More DI Airy Dismissals

By | 2008/07/18

You know that the spinners at the Discovery Institute love to hype their own performances and those of critics who usefully follow their lead in discussions of antievolution. So it isn’t any great surprise that the DI is busting out in gleeful adulation of three out of four speakers at a “debate” this past weekend. DI representatives Stephen C. Meyer and George Gilder are profusely praised, and Skeptic Society President Michael Shermer is given a pat on the head for going along with their premises.

Now, maybe Shermer didn’t say the things the DI credits him with; for sure, every claim they make is suspect from the word, “Hello”, onward. But the DI is nothing if not adept at massaging even the most feeble of concessions to their rhetoric into some sort of implicit recognition of the looming paradigm-shift-ability of “intelligent design” creationism (IDC).

But one thing is certain, and that is that the DI could not find enough to spin from Reason science correspondent Ronald Bailey in order to work him into the skein of their little tapestry. Given that they wanted to boost their guys and give a token lollipop to Shermer for playing into their hands (or so they imply), they couldn’t simply excise Bailey out of all mention. The DI has had over a decade of experience in airy dismissals of that which they can’t be bothered to deny in detail, though, and they apply it to Bailey.

What do intelligent design, evolution, information and purple people eaters all have in common? Well, they all took front stage at Freedomfest in Las Vegas last week when ID proponents Stephen Meyer and George Gilder squared off against Darwinists Michael Shermer and Ronald Bailey in debating whether there is scientific evidence for intelligent design in nature.

[...]

Ronald Bailey opened his presentation by saying he would take intelligent design seriously, and then proceeded to disrespect his audience by mocking it for the rest of his talk, instead going off about purple people eaters. If you want to punish yourself, you can read his remarks here.

That’s it for mention of Bailey. The DI gets credit for linking to Bailey’s page, but it’s pretty obvious that is a grudging concession.

So I went and read Bailey’s remarks and found them to be reasonable, if phrased with a spicing of sarcasm. There’s some good stuff in there, and highly inconvenient to the IDC program of making themselves appear to be reasonably erudite people on the edge of a scientific revolution. And well they should be; Bailey acknowledges that he adapted many of his points from Brown University cell biologist Ken Miller.

Bailey (and Miller) did take IDC seriously; they ask the questions that arise when one puts an old earth chronology and an “intelligent designer” together. Why did the intelligent designer spend 2 billion years working on single-celled organisms? Why did the intelligent designer either permit — or cause — the misfortunes leading to the mass extinction events in life’s history? Why would an intelligent designer always take care that successive created species always resemble some previously existing species? Why would an intelligent designer, having proved that he can endow some species with working vitamin C producing parts, somehow give a group of primates a non-functional version of a gene that makes that happen, and do so such that the same error appears in several of those species? These questions not only expose the IDC program as scientifically and intellectually sterile, but also as theological poison. It is no wonder the DI tried to dismiss Bailey’s response as being beneath anyone’s notice; they certainly have no substantive response for any of those issues.

But I think Shermer and Bailey need to take a lump or two for agreeing to this staged event in the first place. Look at the debate topic as stated by the DI:

[...] debating whether there is scientific evidence for intelligent design in nature.

Come on. If one is going to appear on stage with the DI clown force, the least one can do is insist on a question that will provide a challenge for the DI fellows to substantiate and give some prospect that one can effectively take the negative. The debate “question” above is way too ambiguous, as demonstrated by the flabbiness of Stephen C. Meyer’s contributions (fine-tuning, DNA has information, etc.) leading to half the audience polling for the DI as having taken the debate. The DI press orgasm following doesn’t make mention of whether Shermer bothered to point out that none of that presents evidence for “intelligent design”, but rather requires one to eliminate natural causes and then accept IDC as a kind of woe-begotten consolation prize. I don’t recall seeing that rejoinder in Bailey’s write-up.

One knows that one did well in an outing against the DI fellows when after the event they fail to give any cognizance that the event occurred at all. That gold standard was met, I’ll point out, when Ken Miller, Genie Scott, and I took on Michael Behe, Warren Nord, and William Dembski, respectively, at the CTNS/AAAS “Interpreting Evolution” conference on June 17th, 2001, IDC’s “Black Sunday”. One reason that the DI spinners found it inconvenient was that videos of the encounters were placed online. In 2006, I scored another such inconvenient-and-thus-unmentionable encounter when I debated Ray Bohlin at Southern Methodist University. Sweetly, the DI had to overlook that encounter entirely the following year when it claimed that Southern Methodist University was averse to discussing the controversy.

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