Flame war in the Durango Herald!

A while back, a reader mentioned that my name (or some permutation thereof) was being taken in vain in the letters pages of the Durango Herald. Nothing new there, it’s just the usual half-truths of the Discovery Institute being disseminated.

Challenges to evolution met with scorn

I find that some of the brightest people in the world today (as with some of the brightest people throughout history) disbelieve the theory of evolution.

As Paul Bynum correctly noted in his letter (Herald, Nov. 20), it is true that folks who dare to challenge some of evolution’s claims are, indeed, often ridiculed and maligned. Note the remarks of University of Minnesota biology P.Z. Meyers: that opponents of Darwinism need to be subject to “some form of righteous fury, much butt kicking and the firing and humiliation of some teachers, many school board members and vast numbers of sleazy far right politicians.”

Gary Andersen, Durango

There was more in the letter; the usual protestation that “Darwinists” are afraid, that there are “volumes of evidence of design all around us” (backed up by mentioning that birds fly and cats take naps), and that chance is a “dreary thought.” I responded with a short note pointing out that my quote was taken out of context, and that I’m not against challenging evolution, but am against incompetent teaching.

Creationists weaken science teaching

In a letter by Gary Andersen on 1 Jan 2006, I was quoted misleadingly, in a way that the Discovery Institute has consciously propagated. Yes, I have called for the firing of teachers and politicians, but not because they are “opponents of Darwinism”–but for incompetence. If a science teacher cannot grasp basic concepts of biology, he or she has no place teaching our children in the classroom. We are not afraid of Intelligent Design creationists, but we are getting increasingly angry at the disservice they are doing to our kids by weakening the science curricula in our high schools.

Mr Andersen claims there are weaknesses in the theory of evolution. Yes, there are, but the fact of evolution is not in doubt; there is active argument and research on specific details and mechanisms. Intelligent Design creationists are not participants in that work, and are actively promoting discredited ideas that are not supported by any evidence. Science class is not a place for garbled anecdotes and wishful thinking, yet that is all Mr Andersen has to offer—I think we can do better by our children.

Oh, and the name is Myers. One “e”. It’s bad enough to be misrepresented by the likes of the Discovery Institute and their minions, but they could at least spell the name correctly.

I am amused to see that the Durango Herald has published a reply. It shows the same level of incomprehension as the first letter.

Reaction shows evolutionists scared

In his letter (“Creationists weaken science teaching, Herald, Jan. 10) associate professor P.Z. Myers of Morris, Minn., suggested that anyone believing God created the universe “has no place teaching science in our classrooms.”

What an arrogant statement! Statements such as this reinforce the feeling that evolutionists are indeed quivering in fear.

Paul Bynum, Durango

Of course there is more ranting. I’m accused of “indoctrination and propaganda, and told that “All tyrants, Hitler, Stalin, etc., approve of and use this type of ‘education.'”

I think his argument is greatly weakened by the blatant quote mining of his very first sentence. You can rummage through the entire archive of my site, you can chase down every word I’ve ever said, and you can give me a Vulcan mind-meld and probe all of my thoughts, and you will not find me expressing or thinking that ridiculous sentiment anywhere. But of course, readers of the Durango Herald are most unlikely to even open up a week-old copy of their paper to assess the accuracy of the creationist’s claims. The creationists know their lies can spread faster than the truth, and they will continue to spout that kind of dishonesty shamelessly.

At least they learned how to spell my name properly.


  1. zed says

    Their lies do spread faster than the truth, but largely this is because so few of your peers have your guts. For every letter to the editor correcting creationist lies there are a dozen creationist letters full of more lies. The ratio should be the opposite.

    I do my part, poor layperson that I am. But my local paper has published two of my letters on the subject in the past three months and so I’m effectively not welcome back for a while. I live in a town with a very large, well-regarded public university (and several small ones) chock full of tenure science profs, teaching assistants, grad students, etc., including the occasional Nobel laureate, and their silence is deafening. No, damning. Because the creationists take silence for an admission of defeat. Yes, of course they are that deluded and arrogant.

    Look, I don’t like having to fight this fight either. I’m a layperson, not an evolutionary biologist or for that matter a research scientist of any stripe. This has nothing to do with my day job. I spend my few hours of leisure reading time each week with histories of evolution theory, printouts from talkorigins, etc. educating myself for the battle. It would be nice if more professionals joined you in the fight. In fact, if more life science professionals don’t start biting back hard, it won’t be much longer before scientists are hacks appointed by the Bush 44 (Jeb) or Bush 47 (Jenna) administration. If hackery is good enough for FEMA or DOD, where lives and national destinies and world peace are at stake, then surely it’s good enough for science education. Lysenkoism would not be the first effort by wingnuts to emulate the Soviet Union.

  2. Ginger Yellow says

    The way is long but the end is near
    Already the fiesta has begun.
    The face of God will appear
    With His serpent eyes of obsidian.

    No llores, mi querida
    Dios nos vigila
    Soon the horse will take us to Durango.

  3. says

    “Never underestimate the power of human stupidity” R.A.Heinlein

    I am assuming that you cut out the letters and posted them on the fridge, to have something to laugh at every time you need some milk.

  4. pough says

    I met a man down in Durango
    He made me do the Texas Tango
    He mashed me up just like a mango
    That was driving through Durango

    Good ol’ Durango and good ol’ David Lindley. I think I might break out that CD and listen to it on my way to work.

  5. says

    That’s the problem with a flamewar in the paper; you can’t ‘scroll up’. What you actually said becomes (except for the most diligent) what they said you said.

  6. zed says

    I am assuming that you cut out the letters and posted them on the fridge, to have something to laugh at every time you need some milk.

    Milk? They have me hitting the booze.

    And no, I used to be amused. Now I’m just disgusted. In fact, now I am worried. They are doing to science what they did to our national social discourse. They’ve seen that they can lie and get away with it in every other area of our culture and the media will back them up. What’s so special about science? It’s not funny any more.

  7. zed says

    My paper won’t allow flame wars per se. You get one shot at a topic per “thread”. So when you’re outmanned 10 to 1 they can – and do – lie at will. I suspect a lot of papers have this policy. The whole “both sides have good points” nonsense that the media hide behind when they’re scared of a topic.

  8. says

    I think the main problem stems from the fact that most creationists seem to be under the impression that science requires belief. They think that if you stop believing in science, it will go away. They can’t seem to grasp the idea of simply learning through observation and experimentation, without attaching some religious ideology to it.

  9. says

    You’ve got a lot of heart, dealing with this stuff day in and day out. I recently had my first attack from an ID aficionado; it included a link to her site, which was full of the usual claptrap: there are no intermediate forms in the fossil record; speciation has never been observed; random processes never produce order; and so on.

    I wrote her a long e-mail explaining why she was wrong on each of these points, a chore as depressing as it was time-consuming and – probably – futile. I can’t imagine what it’s like being a full-time lightning rod for these knuckleheads.

  10. says

    Last night I watched a pathetic lecture by “Professor” Del Ratzsch on “What is science permitted to believe?” on the Metro Cable channel (local number 6) last night. Let me illustrate for you how desperate the IDiots are becoming and who is really quaking with fear:

    He argued that intelligent design did not necessarily shut down research by giving the following analogy–he is a really good chess player, but while playing with a colleague he made a totally boneheaded move. As soon as he did it, he knew that he was sunk. However, his colleague, knowing our Del to be a good chess player, instead of checkmating him sat and contemplated this move for a long time, precisely because Del’s colleague figured that since the boneheaded move had been made by an intelligent agent, the move must have had some “purpose” which belied its idiocy! It must have been part of a clever strategy, when in truth it was just a mistake.

    Yeah, this anecdote got laughs, but I was yelling at the screen, “So you are inviting scientists to contemplate the totally boneheaded plays made by the intelligent designer and to expose his mistakes?” I mean, what?

    Scared? “Quivering with fear?” Hey, atheists aren’t the ones who believe in or are scared by a God who is capable of being insulted by humans calling him a bonehead. Even I couldn’t have thought up that ID-inspired slur against the Big Bonehead Upstairs.

  11. arc_legion says

    the nutjobs at my University haven’t “adapted” past the “evolution is in doubt” and “ID is a theory” stage. I wrote a letter to the editor and I’m hoping it gets published. I’m more than willing to dedicate a couple hours a week to keeping my paper clear of BS :).

  12. says

    “There was more in the letter; [but this is where my name was mentioned and the rest is unimportant].”

    “Of course there is more ranting. [But again, this is where my name was mentioned and everything after that is not worth quoting]”

    I guess when one believes that there is no higher intelligence in the universe than one’s own self, it’s only a matter of time before one spies one’s own reflection in the well spring.

    You are truly a piece of work my friend.

  13. says

    The bottom line is a good science education…..while the creationists run around trying to infiltrate school boards, our kids will have to cope with only one science course allowed for their future employment: the cooking temperatures of various fast food items.

  14. craig says

    But don’t you see? it’s OK if they lie and cheat to stop the spread of atheism, because if atheism spreads then people will have no moral compass.

  15. Ed Darrell says

    In Jonathan Weiner’s book, The Beak of the Finch, is related a story about a researcher who tracks evolution of insects for a major pesticide company. The researcher tells about being on airplanes, and getting the obligatory “what do you do?” question from a seatmate. The research explains in some detail how he tracks the mutations of insect pests with an eye to whether the mutations produce any sort of resistance to his company’s pesticides, etc., etc., and his seatmate sits enraptured with occasional comments about how wonderful the work is, how important, how Godly, etc., etc. Then the research closes off with a comment about how such studies of evolution really are important to commerce — and his seatmate cuts him off. The seatmate doesn’t “believe” in evolution.

    Weiner notes the irony that, for much of “flyover” America, the livlihoods of Americans depend on applied evolution theory. Farmers, especially, depend on evolution for their seeds, sometimes for the fertilizers, and for the pesticides that may keep them profitable. But on Sundays, they go to a church that claims all that science is in error, and probably a doorway to sin.

    Zed, it will make some of your local professors nervous, I’m sure, but you should go investigate the research done at your local university. Look for that stuff that is based squarely on evolution theory, and which has local economic application. Then write an op-ed extolling the virtues of the work, the virtues of the people who do that work — and in the second to last paragraph insert one little line about how this stuff is based on evolution.

    After a few dozen of these, there is a record ready for the local schoolboards . . .

    The journey of a turning a thousand mines begins with a single explanation.

    Good luck!

  16. says

    Ed, you are right on in pointing out the dollars and cents (or is that “sense?”) of evolution’s impact. How about all of the intelligent design folks and creationists just buy their goods and medicines that were developed utilizing their own science? I can see it now, foods and medicinces labeled with a “developed using evolutionary science” and others labeled “developed through the application of intelligent design.”

    “Dr., can I have the intelligent design brand of penicillin?”

  17. says

    Well, I know a paleontologist/evol. bio/molecular bio grad student @ Berkeley and from what I’ve heard, scientists *do* discuss ID/creationism. However, they don’t take it out into public as much as it is needed. I wonder if it’s because they’re too busy (unlikely, since Pharyngula & other science blogs exist), or if it threatens funding or jobs?

  18. says

    You tell Gary Anderson that if he’d spent more time worrying about kicking and less time worrying about ID, the Vikings would’ve made the Super Bowl back in ’99.

    (Hey, one good misspelling….)

  19. guthrie says

    My local newspaper, the “Scotsman” (this is in Edinburgh, Scotland, Great Britain) had several articles and interviews trashing ID last year. It was great reading them. The usual cretionists crawled out of the woodwork, and I recall that at least 3 of them were evangelical Christians. However, they were evened out by a similar number of scientists and amateurs like myself. So we made our points, but I dont know how well they went across to the other readers. Haveing been reading Pharygula and Pandas thumb for a year now, I can counter most of their arguments off teh top of my head; the problem is in fining them down for newspaper replies. But rest assured, most newspapers here in the UK dont want to have anything to do with ID, and I think there are enough people to squelch them when they try.

  20. Volvox says

    The sentences below are “cut and paste” quotes from the Durango Herald above–first Paul Bynum’s quote then PZ’s actual words.

    (Paul Bynum) ‘In his letter (“Creationists weaken science teaching, Herald, Jan. 10) associate professor P.Z. Myers of Morris, Minn., suggested that anyone believing God created the universe “has no place teaching science in our classrooms.”‘

    (PZ Myers actually said) “If a science teacher cannot grasp basic concepts of biology, he or she has no place teaching our children in the classroom.”

    I am curious, was this a deliberately dishonest quote of PZ or are the creationists so out of touch that they are answering the scrambled reality in there own minds?


  21. Squeaky says


    This is just a sampling of the words many of you have used in these postings to describe those who disagree with us. Let me ask: how is this helping? I have visited enough creationist websites to know they fall back on this same tactic, but that is no excuse for us to do the same. Someone has to take the high road, and if not them, it better be us. If we as scientists hope to get our views heard and (God help us) understood, we need to elevate our game above the sophistication of the rhetoric heard in the average schoolyard disagreement. What I have read here is not the kind of thoughtful debate worthy of educated, thinking people. If our arguments are solid, there is no need to resort to the dehumanizing tactic of name calling. I would hope we can have this debate and still be respectful of others regardless of whether we are in agreement with them or not.

  22. Ford says

    Sure, and while we’re at it we won’t make fun of flat-earth folks in that “debate”.

  23. Squeaky says

    That’s the spirit. You have only emphasised my point. Thanks for your thoughtful response.

  24. says

    Clearly, people such as Paul Bynum do not see themselves as lying. Bynum likely believes that he accurately paraphrased PZ.

    And as for the misquoting, the data mining, and the false atrribution that ID-ers make… They don’t see this as lying either. We see it as outrageously unethical because we assume that there is an independant reality out there apart from ourselves. And our statements should, as much as possible, reflect an accurate impression of that reality.

    But for these people, the only reality is a subjective reality. The basis of their world view is faith, which is unrelated to the objective world. So any statement that agrees with the personal reality cannot ever be false. Even if a statement seems to be objectively false, it is true for these people in a larger sense because it supports their world view.

    To us, this appears to be the very definition of insanity. For them, its how they cope with the world.

  25. Squeaky says

    Thanks, Jim. This is a good assessment of the situation. I agree–they don’t think they are lying. Here’s where creationists are coming from (and I think it is important for us to understand this if we want to make any headway towards actual understanding): The Bible is the revealed word and truth of God. Therefore, anything in science that disagrees with the Bible is wrong. So, if the science disagrees with the Bible, the science needs to be reinterpreted to fit the Bible. In the view of creation science, science is a fallible, human endeavor (although it is really only the historical sciences that they direct their attacks against). Is this good science? No. Of course not. But this is the foundation that creation scientists work from. It contradicts everything about the scientific method, but that is not their foundation. The Bible is ultimately the foundation.

    The possibility they don’t recognize, however, is that science is right, but their understanding of the Bible is wrong. They are, afterall, making their interpretations in the context of OUR culture and a wholly western mindset, philosophy, and literary style. They do not recognize the Bible is not a science book, was not written as such, and should not be interpreted as such. I have suggested this to the folks at Answers in Genesis, and they dismissed my arguments out of hand. They can’t admit that human understanding of Scripture interpretation is every bit as fallible as they believe scientific inquiry to be.

    I have found that many Christians who call themselves creationists have not even taken the time to see what their own Bible says about the creation. As I tell my students, unless they have taken the time to learn the science and the Bible behind the issue, they have no right to an opinion on either side of “the debate”.

    Thank you, Jim, for your thoughtful assessment.

  26. Brook says

    the last two lines of a lovely poem by Philip Appleman (I’ve gotten no permission to quote this but at least I am quoting it verbatim.)

    “and before our world goes over the brink,
    teach the believers how to think.”

    You can read the rest in Garrison Keillor’s “Good Poems”

  27. george cauldron says

    Thanks, Jim. This is a good assessment of the situation. I agree–they don’t think they are lying

    It of course depends on how you define ‘lying’. If Joe or Jane creationist-on-the-street tells you that God made the earth in 7 days 3,000 years ago, or that some old Jewish due in the desert made a boat and put 2 of every animal on the world on it, this is not lying. It’s basically superstitious.

    However, if Kent Hovind or someone of his ilk gets up and tells you about his evidence that cavemen hunted brontosauruses and that t-rex breathed fire and thus must have been the ‘dragons’ mentioned in the bible, I would say that is much closer to a lie. Likewise, when, every 12 hours or so, some new creationism advocate pops up at PT and says ‘there are absolutely no transitional fossils and no evidence whatsoever of one species changing to another’, I feel that that too veers more into the realm of dishonesty, not just delusion. Or, when Behe says that no one has ever refuted his claim that the immune system couldn’t have evolved — that’s definitely a lie.

    Not all of their untruths are just delusion — creationists do lie. It’s fair game to point this out when it happens.

  28. says

    Not all of their untruths are just delusion — creationists do lie. It’s fair game to point this out when it happens.

    It’s neither delusion nor lying (at least for the most part). If I tell you that the Klingon homeworld is Bajor, when it is in fact Q’onoS, is that a lie? The Klingon homeworld doesn’t actually exist, so whether I tell you the real name or not hardly matters, except within certain very specific social situations.

    The ID-ers look at scientific matters the same way. It doesn’t matter at all to them whether they give accurate scientific information or not. As far as they are concerned, it’s not really real.

  29. george cauldron says

    It’s neither delusion nor lying (at least for the most part). If I tell you that the Klingon homeworld is Bajor, when it is in fact Q’onoS, is that a lie?

    No — but it does qualify as delusional.

  30. Michael Geissler says

    A teacher telling their class the world is only 6000 years old should be sacked. A teacher telling their class the world is flat should be sacked. A teacher telling their class that Germany won the Second World War should be sacked. Why is this so difficult?

  31. Harry Eagar says

    The first round to Professor Myers.

    However, it’s probably not profitable to keep exchanging letters with someone who has an editor who will buy ink by the barrel for him.

    As a newspaperman, I’d suggest that, instead of Professor Myers exchanging comments with this not-very-sharp letter writer, it would make more of an impact if, say, 50 readers of Pharyngula all wrote 50 word letters stating, more or less, Myers is our guy, he nailed that other dude.

    The actual outcome of the ‘debate’ is not going to be settled by an exchange of short letters in the Durango paper. Since the rationalists are outnumbered, it seems to me that the more profitable strategy would be to flood the zone and make it look like the division is more closely split than it really is.

    It’s one of those difficult questions that having free debate raises. No finite number of informed responses to raving lunatics in public forums is going to forestall other raving lunatics from continuing their campaign.

    On the other hand, you cannot let them rave unanswered without leaving false impressions with the uncommitted and (even more important) the unformed young who are, in some cases, getting their first exposure to biology in the letters column of the Durango paper.

  32. Volvox says

    Great discussion on lies vs religious spin that may or may not be done deliberately.

    The problem is that these exchanges take place in the real world, like letters to the editor where, if you claim to quote someone, accuracy is assumed. Anything else should include a disclaimer from the ID folks like “my statements have been subjected to a metaphysical revision process and may have way more higher truth than worldly accuracy”.


  33. says

    Ah… so it’s not a lie, it’s a misinterpretations, along the lines of “thou shalt not suffer a poisoner to live” being clarified to witch, and “a young woman shall conceive” being clarified to virgin.

  34. Squeaky says

    I agree that Kent Hovind’s honesty is questionable…at the very least his grasp of science is extremely weak. The problem is, he and others like him sell themselves as “experts” to their audience, and since he knows more big science words than the average American audience, he sounds like he knows what he is talking about. Is he lying? Could be. Or it could be he really believes what he is saying because that is the limit of his understanding. Certainly that is the case with most of the people who buy into what he says. They don’t know enough about science to question his claims, and he sounds good because he is playing into their sympathies and personal beliefs.

  35. jackd says

    Squeaky, Kent Hovind is a con man. I have no doubt about it. The only question is the extent to which he’s conned himself.

  36. says

    What has astonished me recently is that the Gazette (the Montreal English daily) has been publishing letters from various forms of creationists. We’re not immune up here, alas. But given the polls, the paper is publishing these letters out of all proportion to the level of belief in the population. My astonishment is thus more directed at the editorial policy of the paper. The connection between our Conservative party and the paper’s editorial staff and that between the C’s and the fundies and Straussians in the US has been documented. I’m not one for “conspiracy talk”, but this is looking pretty wacky …

  37. Sean says

    “Mr Myers is worse than HITLER!”

    …to paraphrase the fundi next door. She was referring to Saddam, I attempted to find out what the hell she was talking about but failed since her ‘foaming at the mouth’ rant was followed by another about ‘Godless atheists trying to destroy America’…didn’t think it was smart to point out I was one of those America destroying evil doers.

    Aren’t fundies fun!

  38. Torbjorn Larsson says

    “If our arguments are solid, there is no need to resort to the dehumanizing tactic of name calling.”

    I think PZ has posted about that before, and IIRC he thought that it was more moral to say it as he sees it.

    For example, usually when someone gives a kook opinion and at the same time knows that it is against the accepted scientific theory, we say that he is a crackpot. A crackpot is a nut, but he is also an idiot on the specific topic. So the epithet IDiot is apt and not a random name calling. And it is fun too. :-)

    But of course a description must not replace the arguments.

  39. Jeff McG... says

    I live in Durango…..we are at the base of the San Juan Mountains in SW Colorado, about 60 miles from the Four Corners monument and 30 miles from Mesa Verde. We are a small college community and are definately liberal and forward thinking.

    Every community has their Paul Bynum’s and we’re certainly no exception, but “they” are the minority and everyone I talked to about this letter thought it was a joke. The Herald has a fairly liberal letter policy and about once a week there’s a letter from someone on the fringe, whether that fringe is evolution, religion fundamentalism, ID, black helicopters, the UN, you name it. There tend to be just a few people that write these letters and many people that respond to them.

  40. says

    Con men… OK, conpeople aside, Jim Royal has a point, I think. Some of these people don’t think they’re lying, not necessarily because they believe in only a subjective reality, but for a reason the probably has the same effect. (“A difference that makes no difference is no difference,” OK.)

    They live their moral lives by quote-mining. When they look for a reason or an answer, they look for a Bible verse — or they consult somebody else who’s looked up a Bible verse and applied it — that can be interpreted as advice or command. Some of the Protestants call this “proof texting.” It’s not exclusively a Protestant or Christian vice, of course.

    It’s not exactly subjective… or at least it doesn’t admit it is. But to many, it apparently does have the same force as objective testing.

    I wonder how much of people’s thinking is governed by such habits of mind. Have you noticed how Phillip Johnson’s arguments for Creationism are essentially lawyer’s arguments? As if reality changed by popular demand, jury ruling, or legislative fiat. Subjectivity, but weirdly involuted.

  41. Anonymous says

    Torbjorn–Good explanation, but I’m afraid I still don’t buy it. It’s still disrespectful, no matter how you paint it. You can say the IDEA of ID is ridiculous, but that is not the same thing as calling all those who believe in ID idiots. And though many here would make that distinction, those who are grouped into that camp would not, and would quickly close any open mind they might have. I realize the comments are directed towards those calling themselves scientists, but it is the average non-scientist lay person who gets the brunt of them. Calling them names pushes them even farther from science (and believe me, many lay people, Christian or not, are afraid of science). And worst of all, I believe some of the above comments were directed towards students–specifically the quote “the nutjobs at my college”. I was once one of those nutjob students, and my professors treated me with patience and compassion rather than derision. The result was, I was given the chance to learn the science and critically think my way to accept scientific reason. This is primarily why I bristle at this name calling. Not only that, but the “liars” really do believe what they are saying. I certainly accept there are conmen out there playing on the ignorance of others, but I don’t believe that is the case with the majority of creation scientists. One last point–many here seem to be saying that no good scientist could possibly believe in God. This is not only categorically not true, but when that attitude is perpetuated, it plays into the very fears Christians have about science–namely that science is “out to get God”. This, again, only exacerbates the problem. Scientists are not out to prove God doesn’t exist–any scientist trying to use science to prove God doesn’t exist is no better than a creation scientist. I believe it is imperative to take the route of Stephen Jay Gould and emphasise that science and faith are not just not on the same playing field, they are not even in the same ball park.

  42. Andrew Lautin says

    Dear Professor:

    ALthough you may not have said it …

    Why is it (as you put forth) a ridiculous sentiment?

    On the contrary it is a highly principled, arguably justified (as justificiation goes) sentiment.

  43. Anonymous says

    Are you asking why ID is a ridiculous sentiment (I’m not sure what your question is)? If so, that’s not really the point of my argument above. My assertion is it is fine to present the opinion that ID is ridiculous, but it is not fine to then blanket everyone who supports ID as idiots and liars. Insensitive insults are not justifiable, they are just rude.

    However, as you may have noticed, many here have expressed their belief that ID is ridiculous and not actually “arguably justifiable”. The reasoning behind that is that Intelligent Design, cannot, by definition, be science because it is not repeatable or testable and ultimately relies on faith. And faith is not science because by definition, faith is belief in something that cannot be proven to exist and belief in events that occur independent of the laws of nature (miracles). So from a scientific standpoint, ID falls outside the realm of material that is repeatable and testable (you can’t test miracles). Really, the crux of the matter is the lack of understanding of what science is and how it works. That’s the message that scientists need to strive to present. Scientists aren’t “out to get” God, but they do work within the realms and guidelines of the scientific method, which strives to eliminate bias and human error.

  44. Torbjorn Larsson says


    Your argument is mostly correct, but I think you misunderstand some of the viewpoints that one can have on the matter.

    “It’s still disrespectful”

    This is one point I have trouble with. You are probably correct though – even an apt description are less respectful if there are neutral tags to use. And of course, if the designee feels disrespected, it was disrespectful of sorts.

    But this is also the basis for a misunderstanding. Not all here will respect what the designated person stands for. PZ, for example, says in http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2006/01/savagetolerance.php : “As has always been the case, you can continue to expect me to tolerate Christians…but don’t expect me to ever respect Christianity.”

    On that basis, one can expand that to be disrespectful of the person who engenders the kooky view. I wouldn’t call it name calling, but you are correct in that it has negative impacts.

    As I understand it, PZ argues for more active work against antiscience viewpoints. I don’t know if the positive impacts of the broader disrespect (such as building peer pressure) outweighs the negatives. But I can see that it’s not a clearcut case of not doing it.

    “Scientists are not out to prove God doesn’t exist–any scientist trying to use science to prove God doesn’t exist is no better than a creation scientist.”

    I don’t agree with the last part of this.

    First, there is no such thing as a creation scientist. The underlying hypothesis can not be made part of science. One could argue about some of the auxiliary hypotheses, such as irreducible complexity, but they are falsified both theoretically and more importantly evidentiary already. And most importantly, no creationist has ever tried to do experiments, AFAIK.

    Nitpick: I can understand why someone would abstain from disrespectful designations, but I don’t get why one should use incorrect and/or overly respectful ones either.

    Second, of course science isn’t interested in supernatural explanations. But that doesn’t mean that one can’t use the scientific method on these.

    By having massed a tremendous amount of evidence for the nonexistence of such explanations no sensible person would try to contradict the inescapable conclusion.

    A scientist shouldn’t do it since it’s not within the scope of science. But nothing prevents him to come to that conclusion if that scope would change, for example by creationists harassing science. Indeed, one could say he should be ethically obligated to do so. (And while we are on that subject, that he should be ethically obligated to do so as a private person anyway.)

    Science and faith is ususally not on the same playing field, that’s true. But if there are factual evidence that applies to some portions of a faith, such as the nonexistence of supernatural mechanisms, then faith has to vacate that part of the field. I fail to see why that is any fault on the part of science.

  45. says

    Quoting James Burke:

    « Someone apparently once went up to the great philosopher Victenstien, and said, “What a lot of morons people back in the Middle Ages must have been to have looked, every morning at the dawn, and to have thought that what they were seeing was the sun going around the Earth, when as every school kid knows, the Earth goes around the Sun. And it doesn’t take too many brains to understand that.”

    To which, Victenstien replied, “Yeah, but I wonder what it would have looked like if the Sun had been going around the Earth.” The point being, of course, it would have looked exactly the same. You see what your knowledge tells you you’re seeing. »

    The ID people look at knowledge entirely differently than we do. Ron is exactly right — they don’t see quote-mining as unethical, they see it as a means of constructing an idea. They are a bit Aristotelian in that way — knowledge comes from within, not from without. This whole business of evidence gathering and deductive logic is all well and good, but it often conflicts with the inner world view, and thus can’t be entirely trusted.

  46. squeaky says

    It’s not a fault on the part of science, but just as creationists cannot prove the existence of God, scientists cannot disprove the existence of God. It is, ultimately, an issue of faith, and faith cannot be proven or disproven by science. A Christian’s (or a member of any other religion) faith is placed in an entity that lives in and works outside the realm of the natural world. If one’s faith allows for a supernatural being who created and developed the laws of the natural world, it is not unreasonable to believe that that being can easily work within or outside the natural world (I think some areas of theoretical physics allow for the existance of parallel universes and other dimensions where the laws of nature are different than ours–but I am not a physicist, so maybe I just learned that on Star Trek). Because we live in the natural world and that is our experience, it doesn’t make sense to us, but again, that is where faith comes in.

    Science, in terms of understanding how the natural world works, can lead people to two different conclusions. One conclusion is that the world and the universe are far too complex for God to have created it. However, many people come to the opposite conclusion–the earth and the universe are far too complex for God NOT to have created it. The latter probably sounds like a crazy conclusion to you, but the former sounds like a crazy conclusion to a Christian. Not all (non-creation) scientists have come to the former conclusion. Many, and many who I know personally (and I have only attended and taught at secular universities), have come to the latter conclusion whether they be Christian, Muslim, Jew, New Age, or whatever–and they accept evolution and an old earth (for an example, a recent NOVA series on evolution featured Wheaton College’s geology department, and provides a good picture of scientists who do accept evolution). Is it because these scientists have empirical evidence to prove the existance of God? No (although some would argue the existance of mathematical constants in the universe, or the incredible order in the Table of Elements argue strongly for creator), but again, that is where it comes down to faith.

    I don’t think one needs to use incorrect or overly respectful language to be fundamentally respectful. It is possible to disagree with someone without calling them a name. Back when I a was young earth creationist in my undergraduate days, never did I call my professors names, nor did my professors call me names. I didn’t call them a bunch of godless athiests, and no one called me an idiot or a creationist nutjob. We had lively discussions, to be sure, but they were always respectful discussions.

    Is there such a thing as a creation scientist? Well, the answer to that is actually yes. Creation scientists actually do do research, and some are even published in reputable journals (not just the biased journal CRI puts out that has now been disguised to look like an actual scientific journal). Those who are published in reputable journals are published in areas that don’t deal with evolution or age of the earth issues, so they sidestep the issue, but they are nevertheless, published. One creation scientist was actually a PhD student of Stephen Jay Gould, surprisingly enough. I can’t imagine he succeeded in getting a PhD without doing research and experiments. I can’t offer names of these scientists, but I learned this info from Answers in Genesis, and even corresponded briefly with Gould’s student. By the way, spend some time on that website. They are often very, and unnecessarily, disrespectful to scientists, and I think you will more easily see what I mean when that disrespect is directed towards the group you are part of.

    And to Jim Royal–that’s exactly right–it is the difference between inductive and deductive reasoning.

  47. Torbjorn Larsson says


    I have missed to answer this post and now we have some of these arguments going on at http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2006/01/a_few_links_to_delightful_anti.php .

    A few specific remarks for posterity:
    “It’s not a fault on the part of science, but just as creationists cannot prove the existence of God, scientists cannot disprove the existence of God.”

    I disagree. This is the discussion we have going on above. I think it’s an empty saying that agnostics and deists like to hide behind. Science has something to say on these issues, as I explain in the discussion.

    “I don’t think one needs to use incorrect or overly respectful language to be fundamentally respectful.”

    I agree with this. (But note that for example PZ has said that he doesn’t respect those opinions, he tolerates them.)

    “It is possible to disagree with someone without calling them a name.”

    But if the name fits, ie is correct, it can be used.

    “Is there such a thing as a creation scientist? Well, the answer to that is actually yes.”

    That is not what one can see from other posts PZ has made here. The conclusion is that no biologist (evolution expert) would say so. I must refer you to those posts.

    “Creation scientists actually do do research,”

    Not about their adhoc hypotheses, apparently.

    “and some are even published”

    Not according to those facts PZ has summarised. There is one theoretical (and refuted) paper published in a normal way.

    “but I learned this info from Answers in Genesis,”

    PZ and other have perused the same sources when they made those conclusions.