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Saturday, July 21, 2007

Darwinism and academic culture: Nature moves into an alternative reality

A friend writes to say that a recent book review in Nature on the now-famous Dover case (a "teaching evolution" controversy) claims that the Discovery Institute lobbied the Dover school board to adopt the policy (when in fact Disco strongly opposed it).

Now, I know for a fact that Disco was in institutional catfits about the unbelievably stupid Dover policy ever since they first heard about it. There wasn't anything they could do to prevent the subsequent meltdown, though they did try. (Their own recommendations to school boards are much more carefully crafted.than Dover was.)

My friend wonders how the Nature aficionados can live in such a counterfactual world. Well, first, we can safely say that, insofar as the Naturalizers invited an American Darwin lobbyist like Kevin Padian to explain it all for us, that was because the aficionados want to hear their worldview (same as his) confirmed, and they did. So what if it is an alternative reality?

Those interested in Disco's actual position will find it in this Montana law review article, or they can listen to this podcast.

Padian also says,
Conspicuously absent from the trial was William Dembski, the other pillar of intelligent-design 'research', who holds advanced degrees in maths and theology but none in science, and believes that intelligent design is the Logos of the Gospel of John restated in the language of information theory. His notion of 'specified complexity', a probabilistic filter that allegedly allows one to tell whether an event is so impossible that it requires supernatural explanation, has never demonstrably received peer review, although its description in his popular books (such as No Free Lunch, Rowman & Littlefield, 2001) has come in for withering criticism from actual mathematicians. Plaintiffs' attorneys were eager to take him apart, but Dembski exited the proceedings in a suspicious eleventh-hour dispute about having his own lawyer represent him in deposition.

Dembski defends his impressive qualifications here.

Now, I didn't follow the Dover case much. I was busy writing The Spiritual Brain: A neuroscientist's case for the existence of the soul (as co-author), so I couldn't have followed it even if I was interested. But as it happens, I wasn't interested. American school board fights bore me and historically, they change nothing.

Again, for those interested in what actually happened, there was nothing especially suspicious about Dembski withdrawing. Not only was he justifiably skeptical of the management of the case, but the manuscript for his own textbook, Design of Life was seized during the proceedings. It just wasn't a team he could be on.

I should add, in the interests of full disclosure, that I blog with Dembski (though I didn't back then). I helped Dembski collect a debt re Dover by making a noise about it. I also did some editorial work on Design of Life. But that was one of several jobs I had to quit, due to the demands of The Spiritual Brain. However, I have promised Dembski I'll write the index for Design, and will shortly do so. There, conspiracy freaks - that's plenty enough for you! Go to town on it!

In the end, neither Nature nor the U.S> Supreme Court can make Darwinism do what its proponents claim, though they can prevent productive discussions of the problem for as considerable time. Mike Behe's Edge of Evolution explains why. See my summary of his key arguments here. I have also been regularly updating my post on Stuart Pivar's struggles to get his non-Darwinian evolution theory heard.

Note: Prof. Peter Irons asks me to note that he published an article contra Disco in the same edition of the Montana Law Review. Noted!

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