Just a Theory: Ron Paul Fans Don’t Know When to Quit

Taking Fox News to task for excluding someone from a Presidential debate when they are more clearly in the running than others on the stage? Good strategy.

Trying to spin Paul’s depressingly anti-scientific views on evolution?  Not so much.

Evolution may indeed not be the “issue of the day,” but this excuse that Paul and many of the other Republican candidates have used, that it’s not an issue relevant to the position of President, just flat out doesn’t work.  The President has control over millions and millions of dollars in science funding, laws that impact national education policies, and of the course the all-encompassing authority of the bully pulpit.  Nothing in the full transcript of Paul’s answer excuses or qualifies his use of the classic creationist “its a theory” trope, or his declaration that it’s a “theological” question.

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27 Responses to Just a Theory: Ron Paul Fans Don’t Know When to Quit

  1. disinter says:

    You don’t seem to understand. The millions of dollars of funding you refer to would be eliminated by Paul. He is saying it is not an issue for the Federal government to involve itself in, and he is correct.

  2. Bad says:

    There is precisely zero chance that Paul, as President, would be able to simply do away with all science funding with a wave of his hand. He’s running for President, not King. As long as he is in a position to negotiate with Congress over what things to cut out and what not to, he’s in a position of influence over science and education policy, and voters who care about this issue very much have a reason to care about his take on it.

    There’s also the more ephemeral reality that his rhetoric, whatever it’s possible effect, is just not something you guys should bother trying to spin in order to placate scientific critics. Either he retracts those declarations or not, but barring that, we’re not going to find ignorant “just a theory” or “its all theology” talk any less objectionable. Telling us that it won’t matter policy-wise helps somewhat, but there’s no point in trying to hide or minimize this particular wart.

    And, again, we have the right and the good sense reason to judge him based on how he deals with empirical issues. If he can’t understand basic principles of science, how the heck are we supposed to trust him to understand economic policies, which likewise require empirical principles to measure and judge the potential effectiveness of?

  3. Kooky Nutjub says:

    The even bigger picture is that for families to eek out an existance they need dual incomes, and while they are busy working, their kids are in what is essentially public day care. Trying to castigate Paul for not being able to handle empirical issues (whatever that means) is hilarious. If you listen to Paul carefully in the video that spawned this Evolution topic, all he is essentially saying is that he’s not agnostic or aethiest, he doesn’t denounce evolution.

    As for economic policies, well, they are based on the crazy ideas that you can’t get something for nothing, and that you should live within your means, CRAZY!

  4. Bad says:

    The even bigger picture is that for families to eek out an existance they need dual incomes, and while they are busy working, their kids are in what is essentially public day care.

    Complete non-sequitur. Nor do I think Paul can change any of this even if he was made King.

    Trying to castigate Paul for not being able to handle empirical issues (whatever that means) is hilarious.

    Why? If you don’t know what “empirical issues” are in the first place, then that’s even more worrisome than Paul not understanding them very well.

    If you listen to Paul carefully in the video that spawned this Evolution topic, all he is essentially saying is that he’s not agnostic or aethiest, he doesn’t denounce evolution.

    He characterizes evolution as a “theory” in the creationist sense, says he doesn’t accept it, basically says its a tossup as to whether the evidence is compelling, and then calls the matter a “theological discussion,” which is an inherently creationist framing of the issue. What am I not “listening carefully” to here?

    All of these things make me question his judgment, not simply about biology, but about scientific issues in general, which are pretty darn important to any prospective policymaker. If you can’t evaluate evidence and come to provisional conclusions, if you aren’t interested in evidence or understand the different between “theory” and “guess” in science, that’s a problem.

    As for economic policies, well, they are based on the crazy ideas that you can’t get something for nothing, and that you should live within your means, CRAZY!

    These, of course, are principles I all heartily agree with. Which is precisely why Paul supporters should worry about alienating people like myself.

  5. rhys says:

    All scientific theories are simply conglomerations of disprovable hypotheses. There is no way to prove a scientific theory. Paul was answering as a scientist and doctor. In fact, no objective scientist could ever believe a scientific theory since there could never be evidence that disproved every other possible mechanism that could result in the observed phenomena (Read David Hume, one of the creators of modern empiricism and the scientific method). Paul is not claiming that the phenomenon we call evolution does not occur, he is claiming that the theoretical mechanism that is espoused by the theory can never be proven. But, this is not a special attribute of the theory of evolution, but the attribute of all scientific theories – even the scientific theories we rely on to expalin the mechanism of such phenomena as gravitation, time, and space.

  6. Bad says:

    Paul was answering as a scientist and doctor.

    That’s funny, because when the majority of scientists answer these sorts of questions, their answers don’t sound anything like what Paul said. The majority of scientists know a heck of a lot more about Hume than you or I, but still have no problem saying that they believe evolution is a sound and accurate theory about the physical world.

    Your case about provability is technically true in the thinnest sense, but grossly misleading. You are mixing up conventional and scientific senses of these words. In a conventional sense, evolution is both true and very provable in the very ways that most laypeople use those terms, and in which Paul’s audience would understand them (and as Paul undoubtedly meant them).

    In a scientific sense, we wouldn’t necessarily say it that way, because it gives the impression that science makes absolute claims. But scientists would compensate for that confusion by emphasizing that evolution is an extremely well validated theory that has been supported by multiple lines of evidence and has a high degree of certainty and explanatory power, especially relative to other facts about the world. Paul didn’t do that. He did the opposite, tossing out all the standard creationist tropes.

    Unless Paul would also say that gravity is just a theory, or that avoiding oncoming cars to prevent physical injury is just a theory, then is usage is inconsistent and your defense ridiculous. Either nothing can be proven, including that you are typing on a computer instead of a toaster, or many things can, and evolution is one of the best validated ideas about the natural world that there is.

  7. oceallaigh says:

    Your case about provability is technically true in the thinnest sense, but grossly misleading.

    Thank you, Bad, I was just about to say the same sorts of things myself. I add, that scientists who are being “excruciatingly correct” say that they accept the theory of evolution, consigning the word “belief” entirely to the realms of theology and personal opinion. Except when they succumb to the sloppy usages of vernacular English.

    He’s running for President, not King.

    Not King.

    Führer.

    Study Schicklgruber’s rise to power. Driven by statements that sounded plausible, especially with Adolph’s charismatic delivery, but ultimately proved nonsensical. And in case you think that young intellectuals could never be suckered by such a message … well, a scientific colleague in Germany once ushered me into an empty lab and showed me what was on the inside of the door of a locked cabinet. It was a propaganda poster from 1933. Universitätsstudentin für Hitler. “University students for Hitler”.

    The best lack all conviction, while the worst
    Are full of passionate intensity.

    Yes I am. Very.

  8. gorak says:

    Paul does not want government involved in promoting science, when you do that you politicize scientific knowledge. He wants people to be free to think what they want and develop science as a private pursuit. The awesomeness of Ron Paul’s message is that even if you disagree with him on matters of faith or personal life he does not want to run yours. Now that is something I imagine people like you have trouble grasping.

  9. gorak says:

    And why don’t you actually read his response. Paul does not contradict the scientific mechanisms of evolution, rather he presents a very reasonable Diest belief that life was created by God, he specifically states that he does not dwell on the mechanisms because his beliefs come from faith, rather than a rejection of specific material science.

  10. gorak says:

    Sorry, one more thing. I am an atheist, but I am also an educated human being and I believe in this little thing called “tolerance”. “tolerance” is when you “tolerate” someone for having faith that is different from yours, and it requires a slight bit of intelligence because you have to understand the difference between a mechanical argument and a faith argument. So yeah, go “tolerance”

  11. Bad says:

    The awesomeness of Ron Paul’s message is that even if you disagree with him on matters of faith or personal life he does not want to run yours. Now that is something I imagine people like you have trouble grasping.

    I don’t have any problem grasping that. What I do have is a problem with a Presidential candidate that doesn’t understand science, which is something I see as a measure for even things like sound political philosophy. Again, how can I trust someone to be able to judge and predict the outcome of their (in his case) very radical tax policies if they for some reason believe that evidence isn’t relevant, or that it makes sense to take things on faith?

    I’m perfectly tolerant of Paul, but tolerating him does not mean that I must think he’s a perfect as my Presidential candidate in every respect, nor does it mean that I’m just going to roll over and not criticize him when he says something that I consider quite wrongheaded.

  12. rhys says:

    “Your case about provability is technically true in the thinnest sense, but grossly misleading. You are mixing up conventional and scientific senses of these words. In a conventional sense, evolution is both true and very provable in the very ways that most laypeople use those terms, and in which Paul’s audience would understand them (and as Paul undoubtedly meant them).” -Bad

    Of course what I said is true. And what you said was false. The fact that you want to obfuscate the truth in order to spread your sophistry (what is a thin truth?) and displace other’s words with your thoughts (Paul meant what?) pretty much says it all.

    I will grant you that some members of his audience might not have understood his argument, of which your own misunderstanding stands as direct evidence, but I see no reason for Paul to accept the elitist attitude that he must dumb his responses and treat his audience as if they were unable to understand his poignant logic.

    If you choose not support Paul because you are unable to understand his arguments, you do not understand their basis, or you feel like speakers owe it to their audience to talk in the most dumb down way possible, then that is fine. But, that is a personal preference not an objective, logical position and should be treated as such.

  13. Bad says:

    Give me a break. Paul’s statements work neither in the conventional sense nor the scientific sense.

    Evolution is true and provable in the conventional sense. To call them just a theory and a theological matter is just boilerplate creationist rhetoric, not any attempt at sophisticated theory of science.

    I see no reason for Paul to accept the elitist attitude that he must dumb his responses and treat his audience as if they were unable to understand his poignant logic.

    Who is reading too much into things again? There wasn’t any more sophisticated logic there to be “poignant.” I already explained what the sophisticated description of evolution is. Paul didn’t go there. Where he went was standard creationist tropes about no absolute proof (which is quite irrelevant: no one runs around saying that there is no absolute proof of gravity, or of car accidents, even though empirically science treats those exactly the same way), the standard creationist misrepresentation of the word “theory” and so on.

    If you choose not support Paul because you are unable to understand his arguments

    Who is being elitist again? I understand them just fine. I’ve explained why they are wrong, and so far you’ve pretty much just avoided the issue.

  14. Bad says:

    Indeed, Orac: your post is another, as you note, in a long line of reasons why science supporters are extremely wary of Paul.

    In my case, I suspect that I’m a heck of a lot more of a libertarian than yourself: Paul might have a more realistic chance at winning me over than he would with you, just on politics. But when it comes to issues of science and skepticism, Paul doesn’t just preach “get government more and more out of the regulation business,” a view I’m at least partially sympathetic to (though I acknowledge and share some of the reservations and criticisms of these sorts of ideas): he preaches those things with heavy doses of woo.

    It’s one thing to say that the government should spend less on science research. I love science research, and if I had my druthers, a far bigger chunk of government cash would get poured into the sort of pure research that businesses and even universities seemingly cannot support on their own anymore. But I also acknowledge that maybe what I want isn’t worth taking unlimited amounts of money from taxpayers to fund, and so the idea that the government should get out of those sorts of things might be personally disappointing, but economically compelling to me on some level.

    What I’m saying is sort of what Ed Brayton was talking about: I’m here to be won over, and yet Paul’s rhetoric is turning me off: way way off. And his supporter’s defenses of that rhetoric are only making it worse.

  15. sammylc says:

    Bad, what if George Bush didn’t believe in Evolution.

    What is better.

    A president that believes in Creationism yet allows your state to decide.

    Or a president that believes in Creationism yet passes federal law that forces states to teach both.

  16. Bad says:

    Obviously the former is better. But that’s hardly the point. I’m not judging between Paul the Creationist interventionist and Paul the Creationist libertarian. I’m judging Paul directly.

  17. Iranian Ajax says:

    Who gives a shit what Ron Paul says? He has no chance to win the primaries at all. He is just a whack job much like Sharpton!

  18. Iranian Ajax says:

    Much less the Presidency!

  19. sauerkraut says:

    I don’t see any “awesomeness” to Ron Paul’s message or to most of his statements. I see no “poignant logic” to many of his bullet points, nevermind his creationist slant.

    Frankly, I am confused as to his entry into the Republican race. Ron Paul is a flat-out anarchistic liberaterian. He ought to be honest with himself and with his supporters and run as the 3rd party candidate he is.

    I like this blog.

    Carry on.

  20. badmedia says:

    I don’t believe in evolution as told. Macro evolution has never once been proved. Micro evolution is apparent that anyone who doesn’t recognize it is blind and not paying attention. But there is a big jump there in macro evolution.

    If you look at Darwins original theory it was also not like evolution today is taught. It’s been hi-jacked completely. I also see no evidence for creationism as told by the bible exactly either.

    In the end, I see a combination of the 2 as being the real answer here. You won’t find too many scientists who have a deep understanding of things who does not believe in a god 1 way or another. In fact, it was science that got me to believe in a god or higher power/intelligence, not the bible.

    But with all the issues out there, of which actually do affect our lives, I have to question your reasons for bringing up this particular issue. Because I fail to see how this is actually even a valid thing to elect a president over. Honestly, why not talk about issues that actually matter, rather than contributing to the political bullshit with no meaning in this world?

    Debate real issues, or continue to be political noise. Your choice.

  21. Bad says:

    But there is a big jump there in macro evolution.

    I think people generally think like this because they have some pretty major misconceptions about what evolution is saying happens. Species are never really turning into “new” species. What is happening is ever diversifying sub-types of existing species. Humans are not new from the apes, we are still apes. Just as we are still primates, still mammals, still amniotes, still tetrapods, still vertabrates, still eukaryotes, and so on. Once you understand that, the the distinction between what (mostly only creationists) call “micro” and “macro” largely evaporates. I’m not sure what you mean by “macro evolution has never once been proven.” If you mean speciation, then yes, that has been very well established. If you mean common descent, then again, yes. What do you think hasn’t been well substantiated with all sorts of different lines of evidence and challenges met?

    If you look at Darwins original theory it was also not like evolution today is taught.

    Well, yes: Darwin knew far less than we know today, and had far less evidence at his disposal to work with. The fossil record was far sparser in his time, and he knew nothing of genetics or the broad spectrum of classified morphology. Still, its surprising how much he got right, and how many of the attacks on evolution he anticipated and refuted in advance.

    In the end, I see a combination of the 2 as being the real answer here.

    Why? What’s your evidence? Simply demeaning scientists who don’t believe in a god isn’t much of an argument. It’s one thing to find inspiration for your religious beliefs in science, but it’s quite another to insist that science provides evidence of creationist or anti-evolutionary ideas. You’re going to have to do better than just claim that science has been hijacked, or whatever.

    But with all the issues out there, of which actually do affect our lives, I have to question your reasons for bringing up this particular issue. Because I fail to see how this is actually even a valid thing to elect a president over.

    Well, it happens to be a subject I’m interested in. I’m a theoretical sort of guy. And I judge leaders, including presidents who will have a significant amount of power over things, based on examples of their judgment. In this case, it seems that Paul’s judgment is very poor. I think I have, as I said, perfectly valid grounds to criticize him for saying some very silly things. You can dismiss it as “political noise” if you want, but that’s not really addressing the issue, it’s just avoiding it.

  22. Ebonmuse says:

    On top of everything else, Paul’s anti-evolution? I suppose that shouldn’t surprise me. His views on just about everything having to do with religion or science are retrograde and horrible. Take his “We the People Act”, an enthusiastic variety of the court-stripping bills occasionally pushed by the religious right, which would essentially make it illegal for anyone to sue over violations of the First Amendment. For all his purportedly libertarian views, I don’t find it particularly libertarian to claim that majorities should be allowed to set the official state religion and coerce or punish those who’d rather not participate.

  23. Bad says:

    I hadn’t even heard about that. A “libertarian” who wants to make states more free to make people less free. Wondrous!

  24. N.B. says:

    Paul has tried to repeal OSHA and the dollar as legal tender for non-Federal debts.

    Let’s step back for a second. I’m less amazed by the fact that he’s a physician that doesn’t understand science than I am by his bizarre financial strategies and moves against the working class.

  25. [...] Ron Paul echoes much of the anti-scientific bent of the Republican party. For example, he is an evolution denier who uses standard creationist rhetoric about how evolution is only a theory, how nobody “has [...]

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