Monday, October 24, 2005

Calvert on Lying

By way of William Dembski's blog, I've come across this amusing document (PDF format) by ID proponent John Calvert. It is entitled, “Are We Liars?” thereby showing a level of introspection I thought was beyond most ID proponents.

There are a few nuggets here that merit a response:


Our real motivation is relevant, because, we may actually have motive X but be asking for Y, when we expect eventually to get X by first getting Y. To advance this kind of cause we must manipulate and misinform.

It seems that adversaries of ID are particularly guilty of this. They claim to want to do good science but they actually want to promote the ideology of materialism. We know this to be the case because the EFFECT of their behavior is to allow only a materialistic explanation at the expense of doing bad historical science (science that does not allow objective consideration of the principle competing possibility).


The insanity of this argument becomes obvious if you imagine making it with regard to any other scientific theory. Are we promoting the ideology of materialism when we teach students the germ theory of disease? Or the heliocentric model of the universe? Of course not.

The fact is that materialism is a philosophy that holds that material forces are all there are, and that there is nothing that is outside nature. Evolution is a theory that explains how complex organisms can arise, via well-understood natural mechanisms, from a population of relatively simple organisms billions of years ago. These are plainly not the same. In fact, they have little to do with one another.

Before moving on, we should also note Calvert's blatant logical error in this paragraph. The effects of an action do not necessarily tell us anything about the motives of the people taking that action. Duh.


Now when we claim that we have no religious motive and just want to do good science, I think we appear to be like those we criticize. Even though we may have no intention to replace materialism with theism, it looks like that is what we really want to do. Now we genuinely do not want to do that, in science. Maybe in the culture through honest competitions, but not in science. I think we all agree that science must always remain tentative and objective. What we want to do is to replace an ideology that is damaging credible science with objectivity that will restore its respect as an effective investigative institution. We do not want to replace an ideology with another ideology.


A more accurate statement would be to say that they don't really care about scientific investigation one way or the other. Instead they care about coopting some of science's prestige as a tool for promoting their own religious views in the culture.

I invite Calvert to explain how ID can be used to promote effective investigations into scientific questions. As I have pointed out many times in this blog, scientists are among the most pragmatic people in the world. They believe in whatever works. Contrary to the bloviations of hacks like Calvert, evolution survives only because it consistently leads to results in the field and the lab. It has this in common with every other scientific theory used by professionals in their work. ID, by contrast, has never enlightened anyone about anything.

From here Calvert launches in to the usual blather about institutional discrimination and the like. Nothing new here, just the usual nonsense about how oppressed Christians are in this country.

Then we come to this:


When we say that the data does not identify the designer that is a true statement when your focus is only on the science. DNA dose not bear a signature or copyright notice. Furthermore, because all scientific claims are tentative and because the singular events in question are remote unobserved and unobservable events that are not amenable to experimental testing one can not even be certain that the system is designed, from a scientific standpoint. To say that we know who the designer is, in my mind, a purely religious and not scientific claim. So, we should not be quarreling among ourselves about who the designer is when we are asking science to get rid of an irrefutable materialistic prejudice.


Did Calvert just give away the store here? We can't be certain, from a scientific standpoint, that a system really was designed? That's certainly not what people like Michael Behe and William Dembski have been telling us all these years. Their line is that the identity of the designer and the existence of the designer are two separate questions, the former being unanswerable, the latter having been answered with a definitive yes.

Perhaps Calvert is making the general point that “scientific certainty” is simply not something you can reasonably have about events from the past. If that is his point, then he is simply wrong. After all, we routinely send people to jail based entirely on circumstantial evidence. I'm sure Calvert believes that we can have so much evidence about what happened in the past that it is reasonable to talk about certainty.

Concerning the identity of the designer, we should remind Calvert that the designer of ID is said to be responsible for jiggering with the fundamental constants of the universe. He is therefore not bound by natural laws, and can change them at his will. So ID does tell us something about the designer, specifically that he is supernatural. That may not be the God of Christianity, but it is certainly God in some sense. The unwillingness of ID folks to be forthright on this point (as shown by their embarrassing insistence that space aliens are a viable option for the role of designer) does indeed amount to dishonesty.

Finally, we come to this:


My guess is that some believe that once the playing field is level, that scientific theories based on religious claims will not be given an opportunity to be heard. That could be the case. However, the opportunity for a careful, competitive and truly scientific examination of radiometric dating, common ancestry and similar issues will then never be greater. If the playing field is truly level, then we should want all legitimate scientific views represented on the field so that those views can be rigorously tested per a scientific method not laden with preconceptions.


Back here on planet Earth, ideas like radiometric dating and common ancestry have, indeed, been put through the ringer and they have emerged victorious. Creationist arguments and theories have not been ignored, and they have not bee refuted by appeal to some materialist preconception. The fact is that if it were discovered that evolution as we know it is totally and irretrievably wrong, it wouldn't change the fact that creationists are raving scientific ignoramuses.

It's interesting, though, that radiometric dating is put alongside common ancestry as something that is currently not being given a truly scientific examination. I trust this will put to rest the idea that ID folks accept the ancient Earth, in contradistinction with their more ignorant creationist forebears.

There's a bit more to the article than I have quoted here, so go have a look. Calvert is merely repeating standard ID talking points. As with most of ID's mindless parrots, his criticisms of modern science reside not upon a foundation of actual experience in professional scientific work, but rather in a handful of media-tested buzzwords and catchphrases. Typical ID shamelessness.

13 Comments:

At 6:07 PM, Anonymous PaulC said...

The insanity of this argument becomes obvious if you imagine making it with regard to any other scientific theory. Are we promoting the ideology of materialism when we teach students the germ theory of disease? Or the heliocentric model of the universe? Of course not.

This is the part that eludes me. For instance, why aren't they demanding that a vitalist alternative be taught in schools?

While vitalism is widely claimed to be discredited, there are gaping holes in our understanding of how you get from a single embryonic cell to a full-grown organism. We know the cell has DNA that encodes for proteins, and we know what some of them do, and we assume that their interactions are sufficient to determine phenotype, but we're a long way from taking a DNA sequence and predicting phenotype. It might as well happen by magic. We'll be very lucky the day we just learn enough about this to cure most cancers.

For some reason, though, it's OK to call the rest of biology a work in progress. It's just the origins questions that get these guys worried. Why?

Moreover, "the EFFECT of [failing to teach vitalism] is to allow only a materialistic explanation" for the functioning of living things. Such an explanation would have been considered revolutionary a few centuries ago, and is still rejected intuitively by many people if you just go by their practices.

Oddly enough, though, the ID people eagerly embrace the notion of living things as material machines, particularly when they can make vague analogies to outboard motors and so forth. I think they fancy this makes their work sound more "scientific." But doesn't this also have the EFFECT of allowing only a materialistic explanation for anything outside of origins questions?

I would argue that the EFFECT of good science is to shed light on what is actually going on and rule out what is not going on. If, in fact, the explanation is material, then this, sadly, will be the only explanation allowed given sufficient scientific investigation.

 
At 6:45 PM, Anonymous Skip said...

"What we want to do is to replace an ideology that is damaging credible science with objectivity that will restore its respect as an effective investigative institution."

What complete rubbish. I wasn't aware of any great need to "restore its respect," to anyone except bozos like Calvert who find their little worlds threatened by real science.

What a dork.

 
At 6:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, what do you expect from an expert on lying?

Why do you suppose clowns like Calvert and Luskin are unwilling to discuss their bogus claims in any other context except in a debate about the alleged shortcomings of Darwinism?

Has anyone from the Discovery Institute ever participated in a discussion about the "theory" that the Discovery Institute and its "science research program" is just a cloak for theocracy promotion?

Of course not.

That is because the subject of such debates strikes too close to home and Calver and his lying cohorts would not be allowed to change the subject to a discussion of the gaps in scientific theories or other evasive nonsense.

Recently we saw how the level of sincerity at the DI has dropped so low that even the jihadists at the Thomas More Law Center were calling them out on their crap (see, e.g., the ACLU of Pennsylvania home page).

Poor Calvert. He's too old and brainwashed to know the difference between a lie for Jesus and a disgusting smear of scientists and Christians who aren't a member of his sad cult.

 
At 6:58 PM, Anonymous Mike said...

This letter seems to be a veiled warning to YECs to "stay on message" (i.e. stop talking about God) regarding "big tent" creationism - i.e. "you'll get your chance to present your 'scientific' theories after we've defeated 'scientific materialism'. Of couse, as Jason says, the battle over YEC, even if they manage to redefine the very meaning of science, was done long ago.

 
At 6:19 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Calvert's a lawyer right? Aren't they supposed to be concerned with attention to detail? Don't you think he should have spell-checked his post? Not to mention his inability to tell the differece between 'principle' and 'principal'.

"Perhaps Calvert is making the general point that “scientific certainty” is simply not something you can reasonably have about events from the past."

I'm certain the sun was shining 8 minutes ago, but that's in the past and hence unobserved and unobservable, according to Calvert.


"For instance, why aren't they demanding that a vitalist alternative be taught in schools? "

Because, in America at least, that would be considered much more absurd than anti-evolution, and hence not a viable political tactic. In most of the developed world, of course, anti-evolutionism is equally absurd.

 
At 7:50 AM, Anonymous drakvl said...

The thing about lawyers is, they aren't required to take any courses on logic. (I know this from asking my father, a lawyer, about it.)

Though to be sure, we can only ever be sure that the sun was shining 8 minutes ago; that's how long it takes the sun's light to travel to earth! (Sorry, a sudden attack of a weird mood.)

 
At 11:10 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Though to be sure, we can only ever be sure that the sun was shining 8 minutes ago; that's how long it takes the sun's light to travel to earth!"

Um, that was my point.

 
At 2:10 PM, Anonymous paulc said...

Because, in America at least, that would be considered much more absurd than anti-evolution, and hence not a viable political tactic.

I think that's a big part of the story, but why is it considered more absurd? Is it because the material basis of life doesn't contradict the Bible directly? Is it because (in my cynical view) would be critics are not dumb enough to place bets on processes that can readily be replicated in vitro?

Many scientific theories can stand in for X in the sentence "X is well established by evidence, but many details of X are not fully understood." X1 could be the claim that phenotype is determined by DNA sequence rather than some "essence". X2 could be the claim that adaptation and speciation occur as a result of natural selection rather than some "designer."

For some reason X1 is less controversial than X2. Personally, I find it far more counterintuitive to imagine how a strand of DNA could possibly describe an elephant than to imagine a common ancestor recently shared by chimps and humans.

In either case, the counterargument basically boils down to incredulity.
What I wonder is if the ID proponents have really made a cynical political decision as suggested in the quoted text, or if they feel genuine incredulity at evolution and yet feel no incredulity at the material basis of life in all other respects. If so, I have difficulty comprehending how they could arrive at this.

 
At 2:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

All the while...we still do not have the formal...proposed...supported by reseach....Theory of ID.

Not even some loosely drawn thumbnails on a paper napkin???

 
At 8:54 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I think that's a big part of the story, but why is it considered more absurd? Is it because the material basis of life doesn't contradict the Bible directly?"

Yes. In non Bible-bashing countries, and in countries where a more sensible approach to Bible-bashing is prevalent, anti-evolutionism is probably more absurd than vitalism. Certainly some brain/mind variants of vitalism are taken far more seriously than they should be.

 
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At 3:11 PM, Anonymous Jeff said...

Excellent post! I am linking to it from my blog.

Celestial Reasoning

 
At 10:46 AM, Anonymous Steve Reuland said...

The only honest thing to come out of Calvert's piece is the tacit admission that he's a YEC. That's pretty interesting. And it makes all his excusifying over not being able to tell who the designer is, etc. all the more disingenuous.

 

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