Klinghoffer Argues Against Himself


We recommend that before you proceed further, dear reader, you should unplug your irony meter and encase it in thick shielding. What we’re about to discuss is more than the device was built to handle.

At the Discovery Institute’s creationist blog you’ll find this gem: Science Untethered from Evidence. It was written by David Klinghoffer, a Discoveroid “senior fellow” (i.e., flaming, full-blown creationist), who eagerly functions as their journalistic slasher and poo flinger.

The graphic above this post is in Klinghoffer’s honor. But the glorious irony here — although he seems blissfully unaware of it — is that Klinghoffer is actually slashing away at the Discoveroids. Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us:

Biology largely retains its faith in the unguided Darwinian mechanism, despite mounting evidence against its power to generate complex life forms.

BWAHAHAHAHAHA! Yes, we have “faith” in evolution, despite the “mounting evidence” against it. Lordy, lordy. What evidence is he talking about? The only way that sentence could make sense is if it were flipped around to say that in spite of zero evidence to support their claims, the Discoveroids have faith in the existence of their intelligent designer — blessed be he! — and in his numerous unseen and unnecessary activities.

But that was just the beginning. The threat to your irony meter is yet to come. Klinghoffer says:

Is it any wonder that this insouciance would rub off on neighboring fields, with offices just a floor above or below in the Science Building? … So we see how the commitment to Darwinian evolution — in defiance of the evidence, adhered to as a defense against theism — has rubbed off, indirectly, on physicists.

Now the Discoveroids are attacking physics? Well, not yet. They’re still primarily focused on evolution, but all of science will eventually be targeted. Let’s read on:

I don’t mean that physicists are crossing the frontier between disciplines to take up the Darwinian banner itself, but they are showing signs of the same casual attitude to evidence, and with similar motivations.

Following this? The Discoveroids — of all people! — are criticizing physicists for being casual about evidence. Klinghoffer continues:

A fascinating piece in the New York Times by astrophysicist Adam Frank and physicist Marcelo Gleiser describes “A Crisis at the Edge of Physics.” They ask, “Do physicists need empirical evidence to confirm their theories?”

This is what he’s talking about: A Crisis at the Edge of Physics. It’s an opinion piece about something we all know — that some fields of interest to physicists, e.g., string theory and the multiverse, are so far only speculation, because there’s no hard evidence to support them. The authors ask:

How are we to determine whether a theory is true if it cannot be validated experimentally? Should we abandon it just because, at a given level of technological capacity, empirical support might be impossible? If not, how long should we wait for such experimental machinery before moving on: ten years? Fifty years? Centuries?


Recall the epicycles, the imaginary circles that Ptolemy used and formalized around A.D. 150 to describe the motions of planets. Although Ptolemy had no evidence for their existence, epicycles successfully explained what the ancients could see in the night sky, so they were accepted as real. But they were eventually shown to be a fiction, more than 1,500 years later. Are superstrings and the multiverse, painstakingly theorized by hundreds of brilliant scientists, anything more than modern-day epicycles?

The authors of the Times article don’t offer a solution. Instead, they provide a frank but polite discussion of the issues (they’re talking about their colleagues, after all), and the article is certainly worth reading. This is nothing new. The Wikipedia article on String theory has a section on Criticism. So does their article on the Multiverse — see Criticism.

But Klinghoffer has his own interpretation of things. After a big quote from the Times article, he says:

Note the telling language. Imagining a multiverse “could help solve some deep scientific conundrums about our own universe (such as the so-called fine-tuning problem), but at considerable cost.”

The authors of the Times article describe that cost, but they don’t say that they approve of it:

Namely, the additional universes of the multiverse would lie beyond our powers of observation and could never be directly investigated. Multiverse advocates argue nonetheless that we should keep exploring the idea — and search for indirect evidence of other universes.

That’s a good description of what the Discoveroids do regarding their magical designer, but Klinghoffer finds it an appalling idea when some physicists do it. He says:

The conundrum, cosmic fine-tuning, is a problem for materialists because it points to intelligent design. The cost is asserting a scientific idea untethered from the available evidence. For many in the field of physics, the cost is worth it if it seems to dissolve the conundrum.

Let’s flip that around:

The conundrum, evolution, is a problem for creationists because it doesn’t require intelligent design. The cost is asserting a non-scientific idea untethered from the available evidence. For those of us at the Discovery Institute, the cost is worth it if it seems to dissolve the conundrum

Klinghoffer is deliciously oblivious to the fact that by criticizing string theory and multiverse theorists, he’s literally criticizing himself. His final paragraph continues in the same manner:

If a scientific idea provides a weapon to ward off theism, then grab it and hold on no matter what nature itself seems to demand that you conclude. Where have you heard thinking like that before?

Where have we heard that before? BWAHAHAHAHAHA! We’ll flip that one around too and you’ll know where you heard it. The part we put in quotes comes from the Discoveroids’ own Wedge Document. Hey, Klinghoffer, does this sound familiar?:

If a mystical idea like intelligent design provides a weapon to promote a “theistic understanding of nature,” then grab it and hold on no matter what nature itself seems to demand that you conclude

So there you are, dear reader. Without realizing it, Klinghoffer has criticized everything he and his Discoveroid comrades have ever written. The irony has never been better.

Copyright © 2015. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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20 responses to “Klinghoffer Argues Against Himself

  1. Derek Freyberg

    Maybe string theory and multiverses will turn out to be no more than epicycles, maybe not – I sure don’t know. What we do know is that:
    (1) scientific explanations tend to parsimony until complexity makes more sense – planets move in circles around the sun until you realize that some of the orbits are non-circular, then you add the complexity of epicycles to give the correct appearance of the non-circular motion, then the theory of gravity allows for a parsimonious explanation of non-circular orbits, then relativity if you need it for the level of detail you want;
    (2) science has made many correct predictions that could not be borne out until technology caught up – for example, in chemistry the predictions of the “missing” elements in the early days of the periodic table, in physics the Higgs boson;
    (3) “Oogity Boogity did it” neither predicts nor explains.

  2. michaelfugate

    Another Klinghoffer “pay no attention to the man behind the curtain” moment.

  3. The title of this posting is incomplete. It should read

    Klinghoffer Argues Against Himself–and Loses

  4. The difference between string theory and the multiverse on the one hand, and ID on the other, is that they are built on a foundation of solid physics. The underlying math is well thought out and can be argued and amended by other scientists. If the technology becomes available, both could conceivably be tested – or indirect methods may be devised.

    ID, which is built on a foundation of superstition, has no testable hypotheses or rigorous mathematical framework. No experiment short of a ghost detector will ever be able to prove, disprove, or even collect evidence relevant to the existence of a designer.

  5. waldteufel

    Since it’s inception, the DI has been untethered from not only science, but divorced from reality, demonstrating a breathtaking lack of honesty. They are nothing more than an intellectual cesspool.

    This Klinklepooper piece does indeed inadvertently paint a nice picture of the Discoveroids, thus again showing their incompetence and lack of self awareness as well. Their benefactors must be very proud.

  6. Creationists have been arguing against themselves as long as I have been paying any attention to them.

    Example – any argument against evolution which is of the form: evolution is fatally flawed because it cannot account for such-and-such – when there is nothing that creationism can account for, “what happens so that such-and-such, rather than something else”.

  7. anevilmeme

    Th universe isn’t fine tuned for us or anything else, that meme needs to die.

  8. Ed explains: “The difference between …..”
    Sure – but the point is that every single thing Klunkleclapper brings up against string theory applies with doubled force against IDiocy. Plus we may hope – eventually after 1500 years – that string theory can be tested. Klingyhopper (or was it the Gerbil?) lies that IDiocy can be tested as well – but no IDiot ever has been able to tell what kind of empirical evidence would make him/her to drop it.
    If SC condenscends himself to compile a top 10 of creacrap “achievements” (read: bloopers) at the end of the year this one is a strong contender for nr. 1. Even Ol’Hambo will find it hard to beat it.

  9. “unguided Darwinian mechanism”. It is odd that the spin doctors at the D.I. haven’t simply jumped on the evolutionary bandwagon. Darwin or any other naturalists research could just as easily be hijacked as evidence of a designer hard at work fine tuning his masterwork. Most likely to make the world just a little better for old Klinkypoo.

    But then who would they have left to attack? Would we be reading rehashes of the old Reagan speeches from the 80’s again? Probably…

  10. No, Klingy, the universe is not fine-tuned — we are, to conditions on earth, by hundreds of millions of years of evolution.

  11. How are we to determine whether a theory is true if it cannot be validated experimentally? Should we abandon it just because, at a given level of technological capacity, empirical support might be impossible? If not, how long should we wait for such experimental machinery before moving on: ten years? Fifty years? Centuries?

    Actually, that’s exactly what scientists do with new ideas which can’t be tested: if they’re not obviously ridiculous, and sometimes even if they seem to be so, they become the province of small cadres of believers until such time as they can be tested, and the world of science goes on. The squabble over whether light was made up of particles or waves went on for generations before quantum physics showed it was essentially both.

    In any case, whatever may be said about theoretical physics, Klinghoffer’s point is irrelevant to discussion of evolution. That theory has been tested over and over for 150 years and has passed those tests.

    Of course, to K and company, the only test that really matters is “Does it agree with the Bible as that book was understood in the good old days of King James?” Certainly evolution fails that test; so does the germ theory of disease.

  12. Klinkbummer is such a freaking hypocrite. Somedays I wonder what goes on in his head. Others, I don’t think I could survive finding out.

  13. @Eric Lipps
    The fundamentalists are not interested in any prior understanding of the Bible. They have their own idiosyncratic belief system.

  14. The fundamentalists are not interested in any prior understanding of the Bible.

    TomS is quite correct. Fundamentalists** aren’t particularly interested in hermeneutics of the past unless they find agreement which can be cited in their support. (And as to the understanding of the Bible at the time the KJV was published, even the KJV-only fundamentalists would reject many of the doctrinal positions which were popular at that time, even some of those held by the translators.)

    TomS’ comment brings to mind a Dispensationalist classic which was once even used as a textbook at many fundamentalist seminaries and Bible colleges. Dwight Pentecost’s Things To Come was divided into two parts: the millennium issue and the rapture/tribulation issue. [Those are not the best labels but I used them so that some readers will recall terms like “pretribulational-rapture premillennialist”.] I’ll not delve into parsing the various eschatological positions and permutations concerning the ordering of events associated with the return of Jesus Christ but this is enough to set the stage for what I found amazing about that textbook.

    On the millennium issue, Pentecost proudly pointed out that his position was the “traditional orthodox view” of Christians all the way back to the first century apostles. Yet, on the rapture issue, where it was obvious that no Christians had held his position until the rise of Dispensationalism mere decades before him, Pentecost just as proudly asserted that “This is an example of God gradually revealing the truth over many centuries, eventually preparing his people for those things which are soon to come.” Thus, he argued that such a distant event didn’t need to be known by the Church through most of its history, so it was only with the rise of Dispensationalism under Darby and later popularized by the popular Scofield Study Bible that his “pretrib-premill” view became common among many American Christians denominations and church fellowships. (Indeed, his own evangelical school, Dallas Theological Seminary, was largely responsible for expanding Dispensationalism through its many graduates who became pastor-preachers.)

    So, I always found it fascinating that Pentecost set the stage for arguing the two positions by opposite logic: both an apostolic heritage and a very recent heritage could be simultaneously boasted as justification for his Dispensational positions! It goes to show that at least some fundamentalists find ways to play both sides of a coin, or even having one’s cake and eating it too, when it suits the proof-texting and controversy of the moment. The fact that Dr. Pentecost managed to play such opposite tunes in the same textbook makes it all the more fascinating.

  15. ___________________________
    ** FOOTNOTE: The term fundamentalist no doubts confuses many readers because it has multiple definitions and it can be difficult to nail down, sometimes even when one understands the context where it is used. For example, journalists often treat fundamentalist and evangelical as if they are totally synonymous. Yet, while some evangelicals are entirely comfortable with both labels, many are not. Long ago I was a young and somewhat naive professor invited to speak at a seminary professors’ conference in the American Bible Belt. I thought I knew my audience. I quickly learned that plenty of fundamentalists were entirely offended when I dared call the philanthropist who sponsored the conference an evangelical Christian. As one man later explained to me in an intentionally dialectical turn-of-phrase, “Them’s fightin’ words down here!” I was treated to a brief tutorial on how an evangelical Christian is just a short step away from a neo-evangelical Christian, which is far too close to being a neo-orthodox Christian, which “as we all know is nothing but a theological liberal!”

    It was during that speaking tour that I realized that my academic training should have included much more preparation for cross-cultural experiences!

    These ambiguities surrounding popular labels produce a lot of confusion and misunderstandings, because writers/speakers and their readers/audiences so often interpret such terms quite differently. Thus, when I read TomS’ statement, The fundamentalists are not interested in any prior understanding of the Bible, I could easily imagine a great many fundamentalists disagreeing with him. Admittedly, they would be making a valid point just as TomS’ observation was valid. American fundamentalism remains just as diverse today and generalizations can accurately describe millions of people while not-so-accurately stereotypical millions of others.

  16. I should also mention that a great many fundamentalists would strongly object to anyone applying that term to those officially associated with The Discovery Institute.

    Indeed, those fundamentalists who know the background and beliefs of Dr. Jonathan Wells, a member of the Unification Church and personally commissioned by the church founder, The Rev. Sun Myung Moon, are downright horrified. One of the many doctrinal topics which IFCA fundamentalists fight over–or, at least they did when I found myself being grilled on the topic during the aforementioned visit to Bible Belt lands long ago–is “first degree separation” versus “second degree separation” among “genuine” Christians. Needless to say, the thought of a “heretic” like Wells being treated as a hero did not endear such fundamentalists to The Discovery Institute.)

  17. It might interest Third Prof that most Surinamese evangelicals are not fundamentalists.They usually are OK with other religions (including hindus and muslims) and even atheism. They do have some weird views on science though.
    To me a fundamentalist means an abrahimist (I don’t know if the term can apply to hindus and buddhists as well) who claims to go back to the roots of his/her religion. This claim is a reaction to our modern times, of which Evolution Theory is an integral part, but far from the only one.
    Evangelicals rather react to traditional protestant denominations. There is at least one Dutch evangelical christian who accepts Evolution Theory. Andries Knevel is an evangelical and a theistic evolutionist.

  18. @Prof. T & mnbo: Stop — my head hurts. I still haven’t recovered from my grandson explaining the nuances of Dungeons & Dragons.

  19. retiredsciguy says to Prof. T & mnbo: “Stop — my head hurts.”

    That’s only evangelicals and fundamentalists. Wait ’til you learn about the charismatics.

  20. “That’s only evangelicals and fundamentalists. Wait ’til you learn about the charismatics.”