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Thursday, December 28, 2006

Recent events in the intelligent design controversy - 4

(Note: I am trying a new method of updating this through the day as I get a chance.)

■ A friend has advised me that I could respond to this challenge from Larry Moran if I am interested in swimming through a swamp. I seem to remember evo bio Larry Moran from the Toronto ID conference ... Yeah really. Nada da swamp, thanx.

Basically, Moran wants to know what I make of most Canadians' and Europeans' support for Darwinism. Briefly: I have no idea what the aging traditional Europeans are thinking and even less what the Islamic population that is quite quickly replacing them thinks (though I suspect the latter is NOT what Larry Moran thinks).

But I do know this: Here in Canada I have often lowered my head and shut my eyes in embarrassment as people I otherwise respect have yap-yapped politically correct speech that they know is not true, on a variety of subjects. That's just what you do here. It's been that way for a long time. Ever since Pierre Trudeau, I suspect. So I have no idea what Canadians really think about Darwinism. They may never have given themselves the right to think much about it at all. Now and then people sidle up to me to confide how they came to doubt. As if it were illicit or something ... Well, stone walls do not a prison make, nor iron bars a cage ...

■ Richard Weikart, author of From Darwin to Hitler , has shown that a point of view I was raised to believe is incorrect. Back home, we had always assumed that eugenics and Social Darwinism were strictly right-wing phenomena. Not so, he says:
My earlier book, Socialist Darwinism: Evolution in German Socialist Thought from Marx to Bernstein (1999) explained the reception of Darwinism by German socialists, including Marx and Engels, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The political left immediately jumped on the Darwinian bandwagon, because, as Engels crowed to Marx in a letter, Darwinism demolished teleology. Many socialists used Darwinism as an anti-religious weapon from the start. Contra some popular thinking, it was conservatives who were least likely to embrace Darwinism in the 19th century. Most social Darwinists in the late nineteenth century were laissez-faire *liberals*, not conservatives (most of whom did not even embrace Darwinism, much less social Darwinism). Social Darwinism only became the province of conservatives once the definition of conservatism changed, i.e., once laissez-faire was no longer considered liberal, but conservative (this change occurred roughly in the 1890s).
Marx claimed that Darwinism was the natural-historical foundation for his own philosophy. However, Marx later privately criticized the Malthusian element in Darwinism, and Engels launched a frontal attack on social Darwinism (while embracing Darwinism nonetheless).
Incidentally, eugenics was also favored more on the left than on the right politically at first. In Europe it was mostly non-Marxian socialists (Karl Pearson, Alfred Ploetz, Ludwig Woltmann, Wilhelm Schallmayer, etc.) who were the early leaders of the eugenics movement. Eugenics was not a right-wing phenomenon in the early 20th century, nor is it a right-wing phenomenon today.

I suspect he is right. remember the shock I felt when leftoid feminists dismissed the problem of late-term aborted babies left to die slowly in agony in the dirty linen closet, on the grounds that they were poor quality specimens of humanity anyway. How foolish I feel now for blurting out, "But I thought you were a socialist ...." Yes, of course, ... exactly. A socialist. Not a "human"ist.

■ Arch-Darwinist Richard Dawkins and top ID math guy Bill Dembski have started making their letters public. This had to happen. Another stage in the mainstreaming of ID. Look, be grateful they are both straight guys who don't like each other. Hey, today things could be worse.

■ It's b-a-a-ck!: The claim that somehow Darwin believed in an intelligent or God-guided or theistic design of life. Or some such thing. A friend asked me to help sort it out. And as it happens, I was indeed able to help, but only by turning to a trusted source: Darwin didn't believe anything of the kind, as Australian biologist Stephen E. Jones shows, neatly disposing of the widespread but silly claim. If you are not already regularly checking Steve's incomparable CreatinEvolutionDesign blogspot, well, you should be. I'm only a hack and I only front news, but Steve ca really teach you something.*

What really intrigues me are the "religionists" - I don't know how else to term them - who need to believe and propagate the idea that classical Darwinists are, deep down, believers in traditional spiritual religions. We sometimes hear, from the same sort of people, that Darwinist Theodosius Dobzhansky was a good Christian. I don't blame the Darwinists for trying this stuff on with the wilfully gullible soccer moms (what else can they do?), but I have little patience with the overstuffed schoolmarms who front for the Darwinists, who should know better.

Look, get it straight, will you? If you are a serious Darwinist, you cannot really be a serious Christian. Make up your mind which side you awant to fall on.

*Funny thing, the two sites I have praised most recently are a Brit site and Steve's Aussie one, above. My Canuck Post-Darwinist isn't so bad either, when I actually have time to do it, but most of the time I have to mind the fish lines, ya know. See, the Yank ID guys always wanted the rest of us Anglophones to get involved, but it never occurred to them that, once we did, we would do it way better than them. Shhhhh. Forget them. Get the French involved, will you? I am SO sick of bran muffins and butter tarts. The French know how to live.

■ Here’s a story about a lab that does ID work, which Darwinists have not yet shut down (presumably because it relies on private funds). New Scientist reporter Celeste Biever dishes:
This science-first message suggests that the developing anti-evolution movement in the US has moved on to a new stage - one in which opponents of evolutionary biology, trained as research scientists, take to the lab in search of the creator's handiwork. In light of recent events, it also makes sense as a public relations strategy.

Her whole article is worth reading for the way in which she needs to keep reassuring New Scientist readers that there is something not quite right about this. I understand. It's a tough business, catering to readers’ expectations, but one need not - of course- absolutely descend to them. And, yes, yes, sci jo Celeste Biever is the very one who pretended to be somebody else while investigating the student IDEA clubs.

I wish she had asked me first before she had felt that was necessary. I could have told her that the IDEA types really are non-materialists (strange as that may seem to the typical New Scientist reader), but they should not be presumed to be Neanderthals with a taste for snake-handling on that account. They are mostly quite smart. There are good reasons for disbelieving in materialism. Darwinism, in its present state, is certainly one.

■ PhysicsWeb has a neat item on James Clerk Maxwell, a “force for physics”:
Unless one is a poet, a war hero or a rock star, it is a mistake to die young. James Clerk Maxwell – unlike Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein, the two giants of physics with whom he stands – made that mistake, dying in 1879 at the age of just 48. Physicists may be familiar with Maxwell, but most non-scientists, when they switch on their colour TVs or use their mobile phones, are unlikely to realize that he made such technology possible. After all, in 1864 he gave us "Maxwell's equations" – voted by Physics World readers as their favourite equations of all time – from which radio waves were predicted.

I overheard a scientist mutter recently that we could certainly never do without Maxwell’s science contributions today but that we could do without Darwin’s very easily.

Oh, ... heresy! Fire UP the barbecue!! Be sure to select the Rick Sternberg heat on the dial. We like 'em well scorched!


■ Easily one of the most interesting articles of the year is by science journalist John Horgan, who, despite much criticism, continues to maintain in Discover ten years later, that the end of all things is at hand, at least for science.

Much criticism? How about this:
One of my most memorable moments as a journalist occurred in December 1996, when I attended the Nobel Prize festivities in Stockholm. During a 1,300-person white-tie banquet presided over by Sweden's king and queen, David Lee of Cornell University, who shared that year's physics prize, decried the "doomsayers" claiming that science is ending. Reports of science's death "are greatly exaggerated," he said.Lee was alluding to my book, The End of Science, released earlier that year. In it, I made the case that science—especially pure science, the grand quest to understand the universe and our place in it—might be reaching a cul-de-sac, yielding "no more great revelations or revolutions, but only incremental, diminishing returns." More than a dozen Nobel laureates denounced this proposition, mostly in the media but some to my face, as did the White House science advisor, the British science minister, the head
of the Human Genome Project, and the editors in chief of the journals Science and Nature.

Career limiting move? Well, a smart editor favors original thinkers for thinkmags, so it’s nice to see Horgan holding forth again in Discover.

But here's the part I find most interesting: Horgan maintains his point about the "end of science" pretty effectively, but please note: He clearly sees science as "applied materialism". For example, in support of his view he writes that one of the limits to knowledge is, "Evolutionary biology reminds us that we are animals, shaped by natural selection not for discovering deep truths of nature but for breeding."

Oh? Well, so much the worse for evolutionary biology then. Does anyone really believe that Euclid or Einstein were just trying to spread their genes? You see, this is where Darwinism ends and discoveries begin. But I am indebted to Horgan for making this clear.

■ Dennis Wagner of Access Research Network has posted his picks for top ten ID-related stories of the year, also podcasted by Discovery Institute. They include

- 60% of U.S. Medical Doctors Doubt Macroevolutionary Theory
- Fly Eye Important Blueprint for Creating Better Video Systems
- Europeans Question the Value of Teaching Macroevolution
- Over 600 Scientists Express Skepticism of Darwinian Evolution
- Scientists Conduct New Research Using Intelligent Design Theory.

If I get a chance, I will try putting together my own list. The founding of Truth in Science in Britain would certainly be on it.

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.

Are you looking for one of the following stories?

My review of Francis Collins’ book The Language of God , my backgrounder about peer review issues, or the evolutionary biologist’s opinion that all students friendly to intelligent design should be flunked.

Lists of theoretical and applied scientists who doubt Darwin and of academic ID publications.

My U of Toronto talk on why there is an intelligent design controversy, or my talk on media coverage of the controversy at the University of Minnesota.

A summary of tech guru George Gilder's arguments for ID and against Darwinism

A critical look at why March of the Penguins was thought to be an ID film.

A summary of recent opinion columns on the ID controversy

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

A summary of the Catholic Church's entry into the controversy, essentially on the side of ID.

O'Leary's intro to non-Darwinian agnostic philosopher David Stove’s critique of Darwinism.

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

Why origin of life is such a difficult problem.
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