Food Fight: Discoveroids vs. Paul Braterman

We highly recommend an article in The Conversation titled How to slam dunk creationists when it comes to the theory of evolution. It was written by Paul Braterman, Honorary Research Fellow, University of Glasgow, and Professor Emeritus, University of North Texas, who sometimes enriches this humble blog with his insightful comments.

Braterman’s article is so good that the Discovery Institute has been motivated to argue against it in their creationist blog: Slam Dunk? Once Again, It’s the “Evolution Is a Theory” Thus “Overwhelmingly Supported” Fallacy. It has no author’s by-line. Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us for emphasis:

Basically, he’s [Braterman] responding to the unsophisticated argument that since evolution is a “theory,” “we should be free to teach other theories alongside evolution in our classrooms.”

It’s hard to believe, but the Discoveroids claim they’re not guilty of that technique. They say:

Certainly, that’s not how we argue. See Casey Luskin’s post warning against the “just a theory” approach to critiquing evolution. [Link omitted.]

We’ve discussed that — see Klinghoffer: Evolution Is a Failed Theory. The Discoveroids have an argument technique which is far more slimy than simply saying “Evolution is only a theory.” As we pointed out, they confuse the issue with multiple definitions of “evolution,” then they do the same thing with multiple definitions of “theory.”

By the time they’re done, a “theory” could be anything at all, and therefore their own wild claims about the wondrous accomplishments of their intelligent designer — blessed be he! — also constitutes a “theory.” And that (they hope) will wedge open the school curriculum enough so all “theories” should be presented to the kiddies.

Okay, back to the Discoveroids. In further rebuttal to Braterman’s article, they quote Discoveroid Douglas Axe, who responded to Braterman’s article by posting some tweets. Here’s one of them:

The problem with Darwinism isn’t that it’s a theory, but rather that its proponents guard it so defensively. Must be a very weak theory.

Yes, dear reader, that is how the Discoveroids do science.

In conclusion, we suggest you read Braterman’s article. Then, if you’re in the mood for some heavy-duty eye rolling, read the entire Discoveroids’ post. We think you’ll agree that it’s thin gruel indeed.

Copyright © 2017. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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27 responses to “Food Fight: Discoveroids vs. Paul Braterman

  1. We atheists guard the ‘theory’ defensively! Lets see how many people were killed or imprisoned for stating various science facts by various dogmatic groups? And how many people were imprisoned or killed by scientists, for stating BS as fact??? And YOU call us defensive!!!

  2. So, what I’m hearing here is that DI is unambiguously saying they’re creationists.

    I mean, otherwise, why would they be responding to this article at all?

  3. I am not a scientist, so I would like correction for my understanding of evolution. Evolution is a process that takes place in the world of life. Populations change over generations in their inheritable properties. That is not a theory or hypothesis, it is just simply something that happens.
    Even many creationists accept that evolution happens.
    So evolution is something that happens.
    Why do people say, then, that evolution is a theory? People don’t say that fire, or flight, or eclipses – other things that happen – are theories.

  4. As Dawkins and others have argued, biological evolution is both a fact and a theory.

    Also congrats to Paul Braterman for making it all the way to the Disco Toot’s blog! He even got an Axejob I understand.

  5. Michael Fugate

    “It’s hard to believe, but the Discoveroids claim their they’re not guilty of that technique.”

    Yes TomS, they are fighting for an agent god and human exceptionalism. What led to 99.9999999999% of life on earth – they could care less.

  6. “The correct response is to say that evolution is a theory – like gravity is a theory”
    I totally agree, if only because it’s hilarious to see creacrappers trying to weasle out of “so is gravity”.
    However creacrappers are also experts at dismissing evidence, no matter how badly their arguments. One other trick, meant as an addition, is that use multiple definitions of “evidence” as well.

  7. It’s rather hypocritical of the Disco Tute to feign not understanding why scientists have to defend the ToE like a terrier its home. Evolution is, aside from global warming perhaps, the most viciously attacked scientific discipline and the DI happily joined the fray with their Wedge Strategy and their clumsily forged Panda’s Thumb Pandas and People.

    In that regard they are far more slippery and insidious then AiG or ICR, who at least openly state their intentions. But even those two do not shy away from peddling massive misinterpretations to get their point across.

  8. Thanks, Michael Fugate. Typo fixed.

  9. Charles Deetz ;)

    “Must be a very weak theory.” How Donald Trump. ‘I know you are, but what am I?’

  10. Correction, the title of that hacked piece of codswallop was of Pandas and People. I’d still like to get my hands on a (online) copy one day and read the whole thing.

  11. @TomS: “so I would like correction for my understanding of evolution.”
    Neither am I a scientist; moreover I teach math and physics, not biology. More here:

    These two articles didn’t really satisfy me. I’m not saying that they are wrong, far from it; they are written by experts while I’m not one. But the definitions for me must be handy whenever I meet a creacrapper on internet.
    So I use an analogy from gravity and electricity. Just like these two evolution is an abstract concept that helps us to correctly describe a wide range of empirical data, like the fossil record, mutations, speciation and a few things more, like mentioned by PaulB. Evolution Theory, very much similar to Newtonian Mechanics (of which his Theory of Gravity is a subset), is the theory actually describes them.
    I find this very handy. But if you prefer one of the definitions as given in the two links, be my guest. Definitions are important but mainly for the reasons pointed out by PaulB: to prevent cheapos like “Evolution is a theory, theories are uncertain, therefore evolution is uncertain.” Creacrappers only can make it look like they have a case by abusing ambiguity. Like this:

    “Once Again, It’s the “Evolution Is a Theory” Thus “Overwhelmingly Supported”
    – when the next word actually is “fallacy” but should have been “strawman attacked by us IDiots”. PaulB totally doesn’t make that claim. Instead he claims “Evolution is a theory that is overwhelmingly supported by evidence”. So whatever definitions you choose, make sure they are unambiguous and crystal clear. That’s what definitions are for in science.

  12. Michael Fugate

    ID according to Axe is a “theory” that is overwhelmingly supported by intuition – not by evidence.

  13. Nitpick:
    Newton’s theory of gravity had nothing to do with his theory of mechanics. It is just that once you have gravitational force, everything else behaves according to the laws of motion.

  14. @mnbo
    Once again, I am not a scientist, but I dare to offer my opinion. You say that evolution is an abstract concept. I say that evolution is something that happens – it is conventionally defined as “the change in the hereditary properties of populations over generations”. This change can be measured as it happens today and as it is preserved in the fossil record.
    There are the facts of taxonomy and biogeography which are explained by the theory of common descent with change – the change being evolution. That theory is the theory of Darwin and Wallace.

  15. TomS says: ” I say that evolution is something that happens …”

    It’s a word that does two jobs. Evolution is both the fact that species change over time (which even creationists admit), and it’s also the theory that explains how that change happens — mutation and natural selection.

  16. @TomS: “I say …”
    And I wrote “whatever definitions you choose, make sure they are unambiguous and crystal clear.”

    @KeithB: “Newton’s theory of gravity had nothing to do with his theory of mechanics.”
    G = m*g (Weight is mass times gravitational acceleration) is a special case of F = m*a. It’s also a simplification of

  17. …But…but…Dr. Braterman’s splendid essay addresses “How to slam dunk creationists” and the Discoveroids–who go nuts if you suggest they are ‘creationists’–jump into the fray and get all self-defensive!

    Could it be the Discoveroid are themselves–(gasp!)–Creationists themselves???

  18. @The Curmudgeon said that “evolution” is also the theory that mutation and natural selection explains how that happens.
    And I suggest that evolution is not that theory. Darwin knew nothing about mutation and today it is proposed that there are more mechanisms than natural selection: sexual selection and neutral drift, for example. That is, there is more than one theory of evolution.
    And I suggest that in general that it is useful to distinguish between a process and a theory of that process: between flight and the theory of flight, between eclipses and a theory of eclipses, between fire and a theory of fire (the phlogiston theory or fire, the four elements theory, the oxidation theory).

  19. The disco dancing engaged in by the DI to avoid admitting that they’re creationists is ridiculous.

    If ID is not creationism, then how are the two to be told apart? And why should ID’ers even try? After all, if the creationists have things right, then science ought to support them, and there should be no need for entities like the DI to try to present themselves as scientifically minded by (at least publicly) disavowing pure-D creationism.

  20. Richard Bond

    TomS: Sexual selection was developed by Darwin to account for non-adaptive differences that delineated the different human races. A major excuse used to justify slavery was that Africans were a different species, and that owning slaves did not therefore differ from owning livestock. Darwin hated slavery, and sexual selection to explain differences within one species was his response, hence its emphasis in The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex. It is a difficult, non-intuitive concept, not established theoretically until RA Fisher made it mathematically respectable sixty years later, and only experimentally demonstrated a few decades ago. See for example

    The great difficulty involved explains why there is only the briefest mention of human beings in the hastily written Origin, and why it took another twelve years to write Descent.

  21. I only mentioned sexual selection as an example of a mechanism of evolution in order to show that evolution is not to be defined by variation and natural selection only.

  22. Thanks for the kind words. One correction; The Conversation misdescribed me. I am Honorary Research Fellow, Glasgow, and Professor Emeritus, North Texas; not Professor Emeritus Glasgow.

    It is indeed an honour to be attacked by the DI, and to have evoked a Trump-like series of tweets from the Mad Axeman. My own take on all this is at

  23. @Draken, Alibris (I prefer them to Amazon; let independence thrive) have Pandas SH at £11 + p&p; still in prnt, new available at £27

  24. I really don’t think ‘food fight’ is an accurate epithet for this delightful episode.

    It’s more like the DI emulating General Custer mounting an unprovoked attack by his 200 troopers on some 2,000 Lakota, Cheyenne and Arapaho warriors. And with similar carnage resulting from the unequal contest…

  25. Paul Braterman says: “One correction; The Conversation misdescribed me. I am Honorary Research Fellow, Glasgow, and Professor Emeritus, North Texas; not Professor Emeritus Glasgow.”

    Thanks for the correction. I’ve revised my opening paragraph.

  26. The ultimate accolade! Dr. Braterman’s superlative essay has been taken up on a thread on Free Republic!

    If anyone else enjoys–as I do–a bit of dumpster-diving in the dark psyche of Trumpism, you should check out the comments on that thread; they’re a veritable cornucopia of Creationist blather.

    You can lead a Creationist to wisdom, but you can’t make him think.

    And if anyone wonders–as indeed, the rest of the world does–how a sociopathic narcissist like The Donald could assume the purple in the USA, have a look at the comments on the thread linked above and tremble: these folks get to vote for the leader of the most powerful nation on the planet.

    And be afraid. Be very afraid….

  27. Thanks, Megalonyx. One comment there from which I would have hoped to learn more:

    “evolution is a theory – like gravity is a theory”
    Here is where Braterman exposes his great ignorance.

    Unfortunately, the commentator did not elaborate

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