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Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Debate: Agnostic thinks the universe shows evidence of design while Christian disagrees, but praises Jesus anyway?

Surprise? Not to me ...

Friends have drawn my attention to this supposedly surprising announcement, that in an upcoming debate, the intelligent design sympathizer is an agnostic and the guy who doesn't think there is evidence for design in the universe is a Christian.
Faraday Institute Newsletter No 32 (September 2008)*

The Faraday Course entitled ‘Science and Religion for Church Leaders’,
also intended for those training for ministry, will take place Nov
4-6^th . As usual full details are up on the Faraday web-site
( . . .

Those in the Birmingham UK area might be interested to know that on Saturday, 27^th September, at 4.0 p.m. in the George Hotel, Lichfield, the Institute Director will be in debate with Prof. Steve Fuller (Prof. of Sociology at Warwick University) at the Lichfield Literary Festival ( on the subject of Intelligent Design. This is a somewhat counterintuitive debate in that Prof. Fuller, an agnostic, is an ID supporter whereas the Director, a theist, is a critic of ID. Hopefully the exchange of views will clarify rather than
further obfuscate a topic perennially surrounded by a thick fog of confusion.

Denis Alexander

Director, Faraday Institute

And here's more (but you must scroll).

I don't personally see anything counterintuitive about this at all.

I have covered contentious issues most of my life. I have learned, people do not always have the positions you expect. Often, the best way to understand what is happening is to ask why this? Why here? Why now? Philosophy comes into it, but so do other things.

Consider American Scientific Affiliation (ASA). It is a group of some thousands of self- identified American Christians in science. It is the best-known of the sort of group that Britain's Denis Alexander - the theist who apparently doesn't think the universe shows detectible evidence of design - represents. ASA got started mid-twentieth century, when materialism was all the rage. The neo-Darwinian synthesis, the Miller-Urey experiment, the Drake equation ... all these high science events pointed to a universe that had sort of randomly coalesced from rubble, and somehow everything just sort of happened after that. The question was (and for ASA still is), "How to be a Christian when it looks like the evidence is against you".

So far as I can determine, from observing and interacting with the ASA figures involved in the intelligent design controversy for a number of years, theirs is the "respect Christians in science" model.

They want respect for scientists who are people of faith so that they can interact with other scientists on an equal basis, despite the handicap of faith. But for all practical purposes, the facts favour materialist atheism, in their view.

So a sort of inner sight, inner light, some light of faith, is required to see otherwise. Varieties of "theistic evolution" have proliferated ever since - all are responses to materialist atheism and all agree that agree that the materialist atheist's interpretation of the evidence is true, but perhaps defective or unsatisfying ...

That is the basic theme of Francis Collins's The Language of God, where he cautions: Never depend on the facts to support you. And Collins is ASA's poster boy.

Surviving materialist atheism is ASA's reason for existing, and the organization is co-dependent with the environment in which it took root. All organizations are, unless they radically transform themselves.

One outcome is that for ASA, intelligent design (ID) - not materialist atheism - is the enemy. ID, not materialist atheism, threatens to destroy ASA's basis for existence.

Why is that? Well, for one thing, the ID guys started to gather at a time when the evidence base for materialist atheism was beginning to collapse. The universe does show unambiguous evidence of design (fine tuning). Only completely wild theories can even attempt to explain that away.

In that case, the many varieties of "theistic evolution" (ASA's brands) are an answer to a problem that doesn't exist. One need not grant any materialist premise in principle. That fact immediately raises the question of why ASA even exists any more.

If this analysis is correct, it explains several puzzling features of the political landscape. Here are a couple:

1. ASA can be in talks with science groups of whom the majority are probably atheists but not with the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture. That is because ASA needs militant atheism to prop up its own existence. By contrast, intelligent design theory is a threat to ASA's continued existence, unless it greatly changes - which the older people who are in charge of ASA are not likely to want to even contemplate.

2. ASA's failure as an institution to express much interest in the recent attacks on scientists like Gonzalez and Sternberg (as documented in Expelled). They were clearly doing science and were attacked because their science did not support materialist atheism. I don't buy the claim that "ASA isn't that kind of an organization" because - while it is startlingly evident that ASA is not that kind of organization - the fact requires some explanation.

3. ASA sponsors the publicly archived ASA list, an online water cooler for self-identified Christians who oppose ID. No similar ASA list devotes as much attention to opposing materialist atheism on behalf of fine tuning of the universe.

I could go on, but you get the picture. There is nothing unusual about this kind of situation. It is quite common, actually. In Canada, we are dealing with an unrelated though analogous issue around "human rights" commissions, where early human rights organizations are co-dependent with the most illiberal forces in the nation - complicating the problem of just getting rid of the latter.

Note: Right now, the legacy media - also co-dependent with materialist atheism - are essentially performing a holding action by keeping the public from realizing what has happened in the sciences, so key markers may be hard to discern without study.

But anyway, no, it is not counterintuitive to me.

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Darwinism and popular culture: The Spore game subtly mocks the Darwinian fairy tale

American high school student RGR has been, he tells me, following the debates on the validity of Darwinism since the release of Ben Stein's Expelled
Until then, I had never questioned the validity of Darwinian natural selection. A little independent research has convinced me of Darwinism's improbability. I'm still a firm proponent of common descent, but I see now that Darwinism can't account for much of the development of life.

A while ago, I read an article of yours referencing the upcoming videogame "Spore". I agree that this game is a sign of Darwinism's weakening hold on pop culture, and I think the game will be an excellent demonstration of how common descent is compatible with non-Darwinian evolution. I was pleased all the more when I saw a trailer for the game on Youtube, and noted the language with which it was described.

I think RGR is on to something there. The Darwinian narrative is treated ironically, not reverently. The assumption is that it is okay to doubt, to think that design is more plausible. No wonder militant atheists, whose creation story is Darwinism, are outraged, as Reuters reports:
As a simulation of evolution from single-cell organism to space-faring civilisation, Will Wright feared his latest creation, Spore, would draw criticism from religious groups. But so far, the game's creator has revealed, the portrayal of religion in the game has only drawn the ire of angry non-believers.

[ ... ]

Life in Spore is created according to the theory of panspermia - which hypothesises that it has been seeded on Earth from elsewhere in the universe. But it's the mere presence of religion in the game's civilisation stage that has raised hackles amongst some in the gaming community.

"I didn't expect to hit hot buttons on the atheist side as much; I expected it on the religious side," Wright revealed. "But so far I've had no critical feedback at all from anybody who is religious feeling that we were misrepresenting religion or it was bad to represent religion in the game. It was really the atheists."

[ ... ]

Wright, however, who described himself as an "atheist", insisted that with Spore he was not trying to pronounce on the issue one way or the other: ...
Wright doesn't seem to understand that materialist atheists permit no doubt, whereas traditional theists and non-materialists do. He had carefully vetted his game with the traditionals (who like it), not understanding that it is the New Atheist fascists he has something to fear from. Well, a few years of their 24/7 hostility will soon teach him, I fear. Here's Johnny Minkley's Eurogamer interview with him.

Meanwhile, one prof friend confesses that he "spent too much time learning how to make Spore creatures last night" but he nonetheless recommends the free trial version.

Significantly, a teacher grouses:
It's not great as an aid to teaching evolution, since the premise is actually intelligent design. Or, more often than not, unintelligent design. An accurate evolution game would not be a game at all, because everything would get on without any input from the player.
He should teach is class to play Bingo, shouldn't he? That gets rid of the design element.

I wonder if the makers will be forced to issue a disclaimer to the effect that the premise of the game is natural selection acting on random mutations? I remember when the creators of the stunning March of the Penguins had to issue a disclaimer that the film didn't really support intelligent design (of course it does). The best they could come up with in response is that the penguins, after all, change their mates every year ... (Now, if the blubbery birds could just do colour as well as black and white, maybe Hollywood would call ... )

Oh, and here's a fun spoof on March. Spoof's premise: In French, the film was "Marche des Empereurs". Recall who France's "Empereur" was ...

Update: A friend writes to say that Brian Eno, who scored Spore, argues,
Spore has some of that (in that it gives you some sort of feel for how evolution might work), but I could imagine going further in that direction.

For example, a few years ago I found myself wondering, "Why do the leaves of trees take all the different forms that they do?" If you accept the theory of evolution, then you will also accept that these shapes aren't just arbitrary designs that God came up with in an idle moment, and so they must be the result of climatic conditions and physical forces and structural constraints and materials issues. So I could imagine a piece of software that would allow you to specify a climate — such as "tundra with powerful winds," and to see what possible leaf shapes that might allow. For instance, it couldn't be big, wide stiff leaves, because they would get shattered by the wind or weighed down by the weight of snow. And so it has to be a spiny form of foliage, but held on the tree in such a way as not to collect snow. And, since it has to photosynthesize in a northern climate, it has to keep its foliage ...
So Eno avoids the problem by assuming that design would be random but that neo-Darwinian evolution (survival of the fittest acting on random mutations in one of many possible environments) would not be.

So that' s the story this time ...


Evolution: Purebred dogs as hopeless monsters

A new blog started in the UK called Science and Values looks to be quite interesting. A recent post, for example, addresses the growing problem of mutant pedigreed dogs:
Pedigree dogs - or mutant monsters?

A very interesting programme on the problem of inbreeding with pedigree dogs has recently been shown on BBC 1 in the UK; “Pedigree dogs exposed,” Tuesday 19th August 2008 21.00 BST. Although this programme didn’t set out to be anti Darwinian, there are some very interesting observations that come out of it that are really quite damaging to neo-Darwinian explanations. In fact the programme stated that the whole concept of purebred dogs came out of the eugenics movement of the 19th century.

It would seem that some breeds of dogs are so inbred that genetic defects are becoming a major problem, and are in fact leading to great suffering for the dogs. A related study by scientists at Imperial College London has shown that the 20,000 strong population of Boxer dogs has the genetic information of only 70 animals, the 12,000 Rough Collie’s contain the genetic information of only 50 dogs

Why "really quite damaging to neo-Darwinian explanations"? Because ...
Two observations come out of this. Firstly, a great deal of morphological change can occur in a short period of time and yet not turn a dog into something that isn’t a dog. Changes in size, shape, colouration etc. occur, but still they are dogs, while the gene pool becomes ever more focussed on a few individuals. Large changes can occur by isolating and expressing pre-existing genetic information in a species without generating new information.

Secondly, the compounding of harmful mutations is a major problem for inbreeding in small populations in the wild, so much so that it risks the viability of the breed / species itself. The problems association with the tumours on the faces of Tasmanian Devils is a case in point. And yet evolutionists will say that such small inbreeding populations have been an important part of the evolutionary process. The evidence suggests a different account, as it would constantly place evolving animals on the edge of extinction. Evolutionists will of course claim that artificial selection is not the same as natural selection because natural selection will weed out the unfit animals whereas human breeders don’t. But even that doesn’t help much as Haldane’s paradox highlights. Beneficial mutations are much rarer than harmful ones, and are more likely to be found in very large populations. But small, or isolated populations are required to get those mutations to spread through a population. The speed at which mutations become fixed in a population must also be sufficiently slow to weed out the far more numerous harmful mutations. Evolution then would require at the same time the benefit of very large populations and very small ones - without the overwhelmingly observed side effects that develop from compounding harmful mutation in small populations. Thus the gene pool of large populations cannot change much at all over time; while the gene pool of very small inbreeding populations in fact degrades making the species less fit overall.

It’s worth reading the Question Darwin blog for a more complete review of the evidence presented in the programme.
I always thought that Darwin (and more recently Richard Dawkins) pulled a fast one on the public by pretending that human breeding shows what natural selection (= survival of the fittest in the wild) can do.

In reality, human breeding of animals shows what intelligent design can do. Not good design, necessarily, but intelligently directed design as such.

In the present intellectual climate, of course, the people who would have been Communists, Fascists, or Freudians are now Darwinists or eco-doomsayers (it's what's left, I am afraid), so they will believe with childish simplicity anyway. The most likely reason the program was even broadcast is that the producer did not realize its implications. The best programs are often like that.

Note: Science and Values and Question Darwin will be added to the blogroll.

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