A Letter to the Editor

| 61 Comments

Today’s (1 December 2005) edition of USA Today included a column on Intelligent Design written by Cal Thomas and Bob Beckel. The entire column is objectionable, but Thomas’ conclusion was by far the worst part. The rest of this post, which also appears on my personal blog, has been submitted in response as a letter to the editor.

.….….…. Dear Sir:

On June 30, 1860 a famous (and perhaps fictional) encounter took place between the scientist Thomas Henry Huxley and the Bishop of Oxford, Samuel Wilberforce. The occasion was a discussion of Darwin’s recently published book Origin of Species, and according to legend Wilberforce concluded his remarks by asking Huxley whether he was descended from an ape on his father’s side or his mother’s. This bit of ancient history popped into my mind when I read Cal Thomas’ remark at the end of the column that he and Bob Beckel wrote on Intelligent Design in yesterday’s paper.

Unlike our understanding of evolution itself, which has advanced tremendously in the last century and a half, Thomas’ idea of a clever response seems to be on a par with the good bishop. Thomas’ remark, “Maybe we can offer [scientists] some bananas as an incentive. As they eat them, they can contemplate their heritage,” does not have any more of a place in a reasonable discussion than did Wilberforce’s.

My reply to Thomas is more or less the same as Huxley’s reply to Wilberforce: if I had a choice between having a monkey as a grandfather or having as a grandfather someone who has great intellectual gifts and influence, but uses those gifts and that influence merely to inject ridicule into a serious debate, I would, without hesitation, choose the monkey.

Michael Dunford Graduate Student, Department of Zoology, University of Hawaii at Manoa.

61 Comments

Of all the egregious stupidity on both ‘sides’ of that discussion you chose to focus on the closing ad hominem? Why not speak to the point that highschool science classes are not the place to adjudicate scientific theories? Or that ID hasn’t been vetted because there is no theory to vet? Or that those briliant scientists who believed in a designer either pre-dated Darwin or accepted Darwin’s theory, retaining their beleif in God as theology, not science?

Because all of that has been covered elsewhere, is my guess, Garret. One can get tired of rehashing the same arguments again and again to little or no effect.

Besides, to this audience, all of that can be taken as read.

Mr Merriam, usually I’d be inclined to agree, but letters to the editor which are short and punchy are more likely to be published. As has been bemoaned before, good science takes up far more words than the pseudoscience it’s refuting.

Plus, it’s always neat to see a stubborn good guy get another (albeit apocryphal) swing in from beyond the grave.

-The Rev. Schmitt.

OK, that was the worst column I’ve read in awhile. (and typical of what I’ve seen from Cal Thomas) Why do some columnists feel they can write in a public forum without doing their homework first? A scientist would NEVER get away with such inaccuracies. Maybe newspaper columns need vigorous peer review…

Perhaps a national debate would be a good idea. As far as I can see it should not be too difficult to show the public why ID is not science.

The column was appalling. Bob and Cal are twittering on about the theory of ID. What ID theory is that?

Explain what theory means in science, show that ID is a non-tested hypothesis. Ask what falsifiable predictions ID can make. Basically ask “Lenny’s questions to Salvador”. Nearly all unbiased members of the public would soon realise that ID has no scientific value and no place in school science classes.

nice one Rev. and Mike but… hrrrmppff…psssst.…shhh.…don’t tell anyone else. Here are another 2 real honest to God Biologists who can take an even bigger swing(albeit apocryphal) from beyond the grave. Time for an Artistic and Historical update. Tautological Solipsism’s Dark Heart

Create a free account first Find the 2 x New Horizons MP3 Magic Factologist’s and New Horizons Intelligible Design.

Stephen a debate with ‘Count’ Humbert on national TV ? He would just wave his arms around like he normally does and leer at the audience.

He knows exactly what he is up to and he knows the consequences, he will keep his little game going for as long as he is able.

No, what you need is a investigation showing the facts of their duplicity in a real court or someone with enough balls to reveal the facts on national TV.

Uh… I’m attempting to submit a complete rebuttal of the article but I’m getting a “Your comment was denied for questionable content” submission error. I wasn’t swearing, honest - any ideas what could be causing the problem? What qualifies as “questionable content”?

Wow, a whole Cal Thomas editorial where he never once wandered off the tracks and started ranting about abortion. Perhaps Bob Beckel kept him focused.

If you have time to be a regular commenter here, perhaps you could write a well reasoned, clear letter to the editor, making some one good point. Letters making ten points are less likely to be published, or so I’ve heard. Do a good job of one worthy point.

KL Wrote:

Maybe newspaper columns need vigorous peer review…

What I just had a vision of a group of newspaper columnists trying to make sense of each other’s work. The vision was cell shaded and anvils were dropping from out of nowhere.

Corkscrew Wrote:

“I’m attempting to submit a complete rebuttal of the article but I’m getting a “Your comment was denied for questionable content” submission error. I wasn’t swearing, honest - any ideas what could be causing the problem? What qualifies as “questionable content”?

Truth? Science maybe? If you were making sense that might have done it.

Posted by k.e. on December 2, 2005 08:19 AM (e) (s)

Stephen a debate with ‘Count’ Humbert on national TV ? He would just wave his arms around like he normally does and leer at the audience.

He knows exactly what he is up to and he knows the consequences, he will keep his little game going for as long as he is able.

No, what you need is a investigation showing the facts of their duplicity in a real court or someone with enough balls to reveal the facts on national TV.

Or as long as it is profitable?

I would mostly expect any ID proponent in a debate, to spend the majority of their energy (and time) highliting things that science has difficulty explaining.

Surely just pointing out (very simply) specificaly what the scientific method is. Moving on to ask the questions that Lenny keeps asking Salvador, would demonstrate (to anyone who is truly neutral), exactly why ID is not science.

It never ceases to amaze me at the amount of intellectual junk food Creationists serve up to propagate their transparent religious agendas. Ad hominem attacks are all they are capable of, along with half truths and total duplicity.I would suggest a alternative connotation for I.D that of Increasingly Disingenuous.

Posted by JONBOY on December 2, 2005 10:27 AM (e) (s) … I would suggest a alternative connotation for I.D that of Increasingly Disingenuous.

LOL, Good comment and very funny.

I’m not so sure it really is a serious debate.

I do know that taking Cal Thomas seriously is a little dangerous. The Tennessean, the local paper here, publishes his columns a couple times a week, and a few times they’ve had me close to cancelling the newspaper. The man is odious. Only once have I seen a column of his that did not make me cringe with horror.

My favorite ones are the ones where he speaks eloquently in favor of torture.

Brrr.

In my mind, associating Cal Thomas with Creationism is just another way of making Creaitonism look bad.

-Rob

I like bananas.

But I think an important point that has been made here already is that if you propose to introduce new scientific ‘content’ to the cirriculum, it should have some actual results that have gone through the process of formulating falsifiable hypotheses, data collection and analysis, conclusion formulation, peer-review, reproduced by other scientists.

For example, anyone know when the Theory of Relativity was first included (albeit at only at a superficial level, of course ) in a high school science text, or schhol board science standard ? I’m guessing it was sometime after 1905, and I’d bet dollars to donuts it was not BEFORE his publciations.

The idea that ID should get a pass on this and go directly into the classroom is pretty astonishing.

I am always amazed by the ability of many Americans to believe that their personal opinions on science carry as much, or more, weight than the opinions of the scientific community.

I agree with Rob Knop that having Cal Thomas supporting ID is a point in our favor.

Apesnake Wrote:

Truth? Science maybe? If you were making sense that might have done it.

No, I mean I’m trying to submit a complete rebuttal to this thread, and the Pandas Thumb blog software is blocking it. I have no idea why, and the error message is singularly unhelpful.

This “debate” was beyond appalling. I expect Cal Thomas to be a complete buffoon, but having science “defended” by Bob Beckel’s tripe is like sending Hugo Chavez to defend capitalism. Beckel accepts the creationist understanding of evolution from the very start, repeating the nonsense of ‘inexplicable gaps’ and then compounding it with the nonsense of “only man among all living things has a conscience, a moral framework and a free will.” Maybe we could all chip in and send him the complete works of Frans de Waal?

This is a good example of why scientists have to abandon the strategy of “I won’t dignify ID with a reply.” It’s politicians who’ll make decisions about the classroom and they’re not hearing any better defense of science than what USA Today and Bob Beckel are providing.

Let’s face facts: there are great numbers of people who simply aren’t interested in an honest, intelligent examination of the merits of ID or any other religious claim. Lies (especially emotionally satisfying lies that are compatible with the views expressed in one’s social environment) can run around the world while the truth is still putting its boots on.

It’s time to stop arguing.

Pete Dunkelburg Wrote:

Letters making ten points are less likely to be published, or so I’ve heard. Do a good job of one worthy point.

There are two simple points here that Mike and Garrett have already made: First, the original op-ed piece was suppoed to suggest a debate format but there’s no real debate. They are both just spewing ID and creationist rhetoric. The only difference is that Beckel argued the DI’s pseudo-scientific explanitory gaps rhetoric (falsely suggesting a scientific debate) while Thomas used Christo-centric cultural theocracy rhetoric. If there was any debate it was between intelligent design arguments and old-style creationism. But they don’t actually differ at all with regard to the cultural issues.

Secondly, the piece builds to a climax with Thomas getting in the last word with a cheap ad hominem jab at scientists. To invoke Dembski’s explanitory filter, this ending doesn’t appear to have happend by chance or necessity so it must have been designed that way. Not much of a debate then if both parties agreed to the content before submitting it the newspaper.

That’s rock solid grounds for allowing a strong reubuttal piece by a repected scientist to be published in USA Today, if they wish to maintain any semblence of objectivity. Let’s hope that a biologist of top stature (and one who can write well) takes up the challenge within the next week.

One more comment. The ID folks seem to think they’ve found a winning argument with “science is supposed to be open to new ideas.” The correct response is, “No, science is NOT open to new ideas. The only thing it is open to is evidence.”

I also like bananas. In fact, to organisms from both the genus Pan and Homo, they are one of the best tasting and healthiest natural snacks in the natural world. It’s almost like we were evolved, or designed, to eat them…

This column was just another example of fundamentalist ID idiots claiming, seemingly without any sense of irony, that scintists are the ones who are biased and unwilling to consider conflicting ideas. As if we just somehow refused to think about the possibility of ID…

I wonder who these “serious scientists” who “belive there is a strong case for intelligent design” they mention actually are. Demski and Behe?

In all, the column is textbook rhetoric from people who have no idea what they are discussing. My favorite part is when Bob says: “The scientists who view intelligent design as a science, not a dogma, believe that the smallest building blocks of life are so complex that they couldn’t simply evolve from amoebas. That’s about as far as I can go in my understanding of all this.” Biological macromolecules didn’t evolve from amoebae, eh? If you know that you don’t understand it Bob, please don’t write a column in a national newspaper about it.

Refutation here. Please critique it if you think it’s lame.

If a banana is the result of I.D how would you consider a coconut???????????

Sorry to post off-topic here but I just saw this news on MSNBC: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/10283676/from/RS.5/. Apparently Professor Mirecki at the University of Kansas is dropping his course on “ Intelligent Design, Creationism and Other Religious Mythologies” and issued an appology because he sent an email to a student group that insulted funamentalists, causing a public outcry. It’s kind of shame, but a multi-disciplinary course critiquing ID probably would be best hosted by the biology or philosophy (as a philosophy of science topic) departments. Hopefully, they will be willing and allowed to do so.

corkscrew Is loquacious idiots going to help ? The moral thing let em keep it, just say thats up to the parents ;> How much time do you have ?

k.e.: good points. Will make the changes when I have a moment.

I don’t have as much time as it might seem. That was 1 hour’s worth of waiting for the hangover to go away this morning (couldn’t get my head round the Coding and Cryptography worksheet; creationist claims are a lot easier to dissect). It’s end of term, so I’ll soon have a bit more time. I plan to read and dissect a couple of Dembski’s papers - will be good for the aforementioned information-theoretic course.

As I suspected, no one answered my question about the coconut,there for it must be the result of I.D another gap God can fill, creationism is so simple.

Corkscrew: nice job. One possible addition: their mention of the Flat Earth Society allowing teaching of only one explanation would be the perfect place to metion that we only teach one explanation about the shape of Earth, i.e. that it’s basically spherical, and no one would dare suggest in a national newspaper that we “teach the controversy” and have students debate the very same flat earth they’re bithcing about.

The existence of invisible species that remain undiscovered

Undiscovered no more! I was just watching a documentary on such a creature the other night. Apparently the governor of California led an expedition to the Central American jungle and found it.…

Lenny Wrote:

Indeed. It would be like Americans barging into the operating room and declaring that their personal opinions on medicine carry as much, or more, weight than the opinions of the medical community.

It is, I suspect, due to the peculiar American idea that “democracy” means “everyone’s opinions are equal”.

While they usually don’t barge in on other people’s surgeries, many people do in fact take this approach to their own medical care - and their children’s.

And they do need to be hit with the rubber stamp clue stick that adds “under the law” after “all men are created equal” in their minds.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Mike Dunford published on December 2, 2005 1:23 AM.

Professor Steve Steve in London was the previous entry in this blog.

New Archaeopteryx fossil provides further insight into bird, dinosaur evolution is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

Categories

Archives

Author Archives

Powered by Movable Type 4.361

Site Meter