Category Archives: intelligent design

Dissecting pseudoscientific and political propaganda

Tactics used in anti-science and pseudoscience propaganda are essentially the same as used in political propaganda.

Everyone has their own ideological and political starting points – and none of us are really rational, even when we think we are. So we shouldn’t be surprised to find we are fully  in agreement with some people on one issue but on the opposite sides of the fence with the same people on other issues.

I often find this  in my on-line discussions . Some of my “allies” in the fight against pseudoscience (for example, in debunking anti-fluoride propagandists) will become my “opponents” when I discuss issues like the war in Syria. (I use quote marks because I do not feel any enmity towards discussion partners when the discussion is civil).

Nevertheless, I do not consciously separate my approaches to science and politics (and I guess my discussion partners would make the same claim). People can often be more resistant to anti-science propaganda because claims can be tested against reality. This is sometimes harder to do with political issues but if we don’t try we can be fooled by political propaganda. So, a recent article –  Dissecting the Propaganda on Syria – appealed to me as I immediately recognised that the tactics used by propagandists against the Syrian government are essentially the same as those tactics used by anti-fluoridation propagandists.

The article identifies three propaganda tactics:

1: Demonise the enemy

Those pushing pseudoscience do this continually. Scientists are claimed to be only in it for the money. How often do we hear the chant “follow the money” (and how hypocritical is this considering many of these propagandists are making money out of the “natural”/alternative health industry.


Anti-fluoride campaigner Paul Connett regularly charges NZ scientists with fraud – but he fraudulently distorts the evidence to do so.

Honest scientists are accused of fraud and researchers whose work contradicts the propaganda are personally attacked.

On Syria, we continually hear about the Syrian “regime” and its “brutal dictator” – despite the fact that the Syrian government and president have been elected. Words like “regime” instead of “government” are a way of demonising.

Responsibility for all the deaths in this war is often attributed solely to President Bashar al-Assad. This is absurd as these deaths also include those fighting on the government’s side. As the article says:

This propaganda “deems Assad responsible for everything, including the killing of Syrian soldiers by the armed opposition. This opposition, which is financed and armed by Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey and the U.S., includes extreme jihadist groups, including Al Qaeda’s longtime affiliate and the Islamic State. Yet, none of the leaders supplying these rebels – in defiance of international law – bears any blame for the death and devastation of Syria, according to” the propaganda.”

This demonisation of Assad is part of the interventionist strategy of “regime change.” We saw it before in Iraq and Libya. Liberal intervention to correct a wayward government appeals to many, and fools even more. After all, it is easy to find fault with the governments and leaders in these countries. But those who want regime change in Syria do everything to protect the regimes and leaders of other countries, like Saudi Arabia, with far greater violations of human rights. And the “regime change” doctrine violates the fundamental rights of people to decide their own government and leaders.


What better way to demonise advocates of community water fluoridation than to compare them to Hitler?

In a parallel way those anti-fluoride propagandists who demonise honest scientists can easily be found to be guilty of the very charges they lay against others. Aren’t these propagandists often paid shills for big business – the “natural”/alternative health industry? And don’t they frequently misrepresent and distort the science? Are they not the ones who should be charged with fraud?

2: Romanticise the opposition

Anti-fluoride propagandists continually describe themselves as fighters for truth who have “done their research.” They are fighting for natural, pure, food and water and against the wicked big business “fluoride industry” which is disposing their contaminated waste by dumping it in our water supply. And how often do we get the David vs Goliath analogy – even when it is the anti-fluoride activists who have dominated submissions to local bodies?

On Syria, our mainstream media

“portrays the conflict as a “civil war” which began with peaceful democracy-loving Syrian revolutionaries who were ruthlessly repressed by a brutal regime.

In reality, there was a violent faction from the start. In the first protests in Deraa, seven police were killed. Two weeks later there was a massacre of 60 security forces in Deraa.

In Homs, an eyewitness recounted the situation: “From the start, the protest movements were not purely peaceful. From the start I saw armed demonstrators marching along in the protests, who began to shoot at the police first. Very often the violence of the security forces has been a reaction to the brutal violence of the armed rebels.”

In the first two months, hundreds of police and security forces were killed. Yet, . . . the West’s mainstream media, ignores this reality because it clashes with the desired image of white-hatted protesters being victimized by a black-hatted government.”


Violence against the Syrian government occurred even during the early demonstrations.

This romanticisation is hardly suprising when we realise that most of our information on the Syrian war is coming from rebel or terrorist sources – or sources sympathetic to antigovernment fighters. Al Jazeera has reporters embedded in  “rebel”/”terrorist” militia forces. And so often our news reports cite “activists” or sources like the Aleppo Media Center, White Helmets, or the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights which are sympathetic to the rebels.

Similarly, anti-fluoride propagandists very often cite sources from their own anti-science side. Their hope is that their reliance on sources such as “NaturalNews”, The Health Ranger, the Fluoride Action Network and Mercola, and continuous promotion of articles from those sources, can be translated into a similar acceptance by our mainstream media.

3: Attack anyone who questions the dogma

Many health professionals who recognise community water fluoridation as a safe and effective social health measure refuse to speak up in its defence because this can lead to personal attacks. A dentist who recently took issue with the misinformation being promoted by an anti-fluoride group was told in an anonymous personal letter:

“How dare you try to shut the truth down, people like you are a total insult to the art of Dentistry.”

And that is a mild example. How often are people who attempt to inject some logic and fact into this argument accused of being “shills?” Or attacked in a memes on social media – almost always from behind a wall where they are banned from participating in the discussion or answering their critics.

Similarly, those who attempt to debate the “party line” on Syria are often accused of being “Asad supporters” or worse. I was recently described as being a “fanatical follower of the Soviet camp” when I attempted to argue that there are child casualties in the government-held west Aleppo as well as in the “rebel”terrorist” held east Aleppo. (Some readers may object to my use of the word “terrorist” in this context – but the fact is the anti-government “Army of Conquest” which unites all the “rebels forces” in the current battle for Aleppo is led by Al Nusra – officially recognised as a terrorist organisation by the Russian Federation, USA and the United Nations).

Such attacks are simply a way of shutting down honest discussion of this conflict. A way of preventing information undesired by our political leaders from getting through the propaganda we are exposed to. Such attacks are really just a neo-McCarthyist tool in the information war.

Anti-fluoride propagandists and their allies in the “natural”/alternative health industry use exactly the same tactic. By attacking and labelling honest scientists and others who attempt to debunk the pseudoscience propaganda they hope to intimidate people and raise doubts about the science. We have seen this before from climate change deniers and creationists. They also use such attacks to raise doubts about the science of evolution and the findings of climate scientists.


This article quotes a leader of the US Veterans of Peace:

The U.S. peace movement has been demobilized by disinformation on Syria.”

I think he is correct. The tactics of demonising the Syrian government and president, of romanticising the “rebels” by selective reporting of history and current events, and of attacking anyone who speaks out against such propaganda, has been very effective in muting opposition to this war and encouraging “regime change.”

While the same tactics being used by the anti-fluoride and similar pseudoscientific or anti-science movements has been less effective for the population at large it still resonates with many.

Such propaganda tactics need to be resisted.

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Sunday reading – Richard Dawkins reads some of his “fan mail”

This is a more recent version of Richard Dawkins reading some of his “fan mail.”

Don’t remember much of the first batch he read – but get the impression the language skills of fundamentalists has become even poorer in the intervening period.

Warning – explicit language.

via Love Letters to Richard Dawkins – YouTube.

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Determining scientific knowledge by petition

Some readers may be familiar with the “Scientific Dissent from Darwinism” petition organised by the Discovery Institute. It’s a classic example of trying to decide science by petition. The petition still gets trundled out by creationists attempting to “prove’ that the acceptance of evolutionary science is weak in the scientific community – or that many “brilliant” scientists oppose Darwin’s ideas.

Six years ago I did my own brief analysis of signatories to the petition specifically to check their scientific credentials (see Who are the “dissenters from Darwinism”?). I really only looked at a sample (those with the first name Steve, and the three from New Zealand).

The other day in my surfing I came across another analysis of these signatories at Rational Wiki (see A Scientific Dissent From Darwinism). This appears to have attempted to check the credentials of everyone on the list. It is worth having a browse to get an idea of what motivates these people..

By the way, I came across a new term I have not heard before – Wingnut welfare.

It is worth doing this sort of analysis when you come across similar petitions – the are common with those wanting to deny the current scientific consensus on an issue. Petitions like this have been produced by climate change deniers and opponents of fluoridation.

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Poisoning the well with a caricature of science

Spoiler alert – if you haven’t seen this video before have a look at it before reading on.

Continue reading

Dishonesty of intelligent design “research”

In my recent post Creationists prefer numerology to real scientific research I discussed the “research” approach used by those few scientists who are proponents of intelligent design. And I concluded:

“they ignore the normal honest research approach. They never advance a structured hypothesis, one that is consistent with intelligent design. They therefore never submit such hypothesis to any testing or validation.”


Michael Behe is Professor of Biological Sciences at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania. He works as a senior fellow with the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science & Culture.

Recently I noticed another blatant example of this lack of scientific honesty – the refusal to propose and test their own hypotheses of intelligent design. It’s a quote that seems to be going around the religious apologist bogs at the moment. For example, have a look at True Paradigm: Monday quote, The Big Bad Wolf, Theism and the Foundations of Intelligent Design – Page 13, or Still Speculating After All These Years at Contra Celsum.

It’s a quote from Michael J. Behe‘s book Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution – this is the short form.

“The overwhelming appearance of design strongly affects the burden of proof: in the presence of manifest design, the onus of proof is on the one who denies the plain evidence of his eyes.”

Michael J. Behe, Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution p 265.

Notice the problem?

Behe is asserting that he has no need to produce any evidence, outline a structured hypothesis, or do anything to test or validate his claim.

He simply has to make an assertion – based on nothing more than his claim of an “overwhelming appearance” (to him). Then it is up to those with different hypothesis to do all the work. To test his assertion (please note – a vague assertion – not a structured hypothesis) and prove him wrong.

Or else he declares his assertion correct by default!

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Dawkins’ new book

Richard Dawkins’ latest book is due out next September. The title – Childhood, Boyhood, Truth: From an African Youth to The Selfish Gene

It’s yet a new genre for Dawkins – autobiography. Mind you he has reached the age where people do tend to write memoirs and autobiographies.

Richard says  this book covers his life up to the  writing of The Selfish Gene.  There will be a second volume, published in 2015, covering the second half of his life.

I have enjoyed his other books and am looking forward to this one – especially as I have a special interest in scientific biography.

These two volumes will be a good read – he is an excellent writer and has had an interesting life, scientifically.

I wonder if it will get the same sort of emotional attacks his earlier books received?

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Creationists prefer numerology to real scientific research

Ian Wishart is a local “investigative’ journalist and well-known conspiracy theorist from way back. He’s dabbled in climate change, creationism, health, political, crime, and other issues. He’s a firm creationist and so it’s no surprise he has picked up on a recently published paper Scientists dumbstruck: signs of intelligent design in DNA code. No surprise because it’s currently being promoted by creationists and the Discovery Institute as some sort of proof of intelligent design. And Wishart is part of that echo chamber.

The paper itself is extremely dense – probably only fully intelligible to computational biologists and similar specialists. Fortunately, local science blogger Grant Jacobs, who has skills in this area,  has been through the paper and explains it in an article that is accessible to most people – see Investigate magazine struck dumb by numerology of genetic code. Have a read, you can see what the paper really says, what the problems are with it and make up your own mind about the degree to which Ian Wishart, and other creationists, have been fooled by it.

“Design inference” and “reinterpretation research”

I think there is a bit of a lesson here. Grant describes a basic problem with the paper.

“it rests on a false comparison of two options:

  1. Created by random chance
  2. Created by space aliens

This is set up so that if the first is unlikely, the second “must” be right.

The setting is rigged because these two aren’t all the possibilities. There is at least one more:

  1. Created by a non-random natural process (e.g. evolved)

To declare any one the ‘preferred’ choice they’d have to investigate all three possibilities, then compare what was found. But they don’t: they only look at the first then declare the second as the ‘winner’ without ever looking at the third.”

Anyone who has followed the so-called research carried out by intelligent design proponents may recognise this pattern. Discovery Institute senior fellow William A. Dembski even formulates the pattern as a basic way of detecting intelligent design. Creationists often call it the Design Filter. (He describes it in his book  The Design Inference: Eliminating Chance through Small Probabilities).

Usually the “design inference” boils down to:

  1. Reject chance – easy to set up statistics to show probabilities are extremely low. (For example, the chance of all atoms randomly combining to form a molecule of DNA at one instant is remote);
  2. Analyse any existing scientific explanation or mechanism to show it is wrong. (Easy to do by misrepresentation, choosing old research, ignoring alternatives, etc.);
  3. Accept design as the only, default, alternative. Therefore claim design has been “proved.”

Now, combine that approach with the other leg of intelligent design research – reinterpretation research.” This has extremely low overheads as it only involves taking published work, rubbishing it by misinterpretation, etc., and inventing a different interpretation of the facts to “prove” design.

In essence this is what all intelligent design “research” boils down to. At best it can only find possible problems in current understanding (which is surely the purpose of all research). It cannot support an alternative hypothesis.

So you can see the basic character of all the intelligent design publications they claim. Work which investigates possible problems with existing ideas in evolutionary science without offering, or even considering,  alternative hypotheses. Plenty of that around – put it on the list.

But they ignore the normal honest research approach. They never advance a structured hypothesis, one that is consistent with intelligent design. They therefore never submit such hypothesis to any testing or validation.

Yet they want to claim their ideas as science – and want to teach it to children in science classes!

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Does religion blur understanding of evolution?

Victor Stenger has a short, but important, blog post in the Huffington Post. Appropriately (because it’s about evolutionary science) dated February 12 – Darwin Day, 204th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth.

Stenger’s article, No Belief Gap, considers Gallup Poll data on the numbers of American who accept evolutionary science and who believe in a god. But in contrast to some commentators, he differentiates between those who see evolution as guided by their god or as a so-called “naturalistic” process – defined in the polls as: “Man has developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life [and] God had no part in the process.”

This is, of course, what we mean by evolutionary science. Guidance by gods, goblins, elves or whatever is not part of that science. (Nor is it currently part of any other science). The distinction is important and it is no accident that some religious apologists like Alvin Plantinga  misrepresent the issue and are trying to create the impression that “divine” guidance is an essential part of evolutionary science (see Naturalism and science are incompatible).

Stenger finds of those accepting a proper definition of evolutionary science:

“This is exactly the same percentage of Americans who declare themselves unaffiliated with any religion.

“It may be that the only Americans who accept naturalist evolution are those who do not participate in any organized religion.”

His last comment:

“Virtually all Christians who accept that species evolve, contrary to the Bible that they believe is the word of God, think evolution is God-guided. This is not Darwinian evolution. God-guided evolution is intelligent design creationism. How many American Christians believe in evolution, as it is understood by science? The data indicate none.”

Could we draw the same conclusion about New Zealand Christians? I would be interested to see similar poll data for our country.

See also: A specious argument for the comity of evolution and faith

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Education should never validate ignorance

Quite a concise and clear argument from Lawrence Krauss on the silly idea of giving equal time to creationism in a science classes (a big problem in his country – the USA). As he points out – the role of education is to overcome ignorance – not confirm it.

Teaching kids that the earth is 6000 years old, just because (in the USA) half the population believes it, is only validating ignorance. The fact is that half of the US population does not think the earth orbits the sun – they are clearly wrong but should that widespread belief mean that kids must be taught that mistake in their science classes?

Of course not.

That would be validating ignorance and is a form of child abuse.

Lawrence Krauss: Teaching Creationism is Child Abuse

Who is guilty of misusing science?

I know someone is going to accuse me of “scientism” for this. But I guess that goes with the science blogger’s job – and it’s a diversion anyway. It will hardly be the first time.

What I want to dispute here is the claim that “science cannot prove or disprove the existence of a god!”

Now, I have no problem with private belief. And many people no doubt retain this “limits of science” argument as part of their private belief. We all have beliefs or quirks which we don’t feel the need, or wish, to expose to critical investigation. That’s fine by me.

But I do object to those religious apologists who make this “limits of science” claim, but at the same time resort to arguments from scientific knowledge, or even just from reasoning, to claim their god belief is completely justifiable, and that my god disbelief is not. You, know – those who prattle on about “fine-tuning” of physical and cosmological constants, of evidence for an origin of the universe as “proof” of the existence of their god! Even those who claim the facts of “moral truths” prove their god! And then go on to rule “out of order” scientific arguments used by those who don’t believe.

Don’t these people realise they are claiming one rule for themselves (use of “scientific proof” argument) and denying the same to others by claiming “limits of science”? You would think the contradiction was obvious but there seem to be just as many (probably more) books, newspaper opinion pieces, etc., out there claiming science has proved the existence of a god as there are claims that such subjects are “outside the limits of science.”

I think both claims are unjustified – they are just emotionally motivated “logic” arguing for, and protecting, a preconceived belief.

The “Scientific proof” of the theologian

The scientific proof of the religious apologist amounts to nothing more than weak claims that “the evidence of an Intelligent Designer is all around us.” Or that scientific explanations of life and the universe have huge gaps. That somehow when a scientist says “I don’t know” this “proves” the religionist’s myth-based belief must be true – bugger the need for evidence or validation of ideas.

That’s not scientific proof! You need to do a lot more than just badmouth scientific theories. In science you actually need to advance a structured hypothesis. One based on evidence that makes predictions which can be tested against reality. Hypotheses and ideas that stand up to scrutiny, are open to modification, even outright abandonment, in the light of evidence.

You know, the sort of science which leads to publications and conference presentations.


That sort of hypothesis would surely show a serious attempt to approach the questions scientifically – even if we were forced to acknowledge that we did not have the technology or mental capacity to provide a good answer. Whereas at the moment such talk of scientific proofs for gods is

The “limits of science”

As for the “limits of science” argument – this is never properly justified. If their god is part of objectively existing reality then surely the scientific approach is an acceptable way of investigating the claim. Of course science may not be up to that job. There are certainly areas which it finds difficult to investigate now – and there are potentially areas we may never be able to investigate because of limits in our technology and our intelligence. But at the moment the scientific approach is the best one we have to investigate difficult aspects of reality. And if science cannot sort things out then no-one has yet been able to produce an alternative, a specific “other way of knowing,” which could do the job – have they?

Yes, I know, these Sophisticated TheologiansTM have some clever arguments. Their god is outside space and time. Outside the universe. Therefore we have no way of investigating it. No way of detecting it even.

The obvious question that comes to my mind is “How do you know that? You seems to be so certain – what evidence do you have.” And isn’t this another one rule for me, another for you argument? After all –  you claim that god is answering your prayers, influencing events in the world, helping believers win races and overcome illness. Even causing a few hurricanes or earthquakes to discipline us for sinning! Going in for a bit of smiting! If that is the case your god is leaving an evidential trail which science can investigate.

But if you god is truly outside time and space, outside the universe, not only would we not be able to detect it, it would not have any influence here – would it? Haven’t you gone overboard in your attempt to protect your god from scientific investigation. You have ended up in defining your god out of any practical existence!

So before you start chanting “scientism” – ask yourself who is guilty of scientism? Of using science inappropriately?

Surely it is the religious apologist who claims “scientific proof” which is not at all scientific. Or who claims they know things about reality which they cannot possibly know. That they have an alternative “way of knowing” which can produce Truth with a capital T – but which they cannot even describe.

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