The Discovery Institute gets terminally desperate: considers evolutionary rebuttals of creationist arguments as “condemning religion”

January 15, 2014 • 2:19 pm

The Discovery Institute, losing its battle for Intelligent Design (ID) on all fronts (they can’t even get it taught in a Texas community college!) has resorted to a desperation move: attacking the characters of evolutionary biologists.  How this will give evidence for ID is beyond me: perhaps they think that if they show character flaws in evolutionists they thereby discredit our discipline. But whatever happened to their promise to that “scientific” evidence for ID was “right around the corner”? They seem to have forgotten that one.

And they should be mindful of the beam in their own eye: despite their claim that ID isn’t religiously motivated, virtually everyone at the Discovery Institute is religious, and some of them (like Paul Nelson and William Dembski) unwisely proclaim their religious motivations when they think they’re out of earshot.

So now, in their efforts to support ID, they’ve started a “hyprocrisy watch” on Professor Ceiling Cat.  But the “hypocrisy” they discern in me in is ludicrous, as recounted in their latest screed at Evolution News & Views by David Klinghoffer, “Hypocrisy watch: Jerry Coyne, Dr. Hedin’s persecutor, turns to teaching teligion in the science classroom.

What is the hypocrisy I evinced this time? It’s this: I called for Eric Hedin at Ball State University to stop pretending that ID was science in his Physics and Astronomy class, and stop proselytizing for religion in that class. In other words, at a public university, I said it was unconstitutional (and bad science) to teach discredited religious views as science.

But then I apparently did the same thing! What oh what did the pernicious moggie do?

I answered student questions about my book at a class in Genetics and Evolution at Duke University (a private school). I do this every year, and often the students ask questions that are religiously-inspired critiques of evolution, or stuff that they’ve heard about evolution from creationist sources. I answer these questions and criticisms as best I can. And here are the two I wrote about when I Skyped the class from Poland:

I addressed, by Skype, an introductory evolution/genetics class taught by my ex-student (and now chair of biology at Duke) Mohamed Noor. They are reading my book and asked lots of questions. As usual, most of those questions were about the intersection of science and religion — students are really curious about that. Several students had also read ID books and asked me about Haeckel’s “fraud,” as well as more conventional creationist questions about why evolution didn’t violate the Second Law of Thermodynamics (a softball!).

Well that certainly got Klinghoffer’s knickers in a twist!  In his mind, correcting the misconceptions of students who raise objections to evolution, whether or not those objections derive from religion, is the same as teaching religion in a class. As Klinghoffer says:

Coyne instructed a course on “evolution/genetics” about what he himself terms “religion”: specifically, “the intersection of science and religion,” intelligent design, “creationist” challenges to evolution based on the Second Law of Thermodynamics, and no doubt more along the same lines.

In his mind, it is acceptable to teach about religion in a science class, so long as you are condemning it. It’s acceptable to teach about intelligent design, so long as you are condemning it. It’s acceptable to teach about “Haeckel’s ‘fraud,'” as long as you’re minimizing it. It’s acceptable to teach about challenges to Darwinian evolution based on the Second Law of Thermodynamics, so long as you’re denying that the challenges have any force to them.

This is crazy.  Any scientist has the right to correct student misunderstandings about science in the name of good science education.  Or does Klinghoffer think that I should refuse to answer the objection that the Second Law of Thermodynamics prohibits evolution, because that’s “”condemning religion.” In fact, I answered both of the questions he mentions without condemning religion at all, so how is religion even involved in this issue? Nor did I say that my answers proved that God didn’t exist—something that Eric Hedin didn’t refrain from when he used scientific observations of the cosmos as evidence for God.

Really, these guys don’t have enough to do, so they trawl my website looking for these ridiculous examples of “hypocrisy.”  It doesn’t irk me at all, though, for it’s funny: it shows that they’ve failed in their main aim to get American schools to teach intelligent design, and expel materialism from public science classes.

It’s a shame, because I’m sure Klinghoffer has enough brains to have really made something of himself—to have accomplished something for the good of humanity beyond Lying for Jesus.  When I see guys like him—who are by no means dumb—wasting their lives in such futile efforts, I remember the scathing dispatches of H. L. Mencken from Dayton, Tennessee during the Scopes trial. This description of William Jennings Bryan was from the Baltimore Evening Sun, July 17, 1925:

The old boy [Bryan] grows more and more pathetic. He has aged greatly during the past few years and begins to look elderly and enfeebled. All that remains of his old fire is now in his black eyes. They glitter like dark gems, and in their glitter there is immense and yet futile malignancy. That is all that is left of the Peerless Leader of thirty years ago. Once he had one leg in the White House and the nation trembled under his roars. Now he is a tinpot pope in the coca-cola belt and a brother to the forlorn pastors who belabor half-wits in galvanized iron tabernacles behind the railroad yards.

People like Klinghoffer, it seems, have completely bypasssed the Peerless Leader stage and gone directly to the end stage of Tinpot Pope.

61 thoughts on “The Discovery Institute gets terminally desperate: considers evolutionary rebuttals of creationist arguments as “condemning religion”

  1. People like Klinghoffer, it seems, have completely bypasssed the Peerless Leader stage and gone directly to the end stage of Tinpot Pope.

    Given that I’d imagine most of the Discotute folks are Protestants, that term must really sting.

  2. Or does Klinghoffer think that I should refuse to answer the objection that the Second Law of Thermodynamics prohibits evolution, because that’s “”condemning religion.”

    I know you intended that as a rhetorical question…

  3. Hi Dr. Coyne,

    When the students asked you about the intersection of science and religion, did you tell them that science contradicts religion?

  4. I was all ready to be a little concerned that Prof. C. Cat had done something short of proper, but yes, you have it right here: this is crazy. When I got to “…It’s acceptable to teach about challenges to Darwinian evolution based on the Second Law of Thermodynamics, so long as you’re denying that the challenges have any force to them,” it was obviously crazy–because there IS NO CHALLENGE TO EVOLUTION BASED ON THE SECOND LAW OF THERMODYNAMICS. To pretend otherwise coddles stupidity and does no favors to religion.

      1. A handy litmus test for whether claimants of science are really doing science or pseudoscience is to ask: are the claimants practicing self-correction? When a truth claim is found to be false, do they stop making the truth claim, or do they just keep making it? The pattern on the C/ID side has generally been to keep making claims that are known to be wrong.

        1. Exactly. The question I have is: if an argument you are using has been shown to be wrong, are you lying? If you honestly think something is true (and it isn’t), are you lying when you say it? I always think of the Harry Frankfurt essay called “On Bullshit”, bullshit meaning it may or may not be true, but you don’t care.

    1. I forget – which Bible passage is it that introduced the Laws of Thermodynamics to the sheep herders of ancient Israel?

        1. I didn’t see any references to haruspexy, but if you’re really interested, the Wikipedia article on divination in the Hebrew Bible has a listing of different types, as well as the condemnations and penalties.

          And this is an argument that I don’t think is used enough against the bible–to have condemnations of witchcraft and divination, you have to believe that witches and divination were real. Which is crazy talk.

  5. I suspect the Wedge Strategy has so warped Klinghoffer’s ability to think critically instead of bending truths, that he actually sees evolution as a religion. As a result he makes bizarre j’accuse! arguments that probably make great sense to him but probably to no one else.

    This one in particular required such a reach that I bet even his cronies are starting avoid eye contact with him.

  6. “Futile malignancy.”

    If anything better describes the Discovery Institute, its fellows and its mission, I haven’t heard it.

    It makes sense too: a malignant growth in a body is unknowingly killing what supports it; when the host organism is killed, so too will be the growth. It makes me wonder: if the DI (in some bizarre series of events I could scarcely begin to imagine) is successful in its mission to debunk/destroy evolution and end its teaching, what then will it do? The DI doesn’t exist to produce evidence for its superstitions (it can’t, won’t and doesn’t even bother to try as it has neither the desire nor the expertise) – if it were to accomplish its mission it would no longer have a reason to exist.

    The DI needs evolution so it can continue its hit-pieces and cries of exclusion and conspiracy, to continue to absorb funding from fools and to continue fighting their front in the culture wars. Evolution, however, was doing quite well before this rebranding of creationism and will continue to do quite well once interest in the DI dies off (or until the political creationism movement rebrands itself once again).

    1. If you read through the Wedge Document, you’ll know that the goal of the Dishonesty Institute is theocracy.

  7. Can’t they come up with anything less childish than, “But you’re doing (something vaguely hinting at a passing semblance of if you squint just right at) it, too!”?

    b&

  8. In his mind, it is acceptable to teach about religion in a science class, so long as you are condemning it. It’s acceptable to teach about intelligent design, so long as you are condemning it.

    I think Klinghoffer’s mind here is also being warped by the popular strategy used by those who are friendly to faith: the insistence that religious beliefs are off limits in science class. All of them. If someone brings up God or creationism, a good teacher says “we can’t talk about that.” Can’t say it’s right — but by the same token you’re not supposed to say it’s wrong, either.

    In other words, he’s confused Jerry with an accomodationist. Or it might be more accurate to say that Klinghoffer has confused religious claims which simply boil down to expressions of airy-fairy faith fluff (“I believe God was behind evolution!”) to religious claims which are scientifically WRONG (“There are signs of supernatural intervention in biology.”) He lumps them together under the term “religion” and cries foul.

    The reason we don’t teach Intelligent Design in science classes is twofold:

    1.) It’s religion. Legally speaking, you have to keep it out because science class is not for teaching religion.

    2.) It’s pseudoscience. The creationists are donkey enough to make testable claims — or at least claims which can be shown to be either incoherent or wrong. And there is zero legal obligation to make sure that “religious” pseudoscience is kept out of science class.

    Sorry, if your religion actively comes into the arena and contradicts the findings of modern science then it has to play by the rules and get shredded. No fair hiding behind “But I’m religious, you can’t hit me!” Jerry isn’t being hypocritical. Klinghoffer is.

    1. Yes, he realizes no one is buying the “ID isn’t creationism” argument so he is trying the “talking about religion even in the context of evolution is teaching religion”.

    2. Not that I think he will, but our host should not lose any sleep over the DI’s threat of character assassination (which is, in any event, one of the last refuges of rogues). Any flaws that they might find in the character of an evolutionary biologist, will, no doubt, be found in a DIer or prominent IDer, so thank you for illustrating that point.

      It also occurs to me that one of the teachings one receives in any form of theistic indoctrination is the ‘power of prayer’ and that, if you want something, you should pray for it earnestly. If God wants you to have it, then he will grant it to you, and if you don’t receive what you seek, God doesn’t want you to have it.

      It’s a no-brainer to assume that the folk at the DI have been praying to God – wasting their time – very earnestly over many hours for their dreams of theocracy and the Ark Park. As both seem to be failing, surely they should conclude that either their god does not want them to succeed, or that their god does not exist. They’d be far too arrogant to conclude that he isn’t listening or that he’s too busy with more important matters (what could be more important than their projects?).

      Sadly, we know that they won’t arrive at any logical conclusion.

  9. As so often with this American constitution issue I wonder whether ‘not teaching religion’ isn’t a distraction from the real issue.

    One should teach what is most likely to be true. If that happens to be that there is no divine purpose to evolution then so be it, even if that has relevance for religious issues. Surely if there were scientific evidence for intelligent design, e.g. if the world looked much as if all of life on it popped into existence 6,000 years ago, then we would teach that instead. The thing is simply that the world doesn’t look like that, not that such an idea could not be expressed in class because it was intrinsically religious.

  10. I think Klinghoffer knows he’s on to a sticky wicket. When he says:

    In his mind, it is acceptable to teach about religion in a science class, so long as you are condemning it. It’s acceptable to teach about intelligent design, so long as you are condemning it.

    (my emphasis) he’s more or less admitting he’s full of it. Of course you can teach about religion, if it’s necessary to refute mistruths put about by the religious (or the crypto-religious, like DI folks). That’s what education is all about. What you can’t do is teach religion itself, in the way that teaching DI would be teaching religious precepts as though they were scientific facts.

    Jerry’s spot on; this really is a pathetically desperate display.

    1. Hmmm, yes. I personally think he is not lying in the conventional sense. Reminds me of a quote from The God Delusion, in referring to a critical book review: “The author can be excused of dishonesty only on the grounds that before deceiving others he has taken great pains to deceive himself”.

  11. I have also known some brilliant people whose Christian upbringing has poisoned their minds. They are really held back from embracing reality. Look at Gonzalez – what else could he have done while he was cooking up lies for Privileged Planet and nurturing book sales afterward. He could have done something worthy of tenure. What could Hedin have taught during all those hours he was lying to students about the universe? It went on for years before he got busted. How many students were short-changed?

    Science lies are like medical lies – they are harmful in that actual science gets pushed aside and opportunities are lost forever.

  12. Never mind Klinghoffer. I’m still reeling from the Mencken clip. Who writes like him today? No one that I can think of.

    1. Hitchens came close.

      For real telling it like it is, Ingersoll might be numero uno.

      Although the single best line probably belongs to Richard Dawkins: “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction.”

    2. I don’t quite get Menken’s allusion to “galvanized iron tabernacles behind the railroad yards”. Perhaps it made more sense to his contemporaries.

      1. I presume it refers to cheap “houses of worship” placed where it can draw well from the less-educated and less-fortunate members of society.

  13. About the part of thermodynamics. The laws of thermodynamics deal strictly with the dynamics of energy. (Thermo = heat.)

    So here are the first two Laws of Thermodynamics stated.

    The First Law of Thermodynamics states that energy can be neither created nor destroyed, but may change from one form to another.

    The Second Law states that, in a closed system, there can be no net increase in available energy and that any process that occurs in a closed system will result in less available energy.

    And that is where your argument goes wrong. It does not clearly state what entropy is. Entropy is the degree of the non-availability of energy in a system with respect to the available energy.

    Another way of looking at it is that any increase in order–or for that matter, any process occurring–in a closed system must be balanced out by a corresponding decrease in available energy, which is equivalent to an increase in the non-availability of energy (entropy). Since the earth is not a closed system, but gets its energy from the sun, any increase in entropy is balanced out. (What the Second Law prohibits is perpetual motion machines.)

    Here is the mathematical expression of the Second Law.

    Delta Q = Delta Q / T

    Since the laws of thermodynamics deal strictly with the dynamics of energy, evolution does not violate the Second Law. As long as energy is available, evolution can occur just as any other natural process can occur. If evolution violated the second law, then life itself would violate the second law.

    One might think that the Second Law is violated by evolution because of the use of the term “disorder” that is sometimes used instead of “entropy” in referring to the Second Law. That usage can cause confusion and misapplication of the law.

    However, in scientific usage, terms have specific meanings. In thermodynamic systems, “order” and “disorder” refer to the ordering of energy in the system. A system with high order means that there is a large amount of usable energy compared with unusable energy so that energy can flow and processes can occur. A system with high disorder means that there is more unusable energy compared with usable energy so that little or no energy can flow for processes to occur.

    1. I’m sure you have a typo, but it should be dS=Q/dT. Since Q is a path function and not a state function, AFAIK there is no ‘dQ’, it’s merely Q, a finite quantity of heat added or removed from the system

  14. on the part on “And that is where your argument goes wrong.” I meant this is what ruins their argument goes to be even more terrible.

  15. Creationists have stopped being creative. Even their imitation is lagging.

    Even so, why should we grant religion and philosophy their special pleading?

    it shows that they’ve failed in their main aim to get American schools to teach intelligent design, and expel materialism from public science classes.

    Translation:

    ‘it shows that they’ve failed in their main aim to get American schools to teach intelligent design, and expel _science_ from public science classes.’

    To try to make biology out as anything else than science is granting both creationists (DI) and accommodationists (NCSE) their respective tactics of confusing science with religion (as in ID respectively NOMA). We shouldn’t accept their theological claims in any form, because it is confusing and because it is non-factual (as in the very least unsupported).

  16. It’s ironic that David Klinghoffer complains Coyne is unschooled in religion, when Klinghoffer, deeply involved in attacking evolution, isn’t a scientist.

    Hoist on his own petard, I think

  17. Dr. Coyne:

    I presume you’ve posted a response at Evolution News & Views to this scurrilous attack?

    Oh, wait a minute…

  18. Clearly a deliberate mischaracterized of your exchange with students, Dr. Coyne. This is no different than fabricating a narrative from facts taken out of context to buttress arguments for ID. Good on you for calling him out on it.

    What is upsetting to me is that proponents of wishful woo thinking and ID/creationism happily run to the fire to get burned again and again by proper scientists and thinkers because the goal is not really to “win the argument” and thus come close to the truth, rather the goal is to create confusion among the gullible and uninformed. They need just enough of these to keep the circus open, and there are more than enough of them across America. How else would they make a good living or prolong their 15 minutes of fame?

    1. The editors of ENV are asking for nominations for censor of the year. I suggest nominating ENV, as they do not allow comments on their website.

Leave a Reply