Criticisms vs. Attacks: Where's the line?

Well, that didn’t take long. I regretfully report that T_aquaticus wasted little time in proving my proving point that ID proponents are regularly mistreated online, and thus it makes sense why ENV would choose to avoid the hassle of dealing with constant harssment and not allow comments.

Look at t_ T_aquaticus’s comments about the “outright lies” and “misleading” arguments of ID proponents that no “honest” person would make.

Unfortunately this is common stuff from ID-critics: ID proponents constantly face accusations that they must be morally dishonest/lying, or ignorant/incompetent. With Ann Gauger, T_aquaticus takes the “ignorant/incompetent” tack. With the ENV article he disagreed with, he takes the “dishonest/lies” tack. I’ll discuss both examples below and show that not only are his ad hominem attacks inappropriate, his arguments are also wrong.

It’s fine to disagree with ID people, but why the need to make it so personal and ad hominem? Why not just state your reasons and evidence for disagreeing and leave it there? Why the need to constantly attack people personally? Why not just say “I think they’re wrong for X, Y, and Z” and stop there?

I commend Ann Gauger for ignoring the “disses” and noting that ID people aren’t perfect either—she’s right, we’re all capable of getting too personal sometimes, and ID proponents sometimes are uncivil too, unfortunately. But this is not a situation where there is equality or balance in offensiveness. There is systematic online bullying and oppression of ID proponents in online discussion forums, which often scares them off from forums. It’s happening in this forum before your very eyes–and this is supposed to be a Christian forum which holds people to a high standard of civility!

To ignore the problem or simply say “well, everyone does it” would be like saying that if sometimes women harass men, that therefore there’s really no issue with men harassing women (as has been in the news lately!). Sure, bad behavior can come from anyone–we’re all capable of it. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a gross imbalance in the amount of personal attacks/uncivil disses that ID people receive vs. what they dish out. The imbalance is on the receiving end. Again, we see it here.

Sure, these are plenty of times when people make flippant comments online and get nasty. Those kinds of things are easy to overlook. But distressingly, there’s even a serious imbalance in the offensiveness of the carefully thought out words that ID-critics choose to put in their books and scientific articles.

To repeat what I said earlier, look at what Dennis Venema said in Adam and the Genome—trying to put ID proponents into the same “dishonest/ignorant” vice that T_aquaticus uses, though using slightly less inflammatory language–or just quoting other people using inflammatory language, and then endorsing those quotes.

For example, consider Dennis Venema’s lengthy quote from Dr. Todd Wood he offers on page 41 of Adam and the Genome where Dr. Wood says that anti-evolutionists act “pompously” while being “clueless,” “unacquainted with the inner workings of science,” “unacquainted with the evidence” or maybe even “deluded or lying”.

Wood is a well-qualified young earth creationist biologist, and Venema seemingly endorses what Dr. Wood says in that quote, as Venema writes of Wood’s quote immediately after providing it: “he has my sincere respect for his stance.” (p. 41)

These are not poorly thought-out blog comments. These are words that Venema carefully chose to include in Adam and the Genome: He just endorsed the words of a trained biologist stating that many creationists/ID proponents are “pompou[s],” “clueless,” “unacquainted with the inner workings of science,” “unacquainted with the evidence” and maybe even “deluded or lying”. This apparently is what he wants his readers to think.

There’s other stuff like this in Adam and the Genome which I documented earlier, such as:

  • Venema trying to cast Steve Meyer and the whole body of “antievolutionary scholars” as ignorant and incompetent:

“Meyer’s confident assertions aside, antievolutionary scholars have not yet mounted a convincing response to population genetics evidence, nor is it clear that they will be able to do so, since there does not appear to be anyone in the antievolutionary camp at present with the necessary training to properly understand the evidence, much less offer a compelling case against it.” (Adam and the Genome, page 65)

"to date, no one in the creationist camp writing about these data seems to understand the evidence, much less has the ability to credibly undermine it” (page 205)

“Interestingly, there are many known cases of exactly this, though Meyer does not seem to be aware of them, or of the implications they hold for his line of argument.” (pages 84-85)

  • Venema implies Meyer is untrustworthy and that people should not “take him at his word”:

“The average layperson who reads Meyer’s works, however, may simply take him at his word that scientists have concluded that functional, folded proteins in general are exceedingly rare and thus agree with his assessment that they cannot be produced by natural mechanisms.” (page 84)

  • Venema attacks “antievolutionary organizations” who make certain arguments about Mitochondrial Eve and Y-Chromosome Adam as either being ignorant, or dishonestly withholding information from the public:

“Unfortunately, many antievolutionary organizations like to promote Mitochondrial Eve and Y-Chromosome Adam without explaining these issues. Typically, it is enough for them to state that they are respectively the common female ancestor for all women and the common male ancestor for all men, to claim (or merely imply) that these data are consistent with Adam and Eve being the sole parents of all humans, and to leave it at that. Thus, for their case to seem plausible, they count on their audience not completely understanding how these types of DNA are inherited–or perhaps they misunderstand it themselves.” (page 65)

  • It’s not just Venema who apparently has this problem of a condescending tone. A reviewer of Adam and the Genome at The Gospel Coalition found that Venema’s co-author, Scot McKnight, suffers from the same problem of writing accusatorily and condescendingly towards those who disagree with him. Quite strikingly, this reviewer wrote:

“On the rhetorical front, McKnight has a tendency to write dismissively (and condescendingly) about those who disagree with him on Adam. Reading him, you wouldn’t think there are thoughtful or measured reasons for taking the traditional position. It’s as if from Augustine onward, dopy theologians were dishonestly exegeting the Bible, inventing syllogisms to invest Adam with salvific import, glibly conflating modern concerns with the biblical text. This patronizing tone weakens McKnight’s argument. Given how most of the tradition stands against him, I can understand why he may (subconsciously?) have felt the need to strong-arm his way through the argument—but it comes off the wrong way.” (

  • There’s also Dennis Venema claiming that Steve Meyer has an “undergraduate” level of understanding of biology in a paper he published in PSCF. I already quoted it in a previous comment and don’t need to quote it again.

Again, these aren’t mere passing blog comments. These were carefully chosen words that were put into a book for the general public (and a paper in a Christian journal). Where’s the high level of civility that BioLogos claims to uphold? Dennis Venema is welcome to argue against intelligent design and creationism, but does he owe an apology to his fellow Christians whose competency and honesty he has repeatedly attacked publicly?

OK, let’s look at the substance of T_aquaticus’s objections:

Regarding Ann Gauger’s BIO-Complexity paper ( he writes:

For example, in this article they made such fundamental errors in modeling evolution that no peer reviewer in any respectable journal would have recommended the paper for publication. They claimed that one species evolved from another existing species, which is wrong. Modern species share a common ancestor. If they wanted to truly model the evolution of the protein then they should have constructed a consensus sequence using a phylogeny of many related species, and then mutated that consensus sequence. They didn’t. This is such a basic mistake that it could only pass peer review in an echo chamber.

Frst off, they weren’t modeling the evolution of “species” but rather the evolution of proteins, though I think you are aware of this. Ann Gauger’s responses in this forum are good, but it should be known that she responded publicly to this objection years ago in response to another critic who made the exact same arguments:

McBride’s main complaint is that we picked an unnatural evolutionary transition to test. We chose to examine how hard it would be to get a modern-day enzyme to switch to the chemistry of a closely related modern-day enzyme, with very similar structures and catalytic mechanisms.

The reason for our choice was not ignorance. We knew that the enzymes we tested were modern, and that one was not the ancestor of the other. (They are, however, among the most structurally similar members of their family, and share many aspects of their reaction mechanism, but their chemistry itself is different.) We also knew that in order for a Darwinian process to generate the mechanistically and chemically diverse families of enzymes that are present in modern organisms, something like the functional conversion of one of these enzyme to the other must be possible. We reasoned that if these two enzymes could not be reconfigured through a gradual process of mutation and selection, then the Darwinian explanation of gene duplication and gradual divergence to new functions was called into question.

Our results indicated that a minimum of seven mutations would be required to convert or reconfigure one enzyme toward the other’s function. No one disputes that part of our research. What Paul McBride and others claim is that because we didn’t start from an “ancestral” enzyme, our results meant nothing. They say something like, “Of course transitions to new chemistries between modern enzymes are difficult. What you should have done is to reconstruct the ancestral form and use it as a starting point .”


So the answer to T_aquaticus is very simple: Gauger and Axe didn’t intend to test a real-world evolutionary transition. They intended to test the argument that it should be very easy to convert between the functions of two very closely related proteins.

True, these modern-day proteins are paralogs, or close cousins if you will, and not ancestor-descendants. But they’re very similar and very closely related, which makes them ideal for testing the evolutionary claim that closely related proteins should be able to easily evolve new functions that entail small-scale changes to sequence.

In fact, Gauger and Axe explained this exact point in their paper:

A reasonable assumption, consistent with methods used for reconstructing evolutionary histories, is that enzyme pairs with high structural similarity should be most amenable to functional conversion. Whether or not a particular conversion ever occurred as a paralogous innovation (or the direction in which it occurred if it did) is not the point of interest here. Rather, the point is to identify the kind of functional innovation that ought to be among the most feasible within this superfamily and then to assess how feasible this innovation is.


Please note the phrase “Whether or not a particular conversion ever occurred as a paralogous innovation (or the direction in which it occurred if it did) is not the point of interest here.” That shows they were directly aware that they were not necessarily testing an evolutionary transition that actually happened in the real world. They disclosed this in the paper, but justified their experimental model nonetheless as a good test of claims about the evolutionary ease of protein innovation.

Moreover, they justify their choice of using two modern-day paralogous enzymes in this paper: They chose two enzymes that are closely related (not ancestral, obviously) to one-another, and thus they use this fact as a test of the hypothesis that it should be easy to convert one enzyme into the function of another similar, closely related enzyme.

So whether or not this was a real-world evolutionary transition is actually irrelevant to their paper or the merits of their findings. The point is that evolutionists believe that functional transitions between two similar enzymes, much like these two, should be a very modest feat for selection and mutation to produe, and the sort of evolutionary change that can happen all the time. They found that such a transition would actually require many mutations before providing some advantage–so many to make it evolutionarily infeasible.

Thus, T_aquaticus’s charges that they didn’t unerstand this ("<>") are false. So are his charges that the paper’s reviewers (peace be upon them, whoever they are) let a mistake slide by. So are his personal attacks.

Now, let’s talk about the ENV post by Jonathan M. ( that T_aquaticus takes issue with. To reiterate, he charged that the ENV blog post is “misleading,” has “outright lies” and that the author is not “honest”.

Now as for the substance, the ENV article quotes Yohn et al. 2005 stating:

Horizontal transmissions between species have been proposed, but little evidence exists for such events in the human/great ape lineage of evolution. Based on analysis of finished BAC chimpanzee genome sequence, we characterize a retroviral element (Pan troglodytes endogenous retrovirus 1 [PTERV1]) that has become integrated in the germline of African great ape and Old World monkey species but is absent from humans and Asian ape genomes.

T_aquaticus replies here on this thread:

there were no PtERV1 insertions that violated a nested hierarchy in the Yohn et al. (2005) paper, even though the author of the ENV article claims there were. I would also suggest that you read the Yohn paper and the ENV article and decide for yourself if an honest person would portray the Yohn paper in that manner.

Hmmm—I read Yohn et al. 2005 and came to a very different conclusion, which I will back below with multiple quotes from the paper. Looking at the paper, it quite clearly explains that the ERV (PTERV1) distribution data they examined “is inconsistent with the generally accepted phylogeny of catarrhine primates”. (Catarrhine primates are old world monkeys and great apes, including humans.)

Here are some choice quotes from the paper on this point—all emphasis added:

We found that the distribution is inconsistent with the generally accepted phylogeny of catarrhine primates [5]. This is particularly relevant for the human/great ape lineage. For example, only one interval is shared by gorilla and chimpanzee; however, two intervals are shared by gorilla and baboon; while three intervals are apparently shared by macaque and chimpanzee. Our Southern analysis shows that human and orangutan completely lack PTERV1 sequence (see Figure 2A). If these sites were truly orthologous and, thus, ancestral in the human/ape ancestor, it would require that at least six of these sites were deleted in the human lineage. Moreover, the same exact six sites would also have had to have been deleted in the orangutan lineage if the generally accepted phylogeny is correct. Such a series of independent deletion events at the same precise locations in the genome is unlikely.”

“While it is clear that this particular class of endogenous retroviruses shares a common origin, the retroviral phylogeny is inconsistent with the generally accepted primate species tree based on molecular data”

the PTERV1 phylogenetic tree is inconsistent with the generally accepted species tree for primates, suggesting a horizontal transmission as opposed to a vertical transmission from a common ape ancestor.”

“This tree topology suggests a polyphyletic origin with at least three groups of Old World virus being distinguished.”

“Our data support a model where ancestral chimpanzee and gorilla species were infected independently and contemporaneously by an exogenous source of gammaretrovirus 3–4 million years ago.”


It seems incredibly clear that there are PTERV insertions that don’t match the standard phylogeny (or nested hierarchy, if you will) of higher primates.

Of course the paper doesn’t abandon common ancestry—but nobody claims it did. The paper cites independent insertion events in different lineages to explain why the data “is inconsistent with the generally accepted primate species tree based on molecular data”. That’s just fine! But the ENV blog’s author, Jonathan M. doesn’t claim they abandon common ancestry. He simply cites this paper to note that ERV distributions can be explained by “independent events”, rather than the usual explanation, as he quotes someone arguing ERVs show “humans and the other primates must share common ancestry”. Here’s what the ENV paper states:

Though there are other possible candidate hypotheses for this observation (such as incomplete lineage sorting), in the context of other indications of locus-specific site preference, this data is, at the very least, suggestive that these inserts may in fact be independent events.

So this refutes the accusations against this paper that I quoted above. It also renders the personal attacks against its author (“lies” not “honest”) totally inappropriate.

This thread should be useful for all of us to understand the dynamics of this debate: Critics constantly make accusations against ID proponents that they are both wrong and immoral/incompetent. At the very least, the personal “immoral/incompetent” stuff has no place in this debate—especially when it’s taking place among Christian brothers and sisters. Make your arguments, state your disagreements, but don’t attack people personally. (And we often find that the substance of the arguments against ID is also flawed, as we’ve seen here.)

Obviously this kind of nastiness all over blogs. We even see it right here, openly tolerated by BioLogos on its discussion board. But it goes much further:

But if theistic evolution’s leading scientists and scholars resort to this kind of unsavory rhetoric not just on their blogs, but also in their books, then we have a serious problem.

In my opinion, a massive apology is owed from Dennis Venema to the ID and creationist communities for his uncivil treatments of them in Adam and the Genome. This doesn’t mean he can’t disagree with them–if he disagrees then he can and should vigorously make his arguments! But the tone in the book is deeply damaging to this debate.

So I say this in a loving spirit: This is a great opportunity for Dr. Venema to do something good and praiseworthy before everyone. If Dr. Venema were to do apologize, it would hugely elevate this debate and do a lot to bring harmony among brothers and sisters who happen to disagree on questions of origins.

I have a feeling that ID proponents would lovingly accept Dr. Venema’s apology and gladly move on to more important things in this debate. For my little part, I know I would love the opportunity to do that.

You’ve seen the evidence. Your move.

Sorry about that, my apologies since the quote-of-a-quote gave a mis-impression of those being your words. I just found it ironic that ENV was complaining about bad behavior of people online while the quote exhibits the exact same bad behavior.

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@T_aquaticus is a former Christian who regularly disagrees with us, as well. Don’t take it personally.

I homeschool my kids, and coincidentally, today we went over ad hominem attacks in a book for kids on learning to detect logical fallacies. The book went out of its way to point out that saying you had caught someone repeatedly being deceptive in the past and therefore no longer trusted their credibility was not ad hominem. Ad hominem is when you try to undermine someone’s credibility by bringing up things that have no bearing on the issue at hand, but negatively affect people’s perception of the person making a statement. A person’s history of evaluating science correctly without making obvious errors is a pertinent topic when you are discussing their credibility. It seems like you are implying that at no point could anyone justifiably assert that someone from DI was untrustworthy based on a history of documented errors. It is always just an example of incivility or condescension. Do you think everyone should be automatically granted the same degree of credibility just because they are fellow Christians?

You are allowed to “attack” ideas here and people are allowed to hold their opposing ideas passionately. If people automatically interpret someone attacking their idea as a personal insult, then maybe an internet discussion with strangers is not the best place for them. Feel free to flag anything you see that is genuinely insulting a person and moderators will deal with it. But, yes, we do openly tolerate people not liking each other’s ideas, finding people unconvincing, or questioning some other ‘team’s’ research or credentials or facts. That is not incivility and it is kind of necessary we allow it on an open forum dedicated to discussing diametrically opposed viewpoints.

Also ‘tone’ is often the voice I read someone else’s words with in my head. It is often not the voice the person who typed the words heard in their own head. Sometimes I force myself to read other people’s posts in the ‘tone’ of Mr. Rogers, and I find I hear their words a lot better. Anyone can sound mean if you insist on reading their words in the voice of a shrieking harpie.

Which is why our number one gracious dialogue guideline is:

Nothing makes conversations go down the tubes faster than everyone deciding to take offense because they read all sorts of ‘tone’ into someone else’s words.


Thanks Jay313 for the tip on that. But I think that you must grossly misunderstand what’s going on inside my head and why I’m writing what I’m writing.

I wrote:

It’s fine to disagree with ID people,

That shows that I do NOT take it personally when people disagree with me. That’s completely fine if T_aquaticus disagrees with me.

In fact, I’m not taking anything T_aquaticus says personally. What I’m doing is shining a light on the nature of anti-ID rhetoric so you can all get a little sense of what it’s like to spend a day in the shoes of an ID proponent (As Dr. Gauger put it).

So please don’t turn this into something about me, as if I’m thin-skinned and it’s the victim’s fault here. As an ID proponent, I’ve probably taken far more abuse than you have, and my skin has grown appropriately thick, and then some. I really don’t care what anyone says about me.

But I do think that Christians ought to care when their fellow-Christians are being harshly attacked on a personal level, even if those Christians happen to be ID-proponents. If you don’t care when this happens…then that’s part of the problem.

This isn’t about me. This is about the incessantly nasty rhetoric we commonly see from ID-critics.

I’m very saddened Christy by your lack of sympathy for the true personal attacks that ID proponents are receiving on this thread. This, sadly, is lack of concern I have sometimes observed among theistic evolutionists for the mistreatment of fellow Christians who are pro-ID. So please let me make a few things clear–which I hope would have already been clear given what I’ve said on this thread:

You write:

If people automatically interpret someone attacking their idea as a personal insult, then maybe an internet discussion with strangers is not the best place for them.

(1) As I just told Jay313, and as I’ve said repeatedly on this thread, it’s FINE if you disagree with me and disagree with ID. NO problems there at all! If you disagree with me, I feel no insults.

The problem is when people make it personal and attack the morality of others, such as questioning whether people are “honest” or saying they tell “lies”. It’s also usually inappropriate to call people ignorant. Calling people dishonest or liar is uncivil. If you don’t agree with that, then it’s clear that you have a different standard of discourse then I do.

You say write:

“Anyone can sound mean if you insist on reading their words in the voice of a shrieking harpie.”

Of course that’s true. But I’m not doing ths. It’s important to be objective when we read people. We should let the words define the tone rather than the tone define the words. But when one charges another person “lies” or question whether they are “honest” then that crosses a line. At that point, the words define the tone. And the tone is uncivil.

Likewise, if a person consistently attacks the competency and supposed ignorance of another person, then that person is treading upon the thin ice of incivility.

You write:

today we went over ad hominem attacks in a book for kids on learning to detect logical fallacies. The book went out of its way to point out that saying you had caught someone repeatedly being deceptive in the past and therefore no longer trusted their credibility was not ad hominem. Ad hominem is when you try to undermine someone’s credibility by bringing up things that have no bearing on the issue at hand, but negatively affect people’s perception of the person making a statement.

(3) I don’t think that you fully understand or appreciate what an ad hominem attack is. Not being an ID proponent, you might not have had numerous occasions to ponder the meaning and import of ad hominem attacks. As an ID proponent, I have. So here are some definitions of ad hominem attacks:


Ad hominem (Latin for “to the man” or “to the person”[1]), short for argumentum ad hominem, is where an argument is rebutted by attacking the character, motive, or other attribute of the person making the argument, or persons associated with the argument, rather than attacking the substance of the argument itself.[2] (

“Ad hominem attacks can take the form of overtly attacking somebody, or more subtly casting doubt on their character or personal attributes as a way to discredit their argument.” (

“Attacking the person making the argument, rather than the argument itself, when the attack on the person is completely irrelevant to the argument the person is making.” (

So an ad hominem attack is an attack on the person rather than an attack on their argument (what we might call, a “substantive argument”). Now this can get confusing because ad hominem attacks often are mixed up with substantive arguments.

Please let me be clear: There is NOTHING wrong with substantive arguments and no one should take offense at these. I do not, even though some here are trying to wrongly paint me as if I do.

In contrast, there is JUST ABOUT EVERYTHING wrong with ad hominem arguments–arguments against a person. If you have a high standard of discourse, it should ALMOST ALWAYS be wrong to get into ad hominem arguments.

Now Christy wants to get really nuanced and say that if a person has a track record of making bad substantive arguments then it can be permissible to start making ad hominem arguments.

I have a few things to say in reply:

  • Ad hominem attacks are almost never justified and should only be made under the most extreme extreme extreme circumstances. If you’re going to take this tack, you better be VERY VERY VERY confident that your substantive arguments are right. Moreover, you better be confident that the person you’re attacking deserves the ad hominem attack, even if they are substantively wrong. Here’s what I mean: Someone can be wrong but not immoral. Sometimes a person is wrong because they made an unintentional mistake. Sometimes a person is wrong because they wrote their argument late at night or while sick and things came out badly. There are numerous possible benign explanations for why a person might be wrong that have nothing to do with immorality or ignorance. Ad hominem attacks are very serious things and should only be made if you are absolutely sure that a person’s substantive arguments are wrong and you are absolutely sure that the reason for their wrongness lies in some personal defect of that person. Even then, it’s probably bad form to make the ad hominem attack. Better to just make substantive arguments and leave it at that.

  • In the ID debate, ad hominem attacks have a long track record of falling apart. Having followed the ID debate, I find that often ID-critics are supremely confident that the ID proponent is wrong, and then they make all kinds of personal attacks. But when you look closely at the anti-ID substantive arguments, you see that actually the substantive arguments against ID weren’t strong at all and that the ID proponent actually had some pretty good things to say.

  • One of my favorite examples of this was the extremely uncivil, ad-hominem-attack-filled review that geologist Donald Prothero made against Stephen Meyer’s book Darwin’s Doubt. But a closer look at that review shows that many of the issues Prothero accused Meyer of ignoring were actually dealt with squarely in the book. See:

But I follow this stuff and could give a PLETHORA of examples just like this (i.e., ID critics make substantive arguments against ID while making all manner of ad hominem attacks, and then those arguments turn out to be wrong). Remember how Ann Gauger nicely suggested that you all think about what it’s like to walk a day in the shoes of ID proponents? Please, try it. Imagine that it’s something like this:

  • You are a trained scientist who has relevant training in evolution, biology, etc. and you happen to be convinced that intelligent design is correct.
  • You make arguments for ID publicly. You make these arguments in good faith, trying to accurately describe the arguments of ID-critics and evolution-proponents. You know you’re not perfect and sometimes you make mistakes. When you do, you try to correct them. But you know that you try to do your best in making these arguments.
  • Despite your best efforts, you’re constantly receiving abusive emails from hateful ID critics, and constantly receiving vicious vitriol from ID-critics who post responses online. Sometimes you also get nasty treatment in books. This treatment constantly claims you are “dishonest” or a “liar” and that you are “ignorant”. Though uncivil, those are some of the more printable words.
  • You only have so many hours in a day, and your skin, though thick, can only handle wading through so much hate each day. Even if you wanted to respond to all the critics, it would be humanly impossible to do this. You can’t spend all day dealing with hate, and if you did your body, mind, and soul would be crushed. (Please don’t misunderstand me: This has NOTHING to do with the mere fact that people disagree, but rather pertains solely to the nasty, personalized, hateful manner in which they are attacking you personally while expressing their disagreement.) So while you could, in principle, respond substantively to just about every critic out there, you must pick and only choose to respond only to those that you think are most important and worth engaging.
  • You find that when you do write responses to critics, most critics are not making good arguments against ID. They either misunderstand your arguments or miss where you had already nuanced your original argument to address their objection. Sure, some ID-critics raise new arguments and new evidence that’s worth addressing, and that’s actually really nice when it happens! But that rarely happens–most arguments against ID are basically mis-statements or misunderstandings of what you’d argued and are easily addressed.
  • You begin to realize, after a while, that most substantive arguments you’ve encountered don’t hold much merit. And thus, most ad hominem attacks were not only uncalled for to begin with–they are based upon false substantive arguments! This makes you very self-aware that ad hominem arguments are both dangerous or wrong.

But Christy, you are the beneficiary of evolutionist privilege. You probably don’t face people treating you like this on a regular, even daily basis. You probably mostly deal with praise and accolade from other intellectuals and from the media when it comes to your scientific views. Nobody is calling you “ignorant” or “science denier” or “dishonest” etc and all other manner of invectives. If I’m wrong then please forgive me and know that you have my deepest sympathies. But if I’m right, then you really don’t know what it’s like to be an ID proponent.

As a fellow Christian, Christy, I hope that this post has helped open your eyes and your heart to what it’s like to be an ID proponent and gives you a little more sympathy. At the very least, I hope it helps you realize why ID proponents are acutely aware of the inappropriateness of ad hominem attacks.

Thanks for reading and God bless you for the time you take to homeschool your kids. I am sure they are richly blessed by it!

I again invite you to flag the posts where these “true personal attacks” are written. I read most people here going out of their way to be gracious and repeatedly thanking the ID folks for engaging. I and other moderators have proactively edited content out of posts that we think crossed a line, it is not a free for all here.

But don’t you see here that one person’s “attacking the morality of others” is another person’s “evaluating the published claims of another.”? Is there ever a point where a Christian can go beyond “disagreeing” (as we do with opinions) and point out someone’s facts are false? And if it can be documented that someone knows their facts are false or their statements clearly imply something false, is it ever okay to label such a statement “dishonest” without impugning the person’s entire life and character?

In several explanations I found on ad hominem fallacies, the difference between attacking the ‘argument’ and attacking the ‘testimony’ was mentioned. I think sometimes what you are labeling an ad hominem attack on an argument is actually someone saying they do not trust a person’s testimony about the facts of a situation. That is not ad hominem, that is making a statement about the credibility of a source of information. I’m not saying that ID people don’t face an unfair amount of suspicion. I’m saying that saying “I don’t trust your testimony about X” is not inherently uncharitable or an insult to someone’s entire character.

Not what I said. I said that a person’t track record is pertinent when you are assessing their credibility. Assessing credibility is not the same task as assessing arguments, and all of us assess credibility in order to know which arguments it is worth our time and effort to engage. An argument is not deserving of everyone’s full engagement simply because it was made. A person’s competence and knowledge of a subject matter are very relevant when one is assessing the credibility of their testimony on that subject matter.

I agree with you that ad hominen attacks is an inappropriate form of argumentation. I disagree that every statement that addresses credibility is part of a counter-argument, and therefore correctly labelled ad hominem.

This made me laugh out loud. I’m an Evangelical missionary. I work with poor people who have elementary school educations and live in an animist culture. Do you honestly think my views on evolution privilege me in any way in the contexts I spend almost all my time or that they help me score any points with my fellow conservative Evangelical ex-pats? No one is going to call me ignorant. Other choice words, maybe. Like “heretic.”

I am a pretty sympathetic person. But I’m not going to insist that everyone on this discussion forum walk on egg shells with ID posters because of all the trauma they have experienced in life as an oppressed minority. Again, please flag any posts that you feel violate our gracious dialogue guidelines, and we will deal with them.


Christy has addressed her specific situation well, and I too was wavering between laughter and being appalled by that paragraph, and just wanted to comment on the average EC’s situation. If they are actively involved in science, they are often ostracized at work for being Christian. They then go to church and frequently are looked at as damaged goods for accepting evolution by many in the congregation. It can be painful. Many here, perhaps most, check their evolutionary views at the door when they go into church if they attend a typical conservative leaning denomination.
I would hesitate to call it persecution as that would demean those who truly suffer, but it is uncomfortable, so your discomfort of not being accepted is certainly shared by many if not most here.


I wonder which is worse… enduring invective being called a pseudoscientist by fellow scientists for one’s ID beliefs, or enduring invective being called a pseudoChristian by fellow brothers and sisters in Christ for one’s EC beliefs?

Thank goodness it’s not a competition!


I moved this discussion over to a different thread because the other one was getting clogged up with multiple simultaneous topics of conversation.

This conversation reminds me of the fantastic article by Andy Crouch that we recently published:

Near the top of the essay, he talks about a “history shaped by scorn.” He insightfully points out that the origins debate is carried out by various people who feel scorned and rejected by others. And those opposed to the scientific mainstream feel this very acutely. This thread illustrates Crouch’s point very well.

I’ve noticed a couple of things about the way scorn influences our conversations:

  1. It makes us very, very good (perhaps too good) at identifying the “scorn” shown to our position by others
  2. It makes us very, very bad at identifying when we ourselves are scorning others
  3. It makes it very, very hard to tell the difference between disagreement and scorn

The challenge we have, especially among Christians, is to figure out how to openly and honestly pursue truth together without collapsing into resentment and finger-pointing. As Christy has very wisely pointed out, an important step towards this goal is to distinguish between criticisms of ideas and people. “This is a misleading presentation of the scientific evidence” is not the same as “You are a liar.” Similarly, “your biblical analysis is wrong” does not mean “you are a heretic.” “Your understanding of this subject is incomplete” is not the same as “you are stupid and ignorant.” Honestly, I think we need to give people the benefit of the doubt more often that they are not intending to attack someone’s character.


Then please explain how anyone could read Yohn et al. (2005) and claim that there are 12 PTERV1 insertions that violate the expected nested hierarchy with 1 base resolution. I don’t see how that could be done when the authors make this statement:

“Although the status of the remaining overlapping sites is unknown, these data resolve four additional sites as independent insertion events and suggest that the remainder may similarly be non-orthologous.”

They were unable to find a single unambiguous orthologous PTERV1 insertion that violated the expected nested hierarchy, and yet the author quote mined that article to make it appear as if they did.[quote=“littledoweknow, post:1, topic:36875”]
It’s fine to disagree with ID people, but why the need to make it so personal and ad hominem? Why not just state your reasons and evidence for disagreeing and leave it there? Why the need to constantly attack people personally? Why not just say “I think they’re wrong for X, Y, and Z” and stop there?

I think it is important to point out dishonesty when it occurs. It happens all of the time in the sciences.[quote=“littledoweknow, post:1, topic:36875”]
Hmmm—I read Yohn et al. 2005 and came to a very different conclusion, which I will back below with multiple quotes from the paper. Looking at the paper, it quite clearly explains that the ERV (PTERV1) distribution data they examined “is inconsistent with the generally accepted phylogeny of catarrhine primates”. (Catarrhine primates are old world monkeys and great apes, including humans.)

Here are some choice quotes from the paper on this point—all emphasis added:

The glaring obvious clue is in the very part you quoted:

“If these sites were truly orthologous and, thus, ancestral in the human/ape ancestor, it would require that at least six of these sites were deleted in the human lineage.”

They did a Southern blot using BAC clones which can only narrow down the insertion to within 100,000 bases or so. The test they used could not determine if they were truly orthologous at the resolution of a single base. Of the possible orthologous insertions that they could narrow down to a single base, none were truly orthologous. It’s all right there in the paper. Furthermore, from the paper:

"Within the limits of this BAC-based end-sequencing mapping approach, 24 sites mapped to similar regions of the human reference genome (approximately 160 kb) and could not be definitively resolved as orthologous or non-orthologous (Table S3). "

It states clearly that the BAC-based end-sequencing mapping approach could not resolve these insertions as being orthologous or non-orthologous.

The parts you quoted were setting up further questions, asking the question of “what if they really are orthologous?”. To quote the question as if it was the final conclusion is quote mining. In the end, they were unable to find any PTERV1 insertions that violated the expected phylogeny.

Added in edit:

Just to make this crystal clear I thought I would briefly describe the BAC-based end-sequencing method. What they did was break up the genomes into large chunks, anywhere from 10’s of thousands to hundreds of thousands of bases long. Those chunks are put into a plasmid and maintained in E. coli who faithfully copy and replicate the large chunk of DNA. Using known sequence from the plasmid they inserted into they can sequence the ends (about 1,000 bases) of the large chunk of DNA. With that information they can determine where that large chunk fits into the larger genome, but they can’t determine where in that large chunk of DNA that the retrovirus inserted into. It would be equivalent to someone saying that John Smith and Susy Jones are both in Texas, but they can’t say if they are in the same city.

Of the 299 insertions they mapped with the method they were able to determine that 275 of them weren’t even in the same large chunk of DNA. There were 24 that did map to the same large chunk of DNA, but as stated before, this doesn’t allow them to determine if they really are at the same base which is needed to determine orthology and to further demonstrate a violation of the expected phylogeny.

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Well I’m not surprised. Years ago when I heard about mitichondrial Eve and Y-chromosomal Adam, I heard about them first from ID sources, and I was extremely excited about them because I was told this was scientific evidence for the existence of a historical Adam and Eve. Then later I discovered (from secular sources), that they weren’t remotely what they had been represented (I hadn’t even been told that there’s no evidence they met and were unlikely to have been contemporaries, nor was I told that they were only “most recent common” ancestors rather than the universal ancesstors), and I felt not only disappointed but also irritated at the misrepresentation. It eroded my confidence in ID sources, and made me suspect that they were not trustworthy. So I totally support Venema on this point.

As if that wasn’t enough, the Dover trial and Wedge Strategy totally destroyed the credibility of the Discovery Institute and its fellows, as far as I was concerned. Their own behavior discredited them; note that, not what other people were saying, but their own behavior and statements.


Granted, I haven’t been martyred yet. But the kind of stuff I’ve seen goes beyond vile sometimes. If you are game for just some offensive material, here are some the greatest character assassinations, plus my responses. No need to read. I’ve just put it here for documentation. :smile:

The Green Screen Flap:

and the Wistar II coverup:

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And after the pro-science side won at kitzmiller, the Discovery Institute released a video mocking the victors, complete with fart noises. (The sound effects were later removed.)

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I agree. Those types of attacks have no place in these discussions. Criticisms need to be focused on the science, not on pictures in brochures. In fact, legal teams will suggest using stock footage for liability and PR issues, such as someone pointing out safety violations in the background or a employee in a brochure being convicted of crimes at a later date. The possible legal, regulatory, and PR entanglements that scientists can find themselves in have risen to ridiculous levels in recent years.

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Well that’s classy.

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But just to clarify, “they started it” is a lame excuse for being a jerk, and one that won’t work here. Just for the record. :smile_cat: So fart noise in some video are pretty irrelevant to the topic at hand, which is how to have cordial discussions on this forum.

And after the pro-science side won at kitzmiller, the Discovery Institute released a video mocking the victors, complete with fart noises. (The sound effects were later removed.)

I seriously doubt this, unless you can prove it. The Discovery Institute is too astute to do something so crass.

Could you be more specific on this point? Are we or are we not allowed to include fart noises in our posts?


It’s a hard no on the fart noises, Steve. Blowing raspberry noises or “na-na-na-na boo-boo” taunts will be evaluated on a case by case basis.


“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

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