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Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Letters: The ID guys' inbox

If you ever wanted to read modern Darwiniana - the stuff Darwinists write to the ID guys, Bill Dembski posted some of it. I sort of knew about this stuff but didn't think it would ever see da light. You want to be a non-materialist? Get used to witchy e-mail. (Note: This is not recommended for the kind of people who ask ""Why can't we all just get along?)

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Book Review: Francis Collins's The Language of God

Here's a nice review I did of Francis Collins's book, The Language of God for Faith Today. I've offered some critical comments as well, in a longer review, principally because I think Collins dropped the ball on dealing with the claims of evolutionary psychology and the issues in modern genetics. But if what you want is a book for a teenager or young adult that shows that a prominent scientist can be a Christian, Collins' book is a good choice. The kid isn't going to know about stuff like that, not for years anyway.

Come to think of it, while I'm here, here's the review I did of Collins's book for ChristianWeek, which doesn't post my work online:
Is the language of God really in our genome?

by Denyse O'Leary

James Watson, co-discoverer of the double helix pattern of our DNA, was the first head of the Human Genome Project. He was a man with little time for religion. Indeed, in 2003, he and his fellow helix discoverer Francis Crick took the opportunity of the 50th anniversary celebration of their historic discovery to attack religion. Watson recalled for the media that he stopped attending Mass at the onset of World War II, because "I came to the conclusion that the church was just a bunch of fascists that supported Franco." He also noted, "Every time you understand something, religion becomes less likely." (Telegraph, March 22, 2003)

Watson quit his post in 1992 and was succeeded by Francis Collins. In terms of religious faith, Collins has traced the opposite path. He has now written The Language of God (Free Press, 2006), explaining how he, an agnostic life scientist, came to believe in God.

Collins' parents were hippie freethinkers on a hardscrabble farm in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. Life was fun and creativity flourished but, he recalls, "faith was not an important part of my childhood."A comfortable agnostic in university, he found little reason to question his disinterest in questions of faith until he entered medicine. There he had to confront not mere ideas about life, death, and suffering, but their reality on a daily basis.

As a 26-year-old medical student, he recalls, "I witnessed numerous cases of individuals whose faith provided them with a strong reassurance of ultimate peace, be it in this world or the next, despite terrible suffering that in most instances they had done nothing to bring on themselves." Then, an old woman asked him point blank what he believed and he did not know. But he determined to find out.

Unsurprisingly, Cliff's Notes on world religions did not help Collins much; they amounted to no more than a lot of information about what other people believed without the living examples that he had already seen for himself. So he confronted a local Methodist minister, who suggested C.S. Lewis'Mere Christianity. From Lewis, Collins first grasped the significance of the Moral Law: that instinctive sense we all have of right and wrong. This Moral Law, he decided, comes from God. It cannot be accounted for by the assertion that altruism helps the fittest to survive. (Indeed, it would be far easier to demonstrate the opposite.)

Collins' highly readable account of his conversion left me uneasy at times. The premise that a scientist can, after all, be a man of faith suffers from a key limitation: It implies that being a scientist gives one special insight into the experiences that are relevant to faith. But does it?

The apostle Paul certainly did not think so. He wrote, "For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities his eternal power and divine nature have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse." (Rom 1:20, NIV)

Without excuse? Yes. Even if we flunked Grade 10 science, we are without excuse if we do not see God's greatness in his creation. Ignoring "the glory of the immortal God," Paul goes on to warn, pagan hearts glorify natural impulses at best (Venus, Mars) or brute forces at worst (crocodile gods, beetle gods) (See vv. 21 23.)

Of course, science can be a way of worshipping the true God. Collins' comment on the completion of the Human Genome Project contrasts starkly with Watson's anniversary remarks: "For me, as a believer, the uncovering of the human genome sequence held additional significance. This book was written in the DNA language by which God spoke life into being. I felt an overwhelming sense of awe in surveying this most significant of all biological texts."

Okay, but Watson reads the same genome as Collins, and yet he does not believe. There is a way to understand this: Collins did not start his journey of faith as a result of anything he learned in the human genome, but because of what he learned from Christians facing death. He vowed to find the source of their spiritual power. And he who seeks finds. That said, Collins' book is lucidly and entertainingly written, and highly recommended for the science buff on your Christmas list.

Journalist Denyse O'Leary ( is the author of By Design or by Chance? (Augsburg Fortress 2004), an overview of the intelligent design controversy and co-author, with Montreal neuroscientist Mario Beauregard, of The Spiritual Brain (Harper: March, 2007).

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Who believes what about origins?:

Here's a .pdf of an article article by Marcus Ross in the Journal of Geosciences Education, attempting to sort out who believes what about origins. Ross writres to say,
The goal of the paper is to show how the different teleological (purpose/design) positions relate to one another, and why painting IDers as creationists (and vice versa) just doesn’t work.

Yes, yes, it's that Marcus Ross, who got a PhD even though the New York Times disapproves of his religious beliefs, who also offered some interesting insights into the Kent Hovind scandal.
(Note: It's a .pdf, so if you open it, you might not get back here using the back browser button. )

Labels: , , , Attacking skeptics of all kinds

Oh, you wonderful!! I have been getting a number of site visits via, a largely anonymous outfit that views me as some sort of a threat (?) - along with the ID guys and other independent thinkers in various categories.

But, you know, it is a genuine moral struggle. I feel the same way about the denialism.coms as I do about Brian Alters , who wants to screw money out of the Canadian government to fight intelligent design in Canada. The social science research council doesn't want to give it to him, and he has been twisting the ropes around them pretty hard.

I so much want to cheer Alters on because I need a glitzy laptop and, hopefully, a Miata. And the best way for me to get lots of cool stuff is for some anti-ID group to run around portraying ID as a Big Threat to Canadian Education. Then I can get a huge advance for the next edition of By Design or by Chance?, my book on the controversy. Ethics schmethics.

But darn, you know, it doesn't sound so good in the confessional. What does it profit a woman to gain a little yellow Miata and lose her soul?

So, welcome to the denialism.comers - you are free to use the site and the archives like everyone else. But if you came looking for the devil, ... keep looking.

And I think that the Soc Sci Research Council should persist in telling Alters to get money from his Darwinist supporters to front his cause. Even though I'll get only a modest advance from my publisher. Sniffle. Sniffle.

It would have had white kid leather seats, too, you know ...

Intelligent design and popular culture: Engineer speaks out

Here's an interesting op-ed in the Albuquerque Tribune by engineer Joe Renick:

There is a revolution underway in the biological sciences. A whole new field of biology called systems biology has emerged during the past 10 or 15 years. This revolution is just as profound for the biological sciences today as the transition in physics was from classical physics to quantum physics and relativity in the early part of the 20th century.

In this exciting new field, research is guided not by Darwinian principles but by design principles, because design principles are needed to explain design-like features.

The teaching of evolution today in public schools is frozen in the past where it is based largely on a mid-20th century understanding of biology. Research in the biological sciences has moved far beyond that understanding because of the hopeless inability of Darwinian principles to explain the complexity observed in living things.

Comments abusing engineers, merely because so many of them are not Darwinists, will not be posted at this blog unless they are wickedly funny - but so few Darwoids do wickedly funny that I hold out little hope. The Darwoids' idea of a joke is the flying spaghetti monster - fun while it lasted, sure, but the Darwoids took themselves too seriously, so it went on too long. On the other hand, I suppose holding materialism together is a tough job and somebody's gotta do it.

ID in Canada? Toronto Star: O'Leary is a "fundamentalist"

Periodically, someone at the Toronto Star attempts to understand the intelligent design controversy, and this effort was better than most, but smack in the middle, reporter Stuart Laidlaw, who did not ask me about my religious affiliation, refers to me as a "fundamentalist."

[Update: The problem has been fixed! As a kind poster noted below, it now reads, correctly, "Roman Catholic" in the online version. Now I won't spend years putting out fires - plus, I can send all those snakes back to Petco and get a refund before something terminally stupid happens.]

Regular readers of this blog (to both of you, much thanks) will know that I am a Roman Catholic of the worst and most pernicious sort. Anyway, I sent this note to the Star's accuracy bureau:
In this story,
I am incorrectly referred to as a "fundamentalist" author.

I have never belonged to a religious denomination that is normally described as fundamentalist. I was an Anglican most of my adult life, but became a Roman Catholic in 2005.

I would appreciate a correction at your earliest convenience. You need only say that I should not have been described as a "fundamentalist" but as a "Roman Catholic."

May I suggest that, in general, when reporting subjects' religious affiliation, it would be a sound practice for reporters to ask them to self-identify? The Canada Census does that, and it saves a lot of trouble.

Thank you for your attention to this matter. If the correction appears on the Internet, I would appreciate notification, so I can link to it. That will minimize any inconveniences created by the error.

Now, we will see if a correction happens. If I find it, I will link to it.
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: Preserving the status quo in science

Bill Dembski blogged this Koestler comment before I got around to it, but I am not letting that stop me:

Galileo’s conflict with the church could have probably been avoided if he had been endowed with less passion and more diplomacy; but long before that conflict, he had incurred the implacable hostility of the orthodox Aristotelians who held key positions at the Italian universities. Religion and political oppression play only an incidental part in the history of science; its erratic course and recurrent crises are caused by internal factors. One of the conspicuous handicaps is the conservatism of the scientific mind in its corporate aspect. The collective matrix of a science at a given time is determined by a kind of establishment, which includes universities, learned societies, and, more recently, the editorial offices of technical journals. Like other establishments, they are consciously or unconsciously bent on preserving the status quo  partly because unorthodox innovations are a threat to their authority, but also because of a deeper fear that that their laboriously erected intellectual edifice might collapse under the impact. Corporate orthodoxy has been the curse of genius from Aristarchus to Galileo, to Harvey, Darwin and Freud; throughout the centuries its phalanxes have sturdily defended habit against originality.”

- Arthur Koestler, The Act of Creation, 1969, p. 239

Last October, I was giving at talk at an adult ed meet at the University of Toronto, and a fellow panelist announced that scientists are humble compared to other people. I was taken aback because in all the years I have spent in journalism, I had never encountered any reason for believing that. Some scientists are humble and others are not, but I have never noticed any occupational tendency in that direction. Most scientists are not imaginative thinkers and they are as ready to think along certain well-worn tracks as pious old women. Their idea of an original thinker is often simply the best exponent of an existing tradition. There are, as always, a few exceptions, but it is surprising how often the exceptions need protection from their peers.

Also, more great Koestler lines.

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.
Blog policy note:Comments are permitted on this blog, but they are moderated. Fully anonymous posts and URLs posted without comment will be accepted if I think they contribute to a discussion. For best results, give your name or some idea who you are and why we should care. To Mr. Anonymous: I'm not psychic, so if you won't tell me who you are, I can't guess and don't care. To Mr. Nude World (URL): If you can't be bothered telling site visitors why they should go on to your fave site next, why should I post your comment? They're all busy people, like you. To Mr. Rudesby International and Mr. Pottymouth: I also have a tendency to delete comments that are merely offensive. Go be offensive to someone who can smack you a good one upside the head. That may provide you with a needed incentive to stop and think about what you are trying to accomplish. To Mr. Righteous but Wrong: I don't publish comments that contain known or probable factual errors. There's already enough widely repeated misinformation out there, and if you don't have the time to do your homework, I don't either. To those who write to announce that at death I will either 1) disintegrate into nothingness or 2) go to Hell by a fast post, please pester someone else. I am a Catholic in communion with the Church and haven't the time for either village atheism or aimless Jesus-hollering.

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