Mopping up on the Medved show

The Michael Medved show did a show on “intelligent design” today, and against my better judgement, I was on it, due to some rather smooth cajoling from the show’s producer. As it turned out, it was great fun, although during the show I felt a bit like a hobbit in the Mines of Moria scenes from the movie the Fellowship of the Ring: Look out, Medved’s first move is flagrant baiting! [octopus monster] Uh-oh, here comes the bacterial fla[g]ellum [big goblin], and on its heels the Second Law of Thermodynamics! [little goblin]. Then, the Discovery Institute list of 300 [“They have a Cave Troll.”] After that, pile on a classic Darwin quote mine, the where-does-information-come-from argument, evolution is random, you want to ban God and Apple Pie, and lots and lots of “random evolution,” “explain the origin of life in 2 seconds,” and “why won’t you debate Jonathan Wells?” [the goblin hoard]. Then, just when you think you’ve defeated all comers, Medved comes back with a shot at his invited guest’s qualifications, as if he’d been forced at gunpoint to invite someone without a Ph.D., and as if the opinion of the entire scientific community were pointless [a roaring giant flaming Balrog].

However, with science as my trusty sword Sting, and Project Steve as my mithril armor, I think I got through it alright. I’ll quote an email I just received from a listener and then review a few of the highlights. The show is theoretically archived in a repeating loop until Wednesday, and you can check out the opinions of listeners on the Michael Medved blog.

Date: Tue, 21 Dec 2004 13:55:49 -0800 (PST) From: Daniel Lausevic [email snipped] Subject: WOW is the word To: X-ELNK-AV: 0

Hello Nicholas,

I am a listener for the Michael Medved show. On occasion, I have to grind my teeth whenever talk of intelligent design comes into play. As a mathematician (almost), my science background allows me to understand the difference between valid scientific investigation and pseudoscience. Even Carl Sagan’s popular, yet no nonsense, baloney detection kit shouldn’t escape. Yet it does.

When you came onto the show, my initial fear was that you wouldn’t have the appropriate background and emotional intelligence to knock down some of the invalid creationist arguments. The second law of thermodynamics comes to mind. I was pleasantly surprised to listen to your intelligent and insightful responses one after the other.

As I listen to the show, I am noticing the signs that your arguments are strong enough for them to attack your qualifications. After all, why not attempt to discredit a person’s thoughts when you have nothing to go with?

It is a shame he cut you off at the end of the hour. He attacked your premise that they need to learn about science before they can attack it. The bigger shame is the pattern seen in creationist/intelligent design advocates. They DON’T know science. And if they do, they’re not regarded with any sense of respect from the remainder of the scientific community. I can rattle off a list of Ph.D’d biologists who practice creation science who won’t be heard by the rest of their discipline’s community. Why? They choose to ignore all the education and training they put themselves through to get their Ph.D.

I just wanted to convey my appreciation to your steadfast defense on common sense. I hope to hear you on the radio in the future.

Daniel Lausevic

Reproduced with Daniel’s permission

Let’s see, some of the highlights:

  • Medved kicked off the show with what was really a awe-inspiring exercise in goading and baiting, equating the simple idea that science classes should teach science with fundamentalist dogma. At least he didn’t lull me into a false sense of security with a polite introduction. So, after taking a deep breath and saying something like “First, thanks for having me on the show,” I figured I might as well point out that Medved wasn’t even past the starting line if he thought that evolution was “random.” Randomness was a running issue throughout the show, e.g. me: “Natural selection. It’s nonrandom. That’s the whole point. I’ll say it again slowly…nat-ur-al sel-ec-tion.” Only once towards the end did he seem to get it.
  • Medved brought up the Discovery Institute list of 300 scientists who signed a statement expressing some sort of vague skepticism about some unspecified definition of “neo-Darwinism”. Obviously Medved hadn’t heard of Project Steve, which shows just how silly the Discovery Institute’s argument-by-list is, so I beat him over the head with it every chance I got. (“Guess how many scientists named Steve signed on to this statement?” Medved: “I don’t know, I guess alot.” “515 the last time I checked.” – the actual current number is 521 according to the Steve-o-meter.)
  • Then came the callers. Unsuprisingly, nearly every single argument was already listed and refuted in the Index to Creationist Claims, among other places. For example, the Second Law of Thermodynamics (CF001) and the “Miller-Urey experiment is disproven” argument (CB035)
  • Bacterial “flagella” (CB200_1). The caller mispronounced the word (it’s “flaj”, not “flag”), so I had to straighten that out and then give the basic argument that most of the flagellum proteins now have identified homologs with proteins in systems with different functions. This is something that the ID movement still has yet to admit – they think the only thing they have to deal with is the type III secretion system. It probably would have been overkill to mention the Big Flagellum Essay. Somewhere in there I pointed out that bird wings are descended from dinosaur forelimbs.
  • Another caller tried the “no new genetic information” argument (CB102). Unfortunately ID folks had never informed the poor caller about nylonase or the many other examples of new genetic information evolving (which, parenthetically, the “DI staff” themselves have yet to deal with in their as-yet unfinished rebuttal to the Panda’s Thumb critique of Meyer 2004).
  • Yet another caller read a quote and tried to have me guess it. Surprise, surprise, it was:

    If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed, which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down. Gee, who wrote that? Since this is quite possibly the most-mined quote of all time (appearing in the Talkorigins Quote Mine Project, admittedly, not the Index to Creationist Claims), I asked the caller what the next sentence was. He didn’t know, perhaps because he’d only read the mined quote and not the relevant chapter of Origin of Species, but of course the next sentence is: “But I can find out no such case.” I think I went on to try to say something about change of function, but was cut off.

  • Medved repeatedly tried to portray little old me and the scientific community in general as dogmatic for opposing the teaching of ID in the classroom. After a few rounds of this (me: “ID isn’t a theory, it’s a fairy tale – ‘poof, it happened’ is not an explanation”), I brought up the fact that various people disbelieve the well-established fact that HIV causes AIDS, and I noted that I would oppose these yahoos introducing this quackery into the public schools just like I oppose ID. Medved foolishly agreed with me about HIV/AIDS, which of course made it an ideal time to point out that leading IDist Phillip Johnson is himself an AIDS denier. Medved was apparently startled by this unknown fact about his buddy and attempted to deny it, until I pointed out that all you have to do is google on these terms to discover this. I said something like “that tells you something about the quality of the man’s scientific judgement” – which is blunt, but, well, accurate.
  • After all of this, the callers seemed to be reduced to saying “you can’t call everything a ‘classic creationist argument’” (wanna bet?), and Medved seemed to be reduced to “you won’t debate Wells, nyah nyah” (a decision made last week and agreed to by Medved – we’ve seen plenty of creationists do the Gish Gallop, if a creationist wants to do that with an uncritical host and uncritical callers, he can do it himself – my hands were quite full just between the callers and Medved).
  • But, almost at the end, in apparent desperation, Medved made an issue of my qualifications, almost certainly suggested by Wells or someone similar whom Medved was in touch with. Never mind that Medved had invited me onto the show, never mind that if qualifications are the issue, then the intelligent design camp is hopelessly outgunned by the scientific community at large – nope, the important thing was that I don’t have a Ph.D. Of course, I’m not the one claiming that 150 years of science is wrong and that my scientifically unpopular fringe views should be inserted into public schools. I think it was here that I brought up the AAAS Board Resolution on Intelligent Design Theory, kind of an ace-in-the-hole if one starts comparing Arguments from Authority. I should have added that any literate person can refute creationist arguments with some common sense and careful reading – Ph.D. not required.

Anyway, at the very end I think I got a kind of subtle compliment from Medved – I suspect that most of his rhetoric and bombast is an act put on to entertain the listeners. All in all, the show went surprisingly well despite being a total food-fight. Whether or not anyone learned anything is debatable, but it probably made for engaging talk radio.

[Note: All quotes from the show are paraphrases from memory. You have been warned.]