Twisting recent history (creationism), 2

RECAP: It’s only nine months since Judge John Jones’ extremely well-reasoned and carefully-written decision in Kitzmiller vs. Dover Area School District, which declared unconstitutional the efforts by the school board in Dover, Pennsylvania, to sneak creationism into their schools’ biology curriculum. But the revisionists are out in force. On August 8, Joe Carter at Evangelical Outpost posted “10 ways Darwinists help intelligent design,” in extreme length.

Other people were bothered by the post, too. I see that Matt over at Pooflingers fisked the thing, too. I haven’t read his post yet — his is no doubt more incisive than what I’ve written below. But can there be too much taking to task those who would sacrifice our children’s education on a cross of hooey?

You can go read the entire thing at Evangelical Outpost if you want. I’ll post the list of ten, with corrections. History revisionism is an ugly thing, especially when the court decision is still fresh, available and an easy and educational read, and especially on things scientific, where one’s errors may be easier to spot. In keeping with the ethical standards ofthisblog, to expose hoaxes about bathtubs wherever they may appear, here goes;

Part 2: Joe Carter posted his list of ten things scientists do wrong; Part 1 covered the first five, here are numbers 6 through 10:

#6 By invoking design in non-design explanations. Anyone who wonders why so many people find intelligent design explanations plausible need only to listen to scientific community discuss the evolutionary process. Scientists have a complete inability to talk about and explain processes like natural selection without using the terms, analogies, and metaphors of design and teleology.

Take, for instance, the recent finding that leads researchers to believe they have found a second code in DNA in addition to the genetic code. On The New York Times science page we find an explanation by Eran Segal of the Weizmann Institute in Israel:

“A curious feature of the code is that it is redundant, meaning that a given amino acid can be defined by any of several different triplets. Biologists have long speculated that the redundancy may have been designed so as to coexist with some other kind of code, and this, Dr. Segal said, could be the nucleosome code.” [emphasis added]

No! No! No! Scientists note the appearance of design, but scientists go the extra mile; they go on to look for natural explanations for such appearances. Most often they have found a perfectly natural explanation that involves fitness for survival, sexual selection, or chemical and physical necessity, and they have found no intervention outside the critters’ struggle for survival. Intelligent design goes off the rails when it observes an appearance of design, but then stops looking for any natural cause. Without intending to do so, Joe has perfectly illustrated the basic weakness of ID — it is a concept of “let’s stop looking for knowledge here and attribute this action to God,” rather than looking at what is found in nature. Evolution is a science that looks for proximate causes. Intelligent design is an idea that overlooks proximate causes and makes improbable claims for ultimate causes. Evolution offers a means to determine the causes, treatments and cures of problems, like diabetes. Intelligent design is nothing more than a “wow!” response to anything found in nature.

Cures for disease, or exclamations of “I don’t know.” Is that a difficult choice?

#7 By claiming that the criticism of ID has nothing to do with a prejudice against theism – and then having the most vocal critics of ID be anti-religious atheists. – Let’s first dispell the ridiculous notion that most evolutionary biologists believe in God. Somehow this has become a dominant theme in these discussions, even though it remains patently false. In 1998, the journalNature polled the members of the National Academy of Sciences on their belief in God. Of all those questioned, biological scientists had the lowest rate of belief — only 5.5 percent were theists.When 94.5 percent of the “scientific elite” has a plausibility structure that rejects the possibility of a Supreme Intelligent Being, it is not surprising that they would reject the very concept of an “intelligent designer.”

Joe has outed the intelligent design goals here. Were ID about science, the faith of the scientists involved would have no relevance at all. After all, the rain falls on the Christian, Jew, Moslem, Taoist, Jainist, Hindu, Zoroastrian, deist, atheist, and Flying Spaghetti Monster adherents all, equally. Natural laws and natural phenomena by definition function regardless the faith of the observer. Gravity, though it has never been observed directly like evolution has, brings the jumping Christian to Earth just as it does the jumping atheist.

The scientific methods used in the west — which were invented largely by faithful Christians whose legacy Joe and other creationists now reject — rely on searching for natural causes first, before calling something a miracle. When a search for a natural cause is successful, we note that science has provided an answer. When such a search is unsuccessful in finding a cause, Joe wants us to default to saying “God did it and we need look no further.”

But that’s dumb, and dangerous. If nothing else in the past 300 years of scientific inquiry, we’ve learned that sometimes our human frames of reference need changing, or at a minimum, more information, before we can perceive the natural causes. That is not to say that a deity doesn’t exist in the gaps. But it is awfully poor theology to say that God exists only where we don’t know the answers. We may find the answers in the future, and if God only exists in the cracks of ignorance, God’s presence shrinks necessarily as knowledge grows.

Also, the reality is that biologists are not “most scientists.” My experience is that most biologists have faith of some sort — it may be my bias from the labs I worked in — but in any case, the National Academy of Science, while august, is not representative of all biologists.The NAS includes physicists, chemists, mathematicians — disciplines that tend to be populated more by agnostics and atheists than biology, in my limited experience. Creationists often conflate Big Bang and astronomy with evolution theory, with the bizarre claim that there are “five kinds of evolution,” but that doesn’t make physics a subset of biology. It’s the opposite: Biologists comprise a subset of “all scientists;” the NAS is a tiny subset of “all scientists” that includes a few biologists.

There are many faithful Christians (and other faiths) among scientists seeking answers, including Francis Collins who directs the Human Genome Project (whose current book must pain Joe, since it goes against all his biases here), Theodosius Dobzhansky , and in the past, Asa Gray the great American biologist — and Charles Darwin, who never repudiated the church as creationists falsely claim, who remained active in church affairs to his death contrary to creationist claims, and who was buried in Westminster Abbey with full ceremonies of the Anglican church and England.

Most Christians prefer that these discussions be kept honest. Many of us who have studied and followed this dispute over the years are struck, not by the lack of faith among scientists, but by the lack of ethics in science and persuasion shown by creationists, who claim to be acting for the sake of a church. Some of us believe Jesus was at least prescient when suggesting we look to the fruits of a tree to know its Godly origins. Evolution gives us medicines, crops, and awe of nature. Creationism produces dissembling and attempts at censorship. Some tree.

It’s not the faith of the scientists that we should be concerned about. We should instead be concerned with their ethics, whether they tell the facts straight.The National Academy of Sciences scores highly on the ethics side (not perfectly, but much better than their critics). The ethics go to the accuracy of the science.Scienists have procedures to assure ethical work; creationists/IDists eschew those procedures.
In order to get ID into schools, the defendants in the Pennsylvania suit argued that the faith of the advocates shouldn’t be considered at all. When they lost on evidence grounds alone, Joe now complains that faith should be considered. Inconsistency is another problem that plagues creationism of all stripes, including intelligent design. Does it merit mention here that the judge in the case found that the intelligent design advocates often told fibs under oath? What is the moral fruit of intelligent design, and do we want our children to have that fruit forced upon them?

#8 By separating origins of life science from evolutionary explanations. – Nature is too complex to be encompassed in any one field. That is why it’s necessary for scientific disciplines (physics, biology, chemistry) to be broken down into sub-disciplines (cosmology, zoology, biochemistry, etc.). But while most scientists may not have no problems thinking in unconnected categories, the average person expects the various parts to be stitched back into a seamless whole.

That is why when looking for an explanation for the origins of mankind, most people naturally start at the beginning. The neo-Darwinists, on the other hand, prefer to jump ahead to the middle and begin the argument with “species evolve.” If you ask them how “life” (a necessary feature for any evolving species) began in the first place they will claim that the issue is outside the theory.

Perhaps. But since naturalistic theories rise or fall based on the plausibility of this issue, it would probably be a good idea to make sure that this one is nailed down.

Why? If the answer is that life arises spontaneously from warm ponds — or cold ones, or not in ponds at all — will that alter the way pigeons reproduce? Peter and Rosemary Grant, at Princeton University, have documented the rise of new species almost exactly as Darwin wrote they arise. If we were to find that God breathed life into original forms, will that alter what the Grants found, that evolution occurs today? No, it wouldn’t. So the issue of how life arose is a red herring in the discussion.

No, the origins of life are irrelevant to the discussion. As Darwin noted (I cannot help but wonder again whether the critics have actually read the material):

It is interesting to contemplate an entangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent on each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us. These laws, taken in the largest sense, being Growth with Reproduction; Inheritance which is almost implied by reproduction; Variability from the indirect and direct action of the external conditions of life, and from use and disuse; a Ratio of Increase so high as to lead to a Struggle for Life, and as a consequence to Natural Selection, entailing Divergence of Character and the Extinction of less-improved forms. Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved. (final paragraph, Origin of Species, emphasis added)

Did you catch the sly reference to Genesis? Most creationists miss it.

Joe continued:

Unfortunately for these advocates, modern science doesn’t have a clue how DNA, much less a living organism, could have been produced from non-living matter. If you ask most anti-ID criticsaboutabiogenesis they will either be under the (false) impression that this problem has already been solved or will claim that it is only a matter of time before the process is understood.

Hooey. Complete hooey. Creationists really like to pretend scientists don’t know anything, when there is a lot known about how DNA and living organisms could rise spontaneously. Stanley Miller in 1953 ran some experiments demonstrating that complex life molecules arise spontaneously under various conditions thought to exist on the early Earth; when geologists refined their understanding of what the atmosphere was like on early Earth, new experiments got similar results. We know that complex molecules necessary for life arise spontaneously, and these chemicals are in fact found throughout the universe. Sidney Fox demonstrated that cellular structures also arise spontaneously. While there are gaps in knowledge, the reality is that the astrobiologists at NASA and at universities across the U.S. have demonstrated most of the steps that would be required for life to arise spontaneously. With such a large body of knowledge directly contradicting creationist claims, it seems odd for creationists to even call attention to the area.

In essence, what Joe Carter argues is that, if science cannot explain everything down to the last detail, then science can’t explain anything, and anything it explains it explains wrong. That’s quite a stretch, logically, and the two links are faulty logic anyway.

Much is known, but creationists wish it weren’t. Go see this explanation from the Nobel winner Sidney Altman: The RNA World. Anyone interested in this topic should also be a regular reader of NASA’s publication covering this area of research, Astrobiology. You may also be interested in NASA’s roadmap for research in this area, and specifically, the roadmap for research on the origins of life. Please, note how scientists studying evolution use different methods from what Joe’s version of ID would propose: Scientists ask “what is life?” and “where might we find life?” On that basis we target planetary exploration in our own solar system on particular targets; how could an ID paradigm offer any help? Science looks for the next natural cause, the proximate cause. Joe criticizes that search as inherently anti-Christian. (It is Joe’s definition of “what is Christian” that is in error here, by the way; the search for knowledge is not in any way “anti-Christian.”)

Joe continued:

Some scientists, such as Nobel-prize winner Francis Crick, have at least attempted to come up with an alternative explanation. Crick, realizing the impossibilityofabiogenesis occurring on earth, published a paper in which he suggested that life on earth was “seeded” from another planet. (That’s something to keep in mind the next time someone mentions thatreal science (as opposed to something like ID theory) is submitted through “peer-reviewed science journals”.)

Joe’s blowing smoke. Crick didn’t say evolution is impossible at all. Here is what Crick actually did say:

[How would religious zealots accept scientific information that contradicts their religious belief?] It would be comforting to believe that mostpeoplewoudl be so convinced by the experimental evidence that they would immediately change their views. Unfortunately, history suggests otherwise. The age of the Earth is now established beyond any reasonable doubt as very great, yet in the United States millions of Fundamentalists still stoutly defend the naive view that it is relatively short, an opinion deduced from reading the Christian Bible too literally. They also usually deny that animals and plants have evolved and changed radically over such long periods, although this is equally well established. This gives one little confidence that what they have to say about the process of natural selection is likely to be unbiased, since their views are predetermined by a slavish adherence to religious dogma. [Francis Crick,The Astonishing Hypothesis, Touchstone 1994, pp. 215-216]

However one may understand or misunderstand Crick’s views on how life arose, one cannot fail to notice that Crick’s views hold to evolution as THE explanation for the rise of diversity of life on Earth. And, were we to believe Joe’s modest error in claiming Crick advocates a hypothesis of panspermia, the fact is that Crick’s views on evolution indicate that how life came to be on this planet does not alter the facts of evolution.

#9 By resorting to ad hominems instead of arguments (e.g., claiming that advocates of ID are “ignorant”). — About a year ago I had an email discussion about evolution and Intelligent Design theory with the Hugo-nominated sci-fi novelist John Scalzi. The debate quickly degenerated when he resorted to claiming, “the science is there for one and not for the other. By all means enjoy your ignorance, but don’t expect me to treat it or you very seriously.”I suspect that if you gave Mr.Scalzi a test on the basic terms, concepts, and theories surrounding evolutionary biology, that he would fare no better than I would. (And I can almost guarantee that if you gave him a test on the basic terms, concepts, and theories of ID that he would flunk completely, for the reasons outlined in #1.) So why is it that Mr.Scalzi, thinks his position is superior?

I don’t know, and for the purposes of this post, a psychoanalytical analyis of his reasons isn’t necessary. What is important is not the motive but the dismissive attitude toward anyone who holds an opinion that differs from what is considered acceptable scientific dogma.

That’s the problem. Creationists don’t know why ignorance is not honored as knowledge among the knowledgeable, and hubristically they demand that their favored brand of ignorance be given a seat at the table of science.

Creationism is crank science. It is crackpottery. Calling creationism “ignorant” and its advocates “ignorant” is an accurate depiction of the state of creationism hypotheses and lack of theory. Ad hominem is only a fallacy in argument if it’s irrelevant and if it distracts from the true argument. Here it is the focus of the argument: Should we require kids in public school science classes to study voodoo science, pseudo-science, crank science, bogus science, or old hypotheses that have long since been disproven?

If one is in favor of good academics as a foundation for good schools, one shuns the idea of teaching ill-formed extensions of folk tales that run counter to science, especially the science being studied. We don’t teach cold fusion in physics or chemistry — and cold fusion is much better established, scientifically, than intelligent design. But to the best of our knowledge, it does not work; it’s disproven science, not good science.

Now, were Joe to urge that we teach creationism as a model of disproven science that no one should cling to, I would welcome it. That might best be taught in a social studies class, but Joe’s allies in the world of creationism would be apoplectic were the Texas State Board of Education to propose teaching creationism’s errors.

#10 By not being able to believe their own theory. — Say what you will about advocates of ID, they actually believe in the basic claims of their theory. Not so, with neo-Darwinists.

For example, philosopher of science David Stove notes that ultra-Darwinists assert that while man was once trapped in the struggle to survive and pass on our genes, we no longer are trapped in the spiral of natural selection. Stove calls this the “Cave Man” attempt to solve “Darwinism’s Dilemma”:

If Darwin’s theory of evolution is true, no species can ever escape from the process of natural selection. His theory is that two universal and permanent tendencies of all species of organisms—the tendency to increase in numbers up to the limit that the food supply allows, and the tendency to vary in a heritable way—are together sufficient to bring about in any species universal and permanent competition for survival, and therefore universal and permanent natural selection among the competitors.

Joe outs the difficulty with intelligent design once again — its inherently, inescapable religious, anti-science nature. Scientists don’t “believe” evolution. They study it. They understand it. But faith is not required. In fact, scientists prefer that people bring skepticism to the study. It makes for good questions, good research, and greater understanding.

Joe wants to treat science and evolution as just another form of dogma, which can be contradicted by a differing form of dogma, and which can be rejected on the basis of whether one feels in one’s heart that the dogma that rejects evolution is more sincere, and more “true” toward deity.

A Christian who studies science would phrase it differently: “I believe in God, I accept Jesus as my savior, and I understand evolution as an accurate and confirmed portrayal of the methods nature uses to diversify species.” Were Joe to accept as faith that God created the Earth and the universe and everything in it, as Darwin did, then Joe would be forced to accept evolution, since it is what the universe manifests in all histories of life we have available. This manifestation occurs in nature, however, and to the extent we can agree that there is a reality, and that reality is observable, theists and non-theists alike may observe nature and report on the observations. This goes to the root of the difficulty with intelligent design: It requires ultimately that we reject what we see, and can repeatedly observe, in living things in the wild and in the laboratory. ID requires that we reject reality. Most scientists don’t have hallucinogens that powerful.

I can’t testify to what hallucinogens David Stove may have used, if any, but I can spot a fundamental error in his reasoning right away. While his description above is pretty close to a good understanding of two of the five key points of evolution theory, he appears to be ready to reject them. And if we read Joe’s essay just a bit farther, we see that Stove does reject them, erroneously.

Natural selection, which is a “universal generalization about all terrestrial species at any time” can’t just be true sometimes: “If the theory says something which is not true now of our species (or another), then it is not true—finish.” Not only is this not true of our species now, it could never have been true:

[Stove said] “Do you know of even one human being who ever had as many descendants as he or she could have had? And yet Darwinism says that every single one of us does. For there can clearly be no question of Darwinism making an exception of man, without openly contradicting itself. ‘Every single organic being’, or ‘each organic being’: this means you.”

Stove goes to the brink, and then falls into the abyss. Darwin’s observations do NOT say that everyone has as many offspring as possible. What Darwin noted instead, in an observation that was a century old at least by Darwin’s time and which is the foundation for modern wildlife management, is that a species — not one individual — will have more offspring than can survive to adulthood and to reproduce. Joe is trying to argue that humans don’t evolve, which is false; but the mis-statement of the key observation is more foundational.

Even with reduced fecundity in prosperous human populations, many more children are conceived than are born — naturally. About half of all human conceptions end in spontaneous abortion, because the egg misses nesting in the placental wall, because the mother is malnourished, because there is a developmental fault in the zygote, or for a dozen other reasons. So our rapid population growth worldwide is a fraction of what it would be if all conceptions became successful pregnancies. And after birth, we still lose millions a year before they become adults capable of reproducing, to childhood diseases and accidents. Our species produces millions more than will survive to adulthood. Darwin didn’t say every single one of us will have as many children as we can — that would be silly, and it’s not supported by any evidence. Stove would have been well-advised to read Thomas Malthus’s essay on population, as both Darwin and Wallace did. He may have understood evolution, had he done so.

Joe should read it today.

But in any case, Stove’s, and Joe’s, misunderstanding of evolution theory doesn’t make the theory wrong. It only means the theory works without their understanding.

Which may indicate that evolution is a divinely-inspired theory, after all. Evolution works for the believer and disbeliever, for the scientist who understands it as well as for the crackpot who denounces it — similar to the way the rain falls on the just and the unjust alike. Christians accept on faith — on faith, not on evidence — that such processes have God as an ultimate cause. As to proximate causes, science tells us rain falls from clouds, and that the clouds arise from temperature differentials in the atmosphere that cause water to condense out; and that the water got into the atmosphere by evaporation, and so on, and so on. Proximate causes: Science. Ultimate cause conjecture: Religion.

Just as Joe’s faith in God doesn’t make meteorology a “false” science, neither can his faith make evolution “false.” For exactly the same reasons, both sciences are valid and true. And for exactly the same reasons, Joe should stop taking potshots at science and the scientists who study creation.

The state of our science allows us to predict evolution with more accuracy than we can the weather. It’s not magic, and Joe and other creationists should stop insisting we treat it like magic.

“Darwinism,” assuming that to be an understanding of evolution, doesn’t help intelligent design in any way. Ignorance helps intelligent design. Ignorance is the ally of the spread of intelligent design. We should work to stamp out ignorance, especially damaging ignorance.

6 Responses to Twisting recent history (creationism), 2

  1. Brian says:

    This is one of the best refutations of ID I’ve ever read. You nailed him to the wall on various points. However, I think you missed the point of criticisms 9 and 10.

    His real point in #9 isn’t the ad hominem but the “instead of arguments” part. Mr Scalzi prefers scientific rather than ID explanations without really understanding either. As a lay person with no real understanding of science how can he pick one over the other? He’s calling science a religion and saying Mr Scalzi has to go on faith in what it tells us.

    You can say that science is preferable because it offers evidence to back up it’s claims. As a lay person I don’t have faith in science because evidence is presented. I won’t understand most of the evidence. I have to go on the results of science. I believe that pluto exists because I’m listening to itunes and typing this message on my laptop. I look at the results of science around me and infer that since these apparent miracles exist I have to give credence to other claims made by science.

    In #10 he reiterates something I’ve heard before. That homosapians have stopped evolving. His argument is essentially: For evolution to be true all organisms must always be evolving. Humans have stopped evolving. Therefore evolution can’t be true.

    I don’t think he’s stressing belief per se. Rather the inconsistent application of a theory which seems to indicate the falsehood of the theory.


  2. Terry C. Maxwell says:

    Very well done Ed. Thank you. The choir to which we belong will all appreciate the clarity and incite you share. I will include many of your points in my collection to hopefully remember when addressing this subject.
    Now, if we could only get the other choir to read this with rationality some progress might be made. But to paraphrase Chet Raymo’s “Skeptics and True Believers”, the logic gap between the two choirs is enormous. And these two choirs, not surprisingly the most inclined to read such essays – do not contain those that would benefit most in this culture war. We saw in Kansas this month, that they didn’t even vote.


  3. DavidD says:

    It amazes me how much people are willing to trust their own words in politics, religion and other things. Republicans are forever saying how Democrats just handed them the next election on some issue, as if saying so makes it so. These posts review how scientists supposedly make the ID argument stronger, by saying “designed” when they mean “designed by natural selection”, among other things. I can’t believe anyone’s mind is changed by playing “gotcha” like this. I’m glad you have the patience to refute this in detail, even though you know there would be counterattack against everything you say.

    At some point people have to produce a system that works. Now traditional religion works well enough for many people, and apologetics puts some fingers where the dikes holding back reality are leaking. As someone raised in science, that wasn’t enough for me, but then I found my need for God and was forced to find something between tradition and atheism. That’s a part of our culture that’s evolving, and I’m sure it will continue to do so, that there’s no way for traditionalists to win in the long run. In may be 500 years, but everyone will adapt to the fact of evolution eventually.


  4. Julia says:

    . . . the search for knowledge is not in any way “anti-Christian”

    Very true. Thank you for the excellent post.


  5. Brilliant! This is one of the best comprehensive discussions of ID on the web. Thank you for taking the time to write it.

    “Creationists don’t know why ignorance is not honored as knowledge among the knowledgeable, and hubristically they demand that their favored brand of ignorance be given a seat at the table of science.”

    I love it. Parts 1 and 2 will be linked to from my blog.



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