The Years of Living Stupidly

Re-posted from Skeptical Analysis

Number 2 in a series

Hot damn! This is getting good. Yesterday I kicked off this series with a review of a post (by somebody) on Evolution News, the blog site hosted by the Discovery Institute Center for Science and Culture. That’s the group doing the heavy lifting to promote the Intelligent Design version of creationism in this country. It so happens I picked up on three such postings, courtesy of a Facebook friend who linked them on his time line. Here’s another:

Submit Nominations for 2018 Censor of the Year Now!

We’re about a month away from Darwin Day, February 12. It’s the great man’s birthday, celebrated by Discovery Institute’s Center for Science & Culture as Academic Freedom Day. We prefer this alternative framing of the occasion because the freedom to debate Charles Darwin’s scientific legacy is continually endangered by intimidation, threats to careers and livelihoods, fake news and fake science, and subtle and totally unsubtle forms of censorship.

All right! This is going to be good. The language of Evolution News is picking up the tone of rhetoric in today’s political world. I particularly enjoy seeing “intimidation, threats to careers and livelihoods, fake news and fake science.” Also “unsubtle forms of censorship.” This writer is prepared to lay it on thick. Who could ask for more?

The writer is identified, something often missing. He’s David Klinghoffer, somebody I enjoy reading. Here’s his Wikipedia entry:

David Klinghoffer is an Orthodox Jewish author and essayist, and a proponent of intelligent design. He is a Senior Fellow of the Discovery Institute, the organization that is the driving force behind the intelligent design movement. He is also a frequent contributor to National Review, and a former columnist for the Jewish weekly newspaper The Forward, to which he still contributes occasional essays.

And there’s more:

Klinghoffer has published a series of articles, editorial columns, and letters to the editor in both Jewish and non-Jewish conservative publications seeking to promote opposition to Darwinian views of evolution, stating that science can include a support for an underlying intelligent design in the development of living things and the universe as a whole, and, indeed, that some scientists hold to such views. Larry Yudelson has responded, in a piece directed at Klinghoffer, that rabbinical Judaism has accepted evolutionary theory for more than a century, and that Judaism has never rejected science. Yudelson also argues that Klinghoffer’s employer, the Discovery Institute, is a Christian think tank that is funded by organizations that seek to promote a “Christian-friendly world view”

Surprise, surprise! Yes, people, Jews do support creationism. Don’t forget, Jews invented this fantasy to begin with. Christians and Muslims since picked up the torch, and especially Christians are now the big promoters. Anyhow, David Klinghoffer has more to say from his Evolution News post. He is asking  readers to submit nominations for Censor of the Year (COTY). Here’s what he has to say about the great injustice being perpetrated:

Darwinists do not go so far as to burn books by proponents of intelligent design. However, their actual tactics in suppressing open debate are far more effective because, for the most part, they are practiced behind a veil of secrecy.

Remember, as Sarah Chaffee pointed out last week, most Darwinist censorship works via self-censorship. In academic and other contexts, the intimidation need not be explicit. It is practiced quietly, without drawing attention to itself. The victims, the censored, understandably don’t want to imperil their work, their income, or their reputation. So they keep quiet both about their doubts on Darwinian evolution and about the power structure in their institutions that maintains the informal speech code.

Yes, that’s it. Darwinists (scientists) intimidate the opposition by subtle and nefarious means, such means not being elaborated here, but perhaps in the Sarah Chaffee post that is linked above. I invite you to follow the link and read the sordid details. She tells of professors who give private talks promoting Intelligent Design, who must disclaim up front they do not speak for their academic institutions. Additionally she writes:

Or just take a look at our pictures on Evolution News of the Summer Seminars on Intelligent Design. You may see the very tops of students’ heads, no more. Not their faces, not an inch of their profile. Those we carefully crop out. This is to keep participants’ identities a secret. It’s so their career prospects will not be harmed by an association with intelligent design.

Anyhow, the issue is that people in the know who want to criticize Darwinian evolution and more so, promote Intelligent Design, find themselves ridiculed by colleagues and others. Yes ridiculed. Coerced into keeping quiet. To be sure, I have my own characterization of what’s happening:

Typically a candidate for tenure at a college or university must pass review by his peers. Tenure is almost a lifetime assurance of employment and can be denied if your peers do not look forward to working with you. I have stated elsewhere that there are only so many times you can show up for the party with your fly unzipped before you are no longer invited.

Sadly it is true. If you say stuff that is foolish enough for long enough, people around you will start to conclude there is something wrong with your thinking process. And therein lies the problem with Klinghoffer’s premise and that of the rest of the Intelligent Design  crowd. This is undue criticism, undue intimidation, only if Intelligent Design has a basis in fact. The problem for Klinghoffer et al is that Intelligent Design really is creationism dressed up to look like science. And thinking people recognize this. And they act appropriately, if unkindly, in response.

There are more of these. Keep reading.

Fool’s Argument

Second of a series

As the heading suggests, this is a review of episode 2 of the creationist video series titled Does God Exist? It features creationist Stephen C. Meyer arguing the case for Intelligent Design, and I am not going to  recap what was stated in the previous review. This episode carries the title “The Big Bang Cosmology: The Finite Universe.”

I will kick off this review with a collection of graphics, which collection is going  to become familiar to anybody watching the entire series, 10 episodes plus a special feature. But take the first graphic and also some advice. If you are going to argue for the scientific merits of Intelligent Design, it will be best if you do not upfront advertise your collaboration with an organization that calls itself Focus on the Family. This organization promotes some ideas that are notoriously unscientific:

Focus on the Family supports teaching of what it considers to be traditional “family values”. It supports student-led and initiated prayer and supports the practice of corporal punishment. It strongly opposes LGBT rights, abortion, pornography, gambling, and pre-marital and extramarital sexual activity. Focus on the Family also promotes a religiously-centered conception of American identity and the support of Israel.

Focus on the Family maintains a strong stand against abortion, and provides grant funding and medical training to assist crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs; also known as pregnancy resource centers) in obtaining ultrasound machines. According to the organization, this funding, which has allowed CPCs to provide pregnant women with live sonogram images of the developing fetus, has led directly to the birth of over 1500 babies who would have otherwise been aborted. The organization has been staunchly opposed to public funding for elective abortions.

Here is another graphic you should become familiar with.

Stephen C. Meyer is talking to students in a supposed college lecture series, and he launches into a recount of a debate involving biologist and staunch atheist Richard Dawkins. Dawkins’ closing statement is shown in its entirety, and it shows Dawkins arguing that Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution put to rest any remaining notion that God was needed to explain the Universe.

Meyer counters, and he runs through a litany of famous scientists, particularly those working at the foundation of the scientific era, and he illustrates how their religious predilections supported their quest for scientific truth.

Discussing Newton’s concept of gravity, Meyer lurches into uncharted territory, for him. He speaks without foundation that the wonder that the Solar System of spinning and revolving planets does not yield easily to Newtonian mechanics. The fact is that Newton worked out much of the analysis that explains how such a system is formed, and modern astrophysics confirms that planetary systems are a natural consequence of Newtonian mechanics.

Unfortunately there was not a high school student present when this presentation was prepared, else this illustration would have been more factual.

And Meyer runs through a slew of honest scientists who were unable to conceive a universe without somebody or some thing getting it started.

And that is Meyer’s main argument in episode 2. The work of Edwin Hubble demonstrated that the Universe is expanding, therefore it must have had a beginning. On this practically all cosmologists agree. Meyer’s failure rests in not noticing that modern cosmology does not require an outside force to kick off the origin of the Universe. Lawrence Krauss sums up modern origin concepts neatly in his book A Universe from Nothing, which I reviewed two years ago:

Creationists are unable to step back and to see that purpose is a human feature. There is more. Other living organisms besides humans possess purpose. Foxes chase rabbits for a purpose. Foxes need to eat rabbits. If foxes do not catch and eat rabbits they will die. There will be no more foxes. The only foxes that still exist today are those that possess the purpose of catching and eating something. Purpose is something that has developed biologically by the process of evolution through natural selection. Outside this realm of things the concept of purpose does not exist.

Episode 3 is going to be a follow-on to this one and is titled “The Big Bang Cosmology, Part 2: In the Beginning.” I will do a review later this week.

Fool’s Argument

First of a series

Last year we ditched the cable and bought into a couple of subscription streaming services. So, come Sunday , and it was promising to be a dull morning. I turned to Amazon Prime Video and browsed some stuff Barbara Jean had earmarked. Wow. Does God Exist? Yes, it’s there, and what a wonderful way it is to brighten up an otherwise dull Sunday morning.

Of course I needed to watch. Here it is.

So I see that guy, and he’s asking the question, “Does God exist?” And he further asks, “Is the Bible really the word of God?” Also, “Was Jesus really the son of God?” These questions, I expect, will be answered. But one question that needs to be answered first is, “Who is that person asking those questions?”

Christians in Cinema: Dave Stotts

After attending Abilene Christian University in the Texas Panhandle, Dave Stotts hopped around a few more places before settling down in the Dallas Metroplex area. Married to Rebekah and the father of 2 sons (Seth and Luke), his time is divided between video post-production, theological studies and making history alive and entertaining.

When asked about his favorite restaurant, he immediately named “Mi Cocina,” which specializes in Tex-Mex cuisine (a man after my own heart!). A fan of science fiction epics (X-men, Superman, Star Wars) married to someone who doesn’t really care for them, Dave often watches his favorites with headphones. He’s even been known to impersonate Darth Vader for his youngest son “Luke, I’m your father”. I talked with Dave on a busy Thursday morning between video projects.

Then we get to the meat of the matter, and we see, as before, creationists Stephen C. Meyer. And it is good to see Dr. Meyer once more, even if this is not a recent production. My hope is he will be touching on a favorite topic of mine, namely Information and Myth:

Having nothing better to do, I was watching this on-line video. And the guy was making some statements about matter and information and energy, and, being composed of these things and having studied them in college, I was a little amazed at what the guy was saying. Time for a Slim Pickens movie quote here.1

The speaker was creationist Stephen C. Meyer, and that was no surprise. Meyer has just published his latest creationist book, and having nothing better to do, I ordered a copy from Amazon.com. Here is what Amazon has to say about the author:

Dr. Stephen C. Meyer received his Ph.D. from the University of Cambridge in the philosophy of science. A former geophysicist and college professor, he now directs the Center for Science and Culture at the Discovery Institute in Seattle.2

Much is promised for this book. It’s supposed to set us straight about the basis for Intelligent Design and to make the case, using the story of DNA, for Intelligent Design. Once again, I will let Amazon do the talking:

That’s what I had to say eight years ago.

This seems to be a new setting. It is from all appearances a college classroom, and Meyer is going to address the question of whether God exists, and we can guess what the answer will be.

First off, I was unable to escape the notion this was dramatized. It gives the appearance of classroom instruction viewed live, but the use of multiple camera angles and the timing of the actions makes me doubt this could have been pulled off live. Live does not go this smoothly. There are times, when the camera angle shifts, that I would expect to see the camera that shot the previous view, and I do not. Let’s assume this is an informal, staged production. Also, in case you were not aware, this is a production of Focus on the Family:

Focus on the Family (FOTF or FotF) is an American Christian conservative organization founded in 1977 in Southern California by psychologistJames Dobson, based in Colorado Springs, Colorado. It is active in promoting an interdenominational effort toward its socially conservative views on public policy. Focus on the Family is one of a number of evangelical parachurch organizations that rose to prominence in the 1980s.

Focus on the Family’s stated mission is “nurturing and defending the God-ordained institution of the family and promoting biblical truths worldwide”. It promotes abstinence-only sexual educationcreationism; adoption by married, opposite-sex parents; school prayer; and traditional gender roles. It opposes abortion; divorce; gambling; LGBT rights, particularly LGBT adoption and same-sex marriage; pornography; pre-marital sex; and substance abuse. Psychologistspsychiatrists, and social scientists have criticized Focus on the Family for trying to misrepresent their research to bolster FOTF’s fundamentalist political agenda and ideology.

We can tell up front there’s going to be a lot of solid science coming out of this.

There are ten episodes in the series plus a bonus, and the first is “Faith and Reason,” and Meyer gets into the meaning of faith, and hopefully why religious faith is not all that bad. For this kind of presentation, Meyer is an excellent choice. He is a polished presenter, and his formal training in philosophy of science provides the very material he needs for background. He can argue from an academically-grounded knowledge base.

That background, as I learned a few years back, is no inoculation against foolish thought. Robert Koons was then and still is a professor of philosophy at the University of Texas at Austin, where I once attended and obtained a degree. He came up to give a talk at UT Dallas in 2004, and I was there with a fellow skeptic to take it in:

All this got me to thinking, and when there was an opportunity to pose a question I asked just what it would take to be convincing. Passing by the bacterial flagellum for the time being, I brought up Behe’s example of human blood clotting chemistry (because that appears to me to be the bigger of these two cow cookies for Behe).4 I asked whether demonstrating feasible pathways to the present human clotting chemistry would sufficiently refute Behe’s whole argument for irreducible complexity.

To recapitulate, human blood clotting chemistry is quite complex (what isn’t in biochemistry). When a blood vessel is opened, an elaborate chain—a cascade—of chemical reactions is set into motion. If any step in the chain is missing, or is inadequate for the job, blood clots form prematurely, or we bleed excessively, even to death. Think hemophilia. How could that assemblage of chemical reactions have come about by mutation combined with natural selection? No single mutation, subsequently fixed through natural selection, could have produced all of the required steps simultaneously. If any of our ancestors lacked even one of the steps, we would not be reading this skeptical rag.

Knowing that biologists have a good lead on possible pathways and an effective refutation of Behe’s blood chemistry argument, I asked how many of Behe’s examples need to be explained before irreducible complexity is dead.

Not just one, Koons surmised. One example does not make for solid proof.

What Koons ending up saying is that creationists could pose a large number of examples of supposed irreducible complexity, and biologist would need to refute a slew of these before we should bring the concept into question. My experience, as I noted back then, is that in science and in academia you can expect to present two or at most three ridiculous arguments before you lose credibility. Koons seemed at the time vacant on this point.

But what of Meyer’s presentation on this day, apparently about 2009?

At one point he gets to the causality argument, and he states the misconception that cause and effect are essential to the working of the Universe. As is often pointed out, this is not the case. From all appearances and from all known experience, cause and effect are not essential. At the base of physical science, events happen without a cause. Not a big deal, but certainly not in line with Meyer’s train of thought.

That brings us to Meyer’s central argument in Episode 1. We know the effect. We see it all around us. We see birds, we feel the wind. There are stars and planets, and people and love and happiness (my wording). What is the cause? Is it blind physics? He is going to argue no. Eventually he is going to postulate that God is the best explanation—the best and ultimate cause. Here God is the capital G in the middle of his blackboard.

And Meyer’s argument is the proper inference is a being of some sort manifesting intelligence and passion. The problem with this is–pause for a moment–what we call intelligence and passion are human qualities. He, and others in the Intelligent Design movement, are taking these and other human qualities and creating a God that possesses these and in turn creates beings, ourselves, that have these properties. The argument is unquestionably circular.

I will state, as I have before, that if there were a being, such as the proposed God, and this being were all-knowing and all-powerful (omniscient and omnipotent), then what would would this God do? Create a Universe? Create a planet and populate it with beings possessing intelligence and passion? Why? The motivation to create, even if to experiment, is a quality found in living things on this planet. And that includes us. We have those qualities because they are essential to survival. Such need would not exist for an omniscient and omnipotent being. If there is Intelligent Design, then we are not the product. We are the designer.

Episode 2 is going to be “The Big Bang Cosmology: The Finite Universe.” I’m thinking that’s going to  be  more interesting, and I will post a review later this week. These are short, around 30 minutes, so they pose little challenge to my attention span.

Here is a link to a promo on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0S-5GdCPp7c

Hey! If you’re not an Amazon Prime subscriber you can purchase the DVD set on Amazon.

www.amazon.com/TrueU-01-Building-Scientific-Discussion/dp/B00UTUDIT6/