Alas, More Shrill Polemics - Evolution News & Views

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Alas, More Shrill Polemics

The News Tribune (Tacoma, WA) this weekend ran three pieces about the evolution debate, one by CSC senior fellow Jonathan Witt contesting the idea that evolution is incontestable on any grounds, and two pieces of shrill polemics:
one by UW biologist Peter Ward stating that Darwinian evolution is a fact (and resorts to name calling to prove it), and an opinion piece by Peter Slevin from the Washington Post that has been masquerading in papers around the country as an objective news story for several months now (nothing like new news to keep your publication fresh and your readers up to date).

In his op-ed Witt asks:

"if the case for Darwinism is so powerful, why the repeated attempts to duck both competition and critical inquiry?"
Indeed, why the foot stamping, mud slinging and issue dodging? One would think that perhaps there was less to back up the Darwinian claims than previously believed.

Instead of civil discourse or reasoned debate what we get are angry diatribes full of ad hominem attacks and little else. What is the response of Ward to the argument that the evidence for Darwinism is lacking? Does he address the merits of their arguments? No he responds thusly:

... the unintelligent approach of the so-called intelligent design movement. I say “so-called” because Stephen Meyer, Jonathan Witt and their cohorts at Seattle’s Discovery Institute who make their living peddling this snake oil would have you believe there is a massive groundswell of scientists who have been won over to their cause.
(Actually it's not a massive groundswell, but skepticism about Darwinism is a growing minority viewpoint in science.) And,
I can only imagine Bruce Chapman and his Discovery Institute friends must admire a place like Iran, where dissent is at best limited and where pesky scientific studies that would get in the way of the religious state never receive a public forum.
Ward finally concludes that doubters of Darwinism and design proponents are bad, bad people:
Teaching intelligent design at the middle school or high school level will rob our young students of a proper grounding in science, because it bears no relationship to science. Those who say it does are toying with the future of our nation. And I believe they are doing so deliberately, even maliciously.
Never mind that he doesn't even know what our position is on teaching intelligent design (we don't think it should be required), he actually thinks that we're "deliberately" malicious people. There is little likelihood of a reasoned discussion with an extremist like this.

So, how malicious does Witt make us out to be?

Consider the cell, something Darwin believed was little more than a blob of Jell-O. We now know that it’s a world of intricate circuits, miniaturized motors and enough digital code to fill an encyclopedia. These are to Stonehenge what a gothic cathedral is to a Lego house. Design theorists study the explanations for these marvels of nanotechnology and choose the one that best accounts for the data – intelligent design.

Leading design theorists haven’t tried to force intelligent design into public schools. They’ve merely urged schools to teach the strengths and weaknesses in Darwin’s theory and to protect teachers from being penalized who choose to discuss the controversy over intelligent design.

That's it, that's our dastardly plan. Point to molecular machines in cells and argue that the best explanation is an intelligent cause not an undirected process.

Rather than argue the science Ward conclusively states that Darwinian evolution is a fact, uncontestable on any grounds. I suggest he read CSC Fellow David Berlinski's (who is not an ID proponent by any means)superb article "The Deniable Darwin." Berlinski argues:

The fundamental core of Darwinian doctrine, the philosopher Daniel Dennett has buoyantly affirmed, "is no longer in dispute among scientists." Such is the party line, useful on those occasions when biologists must present a single face to their public. But it was to the dead that Darwin pointed for confirmation of his theory; the fact that paleontology does not entirely support his doctrine has been a secret of long standing among paleontologists. "The known fossil record," Steven Stanley observes, "fails to document a single example of phyletic evolution accomplishing a major morphologic transition and hence offers no evidence that the gradualistic model can be valid."

That the News Tribune felt compelled to "balance" Witt's op-ed with two pieces instead of one is interesting. When accepting the piece we understood it would be in the context of a point-counterpoint presentation. We didn't know it would be point-counterpoint, counterpoint. Even more interesting is the News Tribune's inclusion of Slevin's Post piece in their Insight opinion section. The piece is so biased, so obviously unobjective that editors are compelled to run it on their opinion pages, where points of view rightfully belong.

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