Intelligent design news and discussion for the month of June, 2011.
I thought it would be best to wait until a month had passed to start doing TWiID again, mainly because:
- I think whole anthropochronological divisions are beautiful, in a rather frivolous way, and
- Not many overtly, over-the-top exciting ID things happened in June that warranted immediate attention by my loosely serious writings.
As such, this will be a slight departure from the usual TWiID style you might be used to. Instead of going into detail on only three or four pieces put out by the intelligent design movement, I’ll briefly to semi-briefly touch on a large number of them: in essence, all the vaguely interesting ones. But don’t worry, the regular weekly schedule will be back from next week.
So, on with the show!
At the start of June there was a minor kerfuffle (a word that accurately describes many goings-on in the ID movement nowadays) around an article by Granville Sewell, on the second law of thermodynamics and evolution, being rejected by the journal Applied Mathematics Letters, which the journal subsequently apologised for and then paid Sewell’s attorney’s fees. Both Casey Luskin and John G. West covered this story over three posts, of course making and repeating the statement that it was a failed attempt at Darwinian censorship, as summarised in this passage from the first link:
In one of their favorite soundbytes, members of the Darwin lobby like to assert that intelligent design scientists do not publish peer-reviewed research. That claim is manifestly false. But the fact that intelligent design scholars do publish peer-reviewed articles is no thanks to Darwinists, many of whom do their best to ensure that peer-reviewed articles by intelligent design scientists never see the light of day.
Witness the brazen censorship earlier this year of an article by University of Texas, El Paso mathematics professor Granville Sewell, author of the book In the Beginning and Other Essays on Intelligent Design. Sewell’s article critical of Neo-Darwinism (“A Second Look at the Second Law”) was both peer-reviewed and accepted for publication by the journal Applied Mathematics Letters. That is, the article was accepted for publication until a Darwinist blogger who describes himself as an “opinionated computer science geek” wrote the journal editor to denounce the article, and the editor decided to pull Sewell’s article in violation of his journal’s own professional standards.
The publisher of Applied Mathematics Letters (Elsevier, the international science publisher) has now agreed to issue a public statement apologizing to Dr. Sewell as well as to pay $10,000 in attorney’s fees.
The thing is, though, it isn’t really censorship if the article is a terrible piece of work. Veterans of the creationism/evolution struggle know that the argument from the second law of thermodynamics is one of the most common, and blatantly bad, arguments used by creationists to dispute evolutionary theory. Sewell, in his article, apparently acknowledges this, but then goes off on non-sequitur tangents that bear little relation to his original point, mentioning “compensation” and “information”. There’s good reason it should never have been published in the first place.
The sad thing is that it does give the ID movement some splendid ammunition to show to their supporters, those you may not be as knowledgable about the modern scientific process as others. When things like this happen, the Discovery Institute milks them for all they’re worth. But what have we come to expect?
Evolution News & Views shared a letter written by a 14 year-old intelligent design supporter to a US newspaper, calling out a columnist for daring to criticise Tennessee state legislators, who had recently passed an “academic freedom” bill. Here’s the letter in full:
I had the opportunity to read Pam Strickland’s column, “Legislatures should be lawmakers, not yahoos.” I found some areas in it that were “sketchy.” I would like to highlight a few points from her column.
She addresses the fact that state Rep. Bill Dunn is proposing a House bill that will “prohibit the teaching of two widely recognized scientific theories of evolution and global warming.” I have read House Bill 368 and nowhere did I find any mention of prohibiting the teaching of evolution and global warming, instead it proposes that we show all the scientific evidence.
It is not logical to have both sides of an argument represented? It is a part of the scientific process to test a hypothesis, but if you only test the one variable, how are our future generations going to know the validity of the other side? This only demotes the very thing most Americans are searching for, knowledge. We will then be arming our citizens with ignorance instead of knowledge, while destroying the way to find knowledge.
She also mentions the fact that this was the product of a “think tank” known as the Discovery Institute in Seattle. With this statement she implies that she thinks that Dunn is trying to usher in alternative religious beliefs. However if you look at Section 1, Part E, it says that it will not “be construed to promote any religious or nonreligious doctrine.”
She also called Dunn a “yahoo.” I find that to be honestly below her level of intelligence to misuse a term (a yahoo is a rude, noisy or violent person) and to be rather sophomoric. I am positive that she has the ability to articulate a much more “grade-level” argument than the likes of this. Or is it perhaps that the Legislature has the upper hand in the particular dispute?
Noel Bauer, 14
Such is the current ID strategy to lay out bills that seem reasonable, even to a 14 year-old, seemingly so that over-zealous reporters and commentators can jump the gun and misconstrue the bill, while the proponents of “academic freedom” can calmly correct the mistakes and in the process make the bills seem completely harmless. I mean, if they’re not promoting intelligent design or preventing evolution from being taught, then what possible damage could they be doing to the educational system? “Allow them!” the masses silently shout.
Alas. All this talk of “academic freedom” just spurs me on to complete my next post on the subject. It’s coming, people, it’s coming…
To show that the Discovery Institute (and therefore the intelligent design movement) isn’t all about law and science, John G. West and our old/new friend Michael Egnor had some things to say about atheism this month.
In particular, John’s posts were about Richard Dawkins being a coward for not debating theologian William Lane Craig – always a popular topic and sentiment amongst the evangelical crowd – and, well, a different UK atheist agreeing to debate Craig, and therefore, by extension, not being a coward, while Michael’s post was about atheism being banal. How refreshing takes they were, effortlessly linking their primary contentions into the main issue at stake, intelligent design, weaving complex arguments that hit home every time…
Atheists insist that their ideology is a revolution in human understanding. Darwinism is “the best idea anyone ever had.” “Lincoln freed the slaves. Darwin freed our minds.” “Atheism is the apotheosis of mankind’s long twilight struggle for freedom from superstition.” Shouldn’t atheists, now liberated from crass belief in God, revel in the deep insights offered by “science and reason and evidence”? Heck, they can’t even keep each other awake during powerpoint talks.
The salient characteristic of atheism is its banality.
Biology textbooks and education standards was another common topic in June, with Casey Luskin writing four blog posts about about the Miller-Urey experiment, Haeckel’s embryo drawings, vestigial organs and Texas teaching materials in general - all complaining about how various aspects of biology have been grossly distorted by textbooks and curriculums.
He tries to make the case that “all sides” of these issues need to be taught in classrooms – and therefore that these topics fall under the broad umbrella of requiring “academic freedom”, according with recently passed legislation – but I don’t really see it like that. I mean, if these topics are being taught incorrectly or there are factual errors, “academic freedom” shouldn’t need to come up at all, and the fix is simple: just correct the errors. For example, there isn’t two sides to whether or not Haeckel’s drawings are accurate: either they are useful or they are not. Pick one. Convince the curriculum to reflect your opinion based on the state of the evidence. “Freedom” doesn’t come into it at all. Just make a reasonable, scientifically valid case for change and all will be well.
I am open to Casey trying to get his various fact-based cases across to the Texas curriculum advisory board, but it’s hard to understand why writing rhetoric-charged blog posts about each error is helpful in consolidating those changes. Unless, of course, he has some sort of grander point to make to a certain following he may have…
And to close out this post, there was a series of blog posts by Jonathan M., David Klinghoffer and Casey Luskin about an encounter Jonathan had with PZ Myers at a meeting of Glasgow Skeptics in the Pub, wherein PZ was asked a number of questions about developmental evolution, and the response received was less than pleasing to all those on the pro-ID side. (A video of what happened does exist – start at 3:44 for best results.)
Jonathan first described his experience in this post, followed by David’s rather more emotionally-charged account; Jonathan’s second post, addressing PZ’s response; then two posts by Casey, containing all the meaty outrage you’ve come to expect from him:
“I was not rude enough to MacLatchie,” writes PZ Myers, despite the fact that PZ recently told pro-intelligent design undergraduate student Jonathan M. that he should be “ashamed to have been responsible for this bulls–t.” Apparently PZ doesn’t feel it was “rude enough” to have alleged that Jonathan M.:
- is a “flaming moron”
- “is an idiot”
- is guilty of “ignorance”
- is “completely ineducable”
- promotes “ludicrous nonsense”
- “doesn’t know word one about basic biological concepts”
PZ closed his supposedly “not rude enough” comments to Jonathan M. by stating, “You should be ashamed. This is disgraceful.” PZ’s treatment of a Darwin-doubting undergraduate student of course led to great applause from PZ’s audience during PZ’s recent talk in Glasgow, Scotland. Is this the type of dialogue that new atheist evolutionists stand for?
Such harsh personal attacks from PZ and his followers are nothing new. In fact, the rhetorical strategies of Professor Myers and his colleagues are so uncivil that they have earned criticism from mainstream academics and writers who are otherwise pro-evolution.
To be honest, I found PZ’s response to Jonathan – both in the video and on Pharyngula - to be extremely lacking in appropriate tone. I guess it’s easy to understand where he’s coming from emotionally when responding to yet another ID proponent’s potentially silly questions (especially in a room full of atheists, who may be expecting such a response in that situation), but it doesn’t excuse over-the-top language like “You should be ashamed”, which he must know will just serve to fuel the rhetoric machine that is the online wing of the Discovery Institute.
But it’s unlikely PZ will ever change his tonal tactics. All we slightly-more-civil members of the skeptical community can do to offset the possible damage he may be causing is to jump ahead and answer as many of the questions from ID proponents (and similar) as we can/reasonably should. But that’s a discussion for another time.
Rapid fire ID news!
- A student essay contest over on Uncommon Descent! I may have to enter. Who would like me to?
- Technically, yes, Darwinism has already been abandoned. But don’t let ID proponents hear me say that, they might get the wrong idea!
- John Lennon was a Darwin-disser? Well, colour me… disinterested.
- VJ Torley solved a case of ambiguous identity…
- …except he didn’t. Maybe.
- My least favourite kind of satire: ID satire.