Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Pardi on Anti-ID Hysteria

The Discovery Institute blog has a link up to a blog entry by Paul Pardi criticizing ID critics. The Discovery institute's John West introduces the post this way:

Paul Pardi has an excellent post on his blog discussing the hysterical rhetoric of many critics of intelligent design (ID). Reading Pardi's comments, one has to wonder why the most vocal critics of ID are so bitter, angry, and defensive. If the evidence for their views is so overwhelming, why are they so insecure?

That caught my eye. I'm a pretty vocal critic of ID, but I am neither bitter nor defensive nor insecure. I am angry, however. I think my anger is well-justified by the relentless dishonesty of outfits like The Discovery Institute.

So I was curious to see what Pardi could have said to receive such praise. We will consider a few of his remarks here. Not to ruin the suspence, but I'm about to give Pardi some more ammunition.

After some introductory paragraphs Pardi offers us this:

Criticisms of ID range anywhere from calling the theory “pseudoscience” (see to referring to anyone who suggests that ID should perhaps be considered as idiots or imbeciles. Jay Matthews wrote an article for the Washington Post recently entitled “Who’s Afraid of Intelligent Design.” In a follow up piece entitled, “Intelligent Design, Unintelligent Me,” he describes the scene after the editorial was posted. “Well, the minute the op-ed appeared the e-mails started popping up on my computer, right under the coconut ape with a ball and bat that sits atop my IBM. At last count there were about 400 of them. Most said they had the unfortunate duty to tell me that I was an idiot.” ( He goes on to describe how one reader lumped Matthews in with the rest of the “imbecilic do-gooders” who promote ID. What’s amusing is that Matthews wasn’t really promoting ID at all. He was promoting the debate that ID might create in the classroom. Imagine the response he’d get if he suggested ID might have merit!

So Exhibit A in his case for the hysteria of ID critics is the hearsay testimony of a single Washington Post columnist describing some nameless e-mailers. Strong evidence.

I have no doubt that some of Matthews' e-mailers were quite rude. But the fact remains that Mattehws made several serious errors of fact in his essay; errors that demonstrated that he really didn't understand the issue he was writing about. You can find these errors detailed in this entry over at The Pandas Thumb.

Moving on we come to this:

One of the more amusing bloggers to come down hard on ID is Brian Leiter. Leiter’s histrionics over ID are unparalleled on the web as far as I can tell. He’s called ID theorists pathological liars, propagandists, con men, “scientists,” swindlers, and more. Leiter can’t even see fit to use the proper name of the Discovery Institute without showing his disdain (he always writes the name as Discovery [sic] Institute.) Sort of reminds me of religious popularizers who refer to evolution as “evil-ution.”

Leiter is the only ID critic Pardi mentions by name. Which is peculiar, since Leiter doesn't actually write very much about ID. Typically he simply links to other people (especially P. Z. Myers) who do write about the subject.

And of course, it's okay to refer to people as “pathological liars, propagandists and con men” if that is what they actually are. It has been documented over and over again that almost nothing the major ID proponents are saying is true. It has been shown time and again that they routinely misrepresent the ideas of prominent scientists. Calling them liars and the like is not an idle insult. It's a simple and clear statement of the truth.

But since Pardi's delicate little ears shrivel at the sound of some harsh rhetoric, I'm sure we can look forward to a subsequent post where he takes the ID folks to task for their own frequent, and, yes, entirely unjustified, name-calling.

The fact is, what matters are the merits of the arguments each side is making. Pardi doesn't get into that at all. He sees some name-calling from my side and never even considers whether the names are justified.

Pardi then tries to figure out just what it is about ID folks that have people on my side of this so angry. Since he seems to dismiss out of hand the possibility that it is the grotesque distortion of the basic facts of biology so common in ID writing that has my side angry, he tries out two other explanations:

First, it seems that people see ID as religion in new clothing. It’s Creationism sexied up for the new millennium. Many people view the popularizing of ID as introducing religion into the cultural dialogue under the auspices (and perhaps using the language of) science. What’s interesting is that the emotion that’s generated isn’t curiosity but fear and anger. Again, these are the same emotions that so many religious people felt when evolution started to take hold. Its déjà vu all over again only with the players on the opposite sides of the field. Just as the religious saw evolution as a threat and bitterly attacked the idea, so Darwinists (and certainly other groups) are attacking the idea of ID as a dangerous poison that shouldn’t even be considered. Many that do consider it do so not in an even-handed, rigorous evaluation of the theory but with the goal of showing that it is obviously wrong. Many times it seems the judgment on ID is made before the view is even considered.

Who are these people Pardi is talking about? I, for one, have spent a ridiculous amount of time over the last few years reading just about every book and essay ID proponents have put out. It is not lack of curiosity that leads me to write this blog or spend so much time refuting ID arguments. My emotions are riled up because to anyone who knows even a little bit about biology and mathematics it is clear that the arguments offered by ID folks are ridiculous. ID arguments ARE obviously wrong.

And absolutely no one is arguing that “the idea of ID” is a dangerous poison. At the risk of being repetitive, it is specific arguments about irreducible complexity and complex specified information and the like that are being argued against.

You'll notice that Pardi does not give a single example of someone on my side of this behaving in the manner he describes. What he is doing is assuming a pose that is common among people who want to seem very learned but who actually do not know what they are talking about. Rather than do the hard work of figuring out who is right and who is wrong about the basic facts of biology, he simply turns up his nose and attacks the rhetoric of one side. So cheap. So lazy.

So what's the second reason?

The second main reason for the reaction is that some apparently see ID as a direct assault on the neo-Darwinian model and on science itself. ID is by definition non-scientific (so the claim goes) and so to introduce the theory as a possible alternate to evolution is to compare apes with angels. “Imagine what would happen to sound reasoning” the Darwinian defender might wonder “if we attempted to argue scientific facts with the religious as if they were in the same class of knowledge claims?” So the lines tend to be drawn: the modern (which, of course, is always good), reasonable, scientifically-minded, evolutionist on the one side and the archaic, faith-driven, fantasy-minded intelligent design theorists on the other. Putting ID on the same footing as evolution is like attempting to decide cases of law by using the Old Testament.

ID is rather explicitly an attack on the Neo-Darwinan model of evolution and it is indeed unscientific. But that's not why it shouldn't be introduced as an alternative to evolution. It shouldn't be so introduced because (A) It's main claims are completely false and (B) It offers no alternative explanation for anything beyond the assertion that God did some unspecified thing at some unspecified point in time.

After that, Pardi simply descends into some slurs of his own. He objects that ID critics are being unfair to their opponents, but thinks nothing of invoking the hoariest stereotypes of people on my side of this. Lovely.

After all this, I wonder what Pardi's take on this subject is:

My take is that anyone who considers the matter and has done even a modicum of research in this area should clearly see that pure ID is not a religious hypothesis (it may have THEISTIC implications but it’s certainly not RELIGIOUS in its core proposal). Further, ID is not some fringe theory like denying the holocaust or belief in alien abductions. You may not agree with people like Dembski but you can’t reasonably suggest that the guy is a fringe nitwit. His The Design Inference is about as rigorous and challenging a book as one can find. I will also go so far as to say that ID really in no way threatens reasonable belief in evolution. Dawkins observed that evolution at least has the appearance of being guided and directed. Holding that this appearance might be attributable to an intelligence somewhere along the way doesn't seem to threaten the core tenets of evolutionary theory. I know many theistic evolutionists who hold both very consistently.

What ID does threaten is naturalism. And it is this threat that elicits the religious fervor in those that oppose ID in my opinion. (All Caps in original)

See my previous comment about Pardi not knowing what he is talking about.

First, evolution is barely mentioned at all in The Design Inference. In that book Dembski was laying out an eleaborate, quasi-mathematical framework for determining if a particular object or event had to be attributed to intelligent design. Demsbki makes no attempt to apply his apparatus to biological problems in that book. Since the gravest (but hardly the only) fault with Dembski's work is the impossibility of applying his ideas to any nontrivial real-world problem, citing TDI does nothing to suggest that ID is a serious scientific theory.

And, as numerous critics pointed out at the time, TDI was hardly “rigorous.” What Pardi meant to say was “technical.”

Second, sometimes fringe nitwits write challenging books. Indeed, one of the trademarks of fringe nitwittery is a desire to make one's writing as complicated as possible (to create the illusion of importance).

From there Pardi goes on to commit the classic equivocation over the term “Intelligent Design.” If, by that phrase, you mean simply that there is an intelligent force behind the order of the cosmos, then of course ID poses no threat to evolution.

But of course, that's not what Dembski and co. mean when they use the term. They have in mind a broad attack on the whole idea of common descent. And that, obviously is a threat to a reasonable belief in evolution.

Be very suspicious any time you read an essay attacking the rhetoric of unnamed people. It is a sure sign of intellectual laziness.


At 10:54 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The arguments used by ID are completely analogous to those used by right-wing fundies.

When George Bush says "people are attacking ...because...blah blah.."

I know that he is lying...of course when he says "hello I'm glad to be here" I know he's lying as well...

All these Anonymous "poeple" with their strange ideas....strawmen propped up t be knocked down...

At 6:14 PM, Anonymous Ivo said...

Some denominations can be an accusation as well as an insult. When accused of being a liar, people often defend themself by taking the position of being insulted, which implies the label is attached to them unjustly. In many persons, the response to this appeal to emotion seems to be that they contend that insults are never justified, rather than considering the denomination as a conclusion for which evidence has been offered. Therefore doing so is counterproductive, since people are upset by what they interpret as an insult and do not consider the evidence that was offered anymore. Unfortunately, it does make one feel good to label the opponent with a term indicating his moral inferiority, when you have enough evidence to consider the label just. I still can't prevent myself from doing so when I'm just sick and tired of explaining things to someone who just doesn't listen and basically does nothing but deny what I say. However, it would probably be more effective to abstain from the use of terms that are easily considered to be derogative.

At 2:35 AM, Blogger Ed Darrell said...

1. Mr. Leiter is a lawyer, a blogger chiefly on the philosophy of law. He blogs about the philosophy of getting things right. It is indeed telling that he is the only one specifically named in the article. ID focuses on philosophy, not science. And of course, in this area, ID is on the side of inaccuracy. That's why they have difficulty with Leiter.

2. Another of the chief complaints I have against ID is that it is very bad theology. I am a Christian, an active Christian, an evangelical. It is my view that it is blasphemous to use falsehood in defense of the faith, or in defense of God. It is my view that teaching falsehood is an abomination to God. I'm not hysteric by any measure -- but I do recognize that the fight against ID is a fight against evil. Mr. Pardi does not even consider the possibility he might be doing the work of evil. The unexamined life of ID . . .

At 12:44 PM, Blogger Luke said...

As someone who has sat in on a number of lectures by Paul Pardi in his college philosophy class, I was rather surprised to see the names Jason called him in his blog. This is not the Paul Pardi his students and fellow faculty members know so well. It appears that Jason does struggle with some of the emotional issues Professor Pardi and others have mentioned. As a psychologist by training, I would recommend Jason read Beckers "The Denial of Death" to grapple with some of this.


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