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Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Intelligent design in Canada?: Canadians pretty evenly split

Recently, Decima polled Canadians on the origin of humans - God dunit? God neverdunit? Dunno?

I infer that the responses to the questions below give us some idea of Canadians' thoughts on intelligent design. With some key qualifications, God's involvement in human origins can be used to predict public opinion on intelligent design. That is, people who don't think that God had anything to do with human origins don't usually think that crayfish show evidence of intelligent design either.

Here are the Canadian responses to the 2007 question by percentage, along with the US figures to a similar series of questions in brackets:

 Less than one in three Canadians (29%) believe that God had no part in the
creation or development of human beings. (US: 13%)
 Fewer still (26%) believe “that God created human beings pretty much in their
present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so”. (US: 46%)
 A plurality, but still only 34%, say that “human beings have developed over millions
of years from less advanced forms of life, but God guided this process”. (US: 36%)

None of this surprises me particularly. Canada is more secular than the United States, so far more people would say God had nothing to do with it and far fewer would be creationists in the sense of choice 2.

Choice 3, you will notice, is chosen by about the same numbers of Canadians as Americans. Notably, more Canadians than Americans seem not to have chosen any of the options (11% vs. 5%).

Indeed, all this confirms the view I took last year when Montreal-based Darwin lobbyist Brian Alters was turned down by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council for a grant to "study" the dangers that intelligent design theory represents to Canada (as a precursor, of course, to wringing further funds from the taxpayer to "combat" the menace he has discovered).

At the time, I identified key reasons why the ID controversy never flares up much in Canada. Among other reasons, we have neither a functional Christian Right nor groups that are the equivalent of American Civil Liberties Union. So, apart from Brian himself and his friends, there are not many people who can hope to get either private donations or government grants from sponsoring a big public fight on the subject. I concluded,
Look, Canada is the kind of place where gays can marry each other and Catholics can start each day with the Hail Mary in tax supported schools if they want to. That's just how things are here. Everyone here finds something to hate. Not everyone expects to be paid for it.

What did surprise me is that Decima, the polling firm, did not ask for the religious affiliation of the respondents. Here's why I think that was an oversight: In a trend that also departs very much from the American scene, the people who intend to vote Liberal were much more likely than those who intended to vote either Conservative or NDP (leftist) to choose a "theistic" option - God either created humans or guided the process. Only 22% of Liberals thought God had nothing to do with it, but 31% of Conservatives thought that, as did 31% of leftist voters.

This is quite different from the United States, where most Republicans "doubt evolution" but most Democrats do not. I believe that data on religious affiliation would shed some light on reasons for the cultural difference that this illustrates.

The social breakdowns they do provide are interesting, however. In Quebec, 40% think God played no role, significantly higher than anywhere else. Men are about 50% more likely to think that than women, and people with higher incomes are 50% more likely to think God played no role than people with lower incomes.

I am quoted here on the poll.

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Intelligent design and popular culture: Evil geniuses of the Discovery Institute find acceptance among orthodox Jews

Yes, of course I was just kidding about the evil geniuses. Regular readers will know that I am no fan of conspiracy theories - in fact, I use them as a sort of instant IQ test.

That is, a person who wants to convince me that he is both stupid and unteachable, and possibly insane, can best accomplish that goal by letting me know that evil conspirators run the world and their plotters are all around us.

In reality, almost all agendas are right out there in the open, but few notice. As Sherlock Holmes warned, we see but we do not observe.

Anyway, elsewhere I have commented on the way in which Disco's evil geniuses "time and again - apparently effortlessly - made both negative legacy media coverage and the normal behaviour of frantic Darwinists work in their interests."

So when Discovery's uber-wizard Bruce Chapman sent round a note the other day to say that he and ID-friendly tech pioneer George Gilder had been well received in Israel, I was hardly surprised to hear it. Indeed, I had heard things like that before.

The part I found interesting is,
Three of George's speeches dealt directly with the negative influence of Darwinism on contemporary society and then posed the positive scientific evidence for intelligent design. It was exciting to realize how well that message resonated with orthodox Jews in Israel, including scientists.

The fact that Chapman would even write this shows that materialism has dominated cultures worldwide to such an extent in recent years that people hardly know their own names any more.

I mean, like, you're an orthodox Jew and you don't think the universe shows evidence of intelligent design? Say what? Isn't the whole of orthodox Judaism a design for life that responds (and, ideally, corresponds) to the design of the universe? Otherwise, why bother? It strikes me as a lot of trouble for nothing if there is No One at the other end who cares if you are doing it.

Citing this Jerusalem Post piece that actually tries to interpret what guru Gilder is saying (instead of just telling us what is supposed to be wrong with it), Chapman notes that further pilgrimages to Israel are planned.

I can't wait till orthodox Jewish interest in ID is exposed as an evil Zionist conspiracy. Readers, do write and let me know - but please note that I won't intentionally post links to anti-Semitic sites.

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Legacy media, the blogosphere, and the intelligent design controversy

A friend wonders whether legacy mainstream media are having any better luck yet understanding what the intelligent design controversy is about. I replied saying that I am not sure that it matters, because their circulation is slowly but surely slipping. And so is their cultural significance. They are being replaced by the blogosphere, for better and worse.

Sometimes the coverage will be better and sometimes it will be worse. With the intelligent design controversy, for example, you are usually far better off reading the blogs or listening to audio of both sides than you are reading or viewing typical news coverage. That has been true ever since I started watching the controversy systematically in 2001.

In May of this year, I gave a workshop at the joint meeting of the Canadian Church Press and Roman Catholic Communicators of Canada on the blogosphere. There I noted,
The blogosphere is 30 times as big as it was 3 years ago, according to sources, with about 70,000 new weblogs are created every day. A new weblog appears every second. Who blogs? - roughly 60 million, could double in the next year. Many blogs are read by nobody, some by thousands. On the average, about 200 people a day read mine.

Yes, the creation of new blogs will level off, of course. Yes, many blogs just disappear. And yes, many are of indifferent (or awful) quality. But don't mistake legacy media grousing about the blogosphere for prophecy. Don’' mistake what I am saying for prophecy either. Consider rather how the drift to new media impacts YOUR operations.

And I quoted,
“Scan the headlines of 2005 and one question seems inevitable: Will we recall this as the year when journalism in print began to die ?”
- Project for Excellence in Journalism, State of News Media

A newspaper is a boat, a highly evolved mechanism designed and built to float in water. Blogs are bikes, built to cruise in another environment. Now, you can pull a bunch of planking off a boat and add wheels and pedals, but that won't make it as light and maneuverable as a bike."

- Blogads’ Henry Copeland
(LA Times March 7, 2007)

Will print newspapers even exist twenty years from now? Judging by the pile of newspapers that stack up in my recycling bin in mint condition each week, the odds can't be good.

– Patrick Ruffini, The Information Hunter-Gatherers, March 10, 2007

Slowly but surely, the marketplace is coming to be dominated by a rising generation unaccustomed to the touch of newsprint at their fingerprints. It's not just that everything is moving to the Web. It's that the notion of broadcasting to the masses is dying. The audience used to passively consume content; now they're information hunter-gatherers, cobbling together a customized diet of information from the Web and their TiVo. To succeed in this environment, your media has to be interesting every time out or the viewer will time-shift to something else. That's different than the days when your name had to be Dan, Peter, or Tom, and the 6:30 time slot was your megaphone. – Patrick Ruffini, The Information Hunter-Gatherers, March 10, 2007

Generally, a related development is that legacy mainstream media are no longer able to simply control public perceptions to advance an agenda with which its owner, writers, or advertisers feel comfortable. Cornelia Dean of the New York Times was not able to get a persecution going against young earth geologist Marcus Ross, for example, though her article makes obvious the fact that she was trying. Increasingly, legacy media have been reduced to actually trying to find out what is going on in the intelligent design controversy.

Here, I talk about the way in which legacy media have functioned as the best friends of the intelligent design guys, totally against the media people's own intentions and wishes - ensuring that far more people now read ID books than ever would have otherwise. I'd love to write a book some time about how and why that happened, especially about the role of the evil wizards at the Discovery Institute (har, har) who have time and again - apparently effortlessly - made both negative legacy media coverage and the normal behaviour of frantic Darwinists work in their interests.

That is not, of course, a mystery, let alone a plot. I am uncertain about whether it even required exceptional intelligence. It required exceptional realism about one's own environment, of course - I would be inclined to call it hyperrealism, but that sounds too much like art gallery lingo. Anyway, back to work. I don't blog for a living, after all, and I have a couple more stories to put up before I can go back to my day job.

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Morpho field theory again

Stuart Pivar, who is sending me a copy of his new book, arguing for morphology as the best way to understand evolution, offers a history of morphogenetic field theory:
Morphogenetic Fields Forever

Rupert Sheldrake has nothing to do with morphogenetic Field theory except at the Wikapedia level. He attached his name to the then fifty year old theory of morphogenetic fields as an explanation of his famous theory of “Cosmic Consciousness”, about monkeys washing coconuts, and lab mice in Chicago and Berlin.

The history of the morphogenetic field theory begins a hundred years ago. Almost every biologist became occupied with its implications as expressed in 1937 by Paul Weiss. By mid-century it was the leading account for many baffling phenomena of early embryogenesis.

The advent of genetic inheritance wiped out morphogenetic field work. But it returned as an accepted reality at every level of biological scale in recent decades, including the molecular level where the theory is of basic importance.

Note that the similar term Morphogenic Fields refers to the reaction-diffusion theory of morphology of Alan Turing, unrelated to the present case.

The best recent source is Developmental Biology by Scott F. Gilbert, the standard evo devo textbook. The chapter called the Return of Morphogenetic Fields is conveniently reproduced in his evo devo website. The name Rupert Sheldrake does once not appear.

The theory of embryonic self-organization does not depend on morphogenetic fields.
The phenomenon has been cited to account for the quantification of biological development much as the quantum theory does for space.

I linked the Web site mentioned; presumably if the chapter is still there, interested readers will find it. Apparently, Pharyngula continues to rave about Pivar's theories, and with enemies like that, he hardly needs friends.

That said, I hope that the little lambs of affirmation can bear the shock if someone, somewhere reads Pivar's book with an open mind, because if I get anywhere near the bottom of my in tray, I am planning to.

Update!: Stuart Pivar writes to tell me that a planetarium director who supported the project in the past withdrew his support on receiving a call from the Pharyngulite. Hmmm. If so, that's too bad. Perhaps someone should tell Mr. Orbit about call screening ...

Anyway, I have now received Pivar's book and am sending it out to be reviewed by a non-pharyngulite who is versed in evolutionary biology. I will publish that biologist's review on this blog when I receive it. (I can always read it myself later.) Thanks to all the pharyngulites who have visited today. I don't yet have PayPal, but you can buy my books to show your appreciation instead.

Update 2 (2007 07 19): Well, I have a little more information now: I e-mailed the planetarium director, and quoted him the blurb that appears on the back of Pivar's book, over his name:
"Another possibility is that life has encoding that has nothing to do with DNA. That would be more important for biology than finding other life with DNA, because it would be a way to encode life that no one has dreamt of before ... No mere mathematical curiosity, this physically plausible model should be investigated seriously by biologists.

- Neil de Grasse Tyson, director, The Hayden Planetarium

asking for clarification of the report that he has now withdrawn his support.

He replied,
The first part of the quote is out of context and relates specifically to the search for alien life, in which I have publicly suggested, in multiple media outlets and in my writings, that alien life may have its identity encoded in ways that do not invoke DNA at all.

The second half of the quote I have never said, nor do I agree with. In all fairness to Mr. Pivar, I had the opportunity to have noticed the quote much earlier (he sent me his materials many times over the past half year) and I might have called these errors to his attention in advance of the press release and other sources of publicity that the work has received. But that did not happen, given my overstuffed schedule and given that last November I has already submitted to him,
at his request, a multi-page assessment of his work, after which, I did not feel the need to monitor his progress.

In response to my statement that he appears to have withdrawn his support, he replied,
The support implied by the quote was never there in the first place. The thrust of my written comments to Mr. Pivar from last November was that I had no opinion on whether his ideas were correct or not. But that his research paper fell below the standards of evidence expected for papers in my field. And so I recommended a suite of tests that, if he conducted them, would allow me to pass judgment. I further said that if the tests wre successful that he would not need my support, and that people would be beating a path to his door.

None of my recommendations have yet been heeded, and so I continue to have no opinion.

He then punted my question as to whether the Pharyngulite had played any role in his sudden attention to the material that appears over his name on the back jacket of Pivar's book.

Meanwhile, Pivar tells me that the following persons: Robert Hazen, Dimitar Sasselov, Brian Goodwin and Richard Milner have not withdrawn their support.

I wonder, are they in line for a call from the Prophet of the Pharyngula? Well, they can do whatever they want, but I am getting an independent assessment of the work in question.

The thing about Darwinists is that they are so predictable. Here are samples of two comments I borfed recently:
Say, Tyson withdrew his support because he never lent it. Pivar claimed it unjustifiably. PZ had sent him an e-mail asking if he really supported an idea for which there was no experimental nor obervational basis.

(Here I am being invited to substitute speculation ["Say, ..."] for asking Tyson to comment. But come to think of it, Darwinism is 99% speculation anyway, isn't it?

As it happens, the present is NOT a prehistoric era. I can just ask Tyson, and I did. He appears to want me to belive that the Pharyngulite Prophet had no influence. I guess I could speculate and say that the circumstances suggest that Prophet PZ did have an influence on Tyson, but I am not a Darwinist, so I cannot simply count that as fact and launch a persecution against anyone who doubts it.)

Here's the other one:
As a fellow Torontonian, I hope that you can inject a little more objectivity and rationalism into your articles.

Well, fellow Torontonian, don't move to my neighbourhood, there's a dear. What YOU mean by "objectivity and rationalism" is "behaving like the pharyngulite mob." Some of us have standards.

Stuart Pivar has implied to me that there is a long trail of correspondence around an effort to get his theory published in a journal. I just bet there is. I covered the Rick Sternberg uproar, after all.

If Pivar sends me a wallop of paper, I guess I'll have to read it.

My own opinion so far is that a lot of people should just grow up. Darwinism is clearly and obviously dead, and it is not coming to life again.

As the cop said to the perp, who offered him a lame excuse, "You're going to have to come up with something better than that."

Update 2007 07 20:

So who is Neil deGrasse Tyson anyway? A friend, David, writes,

Hey Denyse - You may have seen this already but I'm sharing it anyway. Tyson spoke spoke at the Beyond Belief conference last year. Here he goes against ID where he totally caricatures the theory and uses the argument from evil against design. Apparently Tyson has his own religious beliefs about what a God should and should not do. For him, bad design means no design........and this guy is supposed to be a logical scientist?
The arguments from evil were:

The universe is a hostile place for life

We have to eat for food to stay alive

There are volcanos and other natural disasters that kill people

There are diseases that kill people

There are genetic abnormalities that kill people

No engineer would design the place were you use the bathroom to be close to the place were your genitals are (argument from uncleanliness, this is a new I have to admit:)

And THEN he takes a jab at REPUBLICANS!

Well, now, David, they must have called it the Beyond Belief conference for a reason, right? Personally, I have watched with interest the decline in reasonableness of atheist arguments over the years. (I wonder where Dr. Tyson thinks the anus should be, for example? All real design features constraints as well as disadvantages. That is a function of existence in this particular real world. )

What I am now most interested to see is whether the other parties who endorsed Pivar's book/ideas/articles will receive a special revelation from the Prophet of the Pharyngula, and if so, how they will respond. Anyone can have an opinion. Only people of courage and intellect can have convictions.

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Service Note

If you like this blog, check out my book on the intelligent design controversy, By Design or by Chance?, or my book of essays on faith and science topics, Faith@Science: Why science needs faith in the 21st century (Winnipeg: J. Gordon Shillingford, 2001). You can read excerpts as well.

My other blog is the Mindful Hack, which keeps tabs on neuroscience and the mind.

Are you looking for one of the following stories?

NEW!! My review of Mike Behe's Edge of Evolution

Evolution in the light of intelligent design - look up intelligent design topics here.

Animations of life inside the cell, indexed, for your convenience.

Anti-God crusade ... no, really! My recent series on the spate of anti-God books, teen blasphemy challenge, et cetera, and the mounting anxiety of materialist atheists that lies behind it.

Catholic Church A summary of the Catholic Church's entry into the controversy, essentially on the side of ID.

Collins, Francis My review of Francis Collins’ book The Language of God

Columnists weigh in on the intelligent design controversy A summary of recent opinion columns on the ID controversy

Darwinism dissent Lists of theoretical and applied scientists who doubt Darwin

Gilder, George A summary of tech guru George Gilder's arguments for ID and against Darwinism

Intelligent design academic publications.

Intelligent design-friendly students should be flunked, according to bio prof Evolutionary biologist’s opinion that all students friendly to intelligent design should be flunked.

Intelligent design controversy My U of Toronto talk on why there is an intelligent design controversy, or my talk on media coverage of the controversy at the University of Minnesota.

Intelligent design controversy timeline An ID Timeline: The ID folk seem always to win when they lose.

Intelligent design and culture My review of sci-fi great Rob Sawyer’s novel, The Calculating God , which addresses the concept of intelligent design.

March of the Penguins A critical look at why March of the Penguins was thought to be an ID film.

Origin of life Why origin of life is such a difficult problem.

Peer review My backgrounder about peer review issues.

Polls relevant to the intelligent design controversy A summary of recent polls of US public opinion on the ID controversy

Stove, David O'Leary's intro to non-Darwinian agnostic philosopher David Stove’s critique of Darwinism.

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