Chess in Washington
I'm off to our nation's capitol to spend the weekend participating in the Atlantic Open chess tournament. Wish me luck!
Commentary on developments in the endless dispute between evolution and creationism.
I'm off to our nation's capitol to spend the weekend participating in the Atlantic Open chess tournament. Wish me luck!
I often comment at this blog that scientists wishing to challenge ID face a dilemma. If you try to ignore the subject you get accused of being bigoted and closed-minded. But if you engage the subject you risk elevating ID to respectability.
What's going on at The New Republic? The current issue of the magazine features two broadside attacks on the movement known as Intelligent Design [ID], and the magazine's online edition adds a third. The articles are filled with rhetoric, vitriol and urgency. Clearly, panic is setting in in some quarters -- and that panic is over evolution.
CREATIONIST: Evolution is atheistic nonsense. It's part of a scientific controversy to rob your children of their souls. The scientific evidence is on the side of biblical literalism.
EVOLUTIONIST: That's not true, and here's 13,000+ words explaining in great detail why that isn't true.
CREATIONIST: You see! The evolutionists are panicking!
Since I so rarely get to say anything nice about Republicans, I was pleased to see this brief article from AOL News:
Anyone doubting the effects of human activity on global climate change should talk to the people it affects in Alaska and the Yukon, U.S. Sen. John McCain said Wednesday.
Fresh from a trip to Barrow, America's northernmost city, McCain said anecdotes from Alaskans and residents of the Yukon Territory confirm scientific evidence of global warming.
“We are convinced that the overwhelming scientific evidence indicated that climate change is taking place and human activities play a very large role,” McCain said.
McCain, accompanied by Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., spoke to villagers in Canada whose spruce trees are being attacked by the northward spread of spruce beetles. On Alaska's northern coast, they met Native Alaskans dealing with melting permafrost and coastal erosion.
“I don't think there is any doubt left for anyone who actually looks at the science,” Clinton said. “There are still some holdouts, but they are fighting a losing battle. The science is overwhelming, but what is deeply concerning is that climate change is accelerating.”
My most recent column for CSICOP's Creation Watch website is now available. I'm talking about mathematics for a change, specifically the attempts by creationists to use probability theory to refute evolution. Be warned, however, that this is part one of a two-part column. So don't be too annoyed by the cliffhanger at the end!
My occasional sparring partner Salvador Cordova just provided me with an abject lesson in why it is important to never, ever, say anything remotely nice about an ID proponent.
I should note, Jason Rosenhouse thinks your calculations are impeccable.
“As an exercise in formal mathematics the paper seems unobjectionable. I have never questioned Dembski’s ability to manipulate symbols in accordance with the rules of algebra and calculus.”
I highly recommend this humorous account from Skip Evans about a Young-Earth event he recently attended in Idaho. Judging from his description, it sounds almost exactly like what I experienced in Lynchburg (see here for links to my writings on that subject.)
Like many creationist speakers, he began by assuring his audience that having absolutely no formal background is no hindrance to speaking with authority on scientific topics. What always amazes me about these guys is that a retired air traffic controller like Kerby really believes he can speak as an expert on subjects like astronomy, geology, paleontology, and just about any discipline that contradicts their own interpretation of the Bible.
Kerby established a friendly, humorous rapport with his audience right off the bat with an earthy approach and welcomed digs at those elitist scientists who think only they can understand evolution. “I'm a simple person,” he told them. “It's amazing how simple these issues are.”
And indeed, the absurd statements he made were incredibly simple, and also pathetically uninformed. Because fossils don't come with labels telling us how old they are all radiometric dating is useless.
This young man here was asking Kerby a few questions after the talk. (That's Kerby on the left and his inquisitor on the right. They look like brothers, don't they?) I wasn't quite sure just what the young man was getting at. He seemed to be challenging Kerby but his line of questioning was not clear to me. I'm pretty sure he was trying to ask about the geologic column compared to what we would find if a global flood had really taken place, so I chimed in and rephrased the question more along those lines, “Why don't we ever find modern looking mammals in with dinosaur fossils if they were all just jumbled together in a global flood?” Much to my surprise, Kerby said that we do! He said with folding and other geological shifting, etc, we find the fossil record all jumbled up. I'm pretty sure I heard Homer behind me...“D'oh!”
I wanted to pursue this one a bit further to be sure I actually heard him correctly, but the young man wanted to talk about mass extinctions and asked Kerby if he knew we were in the midst of one now. Kerby took the opportunity to explain why environmentalists irk him. If evolution is a biological fact, he explained, wiping out 50% or more of all species on the earth is no big deal, and apparently environmentally conscious people are just a bunch of hypocrites.
“That is absolutely absurd,” I said and Kerby retorted, “No, it's not. Why?” Since he asked 'why' I took that to mean he actually wanted to hear my explanation. Boy, howdy, I could not have been more wrong. No sooner did I begin to point out that if we are truly losing species at that rate then it is definitely something we should look into when Kerby cut me off again. He simply restated we shouldn't care, and after several attempts to ask to finish my point I realized that, to Kerby, ears are not what you use to listen to someone else's view, they're for storing your bubble gum when you're not chewing it.
The Kerbster really needs to work on his listening skills.
The man that had explained to me why a young earth is important to evangelizing then reiterated the point that evolutionists don't care if a mass extinction is taking place. I asked him to name the biologists he's read that hold that view, and he admitted that he couldn't.
Then why go? Well, I must say I always come away with a feeling like I've learned something more about creationism, the motives behind it, and the folks who peddle it. But this time I came away thinking quite a bit about the audience and the congregation at North County Chapel.
I must say these are really good people. I've never been to a creationist event where I wasn't welcomed and treated with respect. Maybe that would change if they knew I was not a fellow traveller, but I sincerely hope not. Even the guy who asked to search my backpack was polite and I was not in the least put off being asked to open it up and show him the contents.
Physicist Mark Perakh, who maintains the excellent website Talk Reason, has written this interesting post over at The Panda's Thumb. In it, he discusses a recent essay of his, published in the new issue of Skeptic, in which he provdes an excellent summary of the major deficiencies in William Dembski's work.
Mark Perakh, the Boris Yeltsin of higher learning, has weighed in with yet another screed against me (go here). The man is out of his element. I’m still awaiting his detailed critique of “Searching Large Spaces” — does he even understand the relevant math?
Carl Zimmer has another excellent article in today's New York Times. The subject this time is the attempts by scientists to create a perfect computer simulation of E. coli:
Michael Ellison has a dream: to reconstruct a living thing inside a computer, down to every last molecule. It is, he said, "the ultimate goal in biology to be able to do this."
Skip to next paragraph
Dr. Kari Lounatmaa/Photo Researchers
Even a simple organism like E. coli bacteria will be difficult to re-create.
Jason Scott for The New York Times
Researchers at the University of Alberta, top, are trying to program a stripped-down virtual version of a common bacteria, E. coli. The surface of the cell is at left, and the cross sections show different stages in the formation of the membrane.
It's a dream that Dr. Ellison, a biologist at the University of Alberta, shares with other scientists, who have imagined such an achievement for decades.
Understanding how all of the parts of an organism work together would lift biology to a new level, they argue. Biologists would be able to understand life as deeply as engineers understand the bridges and airplanes that they build.
“You can sit down at a computer, and you can design experiments, and you can see the performance of this thing, and then you can figure out why it's done what it's done,” Dr. Ellison said. “You're not going to recognize the full return of the biological revolution until you can simulate a living organism.”
My life would be so much easier if I were a right-wing crank. For example, I contribute a monthly column to CSICOP's Creation Watch website. I just sent off to them my latest essay, in which I discuss some of the ways creationists abuse probability theory. Though it is not an especially long essay, it took me several days and numerous drafts to complete it. I agonized over every word. Were my arguments clear and correct? Will readers be able to follow my chain of thought? Have I given fair consideration to the best arguments from the other side?
The main players in the ID movement are not even insisting on that much. Discovery Institute, for example, opposes the mandatory teaching of ID in public schools but favors requiring students to be exposed to criticisms of Darwin's theory.
But whether you believe ID theory ought to get equal billing with Darwinian theory, some lesser treatment, or that students should at least be apprised of alleged chinks in the Darwinian armor, what's all the fuss about?
Don't academics purport to champion free and open inquiry? What, then, are they so afraid of regarding the innocuous introduction into the classroom of legitimate questions concerning Darwinism?
Their defensiveness toward challenges to their dogma is inexplicable unless you understand their attitude as springing from a worldview steeped in strong, secular predispositions that must be guarded with a blind religious fervor.
Indeed, it appears many Darwinists are guilty of precisely that of which they accuse ID proponents: having a set of preconceived assumptions that taint their scientific objectivity.
Don't take my word for it. Consider the words of Darwinist Richard Lewontin of Harvard. “Our willingness,” confessed Lewontin, “to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to understanding the real struggle between science and the supernatural. We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for the unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment to materialism. … materialism is absolute for we cannot allow a divine foot in the door.”
And, if their science were unassailable, would they so vigorously resist its subjection to academic scrutiny by scientists no longer drinking the Darwin Kool-Aid? It's no secret that scientists who have broken from Darwinian orthodoxy have been ridiculed, suppressed and ostracized by much of the Orwellian scientific establishment.