Monday, January 30, 2017

Does a Discovery Institute Talking Head Understand the Concept of 'Self-Respect'?

I certainly wouldn't have believed it of Cornelius Hunter!  See if you agree, check out this post by Hunter at the Discovery Institute's (DI) Evolution 'news' and Views (EnV):  "How Big Is Evolution's Closet?".  It's pretty bad, in my opinion contains more than a little pent-up hostility.

First off, what is the guy trying to say?  He claims that Evolution:

"repeatedly fails its fundamental predictions, and is unable to explain even the basic facts, well, there is bound to be doubt."
Now, how does he justify this comment?  Well, an anonymous 'friend' told him:
"that all across the country, life science professors "have told me in private they have questions about evolution . . ."
Now before getting into what I feel is a bunch of pent-up hostility, I would like to remind you of the DI's penchant for playing word games.  Look at the phrasing:
"questions about evolution"
So what?  Many actual scientists have questions about a lot of things, especially their own specialty. If they didn't, then where would new discoveries come from?  How do you think Evolution went from Darwin's very original theories to this massive set of well-supported theories that has caused one biologist to write "Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution" (a 1973 essay by the evolutionary biologist and Eastern Orthodox Christian Theodosius Dobzhansky.) Questioning is a scientists' job!  The difference between a scientist and a pseudo-scientist is that a real scientist looks for actual answers while a pseudo-scientist starts with their desired answer and then spends the rest of the time rationalizing.  The other difference is real scientist's questions lead to breakthroughs, while pseudo-scientists never question, they already have their answer so they never see the need to question.

Hunter tries to make the idea of 'having questions' a bad thing.  He further tries to make it sound even worse with this little bit of ridiculousness:  
" . . . keeps their identities secret"
Hunter doesn't even identify his 'friend'.  So now I have to ask, does Hunter actual know how science works?  Has he bothered to learn anything about evolution?  Apparently not, but then in addition to being a 'fellow' at the DI, he teaches at Biola University, an private Evangelical Christian Bible College, so it is understandable that he may not understand anything about Evolution, after all Evolution is actual science.  Apparently scientific methodology hasn't made much of an impression on him either.

The reason I question his understanding of scientific methodology is because you know what happens to scientists who make unsupported statements?  It's called unemployment.  So, tell me, where did Hunter support his original allegation about Evolution?  As you can see, he didn't.  Oh he gave the impression of support with his anonymous friend commenting of equally anonymous sources.  Think about the reception of a scientist who tries that?  "I discovered 'X' and my proof is  . . . well I can't tell you because someone might get in trouble!"  Oh yea, imagine that reception!

Come to think of it, isn't that similar to what Richard Sternberg for the Sternberg Peer Review Controversy? He claimed that Stephen C. Meyer's pseudo-scientific paper was peer-reviewed, but the peer reviewers remained anonymous fearing retaliation.  If these reviewers actual existed, the journal in question has serious doubts the reviewers had the credentials to be qualified to review the paper, the paper that was later rescinded because of Sternberg's actions.  Oh, and never forget that Sternberg was an unpaid volunteer editor who had already put in his resignation papers at that journal and later ended up working for Meyer at the DI.

This isn't the first time the DI has played these type of word games.  I would like to remind you of the infamous 'dissent' petition, what I usually call 'The 700'.  The wording of that petition was also carefully done, fairly innocuous phrasing designed to mislead.  You can read much more about it from the NCSE right here.  But the parallels are there, taking great care in creating words that can mean many things and then spinning it after the fact to mean what you want.  Of course since Hunter did all this citing of anonymous sources, no one can check . . . not like the NCSE did when the original petition was made public.

I also don't particularly like Hunter using the 'closet'.  Everyone knows the most common use of the closet metaphor involves gay people who haven't yet gone public with their sexual preferences.  It's even led to the terms 'out' and 'outed' from that metaphor.  Is he seriously claiming that there is a collection of closeted life science professors who have doubts about evolution.  He said 'questions', but he implied 'doubts'.  First off, I don't believe Hunter -- he is a 'fellow' at the DI and you know how 'honest and trustworthy' those less-than-stalwart fellows have been in the past.

I mean if I said that I know an NFL coach. . . who in High School loved romantic comedies, Streisand records, and . . . whatever else . . . but I can't name him because the players and fans might react negatively.  See what I mean?  Completely unsupported allegations, just supposition.  Or maybe I can further say that there are many players who know this coach likes those things too . . . but I can't name them either!  See what I mean, Hunter loves to say stuff and the fail to support it.  We've discussed him before, most recently in "So Who Has their Head in the Sand?".   How can you believe anyone who does such things?  We don't trust them, we can't trust them, but they can be entertaining.  Just in case anyone was wondering, I have no personal friends from HS who are NFL coaches . . . I was just making a silly example, so if you ask me to point fingers, I am going to laugh myself silly!

As for the 'closet', I do agree there are many folks who have not 'come out of the closet' concerning one thing or another, the usual reason is fear although it could also simply be a wish for privacy.  So what Hunter is saying is one of the standard, and unsupported, lines from the DI.  That anyone who disagrees with actual science is somehow ostracized and therefore afraid to speak out.  They, the DI, has been selling that line for years, yet have they been able to support this assertion?  No, they haven't.  Oh, they like to parade various people around and call them martyrs for the cause, but the reality is they aren't. These are people who allowed their religious beliefs to interfere with the professional responsibilities and then discovered that those beliefs weren't going to protect them when they were held accountable. We most recently discussed a bunch of those folks here.

So you can see, Cornelius Hunter is a lightweight when it comes to 'questioning' evolution.  He likes to play word games, make unsupported statement and imply things.  Yes, Hunter and the DI would love for us to believe there is a host of scientists prepared to jump out of the closet and support Creationism . . . but real scientists 'question' evolution in order to expand and add to the science; pseudo-scientists, like Hunter here, have to imagine closeted supporters.  Hunter also said:
"No evolutionist who has ever peered into a microscope can look in the mirror and maintain self-respect. "
Looks like another case of projection.  Biologists probably have no self-respect issues.  It's only liars who would have trouble seeing themselves in a mirror.  I'm sure Hunter sees himself as some sort of Creationist super-hero with a cape and a Bible picture on his chest.  But most pre-teen boys eventually grow up and stop relying on fairy tales and imaginary friends.   Hunter has a lot of growing up to do, not only does he imagine this host of closeted-Creationists ready to burst out, but now he had his 'friends' telling him about what their imaginary friends are saying.  Like most creationists, once you hear something that agrees with your personal philosophy, you refuse to listen to anything that contradicts it. Luckily, real scientists continue to listen, question, and think.


  1. Cornelius Hunter is among the most extreme of the DI crowd, even going so far as to deny that antibiotic resistance evolves, when Michael Behe, Kirk Dunston, and even Casey Luskin agree that it does.

    1. All too true, Matthew. The DI's 'big tent' approach welcomes a wide variety of views, some more extreme than others. Their focus seems to be 'Let's get rid of real science and we'll work out the details of which religious view is the best later.' If they learned anything from history, fights between various religious points of view are among the most virulent of them all. So if they managed to dump science, the aftermath won't be a bed of roses, more like a war-torn battlefield under the tent.