Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner

"Just when I thought that I was out they pull me back in."
-Michael Corleone in The Godfather: Part III

I swore off writing about intelligent design and other bad science in order to focus this blog towards actual research and real debates within the fields of evolutionary biology and genetics. Oh, if only it were so easy!

I have not stopped thinking about or monitoring the IDiots and their continuing quest to damage the American educational system, but I didn’t want to waste my time writing about that crap. And then this came my way. Dr. William Harris, a nutritional biochemist and managing director of the Intelligent Design Network (those lovable kids who brought you the Kansas Kangaroo Court), is coming to Penn State this week. It's not Demski, Behe, or one of the many other Discovery Institute Fellows, but it's a wacky Intelligent Design Creationist none-the-less.

Dr. Harris will speak on "Evolution or Design" (I wonder which side he's on?) on Thursday, September 22. His visit is sponsored by the Penn State Vedic Society, which means it’s not just Christians who are falling for this crap. Anyone else find it odd that a religious group is sponsoring a supposedly scientific lecture? Well, this is common practice in the anti-science, pro-creationism, Intelligent Design camp.

Here’s a little bit of background on Dr. Harris for those of you not familiar with all the players in this game of deception, poor reasoning, and bad religion:
1. Harris is the managing director of the Intelligent Design Network. They were behind the Minority report submitted to the Kansas school board in defense of creationism (and against evolutionary biology).

2. He testified at the Kansas Kangaroo Court against evolutionary biology. Of his great insights, this particular exchange stands out (he's the one answering, signified by "A"):
Q. Sir, I have only a few questions for you. As it was statedearlier, my name is Pedro Irigonegaray, I represent the majority. You've told us a little bit about your beliefs and your opinions and how you came to those. I'd like to ask you for the record, first, can you tell us how old you believe the earth is?
A. I don't know. I think it's probably really old.
Q. How old is really old?
A. I don't really know.
Q. You have no idea how old the earth is?
A. There's theories around that the earth is 10,000ish years old. There are theories around that it is four billion years old. If it was a multiple choice test and I only had two choices and I couldn't check "I don't know," and I wanted to get credit for the question, I'd check old.
3. He holds a bachelor's degree in chemistry, a PhD in Nutritional Biochemistry, and studies whether Omega-3 fatty acids can prevent heart disease. None of these are bad things, but they don't make him any kind of expert on evolutionary biology (in fact, they are hallmarks of someone who really doesn't understand evolutionary theory or the evidence for evolution). Most of the so-called experts asked to attack evolutionary biology have degrees in chemistry, engineering, and law -- this is akin to asking one of us biologists to attack string theory, construct a suspension bridge, or pass the state bar.

4. Oh, and if his intentions are still unclear to you, he gained some publicity a few years back for publishing a study that showed prayer could help people suffering from heart disease. The findings were called into question, and recent work shows that it was bunk. The guy is extremely religious (not in itself a bad thing), but he's allowed his religious beliefs to interfere with his science. In doing so, he's gone outside of his area of expertise in order to attack something that he thinks conflicts with his dogma. As Ken Miller has famously argued, there is no disagreement between evolutionary biology and Christian theology; people who think there is don't have a very good understanding of evolution.
I’ll be there with an eye patch, peg leg, and sword on the ready to ask him what happens to the Flying Spaghetti Monster when all the gaps in evolution get filled in by science. Hopefully he’ll address the conflicts between Pastafarianism and Intelligent Design – specifically, how ID fails to account for the correlation between the world wide population of pirates and the mean global temperature. And he'll get some tough questions as well (maybe we'll find out what he knows about gene duplication), but their content really depends on what kind of garbage he spews during his talk.

I hope to post on the lunacy over the weekend.


At 2:56 PM, Blogger Amit said...

I found out there is an Intelligent Design club at Cornell

At 5:45 PM, Blogger RPM said...

If I'm forced to say one good thing about it, they do an excellent rehashing of the classic ID cannon. I'm especially fond of the prevelance of the bacterial flagellum and the references to Newton. As a distinguished alumnus (ok, maybe that's stretching it a bit) of that fine University on the hill I wonder who up there will be the first to give them a swift kick in the ass.


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