Follow-up on ID at conferences


The other day, I posted about the Discovery Institute’s end of year wrap-up. One of the things that bugged me about it was that while Brian Miller said, In 2022, I participated in several conferences and private events in which I interacted with prominent scientists, he failed to mention any of these conferences or the names of these prominent scientists. That’s a striking omission! Waving vaguely in the direction of unspecified conferences and scientists is the opposite of persuasive. So I browsed through the archives of the Disco Institute to see if he mentioned any of them at the time they occurred.

This is not definitive at all — these are just the conferences he mentioned on Evolution News & Views. Maybe he was jet-setting around the world attending an international conference every week, but then it’s peculiar, given the braggadacio of his year end post, that he never brought them up before. Here is just the 2022 conferences he mentioned. There weren’t many of them.

  • In November, he attended a Catholic conference on creation.

    I’m back now from a conference this past week at Notre Dame, titled “‘And It Was Very Good’: On Creation,” hosted by the de Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture. The Center described the conference as follows:
    In the created world, Pope Francis writes, we are able to perceive “a grammar written by the hand of God” (Lumen Fidei). If creation is a language, what can we discern regarding the creator? The de Nicola Center’s 22nd annual Fall Conference will explore the many facets of the created world and the act of creation, including questions of cosmology, teleology, natural ends, natural law, the Imago Dei, creaturely status, ecology, stewardship, cocreation, recreation, redemption, and more.
    The organizers accepted my abstract for a talk titled “The Return of Teleology to the Natural Sciences.” I presented the talk as part of a panel with two other scholars, and it seemed well received.

  • In September, he mentioned a conference, but it’s not clear that he attended.

    As an engineering professor at Bristol University and Cambridge, Stuart Burgess has researched biomechanics for nearly thirty years. He is one of the leading engineers in the UK. Earlier this year, he presented a talk at the Westminster Conference on Science and Faith titled, “Why Human Skeletal Joints Are Masterpieces of Human Engineering: And a Rebuttal to the ‘Bad Design’ Arguments.”

  • In May, he was at a conference on science and faith.

    At the recent Dallas Conference on Science and Faith, Discovery Institute physicist Brian Miller gave a great talk on the convergence of biology and engineering. It’s up now on YouTube and eminently worthy of being shared. Miller’s theme is that “you see the same engineering principles in human engineering as you see in life.”

    (Yes, he wrote the article, and is referring to himself and the great talk in the third person. Weird.)

  • I don’t know that this one should count, but in March he was promoting a Disco Institute summer seminar. He doesn’t say, but I assume he participated in this yearly event in 2021? Maybe?

    In 2016, I attended the Center for Science & Culture’s annual Summer Seminars on Intelligent Design, and that fateful week pulled me into the epicenter of the design debate. For years, I had studied and lectured on the evidence for design in nature.

I’m being generous in noting the conferences he talked about, but note: none of these are professional conferences, and they all have a religious agenda. It’s not that religious people can’t be excellent scientists, but these are not events that would attract a diverse group of scientists — all the attendees would have had a certain bent towards favoring creationist explanations to varying degrees. It makes his implication that he was reasonably representing the views of many prominent people in the sciences a bit suspect. Talk to creationists, you tend to find they like creationism…news at 11.

He may have also attended real, secular, professional conferences as well that he didn’t tout, but I have reservations about that, too. He has a Ph.D. in physics. Not to demean physicists, but few of them have the kind of knowledge of biology to be able to appropriately assess the evidence for evolution, and I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that some brilliant minds in physics are part of the crackpot fringe in biology.

I suspect that a creationist who wanted to present his theorizing on gods and design at a physics conference would get the same response Paul Nelson got at a biology conference — uninterested neglect. Lonely indifference.He sure wouldn’t have cause to brag about his reception.

Comments

  1. heffe7 says

    Re: the talk titled “Why Human Skeletal Joints Are Masterpieces of Human Engineering…”
    As a adult that has dealt with osteo-arthritis issues in the majority of my joints (since childhood) I can guarantee to that author that they are NOT masterpieces of engineering.
    SMH

  2. nomdeplume says

    “all the attendees would have had a certain bent towards favoring creationist explanations to varying degrees”. Stop being so nice PZ. These “conferences” were religious/creationist rubbish. You are falling for the “good people on both sides” mistake. “It’s not that religious people can’t be excellent scientists” – well, yes, it is. You can’t accept what we know about the world based on cosmology, geology, psychology, physics, anthropology, biology, medicine, chemistry, archaeology, and believe in any kind of supernatural being with a role in human affairs.

  3. raven says

    In the created world, Pope Francis writes, we are able to perceive “a grammar written by the hand of God” (Lumen Fidei).

    If creation is a language, what can we discern regarding the creator?

    Quite a lot actually.

    .1. The gods are rather fond of pathogens and parasites and make many of them.

    .2. The gods don’t much like us humans.
    We are attacked constantly by a large number of pathogens and parasites, with a huge amount of variety.
    Everything from viruses, prokaryotes, and various eukaryotes including fungi, protozoans, and worms from at least three phylums.

    .3. The gods created Evolution, which is true, and we can watch it work in real time.
    Using evolution, the gods sent us a new virus to wreck our lives and societies.

    The last few years saw the newly evolved virus, Covid-19 virus sweep through the human population killing millions. It has had a complicated evolutionary history as more fitter variants fequently arise and take over. Covid-19 virus’s latest evolutionary trick has been to become resistant to some of our anti-Covid-19 drugs and partially antigenically escape from our vaccines.

  4. Akira MacKenzie says

    Catholic Creationists. Catholic monarchists. Catholic fascists. It’s so nice to see the Church of Rome return to their traditions and values that made it “great,” rather than the blasphemous and godless science and modernity.

  5. Rob Grigjanis says

    nomdeplume @3:

    “It’s not that religious people can’t be excellent scientists” – well, yes, it is.

    We could use a few more non-excellent scientists like Maxwell and Lemaître!

  6. says

    I participated in several conferences and private events in which I interacted with prominent scientists

    Being laughed at is an interaction…

  7. robro says

    Stuart Burgess has researched biomechanics for nearly thirty years. He is one of the leading engineers in the UK. Earlier this year, he presented a talk at the Westminster Conference on Science and Faith titled, “Why Human Skeletal Joints Are Masterpieces of Human Engineering: And a Rebuttal to the ‘Bad Design’ Arguments.”

    As suggested by heffe7 @ #2, if joint problems weren’t so common and painful, this would be really hilarious. I’ve often said that if there was a designer, the weakness and pain in my back, neck, hips, knees are evidence that said designer was not intelligent. Perhaps cruel.

  8. Pierce R. Butler says

    Rob Grigjanis @ # 6: … non-excellent scientists like Maxwell and Lemaître!

    Not to mention ol’ Bill Ockham and Ike Newton…

  9. billseymour says

    Waving vaguely in the direction of unspecified conferences and scientists is the opposite of persuasive.

    Yes, failure to give references or citations, in general, is pretty much “the opposite of persuasive.”

    A while back, I had occassion to attend a few pseudo-scientific pop psychology classes put on by the American Management Association.  Often, an instructor would say “studies have shown …” but be unable to cite any such study.  That always seemed to me to be a pretty good indication that there were no studies that had shown …

    (I don’t think the instructors were lying.  I suspect that they had once heard somebody else say “studies have shown …”, and they believed, immediately and uncritically, anything the speaker said after that.)

  10. says

    Often, an instructor would say “studies have shown …”

    Just another version of the “many experts believe” crap you’ll hear on UFO shows.
    What they really mean is “some dingbats have convinced themselves.”

  11. Pierce R. Butler says

    robro @ # 8: … said designer was not intelligent. Perhaps cruel.

    Does Hanlon’s Razor apply to deities?

    Either way, each of our experiences of human bodily malfing do seem to support the Gnostics’ version of the Yahveh Hypothesis (though leaving the unintelligent/cruel question unresolved).

  12. Matt G says

    As a person with a history (and family history) of back pain and joint replacement, this intelligent designer can shove a cactus up his/her/their upright derrière.

  13. birgerjohansson says

    It would have been really fun if the scientists he quoted turned out to be kooks we meet in God Awful Movies.
    My favv researcher is the flat-Earth believer who drinks, and washes with his own urine.

  14. chrislawson says

    It’s almost as if the person claiming that animal joints are perfect design has not actually compared them to engineered joints. The only way animal joints are “good design” is within the context of past design branching…that is, within the constraints of evolution.

    No question, animal joints are marvels. But they are so far from ideal design that it is an embarassment for a professor of engineering to use them to rebut evolution. For one obvious thing, why is it that cartilage, the crucial smooth surface/shock absorbing material of joints, has no capacity for self-repair? Most other tissues can recover from major trauma, including bones that have been shattered into fragments. But a simple tear in a meniscus will never, ever heal. Same for major ligaments like the cruciates. How is this “good design”???

    I would also ask the engineering professor, if animal joints are such good examples of engineering, how come they look nothing like engineered joints? Why is it that engineers making machines, or even ancient carpenters making door hinges, use completely different designs to animal joints even when the same mechanical principle is at work. Why is it that for hundreds of thousands of years, humans have used animal parts when we couldn’t engineer a better alternative — like furs in cold climates — and yet humans have never repurposed animal joints for their properties as joints. Nobody was hanging doors on elk knees.

  15. jrkrideau says

    Not that I am all that cynical but do we even have a reference for “Pope Francis writes….?

    I’ve reviewed a papers where the authors have managed to mange or misrepresent a reference that it was clear that they at best read the abstract or mangled a reference to the original paper.

    And them there was a friend of mine who claimed he always started off an essay with an epigraph. No one noticed that he had invented them all.

  16. chrislawson says

    nomdeplume: please don’t rehash this old argument. Yes, supernatural belief is inconsistent with a scientific outlook, but that does not make it impossible to be religious and a good scientist.

    Others have given well-known counter-examples to your statement, but to me the obvious candidate is Theodore Dobzhansky, lifelong devout Eastern Orthodox Christian and also a giant of evolutionary theory and genetics, as well as author of the famous creationism-eviscerating 1973 essay “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.”

    If you are seriously claiming that Dobzhansky’s religious belief means he was “not a good scientist”, then I would think that position was derived more from purity testing than any useful assessment of a person’s scientific work.

    (Btw, Dobzhansky died from complications of lymphocytic leukaemia, a disease that is itself an evolutionary event.)

  17. StevoR says

    @4. raven : Also J.B.S. Haldane’s apocryphal remark that God has ““An inordinate fondness for beetles.”

    See : https://quoteinvestigator.com/2010/06/23/beetles/

    @ 3. nomdeplume :

    Stop being so nice PZ. These “conferences” were religious/creationist rubbish. You are falling for the “good people on both sides” mistake.

    PZ understated it but kinda wrote just that in the OP :

    I’m being generous in noting the conferences he talked about, but note: none of these are professional conferences, and they all have a religious agenda.

    I wonder if any of those conferences , er, created any decent papers or led to any new actual science of any value being done?

    Not sure PZ said anything particularly about the good ness of these people either though yes he was being generous in his own words and could’ve been harsher obvs..Its also not necessarily wrong to say atleats some of thepeople are “good” whichis a subjective value and doesn’t rule out tthem also being wrong and even harmful.

  18. StevoR says

    @@ 3. nomdeplume : : In the absence of full guest and speaker lists for all the conferences noted, can we really conclude there weren’t at least some “good” – however we judge that presumably ethics /competence ~wise – people present there?

    Would the conference be improved and could we say it now had good people were it hadn’t before if some atheists of the sort attending,say, this anti–theist conference :

    https://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2019/12/03/anti-theism-conference-imploding/

    were there?

    Also saying people are “good” is mild praise at best. It’s not like he’s saying “very fine people on both sides” or “excellent highly skilled researcher and ethically admirable speakers such as…”

  19. birgerjohansson says

    One of the prominent scientists was Nobel laurelate and Olympic champion George Santos.

  20. says

    promoting a Disco Institute summer seminar

    Maybe they should pivot to being a Disco Institute. That would be… groovy.

    Less whining about dinosaurs and eyes. More Donna Summer.

  21. Erp says

    The Westminster Conference on Science and Faith is “co-sponsored by Westminster Theological Seminary and Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture”. The former is a conservative seminary in Pennsylvania.
    Dallas Conference on Science and Faith is sponsored by the Discovery Institute also.
    The only one independent of the DI was the de Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture and I note he hedged his description of his reception with ‘seem’: “I presented the talk as part of a panel with two other scholars, and it seemed well received.” I tracked down this talk which was in a parallel session
    https://ethicscenter.nd.edu/assets/492565/2022_fall_conference_thursday_colloquia_session_2.pdf
    and entitled “To What End? Meaning in Creation” The talks were:

    “Is Beauty a Purpose of Nature: Darwin, Soloviev, and Portmann”
    Susan Waldstein (Franciscan University of Steubenville)
    [her university is quite conservative, she is an adjunct professor of theology there {her husband is a regular professor there} and has also taught at Ave Maria University; she falls into the intelligent design camp as far as I can see https://academics.avemaria.edu/post/113521284593/reconciling-intelligent-design-and-thomism I would guess Soloviev is Valdimir Solovyov 1853-1900 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vladimir_Solovyov_(philosopher) Not sure on Portmann but possibly Adolf Portmann (1897-1982) a Swiss zoologist]

    “The Return of Teleology to the Natural Sciences”
    Brian Miller (The Discovery Institute)

    “A Guided Tour through the Amphitheater of Creation”
    Rev. Terrence P. Ehrman, CSC (University of Notre Dame)
    [Assistant Teaching Professor whose primary area is systematic theology; he does have a M.S. in aquatic ecology from Virginia Tech. From what I can see he falls in the two magistra camp https://www.catholic.com/magazine/print-edition/the-dragonfly-and-the-redeemer%5D

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