The Skeptical Teacher

Musings of a science teacher & skeptic in an age of woo.

Archive for April, 2011

The Discovery Institute’s Casey Luskin Responds… And Fails

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 2, 2011

I found out recently that Casey Luskin of the intelligent design/creationist “think” tank the Discovery Institute has  responded in print to my takedown of his public lecture last August in Chicago.   I think it is important is to dissect his arguments and point out the utter failure of him to make any headway in his arguments; he is simply recycling the same ol’ same ol’, in my view.  For reference, here is my account of what happened at the event last August.

Me & Casey Luskin, chillin’ after his lecture.  Nobody was hurt in the making of this photo 🙂

And I also wrote a follow-up post specifically criticizing Luskin’s claims of the supposed scientific nature of ID’s so-called “design inference”. It is pretty telling that Luskin never addresses any of these points in his response, but more on that later.

Speaking of which, here is Luskin’s response. Technically, it isn’t really a response to my blog posts, because he never references my blog or the posts in his article, but he does refer to me and the questions I asked at his lecture (though he doesn’t name me).  Allow me to go through his points one at a time…

STUMPED BY DESIGN

ID’s Critics Engage in Motive-Mongering to Avoid the Evidence

By Casey Luskin

In August 2010, the creators of Salvo graciously invited me to speak at the University Club in downtown Chicago. After a short 40 minute presentation on the positive scientific case for intelligent design (ID), we opened up the floor to the audience.

Most of the inquiries led to serious and worthwhile scientific discussions. But one gentleman [that’s me] was confident he came armed with a “gotcha question” that would stump me. His challenge essentially boiled down to this: What about the ‘Wedge Document’?

The Wedge What?

Salvo readers generally believe—quite rightly—that seeking truth requires merely following the evidence where it leads. As a result, they don’t get bogged down in endless debates about personal motives or the religious (or non-religious) beliefs of scientists. At the end of the day, what matters is the evidence. Right?

For many ID critics, that’s not right. In fact those who follow the ID debate closely are depressingly familiar with the fallacious distraction of the “wedge document.”

While the “Wedge document” has no bearing on whether the information-rich molecular machines that underlie every living cell point to an intelligent designer, it’s worth rebutting to help those who are seeking truth understand this debate.

What is now called the “Wedge document” was originally a short fundraising packet compiled in the late 1990s by the pro-ID think tank Discovery Institute (“DI”). Like any good prospectus, it laid out the goals of the DI, centering around using pro-ID arguments to influence various branches of culture, including science, politics, education, and theology. …

Actually, the Wedge Document (and related strategy) is entirely relevant to the entire question of ID and its origins as an explicitly religious enterprise.  That’s because, as I documented earlier & as Luskin fails to note (surprise), during his lecture he stated on multiple occasions that “ID isn’t about religion, it’s about science!”  So when I pointed out the fact that the Discovery Institute’s Wedge Document most certainly shows that the primary motivation for pushing ID is religious in nature (with such notable sections as the “20 Year Goal: To see design theory permeate our religious, cultural, moral and political life.” – yup, that’s a direct quote, entirely within context.  Read it for yourself), Luskin was hoisted by his own petard, so to speak.  In fact, I had a conversation with one of the other audience members in the lobby of the University Club after Luskin’s lecture, and while this fellow wanted to agree with Luskin, he simply couldn’t because of exactly what I’d pointed out.

What was Luskin’s reaction to my criticism?  Well, the next section of his article pretty much spells it out.  Read on… Read the rest of this entry »

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Classic April Fools’ Joke from Scientific American

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 1, 2011

This is a fitting post for April Fools’ Day 🙂

A friend reminded me of a wonderful Scientific American editorial which appeared in the popular magazine a few years back on – you guessed it – April 1st.  In the spirit of science, skepticism, and a little fun, I share it with you here. Enjoy…

Okay, We Give Up

We feel so ashamed

By The Editors | April 1, 2005

There’s no easy way to admit this. For years, helpful letter writers told us to stick to science. They pointed out that science and politics don’t mix. They said we should be more balanced in our presentation of such issues as creationism, missile defense and global warming. We resisted their advice and pretended not to be stung by the accusations that the magazine should be renamed Unscientific American, or Scientific Unamerican, or even Unscientific Unamerican. But spring is in the air, and all of nature is turning over a new leaf, so there’s no better time to say: you were right, and we were wrong.

In retrospect, this magazine’s coverage of so-called evolution has been hideously one-sided. For decades, we published articles in every issue that endorsed the ideas of Charles Darwin and his cronies. True, the theory of common descent through natural selection has been called the unifying concept for all of biology and one of the greatest scientific ideas of all time, but that was no excuse to be fanatics about it. Where were the answering articles presenting the powerful case for scientific creationism? Why were we so unwilling to suggest that dinosaurs lived 6,000 years ago or that a cataclysmic flood carved the Grand Canyon? Blame the scientists. They dazzled us with their fancy fossils, their radiocarbon dating and their tens of thousands of peer-reviewed journal articles. As editors, we had no business being persuaded by mountains of evidence.

Moreover, we shamefully mistreated the Intelligent Design (ID) theorists by lumping them in with creationists. Creationists believe that God designed all life, and that’s a somewhat religious idea. But ID theorists think that at unspecified times some unnamed superpowerful entity designed life, or maybe just some species, or maybe just some of the stuff in cells. That’s what makes ID a superior scientific theory: it doesn’t get bogged down in details.

Good journalism values balance above all else. We owe it to our readers to present everybody’s ideas equally and not to ignore or discredit theories simply because they lack scientifically credible arguments or facts. Nor should we succumb to the easy mistake of thinking that scientists understand their fields better than, say, U.S. senators or best-selling novelists do. Indeed, if politicians or special-interest groups say things that seem untrue or misleading, our duty as journalists is to quote them without comment or contradiction. To do otherwise would be elitist and therefore wrong. In that spirit, we will end the practice of expressing our own views in this space: an editorial page is no place for opinions.

Get ready for a new Scientific American. No more discussions of how science should inform policy. If the government commits blindly to building an anti-ICBM defense system that can’t work as promised, that will waste tens of billions of taxpayers’ dollars and imperil national security, you won’t hear about it from us. If studies suggest that the administration’s antipollution measures would actually increase the dangerous particulates that people breathe during the next two decades, that’s not our concern. No more discussions of how policies affect science either-so what if the budget for the National Science Foundation is slashed? This magazine will be dedicated purely to science, fair and balanced science, and not just the science that scientists say is science. And it will start on April Fools’ Day.

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