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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Introduction: A journalist tries to understand a jealous god - materialist science

After reading American journalist Pam Winnick's A Jealous God (Nelson, 2005), I informed her that I wish I had written it. Authors, a contentious lot, don't usually suffer from a lack of ego, so that's high praise, even if it does not quite aspire to the heights of pardonable jealousy.

Winnick and I both started writing a book on the intelligent design controversy at about the same time. My By Design or by Chance? is a closeup look; Winnick used the ID controversy as a jumping off point for a number of interrelated science controversies - and produced a highly informative, easy-to-read book as a result.

She may also have damaged her career, as the Expelled film suggests, because she did not stick to a party line on many topics, but looked at what the evidence actually showed.

Party line vs. evidence? In science? Yes indeed. A profoundly illiberal trend is growing up in science. Once a party line becomes widely accepted, not only are dissenters ostracized and punished but truth, fair comment, and good intent are not permitted as defenses. If that sounds like a Canadian "human rights" commission, the resemblance is not accidental. The trend in science is part of a larger trend in society, though it is expressed in different ways.

Winnick begins with the 1970s debate on the use of live human fetuses in research. She focuses in particular on the sudden importance of "bioethicists" - whose main job, it appears, was to construct justifications for what researchers wanted to do. (pp. 28-29) For example,
"Research on the Fetus" was filled with the moral doublespeak of bioethics, the intellectual shifting, the illogic and the numerous loopholes that soon would typify nearly all writings in the emerging field of bioethics. (p. 80)
These are the things that mainstream journalists like Winnick, who wrote for the Pittsburgh Gazette, are just not supposed to say.

One must rather speak of "anguished choices" and "no easy answers" - as if, in the entire history of the world, the word NO! had never been invented and there had never been a reason to use it. She adds:
Virtually unnoticed at the time was the sub-rosa dismantling of the Judaeo-Christian ethic, the "bias for life" that at least in theory, holds each life dear. (p. 29)
In my experience, that dismantling wasn't so much unnoticed as impolite to mention. To notice such a thing implied the moral judgement that the loss of Judaeo-Christian ethics was a genuine loss. But our North American society has grown suspicious of moral judgments of any kind, especially judgements in favour of that kind of thing.

Significantly, foreshadowing later developments, advocates of live fetal research called their opponents "scientific know-nothings" who were "anti-research," thus subtly positioning science itself as on the side of dehumanizing trends.

Next: Part One: Science as popular religion

All the parts:

Introduction A journalist tries to understand a jealous god - materialist science
Part One: Science as popular religion
Part Two: The social justice costs of glorifying "science"
Part Three: Celebrity cosmology and assorted flimflam
Part Four: The simple, basic information needed to blow it all up the river

More weird news from Darwin's new world: The Myers cracker controversy

While I am busy emptying the "weird and wonderful" tray (see below for the claim that the Discovery Institute is in league with Islamic radicals), a friend sends me this observation on the "Myers cracker controversy."

Apparently, Minnesota biologist PZ Myers (best known around here as the Prophet of the Pharyngula), a virulent anti-design advocate who achieved national recognition when Expelled line producer Mark Mathis threw him out of a screening, announced that he was going to try to desecrate a host (the Catholic communion wafer, considered to be the body and blood of Christ).

Now, I have long regarded Myers as an unpleasant crackpot, and he has saved me the trouble of demonstrating that by doing it so vividly himself.

Oh, and here is another cracker-ology comment.


Conservative blog charges: The ID think tank is in league with Islamic radicals

Here's a weird turn of events: Conservative blog Little Green Footballs thinks the ID think tank Discovery Institute is in league with Islamic radicals.

And here all those other conspira-zozos insist the evil Discos are fundie Christians who think all Muslims are going to hell! Who knew how fast things could change?

Head evil Disco Bruce Chapman (a Reagan admin official in a former life) responds,

The blog site Little Green Footballs has slandered Discovery Institute, whether
intentionally or not, by implying that we are in league with Islamic radicals in Turkey. They base this fantasy, apparently, on a CBC radio report of a year ago that was so poorly researched that it called Discovery Senior Fellow David Berlinski "Paul
Berlinski" and referred to us as the "Christian Discovery organization." Then they interview a host of people of varying views in Turkey who are critical of Darwinism and imply that they are all connected. They seemingly imply Discovery's involvement in this situation based on the fact that Berlinski was invited to speak at a conference held by the municipal government of Istanbul last year. Big deal. (Berlinski, by the way, is a secular Jew, so work with that fact for a while, boys.)

If people at LGF think they can make the case that Discovery Institute is somehow soft on Islamic radicalism and terrorists, perhaps they should pick up a copy of our Senior Fellow John Wohlstetter's new book, The Long War Ahead: And the Short War Upon Us. It is published by Discovery Institute Press and I challenge the LGF folks to read it—or any of my own writings on the Iraq War and the war on terrorism generally—and continue contending that this institute would ever have any truck with people—Muslim or otherwise—who doubt the danger of Islamic fascism.

I think Chapman is wasting his time. Many North Americans are not prepared to be rational either about most Muslims or about the evidence for design in nature. So this is their chance for two freakouts for the price of one.

I am surprised that Little Green Footballs would so easily credit anything that the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) broadcasts on the intelligent design controversy. The last thing the CBC people would do would be to pick up the phone to anyone in Canada who knows the Discos and ask how likely this is.

Speaking for myself, I have met a good number of the Discos, and have a pretty shrewd idea what they are like (earnest eggheads and lab rats, mostly). I certainly wouldn't protect them if I had any reason to believe that they were burka boys. It all sounds to me like a disinformation campaign.


Darwinism and popular culture: Vladimir Nabokov, "Furious" Darwin Doubter

So was Vladimir Nabokov (1899-1977) secretly a fundamentalist Christian, a mad man, or just plain ignorant? The great novelist (Lolita, Pale Fire, Pnin) was, in his own telling, a "furious" critic of Darwinian theory. He based the judgment not on religion, to which biographer Brian Boyd writes that he was "profoundly indifferent," but on decades of his scientific study of butterflies, including at Harvard and the American Museum of Natural History. Of course, this was all before the culture-wide sclerosis of Darwinian orthodoxy set in.

As Boyd notes in Vladimir Nabokov: The American Years, "He could not accept that the undirected randomness of natural selection would ever explain the elaborateness of nature's designs, especially in the most complex cases of mimicry where the design appears to exceed any predator’s powers of apprehension."

Boyd summarized the artist's scientific bona fides in an appreciation in Natural History.
For most of the 1940s, he served as de facto curator of lepidoptera at Harvard University’s Museum of Comparative Zoology, and became the authority on the little-studied blue butterflies (Polyommatini) of North and South America. He was also a pioneer in the study of butterflies' microscopic anatomy, distinguishing otherwise almost identical blues by differences in their genital parts.

Read the rest here.

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Darwin and the Nazis: The Final Solution as an exercise in evolutionary biology? ...

Over the years, the Post-Darwinist blog has received many attacks from people who insist that the Nazis owed nothing to Darwin's theory of evolution (which, to Darwin believers is, of course, the fount of all good things).

As I have pointed out elsewhere, the Nazis owed the very definition of who and what they were to Darwin's theory of evolution. They saw themselves as the more fit, more highly evolved master race, after all.

That does NOT mean that the Nazis couldn't have murdered without Darwin. Of course they could have. They could have taken their inspiration for mass murder from anyone who offered it. Charlie Manson, for example. But, as it happens, they found Darwin's "survival of the fittest" or "natural selection" instead.

Anyway, a friend wrote to alert me to the Nazis' Wannsee Protocol for the "Final Solution" (= murdering 6 million Jewish people), and I am assured by historian of the period Richard Weikart (California State University) that it is genuine:

My friend writes
The debt that the Nazis owed to the Theory of Evolution is clearly stated in the protocol of the Final Solution (Endloesung) of the Jewish question formulated on January 20, 1942. This document was produced as a result of a conference among leading Nazis which considered how the Jewish problem could be solved in its entirety.
and draws my attention particularly to this section:
Under proper guidance, in the course of the final solution the Jews are to be allocated for appropriate labor in the East. Able-bodied Jews, separated according to sex, will be taken in large work columns to these areas for work on roads, in the course of which action doubtless a large portion will be eliminated by natural causes.

The possible final remnant will, since it will undoubtedly consist of the most resistant portion, have to be treated accordingly, because it is the product of natural selection and would, if released, act as the seed of a new Jewish revival (see the experience of history.)

In other words, the Nazis even used the terminology of Darwinian evolutionists (= explaining the worry that those Jews who survived forced labour would be naturally selected as the more "fit" population).

Now, museum curators and Darwin hagiographers, airbrush that!

See also:

Darwin Day in America - a Review, especially the systematic attempts to "spin" Darwin's racism and support for eugenics.

Darwin and the Nazis: Nazism as a "biological" political program

Further stories here (scroll down below the one immediately above).

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