Comparing Internet Argument Styles: Creationists, IDists, Scientists

Skeptic magazine has an interesting article, based on a 2017 article in Science & Education, describing a study that compared the argument topics and argument types found on websites discussing origins issues. It is not clear from the Skeptic article whether they counted arguments on discussion forums.

The comment I found most interesting is:

[T]he ID creationism approach has been, and continues to be, primarily a program meant to prove the existence of God. It therefore bears more resemblance to natural theology and apologetics than it does to science. Seen in this light, it is surprising that ID creationists once believed that ID would somehow help them achieve their goals.

The author characterizes the irreducible complexity argument as an argument meant to prove the existence of God. I suppose some here would disagree.

I think the ID creationists may have believed ID would help them achieve their goals only because creation science had been so decisively rejected. At that point it was either become more scientific or become more apologetic, and science was clearly not a way forward.

The original article is R. M. Barnes, R. A. Church, and S. Draznin-Nagy. 2017. “The Nature of the Arguments for Creationism, Intelligent Design, and Evolution.” Science & Education, 26, pp. 27–47.

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239 thoughts on “Comparing Internet Argument Styles: Creationists, IDists, Scientists

  1. Allan Miller: I don’t agree with everything he says, but the Selfish Gene perspective – which he freely admits he only popularised – cuts closer to the heart of evolution, for me. (Gould hated it!).

    I’m with Gould on that.

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  2. Neil Rickert: I’m with Gould on that.

    What can I say? It’s a very useful perspective for understanding genome dynamics, the trade-off between nuclear and organellar genes, and inter- and intra-species conflicts and accommodations. If these aren’t of interest, fine.

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  3. Mung: For the record I do not consider ID arguments to be arguments for the existence of God or arguments for Creationism. Once God or Creationism enters the picture it’s not an ID argument.

    I acknowledge that many people are unwilling to make this distinction, and that this unwillingness takes place on both sides.

    Right, ID requires a designer who can visualise all possible combinations of chemistry, pick the optimal designs and assemble those designs de novo over billions of years.

    But it isn’t God.

    Not buying it, Mung.

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  4. Mung: Perhaps you see things as ID vs. Evolution. And I can see why you might think that. But what to make of those in ID who accept evolution?

    There are certainly several ID proponents who accept a fair amount of evolutionary theory, including evolution by natural selection. Michael Behe is one of those.

    However, whenever he or anybody else in the ID movement makes a claim that this or that feature must have been designed, this always proceeds by arguing that natural selection is somehow impotent to accomplish this feat. This is argued by invoking irreducible complexity, an edge to evolution or most recently by swamping with mutations that diminish function.

    It is not me who pits ID versus evolution (by natural selection). This is definitely a core feature of ID theory.

    ETA: corrected embarrasing typo

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  5. Corneel: It is not me who pits ID versus evolution (by natural selection). This is definitely a core feature of ID theory.

    I like the way you put that, but it’s missing part of the Darwinian picture. It’s not just natural selection.

    But I agree with your overall point. I don’t see any reason to dispute it. The ID argument claims to be an inference to the best explanation, so of course you have to show the weaknesses of the competing explanations.

    So I don’t see anything wrong with that style of argument.

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  6. Mung: The ID argument claims to be an inference to the best explanation, so of course you have to show the weaknesses of the competing explanations.

    ID arguments contain no explanation whatsoever. All IDiots do is throw lame attacks on established evolutionary science. How come you haven’t figured that out by now? I would expect that from Cole or J-Mac, not you

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  7. Corneel: Right, ID requires a designer who can visualise all possible combinations of chemistry, pick the optimal designs and assemble those designs de novo over billions of years.

    But it isn’t God.

    Not buying it, Mung.

    And be undesigned.

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  8. DNA_Jock: Well let’s see. He has his M.A. and his D.Phil. in Zoology from Oxford, and he taught zoology at UC Berkeley.
    That’s waaaay better biology credentials than Meyer’s undergraduate degree in Earth Science and Ph.D. in HISTORY and PHILOSOPHY of Science, albeit from Cambridge.

    What the fuck does this statement mean? Its better? Better at what?

    DNA_Jock: what actually matters is whether you make any sense

    Right.

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  9. phoodoo: What the fuck does this statement mean? Its better? Better at what?

    Speaking with competence on matters of biology.

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  10. Rumraket: Speaking with competence on matters of biology.

    Good, then you better shut up and listen to Behe then.

    Only Jock could say the letters after one’s name are a poor indicator of knowledge, and then say that. No, no, you also would say something so ridiculous.

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  11. phoodoo: No, no, you also would say something so ridiculous.

    What’s ridiculous about it? It is genally the case that your education makes you more likely to hold informed opinions in your field of study. Is that a controversial statement? I don’t think so.

    Even so, it is still possible someone with a different background can have an informed opinion. It is an indication, not some sort of absolute proof.

    Why do I have to explain this to a grown man? I would think any rational person could reason this out for themselves.

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  12. Rumraket,

    Look, I assume Jock is a grown man, but I don’t know that for sure. I mean his nickname is Baby-Jock, so who knows…?

    Anyway, since you and Dawkins, and most of the foremost skeptics of course, aren’t scientists according to him, maybe we should ask an astronomer. Or a metallurgist. Or maybe even an astrologer.

    I know, pretty dumb, right?

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  13. phoodooLook, I assume Jock is a grown man, but I don’t know that for sure. I mean his nickname is Baby-Jock, so who knows…?

    By now the rule of thumb is “not phoodoo”.

    Anyway, since you and Dawkins, and most of the foremost skeptics of course, aren’t scientists according to him

    Who says who isn’t a scientist, and why does that matter to you?

    I know, pretty dumb, right?

    I have never known your posts to be anything else, and that one was no exception, so yes.

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  14. phoodoo: Look, I assume Jock is a grown man, but I don’t know that for sure. I mean his nickname is Baby-Jock, so who knows…?

    How quickly they forget. My nickname is Baby-Jock Duvalier, which is quite the cleverest thing you have ever written here.

    Anyway, since you [Rumraket] and Dawkins, and most of the foremost skeptics of course, aren’t scientists according to him, maybe we should ask an astronomer. Or a metallurgist. Or maybe even an astrologer.

    I know, pretty dumb, right?

    Here you are in error. By my criteria Rumraket IS a scientist, and his credentials are quite as good as Behe’s.

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  15. Mung: The letters J o c k are a deeply fallible indicator?

    I’ll say. Some around here fail to get the play on ‘Jock’ as short for ‘jockey’ –meaning one who rides/controls — and ‘Jock’ as the generic name for a Scotsman. They think it has something to do with athletic supports, the benighted dears. So it is a deeply fallible indicator. 😉

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  16. DNA_Jock: Here you are in error. By my criteria Rumraket IS a scientist, and his credentials are quite as good as Behe’s.

    Thanks, that is high praise. I couldn’t claim to have the equivalence of a PhD in biochemistry, but I do in fact work in cell and molecular biological research. I know enough to understand where Behe is wrong and misleading.

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  17. Corneel,

    Corneel wrote: “I wonder whether the coding of God as ID is completely due to the legal issues with teaching creationism in the US, or whether the idea that ID is a scientific program has a more general appeal. I get the impression that ID proponents really like the idea that the ID arguments for the existence of ID/God are scientific, because it confers a sense of impartiality.”

    I think the legal issue is a big one. But I agree with you that teaching ID rather than teaching God would probably be more appealing to the general public. Right now, however, it is not about democratic vote. Case law is the current hurdle that ID and/or creationism has to overcome in order to be taught in public schools. If, however, the courts would open the door for creationism and/or ID in the public schools, THEN popular support would be key. Creationism/ID curriculum would only be adopted in school districts/states in which the populace wanted that curriculum included.

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  18. The author characterizes the irreducible complexity argument as an argument meant to prove the existence of God. I suppose some here would disagree.

    There’s the observation that things tend to decay when left by themselves, not evolve. Would this be an argument for God? More importantly, would it be an instantly dismissible observation?

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  19. Erik: There’s the observation that things tend to decay when left by themselves, not evolve. Would this be an argument for God?

    Sure the existence of anything is, if things tended evolve or devolve ,you could make an argument for God.

    It might be more persuasive ,if you could generally pinpoint how God does what He does or why devolving is a more likely outcome of the actual deity.

    More importantly, would it be an instantly dismissible observation?

    Almost certainly for some.

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  20. Erik: There’s the observation that things tend to decay when left by themselves, not evolve.

    Then why are there still things evolving? And there have been for millions of years?

    Erik: More importantly, would it be an instantly dismissible observation?

    Unless you are more specific about what “things” you mean, yeah, nil points.

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  21. OMagain: Then why are there still things evolving? And there have been for millions of years?

    Maybe because they have NOT been left by themselves.

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  22. Erik: Maybe because they have NOT been left by themselves.

    For example? And I can name many things that have “been left on their own” that are doing just fine and not decaying.

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  23. The are things that have been evolving in the ocean for 4 billion years. Not decaying. Surviving. What nonsense.

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  24. OMagain: For example? And I can name many things that have “been left on their own” that are doing just fine and not decaying.

    Then why did you actually not name any examples?

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  25. Erik: Then why did you actually not name any examples?

    I asked you first.

    OMagain: For example?

    I mean, don’t you believe there are such examples without me naming them? That seems like a very extreme position.

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  26. OMagain: I mean, don’t you believe there are such examples without me naming them? That seems like a very extreme position.

    Indeed I hold to the extreme position that things tend to decay when left by themselves, not evolve. And living things, insofar as they seem to evolve, are not left by themselves. They are sustained by life.

    The article itself is pretty cool. Just one little note on this pic

    https://www.skeptic.com/eskeptic/2019/images/19-02-20/figure-01-2x.png

    IDists would argue that their references to complexity go under positive empirical evidence. That’s a false claim, but that’s how it works for them.

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  27. Erik: And living things, insofar as they seem to evolve, are not left by themselves. They are sustained by life.

    Living things are sustained by life? Uhm no. Living organisms are far from equilibrium dissipative systems, in the parlance of non equilibrium thermodynamics, and in the case of all known cellular life they’re sustained by chemical concentration gradients.
    Living things are made of atoms and molecules behaving according to the laws of physics, just like everything else. If an organism runs out of usable energy(the concentration gradient fully dissipates and equilibrium is reached), it will stop functioning and decay.

    All it takes is the conversion of usable energy into less usable energy to sustain any type of system or structure against decay. Living organisms are a manifestation of thermodynamics in the same way that a hurricane forming and persisting in the concentration gradient between warm ocean water and cooler upper atmospheric air is, not a violation of it.

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  28. Rumraket: Living things are made of atoms and molecules behaving according to the laws of physics, just like everything else.

    If biology is physics, then why not fire biologists and let physicists do it? And you called *me* extreme… Seriously, when someone cannot tell the difference between the living and non-living, there can be no discussion about biology.

    In the article, I disagree with this bit:

    The Reason: Complexity argument is similar to the Reason: Paley argument, but we only identified data as Reason: Complexity if the data explicitly referred to concepts such as irreducible or specified complexity.

    Paley’s argument is an argument from analogy, whereas claims of complexity (irreducible or whatever) have numbers attached to them, as if there were something empirically measurable there. Different kinds of arguments. It does not change the overall picture much though, particularly when you lump ID and creationism together.

    Moreover, the whole debate between mainstream scientists and creation “scientists” is a narrowly U.S. thing. It does not even touch Canada, as far as I know, and certainly none of the rest of the world. There is something loopy about the state of science (and “science”) in U.S. in particular. This includes also assertions that biology is reducible to physics.

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  29. Erik: If biology is physics, then why not fire biologists and let physicists do it?

    What an incredibly stupid question. As if the titles of people studying a phenomenon has any indication for whether or not it obeys the laws of physics.

    Why don’t we have physicists study cooking too, since clearly boiling vegetables and frying steaks is a physical process?

    Seriously, when someone cannot tell the difference between the living and non-living, there can be no discussion about biology.

    There is no difference with respect to the laws of physics, and there can be no discussion about this.

    Get an education.

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  30. Erik: Seriously, when someone cannot tell the difference between the living and non-living, there can be no discussion about biology.

    What is the difference between the living and the non-living?

    Erik: This includes also assertions that biology is reducible to physics.

    Well, like everything else it is. We might not be able to do it, but that does not mean it’s not possible in principle.

    What part of biology will we never be able to understand?

    There are programs that emulate the behaviour of matter down to quite remarkable depths. They have several purposes. They are very specialised.

    Why, specifically, would biology not work on such a substrate? How would it “know” it was being run on virtual atoms?

    And of more interest to me is how do you know all that?

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  31. It should be noted that there ARE physicists studying biology, and biologists studying the physics of biology, in a field called biophysics.

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  32. Prior to life there was just stuff. Chemicals. Rocks. Rocks made of chemicals. Then stuff became alive? Chemicals were still chemicals but now they live?

    Whereupon that continuum do we say “not alive” and where do we say “alive”? That’s what you seem to be claiming to know Erik.

    And I seriously doubt you do.

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