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Attack IDeas – Not the People Who Hold Them


When I worked at Dell every conference room had a sign in it which read “Attack Ideas – Not the People Who Hold Them”. I’d never seen that saying before but I presumed it was a common saying. Just a few minutes ago, out of curiosity, I googled it and found only four hits on the world wide web. And three of the four were quotes of me!

At any rate, I strongly believe that ideas should stand or fall on their own merits regardless of who it is that holds them. This is especially true in science and should be true when the United States Supreme Court judges things like Cobb County’s sticker or Dover’s verbal message. These are ideas and ideas should be judged apart from the people who hold them.

The vaunted Lemon Test doesn’t specifically address religious motivation as relevant, although it does declare there must be some secular purpose, but it has certainly been read like any religious motivation poisons the well by some lower courts. I suspect that the Lemon Test’s days are numbered now that a conservative majority has endured long enough to get a like-minded majority onto the Supreme Court bench.

Where there’s just plain no denying that people are being attacked instead of ideas is when the idea is ID and the attackers are “scientists”. Not only is the idea of ID not being judged apart from those holding it, the primary argument against it seems to be pointing out that the majority of its proponents are evangelical Christians, like that in and of itself makes ID unscientific. What rubbish! That is not the scientific way. Any scientist worth his salt who attacks ID based on the personal religious beliefs of a majority of those who hold it should be ashamed of themselves. And the ones cheering about courts censoring it on establishment clause grounds are downright despicable. These are no scientists but rather people with an anti-religion agenda who won’t let facts get in the way of their agenda.

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18 Responses to Attack IDeas – Not the People Who Hold Them

  1. You worked at Dell?

    1993-2000 mostly laptop R&D with the crew stolen from Apple powerbook team (John Medica et al)

    I work at Round Rock 5 and you can still find those signs.

    I recognized your IP address as one of Dell’s on the first comment you made. The thing of it is, I never figured out how to separate a person from his ideas. To me a person IS what he thinks so if you attack the idea you’re attacking the person. So I understand it to mean to confine the attack to the idea and not go off into “your momma wears army boots” kind of stuff. -ds

  2. This from the same DS who declares he will mock those who doubt common descent, such as myself? (actually, doubt is too soft a word.)

  3. Jared

    I believe I said I have a hard time suppressing a chuckle when someone says that descent with modification is false. And how is that attacking the person and not the idea that common descent is false?

  4. I would highly recommend watching this lecture – http://www.aei.org/event1126

    The Court of Disbelief
    A Lecture by Francis Beckwith

    In several cases, federal courts have rejected the constitutionality of laws and policies on the ground that they have an exclusively religious purpose. Part of the courts’ analyses relies on the apparent religious motives of the policy’s sponsors or citizen-supporters to conclude that the law or policy has a religious purpose. However, the federal courts have also embraced the principle that no citizen’s religious beliefs may be employed by the government to disqualify that citizen from either public office in particular or political participation in general. If a motive is a type of belief that contributes causally to a person’s actions, Francis Beckwith asks, is not the religious motive analysis a type of “religious test for office” prohibited by the Constitution’s Article VI? When applied to citizens, doesn’t this analysis limit the political rights of citizens based on their beliefs, which is a clear violation of Supreme Court precedent? Please join us for a lecture by Beckwith addressing these pressing questions facing our nation.

  5. Most of the IDists I know believe in a personal God. Most Darwinians do not. Most Darwinians are professed atheists or agnostics and left leaning Democrats. Most IDists seem to be politically conservative. There is every reason to believe that Darwinism and let us call it antiDarwinism rather than Creationism, both are pleiotropic manifestations of the same genetic conditions. In other words we are dealing here with congenital predispositions which may never be resolved through reasonable exchange.

    “Every boy and every girl,
    That is born into the world alive,
    Is either a little liberal,
    Or a little conservative.”

    Gilbert and Sullivan, Iolanthe

    I recommend that everyone read William Wright’s book “Born That Way.” I learned a great deal about myself as a result. I think others might as well. But will they?

    We are all victims of a “prescribed” fate don’t you know.

    “EVERYTHING is determined…by forces over which we have no control.”
    Albert Einstein, my emphasis

  6. Hmmm. It appears that my comment has disappeared. I’m assuming this was a glich so I’ll repost it….

    While I agree with your sentiment, Dave, that ideas should be judged on their merit, there are appropriate times, especially in science, when one must question the motives of the proponents of certain theories. Historically, if a theory is only popular within a particular subset of the population or a particular geographic location, that theory turns out to be incorrect.

    If ID theory is attractive to one subset of the population (that subset not being related to the field of the theory, i.e. evolutionary biologists) it is very instructive for us to ask why? ID is particular to evangelical Christians; that is farely obvious. That doesn’t automatically make it unscientific but it should make us raise our eyebrows and ask why this subset of the population finds this theory so compelling and no other subset does.

    There are two (independent) questions that need to be asked: is ID a valid scientific theory and is ID religiously motivated. I applaud the Dover decision because it separated those two questions very nicely. It was blatantly obvious that the boardmembers who voted to teach ID and Pandas did so because they believed that ID was a way to bring religion into the classroom. Dover is not an example of an abuse of the Lemon test, where the secret religous motives of one proponent of a law might be used to strike it down; no, the motives of the board were clear.

  7. [troll]
    Dave, you are so full of shit you must stink to high heaven. Do you ever think about what you write here? For someone who is quick to throw insults it’s more than a bit rich you pontificating on the concept of attacking ideas not the people who hold them.

  8. “At any rate, I strongly believe that ideas should stand or fall on their own merits regardless of who it is that holds them.”

    I agree, and so do most scientists. That’s why we accept Heisenberg’s findings, despite his support of the Third Reich; the polymerase chain reaction, despite Kary Mullis’s eccentricities; Cantor’s multiple infinities, despite his ensuing insanity; and Newton’s great achievements, despite his surliness and his now-discredited alchemical ideas.

    “This is especially true in science and should be true when the United States Supreme Court judges things like Cobb County’s sticker or Dover’s verbal message. These are ideas and ideas should be judged apart from the people who hold them.”

    Here it is not the truth of these ideas being judged, but rather their suitability for inclusion in a public school curriculum. A different matter altogether.

    “[The Lemon test] has certainly been read like any religious motivation poisons the well by some lower courts.”

    The Lemon test does not prohibit government actions which have a seondary religious purpose. Even the Rev. Barry Lynn of Americans United acknowledges this.

    “Not only is the idea of ID not being judged apart from those holding it, the primary argument against it seems to be pointing out that the majority of its proponents are evangelical Christians, like that in and of itself makes ID unscientific.”

    Not one of the arguments I’ve seen on talkdesign.org hinges on the religious beliefs of ID proponents. The scientific community accepts many ideas that were proposed by historic or contemporary Christian scientists. What does bother many ID opponents (including me) is the number of people who openly support ID because of its compatibility with their religious beliefs (like Bonsell and Buckingham) and not because of the strength of the scientific evidence for it.

    “And the ones cheering about courts censoring it on establishment clause grounds are downright despicable. These are no scientists but rather people with an anti-religion agenda who won’t let facts get in the way of their agenda.”

    Many of those “despicable” people are religious believers themselves who vehemently support the free practice of religion and recognize the value to everyone of keeping religion separate from government.

  9. John Davison, quoting Gilbert and Sullivan:
    “Every boy and every girl,
    That is born into the world alive,
    Is either a little liberal,
    Or a little conservative.”

    Don’t overlook people like David Horowitz, who went from Marxist radical to neoconservative, or Arianna Huffington, who transformed from a right-winger into a “progressive populist.”

  10. Ideas ARE the author who holds them. Science IS the history of ideas and the authors of those ideas. Others may not agree with me but I think the author of a crappy idea is just as bad as the idea he so tenaciously holds and should be treated with the same contempt. Anyway that is what I do. What are you going to do about it? I’ll answer that question. Not a damn thing except bannishment maybe. That suits me just fine too.

    As Big Daddy in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” said:

    “I’m sick of all this HYPOCRICY and MENDACITY.”
    my emphasis.

    “Both sides will continue to LIE, CHEAT and STEAL to make their points.”
    David Raup, paleontologist, my emphasis.

    How do you like them rotating, dripping pork loins in them rotisseries with all them skewers in them?

  11. “Ideas ARE the author who holds them.”

    Of course they are. “Attack Ideas – Not the People Who Hold Them” is new age BS. But I strongly believe that new age nitwits should listen to their own psychobabble and feel guilty about attacking people.

    All’s fair in love and war, right? ;-)

  12. “Ideas ARE the author who holds them.”

    An entire collection of one’s ideas, true. But you can not judge a given idea based on a different idea that the same person holds.

    For example, I could say that we should look at a surveilance videotape to see who committed a crime. I might have the idea in mind that the tape will prove that it was a certain person, but the idea of looking at the surveilance footage should not be discounted simply because I have other ideas.

  13. Ryan

    Yeah, but people tend to feel like they themselves are being attacked when their ideas are being attacked. How do you separate the two when it isn’t you doing the conflating?

  14. What transpires in these ephemeral cyberspace blogs doesn’t mean diddly squat. All that matters is what finds its way onto library shelves somewhere where it can be cited, retrieved and reviewed by rational people some day. That is exactly what I have been doing with my papers and those of my predecessors, some of the finest biological minds of all time. I am fed up trying to communicate with ideologues who have nothing themselves in hard copy and in all probability never will have. They are too damn busy trying to force their personal ideologies down the throats of anybody who is stupid enough to listen to them. It is just one egomaniacal rant after another in a fruitless attempt to relieve themselves of whatever it is that makes people behave that way. They all need an intellectual enema if you ask me. I have had a belly full of the whole charade. I think I will write another paper, get it published and return to the real world of science in the process. Pardon my cynicism and profound disappointment in the human condition.

    As a matter of fact I think I will write a book. The nice thing about books is that you get paid for them if you can find a publisher. The bad thing about books is that nobody ever reads them, nobody that is except me as far as I am able to ascertain. My conclusions have been based firmly on the books of some great biologists not one of whom was so stupid as to call himself an evolutionist. I sure don’t regard myself as one. There are no evolutionists because evolution remains a giant mystery. It has never been observed, not once. It is pretty hard to be an expert on a subject which has never been observed isn’t it? Oh no, not for Richard Dawkins. He knows all about it doesn’t he? Of course he does. Just ask your ordinary garden variety Darwinian mystic. There are only two things we know for certain about evolution; it did occur and chance had nothing whatsoever to do with it. That is just about all that can be said with absolute certainty. As a matter of fact that is going to be a dominant theme of the book I have in mind. I will start right off listing what we don’t know and then use that as the starting point. That is going to take quite a while.

    How do you like them honeydew melon halves filled up with all them maraschino cherries? Sickeningly sweet aren’t they? I hope the Darwinians all get the runs.

    Bye now.

  15. John,

    Excellent. I can’t wait (but I’ll have to). Have you thought of a title? I’ll be looking for it.

    Oh, and Watchmaker, I believe you misunderstood the point about every little boy and girl. David Horowitz made a dress change only – there was no real, underlying change in attitude or approach to life. This is really an important insight – for example, it explains why the Darwinist fundies and Christian fundies are so similar, and even sometimes convert in one direction or the other, just like Horowitz did.

    Fer instance, a real change would involve acquiring some humility.

  16. Actually I don’t really want to write a book because like I said nobody reads them. They molder on library shelves except for science fiction like the books by Dawkins and Gould. They sell like hotcakes because they were designed to dupe the ordinary citizen.

    “We seek and offer ourselves to be gulled.”
    Montaigne

    What I really want and it makes excellent sense when you think about it is to have my evolutionary papers including the unpublished Manifesto presented in chronological order under the title – “The collected evolutionary papers of John A. Davison.” This can be a very effective technique in demonstrating the growth of a biological idea and a new hypothesis for evolution. Jacques Loeb who invented arrtificial parthenogenesis had his papers presented that way and it is fascinating reading. If you hear of a publisher weak minded enough to consider such a proposal have them contact me before its too late. I’m not feeling so good so I think I’ll have another drink.

    Skoal

  17. [...] learned a hard lesson a couple of years ago about attacking an idea, not a person. Now I’ve learned the “do your research and make sure your blog post is fully [...]

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