Home » Chemistry, Intelligent Design » Professor Pinker engages in wishful thinking – dissent is significant among chemists and chemical engineers

Professor Pinker engages in wishful thinking – dissent is significant among chemists and chemical engineers

As recently noted on this site, in his letter to the Boston Globe, Harvard University psychology Professor Steven Pinker began

SHAME ON you for publishing two creationist op-eds in two years from the Discovery Institute, a well-funded propaganda factory that aims to sow confusion about evolution. Virtually no scientist takes “intelligent design’’ seriously, and in the famous Dover, Pa., trial in 2005, a federal court ruled that it is religion in disguise.

(bold added)

Virtually no scientist takes “intelligent design” seriously? There appear to be more than a few in the chemistry/chemical engineering community that do. Kudos to a chemist for alerting me to this. Two weeks before Professor Pinker’s letter, Chemical & Engineering News (July 6th issue, pp 5-6) published six letters in response to a March 23rd article on the American Chemical Society’s stance on evolution/intelligent design and/or the Editor’s April 6th piece about the Texas School Board science standards. Of these six letters, five clearly came down on the side of questioning major aspects of evolutionary theory and encouraging open discussion of unsupported aspects of the theory. Three of the letters referred specifically and positively to intelligent design. Of course, five people are a very small fraction of the chemistry/chemical engineering community. But this is an unusually large number of letters on a single topic, and for five scientists to speak out spontaneously in a hostile environment is indicative of many more out there. The fact that 83% of the letters on this topic that the Editor published were opposed to his own stance suggests that he received many like these. And you can be sure no untenured professors or others in vulnerable positions were represented (yes, being Expelled is very real). And as far as Discovery being “well-funded”? Darwinist paranoia. The budget of Professor Pinker’s department alone (with 32 faculty) is probably significantly greater than the entire Discovery budget, much less the part that goes to support intelligent design.

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14 Responses to Professor Pinker engages in wishful thinking – dissent is significant among chemists and chemical engineers

  1. Once I’ve tried to read a Pinker’s book. It dealt about cognition and Pinker mentioned “natural selection” survival stuff almost on every page. It was impossible to finish the book. The great waste of time I dare say.

    http://cadra.wordpress.com/

  2. The OP here claims “Dissent is significant among chemists and chemical engineers”. This claim is based solely on 5 letters to a journal.

    From a critical thinking perspective I would suggest that although this may be interesting, there is hardly enough data to draw such a sweeping conclusion:

    * Is this a significant journal that the majority of engineers read? What is the readership?
    * Who are the actual people who wrote the letters. The OP claims they are scientists? Is that just an assumption? Could they be lay people? If we knew more about them we could make a better determination
    * What is the total population of chemists/chemical engineers in the world? (probably 10s of thousands would be my guess). If we assume, say, 10,000 then 5 is hardly significant.
    * How do we know the editors did not also receive a lot of anti-ID letters but decided, in the spirit of fairness, just to highlight the ID friendly ones.
    * Without reading the contents of the letters we just have to take Gage’s word for it that they are ID sympathetic (in other words, Gage is asking us to rely on hearsay to make his/her point).
    * We are told that “five” is an unusually large number of letters for a topic – and again we have to take Gage’s word for it (in most of the magazines/journals I read, five is not that many on a single topic).

    Sorry, but the title of this OP is just pure hyperbole. A little more critical thinking is in order before making such grand claims again.

  3. Gage’s headline reads (in part): “dissent is significant among chemists and chemical engineers

    How is dissent of non-biologists against the biological fact of evolution “significant”? They’re laymen opining outside their field of expertise! This has as much significance as non-chemists supporting the phlogiston theory, or non-mathematicians dissenting against the fact that Pi = 3.14159…

    Dissent would be significant if it was biologists carping about biology, but it’s trivially insignificant if it’s non-biologists carping about biology.

  4. PaulBurnett,

    ——”How is dissent of non-biologists against the biological fact of evolution “significant”? They’re laymen opining outside their field of expertise!”

    So are you. If their opinion is of no value, than neither is yours, for you’re not a chemist nor chemical engineer, and cannot speak to what they do. If your logic holds, it defeats your argument.

  5. PaulBurnette @ 3

    “Dissent would be significant if it was biologists carping about biology, but it’s trivially insignificant if it’s non-biologists carping about biology.”

    I agree.

    The degree of insignificance is trivial.

    :P

  6. That is, trivially = insignificantly.

    triv?i?al??/?tr?vi?l/ [triv-ee-uhl] [...]

    –adjective

    1. of very little importance or value; insignificant: Don’t bother me with trivial matters.
    [...]
    [Source:] Dictionary.com Unabridged
    Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2009.

    [Bold emphasis mine]

    :.

    ‘trially insignificant’ =>
    ‘insignificantly insignificant’ =>
    ‘significant’

    Maybe, you’re subconsciously sympathetic to ID?

    …yeah, I’m bored.

  7. Paulburnett,

    Do you similarly dismiss Dawkin’s “The God Delusion” since he is a zoologist untrained in theology or biblical criticism? If not, why?

  8. Given the opinions expressed above regarding non-biologists, should not Charles Darwin’s views on evolution should be excluded from any debate on the subject? I think so. The man was a rank amateur.

    The way I see it, if someone claims to understand a phenomenon and cannot explain it in simple terms that the average intelligent layperson can understand, then one can be absolutely certain that the claim is mostly hogwash. The condescending (I’m smarter than you) pomposity of scientists (especially evolutionary biologists, global warming alarmists and physicists) never ceases to amaze me.

    “It is time to cut them down to size and give them a more modest position in society.” Feyerabend

  9. JTaylor: I updated the post to include a link to the July 6th Letters (if it works without a subscription).

    This Editor is very anti-ID and would not publish 5 “discuss the controversy” letters without having been forced by the proportion of incoming letters supporting that point.

    As far as whether six letters is a lot on a given topic in this magazine, look at the other subjects in this issue or even at other issues and judge for yourself.

  10. 10

    Clive Hayden (#4) responded to my comment “They’re laymen opining outside their field of expertise!” with “So are you. If their opinion is of no value, than neither is yours, for you’re not a chemist nor chemical engineer, and cannot speak to what they do.

    I only did ten years of chemical engineering R&D, working with PhD chemists – so I can speak to what they do. (I still subscribe occasionally to the online edition of C&ENews.)

    As has been noted elsewhere, engineers of all stripes have a mechanistic view of things – creationism makes sense to them – they can sympathize with the concept of an intelligent designer.

  11. 11

    “jlid” (#7) asked: “Do you similarly dismiss Dawkin’s “The God Delusion” since he is a zoologist untrained in theology or biblical criticism? If not, why?

    Dawkins, a zoologist, wrote “The God Delusion” as a criticism of theologians and biblical literalists who are untrained in zoology and biology (and other sciences), but who insist on criticizing zoology and biology in spite of their scientific illiteracy.

    So, no, I do not dismiss “The God Delusion.”

  12. Gage: “I updated the post to include a link to the July 6th Letters (if it works without a subscription).”

    No, it doesn’t appear to be without a subscription.

    And even if the letters are pro-ID you cannot draw a conclusion such as “dissent is significant” just from a few letters. Perhaps you’ve convinced yourself but anybody who understands the basics of critical thinking is not going to be convinced by such a baseless assertion.

  13. Paul Burnett writes:

    [Dawkins, a zoologist, wrote “The God Delusion” as a criticism of theologians and biblical literalists who are untrained in zoology and biology (and other sciences), but who insist on criticizing zoology and biology in spite of their scientific illiteracy.
    So, no, I do not dismiss “The God Delusion.”]

    Response:

    Dawkin’s book is primarily about atheism and religion, and has little to do with zoology. The majority of its contents are philosophical, theological, and biblical; Dawkins has no formal expertise in any of these fields. Let’s be honest here: you do not dismiss it because you are inclined to agree with him. You make exceptions to your own rule for writers like Dawkins.

    You would dimiss as illegitimate a theologian’s speculation on biology, but accept as legitimate a biologist’s speculation on theology. How is this not making an exception to your own rule? Dawkins’ motivation for writing the book has no bearing on whether or not the book is outside his area of expertise.

  14. By the way, I personally do not think one should dismiss Dawkins’ book merely because he has no formal training in philosophy or theology. Intelligent people are perfectly capable of making cogent criticisms or contributions in fields outside their area of expertise. It happens all the time; scientists write histories of science (though they are not historians; e.g. Simon Singh), paleontologists write about (in the case of Stephen J. Gould) just about whatever they are interested in, geneticists write about science and culture (e.g. Lewontin), and zoologists write about religion. In all of these cases we cannot simply dismiss the writing simply because the writer may be outside their formal area of expertise.

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