Saturday, January 31, 2009


Propaganda Lite

Well, January 30th has come and gone and the deadline for video entries in the Discoveryless Institute's Academic Freedom on Evolution Student Video and Essay Contest has not (yet) been extended again. As of the moment, only three videos are up at the contest's YouTube site, though it seems there is a delay between their posting and appearance, so I'll wait a day or two before trying to finish reviewing them all. But here is my review of the second one posted, by "CvEint2."

Video-wise, hers is less polished than the first one by Kaleigh McCormick, consisting of her talking head in various settings, only some of which, such as classrooms, have any connection with the subject matter.

As I already noted, CvEint2 makes two totally silly (and easily checkable) errors of fact in the first 45 seconds of her piece, claiming that "public schools" began teaching evolution as fact within a decade of the publication of Darwin's Origin of Species and confusing Judge Jones' Federal District Court with the Supreme Court of the United States. It doesn't get any better after that.

CvEint2 gives a simplistic description of the method of science as consisting of observation, hypothesis and experiment, followed by "conclusion." In fairness, it would not surprise me at all if she has been taught this oversimplification in her limited education so far, in what Terry Prachett famously called "lies to children." Unfortunately, virtually everything that CvEint2 advocates rests on her not-yet-informed understanding of the issues.

This is her account of the "science" of ID:

Observation: that intelligent designers produce complex and "specified" information;

Hypothesis: if an object was designed it would have high levels of that information;

Experiment: use "reverse engineering" of natural objects to determine if they have complex and "specified" information, i.e. if they are "irreducibly complex" and need all their parts to "function;"

Conclusion: if they are IC, they are designed.

She admits that ID is "not proven" (whatever she means by that) but goes on to claim that evolution has "multiple gaps," giving the example of the missing "missing link." Amusingly, she doesn't state what the things are that have not been linked, though presumably she is thinking of the transitional forms between humans and their non-human ancestors, of which we actually have a plethora. As I've already noted in connection with the first contest video, gaps in evidence are not "weaknesses" in a theory in any event.

Next, following the example of the DI's contest site, she demonstrates her lack of intellectual content by putting up a graphic of this quote mine of Darwin:

"A fair result can be obtained only by fully stating and balancing the facts and arguments on both sides of each question."
Note the period at the end, indicating that the quote is a complete thought. But here is what Darwin actually said, with the quote-mined part in bold:

This Abstract, which I now publish, must necessarily be imperfect. I cannot here give references and authorities for my several statements; and I must trust to the reader reposing some confidence in my accuracy. No doubt errors will have crept in, though I hope I have always been cautious in trusting to good authorities alone. I can here give only the general conclusions at which I have arrived, with a few facts in illustration, but which, I hope, in most cases will suffice. No one can feel more sensible than I do of the necessity of hereafter publishing in detail all the facts, with references, on which my conclusions have been grounded; and I hope in a future work to do this. For I am well aware that scarcely a single point is discussed in this volume on which facts cannot be adduced, often apparently leading to conclusions directly opposite to those at which I have arrived. A fair result can be obtained only by fully stating and balancing the facts and arguments on both sides of each question; and this cannot possibly be here done.

Thus, Darwin was not saying that questions in science need to have every uniformed opinion and belief, such as may be held by high school students like CvEint2, weighed in order to reach a fair scientific result. He was saying that he had many more facts in support of his theory but could not list them all in the scant 490 pages he had at his disposal in the Origin. Darwin certainly didn't, as CvEint2 claims, make his statement to "get evolution included into the debate." Darwin fully knew that he needed facts in order to succeed in getting a scientific hearing of his theory and was prepared to give them. CvEint2 demonstrates, however, her lack of understanding of that concept by resorting to a quote instead of facts and failing to go to the effort of even checking how accurate the quote is (or, in an even less flattering possibility, lying about the import of the quote after checking it out).

In comparison, CvEint2 could and did fairly state all the "facts" in favor of ID (namely that -- following Paley's watch analogy -- humans produce designed objects) within a four and a half minute video with plenty of time left over for such bogus arguments against evolution as an unspecified "missing link." The "experiments" to determine if some biological traits are IC, as I pointed out in reviewing the first video, are not facts in favor of ID but, instead are an attempt to raise conceptual arguments against evolution that can only lead to a "conclusion" of design via the "contrived dualism" that all forms of creationism ultimately fall back on.

But most lunatic of all is CvEint2's example of why ID should be included in science classes. She states that there are two leading theories about the causes of gravity: Einstein's Theory of General Relativity and the Graviton Theory. According to CvEint2, "both are taught in science courses and students are allowed to decide which one they believe is better." I won't pretend that I understand either theory but a quick perusal of the Wikipedia article on gravitons makes it clear that gravitons are an attempt to extend the "Standard Model" of quantum mechanics to produce a "unified field theory" to link all of the fundamental forces of the universe (electromagnetism, the strong atomic force, the weak atomic force and gravity) in terms of a single field. Both general relativity's description of gravity in terms of curved spacetime and the proposed graviton give identical results conforming with Newton's law of gravitation, which has tons of empiric results in its favor. ID, on the other hand, does not give "results" at all, being that, under ID, any and all empiric facts can, unlike evolutionary theory, simply be explained as "that's the way the Designer designed it."

The very best minds working today in theoretical physics, particle physics, cosmology and numerous other scientific fields, with Nobel Prizes awaiting anyone with even partial solutions to the conundrum, have not yet been able to resolve this question. But, according to ID advocates, high school students, who, like CvEint2, can't even distinguish Federal district courts from the Supreme Court, are fully qualified, after being taught just a smattering of the physics involved, to determine whether or not Einstein was right.

If this bogus "academic freedom" to reject science wasn't so tragic in the results it will have for American children and our nation's future, it would be screamingly funny.

Ironically, CvEint2 goes on to invoke the United Negro College Fund's motto that "a mind is a terrible thing to waste" in defense of teaching ID. But including unscientific claims like ID in public school science classes to assuage the religious beliefs of students is, in a very real way, treating them as second class citizens who have to be sequestered from the real world of science and kept in an intellectual ghetto of comfortable ignorance.

Waste, indeed.


There are times that I don't mind being as old as I am, since it means I won't have to live in a world dominated by kids like that much longer. Thanks for the review.
I'm sure we were smug and over-self-confident at that age too (if only I could remember). But to declare yourself competent to judge Einstein's work with only a high school education ... the mind boggles. I'm almost certain that my grip on reality back then was less tenuous than that.
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