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Tuesday, October 17, 2006

I am woman? I am invincible?: I am having a hard time keeping a straight face, actually

Regular readers with the time to spare for this space may recall that we had a little ID conference at the University of Toronto a couple of weekends ago, and there I ran into an interesting biochem textbook author named Larry Moran, an evolutionary biologist who does not seem to be a Darwinist or a Darwinian evolutionist. (See below.)

He wants to be called an evolutionary biologist , which is fair enough to describe what he does for a living, but virtually every colleague who is a fanatical Darwinist on the issues under discussion will want the same thing.

Larry thinks (see the Comments box) that I somehow benefit from the busload of cranks prophesying in Darwin's name because I want to impugn "real scientists":
With all due respect, I think you're getting a lot of mileage out of lumping the kooks in with real scientists and covering them all with the "Darwinist" label. It allows you to attack and make fun of the kooky non-science in "The Universal Darwinism" while impugning real scientists by implication.

Well, of course, blowing off silliness about the infidelity genes or the God meme is certainly easier than slogging through actual news but - call me unlucky, I've always preferred the news beat. I send up the folly in my spare time, of course, but there would still be plenty of folly if the Darwin cranks packed themselves off to Quaoar for a very long vacation, and I'd still have to make a living on the side.

Larry, who apparently believes that all things work together for good for me, has sent me a link to one of his essays "Evolution by Accident", and I have now read it. He seems to be far more of a Gouldian than a Dawkins-ite.

He writes, in part,
Excellent arguments have been advanced to prove that most of evolution is due to random genetic drift and that's the position I take. Thus, in a discussion about the role of chance and accident in evolution I would say that most of evolution is accidental because of the frequency of drift vs. selection. Note that this says nothing about the perceived importance of these mechanisms. That's a value judgement. Some evolutionists think that adaptation, or evolution by natural selection, is the only interesting part of evolution. These evolutionists don't deny that random genetic drift occurs; instead, they simply relegate it to the category of uninteresting phenomena. Others, like me, think that random genetic drift is far more interesting than natural selection because drift is responsible for junk DNA, molecular phylogenies, molecular clocks, and DNA fingerprinting.

On Darwinism, he writes,
Technically, Darwinism can be construed to mean only evolution by natural selection so this is an acceptable way of avoiding the topic of drift. However, if you read closely, you'll see that these writers are often very sloppy about using ""Darwinism" to describe their interests. The term often fills in for all of evolution in a sort of rhetorical sleight of hand. Thus, this group of chance-deniers tends to eliminate chance from evolution by re-defining evolution so that it only applies to natural selection. As you might expect, those who choose to eliminate chance by redefinition are usually the same people that are only interested in natural selection (see above).

All of which reminds me of the huge uproar last year when Stu Pivar, a friend of the late Steve Gould, told me that Gould was rather an indifferent Darwinist, and Darwinists charged in to protect Gould's reputation from the imputation of heresy.

I wonder if some evo bios can only allow themselves the luxury of questioning a given dogma as long as they all close ranks when attacked. A sort of angry religion without God or good music or Jesus kitsch? Sounds like Hull to me.

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Head for the hot tub!: Theocracy looms

When I first started researching the intelligent design controversy, an earnest individual warned me that the ID guys might be fans of a deceased American fundamentalist (?) named Rousas Rushdoony, a guy who really did want to start a theocracy.

As it happens, I knew about Rushdoony vaguely, as a local poli sci prof had written briefly about his "Dominion theology" a decade earlier in a Canadian church press rag. No link panned out, of course, and dying in 2001 probably limited the guy's influence.

Now I see where a Brit anti-ID group is fronting Rushdoony. If they can't raise a better scare than this, ID must be pretty safe.

Debunking the nonsense generally, Rich Lowry writes in Free Republic:
Purveyors of the theo-panic love to exaggerate the influence of the bizarre Christian Reconstructionists who actually want an American theocracy. As New York Times religion writer Peter Steinfels notes in a review of the spate of new books, Christian Reconstructionists play "a greater role in the writings of the religious right’s critics than they ever have in the wider evangelical world." He notes that the flagship evangelical journal, Christianity Today, almost never shows up in these books, because, inconveniently, it is "moderate, reflective and self-questioning."

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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New book:: Complete Idiot’s Guide to Intelligent Design

Early December 2006, Penguin is coming out with The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Intelligent Design . Author Christopher Carlisle is the Episcopal Chaplain at the University of Massachusetts and W. Thomas Jr., is a freelance writer.
Intelligent Design is one of the hottest issues facing parents and educators to day, but it can be hard to separate the facts from the heated rhetoric. This expert and objective guide gets to the bottom of the questions: What is Intelligent Design? Should it replace or complement traditional science? What’s all the fuss about?
• Explains the terms, the controversy, and the involvement of the American courts
• Indispensable guide for concerned educators and parents
• Written by an expert in the field

Which of the two is the expert in the field? The chaplain, probably (?).

I really hope this doesn't turn out to be the usual "declining church" snore about how "properly understood" there is no conflict between "faith" (properly understood) and "science" (properly understood). There is still a tiny market for "proper" understanding. I am getting the galleys at some point and will get back on this. I would really be happy to be wrong because trees should not die for that. I don't really think the ID controversy is about religion but anyway see the thinkquote below.


Thinkquote of the day: Nobel laureates on evolution

One reason why there is an intelligent design controversy:

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

[ ... ]

Differences exist between scientific and spiritual world views, but there is no need to blur the distinction between the two. Nor is there need for conflict between the theory of evolution and religious faith. Science and faith are not mutually exclusive. Neither should feel threatened by the other.

– 39 Nobel laureates writing writing to the Kansas State Board of Education , via the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity: Nobel Laureates Initiative (September 9, 2005)

Toss this one in the “why the intelligent design controversy isn’t going away” files.

What blows me away is how stupid those people think the rest of us are. What kind of faith would be compatible with an unguided, unplanned process? Better not ask.
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 U of Toronto talk on why there is an intelligent design controversy.

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.

O’Leary’s comments on Francis Beckwith, a Dembski associate, being granted tenure at Baylor after a long struggle - even after helping in a small way to destroy the Baylor Bears' ancient glory - in the opinion of a hyper sportswriter.

Why origin of life is such a difficult problem.
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