Friday, May 15, 2009

Melanie Phillips is still wrong

Recently I blogged about Melanie Phillips and, in my opinion, either misguided or distortion of the relationship between Creationism and Intelligent Design. Apparently she was also taken to task over at Little Green Footballs, a much wider read Blog than my own efforts. I haven't read the LGF's post, but I am guessing we are in agreement because Ms. Phillips responded to LGF and she is still wrong. I am more leaning away from the misguided because of her vigorous defense of her position that ID is science. I still disagree, but she seems to belief what she is writing, more's the pity.

In her reply to LGF, "The secular inquisition", Ms. Phillips now seems to be a weak version of little Bennie Stein, claiming some sort of persecution of ID proponents. While hue and cries of conspiracy theories sell papers, they don't seem to hold up to any sort of examination. I don't see Melanie defending the science behind Astrology? Why not, it has THE SAME scientific validity as Intelligent Design, just ask Michael Behe.

1. She still argues that Intelligent Design is not the same thing as Creationism. I disagree. Oh she makes her case that it's not a form of Young-Earth-Creationism, but it is still a form of Creationism because it holds that a supernatural, or metaphysical Intelligence is required for life to be it as it is today. Just because Intelligent Design doesn't call the 'Designer' God doesn't mean they are not a form of Creationism. She defines Creationism as the whole 6-day Genesis thing. She reminds me of Francis Beckwith, the "I'm not a Creationist" Creationist.

2. Then she says "an attempt to shut down that argument by distorting and misrepresenting ID and defaming and intimidating its proponents". This is where she flirts with the whole conspiracy theorist concept. However once again she is wrong. All ID proponents have to do is get off their butt and do the scientific leg work required to support their assertion, and there are two of them . . . first the actual presence of Design, and that it would have only occurred through the actions of an Intelligent Designer. But no, even after opening up their own laboratory for the express purpose of doing this work, they are still at the marketing stages and whining about the big bullies of science.

Gee someone postulates an idea and it is met with resistance. Melanie, you do realize that probably describes every scientific theory in existence. The difference is that the REAL scientists didn't sit around and whine about the bullies who were picking on them. They are the ones who pressed ahead regardless of the resistance and eventually succeeded. The problem here is no one seems interested in actually doing the work, they just want to claim success without it. Melanie, you are supporting these efforts and you should be ashamed of yourself. If you think ID is science, then you should be telling them to get off the marketing hype and do the leg work! But no, you are joining in the 'big bullies won't let me play' line.

3. Next she parrots, without using the words, the while micro-macro tactic when she says. "But ID proponents say over and over again they are not Creationists and accept many aspects of evolution, in particular that organisms develop and change over time." When I learned Biology Micro-Evolution meant experimenting and studying evolution on micro-organisms. In fact in a 2007 interview Dr. Stephen Kay said "Yes, I think that micro and macro evolution is used as a dodge. Evolutionary biologists use micro evolution - the study for example of how microbes can change in successive generations, to learn about detailed specific mechanisms that may contribute to the larger picture of how organisms evolve under natural conditions." Dr. Kay is the dean of UCSD's Division of Biological Sciences.

Today it has taken on a new definition, and one I completely disagree with. The term 'micro-evolution' now is being used by folks like Melanie, for those parts of evolutionary theory that Creationists and ID proponents cannot deny. They reserve 'macro-evolution' for those parts they still think they can get away with and deny. In other words, micro, or within a species, is OK, but macro, from one species to another is not. However to real biologists there is no difference. Creationists and ID proponents offer no alternative process as to why evolution cannot evolve into other species -- some of the more rabid anti-evolutionists postulate some secret dividing line that prevents it -- by magic I guess. They simply make the claim and fail to support it. In the mean time they raise a smokescreen about supporting 'parts' of evolution. They deny the existence of transitional fossil forms, they deny the implications of experiments like Richard Lenski's, and they deny the evidence of the Italian Wall Lizards, to name a few. Sorry Melanie denial of evidence is not the hallmark of a real scientist. Science has not had anything to deny in the way of evidence for ID, no one has presented any -- something Behe also admitted.

4. Then she starts getting into the areas where I used to think she is sadly mis-informed, or now I am starting to suspect a more deliberate mis-information campaign. She characterizes Evolution as "random, blind-chance" process. How about a resounding "No!" There are parts of evolutionary theory that involve randomness, like Random Mutation, but there is nothing of blind chance involved, not when you have a process called Natural Selection. But characterizing it this way, a common Creationist/ID proponent ploy, makes it easy to deny. You won't find a biologist referring to evolution in such a way.

5. She also claims, another common Creationist canard, that science thinks that it "can account for everything". She's close, but she claims that it "flies in the face of reason and evidence". OK now she really needs to explain how a philosophy, Materialism, which is only concerned with things that can be proven and supported by evidence flies in the face of reason and evidence. I don't get it. Call is Materialism, Physicalism, Naturalism, or whatever, science is only concerned with natural explanations and does not address the supernatural.

OK, so while I disagree with what she has said so far, I really did enjoy the next part of her article:

LGF asked "Where are the peer reviewed studies? Where are the experimental proofs that can be duplicated by other scientists? Answer: nonexistent. "

Melanie replied "Well of course they are non-existent -- because ID is not in itself a scientific discovery. It is rather an inference from scientific discoveries. . . .It is an idea, a conclusion to a chain of observation and thought . . .ID is thus a paradox. The whole point is that it states that the ‘intelligent designer’ it posits as the only logical inference from scientifically verifiable complexity cannot be known through scientific means. . . .ID idea is that there is a limit to science beyond which it cannot go . . .That is where science stops and faith begins.
Now I did string together a few of her comments, you can read the article yourself and see if I missed the idea. But it seems to me she is making the argument that while ID might claim to have been born of science, a claim I still disagree with, it in itself is not scientific but based on faith.

6. Next Melanie uses a defense mechanism called Projection. She claims that pro-science is claiming that the whole ID movement is a conspiracy:
"Like all conspiracy theories, this one is characterised by irrationality, distortion and hysteria. Assuming that there was indeed dirty work at the Creationist crossroads over Of Pandas and People – so what? One sneaky attempt to get round the constitutional bar on teaching religion in public schools doesn’t prove that the whole ID movement was a Giant Creationist Conspiracy."
Melanie, here is where you need to do your homework. Rather than denigrate the Wedge Document, look at ALL the things Phil Johnson's organization, the Discovery Institute is doing and you will find it hard not to accept the whole ID movement is a concerted effort to bring Religion into the secular classroom. It's not one text book, but how about the support the Discovery Institute gave to the misguided school board in Dover PA? How about the lies and misrepresentations the Discovery Institute told the Ohio State School Board? How about the "Teach the Controversy", "Academic Freedom" and "Strengths and Weaknesses" tactics used by the Discovery Institute? How about Tejon California, Guillermo Gonzales, Richard Sternberg, and the 700 mis-represented signatures on the Discovery Institute's "Dissent from Darwin" document? (look here, here and here)

You know when you look at all the activities the Discovery institute has been up to, it's hard not to use the term conspiracy. So how about we give them the benefit of the doubt and just call it an organized and deliberate effort to undermine the scientific teaching in our public schools and replace it with a Christian/Theistic viewpoint. Gee, so we won't use the word Conspiracy, does that make you feel batter Melanie?

7. However, I still say you need to do your homework better:
"To be sure, he and others at the Discovery Institute (which says it promotes religious pluralism rather than Creationism, and which refused to get involved in the Kitzmiller fight . . .)."
So advising the Dover School Board wasn't being involved? Michael Behe, Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute testifying, wasn't involvement? Providing the 'Of Pandas and People' text wasn't involvement? Providing amicus curiae briefs for the defendants wasn't involvement? So exactly how do you characterize the Discovery Institute as not being involved? Oh, I get it, the point in which they realized they were going to get their butts kicked in court and ran away? When they started whispering that maybe the court case was a bad idea and put the onus on the defendants? How about when the defendants expectation of support from the DI never materialized? Sorry, Melanie, they were involved up to their less-than-stalwart little necks. Read Lauri Lebo's book "Devil in Dover" for some idea of their involvement. Like I said, research before making statements like that or did you do an Ann Coulter and only ask the DI if they were 'involved'? Poor journalism there!

Judge Jones was absolutely right in his judgment:
"After a searching review of the record and applicable caselaw, we find that while ID arguments may be true, a proposition on which the Court takes no position, ID is not science. We find that ID fails on three different levels, any one of which is sufficient to preclude a determination that ID is science. They are: (1) ID violates the centuries-old ground rules of science by invoking and permitting supernatural causation; (2) the argument of irreducible complexity, central to ID, employs the same flawed and illogical contrived dualism that doomed creation science in the 1980's; and (3) ID's negative attacks on evolution have been refuted by the scientific community."

Fine Melanie, if you want to believe ID is not Creationism, go ahead, delude yourself. But you eventually reach a reasonable point. ID is not scientific, ID is not testable, ID requires and makes room for faith. The only conclusion I can draw is that you are not be a supporter of ID in the science classroom either. That being said, why don't you go back to punditing about immigration, just do your homework better the next time.


  1. "Well of course they are non-existent -- because ID is not in itself a scientific discovery"She's got that right. Her irony meter must be broken.
    "I am not in a position to judge whether its arguments about ‘irreducible complexity’ and the logic of intelligent design are soundly based or not."So why write the article? She's spectactularly ignorant of evolutionary and creationism. That's quite a feat.

  2. Contra Phillips, I'm pretty sure that if ID researchers really wanted to do science, they could get some papers published on the subject.

    Behe and Dembski claim basically that life on Earth was created with a ready made molecular toolbox-a set of genes that organisms might find useful in the future-and that they could use evolution/natural selection to decide which tools to use and when, but that natural selection is insufficient to have put those tools together in the first place.

    Great! Bunch of cool research topics to explore then! Let's see:

    -catalogue the elementary toolkit that all modern organisms use

    -find the mechanisms in place that maintain the integrity of the elementary tools while they aren't be used: unused genes atrophy, so how did the toolkit genes survive hundreds of millions and billions of and more generations until the first multi-celled organisms started using the multi-cellular-specific tools, like I guess hox?

    -Dembski can continue working on the idea of specified complexity, and get it to the point that it's rigorous and makes some sense

    -IDiocy of course needs a better standard for irreducible complexity than Michael Behe's intuition, which has been empirically shown to be inadequate

    -and so on...

    Well, they could get published if they had any evidence or coherent theory to publish.

  3. But it's easier to blame the big bullies of science rather than your own lack of actual scientiifc work. Ben Stein called it "Big Science" in his mockumentary "Expelled:". As if there is this huge organization, multi-national in scope and spanning centuries of time, just to put down their ideas. Apparently Melanie agrees with him.

  4. Exactly. Conspiracy, my butt. Look at all the flap about Ida. I posted a link to the PloS guy and a critique by laelaps on my blog. There is no circling the wagons. These guys are brutal, which I guess is as it should be.