Wednesday, May 04, 2005

I guess this is what passes for creationist "humor"

Geez, it's been an annoying week on the creationism front this week. First we have an article on Michael Ruse, in which he blames scientists for antagonizing the religious through too-vigorous defenses of evolution against intelligent design, skewered by me, PZ, with the best debunking done by Ophelia Benson. Then we have CBS News posting unedited parroting of Discovery Institute propaganda, as reported by PZ (and here).

Then this.

Scrappleface, which is kind of funny from a conservative point of view (albeit more conservative than my point of view) often enough that I still check it out now and then, appears to have drunk deeply from the creationist Kool-Aid. The evidence? It's this supposedly satirical look at the evolution-creation controversy in Kansas by Scott Ott, entitled "Natural Selection Shrinks Herd of Kansas Darwinists." In it, "Darwinists" are represented as unable to handle "Darwinian" selection/competition from "skeptics" and, because of that inability to compete, as having to be protected in "reservations."

Lame, lame, lame.

Look, I understand this is supposed to be satire, but good satire has to have a kernel of truth at its core, as most articles in The Onion do, regardless of whether its writers are skewering liberals or conservatives. There is none in the Scrappleface article, just "ain't I so clever?" references to "scrappy skeptics" who "contended for equal space in the Darwinists' natural habitat." You can almost hear Scott slapping himself on the back for being so "clever" as to use "Darwinian selection" as the basis of a joke making fun of biologists defending evolution.

Actually, come to think of it, the analogy could have some use. Using Scrappleface's analogy, it is creationism and "intelligent design" that are unable to compete in--shall we say?--Darwinian terms, notevolution. Intelligent design has already been selected against in science. It has lost the battle of ideas because it is not science, cannot produce scientific evidence for its ideas, and is, the denials of its advocates notwithstanding, inherently religious. Consequently, intelligent design advocates, having totally failed to get a foothold in the "natural habitat" of evolutionary biologists, are now reduced to using ignorant legislators to force reluctant teachers to misrepresent the pseudoscience that is ID/creationism as a scientific "alternative" to evolution in a desperate attempt at self-propagation. Their ideas can't compete in the scientific arena on the rather "Darwinian" basis that scientific hypotheses normally compete, on supporting observational and experimental data, predictive usefulness, and ability to explain natural phenomenon. So intelligent design advocates are reduced to exploiting the ignorance of most school board members and legislators about science in order to trick them into forcing teachers to teach their ideas to impressionable teenagers, whom they hope will then become the next generation of intelligent design advocates.

Truly in this case, Scrappleface has descended into the realm of hack.

2 example(s) of insolence returned:


At 5/06/2005 7:28 AM, Anonymous Scott Ott said...

Scrappleface has descended into the realm of hack.

In the spirit of descent with modification perhaps you could take a moment to read the ScrappleFace piece and then quote any references you find to 'creationism' or 'intelligent design'. This kind of scientific inquiry and resort to actual evidence may inspire a modification of your conclusions...unless they are simply unassailable on the basis of faith alone.

Your suggestion of a descent into hackdom implies retro-evolutionary forces may be at work, perhaps in a Lamarckian sense of degeneration from disuse. While you ponder the implications of this, take a few moments to read Richard Dawkins' 'The Ancestor's Tale and Stephen Jay Gould's 'The Structure of Evolutionary Theory'. The disagreement of these two leading advocates of 'Darwinism' may give you pause to consider why such debates don't find prominent place in our high school biology classrooms; or for that matter, how two men can each call themselves a 'Darwinist' when they hold mutually-exclusive theories about selective mechanisms and the pace of phenotypic morphology.
In any case, speaking for the vast editorial staff at ScrappleFace, it was an honor to learn that we had "descended into the realm of hack," since one of our aspirations has been to reach that lofty realm.

 

At 5/06/2005 9:39 AM, Blogger Orac said...

Please, give me a break. It's very disingenuous of you to attack my criticism by claiming you haven't specifically mentioned creationism or intelligent design when your entire piece was clearly explicitly meant to be "satire" about the controversy in Kansas. That controversy and the Kansas hearings are undeniably about the efforts of intelligent design advocates to get their pseudoscience taught in Kansas classrooms. Nice try at a plausible deniability, though. Too bad it wasn't so plausible.

Now you're regurgitating creationist canards I've seen before. You clearly didn't take me up on my suggestion for a trip to Talkorigins.org. You wouldn't even have to spend any money on books.

In any case, anyone who uses the term "Darwinism" in the manner you do clearly doesn't understand modern evolutionary biology. Using "Darwinism" as a catch-all, as you appear to be doing, does not is a common tactic of intelligent design creationism proponents. Here's the problem. Darwin postulated his theory nearly 150 years ago, long before there was even an understanding of genetics or how inheritance of traits worked. There have been many modifications since then, particularly the synthesis of modern genetics with evolutionary theory that occurred in the 1930's and 1940's. Second, the disagreements you describe are over the mechanism of evolution, not the fact that evolution occurred or whether there was an "intelligent designer." None of them invalidate evolution, nor are their mechanisms mutually exclusive, as you claim. Both chance and other mechanisms probably play a part in different situations, and the primary controversy among scientists is over the relative importance of each in driving evolution. It's a nonsequitur to imply that these disagreements mean that evolutionary theory is on the wane.

Here's a good brief explanation of the differences between Dawkins and Gould:

The main difference between Dawkins and Gould is over the importance of natural selection as a mechanism of evolution. Dawkins tends to place great emphasis on selection and adaptation - so much so that he and his supporters are often referred to as "adaptionists". Gould points out that chance, in the form of contingency and random genetic drift, are very important features of the historical record of evolution. It's difficult to say where the "mainstream" is on this important issue. Most evolutionary biologists are probably less adaptionist than Dawkins but still don't accept the worldview of Gould. The situation is different when it comes to selfish genes. There don't seem to be very many evolutionary biologists who go along with Dawkins on this one. Most see the individual organisms as the unit of selection although they appreciate the insight that Dawkins' view has provided. It's important to recognize that the idea of selfish genes is intimately connected to natural selection as a mechanism. After all, the term "selfish" implies selection. Anti-adaptionists point out that the Dawkins' worldview over-emphasizes the role of natural selection and selfish genes are part of this "incorrect" version of evolution. However, even some adaptionist types object to the emphasis on genes as the unit of selection. Punctuated equilibria is not nearly as contoversial as you might imagine. Most evolutionary biologists now accept that the fossil record shows periods of stasis and rapid change. There is some disagreement over what causes this pattern and how important it is but these are relatively minor points. When it comes to speciation events there is a lot of heated debate. Eldredge (but not Gould) favors models of evolution that work on populations leading to speciation. These postulated models cannot be explained by the simple "selection acting on genes" ideas of Dawkins. There is still much we have to learn before we can decide whether "group selection" or "species selection" is a reasonable mechanism of evolution. A simple way to describe the controversy is to imagine a distinction between macroevoution and microevolution. Dawkins believes that all of evolution can be explained by cumulative small changes (microevolution) whereas others believe that macroevolution, or speciation, involves other mechanisms. It's difficult to find a book that does a good job of presenting both sides of these many issues. I suggest "Reinventing Darwin" by Niles Eldredge. He, of course, tends to favor his own ideas but at least you will find some criticism of Dawkins and the other "Ultra-Darwinians". It seems to me that Dawkins and Dennet do a very poor job of presenting their opponents' point of view.

For more, look here as well.

As for any Lamarckian influences, well, at least you seem to understand what that means, in marked contrast to your understanding of present day evolutionary theory. Perhaps there's hope for you.

Don't worry about descending into hack. All writers do that sometimes, particularly when we overreach and address something we clearly do not understand, as you just did with evolution. Next time, just try not to pat yourself on the back so hard. By "Lamarckian evolution," you might develop a trait that would not be good to pass on to your offspring.

 

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