Contrarian or just lame?

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Mr. Michael Balter wrote what he referred to as a “somewhat contrarian view on the ID controversy” which was published as an editorial by the Los Angles Times on October 2, 2005.

I happen to subscribe to the Los Angeles Times. I even tried to canceled my week-day subscription to the LA Times protesting the far-right political shift in their editorial pages. Perversely, the only result is that I now receive the paper for free. And, I did read the editorial written by Mr. Balter and would have responded at the time but for other deadlines. I was reminded when he posted a link to his essay on the TalkOrigins Feedback page for October. What irritates me most about Mr. Balter’s editorial is its presentation of ID arguments without refutations so that it reads more easily as a pro-ID than as anti-ID.

Mr. Balter, You wrote your article at the beginning of the trial phase of the Dover creationism case, and I am writing toward the end. I should have replied sooner, but I have had far too much fun reading the Dover trial transcripts. None the less, I would have written basically the same rejoinder a month ago as today.

You posed a number of questions, the first being, “Should ‘Intelligent DESIGN’ be taught in school alongside the theory of evolution?” You wave this off saying that this is the wrong question. This won’t do. This is the question at issue and there are several very good reasons what Intelligent Design or any other form of creationism should not be taught as alternatives to evolutionary biology. This fails quickly under simple consideration. First, the classroom hour is scripted down the the quarter hour (like my attorney’s billing rate) and there is not enough time under the current curriculum standards to actually present all the material in sufficient detail. The addition of a time-waster like ID to class schedules demands that something of merit be removed. The more creationism = the less science, even if you propose to use classroom time to criticize IDC. If you would like some further reason that teaching IDC is just plain stupid, read “Intelligent Design Has No Place in the Science Curriculum” by Harold Morowitz, Robert Hazen and James Trefil.

Second, Intelligent Design is creationism and is fundamentalist religion. This is not arguable. I direct you to “Creationism’s Trojan Horse,” by Barbara Forrest and Paul Gross for the best available dissection of this topic currently available. In a shorter form, there is also Dr. Forrest’s testimony in the Dover Panda Trial Days 6 and 7. Every significant IDC leader has admitted their prior religious faith and practice as their core motivation for promoting ID.

The American religious right has forgotten a critical historical lesson, which is that when government invades the church religious freedom is doomed and that injecting the church into government opens a two-way door that cannot be closed. The biblical analogy is the camel’s nose in your tent.

“A national debate over how best to explain the complexity of living organisms would better serve our children, and adults too.” which you followed by, “Most scientists don’t want any debate.”

A national debate over the “complexity of living organisms” is superfluous. There is no basis for debate on facts. Intelligent Design Creationism fails at every scientific test even disregarding its patent religious nature. We consciously took the premise that IDC was ‘scientific’ and addressed its ‘scientific’ standing in “Why Intelligent Design Fails”. Intelligent Design fails as science. I began to question your experience with scientists when you added that the majority of scientists “don’t want any debate.” As I have pointed out there is no “debate” over fact, but, it is true that the vast majority of scientists can’t afford to spend their time with these issues. They have productive work to do in field work and in their laboratories. The average working scientist won’t even notice this issue unless there is some interference with their studies. This interference is just becoming evident. It is becoming hard to find qualified student labor. Funding for critical research is withheld for political and religious reasons as we have seen now for nearly a decade in stem-cell research. Unchecked, this will drive talented scientists away from the US to more accommodating surroundings. In the 1950s and ’60s the “brain drain” flowed to America, but this is easily changed.

Using complex statistics, intelligent-design theorists contend that natural selection fails to fully explain life’s complexity, thus alternative explanations to evolution should be considered.

At most, William Dembski has promoted a statistical shell game that fools the mathematically challenged. Must I now count you in that number? For a thorough debunking of the “complex statistics” that have some people snowed, I recommend starting with “Not a Free Lunch But a Box of Chocolates” by Richard Wein, “Dembski “displaces Darwinism” mathematically – or does he?” by Mark Perakh, “Information Theory, Evolutionary Computation, and Dembski’s ‘Complex Specified Information” by Wesley Elsberry and Jeffrey Shallit, and “William Dembski’s treatment of the No Free Lunch theorems is written in jello” by the co-discoverer of the No Free Lunch Theorems, David Wolpert. For a solid debunking of Michael Behe and David W. Snoke’s paper on computational models of protein evolution, I can recommend “Theory is as Theory Does” by Ian F. Musgrave, Steve Reuland, and Reed A. Cartwright. Further information can be gathered from the devastating cross examination of Dr. Behe by Mr. Rothchild representing the plaintiffs in the Dover Pandas trial.

As a rule, they don’t speculate over who or what did the designing.

This is true even though you are again very wrong, Mr. Balter.

It is true that the IDC advocates don’t speculate of the identity of the “Designer” because they are quite certain that he is the Judeo/Christian/Islamic God. They quite freely say, in front of friendly fundamentalist audiences, the designer is God. For example, Dembski recently (March 7, 2004) gave a talk at the Baptist Fellowship Church in Waco, Texas that was tape recorded. Relevant to the current topic, Dembski, in response to an audience member’s question said, “When you are attributing the wonders of nature to these mindless material mechanisms, God’s glory is getting robbed.” He further added, “And so there is a cultural war here. Ultimately I want to see God get the credit for what he’s done — and he’s not getting it.”

Intelligent-design proponents also argue that the scientific consensus on evolution is not rock solid. The Seattle-based Discovery Institute, whose Center for Science and Culture spearheads the intelligent-design campaign, has recruited more than 400 scientists to sign its “Scientific Dissent From Darwinism,” which states in part: “We are skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life.”

Mr. Balter, you are a professional writer. You write for a magazine published by the world’s largest association of scientists. That magazine, Science, has published dozens of articles in just the last year or two about evolutionary mechanisms that could be construed as non-random- “random” defined by creationists as “blind chance” or compared to by intelligent design creationists as “coin tossing.” In this later sense, all mutation is not random. At the same time, mutation does not, and can not anticipate future conditions and in this sense is “non-directed,” or “random.” These are totally distinct meanings that I would have hoped a professional writer for one the world’s premiere scientific publications should have been able to grasp. And there have also been articles published in Science that illustrate the complexity of “natural selection.” What is it that does the selecting in natural selection? The answer is the environment. Yet, organism’s’ most significant interactions (the ‘selecting environment’) are with other organisms which are also evolving. A further example is the impact theory of dinosaur extinction which is the sort of event that no trivial model of “natural selection” can accommodate. I could sign the Discovery Institute “statement” if I were not aware that the Discovery Institute “statement” was a shill for creationism!

And why did you not observe that over 650 scientists named “Steve” who are actually qualified to have an expert opinion have signed the following unambiguous statement,

Evolution is a vital, well-supported, unifying principle of the biological sciences, and the scientific evidence is overwhelmingly in favor of the idea that all living things share a common ancestry. Although there are legitimate debates about the patterns and processes of evolution, there is no serious scientific doubt that evolution occurred or that natural selection is a major mechanism in its occurrence. It is scientifically inappropriate and pedagogically irresponsible for creationist pseudoscience, including but not limited to “intelligent design,” to be introduced into the science curricula of our nation’s public schools.

How many creationist signatories you are impressed by are named “Steve,” Mr. Balter? And on the other side of the pro-science coin, as of 2 November 2005, 9,151 signatures have been gathered from clergy supporting in part, “We believe that the theory of evolution is a foundational scientific truth, one that has stood up to rigorous scrutiny and upon which much of human knowledge and achievement rests. To reject this truth or to treat it as “one theory among others” is to deliberately embrace scientific ignorance and transmit such ignorance to our children.”

In large part, Americans’ skepticism toward evolutionary theory reflects the continuing influence of religion. Yet it also implies that scientists have not been persuasive enough, even when buttressed by strong scientific evidence that natural selection alone can account for life’s complexity.

Could it be that the theory of evolution’s judicially sanctioned monopoly in the classroom has backfired?

For one thing, the monopoly strengthens claims by intelligent-design proponents that scientists don’t want to be challenged. More important, it shields Darwinian theory from challenges that, when properly refuted, might win over adherents to evolutionary views.

Mr. Balter is not a keen observer of educational issues in American schools. Perhaps living abroad has clouded his vision. Evolutionary biology is poorly taught, or not taught at all in most American classrooms as documented by Cornelia Dean for the New York Times. Go here for additional commentary from the National Center for Science Education. And from the Dover Panda trial, we learn that the creationist dominated school board was reassured that “macro evolution” and “common descent” were not taught in the Dover schools even before their official imposition of creationism. So, there has been no “monopoly” of evolutionary biology even in biology classrooms.

Mr. Balter used his essay to make some fatuous suggestions to “improve” the situation. He suggested classroom debates be held pitting creationism against science, and to have this echo nationally televised debates between scientists and “biblical literalists.” There are two rather ignorant features of this proposal. Easy first: it is a common fallacy that science is in diametric opposition to religion. This is not true even in the extreme case of biblical literalism such as Young Earth Creationism which posits the sudden creation of all existence, and of course life, just around 6,000 years ago. The existence of a entity that could create the universe as a simple act of will, could of course miraculously create that universe in any sort of condition that they wanted it. The point is that science is simply incapable of responding to such an assertion.

It is only the American Constitution that is protecting us from a 6,000 year old universe, global flood, and other assorted miracles being the legally enforced, mandatory religious beliefs dictated to all Americans. The Constitution is a very old and very fragile document that needs our protection. The least we can do is to keep public school science classes free of superstition and magic.

Mr. Balter’s essay next argues,

“Would this bring religion into the classroom? Religious faith and thinking are already in the classroom, as the opinion polls strongly suggest. And the courts should stay out of it because educators would not be required nor allowed to advocate a religious point of view.”

As we have seen in Dover, Intelligent Design Creationists and their more direct Christian fundamentalist brethren, count on the fact that public school teachers are prohibited from presenting any position that conflicts with a religious point of view. I frequently encountered this problem as Director of Education for a small natural history museum. For example, I could not present to public school children all the many reasons that we know that the “Noah’s Flood” never happened as described in fundamentalist/creationist myths. If I did this, I would be teaching facts but they would violate the US Constitution by discouraging a particular religious sect. Instead I could merely teach biogeography, and biostatigraphy and deflect any question regarding “the Flood.” This is a minor example of the problem faced by teachers every day. The “debates” called for by Mr. Balter could in fact be prohibited under the Constitution.

Let us consider what the First Amendment cases blocking religious indoctrination from public schools are really about. Science educators are prevented from exposing creationism’s absurdity in the classroom directly. We can insist reciprocally that creationists not inject their religious dogma in the guise of science. Creationists are crying for fair play - all right- they should start playing fair. Near the end of Mr. Balter’s essay he makes the following assertion,

Given the opportunity to debate, scientists should say: “Bring it on.”

This is so foolish that I could almost be amused. Paraphrasing our creationist president is ironic, and I am glad that isn’t dead. The issue of creationism in school curriculums is political and this is a weak area for most scientists. Scientists have not shied from debate on the scientific merits of ID, there are none.

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QUOTE OF THE DAY from Home Education & Other Stuff on November 4, 2005 6:53 AM

“When you are attributing the wonders of nature to these mindless material mechanisms, God’s glory is getting robbed... And so there is a cultural war here. Ultimately I want to see God get the credit for what he’s done —... Read More

Last month I wrote a rant about an October 2, 2005 op-ed piece in the Los Angeles Times by Michael Balter. Yesterday Gary Hurd posted an extensive review of that piece on The Panda's Thumb. Hurd makes most of the... Read More

164 Comments

With reference to the “DI 400”, Richard Forrest on Infidels did an analysis that shows that roughly 1/3 have credentials more-or-less relevant to an understanding of evolutionary biology, while 2/3s are an aggregation of everything from dairy science to “alternative medicine”.

RBH

For example, I could not present to public school children all the many reasons that we know that the “Noah’s Flood” never happened as described in fundamentalist/creationist myths. If I did this, I would be teaching facts but they would violate the US Constitution by discouraging a particular religious sect.

Is there a case on point?

You can’t teach a kid that someone’s religion is less worthy than someone’s else’s religion or no religion at all, but it is not a Constitutional violation to teach in science class that a verse in some religious mythos is scientifically incorrect.

If you’ve got case law to the contrary, I’d be interested in seeing it.

So would Jim Dobson.

Let us consider what the First Amendment cases blocking religious indoctrination from public schools are really about. Science educators are prevented from exposing creationism’s absurdity in the classroom directly.

Huh? Since when?

How does exposing creationist pseudoscientific garbage as such qualify as “religious indoctrination.”

The First Amendment is not a protective bubble in which anti-science religious fanatics and bigots are allowed to exist without challenge from the real world.

The First Amendment merely protects those religious fanatics from the government-sponsored dissemination of religious alternatives to their fanaticism. For example, the government cannot tell Muslims that Islam is bogus and Christianity is the real deal. But the government can tell Muslims and Christians that there is zilcho evidence to support the “theory” that two of every “kind” of non-swimming animal were put on a giant ship 5000 years ago while the earth was flooded.

Why is this allowed?

Because it’s a fact – you know, like the kind of fact that is relevant in courtrooms in this country and will remain relevant as long as we don’t let sleaze artists like Jim Dobson and Jay Sekulow decide who gets to sit on the highest court.

Gary, other than my nitpicks above, I think you wrote a fine letter.

The answer to your question is: “just lame.”

Balter sez:

Given the opportunity to debate, scientists should say: “Bring it on.”

Hey Mr. Balter, I think you don’t know what you’re talking about when it comes to creationists, their garbage theories, and the way they choose to peddle their theories.

I want to debate you on that issue right here, as soon as possible. Are you up for that Mr. Balter? If so, please “bring it on.” I’m ready whenever you are. I’m guessing you aren’t up to the task but who knows maybe you are Lenny Flank’s worst nightmare come to life at last.

Or else Mr. Balter why not visit the American Enterprise Institute website and download the videos which demonstrate to any human who isn’t drunk on fundamentalist Christian kool-aid that creationist peddlers like Paul Nelson are dissembling cretins who can’t answer a straightforward question if their lives depended on it.

And you’ll get to see how Mr. Ryland, the VP of the Discovery Institute, happily tells bald-faced lies and refuses to apologize for the lies when he’s presented with the incontrovertible evidence for those lies – in real time! And of course you’re aware (or you will be by the time we finish our debate that you are almost certainly too cowardly to “bring on”) that without Mr. Ryland and his organization and the lies they propogate to our famously lazy American media, we would not be having this conversation.

“Bring it on.” You make me puke, Mr. Balter.

Not surprisingly, DI loved Balter’s piece:

http://www.evolutionnews.org/2005/1[…]_darwin.html

Robert Crowther Wrote:

Support for a Healthy Debate over Darwinism Needed to Curb Infringements on Academic Freedom

Michael Balter is a Paris-based correspondent for the AAAS and the journal Science. In an opinion piece titled “Let ‘intelligent design’ and science rumble” in last Sunday’s LA Times, Balter argued that public acceptance of evolution was suffering because of the Darwinian monopoly on public education. Balter is not the first Darwinist to suggest that free and open debate on Darwinism and intelligent design is healthy for science and for science education. (See our list of articles endorsing our teach the controversy approach).

There’s a lively debate about the article (with some atheists and Darwinists agreeing with Balter even, including responses from Balter, at this blog. So, maybe there’s hope for academic freedom after all.

They must really love that AAAS association – but I wonder how Balter’s colleagues reacted.

The referenced blog comments are worth reading; contrary to Crowther’s claim, nearly all of the posters (who are mostly left wing politicos, not “atheists and Darwinists”) disagreed with Balter and pointed out some serious problems with his position. Balter’s own comments there are as far off the mark as his op-ed:

… you will see that I do not advocate TEACHING intelligent design in the schools. What I advocate is a DEBATE, the best way for any point of view to win points. My starting point is that the theory of evolution has, in effect, already lost the debate—this is what the opinion polls I cite show, and a more recent Pew poll came up with similar results. The overwhelming majority of Americans don’t believe it. As a science writer and former scientist, I find that unfortunate. But it does not make me think that I am smarter or superior to those who don’t buy evolution; it makes me think that something has gone wrong in the way the theory is being taught. It is being taught as a MATTER OF FAITH rather than a theory that has a lot of evidence behind it. The best way to sharpen the teaching process is by debating.

Balter obviously knows nothing of how evolution is taught, how it should be taught, or why it is so widely disbelieved among Americans. All he has are some woefully uninformed opinions that he states as fact, and a penchant for insulting scientists and educators.

I find this comment of Michael Balter’s illuminating.

Gravity is poorly understood by scientists, and as I write they are still debating what it really is and how it really works. Yes, by all means let’s debate gravity too—what a great way to teach it to students!

Marc Cooper’s Blog

By all means current theories of gravity are incomplete. But poorly understood?

By the same criteria electricity is poorly understood. Everything in science is poorly understood.

And if gravity is poorly understood does that mean that the only possible answer is that God personally intervenes and stops each of us from floating off the Earth? Or does it mean that the Earth is flat?

Chris Noble

The more I think about this statement the stupider it seems.

Gravity is poorly understood by scientists, and as I write they are still debating what it really is and how it really works. Yes, by all means let’s debate gravity too—what a great way to teach it to students!

Is he proposing that 9th grade high school students should be debating the merits of string theory and quantum gravity compared to Eintein’s general theory of relativity? What a great way to teach it to students!

Or is he proposing that supernatural explanations for gravity should also be debated?

Chris Noble

It’s truly amazing that “let’s debate gravity too—what a great way to teach it to students!” is something Balter actually wrote, rather than someone parodying him. Since the debate occurs among the leading theorists over a long period of time in journals, seminars, and physics department hallways, just how does Balter envision this debate taking place in the classroom? But at least that debate is carried out via the scientific method, involving evidence, hypothesis formation, and falsification, with all parties cooperating to reach understanding the subject under discussion. A debate with IDiots is nothing of the sort.

I’m guessing you aren’t up to the task but who knows maybe you are Lenny Flank’s worst nightmare come to life at last.

Nope. Mr Balter dropped into my DebunkCreation email list to set us all straight about “how to fight ID”. After being corrected on all his pompously-pronounced but hopelessly-wrong statements (“ID isn’t the same as creationism”, “debating IDers helps our side”), he left, quickly.

He also blustered something about “you people haven’t done as much as I have to fight the IDers”, which prompted me to write:

I’ve been fighting creationists for well over 20 years now. I’ve helped form local coalitions to fight them locally, mano-a-mano. I’ve gotten my hands dirty with real grassrooots organizing to oppose and beat them. I’ve passed out leaflets in front of churches and on street corners. I’ve gone door-to-door to raise money. I’ve written press releases and been interviewed by the press. I’ve recruited new coalition members. I’ve spoken at local school board meetings. I’ve worked on election campaigns for anti-creationist school board candidates. I’ve done lots more than talk – I’ve done all the nonglamorous drudge work that really gets political things done. Not very many ivory-tower academics (or freelance writer academic wanna-be’s) can say that. I strongly suspect that YOU can’t.

Many of us have our own websites debunking ID/creationism. Mr Brass had written a book on the subject. Others are members of anti-ID groups in Kansas, Florida, Ohio and elsewhere. Several list members are helping organize the anti-ID movement in the UK.

When the Dover story first broke, this list, all by itself, organized an international effort to donate over 20 topline science books to the Dover Public School Library (and by the way, the cooperation we got from other anti-ID groups in that effort was pretty close to zero).

Where were YOU while all this was going on, Mr Balter? Upon what vast experience do YOU presume to lecture others on the matter?

I never got any answer from him.

A few members of the DebunkCreation list became convinced that Balter is actually a closet IDer. Me, I think Mr Balter is just a naive academic-wanna-be (he is, IIRC, just a freelance writer) who demonstrated an abysmal lack of knowledge about even the most basic things concerning ID, and who thinks he’s much more important and profound than he really is.

I wasn’t terribly impressed by him. At least not favorably.

Hi, I could not find the videos on the American Enterprise Institute website that was referenced above. Can anyone direct me. Thanks

The question of debating has been raised many times, in many places. Balter seems to simply fail to understand that the IDiots love public debating, because the rules are different than they are for scientific debates–public debates address existing biases, beliefs, and emotions rather than factual evidence. Convincing a jury of citizens is much different than convincing scientists working in the relevant field of research. We’ve seen the Creationists debate–shoveling untruths, out-of-context quotes, and misleading impressions over and over again. Just look at the apparent perjuries in the current debate involving Dover. The Grand Debate has been going on for more than 100 years, and Creationism has been consistently losing. Some people simply cannot accept facts that disagree with their worldview.

The AEI videos mentioned above were available HERE. Commentary on the videos by the National Center for Science Education is available HERE.

I knew I was rather slow to respond to Mr. Balter. Thanks for the links to other critical reaction. I agree with Lenny Flank that Balter’s not a “closet creatinist,” just a poorly informed newbie.

The question of debating has been raised many times, in many places. Balter seems to simply fail to understand that the IDiots love public debating, because the rules are different than they are for scientific debates—public debates address existing biases, beliefs, and emotions rather than factual evidence. Convincing a jury of citizens is much different than convincing scientists working in the relevant field of research. We’ve seen the Creationists debate—shoveling untruths, out-of-context quotes, and misleading impressions over and over again. Just look at the apparent perjuries in the current debate involving Dover.

Balter reminds me of the (extremely naive) scientist who guest-posted here a while ago (sorry, don’t recall his name) about his “debate” with “Dr” Hovind. He went in all full of piss and vinegar, ready to show the poor rubes the error of their ways — and ended up getting the floor mopped with himself.

Despite all his bluster, I doubt that Balter would do any better.

An off-topic question:

I was checking out Dembski’s site and saw a note on Richard Smalley’s death. Dembski then said he became a Christian a year ago and had “begun to express his doubts about Darwinism publicly.” There were 2 links but they took me to ID sites, not Smalley in his own words. Dembski also claimed this: “Rick’s prediction at the end of his life was that ID would be mainstreamed in five years and that evolution in its conventional materialistic sense would be dead within ten.”

Does anyone know if Richard Smalley doubted evolution?

It smells bogus.

Dembski attributes this to Smalley:

Evolution has just been dealt its death blow. After reading Origins of Life with my background in chemistry and physics, it is clear that biological evolution could not have occurred.

If Smalley really said this, then he didn’t know what biological evolution is. Whether or not Dembski is lying about this, it’s just another IDioticly fallacious appeal to authority.

And, like Stuart Pivar, Dembsi quotes a dead authority who is unable to contradict him. Lady Hope springs eternal in the creationist breast.

RBH

Apparently Smalley really did drink the koolaid:

http://philbio.typepad.com/philosop[…]ment-4915405

Another prime example of the ID mainstay, Argument from Unqualified Authority. A nobel-prize winning chemist believes in superstitious fairy tales and rejects evolution because of it. Conclusion? Evolution is unsupported by the evidence.

I wonder if folks like Richard Smalley are what Michael Balter meant by “reputable scientists who believe it”, as he stated at DebunkCreation (he was asked who he meant, but ran away without answering). I wonder if Balter realizes that such a statement is an Argument from Unqualified Authority. I wonder if he realizes that he’s trafficing in ID rhetoric.

Dembski then said he became a Christian a year ago and had “begun to express his doubts about Darwinism publicly.”

But ID has nothing to do with religion. No sirree, Bob.

Is there ANY fundie who’s not a goddamn liar?

And, like Stuart Pivar, Dembsi quotes a dead authority who is unable to contradict him.

To be fair, Smalley wasn’t dead when Dembski quoted him. OTOH, Smalley was no authority on the subject of the quote.

Here’s a remarkable entry in the comments section of Dembski’s report of a Nobel laureate (Smalley, unidentified) saying that evolution is “bankrupt” and that ID would be mainstream in 5 years:

http://www.uncommondescent.com/inde[…]#comment-868

(kip) Isn’t argument from authority a common logical fallacy: http://www.datanation.com/fallacies/aa.htm

I think that (ii) applies in this case.

[Much of what we believe is taken on authority — and rightly so since we do not have the time to check everything out thoroughly in our brief lives. The argument from authority only becomes a fallacy if we think that this is enough to establish a claim. It’s not — ultimately there need to be sound arguments and evidence to back a claim up. Nonetheless, credible authorities give us good reason to think that the claims they are authorizing can indeed be backed up. —WmAD]

Which followed this little exchange:

Bill, is this seriously going to happen. Did two scientists really assess evolution as bankrupt?

Benjii: I don’t bluff. I don’t take prisoners. —WmAD

Bill, may I ask what fields these scientists practice?

A question that Dembski never answered.

Speaking of James “Spank ‘em!” Dobson, his organization’s latest spin on the Dover trial and ID in general can be seen here.

A few highlights, from “Focus on the Family Action Origins Analyst Mark Hartwig, Ph. D.”:

… the ACLU is arguing that requiring students to learn about ID amounts to “coerced religious practice.” This is blatantly false, but if the courts go for it, ID would likely be classed with school prayer and Bible reading.

, … cases like Richard Sternberg, a Smithsonian-based researcher who also edited a small, peer-reviewed biology journal. When he allowed a major pro-ID paper to be published, upon approval by three reviewers, his life turned into a nightmare. … a federal investigation confirmed that they tried to drive him out of his job… This kind of thing all is going on everywhere. In fact, there’s an entire book on it that’s still in manuscript. When it comes out, I think people will be amazed at how widespread the harassment is - and how mean.

, … there seems to be a kind of anti-religious hysteria sweeping some segments of our society. There’s just a visceral fear and hatred of anything that even whiffs of Christianity.

, … My best guess is that Bush’s victory galvanized long-held anti-Christian stereotypes, causing many folks to drop all pretense of pluralism and join the battle in earnest. And I think it’s particularly bad in origins because ID has been so spectacularly successful.

, … ID theory merely takes our natural reasoning and expresses it in more explicit, rigorous terms. It then seeks to apply it in such areas as genetics, cell biology, molecular biology and so on. Of course, that’s the part that’s got some folks wrapped around the axle, because living organisms were clearly not designed by humans. And if humans didn’t make them, then who did?

[leading commas inserted to force KwickXML to recognize para breaks]

Note how Hartwig’s spiel - apparently anticipating a loss for ID in Dover - dovetails with Dobson’s crusade against “judicial tyranny” and the ACLU, as well as the “Christians are being cruelly oppressed!” hysteria now routine among political preachers. A link to his 1990 “Missing Evidence” paean to Philip Johnson is provided for the masochistic.

When did Michael Balter become an evolutionary biologist? Dean’s World

Chris Noble

Dembski also claimed this: “Rick’s prediction at the end of his life was that ID would be mainstreamed in five years and that evolution in its conventional materialistic sense would be dead within ten.”

Last year after Dembski made this kind of comment himself, I emailed him, asking him to name a metric by which we would know that ID was winning. He refused, telling me to read Kuhn if I wanted to know how scientific revolutions become accepted. It was an obvious dodge, for obvious reasons.

I’ve just now seen all this. The amazing hysteria with which my Los Angeles Times piece has been discussed on this blog just provides ammunition for the ID’er claim that Darwinism has become a secular religion to some. How else to explain the anger and intolerance for any dissent even within the scientific community itself? I write about evolution and its Darwinian mechanisms for Science on a very regular basis, so I count myself as part of that community–but am saddened by the intolerance I see among some of its members. Fortunately I received many messages from scientists who sympathized with what I was trying to do even if they had reservations about my proposals.

I quit Lenny Frank’s DebunkCreation group because it specializes in personal attacks on people who disagree and is basically for people who want to feel superior to the ID’ers and creationists, who are branded as stupid and ignorant–as compared to the supposedly brilliant regulars on that blog. I am sorry to see some signs of that attitude here as well.

http://www.michaelbalter.com

Well, in large part the irritation I feel is that you chose to enter the discussion on the editorial pages of the LA Times with very poor suggestions that indicate that you have very little background in teaching or the creationist assault on science education. As I wrote above,

What irritates me most about Mr. Balter’s editorial is its presentation of ID arguments without refutations so that it reads more easily as a pro-ID than as anti-ID.

Your comment above seems rather light on substance. Claims of “many messages from scientists who sympathized” hold no water. I sympathize with salvaging American science education, it is your proposals that are lame. Other that the complaint that we are hysterical and intolerant, which is merely false, what have you to offer?

The anger is that your prominently published editorial, in my opinion, helped creationists by reiterating their positions and false claims, and falsely indicated that there is no scientific response -even that scientists are afraid to confront creationists.

Do you now understand that the ID proposals, claims and arguments you presented in the LA Times are false? Have you spent any time in a US public school science class in the last month, or year? How long has it been since you taught biology? Have you read Forrest and Gross, or Young and Edis? Which books or articles on intelligent design have you read written by Dembski? Wells? Johnson? Behe?

I write about evolution and its Darwinian mechanisms for Science on a very regular basis, so I count myself as part of that community—but am saddened by the intolerance I see among some of its members.

What is it they’re supposed to be tolerant of? A religiously motivated assault on the integrity of education? Charlatans who would denigrate their life’s work as “dogma” while making a living from a fraud paid for by the gullible? Warmed over literalist hogwash presented as science, without an iota of the effort needed to put forward serious research, the kind with funding, and publication and peer review, all that stuff creationists wave away as “censorship”?

Affirmative action for failed ideas is a really bad idea. Science as appeal to the majority’s intuitions and beliefs is contrary to centuries of progress.

In short, you’d like biologists to “tolerate” the intolerable, and if some of them are angry, I don’t blame them.

I quit Lenny Frank’s

Um, the name is “Flank”. It’s written right there above my posts.

That seems to be typical of your level of, uh, knowledge about the ID fight.

And why are you here anyway? Why aren’t you out there debating IDers, to show us poor simpleminded rubes who refuse to recognize your genius, just how it’s done?

How else to explain the anger and intolerance for any dissent even within the scientific community itself?

How do we explain this absurd hyperbole other than intellectual dishonesty?

I am sorry to see some signs of that attitude here as well.

Yeah, funny how, at every site where people are knowledgeable on this subject, you get a similar reception.

Gary wrote a rebuttal of your article; how about trying to respond to the substance of his comments, instead of engaging in the same sort of evasive ad hominems as you did at DebunkCreation?

What is it they’re supposed to be tolerant of?

I think he means we’re supposed to be tolerant of his poor arguments. Apparently, rebuttal = intolerance in his mind.

Let me start of by answering Lenny’s question, What am I doing here? On 3 November, Gary Hurd posted a lengthy, point by point rebuttal of my Los Angeles Times piece of 2 October. As I pointed out to Gary in a private email, neither he nor anyone else associated with this site contacted me to let me know that my piece was under discussion here. I did not see these posts nor have any idea about them until yesterday, 8 November. Gary apologized, saying that he thought I would see it via other means, and I accepted his apology. But in fact, were it not for a somewhat tardy Google Alert, I might never have seen any of this.

Some of the posts refer to my short time as a member of the DebunkCreation group, which I joined and then posted my Times piece in which I offered as an alternative strategy to countering ID. (Obviously the people who have posted here don’t think much of my strategy, which is fine–I will get to that in a moment.) With the exception of a sharp but reasoned response from Mikey Brass, my posting was followed by a flurry of personal attacks, questioning whether I was a dupe of the ID’ers, whether I was pretending to be an academic when I wasn’t, and including a number of statements from Lenny and others that anyone who believes ID or creationism is stupid and/or ignorant. It was then that I formed my impression that some defenders of Darwin are intolerant, dogmatic, and filled with missionary zeal that has religious undertones–in other words, some people involved in this, although certainly not all or even a majority, have come to resemble the caricature of the Darwinist that the creationists have always tried to paint. I do indeed detect some of that attitude here, but as I said, I have had discussions with a number of scientists who had a more nuanced reaction to my Times piece. This gives me hope that there is room for discussion about strategy and tactics.

I make all of these remarks because I think they are relevant to the issue of whether or not it is possible to have disagreements within the ranks of the scientific community. That is a key issue for me, because I think that many scientists and defenders of science are in denial about the extent to which religious belief trumps evolutionary thinking in the United States. And I think that this denial has led to a sort of take-no-prisoners approach to the fight against ID that could end up with science losing bigtime. Again, more on that in a moment.

Lenny and Chris Noble have raised here the same issue that came up on DebunkCreation, ie, who I am and what my credentials are to have an opinion on these matters. Since they have engaged in the same personal innuendos as on DebunkCreation, I am going to take another moment to tell you who I am–something that anyone who has read Science for the past 15 years should have a good idea about already. I am from Los Angeles and am 58 years old. From 1974-77 I was a graduate student in the biology department at UCLA, during which time I taught undergraduates and engaged in laboratory research. For various reasons of personal choice I left the department after three years with an MA in biology and went into journalism. In 1991 I became the first correspondent on the European continent for Science, and from 1993 to end 2002 I was the journal’s Paris correspondent. After quitting my staff position to write my book about prehistoric Catalhoyuk, The Goddess and the Bull (yes, it is good and yes you should read it) I became a Contributing Correspondent at the magazine, and my name is on the masthead indicating such. After finishing the book, I have continued in that capacity, and am one member of our three-person team specializing in archaeology and human evolution. Some of my articles, including several on human evolution (including the recent “Are Humans Still Evolving?”), can be found on the Articles page of my Web site:

http://www.michaelbalter.com/articles.php

You might read some of these to see whether you can find any hints of creationist thinking. And while you are on this page, please scroll down to the very bottom where my Los Angeles Times piece is posted and read it again or for the first time to see what I really say there. Then you will be ready for what I have to say next.

Gary has provided a very detailed rebuttal to my Times piece and it makes no sense for me to do a point by point rebuttal of his rebuttal, as my arguments are in the piece itself. But let me respond to certain things he says in yesterday’s post and in his original post in a way that seems suitable to me as a response.

Gary says that he is “irritated” by the fact that I entered the discussion by writing an editorial for the Los Angeles Times, which does indeed have some 800,000 subscribers (not all of whom read the editorials, of course), and put out some “very poor suggestions” about debating ID. For one thing, I obviously did not, and still don’t, agree that my suggestions are very poor, or I would never have written the piece in the first place. What does Gary think I should have done instead? Does he think that I should have debated my ideas about debating ID on The Panda’s Thumb or DebunkCreation before going public with them, to see if they passed muster? Well, they have not passed muster with this group, but I still think they needed to be aired. I assume that Gary is also irritated by the fact that I made sure my piece got the widest possible dissemination, with some help from the Times syndication service and bloggers all over the world. Again, I did this because I think the current strategy is a loser. I state my reasons in the piece.

But Gary’s rebuttal at the beginning of this thread confuses a number of different issues, all of which I agree are important in their own right: Whether or not we should debate the ID’ers, whether or not ID is science or religion, whether ID is correct, and whether I am naive or uninformed on these issues. He also complains that I helped ID and creationism by not refuting their positions in my Times piece but simply stating their position without comment. In fact, it was not the point of my piece to refute ID–plenty of others are already trying to do that–but to say that the best bet for scientists was to debate ID. Thus the fact that ID is wrongheaded or is not science is not relevant to the issue of whether we should debate them. The whole point in a debate is to try to prove the other side wrong. If you read my piece again, you should be able to see that I imply very heavily that scientists would win the debate as a result of their superior arguments. That is the meaning of my “bring it on” ending.

Thus when Gary asks, “Do you now understand that the ID proposals… are false,” he is attacking a straw man. I am sorry if debating an opponent means acknowledging that the opponent exists and has a point of view that he or she has a right to defend, but that is the way it is. And that’s where some of the intolerance comes in: The self-satisfied feeling of many people on the DebunkCreation group that anyone who disagrees with them is stupid and/or ignorant serves to LESSEN THE INFLUENCE THAT SCIENTISTS HAVE IN THIS ONGOING CULTURE WAR. To the extent that others adopt this attitude, you will lose in the long run.

So back to my point about denial. As I cite in my piece, and as everyone here knows, the opinion polls (Gallup, Pew, etc) consistently show that the overwhelming majority of Americans accept either ID or straight out creationism. That is the point from which we start. Scientists and educators have relied heavily on the courts to keep religious objections to evolution out of the classroom, with considerable success until recently. The Dover case is not yet decided, and when it is, most likely it will be appealed to a Supreme Court that will probably include a lot of judges you might not want to see handling this issue. Yesterday there was a setback in Kansas and a victory in Dover. But the battle for the hearts and minds of school kids and adults on the issues of religion vs science has been largely lost up to now, as the opinion polls show. You may keep ID out of some classrooms but you won’t keep it out of American life unless you are willing to confront your opponents directly in debate–that is my view, agree or not.

That brings me to one last major point, and a minor one. The claims by some ID’ers that ID represents an alternative scientific hypothesis to Darwinian approaches drives many scientists wild with anger, and I understand and sympathize with that. But really, you have fallen into their well-laid trap. ID is really a religious explanation for how we all got here, and if there was a debate between Michael Behe and, say, Jerry Coyne or Allen Orr on national TV it could be very enlightening in that regard. This in fact was one of my proposals; do you really not want to see this debate take place? The fact is, however, that the average American, and by that I mean the overwhelming majority of Americans, don’t care at all whether ID is really science or not. What they care about is which has the better explanation for how we all got here, religion or science. So keeping debate about ID (which is NOT the same as teaching the controversy, although some, including the ID’ers themselves, have myopically tried to see my piece as suggesting that) out of the classroom does not help win converts to Darwinian or scientific thinking because only a confrontation between religion and science can resolve the issue. Again, my support for this is the opinion polls which show that the percentage of Americans who think science has the better explanation is dismally low and has not risen in 20 years.

The minor point is Gary’s statement that I said scientists are afraid to confront creationists. Search the Los Angeles Times and see if I said that. What I said is that they did not want to debate, for reasons that may seem sound but which I find self-defeating. But that does raise an interesting issue which came up in the emails I received from some scientists about my piece. While agreeing that a debate was a good idea in principle, they expressed a lot of concern that the concepts of evolution were too complex to be handled properly in a high school biology class. My response to that is, if evolution is too complicated to teach to high school students, on what basis should they be expected to accept it as the best explanation–as a matter of faith?

Bon courage, as we say here, to everyone in this struggle–because there are rough times ahead and you are going to need it. And if you don’t understand that I am on your side, then go back and read my Times piece, and my articles for Science, one more time.

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I report here the effects of a modified approach to a majors-oriented college introductory biology course

Mr. Balter, can’t you see the difference here? by the time someone is in a majors-oriented college introductory biology course, they ALREADY have the tools necessary to make logical decisions for themselves.

the same tactic WILL NOT WORK when used with less knowledgeable students, or the general public, for that matter.

This is what Lenny and others keep trying to point out to you, but you refuse to grasp.

And tell me why your 20 year fight against the creationists has resulted in no change in the number of people who believe in it at least in the USA over the exact same period according to the polls I cite in my LA Times piece, and why we are still having this battle and only barely holding the line?

your use of poll data is astoundingly bad in this circumstance, and reflects on your abilities even more.

uh, what on EARTH makes you think that what Lenny by himself has done would reflect on 20 years of poll data for the entire US?

why not ask Lenny how effective his strategies have been directly?

probably because, like you have demonstrated over and over, you simply don’t care about what works and what doesn’t, only what YOU think will work.

The worst that can be said about Mr. Balter is that he means well and made a proposal that may be flawed.

No, that’s not the worst that can be said about him, and that claim casts a deep shadow on your own judgment and intellectual honesty.

One might even say that if the Verhey paper is correct in its conclusions about pedagogical techniques, and if it could be adapted to the high school situation despite Craig Nelson’s reservations about this

And Verhey’s own reservations:

I signed a statement that says that teaching ID is poor pedagogy, and I still think that is true at the high school level.

Note: it would be quite worthwhile to have a discussion about approaches toward pedagogy in high school, college, and elsewhere. But that’s not what this thread was about; it was about a specific op-ed, a highly tendentious op-ed that made false charges, misrepresented positions, presented ID claims uncritically, insulted the scientific community, and offered some specific but ill-considered proposals, proposals that bear very little resemblance to the Verhey study.

The worst that can be said about Mr. Balter is that he means well and made a proposal that may be flawed.

Hilarious. I think that’s the best we could possibly for say for Mr. Balter under the circumstances, if we’re feeling really really generous. And why should we show Mr. Balter that sort of understanding when he does nothing but grandstand and dissemble in response to our questions and criticisms of his vaguely articulated and ill-considered “proposals”?

Recall the following questions Mr. Balter has completely dodged:

What’s left of the scientific theory of ID that hasn’t been refuted, in your opinion, Mr. Balter?

Re Balter’s claim that: The Dover case is not yet decided, and when it is, most likely it will be appealed to a Supreme Court Why do you think this? I would be stunned if the Supreme’s take cert on any issue arising from the facts in this case. Why do you say this? Do you think Judge Jones is going to write a terrible opinion that confuses the law terribly?

Balter wrote: But the battle for the hearts and minds of school kids and adults on the issues of religion vs science has been largely lost up to now, as the opinion polls show. Are you sure about that? With your fantastic journalistic imagination, Mr. Balter, do you think that you could come up with some poll questions that would incontrovertibly show the opposite of what these other polls show?

Why aren’t you suggesting that history teachers step up to plate and start teaching kids why we have a separation clause in the first place? Why does the Constitution mandate that arts and sciences be promoted but prohibits the promotion of religion? Why aren’t history teachers teaching that in class? For that matter, why isn’t that being discussed on television whenever this issue comes up? And why aren’t journalists like you, Mr. “I’m On Your Side” Balter explaining the answers to these questions plainly and repetively to your readers?

Balter wrote: The fact is, however, that the average American, and by that I mean the overwhelming majority of Americans, don’t care at all whether ID is really science or not. What they care about is which has the better explanation for how we all got here, religion or science. Really? Is that what Americans care about? Who has the better explanation, religion or science? Does that come from a poll, Mr. Balter? Care to define what you mean by “better”? Are you sure you didn’t mean to say “simpler”?

I can understand why Mr. Balter wants to pretend that these questions weren’t asked. They reveal something about Mr. Balter that quite a few people have alluded to by now which is that Mr. Balter isn’t interested in doing his own job, which is allegedly that of a journalist. Instead, Mr. Balter wants to recast himself in the mode of some sort of specialist in education and mass psychology. We scientists are supposed to heed Mr. Balter’s warnings and call for “debates” because … why? I missed that part and so did everyone else.

I have to ask Mr. Balter again this straightforward question: if Mr. Balter is indeed the respectable journalist he claims to be, and if he is on the side of scientists as he claims to be, and if he knows that “intelligent design” is non-science creationist garbage promoted by lying charlatans like Bill “Street Theatre” Dembski, then why doesn’t Mr. Balter write devastating articles about these facts and publish them in Science magazine and elsewhere?

Why? Why in the hell isn’t Mr. Balter writing articles which would persuade even the most ignorant layperson that the Discovery Institute is a Christian reconstructionist-funded think tank with an anti-science pro-fundamentalist agenda, managed by and employing the worst sort of liars and charlatans in American culture today?

Why is Mr. Balter instead advocating that scientists do exactly what the Discovery Institute would love scientists to do?

When such a “debate” takes place, why should any of us expect Mr. Balter to write an article about the debate which casts the Discovery Institute charlatans in the starkest possible light, as we would hope that a journalist on “our side” would do?

And why hasn’t Mr. Balter called for the kind of debates which I suggested and which the Discovery Institute charlatans refuse to engage in: debates about the veracity of the Discovery Institute and its employees with respect to the Discovery Institute’s “scientific” agenda, which for some strange reason appears to be 100% dependent on the direction in which legal and political winds blow?

I recognize that the odds of Mr. Balter answering each of these questions are astronomical. Next to the creationist trolls and Discovery Institute charlatans themselves, he’s probably the laziest and least forthright person who has posted comments here.

so, at this point, are we ready to answer the question posed at the top of the thread?

contrarian or just lame?

I vote both.

We should ALL be careful how we argue here. If Professor Emeritus of Biology Craig Nelson has an equal or better imagination than Michael Balter, then his hearty endorsement of the paper and its conclusions (given that he has actually read it) might also carry at least as much or even more weight than the hasty rebuttals of Lenny and morbius

Balter’s reading comprehension leaves a lot to be desired. I didn’t rebut Verhey’s paper, I endorsed it. But, like both Nelson and Verhey, I reject Balter’s view on debates in public high schools. Balter manages to introduce as support for his position material that directly contradicts it, for instance

Also in the paper I write that “…one could argue that the evidence [from education literature] suggests most high school graduates, and even most college graduates, are cognitively unprepared to think effectively about evolution.” I don’t know what to say about high school evolution education. I don’t think my approach would work there. Perhaps it could work, but it would take too much time. Evolution can’t be avoided in HS biology classes, and creationism/ID can’t be presented as even vaguely valid alternatives, so we are where we are.

No one has endorsed Balter’s suggestion:

Let’s encourage teachers to stage debates in their classrooms or in assemblies. Students can be assigned to one or the other side, and guest speakers can be invited.

Nor his bizarre suggestion that

Among other things, students would learn that science, when properly done, reaches conclusions via experimentation, evidence and argument, not through majority view.

Science is not “properly done” by debating its detractors in auditoriums, and that is nothing like Verhey’s approach, which is to present ID nonsense and then refute it. The approach is not to have the educator act as a neutral moderator; as Craig Nelson points out,

Advocates of teaching intelligent design or creationism along with evolution assume that each alternative will be taught as equally valid (or that evolution will be critiqued and the alternative will not). That is clearly wrong, factually and morally.

Which sums up Balter’s suggestions from his op-ed.

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I have a few observations or two, and a suggestion. First, this thread has scrolled off the main page. It would be much more convenient for the 8 or so active participants to bookmark the thread at this point.

Secondly, there seems actually little left to say at this point. We have more or less uniformly been critical of Mr. Balter’s observations and agree that he has written a widely published recommendation that has little to commend it.

He has steadfastly rejected all these observations. There seems no point in further belaboring the point.

Mr. Balter has proposed to write a detailed program as solution to the Kansas situation which he wants to have posted and discussed.

Dr. Verhey’s paper will not be made available, as he informed me by Email. The copyright belongs to the journal, and he has indicated that anyone without journal access will merely not have access. (I read the article a week or two ago, so I know that there are electronic versions around, and Mr. Balter has said that Dr. Verhey sent him an electronic version. Dr. Verhey seems to want to limit further dissemination). That seems to block that topic.

My proposal is to close this discussion. If Mr. Balter wishes to make good on his “Kansas” offer, he might send me his proposal by email, which I will open in a new thread.

if you’re looking for a second to that proposal, consider it so.

What I wrote offlist to Dr. Hurd was a gentle restatement of a part of my initial post that he chose to ignore: it only seems fair to let subscribers at least get the printed journal before my paper is released freely on the Internet. I didn’t realize that Dr. Hurd had already had access to the paper, so I don’t understand why he doesn’t take the initiative to release it if he wishes.

I also noted in my e-mail to Dr. Hurd that I forgot to mention in my post that the November issue of BioScience should be in libraries very soon. If your local library isn’t a subscriber, please suggest that it subscribe.

Meanwhile, I have been happy to send a pdf of the paper personally to the two people who have requested it. I will send copies to anyone else who asks, in the tradition of sending reprints.

To be perfectly honest, one reason I’m being so stubborn about this is that on page 933 (they sent me two advance copies!) is their annual statement of circulation, and I was surprised at how few subcribers they have. I am one, and I think others should be, too. They’ve published some important evolution education stuff in the past.

Dr. Verhey is entirely correct.

If in a month or so he would like to open this topic again, I will be most happy to oblige.

Thanks to all those participants who have offered cogent comments.

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This page contains a single entry by Gary Hurd published on November 3, 2005 10:00 PM.

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