The Quixotic Message


Hi all, Wesley suggested I blog this for the entertainment of the surprisingly large number of visitors we've been getting, thanks to links from several big time bloggers.

This is fun because you don't have to be a scientist or very familiar with the ID movement to get a kick out of it. About a year ago, I posted a list of contradictions and absurdities that are common from the ID movement. These are the kinds of things that make your jaw drop to the floor and your eyes jump out of their sockets, at least if you're one of those who keeps up with the shenanigans of the ID movement. People with only passing familiarity, on the other hand, might miss them. So I drew some of them up into simple statements, taking some inspiration for a similar list that Mike Huben did for libertarianism. (Note that it's not my intent to compare libertarianism to ID or vice versa.) I originally posted the list to the discussion board, whereupon I received some suggested additions, especially from Nic, and then decided to write the whole thing up for an article on Because some of the contradictions might still be lost on a lot of people, it was suggested that I make a references page to explain and document some of these. Kieran over at Crooked Timber was nice enough to link to them yesterday, so at least I know someone is reading them. :)

So here is is:

"The Quixotic Message", or "No Free Hunch" (In the tradition of Rocky and Bullwinkle, it has an alternate name.) And then there are the...

Quixotic References. Go read them right now.

Anyway, here's an example of one of the entries:

  • ID is a program for research into the science of design, nothing more. Part of our research plans are to produce coloring books for preschoolers, and to make ourselves more likeable at parties.

Sadly, this is not a joke. (I have it fully referenced here.) Bill Dembski really did say that coloring books for preschoolers are an example of what the ID movement should do rectify the imbalance between it's "cultural successes" and it's lack of scientific research. I mean, WTF? In a speech supposedly dedicated to getting the ID movement to focus its attention on actual research (instead of, you know, propaganda), this is the kind of stuff he comes up with? If you think I'm cherry picking, you're right. This is probably the most jaw-droppingly absurd bit of "scientific research" he lists, but it's hardly the only one. Among them, he also suggests "concentrating forces" of "troops" (his words), by which he means gathering the ID advocates under one banner to take advantage of a "key principle of military tactics" (also his words). Aside from the fact that this has nothing whatsoever to do with research, just what is the deal with warrior metaphors and Christian fundamentalism? Do they really perceive the rest of us as The Enemy, towards whom their attitude is kill or be killed? Anyway, he also suggests putting together laundry lists of "Fundamental Facts" and "Correcting Misinformation" (by which he apparently means Jonathan Wells' misinformation). These are nice and all, but they don't exactly qualify as research in the sense of using ID to formulate testable hypotheses, and then going about and testing them. And then of course he wants ID advocates to be more likeable at parties, despite the reputation that evangelicals already have for being wild and uninhibited party animals. As it turns out, there is very little, if anything, in Dembski's speech which comes close to qualifying as scientific research.

The lesson in all of this is that if the leading light of the ID movement gets up and speaks to the home team about ideas for scientific research, and this is the kind of stuff he comes up with, one should really start to suspect that ID simply cannot be used to generate a real scientific research program. It might be different if they were willing to make ID something other than the vague mish-mash that it is, but the ID movement has a "big tent" that it seeks to keep intact for political expediency. That should tell you where their real interests lie.

Anyway, please enjoy the rest of the Quixotic Message. And please feel free to suggest any additions in the comments below. (I'm about due for an update, but out of the dozen or so great additions I've thought of, I can only remember one.)


I’m new to Panda’s thumb. You’re on my reading list now.

As far as evolution goes, wasn’t that all decided within 20 years or so of Darwin? T. H. Huxley took on all comers, and nobody ever seems to have boxed him into a corner.

A good example of beautiful, intricate, non-intelligent design is the snowflake. All of them. None are believed to be alike (but I’m reserving judgement on that one).

I’ll be working on a great new book on the phlogiston theory, which I’ll insist that the schools use. After, all it *is* a theory, right, and so just as good as any other theory, like evolution and big bang?

I did get that theory in high school, part of the history of science, so I’ve got precedent for bringing it back. Joseph Priestly was a staunch defender, and he was a great scientist, so there must be some truth in it, right? Are we too quick to condemn a theory that after all goes quite a ways toward explaining things.

I recall reading an article in Chemistry magazine back in the 1960s about how phlogiston had been actually a classically good theory in that it had not merely accounted for the contemporary data, but suggested future experiments. It was these predictions that invalidated it which was also a productive event.

Your comment exposes the “post-modern” aspect of current creationists’ arguments. (I mean the bad sort of “post-modernism”). That is to say, the “it is all just theory and we like our theory’s implications better” sort of relativism.

I hope that the Panda’s Thumb spends a good part of its efforts in letting people know about the real debates that are going on in evolutionary theory while the ID folks waste everybody’s time. In most sciences, knowledgeable people don’t have to endlessly refight old battles. If nothing else, unnecessary controversies have an opportunity cost.

In that spirit, may I put in a vote for a bit of coverage of niche constructiion, Bayesian statistical approaches, and evo-devo, along with the good fight against the obscurantists?

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I’d add - phylogeny, like some of the interesting discoveries over the last decade, like:

Insects are closely related to crustaceans, though which crustaceans they are closest to is not quite clear.

Protostomia being divided into Ecdysozoa (molting animals) and Lophotrochozoa.

The big shakeup of angiosperm phylogeny.

A clade consisting of ((animals, choanoflagellates), fungi)

A likely clade consisting of green algae and red algae.

Russian-doll endosymbiosis.

Endosymbiosis beyond mitochondria and chloroplasts. Are eukaryote nuclei symbiotic archaebacteria? Are some eukaryote features relics of a RNA-protein world that have been lost elsewhere (Hartman’s Chronocyte hypothesis)?

Mike, darwinian ideas were actually far from dominant in biology for a long time after both Darwin and Huxley died. I’d say it’s probably fair to say that strict darwinians were a minority among life scientists until well into the 20th century, and it certainly took until the New Synthesis for them to become an overwhelming majority. It is a common canard of assorted creationists to allege that “darwinism” from its onset ruthlessly squelched all opposition, and that intimidated or brain-washed scientists just sheepishly followed. Nothing could be further from the truth - indeed, modern evolutionary theory has itself moved quite far from both Darwin’s original ideas and the New Synthesis.

I know that you only mentioned it in passing, but having looked at the link to Mike Huben’s page on libertarianism that you provided, I don’t really see that it’s the sort of thing you want to emulate. Hardly any libertarians I know hold the absurd positions listed on Huben’s page, and it would be just as easy to put together a caricature of any other political philosophy. You don’t really intend to model yourself after a vanquisher of straw men, do you?

Man, Steve, I can’t believe I never read these all through before. Excellent compilation, and the documentation behind it all is even more hilarious.

But what do you think about cold fusion?

Abiola writes:

I know that you only mentioned it in passing, but having looked at the link to Mike Huben’s page on libertarianism that you provided, I don’t really see that it’s the sort of thing you want to emulate. Hardly any libertarians I know hold the absurd positions listed on Huben’s page, and it would be just as easy to put together a caricature of any other political philosophy. You don’t really intend to model yourself after a vanquisher of straw men, do you?

Arrrgh, I mentioned specifically that I wasn’t trying to compare ID to libertarianism or vice versa. I have no comment on whether or not Huben’s characterization of libertarianism is accurate or not. It was Huben’s style that inspired me, not his content. I thought that was a funny and effective way to lampoon a group of people with nutty claims (irrespective of whether or not libertarians are “nutty”), and I immediately thought of the ID movement when I looked at Huben’s document. Before I knew it, I had about 10 ideas pop into my head, and the rest is history.

And if you’re concerned that my list of ID contradictions is a “caricature”, as you believe Huben’s list to be, then I invite you to look through the references page. I made that page specifically to show that I’m not making this up! :)

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This page contains a single entry by Steve Reuland published on March 25, 2004 11:46 AM.

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