John Pieret recently commented on quotes from the last chapter of Stephen Meyer’s latest book.
One quote in particular got my attention:
“The ability to detect design makes belief in an intelligent designer (or a creator, or God) not only a tenet of faith, but something to which the evidence of nature now bears witness. In short, it brings science and faith into real harmony.”
If evidence of supernatural design in nature were indeed detectable, then belief in the existence of God would no longer be a matter of faith. It would be merely a conclusion reached through inductive reasoning.
This would not bring “science and faith into real harmony.” It would instead make faith totally dispensable.
In my opinion, this points to the true motivation behind the ID movement. The leaders of the movement are embarrassed to admit that they struggle with a lack of faith. To relieve their embarrassment, they seek to supplant their uncertainty with “scientific” arguments.
As a Christian, this situation is actually kind of sad. Through their less-than-honest behavior, ID promoters actually practice a kind of evangelism-in-reverse. By constantly emphasizing their notion of a conflict between the acceptance of evolution and faith in God, they actually turn a lot of otherwise receptive people away from Christianity.
Whenever I find one of the “Thoughts in a Haystack“, I immediately want to share it with others. This time, it comes from an anonymous commenter named “TomS.” I particularly liked what TomS had to say about the revulsion that some religious people feel concerning the idea that we are related to other primates:
“And if someone finds it repulsive to think that we are related to monkeys, how is it any relief to think that we were purposefully designed to be like monkeys? That does not deny that we are like monkeys, but raises it from a mere matter of the ordinary working of nature to something worthy of particular divine intention.”
A common loon rests on a mat of floating vegetation.
I recently encountered an article that is a classic demonstration of the array of deceptive tactics employed by a well-known critic of evolutionary theory. In a relatively brief essay about biogeography, the critic raises as many doubts as possible through the use of selective quotations from actual experts on the topic. All the while, he conveniently omits important details from the quoted texts that actually reduce the purported severity of the highlighted “conundrums.”
In particular, the critic fails to apprise his readers of the following details related to the “rafting hypothesis” for the origin South American monkeys:
There were numerous volcanic islands interspersed between the two continental land masses during the Eocene epoch, potentially making the dispersal distances shorter than the barrier of “hundreds, if not thousands, of kilometers of open ocean” erected by the critic. In fact, drilling studies have shown evidence of subaerial exposure as late as 25 million years ago in the South Atlantic. These points are now more than 1 km below sea level.
Of course, the critic does not bother to mention any of this.
The prevailing winds and ocean currents moved westward across the South Atlantic during the Eocene. Peer-reviewed models have shown that these movements would have substantially aided the migration of a floating island across the Atlantic. The most conservative scenarios predict that a large raft of floating vegetation could have made the journey from Africa to South America in as little as 8 days at 50 million years ago, 11 days at 40 million years ago, and 15 days at 30 million years ago.
Again, the critic does not bother to mention any of this.
An extended rafting event across the Atlantic would likely have necessitated a floating island of vegetation with an adequate supply of food and water. However, such natural rafts are known to exist. In addition, studies of water deprivation in modern primates suggest that a hypothetical proto-platyrrhine monkey could have survived without fresh water for at least 13 days, fitting nicely within the 8-15 day range suggested by the wind and ocean current models mentioned above.
Once again, the critic does not bother to mention any of this. Instead, he makes a joke about monkeys building rafts and stocking them with provisions for their voyage.
Evidence of South American monkeys first appears in the fossil record soon after a major drop in sea level about 35 million years ago. A drop in sea level at this time would have further reduced the distances separating the continental land masses and the exposed volcanic islands of the South Atlantic, making an incremental, island-hopping scenario more plausible.
By now, it should come as no surprise that the critic does not bother to mention this drop in sea level, either.
Clearly, these disregarded details do not completely solve the puzzle of the origin of South American monkeys. However, when considered as a whole, they make the proposed “rafting hypothesis” much more plausible. Moreover, they illustrate an important aspect of evolutionary theory that distinguishes it from the alternative “explanations” generally favored by the theory’s critics.
Unlike the doctrine of special creation (let’s just call it what it is), the theory of evolution is actually testable.
From the existence of fossil intermediates to the discovery of plagiarized errors in molecular sequence data, evolution helps us make sense out of a large set of scientific observations. But evolutionary theory can also be used to generate new, testable hypotheses. This is quickly revealed by a perusal of the very scientific literature from which the critic cherry-picked quotes in his attempt to ridicule the notion of “seafaring monkeys.” In reality, when such biogeographical puzzles are identified, the framework of common descent allows scientists to propose possible scenarios and construct testable hypotheses based on those scenarios.
It should come as no surprise when the resulting research bolsters the plausibility of the proposed evolutionary scenario. This is exactly what one should expect from a robust and comprehensive scientific explanation like evolution.
Sadly, the deceptive tactics displayed by this critic of evolution are also to be expected. Without a testable, scientific alternative, he must resort to setting adrift as many doubts about evolution as possible, hoping to ensure that at least one survives to make landfall in a “renewed” world.
“I say to the grownups, if you want to deny evolution and live in your world, in your world that’s completely inconsistent with everything we observe in the universe, that’s fine, but don’t make your kids do it because we need them. We need scientifically literate voters and taxpayers for the future. We need people that can—we need engineers that can build stuff, solve problems.”
In an earlier post, I argued that there is more to civility than mere manners. Politeness and courtesy are important, but they are not enough to ensure a civil discussion. In my view, civility in public discourse also involves a conscientious effort to accurately represent your opponent’s position(s) on the issue(s) being discussed.
In this post, I will provide an example to demonstrate why I think this aspect of civility matters. In a speech entitled “Why the New Atheists Won’t be Appeased“, a certain critic of evolution said this:
“Jason Rosenhouse, who’s a Mathematics Professor at The University, at James Madison University, says that:
‘The only hope for a long-term solution’ — to religion of course, using the word solution here — ‘is to marginalize religion in public discourse. I don’t know if we can accomplish that, but I do know it won’t happen without a whole lot of screaming and yelling.’
And this is when he weighed in on the side of Jerry Coyne that the atheists ought to not be siding with the theistic evolutionists, or any people who are religious in general. The only way that atheism can survive is if it goes on an all-out war against all forms of religion.”
It just so happens that I was in the middle of reading Jason Rosenhouse’s excellent book “Among the Creationists” when I first watched this video. The speaker’s description did not seem consistent with the opinions that Rosenhouse expressed in the book. Based solely on this brief description, one might reasonably conclude that Jason Rosenhouse is quite stringent in his advocacy for the eradication of religion. Unfortunately, the presentation of the quote was divorced from its original context. As it turns out, Rosenhouse was actually talking about something quite different.
You really should read Rosenhouse’s entire post to fully understand his position. The quotes provided below are intended to illustrate that his actual position differs significantly from the speaker’s portrayal of it.
First, the speaker identified “religion” as the problem that Rosenhouse was addressing when he put forth his “only hope for a long-term solution.” Actually, it was the problem of Creationism, not religion, that Rosenhouse was addressing (emphasis added):
“We have a big social problem here: lots of people want to gut science education by giving respectful treatment to some form of creationism. So far we have been successful fighting off such people in court, but have been relatively unsuccessful in the realm of public opinion. Why do we have this big problem?”
“The primary reason we have a problem with creationism is that certain very bad religious ideas are very popular in American society. That would seem too obvious to need saying and the public opinion data seems to make that clear. If you have this idea that it is only a radical fringe of fundamentalists who oppose evolution, or that most Christian denominations have no problem with it, or that it can only be ignorance of the depth of Christian theology that leads people to see a serious conflict between Christianity and evolution then you have not adequately understood the problem.”
Rosenhouse is certainly critical of what he calls “very bad religious ideas.” But does he really think that “atheists ought to not be siding with the theistic evolutionists, or any people who are religious in general” as the speaker claimed?
Not at all. Rosenhouse’s actual position on the issue is quite clear (emphasis added):
“For all of that, I have no problem emphasizing the many Christians who see no problem with evolution. My objection comes when saying that evolution and Christianity don’t have to be at odds spills over into suggesting that only fringe types think otherwise, or in trying to marginalize the views of those of us who demur from this view. As I wrote in my post on accommadtionism:
As for the NCSE, I have no objection to them pointing out, as a simple empirical fact, that many people have reconciled evolution and Chrisitanity, and I have no objection to them taking the pragmatic view that we need religious moderates on our side. I not only don’t object, I think that’s what they should be doing. There are many teenagers growing up in religiously isolated towns who are no doubt genuinely unaware of the diversity of religious opinion on this subject. Maybe they hear a talk by Eugenie Scott and have their eyes opened.
Clearly, Rosenhouse does not agree with the view that “atheists ought to not be siding with the theistic evolutionists, or any people who are religious in general.” In fact, a plain reading of Rosenhouse’s writing shows that the exact opposite is true!
This leads us to another question regarding the speaker’s claims. Does Jason Rosenhouse really side with those who would call for an “all-out war against all forms of religion?”
Not even close. Here is Rosenhouse’s conclusion to his post, including the two sentences quoted by the speaker (in red):
I do not think it is a betrayal of science to be religious. I do not think there is any logical contradiction between anything in science and the tenets of Christianity. I accuse religious evolutionists of nothing more serious than making bad arguments in defense of their view. I have no problem at all making common cause with people who disagree with me on this point when the issue is protecting science education.
But I also think a strategy of trying to convince people to move to a more moderate sort of religion is doomed to failure. I just don’t think you will find enough people who see the arguments of Miller and Ruse (and many others) to be credible here. The only hope for a long-term solution is to marginalize religion in public discourse. I don’t know if we can accomplish that, but I do know it won’t happen without a whole lot of screaming and yelling.
It should be quite clear from the above quote that Rosenhouse was not advocating for “an all-out war against all forms of religion.” In reality, Rosenhouse’s views about religion differ significantly from the way they were portrayed by the speaker. While he firmly rejects the beliefs of “religious evolutionists” like myself, he will gladly work with us to defend science education from Creationist attacks. However, Rosenhouse does advocate for the marginalization of traditional forms of religion in public discourse. As I understand it, he sees this marginalization as a key component of the long-term solution to the problem of creationist attacks on science education. It should be clear that Rosenhouse’s advocacy for this nuanced position is a far cry from declaring an “all-out war against all forms of religion.”
In summary, a critic of evolution gave a speech in which he misrepresented someone’s words in an attempt to support a point he was trying to make. The critic’s reason for doing so is unknown. I will not speculate on his motives because such speculation is not productive.
I fully agree with this sentiment. I think everyone in this debate would like to participate in a civil discussion about the evidence. However, such a discussion is only possible when all participants commit to conscientiously and accurately portraying their opponents’ arguments. Unfortunately, as I have attempted to document, this particular person’s own repeated failures on this point represent a serious lapse of this aspect of civility.
In conclusion, I support all calls for civility in this debate. But such a call must be accompanied by a personal commitment to conscientiously and accurately represent your opponents’ arguments. Otherwise, your politeness merely disguises your incivility in the same way that white wash disguises a tomb.
Imagine, for a moment, that Jindal becomes the vice presidential nominee. Given his track record in Louisiana, can we expect a sudden shift in favor of scientific integrity and quality science education? I’d like to believe that Jindal’s courting of the creationist vote in his state has been nothing more than a matter of political expediency. Maybe once he faces a national audience, he’ll shake that Etch A Sketch and make his peace with science. We’ll see. But the times are critical, the record isn’t promising, and Jindal’s legacy in Louisiana schools has been shameful.
In my last post, I described a recent mistake I made in which I accused Casey Luskin of dishonestly doctoring a quote in in order to cast doubt on evolution. Yes, I now consider it a mistake to have accused Casey of dishonesty in this instance. Indeed, I have since edited that post to indicate that Casey’s behavior merely appears dishonest. I would like to use this post to explain my reasoning behind that change.
I want to start by acknowledging that it is virtually impossible to be certain whether someone is actually being dishonest or whether there are other reasons that might explain their apparently dishonest behavior. This is especially true in online interactions, when important cues like tone of voice and body language are not available for analysis. For this reason, I generally try to avoid passing moral judgments in online interactions because it is simply not possible to know a person’s true motives.
I also realize that there is an important distinction between the appearance of dishonesty and actual dishonesty, one that is all-too-often blurred in the rough-and-tumble world of Internet discussion forums. This is particularly true when it comes to discussions involving controversial issues like the debate over the teaching of evolution. I will admit to being guilty of blurring that line in this case. I have apologized to Casey for my mistake, and I would like to publicly document that apology here.
At this point, I thought the discussion was finally getting somewhere. It had become clear to me that Casey actually had a reason (albeit a strangely contradictory one–see my last comment) for his decision to alter the quote. I realized that I may have wrongly accused Casey of dishonesty. I didn’t agree with his justification, but I was willing to accept that he had one.
Unfortunately, in his last response to me Casey complained that I had “responded with the classic fallback arguments of evolutionists which are lacking in persuasiveness and civility.” He went on to decry my “attempt to attack [him] personally by making sneers and insinuations about [his] motives.” He even went so far as to accuse me of seeming “very eager and desirous to attack [him] personally.”
You can probably guess that I didn’t appreciate his assessment of my contribution to the discussion. Alas, I was not given an opportunity to respond to Casey’s charges because comments were closed on the post. In retrospect, I should have just left it there. But I felt the need to correct the record, so I sent Casey an email (reproduced here).
I will admit that the tone of my email was somewhat harsh, but at that point I was a pretty exasperated and I wanted Casey to know that I felt he had egregiously misrepresented my arguments. (For example, his last comment still ascribes to me the claim that he failed to put forth a testable hypothesis about Caudipteryx being a bird. This is simply not true!)
Out of courtesy, I will not post Casey’s response to my email. Let’s just say he wasn’t receptive to my criticisms. Basically, he claimed that I was intentionally misconstruing the definition of “civility” in order to paint him as both uncivil and immoral. The truth is, I did consider his behavior uncivil, but I have intentionally stopped short of passing moral judgment.
All of this brings me to the point (finally!) that I want to make about “civility.” In my view, there’s much more to being civil than just being polite. Civility in public discourse also involves being careful to accurately represent your opponent’s arguments. And, for whatever reason, Casey failed to do so in this case. Whether through carelessness or malice (I am withholding judgment), he did not put forth the necessary effort to represent my position fairly and accurately. In other words, he was not conscientious in his treatment of my arguments. Instead, he ignored most of my points while taking great offense to things that were not intended to be offensive. I don’t necessarily think that this was an attempt to personally harm me, but it does make me wonder about Casey’s underlying motives: Is he truly interested in having a civil conversation or is he just interested in appearing to “win” the argument?
There is more to civility than mere manners. Saying “excuse me please” does not change the fact that it is very uncivil to stab someone in the back (figuratively speaking, of course). For my part, I will admit that I’m far from perfect when it comes to manners. In truth, I don’t really care so much about strict decorum, but I usually try to respect the wishes of those who do. However, polite language does not replace accountability. In my online interactions, I scrupulously strive to conscientiously represent my opponents’ arguments, and I don’t think that it’s unreasonable to expect them to do the same.
In summary, it is my view that a civil conversation requires participants to be BOTH polite AND conscientious. Otherwise, there is very little to be gained from conversing with people with whom you disagree.
As it stands, I don’t think Casey and I will be exchanging emails anytime soon. Considering his proclivity to take offense to my criticism (combined with my apparent inability to resist dishing it out), that’s probably for the best.
Casey Luskin has once again proven that he is not capable of honestly addressing the evidence of evolution. Instead, he consistentlymangles the evidence in pursuit of his goal (which, apparently, is to cast doubt on evolution by whatever means possible). In the process, he conveniently ignores or actively obscures conflicting evidence that does not fit his chosen narrative.
The latest example of Casey’s apparent* dishonesty was dissected by Troy Britain in this brilliant post. Go read it and see for yourself.
Fortunately, Casey opened up comments, so I’m sure he’ll be addressing the criticism his post has generated. Here’s the comment that I left:
“And indeed, Tianyulong doesn’t have true pennaceous feathers. It has long filaments, very similar to what have been called ‘protofeathers’ or, more non-committally, ‘dinofuzz.’ These filaments … are also found in a range of other theropods that lack definitive feathers, such as the basal coelurosaur Sinosauropteryx, the therizinosauroid Beipiaosaurus and the basal tyrannosauroid Dilong.”
As pointed out by Troy Britain on his blog, the original quote has been edited to remove some additional detail (emphasis added):
“And indeed, Tianyulong doesn’t have true pennaceous feathers. It has long filaments, very similar to what have been called ‘protofeathers’ or, more non-committally, ‘dinofuzz.’ These filaments **ARE EVIDENT IN SOME THEROPODS SUCH AS CAUDIPTERYX THAT HAVE TRUE PENNACEOUS FEATHERS, BUT** are also found in a range of other theropods that lack definitive feathers, such as the basal coelurosaur Sinosauropteryx, the therizinosauroid Beipiaosaurus and the basal tyrannosauroid Dilong.”
The missing part of the quote shows that both “dinofuzz” and true birdlike feathers are known to have existed simultaneously in the anatomy of other dinosaurs. Evidence like this is important when discussing the evolutionary origin of feathers. After all, if a dinosaur had BOTH long filaments AND pennaceous feathers, it points to the possibility that the structures ARE actually related.
Why did you remove such an important detail, Casey?
The truth is, I have no confidence whatsoever that my comment will be posted. Casey Luskin’s track record of refusing to respond to criticism is already quite well-established.
And that, my friends, is why I quit arguing with Creationists.
*Added in edit: It’s impossible to know exactly why Casey altered those quotes. His explanation was that the parts he removed were irrelevant, so I’ve added the word “apparent” to make clear that it merely appears dishonest.
The Discovery Institute recently published a book about human evolution entitled “Science and Human Origins.” I plan to read it once it becomes available at my local library. For now, I’ll have to rely on reviews written by credible experts.
The most extensive review so far is by Paul McBride, a Kiwi and a Ph.D. candidate in vertebrate macroecology/evolution. McBride is the author of a blog called “Still Monkeys.” His review consists of 5 parts: 1, 2, 3, a prelude to 4, 4 and 5.
In a recent post reacting to the response his review has generated among ID promoters, McBride had this to say:
…book reviews are actually a common tool to decide if a book is worth reading or, in fact, a steaming heap. It turns out that Science and Human Origins is the latter. The book is an attempt to attack science, not enrich it; the Discovery Institute doesn’t deserve any money for publishing it. I had a couple days where I couldn’t decide if I’d review it or not, because I didn’t want to nominally support their crusade.
Yep, sounds like a good book to check out from the library.
I was checking the StatCounter for the blog today and noticed a spike in hits. Upon investigation, it came to my attention that Dr. Don McLeroy, former chairman of the Texas State Board of Education, was on the Colbert Report last night. This blog shows up on Internet searches related to McLeroy because of the work we did to expose McLeroy’s lack of academic integrity in “Collapse of a Texas Quote Mine.”
A bill approved yesterday by the Indiana Senate to allow the teaching of creationist arguments in public schools is being criticized as bad science education by the Cover-Up Institute, the nation’s leading think tank for masking the religious motivations behind arguments against evolution.
If made law, Indiana Senate Bill 89 (SB89) would allow creationism, a religious view on the origin of species, into the Hoosier state’s biology classrooms. In 1987, the Supreme Court struck down similar legislation as an unconstitutional establishment of religion. Instead of scrapping SB89 in deference to legal precedent, the Indiana Senate has amended the bill to allow more religious views on origins, as if simply dressing up their arguments with religiously neutral, “sciencey” phrases would not cure the original problem.
“Instead of injecting religion into biology classes, legislators should be working to promote religiously-motivated pseudoscience without mentioning religion,” said Josiah Oldbrother, a law and policy analyst at Cover-Up Institute’s Center for Shrouding & Cloaking. “There are plenty of scientific-sounding criticisms of Darwin’s theory today, and science students should be able to hear about them, not about the religious beliefs that inspired them.”
It has been a busy week for those of us keeping track of anti-evolution legislation. Once again this year, the bills are cropping up in all the usual places, Oklahoma and Missouri among them. This week there were two bills filed in Missouri and one in Oklahoma.
Silly antievolutionists! They think the fact that something is called “junk” means that it can have no function. Witness the most recent self-congratulatory festivities surrounding Jonathan Wells’ latest book about “Junk DNA.” Based on the way they react to the discovery that some bit of non-coding DNA has a previously-unknown function, it appears they never watched the contestants on “Junk Yard Wars” turn a collection of parts from a scrapheap into a functioning vehicle.
Along these lines, someone needs to tell the Discovery Institute’s David Klinghoffer that the description of an organ as “vestigial” does not mean that the organ is useless. It simply means that the organ does not have the function that we expect from such parts in other animals.
We go over this stuff in my freshman Biology classes. It’s not rocket surgery.