HOME



Digby's Hullabaloo
2801 Ocean Park Blvd.
Box 157
Santa Monica, Ca 90405



Twitter:
@digby56
@DavidOAtkins

emails:
Digby:
digbysez at gmail
David:
isnospoon at gmail
Dennis:
satniteflix at gmail








Infomania

Salon
Buzzflash
Mother Jones
Raw Story
Huffington Post
Slate
Crooks and Liars
American Prospect
New Republic
Common Dreams
AmericanPoliticsJournal
Smirking Chimp
CJR Daily
consortium news

Blog-o-rama

Eschaton
BagNewsNotes
Daily Kos
Political Animal
Driftglass
Firedoglake
Taylor Marsh
Spocko's Brain
Talk Left
Suburban Guerrilla
Scoobie Davis
Echidne
Electrolite
Americablog
Tom Tomorrow
Left Coaster
Angry Bear
oilprice.com
Seeing the Forest
Cathie From Canada
Frontier River Guides
Brad DeLong
The Sideshow
Liberal Oasis
BartCop
Juan Cole
Rising Hegemon
alicublog
Unqualified Offerings
Alas, A Blog
RogerAiles
Lean Left
Oliver Willis
skippy the bush kangaroo
uggabugga
Crooked Timber
discourse.net
Amygdala
the talking dog
David E's Fablog
The Agonist


Saturday Night at the Movies by Dennis Hartley review archive

01/01/2003 - 02/01/2003 02/01/2003 - 03/01/2003 03/01/2003 - 04/01/2003 04/01/2003 - 05/01/2003 05/01/2003 - 06/01/2003 06/01/2003 - 07/01/2003 07/01/2003 - 08/01/2003 08/01/2003 - 09/01/2003 09/01/2003 - 10/01/2003 10/01/2003 - 11/01/2003 11/01/2003 - 12/01/2003 12/01/2003 - 01/01/2004 01/01/2004 - 02/01/2004 02/01/2004 - 03/01/2004 03/01/2004 - 04/01/2004 04/01/2004 - 05/01/2004 05/01/2004 - 06/01/2004 06/01/2004 - 07/01/2004 07/01/2004 - 08/01/2004 08/01/2004 - 09/01/2004 09/01/2004 - 10/01/2004 10/01/2004 - 11/01/2004 11/01/2004 - 12/01/2004 12/01/2004 - 01/01/2005 01/01/2005 - 02/01/2005 02/01/2005 - 03/01/2005 03/01/2005 - 04/01/2005 04/01/2005 - 05/01/2005 05/01/2005 - 06/01/2005 06/01/2005 - 07/01/2005 07/01/2005 - 08/01/2005 08/01/2005 - 09/01/2005 09/01/2005 - 10/01/2005 10/01/2005 - 11/01/2005 11/01/2005 - 12/01/2005 12/01/2005 - 01/01/2006 01/01/2006 - 02/01/2006 02/01/2006 - 03/01/2006 03/01/2006 - 04/01/2006 04/01/2006 - 05/01/2006 05/01/2006 - 06/01/2006 06/01/2006 - 07/01/2006 07/01/2006 - 08/01/2006 08/01/2006 - 09/01/2006 09/01/2006 - 10/01/2006 10/01/2006 - 11/01/2006 11/01/2006 - 12/01/2006 12/01/2006 - 01/01/2007 01/01/2007 - 02/01/2007 02/01/2007 - 03/01/2007 03/01/2007 - 04/01/2007 04/01/2007 - 05/01/2007 05/01/2007 - 06/01/2007 06/01/2007 - 07/01/2007 07/01/2007 - 08/01/2007 08/01/2007 - 09/01/2007 09/01/2007 - 10/01/2007 10/01/2007 - 11/01/2007 11/01/2007 - 12/01/2007 12/01/2007 - 01/01/2008 01/01/2008 - 02/01/2008 02/01/2008 - 03/01/2008 03/01/2008 - 04/01/2008 04/01/2008 - 05/01/2008 05/01/2008 - 06/01/2008 06/01/2008 - 07/01/2008 07/01/2008 - 08/01/2008 08/01/2008 - 09/01/2008 09/01/2008 - 10/01/2008 10/01/2008 - 11/01/2008 11/01/2008 - 12/01/2008 12/01/2008 - 01/01/2009 01/01/2009 - 02/01/2009 02/01/2009 - 03/01/2009 03/01/2009 - 04/01/2009 04/01/2009 - 05/01/2009 05/01/2009 - 06/01/2009 06/01/2009 - 07/01/2009 07/01/2009 - 08/01/2009 08/01/2009 - 09/01/2009 09/01/2009 - 10/01/2009 10/01/2009 - 11/01/2009 11/01/2009 - 12/01/2009 12/01/2009 - 01/01/2010 01/01/2010 - 02/01/2010 02/01/2010 - 03/01/2010 03/01/2010 - 04/01/2010 04/01/2010 - 05/01/2010 05/01/2010 - 06/01/2010 06/01/2010 - 07/01/2010 07/01/2010 - 08/01/2010 08/01/2010 - 09/01/2010 09/01/2010 - 10/01/2010 10/01/2010 - 11/01/2010 11/01/2010 - 12/01/2010 12/01/2010 - 01/01/2011 01/01/2011 - 02/01/2011 02/01/2011 - 03/01/2011 03/01/2011 - 04/01/2011 04/01/2011 - 05/01/2011 05/01/2011 - 06/01/2011 06/01/2011 - 07/01/2011 07/01/2011 - 08/01/2011 08/01/2011 - 09/01/2011 09/01/2011 - 10/01/2011 10/01/2011 - 11/01/2011 11/01/2011 - 12/01/2011 12/01/2011 - 01/01/2012 01/01/2012 - 02/01/2012 02/01/2012 - 03/01/2012 03/01/2012 - 04/01/2012 04/01/2012 - 05/01/2012 05/01/2012 - 06/01/2012 06/01/2012 - 07/01/2012 07/01/2012 - 08/01/2012 08/01/2012 - 09/01/2012 09/01/2012 - 10/01/2012 10/01/2012 - 11/01/2012 11/01/2012 - 12/01/2012 12/01/2012 - 01/01/2013 01/01/2013 - 02/01/2013 02/01/2013 - 03/01/2013 03/01/2013 - 04/01/2013 04/01/2013 - 05/01/2013 05/01/2013 - 06/01/2013 06/01/2013 - 07/01/2013 07/01/2013 - 08/01/2013 08/01/2013 - 09/01/2013 09/01/2013 - 10/01/2013 10/01/2013 - 11/01/2013 11/01/2013 - 12/01/2013 12/01/2013 - 01/01/2014 01/01/2014 - 02/01/2014 02/01/2014 - 03/01/2014 03/01/2014 - 04/01/2014 04/01/2014 - 05/01/2014 05/01/2014 - 06/01/2014 06/01/2014 - 07/01/2014 07/01/2014 - 08/01/2014 08/01/2014 - 09/01/2014 09/01/2014 - 10/01/2014 10/01/2014 - 11/01/2014 11/01/2014 - 12/01/2014


 

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Hullabaloo


Monday, November 05, 2007

 
Intelligent Design Creationism And The Erosion Of Trust

by tristero

Via PZ Myers, I've been keeping abreast of the latest rebuttals to the arrant nonsense of various creationists, like William Dembski and Michael Behe. Here's a link to PZ's latest, which refers us to this post, one in a series where SA Smith challenges Behe's competence in the HIV research in which she is expert.

Until very recently, I could follow, sometimes with difficulty, most of the actual arguments being made, and the rebuttals by scientists. Things like the notorious bacterial flagellum, the peppered moths, and so on - the discussion got tricky but it wasn't impossible. The mistakes in reasoning by id creationists are so egregious that a scientifically inclined 10 year old could easily see them, as could any layperson who spent a little bit of effort. But reading Smith's post on HIV evolution, I have to confess I can't for the life of me understand it. Ms Smith, I promise I'll spend some more time on it later and try to puzzle it out; I like that kind of a challenge (and please don't bother rewriting it for civilians, you've got better things to do!). But the tactic Behe is employing worries me, because it is so cynical, and dangerously effective.

Essentially, id creationists are slowly trying to build the case that their arguments and "data" are so subtle that only "other" scientists can possibly enter the discussion. Since the rest of us have neither the time, the inclination, nor often the analytical talent to follow the details, we have no way to come to our own conclusions based on reason alone. Yes, I suppose I could spend a few years studying up on HIV and retroviruses in general, so theoretically I could acquire the knowledge to make my own conclusion. But in reality, it is very unlikely I will do so. Nor will you, unless this, or something similar, is your field. The knowledge and data needed are too specialized.

You see where this is going? ID creationists are deliberately forcing the question of who we laypeople will trust. Since we are not in any position to judge Smith vs Behe on the playing field of the data, we must rely on irrelevant social heuristics to decide who makes the better case. Behe plays two of these cards, his rank and his gender. Smith plays her own card, namely her acquisition of knowledge as a graduate student specializing in this area. Since I can't understand the argument as an argument, how do I determine who I wish to trust? (And "neither" for a variety of reasons is not an answer. Why is a whole 'nother discussion.)

Rank and gender mean absolutely nothing to me. And I've studied enough rhetoric to recognize the fallacy of a simple ad hominem argument and learned also that ad hominem attacks are often deployed when the debater has bupkis (they are also used when the person is knowledgeable, as Smith demonstrates so capably). OTOH, expertise matters a great deal to me.

So, I trust Smith and believe she surely is right.

Believe. It's a perfectly fine word, it has its uses, but in this context, it's an obscenity, I bitterly resent being forced, by Behe, not Smith, to fall back on it. I want to know about evolution and the science of species' origins, to understand a bit of it. I have not the slightest interest in "believing in it." But I don't have a choice if I try to follow this argument. And this gets to the crux of the problem. Many people - possibly even most - who encounter the evolution vs. id creationism debate for the first time will look at Behe's degrees - he's got a PhD - and his list of publications (without reading them) and, perhaps unconsciously, factor in his gender to conclude that, at best, Smith may not have a broad enough grasp of her specialty to put the facts she studies into the proper perspective.

In other words, we have the weirdest of paradoxes. The more abstruse and detailed the argumentation gets in the fight against creationism, the more important emotional, non-rational cues become for the vast majority of us in weighing how to judge who's right! What this implies is that it makes little sense for a scientist of Smith's caliber to "engage" Behe if he is arguing in an irresponsible fashion. Two reasons:

1. If Behe has nothing to contribute to the science, Smith is wasting her time by arguing with a malicious fool. Behe has a long, documented history of making arguments that pretend to be scientific but are patently worthless. If this is another - and no doubt it is - who has time?

2. If the purpose of engaging Behe is to rebut his arguments for the benefit of we interested laypeople, there is in fact the very real possibility that even the most interested of such folks - and I include myself in that list - will simply not be able to follow it. This inadvertently aids Behe and other creationists by all but forcing us to rely on emotional cues, tribal loyalties, and social norms in order to choose sides. This is surely the exact opposite of Smith's intent.

Let me stop for a moment and say unequivocally that I'm on Smith's side. I've read (and fully understood) enough Behe and his scientifically knowledgeable opponents to know that when it comes to the science, the man is either a fool, paid to act like a fool, or both. The questions I am bringing up are tactical. What is the point of arguing with Behe at such a level of detail? Who does it inform? Who does it benefit? Who does it hurt? I'm beginning to suspect that it would be far better to find new and creative ways to ignore Behe than to raise his status by arguing with him over stuff everyone who's studied the field knows is sheer idiocy.

Yes, some laypeople might be better equipped than I to follow Smith's arguments. Which simply means that Behe and his ilk will up the ante until even they are hopelessly lost, without ever once contributing anything to a genuine discussion of science. Ultimately, I think scientists must somehow find a way to push Behe to the side, not in the Mooney/Nisbet framing sense, but by making the modern case for evolution so crystal clear, and by restating that case over and over again, so that Behe sounds as much like a Flat-Earther to laypeople as he does to Smith (and me). The basic science isn't that hard to grasp, people. And, y'know, it really is incredibly exciting stuff, what's going on, what's been discovered.

PZ is certainly doing a great job in the blogosphere. And so does SA. Smith among others, . In the bookish world, Sean Carroll's books on evo-devo are masterpieces of popular science (links to come). What is needed, however, are regular. well-respected, and persuasive people in the mass media (television most of all) and in politics who will put science, especially the science of evolution, front and center. Not because it's an ideology with a covert morality. It isn't and it doesn't have any. But because the theory of evolution is one of the most extraordinary and most easily understood ideas anyone's ever had.

More on that last point soon (grin).


Search Digby!