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Saturday, May 05, 2007

Intelligent design and popular culture: Michael Behe writes Time 100 entry for Richard Dawkins

Recently, Time Magazine asked ID biochemist Michael Behe to write write a short squib on arch-Darwinist Richard Dawkins as one of the Time 100, the people who allegedly shape our world. However, they edited it to make it sound as though he was way more worried about Dawkins than he actually is, apparently. What Behe had actually written is posted here., so you can see what "bite" the Time editors took out. (For example, they saddled Behe with the phrase that Dawkins is "deeply unsettling" to people like Behe, which - as every media professional knows - is simply a way of putting Behe down.)

In the big picture, of course, what’s really significant is that they asked Mike Behe to write the thing at all. See, if the punditocracy had been right in, say, 2000, in their predictions for the future of the intelligent design community Behe would not be a well-known enough figure to be a good pick. That such a sturdy organ of materialism as Time would subtly misrepresent him is perhaps not nearly as significant. Behe, of course, has a new book coming out, addressing the failure of Darwinian materialism to falsify irreducible complexity.
If you want to understand why the intelligent design controversy cannot go away, read By Design or by Chance?.

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Catholic Church: Pope Benedict on design of the universe vs. chance

A friend attracts my attention to one of the current Pope’s old sermons on design in the universe, a direct rebuttal to Jacques Monod's "chance only" philosophy:
...The more we know of the universe the more profoundly we are struck by a Reason whose ways we can only contemplate with astonishment. In pursuing them we can see anew that creating Intelligence to whom we owe our own reason. Albert Einstein once said that in the laws of nature "there is revealed such a superior Reason that everything significant which has arisen out of human thought and arrangement is, in comparison with it, the merest empty reflection." In what is most vast, in the world of heavenly bodies, we see revealed a powerful reason that holds the universe together. And we are penetrating ever deeper into what is smallest, into the cell and into the primordial units of life; here, too, we discover a reason that astounds us, such that we must say with Saint Bonaventure: "Whoever does not see here is blind. Whoever does not hear here is deaf. And whoever does not begin to adore here and to praise the creating Intelligence is dumb."

Jacques Monod, who rejects as unscientific every kind of faith in God and who thinks that the world originated out of an interplay of chance and necessity, tells in the very work in which he attempts summarily to portray and justify his view of the world that, after attending the lectures which afterward appeared in book form, François Mauriac is supposed to have said: "What this professor wants to afflict on us is far more unbelievable than what we poor Christians were ever expected to believe."

Monod does not dispute this. His thesis is that the entire ensemble of nature has arisen out of errors and dissonances. He cannot help but say himself that such a conception is in fact absurd. But, according to him, the scientific method demands that a question not be permitted to which the answer would have to be God. One can only say that a method of this sort is pathetic. God himself shines through the reasonableness of his creation. Physics and biology, and the natural sciences in general, have given us a new and unheard-of creation account with vast new images, which let us recognize the face of the Creator and which make us realize once again that at the very beginning and foundation of all being there is a creating Intelligence..."

My friend comments, "This was written by Joseph Ratzinger [now Benedict XVI], and given as one of a four part series of homilies in Munich in 1981 (!). Parts of other homilies also address Monod's philosophy. It was first published in 1986 by Erich Wewel Verlag, as a response to certain non-orthodox views circulating among Catholic theologians, then translated to English by Boniface Ramsey, O.P. and published in 1990 by Our Sunday Visitor. This quote was taken from a new edition with additional material that has been republished as 'In the Beginning...': A Catholic Understanding of the Story of Creation and the Fall by Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1995, pp. 23-25. My take is that Fr. Coyne's theology would also fall short in this critique, even with fertility added."

Yes, I doubt Fr. Coyne's theology on fertility (as opposed to actual intelligence or design) would meet this test. I don't think the Ratzinger sermon is online, alas. Here, by the way, is an easy-to-read introduction to actual Catholic teaching and activity on intelligent design, creation, et cetera, as opposed to a variety of claims made in the legacy media.
If you want to understand why the intelligent design controversy cannot go away, read By Design or by Chance?.

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Debate!: Conservatives for Darwin vs. Conservatives Against Darwin

This panel-style American Enterprise Institute debate, featuring Larry Arnhart and John Derbyshire (pro) vs. John West and George Gilder (con) looks most interesting:
There is a growing debate among conservative thinkers and pundits about whether Darwinian theory helps or harms conservatism and its public policy agenda. Some have argued forcefully that Darwin's theory provides support for conservative positions on family life, economics, bioethics, and other issues, while others have countered that the effort to justify conservative policy positions on Darwinian grounds is fundamentally flawed. Does Darwin's theory help defend or undermine traditional morality and family life? Does it encourage or discredit economic freedom? Is it a spur or a brake to utopian schemes to re-engineer human nature?

Go here for the audio and video.

My own view is that Darwinian is incompatible with any traditional value system. Traditional value systems derive ethics from assumptions about the universe that are believed to be true, but Darwinian theories of ethics derive them from behviour routines incorporated into our genes by the survival strategies of Pleistocene man. In other words, on a Darwinian view, if you actually believe traditional values, it is not because they represent anything about the universe that is true but because your genetic program is running. The fact that a given Darwinist happens to believe that the traditional values are useful is entirely beside the point as far as a traditionalist is concerned - which is precisely why traditional communities have been the most opposed to Darwinism. They understand exactly what it means and they do not agree.

Update!: In the New York Times , Patricia Cohen reports in "A Spirt Emerges as Conservatives Discuss Darwin",
It is true that political interpretations of Darwinism have turned out to be quite pliable. Victorian-era social Darwinists like Herbert Spencer adopted evolutionary theory to justify colonialism and imperialism, opposition to labor unions and the withdrawal of aid to the sick and needy. Francis Galton based his “science” of eugenics on it. Arguing that cooperation was actually what enabled the species to survive, Pyotr Kropotkin used it to justify anarchism.

Karl Marx wrote that “Darwin’s book is very important and serves me as a basis in natural science for the class struggle in history.” Woodrow Wilson declared, “Living political constitutions must be Darwinian in structure and in practice.”

More recently the bioethicist and animal rights activist Peter Singer’s “Darwinian Left: Politics, Evolution, and Cooperation” (1999) urged people to reject the notion that there is a “fundamental difference in kind between human beings and nonhuman animals.”

Her article is an excellent summary of the context of the debate, and relatively free of the usual disfiguring prejudice. My favourite comment in John Derbyshire's:
As for Mr. Derbyshire, he would not say whether he thought evolutionary theory was good or bad for conservatism; the only thing that mattered was whether it was true. And, he said, if that turns out to be “bad for conservatives, then so much the worse for conservatism.”

P.S.: I am almost back to blogging at last, having almost finished the index to The Spiritual Brain.

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?

Animations of life inside the cell, indexed, for your convenience.

My review of sci-fi great Rob Sawyer’s novel, The Calculating God , which addresses the concept of intelligent design. My reviews of movies relevant to the intelligent deisgn controversy.

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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