Discovery Institute’s Latest Brain-Benders

Twisting words is the only talent we’ve ever seen exhibited by neo-theocrats at the Discovery Institute‘s creationist public relations and lobbying operation, the Center for Science and Culture (a/k/a the Discoveroids, a/k/a the cdesign proponentsists).

We gave you a recent sample in Discovery Institute Battles BioLogos in which we wrote about a couple of their newest claims: (1) that the theory of evolution is an “argument from junk DNA,” and (2) that evolution is “a faith based on gaps in scientific knowledge” — which they call “Darwin of the gaps.”

As pathetic as that was, we just found some others — but they’re a bit more subtle. At the Discoveroid blog we find this new post: Phillip Johnson on Dogmatic Signs. That post is little more than some excerpts from an article published elsewhere, written by Phillip E. Johnson, about whom we wrote Philip E. Johnson: Godfather of Intelligent Design. He’s a retired UC Berkeley law professor who is an architect of the Discoveroids’ Wedge Strategy.

Here are some examples of their latest brain-benders which we’ll copy from the Discoveroid excerpts of Johnson’s article. Johnson is talking about Stephen Meyer’s book. The last time we wrote about that was Two More Reviews for “Signature in the Cell”. Okay, here we go, with bold added by us:

In another way, however, it is peculiar that there is such a furious and often ill-informed objection to a learned volume that isn’t even about the theory of biological evolution.

That’s for sure. It’s about Oogity Boogity! Let’s read on:

The book advances well-reasoned arguments based on solid evidence about a prior problem — the origin of the cell’s information content — concerning which most scientists would concede that they know very little.

Ooooooooooh — information! Only an infinitely intelligent Designer can come up with that. Otherwise, there could be no snowflakes, crystals, or anything else with a discernible structure. We continue:

The one thing that many of these scientists think they do know for certain is that, however the cell may have originated, the process could only have involved natural (i.e., unintelligent) causes. But this conclusion is not something these scientists know from the evidence.

Hey — that’s a brilliant point! It’s stupid to look for evidence when you don’t already know that it exists. Here’s more:

For a long time, it has been the rule in evolutionary science that, if the evidence does not support a fully naturalistic theory about both the origin of life and its subsequent development, then there must be something wrong with the evidence rather than with the theory or its underlying philosophy.

You have to read that more than once to understand what Johnson is saying. When he says what he imagines scientists to be thinking, that “there must be something wrong with the evidence,” he’s mischaracterizing (deliberately?) what’s really happening. He’s suggesting that scientists toss out the evidence. No, but that’s what creationists do. The “something wrong” that a scientist might think is nothing more than a realization that the evidence he’s working with is incomplete. That’s why scientists do research.

The scientific approach to the world has a long and spectacular history of success, but (as we understand it) Johnson prefers that when our evidence doesn’t yet provide a full understanding, it’s not because the evidence is incomplete. Thinking that way is a philosophical error! It really means that there’s something wrong with the “underlying philosophy” of science. Those familiar with the Wedge Strategy know what Johnson’s philosophical solution is. He wants to “replace materialistic explanations with the theistic understanding that nature and human beings are created by God.”

Moving along:

The profoundly biased scientific and intellectual context into which Signature in the Cell was introduced is as important and fascinating a subject as Meyers’ book itself.

That “profoundly biased scientific and intellectual context” Johnson complains about is nothing less than the methodology of science itself. He’s right, of course. Any book that promotes Oogity Boogity! as a replacement for science is going to encounter that same kind of “bias.”

Johnson then praises a volume that collects a bunch of Discoveroid responses to the critics of Meyers’ book, after which he says:

What I hope readers of these two books [Meyers’ book and the Discoveroids’ responses to criticism] will appreciate is that conflicting scientific claims can only be properly adjudicated by impartially investigating the evidence, and not by excluding an important claim because of an a priori philosophical bias, such as by incorporating the opposing claim into the definition of “science.”

Again, that requires some re-reading. Johnson speaks of “conflicting scientific claims,” thus putting Oogity Boogity! on the same level as genuine science. He refers to “excluding an important claim” (the important claim being creationism) as being “because of an a priori philosophical bias.” And what is that bias? It’s considering science to be science, and pseudo-science to be outside the definition of science. That’s Johnson’s big beef. No one takes Oogity Boogity! seriously, and it’s only because of “bias.”

When will this cruel discrimination end? Hopefully it will never end. That means Johnson will go on muttering the line we vaguely recall (but can’t locate) from an old James Cagney gangster movie, spoken when a bitter ex-con complained about how society treated him — no one would give an ex-con a break.

Maybe you remember the movie. Cagney summed up his situation and said: “It’s a dirty rotten shame!” That must be how the Discoveroids feel.

Copyright © 2010. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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12 responses to “Discovery Institute’s Latest Brain-Benders

  1. In another way, however, it is peculiar that there is such a furious and often ill-informed objection to a learned volume that isn’t even about the theory of biological evolution.

    That’s an exceedingly dishonest statement, if par for IDiots/Johnson. Meyer makes his “case” regarding the origin of life, then heavily conflates evolution and abiogenesis at the end of the book. Meaning that, as disingenuous he was on the origin of first life, he’s doubly disingenuous regarding evolution. And Johnson just blithely lies about that fact (he may not have read it, basically knowing the repetitious drivel of creationists, but he had an obligation to prior to telling us what it was about).

    For a long time, it has been the rule in evolutionary science that, if the evidence does not support a fully naturalistic theory about both the origin of life and its subsequent development, then there must be something wrong with the evidence rather than with the theory or its underlying philosophy.

    Yes, oddly science doesn’t decide that the demand for evidence evaporates simply because that evidence is lacking. Johnson’s supposed to be an expert on the law–and most likely he actually is–so why isn’t he chastising the legal establishment for concluding that angels or demons were responsible for an action when we’re lacking evidence that a person was responsible?

    Obviously he’s simply an inconsistent “thinker,” who faults science for demanding evidence the same way that the legal establishment does. Of course he wouldn’t be so honest as to characterize it that way, instead he blames science for having roughly the same standards as virtually all pursuits actually have, save the egregious pseudosciences. He won’t tell us that these are widely agreed-upon standards, he simply implies that they are not.

    And so ends the career of a respected academician. He may have ended his life as a minor but respected figure, and instead he’s ending it as a well-known blowhard spouting duplicitous nonsense.

  2. The book advances well-reasoned arguments based on solid evidence about a prior problem — the origin of the cell’s information content — concerning which most scientists would concede that they know very little.

    Another example of duplicity, although this is not original to Johnson. The idea that the origin of “information” was a problem for evolutionary theory is a complete invention of the creationists.

    Also, Johnson writes as though supernatural causes are as normal and ordinary as natural ones. He opines that scientists would rather disregard the evidence than change their theory – suggesting that the evidence in question points to supernatural causes. The problem Johnson fails to see (or perhaps does see and is just lying about) is that no evidence raised by any creationist or any scientist has ever pointed to a supernatural cause. Sometimes (rarely) creationists point out actual gaps in knowledge, or puzzling problems, but those gaps/problems are not evidence for the supernatural.

    I think Johnson’s problem is that he is a lawyer, as Glen points out, and therefore views evidence as data to pick and choose from to support his side, or to ignore, distort or discredit when it supports the other side. The issue is not whether evidence is true or false, but rather how well it supports his client.

  3. Ed says:

    I think Johnson’s problem is that he is a lawyer, as Glen points out, and therefore views evidence as data to pick and choose from to support his side, or to ignore, distort or discredit when it supports the other side.

    It reminds me of the OJ trial — what little I still remember about it. “You can’t convict my client if you don’t have the murder weapon!” Never mind that the victims’ blood is on OJ’s clothes, that OJ’s blood is at the scene (wasn’t it?), that he had a motive, that his whereabouts could place him at the scene, etc. Just pick on one missing thing and pound the table.

  4. Johnson, the washed up old man sitting on his porch yelling at kids to get off his lawn, deliberately plays the persecution card in hopes of sympathy.

    What Johnson lies as “bias” he knows full well is really “lack of evidence.” Science doesn’t say “we can’t accept supernatural explanations,” rather science says “there is no evidence for supernatural explanations.”

    Big difference.

    If I look at a rock formation I can either say it was caused by wind erosion or I can say it was made by Casper the Friendly Ghost. I have evidence of wind abrasion, abrasion rates, grain size, density, hardness, wind speed, etc. But, I have no evidence about Casper. Johnson says I’m biased because I don’t consider Casper and I say to Johnson *unprintable* *unprintable* and the horse you rode in on.

  5. Such bullcrap. He’s complaining about methodological naturalism by conflating it with philosophical naturalism. They are NOT the same thing!!!

  6. LRA says: “They are NOT the same thing!!!”

    He’s sufficiently aware of things that I suspect he knows. He also knows that the Discoveroids’ followers don’t know that — or anything else.

  7. I don’t think Discoveroids buy into methodological naturalism. If they did, they would have to give up ever being considered as a legitimate part of science. (never mind that they never do any science anyway) So, they try to redefine science, and pretend that there is no actual requirement for methodological naturalism to conduct science, and label real scientists laboring within those constraints as “biased” or “dogmatic”. They are experts at twisting language and meaning.

    True Slytherins. 🙂

  8. Notice how the Biologic Institute hasn’t published squat since 2008? I’ll spot them Dembski’s engineering algorithm paper and say they were at least on the map in 2009. Apparently they got something in an arts/science interface journal in 2009 as well. Not exactly chugging out hardcore ID research.

  9. its worthwhile looking at what Meyer is (other than a Yee Buckle Hatte loon). Heres what Wiki tells us:

    “Stephen C. Meyer (born 1958) is an American scholar, philosopher and advocate for the pseudoscientific, creationist concept of intelligent design who helped found the Discovery Institute (DI) and its Center for Science and Culture (CSC), which is the driving force behind the intelligent design movement. ”

    Strong stuff eh? …. And:

    “Meyer graduated with a degree in physics and earth science in 1981 from the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)-affiliated Whitworth University[6] and worked as a geophysicist for the Atlantic Richfield Company.[7] Shortly after, Meyer won a scholarship from the Rotary Club of Dallas to study at Cambridge University in the United Kingdom. Meyer earned his Ph.D. in history and philosophy of science in 1991”

    So…his fields are geology, geophysics and history/philosophy….. NOT biology.

    Y see only in the whacked out insane asylum of the US, where everybodys opinion is counted as equal, would anyone give any creedance to a book on biology written by someone with NO qualifications in biology.

    Do you see Dawkins writing works on quantum physics? No. Do you see Hawking writing works on biology? No. Does Sam Harris write works on complex carbon chemistry? NO

    Because in Science Land you write on what you are qualified in.

    Only in Yee Buckle Hatte land does a geologist or a mathematician get to write about stuff they havent been eductated in….biology.

    End of argument as far as the Euro audience goes.

    I suggest my US friends begin to adopt and enforce that same standard.

    The simple reply to any work by Meyer on biology is, therefore:

    “He isnt a qualified biologist, so he hasnt a clue what hes on about.”

  10. Sandman: “He isnt a qualified biologist, so he hasnt a clue what hes on about.”

    That’s much too charitable. Meyer has had more detailed discussions with biologists than 99+% of his readers. Most or all of those biologists sold out to pseudoscience, but that’s beside the point; he still must understand biology better than 99+% of his readers. Upthread I read how he deliberately conflates abiogenesis with evolution and methodological naturalism with philosophical naturalism. My conclusion is that these people know excatly what they are doing – allowing their clueless followers to believe fairy tales while knowing perfectly well that those fairy tales do not have a shred of evidence to support them. Which is why they painstakingly avoiding caling any attention to testable claims of those mutually contradictory fairy tales that might alert more educated readers to their fatal flaws.

    Besides, it doesn’t take any appreciable understanding of biology to know that his arguments that promote unreasonable doubt of evolution are bogus. He has been told 100s of times, and still chooses to repeat them to new, unsuspecting audience. The same applies to all “Discoveroids,” inlcuing those with PhDs in biology/biochemistry. So claiming that they haven’t a clue about biology reduces to the insanity defense. It’s possible, but I find the alternative – deliberately faking cluelessness – the much simpler explanation.

  11. Maybe you remember the movie. Cagney summed up his situation and said: “It’s a dirty rotten shame!”

    “Smart Money” with Edward G. Robinson & Jimmy Cagney, 1931? Best guess based on a few Interwebz searches.

  12. Gary guesses: “Smart Money”

    I donno, maybe. But I don’t think he was an ex-con in that movie. It’s a minor annoyance that I can’t find it. Maybe the line is only my imagination.