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Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Darwinism and high culture: "Exactly why we do things this way is never a question that is asked"

Commenting on the fact that scientists are typically poorly trained in philosophy of science, one friend remarks,
As a Ph.D. student in biology I was actively discouraged from taking courses in philosophy -- or, for that matter, any courses outside my department, including evolution. My adviser's attitude was that I should focus exclusively on my own specialty.
This wouldn't be a problem except that folklore counts for wisdom among the ignorant. You know, "Europeans in Columbus's day believed the Earth was flat," and all that stuff is retailed as if it were fact.

Probe's Ray Bohlin, pictured here, who has a degree in molecular biology, writes to tell me
I have been saying for years that most of our science PhDs, especially in biology of which I am one, are little more than highly trained technicians. We know how to design an experiment, interpret the results and figure out what the next step is.

Exactly why we do things this way is never a question that is asked. My mind was only trained to design experiments and interpret results. What philosophy I have learned has come from my own amateur study. But I understand far more than just about any evolutionary biologist I have ever had a conversation with. And that's pretty scary. It's also why we don't make much headway in this ID/evolution conversation. Most evolutionists really believe they are interpreting the evidence objectively with no or little bias. They literally can't see the forest for the trees. They see the details but not the bigger picture.

In the DI
podcast I was featured in a few weeks ago I elated how over two years my evolutionary biologist supervisor eventually was able to see the data from my perspective and could see how it could fit together for me. He still thought I was wrong, but he could see my view. Several years later he told me as an aside that all the data coming from cell biology as making it harder and harder to see how all that could have come about by chance (around 1984). I believe the reason was because he could now compare and contrast two different philosophical grids when interpreting new data.

Suddenly he could see that some things would be better explained through my lens and not his. Before he only had a naturalistic grid. Everything had to fit. Once another grid was available, even though he thought it was in error, a comparison could now be made.

But it took two years of close contact and working together.
Wow. You are lucky you weren't bounced from the program, Ray, for interpreting data as if evidence mattered, instead of just shoring up the theory.

I wonder if a person in your position would be as safe today. The word I hear on the street is no.

I don't think anything will change in some places until they run out of sand to bury their heads in.

Find out why there is an intelligent design controversy:

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Startling idea for a debate: Evidence really matters ...

The Great Debate: Intelligent Design and the Existence of God will be held November 7-8 in Fort Worth, Texas (here). I wouldn't really care except that the people who are debating are not who you might think ...

Here's the basic idea:

.... four world renowned participants who will address this significant issue from different viewpoints; specifically, a Pro-Intelligent Design Theist and Atheist, and an Anti-Intelligent Design Theist and Atheist.
Remember that born-again physics nerd with the weird haircut versus that atheist religion prof with the vasectomy tie? Well, forget them.

Here's the lineup:

Faraday Institute head Denis Alexander - he believes in God but not in design in the universe

Mathematician David Berlinski - he doesn't believe in God but entertains the idea of design in the universe

Physicist Lawrence Krauss - he doesn't believe in God or design

Philosopher Bradley Monton (From his site: "One of his main research areas nowadays involves science-based arguments for the existence of God.")

(The first three are pictured in order above. )

I'm glad someone had the wit to see that questions about whether God - the Western monotheistic God - exists are different from questions about whether patterns in nature, like the fine tuning of the universe, are best interpreted as evidence of design.

Of course some advocates have a massive interest in confusing these two questions, but they are actually separate.

Here are the venues:

Friday November 7, 2008
7:00 – 10:00 p.m.
Will Rogers Auditorium
3401 W. Lancaster Ave.
Fort Worth, Texas
Tickets: $10 Adults; $5 Students

with follow up the next morning
Saturday November 8, 2008
9:30 – 11:30 a.m.
St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church
917 Lamar St., Fort Worth, Texas
Tickets: FREE
I certainly hope this morphs into an online video.

Find out why there is an intelligent design controversy:

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Intellectual freedom in Canada: Post-modernism the key threat?

Recently, a few of us were discussing the angry tone of new atheist works - short on ideas, long on resentment. A friend, Rob Sheldon, writes to say,
I think the 20th century was all about rationalism and modernism, the 21st century seems to be shaping up post-modernist and irrational.
He notes that, like me, he enjoyed Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascism, but recalls that historical fascism (for example, Hitler and Stalin) relied upon materialism and rationalism for their anti-God propaganda. However, he writes, post–modern philosophy is not only anti-God, it is anti-rational :
I've blogged extensively on PoMo, and concluded it is essentially polytheistic. This is the phrase Paul Johnson uses to describe the multiple absolutes of feminism, eco-terrorism, abortion rights, gay rights, etc. And in polytheism, rationality is not a virtue (for it would suggest there was a single absolute that ruled all nature). So what replaces rationality?

Peter Woods explained it in an essay
"A Bee in the Mouth", as "authenticating anger". What Dawkins and Dennett and Hitchens and Harris all have is "authenticity". That's why they are rock stars.
Very interesting. I believe Rob is on to something here.

Modernism took root in the monotheistic societies of the West, and thus it inherited the passion for order, system, and method that drove, for example, Thomas Aquinas's Summa or Dante's Divine Comedy. Given a reliable source of mechanical power, one can, of course, apply the same passion to a factory as to a work of theology or literature - et voila! modern technology.

But things were not always this way in the West. The classical tales about the gods of Greek and Roman mythology from thousands of years ago were heavily edited by later, monotheistic storytellers, so that they would "work" as stories. Compare the modernized versions with, say, the meltdown of mess described in the Meridian handbook to classical mythology. Every village had its own gods, its own passions, and its own narratives. Order, system, and method were not even goals in those days.

Modernists certainly persecuted people by the millions in the twentieth century. But one could predict the direction from which their persecution would come. For example, the modernist might be convinced that "miracles never occur" so the Catholic Church (which requires an authenticated miracle before declaring a saint) is high on the modernist's hit list.

But in a post-modernist age, authenticating anger is the key criterion. So one never knows for sure from what direction the persecution will come. It could be animal rights, women's rights, gay rights, ethnic pride - there is no longer a single coherent narrative, just a bunch of angry people who want the government to fix their perceived enemies.

Peter Vere, who - as Kathy Shaidle's co-author - has just released The Tyranny of Nice, makes clear where this leads:
In the name of nice, Canada’s government is silencing Christians and pro-lifers from voicing opinions that others might find offensive. This prohibition applies even when one’s opinion is grounded in Christian truth and charity. Stating that the child in the womb is a human being is one such opinion being floated as potentially hateful. And now that Canadian law has redefined marriage to include same-sex couplings, to state publicly that marriage is between a man and a woman can lead to thousands of dollars in fines and possible jail sentences.
Note that the modernist state did not actually persecute Christians for differing with other citizens on abortion. But then the modernist state had a coherent political narrative that permitted tolerance.

The post-modernist state has masses of grievance groups, anxious to target anyone who gives them anxiety.

This is indeed somewhat like polytheism. With no organized theology, polytheists had no way of knowing whether they might have unwittingly offended a god. We post-modernists have no way of knowing if we have offended a grievance group. I say, with Ezra Levant, Fire. Them. All.

Meanwhile, here is Achmed the Dead Terrorist, explaining his own gripes and grievances:

Being dead is evidently a bummer. My favourite line: "You don't have an ass any more, you fool!"

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