Monthly Archives: January 2010

“Signature in the Cell” Tampa: Part 1

I attended the “Signature in the Cell” “intelligent design” creationism (IDC) event last night in Tampa, Florida. This featured Stephen C. Meyer, author of the book of the same name, Michael Medved, David Berlinski, and Tom Woodward, the event organizer and historian to the IDC movement.

I have only a short amount of time for blogging on weekdays, so this will have to be brief. I need to address the use of “IDC”, since Medved in his opening remarks called terming ID as creationism a “big lie”. More on this later, but Medved basically told the crowd that ID was not that fuddy-duddy, hick fan base 6-day creation stuff, and no one on that panel would say so. Then Tom Woodward got up, extolled the ID “big tent”, and explained that YEC people like Paul Nelson and himself were still doing fine inside the ID movement. Beyond the simple fact that Medved doesn’t know the IDC demographic, there is the fact that the sense I use “IDC” in is demonstrable. “Intelligent design” creationism deserves the label because its tactics and arguments are a proper subset of those used in promoting “creation science” or “scientific creationism” (SciCre). There is nothing to “intelligent design” other than a label change and some gilding of the arguments previously used in religious antievolution; the content of IDC demonstrates this point quite well.

OK, that will probably have to do. I’ll note that the venue was about 4/5ths full. I’ve emailed Woodward to ask for the total attendance. Medved said that it seemed to him that the event was like a political rally. No, Michael, that was a political rally. IDC is a socio-political movement, nothing more.

Students and the Apple iPad

Apple announced its iPad tablet computer today. The device seems to be mostly a large-screen iPod Touch. The intriguing aspects of the iPad, at least to me, were that Apple says that for the 3G versions ($130 extra over the WiFi-only versions) these devices will be unlocked, and that Apple has arrangements with textbook publishers for EPUB content. It seems that Apple was able to wring some few concessions from AT&T concerning the unlocking and the two tiers of data plans. While the data plan costs are not cheap, they manage not to be exorbitant.

I saw that some other commentators were perplexed about the time taken in the announcement to show Apple’s iWork applications as they are ported to the iPad. I think, though, that a major market for the iPad might just turn out to be among high school and college students. Consider the points made and that market:

– Light enough to carry around in the backpack (If a student can skip carrying even one textbook and carry an iPad instead, they will be lightening their load.)

– 10 hour battery life, good enough for the school day

– Low cost applications that will be good enough for note-taking and in-class analysis

– Capable of holding and displaying full textbook content in color plus supplemental multimedia

– Cost low enough that it is compatible with current budgets for textbooks

– WiFi for on-campus connectivity and research

The fact that it also does a bunch of multimedia service plus gaming will be seen as a plus, at least by the students if not their parents.

Concern Trolling at the Mansfield News-Journal

A perfectly reasonable letter to the editor from Walter Kania elicited a response from Andrew Ricks with all the hallmarks of the concern troll.

I was moved to enter a comment there that I’ll share here. There was a 1000 character limit on online comments.

I read the previous letter by Walter Kania. The response from Ricks is overwrought and misguided.

There is open discourse in science, conducted in the scientific literature. The “intelligent design” creationists (IDC) mostly skip that, and have established a track record for premature promotion of their claims as something worthy of inclusion in the public K-12 science curriculum. The IDC advocates have not done the hard work of convincing the scientific community that they have something that works as science.

Efforts to undermine the effectiveness and rigor of science instruction anywhere are fully worthy of disparagement, denigration, and contumely. The religious antievolution movement, IDC included, has been engaged in precisely that for decades. It is precisely because we seek to curtail inappropriate indoctrination that IDC is opposed. If they want respectful discourse, they need to stop being charlatans pushing a sham.

Wesley R. Elsberry, Ph.D.

Leftovers: PE and Darwin

From about 1992 to around 2002, I was a frequent commenter on the Usenet newsgroup, contributing several thousand posts there. I’m going to do some recycling of content from time to time, and pull posts from the archives to bring into this blog. Here are a couple of posts from 1998 related to “puncuated equilibria”.

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The Addle-Patedness of David Klinghoffer

Does Beliefnet publish just anything? Exhibit A for the affirmative would be the post by David Klinghoffer titled The Cowardice of Richard Dawkins. Klinghoffer, a prominent cheerleader for the “intelligent design” creationism (IDC) movement, is incensed that Dawkins would spend time in one of his books responding to Wendy Wright of Concerned Women of America, and snub the Discovery Institute’s stable of Fellows.

First, Richard Dawkins has elsewhere had interactions with some of the people Klinghoffer offers as serious advocates. Dawkins has not always avoided those people, so the “cowardice” charge that Klinghoffer makes actually is evidence for an “ignorance” charge to be laid at Klinghoffer’s feet. (I’m intrigued by the fact that Klinghoffer’s list of serious people includes Wells and Berlinski but excludes Michael Behe, whose publication record is far better than both of those two combined. Is Behe on the outs with the IDC community?) As for earning it, need I do more than point to William Dembski’s “Judge Jones School of Law” flash animation incident? David, you should remember that in 2005 Dembski posted a flash animation of Judge Jones featuring a squeaky pitched-shifted voiceover laden with fart noises? It turned out that the vocal talent in it was none other than Bill Dembski himself. And, to top it off, Richard Dawkins showed no cowardice, but made a direct response:

Anybody who resorts to tactics of desperation like this has to be a real loser. Dembski is a loser, and it now looks as though he KNOWS it. My guess is that he will try to take it down when he realizes how foolish it makes him look. Josh, can we can keep a copy, after he tries to remove it from his own website?

Why doesn’t Klinghoffer know about this? Or does Klinghoffer know about it and is spreading falsehoods about Dawkins’ record of interaction with IDC advocates?

Second, one can see that Wendy Wright is a stand-in for the people that Klinghoffer extols. Wright, like other IDC cheerleaders, has bought into the “magic bullets”[*] that the IDC advocates peddle. The video interview shows Wright repeating point after point that have been made by Jonathan Wells, one of the specific people Klinghoffer recommends as a serious opponent. Wright may not pretend to be coming from a scientific stance, but she offers exactly the same arguments as those who do pretend so. Klinghoffer has no grounds to complain there; her cheerleading has the same sources as his own. And, in fact, the people Klinghoffer offers as serious opponents do no more than gild already-existing antievolution arguments that they got from previous forms of antievolution. You know, the forms that used to be more honest about narrow sectarian religious belief being the motivation for their antievolution stance.

Third, the IDC advocates and their cheerleaders want no more than to be able to say that they are being taken seriously, and that this “legitimates” their position. Denying them unearned recognition is not cowardice; it is a tactical response to their ploy. Back in 1997, I participated in the “Naturalism, Theism, and the Scientific Enterprise” conference. It was not billed in the “call for papers” as an IDC conference, but those of us who were critics of the arguments made by Bill Dembski, Stephen Meyer, and Jonathan Wells were informed by no less than Phillip Johnson that our very attendance helped “legitimate the question”.

Fourth, why is Klinghoffer berating Dawkins instead of spending his time trying to deal with actual scholarly criticism of the arguments made by IDC advocates? The books “Scientists Confront Intelligent Design and Creationism” and “Why Intelligent Design Fails” do take the IDC advocates’ arguments seriously, and show that they are flawed. Is Klinghoffer himself a coward for failing to address those instead?

David Klinghoffer: ignorant and wrong because of it. But that’s the essence of IDC cheerleading.


I tend to think of SciCre argumentation, and even some of the ID argumentation, as a search for a “magic bullet”. By this, I don’t mean it in the sense that Ehrlich did when searching for a cure for syphilis. I mean it in the sense of werewolf movies. There, the magic bullet is simply a silver slug that will destroy the lycanthrope on contact. Those wielding the magic bullet need invest no other effort in dealing with the lycanthrope, are not required to be pure in spirit, and certainly have no need to *understand* lycanthropy in any deep sense. Similarly, the SciCre “professionals” are engaged in the peddling of “magic bullets”, which retain their magic only so long as they aren’t used on real lycanthropes. The magic bullet users, as Scott relates, remain secure in their faith that the evil lycanthropes can be held at bay or vanquished, right up until the time the magic bullet is fired — and is found to have lost its virtue.

Instead of magic bullets like “too little moon dust” or “materialistic philosophy”, more good would come of trying to understand what exactly evolutionary biology is. As it is, creationist belief has tended more and more to resemble evolutionary biology. In little more than a century and a half, we have seen a change from general adherence to the doctrine of special creation to a range of beliefs, at the most different from evolutionary biology, creation of each separate “kind” (which when defined at all, tends to be defined such that the evolutionist term “clade” comes close to fitting the concept), and at the least different, a belief in physical common descent but separate imbuement of spirit.