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Fleeing the Ritual Contamination of “Creationism”

posted by David Klinghoffer
The imbroglio over editorial policy at Bloggingheads.tv would be of minor interest if it didn’t present such an evocative window on the psychology of the Darwin-believing community. Did you ever think about what actually drives these people?
To recap: Robert Wright, the site’s editor-in-chief, was out of the shop when his staff pulled down an interview, six hours after it was put up, between linguist John McWhorter and biochemist Michael Behe. Somehow, pressure was applied to McWhorter resulting in his actually issuing a public apology. He was forced to cringe and beg forgiveness. Anyone could see the reason he had given offense: McWhorter in the interview expressed undisguised admiration for Behe’s specialty in the intelligent design field, irreducible complexity. When Wright returned, he reversed the move and restored Behe/McWhorter. The lesson to be drawn is that were it not for Wright’s doing the decent thing, then intelligent-design advocate Behe would have remained censored. Whoever intimidated McWhorter would have won the day — illustrating a dynamic well known to ID sympathizers in the academic science world, and in intellectual life in general. When it comes to intelligent design, silence is the safe policy. The preferable strategy is to align your view with Darwinian orthodoxy.
The next act has involved more public pronouncements — this time from disgruntled science contributors to Bloggingheads: physicist Sean Carroll and science writer Carl Zimmer. The two participated in a conference call with Wright, demanding that he formulate a policy that would never again allow a “creationist” to speak for himself on Bloggingheads. Wright knows the difference between creationism and intelligent design — he articulated it nicely in a 2002 article in Time magazine. Carroll and Zimmer seemingly don’t. That or they prefer to use the more inflammatory language to refer to Behe, who merely disputes the mechanism of evolution.
As he wrote in a comment on Carroll’s blog, Wright wasn’t pleased either by the McWhorter interview or by another with Paul Nelson, but he was unwilling to capitulate and make the blanket promise that Carroll and Zimmer wanted, forever to exclude from attention anyone who dissents from evolutionary dogma. So both men wrote preening, self-congratulatory declarations on their blogs that they were through with Bloggingheads. They quit.
Carroll wanted “a slightly more elevated brand of discourse.” He wrote, “Certainly none of we [sic] scientists who were disturbed that the dialogue existed in the first place ever asked that it be removed.” Yet it should never have been posted. An ID advocate could speak on Bloggingheads if he has “respectable thoughts” on other subjects. But not on ID. That would create a “connection with a brand,” that brand would be shared by the “creationist” and Sean Carroll, and that would not be acceptable. Participants should be “serious people.” Some years ago he “declined an invitation” to a Templeton Foundation conference because “I didn’t want to be seen” at such an event. Harry Kroto was disappointed “that I would sully myself” by indirect Templeton connections. And no wonder: “we all have to look at ourselves in the mirror.”

Notes of self-regard peek through again and again in his long blog post. Respect, brand image, the appearance of seriousness, personal associations, sullying yourself by down-market affiliations, gazing upon yourself in the mirror.
In a comment on the blog, David Killoren of Bloggingheads cements the point by unabashedly flattering:

I want to voice agreement with Sean about a few things. I agree that creationists and ID’ers are crackpots. I agree that these crackpots do harm (e.g. by corrupting public perception of science). I agree that appearing on a site that has featured crackpots could damage the reputation and integrity of reputable scientists, so I fully understand Sean’s choice to stay away from BhTV (although I’d be very happy if he were to reconsider) [emphasis added].

He concludes: “One Sean Carroll diavlog is worth any number of creationism conversations. If I could rewind and start over I’d aim to do it all differently.” David Killoren too is seeking someone’s regard, whose prestige should rub off a bit on him. As the guy who himself set up the Paul Nelson interview, he anxiously wants no one to mistake what side he is on.
How much of this is about science and how much of it is about personal status, social and professional esteem? Evolution, the history of life, whether any known material mechanism alone can account for life’s development — these are scientific questions but they are surrounded by auras of psychological and social significance that can’t be understood simply in scientific terms.
Everyone wants to be esteemed by others and, more importantly, by himself. Dangers to your status are scary things, for all of us. But in the world of Darwinism, as this Bloggingheads episode reveals, the normal, healthy care for your personal reputation becomes intensified. The touch of “creationism” becomes something weirdly akin to ritual contamination as the ancients understood it. No one is going to think Sean Carroll is soft on “creationism” just because he appears on Bloggingheads, even if the latter were to invite Michael Behe to interview a different intelligent-design theorist every week of the year.
But if he continues his association with Robert Wright’s website, even if Wright in fact never again has an ID advocate on, just because Wright has failed to offer the demanded promise, then this does threaten to contaminate Sean Carroll by a mechanism that can only be characterized as magical, occult, beyond rational. Sitting on a chair or bed where a creationist sat, being under the same roof as his corpse, being associated with a website that provided a platform for two “creationists” and won’t absolutely promise it will never do so again — it’s all the same.
As for poor John McWhorter, he presents us with the dread spectacle of the person already contaminated, seeking a remedy for his affliction — and not finding it. This incident will contaminate him with creationism for years to come. He is the man in Leviticus, afflicted with a skin contamination, and compelled to live for some time outside the camp. “His garments shall be rent, the hair of his head shall be unshorn, and he shall cloak himself up to his lips; he is to call out, ‘Unclean! Unclean!'”
Am I scoffing? Not at all. Evolutionary psychologists no doubt have their own explanation, another just so story, for why so many ancient cultures share ideas of contamination. We could probably all agree that there is an underlying structure in the human mind that responds to the idea of contaminants. Where did we get it from? You tell me.
One thing’s clear. Social anxiety plays some role in the fear and dread that intelligent design provokes among people who are too dedicated to their own brand image. We’ve long known this. But it doesn’t explain entirely the absolute horror not of being thought of as a “creationist” but merely of being touched by the slightest taint, the merest hint, of the idea. For that, I think we need to go a little deeper.
In any case, this is the current culture of science. Does anyone seriously think it doesn’t impede the free exploration of ideas?
Note: This entry is cross-posted at Evolution News & Views.


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Glen Davidson

posted September 2, 2009 at 11:44 am


Real science doesn’t support scams like ID.
Treating ID like it’s science is like treating Madoff as though he were an investor. Or like von Daniken made a meaningful case for his claims.
David’s just utilizing unsupportable invective, rather than actually making a case. It’s the usual for David and all other IDists.
Glen Davidson
http://tinyurl.com/mxaa3p



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Alan Stillman

posted September 2, 2009 at 12:49 pm


I suppose the use of the term “Darwin-believing community” must be much easier that typing “the vast majority of rational, scientifically literate people”.



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Mark

posted September 2, 2009 at 2:17 pm


To Alan and Glen:
So powerful was the established geosynclinal theory that the 1960 edition of Clark and Stearn’s Geological Evolution of North America compared the status of geosynclinal theory which was thought to explain “the origin of mountains from geosynclines,” and Darwin’s theory of “the origin of species through natural selection”:
“The geosynclinal theory is one of the great unifying principles in geology. In many ways its role in geology is similar to that of the theory of evolution which serves to integrate the many branches of the biological sciences. The geosynclinal theory is of fundamental importance to sedimentation, petrology, geomorphology, ore deposits, structural geology, geophysics, and in fact all branches of geological science. It is a generalization concerning the genetic relationship between the trough like basinal areas of the earth’s crust which accumulate great thicknesses of sediment and are called geosynclines, and major mountain ranges. Just as the doctrine of evolution is universally accepted among biologists, so also the geosynclinal origin of the major mountain systems is an established principle in geology.”
Five years after the publication of the above geology textbook, geosynclinal theory was effectively dead. It was replaced by plate tectonics (which combined the hypotheses of continental drift and sea floor spreading into the theory of plate tectonics) and it became obvious to most geologists that geosynclinal theory never had possessed a testable explanatory mechanism for explaining the origin of major mountain ranges.



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Glen Davidson

posted September 2, 2009 at 2:31 pm


And you have evidence like that for plate tectonics in favor of ID? Present it, by all means (evidence, you know, empirical data which support an entailed prediction of a model).
Otherwise, well, it’s more pathetic analogies from the ID side. At least it’s a change from the dishonest characterizations that are the norm from your side.
Or to put it another way, pointing out that something in science can be overturned puts to shame ID, which will not use design principles or known characteristics of design to make falsifiable predictions, because as a religious dogma it will not allow itself to be overturned.
Real evidence could overturn evolutionary theory, had the IDists sufficient evidence, while we continue to await any at all.
Glen Davidson
http://tinyurl.com/mxaa3p



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Alan Stillman

posted September 2, 2009 at 3:49 pm


Mark: you wrote “it became obvious to most geologists that geosynclinal theory never had possessed a testable explanatory mechanism for explaining the origin of major mountain ranges”
but evolution has become a testable and explanatory mechanism. might it be reworked, refined, or thrown out for some better mechanism? it might, but it hasn’t.
meanwhile, ID is just a bunch of circular reasoning. life is complex so it must be designed because it is so complex. but we have no idea who the designer/s is/are, and we have no way to test the theory to identify the designer/s. and if I were to postulate that intelligent life on some distant planet seeded life here as an experiment most ID enthusiasts would cry foul. because for most ID enthusiasts God as designer is the only acceptable answer.
and God is not scientifically testable – nor should She be.



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Mark

posted September 2, 2009 at 4:16 pm


“I were to postulate that intelligent life on some distant planet seeded life here as an experiment most ID enthusiasts would cry foul. ”
Well, they’d ask you how THAT planet’s life came to be, and you’d be left stumbling in your words.
“evolution has become a testable and explanatory mechanism.”
Some is testable. Most is not.
“ID is just a bunch of circular reasoning.”
Hmmm. Survival of the fittest… Who is the fittest? Those who survived. Wow!



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Alan Stillman

posted September 2, 2009 at 5:07 pm


“Hmmm. Survival of the fittest… Who is the fittest? Those who survived. Wow!”
and who didn’t survive – or what traits didn’t make the cut? oh, yeah, we have a fossil record to document a lot of that.
where are the designer’s discarded blueprints?
and if intelligent life was found on another planet, I would not care how they came to be. I would assume that it was a similar process to the one we postulate for ourselves. it would kinda blow a hole in the theory that Man is the pinnacle of creation made in the image of the Designer. how would the people who hold out human’s special place in the Universe deal with intelligent life elsewhere is a more interesting prospect.



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Turmarion

posted September 2, 2009 at 8:40 pm


All I want to do is firmly second Glen and Alan. I’m a little burned out from the last few threads, so, what they said!



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Mark

posted September 2, 2009 at 8:49 pm


“I would not care how they came to be. I would assume that it was a similar process to the one we postulate for ourselves.”
Well, if the one you postulate for ourselves is that we were seeded, then the one you postulate for the seeder is that IT was seeded, too. Heck, maybe we’d have an infinite series. (Just tossing out ideas here.)
If life was found elsewhere, lets say in two other planets, we could just as easily say that there are three special planets.
Alan, the purpose of the “geosynclinal” quote was ONLY for the purpose of evolutionists to not feel so arrogant about their confidence in their theory. I see it didn’t work.



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Hocus pocus

posted September 3, 2009 at 12:41 pm


Why does Behe, the Discovery Institute, or any other intelligent design advocate, still not have a primary, peer-reviewed paper that supports/demonstrates intelligent design within biology in a high impact, biological science journal? It’s been almost 15 years since Behe’s first edition of Darwin’s Black Box. Just this year alone I’ve published three papers in primary, peer-reviewed biological science journals, one with an impact factor over 10, the other two in journals with impact factors over 5.



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Turmarion

posted September 3, 2009 at 1:28 pm


Hocus pocus: Why does Behe, the Discovery Institute, or any other intelligent design advocate, still not have a primary, peer-reviewed paper that supports/demonstrates intelligent design within biology in a high impact, biological science journal?
The answer, of course, is for the same reason there is no primary, peer-reviewed paper supporting the hollow Earth, orgone energy, or the geocentric solar system–because it ain’t so!
The only other thing I’d say is that making a parallel between the purity/cleanliness laws of the Torah and the attitudes of posters to Bloggingheads about the Behe affair is really one of the weirdest things David has done to date, from a Jewish or any other perspective.



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Mark

posted September 3, 2009 at 2:54 pm


And I thought that bringing quotes from the Koran was right there near the top.
And Hocus Pocus, can you please do a little research and stop parroting Barbara Forrest? The list of peer reviewed articles is indeed small, but don’t say it’s zero. See http://www.discovery.org/a/2640



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What's Good for the Goose

posted September 3, 2009 at 9:58 pm


Hocus Pocus: The last time a peer reviewed ID paper was published, the editor doing so was hounded, slandered, threatened, and driven eventually from his job at the Smithsonian. What makes you think any journal editor would risk that? Look what happened in a little inconsequential internet interview? The McCarthyites want blacklisting, and by Darwin, they will have it!



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Mark

posted September 4, 2009 at 12:10 am


What’s Good: I’m surprised that Hocus Pocus never thought of that answer, despite the fact that such claims are all over the ID sites. They’ll say the IDers are just whining, but what do you expect? I figure you’ve seen this site:
http://www.slaughterofthedissidents.com/



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Turmarion

posted September 4, 2009 at 10:59 am


Mark: And I thought that bringing quotes from the Koran was right there near the top.
Some of us think that understanding and appreciating aspects of others’ faiths is a good and enriching thing. Not all of us, apparently.
The list of peer reviewed articles is indeed small, but don’t say it’s zero. See http://www.discovery.org/a/2640
I note that some of the papers were published in the journal of the IEEE, the journal of electrical engineering. Now the IEEE is reputable–in fact I used to administer certified electronics technician exams for them. However, cosmology, physics, and biology are not their field. An electronic engineer’s opinion on evolution isn’t necessarily any more reliable than a biologist’s opinion on solid-state technology! I also would point out that they have also published papers by Donald E. Scott, whose rather eccentric theories hold that the sun does not derive energy from nuclear fusion, as all mainstream physicists maintain, but from electrical phenomena. Thus, there is a track record of the IEEE of publishing fringe science.
As to the rest, they’re not in my field, so I’m not qualifed to comment on them. However, the pickings here are very slim compared to the enormous amount of papers published in the biological sciences in general. If there is any legitimacy to them, they’ll eventually win out–if not, they won’t, and it won’t be because of the big, bad “evolutionists”. Recall that continental drift and the Big Bang theories encountered opposition as fierce (if not more so) as anything ID has experienced, but in the long run they won out because the evidence supported them. If in the long run ID does, in fact, win out, I will be the first to accept it and congratulate its advocates. Meanwhile, it doesn’ t look like it’s headed that way.
By the way, I’m not aware that some of the books listed (e,g, Darwin’s Black Box) were, in fact, peer-reviewed, though I could be mistaken; and the category “Scientific Books Supportive of Intelligent Design Published by Prominent Trade Presses” is rather fatuous, as major trade presses have been known to publish marginal stuff.
What’s Good for the Goose and Mark: As to the supposed “oppression” encountered by IDers, one, it’s no more than that experienced by advocates of continental drift and the Big Bang (see above), and they came through. Two, much of this has been roundly debunked, e.g. here and much more interestingly here, by Jeffrey P. Schloss, former senior fellow of the Discovery Institute!. Once more, claims of persecution and conspiracy are typical of fringe and pseudo-science, and you get ‘em in spadefuls on ID sites.



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Turmarion

posted September 4, 2009 at 11:02 am


David, my last post is being held. If you could get it up before Shabbat starts, I would very much appreciate it.



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Hocus pocus

posted September 4, 2009 at 2:06 pm


Hey Mark and Goose,
I have a suggestion, why don’t you do what I did – ACTUALLY READ THE ARTICLES. Published in Proc Biol Soc Wash (which, by the way, has an impact factor below 1, when I was in high school I was published in a better journal). And the one in IEEE.
I’m guessing you guys aren’t scientists, scholars, or researchers, so I’m gonna help you out.
Firstly, the article in PBSW is NOT research science. It is a commentary. I will say that again. It is a COMMENTARY, not experimental science. Further, it was reviewed under some very sketchy circumstances (but so are a number of papers, so…)
As for the paper in IEEE, it does NOT deal with experimental biology.
There is no need for me to explain this one further as local middle schoolers seemed to grasp the point when I spoke to them about it.
It seems you guys probably don’t know the difference between peer-review and self publication. It seems you guys probably don’t know the significance of an impact factor. You probably don’t know the difference between biology and theoretical math. And it seems you probably don’t know the differences between experimental science, theoretical science, and opinion. If you did, the poverty of your arguments wouldn’t be so readily apparent.
Well, this is probably the last time you will see me on this blog; it’s rather intellectually disappointing. I’m currently working on a paper for a very prominent science journal. Let’s call the journal, ummm, say… Fature.



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Your Name

posted September 4, 2009 at 3:58 pm


Hocus Pocus:
I don’t understand your point. The list was actually fairly long. And there were a lot of other articles besides the ones you mentioned. And the fact that a interview was censored demonstrates that censorship is happening. I’m currenly reading, “The Trouble with Physics” by Lee Smolin. he writes that all the important positions in physics are held by partisans of sting theory, and that anyone who questions string theory will find himself without a job. So censorship does happen in the science community.



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Hocus pocus

posted September 4, 2009 at 5:07 pm


Your Name,
I find it quite amusing that you are struggling to grasp my point. I gave a guest talk at my local high school and middle school. Even the middle schoolers didn’t share your struggles.
Just because a list is long, doesn’t mean it is good.
I can self-publish with my buddies and call it “peer-reviewed” all I want about how the sun revolves about the earth; it doesn’t make it true.
Look at how many papers Einstein published (speaking of physics) explaining the photoelectric effect, which lead to his Nobel prize. Hmmm? Look at how many papers Watson and Crick published on the structure of DNA. Numbers can mean little in this regard.
I’m quite well published in primary peer-reviewed science and I have said some rather controversial and speculative things; I’ve never been censored. Therefore, I shall conclude that there is NEVER and NEVER HAS BEEN censorship in science… or economics, or mathematics, or… (tongue striking cheek). Look at the current academic controversy between Keynesian and Chicago schools of thought for economics – for years the Keynesians (in my academic opinion) were marginalized; now it looks like Chicago is in a little bit of trouble. Rejection is one thing; flat out dismissal because of inane philosophy is another.
Ok, seriously, I’m off this blog; individuals here are rather M/V. (If you get that joke, my comments might not apply).



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usb verlangerung

posted September 25, 2009 at 6:25 am


Hi,
I read your blog first time.The article about intelligent design and movements of McWhorter is really interesting.I get some idea about the Intelligent design.



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Your Name

posted September 25, 2009 at 11:11 am


Hocus Pocus:
I said the list was long because I understood you to say that it had only two. I guess you meant two good articles.
I’m currently reading “The Trouble with Physics” by Lee Smolin. He says that all the key postions in physics are held by proponents of sting theory. And anyone who question string theory will find himslef without a job. This is what Smolin writes.



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