Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Can the Discovery Institute be Trusted?

You know I don't trust anything the Discovery Institute (DI) has to say. I do also believe that I have amply justified why I do not trust them, over and over again. Just in case you missed any of my other 300+ posts that mention the DI, here is another example.

In a post over on the Evolution 'news' and Views site, a site nearly completely dedicated to the views more than any real discussion of news, one of their friends posted this "Why Should Evolutionary Biology Be So Different?". The author is Grant Sewell, and he opens with this:

"In the current debate between Darwinism and intelligent design, the strongest argument made by Darwinists is this: in every other field of science, naturalism has been spectacularly successful, why should evolutionary biology be so different?"
Really? That's the best argument for evolution?  The DI is telling us what our best 'argument' is, does anyone else see a problem with that?  This is why I think the Discovery Institute has never been, is currently not, nor will ever be considered a reliable source for information on any subject.  Does anyone believe that this argument is the strongest argument made in favor of evolution over the non-scientific intelligent design?  Is it an argument?  Certainly! But the strongest?  Not by a long shot!  But if you put even a smidgen of trust in the DI, you probably get your science news from Rush Limbaugh or Bill O'Reilly, so you probably buy into this. Thankfully the majority of the world knows better.

As for this specific argument, you might also think about this.  Biology, like all natural sciences, follows the Scientific Method.  Which is explained well from Wikipedia:
" . . . a body of techniques for investigating phenomena, acquiring new knowledge, or correcting and integrating previous knowledge. To be termed scientific, a method of inquiry is commonly based on empirical or measurable evidence subject to specific principles of reasoning" (Wikipedia:  Scientific Method
So let me get this straight, the methodology that has been  . . . to use Grant's words . . . 'spectacularly successful' for every other natural science is somehow lacking when it comes to Biology?  Does he present any basis for that  claim?  Just look at the description?  It applies just as well to Biology as it does to Physics, Chemistry and a host of others.  If Biology actually used a different methodology, Grant and his pals would be screaming bloody murder, but they can't, so they make unsupported claims in religious publications and expect people to agree.

Didn't the DI miss a few arguments?  How about Biodiversity, Punctuated Equilibrium, Paleontology, Climatology, Physics . . . how about Genetics?  Once claimed to be the death knell of Darwin's theories turned out to be the strongest possible evidence in support of evolution.  I changed words there . . . did you catch it? Instead of calling genetics an argument for evolution, I called it evidence supporting evolution. There is a difference, and one I am sure the marketeers from the DI realize.

Which is another reason I distrust the DI is the way they like to spin things.  Calling something an argument implies what exactly?  A disagreement, two sides battling it out.  They want people to believe there is an actual argument going on about evolution vs creationism, as if the two sides were equivalent.  The reality is the scientific examination of the DI and their pet version of Creationism, aka Intelligent Design (ID), was settled a long time ago.  ID is defined as pseudo-science and nothing the DI has attempted -- not their marketing, their pandering to politicians, their anti-science bill authorship, or their testifying in court has changed that.  Which is why they concentrate their efforts on selling to people who already believe the same set religious beliefs.  

There isn't a scientific argument, there is only scientific evidence. Where is the evidence that negates evolution? Creationists of one stripe or another have been announcing the death of evolution pretty much since it was first postulated. Yet they have not bothered to amass any evidence contradictory to science, let alone build a case for any alternative, religious or non-religious.  The second question is where is the evidence supporting Creationism/intelligent Design?  Real evidence, not wishful thinking and conjecture.

If you read Grant's article, which apparently comes out of one of his books, you might wonder why it wasn't published by the Discovery Institute Press (DIP), the DI's internal publishing group.  You should know that there are many other publishers who have the same 'standard' of evidencial support as DIP does (which is none at all), and the publisher, Resource Publications, is one of them.  In fact here is something from their own About page:
"For the first time, scholars within the churches of Christ are producing a complete book-by-book commentary on the entire Bible. Every church library, every Christian school library, and every Christian home will benefit from this reference set."
So you see, we aren't talking about a scientific journal, we are talking about a religious publishing house.  No wonder the DI is referencing Grant's book and giving him space on EnV, it's all about religion . . . again.

I did find it interesting that Grant had to go back to 1888 to find information that he quotes, like this:
"Joseph LeConte, professor of geology and natural history at the University of California, and (later) president of the Geological Society of America, provides an insight into the way most scientists think about evolution, in his 1888 book Evolution."
Aside from Professor LeConte's primary contributions to science were in Geology, not Biology, I have to wonder why Grant couldn't find something more recent.  He goes on to make a pseudo-valid point:
"That's the way science works, if one theory fails, we look for another one; why should evolution be so different?" 
First of all, has evolutionary theory failed?  Has Darwin's contributions been found to be lacking? Has the 150+ years of scientific work supporting and expanding biological knowledge failed?  Grant is making a massive assumption.  In modern times, how many current theories have been replaced wholesale?  None that I can think of.  What happens is the current state of knowledge gets expanded and increased.  It's not like current knowledge lacks support, it's just as we learn more, we can add to it.  That's what's been happening since Darwin first published.  Even if by some miracle Evolution was disproven, that doesn't mean intelligent design would step into it's place.  Any new scientific theory would  scale the same level of evidence that ID has so far failed to address.  Grant also makes another point:
"Many people believe that intelligent design advocates just don't understand how science works, and are motivated entirely by religious beliefs."
Finally he said something I can sort of agree too .  Not completely.  I believe ID advocates do understand science and scientific methodology.  How else do they avoid it so conspicuously?  You do know Grant can't just leave it at that, he goes on a diatribe, including pictures, and makes a restatement of Hoyle's Fallacy, the tornado argument.
"The original context of Hoyle's argument was against abiogenesis, not evolution. Nevertheless, opponents of evolution occasionally use it when discussing aspects of evolutionary biology. The analogy is exceptionally poor when compared to the process of evolution, as one of the main mechanisms of evolution is natural selection which is non-random." (Rational Wiki: Hoyle's Fallacy)
After that, it's strawman time.  Look at this line:
"Anyone who claims to have a scientific explanation for how unintelligent agents like tornados might be able to turn rubble into houses and cars would be expected to produce some powerful evidence, if they want their theory to be taken seriously. "
Since science in no way claims that an unintelligent 'agent' like a tornado can turn rubble into houses, all Grant has done is built a little strawman and then uses it to justify his opposition to evolutionary theory.  I've asked this question before, but if a tornado is such a great analogy of evolution, where is the mechanism for selecting results?  Evolution has such a mechanism, it's called 'Natural Selection'.  When it comes to plant and animal breeding programs, we call it 'Artificial Selection'.  So where is the selection mechanism for a tornado?  Without it, the analogy breaks immediately.  Of course Grant's strawman doesn't go toward supporting any alternative explanation, but that tends to be a constant oversight from ID proponents.

So, in summary, Grant tries to tell us what our strongest argument is -- using a religious publication, then he uses an exceptionally poor analogy to question evolution and finally build an inexplicable strawman rationalization.  Anyone get anything worthwhile from this?

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