Once again, Bill Nye is keeping it REAL:
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):
“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):
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):
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.
Why then does any of this matter?
It matters because this particular critic of evolution makes frequent calls for “civility” in this debate. For example, in a commentary entitled “Let’s restore civility to the debate on evolution and intelligent design,” this same critic put out a call to tone down the rhetoric so that “we can have a real discussion about the evidence and find out which side’s skepticism is most convincing in this intriguing debate.”
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.
In line with my commitment to read and promote everything that Kenneth R. Miller writes, I direct you to this article entitled “Bobby Jindal’s Science Problem.”
Here’s a snippet:
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.
Anyway, in the comment section of Casey’s post, he and I had a bit of a back and forth about the quote and his treatment of it. If you’re interested, you can follow our dicussion using these links: Me : Casey : Me : Casey : Me.
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 consistently mangles 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:
Yep, sounds like a good book to check out from the library.
(Hat tip: Richard B. Hoppe @ PT)
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.”
Check out the video below:
|The Colbert Report||Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c|
Another press release just came across the newswire:
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.”
(This post is satire)
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.
One of the bills in Missouri is identical to a bill that died last year. The other bill in Missouri specifically requires equal treatment of evolution and intelligent design.
The Oklahoma bill is apparently modeled on the Louisiana Science Eduction Act. It has been put forth by the same guy who openly stated last year that his intent was for creation science to be taught alongside evolution.
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.
A state senator from Indiana named Dennis Kruse wants school districts to blatantly violate the United States constitution by teaching “creation science.” Clearly, Mr. Kruse is not down with the new lingo. “Creation Science” is so 1987.
Yes, it has been over 6 months since we posted anything on this blog. Priorities have changed, but we’re still here to stand up for REAL science. We’re not going to stop paying attention simply because the efforts of anti-evolution activists are becoming increasingly ineffective and irrelevant. We’ve been around long enough to know better.
A couple of days ago I fell off the wagon. I had been trying so hard to quit arguing with Creationists on the Internet, but I just couldn’t resist the temptation.
Don’t get me wrong, it can be fun at times. In addition, I’ve learned a lot from the research that it has prompted me to do over the years, and this has been my one justification for continuing. In fact, it was an argument with a Creationist that led me to create the first of the Evolution is REAL Science videos. (Video #6 is in the works – stay tuned.)
But arguing about evolution can be maddeningly frustrating and even somewhat depressing. It’s also an addictive habit, so much so that I would sometimes stay up way too late in order to fine tune my responses, crafting just the right rhetorical devices and including lots of references to the primary literature. Then, when I eventually did go to bed, my brain would still be running in high gear so that it would take hours for me to finally fall asleep. Losing sleep over this kind of stuff is just not worth it, in my opinion, so I made the decision to stop doing it.
Well, to my dismay, my self-restraint gave out on Tuesday.
I was pulled back in by a blog post entitled Human/Ape Common Ancestry: Following the Evidence by Casey Luskin at the Discovery Institute’s erroneously-named Evolution News and Views (EN&V) blog. I don’t visit EN&V very often, but I happened to notice that comments were allowed on Casey’s post, so I thought I’d ask him a question. The post is about how the evidence for common descent is supposedly “dicey” and that ID proponents are interested in “taking a scientific approach” to the question in order to “follow the evidence where it leads.”
This is all pretty standard fare from Luskin, but I was particularly interested in exploring his preliminary point, namely that “human/ape common ancestry is compatible” with intelligent design (ID). I have always found this disclaimer to be strangely hypocritical because Luskin quite obviously rejects common ancestry (or at least his warped understanding of it). It just seems odd that he promotes an idea (ID) that may or may not be compatible with the central conclusion of the scientific framework that he is fighting against (evolution). I’m no psychologist, but there’s probably some cognitive dissonance occurring there.
Casey Luskin receives a lot of criticism for his anti-evolution activism. I mean, A LOT. As I see it, most of the scientific criticism directed toward Luskin is deserved, and some is even earned. But some of the critical attention Casey receives crosses the line from criticism to counterproductive mocking and name-calling. It’s to the point now that when you put Casey’s name into Google, the first suggestion in the drop-down list is “casey luskin is an idiot.” Ouch.
So I guess this post could be considered gratuitous piling on. For that, I apologize.
In my past online encounters with Casey, he has always been very polite and cordial. The schmaltzy tone of his writing sometimes comes off a little forced and disingenuous, but he doesn’t resort to the kind of vitriol that is often directed at him, and I respect that. Casey’s consistent refusal to wallow in the mud-slinging gives him the moral high ground in most situations, although the fact that he frequently plays the “civility card” erodes away some of that high ground.
Anyway, I was pleased to see that Casey approved my first comment almost immediately after I submitted it. I looked forward to an enlightening discussion. Unfortunately, in his response to my post, Casey avoided answering my question. I thought maybe this was because he misinterpreted my point, so I responded with the following:
I asked you to explain how ID-friendly researchers could use the principle of common design to make predictions about shared nonfunctional genetic similarities.
You responded by saying that “the principle of common design should lead ID-friendly researchers to be skeptical of claims that shared genetic similarities are non-functional.”
First, I don’t understand how the principle of common design would lead to skepticism about the existence of shared nonfunctional genetic similarities. After all, what would prevent the designer(s) from using “artistic license” and inserting nonfunctional sequences in identical locations in the genomes of similar species? Can you explain the logical connection between the principle of common design and your skepticism concerning shared nonfunctional genetic elements?
Second, for the sake of argument, let’s assume that there are at least some shared nonfunctional genetic elements in humans and chimpanzees. My question was: how could these be explained or predicted using the principle of common design?
Here’s why I asked:
As I stated previously, I am willing to accept your assertion that functional genetic similarities could be explained by common design just as well as they are explained by common descent. However, as I pointed out before, common ancestry can explain and predict the existence of both shared functional and nonfunctional genetic elements in related species.
For example, one of the authors of the paper I linked to discovered that humans and chimpanzees both have an (apparently nonfunctional) Alu element inserted in the 3′ UTR of their functional NANOG genes. Based on common ancestry, he inferred that this element must have been inserted into the genome before the divergence of the lineages leading to humans and chimpanzees. The same Alu element was not found in rhesus macaques, so he inferred that it must have been inserted after the lineage leading to macaques diverged from the lineage leading to humans and chimpanzees. At this point, he went looking for the site in the NANOG gene of rhesus macaques that corresponds to the insertion site in humans and chimpanzees. Not only did he find the site, but he was able to predict the exact sequence of the DNA because he already knew the sequence of the Alu flanking regions in humans and chimpanzees.
What we have in this example is a case where common ancestry explains both the similarities in functional sequences and the differences in nonfunctional sequences among related species. As far as I know, such specific, testable predictions cannot be made using the principle of common design.
Am I right?
Third, I already knew that ID advocates are skeptical of the notion that non-coding DNA is nonfunctional.
But so are evolutionary biologists! That’s why they have continued investigating and have discovered that some of these sequences do indeed have interesting functions. As pointed out in the paper you linked to, it was biologists using evolutionary theory who first proposed the existence of functional pseudogene sequences. They hypothesized that some pseudogenes–especially those that are transcribed–might have regulatory roles, in part because they showed evidence of evolutionary sequence conservation. And this was over 25 years ago!
Apparently, while the ID-paradigm encourages a “wait-and-see” approach to these questions, the evolution-paradigm encourages a “go-and-find-out” approach.
Finally, it is important to note that the discovery that NANOGP8 shows evidence of function does not contradict evolution. NANOGP8′s characteristic lack of introns and its poly-A tail both indicate that it is a retropseudogene, and the genetic mechanisms that can produce these sequences are well understood. Also, as I just pointed out, the hypothesis that some pseudogenes may have regulatory functions was published a quarter century ago by biologists using evolutionary theory. So the discovery of functional pseudogenes is, although perhaps somewhat unexpected, fully compatible with evolutionary theory.
More importantly, none of this evidence lends support to the idea that the NANOGP8 retropseudogene was designed, as your argument seems to be implying. Well, that is, unless you’re arguing that the designer(s) used reverse transcription to insert a copy of the NANOG gene into the human genome and then modified it slightly to encourage cancer cells to proliferate.
Is this your argument?
The above comment was submitted on Tuesday evening, June 14th, 2011 around 11:00 p.m. Pacific Standard Time (that’s 1:00 a.m. Wednesday morning where I live – as you can see, I really need to get a life). I specifically remember seeing the screen saying that my comment was being held for moderation, so I know that it was submitted.
As of this writing, my comment has not been posted, even though it is in full accordance with EN&V’s comment policy. My last couple of sentences may have been a little sarcastic, but that pales in comparison to some of the stuff that get’s posted on EN&V. Sadly, given that several other comments have been posted since I submitted mine, it appears that Casey has chosen to ignore the evidence I presented. I’ve thankfully learned to save my comments to a .txt file before submitting them, or else all of that work would have been lost.
So why go to the trouble to document this? After all, I’m certainly not the first person in the world who has had a comment denied on a blog!
Here are my three reasons:
First, I don’t want my recent fall off the wagon to be in vain. I am not going to take the time to write up something like that just to have it dumped into the Internet abyss (although I think I may have settled on the topic for video #7!- thanks Casey!).
Second, I think it’s important to document Casey Luskin’s to lack of integrity in this situation, especially in light of his repeated claims about wanting to “follow the evidence” where it leads. He’s not really following the evidence. He’s running away from it.
Finally, I think this incident nicely highlights one of the major differences between Casey and people like me: I don’t get paid to argue about evolution on the Internet, but Casey does. To me, that explains a lot. To paraphrase Upton Sinclair, it is difficult to get a man to follow the evidence when his salary depends on him running away from it.
I recently stumbled across a sermon about evolution that was so factually inaccurate that I thought it had to be a joke.
Sadly, it was not. Listen at your own risk:
Apparently, this pastor was preaching to a group of students at a church down the road from where I have taught high school Biology for the last decade. I cannot help but wonder whether any of my former students were there that evening, quietly listening while their pastor told them “the truth” about what they were learning in my classroom.
My fellow Biology teachers: pay attention! This is what we’re up against.
Here’s a man who began his sermon by openly admitting his own ignorance concerning the topic of Biology. Unfortunately, the rest of his sermon merely served as a demonstration of this fact. Those young people were woefully misinformed that evening, and it saddens me to think that their minds may have been permanently closed to the very idea of evolution by the horrendously misleading historical and scientific misinformation they were being fed.
My fellow Christians: pay attention! This is what we’re up against.
Here’s a brother in Christ who started out his sermon by freely admitting that he knew very little about a well-established scientific theory. He then proceeded to spread several blatant falsehoods about the theory, all in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Those young people were woefully misinformed that evening, and it should sadden all of us that such streams of misinformation originate from uninformed Christian pastors across the country.
In the past, I have encountered people from other countries who ask me why the United States has such a low percentage of people who accept evolution. In response, I point them to sermons like this one. There are some in this country who will do whatever it takes to close young minds to evolution before they even have a chance to learn about the unifying theory of Biology. I have, on occasion, seen the effect of such mistreatment in the questions asked by my students. I must tell you that it is truly sad to see young people struggle as they come to realize that their pastors have not been telling them the truth.
It does not have to be this way.