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Sunday, May 31, 2009

Darwinism and popular culture: "Brain glitches, not evidence, cause people to think there is design in life!"

Here's a classic in advocacy posing as research: "Humans may be primed to believe in creation"
(Ewen Callaway, New Scientist, 02 March 2009):

Religion might not be the only reason people buy into creationism and intelligent design, psychological experiments suggest.
No matter what their religious beliefs, college-educated adults frequently agree with purpose-seeking yet false explanations of natural phenomena - finches diversified in order to survive, for instance.

"The very fact of belief in purpose itself might lead you to favour intelligent design," says Deborah Kelemen, a psychologist at Boston University, who led the study

And her point is what, exactly? That belief in purpose is irrational? Why so?

It is a shame that such studies are funded, but I would imagine that funding will increase, not decrease, as materialism takes a nose dive, and its tenured profs need to rescue it.

Find out why there is an intelligent design controversy:

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Ida? I dunno. I wish I had bet a whack on the pop science press dumping all over it

Holy kazoo! Even Nature isn't buying the hype about the "missing link"? So how soon can we get "evolutionary psychology" relegated to the tabs and the funny papers?

A hyped-up fossil find highlights the potential dangers of publicity machines.
Last week's publication of paper describing a 47-million-year-old fossil primate with a remarkable degree of preservation (see prompted a trickle of news in The Daily Mail that quickly swelled to a flood of media coverage.

In normal circumstances, the interpretation of the specimen given in the paper (J. L. Franzen et al. PLoS ONE 4, e5723; 2009) would have been no more contentious than that of any other fossil primate, and a good deal less so than some.

[ ... ]

But the circumstances surrounding the paper's publication were anything but normal. Before the paper had even been submitted to the journal, Atlantic, a production company based in New York, had commissioned a television documentary and an accompanying book about the find. Just a week after the paper appeared, the book has been published and the documentary has been aired on the History Channel in the United States, as well as Britain's BBC and Norway's NRK.

Uh, yeah.

Find out why there is an intelligent design controversy:

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Theistic evolution: New site challenges tenured Christian profs' homage to atheism

Alarmed, perhaps, by the fact that establishment organizations in the United States are putting big bucks into "theistic evolution" (= God dunit, but it looks just the way it would if God didn't exists, so you must believe on the basis of unsubstantiated faith, not evidence), the evil Discos (the Discovery Institute) have started a Web site to try to explain what is at stake here.
New Website Explores the Intersection of Evolution and Religion

At the launch of, CSC associate director John
West explains that since its inception in 1996, the Center for Science and
Culture has devoted most of its resources to supporting research, publication,
and education about the scientific aspects of the debate over Darwinian
evolution and intelligent design.

“Nothing is going to change that,” he says, adding that much of FaithandEvolution.Org is focused on presenting scientific information in a clear and understandable manner.

“But we’ve always been clear that science has larger worldview implications, and so we want to encourage open and informed discussion of the implications of Darwin’s theory as well. This has become especially important in recent years as both the ‘new atheists’ and the ‘new theistic evolutionists’ have tried to monopolize the faith and evolution conversation. FaithandEvolution.Org is an effort to inject some balance back into the discussion.”
Read more about the new website here.

I wish them well. If I never hea from another tenured "Christian" prof explaining to me that the universe shows no evidence of design and that God means us to get on by "faith" (= delusions, like his) alone, I will ruddy be very glad.

I don't claim to get special messages from God but I am pretty sure he never meant anything like that.

Find out why there is an intelligent design controversy:

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Human evolution: Neanderthals as snacks?

According to Jennifer Viegas at Discovery News, "Early Human Dined on Young Neanderthal":

Foes, Not Friends Discovery News Video

May 21, 2009 -- Sometime between 28,000 and 30,000 years ago, an anatomically modern human in what is now France may have eaten a Neanderthal child and made a necklace out of its teeth, according to a new study that suggests Europe's first humans had a violent relationship with their muscular, big-headed hominid ancestors.

The evidence, which includes teeth and a carefully butchered jawbone from a site called Les Rois in southwestern France, could represent the world's first known biological proof for direct contact between the two human groups.

Possibly the last direct contact, too, I shouldn't wonder.

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Podcasts in the intelligent design controversy

1. New Atheists, New Theistic Evolutionists, and Who Is Right?

Click here to listen.

This episode of ID the Future features CSC associate director John West interviewed by Anika Smith on the launch of the new website,, bringing clarity to the conversation between the new atheists such as Richard Dawkins and the new theistic evolutionists like Francis Collins. Is faith in God compatible with Darwinian evolution? Who is right, and why does it matter? Listen in, and learn more at

2. Response to the YouTube Challenge to Discovery Institute

On this episode of ID the Future Casey Luskin takes a look at a recent "challenge" issued via YouTube to Discovery Institute, asking the question, Does any critic out there understand intelligent design? Is there genetic evidence for intelligent design? Tune in and find out.

Click here to listen.

3. This Sunday, May 30, Wilberforce Forum will feature a special online radio program featuring Dr. Stephen C. Meyer, Director and Senior Fellow of the Center for Science and Culture. He'll be discussing his new book, Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design, demonstrating that the digital code embedded in DNA points to a designing intelligence and brings into focus an issue that Darwin did not address.

Go to at 6 pm EST, 3 pm PST this Sunday to listen, and ask Dr. Meyer a question by calling in or by posting in the conference forum online.

Click here to read more.

Uncommon Descent Contest 4: Can we save physics by dumping the Copernican principle?

In "Does Dark Energy Really Exist? Or does Earth occupy a very unusual place in the universe?" physicist Timothy Clifton and astrophysicist Pedro G. Ferreira argue just that: If we give up the Copernican principle, we do not need dark energy to explain the composition of the universe. (Scientific American, March 23, 2009)

Copernican principle? Dark energy?

Copernican principle: That's the idea that Earth does not occupy any unusual position in the universe. Indeed, the point was driven home in a recent talk I attended at a science writers' convention.

The Copernican principle is widely believed, to be sure, but that tells me nothing one way or the other about whether it is well supported by evidence. And I already know good reasons for doubting it. (Note: It has nothing whatever to do with Copernicus, who wouldn't likely have agreed with it.)

Dark energy? "Dark" means we are in the dark about it. According to the current model, we don't know what 70 percent, approximately, of the cosmos comprises. Whatever that 70% is, it does not respond to light. It also does not answer e-mail, phone mail, or letter mail. Bummer.

Many physicists believe that maybe 25% of this unknown substance is dark matter. The rest is dark energy.

Actually, we don't even know what dark matter is, according to the cautious SNO Plus physicists who are building a huge underground facility in the Creighton Mine in Sudbury, Canada, to trap a particle a year of the stuff. So they hardly wish to give tell-all interviews on dark energy.

Anyway, here are some excerpts from Clifton and Ferreira on whether we need assume that dark energy even exists:
... the existence of dark energy is still so puzzling that some cosmologists are revisiting the fundamental postulates that led them to deduce its existence in the first place. One of these is the product of that earlier revolution: the Copernican principle, that Earth is not in a central or otherwise special position in the universe. If we discard this basic principle, a surprisingly different picture of what could account for the observations emerges.

Most of us are very familiar with the idea that our planet is nothing more than a tiny speck orbiting a typical star, somewhere near the edge of an otherwise unnoteworthy galaxy. In the midst of a universe populated by billions of galaxies that stretch out to our cosmic horizon, we are led to believe that there is nothing special or unique about our location. But what is the evidence for this cosmic humility? And how would we be able to tell if we were in a special place? Astronomers typically gloss over these questions, assuming our own typicality sufficiently obvious to warrant no further discussion. To entertain the notion that we may, in fact, have a special location in the universe is, for many, unthinkable. Nevertheless, that is exactly what some small groups of physicists around the world have recently been considering.

[ ... ]

In the conventional picture, we talk about the expansion of the universe on the whole. It is very much like when we talk about a balloon blowing up: we discuss how big the entire balloon gets, not how much each individual patch of the balloon inflates. But we all have had experience with those annoying party balloons that inflate unevenly. One ring stretches quickly, and the end takes a while to catch up. In an alternative view of the universe, one that jettisons the cosmological principle [a generalization of t he Copernican principle], space, too, expands unevenly. A more complex picture of the cosmos emerges.

[ ... ]

The possibility that we live in the middle of a giant cosmic void is an extreme rejection of the cosmological principle, but there are gentler possibilities. The universe could obey the cosmological principle on large scales, but the smaller voids and filaments that galaxy surveys have discovered might collectively mimic the effects of dark energy. Tirthabir Biswas and Alessio Notari, both at McGill University, as well as Valerio Marra and his collaborators, then at the University of Padua in Italy and the University of Chicago, have studied this idea. In their models, the universe looks like Swiss cheese uniform on the whole but riddled with holes. Consequently, the expansion rate varies slightly from place to place. Rays of light emitted by distant supernovae travel through a multitude of these small voids before reaching us, and the variations in the expansion rate tweak their brightness and redshift. So far, however, the idea does not look very promising. One of us (Clifton), together with Joseph Zuntz of Oxford, recently showed that reproducing the effects of dark energy would take lots of voids of very low density, distributed in a special way.
Does Guillermo Gonzalez have clones? Is this legal?

Well, never mind that for now. For a free copy of the Privileged Planet DVD, here's the question: To what extent is the Copernican or cosmological principle held for emotional reasons, and not because the evidence supports it? In 400 words, would we be better off or worse off without it?

(Note: I recommend that you read the whole SciAm article before commenting.)

Here are the contest rules.

You must go to Uncommon Descent to comment. Your name will not be put on a mailing list, or sold or given away for any purpose. There is no mailing list. However, if you win and do not send me a mailing address of your choice at, I cannot send you your prize.

I will shortly be judging Contest 3.

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