January’s evolution show trial put on by the Texas State Board of Education gave the anti-evolution Discovery Institute a warm fuzzy because one of its co-founders got to share the stage with real scientists. (If you missed it, check out our live blogging that started here.) Because they can’t provide a shred of real scientific evidence to support their anti-evolution babble, the Disco folks try to set up “debates” in reputable venues just for the publicity. The Texas scientists who shared the microphone at the state board hearing didn’t have much choice — state board members had appointed them to a review panel that was part of the formal process for revising public school science curriculum standards.
But given a choice, most scientists aren’t willing to participate in a “debate” with folks from the Discovery Institute. Why? Because the Disco folks haven’t bothered to do the hard work of providing scientific evidence to support their positions. Now PZ Myers tells readers that the Discovery Institute recently asked a professor at the University of Vermont, Nicholas Gotelli, for a debate about evolution and “intelligent design” on his campus. In short, Prof. Gotelli’s answer was along the lines of “you’re joking, right?” You can read the whole delicious exchange for yourself, but here’s a taste of the professor’s stinging reply:
(I)sn’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? Practicing scientists receive frequent invitations to speak in science departments around the world, often on controversial and novel topics. If creationists actually published some legitimate science, they would receive such invitations as well.
25 thoughts on “Whack!”
I’d like to see (read/hear?) that debate, although I doubt any debate can be done these days without the faithful invoking “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed” I thought “Expelled” was just a silly movie when it was first produced, but I’m really starting to hate that thing. It seems to be a lightning rod for anti-science yahoo’s, even the ones who don’t subscribe to all the bogus conclusions in it. It’s silly, but it’s developing a following almost as devoted as the Bible itself.
That reminds me: I read Casey Luskins critique of Shermer’s critique on Expelled and I love this quote.
“It’s tough to take Shermer’s calls for peace between religion and Darwin seriously when he has elsewhere declared his view that “[t]here is no God, intelligent designer, or anything resembling the divinity as proffered by the world’s religions.””
Do they now consider simply the open declaration of Atheist beliefs a serious threat? Do they think anyone who says God doesn’t exist can’t possibly be peaceful. I was not aware that they had sunk so low.
My über-fundamentalist father has retorted to me on occasion, “Why are scientists afraid to debate creationists?”
I haven’t had any really great responses to this for him, because he doesn’t believe it when I tell him the creationist faction regularly and systematically lies, so it’s not a fair debate.
Next time it comes up, I’ll ask him why the creationists have to resort to public relations stunts outside the scrutiny of experts. The place for “debate” on their “scientific” findings is at scientific conferences and in scientific journals. If their ideas can’t stand up to the examination of those who understand the science around whatever angle the creationists are currently pursuing, well … the ideas don’t deserve to be promulgated to those less well-informed who can’t spot BS when it’s served them.
Would anyone have expected Albert Einstein to debate a person who believed that the earth was flat, in a highly public forum? After all, that’s the equivalent of what he’s expecting for biologists–to debate with the flat-earthers of biology.
If he answers that he would have expected it, then he’s beyond all hope.
Those who waste time and energy trying to bring harmony between science based evolution and the religiously based creationists are not likely to succeed. This latter group is unrelentingly obstinate and unyeilding in their biblical literalism
which gives rise to their unbelievable contentions. They continue to reject 150 years of scientific discovery which is rapidly reducing any gaps in the understanding of the origin and evolution of life. There can be no legitimate debate over the separating issues because debates have to function under rules of reality. One side is absolutely dedicated to those principles; the other is immersed in supernaturalism and distorted forms of logic and speculation with no willingness to accept evidence. Sadly, if those dedicated to Creationism/Intelligent Design could work to scientifically qualify their hypothesis as an accepted theory it could then be compared and its value debated against evolution. Until then such discussions are pointless. Don’t hold your breath.
Prof. Gotelli said,
–Practicing scientists receive frequent invitations to speak in science departments around the world, often on controversial and novel topics. If creationists actually published some legitimate science, they would receive such invitations as well.–
Prof. Gotelli is wrong — critics of evolution theory are being invited to scientific conferences at universities. An announcement of a debate at the University of North Florida says,
Over the course of the past decade Intelligent Design Creation models refuting Darwinian Evolution have become increasingly popular among both theistic scientists and the national population. The Jacksonville Chapter of Reasons to Believe is pleased to sponsor a University Skeptics Forum at the University of North Florida on February 25th, 2009, to examine and critique one such model. Several Skeptics Forums have been, and are being held at academic institutions throughout the country, including:
University of California at Davis,
University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign,
Ohio State University,
University of Rochester,
Texas A&M University,
University of Nebraska;
University of California, Santa Barbara; and
University of Texas, Austin (go, Texas)
and all are meeting with tremendous interest and success.
The format of a University Skeptics Forum (USF) is that of a debate between qualified scientists and scholars. We are pleased to have enlisted one of the nation’s foremost authorities to lead the skeptics panel – Dr. Michael Shermer, Executive Director of the Skeptics Society and founding publisher of “Skeptic” magazine. Basic tenets of the ID model will initially be presented by visiting scholars — astronomer and author, Hugh Ross, Ph.D., and biochemist and author, Fazale Rana, Ph.D. Scholar Panel members, working with Dr. Shermer will then be asked to offer a scientific critique of the information presented via an exclusive “Commentary / Q&A” session. During this session panel members will attempt to expose any weaknesses, incoherencies or fallacious assertions found in the model. The forum will then be open to audience members for a question and answer session.
Gotelli’s email also said (but you didn’t quote),
–Instead of spending time on public debates, why aren’t members of your institute publishing their ideas in prominent peer-reviewed journals such as Science, Nature, or the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences? —
As I said, now that the Internet has become a major means of communication, publication in peer-reviewed journals has become an obsolete standard of authority.
“As I said, now that the Internet has become a major means of communication, publication in peer-reviewed journals has become an obsolete standard of authority.”
Did you really say, “publication in peer-reviewed journals has become an obsolete standard of authority”? On whose authority do you make your proclamation? Are you implying that something published on the internet has the same weight of authority as do peer-reviewed journals?
Let’s see. Say I feel the need to let people know about my burning interest. So I take my topic, say, co-evolution, and write a blog about it. Does that automatically make me:
A. an expert
B. an authority
C. the latest word on the subject (since peer-reviewed journals take so much time and are such a hassle)
D. someone who can afford hosting fees and can publish anything I want regardless of veracity or mendacity?
—– Hint to those of you taking the test at home. It’s not A, B, or C. —–
Glad to know about the University Skeptic’s Forum. Not the same as a conference with many scientists who, like open-source software programmers — thousands strong, can keep an eye on the many lines of code thrown out at such debates.
Why do the Discovery Institute people not put forth their claims at recognized scientific conferences wherein the audience is filled with folks who not only know what they are hearing, but what is being left out or distorted?
I’m hoping that I will be invited to one of these university debates that Larry mentions, because I want to spread the word about my Satan-wrote-the-Bible theory. I’m sure they’d be happy to include me, because I have as much evidence for my theory as the ID proponents (creationists) have for their theory.
Actually, it was Gotelli who first suggested an ID debate at UVM — he wrote in a op-ed,
Naturally, the biology department and many others would never invite Stein to speak on our campus. However, one of the best ways to refute intellectually bankrupt ideas is to expose them to the light of day. There is nothing I could say to my biology classes that would discredit Stein’s ideas more than his own words on evolution, science, Nazis and the Holocaust. For this reason, universities and campuses throughout the United States occasionally invite “controversial” speakers, and we at UVM fully support this kind of free speech.
But inviting a campus lecturer is different from choosing a commencement speaker and awarding an honorary degree. The real issue is not political correctness, but scholarship. I will leave it to my colleagues in the economics department to weigh in on Stein’s scholastic achievements as an economist. As far as the sciences go, I am unaware of a single publication by Stein that has appeared in a peer-reviewed scientific journal.
But when David Klinghoffer proposed Stephen Meyer and David Berlinski, who are ID experts and experienced ID debaters, as alternatives or additions to Stein, Gotelli chickened out —
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.
Also, it is presumptuous of Gotelli to presume to speak for the whole biology department: “the biology department and many others would never invite Stein to speak on our campus.”
I propose that this bozo Gotelli be ignored and that others arrange an ID debate at UVM.
Biology Teacher Says:
— Are you implying that something published on the internet has the same weight of authority as do peer-reviewed journals? —
That depends on a lot of factors, e.g., How technical is the article? How many readers and commenters are there? What is the level of expertise of the commenters?
Also, the terms “peer review” and “peer-reviewed” appear a total of 23 times in the Kitrzmiller v. Dover opinion, but law journal articles are typically not peer-reviewed or even faculty-reviewed but are typically just student-reviewed! See —
–So I take my topic, say, co-evolution, and write a blog about it. Does that automatically make me:
A. an expert
B. an authority —
Yes and yes. My discussions about coevolution are non-technical and require no special training to understand. My blog has several articles about coevolution in a post label group titled “Non-ID topics of evolutiion” —
So instead of just attacking my credentials, why don’t you comment on my articles about coevolution?
Criticisms of evolution are NOT given a fair hearing — for example, my ideas about coevolution are banned on several Darwinist blogs.
— Glad to know about the University Skeptic’s Forum. Not the same as a conference with many scientists who, like open-source software programmers — thousands strong, can keep an eye on the many lines of code thrown out at such debates. —
Why are thousands of scientists needed in the audience? Just a few experts are needed to ask the right questions, and since these ID debates are being held at big universities, it is very likely that there will be at least a few experts in the audience. Also, the debate can be broadcast and/or recorded so that other experts may hear it.
Larry, once again you are mistaken. The word “debate” doesn’t appear anywhere in that Gotelli op-ed. What he’s saying is that the university will occasionally allow controversial figures the chance to speak–so students can see how repugnant, ignorant, and backward those figures are. Read the article again. Gotelli never suggested a debate. It appears that he thinks people like Ben Stein should be allowed to hang themselves with their own words—but not at a commencement address, because it is considered an honor to be chosen for a commencement address.
Besides, Ben Stein and intelligent design and all that stuff is obviously irrelevant, because there is no God, and Satan wrote the bible. Remember?
You haven’t proven me wrong yet. What’s the problem? It’s a non-technical theory that requires no special training to understand. With your logical mind, you should be able to prove me wrong.
Larry, I know it’s unsettling to think that Satan wrote the bible just to fool you. Maybe it’s shaking your faith. Maybe you have insomnia just thinking about it. Maybe even night sweats. You know what the solution is, don’t you?
Prove me wrong! It’s that simple!
Until then, everyone reading this can plainly see that my Satan-wrote-the-bible theory is as valid as intelligent design. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this matter.
PS: Did you know that Satan also wrote the Koran, just to cause trouble? What a jokester.
PPS: Thanks for choosing to spell “coevolution” correctly. If you had chosen to continue spelling it wrong, that would have made you look foolish. I am glad I was able to help you in some small way.
Larry, if you think writing a blog automatically makes one an expert and an authority, you demonstrate a monstrous flaw in logic that casts a shadow on anything worthwhile you may or may not offer.
You apparently do not understand the peer-review process for scientific journals. Not just anyone with a blog gets recognized as any kind of authority. Why? Generally because they aren’t authorities. If any research can stand the scrutiny of informed peer review, it deserves to be published in scientific journals. If not, well, there’s always the “authoritative” internet on which any blame fool thing can be and is published daily. Doesn’t make it accurate. Doesn’t make it logical. It may or may not be, but there is not a formal peer review process for an individual’s blog to vet its worth.
If, however, you consider your peers all internet users, then popularity alone would suffice to grant authority to you or astrology (39 million hits) or Islam (146 million hits) or flat earth ideas (15 million hits.) I’m sure you would agree those worthy topics must be true because they have the authority of the internet backing them up. Yes?
February 22, 2009 at 10:45 pm
–Larry, once again you are mistaken. The word “debate” doesn’t appear anywhere in that Gotelli op-ed. —
Do you know what the word “suggest” means? A suggestion does not have to be explicit.
–It appears that he thinks people like Ben Stein should be allowed to hang themselves with their own words—but not at a commencement address, because it is considered an honor to be chosen for a commencement address. —
Well, how in the hell are they going to hang themselves with their own words if they are not invited to a debate.
The full story is here:
–You haven’t proven me wrong yet. —
I prove you wrong all the time.
Biology Teacher Says:,
–Larry, if you think writing a blog automatically makes one an expert and an authority–
Sorry, I should have clarified my response by saying that I didn’t mean “automatically.”
Anyway, it doesn’t matter if I am an expert or not — I posted some articles about coevolution on my blog and anyone is free to comment about them. Erroneous comments can be refuted by other comments. You are making this too complicated.
–Not just anyone with a blog gets recognized as any kind of authority. Why? Generally because they aren’t authorities. —
Wrong — blogs are now often recognized as authorities. For example, law blogs have been cited hundreds of times by law journal articles and have even been cited by court opinions — see
— and —
These statistics are from 2006 and the numbers must be much greater now.
Also, Panda’s Thumb, a Darwinist blog, is indexed in Thomson-Scientific Co.’s “ISI Web of Knowledge” scientific database (the ISI logo is in the sidebar of the homepage of Panda’s Thumb). IMO PT should not be indexed by ISI because PT arbitrarily censors comments and commenters. You hypocritical Darwinists make a big deal about peer review in scientific journals while you see nothing wrong with arbitrary censorship of comments and commenters on blogs.
Larry, I believe that Gotelli means that occasionally a controversial figure such as Ben Stein might be allowed to give a lecture on a college campus (though not necessarily the UVM) because it CAN be a learning experience for the students, though not in the way Stein intended. I’m sure that the professors and students would thoroughly analyze Stein’s speech and weigh its merits (or lack thereof), just as they would analyze a lecture from any visitor, whether they consider that lecturer a crackpot or a legitimate authority. Do you follow what I mean? If you have any doubt what Gotelli meant, why don’t you ask him?
Also, you’ll be happy to know that I’ve revised my theory. Here it is in its entirety (so far). You’ll like #4 and #5:
1. There is no god or gods.
2. The only supernatural entity in existence is Satan. He didn’t create mankind, but he does have some limited powers than can be quite annoying.
3. Satan wrote the Bible as a means to torment mankind. He wants us to think there is a god and an afterlife, but there isn’t.
4. Satan planted the idea of intelligent design into some humans’ brains as means to create havoc on earth. It appears to be working.
5. Satan made Africa look like a human in profile as a means to make you think intelligent design is a valid theory. That’s also why he used his limited powers to make some organisms appear irreducibly complex.
So, Larry, you can see that your belief in ID simply plays into Satan’s hands. Please renounce Satan by renouncing intelligent design.
Of course, if you can prove me wrong about any of this, I’m sure we would all be relieved. I know it’s a difficult task to prove the nonexistence of Satan–sort of like asking an atheist to prove there is no god–so I’ll wish you good luck in discrediting my theory.
All the readers of this blog are eagerly awaiting your insightful comments.
Larry, you appear to confuse law (a field in which opinions count very heavily) with science (a field that cares nothing for opinions that do not have evidence combined with logic to support them.) Some law blogs no doubt have the imprimatur of an institution or recognized authority in a particular area and are thus treated to more respect than Joe Sixpack hobbyist lawyer’s site.
I am familiar with your claims of alleged censorship on assorted blogs. I sincerely doubt the censorship has anything to do with science. Blogs often have rules against posters self promoting and being a nuisance. No conspiracy there.
Perhaps you could submit your web site for consideration to the Thomson-Scientific Co.’s “ISI Web of Knowledge” scientific database. If it got in it might bolster your claims of authority on your topic.
–Larry, I believe that Gotelli means that occasionally a controversial figure such as Ben Stein might be allowed to give a lecture on a college campus (though not necessarily the UVM) because it CAN be a learning experience for the students, though not in the way Stein intended. I’m sure that the professors and students would thoroughly analyze Stein’s speech and weigh its merits (or lack thereof), just as they would analyze a lecture from any visitor, whether they consider that lecturer a crackpot or a legitimate authority. Do you follow what I mean?–
No, I don’t follow what you mean. For starters, what do you mean, “not necessarily the UVM”? Gotelli said, “we at UVM fully support this kind of free speech.” Also, instead of just having listeners “thoroughly analyze” someone’s speech on their own, what better way to discredit someone than to have a debate? And Klinghoffer’s debate proposal offered not only an opportunity to discredit Stein but also an opportunity to discredit ID experts Berlinski and Meyer. Klinghoffer called Gotelli’s bluff and Gotelli chickened out. How you can call this a Darwinist victory is beyond my imagination.
— Thanks for choosing to spell “coevolution” correctly. —
“Coevolution” is not the “correct” spelling — it is apparently the preferred spelling. I see the spelling “co-evolution” in some places.
–So, Larry, you can see that your belief in ID simply plays into Satan’s hands. Please renounce Satan by renouncing intelligent design.–
I am no big fan of intelligent design — I prefer criticisms of evolution that are based on co-evolution.
You still haven’t answered my question about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.
Lary (I know that you prefer to spell it “Larry,” but I’ve seen it spelled “Lary” in some places),
I guess Gotelli doesn’t want to address the ID people for the same reason you don’t want to address my Satan-wrote-the-bible theory.
By the way, I’ve added a few more planks to my theory’s impressive platform:
6. Satan has caused some people to misunderstand coevolution, so that they will think it provides valid criticisms of evolution. Those people should renounce their inaccurate beliefs or they will be doing Satan’s bidding.
7. Dancing on the head of a pin, by angels or anyone else, is strictly prohibited by Satan.
–I guess Gotelli doesn’t want to address the ID people for the same reason you don’t want to address my Satan-wrote-the-bible theory. —
Ben, you are really obtuse. I never said or implied that I want to address your asinine Satan-wrote-the-bible theory, but Gotelli implied that he would like to have Stein speak about ID and evolution at UVM in order to discredit Stein’s ideas:
. . .one of the best ways to refute intellectually bankrupt ideas is to expose them to the light of day. There is nothing I could say to my biology classes that would discredit Stein’s ideas more than his own words on evolution, science, Nazis and the Holocaust. For this reason, universities and campuses throughout the United States occasionally invite “controversial” speakers, and we at UVM fully support this kind of free speech.
But when Klinghoffer proposed a debate with real ID experts, Gotelli chickened out.
BTW, there is a lot more evidence for a Darwin-to-Hitler connection than there is for Darwinian evolution or a “systematic” Jewish holocaust.
Lary, let’s stick to one issue for now: my theory.
Why is it any more asinine than any of your theories?
And if simply calling my theory “asinine” is enough reason not to debate me about it, can’t Gotelli do the same thing? All he has to do is say that intelligent design is “asinine,” and that’s a valid reason not to debate, right?
You accuse Gotelli of chickening out, but you’re doing the same thing. You are a hypocrite. You are always asking for debates, and I’m giving you that chance. Let’s debate my theory! After we’re done with my theory, we can debate your theories.
So…If you can refute my theory, do it! Actually, I’m starting to get a little embarrassed for you, because you obviously can’t refute a theory you consider asinine, by a person you consider obtuse.
If your next comment isn’t a refutation of my theory, it will be plain to everyone here that you can’t do it. On the other hand, there’s no shame in admitting that you can’t refute it.
I’m calling you out! Have some guts! Everybody is watching you!
Biology Teacher Says (February 23, 2009 at 7:53 pm) —
–Larry, you appear to confuse law (a field in which opinions count very heavily) with science (a field that cares nothing for opinions that do not have evidence combined with logic to support them.) —
According to your reasoning, peer review in science is pointless because opinions don’t count in science and hence second opinions from peers in science are useless.
Also, if opinions count heavily in the law, all the more reason for peer review — to get second opinions.
Law journal articles actually tend to benefit more from peer review than scientific journal articles do. In science, it is often difficult or impossible to verify experimental results, involved mathematical calculations, computer results, etc.. Law doesn’t have those problems — in the law, everything is out in the open.
The law journals are not just educational exercises for the student editors — Harvard Law Review alone was cited 4410 times in federal court opinions alone in the decade 1970-79 alone — See
Also, because of the principles of res judicata, stare decisis, and collateral estoppel, errors or bad reasoning in the law tend to have permanent or long-lasting effects, whereas science can be quickly corrected. The Supreme Court said in Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, 509 U.S. 579 (1993),
It is true that open debate is an essential part of both legal and scientific analyses. Yet there are important differences between the quest for truth in the courtroom and the quest for truth in the laboratory. Scientific conclusions are subject to perpetual revision. Law, on the other hand, must resolve disputes finally and quickly. The scientific project is advanced by broad and wide ranging consideration of a multitude of hypotheses, for those that are incorrect will eventually be shown to be so, and that in itself is an advance. Conjectures that are probably wrong are of little use, however, in the project of reaching a quick, final, and binding legal judgment — often of great consequence — about a particular set of events in the past.
You are trying to defend the indefensible — the lack of peer review in law journals.
–I sincerely doubt the censorship has anything to do with science. —
What do you know. For example, the following article describes the Florida Citizens for Science blog’s censorship of my ideas about coevolution:
–Blogs often have rules against posters self promoting and being a nuisance–
So — expressing one’s sincere opinion about something is “self-promotion”! You are being a nuisance here right now.
–Perhaps you could submit your web site for consideration to the Thomson-Scientific Co.’s “ISI Web of Knowledge” scientific database. If it got in it might bolster your claims of authority on your topic.–
My posts about co-evolution do not need to possess any authority because I don’t ask anyone to take my word for anything. I start with known facts and then draw logical conclusions from them. My “I’m from Missouri” blog’s posts about coevolution are in the post-label group titled “Non-ID criticisms of evolution.”
Ben says (February 24, 2009 at 8:46 am) —
–You accuse Gotelli of chickening out, but you’re doing the same thing. —
What Gotelli chickened out of was setting up a debate at UVM — Klinghoffer only suggested but did not insist that Gotelli participate in the debate. Here is what Klinghoffer said:
I’m hoping that you would be willing to give a critique of ID at such an event, and participate in the debate in whatever role you feel comfortable with.
In contrast, you are insisting that I debate you about your “theory.” So why don’t you bug off.
Thanks for playing, Larry.
Looks good to me. I hereby declare Ben and Biology Teacher the winners in this debate and co-recipients of first prize. Sometimes just winning is its own reward. Larry gets the following song as consolation prize:
Thank you. I feel honored. I owe it all to the creationists, because I followed their formula:
1. Devise a theory that is complete nonsense.
2. Challenge people to debate you.
3. When they decline, challenge them again.
4. When they decline again, claim that they are scared of you.
5. Harass them until they tell you to bug off.
6. Proclaim victory!
7. Remind the loser that all he has to do to redeem himself is successfully refute your theory.
8. Look for your next victim….
Sorry, Charles, I can’t view YouTube videos because I have a slow dial-up connection. You will have to try something else.
Ben Says (February 25, 2009 at 1:18 pm) —
–Thank you. I feel honored. I owe it all to the creationists, because I followed their formula:–
Ben, you are so full of living hogwash that it is coming out your ears. You followed YOUR OWN formula.
–1. Devise a theory that is complete nonsense.
2. Challenge people to debate you.–
Gotelli said it was fine with him if Stein came to UVM to speak about ID and evolution. Klinghoffer responded with a PRIVATE email proposing a debate including not just Stein but ID experts such as Meyer and Berlinski. Klinghoffer proposed but did not demand that Gotelli participate in the debate.
–3. When they decline, challenge them again.
4. When they decline again, claim that they are scared of you. —
Klinghoffer sent Gotelli a SINGLE PRIVATE email proposing a debate and proposing but not demanding that Gotelli participate in the debate. Gotelli replied with a private email. It was Gotelli who made the emails PUBLIC by sending copies to his pal, blogger PZ Myers. Details are at —
Lary, see step #7 above.
I see it. So what?
Read it again.
Also, I’m curious: Is Donna Garner your sister?