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Last summer, many Kossacks took as much delight as I did in this diary.  It involved a series of e-mail exchanges between Andrew Schlafly and Dr. Richard Lenski, in which the scion of Conservapedia demanded that the good doctor turn over to him the evidence Lenski had accumulated in a laboratory over 20 years demonstrating bacterial capacity for evolution.  Lenski's response was excerpted in that diary and was truly one for the ages.  Well, if that was the Greatest Creationist Smackdown of 2008, then we have an early nominee for that award for 2009.

First, a bit of background is in order.  As many of you know, Howard Dean has replaced Ben Stein as the commencement speaker for this May's graduating class at the University of Vermont.  I can't imagine why there was such an uproar by students and faculty against conferring an honorary degree to Stein.  If I had to guess, it would be that he served as the narrator for the wretched piece of trash that IDiots tried to pass off as a documentary film, entitled Expelled.  Presenting, as scientific evidence, claims that can easily be refuted by any freshman-level biology student is bad enough, but Stein's film had the gall to suggest that the theory of evolution promotes Nazism and eugenics, and intimated that only a vast conspiracy by entrenched powers prevents ID from sweeping into prominence in academia.

After Stein "withdrew" from his commencement speaking role at UVM, there was a predictable backlash from those believing that this provides another example of "Darwinists suppressing free speech".  In response, a biology professor at UVM by the name of Dr. Nick Gotelli published an article in the Burlington Free Press, defending the position of those who opposed picking Stein as commencement speaker.  He astutely pointed out that there is a difference between respecting free speech and inviting someone to speak at a commencement, the latter of which is supposed to be an honor signifying high scholarly achievement.  Dr. Gotelli even went so far as to say that the best way to refute the claims of Creationists is to provide them with an open public forum to present their views, so that the absurdities are revealed in the light of day.

Apparently, the kooks at the Discovery Institute interpreted this position by Dr. Gotelli as a genuine respect for the scientific positions of IDiots.  Following a link I saw at Andrew Sullivan's blog, apparently an employee of the Discovery Institute sent a letter to Dr. Gotelli, inviting him to set up a public debate between himself and ID proponents.  Dr. Gotelli flatly refused, and promptly submitted the letter he received and his reply to PZ Myers for publication in the latter's science blog, Pharyngula.  (I can think of no better recommendation for this blog than the tagline: Evolution, development, and random biological ejaculations from a godless liberal.)  Hilarity ensues, causing enough of a stir in the science community to attract a comment from none other than Richard Dawkins (comment 99).  I'm going to quote directly from the exchange, but I encourage everyone to check the links out themselves as they are well worth reading.

First, there is the letter from the Discovery Institute.

Dear Professor Gotelli,

I saw your op-ed in the Burlington Free Press and appreciated your support of free speech at UVM. In light of that, I wonder if you would be open to finding a way to provide a campus forum for a debate about evolutionary science and intelligent design. The Discovery Institute, where I work, has a local sponsor in Burlington who is enthusiastic to find a way to make this happen. But we need a partner on campus. If not the biology department, then perhaps you can suggest an alternative.

Translation:  We are desperately attempting to persuade scientists to take our medieval ideas seriously without success.  Would you care to engage us in a public debate to bestow upon us the veil of credibility that tenured biology professors seem so loathe to give?

Ben Stein may not be the best person to single-handedly represent the ID side. As you're aware, he's known mainly as an entertainer. A more appropriate alternative or addition might be our senior fellows David Berlinski or Stephen Meyer, respectively a mathematician and a philosopher of science. I'll copy links to their bios below.

Translation:  The movie "Expelled" was such an unmitigated disaster for our credibility that we can't allow Ben Stein to speak for us anymore, so we're throwing him under the bus.  Instead, please accept our request for an opportunity to discredit you from people whose names are not tainted by our recent public relations flop.

The letter then goes on to refer to the Darwin "debate", as if there is any lack of widespread scientific consensus on the theory.  Of course, it suggests a backdrop for the debate in their own terms, attempting to make the scientist argue in a box.  Dr. Gotelli's response is pure gold, and I encourage everyone to read it at PZ Myers' website.  Below are some of the highlights of the response, and my interpretations of them.

Thank you for this interesting and courteous invitation to set up a debate about evolution and creationism (which includes its more recent relabeling as "intelligent design") with a speaker from the Discovery Institute.

This is the only place in the letter where Dr. Gotelli refers to the term "Intelligent Design".  Afterwards, he just lumps everything together with "Creationism", no doubt seeking to enrage the recipient since the Discovery Institute goes out of its way to deny that ID=Creationism.

Academic debate on controversial topics is fine, but those topics need to have a basis in reality. I would not invite a creationist to a debate on campus for the same reason that I would not invite an alchemist, a flat-earther, an astrologer, a psychic, or a Holocaust revisionist. These ideas have no scientific support, and that is why they have all been discarded by credible scholars. Creationism is in the same category.

PWNED!  This speaks for itself.  I particularly enjoyed the comparison to Holocaust deniers, as a retort to the ludicrous claim that the theory of evolution is responsible for Nazism.

Finally, isn't it sort of pathetic that your large, well-funded institute must scrape around, panhandling for a seminar invitation at a little university in northern New England?

Translation:  With all the donations you get from the Creationist-believing public, you ought to be able to have the money to fund sufficient research activities to get published in mainstream journals, if in fact there is any scientific merit to your claims.  Instead you prattle about writing books and magazines that don't live up to scientific standards.

A related point brought up in the comments to that blog entry is important to stress to those that think biologists should engage in public debates with the IDiots.  Public debates are not the ideal forum for arriving at truth.  The reason the IDiots relentlessly press for public debates is because debates tell one little more than which party is a better bullshitter.  They seek to remove the scientist from the realm of laboratories with his mountains of evidence, and force the scientist to summarize his position in a few minutes, while the IDiot will practice for the debate by memorizing propaganda points.  If the IDiots were serious about acceptance in the scientific community, they would express their ideas at conferences, places where a bit more nuance and evidence is required in order to come across as well-informed.  But that's the whole point.  IDiots aren't really aiming for academic acceptance.  Their aim is to convince the public, so that they can obtain political power and thereby force their positions on everyone.  Hence the Discovery Institute spends all of its money on setting up public debates, rather than conducting scientific research.

Once again, I encourage everyone to read the articles I linked to, especially the entire letter from Dr. Gotelli on the PZ Myers blog.  I'll conclude with a poll.

Originally posted to Abelian on Tue Feb 24, 2009 at 01:19 AM PST.


What is the best response to Creationism nonsense?

15%44 votes
73%209 votes
6%18 votes
4%13 votes

| 284 votes | Vote | Results

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Comment Preferences

  •  wonderful smackdown (16+ / 0-)

    thanks for the b-day present

    fact does not require fiction for balance

    by mollyd on Tue Feb 24, 2009 at 01:34:12 AM PST

    •  True enough, but (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      OHdog, Munchkn, Novem

      we forget the last-gasp ID'ers are clinging on for their own psychological needs, not because ID has any basis in reality in the first place. In short, ID, through its Creationist roots, certainly, promises that, at some level, man -- and I'm being gender-specific here -- is still Master of the Universe. As today's honored guest, Doctor Lakoff, has amply demonstrated, the conservative mentality believes society is all, and only, about masculine domination of the rest of the humans in an individual male's familial/social circle.

      Sadly, it's not about the science, it's about paranoia, and statements like the above just feed the "they're really all out to get me" mentality.


    •  Happy b-day ... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Another one down; many, many more to go!

      noli, amabo, verberare lapidem ne perdas manum -- Plautus

      by fritzrth on Tue Feb 24, 2009 at 05:13:49 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Great fun! (6+ / 0-)

    Thanks for bringing this to our attention.

  •  I love the evolution - creationismID arguments (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    x, grada3784, kyril, zenmasterjack

    It boils down to the fact I like to watch creationist and IDer's get their smackdowns, usually in a humorous manner.

    Does that one creationist museum still have that porn star Adam? I forget the name of the "museum" but it's right over the Tennessee border, north of Nashville.

    The only thing that helps me maintain my slender grip on reality is the friendship I share with my collection of singing potatoes. -5.75, -7.18

    by Rogneid on Tue Feb 24, 2009 at 02:22:04 AM PST

  •  Oh, wow (7+ / 0-)

    That's just beautiful.

    Finally, isn't it sort of pathetic that your large, well-funded institute must scrape around, panhandling for a seminar invitation at a little university in northern New England?

    Math Kos runs Saturdays at midday-ish.

    by kyril on Tue Feb 24, 2009 at 02:29:21 AM PST

  •  Wonderful--thanks for this day-brightener! (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Hope is the thing with feathers That perches in the soul . . .

    by cranquette on Tue Feb 24, 2009 at 03:26:04 AM PST

  •  Without rehashing the debate- (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    x, Ophelia, AaronBa, dotalbon

    My personal belief is that evolution is an observed phenomena, while the creationist/ID/biblical literalist version of beginning events is not.  However, my faith in GOD, does not contradict a thematic reading of the bible, nor is it at odds with an all-powerful creator who IS/AM.

    Therefore, when approached by creationists, I firmly and gently tell them that I believe GOD created evolution as a mechanism to bring forth life on this earth.  (Further explanation is needed to explain why the Gregorian calendar is not an accurate reflection of time as stated in the bible.)

    In my mind, the idea that God simply acted as a magician who "poofed" life into existence, is petty and immature spiritually.  Seriously, placing dinosaur bones around to confuse scientists?  

    The IDer's dominate the spiritual dialogue in a petty and I believe insincere way, confusing the dialogue with a cover group that claims they do not back up creationism, while rejecting the body of experimental and quantitative evidence.  

    I understand Dawkins is athiest, and I am respectful of that.  He knows what he knows, and I have no quarrel with that.  In a larger conversation about who we are as humans, our place in evolution, and humanity's quest for the divine, isn't it possible that evolution, (for the faithful) represents more evidence of the awesomeness of a divine creative mind/power/force/God?

    •  God created evolution (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Munchkn, Georgia Liberal

      is my fallback position.

      The problem w/fundies is that their God is perceived as being limited by the 24 hour Earth day.   Why would God be so constrained?  I would think a God day might be billions of Earth years, or even millennia.  God as a Man Who Lives in the sky and troubles Himself with our weekly Lotto prayers is an underwhelming narrative.  He may as well Be Santa Claus.

      God is an Ineffable force which we cannot easily comprehend, IMO.  The whole Milky Way Galaxy might be a corpuscle in The Body of God.  

      Imagine our blood cells imagining Us.  And consider what we do to our bodies.  When we drink too much they must be wondering why these tribulations are being foist on them.  And when we eat right and make our bodies strong, how blessed they must feel.

      I feel like a tiny cell in the Body of God, important to the greater Organism, but only noticeable  when I become cancerous.  And even then, it might be a billion God years before God notices.

      It's called the Mystery for a reason.

      Cheers to the professor in smacking down the Flintstonians.  It's hard to believe the IDiots are grownups.  Jeebus.  If God created everything... He must have created evolution.  Da Vinci and Sister Wendy believe that God gave us all these gifts of science and art and sex to explore and enjoy.  


      •  Indeed, who are the true heretics here? (0+ / 0-)

        As you say, "God is an Ineffable force which we cannot easily comprehend." I would say that God is that which exists at the furthest boundaries of Man's perceptions, his/her imaginations, feelings, subtle intuitions. In the Judiastic tradition, naming God was heresy, because in the very act of pronunciation, you limit God by binding it into a single word. One cannot limit the limitless, and I find great wisdom in this. As the Tao that can be named is not the True Tao, so too is God far beyond anything we can describe w/ words.

        The goal of the Fundamentalists, in both religion & materialism, is to shrink God into a clearly defined & predictable entity. Fundamentalists love the Ayn Rand A=A theorem, because it allows for no imagination, no spontaneity, nothing to be intuited, or even interpreted. God's literal truth is in actuality the greatest of heresies, the most depraved of sacrileges, for it contorts the infinite & ineffable and cuts it down to easily understood tautologies.

  •  I've generally been on the side of (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ManhattanMan, dotalbon

    letting them hang themselves with their own words in a public debate.

    I see the point that a university inviting them for debate gives them some legitimacy they don't deserve, but, but if the invitation comes from an evolutionist not as part of a university, it's held at, say, an arena, and they sell lots of popcorn, could it be a bad thing?

    You can't reason someone out of something they weren't reasoned into. - Jonathan Swift

    by A Mad Mad World on Tue Feb 24, 2009 at 04:12:31 AM PST

    •  Yes a bad thing because the creationist just lies (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      snakelass, bythesea, Munchkn, Abelian

      and refuses to give an inch and even if they are refuted the next day in print it doesn't matter since they will go to the next debate and lie again. They have no conscience about this since they are defending God's word and your facts are just opinions. Example: Scientist says human DNA is 95% similar to Chimps DNA. IDer says both man and clouds are both 95% water so are we related to clouds? It tends to be stupidity appealing to stupidity since the majority of the audience is probably ID believers hoping to get their views backed up and the godless scientist mashed.

      Watch out! You almost stepped in that steamy pile of dog Limbaugh.

      by OHdog on Tue Feb 24, 2009 at 04:57:46 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Yes, we are related to clouds, (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        OHdog, Munchkn

        and dirt, fungus, bacteria and horse snot.  We are Earthlings.  We arose from Earth Ooze.  And we are Primates, mammals, pond scum and calamari.  

        These are all  expressions of the Divine Spark.

        I'm sure I'm on the roster for an old fashioned burning at the stake, stoning or beheading for saying it, but there it is.

        When the Martians attack we'll know who's side the fundies are on.  Even so, I'll try to save them.

    •  Politically (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      there is probably still a purpose for such debates (not to mention entertainment value), but I can certainly understand why any real scientist wouldn't bother.

      Your political compass Economic Left/Right: -6.50 Social Libertarian/Authoritarian: -6.67

      by bythesea on Tue Feb 24, 2009 at 05:05:31 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  If we can't beat the Creationists... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Joy Busey an open debate at a University, then where will they be beaten?

      Millions of Americans believe that Evolution is wrong.  These Americans don't go to conferences.  Muzzling people and making fun of them and riding around in cars with fish-with-feet on them isn't changing any minds.

      Also, this seems like one of the reasons we have universities.  A Professor who refuses to do battle against Dumb is like a soldier who won't fight terrorists.

      Professors have cushy jobs, a lot of status and respect, and usually tenure. We give them healthcare.  Now is the time for them to earn it...they must go forth and fight teh dumb.

      •  Open debates at universities (5+ / 0-)
        are not the answer.  There is no "debate" possible; science is not opinion, it is fact.  Want to prove someone wrong?  Demonstrate the lack of reproducibility of their research. Why should scientists of whatever stripe/rank waste time arguing nonsense with agenda-ridden charlatans?

        The answer lies in the science curricula of basic education.  In public (ie tax-supported) school systems, science teachers must teach science, not some bowdlerized substitute.  Don't want your kids to learn fact?  Send them to private schools on your own dime, and don't come crying when they can't qualify for med school.

        When "stupidity" suffices, why search for any other reason?

        by wozzle on Tue Feb 24, 2009 at 07:51:09 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  ID/Creationists have been beaten (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        snakelass, Munchkn

        They keep lying. Creationism is completely dishonest. If you want to see the depths to which creationists will descend, read Kitzmiller v Dover Area School District. Remember that this smackdown of creationist deceit was done by a George W Bush appointee, one who went out of his way to note that he is not in any way an activist judge.

        There is nothing to discuss, unless they are willing to tell you why they lie.

  •  My favorite part of this diary (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    x, snakelass, Abelian

    is the quote from the ID spokesperson, dismissing Ben Stein as an "entertainer".  

    Ben was funny enough when he was dissing the 60's, but now he's downright risible.      

    Electing a Republican is like hiring a carpenter who thinks hammers are evil.

    by dotalbon on Tue Feb 24, 2009 at 04:17:20 AM PST

  •  science just has a bunch of theories (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    And theories keep changing with the times.
    Whereas the Bible, thousands of years old, has never changed. There, my friends, is proof that has stood the test of time. Bible believers don't need to stick a finger up in the air to test the shifting winds of scientific opinion!

    Dream, that's the thing to do (Johnny Mercer)

    by plankbob on Tue Feb 24, 2009 at 04:47:49 AM PST

  •  Talk to them when young (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    x, Munchkn

    People tend to hard-wire their beliefs when young.  Ideas can take root later but it's a heckuva a lot harder. and

    by chloris creator on Tue Feb 24, 2009 at 04:52:21 AM PST

  •  I believe in the scientific method of debate (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    snakelass, Munchkn, Abelian

    Do an experiment, collect your data, write a paper, and discuss/defend it at a scientific conference with other scientists.  The IDers can't do this because they have no scientific basis for what they say, so they say they want debates instead. Theyu must follow the scientific method if they want to be taken seriously.  

    Obama would be perfect if he were a Cubs fan.

    by Georgia Liberal on Tue Feb 24, 2009 at 05:51:06 AM PST

  •  This UVM alum will make a donation (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    snakelass, Munchkn, Abelian

    Thank you for the diary. I am really proud of the way that Dr. Gotelli has represented UVM. I am so impressed by his response that I will be making a donation of $250 to the school. If I can earmark the funds specifically to the Biology Department, I will do that.

    I encourage other UVM alumna to do the same. Let's reward a university that values science.

  •  This is great! (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Munchkn, Abelian

    Thanks for posting this diary. I love reading smackdowns of the creationist nuts.  

    Science Rules!

    "Live in the sunshine, swim the sea, drink the wild air." - Ralph Waldo Emerson

    by Blue VA on Tue Feb 24, 2009 at 06:59:26 AM PST

  •  How about a few Creationist cartoons? (6+ / 0-)

    Done with politics for the night? Have a nice glass of wine with Two Days per Bottle.

    by dhonig on Tue Feb 24, 2009 at 07:15:12 AM PST

  •  Let's be fair (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    I would not invite a creationist to a debate on campus for the same reason that I would not invite an alchemist

    Alchemists, albeit unwittingly in many cases, provided us with much of the basis for the theory and practice of scientific chemistry and physics.  Core laboratory techniques such as titration derive directly from alchemical practices.

    When official America talks of bipartisan compromise, it usually means the people are about to get screwed. ~ William Greider

    by ActivistGuy on Tue Feb 24, 2009 at 08:25:15 PM PST

    •  yes, and (0+ / 0-)

      the Church, at one point, gave some of what we now call scientists a place to explore, define, and prove their theories, all in the name of exploring God's creation. Gregor Mendel was a priest, after all.

      Unfortunately, the religious establishment (can't accurately say the Church anymore) has divorced itself from exploring new ideas, out of fear that they might contradict church teachings. This is not new, of course, look at Galileo. But whereas before they would have suppressed or discredited the results, now they are actively discouraging the experiments and ways of thinking, too. It really is a shame.

      in the book Anathem, by Neal Stephenson, there is a brief discussion of God and science that I totally agree with. I can't find a quote (got the book from the library), but essentially, the characters describe a philosophical debate concluding that since the existence of God cannot be proved or disproved, it is irrelevant to any scientific discussion.

      that's the problem with creationists, Americans who don't believe in evolution, whatever. they can't grasp that in science, the existence of a god just does not matter.

  •  You've Been Rescued (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    snakelass, Munchkn

    "What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them"

    by ItsJessMe on Tue Feb 24, 2009 at 08:28:08 PM PST

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