Monday, February 11, 2008

Berlinski Exposes the Insanity of ID

The Intelligent Design slide into insane crankery continues, as revealed by their glowing featuring of David Berlinski's reality-averse rantings. As usual, we can't help wondering whether people are deranged/stupid, or think their audience is, who would say things like this:

The idea that science is a uniquely self-critical institution is of course preposterous. Scientists are no more self-critical than anyone else. They hate to be criticized… Look, these people are only human, they hate criticism — me too. The idea that scientists are absolutely eager to be beaten up is one of the myths put out by scientists, and it works splendidly so they can avoid criticism.

Scientists are no more self-critical than anyone else? On what basis is this statement made? It sounds like plain old vanilla egalitarian ideology, unsullied by observations of the real world. All one need do to see the self-critical level of scientists compared to, say, alternative medicine/science practitioners, is look at their writings. Scientific writings are filled with qualifiers on their knowledge, corrections of errors, and vigorous debate over even the most extreme minutia. Read an alternative medicine journal, say one of energy massage, or a quack science/religion site like, oh I don't know, Uncommon Descent, and compare it to something like Panda's Thumb, and the differences are obvious. PT readers will tear into each other over the smallest disagreements, whereas intense debates are almost nonexistent in those other forums. Disagreement with cherished notions, such as who designed the designer, get you banned from the pseudoscience sites, not the science ones.

Now it is of course true that scientists are not eager to be criticized, but this is merely a straw man Berlinski introduces to have something easy to knock down. What makes science special, and what is responsible for much of its unparralleled epistemological success, is the willingness of its actors, not to be criticized, but to criticize each other.

We’re asking for standards of behavior that would be wonderful to expect but that no serious man does expect. A hundred years of fraudulent drawings suggesting embryological affinities that don’t exist — that’s just what I would expect if biologists were struggling to maintain a position of power in a secular democratic society. Let’s be reasonable… the popular myth of science as a uniquely self-critical institution, and scientists as men who would rather be consumed at the stake rather than fudge their data, is okay for a PBS special, but that’s not the real world; that’s not what’s taking place…

And who can argue with a man who thinks the drawings of Haekel, nearly 100 years dead, is relevant to a discussion of science today? Worse yet, Berlinski gets his facts wrong (I know, shocker). While Haeckel may have fudged his drawings, the embryonic affinities do exist, as photos of embryos clearly show, and his flaws and misdeeds are covered in textbooks precisely as flaws and misdeeds. If Berlinski thinks Haeckel is relevant to our discussion of modern biology today, it is he who is not dealing with the real world.

One of the reasons that people embrace Darwinian orthodoxy with such an unholy zealousness, is just that it gives them access to power. It’s as simple as that: power over education, power over political decisions, power over funding, and power over the media.

Conspiracy theories are the last refuge of cranks: when all the evidence goes against you, invent a conspiracy that suppresses evidence and keeps you down. Invent a motivation for all those people to be against you. Never mind that, as any practical analysis shows in minutes, such a conspiracy would collapse rather quickly were someone to attempt to form one, whether it be to fake a moon landing, or evolution. Berlinski apparently forgot his economics lessons on cartels, which can survive only if there is little to be gained from breaking from the group, and knowledge and a control mechanism for the group to keep would-be scabs from breaking ranks. An intellectual cartel on evolution could not survive because there is too much to be gained in fame and fortune for the hypothetical scientist who could overturn evolution with evidence, for him to choose silence. That and never mind the millions of us that recognize the truth of evolution and receive no economic benefit or power from doing so at all.

"…appraising Darwinian theory in the context that realistically portrays it for what it is: a kind of amusing 19th century collection of anecdotes that is utterly unlike anything you see in the serious sciences… Yeah, biologists do agree that this is the correct theory for the origin and diversification of life — BUT, here are some points you should consider as well: 1) the theory doesn’t have any substance to it, 2) it’s preposterous, 3) it’s not supported by the evidence, 4) the fact that biologists are uniformly in agreement could as well be explained by some solid Marxist interpretation of their economic interests."

Doesn't have any substance to it? The man is truly daft. Evolution says my ancestors, were I to travel far enough back in time, were not much like me, certainly not what we'd call human, and yet over time the accumulation of changed and selected traits produced me. To say there is no substance there is again to thumb one's nose at reality. For the ID folks to trumpet this pathetic, ignorant denialism reveals just how desperate for supporters they are. For their expert to wave away 150 years of experimental data as "preposterous" again shows just what sort of fantasy world they occupy. Finally, biologists are not in uniform agreement, as the creationists are eager to point out every chance they get. The debates on evo-devo, neutral drift, junk DNA, and other aspects of evolution are debated endlessly. Berlinski is again simply denying reality.

When people haven’t been criticized in a long time they react with a great deal of indignation when they’re criticized for the first time. It’s human nature. Put yourself in the position of a Daniel Dennett or a Richard Dawkins who are used to being the regnant priests of a powerful orthodoxy, and for the first time in their lives someone says, “Hey, you guys are simply not credible.” Of course they’re going to react with outrage and indignation, hurl imprecations at others, resort to objurgations…

What they are indignant about, of course, is not that they are criticized, but that they are criticized by ignoramuses who don't understand evolution, have not examined the evidence, have obvious religious motives for their views, and most important of all, have never produced any evidence of their own. Would a carpenter be indignant to get criticism of his building? For sure if it came from someone who had never built anything in his life, quoted opinions of carpenters who lived hundreds of years ago as authorities on what designs and materials should be used now, and didn't understand even the basics of carpentry. This is the IDer/creationists in a nutshell, and Berlinski is a shining example.

Let's hope the IDers continue to put such obvious cranks at the forefront of their sociopolitical movement. It will help speed their inevitable demise.


scripto said...

"1) the theory doesn’t have any substance to it, 2) it’s preposterous, 3) it’s not supported by the evidence, 4) the fact that biologists are uniformly in agreement could as well be explained by some solid Marxist interpretation of their economic interests."

Damn. I've been trying to educate myself on evolutionary theory. I better stop before I turn Commie.

Darwin and Marx in the same paragraph. Throw in Hitler and you hit the trifecta.

"marxist interpretation of their economic interests"

WTF? Does this make sense on any level?

I've heard this guy on a couple of debates and he's somewhat of an intellectual bully. Somehow he's convinced himself that he is possessed of special knowlege that has managed to elude several generations of biologists.

ScienceAvenger said...

I think the Marxist comment refers to Marx's idea of determining who benefits by following the money. Of course, the creationists can't even get that right, and distort Marx to imply wrongly that in any situation there must be money involved.