Robert Asher on Stephen Meyer’s “uniformitarianism” argument in Darwin’s Doubt

| 73 Comments

Robert Asher is a Cambridge mammal paleontologist, zoologist, phylogeneticist, author of Evolution and Belief, and generally really smart guy. He has just published a commentary at HuffPo on one aspect of Stephen Meyer’s arguments, namely, Meyer’s argument about “uniformitarianism.”

Meyer basically claims that inferring intelligent design is an application of uniformitarianism, because in everyday human experience the only known explanation of “information” is intelligence, therefore we should infer ID when new information arises billions of years ago in the origin of life, or hundreds of millions of years ago in the Cambrian Explosion. (Meyer really believes that intelligence is necessary for any nontrivial evolutionary adaptation or complexity increase, i.e. he thinks there were millions of miraculous interventions in the history of life, but he’s a bit coy about admitting this up front.)

Meyer uses this argument in Darwin’s Doubt, Signature in the Cell, and generally throughout his work. It actually traces back to the 1980s, at least to Charles Thaxton of the Foundation for Thought and Ethics (as Meyer acknowledges, with a few tweaks, if I recall correctly), but also to Dallas Theological Seminary theologian Norman Geisler (who was also a creationist witness in the 1981 McLean vs. Arkansas trial). This latter fact is basically now deleted from IDist histories of the ID movement, but it’s completely clear if one reads Geisler & Anderson’s (1987) Origin Science: A Proposal for the Creation-Evolution Controversy. This work also contains a fascinating paragraph or two that try to reconcile the inference-of-creation-is-uniformitarian argument with the then-popular creationist view that uniformaritanism-is-materialist-dogma-that-unfairly-rules-out-creationism. This tension is still found throughout modern ID arguments, usually when IDists rant and rave about the evils of methodological naturalism, but then say that any questions about the IDer, his abilities, motives, etc., are questions outside of science.

Anyhow, there are numerous problems with the jump from information to inference of intelligence inference, such as (1) it’s absolutely not true that only intelligence can produce “information” in the sense of new functional DNA sequence or new organismal forms (see my reviews of Meyer: Meyer’s Hopeless Monster, Part II and Luskin’s Hopeless Monster; and Meyer on Medved: the blind leading the blind), and (2) it’s not at all clear that the “information” in biology is really the same stuff as the “information” that humans invent; a rigorous definition of “information” might solve this problem, but IDists don’t present a definition of something that is also beyond the reach of standard evolutionary mechanisms.

But, there are yet other problems with the inference, namely, how uniformitarian is Meyer, really? Robert Asher argues that Meyer is being selectively uniformitarian. Meyer basically uses the term as rhetoric, and then arbitrarily drops uniformitarianism whether it would lead to problems with his ID argument.

Here’s a preview:

If we really apply uniformitarianism to determine if intelligent agents influenced the course of our evolutionary history, we’d expect those agents to have left behind the same kinds of traces as other such agents. Humanity is the best example we’ve got so far, and we make an exponentially greater amount of garbage than we do functional designs. One of the most obvious kinds of material evidence that a human-like intelligence in Earth’s distant past would have left behind was spelled out with one of the most famous lines, indeed one of the most famous words, ever uttered in twentieth-century film: Plastics. Far from being persecuted for a discovery that raises the issue of design, anyone finding genuine “plastic spikes” in deep time, corresponding temporally to one or more evolutionary events, would be assured of a successful, mainstream academic career (to say the least). While such artifacts wouldn’t tell us how biodiversity actually came about, they would indicate that something out there served as an agent behind life on Earth. Maybe ID advocates will claim that their “intelligence” didn’t have to leave behind a plastic spike or other such material evidence. And when they do, they cease to qualify as scientifically uniformitarian.

Go to HuffPo for the rest!

73 Comments

Who believes in that sort of uniformitarianism anyway, now?

Of course it’s a bizarre resort to what once was a reasonably good principle (assume uniformity in geology at a time when doing otherwise was dicey at best) but isn’t really anything today, because it’s so clear that if we actually apply it properly to life, we’d expect reproduction with variation, inevitably being subject to natural selection. And the evidence just happens to be consistent with unintelligent evolution, not technological evolution with its easy transference of designs (which is why we accept evolution, not because of uniformitarianism).

In order to pretend that life had to be designed he has to reduce everything to information, then apply a defunct “principle” under the pretense that it’s really all just the same. It’s nothing like the same, and he knows it.

Glen Davidson

Uniformitarianism in geology posits that the slow, gradual, excruciatingly incremental changes we see caused by weathering and erosion can explain the difference between a butte and a canyon, a flat plain or a jagged mountain range, a karstic landscape from a glacial moraine. In short, it posits that perfectly observable process make very small changes that accumulated over very long periods of time to end up with extremely large changes that explain the diversity of geological forms.

Kind of like the process of evolution we see going on today being extended backwards over time to explain the diversity of life forms, from pandas to paramecia.

Far from being persecuted for a discovery that raises the issue of design, anyone finding genuine “plastic spikes” in deep time, corresponding temporally to one or more evolutionary events, would be assured of a successful, mainstream academic career (to say the least). While such artifacts wouldn’t tell us how biodiversity actually came about, they would indicate that something out there served as an agent behind life on Earth.

It sounds like it would indicate that something with technology had been around, but wouldn’t by itself tell us whether that something was doing genetic engineering. It might have just been exploring or something.

Henry

https://me.yahoo.com/a/JxVN0eQFqtmg[…]X_Zhn8#57cad said:

Who believes in that sort of uniformitarianism anyway, now?

Of course it’s a bizarre resort to what once was a reasonably good principle (assume uniformity in geology at a time when doing otherwise was dicey at best) but isn’t really anything today, because it’s so clear that if we actually apply it properly to life, we’d expect reproduction with variation, inevitably being subject to natural selection. And the evidence just happens to be consistent with unintelligent evolution, not technological evolution with its easy transference of designs (which is why we accept evolution, not because of uniformitarianism).

In order to pretend that life had to be designed he has to reduce everything to information, then apply a defunct “principle” under the pretense that it’s really all just the same. It’s nothing like the same, and he knows it.

Glen Davidson

It is still a reasonably good principle. Uniformitarianism, stated in a more modern context, simply means the laws of physics have not changed during the course of earth history. And that proved to be a much better explanation of change in geologic strata as opposed to having such change occur as a succession of unrelated “catastrophic events”. Sure, there are processes which can produce rapid change; earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, impacts, etc. And the geologists of yore were not ignorant of that. But given that the physics of earthquakes, volcanoes and impacts have also not changed during the course of earth’s history, these processes too can be folded into the modern description of uniformitarianism.

Henry J said:

Far from being persecuted for a discovery that raises the issue of design, anyone finding genuine “plastic spikes” in deep time, corresponding temporally to one or more evolutionary events, would be assured of a successful, mainstream academic career (to say the least). While such artifacts wouldn’t tell us how biodiversity actually came about, they would indicate that something out there served as an agent behind life on Earth.

It sounds like it would indicate that something with technology had been around, but wouldn’t by itself tell us whether that something was doing genetic engineering. It might have just been exploring or something.

I don’t know about ‘plastic spikes’ but I once found a plastic fork at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. I think that this demonstrates precambrian take out. I’m looking forward to my mainstream academic career.

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Words fail me. Put it out of its misery, somebody.

Dave Luckett said:

Words fail me. Put it out of its misery, somebody.

Ed Conrad rides again.

I did remark at one point that there are people out there that make FL look reasonable. Clearly, I have led a sheltered life.

Well there is one guy who is a dumb as coal apparently. But that doesn’t really count.

This line confuses me

( see my reviews of Meyer: Meyer’s Hopeless Monster, Part II and Luskin’s Hopeless Monster; and Meyer on Medved: the blind leading the blind)

Those reviews were written by Nick Matzke.

Starbuck said:

This line confuses me

( see my reviews of Meyer: Meyer’s Hopeless Monster, Part II and Luskin’s Hopeless Monster; and Meyer on Medved: the blind leading the blind)

Those reviews were written by Nick Matzke.

oh never mind. I thought the OP was written by Asher.

Dave Luckett said:

Words fail me. Put it out of its misery, somebody.

Did Mabus get out of jail?

SWT said:

Dave Luckett said:

Words fail me. Put it out of its misery, somebody.

Did Mabus get out of jail?

From the fixation on coal, the Smithsonian and Dawkins, it would appear that bigdakine is right. This is Ed Conrad driving by. If it was Mabus, there’d be scatology and murderous threats.

If creation follows uniformitarianism, then we should be able to detect ongoing design and creation right now. Of course, there is absolutely no reason why any intelligence would have to act in any uniformitarian manner. So I guess this is just one more example of creationists parroting what they perceive to be a highly successful scientific idea and trying to say that creationism works the same way. They have heard the words, they just don’t understand what they mean. If they did, they could choose to be real scientists instead of mindlessly parroting sciencey sounding words.

I have commented on the topic of the OP in a more broad way: Meyer and all IDiots, indeed much of Christian apologetics, employ an invalid inductive step when they claim that information always traces back to “intelligence.” It is invalid because:

a. Natural processes produce information

b. Human language/grammar always traces back to humans with material bodies interacting by material means, but never to spirits, deities or immaterial spooks.

This post is mostly relevant to (b). Intelligent Design and Christian apologetics employ pathological induction because (amongst other problems) they glom together two very different entities, one valid and one invalid. Here the valid category is “human intelligence embodied in material bodies interacting via material means”, the invalid category is “immaterial spooks with no bodies.”

I call this pathological induction, based on combining a valid and an invalid categorization, a Glom. One element of the glommed category may be real, but the other gives a false probability to the deduction that the Christian apologist is trying to make from his alleged inductive rule.

IDiots assert that in our uniform past experience, “Information” always traces back to “an intelligence”. This is false; but that alleged rule, even if it were true, would still be no more valid that than the rule that in our uniform past experience, information never traces back to an immaterial spook or spirit.

Consider the following two rules:

1. Information is always traced back to an intelligence (a human or a spook).

2. Information is never tracked back to an immaterial spook.

The ID proponent alleges that, in our uniform past experience, (1) is true, but they ignore that, in the very same uniform past experience, (2) is as probable or more probable than (1). (And (1) is not true anyway, because natural processes produce information.)

So the “Glom” performed here is a trick used by defining “intelligence” as meaning “human OR spook.” In the syllogism (1) above, “caused by intelligence” is the consequent. The Christian apologist is combining two very different consequents:

(Y) Caused by a human made of matter interacting by material means

(Z) Caused by an immaterial spook by supernatural means

Then they use “intelligence” to mean “Y OR Z.” The problem is that in our uniform past experience, it’s sometimes Y, and NEVER Z. (In addition, it’s sometimes a natural process that creates information, but that’s another problem.)

Thus syllogism (1) has the form

All (X) are (Y or Z)

Where X = information created. In reality, if we were to ignore all natural processes that create information, we would at best arrive at:

All (X) are (Y)

But by Glomming together two different consequents, the Christian apologist arrives at:

1. All (X) are (Y or Z)

Which is technically correct, since (Y or Z) is a superset of Y; but it is irrelevant for the purposes of the ID creationist, because

2. All (X) are NEVER Z

The problem for the creationist is that (2) is known with equal or greater certainty from the exact same set of observations that the ID creationist alleged to use to arrive at his “universal” rule (1).

Thus, if we combine (1), which the ID creationist alleges is correct (ignoring natural processes that create information), with (2), which is derived from the exact same “uniform past experience” and is known with equal or greater confidence to be true, then we arrive at:

3. All (X) are (Y AND NOT Z)

Or to put it more succinctly,

We have never seen any immaterial spook make information, complexity, or any mutation in any genome of any species anywhere. Thus, they are hypocritical in their invocation of uniformitarianism.

Whenever I try to analyze the “argument from design” I am frustrated by the fact that it goes wrong in so many ways that it’s hard to know where to start. A reasoned analysis seems to grant it a status, as if it were actually an appeal to reason, rather than nothing more than a slogan in an advertising campaign, not really meant to be taken seriously.

Thrinaxodon is an odd sort who has appeared previously in sci.bio.paleontology and talk.origins. He has two personalities, one a fairly knowledeable and reasonable discussant of paleontology and the other the wacko Ed wannabe you see here. (Or will until he’s banished, which I expect soon.) I can’t explain the reason for this second personality.

“ID” is just an incoherent collection of a limited number of logical fallacies, strung out into vast verbosity.

Whether something is information or not is decided by the observer.

If a volcano “creates” a rock formation by spewing out lava, selected features of the rock formation become information if someone studies them.

ID/creationists pretend to get it backwards. It’s a fair paraphrase of their ideas to note that they make a claim equivalent to saying that if the rock formation is information now, the volcano must have been “intelligent” to create it.

TomS,

The best short response to the Argument from Design I’ve seen is this:

When William Paley described finding a watch on a beach, he argued that it was clearly not a natural object as compared to the beach, the trees, and the other natural objects around, and obviously the product of design. He then goes on to argue that the natural world is even more complex than the watch and therefore must have been designed. This means Paley used the argument that the natural world is designed *because* it is so obviously not like a designed object.

(I can’t remember where I first ran across this little snippet, so please don’t attribute it to me.)

The other approach that works (for me, I’ve never tried it as a persuasive technique) is to show some examples of pareidolia from nature.

Chris Lawson said:

TomS,

The best short response to the Argument from Design I’ve seen is this:

When William Paley described finding a watch on a beach, he argued that it was clearly not a natural object as compared to the beach, the trees, and the other natural objects around, and obviously the product of design. He then goes on to argue that the natural world is even more complex than the watch and therefore must have been designed. This means Paley used the argument that the natural world is designed *because* it is so obviously not like a designed object.

(I can’t remember where I first ran across this little snippet, so please don’t attribute it to me.)

The other approach that works (for me, I’ve never tried it as a persuasive technique) is to show some examples of pareidolia from nature.

And of course, there’s also the implied blasphemy of Paley’s argument. Human-designed watch is “more designed” than a rock. Hold it there, bud. I thought your God “designed” the entire universe. If God didn’t design that rock, where did it come from?

Either you’re saying that God didn’t design the mineral components of the universe, or you’re saying that the works of man are better designed than God-designed minerals.

harold said: “ID” is just an incoherent collection of a limited number of logical fallacies, strung out into vast verbosity.

Although is it beyond their capacity to find fallacies without limit, to fit the needs of the moment for obscurantism?

Chris Lawson said:

TomS,

The best short response to the Argument from Design I’ve seen is this:

When William Paley described finding a watch on a beach, he argued that it was clearly not a natural object as compared to the beach, the trees, and the other natural objects around, and obviously the product of design. He then goes on to argue that the natural world is even more complex than the watch and therefore must have been designed. This means Paley used the argument that the natural world is designed *because* it is so obviously not like a designed object.

(I can’t remember where I first ran across this little snippet, so please don’t attribute it to me.)

The other approach that works (for me, I’ve never tried it as a persuasive technique) is to show some examples of pareidolia from nature.

If Paley actually made this argument then he argued that the watch is designed and the trees are not. That is correct.

If Mr Asher is really smart then it shows such a person being needed to take on Meyer means meyer must be a smart scientist! A line of reasoning.

Plastics? What film? why is that a good point. Surely the glory of deisn in anything is better then in plastics!

Chris Lawson said: TomS, The best short response to the Argument from Design I’ve seen is this: When William Paley described finding a watch on a beach, he argued that it was clearly not a natural object as compared to the beach, the trees, and the other natural objects around, and obviously the product of design. He then goes on to argue that the natural world is even more complex than the watch and therefore must have been designed. This means Paley used the argument that the natural world is designed *because* it is so obviously not like a designed object. (I can’t remember where I first ran across this little snippet, so please don’t attribute it to me.) The other approach that works (for me, I’ve never tried it as a persuasive technique) is to show some examples of pareidolia from nature.

Amazing demolition of an argument Paley never made.

He compared a rock (not a beach; not a tree) to a watch on a heath (not a beach). And the rest of your amazing refutation doesn’t even come close to Paley’s argument. But, heh, why bother reading someone’s work when you already know they’re wrong?

eddie said:

Chris Lawson said: TomS, The best short response to the Argument from Design I’ve seen is this: When William Paley described finding a watch on a beach, he argued that it was clearly not a natural object as compared to the beach, the trees, and the other natural objects around, and obviously the product of design. He then goes on to argue that the natural world is even more complex than the watch and therefore must have been designed. This means Paley used the argument that the natural world is designed *because* it is so obviously not like a designed object. (I can’t remember where I first ran across this little snippet, so please don’t attribute it to me.) The other approach that works (for me, I’ve never tried it as a persuasive technique) is to show some examples of pareidolia from nature.

Amazing demolition of an argument Paley never made.

He compared a rock (not a beach; not a tree) to a watch on a heath (not a beach). And the rest of your amazing refutation doesn’t even come close to Paley’s argument. But, heh, why bother reading someone’s work when you already know they’re wrong?

Interesting. So rocks are clear examples of “undesigned” entities, but beaches aren’t, is that correct? Chris Lawson thought Paley was using a “rock” as an example, but according to you, it was intended as a more specific statement that applies only to rocks, is that correct?

Would you mind answering some questions? Please don’t answer any unless you answer them all.

First, I’d like to know how to detect design or lack of design in rocks (thanks to commenter Just Bob for originally posting this idea) -

“Let’s make it Real Simple.

Here are three rocks. They all happen to be tiny rough diamonds, of obviously poor quality and very similar appearance.

One was found in a kimberlite pipe in South Africa and formed by plutonic forces in the deep mantle. It’s ‘natural’.

One was made from uncrystallized carbon in a laboratory–a manmade diamond.

One was designed and created by God, atom by atom, to have precisely the shape, color, weight, flaws, and everything, exactly as he wanted. And he wanted it to look EXACTLY like a ‘natural’ rock – or maybe like a manmade one. And he succeeded.

Now, Eddie, here are two ‘designed’ rocks and one ‘natural’. Explain how to tell the ‘designed’ from the ‘undesigned’. How would your hero Paley do it?”

Also, could you deal with this, which was actually posted directly above your original comment? -

“And of course, there’s also the implied blasphemy of Paley’s argument. Human-designed watch is “more designed” than a rock. Hold it there, bud. I thought your God “designed” the entire universe. If God didn’t design that rock, where did it come from?”

Lastly, what is a “rock”? Sure, I understand what it means in common parlance, but if you want to make strong claims about rocks, we need to have a more specific definition. How can we distinguish “rocks” from “boulders”, “pebbles”, or “grains of sand”, for example. What are the boundary conditions?

eddie said:

Chris Lawson said: TomS, The best short response to the Argument from Design I’ve seen is this: When William Paley described finding a watch on a beach, he argued that it was clearly not a natural object as compared to the beach, the trees, and the other natural objects around, and obviously the product of design. He then goes on to argue that the natural world is even more complex than the watch and therefore must have been designed. This means Paley used the argument that the natural world is designed *because* it is so obviously not like a designed object. (I can’t remember where I first ran across this little snippet, so please don’t attribute it to me.) The other approach that works (for me, I’ve never tried it as a persuasive technique) is to show some examples of pareidolia from nature.

Amazing demolition of an argument Paley never made.

He compared a rock (not a beach; not a tree) to a watch on a heath (not a beach). And the rest of your amazing refutation doesn’t even come close to Paley’s argument. But, heh, why bother reading someone’s work when you already know they’re wrong?

What is a heath? Does it have plants in it? Are they designed? Did Paley think they were designed? How did he know?

TomS said:

harold said: “ID” is just an incoherent collection of a limited number of logical fallacies, strung out into vast verbosity.

Although is it beyond their capacity to find fallacies without limit, to fit the needs of the moment for obscurantism?

They seem to go back to the same ones over and over again.

I suppose it’s partly due to the nature of fallacies. A surprisingly small number of terms accurately describe the problems with an infinite number of fallacious arguments.

But it’s also true that ID/creationists are very non-creative. Especially the ID branch. The pre-Edwards YEC “creation science” types did try to bounce around between widely disparate fallacious arguments, focusing as much on physics and cosmology as biology, but even they have a limited number of canned arguments.

harold said: Lastly, what is a[n undesigned] “rock”? How can we distinguish “rocks” from “boulders”, “pebbles”, or “grains of sand”, for example.

Or from a chunk of concrete. Is that a designed rock? Paley knew about concrete, yet he didn’t seem to take into consideration that many rocks are human-designed. How about Michaelangelo’s David? Is that a designed rock? Or a cut and polished diamond? Or the engineered granite of my countertop?

These “I know design when I see it, and a rock isn’t designed” folks NEVER want to talk about the actual design of actual rocks, or how they know God doesn’t design them.

They apparently think only as far as the one-line slogan, without ever thinking about what the words MEAN.

Robert Byers said:

If Mr Asher is really smart then it shows such a person being needed to take on Meyer means meyer must be a smart scientist!

Meyer is not a scientist. He has a Ph.D. in philosophy, does not do experiments and does not develop theories that make testable predictions.

Richard B. Hoppe said:

Asher wrote

If we really apply uniformitarianism to determine if intelligent agents influenced the course of our evolutionary history, we’d expect those agents to have left behind the same kinds of traces as other such agents. Humanity is the best example we’ve got so far, and we make an exponentially greater amount of garbage than we do functional designs. One of the most obvious kinds of material evidence that a human-like intelligence in Earth’s distant past would have left behind was spelled out with one of the most famous lines, indeed one of the most famous words, ever uttered in twentieth-century film: Plastics.

I’ve been making that argument for years in my summary of intelligent design “theory”:

Sometime or other, some intelligent agent or agents designed some biological process or structure, and then somehow manufactured that process or structure in matter and energy, all the while leaving no independent evidence of the design process, no independent evidence of the manufacturing process, and no independent evidence of the presence, or even the existence, of the designing and manufacturing entities.

We find the debitage left by the manufacturers of stone implements (I once spent several days mapping the locations of a whole bunch of flint flakes), but we see nothing of the sort from the alleged intelligent designers.

Simple. That’s because the DI’s designers are probably smarter and neater than we are, and even if not, there are more that one of them, so maybe some of them have the job of transporting the debitage back to their planet. Or did, given that Behe admitted at Dover that they might no longer exist. So give them a break, they have only been claiming to have detected biological design for ~20 years. Maybe the Biologic Institute is now looking for that debitage. And maybe even finally getting around to doing what detectors of human design do - determining what the designer(s) did, when, where and how. :-)

And maybe even finally getting around to doing what detectors of human design do - determining what the designer(s) did, when, where and how. :-)

A GIGO counter?

Frank J said: With a solid majority thinking that it’s fair to “teach both sides”…

I have likened this to making firefighters get the fire’s side of the story before they start to fight the fire.

Folks who don’t think the intelligent design creationism hoax is a “fire”-level emergency for America aren’t paying enough attention.

Paul Burnett said:

Frank J said: With a solid majority thinking that it’s fair to “teach both sides”…

I have likened this to making firefighters get the fire’s side of the story before they start to fight the fire.

Folks who don’t think the intelligent design creationism hoax is a “fire”-level emergency for America aren’t paying enough attention.

We shouldn’t underestimate the problem, but we shouldn’t let biased opinion polls create despair, either.

A question asking whether both sides of an issue should be given a hearing, when both sides already have been given a hearing and the issue is decided, is so biased that the most elementary course about polling would use it as an example of a terrible question.

Because both sides should be given a hearing, and they have been.

If you ask any reasonable person whether “both sides” of anything should be taught, their natural heuristic will be to agree, unless they have strongly knowledge about the topic. Using this as a poll question, and then claiming support for teaching creationism, is a classic example of worthless polling and inappropriate inference.

I do not know exactly why polls are always biased on this issue. I can think of some non-biased poll questions. Try a question like this -

“Should public school science curriculum be decided mainly by educational professionals, and reflect current scientific consensus, or should partisan religious and political groups determine the contents of public school science class?”

For whatever reason, polls never ask questions like this.

One possible explanation is just plain laziness. Poll writers aren’t very good at biology or at clear writing, in general. The original “Do you dare deny that God Almighty had any role whatsoever in human origins, as a communist would?” (mild exaggeration for deliberate humorous effect) type questions may have originated around the time of Edwards and may well have been consciously or unconsciously intended to favor the “conservative” side at that time, and they may have simply been lazily repeated, with mild modification, since then.

Polls are like the point spread and elections are like the actual games. ID/creationism has not won a single election.

No school district officially teaches ID/creationism. In the few cases where school boards have proposed this, always in conservative highly rural areas, the school boards have been voted out. In 1999 in Kansas, there was no court case; the voters eliminated that school board before there was any such need. In Dover there was a court case but the school board was also voted out. Actual election results show precious little evidence that the public wants sectarian science denial propaganda pushed in taxpayer funded public schools.

We find the debitage left by the manufacturers of stone implements (I once spent several days mapping the locations of a whole bunch of flint flakes), but we see nothing of the sort from the alleged intelligent designers.

You do realize that the the intelligent designer has legions of magic elves tasked with removing all traces of his activities?

You do realize that the the intelligent designer has legions of magic elves tasked with removing all traces of his activities?

Not to mention Morton’s demon!

Harold Wrote:

Actual election results show precious little evidence that the public wants sectarian science denial propaganda pushed in taxpayer funded public schools.

Apologies for going even more off-topic, but I have been increasingly intrigued at how ~70% of adult Americans are at least partly sympathetic to the anti-evolution movement (including those who have no problem with evolution but have been fooled into thinking it’s fair to “teach both sides” in science class), yet most still listen to their conscience in the election booth. Note that even in the last 2 presidential elections the most vocal anti-science candidates (Bachmann, Perry, Santorum, Huckabee) were weeded out in the primaries (Palin got through as VP candidate in 08, but probably would have had a hard time in 12). IOW, when it counts, apparently only committed evolution-deniers (and activists of course), which are a minority, albeit an uncomfortably large one, go with the anti-evolution candidates, and the huge “swing vote” does not.

I realize that there are other “hot” social issues unfortunately tangled with evolution, and that (even more unfortunately) the aforementioned ~70% and more are horrendously misinformed of science. But I’d be curious what the rest of you think explains the “cognitive dissonance” of the “swing vote.”

Frank J said:

Harold Wrote:

Actual election results show precious little evidence that the public wants sectarian science denial propaganda pushed in taxpayer funded public schools.

Apologies for going even more off-topic, but I have been increasingly intrigued at how ~70% of adult Americans are at least partly sympathetic to the anti-evolution movement (including those who have no problem with evolution but have been fooled into thinking it’s fair to “teach both sides” in science class), yet most still listen to their conscience in the election booth. Note that even in the last 2 presidential elections the most vocal anti-science candidates (Bachmann, Perry, Santorum, Huckabee) were weeded out in the primaries (Palin got through as VP candidate in 08, but probably would have had a hard time in 12). IOW, when it counts, apparently only committed evolution-deniers (and activists of course), which are a minority, albeit an uncomfortably large one, go with the anti-evolution candidates, and the huge “swing vote” does not.

I realize that there are other “hot” social issues unfortunately tangled with evolution, and that (even more unfortunately) the aforementioned ~70% and more are horrendously misinformed of science. But I’d be curious what the rest of you think explains the “cognitive dissonance” of the “swing vote.”

Because “teach both sides” is a powerful imitation of the correct answer.

All other things being equal, of course we should evaluate all sides of an argument. And we already did. We did subject the theory of evolution, creation science, and ID, to rigorous scientific and logical analysis, for well over 150 years in the case of the theory of evolution. The theory of evolution stands up and the other two don’t.

When the question is accurately stated in a non-biasing way, it goes like this -

“It is already known that the theory of evolution is strongly supported by multiple converging lines of scientific evidence, and that ‘creation science’ and ‘intelligent design’ have been extensively investigated and are not supported by evidence, and amount to little more than ideologically motivated science denial, which has been deemed illegal to promote at taxpayer expense, as doing so favors minority religious sects at the expense of all others. Given these facts, should public schools teach the mainstream scientific consensus, or should they also spend time repeating false statements about science, in a probably illegal way?”

What happens is that when people see “should we teach both sides?” in a poll they instinctively use the heuristic “Of course, it’s always better to be fair, and that usually means giving everyone a chance to share their view”.

Once a Dover school board of Freshwater becomes locally active, THEN people learn what the question really is.

@ Harold:

I was expecting something more complicated, e.g. the entangled social issues, but it may be just that simple as you mention. If so, it would be nice if it didn’t always have to take a local incident, or a politician putting his foot in his mouth, to make people see how they have been misled.

Frank J said:

@ Harold:

I was expecting something more complicated, e.g. the entangled social issues, but it may be just that simple as you mention. If so, it would be nice if it didn’t always have to take a local incident, or a politician putting his foot in his mouth, to make people see how they have been misled.

The entangled social issues explain the existence of the 30% or so who know the code and dogmatically deny evolution. I’m old enough to remember when Jack Chick believing fundamentalists were a great deal less than 30% of the population, and when, although they were certainly homophobic, sexist, authoritarian, and in some cases racist (but in other cases strongly against racism), they weren’t at all fond of the Republican party. Without going into massive detail, I basically think that, because mainstream denominations virtually all supported the civil rights movement, the right wing adopted and adapted fundamentalism. Now it’s an embedded part of an overall social/political movement.

However, you weren’t asking about the 30%. You were asking why the remaining 70% sometimes seem to agree with “teach both sides” language, yet consistently vote against actual teaching of creationism when it becomes a local issue, and to a large degree consistently show passive acceptance of evolution in popular culture or when given unbiased poll questions. And I think the simple explanation works there. “Teach both sides” simply sounds like the correct answer, because “give both sides a fair hearing” actually is the correct answer. And we did.

Not only is it easy to manipulate polls with biased questions, it is challenging to construct poll questions that are not biased.

Accidental biasing of polls is extremely common.

Deliberate biased polling is also common, and always serves some agenda. The most extreme type is “push polling” - actual efforts to change attitudes with manipulative questions (extreme example for illustration - “Congressman X may or may not be associated with international child pornography, do you plan to vote for Congressman X?”).

More commonly, the goal is make support for something seem higher than it really is. But sometimes this is indirect push polling. The idea is that if you exaggerate support, some people will “jump on the bandwagon”.

A third reason for biased polling was illustrated by the Romney campaign (this neutral statement about the Romney campaign is accurate regardless of the reader’s opinion of it) - the person paying for the poll may be perceived to demand “good news”. Pollsters may be afraid to present the customer with accurate but unfavorable data, and merely present biased data in an effort to create short term satisfaction.

I actually got a ‘poll’ call during the primary season that asked, among other crap, “Would you support John McCain if you knew that he had an illegitimate black child?”

And surprise, surprise! It wasn’t from the Democratic campaign, but from the Tea Party Patriots or some iteration thereof.

Just Bob said:

I actually got a ‘poll’ call during the primary season that asked, among other crap, “Would you support John McCain if you knew that he had an illegitimate black child?”

And surprise, surprise! It wasn’t from the Democratic campaign, but from the Tea Party Patriots or some iteration thereof.

Wow. An actual recipient of that infamous push poll call, which is pretty much as extreme an example as my imaginary example. Were you in South Carolina? That’s where that call was mainly targeted.

John McCain has an adopted daughter from Bangladesh, who is neither black nor his biological daughter

But you know where they got the idea from? When Strom Thurmond was 22, he got a sixteen year old African-American housemaid pregnant and thus had a black daughter out of wedlock. Fortunately, the “illegitimate black daughter” of Strom Thurmond had a long and successful life.

By the way, this is somewhat on topic. This is related to both polling, and to the social roots of post-modern creationism.

harold said:

Just Bob said:

I actually got a ‘poll’ call during the primary season that asked, among other crap, “Would you support John McCain if you knew that he had an illegitimate black child?”

And surprise, surprise! It wasn’t from the Democratic campaign, but from the Tea Party Patriots or some iteration thereof.

Wow. An actual recipient of that infamous push poll call, which is pretty much as extreme an example as my imaginary example. Were you in South Carolina? That’s where that call was mainly targeted.

Texas. Rick Perry country. Louis Gohmert country. Don McLeroy country. South Carolina ain’t got nuthin on us in the bigotry department.

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This page contains a single entry by Nick Matzke published on January 9, 2014 4:44 PM.

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