Dangerous Debates?

Dangerous Debates? October 11, 2014

Some predicted that the overall harmful effects of debates such as Bill Nye’s with Ken Ham would outweigh the benefits. What do you think? Hemant Mehta shared a talk Nye gave recently in which he talked about the debate (among other things):

IO9 shared a famous example of the danger of engaging a fanatic in debate. The article’s conclusion? “While, much of the time, a person who jumps into the fray and debates a subject honestly is a hero — there is plenty of history to show us that steering clear can be the wiser course. “

But when reporters get details about science wrong, it may seem as though there is no choice but to enter the fray.

Recently Ted Herrlick applied a list of features of pseudo-scholarship which appeared on my blog to the subject of Intelligent Design. Allan Bevere shared a link to a post about how to spread misinformation. And Ted Davis blogged at BioLogos about why the evolution debates don’t matter.

Of related interest, see the recent New York Times article about how we tend to surround ourselves online with like-minded people, and avoid substantive debate with those who disagree with us. I also learned that Friedrich Schiller said “The gods themselves contend in vain against stupidity.”

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  • There can be good debates. I think professors Michael Behe and Laurence Moran had a very good, informative and substantive debate online, recently. Behe’s last reply contains all the previous links: http://www.evolutionnews.org/2014/08/drawing_my_disc089331.html

    except for Moran’s final reply to his: http://sandwalk.blogspot.com/2014/08/michael-behes-final-thoughts-on-edge-of.html

    All worth reading, in my opinion.

  • Sean Garrigan

    I don’t think there’s any danger in debating fanatical Darwinists. The more you keep them talking, the more you realize that the Emperor is wearing no clothes.

    • What in the world is a “fanatical Darwinist”? I know that we have debated about evolution in the sense of mainstream biology, but that is not fanaticism it is science. And so if your comment here today is offered as an indication that you still refuse to admit the problems with your anti-science stance, then that does indeed suggest that debates are pointless.

      • Sean Garrigan

        Darwinism is primarily materialist philosophy, not science. It’s non-falsifiable and it’s sustained by circular reasoning, and in that sense you are correct that there’s no much point in debating. On the other hand, as I said, the more fanatical Darwinists keep talking, the more the fog clears and their nakedness is exposed.

        • Andrew Dowling

          “Darwinism is primarily materialist philosophy, not science”

          Oh . . my . . .God . . . the . . . .irony . . is . . . suffocating . . .

        • I think you are thinking about atomism, that secular approach to chemistry with its roots in the godless philosophy of Epicureanism. Although obviously one can apply this to other viewpoints if one wishes – such as germ theory, which has driven demons and humors and ultimately God from medicine and health care, and has repaid us with little in return, other than healthier lives.

        • arcseconds

          Well, falsifiability isn’t the lynchpin of science that Popper says it is, but on the other hand, evolutionary biology is eminently falsifiable.

          Even Popper, the person who proposed the principle you’re appealing to, that falsifiability should be the demarcation criterion between science and non-science, who is on record as thinking that evolution is unfalsifiable and therefore unscientific, changed his mind on this point.

          Do you think Popper is a competent scientist or philosopher of science? If not, why take the falsifiability thing seriously? If so, why dismiss his change of heart?

          Anyway, maybe you’re confusing ‘unfalsifiable’ with ‘so well supported that it’s unlikely that we’ll find any compelling evidence against it’? Or possibly you’re supposing that the way science works is a theory is discarded as soon as there’s evidence that’s in any way problematic?

          It helps sometimes to imagine courtroom dramas. We have the fingerprints on the murder weapon, the murder weapon’s bullets in the body, the signed confession, the threatening letter also signed by the defendant. Is this the theory the defendant is guilty falsfiable? Yes, she could be framed, the confession coerced or forged, or we could even be wrong about ballistics, or perhaps identical fingerprints really do come up from time to time. Is this likely? No. Are we going to change our minds and toss out the case immediately when a witness turns up to give her an alibi? Again, no. Our suspicions will be that the witness is lying, and we’ll want that investigated.

    • arcseconds

      Well, running with that metaphor for a bit, you’re the boy pointing and laughing.

      But unlike that story, you’re pointing and laughing, but no-one else is joining in (except maybe a few other waggish youths).

      So what are we to make of this? Either the scientific community is even more stupid and/or cowed by authority than the people in that story, or else you’ve just taken a juvenile game a bit too far and have started to believe in it.

      • Sean Garrigan

        Well, actually, I’m not laughing, because I don’t find it funny that masses of people are misled by lies offered to sustain a non-falsifiable circular philosophy.

        • arcseconds

          All the regulars here with scientific and philosophical backgrounds are firm supporters of evolution.

          Has it ever occurred to you, even just for a second, that you might be the one that is being misled, and that we might not actually be lying?

          • Sean Garrigan

            Sure, it’s possible that I’m misled, but I’ve seen no compelling evidence to suggest that this is the case vis a vis Darwinism.

            BTW, I didn’t say that you or James were lying. I do think you’re misled;-)

          • arcseconds

            I know you don’t find the evidence compelling.

            So it seems that we have to believe that the people who have studied science and philosophy of science simply aren’t very good at it. In fact, they’re so hopeless they can’t even recognise problems when they’re pointed out to them. And that you’re a brilliant iconoclast that’s seen through the illusions.

            Or we could believe that your finding evidence compelling or non-compelling is a psychological fact about you.

            Is there any reason to accept you as being a better judge of what is compelling evidence than the people who study it for a living?

          • Sean Garrigan

            This is the third or fourth time you’ve attempted to use the it’s-Sean-against-everyone-who-counts argument against me. It never gets anywhere, yet you persist in using it. I’m reminded of comments made by Orson Scott Card:

            “Real science never has to resort to credentialism…

            …Darwin himself was a scientist, and a great one, in part because he was constantly probing and questioning his own ideas…

            …But an astonishing number of his defenders today are, at least when discussing Darwinism, not scientists at all…They instead behave like religious fanatics whose favorite dogmas are being challenged. That’s why they answer their serious critics with name-calling, credentialism, expertism, sniping, politics, and misdirection, answering questions that have not been asked, using answers that have nothing to do with the real questions…They have no good answers, and yet they have an unshakable faith in Darwinism…”


            The notion that it’s Sean against everyone who matters is not just silly, but it’s mistaken. There are Scientists and philosophers of science who accept and promote the findings of ID. There are others, perhaps many others, who would publicly support ID, but doing so could cost them their jobs, and so they either remain silent or support ID out of the public eye. Some of these people contributed guidance to Jonathan Wells when he wrote The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design, but they asked to remain anonymous out of fear for their livelihoods.

            To me, the only valid use of credentialism is to demonstrate that a person offering an argument is sufficiently familiar with the relevant data to make an informed judgement; it does not guarantee that the judgement made is correct or that the data has been properly interpreted. In the end it is the evidence and only the evidence that compels, regardless whether the evidence is being carried on the bandwagon or by those who refuse to hop aboard or stay aboard.

            The vast majority of religious authorities once insisted that the doctrine of eternal torment was correct, supposedly based on sound biblical exegesis, and some would say that those who reject that theory in favor of conditional immortality are part of a fringe minority. Thanks to the work of those brave souls who were willing to support the fringe view, some of whom had to self publish in order to be heard, it is not only becoming more and more tolerated, but it’s gradually being seen less and less as a “fringe” view, and more and more as a respectable minority position. I side with the minority here, too.

          • Sean Garrigan

            I had said:

            ” I side with the minority here, too.”

            I should have said:

            “I side with the minority here, too, and I’ve done so since the 70s, during which period it was probably still primarily considered “fringe”.

          • Don’t worry, creationism is still “fringe”, like all pseudo-sciences. Speaking of which, if unfalsifiability and circular logic are your markers for bad science – with creationism, you’ve hit the mother load!

          • Sean Garrigan

            “Now the controversy is between advocates of the theory of Intelligent Design vs. strict Darwinists. And some people want you to think it’s the same argument. It isn’t.” (Orson Scott Card [ibid])

          • Of course it’s the same argument, as the “Of Pandas and People” fiasco brought embarrassingly to light. You can count the number of actual biologists studying “Intelligent Design” on one hand, and the research they have produced is virtually nil.

            It makes sense that your quote comes from Orson Scott Card, a fiction writer rather than a scientist; especially one who believes the fictions of Mormonism – ancient Jews sailing to America, the golden plates, the angel Moroni – the whole nine yards.

          • Sean Garrigan

            “It makes sense that your quote comes from a fiction writer rather than a
            scientist; especially one who believes the fictions of Mormonism –
            ancient Jews sailing to America, the golden plates, the angel Moroni –
            the whole nine yards.”

            I don’t know, it seemed appropriate to quote a science fiction writer on a forum that regularly explores the connections between religion and science fiction, but, hey, that’s just me;-)

            That aside, ad hominem isn’t called a fallacy for nothing.

          • But nothing to the fallacy of ignoring the evidence of the experts.

          • Sean Garrigan

            That’s just it – I don’t ignore the evidence of the experts; I merely observe that the evidence is really data to be interpreted, and I don’t accept the oft asserted stipulation about what science can and can’t infer, and I’m therefore open to infer what the evidence truly reveals.

          • How nice for you. I don’t ignore the evidence of the experts either, which truly reveals (and continues to reveal, thanks to the work of actual biologists) that evolution through natural selection is the overwhelmingly best explanation for the diversity of life on the planet. For some strange reason, 98% or more of the scientific community agrees.

            Now, I hear you crying that authority does not decide such issues; but all I see from your side of the fence is banal assertions.

          • Speaking of fallacies, all you’ve quoted from Card is an assertion, not an argument, which makes it nothing but an argument from authority – taken from someone who isn’t even remotely an authority.

          • Sean Garrigan

            Not really. I quoted Card because he observed what I’ve observed many times over, and what I’ve stated at least a few times in these sorts of dialogues. I really don’t care if you don’t like or want to accept his valid observation. What each of us do with the information we’re privileged to imbibe in this life is our own choice and responsibility.

            BTW, if everyone always jumped on the bandwagon and cowed to the prevailing views, science would literally stop progressing. Darwinists are science stoppers.

          • No, it’s an invalid observation. ID is simply creationism seeking sophistication.

            And of course, evolutionary biologists are advancing science constantly, in the field, in the lab, and in medicine. The tiny number of ID scientists have yet to advance science in any way whatsoever. ID is a science stopper.

          • Sean Garrigan

            “No, it’s an invalid observation. ID is simply creationism seeking sophistication.”

            The problem with promoting lies such as this is that it doesn’t get you anywhere and ultimately will cause folks who know better to just tune you out.

          • OK, I’ve had enough of this. I was ready to call shenanigans when you said that evolution is a science-stopper. A search of the ProQuest biological sciences database, limited to peer reviewed publications, turns up 602,465 results for “evolution.” A search for “intelligent design” in the same database returns 219 results, most of them critical of intelligent design arguments and claims.

            You have been promoting lies here yourself. To now call someone else a liar is crossing a line that is simply not acceptable. No amount of name-calling and troll-commenting is going to change that your viewpoint is demonstrably false. I know it is hard to admit when we’ve been gullible, but these defense mechanisms, while common and understandable, are resulting in behavior that is simply unacceptable. If you can acknowledge that you are trying to make a case for a minority stance and proceed accordingly, I have no objection. But mischaracterizing whole fields of science as well as individual commenters here is not acceptable.

          • Sean Garrigan

            To say that ID is creationism is a lie, even if it’s born from ignorance, and I’m not going to swallow my own honesty to accommodate someone who makes and allows such charges against those with whom he disagrees on a regular basis.

            Beau may not have meant to lie, but when you assert something that is untrue to discredit others, you are lying, and in the most offensive manner possible.

            His error may be the result of employing the genetic fallacy, in which case his assertion is not deliberately deceptive. But you give no leeway to those who spread falsehoods out of ignorance, and so it’s hypocritical of you to expect others to do so.

            If ID is creationism because of assumed motivations of some who are at the forefront of the theory, than Darwinism is atheism, as evidenced by the motivations of those who have promoted it.

          • I am doubly puzzled by this statement. On the one hand, I would very much like to hear what it means to say that organisms are “intelligently designed” but yet not “created.” On the other hand, the infamous case of the cdesign proponentsists provides strong evidence that, for some at least, ID is just a new method to try to inject old ideas into science classrooms. It would thus seem more fruitful for you to provide counterevidence and explanation, rather than calling people liars because they are aware of and honest about evidence that you are either ignoring or wish did not exist.

          • Sean Garrigan

            ID is not Creationism as the term is commonly used when distinguishing the two groups. Creationists start with the biblical text and seek scientific support for what they believe is stated in that text, whereas ID starts with the scientific data without reference to the biblical text. These are two very different approaches.

            ID may be friendly to theism, just as millions of people believe that Darwinism is friendly to atheism (e.g. remember Will Provine’s comment?), but those inferences of friendliness are outside the scope of the two theories.

          • arcseconds

            I’d be interested to know more on how you think your position is different from creationism, actually.

            I recall that in the past you’ve argued that it’s preposterous to suppose that one species can turn into another, quite different species. But this is more typical of creationists, not intelligent design proponents. At the very least, denying macroevolution and speciation does put you in much the same camp as creationists.

            Am I wrong in this recollection?

            Also, we have had debates with true-blue creationists here. You’ve been involved in those debates, but I don’t recall you ever arguing with the creationists, but always with people supporting the mainstream evolutionary biology view.

            If your concern is really with scientific fact, and you disagree substantially with creationists, this seems a little odd. Again, maybe I’ve forgotten or never saw your arguments with them.

            And creationists also, of course, point to the small number of scientists on their side. Does the small number of scientists supporting creationism suggest to you that creationism is in any way scientific?

          • Sean Garrigan

            So, comments are coming from too many too fast for me to keep up. So, for now, to your question about why do I not criticize young earth creationists on this forum? That’s simple, because James does this ad nauseum while others join in, and I don’t want to offer my own more tempered criticisms on a forum where everyone else is spitting at them with contempt.

          • Did you say you would be posting about this on your own blog? What is your blog address?

          • Sean Garrigan

            That was when I thought that James was going to revoke my posting privileges, but since that was a faulty assumption, I don’t think there’s a need to move the dialogue there. I rarely submit blog entries, and have only offered two dealing with evolution, and in a very limited way.


          • arcseconds

            You’re in no position to complain about ‘spitting at them with contempt’ when you characterize mainstream evolutionary biology as an Emperor’s New Clothes case, characterize McGrath as ‘obsessed’, and his posts on a matter that interests him on his own blog as ‘ad nauseum’. In the past you’ve characterised ‘Darwinists’ as gullible followers of authority, etc.
            The debates involve some degree of acrimony on both sides, but in your case it’s not like the contemptuous language comes up in the heat of the argument. You don’t make the least effort to even disguise your contempt!

            Do you not think that it would be helpful to young earth creationists to hear from someone who shares some of their attitude towards evolution and is sympathetic towards them, as well as being an ally in their debate against supporters of mainstream science? Particularly as you also seem to think that their attitude towards the Bible is problematic, and that appears to be an important issue.

            Anyway, I’m more interested in your take on speciation.

          • Sean Garrigan

            “I recall that in the past you’ve argued that it’s preposterous to suppose that one species can turn into another, quite different species. But this is more typical of creationists, not intelligent design proponents.”

            Well, I’m not sure that such a blanket statement is valid, but perhaps it emerges by conflating two different things, (i) what I and ID proponents believe can be inferred scientifically, and (ii) what I and various ID proponents believe on faith, which is outside the scope of ID.

            The opinion among advocates of ID is pretty broad, ranging from young earth creationists like Paul Nelson, to those who accept (at least tentatively) the notion of universal common ancestry (Michael Behe), to those who are so focused on the science that it isn’t always obvious where they fall on this question (Stephen Meyer), to agnostics who don’t even claim to support ID, but who at least recognize severe problems with Darwinism (David Berlinski).

            As for me, from the standpoint of science I think that the ID position is valid, and from the standpoint of faith I’m an old earth creationist. I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned this here before, but I understand that nobody follows every comment, and so you must have simply missed it.

          • To say that ID is creationism is not a lie, and far from being born of “ignorance”, it is born from the evidence supplied by ID proponents themselves. I’ve already mentioned the obvious ID/creationist substitutions in “Of Pandas and People”. There is also the Discovery Institute’s “Wedge” document, produced by the Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture, directed by Stephen Meyer.

            One of the clearly stated goals is “To replace materialistic explanations with the theistic understanding that nature and human beings are created by God” and “Intelligent Design” publications is the primary tool for achieving this goal.

            When you get to the specific Five and Twenty year goals of this 1998 document, it becomes clear that Stephen Meyer hasn’t come remotely close to achieving his goals.

          • arcseconds

            I don’t think the way Sean approaches the debate is particularly helpful for all sorts of reasons, but I think I agree with him here. Intelligent Design is a very different set of claims than Young-Earth creationism.

            While beau has a point that there are reasons to believe that many people promoting ID are in fact crypto-creationists who are doing this as a political strategy, I don’t think it can reasonably be maintained that there are not two different views here.

            (Sean is right that there are more scientists that have IDish suspicions than publically admit to it, I have heard some admit this in private myself. These people are certainly not young-earth creationists or anything like them. In my experience, they do admit that they have no evidence for this, and I get the impression that some even admit to the response possibly not being a rational one. Of course, saying one suspects that some structures can’t have evolved by natural selection is a very different claim than saying natural selection is unscientific…)

            It might be somewhat prejudicial to describe beau’s statement as ‘a lie’, but I think some allowance has to be made that this is an area that everyone feels strongly about.

            As far as ‘holding back science’ goes, I don’t agree with sean here at all, but given his other beliefs on the subject, it is not an unreasonable thing to say.

            ‘Darwinianism is anti-science’ is a piece of rhetoric of Sean’s I don’t find particularly helpful, and it would be better if he followed your suggestion and accepted that he has a minority opinion that has to be advanced in a way that doesn’t involve insulting everyone else’s intelligence and scientific acumen.

            But the specific claims that ‘ID is not creationism’ and ‘closing down ID holds back science’ I don’t have a problem with him asserting. The first because I also believe it, and the second because it’s something that’s an obvious consequence of believing in ID, or even having some sympathy with it. And you are (to your credit) OK with having people argue for ID on your blog.

          • I cannot agree. The most active proponents and most touted “scientists” of the ID movement promote it in Christian circuits and with the clear belief that the Christian God is the creator behind the “Intelligent Design”. Indeed the infamous children’s text “Of Pandas and People”, in which ID terms were simply added to replace creationist terms, was promoted and, in part, edited and introduced by none other than the most celebrated ID authors, Stephen Meyer and Michael Behe.

            The primary modus operandi of creationism and ID demagoguery is the same. Cast dispersions on evolutionary science to make room for a god of the gaps, whether one calls the gap-filler the Christian God openly or cryptically calls him the “intelligent designer”.

          • arcseconds

            The Christian God being involved is not sufficient to show there is only one view, though. It would make it very hard to talk about debates between Christians about Christianity, (and hard to see that there could be such debates) if that were the case.

            And the demagogic strategy being the same isn’t enough to show that the view is the same, either. Why, by that criterion, we could almost say that Jesus mythicism is the same view as creationism!

            If we take ‘creationism’ to mean ‘young earth creationism’, which admittedly was an assumption I was making and hadn’t thought about too much until now, there very clearly is a big difference between the views. YEC asserts a young earth, a magical flood to lay down strata and produce fossils, and hyper-evolution from the thousand or so ‘kinds’ on the Ark turning into the species we see today.

            ID asserts none of that, and in fact can help themselves to as much mainstream evolution as they want to, they just have to (and, when pressed, I believe they only) assert that some features are not evolved randomly, but are somehow designed.

            YEC has obviously a much greater task to achieve here. A universe that’s 6 orders of magnitude younger than mainstream science thinks it is involves science being so much more wrong about so many more things than thinking it’s basically the same as modern science thinks it is, except for a designer interfering from time to time in an unspecified manner to put together particularly complex pieces of apparatus.

          • It is clearly not only the “strategy” that is alike between creationism and ID.

            Creation “science” sometimes involves supporting creationist notions such as “flood geology” but it far more often involves scouring the literature of real biologists, looking for reasons to discredit evolution. The “science” changes over time. Creationists used to argue that dinosaurs were fake; now they accept the fossil discoveries of dinosaurs but argue that they were contemporary with humans.

            The point is that creationism is not really a science at all. It is the ongoing attempt to pick through actual scientific findings to create new arguments against evolution.

            And so it continues with intelligent design creationism. With the one added nuance of renaming God as an intelligent designer (to get past the first amendment), the “science” is all about discrediting evolution. Ask an ID proponent about the processes involved in “Intelligent Design”. How does it occur? What laws does it follow? If the designer is intelligent, how does he/she operate behind the scenes. Any true scientists positing an unknown anything – a particle, an organism, a physical force, anything – would be searching for it! Would want to know it’s properties, the equations that govern it, precisely how it interacts with matter (whether particles or organisms). But ID proponents never ask these questions. They already have their answer; and it is a biblical answer, not a scientific one.

            In fact, from one point of view, traditional creationists may be more legitimately “scientific” than ID creationists. At least with flood geology, traditional creationists are actually trying come up with a practical (albeit ludicrous) scientific explanation for the formation of fossil beds and formations like the grand canyon. ID creationism, by contrast, is entirely focused on discrediting evolution, usually by scouring the research of evolutionary scientists to come up with weaknesses, “irreducible complexities”, or the sorts of lottery fallacy numeric games that Stephen Meyer plays.

            Most of Meyer’s, Dembski’s, and Behe’s writings come down to inventing huge impossible probabilities for evolution based on numeric assumptions and (ultimately) the lottery fallacy. What are the chances that a eukaryotic cell could have occurred? Astronomically small! But, of course, evolution no more “intended” to invent a eukaryotic cell than it “intended” to invent me. We don’t know what other strange, complex, and successful life forms might have evolved in place of eukaryotic cells. All we know is who actually won the lottery.

            As ID creationists pick at new research (not their own) constantly to find new ways of using the lottery fallacy against evolution, they are only continuing the ongoing activity of all creationists.

          • arcseconds

            Normally with fields that ostensibly are about facts, the thing that is taken to distinguish positions is the different propositional claims they make, not how they go about arguing for those claims, or what motivations might lie behind making those claims, or what wider cultural movement they might be a part of.

            For example, both Lamarck and Darwin can be fairly said to be engaging in the same kind of project with the same kinds of arguments and are part of the same wider cultural movement (19th century biological science, feeling its way towards evolutionary theory). There are even some biases that we now think are both culturally bound and unscientific that they share, like the notion of eternal progress. But we don’t say ‘Lamarckianism is just Darwinism’, because they make different propositional claims about the phenomenon they’re addressing.

            And most of your comment I’m replaying to actually supports the notions that the claims are different, and the positions are different: if they’re the same position, how could one be more scientific than another? How could one raise questions the other does not?

            Again, I’m not saying you don’t have a point, that there’s a shared strategy of discrediting mainstream biology, and that there’s a wider cultural movement they’re a part of, and in some sense they’re allies, and some people aren’t too picky they just want God in biology class. But these don’t make them the same position, and it’s reasonable for Sean (and me) to object to you saying they’re really the same thing.

            And even if the positions were quite independent of one another, we might expect them to be allies, as they both have an interest in widening the scope of what counts as ‘proper biology’. Circumstances have certainly made for stranger bedfellows in the past.

          • Oh, but their primary propositional claims ARE the same: that the theory of evolution fails to account for life on this planet, and that God/an Intelligent Designer created life through an outside, nonmaterialistic agency.

            The rest – fossil gap claims, flood geology, irreducible complexity, lottery fallacies – are the strategies they employ.

            Take the dictionary definition of creationism:

            “The belief that the universe and living organisms originate from specific acts of divine creation, as in the biblical account, rather than by natural processes such as evolution.”

            And you have an excellent description of Intelligent Design. Now, all you have to do to get around the first amendment is substitute “intelligent design” for “divine creation”, and leave “as in the biblical account” out of the literature you try to get into schools. Of course, when writing to like-minded Christians, one is encouraged to stick “as in the biblical account” back in (as Dembski bends over backwards to do for his seminary colleagues).

          • arcseconds

            How is this different from saying that Lamarckianism and Darwinism have the same primary propositional claims: that there is a naturalistic account of the variation of life on the planet, and a designer is unnecessary?

            Or Protestantism and Roman Catholicism have the same primary propositional claims: the existence of God, the Trinity, and that Jesus died for our sins?

            (They agree on much more than that, of course, plus they frequently coöperate these days to achieve mutual goals, and they frequently exhibit similar arguments for their position. )

            Or Objectivism and Dialectic Materialism have the same primary propositional claims: that the people who create value in the world are the only people with a right to that value, and that a radical restructuring of society is necessary to enable this to happen, and plus There Is No God?

            I mean, sure, all of those might be true, but singling out some core agreement doesn’t make them the same position.

          • Your examples are all over the map in terms of the actual use of those terms, the identification of specific groups by those terms, not to mention their self-identification.

            Look up the history of the words “creationist” and “creationism”. You will find that their application is diverse and doesn’t fit into quite as small a box as the one in which you’re trying to cram them.

            I stand by my first statement: ” ID is simply creationism seeking sophistication.”

          • arcseconds

            Is it really the case that you have always been using creationism in a wide sense, or are you retreating to a wide sense now?

            If that’s been your position all along, you’ve been going about this debate in a rather disingenuous fashion. Normally when talking about evolution, ‘creationism’ is shorthand for ‘young earth creationism’, so for clarity you ought to have specified right from the start that you’re using it in a wider sense than that. I’d let that go, but I’ve explicitly clarified that that I’m talking about young-earth creationism several posts ago, plus Sean has also indicated that’s the kind of creationism he’s been talking about. Why did you not clarify that’s not what you meant back then, rather than allowing the debate to continue at cross-purposes for so long?

            In addition, your argument to date has involved associating the ID movement with something that certainly sounds a lot like young-earth creationism: a movement dedicated to undermining mainstream evolution. If you weren’t actually trying to show it’s identical with this movement, but with creationism more generally, why did you pick just this example?

            If you’re just asserting that ID is creationism in a wide sense, this seems relatively unconcerning. Plenty of mainstream scientists who assert nothing odd in their scientific work are creationists in this sense, and objecting to this would amount to a dogmatic insistence on atheism.

            It sort of seems to me that you’re wanting the bang of the accusation that it’s Young Earth Creationism in drag, but only want the evidential burden of showing it’s relationship to creationism in a wide sense.

            As far as my examples go, yes, by design they’re all over the map. I selected them to show that by your last criterion of ‘same position’, i.e. sharing a very short list of core propositions (that you’ve handpicked: they’re not what the proponents would say are the propositions that define their position) that all sorts of positions normally considered to be quite different to one another (and indeed opposed to one another) can be shown to be the same position.

            You can stand by your statement all you like, but so far it’s either looking like a relatively uninteresting claim (which you’ve allowed to look like an interesting one for rather too long), or a claim you can’t support.

          • So now you are insisting that there are only two senses of creationism? Wide and narrow?

            How can I be “retreating” to a different sense of “creationism” when I have been explicitly clear about exactly what aspects of the ID movement are “creationist” in nature – their anti-evolution stance and their attempt to scientifically or mathematically prove an “Intelligent Designer” who is clearly God? Why are you suggesting that I would be referring to a form of theistic evolution that does not have an anti-evolutionary stance?

            Not to mention the evidence of the ID movements own use followed by erasure of creationist terms in “Of Pandas and People”.

            The “evidential burden” that I have taken on in the past few comments has been more than clear. I am arguing the obvious relationship of the ID Movement to young earth creationism, gap creationism, progressive creationism, any other forms of creationism that reject evolutionary science for theistic reasons.

            This is not an unusual sense of the word creationism, despite your rather annoying suggestion that I am being “disingenuous”. Using the term “creationism” to describe the Intelligent Design movement is quite common, perhaps the best example being the National Center for Science Education:


            though there are many others:















            You keep throwing out the phrase “same position”, but I can’t seem to find those words in my comment:

            “ID is simply creationism seeking sophistication.”

            What I CAN find is that the exact point I am making is also being made by science organizations, biologists, academics, journalists, book authors, and a host of others who use the term “creationism” to refer to Intelligent Design in the same exact sense that I use it. A sense in which I have been insistently clear in all of my comments.

            You can stand by your argument that my statement is “false” all you like, but so far it’s either looking like a relatively uninteresting semantic claim (a banal game you’ve played for rather too long) or a claim refuted by plenty of supporting evidence, of which the sites I’ve referenced here are merely the tip of iceberg.

          • Sean Garrigan

            “A search of the ProQuest biological sciences database, limited to peer
            reviewed publications, turns up 602,465 results for ‘evolution.'”

            This reminds me of the comment made by eminent scientist Philip Skell:

            “In the peer-reviewed literature, the word “evolution” often occurs as a
            sort of coda to academic papers in experimental biology. Is the term
            integral or superfluous to the substance of these papers? To find out, I
            substituted for “evolution” some other word – “Buddhism,” “Aztec
            cosmology,” or even “creationism.” I found that the substitution never
            touched the paper’s core. This did not surprise me. From my
            conversations with leading researchers it had became clear that modern
            experimental biology gains its strength from the availability of new
            instruments and methodologies, not from an immersion in historical


            search for “intelligent design” in the same database returns 219
            results, most of them critical of intelligent design arguments and

            And this substantiates an observation I offered here years ago which you denied. I pointed out that critics of ID are given a forum in the peer-reviewed literature to critique ID, but ID’s advocates are typically denied an opportunity to replay. It’s difficult to escape the conclusion that, with respect to ID, the peer-review apparatus is taking it’s queue from Stalinists.

          • Sean Garrigan

            Oops, please replace “queue” with “cue”.

          • I can’t edit your comments, but you should be able to.

          • Sean Garrigan

            I think that the only way I can edit is to sign in using Google, but when I try to do this Disquis imposes itself and forces me to allow it to track my activity. Mind you, I don’t really care if someone on this forum can see that I also posted on a forum about a new classical guitar, but I find that sort of tracking behavior unacceptable.

          • Then just add a comment with corrections, when necessary.

          • Professor Skell, who died in 2010, tried to voice this opinion on many occasions, and of course the opinion has been throroughly propagandized by the Discovery Institute; but the opinion has been thoroughly trounced by actual biologists.

            Skell gained his “emminence” for chemistry; he was not a biologist.

          • Sean Garrigan

            “but the opinion has been thoroughly trounced by actual biologists.”

            Gotta luv Darwinian rhetoric!

          • Don’t you feel in the slightest bit ashamed of the hypocrisy involved in complaining about the rhetoric of those who have the evidence, the lab hours, the publications, and the weight of expert consensus all in their favor, while at the same time offering rhetoric on behalf of your own fringe viewpoint that is not only similar to what you are complaining about, but exaggerated beyond the bounds of anything reasonable, fair, or honest?

          • Whether you consider it rhetorical or not, the fact remains that Skell expressed an opinion about a field he does not practice, that is not shared by most scientists who actually practice the field of biology.

            You complain about the argument from authority, but then you turn around and claim the opinion of your own less qualified “authorities”.

          • You are simply placing one person’s view of the literature over against the quantity and content of the literature itself. A mythicist could say “You could substitute ‘mythical celestial Jesus’ for ‘historical Jesus’ in the scholarly articles on the topic and it would not change the substance significantly,” but that would not necessarily make that assertion true.

            As for the assertion that ID proponents have a solid case to offer, but there is a conspiracy to keep them from publishing, I can only shake my head and wonder why you don’t accept it when Jesus mythicists, or young-earth creationists, or any others make the exact same claim. Why buy this insulting denialist garbage from one source but not from others, when it is no more plausible in your preferred version than the others?

          • Sean Garrigan

            The problem with your view, James, is that ID proponents have copies of actual letters telling them that they will not be allowed to respond to a critic in a given journal because the journal is committed to the theory of evolution, and the belief that all answers related to the diversity of life will be found within the context of that theory.

            Yes, peer reviewed journals publish articles against ID but deny ID advocates the same forum to respond. If ID is not science, then the peer reviewed journals shouldn’t accept either critiques or defenses of the theory. ID is science, though, and so they appropriately allow critiques, but shamefully disallow responses from proponents of ID science. Shame one anyone who condones such egregious behavior.

          • Would you regard it as inappropriate for a history journal’s editor to respond to submissions from Holocaust deniers expressing to them in letters that the journal is committed to mainstream historiography? Should the journal not publish articles about the historicity of the Holocaust, and even articles that criticize Holocaust denial, in the interest of fairness?

            All cranks and denialists complain about egregious behavior on the part of mainstream academia. It is easier than actually making a persuasive case for your views that can meet the rigorous requirements of modern scholarship, and often it is the only option left other than actually revising their views in light of the evidence.

          • arcseconds

            What kind of rule is it to say science journals are not allowed to publish science meeting the normal standards that disproves unscientific claims in the same area by people outside the field?

            That seems like a rather crazy rule to me. That means I can make any bizarre claims I want, and then insist that respectable journals either stay silent about me or publish me. Is this the rule you want followed with respect to HIV denialists, or quack medicine more generally? I note that in these cases lives are at stake due to quack claims some make.

          • Sean Garrigan

            Re-post to correct formatting (I hope):

            “A search of the ProQuest biological sciences database, limited to peer reviewed publications, turns up 602,465 results for ‘evolution.'”

            This reminds me of the comment made by eminent scientist Philip Skell:

            “In the peer-reviewed literature, the word “evolution” often occurs as a sort of coda to academic papers in experimental biology. Is the term integral or superfluous to the substance of these papers? To find out, I substituted for “evolution” some other word – “Buddhism,” “Aztec cosmology,” or even “creationism.” I found that the substitution never touched the paper’s core. This did not surprise me. From my conversations with leading researchers it had became clear that modern experimental biology gains its strength from the availability of new instruments and methodologies, not from an immersion in historical biology.”
            End Quote


            “A search for “intelligent design” in the same database returns 219 results, most of them critical of intelligent design arguments and claims.”

            And this substantiates an observation I offered here years ago which you denied. I pointed out that critics of ID are given a forum in the peer-reviewed literature to critique ID, but ID’s advocates are typically denied an opportunity to replay. It’s difficult to escape the conclusion that, with respect to ID, the peer-review apparatus is taking it’s queue from Stalinists.

          • Actually, it is the lie that ID is not a form of creationism that failed a court of law.

            And ID proponents made it laughably obvious when they failed to substitute the word “creationists” from an earlier version of “Of Pandas and People” to “design proponents” – ending with the bizarre “cdesign proponentsists”. This idiotic text, which clearly updated a creationist view of the world to an ID view of the world with simple word substitutions, was promoted by Stephen Meyer and Michael Behe.

            ID isn’t creationism? Give me a break.

          • arcseconds

            Frequently when evolution is mentioned, you come in and say something like what you’ve just said — it’s obvious that evolution is false.

            Does this ever get you anywhere? No. So why do you persist in saying it?

            And is it any more silly for me to persist in saying something that has no effect than it is for you?

            The thing is, Sean, it’s a direct consequence of your belief that mainstream evolution is obviously wrong that the scientific community is quite incompetent at what they do. According to you, a tiny, fringe minority have realised the obvious, and they’re completely unable to convince their peers, who continue to believe in a piece of unscientific metaphysics.

            This is not a piece of credentialism. I’m not saying “only people with Ph.D.s and ongoing employment get to comment on these matters”. I’m saying that your belief that evolution is obviously wrong entails a very strong claim about the competence of practically the entire scientific community.

            That’s a much, much stronger claim than ID having virtues that are not allowed to be realised.

            So I’m not going to allow you to retreat from it to discussing your pet conspiracy theory.

            And the consequence that the scientific community, for the most part, doesn’t have the slightest idea how to assess a theory for scientific merit, seems prima facie absurd, given the great successes science has had.

            So, we seem to have a choice here. Either we believe you, and accept that the scientific community aren’t very good at the whole science thing, or we don’t believe you, and think you’re just full of it.

            The whole thing strikes me as being quite similar to mythicism, of course. Your argument almost exactly parallels theirs. A few brave souls have realised what the experts cannot realise, that there isn’t any really compelling proof for darwinian evolution / the existence of Jesus. And in both cases the problems are so obvious that laymen can easily recognise them. In both cases the academy conspires to repress the truth.

            And in both cases, we have the same choice: accept that the experts are at least minimally competent, and that at least the most strident voices on the fringe (those saying it’s obviously wrong) are simply wrong, and look for some explanation for why they’re so adamant that they’re right. That’s normally not too hard to do as they generally have obvious commitments to something other than their scholarship: atheism in the case of mythicists, and theistic religion in the case of ID proponents.

            Or we have to explain how it is a massive, global, and diverse group of experts, from diverse national, cultural, and religious backgrounds, can all be almost uniformly unable to see obvious flaws in their core business, even when it is pointed out to them, yet are sill apparently quite competent at what they do in other areas.

            The last option seems very difficult to explain, and you haven’t even attempted to provide an explanation. The fact you think the flaws are obvious, and the evidence is unconvincing is more easily explained on the assumption that you are biased and untrained, than you have insight that the experts are lacking.

          • Sean Garrigan

            “Does this ever get you anywhere? No. So why do you persist in saying it?”

            You may have missed it, but I typically don’t just pop over here and comment about the religion known as Darwinism, but I come here and *respond* to James, who seems singularly obsessed with it.

          • arcseconds

            My comment to which you’re replying starts ‘frequently when evolution is mentioned, you come in and say something like you’ve just said’. So no, I haven’t missed it.

            I reply to you. You tell me that this doesn’t get me anywhere, and yet I persist. You reply to James. Is this getting you anywhere? It doesn’t seem so. Yet you persist nevertheless.

            It seems to me that you were trying to suggest it’s silly of me to continue persisting with something that apparently doesn’t yield anything. Is your own behaviour similarly silly? If not, what is the relevant difference to my behaviour? If so, why remark on my silly behaviour?

          • Sean Garrigan

            Ok, ok, uncle! Oye.

          • Sean Garrigan

            ” I’m saying that your belief that evolution is obviously wrong entails a
            very strong claim about the competence of practically the entire
            scientific community.”

            That’s ridiculous, really. You are conflating one subset of one theory with “the entire scientific community.” The only thing that really surprises me is that you manage to do with a strait face. Or, maybe not; for all I know, you’re giggling uncontrollably while you type such silliness.

          • arcseconds

            Evolutionary biology is not some kind of obscure theory in the backwaters of science that only a few specialists are aware of.

            It’s taught in practically every university, and in most developed countries is a core part of the high school curricula. Moreover, scientists do actually talk to one another and read one another’s papers. It’s not just those scientists that are ‘indoctrinated’ into the evolutionary biology research project that have any exposure to it.

            Plus, despite the tiny number of the detractors with any credentials, creationism and ID have been extremely well publicized.

            There are hundreds of thousands of scientists in the world (if not millions). Almost all of them will know something about evolutionary biology. Biology is an extremely popular subject, so it would not surprise me if 50% of them had studied evolutionary biology to undergraduate level, and the number who have studied it to graduate level in some fashion must be in the tens of thousands. And a great many more will have heard about creationism and ID and said to themselves, at the very least, “I don’t know this area as well as I’d like to” and will have looked into it. Plus there’s dozens of popular science books on the subject: scientists do read popular books outside their area.

            The idea that the scientific community is on the whole so ignorant of such a popular and well-publicized theory that it isn’t in a position, as a community, to notice obvious flaws with it is kind of preposterous, don’t you think?

            It’s sort of like claiming that The Empire Strikes Back is an obviously lousy movie by any reasonable standard, and then dismissing the fact that critics think otherwise, responding that only a minority of critics are familiar with the film.

            Even if it’s less than completely obvious, one might expect at least some of them to dig a little deeper, and then alert their peers at the horrors they’ve uncovered.

            Yet there’s no real outcry. The ‘obvious’ flaws of evolutionary science have not been acknowledged. Neither ID nor Creationism, despite frequently appearing all over the show, in the press, on blogs, etc, have had any discernible impact on the mainstream academy apart from provoking the odd rebuttal from time to time. There aren’t scores of German physicists or Japanese meteorologists or Australian biochemists who have sat up and noticed that their peers are engaged in utter flim-flam. That’s pretty strange, given that it’s such a popular theory, and it’s so obviously wrong and unscientific, isn’t it?

            The easiest way to explain this phenomenon of practically no concerns whatsoever from mainstream scientists is that, in fact, there aren’t any reasons for concern, or at the very least, the problems are subtle and require careful explanation.

          • Sean Garrigan

            Since James is probably going to remove me from this forum, I’ll try to find time to put up a response to this on my own blog. You’re welcome to comment there if you’d like

          • Despite your despicable dishonesty, I would much rather see you engage those here who are trying to hold you accountable to the overwhelming evidence against your stance, and have your claims and the responses to them available for all to see here, than have you make a run for it in the hope of giving some readers the impression that maybe you had a case but were not allowed to present it. Carry on.

          • arcseconds

            What is the difference between you accusing Sean of despicable dishonesty, and Sean saying beau is repeating lies? Sean’s accusation is actually a lot milder, as he’s been fairly clear that he doesn’t think beau is himself dishonest, but rather reporting falsehoods, which he chooses to call ‘lies’.

            You think he’s reciting obvious falsehoods, but that’s exactly what he thinks beau is doing. And in fact on this particular issue, the claim that ID and creationism aren’t the same thing, is one of the more reasonable things Sean is claiming.

            Is there any doubt that Sean actually believes everything he is saying? There’s no doubt there are lots of things that are problematic with his position, and problematic with how he chooses to argue for it — he prefers the shady vales of rhetoric and smear campaigns than he does the open field of argument for example — but either it’s fair to accuse your opponent of promulgating lies or being dishonest if you’ve got a plausible case for them to be reciting falsehoods, or it’s not.

          • I’m not sure that I follow your reasoning. I think that Sean’s claim that evolution is obviously false is itself a blatant falsehood, since the notion that it is truly obvious, and yet seen by him and not by the overwhelming majority of people who work in the relevant fields (biology, genetics, paleontology, microbiology, biochemistry, and so on and so on) is so absurd that it is hard to believe that the possibility that he could be wrong has never occurred to him, to say the nothing of the probability that he is wrong. Nevertheless, I think I was referring more directly to his characterization of others in ways that actually referred more naturally to his own position that I felt were particularly dishonest. If someone claimed that affirming the Holocaust as a historical fact is “obviously false” and a “fringe view which is only maintained by a conspiracy of journal editors,” I think that such claims deserve to be called falsehoods. I don’t see what Sean has claimed here to be fundamentally different.

          • arcseconds

            They certainly are falsehoods, and they should certainly be flagged as such.

            My concern here is that you appeared to be on the verge of banning him, and what precipitated that was him characterising beau’s claim that ID is the same thing as creationism as a lie, not his claims that evolutionary biology is obviously false.

            In this particular case, beau’s claim is false, according to our normal standards of ‘same position’, and this is fairly obvious (once again, I agree he otherwise has a point, though). If it’s OK to say someone’s claim is a lie when we think it’s obviously false, then it’s OK for Sean to say beau’s claim is a lie. It’s also OK for everyone else to say Sean’s claims, when they strike us as obviously false, are lies too.

            If one has to do better than merely thinking something is obviously false, but actually meet some kind of objective criteria for making the claim, then on this particular claim Sean is on reasonably solid grounds too.

            So it seems to me that Sean has at least as good grounds for saying that beau’s claim is a lie as you have for saying he’s despicably dishonest. I’ll reiterate again that he made it clear that he wasn’t impugning beau’s character, but merely his statement. Calling falsehoods ‘lies’ seems par for the course in such debates. Plus the fact that I think one has to have some tolerance for somewhat overblown rhetoric in debates like these, even though in this particular case I don’t think it was all that overblown.

  • Debating is great if your side has the better debater who has done the most study and is a rhetorical genius. Sadly, after the Ham on Nye debate every freakin creationist in the country is trying to get college professors to debate them, and if the profs don’t have the time to study up and volunteer to take on the creationists, then the creationists push the button, “Well Nye debated Ham, so debating creationists is the thing to do now, what are you guy’s scared to continue the creation-evolution debate?” It’s like Nye vs. Ham is not the end but the beginning of endless debates with creationists who are now going to claim the high ground since Nye legitimized such debates.

    • And the real problem with debating creationists is that no sensible scholar wants to waste his valuable time studying the idiotic and ultimately meaningless jargon of creationists.

  • Sean Garrigan

    “The number of biologists calling for change in how evolution is conceptualized is growing rapidly. Strong support comes from allied disciplines, particularly developmental biology, but also genomics, epigenetics, ecology and social science1, 2. We contend that evolutionary biology needs revision if it is to benefit
    fully from these other disciplines. The data supporting our position gets stronger every day.

    Yet the mere mention of the EES often evokes an emotional, even hostile, reaction among evolutionary biologists. Too often, vital discussions descend into acrimony, with accusations of muddle or misrepresentation. Perhaps haunted by the spectre of intelligent design, evolutionary biologists wish to show a united front to those hostile to science. Some might fear that they will receive less funding and recognition if outsiders — such as physiologists or developmental biologists — flood into their field.”


    • Thanks for sharing that. It really does illustrate well why Intelligent Design and other movements like it are such a problem. First, it makes scientists feel so beleaguered and under attack from those trying to undermine science, that it can make them even more resistant to necessary and justified change. Second, it shows that when there is strong evidence that change is needed, it will be driven by the data and receive widespread support rather than be associated with one ideological community, and the change that is called for will come about, even if slowly, through the appropriate process of persuading the scientific community, and not by attempting to bypass the scientific community and appeal to a public who is in no position to judge the matter and has no business trying to do so.

      And so that makes me wonder, why did you share it?

      • Sean Garrigan

        Your response shows that your worldview, which includes your naive belief about science, has essentially blinded you from inferring what is actually much more interesting in that quote.

        1. A growing body of scientists find the neo-Darwinian model inadequate, just as I’ve been saying here for about 2 or 3 years now.

        2. The body of scientists who form the “concensus” respond to those who offer this insight irrationally. They are committed, not to allowing the data to take them where it leads, but to their own firmly established positions. They react emotionally, even with hostility to ESS. Accusations of muddle and charges of misrepresentation are levied against those offering new ideas.

        3. The “consensus” you constantly refer to isn’t something that grew naturally from the data alone, but from a perceived need to form a battle line against ID! I had to smile at the words “haunted by the spectre of intelligent design”, as this can be taken in a way the author may not have intended, i.e. deep down scientists know that ID has a very compelling case and it haunts them. They know that there are probably more people in the U.S. who would support ID then there are who would support their own higgledy-piggledy theory of what ever will be will be.

        4. And here’s the big one — drum roll — they may fear the loss of funding and recognition! Yes, by implication, many scientists may be more dedicated to their own funding than to new discoveries!!!

        In those two brief paragraphs my observation that scientists are just human beings with biases, commitments, fears, presuppositions, and who are committed to self preservation — i.e. they put their pants on one leg at a time just like the rest of us — really hits home.

        ~Sean 🙂

        • You seem to genuinely be unaware that all proponents of pseudoscience and pseudohistory read academic publications and ignore everything they find in them, except for indications of evolving consensuses, challenges to traditional ideas, and the like, and then latch onto those phrases and quote them widely, not realizing that (1) if academics are as untrustworthy as you garbage-peddlers claim, then there is no reason to trust this paragraph any more than others, (2) if there really is a conspiracy to keep out legitimate science or history, then it is inexplicable how these words were published, if they support your stance, leading naturally to (3) what everyone else reading it is probably already aware of, namely that modern biology is in no sense beholden to Darwin, and indeed has changed radically since his time and continues to change.

          ID proponents focus on Darwin because there are many people outside biology who won’t know that Darwin is in no sense the focus, and can thus be deceived into thinking that criticisms of older ideas which are published by scientists are somehow support for ID. It is a despicably deceitful tactic, and you should be ashamed to be associated with its use.

          When mainstream historians react with emotion to attacks on their work by Jesus mythicists or Holocaust deniers, is that either surprising, or an indication that the latter must be right, because historians are not mere fact-finding machines but human beings who care about their work? The notion that scientists don’t care about their work, and shouldn’t care when their work is attacked, is just one more bit of ID nonsense.

          The fact that you end with a smiley face is bizarre. You are actively peddling lies and distorting what scientists say in ways that are obvious, and you think it is funny?