I usually ignore ScienceBlogs because unfortunately it’s a home for many ad hominem attacks and not serious response-worthy posts. However, given that Jay Richards’ second criteria on When To Doubt a Scientific ‘Consensus’ is “When ad hominem attacks against dissenters predominate,” it’s worth noting that over at ScienceBlogs, Orac has replied to me and Jay Richards with, you guessed it, ad hominem attacks. He argues that if you show “hostility” towards the consensus, then you are a “crank.” Orac further writes:
If Casey had two neurons to rub together, he could answer the question in two sentences and echo how scientists would answer the question: When you have an actual scientifically valid reason, based on science, evidence, experimentation, and observational evidence, to think that the current scientific consensus about something is in error, then it is appropriate to challenge the scientific consensus.
I can gladly forgive Orac for his personal attack against me, but apparently Orac doesn’t realize that his point is exactly what I argue here in response to Darrel Falk — that at the end of the day, what matters most is the evidence, and that sometimes the evidence makes it appropriate to challenge the consensus (e.g. in the case of “junk” DNA) and sometimes it doesn’t (e.g. in the case of geochronology). As I wrote:
The consensus is never right because “virtually all” scientists believe something, but because the evidence supports it. Accepting the consensus because it’s the consensus is a self-referential argument. What matters is the data.
So ultimately we challenge the consensus due to the data — we never challenge the data due to the fact that it’s the “consensus” or that we just don’t like it.
In fact, I would argue that many of the consensus views in science — such as plate tectonics (which was a major focus of my masters thesis) or big bang cosmology — are strongly supported by the data. I’ve never heard any reason to doubt that AIDS is caused by HIV, nor do I see any reason to question anything in the standard model of physics. Even when it comes to manmade global warming, I personally feel no “hostility” towards the “consensus” — I’m quite open to the view that manmade global warming is real.
However, when it comes to neo-Darwinian evolution, after years of studying the topic at both the undergraduate and graduate levels at a leading science-focused public university, I’m convinced that the paradigm contradicts much data and is largely based upon over-extrapolations, assumption-based interpretation of the data, and a failure to answer central questions like how new functional biological information is generated. Orac’s response to my skepticism of evolution is to go all-out ad hominem attack, identifying those who doubt the consensus as “cranks,” stating, “Casey Luskin’s and Jay Richard’s [sic] tag-team of flaming stupid demonstrate a profound ignorance of science–even an anti-scientific bent,” further citing our “combined idiocy.”
Orac also asserts that I oppose evolution because it “doesn’t support” my “religious beliefs.” I’m not interested in playing along with Orac’s motive mongering game (even though many leading evolutionists have expressed anti-religious motives for defending Darwin), nor do I feel it is ethical to engage in the sort of name-calling illustrated by Orac, so I’ll just say this in response: Orac’s ad hominem attacks not only don’t respond to my scientific positions, but they tend to confirm Jay Richards’ criterion that we ought to be suspicious of the consensus “When ad hominem attacks against dissenters predominate.”
The folks at BioLogos may be evolutionists who make constant appeals to the consensus, but to their credit they tend to be far more civil than the ScienceBloggers that Orac typifies. I’d be really interested to know how the BioLogos folks feel about the multiverse of Sciencebloggers who levy ad hominem attacks against people who happen to be principled scientific skeptics of neo-Darwinism. What do they think?