Damn—missed it again!

Sadly, I didn’t become the first two-time recipient of the Discovery Institute’s (DI’s) “Censor of the Year Award.” That’s the bad news. The good news is that the recipient was a religious organization: the United Methodist Church. Why on earth did a church get it. Well, as the DI announced a while back, the Methodists decided not to allow a Discovery Institute table at its General Conference. As the Methodists themselves noted, promotion of ID didn’t comport with their social principles:

After the U.S. Supreme Court in 1987 struck down creation science in public schools as unconstitutional, intelligent design gained popularity as an alternative to the study of conventional evolutionary biology. The Discovery Institute, a public policy think tank founded in 1991, explicitly seeks to champion intelligent design in academia.

However, according to its Social Principles, The United Methodist Church does not see conflict between faith in God and the study of biological evolution.

“We find that science’s descriptions of cosmological, geological, and biological evolution are not in conflict with theology,” the Social Principle on “Science and Technology” says.

General Conference in 2008 approved a resolution “opposing the introduction of any faith-based theories such as Creationism or Intelligent Design into the science curriculum of our public schools.” The commission cited the resolution specifically in declining the Discovery Institute’s exhibit application.

The Methodists also cited the Dover case as showing that, as ruled by Judge John Jones III, ID isn’t science:

Jory Weintraub, an immunologist who teaches with the Duke Initiative for Science and Society at United Methodist-related Duke University, said the overwhelming majority of the scientific community agrees with the judge’s assessment.

Because intelligent design starts with belief in a designer, who as Jesus said should not be put to the test, it doesn’t offer testable hypotheses the way evolutionary biology does.

Well, even the DI notes that ID does offer testable hypotheses, so the Methodists are off the mark here. However, lest the DI take this out of context, all their testable hypotheses have failed. We have plausible precursors for the adaptations that the IDers claim could never have evolved in a stepwise fashion, and the supposed fossil evidence against Darwinian evolution has been attacked and refuted by real paleontologists (see here).

The DI, of course, which has no positive scientific program of its own, offering only lame and incorrect criticisms of real science, is into big-time whining, and so urges its acolytes to contact the Methodist Church:

Is human life just flotsam cast up by a mindless material process? That, the picture of what man is, constitutes the ultimate question posed by the study of evolution. Without regard for what is merely politically correct, Americans want to know what science has to say about biological origins.

The “leadership” of the UMC Commission, isolated from mainstream opinion, is thus this year’s COTY. They deserve it, whoever they are. The award is an occasion for sensible members of that church, and other thoughtful people of any religious persuasion or none, to rise up in protest. We have already offered an easy way of taking action. If you haven’t already, please spare a moment and do so.

The DI casts this as a free-speech issue. But if the Methodists’ position is that the Church must be accept science as it comes from scientists, then the DI has no right to promulgate its falsified “science” at a Church conference. That would be equivalent to allowing tables on homeopathy, ESP, and flat-earth “theory” at their meeting.

Now I could criticize the Church’s argument that there’s no conflict between science and faith, and I have, but I have a book on that, so I’ll leave it be. But it’s telling that the Discovery Institute, but no real scientific organization, whines continuously about being suppressed and censored. That’s also a hallmark of pseudoscientists like Deepak Chopra and Rupert Sheldrake. Have the woolheads at the DI ever noticed that similarity?


  1. rickflick
    Posted February 12, 2016 at 10:21 am | Permalink

    It occurs to me that by foisting this award on people and institutions that contradict them, they are inadvertently leading their followers to arguments that undercut their lame message. They will be leaving the fold. Seems like a Darwinian natural selection is underway to eliminate what doesn’t fit reality.

  2. Posted February 12, 2016 at 10:28 am | Permalink

    As evangelists go, I’ve always thought the Methodists were a level-headed lot.

  3. Peter_J
    Posted February 12, 2016 at 10:30 am | Permalink

    Oy vey! My sympathy for missing out on such a coveted award. 😉

    • Posted February 12, 2016 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

      From me also! And don’t lose hope, Prof. Coyne, you may still receive your 2nd award some other time! Because ID fools don’t look exactly like an endangered species.

  4. Posted February 12, 2016 at 10:36 am | Permalink

    “Is human life just flotsam cast up by a mindless material process?”

    So what if it is? This is already an appeal to consequence, but the consequence isn’t even the big, bad bogeyman the DI thinks it is.

  5. Randy Schenck
    Posted February 12, 2016 at 10:42 am | Permalink

    Just shows that if you are crazy enough, you can shoot yourself in the foot. It’s good for all to know that concern about what acadamia thinks of you and intellectual laziness can put you in the running for this great award.

  6. Sastra
    Posted February 12, 2016 at 11:12 am | Permalink

    This whole idea that you “can’t test God” is a vague, nebulous, one-way-street. Even liberal Christians/theists are constantly testing and confirming God in the way they see its presence made manifest for them in a beautiful sunset, a fortunate outcome, or an inner feeling of strength and acceptance. They’d also be the first to jump for joy if clear, convincing scientific evidence for the existence of God was clear enough and convincing enough to convert all the world’s scientists.

    What are they going to say? “Gee, now that everyone believes in God I’m going to have to find a better understanding of God because this one’s become disappointing.” And where would that end?

    “God” isn’t testable for the same reason dowsing isn’t testable. It IS — for all practical purposes. That means, it can be viewed through a scientific mindset if all you’re interested in is discovery, instead of discovering that your beliefs were right all along.

    • JonLynnHarvey
      Posted February 12, 2016 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

      Mostly agreed, but with the caveat that the same verse has been put to interesting use by Dostoevsky and Philip Pullman in critique of religious power-trips.

      Dostoevsky’s short story “The Grand Inquisitor” (excerpted from “The Brothers Karamazov”) makes the argument that the Roman Catholic church took the devil’s choice in all three of the desert temptations recounted in Matthew, thus making religion reliant on miracle, mystery, and authority.

      Atheist Philip Pullman in his novel “The Good man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ” applies the same argument to Christianity as a whole. In this novel, Jesus has an identical twin, Christ, who fouls up the benign message of Jesus and founds Christianity. In the temptations of the desert scene, it is Christ giving all the devil’s arguments- effectively telling Jesus he needs to do a magic show (a la JAC’s post about Padre Pio the other day) to convince the people- in a way that has deep echoes of Dostoevsky, IMO.

      I read the novel last December (and gave it to my father as a Christmas gift!) One effect of it to was to make me (a tad) more sanguine to the “Don’t put God to the test” maxim, at least in a certain context.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted February 13, 2016 at 6:34 pm | Permalink

      “God” isn’t testable for the same reason dowsing isn’t testable.

      Dowsing is testable. Though the dowsers don’t like to advertise the fact.
      In the late 1980s and early 1990s an area of North Yorkshire was “gone over” by a caver who thought he was a successful dowser and could therefore locate passages in the hillside. Where the water sank and surfaced was well known – see map. Geologists had predicted the presence of cave in this area by water tracing, and had estimated the volumes of vadose passage in the system at several thousands of cubic metres by artificial flood pulse timing. But as always the question is “where’s the effing cave?” Our dowser troglodyte walked the area with his coathangers, noted his feelings, picked his nose, and drew up his predictions in his club’s journal.
      Then the divers went bubbling in the dark. 15 years of work and they’ve followed approaching 3km of passage, some of it with air surfaces. Some of it is even large enough to use back-mounted bottles! (Though the 500m entrance crawl makes that less of an advantage than it sounds). Only a few areas of “hanging death”. Some interesting flow patterns where water comes in from inlets. Good solid progress, but the hoped for Malham Cove Master Cave still hasn’t been found (or if it has been, the dive team haven’t let on yet ; explorer’s privilege). and of course, they’ve been surveying their way in and out, so they’ve now mapped the water-filled portion of the cave, which is what the dowser also claims to have mapped.
      You can guess how good the match between the two maps is. Which is why the dowsing community trumpet this success from the highest towers of the land. Not.

      • Sastra
        Posted February 13, 2016 at 7:12 pm | Permalink

        James Randi has said that the group most enthusiastic about being tested for his million dollar paranormal challenge was the dowsers. Their experience with ‘success’ made them very confident — and, unlike many paranormal claims, dowsing is relatively easy to design a valid test for, since most dowsers agree that they can easily detect water hidden inside dark jars. And during the “dry” run, when they know which jars hold water and which don’t, their sticks or pendulums or apparatus of choice obligingly indicates appropriately every time, very quickly. Piece of cake. They’ll renounce dowsing forever if they fail the test. Promise!

        When neither they nor the observers know where the water is, however — now they move very slowly, and their results are pure chance.

        The most interesting part comes afterwards, when people who had insisted they were 100% sure of 100% accuracy and dowsing is 100% capable of being tested by science … backtrack. They start coming up with excuses, including the Big One of it not being testable. Dowsing didn’t fail the test: the test failed dowsing.

        God, like dowsing, IS testable. It “can’t be tested” when — and because — that’s convenient.

        • gravelinspector-Aidan
          Posted February 13, 2016 at 10:39 pm | Permalink

          Well of course dowsers are actually constitutionally unable to recognise their bunk as being bunk.
          The good point about this test is that it was a completely natural body of water that was being searched for – and nobody knew where it was. You don’t get handed chances like that too often.

  7. Sastra
    Posted February 12, 2016 at 11:27 am | Permalink

    But it’s telling that the Discovery Institute, but no real scientific organization, whines continuously about being suppressed and censored. That’s also a hallmark of pseudoscientists like Deepak Chopra and Rupert Sheldrake. Have the woolheads at the DI ever noticed that similarity?

    Probably, since they’re making use of a lot of the same arguments and, for all I know, some of the same studies.

    The Discovery Institute probably views the New Age “scientists” the same way they view competing religions. As long as they’re all fighting a common enemy (materialism or secularism) they’ll avoid starting an argument. When they do criticize, it’ll be more along doctrinal than empirical or methodological lines. Conspiracy thinking is broad: the acceptance of any particular look-how-they-ignore-us pseudoscience will depend on how an individual identifies.

    I always find it interesting when my friends who have bought into alt med, alien, or 9-11 conspiracies try to deal with or explain holocaust and global warming deniers. The concept of a science-and-reason-based “common ground” shouldn’t just apply to uniting people; it ought to apply to evaluating claims.

    • JonLynnHarvey
      Posted February 12, 2016 at 11:58 am | Permalink

      Chopra has an annual special on PBS for crying out loud. He just can’t get onto the venues that he would like.

  8. Posted February 12, 2016 at 11:34 am | Permalink

    So wait, I thought ID was about the science. Why are they attending (wanting to attend) religious conferences? Or have they dropped the charade?

    • Mark Sturtevant
      Posted February 12, 2016 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

      I think there has been two faces to the movement. One face shows a science facade, and they show that face when it comes to pressing for teaching woo in public schools, and any other occasion where they see a need to wear a patina of sciencey-ness. Then there is the openly bible-thumpin’ side. This one comes out when they are communicating more directly to a religious group.

  9. arizonajones
    Posted February 12, 2016 at 11:47 am | Permalink

    Take heart Professor Coyne, I hear you’re
    still up for the “Dwayne Gish Memorial Scientismist of the Year” award.

  10. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted February 12, 2016 at 11:57 am | Permalink

    The DI misunderstands the First Amendment in exactly the same way that Sarah Palin does. And since one of their senior fellows, John West, has a degree in government he should know better. (The write-up cited here by JAC is actually by David Klinghoffer, one of the few Jews at DI.)

    If people have a negative reaction to your speech and as private parties penalize you for it, your free speech has not been violated. Sarah Palin did not understand this re chick-a-filet boycott over their anti-gay position.

    It’s the free market….of ideas. Not censorship.

    When JAC won the award he simply asked that the theistic philosophy of science be moved to a different venue other than a science classroom.

  11. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted February 12, 2016 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

    Although the leaders of the Methodists have a pro-separation of church and state side, I wonder if that is true with many of their followers.

  12. dargndorp
    Posted February 12, 2016 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

    The email exchange between the IDiots and the Methodists is frankly delicious: http://www.discovery.org/scripts/viewDB/filesDB-download.php?command=download&id=11911

  13. Torbjörn Larsson
    Posted February 12, 2016 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

    “That, the picture of what man is, constitutes the ultimate question posed by the study of evolution.”

    Never mind the biology which is the ultimate question of the theory, as long as we can pretend human exceptionalism. Or play pretend, because if it would be the question why are they afraid of the answer?

    Religious evangelists have so much to answer for. First rule of holes, stop digging.

  14. Blue
    Posted February 12, 2016 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

    Along with your awarding All in Britain on Darwin Day y2016, with trustworthy words, Dr Coyne, I believe you should be the recipient of an award for just this wee week’s earlier effort at .certain. censorings of the fenders of police units. Inside Sheriff Diggs’ Kentucky, for example.

    Something, say, such as:
    the Secularity Award for Constitutionality and Civility in the Service of Science Within the Public Square !

    http://www.polldaddy.com/poll/9302589/?view=results shows as of USA’s Central time today of 1:30pm thus:

    68% no to 32% yes = translating in to
    absolute numbers of 5,170 no to 2,381 yes !

    (And another one no – vote registered within just the last couple of minutes of my typing this entry — cuz, for accuracy, I just rechecked the poll’s tally!)

    Congratulations !

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