Monday, December 26, 2005

Bethell's blather

Tom Bethell, ignoramus extraordinaire, has had a problem with evolution for thirty years now. But in all that time, it seems he hasn't bothered to learn much about it. In his latest screed in the Washington Times, Bethell resorts to the usual creationist tactics: lies, distortions, omissions, and misrepresentations.

Starting from the very first sentence, Bethell is dishonest. It's not just "Darwinists" that are happy about the ruling in Dover, it's scientists of all stripes, not to mention those who respect the Constitution. And contrary to Bethell's claim, there's no free speech concerns: intelligent design can still be discussed in high school philosophy or religion classes -- it just can't be falsely represented as science.

Bethell claims that intelligent design has advanced because "a sizable number of Americans are capable of reading and thinking for themselves". Yet intelligent design has not made many inroads outside of the US. Are we to conclude that Americans, and only Americans, are capable of "reading and thinking for themselves", that those in Canada, England, France, Germany, Australia, the Netherlands, Italy, and Spain are all under the grip of some thought control imposed by jackbooted thugs? Or could it be that fundamentalist religion is the key to intelligent design's advance, and those other countries are largely free of that scourge?

Next Bethell goes off on a wacky tangent, claiming that legislatures and courts tried to make "liberalism ... compulsory and its rivals illegal". Not a single example is advanced to support this crackpot claim.

Now it's time to bring in the usual creationist lies. Bethell babbles about "the paucity of the fossil record", the lack of transitional forms, and the supposed impotency of the "Darwinian mechanism" to account for the diversity of life. Bethell doesn't let the fact that no reputable biologists would agree get in his way of this nonsense.

Next Bethell implies that computer science and information technology have raised difficult questions for Darwinism. This will certainly be news to my colleagues in bioinformatics in the School of Computer Science at my university. Nearly everything they do is based on evolution, and they do it successfully (search for Ming Li and Dan Brown in the bioinformatics literature). Bethell makes the claim that DNA cannot have arisen "by accident, but accident is the only method available to the evolutionists". Of course, this claim completely overlooks the fact that living things function according to the laws of physics and chemistry, which are largely not stochastic and cannot be reasonably termed an accident.

Bethell quotes Francis Collins and Bill Gates as backing up his argument, but doesn't present any evidence that either man denies evolution or supports the claims of the intelligent design movement. Next he cites Antony Flew, but fails to point out that Flew has in the meantime backpedaled from his previous rejection of naturalistic solutions to the origin of life.

All in all, it's a really poor and dishonest performance by Bethell, who has been making the same bogus claims without any support for years. And who publishes his latest book? Why, it's Regnery Publishing, the same folks who published the Swift Boat slime, the nutsy ramblings of Phyllis Schlafly, and Michelle Malkin's grotesque defense of the internment of Japanese during World War II. Yup, just the place I'd go to learn about science.

Jacking in from Oswego, New York...

21 comments:

Craig Pennington said...

"And contrary to Bethell's claim, there's no free speech concerns: intelligent design can still be discussed in high school philosophy or religion classes -- it just can't be falsely represented as science."

In fact, according to this story in the York Dispatch, that's exactly what the Dover School board may be doing:

"New school board president Bernadette Reinking said that she would like to see a Religions of the World class coming out of the history department.

She said teachers are looking into how to present a class about world religions, which would touch on all religions and could be offered as an elective and added to the course lineup if enough students are interested.

'Intelligent design' might not be called 'intelligent design,' but rather represented in the Christian religious story of creation, Reinking said."


Of course, Intelligent Design" originated as an evasion of the ruling agains creation science, and since it failed in that task, it's non-specific nature is no longer required, so they'll drop the obfuscation.

As for Bethell, he's a liar, IMO. He was set straight by Stephen J. Gould thirty years ago, and has no excuses.

Anonymous said...

The Washington Times, eh? Isn't that the paper owned by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon? The guy who founded "the moonies."

Once a dangerous cult, now an key part of Republican establishment.

Michael Hopkins said...

I wonder if Francis Collins is aware of the claims made about him? Maybe someone could point this out to him so he can set the record straight.

Anonymous said...

Anyone else notice that the Washington Times seems to be the only mainstream media actor still trying to actively promote intelligent design? Rush has given up, Fox News has given up, just the Washington Times is still beating the dead horse. They even had that article last week pimping the crazy walking-godwins-law-violation guy from talk.origins.

Unsympathetic Reader said...

Michael Hopkins is spot-on about Francis Collins. Dr. Collins says that the genome sequencing of multiple organisms provides extremely strong evidence for evolution.

Anonymous said...

Everything you said about Bethel is right on, but your reference to "swift boat slime" indicates you have some of your own blind spots.

Anonymous said...

Everything you said about Bethel is right on, but your reference to "swift boat slime" indicates you have some of your own blind spots.

Anonymous said...

Sorry for double post and Bethel" should be "Bethell."

Anonymous said...

"Anyone else notice that the Washington Times seems to be the only mainstream media actor still trying to actively promote intelligent design?". Perhaps there are few mainstream media supporters of intelligent design, but smaller newspapers still do. See if you can access the Calgary Herald's Dec. 22 editorial entitled "It's just one of many theories". It's incredible.

KenH

JKC said...

Since when is Bill Gates an authority on DNA? (Of course, some might argue that he is not an authority on computer programs, either.) I don't know how one would compare DNA and a computer program, but most computer languages have more than 4 basic building blocks. Moreover, just because something is mysterious does not make it complex. I daresay there are plenty of microbiologists and biochemists who would consider Bill's programs just as mysterious as he thinks DNA is.

Anonymous said...

So, the Washington Times is one of the newspapers promoting ID in the media, and it is owned by Rev. Moon? Hmm, that reminds me of this Jonathan Wells quote: "Father's [Moon's] words, my studies, and my prayers convinced me that I should devote my life to destroying Darwinism". Seems Rev. Moon is trying to fight naturalistic evolution on multiple fronts.

Anonymous said...

A few days ago Bethell was televised on C-Span in front of some conservative think-tank presenting his new book, in all its selective bizarrity. Amazon has The Politically Incorrect Guide to Science - note the enormous relative number of reader grades for the first two positive reviews. No doubt artifically inflated.

Not surprisingly, Bethell revealed he thinks the medical research community is also a conspiracy, as well as a variety of other psycho-ceramacies. The phrase "prisoners of a subculture" kept running thru my head. It takes real mono-maniacal dedication to write in opposition evolution for 30 years (in RW organs like the American Spectator, etc.) and learn nothing but one's own pre-approved beliefs.

Anonymous said...

"Are we to conclude that Americans, and only Americans, are capable of "reading and thinking for themselves", that those in Canada, England, France, Germany, Australia, the Netherlands, Italy, and Spain are all under the grip of some thought control imposed by jackbooted thugs?"

Well, you and I don't believe this, but isn't this exactly what some Americans think about the outside world?

This is a perfect example of the way that creationism hooks into even older American prejudices about the world the original colonist left behind them - the idea that the world outside the US is corrupt, unfree and hamstrung by government imposed dogma.

Anonymous said...

Regenery is also the publisher of the works of Mark (take all the n***** into a field and burn 'em)Furhman and Ann (Joe McCarthy was a great guy) Coulter.

Anonymous said...

Here is the worst of the article:

The cell itself, thought in Darwin's day to be a "simple little lump of protoplasm," is now understood to have the complexity of a high-tech factory. There are 300 trillion cells in the human body, and each "knows" its function. Cell biologists do not know how these things happen, or how they arose.

First of all, I don't think at any point in the history of biology was the cell thought to be a simple lump of protoplasm and nothing more. Second, if it were found to be such a simple lump, then molecular biology and biochemistry would be totally unnecessary and it would really make life look supernatural. If the cell were simple, yet did very complex things, this would make the article's claims a little more credible. Third, some cells don't "know" their function and do things that can kill you, like say, become cancerous. Fourth, cell biologists, biochemists, and molecular biologists absolutely DO know how these things happen, not every little detail, obviously, but if that were the case then these sciences would be "finished" wouldn't they?

Anonymous said...

There a mistake in Bethell's article.
It reads at the end:

Tom Bethell is the author of "The Politically Incorrect Guide to Science"

While it should probably read:

Tom Bethell is the author of "The Political Guide to Incorrect Science"

Anonymous said...

Francis Collins on ID:

Carlson: What do you think of this statement read to the Dover, Pennsylvania public school children that the theory is just a theory and explaining briefly intelligent design? Is that that be read to kids?

Collins: It sounds as if it’s a good idea to suggest anybody listening to a discussion about science to keep your mind open and to be sure that facts are actually backed up by data. But, of course, that statement is full of a lot more than scientific facts and data and concerns about them. It is a statement that reflects a battle that’s going on right now. And in my view, an unnecessary battle. So let me explain why I say that. As somebody who has watched our own D.N.A. sequence emerge, our own instruction book over the course of the last few years, all three billion letters of our code, and watched how it compares with that of other species, the evidence that comes out of that kind of analysis is overwhelmingly in favor of a single origin of life from which various forms were then derived by a process which seems entirely consistent with Darwin’s view of natural selection. By saying that, some people listening to my words will immediately conclude that I must therefore be opposed to any role for god in the process that’s not true. But I’m not an advocate of intelligent design, either.

John Farrell said...

Bethell has shown himself in the past to be a remarkably lazy journalist, not at all adverse to quoting selectively whenever convenient (as opposed to, say, cold calling some new sources for information that might bring a truly fresh angle to his work).

Citing Popper against evolution is just one example. Although that canard was addressed years ago, Bethell can't bring himself to come up with better arguments.

Anonymous said...

In proper response to another anonymous post..

Cells, in fact, do what they are told.

They follow the instructions their DNA tells them to do. When they cause cancer, they are STILL doing what they are told to do, because their DNA is damaged and instructs them to reproduce at a rapid rate, and never tells them to die (yes, imbedded in the DNA are necrosis genes that force a cell to die.)

Stop talking about 'what scientists can descover' and take a freaking histology or cell biology course in college. You will learn what we HAVE descovered, and what little we don't know.

Dick Lessard said...

Those of you who were apalled at Bethell's piece might enjoy my rebuttal letter, which The Washington Times published today (1JAN06). See http://www.washingtontimes.com/op-ed/20051231-095709-3383r_page2.htm.

Jeffrey said...

Great letter, Dick. Here's a clickable link to it, and don't forget to read the letter by NCSE's John Cole, too.