Chris Matthew's Fails at Science vs. Intelligent Design Creationism

Friday, May 8, 2009 at 3:13 PM Bookmark and Share

Following up on his nice performance putting Mike Pence (R-IN) on the spot regarding science and evolution, Chris Matthews did a horrible job by letting Tom Tancredo talk way too long about intelligent design as though it were a legitimate science - without even calling him on it! To add to his failure, he then went on to fumble providing his viewers with the distinction between intelligent design creationism and real science.

First, for a nice look at why Tancredo is so demonstrably off his rocker (including some references if you would like to dig a little deeper) check out the blog post "Chris Matthews Lets Creationst Tom Tancredo Off The Hook".

I should stop there, but I have to comment on one of the later bits of the interview. At one point, Chris asks what should be an easy question to answer:
Matthews: "What's the difference between saying you believe in evolution but you believe God's behind it? What's the difference between that and intelligent design?"
Not surprisingly, the science-illiterate politician doesn't know (or at least doesn't give) anything close to a reasonable answer...
Tancredo: "I don't think there is really much at all..."

So is there a difference? In short, YES! What is that difference? Well, to answer that as well as Chris's question, we have to roll up our sleeves a bit. He's unfortunately asked a poorly phrased question and as such, "the devil is in the details."

First, how one interprets the phrase "God's behind it" is a crucial matter here. Most people take this one of two ways (and we could reasonably assume that Chris Mathew's only had one of these interpretations in mind when he uttered the question): (1) God "got the ball rolling" early on in the history of our universe then let it run according to natural processes (like evolution by natural selection) without divine intervention; or (2) that God DOES intervene (and continues to today), having largely directed the progression of events so that they have resulted in outcomes today that are substantially different than what natural processes alone would have produced.
For example, some of our Diest founding fathers held beliefs in line with (1) while many religious fundamentalists tend to believe (2).

Cleraly, there could be a third and fourth interpretation, but I think these two cover the bulk of it, so lets press on.

The difference between either of these two options and intelligent design creationism can now be made more clear: for example, believing (1) means that you go to the doctor for scientifically based medical treatment instead of praying really hard that God will violate the natural progression of your ailment and cure you. By and large, (1) means that any sort of divine intervention in the natural world would be quite rare (or completely absent), with nothing supernatural ever occurring enough to be widely noticed.

On the other hand (2) is part of the foundation of intelligent design, which would make Matthew's question pretty much pointless, so presumably he was thinking of (1) when he asked the question (or again, some other third alternative).

My point? The answer is clear, and Chris botched providing it to his viewers. Science is about understanding the way natural processes shape the world we live in and impact our day-to-day lives. Intelligent design is a pseudo-science established to justify religious beliefs that run contrary to scientific knowledge and is founded on the belief that supernatural forces have shaped our world in a manner inconsistent what what natural processes could have produced on their own.

Why does any of this matter? These two interpretations of his question are hugely different and have big implications for the the claims of intelligent design creationists as well as the public understanding of what science is and is not.

In fact, those implications for intelligent design actually work against creationists, and make religious followers look incompetent - which is clearly not true. If you've ever seen someone get bit by the evidence, it can be a little painful to watch!

So how does glossing over this difference come back to bite creationists? Remember, intelligent design is an attempt to rationalize a preexisting belief that some supernatural creator (always God, or whatever deity the intelligent design proponent happens to worship).

When Tancredo and others start to ignore evidence (e.g. by claiming there aren't many transitional fossils) and make bad arguments in an attempt to rationalize their beliefs, they often set themselves up to be shown for what they are - someone rationalizing their unfounded beliefs and not someone "following the evidence." The moment you see who is really following the evidence (and who isn't) is when they're presented with new evidence, especially if its the very evidence they themselves said undermine their assertions and support the alternatives.

In this moment of truth, the staunch adherents end up in a position where, in order to maintain their beliefs in light of this contradictory evidence, they have to do some major backsliding and hand waving to get out of the hole they've dug themselves into.

In the end, Tancredo sums up his lack of understanding quite well. Despite the clear and much discussed differences between intelligent design creationism and real science, he wraps up with this mind numbingly oblivious remark,
I don't think there's a heck of a lot of argument [disagreement?] here...
Nice to see you're so well informed on the matter, Mr. Congressman.

PS: By the way, I'm of course aware that an alternative to his simply being uninformed about what he's saying is that he could very well be knowingly lying for any number of reasons. I'm inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt until I have reason to think otherwise!


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