Thursday, July 23, 2015

That's it? An admission of failure?

OK, a few days ago little davey klinghoffer (klingy) made a pronouncement, he said the Discovery Institute (DI) was planning something special for the anniversary of the Scopes 1925 Trial.  The Scopes Trial is something they should celebrate, since their side [Creationism] won that trial and successfully prevented the removal of the law that outlawed the teaching of Evolution in Tennessee for 42 more years.  I had some hopes for what they were going to do, and as much as I hate to admit it, they exceeded my expectations.  I didn't expect much, but instead I got an admission that Stephen C. Meyer screwed up.

How else do you interpret writing a book called 'Debating Darwin's Doubt'?  This isn't just a new book, but a sequel!  A sequel?  I'm not the one labeling it as a sequel, the DI did that in the press release.  If it were a Director's Cut, for example. it could be defined as a clarification, but no, they called it a sequel.   Now, why do you typically create a sequel?  There are two reasons, a sequel is either a continuation of the story or a re-booting.  So the question is which?  According to the press release, this isn't a continuation but a response to criticisms.  In keeping with the Hollywood-esque theme, it's definitely a re-booting.

What they did was collect all of the critical reviews and comments about Darwin's Doubt, of which there are plenty, and this group is going to address them.  This group is all from the DI, or their pet lab -- The Biologic Institute.  I do have an issue with that, as I am sure anyone who peeked at the list of contributors might have the same question.  Here is the list:

  • William Dembski - philosopher, mathematician, and theologian
  • Douglas Axe - Director of the in-house lab, the Biologic Institute, background in molecular biology
  • Ann Gauger - senior research scientist at Biologic Institute, PhD in Developmental Biology
  • David Berlinski - philosophy, mathematics, and English
  • Paul Nelson - Philosopher of Science
  • Casey Luskin - Lawyer and Research Coordinator at the DI.  He does have a degree in Biology and Earth Sciences.
  • David Klinghoffer - Senior Fellow at the DI, not sure what his academic background is.  Not even the DI mentions it.
Did you notice what was missing in that list?  Why no Paleontologists?  The original book was about the Cambrian Diversification, in other words, Paleontology.  The critical comments frequently cited issues with Meyer's understanding of the basic subject.  For example in "When Prior Belief Trumps Scholarship", by Charles R. Marshall, who is at the Department of Integrative Biology and Director of the Museum of Paleontology, University of California, Berkeley.  The final line in his review was:
"Darwin's Doubt is compromised by Meyer's lack of scientific knowledge, his “god of the gaps” approach, and selective scholarship that appears driven by his deep belief in an explicit role of an intelligent designer in the history of life."
If Meyer is so lacking in knowledge, wouldn't you include someone with a background in the subject to address shortcomings?  That to me sounds perfectly logical.  But instead, what we have is the usual gang of ID supporters, suspiciously minus Michael Behe.  I wonder why?  I haven't seen anything from him lately?  I wonder if he's become less enamored with the DI, sorta like Michael Denton.  I haven't seen anything from him at the DI site since about 2008 or 2009.  Hmmmm!

So, klingy is painting this as some sort of victory, what it means to me is the original was so flawed, they need to try again and don't have the intestinal fortitude to admit it.  This new book is about 350 pages, 2/3'rds the size of the original.  That sounds like a lot of spackling paste and patchwork to me.  Wouldn't it have been more effective to produce something that wasn't so fatally flawed it requires a re-boot? 

So for fun, I went back and looked back at the original.  I read it last year and my objections focused on several things.  First was Meyer's apparently overuse of the idea of an 'explosion', which is certainly not how the 'Cambrian Diversification' is looked at today by real Paleontologists.  He treated it like an actual explosion, where so many organisms appeared at once.  Since the Diversification took something like 80 million years, 'explosion' is not a good way to examine it.  My second objection was that Meyer apparently ignored 150 years of Paleontological science when 'researching' for this book.  My final objection was the publisher, Harper-One, which is the religious imprint of Harper-Collins, is not a scientific journal or press at all.  Why do you suppose he published there and not some place where the standard of support is greater than zero?  I really do encourage you to read reviews of the original book, particularly this one, by Donald R. Prothero -- who is something Meyer seemed to be pretending to be, an actual Paleontologist.  Prothero dismantles Meyer for failing to do his homework.

It would almost be interesting to see how Meyer, and his pals, manage to rationalize his first book in the face of such devastating criticism.  You will note that Prothero didn't seem to have to write a book in order to take down Darwin's Doubt.  He used 4 references and a single post on

What does get mentioned in the press release is "intense controversy sparked by Dr. Meyer's book", really?  While you might call some of the critiques intense, but controversial?  I don't think so.  Meyer takes a less than layman's understanding of the Cambrian Diversification, and fails to make a single valid and supportable scientific point.  He wanes and waxes philosophically, but his point is so full of mistakes and efforts to twist what little evidence he does recognize into his philosophy, that you cannot call it controversial, it's simply more of the same from the DI.

The critiques were not focused on his philosophy as much as it was on his errors stemming from the way he cherry-picked small pieces of support while ignoring larger details of actual science that would have contradicted his claims.

'Debating Darwin's Doubt' is not published by a religious imprint, but by the Discovery Institute Press.  So let's see, the author of the first book and a major contributor to the second book is the boss of the organization that happens to own its own publishing house.  Anyone see any potential conflicts there?  Plus, what level of support and proof does the Discovery Institute Press require?  Since they are not a scientific journal or press, what do you think?

Since the book hasn't been released yet, I was again curious about this 'intense controversy' that it mentioned.  I decided to again look it up on Amazon and sample the reviews.  There are nearly 700 reviews and nearly all the positive ones are from people who obviously are already a believer in Creationism/Intelligent Design.  The negative ones did have a share of people who certainly have not drank that particular kool-aid.  There were also a number of critical reviews that dismantled Meyer's claims in a very detailed manner.  What about the editorial reviews?

There are about 18 editorial reviews of 'Darwin's Doubt' and a few of the names jumped out at me.  [The regular text is how the reviewer was described on the review, the italicized comments are mine]
  •  Dr. Wolf-Ekkehard Lonnig, senior scientist emeritus (biologist) at the Max Planck Institute for Plant Breeding Research.  Isn't he on the editorial board of 'Bio-Complexity', the DI in-house pro-ID journal.  He's written often for the DI and even been interviewed by casey luskin himself!  LOL!
  • Dr. Mark McMenamin, paleontologist at Mt. Holyoke College and coauthor of 'The Emergence of Animals'.  And a long term critic of evolutionary theory.
  • Dr. Norman C. Nevin OBE, BSc, MD, FRCPath, FFPH, FRCPE, FRCP; Professor Emeritus in Medical Genetics, Queen's University, Belfast.  We've spoken about him before.  Stephen C. Meyer once referred to a review by Nevin as not being from a known ID supporter, which turned out to be untrue.  Currently Nevin is President of the Centre for Intelligent Design in Scotland, sort of a low-rent version of the Discovery Institute.  I wrote about Nevin in "Intelligent Design, Sh** or get off the Pot!"
  • Dr. Richard Weikart, Professor of History at California State University, Stanislaus; Author of 'From Darwin to Hitler'.  Did he forget to put on his resume that he's a senior fellow at the DI?
  • Dr. Matti Leisola, Professor, Bioprocess Engineering, Aalto University, Finland (emeritus); Editor-in-chief, Bio-Complexity.  Bio-Complexity is the in-house journal of the Biologic Institute, a wholly owned subsidiary of the DI, in other words their pet lab.
  • George Gilder, Technologist, economist, and New York Times bestselling author.  Who is, among other things a founding member of the Discovery Institute, a Senior Fellow at the DI, and also cited 129 times in the article database.
Hope you see one of my points.  Shouldn't the people who write editorial reviews be honest and up-front about connections to the DI and the modern ID movement?  And was just the names I had seen before.  I wonder what I would find if I Googled the rest of the reviewers?

This is not the first time the DI has played such games.  Remember back in 2008 and the infamous list of 700?  The 'list' was a crowning achievement of the DI.  They claimed to have over 700 Doctoral Scientists who signed a petition called "A Scientific Dissent from Darwinism".  The truth was that they seriously overstated many of the credentials of the signatories and also hid many of their connections to the DI and other Creationist organizations.  Once they were busted, the re-released their list with much more modest credentials listed. (Since the "700" keeps coming up . . .)

So while the press release quotes klingy with:
"We are making progress — in changing minds, yes, but also in deepening the argument for ID. Debating Darwin’s Doubt proves that, unequivocally. As the saying goes, ‘The dogs may bark, but the caravan moves on.’ Darwinist defenders may not realize it, but we are leaving them behind."
I don't have much of an expectation that we will see any actual progress.  I don't see a rebuttal of criticisms will do much to change people's minds, especially if they do not bother getting Paleontologist with the expertise to try and refute some of the criticism.  I also don't expect the see a 'deepening of the argument for ID.  I expect more of what the DI has given us in the past -- rhetoric, wishful thinking, and conjecture dressed up in a poor-fitting lab coat.  Lots of fluff, little to no meat, just like Meyer's last two books.

So what's next, once Meyer's rebuttals start getting critiqued, especially becuase of not having a Paleontologist.  I cannot believe there won't be another sequel? Darwin's Doubt --- Debating Darwin's Doubt --- Rebutting Debating Darwin's Doubt?  Maybe the DI could take a page out of the Hitchhikers Guide and have a 5 or 6 book 'trilogy'?  I guess that would depend on anticipated book sales. 

I do want to point out one last thing.  Why did I read about this book release in the "Religious News Service"?  If Intelligent Design has nothing to do with religion, why was this a press release in the Religious News Service (RNS).?  You might think that RNS just happened to pick up the story, doubtful, this is a press release, which means it was submitted to RNS for publication.  Sent by whom, you might ask?  Well the Discovery Institute, I would have to assume, since this hit my mail before their own press release about the book.  Don't you just love the irony?

No comments:

Post a Comment