Dec 09 2009

Some Craziness from the Disco-Tute

After writing my weekly post for science-based medicine, I decided to check out the rantings over at the Discovery Institute’s blog, the grossly misnamed Evolution News & Views. This anti-science propaganda blog offers a “target-rich environment” for skeptics – so much so that I must resist being drawn into their black hole of pseudoscience and maddening illogic. <obscure Star Trek reference>They could fry Norman in a nanosecond. </obscure Star Trek reference> (btw – if you combine a computer geek and Star Trek geek joke in one sentence, you get double points, sort of like scrabble.)

My problem is that the nonsense is so thick over there that it is a bit overwhelming. So I’m just going to do a quick fly-by of some of their posts.

Egnor is Back

My favorite creationist neurosurgeon, Michael Egnor, is back with a vengeance. He has written 27 blog entries in the last two weeks all about ClimateGate. Wow – I guess he has some time on his hands. These are among the most shrill and ridiculous opinions I have seen expressed on this issue, amid stiff competition. He writes:

I’m not sure that the scientific community can or will respond to this debacle in a courageous or ethical way. The ID-Darwinism debate clearly demonstrates that venality and shameless self-interest, as well as a toxic leftist-atheist ideology, runs very deep in the scientific community.


Ultimately, perhaps massive defunding of organized science, and a new system of support for research that demands utter transparency and maximal accommodation of debate, may be the only way to defend ourselves from an utterly corrupt scientific elite.

You might at first have wondered why a blog ostensibly about evolution published 27 posts about climate science in two weeks, but Egnor makes it all clear – it is all about attacking modern science as a liberal-atheist conspiracy. You see – just like with evolution and creationism. Egnor also has the following pattern – when he thinks someone has opened themselves up to criticism, he attacks with all the venom he can muster. Rather than trying to be fair and objective, seeing the subtlety and nuances of a complex issue, he simply gets more and more shrill and self-righteous. Right now he is in the midst of what we call a crankgasm, with no end in sight.

He is proceeding from the premise that there is ironclad evidence for the worst possible interpretation of the climategate e-mails. He is like a witch hunter who thinks he has finally – finally caught himself a real witch, and is just frothing at the mouth for a good witch burning (in fact he wants to burn down all of science, just to be sure). Or, alternatively, he (and the Disco-Tute) may just think that climategate is a golden propaganda opportunity and they are going to make the most of it. Forget about investigating what actually happened or putting the e-mails into any context.

Further, he is following up by attacking any scientists who are trying to take a reasonable “wait and see” approach as if they are defending fraud. No one is defending scientific fraud. Rather, it is simply fair and prudent to wait for an independent investigation.

The Great Debate

Recently Michael Shermer and Donald Prothero engaged in a debate with ID proponents Stephen Meyer and Richard Sternberg. Shermer gives his account of the debate here, read that then come on back.

These things always go the same way. The IDers/creationists try to play games with last minute changes in the debate topic or rules, they then ignore those rules and just snipe at “Darwinism”. On points those defending evolution usually win – because they have science on their side – but like in most debates, both sides declare victory.

But in this case I think the other Disco-Tute bloggers are in a contest with Egnor to see who can be more shrill. Seriously, you would think from their account of the debate that Shermer and Prothero did nothing but drool on themselves during the entire debate. Their disconnection from reality is astounding.

Robert Crowther tries to rebut Shermer’s main point – that ID essentially boils down to an argument from ignorance -“I can’t explain how complexity arose, therefore God, I mean the Intelligent Designer about which I will say no more, did it.” Crowther responds:

Not true. Intelligent design scientists like Meyer argue in favor of design theory based on the recognition of things like the digital information in DNA and the complex molecular machines found in cells. As Meyer patiently explained to Shermer in the debate, they do so because invariably we know from experience that complex systems possessing such features always arise from intelligent causes.

But that is essentially the same point Shermer is making just stated in a different way. We do not know, and therefore cannot take as a premise, that complex systems can only arise from intelligent causes – that is circular reasoning, assuming what they are trying to prove. It assumes that natural systems cannot create complexity (because they don’t understand how it can happen), and therefore intelligence must have. That is Shermer’s point.

Evolutionary science, however, is a successful and mature science that goes a long way toward explaining how natural systems can evolve over time, generating complexity and the appearance of design. In fact, you can say that life is designed – it the the product of bottom-up evolutionary design. It is not the product of top-down intelligent design. Any reasonable attempt to distinguish these two kinds of systems favors an evolutionary bottom-up design for life (the messiness and contingency of biological systems, for example).

But ID proponents do not want to rely on such an analysis – they want to simply assume that all appearance of design, regardless of its features, is intelligent. Any attempt they have made to argue that life has features of intelligent design have failed – irreducible complexity is not irreducible, and information theory favors evolution, not ID.


It seems to me, from my entirely subjective perspective, that the Disco-Tute is sliding a bit into obscurity. Their rantings are getting more and more disconnected from reality and desperate. It seems like they are pumping up their volume in a desperate attempt to be relevant, but it is failing miserably.

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