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Monday, September 19, 2005

Thirty-eight Nobel laureates oppose critical thinking about Darwin’s theory

TheNobel laureates say pretty much what you might expect, about Darwin's theory being "indispensable," which of course it isn't — any more than Freud's theories were indispensable — but, what is interesting is that the linked Kansas Lawrence Herald article notes, about intelligent design,

That increasingly popular theory argues that some features of the natural world are best explained as having an intelligent cause because they are well-ordered and complex. Its followers attack Darwin's evolutionary theory, which says natural chemical processes could have created the basic building blocks of life on Earth, that all life had a common ancestor and that man and apes shared a common ancestor.
I have got so used to media bloopers on intelligent design that I have to rejoice at this, acknowledging that one out of three isn't bad.

YES, the intelligent design hypothesis argues that "some features of the natural world are best explained as having an intelligent cause because they are well-ordered and complex."

NO, Darwin's theory does NOT say that "natural chemical processes could have created the basic building blocks of life on Earth." Darwin was too smart to commit himself to anything as ambitious as an origin-of-life theory. He was only attempting to write, as the title of his key work indicates, On the Origin of Species. It was left to later researchers to reach a complete impasse on the origin of life.

NO, intelligent design theory does NOT entail rejection of common ancestry. In the context of ID, common ancestry stands or falls on its explanatory merits. Darwinism absolutely requirescommon ancestry because the possibility of design does not exist. ID does not require it because the design is considered an alternative (not a requirement, but an alternative). As a result, ID proponents differ from one another on the subject of common ancestry.

Anyway, hats off to the Lawrence Herald for getting at least one point right. Now let's work on some of the others ones, so we can have a real discussion.

As for the Nobel laureates, it is hard to believe that they would put their collective foot in their mouths by writing this:

Logically derived from confirmable evidence, evolution is understood to be the result of an unguided, unplanned process of random variation and natural selection.

but that's exactly what they did. (Note: If you click the link, you might not be able to use your back browser button to return.)

How do they know that the process is "unguided" and "unplanned"? They don't. It is merely a religious (well, anti-religious) assumption that they intend to impose on the school board. Even if no one believes it but them.

The good news is that, by writing this, they are helping to clarify what is really happening in Kansas. The school board is trying to get THAT stuff out of the system.

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Faith means “belief without supporting evidence”?

Because I must now read a bunch of books full of flimflam dressed up as science that attempt to explain (= explain away) religious belief, I will likely be posting a fair number of stories on the subject in the next few weeks, as they mess up my windshield like so many prairie grasshoppers. Here’s one from when the snow was still flying fast in Toronto earlier this year. Ian Sample reports of foolish attempts to use neuroscience to explain or explain away religion, and immediately puts his foot in the soup by announcing that

Faith has long been a puzzle for science, and it's no surprise why. By definition, faith demands belief without a need for supporting evidence, a concept that could not be more opposed to the principles of scientific inquiry. In the eyes of the scientist, an absence of evidence reduces belief to a hunch. It places the assumptions at the heart of many religions on the rockiest of ground.

Well, of course, if you start out thinking that faith means "belief without a need for supporting evidence," it will certainly remain a puzzle. In By Design or by Chance?, I used the following definitions of faith, which seemed to conform to observation and experience pretty accurately:
Faith means belief in something concerning which doubt is theoretically possible.
- William James

Faith means intense, usually confident, belief that is not based on evidence sufficient to command assent from every reasonable person. - Walter Kaufmann

Most science propositions are not held on any better evidence than that, and statements to the contrary are wishful thinking.

To me, trying to explain away religion is like trying to explain away “government” or "relationships." The word "religion" is a generalization for a vast variety of activities that no doubt have individual explanations, but the category itself cannot have a single explanation, or a simple one. The book of which I am the co-author, with neuroscientist Mario Beauregard will shed light on this question.

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What? You don’t believe in Darwin?

Well, if you don't believe in Darwin fandom, don't read this piece, in which Pulitzer Prize journo John Darnton writes,

Some years back, I was given a tour of Down House, Charles Darwin's country estate, and allowed to sit in the special chair in which he wrote "The Origin of Species" and other revolutionary works. The chair was one he had devised himself: High-backed, stuffed with horsehair, it had casters attached so that he could scoot around his study to reach his books, his working table and his microscope. He had fashioned a cloth-covered board to fit over the arms as a writing surface.

Once ensconced there, with the board lowered in place, I felt an indescribable thrill, like a child settling into the swing at a country fair when the bar descends to lock him in place. What a giddy ride Mr. Darwin has given us!

To listen to Darnton, you would think that Darwin was some kind of saint, and all his troubles came from the cruelty of the world around him. Historically, that's all bosh, of course, as such claims always are, when made about major historical figures. (If a child is killed by a drunk driver at five years old, maybe we can make that claim, but not otherwise.)

Interestingly, having treated Darwin as a sort of victim of his times in this article, Darnton is about to publish/has just published a novel, which promises to "reveal the secrets" of Darwin. According to a reviewer at Amazon, "this grandly ambitious novel goes a few steps further to intimate that he was a fraud—and a murderer." That's more than a few steps, in my view; it'll be interesting to see the reaction of those, like Dawkins, for whom Darwinism made it intellectually fulfilling to be an atheist.

This stage is not so surprising, really. As Darwinism slowly dies as a theory for understanding life, its founder is gradually being transformed into a folk figure, like Freud or Che Guevara—all the more recognizable — and a suitable subject for pure fiction — as he becomes more irrelevant.

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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