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Saturday, March 17, 2007

Public Darwin myths slammed by science historian

Here's how Cambridge's Jim Enderby's review of some recent Darwin books begins:
On the morning of November 24, 1859, Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species made its first appearance and the world changed forever. An age of faith was plunged into profound religious doubt, and believers of every kind rose to pronounce anathema on Darwin’s godless tract, sparking a fresh battle in the long-running war between science and religion. But while the reactionaries raged, the scientific community soon came to accept natural selection, and the rediscovery of Gregor Mendel’s work in 1900 (which marked the founding of modern genetics) set the seal on Darwin’s triumph by providing the missing piece to his puzzle – a scientific understanding of just how inheritance works.

Unfortunately, everything in the previous paragraph is nonsense, apart from the Origin’s publication date (and even that is wrong in Morse Peckham’s recently reissued variorum edition, which claims it was November 26).

Well, there's not only mythmaking, there is ridiculous hagiography, and more to come with the bicentenary of Darwin's birth coming up. So it's good to see some books exploring the reality that contradicts the nonsense.
If you want to understand why the intelligent design controversy cannot go away, read By Design or by Chance?.

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Darwinism proponent now simply avoids ID arguments?

David Rice III writes to say that on a recent WXXI radio program (September 20, 2006), Eugenie Scott, promoter of Darwinism to American school systems, seems to be playing the "religion" card.
All Scott talks about is the church and religion without bothering to define evolution coherently or non-equivically. She even said that Darwin's theory said that "change and improvement can come about through time". She talked about the Scopes Trial and the demographics of creationism. From the callers, to the host, to Genie herself, doubts about Darwin were presented as all about fundamentalism, religious motives, political motives and economic motives without bothering to check their own at the door. Amazing double standard.

He concludes
Scott used to be (in my opinion) a somewhat respectable foe. But she has not bothered to really engage in the arguments for ID and this radio appearance is one more example of that. The only time the words "intelligent design" leave Scott's mouth is at the 24:48 mark where she said "Actually before I mention intelligent design, I also had a thought regarding that last call...." and then it is never uttered there after - she DIDN"T address intelligent design. This schtick is just not going to work.

No, it is not going to work. How can it possibly work when major Darwinists spent last year on an "anti-God" campaign? The fact is, Darwinism has always been promoted as the creation story of materialist atheism. No spin aimed at foolish or disaffected clergy is going to change that, nor is Scott going to succeed in characterizing the inevitable blowback from traditional religions and non-materialist philosophies as a form of aggression.

Interestingly, I had morning coffee with a publisher the other day, and he gave me to understand that he did not understand how Scott could be attempting to spin Darwinism - in the wake of Dawkins' anti-God campaign - as something other than a promotional vehicle for atheism. I would say simply this: In the wake of the anti-God campaign, including the blasphemy challenge and the (anti) God movie, it is obvious that an atheistic agenda lurks behind the current public promotion of Darwinism. Whether things might have been otherwise is hardly the point. We must address what Darwinism has become now.
If you want to understand why the intelligent design controversy cannot go away, read By Design or by Chance?.

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String theory: The theory that was supposed to finally eliminate the theistic universe isn't doing that well?

John Baez observes in This Week's Finds in Mathematical Physics (Week 246) that recent books on the problems of string theory (a theory that multiple universes are connected by strings, so ours is just accidental) are probably the first news most lay people have gotten that string theories are not going anywhere. These books' importance, he writes, is that
they explain the problems of string theory to the large audience of people who get their news about fundamental physics from magazines and popular books. Experts were already aware of these problems, but in the popular media there's always been a lot of hype, which painted a much rosier picture. So, casual observers must have gotten the impression that physics was always on the brink of a Theory of Everything... but mysteriously never reaching it. These books correct that impression.

In fact, string theory still hasn't reached the stage of making any firm predictions. For the last few decades, astrophysicists have been making amazing discoveries in fundamental physics: dark matter, dark energy, neutrino oscillations, maybe even cosmic inflation in the very early universe! Soon the Large Hadron Collider will smash particles against each other hard enough to see the Higgs boson - or not. With luck, it may even see brand new particles. But about all this, string theory has had little to say.

To get actual predictions, practical physicists sometimes build "string-inspired" scenarios. These scenarios aren't derived from string theory: to get specific predictions, they have to throw in lots of extra assumptions.

String theory reminds me of Darwinism for at least two reasons: It is, at heart, nontheistic and it builds in lots of extra assumptions. It differs from Darwinism in that people won't necessarily try to wreck your career if you question them - not yet, anyway.
If you want to understand why the intelligent design controversy cannot go away, read By Design or by Chance?.

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Thinkquote of the day: A showdown in the restaurant at the end of the universe?

In a recent article in the New York Times magazine, by Richard Panek, we read a very well written but surprisingly pessimistic assumption about what physicists can learn about the universe:
If so, such a development would presumably not be without philosophical consequences of the civilization-altering variety. Cosmologists often refer to this possibility as “the ultimate Copernican revolution”: not only are we not at the center of anything; we’re not even made of the same stuff as most of the rest of everything. “We’re just a bit of pollution,” Lawrence M. Krauss, a theorist at Case Western Reserve, said not long ago at a public panel on cosmology in Chicago. "If you got rid of us, and all the stars and all the galaxies and all the planets and all the aliens and everybody, then the universe would be largely the same. We’re completely irrelevant."
All well and good. Science is full of homo sapiens-humbling insights. But the trade-off for these lessons in insignificance has always been that at least now we would have a deeper — simpler — understanding of the universe. That the more we could observe, the more we would know. But what about the less we could observe? What happens to new knowledge then? It’s a question cosmologists have been asking themselves lately, and it might well be a question we’ll all be asking ourselves soon, because if they’re right, then the time has come to rethink a fundamental assumption: When we look up at the night sky, we’re seeing the universe.

The article argues that the universe may well be stranger than scientists can ever hope to understand.

The article is even a bit negative about string theory (we live in one of zillions of meaningless universes connected by strings):
And this [string theory] is just one of a number of theories that have been popping into existence, quantum-particle-like, in the past few years: parallel universes, intersecting universes or, in the case of Stephen Hawking and Thomas Hertog just last summer, a superposition of universes. But what evidence — extraordinary or otherwise — can anyone offer for such claims?

They want evidence? How extraordinary. Makes a nice change though.

(Note: Yes, in case you noticed, the Lawrence Krauss quoted on the subject of "pollution r' us" is one of the big anti- intelligent design guys. He is also down on string theory.)

It sounds, from the article, as though concepts like "dark matter" and "dark energy" must become more specific to provide useful information. This article is a must-read, though I don't go along with the underlying pessimistic assumption that maybe our limited senses prevent us from understanding these things. That sounds like Darwinism talking, actually. You know the sort of thing: We are just evolved apes and can't understand whatever is not in our genetic program to understand, including this problem.

Just think of all the areas of science that would not have got anywhere if the pioneers had taken such a view. That, incidentally, is why the Uncommon Descent blog's rationale says
Materialistic ideology has subverted the study of biological and cosmological origins so that the actual content of these sciences has become corrupted. The problem, therefore, is not merely that science is being used illegitimately to promote a materialistic worldview, but that this worldview is actively undermining scientific inquiry, leading to incorrect and unsupported conclusions about biological and cosmological origins.

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 recent series on the spate of anti-God books, teen blasphemy challenge, et cetera, and the mounting anxiety of materialist atheists that lies behind it.

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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