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A Darwinist Worries about Darwinian Rhetoric

Jack Scanlan, Australian blogger and contributor to Darwinist group blog Panda's Thumb, picks up on Casey Luskin's comments here about anti-ID rhetoric and adds an unintentionally humorous suggestion for ID critics.

Casey is currently writing a series on the rhetorical tactics of ID opponents, his bottom line being that most such critics avoid grappling with the substance of intelligent-design arguments and prefer to engage in crude insults. Casey reasonably suggests this may be because they don't have anything better to offer in response. Scanlan worries that in a sense, Casey's got a point -- that your typical anti-ID bombast ends up doing the opposite of what it intends, "playing right into the ID movement's hand."

Scanlan proposes some more appropriate language for Darwinian scientists when they are asked (by a journalist, for example) to comment on intelligent design. In Scanlan's suggested answer, the scientist is supposed to assure the journalist, "The mainstream scientific community no longer pays much attention to the [intelligent design] movement and will continue to do so [or rather, not to do so] until ID proponents formulate more rigorous and persuasive ideas."

Nicely spun, Jack, and many a credulous journalist would no doubt be taken in. However the truth is other than you say. Darwinian scientists who blog -- in other words, those whose comments are most readily accessible to us -- may indeed not pay attention to ID arguments, but that's certainly not because of any lack of "rigorous and persuasive ideas" on ID's part. The proof is that Darwin defenders are typically very busy indeed picking on other arguments that no thoughtful and critical person would remotely regard as "rigorous and persuasive." What those other arguments have in common is that, unlike ID, they're too weak to effectively fight back.

As a convenient example, right over at Panda's Thumb, Scanlan's colleage PZ Myers contributes a longish post (1500+ words) attacking some guy's rather... well, strained attempt to discover the details of all of embryology in two vaguely formulated verses from the Koran. Dr. Myers complains:

I have read the entirety of Hamza Andreas Tzortzis' paper, "Embryology in the Qur'an: A scientific-linguistic analysis of chapter 23: With responses to historical, scientific & popular contentions," all 58 pages of it (although, admittedly, it does use very large print). It is quite possibly the most overwrought, absurdly contrived, pretentious expansion of feeble post hoc rationalizations I've ever read. As an exercise in agonizing data fitting, it's a masterpiece.
Who is Hamza Andreas Tzortzis? On his Facebook page, he is identified as "a convert to Islam, ...an international lecturer, public speaker & author. He is particularly interested in Islam, philosophy and politics." How Dr. Myers discovered Mr. Tzortzis and what an easy punching bag he makes, I do not know.

What would trouble me if I were Jack Scanlan -- a well-intentioned Darwinian observer of the evolution debate, someone who cares about the quality of the rhetoric coming from my side, disdaining the usual cheap shots -- is the way my allies in the debate make a habit of spending their time going after the weak, the widows and the orphans, as they meanwhile ignore the most serious scientific challenges to Darwinism. Even if Scalan doesn't think intelligent design poses a genuinely serious scientific challenge, he admits that it poses a real public-relations challenge: "It uses the right type of language, it shows off its shiny PhD-brandishing experts, and it sneaks religious ideas in under the guise of appealing to human design analogies, which are extremely seductive at first glance."

None of that could be said of the likes of Hamza Andreas Tzortzis or the half-baked creationists who regularly provide fodder for mockery by Darwinian scientist-writers. PZ Myers lavishes unlimited attention on the most inane creationists. Dawkins savages them in his writing even as he remains stubbornly ignorant of ID. Another prominent Darwin apologist, physicist Karl Giberson (writing with Randall Stephens), recently came out with a book called The Anointed: Evangelical Truth in a Secular Age in which he criticizes young-earth creationists at length but has next to nothing to say in response to intelligent design.

Jack Scanlan's carefully worded talking point, about how "the mainstream scientific community no longer pays much attention to the [ID] movement" because of its lack of "rigorous and persuasive ideas," makes it sounds like Darwinists just don't have time for ID anymore, which is why they limit their comments to snide insults.

Yet when it comes to skewering silly creationists, scientists like PZ Myers and Richard Dawkins have plenty of time and interest. Teasing little kids, pushing them into the sand on the playground and grinding their noses in it -- there's no shortage of leisure and energy for that. I believe Dr. Myers when he says he read "all 58 pages" of Hamza Andreas Tzortzis's manuscript on Koranic embryology. However when it comes to grappling with what sure looks like real science, from folks with heavy-duty academic backgrounds like Steve Meyer, Doug Axe, Ann Gauger, Jonathan Wells, and other ID advocates -- sorry, no time for that! We're too busy. Out to lunch. Need to run and catch that plane that we're late for! MaƱana, perhaps!

These people are bullies and cowards. Really, it's pathetic and anyone with a critical capacity and any interest in the Darwin question should have asked himself by now why the main Darwin defenders refuse to wrestle with the most serious Darwin critics -- even if seriousness were measured simply in relative terms -- when they've got no shortage of time to plow through self-published Internet texts by the Hamza Andreas Tzortzises of this world.

Do you want to try to tell me it's because kicking sand in poor Hamza's face is funny and entertaining? Watching habitual bullying makes for an enjoyable diversion? Then there's really something wrong with you.

Why doesn't Jack Scanlan take his colleagues to task for this? He seems like a nice guy and gives the impression of being, as Casey puts it, a truth seeker rather than just another pro-Darwin propagandist. Even Scanlan himself, however, complains in another post that due to poor "time management skills" he hasn't had time to read Signature in the Cell and similar titles: "Remember my pile of pro-intelligent design books? I never got around to reviewing them, for various reasons."

Here's a crazy idea. If you don't have time to read up properly on ID or are otherwise disinclined to do so, perhaps refrain from deciding whether its arguments are "rigorous and persuasive."