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Wednesday, May 11, 2005

New York State legislator wants schools to teach intelligent design of life forms?

AN ACT to amend the education law, in relation to requiring study in both theories of intelligent design and evolution


1. All pupils in grades kindergarten through twelve in all public schools in the state shall receive instruction in both theories of intelligent design and evolution. Such instruction shall be provided by or under the direct supervision of regular classroom teachers, provided, however, that such instruction may be provided by any other agency, public or private.

2. The commissioner, shall provide technical assistance to assist in the development of curricula for such courses of study which shall be age appropriate and developed according to the needs and abilities of pupils at successive grade levels in order to provide information in both theories of intelligent design and evolution.

Much as I have no use for Darwinism, I don't really think this is a good idea.

I sense where the legislator is coming from, of course. He does NOT want New York State pupils drilled in the idea that a pond full of amoebas can become the French Academy (in George Bernard Shaw’s memorable image) due to time and chance alone.

Fair enough, but surely we can back away from Darwinism without requiring tots to learn about intelligent design theory when it is only getting off the ground.

Find out more about what intelligent design theory can and can’t do right now from my book By Design or by Chance?


Earth is a very special planet

Is the Earth just “Nowheresville”? Check out some of the planets in other solar systems in our galaxy? (Planets that orbit stars other than our sun. )

BALTIMORE - Of the more than 130 planets found around distant stars, a large number have highly elliptical orbits, crazy oblong shapes that have surprised theorists who try to explain the configurations with near collisions or perturbing disks of gas.

An elliptic orbit is characterized by the eccentricity, which is how much a planet’s distance from its star varies as it carves out a year. Most of the planets in our solar system have relatively low eccentricities, less than about 5 percent (tiny Pluto being a notable exception and considered not really a planet by some astronomers).

By contrast, the average eccentricity of extrasolar planets is about 25 percent. And these are not Plutos. They are typically more massive than Jupiter.

Eccentricity is bad for a planet because it leads to summers that are hotter than the boiling point of water and winters that are 100 degrees below zero. Many life forms, including me, could not stand that.
Our solar system is apparently an exception, not a rule, and earth is very unusual. Contrary to the Principle of Mediocrity (we must assume we are not special), we are actually very lucky.

Learn more about my book By Design or by Chance?

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Further thoughts on the Ruse vs. Dembski confrontation on Nightline on Monday night:

Regarding the confrontation on ABC's Nightline between Darwinist philosopher Michael Ruse and ID apologist Bill Dembski:

One person on a private list commented as follows, picking up on Ruse's worry about being sent to a concentration camp, if ID appears plausible:

Frankly, I am concerned too. I have seen evangelicals lust for power over the past 15 years. Now we got it. I think this is polluting the gospel. I think it is a very serious and scholarly question, and I think only the best, most cautious, and humbly motivated theological perspective will enable us to balance political power and gospel influence. And even if we have that, greedy, sinful, rotten, power mongering men will ruin it. Separation of church and state protects the gospel.

How does this relate to ID? Simply put, power will corrupt it too. What are we doing to protect ourselves from the negative influences of power? Let us not think for a moment that we are above this. Since Ruse raised the question, we should ask if ID wins the day, what are we going to do to to protect it from the kind of abuses that Darwinism shows us? Are we going to simply trade places with the Darwinist abusers? What checks and balances do we have? Are we free from a political agenda to carry out research and follow the facts?

I replied to him,

I don't worry much about stuff like that, but then I live in Canada where the government has told one of my fellow parishioners that it cannot guarantee that religious freedom will be respected, if religious people continue to oppose gay marriage. Incidentally, the Canadian government was technically defeated last night in a free vote in the House of Commons, but ignores that and clings to power anyway. Most Canadians are so terrified of traditional Christians that they would vote for anyone and anything, and condone any wrongdoing by government - no matter how unjust or shameful - as an alternative. And the oddest part of all is that nothing has actually happened in Canada that explains this prejudice in rational terms. There is no rational explanation, so stop looking for one. (There are explanations, but they do not involve rational thought or behaviour.)

Okay, now, re the main action, Dembski vs. Ruse: I predicted a few weeks ago that the Darwinists would fundamentally change their strategy and go for the emotional appeal. That is essentially what Ruse was doing on ABC's Nightline.

One particularly clever ploy was to for Ruse to say that Dembski would himself be swept away by the rising tide of right-wing Christian hate.

This worked visually because Bill looks like a nice young fellow who has no idea which direction a Nazi swastika should face or whether one should pile into Ku Klux Klan robes from the top or the bottom.

I suspect that many people will buy Ruse's approach. "Bill may be okay, but look what comes after him," they will say.

The beauty of Ruse's approach is that it is truly content-free. Ruse does not need to offer any evidence that there is a rising tide of right-wing Christian hate or even that students who are allowed to know that some scientists question Darwinism will be changed in any way as a result. (It's been legal in Ontario for years and nothing much has happened, except a complete absence of Kansas-style controversy, which suits us Ontarians fine.)

All Ruse needs to do is create fear of the Rising Tide. Many people are chronically afraid of that kind of thing, and the less they know, the more afraid they are. So the fewer details Ruse gives, the more effective his strategy is. He just has to sound portentous and convincing. Neat.

Dembski correctly pointed out that the people who are out to get him include many Christians who think the Earth is only some thousands of years old, so Dembski is as big a heretic as Darwin (or more so as he claims to be a Christian)

By the way, the Rising Tide (or somebody) also tried to get rid of Dembski at Baylor, a Christian university. But those people were not promoting a six-thousand-year old earth. They just didn't like the idea that the universe and life forms show actual evidence of intelligent design. So it turns out that the Rising Tide runs in no one particular direction on this issue, but Dembski bobs like a cork.

So maybe there is something in ID after all? Must be.

To find out more about my book, go to By Design or by Chance?

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