Fisher and Falsehood

You might think with the title above I’m going to criticize something from noted 20th century evolutionary biologist and statistician Sir Ronald Fisher. You would be wrong. This time, I’m looking at an op-ed piece by Larry Fisher in the Searcy, Arkansas Daily Record. This Fisher is a justice of the peace in Beebe, Arkansas who supports the idea of adding an antievolution disclaimer to biology textbooks.

Now, Fisher’s article has an assortment of appeals to the authority of such luminaries as “[q]ualified scientists at www.answersingenesis.org” and “300 or more scientists with credentials from secular universities and employed as scientists or in teaching positions”. In the former case, those folks are pushing often refuted creationist claims, and in the latter it simply is not the case that all the signatories are either practicing scientists or teachers. The affiliations listed are simply the more impressive of either where the signatory works now or where they got a degree. David DeWitt, for example, is not a practicing scientific researcher in the field of neuroscience despite the listing of his affiliation with Case Western University. That’s where DeWitt got his degree. He now works for Falwell’s Liberty University and is an unabashed young-earth creationist. His last published neuroscience research article was dated 1998 (although he lists one on his CV as being “in progress”). While DeWitt may be teaching at Liberty University, the “Scientific Dissent from Darwinism” list misleads by implying DeWitt is active in neuroscience. Some of those signing the statement also had no problem with the idea of common descent, which is counter to the general antievolution message that Fisher wishes to deliver. I got into disputing the claims made by antievolutionists precisely because the promulgation of falsehood was antithetical to the Christian principles I grew up with. This means that I find myself arguing against shady tactics practiced by my fellow Christians a lot, since the sheer volume of problematic statements in antievolution material is just enormous. (I don’t hold back on problematic statements made by people simply because they are also anti-antievolution as well; there are a number of exchanges on the former Evolution Echo and on the talk.origins newsgroup that show this as well.) The above case of the DI statement goes to the matter of shading what is true to puff it up a bit, to make it look more impressive than it is to someone who has all the relevant information to hand. This isn’t something that people whose motivation is to restore moral behavior should be doing.

But that’s just some of the usual flapdoodle one gets from antievolution advocates. Fisher manages to transcend that state with another falsehood…

It is interesting that when people are exposed to alternative scientific models they may actually see a better way to explain the data. This is what has recently happened with Antony Flew. He has been called the most influential atheist philosopher in the world with his arguments against the existence of God being found in many college textbooks and anthologies.

Mr. Flew read Michael Behe’s “Darwin’s Black Box” and called it an “incredible book.” As a result of Flew’s exposure to Intelligent Design theory and the “irreducible complexity” examples in Behe’s book, he has become a deist. He has concluded that the information content of DNA is unexplainable without postulating an intelligent mind behind it all.

This assertion of Fisher’s isn’t simply a falsehood, it isn’t just mildly off the mark; it is oriented precisely 180 degrees away from the truth. I asked James Lippard about this assertion by Fisher, and he sent Fisher the following email (posted with Lippard’s permission):

Mr. Fisher:

I read your recent column at http://www.thedailycitizen.com/articles/2005/01/27/news/opinion/opinion01.txt,
where you write:

    It is interesting that when people are exposed to alternative scientific models they may actually see a better way to explain the data. This is what has recently happened with Antony Flew. He has been called the most influential atheist philosopher in the world with his arguments against the existence of God being found in many college textbooks and anthologies.

    Mr. Flew read Michael Behe’s “Darwin’s Black Box” and called it an “incredible book.” As a result of Flew’s exposure to Intelligent Design theory and the “irreducible complexity” examples in Behe’s book, he has become a deist. He has concluded that the information content of DNA is uexplainable without postulating an intelligent mind behind it all.

This is incorrect. Flew’s deism was not a result of Behe’s book, but because of Gerald Schroeder’s _The Hidden Face of God_–and Flew has been inconsistent of late about what his views actually are, or whether he finds Schroeder plausible.

Flew was initially impressed with Behe’s book, but concluded that it was incorrect after reading Kenneth Miller’s _Finding Darwin’s God_:

    To illustrate these points about confirmations of antecedent beliefs I recommend a book recommended to me by Richard Dawkins for its total discrediting of Michael J Behe’s Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1996). That book is Kenneth Miller’s Finding Darwin’s God (New York: Harper Collins, 1999). Miller is a cradle Catholic, but that does not prevent him from destroying Behe’s argument point by point, and making scathing comments on Behe’s failure to attend to recent relevant research findings in what is after all Behe’s own field.

This is the concluding paragraph of a review, by Flew, of a book by Kai Nielsen. The full review may be found here:

http://www.rationalist.org.uk/newhumanist/issue02summer/flew.shtml

For more information about Flew’s current rather confused state of mind (he keeps changing his position even about whether or not he has changed his position), see:

http://www.secweb.org/asset.asp?AssetID=369

It’s amazing how sleazy and dishonest Christians have been in taking advantage of Flew’s deteriorating mental condition.

James Lippard

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Wesley R. Elsberry

Falconer. Interdisciplinary researcher: biology and computer science. Photographer. Husband. Christian. Activist.

2 thoughts on “Fisher and Falsehood

  • 2005/05/10 at 7:40 pm
    Permalink

    I read the above information and thought I should write a quick note letting you know your information regarding Dr. DeWitt is incorrect.

    At his university faculty page there is a list of an add’l five scientific publications in the field of neuroscience published since the 1998 paper you refer to.
    http://www.liberty.edu/Academics/Arts-Sciences/Biology-Chemistry/index.cfm?PID=6627

    In addition, the above page states the following, “He recently received a large NIH grant to support his research on the causes of Alzheimer’s disease.” Unless I’m mistaken NIH refers to the prestigious National Institute of Health.

    I find it surprising that you “missed” the above facts especially in light of the fact that I was able to obtain them in a matter of seconds by doing a simple google search. Perhaps this is evidence of your bias causing you to be a bit too hasty in jumping to conclusions without adequate evidence?

    Either way I think you need to offer a retraction and an apology for maligning Dr. DeWitt’s work and character (by insinuating that he is attempting to mislead).

  • 2005/05/10 at 10:35 pm
    Permalink

    Maybe the problem has to do with trusting anything that the Institute for Creation Research has on their web site, even when they are supposed to be bragging about the accomplishments of those on their rolls.

    Thanks for bringing the update on DeWitt’s work here. It will be even more helpful if you bring it to the attention of the folks who have the not-up-to-date information on their web sites.

    None of this, by the way, puts aside the issue of listing the more prestigious affiliation of each person on the DI list rather than sticking to a consistent criterion of either current affiliation or institution of their terminal degree.

    And, by the way, I didn’t say that Dr. DeWitt was misleading in the post above. The person who put together the DI list, sure.

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