November 21, 2005 | David F. Coppedge

The Rhetoric of Mockery

Some recent stories illustrate that human rhetoric has evolved from sophistry to philosophy – then back again.  (In ancient Greece, sophistry was criticized of being nothing more than the art of making your opponent look foolish.  Socrates, among others, questioned the value of such exercises and tried to elevate rhetoric to higher purposes.)  The rise of Intelligent Design (ID) has given the neo-sophists their latest target.  To some of them, nothing is sacred. 

  1. Party Hardy Against the Bible, Bush, Propriety and Aesthetics:  The New York Daily News Daily Dish depicted a bizarre portrait of the opening gala for the new “Darwin” exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History.  The event seemed more an odd concoction of anti-Bush politics, celebrity low-cut gowns, blasphemous rock, Bible bashing, gay advocacy and Saturday Night Live comedy than support for Darwin’s theory.  One of them even mocked Jesus.  Was this supposed to help attract visitors?
  2. Teach ID?  OK, We’ll Teach ID:  Kansas has acquiesced, and yes, will now teach intelligent design – as mythology.  LiveScience and MSNBC News continued their long series of anti-ID reporting with an A.P. story about professors at the University of Kansas who have added a new course to the Religious Studies Department, entitled, “Special Topics in Religion: Intelligent Design, Creationism and other Religious Mythologies.”  Paul Mirecki, the department chairman said, “The KU faculty has had enoughCreationism is mythologyIntelligent design is mythology.  It’s not science” (emphasis added in all quotations).  John Calvert, the pro-ID Kansas attorney, is not flustered.  He thinks the tactic will backfire and Mirecki will go down in history as a laughingstock.
  3. Hmmmph:  John Brookfield (U of Nottingham), wrote a book review of The Plausibility of Life by Gerhart and Kirshner in Current Biology (Volume 15, Issue 22, 22 November 2005, Pages R908-R910).  The book, as explained in the 10/31/2005 entry, raises some serious questions about the standard view of Darwinian evolution.  After exploring puzzles about adaptive variation, Brookfield chided the authors for questioning the standard paradigm, and gave his recommendation for how to scientifically deal with critics:

    Depressingly often, the alternative that the authors rule out is not a view of organisms coming from other evolutionary scientists, but a view that exists only in the imaginations of those determined to believe that evolution is impossible without intervention from an intelligent designer.  Some of the tone of the book flows from the authors regrettably living in a social milieu where they are forced to specifically refute claims from advocates of ‘creation science’ and ‘intelligent design’, rather than contemptuously ignoring them as we British tend to do.

  4. Dilbert Fans Turn Against Author:  Scott Adams is not your typical religious nut – quite the opposite.  All this usually irreverent icon-basher did was suggest on his Dilbert Blog recently that Darwin might have feet of clay, and was he in for a surprise.  The mud flew on P.Z. Myers’ Pharyngula blog, with words like idiotic, creepy, worthless, scary, kook, and ridiculous the most printable epithets from his erstwhile cartoon fans.  Myers’ last comment must have stung: “Maybe Adams isn’t a Wally.  He actually sounds more like a pointy-haired boss.”
        Scott Adams clarified his position with “Intelligent Design, Part 2” on Dilbert Blog.  He wasn’t espousing intelligent design, he said, but just exercising the freedom to doubt the Darwinists: “The people who purport to have evidence of evolution do a spectacular job of making themselves non-credible,” he said.  “To me, it’s like hiring a serial cannibal as a babysitter based on the fact that he PROMISES not to eat your kids despite having eaten all the other kids on the block. It might be a fact that he’s telling the truth.  The problem is that he’s not credible.”
  5. No More Mr. Nice Guy; Let’s Kick Some Butt:  According to Jonathan Witt writing for Discovery Institute, some evolutionists are getting downright gladiatorial.  Here’s what P.Z. Myers (U of Minnesota) recommended:

    Our only problem is that we aren’t martial enough, or vigorous enough, or loud enough, or angry enough.  The only appropriate responses should involve some form of righteous fury, much butt-kicking, and the public firing and humiliation of some teachers, many school board members, and vast numbers of sleazy far-right politicians.

    Sounds like the Darwinists are sending in their champion, Gluteus Maximus.  Jonathan may have proved the Survival of the Wittest with this line, however: “Modern evolutionary theory is less a cornerstone and more the busybody aunt – into everyone’s business and, all the while, very much insecure about her place in the home.”

Attempts by evolutionists to ridicule and marginalize their opposition may actually do more to promote it, Jonathan Witt opined.  “When leaders in Colonial America attempted to ban certain books, people rushed out to buy them.  It’s the ‘Banned in Boston’ syndrome,” he said.  “The more the Darwinists try to prohibit discussion of intelligent design, the more they pique the curiosity of students, parents and the general public.”

Do the Darwinists really think this kind of out-of-control behavior is going to help their cause?  We’re all taking notes for the historians.  When the Charlie idol collapses, we’re going to resurrect some of these braggadocio episodes as entertainment, or as lessons to would-be mockers of the 21st century.
    To informed observers, this all resembles one last drinking binge on a sinking ship.  Belshazzar, recall, drank wine out of the sacred golden vessels with a lot of laughter and chutzpah, but not for long.  The handwriting is on the wall again.  Darwinism has been weighed in the balances, and found wanting.
    The Babbleonians may soon see their downfall.  Perhaps their kingdom will be divided among the Mediators and the Perversions.  No matter what comes next, if you want to stand tall through it all, dare to be a Daniel.

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