Tuesday, March 03, 2009


Science Ad Populum

Dr. Michael Egnor, the Discovery Institute's highly-skilled meat cutter, lets the creationist cat out of the "strengths and weaknesses" bag the way he has done before for ID. How he goes about it is really too spectacularly foaming-at-the-mouth rabid to be believed unless seen. But here is the gist of the points he is making:

He says that "[m]ost Americans are creationists, in the sense that they believe that God played an important role in creating human beings and they don't accept a strictly Darwinian explanation for life." First of all, by past evidence, Egnor employs "strictly Darwinian" to mean "philosophically materialistic." He completely ignores those who, under his definition, are also "creationists," like Francisco Ayala, Ken Miller, Francis Collins and, for that matter, several Popes, who can distinguish the methodological naturalism of science from philosophical materialism and accept that God should not be addressed in science classes.

It follows then, granting that Egnor knows the minds of the creationists he presumes to speak on behalf of, that his sort of creationists are not interested in any science education that ignores God. In turn, that means that when Egnor's creationists want "to be able to ask questions about evolution in their own public schools," that necessarily means that they want state schools to stop leaving God out of explanations of how human beings came into existence. Little things like our Constitution should be no impediment, as far as Egnor is concerned.

Worse, this isn't a scientific issue or even an educational issue to Egnor and his creationists, it is a moral issue. If Egnor is right, most creationists "despise" evolutionary biologists and "rank Darwinists on an ethical scale somewhere below Caribbean hedge fund operators ... [as a] a bunch of atheist brownshirts." That is because biologists, among many other people, have this quaint notion that science and religion don't mix, especially in public schools under the American system of law.

And the way that Egnor thinks his creationists should respond is not by attempting to demonstrate that there is empiric evidence for God's action in the world -- you know, by actually doing science -- but politically, through laws like Louisiana's and by withholding funding from science they don't like and think is atheistic. Doubtless, Egnor would claim that the "Darwinists" are being political too, using the courts to keep creationism out of public school science classes and boycotting states that pass anti-science laws. But creationists have a long tradition of trying to use the political system to bend science to their will, starting at least as far back as the law in Tennessee that resulted in the Scopes trial. Scientists and those who value science education have had no recourse but to also respond in the political arena.

Egnor "justifies" the threat of defunding science he doesn't like in typically foxy fashion ... by declaring the evolutionary grapes are sour ... again claiming that evolutionary theory is "worthless to experimental biology and worthless to medical research." Not only is that less than truthful but it is shortsighted in the extreme. Even if evolutionary theory had no track record of being "useful," who is Egnor to practice the unbiblical art of divination and foretell its future utility? And that doesn't even take into account the intellectual value of simply expanding our knowledge of the world and how it works, even if it doesn't turn a financial profit.

One also has to wonder how Egnor would react if Christian Scientists were in the majority and decided to defund his specialty of pediatric neurosurgery since, after all, it is "atheistic" to believe that tumors and other physical defects in the brain cause disease, instead of spiritual failings.

Finally, it wouldn't be an Egnor screed if there wasn't some mind-numbing stupidity. Recognizing, sub rosa, that ID and creationism have already lost the scientific argument, he instead attacks the very notion that scientists, rather than those lacking any expertise in the field, should decide what science is or should be, by decrying "consensus science."

Why fund research on "settled" science? Why waste precious research dollars on studying a "fact" like Darwinism, when there are so many pressing problems in medicine and other sciences that remain unsolved? Research funding properly goes to controversies, not settled issues.
Funny, I thought there was a consensus on atomic theory too. So why do we bother to fund research into, say, chemistry and the development of new materials and new drugs, when there is a consensus that such research all depends on well-understood processes in the natural world? Oh, understanding the theory's application to individual circumstances is important too, isn't it?

It's amazing how many felines Egnor has broken out of bags ... given his inability to think his way out of even the paper variety.




Recognizing, sub rosa, that ID and creationism have already lost the scientific argument ...

But even this is giving too much credit John. Creationism, whether of the ID variety or any other, was never in the scientific game in the first place. It's like they showed up on the soccer pitch wearing hockey skates, pads, and helmets while carrying their sticks.
Well, I didn't say when they lost. It was around 1880, when the scientific community, after the publication of the Origin, had almost completely adopted a naturalistic explanation (though not necessarily Darwin's) for the nature of life on Earth.
Egnor must be a real prize to creationists. A real brain-surgeon! He smaaart!

Maybe they'd like to fly in airplanes engineered by Egnor. Or listen to music he writes, or dine at a restaurant where he he is both cook and accountant. Expertise is not fungible!

I look forward to the next trial where he'll be quoted extensively to show religious intent for "strengths and weaknesses".
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