Uncommon Descent is part of the relentlessly enthusiastic online ID community that is committed to opening minds to the truth about our origins.
I hope this essay will enlighten readers on the art of seeing through the misrepresentations used against ID proponents and their literature. Combating misrepresentation is vital to defeating the Sith Lords of Darwinism. But the first step in combating misrepresentation is first recognizing it, and recognizing it is a primary skill for one aspiring to become a Jedi Master in the internet ID wars.
One of the most common misrepresentations is known as the Straw Man. In fact, it would be instructive to study the catalogue of unwholesome rhetorical devices compiled by the atheist organization Infidels.
I sometimes wonder if certain critics of ID use the Infidels catalogue as a standard operating manual because many of the devices listed in the Infidels catalogue are used with dependable frequency and great ingenuity! This propensity for misrepresentation by the critics is so intense that an entire part of the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture is devoted to handling the sloppy, inaccurate, and often overtly biased reporting inspired by the critics of ID.
Before I go into some specific real-world examples, consider the following hypothetical example where Joe Proponent tries to advance a new theory in the field of medicine,
Joe Proponent writes:
The research in our paper will focus on males who weigh 200 pounds and up…given that the focus of our research is on males who 200 pounds and up, males weighing 200 pounds and up will be the starting assumption in our model…there are other areas of research that can be pursued, namely males weighing less than 200 pounds, but that was not the focus of our research…..
and then StrawMan Critic comes along and tries to discredit Joe Proponent’s work,
StrawMan Critic responds:
It is an unwarranted assumption that males weigh 200 pounds and up, we have numerous examples where this isn’t true. This is gross mischaracterization of the well established scientific literature. Here is a daunting list of peer-reviewed papers demonstrating that their assumptions that males weigh 200 pounds or more is totally unwarranted…therefore their model is false…therefore the conclusions of the research should be categorically rejected.
I hope the reader sees the flaws in StrawMan Crtitic’s argument. In the ID wars, such StrawMan arguments are very subtle, couched in technical language, and window dressed with citations to peer-reviewed literature. Let’s take a look at some examples.
In 2004, bio-chemist Michael Behe and David Snoke published the following peer-reviewed paper in the journal, Protein Science. Thankfully, after 2 years, it is now available to the public for free. Here is the link: Simulating Evolution by Gene Duplication. The paper focused it’s research on a particular question, namely, “how hard is it to evolve proteins which require several simultaneously well-matched parts under highly specific circumstances”. They do not claim in any way these highly specific circumstances should be generalized. Their work was a search for possible counter examples to DarwinÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s theories.
Keeping in mind the illustration of Joe Proponent, let us ask, “how have critics of Behe and Snoke’s paper distorted and misrepresented their research?”. Consider the critique by Distinguished Professor Michael Lynch: Simple evolutionary pathways to complex proteins?. (Excerpts from the exchange between Lynch and Behe are available at Newton’s Binomium.)
Lynch made the following comments in response to Behe and Snoke’s paper. On the surface, his comments seem devastating to Behe and Snoke’s thesis (after all, it had a daunting list of references to peer-reviewed papers to support his argument!):
Behe and Snoke assume that all mutational changes contributing to the origin of a new multi-residue function must arise after the duplication process. They justify this assumption by stating that the majority of nonneutral point mutations to a gene yield a nonfunctional protein. To stretch this statement to imply that all amino acid changes lead to nonfunctionalization is a gross mischaracterization of one of the major conclusions from studies on protein biologyÃ¢â‚¬â€most protein-coding genes are tolerant of a broad spectrum of amino acid substitutions (Kimura 1983; Taverna and Goldstein 2002a,b). For example, in a large mutagenesis screen, Suckow et al. (1996) found that >44% of amino acid positions in the Lac repressor of Escherichia coli are tolerant of replacement substitutions.
[blah blah blah]
But on closer inspection, Lynch made an egregious misrepresentation of Behe and Snoke’s position! He attributes to them conclusions and assumptions which they never made. Lynch offers a classic Straw Man argument. The rest of his response was window dressing of his misrepresentation. (I do not in any way claim the misrepresentation was intentional, but his response was still unbecoming of a scientist of his stature.)
Michael Behe saw through it, and responded:
LynchÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s and our models are not mutually exclusive. Some evolutionary pathways might involve both deleterious and neutral mutations. Lynch writes in the section “The Model” that we “imply that all amino acid changes lead to nonfunctionalization.” We imply no such thing. Although we assumed that intermediate mutations required for a new feature decreased function, we wrote, “it can be calculated that on average a given position will tolerate about six amino acid residues and still maintain function.” Our estimation of explicitly takes into account the tolerance of sites for substitution.
In “The Model,” Lynch writes, “As in Behe and Snoke (2004), this adaptation is assumed to be acquired at the expense of an essential function of the ancestral protein…” We made no such assumption. In our model, the final mutation might restore and enhance the original function.
The misrepresentations were subtle. Thankfully Behe saw what was happening and he rightly declared: “We imply no such thing…We made no such assumption.” Because Behe and Snoke’s paper is available for free online, interested readers can see for themselves! The days when Darwinists could get away Scott-free with misrepresentations are over (see : Darwinism, The Myth of Victory Past).
For some, misrepresentation is so common it is almost as natural as breathing, and they will resort to it even when they have little provocation! That is what is so funny. Here was a humorous example of PZ Myers getting caught for his misrepresentations of Dilbert creator Scott Adams (who in no wise is an ID proponent).
When people misrepresent the views of their opposition, and attack the misrepresentation, they lose all credibility with me. Both sides in the evolution debate do that with gusto. Why would I believe people who prove to me they are either dishonest or biased or worse?
PZÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s misrepresentations of my views are incredibly clever.(HeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a smart guy.) And he uses quotes from my writing to make it seem impossible that heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s misinterpreting me.
Other examples of unwholesome devices being used against ID literature abound such as those put together by Elsberry, Shallit, and Perakh in their critiques of Bill Dembski’s work. But the most serious misrepresentations were the ones Ken Miller offered under oath in Kitzmiller vs. Dover. Rather than making a lengthy refuation of Miller’s misrepresentations under oath, I point readers to the following article by Discovery Institute attorney and scientist Casey Luskin: Do Car Engines Run on Lugnuts? It will be eye opening!
But I save the most entertaining and best example for last, namely the critique of Stephen Meyers paper, Intelligent Design: The Origin of Biological Information and the Higher Taxonomic Categories. In response to Meyer’s paper, the prestigious scientific journal Nature directed their readers to a critique at PandasThumb. One can hardly fathom why Nature would appeal to such a disreputable venue for evolutionary “science” (see: The Triumph of Reason over Rhetoric at the PandaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Thumb).
They misconstrue Meyer’s argument, ignore what he says, and criticize him for something he didn’t say.
One Long Bluff Part I and Part II are textbook examples of how to make mincemeat of critics who resort to misrepresentation. For example they caught Gishlick, Matzke, and Elzberry (GME) making citations to literature that the probably didn’t even read! It was hilarious! But rather than simply rehashing the rest of that classic rebuttal by the Discovery Institute, I simply invite the readers to study it for themselves.
I know I’ve provided a lot of links in this thread, and it is a lot of reading, but it was my intent to point the readers to good examples of identifying and combating unwholesome rhetorical devices. Hopefully my essay has been useful to those aspiring to become Jedi Masters in the internet ID wars.
For interested readers, go to Cornell ID Course Weblog: “Tonight’s Discussion”. You’ll see I hammered Nick Matzke for one of his misrepresentations (see: Matzke misrepresents Behe). As a matter of fact, you’ll see at least three devices used by the critics in that thread: Straw Man, Equivocation, and Ad Hominem. Another device being used is “literature bluffing” (follow links above regarding “One Long Bluff” ) and Red Herrings by PvM as part of a “Spam and Jam” operation (spam the thread to make it unreadable, if you’re side can’t win the debate, jam the other sides’ attempts at communication). Classic, absolutely classic!
Misrepresentations have devastating consequences. Judge Jones used Miller’s misrepresentation to make a judicial ruling so bogus it is blatantly obvious to other attorneys and judges (see: Reviews of Traipsing). Jones ruling is being used by Darwinsts to stifle scientific inquiry. They promote the ruling as if it is the last word. Thankfully, it will not be, and the truth will eventually prevail!