I just returned from hearing Chris Mooney speak at The Elliott Bay Book Company in downtown Seattle (which is a very cool place!). As discussed in this press release, tomorrow I will be posting live my complete response to Mr. Mooney’s chapter in The Republican War on Science against intelligent design. I’d like to give a brief account of the talk and commentary on my exchange with Chris Mooney.
I was impressed by Chris Mooney. He’s clearly intelligent, articulate, and has spent a lot of time immersed in the issues he writes about. As will be documented tomorrow, his attacks against intelligent design unfortunately are based upon a straw-man version of the theory. Much of Mr. Mooney’s talk was about preventing misinformation: I wish he would consider whether he needs to amend his chapter in order to prevent doing that himself (see below).
After the talk, I felt that it would be kindest if I introduced myself to Mr. Mooney. I was cordial, and so was he. While I was dialoguing with another attendee, he soon sharply attacked me for a question I asked in the press release:
Why do so many people eagerly listen to a journalist with neither scientific nor legal training discuss a complex scientific and legal issue like intelligent design?
Chris Mooney called this an inappropriate “personal attack” on his credentials? On the ~15 hours of sleep, I’ve had over the past 3 days, I answered his question as best as I could. But during the walk uptown back to the office just now, I’ve been thinking about my reply, and would like to amend it as follows:
Chris Mooney asked me if a person has to have a degree in a subject in order to write a book about it. After thinking about it more, I firmly convinced the answer is no. If Chris Mooney so desires, he can write a book about whatever he wants. I even praised him in our personal dialogue, saying that he clearly is an intelligent person and I was extremely impressed with the broad range of issues and topics he writes about. I also conceded that he probably knows much more about some of these subjects than I do. (Yet as I will document in my response, his characterization of intelligent design is completely flawed.)
But this isn’t about an attack upon Chris, and the question I asked in the press release was not aimed at Chris. It was aimed at those who listen to him. The interesting point has nothing to do with Chris Mooney. The interesting point has to do with the scientific community, academia, the intelligentsia, and many in the media who have overwhelmingly embraced him and his words about intelligent design.
Chris Mooney has every right to write a book and talk about whatever he wants. That’s what journalists do, and that’s not an interesting point. The interesting point is how many academics and well-credentialed members of the intelligentsia crave his words about intelligent design, despite the fact that he has no formal credentials in neither science nor law. As a sneak preview of what is in my rebuttal to Chris, I answer that question posed above with another question:
Is it perhaps because Mr. Mooney tells ID-critics in academia exactly what they want to hear, even if it isn’t true?
[Later note: this entire section about people listening to Mooney was removed in version 1.5 of my response]
Explaining why much of what Mr. Mooney writes about intelligent design isn’t true is what the balance of my response is devoted to. It isn’t devoted to attacking Chris Mooney personally. I’ll also throw out a quote from the ending, which legitimizes my earlier point that Chris Mooney has every right to write any book he wants:
If Mr. Mooney wants to critique ID, that is fine and he has every right to do so. But he should critique the actual theory of ID, and not promote the false, straw-man version described in his book. Mr. Mooney is urged to either retract or rewrite his chapter on intelligent design so it does not promote a false, straw-man mischaracterization of intelligent design which is only put forward in argument by critics, but never the scientific proponents of ID. Fairness would also suggest he should recognize that the real travesty in the intelligent design debate is the attack upon the academic freedom of pro-intelligent design scientists and scholars.
Stay tuned tomorrow for the final version! And be sure to tune in tomorrow to the Michael Medved Show to listen to Chris Mooney and Jonathan Wells debate about intelligent design from 1-2 pm PST. (Apparently Medved is one of those journalists who still applauds “balance.”)
In closing, Chris: you’re a smart, articulate guy who knows a lot of stuff and you can write about whatever you want, and I’m sure you believe everything you say–all that should be obvious enough. But this isn’t about you, for it is the adoration which academia and the intelligentsia heap upon you that intrigues me the most.