Eight Geeks

Monday, January 23, 2006

Orson Scott Card Disappoints With Intelligent Design Article

Orson Scott Card, relatively well-known science fiction / fantasy writer, has written an article lambasting us "Darwinists" for using bad arguments against the poor, defenseless IDiots. The bulk of it is surprising incomprehensible, especially considering his relatively crisp work as an SF author. But it becomes clear very early on that he hasn't done his research. I'd like to deal with his two most egregious mistakes, and then take a quick review of the entire piece of dreck he calls an article.

He starts out quoting Michael Behe (hehehehehe), and that's just a bad way to start any argument for anything, anytime, anywhere. Remember, this fool actually said on the stand, on record, that his definition of science would have to be so broad as to incorporate astrology. And his biology arguments are weak, to boot. Card brings up that tired old chestnut, irreducible complexity, an argument Behe himself has apparently stepped away from officially, even though he and his IDiot cronies continue to drag it out from time to time. Here's a little excerpt of Card defending Behe:

It would be impossible to believe that the entire series of steps in the complex system could randomly appear all at once. But any one step along the way, since it does nothing by itself, could not give the organism that had it any competitive advantage. So why would each of those traits persist and prevail long enough for the complex system to fall into place?

Behe's conclusion is that since complex biochemical systems in advanced organisms could not have evolved through strict Darwinian evolution, the only possible explanation is that the system was designed and put into place deliberately.

This argument has been shown time and again to be false, and not by the specious list of talking points Card quotes a bit later in his argument. For a simple, layman's refutation of the irreducible complexity argument, check out this old post by PZ Myers, of Pharyngula fame. He explains how so-called irreducible complexity might arise without Jeebus or the Flying Spaghetti Monster diddling with biology. And it's quite simple, really. Irreducible complexity is essentially this:

A man puts a ladder against his house. He then climbs up there and puts his satellite dish in place. The wind comes along and blows down his ladder, taking his satellite dish with it. He then decides to repair the hole in his roof, since he can't get down anyway. Meanwhile, a neighbor comes along and proclaims that the house must have been built with a man on the roof to repair holes, since there's no way he could have gotten up there to do it otherwise, and there's no other reason for him to be there.
That simple little analogy has apparently escaped the well-educated Card. And he apparently is getting ALL his data from Behe's crap-ass book, Darwin's Black Box, since he has never run across any of the numerous scientific refutations of IR. And this is what he harps on the most, the fact that scientists aren't standing up and taking the questions the Discovery Institute and their ilk bring up seriously. The problem is that these questions aren't capable of being taken seriously, since, among other things, THEY AREN'T TESTABLE!

Argh! When are these ignorant goobs going to stop poking their noses in where they don't belong? First it was Scott Adams weighing in, and what a fatuous gasbag he turned out to be. Now its Card. And he is even disingenous enough to try to claim that William Dembski and crew don't mean their Christian God when they talk about their unnamed Designer.

His very first section is even wrong:

A few years ago it was "Creation Science" they were trying to teach in the schools.

Creation Science was an attempt by fundamentalist Christians to give the Genesis account, as interpreted by them, a scientific veneer.

But it was only that -- a thin surface -- and any student who actually believed that Creation Science had anything to do with science would have been educationally crippled.

Now the controversy is between advocates of the theory of Intelligent Design vs. strict Darwinists. And some people want you to think it's the same argument.

It isn't.

Excuse me, Mr. Card, but it is. Have you even heard of the Kitzmiller trial in Dover, PA? I mean, it was established early on that the textbook in question had a hasty rewrite that was essentially cutting the words "Creation Science" out and replacing them with the words "Intelligent Design". How is that not the same thing? I defy you to explain that, you goob.

Here is the complete list of his IDiot talking points:

1. Intelligent Design is just Creation Science in a new suit (name-calling).
2. Don't listen to these guys, they're not real scientists (credentialism).
3. If you actually understood science as we do, you'd realize that these guys are wrong and we're right; but you don't, so you have to trust us (expertism).
4. They got some details of those complex systems wrong, so they must be wrong about everything (sniping).
5. The first amendment requires the separation of church and state (politics).
6. We can't possibly find a fossil record of every step along the way in evolution, but evolution has already been so well-demonstrated it is absurd to challenge it in the details (prestidigitation).
7. Even if there are problems with the Darwinian model, there's no justification for postulating an "intelligent designer" (true).

Number 1. we've already dealt with. It is not name-calling. It's a legitimate argument.
Number 2. is not credentialism, since these people are trying to pass themselves off as scientists to people who might not know better, like sf authors, apparently.
Number 3. we've also already dealt with. PZ and others deal with their bogus arguments on a daily basis.
Number 4. speaks to the credibility of the person making the argument. If you are saying the system is too complex, but you show an obvious lack of understanding of the system, then you can't be making a legitimate argument.
Number 5. is accurate, and since Behe, Dembski and various others have all admitted publicly that they believe their oh-so-carefully unnamed designer is the Christian God, and since their crap-ass textbook is just a rehash of an unreleased Creation Science textbook, this is a valid argument.
Number 6. is a bit incomprehensible to me. I don't know where he's getting this one. While it's true that evolution as a whole has been proven to be quite robust, I can't think of a reputable biologist that doesn't have a stance on several different arguments that are currently ongoing within the evolutionary study field. The details of evolutionary theory will never be completely hashed out. No scientist actually says this. What they do say is that the arguments brought forth by IDiots are "God of the gaps" arguments, and thus unworthy of attention.
Number 7. is his sop to "neutrality" and it doesn't wash.

All in all, the article just rehashes these points again and again, but one section just jumps out at me as especially stupid. It deals with Number 5. above, at least in theory:

The church and state argument is deliberately misleading. First, the Designists are not, in fact, advocating "God." They are very careful not to specify who or what the Intelligent Designer might be. So they are not advocating for any particular religion, or any religion at all. For all anyone knows, the supposed Intelligent Designers might be an alien species of mortal, ungodlike beings.

To the Darwinists, of course, this is hypocrisy and deception -- of course the Designists are religious. They must be. Because only religious people would ever question the Darwinist model.

It comes to this: If you question the Darwinist model, you must be religious; therefore your side of the argument is not admissible in the public arena, and certainly not in the public schools.

This is an attempt to shut down discussion by hiding behind the Constitution. It's what you do when you're pretty sure you can't win on the merits.

First off, lay off the stupid pills. Yes, they are advocating their God. That's been pretty well established. They bend over backwards to claim to not know who their designer is, and then spread the information far and wide that they believe it to be Jehovah. And the alien argument is just silly. None of the real movers and shakers in the IDiot community believe this.

And not just religious people challenge evolution. There has been plenty of non-religious challenge to the Theory, and it has weathered it all, because it's robust. Not because it's fragile and we're overprotective mother-hens. This is just insulting.

Card then wanders on for a while with some drawn-out comparison of evolution to Christopher Columbus. I'm not sure what he was saying there, since there are not very many strict Darwinist biologists any more. Most are neo-Darwinists, at least, if not other, more advanced but unnamed factions. Evo-devo is a huge field and it has plenty of proponents of different views, and none of them feel the desire to attach snappy titles to their ideas, since they feel they'll stand or fall on their merits, not their names.

He finishes off with a preachy little sop to his so-called neutrality that falls flat, mostly because it ends with a profession of his own personal religious faith. I'll not even dignify it with more words.
All in all, a major disappointment from an otherwise good author. I doubt I'll be dishing anymore cash into his pockets, at least any time soon. This guy should really do his homework better.

(cross-posted to Revolvo Inritus)


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