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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
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.

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.


Recent columns of interest : On neuroscience implications/applications of intelligent design

Here are some recent posts at my other blog, the Mindful Hack, on neuroscience implications of intelligent design and the actual existence of the mind. For links to all go here.

1. A recent ChristianWeek column: Faith@Science: The God gene? Spot? Circuit? Okay, maybe a Module?

(Note: This is the column I wrote shortly after finishing my work on The Spiritual Brain, explaining why notions of a God spot, gene, module, or circuit in the brain are completely ridiculous.)

For more go here.

2. Another recent ChristianWeek column:"Made in the image of God"? What does that mean?

Ever hear of a "humanzee"? Some would hail the hybrid of a human and a chimpanzee as a crowning achievement.

Because chimpanzees are our closest genetic relatives, hybrids have been attempted. According to recently unearthed documents, Joseph Stalin hoped to produce half-man, half-ape super-warriors, but the project came to nothing. The disgraced chief scientist died in the vast Soviet prison system.

But just as often, anti-religious motives fuel the wish for a humanzee. Zoologist Richard Dawkins, who promotes atheism from his chair at Oxford University, has proclaimed that such a hybrid would shake up all our value systems. He argues that differences between the human mind and the chimpanzee mind are only a matter of degree, not kind. Indeed, Spain has been considering giving great apes human rights, and some have argued seriously for reclassifying chimpanzees in the same genus as humans.

For more go here.

3. A third recent ChristianWeek columns: Faith as one of the healing arts

According to an article in Jewish World Review (October 3, 2006) hospitals in the United States have finally begun to pay attention to patients' religious beliefs. "The last thing you want to worry about while somebody is sick is that they might have to transgress on something they believe in," says Zahava Cohen, Englewood Hospital's patient care director (New Jersey). Cohen is surely right; and we can only hope that this trend spreads.

[ ... ]

The way in which we receive health care makes a huge difference to its ultimate effect. This reality has long been disguised under the misnamed and misunderstood "placebo" effect. Literally, the word means "I will please." Originally, it referred to sugar pills given to a patient who believes that they are potent. Over one third of patients get better simply because they think the placebo is a powerful medicine. The placebo effect probably underlies traditional shamanism. The reason so many tribal Christians continue to surreptitiously visit shamans is not that they are deluded into believing that shamanism works but because it so often does work. Unfortunately, the shaman typically attributes the healing to specific bizarre practices rather than to the power of belief to trigger healing processes.

For more go here.
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.
Why origin of life is such a difficult problem.
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