The Discovery Institute engages in censorship

Many from the Discovery Institute have argued against censorship in any form.  Yet, when someone criticizes Discovery Institute fellow, Casey Luskin, they fully engage in censorship.  Recently, Luskin appeared on Fox News to discuss the recent battle of how evolution should be taught in Texas schools.   DonExodus posted a point-by-point video rebuttal to Luskin:

The Discovery Institute responds by sending a copyright claim and demanding the video be taken down.   Below is DonExodus describing the situation in his own words:

This example of censorship is shocking in light of what they have written on the subject.  Take for example the whole idea of academic freedom.  The supposed impetus for needing academic freedom is that some scientists were being censored due to their beliefs.  In regard to academic freedom day celebrations:

we want students everywhere to speak out against censorship and stand up for free speech by defending the right to debate the evidence for and against evolution

Then there is this blog post that says Censorship is Wrong.

I do realize that their are a variety of opinions at the Discovery Institute, and that not everyone there agreed that this action was appropriate.  However, enough people did agree for this action to move forward illustrating, yet again, that the DI is not interested in a full and eqqual intellectual debbate/


Texas SBOE member Terri Leo lies to make a point

Recently I wrote in defense of Dr. Ronald Wetherington, an anthropology professor at SMU, and his expert testimony before the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) on January 21st, 2009.  During the question and answer portion, SBOE member Terri Leo outright lies in order to trick Wetherington.

At around the 34 minute mark of Wetherington’s testimony, the following discussion happened between Leo (L) and Wetherington (W):

L: Let’s say at the university level do you support academic freedom in investigating origins?

W: Yes at the university level we do.

L: Ok. If a student group came to your campus and wanted to sponsor an event where they were bringing in scientists and experts who were challenging your view of evolution you wouldn’t object to that?

W: I have had it in my class. I have had at least two different non-evolutionists, creationists, one from Baylor come into my human evolution class and give a lecture.

L: Well, no, an event on your campus…not in your class… Like if they were sponsoring an event on you campus you would be in support of that.

W: Are you talking about the Darwin vs. Intelligent Design conference that was held on our campus the year before last

L: Yes

W: Ah, well you should have asked me that directly.

L: Yeah, I didn’t remember the name of it.

Ok. if she didn’t remember the name of it, why didn’t she ask the name of the conference first?  Why didn’t she ask about how he felt about this conference since she already knew about it?  This was going to be her gotcha moment but Wetherington didn’t fall for it.

After he catches her in the lie, Wetherington tells Leo about how they did have such a debate on campus in 1992.  He also says that he debated Phil Johnson twice on the SMU campus. He says that he will be open to such a thing if it is done legitimately.

Leo replies with:

so legitimate only means that if it is not challenging neo-darwinism

I don’t think Leo was even listening.  She is just determined to say her talking points no matter what Wetherington says.  He told her about and gave examples of how he is open to the possibility of such a debate. It just didn’t matter to her.

I am all for lively debates, but this kind of tactic has no place in a Texas SBOE meeting.  It really is a sad state of affairs that a woman who is willing to lie to trick an expert is helping to determine the path that education will take in Texas.

A response to the Discovery Institute’s criticism of Wetherington’s expert testimony

In a recent post over at the Discovery Institute’s blog, Evolution News and Views,David Klinghoffer writes about the expert testimony of Ronald Wetherington. Ronald Wetherington is an anthropology professor at Southern Methodist University.  In his post, Klinghoeffer claims that Wetherington was “sloppy with his facts.”  Unfortunately, I can’t find a transcript of Wetherington’s testimony, but a recording can be found here.

Some of the criticisms focus on hominid evolution, the subject of Wetherington’s expertise.  This is not my expertise and I will leave it up to the readers to decide. However, I find it hard to believe someone from the Discovery Institute over an expert.

Lets look at some of Klinghoeffer’s specific claims:

Klinghoffer criticizes evolution of the mammalian eye. He describes Wetherington’s discussion of the subject as “laughably simplifies what eye-evolution would entail.” However, he never gives any real criticism of the ideas except to say that it is absurd. He never makes specific criticisms of current models of eye evolution, but he does lend support to the idea of eye evolution by quoting Sean B. Carroll.  Carroll warns us about “simple” eyespots (believed to be precursors to modern eyes): “But do not be fooled by these eyes’ simple construction and appearance. They are built with and use many of the ingredients used in fancier eyes.”  This is a good point and shows the reducible components of the eye.

Klinghoffer then goes on to attack Wetherington’s use of genetics as support for evolutionary theory. Klinghoffer’s arguments are really just an exercise in quote mining to support the logical fallacy of personal disbelief.  He quotes from a 2000 article in Annual Review of Genomics and Human Genetics where the authors describe the “mystery” of how mutation and natural selection resulted in the complexity of life today. He also quotes Frank Harold as saying that “there are presently no detailed Darwinian accounts of the evolution of any biochemical or cellular system, only a variety of wishful speculations.” Neither reference is evidence against evolution, but are an acknowledgment of our incomplete understanding of evolution.

Klinghoffer says:

The more we know about genetics, the more we must, if we are honest with ourselves, doubt Darwin.

This is simply ridiculous. Genetics provides excellent support for evolution. For example, all living animals on earth have the same genetic code in their DNA. Dead viruses found in genomes can be traced back to when they were inserted along an evolutionary tree. Gene similarities between closely related species are more similar than those same genes between less related species. The list goes on, but it is clear that genetics provides excellent support for evolution, not the other way around.

Klinghoffer then goes on to regurgitate the deeply flawed observation by Michael Behe about the rate of mutations in humans by looking at a pair of mutation in the organism that causes malaria (Plasmodium falciparum).  I discuss Behe’s flawed reasoning here.

Klinghoffer has a few other nit-picky complaints towards the end:

-Wetherignton says that the term missing links isn’t used too much anymore.  Klinghoffer says that “ it is used in places like Science, Nature, Paleobiology, the American Journal of Physical Anthropology, and elsewhere.  My own experience tells me that Wetherington is correct, but just to be sure, I did a quick pubmed search with “missing link” and evolution. Only 96 results.  Wetherignton makes the point here that the reason we don’t use the term anymore is because it is inaccurate.  Once a fossil is found, it is no longer missing.  Besides, once one missing link fills in a gap, there are now two gaps to fill.

-Wetherington says Cambrian explosion lasted “at least 25 million years.” Klinghoffer says it was “under 10 million.”  Geez, what a terrible mistake of Wetherington, I guess evolution is completely false!  Seriously though, the length of the Cambrian explosion seems to vary dependent on who you ask and how you define it.  For example, Charles Marshall of Harvard writes:

Depending on when exactly one thinks the Cambrian “explosion” began, it is clear that there is a considerable temporal anatomy to the radiation. From the first appearance of heavily skeletonized animals to the first body fossils of trilobites, the radiation took some 20 million years. If one starts with the first abundant trace fossils through to the end of the Cambrian, then the radiation ran for some 65 million years.

-Wetherington says the explosion was “dominated by two phyla.” Klinghoffer says that Wetherington is wrong and actually  “19 of 28 phyla appeared.”   “Dominated by” is not the same as “appeared.”  Klinghoffer is trying to pull a fast one here.

-Klinghoffer complains that Wetherington confused a taxonomic class with a taxonomic order. Talk about grasping at straws

-Wetherington discusses research showing that hox genes can be interchanged between species. Klinghoffer denies this possibility  and claims this is “a piece of information that would startle Darwinian biologists.” Yet,  it has been shown that you can replace a Drosophilia Hox gene with a mouse Hox gene.  The switch leads to legs instead of wings, but illustrates overlap of function that Wetherington was talking about.  There are many other examples in the literature.

Finally, Klinghoffer has an excellent quote in this post that describes the work of ID proponents:

it seems obvious that men and women who invest themselves in their work over a lifetime may come to tell lies to themselves without ever knowing it, in order to maintain crucial fictions on which their life’s work depends. It’s human nature.

Only, he was talking about research scientists instead of ID proponents. However, evolution has facts and experimental data to support it, while intelligent design has only human intuition and logical fallacies to back it up.

Does Ignoring the Designer Make Intelligent Design Real Science?

In a recent episode of the podcast, ID the Future, Casey Luskin argues that Intelligent Design (ID) proponents do not let the question of the identity of the designer enter the discussion.  He believes this avoidance of such a central aspect of the idea of ID allows it to be science.  He reasons that if they do not ever talk about a supernatural designer, then Intelligent Design does not rely on the supernatural.

The first problem with this type of attitude is that ignoring the cause of an effect (the designer is the cause and each living being is the effect) makes it not science.  Imagine if a new disease was discovered and the people studying it decided that they were not going to study the cause of the disease.  All they want to study is its characteristics because the disease could have metaphysical causes.  This group would be harshly criticized and could lose their funding.  Drawing an arbitrary line to separate what can and can’t be included is unscientific.

Luskin is using this attitude as a get-out-of-jail-free card.  He wants to take away the completely valid criticisms that the idea is based on the supernatural.  However, the identity and properties of the designer are paramount to the theory.  Similarly, the mechanisms behind evolution are paramount to the Theory of Evolution.  Without knowing the who, what, when, where, why, and how of the designer, the whole idea of ID is worthless.

Not only is Luskin using this as a get-out-of-jail-free card, but he is having his cake and eating it too (sorry for all the sayings).  He wants all the benefits from having an all-powerful, all-knowing, yet sloppy designer, but doesn’t want to have to deal with the problems  and criticisms associated with the acknowledging the characteristics of the designer.  This method of saying that the designer is off-limits does just that.

Luskin argues that intelligent design is squarely in the realm of science because it deals with the empirical. Yet, the tenets of intelligent design are all based on nonquantifiable characteristics.  Irreducible complexity is not quantifiable or even a cohesive idea.  The same could be said for “apparent design” or Dembski’s use of information theory.  So even if you do ignore the designer, ID is not real science.

The reasons listed above show us that leaving out the identity of the designer is a political move not a scientific one.  It is used to pretend that ID is not religiously motivated so it won’t be subject to the establishment clause of the U.S. constitution.  This goal of the Discovery Institute and other ID proponents is becoming obvious with the constant promoting of “academic freedom” bills and the push to create pro-intelligent design student groups.

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Darwin Day > Academic Freedom Day

Charles Darwin

Charles Darwin

The Discovery Institute decided to have an “Academic Freedom” day on the same day as Darwin Day, February 12, 2009. It seems that they can’t let scientists and evolution believers actually have any fun without some sort of attack. Of course what they really mean by Academic Freedom is the freedom to be devoid of reality. It even has a slogan taken from Charles Darwin himself:

A fair result can be obtained only by fully stating and balancing the facts and arguments on both sides of each question.

What a great and appropriate quote! So what would a fair result be in the evolution/ID debate?  Let’s see…Clearly the facts are on the side of evolution. Fossil evidence, genetic evidence, and experimental evidence point to evolution. The argument of random mutation and natural selection is clear, concise and elegant. Intelligent design has no supporting fact and its arguments consist of denial and logical fallacies. I am thinking that evolution is somehow coming out ahead.  How fortunate for evolution proponents that they picked such a slogan!

Just as an aside, I am a big supporter of academic freedom. Real academic freedom. What the Discovery Institute is peddling is ideology and pseudoscience wrapped in the protection of the word freedom. You can have all the freedom you want, but science is fact based and not a democracy.

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Discovery Institute believes pseudoscientific “strengths and weaknesses” should be taught in Texas

Texas_population_map In a recent post from the Discovery Institute, Casey Luskin writes that "Texas Darwinists Reject the Scientific Method of Analyzing “Strengths and Weaknesses” of Scientific Theories." The post argues that it is fundamentally unscientific to not teach the "strengths and weaknesses" of evolution (read: teach the controversy) to students. Luskin’s writing is in regard to the Texas State Board of Education proposal to remove the above language from their academic standards.

As I have written before, terms like "academic freedom" and "strengths and weaknesses" are words that sound innocuous when referring to evolution, but really are a stealth attack on teaching reality. Does it really make sense for the classrooms of elementary and secondary education to critically analyze the strengths and weaknesses of a theory that has withstood 150 years of scientific inquiry by thousand of professional scientists?

So I guess the new bill does not leave any room for flexibility in the students mind about the theory? That is what Casey Luskin and the Discovery Institute imply. Well, here are a few select passages from the proposed standards (emphasis mine):


The student knows evolutionary theory is an explanation for the diversity of life…

[students will] evaluate models according to their limitations in representing biological objects or events.

So, evolutionary theory is AN explanation for the diversity of life; it is not THE explanation for the diversity of life. So students can see that there are other options out there, and they also see that these are models that have limitations.  Seems pretty reasonable to me without requiring the bogus “weaknesses” requirement.

Here is another one from the proposal (originally taken from the National Academy of Sciences):

Scientific explanations are open to testing under different conditions, over time, and by independent scientific researchers. Many theories in science are so well established that no new evidence is likely to alter them substantially; however, they are subject to continuing refinement as new areas of science emerge or as new technologies enable observations and experiments that were not possible previously.

Yup, the new standards still say that science is subject to change as new information becomes available. Not nearly as dogmatic as we are led to believe.

Still, is there really any harm with leaving a few criticisms of evolution in the lesson plan? Luskin brings up some of the potential problems as illustrated by the NCSE in a recent article. One is that it will "dilute the treatment of evolution." This seems pretty straight forward to me. More time teaching criticisms means less time teaching the theory. The NCSE also says that teaching evolution will "damage and corrupt science textbooks." This is because it would allow board members to reject any textbook simply because it doesn’t substantially address strengths and weaknesses despite it being the best book in every other regard.

But what does Luskin say about these criticisms by the NCSE?

"Such authoritarian statements have no place in science, and they serve to indoctrinate students rather than teach students how to think critically and skeptically—like scientists. "

Ignoring the point that these students are not qualified to really critically analyze evolutionary theory, the question is then, how much evidence is enough that it wouldn’t be considered indoctrination? Would any amount ever be enough for creation/ intelligent design proponents? A scientific theory can never be really proven; it can only be disproven. Evolution has never been disproven and it has had plenty of chances for it to be wrong. Over the 150 years since its inception, it has only increased in validity with increasing evidence.  Teaching reality is not indoctrination.

Here is an interesting quote from the post:

Discovery Institute believes that if scientists can dispute the core claims of neo-Darwinism (as these scientists do), then students can learn about those views:

Good, something we can agree on. If and/ or when scientists can actually discover something that disputes the core of evolution, then I would be all in favor for it. However, there would need to be some strongly compelling evidence. So far, there is no evidence, let alone compelling evidence. On the other hand, I have seen plenty of pseudoscientific views that are against evolution.

Don’t forget, evolution could be easily disproven. If a precambrian rabbit was found, that would completely disprove evolution. If we found out that the human gene for cytochrome C was more similar to an amoeba’s cytochrome C than to a chimpanzee, then that would disprove evolution. Every new gene sequence and every new fossil find could potentially disprove evolution, but none have. Until that time, we should teach evolution as it is, and not waste student’s time with pseudoscientific criticism that have no basis in reality.

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Academic freedom: should religous students learn other religions?

The Discovery Institute is all up in arms about an editorial that appeared in American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Today. The writing in question is by Gregory A. Petsko, the president of ASBMB, on the state of evolution denial. He discusses the propaganda film Expelled and the Trojan horse legislative activities given the label “academic freedom.”

One interesting point that Petsko makes is drawing a parallel between having “academic freedom” to teach competing ideas on the evolution of man and on having “academic freedom” in religious institutions. He argues that if teaching competing views is such a good idea when teaching evolution, then it should be helpful for students in religious institutions to learn about other religious ideas, including the idea of no religion.

It has been the mantra of Intelligent Design(ID) proponents that students should be exposed to differing ideas and opinions. They say that his will only improve student’s understanding and critical thinking skills. Based on their logic, you would have thought that they would support such a move in religious schools. The fact that they got so offended by Petsko suggestion implies that they are not really interested in student’s overall education. The Discovery Institute is just interested in pushing ID on students.

I do not think that we should force students at religious schools to learn about other religions no more than I think a evidence-less theory like intelligent design should be forced on kids. The fact is that the ID proponents are cherry picking a few ideas that they want to promote. Nearly every subject in school could be taught in the guise of “academic freedom.” For example, holocaust denial should be brought up as well as the “faked” moon landings. Astrology, alchemy, and numerology would also need to be taught. Such ideas are ridiculous and like ID should be ignored. Students have enough to learn as it is.

Angela Hvitved, in another editorial in ASBMB Today, summarizes what is really at the heart of these “academic freedom” bills:

at best, these bills are unnecessary and do not provide any additional legitimate protection and, at worst, provide cover for introducing intelligent design and other nonscientific topics into the science classroom

They bring up the old argument that there are quite a few scientists who do not accept evolution. It is clear that these scientists are in such a minority that bringing them up is ridiculous. I wonder if they has ever heard of ‘project steve’? This idea shows that there are so many more scientists that accept evolution that the number of scientists with just the name Steve (or Stephanie) will outnumber all the scientists that reject it. Well, the count is now up to 958 (as of September 25th), compared to their 700+. Besides, only a small percentage of these scientists have anything to do with biology.

To end, I am going to quote Petsko’s editorial, where he gives a nice summary of why intelligent design (and creation) should not be given any credence:

The fact that some people believe nonsense does not give that nonsense scientific credibility. A challenge to existing scientific principles must be based on evidence, not on belief, and there isn’t a shred of evidence to support either creationism or intelligent design.

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