March 10, 2005

David Berlinski weighs in on Kansas

The Discovery Institute’s blog is lauding David Berlinski’s commentary on the events in Kansas. Berlinski penned an article which has been published in the Wichita Eagle in edited form. The full piece from the "wry voice of Jewish agnostic David Berlinski" as the DI promotes it (as if this validates his non-partisanship) can be found here.

Berlinski’s article, which the DI blog suggests manages to pierce the ultra-Darwinist "...smokescreen of ad hominem rhetoric" offers nothing new, settling instead for retreads of debunked icons and tired ID whines, the most prominent being – why do Darwinists insist no one should question their precious theory?
"The defense of Darwin’s theory of evolution has now fallen into the hands of biologists who believe in suppressing criticism when possible and ignoring it when not. It is not a strategy calculated in induce confidence in the scientific method. A paper published recently in the Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington concluded that the events taking place during the Cambrian era could best be understood in terms of an intelligent design – hardly a position unknown in the history of western science. The paper was, of course, peer-reviewed by three prominent evolutionary biologists. Wise men attend to the publication of every one of the Proceeding’s papers, but in the case of Steven Meyer’s "The origin of biological information and the higher taxonomic categories," the Board of Editors was at once given to understand that they had done a bad thing. Their indecent capitulation followed at once."
I reproduce this paragraph in it’s entirety because it is so riddled with misunderstanding, and so passionate in it’s misapplication. It is obvious to anyone without surpassing prejudice that neither biologists, nor evolutionists, believe in "suppressing criticism when possible and ignoring it when not." A minimal use of calm and common sense here makes it clear to anyone willing to think critically that what biologists resist is having to constantly and unprofitably spend time dealing with non-scientific, and politically motivated criticism. This time is better spent engaging in those kinds of fertile debates that produce empirical results and honor the very scientific method Berlinski invokes. Any honest perusal of the scientific literature will leave no one with the perception that there is no questioning or debate involved in evolutionary biology.

The evidence regarding how Meyer’s PBSW paper was subjected to peer-review, or not, is too provocative and widely disseminated to ignore. Even if (then editor) Sternberg was not pushing a particular philosophy it is clear that the process was altered to favor publication of the paper. How has Berlinski managed to miss this? The "capitulation" of the journal’s editors was actually more of a "this took place without our knowledge" admission. However spineless this defense may be, it certainly represents no capitulation to censorship. It is an acknowledgement that their oversight was weak enough to allow non-science to be promulgated in a scientific journal. Not to see this episode for what it is is to view the issue through partisan blinders, Jewish agnostic or not.
"Publication of the paper, they confessed, was a mistake. It would never happen again. It had barely happened at all. And peer review? The hell with it."
This is precisely about peer-review. It’s that nasty review part, the part that should’ve happened up front. Or is Berlinski suggesting there should be no pre-publication evaluation of a paper’s appropriateness?

Berlinski then takes aim at Eugenie Scott, accusing her of wanting to avoid any reasoned discussion of the issue and qualifying her advice to colleagues as telling all of those with dissenting opinions to evolutionary orthodoxy to shut up. He follows this by saying,
"In this country, at least, no one is ever going to shut up, the more so since the case against Darwin’s theory retains an almost lunatic vitality."
I know David Berlinski is supposed to be a guy who can put two coherent thoughts together but this comes dangerously close to the familiar "scientists are against free speech" sniveling we hear all too often. It also casts the second section of the above quote in an intense glow of unintended irony.

Berlinski proceeds through a well-worn list of spurious complaints about evolution including - weak evidence for selection, no theory of abiogenesis, irreducible complexity, the sparse fossil record, and fruit flys still only give birth to fruit flys. He then finishes his article with another bleat about scientists cutting off criticism and a truly buggy suggestion that,
"Serious biologists quite understand all this. They rather regard Darwin’s theory as an elderly uncle invited to a family dinner. The old boy has no hair, he has no teeth, he is hard of hearing, and he often drools. Addressing even senior members at table as Sonny, he is inordinately eager to tell the same story over and over again."
It appears that Berlinski is possessed of that same miraculous gift of insight shared by so many ID theorists. They know that the majority of biologists really think evolutionary theory is dotty and desiccated and are just too stubborn or pernicious to release this knowledge to a public that craves the cultural renewal of design theory.

Or he’s just another p.r. guy pushing another personal agenda.


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