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Saturday, November 04, 2006

Quick posts: Recent events in the intelligent design controversy

■ The American Darwin lobby, National Center for Science Education tracks the explosion of "creationism" (which could include intelligent design theory or non-Darwinism or doubt about Darwinism) around the world. To understand why, read a few of the following items, for example, Pagel's review of Ruse. The committed Darwinist simply does not comprehend reasons for doubt.

■ In a review in Nature you would have to pay US$30 to buy, evolutionary biologist Mark Pagel reviews Michael Ruse'sDarwinism and its Discontents, describing it as a "pro-Darwin toolkit." The review is interesting for its description of the reasons many doubt Darwin:
The book is not a sociological study of the discontents; Ruse does not tell us who they are or even whether they are large in number. Rather, it is a sort of 'battle book', containing facts about evolution and natural selection, and is designed to be instructive in changing people's minds about darwinism. But creationists' disaffection with darwinism may only be cloaked in quibbles about design, the age of Earth, fossils, missing links and the importance of the peppered moth, Biston betularia. These concerns may conceal a deeper affective — indeed a limbic — response to the theory.

So, in case you wondered, There Is No Rational Argument Or Evidence Against Darwinism. Doubt merely arises in the limbic system (emotional center) of the brain. There, that clears that up nicely. Glad you asked. By the way, Pagel also tries to explain away the attempt to use Darwinism to explain everything from human morality to the origin of the universe. But it's too late for that. Too many people know how Darwinism is used, and will not be put off this way.
■ Mathematician John Allen Paulos argues against "creationist probability" - that is, he believes that the gradual evolution of complex machine-like structures is not wildly improbable. However, he does not identify by name anyone who is actually making the argument he trashes. A friend wonders whether he constructs his opposition from intuition.
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.


Thinkquotes of the day: Altruism simply promotes your own genes?

A boffo evolutionary biologist accounts for altruism:
The mathematical models of population genetics suggest the following rule in the evolutionary origin of altruism If the reduction of survival and reproduction of individuals due to genes for altruism is more than offset by the increased probability of survival of the group due to the altruism, the altruism will rise in frequency throughout the entire population of competing groups. Put as concisely as possible: The individual pays, his genes and tribe gain, altruism spreads. - (E. O. Wilson, Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge, p. 282 (Random House: Vintage Books, 1998)

From the movie, Gandhi, Gandhi's advice to a fellow Hindu who had killed a Muslim who had killed his son, and now feared he was
going to hell:
Gandhi sees the man's unbearable grief and remorse. He gently tells him, "I know a way out of hell. Find a child, a child whose mother and father have been killed - a little boy - and raise him as your own. Only be sure that he is a Muslim..."
The man's expression changes to one of hope. He suddenly sees a way in can undo what he has done and effect a restitution. He can replace his own son and provide a Muslim orphan with a home and parents. It is a perfect solution.

The man baulks, however, when Gandhi insists he raise the boy as a Muslim, but notice we don't hear anything here about genes or even tribes in the genetic sense. It all turns on ideas.

And then of course, in the immortal words of a Jewish itinerant preacher, "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho when he fell into the hands of robbers ... " Read the whole thing and ask yourself where altruism means promoting your own tribe?

The major problem with evolutionary biology accounts of altruism is that most people don't even consider the behavior that merely promotes one's own family altruism. Taken to extremes - as it must be, to work the way Wilson needs it to - it is called amoral familism and is widely regarded as a key source of underdevelopment in backward societies.

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Lamarckism making a comeback?: Otherwise, what to make of this?

In "The Evolution of Evolution, a "a review by Oren Harman of Evolution in Four Dimensions: Genetic, Epigenetic, Behavioral, and Symbolic Variation in the History of Life by Eva Jablonka and Marion J. Lamb, we read,
In the end, a broader view of heredity might help to solve age-old perplexities, such as the origin of novel structures like the wings of birds or the flippers of once-terrestrial whales. Even more dramatically, it may provide a much firmer basis for the appearance during evolution of what the imagination-challenged proponents of intelligent design nonsensically refer to as examples of "irreducible complexity," such as the eye, the brain, or the kidney. Darwin, with Lamarck, may have failed in trying to describe a system of heredity, but he grasped a basic truth, or the second, "softer" meaning of Lamarckism: that the fit between an organism and its environment is much tighter and more intimate than would be expected if natural selection always acted on totally random variation. Explaining nature's perfection would be very difficult indeed if there existed no mechanisms to allow somehow for the transmission and the assimilation of acquired information, even if this information is not strictly genetic.

While Jablonka and Lamb have provided a cogent and impressive theoretical basis for such an argument, there is still much experimental work to be done. In the midst of the present controversies about evolutionism and creationism, this scientific path is a better one to follow, I think, than the re-iteration of an outdated neo-Darwinian theory or the defensive admission that Darwin was a religious pluralist (he was--so what?) and really a teleological theist (which he most assuredly was not). Intelligent design is an important political issue, but scientifically and intellectually it is a hollow subject. The truly interesting reflection is taking place not in some real or imagined Bible Belt or in the backwaters of a needlessly dogmatic neo-Darwinian establishment, but right under our noses, in the fascinating new insights springing from the scientific realm of evolutionary theory itself.

Ignoring the obligatory slam at ID, the article admits that neo-Darwinism is just not producing the goods, and perhaps the poor, much-ridiculed Lamarck was right, that some acquired characteristics are inherited. The article as a whole (for which you need a password) shows the usual obsequiousness toward Darwin. He can never be just plain wrong, as Einstein sometimes was.


Recent items at Uncommon Descent:

Uncommon Descent has been having trouble (= censorship?) with the Google search engine, so I am posting some links here with a brief explanation, as a stopgap until the problem is sorted out:

- The fur flies as Darwinist and Thumbsman P.Z. Myers is accused of dealing dishonestly with quotations from Jonathan Wells' The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design, and it is still flying as of today.

- College level ID textbook to be released March 2007, with Chapter 1 available online.

- An article in eminent science journal Nature once again highlights the limitations of peer review, as a road to excellence. Responding to "Flawed nature paper on global warming", by Douglas J. Keenan, DaveScot asks "Can you say rubber stamp?"

Yes we can. Global warming is the apocalypse of the secular materialist's creed, so almost any nonsense can be allowed in its favor and no good sense allowed against it. Some warming warnings read like the Left Behind series of secular science - but, you see, it's the science that sometimes get left behind.

It's not hard to understand the limitations of peer review as a fair forum: Peer review submits new ideas to a committee.

Committees tend to lop off BOTH ends of the spectrum - extreme excellence and extreme stunnedness. That's just how small groups tend to work. They attempt to achieve consensus, which is most easily found in the middle.

I suppose an evolutionary psychologist would, at this point, make up a just-so story about how this tendency helped our selfish genes survive the Pleistocene era. But actually, if the entire universe had popped into existence on July 1, 1867, committees would likely work the same way.
Convergence would most often be found in the middle range.

So one way of explaining the problem is that the current procedure suppresses stunned stuff at the price of also suppressing excellence.

As relativity physicist Frank Tipler wrote,
If one reads memoirs or biographies of physicists who made their great breakthroughs after, say, 1950, one is struck by how often one reads that "the referees rejected for publication the paper that later won me the Nobel Prize."

- By Design or by Chance?, page 205.

But rejection was safer, you see.
For all Uncommon Descent posts and comments go here.
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, or my talk on media coverage of the controversy att he 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.

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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