“You Win or You Die” – Unintentionally nourishing the ID rhetoricotrophs

When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die. There is no middle ground.

~ Cersei Lannister, HBO’s “Game of Thrones”1

Bit of a dramatic quote, isn’t it? But for some reason it entered my mind when I read what David Klinghoffer wrote about me and my views on the dismissive rhetoric of the scientific community towards the intelligent design movement (which I maintain is understandable, given the history of ID and creationism), in his Evolution News & Views post “A Darwinist Worries about Darwinian Rhetoric”.

You see, I didn’t write the post for a pro-ID audience – it came about because I felt I had some helpful advice to give scientists and science communicators for when they are asked to comment on ID by the media (or in other public outlets). That’s why I didn’t justify or explain, for example, my opinion that the movement is largely motivated by religious sentiment: I was talking to a group of people who already have that point of view.

Obviously I wasn’t thinking very clearly though, because I was writing about why ID proponents love to twist, distort and spin sentiment about themselves into energy for their day-to-day operations, yet forgot to consider how the post being written would appear to those very people. How legitimately foolish of me.

Everything is a rhetorical game to the Discovery Institute! And like the medieval-fantasy political game of thrones referenced in the above quote, when you play the game of rhetoric, you win or you die a (rhetorical) death. Much like gambling, the best way to win is not to play at all, especially when facing down masters like David Klinghoffer. I mean, look at what he wrote – he twisted a post about not giving the ID movement rhetorical nourishment into rhetorical nourishment.

But while I’m undeniably now locked into a PR pact with David – wherein everything I write is now open to dramatisation and being milked for points – I’d still like to focus on the issues that are at least vaguely objectively defensible.

Continue Reading…

- - - - - - - - -
  1. Game of Thrones, Season 1, Episode 7.

What did the Discovery Institute get up to in 2010? Part 1: Research

2010 has come and gone: the year of the iPad, the year of the drama surrounding Wikileaks, the year I first gained university access to scientific papers… But what happened in the intelligent design movement during that fateful year? Did anything important happen to the Discovery Institute, the infamous Seattle-based ID think tank?

I’ll be going back through the Internet archives to find out what 2010 held for the ID movement, what “research” was published, what books were released, what lawsuits exploded, among other things. I wrote a similar piece on 2009 a year ago, but this one will be slightly different – I won’t be going through the year by month, I won’t be touching on everything that happened, only the important things, and I’ll be breaking the piece into a series of blog posts, not just one massive one.

So, where shall we begin? Ah yes, the research.

Continue Reading…

Monday Science Link – QualiaSoup’s excellent science communication videos

Today’s science link is the YouTube channel of QualiaSoup.

Science and critical thinking communication can be tough through the medium of text. Sure, you can have a few pictures in there now and again, but the majority of the information must be absorbed through people sitting there and actively reading what has been written. While that’s legitimate and all well and good, it’s obvious that most people would prefer to watch a visually-stimulating and entertaining video than read text, no matter how well written it is.

QualiaSoup (aka. Doug) clearly knows this, and has put together some of the best videos I’ve ever seen on the topics they cover. Truly, they have to be seen to be believed. As such, I’m going to show you two of them, some that related directly to science, and evolution in particular.

The first is on irreducible complexity and how it is a fallacious argument for intelligent design:

The second is a video devoted completely to evolution and how it works:

It’s great, right? Let’s hope he continues making science communication videos in the future.

This Week in Intelligent Design – 04/01/11

Intelligent design news from the 29th of December, 2010 to the 4th of January, 2011.

It’s 2011! Welcome to a brand new year of intelligent design. In the next few days (hopefully) I’ll be putting out my annual review of the intelligent design community, focusing on the Discovery Institute, for 2010. As you might know, I did a similar thing for 2009, but this time I’ll be splitting the review into sections based not on months, but on activities (research, arguments etc.).

But enough about what I’m about to do – let’s get into what the ID community has already done!

Continue Reading…

This Week in Intelligent Design – 21/12/10 (5th anniversary of Kitzmiller vs. Dover edition)

Intelligent design news from the 15th of December to the 21st of December, 2010.

It’s the 5th anniversary of the Kitzmiller vs. Dover decision this week, a seminal court case that provided legal precedent to rule the teaching of intelligent design unconstitutional in the United States. The York Dispatch has written a retrospective piece, including interviews with some of the key voices in the trial – I recommend you check it out.

But what about the ID proponents? Surely they’re feeling bitter, reminiscing over their defeat with a mixture of anger and… anger? Or what about…

Continue Reading…

This Month in Intelligent Design – November

This is a special edition of This Week in Intelligent Design, for the month of November 2010.

It’s been a while! November was a busy time, with exam preparation and the exams themselves from the start to the middle, and TAM Australia at the end. I’m finally free from such frivolity and back into what is really important: finding out what those pesky intelligent design proponents have been up to.

The format of this post will be a little different from the usual – instead of commenting on and critiquing a few standout ID posts in detail, I’ll quickly run you through all the posts written by the key ID bloggers over the month of November. Unfortunately, I’m not a statistician, so no trends will be graphed or mathematically analysed here. I can hear you all groan with disappointment…

Alright, let’s get into it. Our first blogger is the ever-vigilant Casey Luskin. His posts for November were:

  • Two posts criticising LA County Museum of Natural History scientist Kirk Fitzhugh, which did more to expose Casey’s own misunderstandings of ID than Kirk’s, although there were some (ID isn’t supernaturally-based, Kirk!).
  • A recap of all of his previous posts on the Nature “15 Evolutionary Gems” packet, posts which I have touched on before on previous TWiID’s. His posts are worth a laugh, if you’re into that kind of sad humour.
  • Another post about Kirk Fitzhugh, this time complaining about academic freedom and the fact that Kirk sometimes calls ID proponents nasty names. While I like to think I’m personally above that, it’s still funny to read someone complaining about such a trivial matter.
  • An attempt to make ID seem more scientific, which I’ve already covered in detail here (no response from Casey, by the way).
  • An attack on Discover Magazine for daring to criticise ID. Again, they made some mistakes in their treatment of the issue, but Casey, of course, made even more.
  • A post about Philip Skell, the late chemist who was a critic of evolutionary biology (I’d never heard of him through the ID movement, so his impact mustn’t have been very dramatic).
  • A “critique” of Douglas Theobald’s Nature paper on common ancestry. I wonder why it was never published as a critical letter?

Whew. That’s a lot. However, he never really progressed past the same old arguments he always uses – and do you think he could have spared some time for a little, tiny response to any of my many posts addressing those arguments? Probably. But then again, he is a busy attorney…

Who’s up next? Why, it’s David Klinghoffer! For the month of November, his blogging output was:

  • A post that… had nothing to do with intelligent design or evolution… What does the Smithsonian Institution possibly stealing content from Bernard d’Abrera have to do with anything, David? Weird.
  • A very subtle detour into the land of orthodox Judaism. Nice, David, I almost didn’t notice the extremely heavy religious overtones.
  • A post about how life really is more like music than anything else. Of course. What a highly scientific way to elucidate a concept.
  • A praise-filled note about Jonathan Wells’s Icons of Evolution, which turned 10 years old in November. What’s that, David? “Wells is among the most lucid and accessible scientist-writers…”? Really? “…devoted to the modern project of critiquing Darwin.” Ah. That makes more sense.

Less than Casey, but still a fair amount to wade through. I’m glad I didn’t have to do four separate posts, it would have been hell…

Anika Smith, step right up! Her name was attached to the following posts in November:

  • A meta-post about something Jay Richards wrote about Stephen Hawking. Meta, in a God-killing kind of way.
  • Another meta-post, this time linking to a Phillip Johnson article about Stephen C Meyer’s book Signature in the Cell. This is Inception-like levels of meta-ness!
  • Another freaking meta-post, again about a review of Signature! Does Anika ever write her own proper posts?
  • A link to a podcast episode with Michael Behe in it. Inspiring stuff.
  • An announcement via Tom Woodward? About a radio program? Really?

Well, she was boring. Sorry about that.

Who do I spot in the distance to close up this post? Michael Behe, of course, in a rare fit of blogging. His November posts were:

  • A post about BioLogos (a favourite punching-bag over at the Discovery Institute), in which he drops an insightful hint as to his inner workings: “I normally do not respond to criticisms and reviews of my work that are simply posted on the internet. Rather, I engage reviews, comments, and articles that appear in journals or prominent newspapers and magazines.” Welcome to the online ID movement, Michael! You’ll find no sympathy in the real world, so grab a blog and let out all your deepest thoughts.
  • Another post about BioLogos. It’s like Michael only cares about BioLogos. What about all the other critics of your work? Oh, that’s right, they’re nasty nonbelievers. You’re not going to win hearts and… hearts by engaging with them.
  • Third time’s the BioLogos charm! …or something. This post contained a classic paragraph: “As an example of common descent I pointed to Baker’s yeast, for which there is good evidence that sometime in the past its genome duplicated. But I also noted that other yeasts with unduplicated genomes have done fine for themselves. The point was that gene or even whole genome duplication is not the powerful tool that Darwinists often claim.” How is that even relevant? “Have done fine for themselves” is about as vague as you can be, as well as completely missing the point of evolution as an ecologically adaptive process (for whole organisms). Does Michael even understand evolutionary biology at all?

And that’s all we’ve got time for! As you could probably tell, we didn’t miss much in November – no major events happened in the world of ID. Hopefully December will be the month where an ID proponent notices what I’ve written. Hell, they might even give it to me as a Christmas present. Would that be lovely?

This Week in Intelligent Design – 05/10/10

Intelligent design news from the 29th of September to the 5th of October, 2010.

Another week, another round of blog posts by intelligent design proponents. Much like last week, it’s more of the same – in fact, the ID movement revolves around a series of patterns that someone can easily identify if they have spent time sussing them out. One common pattern starts off with the “Scientific Study X supports ID because it goes against a tenant of ‘Darwinism’ that we have arbitrary defined as necessary for its continuation as a valid scientific theory” post, which inevitably gives rise to the “New Scientific Study Y, similar to X, supports ID in the same way that X did” post, which may or may not give rise to the “Here are the reasons our critics are wrong about X and Y supporting ID” post, depending on the mood of the author at the time of discovering that they have, once again, had their arguments criticized on another blog.

Note that you will never see a “Here’s where we were wrong” post, in any pattern.

Continue Reading…

The 2002 Miller, Pennock, Dembski and Behe ID debate

I thought you might be all interested in this fascinating debate between Kenneth Miller (whose book “Only A Theory” I’m currently reading – it’s great, you should definitely buy it) and Robert Pennock, two vocal critics of intelligent design, and William Dembski and Michael Behe, two of the most prominent intelligent design proponents from the Discovery Institute. The debate was held in 2002 at the American Museum of Natural History, and was moderated by Eugenie Scott from the NCSE.

It’s funny how the pro-ID arguments haven’t really changed over time, isn’t it?

ID Summer Seminars? Sign me up, yo!

As every teacher and parent knows, children and young people will one day take over the world, including the scientific community. Get people while they’re young and ideologically-malleable and they’ll carry assumptions and falsehoods to the grave.

It’s this idea of reaching out to the younger generation that no doubt initiated the Discovery Institute’s 2010 Summer Seminars program – eight days of pure intelligent design-related content from some of the “leading lights [of] the intelligent design community” between the 9th and 17th of July, 2010. Aww yeah, they’re down with the kids.

Who’s on the line-up? Let me serve you up some dope names you won’t be able to refuse: William Dembski, Charles Thaxton, Jonathan Wells, Stephen Meyer, Paul Nelson, Douglas Axe, Ann Gauger, Robert Marks, Scott Minnich, Bruce Gordon, John West, Jonathan Witt, and Casey Luskin! (For maximum impact, I suggest imagining a middle-aged man in a brown suit shouting “POW!” and “BOOM!” after each name.) They might be attending this year – after all, these are busy, busy people, leading very involved lives in academia.

What’s going down at the seminars? Check it:

The seminar focusing on ID in the natural sciences will explore the scientific issues in greater technical detail, including presentations on the application of intelligent design to laboratory research in molecular biology. The seminar on ID in the social sciences and humanities will give more in-depth attention to the social impact of science, the moral implications of science, and legal issues surrounding the debate between neo-Darwinism and intelligent design.

Casey Luskin will also be rapping his opinions on the Kitzmiller vs. Dover court case decision before each speaker. I hear that one of the non-freestyle verses is a long string of expletives directed at Judge John E. Jones III. Wicked.

But you’d better get your shiz together if you want to hang with these cool cats – applications close on the 16th of April. Being the young and hip university student that I am, I’d clearly love to go and get schooled in the totally rad ways of the Discovery ‘Tute, but unfortunately I don’t have a “letter of recommendation from an ID-friendly academic reference”. Dang, that’s tight.

Okay, okay, so they’re not going to go for the whole “We can be cool, too” angle that some Christian youth ministries have gone for, but you have to admit that it would be hilarious if they did. That goes without saying.

But they do know how to attract the interest of potential attendees:

If you’re not a student, please consider sharing this information with the students you know who may be interested. Who knows? They may end up becoming the next Michael Behe or Stephen Meyer.

Ooh. I know that’s what I fantasise about – becoming the author of a best-selling book on intelligent design. It’s my life-goal, in fact. My life-goal…

That’s it – I’m sure I can get a recommendation from some random philosophy professor who supports ID! Motherflippin’ sign me up, yo!