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»

“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.]

Does intelligent design “theory” lack a mechanism?

No, says the Discovery Institute’s Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture’s resident attack Chihuahua Casey Luskin (and, yes, I’m stealing that John), who reports that he was recently confronted with this question at a talk he had given:

Last month I spoke at the University of Arkansas, and during the Q&A, a skeptic complained that ID theory lacks a “mechanism.” I explained that intelligent agency itself functions in that role, serving as a known cause / mechanism which produces high levels of complex and specified information (CSI).

[Snip a bunch of slides with various quotes from Luskin’s fellow Discoveroid (stealing that too) Stephen Meyer that don’t add anything to this discussion.]

[…] Intelligent agency, therefore, is a mechanism which we can observe and understand in the world around us, and from those observations we know it alone is capable of producing high CSI. But the skeptic wasn’t satisfied with this argument. He insisted what ID lacks is a mechanism that, at the direction of an intelligent agent, could be capable of instantiating information, or design, in the real world.

And this unnamed skeptic was correct. Intelligent design creationists prattle on endlessly about “complex specified information” in nature and how they think that “an intelligence” is required to explain it but they never explain how this “CSI” gets from the mind of their “designer” (wink, wink) to the features of the natural world it is supposedly intended to explain. In other words, even if we were to grant their source of “CSI” they’ve got nothing to offer on where the rubber actually hits the road.

As we spoke after the talk, I asked him, “Why should it be so hard to believe that intelligent agents can implement their designs in the real world? After all, we see intelligent agents manipulating the information in DNA all the time.”

Yes we do Casey. Intelligent agents who are physical beings with physical brains, physically manipulating physical DNA with physical tools.

As the skeptic was a philosopher, he was apparently unaware of the burgeoning field of genetic engineering, where biologists manipulate the information in DNA to produce new biological functions. Unfortunately, this hardened ID critic was probably still not convinced after I explained that it’s easy to believe intelligent agents might have ways of implementing their designs in the natural world — since we see it happening, reported in the scientific literature on a regular basis. This new research discussed in Nature News shows exactly how intelligent agents can manipulate information in DNA to create new structures and functions. There is no reason, in principle, why an intelligent agency must lack a mechanism for implementing designs in the natural world.

And if we ask these physical genetic engineers what mechanisms they use to manipulate physical DNA they won’t respond by merely pointing out that they are intelligent agents and that that fact should tell you all you need to know about the process.

This is the same fallacy that ID creationists engage in when they liken their ideas to the SETI (Search of Extra Terrestrial Intelligence) program. “SETI is looking for signs of intelligence” they say, “we’re doing the same thing.”. But just as with the genetic engineers we are talking about physical ET’s, ostensibly with physical transmitters, sending out signals propagated via some part of physical electromagnetic spectrum.

The reason for all this obtuse deflection about genetic engineers (and aliens) and tedious repetition about “CSI” is that the actual answer to the question of what the mechanism for intelligent design is that it is magic.

Their “intelligent designer” is God (everyone knows this); and God implemented his designs through unknowable miraculous means, end of story.

However, if they were to divulge this they know would lose their pretense of doing science and would be admitting to the fact that what they are actually engaging in is apologetics.

Reference

Luskin, Casey (1012) “Responding to the Challenge that Intelligent Design Lacks a “Mechanism”“, evolutionnews.org (blog) downloaded on 5-27-2012

[Hat tip to The Sensuous Curmudgeon.]

A New Major Award!

The National Center for Science Education has announced their ‘creation’ of a new annual  award, the “Upchucky”, to be “bestowed on the most noisome creationist of the year”.  I love it! And they certainly have a nominee rich environment which they can select from.

The contenders for the first annual Upchucky were:

  1. Recently deposed Texas board of education chairperson Don McLeroy; “for his longstanding efforts to undermine the teaching of evolution in the Lone Star state”.
  2. Creationist buffoon Ray Comfort (aka Banana Man) of Living Waters Ministries; “for his distribution of copies of the Origin disfigured with his own creationist introduction”.
  3. The possibly over-caffeinated intelligent design creationist Casey Luskin of the Disco toot’s Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture; “for his logorrheic zeal in reciting the “intelligent design” talking points du jour (“logorrheic”, that’s good, I’ll have to remember that one).
  4. And finally a group nomination for Arabic news channel Al Jazeera; “for its wildly misleading coverage of Ardipithecus ramidus“.

And the Upchucky goes to…

The virulently ignorant Don “Somebody’s got to stand up to experts” McLeroy! [pre-recorded applause].

I’m sure it was a tough decision for the judges but when one considers that he was someone with actual authority over what was taught in public schools I think he was the best choice of this line up.

Bravo NCSE!

[Hat-tip to Thoughts in a Haystack]

Biologist bitch slaps (figuratively) intelligent design creationist

Prof. Ken Miller

Prof. Ken Miller

Brown University biologist and Dover ID trial witness Ken Miller pwns ID creationist Casey Luskin in a guest posting on Carl Zimmer’s blog The Loom.

Tis a thing of beauty.


Addendum

Miller is showing no mercy. The above was just part one! Here are parts two and three.