The Discovery Institute’s Strange Allies

| 19 Comments

Well, folks, the flap over our local (Albuquerque, New Mexico) PBS affiliate, KNME, and its refusal to show “Unlocking the Mysteries of Life” is still going strong.

A local columnist, Jeffry Gardner, wrote a column on Thursday Jan. 20th about the flap. This very strange piece slammed our science group, NMSR, for supporting KNME.

Gardner writes

In making the decision to cancel the show “Unlocking the Mystery of Life,” derisively referred to as “creationism” by the rabidly anti-Christian voices that squeak like greaseless wheels in the so-called science community, KNME-Channel 5’s radio marketing manager Joan Rebecchi said “Life’s” producers had not just an agenda but a religious agenda.

KNME’s decision was cheered by a group called New Mexicans for Science and Reason. The Science and Reason folks slammed the show as “religious propaganda” and made it clear we all benefited from their and KNME’s collective protection.

The Discovery Institute has taken Notice, and has posted Gardner’s column on their website.

But the Discovery Institute might want to have Gardner open his mouth so they can check around a bit before making a purchase.

Gardner had this to say about PBS:

We’re shelling out more than $300 million annually in state and federal tax dollars for shows like “Charlie Rose” (name the last conservative you’ve seen yucking it up with Chuck), “Frontline,” “American Experience” and “Nova” - all agenda-less programs, I’m sure.

With this soundbite, Gardner shoots from the hip, and misses badly. Just this week, the Charlie Rose show’s guests included the “arch-liberals” Newt Gingrich, Richard Perle, and Henry Kissinger. That’s some crack research there, Jeff.

Gardner also brings up Antony Flew’s recent “conversion”:

…he reached his conclusion by virtue of what he’d learned about intelligent design.

More shooting from the hip. In a December 29, 2004 letter to Richard Carrier, Flew writes:

I now realize that I have made a fool of myself by believing that there were no presentable theories of the development of inanimate matter up to the first living creature capable of reproduction.

So, if Gardner is so obviously wrong about PBS programming and Flew’s conversion, why is the Discovery Institute promoting his ill-conceived editorial?

Maybe, just maybe, the Discovery Institute thinks that “The End Justifies the Means.”

P.S. Just before I used my digital camera to snap a pic of the anti-KNME ad the local ID group had published, I moved a little too fast, and spilled a drop of coffee near the “K” of KNME on the lower left.

I was surprised recently, when I found my coffee stain on the web site of Illustra Media, producers of the “Unlocking the Mysteries of Life” video.

Check it out here.

And don’t miss the support expressed for KNME by the New Mexico Academy of Science.

19 Comments

Some New Mexican rube named Gardner tarnishes his beautiful state with a pro-ignorance screed:

rabidly anti-Christian voices that squeak like greaseless wheels in the so-called science community

“So-called” science community? What the heck is that supposed to mean?

Actually the most rabidly anti-Christian voices are not found in the science community. Rather, those voices are found in rabidly *anti-science* communities. For example:

Anti-Christian elements in Bihar have captured, severely beaten and are threatening to kill GFA native missionary Pastor Manrathan and his wife. GFA Bible woman Sarita is also being held hostage. An anti-Christian mob from six villages holds the Gospel workers tied to a sacred tree, demanding 25,000 rupees as a ransom for desecrating their village with the Gospel. If the exorbitant amount is not received within 48 hours, they plan to kill the missionaries as a sacrifice to their deities.

http://churchpage.faithweb.com/photo3.html

I wish the Johnsonite Christians and their apologists would take a trip to Bihar sometime so they could understand how well their disgustingly willful ignorance is tolerated here in the US.

Maybe when they return they can find something productive to do, like help distribute food and clothe homeless people, instead of peddling slick anti-science infomercials to unsuspecting couch potatos.

And Dave is right: that letter of support for KNME from the New Mexico Academy of Science is excellent. I second the recommendation.

The reason ID supporters want “Unlocking” shown on public television instead of religious stations is that they want the implied “seal of approval” that comes with being aired on KNME. They want to ride the coattails of PBS programs such as “Nova” and “Nature.” They want the respect given modern science, but they have not earned that respect in the science community. They want ID taught in all public school science classrooms in New Mexico, but they have been unsuccessful in trying to force it into New Mexico public education, beginning with creationism in 1996 and continuing with ID into the present.

The letter is about as withering towards “ID theory” as a letter can get without expressly comparing the merits of the arguments in ‘Unlocking’ to those made by Holocaust deniers.

Off topic, but this is interesting enough to propogate, since I’ve not seen it anywhere else - a Tennessee school district has adopted an ID curiculum:

http://www.thedailytimes.com/sited/[…]/html/183480 and http://www.wate.com/Global/story.asp?S=2836983

What’s most interesting is some of the quotes from school board member cited in both articles. They indicate some degree of deliberation by the Board to avoid mention of anything that can be construed as religious. I’m curious whether this board was sophisticated to the point where it knew to avoid the same mines that the Dover board stepped on, or whether they were getting guidance from above (no pun intended). No mention in either story of parents who might oppose the board’s action.

I now realize that I have made a fool of myself by believing that there were no presentable theories of the development of inanimate matter up to the first living creature capable of reproduction.

I honestly think Antony Flew is growing senile; and not because he’s dabbling with theism. I can’t imagine someone in his position, at his age, with his experience, not being aware of “presentable theories of the development of inanimate matter.” This is far too sloppy for someone of his talent. I do believe he may be losing it.

Excellent link, Scott.

Frankly, watching “ID theory” inch closer and closer into the limelight is thrilling. Roaches are easier to squish when you can seem them clearly.

“We haven’t relied on any religious background, any religious theory. It’s secular and it says in essence it’s life that has been designed, has to have been designed,” McNelly explains.

So anything that doesn’t mention “God” is secular? Is that how it works? So when we discuss life cycles in biology, then we can talk about the resurrection of Jesus Christ, right? I mean, he was just some historical guy who died and then he came back to life. You don’t need to mention anything about God to talk about the fact that some people believe that it’s possible for hominids at least to come back to life three days after they are killed. Teach the controversy!

And never mind that it’s a bunch of useless non-science garbage right up there with the theory that weather patterns can be predicted by counting the number of diamonds in Sasquatch scat.

McNelly = yet another willfully ignorant script-reciting rube.

These folks really aren’t going to enjoy the lesson about reality and dishonesty which they are about to receive from the dreaded “elites”. But I have a feeling that the average American is going to enjoy watching the Johnsonite fundies get the cotton shamed out of them.

I noticed the report on the Blount County Board’s action earlier this week. I visited the systerm’s web site in the hopes I might read the full resolution but no such luck. The most recent board minutes posted are for September 30th. But they do seem to have had some coaching in how to avoid any statements, words, or phrases that openly associate ID with religion. For that reason, the DI may see Blount TN as a better case to defend in court than Dover PA. Blount County abuts Knoxville to the south with Marysville, the county seat lying about 20 miles south of the city. I know nothing about the place but suspect its demographics are similar to those for Cobb County, Georgia, with a slightly more industrial flavor since one of the adjoining towns is called Alcoa. But with the University of Tennessee nearby, we may find the local ACLU is probably strong enough that is may already be making some moves. At least I hope so.

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For instance, a zebra fish has 97 percent of the same DNA as humans, he said.

This statement makes absolutely no sense. First off, this estimate is rediculously high – closely related species are on the order of 97% identical in DNA sequence (e.g., humans and chimps). Any geneticist, when speaking about genetic distance, would refer to this relation in terms of sequence similarity. No one says, “97 percent of the same DNA.”

One of the points in the resolution says, “It is constitutionally lawful for teachers and school boards to expose students to scientific problems with current Darwinian theory as well as to other scientific alternatives with respect to theories about biological origins.”

I won’t even get into how “Darwinian theory” is thrown around by IDists even though it has little to no meaning within the research community. I will point out, however, that Darwinian evolution is often used interchangeably with positive selection. If we take as their argument that Darwinian selection is controversial as a major evolutionary force, then, yes, there has been a legitimate debate in the scientific community. It’s too bad for IDists that the debate does not include them – Motoo Kimura’s neutral theory (and variants thereof) has shaped the field of molecular evolution. There is debate about Darwinian evolution and it’s implications on molecular evolution, but even in this case nearly all researchers agree that some molecular change occurs via Darwinian selection. The argument is over the extent of molecular evolution shaped by selection.

I’m just really pissed that these uninformed buffoons are throwing around terminology, statistics, and data with no regard for what the really mean. I don’t mind if they question the ethics and implications of research, but please don’t criticize a scientific consensus without a good understanding of the field. We’re not hiding anything; they just haven’t bothered to look.

Jeffry Gardner Wrote:

In making the decision to cancel the show “Unlocking the Mystery of Life,” derisively referred to as “creationism” by the rabidly anti-Christian voices that squeak like greaseless wheels in the so-called science community . …

Like any good ID parrot these days Gardner adds a mandatory reference to Antony Flew, who converted to “only” Deism. But you’ll find no reference to Kenneth Miller, who criticizes Deism as well as atheism. Could it be because Miller is a chief critic of the ID strategy, and one who is not “rabidly anti-Christian” but a Christian himself? Can these people be this ignorant, or has the Commandment about bearing false witness been repealed?

RPM

1st chapter, 2nd paragraph of “The Origin of Species” Darwin says

But I am strongly inclined to suspect that the most frequent cause of variability may be attributed to the male and female reproductive elements having been affected prior to the act of conception.

In other words, he believed that acquired charateristics were heritable. A fish that exercised its fins as legs would produce fish with more leglike fins. Enough generations of fish exercising their fins as legs would result in fish with legs.

It’s pretty much unanimous now that acquired traits are not heritable. Random mutation/selection replaced Darwin’s theory and is commonly called neo-Darwinism.

The big difference is that Darwin’s theory posited a PURPOSEFUL method of altering genetic material. Under his theory evolution could proceed at a rapid pace because it didn’t rely on selection to preserve the exceedingly rare beneficial mutation. His theory was that beneficial mutations occured as a result of need, not as a result of serendipity. Darwin used selection to explain why nature isn’t awash in living transitional creatures. He explained that once a need for variation came about through environmental change that the variations would happen piecemeal until the need was met and then natural selection would eliminate the less fit transitional forms. Natural selection works a whole lot faster and more reliably to eliminate marked weakness than it does to preserve marginal fitness.

Since Darwin’s day we found out that “reproductive elements” aren’t changed by exercise. When that mechanism of variability was falsified, random/mutation selection (neo-Darwinism) replaced Darwin’s theory of the primary variability mechanism. Random mutation/selection works much more slowly and that is its Achilles Heel. The punctuated equilibrium observed in the fossil record along with the biochemical complexity of the evolutionary changes is putting fatal constraints on mutation/selection being the primary means of evolutionary change.

The long and the short of it is that we’re now back to groping around for consensus on a mechanism that can better explain common descent. Hypotheses abound. ID is one hypothesis. Several here have admitted that mutation/selection is getting weaker in explanatory power. The Discovery Institute is pushing to have that weakness exposed to primary school students in biology classes. That’s a perfectly legitimate position.

The problem scientists are having with that is the absence of a good alternative to mutation/selection creates a vacuum they fear will be filled by opportunistic biblical creationists. I think that’s unfounded paranoia. Just because mutation/selection is a theory in crisis doesn’t mean massive numbers 14 year-olds are going to start preaching Genesis instead. What’s more dangerous IMO is treating bright kids like mushrooms - keep them in the dark and feed them manure. If you try to hide ID from them they’ll find out about it anyhow and then wonder why its hidden like the proverbial forbidden fruit.

DaveScot Wrote:

If you try to hide ID from them they’ll find out about it anyhow and then wonder why its hidden like the proverbial forbidden fruit.

Who’s hiding ID? Every student can access the Talk Origins Archive. Those without home internet access can use school and library computers. Ironically, I have yet to see one “teach the controversy” whiner refer to what may be the best web resource for the ID strategy, the mutually contradictory creationisms, and the real scientific controversies - without the context removed.

The long and the short of it is that we’re now back to groping around for consensus on a mechanism that can better explain common descent. Hypotheses abound. ID is one hypothesis.

And a perfectly useless one at that … not because it couldn’t be true … but because there is no way to verify or falsify it.

Just because mutation/selection is a theory in crisis doesn’t mean massive numbers 14 year-olds are going to start preaching Genesis instead.

It’s not teenagers you have to worry about. It’s the lying, conniving, opportunistic creationists who are incapable of understanding that legitimate scientific debate does not equal creationism being true.

We need a prayer: May we be protected from fools and foolishness.

DaveScot said (how could anybody make this up?):

1st chapter, 2nd paragraph of “The Origin of Species” Darwin says

But I am strongly inclined to suspect that the most frequent cause of variability may be attributed to the male and female reproductive elements having been affected prior to the act of conception.

In other words, he believed that acquired charateristics were heritable. A fish that exercised its fins as legs would produce fish with more leglike fins. Enough generations of fish exercising their fins as legs would result in fish with legs.

It’s pretty much unanimous now that acquired traits are not heritable. Random mutation/selection replaced Darwin’s theory and is commonly called neo-Darwinism.

No, what Darwin said was that characteristics acquired were not heritable. He said the “reproductive elements” were changed, not the morphology.

You’ve completely mistaken Lamarck’s proposal for Darwin’s.

Darwin argued against the claim you’ve erroneously attributed to him, Dave.

In fact, Dave, if you’d bothered to read Darwin, you’d know that’s not at all the issue he was addressing in that paragraph. That sentence is in a section discussing at what point in a creatures existence change – which we now know to be genetic change – would affect the creature.

Here is what Darwin actually wrote:

It has been disputed at what period of life the causes of variability, whatever they may be, generally act; whether during the early or late period of development of the embryo, or at the instant of conception. Geoffroy St. Hilaire’s experiments show that unnatural treatment of the embryo causes monstrosities; and monstrosities cannot be separated by any clear line of distinction from mere variations. But I am strongly inclined to suspect that the most frequent cause of variability may be attributed to the male and female reproductive elements having been affected prior to the act of conception. Several reasons make me believe in this; but the chief one is the remarkable effect which confinement or cultivation has on the functions of the reproductive system; this system appearing to be far more susceptible than any other part of the organisation, to the action of any change in the conditions of life.

Chapter 1, second paragraph

Darwin clearly did NOT claim that adult-acquired characteristics were passed to the embryo.

Shoulda been “creature’s existence.” Apologies

DaveScot also ignores Darwin’s insight into the implications of the social insects for Lamarckism from Chapter 7 (p.262, 1st ed):

But I am bound to confess, that, with all my faith in this principle, I should never have anticipated that natural selection could have been efficient in so high a degree, had not the case of these neuter insects convinced me of the fact. I have, therefore, discussed this case, at some little but wholly insufficient length, in order to show the power of natural selection, and likewise because this is by far the most serious special difficulty, which my theory has encountered. The case, also, is very interesting, as it proves that with animals, as with plants, any amount of modification in structure can be effected by the accumulation of numerous, slight, and as we must call them accidental, variations, which are in any manner profitable, without exercise or habit having come into play. For no amount of exercise, or habit, or volition, in the utterly sterile members of a community could possibly have affected the structure or instincts of the fertile members, which alone leave descendants. I am surprised that no one has advanced this demonstrative case of neuter insects, against the well-known doctrine of Lamarck.

In this he anticipates (although being a real scientist, he doesn’t speculate in advance of the data) the separation of the germ and somatic lines, and the nature of inheritance. Note that Lamarck was an early evolutionist, and should be honored for correctly identifying species transmuation. Darwin didn’t say that this difficulty in Lamarck’s mechanism for change disproves the existence of evolution but rather is a question for further research.

It should be recognized that “public” television, like “public” radio, is nothing more than a whore. The only thing that public radio and television purveyors are interested in is money. And they’ll do what they can to try to maximize their revenues. And it should obviously be clear that they believe that they are better off in their marketing efforts by kow-towing to the noisy right-wing christians.

That has been evident to me for the last 20+ years living in the Boston area, paying attention to our local public TV and radio purveyors WGBH and WBUR.b

? I’m confused. Granted I really haven’t lived in MA for 10 years now.…but even when I did live there shows like NOVA and other programs WGBH actually is responsible for are far from catering to the “right-wing christians” of which it must be said that there are not that many of compartively speaking.

How so is WGBH bowing to these christians?

“Since when does the Blount County school board rule on matters of constitutionality? Isn’t that privilege normally reserved for the courts?” No. School board members and other government officals take an oath to uphold the constitution. In order for the system of checks and balances to work, all three branches must follow their obligations to act constitutionally. The courts, no matter how vigilant, can’t do the whole job if the other branches abdictate their responsibilities.

Dave Scot said:

“In other words, he believed that acquired charateristics were heritable. A fish that exercised its fins as legs would produce fish with more leglike fins. Enough generations of fish exercising their fins as legs would result in fish with legs.”

Uhhh, Dave, a little basic analysis of the text you quoted shows you don’t understand.

Darwin said about affecting the “reproductive elements”. What he’s saying is variablity comes from mutations in the GONADS. Like when you get a nice dose of friendly radiation, it can mess up your DNA somewhat. Sometimes, it causes variation.

NOWHERE in the text did it say anything about NON-reproductive parts being modified and being passed on.

… I mean, if you can’t get past this basic bit of comprehension, can you *really* claim the rest of your argument is sustainable?

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This page contains a single entry by Dave Thomas published on January 21, 2005 7:58 PM.

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