Saturday, April 02, 2005

Dembski States it Plain

William Dembski has written this brief essay for a new pro-ID blog. In the course of decsribing how he got into ID, he writes the following:

My plan quickly fell into place:

  • I would concoct a specious mathematical theory of design detection that critics of evolution could use as a weapon against Darwinism.

  • I would network with right-wing fanatics for whom a recrudescence of Paley could be a tool for their political agenda.

  • And finally, I would cash in on the celebrity associated with bringing down Darwin.

On this last point let me just say that intelligen design has been very, very good to me.

Dembski surely intended this to be an April Fool's Day joke. Nonetheless, except for the part about bringing down Darwin, he has given a flawless description of what he did, in fact, do.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Shermer in the L. A. Times

Michael Shermer, editor of the excellent magazine Skeptic, has a good op-ed in the Los Angeles Times today. Here's an excerpt:

If intelligent design is not science, then what is it? One of its originators, Phillip Johnson, a law professor at UC Berkeley, wrote in a 1999 article: “The objective is to convince people that Darwinism is inherently atheistic, thus shifting the debate from creationism versus evolution to the existence of God versus the nonexistence of God. From there people are introduced to 'the truth' of the Bible and then 'the question of sin' and finally 'introduced to Jesus.'”

On March 9, I debated ID scholar Stephen Meyer at Westminster College in Fulton, Mo. After two hours of debate over the scientific merits (or lack thereof) of IDT, Meyer admitted in the question-and-answer period that he thinks that the intelligent designer is the Judeo-Christian God and that suboptimal designs and deadly diseases are not examples of an unintelligent or malevolent designer, but instead were caused by “the fall” in the Garden of Eden. Dembski has also told me privately that he believes the intelligent designer is the God of Abraham.

The term “intelligent design” is nothing more than a linguistic place-filler for something unexplained by science. It is saying, in essence, that if there is no natural explanation for X, then the explanation must be a supernatural one. Proponents of intelligent design cannot imagine, for example, how the bacterial flagellum (such as the little tail that propels sperm cells) could have evolved; ergo, they conclude, it was intelligently designed. But saying “intelligent design did it” does not explain anything. Scientists would want to know how and when ID did it, and what forces ID used.

It should also be stated clearly that the specific examples ID proponents cite as stumbling blocks for evolution, like the flagellum, are in fact not stumbling blocks at all. “Intelligent Design did it” is indeed a linguistic placeholder for things that are currently unexplained. But in this case it is tyring to hold a place that is already filled by adequate naturalistic explanations.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Gallagher, Again

In this post from last month, I criticized an editorial by Richard Gallagher, editor of The Scientist. Gallagher believes that teaching ID in high school science classes is a good idea because, among other reasons, such a debate would “fire the interest of bright kids who will see through the paper-thin arguments being set out to discredit evolution.”

I made a number of points in reply. My main point was that Gallagher had been terribly vague about what, precisely, he wanted taught. What does “teaching ID” entail? I also argued that he was being naive if he thought that public squabbles about evolution and creation should be viewed as welcome opportunites to get the word out about evolution. Such squabbles get played out in brief newspaper op-eds and in front of school boards, you see. These are forums tailor-made for the promotion of pseudoscience. I also pointed out that plenty of scientists have been willing to engage the arguments of ID proponents, contrary to his assertions in the article, and that the only issue was whether high school science classes were an appropriate venue for this discussion. I made a number of other points as well.

P. Z. Myers also weighed in on the subject, making many of the same points, in this excellent blog entry.

In the current issue of The Scientist, Gallagher decides to have another go at it. Did he respond to any of the arguments that were actually made against his earlier editorial? Did he clarify what it means to teach ID or what he thinks scientists should be doing that they are not currently doing? Not at all. We consider his remarks in full:

I'm concerned about the state of science teaching. Over the past few months, three quite separate accounts have made me nervous. The first was an opinion published last month in The Harvard Crimson, the university daily, in which student Irene Y. Sun detailed her wretched experience in a science class. Describing the erosion of her intellectual curiosity by the relentless pursuit of grades by teachers and students alike, Sun wrote:

At what point did professors automatically expect that their students studied their subject matters because of career requirements rather than intellectual appeal? Why are so many of my fellow students so hell-bent on requirements instead of passion? What happened to that sense of academic adventure, excitement and curiosity?

She asks good questions.

Ms. Sun's editorial can be found here.

Coming from a Harvard undergraduate those are indeed good questions. So good, in fact, that I think her interesting editorial deserves a more detailed response, which I will provide in a subsequent post.

But I would expect the editor of a prominent science magazine to understand something about the realities of college teaching. He might have written an interesting editorial devoted entirely to the challenges professors face in having to appeal to a large class of students who come to the subject with different backgrounds and different motivations. Gallagher, alas, sees only a chance to take a potshot at professors.

The real action comes next, however:

The second prod was provided by the summary of a Science Advisory Board poll of scientists on ways to improve “scientific literacy.” Teaching teachers to teach topped the list, as it should have. But I'm not so sure about the conclusion that “preparing children for tomorrow depends upon a nation's willingness to invest – over the long term – in the training and tools teachers need to keep abreast with the leading technologies of today.” What about imparting a sense of curiosity, excitement, and experimentation? Isn't this what teachers should be best at, even more so than staying abreast of the latest technologies?

The summary in question can be found here.

Did a major science advisory board really elevate keeping abreast of leading technologies above imparting a sense of curiosity and excitement? No, they did not. When you follow the link Gallagher provides, you find this:

According to a poll conducted by The Science Advisory Board, scientists believe that governments can best improve the scientific literacy of their citizens by “teaching teachers to teach.” Sixty percent of those surveyed believe that countries will get the most return on their education tax dollars by supporting teacher-training programs.

Teacher-training programs are instrumental in helping bring advanced technology into the classroom. They assist educators in combining rigorous academic content with scientifically based research in their curricula. “Preparing children for tomorrow depends upon a nation’s willingness to invest--over the long term--in the training and tools teachers need to keep abreast with the leading technologies of today,” observes Tamara Zemlo, Ph.D., MPH, Executive Director, The Science Advisory Board.

So it wasn't a poll about ways to improve science literacy. Actually, it was a poll about what governments can do to improve science literacy. You see, governments can't do much directly to impart a sense of curiosity in students. But they do control large amounts of tax money that they can spend in ways that will be helpful to teachers. And, used properly, technology can be an effective tool indeed.

Gallagher, apparently, does not care about such details. He's too busy feeling morally superior. Which is ironic considering what comes next:

My third encounter has been a little more personal. You'll notice that we've foregone the Opinion article in this issue. In its place is an expanded Letters section, largely given over to responses to the Editorial of a couple of issues ago,3 on beating off the challenge to evolution from intelligent design. I am criticized by a fair number of the responses from “our” side, some rather strident. Here's an example from a blog:

“You know what I hate most about the evolution/creation debate? It isn't the ignorance peddlers of the Discovery Institute or the gibbering insanity of Answers in Genesis. It's not the semi-literate know-nothings who pollute the comment boards of blogs with their repetitive drivel. It isn't even the fawning press coverage these dangerous right-wing ideologues occasionally receive. No. What I really hate is the child-like naiveté of some scientists who really ought to know better.”

As I'm sure you can tell from the searing wit, penetrating insight and breathtaking eloquence of that paragraph, I wrote it. It was the opening paragraph of my original post on this subject.

Gallagher continues:

That's me. But I think I got off lightly. Even though I'm “most-hated” – is that anything like being granted “most favored nation&rdquo status? – it's for being a hopeless naïf, not an ignorant, gibbering, dangerous, semiliterate no-nothing polluter of bandwidth. Phew! Still, the question must be asked: Is this sort of self-important bluster helpful in the battle against proponents of intelligent design? I certainly don't see it as putting the best face on the pro-evolution argument to an interested public.

Pot to kettle: Thou art black.

If Gallagher thinks I was being unfair to Answers in Genesis or the Discovery Institute then let him say so. I will simply point out that most of my entries at this blog are devoted to establishing that the output of AiG and the DI merit the contempt I expressed. Gallagher does not seem to understand that while he is busy musing about the value of open debate and the benefits of critical thinking, the major organizations on the other side are more interested in promoting a political and religious agenda.

But since we're quoting opening paragraphs, let me remind you of how Gallagher opened his own editorial:

The current frenzied attack on the teaching of evolution in public schools in school boards across the United States is to be welcomed.

There, I've said it. And no, I'm not a fundamental Christian, a creationist, or a right-wing ideologue. What I am is someone who sees an outstanding opportunity to exchange views with the naysayers, and a rare public examination of a set of ideas that are pretty much taken as Gospel – sorry for the blurring of metaphors, but it drives home my point – by us in the scientific community. Played the right way, everyone – yes, including scientists – should come out enriched by the interaction.

I'll leave it to the reader to decide who has an inflated view of his own importance.

In two editorials now Gallagher has taken scientists to task for -- well, for what exactly? We're told we're supposed play something the right way, but he says nothing about what that means in practice. He says we're supposed to teach ID on an equal footing with evolution, but he does not tell us what teaching ID entails. He frets that science educators have lost interest in imparting a sense of curiosity, but shows no recognition of the realities under which educators have to work, and he says nothing that a teacher can actually apply in the classroom.

And this is the man accusing others of being self-important?

Gallagher concludes with:

But to get back to science teaching, worse still, some (nominally) pro-evolution correspondents harbor remarkable views of science teaching. Consider this missive from a blogger named “Desert Donkey”

“The impulse to compare and demolish is strong, but high school students are basically in a position where they are taught well-established truths in most subjects. Math classes don't spend time questioning the reality of prime numbers. Facts is facts. Some type of critical thinking class for inquisitive students might fly, but I still think it has no place in an actual science class.”

Critical thinking has no place in science class? Really? That bodes incredibly poorly for the future of science teaching. We're shelving our best weapon against intelligent design, and I find it incredibly sad that scientists who support evolution so strongly would have us shield growing young minds from the “dangers” of critical thinking.

If that's not dogma, I don't know what is.

Never heard of the blogger “Desert Donkey?” That's because the quote above comes not from a blog, but from a comment left in response to P.Z. Myers' blog entry, linked to above. That's right! A single comment to a blog entry whose substance Gallagher ignored completely is his sole piece of evidence that scientists want to shield students from critical thinking. Is Desert Donkey, whoever he is, even a scientist for heaven's sake?

For the record, I happen to disagree with Mr. Donkey. But Gallagher has a lot of nerve pretending that he is on the side of critical thinking while “scientists” are on the side of dogma.

I defy Gallagher to produce even one professional scientist who opposes teaching students to think critically about science. The issue here is not critical thinking. It is whether we should give favorable coverage in science classes to one particular form of pseudoscience, simply because that one form is well-funded and very vocal.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Two New Links

John Stear of the Australian Skeptics has pointed me towards his excellent evolution/creation website. I can tell I'll be visiting frequently and I have happily added the link to my “Anti-Pseudoscience” list to the left. I have also added a link the CSICOP Creation Watch site I mentioned a few days ago. Enjoy!

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Litmus Tests

The current issue of The Weekly Standard contains this astonishingly bad article by Paul McHugh on the subject of evolution. The Standard is about as mainstream a conservative publication as one is likely to find. That they would publish this sleazy and dishonest article is one more piece of evidence that modern conservatism is anti-science to the core.

I often tell people that they do not need to know much about science to know when they are reading the work of a hack. Immersing myself in anti-evolutionary literature for the last several years has allowed me to develop certian litmus tests that tell me the sort of person I'm dealing with. By this I mean there are certain phrases and arguments that are routine among evolution's critics, but which never appear in the work of more serious commentators. McHugh hits nearly all of them.

Litmus Test One: References to thought control.

Here's McHugh's opening paragraph:

EIGHTY YEARS AGO THIS SUMMER, the Scopes trial upheld the effort of the state of Tennessee to exclude the teaching of Darwinian evolution from Tennessee classrooms. The state claimed Darwinism contradicted orthodox religion. But times change, and recently a federal judge ruled that a three-sentence sticker stating that “evolution is a theory not a fact” must be removed from Georgia high school biology texts because it contradicts orthodox science and represents an unconstitutional endorsement of religion. Both legal mandates--no Darwin yesterday, nothing but Darwin today--look less like science than exercises in thought control.

This is rather like saying, “Both legal mandates--no Copernicus yesterday, nothing but Copernicus today look less like science than exercises in thought control.” Serious people recognize that the issue is teaching accurate scientific information to our students. If that information is entirely on the side of evolution and against its critics (as it is), then that is what should be taught. Nonserious people like McHugh prefer to make their points via incendiary catchphrases like “thought control.”

Incidentally, the sticker McHugh is referring to here was not objectionable primarily because it described evolution as a theory not a fact. The main problems were its singling out evolution for special treatment, presenting a childish version of what the words “fact” and “theory” actually mean, wrongly describing evolution as a theory about the origin of living things, which it is not. I won't rehash the sticker dispute here, however.

Litmus Test Two: Bringing up Inherit the Wind.

Here's McHugh's second paragraph:

Everyone agrees that the Scopes trial (viciously caricatured in the play and movie Inherit the Wind) was a setback for the teaching of scientific reasoning. But the same is true of the Georgia ruling, Darwinism being quite obviously a biological theory and open to dispute. To claim otherwise is to be woefully misinformed.

Serious people do not learn their history from Hollywood. Inherit the Wind was never intended to tell the history of the Scopes trial. Instead, the point was to use the Scopes trial as a metaphor for McCarthyism. The only reason for bringing it up here is to provoke a knowing smile from the Standard's readers. Ah yes, they think, Hollywood is always looking for an excuse to bash traditional values...

And McHugh once again pretends that the sitcker was objectionable because it asserted that evolution was a theory.

Litmus Test Three: Implying that biologists endorse evolution for ideological, not scientific reasons.

Here is McHugh's third paragraph:

Science, as high school students need to know, is a logically articulated structure of beliefs about nature that are justified by methods of reasoning one can evaluate. It is whether the methods pass muster that counts for or against a scientific opinion, not how the opinion fits our preconceptions.

That's a rather odd definition of science, but it's the last sentence that caught my eye. Critics of evolution love to present themselves as courageous free-thinkers, doggedly following the evidence wherever it leads. Unlike those dogmatic, elitist, mainstream scientists, of course.

Litmus Test Four: Pretend that evolutionary biology has made no progress since Darwin.

Here is McHugh's fourth paragraph:

Charles Darwin proposed that random variation within life forms, working together with natural selection (“the preservation of favorable variations and the rejection of injurious variations”) across the vast expanse of time since the earth was formed, explains “how the universe created intelligence,” as Francis Bacon had stated the problem a few centuries before. To judge whether the matter is now closed to all criticism, such that Darwinism stands with scientific facts like “the earth is a planet of the sun” or “the blood circulates in the body,” demands we consider Darwin's method of reasoning.

A serious person would consider it more relevant to consider the methods of reasoning used by modern biologists, not the reasoning of those writing 150 years ago. The methods used by Darwin to investigate nature hold up very well, but the fact remains that modern evolutionary theory is a very different creature than what Darwin proposed. No modern biologist, for example, would pretend that natural selection of random variations is the sole weapon in evolution's arsenal.

McHugh commits this error again later in the article:

DARWIN HIMSELF UNDERSTOOD that questions raised about his narrative had substance. In Chapter IX of On the Origin of Species, he noted that the fossil record had failed to “reveal any . . . finely graduated organic chain” linking, as he proposed, existing species to predecessors. He called the record “imperfect” and went so far as to say, “This, perhaps, is the most obvious and gravest objection which can be urged against my theory.” Darwin presumed that the problem rested on the “poorness of our palaeontological collections” and would be answered when more of “the surface of the earth has been geologically explored.”

Darwin did indeed write those things, but so what? No modern paleontologist would endorse the idea that we have no good examples of transitional series in the fossil record. Nor would any modern paleontologist endorse the idea that finely graduated fossil series are necessarily the expected oucome of Darwin's theories. The fact is that Darwin was writing at a time when little was known about the age of the Earth, the methods of fossilization, or the mechanisms of speciation. So, on this point, he got it wrong. This was one of the main points of punctuated equilibrium, which McHugh refers to later but shows no evidence of understanding. See Litmus Test Eight.

Litmus Test Five: Misleading use of quotations.

Here are McHugh's fifth and sixth paragraphs:

The leading Darwinist in America, Ernst Mayr, describes the method:

Evolutionary biology, in contrast with physics and chemistry, is a historical science--the evolutionist attempts to explain events and processes that have already taken place. Laws and experiments are inappropriate techniques for the explication of such events and processes. Instead one constructs a historical narrative, consisting of a tentative reconstruction of the particular scenario that led to the events one is trying to explain.

Darwin, Mayr goes on, “established a philosophy of biology . . . by showing that theories in evolutionary biology are based on concepts rather than laws.”

After noting Mayr's fearless use of the words “tentative,” “philosophy,” and “theory,” one surely is justified in responding: No wonder Darwinism, in contrast to other scientific theories, seems an argument without end! It's history--indeed, history captured by that creative-writing-class concept narrative. If historical narrative--and the “philosophy” it propounds--are what justify the Darwinian opinions, the textbook writers of Georgia can legitimately claim that Darwin's “tentative reconstruction” is not only a theory but a special kind of theory, one lacking the telling and persuasive power that theories built on hypothesis-generated experiment and public prediction can garner.

Behold the workings of the anti-evolutionist mind. Here is Mayr, a prominent biologist, using the term “philosophy” while describing evolution, therefore evolution is just a collection of unsupported guesses about natural history.

McHugh apparently found it too much trouble to tell us the source of this quote. It is from a July 200 article in Scientific American. This article was entitled “Darwin's Influence on Modern Thought” and had nothing at all to do with the sort of evidence biologists use to justify their claims about natural history. Instead it addressed the ways in which Darwin changed the way people look at nature and science.

As is painfully obvious to anyone who read Mayr's article, he was not saying that the construction of historical narratives is the end of the process. Rather, it is the beginning. For example, picking up where McHugh left off, we find Mayr writing the following:

For example, three different scenarios have been proposed for the sudden extinction of the dinosaurs at the end of the Cretaceuos: a devastating epidemic; a catastrophic change of climate; and the impact of an asteroid, known as the Alvarez theory. The first two narratives were ultimately refuted by evidence incompatible with them. All the known facts, however, fit the Alvarez theory, which is now widely accepted.

So obviously Mayr believed that competing historical narratives had to be tested against the available evidence. His point was that unravelling history was a new project for science, and one different from the sorts of problems physicists and chemists were dealing with at the time. Experiments are certianly helpful in illuminating possibilities, but they don't directly help us unravel the past. And such laws as exist in biology are statistical in nature, unlike the sorts of laws invoked by physicists.

How typical. How boring. An anti-evolutionist ripping a quotation from its proper context to make it appear to say something it does not.

McHugh is so fond of this tactic, however, that he does it again later in the article:

If Michael J. Behe, the cellular biochemist who wrote Darwin's Black Box, proposes that the complicated molecular mechanisms sustaining the integrity of the cell seem impossible to explain as the result of random variations, the president of the National Academy of Sciences counters by pronouncing, “Modern scientific views of the molecular organization of life are entirely consistent with spontaneous variation and natural selection driving a powerful evolutionary process.” That is, he affirms the Darwinian narrative by restating it, not by offering compelling proof that it is true.

Where, exactly, did Alberts say this? Was it in the course of a lengthy essay intended to refute Behe's claims? No. It was in a very short letter to the editor of the New York Times, and the letter was written in response to an article in which Behe had given a very misleading impression of something Alberts' had written previously. Since Alberts only had about two paragraphs to make his point, he simply stated for the record that Behe's hand-wringing about the formation of complex systems was unwarranted.

Of course, plenty of biologists have responded to Behe in the most direct way imaginable: By showing how the available evidence shows that not only is evolution in principle capable of crafting “irreducibly complex” systems, but also that it is has almost certainly done so in fact. You can find more on this topic here.

Unlike Alberts, McHugh had plenty of space in which to deal with the actual evidence biologists have produced to refute Behe's claims. Rather than refute any of it (an impossible task) he blatantly misrepresents a statement from Bruce Alberts, confident that his sympathetic readers won't bother to check him out.

Litmus Test Six: Bringing up Piltdown man.

In the course of a discussion about the alleged inadequacy of the fossil record (a discussion which could serve as yet another litmus test), McHugh smugly whips out the following:

This imperfection of the historical record was, after all, sufficiently embarrassing to provoke some evolutionary biologists nearly 100 years ago to try to improve on the record by manufacturing the counterfeit fossil Piltdown Man.

Of course, McHugh is simply inventing out of whole cloth the idea that Piltdown Man was an attempt to beef up an inadequate fossil record. The motivation for the hoax had far more to do with national pride (France and Germany had already coughed up hominid fossils by 1912 (the date of the first Piltdown “find”), but England had not). Many people at the time were skeptical of its legitimacy. The only reason it lasted as long as it did were that the scientists of the day lacked reliable dating methods, and that paleontology was not viewed as a serious science at that time. Simply put, no one much cared about Piltdown man.

And it was evolutionary biologists who were prompted to revisit the Piltdown finds many years later, when subsequent fossil finds made it clear that the Piltdown fossils were a square peg in a round hole. For everything you ever wanted to know about Piltdown man, click here.

Today the fossil lineage of humans is among the best documented in the fossil record, with literally more than two dozen distinct species known, each in its correct place in the timeline from an evolutionary standpoint. McHugh can't discuss that, however, since it would obviously destroy his pretentions about the inadequacy of the fossil record. So instead he chums the waters by bringing up the Piltdown hoax, and then seals the deal by lying about its motivations.

Litmus Test Seven: Use the term “Darwinian fundamentalist.”

Litmus Test Eight: Pretend that the theory of punctuated equilibrium refuted core claims of Neo-Darwinism.

Even among committed Darwinists, the imperfection of the fossil record has been a source of huge argument. The Darwinian fundamentalist Richard Dawkins of Oxford believes in smooth and gradual evolutionary processes. He became a vicious antagonist to Stephen Jay Gould of Harvard, who championed “punctuated equilibrium,” with abrupt
species generation after millennia of stability. Dawkins attacked Gould in large part because Gould's idea greatly shortened the time evolutionary processes had to generate species.

It was Stephen Jay Gould who first coined the term “Darwinian fundamentalist” for people like Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett. It was a ridiculous description when Gould used it, but he at least had some scientific credibility on the subject. He also had specific objections to things Dawkins and Dennett had written, and was trying to actually move the science forward.

When someone like McHugh uses the phrase, however, it is strictly to use the loaded term “fundamentalist” in his description of prominent scientists. This is another device by which the McHugh's of the world can present themselves as the clear-thinking everyman standing up to dogmatic orthodoxy.

I'm sure it will come as news to Dawkins that his objections to punctuated equilibrium (PE) had to do with the fact that PE shortened the time for species generation. In reality, Dawkins' main objection to PE was simply that it was not as important as Gould and Eldredge thought it was. Consider:

What needs to be said now, loud and clear, is the truth: that the theory of punctuated equilibirum lies firmly within the Neo-Darwinian synthesis. It always did. It will take time to undo the damage wrought by the overblown rhetoric, but it will be undone. The theory of punctuated equilibrium will come to be seen in proportion, as an interesting but minor wrinkle on the surface of Neo-Darwinian theory. (Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker, Page 251).

That hardly sounds like someone who sees PE as some sort of threat to his own treasured view of natural history. Once again we have caught McHugh making stuff up.

On the other side of the coin, Gould and Eldredge also believed in smooth, gradual evolutionary processes. They were completely unambiguous that PE had nothing to do with the mechanisms of evolution. The punctuations in their theory were only sudden on geological time scales; they were still periods of tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of years.

To put it another way, Gould, Eldredge, Dawkins and everyone else believes evolutionary mechanisms are usually slow and gradual in the sense that that you do not have large-scale changes in the gene pool of a species in one generation. Gould and Eldredge believed, however, that the periods of time during which significant evolutionary change accumulated in a species' gene pool was short relative to the longer periods of time during which the gene pool remained relatively static. Dawkins had no particular objection to that idea, but saw it as an unimportant wrinkle on traditional Darwinism.

Furthermore, Gould frequently pointed out that to find a finely graduated series of transitional forms in the fossil record would imply steady, directional selection maintained for hundreds of thousands of years at a time. That is why Darwin was wrong to think that finely graduated fossil series were the logical expectation of his theory. In reality, PE was an attempt to integrate the allopatric model of speciation into paleontology. I'm sure McHugh does not care about such things, but if you do you can read more about it here.

Litmus Test Nine: Putting words into the mouths of scientists, without providing citations.

But not everyone agreed with this conclusion. Many criticized the Darwinists for extrapolating too far, and now the Darwinists confess that actual, observable variation--whether in the barnyard or in nature--demonstrates only the capacity of a species population to vary within limits.

McHugh writes about “the Darwinists” the way sports writers write about “the Lakers.” If McHugh has a specific statement from a specific person in mind, let him present it and we can discuss the matter. But an accusation this vague can not even be responded to.

Litmus Test Ten: Accusations of dishonesty by scientists.

No farmer or experimental scientist has ever produced a new species by cultivating variations. The peppered moth didn't become a butterfly, and the closely and repeatedly studied fruit fly, despite gazillions of generations producing varieties in the laboratory, always remains a fruit fly. Again, Darwin himself was more honest than his followers have been. He knew the distinction between variations that could be observed and those posited according to the theoretical extrapolation that was key to his narrative.

Of course, Darwin was writing at a time when nothing was known about the nature of inheritance. He devotes a lot of space in The Origin to showing that organisms could vary in more than just trivial and superficial ways. That was controversial at the time. Since he had no knowledge of where variations came from, he had to be more circumspect in his conclusions.

Nowadays we know that ultimately every aspect of an animal's anatomy is under the control of its genes. In principle, any aspect of that anatomy can be affected by changes in the genome. The variations that biologists hypothesize to explain events in the distant past are based on precisely the mechanisms that are known to be operating today.

As for no farmer or experimental scientist ever producing a new species, surely you're kidding Pops!. Having a new species arise by purely natural means isn't even news anymore. This is yet another example of McHugh making stuff up.

McHugh drones on for quite a bit longer, but surely the point is made. Every time I start thinking that maybe anti-evolutionists are serious folks who have actually given some thought to the matter, someone like McHugh comes along to prove me wrong. They really are just a bunch of ignorant, dishonest hacks. It is ironic that McHugh would accuse scientists of being too enamored of their historical narratives. Anti-evolutionism in general, and his article in particular, is all about telling stories. Specifically, it is about telling the story in which dogmatic, anti-religion scientists try to use their awesome power to smite any clear-thinking common man who dares attempt an honest assessment of the evidence. Facts, logic, science, honesty, basic journalistic integrity and sound argumentation all take a back seat to pushing that story.