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Saturday, July 21, 2007

Darwinism and academic culture: Nature moves into an alternative reality

A friend writes to say that a recent book review in Nature on the now-famous Dover case (a "teaching evolution" controversy) claims that the Discovery Institute lobbied the Dover school board to adopt the policy (when in fact Disco strongly opposed it).

Now, I know for a fact that Disco was in institutional catfits about the unbelievably stupid Dover policy ever since they first heard about it. There wasn't anything they could do to prevent the subsequent meltdown, though they did try. (Their own recommendations to school boards are much more carefully crafted.than Dover was.)

My friend wonders how the Nature aficionados can live in such a counterfactual world. Well, first, we can safely say that, insofar as the Naturalizers invited an American Darwin lobbyist like Kevin Padian to explain it all for us, that was because the aficionados want to hear their worldview (same as his) confirmed, and they did. So what if it is an alternative reality?

Those interested in Disco's actual position will find it in this Montana law review article, or they can listen to this podcast.

Padian also says,
Conspicuously absent from the trial was William Dembski, the other pillar of intelligent-design 'research', who holds advanced degrees in maths and theology but none in science, and believes that intelligent design is the Logos of the Gospel of John restated in the language of information theory. His notion of 'specified complexity', a probabilistic filter that allegedly allows one to tell whether an event is so impossible that it requires supernatural explanation, has never demonstrably received peer review, although its description in his popular books (such as No Free Lunch, Rowman & Littlefield, 2001) has come in for withering criticism from actual mathematicians. Plaintiffs' attorneys were eager to take him apart, but Dembski exited the proceedings in a suspicious eleventh-hour dispute about having his own lawyer represent him in deposition.

Dembski defends his impressive qualifications here.

Now, I didn't follow the Dover case much. I was busy writing The Spiritual Brain: A neuroscientist's case for the existence of the soul (as co-author), so I couldn't have followed it even if I was interested. But as it happens, I wasn't interested. American school board fights bore me and historically, they change nothing.

Again, for those interested in what actually happened, there was nothing especially suspicious about Dembski withdrawing. Not only was he justifiably skeptical of the management of the case, but the manuscript for his own textbook, Design of Life was seized during the proceedings. It just wasn't a team he could be on.

I should add, in the interests of full disclosure, that I blog with Dembski (though I didn't back then). I helped Dembski collect a debt re Dover by making a noise about it. I also did some editorial work on Design of Life. But that was one of several jobs I had to quit, due to the demands of The Spiritual Brain. However, I have promised Dembski I'll write the index for Design, and will shortly do so. There, conspiracy freaks - that's plenty enough for you! Go to town on it!

In the end, neither Nature nor the U.S> Supreme Court can make Darwinism do what its proponents claim, though they can prevent productive discussions of the problem for as considerable time. Mike Behe's Edge of Evolution explains why. See my summary of his key arguments here. I have also been regularly updating my post on Stuart Pivar's struggles to get his non-Darwinian evolution theory heard.

Note: Prof. Peter Irons asks me to note that he published an article contra Disco in the same edition of the Montana Law Review. Noted!

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Darwinism and popular culture: Krauss and Dawkins on talking to evil morons (oops, religious people)

Why would Scientific American devote space to Oxford don Richard Dawkins ( The God Delusion) and physicist Lawrence Krauss talking about how to talk to religious people? They could have had philosopher of science Alister McGrath The Dawkins Delusion and paleontologist Simon Conway Morris (Life's Solution) But the latter two, as Christians, would have said something cogent, and Scientific American can't risk that, can it?

Here's a classic excerpt from Dawkins:
Dawkins: I like your clarification of what you mean by reaching out. But let me warn you of how easy it is to be misunderstood. I once wrote in a New York Times book review, “It is absolutely safe to say that if you meet somebody who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid or insane (or wicked, but I’d rather not consider that).” That sentence has been quoted again and again in support of the view that I am a bigoted, intolerant, closed-minded, intemperate ranter. But just look at my sentence. It may not be crafted to seduce, but you, Lawrence, know in your heart that it is a simple and sober statement of fact.

[ ... ]

Krauss: I have to say that I agree completely with you about this. To me, ignorance is often the problem, and, happily, ignorance is most easily addressed. It is not pejorative to suggest that someone is ignorant if they misunderstand scientific issues.

Dawkins: In exchange, I am happy to agree with you that I could, and probably should, have put it more tactfully. I should have reached out more seductively. But there are limits.

You see? In the Dawkins delusion, you can say things that only a bigoted, intolerant, closed-minded, intemperate ranter would say, but if anyone suggests that it is what it sounds like, well they are the ones at fault.

David Rice writes to say,
the first thing that came to mind after reading Krauss say " it seems appropriate to ask what the primary goals of a scientist should be when talking or writing about religion" was 'why should scientists be saying ANYTHING about religion?' But even granting that, why can't religion say anything about science? Well, it can't because the movement of directive discourse is in one direction only. These guys are totally preaching to the choir and this whole piece was anything but fair-minded.

Krauss also said at the end, "I would argue that one should respect religious sensibilities no more or less than any other metaphysical inclinations, but in particular they should not be respected when they are wrong." One then wonders if Krauss' own metaphysics should continue to be respected even if it too is wrong. They've become so arrogant that they don't see the double standard in their arguments which typifies these kind of polemnical writings. Scientists should be ashamed of these guys. Scientific American is clearly endorsing an unassailable metaphysical position with this article.

It sure is. And you can be sure that the editors believe that they are entitled to have their metaphysics imposed on the school system, at taxpayer expense, too. And people wonder why there is an intelligent design controversy!

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Textbook watch: Gems from Miller and Levine

Darwin knew that accepting his theory required believing in philosophical materialism, the conviction that matter is the stuff of all existence and that all mental and spiritual phenomena are its by-products. Darwinian evolution was not only purposeless but also heartless--a process in which the rigors of nature ruthlessly eliminate the unfit. … Suddenly, humanity was reduced to just one more species in a world that cared nothing for us. The great human mind was no more than a mass of evolving neurons. Worst of all, there was no divine plan to guide us.
- Joseph S. Levine and Kenneth R. Miller, Biology: Discovering Life (D.C. Heath and Co.; 1st ed. 1992, pg. 152; 2nd ed. 1994, p. 161.

[E]volution works without either plan or purpose … Evolution is random and undirected.”
- (Biology, by Kenneth R. Miller & Joseph S. Levine (1st ed., Prentice Hall, 1991), pg. 658; (3rd ed., Prentice Hall, 1995), pg. 658; (4th ed., Prentice Hall, 1998), pg. 658)

I have heard Miller claim to be a good Catholic, which is either not possible, or illustrative of how elastic the definition of a good Catholic can be. Or maybe there's a story there? Anyway, jsut so you know, when someone says not to worry about what they would tell your kids about origin, meaning, or purpose in the universe because they are "good Catholics", grab the kid and run, will you?

Update A friend notes,
I just learned that there were not only 4 editions of Miller & Levine's "Elephant" Biology textbook, but in fact there were 5. Apparently
there was a 5th edition published in 2000 which also had the "random and undirected" quote. So here's the new, full citation for the quote:
"[E]volution works without either plan or purpose - Evolution is random and undirected. -

(Biology, by Kenneth R. Miller & Joseph S. Levine: 1st ed., Prentice Hall, 1991, pg. 658; 2nd ed., Prentice Hall, 1993, pg. 658; 3rd ed., Prentice Hall, 1995, pg. 658; 4th ed., Prentice Hall, 1998, pg. 658; 5th ed. Teachers Edition, 2000, pg. 658; emboldened emphasis in original.)

My friend comments, "Yet during the Dover Trial, Miller said it only existed in 1 edition and was promptly removed! If only that were true", and refers me here.

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