Home » Intelligent Design » Well, that was predictable

Well, that was predictable

Both Sean Carroll and Carl Zimmer have resigned as contributors from Bloggingheadstv.com (BhTV). Seems that BhTV founder and editor-in-chief Robert Wright could not assure them that no obviously wrong (crazy) person would appear on the site in the future, like me or (somewhat less crazy) Mike Behe, at least in the science segments.

There’s not a lot to say about this. Like all other humans, scientists use social inclusion and exclusion to mark the boundaries of their community. (I have seen this taken to near-comical extremes. In June 1999, while walking with me on a hillside gravel road to a fossil outcrop in Chengjiang, China, paleontologist David Bottjer turned abruptly on his heel and began walking swiftly in the opposite direction — away from the fossils, and back towards the bus. The reason? I had asked him casually how his day was going.) The whole business reminds one of high school cliques. If she is going to sit here, then I’m moving to another table.

But a few comments are in order:

1. BhTV editor David Killoren, who invited me onto the site, says that my discussion with Ron Numbers was a “failed experiment.” That’s not how he described the exchange before the hostile comments and protests from Carroll and Zimmer came in. Here is how Killoren put it, complete with his emoticons, in a July 25 email to Numbers and me on the day our exchange went live:

This conversation is really fascinating on several levels. Thanks to both of you for doing this. And Paul — I hope your (testable!) prediction that this diavlog gets many hits comes true! :)

Now that Carroll and Zimmer have taken their lunch trays to the other side of the cafeteria, Killoren says that “creationists and ID’ers are crackpots. I agree that these crackpots do harm (e.g. by corrupting public perception of science)”. Which is why someone at BhTV featured my comments about opposing requiring ID in public schools in the Hot Topics sidebar.

Corrupting, you know.

2. Sean Carroll needs to get out more — out of his own corner of the science literature, anyway. He writes:

Go to a biology conference, read a biology journal, spend time in a biology department; nobody is arguing about the possibility that an ill-specified supernatural “designer” is interfering at whim with the course of evolution.

But they are. This week’s PNAS carries a research article claiming to refute irreducible complexity, Mike Behe’s signature idea about the structure of biomolecular systems. At the big Cold Spring Harbor symposium on Darwin and evolution this past May, where Mike Behe presented a poster, several talks were dedicated in their entirety to challenging ID, and many speakers brought up the topic in their own presentations. I saw Mike at a small research meeting at the University of Pittsburgh a few days after the Cold Spring event, and he reported with some amusement about the attention given to ID there.

That’s the problem with social exclusion as a tactic. In an open society, it’s hard to control who talks to whom, or about what.

3. It’s the epistemology, stupid.

Here’s the standard riff:

Creationists and IDers hold their views out of ignorance, stupidity, or malice — Dawkins’s “stupid, wicked, or insane” trope. If only these people were properly educated in evolutionary biology (or whatever), they’d agree that undirected evolution is the best explanation for our existence.

But maybe not. Maybe the much bigger aspect is below the waterline, and concerns one’s philosophy of nature, or explanation, or understanding of (or rejection of) theology. Maybe it’s the epistemology that really counts — not the empirical evidence, strictly speaking, because the available evidence greatly underdetermines the Big Picture.

Ludwig Wittgenstein was a lifelong skeptic of Darwinian evolution. In his late work On Certainty (1949-51), Wittgenstein grappled with exactly the “oh-hell-if-I-allow-that-doubt-or-question-all- rationality-is-gone” worries, which just drove Carroll and Zimmer from BhTV.

Turns out, however, that rationality can survive all kinds of questions. Social control or cohesion, on the other hand, may take a hit.

Here’s how Wittgenstein put it, with respect to the theories that Carroll, Zimmer, Coyne, and others take as, respectively, crazy (creation) versus beyond reasonable doubt (undirected evolution):

Very intelligent and well-educated people believe in the story of creation in the Bible, while others hold it as proven false, and the grounds of the latter are well known to the former. (1972, p. 43e, emphasis in original)

“The grounds of the latter are well known to the former.” If undirected evolution is unpersuasive after one has received graduate level, in-depth training in the subject, maybe it’s not the evidence or the theory that one needs to know more about.

Maybe one sees that philosophical materialism, the take-home message for Dawkins, Coyne, Carroll, et al., is actually ill-supported by the science.

In which case, a vigorous debate is exactly what is wanted.

Reference

Wittgenstein, Ludwig. 1972. On Certainty. New York: Harper & Row.

  • Delicious
  • Facebook
  • Reddit
  • StumbleUpon
  • Twitter
  • RSS Feed

22 Responses to Well, that was predictable

  1. I think IDers could really turn this brouhaha to their own advantage. If all the Darwinists leave bloggingheads, then why not have a discussion between two ID proponents?

    I would suggest we start with a vigorous debate between Michael Behe and Cornelius Hunter on the subject of common descent.

  2. One thing this brouhaha has done is demonstrate that the thesis of Ben Stein’s Expelled is correct.

    Look how terrified those producers are of the Darwinists!

    It seems they have both evolved universal swivel joints in their heads.

    Amazing, and after how few generations?

    In media today as always, you need the guts to stand by your decisions, even when stars get huffy.

    Otherwise, you are running a public relations firm for the star.

  3. The high school clique analogy is perfect for describing Darwinist behaviors at large. How they viciously act out, respond to, and regard individuals instead of the ideas and principles is spot on. The discrimination and prejudice they exercise to me contains no less superficial depth than racism- this becomes obvious by simply measuring the meager criteria many of them base their hateful judgements on.

    I think it would be interesting just to conduct an experiment that involves getting any willing non-partisan volunteer to put forth ID proposals on a Darwin forum not only to record the amount of hateful comments in each response, but to also record how many responses were even relevant to the proposed ideas. Then follow this up by getting the same volunteer to put forth Darwinian proposals on an ID forum with the same goal in mind and then comparing the results. Results could be measured by how the volunteer was treated on a personal level and the relevance of responses in each scenario.

  4. “Both Sean Carroll and Carl Zimmer have resigned as contributors from Bloggingheadstv.com”

    Good, let them resign from everything else as well and the whole ‘science’ world will be a better place. Such dogmatism, bigotry and intolerance are the things that science needs to be exorcised of these days.

    Like Dogbert’s (of Scott Adams ‘Dilbert’) role: “Out out!! you demons of stupidity!!”

  5. If their evidence for evolution is so overwhelming then why not present it. If Behe is so obviously wrong they must be able to show the evidence to refute his claims, rather than just mocking him. Walking away speaks volumes about the strength of the theory of Darwinian evolution.

  6. It’s been presented time and time again. It’s out there. No one can make you pull your fingers from in front of your eyes, or make you take your fingers out of your ears and stop going “lalala, I can’t hear you.”

    Look, they did the right thing. If i were a geologist and I belonged to some community that treated flat-earthers as serious, I’d resign too.

  7. Paul, you say, “Maybe one sees that philosophical materialism, the take-home message for Dawkins, Coyne, Carroll, et al., is actually ill-supported by the science.”

    I don’t see how a community of scientists that commits methodologically to materialism can undermine any individual’s philosophical commitment to materialism. When speaking of “the science,” most of us mean the communal explanations of communal observations, not the observations themselves. In contemporary science, the only permissible explanations are materialistic.

    One cannot use scientific explanations to challenge the effectiveness of the prevailing scientific methodology. What we need to do, I believe, is put aside the current scientific lens, look at the data in a primitive way to see what salient features the lens keeps us from seeing, and grind a new scientific lens (make a new epistemological commitment) that permits us to see and to explain previously excluded aspects of reality.

    Again, data recorded by scientists are not science. For ID to be a part of science, the very notion of what constitutes science will have to be modified radically, and this will be achieved only by philosophical investigation of science as a way of knowing — meta-science, if you will.

  8. 8

    Anthony09,

    If it is the ethically right thing to do to abandon communities that treat supposedly nonsensical ideas with respect, when can we expect you abandon UD?

  9. Anthony09,

    I agree, if I were a biologist and I belonged to a Darwinist apologetic forum, I’d resign too.

  10. PaulN @3: “I think it would be interesting just to conduct an experiment that involves getting any willing non-partisan volunteer to put forth ID proposals on a Darwin forum not only to record the amount of hateful comments in each response, but to also record how many responses were even relevant to the proposed ideas. Then follow this up by getting the same volunteer to put forth Darwinian proposals on an ID forum with the same goal in mind and then comparing the results. Results could be measured by how the volunteer was treated on a personal level and the relevance of responses in each scenario.”

    Try venturing into the atheist-filled comment threads on Fark.com. Look for evolution or religion themed articles that have been posted.

  11. If bhtv shut down today, would anyone notice tomorrow?

    But anyway I would love to talk with Dr Behe about universal common descent…

  12. BTW evolutionists have to use the tactic “don’t engage them”.

    Because every time they do they get their lunch handed to them!

    Abbie Smith is crying that she should interview Behe.

    That would be OK if Behe also got to interview her.

    But do you think she would be OK with that?

    Not a chance…

  13. Borne, at 4, references a wonderful Dogbert graphic by Scott Adams.

    Adams had a run-in with PZ Myers when he made the mistake of asking some sensible questions.

    Adams is a humorist, not a rant boy, so you can imagine what happened then.

    Go here for more.

  14. The uncomfortable truth is that, at some point, the ID movement needs to stop seeking anyone’s approval or inclusion and just move forward, pioneering the kind of research it would pursue if it were the dominant paradigm in the field of biology. Too much time is getting wasted trying to convince these people who are happy to conflate Intelligent Design theory with Young-Earth Creationism (the latter of which, of course, is rightly dismissed as unscientific nonsense.)

    Instead, the ID movement should focus on supporting and funding a robust program of research, producing new and valuable information previously unknown to science — information that evolutionists simply wouldn’t have arrived at under the constraints of their own theory. If such a research program were unambigously grounded in the principles and methodology of Intelligent Design theory, and this research program started producing tangible results — imagine if it led to a medical breakthrough, say, or a new treatment for a disease — this would do more to win over skeptics than untold hundreds of books, films, conferences, and articles on the theory.

  15. Paul

    I think you should put the Wittgenstein quote in context. This is the complete paragraph:

    But what men consider reasonable or unreasonable alters. At certain periods men find reasonable what at other periods they found unreasonable. And vice-versa.

    But is there no objective character here?

    Very intelligent and well-educated people believe in the story of creation in the Bible, while others hold it as proven false, and the grounds of the latter are well known to the former.

    He is hard to interpret (remember these are just notes for a first draft which he never lived to publish). However, I understand this example to be using the creation story in the Bible as an example of what we would nowadays regard as irrational. He is raising the question of what makes a belief rational in one age and irrational in another. What makes one set of beliefs objective? I am sure he doesn’t actually think that such a belief is rational. After all in other parts of the book he asks why we believe that the earth has been here long we were born. Do you seriously think that he doubted this?

  16. Thinking our existence is due to non-telic processes is irrational- regardless of what period we live in.

  17. Hi Mark,

    Two points:

    1. The evidence of Wittgenstein’s doubts about Darwinian evolution can be found elsewhere in his corpus. See, for instance, the Lectures & Conversations on Aesthetics, Psychology and Religious Belief, ed. Cyril Barrett (Univ. of California Press, 1966), pp. 26-7:

    “Cf. The Darwin upheaval. One circle of admirers who said: ‘Of course’, and another circle who said: ‘Of course not’. Why in the Hell should a man say ‘of course’? (The idea was that of monocellular organisms becoming more and more complicated until they became mammals, men, etc.) Did anyone see this process happening? No. Has anyone seen it happening now? No. The evidence of breeding is just a drop in the bucket. But there were thousands of books in which this was said to be the obvious solution. People were certain on grounds which were extremely thin. Couldn’t there have been an attitude which said: ‘I don’t know. It is an interesting hypothesis which may eventually be confirmed’? This shows how you can be persuaded of a certain thing. In the end you forget entirely every question of verification, you are just sure it must have been like that.”

    2. I disagree with your interpretation of the passage I cited from On Certainty. Wittgenstein is not describing a past or historical state of affairs (let’s say, prior to Darwin / 1859), because that would make nonsense of the passage. How could creationists know the grounds on which their opponents hold creation to be “proven false” prior to the arrival of evolutionary theory? Witt. is describing the structure of empirical knowledge, and poses this fact (that “well-educated and intelligent” creationists can know evolutionary theory, and yet doubt it) as a challenge to naive epistemologies.

  18. Wittgenstein was a fervent Christian mystic of the Augustinian stripe. The purpose of his philosophical riddling was to carry on a two-front war against the ethical presumption of naturalism as well as Transcendentalism (especially Hegel). Russell misconstrued him, which makes his introduction to the Tractatus rather morbidly amusing. The point of the quotation cited in the post above is that naturalism may not be as rational as it thinks it is, since it is based on propositions that cannot be verified empirically. Still, Hercules himself do what he may…

  19. Daisy,

    You make some good points. But also misunderstand how scientific revolutions have taken place in the past. Darwin did not do any grounbreaking research for medical breakthroughs. Louis Pasteur did. But who do Darwinist cult worshipers and largely bias media today idolize?

    Lets review:

    “Instead, the ID movement should focus on supporting and funding a robust program of research, producing new and valuable information previously unknown to science — information that evolutionists simply wouldn’t have arrived at under the constraints of their own theory.”

    ID research is being done daily. Besides the obviously rewarding Design Heuristic process of Reverse Engineering, See response below.

    Regarding their own theory. It failed to see…
    1) Vestigial organs are useful
    2) JunkDNA is not junk
    3) Design mimicry is a powerful heuristic process for engineering advancement in all areas of life
    4) “DNA is like a computer program but far, far more advanced than any software we’ve ever created.” Bill Gates.
    5) IBM uses DNA to make next-gen microchips.
    6) Bears swimming around in water with mouths wide open turned into whales.(Darwin retracted this two years later).
    7) Dawkins resurrected Darwin’s bear idea in a new Cloven-Hoofed beast swimming around turning into a whale.

    I predict #7 will be an udder failure.

    Thats a few items. Truth is Darwin had not a clue; being a math failure and not understanding the basic principles of engineering, how complex life truly is at the molecular level. The Darwinist for the longest time sought out fossils to prove Darwin’s inference of gradualism. That has been a colossal failure. Add Cambrian Explosion to the items above. Therefore, Darwin’s gradualism is dead. Mendel introduced genetics by actual scientific experimentation and observation. Modern Synthesis attempted to restore Darwinism but it has since fallen flat. As HGT entered into the frey, now Darwin’s TOL has fallen as a useful metric even for a diagram or graphic device to teach.

    Darwinist have blown it on every level except for micro-evolution which everyone agrees happens as observed today. The Darwinist theory is dead. The only reason it still survives today is old grey beards that are tenured have not yet died off and succumbed to the withering vine of selfish genome extinction.

    “If such a research program were unambigously grounded in the principles and methodology of Intelligent Design theory, and this research program started producing tangible results — imagine if it led to a medical breakthrough, say, or a new treatment for a disease — this would do more to win over skeptics than untold hundreds of books, films, conferences, and articles on the theory”

    First off, Darwin wrote a book and republished it many times, correcting or updating it along the way. So today, doing as Darwin – writing books is a smart choice when dissent is stifled. Creating films, holding conferences and writing articles are important for many reasons.

    a) Darwinist do it
    b) Darwinist do it
    c) Darwinist do it
    d) Darwinist stifle dissent,
    e) Darwnist harrass dissenters(see Dr. Sternberg),
    f) Darwinist act like Owellian thought police controlling actual words of scientist in peer-reviewed publications,
    g) Darwinist do not want to allow even a tiny bit of critical commentary on the theory in schools.
    h) Darwinist now worship Darwin as a high priest in churches

    An informed public can help the scientific research you desire. An informed public can counter the Darwinist propaganda programs and the stifling of free dissent in Academia. An informed public can ask hard questions of the Darwinist. An informed public can inform and educate their children to the bias and prejudice of Darwinist and atheist.

    So, again, getting information out to the public is important.
    As to research programs, please see”

    Biological Institute:
    The more we learn about the organization of life,
    the more clearly it reveals design.

    They are doing research. You can donate to support it.

  20. This conversation is really fascinating on several levels. Thanks to both of you for doing this. And Paul — I hope your (testable!) prediction that this diavlog gets many hits comes true! :)

    But thought police don’t exist. Instead, they huff and puff and “go to the other side of the cafeteria.”

    LOL! ;-) ;-) ;-)

    Truly hilarious, but strangely sad.

    yakky d yak yak yak

  21. Thanks for the response, DATCG — yes, those are exactly the kinds of things I’m talking about. ID needs to devote every resource toward predicting the next big discovery like (Non)Junk DNA or (Non)Vestigial Organs, clearly articulating its methodology for applying the Design inference, and then work toward carrying out the necessary studies to verify that hypothesis. If the Darwinists are actively sneering at this endeavor as a waste of time, all the better.

    That being said, I’m not sure I’m convinced that it’s useful to treat past scientific revolutions as though they can show us what to expect in the future of the ID movement… It’s become pretty clear by now that ID faces a larger challenge than any revolution in scientific history. Part of this is a matter of practicality — a 21st-century paradigm shift in biology will have much more momentum to overcome than one made in the 1800′s — but the much bigger problem seems to be the way the theory has gotten caught up in the politics of church-state separation.

    Thanks for the link; I will definitely look into the research they’re doing and see about making a donation if I can.

  22. The next big discovery?

    The chemical reactions that allow for development and daily functionality are controlled by software.

    This software is NOT the DNA, RNA.

    Rather the software resides in/ on those macromolecules just as a computer’s software rides on the hard drive.

    The hard drive is not the code- it just holds it.

    With DNA and RNA they not only hold the code they also help it carry out the instructions.

Leave a Reply