Discovery Institute Howler
The irony flooding out of the Discovery Institute these days would make Noah nervous.
Their website devoted to debunking “Darwinism” has an article titled “Dr. Novella’s ‘Every Single Prediction’ in the Mind-Brain Problem”. The problem the Discovery Institute has with evolution and other science is that it is “materialistic”. That doesn’t mean science wants to own big-screen high-def plasma TVs. It means that there is a natural, real-world explanation for all phenomena we observe in our universe. To quote Wikipedia: “all phenomena are the result of material interactions”.
The problem with this view is that it leaves no room for God. That freaks out the DI. That’s their whole motivation for hating evolution and trying to suppress the teaching of it.
The DI’s article begins:
Atheist-materialist Dr. Steven Novella…
This is double-flag code-speak for the faithful. “OMG! He’s an atheist and a materialist! Bar the doors! Hide the children! He’s come to destroy our way of life!”
…is confident: all of our experiences and awareness arise from brain matter. There is no soul, no immaterial mind, separate from the brain itself.
You can see why they feel so threatened. In fact, this is worse than evolution to them. At least in evolution there is a little bit of wiggle room. That’s why they invented Intelligent Design creationism (“Accept no substitutes! If it doesn’t say Intelligent Design creationism, it’s just some crappy Chinese creationism! Make sure you buy your delusional ideas from the masters of delusion! Home-grown. Seattle-brewed. Mmmmmm! Discovery Institute Intelligent Design creationism!”).
The DI continues:
According to Dr. Novella, a neurologist at Yale, the debate is over, and all that is left to do is to eradicate a few stubborn pockets of resistance to the theory that the mind is merely a secretion of the brain, just as bile is a secretion of the liver.
Note how they subtly equate Dr. Novella’s theory with bile? Oh there’s bile in their article all right, but it isn’t coming from Dr. Novella!
Next, the article quotes Dr. Novella himself:
“The materialist hypothesis — that the brain causes consciousness — has made a number of predictions, and every single prediction has been validated.”
Here’s the part where I partially agree with the Discovery Institute. I get nervous when a scientist makes a broad, sweeping claim like that. Science can never know anything with 100% certainty. Some things we know with 99.999…% certainty. Everything else is known with a bit less certainty than that. That’s why scientists usually speak with an “out”: “The data are consistent with…”
Dr. Novella wrote the quoted sentence in his blog. He was speaking to a general audience and was trying to convey the extent to which we are confident in the materialistic theory of the brain. In those situations, the speech has to be more accessible to the audience. If he spoke in technobabble, people would get confused and wander off, probably ending up at Ken Ham’s creation museum in Kentucky.
It’s also important to look at the very next sentence that Dr. Novella wrote. This is from his blog, and it’s the part that the Discovery Institute left off:
Every single question that can be answered scientifically — with observation and evidence — that takes the form: “If the brain causes the mind then…” has been resolved in favor of that hypothesis.
This sentence qualifies the first. It is also a bit less sweeping. What he is saying is “Within the limits of science, all questions have been resolved in favor of the hypothesis.” Science is an ongoing process. It is always being refined. There could be some discovery tomorrow that contradicts the theory. Then the scientists would conduct additional experiments to confirm the observation. If it holds up, then the theory would be modified to accommodate it. We would then be even closer to an understanding of the brain.
But of course, this is too subtle and nuanced for the Discovery Institute’s quote miners. Let’s now return to the Discovery Institute article about Dr. Novella’s research:
A bit of advice: whenever a scientist says of his own theory that “every single prediction has been validated”, you’re being had.
I would agree with this, but remember that’s not quite what Dr. Novella said.
No scientific theory has had ‘every single prediction’ validated. All theories accord with evidence in some ways, and are inconsistent in others.
OK, that’s fair. Wow! The Discovery Institute managed to write two whole sentences without lying once! But now get ready for the howler:
Successful scientific theories prevail on the preponderance of the evidence, not validation of “every single prediction”. Real science lacks the precision of ideology. [emphasis added]
Woo hoo! Bop! Bingo! Zap!
The DI has spent years trying to sell us on ID creationism as if it’s some sort of real scientific theory, but they’ve never given us one shred of unambiguous data. Intelligent Design creationism is nothing BUT ideology!
News reports are now coming in that the Discovery Institute was just washed away in a flood of irony.