Friday, July 22, 2005

Richard Posner Reveals His Ignorance

Richard Posner has an article that will appear in the July 31, 2005 New York Times but is available online now. The article is on the state of the conventional news media, and he comments on mainstream media coverage of intelligent design. He throws in his opinion on its nature and merits for free:

Journalists minimize offense, preserve an aura of objectivity and cater to the popular taste for conflict and contests by - in the name of ''balance'' - reporting both sides of an issue, even when there aren't two sides. So ''intelligent design,'' formerly called by the oxymoron ''creation science,'' though it is religious dogma thinly disguised, gets almost equal billing with the theory of evolution.

The irony is that he thinks that ID gets too much media attention, but his obvious ignorance demonstrates that there has apparently not been enough for him to have an informed opinion. The equation of intelligent design with creation science is a noxious misrepresentation, and I am surprised that he did not use an example that he knows something significant about. He probably thinks that he does know enough about it, since he is one of those who takes the time to read “serious” publications like The New York Times (his words, later in the article). We all know how serious the Times is in certain instances.

However, he goes on to praise blogs for their ability to get a hearing for unconventional ideas:

Some critics worry that ''unfiltered'' media like blogs exacerbate social tensions by handing a powerful electronic platform to extremists at no charge. . . .

The argument for filtering is an argument for censorship. (That it is made by liberals is evidence that everyone secretly favors censorship of the opinions he fears.) But probably there is little harm and some good in unfiltered media. They enable unorthodox views to get a hearing. They get 12 million people to write rather than just stare passively at a screen. In an age of specialization and professionalism, they give amateurs a platform.

Let’s hope that Posner and others like him will use blogs, and the web generally, to gain a meaningful understanding of intelligent design and the serious challenges to macroevolutionary theory.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Contemplating Cornelia’s Creed

As noted in an earlier post, Cornelia Dean, in her July 9, 2005 article “Leading Cardinal Redefines Church's View on Evolution,” makes a remarkable claim without qualification or citation (because of the importance of Catholic teaching to forestry, you can find the entire article here).

Darwinian evolution is the foundation of modern biology. While researchers may debate details of how the mechanism of evolution plays out, there is no credible scientific challenge to the underlying theory. (Italics added)

Notice that she does not quote any authority, nor even qualify it with something like "a large majority of scientists believe . . . ." Note what must be true for this to be true. For there to be "no credible scientific challenge" to evolutionary theory, all the scientists and others who think macroevolution is not well supported by the facts are not just wrong, they have no credible basis at all for their claims. So according to Ms. Dean, hundreds of scientists at numerous universities, and hundreds or thousands more non-scientific academics doubt macroevolutionary theory on the basis of no credible evidence. The nature and sufficiency of the evidence for and against macroevolution is, of course, one of the "big issues" in the current debates, and for her to pontificate in this way basically tells the reader, "In case you are too stupid to realize, one side of the conflict about which I am reporting is right and the other is wrong. Got that? And, by the way, you can ignore half the people I am quoting.”

Then I said to myself, didn't I read something like that earlier in the Times? In fact, I did. In another Dean article of February 1, 2005, entitled “Evolution Takes a Back Seat in U.S. Classes,” she had this to say:

There is no credible scientific challenge to the idea that all living things evolved from common ancestors, that evolution on earth has been going on for billions of years and that evolution can be and has been tested and confirmed by the methods of science. (Italics added)

Had enough? Sorry. In yet another article, “Opting Out in the Debate on Evolution” in the June 21, 2005 Times (whole article here), she had this to report:

"We were invited to debate one supposed theory against another," Dr. Leshner said, when in fact there was no credible scientific challenge to the theory of evolution. (Italics added)

Wait, where did the quotes go? Oh right, Leshner didn't say it; Dean did. Think she has a macro on her word processor that just spits the "no credible scientific challenge" language in every article she writes?

So who gets to decide credibility in this debate? Who gets to decide what a “scientific challenge” is? What a priori philosophical assumptions is she bringing to both of these questions and the evidence? And why do you think Cornelia Dean needs to keep reminding her readers not to bother exploring for themselves whether there is any merit to the challenges?

Come all ye who doubt Darwin: recite Cornelia's Creed every time such evil thoughts arise. It helps if you shut your eyes tight and only think about lots of animals having lots of sex for a very long time. Oh, and by all means, do not let a single thought about the actual fossil record enter your mind. Honest paleontologists are like wolves in sheep’s clothing to a devout disciple of Saint Charles.

And finally, next time you read a Cornelia Dean article, try playing the game “Where’s the Creed?”

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Brooks on McConnell

David Brooks has a nice piece on, among other things, Michael McConnell. McConnell takes a sophisticated view of what constitutes religion under the First Amendment, and says that the Constitution requires that the government be neutral towards religious and secular viewpoints:
McConnell argued that government shouldn't be separated from religion, but, as Madison believed, should be neutral about religion. He pointed out that the fire services and the police don't just protect stores and offices, but churches and synagogues as well. In the same way, he declared in Congressional testimony in 1995, "When speech reflecting a secular viewpoint is permitted, then speech reflecting a religious viewpoint should be permitted on the same basis." The public square shouldn't be walled off from religion, but open to a plurality of viewpoints, secular and religious. The state shouldn't allow school prayer, which privileges religion, but public money should go to religious and secular service agencies alike.
Government should not establish or give preference to any form of creation science that is driven by theology. But in the same way, when evolutionary theory veers away from science and into the realms of philosophy and religion, government should treat it as such. Teaching the controversy, in the form of presenting just the scientific evidence for and against evolution, is the best way for government to be neutral regarding the teaching of evolution in the public schools.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Unethical Human Subject Experimentation?

Remember that great teacher you had in high school-- the one that really made you think for yourself? The one who did not just have you memorize the "right" answer, but fired your imagination and nurtured your analytical skills by asking you to think critically about the subjects you were studying? The one who did not just make you read what a majority of experts now think about a topic but gave you access to the raw data, the original documents, the actual facts on which the experts base their opinions, and then allowed you to make up your own mind?

From what I can tell, somebody like that is being attacked by members of the faculty at Ohio State University. I do not know all the details, so I will reserve judgment on the matter at this point. However, one of the attackers' contentions seems laughable, even bizarre, on its face: that conducting a study of students who are taught the scientific data both supporting and challenging macroevolution constitutes "unethical human subject experimentation." Thought Police to the rescue, I guess.

Here is an excerpt from a statement by members of Bryan Leonard's dissertation committee:

It has been alleged by three OSU professors that Mr. Leonard's dissertation was “unethical human subject experimentation” because it examines the question: "When students are taught the scientific data both supporting and challenging macroevolution, do they maintain or change their beliefs over time?" According to the Columbus Dispatch, these professors acknowledge they have not read Mr. Leonard's dissertation, but they believe that Mr. Leonard's dissertation research must have been "unethical" because there are no valid scientific criticisms of evolution. "As such," they allege, "it involves deliberate miseducation of these students, a practice we regard as unethical." It is important to note that the professors' argument is not with Mr. Leonard but with the Ohio State Board of Education, which, contrary to their views, adopted both a science standard and a model curriculum last year encouraging teachers to teach about "how scientists continue to investigate and critically analyze aspects of evolutionary theory.") Ohio Standards, Life Sciences, Benchmark H)" It is absurd to claim that Mr. Leonard is being unethical merely for following the state's official policy in this area.

Regardless of what the Ohio state standards are, presenting both sides of a controversy is a good way to teach, even if (or especially when) one side thinks the other side’s position is without merit. When the Darwinists need to resort to these kinds of ridiculous allegations, you know serious desperation has set in.

Some of the background can be found here and here.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

More on Cornelia Dean

I have already commented on Cornelia Dean's recent article in the New York Times here. John West at the Discovery Institute has made some interesting comments on the ethics of Dean's dual role as news reporter and editorial advocate here. As I noted in my post, even when she is supposedly reporting the news, she adds significant editorial comment. But nobody trusts the Times any more, do they?

Postnote: For an even better post on Cornelia Dean and some "magic words" she likes to use, go here. For my latest post, see Losing Her Religion?