Intelligent design media and rhetorical queries

In a comparable manner to Young Earth Creationist media, Intelligent Design News and Views articles feature a greater number of negative rhetorical questions than either neutral or positive inquiries. Such rhetorical queries also attempt to cast doubt upon the scientific validity of evolution, and the moral character of evolutionists. For instance, in an article entitled “A Fishy Story About Antifreeze Gene Evolution,” Casey Luskin explains that scientists have announced the likely evolutionary pathway for the origin of an Antarctic fish’s antifreeze protein. After detailing the model’s primary concepts, he states: “Sounds simple and compelling, right? Don’t be too impressed.” Luskin, who was the Discovery Institute’s Program Officer in Public Policy and Legal Affairs, goes on to clarify that evolutionists simply employ “magic wands” to “concoct a just-so story to ‘explain’ the origin [of] just about any gene sequence - no details required.”83 These sorts of rhetoricals are also often affiliated with refutations of anti-ID arguments. Accordingly, one News and Views piece surveys an academic journal article critiquing ID explanations of common design. The offending paper, whichappears in the Journal of Eukaryotic Microbiology, does so by using an evolutionary model for the origin of the enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase 2 in protozoa.84 After highlighting the main components of the article’s counter-ID argument, the following assortment of questions is asked:

  • • “Where was the evidence for Darwinian evolution?”
  • • “Is it probabilistically likely to occur?”
  • • “Perhaps, but what are the odds of a mutation fusing these two genes in the right fashion so both parts could remain functional? And is there a Darwinian pathway to fixing the other residues necessary for the ALDH half to properly function? They don’t say.”
  • • “Even if such a fusion mutation is possible, does that really explain the Darwinian origin of EhADH2?”

The News and Views essay concludes that this particular argument “in no way refutes ‘common design,’ because ID predicts that non-random features will be reused in different organisms.” Readers are then asked, “Since that’s exactly what we find, how is common design, in their words ‘unfounded’ or ‘improbable?’”85

Moreover, Luskin readily employs negative questions while criticizing a myriad of other scientific data. Case in point, throughout an article reviewing and assessing the purported weaknesses of numerous proevolutionist findings, he asks rhetorically:

  • • “This is indeed a fascinating study about the mechanisms controlling molar development in mice, but what does it have to do with natural selection?”
  • • “But is this ‘macroevolutionary data’ or is it a study of mere comparative tooth morphology?”
  • • “Double-Jawed Moray Eels: Very Cool Structures, but What’s Evolution Got to Do With It?”
  • • “Where’s the Evolution?”

Correspondingly, Luskin assesses the evidence for evolution acquired from studying the differential dispersion of wild bird populations. After recapitulating proevolutionist arguments, he notes, “We’ve all heard this story before - but is there more too it?” In conclusion he then assures audiences, “None of this suggests how large-scale evolutionary change could occur.”86

Such questions also appear in Luskin’s repeated attempts to dismantle and discredit academic studies used to support the evolutionary development of new genetic information. For example, in the Kitzmiller v. Dover trial, Judge John E. Jones acknowledged that a number of academic studies, cited by Kenneth Miller and used by the NCSE, adequately demonstrate evolutionary mechanisms for accruing new genetic information. In response, Luskin first asks, “But are Judge Jones’s, Ken Miller’s, and the NCSE’s bold

Casting doubt and conspiracies 119 proclamations supported? Does Long et al. actually reveal the origin of new biological information?” With hypophora he then communicates that the answer to both questions is “no,” telling audiences that such “citations are largely bluffs, revealing little about how new genetic functional information could originate via unguided evolutionary mechanisms.” As a matter of fact, “Judge Jones was not merely in error,” because the “misinformation he propounded in his ruling entered media and academic culture, becoming enshrined as a Darwinian myth, alongside many others.”87 Regarding this same subject matter, he asks audiences, “Can evolutionists provide a compelling - or even plausible - explanation for the origin of new genes?”88 Luskin’s unspoken answer is that they simply cannot.

Analogous rhetoricals permeate articles endeavoring to refute proevolutionist data associated with such topics as arthropod biomimicry, comparative embryology, the fossil record, macroevolution, the origins of viruses, and universal common ancestry.89 In light of the alleged evidential difficulties suggested in such questions, CSC writers further ask audiences how it could possibly be that Darwinists persist in supporting the theory. Egnor thus relates: “I saw that Darwinism was a Potemkin village. But it wasn’t clear to me why evolutionary biologists were so passionately devoted to such pallid science. The evidence that the Darwinian understanding of biological origins was inadequate has been in hand for quite a while.” He then delivers the following chain of questions:

Why, when the genetic code was unraveled, didn’t scientists question Darwin’s assumption of randomness? Why didn’t Darwinists ask the difficult questions that are posed for their theory by the astonishing complexity of intracellular molecular machinery? Why do Darwinists claim that intelligent design is untestable, and simultaneously claim that it is wrong?90

These sorts of queries insinuate that evolutionary scientists may not be acting aboveboard regarding the treatment of empirical evidence. Other rhetorical inquiries lead audiences to similar conclusions, while relating conspiracy theory allegations of self-seeking academics, bullying, and widespread censorship. For instance, after conceding that a majority of scientists single-mindedly endorse evolution, Smith concludes an article by asking, “Yet to what extent is that uniformity coerced - specifically, by employment pressure?”91 In another article, Klinghoffer denounces supposed attempts by proevolutionists to censor Intelligent Design theorists, and includes the following questions and remarks:

  • • “Did you ever think about what actually drives these people?”
  • • “How much of this is about science and how much of it is about personal status, social and professional esteem?”
  • • “In any case, this is the current culture of science. Does anyone seriously think it doesn’t impede the free exploration of ideas?”

“One thing’s clear,” he tells readers at the end of the article. “Social anxiety plays some role in the fear and dread that intelligent design provokes among people who are too dedicated to their own brand image.’92

Intriguingly, these accusations attempt to highlight for readers that countercreationists are using persuasion techniques to win over the masses, and CSC writers accuse evolutionists of referencing their own academic credibility and pompously upbraiding their opponents. For instance, Luskin argues that evolutionists rely on appeals to authority, and then asks, “If the evidence is on their side, why do they feel the need to do this?”93 In another article he accuses an ID critic of name-calling, asking: “Is there a reason why evolutionists so often increase the ad hominem attacks when their case is weak?”94 Other questions are noticeably intended to mock evolutionists outright, such as when Cornelius Hunter denounces biology textbook writers. He explains, “The apologists make a pathetic attempt to enlist the fossil record as powerful evidence for evolution, and end up with only the usual religious dogma.” Hunter then asks sarcastically: “And how do evolutionary clowns know so much? From where did Johnson and Lobos learn such ultimate truths? If evolution is not correct then such orderly change is not expected? Tell us more.” Following this ridicule, he demands, “What are all the possibilities aside from evolution and why do none of them predict ‘such orderly change’? Why is it that evolution, and only evolution, predicts such an outcome?”95 Perhaps the most contemptuous example of such derisory rhetoricals occurs within Egnor’s open letter to the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology. In 2009 this society boycotted the state of Louisiana in reaction to its enactment of the Science Education Act, prompting Egnor to write the following question-infused denunciation:

Where do you think the money that you’re denying the citizens of New Orleans came from? . . . The ordinary taxpaying God-fearing Americans you tried to slap down in Louisiana are paying your way, and they’ve always paid your way, while you sneered at them, ridiculed their faith, and used a judicial cudgel to indoctrinate their children in their schools. And now you think that you can blackmail them by . . . refusing to visit their state?

If you’re not careful, ‘creationists’(80% of Americans) might notice this irony: you boycott their states, but you forgot to boycott their money. If one percent of the people you’ve censored and boycotted wrote letters to their congressmen demanding a defunding of evolutionary research - a boycott of you - the grant money currently allocated to advancing Darwinist ideology (it’s ideologues, not scientists, who censor) would be re-allocated to genuine non-ideological science

Do you think they’d be successful? The arguments that your allies have used would be the basis for defunding you. The appellation ‘consensus science’ could be used as a litmus test for withdrawal of funding. Why fund research on ‘settled’ science? Why waste precious research dollars on studying a ‘fact’ like Darwinism, when there are so many pressing problems in medicine and other sciences that remain unsolved? Research funding properly goes to controversies, not settled issues. How many scientific theories that are taught to public school students as non-controversial are the basis for substantial federal funding? How much money does the NSF devote to research on Newtonian gravitation or heliocentrism?96

As the preceding excerpt ventures to communicate, evolutionists are con-spiratorially censoring opposing viewpoints. Chapter 5 provides a detailed breakdown of such claims of censorship, but it is important to note here that Center for Science and Culture writers often include rhetorical questions within these conspiracist allegations of suppression. An illustration of this can be found in an article criticizing efforts to prohibit counter-evolutionist viewpoints from being taught in American classrooms. Egnor brings the piece to a close with the following remarks: “Here’s a question to ponder: most scientific disciplines welcome scrutiny and debate. That’s how science is done. Why is censorship of scrutiny so much a part of evolutionary science?”97 In relation to the same topic, Luskin concludes an article by asking, “What kind of society would we live in if Eugenie Scott and the Darwin lobby had their way, and it was illegal to ask hard questions about scientific theories? Not a good one.”98 Likewise, Crowther uses rhetorical questions while assessing the dismissal of David Coppedge, a NASA computer system administrator who was let go from his position in the Jet Propulsion Laboratory for apparently distributing Intelligent Design-supporting DVDs to colleagues:

Now, though, this exemplary employee has been demoted. Why? Did he do something to jeopardize the mission? No. Was he guilty of incompetence? No. Was he lazy or just lackadaisical in his work? No. David Coppedge’s sin was a thought crime, the mere willingness to challenge the ruling authority of Darwinian evolution.99

West examines another case of hypothetical censorship, addressing evolutionists with the following request: “If you are a proponent of Darwin’s theory, I’d urge you to think long and hard about how far you are willing to go down the path of trashing the Constitution.” He then asks of these individuals, “Are you really willing to jettison the First Amendment in your obsession to shield Darwinian theory from scrutiny?” The article’s final two sentences further press his adversaries for persuasive effect: “Are you that insecure? Do you think that the evidence for your theory is so weak that you need to resort to government censorship to prevent anyone from even hearing another point of view?”100

West’s use of rhetoricals suggest that evolutionist censorship is driven by a genuine fear of rival perspectives. Such anxieties fuel scientists’ Machiavellian efforts to maintain proevolutionist control of education and research agendas. Allied conspiracist charges are conveyed by other negative questions located throughout News and Views. For example, on the subject of the ostensible suppression of an ID movie screening, Luskin asks, “Are Darwin’s defenders so paranoid that they are afraid of a single night’s movie showing?” He promptly tells readers: “The evidence would indicate that the answer is ‘yes.’ The evidence also shows that the showing was cancelled precisely because of that paranoia.”101 Counter-ID responses to other Intelligent Design film presentations are similarly criticized. West thus asks, “Are Darwinists really so afraid of the evidence that this is the best they can muster?” This concentration on the apparent fear-engendered reactions of evolutionists is also articulated by Crowther, who wonders hypophorically: “If Darwin’s theory is the be all end all of science, why are they so worried by a small, independent film? Because, it is the power of the ideas in the film that have them scared.”102 Similarly, Luskin describes the proevolutionist conspiratorial “censorship agenda” in education, and contemplates, “What makes evolutionists so scared that they must resort to these tactics?”103

CSC’s negative rhetorical queries also accompany recurrent assertions that evolution is linked with numerous social evils, as well as claims that any endeavor to reconcile Darwinism with religion is doomed to fail. Thus, various News and Views contributors ask, “Can Darwinists Condemn Hitler and Remain Consistent with Their Darwinism?” and “Does Darwinism jive with traditional morality and faith in God?”104 In most cases, the titles of CSC articles containing such rhetoricals adhere to the tongue-in-cheek maxim of journalism known as Betteridge’s Law, which states comically that “any headline which ends in a question mark can be answered by the word ‘no’ ”.10S Additionally, these negative questions exist within claims that evolutionists misrepresent Intelligent Design time and again by associating it with Young Earth Creationism. In one News and Views article evaluating anti-ID essays published in a philosophy journal, Luskin explains, “A tragically amusing article in the issue of Synthese is John Wilkins’ piece with the less-than-civil title, ‘Are creationists rational?”’ Irritated, Luskin goes to on to ask and answer: “And of course guess what gets lumped as the same as ‘creationism’? You guessed it: intelligent design.”106 Elsewhere, Luskin asks in amazement, “Can’t these top-rate philosophers rebut ID without misrepresenting the arguments?”107 The implicit response is always: certainly not.

In addition to these negative queries, CSC contributors also use positive rhetorical questions to lead audiences toward pro-ID conclusions in ways similar to those appearing in Young Earth Creationist media. Though few and far between when compared to negative rhetoricals, these positive questions reinforce that Intelligent Design is a valid option for explaining scientific data. “Which suits biology better,” one writer asks readers, “ID-inspired language that allows purpose, or the newspeak of evolutionary biology which disallows any mention of purpose?”108 Regarding the apparent improbability that unguided chance and necessity would select precisely the twenty amino acids used in living systems, another contributor speculates,

“If chance and necessity are seemingly inadequate, either on their own or in co-operation, what about the causal powers of agent causality?” In the article’s conclusion the writer goes on to state:

If, in every other realm of experience, such features are routinely attributed to intelligent causes, and we have seen no reason to think that this intuition is mistaken, are we not justified in positing and inferring that these systems we are finding in biology also originated at the will of a purposive conscious agent?109

Other questions draw audiences to analogous suppositions:

  • • “But there is no good reason why evidence for design cannot be considered in whatever area it is found. When one discovers the same fine-tuning inside the cell that one finds in the universe as a whole, why shouldn’t one be able to draw the same inference?”110
  • • “Is there something greater at work here which transcends the mere demands of survival and reproduction?”111
  • • “Any scientist committed to the pursuit of truth must follow the evidence where it leads. Can the elegant processes that regulate antibody development provide insights for how living organisms may be designed to adapt to changes in the environment?”112
  • • “This suggests purpose, intelligence, thought, design. Or is there something I’m missing?”113

Finally, positive rhetorical questions are occasionally used to supplement News and Views pleas for Intelligent Design theory to be taught in American schools, as well as buttressing CSC contentions that including legitimate antievolutionist data in science pedagogy encourages academic freedom. “It is not logical to have both sides of an argument represented?” asks a News and Views columnist. “It is a part of the scientific process to test a hypothesis, but if you only test the one variable, how are our future generations going to know the validity of the other side?”114 Elsewhere, another CSC contributor ponders “why is academic freedom bad?”, while Luskin asks audiences, “But isn’t that what science is about: encouraging students to think skeptically, and not dogmatically?”115 Not only do many of these questions steer readers toward pro-ID conclusions, but they also invoke the authority and nature of science. In this way, these types of rhetoricals are affiliated with CSC’s numerous appeals to the credibility of science, and the tremendous weight of scientific evidence that audiences are repeatedly told brace Intelligent Design ideas.

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