Level Playing Field?

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Over on Imago Dei, PT has come in for some criticism because we didn’t excoriate Francis Crick for having suggested “directed paspermia” as a possible scenario for the origin of life on earth.

At least our friends at The Panda’s Thumb, who show so much disdain for intelligent design theorists, would provide a tough critique of Crick’s intelligent design theory. Remember that science is supposedly about evaluating the data, not making ad hominem attacks on those who disagree with your view. Here are their comments regarding Crick, with very little mention (and no critique of) his ID theory.

If you are a Christian and propose an ID theory with supporting evidence, you are lambasted as a simple-minded, non-scientific science killer. If you are a Nobel prize winner and you propose an ID theory with no evidence, you are applauded by your “bold speculation”. Who still believes that this is a level playing field?

It’s a criticism that is based on a straight-forward argument from analogy. So, just how good is that analogy?

Francis Crick labeled his “directed panspermia” conjectures as just that: speculation. ID advocates try to assert that their conjectures are established science.

Francis Crick never held a congressional briefing, nor lobbied a state legislature, nor inveigled a school board, to insist that “directed panspermia” be taught to K12 students as science. ID advocates are using a socio-political full-court press to skip over all the tedious work of convincing the scientific community that they have a clue.

Hmmm. That analogy doesn’t look like such a good fit, does it?

Beyond that, we have the false assertion: “If you are a Christian and propose an ID theory with supporting evidence, you are lambasted as a simple-minded, non-scientific science killer.” It’s false because this has never happened. First, there is a difference between a scientific theory and a wild-assed guess. Second, it isn’t a “theory” just to assert that a problem exists in someone else’s theory. Third, “supporting evidence” assumes that one has proposed a positive theory of one’s own and (here’s the tough part) performed some empirical tests upon it that actually might have told you the theory could be wrong. Oh, yes, the tests need to not actually tell you that the theory was wrong. ID advocates don’t have a “positive research program”. Just ask ID advocates Rob Koons, Bruce Gordon, or Paul Nelson what they have said on this point. (They are hopeful that such is just around the corner, and some have been saying that since 1997.) The twin stars of ID argumentation, irreducible complexity and specified complexity, both are based upon asserting problems for someone else’s theory. So the conditions of the assertion have not been met, and there is no evidence of any such “lambasting” as was said.

There certainly has been lambasting of misguided people who try to push non-science into the science classrooms, and that is just how it should be.

There does exist a level playing field. The scientific community communicates via the peer-reviewed literature, establishing an iterative process of inter-subjective criticism and review that finds what works in scientific ideas. This playing field, though, has been shunned by ID advocates.

William Dembski Wrote:

“I’ve just gotten kind of blase about submitting things to journals where you often wait two years to get things into print,” he says. “And I find I can actually get the turnaround faster by writing a book and getting the ideas expressed there. My books sell well. I get a royalty. And the material gets read more.”

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I appreciate this response by Wesley L. Elsberry from the Panda’s Thumb from this post of mine regarding Francis Crick’s views on directed panspermia. Dr. Elsberry is the Information Project Director for the National Center for Science Ed... Read More

28 Comments

Lemme guess:

Francis Crick also rarely if ever:

1. Conflated abiogenesis with evolution 2. Conflated the Darwinian mechanism with common descent 3. Pretended that scientists who debate the mechanism deny common descent 4. Quoted scientists out of context to misrepresent evolution 5. Used nonstandard and bait-and-switch definitions to misrepresent evolution 6. Promoted a false dichotomy of evolution vs. ID to an unsuspecting public 7. Caricatured evolution as “Darwinism,” “naturalism” or “materialism” 8. Conflated methodological naturalism with philosophical naturalism 9. Argued that age-of-the-earth debates should be suspended until his theory takes over 10. Defended a “big tent” for “anything but evolution”

Can anyone think of others?

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I don’t understand. The original poster said “regarding Crick, with very little mention (and no critique of) his ID theory.”. Surely “directed panspermia” is not an ID theory. It is a theory that evolution may have proceeded from a basis that didn’t itself begin here. It’s simply relocating abiogenesis. It’s not advocating a supernatural being. Simply an extraterrestial one.

Can anyone think of others?

Crick never said that panspermia really had many, many, supporters, but they were peer-pressured and afraid to support it.

Another ID blog claim down in flames. It’s like shooting fish in a barrel sometimes…

Additional points:

* Crick’s panspermia idea never went anywhere with the scientific community (unlike, say, the Watson and Crick (1953) paper on DNA, which was explosive and must be some of the most cited work in all of science). Peer-review in action.

* Also, Crick didn’t go around accusing all his collegues of philosophical bias, anti-alien bias, jealous hoarding of grant support, and general moral decrepitude for not accepting his idea.

* Among other flaws, panspermia simply replaces the puzzle of the origin of life with a much bigger and much *less* investigatible puzzle. ID shares these flaws, and magnifies them by removing any physical constraints whatsoever from the hypothesized Designer. At least Crick could assume that aliens were constrained by the laws of physics, and this led to some mildly interesting armchair theorizing about the prospects for getting microbes across interstellar distances.

* ID just says “poof” and declares whatever the alleged problem is to be solved. The IDist “hypothesis” is totally unconstrained if we take seriously IDist claims that either (1) no characteristics of the designer can be inferred or (2) that the designer is a “whimsical,” omnipotent, God with Mysterious Ways. Unconstrained hypotheses provide no expectations about data and thus give no guide to scientific research, nor are they subject to falsification or modification based on new data.

I confused by why the people at Imago Dei think that it’s our perrogative to attack Francis Crick. Why would we throw out a gratuitous post going after the guy for no good reason? Because he recently died? Normally, when one dies, even if you disagreed with that person, you try to have something positive to say.

And by the falseness of their dichotomies shall ye know them…

Nick Wrote:

It’s like shooting fish in a barrel sometimes …

Alas, not when ~50% of the audience swears by astrology and ~90% cannot describe a molecule.

And of course, it ought to be noted that, as Huxley said, life is too short to be slaying the vanquished over again. Directed Panspermia was considered briefly and dropped as unpromising when Crick proposed it. It is not the subject of an ongoing well-funded political and religious campaign now. We also do not need to re-disprove the ether, caloric theory or the flat earth. Until and unless someone starts a campaign to teach it as science somewhere…

If directed panspermia had made it possible to secure grants, lots of researchers would have glommed on to it just as plenty of folks would be doing ID research if there were really any ID research to do. The prospect of funded research is the nearest thing to a steering wheel on the lurching chariot of scientific research. In case you hadn’t noticed, the thing’s pretty much out of anybody’s control. Which is why ideologically motivated ulterior motives and, for that matter, intelligent but speculative research programs fail with such regularity.

Two YEARS? Maybe that was true in the past, or now for obscure journals. None of the last half dozen papers I’ve published has taken more than ~6 months, submission to publication. What is Dembski smoking?

Maybe mathematics journals are slower and more deliberate in their review process, and Dembski is used to a slow turnaround. OTOH, research articles that have problems are often sent back by the reviewers. If the article has enough problems, and the author an inability to follow suggestions for a more rigorously supported paper, a journal article could easiliy take two years from submission to publication.

Thanks to all who added reasons why there is a level playing field when it comes to Francis Crick vs. IDers. I think we’re past 20.

Since the Imago Dei poster, OMF Serge, is aware of the Panda’s Thumb, an obvious question is why he failed to mention anything about Charlie Wagner. CW’s apparent origins model is not unlike Crick’s. Furthermore, CW does not “sneak in God,” and in fact admits to being an agnostic, and has even criticized creationists and IDers for “sneaking in God.” According to OMF Serge’s “logic,” especially his absurd suggestion that we lambaste only Christians, one would think that CW would be at least as immune to criticism by us “Darwinists” as Crick. The answer, of course, is that, if OMF Serge mentioned CW, he’d have to admit the real reasons why we criticize some more than others.

Alex Merz Wrote:

Two YEARS? Maybe that was true in the past, or now for obscure journals. None of the last half dozen papers I’ve published has taken more than ~6 months, submission to publication. What is Dembski smoking?

My advisors and I had a paper that took over two years to be published from when we submitted it. This was in Genetics.

A couple of years ago, Del Ratzch and Michael Ruse engaged in a public debate/discussion at my college (Shawnee State University). As Honors Program Director I was able to front some money for both of them and a colleague of mine in philosophy who is sympathetic to ID, put the two together.

I’ll give Ratzch some credit, he was critical in many respects of ID for not doing the research. But here’s the point and the kicker: Ratzch made the claim that ID was not necessarily a theistic theory and in fact, cited Crick’s work as support for ID. I don’t know if any of the prominent ID’ers would sign on to this, but I have heard it elsewhere as well as evidence that ID is not necessarily inherently religious and is in fact open to the “alien” or “panspermia” hypothesis.

Indeed, my colleague in the philosophy department suggsted this to me several times till I finally pinned him down on it, at which point he conceded that the nature of the designer really was important to ID.

This has to be the height of disengenuity. As most participants here know, a cursory reading of the proponents of ID and their agenda shows clearly that ID is basically a restatement of the natural theology of Paley (talk about research programs never dying). What would happen to the whole basis and political and religious agenda of ID, if it were to turn out that in fact, “information” is added at various steps in the process, but that it is (or was) added by a bunch of souped up astronauts?

While I am personally extremely skeptical that aliens are floating around dumping genetic information in the galaxy, it is still an interesting thought experiment. If (and I don’t think it can be), but if, IC could be established and exceptions found to natural selection, that would not necessarily lead to the inference of an “intelligent” designed (God), but might in fact imply a flawed designer that does in fact, play dice with the Universe.

How curiouss that ID proponents never address this issue.

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Chip Poirot - The problem with alien creators is that you still have the issue of where they came from. Saying Abiogenisis and evolution can not occur on its own but might be intelligently guided by alians leaves you with the fact that those alians some how came into being.

Wayne,

I’m sorry. Perhaps I’m dense but somehow missed your point.

Reed, I’m not saying that it never take a long time to get your work into print. But Dembski is implying that this occurs fewquently. As aonther poster said, perhaps this is true for mathematics journals. But of course, in math it’s possible to put you work on a preprint serverif you feel that there is some urgency to getting the work out.

Either way, Dembski’s whinging about how loooooong it takes to publish doesn’t wash. After all, he’s shooting for scientific immortality, this Isaac Newton of Information Theory. Surely he, like Einstein and Pauling and Newton and Erdos before him, can wait a few months to see his work in print? I know a lot of mid-career scientists who’ve published over a hundred papers through the standard peer reviewed mechanisms. They may lack Dembski’s genius, but the tempo of publication has not limited their ability to publish papers.

Chip, it’s really quite simple. When an ID proponent makes the disingenuous suggestion that the identity of the Designer is irrelevant, or that the designer could even be an alien lifeform, they’re merely ducking the issue and pushing the final reckoning back one level.

Who, or what, designed the aliens? Bear in mind that most, if not all, ID proponents have made statements declaring that the Designer is in fact the Christian God.

It is arguable that the quality ID research is not up to the standards of certain peer-reviewed journal. However, the assertion that the playing field is level is a bunch of crap.

ID (as applied to cosmology) receives a frosty reception from the cosmology/physics community – not so its main competition, parallel quantum universe theories of various flavors. Yet both are proposed to explain the same problem, the fine tuning of physical constants, and both are arguably outside science since BOTH are unfalsifiable. Yet parallel universe theories, and references to them, abound in the mainstream journals, ID does not. So why is the former a scientific theory and the latter a “wild ass guess”? I await Dr. Wesley Elsberry’s comment.

Even if evolution is correct, evolutionists publish “wild ass guesses” all the time. How many times have we read statements such as “X evolved feature Y to adapt to environmental pressure Z”. If this is not a guess, then it must be demonstrable. How so?

If one starts a sentence (in a paper submitted to a peer-reviewed mainstream journal) with

“There is no natural explanation as to how the expansion rate of the universe is found at the precise value it needs to be in order for galaxies to form,”

then finishes it with

“giving credibility to [untestable] theories that postulate infinite parallel universes.”

The chance for publication has not been affected. If all the other content in the paper remains the same, but you end the same sentence with

“giving credibility to [untestable] theory that there is intelligent design evident in the universe.”

Then the chance of publication is zero.

Level playing field my ass. To assert that there is a level playing field is pure scientific elitism, and it makes me want to puke.

Anyone who has published (talking non-controversial, mainstream science here) has probably had the experience of running up against a biased reviewer or editor. To assume that such bias does not exist (in the extreme) against ID, regardless of the quality of the work, is fatuous. One only has to look at the milder example of trying to publish a refutation of global warming–the conclusion alone will make it nearly impossible to obtain favorable peer-review regardless of the content.

Give me a break, Dr. Elsberry.

Bob Maurus,

I thought that was my point? It seemed clear to me.

Oops, sorry Chip - I seem to have misread a couple of posts. Your comment to Wayne threw me off. Ne-ver mind. :>)

“One only has to look at the milder example of trying to publish a refutation of global warming—the conclusion alone will make it nearly impossible to obtain favorable peer-review regardless of the content.”

Could this be because the average temperature of the earth is, in fact, increasing?

On the Trackback, OMF Serge notes my comment above on why ID fools the general public, but curiously not my list of reasons why IDers are criticized more than Crick. Contrary to his suggestion, he can question us all he wants, and for the record I think that the ID promoters are very smart. Too smart to use such phrases as “the macroevolutionism crowd.”

Great White Wonder, you wrote:

Could this be because the average temperature of the earth is, in fact, increasing?

This is meaningless. If indeed the temperature of the earth is increasing, there is still plenty of room for arguments against global warming. The relevant question being whether or not one can demonstrate that human activity is substantively contributing to the effect.

If indeed the temperature of the earth is increasing, there is still plenty of room for arguments against global warming. The relevant question being whether or not one can demonstrate that human activity is substantively contributing to the effect.

I’m sorry Mr. Heddle, but I just want to make sure I understand where you are coming from. You say “if indeed” as if it is not a fact that the temp of the earth is increasing. Could you explain to me why there is room to doubt that fact?

I just want to make sure that you aren’t some flat earth professional skeptic before I waste any more time educating you.

David Heddle Wrote:

If one starts a sentence (in a paper submitted to a peer-reviewed mainstream journal) with

“There is no natural explanation as to how the expansion rate of the universe is found at the precise value it needs to be in order for galaxies to form,”

then finishes it with “giving credibility to [untestable] theories that postulate infinite parallel universes.”

The chance for publication has not been affected. If all the other content in the paper remains the same, but you end the same sentence with

“giving credibility to [untestable] theory that there is intelligent design evident in the universe.”

Then the chance of publication is zero.

Do you have a specific example in which the former was published and the latter submitted and rejected? If so, and if the “infinite parallel universes” conclusion was presented as more than just speculation, you may have a good case for an unlevel playing field. As Dembski himself admitted, though, IDers rarely submit articles to mainstream journals in the first place. That’s puzzling, because they could simply omit any reference to ID and let the audience infer it. IIRC Michael Behe did just that with his publications in mainstream journals (I checked his ARN side and did not find them this time). Besides, IDers virtually always leave for the audience to infer how the designer did it if not by evolution. They are pros at knowing what to say and what to leave out.

David Heddle Wrote:

How many times have we read statements such as “X evolved feature Y to adapt to environmental pressure Z”. If this is not a guess, then it must be demonstrable. How so?

It must be testable, not necessarily demonstrable, as in a present day experiment duplicating a speciation requiring thousands of years that occurred millions of years ago . Nevertheless, evolutionary biologists routinely criticize their peers for too much speculation on details and attributing too much to natural selection, when other mechanisms may be operating. This seems to be more of a problem in the popular press than in technical literature, however, and does not weaken the general theory at all, let alone common descent or the timeline of life’s history. In fact I am convinced that the major ID players do not elaborate on how their designer did it (creates new species) because they know that the answer is “by evolution” – the real evolution if not their “Darwinism” caricature.

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This page contains a single entry by Wesley R. Elsberry published on August 8, 2004 7:27 AM.

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