My Take on Ben Domenech

I think it is right to conclude that the guy isn’t all that bright as Jane Hamsher points out. She rightly points out that Domenech is a firm believer of intelligent design, but it is worse than that. On his own blog, Ben Domenech has written the following,

Will Saletan is normally at least evenhanded. But his offhand dismissal of the reasons for teaching Intelligent Design in public schools is full of holes. He can’t just dismiss intelligent design as “empy” or “full of lies or dogma,” when no less prominent an evolutionist than Stephen Jay Gould has lent weight to the theories of Michael Behe and his brethren. This is not to say that one should accept the doctrine of intelligent design–but biological evolution in the macro remains a theory, by definition. It is not true that, as one W&M prof frequently remarks, “evolution is as real as Cincinnati.” One can drive to see Cincinnati. One cannot drive to see the billions of years required by biological evolutionary theory.

This is outright intellectual dishonesty. Stephen Jay Gould was pompous and arrogant, but to even imply that he was a supporter of Intelligent Design is just outright nonsense. The article that Domenech links too even notes that this “support” is unintentional.

All of this is more or less true. But it’s also true that, over the years, Gould himself has lent real strength to the creationist movement. Not intentionally, of course. Gould’s politics are secular left, the opposite of creationist politics, and his outrage toward creationists is genuine. Yet, in spite of this stance—and, oddly, in some ways because of it—he has wound up aiding and abetting their cause.

The problem with Gould was that he was to some degree anti-Darwin (or more accurately he was opposed to the dominance that “neo-Darwinism” enjoys in current evolutionary theory). This had lead him to often write things that when taken out of context could be easily read as lending aid and comfort, if not outright support, for things like Intelligent Design. The way Domenech spins it is that Gould actually supports things like Intelligent Design when in fact the exact opposite is true. This leaves us with three explanations regardign Domenech,

  1. He is stupid.
  2. He is dishonest.
  3. He is both stupid and dishonest.

Given that Wright explains that Gould doesn’t support Creationism (and Intelligent Design is a form of Creationism) and that his appearant support for Creationism is due to Gould’s unusual view of evolution and evolutionary theory, it leaves us thinking that 2 and 3 are the best explanations. In any event, no matter how you slice it, this is a good thing for Liberals as Hamsher notes.

Now, it is one thing to believe in intelligent design. William Dembski does, and he is not stupid (I think he is dishonest, but not stupid). And one can believe in intelligent design and evolutionary theory (Kenneth Miller holds such a view if I am not mistaken). But what Domenech has done is to try and make it out that a respectable scientist and supporter of evolutionary theory thinks there just might be something to this intelligent design stuff. The truth is the exact opposite. Conservatives should not be promoting somebody who is so dishonest and/or stupid.

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FILED UNDER: Media, Science & Technology,
Steve Verdon
About Steve Verdon
Steve has a B.A. in Economics from the University of California, Los Angeles and attended graduate school at The George Washington University, leaving school shortly before staring work on his dissertation when his first child was born. He works in the energy industry and prior to that worked at the Bureau of Labor Statistics in the Division of Price Index and Number Research. He joined the staff at OTB in November 2004.

Comments

  1. minimalist says:

    Ken Miller believes in a Designer, but I don’t think it’s really accurate to say he believes in “intelligent design”, as that term pretty much exclusively refers to the sort of warmed-over creationist arguments that Miller rightly rejects as dishonest.

    Why not just say Miller is religious, and a scientific view of evolution is not incompatible with belief in God?

    Good post otherwise.

  2. Jack Ehrlich says:

    James, you do not believe in intelligent design? Explain why fossil fuels exist. Why are there opiate drugs from a poppy? What else uses the Coca plant? Elephants, Dolphins and Whales are intelligent beings. Do you honestly think this is an accident? Quit it.

  3. Steve Verdon says:

    minimalist,

    Actually, if you read the Dover transcript, he is asked that question explicitly and answers in the affirmative. Miller thinks that evolutionary process are the way the designer works, IMO. IIRC he also concedes that such a view is not testable. This is where Miller differs from the guys from the Disco Insititute (and it is what makes him a good scientist, IMO).

    Jack,

    James, you do not believe in intelligent design?

    I don’t know what James believes, but I sure don’t buy the current version of ID. Oh…and James didn’t write this post, I did.

    Explain why fossil fuels exist. Why are there opiate drugs from a poppy? What else uses the Coca plant? Elephants, Dolphins and Whales are intelligent beings. Do you honestly think this is an accident? Quit it.

    LOL, no I wont quit it.

  4. JakeV says:

    Steve, what you are referring to is not stupidity, IMO. And it’s not really dishonesty. It’s the perspective of someone who’s already made up his mind, who is no longer looking for information, but instead for rhetorical ammunition.

    I don’t think Domenech is purposely distorting Gould’s ideas here. I doubt he’s even considered whether or not Gould’s work actually lends credence to ID. I suspect he doesn’t care at all what Gould said or thought.

    And really, why should he? He’s already made up his mind on the evolution issue. He has nothing to gain from learning what Gould thought about it.

    So Gould’s only significance to him is as a potential rhetorical weapon. Can he conceivably be used to attack the evolutionists? That’s the only question that matters. He’s interested in Gould’s views on evolution in the same way that Johnny Cochrane was interested Mark Fuhrman’s views on race.

  5. Jack Ehrlich says:

    My appologies to James. Then don’t quit it. Evolution is based upon blind faith just as much as creationism. Until they find the link between modern man and what ever came before. And the little changes in between. Nature seldom of ever makes big leaps. If so, show the evidence. Not theory. If evolution works, start life in a bottle. Put all the elements necessary for life to start and make it happen. Oops.

  6. Steve Verdon says:

    JakeV,

    You might be on to something regarding Domenech and Gould Jake if Domenech acutally referrenced Gould’s ideas. He didn’t he referenced somebody elses take on Gould’s ideas that don’t even imply in the slightes what Domenech says they imply. That makes him either stupid, dishonest or both.

    On the whole though, I agree with you that Domenech looked at evolution, saw some conflicts with a literal interpretation of the bible and decided to chuck evolution and is looking to justify such a world view. It is backwards and anti-intellectual…which again points out that this isn’t somebody Conservatives should be supporting or defending.

    Jack,

    There is quite a bit of evidence supporting evolutionary theory. Thus saying it is accepted only on blind faith is a mark of either ignorance or dishonesty.

    For example, there are quite a few intermediary fossils for hominids. Similarly no biologist/scientist who believes in evolutionary theory has said that evolution makes large leaps. Seeing a large leap would be inconsistent with evolutionary theory. Not seeing large leaps is consistent with evolutionary theory.

    As for starting life in a bottle, there are two responses here.

    1. Evolutionary theory starts with the assumption that life exists. Hence the “start life in a bottle” objection is irrelevant as it applies to abiogenesis (life from non-life).

    2. Regarding evidence for natural abiogenesis there have been experiments that have effectively shown that the basic building blocks of life were formed in a bottle (in simplistic terms). The first such experiment was the Miller-Urey experiment. There have been similar experiments building on the original Miller-Urey experiment that support the basic notion that natural abiogenesis is at least theoretically possible.

  7. minimalist says:

    Jack,

    So illegal drugs are an argument for God? That’s one I can safely say I’ve never heard, even after a decade and a half of debating creationists.

    Are there Rastafarian creationists?

  8. RJN says:

    Steve; did you even reread any of the stuff you wrote, above, before you posted it? You claim that Gould was skeptical about, or opposed to some elements of, neo-Darwinism. Why, then, is it dishonest of Domenech to remark that this is worth something to a supporter of ID?

    You seem to think that science is all about politics. You seem to say; if ones politics are left one must be correct about all things scientific; if ones politics are right, and Christian, one is a unable to be objective about scientific matters.

    You imply that no one who is respectable, or who accepts much of evolutionary theory, can possibly believe any aspect of ID.

    Love ya Steve, you will get there some day.

  9. John Burgess says:

    Anyone who’s read Gould knows that he had no mental place for Creationism or ID. To claim otherwise is, as Steve said, stupid, dishonest or both.

    Gould’s beef was about some of the fine details of evolution, not with evolution itself. He found plenty of evidence to support evolution, which is why he wrote so many, many books about it.

    He did, however, point to areas of weakness in the current understanding. These were things like how species differentiate specifically, not that they don’t differentiate, not that evolution isn’t taking place.

    He was also very adament that religion and science occupy different, non-intersecting spheres of life. You can believe in God, he says, AND you can believe in science. But permitting the untestable to determing what is known only through testing, just doesn’t work.

    Domenech is trying to do just that. And to seek to enlist Gould into his tribe is, in my view, utterly dishonest, even if he doesn’t realize the dishonesty.

  10. RJN says:

    Now who is parsing Gould?

    “Gould�s beef was about some of the fine details of evolution, not with evolution itself.”

    “He did, however, point to areas of weakness in the current understanding.”

    It is not dishonest to claim that Gould had some doubts about neo-Darwin evolution. You, not Domenech, or me, are the one claiming that this is tantamount to endorsment of ID. Gould did not endorse ID, and we don’t claim he did. Say that to yourself ten times before you transgress again.

    I also believe that science and religion occupy different, non-intersecting, but perhaps adjacent, spheres of intellectual pursuit. Faith is a different matter; I know that, but some of the anti IDers don’t seem to.

    “Domenech is trying to do just that. And to seek to enlist Gould into his tribe is, in my view, utterly dishonest, even if he doesn�t realize the dishonesty.”

    And to call Domenech dishonest is, in my view, utterly dishonest, even if you don’t realize the dishonesty.

  11. Steve Verdon says:

    RJN,

    Well I was going to write pretty much what John Burgess worte, but John has already done the heavy lifting for me. So read his response (please), and consider that my response too in regards to Gould and evolutionary theory.

    As for politics and science, no I don’t think science is all about politics or that all science is politics. However, politics has been injected into the debate over evolution and evolutionary theory (the break down is pretty much Right-Left with notable crossovers–e.g. John Derbyshire). I’d love for politics to get out of sceince altogether, but I don’t think that is going to happen.

    The evidence in favor of evolutionary theory is massive and overwhelming for anyother hypothesis. It is just that simple. To reject evolutionary theory and more importantly evolution itself is to reject both facts and sound scientific reasoning. Again, it is just that simple.

    You imply that no one who is respectable, or who accepts much of evolutionary theory, can possibly believe any aspect of ID.

    Well if by ID you mean what the Discovery Institute is pushing, I’m afraid the answer is mostly, “Yes.” The problem is with the very formulation of the Intelligent Design Hypothesis and their view that the designer is an omnipotent being whose actions are detectable. Scientifically that is a science stopper. A transcendant being who can create the universe (and with certain paramters pre-determined), can manipulate things on a microscopic scale and so forth, pretty much renders any and all other hypotheses null and void. There are other issues with the design argument as promulgated by the Disco Institute, but that would entail a BIG post.

    Now if you mean intelligent design in the sense that we are talking about an omnipotent being who does things in ways we can’t even begin to understand and that such a belief is not testable, then I have no beef with that. I suspect that that is how most scientists view things. In fact, I know one such scientist who is quite fine with the idea that evolutionary processes is how God might achieve whatever “his” goals are. However, such a view is completely outside the domain of science. This scientist aquaintence of mine also realizes this and takes a rather dim view of the Disco Institutes shennaigans.

  12. Steve Verdon says:

    It is not dishonest to claim that Gould had some doubts about neo-Darwin evolution. You, not Domenech, or me, are the one claiming that this is tantamount to endorsment of ID. Gould did not endorse ID, and we donâ??t claim he did. Say that to yourself ten times before you transgress again.

    Actually Domenech did. Read the quote again,

    He canâ??t just dismiss intelligent design as â??empyâ?? or â??full of lies or dogma,â?? when no less prominent an evolutionist than Stephen Jay Gould has lent weight to the theories of Michael Behe and his brethren.

    Gould despised all forms of creationism and ID as promulgated by the Discovery Institute is a form of Creationism. The implication is quite clear.

    I also believe that science and religion occupy different, non-intersecting, but perhaps adjacent, spheres of intellectual pursuit.

    Then I suggest that your beef is with Behe, Dembski, Wells, Witt, and the rest of the Discovery Institute people since they clearly see otherwise. Each and everyone of them sees the designer as God, and that methodological naturalsim is a form of atheism.

    I personally reject that latter claim, and am agnostic on God and would quite happily leave God out of any and all discussion of evolutionary theory.

    And to call Domenech dishonest is, in my view, utterly dishonest, even if you donâ??t realize the dishonesty.

    For some people no amount of empirical evidence is sufficient to get them to change their mind…or in this case see the obvious.

  13. floyd says:

    steve; when you write on other subjects, you come across as a man of measured reason and some intelligence. when you write on this subject it is a disparate approach. the rantings of a zealot perhaps? or merely the sound of a man “whistling past the graveyard”.

  14. RJN says:

    Science is an objective, and logical, intellectual pursuit sustained by ethics and the discipline of peer review. So far no sweat. A saint and a sinner can work side by side and reveal wonders.

    If sometimes the saint sees something that eludes earthly proof, but is clearly sensible, and a desirable advance in evolution, he can claim that there may be a designer. He is not dishonest to do so and remain an objective researcher.

    If, in reaction to his posing the question of ID, he is vilified as faith driven, and he knows better, he is free to observe the obvious that the atheist complainer is also faith driven.

    Happy trails.

  15. Steve Verdon says:

    RJN,

    That has got to be the most ridiculous thing you’ve posted in a long time. It isn’t that Domenech believes in ID, but that he tried to enlist Gould as one of the people supporting ID. The record is quite clear that Gould supported nothing like ID. Ever. This makes Domenech either dishonest, stupid or both.

    floyd,

    Then skip these kinds of posts. If you find my “zealotry” for sound science and relying on empirical evidence when evaluating scientific hypotheses too much to stomach, then my only suggestion is to not read them.

  16. commenter says:

    Unless you have read the original research papers on intelligent design you do not understand it. It is a branch of information theory that deals with how to identify characteristics in objects that cannot occur by unintelligent means. This will help us understand the nature of intelligence and therefore it will help us understand something about the nature of the human mind. Unfortunately the emotional controversy by ignorami on both sides over application of this science to the origin and evolution of life have made it difficult for those who are sincerly interested in understanding the nature of intelligence.

    Unless you have read and understand the original research papers I would suggest you refrain from merely throwing mud.

  17. RJN says:

    Reread my post tomorrow, and pretend we are both agnostic re: ID; then ask, is this RJN’s post really stupid?

    One more time: Domenech did not try to enlist Gould as a supporter of ID. He did the permissible thing an advocate, like yourself for instance, can do; he advocated. He attached significance to the fact that Gould also had problems with neo-Darwinian evolution.

    By the way; long before I had heard of Creationism, or ID, I had heard of Gould. I used to watch his stuff on PBS. I was aware of his “Punctuated Equilibrium” postulate, and thought at the time that this was interesting and, at least somewhat, supportive of a creation story. That thought sprang from the rational regions of my mind, before I was told I had faith based regions that were disqualifying my rational regions.

    The road is long, but we are patient.

  18. floyd says:

    steve; you must be kidding, ’cause you ain’t normally delusional. i’m only refering to the shrill tone, not the content.what time is it anyway?

  19. Herb says:

    Steve:

    Just who in the hell is Ben Domenech, I heve heard of him, EVER.

    What make him another “Expert” We have a world full of experts.

    And, Who gives a damn what he has to say. about anything.

    Guess he’s just seeking his 15 minutes.

  20. Steve says:

    commenter,

    I’ve read the original papers by the IDCists. The characterization of Dembski’s work as “information theory” is quite a stretch as his work is unoriginal and often wide of the mark.

    Typically, Creationists are really bad at information theory. Dembski included.

    RJN,

    One more time: Domenech did not try to enlist Gould as a supporter of ID. He did the permissible thing an advocate, like yourself for instance, can do; he advocated. He attached significance to the fact that Gould also had problems with neo-Darwinian evolution.

    This not what Domenech did. Saying, “Gould had issues with some aspects of the neo-Darwinian synthesis,” is one thing. Saying that this therefore implies that Gould lent weight to ID is dishonest.

    By the way; long before I had heard of Creationism, or ID, I had heard of Gould. I used to watch his stuff on PBS. I was aware of his �Punctuated Equilibrium� postulate, and thought at the time that this was interesting and, at least somewhat, supportive of a creation story.

    Oh for heaven’s sake. Punk Eq is fully consistent with both methodological naturalism and evolutionary theory in specific. Gould set up somewhat of a strawman when in regards to neo-Darwinism when he first presented Punk Eq, but that doesn’t mean Gould supported ID or Creationism.

    floyd,

    If this is shrill, I can’t help you, just skip my posts then.

  21. mannning says:

    If you take away the words “intelligent design” from either Behe’s or Dempsky’s work, you are left with two or more intellectual challenges that honest reviewers would agree are not readily resolved. Indeed the most recent attempts to puncture Behe have fallen down.

    That these puzzlers have hit a few of the soft spots in current Darwinian Theory raises the hackles of those who say “damn, we haven’t gotten to that yet”. Or, “it ‘will’ be solved within the Darwinian Theory.”

    It appears that most scientists want to quash the people and not address the puzzles. How very dishonest.

  22. RJN says:

    This has been great. You have a cool blog.

    Goodnight.

  23. Steve Verdon says:

    manning,

    That is just utter nonsense. First off the mechanism of duplication and loss of function can produce irreduciple complexity. All of Behe’s examples have been shown to be severl lacking in terms of irreducible complexity. Dembski’s work is just very bad mathematics.

  24. Anderson says:

    He is both stupid and dishonest.

    Wow, Steve, you sure called *that* one.

  25. mannning says:

    That is simply your opinion, and not backed up by facts. You are one of those who yell bloody murder if Darwin is even bruised. Every example that Behe has been using has been attacked and ably defended, so far. As for Dembski’s work, you state he used bad mathematics, yet with no proof of that assertion. You are firing from the hip, which I think is dispicable. If you have proof of this assertion, by all means show it, and not merely dismiss the subject in a haughty manner.

  26. Anderson says:

    Hey, Manning: go get a B.S. in biology and then come back, woncha?

    I get soooo … tired … of these people, who would make as much sense denying atomic fission. “Well, show me a PROOF that it works. No, I DON’T want to get a degree in physics so that I understand the details … I want YOU to explain them to me right now on this thread.”

    Back to lurking …