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Saturday, December 23, 2006

Recent events in the intelligent design controversy - 1

Working my way through my exploding inbox here, from the bottom up:

■ I can't help quoting again, if I have already done so, from one of the best summaries I have seen of the difficulty in covering the intelligent design controversy.
There's another point in this. Try as I may, struggling with selfish genes, alleles and the rest, I cannot find any Darwinist argument which doesn't in the end rely on conjecture, backed up by the argument that it is the majority view. Well, a majority cannot make a falsehood true, and all kinds of things have been the majority view, from the idea that blood didn't circulate to the idea that iron ships would sink (and the idea that Anthony Blair was a refreshing and brilliant new feature in British politics). As for majority medical orthodoxies which have been totally mistaken, someone should write a book about them, as there have been so many. Unlike Darwinism, these ideas could be - and were - exploded by experiment and discovery. But Darwinism is all about events that happened when there was nobody there to witness them. And it is also about events which - if happening now - are happening too slowly for anyone to live long enough to see them. It is amazing how many supporters of this theory cannot see the difference between the micro-evolution of adaptation or alteration within species, and the far more ambitious developments of macro-evolution, in my view qualitatively different, which Darwinists believe in.
It's nice to know that the tradition of responsible skepticism in journalism is not dead.

■ Over at the Huffington Post, Deepak Chopra is taking a big risk in attacking materialism.
Currently most neurologists and philosophers contend that the brain produces consciousness. For them, wanting to eat a banana is a subjective impulse that is responding to brain activity. This defies common sense, of course. To say that my brain is making me eat a banana seems absurd. I want to eat a banana, and once I do, my brain carries out the necessary action (buying a banana, peeling it, putting it in my mouth, etc.) Mundane as this example may be, it's actually an astonishing feat of mind over matter. How in the world do our thoughts manage to move the molecules in our brain?
Some very famous neurologists adopt the common-sense approach, declaring that the mind is real and precedes the brain. I would point readers to Wilder Penfield and Sir John Eccles (the latter won the Nobel Prize for his work on synaptic activity). He is the author of the famous phrase, "God is in the gap." In other words, molecules aren't the source of intelligence; something we can't see operating in and among our brain cells is.

I wonder if the lefties realize that it is quite possible Chopra actually doesn't believe in materialism, that that isn't just a pose he is striking against Da Man?
■ A guy with a science background and a career in business, Carl Gunter, has just published a book in which he makes some interesting non-materialist arguments:
Chapter 5 - The Brain
Modern physiologists attempt to explain the brain and the mind as a computer. The renowned neuropsychologist, Karl Lashley, spent his life cutting into rats’ brains in a futile quest to decipher the brain’s neural wiring and locate memory. It has yet to be found. Looking at the brain’s activity, we see that the brain’s fluid organization of forces is diametrically different from a computer’s rigidly imprisoned forces. Again we find life’s mysterious force of molecular organization. In a little acknowledged theory, the Nobel Prize neurophysiologist, Sir John Eccles, proposed that the brain’s operation is directed by the nonphysical mind.

Chapter 6 – The Mind
The eminent microbiologist, Herbert Jennings, in his studies of bacteria, paramecium, and amoebas found that their responses to stimuli were strikingly similar to those of large-brained animals. He concluded that if these tiny, one-celled creatures were enlarged to the size of dogs, we would readily see them to possess conscious choice, perception, memory, intelligence, and emotion. The fact that these mental qualities are present in minute bags of slithering protoplasm strongly supports Eccles’ view that the conscious mind does not “emerge” from the brain but is an independent, nonphysical force.

I recall a passage in Gordon Rattray Taylor's The Great Evolution Mystery, making the same point about the capabilities of one-celled animals. There's a story there, I am sure, but only one cell of a guy could tell it ...

■ A friend notes that a recent article in Science begins,
"The old notion of natural selection as an omnipotent force in biological evolution has given way to one where adaptive processes are constrained by physical, chemical, and biological exigencies."
What happened to the "overwhelming" confirmation of Darwin's theory of natural selection? (Note: You have to pay for the article.)

■ Apparently, a new fossil challenges century-old concepts of tetrapod evolution:
The fossil skeleton shows the fish's skull had large holes for breathing through the top of the head but importantly also had muscular front fins with a well-formed humerus, ulna and radius - the same bones are found in the human arm.

"This new fossil proves that features of land-living tetrapods (four-legged vertebrates) evolved much earlier in their evolutionary history than previously thought," Mr Fitzgerald, a researcher in the School of Geosciences, said. "This means that humans can trace their evolutionary roots, and adaptations for life on land, further back in time, to more than 380 million years ago.

Interesting, how things seem to spring full-grown in the history of life.

Human evolution as it probably ain't: Here's a genuinely retro item: A claim that the human race will diverge by the year 3000:
The descendants of the genetic upper class would be tall, slim, healthy, attractive, intelligent, and creative and a far cry from the "underclass" humans who would have evolved into dim-witted, ugly, squat goblin-like creatures.
The theory is fronted by evolutionary theorist Oliver Curry of the London School of Economics. I can't make out why he thinks this is supposed to happen, but it certainly reminds one of the Eloi and the Morlocks in H.G. Wells's The Time Machine. And we all know that life imitates art. A friend tells me that the article was more worthy of April Fool's Day than the BBC, where it originated. Just why this is supposed to happen is unclear, but of course we all know that all our progeny will always belong in the beautiful group. Glad that's settled then.

■ A number of ID types have complained about the ridiculous bias against ID in Wikipedia entries. I must say, I think it is scandalous, and detracts from the value of Wikipedia. This entry about ID math boffin Bill Dembski is a big improvement on a recent one that broke just about every rule in how to write a useful bio entry. After all, if I want to hear anti-ID stuff, I can always go to NCSE . One expects a more objective tone from a reference resource. However, there may be a competitor for Wikipedia. The new Citizendium claims,
The Citizendium (sit-ih-ZEN-dee-um), a "citizens' compendium of everything," is an experimental new wiki project that combines public participation with gentle expert guidance. It has begun life as a "gradual fork" of Wikipedia. But it has taken on a life of its own and will, perhaps, become the flagship of a new set of responsibly-managed free knowledge projects. We will avoid calling it an "encyclopedia," because there will probably always be articles in the resource that have not been vouched for in any sense--and because the sheer size of the resource actually changes the nature of the beast.

I hope the project thrives. The public could use bios of ID guys and anti-ID guys - no hagiography, no slams, just verified stuff you'd want to know if you had to write on the subject and did not have a big emotional or political need to prove them right or wrong.

■ A note about the recent humorous Flock of Dodos, a film that purports to be* about the ID controversy: From The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design (sidebar, p. 28):
Turn the flock back: Darwin's Dodos. At the Tribeca Film Festival in April and May 2006, evolutionary biologist-turned-filmmaker Randy Olson premiered Flock of Dodos, a film that claims Haeckel's embryos haven't appeared in biology textbooks since 1914. Yet Olson knows that many recent textbooks DO contain Haeckel's faked drawings. Although Flock of Dodos pretends to be a documentary, it is actually a pro-Darwin propaganda film.
Well, yes, maybe, but it is hard to imagine a typical filmmaker today actually questioning materialism and Darwinism. You see, even if he knew that the faked drawings appear in texts today, he must say that they don't because that is the answer that causes the least stress.

*Why do I say, "purports to be"? No film can be about the ID controversy whose producers simply cannot conceive of the idea that materialism might be wrong, and therefore Darwinism might be superfluous as a creation story... But I predict that a number of such films will in fact be made. Indeed, as materialists become more nervous, the pace will likely increase.

■ At Phi Beta Cons Carol Iannone asks,
I hold no brief for ID, but why isn’t it scientific to say, as IDers do, that certain biological mechanisms are irreducibly complex (i.e., inexplicable by random mutation and natural selection)? Why aren't the probability models that show that the components of life would take a trillion times the age of the earth to evolve by chance, why aren't they science?

Carol, you don't need me to tell you that such thoughts are forbidden because they do nothing to prop up materialism.

■ Cleaning up my files here, I see where Nature announced via an editorial last summer,
After a federal court ruled that intelligent design could not be taught in schools in Dover, Pennsylvania, many thought the idea would fade from public view ...

Well, the "many" who thought that should have read this.

■ American Association for the Advancement of Science put out a book in 2006 aimed at convincing people that there is no conflict between traditional spiritual beliefs and Darwinism, though obviously many committed Darwinists disagree. Any bets on whether AAAS will go after those folk instead of the ID guys? Until they do, it would be silly to give their claims any consideration. Just so you know,
The book features a narrative about the personal dilemma of a fictional college student, Angela Rawlett, as she struggles to reconcile her Christian upbringing with her keen interest in biology. Her story is rooted in reality, according to Bertka. Students from some conservative Christian backgrounds sometimes approach biology professors with concerns that the study of evolution will conflict with their religious beliefs.
Clearly, they read the papers, and that shouldn't be allowed.

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

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 review of Francis Collins’ book The Language of God , my backgrounder about peer review issues, or the evolutionary biologist’s opinion that all students friendly to intelligent design should be flunked.

Lists of theoretical and applied scientists who doubt Darwin and of academic ID publications.

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.

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.

Why origin of life is such a difficult problem.
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