Sunday, January 22, 2006

Supporters of science must adapt, during the fight over "Intelligent Design"... Pt II

In our first installment, we discussed some of the fallacies that are all-too often committed by defenders of science, when they face challenges from outside the realm of accepted wisdom. These fallacies -- ably listed by O.S. Card -- are mostly versions of credential-centered laziness. One can acknowledge that scientists and humanists are... well... human, and thus are inherently tempted by all of the same kinds of abuses that tripped up other priesthoods and orthodoxies, even well meaning ones.

Science itself is well-tuned to minimize those abuses. It has by far the best track record for self correction and openness to new ideas. Still, countless individual scientists and supporters often fail the maturity test when dealing with outside challenges, ranging from UFOs to Cold Fusion.

The reflex to resort to oversimplification, dismissal and name-calling can prove especially counterproductive when a large part of the public sees nonscientists as underdogs, rising up to challenge an entrenched system of authority, as is unfortunately the case during today’s controversy over so-called “Intelligent Design.” By reflexively disdaining such challenges as mere superstitious, defenders of the Enlightenment only fall into a trap set for them, by promoters and perpetrators of “culture war.”

OtherTheoriesINtelligentDesignConsider the deleterious effects of allowing this issue to be couched as a strict, either-or dichotomy. Even if a majority of the American people line up (as they appear to) on the side of genuine science education -- even if ID is kept out of every public school -- this could leave a very large minority of the public convinced that -- according to a simplistic choosing of “sides” -- they must, perforce, consider themselves to be anti-science.

Some may shrug and accept this as a price of victory. I say we cannot afford to leave so many fellow citizens -- and their children -- out there, in the cold.

This is not an exaggerated or unrealistic fear. It is, in fact, exactly what’s happened in the political battlefield, within the United States. Extremes of both left and right have benefitted by a polarization of camps in which the labels “conservative” and “liberal” stand for a strict litany of set-piece positions. Specified dogmas that must accompany each other, like arrows in a quiver. Even if these sides swap positions of power -- if, say, the Democrats win the next election by a landslide -- the real losers will be citizens who see complexity and nuance. Those willing to use tools like mediation and negotiated compromise.

This general problem of radicalizion is well-illustrated by the ID debate, wherein the forces who are supposedly defending the Enlightenment appear determined to cede the right wing’s most effective and damaging assertion -- that science is a system of truth interpreted by a hierarchy of experts. In other words, a tower of dogma, little different than a church. One that seems rather bossy, even.

Overall, I appear to be saying much the same thing that Orson Scott Card did, in his article. And yet, I do not conclude -- as he appears to do -- that this is all simply a matter of chilling out. Like Card, I do not believe that we have to choose sides between faith and science, so long as the fundamental integrity of science is preserved. But others are pushing exactly this dichotomy between two sides that are Pro-God and Anti-God. And if we let them pose these as the only possible positions, then we all lose.

In order to wage this fight successfully, the first mistake to avoid is letting yourself (science) be portrayed as a strawman (a stodgy priesthood, defending an orthodox and flawed dogma).

The second grievous error would be not to study the opposition and understand their capabilities. Their strengths. In the case at hand, this mistake manifests in a reflex assumption that Intelligent Design is the same thing as an older foe -- Creation Science.

There are many overlaps between these two movements. But also enough differences to merit some attention and study.

EvolutionFor one thing, ID assiduously avoids any reference to the Bible, or, indeed, any specific religion at all. This could be viewed as a clever tactic, in order to sneak past the bulwarks that have been erected between church and state. Indeed, many supporters and opponents of ID sincerely believe it is a wedge through which might squeeze the whole CS megillah. A means for later inserting a specific, reactionary church doctrine into state-supported schools. This suspicion is borne-out by documents published openly by the most prominent group pushing ID, the Discovery Institute, whose “Wedge Document”  is quite open and blatant about motives and long-term goals.

Still, there is another way of viewing this transformation of Creation Science into a new entity -- Intelligent Design. It could also be seen as a step in... well... evolution. As a clear sign of the ongoing victory of science over superstition!

One can see this plainly by looking not at the similarities between CS and ID, but at the differences. Above all, in the divergent attitudes that ID and CS express, when it comes to the subject of TIME.

“Creation Science” earned ridicule for the way adherents fought to ignore the overwhelming sweep of evidence showing that our Earth is over four billion years old. A position that became increasingly absurd -- even inane -- as more people became aware of the marvelous methodologies of science. You can pick up any rock -- digging samples out of mountains, seabeds or mines, anywhere on this planet, or even another planet -- take this sample into the lab, and use it as a crystal ball to sift through ages, catching glimpses of past volcanoes or impacts or sedimenting seas. The results will always fit spectacularly well into some portion of the vast, complex tale, with consistency to half a dozen orders of magnitude! Moreover, only a blithering ninny would still hold that all those fossils come from creatures drowned in Noah’s Flood! Isotopic dating techniques are just too good, too powerful, too overwhelmingly congruous and consistent, for any but the most ignorant people to clutch notions of a cramped, myopic creation, just 6,000 years old.

(Why supposedly reverent people would even want to do that -- casting a grotesque insult in the face of a Creator who has proved capable of doing so much more -- is a topic worth discussing another time.)

Alas, in their reflex to resist a foe, scientists have largely failed to notice a substantial victory -- or concession -- when it is offered to them on a silver platter. As it turns out, the top-most proponents of Intelligent Design claim to have no interest in disputing the scientific age of the universe, the planet, or even humanity. While they may evade the issue in order not to offend their most troglodytic supporters, many of the movement’s spokespersons -- when pressed -- will admit that they now accept -- as has the Catholic Church -- that time is no longer an issue. Either the “billions and billions” story is true... or else the Creator worked awfully hard to plant evidence that it’s true, in every smidgen of the Earth’s substance.

Moreover, to a large degree, top ID supporters no longer dispute the coalescing fossil record, which shows that evolution has, indeed occurred, resulting in a magnificent tapestry of species undergoing transformation and change, a story almost as relentlessly convincing as the tale of mineralogy and rocks.

Instead, they have zeroed in on one of the few large gaps, or unanswered questions, of evolutionary biology -- the problem of irreducible complexity in the most primitive wholly sufficient living cells. Lacking any research program of their own, or any large number of reputable scientists to call in support of an alternative, ID support groups have chosen to concentrate on hypotheses of “irreducible complexity” proposed by Michael Behe, a biochemist, and arguments by a mathematician, William Dembski, about “complex specified Information.” Tacitly (and perhaps temporarily) they seem willing to cede every other portion of the old Creation Science battlefield.

Why-Darwin-Matters-Shermer-Michael-9780805083064Now, many opponents of ID assume that these concessions are just tactical maneuvers, aimed at narrowing the wedge for penetration, so that the whole catechism of Creation Science can follow. And, for sure, some fundamentalists -- the aforementioned “troglodytes” -- must look at it that way. Indeed, according to the Discovery Institute’s own “Wedge Document,” this is the rationale used in seeking donations from genuinely anti-science forces in society. Certainly, the fact that the Institute funds no genuine research, concentrating almost solely on “culture war” battles, would seem to reinforce this point.

Still, it is wrong not to acknowledge genuine change on the other side, even when it is surficial and hypocritical. It is always a mistake not to study your adversaries, especially when they show signs of real adaptability. *

By dropping a whole slew of hopeless battles and useless baggage -- shifting their focus and concentrating on a few narrow points -- specifically, the problem of ex nihilio biochemical evolution of a fully complex ancestral cell -- the newly reconfigured ID movement showed some of the resiliency and adaptability that social conservatives have notably displayed in many other areas. (e.g. count how many politicians who once fought against Martin Luther King now display big portraits of him in their offices!)

An adaptability that liberals and scientists appear, sometimes, to sorely lack.

Indeed -- and alas -- many seem unable even to recognize the need.

* (Indeed, are the Enlightenment forces missing an opportunity to strike a powerful public relations coup? Suppose we were to seem forthcoming by explicitly congratulating the ID crowd for this suite of concessions. It might be possible to drive a wedge into their movement, for a change, and/or permanently lock the concessions in place! At minimum, it could force the Discovery Institute to backpedal and choose. Either they withdraw the concesions having to do with the vastness of time, in order to protect their base, or they must sacrifice their most hardcore supporters, in order to seem modern. This is the kind of "have you stopped beating your wife?" dilemma that is used by their side all the time. What poetic justice to turn it around, exposing hypocrisy at its source.)


Rob Perkins said...

Characterize it as a win...

Hah! Brilliant! (Picture clinking bottles here... oh never mind ;) )

I think you're right; it *is* a win. Cuts through a lot of crap and everything.

Now if we could only get people to listen to *you*, David.

Alan said...

Send a message of congratulations on seeing at least a little bit of the light?

Well I didn't realize that the Enlightenment Forces actually had an Office of Communications. But there are a number of groups that might I suppose make some comment if prompted by their members - are you a member of the AIP perhaps?

(But of course your posting can now be cited as proof that the Enlightnement really is a conspiracy - with its own "Wedge document" no less)

Anonymous said...

David, you've slightly surprised me.

When the leading ID proponents have been outed as liars, needing to distort the meaning of words to have any claim (Behe - who admits that by his definition, astrology is a science) or ignoramuses when it comes to their supposed subject (Dembski - whose specified complexity indicates that he believes the Universe is less complicated than a double pack of cards), they need to be kicked into touch rather than reasoned with.

You can not reason with congenital liars. You can not compromise with scum willing to debase everything they claim to hold dear for publicity and cheap points.

The reason ID can change faster than the defenders is that ID is a centralised, hierarchical movement that can therefore turn on a dime to pick up any perceived weaknesses in the opposition. (Although I've never seen ID advocates offer the complexity of bacteria as evidence...) Possibly we need such a science-communication hit-squad, well versed in PR to counter them.

The way to bring people in from the cold is not to bring the liars in from the cold. It is to try to communicate the majesty and wonder in the universe. This means that we need to strip people away from the ID movement by offering an alternative rather than by giving way to the IDers. In short, we need prominant theologians and communicators who are able to kick ID into touch as bad science, bad theology and a movement that lies regularly, freely and without remorse.

Yes, the IDers have things to teach about methods of communication - but that is no reason to compromise on basic principles with such a deceptive, lying and anti-modernist agenda.

Anonymous said...

I think that is a great tactical rhetorical message to get across.

It is still the case that one should not give ground to the ID folk that what they are doing is science. The criticism of the existing particular story of evolutionary history can qualify as science, but they didn't name their movement after their criticism but their favored alternative hypothesis. The hypothesis that they advance has no basis in observation and there is no claim that any specific testable result would follow from it.

ID should be treated as philosophy. Which is fine, I like philosophy. But the philosophical claim is by no means new. It is the very old argument from design. While I wouldn't send my child to a public school except as a anthropology field trip, I otherwise would think it fascinating if they would teach ID as philosophy along with the classical design arguments. Particularly if they also gave the historic responses. I can just imagine the PTA meeting after a strong argument from evil, and regress argument were made. Or the teacher training in Kolmogorov Complexity to prepare students for the ID class!

If life is so complex irreducibly complex as to require a designer, where did the designer come from? How complex is that designer? If you compressed the designer what would be the length of his program? How again does it help to introduce a more unknown more complex more powerful entity that we can't explain, to explain a much simpler phenomenon like the first cell?

How did the designer come to be? “We don't know,” they answer. But thats the same answer to the question “how did life evolve given that it looks so irreducibly complex?” So answering a designer does not add any information to the system it simply pushes out ignorance one more step. Occam's razor (as well as complexity based compression theory) demands that we shorten the explanation from “GOD...I don't know” to the more simple “I don't know”

Finally I can't resist...The old creationist had an argument that evolution was like a hurricane going through a junk yard and making a 747. Which was fine except GOD is like having no hurricane going through nothing and poof there is the space ship enterprise. At least the 747 conforms to the known laws of physics, and there are in fact hurricanes and junk yards.

(ug sorry for the duplication of this on pt1, it was ment for pt2)

plunge said...

Sorry David, but I still don't see how Card's list is anything other than a bunch of strawmen he launches at unnamed "Darwinists" which he implicitly defines as being pretty much all interested critics of ID.

When it comes to actually CITING some instances of his alleged fallacies though so that we can discuss if they really are representative of the response to ID... well there are no cites of course.

Do critics of ID really say "shut up, we know better" and refuse to deal with what ID actually says? I'd say that... no, that claim is pretty much complete and utter hogwash.

As I explained before, Card refers to a number of perfectly valid arguments and responses to ID, pulls them wholy out of context, and then caricatures them. That proves... what exactly?

As I see it, the major problem science has is not that it isn't explaining things, or even that it isn't explaining things well. It's the same problem we encountered with Scientific Creationism: explaining a bunch of complex things (which anyone can grasp, but only if they are willing to put in the time) just takes a lot longer and doesn't make for as catchy a bunch of slogans as a PR-driven movement. We live in a society where information and ideas transmit better through the media and the internet if they are simple and punchy. Scientists and biologists, on the other hand, are stuck with a subject that requires a ton of background information, where we can't both be honest and get away with a "quick version," let alone sloganeering.

So we're really sort of stuck in a hard place. We're doing our best to explain stuff, as well as not allow people to get away with a bunch of deceptive tactics without notice.

And then someone like Card comes along and kicks us in the stones just so he can feel so above-it-all and "pox on both your houses, I know better." Snore...

Anonymous said...

The last poster was absolutely dead on. For anyone to entertain Card's argument for even a moment is to miss the entire picture. Let us think for a moment the process that would be necessary for scientists to put up anything like a united and directed front aimed at dispelling the incessant doubting of the so called Intelligent Designists.

First of all, they (ID) are a school of doubt, a position that many philosophers throughout time spent countless hours considering, at the end of which they became completely detatched from the world (Pyrrho) or formulated the foundation of new waves in philosophy by setting limits to the doubtable (Decartes). I can see countless evidence for the doubting-fingerpointer in Intelligent Design, and not a bit of solid foundation which does not depend explicitly upon a pre-existing religious sentiment. There are no atheists prone to the power of logic or evidence presented by Intelligent Design, and I wonder why that is.

But back to the evaluation of what has to happen for there to be an affront to ID. Scientists must abandon their lifelong passions, give up their current projects and start thinking in an un-scientific way to anticipate the ludicrious doubts that could arise from ANYWHERE (not only ID). Now it is hard to believe they could continue to recieve thousands (or millions) of dollars to continue this research unless they were funded by a very partisan group. The whole process stinks of a political wash in which everyone loses.

Science does not have to answer these silly questions. Scientists are constantly dealing with very real amounts of doubt that don't push so far into the fantastic as to be unmeasurable and therefore worthless.

To me, it seems as though the intelligent design argument is like a bunch of kids who are fed up waiting for real answers, trying to postulate a new truth based solely on doubt and fantasy.

Michael "Sotek" Ralston said...

Card's argument is crap - it's based on assertations that are largely not true.

But David has a point. The ID supporters have been so successful in polarizing the debate that we haven't noticed their concessions.

And if we force them to either acknowledge or withdraw those concessions - which we could do, mind you - then one of two things happens.

1) They acknowledge those concessions... and lose any hope of having a strongly motivated "base".
or 2) They explicitly deny those concessions - and lose any hope of having the people who are both religious and accept some science agree with them.

If they do 1, the movement, as a movement, dies - because the people they would keep don't CARE about the culture war - except in as much as they believe science is attacking Christianity.
If they do 2, the movement keeps the motivated people... and loses everyone else. And they go straight on back to being a fringe group of crazies who advocate an obviously illegal activity.

Either way, reason prevails.

reason said...

I want David (and Michael Ralston) to tell me how we do this so that somebody notices?

I agree with your point - yes it is a clever debating point - start by saying well I'm glad that you agree so and so. But try to get it highlighted in the popular press so that somebody notices. Even if both science and scientific American published editorials following this rhetorical device, only the already converted would notice. I doubt if the ID people would respond other than a totally misleading spin viz.- "I'm glad SA has conceded something to US" (without saying what).

Then of course we could attack the substance of their claims, which are very weak. If all this is intelligently designed - why is the design in parts so poor (inefficient or fragile)? Why is it so incredibly complicated? Why is there so much redundancy? Why are some organisms so incredibly nasty and disruptive? All easy to explain with evolutionary models (of which there are actually several) but a bit of a problem with the intelligent design hypothesis. (How do the ID people account for snow flakes by the way?)

Anonymous said...

Dr. Brin wrote:

"By dropping a whole slew of hopeless battles and useless baggage -- shifting their focus and concentrating on a few narrow points -- specifically, the problem of ex nihilio biochemical evolution of a fully complex ancestral cell -- the newly reconfigured ID movement showed some of the resiliency and adaptability that social conservatives have notably displayed in many other areas."

With respect, Dr. Brin appears to be misinformed. He refers to the question of abiogenesis, but this is not the primary focus of ID.

Major ID proponents such as Behe and Dembski do not merely argue that evolution doesn't adequately explain abiogenesis. They argue that things such as flagella, blood clotting systems, birds' wings, and vertebrate eyes are too complex to have evolved without intelligent intervention.

Clearly, such arguments have nothing to do with the origin of the first complex cell.

Kagehi said...

You know.. Ebola could evolve into something that made people glow under black lights. Real nice, you can party in a dance club then, for as long as it takes for you to simply drop dead.... Point being, its hardly useful to talk about ID being the evolution of Creationism, if your just talking about a different *color* of the same disease.

Adaptability in an evolutionary sense means you occationally **lose** something, in order to survive better in the environment your trying to survive in. However, being intelligent life forms, we recognize that some loses can very easilly create conditions in a species that, when the environment changes again, kills it. Most of us have no problem coexisting with those that are willing to adapt in the opposite direction. The problem here is that for science to adapt in the way they demand means opening the door for astrology and tarot card readers, simply because some people have "stories" that they claim constitute evidence. That the other side has been forced to adapt is not an indication that it is either necessary, benificial or reasonable to call for science to adapt away from the basic foundation of what has *forced* the other side to adapt in the first place.

I just defended your concept of a middle ground some place else, then actually read your post the rest of the way through, and realized its the same nonsense a few other people have posted on blogs. To quote Richard Dawkins - "When two opposite points of view are expressed with equal intensity, the truth does not necessarily lie exactly halfway between them. It is possible for one side to be simply wrong."

People like Alan are a perfect example of this, to him, you have seen a "little bit of the light". I.e., your still a fool for believing in science at all, just less of one for allowing that some twisted idiocy like ID might make a few vague claims that seem valid, at least until you realize that their big one Irreducible Complexity, has been disproven many times and they just keep moving the goal posts, by claiming they simply haven't yet found something that proves it, but expect any day to read about something in a paper published by people doing real research, that will vindicate them. Not of course look for it themselves, that would require having a #$@#$ clue what they are doing.

This article of yours is just sad, especially since my view of a middle ground is one where you can tolerate the oddities of other people, just like tolerating ones neighbor dressing as a Klingon once a month, without having to 'adapt', by learning to speak Klingon. This is what your basically advocating, not tolerance of the fact that some people insist on maintaining some nutty ideas, but still manage to do good science, but that science should adapt to include the less nutty ideas, so a small percentage of lunitics that are intentionally misleading the majority of slightly odd, but otherwise sane people, into siding with their idiocy, will "feel better about science and magically give up on attacking it". That isn't going to happen, any more than the ludite like Wahabi in the ME are going to wake up tomarrow morning to rush to the nearest store and buy a wide screen TV and a DVD player. Fundimentalists are not going to "buy" science, unless science completely abandons every single rule that makes it function, and replaces it with, "Well, the priest says your evidence can't be true, due to line 3, section 15 of Laviticus." (don't bother, I don't know the Bible well enough to even have a clue what that says... lol), as a *valid* means of determining scientific rigor.

These are not people who can ever accept it. The problem is that they have been allowed to push their view with a sort of lazy, "Well, science will prove them wrong, so lets not bother to point out the problems.", attitude for years from the other side. Now we decide to fight back for real and we get, "Well, they found new lies to support their view, why can't you just sort of bend things a bit here and here, so they feel better about you?" The few actually trying to force this issue can kiss my shiny metal mircoscope!

And you David, are sadly showing a similar lack of comprehension of both the size of the true enemy, the nature of the conflict and the reason that compromise isn't possible as far to many others. This is Heliocentrism vs. Capernicus all over again, with, as usual, only *one* subset of *one* church calling everyone that doesn't kiss their feet heretics.

Rob Perkins said...

Well, I think y'all are missing David's point.

Flies are caught easier with honey than vinegar, goes the aphorism. If you score a debating point tactically by pointing out their concessions with the usual youthful snark y'all seem to possess in delightful spades...

...all your opposites will do is give you a sour face and huddle for a bit, looking for a counter-snark.


If we portray ourselves as enthusiastic and *sportsmanlike*, who are in the game of science for the joy of it (and not just for the philosophical supremacy of it), we will come across to watchers as people who are happy in their work. That enthusiasm is probably the most effective thing you could possibly have to sway people over to your side of an argument.

And not only that, but it makes an indignant counterresponse appear positively immature. Rob them of permission to respond with immaturity by being enthusiastically happy about scientific method, and optimistic about its future.

David's approach, in that sense, is compelling to me.

As far as getting someone to notice the concessions, I suggest a popular teacher, such as Bill Nye.

Another thought, and another approach which might also be effective:

I've been thinking about the ironies of using scientific method to prove or disprove any philosophy. I commented about it briefly elsewhere, in that if a scientist formulates and proposes and experiment to test hypotheses of accidental origin or accidental evolution by natural selection, all he ever does is simultaneously prove that an intelligent being can set up preconditions for life to arise.

In other words, by definition, he verifies ID. Think about that...

...and then bend it to the cause of science! *Proselytize* enthusiastically about how more funding and more focus on scientific method will *confirm* the best suppositions of the Discovery Institute! Point out that they're not funding exactly the sorts of things which could confirm their points of view, and then if you're feeling particularly Machiavellian about it, *conspire* with them about how all that rigorous experimentation, properly funded, will finally refute the godless!

(Of course, it won't, since the results of the experimental data verify *both* ID and the idea of accidental origins. It's that premise problem in rhetoric, again. But if we're the ones framing the argument for once, it can be bent to science without alienating regular people.)

Bring them in from the cold, in other words. Welcome them and their philosophy into a community of scientists which *already* embraces people of all kinds of religious outlooks, from atheism through agnosticisms of all stripes, into everything including Mormonism, Islam, Judaism, and Christianity.

Point out, in other words, that the dichotomy is false, by inviting them to use the same tools of science which have brought Creationists to the point of conceding all they have.

And by all means, never employ the snark. (Reserve that for the political sides of the arguments, 'cause that's where our leaders will never be mature...) Let *them* be the bitter-minded ideologues, whose happiness cannot be detected.

What do you think?

Anonymous said...

It is optimistic of Dr. Brin to believe that maybe one day the religious right and the scientific community will see eye to eye, and that proponents of ID are getting a little closer to the "truth," but I don't see it happening any time soon. Let's face it, the major cultural "war" today is over religion, not race as it was 40 years ago. It's subtler, of course, because you can't tell what religion a person is by looking at him. But it's a war for our souls, and there are some out there who want ours so badly that they will create out of thin air a "science" in counterpoint to real reason. If ID proponents are really interested in the truth, then they'd agree with evolutionary theory and just say that the prime mover is unknown. But they won't, not in this life or any other.

David Brin said...

Dang, pressed some buttons, this time.

rws alludes to “who created the creator?” You Mormons out there have an answer, eh? It amounts to the old line “it’s turtles, all the way down.” But didn’t I post something about this last year?

I definitely answer this part of the ID debate in the next issue of SKEPTIC Magazine. Including options like “intelligent design of intelligent designers” and “EVOLUTION of intelligent designers” (a nifty one!)

Sotek, thanks for noticing my point. We must not allow science -- the true rebel phenomenon, against 4,000 years of dogma-kings-darkness -- to fall into the habits that discredited every other priesthood, from Baal to the Communist Party. Habits that are in our genes. Habits of status-led hierarchy and paternalism that make priests pat citizens on the head and say “I’m anointed, so trust me.”

Yes! Scientists are vastly less guilty of this than any other authority figures. That’s why they are the “least-hated priesthood of all time.” (Just as Pax Americana is the least-hated empire of all time. Those are still images that preach caution and care.)

Still, Carl Sagan is a perfect example of how a scientist can start to look evermore like an evangelical preacher, with all of the patronizing behaviors that go along with it. Fighting superstition is NOT just a matter of pointing at it and calling it superstition. This fight will require agility.

I offered one approach here. Another in the SKEPTIC article. We need to challenge enemies of the Enlightenment with lose-lose questions, instead of allowing them to do that to us.

anonymous says: “Major ID proponents such as Behe and Dembski do not merely argue that evolution doesn't adequately explain abiogenesis. They argue that things such as flagella, blood clotting systems, birds' wings, and vertebrate eyes are too complex to have evolved without intelligent intervention.”

Hmmmm. I am going to have to rephrase this paper a lot. Clearly my first impressions were wrong. These guys are Creationists. Maybe I just look for intelligence as a habit, even in enemies. (It is a better habit than the normal one, of making strawmen. Try it.)

Alas, Kagehi, I do not see how your attack has very much to do with me or my article at all. Something I said touched one of your buttons, but your response is mostly button, very little my doing.

Anyone here knows how hard I fight for the Enlightenment against these enemies. So, I speak up for the power of jiu jitsu? That’s a sin, to you. Apparently, you find anything other sumo to be tantamount to surrender.

Alas, I deem sumo to be the surest way for us to fall for Karl Rove’s agile culture war traps. Sumo has not been working. In fact, it is the surest possible way to lose.

Big C said...

I can see the merit in David and Rob's points, in theory. And I agree that a major difficulty we have is to convince the majority of Americans, who believe in God, that evolution is good science and not a threat to their worldview. This is a worthy goal.

However, David, there are problems with how you've made this point in your essay. You've made a lot of assertions about what scientists are doing in the debate, and chided them that their tactics aren't working. The problem is that these fallacies aren't being used by the primary supporters of evolution. The fallacies listed by Card are in fact strawmen.

Citing these tactics as a major reason the evolution side is not gaining ground in the debate and telling scientists to "stop it" is going to turn off the very scientists who need to hear your point at the end of the article, because they don't use those tactics.

Check out how another science blog has picked up on your essays. First, in the title, they say you "support" Card's essay, and then promise to directly refute the claims you've made against scientists. The good points of your essay were lost because they're obscured by your rebuke of scientists' behavior; behavior which scientists themselves demonstrate that they don't condone or encourage.

I'm not saying all scientists are perfect angels. Sure, some scientists may engage in some or all of the tactics you and Card argue against. My problem is that both essays sound to me like they are indicting the *majority of* and *most vocal* evolution supporters. The indictment is not true of those folks, and the essay is more likely to provoke scorn from scientists rather than thoughtful reflection. If the intent is to get scientists to listen to how they should change their tactics when voicing support of evolution, it's poor form to accuse the scientists of things they largely don't do.

Instead of Card's points I would offer some different suggestions to the scientists that are more likely to be acknowledged:

- Eliminate the vitriol, name-calling, and ridicule when responding to IDers' claims. This is actually a point David and Rob have already made, but in David's essay it was made in the same breath as "oversimplification [and] dismissal." The scientists have not oversimplified or casually dismissed the IDers' arguments out of hand. They've rebutted every point the IDers have made with evidence and logic. They have, however, included a great deal of scorn and ridicule with the evidence and logic. Check out TalkOrigin's Index to Creationist Claims (it has a whole section on ID) and the TalkDesign and TalkReason sister sites. In your essay you could acknowledge and applaud the effort scientists have spent rebutting the ID arguments while also gently suggesting that they lay off the ridicule.

- Don't claim ID isn't science because it relies on the supernatural. I cringe every time I read a mainstream media argument for evolution that says ID isn't science because it relies on supernatural causes. To some readers that might sound like the writer is arguing that science disproves the supernatural, which isn't the case. The focus should be on emphasizing that science can only evaluate things that can be observed and experimented, and that any scientific idea must be able to pass tests through observation and experiment.

- Don't say that ID shouldn't be discussed or considered by scientists without an explanation as to why. Rather, show how scientists have *already* critically evaluated all of the IDers' claims and not found a shred of evidence to back them up. Ask, politely, but over and over to hammer the point, that the IDers provide evidence and run some experiments to substantiate their claims.

- Deemphasize the "science versus religion" aspect of the debate. Many scientists already do this. Ken Miller comes to mind as a prominent biologist who vigorously supports evolution while professing a strong Catholic faith. Hammer the point home that people of many diverse faiths, and no faith at all, support evolution and science because of the evidence, not because of dogma. Hammer the point home that evolution and science are not out to destroy people's religion.

I think these points more closely represent some of the weak arguments that some scientists make when supporting evolution. Scientists are then more likely to listen to your point about acknowledging the differences between creation science and ID, and how to more effectively counter the IDers.

And, as was mentioned by the anonymous poster above the IDers *haven't* conceded all the positions of creationsists that you mention. And when pressed, you're just as likely to hear "ID has no position and makes no claims of the age of the Earth" from the IDer as you are to get grudging agreement that the Earth is billions of years old. You're also likely not to get them to agree that common descent is true, because we *just can't* be related to apes.

Another sticking point for scientists is that the IDers continue to spead falsehoods about evolution and scientists in general. How do we counteract the manifest dishonesty of the IDers when they misrepresent science, scientific evidence, and scientists' positions? Scientists (like most people) don't want to continue being polite and calm when their opponents continue to spread lies about them, and are quite shameless about it. This is probably the major reason for scientists' scorn, ridicule and vitriol toward IDers and creationists. This could be another point in your essay. In addition to pointing out some of the weak arguments by scientists, show the scientists you're not attacking them by agreeing that they're being unfairly attacked, and suggesting they don't "rise to the bait."

In essence, I'm suggesting you reframe your essay so it's more palatable to scientists, and less likely to offend them before they get to your point. Then, you'll be more likely to convince them to reframe their rhetoric when addressing ID. As Rob said, you get more flies with honey. :)


Tony Fisk said...

I'm with David (and Rob) on this one. (Although I agree with Charles that the emphasis needs to be ..erm, adapted, to aid in comprehension)

Go back and *read* the post, folks. Read beyond the apparent keywords being applied to ID: 'congratulation' and 'win', and stop those knees twitching.

In the spirit of scientific method, think of it as an experiment. (We believe *this* of ID so, if we act *so*, the ID camp should respond *thus*..., and *moreover*, ...and *noway*, ...and...)

I guess I ought to retract remarks I've made about 'ratchet' logic in relation to promoters of ID. In conceding the geological record, and the occurrence of evolution, they are clearly just as capable as the Catholic church in accepting hard facts about the universe, and adapting their arguments to suit observed reality.

Whether their supporters are as capable of accepting these concessions remains to be seen.

David Brin said...

Actually, I am deeply impressed with Charles's post. Excellent Citokate. You all have prodded me a bit back into line on this one.

In fact, Charles, I'd be interested in how you might REWRITE my part II to make the same central point, but in a better way.

The point: like other right wing causes, this one has shown agility at avoiding the worst parts of the battlefield and seeking those most favorable. In this case, there is the APPEARANCE of conceding the weak areas (time and evolution of species) while concentrating on areas where science is least strong (ex nihilio abioitic appearance of cells and the willingness of reasonable people to allow a residual place for a Creator).

I think my notion about jiu jitsu is a good one, and especially the proposed tactic of forcing them to either make the time and evolution concessions EXPLICIT or else accept continuing battle on those areas where the ground favors our side.

On the other hand, I need to recouch my statement that these were actual concessions. That was wrong.

Again, if you'd like a stab at rewriting that section, contact me at

Dang I wish there were four of me. On the other hand, in that case, my poor wife....

skribe said...

We've just put forward a proposal for a television show that, if it is picked up, will deal with the issue of ID being taught in government schools as one of its topics. I've found it interesting reading all the comments so far.

Anonymous said...

I really appreciate your blog Dr. Brin, and think you're one of the most brilliant minds out there today... So I hate having to take you to task for these two recent essays, which misrepresent the Scientific Community. You risk alienating many scientists who have been engaged in this debate for years now.

OSC claims Evolutionary Theorists are making mostly logically-fallacious arguments, but fails to cite a single example to support his claim. In other words, he's engaging the logical fallacy of the straw man.

1. Intelligent Design is just Creation Science in a new suit (name-calling).

The judge in the Dover case agreed with this statement. When challenged, ID revealed itself as Creationism.

2. Don’t listen to these guys, they’re not real scientists (credentialism).

No one is making this argument. This is a Straw Man. Evolutionary Theorist have acknowledged that ID has many scientists, but the Discovery Institute's 103 supporters was easily dwarfed by "Project Steve." This is not credentialism, this is consensus. DI is the one claiming credentialism.

L3. If you actually understood science as we do, you’d realize that these guys are wrong and we’re right; but you don’t, so you have to trust us (expertism).

"Trust Us"??? When have scientists EVER said this? This is the very anti-thesis of everything Science is about! What is the Scientific Method, but another way of saying, "This is what I saw. This is how I saw it. Go see for yourself."???

There are thousands of papers on Evolution and the blogs have been painstakingly tackling every single one of ID's arguments with scientific observations, AND IT'S BEEN WONDERFUL! The disputation has worked wonders to educate the public on Evolutionary Theory and the Scientific Method.

IDer's are the ones asking people to stop exploring. What is "irreducible complexity," except another way of saying, "Give up, you'll never figure it out"?

Straw Man.

4. They got some details of those complex systems wrong, so they must be wrong about everything (sniping).

Again, no one is making this argument. Straw Man.

5. The First Amendment requires the separation of church and state (politics).

No one is making this argument. Scientists have said there is nothing wrong with teaching ID in a PHILOSOPHY class, but it is not science.

6. We can’t possibly find a fossil record of every step along the way in evolution, but evolution has already been so well demonstrated it is absurd to challenge it in the details (prestidigitation).

Wrong again. What is the peer-review process if not the perpetual challenging of various scientific principles? What does OSC think scientists are refering to when they talk about Falsifying Hypotheses? STRAW MAN.

7. Even if there are problems with the Darwinian model, there’s no justification for postulating an “intelligent designer” (true).

I'm not sure what he's talking about here... or why this is "true." What kind of "justifications" is he talking about? Philisophical? Ethical? WTF?

Please tell me where Evolutionists are making these logical fallacies. Certainly not in the Dover ID case. Not on the Panda's Thumb, or National Geographic, or Discovery, or Nature, or New Scientist Magazine, or American Scientist, or Carl Zimmer, or Pharyngula, or Chris Mooney, or Steven J Gould, or any Scientific Journal anywhere in the world. No, only the absolute fringe elements or a few isolated scientists are making such statements.

Instead, the majority have been making the following arguments:

1. ID lacks a falsifiable hypothesis. It relies solely on discrediting Evolution for its support; therefore, it is not science.

2. ID is philosophy. Teach it in humanities classes. Putting it in Science classes hurts science education.

You legitimized OSC's straw men, and tell us scientists need to push the fact that ID has conceded many arguments. The Panda's Thumb has been doing this for over a year. I covered it on my blog back in April. It was even brought up in the Dover ID case. Read the judge's 139-page decision on the matter. There's a great summary of it's greatest hits here.

You set up Carl Sagan as a scientist-dogmatists, but fail to provide any examples of Sagan being dogmatic. You unfairly demonize one of the most enthusiastic and effective proponents of science in last century and then criticize scientists for failing to be enthusiastic enough. Carl Sagan is a great man, who communicated the wonderous nature of the Cosmos and the threat of authorities. He once profoundly said, "There are no authorities, at best there are experts."

If you want a dogmatists to attack, try Richard Dawkins, author of "The Selfish Gene." I love the man, but he uses science to push Atheism on people, which is as bad as IDer's pushing religion on people. He's brilliant but insulting and does not represent the overwhelming majority of Scientists in this debate.

It's understandable that you would fall for OSC's disingenuousness. The man has written some wonderful fantasies. However I really think you owe the Scientific Community an apology for taking his unsupportable mischaracterizations at face value. ID and Evolution can live side by side, because one is philosophy the other is science. This is what the Scientific Community has been saying from the beginning, and being misrepresented by someone for whom we hold a great deal of respect is incredibly disheartening (I'm refering to you. OSC has always been sort of a laughing-stock for his anti-modernism, homophobia, anti-science views. Spend a day reading his essays, you'll understand).

Great Blog, Keep up the Good Work, and please delve deeper into this issue before making rash generalization about your fellow scientists.

Gothamimage said...

Contrary Brin,

Stop by our blog and read the Rove script.

You may agree with the context we put Inteliigent Design in, as far as the politics goes.

Much of interest here on your blog.

David Brin said...

Ryan, your criticism is appreciated. Obviously, some people did not appreciate my use of the rhetorical device of “yes, but...” in dealing with OS Card’s public arguments about ID. Indeed, if guys like you failed to click with that approach, the fault may very well be mine.

And yet, I believe you are very very mistaken when you say: “ "Trust Us"??? When have scientists EVER said this? This is the very anti-thesis of everything Science is about! What is the Scientific Method, but another way of saying, "This is what I saw. This is how I saw it. Go see for yourself."??”

Yes, the latter attitude is the attitude of science itself. But human practitioners are seldom perfectly mature. The whole point of my article is that we are all heirs to a million years of shamans and only 200 years of science. The best default position to take is to assume that human nature will tend to pull us toward immaturity. Only by making such an assumption can we notice and correct the old abuses before they start to threaten science itself.

Try stepping back a moment -- since I just did. Is it possible that you are illustrating one of these human nature effects, yourself, by erecting a noble icon of scientists who “never do that”? It is called “side-ism” or exaggerating the purity of your own side... exactly what the anti-science loonies and neocons are doing even now. No, I am not calling you a loony! I am merely calling your attention to a very human trend...

...and suggesting that science and scientists must be wary! We are NOT high priests in the latest dogmatic cult. We are revolutionaries, trying to change everything, before the priests and aristos and dogmatists can get their act together enough to re-establish the old ways. And our revolution is not helped when guys like Sagan do the VERY things that Card is talking about.

In fact, I consider the ID crowd to be far too dangerous to let my “side” be complacent and rely on a narrow suite of tactics, while the opposition is constantly re-evaluating and trying new things. Especially when they are using inventions of science -- completeness and fair play -- to argue that “students should hear all sides and get to decide for themselves.” This is excellent polemic and we need to analyze how these values are being twisted to use against us. That and the reflex of Suspicion of Authority (SOA). The irony of SOA being used against science is not one we should shrug aside.

We must study it. and find ways to ensure that the tactic will not work!

In fact, I go much farther than you, in some ways. I refuse to call ID philosophy, because it does not even use syllogisms. If it did, there would suddenly be revealed a dozen OTHER alternatives to evolution. Alternatives that the Creationists do NOT want mentioned! See the article I wrote for the SKEPTIC in which I discuss “Design of Designers.” Evolution of Designers” and other logical offshoots that we can torment these people with, demanding “completeness” and fairplay, if they ever do get into the schools.

Anonymous said...

Some comedy relief . . .

Bonus: The other stories on this blog are topical.


Rob Perkins said...

@David, it's an oversimplification to claim that Mormonism says "Turtles, all the way down". It's far more accurate to append "as far as we can tell," to that. And it's colored by the notion that Joseph Smith Jr. uttered one sentence about that.

In other words, not a terrible lot to go on. Personally, as a Mormon, I hold it in abeyance, neither believing nor disbelieving in eternal "turtles". Why? I'm not convinced yet that time is eternally linear. Or bidirectional. Or applicable to God. There are other topologies which have no beginning nor end, after all.

Even so, the folk-Mormon alternative you cite is certainly compelling as one of many non mainstream-Christian outlooks the Discovery Institute might absolutely abhor, but which they must accept under their proposals.

By the way, I think the 747 analogy itself, as refuted, is construction of a false dichotomy. Do some Hebrew etymology on what got translated as "created" and you come up with a more-viable "organized" instead. There's room for people to believe in a God who organized things "in the beginning", from material which was already pre-existent. That *is* Mormonism, more accurate than any angel-on-pinhead counting you might do about who designed the designer.

And yes, you did write about it last year, and I gave you the same answer then as I'm giving now.

@Charles, I think you're right that *scientists* aren't offering the counterarguments that Card enumerated. But he didn't take aim at *scientists*. He took aim at "strict Darwinists", which is a set, near as I can tell, which intersects with the set of all scientists, but doesn't enclose it, while also intersecting with various other people in various other professions, and also not enclosing them.

People who set that aside in order to rant about how unfair Card has been to scientists are themselves constructing strawmen.

Card readily concedes that Behe and others aren't working from their own experimental data, and are several years behind the science of the day. So, the correct answer is to cheerfully correct the bad conclusions from old research, and *see what's left.*

If nothing, then they go away. *Then* if they persist, (as they probably have), you get political (as some definitely have)

And Myers was a fine example of cogent argument mixed with debilitating fallacy. There was no doubt he was answering Card. Trying to explain while calling your reader an idiot will not result in a delivered explanation.

(I'm going to keep making that point until each one of us remembers times when our parent/guardian lectured our teenaged selves about this or that infraction. How did we respond? Hmm?)

Ah me, we still have to resist it. I simply think there are far better ways to resist it than namecalling when your actual counterargument is so cogent and important. Do the latter without the former, and let the truth speak for itself.

@David, of course they're Creationists. They're clinging to as much Creationism as is left to them in today's climate. Thus, the arguments have to take into account new evidence and adjust the proposed story...

... which is where I hope you'll understand where I'm coming from. What do scientists do, when faced with new evidence? Do they discard all the underpinnings, or modify the theory a bit?

It's human nature, I tellya. (And I know it depends on the scope and nature of the new evidence. Just so.)

All of the responses to Card's essay so far, except David's and one or two others, seem to be borne of the indignation felt after the first three sections. Read the rest of it, and find out he's actually on *your* side.

michael vassar said...

David, you said
"Maybe I just look for intelligence as a habit, even in enemies."

I'm pretty sure that I spent the first 15 years of my life doing that and the next 12 slowly and painfully learning not to.
That too is part of the propaganda. Americans are raised to believe that they are "as good as anyone and better than most", but they are also raised to believe that all people are VERY similar and that they are not that special. One consequence of this, unfortunately, is that the most intelligent people tend to be socially crippled by an inability to accept the cognitive limitations of ordinary people, or even of semi-ordinary people like doctors, lawyers, Harvard graduates, etc. As a consequence of this steadfast refusal on principle to accept evidence of their own vast cognitive superiority, they fail to attain or retain any power. This refusal also leads the most intelligent people to become angry with more ordinary people for not behaving better than they can realistically be expected to.
Trying to care for ordinary people while accurately modeling them is not actually challenging. People care for children, for pets, and even for abstractions like ecosystems. As I noted, there are no Card style Ubermenchen, but the real truth is actually much more disappointing, overturning both the romantic myth and the enlightenment legend.
The truth is that there sort of *are* ubermenchen and sadly you, yes frail fallible uncertain you, are one of them. Obviously one doesn't feel "super" from the inside, but honestly study ordinary people, or even ordinary authority figures and you will see that Card sets both the ceiling and the floor too high, but that the distance is just about right. You, and the people who can carry on a conversation with you as equals, are about as rare as the potential members of Ender's team, and about as far above the mental caliber of real authority figures as they are above the unrealistically competent authorities from the story. Given the actual state of the world, you are potentially just as important as such fantasy characters as well. Sadly, in a world in which no-one is allowed to admit their superior abilities, even to themself, extrordinary things can't be accomplished, as anyone capable enough to seriously attempt them can see that there is no use in an ordinary person like them trying to do so.

Here are the sad facts
90% of the population will never master the 8th grade college track cirriculum. Essentially all of the money and power in society flow to the most aggressive, ambitious, narcissistic, privilaged, attractive, and lucky 5% of this group. Within this group, success correlates with intelligence, but mildly at best, so on average the most powerful few hundred people on the planet probably once had a pretty good grasp of the 9th grade curriculum, and maybe even the 10th. Bush and Kerry are both a bit sub-par in this respect, and Gore and Clinton significanly above average, but your belief in your near equality with someone like Gore is the combined effect of his single-minded focus, competent speech writers and editors, and above all the halo effect that comes from his manifest intellectual superiority to most politicians and your outright refusal to realize how little it takes to achieve such superiority, how it is probably shared by literally every friend you have had from college on, and how it doesn't even remotely approach the level of insight needed to follow a clear and consise argument making an unusual point such as the ones made here .
Sadly, we are all likely to die unless people with the ability and inclination to reach correct conclusions acknowledge that they have no-one to pass the buck to, and are de-facto charged with making the implied decisions themselves.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Brin,

I too am interested, as Ryan said, in hearing when Dr. Sagan was ever dogmatic. You have alluded to this in multiple posts.

In every book, transcript or appearance of his I ever saw, he was unfailingly polite and generous, telling people how science works, its beauty, and when necessary, respectfully disagreeing with their viewpoints and contrasting them with science. As far as I know, if he preached anything it was that we need to modify our own views in the face of data. Your description of Dr. Sagan does not conform to my picture of him at all.

Of course, in that vein, I will change my impression of him if you can provide examples of him being a stuffy dogmatist. CITOKATE

By the way, I am going back for my Masters and am in a Leadership class, and I keep wanting to send everyone a hyperlink to your blog. Probably will sooner or later!

Anonymous said...

If rejecting YEC has worked thus far, why not continue with this winning strategy?

Why shouldn't science continue to send the IDists back until they finally get their homework right?

(I also think it's worth pointing out that not all ID supporters accept a current "old age" of the cosmos. There seems to be no workable consensus amongst IDists. I just worry that capitulating something in essence will only muddy the waters of clarity and make things worse later.)

(And this a great blog by the way!)

Big C said...

@Rob said:
"@Charles, I think you're right that *scientists* aren't offering the counterarguments that Card enumerated. But he didn't take aim at *scientists*. He took aim at "strict Darwinists", which is a set, near as I can tell, which intersects with the set of all scientists, but doesn't enclose it, while also intersecting with various other people in various other professions, and also not enclosing them.

"People who set that aside in order to rant about how unfair Card has been to scientists are themselves constructing strawmen."

I concede this point, Rob, with a caveat. It wasn't clear, to me, at least, from the essay that Card wasn't using "Darwinists" as a label for the majority of scientists supporting evolution. This ambiguousness provokes animosity from people who would otherwise agree with his conclusions. You said it yourself: "Trying to explain while calling your reader an idiot will not result in a delivered explanation."

In my opinion, Card didn't delineate clearly enough who is in the "Darwinists" group. And evolution supporters have long seen the label "Darwinists" used by creationists as a veiled insult that implies that all scientists are dogmatic and closed-minded. Using the term "Darwinists" is an invitation to misunderstanding.

So I'm not claiming Card meant to indict all scientists, and neither did David, for that matter. I'm only saying that Card's essay as written seems to give that impression to the science folks who read it, and that's unfortunate.


reason said...

Michael Vasser
... I hope you are wrong. I also have had my struggles with a tendency to arrogance.
But I was blessed with a father who taught me how to think, and I find the De Bono argument that thinking is a skill and not something inate is convincing. The other skill that is important is learning that you have to walk before you run... i.e. having the patience to recognise your limitations and content yourself with taking one step at a time.
Yes, I might have mental abilities slightly above some others, but I think a bigger part of the difference is using what I have better. How else can you explain the mysterious steady improvement in average raw IQ scores?

Rob Perkins said...

@Charles -- That's a fair caveat, and evidence that Card can be too casual in his writing. The essay is less well written than it should have been, and its structure draws a dichotomous framework which probably shouldn't be there.

(Then again, thinking as a newspaper editor for a moment, who would read it unless it boiled *someone's* blood?)

@Scott -- Science-based thinkers very much should send ID proponents back to the drawing board until they come back with empirical rigor, rather than just scholastic rigor. But it should be done without feeding human barbarisms. Appeal to the better angels: "We're scientists! We're above barbarisms and are therefore free to cheerfully propose experiments to test ID!"

@reason, @Michael -- I wonder if like so many things, human intelligence is a complex combination of nature and nurture. My own raw intelligence fed my ego and little else for 27 years without actually bearing fruit in real prosperity. But a friend of mine whose raw intelligence is lower (not much lower, just lower) made up for it in golden spades by being as stubborn and determined at what he wanted as he could. And he had more fun along the way, since he was less indignant about it all. Except when he found Microsoft code in a place he wasn't expecting.

reason said...

Rob Perkins..
Surely prosperity isn't the measure of all things?

michael vassar said...

Reason said

>... I hope you are wrong.

So do I. It would make my life *So Much* easier if I thought that I just had to sit back, have a nice life, and wait a bit for "progress" to run its course via the aggregation of human wisdom by Enlightenment traditions. Of course, it would make my life easier still if I didn't even need to have a nice life, just accept Jesus and repent from time to time. However, I value reaching correct decisions and desirable outcomes more than I value making my life easier, and facts + reason force me to choose. I hope that the people at the Singularity Institute ( actually do have things under control, but I'm not holding my breath.

> I also have had my struggles >with a tendency to arrogance.

I'm not sure, but it looks like I disagreed with a cliche so you read the opposite of what I said. I didn't struggle with a tendency to arrogance, but with a tendency to insufficient arrogance. Like many smart people I was socially crippled until I gradually and slowly forced myself to STOP projecting my abilities onto others.
Remember, by the way, that if thinking that you can accomplish things that no-one else has accomplished is arrogant (hint, it is) and if such accomplishments require extrordinary effort (hint, they usually do) then no-one who isn't arrogant will ever accomplish anything extrordinary. If Franklin had succeeded in abolishing his truth-seeking tendency because he had labeled a part of it as "arrogance" and thus "bad", where would we be today. If Newton had. Socrates...

>But I was blessed with a father >who taught me how to think, and I >find the De Bono argument that >thinking is a skill and not >something inate is convincing.

I agree with that claim, but who cares? Why do people see the need to endlessly re-hash nature/nurture dualisms in response to every discussion of differences in ability. Stimulus, "potential thought-crime detected", response, "clense self by asserting committment to nurture".
By the way, the nurture hypothesis, which happens to be closer to true than the nature hypothesis in this case in so far as either has meaning, is also the more arrogant of the two hypotheses. The nurturist is claiming that through the power of his reason he can do something truly astounding, that he can create reason in others. It is likewise arrogant to believe that you can, by planting seeds, decide what plants will grow rather than relying on the bounty of the gods. The "skill" argument also supports the claim that there are vast and even qualitative differences between people in ability to reason. Some people run faster than others, or sing better, but these are relatively innate abilities so the differences fall along a continuum. By contrast, some people have a skill in performing appendectomies. Those who have this skill can perform appendectomies pretty reliably while others simply can't even attempt them and wouldn't know where to start. If, as we both suspect, reason is a skill then the next question to consider is "what fraction of the population have developed this skill, and the habit/preference of choosing rationally, to a high degree"

>How else can you explain the >mysterious steady improvement in >average raw IQ scores?

There are lots of explanations actually, all dubious. I'd bet it's related to whatever caused comparable shifts over the same period in average height and adult life expectancy. In all three cases there are many plausible contributing factors (nutrition, sanitation, etc), but even when added together their measurable effects don't add up to nearly enough to explain the change.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Brin,

You are incorrect in stating that IDists have made important concessions to science. Read the transcripts from the May hearings held by the KBOE (aka Kansas Kangaroo Kourt). 23 leading IDists testified. When asked about the age of the earth all but one who answered the question chose 10000 years, or alternatively "somewhere between 10000 and 4 billion years." Also, all who were asked denied any evolutionary relationship between humans and other primates. The IDists who agree with mainstream scientists on these issues are very few in number.


David Brin said...

reason, you are dead-on. The steadily rising IQ scores are only part of it. Reasons for optimism abound. Take the precipitate decline in youth violence. NOT just the kind tracked by police stats, but the vastly more common low-level variety. The bullying by ad hoc gangs that used to be part of almost-daily life for kids, even in good neighborhoods. All those fights I used to get it... my own kids haven’t a clue what I’m talking about! To them, “bullying” is an unkind word snarled in the hall! Yet, such things are never reported. Ever.

Rob, I am afraid I have been one of those scientists who has performed VERY hubristic experiments in religion. Door-to-door missionaries have been stunned as I take them down the driveway, turn skyward, and then ask for a sign.

Yes, there are variants (perhaps most) of religion that would call that punishable sin! Yet, I haven’t been. Moreover, I find it puzzling why a humble request should be considered sinful. My request has never been granted, but i always ask respectfully and have accepted the refusal cheerfully. My point was not to prove non-existence of God! No, the pointias to demonstrate the Sermon of Ambiguity. The one greatest lesson we are taught... that we are supposed to do most of this ourselves. He may be there. But we are supposed to figure out most of it for ourselves.

Michael, you seem to be replicating the old argument for cynicism. “A cynic is an optimist who has snapped out of it and realized how awful people are.” Or variants of this. One of the great cliches.

I started to answer this down here in comments. But no, I want to do it at the top-posting level..

Rob Perkins said...

Heh. David, I'd have pointed at the sun and told you "There's your sign. Make one of those and then you'll have your proof!" Then taken you to a blade of grass and said, "There's your sign. Pull that off for more interesting insights!" and so forth.

I say that as a member of the only religion I've seen or studied with the word "experiment" in its canon, along with a statement attributed to God that people are expected to use the good minds the Good Lord gave 'em. And be nice to others. :)

But, I disagree with you only a little bit that we're going to actually succeed at figuring it all out ourselves. Our lifespans are too short and our nature still a bit too barbarous for me to accept theo-ultimacy as a characteristic of mortal Man. We get sick and die too readily, even if many of us are living like kings did, these days.

I still consider it a Commandment to try, though. As a secondary or co-primary goal, subservient to raising good people for the next generation. (This means that if there's a choice between teaching my daughter basic math and studying molecular biology, I choose the former.)

And if you'll permit a little rhetorical philosophy: How possible would freedom of religion be, really, if He settled all the questions with gaudy signs? If we accept that Evolution is true, and we assume that God exists, then we're talking about someone far more subtle than thunderclaps and threats, virtually all of the time.

And, as far as I'm concerned it's only a sin (that is, a self-debilitating crime) to ask for a sign if you are just asking the question to shut people up.

(It must have been fun, asking that question of door-to-door witnesses. One hopes you didn't do it to the Girl Scouts, though! Cookie season is coming and you don't want those people on your bad side!)

Rob Perkins said...

@reason -- I wasn't thinking strictly of material prosperity. I'm not a materialist!

Kagehi said...

>Well, I think y'all are missing David's point.
>Flies are caught easier with honey than
>vinegar, goes the aphorism.

True, but this fails to consider the reality of how the other side thinks. Try reading some blogs they show up on some time, if you post on one of their sites, the conversation usually goes like:

1. They post something completely wrong.
2. You, in as congenial a way possible suggest why its wrong.
3. If they don't delete you outright, they demand proof.
4. You suggest some sources, books, etc.
5. They insist all those are lies.
6. You ask them what evidence *would* convince them.
7. They ban you and delete all your posts.

Conversations with them on science blogs go like this:

1. The blogger posts a comment on ID.
2. No matter how kind and gentle the original post, a IDiot show up to post stuff the original article already debunked.
3. The blogger or others suggest reason why they are confused about things.
4. ID poster tries a different tack, either restating some variation on the original argument for why scientists are all wrong, or brings up something even sillier.
5. More attempts are made to explain why this isn't accurate, sources are suggested.
6. ID poster restates position.
7. Slightly frustrated people try to explain things again.
8. ID poster decides the new tack isn't working, so goes back the his original argument.
9. Some people start suggesting that maybe this clueless person isn't even reading the other posts.
10. ID poster defends his honor by listing a dozen pro-ID sites he visited that explained to him why some sources you suggested he read are all wrong. (Basically admitting he didn't bother reading the actual sources). Restates his own position again.
11. Seriously pissed posters suggest he go back to his own ID site and rant there instead.
12. ID poster calls everyone anti-Christian atheists and tells them they are going to hell. Optional mistranslated or entirely irrelevant Bible text is optional at this point.
12. A few days later some new IDiot shows up, defends the first one by repeating the same tired arguments again, immediately gets told to shut up and goes back to their site to tell everyone how anti-Christian and dogmatic those atheist over at -blah- are.

Its pretty damn hard to find the middle ground with people that won't listen, won't read anything, repeat the same invalid arguments over and over, then act surprised when the 50 other people they spent the last 3-4 days pissing off call them an idiot. Pick a site that posts about science, especially evolution or biology, and you will find exactly this conversation **every time**.

Oh, and another blogger recently tried and experiment, going to a number of religious blogs, just to see if you can even start to talk about something without being immediately banned by telling them you are not a believer. 48 of them banned here the moment she even suggested she didn't believe in a god. I believe only one actually kept her account active and actually tried discussing anything with her at all. I can't find the link for it though...

Point being, to find a middle ground, you first have to pull the wax plugs from their ears, tie their hands behind they backs, so they can't play the, see, hear and speak no evil game, and finally, find some way to get them to stop going "La la la la la... I can't hear you!" I find this currently, especially in a country that is like 19th-22nd in science education world wide, about as likely as a kangaroo giving birth to a cat, or whatever the goofy analogy Behe once used was.

Kagehi said...

>@Charles, I think you're right that *scientists*
>aren't offering the counterarguments
>that Card enumerated. But he didn't take aim at
>*scientists*. He took aim at "strict Darwinists"

First.. Scientists do provide counter examples, but they usually require more knowledge than you can present in five minutes, let alone in a 30 second time slot on the evening news, so you never hear about it. Second, as someone else pointed out, stop using Darwist. I am not sure what species these "strict Darwinists" belong it, but everyone I know figures they are a bit like leprecauns or unicorns, only existing in the imagination of those making claims about how they think scientists are doing stuff. Most have only fairly recently woken up to the threat to find a dead body in the bed next to them and a note from Discovery Institute saying, "Now, it would just be too bad if this was some one you know next time, wouldn't it?" This is bound to make someone edgy.

Case in point. I was the only person that defended Brin's comments on the subject at, and I did it after only an initially cursory glance, without completely reading what his post was. After reading it, I actually appologized to them for not getting why they all reacted the way they did. Now, PZ has a sort of, "nuke them all, but wait, I didn't really mean that!", view of dealing with ID and most of the other anti-science, or at least, "Only science we like is good" attitude that scientists complicity as let sneak in to those in charge. I tend to agree with him, but imho a good ninja would be far more effective than Sumo, which I personally think is quite silly. But I also think that the way the leaders of the whole thing think makes it more likely that a large brick will change their minds than just throwing them to the ground a few times, no matter what martial arts are applied.

I do appologize profusely for my continued over reaction, but I have been in the trenches at Pharyngula and some other places for a few months now and one gets in the habit when confronted with calls for concessions of any kind, to lob a granade, *then* try to figure out whose side the guy is on. Too often the white flag turns out to be someone in a white clown suit and face paint and serious gaps in their understanding, and that sadly includes people with non-biology science degrees. Its gotten depressing to realize that a currently out of work computer programmer like me, who never even *took* biology in highschool or college, has a clearer understanding of it that some people with bloody PhDs in something as complex as physics... I am not an example of a scientist in the sense of how they react, just a damn frustrated individual that begins to wonder if paying for a fake degree from some diploma mill wouldn't make him better at some of this stuff that people like Behe and Dembski. This also makes me a tad jumpy when reading something that, as you said, pushes all the wrong buttons. lol

Oh, btw, you ever remember signing a paperback copy of Sundiver to a Jim/Tim and Sue Norton? I found it a number of years ago in a used shop and always wondered if they might be related to Andre Norton. To be frank, my reaction was more like, "Wow! What have I got here?" ;)

Anonymous said...


Anyone here knows how hard I fight for the Enlightenment against these enemies. So, I speak up for the power of jiu jitsu? That’s a sin, to you. Apparently, you find anything other sumo to be tantamount to surrender.

There is a difference between attempted ju-jitsu and throwing yourself down on the mat in the hope that your opponent will do likewise.

Find me an honest and promenant IDer. And then have him say something that disagrees with anything I have said up until that point. At that point I will start giving ground. Until that time, the accusation of "flip-flopping" was, I believe, shown to be fairly effective.

As things are, I always hear people out. In all except very rare cases, this consists of feeding the ID proponent enough rope for them to hang themselves while remaining unfailingly polite until it can be demonstrated that they have done so.

I have met honest IDers online - in every case, they have been young, honest and lied to - at which point I need to marshal a lot of supporting evidence in order to demonstrate this as I am trying to overturn authority they respect. It is to rescue these that I stay in the trenches rather than term the entire movement the liars, frauds and fools most of the leading proponents demonstrably are.

Until you can show me an honest ID movement, I shall continue to approach them with real JuJitsu methods - feeding them enough rope for them to hang themselves up and then pointing out their mendacity for the world to see.

One good rule is to always allow a defeated enemy all the pride he can carry off. Unfortunately, the leading proponents of ID are dishonest enough that they won't admit defeat until they are 6' underground. On the other hand, the pride I can allow the sane ones is that they have been lied to and still are strong enough to overcome such malicious programming.

I also attack ID as lousy theology, making God into both a fraud and an idiot and point out how acceptance of evolution doesn't mean the rejection of God. The reason I don't accept the concessions made by ID is because, from all I can tell, they are bogus (see the early draft of "Of Pandas and People" for an illustration).

And finally, I do not believe that it is a fallacy to say "My opposite number has a long record of lying such as [lie] in [source] and [lie] in [source] and [lie] in [source] and ... . Therefore, until I have researched his new points, I will treat them with extreme scepticism and confine myself to active debunking what I know about."

(Of course, all the above relies on the IDers not finding points that are not relatively easily debunked - although I expect Lucifer to have thermal underwear in case of that eventuality).

Clearly my first impressions were wrong. These guys are Creationists.

Indeed. This is the flipside of your belief in amateurism. People feel qualified to pontificate and suggest lines and approaches without ever having genuinely looked at the issues on the grounds that one person is as good as another.

For all that, there is no excuse for vitriol or being less than polite until after the point that it should be clear to any honest bystander that the argument has been won (and preferably that your opponent is either frothing at the mouth or a liar).

Anonymous said...

Thank you for that thoughtful response Dr. Brin. I agree with you in principle that such human beings exist; however, I think that it is strategically unwise in this ideological battle to emphasize the faults of a few Evolutionary Theorists when the overwhelming majority have behaved respectfully and rationally.

Keep in mind that this battle between reason and unreason is being won, hands down, by the Evolutionary Theorists. Conservatives and Liberals have come out in far greater numbers to support Evolution, rejecting the irrationality of Intelligent Design.

It's been fantastic. I was practically dancing with joy as Pat Robertson condemned the people of Pennsylvania for their bi-partisan election to eject a School Board that dared to call Evolution into question. The judge, who ruled on the Dover case, did so very thoroughly in order to provide a precedent for other judges to follow, and he was a conservative.

This whole disputation has worked wonders for Science Education, sparking a potentially brief, but sustainable micro-renaissance of Scientific Rationality. The world does not see Darwinists as being dogmatic at all; they see Intelligent Design as trying to force its relativist reality on the public.

We have won! It's time to keep the pressure on, not to start second-guessing ourselves. Continue to lead through example and shame the bad-seeds into behaving. OSC is addicted to self-righteous indignation. You are Mr. Enthusiasm. Emphasize the positive aspects of this debate, as I have described above, and let the few grumpy-butts be ignored... nothing irritates them more.

PS - Don't pick on Carl Sagan, pick on Richard Dawkins!!!

Kagehi said...

Well, I might agree that Dawkins is a bit over the top and that can hurt things, but I tend to agree with his general view that at the end of it all, religion and science are inherently incompatible. There is nothing they explain that science doesn't explain more logically, if often emotionally dissatisfying to many people. Consciousness, spirituality, the *actual* effect that meditation and prayer has, and why, all are explainable, but doing so pulls the rug out from under the personal desire to be special and somehow more than just a collection of molecules. Even the most rational people short circuit when you suggest such things are illusions and a mere consequence of material processes. Gods shrink, metaphysics falls before physics and the mind becomes increasingly less distinct and real. Religions survive on providing explainations for those things that have emotional appeal, but no substance, and that includes those that currently don't have any real conflict with evolution or anything else. Personally I have no problem with people that insist on wishing that things are not that way. I do that to, my favorite wishes involve Brin's Uplift universe or C.J. Cherryh's Chanur series and others. But I don't try to insist that the real world conform to my dreams and everyone that disagrees needs to be replaced with people that do. Though, I will defend reality almost as agressively as Dawkins if need be, albeit with less ammunition.

This isn't to say that the two can't coexist, for a while. But as I described in another conversation on the subject of beliefs, if you ask me what I am, I will say Atheist, if you ask me why, I will say Agnostic, because all the evidence I see implies quite clearly that no human has ever described anything like a god that isn't self-inconsistent, has the manners of a spoiled child and is actually necessary to answer any question we have ever come up with. At least not unless you want an answer than makes you feel good, but has no other predictive or explainitary value what so ever. Should someone come up with such, then I will reconsider, people with personal annecdotes and statues bleeding cooking oil from their own kitchen need not apply. ;)

plunge said...

"In my opinion, Card didn't delineate clearly enough who is in the "Darwinists" group. And evolution supporters have long seen the label "Darwinists" used by creationists as a veiled insult that implies that all scientists are dogmatic and closed-minded. Using the term "Darwinists" is an invitation to misunderstanding."

I think it's worse than that. If you try to read "Darwinists" as being some unidentified subset of scientists that make bad arguments, his essay becomes totally inchoherent.

Instead, there are any number of places where the article uses "Darwinists" and critics of ID interchangeably. His whole main thrust is to claim that the response to ID has been characterized by such and such fallacious tactics. Are the scientists who have been the major part of that criticism supposed to then assume that this somehow only applies to them if they jump into Card's "True Scotsman" definition of Darwinist?

Anonymous said...

I'm sure there are people out there who actually believe ID, and believe they're doing the right thing. But I have to say the biggest thing I see it as is a distraction. Something to take up headlines, draw lots of attention, and make people put a lot of effort into fighting it and the "wedge" it's being used as.

And in the meantime, things like Mr. "The President can do anything he wants" Alito get appointed to the Supreme Court along strict party lines. And the Democrats are too disorganized, scared, or something, to fight.

I think distractions are part of the Rove arsenal. Do so many bad things at once your opponents can't figure out what to concentrate on and can't organize. And even if they stop one, you've got six more things waiting to drop.

Anonymous said...

I hope I'm not chiming in to this discussion too late for anybody to see this.

"anonymous" wrote:

You are incorrect in stating that IDists have made important concessions to science. Read the transcripts from the May hearings held by the KBOE (aka Kansas Kangaroo Kourt). 23 leading IDists testified. When asked about the age of the earth all but one who answered the question chose 10000 years, or alternatively "somewhere between 10000 and 4 billion years." Also, all who were asked denied any evolutionary relationship between humans and other primates. The IDists who agree with mainstream scientists on these issues are very few in number.

I agree that IDists as such have made no important contributions to science. (But I'm not sure that David said that they did.) But not everybody who testified at the Kansas hearing agreed with the "creationist" viewpoint.

Here's Dr. Behe's Kansas testimony:

Q. Sir, I have a few questions for the record for you. What is your opinion as to the age of the earth?

A. I think it's what physicists, geologists say, about 4.6 billion years.

Q. Do you accept the general principle of common descent, that all of life is biologically related to the beginning of life?

A. My position is similar to Professor Nord's, one or two ago, that depending on what you mean by common descent, I do believe in biological continuity of organisms, yes.

Q. Do you accept that human beings are related by common descent to prehominid ancestors?

A. With that exception in mind, depends on what you mean by common descent, yes, I do.

Behe clearly doesn't buy the "young earth" view, and he seems to believe that humans are related to other primates. He also mentioned Professor Nord, whose testimony is right here:

Secondly, descent from a common ancestor, the question here is: What does descent from mean? If that means that neo-- if Neo-Darwinian mechanisms are adequate, fully adequate for the explanation, I don't believe that. But if design or theological explanations are allowed to account for explaining at least part of what happens in evolution, then I accept that. And the same regarding our descent from prehominid ancestors. Yes, of course, I think that's true, but I think it's true only in the sense that I think we need to appeal to ideological explanations because Neo-Darwinian explanations aren't adequate to account for all of that evolutionary development.

Both of these men are stating a belief in common descent, albeit one that incorporates some other explanation: I'm picturing that certain species are "uplifted" from time to time by an Intelligent Designer.

This is obviously different from creationism, as the term is defined in the American Heritage Dictionary: "Belief in the literal interpretation of the account of the creation of the universe and of all living things related in the Bible," which I think is how the term is understood by those who identify themselves as such.