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Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Recent events in the intelligent design controversy - 2

The inbox still feels like a raging torrent. I am tempted to unload the whole whack on the next person who alleges that the intelligent design controversy is somehow dying down. But I might be charged with a criminal offense if their system crashes or something. Anyway, here's a few more snippets:

■ It's nice to see that David Stove's Darwinian Fairytales is back in print, and that another writer, Judith Reisman, had as much fun reading it as I did. Stove was an atheist gifted with common sense, and the ability to see through the nonsense that attempted to attribute human behaviour to "selfish genes." She quotes some stuff I didn't.

■ Did someone mention selfish genes? "Both sides find value in creation", we are told, in a Richmond Times-Dispatch item featuring a meeting where sociobiologist E.O. Wilson read from his works (on why everything Christians believe about the spiritual nature of the human is wrong) and urged local Christians to work with "scientists" to save the planet. Saving the planet is a clever idea, especially insofar as we cannot pull down another one from the shelf. BUT - when it comes to these kinds of feel-good events, I still do not know why people fall for them - if anyone really did. The problem is that E.O. Wilson is hardly the best person to be fronting a cause that unites "Christians" with "science". This is someone who explains away Christian values as merely ways that selfish genes survive, and makes clear his scorn for their beliefs generally. If columnist Walter Witschey, who directs the Science Museum of Virginia, really honestly cannot find anyone to talk to Christians who has more in common with them than Wilson does, it is no wonder the Christians have no time for whatever values he is fronting. They would be fools to pay him any attention. It used to be that when people wanted to lie to Christians, they had to at least do something plausible.

■ Someone pointed out to me recently the following paper:
Intelligent Design and Probability Reasoning
AUTHOR: Sober,-Elliott
SOURCE: International-Journal-for-Philosophy-of-Religion. O 02; 52(2):
65-80 JOURNAL TITLE: International-Journal-for-Philosophy-of-Religion
INTERNATIONAL STANDARD SERIAL NUMBER: 0020-7047
ABSTRACT: This paper defends two theses about probabilistic reasoning. First, there is no probabilistic modus tollens. Second, the evidence relation is essentially comparative. These points have serious consequences for the intelligent design movement. Even if evolutionary theory entailed that various complex adaptations are very improbable, that would neither disconfirm the theory nor support the hypothesis of intelligent design. For either of these
conclusions to follow, an additional question must be answered: With respect to the adaptive features that evolutionary theory allegedly says are very improbable, what is their probability of arising if they were produced by intelligent design? This crucial question has not been addressed by the ID movement.
DESCRIPTORS: DESIGN-; EPISTEMOLOGY-; EVOLUTIONARY-THEORY;
INTELLIGENCE-; PROBABILITY-

Now the author is no fan of ID but the paper demonstrates, according to my correspondent, the extent to which ID is a serious topic in the philosophy of science literature, if only because some need to try to put out the fire.

■ According to Syracuse U philanthropy expert Arthur C. Brooks, conservatives are more generous than liberals.
The child of academics, raised in a liberal household and educated in the liberal arts, Brooks has written a book that concludes religious conservatives donate far more money than secular liberals to all sorts of charitable activities, irrespective of income.

In the book, he cites extensive data analysis to demonstrate that values advocated by conservatives -- from church attendance and two-parent families to the Protestant work ethic and a distaste for government-funded social services -- make conservatives more generous than liberals.

An ID advocate friend suggests that that explains why conservatives are more likely to privately fund ID. Well, yes, but it also explains why conservatives are more likely to privately fund anything they can believe in.

These findings surprised many people, but they make complete sense to me: If you honestly believe that you and everyone else is a victim and that only big government can rescue you, why should you save money individually to give it to other individuals to help change the bad things in life? If you honestly believe that you can make a difference and therefore that other individuals can make a difference - well you had ruddy well better throw in a few bucks when the hat goes round. Surely, it's just a case of people living out the values they really believe in.

■ Here’s an interesting second edition of a book about "superior beings": Superior Beings: If They Exist, How Would We Know? Game-Theoretic Implications of Omnipotence, Omniscience, Immortality, and Incomprehensibility by Steven Brams, 2nd ed., 2007, Springer. Apparently,
This book examines theology and the idea of a superior being in the context of game theory. The central question posed in this book is: If there existed a superior being who possessed the supernatural qualities of omniscience, omnipotence, immortality, and incomprehensibility, how would he/she act differently from us?

The mathematical theory of games is used to define each of these qualities, and different assumptions about the rules of play in several theological games that might be played between ordinary human beings and superior beings like God are posited. Written for: Philosophers, game theorists, general popular reference

The view from O'Leary: Superior beings are easy to identify. They always return library books on time and never put broken crockery in the glass/tin recycle boxes.

■ I’m told Michael Ruse told Playboy magazine that
I think intelligent-design theory and its companions are nasty, cramping, soul-destroying reversions to the more unfortunate aspects of 19th century America. Although I am not a Christian, I look on these ideas as putrid scabs on the body of a great religion. … But if you are going to fight moral evil—and creationism in its various forms is a moral evil—you need to understand what you are fighting and why.

Strange sort of talk coming from someone who thinks that morality in an illusion fobbed off on us by our genes, that evolved to help our ancestors survive. Except where something that bothers him is concerned, I guess.

My other blog is the Mindful Hack, which keeps tabs on neuroscience and the mind.

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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