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Thursday, October 18, 2007

COURSE: By Design or by Chance? An introduction to the intelligent design controversy

This is the course I will start teaching Tuesday at St. Mikes at the University of Toronto.

Enrollment is here. Campus map is here.


Why is there an intelligent design controversy? and Why doesn’t it go away. Join Toronto-based author and journalist Denyse O’Leary, author of By Design or by Chance? and her guests for a series of entertaining evenings.

Session 1. The Big Bang: Blowing up a safe, tidy cosmology Tuesday October 23, 2007

Guest: Robb Mann, chair of physics, University of Waterloo. He asks - could there be other universes? Can we know? What difference would it make?

[Note: I heard Mann's prsentation on time (as in time and space) last night at the Agincourt Mall, and it was great!]

Session 2. From molecules to man: How did it happen? Tuesday October 30, 2007

Guest: Don Wallar, director of the Biosimilars Program with a large Canadian-based pharmaceutical company, explains why life’s origin is such a difficult problem.

Session 3. Creationists: Are they crazy or what? Tuesday November 6, 2007

Guest tba Creationism (young earth or six-day) originated in the United States post-World War II. It has now spread to the European Union, which regards it as a serious threat. Why? How?

Session 4. The universe: Bottom up or top down? Tuesday November 13, 2007

Either mind comes from matter or matter from mind. What difference does either view make to our understanding of consciousness and free will?

Session 5. Intelligent design: What the ID proponents actually say (and don’t say) Tuesday November 20, 2007

Michael Behe, author of Edge of Evolution (2007), sees actual design where, for example, Richard Dawkins, author of The Blind Watchmaker, sees the illusion of design. Who’s right? Are they both wrong?

Guest: Kirk Durston, biophysics PhD candidate at the University of Guelph.

Session 6. Why media routinely flub key events in the controversy Tuesday November 27, 2007

Join Denyse O’Leary and the Ottawa Citizen’s David Warren for free donuts and an insiders’ look at mistaken analysis and wrong predictions.

Where, when, and how much? Six evening sessions at Carr Hall, 100 St Joseph’s Street, at the University of Toronto, over six Tuesdays, Oct. 23 – Nov. 27 2007, at 7 – 9pm.

More info: 416) 926-7254 or Register by phone here: Phone: (416) 926–7254. Payment by VISA or MasterCard only.

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Further thoughts from outspoken Canadian journalist, David Warren, on Darwinism ...

David Warren of the Ottawa Citizen is another Canadian journalist who, having travelled and read widely, is skeptical of Darwinism. I sometimes publish some of his musings on the subject, often in correspondence with other thoughtful people:

Warren, a Catholic, quotes George Sim Johnston, Did Darwin Get It Right? Catholics & the Theory of Evolution, Our Sunday Visitor Publishing Division, 1998, pp. 22-24:
Now, it may be argued that Darwin's hostility toward Christianity is beside the point. Shouldn't a scientific theory be judged on its own merits, rather than on the motives and psychology of its progenitor? Yes, of course - if the theory is truly scientific and confirmed by empirical observation. Isaac Newton was as strange as they come; as John Maynard Keynes pointed out, Newton's private philosophical notebooks make one think of an ancient Babylonian magician. But Newton's scientific theories were rigorously formulated. They can be tested and shown to be true for most of material reality. But an ideology dressed up as science is a different matter. Theories like Darwinism, Marxism, and Freudianism have an explanation for everything (natural selection, economic repression, the unconscious) and so finally explain very little; they are elastic and vague enough to absorb almost any contradiction; when they run into falsifying data, they simply mutate. And since these theories began, consciously or not, as highly skewed readings of the available evidence, the biographies of their founders are very much to the point.

It is the job of a scientist to explain things without reference to a Creator. Great scientists like Gregor Mendel, who deciphered the genetic basis of heredity, operate this way, and when evaluating Mendel's work, we don't need to know what he thought about God. His rigorous mathematical analysis of his breeding experiments with peas can be tested and verified on its own terms. Mendel happened to be an Augustinian monk, but it makes no difference. A Christian physicist or biologist who runs into an intractable problem is not obliged to throw up his arms and say, "Well, God did it that way." Rather, he waits patiently for a natural explanation. If such is not forthcoming, he admits a scientific mystery and humbly hands over his data to philosophers and theologians, who may then talk about design and creation.

At the same time, a scientist who takes the (often covert) position, that because there is no God, any puzzling phenomenon can in principle be explained entirely by material causes is also out of bounds. As is the case with a Christian physicist who solves any mystery in nature by simply positing divine intervention, scientists who adopt this strategy are practicing bad philosophy rather than sound science. Many Darwinists take the position that because other material explanations (for example, Lamarkism; the inheritance of acquired characteristics) of evolution are false, Darwin's must be true. But they can only do this if they rule out of court nonmaterial first causes. As scientists, they are not qualified to do this. Science, which deals only with physical reality, can have nothing to say about what, if anything, is outside that reality.

...Twenty years before the publication of the Origin, Darwin was a convinced materialist who wished to rid nature of a Creator. In other words, his agenda was not strictly scientific; it was metaphysical - or, we might say, counter-metaphysical. Darwin's materialism was antecedent to, and not a result of, his scientific work. Even so, his philosophical biases would not be an issue if his theorizing had, like Mendel's or Pasteur's, been limited to secondary and proximate causes. But Darwin was stalking the First Cause. It was, he confessed in a letter, like committing "murder." And this agenda must be taken into account when judging the argument of the Origin, because virtually every chapter of that book contains hidden and unwarranted philosophical assumptions.

Warren also draws my attention to Governor Huckabee fielding a line drive from Darwinists.

Quoting a friend on the “random” part of “random mutations”, he notes:
Huxley in his presentation of Darwin makes a very critical point. He says that "random" means a mutation in the offspring that we observers could not have predicted from looking at the parents. In short, it means "unexpected" and "surprising," and it is defined purely and strictly in respect of human observers. Huxley's definition, in other words, has zero metaphysical or theological implications. From the mere fact that we human observers cannot predict an event, it is absurd to conclude that the event does not follow a regular pattern. Early human beings could not predict eclipses--so they appeared to happen at random. Yet this did not mean that eclipses did not follow a regular and predictable pattern. For Huxley, "random" simply referred to the limits of our knowledge; it did not mean that the course of evolution was itself random. The course of evolution could be the unfolding of an intelligent design or it could the result of a cosmic law of progress.

It is simply bad logic to jump from the Darwin/Huxley concept of random to conclusion that the process of evolution is itself random. People today forget the fact that those who embraced Darwin's theory in the 19th century saw it as scientific proof that progress was built into the universe--after all, if evolution led from microbes to Michelangelo, then who could possibly fail to see that the universe was constantly progressing, and not simply drifting randomly and without direction.

Here are some links to earlier Warren comments posted here:

Another Toronto journalist takes swat at Darwinoids

David Warren’s further correspondence with the Darwin fans

David Warren defends Mike Behe

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Fun: New “ascent of man” cartoon

You know, from slob to Bob in an infinitely graded ascent? Here’s the latest take on it. Go here for more cartoons on the ID-Darwinian evolution controversy.

Also, at Mindful Hack:

Can a conscious mind be built out of software?

Why ordinary people do very bad things

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