Monday, August 31, 2009


Intelligent Climate Change

Eoin O'Carroll of the Bright Green Blog at the The Christian Science Monitor makes an interesting connection between climate change denialism and evolution denialism (otherwise known as "creationism"). Discussing the US Chamber of Commerce's proposal that the Environmental Protection Agency hold a public hearing, in the nature of a new “Scopes monkey trial” to defend its finding that greenhouse gases are pollutants that pose a threat to public health and welfare, O'Carroll notes:

Both groups willfully ignore mountains of firmly established scientific evidence. Both groups falsely portray the scientific community as divided over settled science. Both groups make spurious appeals to academic freedom, arguing that "both sides" of the debate should be presented as though they possess equal merit. And both groups derive most of their funding from privately funded think tanks, having scant presence in the science departments of accredited colleges and universities.

The motivations of those who deny climate change and who deny evolution are probably very different. But in some cases, it's the very same people who deny both phenomena. Here are just a few examples:

Steven Milloy, a prominent climate change denier and "junk science" contributor to Fox News, told the Cato Institute in 2007 that "[e]xplanations of human evolution are not likely to move beyond the stage of hypothesis or conjecture."

Roy Spencer, a researcher at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, author of the 2008 book "Climate Confusion: How Global Warming Hysteria Leads to Bad Science, Pandering Politicians and Misguided Policies that Hurt the Poor," and the "official climatologist" of Rush Limbaugh's EIB network, wrote in 2005 that "intelligent design, as a theory of origins, is no more religious, and no less scientific, than evolutionism."

Actor and commentator Ben Stein, whose 2008 film Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed claimed that belief in evolution led directly to the Nazi Holocaust, asserted on Fox News this year that "global warming is by no means proved."

And Arthur Robinson, the senior author of the Oregon Petition, that list of some 31,000 self-described scientists who deny the existence of convincing evidence of global warming, is also a signatory to the "Scientific Dissent from Darwinism" circulated by the Discovery Institute, the primary think tank promoting Intelligent Design theory.
Birds of a feather.


Carnival of the Elitist Bastards XVI

The Carnival has sailed again from Quiche Moraine with Stephanie at the helm.

And this time it has a tale that, to me, explains the meaning of the Carnival in such a perfect way that it has to be noticed ... the man with a telescope.

There are many lessons that can be drawn ... as Dana saw a lesson in what we should all be doing and Cujo saw the lesson in what we aren't doing. Important lessons to be sure. But for me, the basic lesson is the man with a telescope himself. I don't know if he charges anything to look through the telescope but I'm more than sure that, if he does, it isn't near enough for his time and equipment.

I'm betting it's not about fame or even being noticed in a few blogs.

It's not even about some sense of duty to improve the world.

It was and is about the excitement of sharing what he knows with others ... the sheer joy of showing another human being something that you know but they did not know before.

Now, if we could all capture that feeling and become addicted to it, that would be a force that would change the world!


Sunday, August 30, 2009




I don't think evolution should be associated with our school.

- Sherry Melby, Sedalia Missouri School District teacher

The Smith-Cotton High School band had a theme. Like most such exercises, it didn't seem to make much sense ... "how brass instruments have evolved in music from the 1960s to modern day."

1960s ... modern day?

But okay ... they're teenagers and anything before last week is ancient history.

But then they wanted T-shirts to illustrate the theme. Here's what they came up with:

It's hard to see in this jpeg file, which was the largest I could find (PZ has a better version), but each of the figures is carrying a brass instrument. Of course, the old "up from the monkeys" image is not really representative of evolution. But it has become associated with it and this use of it was harmless.

Harmless, that is, except to the local ignorati.

The band debuted the T-shirts when it marched in the Missouri State Fair parade. Summers said he was surprised when he received a direct complaint after the parade.

While the shirts don't directly violate the district's dress code, Assistant Superintendent Brad Pollitt said complaints by parents made him take action.

"I made the decision to have the band members turn the shirts in after several concerned parents brought the shirts to my attention," Pollitt said. ...

Pollitt said the district would now have to absorb the cost of the T-shirts — $700 — that would have been paid for by the band parents. Pollitt said an anonymous donor had originally planned to pay half the cost, but declined after the evolution image was placed on the shirts. However, the donor does plan to fund half the price of the new T-shirts.

School District money spent on maintaining ignorance rather than on education.

Some more quotes:

[T]he district is required by law to remain neutral where religion is concerned.

If the shirts had said 'Brass Resurrections' and had a picture of Jesus on the cross, we would have done the same thing.

- Brad Pollitt, Assistant Superintendent, Sedalia School District

It's not like we are saying God is bad. We aren't promoting evolution.

- Denyel Luke, sophomore band member

I can see where the parents are coming from. Evolution has always been controversial.

- Adam Tilley, junior

I liked the shirt because it was unique. The theory of evolution never even crossed my mind.

- Mike Howard, senior Drum Major

This is an exciting time for the band. They don't need any negativity.

- Michael Stees, member, Sedalia School District Board of Education

These people are f*cking morons.

- John Pieret



Saturday, August 29, 2009


All Hands on Deck!

Ya gotta love creationists!

If there is some way to twist facts so as to mislead, they'll find it. Today's example is from Bill Belew, a particularly dense example who blogs at As seems to be frequently the case with Belew, he doesn't really blog but cuts and pastes, which is just as well, since the few examples of his own writing that I've seen tend to be incoherent in the extreme.

Today's pastee is one Andrew McIntosh, a Reader in Combustion Theory, Department of Fuel and Energy, University of Leeds in the United Kingdom, who penned an article at the website of Creation Ministries International (which is the breakaway organization from Answers in Genesis that couldn't stand Ken Ham anymore than the rest of us). There is, of course, no one better than an expert in combustion theory to go to for an than explanation of biology.

After waxing poetic about the "complexity of the life cycle of creatures such as the butterfly (caterpillar to chrysalis to butterfly) and the dragonfly (water nymph to dragonfly)," McIntosh delivers this:

There are no half-formed butterflies in the fossil record. They are similar to modern ones—fully formed and ready to go!

Naturally, given the ubiquity of fossil butterflies, if there was a transitional, you'd have expected to have found one already! The things literally litter the ground and are a serious threat to pets and small children ... right?

Well, no. As of last year, when the Florida Museum of Natural History held its "ButterflyFest," which included "four rare butterfly fossils not normally on public display" because they must be protected from excessive light, the accompanying materials pointed out that "the specimens are four of [only] about 50 known fossil butterflies in the world," despite the fact that they are thought to have evolved in the Late Cretaceous Period, 65 to 70 million years ago.

If someone held a gun to your head and demanded on pain of death that you name a creature that you have a non-zero chance of finding a fossil of but, nonetheless, that you'd have the least chance to find a transitional fossil of, it would be hard to imagine a better choice than butterflies.1

If you want your deck stacked, creationists are the people to see.


1 If you want to see the transitional fossils we have found, the Talk Origins Archive has a handy, though probably not up-to-date, list.

Friday, August 28, 2009


It's a Mann's World

I have been having a spiritual Mannifestation.

The signs are eerie. Words and concepts change meanings without rhyme or reason and without warning -- "science" becomes "secularism;" "secularism" transmutes into "worldview;" "methodological naturalism" morphs into "philosophical naturalism;" "supernatural causation" mutates into "scientific explanation;" and, most of all, "separation of church and state" transfigures into "allowing Christians a level playing field to teach their theology as science."

In other words, Daniel Mann has been haunting the comment thread of a post while the rest of my ... um ... select group of readers have moved on.

This is not just an attempt to nudge some readers to revisit the thread and assist in steadying the weirdly shifting ground that comes with a Mannifestation. It comes to the fore also because of a Letter to the Editor I found from the Argus (South Dakota) Leader. The letter begins:

Naturalism can be defined as the doctrine that the universe can be understood in scientific terms without recourse to spiritual or supernatural explanations. This is the religious belief that is taught in our classrooms.

It can be classified as a religious belief since it cannot be proven but must be accepted by faith. Did you notice the inconsistency in Perry Killion's letter in the Aug. 2 Argus Leader when he did not object to this infliction of religious belief upon students but strongly objects to presenting any other religious belief such as intelligent design in the classroom?

This ignores, as does Mr. Mann, the difference between "methodological naturalism" and "philosophical naturalism." While there can be lively debate as to whether science really entails only methodological naturalism or whether, as Larry Moran and other "New Atheists" maintain, it ultimately necessitates philosophical naturalism, it is clear that the science taught in public schools in the US hews to a methodological naturalistic account. Even such an uber-atheist as Jerry Coyne recognizes the difference between metaphysics and science and does not wish to teach science as if it is coextensive with atheism or philosophical naturalism:

And [Michael] Ruse, who seems to pride himself on his sophisticated knowledge of theology, runs completely aground when he equates teaching Darwinism with teaching atheism. I don't know of a single evolutionist who teaches atheism in their classrooms, or who even says in the classroom that Darwinism is tantamount to atheism. Show me, Dr. Ruse, one atheist who violates freedom of religion by saying, "God does not exist" in the public school (or even the university) classroom. Yes, teaching evolution may have the side result of eroding some peoples' faith, but, as I've pointed out before, the erosion of faith can occur in the geology classroom, the astronomy classroom, the ethics classroom, and even in the theology classroom! (How many believers have lost their faith when learning about how the Bible was actually put together?) As the respect for rational discourse increases, as it should with a good education, the respect for religion will erode. But that doesn't mean that a good education violates the First Amendment.

What is more interesting, though, is that both the letter writer and Mr. Mann implicitly assume that, if government is "secular" (i.e. not overtly or specifically religious), and does not teach that their religious beliefs are true, it amounts to teaching an opposing religion. The mere failure to proselytize their religion is proselytizing another religion. To not openly manifest faith is to openly manifest faith.

It is a strange and topsy-turvy world some people live in.

Thursday, August 27, 2009


Uhhh ...

Jerry Coyne on the New Yorker piece by James Wood — "God in the Quad":

[Quoting Wood] What is most repellent about the new atheism is its intolerant certainty; it is always noon in Dawkins's world, and the sun of science and liberal positivism is shining brassily, casting no shadow. [End quote]

Well, what are some examples of the "intolerant certainty"? (Wood gives none.)

PZ Myers on the New Yorker piece by James Wood (who he calls "Baby Bear"):

I'm so sorry, Baby Bear. All we've got here are hordes of triumphal atheists who think the whole enterprise of religion is hairy effin' bollocks, and we aren't at all sad about our loss of faith, a loss that we've found liberating and joyous. The Goldilocks of the 21st century are going to eat all your porridge, romp on your furniture, and turn all three of you out of the house to live in a nice wildlife preserve, where you belong. Won't that be lovely? Try not to eat each other, but don't expect the humans to think you are members of modern civilization.


Ready ... Aim ... Comedy

Uh, oh! Now they've done it!

Before long we'll have another of Casey Luskin's attempts on science (like an attempt on someone's life ... except where the attacker winds up hurting only himself).

Wired Science is reporting on a study published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that shows that protein-transporting systems in eucaryotic cell are not irreducibly complex:

"This analysis of protein transport provides a blueprint for the evolution of cellular machinery in general," write the researchers, led by molecular biologist Trevor Lithgow at Australia's Monash University. "The complexity of these machines is not irreducible."

When they analyzed the genomes of proteobacteria, the family that spawned the ancestors of mitochondria, Lithgow's team found two of the protein parts used in mitochondria to make TIM23 [the transport system].

The parts are located on bacterial cell membranes, making them ideally positioned for TIM23's eventual protein-delivering role. Only one other part, a molecule called LivH, would make a rudimentary protein-transporting machine — and LivH is commonly found in proteobacteria. ...

"It hasn't been possible up until this point to trace any of those proteins back to a bacterial ancestor," said Dalhousie University cell biologist Michael Gray, one of the researchers who originally described the origins of mitochondria, but was not involved in the new study. "These three proteins don't perform precisely the same function in proteobacteria, but with a simple mutation could be transformed into a simple protein transport machine that could start the whole thing off."

Soon we will be subjected to another of Luskin's comedy-laden "science" fests where the greatest danger will be split sides.


School Learnin'

The Spencer (Iowa) School Board, as reported by The Des Moines Register, is apparently pulling its hand off the stove before it gets burnt too much. Only licking a couple of singed fingers, the board has abandoned a policy that almost undoubtedly would have resulted in a constitutional challenge and diverted scarce resources into a lawsuit that could have been better spent on their real job, education, rather than half-assed efforts at social engineering.

According to Superintendent Greg Ebeling:

The right to pray or learn about religion in public schools is protected by the U.S. Constitution.

Most public educators have trampled those rights out of fear they'll be sued for violating the separation of church and state doctrine, Spencer school officials say.

Spencer's policy was an attempt to clear up confusion ...

To paraphrase a well known local politician a generation ago: The Board's policy was not out to cause confusion, it was out to preserve confusion.

They will try again but this time they appear ready to get some expert advice:

A second crack at the policy will be scrutinized by attorneys, teachers and other groups before it's made public in September.

Let's hope they don't fail the makeup test.


Update: Opps! Via John Wilkins!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


Out and About the Intertubes

Talking Tautology:

Wilkins continues his series on the contention that the concept of Natural Selection is a tautology:

The tautology problem

tautology 1a: corrections

Tautology 1b: Butler

Tautology 2: The problem arises

Tautology 3: The problem spreads

Tautology 4: What is a tautology?

Tautology 5a: The issues

Tautology 5b: The issues, continued

Tautology 6: A resolution

Tautology 7: Conclusions
Talking Science:

Like any elusive prey, young minds may have to be snuck up on.

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute may be a tad awash with money. It publishes a large-format glossy magazine, HHMI Bulletin, that it will send to you absolutely for free for the asking. It can be also found on the web. The content is not very deep -- mostly profiles of HHMI scientists with no more than a page or two on their work -- but it is still well worth the price.

This quarter's issue has a story on "The E Word":

Twenty-six weeks into Suzanne Black's 10th-grade biology class in a Seattle suburb, she drops the bomb.


Black didn't purposely avoid the word before then, but in 25 years of teaching she's learned to minimize conflict by presenting information about evolution gradually.

Though the principles of evolution underlie biology from genetics to ecology, the religious beliefs of some students can make teaching the topic difficult. Experienced high school educators have learned to get past the controversy by working up to the important concepts and keeping lessons relevant to the students' lives. ...

"We start with evidence that's based in molecular biology and genetics and slide in the 'evolution' word later on," agrees Ann Findley, professor of biology at the University of Louisiana at Monroe. She teaches college students as well as high school seniors and high school biology teachers in an HHMI-supported summer course. "[Some students] have been misled to think it's something else, and they don't see what all the fuss is about."

The same day Black formally introduced the "E" word, a student asked a question about intelligent design.

"I explained that intelligent design is a religious viewpoint that says that some things are so complex that you can't explain them, and that it's not scientifically supported," she says. "The kids wanted to know what I meant, and I asked how we could design experiments to test the ideas behind intelligent design. And that was it."

Another interesting thing from the article is a HHMI-supported program, Science Education Partnership, which is a professional development program for high school teachers based at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. Those in the front lines might want to look into it.

Talking Steves:

The National Center for Science Education has announced the 1,100th Steve.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009


All Wet

Casey Luskin is a puddle.

Imagine a puddle waking up one morning and thinking, 'This is an interesting world I find myself in, an interesting hole I find myself in, fits me rather neatly, doesn't it? In fact it fits me staggeringly well, must have been made to have me in it!' This is such a powerful idea that as the sun rises in the sky and the air heats up and as, gradually, the puddle gets smaller and smaller, it's still frantically hanging on to the notion that everything's going to be alright, because this world was meant to have him in it, was built to have him in it; so the moment he disappears catches him rather by surprise. I think this may be something we need to be on the watch out for.

- Douglas Adams

But he is a particularly unimaginative puddle because he not only thinks his hole fits him nicely but he thinks when he and his fellow puddles squirm about to get more comfortable, that's proof positive that the hole was made for him by someone else.

This time Casey is going on about biomimicry ... the copying of nature to create nanomaterials, nanodevices and processes. He cites to Bharat Bhushan's article (abstract) in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society and says:

Why should biomaterials have so many different functions, ranging from, in Bhushan's words, "Molecular-scale devices, superhydrophobicity, self-cleaning, drag reduction in fluid flow, energy conversion and conservation, high adhesion, reversible adhesion, aerodynamic lift, materials and fibres with high mechanical strength, biological self-assembly, antireflection, structural coloration, thermal insulation, self-healing and sensoryaid mechanisms"? Why are such structures "commonly found"? Sure, natural selection preserves them due to the important functional roles they play in biology. But to arise in the first place, these structures must become encoded by the information carrying molecule, DNA, and then there must be a mechanism to transcribe and translate that information into proteins. These proteins that form the structures are generated through an information processing system built upon a computer-like language of commands and codes. These encoded biological structures prove useful in human-designed technology precisely because they themselves are a form of intelligently designed technology. [Emphasis in original]

We have already seen that Casey's "computer-like" is a sham based on equivocation. The alternative to his "intelligently designed technology" is that we are trying to use our technology to solve problems that nature has been working at, through trial and error with the best solutions adopted by natural selection, for 3.8 billion years and we are well advised to copy those solutions.

We are all puddles ... it's just that some of us are aware enough -- through science -- of our surroundings that we realize that fact.

Monday, August 24, 2009


Fooling With the Bible

Stultorum infinitus est numerus. (Ecc. 1:15)
There is a Letter to the Editor in the Montgomery (Alabama) Advertiser that is all but biblical in the proportion of foolishness it packs into a small space. It comes in response to an article by James Evans, pastor of Auburn First Baptist Church, recommending the Clergy Letter Project and not only contradicts the experts in science but those who have, presumably, some expertise in theology.

But The Sensuous Curmudgeon has already gone over the letter in detail and there is no need for me to repeat that. I actually saw the letter early this morning and might have beat the Curmudgeon to it (as I'm learning, not an easy task) but I got interested in the fact that the letter writer, although he proclaims that "credible scientific minds are ... producing evidences where Intelligent Design must be considered by necessity," not only trotted out such standard ID fare as "irreducible complexity" and the Cambrian "explosion" but included this:

Dating of materials recovered from the Mt. Saint Helen's volcano in the 1980s return carbon dating of thousands of years..

That, of course, makes no sense unless the writer is pushing young-Earth creationism ... which he neatly confirms at the end by asking Pastor Evans how, if you "eliminate the first 11 chapters of Genesis as fact, what basis does he use to justify salvation through the cross of Jesus Christ as factual?" Apparently the correct answer is to squeeze your eyes as tight shut as you can, jam your fingers knuckle deep in your ears and hum Rock of Ages as loud as you can.

But not long ago no lesser an ID light (and who could be lesser?) than Casey Luskin was chiding a local school board that it would amount to "confusing students [to include] discussion of intelligent design with material that promoted young earth creationism as fact." And the Discovery Institute has long protested that only young-Earth creationism is banned by the Supreme Court case of Edwards v. Aguillard and, therefore, ID is not.

On the other hand, we've known for a long time that IDeologists try to maintain a "big tent," as explained by Phillip Johnson:

I have consistently said that I take no position on the age of the earth, and that I regard the issue as not ripe for debate yet. I have also rejected all suggestions that I should denounce the YECs ...

But somewhere, in the back of my mind, I seem to remember some ID advocate saying he was an "agnostic" about the age of the Earth (I think in the bogus Kansas "hearings" by the then creationist-majority Board of Education).

While not quite as undirected as evolution, this may indicate just how contingent my posts here really are. In looking for a reference to the "agnostic," I found this article by William Dembski, where I noted the following ambiguity. Dembski makes this plea for "understanding":

In place of [Stephen Jay] Gould's [Non-Overlapping Magisteria] design theorists advocate a very different principle of interdisciplinary dialogue, namely, COMA: Completely Open Magisteria. It is not the business of magisteria to assert authority by drawing disciplinary boundaries.

But in what sense can you have "interdisciplinary" dialogue when you deny there are such things as "disciplines"? And, in what sense can you have dialogue when, as Dembski says: "I don't think the rules of science are inviolable."

In other words, to Dembski and the IDers, a "dialogue" consists of being able to call yourself and your beliefs whatever you want while saying "We don't need no steenkin' rules!"

And they wonder why they don't get no respect in academic circles ... or any other place that values even minimal honesty.

Sunday, August 23, 2009


Ganders Need Not Apply

Jason Rosenhouse offers a defense of sorts of A.C. Grayling's ignorant portrayal of Jesuits. Jason doesn't put much effort in it -- seemingly limited to an exhaustive search of one Wikipedia article -- and it shows.

Worse, Jason begins hauling Grayling's goalposts around, as ThonyC demonstrates.

The mindset that Grayling was extolling (supposedly the opposite of the Jesuits) is purported to "inquire, examine, experiment, research, propose ideas and subject them to scrutiny, [and] change their minds when shown to be wrong." But Jason does only the most superficial possible inquiry, research or scrutiny and shows no inclination to even entertain the possibility that he and Grayling are wrong.

Apparently, Grayling's standard is more honour'd in the breach than the observance.


Making Gaines

Jim Gaines gets mail.

His column in the Bowling Green, Kentucky Daily News excoriating Ken Ham's Monument to Ignorance drew predictable ire from the "Bronze Age science is good enough for me" crowd. Happily, Jim now reports that most of the reaction was positive. Still:

For criticizing Ken Ham, I am accused of "attacking Christianity and all who believe the Bible is the inspired word of God."

I must apologize. I did not realize that Ken Ham was numbered among the prophets, or that his cartoonish interpretation of the Bible was accepted as, well, gospel by the 2 billion or so Christians on the planet. If that was true, however, one would think his attendance numbers would be a bit higher. Where else can you go see a prophet nowadays?

Seriously, though, I'm very tired of seeing crackpots like Ham hide behind respectable Christians, claiming that they're all being persecuted because one person making ludicrous assertions also claims to be a Christian.

He also has a nice response to this canard:

I also got the old argument that it takes as much faith to accept scientific conclusions as it does to believe in religious assertions. This demonstrates a feeble grasp of the nature of science.

One of the foundations of rational, empirical investigation is that anyone is, theoretically, able to check the facts for themselves. That's why scientific research is published in detail, though few except scientists themselves read the technical journals wherein such results are laid out for critique. While complex genetic experiments and archaeological investigations are beyond the reasonable ability of most people, real scientists' conclusions are repeatedly verified by numerous researchers, often rivals seeking to best one anothers' work, not find agreement.

Evolution is scientifically accepted because it has withstood 150 years of that criticism, and only grown stronger as more research has been done.

"Creation science" has done none of this. It starts from an unquestioned text, ignores discordant evidence, mangles its textual foundation to conform to what remains, and then ... just stops asking. Any contradictions? It's a miracle, now shut up. Any unexplained lapses in your story? Goddidit. Quit thinking about it, or you'll be numbered among the heathen.

Saturday, August 22, 2009



There is a new culinary creation being test marketed in the American midwest that contains a secret sauce between slices of Pepperjack Cheese and Swiss Cheese topped by two slices of bacon and with two filets of fried chicken that serve as the "buns" of the "burger."

Called the Double Down, this one meal is estimated to supply 124% of the recommended daily allowance of fat; 117% of saturated fat; 105% of cholesterol; 125% of sodium; 194% of protein; and a relatively modest 61% of your recommended daily calorie intake.

The Colonel is out to kill you.

But if the estimates are correct, there is a method to this madness:

[I]f our figures hold true, and KFC won't confirm they don't, the Double Down is more caloriffic than the Wendy's Triple with Everything and Cheese (1700 mg sodium, 960 calories, 26 gms of fat), the Burger King Stacker Quad (1770 sodium, 1020 calories, 69 gms of fat), and compares closely to the fat, salt and calorie totals of three McDonalds Big Macs put together (3060 sodium, 1620 calories, 87 gms fat).

It's merely another escalation in an ongoing war among fast food purveyors to create the most outrageously over-the-top bad nutrition in the world.

In the US, nothing succeeds like excess.


Get Plucked


A.C. Grayling, one of the "New Atheists," in the course of an otherwise well-deserved bashing of William Dembski's bogus requirements for his classes at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, takes off after Jesuits:

In the aftermath of the Reformation in the 16th century, Ignatius of Loyola founded the Jesuit Order as an army of defence against the attack on the One True Church. The Jesuits saw that the reformers had learning and intelligence on their side; they were translating the Bible into vernacular tongues, and encouraging lay people to read it, and when laymen did so they could see that the doctrines and practices of the Roman church were a mountain of rubbish. The Jesuits aimed to be an army of very smart casuists and propagandists, skilful in rhetoric and argument, trained to counter the reformers' charges, not interested in truth but in Catholicism's tendentious version of it.

ThonyC, a historian of science, has a post up at his blog, The Renaissance Mathematicus, showing that Grayling may just be indulging in a little unthinking cultural bias. In fact, Jesuit and Jesuit educated and trained scientists made substantial and crucial contributions to the evolution of science from the late sixteenth up through the seventeenth and into the eighteenth centuries.

The painful part is Grayling's statement that:

If anyone does not know how to pluck from history and the contemporary world examples of [those who smugly embrace ignorance] then he is either deaf, dumb, blind and illiterate – or he is one of the creatures of faith.

Since Grayling shows some acute lack of ability to aptly pluck such examples from history, one has to wonder which category he falls into.

Update: See, also, u n d e r v e r s e and Siris (via Wilkins).


Checking Reality

Randal Rauser, associate professor of historical theology at Taylor Seminary, has finally gotten around to following up on his article of a couple of months ago concerning how the admittedly execrable Expelled misrepresented Intelligent Design. He has two complaints so far:

Ben Stein considers Francis Crick's attempt to explain the apparent design of DNA. Though an atheist, Crick concedes that DNA may have been designed, but then he suggests that this design could have resulted from intelligent alien life (i.e. the theory of directed panspermia).

Instead of seriously engaging this proposal of an alien designer, Stein dismisses it with a condescending sneer: "I thought we were talking about science, not science fiction!"
First of all, Rauser is, I think, confusing Crick with Richard Dawkins. While Crick famously dabbled in directed panspermia, I'm pretty sure he didn't concede or suggest anything in the movie, since he was a couple of years dead by that point (talk about your evidence for ID!).

Why is the possibility of "the Designer" being an alien race so important to ID?

This may play for cheap laughs among some conservative Christian viewers, but the cost of this quip is high. How so? Because granting the possibility of an alien designer establishes that ID hypotheses are not necessarily theistic, and that is important to refute the dogged claim that ID is merely "creationism in a cheap tuxedo".
But who takes an alien Designer as a serious claim? Certainly not the supporters of ID. Besides, if that is a serious claim, why, then, do ID "theorists" refuse to "address religious questions about the identity or metaphysical nature of the designer"? Surely, if the Designer is possibly an alien species, ID does not need to leave the kind of intelligent agent the Designer is "to religion and philosophy." The means and motives of natural, rather than supernatural, beings are fair game for science, so ruling out, a priori, any such investigation demonstrates that ID proponents don't seriously consider the idea.

There is one, and only one, role the "hypothesis" that the Designer could be a natural being plays in ID "theory" ... as a "fig leaf' (I'm sure Professor Rauser understands the meaning and origin of the phrase) to obscure the fact that ID is, in truth, necessarily theistic and intended to subvert the Constitutional ban on teaching theology as true in public schools.

Rauser's second complaint actually highlights this dishonesty on the part of ID proponents:

Sadly, just as Expelled marginalizes non-thesistic ID theories, so it ignores pro-Darwin Christian theology. Or if not quite ignoring it, it only pays attention to it long enough to dismiss it. ... Eugenie Scott (of the NCSC) says to Ben Stein: "The most important group we work with is members of the faith community because the best kept secret in this controversy is that Catholics and mainstream Protestants are okay on evolution."

Scott is entirely correct in noting this woefully under-reported fact. But instead of engaging the work of the many, many theologians who embrace evolution ... [Stein interviews] a theologically uninformed journalist who dismisses all pro-Darwin theologians as "liberals". ...

Not content with defining all pro-Darwin theologians as liberals, this journalist then makes the following completely outrageous claim: "Implicit in most evolutionary theory is that either there is no God or God cannot have anything, any role in it. So naturally, as many evolutionists will say, it's the strongest engine for atheism." Sure Richard Dawkins would agree with that. But why not interview some of the majority of Christian theologians who would not?

It is not that Expelled completely shuts out theologians who accept evolution. Indeed, Stein interviews a number of them including Alister McGrath, John Lennox and John Polkinghorne. The only problem is that he never broaches the topic of theistic evolution, or even tips off the viewer that these theologians hold these views.

After a horribly skewed survey of the issues Stein draws his predictable conclusion: "It appears Darwinism does lead to atheism...." To this I say: only if you want it to Mr. Stein.
So close, Professor Rauser, but you missed it by that much! ID is not only a theological wolf dressed in science's tuxedo but it is, indeed, a narrow, sectarian theology at that -- centered on conservative Christianity (though it is happy to welcome conservative Jewish and Moslem fellow travelers) -- that has no purpose except to rescue that particular theology from its contradiction by the real world.

Friday, August 21, 2009


Welcome to Salem

Jim Gaines of the Bowling Green, Kentucky Daily News wrote a column about an embarrassment in his back yard. Here is a nice representative sample:

[Ken Ham's Creation "Museum"] devotes a huge amount of its 70,000 square feet to justifying a literal worldwide flood, and to explaining away the extensive geologic evidence of a 4.6-billion-year-old Earth. Most of those problems are just ignored, but the exhibits make ludicrous attempts at a few. Rivers slowly eroded canyons? Nope. Volcanoes can move rock, too. In short, they can't tell the difference between the effects of water and explosions. So if your house ever catches on fire, don't ask a young-Earth creationist to put it out.

A thoroughly predictable screed followed in the Letters to the Editor, and here it is with a few of my comments interspersed:

Jim Gaines is finally overt in his attempt to pervert the beliefs of the populace. ...

Funny, I thought we were discussing a museum that was supposed to be about science. If we knew it was advertised as a theological theme park, we probably never would have bothered.

Being a scientist myself ...

Uh, oh ...

(professional engineer) ...

Salem Hypothesis!

and having read the works of Einstein and Carl Sagan, among others, ...

Misplaced appeal to authority ...

I understand that it takes as much faith to believe in science as it does in intelligent design (God).

It takes exactly as much faith to believe in engineering as it takes to believe in science, namely: an assumption that the forces of nature are consistent and understandable ... unless one, say, designs buildings in which angels are counted on to hold up the roof! One can only assume that the writer's employers and/or customers don't know that he is only praying that his designs work.

But thanks again for the confirmation of who the "Designer" is universally understood to be.

[Skip similar blather.]

If you want truth, read God's word! I wonder if Gaines ever has. He certainly has read the secularists! God is not held to the laws of nature. If he wants to make something appear as millions of years old, which he did, nothing constrains him.

Except, maybe, by his own design criteria ... why give humans the intelligence to do engineering and science and then trick them that way? Omphalos is a cruel joke.

He warns of those who foolishly seek false knowledge!

Or an even crueler trap that belies any moral claim to righteousness by the one who set it.

I think it's high time we ostracize those of us in this small community who believe and publish lies that seek to disrupt.

Never heard of two-edged swords, has he?

The Bible tells us to just wipe our feet and move on when we fail with the unbeliever. And remember, if you doubt what God is written, either you are wrong or God is a liar!

And he's never given any thought to third possibilities.


Update: Jim Gaines is over at The Sensuous Curmudgeon accepting accolades and, in the process, revealing some more information:

Bowling Green’s actually not bad, and as a college town it’s locally considered an island of llllllllllibrul civilization in a right-wing sea. It’s the only place Chevrolet Corvettes are made, but be warned: The “professional engineer” who wrote in does his engineering at the Corvette plant. In the original letter, by the way, he managed to spell it “professioanl."
So, it's not buildings in and about Bowling Green that we need worry about; it Corvettes all around the world!


Thursday, August 20, 2009


Out and About the Intertubes

Fit Philosophy

One of the creationists favorite arguments is that Natural Selection is a tautology ... that organisms that are fit survive and "fitness" is defined as that which enables organisms to survive. Perhaps more than most creationist arguments, this one raises some interesting philosophical problems and John Wilkins is tackling them, starting off with a history of the tautology claim.

Update: "tautology 1a: corrections"

Update II: "Tautology 1b: Butler"

Suitable God

James McGrath has a post on the similar Biblical exegesis practiced by atheists and fundamentalists. In discussing why both groups denigrate liberal Christians, he has this priceless line [emphasized]:

[A] lot depends on what one means by "God" and what one means by "incarnate". The idea that is so prevalent in popular Christian thought, that Jesus was simply a divine person dressed up in a human being suit, as it were, was condemned by the Council of Chalcedon more than a millenium and a half ago.
Honorable Violence

You've probably already heard about Anna Falling, the mayoral candidate in Tulsa, Oklahoma who is making it a central focus of her campaign to get a creationist display installed in the city zoo:

By rejecting the Creation exhibit at the zoo, God has been dishonored ... By placing the images of other gods and creation stories, excluding the Biblical account of Creation, the city has challenged the First Amendment ...

We wonder why Tulsa has nearly twice the national average for violent crimes or the police have been called over 9,000 times in the last 4 years to the Tulsa Public Schools ...Where God is not honored at any level, we see the results of these decisions.
Curious, I looked up some crime statistics for 2007. Tulsa had a population of 381,469 and 4,552 violent crimes that year -- or one violent crime for every 84 residents. New York City had a population of 8,220,196 and 50,453 violent crimes -- or one violent crime for every 163 residents.

I'm certainly glad New York's status as a God-honoring, creationism-friendly place had finally been recognized!



Now here is a useful new usage.

For all those occasions when Casey Luskin or Michael Egnor or Joseph Farah deliver a hypocrisy, deception or plain cluelessness so massive that the usual terms seem to pale into insignificance against the brightly burning stupid, Ed Brayton has come up with a term that won't, at least, be lost in the glare.

Projectile Irony!

I promised to give an acknowledgment of where I got the term ... at least once.

This is it.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


Natural Rights

Bruce Ledewitz, Professor of Law at Duquesne University School of Law, is in The Huffington Post dicussing a panel debate at the Netroots Nation Convention entitled: "A New Progressive Vision for Church and State: How I Learned to Accept "Under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance and Stop Losing Elections." There is a video of the panel discussion available (which I have not watched yet).

Ledewitz explains the proposal thusly:

The old liberal vision of a total separation of religion from politics has been discredited. Despite growing secularization, a secular progressive majority is still impossible, and a new two-part approach is needed--one that first admits that there is no political wall of separation. Voters must be allowed, without criticism, to propose policies based on religious belief. But, when government speaks and acts, messages must be universal. The burden is on religious believers, therefore, to explain public references like 'under God' in universal terms. For example, the word 'God' can refer to the ceaseless creativity of the universe and the objective validity of human rights. Promoting and accepting religious images as universal will help heal culture-war divisions and promote the formation of a broad-based progressive coalition.
He specifically discusses the recent overwhelming vote in the House of Representatives to have the Pledge of Allegiance and the National Motto "In God We Trust" engraved in the Capitol Visitor Center. Ledewitz argues:

As long as government plausibly justifies religious imagery in nonreligious terms, its use would be constitutional. For example, the phrase in 'God We Trust' means the biblical creator to many religious believers. But it can also mean that we acknowledge that there are binding standards of right and wrong, such as the anti-torture principle, to which America is subject.
Although Ledewitz admits that the supporters of this bill "really wish to assert that we trust in God today and that we ought to trust in God," he nonetheless argues:

[I]f the word "God" were as small as they think it is, the national motto would be unconstitutional. But since God has much broader meaning than any merely sectarian use, the presence of this word in the public square can be justified even under the principle of government religious neutrality.
If so, then there is a simple way to make that clear: let's adopt Jefferson's phraseology and make it "one nation under nature and nature's God" and "In nature and nature's God we trust." After all, the Religious Right could hardly justly complain, since they are constantly pushing the Declaration of Independence as evidence that this is a "Christian nation."

Despite that, I somehow doubt such a proposal would go over well with the same people who want to carve "God" into the very stone that makes up our public places. In that event, I think Professor Ledewitz needs to explain just how he can still maintain it is not merely a sectarian use.

Words only mean what people want them to mean.


Clueless Googolplex

What more can you do except point and laugh/weep?

Joseph Farah, founder, editor and CEO of WingNutDaily has got a little list:

Obama seeks to use his power to impose policies that have, like it or not, a striking resemblance to those Hitler promoted in the 1930s.

Like what? ...

Demonizing political opponents; ...


Via Ed Brayton

Tuesday, August 18, 2009



Casey Luskin is engaged in another of his endless multipart screeds rehashing one of his previous endless screeds in which he tries to make a convoluted case that Ken Miller misconstrued Michael Behe as making a claim that the entire blood clotting cascade (BCC) was irreducibly complex, when Behe supposedly only claimed that a part of it was.

So far, over the last eight months, Luskin has produced six posts on the subject and is threatening at least two more. As I summarized here, Ken Miller has replied (much more lucidly) three times and Nick Matzke at The Panda's Thumb has shown evidence that one major bone of contention, whether Behe's explanation of the BCC was substantially different from the one contained in Of Pandas and People is rather irrelevant ... since Behe wrote that section of Pandas as well.

If you can follow the Byzantine labyrinth that Luskin tries to lead his readers down without a terminal case of MEGO, more power to you. There are only a couple of things that Casey says that interest me, beginning with a quote from Behe's own whine about Miller (does it ever end?) to the effect:

In philosophy there is something called the "principle of charitable reading." In a nutshell it means that one should construe an author's argument in the best way possible, so that the argument is engaged in its strongest form. Unfortunately, in my experience Miller does the opposite — call it the "principle of malicious reading." He ignores (or doesn't comprehend) context, ignores (or doesn't comprehend) the distinctions an author makes, and construes the argument in the worst way possible.

It's another classic case of projection by creationists.

The Discovery Institute, in general, and Luskin in particular, has left a slimy trail of ignored, miscomprehended or deliberately distorted contexts, distinctions and arguments. Malicious reading of their opponents is about the only stock in trade the DI has.

Since this multi-whine of Luskin's involves the Kitzmiller case, let's just take a few of the examples of the violations of "the principle of charitable reading" Judge Jones has endured at the hands of Luskin, remembering that there are many other victims and that this is but the tip of the malicious iceberg.

So far Luskin has (based on blatant misreadings of Judge Jones' decision) accused the judge of megalomania; made an ugly accusation that the Judge misrepresented the evidence in the case or did not know what evidence was introduced; accused Judge Jones himself of, in effect, violating the First Amendment; and the unkindest (feeble attempt at a) cut of all: accused Judge Jones of plagiarizing his decision.

Residences made of vitreous silicate solids and hard consolidated mineral masses, Casey!

But then Luskin makes this revelation: "Darwin's Black Box was the book that first introduced me to ID when I read it for the first time in 1997."

Behe is, apparently, single-handedly responsible for Casey winding up at the Discovery Institute. He's got a lot to answer for ... to the ID movement.

Monday, August 17, 2009


Fire Break

Ow! Ow! Ow!

How do you treat third-degree irony burns?

The Discovery Institute's highly skilled meat cutter, Dr. Michael Egnor, is back and committing neuron arson at an alarming pace. Just consider this opening paragraph:

Much of the debate about evolution turns on language, and there is much misrepresentation, mostly on one side of the debate. Darwinists assert that "evolution is a fact," when what they really mean is that "Darwinism is a fact," but they don't want to assert that explicitly. They misrepresent their narrow theory of evolutionary change as synonymous with evolutionary change understood more broadly. They do so for several reasons, including the unfavorable connotations of Darwinism and the paucity of evidence and logic to support Darwin's radical assertion.

His "there is much misrepresentation, mostly on one side of the debate" (by which, Egnor makes clear, he means "scientists") is particularly ironic given that it is immediately followed by calling those scientists "Darwinists." Now it should be pointed out that "Darwinism"/"Darwinists" (more often referred to as "Darwinian"/"Darwinians") has been used to describe a particular view of evolution, emphasizing natural selection and adaptationism, but he goes on to demonstrate that he is not using the term in this narrow philosophic sense:

There are several camps on the Darwinist side: there are adaptationists, who believe that most or all evolutionary changes are the result of natural selection, and the drifters1, who believe that much evolutionary change is neutral with respect to selection.

What follows is a confused and confusing exposition that, to anyone trained in science, must sound like disjointed babble but which, to those of us forced to endure hours on hours of theological instruction, makes a weird sort of sense if you accept certain premises that Egnor does not set out explicitly. But it all ends in a massive irony. Let me see if I can explain. First, let's break down some of Egnor's claims:

~ Evolution occurs, and it is teleological.

~ We know that evolution is teleological because "biological structures and functions have obvious purposes." [Emphasis added]

~ Nothing in biology makes sense except in light of teleology.

~ Teleology is "intrinsic to biological change and in fact intrinsic to all changes in nature."

~ Natural selection equals "[s]urvivors always survive.

~ "Natural selection applies to all evolutionary change — adaptive, drifting, and designed."

~ "There are several camps on the Darwinist side: there are adaptationists, who believe that most or all evolutionary changes are the result of natural selection, and the drifters1, who believe that much evolutionary change is neutral with respect to selection." Since natural selection applies to all evolutionary change, the debate between these camps is "witless."

~ "Theistic evolution," holds that "God played a (subtle) role in guiding evolutionary change" but is vague and "generally stated with such imprecision as to render them sentiment" (ummm ... called in some circles "faith") "rather than science" as well as being "generally poor theology" (which somehow must have gotten a bad opinion of faith).

~ There are two "teleological theories" of evolution (apparently scientific, unlike theistic evolution). They are: ID, which asserts that the most reasonable explanation for some aspects of evolution is a process of design analogous to human design; and the "Thomist (after St. Thomas Aquinas) theory," which is explicitly "the Catholic view of evolution" and agrees "that evolution is teleological but take exception to the 'extrinsic' design implication of design theory." Instead, the Thomists "see evolutionary change as a manifestation of Final Cause, as understood by Aristotle and Aquinas." There is some evidence that Egnor counts himself among the latter "theorists," both because he is Catholic and because he has previously gone on about "Aristotelian final causation."
Now there is a part of Egnor's screed that I do not understand, though it continues his "theme" that "Darwinists" are merely misrepresenting the meaning of words:

In battles of ideas, ontology recapitulates philology. Truth recapitulates language. The philological issues — the language of the debate and the meanings assigned to words — determine in large part the truth we see. In the debate over evolution, the meanings are subtle, and they have been misrepresented (by Darwinists).

Egnor never specifies which words "Darwinists" are supposedly abusing but, as close as I can figure, it has something to do with denying that the "obvious" functionality in biology equals teleology.

So how does this all come together? Adaptation of organisms occurs. Adaptation equals function and function equals teleology. Teleology equals design and, once you have design in nature, it implies divine design (see John Wilkins' epistemological hat). Therefore, there must be design in all of nature (if God's in for a penny, He's in for a pound). Choose your poison: "extrinsic design," where God "tinkers" with his creations or "intrinsic design," where God determines the "final cause" (that for the sake of which a thing exists or is done) while the material, formal and efficient causes (the stuff that science studies) carries out the final cause. Thus, Egnor can dismiss drift because even chance is in service to the final cause and natural selection is simply the expression of final cause because that which has the purpose to survive survives. Nothing in biology makes sense except in light of teleology because without it there would be no purpose -- no final cause -- and, in a neat bit of circular reasoning, all we'd be left with is adaptation and natural selection which are, themselves, evidence for teleology and design.

The irony starts to roll up: "design theory" is science and has nothing to do with religion, even though one major school of it is Catholic. According to Egnor, the evidence for teleology is overwhelming but, nonetheless, he gives none, stating, instead, that it is "obvious." But most ironic of all:

The reason for the misrepresentations by Darwinists is ideological. Darwinism is indispensable to "intellectual fulfillment" in atheism, and it is defended, without regard for truth.

... sayeth the man who is expounding his personal opinion of what is obvious in service of medieval theology but calling it science in order to evade the Constitutional barrier against teaching that theology in public schools.

As a public safety measure, the man should have a warning label tattooed on his forehead.

1 The image of Larry Moran singing "This Magic Moment" is too precious to ignore.

Sunday, August 16, 2009


Of Bulls and Arguments

Josh Rosenau of Thoughts from Kansas and the National Center for Science Education has a take-no-prisoners article up on "bullshit" in public discourse that includes William Dembski, "birthers," "truthers," and "death squaders." However, a major focus of the post is the ugly conflict between the "New Atheists," particularly Jerry Coyne, and Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum.

I cannot characterize [Coyne's] review [of Mooney's and Kirshenbaum's book in Science] as anything but bullshit. His opening sentence claims that "Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum argue that America's future is deeply endangered by the scientific illiteracy of its citizens and that this problem derives from two failings of scientists themselves: their vociferous atheism and their ham-handed and ineffectual efforts to communicate the importance of science to the public."

In fact, Mooney and Kirshenbaum specifically do not claim that atheists are responsible for scientific illiteracy, nor do they claim that scientists alone are to blame.
I haven't read the book so I don't know which characterization of it is right. But the ugliness goes on.

Saturday, August 15, 2009


Friendly Advice

How to do Intelligent Design research:

1. Accuse the entire scientific community of being wrong ...

2. Design poor-quality experiments that are almost guaranteed to show your hypothesis is true whether it really is or not. ...

3. Keep using arguments that have been thoroughly discredited. ...

4. Write books for the general public to promote your thesis—as if public opinion could influence science!

5. Form an activist organization to promote your beliefs.

6. Step outside the scientific paradigm and appeal to intuition and belief.

7. Mention the persecution of Galileo and compare yourself to him.

8. Invent a conspiracy theory ...

Friday, August 14, 2009


What Do These Posts Share In Common?

"Francis Collins' Hear-No-Evil, See-No-Evil Approach to Persecution of ID Proponents" by Casey Luskin

"Michael Ruse's WhingeFest: atheists very, very bad for evolution" by Jerry Coyne

Of Scientists and Evidence

Jerry Coyne (endorsed by PZ) has repeated his claim that, empirically, accommodationism has failed because "American’s attitudes to evolution have been relatively unchanged (with 40+% denying it) for twenty-five years." Actually, it is considerably longer than that the numbers on this issue have been stable. What perplexes me is why scientists would make the error of citing evidence that does not bear the weight of the supposed conclusion.

Over this same period of stability in the numbers, there has been a significant shift away from the largely evolution-friendly "mainstream" Protestant denominations primarily to Evangelical, Pentecostal and Fundamentalist churches that make anti-evolutionism a tenet of faith. This would seem to support an interpretation that there is something other than religious doctrine driving anti-evolutionism.

In an area as complex as the effect of social conditions on the beliefs of individuals, the maxim that correlation does not equal causation is particularly apt. Surely scientists are aware that poll results are a particularly tricky type of evidence. Nor does a mere 25 years seem sufficient to count as a fair test of the efficacy of an approach to changing large-scale social phenomena. All of which does not mean that the incompatibilists are wrong about accommodationism ... merely that, as Chris Schoen of u n d e r v e r s e has noted before, there is a strange lack of empiric evidence for many of their positions ... which is highly ironic given their attacks on religion for the same failing.

Now comes Razib at Gene Expression to give a closer look at the polls and he finds that young people, including the religious, are less creationist than older cohorts, particularly among Catholics. Moreover:

[W]hen it comes to politics there hasn't been much change among liberals, who in general are not Creationists, and some change among Conservatives, who are less Creationist among the younger age cohorts, but a large swing among moderates.

I think it is a fair initial guess that moderates are more attracted to the accommodationist message than the incompatiblist simply because ... well ... they're moderates and will tend to favor a position between any extremes.

What I think is definitely true is that the incompatibilists need more empiric evidence before they can credibly claim that accommodationism is a failure.


Thursday, August 13, 2009


Bring Back Bing

Mike Haubrich of Tangled Up In Blue Guy managed to ship his thirteen year old son off to Japan for the summer. There's just a little problem now ... getting him back home. As Mike explains:

Bing has made new friends in Japan, but they want to keep him there. In fact, they have threatened to hold him for ransom unless his American friends and family do two things:

1. Answer questions about Japan/Nippon culture and cuisine.

2. Donate money to help his mother pay the plane fare for his trip.

It's tempting for a young man to stay in Japan, because so far he has found the food to be awesome and the shopping (even in vending machines) to be, let's say, "unique." In fact, the Japanese students think that if he stays long enough he could use his ninja powers to be Emperor someday. I don't think that this would be a good thing for world peace, as Bing has not worked out his "Megalomania" issues and bad things could happen.

The questions are interesting, such as:

Who was the first sitting U.S. President to visit Japan?

a. Gerald Ford.
b. Teddy Roosevelt.
c. Woodrow Wilson.
d. Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Even more interesting are Bing's pictures and his reactions to a very different culture. Give the blog a look and, if you can, drop a buck or two in the plate.

You can question the wisdom of parents paying to get back a child teetering on teenagehood at a later date.

One Shell of an Argument

Mark Chu-Carroll has a good post up on Stephen Meyer's smoke and mirrors "evidence" for design ... specifically, Meyer's use of equivocation in the meaning of the term "digital." As Mark points out, there are:

Three possible definitions of digital information:

1. Information consisting of a collection of numbers.

2. Information encoded in any discrete form which can be represented by a sequence of symbols.

3. Information which can be stored in the memory of a digital computer.

... [T]hey're using one definition of digital information to claim that DNA is "digital" (definition 1), while using a different definition (definition 3) to argue that the fact that it's digital implies that it's like a computer. ...

Of course, in that sense, lots of things are digital. All chemicals are, in that sense, digital information - because you can describe a chemical by a notation consisting of a series of characters.

Other things that fit the first definition would include a series of coin flips or the structure of snowflakes. Unless the Disco 'Tute is claiming that "the Designer" is controlling the universe to such a fine-grained level (in which case, their disclaimers that the Designer might be extraterrestrials will necessitate John Wilkins eating his epistemological hat), the existence of such "digital information" is no proof of conscious design.

As Mark sums up:

[T]hat's the basic argument that Disco is using: that because we can interpret DNA as something that is, in some sense, "digital", that therefore cells are just like digital computers that process DNA, and that therefore they must be designed. It's the same old argument from incredulity: "I can't imagine how this could have happened without an intelligent agent doing it, therefore it couldn't have happened without an intelligent agent." The only thing that's new here is that they hide that argument behind the word "digital".

Pointed out in the comments to Mark's post is the fact that Meyer is also making an argument from analogy. Not all arguments from analogy are invalid, though. Darwin started off the Origin of Species with an argument from analogy: the similarity between artificial selection done by plant and animal breeders and Darwin's proposed mechanism of natural selection.

The difference between Meyer's argument and Darwin's is in the actual similarity of the compared objects. As Kant (as well as Hume) pointed out, even before William Paley made the watch analogy famous, it fails as such because there are substantial differences between organisms and watches:

In a watch one part is the instrument for moving the other parts, but the wheel is not the effective cause of the production of the others; no doubt one part is for the sake of the others, but it does not exist by their means. In this case the producing cause of the parts and of their form is not contained in the nature (of the material), but is external to it in a being which can produce effects according to Ideas of a whole possible by means of its causality. Hence a watch wheel does not produce other wheels, still less does one watch produce other watches, utilising (organising) foreign material for that purpose; hence it does not replace of itself parts of which it has been deprived, nor does it make good what is lacking in a first formation by the addition of the missing parts, nor if it has gone out of order does it repair itself—all of which, on the contrary, we may expect from organised nature.— An organised being is then not a mere machine, for that has merely moving power, but it possesses in itself formative power of a self-propagating kind which it communicates to its materials though they have it not of themselves; it organises them, in fact, and this cannot be explained by the mere mechanical faculty of motion.

We say of nature and its faculty in organised products far too little if we describe it as an analogon of art; for this suggests an artificer (a rational being) external to it. Much rather does it organise itself and its organised products in every species, no doubt after one general pattern but yet with suitable deviations, which self-preservation demands according to circumstances.

Meyer's attempt to analogize the workings of the cell to the workings of a digital computer are nothing more than a superficial update of the watch analogy and fails for the same reason.

Darwin's analogy on the other hand works because he was comparing the effect that certain well-known processes have on living organisms to the effect that his proposed mechanism should logically have on similar organisms if the premises of his mechanism were true. Furthermore, the premises of his proposed mechanism, particularly the inherited similarity of offspring to parent and the culling of the less "fit" through the competition for limited resources, were either observed in the course of artificial breeding or were themselves analogous to the actions of breeders, which is not the case between digital computers and cells. Thus, Darwin's analogy was close at several levels, while the opposite is true of the IDers' attempt at analogy.

The best analogy for ID involves walnut shells and a pea.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009


It Came From ...

... University of California Press. I am now a proud owner of a Wilkins First Edition and I'm counting on all the rest of you to make him a famous author in hopes that someday my copy, carefully guarded, will be worth a bundle.

But even if that does not eventuate, there is much to gain:

This is an essay in the history of ideas (although I prefer the term conceptual history), and in particular of the ideas that came before and might be demonstrated or fairly thought to have contributed to the ideas in play in biological thought about species and classification. "History of Ideas" has become uncommon and somewhat disparaged by professional historians, and this is understandable given the whiggish, presentist bias much of it has exhibited. I am well aware of the problems faced by the historian of ideas, as described by John Greene ... "Of all histories the history of ideas is the most difficult and elusive. Unlike things, ideas cannot be handled, weighed, and measured, They exert a powerful force in human history, but a force difficult to estimate."
Based on a decade of Wilkins watching, if there is someone who can take the measure of ideas and their weight upon history, it's John ... and what more inestimable wealth could anyone hope for?


P.S. Wilkins, for no discernible reason, referred me to this quote re his book:

Who, too deep for his hearers, still went on refining.
And thought of convincing while they thought of dining;
Though equal to all things, for all things unfit;
Too nice for a statesman, too proud for a wit.

Oliver Goldsmith, "Retaliation"


Scientific Philosophy, Philosophical Science

Glenn Branch has a nice review, entitled "Philosophers, Creationists & Serious Brainiacs," of the new edition, edited by Michael Ruse and Robert Pennock, of But Is It Science?, originally published in 1988.

But Is It Science? is evidently intended as a sourcebook for university classes in philosophy, the history of science, science and religion, and so forth, and as such it succeeds admirably. But it is, or ought to be, appealing to the general public at large. The creationism/evolution controversy is a perennial feature of life in the United States, with attempts to remove, balance, or compromise the teaching of evolution recurring from the Scopes era to the present day. Even if public interest in intelligent design dwindles after Kitzmiller, as public interest in creation science dwindled after McLean and Edwards, the profound yet misguided discomfort with evolution that actuates such assaults on evolution is bound to remain. Also bound to remain are philosophical controversies over creationism, which — as the Kitzmiller case illustrated so vividly — have the potential to affect the quality of science education across the country and indeed around the world.

Go read the review. Better yet, read the review and then buy and read the book. The one thing both sides in this dispute lack the most is an understanding of the history and philosophy of science.

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