False narrative Inception

Inception, Legendary Pictures.

Inception, Legendary Pictures.

David Klinghoffer has responded to my previous post with a post of his own at Evolution News & Science Today. Right out of the gate, he mischaracterizes the dispute:

Georgia Tech biologist Matthew Herron is still chiding me for sharing synthetic organic chemist James Tour’s statements, a “false narrative,” that we — the public, the media, and yes, scientists too — are “clueless” about how life originated.

It was not Dr. Tour’s statements that I characterized as a false narrative; it was Klinghoffer’s. [Read more…]

After “clarification”, a false narrative is still false

I’m not an origin of life researcher. I’m not really a biochemist, either, though I have enough background to muddle through talks and papers on the topic. I do go to quite a few origin of life talks, and read the papers, because I’m interested and because the talks are frequently presented at some of the conferences I go to, such as Evolution and AbSciCon (Astrobiology Science Conference).

There’s a formula to scientific papers and talks, though it’s not always strictly adhered to. The classic formulation is Introduction, Methods, Results, and Discussion: what did we test, how did we test it, what did we find, and what does it mean. A good Introduction includes some background on the question, explaining what is already known and, crucially, what isn’t. For origin of life work, this usually includes a statement to the effect that we really don’t know how life began. Because we don’t.

So I was surprised to see David Klinghoffer, a Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute, say that the mystery of life’s origin is “widely unacknowledged by origin-of-life researchers.”

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Motivated reasoning

Like many pseudoscientists, Denyse O’Leary doesn’t understand how evidence works:

Uncommon Descent screenshot

I’ll bet she’s right, in exactly this sense: if there turns out to be a ninth planet, Denyse O’Leary will interpret it as support for fine tuning. There is very little that advocates for intelligent design don’t interpret as support for their worldview. What do you want to bet that if there turns out not to be a ninth planet, she won’t interpret that as evidence against fine tuning?

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Up is down. Black is white. Atheism is religion.

Humpty Dumpty

If you can’t beat ’em, define ’em out of existence!

Some members of the intelligent design community seem to have a genuinely hard time understanding that non-religious people actually exist. They don’t have convincing arguments for their religion, so they attempt an end run around reason by simply declaring that everyone is religious.

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A helpful translation

I’m never sure whether I should be amused or horrified to see intelligent design’s PR firm, the Discovery Institute, trying to pose as a scientific organization. Right now I’m tending decidedly towards amusement, as their inept aping of the scientific process only serves to reveal how fundamentally they misunderstand it.

As always, I’m here to help.

Recent posts from members of the Discovery Institute show that their authors have learned to imitate the language of science without actually understanding it. I’m going to do my best to translate a few things. For example, when David Klinghoffer (who is, in a sense, a ghost) says,

I’m currently seeking to place an awesome manuscript by a scientist at an Ivy League university with the guts to give his reasons for rejecting Darwinism. The problem is that, as yet, nobody has the guts to publish it.

what I think he means is

our manuscript has so far failed to pass peer review.

[Read more…]

Manufacturing controversy

Darwin Devolves cover

If you read the same blogs I do, you’re no doubt aware that Nathan Lents, Joshua Swamidass, and Richard Lenski published a not-very-flattering review of Michael Behe’s new book, Darwin Devolves, in Science. As you would expect, various members of the Discovery Institute, including Dr. Behe himself, have responded to the review. I haven’t read Darwin Devolves yet, so I there’s a lot on both sides of the argument that I won’t try to evaluate.

What I am going to talk about is the attempts, mostly by David Klinghoffer, to imply that there is something underhanded about the review itself. Klinghoffer takes issue not just with the content of the review, but with its authorship and timing:

Three? Why Not One?

Why was it [the Lents et al. review] written and published in this way? It’s odd to review a book that hasn’t been publicly released yet.

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I don’t exist!

David Klinghoffer has outdone himself. For a guy who thinks the discovery of an extrasolar planet is a challenge to materialism, the bar for the dumbest thing he’s ever said is already high, but he has cleared it with room to spare:

In a sense, there are no atheists.

He’s right, in a sense. In the sense that we can arbitrarily redefine words to mean whatever the hell we want them to mean. Let’s look at some equally valid examples:

In a sense, all mammals are descended from snakes.

This is true, in a sense, because I define snakes as small Triassic insectivores.

In a sense, there are no dump trucks.

This is true, in a sense, because I define dump trucks as wine bottles that magically refill themselves.

In a sense, David Klinghoffer is a ghost.

This is true, in a sense, because I define ghosts as human beings who occasionally say monumentally stupid things.

A Ghost Story

David Klinghoffer, in a sense. Image from A Ghost Story, downloaded from IMDB.

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A quick question for Douglas Axe

Intelligent design proponent Douglas Axe says,

My recent book, Undeniable, makes the case not just that life is designed but also that this is obvious — you need no special training to see it. And yet, as with other obvious truths, some people prefer to deny this one than to fully embrace the attending implications.

For atheists to be in denial here isn’t surprising. Short of recanting, they have no option. [emphasis added]

Douglas Axe

Douglas Axe

But intelligent design proponents have said many, many times that ID, being a scientific rather than religious theory, does not identify the designer. According to Michael Behe,

Possible candidates for the role of designer include: the God of Christianity; an angel–fallen or not; Plato’s demi-urge; some mystical new age force; space aliens from Alpha Centauri; time travelers; or some utterly unknown intelligent being.

So here’s my question: if ID is agnostic to the nature of the designer, why can’t an atheist believe life is designed?

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Lies of omission and straight-up lies

In a pair of posts over at Evolution News and Views, David Klinghoffer waxes hyperbolic about the 2009 demotion and 2011 layoff of David Coppedge from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab (“NASA on Trial: Persecution of David Coppedge Was a Preview of Creeping Totalitarianism“, “NASA Versus David Coppedge: Most Reprehensible Case of Anti-Intelligent Design Persecution Yet?“). It does sound pretty bad, though:

It was back in 2009 that the mild-mannered team lead computer administrator on the Cassini Mission to Saturn was demoted, shamed, and later fired. His workplace offense? Lending out documentaries on DVD favorable to intelligent design.

Coppedge loaned out documentaries on DVD, highlighting relevant scientific evidence of design in biology and cosmology, to willing colleagues. That’s it! That’s all he did.

Shit, that really does sound like religious discrimination. Look, I’m an atheist, but I believe in religious freedom. Firing someone for their religious beliefs, from a government agency no less, is a pretty egregious (even “reprehensible”) violation of the Establishment Clause (“prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”). Assuming, of course, that we’re getting the whole story.

About that… [Read more…]