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Thursday, March 20, 2008

Intelligent design: What is the controversy about?

In Touchstone magazine, intelligent design "godfather" Phillip Johnson, a retired Berkeley law prof, writes,

The controversy over evolution is at bottom not a dispute about evidence, but a dispute about whether words like “evolution” should be defined precisely and used consistently, and about whether a scientific conclusion is indisputably correct if it is endorsed by a consensus of contemporary scientific authorities. That is why I thought it appropriate for a law professor to take a professional interest in biological evolution, since lawyers are trained to insist that terms in a legal document be precisely defined, and are taught to check any consensus judgment of experts against the primary evidence.

Examples of vague or slippery definitions and appeals to the authority of consensus abound in writings about evolution, especially those writings that urge potentially skeptical people to trust the experts, rather than to examine the evidence for themselves.

For the rest, go here.

Funny thing, when I was young they used to tell me that science depended on evidence, not on a consensus of learned heads. I was regularly regaled with tales about how the mammals beat the dinosaurs because we were smarter than them, and Galileo beat the Church because ... and then I grew up ...

Note: Touchstone belongs to the same stable as Salvo, sponsored by the Fellowship of St. James. I write a regular column for Salvo.

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Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Christian thinkmag wars over intelligent design?: I have cause for hope

The two ecumenical Christian thinkmags First Things and Touchstone seem to be sawing off the intelligent design controversy in a way that shapes up into a most interesting debate.

In the regular feature "Public Square" in the May 2007 edition of First Things, Editor in chief Fr. Neuhaus addresses the recent book Darwin's Conservatives by the Discovery Institute's John G. West, taking aim at the idea that conservatives should be Darwinists. Neuhaus chides West for going "too far" in insisting that "mainstream Darwinists" have a monopoly on what neo-Darwinism means. Indeed, Neuhaus hastens to assure readers, "superbly credentialed scientists" such as physicist Stephen Barr and genome mapper Francis Collins think that Christianity is compatible with neo-Darwinian theory:
It is possible that they are a minority among contemporary scientists who address these questions. But there is no reason, intellectually or strategically, to concede that another minority, that of stridently atheistic ideologues, defines what is "mainstream Darwinism".

Unless, of course, the atheists are a majority, which happens to be the case. In my experience, the tiny knot of genuinely orthodox Christians who hope to rescue Darwinism as it actually is for Christ have no influence whatever.

Meanwhile, Touchstone (A Journal of Mere Christianity), to which I also subscribe, has regularly carried features sympathetic to the intelligent design guys. They even permitted Anika Smith and Casey Luskin of the Discovery Institute to review the materialist work, Intelligent Thought: Science Versus the Intelligent Design Movement in the April 2007 edition. I wouldn't have done that myself, as I find it a unbalanced - even though I had little time for Intelligent Thought editor John Brockman's frantic media release caterwauling about "Visigoths at the gates" (the ID guys, who have invaded his nightmares apparently).

The same edition of Touchstone also features "A New Noah", an excellent sendup by Anne Barbeau Gardiner of Darwinist E. O. Wilson's condescension to Christian cretins on the subject of the environment, The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth. Wilson goes so far as to call the environment "The Creation" even though it presumably all just happened by accident and is meaningless. And we Humans just made up God, ... oh, and I nearly forgot, free will is an illusion and all that.

Wilson, Gardiner notes, is contemptuous enough of us cretins' intelligence to make clear that the world would be better off with many fewer of us. Note the irony that his appeal to you and me to save life on earth doesn't include yours or mine.

Right then. The book was allegedly written to Southern Baptist "pastors", and therein lies its primary usefulness. It is likely to prove an excellent crap detector: Any pastor who takes Wilson seriously should be defrocked.

I am glad to say that Gardiner's review could probably have appeared in First Things. Thus, the quarrel between the two mags is not a question of Christianity vs. b.s. The reivew is not, alas, in the online Touchstone archives.

But reviewing the growing rivalry between the two magazines, I dare hope for some fireworks.

Incidentally, Salvo, the Christian pop sci and culture mag from the same stable as Touchstone is planning an issue on the intelligent design controversy (its fourth edition), for the fall.

(Note: You have to have a subscription to First Things to view May's edition until (I gather) the end of July.)

If you like this blog, check out my book on the intelligent design controversy, By Design or by Chance?. You can read excerpts as well.

Are you looking for one of the following stories?

My other blog is the Mindful Hack, which keeps tabs on neuroscience and the mind.

NEW!! Evolution in the light of intelligent design - look up intelligent design topics here.

Animations of life inside the cell, indexed, for your convenience.

Anti-God crusade ... no, really! My recent series on the spate of anti-God books, teen blasphemy challenge, et cetera, and the mounting anxiety of materialist atheists that lies behind it.

Catholic Church A summary of the Catholic Church's entry into the controversy, essentially on the side of ID.

Collins, Francis My review of Francis Collins’ book The Language of God

Columnists weigh in on the intelligent design controversy A summary of recent opinion columns on the ID controversy

Darwinism dissent Lists of theoretical and applied scientists who doubt Darwin

Gilder, George A summary of tech guru George Gilder's arguments for ID and against Darwinism

Intelligent design academic publications.

Intelligent design-friendly students should be flunked, according to bio prof Evolutionary biologist’s opinion that all students friendly to intelligent design should be flunked.

Intelligent design controversy My U of Toronto talk on why there is an intelligent design controversy, or my talk on media coverage of the controversy at the University of Minnesota.

Intelligent design controversy timeline An ID Timeline: The ID folk seem always to win when they lose.

Intelligent design and culture My review of sci-fi great Rob Sawyer’s novel, The Calculating God , which addresses the concept of intelligent design.

March of the Penguins A critical look at why March of the Penguins was thought to be an ID film.

Origin of life Why origin of life is such a difficult problem.

Peer review My backgrounder about peer review issues.

Polls relevant to the intelligent design controversy A summary of recent polls of US public opinion on the ID controversy

Stove, David O'Leary's intro to non-Darwinian agnostic philosopher David Stove’s critique of Darwinism.

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