Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Harball, Part Two

Meanwhile, on yesterday's Hardball, guest host David Gregory (who is so much better than Chris Matthews that he should really be the permanent host) discussed the matter with Eugenie Scott of the NCSE and Bruce Chapman of the Discovery Institute. The ufll transcriptis available here (be prepared to scroll down a bit). We'll consider a few excerpts:


GREGORY: Mr. Chapman, the shorthand in the intelligent design community is that you should teach the controversy. What is the controversy?

CHAPMAN: Well, first of all, we do not suggest and are not proposing that the schools should teach intelligent design. And, to that extent, we really want to emphasize that there are problems with evolution, per se, and that students really need to know the weaknesses and strengths, from a scientific standpoint, of Darwin‘s theory of evolution. That‘s the—that‘s the main issue. The other is a side issue.

GREGORY: That is the controversy—but is that the controversy that ought to be taught?

CHAPMAN: Yes.

GREGORY: In other words, that students ought to be taught that there are some holes in the theory of evolution?

CHAPMAN: They ought to be taught that there are—there is evidence for evolution, but there is also strong evidence, growing evidence against evolution.


The Discovery Institute has become quite adamant lately that they don't want to teach ID in science classes. That they are lying through their teeth on this point is made obvious by a simple thought experiment: Suppose the Supreme Court agreed to step out of the way completely on this issue. Further suppose that the DI was given a free hand to establish whatever curriculum they wanted for high school biology classes. Does anyone seriously believe that under such conditions the DI would give a fair presentation of evolution? Is there really any doubt that they would teach as The Truth the idea that there are aspects of natural history that can only be explained via an omnipotent designer?

I was very happy to see Gregory's next question:


GREGORY: What—what is that evidence?

(CROSSTALK)

CHAPMAN: There is all kind of evidence. In the peer-review science literature, it goes on for—you could pile it a foot, two, three feet high on everything from Haeckel‘s embryos to the gill slits to the peppered moth theory, to the Urey-Miller experiments, all these things that Jonathan Wells in his book Icons of Evolution refers to as icons, have serious problems.

GREGORY: All right. But—I‘m sorry. But that is hard to follow.

What is the bottom line? What does that tell us?

CHAPMAN: Well, the bottom line is that scientists increasingly recognize that there are serious problems with Darwin‘s theory as a way of explaining life and the universe. And, therefore, we think that people ought to be able—particularly, students—to know that there are these serious and growing instances of evidence against Darwin‘s theory.


Wow! Evidence three feet high in the peer-reviewed literature against evolution. I think I do a reaosnable job of keeping up with what's in the literature. How could I have missed all that?

Of course, the examples he cites are pathetic. Peppered-moth theory? Please. The peppered moths are simply one out of thousands of known examples of natural selection in the wild. It is used in science textbooks both for its historical significance and for its relative simplicity. The criticisms levelled by ID folks in this regard are total bunk, but even if they weren't how would that constitute evidence against evolution?

Likewise for Chapman's other examples. It is convenient that Chapman explicitly used Jonathan Wells' book to bolster his point here. Every serious claim Wells made in his book has been shown to be total nonsense.

Chapman's next answer is revealing:


GREGORY: Is intelligent design a scientific theory?

CHAPMAN: Well, first of all, I want to say again that we are proposing that Darwin‘s theory be taught. We are not proposing that intelligent design be taught in high schools. But it is a robust and interesting scientific theory, that is intelligent design, that certainly should be in the universities and seminars in robust kinds of dialogues that take place. And people have a right to know that, too, and to be protected.


I wish Gregory has followed up by asking why, if Chapman believes that ID is a scientific theory, he is so adamant about not teaching it in science classes.

Scott finally got a chance to speak later on:


GREGORY: Do you believe that this is a controversy?

SCOTT: Well, by saying it is parity doesn‘t make it so.

The bottom line is that the Discovery Institute wants teachers to pretend to students that there is a nonexistent debate going on among scientists about whether evolution happened. And that simply is not happening. And you don‘t have to take my word for it.

I would suggest anybody who is interested in this go to your local university or community college library and just pick up a half-a-dozen science journals and see if any of those articles are discussing—arguing over whether evolution took place.

What you will find—and this is where the ground definitely gets trampled and muddied—is scientists arguing about how evolution takes place, the pattern the tree of life takes. That is what all this hand-waving about Haeckel‘s embryos and peppered moth and stuff is about. We are arguing about the details. We are not arresting about the whether.

But that is what these people want to us tell children is going on.

And it simply is not true.


Well said. I would simply have added that when scientists argue about the “how” questions, the problem is that there are potentially many possible mechanisms through which evolution might have acted, but in specific cases it is often difficult to discern the correct one. This is in stark contrast to the view the ID folks want to promote, in which the whole idea of a naturalistic explanation is so absurd that we must resort to ID.

There are some other interesting points in the transcript, and I invite you to follow the link and read the whole thing.

7 Comments:

At 4:37 PM, Anonymous Some Guy said...

Like the blog, just reading it for the first time.

I teach rhetoric and am getting up to speed on this "debate" -- although it sounds more like reasoned people trying to talk through diatribes -- and some of the moves the IDers are making are fascinating to me.

For instance, it seems from this post about Hardball that IDers are trying to turn the fact that evolutionary theory cannot explain everything into a proof of god, which is at base an appeal to ignorance. But more significantly, that strikes me as, long term, an incredibly poor basis on which to contend the existence of a creator: Evolution isn't a perfect explanation of every detail of natural history, ergo god exists?

As a negative proof, I would think that would weaken, not strengthen, the case for a creator.

Also, IDers seem to criticize a evolutionary science for not being more like a religion, as in having a complete answer to all of life's questions. And were IDers owning up to their creationist contentions, one could dismiss that as misjudging science by religious criteria for certainty. Yet they profess to be talking about science. So again, that would be a simple problem of logical inconsistency. But big picture, it would also seem to undercut their real desires because they are inviting narratives of god to be testable hypotheses, which is ludicrous.

It is this amazing train wreck of cross-purposes and pretzel logic.

 
At 12:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Some Guy:
Religious arguments about science are a rich source of fallacious reasoning.

A recent example has been posted on Tech Central Station this week, and drawn many critical responses. What especially interested me was the author's phrase 'theory of origins'. When I looked over the article, I realized that I wasn't clear if he meant 'theory of the origin of life', which is not what evolution is, or 'theory of the origins of species', which would apply to the theory of evolution, or even 'theory of the origins of humanity', which has long been contentious. Rhetorical fog, I like to call it. I'm sure the ancient Greeks had a better term for it.

VKW

 
At 5:08 PM, Anonymous EmmaPeel said...

Chapman's weaselly statements about how the DI has nothing to do with religion are similar to what their other spokespeople have been saying on radio talkshows lately: We don't want to teach ID. We have no religious commitments. It's just a scientific dispute. Teach our controversy.

If I hadn't been following creationism vs. evolution for several years now, I'd really wonder why these guys even CARE about the issue at all!

So, to preserve my sanity, I went to the Wayback Machine and compiled some of their statements from back when the CRSC first got started & put them on my site. They were refreshingly upfront & honest about what they were trying to accomplish. They were out to save society from the devastating effects of not having enough people believe that we're ruled by a supernatural overlord.

 
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