Tag Archives: Darwinism

Pulling the wool over the eyes of the faithful

Occasionally I watch videos, or listen to podcasts, distributed by the Intelligent design crowd at the Discovery Institute. So, I wasted a few minutes on this video below where one of their tame scientists, Ann Gauger, spoke “authoritatively” on population genetics and why this proved Darwin wrong!

It’s a load of old rubbish, aimed at convincing the gullible with sciency sounding words, but causing giggles from real biologists. However, I was interested in the background chosen for the interview. Could this be a lab in the much vaunted ID Biologic Institute? The one set up by the Discovery Institute to do “real” research. The lab where no journalist or non-ID scientist has been allowed access.

Well, it turns out that the background is false. It’s a green screen, using a stock photo (see The Disco ‘Tute’s fake laboratory).

stock-photo-biological-science-laboratory-at-night-862039

Stock photo used for background in video

Why go to such trouble?

Well, I guess the simple answer is they don’t have a lab, or access to a lab, they can use as an impressive background – so they fudged it. But of course, there’s more to it than that.

The whole purpose of forming the Biologic Institute was to impress. I mean, to impress their convinced adherents (because no-one in the scientific world is impressed by such a façade). It’s the “silo effect” such ideological communities go in for. They can maintain beliefs because they have their own tame experts and members of the community usually self-censor. The faithful can go along with the pretence their beliefs are supported by scientific evidence and avoid having to deal with real science and scientists.

The ID community provides the amenities require for such a blinkered outlook. They even have their own list of “scientists” rejecting Darwinism. The faithful can thus repeat the lie evolutionary science is on its last legs. That high ranking scientists have proven it wrong.

The Discovery Institute and the Biologic Institute also provide another element of the façade – peer reviewed publications supporting ID. To this end they have established their own “scientific journal” – BIO-Complexity. This presents a veneer of a peer-reviewed journal – but look at it. A small handful of papers, all by the same people listed under the “staff” of the Biologic Institute.

Again, this fools no credible scientist but it can be used to fool the faithful.

But what a a situation – having to lie to your own supporters.

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Time for philosophical honesty about Darwin


Credit: The Teaching Company

John S. Wilkins, at the Evolving Thoughts blog, has a nice short article, Why is Darwin’s theory so controversial?, on the so-called “controversies” around Darwin’s theories. I think he nails it. He shows that the usual tired old objections to Darwin’s ideas are just excuses.

The excuses

“Darwin thought species are mutable.” But:

“This was a widely held view by preachers, moralists, Aristotelians, naturalists, breeders, formalists, folk biology, and even biblical translators.”

“Darwin had racist ideas about humans.”

“He never did and the racism that is sometimes associated with his ideas preceded him by centuries (and were good Christian virtues) and were mediated by those who disagreed with him.”

“Darwin thought the age of the earth was large:”

“This preceded him also, and was settled in the late eighteenth century, although the present value wasn’t finalised until the 1960s.”

“Darwin’s claim humans are animals contradicted the Bible.” But:

“Linnaeus knew humans were animals a century earlier, and indeed the only issue was whether humans were animals with souls (or if all animals had souls), which Darwin never implied anything to the contrary.

Moreover, it was Christians who rejected the literal interpretation of the Bible, long before Darwin (beginning with the Alexandrian school in the second century), and those who realised that the global Flood was a myth (or an allegory) were Christian geologists a half century at least in advance of Darwin.”

The real controversy

John explains:

“No, the reason why Darwin was controversial is very, very simple. Darwin argued that complex designs could arise without a mind to guide it. In short, his controversial idea was natural selection (and sexual selection, but even that preceded Darwin). Almost from the day it was published, critics attacked the implication that the living world was not all that special, and that it lacked a Plan or Meaning. Theologians, moralists and even scientists objected to this, and while even most of the Catholic Church accepted common descent and modification of species, it was natural selection they hated.”

But instead of honestly confronting and debating the real issue they lie and slander:

“All the supposed “controversies” of Darwinism (or that phantom, “neo-Darwinism”) are post hoc attacks based on the prior objection to the lack of a guiding hand in biology. Don’t like natural selection? Attack Darwin by calling him a racist or blaming him for the Holocaust. Say he is antiessentialist. Say he is anti-religion. No matter how much evidence one puts forward that these are deliberate lies manufactured by those who hate Darwin for natural selection, it won’t stop the prevarication industry.”

A basic philosophical conflict

Wilkins says:

“Sensible philosophical critics of Darwin focus on selection for that reason. It undercuts our prior belief that We Are Special. Human mentation, cognition, language, morality, religion or economics is somehow privileged in the universe. Bullshit. We are an animal and we arose without the universe seeking us.”

But some philosophers will devote their energies to attacking this position while refusing to justify their alternative:

“The human exceptionalism which critics like Fodor, Fuller, Plantinga and the rest presume but do not argue for unfairly places the onus on Darwinians. It is time to stop taking them seriously.”

Amen to that.

But I want to add something to John’s analysis – and I do hope he doesn’t feel I misrepresent him.

Time for philosophical honesty

Darwin’s approach of looking to nature, and not to scripture, for the explanation of nature was simply being scientific. It extended the progress made by modern science in physics, astronomy, etc., into the understanding of life – including human life. Galileo in the early 17th Century argued our understanding of the world should be based on evidence from the world – not on fallible interpretation of scripture. Scientific knowledge, or natural philosophy in those day, should be based on evidence from reality and resulting ideas and theories tested and validated against that reality.

Today, sensible philosophers (even sensible philosophers of religion) accept this approach in the physical sciences. We no longer hear them talking about, or justifying, divine guidance in the movement of stars and planets, or the reaction of chemicals. Why should Fodor, Fuller and Plantinga so adamantly wish to sneak divine guidance into the biological world?

As they are so keen on divine guidance why not try to find and deliver some evidence for it instead of relying on logical possibility alone? That would be the scientific approach. And if they were really consistent they would also be arguing for, and producing evidence for, divine guidance in the physical world.

Now, that would put them in context.

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The prejudiced journalist

The media interview is sometimes problematic for the scientist. There’s all the problems of getting one’s message across in a way that the public can appreciate and in the allotted time span provided by news bites.

But one problem that really annoys me is the motivated, or dogmatic, journalist. You know, the one who has an ideologically motivated picture of your science, has probably already written the headline and conclusions, and is just trying to get quotes to fit their prejudices.


Dr. Maggie Turnbull – a freelance Astrobiologist

In this respect I have mentioned Suzan Mazur before (see Self-exposure – a journalist out of depth and  Suzan does a mini- Monckton). Well she has surfaced again, and again the creationist/intelligent design echo chamber have latched on to her. They are making a lot of her interview of Dr. Maggie Turnbull,  a freelance Astrobiologist who does some contract work for NASA (see Is Life an “Artificial Category”? for the interview and At NASA, Another Crack in the Darwin Consensus? for the misrepresentation of the interview).

Turnbull’s answers are relatively common sense and straight froward – but some of Mazur’s questions are real woozies. She is so clearly trying hard to generate responses she can quote to undermine evolutionary science, and science in general. Here are some examples:

Suzan Mazur:You’ve indicated that the laws of life are being drawn too narrowly, saying you “mentally resist” defining the parameters of life because so far we only have one example of it — life on Earth. You’ve also said that “as scientists we always want to categorize everything, but is it possible that it’s just a continuum of a one-based system?” Would you expand on those comments?

Maggie Turnbull: It’s a very human tendency to want to put things in categories: This is alive and this other thing is not alive. But those categories are artificial. The Universe does not know anything about those categories.

We want to be thinking in terms of a continuum. That continuum can be along whatever parameter — different behaviors, different relationships with other parts of the system. But defining life as a category — as something in a box and whatever is outside the box is non-life — will continue to produce exceptions.

By some definitions, a human would not even be considered to be alive. If only one human were in a box in space, there’d be no way that human could reproduce. A single human would in that instance not fully qualify as a life form.

Even though categorizing things according to specific characteristics is useful for organizing human thought, it will never allow us to describe the whole system. We need to get over our obsession with defining things as living and non-living.

Suzan Mazur: NASA’s official definition for life is no longer still limited to “a self-sustained chemical system capable of undergoing Darwinian evolution,” is it?

Maggie Turnbull:
All I can say is, if NASA has an official definition of life, I don’t agree with it, and neither does life.

Suzan Mazur:
Would you know if NASA is still financing and otherwise supporting research pegged to the Darwinian model?

Maggie Turnbull:
I don’t know exactly what you mean by “pegged to the Darwinian model.” NASA supports research in genetics and in mechanisms that allow for survival in extreme conditions.

It’s really all about our collective desire to investigate things and the technology catching up as well as our understanding of how the Universe works. Scientists in many ways are their own worst enemies. There’s so much disagreement in the scientific community because of all the objectives being pursued simultaneously. Often the result is a loss of focus. Scientists end up rehashing the same questions and the mission disappears.

For example, the mission concept I’ve been developing the past few years is one where most of the technologies are now available and it’s a matter of organizing those technologies to demonstrate that they can be effective in combination to observe Earth-like planets around nearby stars. Not far-away stars like with Kepler, but the stars you can see with your naked eye. In order to do that we need a more collective agreement that we’re going to invest in such a mission.

Suzan Mazur: Funding of origin of life research is increasingly a contentious issue because there’s a schism between the neo-Darwinists on one side and on the other many of the evo-devo scientists, symbiogeneticists, geologists, mechanical engineers, natural scientists, cognitive scientists, linguists and others. Would you comment?

Maggie Turnbull:
I don’t know much about it. I’m really an astronomer at heart. My focus is on the stars. I have very simple objectives when it comes to finding habitable planets and whatever the biologists want to say about the evolution of life is fine with me. At the end of the day though nothing matters until we find it.

Suzan Mazur:
Until we find what?

Maggie Turnbull: Until we find life on another planet.

Suzan Mazur:
So you don’t think that much about origin of life issues.

Maggie Turnbull: I think about origin of life, but personally I’m more interested in exploring other environments and finding out whether there are life form systems there. Evolutionary biologists would get a lot out of that search as well. I’m looking for the variety of life in the Universe.

Suzan Mazur: How much of science would you say is social momentum, i.e., not objective?

Maggie Turnbull: I would say a lot of it is social momentum because science is about a community of thinkers. By thinkers I mean scientists as well as non-scientists. Because when the American public is keenly interested in something, it is much easier for Congress to make the case for funding it. What scientists want, however, often does not concur with what the public wants. I don’t mean to be harsh in saying this, but the truth is that when scientists want to do what they want to do, they try to sell it as something the public should care about.

It takes so long to get a PhD and to build a career in science. Once that’s achieved, a scientist is hemmed-in as far as what they’re expert at and able to work on. A scientist can’t easily reorient their research just because the American public wants to study something else. So scientists try to persuade Congress to pay for the research they want because that’s what they know how to do. Scientific progress thus is 99% a wait for consensus.

Currently the Discovery Institute (intelligent design headquarters) is working hard to spread these questions and answers through their creationist internet silo. But you have to wonder why – because Suzan Mazur does tend to discredit herself with her questions, doesn’t she?

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Moral strawmannery

If you have ever searched the internet for a section of text from Darwin’s writings you will have noticed that most of the links that come up are to creationist websites and blogs. What we are seeing is simple dishonest quote mining. Somebody makes a claim about evolution, Darwin or Darwinism, attaches a mined quote – and the quote then has a life of its own. It gets repeated ad nauseum by the creationist echo chamber – with hardly any of the users bothering to check the quote against the original for accuracy – let alone context.

Mining quotes from Darwin

Here’s one taken from Darwin’s The Descent of Man.  It’s from Chapter IV: Comparison of the mental powers of man and the lower animals. In this Darwin discusses the evolution of a moral sense, sociability, social instincts and virtues, rules of conduct and religious beliefs. After arguing against the idea that a different social animal “if its intellectual faculties were to become as active and as highly developed as in man, would acquire exactly the same moral sense as ours” Darwin wrote:

“If, for instance, to take an extreme case, men were reared under precisely the same conditions as hive-bees, there can hardly be a doubt that our unmarried females would, like the worker-bees, think it a sacred duty to kill their brothers, and mothers would strive to kill their fertile daughters; and no one would think of interfering.” (Bold added)

Recently I have seen the quote reproduced by numerous religious apologists and creationists arguing against “secular morality.” (Almost always the section in bold is omitted – usually evidence that users are just copying and pasting from other apologist posts or articles). And they interpret this to mean that a moral and social code held by a human species that has evolved must be the same as the most basic of animals or insects.

See, for example Flannagan’s When Scientists Make Bad Ethicists and Weikhart’s Can Darwinists Condemn Hitler and Remain Consistent with Their Darwinism?  Flannagan asserts:

“it is unlikely that a loving and just person could command actions such as infanticide or rape whereas, evolution, guided only by the impersonal forces of nature, is not subject to such constraints.”

Weikart has made a reputation of ascribing the morality of Nazism to Darwin (he is the author of From Darwin to Hitler: Evolutionary Ethics, Eugenics, and Racism in Germany and Hitler’s Ethic: The Nazi Pursuit of Evolutionary Progress). He says:

“if morality is the product of these mindless evolutionary processes, as Darwin and many other prominent Darwinists maintain, then “I don’t think [they] have any grounds to criticize Hitler.””

And

“To natural selection killing your siblings and offspring is all the same as loving them. Selection only favors what works to enhance survival and reproduction, and it does not matter if it is nice and moral, or harsh and brutal.”

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Designer spin

The absolute gall of some of those who attack science often amazes me. I guess their attitude is that if they are in for a penny they may as well be in  for a pound. Once someone starts lying its very hard to stop. The lies just get worse.

But this headline at Uncommon Descent had me laughing -  Darwinism’s Eroding Monopoly In Academia. Especially when I saw their “evidence” – a quote from a Times Education Supplement (TES) article:

“One in 20 first-year biology students at Glasgow University don’t believe in the theory of evolution, according to new research.”

Really! Just 5% of first year students at Glasgow University admit to not believing in evolutionary science – and this is news! It’s suddenly “evidence” that “Darwinism” is losing its near universal acceptance in academia!

And, according to the TES article:

“When asked why they rejected evolution, 41 per cent [of the 5%] said they believed there was an alternative explanation for the diversity of life, while a third [of the 5%] said they simply had insufficient knowledge of evolution.”

So this means that 2% of these first year students “believed there was an alternative explanation for the diversity of life.” Those are the anti-Darwin believers who are eroding “Darwinism” in academia. Two percent! And a similar number just admitted their ignorance (always a good start).

Given that religious attitudes are still very common in Scotland and a significant proportion of Christians actually do reject evolutionary science, I am surprised that such a small proportion of these students admitted to not believing in evolutionary science.

Come on! Only Five percent (5%) of these first year students said they did not believe in evolution. Just imagine how much smaller that percentage will be on graduation!

And these intelligent design (ID) spin merchants claim this is evidence for “Darwinism’s Eroding Monopoly In Academia”!

In the same vein of dishonesty another ID spokesperson referred to the TES article quoting Alastair Noble, director of the Centre for Intelligent Design. He said intelligent design – unlike evolution, was “a non-dogmatic, non-religious position.” (see Intelligent Design on the Rise Among Scottish University Students?)

Funny how these people attempt to label science as religious and deny that their own positions are based on their own religious beliefs.  Noble is an Educational Consultant with CARE in Scotland – a Christian charity which works across a range of public policy issues. He is also a lay preacher, an elder at Cartsbridge Evangelical Church, Busby.

With such silly spin in their political claims can one take these people seriously for their scientific claims?

Answer – you can’t.

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Killing off Darwin?

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Book Review:

The End of Darwinism by Eugene G. Windchy
US$14.39
ISBN-10: 1436383684

Published May 12, 2009
Xlibris Corporation

logoiya

YoS2009 is an important year for science. It is the Year of Science, the International Year of Astronomy and the Darwin year. The latter because both the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth (February 12) and the 150th year of publication  of his major book The Origin of Species (November 24) occurs.

So there has been a whole host of events and publications devoted to Darwin, his life, his writings and his science. There has been discussion on how his ideas fit into society and philosophy, the affects on society, politics and religion, and their relevance to modern society. There are some great articles and videos accessible on the internet. And then there are the books on Darwin and evolutionary science which have been, or will be, published this year.

But, of course, there are also the naysayers. Those hostile to science in general or just evolutionary science in particular. Almost always religiously motivated, these people have also been mobilising this year. Although the results have been comparatively negligible.

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The wedge undermines Christianity

phillip-johnsonBecause of the summer solstice/New Year holidays I am reposting some older articles. This one from last May.

Back in 1999 Phillip E. Johnson, the godfather of intelligent design (ID), declared a strategy of labeling evolutionary science, and therefore by implication all of science, as atheistic.

“The objective is to convince people that Darwinism is inherently atheistic, thus shifting the debate from creationism vs evolution to the existence of God vs the non-existence of God. From there people are introduced to ‘the truth’ of the Bible and then ‘the question of sin’ and finally ‘introduced to Jesus.’”

200px-wedge_document_coverIn essence this is the same strategy as that outlined in the Wedge Strategy document.

ID spokespeople have constantly pushed this argument. Recently their efforts have become more extreme. For example, the message in ‘that silly movie’ Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed that “Darwinism” led directly to Nazism and the holocaust. And these spokespeople have become more open in widening their attacks from “Darwinism” to all of science.

Ben Stein declared during a recent TV interview that “science leads to killing people.” David Berlinski in The Scientific Embrace of Atheism also attacks science in a manner John Derbyshire shows to be ridiculous (see Getting It Wrong about Atheism and Science). Denys O’Leary has written in similar nasty way with her references to “Darwinist” thugs (see Expelled: “Denormalizing” the Darwin thugs and Expelled: “Denormalizing” the Darwin thugs 2 – PZ Myers and friends).

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Thoughts after watching “Expelled”

I recently watched the film Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. As expected from most reviews I have seen I found the film profoundly dishonest. It’s very much ideologically driven, using the old “when are you going to stop beating your wife?” approach. We are used to such tactics in political propaganda but it’s a lot worse here because this propaganda film targets science – the source of human knowledge.2007-07-09-wheel_of_misfortune

However, it got me thinking. The film claims that there are many scientists who support creationist/intelligent design (ID) ideas. But I can’t remember personally encountering a single scientist supporting these ideas in my whole scientific career. Religious door-knockers – yes. But no scientists. I came across scientists who believed in astrology, spirits and ghosts. I came across scientists who had racist or sexist beliefs. I even came across one who was a member of the Act party! But never a scientist who believed the creationist/ID story.

I know they are out there – after all three New Zealanders signed the Discovery Institutes’s Dissent from Darwinism petition. But clearly, the number of scientists supporting such ideas is very much smaller than Expelled implies.

US survey of scientists

Perhaps the proportion of US scientists supporting creationism/ID is greater – after all that’s where most of the political controversy occurs on this issue. But, again, I think this proportion is overblown by the propaganda in Expelled.

A recent survey of Texan scientists – specifically biology and anthropology faculty members of Texan public universities and the largest private institutions – provides some interesting figures (Download report – Evolution, Creationism & Public Schools: Surveying What Texas Scientists Think about Educating Our Kids in the 21st Century).

Only about 2% expressed any degree of sympathy for creationism/ID (this included 1.4% who accepted much of evolution but wished to invoke “periodic intervention by an intelligent designer.” No of the scientists teaching at the graduate level supported creationism/ID.

This is particularly relevant because of the current attempts by creationists to introduce changes aimed at weakening the teaching of evolution into the Science Standards of the Texan Education Board . This is clearly a political action with no scientific justification or support.

But that is the nature of the ID controversy – it is a political controversy, not a scientific one.

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Lysenko and the creationists

I used to have a theory that you could deduce a writers political allegiance from the words and phrases they used. This provided a sport for me and some friends as we would attempt to deduce the political party membership of speakers. It didn’t work very well with the mainstream parties but we were quite successful with the minor parties. For example “at the end of the day” was often used by New Zealand First members and “the reality of the situation” by members of the Socialist Unity Party.paradigm

Francis Wheen, in his book: How Mumbo-Jumbo Conquered the World: A Short History of Modern Delusions, describes a similar situation during the early period of the Thatcher’s Tory government in the UK. He says that people were wise to cover their ears and run away whenever politicians or commentators of the day used the word paradigm as it was an indication  of dishonest, and often inhuman, policies. We had the same thing here in the 1980s with the phrase “there’s no other way.”

I react the same way to the words “paradigm,” “materialism,” “naturalism,” “Darwinist,” and “Darwinism.” They usually indicate to me a dishonest attempt to attack science and/or impose anti-scientific ideas.

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Dissent from Darwinism list – further analysis

I have commented before on the dissenters from Darwinism list. It is often used by creationists/intelligent design proponents as evidence for opposition to evolutionary science among scientists. (Sometimes scientists on the list are referred to as “brilliant”, or even “modern day Einsteins!”)

Of course, closer investigation shows that this list is not credible evidence for real opposition to evolutionary science (see Scientific dissent from . . . science? and Dissenters from Darwinism in context). And the motives of the signatories are usually religious rather than scientific (see Who are the “dissenters from Darwinism”?).

This video from DonExodus2 provides further useful analysis of the list. It shows that as evidence for scientific dissension it is really very pathetic.

List of Scientists Rejecting Evolution- Do they really? (10 min)

Similar articles:
Scientific dissent from . . . science?
Dissenters from Darwinism in context
Who are the “dissenters from Darwinism”?