My encounter with creationist/White House Spokesman Tony Snow

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Everyone has probably heard that the new White House Press Secretary is Tony Snow, formerly a talk show host on Fox News. Those who were paying attention last year may remember that he is also pretty clearly a straight-up creationist, or at least credulously repeats their talking points. See:

Tony Snow (2005). “Why can’t we have a rational debate.” TownHall.com. August 12, 2005

Media Matters (2005). “Tony Snow’s evolutionary falsehoods.” Media Matters for America. August 12, 2005.

Media Matters (2005). “The many falsehoods of Tony Snow.” Media Matters for America. April 19, 2006.

What got Tony Snow writing essays about ID and how hard it was to have a rational debate? I may have had a wee bit to do with that.

Way back on August 6, 2005, I was invited on the Fox News show “Weekend Live” with host Tony Snow. ID ringleader Stephen Meyer was the other guest. The show description is still in the Google cache if you search on the rather unique search string “Fox News Motzke”, since they misspelled my name. President Bush had just made his famous comment about ID and NCSE was getting a flood of media calls.

Anyway, although the odds of communicating much of anything on cable are pretty slim, particularly on Fox where you are likely to be battling both the guest and the host, it is pretty fun to get the free limo ride to downtown San Francisco to the Fox studio to be a guest. From previous experience I knew I would be lucky if I could get one single point across. As it happened, the Buell hearing in the Kitzmiller case had just occurred. At this public hearing in July, plaintiffs’ attorney Eric Rothschild introduced into evidence a partial draft of Of Pandas and People, showing how it was originally a creationist book. We knew this would eventually be huge news and crucial to the Kitzmiller case. So I had a pretty decent single point to go for: ID is creationism relabeled.

I’m not sure if I successfully communicated this to anyone except Stephen Meyer, but it sure was fun for me personally, especially looking back at the subsequent events of 2005. The Discovery Institute has handily put the recording of the segment online, and I have typed up a transcript of the approximately 90 seconds where they actually let me talk a bit. For posterity I post it below. Note that half the time we were talking over each other, and I have attempted to sort it out, although it is impossible to do perfectly.

Tony Snow began by introducing the show, the guests, etc. He then lobbed a softball question to Stephen Meyer and let him blab his talking points for half the segment:

Tony Snow:.…I’ve heard many different descriptions of intelligent design…give me a nutshell description of intelligent design:

Stephen Meyer: Thanks for asking, Tony. [standard ID talking points for half the segment]

Tony Snow: Nick Matzke, lemme ask you. One of the key sticking points has been the theory of evolution, and the one thing that’s notable about the theory is it is characterized primarily by missing links, rather than real links. Do you think there are weaknesses in the theory of evolution, and do you think it is suseptible at least to the notion that human life was in fact the byproduct of design rather than random accident.

Nick Matzke: There’s many misconceptions in what you said. The theory of evolution is simply the idea of common ancestry, and there’s no real doubt about it in the scientific community. Intelligent design was invented…

Tony Snow: Wo wo wo wo wo wo wo wo wo wo wo wo wo wo wo wo, wait a minute…

Nick Matzke: …was invented in 1989, it’s just a form of creationism. It was relabeled. They just took the word creationism, and put the words intelligent design into this book [holding up Of Pandas and People] in 1989. And this is a book…

Tony Snow: Wha wha wha…let me interrupt you…OK, you’ve come up with a…

Stephen Meyer: That’s wildly innaccurate. I was there when the theory was founded, that’s wildly innaccurate.

Tony Snow: OK, you two have it out and I’ll listen.

Nick Matzke: It’s been reported in the newspapers already. It’s a, been reported in the newspapers, and that’s just the way it is.

Tony Snow: OK, I’ll tell you what-

Stephen Meyer The news – the newspapers don’t report what we tell them.

Nick Matzke: It doesn’t matter what you tell them, it’s what’s come out in court.

Tony Snow: Alright, lemme just very quickly, Mr. Matzke,

Stephen Meyer: Go ahead Tony, sorry.

Tony Snow: Yeah, because we’ve just got time for one more question here. So what you’re saying is, that you don’t think that there’s design behind the Universe.

Nick Matzke: I – The question of whether or not there’s design behind the Universe is a theological and philosophical question.

Tony Snow: No it’s not, it’s a scientific question as well, is it not?

Nick Matzke: What Stephen Meyer is arguing for – what he’s arguing for is divine intervention in the history of life, you know just maybe a million years ago when humans evolved from other species. That’s what he’s arguing for.

Stephen Meyer: Actually, Darwinian evolution holds much more than what Nick Matzke is saying. It’s not just the idea of common ancestry. It’s the idea that the appearance of design is the result of an undirected process namely natural selection.

Tony Snow: OK…

Stephen Meyer: There is a raft of scientific literature about the inadequacy of natural selection to produce these complex systems –

Nick Matzke: There is a raft of scientific literature …

Tony Snow: OK, Gentleman, Gentleman, Gentleman, Gentleman, Gentleman, Gentleman…

Nick Matzke: …against your view.

Tony Snow: I hate to do this - Gentleman…you’re talking past each other anyway. We’ll try to figure out some way to get a direct conflict in the future, but I thank you both for joining us.

I may not have gotten the most talking time, I might have only gotten in a few complete sentences – and afterwards, I was advised that saying basically that the host was wrong about everything was perhaps not the best way to start off a reply (but man, that was one loaded question from Tony Snow) – but I must say that I told Stephen Meyer what was coming. He certainly can’t say he was surprised by subsequent events. And I did kind of get the last word there. If not profound, it was at least satisfying to say.

So anyway, that was my encounter with the guy who now the spokesman for the leader of the free world. I’m sure we can expect the same straight talking from him on other issues as he gave his viewers on “intelligent design.” FYI.

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153 Comments

http://neptune.spaceports.com/~words/beavis.html “Learn Logic from Beavis and Butthead”

That photo of the Good Mr Snow and our Illustrious President… Nah! the resemblance must be purely coincidental.

I can’t find the recording on the Disco Institute site. Did they remove it?

Ah, how I love Faux News. They, uh, report, and you get to, like, decide! Nevermind that Faux News allows the side of the story they like the best to have a run at persuasion for a good long minute or two, while interrupting the “reporting” of the other side midway through the first sentence or two. It’s fair and balanced, baby!

Gives a whole new meaning to the concept of “snow job”, eh?

Worst. Administration. Ever.

Stephen Meyer The news — the newspapers don’t report what we tell them.

This is the most telling line from the transcript.

I understand that what I am asking is impossible because it is FAR FAR easier to just say this on a computer versus the scream sessions of cable news. The way I would have answered Tony’s first question is as possible:

There are no major weaknesses in evolution. Evolution does not teach human life is a random accident or that the process of evolution is “undirected”. Rather, it teaches that human life arose via common descent with modification. Belief in a creator is not necessarily in conflict with belief in evolution as a means how that creator brought about human life. Some evolutionists do not believe in a creator but others do. Ken Miller is such a person and is a practicing Roman Catholic.

This completely undercuts why “normal people” support ID. They support ID because a creator is possible – not necessarily proven – in such a system. It is not the proof part that is relevant. That’s just an extra. What they hear you saying is the strawman that a creator is impossible if you believe evolution because that’s what the ID proponents pound in their heads (cf. Meyer’s comments above). They don’t care if you personally believe in a creator or not. They just don’t want their kids proselytized by atheism just like the plaintiffs in Kitzmiller didn’t want their kids proselytized by crypto-creationism. If you say evolution is silent about the existence or non-existence of a creator and religion or irreligion should be taught by parents rather than the school system especially in a science class, then I predict people like Snow would listen. He was a teacher when he lived in Detroit. Because Ken Miller took this approach is one of the reasons why you were successful with a conservative judge in Kitzmiler IMHO. I predict a similar approach would work on Snow and it wouldn’t surprise me if he read Kitzmiller that it would have a positive influence on him.

Oops.

The way I would have answered Tony’s first question is as following:

Wow. A whole 90 seconds to discuss evolution vs. ID. Fox is quite generous with their airtime.

My colleagues and I have had similar experiences when a reporter would ask us to comment on dowsing (water witching). Although we might speak uninterupted for a while, what actually made it on air was usually a long interview with the water witch, and a brief, meaningless comment by a skeptical scientist. The media realize that their audiences prefer magic and shiny objects to rational explanations.

Lennie ,Matzke makes my point that the appearance of design is due to an undirected process ,namely natural selection[not to mention the neutral theory andd genectic]drift.Unlike the theistic evolutionist , I cannot posit a god doing ayn planning . [any]Lennie, you do us evlolutionists proud.

Hey Nicky did they need a wide angle lens to get all of your fat ass on the screen at one time?

Lennie ,Matzke makes my point that the appearance of design is due to an undirected process ,namely natural selection[not to mention the neutral theory andd genectic]drift.Unlike the theistic evolutionist , I cannot posit a god doing ayn planning . [any]Lennie, you do us evlolutionists proud.

Lennie ,Matzke makes my point that the appearance of design is due to an undirected process ,namely natural selection[not to mention the neutral theory andd genectic]drift.Unlike the theistic evolutionist , I cannot posit a god doing ayn planning . [any]Lennie, you do us evlolutionists proud.

Poor Lenny.

So Creationists ARE taking over the world as I have been hoping for a long time …

Excellent.

Maybe … just maybe that’s because Evolutionists employ “Voodoo Science” MORE than Creationists do … which would be directly OPPOSITE of what they say …

Hmmm … naaah … I’m sure that couldn’t be it …

Anyway, I just posted a nice long piece called “AFDave’s Creator God Hypothesis” here …

http://www.antievolution.org/cgi-bi[…];t=1952;st=0

Come on over … maybe you can convert this poor, deluded engineer to be an Evolutionist! I’m told it happens all the time … come on give it a try!

mark Wrote:

The media realize that their audiences prefer magic and shiny objects to rational explanations.

I disagree with this slightly. I think the media believes that their audiences prefer magic to reality. It is up to us brights to disprove that belief. Contact the television networks and tell them what you think about nonsense shows. There are more of us than you might think; we need to stand up and be seen.

Looking at the photo I worry that hair gel is all that’s holding anything together at the White House.

Remember back in the good old days when the job of a press secretary was to get the news out, instead of trying to keep it hidden?

Whenever I debate about flagellar evolution, the argument always shifts to something like “Matzke disproved flagellar IC - just look it up.”

To which I respond “Wrong. Matzke came up with several guesses at how he thinks it might have happened, but by his own admission it would have required something ‘radical’ to pull it off.”

All he did was take a couple of guesses, all unsubstantiated, all unproven, all unobserved, all unprecedented.

That’s not disproving IC.

Don’t let anybody ever tell you that flagellar IC has been disproven.

I know this is really superficial of me, but there is something deeply disturbing about this picture of Snow. I’m not a Fox News watcher, so this is one of the few cases in which I’ve seen him, so I don’t if it’s just this one picture.

Anyway, the top of his hair is freakishly high. There. I’ve said it. His skull has the proportions of a circa 1957 B-movie space alien. Either that, or he is concealing something under there (and I don’t think it’s a super-sized brain).

I thought the effect might be subjective, but go into an image editor and see for yourself. I took two vertical measures: chin-to-eye and eye-to-top. I get 40 pixels up to the eye and 45 pixels from the eye to the top of the hair. Bush, by contrast, comes in at a fair less disturbing 37/37 proportion (and it’s a strange day when anything less disturbing about Bush).

It’s also not just the effect of having kind of a long face. John Kerry was of course the target of many puerile attacks from wingnuts on the right (and I open myself up to charges to lowering the level of discourse to this level, which is probably true) but Kerry still has his eyes closer to the vertical center http://www.johnkerry.com/front/imag[…]_debate1.jpg This is a larger image, and though Kerry’s hair is a little puffed up, he gets only 65 pixels up to the top contrasted with 70 down to the chin.

What is under there? A little satellite antenna maybe?

Definitely laughable, as always, to see who is in our government.

But, to address AFDave:

So Creationists ARE taking over the world as I have been hoping for a long time …

I must say with the thousands of deaths of our soldiers, skyrocketing gas prices, repeated staggering diplomatic failures, loss of respect around the gloabe for our nation, an economy where workers wages are not keeping pace with inflation, a rapidly growing gap between the rich and the poor, a record deficit being run by our government, abject failure of even a modicum of social security reform, repeated unpunished corruption by public officials, unchecked corporate theft by senior executives, and a public primary education system that has fallen off the map in terms of quality among first world nations, they are doing a great job of it as well.

Three cheers for creationists running the USA, right Dave?

Some chum wrote; Posted by chunkdz on April 28, 2006 12:05 PM (e) Whenever I debate about flagellar evolution, the argument always shifts to something like “Matzke disproved flagellar IC - just look it up.” To which I respond “Wrong. Matzke came up with several guesses at how he thinks it might have happened, but by his own admission it would have required something ‘radical’ to pull it off.” All he did was take a couple of guesses, all unsubstantiated, all unproven, all unobserved, all unprecedented.

Why are you whining? Is not that exactly the same strategy you Creos use to disprove evolution? I see you are judging by your own condition.… HE HE HE HE HE HE Keep your snotty nose out of the fray unless you really like to get burned.

Oh, silly me. I forgot all that bad stuff was caused by Creationists … you’re right … let’s get rid of Bush/Snow

This is the funniest thing I’ve read all day. (And that is saying something, in my line of work.) Speaking of the Big Flagellum Paper, chunkdz writes,

Posted by chunkdz on April 28, 2006 12:05 PM (e)

Whenever I debate about flagellar evolution, the argument always shifts to something like “Matzke disproved flagellar IC - just look it up.”

To which I respond “Wrong. Matzke came up with several guesses at how he thinks it might have happened, but by his own admission it would have required something ‘radical’ to pull it off.”

All he did was take a couple of guesses, all unsubstantiated, all unproven, all unobserved, all unprecedented.

That’s not disproving IC.

Don’t let anybody ever tell you that flagellar IC has been disproven.

Have a look at this to see how my most radical, unsubstantiated, unproven, unobserved, unprecedented hypothesis in that paper is doing.

Stephen Meyer: That’s wildly innaccurate. I was there when the theory was founded, that’s wildly innaccurate.

That’s just odd, I thought the latest line from the DI was that ID went back “to Socrates and Plato”. Seriously, at least these guys should agree on what is the best spin to feed the media, and stick to it. Unless, of course, Meyer is carrying his 2500 years of age really well.

Stephen Meyer: That’s wildly innaccurate. I was there when the theory was founded, that’s wildly innaccurate.

That’s just odd, I thought the latest line from the DI was that ID went back “to Socrates and Plato”. Seriously, at least these guys should agree on what is the best spin to feed the media, and stick to it. Unless, of course, Meyer is carrying his 2500 years of age really well.

Maybe when you’re officially agnostic on the age of the earth, the difference between 18 and 2500 years doesn’t seem so important.

AFDave wrote:

Come on over … maybe you can convert this poor, deluded engineer to be an Evolutionist! I’m told it happens all the time … come on give it a try!

I don’t think very many creationists can be converted made to accept the evidence, because they are sure that somehow ToE, as well as other scientific theories, are a contradiction to the Bible. If the Bible is taken literally this is true, however, there are many scientists of many different religions who understand the usefulness of ToE in particular, and science in general, and still maintain their faith. It’s the difference between having an open mind or a close mind.

Nick Wrote:

Have a look at this to see how my most radical, unsubstantiated, unproven, unobserved, unprecedented hypothesis in that paper is doing.

Wow, that deserves a posting by itself…

Evolutionary links between FliH/YscL-like proteins from bacterial type III secretion systems and second-stalk components of the FoF1 and vacuolar ATPases

Of course the ID hypothesis of the flagellum has never been disproven because there is none. What has been disproven is the simplistic idea that our ignorance should lead us to a conclusion of ‘design’ while lacking any comparable hypothesis. In other words, as long as Nick’s hypothesis stands, the IC hypothesis has been blocked.

Wow, that deserves a posting by itself…

Yes, after I finish the immune system stuff, the Dover stuff…

Matzke wrote:

Have a look at this to see how my most radical, unsubstantiated, unproven, unobserved, unprecedented hypothesis in that paper is doing.

So now you only have to explain five subsystem cooption events, each requiring new binding sites, coupling the pre-existing subsystems (what subsystems? - are you sure TTSS is ancestral to the flagellum?), and simultaneous coevolutionary optimization of all other components. Oh, and where did FliG come from?

You know, using gradualism as the hypothesis, you could pretty much explain anything.

Maybe when you’re officially agnostic on the age of the earth, the difference between 18 and 2500 years doesn’t seem so important.

They’re all just a bunch of arbitrary positive integers anyways. How dare you assail his statement at such a pathetic level of detail?

I hope your +3 battle axe from the last thread turns out to have a backbiter curse.

/sarcasm

Wow,.…the blue bloods gritted their teeth through that one, a lot of chin stroking. I was expecting a couple of secret service guys to drag him off. And the press did what? Oh nothing.…well that is going to bite their asses. Reminds me of when Kruzchev visited Washington in the ‘50’s and all the Russian Press corps couldn’t believe every single paper they read and every single TV news all agreed. “How do you do that?” they asked, “in our country we have to send them to the gulags to keep them all in line.…” I smell fear.

Talk about wiping that smug look off his face. http://journals.democraticundergrou[…]com/EarlG/52

Well THAT won’t happen again, the Washington press will be vetted and ‘embedded’ next time…uh …oh..all the Fox reporters will be issued flak jackets and have a Marine assigned to them. They will be only able to move around in armoured vehicles and everything will have to go via the war room.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Nick Matzke published on April 28, 2006 12:22 AM.

No ID here at all. Move along. Nothing to see. was the previous entry in this blog.

Follow the Bi… er, the evidence wherever it leads is the next entry in this blog.

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