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Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Chill out moment: Intelligent design really coming to Canada?

First, here's the Eric Pianka (ebola will claim 90 percent of us) story, and also go here and here. That's all I have blogged so far, but it is a fair whack. I will post the transcript of Dr. Pianka's remarks as soon as I have it.

Now I want to talk about something else for a minute:

Brian Alters, director of of McGill University’s Evolution Education Research Centre, is disgruntled because he was denied $40 000 in Canadian Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Funds on account of allegedly assuming “evolution to be scientific fact.”

He is "shocked," according to the Ottawa Citizen, and wants the public to believe that his misfortune means that intelligent design is gaining a foothold in Canada..

I am sure that all the appropriate people will be equally shocked or pseudo-shocked, or realize that they must act shocked.

First, let me say that - as a longtime starving hack - I am sympathetic to anyone whose application for funds has been turned down. I would buy Alters a beer in a heartbeat. Or three. And never miss the change.

BUT, here’s the problem: I have been covering the intelligent design controversy for years. It's currently my major regular beat. I correctly predicted in 2002 that it would be big news by 2005, hence my book, By Design or by Chance?. I know my own country, Canada, pretty well, and have written three chapters for a textbook of Canadian history (covering 1945-1969). So my approach to the situation is somewhat different from that of the Ottawa Citizen reporter.

Here was the reason given for turning down the grant:

The committee found that the candidates were qualified. However, it judged the proposal did not adequately substantiate the premise that the popularizing of Intelligent Design Theory had detrimental effects on Canadian students, teachers, parents and policymakers. Nor did the committee consider that there was adequate justification for the assumption in the proposal that the theory of Evolution, and not Intelligent Design theory, was correct. It was not convinced, therefore, that research based on these assumptions would yield objective results. In addition, the committee found that the research plans were insufficiently elaborated to allow for an informed evaluation of their merit. In view of its reservations the committee recommended that no award be made.

I recall that Brian Alters made a rather silly presentation at the 4th World Science Journalists' Conference in Montreal in October 2004, wasting our time by ridiculing creationism museums.

At the time, I was somewhat amused by it. I had driven in from Toronto to present a poster session on the REAL intelligent design controversy - which does not involve creationist museums - but rather the fact that science has never really confirmed the no-design/no-meaning/no-purpose view of the world abundantly promoted in science classes under the rubric of Darwinism, and all the evidence is against it.

I have no interest in creationism as such, and would not have been concerned about Darwinism if I had not learned for myself all the nonsense talked in support of it - which is why I wrote By Design or by Chance?. I had my nose rubbed in Darwinism then and since. So have a lot of other people. That is the real intelligent design controversy.

If SSRC changes its collective mind and decides to shovel $40 000 to Brian Alters to pretend that the controversy is a big deal in Canada, well, I can think of WAY bigger government boondoggles, some going through the courts at present, so don't confuse me with someone who much cares. I just want to set the record straight.

Now here is the decision again, with my interpolations:

The committee found that the candidates were qualified. However, it judged the proposal did not adequately substantiate the premise that the popularizing of Intelligent Design Theory had detrimental effects on Canadian students, teachers, parents and policymakers.

[Well, that was the main problem, really, wasn't it? Alters did not demonstrate his thesis. Probably because he has no evidence that there IS any detrimental effect in Canada.]

Nor did the committee consider that there was adequate justification for the assumption in the proposal that the theory of Evolution, and not Intelligent Design theory, was correct.

[It probably never occurred to Alters that SSHRC would want evidence instead of assertions. Look, it's taxpayers' money. They DO have rules.]

It was not convinced, therefore, that research based on these assumptions would yield objective results.

[Translation: ID is not a big cultural issue in Canada right now, so another paper bashing it - whose only merit is that a McGill guy wrote it - is a waste of SSHRC funds. Quite apart from the fact that Alter is anything but an objective witness, it's not even clear what he is a witness to. ]

In addition, the committee found that the research plans were insufficiently elaborated to allow for an informed evaluation of their merit. In view of its reservations the committee recommended that no award be made."

[One problem may be that (see above) ID is not a big cultural issue in Canada, and maybe never will be. To understand why not, it helps to know a little bit about Canada.]

Lots of media people have phoned me up to ask about whether ID is controversial in Canada, and I usually tell them:

1. Here in Canada we do not hear huge public noise about separation of church and state. Our constitution allows tax-supported Catholic schools, and some provinces have limited funding of other religious schools, but it's not much of an issue.

2. We have no equivalent of the ACLU or Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

3. There also isn't a Religious Right of any significance.

4. Local school boards don't tend to engage in Dover-style antics.

So what's to study? If Alters knows where something big is happening in Canada that concerns the public in general, I sure hope he'll tip me off. He would have been wise to start by tipping SSHRC off at least.

Look, Canada is the kind of place where gays can marry each other and Catholics can start each day with the Hail Mary in tax supported schools if they want to. That's just how things are here. Everyone here finds something to hate. Not everyone expects to be paid for it.

Are you looking for one of the following stories?

A summary of recent polls of US public opinion on the ID controversy

An ID Timeline: The ID folk seem always to win when they lose.

O’Leary’s comments on Francis Beckwith, a Dembski associate, being denied tenure at Baylor.

Why origin of life is such a difficult problem.

The Pope using the term "intelligent design" to describe the Catholic view of origins, go here.

Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams attacked by Darwinist, hits back. Will he now cartoon on the subject?

"Academic Freedom Watch : Here's the real, ugly story behind the claim that 'intelligent design isn't science'?".

Roseville, California, lawyer Larry Caldwell is suing over the use of tax money by Darwin lobby groups to promote religious views that accept Darwinian evolution (as opposed to ones that don’t). I’m pegging this one as the next big story. See also the ruling on tax funds. Note the line that the “free speech” people take.
How to freak out your bio prof? What happened when a student bypassed the usual route of getting frogs drunk and dropping them down the chancellor’s robes, and tried questioning Darwinism instead.

Christoph, Cardinal Schonbon is not backing down from his contention that Darwinism is incompatible with Catholic faith, and Pope Benedict XVI probably thinks that’s just fine. Major US media have been trying to reach rewrite for months, with no success.

Museum tour guides to be trained to "respond" to those who question Darwinism. Read this item for an example of what at least one museum hopes to have them say.

World class chemist dissed at Catholic university because he sympathizes with intelligent design.
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