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Monday, May 04, 2009

Science and media: Another journalist weighs in

In "The Secular Inquisition", Melanie Phillips writes (Spectator, May 4, 2009),
I am an agnostic if traditionally-minded Jew; not a scientist, not a philosopher, not a subscriber to any kind of -ology but a mere journalist who has always gone wherever the evidence has led and, trying not to make too many mistakes, has formed her conclusions and her opinions from that process.

I hold no particular brief for ID, but am intrigued by the ideas it raises and want it to be given a fair crack of the whip to see where the argument will lead. What I have also seen, however, is an attempt to shut down that argument by distorting and misrepresenting ID and defaming and intimidating its proponents.
Well, yes, of course. But if makes perfect sense to me, because I have been covering this controversy extensively for about seven years now.

I can explain it really simply: Darwinism - i.e., natural selection acting on random mutation is able to create intricate life forms - is the creation story of atheism. It is therefore an essential ingredient in a new secular establishment's idea of how to organize the world.

Two problems:

(1) It is obviously not true.

(2) The public doesn't believe it. (See (1) above.)

So what now for the secular establishment? Quick, easy, tax-funded fix: Launch a big public relations campaign against anyone who says Darwinism is not true - and spend a chunk of the education budget shilling for Darwin.

Admirably, in my view, Phillips comes to the defense of the much-maligned Michael Behe, author of Edge of Evolution, one of the few rational treatments I have ever seen of the issues around what Darwinian evolution can and can't do:
If there was an intellectual begetter of this movement, it was surely the biochemist Professor Michael Behe, whose book Darwin's Black Box in 1996 expounded the theory of irreducible complexity. He is not a Creationist. Other exponents such as Phillip Johnson explicitly renounce Creationism. As he explained in his book Wedge of Truth in 2000, he wanted to make use of the scientific and philosophical idea of ID to split science from the materialist fundamentalism that had driven it to make hubristic claims to knowledge which it could not reasonably support. Far from denying science, he wanted to restore it to what he believed to be the realm of reason and observable evidence – and thus make space once again for religion.
Darwin's Black Box is a good read too, by the way, and so is Wedge of Truth.

The main thing to see here is that Darwinists have nothing better to launch than persecutions because they do not have the goods.

Find out why there is an intelligent design controversy:

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More tales from the Altenberg: Suzan Mazur's interview with David Koch

Here's a story I have been meaning to put up forever (well, only since February 24, 2009, actually): Suzan Mazur's continuing coverage of post-Darwinism (what to do after Darwin turns out not to have all the answers):

Suzan Mazur: Much of the media and scientific community appear to be stuck in the debate on evolution vs. creationism. A recent Gallup poll in America revealed that two-thirds of Republicans questioned rejected Darwin's theory and a majority of Democrats and political Independents accepted it. What is consistently ignored by pollsters and the media is the evolutionary mechanisms aside from Darwinian natural selection.

More sophisticated evolutionary thinkers are now saying natural selection is not the most important mechanism of evolutionary change. I'm talking about scientists who are funded by the National Science Foundation, not kooks.

What Darwin Got Wrong is a forthcoming book co-authored by Jerry Fodor, one of America's most celebrated philosophers, who argues that at the end of the story "it's not going to be the selectionist story". A Swedish cytogeneticist, Antonio Lima-De-Faria, who's been knighted by the king of Sweden for his scientific accomplishments, has noted that "there has never been a theory of evolution."

In fact, there is a parallel celebration this year of the 200th anniversary of Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, the scientist who was onto the idea of evolution before Darwin. New York Medical College cell biologist Stuart Newman has said publicly he believes that "over the next couple of decades Lamarck's way of looking at things [the inheritance of acquired characteristics] will be more incorporated into mainstream biology."

Would you comment?

David Koch: Well I'm not an authority on all those details. I have a general working knowledge of evolution. I'm not competent to challenge some of the claims of those folks.

Suzan Mazur: This is a big debate, which the media is not covering. It's reached a crescendo and a lot of people are saying there's a sea change happening. Some of the evolutionary mechanisms being discussed, which relegate natural selection to a less important role, include self-organization--where cells organize themselves into more complex structures. The concept of morphogenetic fields, a developmental grid guiding development, is something Mount Holyoke paleontologist Mark McMenamin and Stuart Pivar have been investigating, identifying the famous Seilacher Namibian fossil that was part of Steve Gould's Scientific American article as a flattened morphogenetic torus, a metazoan creature.

Mazur sounds to me like one sharp gal, and way smarter than her interview subject, Koch, who fronts the current tax-funded establishment line pretty reliably.

Note: Re Altenberg, go here.

Find out why there is an intelligent design controversy:


Alberta: Parents can withdraw students from classes where evolution is discussed?

Apparently, under a new Alberta law, evolution classes will be optional. (Evolution classes optional under proposed Alberta law, CBC, April 30, 2009).
Frank Bruseker, the head of the Alberta Teachers' Association, is meeting with Hancock on Monday to raise his concerns.

"If parents don't want that kind of education for their children they have a couple of options," Bruseker said. "One would be home schooling or private school. So for a public school to start excluding based on religious preference, I think is a mistake."

Bruseker said it would be difficult for teachers to avoid the topic of evolution in science or geography classes.
Okay, let's set the record straight here. This is self-exclusion, not exclusion by the system itself.

Apart from the fact that the policy is wrong, it also sounds unworkable. Won't some students just use "evolution" or "sex" (that's another hitch in the craw, according to the article) as an excuse to get out of the school day early and avoid homework?

Well, shiver me timbers and blow me down. Who would ever have thunk that?

No, seriously, if a parent insists on a student being excluded from a class due to concerns about these topics (and there is plenty to be concerned about), my suggestion is that the student be assigned hard math problems instead.

Look, it can't fail. The students who just want an excuse to lark will be sorry - and won't try it again.

The ones who can't stand the nonsense (current Darwinian evolution theory) or vice (much sex education) will be learning something useful.

Find out why there is an intelligent design controversy:

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Tales from a Wintery Knight

My blogger friend Wintery Knight discusses why a critical evaluation of Darwinism is not permitted in the public square, and how well Darwinists do in debates with skeptics.

Also, he offers a post on how educrats sacrifice excellence for self-esteem. I have often written on this topic myself (for example, here).

There is no relationship between self-esteem and objective measures of achievement.

Convicted felons in jail may have high self-esteem. Some awkward girl who will get the Mathematics Prize for her grade in high school may be convinced that no one loves her or should love her. She may nonetheless end up as the chief accountant for the prison system in which those felons are housed. That's just life unfolding the way it often does, I am afraid.

But an education system should encourage achievement in learning because that is all an education system can responsibly do.

Once it starts to meddle in social engineering, disaster follows.

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