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Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Long weekend fix of stories in the ID controversy:

Just before I head for the airport, here is a brief news fix, in case all the other bloggers on this controversy desert you too:

(Note: To get to stories 2 through 5, you must scroll past Blog service note 1, which locates high-traffic stories on this blog.)

1. An Uncommon Dissent forum, featuring scientists who find Darwinism unconvincing, will be held at Palmetto Expo Center, August 4, 5, and 6, in Greenville, South Carolina. The forum features Michael Behe, John A. Campbell, Tom Woodward, and Jonathan Wells. The speakers sound interesting. I would particularly like to hear more about abiogenesis — the origin of life from non-life, as taught by an ocean chemistry specialist.

Life happened somehow, but when I read books on the subject, I have the same reaction as Edward Fitzgerald’s Omar Khayyam had to the two-and-seventy quarrelling sects of Islam:

Myself when young did eagerly frequent
Doctor and Saint, and heard great argument
About it and about: but evermore
Came out by the same door where in I went.

Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam of Naishapur ( XXVII)

Either the relevant evidence is lost forever, or there is something we are missing.

Blog service note 1: Did you come here looking for any of the following stories?
- the Privileged Planet film shown at the Smithsonian, go here for an extended review. Please do not raise cain about an "anti-evolution" film without seeing it. If your doctor forbids you to see the film, in case you get too excited, at least read my detailed log of the actual subjects of the film. If you were one of the people who raised cain, ask yourself why you should continue to believe the people who so misled you about the film's actual content ...

- the actual showing of Privileged Planet at the Smithsonian, go here and here to start, and then this one and this one will bring you up to date.

(The only big news is that, just before the event, the Smithsonian announced that it intended on keeping $5000 of the $16 000 that it claimed in public that it would return to Discovery Institute. So if you are a journalist like me, be among the first to get the numbers right, m'kay?)

- the California Academy of Sciences agreeing to correct potentially libellous statements about attorney Larry Caldwell, who thinks that students should know about weaknesses as well as strengths of Darwinian evolution theory, click on the posted link.

- Bill Dembski threatening to sue the Thomas More Law Center in the Dover, Pennsylvania ID case, click on the posted link and check the current daily post for updates. (Note: In breaking news, this dispute has apparently been settled. See the story for details. )

2. A blog on the big evolution conference in the Galapagos, the Woodstock of Evolution, according to Scientific American may also be worth a look. Contrary to widespread rumor, the photo on the page is not a Darwin look-alike contest, but a learned friend tells me that, if it were, Dennett would win.

3. ID advocate Jonathan Wells was interviewed at a student intelligent design site and made the following comments:

Most research guided by neo-Darwinism is a huge waste of time and money. For example, a large number of scientists, and millions of taxpayer dollars every year, are presently devoted to constructing hypotheses (“phylogenetic trees”) about how specific organisms might be related to each other through common ancestry. The only fruit has been a mish-mash of conflicting speculations that have produced no real benefits. In other words, fascination with neo-Darwinism has diverted precious public resources down a blind alley.

Another expensive but fruitless line of research promoted by neo-Darwinism has been the study of “speciation.” Although evolutionary theory ultimately stands or falls on the proposition that one species can change into another through mutation and selection, this as never been demonstrated. Yet millions of taxpayer dollars every year continue to be poured down this particular black hole.

Dwarfing the resources wasted on phylogenetic trees and speciation have been the public resources devoted to finding the gene for” this or that trait or disease. This approach is encouraged by neo-Darwinism (in which genetic changes are imagined to be the raw materials for evolution), but it has produced no real clinical benefits. For example, it is now known that the underlying cause of cancer is “chromosomal instability,” or damage to extragenic structures - not mutations to individual genes. Although biologists steeped in neo-Darwinism discovered chromosomal instability, they did so NOT by being guided by neo-Darwinism, which had previously focused their attention on genetic mutations alone.
The likely reason the students are interested in Wells’s views is that he published a paper recently in Rivista di Biologia on the centrosome of the cell. Apparently, you can get an English-language copy at this link, if you ask.

4. Interesting pop physics article (no hard math): Do the constants of the universe change with time? Aw, probably not much. But SciAm has been promoting alternate universes for years, to get away from the implications of the fine-tuning of our universe. That, of course, was the basis of the Privileged Planet controversy (see Blog Service Note above for recommended links.). I’m still waiting for the tour bus to the alternate universes that could very easily exist, and prove whatever we would like them too.

5. Quote to ponder: “We must expect changes in the theory in the future. If a theory is taught and learned dogmatically as it stands, without regard to its origins, then it is in danger of becoming fossilized and of being finally an obstacle to further progress. Science, and even quantum mechanics, is not a body of revealed truth to be piously preserved. We must understand what is essential in the theory and what is not, and the best way to reach such understanding is by studying its history.” ––Freeman Dyson

A wise teacher has asked me, how would the statement have been received if the author had said “Darwinian evolution” instead of “quantum mechanics”? Sometimes I think the whole controversy over Darwinian evolution can be boiled down to something a clergyman told me many years ago (in the wake of a stupid church fight over doctrine): “Some doctrines are never doubted until someone tries too hard to defend them, in all the wrong ways.”

Blog service note 2:

Because I will be on vacation from blogging for a few days, I have disabled comments. I will reenable then when I get back. Anyone who wishes to start an Internet rumor that 1) this blog no longer accepts comments, ever, or 2) I have abandoned blogging/disappeared/died can start at any time and publicize it as widely as they wish. To avoid wasting electrons, do provide a correct URL, however. - Denyse

If you like this blog, check out my book on the intelligent design controversy, By Design or by Chance?. You can read excerpts as well.

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