Strategic Advice For Those Who Oppose Intelligent Design

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Unsolicited advice is rarely welcome, especially from someone with different views than one’s one, but I’m going to offer some anyway, for the benefit of those who oppose Intelligent Design.

This is not tongue-in-cheek advice, nor is it offered in a spirit of sarcasm. It’s genuine.

This is not about whether ID is right or wrong, it’s about your rhetorical strategy, which by now you must realize has been horribly ineffective, especially in the U.S. You frequently complain about how many people still disbelieve in evolution. I can explain at least part of the reason for that, if you’ll listen.

Elements of Persuasion

We are laymen. We know nothing of biology, including evolution, except for what we read in books. This is true even of us who have read widely and deeply, as I have done. There are only so many ways of learning after all. Reading, lectures, and lab or field work sum up probably about 99 percent of it. We’re not doing lab or field work. That means we only know what others tell us. (Think about it: that’s all that you know, too, other than your own observations and research, or research you have personally observed or verified.) It’s our job as responsible human beings to assess what we should believe of what we hear.

That’s background, and it’s essential for you to recognize it as the lay of the land, a set of facts your persuasive efforts must take into account.

Now for strategy.

You would undoubtedly prefer that we not even read anything that favors Intelligent Design, but you know you can’t control that. That strategy is unavailable to you.

Your next best strategy is to convince us that your side is right and ID is wrong. Lately in response to my reviews of Darwin’s Doubt, some of you have taken up the strategy of urging me to read the works Meyer cited in his footnotes, and to check for myself whether he got it right. I could do that, but I know I’m not a biologist, and that I’m probably not in any position to assess what’s written in the journals. It would be irresponsible for me to assume that I’m competent for that. So while that strategy of yours could theoretically work, its success depends on readers becoming full-blown experts in new disciplines, which not many of us have time to do.

By the way, that’s why in those reviews I summarized some of what Meyer wrote, and wrapped that part up with, “That’s the account Meyer gives of it. I’m no expert in the field, but I have to admit it’s convincing. The Cambrian Explosion remains unexplained on any standard terms.” I didn’t claim more than I knew to be true. I said it was convincing, but I specifically avoided taking the position of an authority, whom others ought to agree with based on my say-so.

So from a strategic perspective, you would not be wise to put too much hope in your readers coming up to speed on the technical issues.

You, on the other hand, are the experts, and as I read your responses, I see you calling on laymen like me to accept your word as credible authorities on the subject. If we did that, then we wouldn’t have to read all the journal articles: we could just accept your position as being factual and correct.

Since Aristotle, though, it has been well known that credibility is a composite of two factors: perceived competence and perceived trustworthiness.

We recognize your competence as biologists, paleontologists, geneticists, biochemists, geologists, and whatever related field you may work in. Your perceived competence there is high. Do you realize, though, that that’s not all it takes? Beyond your competence in the physical sciences, in order for us to trust you as credible authorities, we want to know that you are (a) competent in the philosophical questions that are attached to this issue, and (b) worthy of trust.

Perceived Philosophical Competence

Your objections to Intelligent Design are (typically) based on your knowledge of the evidence within a certain naturalistic philosophical framework. When ID presents its position from within a different philosophical framework, it’s not unusual to see you laughing it away. This is not competence on display: laughter is not argumentation. It therefore provides us no assurance that you are qualified to speak within the full framework of the discussion.

Further, from the logic side of philosophy, you engage in multiple fallacies, mostly in the general category of the “straw man.” You misrepresent the ID position you oppose. Besides being irrelevant to what ID actually proposes, this also erodes perceptions of your competence.

I’ve seen your popular leader Richard Dawkins commit one very extended non sequitur. I’ve seen Steven Schafersman begging the question in favor of philosophical naturalism. Recently Christine M. Janis committed a kind of straw man fallacy by misrepresenting my position, about as badly as if she hadn’t even taken time to read it.

I could multiply examples, but I’m not here to prove a point, but rather to offer advice, if you’re willing to hear it. I suggest you pay attention and not brush it off when we point out logical fallacies in your arguments, and when we try to get you to understand the difference between your basic philosophical position and ours. Even if you think we’re wrong, you would do well to listen.

And why? Because presumably you want to try to persuade us. And as you complain about our position being wrong, the first thing we want to know is whether you actually know what our position is. Misrepresenting it won’t persuade us at all.

Perceived Trustworthiness

You have all the competence we could ask for in your disciplines. If you were to develop credibility in the philosophical debate, that would advance your position tremendously. But remember, credibility is both about expertise and perceived trustworthiness.

Trustworthiness and demonstrated character go together, obviously; so you ought to be able to see how your trustworthiness is diminished when you engage in silly dismissive games like using such terms as, “Dishonesty Institute,” “Goddidit,” “the flying Spaghetti Monster.” Coynes “Sophisticated Theologians™” inanity (not to mention his dishonest handling of dissent) does you no good. Some of what I said above about philosophical competence might enter in here: when you misrepresent our position, is it because you couldn’t get it right (either carelessness or incompetence) or because you intended to distort it (dishonesty)? Is there a third option besides those? I can’t think of one.

The Difference Between Being Right and Being Persuasive

Very frequently I see you insisting that we believe you because you know what you’re talking about and you’re right. Maybe that’s true, but here is what you are not: you are not persuasive. Empirical facts, already alluded to above, prove that to be so. If you were persuasive, after all, it really seems like more people would be persuaded.

So it would serve you well to think this through: beyond being right, what else does it take to be persuasive? There’s been lots of recent research on this, as I’m sure you know. Other than some manipulative techniques I hope you wouldn’t stoop to, however, there’s not much there that Aristotle didn’t say first, thousands of years ago. You need not only to have expertise in your field. You need expertise in whatever else is involved, in this case the relevant philosophical issues. And you need to display the kind of character that evokes trust.

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82 Responses to “ Strategic Advice For Those Who Oppose Intelligent Design ”

  1. hallucigenia, would you like to re-post your comment without the abusive language? I’ll keep it on hand in case you want me to email it back to you for your own review.

  2. By the way, I’ve read widely in Gould, Dawkins, Mayr, Miller, and Ruse. And many others. Not Coyne: see the links above to know why. I’ve read fairly widely in naturalistic philosophy, too. So if and when you repost, you might want to think of something else to complain about.

  3. I should note that this advice is directed primarily toward naturalistic evolutionist ID opponents. If I were writing it for Thomists or for theistic evolutionists it would not come out the same way. I’ll leave it at that, since it wasn’t my intention to probe those two sets of issues at this time.

  4. Tom, would you like to point out what “abusive language” I used? In fact, there is none, but you appear to have an extremely thin skin. Nope, I don’t feel the need to change my comment at all, and I won’t be back, so do whatever you like with my last comment…

  5. Oh, and if you really have read all those authors and STILL don’t understand why ID is bogus, then I’ve figured out what your problem is–you’re stupid! There, that IS abusive, but it’s also true, so stick that in your pipe and smoke it.

  6. The aspect of perceived philosophical competence is what dooms most anti-ID arguments, in my opinion.

    Your objections to Intelligent Design are (typically) based on your knowledge of the evidence within a certain naturalistic philosophical framework.

    The arena where the discussion is taking place is the philosophical arena, and most challengers to ID think they are well equipped to do battle. Most are not. Look, I’m no expert in philosophy so I listen in anticipation of being convinced that these people know what they are talking about. As a layman, that’s all I can do.

    In my opinion, some scientists waste a lot of effort going into detail about the evolutionary process that science has demonstrated in the hope that those fine detail will prove their case. Some of those details are necessary for the purpose of providing background information for laymen such as myself but I don’t really need to know all the intricate details of how evolution works.

    Why? Because the conclusion that ID is false (or true) cannot be seen in the fine details of the biological process any more than the conclusion that a skyscraper is designed can be seen in the fine details of stacking raw materials together. Perhaps that statement dooms ID to the category of philosophy, and only philosophy. So be it.

    As a scientist I’d also suggest that you refrain from telling me that science, specifically the science of Darwinian evolution, has demonstrated that ID is false. You’re wrong, and you’ve just demonstrated that you have no idea what you’re talking about beyond the science you know so well. Your philosophical credibility is shot.

    In addition, make note of the irony when you say this because you’ve just declared that ID can be proven false by scientific demonstration – which means ID theory really fits into the area of science. If you fail to see that I will be happy to remind you.

  7. A couple of more posters like hallucigenia and I might become inclined to start believing in ID.

  8. It just dawned on me that the scientism-based anti-ID people are in a no-win situation. By that I mean it is impossible to convince/win ALL the arguments that most seem intent on winning.

    1) Convince others that science has proven through demonstration that Darwinian evolution is a blind and unguided process.

    2) Convince others that ID theory is not a scientific theory.

    3) Convince others that science has nothing to say about design or the lack of design in nature so ID proponents should just keep quiet about all of this ID nonsense.

    – Succeed with (1) and you’ve given up the ability to say (2) and (3) are true.

    – Succeed with (2) and you’ve given up the ability to say (1) is true, specifically the ‘blind and unguided’ part.

    – Succeed with (3) and you’ve given up the ability to say (1) is true, and with that, you’ve given up on the idea that (to quote Dawkins) “Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist”.

  9. If as you say you know nothing of biology, including evolution, then why not leave it to the biologists to decide what’s taught in public schools? Maybe we should get a thousand or so randomly chosen biology PhDs and have them vote on the science curriculum.

  10. I’ll take non sequiturs for $100, Alex.

    (John gives us a new category of bad argumentation that Tom didn’t even think to cover. Well done.)

  11. We recognize your competence as biologists, paleontologists, geneticists, biochemists, geologists, and whatever related field you may work in.

    As you have noted, ID covers a broad range of fields, and no single person is competent in all of them. It’s a bit like climate science. Everyone is a layman in fields not their own when it comes to ID, even professional scientists.

  12. … presumably you want to try to persuade us.

    I classify that as a charitable assumption, particularly where Dawkins is concerned. In the opening pages of The Greatest Show On Earth, he projects a highly mixed message of wanting to persuade on the one hand, and wanting to mock, ridicule, and belittle on the other. He commences by talking about (a) an imaginary group of people who deny that the Roman empire existed, and (b) a real group who deny the Nazi holocaust as a Zionist fabrication. He then invites his readers to consider evolution deniers as roughly equivalent to these other folks in terms of their irrationality and their nuisance value to right-thinking people who just want to get on with the job of teaching history. On p.7 he states his intention to use the term “history-deniers” for those people who deny evolution. On p.8, he says “the history-deniers themselves are among those that I am trying to reach in this book.”

    Dawkins thus opens his presentation of the evidence for evolution by ridiculing those who deny it, and inventing a wholly unnecessary and uncharitable name for them. “Evolution-deniers” would have been quite adequate as a term, but apparently it fails to convey his contempt sufficiently. If this is his idea of “trying to reach” someone, then his diplomacy skills are severely wanting.

    So far as Dawkins is concerned, at least, I see no evidence of a desire to persuade by means of “evidence and reason,” despite his incessant parroting of that phrase. Books like The Greatest Show On Earth and The God Delusion are better understood as acts of triumphal crowing and chest-thumping, pouring public scorn and ridicule on his ideological opponents — a tribal battle-cry to rally the spirits and belligerence of his fellows; not an attempt to persuade the dissenters. This is, after all, the tribal elder who, in his 2012 “reason rally” speech, exhorted his adoring followers to publicly mock and ridicule Catholics.

    And, speaking of the “reason rally”, Dawkins’ idea of persuading the unreasoning, religious masses to join his cause is as follows:

    Even if you are unaccustomed to living by reason, if you are one of those, perhaps, who actively distrust reason, why not give it a try? Cast aside the prejudices of upbringing and habit, and come along anyway. If you come with open ears and open curiosity you will learn something, will probably be entertained and may even change your mind.

    His sardonic, patronising contempt and vitriol may warm the hearts of those who share his antipathy towards theism, but it has nothing to do with persuasion. It strains credulity well beyond breaking point to think that Dawkins might want to persuade the likes of us — we who think that Behe makes a strong case about irreducible complexity, or we who doubt that life can arise spontaneously, even for very long and slow values of “spontaneously”. Dawkins’ style is intimidation — an attempt to shame and browbeat his opponents into compliance or silence — not persuasion.

    Now, granted, Tom, your article is aimed primarily at the general rank and file of New Atheism, not its elders, but I think you’ve missed an important point in your own attempt at persuasion. That important point is this: your target audience has no suitable role models to imitate when it comes to real persuasion. Dawkins is the kind of role model they have. When they look at him and his ilk, they see intellectual greatness — role models worthy of imitation. And imitate they do, firmly in the belief that what they are doing is the epitome of rationality. If I put myself in those shoes while reading your article, I would react in exactly the way that the hostile audience seems to be reacting: namely, with hostility. Why? Because that’s what Dawkins would do.

    Sadly, all I can do is point out the problem. I don’t have any great ideas for solutions.

  13. The only arguments I see remaining to ID are “God of the Gaps” arguments (“the Cambrian Explosion is unexplained”, or “irreducible complexity”) or philosophical arguments (“God directed the evolutionary process”).

    If there are other arguments available to ID, I’m unaware of them, I’d welcome a correction.

    Neither of those arguments is accessible to evidence.

    There will always be something that’s unexplained. Biologists have been (literally) dealing with this argument since Darwin. As soon as you explain anything, ID proponents can simply move to the next unexplained topic. (Remember when there were no transitional fossils? Remember when there was no evidence of micro-evolution? Remember when the eye itself was irreducibly complex? Those were the good old days!)

    Second, for all we know God did direct the evolutionary process — I think it’s vanishingly unlikely, but that’s not a scientific argument, and we’re never going to have evidence one way or the other.

    If your scientific argument cannot be resolved by any amount of evidence, is it really an argument worth having?

  14. The reason the debate is worth having, Keith, is this: the argument may not be possible to be settled conclusively through empirical evidence, but:

    1) Part of the problem is the naturalistic evolutionary default assumption that empirical evidence is all we can use, and
    2) If we can’t settle the debate on the basis of evidence, then why shouldn’t the other side say so and give in?

    Obviously #2 is ridiculous. But it highlights the working assumption: if the minority can’t prove its side according to the majority’s rules of debate, then maybe the minority side ought to just give up.

    No thanks.

  15. Obviously #2 is ridiculous. But it highlights the working assumption: if the minority can’t prove its side according to the majority’s rules of debate, then maybe the minority side ought to just give up

    That brings up another point. If the majority is so sure they are right, why don’t they just declare victory and move onto something else? What are they so worried about?

  16. What are they so worried about?

    It’s a good question – if the theory of evolution is as well tested as the theory of gravity, what are they so worried about? Because they certainly seem to be. Why do they waste their time?

  17. Have you read the discussion on my review at Amazon? They’re not so much worried as they are angry.

    And what are they angry about?

    Maybe it’s that ID might be taught in schools — except that was settled years ago, and no one I know of is pushing for it now.

    They’re angry still that some places are encouraging a critical-thinking approach to evidences for evolution. That’s just weird. They complain that ID is “anti-science,” while their policies would tell students not to think about anything but what they’re told. Students know this is being debated, but the message is, “Don’t examine. Don’t think. Don’t learn what’s going on.” Or, “Be stupid and bored, for the sake of advancing science!”

    They’re angry that we’re not trusting their expertise, even though, as I wrote here in the OP, they haven’t exactly earned that trust.

    They’re angry that their hegemony in the world of biology is being challenged.

    They’re angry that their naturalistic assumptions aren’t everyone’s assumptions.

    That’s why their wasting their time, as you put it. Anger will do that to a person.

  18. @23,
    I believe you are exactly right, Tom. The freethinkers are angry that you are free to think.

  19. Tom wrote:

    They’re not so much worried as they are angry.

    Worry can’t lead to fear? Fear to anger?

    I think the dirty little secret is that that neo-Darwinian evolution presently rests on very shaky foundations. What kind of theory is going to replace it when it collapses? I think that is what has naturalistically committed evolutionist worried.

  20. Second, for all we know God did direct the evolutionary process — I think it’s vanishingly unlikely, but that’s not a scientific argument, and we’re never going to have evidence one way or the other.”

    Right and wrong, I think. Right, it’s not “a scientific argument.” Wrong, “it’s vanishingly unlikely.” Not if God exists. In fact, if God exists it’s almost certain he directs the evolutionary process and every other process in the universe. That’s what it means to be The Creator.

  21. Tom @19:

    You assert I’m not up-to-date, but without offering even a single example?

    Seriously?

  22. JAD @21:

    I have no non-anecdotal evidence for this (it’s just my sense of the shape of the argument), but I think people have moved on.

    There’s an aggressive rear-guard action to keep creationism out of the schools, but I don’t get the sense that anybody is attempting to genuinely engage ID proponents on the science, for better or worse, it’s just assumed they’re wrong.

    People still respond to Michael Behe, but I suspect that’s because he is one of the few credentialed scientists supporting ID.

  23. How about Darwin’s Doubt for an example?

    How about Meyer’s Signature in the Cell?

    How about Behe’s Edge of Evolution?

    How about all the dozens of times ID proponents have corrected the error of thinking it’s only God in the Gaps?

    And to imply as you do that philosophy has little evidence in its favor, little chance of contributing materially to the conversation, is to miss all the work being done in non-materialist philosophy. Look up J.P. Moreland for starters.

  24. SteveK @24:

    You’re confusing “the freedom to think” with “the freedom to teach ideas in a science class for which there is no scientific evidence”.

    JAD @25:

    I honestly cannot conceive how you might think the neo-Darwinian evolution (and by that I mean the modern evolutionary synthesis) is “shaky”.

    Do you anticipate we might discover we’re reading the chromosomal history incorrectly? Or that we’re wrong about how genes express themselves? Or that natural selection didn’t occur, or the transitional fossils are faked?

    Of course there are huge gaps and disagreements, but nobody practicing in the field doubts the basic theory. (Not even ID proponents: when Michael Behe and Scott Minnich argue for irreducible complexity, is there any question they aren ‘t conceding the basic theory?)

  25. Louisiana, Ohio, and Texas are not pushing ID. You’ve drunk the anti-ID Kool-aid on that one. Read the proposed statues.

    Incidentally, though, the Springboro case is very near my home–in the same county in Ohio. I’m hoping to make contact sometime soon with some of the people involved. I’ll keep you informed.

  26. Keith, your confusing “the freedom to teach ideas in a science class for which there is no scientific evidence” with what’s actually being proposed.

    How’s the Kool-aid?

  27. Michael Behe and Scott Minnich both argue that natural selection acting upon random variation is insufficient to explain macro-evolutionary change. Behe accepts common descent but believes that we don’t fully understand the mechanism that is driving the over all process of evolution. I am not sure where Minnich stands on common descent. Maybe someone else does.

  28. Tom @30:

    I’ve only read “Signature in the Cell”, myself, but I would categorize all 3 of these books as “God of the Gaps” arguments.

    Obviously you wouldn’t, and I’d like to pursue that.

    Can you please give me one or two examples of an argument being made here that isn’t a GotG argument? (As I said earlier, I’m happy to be wrong on this one, but I’m not seeing it yet!)

  29. Sure, I can give you one or two examples: they’re the same examples I already gave.

    You think they’re GotG, and you ask me to explain why not. Well, that’s your opinion. Why don’t you explain why you think so?

    I’m not about to rebut an argument until someone makes it.

  30. JAD @25, Tom @34:

    I interpreted JAD’s phrase “neo-Darwinian evolution” as meaning current evolutionary theory (which I tried to make clear in my comment).

    If JAD meant something more precise than that, then I understand his comment — sure, there is disagreement and evidence the current theory has inadequacies.

    But like classical physics: there are known problems with the theory and it’s going to be tweaked. There’s no probability it’s “wrong” or going to be replaced by something radically different.

  31. Tom @39:

    Yes, I can, but it’s kind of like distinguishing “red” from “tree”, “they don’t mean the same things. What’s your goal? Maybe I can help…

  32. You were saying Behe and Minnich support NDE (“concede the basic theory”). They don’t. Behe supports common ancestry. (I don’t know about Minnich.) There’s a difference there.

    I’ll admit: I wasn’t entirely sure what you meant when you wrote that. If I misinterpreted you please correct me on it.

  33. Tom @41:

    Behe clarifies his position in an interview he gave here.

    Darwin’s theory is an amalgam of several concepts: 1) random mutation, 2) natural selection, and 3) common descent. Common descent and natural selection are very well-supported. Random mutation isn’t. Random mutation is severely constrained. So the process which produced the elegant structures of life could not have been random.

    To a surprising extent prevailing evolutionary theory and intelligent design are harmonious. Both agree that the universe and life unfolded over vast ages; both agree that species could follow species in the common descent of life. They differ solely in the overriding role Darwinism ascribes to randomness. Intelligent design says that, while randomness does exist, its role in explaining the unfolding of life is quite limited.

    So, I would stand by “concede the basic theory”, although I would agree pretty quickly that disagreement over the role random mutation plays in conjunction with natural selection locates one relatively far from the main tent.

  34. @Keith

    But like classical physics: there are known problems with the theory and it’s going to be tweaked. There’s no probability it’s “wrong” or going to be replaced by something radically different.

    Then you don’t really understand the underlying conceptual paradigms of Special Relativity, General Relativity and Quantum Theory and how radically they differ from Classical Physics. It does turn out that one can recover classical physics from the modern version, in the appropriate scale limits ( like v/c much less than 1 in SR, for example), so in that sense CP is not completely wrong in its mathematical framework. However, SR, for example, threw out the classical concept of the aether, required by classical electromagnetism for the propagation of electromagnetic waves, and it also replaced our notion of invariance under coordinate transformations between inertial reference frames (Galilean transformation vs the Lorentz transformation). QM introduced a completely new way of thinking about matter and energy at the atomic scale that have no classical analogues. Modern Physics shows that there is much more to the properties and dynamics of space-time and matter-energy than Classical Physics could even conceive of.

    Perhaps the current state of Evolutionary Theory is like that – almost right, but in need of a radical change of paradigms at its most fundamental level.

  35. Victoria, @45:

    Yes, what you said. 🙂

    I think it’s worth noting any radical change of paradigms will be limited in scope (learning that atoms weren’t solid spheres didn’t change much of anything at our level). The framework that describes our physical world, including biology, chemistry and the history of life on this planet, is vanishingly unlikely to change, and has been known for decades (or even centuries).

  36. Just to clarify, Behe does accept that natural selection has been observed and can account for some evolutionary change. However, because it is a slow, gradual step-by-step process, it can’t account for the evolution of sub-cellular structures that he describes as irreducibly complex, because there is no step-by-step (or function-by-function) pathway for natural selection to proceed. Ironically, those who insist that neo-Darwinian mechanism of natural selection acting on random mutation is the only viable mechanism for evolutionary change must resort to a “Darwinism-of-the-gaps” to get the theory to work right– or even work at all.

    By the way it is irrelevant at the this point whether or not Behe is an ID’ist, or ID is true, or ID is scientific; asking how something evolved (i.e. the bacterial flagellum) is a legitimate scientific question. If there is no explanation using current theory maybe, just maybe there is another explanation.

  37. Keith @31

    You’re confusing “the freedom to think” with “the freedom to teach ideas in a science class for which there is no scientific evidence”.

    I have some questions to ask you – and I am being completely sincere. You seem to be disagreeing with what I wrote in #9, and I want to understand your thinking process.

    Do you think there is scientific evidence for a blind and unguided biological process called evolution? I’m highlighting the terms “blind and unguided” because they are important.

    If you think this evidence exists, what do you make of my comment in #9 where I said if (1) is thought to be true then you lose the ability to say (2) must be true? Am I wrong, if so how?

    If it isn’t clear, my thinking is this: if empirical science can verify and essentially demonstrate/prove that a process is a “blind and unguided” process then it must also be able to verify and demonstrate/prove that a process is NOT a blind and unguided process – which is to say, it’s an intentional process.

  38. @Keith: The framework that describes our physical world, including biology, chemistry and the history of life on this planet, is vanishingly unlikely to change, and has been known for decades (or even centuries).

    As Victoria explained, relativity and quantum theory were a radical overhaul that completely rewrote physics. This was not a tweak.

    The discovery of the genetic code was a complete overhaul of cell biology.

    What makes you think similar radical overhauls of our frameworks are now “vanishingly unlikely” to happen? On what evidence do you make that judgement?

  39. Nick Matzke is amazing. Apparently he read, comprehended, and wrote a long, detailed review for a 400+ page book in a little over 24 hours.

    Casey Luskin at Evolution News and Views was also amazed. He informs us:

    Darwin’s Doubt runs to 413 pages, excluding endnotes and bibliography. Neither the book’s publisher, HarperOne, nor its author sent Matzke a prepublication review copy. Did Matzke in fact read its 400+ pages and then write his 9400+ word response — roughly 30 double-spaced pages — in little more than a day?

    – See more at: http://www.evolutionnews.org/2013/06/rush_to_judgmen073791.html#sthash.Ox6Z4q7E.dpuf

    The question is why? What motivates Matzke to do something like this? Fear… anger… hatred?

    Keith @ 28 wrote:

    I have no non-anecdotal evidence for this (it’s just my sense of the shape of the argument), but I think people have moved on.

    There’s an aggressive rear-guard action to keep creationism out of the schools, but I don’t get the sense that anybody is attempting to genuinely engage ID proponents on the science, for better or worse, it’s just assumed they’re wrong.

    So, Nick is just a member of “an aggressive rear-guard”?

    Judging from the angry responses on Amazon regarding Meyer’s new book there is quite a large “rear guard”. They haven’t moved on.

  40. Steve K @48:

    Yes, I think there’s scientific evidence for “blind and unguided ” evolution.

    Specifically with respect to your #9, I was pretty sure I didn’t understand your point. For example, you used the word “prove” in #1, and then “scientific theory” in #2, both of which I think of as strongly defined terms, and I didn’t follow how you were using them.

    I’m not saying you’re wrong, I’m only saying I thought I’d have to ask questions to understand where you were going.

    For science to prove a process is “blind and unguided” (or, alternatively, intentionally guided), requires watching the process happen. (And we’d still have to make major assumptions about whether or not “watching” is sufficient to detect a designer, but for the sake of argument, let’s agree that’s the case.)

    That means evolution is forever off the table, absent time travel. 🙂

    For clarity, even if we watched blind and unguided evolution in some other ecosystem, it would not prove that’s how it happened in our ecosystem, it would only increase the evidence a designer is not required.

    Going back to your #9, these aren’t arguments anybody should be making:

    1) Not possible. Scientism cannot prove evolution was blind and unguided; all scientism can do is advance an explanation that does not require a designer.

    2) Not possible. When Behe says protein-protein binding sites are unlikely to happen by natural means, that’s easily phrased as a scientific theory.

    3) Science has a lot to say about design or the lack thereof in nature, but even if it didn’t, ID proponents are making scientific claims, and they should be evaluated on scientific terms.

  41. I’ve been reading through the comments posted under Tom’s review of Meyer’s book over at Amazon dot com. I noticed that most of the Meyer’s critics offer no middle or common ground for any kind of meaningful discussion, debate or dialogue. Which side again is the dogmatic side? Do we want dogmatists in charge of science?

    Whether or not these kind of people are in charge, they certainly have appointed themselves to champion and defend science. Well, we can do that too– we should do that. We don’t want to have dogmatic people subverting science. That definitely would stifle and stall scientific progress.

  42. bigbird @49:

    I think we’re having a semantic problem, but maybe not.

    I’m not saying radical overhauls of the frameworks is unlikely, I’m saying radical overhauls will be limited in their scope.

    The problem I’m thinking about is people hear “science changes all the time”, or “there are two versions of physics”, and they translate that into “evolution might be wrong”, or “when QM is understood, we’ll know how homeopathy works”.

    Yes, science is constantly changing and there are two versions of physics, but…

    Nothing we’re going to learn in QM is going to change Newtonian physics or mechanics.

    Nothing we’re going to learn in biology is going to change natural selection or common descent.

    If you can think of a better way to make that statement, let me know!

  43. JAD @52:

    I agree.

    As background, I recommend the section entitled Peer review on Wikipedia’s “Intelligent Design” page.

    Yes, it’s Wikipedia — let’s just agree it’s biased, but let’s also agree it’s probably factually correct, and the only conclusion you can take away from it is that most ID supporters aren’t “doing science”.

    If Dembski isn’t publishing peer-reviewed articles because he makes better money doing books, and the Templeton Foundation can’t find ID research proposals, there’s a problem.

    In the same spirit as Tom, here’s my strategic advice for those who champion Intelligent Design. The only way the scientific community will ever take ID seriously is if somebody comes up with a bunch of money and funds real scientists to do real work on ID. Absent that, ID can win the hearts and minds of the Texas Board of Education, but that’s as far as it’s going to go.

  44. @Keith
    That was not the point of contrasting Classical and Modern Physics…
    Classical Physics is incomplete and cannot be used to understand the properties and dynamics of space-time and matter-energy at all scales. IT is not a comprehensive theoretical framework because of that. Modern Physics shows that the underlying axioms of classical physics are incorrect, for example, the rules for transforming between reference frames. Newtonian mechanics is not Lorentz invariant, because it assumes Galilean relativity, and is therefore fundamentally not a correct physical theory.

    You’re not really a trained physicist, are you 🙂

  45. Keith,

    Yes, I think there’s scientific evidence for “blind and unguided ” evolution.

    Please share.

    Nothing we’re going to learn in QM is going to change Newtonian physics or mechanics.

    Nothing we’re going to learn in biology is going to change natural selection or common descent.

    Newtonian physics is useful in certain circumstances, but as Victoria has explained, is not a correct physical theory.

    How do you rule out the same being the case with evolution, especially given the various pieces of unexplained evidence? My additional advice to ID opponents would be to stop making overblown claims. I’m not really concerned about whether the mechanism of evolution is true or not but I get mightily sick of the rubbish spouted about science. It makes it very difficult to take your other claims seriously.

  46. @Keith
    Further to what Melissa said, I think we agree that the ‘equation’ looks something like

    [properties and dynamics of](matter+energy) + time-dependent stochastic processes + ??? = complex specified information ( codes, algorithms, programs) + hierarchically ordered systems ( living things ).

    The question is: what goes into ‘???’ on the left hand side of the equation that can produce the CSI and HOS on the right-hand side?

  47. Nothing we’re going to learn in QM is going to change Newtonian physics or mechanics.

    Wrong. Relativity (not QM) did change Newtonian physics. It showed it was incorrect. Try building a GPS that uses Newtonian physics for its calculations. It won’t work.

    @Keith: Nothing we’re going to learn in biology is going to change natural selection or common descent.

    Is that a scientific statement? How can you possibly know?

  48. @bigbird
    Actually, it’s just as bad for applied Newtonian physics at the atomic scale – imagine a solid state transistor or a laser, blackbody radiation, atomic spectra without QM – the necessary concepts don’t even exist in classical physics.

    And so it may be with the current state of evolutionary theory – the current paradigm may not even have the necessary concepts yet, and that’s even granting the analogy between biology and classical physics. It will be even worse if it turns out to be the analogy between Ptolemy’s geocentric model (which was a pure kinematic model) and Kepler/Newton’s heliocentric model (Kepler had the right kinematics, Newton gave us the dynamics).

  49. @Keith

    When I said (@ 52) we should champion and defend science, I wasn’t specifically thinking of ID; I was thinking of regular mainstream science. My point again was that the online critics (at Amazon) of Meyer’s book “offer no middle or common ground for any kind of meaningful discussion, debate or dialogue.” They think they are defending science this way when in actuality they are turning it into a kind of dogma.

    Personally I don’t see ID as science, rather I think it’s an approach to science. ID is a metascientific interpretation in the same way materialism or naturalism are metascientific interpretations. I happen think it’s a better interpretation of the evidence and I think such an approach can inspire real world scientific research– indeed, I would argue that it already has.

  50. How do you reason with someone who is willing to smear the reputations and good names of tens of thousands of scientists (it’s a conspiracy, I tell you!), just because it helps them advance their cause? How do you reason with someone who insists that their interpretation of the Bible trumps scientific evidence? How do you reason with someone who insists that evolution must not be true because of what they think the moral consequences would be?

    Creationists have had 250 years to out-science evolution, but instead time after time have instead resorted to rhetoric and soundbites. How do you reason with someone who can’t just let the people who actually understand the issue work it out (i.e. the scientists)?

    I might get pretty heated if someone was to impugn my work or my job performance or my character without offering reasonable evidence. When Creationists prefer rhetoric and promote ignorant or distorted interpretations of science, perhaps they do deserve shame and ridicule. If they aren’t willing to talk legitimate science, then perhaps even trying to engage them in that way lends them undue credibility. How do you reason with someone who isn’t even wrong?

    That said, I think that New Atheism oversteps by attacking all religion when it should be just focusing on Creationism/ID… it’s how the movement started, and its where the movement should probably have remained.

    [Edited for brevity and content]

  51. Actually, it’s just as bad for applied Newtonian physics at the atomic scale – imagine a solid state transistor or a laser, blackbody radiation, atomic spectra without QM – the necessary concepts don’t even exist in classical physics.

    Sure. I normally take classical (or Newtonian) mechanics as referring to the motion of macroscopic objects. But it’s certainly even less use at the atomic level.

    When I think of what’s changed from when I did high school biology many years ago, I think it is a brave person who claims nothing is going to change evolutionary theory wrt to natural selection and common descent. In fact I think it is quite possible that it will turn out natural selection does very little in evolution. Michael Lynch’s paper is worth a read here Keith.

  52. Melissa @56:

    I think the best evidence for “blind and unguided” evolution is the “design” is so awful. Why design eyes in 100 different ways, some of which are atrocious compared to other “designs”? Why do giraffes have a vein that runs down their necks and then back up again? Why is the human brain addicted to conspiracy theories? It all makes no sense from a “design” perspective, but from a “blind and unguided” perspective, it’s exactly what you’d expect to find.

    Melissa @56, Victoria @57, bigbird @58:

    I believe I understand your point(s), and I agree we cannot rule out the possibility we have it all wrong… maybe a unified theory will prove Newton’s laws of motion wrong, maybe we’ll find DNA evidence that shows common ancestry is wrong.

    But I’m not taking that bet. There’s far too much corroborating evidence in both cases to think there’s a chance of that kind of surprise ending.

    Maybe the thing that lets us all enter into heated agreement is the phrase “at our scale”?

  53. bigbird @62:

    That’s me, “brave”. 🙂

    Thank you for the Lynch pointer, much appreciated.

  54. I think the best evidence for “blind and unguided” evolution is the “design” is so awful.

    An argument consisting of “it can’t have been designed because of x” sounds suspiciously like an argument based on a gap in our knowledge.

    Upon what basis do you judge these things as bad design? Do you have a standard for good design?

    Why design eyes in 100 different ways, some of which are atrocious compared to other “designs”?

    Please supply an example of an “atrocious” eye design. Is it unsuitable for the animal’s requirements?

    Why do giraffes have a vein that runs down their necks and then back up again?

    I think you might mean the laryngeal nerve, not a vein. Is a circuitous route harmful to the giraffe? Could there be some reason for it? Does it have more than one function?

    Why is the human brain addicted to conspiracy theories?

    There’s certainly a simple design reason if the designer is God. We were created to appreciate grand stories and mystery. What’s the evolutionary explanation?

    It all makes no sense from a “design” perspective, but from a “blind and unguided” perspective, it’s exactly what you’d expect to find.

    From a blind and unguided perspective, I don’t expect to find life at all, let alone eyes, nerves, brains and minds.

  55. bigbird @62:

    A definite +1 on the Lynch paper.

    I didn’t realize nonadaptive forces were considered that important, I must admit. From my reading of that paper and some other related pieces I found, Lynch still views natural selection as the primary driving force (however, I’m not 100% sure if he would agree with “the primary”, as opposed to “a primary”).

  56. Keith,

    I think the best evidence for “blind and unguided” evolution is the “design” is so awful. Why design eyes in 100 different ways, some of which are atrocious compared to other “designs”? Why do giraffes have a vein that runs down their necks and then back up again? Why is the human brain addicted to conspiracy theories? It all makes no sense from a “design” perspective, but from a “blind and unguided” perspective, it’s exactly what you’d expect to find.

    So you didn’t actually have in mind “scientific evidence”? What you’ve given here is some facts established by science then interpreted via your personal philosophical musings about what is or isn’t good design. Determining whether something is good design requires that you know the purpose that the designer had in mind, which is not something that science could possibly tell us.

    I believe I understand your point(s), and I agree we cannot rule out the possibility we have it all wrong… maybe a unified theory will prove Newton’s laws of motion wrong, maybe we’ll find DNA evidence that shows common ancestry is wrong.

    Well, from what you have written here it looks to me like you don’t understand the point. In the relevant sense Newtonian physics is wrong but it’s still useful.

  57. @Victoria:

    It is worse than that: an electron in a closed orbit radiates energy (Electromagnetism 101), ergo atoms are unstable, ergo there is no stable matter, ergo we do not exist.

    note: actually, this problem was one of the driving forces in the genesis of QM.

  58. @Sault: Creationists have had 250 years to out-science evolution

    Try 150 years. If you are going to criticize creationists for distorting science, best to at least get this one right 🙂

  59. Sault,

    How do you reason with someone who misrepresents your position so?

    The “conspiracy” charge — could you show me a reference?

    The Bible vs. science thing: you might find that in Young Earth Creationism, but not in ID. You won’t find me saying it.

    The moral argument: what, do you think that the universal data of human ethical significance isn’t evidence to take into account?

    “Creationists,” you say. Do you realize that this is a stereotyped phrase? Do you realize that there are young-earth creationists, old-earth creationists, theistic evolutionists, evolutionary creationists, and that their views differ deeply, even though we all agree that God is Creator? Do you believe in stereotyping?

  60. @G. Rodrigues (#68)

    There is that, too 🙂

    I would have brought up Thompson and Rutherford had Keith still not understood the point (I’m not sure that he does understand it anyway), but you’ve saved me the trouble.

  61. bigbird @65, melissa @67:

    I believe I can recognize when one design functions better than another design. If a bridge only goes half-way across the river, I’ll call it a “bad design”.

    Atrocious eyes? The human eye has several problems, the most well-known is the blind spot. Since cephalopod eyes don’t have blind-spots, and the blind-spot in your eye performs no possible function other than to stop you from seeing things, I’d say that’s bad design for an eye.

    You could argue there’s a gap in our knowledge in some number of cases, but that’s not the situation here: the human body (let alone the animal kingdom) is littered with bridges that only go half-way across their particular river.

  62. I believe I can recognize when one design functions better than another design.

    In a simplistic comparison between finished and half finished bridges, I’m sure you can. I doubt you could pick out the best design between two bridges that are both complete though, unless you are an architect or civil engineer.

    Likewise, unless you are a software engineer, I have little doubt I could show you two different software designs that accomplish a similar purpose, but are quite different in quality, and you’d be unable to distinguish which was superior.

    When it comes to biological features that we didn’t design and that we barely understand, your claim seems very optimistic.

    Atrocious eyes? The human eye has several problems, the most well-known is the blind spot.

    It is common to argue for bad design on the grounds that the eye is wired backwards, or because of the blind spot.

    This claim is largely based on an analogy with a human design, the camera. But it turns out that a camera is too simplistic a design to be used as a comparison.

    This AIG article summarizes recent research, but it is also worth reading this paper on the human eye,

    It concludes that “the retina is revealed as an optimal structure designed for improving the sharpness of images. ”

    It seems a dubious claim that the human eye is bad design.

  63. If you want to compare the optics of the human eye with a modern optical instrument ( a telescope), then use a Newtonian Reflector or a Coude’ design, or a Schmidt-Cassegrainian or Maskutov design – these designs place an appropriately designed mirror in front of the primary mirror to redirect the reflected light from the primary to the viewing optics (the eyepiece assembly). In the latter two, there is a blind spot in the center of the primary mirror, in the form of an aperture leading to the eyepiece assembly – the secondary mirror reflects and focuses the light through the aperture – this sort of design increases the focal length of the telescope without increasing the overall length (and mass). Of course the secondary mirror blocks part of the light entering the telescope, but it doesn’t seriously degrade the performance of the instrument. The designers made design trade-offs so that they could satisfy multiple requirements (some of which are conflicting) to achieve an overall optimal function.

    @Keith: do you know what all of the design parameters are for our vision subsystem – which is comprised not only of the physical optics, but the biochemical cascade that detects photons and produces the bio-electric signals that are collected from each detector individually by its own nerve fiber and routed to the visual cortex in the brain by the optic nerve bundle? Then there is the image processing and feature recognition ‘software’ that translates this stream into what we perceive as an image. Your characterization of ‘remember when the eye was thought to be irreducibly complex’ is laughable in the face of how vision actually works. It is even more staggering when one thinks of the programming instructions necessary to construct the entire system in a developing embryo. This program integrates diffraction-limited optics, optical wave-guides, single photon detection, electronic signal conditioning and transmission, an image processing neural network, along with a blood transport network (to provide the cells with oxygen and nutrients, and to remove metabolic waste-products) into a coherent functional living system.

    Read the two links that BigBird referred to – perhaps you will learn something about complex system design and optimization principles.

  64. @Keith

    I believe I can recognize when one design functions better than another design. If a bridge only goes half-way across the river, I’ll call it a “bad design”.

    But bad design still requires intelligence, doesn’t it?

  65. @Keith

    Why do giraffes have a vein that runs down their necks and then back up again?

    I’m still confused by your question here. As big bird pointed out:

    I think you might mean the laryngeal nerve, not a vein. Is a circuitous route harmful to the giraffe? Could there be some reason for it? Does it have more than one function?

    The recurrent laryngeal nerve is what Richard Dawkins had in mind as a criticism of ID:

    The recurrent laryngeal nerve is a remarkable piece of unintelligent design. The nerve starts in the head, with the brain, and the end organ is the larynx, the voice box. But instead of going straight there it goes looping past the voice box. In the case of the giraffe, it goes down the full length of the giraffe’s neck, loops down one of the main arteries in the chest and then comes straight back up again to the voice box, having gone within a couple of inches of the voice box on its way down. No intelligent designer would ever have done that.
    http://www.oregonlive.com/news/index.ssf/2009/10/darwins_pitbull_richard_dawkin.html

    (Giraffes have voice boxes?)

    Are you sticking by your original question? Do giraffes, in fact, “have a vein that runs down their necks and then back up again?”

  66. @ the one best design only, else no God crowd….

    So when an artist paints a picture, he paints one and stops? Why waste time on another. I guess God should have created the ants or the cockroaches and just settled for one creature. They’ll likely outlast us all.
    How does an architect even judge what is the best design for a bridge?
    The Army Corps of Engineers will get you across a river quickly, safely and efficiently; should we not bother incorporating any colour or flair into the design? Maybe they should all look the same.
    Maybe the giraffe nerve requires a certain length to function optimally. How could you even know?

    Robert

  67. Victoria – The glial cells are not nerve cells. The study you link to doesn’t explain why the nerve cells are on the inside of the eye.

  68. big bird @65:

    I couldn’t help but notice the massive irony in your response to the “poor design” comment. I guess people who believe that macro evolution explains away all the apparent examples of intelligent design in our universe can’t see the irony upon which they base their beliefs. Otherwise they wouldn’t be macro evolutionists!

    Ok, so watch this (no pun intended!):

    You rightly responded “From a blind and unguided perspective, I don’t expect to find life at all, let alone eyes, nerves, brains and minds”, and here is the humbling irony…Wouldn’t it be totally IRONIC if a blind and unguided process “created” an eye that could see?!”

    Come on intelligent people, use the amazing mind that God gave you to really think about what you are basing your beliefs upon!

    Furthermore, how ironic would it be for a mindless and unguided universe to “create” the amazing human mind, which is mindful of and filled with purpose? THINK about it.