Witt in the Seattle Times

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In an opinion piece in the Seattle Times, Jonathan Witt is in high dudgeon over those intolerant "Darwinists" who want to suppress the Truth. Sadly, his piece is one half-truth after another, all misleadingly twisted to give an overwhelmingly fraudulent impression. You would think that someone who honestly wants to address a scientific issue would not resort to such distortions and propaganda…but that's the Discovery Institute for you.

He begins with the outrageous action by certain Dover citizens to hold their school board accountable for diluting the science content of the classroom.

In short order, the School District was dragged into court by a group insisting the school policy constituted an establishment of religion, this despite the fact that the unmentionable book bases its argument on strictly scientific evidence, without appealing to religious authority or attempting to identify the source of design.

What don't they mention? Well, that the Discovery Institute abandoned Dover and would not help with the defense of the book, and the book itself (strangely unmentionable in Witt's article, for reasons I don't understand; are they ashamed of it?) is Of Pandas and People. As has been amply demonstrated by the testimony of its publisher and any examination of its contents, it is not based on scientific evidence, but is creationism warmed over, plain and simple. I'm afraid all of Witt's claims of scientific legitimacy for the book are false, and I suspect that he knows it, or he wouldn't have been reluctant to mention the title.

Witt also singles out a comment I made on the Panda's Thumb (I have to mention, since Witt names me in my home town newspaper, an important message: Hi, Mom!):

Our only problem is that we aren't martial enough, or vigorous enough, or loud enough, or angry enough. The only appropriate responses should involve some form of righteous fury, much butt-kicking, and the public firing and humiliation of some teachers, many schoolboard members, and vast numbers of sleazy far-right politicians.

Of course, he excludes all the context to claim that it's all about defending dogma. I've already discussed this ID claim in a post titled, "While we're at it, let's also fire the math teachers who can't do algebra"—it's not about dogma, it's about competence. Witt wants to pretend it's a sign of a "growing controversy," but it's not. If we fire math teachers who can't do basic algebra, does that mean that algebra is a concept under attack from a growing body of educated critics, or that we've got standards that teachers are expected to meet?

Witt's next complaint is to bring up the "martyrdom" of Richard Sternberg, who apparently was under attack by the PZ Myers Playbook.

The most prominent victim in the story was Richard Sternberg, a scientist with two Ph.D.s in evolutionary biology and former editor of a journal published out of the Smithsonian's Museum of Natural History. He sent out for peer review, then published, a paper arguing that intelligent design was the best explanation for the geologically sudden appearance of new animal forms 530 million years ago.

Sternberg promoted the publication of an exceptionally poor paper and rightly enough elicited the disgust of competent scientists. Witt recites the complaints received by the US Office of the Special Counsel from Sternberg, but doesn't bother to mention that the OSC dismissed his complaints, and that he's still working at the Smithsonian…some martyr!

He also neglects to mention how the NCSE recommended handling the issue:

However, one particularly entertaining part of the opinion occurs when NCSE's advice to Smithsonian staff is discussed. Among the Smithsonian staff, there was evidently a fair bit of outraged email discussion of Sternberg's actions --- Sternberg had, after all, just involved the PBSW and the Smithsonian in an internationally-noticed scientific scandal, and had guaranteed that the PBSW and Smithsonian would now have their good names put on Discovery Institute bibliographies and talking points for the foreseeable future. In NCSE's limited contact with individuals at the Smithsonian, we gave our usual advice (also found in the PT critique of Meyer's paper), namely: don't overreact, and instead focus on criticizing the scientific problems with Meyer's article and Sternberg's editorial decisions. In the OSC complaint, this gets portrayed as some kind of scandal.

This can't be emphasized enough: Meyer's paper was shoddy work, and Sternberg shepherded it through peer review in a shifty manner. What Witt actually wants us to do is shut up when his fellow travelers try to publish bad science; it's not about some mythical Darwinian dogma at all.

Witt dives into the quote mines, again.

One cause for their insecurity may be the theory's largely metaphysical foundations. As evolutionary biologist A.S. Wilkins conceded, "Evolution would appear to be the indispensable unifying idea and, at the same time, a highly superfluous one."

If anyone is familiar with A.S. Wilkins work, they'd know that this was a very peculiar comment, one that perhaps must have had something more to it. Yes, it did, as the rest of the paragraph shows:

Yet, the marginality of evolutionary biology may be changing. More and more issues in biology, from diverse questions about human nature to the vulnerability of ecosystems, are increasingly seen as reflecting evolutionary events. A spate of popular books on evolution testifies to the development. If we are to fully understand these matters, however, we need to understand the processes of evolution that, ultimately, underlie them.

That was from the Panda's Thumb, in August. Here it is in November, and the DI is still shamelessly promoting this dishonest partial quote. And he compounds it this time!

And in the September issue of The Scientist, National Academy of Sciences member Philip Skell argued that his extensive investigations into the matter corroborated Wilkins' view.

Philip Skell is not a credible source. This is a guy who argues that discoveries of hominid fossils are not informed by or contribute to our understanding of evolution. His whole obsessive schtick is to claim that biologists (he is not one) do not use evolutionary concepts at all, and that the whole field would be unchanged if we abandoned it. Need I add that this is not in corroboration of any view held by A.S. Wilkins?

It's all more fireworks and smoke from the Discovery Institute, a recycling of tired old lies into yet another press release that a gullible media will print without verifying anything in it. John Lynch also finds Witt's article appalling—isn't it about time for newspapers to realize that the Discovery Institute is all spin and no substance, and to start roundfiling their submissions in the same way they would press releases from the Flat Earth Society?

302 Comments

“One cause for their insecurity may be the theory’s largely metaphysical foundations. As evolutionary biologist A.S. Wilkins conceded, ‘Evolution would appear to be the indispensable unifying idea and, at the same time, a highly superfluous one.’”

Taking a quote like this one out of context would seem to point to a deliberate cover-up. Trying to figure this one out.

DO they know that the science behind evolution is good but they just don’t want others to notice? I admit to having little religious training and I have only been to church once but that experience left a similar taste in my mouth. The details of that adventure definitely affected my desire to experience God’s love.

I was 23 years old in my senior year of college. My future wife insisted that I experience a church service. I had always sort of wanted to go to a church, but owing to the fact that it wasn’t particularly important to me, I always found something else to do on Sundays. Anyway, her prodding was enough to get me to go. As an aside- if you are planning to do the same thing I did, attend church for the first time in your 20’s, I have some advice: don’t go to a church that is close to your house.

So we pick a little church on the next block over from our apartment. Glad Tidings was the name. It sounded so happy. We could sing and praise Jesus, have a potluck picnic and maybe help out at an old folk’s home. Hmmm.… Are you guessing that is how it turned out? Right! I was wrong. Well we did sing. A little. Badly. Then we heard the sermon. The very first story he told involved Mahatma Gandhi and how he was in hell because he never accepted Christ. The preacher went on to tell the story of a confused young lady, a member of the church, who had asked him for advice. It seemed her boyfriend, a local college student, had asked her one day, “why does heaven and hell matter?” The preacher’s advice? Dump the guy. He is dangerous. He will corrupt your soul. And stay away from those bastions of sin and satanic learning we call colleges. By this point, he was really into it. Hell! Damnation awaits those who refuse to submit to Jesus’ will.

Not really the sort of answer I expected. I am seriously asking this, DOes it seem like they are assembling a concerted effort to put their fingers in their “flock’s” ears and sing “LA LA LA LA I CAN’T HEEEAARRR YOU”?

PZ, you remind me of why I’am not a darwinist. Thanks man!

BWE, been there done that.BUT not as bad as a Hugh Ross lecture I attended last week,

Wot.… no mention of his fellow Conspiritors from the ID ..Behe and Dembski and their brilliant mindless meandering at the trial hahahahahhahahahhahahahahahahahahahahahahah

No claim of victory over the ACLU .…no mention of the naughty goings on on the Dover Board.

The paradigm wasn’t reversed it was “refashioned” hahahahaha

Those paradigm’s are slippery little snarks.

Kafka could not have dreamed of this.

The same edition of The Seattle Times features this thoroughly anti-ID opinion piece by Charles Krauthammer: http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/ht[…]ammer21.html.

Bobby, PZ’s not really a “darwinist” either. No more than a physicist is a “newtonist”.

Always have to straighten out those jesusists.

The preacher went on to tell the story of a confused young lady, a member of the church, who had asked him for advice. It seemed her boyfriend, a local college student, had asked her one day, “why does heaven and hell matter?” The preacher’s advice? Dump the guy. He is dangerous. He will corrupt your soul.

…and of course, the confused young lady in question couldn’t have been a certain young lady you were dating at the time, right? ;)

My question is why religious folks are supporting ID as something other than creationism. Isn’t that blasphemous? After all it is giving god-like ability to an unnamed ‘designer’ who is not God? Seems to be a good question to run past them…

Y’know, he never did say who she was. The certain young lady I was dating at the time lived a block away from the church. She could have been a closet christian. We did have a pastor marry us three years later. Hmmm. I could very well have asked her why do heaven and hell matter. Hmmm. She goes pretty crazy with Christmas and Easter. Christmas lights all over the house just like a million little stars of Bethlehem, rabbit eggs all over the yard just like Jesus walking on the water. I’ll have to ask her when she gets home from work. Now I’m worried, she teaches science to 6, 7 and 8th graders.

From the link posted by Steviepinhead;

How ridiculous to make evolution the enemy of God. What could be more elegant, more simple, more brilliant, more economical, more creative, indeed more divine than a planet with millions of life forms, distinct and yet interactive, all ultimately derived from accumulated variations in a single double-stranded molecule, pliable and fecund enough to give us mollusks and mice, Newton and Einstein? Even if it did give us the Kansas State Board of Education too.

Classic.

Nerf “why religious folks are supporting ID as something other than creationism”

Big tent- the full spectrum

YEC to Atheists (who see the benefit of “Pascals Wager”)

So in other words, these people are saying “We’re cool with blasphemy, as long as it’s double-secret-not-really-blasphemeing-more-sneaky-scheming blasphemy?

ssshhhhhhh!!

That’s what I’m saying. In order to use the kinds of tactics they are using, misquoting, taking things out of context, claiming victory where defeat is king, these kinds of things, they must KNOW that the science is good and that reasonable people employing logic and the scientific method of verification will come to that conclusion. I think they don’t want their sheep to go down that road. It’s right out of Max Webers theory of organizational maintenance (or whoever’s , its been a while since I took that class).

This is an organization fighting back against threats to it’s existence. The leaders KNOW that ID and for that matter creationism is crap. THey don’t want their members to find out. Otherwise, this isn’t the sort of tactics used by those who want to come to the truth of the matter. ???

It’s funny, before the Dover resolution, I read an article posted by the DI from a Texan lawyer. Basically the argument from the loud mouthed logic basher was that evolution was going to lose, and ID was going to win, because “Darwinists” (sorry Don) are acting like losers. He went on to define a “loser” as someone who made illogical arguments, bashed the opposition when the losing party is going down, attacks the core values of the subject, meanders around direct questions, ignores evidence that blatantly disagrees with their ideas, and doesn’t support the “word of God”. Besides the last little piece of that rant, I felt that the description fit ID supporters rather nicely. So well described was his own side in his own essay, that if a creationist was given a subject, and a definition equally compatible, I guarantee you he/she will claim that both were made by God alone. I told him this, and I never got a response.

I recently read a very good argument against ID (and its propogandists like Jonathan Witt) that I don’t see brought up often enough: the process of science requires extreme openness and honesty; intelligent design creationism is the opposite because it purposely refuses to address who the intelligent designer is, what mechanisms the intelligent designer uses, etc. The processes that the intelligent design creationists are using are not scientific in any way - there is no openness, no honesty, just an agenda to fool people into thinking what they’re doing is somehow scientific. Sadly, I’m unable to find the article again.

Witt’s ploy to overlook all the dishonesty of the intelligent design proponents that he mentions demonstrates yet again that he’s not interested in science, only fooling others that there is a scientific controversy where there is none.

So, let’s all do a little soul searching, decide if we are giving them the benefit of the doubt, and then using intellectual honesty in fashioning our opinions. Once we have decided this, and then examine the DI’s point of view for the same biases, and we discover that there is considerable intelectual dishonesty on the ID front, we can ask ourselves, “Why? Why would they do this? They aren’t stupid people. WHy would they purposefully decieve and mislead? Are they trying to get something? DO they know that they are wrong? WHat do they stand to gain from the success of their purposeful deception? Money? Women (or Men)? Power? Status? Free meals? What is their game?”

If their game is as deceptively simple as the reactionary fear of the challenge science has presented to their dogma, why do the MSP give them the time of day? I mean, here they are, proclaiming that volcanoes don’t erupt and magnets point east and the Seattle times prints competing op ed pieces do debate the subject.

It is ok to be upset. THere isn’t a debate. Many of us are scientists of one sort or another and we have been educated in the scientific method and we understand it and we know many of the experiments and have read much of the data, hypothoses, theories and whacked out ideas concerning astronomy, Biology, Oceanography, Geology, physics, marine biology, genetics and etc. and we can understand that it is just a pile of horse sh/*t.

So we sit there and debate why they are wrong rather than why are they doing this? WHy are they commiting this deception on the uneducated? It isn’t me they are trying to decieve. I know that they are full of it. It is the guy down the street who goes to church, fulfills it’s social obligations and doesn’t have a science education at all.

I could go on and on here but Witt is consciously decieving. We should ask ourselves what he has to gain from his deception.

The same edition of The Seattle Times features this thoroughly anti-ID opinion piece by Charles Krauthammer

When I read this, I was worried for a second that I might have to agree with Krauthammer. Fortunately, we get this opening throat clearing.

Because every few years this country, in its infinite tolerance, insists on hearing yet another appeal of the Scopes monkey trial, I feel obliged to point out what would otherwise be superfluous

Not a bad opening, but I think he meant to say: “Because I make my living as a conservative pundit, I am under contractual obligation to present at least one big lie as self-evident truth in the first paragraph. So how about:”

the two greatest scientists in the history of our species were Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein, and they were both religious.

What nonsense. Not to deny the greatness of Newton or Einstein, but they’re just the biggest celebrities in their category. How do I take the rest of this seriously? First off, this choice is heavily weighted towards mathematical theorists and leaves out experimentalists. Second, it’s just obviously wrong and Krauthammer doesn’t even try to justify the claim before running with it.

Newton was matched by Leibniz in the discovery of calculus. As a mathematical physicist, well off the top of my head, there’s Hamilton, Lagrange, and Gauss with some very important results with relevance to physics. But let’s take Maxwell for a direct comparison. Maxwell’s equations are at least as significant as Newton’s laws in defining classical physics. Newton also seems questionable as an experimentalist. He was very wrong in rejecting the wave theory of light when there were experiments to demonstrate it. He devoted an amazing proportion of his prodigious intellectual to the study of alchemy and did not move it any closer to chemistry. This seems clear evidence against the claim that he was a great scientist and not merely a great mathematician. He was indeed very religious, maybe even by the standards of the day, and came up with specious biblical analyses. Nobody’s doubting Newton’s brilliance, but I don’t see any reason to single him out.

Einstein may present an even clearer case. Relativity is important, but no more so than quantum physics as spearheaded by Bohr’s group. Einstein won a Nobel for the photoelectric effect, so he did contribute to quantum physics, but he really seemed to miss the boat later on. I am very sympathetic to Einstein’s universalist worldview, but he was just one of many collaborators in the project of 20th century physics.

Krauthammer wants to claim these scientists were relgious, but the big question is where they fell with respect to the baseline. As I said, Newton may have been at least as religious as those of his day. Einstein had a sort of fashionable agnosticism and liked to talk about God in figurative terms. I really don’t think he was more religious than the average 20th century scientist, most of whom were far less religious than the population at large then or now.

So I sort of skimmed the rest of Krauthammer’s essay, but honestly how do I pay attention when it starts with a howler like this one? I’m glad he thinks ID doesn’t belong in the schools, but I’m not sure I have much patience for exploring his reasoning any more than the reasoning of his opponents on this issue.

This is an organization fighting back against threats to it’s existence. The leaders KNOW that ID and for that matter creationism is crap. THey don’t want their members to find out. Otherwise, this isn’t the sort of tactics used by those who want to come to the truth of the matter. ???

Did anyone see the recent South Park where Scientologists thought that Stan was the second coming of L. Ron Hubbard?

It was classic.

The leader finally had to break down and tell Stan that Scientology was total crap, but that they had to keep people convinced so that they would pay them.

Hmm…

Also, might I add that Einstein wasn’t actually religious.

The funny thing about South Park doing Scientology is that Isaac Hayes does the voice of Chef on SP and he is also a Scientologist. I didn’t see the episode but I wonder if Chef was in it.

PZ writes:

Witt also singles out a comment I made on the Panda’s Thumb (I have to mention, since Witt names me in my home town newspaper, an important message: Hi, Mom!): (Begin PZ quote)

Our only problem is that we aren’t martial enough, or vigorous enough, or loud enough, or angry enough. The only appropriate responses should involve some form of righteous fury, much butt-kicking, and the public firing and humiliation of some teachers, many schoolboard members, and vast numbers of sleazy far-right politicians.

(end PZ quote)

Of course, he excludes all the context to claim that it’s all about defending dogma. I’ve already discussed this ID claim in a post titled, “While we’re at it, let’s also fire the math teachers who can’t do algebra”—it’s not about dogma, it’s about competence.

PZ, The orginal post from which the quote was lifted has nothing to do with competence issues, and everything to do with protecting dogma. For example in the orginal quote (to which you link above) you wrote:

Here I am, a biologist living in the 21st century in one of the richest countries in the world, and one of the two biology teachers in my kids’ high school is a creationist.

You say nothing of this biology teacher’s competence. Rather, you want to implicate him/her by association by slapping on the dreaded ‘C’ word. Further, you don’t tell us what you mean by the term “creationist”. The way the anti-ID crowd employs the term, it could mean just about anything you wish it to mean. I wonder if you would have said anything at if that same biology teacher were an atheist. Apparently, some religious (or anti-religious) views are acceptable in a science classroom and some are not. Your dogma seems to be: “Atheism = competence; creationism = incompetence.” One thing from that original post is clear: it doesn’t discuss competence at all. It is just another in a long string of your diatribes against ID containing little in the way of logic or reason. Go figure!

A biology who is a creationist is a sign of intellectual incompetence. This would be akin to having a physics teacher who rejected any physics that had been discovered post-1850.

That should be a biology TEACHER who is a Creationist…

I would argue that creationism=incompetence. Sure.

THat’s the trouble. You can go blow goats for all I care. Empirical data present conclusive proof that pretty much all of the creation myths from the dawning of civilization are bunk. If you want to believe that Mother Earth Castrated Father sky or that Yaweh kicked adam and eve out of the garden or that Tetatktlquitl needs virgins cast into his cavernous mouth in order to let the villiage remain on his slopes then go ahead. But then don’t profess to teach the scientific method. THey are in fact, incompatible. Science is not incompatible with the recognition of the miracle of life or in fact the miracle of existence. A great many deeply spiritual people are scientists. THey are not creationist, though.

My problem with the Charles Krauthammer piece had less to do with the stature of Newton and Einstein as scientists–I’ll grant that–and more to do with a mischaracterization of their religious positions. Anyone who saw Nova on PBS last week knows that Newton was NOT a Christian, in an orthodox sense. He denied the trinity and, not to put too fine a point on it, was a raving lunatic religiously. You know that fine line between genius and madness? Newton didn’t.

And Einstein’s best-known statement on religion is, “If there is something in me that can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world.” Richard Dawkins would easily, eagerly say the same thing. There’s nothing theistic about it.

My background is in religion, so I appreciate the points made about how Newton and Einstein are merely iconic and not necessarily the best scientists. From my perspective it was troubling because it simply misrepresented the religious component–and for that reason, I immediately dismissed the piece as poorly reasoned.

And how do you figure we use the term “Creationist” loosely? Because we call IDist for what they truely are?

If a teacher is going to come in and pass off a bunch of ancient myths or basless assertions as scientifically valid theories than that is incompetence. For a teacher of science to hold these views shows that they do not fully understand the subject that they are supposed to be teaching.

The ID position is not to promote myths, but I would say that it is just as clearly a case of incompetence to peddle the methodological vacuousness of ID in a science classroom. It says nothing.

I beg PZ to do the right thing here.

I agree. Watching Mr Stoner babble has become too painful.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by PZ Myers published on November 21, 2005 1:10 PM.

Vienna cardinal draws lines in Intelligent Design row was the previous entry in this blog.

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