Friday, July 13, 2007

Obtuse creationism

Tastes like ID

I was browsing through The Panda's Thumb when I came across Nick Matzke's post on creationism's latest adaptation to evolutionary pressures. In its bid for survival, intelligent design may be morphing into “critical analysis of evolution” (to borrow Matzke's phrase). One manifestation of this retooled approach is a book titled Explore Evolution. That's a nice title, isn't it? Sounds innocent.

So who are the authors of this evidently science-type book? The lead is Stephen Meyer, whose blurb on the Explore Evolution website says, “He is currently the Director and Senior Fellow of the Center for Science and Culture at the Discovery Institute in Seattle.” Yes, that Stephen Meyer. What's more: “He has authored articles in scientific journals such as the Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington....” You may recall that those Proceedings are notorious for having published Meyer's article. As noted in a statement later released by the Council of the Biological Society of Washington,
Contrary to typical editorial practices, the paper was published without review by any associate editor; Sternberg handled the entire review process. The Council, which includes officers, elected councilors, and past presidents, and the associate editors would have deemed the paper inappropriate for the pages of the Proceedings because the subject matter represents such a significant departure from the nearly purely systematic content for which this journal has been known throughout its 122-year history. For the same reason, the journal will not publish a rebuttal to the thesis of the paper, the superiority of intelligent design (ID) over evolution as an explanation of the emergence of Cambrian body-plan diversity. The Council endorses a resolution on ID published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which observes that there is no credible scientific evidence supporting ID as a testable hypothesis to explain the origin of organic diversity. Accordingly, the Meyer paper does not meet the scientific standards of the Proceedings.
Yet Meyer (or his flacks) continue to tout his article in the Proceedings. His vita must be weak in publications if he feels compelled to continue citing a paper that was expressly disavowed by the scientific society that originally published it.

Nevertheless, Meyer and his coauthors soldier bravely on as they try to advance the creationist cause. Explore Evolution has a slick website where the curious may browse through the features of this wonderful new “science” book. I was particularly amused by some excerpts from the text, one of which contained an earnest discussion of the importance of defining one's terms precisely. It was, very unfortunately, coupled with a lame attempt at humor. It was the lame attempt that was especially—and inadvertently—funny. Their chosen example for the dangers of ambiguous definitions was a math term:
To be “obtuse” means to be stupid.

Some triangles are obtuse.

Therefore, some triangles are stupid.
Oh, my, but they are treading on dangerous ground! The attempt at humor was accompanied by an illustration of a boy wearing a dunce cap while he sat on a stool. The dunce cap was adorned with a triangle. That's funny, you see, because they had just made a joke about obtuse triangles being stupid. But...

The triangle in the picture is acute. Not obtuse. Decidedly acute. The triangle is not “stupid” and does not deserve to be relegated to the corner of the classroom on the dunce cap of the failing student. The obtuseness clearly resides elsewhere.

It's like a little parable about creationism itself: too dull to get the point.


Blake Stacey said...

I must admit, their choice of font does scream "textbook!"

Keanus said...

The "dunce" should be wearing a t-shirt on the back of which is the legend "Discovery Institute."

Zeno said...

Oh, you don't know how close I came to doing that, Keanus! So tempted! But I finally decided to leave the page excerpt exactly as it appears in the book.

jonathan said...

It's a board triangle, I think. Those are usually right.

Zeno said...

jonathan: Yeah, probably.