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Monday, May 18, 2009

Human evolution: New find reduces certainty

Further to Uncommon Descent Contest Question 3: Human evolution - What do we actually
know? (13 May 2009), this article in Wall Street Journal by Gautam Naik (May 15, 2009) boosts the finding of the skeleton of an ancient primate from 47 million years ago as a "landmark discovery." Why?
Some 50 million years ago, two ape-like groups walked the Earth. One is known as the tarsidae, a precursor of the tarsier, a tiny, large-eyed creature that lives in Asia. Another group is known as the adapidae, a precursor of today's lemurs in Madagascar.

Based on previously limited fossil evidence, one big debate had been whether the tarsidae or adapidae group gave rise to monkeys, apes and humans. The latest discovery bolsters the less common position that our ancient ape-like ancestor was an adapid, the believed precursor of lemurs.
In other words, the landmark discovery in an abandoned quarry near Frankfurt, Germany, keeps the controversy going by evening the odds.
"Lemur advocates will be delighted, but tarsier advocates will be underwhelmed" by the new evidence, says Tim White, a paleontologist at the University of California, Berkeley. "The debate will persist."
Which is as much as to say, no one really knows.

A friend notes, as I did myself, that Naik's writing seems a bit more even handed than we typically see in this area. Possibly that is because Naik must realize the implications of the find: Whereas we thought we were converging on the "tarsier" solution, we now know less than ever.

Worse, by a curious psychological coincidence, dogmatism often increases precisely as evidence recedes.

By contrast, I heard an interview on CBC radio's Saturday morning Quirks and Quarks program featuring the palaeontologist who found dinosaur tissue, previously believed irrecoverable. (Scroll down to "Duck Billed Protein") Now that is the sort of find for which I would use the word "landmark." If someone could recover soft tissue from ancient primates, ... just think ...

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Darwinism vs. design: Houston playwright discovers how open-minded Darwinists can be

Here I posted on a play and a Socratic dialogue on the ID controversy.

There's more: The Third Side by Thomas Vaughn, a play staged in Houston, Texas, produced by Mildred's Umbrella Theater Company critiques both intelligent design and Darwinian evolution:
After being pressed by a student, Biology Professor Henry Darden admits that he finds Darwin's emphasis on natural selection as the means of evolution unconvincing". This public confession thrusts Professor Darden into a culture war he wanted nothing to do with. As different sides claim him as their own, the collisions of science, faith and intellectual intolerance take a toll even on his family life as the controversy opens up both new and old wounds at home.

And this from the Writer's Notes,
The character Henry Darden’s views are based on the ideas of well-qualified scientists. These professionals are not creationists, and they do not believe in Intelligent Design. Their credentials and their motives are impeccable. As a dramatist, I am not qualified to have a worth-while opinion on who exactly is right in this scientific debate, but it was the blistering, often personal attacks on these individuals by their colleagues that inspired this play.

The hostility these men and women received, however, is nothing compared to the vitriol directed towards Dr. William Dembski, a leading advocate of Intelligent Design (ID). I want to personally thank Dr. Dembski here. Knowing full well that I did not agree with his views, Dr. Dembski still took the time to read the play to help assure the accuracy of how the ideas behind ID were portrayed. He even suggested a fine story note that I used and I think the play is better for it. I am very grateful for his trust, his generosity, and most of all his open-mindedness.

This stands as a stark contrast to some of those that I communicated with in the same capacity who hold the more mainstream view of evolution. They were openly hostile to not just the play but the very notion that these minority views should be given a voice at all. The interviews with the notable scientists these ideas are based on were attacked without being read. One individual even suggested that the interviews were probably just made up and not worth reading in the first place.

While this hostility came from only a few, and only from the academics, it was enough to assure me that the basic thrust of the play was essentially correct.
Tom Vaughan, you are going to get yourself Expelled if you are not careful. You don't need to agree with the ID folk to get Expelled. Just doubt Darwin, and bingo!

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Article in Think criticizes Dawkins, defends design

Think: Philosophy for Everyman (Spring, 2009; pages 71-81) has published a paper by Douglas Groothuis, a philosophy prof at Denver Seminary: "Who Designed the Designer? A Dialogue on Richard Dawkins's The God Delusion."

That's interesting, because Think is a secular British journal - and the article criticizes Dawkins and defends intelligent design.

My view: The question Dawkins likes to ask, "Who designed the designer?", is meant to distract people from noticing the design of life, which is far beyond the powers of the Darwinian evolution he defends. If the designer is God, as traditional theists hold, he is eternally self-existent.

What if one is not a theist? A moment's thought shows that a designer is not equivalent to a design. To use an ancient image, the potter is not on the same plane of exisstence as the pot. And it is not necessary to know how the potter came to exist to realize that the pot is designed.

Richard Dawkins would solve the problem by claiming that the pot designed itself.

Find out why there is an intelligent design controversy:

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Podcasts in the intelligent design controversy

1. Socratic Method: Short Stories and James Hoskins

Click here to listen.

Today on ID the Future, Casey Luskin interviews James Hoskins about his latest creative writing endeavors. Hoskins, a philosophy major at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, has written several pieces based on the debate between ID and Darwinian evolution, including one that pits Socrates and imaginary materialist Hector Dawkins against each other as they argue over the scientific merit of ID. Hoskins also reads excerpts from some of his stories, and describes the inspiration behind them.

Hoskins' work, including his Debate Between Socrates and Hector Dawkins, can be downloaded from ID Arts here. It is interesting that intelligent design is increasingly the subject of artwork. See also Steve Fuller's clever little play, which puts Abe Lincoln and Charles Darwin (born on the same day) on a contemporary talk show, hosted by a big hair hostette and a wisecracking dude on a short lead.)

2. The Dark Darwinian History of Eugenics

Click here to listen.

On this episode of ID the Future, John West takes a look at the eugenics movement of the early twentieth century and how it drew direct inspiration from Darwinian biology and the writings of Charles Darwin himself. The eugenics movement was no fringe effort, but was the view of mainstream science and espoused by those at Harvard, Princeton, and the National Academy of Science.

For more, visit the website of Dr. West's book, Darwin Day in America.

(Someone should write a book about the Darwin industry's efforts to separate their prophet from the eugenics he believed in and inspired. Unlike the Catholic Church, they cannot just face up to that episode in their history, and get past it. They react with outrage and denial when anyone brings it up, though the history is very well documented. See, for example, From Darwin to Hitler.)

3. Intelligent Design 101: Casey Luskin on Human Chromosomal Fusion

Click here to listen.

On this episode of ID The Future, Casey Luskin continues the series begun in the previous podcast (Intelligent Design 101: State of the Debate), rebutting an argument for common ancestry between humans and chimpanzees in Dr. Francis Collins' book The Language of God.

Taken from a recently finished appendix to Intelligent Design 101: Leading Experts Explain the Key Issues, Luskin responds to the notion that similar chromosomal structure between the two species is proof of a common lineage by saying plainly that the discovery is equally compatible with a theory of common design.

(I find this a messy and complex issue. I don't really have a problem with common descent of humans and chimpanzees in principle. If you think about it, we are all more closely related to Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Pol Pot, Idi Amin, and other moral monsters than we are to Travis, the rampaging chimpanzee.

That said, the vast majority of common descent zealots see it as downgrading humans (= "We are not a little lower than the angels, as the Bible says; we are merely the third chimpanzee species, animals like any other.") It was supposed to be Darwin's great achievement to establish that that is so. The reality is that, common descent or not, we moved away from the chimpanzees' neighbourhood a long time ago, which is why I can call Joseph Stalin a moral monster, but not Travis.)

Intellectual freedom in Canada: Randy Hillier, running for leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party, targets "human rights" commission

I received one of Hillier's fundraising letters a few days ago. His first action point is "an end to the Ontario Human Rights Commission which is attacking free speech in this province."

Actually, the Commission is attacking far more than that now, though free speech has been their major target for some years.

Blogging outrageous decisions is not enough; it is a political problem and requires a political solution.

I can never bring myself to lose the scare quotes (" ") when talking about the "human rights" commissions. That's because it is scary to think that the commissioners probably don't realize how Orwellian* their operation has become. But more and more of the public does realize, because the scope of Commission decisions has widened rapidly and is ever more tenuously linked to traditional concerns about fair play in employment and housing. (*This link takes you to Mark Steyn's testimony at a legislature hearing into the Ontario Commission. I was with the banned, and I taped it.)

In The National Post (May 15, 2009), Hillier writes,
Sincere principled dissent is not just something to be tolerated in a free and democratic society; it’s the very wellspring from which our democratic traditions flow. Without such principled dissent, it should be remembered, our society might never have rid itself of the scourge of slavery; women might still be denied the right to vote and Jews might still be barred from entering Canada, as they were for a time under the federal Liberal party’s policy of “none is too many.” - from "Randy Hillier: The right not to be pushed around by government"
The ruling Liberals, headed by Premier Dalton McGuinty, can either preempt Hillier on this growing issue or stoutly defend the Commission. The latter would link the Liberals to the Commission's persecutions.

I just wish Hillier hadn't made his second action point "bringing back the spring bear hunt to help our northern and rural communities" Many urbanites who have never seen a bear outside a zoo will be marching and sitting in at the drop of a hat. Here's the yay for the hunt and here's the nay. Make up your own mind.

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