Sunday, June 25, 2023

#2657: Sarah Chaffee

Sarah Chaffee is a staff member at the Discovery Institute – their Program Officer in Education and Public Policy and apparently the person behind their podcast ID the Future – and a defender of intelligent design creationism, in particular that intelligent design creationism should be taught in public schools; the scientific status is less important. Chaffee is not a biologist.


Chaffee has for instance published a series of ten posts (some written by Casey Luskin) for the Discovery Institute where she tries to discredit the legitimacy and significance of the 2005 Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District case that struck down the Dover school board’s attempt to teach science denialism and religion disguised as science to students in the public school system. (Chaffee is not a lawyer either.) Here, for instance, is her attempt to defend Michael Behe’s testimony against a strawman critic; she fails miserably. Chaffee has tried to employ Behe’s ideas to criticize evolution elsewhere, too; unfortunately, she doesn’t quite understand Behe’s ideas, much less Behe’s target or what critics demonstrate is wrong with Behe’s suggestions. It’s far from her only feeble attempt, nor the feeblest, to defend intelligent design creationism. (Some of Chaffee’s other installment in the ten-part series are discussed here, here, here (apparently Judge Jones was an activist judge by the definition of ‘judicial activism’ as issuing a ruling you don’t agree with; the post brilliantly displays Chaffee’s lack of legal training), here (basically the same) and here.)


Like most creationists, Chaffee is concerned aboutviewpoint discrimination and how pseudoscientific ideas and denialist manufactroversies are “censored in educational institutions and by educational organizations, and she is more than willing to abuse the language of rights to bolster her rhetorical bluster – she’s even been involved in launching the Discovery Institute’s website Free Science, which “advocates free science – an idea vital to the progress of knowledge” (‘free’ here seems to refer to freedom from the constraints of accuracy, evidence and accountability, and her examples of oppression consist mostly of the Expelled roster, which is precisely guided by the definition of free just suggested). “Merely stating that there is a legitimate controversy over evolution is problematic on most university campuses,” laments Chaffee. Of course it is, since there is no legitimate controversy of the kind she has in mind, so the claim is false; what Chaffee actually complains about, then, is that scientific practice and science education is oppressive to (her favorite) falsehoods, lies and attempts to mislead. (Also Hitler, of course: Did you know that Margaret Sanger was inspired by Darwin, and Sanger had a friend who wrote a book that Hitler (allegedly) liked? Chaffee knows and is sure to tell us, but is careful to emphasize that she isn’t having a Godwin moment.)


She also has a long history of tirelessly defending and advocating for various state legislature academic freedom bills and schoolboard efforts designed to accommodate creationism and science denialism in public schools.


Here is Chaffee, who is not a biologist, trying to argue that “Darwinism, in other words, undermines itself as a scientific idea” because it cannot account for why human reasoning is so trustworthy. The hard-won idea of using scientific methods to circumvent the effects of biases doesn’t cross her mind; in other words, her terrible attempts at reasoning, somewhat ironically, undermines a crucial premise in her own argument. Here she tries to argue that solar eclipses are evidence for design, mostly because everything is evidence for design – Karl Popper would be so impressed – but also by handwaving some fine-tuning arguments; she is fond of those.


Chaffee has also tried to argue that the theory of evolution relies on religious tenets because they talk about vestigial organs (claiming that an organ is vestigial is a theological claim because it suggests that it isn’t perfectly designed by an intelligent creator), and such religious talk should have no place in public education. We’ll grant that his move is somewhat novel. Less novel is her version of the how come there are still monkeys gambit. For more dullardry, this one is fairly typical.


Diagnosis: It is hardly controversial, except among ID proponents, to say that ID currently seems pretty moribund, at least compared to when this blog started out back in the day, and we’re naturally giving them somewhat less attention. But the denialist train believes itself to be still chugging along, and Chaffee belongs to a more recent genereation of deluded advocates. It’s a sad sight in all possible respects.

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