Thursday, February 23, 2006

A Letter in The Stanford Daily

How bad have things gotten for ID proponents? Apparently it is now a major triumph when a sophomore history major gets a letter to the editor published in a college newspaper.

Discovery Institute blogger Casey Luskin points us towards this letter(scroll down) from The Stanford Daily. Luskin writes:

Abbey blazes past the ad hominems, motivation-mongering, and labels so commonly promulgated by Darwinists to get right to the core issue: there's legitimate scientific dissent from Darwinism, and students deserve to hear about it. Abbey's argument is so simple, and so compelling, that it makes clear-as-day why the efforts of Darwinists must focus so intensely upon making scientific dissent look “illegitimate.”

Golly! Sounds pretty good. Let's take a look.

The letter was written by sophomore history major Tristan Abbey. His goal is to expose three myths about ID. Here's the first:

First, criticizing neo-Darwinism is not the same as promoting intelligent design. While microevolutionary mechanisms, such as the coupling of random mutations and natural selection, have clearly been demonstrated, they fail to explain macroevolutionary changes (e.g., morphological novelty). Neo-Darwinists argue there is no difference between the two kinds of evolution, but that claim is vigorously contested by many developmental biologists and paleontologists.

As a matter of logic it is certainly true that criticizing Neo-Darwinism is not the same as promoting ID. And if by “Neo-Darwinism” you mean some strong statement about natural selection being the sole important mechanism of evolution, then I would even agree with the first sentence here. But if you take “Neo-Darwinism” to mean simply that common descent is true and that natural selection is an especially important mechanism of evolution, then the situation changes. Logic aside, the fact remains that virtually everyone who publicly dissents from that minimal interpretation of Neo-Darwinism is, indeed, an ID proponent.

As for the distinction between micro and macro, such debate as occurs among scientists is far different from anything ID folks are describing. That major morphological novelty can arise via the accumulation of small changes is not in doubt. There is also unambiguous evidence that many of the complex systems ID folks are so fond of evolved in exactly this way. What some paleontologists and developmental biologists do say, however, is that there is more to macroevolution than just accumulated microevolution.

In other words, the debate is not that some scientists say macro is just accumulated micro while others say that macro is a huge mystery that is currently unexplained. Rather it is between the former group and those who claim that specific mechanisms X, Y and Z have been given short shirft by classical Neo-Darwinism. Why do I suspect that Abbey doesn't care about such subtleties?

Abbey's second point:

Second, creationism is not the same as intelligent design. Reasons to Believe, a creationist group which accepts that the earth is billions of years old, dismisses intelligent design as “not science.” The Institute for Creation Research, which argues for a literal six-day interpretation of Genesis, similarly criticizes intelligent design for not being biblical.

Well, I am certainly persuaded that some creationist groups have been critical of certain aspects of ID. But that is neither here nor there. The fact is that creationists and ID folks are virtually indistinguishable with reagrd to either their pro-design or anti-evolution claims, their sleazy use of dishonest rehtoric, their political and educational ambitions, and their reliance on religious extremsists to spread and fund their message. They are, indeed, the same, no matter how badly people like Abbey wish it were not so.

Abbey's third point:

Third, intelligent design theorists, by and large, do not support the mandating of intelligent design in public schools. The real story out of Wisconsin is not the hypothetical “ban on teaching intelligent design,” but the critical approach to science adopted in 2004 by the town of Grantsburg and to which this “ban” is a reaction. Grantsburg’s policy states: “Students shall be able to explain the scientific strengths and weaknesses of evolutionary theory. This policy does not call for the teaching of Creationism or Intelligent Design.” Who could argue with that?

And when someone tells you it's not about the money, you can be sure that it is, in reality, all about the money.

In the context of school board disputes discussion about critically analyzing evolution is purely a subterfuge for promoting some form of creationism. It is willful naivete to argue anything else. Everyone supports making students aware of the strengths and weaknesses of any theory that gets presented in science class. The catch is that those weaknesses must find their foundation in actual data, and not in an elaborate propaganda campaign intended to promote a relgious agenda by lying to school children.

Abbey has one more paragraph to go, and this is where he gives the game away. It's a funny thing about ID proponents. No matter how reasonable they try to sound, no matter how hard they try to keep their voice level and their arguments reasoned, they just can't keep the mask on for very long. Here's Abbey's conclusion:

Sadly, neo-Darwinists do argue with that by stereotyping critics of evolutionary theory as religious zealots, by reducing the debate to the simplistic but familiar terms of science vs. faith, and by persecuting researchers like the Smithsonian’s Rick Sternberg for keeping an open mind. Pernicious caricatures notwithstanding, the signatories to the Scientific Dissent from Darwinism now stand at over 500 scientists, including several who earned their doctorates from Stanford. As science advances, why has this number continued to grow?

Persecution? Please. Concerning Rick Sternberg, what happened is this: Sternberg abused his position as editor of a small biology journal to publish a pro-ID article that was very bad on the merits, went through a very quesitonable peer-review process, and was plainly inappropriate for the journal in which it appeared. By doing this he humiliated his colleagues and put a major dent in the reputation of the journal. Those colleagues replied by sending some angry e-mails among themselves, by being unfriendly towards him when they saw him in the hall and ... well that's it actually. This they call persecution. More sensible people call it suffering the consequences of your actions.

As for the “Scientific Dissent from Darwinism” Abbey is just parroting Discovery Institute talking points. It is not the march of science that explains the glacial rate at which the number of its signatories is growing. Rather, it is the march of the DI's propaganda efforts that explains it.

Hopefully Abbey will use his college years to expose himself to some actual science, as opposed to the silly talking points of people like Luskin and outfits like the Discovery Institute.


At 9:40 PM, Blogger t.f. said...

Notice the other letter that Luskin lobs out there is written by a young woman who ends with the assertion that all this stereotyping is wrong, then assures us that she is not conservative, not an Xian, and not Republican.

It does, however, belie the fact that she is a traditional Muslim (source page)

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