In the short term, a smear campaign can be very successful, and will poison the atmosphere, perhaps even poisoning the general public’s perception of your opponents. Usually, it works by using what may be called for convenience the trifecta fallacy, unfortunately — and as we shall shortly see — a now habitual pattern of all too many evolutionary materialism advocates when they deal with Intelligent Design. Specifically:
ii: lead it away to a strawman caricature of the issues and arguments of the opponent
The typical result of such an uncivil, disrespectful rhetorical tactic when used on a naive or trusting public is that it distracts attention, clouds, confuses, polarises and poisons the atmosphere for discussion. Especially when false accusations are used, it can seriously damage reputations and careers. So, the trifecta is at minimum a violation of duties of care and respect. At worst, it is a cynically calculated propagandistic deception that through clouding the atmosphere with a poisonous, polarising cloud, divides the public and points their attention to an imaginary threat elsewhere, so that an agenda that plainly cannot stand on its own merits can gain power in the community.
But what happens when the smear begins to unravel as more and more people begin to understand that you have failed to be fair or truthful, in the face of abundant evidence and opportunity to the contrary?
Let us see, by examining the NCSE-hosted (thus, again, endorsed) page for the ironically named New Mexico Coalition for Excellence in Science and Math Education. Excerpting:
The creationist groups attempt to masquerade their ideas as science simply by calling the concept “intelligent design theory”. No testable hypotheses or any form of scientific research has been presented to support their attempts to insert religion into science. Furthermore, it is suspected that the aim of these religiously motivated people is to redefine the meaning of science; if they were successful, science would become useless as a method for learning about the natural world. CESE decries the very usage of science terminology where there is no sound use of science. CESE also decries any political attempt to discredit the Theory of Evolution. Creationists present false statements concerning the validity of observed evidence for evolution such as: “there is no fossil evidence for evolution,” “it is impossible to obtain higher complexity systems from lower complexity systems,” etc. They call into question the motives and beliefs of scientists with claims such as, “if you believe in evolution, you are an atheist,” etc. They have even invented an imaginary scientific “controversy” to argue their agenda . . .
This needs to be exposed and corrected in steps, and it is worth the while to immediately pause and look at the Dissent from Darwin list to see that: yes, Virginia, there is a real controversy on scientific matters tied to Darwinism. Also, let us list links to the series so far: background, and “They said it . . . ” 1, 2, 3.
So now, correcting in steps:
1 –> From the outset, there is the now familiar fallacious and censoring imposition of a priori evolutionary materialism as a key component of science: ” Science deals with natural explanations for natural phenomena.” The effect of this is to twist science away from being a pursuit of the truth about our world based on empirical evidence, turning it instead into a propaganda arm for evolutionary materialism under the false colours of “knowledge” (what “science” literally means) and “fact.” It also conveniently begs a few questions and changes the subject through injecting a distractor: science seeks natural explanations, instead of the truth. Oops.
2 –> But, if it is to be credible for the long haul, science should instead seek to be what it has traditionally been, without imposition of question-begging materialistic agendas:
3 –> Very quickly we see an invidious association that builds on a strawman misrepresentation of design theory and previously successful smears against Creationists: Creationism or intelligent design . . .
4 –> In fact, as can be easily ascertained through UD’s weak argument corrective no. 5, Creationism and Intelligent Design work on very different principles and have very different roots in the history of ideas.
5 –> In our civilisation, creationist thought is largely rooted in the Biblical tradition, where for instance, we may see the Hebrew Prophet speaking through the voice from the cloud answering to Job: since we were not there at creation in the deep past, we are in no position to contradict the One who was there when he laid the foundation of the world. So, Creation Scientists seek to understand the past in light of what they see as authentic, accurate record, responsibly interpreted. (And, in truth, Creationists have had a long, distinguished history in the annals of modern science ever since the scientific revolution. Names like Copernicus, Kepler, Newton, Linneaeus, Faraday, Maxwell, Pasteur and so on down to today do carry a certain weight. [Cf. also CreationWiki’s response to Wikipedia here.])
6 –> By longstanding and repeatedly publicly stated and published contrast, Design Theory follows the “common ground” thought of those rabid Bible-thumping “Creationists” Plato [c. 360 BC] and Cicero [c. 50 BC], and as a scientific movement seeks to infer from reliable observed patterns of cause and effect and characteristic signs, to cases where we have no direct observation or record, but see the same sort of signs of chance, mechanical necessity and intelligently and purposefully directed configuration, AKA design. This application of the now famous explanatory filter is seen as corrective of the recent trend to impose censoring evolutionary materialism, as we saw in step 1 above.
7 –> The “sterility” accusation against ID pivots on the already exposed imposition of a priori evolutionary materialism. But, if science has been led into a materialistic dead end, a corrective that liberates and restores it to its pursuit of truth rather than ideological agenda is immediately enormously productive. And, through the explanatory filter and the linked Abel universal plausibility bound, we see a way to systematise and render consistent scientific investigations on an important class of well-known empirical phenomena: intelligent agents and their traces.
8 –> The following claim that “Intelligent design proponents simply say that life is too complex to have arisen naturally” is a grossly false strawman caricature. Instead, let us see how the New World Encyclopedia’s introductory article on ID summarises the case:
[I]n order to infer design, the Explanatory Filter requires answering “Yes” to all three of the following questions: Is the feature contingent (i.e.. not due to natural law or regularity)? Is the feature complex (i.e., highly improbable)? And is the feature specified (i.e., does it conform to an independently given pattern)? The hallmark of design is thus specified complexity. According to Dembski, it is our universal human experience that whenever we encounter specified complexity it is a product of an intelligent agent (though the agent need not be supernatural). If specified complexity can be found in nature, then it, too, must be due to intelligent agency. As Dembski put it in The Design Revolution (2004): “The fundamental claim of intelligent design is straightforward and easily intelligible: namely, there are natural systems that cannot be adequately explained in terms of undirected natural forces and that exhibit features which in any other circumstance we would attribute to intelligence.”
9 –> This concept of inferring from specified complexity and related functional organisation has actually been in the public record since the 1970’s as a known mark of design, and as a puzzle for those who would account for living forms on natural selection. For instance, in 1979, J S Wicken observed:
10 –> What design thinkers, therefore have done since the 1980’s, is to point out that such specified complexity has one routinely known and observed source: intelligence. Also, that beyond a reasonable threshold of complexity, chance and mechanical necessity are not plausible explanations of such complex specified information, as the search resources of the whole cosmos [or a relevant part thereof] would be grossly inadequate to sample enough of the space of possible configurations to make hitting on an island of function by good luck anything better than utterly implausible. So, the NCSE-endorsed caricature is grossly unfair and false in the face of easily accessible correction. It is a willful and intended to be damaging false accusation. [Continued here . . . ]