Archives For discovery institute

dingy lab

Granted, it’s been a few weeks since the Panda’s Thumb caught the Discovery Institute using a stock image for one of their research labs, but this seemingly little thing really matters because it’s another glaring example of how creationists are desperate to present “I don’t know, therefore an unspecified creator or designer which sounds suspiciously like a Biblical deity,” as science. I can imagine Luskin’s train of thought now. Scientists like to show people labs, right? So if we get an image of a “scientist” in what looks like a lab, they’re bound to think that we’re also scientists doing serious research, right? Not really, it’s just taking cargo cult science a notch down and no green screen added lab makes a supposed biologist’s ridiculous musings any more legitimate.

Come on, we have Biologist Ann Gauger, PhD telling us that it’s premature to assume that two similar species must have some common descent without telling us how else these species can get their genetic and anatomical similarities without invoking magic or the supernatural. I’d really like to know the kind of research she produced to show a causal agent for genetic similarity with no evolution involved in that gloomy lab of hers. I’m sure we’ll find it in all the top journals which are always on the lookout for some paradigm-shifting discovery. Though the fact that no one at the Discovery Institute and its offshoots can even define evolution as we know it might be a big impediment to producing work of any scientific value, with or without a real lab…

[ illustration from Far Cry 3 ]

sad trex

Obviously, creationism is alive and well and will be with us for the foreseeable future in all of its permutations, fed by our desire to feel special and taken care of for all eternity by a wise someone or something rather than simply be abandoned to our fates in a vast, uncaring cosmos. But what about intelligent design, creationism with an academic veneer and centered around a very deliberately and insistently unnamed, yet for some odd reason always singular, creator, replete with technobabble about complexity, order, and design? Is it just me or have the ID think tanks been rather quiet as of late, eclipsed by their unabashedly religious counterparts in school board meetings and creating their own versions of science based on biblical fundamentalism, not cherry-picked data about fossils or grandiose attempts at information theory which flame out in an instant, but come across as very educated and well researched to non-experts at first glance? Has ID basically done all it can do in the spotlight and will we see it fade into the background, a shadow of itself in its brief heyday?

The modern ID movement was founded by Christian Evangelicals on a mission and based on the hysterical premise that teaching evolution was responsible for every social ill in the world today. Since evolution is a real science and religion has been legally kept out of public schooling by the Establishment Clause, they couldn’t simply barge into a classroom with a war cry of “repent you little heathens!” So instead, they decided that with enough money and media attention, they could challenge the theory of evolution with highly technical minutia and force school boards to teach the controversy they created. But it was never really a satisfactory approach since it was so flimsily veiled. When writing about the Discovery Institute’s efforts in the field, I constantly kept asking why their unnamed designer had to be singular and could never be pinpointed or named. Yes, I know it’s a rhetorical question, but it illustrates the problem both sides of the aisle had with ID. On the secular side, we were wondering why Behe, Dembski, or Luskin would never just say what they meant even though they’d made it pretty much transparent that by designer they really mean the Abrahamic deity. On the religious side, their supporters also wondered why they couldn’t just come out and tell those evolutionists that God made us all in his image and we were sinning by not allowing their proselytizing in science classes.

For a time it was an acceptable compromise and creationists seemed to be willing to back ID to at least get a beachhead into public schools. However, when the movement lost its legal challenges to evolution, had the assertions of its prized fellow dismantled by biologists, saw its top expert having to recant for daring to say that the Earth is older than 6,000 years to keep his job without making a peep, though they poured millions into a sham of a documentary which alleged that only those evil Nazi-like evolutionists make scientists swear an oath to a specific ideology (while oddly still employing Behe), and got exactly nowhere with school boards not staffed by those on the extreme right, it definitely lost its former luster. Even the Templeton Foundation, which once funded the Discovery Institute, changed course and gave $1.5 million to a biologist who argued against the Institute’s pseudoscientific assertions. Sneaking through the back door didn’t work, so why hide behind the mock academise and forced secular vagueness? Considering that your prototypical I-don’t-know- ergo-God argument is hardly new and the hatefully erroneous notion that Hitler was tied at the ideological hip to Darwin had already been percolating around creationist literature long before DI got the idea to make it its supposed argumentative trump card, intelligent design brought very few new ideas with it. Considering its purpose, however, there wasn’t exactly much from which to draw new concepts.

What few arguments it did have were easily and quickly refuted by simply applying a bit of high school biology to the proclamations and giving its fellows a little help with statistics, so what creationists got out of ID was an impotent mess to put it bluntly. Under the ID shield they couldn’t talk about their deity or their religion, they had very little room to maneuver in court cases, their arguments were the same old creationist canards excised of any outwardly religious elements and partially updated with modern technobabble, and their main attack was not a series of phenomenal new discoveries, but one long Godwin followed by whines of persecution. As it is, intelligent design seems to be spent. Instead of coming up with something profound, its proponents are busy reshuffling their now tired and redundant rhetoric while a good deal of those who once backed them gave up and went back to the tried and true practice of political Bible thumping, especially in red states where you can get away with being a teacher-proselytizer because the community approves and the school boards are far too scared to pick a fight since they know that having the facts on their side is meaningless if their opponents are immune to said facts. So when you have the Bible and a voter registration in hand, and politicians cower before you, who needs all that abstract talk of some unspecified creator to get things done?

Oh the irony! It’s so thick, you’d need a chainsaw to cut through it. One of my favorite, self-aggrandizing lackeys of the creationist movement, Bill Dembski, who grades his students on just how well they can troll science blogs, and writes vacuous tripe he tries to pass off as legitimate scientific works, was called to the carpet by his university for daring to agree with the scientifically confirmed age of the Earth. Whatever happened to teaching the controversy and encouraging open-minded exploration? Why did the Discovery Institute, so ready and willing to go up to bat for any wannabe evangelical martyr, remain silent on their star fellow’s ordeal? In the creationist world, just like in any breeding ground for cranks and pseudoscientists, it seems that having a genuine case of open-minded education is unwelcome to say the least. This is why when Dembski managed to say something intelligent in his last book and explain why our planet is billions of years old, he was swiftly rebuked for “letting scientific commitments to trump the most natural reading of the Bible.” Threats ensued…

So our scientific Don Quixote in his crusade to help spread creationism to the masses was almost fired when he let little things like facts and evidence figure in his thinking, maybe for the first time in his professional life. I find this situation to be another example of why the wealthy and politically savvy Templeton is so much more successful at undermining science education than the Discovery Institute and why it dropped those jokers as soon as its bosses saw with who they were dealing. Sure, it’s fellows are also not too bright or convincing in their lectures, but at least they would have the good sense to frown and issue a few notes about how they’re disappointed that one of their members is being bullied at work for trying to reconcile sound science with his religious beliefs. The twits at DI, by contrast, didn’t even make a peep about this turn of events. Instead, there’s only a story in a local religious paper. As the Skeptical Teacher notes, isn’t this the reverse of the whole point that the Institute tried to make with their flick Expelled, you know, the heavily and dishonestly edited film which featured professional know-nothing and pseudo-intellectual Ben Stein complaining that scientists were being fired en masse for their religion and repeating Klinghoffer’s brain-dead insipidity about Darwin?

There are professors who deny evolutionary facts and doubt the age of the Earth working in universities. They don’t get very much respect for letting their faith trump real world facts, but they also don’t get fired if they start waxing poetic about the structure of the eye and quoting Behe’s goalpost-shifting nonsense. But seminaries can, and zealously do purge their ranks of anyone who doesn’t follow their dogma to the letter. Dembski was, and still is a very devout Christian. He simply doesn’t see eye to eye with the fundamentalists on staff about a few things in the Bible, but that seems to be enough cause for the seminary’s president to threaten him with a termination because he’s not Christian enough for their tastes. And really, this level of obsession with ancient books injected with ancient morality tales, parables, and classical metaphysics about the events of a time in history that ended long ago scares me. Dembski’s employers are people who will look up at the sky and say that it’s purple because their chosen book tells them so, and if you point out that the sky is really blue, they will call you a heathen, say that the sky must be wrong, and demand it turn purple lest it suffer the wrath of God. If I were Dembski, I would’ve quit on principle alone. But what Dembski did was much worse.

Instead of standing up for his book and his conclusions and beliefs, he bowed before his bosses and turned on a dime about his assertions in the book. Money was apparently more important to him that staying true to his own faith, and that tells me that his opinions have a price tag. I wonder what would happen if an institution with reputable scientific labs were to pay him a boatload of money to produce a treatise defending evolution’s merits. Something tells me that it may be a very real possibility that our quixotic creationist would quickly turn his views around and praise Darwin’s brilliant insight on cue. Because after all, that human windbag probably has some bills to pay and needs money more than he needs to stay true to his principles…

[ illustration by Haptic ]

Just in case you haven't heard, a lunatic named James Lee decided that the best way to save the planet is to hold people working for Discovery Communications hostage until they changed their programming and told their audience that humans must stop reproducing and polluting for the good of the planet. Obviously, he was not well in the head and simply found a very hostile outlet for his insanity which earned him a very violent end, but that hasn't stopped online demagogues from spamming up comment sections of news sites blaming the entire incident on Al Gore and global warming, or one of the resident dolts at the Discovery Institute from once again spewing nonsense about "Darwin's role" in events like this. One would think that even Klinghoffer, as slow on the uptake as he seems to be, would finally grasp that his argument has been debunked by everyone who has a clue about historical events, but no. Instead he rehashes the same material he fed to Sewell

Historical figures who drew inspiration [ … ] from Darwinian theory include Charles Manson, Mao Tse-tung, Joseph Stalin, Josef Mengele, and of course Adolf Hitler. I've written about this many times before and received much abuse for it, not least when I took up the theme on the Huffington Post. (An editor advised me they will not let me do that again.)

Again and again this nonsense has been refuted, but apparently the concrete in Klinghoffer's skull is simply not porous enough to let the facts sink in. Obviously, as a member of the Institute, he's totally unable to tell the difference between science and pseudoscience, or actually go out and read a book that hasn't been written by a hack whose education in history stopped past whatever he was told at a fundamentalist home school, and so he just keeps spewing this tired old garbage, lacking the talent to even rephrase it. Hey Dave, do you know why you took so much abuse for vomiting forth your ignorance on HuffPo and why they asked you to stay away from the site? Because you don't know what you're talking about, because your historical knowledge could be surpassed by a high school freshman, and because your vile spew casting scientists and those of us whose education actually covered biology rather than fire and brimstone demagoguery, as Nazi henchmen, deserves nothing more than contempt, and it's author (that would be you by the way), should be dismissed as a twit.

In one of the rarest feats of inanity I've ever witnessed, he managed to get himself expelled from a safe haven for pretty much every pseudoscientist and post-modernist crank out there. When even HuffPo won't have you, but takes Deepak Chopra's futile attempts at grasping high school physics and Laszlo's drivel instead, it really is a sign that you should consider another career, one that requires a mind capable of more than being the human equivalent of a broken record, merely repeating the same old discredited tripe day in, day out. No wonder the Templeton Foundation dropped the jokers at DI as soon as it could. They're an embarrassment even to apologists willing to bend and twist science in a pretzel to satisfy their need to proselytize. I often heard the expression that a mind is a terrible thing to waste, but I'm thinking that very few people who took up fellowships at the Institute had all that much to lose and Klinghoffer is a perfect example of that.

There’s a first time for everything, even things you never thought could happen. But while I’m shocked that I’m about to type these words, a recent lawsuit by a JPL employee and advanced by the Discovery Institute might have managed to make a point with which I have to agree. No, this point has nothing to do with creationism or the sloppy pseudoscience the Institute tries to jam into public schools. From a scientific view, all their efforts are still terribly misguided polemics in the name of an anti-knowledge campaign. But in their defense of a very active and vocal proponent of creationism at JPL who says he was demoted just for annoying his superiors by constantly offering creationist DVDs to his co-workers, they make a very legitimate argument that no one should be demoted solely for his or her religious beliefs. And if this was really the case, I’d have to concur. At the same time, we can’t let the creationist in question off the hook since he’s not completely innocent here…

Here are the facts. David Coppedge, an IT team lead at JPL working on the Cassini mission, sits on the board of a media company which produces creationist DVDs which are just as fact-averse and religiously dogmatic as you would probably expect. According to a very dramatic complaint submitted by his lawyer, who was being advised by the Institute, Coppedge’s boss took away most of his team lead responsibilities due to complaints about his proselytizing even though no one supposedly told Coppedge himself that his efforts were unwanted as far as he could recall. Felling angry, insulted and humiliated, Coppedge decided to sue and his suit got the attention of the Discovery Institute, which has been promoting the story on their blogs and trying to shop it to a friendly media outlet, getting two very brief write-ups they claim are just the start of how huge this story will get right after JPL formally comments on the case. But of course, this isn’t quite the open and shut case you may be lead to think by the Institute’s description, and it raises some concerns on both sides.

Firstly, we all know that discriminating against employees because of their religious beliefs is illegal. You just can’t do that since religious freedom is protected by the Establishment Clause and should you fire a very fiery and devout Christian just for being a Christian, you will be sued and rightfully so. However, we also know that there are roundabout ways to get rid of people employers don’t want around and some of them fall into a gray area where legitimate concerns don’t allow courts to rule on black and white guidelines. So while being a very devout creationist and protected from religious discrimination, Coppedge isn’t allowed to harass those within earshot and use his religion as an excuse to do so. Offering people who aren’t interested anti-science DVDs once in a while is one thing. Doing it so often that it becomes disruptive to the working environment is not. His right to express his beliefs in public may be guaranteed by the law, but so are everyone else’s and when we’re talking about First Amendment rights, we’re really agreeing that everyone’s entitled to have a view and express it without any specific preference for the belief system being advocated. The question in this case is whether Coppedge’s zealotry was being used as a backdoor way to censor him, or whether his boss had a legitimate concern about the IT lead’s disruptive behavior in the workplace.

Secondly, think of your normal working environment. When someone obsessively harps on the same subject, you don’t necessarily voice your complaint to the person because you want him to leave you alone rather than start a debate. Then, when he’s not around, you might vent your frustrations with others who you know feel the same way. And when the boss cracks down on the proselytizer in question after hearing enough griping, the response from the zealot is always a shocked surprise. Nobody told him! Nobody complained! Nobody said a word! People just nodded and went on their merry way! And besides, what he has to say is so important, how could anyone try to muzzle him with this surprise attack?! In other words, the zealots are the very last people to pick up on their zealotry, or take “thanks but no thanks” for an answer. It’s very probable that Coppedge simply ignored the polite attempts to escape his proseletyzing and is honestly at a loss as to why anyone would have a complaint about his efforts to spread the word of God at JPL. But that said, there should have been a whole lot of paperwork involved, with documented warnings, write-ups and a plan outlining the consequences of his insistence on disturbing the working environment. It seems that none of this was done and a big organization like JPL should’ve followed the basic procedures for appropriately handling disciplinary problems.

Finally, we have to point out that the Discovery Institute has been on the hunt for a martyr to their case for quite a while and are taking advantage of Coppedge’s situation and JPL’s apparent lack of proper paperwork in the matter. This is why the official complaint constantly repeats how humiliated, offended and disrespected David felt about his demotion while no one at the entire organization ever took issue with anything he did. Without a serious set of documents from JPL in response to the suit, you can bet that he’ll be trumpeted as a victim of a Darwinist mob which found his views too dangerous to allow in their establishments. And in the true Institute style, the very suggestion that Coppedge was just an annoying busybody who kept trying to get scientists who worked with him to watch religious DVDs made by a company he helps direct, will be treated like an insult to the sacrificial lamb of the Institute’s cause of dismantling evolution education in schools and colleges. Even if the managers at JPL overstepped their bounds, violated Coppedge’s right to free speech and the slighted IT lead deserves reinstaintment and a public apology, you can expect the Institute to get as much mileage out of this case as they possibly can. As a popular saying goes, don’t pity the martyr, he likes his job.

[ as per tradition, illustration by Controversy Wear, story tip by the NCSE ]

Seems that the Discovery Institute’s professional complainer Casey Luskin is taking his total lack of scientific education to new heights in a much belated rebuttal to Kitzmiller v. Dover case in which intelligent design was legally described as what it actually is: creationism dressed up with random pseudoscientific language. Now for those of you who know Casey are well aware that he simply doesn’t do anything briefly and to the point so he planned an eight part refutation resting around the concept that since the NCSE’s legal paperwork lacked the word “information” when describing the functions of genomes, this proves that genetic mutations couldn’t create new information and the case was decided incorrectly. I believe the proper scientific term for this line of argument would be “grasping at straws” but this is more like barely holding on to one the fibers making up the straw in question while dangling off a sheer cliff and yet, claiming to have the higher ground in this situation.

The notions of DNA being unable to produce new information are of course completely bogus since genomes are in constant flux. From single strand annealing, to exposure to radiation, to replication during cell division, the information content of the DNA strand changes on a regular basis. If we randomly take a tiny snippet from a gene which reads ACTTGTAC and somewhere along the line it changes to ATCGGACC, the information it’s carrying is new. Of course that’s when creationists move the goalposts and declare that what they meant with their use of the term were additions to the genetic code. And wouldn’t you know it, that can happen too and it’s detailed in the NCSE brief with which Casey finds so many problems. Only biologists don’t just use the terms involved in the process as the same vague, nebulous way as Dembski or Behe and described how we could see new genes emerge. Obviously new genes must mean that there’s new information and with the addition or fusion of new chromosomes in organisms in certain types of mutations, there’s more information as well, right? Not in the fantasy world beyond the front door of the Discovery Institute.

For the task of explaining how new genes work, Casey outsources the heavy lifting to our self-proclaimed big shot of information theory, Dembski, the daydreaming pseudoscientist who’s last attempt at writing a paper on evolutionary algorithms shows that the man has no idea what he’s talking about. In the world presented by his work, we have to contend with something called complex specified information which, like pretty much all technobabble, sounds really scientific and important but is really just an appeal to a kind of numerology. If you asked me to write a program to calculate this “information,” I wouldn’t know where to start because there’s no set of rigid requirements of what constitutes this complex specificity. On the other hand, back in the day, a basic biology book let me write a simple program that could read though an entered snippet of DNA and pick out which codons would encode for what amino acid and display their chemical formulas. If I wanted to, I can write something like that again and use it to track what proteins would be produced and see how a change in one or two nucleobases would affect the rest of the gene and what information was being created. How does one show the “specified complexity” and the “creation of information” of Dembski’s platitudes?

One example those on the search for complex patterns in nature can offer is the the Fibonacci sequence that appears in natural shapes and forms all the time. Supposedly, if the shapes of living things can be defined by a recursive algorithm and its manifestation can be seen in fractals across the natural world, that must be very good evidence of planning in our universe, right? Actually, no. We know that both living and non-living forms in the natural world can and do build on themselves. The fact that we can look at their expansion and describe it in a recursive algorithm is our mind’s way of organizing the world around us. Saying that our ability to find what naturally evolved and selected patterns there are and describe them mathematically is proof that there’s some underlying intelligence in the universe is just plain old numerology, much like we saw with the supposed God equation which showed us how backwards this kind of approach really is. Just because you can find a basic pattern and come up with an equation to describe it, doesn’t mean you’ve pinned down its origins. To actually have done so through complex computation should enabled the the Discovery Institute to create synthetic life on demand or find the recipe for immortality. And to my knowledge, they can’t do either as of yet.

Every time a creationist who categorizes himself as a proponent of intelligent design starts talking about what it would take for scientists to convince him that evolution is plausible, you just know that the criteria he outlines are going to be changed the instant the relevant research is produced. That’s exactly what happened when a staff crank at the Discovery Institute, Dr. Michael Behe, was pointed to research by biologist Joe Thornton, who not only demolished his claims of “irreducible complexity” but did it according to Behe’s own criteria.

cthulhu controversy

Now, if Behe was still a real scientist rather than a professional sophist with an inflated sense of self-worth, he’d be rethinking his assumptions and whether becoming a PhD for creationists to wave around was really a good career move. Instead, he’s shamelessly lying about the research and what it shows, trying to move the goalposts. It’s like he ordered a steak cooked medium rare and when what can only be described as a picture perfect medium rare steak hits his plate, he backs away and says that this isn’t what he meant when he said medium rare at all. Well, that’s ok if you’re a fussy restaurant patron. But if you want to be a scientist, you have to hold yourself to a higher standard.

As we can see by Behe’s eager acceptance of a fellowship at a think tank for wealthy evangelicals who want to go back to the days of the Scopes Trial by any means necessary, he’s not about to do the honorable thing and admit that science met his challenge. Instead, he’s even been raving about how the very research that shows his assertions to be ridiculous are actually proof of those ridiculous assertions by mangling Thornton’s work. Thanks to an intervention from science writer Carl Zimmer, Thornton delivered a lengthy, detailed debunking of Behe’s criticism on The Loom, although he admitted to a little trepidation before countering creationists in public. It’s not the he’s unsure of his research. If he were, he wouldn’t have published it. His concern is about something totally different…

I am well aware that Behe and his supporters might portray my response as an indication that there is scientific debate over the possibility of adaptive protein evolution: “Look, an evolutionary biologist who actually does scientific research is arguing with me; let’s teach this controversy in public schools!” Because Behe has grossly misinterpreted the results of my research to support his position, however, I feel some responsibility to set the record straight.

He’s absolutely right to be worried about this turn of events. Consider the Institute’s fiasco with organizing a debate between Dr. Nicolas Gotelli and one of their hacks. It seems that the likes of Behe and Dembski are desperate to hear anything addressed to them by an actual scientist for a chance to try and show how smart they supposedly are, they don’t even care that it’s a condescending shrug and an explanation of why they have no valid arguments on their side. Or maybe Behe already forgot the brutal smackdown he received from Ken Miller about his notion of irreducible complexity? Although to forget that, our theologically inclined biochemist would probably have to be suffering from amnesia.

[ as per tradition, illustration by Controversy Wear ]

Apparently within five years, the idea that evolution can produce complex microscopic structures will be dead, thrown into the enormous junk bin of science and creationists will be riding high and calling the shots around biology labs as their movement flourishes. Or at least this is what William Dembski fantasized about in 2004 during an interview with a religious magazine. It’s been five years now and evolution is still going strong as the dominant theory underpinning modern biology. I suppose it’s going to be a sudden collapse. Or maybe, in a much more plausible scenario, this was just Dembski being himself, making bold claims he can’t support by anything other than the fantasies of the Discovery Institute and its small staff of whiny, vapid ignoramuses.

In the next five years, molecular Darwinism, the idea that Darwinian processes produce complex molecular structures at subcellular levels, will be dead. When that happens, evolutionary biology will experience a crisis of confidence because evolutionary biology hinges on the evolution of the right molecules. I therefore foresee a Taliban-style collapse of Darwinism in the next ten years.

Intelligent design will of course profit greatly from this. For ID to win the day, however, will require talented new researchers able to move this research program forward, showing how intelligent design provides better insights into biological systems than the dying Darwinian paradigm.

If you note, he doesn’t say why scientists will all of a sudden discard the principles of evolution in microscopic structures. He just proclaims they will and goes on to daydream about how great it will be to spout all sorts of quasi-theological pseudoscience once all the real scientists pack up their things and take a collective hike. It must’ve burned him pretty badly to hear actual scientists tell the public that his book has about the same level of scientific validity as Deepak Chopra’s fluffy pontifications on New Age woo, so he’s savoring the thought of vindication in the eyes of the people he wanted to impress and failed miserably in his attempt. If he was able to really show that evolution couldn’t have happened without a supernatural catalyst, he wouldn’t be regarded as a pompous buffoon paid to talk about things he knows nothing about. Instead, he would be giving a lecture on his ideas after accepting his Nobel Prize.

People like him have been predicting that evolutionary ideas will fail as inadequate and unproven for as long as Darwin’s theory of natural selection answered questions being posed by naturalists about the similarity of all living things on our planet. They’ve been wrong for almost a century and a half. Maybe that should’ve been a signal that they’re barking up the wrong tree? It’s painfully embarrassing to fail at something generation after generation and yet keep trying. And to be cruel but honest, that’s also the colloquial definition of insanity: to do the same thing over and over, and expecting a different result with every attempt. Even their basic lingo hasn’t changed in 150 years. They still call evolution Darwinism, which is like calling gravity Newtonism and ignoring Einstein’s profound expansions of Newton’s framework. It’s intellectually lazy, scientifically inept and just plain wrong. Pretty much like the entire intelligent design movement.

There seems to be an interesting dichotomy in religious activism. People who want to talk to you about their beliefs usually don’t want to hear about yours. Those who want to condemn intolerance seem to have a passion for trying to ban those who they find so offensive. And those who claim to be a persecuted minority when they want to get publicity with a narrative evoking pity, can and do pound the bully pulpit, declaring themselves the overwhelming majority to manufacture an appearance of power and legitimacy if they need to intimidate someone in their way. Now, if they could only make up their minds…

one way

Take the recent case of Oklahoma State Legislature trying to condemn Richard Dawkins’ visit to the campus of the state university. Their declared reason for doing this is their opinion that his book The God Delusion is intolerant of the opinions and views held by most Oklahomans. So to combat Dawkins’ intolerance, they’re going be intolerant and heavily borrow from a Discovery Institute talking point of “engaging in an open, dignified and fair discussion” about evolution. It seems rather odd to discuss evolutionary theory while ridiculing an evolutionary biologist who knows and understands this topic just because he said a few things somebody considers mean to their beliefs. I wonder how many Oklahoma legislators have ever ever heard him speak.

While the Discovery Institute likes to demonize Dawkins as some sort of anti-Christ, behind the controversial titles and a brief slip into polemic every once in a while, he’s actually a rather soft spoken and deep thinker who simply reasons that extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. In his recent interview with MPR’s conservative radio personality, there’s no trace of any fiery speeches about the goodness and righteousness of atheism other than those implied by the interviewer. So this soft spoken scientist skeptical about an omnipotent being is a scourge, someone from who the college students of Oklahoma State University need protection for the sake of “tolerance” as defined by people who favor creationism? Is inviting him to speak an act that deserves condemnation from the legislative branch trying to curry favor with voters?

Speaking of the Discovery Institute, they might have a little internal scuffle in the near future as one of their premiere flacks has went off-narrative in a foaming at the mouth rant about all the follies of a biology group boycotting the state of Louisiana for their convention. Michael Egnor, the proud card carrying member of the Darwin Was A Nazi Club and the author of an inane op- ed in Forbes Magazine about his erroneous beliefs, departed from his role in Expelled as one of the persecuted minority in the academic world to declare that nearly 80% of the nation is ready and willing to line up behind the banner of creationism. Wow, those scientists are rough. Even if almost 8 out of 10 people agree with you, they’ll still refuse to publish your papers, treat you as a persona non grata and send you crying to Ben “Science Makes You Kill People” Stein.

Of course it could be that Egnor is both wrong about the number of creationists in the U.S. and just because people believe something, doesn’t make it true or factual. We don’t have to make wild guesses about how many creationists there are in America. We know that they make up as much as 63% of the population. Yes, 6 out of 10 people is a lot, but it’s a lot less than Egnor has declared in his rant. And while in a democracy bills with 63% of the voters backing them will be enacted into laws, science isn’t a democratic process. Facts are facts and that’s that. You don’t get to vote on them. If I go to the store and randomly buy a few bottles of spices without taking the time to look at the labels, none of my declarations of what’s in each bottle will change what the contents actually are. Coriander won’t magically become paprika no matter how much I or everyone I know agree that the bottle should really contain paprika.

And there’s another, bigger issue at hand. For all the emotional declarations about fair debates and all the condemnations of people they don’t like, creationists never actually engage in the debates they spend so much time discussing. About 98% of their time is spent on politicking or demanding that everyone respect them and allow them to say what they want without critique. Rather than face their critics, they want to run away from them or be given pity and sympathy. And if there happen to be a few legislators they can convince to help them out, holding possible votes like a fisherman tempts fish with live bait, they’ll go for it in a heartbeat.

how not to start a debate

February 19, 2009

Pharyngula’s supreme overlord PZ Myers, posted an interesting back and forth on his blog between David Klinghoffer, one of Discovery Institute’s most vocal instruments in the media, and biology professor Nicholas Gotelli. It seems that after failing to get Ben “Science Makes You Kill People” Stein to deliver a moving commencement address at UVM, the Discovery Institute tried get a foothold into the college anyway by asking Dr. Gotelli about the possibility of a public debate in which he would face off against a philosopher of science.


In no mood to entertain pseudoscience, Gotelli promptly denied their request with a note about their dishonest methods; instead of being impressed with his defense of free speech, as DI had claimed in their original e-mail, they actually published a condemnation of his opinion piece in the local newspaper. Obviously peeved by this two faced approach, Gotelli then made the entire conversation public, giving Klinghoffer an excuse to cry all over his blog about a campaign by the evil cabal of scientists who worship Darwin as their God manifesting itself yet again. There’s no way a scientist who feels insulted because he’s being treated as a tool for publicity wouldn’t want to entertain their delegation’s weighty pontifications based on absolutely nothing. No, it’s all a massive conspiracy by a clandestine professorial cult. The Discovery Institute is like Above Top Secret for creationists a this point.

It’s become the Institute’s modus operandi after their awkward novelty has worn off. Attack editorials of actual academics, claim a conspiracy to deny creationists any public visibility, try to sweet talk the same scientists they dragged through the verbal mud into a debate, then whine about how these scientists are mean and evil and overall bad people who exemplify DI’s conspiracy theory view of science. But seriously, come on. Who are they trying to kid? They’re going to have a real biologist argue about what complexity means with someone who’s referred to as a philosopher of science? What in the hell is a philosopher of science? Sounds to me like a major for someone who wants to hear him or herself talk for five or six years, then get a glossy sheet of paper with the seal of a university and the word “science” on it.

And again, the Institute insists on ignoring the most important point that Gotelli went out of his way to elucidate. Do some science, publish something testable in a scientific journal, then you’ll be invited to talk about your theory by respectable colleges and universities. Claiming that your theories are getting shut down by an evil establishment is a very convenient way not to do any real research and demand legitimacy for whatever comes out of your mouth. Then again, it’s a really difficult task to do some real science when the crux of your theory has to do with an awe factor and claiming that you have absolutely no idea how something happened so it must be an intelligent, magical force from the great beyond.