solution. And when 82.3879% (pick a number :-) of the students don't even take the science classes that are offered, it may not help even then. Sigh...

I don't like Card - most of his characters strike me as real asses. In all fairness, I've only read three of his books, but I disliked them enough not to pick up any more.

Give me Stephen Baxter - now there is a SCIENCE fiction writer!

David Brin is also good on biology, and he has written and published theoretical science papers that I thought were pretty good. I read his blog regularly and it mostly makes me mad. After a long and excellent series on the threats to Enlightement he is still capable of giving the Righties the benefit of the doubt, to consider them legitimate and to try to forge some kind of middle ground.

*seconds coturnix* Brin's central failing is that he equates the anti-intellectual sins of the right with those of the left. They are entirely different, n quality, quantity, and most importantly, impact on the political and social spheres in this country. It's a very odd blind spot he has. The right and left are not equal in their attacks on science, except in Brin's eyes.

By shinypenny (not verified) on 21 Jan 2006 #permalink

The popularity of Ender's Game speaks more of the tendency toward adolescent megalomania among science fiction readers than of quality in the novel itself, which I found possibly the most naive in the whole starry-eyed subgenre of military sf.
Last I heard, Card was a teacher in a private boys' school - it's scary to think what kind of "education" his students might be receiving (or that this may be exactly what their parents want).
If the most active commenters on the discussion board PZ mentions are any example, sophomoric cheap shots are central to the curriculum.

By Pierce R. Butler (not verified) on 21 Jan 2006 #permalink

Orson Scott Card: What a card! Hehheh. Anyway, reading it here wasn't so bad, where it was neatly dissected. Of course, then I HAD to look at the lengthy homophobic rants. (Not a good idea after eating Indian food.) What exactly is wrong with homosexual marraige? His stream of gibberish was almost as irrational as a creationist! Perhaps this may be scheduled for dissection next?

By anonymous hete… (not verified) on 21 Jan 2006 #permalink

"Enders game" was a terrific description of and argument on violence, except that the genocide ending ended the good read for me.

But the subsequent "Speaker for the dead" was a terrible soup of bad descriptions of how science is done and bad science. Card discusses "philotic waves" that are analog to the dead and buried 'pilot wave' concept. And yes, vitalism too.

If you are doing space opera or fantasy, fine. But in scifi that is a major faux pas - if you are pretending to do science at all it's better to use speculative unproven concepts, or at least concepts where the known problems can be fixed by new speculations.

Card seems terribly unsuited to discuss science or it's results. But since it reflects in his books after "Enders Game" he will hopefully be less read.

By Torbjorn Larsson (not verified) on 21 Jan 2006 #permalink

"Enders game" was a terrific description of and argument on violence

Eh, I'd disagree: the reader is subtlety set up to view Ender as an innocent and justified killer, regardless of the details surrounding his killings, solely because his motives are "good". I recommend you read John Kessel's essay, "Creating the Innocent Killer", in which he examines Card's treatment of the question of violence in Ender's Game.

By Anonymous (not verified) on 21 Jan 2006 #permalink

"Behe and his group don't think we're stupid."

Oh the irony. Behe and his group are counting on people like Card to not only be ignorant of evolution and science, but to react so emotionally to the presentation of intelligent design creationism that they never think clearly about it.

Card has been duped. Worse, he's supporting the conmen that duped him.

Orson Scott Card owes his career to Omni magazine. They published his short stories (horror sci-fi, with more than a little misogyny thrown in for grins) in the late 1970s, prior to his getting the big book deal. (Considering that Omni was porn mogul Bob Guccione's attempt at a classy 'legit' mag, his championship of the deeply misogynist Card shouldn't be surprising.) He reads like Michael "Savage" Weiner swallowed a dictionary.

By the way: Does anyone know if it's true that he wasn't really born "Orson Scott Card"? The story I've heard is that he was plain old "Scott Card" growing up, but got the idea to add the "Orson" from one of the D&D characters he played. (I can't see this, though -- Card would have had to have been one of the first persons in the country outside of UW-Madison to be playing D&D for this to be true.)

Ron Zeno: Yeah. That's why I think of Card as a slightly more articulate version of Michael Savage (aka Dr. Michael Weiner, the snake-oil salesman). There's the same intense feeling of entitlement, coupled with a white-hot rage at those who sees muscling in on his entitlement turf: women, gays, blacks, etc.

Jon Krakauer's Under the Banner of Heaven describes the Mormon white-boy entitlement mindset -- and the insane violence that results when this entitlement is denied -- to a T.

OSC has turned heavily rightward over the past 15-20 years or so. Even so, I thought he had better sense than to try and turn himself into a latter-day Joseph Fielding Smith (Mormon church president 1969-71 who despised "organic evolution and famously said men would never go to the moon). There was a time when Card would go to scifi cons and hold "secular humanist revivals", but this was before about 1990 or so, when he discovered teh gay in a big way and wrote a nasty article about it for a liberal Mormon magazine.

Card's been mining the Mormon mythos for many, many of his books. His Alvin Maker series? A takeoff of Joseph Smith. Homecoming Saga? Oh, Book of Mormon set in space. Now he's writing fiction about biblical women. I've not even tried to read those.

Remember, OSC is not a scientist, is not trained as a scientist (I believe his degree is from Brigham Young University in Drama), and is generally not qualified to speak on what he is speaking. Guess what? That makes him like so many other of the Intelligent Design types!

By Fluffy Halifax (not verified) on 21 Jan 2006 #permalink

Patrick I'll have to paraphrase, because it's been a long while and I'm not going to look it up.

"Individual males are more important than individual females"

Bwahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha

*gasp*

*pant*

Bwahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha.....

I haven't read through the last 55 comments so hopefully I am not repeating.

Since reading (but not completing) Orson Scott Cards "Xenocide" (a pathetic attempt to draw a second sequal from his very brilliant "Enders Game") discovering that he is an IDealologist is unsuprising.

By Terrorance (not verified) on 21 Jan 2006 #permalink

I admire a lot of Card's early writing, but as others have noted here, he's really lost it lately; the recent Ender follow-ons for instance are not only derivative, but seem aimed at proving political points about violence and evil in the world, the dangers of communism, etc. that make little sense and have no place in the story line we used to love.

But, to counter those who lay his present attitudes to his faith, I'm also a faithful member of the LDS (Mormon) church; the church as a whole has a very strong emphasis on education, and this anti-evolution attitude is, to the extent it's widespread among church members, only a reflection of the sad mis-education of our children across this country on the matter, over the last 100 years or so.

It's not because he's a Mormon that he's written this stuff. It's because he's somehow become a moron. Sorry Mr. Card.

Give me Stephen Baxter - now there is a SCIENCE fiction writer!
SPOILER ALERT!
He's lousy at astronomy, though: see the bit in Evolution where the hibernauts are looking at the night sky trying to figure out where and when they are. Nope.

Oddly, the other Card books I have read have had more overt Catholicism than Mormonism in them. Not being particularly familiar with Mormonism, I did not realize that there were any parallels in the Alvin Maker (Like other commenters, I found the series very disappointing in the end.) On the other hand, I read Card's Seventh Son around the same time as I read Terry Pratchett's Sourcery and Equal Rites . Same basic story in all 3, but Pratchett's ironic twists were more fun.

By Theo Bromine (not verified) on 21 Jan 2006 #permalink

I read Ender as a teenager. I have a feeling that I may not have liked it as much if I have first read it at a later age.

just read some (but not all--it's too slow and painful) of Card's rant against gay marriage.

what a DUMBASS!

I got through the summary of the seven points, and I just felt like that's all I really needed to read. If the basis for the rest of the diatribe is a complete pantload, you kinda gotta figure the rest of the diatribe will be a pantload, too.

I can't even think of a reason to read past the seven bullet points. He might as well have written, "The world is flat because I say it's flat! Read the other 7,000 words here so I can back that up!".

Ummm. Not gonna. Period.

Card didn't just lose a kid several years ago, he lost a kid that was born so severely disabled that it was almost certain from the beginning that he would not live to see adulthood.

"Lost Boys" was written not long after his son was born. It's quite obvious that it was Card's way of dealing with his grief.

"...his later Ender series books have been soulless cash-ins."

Sadly, enough, I don't think that's strictly true. I think Card has decided that his younger self was very wrong on many things and has been trying to rewrite the series to reflect his current views. Thus the obsession with abortion and messing with genes and cloning.

No that any of this excuses his crappy writing and bigoted and misguided arguements. It's just sometimes useful to remember where stuff like that comes from.

Here's a little essay from one of Card's colleagues titled "Orson Scott Card Has Always Been An Asshat."
http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2005/5/28/22428/7034

It has some unsupported allegations, but still it and the comments thread it inspires are fun reading if you're in the right frame of mind on a lazy Sunday morning.

"Fair's fair, most of the Book of Mormon is ripped off from contemporary sci-fi novels of the time, so in a way, he's just 'giving back'."

"Actually, most of it is cribbed from the King James bible..."

Isn't that what he just said?!?!

Does anyone know of other examples of science fiction influenced by Mormonism? The original Battlestar Galactica has been said to be rather heavily influenced by Glen Larson's Mormon background.

I had to stop reading Card after realizing just how much he was plagarizing LDS history and scripture for his own gain. Yes, 'Alvin Maker' and 'Songs of a Distant Earth' are the story of Joseph Smith, and the Book of Mormon, tarted up into a fantasy or sci-fi novel. Some of his other books (Where he wrote his own words perhaps, instead of plagarizing?) were even worse though. Wyrms? Give me a break!

I've got nothing against LDS history or theology, I was raised LDS, up to and including spending 2 years on a bicycle going door to door. Unfortunately, I think they taught me a little TOO well. 10 years in Salt Lake City did a lot to open my eyes.

If I could still believe in -any- Christian religion, I'd probably still be LDS - but thinking for myself has become rather addictive, and I can no longer make all the suppositions needed to believe fall into place. It has become a much larger universe since I started looking at it with open eyes.

But this article, and "Javelin's" defense of it over on the Ornery.com boards.. Gads! First mention a well known group of people, not perhaps by the name they use for themselves, but by the name the opposite view uses - Darwinists. As most Creationists use the word, they mean anyone who believes in the theory of Evolution. Layman, scientist, whatever.

Now make a strawman out of 'strict darwinists', and berate them with accusations that best seem to match the -documented- acts of the other group. Who are these 'Strict Darwinists'? Why does he use a word that describes a much larger group of people who AREN'T guilty of the foibles he mentions? He conflates the two together, and then any accusations that he's wrong are defended by 'Javelin' crowing, 'Oh, he didn't mean scientists, biologists, or any of the numerous people who have written reams of peer-reviewed papers, he means those OTHER Darwinists, you know, the bad ones..!'

No, I don't know them, I haven't seen many (if ANY) of that group. Mostly I see links to extremely clear and well-reasoned evidence, it's the creationists who rant and link to semantic nonsense. All those other people with the evidence, those are the people that -everyone else- (except the scientists) is calling Darwinists, but OBVIOUSLY he didn't mean them when he says 'darwinists', right?

It looks to me like he's carefully built himself a strawman to beat, then left himself an out where he can claim 'I didn't mean any of THOSE people who have done all those tests and written all those papers, I meant... those 3 over there in the corner that you've never heard of! THEY don't back up their claims with evidence, THEY constantly call well-meaning creationists *coughIDists* names, THEY act out on the boards. You know, Darwinists!'

Bah. I'm even less impressed with the man once again.

Weevil

By LesserOfTwoWeevils (not verified) on 21 Jan 2006 #permalink

(Apologies to all of yez in advance for the length of this comment. Those of you who know me will roll your eyes AGAIN ... and yet hopefully still read it.)

PZ, I read this entire post with the delight that I often feel when I visit Pharyngula: delight that there's this brilliant watchdog out there somewhere - you - who does this kind of thing for me, and everybody else, for free.

Responding to one of the earlier comments: The rest of you, never think that this isn't worth doing. PZ is NOT just preaching to the choir, he's having an effect that goes far beyond us Pharynguloids, I think, and it's too important NOT to do.

Changing tracks a bit, don't anybody think that writing fiction is easy. My picture of it, from my own limited experience, is that it's a lot like building a house (which I DO have some experience of, having been both a carpenter and a roofer). It goes up one small piece at a time, and it's a helluva lot of work. The difference is, with a novel, you start without architectural plans, without lumber, without nails, almost without ANY ready-made bits to make the work go faster. You start with the equivalent of trees and iron ore - words and grammar, a sense of how human minds work, and a rough idea of where you want the thing to end up ... and you have to smelt the ore into iron, mold the iron into tools to cut the trees into lumber, individually forge the nails (etc., until the metaphor falls apart).

The intensity of focus required to carry through on the thing, through the quite long, complex books that Card sometimes writes, is not something most of us have experience of, I don't think. I can't speak to the origins of his work, but I can honestly say that the final product has flashes of beauty and brilliance far beyond the run of the mill stuff that makes up so much of novel writing today.

In the construction metaphor, Card has written the equivalent of a beautiful city.

(To the person who criticized "Magic Street," I'm sure both "Magic Street? and "Enchantment" were intended as pleasant fantasies - desserts rather than main courses - and I thought they were both delicious as such.)

Here's the deal on writing fiction, though. You have to run your chosen characters, and the universe you've built for them, through your head a LOT. Over and over and over, you have to descend into your fictional world and live in it, continuously creating it in your imagination as real as you can possibly imagine it, in order to get the end-consumer, the reader, to see a fraction of what you've experienced.

There's a hazard in it, it seems to me. If you continuously cycle a deliberately-created fictional universe through your head as you work your way through the plot of your story or book (or lengthy series of books), you ... drift a bit from the real world.

As a writer, and a fan of fiction, especially SF, I admire Card's work. I think I can imagine this factor of drift, and I find it excusable in most things.

HOWEVER, in this case, I'm also awfully sorry he's written this thing we're talking about, and I agree he definitely needs to hear, in strong terms, all the things he's gotten flat-out wrong. The comeuppance should be every bit as public as his original erratic piece, and most everything said here in the comments seems well worth saying.

However-again, I find it hard to see Card as someone so frozen into some sort of arch-conservative or religious mindset that he's unable to learn new stuff and change his mind.

I'm hopeful that he's capable of coming back from this mistake, of rethinking and reconsidering what he's written, and apologizing and correcting it.

He's way too good a writer, and way too engaging a voice, to let this mistaken piece stand.

...

Mr. Card, if you happen to read this:

I had a geometry teacher in the 8th grade, a Miss King, who was the first person to teach me that sometimes there is a right answer, and all the others are wrong. She believed it was better for us to get the right answer than it was to get credit for an almost right one, or a blatantly wrong one achieved after a good try. She was merciless in grading, in a way that none of my other teachers ever were, and all these years later, I'm so glad I got to know her.

The life lesson she taught me, that Getting It Right Matters, was one nobody else had ever tried to teach but one that turns out to be one of the most important things I learned in school. You can't get it right all the time, but you always have to TRY.

No, I'm not saying that evolution has the one and only right answer, and everything in it is indisputable and unquestionable. What I am saying is that Getting It Right Matters ... and that evolutionary science is almost infinitely right-er than anything ID has tossed up so far.

And that MATTERS. It matters a lot.

I think you were probably kinda wingin' it, writing about ID and science as an off-the-cuff opinion piece, but you stepped over a line of extreme importance and got into some territory in which you MUST NOT stand.

You've made a mistake, not a small one, and you need to correct it.

If you take the trouble to really look at Intelligent Design, and talk - in person, perhaps - to someone like Dr. Myers here, or maybe Carl Zimmer (both of whom I think you'll find to be, in person, not just gentle and generous, open-minded and enthusiastic, but KNOWLEDGEABLE about their chosen subjects) for their take on it, you'll find out ... well, that you have some very mistaken ideas about both ID and evolution.

In my opinion, Intelligent Design is ... not just a wrong answer, but a wrong answer threaded with a great deal of deliberate meanness. In my opinion - and I think this is something that doesn't get said near often enough - Intelligent Design is not just anti-science, it is anti-American. It's filled to the brim with a selfish sectarian disregard for one of our greatest of American virtues - a historical enthusiasm for good science - that crosses over in too many cases into the deliberately malicious.

The depth of feeling you read in most of the comments here is a reflection of the passion that a lot of us feel about the extreme importance of science itself, of American science, and even, in the end, of true things.

The anger you find here is directed at you in this moment, but it's really more of a thrust at a much larger threat - an ongoing assault on true things which is these days very much with us.

Intelligent Design is only one of the more well-defined and recognizable instances of this assault. Intelligent Design is a turning-on-its-head of the idea that Getting It Right Matters, and in the cases of ALL the prominent spokesmen in the field of ID, it appears wholly and carelessly deliberate.

Holy Cow, Craig - that is a VERY interesting article you just linked!

It has a fun "inside" kind of feel to it, doesn't it? :)

It has a fun "inside" kind of feel to it, doesn't it? :)

It sure does. I wonder what is Card's experience from early childhood. Abuse? Strict Fathering?

Damn, yet another author down... although I haven't found a good book of his to read for a long time now, so I guess it isn't such a loss :) I totally didn't like the "Children of Earth" series, so never tried reading more than the synopsis of the books.

PZ, once again, my hat's off to you! You've done a great job with this, as always. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!

It sure does. I wonder what is Card's experience from early childhood. Abuse? Strict Fathering?

The Salon.com article seems to suggest his older brother beat him up. Of course, it could just be that whole "being raised Mormon" thing.

It's a terrible, terrible shame. I loved so much of Card's early work (but started going off it once I got bored in a hotel and actually READ the Book of Mormon around the same time his "Earth" series came out).

His anti-gay-marriage argument boils down to "They're not LIKE us. They can't love the way WE do." Which is sickening, especially since he appeared to have such empathy for his oppressed characters in his books. The rest of his polemic is the usual threat of civilization collapsing if anybody makes him treat THEM the same way he gets to be treated.

For shame, Mr. Card.

This short summary from the article Craig mentioned was enough for me:

In essence he was the anti-Iain Banks

Banks is perhaps my favorite author, and yeah, I can see exactly how he would never write a book anything like any of Card's.

This is even less surprising than Scott Adam's commentary a few months ago. Neither are particularly informed, and Card is overtly religious. Actually, he does seem to be in denial about what IDers claim, because I don't recall any of them conceding common descent. It sounds as if Card believes in some form of guided evolution but accepts that natural selection is powerful enough to produce a wide range of adaptions (not just so-called "micro" evolution). It is tough to know some science and have to reconcile it with religious beliefs instilled at an impressionable age.

BTW, I have only read one book by Card, _Folk of the Fringe_ (not _Ender's Game_), which was about Mormon society in the western US after some sort of global disaster. (I used to choose books based on availability at used bookstores, which tilts the balance towards multiple copies of "lesser works"). I may be alone here in recommending Folk of the Fringe.

I don't share Card's beliefs, but it had an original premise: what if society collapsed and Mormons had to rebuild it? I had to stop and say "Huh... never considered that." As a narrative, it was reasonably well constructed and engaging (not brilliant by any means) and I felt that I might have gained a little insight into a way of thinking totally unlike my own.

Darwinism vs. Evolution
Here's the place where a lot of scientists indulge in muddy thinking. Evolution and Darwinism have been treated as synonyms for so long that too many people think they're the same thing. But they're not, and never have been.

He's got a whole section on this, but he never explained the difference between the two.

Toward the end he consistently refers to the support of evolution and natural selection as "faith" and religion" although he never made a case for it. In fact he acknowledged that evolution is a fact and that natural selection has been observed. To assume that natural selection occurs when we're not looking seems a perfectly reasonable extrapolation, not an article of faith. I do not see how the alleged equivalence between that and the entirely unproven Intelligent Design position that a master designer and fabricator exists can be supported.

By Bayesian Bouff… (not verified) on 22 Jan 2006 #permalink

I may be alone here in recommending Folk of the Fringe.
Not alone -- that was the first Card I read, and I liked it. I think he's right that, in the event of catastrophic collapse of civilization, close-knit communities like the Mormons (who are expecting the End Of The World anyway -- IIRC, a faithful Mormon is supposed to keep a year's worth of food and supplies in the basement) are among the more likely to survive and form the nucleus of whatever recovery is possible. Religion can be a strong force for social cohesion.

But this whole thread has rather put me off OSC (that, and the non-ending of Alvin Maker).

He said: "Fair's fair, most of the Book of Mormon is ripped off from contemporary sci-fi novels of the time, so in a way, he's just 'giving back'."

I said: "Actually, most of it is cribbed from the King James bible..."

You said: Isn't that what he just said?!?!

No. The KJV Bible is not a work of science fiction but a religous tract of dubious accuracy. The earliest works being penned by Mary Shelley who wrote Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus and post-apocalyptic The Last Man. After those novels, there really wasn't anything we would consider particularly "science fiction" until Verne, Huxley, Wells and a few others started publishing.

Which will produce the more complex arrangement of parts, a guy with a milling machine, or a winter storm at the beach that throws up a tangled pile of driftwood?

Don't you mean a tornado in a junkyard?

No, there is good reason to believe Smith lifted big chunks of the book of Mormon from contemporary sources not written by Ancient Desert Hebrews. The following is an excerpt from Wikipedia, under 'Book of Mormon':

Smith as a plagiarist of contemporaries

In the early 20th century LDS Apostle B.H. Roberts authored a manuscript entitled Studies of the Book of Mormon, in which he critically examined the claims and origins of The Book of Mormon. In his manuscript, Roberts compared the content of The Book of Mormon with View of the Hebrews, a book written by Ethan Smith (no relation to Joseph), pastor of a church in Poultney, Vermont. View of the Hebrews was published in 1825, some five years before The Book of Mormon and called for recognition of Native Americans as the lost tribes of Israel and for bringing them back into the Christian fold. Speculation regarding the possible origins of the Native Americans was common in the era.

David Persuitte, in his book, Joseph Smith and the Origins of The Book of Mormon, shows extensive parallels between passages in View of the Hebrews and in The Book of Mormon, but notes no instances of direct copying, nor does he demonstrate that Smith ever read or even encountered the book. Had he owned a copy, Smith could be said to have been inspired by View of the Hebrews. However, it is known that Ethan Smith had visited Palmyra in support of his book, so the idea of Joseph Smith being exposed to View of the Hebrews is plausible. However, if such plagarism did exist, most blame would have to be placed on the shoulders of Oliver Cowdery. Cowdery was educated and trained as a typesetter/printers assistant in the 1800s and worked at the Poultney Gazette in the summer of 1823 (the paper became the Northern Spectator in December of 1823) when Ethan Smith brought the View of the Hebrews manuscript to be published. Soon thereafter Cowdery left the paper and within a few months Joseph Smith had reported the first divine visitation on the equinox (September 21, 1823). The obvious connection being that Oliver Cowdery and Joseph Smith were related and often associated together. This employment at the Poultney Gazette would not have been Cowderys first exposure to View of the Hebrews, his family, including father William and stepmother Keziah, were noted as being longstanding members of Ethan Smiths congregation in Poultney when he arrived and assumed leadership in November 1821. Ethan Smith made no secret of his theories presented in View of the Hebrews during sermons.

Some claim Smith plagiarized material from the manuscript for an unpublished novel by Solomon Spaulding. Spaulding's romantic novel has very little in common with the Book of Mormon. Even the story, which revolves around a group of seafaring Romans who sail to the New World around two millennia ago is not relatable to the Book of Mormon. Recently, non-Mormon researcher Thomas Donofrio claims to have found hundreds of parallels between peculiar wordings in the Book of Mormon and the writings of well-known historical and religious figures of the 18th and 19th centuries. Some difficulty is seen with this hypothesis given Joseph Smith's lack of formal education.

There's a lot more to this whole issue that one can google. Needless to say, Mormons don't like to hear this. :-)

By george cauldron (not verified) on 22 Jan 2006 #permalink

Mormons don't like to hear this.

They are also not happy with terms like "sacred underoos" and "magic hat".

The 19th century was very weird, BTW. Very weird. And we are still dealing with its spawn.

Have the mormons spread all over the earth like a plague yet? Like, are there little mormon groups in africa and stuff now? Just curious. It's not like you see many of them outside of Utah anyways.

Have the mormons spread all over the earth like a plague yet? Like, are there little mormon groups in africa and stuff now? Just curious

Yup. Supposedly the whole nation of Tonga is Mormon. Guess the LDS missionaries happened to be there when the Tongans were sufficiently worn down buy Westerners to discard their original religion.

They send their missionaries all over. In fact, all young Mormon males are obliged to spend time doing mission work. I guess the problem is that most parts of the world are either already worked over by the Catholics and Protestants, or too dangerous for earnest tow-headed Americans with black pants and short-sleeved white shirts.

By george cauldron (not verified) on 22 Jan 2006 #permalink

I've managed to avoid "Ender's Game" because I don't read books without pictures.

Actually, although I know I shouldn't read critical essays like Mr. Kessel's before reading the actual book, but I think it may have saved me from dealing with a book I would hate.

My recent re-readings and viewings of the movie The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe have taught me that I have lost all patience with one-dimensional villains. I saw it not as an allegory for the brave Brittish fighting the Nazis, but as an allegory for the brave Conquistadors fighting the Mexicans. I think we know how that turned out.

Frankly, I can't get behind The Lord of the Rings for the same reason.

By Christopher (not verified) on 22 Jan 2006 #permalink

Don't blame the Mormons for Card's or anyone elses' odd views. BYU has a number of fine folk in their various biological sciences areas who teach evolution. Turns out that Mormonism has no theology against evolution.

Card's an outlyer among Mormons in theology.

By Ed Darrell (not verified) on 22 Jan 2006 #permalink

I too liked Ender's Game, but was turned off by Card's later work. I dont like his politics, and his religion leads him into very strange places.

Nonetheless, contrary to the fascinating articles mentioned above, I dont read Enders Game as an intentional defense of Hitler or genocide. Neither was Card addressing legal executions or warfare, which are the usual concerns of authors who write about morally justified killing.
The blatancy with which Card tips the scales in Enders favor at every opportunity regarding motivations, innocence, manipulation by authority figures, and constraint by exceptional circumstances suggests to me that Card was not working toward making excuses for Hitler, but was testing to see whether the case for morally justified killing could possibly be extended as far as genocide, and whether it was possible for the perpetrator of a genocide to remain morally pure, if morally justified.

Specifically, I think Card was dealing with a peculiar and very problematic bit of early Mormon history, involving a spate of church-sponsored murders. This stemmed from the claimed-to-be-god-given principle of blood atonement, which Brigham Young explained as "This is loving our neighbor as ourselves; if he needs help, help him; and if he wants salvation and it is necessary to spill his blood on the earth in order that he may be saved, spill it. Any of you who understand the principles of eternity, if you have sinned a sin requiring the shedding of blood, except the sin unto death, would not be satisfied nor rest until your blood should be spilled, that you might gain that salvation you desire. That is the way to love mankind." (Deseret News, Feb. 18, 1857; also reprinted in Journal of Discourses, vol. 4, pp. 219-20). (from http://www.xmission.com/~country/reason/hicklhm.htm ) Reportedly, Young extended this to justify killing people who disagreed with him or who threatened his leadership, on the grounds that as he was a leader inspired by god, disagreeing with him constituted blasphemy, which was a soul-threatening sin, and since it was okay to kill someone to prevent them endangering their soul, it was therefore okay to kill people who disagreed with him. Young reportedly had a band of assassins that were referred to as his 'Danites' or 'destroying angels' (see Bill Hickman, "Brigham's Destroying Angel", but note that Mormons argue strongly that the book is untrue.)

Here's another quote from Brigham Young boasting about his Destroying Angels: "And if the Gentiles wish to see a few tricks, we have 'Mormons' that can perform them. We have the meanest devils on the earth in our midst, and we intend to keep them, for we have use for them; and if the Devil does not look sharp, we will cheat him out of them at the last, for they will reform and go to heaven with us." Isn't Young in effect making a claim in favor of the creation of a group of 'Enders', and isn't this what Ender's Game is all about? Ender (whose very name means terminator) strikes me as an ultimate "destroying angel", simultaneously as innocent (blameless) and as guilty (destructive) as possible. I suspect Card was trying to justify the possibility of a morally pure 'destroying angel' by putting the most blameless perpetrator he could create up against the most thorough and most desperately necessary extermination that he could envision.

Religion, bah!

I, for one, take the gravest possible exception to your denigrating comments on the FSM ... Matey.

By jay boilswater (not verified) on 22 Jan 2006 #permalink

I would disagree. Yes, his writing is inconsistent, I've avoided reading the obviously Mormon stuff, and I can't comment on his politics. But I think his "Red Prophet" series is even better than the Ender series. Yes, it's got a strong mystical bent, but it's well written fantasy and a well designed world

Pst. The Red Prophet stuff (actually the Alvin Maker series) is heavily based upon the Mormon faith, so you haven't avoided the obviously Mormon stuff. You have just not recognized it.

By Kristjan Wager (not verified) on 22 Jan 2006 #permalink

clvrmnky wrote, "Ender's Game" wasn't so great, anyway.

I agree; totally overrated.

Well, as someone who went to Yale for undergraduate, I thank my lucky stars for deconstructionism when I read someone like Card.

I find his books to be arguments for the very things he claims to hate. Openness, tolerance, seeking to put oneself in the shoes of the other even during a war.

Not to mention ... he is throwing in his lot with the very people who will bring the U.S. to its knees in front of China ... which is half of the trouble in his "Shadow" books. Perhaps he'd rather be a prophet in the prescient sense than a prophet in the "Don't do that bad thing or look what you'll sow" sense. Self-fulfill his own science fiction, as it were.

Another SF writer who has gone over to kookville is James P. Hogan.

Oh, boy, yes. In a big, big, big way. He doesn't just believe in ID, and in grand conspiracies of all scientists. He honestly appears to believe in Veliokovskianism! He's also been heard saying that Einstein was wrong, and pushing perpetual-motion machines.

For a time I hoped that this was all a massive parody, but the process of rot was gradual: you can see signs of it in his work from the 1970s; unless he's been pulling the wool over our eyes for his entire career, he really means it. A classic example of someone whose mind was so open his brain fell out.

I hope he's not trying to suggest that there are mechanisms other than physics and chemistry operating on the molecules of life, which would be just silly.

Isn't that exactly the premise of _Children of the Mind_? (This mention does not constitute an endorsement of that awful novel!)

Parts of the "Gloriously Bright" thread would have made a good story on their own

They did, titled, unsurprisingly, _Gloriously Bright_. ISFDB says the original publication was in the Jan 91 _Analog_. Card tried to pull an _Ender's Game_ and parlay an expansion into a killer novel again. Unfortunately, he only managed a killingly bad novel...

(Personally I seem to be strange in that I consider the novel-expansion of _Ender's Game_ to be better than the short story, but there's no denying that most people who've read both aren't of my view.)

Give me Stephen Baxter - now there is a SCIENCE fiction writer!

Let's see. Prestressed cardboard characters, way-cool ideas that turn out to be totally unworkable upon about five seconds' thought, use of every new and cool idea he can find whether or not it fits into the work it's jammed into or its effect upon series consistency, failure to understand most of the concepts he uses properly with the result that they have people who actually understand them wincing constantly, desperately annoying hangups that he keeps on turning into novels and parts of novels that almost nobody can stand (the mammoths stuff, the non-sentient humans kick that resulted in the nigh-unreadable _Evolution_ and the dull as dishwater non-sentient-human part of _Manifold: Origin_... and I don't have a clue what the hell happened to cause _Titan_.)

Yep, Baxter sounds like a typical hard SF author to me. (The 'typical' author, of course, is not a good one.)

Anonymous,

"Eh, I'd disagree: the reader is subtlety set up to view Ender as an innocent and justified killer, regardless of the details surrounding his killings, solely because his motives are "good". "

I don't find any subtlety in the setup, it's pretty obvious. Nor does it matter too much, as many here says Card is treating violence in general, and abuse and its effects in particular. It was merely in the end when he was arguing about permitted genocide where he lost me.

"I recommend you read John Kessel's essay, "Creating the Innocent Killer", in which he examines Card's treatment of the question of violence in Ender's Game.""

Thanks for the pointer, craig has provided a link. Normally I have no interest in text analyses due to their uninteresting speculative and subjective nature, but in this case there is a definite argument to analyse, so it may be worthwhile. It looks like Card has a lot of not so nice sides, which I didn't know and this thread has exposed.

By Torbjorn Larsson (not verified) on 22 Jan 2006 #permalink

Hum, I just realised that I can endure and even enjoy text analyses on blogs, with all of their drawbacks and pitfalls, but not when its done by a single author in isolation. I guess I prefer the shallow but sane analysis a blog can provide due to its feedback.

By Torbjorn Larsson (not verified) on 22 Jan 2006 #permalink

The 'typical' author, of course, is not a good one.
There's a reason that I don't read a lot of SF anymore. So much of it is wankery. Of course, so much of anything is wankery.

Of course, I may be one of the few people in the world who actually liked Delaney's Dhalgren, so my taste is, itself, suspect.

Gregory: David Brin is an interesting case in that he's gone loony in other ways. He's decided, for instance, that since ensuring privacy is sufficiently difficult in the modern day, we should give up on the idea altogether and live in a completely transparent society with ubiquitous surveillance by everyone. This is a disturbing idea, but one that warrants some serious consideration. But it doesn't warrant the belief that the Swiss government is persecuting him for threatening the privacy-based portions of its economy. He's had a growing persecution complex for the least decade or so - the more he's convinced he's got the crucial insight into this or that problem, the less willing he is to accept opposition as possibly being anchored in intelligence or good will.

His perspective on any social issue is likely to be distinctive but not necessarily useful in the sense of having to do with the issue itself.

By Bruce Baugh (not verified) on 22 Jan 2006 #permalink

I read the story version of Ender's Game first, then Speaker for the Dead, then the EG novel, then Xenocide. I liked the EG story; I was into wargaming at the time, and the gaming in the story helped my tactical sense develop. Looking back at it now, the set-up seems a little contrived, but I enjoyed it then, and won't deny it now.

After that, SftD was a good read, since it took Ender's character in a totally new direction, and the alien biology was interesting. But going back to the EG novel wasn't such a good read. There was too much cruft added around the original story, trying to ramp up Ender's victimhood, I guess, but which actually made him less sympathetic to me. And Xenocide just made Ender's story fall apart. Reading about Card's Mormon imagery now, it makes a little more sense in a way, but not enough to rescue the story for me.

There's probably something quite profound to be said about the gap between what one person writes and what another person reads, but it will take someone smarter than me to say it.

"All evidence is firmly to the contrary. Personally I'm quite glad I discovered noxious opinions before I read any of his books. Saved me bothering with them."

I think your commiting a version of the intentional fallacy, you should remeber that in the ultimate analysis the author is irrelevant to his writing except in the production stage.

By Timothy J Scriven (not verified) on 22 Jan 2006 #permalink

The intentional fallacy is a fallacy only with regard to critical analysis of the work. The whole point of things like boycotts in favor of moral causes is that as human being we can and should consider the people doing the stuff.

By Bruce Baugh (not verified) on 22 Jan 2006 #permalink

Martin Wagner:

When I found OSC's web site a few weeks ago, then read his right-wing rants, I was also sorely dissappointed, knowing that he had been the same person performing the "Secular Humanist Revival Meetings" in the '80s. Too bad he didn't take his own advice from the meetings:

OSC: Can I get an "Amen"?

Crowd: AMEN!

OSC: Damn you! Damn you for jumping on the bandwagon without knowing what you agree to! Damn you for going along with the crowd just because it feels good! etc.

He also said that "Creation Sience" made as much sense as "Bicycle Sex" and "Vegetable Olympics."

Well, if Card says one must be ignorant or a liar to think ID is the same as Creation Science, then I have to say Mr. Card is either ignorant or a liar for saying they are different.

Can I get an "Amen"?

By the way: Does anyone know if it's true that he wasn't really born "Orson Scott Card"? The story I've heard is that he was plain old "Scott Card" growing up, but got the idea to add the "Orson" from one of the D&D characters he played. (I can't see this, though -- Card would have had to have been one of the first persons in the country outside of UW-Madison to be playing D&D for this to be true.)

Scott Card adopted the "Orson" while doing theater in Salt Lake City, and did in fact play D&D in the late 70s according to my wife, who was in his roleplaying group also at the time. FWIW, I was playing D&D in Iowa City then as well while going to the University of Iowa, so the game was known outside Madison.

As for OSC's "Secular Humanist Revival", I still have a tape of it somewhere that I duped in the late 80s from a copy the minister at the Ames, IA UU Fellowship had. It's a hoot, which makes OSC's subsequent turn by 1990 against homosexuality sad, and his indirect support of creationism inexplicable.

By David Wilford (not verified) on 22 Jan 2006 #permalink

and did in fact play D&D in the late 70s according to my wife, who was in his roleplaying group also at the time. FWIW, I was playing D&D in Iowa City then as well while going to the University of Iowa, so the game was known outside Madison.
I was playing AD&D in my HS in 1977. It was very widespread.

Orson's a very common name in Mormon history, though. It wouldn't surprise me if he went to Scott at first to sound less Mormon, and then back to Orson. (I have no clue if this is true or not, apart from the role of Orsons, including Orson Pratt, who wrote a bunch of the first systematic Mormon theology.)

By Bruce Baugh (not verified) on 22 Jan 2006 #permalink

You know, there's a fossil suchian named after Ender. Card probably doesn't appreciate Pehuenchesuchus enderi quite as much as he should.

Did you throw your cheap dice against concrete walls to bash off the uneven edges? [/nerd]

Wow, Graculus, those sound like the bad old days of gaming :O

Did you have to gnaw the models from lumps of lead with your teeth?

You know, I have some old figures that I'd got in the 70s lying in a box somewhere, and they are pretty lumpy and featureless, as if they'd been gnawed. Maybe you're on to something.

I didn't throw cheap dice against concrete. They were made of very cheap, brittle plastic, and were prone to shattering.

No offense intended, but you're expecting scientific knowledge from a science fiction writer? Maybe I spent too much time dealing with the skiffy community, but I can tell you that the number of pro SF writers with anything approximating a twelfth-grader's knowledge of biology can be named on two hands. Now, astrophysics and engineering majors are found aplenty, and I suspect that engineers get off on ID as much as they do because they're looking for the order that they so desperately crave in their own lives: science fiction feeds that craving for order because it regularly presents the world as it should be instead of how it is. That is, where its biggest proponents are somehow allowed command of multi-billion-dollar starships when in real life they'd never pass an Army physical even if they could pass the psych tests.

Nerd alert: I first played D&D in 1976, in Indiana.

Claims that playing D&D turn otherwise normal people into nerds are not true. They only give an opportunity for one's inner nerd to come out and role play.

By David Wilford (not verified) on 23 Jan 2006 #permalink

Puny humans! Your pitiful comments do nothing to improve my opinion of your pathetic species. The Vogons can't blast your sad world into oblivion soon enough.

OSC is not the lowliest SF religious hack ever. OSC is a mere booger on an planetoid cosmic dust bunny compared to the biggest Jovian gasbag SF religious hack the Universes have ever known or will ever know, L. Ron Hubbard. The Admiral even invented his own religion. I challenge you mere humans to plow thru both Battlefield Earth, the Mission Earth dekaology and Dianetics. Vogon poetry pales in comparison.

Bear, Baxter, Asmiov, Clarke, etc. good SF writers? BWHA! HA! HA! Hacks all compared to the only two writers worthy of such an intellect as Morbo, Douglas Adams and Kilgore Trout.

Morbo has lost interest in further enlightening you puny humans. Besides, Morbo and the Bugblatter Beast of Traal have a "date" with the Triple Breasted Whore of Eroticon VI.

No offense intended, but you're expecting scientific knowledge from a science fiction writer?

Not at all. Do you expect that because he's a science fiction writer I should give him a pass?

About Brin and the far left.. I think we can agree that PETA is on the left. One can sum up their vision of the world as, "Lets all eat plants and leave the animals entirely alone", and the consequence as, "Gosh! I really do hope the Rocky Mountain Locust **is** extinct and we don't suddenly find them swarming across the entire country, because we won't even have hamburgers to eat then, never mind plant crops." I have seen a tendency for those that declare themselves absolute liberals to rally to the side of the far left, not because they agree with them, but simply because they over react to any comment about any part of the left, as though it is an attack on the entire left. Yet, those same people, if you said, "Christian's tend to be bigots", would **get** that you are probably talking about experiences with fundimentalists, not the lady next door that occationally brings over cookies. Try to make a similarly unclear comment, albeit accidentally, when talking about some fool on the far left, while on a liberal blog, and *no one* is willing to consider who is actually being described. The same reaction happens when a liberal goes to a right wing blog and makes such a vague comment. Yet, *some* on there will also *get* that you are talking about a subset of the other side, not all of them when its not directed at the right.

But seriously, while I agree with the point that the right isn't anti-science in the same way, I have a major problems with the idea that the nuttier people on the left are "less" dangerous. After all, the right may try to shoehorn science into a religious agenda, and ignore reality in the process, but the left has accupunture, chi, karma, astrology, reflexology, UFOs, dowsing, healing magnets, healing crystals, tarot cards and a million forms of other goody ideas and "alternative medicines", of which maybe 0.00001% actually have any science behind them. Which is actually more dangerous in the long run? I find both offensive, maybe David Brin does too, which is why he thinks there must be a middle ground.

While the right has magic water, Jesus diets, Quadro Trackers and coffee enemas. In addition to that kind oof crap, the right also has astroturf and way more Creationists/IDers.

So, yeah, "the right" *is* worse.

Last time I checked some fruitloop using magnet therapy wasn't hurting anyone except themselves. Compare that to whackjob Micheal Crichton promoting catastrophic climate change which will affect everyone, whether they read Micheal Crichton or not.

If you keep spinning like that we can use you as an energy source.

Ok. I just read one of Brin's posts.. And I have to agree, he gives far too much credit in this case to the nuts. His argument could be summed up like, "My neighbor likes to dress like a Klingon, so I decided to learn and only speak Klingon to make him more confortable.", without any consideration that the neighbor might not be merely a Star Trek fan, but a complete nut. One can tolerate the fan, the nut might decide you insulted him and try to kill you with a replica batlith. For science to adapt to the delusions of the people he seems to think he is talking about would require the equivalent of evolving to have no tail, while living in the trees of a mangrove swamp. It doesn't help you swim any better if you fall out, and its damned inconvenient for trying to avoid the sudden 50 foot drop to your death when you lose your grip... We are not the ones that need to adapt.

I said in the long run Graculus. In the short term the right has a strong track record in finding things that immediately screw shit up. But in the long term, having thousands of people die because they buy magnets and use reflexology, instead of going to real doctors, or *worse*, having those doctors prescribe those treatments, instead of real medicines, is hardly better. Gosh! The nuts on the left are so much better than the right, since at least you die slower when they shove their stupidity on you! No thanks...

But in the long term, having thousands of people die because they buy magnets and use reflexology, instead of going to real doctors, or *worse*, having those doctors prescribe those treatments, instead of real medicines, is hardly better.

And how is getting for a coffee enema to cure your disease any different from using magnets. The right is equally guilty of such stupidity. So, "left wing" altie-crap is apparently greater than "right-wing" altie-crap plus right wing disinformation? How *does* that work?

The U.S. is certainly subsizing nuttery by exempting "natural" products from FDA approval and scrutiny, but you'd probably be surprised to know that the biggest backer of quackery on Capitol Hill is Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch.

Despite the caricature that lefties are all New Agey, healing-power-of-crystals, homeopathic body piercing froot loops, the reality is that it's the political right that's waging a multifront war on science. From creationism to Lomborgian nonsense on global warming to subsidizing homeopathic penile enlargement creams, Graculus is correct: the right *is* worse.

On one of the points, expertism, I see perhaps a way they get that impression. (It is seen in some of the 'rants' noted here previously where a true expert was just so fed up, that they got to the point of telling folk to go away.)

No one really ever minds questions, and most enjoy questions based upon a true understanding of the material. However, when the questions (usually made as assertions of truths or facts not in (objective) evidence) are based on a level of ignorance and error which would take decades to correct, I understand why folk would have little patience, and how that may be taken as snobbish, or frank elitism.

Frankly, I don't care. As PZ said once before here, if being knowledgeable is the same as elitism, I am all for elitism. After all, why do we have specializations?

By John M. Price (not verified) on 23 Jan 2006 #permalink

Letting Card have a free pass just because he's a skiffy writer? Not at all. If anything, I figure that SF writers should be held to a higher standard, just because they're usually the only dose of science many people ever get. It's one thing if we're talking about satire (Ernest Hogan's religious virus in High Aztech, for instance, I'll slide because the science is secondary to the examination of how religion spreads), but I'm desperately sick and bloody tired of so-called "hard-science science fiction writers" passing on utter bullshit and having it passed back to me by Cat Piss Men who suddenly think they're experts because they read the latest Jerry Pournelle or Larry Niven novel. After spending the last two decades explaining to people who know better that Harry Harrison's West of Eden books do to dinosaurology what Whitley Strieber's "Deliverance: The Next Generation" anal rape fantasies do to the SETI movement, I'm all for some real scientists firing back. At the very least, we'd get less gibberish like The Future Is Wild.

I have two comments:

1) this "rebuttal" reads more like *ranting ad hominem attack* on Card from a man with a suspiciously religious-like ferver. If he could get away with it, I suspect that PZM would literally try to burn these ID people at the stake.

2) This comment will very likely be deleted.

1) I pointed out the fallacies in his essay. I certainly do not believe in burning anyone at the stake for anything -- I leave that practice to religious zealots.

2) I delete spam. I have banned a very small number of people for repetitiveness that is the equivalent of spam. But I prefer to let the pratings of assholes like yourself stand as testimony to their repugnant nature.

No, I won't delete your offensive comment, no matter how insistently you may request it.

"I prefer to let the pratings of assholes like yourself stand ... "

just more ad hominem

theonomo, not every insult--much less every debate or disagreement--qualifies as an ad hominem.

Learn a little logic, will ya?

By Steviepinhead (not verified) on 23 Jan 2006 #permalink

"theonomo, not every insult--much less every debate or disagreement--qualifies as an ad hominem. Learn a little logic, will ya?"

Ad Hominem: "Appealing to personal considerations rather than to logic or reason."

When PZM says "my opponent is an asshole" then he is engaging in ad hominem. It is also, of course, insulting. But if PZM wants to insult people and use this kind of language and debating tactic on his own blog, that is merely a testament to his character and maturity that I am willing to let stand.

Here is an example of ad hominem from the original piece: "Orson Scott Card the pompous opinionated twit."

Here is some more from PZM: "For a professional writer, it's just plain bad writing�I'm struggling with how to address his arguments, but he's written such a gluey mass of tangled ranty irrationality that it's hard to get a handle on it. Ugly, ugly, ugly."

In fact, the essay is organized into seven points, each one addressed in turn, so as to make it easy to follow, and it reads quite nicely. So the implied ad hominem of "my opponent is a bad writer who writes ugly ugly ugly stuff" rings particularly false.

PZM may disagree with Card, but that doesn't make the writing bad. Not everything you disagree with is poorly written, and calling it "a gluey mass of tangled ranty irrationality" seems so far over-the-top that PZM comes off looking more than a little fanatical. The phrase "you protest too much" comes to mind.

In addition, this makes PZM look close-minded. If an eloquent critique of Darwin were written in a beautiful trochaic hexameter with sparkling metaphors to boot, you can be sure that PZM will insist it is an atrociously written and awkward gargling mishmash.

What can you do but roll your eyes?

Whereas your offensive claim that I would like to burn people at the stake was the height of reason, and ought to be construed as flattery.

Face it. You're a hypocritical ass.

Claims that playing D&D turn otherwise normal people into nerds are not true. They only give an opportunity for one's inner nerd to come out and role play.

You're casting that nerd net a bit broadly. I'm a complete nerd, and I never saw the attraction of D&D.

I have to stand corrected by my wife - OSC was always "Orson Scott Card", but he went by "Scott Card" because Orson was an unusual name and Scott isn't. OSC dropped the "Orson" for a time but later added it back in when he wanted a longer name to appear on theater playbills. And that OSC was a member of SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism), not a D&D player as I mistakenly said earlier and my wife has now corrected me, gently of course. (He did go by the name of "Friar Orison" a monk in the SCA, BTW. And wrote bawdy poetry, very good mind you, to boot.) My wife was a SCA member too though! And a Lady to boot. So she ought to know.

By David Wilford (not verified) on 23 Jan 2006 #permalink

"The intentional fallacy is a fallacy only with regard to critical analysis of the work. The whole point of things like boycotts in favor of moral causes is that as human being we can and should consider the people doing the stuff."

Surely you don't mean to bycott him because of opinions he has expressed in various essays? What do you hope to acheive, if you do it on an indvidual level you won't make a difference, if you do it on a larger level you'll get media attention for Scott's views!

By the way, I shouldn't have said "Intentional fallacy", it would have been better to say "genetic fallacy".

By Timothy J Scriven (not verified) on 23 Jan 2006 #permalink

"Whereas your offensive claim that I would like to burn people at the stake was the height of reason, and ought to be construed as flattery."

I meant that statement literally, which is why I used the word "literally" when I wrote it. You may be offended by the truth, however (but you wouldn't be the first).

Let me explain why I think that you are the sort of person who is capable of literally burning people at the stake: quite simply, the odd intensity of your hostility to OSC and the latent anger in a lot of your writing makes me suspect that if you ever found yourself in a position of power you would find it easy to rationalize taking strong measures to prevent the youth of society having their minds poisoned by dangerous ideas.

You seem a little too fervent in your desire to take down proponents of ID at all costs, and the incredible amount of time you spend rehashing the ID vs Darwinism issue over and over and over and over again leads me to suspect that you are a True Believer. Eric Hoffer wrote a book about people such as you: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0060916125/002-0920151-7794445?v=glanc…

The fact that you resort to calling me an asshole after I post one fairly short critical comment merely cements your status as one of those guys who will cross an ethical line at the slightest indication that someone doesn't buy the party line.

I certainly don't think that everyone in the world who disagrees with me is an asshole, or even a jerk. But for you it is enough to know that I don't see the world the way you do, and you have me automatically categorized as an asshole. If you had a military behind you, I suspect you would see it as a righteous calling to rid the world of assholes.

Face it, PZ: you are a Darwinian Jihadist.

You call the idea that I want to burn people at the stake "the truth"?

You think I would get rid of you with a "military"?

You are truly contemptible. You don't know me.

> When PZM says "my opponent is an asshole" then he is engaging in ad hominem.

No, he's not, you moron. "ad hominem" is a fallacy, but merely calling someone an asshole is not fallacious (and in your case, it's not even false).

"The fact that you resort to calling me an asshole after I post one fairly short critical comment merely cements your status as one of those guys who will cross an ethical line at the slightest indication that someone doesn't buy the party line."

No, it's merely a consequence of your being an asshole.

By truth machine (not verified) on 23 Jan 2006 #permalink

P.S.

"this "rebuttal" reads more like *ranting ad hominem attack* on Card from a man with a suspiciously religious-like ferver" IS ad hominem, since it offers up comment on PZ's personal characteristics as if it were criticism of his comments about OSC's essay.

By truth machine (not verified) on 23 Jan 2006 #permalink

When PZM says "my opponent is an asshole" then he is engaging in ad hominem.

Just in case you didn't understand .. no, it isn't an ad hominem, you twat. It's an insult.

The ad hominem fallacy is dismissing an argument by attacking the character. Being as you didn't actually make an argument, no statement in reply can be a fallacy, never mind and ad hominem.

Now go back to wherever you came from and get an argument. Then we'll let you play with the grown-ups.

Could I respectfully request that we speak of Mr. Card with something at least [i]somewhat[/i] akin to common professional courtesy? It's cool if we disagree with him, but he's a human being just like us. We don't need to go all "eye for an eye" on him.

I'd also like to ask that the people who noticed a seeming dissonance in Mr. Card's sympathetic fictional treatment of characters he vehemently disagrees with to consider the idea that Mr. Card might be able to simultaneously love a person while still considering their views to be wrong. It doesn't mean he's deliberately self-deluding himself to not recognize "the truth", it just means he honestly disagrees, and is in fact honest enough to present the opposing side as accurately as he can. The fact that some people here can relate to his characters and be startled when they realize Mr. Card disagrees with them should, in my opinion, lend credibility to the idea that Mr. Card is not a master of self-deception and rather has valid reasons for believing as he does.

Lastly, I do not agree with the majority of the people posting here that Mr. Card's religion has in any way affected the quality of his writing. I'm agnostic myself, but I know that many LDS are just as smart and intellectually rigorous as any given non-theist. In fact, I know many people of many different religions who hold themselves to at [i]least[/i] as high an intellectual standard as any of the people posting here seem to have shown themselves to. I would submit that, in many (if not most) cases, people are religious precisely because their observations of the world have led them to believe in their faith; in other words, they aren't working from the other end and force-fitting their worldview to fit their given religion.

Thanks for your time and consideration.

Zotto: I'm sure you're right that many LDS are just as smart and intellectually rigorous as any given non-theist (or indeed, any theist of many different religion).

That said, Mr Card's religious beliefs have, at least from my perspective, affected the quality of his writing. Take for example 'Lost Boys', which I bought second-hand and read a total of twice; it could have been a great story, but there's all this cruft in there that just somehow doesn't seem to advance the story at all. By 'cruft', I mean 'apparently unnecessary detail'. True, there are times when this sort of thing can be atmospheric and fascinating, but somehow it didn't work like that for me.

There's so much focus on the religion that one expects it to be central to the plot, but it really isn't... it's distracting. By this point, I've more or less forgotten the actual denouement of the novel - the thing that sticks most in the mind for me is some bizarre discussion between the kid and his dad about how Mormonism claims that men can become gods, or something.

Lots of authors manage to make religion an integral part of a book - take as a random example the No 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series, set in Botswana, which mentions both Christianity and local beliefs in ways which are unobtrusive, readable and helpful to the plot. OSC seems to find this relatively difficult. This is very likely nothing to do with the specific religion - the problem is instead to do with the way he writes, or perhaps his motivations in writing. If an author's intention isn't primarily to tell a good story, it will generally show...

Umm, Card has written an essay in which he accuses scientists of being intolerant jerks who are trying to push a fundamentalist religion of evolutionism on the world, founded on fallacies of credentialism and a refusal to explain biology to people, and you ask us to be nice to him?

That's exactly the attitude creationist liars rely on. No, I don't think so. Let's not treat frauds like that with respect they don't deserve.

The seemingly coincidental timing of the remarkable deterioration in the quality of Card's fiction (i.e. everything after Ender's Game and Speaker for the Dead) and his adoption of Hate-teh-gay and God-did-it beliefs is strong circumstantial evidence for the presence of the brain-wasting infection known as fundamentalism.

Harsh but true.

Let's all pray that science someday elucidates a treatment or cure.

Hey! I resemble that remark! PZ insults assholes by calling onomo one because, at least, assholes serve a function.

As far as the left promoting 'accupunture, chi, karma, astrology, reflexology, UFOs, dowsing, healing magnets, healing crystals, tarot cards and a million forms of other goody ideas and "alternative medicines"'. That hooey is promoted nightly on late nite AM ray-dee-oh. George Noory, Art Bell, et al. aren't lefties. Neither are their listeners and callers. Even in the one area where Noory and Bell agreed with the advocates of human produced global warming, Noory and Bell have partially returned to the right wing plantation. Noory and Bell now say that global warming is the result of a "natural" processes like variation in the sun's output. While I've haven't seen a poll of UFOologists, tarot card readers, etc., my limited experiences with 'em tells me that they have more righty than lefty political viewpoints.

By An Asshole (not verified) on 24 Jan 2006 #permalink

Oh, yeah. Didn't the right's patron saints, Ronnie and Nancy, consult an astrologer? Even though Miz Nancy has endorsed stem cell research, she's still no lefty.

By An Asshole (not verified) on 24 Jan 2006 #permalink

Zotto wrote:

"Mr. Card might be able to simultaneously love a person while still considering their views to be wrong."

Pharyngula has been eye-opening from the day I stumbled upon it. Unfortunately, it has revealed the side of authors and artists that I had no idea about. Garrison Keillor was the first I saw defrocked, now Orson Scott Card!

For me, loving these people will be impossible as long as they keep such low opinions of science and gays. It is completely sickening to see OSC lie that gays should be discriminatively arrested and locked up but that he doesn't hate them or even want to harm them. It's no wonder he calls the aliens "buggers", vulgar for "gays", and then condemns them to genocide in Ender's Game.

Actually, I really loved Ender's Game when I read it at age 12 and continue to have fond and exciting memories of reading it, but I am glad my ignorant view of OSC was ripped apart by Pharyngula and that he is now exposed for who he is. I will never forget that the meaning a story has for me may be galactically divorced from the author's intent (supposing there was one) and character.

I think the reverse of what Zotto! says Card can do will best fit such complications: "Love the sin, hate the sinner."

Kit: I would suggest that Mr. Card's writing style has not deteriorated in the slightest. For instance, I think Lost Boys is far and away one of the best, most heart-breaking novels of his career. (By the way, the conversation about men becoming Gods was not between the son and his father, it was between the father and a mentally-disturbed young man who joined his church and disrupted the normal flow of events. The discussion was there specifically to point out the fact that many people misunderstand LDS doctrines when they first encounter them, and that such distortions do not have firm scriptural basis, though some uninformed members might espouse such views.)

Again, I think that the Mormonism was an integral part of the storyline, and that it is in fact required for the ending to work at all well. Speculating on motives which you have no evidence for is not productive, and having read Mr. Card's work for a few years, I come to the opposite conclusion you've drawn; namely, that Mr. Card is in fact writing in good faith, with no agenda beyond telling stories he thinks people will care about.

Which actually brings up a good point: I see much more evidence of people simply not enjoying, not caring about the *kind* of story he sometimes writes than any sign that the writing itself has deteriorated. If you liked his early work, I would suggest that it is not the style itself that you cared for, but the particular ideas he expressed, the characters he wrote about. When he moves on to another genre, of course he's not going to write the same thing over again. I, for one, think that his writing has much *improved* in recent years, and I still enjoy both his older and newer works.

I think it's absolutely reasonable to not care for every single piece that an author offers. But I think that to extrapolate from your personal subjective experience of his writing that he has somehow gotten worse is ignoring the evidence. It might be worse to you, but better to some others.

PZ Myers: I disagree. He has written an essay in which he suggests that *some* scientists and *some* creationists are twisting the evidence to fit their personal ideological crusades. He calls the people who make the arguments he listed decrying ID "Darwinists", for clarity in discussion of nebulously-defined groups of people, not as an insult. He certainly mentions nothing of "intolerant jerks" (which is, I think, an overt misrepresentation on your part), and I think he was pretty even-handed in his "accusations" leveled at *both* sides of the issue.

I do not understand why people are saying that the essay was in any way a defense of intelligent design (he even specifically states that Behe's book was his first *exposure* to ID, *not* that he agrees with it in every particular).

Certainly such phrases as: "...does not imply in any way that the only other explanation is purposive causation,","There might be several or even many other hypotheses. To believe in Intelligent Design is still a leap of faith,", and "At the same time, real science does not -- and never can -- prove or even support the hypothesis," can hardly be called a defense.

What I think Mr. Card is trying to do is get us to examine the evidence of *both* sides rigorously and fairly, regardless of personal ideology. There are more than enough flaws on every side. While his methods of writing the essay might not have worked for you personally, I don't think it's fair to say that it must, by definition, be badly done.

Further, we would have to agree with your definition of "fraud" before we treat people as you encourage. I personally disagree vehemently with creationists, but this does not mean that I should only treat them with the respect they "deserve". I try to treat even people I disagree with as respectfully as I treat people whose ideas are more in harmony with mine:

1. Because I take it as a matter of personal pride, and 2. because I myself have been lucky enough to be treated well by people long before I ever "deserved" to be, which helped me in the end to see where they were coming from, instead of simply assuming they were jerks and refusing to hear what they said. I do not feel particularly righteous if I just try to make sure everyone agrees with my own definition of "truth" before treating them decently. It's probably the only way communities can function at all smoothly.

(As an aside, beginning your response with "Umm...", as if anyone who had any personal intellectual integrity would agree with what you are saying as a self-evident truth is not, in my opinion, an effective form of discussion. I would appreciate it greatly if you would refrain from assuming motives for the people you're disagreeing with; it might very well be you are mistaken. Thank you.)

Melior: I see no evidence that Mr. Card hates gays or subscribes to "God-did-it" magic. Certainly not "fundamentalism", as he's had his fair share of disagreements with his church in the past. His treatment of Josif in his book Songmaster is so heart-breakingly compassionate for an individual gay man that I can hardly believe that he disagrees with their lifestyle for personal, vindictive, or even solely religious reasons. My best friend, a bisexual, is also an avid Card fan. It's not impossible to disagree with someone while still respecting them.

Your point of view is harsh and shakily-founded, not harsh and "true". Again, I would posit that your dislike of Mr. Card's later fiction is much more a product of your personal taste than any shortcomings on Mr. Card's end, which is perfectly fine. For instance, while I love Speaker and Ender's Game, I find Enchantment and Xenocide to be just as good, if not better than his earlier writings. Is my personal subjective experience of my idiosyncratic reading of his work "wrong"? No more than yours, I think.

UnSin: I assume your comments about Mr. Card's views of homosexuals are based on his essay "The Hypocrites of Homosexuality"? If so, then I believe you are aware that he was writing specifically for the Mormon audience more than fifteen years ago, not secular society at large. While certainly there are members of his church that more than likely are violently opposed to homosexuality, I think that the vast majority of those I've met are opposed for theological reasons, not blind bigotry. Yes, there is a difference; it is in fact a pretty benign doctrine when understood. What I wonder is: are people so intolerant of people who don't agree with the gay lifestyle that they will attempt to persecute them even in their own community? It seems to me far more sensible for society at large to be formed of different communities whose rules governing behaviour vary between themselves a bit. Mr. Card's point was basically: why would a homosexual even choose to be LDS if they disagree with everything they stand for? Of what benefit is the community if they can't even enforce core tenets of doctrine within that community?

(By the way, I think it was pretty clear that Mr. Card meant the "Buggers" to be an offensive name, but I think you're taking it the wrong way. One of the main points of the book was that people were being derogatory (and, uh, planet-blowing-up-y) towards something they feared and didn't understand. I think that it was a pretty accurate description of the phenomenon of violent homophobes, which I seriously doubt Mr. Card is.)

Whoops, didn't finish part of my reply to UnSin:

I also disagree that Mr. Card's intent with the Buggers was to make any sort of allegorical "point" about anything. I think that what Mr. Card was concerned with was the moral murkiness inherent in the situation and character motives. The term "bugger" was incidental to the core ideas of the story, and I thought it was perfectly realistic.

...

I'd also like to thank Mr. Myers for allowing a dissenting opinion to be heard here. Hopefully continued discussion will lead to deeper understanding. We can only learn from each other's views.

The truly sad thing is that most of the people who read Card's article will probably accept it at face value, I mean he wrote it, and he's a professional writer. He *must* know what he's talking about, right?

Your rebuttal of his "arguments" (sorry about the scare quotes) is excellent, but I have to ask: Will anyone who can't see Card's blithering nonsense on their own actually read it? Aren't you just preaching to the choir (as it were)? Even if this is posted somewhere that those who might benefit from it can read it, will they?

John Marley: On what are you basing your assertion that "most of the people who read Card's article will probably accept it at face value"? I'm an avid fan of Mr. Card, and I still look at each and every thing he writes with the same skepticism I bring to everything else I read. Everyone I know does the same.

I often (not always) agree with what Mr. Card has to say, but that's not because I've turned off my brain, it just means that I've come to a different conclusion than *you* would have from the same evidence. Your comment that many people will believe what he says simply because he is a published writer is needlessly simplistic and inaccurate.

"Blithering nonsense" is also an extreme misrepresentation of Mr. Card's views, and unhelpful to fruitful discussion. Again, it's cool if you disagree with him, but there is no need for hostility.

In any case, I've read Mr. Myers's piece, and you seem to have defined the characteristics of people who are incapable of distinguishing between the truth and Mr. Card's "blithering nonsense" in such a way that I am forced to count myself among their number. I can tell you that if your definition of "benefit" means "ends up agreeing with Mr. Myers in exactly the same way that those who you condemn for agreeing with Mr. Card do", then I have not benefited in any way from this discussion and your argument is correct.

Nevertheless, I think it is valuable for discussion to continue on this issue, and Mr. Myers is only helping by offering a place for people to talk about it. At least he's *trying* to explain his point of view and why he believes Mr. Card is wrong. How can that be a bad, ineffective thing?

Zotto!

I think the "problem" here is that this is a blog written by a biologist. A working scientist. Most of the people commenting here are really into biology.

As a result almost all of us have had far too many run-ins with people who haven't got a clue telling us that biology is *wrong*, that scientists are wrong and that a fable less substantial than cotton candy is a solid model of reality.

We get tired. We get tired of seeing this stuff paraded out by people who ought to know better, and who have audiences to spread this ignorance to.

And tired people get cranky.

Not just cranky. Snarky and bitey, too.

And when pompous asses like Card pretend to authority on issues which they clearly don't understand and in which they have obtained all their information from creationists (first clue: when they refer to biologists as "Darwinists"), we aren't going to sit back quietly and let them get away with it anymore.

I'm not a biologist. I just don't like bad arguments, bad faith, or bad science fiction. Card has been responsible for all three of those things. (And I include Speaker for the Dead as bad science fiction, even though I didn't notice its badness until Card decided to rub my nose in it by writing Xenocide.)

Graculus: I understand that Mr. Myers is a working biologist, and naturally most of the people here are interested in biology as well. Heck, I have a layman's interest in biology myself; certainly not the hard science of it, the nitty-gritty, but I *am* quite interested in the *story* of it, the explanations that a good understanding of the field can provide.

Nevertheless, I disagree with you when you say that your run-ins with people who don't understand you gives you the justification needed to allow you to respond to them however you want. Just because someone might be cranky doesn't mean that they can behave rudely; civilization would dissolve into chaos if no one controlled their tempers and simply expressed whatever it was they were feeling. If anything, the fact that others aren't as educated, in your view, should be seen as an opportunity to attempt to teach them what you know. It might even, just maybe, open you up to a new perspective. One never knows.

I also disagree with your characterization of Mr. Card's article, but I think I've already given my reasons in fair depth in earlier posts.

PZ Myers: Again, I don't agree that your characterization of Mr. Card is at all accurate. A careful reading of the essay in question pretty clearly shows that Mr. Card vehemently *disagrees* with creation scientists. All he is looking for is some shred of common ground with them so he can argue with them rationally. The essay is remarkably moderate.

I would also suggest that you are reading much more hostility and "pretended authority" into the essay than is actually there. Labeling Mr. Card a "pompous ass" does in no way ingratiate yourself or your arguments to him, and is in fact counterproductive if you actually hope to persuade him (or anyone) of your views. I again respectfully request that you treat Mr. Card with common professional courtesy at the very minimum.

By Anonymous (not verified) on 24 Jan 2006 #permalink

I'm sorry, that last post was by me, if it wasn't pretty obvious already. Forgot to fill in the name and email addy form.

Another thing, though, while I'm here: some people might be interested enough to read a post by Mr. Card on his website: http://www.hatrack.com/ubb/main/ultimatebb.php?ubb=get_topic;f=1;t=0039… on the topic. (Sorry for the long link, I suck at HTML trickery)

Sorry again, Mr. Card's post if you follow that link is about eight responses down from the top.

"I think it's absolutely reasonable to not care for every single piece that an author offers. But I think that to extrapolate from your personal subjective experience of his writing that he has somehow gotten worse is ignoring the evidence. It might be worse to you, but better to some others."

Zotto:

It is true that it might be great work to others, but heck, if I applied the principals of relativism to literature appreciation, I'd never get anything read or reviewed at all. I'd spend my entire life attempting to produce sentences that encompassed every possible point of view at once.

eg. 'This novel, despite its premise as essentially a light-hearted romance, includes a long segment of exposition destined principally for an audience of native head-hunters, and as such the protracted description of the mechanism of head-shrinking is apposite and fascinating! I appreciate that the custom is entirely valid within the sociocultural background of the Jivaro Indian tribes of South America! Although I cannot say that I enjoyed the book myself, the level of exposition though seemingly irrelevant should be considered as a rich introduction to that culture and savoured as such! Buy it! Read it! Send a copy to your mother!'

I don't say that nobody appreciated the book!

From yours, it looks perfectly balanced and effectively written - that's fine. I'm saying that, from my point of view, it wasn't. So OSC isn't writing with this audience in mind any longer - that's fine, it's a free universe, but you can't seriously sit there and say that the fact that his work hasn't suffered from your point of view implies that those of us who see it differently should consider OSC's work as being nonetheless great literature, because somebody else does. That way lies madness - if my fourteen-year-old son considers Eminem as the greatest musical talent of the last three hundred years, am I bound by this principle to agree?

See, the way interaction works is the following: You write from your point of view. I write from mine. Then we exchange opinions.

Kit: Heh, good point well taken. I missed the "from my perspective" part in your post when I read it, my apologies. It still reads more than a little absolute and "my way or the highway" to me, but I think that's probably coming more from my end. Also, I did not mean to imply that people should consider Mr. Card's work to be great literature, just that by the standards mentioned earlier held by others, I don't think there is any evidence that Mr. Card's work has suffered in anything except the differing content. And I do still strongly disagree that your phrase "If an author's intention isn't primarily to tell a good story, it will generally show..." is backed up by evidence in this case. Lastly, your little bit at the end of your post about how our exchange works was kinda childishly insulting, but I suppose I'll get over it. No biggie. In any case, thanks for actually responding to the substance of my post with more respect than some others.

I was truly not trying to get into a literary debate, by the way, my intention was mostly to just ask people here to please treat Mr. Card with a little more common respect. The fact that many people here dislike his work doesn't mean they're automatically allowed to talk rudely about him, which tends to cloud rational debate about the issues at hand. It's not the end of the world if he disagrees with you, but the vehemence of many of the replies here is just...well, needlessly strong.

"Lastly, your little bit at the end of your post about how our exchange works was kinda childishly insulting, but I suppose I'll get over it."

Heh, sorry. I actually research in human interaction on the net, amusingly enough, so what I wrote there was largely the result of habit.

(This is the other side of interaction, of course; establishing common ground. Works better if conflict is kept on a constructive level of course, but it's all about trial and error...)

I suppose we all have a certain level of 'my way or the highway' when it comes to reading matter... or rather, 'my way or someone else's Amazon wants list'.

But my point was: 'Lost Boys' confused me - I couldn't see how it all hung together. Some other OSC books, like 'Ender's Game', had quite the opposite effect. This is presumably because I'm missing whatever culture-specific background knowledge is required to see the background logic in 'Lost Boys'. I see that as affecting the quality of those parts of OSC's work that reference this background knowledge heavily, from my perspective, and suspect that many/most Europeans will have the same problem with those works.

This is probably why the edition of 'Lost Boys' I bought was actually a US import. I imagine the publisher thought much the same thing.

Possibly my vehement approach comes from the fact that 'Lost Boys' deeply disappointed me. I'd expected a lot of it. It hadn't occurred to me that OSC could ever write a book I'd consider less than a good read. You could probably characterise me as feeling somewhat deceived by the discovery. As one reads, one invests a good deal of oneself into the story. This is why exposition in general is such a disturbing experience - it's as though your host, who invited you into that imaginary world in the first place, has then decided to use the opportunity for purposes that you never expected when you signed up.

Excess exposition takes many forms, like 'Mary Sue' characters, gratuitous blocks of text that the author put in to describe their imaginary world (Tolkien did this!), and so on. It is a jarring experience because it feels as though the text has an ulterior motive - Mary Sues describe the author's self-image, gratuitous text says that the author has spent so much time planning their imaginary world that they would rather describe their clever idea than advance the plot, and so on.

Yes, this is a highly subjective matter - there is no clear objective definition of it. In general, whether a piece of prose hangs together effectively is a matter of opinion, which in itself depends on personality, background knowledge, belief structure, other opinions, etc etc.

If I felt that I was being preached at by 'Lost Boys', it may not be fair of me to believe that OSC was consciously intending to preach when he wrote the piece. It may be inadvertent - an entirely accidental side-effect. Possibly when I read the book the first time, I was already upset and/or paranoid and was hoping for escapism and therefore felt betrayed beyond all reason by the theme of the work (I don't think this is the case, but it is possible). Be all this as it may, the fact is that this 'preaching' feeling now remains with me when I read certain other OSC books, though not all.

Now returning to the theme of this blog, yes, people are certainly vehement on this topic. But then, I suspect that many reasonable biologists and scientists in general have good reason to feel betrayed by the content of the article. I'll explain:

The article itself references 'Darwinists' as the origin of the 7 arguments that OSC lists, but goes on to explain that 'Darwinists' 'refuse to try to explain', which is 'a confession that they don't have an answer'.

It seems to me that there is a great deal of reasoned argument out there on both sides. Certainly there are many individuals on both sides of the argument, who champion their preferred side of the subject with no real knowledge, who argue on the basis of ad hominem and specious authority. However, it seems to me that by portraying these individuals on the 'Darwinist' side as the scientific response to a reasonable and thoughtful approach on the ID side, OSC is being a little less than honest - pitting a caricature against a overly kind portrait.

I wouldn't expect ignorant radicals of either side to be the source of any useful answers.

Anyway, I would have welcomed an article that took a slightly more systematic approach to the subject: laying down the actual state of affairs for ID in science concisely; mentioning points made that scientists feel have not been adequately considered, if any; describing the argument between radicals of both sides; concluding... that would have been an interesting article to read and I think would perhaps have been more evenly accessible to both sides of the debate.

I thought PZ slid over this from Card without giving it the attention it deserves:

So they are not advocating for any particular religion, or any religion at all. For all anyone knows, the supposed Intelligent Designers might be an alien species of mortal, ungodlike beings.

I think anyone supporting ID with an argument like this merely proves that they don't understand what they are supporting.

If ID can be said to make any predictions at all, it's that the designer must be of supernatural origin.

If you suggest that the designer might be some kind of mortal alien being, presumably at least as complex a lifeform as H. Sapiens, how did this being come to exist?

If we cannot come to exist without the intervention of a designer, then neither can they. If they could, then so could we.

By Peter Holt (not verified) on 25 Jan 2006 #permalink

The essay is remarkably moderate.

It could have been written by a Discovery Institute hack. Except for the strong statements against old-school creationists (the DI tends to soft-pedal that), it hits all the themes we've come to expect from the Intelligent Design advocates: no evidence, lots of dishonest attacks on scientists, screwing up all of the actual positions people take, substituting straw men for reality. This is the heart of my complaint:

Card is sitting there at his computer, trying to tell us what IDists believe, and he's getting it all wrong; he's trying to tell us what scientists believe, and he's not only getting it wrong, he's telling stories that are 180° reversals of the scientific position.

He had all of his "facts" wrong. Telling me he's "moderate", that you think his writing is lucid, trying to retroactively ameliorate his position, all that doesn't matter: he's built up his story on falsehoods.

Kit: Fair enough, perfectly legitimate post. We still disagree about some things, but what can y' do? What I was requesting when I stopped by here was that we do exactly as you have done: debate through calm, rational discourse, rather than the "Card's stupid and smelly and I'm not so neener neener" kind of crassness. So thanks.

PZ Meyers: If you honestly care so much about correcting views which seem inaccurate to you, why can't you simply write Mr. Card an email and give him some sources he can look at? It seems like that would be much more effective for actually trying to persuade him than simply speculating on him motives and calling him a "pompous ass". Why is there need for such hostility and viciousness?How does it benefit anyone to have reasoned discussion drowned out in insults?

By Anonymous (not verified) on 25 Jan 2006 #permalink

Sigh, that was me again there.

I'd also like to ask Mr. Meyers to check out the link I posted earlier if he hasn't.

Well, Zotto, PZ has a broader interest in educating the blog-reading public about the errors and inanities of the IDists and their witting or unwitting colluders. Writing Mr. Card, one-to-one might or might not achieve anything for Mr. Card's state of knowledge, but posting the critique of Mr. Card here is guaranteed to have a greater impact.

And if Mr. Card didn't wish to be publicly rebuked, perhaps he should have made a more discreet effort to educate himself first, before going so far out on a thin limb, in public.

Finally, if you truly wish to engage with PZ, you might do him the courtesy of spelling his last name correctly.

By Steviepinhead (not verified) on 25 Jan 2006 #permalink

I'm not interested in converting the clueless Mr Card. I can understand how his fellow travelers would prefer that all criticisms of his position were kept quiet and private, however.

That's also one of the reasons creationists are quick to shout "Oh, fie! and Hush!" to anyone who plainly points out their idiocy, yet themselves are content to level outrageous accusations at "Darwinists", as Card has.

So, please, don't bother telling me how to handle the lying advocates of intelligent design creationism. It is not in my interests to creep into their den and whisper mannered politenesses into their ears -- I'm more interested in sinking grappling hooks into their maggoty flesh and dragging them into the light of day, and letting them squirm publicly as they try to defend their anti-scientific crap.

Steviepinhead: I apologize for the misspellings, they were the product of sheer carelessness on my end; I'm more used to the "Meyers" spelling in my life. They certainly weren't meant as any sort of veiled jab, if Mr. Myers took offense.

Nevertheless, I think my point still stands. I never suggested that Mr. Myers was out of line to write his response article, and I apologize for any inclarity in my writing which gave you the impression that I did. What I did suggest was that instead of hurling epithets against anyone who disagreed with him, he might instead take the more productive route and simply discuss things rationally and calmly.

I did not advocate any form of censorship in regards to anything Mr. Myers wrote, and it would hardly be enforceable even if I had. I meant my "write Mr. Card an email" comment to be taken as a suggestion for useful further action Mr. Myers might take in order to advance his viewpoint (which I assume he wants to do), not as a replacement for his writings here. Lastly, I did not imply that Mr. Card was somehow afraid of being "publicly rebuked"; he's more than capable of taking care of himself, and I'm sure he'd even disagree with some of the points I've raised here. You're reading much more into my writing than is there.

PZ Myers: I can't quite tell if you're suggesting that I'm one of Mr. Card's "fellow travelers" who would prefer that "all criticisms of his position were kept quite and private", but if you are, you are mistaken.

As I've said before, one big difference between Mr. Card and myself is that I am an agnostic, whereas he is a devoted member of the LDS religion. I do agree with many (perhaps most) things Mr. Card has to say, and he has made a *very* positive difference in my life with his fiction and nonfiction alike. However, to say that I and people like me must therefore be blind to faulty arguments is in itself a faulty argument. If I agree with him, it's because I agree for my own reasons.

I am not a creationist, and certainly not an proponent of ID; I find their arguments to be unconvincing. I am not a member of the right wing, and I do not have any of the attributes you seem to be listing as characteristic of people who disagree with you. But it is intellectually dishonest to assume that just because someone disagrees with you, they must, by definition, be dupes or lying deceivers. It is, in fact, very close to the definition of fanaticism to suggest such a thing.

I have not attempted to shout you down in any way, and I apologize for any inclarity in my writing which gave you the impression I was. But "sinking grappling hooks into their maggoty flesh" is hardly professional, nor is it conducive to productive informal debate. It is not clever wordplay in any way, it is not effective as a hyperbolic statement of intent; it is merely a juvenile outburst.

By refusing to discuss things calmly and rationally, and resorting to needless crudity and harshness, you're doing exactly what you accuse "the creationists" of doing: fostering an atmosphere where any dissent is quickly smothered by what you term to be obvious and self-evident "truth".

In other words, it is *absolutely* in your interests to "creep into their dens" in hopes of persuading them to conceive of the world as you do. If, that is, your intentions are in fact to honestly *persuade* them, not just insult their supposed lack of intelligence, secure in the knowledge that it is inconceivable that your views might themselves be incorrect or incomplete.

I apologize for thinking that your forum might be a place where these very important issues could be discussed with adult intellectual rigor. I'll high-tail it out of here for now, as it's obvious my views aren't welcome and aren't having any noticeable effect. Thank you for the opportunity to say my piece; whatever our disagreements might be, I do sincerely appreciate that.

In passing, whilst you're certainly accurate in saying that some of PZ's language isn't 'conducive to productive informal debate' :) it's worth noting that 'adult intellectual rigor' isn't definable by politeness or the lack of. If it were, conferences would be a whole lot less stressful.

Also, following the links from this blog entry is a good place to start in gaining an appreciation for Myer's actual perspective on evolution: for example, a page on deficiencies in modern evolutionary theory, a whole lot of links containing grounds for Myer's opinion on each subject, and so on. There is no blind following of grand theoretical ideas going on here. What you're seeing is frustration, irritation, etc, but it's not an attempt to impress by intimidation. This article is a point of view, referenced appropriately so that one can get an idea of its origins.

There's a bit of a tendancy in science to cite existing stuff, rather than to rephrase it every time the subject comes up. It is possible that this is a problem when it comes to communicating with the general public. Maybe from outside references look like appeals to authority rather than author's shortcuts...

(Heh, don't we all know a guy who uses high falutin' language to say that he shall never never ever be back and then returns a few minutes later? I am that guy, today. Just to quickly repond, tho.)

Kit: You're of course right, you can be intellectually rigorous without being polite. However, I think that when you're trying to *communicate* your ideas, it's pretty much always going to be better for everyone if you at least *try* for civility. I mean, if no one listens to your ideas because you've scared or annoyed them all off, then how can it matter how brilliant you are?

Thanks for the link, I'll definitely check it out after I get some sleep. It's nearly three in the morning here, alas.

(By the way, if you did want to continue the discussion about Lost Boys, feel free to email me: everpoe at hotmail.)

Zotto!

This is PZ's blog. It's more the loud bunch in the corner of the bar than a public debate. Anyone is welcome to grab a beer and join in, but it's going to get a bit frisky, because the purpose here isn't to communicate "our" ideas to the general public.

While on the topic of bad SF, is alternative history part of the SF genre? Or, is alt.history a separate genre? I'm kinda outta of the loop on this. I've read some of the Turtledove stuff. Enjoyed the WorldWar series, but kinda lost interest in it after the Colonization sequels. However, when alt.history is bad it is really godawfully bad, almost OSC bad. I'm thinking mainly of Newty Gingrich. I picked up a copy of his 1945 outta the $1 discard bin at B. Dalton's a few years back. I didn't realize what a Nazi suck-up Newty was until I plowed thru this piece o' crap alt.history WWII novel. Sez a lot about the whole how the author's viewpoints sneak into their fiction thing that has run throughout this thread. Also, saw a copy of Newty's latest alt.history novel about the War of Northern Aggression Against the Innocent Confederate States of Amurrica at the publick lieberry. I checked it out and started it yesterday. Don't know if it's worth the effort to plow thru it now or not. Don't know if it's worth the effort to complain to the publick lieberry about it or not either. I reckon if'un I do complain, I'll have to read the fuckin' thing.

Oh, yeah. It won't be the same without Zotto! ;-) Boohoo! Boofuckin'hoo.

By An Enquiring Mind (not verified) on 26 Jan 2006 #permalink

Read Johnson. Their argument is against naturalism. It's even deeper than Card knows: they are fighting against the foundations of all of science.

That, in my opinion, is the heart of the matter. An assumption of naturalism IS the issue. If by naturalism you by definition say no spiritual/divine intervention is possible, then you have just made an assumption that cannot be proven. This assumption influences everything else.

James

"You don't know me."

I know your kind. You have your mind MADE UP. And you believe that those who disagree with you are not only wrong, but wicked.

In an honest moment even your sympathetic readers will acknowledge that you have a fundamentalist streak.

I think what disappoints me the most about Card is that I believe I have found true wisdom in the Ender Quartet. Although the third and fourth of the books weren't stories so much as exploratory essays, I still found them interesting and original.

But in light of the fact that he has apparently lost a son, and the transformative events of 9-11, (which I believe changed all of us in some way or another), I can only forgive him for offending me and hope that the wisdom I thought I saw in his stories was real.

By Scott Iskow (not verified) on 27 Jan 2006 #permalink

I know your kind. You have your mind MADE UP. And you believe that those who disagree with you are not only wrong, but wicked.

In an honest moment even your sympathetic readers will acknowledge that you have a fundamentalist streak.

All I know is that he wrote a good essay. And that you need to stop speaking for anyone but yourself. Good day, sir.

By Scott Iskow (not verified) on 27 Jan 2006 #permalink

When I was in medical school, I had an interesting experience. It was during Gross Anatomy, not sure exactly what we were studying anymore, probably the head and neck. Taking the parts out of my cadaver and thinking about their intricacies, I had one of those "a-HAH" moments. The idea popped into my head, with absolute clarity, that there was just NO WAY some entity could have designed this--nothing could have anticipated all the contingencies and sculpted all the forms so magnificently adapted to their functions, from the molecular level on up. It HAD to happen by chance, settling into place over millenia, as new needs and trials appeared in the environment.

Two tables over, another student, who happened to be a devout Baptist, was busy having the same leap of faith, but his was, of course, that there was no way anything as elegant as a living being could have happened by mere chance.

Go figure.

The field of study that we call "Science" is very useful to predict cause and effect, as well as the outcomes of events. This property is what makes Science so useful for launching rockets to the moon, creating medicines that actually affect health, developing faster and smaller computers, figuring out what longitude you're at... I think that might be why we teach it in schools as "Science." It's a useful tool for getting things done in the world that we live in.

"Religion" has uses of its own, but it has a long history of making poor predictions of cause and effect. "Having epileptic seizures? Your fault, for consorting with Satan. Do some penance, that'll fix ya. And what's this crap about the Earth going around the Sun? Everyone knows that God created Earth at the center of the universe." Surely there's no need to elaborate further on the kinds of fallacies that "Religion" has historically force-fed the populace in an effort to explain the natural world.

Which is why we whip out a copy of Halliday and Resnick, not Psalms, if we want to design a rocket.

Explaining something that took place in ages past, with nearly all the supporting evidence destroyed by time and entropy--that's a tough task for anybody. I've obviously placed my bets on Science. I could be wrong, in which case Teh Creator might someday get the chance to laugh in my face and say, "Neener neener." I can live with that.

If only each side could smugly settle back into their comfy chairs and click their teeth at the foolishness of the other--without going into all the endless, heated, violent arguing about which one Is Right.

James - fighting against naturalism is fighting against the foundations of all science because all science as we understand, practice, and depend on it is based on the world following natural laws, with any assumption of supernatural intervention being entirely out-of-bounds. It's a frame of mind that is present in much of everyday life, from crossing the street - maybe guardian angels will save you if I wander into traffic, but you won't find people testing this - to the justic system - maybe so-and-so is a God-appointed leader and to disagree with him is blasphemy legitimately punishable by death, but that wouldn't hold water in court.

ouch - should have checked that post for grammar and spelling.
That Scott Card - what an Orson!

In times of conflict, there is nothing scarier than faith -- and PZ is a True Believer. He brooks no dissent.

Zotto wrote: "I was truly not trying to get into a literary debate, by the way, my intention was mostly to just ask people here to please treat Mr. Card with a little more common respect."

I see absolutely no need to treat Card with respect when he has made it very clear he has no respect for me. According to him, as a lesbian feminist who would very much like to be able to legally marry my partner, I'm partly responsible for Osama bin Laden, Al-Qaida, and 9/11. That's if I even exist in his world, since he apparently doesn't know of anyone who was "actually made happier by performing homosexual acts." If he is going to walk like a homophobic asshat and talk like a homophobic asshat, I'm bloody well going to call him a homophobic asshat.

I'm not sure if anyone else mentioned the closing comment: "For more painful reading, Card has a discussion board on his essay." One should realize that this message board is not a haven for Card apologists. If you bother to read the particular linked thread, or any of the other topics on the board, you will see that there are many who argue against Card's essays. Why lump all the posters into the "painful" category? Practice just a little bit of what you preach.

In times of conflict, there is nothing scarier than faith -- and PZ is a True Believer. He brooks no dissent.

I haven't seen all of PZ's beliefs. On the other hand, the Discovery Institute (who lead the ID lobby) are known to be dishonest creationists (dishonest about whether they are creationists...) and, thanks to the Wedge Strategy we know that their goals are

  • * To defeat scientific materialism and its destructive moral, cultural and political legacies.
  • * To replace materialistic explanations with the theistic understanding that nature and hurnan beings are created by God.
  • * To see intelligent design theory as the dominant perspective in science.
  • * To see design theory permeate our religious, cultural, moral and political life.

In short the goal of the ID movement (or at least the Discovery Institute, which is the most vocal branch) is to dismantle secular society. Their ideas have been described recently by a judge (the Dover PA case) as breathtaking inanity.

And you want compromise? Not before the ID lobby stops lying through its teeth (and even doing a simple search and replace on creationist books).

I may be a little too late, but get this:
reading one of Card's books, Red Prophet (page 166), the main character, Alvin, has a vision in which he sees the history of life as described by evolutionary history. Its possible that Card is a recent convert to ID theology.
And it included humans evolving from apes!

Frankly, we don't know, and I certainly won't jump to any conclusions.

By julio Huffenbleat (not verified) on 15 Jun 2007 #permalink

holy resurrections, batman!