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Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Sketches from the Toronto ID conference 4 - Sharp words erupt:

The first panel: Does nature have a purpose?

Note: If you came here looking for a story about Baylor prof Francis Beckwith's credentials, go here.

The official title of the panel was “What is Science?” which is about as useful as asking “What is Love? ”, so the panelists quickly wandered into more promising territory.

After Robert Mann spoke, we got around to panels. The first one, “What Is Science” Featured Robert Mann, James R. Brown, Bryan Karney, and Sehdev Kumar.

Brown, a philosophy prof at the University of Toronto and a self-described atheist, told the gathering that the elimination of teleology (purpose or design) from nature was a tremendous achievement. Darwin’s achievement, in his view, was that he was the first mechanistic evolutionist. Thus ID is a 500-year step backward.*

He and Robert Mann clashed over teleology in nature, with Brown saying that the evidence is “overwhelmingly against it” and Mann saying that nature is teleological because humans prove it.

Indeed, that was a subject that was never properly thrashed out. Universal Darwinism means, in effect, that meaning and purpose, consciousness and free will in humans are in fact an illusion, but both sides assumed that they exist.

Brown also insisted that there is no relationship between what is “out there” (outside a person) and what is “in here” (inside a person) - for example, that there are no “colours” in nature, it is purely an interpretation of the brain.

I asked physicist Dr. Kumar (emeritus), a physicist, about that question later. It would seem more reasonable to think that the changes in light absorption out there, one’s visual system, and one’s mind operate as a system that enables the perception of colour - in which case there certainly is a relationship. I also don’t clearly see how science would be possible if no such relationship existed. He agreed with both points; too bad we couldn’t have pursued it.

*Brown also later announced that the ID guys “fearless leader” Phillip Johnson is a fraud, but provided no evidence for that.

The second panel: “The God hypothesis: Is there room for God in science? ”

I was on the second panel, featuring Dr. Brown again, and also philosophy of religion prof Don Wiebe and ethics prof Dennis O’Hara. I thought the topic another dud, and we quickly left it behind, but hey.

Things went fine until one of the panelists announced that professional humility was a key characteristic of scientists, and I responded that, after four years of covering the intelligent design controversy I had noticed nothing of the kind.

Indeed, I have covered a variety of beats: automotive, sewer and watermain, bookselling, trucking, the rag trade - I never encountered as much arrogance, professional as well as personal as among Darwinian biologists. Maybe it looks good on them, but don’t tell me they ain’t wearing it.

I got the distinct impression that people didn’t like me pointing out this kind of stuff.

For that matter, one self-proclaimed atheist at the conference also announced that atheists are mostly good people. Now, in my experience, a man who thinks he is good isn’t.

There is a simple explanation for that. Anyone who has begun to want virtue soon discovers his own lack of virtue. Suppose he makes progress toward virtue. The more progress he makes, the more the remaining gap bothers him, even if it is closing. It can’t close fast enough for him. So he assures you he is not good. And he is right.

So the man who thinks he is good has probably set his standards low enough that he cannot fail, but that is not where the bar is generally set.
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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