Posted on Sep 21, 2012 by Tom Gilson
This morning I posted a comment at New Atheist provocateur Jerry Coyne’s blog, “Why Evolution Is True.” I was somewhat surprised he let it out of moderation, because in the past he hasn’t let me comment there, except when he could twist my words to his purposes.
When I saw how he handled it, though, I had no cause for surprise. What he did, predictably enough in hindsight, was to admit my comment aboard so he could laugh at it again. Anyway he put it out where others could see it and ask questions. I replied, but he deleted those answers. The effect, then, was to make it appear that I had nothing to offer in response.
He has pulled these schoolyard shenanigans in the past. I have called him on his intellectual dishonesty in the past. He’s at it still.
His post was about a creationist who had written to him, whose message according to Coyne “instantiates the quality of thought exuded by creationists.” I wrote this in response:
You’re a scientist, Dr. Coyne. You know better than to present a non-random, single, anecdotal case as typifying a group. This instantiates the quality of one person’s thought, not that “exuded” by a group.
He let that through, though not without editing his original post to add this:
LOL! Why, first of all, is it nonrandom? In what respect? Because I didn’t select one creationist out of all of them in the world? It’s “random” with respect to “creationists who write fairly literate posts on evolution websites” (it has only two errors of spelling or usage).
As far as this comment not typifying the thought of a group, all I can say is that the Thinking Christian hasn’t been doing his/her homework: this is actually perfectly representative of the views of many creationists. It instantiates not only the God-of-the-gaps argument with respect to the complexity of the brain, but also the “irreducible complexity” view that two organs that seem to need each other (although they actually don’t!) can’t have evolved together. It must have been God! Above all, it bespeaks the embarrassing ignorance of biology—willful or otherwise—evinced by creationists.
Thinking Christian, put your thinking cap back on.
Oh well. What did I expect, after all?
I didn’t respond directly to that. I could have explained to him what “nonrandom” means, but I know he was only pretending to be ignorant; he knows well enough what it means. There was more relevant territory to cover, which I did elsewhere on the page, in response to two direct challenges issued by others. Achrachno asked me,
You seem to think none of us have ever seen creationists or their arguments before. Did this one seem uniquely defective to you? The ones I’ve seen are uniformly bad and the one Jerry posted was at least more literate than most we see on the web.
Would you like to present a good argument for creationism that we average WEIT readers can have a look at and perhaps comment about?
Did this one seem uniquely defective to me? No, I’ve seen arguments this bad frequently enough. I’ve written about some of them. I’ve also seen some equally mindless nonsense from evolutionists. Both groups have their uneducated and thoughtless representatives. So what?
What is the point of this post from Dr. Coyne? If it’s to show that creationists are stupid, then a proper scientific approach (if he believes in science) would be to find some way of operationalizing the definition of “stupid” and measuring that defined “stupid” in contrasting groups. You would also need to define the groups appropriately. You would need, for example, to differentiate various groups of creationists, just as you would want to differentiate educated evolutionists from uneducated ones. Then you would need to show that one group exhibits more “stupid” than the other.
There’s nothing of that here. What there is instead is one non-random comment selected for the purpose of exposing it to ridicule. It’s there for laughs. It’s not at all unlike the bullying kind of ridicule that grade-schoolers do to each other.
(It would be interesting when doing the science on which group is more stupid, to do a parallel study on which group’s treatment of those who disagree with them is more mature. I’m not drawing any unscientific conclusions, but if I wanted to follow Dr. Coyne’s bad example and take a biased non-random sample on this topic—playground-bullying type behaviors—I could easily find it at Panda’s Thumb, Pharyngula, or even WEIT.)
Anyway, Dr. Coyne’s commitment to science seems rather selective, because there’s no empirical evidence that Aaron’s thoughts instantiate anything but Aaron’s thoughts. There’s only Coyne’s, and his acolytes’, admittedly biased opinions on the matter.
You’re baiting me to provide an argument for creationism. If you’re a thinking, rational person, then you know that that is nothing but a red herring with respect to what I am saying here. I’m saying Dr. Coyne’s practice of social science is absurdly biased and weak. Whether I pass or fail on evolution has nothing to do with whether he passes or fails on social science.
That answered remained stuck in moderation while deepakshetty brought this brief challenge forth:
Please present the best argument for creationism.
In reply I posted this:
deepakshetty, I’ve already replied, and that reply is awaiting moderation. So these things are going to show up on the site in an odd sequence.
Anyway, I have three questions for you, and then a statement:
1. What makes you think I’m defending creationism?
2. What makes you think I am a creationist?
3. How do you define creationism anyway?
Those are the three questions I have for you. The statement is this: my grad degree is in quantitative social science (industrial/organizational psychology). I didn’t come here talking about creationism, I came here talking about Dr. Coyne’s poor application of scientific thinking to an issue that relates to social science–but one that is not so specifically in the social sciences that he should have been unaware of the relevant principles.
That’s what I’m here to discuss, and as I said in the other comment that’s awaiting moderation, whether I believe in or defend creationism is a red herring, completely irrelevant to whether Dr. Coyne is himself abusing science in the manner I have described.
Those two answers of mine are off the site now. They’re no longer awaiting moderation, they’ve just evaporated away. They were there in the moderation queue for a while (1.3 MB PDF), visible to me as the author, and also to the site administrator, but not to anyone else. They’re gone now (442 KB PDF). What that means, if you don’t know how blogging works, is that Dr. Coyne or someone under his authority looked at them and kicked them off.
Recently now someone there has asked why I haven’t had anything more to say, and has challenged me to “put my God where my mouth is.”
Dr. Coyne is not willing to discuss anything but on his own biased terms. As a result his commenters remain blithely uninformed that they’ve been throwing red herrings across my path, they’re unaware that I’ve called them on the fallacy, and by this suppression of information, Coyne has encouraged them to remain ignorant of the fact that not everyone who disagrees with him “instantiates” the same kind of thought “exuded by creationists.” He’s hiding empirical data on Christian thinking that’s every bit as relevant as what he highlighted.
Is Jerry Coyne a scientist? Certainly, when it’s convenient to him. Intellectual dishonesty is as intellectual dishonesty does.