Another Pharyngula podcast with yours truly

The first part was on intelligent design creationists latest attacks on some of the genetic evidence for human evolution. The second was a ostensibly on humanism but strayed into issues surrounding the internecine warfare going on in the skeptic/atheist community over issues of feminism (which I will not touch with a light-year long pole) and progressive politics. Being of a slightly libertarian bent, I bit my tongue and let the anti-libertarian jibs go by (I am used to being casually libeled and slandered by my liberal Democrat friends).

Fuzzy thinking about fuzzy dinosaurs

A visual approximation.

Casey Luskin, the Discoveryless Institute’s resident attack chihuahua, is on a roll. This time he’s gone off on a tangent about a recent find of yet another dinosaur fossil with evidence of protofeathers, Sciurumimus albersdoerferi and dinosaur evolution in general.

Luskin: The media that loyally serve Big Science are at it again, overstating the finds of a scientific paper to promote an evolutionary icon. This time, the icon is feathered dinosaurs, representing the purported ancestral relationship between dinos and birds. (Luskin 2012)

Ah, if only. If only Mr. Luskin’s conspiratorial fantasy were true and the media was that on the ball. The fact of the matter is that defenders of science education like me often cringe at the mischaracterizations and overstatements that come out of the popular media regarding evolution. I am constantly shaking my head and yelling at the TV or radio “no, that’s not what that means at all”, or words to that effect.

I wish I had a nickel (because being underemployed I could really use the money) for every time a silly reporter, while talking about some fossil discovery, described it as “overthrowing everything we thought we knew about the evolution of X”.

That is absolute bollocks, 99% of the time.

Read on»

“Reason and creationism”

My friend and colleague (frienlleague?) Dr. Eugenie Scott gave, yet another, excellent talk titled “Reason and creationism” at the Global Atheist Convention, Melbourne, Australia (4/15/2012). Have a watch:

NCSE Home Page

“What Can YOU Do to Support Intelligent Design?”

A visual approximation.

Over at the Discovery(less) Institute’s Complaint Dept., resident attack chihuahua, Casey Luskin answered some fan mail that supposedly asked how people, sans financial resources, could support intelligent design (creationism). He suggests a variety of things that boil down to: submerge yourself into the intelligent design creationism bubble and pester your kid’s teachers and school administrators into foisting creationist misinformation onto their students:

There are lots of ways you can support Discovery Institute and ID in ways that don’t involve money. One of them – liking Discovery Institute’s Center for Science & Culture on Facebook of course — you already did. You could also become a follower of our Twitter account, follow our podcast on Twitter, or listen to ID the Future online. Reading Evolution News & Views will help keep you up-to-date on the debate. You can also subscribe to our Nota Bene newsletter, which is free.

Those are all ways for you to stay informed. But there are also ways that you can reach out to others. These include:

  • Start your own ID blog, or participate in other ID blogs like Uncommon Descent. It’s always good to have pro-ID voices on the Internet, although I’ll warn you that lots of Internet ID-critics just want to shout you down and call you nasty names, so it’s not uncommonly the case that you’d be wasting your time by engaging them.
  • Become a voice for academic freedom in your local community. One easy thing you can do is sign the Academic Freedom Petition. You can write letters to the editor to local newspapers, calling on them to stand up for good science education and provide corrections to misinformation or biased reporting on this issue.
  • Another constant need is to ensure that your local public libraries, secondary school libraries, and university libraries have up-to-date copies of intelligent design books. Even if you don’t have the money to donate the books, recommend books to the library and ask if they would consider adding them to their collections.
  • You might consider starting a local organization to increase awareness about intelligent design. A great way to do this is to start an Intelligent Design and Evolution Awareness (IDEA) Club. These extracurricular clubs are affiliated with the IDEA Center (which is a distinct organization from Discovery Institute), but they can organize events on local college campuses or in communities to show videos or bring speakers to educate the public about the issue. IDEA Clubs are a great way to raise awareness and understanding of the scientific case for intelligent design in your local community — you could start one yourself, or help a student do so. See www.ideacenter.org for details.
  • Besides IDEA Clubs, if you know university students who are interested in ID, you can encourage them to get involved with Discovery Institute’s Summer Seminars on Intelligent Design. And if you know pre-college students who are college-shopping, encourage them to consider how the school they’re going to attend deals with topics like the origins of life and of human beings. (Note: I went to a science-focused public university that was largely anti-ID and had a great experience, so I’m not saying students must go to a pro-ID college. But they might want to consider this issue, one way or another, when they apply.)

Finally, another way you can make a difference is to advocate for positive changes in education in your local school or community. If you have kids, find out how their schools cover evolution. For public schools, we recommend that they teach the scientific evidence for and against Darwinian evolution without getting into alternative theories like intelligent design. A lot of this is explained in our Briefing Packet for Educators – but if you want to get involved more directly, contact us here at Discovery Institute and we can help you. For private schools, we have another list of recommended resources, which I recently discussed here.

What is significant by its absence from this list is any suggestion that his readers should directly familiarize themselves with what the overwhelming majority scientists are actually saying or with the actual evidence, unfiltered by the ID creationist spin zones that he lists.

Now I understand that Mr. Luskin probably believes that all of mainstream science is engaged in a global satanic conspiracy to hide the Truth ™ from the masses, but for the sake of intellectual rigor he should want people to be familiar with the thing that they are fighting so fiercely against; and not just the version presented in the IDC echo chamber.

If someone asked me how they could prepare themselves to deal with creationists I would tell them that they need:

  • A good grasp of modern evolutionary theory and the broad evidence behind it both paleontological and neontological (preferably including some reading of the primary scientific literature), as well as a smattering of other sciences that touch on historical issues (cosmology etc.).
  • At least a basic knowledge of the history and philosophy of science (especially the histories of biology and geology).
  • And, most especially, a thorough knowledge of creationist arguments through direct reading of creationist literature (and other media) and the history of the creationist movement (I highly recommend Ronald Numbers book The Creationists (2006) for that last part).

Of course, no one can be an expert in all the relevant fields of science. Even most scientists, while they might be experts in their particular area of study, may have only a basic grasp of the several other fields outside of their own that is required in order to effectively counter creations claims. You can start off talking with a creationist about cosmology—because many of them do not understand that the Big Bang theory is not part of evolution—and in quick succession be grilled about various aspects of geology, biology and physics.

Worse yet, most scientists have only superficial level of knowledge regarding creationist arguments and tactics, which makes sense given that they trained in doing science and not counter apologetics. Moreover, many feel, with some justification, that to get such training is a waste of their valuable time. Unfortunately, this can lead to public relations setbacks for science education if they then allow themselves to be snookered into formal debates with professional creationists.

Again, from my experience you need not only a basic knowledge of a variety of scientific subjects—especially geology, paleontology and biology—but a good knowledge of creationist arguments in order to keep from getting steamrolled by the creationist shotgun approach to debate (a.k.a. the “Gish Gallop“).*

For that reason, unlike Mr. Luskin, I strongly encourage people, both scientists and interested laypersons, to study the work of the opposition, not just what people like me say about it.

[*I would generally advise against live public debates in the first place. Instead, stick to written ones that do not allow creationists effective use of the Gallop in the first place.]

“The silly things those creationists say” – Pharyngula podcast #2

I lucked out and was able to be one of the participants on biologist P.Z. Myers’ Pharyngula video podcast (#2). The subject of this podcast was, as you may have guessed by my post title, creationism. Russell Glasser of The Atheist Experience was also there, as were several other people who, while they were new to me, seemed to be hip to the subject. I really enjoyed it and the time just few by. 

My thanks to the other participants and especially to P.Z. for having me!

“The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Creation Science”

The Sensuous Curmudgeon has given us an eloquent exposition on why “creation scientists” are immune to empirical evidence and why there is no science in “creation science”. I highly recommend you give it a read.

[Hat tip to Richard Hoppe over at Panda’s Thumb.]

World class projection at the Discovery Institute

Projection being a behavior frequently engaged in by creationists wherein they project their own “…unacceptable qualities or feelings and ascribing them to other people“, namely scientists and defenders of science education.

In this example David Klinghoffer of the Discovery(less) Institute lays the projection on thick in his criticism of a recent article written by Jonah Lehrer in the The New Yorker, which was about the recent Gallup poll showing that nearly half of people in U.S. are still mired in denial regarding evolution.

The problem with this analysis [Lehrer’s attempt to explain rampant evolution denial in the U.S. – T.B.] is that we are familiar, from long experience, with a no less impressively obdurate ignorance on the part of Darwin’s believers. No doubt there are plenty of people who reject Darwinism on the basis of a gut response alone, who never have taken the time to probe the evolution controversy and who fail to realize that it has two sides, both of which have a case to make.

But many — no, I take that back, almost all — the public Darwin defenders I can think of give evidence of having meticulously insulated themselves from knowing what the other side says.

Never mind Klinghoffer’s minimization of the level of scientific ignorance amongst creationists (which I can tell you from experience is prodigious), at least he’s admitting it exists. But to try and turn this around and argue that it is we defenders of science (as opposed to the “Darwin defenders” which is just Discoveroid frame-speak, i.e. propaganda) who are not only ignorant of creationist claims but “meticulously” insulate ourselves from them? That is hilarious!

Yes Mr. Klinghoffer, I, a twenty year veteran of defending science and science education from the attacks of creationists like yourself, have “meticulously insulated” myself from your ideas by amassing a collection of creationist literature containing nearly four hundred references (so far), dating from the 19th to the 21st century (never mind the video tapes, DVD’s and audio recordings); by  attending nearly every creationist event I hear about that’s within reasonable driving distance of where I live; and by regularly perusing creationist websites and blogs, like the one you’re posting on.

All that I do just so I can maintain my blissful state of insulation from what your side says.    

On the contrary, it might be justifiably said that I am somewhat obsessed with what creationists (of all stripes) are saying. However despite my obsession I have somehow failed to notice the meticulous ignorance of the subject that Mr. Klinghoffer’s claims to see in my colleagues (whose magazine, journal and blog articles I also obsessively imbibe).

[Who else out there bought the Creation/Evolution Journal collection from the NCSE and read all 39 issues at once like it was one big book? Let’s see hands? Anyone? Anyone? Oh, I suppose was that just me? Like I’m the only one who would do that…]

Forget for a moment about who, Darwinists or Design advocates, is actually right. If you took a sample of ID folks and a sample of Darwin people, specifically those who have felt confident enough in their views to write about them for publication, and then quizzed each group about what arguments their opponents offer, there’s no question that those from the ID community would know better what their opposites in the debate say.

I question that. [See how easy that was?] Having observed them for many years I can say that it is vanishingly rare to encounter a creationist who can accurately relay the basics of evolutionary theory and its supporting evidence. They may get this or that part correct, but unvaryingly they go off the rails at some point, mischaracterizing either the theory of the facts (usually both).

Intelligent design “theory” is little more than a litany of antievolution arguments (misinformation, half-truths, logical fallacies, and out of context quotations of actual scientists) that have been floating around the creationist movement for decades (see links below), combined with “positive ID arguments” that are nothing but deliberately veiled versions of “God did it”.

See: “Expelled’s intelligent design theory – this IS your daddy’s creationism”, Part I & Part II

Just look at ENV as a convenient illustration. We strive to keep up with toughest challenges, such as they are, from evolutionists. Now look at the competing Darwin blogs. Guys like PZ Myers & Co. concentrate their fire on naïve young-earth creationists.

Actually I haven’t noticed this either. However if there is any small truth to this it might be because, unlike ID creationists, young Earthers (YEC) occasionally attempt to make testable claims for their views (i.e. arguments for a young Earth or Noah’s Flood). Whereas ID has been deliberately stripped of such things in an attempt to avoid conflicts with the 1st Amendment to the Constitution, leaving only the aforementioned attacks on evolution and untestable “God did it” assertions.

Are there old Earth, progressive creationists among the ID ranks? Sure, but they’re still creationists and a significant proportion of their target audience (the people in the pews) are good ol’ YEC (see the results of the Gallup poll Lehrer was lamenting).

Jerry Coyne and his colleagues in the Darwin-defending business are careful to stay unaware of the very serious challenges to Darwinism from ID.

Klinghoffer is sort of right about this one. We defenders of science are completely unaware of any “very serious” scientific “challenges to Darwinism evolutionary theory”; there are however theologically motivated, scientifically non-credible, political challenges that are a very serious danger to the future of science education in the United States. Of those we are all too aware.

Of that large portion of the media that remains committed to Darwin and never misses a chance to lash out at doubters, most are so utterly ignorant of the terms of the debate that that they cannot even distinguish intelligent design from creationism and use the terms interchangeably. You can point out their error again and again, but they never seem to understand.

Right. I’ve got two word for ya Mr. Klinghoffer: “Cdesign Proponentsists“. A refusal to countenance deceit is not a failure to understand it.

It’s common sense that human beings are hobbled by prejudices of all kinds. You didn’t need a study in a scientific journal to tell you that. The beginning of wisdom, surely, is to recognize your own ill-founded preconceptions and areas of stubborn ignorance. To that project of self-enlightenment, the community of Darwin defenders is uncompromisingly resistant.

And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?


Reference

Klinghoffer, David (2012) “The Stubbornness of Their Ignorance“, Evolution News and Views (blog), downloaded on 6-10-2012