Vacationus interruptus: I take back the nice things I said about Frist

I know I'm supposed to be still on vacation for another week, but this came across the news wire and it irritated me just enough to post this.

It turns out that I was right about Bill Frist the first time around, when I trashed him for his cynical and opportunistic actions with regard to the Schiavo case. I thought that maybe he was turning over a new leaf when he endorsed loosening the restrictions on stem cell research, but apparently he pissed off his fundamentalist base too much and has had to do something to try to regain their good graces. So he's at it again. Now he's endorsing the teaching of intelligent design:
"I think today a pluralistic society should have access to a broad range of fact, of science, including faith," Frist said.

Frist, a doctor who graduated from Harvard Medical School, said exposing children to both evolution and intelligent design "doesn't force any particular theory on anyone. I think in a pluralistic society that is the fairest way to go about education and training people for the future."
Note the oh-so-noble-sounding mention of a "pluralistic society" having access to a "broad range of fact." Who could argue with that, right? Unfortunately, such sentiments are only true when the ideas and "facts" being presented have roughly equal validity. Or validity that is within an order of magnitude of each other. Or within a thousand-fold of each other. Unfortunately, ID doesn't even reach that level of validity when compared with evolution.

It occurs to me that certain "intelligent design advocates may not be too happy with Frist's remarks. He seems to be tacitly admitting that ID is faith-based, when he adds "including faith" to his remarks. Why did he feel it necessary to mention faith at all, if ID is, as its advocates claim, a scientific theory that does not depend on any one religion? That could annoy some ID luminaries, who keep insisting that ID is not based on faith and does not assume that the "designer" is the Judeo-Christian god, even while explicitly admitting that it is to the faithful who are supporting this nonscientific rubbish. Just try asking them why it couldn't be the Flying Spaghetti Monster responsible for "design." And instead of getting their hypothesis (I won't dignify it by calling it a theory) accepted the scientific way, through research, evidence, and experimentation that eventually forces scientists to pay attention, ID advocates instead get dim-witted or opportunistic politicians to try to get our children indoctrinated with what is in essence a religious concept with no science yet to support it.

Frist then goes on to make the same mistake (or use the same deception) that ID creationists frequently do, namely calling ID a theory and implying it has equal validity as evolution. Remember, the scientific definition of the word "theory" is different than the common usage. When scientists call a set of principles a "theory" they are saying that it is the best explanation presently available for a scientific phenomenon. They are not saying that it's a hunch, which is the colloquial connotation of the word "theory," particularly when evolution is dismissed as "just a theory." Apparently Frist wasn't paying attention in his preliminary courses in pre-med or his actual courses at Harvard Medical School Perhaps he should be sent back for a refresher course in basic scientific concepts. He needs it.

Where he should never be sent is to the White House.

The sad thing is that, among physicians, Frist's misconception with regards to evolution and ID is probably almost as common among physicians as it is among lay people.


  1. Terrific take-down, Orac. Only one quibble: I think you're dignifying ID too much to even refer to it as a hypothesis. In science - the usual definitional context for the term "hypothesis" - hypotheses are testable. I have yet to see any IDiot put forward a single proposition which could be evaluated with respect to any kind of empirical evidence. Not one. Not ever.

  2. I'm with Lenny Flank on this one. Rather than trying to shut the IDers up, 'tis better to let them speak up and maybe even give them coverage so people can hear what they have to say. They shoot themselves in the foot every time. Pity the politicians never seem to get the memo that ID is not religion ;-)

    Thanks for the shameless plug, by the way.

  3. You honestly believe that the percentage of physicians who believe in ID is as high as it is amongst the general populace? Please tell me you're just being facetious.

  4. I read an article on WorldNutDaily by David Limbaugh that strongly supports ID in the public schools. He states: "Thus, ID advocates argue that design inference is testable. It could be refuted if someone could empirically demonstrate that unguided natural processes could produce irreducible complexity. " Then he goes on to say: "Anyone who does not initiate his inquiry with the obligatory presumption (life is the result of material, not supernatural causes) is, by definition, a heretic. . . So again, through grossly circular logic, they perpetrate the myth that no scientists believe in ID. "

    What's the best way to refute this?

  5. Brent,

    Yes, I honestly do believe that the percentage of physicians who believe in ID is nearly as high as it is in the general population. (I meant to say "nearly.") I'll try to find the survey results that back up this belief when I get back from vacation.

  6. David Limbaugh is attacking a a big fat straw man. There's copious material at that shows how the complex structures commonly touted as evidence of "irreducible complexity" (the eye, the bacterial flagellum, etc.) in reality could quite plausibly come about through evolution. Start with the FAQ.

    He also doesn't understand science. The very definition of science is to look for naturalistic explanations for natural phenomenon. Otherwise, every time one came across something that science can't yet explain, the temptation would be to throw up one's hands and say "it must be God!" Also, science cannot prove or disprove the existence of God (short of His coming down from heaven with His Heavenly hosts to announce to the world, "I did it with intelligent design"); so teaching ID as science is not proper until it comes up with testable hypotheses.

  7. Orac, thanks for the info!

  8. short of His coming down from heaven with His Heavenly hosts to announce to the world, "I did it with intelligent design"

    Mind you, even then I'd want to see some verification of His identity and His claims... And no, thunderbolts don't count:)

  9. Sadly, John McCain has joined them:

  10. Alas, I've become aware of McCain's embrace of the Dark Side....


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