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Monday, November 26, 2007

The Internet and the intelligent design controversy

Apparently, Bill Dembski is taking some heat over the occasional use of some animated footage captured from the Internet that turned out to belong to Harvard:
Back in September of 2006 I announced at my blog UncommonDescent that a “breathtaking video” titled “The Inner Life of Cell” had just come out. The video was so good that I wanted to use it in some of my public presentations, but when I tried to purchase a DVD of it (I sent several emails to relevant parties), I was informed it wasn’t ready. Moreover, at the time, the video did not have a voiceover explaining the biology of what was being shown.

So some people who are invested in materialism and want to put off the question of whether materialist theories (the Enron of biology) can explain everything from the origin of the universe and life to the rise of consciousness - of course - want their that to be the issue instead.

Well, this certainly brings back memories! In the universe before the Internet, I was a permissions editor for a few years. The most important part of my job was helping to address the problem of what to do when we discovered that we did not actually have permission to use something that was already in print.

That can happen much more easily than people who are not in the publishing business suppose. Some rights holders are untraceable or do not answer their mail or have unintentionally behaved in such a way as to create the impression that they do not care if their work is public domain, or otherwise behave in a confusing way. I sometimes spent hours putting together a single file. And I was considered good at what I did.

Still, it wasn’t a big deal. The publishers whose rights we had infringed had probably infringed ours (all unintentionally), and everyone just wanted to smooth it over correctly.

However, the Internet is a new world because anybody can publish. Stuff can easily appear without attribution and disappear without notice. I am glad I don’t do that job today. Anyway, when the matter was brought to his attention today, Dembski said he would use another item.

As if keeping him from using a particular film clip is going to change the current massive direction of the evidence against random assembly and development of life!

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The Economist on the surfboard Theory of Everything

“A shape could describe the cosmos and all it contains”, the Economist announces, profiling the claim of a surfer dude with science cred to have discovered a theory of everything:
ONE of the mysteries of the universe is why it should speak the language of mathematics. Numbers and the relationships between them are, after all, just abstract reasoning. Yet mathematics has shown itself to be particularly adept at describing both the contents of the universe and the forces that act on them. Now comes a paper which argues that one branch of the subject—geometry—could form the basis of all the laws of physics.

Reach for your hat whenever someone claims that a simple idea explains absolutely everything.

Personally, I think it will turn out to be a crock, and I’ll be hearing about Paris Hilton long after I’m hearing about this. But this certainly shows the level of anxiety out there to find a Theory of Everything.

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British journalist Melanie Phillips weighs in for the ID guys

A British journalist, Melanie Phillips, said to be in Prince Charles’s circle of friends, has come out swinging in defence of the ID guys. In the “The real nutters are the fanatics who despise religious belief” (Daily Mail), mid-column, she denounces the irrationality of the atheist lobby:
In suggesting that life sprang into existence without any kind of governing intelligence, they fly in the face of the evidence emerging from science that the hitherto unimaginable complexity of life forms, including the living cell, makes it scientifically impossible for life to have emerged without some kind of intelligent design.

Nevertheless, the Dawkins-ites are lionised as apostles of reason. Meanwhile, those scientists who are doing what scientists are supposed to do - follow where the evidence leads them - and who have concluded as a result that life was created by a guiding intelligence, are hysterically smeared by the Dawkins camp.

In a shocking campaign of intellectual thuggery, this camp has falsely accused such scientists of being religious fundamentalists who believe the world was created in six days - when they believe no such thing at all. Some of these scientists then find they are threatened in their posts or even forced out altogether.

Well, yes, Melanie, but the Darwinism the intellectual thugs espouse is the Enron of biology, and they’ll do whatever they must to avoid letting anyone balance the books.


What I told the most recent batch of filmmakers shooting up the town....

Remember when the intelligent design controversy was dead, back in 2000, 2002, ... 2005, and all years in between? Well, as if Judgment Day and Expelled aren’t enough, yet another batch of filmmakers is doing a documentary in the intelligent design controversy. I somehow don’t think they are laying a ghost ...

No indeed, on Saturday I had to hoof downtown to an otherwise largely deserted building on the U of T campus where a TV crew wanted me to answer some questions for the camera. (Possibly it was one of those preliminary jobbies where they try to figure out if you would make good TV.)

I decided to put my thoughts on the following questions in writing beforehand, so I don’t do the Dawkins “long moment of silence thing” (= just freeze in front of the camera).

Anyway, here are the questions they wanted me to answer, and I have placed my answers below each:

1. What is the difference between ID (intelligent design) vs. YEC (young earth creation) theory?

[From Denyse: Well, (young earth) creationism means assuming that the stories in the Bible are not only true but literally true - like, God created the Earth in 144 hours.

Intelligent design isn't really about the age of the Earth; it's about the high level of information found in all life forms that could not possibly have got there the way Darwin believed it did.

For one thing, Darwin had no idea how high that level of information is, and always has been.

If Charles Darwin were alive today, I can assure you he would not be a Darwinist.

Today's Darwinism is the creation story of materialist atheism and, in some cases, of liberal religion. Tons of people feel righteous because they believe it and promote it and attack anyone who doubts it.

But there is actually no substance to it. It is wrong. It scuffs the evidence of the history of life, which shows that life started off very complex and very varied and slowly became somewhat more complex and less varied - just the opposite of what Darwin's theory predicted.

2. How the two camps view one another?

[From Denyse: Well, it's kind of a spectrum. Lots of people know Darwin's theory is wrong but they focus on different things and have different commitments. It's kind of like knowing that communism is wrong. Everyone who opposes it isn't the same as everyone else and doesn't have the same reasons or commitments.

Mike Behe, the author of Edge of Evolution, doesn't fight with the young earth creationists because there's no point. The creationists bug him when they attack the Big Bang theory of the formation of the universe, which is well attested, or deny that humans and apes share a common ancestor another thing for which there is good evidence. But they aren't trying to wreck his career, and the defenders of Darwin are. So he picks his fights. Why not?]

3. Why does the public tend to conflate ID with Creationism?

[From Denyse: A couple of reasons: Defenders of Darwin's theory have every reason to classify everyone who knows it can't possibly work as a kook, and they've been pretty good at that. Most media people haven't read much in the area and don't know what the problems are, so they go along with the kook theory, in general.

Otherwise, they'd have to do homework.

Also, it's pretty scary when you discover how much you have been told on good authority from science professionals is actually poorly founded and ideologically motivated. Many people probably think it wiser not to know. I only stumbled on the story myself, you know, and I've been running ever since.

Here's an example of what I mean: The vast majority of important evolutionary biologists are pure (no God) naturalists.

Am I supposed to believe that that doesn't colour their interpretation of evidence? I know bloody well that it does. But media focus on the fact that most of the ID guys are theists or pantheists and conveniently ignore the ideological commitments of the other side. ]

3. The role of religion in science - is there a place for it?

[From Denyse: No. Certainly not. Intelligent design theory is based on actual physical evidence. The history of life as we now know it does NOT support Darwin's theory and is better understood in information theory terms.

Here is what has happened: We are told that science studies only natural causes. IF that merely meant that science does not study miracles, which are segregated from nature by definition, I would have no problem with it.

But the expression does not typically mean that. It typically means that science is compelled to assume that high levels of information can be created through random movements of molecules. That is the fundamental article of the materialist creed, and it has never been demonstrated.

Because it has never been - and probably cannot be - demonstrated, the materialist demands that we assert it as an article of faith.

I don't want religion of any sort to be a part of science. If there is no good evidence for Darwinism (and there isn't), then it fails as a theory even if progressive people believe in it. ]

4. The politics of ID theory and education - is it a "liberal vs. conservative" battleground, or is it more complex than that?

[From Denyse: Well, yes and no. What the term "liberal" implies has changed an awful lot in my own lifetime. When I was a teen, a liberal opposed segregation and the Vietnam war. Today, increasingly, a liberal is someone who honestly believes that Bush knew about 9-11 beforehand - a point of view that I would consider presumptive evidence of being a crackpot. (Bush was never great and he retired on the job early during his second term - but he did NOT know about 9-11.)

Re education: Again, in my lifetime, the education system has moved from being the Protestant school system to being a secular materialist one. At least some of the battle is secular materialists attempting to preserve their gains - after all, everyone pays taxes to support a system that advances their view exclusively.

All that said, I don't think ID should be taught in schools because most students are challenged just to graduate with enough literacy and numeracy to satisfy an employer. BUT - on the other hand - no teacher should be prevented from civilly expressing an honest opinion that differs from that of the Darwinist establishment. Learning how to express dissent in a civil way is a part of education.]

Of course the interview didn’t go exactly scripted like this, but what ever does?

At the end, the interviewer asked me to add something, and I said that, so far as I can see, intelligent design of the universe would not be bad news for anyone except materialist atheists. Every other tradition will just claim that they invented the idea or that their prophets predicted or revealed it. That, of course, is the precise reason why so many of the anti-ID guys are materialist atheists.

I wonder how many of them went into it to disprove ID?

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