Time to Refute Stephen Meyer?

By Chris Mooney | November 17, 2009 1:23 pm

I  just learned his book Signature in the Cell made the top ten list for Amazon science books of 2009. This reinforces a fact that I have long emphasized–conservatives support their authors, promote them on radio (as Michael Medved did yesterday), buy their books in droves, turn them into stars. Liberals and academic scholar and scientists, in general, don’t have the same drive to win the war of ideas. This is why Bjorn Lomborg is always such a big success, for instance, while authors of pro-science climate books regularly struggle to get noticed (unless they are Al Gore with preexisting celebrity).

Now, in the evolution arena, Meyer’s book is clearly drawing a lot of attention and is scarcely being refuted so far as I can see, despite containing some pretty obvious travesties (e.g., in Meyer’s own field, the history of science). So perhaps I had better dive in, as I did on the air yesterday, and describe some problems with Meyer’s arguments and approach. Alas, it is pretty hard to directly refute someone who looks at the currently unsolved question of the origins of life, throws up his hands, and says, it’s so improbable, God must have done it. That’s just not in the scientific spirit. Still, perhaps it is time to take on Meyer’s misinformation, as it is obviously starting to have significant influence…..

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Comments (70)

  1. Chris,
    It’s interesting how this post, and the two below it, weave the same thread. Scientists generally identify as Democrats or Independents, we get lots of abysmal media coverage, and books with little real scientific merit sell out because they are driven by rhetorical graft and intellectual corruption, while books and authors dealing in evidence are shunted aside.

    Anyone else see the thread? Anyone? No? Go back to Unscientific America, and reread it. When you do, the thread emerges – LACK OF ENGAGEMENT. The media doesn’t engage scientists and their work honestly (much less so as to defend sceince), scientists don’t engage politics or society, society engages Republican science deniers because they are the only game in town.

    I think I’ll go lie down now – I may have pulled a brain cell!

  2. Gaythia

    When it comes to “best sellers” it may be depressing to realize that Amazon lists the current bestseller as Sarah Palin’s “Going Rogue”. Controversy sells, arguably better than content.

    When discussing Meyer’s book, I think it would be useful to first read through the reviews on Amazon. I think these help explain why some people find this book so enticing. It does apparently offer one mechanism for balancing science with religious belief. For example, the one currently listed as most helpful on Amazon, titled “A former ID Skeptic?” seems to me to be written by someone who is turned off by name calling. This person finds Meyers persuasive, but still seems to be open to evidence. Polite discussions in which inaccuracies in the book are refuted, but religion is treated respectfully, might actually be effective.

  3. I want to echo Chris’s call for people to read and review Meyer’s book Signs of Intelligence. And I appreciate Chris’s candid admission that the book “is scarcely being refuted” so far. As far as I can see, Chris is pretty much right on that point.

    As an ID proponent myself, I feel it would be great to see some serious critiques of Meyer. I’ll give critics three tips on how not to critique Meyer:

    First, don’t call Meyer a young earth creationist, because he isn’t. (Jerry Coyne tried that tack and had to retract the claim.)

    Second, don’t try to cast Meyer’s argument as a mere negative argument against material causes, as Mooney claims that Meyer “throws up his hands, and says, it’s so improbable, God must have done it.” Meyer arguments for design is unmistakably a positive one, and is not merely a negative argument against evolution. (In The Republican War on Science, Mooney affirmatively quoted authorities similarly trying to misrepresent Meyer’s PBSW paper as “simply lacking” a “positive case for the necessity of ID”. Seriously? See Part 12 of “Whose War is it Anyway”, which is linked from my name, for a lengthy refutation of Mooney’s claim.)

    Third, don’t attack Meyer’s book before you read it. Anyone who claims or insinuates that Meyer’s argument for design is merely a negative critique of evolutionary mechanisms has clearly skipped a lot of chapters.

    There are other common fallacies in most attempts to refute Meyer, but I look forward to someone who respectfully critiques Meyer without misrepresenting his arguments, and has read the book.

  4. Guy

    Shouldn’t ID books should be considered religion/philosophy? They’re obviously not science books not since they aren’t actually describing any actual science that is recognized by the scientific community.

  5. Michael

    ‘Science’ is not defined by some nebulous ‘scientific community’. It is defined by recognized and supported theories formented and tested by the scientific method. Personally, I don’t consider ID to be science,as it delegates ultimate creation to some being or other. The reliance on a super-being for the beginning of our universe or universes cannot be proven nor disproven, so therefore is obviously outside the scope of science. This is by the self-imposed rules of scientific discovery and theory, and not due to the opinions of the ‘scientific community’, which is composed of very fallable human beings.

    ‘Science’ is not the result of taking a vote of some undefined ‘scientific community’, but rather the outcome, perhaps incorrect, of theories resulting from a particular process.

    That is why religion is often fixed into some ancient or medieval dogma, where science is always fine-tuning it’s theories and challenging the current theories with some new ones.

    Stating that since one cannot figure out how our universe began, that a default theory would be one of a supreme creator is diametrically opposed to how science works. Real scientists would say “We don’t know exactly how it began, but we are working on it.”

    That work continues, as always, while religious discoveries which change dogma and beliefs are in very short supply, if they exist at all.

  6. Erasmussimo

    Mr. Luskin, I examined the lengthy essay to which you link. I confess, I did not read the entire essay, because it is very lengthy, but I did concentrate on your argument that ID is “positive” rather than “negative”. Specifically, you claim that ID notes a similarity between irreducibly complex systems designed by agents whom we know to be intelligent (humans) and the irreducibly complex systems we see in nature. This similarity provides the logical basis for hypothesizing the existence of an intelligent designer. You go to great lengths to specify that ID only hypothesizes the existence, not the identity of the designer, and therefore does not include supernatural elements. The intelligent designer you specify must have the following properties:

    1. The power to instigate and influence the development of the entire biosphere. That’s a LOT of power — far more than the entirety of humanity. We can destroy small portions of the biosphere, and we can alter the development of a few species, but our ability to influence the biosphere remains much less than the power your intelligent designer requires to produce the observed biosphere.

    2. The technology — “know-how” — to exert this influence. Inasmuch as the information content of the biosphere far exceeds that of the total efforts of all humanity, this hypothesized intelligent designer must be possessed of even greater information content. That’s a LOT of information content.

    3. Despite that designer’s near-infinite know-how, it was not capable of doing the job properly. We humans are saddled with all sorts of lousy design features, hemorrhoids being the obvious example. How is that this designer was smart enough to create the entire biosphere but somehow overlooked this obvious mistake?

    So you are hypothesizing an intelligent agent who is all-but-omnipotent and all-but-omniscient, but insisting that this agent is not a god. There really were a few cases of modern Stone Age peoples regarding Westerners brandishing modern technology as gods. If such minor potence and science are capable of creating the impression of divinity in these peoples, how can you claim that your vastly more powerful and vastly more knowledgeable agent is NOT to be rightly regarded as tantamount to a god?

    But I have a second major point, regarding the phrase “irreducible complexity”. Surely your respect for information science requires you to make some attempt to quantify that term. Can you attach a number to your notion of irreducible complexity? How many bits must a system comprise in order to meet your criteria for terming it “irreducibly complex”? Alternatively, how much negative entropy or improbability does such a system possess? Can you compare the information content of the biosphere with the information content of the forces sustaining the biosphere?

  7. Erasmussimo

    Michael, you write “‘Science’ is not defined by some nebulous ’scientific community’. It is defined by recognized and supported theories formented and tested by the scientific method.”

    Tell me, who makes the determination of what constitutes “recognized and supported” as applied to theories? If Norman Nitwit declares that the theory that the earth is flat is “recognized and supported”, how are we to address his claim?

  8. Guy

    Micheal,

    I agree that we don’t need a vote of what constitutes science and what doesn’t. I do think it’s fair to say that if something is a result of the scientific method then it is usually recognized rather than rejected by a group of scientific thinkers.

    One revelation that could change beliefs is the origin, not of the species, but of morality. I think morality isn’t divinely inspired or even spiritually inherent. Instead, it evolved as our ability to empathize evolved. As we become more in-tune to how others feel about our actions we are more like to behave in a way is mutually agreed to be moral. We no longer consider things like gladiatorial games to be moral because we would empathize with the participants on a much deeper level than the ancient Romans did. If morality were spiritually inherent then what we consider moral should have stayed constant throughout the ages.

  9. gillt

    Erasmussimo: “Tell me, who makes the determination of what constitutes “recognized and supported” as applied to theories?”

    You either don’t understand the definition of theory as applied to science or you don’t understand the limitations imposed by independent, reproducible results.

  10. Erasmussimo

    Well, gillt, if I don’t understand that stuff, perhaps you can answer my question: how are you and I to resolve the claims made by Norman Nitwit? He claims that *he* is the one following scientific principles, and we are the ones in error. Can you produce an objective argument to refute his claim?

  11. gillt

    Guy: “If morality were spiritually inherent then what we consider moral should have stayed constant throughout the ages.”

    Lets not confuse cultural evolution with genetic evolution and lets not confuse evolution with adaptation or natural selection.

  12. olegt

    Chris, refute is not the right word. It’s impossible to refute design theory just like it’s impossible to disprove the existence of the pink invisible unicorn.

    Point out errors and misconceptions is what needs to be done.

  13. gillt

    Let me get this straight. You want to know how science would objectively refute the idea of a flat earth?

  14. Erasmussimo

    No, I want to know how YOU would argue that your position is right and Norman’s position is wrong, in a manner that would convince a person who knows no facts about the earth but does understand logic. Norman claims your facts are wrong; you claim that his facts are wrong. Is there no way that you can demonstrate to a reasonable outsider that you are right and he is wrong?

  15. gaythia

    I have read the essay linked to by comment #3 above. The essay seems to say (under “error #3”), that we can infer intelligent design for the origin of irreducibly complex structures. As I read it, it goes on to explain that intelligent design is the investigation of intelligent agents to “understand the types of information produced when they act” and natural objects to “see if they have the types of information which in our experience is only caused by intelligence “.

    While scientists are continually searching for explanations of the natural world which are as complete as possible, we have never succeeded at reaching a point of irreducible complexity. There is much we do not yet understand, but still we operate on the premise that our investigations of the physical world will lead us to new insights.

    The possible existence of an intelligent designer, as well as the manifestations of what that intelligence might be, are a matter of philosophy, and outside the realm of science.

    I agree somewhat with #12 about the use of the word “refute” and would also zing myself for the use of the word “accuracy” in #2 above. We need to be clear that we are talking about philosophy here.

  16. gillt

    Lets not try and sneak your silly “thought” experiment out of its original context. You were yammering on about how science would handle this.

    Anyway, the answer is easy if you (and by YOU I mean Mr. Nitwit) agrees on what constitutes a fact. However, since your original example had to do with scientific principles (not facts!) I’m not going to bother with Mr. Nitwits incoherent redefinition of what a fact is, and instead will stick with scientific principles.

    As Mr. Nitwit claims he’s making an argument pertaining to scientific principles I’ll simply ask for the evidence he’s produced to arrive as such a conclusion and refute that.

    So, where’s the evidence?

  17. Erasmussimo

    OK, gillt, so you’re so cornered that you have to resort to name-calling. That’s a good sign that you realize the weakness of your position. And your answer to Norman Nitwit is to demand to see the evidence. He will produce a variety of items that he considers evidence, and you will reject those items as not constituting evidence. So once again it’s back to your opinion against his, and you have no way of showing a disinterested third party that you’re right and he’s wrong.

    I suggest that you read Thomas Kuhn’s book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. In it, you will learn that science is an intrinsically social phenomenon in which group opinion establishes the perceived truth. This is not the Absolute Truth that you believe exists — nobody knows what the Absolute Truth is. All we have are the opinions of well-informed people. Congress recognized this problem nearly 150 years ago when it established the National Academy of Sciences to advise Congress on what constituted scientific truth and what does not. And it’s all a matter of opinion. Oh, and BTW, the NAS has already issued public statements endorsing AGW theory. Sure, it’s just the opinion of a bunch of old scientists. But they’re the best scientists in the country and they know the subject far better than you or I. Can you think of a better way for Congress to figure out what constitutes scientific truth? Should they consult you instead of the NAS?

  18. I want to echo Chris’s call for people to read and review Meyer’s book Signs of Intelligence.

    The fact that it’s a poorly thought-out set of disingenuous claims isn’t any kind of objection in your book, of course.

    And I appreciate Chris’s candid admission that the book “is scarcely being refuted” so far. As far as I can see, Chris is pretty much right on that point.

    So what? What did he write in his book that hasn’t showed up in slightly different form in Behe’s books and in numerous publications by Meyer himself?

    Come up with some actual evidence for once, instead of disingenuous “analogies” and false claims, and probably people will even read a religious book like Meyer’s.

    As an ID proponent myself, I feel it would be great to see some serious critiques of Meyer.

    Of course, because it would sell the book, and none of you would bother to deal with the sound criticisms made, as you indeed have not previously.

    I’ll give critics three tips on how not to critique Meyer:

    Ooh, Casey the mendacious gives us “tips,” which are really more whining.

    First, don’t call Meyer a young earth creationist, because he isn’t. (Jerry Coyne tried that tack and had to retract the claim.)

    So what’s the difference between Meyer’s species of dishonesty and your YEC dishonesty, Casey? Just a few more baseless claims made by you than the baseless claims made by Meyer.

    Second, don’t try to cast Meyer’s argument as a mere negative argument against material causes, as Mooney claims that Meyer “throws up his hands, and says, it’s so improbable, God must have done it.”

    Why, does he come up with empirical evidence for god, or even for some sort of alien, along with the requisite evidence that said alien or god would actually design something like DNA? Of course he doesn’t, he just twists the obsolete views of Lyell and the partially obsolete positivist views of Darwin, makes an unsound analogy by utilizing a reductionistic view of “codes,” ignores the huge differences in material and form between human and biological codes, and pretends that he performed a valid abduction. Well, that’s nothing but nonsense, even if it attempts to paper over the negativity of Meyer’s claims.

    Meyer arguments for design is unmistakably a positive one, and is not merely a negative argument against evolution.

    It’s unmistakably presented as a positive claim, but without the necessary match up between known (or at least knowable) causes and known effects. Real science is about specific causes creating specific effect, not the general analogies that religions and Meyer (along with other IDists) uses.

    (In The Republican War on Science, Mooney affirmatively quoted authorities similarly trying to misrepresent Meyer’s PBSW paper as “simply lacking” a “positive case for the necessity of ID”. Seriously? See Part 12 of “Whose War is it Anyway”, which is linked from my name, for a lengthy refutation of Mooney’s claim.)

    Why don’t you make this insipid nonsense available, instead of trying to make money off of it and pretending that something new is in it?

    Third, don’t attack Meyer’s book before you read it.

    We don’t have to pretend that ID has ever produced meaningful evidence for its claims, or that it ever will. If you know of something intelligent existing in Meyer’s book, present it. You have the obligation to show us that it has some value, we don’t have cause to buy ID’s wretched lies in order to show that ID is worthless nonsense.

    Reviews and previews exist to give us some idea of the value of the book prior to buying it. The reviews demonstrate that no one has found anything of substance worth presenting to the public, and the preview of the book reinforces this fact.

    Anyone who claims or insinuates that Meyer’s argument for design is merely a negative critique of evolutionary mechanisms has clearly skipped a lot of chapters.

    Or they know tomfoolery when they see it, just like we recognize emptry claims in Casey Luskin’s comment.

    Glen Davidson
    http://tinyurl.com/mxaa3p

    There are other common fallacies in most attempts to refute Meyer, but I look forward to someone who respectfully critiques Meyer without misrepresenting his arguments, and has read the book.

  19. bilbo

    …and again I’m dumbstruck by gillt’s Blog Commenter Multiple Personality Syndrome. Such latent anger in that creature…

    That was quite the smackdown, Erasmussimo. I appreciate how you can do that without resorting to gillt’s fifth-grade silliness.

  20. I’m saddened by Mr. Davidson’s apparent predilection for personal attacks. I have no interest in responding to them other to note that I am not a YEC, and have been quite public about my not being a YEC for many years.

  21. gillt

    Eras: “He will produce a variety of items that he considers evidence, and you will reject those items as not constituting evidence.”

    So instead of redefining facts, as I predicted you would do, you’ve redefined evidence–even evidence that would be recognizable to science, since it was in a scientific context you made your original flat earth claim. Again, until you give me something to work with there’s nothing to refute, but plenty to point and laugh at.

    So if Mr. Nitwits “evidence” isn’t at least reproducible as a first hurdle, then he’s not doing it right and your initial complaint becomes somewhat silly.

    Also, and I say this for your own benefit, you seem to have an unhealthy respect for Post Modern social theory. I’m all too familiar with it; and as it applies to science, I’m unimpressed.

  22. gillt

    Wait, I never called anyone a name, lol. If you have to resort to dishonesty, it must be a sign that you recognize the weakness of your position or something.

  23. I’m saddened by Mr. Davidson’s apparent predilection for personal attacks.

    Not saddened by utilizing dishonest statements over and over again, I see. That’s why I attack, it’s your lack of honesty that is at issue.

    There is nothing wrong with calling charlatans by the term that fits them, charlatans.

    I have no interest in ability for responding to them

    Fixed that for you. Do you think your lack of backing up your claims really escapes notice?

    other to note that I am not a YEC, and have been quite public about my not being a YEC for many years.</blockquote

    Ooh, a meaningless little tidbit that didn't answer anything at all about the relative lack of honesty by either YECs or by IDists.

    Like I said, what's the difference? If you know of any, other than the numbers of baseless claims you make, please do tell.

    Glen Davidson
    http://tinyurl.com/mxaa3p

  24. I have no idea why my response to the last fragment of Luskin’s avoidance of the issues didn’t make it into my last comment (it was there). Anyhow, here it is now:

    other to note that I am not a YEC, and have been quite public about my not being a YEC for many years.</blockquote

    Ooh, a meaningless little tidbit that didn't answer anything at all about the relative lack of honesty by either YECs or by IDists.

    Like I asked, what's the difference? If you know of any, other than the numbers of baseless claims you make, please do tell.

    Glen Davidson
    http://tinyurl.com/mxaa3p

  25. Well, it’s not there Retry, using somewhat different words:

    other to note that I am not a YEC, and have been quite public about my not being a YEC for many years.</blockquote

    Ooh, a meaningless little tidbit that didn't answer anything at all about the lack of ability to back up their claims by either YECs or by IDists.

    Like I asked, what's the difference? If you know of any, other than the numbers of baseless claims you make, please do tell.

    Glen Davidson
    http://tinyurl.com/mxaa3p

  26. Maybe it was a formatting error, which I just noticed:

    other to note that I am not a YEC, and have been quite public about my not being a YEC for many years.

    Ooh, a meaningless little tidbit that didn’t answer anything at all about the relative lack of honesty by either YECs or by IDists.

    Like I asked, what’s the difference? If you know of any, other than the numbers of baseless claims you make, please do tell.

    Glen Davidson
    http://tinyurl.com/mxaa3p

  27. Erasmussimo

    gillt, I went over the Flat Earth Society’s website, and they offered five arguments for why the Earth is not only flat but also the center of the universe. Here’s part of one argument:

    “The Earth accelerating in circular motion would behave no differently than would a car taking a corner: loose objects (humans and animals would act like loose change or a cup of coffee on the dashboard) would slide around, or be thrown off completely. There would be an apparent centrifugal force on everything. During the day, when things would be facing the sun and therefore on the inside of the “orbit”, buildings would be crushed and humans beings squashed like grasshoppers in a centrifuge.”

    Now, you and I both know this to be claptrap, but I ask, how can you prove that it’s claptrap WITHOUT at some point depending on what scientists say? If you argue that the magnitude of the phenomenon he cites is too small to produce the results he claims, he will demand to see your justification. If you say “Because physicists say so”, you’ve lost. If instead you claim that physics itself provides a better explanation, you get into the falsification problem: you can’t prove physics correct, you can only disprove other hypotheses. So how can you falsify the flat earth hypothesis? I don’t know how the Flat Earthers answer that question, but I suppose that they could argue that, if you flew a spaceship underneath the earth, you could see its underside. And when you claim that our spaceships have gone all around the earth and found no underside, they simply answer, “NASA hasn’t bothered to fly underneath the earth.”

    You write: ” you seem to have an unhealthy respect for Post Modern social theory.” Actually, my acquaintance with the concept consists solely of recognizing the phrase. Otherwise, I know nothing of it. The position I am arguing is broadly accepted by most philosophers of science. Again, I recommend that you read Thomas Kuhn for an appreciation of this concept. There are also some very serious philosophical tomes on these issues, but they’re quite tedious. Kuhn’s work is considered the milestone, and it’s an easy read.

  28. So Luskin gets to falsely accuse me of a predilection for personal attacks, and I don’t get to respond?

    Sure, maybe this gets through.

    Who cares?

    One ought to be able to make honest claims regarding Luskin, in response to such false claims.

    Enough of this censorship masquerading as “politeness.” I’m back to where honesty is permitted.

    Glen Davidson
    http://tinyurl.com/mxaa3p

  29. Oh sorry, I guess my posts were still there.

    I have no idea why the page doesn’t return to where it was previously as most sites do.

    I should, I suppose, have refreshed anyhow, just to be sure.

    Well, it was fun to attack Luskin once more, and again, I apologize for the previous comment.

    Glen Davidson
    http://tinyurl.com/mxaa3p

  30. Erasmussimo

    I’m disappointed that Mr. Luskin chose to respond to Mr. Davidson’s posts, but chose not to reply to the two questions I put to him. I suspect he does not respond because he has no good response.

  31. There is one question that should be answered, which is, were copies of Signature in the Cell (which is what I think Luskin meant, not Signs of Intelligence–if he did mean the latter, why?) sent out to the usual bunch of destinations, as would be expected if Luskin et al. really wanted reviews?

    If not, Luskin’s comments here are disingenuous on that score, as they were in other areas.

    But if so, I would expect some reviews to come down the line in the future.

    I was referring to positive reviews, btw, in comment #18, where I noted that they provided no promise of anything new, although they did supply virtually the same line as Luskin gives in #3, and with as little substance.

    So does anyone know if books were sent out for review to journals like Science and Nature, or did they simply realize that the book cannot withstand scrutiny and forgo that course of action?

    Glen Davidson
    http://tinyurl.com/mxaa3p

  32. gillt

    Ah Kuhn, one of the apologists and PoMo’s favorite philosophers to flog.

    There is zero scientific evidence for a flat earth and to claim so is to ignore basic physics and geology. The idea has been discredited countless times and in countless ways. I think it’s simple arrogance on your part to insist science refute anew (from first principles) every silly little idea that pops into people’s head. And it’s surely not a point against science but ignorance about science to say one can’t cite the accomplishments of others to make their case.

    This is not a about a paradigm shift or relativism, it’s about willful ignorance. So no, your argument doesn’t work, your example isn”t any less silly after name-dropping Kuhn, and unless you, I mean Mr. Nitwit, can come up with some evidence in your next response, you are simply stalling. (Hint: if there aren’t any error bars in your graphs it isn’t science).

  33. MartyM

    As I like to say…

    “Do it! And do it while you’re mad!”

  34. I have my copy of Meyer’s “Signature in the Cell” right to hand. I am currently enjoying opening it to a random page, and noteing the various errors of fact or logic. There are about 600 pages (sans index) and I am strating to run out of pages. This is a classic problem in sampling theory, and one that posses some difficulty for ID creationists.

  35. Gaythia

    ID publications are of concern to scientists because they may serve as tools by which people who are already are creationists try to influence those who may be religious and may not be sure how they should evaluate scientific information. For many non-scientists, much of science probably does seem as if it ultimately boils down to “irreproducibly complex structures” and things that “have the types of information which in our experience is only caused by intelligence”. These sorts of basically philosophical ideas may feel more comfortable to many people.

    I don’t think that there is much reason for active ID supporters to answer questions posed here or to seek review in major scientific journals. Or for the journals to accept them for review. If the journal review is negative that could just confirm a conspiracy of mainstream science against them. On the other hand, the very existence of such a review might be cited for scientific credibility. Mr Luskin points to a very few scientific journal publications in his link. The average member of the public knows little about the preponderance of scientific evidence.

    The issue, for those of us who think that a scientifically literate public is vital for the future of our nation, is to figure out how we can reach the target audience ourselves.

  36. bilbo

    Ah Kuhn, one of the apologists

    Read: “Ah Kuhn, one of the people responsible for shaping scientific thought as we know it.”

  37. Erasmussimo

    gillt, you continue to fail to answer my challenge; you simply declare ever more forcefully that the Flat Earth hypothesis is false. Yes, I know it’s false, but as I have asked you repeatedly, how can you show that it is false without in some way citing the opinions of the great majority of scientists. The fact that you have been unable to offer an argument that doesn’t cite such opinions supports my claim that ultimately the results of human science are decided by scientists. There is no truth waiting out there for you, gillt, to pronounce as Absolute Truth regardless of what scientists might say. The great majority of scientists say that evolution is the best explanation for life on earth. The great majority of scientists say that AGW is real. The great majority of scientists say that the earth is round. You are welcome, if you wish, to deny their claims, but such a denial would be irrational.

    Lastly, I can’t resist commenting on this statement of yours: ” (Hint: if there aren’t any error bars in your graphs it isn’t science).” Ever heard of nonparametric statistics? Tell me, if I carry out a rank-order test, how do I place error bars on the ranks?

  38. gillt

    Eras: “If Norman Nitwit declares that the theory that the earth is flat is “recognized and supported”, how are we to address his claim?”

    Eras: “So how can you falsify the flat earth hypothesis?”

    Do you understand what an hypothesis means, or what a theory is? I’m assuming you do not.

    An hypothesis is a testable explanation based on previous observations and not some random idea that just pops into your head. Also, hypotheses are typically based on observations that haven’t been adequately explained by existing theories.

    Let’s recap: your example fails on all counts, and your insisting that knowledge about observable phenomena is too relativistic to discount flat-earth explanations in the 21 century is either a silly joke or the rantings of a deluded mind–which would be silly in a different way.

  39. gillt

    I have a comment in moderation

    I see where this is going…an attempt to put words in my mouth and have me make claims I never made.

    I never argued for absolute truth, and I don’t deny what the great majority of scientists say about AWG or evolution.

    I don’t know how I can make this any simpler for you. For the last time, what is the flat earth hypothesis?

  40. Erasmussimo

    Gillt, let me remind you of the sequence of events here. It began with Michael in #5 stating:

    ““‘Science’ is not defined by some nebulous ’scientific community’. It is defined by recognized and supported theories formented and tested by the scientific method.””

    I took issue with this in #7, writing:

    “Tell me, who makes the determination of what constitutes “recognized and supported” as applied to theories? If Norman Nitwit declares that the theory that the earth is flat is “recognized and supported”, how are we to address his claim?”

    You responded to my assertion in #9, writing

    “You either don’t understand the definition of theory as applied to science or you don’t understand the limitations imposed by independent, reproducible results.”

    So now you have perhaps shifted your position. Perhaps we can both agree that, for all practical purposes, scientific truth is indeed determined by the scientific community, thereby contradicting Michael’s claim in #5.

  41. gillt

    Eras:”Ever heard of nonparametric statistics? Tell me, if I carry out a rank-order test, how do I place error bars on the ranks?”

    Oooh a histogram; you caught me there!

  42. Sorbet

    Erasmussimo, are you implying that you cannot calculate things like p-values and standard deviations for rank-ordered results?

  43. John Kwok

    @ Gary,

    Must have a rather extreme kurtosis. Is the distribution of errors quite positively or negatively skewed? If you know anyone who can sit down and tabulate all of Meyer’s goofs, I am sure that it would be an interesting, but rather trivial, statistical analysis to consider.

    Cheers,

    John

  44. gillt

    I’ve maintained my position, despite your willingness to dodge the issue, throughout this debate.

    It’s a simple matter of you choosing a bad hypothetical argument to support a worse position. Namely, that scientific theories are a matter of a consensus of opinion among experts. Let’s remind you:

    Erasmussimo: “how can you show that [the theory of a flat earth] is false without in some way citing the opinions of the great majority of scientists. The fact that you have been unable to offer an argument that doesn’t cite such opinions supports my claim that ultimately the results of human science are decided by scientists.”

    I’m afraid science employs a slightly more rigorous process than relying on expert opinion.

    Are you by chance a general practitioner or lawyer?

  45. Erasmussimo

    Well, gillt, you are now reduced to arguing by assertion. I repeat: I have challenged you to provide an argument disproving the flat earth people without in some manner citing expert opinion. You have repeatedly failed to provide such an argument, and the reason why you have failed is obvious: you can’t come up with such an argument. You could have blown my claims to hell by providing such an argument, but instead you have argued everything EXCEPT the one thing that would prove me wrong.

    You declare, again without any substantiation, that “science employs a slightly more rigorous process than relying on expert opinion.” Again, I suggest that you read Thomas Kuhn; he will quickly disabuse you of your misconception.

    Lastly, you couldn’t resist trying a personal shot:

    “Are you by chance a general practitioner or lawyer?”

    No, by chance I happen to hold a master’s degree in Physics, and I have participated as a volunteer in a number of scientific research programs, providing support requiring considerable scientific expertise. My name appears on two peer-reviewed scientific papers. I have also lectured at UC Berkeley, Stanford, UC Santa Cruz, USC, UCLA, MIT, Yale, Erasmus University in Rotterdam, a school in Munich whose name I cannot recall, and at a variety of scientific conferences, including the AAAS conference. I have also taught courses at the University of Bremen. (None of these efforts were in physics, but rather in my own specialty.)

    So, since you broached the subject, I’ll ask you what scientific degree you hold, whether you have participated in any fashion in serious scientific research, and whether your name appears on any peer-reviewed scientific papers? I’d also like to know where you have lectured or taught science courses.

    Turnabout is fair play, right? ;-)

  46. Erasmussimo

    Oh, I left out some places. I can’t remember all the names, but I do remember the locations: Darmstadt, Germany (Fraunhofer Institute?); Maastricht (that was a special outfit); Athens, Portugal, Helsinki, Copenhagen, Biarritz (a conference), Monaco (another conference), Cannes (same there), Melbourne, Sidney, Hong Kong, Singapore, Tokyo, a small school in Washington, another small school in Vermont, Atlanta (Georgia Tech), Orlando, Carnegie-Mellon in Pittsburg, University of Michigan, University of New Mexico Albuquerque, two conferences in Santa Fe, Edinburgh, and a number of places in London. Oh, and Leeds, too. Most of these were invited lectures where they paid my travel costs and provided a small honorarium. Oh, and a small conference in Austria, too — a little town on the Danube near where they held prisoner an English king returning from the Crusades…

    There are probably more but my memory isn’t so good.

  47. gillt

    Thanks Eras, for answering my question: you do in fact have a sophomoric understanding of how science works. As for asking for the opinion of another scientist…why can’t I just ask the flat-earther to test his hypothesis, which was my original point? And you still seem to be laboring under the false idea that opinion matters in this debate. It doesn’t. Observable natural phenomena matter.

    btw., I was being facetious about the lawyer or gp because it appeared (and appears) you know very little about hypothesis testing. I really don’t want to know what you do for a living, Eras. Frankly, your laundry list of speaking engagements (two posts!) comes off as some sad attempt at grandstanding than impressive. I’m sure that PhD is just around the corner. For what it’s worth I’m a grad student in a genetics lab. That’s all I’ll say without sounding hypocritical.

  48. Erasmussimo

    Well, gillt, we have reached the point of head-butting. You’re back to name-calling, again demonstrating the lack of any substantive arguments to offer. I’ve made my points, you won’t respond to them, and that leaves us nowhere. Vaya con dios.

  49. gillt

    Again, with the false accusations?

  50. John Kwok

    @ Sorbet,

    If you use some kind of rank-ordered test like the Mann-Whitney U or Wilcoxon Signed Rank test, you are dealing with nonparametric statistics. P values can be calculated, but the results are not as statistically robust as those tests used with statistics for normal distributions such as, for example, T tests and chi-square tests.

  51. John Kwok

    @ Casey Luskin –

    Am I delighted that my favorite former geologist turned legal eagle turned agitprop apologist for the Dishonesty Institute has deemed it worthy enough to “drive by” here.
    If I had a champagne bottle, I would have pulled out the cork and raised a toast in your honor.

    Your “esteemed” colleague Stephen Meyer has earned the dubious distinction many times of being criticized first before asking questions. Time and time again he’s demonstrated that he’s a mediocre Cambridge University-trained historian of science with a most superficial understanding of the subjects that he professes some expertise in (A classic example is of course is his rather absurd paper on the “Cambrian Explosion” published approximately four years ago in that journal edited by Mr. Sternberg. Although there are some invertebrate paleobiologists, like, for example, Derek Briggs, who would refer to it as such, nonetheless they do realize that metazoan diversification during the early and middle Cambrian Period was far more gradual than was thought a century ago. Indeed, in his recent book “Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters”, vertebrate paleobiologist Donald Prothero makes a most compelling case as to why the “Cambrian Explosion” should be regarded instead, as a “Cambrian Slow Fuse”.).

    From one former geologist to another, I would be most curious in hearing how Intelligent Design is such a major scientific “advance” that it could possibly have any credible predictions to confirm aspects of Plate Tectonics which bear directly on the history of life on Planet Earth. But I am willing to bet that you can’t make any reasonable predictions, Casey.
    If you can offer such clear, compelling proof, I might send you an autographed copy of Frank McCourt’s “Teacher Man” (BTW, Frank was my favorite high school teacher and by sending you a copy, maybe you might learn something as to how much he valued intellectual honesty and integrity. Before he passed away, I told him that I was engaged in confronting intellectually challenged rightwing zealots such as yourself. He was absolutely delighted to hear it. If he was alive today, I am sure he would condemn the ongoing nefarious activities of yourself and your fellow Dishonesty Institute mendacious intellectual pornographers.).

    Having seen elsewhere online one decent picture of you which demonstrates your superb rock star looks, have you thought of quitting your day job? Maybe Katy Perry could use you in her band (Might be a great fit, since both of her parents are Evangelical Protestant Christian ministers residing near Los Angeles.). Moreover, it would be far more intellectually honest for you to make a career switch and, I believe, far more lucrative than your present duties as an online shill for the Dishonesty Institute.

    Live Long and Prosper (as a DI IDiot Borg drone),

    John Kwok

  52. SLC

    Re John Kwok

    It would possibly be educational for the lurkers here if the Dishonesty Institutes’ leading shill, Mr. Luskin, would explain why he is not embarrassed to be associated not only with evolution deniers and global warming deniers but also CFC/ozone depletion deniers, HIV/AIDS deniers, and, in the person of John West, Holocaust deniers. He should also explain how he associates himself with the Dishonesty Institute which is heavily funded by Christian Dominionist Howard Ahmandson Jr. who has publicly proclaimed that the USA should be ruled according to the laws of the Hebrew bible and should be a theocratic dictatorship.

  53. John Kwok

    @ SLC –

    If you haven’t already, may I suggest reading Paul Gross and Barbara Forrest’s superb “Creationism’s Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design?”. Both have been keen observants of – and harsh critics too – of the Amandsons and the rest of the DI gang of Xian cypto-Fascist acolytes and sycophants. I am well aware that Barbara has been carefully documenting their nefarious activities for years.

    As for our “pal” Casey Luskin, that’s exactly the outcome he’s praying for IMHO>

  54. Sorbet

    Excuse me Erasmussimo, but are you a FedEx delivery guy by any chance?

  55. TTT

    Conservatives support their authors, promote them on radio (as Michael Medved did yesterday), buy their books in droves, turn them into stars. Liberals and academic scholar and scientists, in general, don’t have the same drive to win the war of ideas.

    The spirit is willing. The wallet is weak.

    Nearly all “thinktanks” are conservative, because they specifically exist only to give airtime to conservative opinions, actual evidence notwithstanding. If ExxonMobil, Richard Mellon Scaife, Rupert Murdoch, and Sun Myung Moon had each invested $1 billion in promoting liberal / pro-scientific authors and concepts instead of right-wing / anti-science, the situation would be reversed.

  56. John Kwok

    @ TTT –

    Apparently George Soros doesn’t think that attacking creationists is worthwhile when he has other, bigger, fish to fry, like how to ensure that the United States becomes a socialist-dominated society. That’s one comment of Chris’s that I might quibble with here, but I understand his sentiment and know where he’s coming from.

  57. Erasmussimo

    Sorbet, you write: “Excuse me Erasmussimo, but are you a FedEx delivery guy by any chance?”

    Hmm, is that an attempt at humor? If so, it doesn’t work, because anybody reading my post would have read this statement:

    “I have also lectured at UC Berkeley, Stanford…”

    FedEx delivery guys don’t get to lecture UC Berkeley, Stanford, et alia.

  58. Sorbet

    Well, I don’t know who you lectured too, but I think you will agree that listing all the places you have travelled to does not bolster your argument in terms of substance.

  59. Erasmussimo

    I agree, Sorbet, the question of my credentials is utterly irrelevant to the real issues here. It’s just that gillt made the mistake of insinuating that I have no credentials for this discussion and I thought I’d teach him a lesson about good manners by dumping a big pile of my credentials onto him. (Oh, and yes, I lectured to students, faculty, and at academic conferences.)

    Whaddya say we leave this ugliness behind us and discuss something that matters?

  60. I suspect that Michael Shermer will have something to write about Meyer’s book fairly soon, since he’s going to be debating Meyer in a little less than a week. I’d be almost certain that Skeptic will have a review, and I’ll be surprised if Skeptical Inquirer does not.

    Those are the journals that actually are the proper venues for considering such pseudoscience, not any serious science journals.

    Glen Davidson
    http://tinyurl.com/mxaa3p

  61. Oops, I knew it was in less than two weeks, so I don’t know why I wrote “less than a week.”

    Glen Davidson
    http://tinyurl.com/mxaa3p

  62. SLC

    Re John Kwok @ #53

    I read Prof. Forrests’ book 2 or 3 years ago.

  63. John Kwok

    @ SLC –

    It’s actually Gross and Forrest, SLC. Paul Gross is the former Provost of the University of Virginia, former director of the Marine Biological Laboratory, and also has taught elsewhere around the country, including, for example, Brown. He is also an admitted conservative who has written about liberal biases in education as well as Intelligent Design and other flavors of creationism for the last fifteen years or so. Barbara Forrest is a professor of philosophy at a state university in Louisiana and is the head of the Louisiana Citizens for Science group that opposed the passage and then Governor Bobby Jindal’s signing of the state’s Dishonesty Institute-drafted Academic Freedom bill, which is monitoring its current implementation within the state’s public school system.

  64. Thomas

    Meh.

    It’s probably some ID proponents with deep pockets fudging with the numbers. Nothing to see here but the usual suspects trying to give their idea some false credibility.

  65. Third, don’t attack Meyer’s book before you read it.

    Interesting. The DI contacted me back in July and offered to send me a copy, and I said yes, please do.

    They didn’t.

    I didn’t go out and buy one because a copy was supposed to be on my way, and I didn’t even think about it. Did the DI send out any of the promised review copies? Or was that just a devious tactic to distract critics from reviewing the book?

  66. Gadfly47

    Luskin is upset that anyone would call him a YEC. He is an ID proponent, not a YEC. In other words he is only nutbar lite…

  67. Phil Schuster

    Whenever someone critiques intelligent design and characterizes it by the phrase: “God must have done it”, I cringe. This is exactly the kind of predictable gaff that ID enthusiasts love to jump all over. They keep the identity of the Designer unknown so they don’t have to address the religious issue. If you bring it up, you will be made to look the fool for misrepresenting ID. My approach is to point out how they assume design by some unknown being with god-like powers, without giving any evidence for the existence or actions of such an agent, and then I let the unsaid implications speak for themselves. That way they can’t accuse me of bringing up the subject of religion.

  68. Jeffrey Shallit

    Chris:

    Maybe you should look a little harder for critiques of Meyer. I have two short blog pieces pointing out Meyer’s bogus claims about information theory and various other misrepresentations. Needless to say, the response has mostly been name-calling.

    http://recursed.blogspot.com/2009/10/stephen-meyers-bogus-information-theory.html

    http://recursed.blogspot.com/2010/01/more-on-signature-in-cell.html

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About Chris Mooney

Chris is a science and political journalist and commentator and the author of three books, including the New York Times bestselling The Republican War on Science--dubbed "a landmark in contemporary political reporting" by Salon.com and a "well-researched, closely argued and amply referenced indictment of the right wing's assault on science and scientists" by Scientific American--Storm World, and Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future, co-authored by Sheril Kirshenbaum. They also write "The Intersection" blog together for Discover blogs. For a longer bio and contact information, see here.

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