David Klinghoffer whines about an imaginary foul


Uh-oh. I’ve disappointed David Klinghoffer. I should probably put that on my CV.

You see, the other day he praised a fellow named Tom Gilson for a post in which he provided a succinct summary of Intelligent Design creationism, and I took that summary apart, point by point. You might think, perhaps Klinghoffer finds fault with my analysis? He doesn’t provide any rebuttals. Did I get something wrong in using Gilson’s definition of ID? Nope, he doesn’t say…that would be hard to do anyway, since Klinghoffer praised it as exactly accurate!, exclamation point and all. Even in his title he declares that Tom Gilson Nails It.

So what’s his complaint? That I corrected the wrong person.

Gilson’s main point was that Darwinists predictably go after straw-man versions of ID — “God of the gaps,” aka “Goddidit,” etc. I would add that another, related habit they have is to avoid grappling directly with ID’s main theorists.

With that in mind, here’s a post by atheist biologist PZ Myers. It’s snide as always, and that’s fine. It’s his schtick. There is the expected accompanying image macro, this one with a picture of Mike Myers/Dr. Evil with a humorous caption. Dr. Myers comments on my post thanking Mr. Gilson for his thumbnail sketch of what Dr. Meyer said about, among other things, the massive challenge of protein evolution that relies on unguided natural processes alone. In his article, Gilson refers to a post by Meyer sharply taking issue on that with Richard Dawkins, who took issue with Dr. Meyer on the same question (“Dawkins’s Dilemma: Misrepresent the Mechanism…or Face the Math”).

Now guess. Besides characterizing ID in the usual cartoon terms (“magic man done it”), do you think Myers chose to grapple with Tom Gilson…or with Stephen Meyer himself? Of course! He’s goes after Mr. Gilson’s formulation. Myers totally bypasses Steve Meyer’s highly germane response to Dawkins. He also ignores Paul Nelson’s response to Dawkins, and a further response from geneticist Wolf-Ekkehard Lönnig.

Why would this be? Instead of arguing with these figures in the world of ID science and scholarship, he argues with Tom Gilson’s paragraph.

I didn’t talk about Gilson, or Meyer, or Nelson, or Lönnig, or anyone — I went straight to the argument, the short summary that Klinghoffer himself announced as exactly accurate! It was brief and pithy and had three clear, manageable points, and of course, was exactly accurate!, so it was a useful angle to address ID creationism’s claims in a way that they wouldn’t be later able to backtrack and claim I was inventing a straw man — which is what Klinghoffer said us evolutionists were always doing in his post. Wouldn’t you know it, he’d find a way run away from a statement that Nails It! and was exactly accurate! by disavowing the author. Gilson is not part of the world of ID science and scholarship, despite being able to define its core principles in a way that earns accolades from the Discovery Institute’s propaganda organ, and despite publishing books critical of atheism and atheists. When someone criticizes his formulation, though, suddenly he’s not good enough, and they’re just going after the easy, little guy because they’re afraid to go after the Big Guys of ID.

This, of course, is nonsense. I went after the definition, which Klinghoffer had already accepted. I don’t see Meyer as any better scholar than Gilson; I’ve read Meyer’s books, which are damnably awful, but I haven’t read any of Gilson’s, so he wins by default. And the thing is, I’ve gone after Meyer several times. I read Meyer’s Signature in the Cell. short version of my opinion:

It’s a bloated paperweight, full of self-indulgent preening by Meyer, and without a single novel idea in it — it’s simply the most unmemorable, uninteresting pile of schlock the DI has turned out yet.

I also read Meyer’s Darwin’s Doubt. Short review:

Meyer is going to drool out a few hundred pages of drivel that will only convince the gullible, the ignorant, and the already dedicated creationists. There is not one bit of substance in the book so far; just rehashed Intelligent Design creationist talking points. This “specified information” of which he speaks is undefined and unmeasurable — it’s the phrase they flap at anyone who challenges their claim of have concrete evidence against evolution.

So everything in his reply was false, and he failed to address one single point in my criticism of ID. I think I know who’s running away from substance here.

But then, this is what Klinghoffer always does. The people who critize ID are chastised, not for their arguments, but because they aren’t paying the proper respect to the Bigwigs of ID. All those other creationists are easy punching bags we pick on because we’re scared of pompous wanker Stephen Meyer. And when we do address his phony heroes directly, sudden silence.

But then, that’s Klinghoffer’s schtick.


  1. cartomancer says

    You would think that if they’re out there doing all this highfalutin, respectable and totally real and legitimate science then they wouldn’t waste their precious time responding to snarky blogs taking them down a peg or two. They’d be too busy arguing with their critics in respectable journals and publishing papers and the like. The fact that this kind of yah boo internet hissing is the closest they ever get to that speaks volumes…

  2. penalfire says

    I hope PZ writes his response to Steve Hsu. I’ve been checking Pharyngula regularly today hoping to see it.

  3. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Klinghoffer, please cite at least 10 papers from the peer reviewed scientific journals (no publication that presupposes an imaginary deity/designer falls into this category) to show you are doing real science. Otherwise, your lack of honesty and integrity speaks volumes about your inability to demonstrate any scientific reasoning, only religious fuckwittery.

  4. emergence says

    That part about calling “goddidit” a strawman seems to have completely flown over Klinghoffer’s head. Whether he calls the intelligence that he believes created life “God”, or “a transcendental intelligence”, or a magic fairy, it still doesn’t make a difference. The three are functionally identical, in that they rely on a being using a poorly defined supernatural power to disregard physics and just poof living things out of thin air. Whether that’s divine power or fairy magic doesn’t change how the process works.

    That’s the central flaw in any supernatural explanation in science; science is all about describing the processes and mechanisms behind phenomena. Creationists never bother to explain the actual process that their mysterious designer used to poof life into existence, and they don’t even want to. They want creationism to be treated like science even though it lacks one of the most important aspects of science.

    I’ve seen science fiction and fantasy stories that put more thought into their violations of physics than professional creationists do. At least in Magic: the Gathering they explain what mana is, what the different colors of mana do, and where it comes from. When a fantasy card game has better thought out supernatural elements than what you believe exists in real life, you should probably ask yourself why anyone should take you seriously.

  5. wzrd1 says

    Now, now. Creationism, even under the new varnish of ID is held up by science – for what it is, pseudoscience that supports a single religion’s view of “creation”, which ignores all well established, peer reviewed evidence of evolution.

    Shit, if we’re the epitome of some intelligence behind our design, that designer is a low grade moron, both on the sheer volume of things that can and do go wrong early in life and for significant design shortcomings.
    Seriously, who in their right mind puts a reproductive system right next to the sewage disposal plant, which encourages rapid infection of the reproductive system?
    Thank goodness a scientist discovered that funny little mold to keep us from extinction and the subsequent searches for other antibiotics and antifungal medications!

  6. says

    Creationism, even under the new varnish of ID is held up by science – for what it is, pseudoscience that supports a single religion’s view of “creation”, which ignores all well established, peer reviewed evidence of evolution.

    Creationism also violates a lot of conservation laws. How does “the hand of god” work in its mysterious ways? If god is still fiddling about with reality, we’d expect it to be caught in the act, eventually, and that would be really interesting.

    Creationists focus on complaining about strawman versions of evolution but they’re also saying that the laws of physics changed rather dramatically, or are subject to arbitrary change. If you think about it for a second, a talking burning bush is really problematic – how was the air moved in impulses to create sound? Who knew bushes could go all exothermic without losing mass? (“Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up”) This is a potentially amazing energy source, unless the burning bush was also emitting CO2…

  7. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

    re 6:
    [slight derail] the “Burning Bush” was clearly illusory. It looked like a burning bush but was not actually fire, just bight light emitting in wavey bands. or some such holographic illusion.
    that way it could do its thing without the negative effect of CO2 emission.
    [continue on]

  8. Siobhan says

    PZ? Snide?!

    Are you going to stand for such scandalous accusations?!?! That’s blasphemy–or, or–libel, or something!!

  9. unclefrogy says

    I always thought that all the bad things about our bodies was the result of Adam and Eve being driven from the garden because of their sin which is original sin which brought all the corruption of life .the pain of child birth, the need to work and sweat to stay alive and diseases that afflicts us

    I also suspect that the burning bush that was talking to Moses was the result of smoking too much hemp (ganjah)
    uncle frogy’

  10. says

    Ah! ‘Adam and Eve’, the earliest known example of police entrapment (I mean, until they had munched on the fruit how could they know that it was wrong? :-) )

  11. says

    Well Richard, I’m afraid the idiocy of the myth is a little more complicated. God did tell them not to eat the fruit, but it seems he was off doing other business when they disobeyed, so he didn’t notice until later. Also, he failed to predict it. Evidently his omnipotence and omniscience came later. As for why he put the tree there in the first place . . .

  12. david says

    Stephen Meyer was one of the DI guys who backed out of testifying at the Dover trial. He’s willing to write books on the subject but not willing to submit to cross-examination about it. Some expert.

  13. mnb0 says

    “So everything in his reply was false.”
    Well, that’s why The Sensuous Curmudgeon calls Klinkleclapper their journalistic slasher and poo flinger.

  14. Kevin Anthoney says

    Klinghoffer squeaks a reply. Best bit (hide your irony meters):

    Gilson deserves praise for doing what ID’s foes typically refuse to do: at least define the basic idea.

  15. anym says

    Seriously, who in their right mind puts a reproductive system right next to the sewage disposal plant, which encourages rapid infection of the reproductive system?

    I’ve read some good answers to this question, but can’t seem to find any of them right now. It generally boils down to “where else would it go?”

    Personally, I’m more irritated about the way that the food tube and the breathing tube are linked up.

  16. Kevin Anthoney says

    On the plus side, though, there does seem to be some dim awareness developing over at Creationist Central that the naive probability argument has its problems, although I’m not buying their implication that they knew that all along. These days, they’re at least recognizing that there might be a range of variations of proteins that are capable of doing the same job.

    Unfortunately, they’re using modern protein families, which have been honed by billions of years of natural selection, as a guide to how sophisticated a protein has to be before selection can start. This is a bit like looking at an F35 as a guide to what would be in the Wright brothers’ plane.

    Still, it’s progress, of a sort.

  17. Scientismist says

    I alluded to this in a comment yesterday, but maybe a bit of clarification would help. Here is what I would ask of any proponent of “intelligent design”:

    A “supernatural” intelligence, a “transcendent” intelligence, a “magical” intelligence — what difference does it make? You creationists, or ID-ists (again, what difference does it make?) keep using that word, and it’s not that I don’t believe it means what you think it means, it’s that it can’t mean what you apparently want it to mean.

    You want your use of the word “intelligence” to mean that some aspects of biology are best explained by an intelligence being applied to order physical matter in a way that it could never manage by itself, as when humans order the form of clay to make containers that can hold water or wine; or when a chimpanzee strips the leaves from a twig and uses it to collect and eat ants; or when a raven uses pebbles to raise the level of a liquid in a container to an accessible level. Except that you add an extra adjective that makes that analogy impossible.

    Intelligence, as we encounter it in human experience is, without exception, a property of living things with a nervous system. We appear to disagree about whether that nervous system has evolved through millions of years of trial and selection and chance and necessity, or was somehow supernaturally or transcendentally or magically popped into existence by your posited pre-existing intelligence. But, evolved or created (or ID’d), in either case we ought to be able to agree that the intelligence we see in the animal world is a function of something that develops from a zygote to adult through interactions between its inherited biochemistry and its biological and physical environment, and is continuously molded as it learns by interacting with its physical and social environment.

    But what serves the role of evolution, development, and learning for this analogous (supernatural | transcendent | magical) intelligence? You say it didn’t evolve, it doesn’t develop, and it doesn’t need to learn; indeed, you say it essentially has no history, no environment, and no need or ability to change and learn. Yet it you say it is analogous to the intelligence with which we are familiar — But how can it be analogous when it shares none of the properties of the original? Or are you also saying that the intelligence in humans and in other parts of the biological world is also supernatural, transcendent, or magical and forever beyond human understanding?

    This is supposed to be a conversation about using our intelligence to learn about the development of the biological world; but before we can even begin, we need to clarify whether you have even left any room for development and learning in your choice of language and in your concept of intelligence.

  18. JoeBuddha says

    To quote the venerable Ogden Nash: I’d rather have my facts all wrong / Than have no facts whatever. ’nuff said.

  19. Ichthyic says

    Gilson is not part of the “world of ID science and scholarship”,

    …the wheels on the bus go round and round…

  20. David Eriksen says

    Or are you also saying that the intelligence in humans and in other parts of the biological world is also supernatural, transcendent, or magical and forever beyond human understanding?

    Of course they’re saying that, at least for human intelligence. These people are dualists and believe in things like souls. That magic part of us is what makes us so much better than the animals, or something like that.