This Week in Intelligent Design - 18/08/11

| 32 Comments

Intelligent design news and discussion for August 10th to August 18th, 2011.

This week, the Discovery Institute did something rather strange. Well, actually, it’s been leading up to it for a while, but it was only in the last week that this trend became completely apparent: Evolution News & Views, its main blog, is now devoting serious amounts of space in its written output to posts on religion and atheism. Often these posts have seemingly little or nothing to do with the stated purpose of the blog, which is to “[provide] original reporting and analysis about the debate over intelligent design and evolution, including breaking news about scientific research”:  it’s had a “Faith and Science” category for a while now, but the intensity of posts has reached a somewhat amusing level, most of them coming from the supernaturally-inclined mind of DI Senior Fellow David Klinghoffer.

So, in this edition of TWiID, I’ll be touching on many of the religious posts over the last week on ENV, as well as more on the bacterial flagellum (again!) and the supposed design and inspired beauty of butterfly wings.

32 Comments

I left a comment at Homologous Legs. What I originally wrote was rejected as too long, so here’s the rest:

While it is necessary to refute IDers’ incredulity arguments, even though it risks giving them more data to spin as “gaps,” it’s equally important to ask them the “whats whens and hows” of their alternative “explanations,” and watch them desperately weasel out of them and try to steer the debate back to “Darwinism.” It should be no surprise that Klinghoffer is becoming the most prolific evolution-denier of late. Having failed (with mainstream science if not public opinion) to validate Genesis (any of the mutually contradictory literal interpretations) OR falsify evolution, all the movement has left is its true objection - that acceptance of “Darwinism” is the root of all evil.

Actually, try to ask a crank any straight question and they will evade it. It gets in the way of their handwaving.

You’ve noted an important point. Intelligent Design can be separated into two parts: the negative criticisms of evolutionary biology and the positive predictions of ID. The former are scientific criticisms (wrong ones, but still scientific). That latter are pure religion, unless we can somehow make scientific statements about the “motives, means, and opportunity” of the Designer.

However the Discovery Institute seems to have made it easier for us to identify these arguments as basically religion rather than politics. That’s generous of them. I was noticing the same trend on Uncommon Descent, too. Any hint that ID is religion is ferociously rebutted there as totally false. But meanwhile, the posts on UD are increasingly devoted to religious disputation, such important scientific issues as

* atheists are inherently immoral, or

* “Christian Darwinists” aren’t real Christians

and so on. I was thinking of counting what fraction of their posts are devoted to religious disputation. It is a large fraction, and actually seems to be increasing.

It’s really very very nice of them to make it so easy for us to point out that their position is basically religion and not science.

Joe Felsenstein said: It’s really very very nice of them to make it so easy for us to point out that their position is basically religion and not science.

Lenny Flank’s law: “The ability of a creationist to shut his mouth about creationism’s religious motive is inversely proportional to the legal necessity of their doing so.”

Joe Felsenstein -

However the Discovery Institute seems to have made it easier for us to identify these arguments as basically religion rather than politics.

Technically, I think it’s still primarily politics. But we don’t have to argue over that, because we can both surely agree that people currently tend to have a stated religious identity that matches their political ideology. (That wasn’t always the case - e.g. Richard Nixon, Quaker - but by now it’s the way it is.)

However, this does send a very clear message that whatever the next strategy for eliminating the teaching of evolution (or possibly, science more broadly) in US public schools will be, and there will be one, it most certainly won’t be the failed “ID isn’t religious” dodge.

The Kohls fiasco of a few weeks ago suggested that she intended to set up science denial in other classes, such as what we used to call Social Studies when I was in school. That seems to have fallen through under protest in that particular jurisdiction, but could be a strategy that is planned for more friendly areas - set up a “criticism of evolution” lesson plan for Civics or some such class, and then claim in court that it was “merely discussion of a social phenomenon”.

There’s always the old Kansas strategy from 1999, of just knocking any mention of the word evolution out of the curriculum. That was thwarted by an election, and has never been tested in court. (To me it seems clear that censoring major scientific theories from the curriculum in order to serve the religious/political fetish of a single sect is discrimination against everyone else, but it hasn’t been tested.) Of course, this strategy isn’t perfectly satisfying to those who want outright evolution denial in science class.

Finally, there’s the constant hope that courts corrupt enough to just declare that it’s constitutional to teach creationism, after all, may emerge. I think that’s unlikely, but if, say, a Rick Perry or Michelle Bachmann administration made several SCOTUS appointments, with a Republican senate in place, it’s not impossible.

Joe Felsenstein said: However the Discovery Institute seems to have made it easier for us to identify these arguments as basically religion rather than politics.

Oops. I meant “rather than science” of course. The perils of multitasking …

Joe Felsenstein Wrote:

Intelligent Design can be separated into two parts: the negative criticisms of evolutionary biology and the positive predictions of ID. The former are scientific criticisms (wrong ones, but still scientific).

They may be “scientific” in their language, but they are also the opposite of how science is done. Whereas science makes its own hypotheses, tests them and supports them with their own evidence, the ID scam simply plays games with evidence, quotes, definitions, concepts that are hard to grasp by nonscientists, all to promote unreasonable doubt of evolution. Ironically, that’s all that any anti-evolution activist ever needed, because most audiences who uncritically buy that doubt fill in the blanks with their childhood fairy tales, never thinking of critically analyzing them, and usually unaware that they might contradict the next guy’s fairy tale.

If there were a shred of evidence for any of the mutually contradictory fairy tales (literal interpretations of Genesis) the ID scammers, and their “cdesign proponentsist” predecessors would never have had to resort to “don’t ask, don’t tell what happened when, just promote unreasonable doubt of evolution.” And no court in the country could stop them from teaching their alternate “theory,” as long as the omitted the “creator/designer” language.

I take away from the piece that much as Darwinian apologists would like us to think that the view they evangelize for includes its own comforts and sources of awe, enchantment and illumination, this is largely bunk for anyone who’s honest with himself:

Ah, yes, David takes away from that the view that “Darwinism” is a religion.

Actually, evolution is a science, and like all of the science that fail to support religious preconceptions–which is also all of science–it promises nothing but knowledge. It doesn’t preclude awe and enchantment, and it does provide illumination–something IDiocy definitely fails to produce–but its aims are far more modest than any religion.

David’s incapability of ever dealing with these matters via intellectual honesty shows again, in that he largely blames “Darwinism” for existential angst. Evolutionary theory only filled in the last great gap in sciences that never have produced what religion has wanted. It may strike closer to home than, say, classical mechanics, but, like we all know, as did Galileo, cosmology was once considered to be very important for religion and meaning.

Oh, and “Darwinian apologists” is just a disingenuous attempt to paint us as being what the IDiots in fact are. It’s tiresome to write and to read, but we can’t let off from noting the egregious dishonesty of ID.

Glen Davidson

David Klinghoffer’s assumptions are showing:

I propose this as a rule of thumb: You can say you’re an atheist if you want, but the rest of us have no warrant to call you that until you can show some evidence that you know something about the God you claim to reject. Perhaps there should be some sort of qualifying exam.

No atheist I know rejects a god or gods, we simply see no evidence that any such entity exists.

I’ll tell you what, David. You can say you’re a theist if you want, but the rest of us have no warrant to call you that until you can show some evidence for the god or gods you claim exist.

patrickmay.myopenid.com said:

No atheist I know rejects a god or gods, we simply see no evidence that any such entity exists.

I’ll tell you what, David. You can say you’re a theist if you want, but the rest of us have no warrant to call you that until you can show some evidence for the god or gods you claim exist.

There are plenty of atheists who reject and deny theism outright, actually. I’ve seen them do it.

Sometimes its tempting to think that everyone is agnostic, but that most people just don’t realize it, of if they do, don’t admit it.

dalehusband said:

patrickmay.myopenid.com said:

No atheist I know rejects a god or gods, we simply see no evidence that any such entity exists.

I’ll tell you what, David. You can say you’re a theist if you want, but the rest of us have no warrant to call you that until you can show some evidence for the god or gods you claim exist.

There are plenty of atheists who reject and deny theism outright, actually. I’ve seen them do it.

My objection is to the idea that atheists “reject” a god or gods because that demonstrates an assumption on Klinghoffer’s part that atheists know deep down there is a god but choose to act otherwise. The atheists that I know simply don’t believe there is anything to reject.

Agnosticism is the position that it is impossible for someone to know whether or not there is a God. It’s not either atheism or theism. If you think it is possible to know if there is a God, you are a theist. If you think it is possible to know there is NO God, you are an atheist. Some atheists say that atheism is merely lacking belief in God, but that is like saying an adragonist merely lacks belief in dragons; it makes atheism itself pointless. We are ALL born with no beliefs, that doesn’t mean we have a position on anything. If we don’t, the lable is unjustified.

Frank J said: Sometimes its tempting to think that everyone is agnostic, but that most people just don’t realize it, of if they do, don’t admit it.

I personally believe that churches are full of apatheists. They like religion for various reasons that don’t have much to do with religious ideology – social networking for instance – and, though they follow the basic rules of the church, do not spend much time worrying the details.

As a nontheist apatheist, I rub along fine with such folk. Fundies hate them, but I see that as a another point in favor.

patrickmay.myopenid.com said:

My objection is to the idea that atheists “reject” a god or gods because that demonstrates an assumption on Klinghoffer’s part that atheists know deep down there is a god but choose to act otherwise. The atheists that I know simply don’t believe there is anything to reject.

Oh, in that case, I actually agree with you. Claiming that atheists deny God because they hate him lets theists off the hook on trying to support the assertion that there IS a God. We should never let them get away with that misrepresentation.

Frank J said:

Sometimes its tempting to think that everyone is agnostic, but that most people just don’t realize it, of if they do, don’t admit it.

The term “atheist” has become a label used by sectarians to demonize anyone who doesn’t belong to any religion; especially theirs.

If one lives one’s life as though Santa Clause, the Tooth Fairy, ghosts, or unicorns are irrelevant to the conduct of living, what pejorative label would these sectarians apply?

If these sectarians don’t have pejorative labels for these, why is one needed for someone who just gets on with life without deities?

I would submit that it is because sectarians are immersed in a culture that demonizes anyone who doesn’t think the way they do; and “atheist” is dog whistle label that tells other sectarians not to listen to anything said by someone branded by that label.

mrg said:

I personally believe that churches are full of apatheists. They like religion for various reasons that don’t have much to do with religious ideology – social networking for instance – and, though they follow the basic rules of the church, do not spend much time worrying the details.

As a nontheist apatheist, I rub along fine with such folk. Fundies hate them, but I see that as a another point in favor.

Which is why I’m a Unitarian Universalist (UU). If I had to believe in a god to attend a UU church, I’d never go.

dalehusband said:

patrickmay.myopenid.com said:

No atheist I know rejects a god or gods, we simply see no evidence that any such entity exists.

There are plenty of atheists who reject and deny theism outright, actually. I’ve seen them do it.

That’s my experience as well. The “insufficient evidence” description of atheism is relatively new (within the past decade) to me, but even now it’s not universal.

Trying to get everybody to use the same definition of “atheist” is about like trying to get everybody to agree on a definition of “life”.

I’d be very surprised if such an attempt looked like it was working.

That’s what makes being an apatheist so much fun. Always have the right answer: “ASK me if I CARE!”

I don’t dislike religions so much as I dislike religious arguments – for or against, doesn’t matter. I suppose it’s a consequence of being educated by Jesuits and acquiring an aversion sophistry and apologism (if that’s not being redundant).

SWT said:

dalehusband said:

patrickmay.myopenid.com said:

No atheist I know rejects a god or gods, we simply see no evidence that any such entity exists.

There are plenty of atheists who reject and deny theism outright, actually. I’ve seen them do it.

That’s my experience as well. The “insufficient evidence” description of atheism is relatively new (within the past decade) to me, but even now it’s not universal.

If the “insufficient evidence” description of atheism is relatively new, what was the previous definition?

John_S said: If the “insufficient evidence” description of atheism is relatively new, what was the previous definition?

Oh you are such a troll … “Oh I’m leaving … well, and another thing … OK, I’m going … ah! forgot to mention! … bye now … “

Look, even YOU know nobody’s buying your games, and even those who amuse themselves arguing with you know perfectly well you won’t pay any attention to them. So why don’t you just stop playing games, issue a final core dump, flounce off in a huff, and go do something useful?

I suppose on the other hand you’ll just go someplace else to play games – and as long as you’re doing it here, you’re not actually accomplishing anything but spinning your wheels and amusing the bickerers – so if you absolutely insist on playing games, better you do it here than anywhere else.

Waitaminit … weren’t there two “John_S” posters?

If this is a “friendly fire” incident, sorry about that. (“Doesn’t sound ‘friendly’ to me.”)

I found out recently there was another “MrG” over on Pharyngula who incurred the wrath of PZ Myers. No, not same guy as me.

John_S said:

SWT said:

dalehusband said:

patrickmay.myopenid.com said:

No atheist I know rejects a god or gods, we simply see no evidence that any such entity exists.

There are plenty of atheists who reject and deny theism outright, actually. I’ve seen them do it.

That’s my experience as well. The “insufficient evidence” description of atheism is relatively new (within the past decade) to me, but even now it’s not universal.

If the “insufficient evidence” description of atheism is relatively new, what was the previous definition?

(1) Don’t forget that I qualified “relatively new” to indicate that I meant new to me. I’m also describing, not defining.

(2) The assertion I heard most frequently from friends and acquaintances in the past was an unqualified “God does not exist.” I’ve also heard, but less frequently, statements like “it is impossible for God to exist”. I have encountered many people for whom the non-existence of God is essentially axiomatic.

If I understand PZ correctly (and I may not), he considers the very idea of god incoherent and is an atheist on those grounds.

mrg said:

Frank J said: Sometimes its tempting to think that everyone is agnostic, but that most people just don’t realize it, of if they do, don’t admit it.

I personally believe that churches are full of apatheists. They like religion for various reasons that don’t have much to do with religious ideology – social networking for instance – and, though they follow the basic rules of the church, do not spend much time worrying the details.

As a nontheist apatheist, I rub along fine with such folk. Fundies hate them, but I see that as a another point in favor.

In fact most of the people I know personally are like that, and unlike anyone who frequents these boards. Even the few who have science degrees have near zero interest in evolution or natural history. They say things like “I guess evolution is true, whatever..,” or if more successfully misled, “I hear the jury’s still out about evolution.” The churchgoers have what I would call a “soft compartmentalization,” meaning that they seem to know that most or all the stories are allegorical but, to use a colorful phrase I once heard, they prefer not to listen to the words but to the “music.” If I may mix metaphors, when I tell them about the evidence, it’s like rudely awakening them from a peaceful dream.

But here’s what’s bugging me more than anything lately. My personal experience confirms the results of several polls, which conclude that at least half of the people are neither committed to science (meaning that they’d gladly reject evolution if evidence warranted) nor hopelessly in denial. Yet we obsess on the latter, the ones whose minds we’ll never change, and ignore the ones we can help to break free of their common misconceptions.

John_S said:

SWT said:

dalehusband said:

patrickmay.myopenid.com said:

No atheist I know rejects a god or gods, we simply see no evidence that any such entity exists.

There are plenty of atheists who reject and deny theism outright, actually. I’ve seen them do it.

That’s my experience as well. The “insufficient evidence” description of atheism is relatively new (within the past decade) to me, but even now it’s not universal.

If the “insufficient evidence” description of atheism is relatively new, what was the previous definition?

Since we’re talking purely about definitions, it’s worth noting that Miriam-Webster gives exactly both definitions - either “lack of belief in gods”, or the doctrine that “there is no god” http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/atheism

When I was younger, it was fairly common for people to define themselves as “atheists” in the “I say god is impossible” sense. Possibly this was related to the popularity of claiming to be a “communist revolutionary”, or later, “anarchist”, during the seventies and into the eighties. Those movements are still around but much diminished in influence.

The term “agnostic” used to be pretty common and popular.

Somewhere along that line, the term “agnostic” lost its popularity.

I suspect the rise of the “religious right” had a lot to do with that. I personally don’t use the term “agnostic” any more (I’m an apatheist, actually, but this is still relevant). It potentially implies a “they could be right” stance. The behavior of the most visibly religious Americans has become something of an anathema to me.

So for many people, the term “atheist” has taken over and come to mean “lack of belief in gods”.

I don’t call myself an “atheist” either, but that’s not because I don’t meet the above definition, it’s to make it clear that I have no interest in the “atheist movement”.

mrg said:

Waitaminit … weren’t there two “John_S” posters?

If this is a “friendly fire” incident, sorry about that. (“Doesn’t sound ‘friendly’ to me.”)

I found out recently there was another “MrG” over on Pharyngula who incurred the wrath of PZ Myers. No, not same guy as me.

I’ve been posting as “John_S” for a while. The guy you may be thinking of is “John S.”, who seems to be relatively new here and whose opinions I certainly don’t endorse. My question was just asking for information; sorry if it sounded unfriendly.

One problem I see with the term “agnostic” is that most people seem to think it means “___________, but afraid or unwilling to admit it,” where the blank is basically the other person’s belief. A lot of christians see it as someone being a christian who is afraid to be “persecuted,” while many atheists seem to assume that an agnostic just hasn’t quite commited to atheism yet.

Also, many seem to feel that someone who calls himself agnostic lacks conviction. Basically, the idea seems to be that you can’t feel strongly about not knowing something.

Lastly, it seems to be fairly common among christians to simply lump agnostics in with their nonsense definition of atheism. I am, of course, referring to the opinion held by some that any belief other than christianity is actually a willful denial of the abrahamic god, rather than truly believing something different.

I think that these things may be at least part of why “agnostic” appears to have fallen out of favor.

John_S said: My question was just asking for information; sorry if it sounded unfriendly.

I was citing an old military black joke about “friendly fire” casualties: “It doesn’t sound friendly to me!”

SonOfHastur said: I think that these things may be at least part of why “agnostic” appears to have fallen out of favor.

I think apatheism is partly taking its place. It can certainly be thought of as a kind of atheism – having so little use for the issue of gods as to not regard it as worth the bother to spend any effort on one way or another, instead spending the effort on matters of interest. But more typically a self-declared atheist derides the notion of gods.

mrg said:

SonOfHastur said: I think that these things may be at least part of why “agnostic” appears to have fallen out of favor.

I think apatheism is partly taking its place. It can certainly be thought of as a kind of atheism – having so little use for the issue of gods as to not regard it as worth the bother to spend any effort on one way or another, instead spending the effort on matters of interest. But more typically a self-declared atheist derides the notion of gods.

This is probably a good time to remind everyone that Thomas Huxley (aka Darwin’s Bulldog) coined the term agnostic.

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This page contains a single entry by Jack Scanlan published on August 19, 2011 9:05 AM.

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