Sunday, June 30, 2019

#2211: Henry Schaefer III

Henry Frederick “Fritz” Schaefer III is a computational and theoretical chemist, Graham Perdue Professor of Chemistry and Director of the Center for Computational Chemistry at the University of Georgia, and a genuine authority on the issues within his field of expertise. He is also a creationist, or at least creationist sympathizer (he describes himself as sympathetic to teleological arguments, but primarily a “proponent of Jesus”), and his background and status lends him considerable weight in the Intelligent Design movement, whose members don’t care so much that evolutionary biology definitely isn’t within his area of expertise. His Wikipedia article reads as a bizarrely laudatory paean to his expertise and achievements, which fits a pattern: The Discovery Institute has also previously been caught exaggerating Schaefer’s credentials. Schaefer is a signatory to the Discovery Institute’s silly petition A Scientific Dissent From Darwinism, as well as a Fellow of the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture and Dembski’s International Society for Complexity, Information, and Design, even contributing to the Dembski-edited collection Darwin’s Nemesis(the one with a foreword by Rick Santorum).

Schaefer, of course, doesn’t really understand evolution, opting instead for religiously motivated arguments from incredulity, things like the demonstrably false claim that evolution doesn’t make useful predictions; he has often been cited for that claim by his followers, who don’t care any more for truth or accuracy than he does (nor are they, of course, interested in actually doing science to support any of their own hypotheses). Other concerns Schaefer has with the theory of evolution – addressed in some more detail here – are concerns about abiogenesis, which is not part of the theory, that “the time frame for speciation events seems all wrong to me” (argument from incredulity again, made in blissful ignorance of punctuated equilibrium), and that “I find no satisfactory mechanism for macroevolutionary changes” (you guessed it: incredulity again, this time relying on a bogus creationist distinction between micro- and macroevolution).

Diagnosis: Mostly uncommitted waffling – one suspects that Schaefer senses he’s on the wrong side of science here – but Schaefer has nevertheless obtained a status as something of an authority in the intelligent design cargo cult movement, which is even more an indictment against them than it is against him (though he is clearly a loon, too, for running with it).

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