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Monday, October 09, 2006

Quick posts: Recent events in the intelligent design controversy - 2

■ Michael Behe, author of Darwin's Black Box is publishing a new book in 2007, The Edge of Evolution, again with Free Press. The blurb reads,
In order to get a realistic idea of the power of Darwinian evolution, it leaves behind most of the popular images—dinosaurs, wooly mammoths, pretty Galapagos finches—to focus mainly on the invisible foundation of biology, the molecular world of the cell. There are two vital reasons for this: First, mutations—the fuel of Darwinian evolution—are themselves molecular changes, where the DNA of an organism is accidentally altered from that of its parents. Second, the most intricate work of life takes place at the level of molecules and cells. Imperceptible molecules are the foundational level of life. So, to locate the edge of evolution, we have to examine life's foundation.

Interestingly, a lit agent told me a couple of years ago that Free Press would not accept a book like Mike Behe's today. They were moving away from all that. Out of the frying pan into the fire.

■ The American Association for the Advancement of Science has put out a book attempting to address the incompatibility between Darwinism and traditional beliefs, noting "grew out of concerns among scientists and some religious leaders that intelligent design is being sold as an integration of science and religion, enticing even some members of mainstream religious communities to question evolution." It sounds dull, actually, featuring a "Christian girl" stereotype, attempting to reconcile her stupid, stereotyped "faith" with reality. The press release proclaims:
Evolution remains one of the most substantiated theories in all of science, it notes, and serves as the essential framework for modern biology. The book discusses recent observations that have led to revisions in the theory since the time of Charles Darwin, including new views on why the giraffe's neck is long. But it emphasizes the underlying principles of evolution that continue to stand the test of time: all species, living and extinct, are related to each other, and the forms of life that populate the Earth have changed over eons and continue to change.

Right away, I can guarantee that AAAS's efforts efforts are wasted, for two reasons: Increasing numbers of people now notice the trick by which Darwin's troubled theory of evolution is seamlessly equated in the press release with "evolution" generally, and then evolution is defined so broadly that few would care to disagree with it. It is Darwin's theory that is under assault. The increasingly sophisticated modern reader will also know that evolution (= Darwin's theory) is NOT one of the most substantiated theories in all of science. There are few observed examples of new species forming. That situation is not the evolutionary biologists' fault, but it is a situation with consequences. Second, as NAS member Phil Skell has pointed out, most scientists do not need Darwin's theory of evolution to do their work. Oh and the reality is that more people are drawn into the subject by the arch-Darwinists like Richard Dawkins than anyone else, yet do you hear AAAS ever actually distancing itself from that sort of thing absolutely directly, in a press release? I wonder when they will get around to taking the problem seriously enough to do anything substantial?

■ Riffing off a recent Time article, promoting the idea that one or two simple ingredients make us human, In "Neo-Darwinism vs. Reason", Fr. Jonathan Morris identifies the follies in the Time reasoning:
The assumptions these authors make are common. They showcase the materialistic, post-modern ideology (not scientific theory) that reigns in the classrooms and in the textbooks of scientific America and Europe. According to this worldview, the idea of a personal God, a creator, or even a clockwork intelligent designer is all together passé and unacceptable. According to them, the problem is not that this is not a scientific question, but that it doesn't fit with their "scientific" theory.

[ ... ]

It is easy to see a similar fundamentalist trend in science and philosophy, especially in the important study of evolutionary processes. Too often the debate is defined by those who, on the one hand, rule out a priori, any possibility of intelligent design, and call everything absolutely random just because they say so, and on the other hand, those who rule out any possibility that the designer is intelligent enough to make use of evolution to create just because they say so.

My opinion? I think the human intellect, through the light of reason, can easily and clearly find a program or a design in the physical world. And some evolutionary theories — free of neo-Darwinian atheistic principles — help us to do just that.

What I love about these priests entering the fray is the way they use the terminology freely: Ah yes, "neo-Darwinism". Thanks, Father, for not acting like we are all stupid now.

■ In Catholic thinkmag Commonweal, Peter James Causton addresses the effort to reconcile Darwinism with authentic Christian theology and concludes that the Christian Darwinist approach (God is so humble that he leaves no evidence of design, purpose, or intelligence in nature) does notwork:
... it remains intuitively difficult to reconcile their loving, power-renouncing, creative God with the picture of Darwinism dominant in popular and scientific literature. Natural selection seems more capricious than the Greek Fates. Richard Dawkins’s selfish gene seems like some brute, dumb materialized version of Nietzsche’s will to power. Stephen Jay Gould’s epic of evolution is all contingency and catastrophe. The twin gods of evolution, as it is currently understood, go by the names of chance and necessity. Considering all this, is nature really where we want to go to find reliable evidence of the Divine? It is unlikely we will find it there unless our hearts and minds have already been illumined by a grace we don’t find in nature itself, but rather in nature’s author.

Yes, but we don't really have hearts or minds, you know; it's only an illusion that favored the survival of the fittest ...

■ I mentioned to ID guy Jonathan Wells, author of Icons of Evolution and The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design that Larry Moran (the evolutionary biologist who objected to the term "Darwinist" during my talk at the University of Toronto last Saturday, had left a comment, saying that he also does not like the term "Darwinian evolutionist" and asks to be called an "evolutionary biologist."

Wells wrote back saying,
The problem is that Moran's fellow "evolutionary biologists" deliberately misuse the word "evolution" to peddle materialism in the innocuous guise of "change over time" or "changes in gene frequencies."

In my Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design I define "Darwinism" as the combination of ideas that "(1) all living things are modified descendants of a common ancestor; (2) the principal mechanism of modification has been natural selection acting on undirected variations (originating in DNA mutations); and (3) unguided processes are sufficient to explain all features of living things -- so design is an illusion."

If Moran objects to being called a Darwinist, I would ask him what part of that definition he rejects -- and whether he's willing to do so publicly, in the front of his "evolutionary biologist" colleagues.

In my experience, Darwinists don't like being called Darwinists because they have to equivocate on the meaning of "evolution" to ensure that religious taxpayers continue supporting them in the manner to which they've become accustomed. Funny, too: Darwinists don't seem to have any compunction about referring to ID theorists as biblical creationists, despite the many times we have pointed out their misrepresentation.

Not to worry, after certain recent posts I have received from Moran, I fear that it is all up between him and me, and no reasonable dialogue is possible, but I will blog on that later if time permits.

■ Evangelist Chuck Colson's broadcast pays tribute to ID guys' godfather, law prof Phillip Johnson, by promoting the book in his honor, Darwin's Nemesis.
Through all the controversy—and just plain mud-slinging—that followed the publishing of Darwin on Trial, Phil has maintained his stance, continuing his lawyerly probing and careful research, and he has kept his good humor and graciousness. In these ways, he serves as a magnificent example to all of us involved in worldview teaching.

[ ... ]

And it even includes a couple of articles by critics of intelligent design, including philosophy professor and evolution advocate Michael Ruse—the kind of balance you’d like to see in classrooms. In the contentious debate that surrounds the intelligent design vs. evolution issue, getting the participation of someone like Ruse is a testimony to Phillip Johnson.
There’s no doubt that Phil’s willingness to encourage the work of scientists and help create a network for them has allowed the movement to flourish. This book really shows just how far the intelligent design (ID) movement has progressed in a relatively short time, despite the best efforts of many Darwinists to shoot it down—because, as is becoming clearer and clearer, ID has the evidence on its side.

Having the evidence on one's side is a darn good thing, but in these times having an excellent lawyer - now that is really something.

Catching up with the backlog: Regular readers of this blog will recall that Coral Ridge aired a documentary on the relationship between social Darwinism and the rise of Hitler. The Anti-Defamation League recently complained, among other things, that genome mapper Francis Collins was misled:
The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) today blasted a television documentary produced by Christian broadcaster Dr. D. James Kennedy's Coral Ridge Ministries that attempts to link Charles Darwin's theory of evolution to Adolf Hitler and the atrocities of the Holocaust. ADL also denounced Coral Ridge Ministries for misleading Dr. Francis Collins, the director of the National Human Genome Research Institute for the NIH, and wrongfully using him as part of its twisted documentary, "Darwin's Deadly Legacy."

After being contacted by the ADL about his name being used to promote Kennedy's project, Dr. Collins said he is "absolutely appalled by what Coral Ridge Ministries is doing. I had NO knowledge that Coral Ridge Ministries was planning a TV special on Darwin and Hitler, and I find the thesis of Dr. Kennedy's program utterly misguided and inflammatory," he told ADL.

Aw come on. Hitler's rendition of Darwin's theory (which was about as sane and virtuous as his other activities) was simply a part of the Nazi scene. ADL should focus on anti-Semites, and stay out of the Darwin wars. Goodness knows, there are enough anti-Semites to keep them busy. For various attacks on Weikart for making some pretty obvious points, go here.

■ Here is a list of Darwin skeptics, of varying degrees of originality and/or usefulness, compiled by Jerry Bergman, who notes,
On this list I have well over 3,000 names but, unfortunately, a large number of persons that could be added to this list, including many college professors, did not want their name listed on the published list because of real concerns over possible retaliation or harm to their careers. Many of those who did not want their names on this list are young academics without tenure, or academics who are concerned about if outing them could damage their career. Many on this list are secure tenured professors, teach at Christian Universities that protect their academic freedom to criticize Darwinism, or are in industry, or in a medical field where less antagonism exists to questioning Darwin exists. Some on this list are now involved full time in speaking and writing on origins, and no longer depend on secular employment to put bread on the family table. Many are also retired, thus no longer face retaliation for their doubts about Darwin. Some consented to include their names only if their current employment was not listed.

I hear rumors that Bergman may publish a book, detailing case histories of what happens if you doubt that Darwin's theory largely accounts for the history of life.

Thinkquotes of the day: Why there is an intelligent design controversy
"The operations of a higher level cannot be accounted for by the laws governing its particulars forming the lower level. You cannot derive a vocabulary from phonetics; you cannot derive the grammar of a language from its vocabulary; a correct use of grammar does not account for good style; and a good style does not provide the content of a piece of prose. . . . it is impossible to represent the organizing principles of a higher level by the laws governing its isolated particulars".
- Michael Polanyi, The Tacit Dimension

It seems to me immensely unlikely that mind is a mere by-product of matter. For if my mental processes are determined wholly by the motions of atoms in my brain, I have no reason to suppose that my beliefs are true. They may be sound chemically, but that does not make them sound logically. And hence I have no reason for supposing my brain to be composed of atoms. In order to escape from this necessity of sawing away the branch on which I am sitting, so to speak, I am compelled to believe that mind is not wholly conditioned by matter.

— John B.S. Haldane, "When I Am Dead", Possible Worlds: And Other Essays

"…evolutionary speculation constitutes a kind of metascience, which has the same fascination for some biologists that metaphysical speculation possessed for some medieval scholastics. It can be considered a relatively harmless habit, like eating peanuts, unless it assumes the form of an obsession; then it becomes a vice."

- cell biologist Roger Stanier, in Organization and Control in Prokaryotic Cells: Twentieth Symposium of the Society for General Microbiology, Cambridge University Press, 1970.

Many biological ideas proposed during the past 150 years stood in stark conflict with what everybody assumed to be true. The acceptance of these ideas required an ideological revolution. And no biologist has been responsible for more - and for more drastic - modifications of the average person's worldview than Charles Darwin.

- Ernst Mayr

"Laws and experiments are inappropriate techniques" for explaining evolutionary events and processes."

- Ernst Mayr, "Darwin’s Influence on Modern Thought," Scientific American, July 2000, 80.

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?

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

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

A summary of recent opinion columns on the ID controversy

A summary of recent polls of US public opinion on the ID controversy

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

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

An ID Timeline: The ID folk seem always to win when they lose.

O’Leary’s comments on Francis Beckwith, a Dembski associate, being granted tenure at Baylor after a long struggle - even after helping in a small way to destroy the Baylor Bears' ancient glory - in the opinion of a hyper sportswriter.

Why origin of life is such a difficult problem.
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