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Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Dover Pennsylvania intelligent design trial: Some links you might find helpful

Evolution News and Views provides day-to-day coverage from people sympathetic to intelligent design who are actually there or very familiar with the issues.

Even if you are not sympathetic to intelligent design, you would be much better off listening to them than to a TV reporter who has had about half an hour to “learn about the issues” AND figure out how to upload Scopes trial graphics from 1925 at the same time.

Here’s the statement that students were supposed to hear, according to the Dover school board. I don’t think most students will know what to make of it, so I can’t see why this is happening at the school level. Like many people who follow this controversy, I am much more concerned about censorship at the university level.

Readers who insist that there is not positive case for design may also be interested in A Positive Case for Design.

Other takes:

- The Darwin lobby weighs in.

- Local paper online group Lancaster Online captures local reactions.

On the whole, you are better off to go to the design lobby and to the Darwin lobby, above, for news, rather than to typical mainstream media.

Thre are a few honourable exceptions, but much as it pains me, as a journalist, to say it, I do not have a good feeling about the ability of most legacy media organizations to cover the story. It took me three years to clearly understand what the controversy is about. Sure, many people in the media are way smarter than me, but they are not going to get there just by listening to cranks, conspirazoids, hysterics, ward heelers, witch hunters, flacks, and lobbyists. My book, By Design or by Chance?, flogged at the very bottom of this page, cites something like 77 other books (according to some unhappy person whose job it was to count). I wouldn't have put two and one half years into doing all that research and boiling it down into an easy read if the answers were obvious and easily found in an afternoon.

Science essays of note: Bacterial geneticist Shapiro on why Darwinism is not the answer

This essay in the Boston Review, first published in 1997, seems eerily prescient now:

... current knowledge of genetic change is fundamentally at variance with neo-Darwinist postulates. We have progressed from the Constant Genome, subject only to random, localized changes at a more or less constant mutation rate, to the Fluid Genome, subject to episodic, massive and non-random reorganizations capable of producing new functional architectures. Inevitably, such a profound advance in awareness of genetic capabilities will dramatically alter our understanding of the evolutionary process. Nonetheless, neo-Darwinist writers like Dawkins continue to ignore or trivialize the new knowledge and insist on gradualism as the only path for evolutionary change.

The whole essay captures very well the issues in interpreting the history of life that have come to the fore, despite all attempts to obfuscate them.

British historian Paul Johnson predicts Darwinism’s fall

In an article in the London Spectator (August 27, 2005), British historian Paul Johnson brands British Darwinist Richard Dawkins the "ayatollah of atheism". Johnson writes,

The likelihood that Darwin’s eventual debacle will be sensational and brutal is increased by the arrogance of his acolytes, by their insistence on the unchallengeable truth or the theory of natural selection – which to them is not a hypothesis but a demonstrated fact, and its critics mere flat-earthers – and by their success in occupying the commanding heights in the university science departments and the scientific journals, denying a hearing to anyone who disagrees with them. I detect a groundswell of discontent at this intellectual totalitarianism, so unscientific by its very nature. It is wrong that any debate, especially one on so momentous a subject as the origin of species, and the human race above all, should be arbitrarily declared to be closed, and the current orthodoxy set in granite for all time. Such a position is not tenable, and the evidence that it is crumbling is growing.

This is one of the best articles I have read for capturing the mood of the intelligent design community, the sense that bloviating boffins may convince people new to the controvers - but the more you know, the less you believe, and that disbelief will only grow.

In particular, Johnson mentions a current critique by Rutgers University philosopher Jerry Fodor of the least believable of all the efforts to prop up Darwinism, "evolutionary psychology" — the belief that current events can be best understood by a trip back to the Old Stone Age.

I am a post-Darwinist rather than a Darwinist, but if I were advising Darwinists, I would tell them: CUT that rotting branch pronto, before your whole tree is condemned by City Forestry! But of course, they won’t listen, so they are probably doomed. (Shrug. Yawn. I wonder what the history of life really looks like, after the fog clears.)

Fodor says, among other things,
The canonical Evolutionary Psychology literature contains a number of ideas about how a creature’s behaviour might be explained by attributions of motives that it doesn't have. I confess that they seem to me to be simply bizarre. Daniel C. Dennett suggests that, if Jones's behaviour is an adaptation, then it's (not Jones but) "Mother Nature" who is concerned about his contribution to the gene pool. But you might as well blame the Easter Bunny. There isn't any Mother Nature; and if unattached motives can't explain behaviour, neither can the concerns of fictitious persons. Richard Dawkins suggests that, if Jones's behaviour is an adaptation, then it must be (not Jones but) Jones's "selfish genes" that wish to maximize reproductive success. Steven Pinker seems to have swallowed Dawkins whole.

"Dawkins explained the theory . . . . People don't selfishly spread their genes, genes selfishly spread themselves. They do it by the way they build our brains . . . . Our goals are subgoals of the ultimate goal of the genes, replicating themselves . . . . The confusion between our goals and our genes' goals has spawned one muddle after another."

It has indeed.

It could be worse. To give you some idea of the kind of rot that infests evolutionary psychology, last Sunday I sent up a completely ridiculous evo psycho puff piece in National Geographic News in which some worthy loon chose to hold forth on the relationship between Canada and the United States, in terms of evolutionary psychology.

It seemed to have eluded the quotable southern loon that Canada and the United States are both nation states, not tribes. As the eminent political philosopher, Hannah Arendt (1906-1975) would point out, had she lived so long, there is nothing for genetics to do in understanding the current relationship between two nation states because they are specifically defined by territory and style of government, and not by inherited characteristics of their populations. So evo psycho is completely irrelevant, and any educated person should realize that.

Yes, yes, sweetie hoo, we all descend from the Old Stone Age, but they didn't have nation states back then. So it is unlikely that anyone from back then could advise or influence the ways in which Canada and the United States manage their relationship. I humbly suggest that you would even have difficulty explaining it to them.

Another cartoon on the intelligent design controversy:

Here's another Chuck Asay cartoon, lampooning the media in the ID controversy. Chuck shows a sophistication rare among cartoonists here, as he highlights the way in which media tend to hone in on the bizarre and miss the significant.

I certainly know what Asay means. Just recently, I have been fielding calls from Canadian media about the lawsuit in Dover, Pennsylvania (which I will get around to addressing if my inbox does not explode first). One and all, they seem to want to hear that gangs of weirdoes are marching down from the North Woods. Seem so disappointed when I tell them no.

Aw, don't worry, fellow hacks. Your hot patooties are SAFE. Honest. Order yourself another frappachingo (frappachatte? frappalatte? frappadammitall? Personally, I'd rather have a coffee, but hey ... )

Yeah, lots of people think there is good evidence that the universe and life forms show intelligent design. They're not happy when educational systems promote the opposite view. They're also not happy with paying taxes to support institutions that persecute scientists who are willing to research or even be fair to the idea.

Whatsamatter with them? Why don't they just bring their tax dollars humbly and obediently any more? Didn't used to be so uppity.

Intelligent design and popular culture:

Bill Dembski, the unofficial leader of the ID pack and, sometimes, bad boy, has introduced a computer game that bops ugly mechanical pandas, clearly a swipe at the anti-ID Panda's Thumb blog. (If you click on it, you may not be able to get back using the Back Browser button.) I think Panda-monium is a hoot, and I fully expect that the Thumbsmen will reply with a game of their own, maybe scrubbing bacteria, for example, given that the bacterial flagellum is the unofficial logo of the ID community. Dembski offers the rankings for bopping pandoids as well.
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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