This last Monday (April 28th) I attended a Q & A forum on intelligent design (ID) creationism and the movie Expelled held at Biola University (La Mirada, CA) which I saw advertised over on Uncommon Descent by Paul Nelson (who told me he has my blog bookmarked; hi Paul):
…If you’ve got a burning question or two about the Expelled controversies. Darwin-to-Hitler, doesn’t Sternberg still have his Smithsonian position, the Pepperdine students were extras, the cell animation is plagiarized, Dawkins and P.Z. Myers and all the rest were tricked into granting interviews, Darwin’s Descent of Man was quote-mined, why didn’t Ben Stein just use Google Maps to find the Discovery Institute, ID is religious ’cause Expelled admits it, Yoko Ono is suing…whatevah.
Bring Your Questions for Profs. John Bloom, Mike Keas and Paul Nelson
Joining me to monitor the goings on were my friends Don Frack and Cal. State Fullerton Professor Jim Hofmann. Besides ourselves and the three panel members there were perhaps 20 other people in attendance.
I figured I had to go, if for no other reason than to document what they said, particularly as it related to the movie Expelled and its claims of supposed discrimination against ID proponents like Richard Sternberg. The discussion began on something of a sour note unfortunately (from my POV anyway) as the first thing they did was to request that no one make any private recordings of the session. This was a problem for me since I routinely record such events whenever I attend them.
Now I suppose there could be legitimate reasons for not allowing people to record certain events (like rock concerts etc.) since the material could be bootlegged and sold without permission of the artist. But this wasn’t exactly some big event that they were likely to make a DVD of to sell. It was an informal Q & A with only a handful of people in attendance and only a few of them actively participated in the discussion. Given this, the fact that I have grown more than a bit cynical about how antievolutionists operate, and some of my history with Paul Nelson, I suspect, but cannot prove, that their ban on private recordings was more of a defensive maneuver aimed primarily at me and my companions.
Yours truly with Dr. Paul Nelson, a Fellow of the Discovery Institute’s Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture,at the “Intelligent Design & the Future of Science” event held at Biola University in La Mirada California (4-23-2004).
One of the reasons I suspected this is because the last time I saw Paul was at the Rolling Hills Covenant Church back in May of 2006, where he and John Mark Reynolds (both fellows at Discovery Institute), were there to debate Jim Hofmann and Craig Nelson of Cal. State Fullerton on the subject of ID creationism and evolution.
During the debate, which I recorded, Paul relayed an exchange he had via e-mail with paleontologist (and Christian) Keith Miller on the subject of natural vs. intelligent causation. The position he claimed that Miller had taken during this discussion struck me as rather unlikely so I contacted Miller and asked him if Nelson’s characterization of his position was accurate.
Miller responded saying that he not only did not hold the views that Nelson had claimed for him, but that the e-mail exchange that Nelson had quoted from (before an audience of a thousand or more people) had been private and not intended for public consumption.
Since I didn’t have a blog at the time I handed the material over to my friend Ed Brayton who published an account of what happened over on his popular ScienceBlog, Dispatches from the Culture Wars. This led to several follow-up posts with Nelson even leaving a few comments attempting to defend his actions.
Here are links to Ed’s posts in the order in which they appeared:
- Paul Nelson’s Outrageous Lie
- Paul Nelson’s Continued Lie
- The Full Nelson-Miller Exchange
- Nelson’s Larger Misrepresentation
- Paul Nelson’s Sleight of Hand
So my immediate suspicion was that this history might have led to the “no private recordings” business but then again I could be having delusions of grandeur and it had nothing to do with me or my friends being there with recording devices.
As for the Q & A session that followed it wasn’t what I had hoped in that the subject of the supposedly expelled people in Expelled barely came up. Much of the discussion was on ID creationism in general and a lot of that was a red herring diversion into questions about morality and where it supposedly comes from.
What Paul and his compadres do is conflate evolutionary biology with philosophical materialism (atheism), call it “Darwinism” and then argue that since “Darwinism” does not provide moral absolutes this means that believing in “Darwinism” leads to The Inquisition, witch hunts, anti-Semitic pogroms…oh wait, I mean free sex, marijuana smoking, death metal and The Holocaust.
The point is, evolutionary biology is not atheism, it doesn’t provide moral teachings of any kind and isn’t intended to (no scientific theory does or is). And none of this has anything to do with how accurate and productive evolution is as a scientific theory. It is all beside the point but such questions dominate the thinking of many in the antievolutionist camp.
After the talk Paul came over to me and said that he had noticed that I had been shaking my head rather vigorously during the discussion and he asked me what it was I objected to. I told him he was going to have to be more specific as I was shaking my head a lot (not uncommon for me at creationist events). This particular head shaking was prompted by his response to a question about Michael Behe, common descent, humans, chimps and guinea pigs.
You see the faithful in the pews don’t like it when they hear contradictory things from their leaders in the professional antievolutionist ranks. For example I attended a lecture put on by young Earth creationist (YEC) Walt Brown who caused a lot of agitation in the audience by pooh-poohing the idea of a pre-Noah’s Flood vapor canopy surrounding the Earth (a supposed source for much of the Floodwater). The reason this caused so much consternation was because the vapor canopy (ad hoc) hypothesis has been a staple in YEC teachings for decades and was promoted by the late Henry Morris and his Institute for Creation Research who many YEC look to as the source of all “true” scientific knowledge. Hearing another “creation scientist” being dismissive of a main tenant of ICR style YEC caused a bit of cognitive dissonance and hence squirming in the seats.
In this case the fact that leading ID creationism proponent Michael Behe has on several occasions stated that he believes in common descent (though not mainstream mechanisms behind it) including the idea that humans and chimpanzees share a common ancestor was the source of tension, as Paul Nelson (who is a YEC) and many others in the ID crowd, disagree with Behe on this.
The problem is the idea that humans share a common ancestor with other primates is perhaps the number one thing that creationists don’t want to accept about evolution since, in their eyes, this would deny humans their special place in the universe etc. etc.
During the Biola discussion a woman a few rows ahead of where we were sitting said she had read in one of Behe’s books about how chimpanzees and humans both have the same malfunctioning gene (a pseudogene), which prevents their bodies from being able to synthesis vitamin C (something most other mammals can do) and how Behe thought that this was good evidence for common descent. She said that this “confused” her because it didn’t make sense considering “everything else” (whatever that is). My perception of this was that she wanted reassurances that despite Behe’s place in the pantheon of ID proponents, his views on humans and chimps sharing a common ancestor weren’t true.
Paul answered her by noting that some in ID creationist camp, like Behe, accept common descent but believe (as Behe apparently does) that God controlled this process in some way. He then talked about how it had been discovered that guinea pigs have a similarly malfunctioning gene for vitamin C synthesis and about how many of the mutations in the gene are the same as those found in humans and chimps. He then seemed to imply that if this mutation could be a genetic coincidence then perhaps this and the many other similarities between the human and chimps were just a coincidence as well.
That is what got my head shaking in this case.
First I wanted to see the material on guinea pig genes for myself (never take an antievolutionists word on anything) and I’m currently waiting on a copy of paper on this. I want to see just how similar the guinea pig pseudogene is to ours and then compare this similarity to that which exists between humans and chimps.
Second and much more importantly this particular pseudogene is hardly the only similarity between humans and chimps. There are a whole host of genetic, physiological, anatomical and even behavioral similarities between humans and chimps. So casting aspersions about this single similarity is like bailing water out of the Titanic with a teaspoon and the implication that all these other similarities might be coincidental in a similar fashion really strains credulity.
For example here is another bit of genetic evidence supporting the common ancestry of humans and chimps from Ken Miller (not to be confused with Keith Miller mentioned earlier):
I told Paul that this (the second part) was why I had a problem with his comments. He denied that his telling the woman about guinea pig’s and their pseudogenes was intended to cast doubt on other similarities between humans and chimps, but when my friend Don agreed with my perception of what Paul had said he rather quickly changed the subject to something called ‘orphan genes’ in microorganisms.
From there it devolved into a random discussion, mostly between Don and Paul about the history and philosophy of science as it pertains to evolution.