The Illogical School: Appeals to Popularity and Authority Pt. 2

So why did I bring up that little anecdote in Part 1?  About a year ago when I was poking around on the You Tubes, I found a series of videos called “Creation Moments”, hosted by a guy named Ian Taylor.  Ol’ Ian makes it clear he never got any sort of science degree, because all of the videos follow pretty much the same cookie-cutter format:

[Voice over by Ian]: “Hello. Isn’t nature fascinating? Even though science has a pretty thorough and documented explanation for what I’m about to show you, I’m going to say they don’t.  Isn’t God awesome?  Y/Y?”

After looking at a few of these, I responded to one of the channels with a smartassed comment similar to what I wrote above for all of the other viewers who felt as I did. The uploader responded with this:

“All evolutionists have is hot air on the mostly anonymous Internet. We have the real science backed up by the $10,000 Life Science Prize. You can evolve from a chicken and win the prize or make cowardly remarks on websites until you ultimately die and become a creationists after it’s too late. My last remark to you is something that everyone understands: CLUCK, CLUCK”

Wow, I thought to myself. He sounds like Time Cube Guy. And what the hell is a Life Science Prize anyway?

A quick search on Google and I was brought to the web site of one Dr. Joseph Mastropaolo, titled “Evolution vs. Biology”. As you can probably guess from the name, Dr. Joe is a creationist.  He is also so supremely confident that creation is real that he’s willing to offer a $10,000 prize to the first evolutionist to prove it! I read the rules:

1. The evolutionist puts $10,000 in escrow with the judge.
2. The creationist, Joseph Mastropaolo, puts $10,000 in escrow with the judge.
3. If the evolutionist proves evolution is science and creation is religion, then the evolutionist is awarded the $20,000.
4. If the creationist proves creation is science and evolution is religion, then the creationist is awarded the $20,000.
5. Evidence must be scientific, that is, objective, valid, reliable and calibrated.
6. The preponderance of evidence prevails.
7. At the end of the trial, the judge hands the prevailing party both checks.
8. The judge is a superior court judge.
9. The venue is a courthouse.
10. Court costs will be paid by the prevailing party.

Strange, I thought.  I seem to remember something like this already having been decided in a court of law, except it was a real case and not a cage match.  Oh, right … Dover vs. Kitzmiller; the court found for the plaintiff and determined that “intelligent design” was simply creationism with a new name.  Teaching it – with its outdated ideas, fundamentally flawed science, and obvious religious motives – was in violation of the Establishment Clause.  It did not belong anywhere near a science classroom … maybe down the hall in a comparative religions or mythology class.

(This was also decided back in 1987 with Edwards v. Aguillard and in 1982 with McLean v. Arkansas Board of Education … but that decision only prompted creationists to replace all mention of “creation” with “intelligent design”, and here we are.)

I had then wondered what this guy had managed to publish, since it was pretty clear he was avoiding the peer review process like it was radioactive (assuming he believed in radioactivity).  I found a list that consisted of nine papers related to sports medicine published in places like the International Journal of Sports Medicine or the Journal of Applied Physiology … perfectly respectable, but irrelevant to evolution or creationism.  Then there were these guys:

So he was a fundie favorite, but he hadn’t actually published anything of substance with a reputable peer reviewed journal.  Instead, he sends all of his papers to a place where they won’t be scrutinized and calls real scientists out for being too chicken to debate him.

Have any tried?  A few,actually.  Richard Dawkins, for one, with hilarious results:

I therefore made the innocent suggestion that the judging panel should consist of distinguished scientists, to be nominated by the National Academy of Sciences, the Royal Society, and Nobel Prizewinners.

Dr. Joe’s response was, predictably, to accuse Dawkins of rigging the process:

“If your objective is to stack the jury with evolutionists that will vote you the winner no matter what evidence is presented, then count yourself in default on this challenge. Which is it?”

Stupid scientists … making decisions based on science.

Priest/Mastropaolo won’t let it drop, and he goes on challenging me, with increasing belligerence, to accept or ‘default’. At one point I told him I might publish the correspondence for amusement, and received the following truculent permission to do so:

“Be sure you publish the following (and you may sign my name): You, Dr. Dawkins are an intellectual coward. You are scared to defend your faith in evolutionism on a level playing field. You have defaulted out of fear.”

I promised that I would indeed publish his words (I just have). I reminded him that it was he who refused to submit a scientific question to the judgment of the world’s leading scientists, and I added a further constructive suggestion:

“. . . science keeps its playing field level by the rather admirable system of anonymous peer-review. If you have evidence that evolution is false, you are entirely at liberty to submit a paper to the Editor of Nature, or Science, or the Journal of Theoretical Biology, or the American Naturalist, or Biological Reviews, or the Quarterly Review of Biology, or any of hundreds of other reputable journals in which ordinary working scientists publish their research. Do not fear that Editors will reject it simply because it opposes evolution. On the contrary, the journal that published a paper which really did discover a fallacy in evolution, or convincing evidence against it, would have the scoop of the century, in scientific terms. Editors would kill to get their hands on it.”

Dawkins’ name was put on a list of “debate dodgers” – people who, according to Mastropaolo, are too scared to defend evolution.  In reality, the list consists of people who are too busy doing actual science and having their results reviewed by people who know what the hell they’re talking about.

Around the same time, a guy named Wilfred Elders gave it a go, with the results being about what you would expect:

Dr. Elders, as you can well imagine, took the challenge about as seriously as everyone else who has received it, which is to say, not at all. And despite having his first attempt to crow like a cock on a dunghill removed from the web even by his friends, Mr. Priest is predictably at it again. Herewith, his latest bit of childish nonsense:

Subject: Elders Faces Reality
To: Wilfred Elders

Dear Dr. Elders:

You have defaulted. Your honor should compel you to retract your efforts to censor the Grand Canyon book by Tom Vail. Also, you should publicly admit that:

(1) evolution has been exposed as pagan Cebelese religion as practiced in Greece 2,500 years ago,
(2) evolution is completely absent in the universe today, always has been, always will be,
(3) every item associated with humans, animals and plants are creations, always have been, always will be,
(4) creation is science because it is observable by billions of people trillions of times, always has been, always will be, and
(5) You refuse to defend your ideas in a debate for $10,000.00.

You will now be listed as a Debate Dodger and one who agrees that evolution exists only in your imagination.

Karl Priest [Joe’s manager or something]

… Are there really people out there so deluded that they’ll think, “Wow, a scientist I’ve never heard of refused to debate a scientific issue in a legal forum that wouldn’t host such a debate in the first place. Evolution is a scam!”? The answer, unfortunately, appears to be yes. At the very least, Mr. Mastrapaolo and Mr. Priest seem to think that this is a rational statement to make.

Unfortunately, this mentality is all too common in the creationist world:  if the theory of evolution is anywhere near as sound as those evolutionists claim, then why not have some public debates on this issue??

Well first, because there’s no debate about evolution in the scientific community. Second, because that’s not how science works. What possible good would it do to “debate” a topic – which has already been overwhelmingly checked, validated, and accepted long ago by the scientific community – in front of a group of people who wouldn’t know proper research or scientific evidence if it jumped up and gave them a haircut? Experience with people like Ray Comfort, Kent Hovind, Ken Ham, and Joseph Mastropaolo says that their intent is not to get to the truth; instead, it is to plant doubt regarding the veracity of the claims made by the scientific community into the minds of people who are simply not educated enough to tell that they’re being lied to.

The verification of discoveries, reproduction of experiments, and testing of hypotheses are done by the people who both hold degrees in those relevant fields and have demonstrated enough mastery to be considered experts. This is what has given us the discoveries and technological advancements we have today. Proposing televised public “debates” is an “argumentum ad populum” … an appeal to the people; to have them presented by people who hold degrees – but not in anything relevant to the discussion at hand – is an appeal to authority.  They’re logical fallacies, they’re intellectually dishonest, and they’re total crap.

It all comes down to a fundamental lack of scientific literacy.  Creationists want a public debate because they can’t cut it in a world where their observations and conclusions are interrogated by people who are educated enough to find fault with them.

And so, in the spirit of Dr. Mastropaolo, Karl Priest, and all of the other “real” scientists out there, I leave you with this:

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One Response to The Illogical School: Appeals to Popularity and Authority Pt. 2

  1. Pingback: The Wrong Way to Get Rights … | Crimes Against Divinity

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