Archive for August, 2005

More Intelligent Design vs. Evolution

Thursday, August 25th, 2005

Further dialog amongst me, my brother Jeff, and my cousin Andy concerning intelligent design vs. the theory of evolution:

Andy: No, it’s not science, just deductive speculation (like some of contemporary cosmology). But I think evolution can be legitimately critiqued from a scientific perspective. David Berlinski, Jewish and I assume agnostic, has published (in Commentary) fierce assaults on the more dubious pretensions of evolutionary psychology. The intellectual acrobatics are somewhat beyond my pay grade, and Berlinski obviously loves the role of agent provocateur, but it strikes me as a fairly effective demolition job.

About 15 years ago I read a book by the eminent scientist John Updike, Roger’s Version, a modern reworking of The Scarlet Letter. The adulterous Dimmesdale character is a Christian fundamentalist scientist who argues that the fossil record not only has gaps but contains evidence of instances that make certain evolutionary explanations downright impossible. I don’t know if Updike knows what he’s talking about, but I assume he did some homework.

Whatever. I don’t really know what makes sense for the schools, but particularly in view of the controversy I’m inclined to think the intelligent design argument might be included in science courses, if only to be rebutted. But I suppose a fair and balanced presentation (We report, you decide) is beyond the capacity of most high school teachers.

Nick: Of course there are gaps and disagreements about the theory of evolution, as there are in all scientific theories, all of which are forever works in progress. Nobody knows what gravity waves are. Does that mean that things don’t really fall, that falling is just an illusion foisted on us by the devil to confuse us? Is there any doubt that the fossil record provides overwhelming evidence that species change over time by genetic adaptation to the environment? The ID crowd denies evolution in toto. It is as if they were to deny that there is such a thing as falling. In order to replace evolution with intelligent design, one must throw out the fossil record completely as an elaborate illusion. One is free to believe this if so desired, but it has no place in a science class. ID may pose as a contribution to science, but it is really an attack on science itself. Science is a set of preliminary conclusions about reality arrived at by the scientific method, no more, no less. ID bypasses the scientific method entirely, and rejects it as a valid mode of investigation. Should churches be required to include scientific rebuttals in their catechisms?

Jeff: I think you have something there, Nick. I like the idea of required scientific rebuttals in all catechisms, prayer books, and hymnals. I think you are somewhat wrong about ID, though, although right overall. As I understand it, ID accepts that the earth is billions of years old, accepts the fossil record, accepts the reality that evolution has occurred. It just claims that certain forms of complex organs, behaviors, symbioses, etc., cannot be explained by random mutation and natural selection. They accept that random mutations and natural selection occur; they just insist that some phenomena require the hypothesis of intelligent design to explain them. However, you are right to say that they offer no scientific evidence to attempt to prove intelligent design nor is their hypothesis even potentially open to empirical testing via scientific methods. It is, therefore, clearly metaphysical speculation that is completely outside the scientific paradigm and therefore does not belong in high school science classes (although I would have no problem with it showing up in high school social studies curriculum or a high school comparative religion class).

Nick: That’s interesting. I didn’t realize that the IDers had compromised their principles to such an extent. So that means that some stuff is caused by evolution, but the really cool stuff is figured out up in God’s work shop and just dropped in where needed? That makes a lot more sense.

But just to get us back into the disagreement zone, I still think that the rampant injection of multi-culti, pc nonsense into the curricula is far more pervasive and dangerous to public education than anything the fundies have been able to accomplish. Such things as renaming Thomas Jefferson middle school in Berkeley because the teachers were offended by having to teach at a school named after a slave owner, or judging literature by whether or not the author is a white European male, or turning U.S. history into a catalog of America’s sins, or removing Huck Finn from the library cuz it has the word nigger in it, or teaching ebonics, etc., etc. Not to mention new math and the purging of phonics.

Andy: Odd, in a way, Nick, that it took a card-carrying lefty like Jeff to provide a born-again Neanderthal like you with a somewhat fairer and more accurate perspective on the design enthusiasts, some of whom seem to be rather bright and reasonable people, not stalking horses for Genesis or Archbishop Ussher. You may have seen the two-part takeout on the controversy that ran in the Times Monday and Tuesday. I thought it was pretty fair, on balance, especially for the Times.

I believe, by the way, that a lot of purely scientific speculation is not open to empirical testing either. String theory etc. Maybe a lot of cosmology, although of course there are constant attempts to reconcile the various postulates mathematically–I’m not really at all conversant with the science. I also seem to recall that some of our rationalist pioneers have fooled around with amino acids and stuff in an attempt to produce self-replicating life, but so far as I know such endeavors so far remain uncrowned by success.

I think you’re right that all the p.c. stuff is more pernicious than anything the fundies have been able to accomplish, but I’d like to think it’s not having a terribly strong effect because so much of it defies common sense and the young are not entirely incapable of independent thought. I also have the impression that phonics is making a comeback. But maybe I’m too sanguine…

Nick: “born-again Neanderthal” What a perfect amalgam of intelligent design and evolutionary theory! Of course as we now know, the Neanderthals were a gentle, peaceful race ruthlessly destroyed by the vicious, genocidal homo sapiens who now dominate American foreign policy.

Christopher Hitchens has now taken up my call for requiring churches to include scientific rebuttals in their catechisms. Looks like I may have started a movement.

Andy: But of course. I hesitate to join in the rampant anti-Sapienism that seems to pervade the left these days, but I do think high school history courses should deal frankly and honestly with that especially disgraceful episode in our generally deplorable past. I believe, however, that there is some evidence of possible interbreeding despite the over-all genocide. If DNA testing could establish a predominant or even substantial presence of Homo Neanderthalis genes in some present-day Europeans or Americans, might not reparations be in order?

Hey kids!

Tuesday, August 23rd, 2005

I snapped this on the way to the dump this morning:

I have no quarrel with the mystical belief that the awesome beauty, order, and complexity of the universe implies an intelligent first cause. In fact I believe it myself on alternating days. I just don’t think it has anything to do with science. If the proponents of Intelligent Design wanted to introduce it into philosophy or comparative religion classes, I would have no objection whatsoever. But that’s not what they want. ID is a pseudo-scientific theory ginned up for the sole purpose of opposing the scientific theory of evolution. That is utter nonsense. There is nothing in Darwinism that opposes or negates the idea of an intelligent designer. It just isn’t relevant. It is outside the sphere of scientific inquiry. It is an answer to one of the unanswerable-by-science questions.

Cindy and GWB

Monday, August 22nd, 2005

Well, yeah, I think she’s disgusting too, but her disgustingness would not be anybody’s problem except her own were it not for the enormous, and I still say largely uncritical, exposure that she is being given. One would think she was more important than Michael Jackson’s and Tom Cruise’s love lives, for goodness sake.

The one area where I am becoming increasingly disappointed in GW is his utter failure to provide any kind of articulate leadership in the GWOT. The situation cries out for a little Tony Blair-like continuous explication of our aims and progress, and it has not been forthcoming. Although I do believe that actions speak louder than words, I am nostalgic for Winston Churchill, who was much better at words than actions. The President is surrounded with capable people who can take care of the action. What we desperately need is more and better words. Bush is creating a vacuum that is being filled by Cindy Sheehan.

I don’t agree with you about history vindicating that the defense of freedom does not require the advance thereof. Certainly Ronald Reagan was a major advancer, not to mention Woodrow Wilson, Ike, and FDR, to name a few. I would say that overall the world has actually been lit by the torch of liberty, largely through American effort and sacrifice, however reluctantly made. There has been a rather remarkable advance of democracy and free markets since the American revolution, and I don’t think it’s coincidental at all. For example, the seizure of California and Texas from Mexico by the U.S. is pretty universally considered to be the antithesis of the advance of freedom, and yet, according to a recent poll in Mexico, 46% of its citizens would emigrate to the U.S. given the opportunity. There has not been a similar poll of citizens of Mexican descent in California and Texas, but I am quite sure that the percentage that wish to go back to mexico approaches zero. After all, they are free to return any time they want to. One could argue that this is about economics rather than freedom, but the correlation between economic prosperity and political and economic freedom is indisputably high.

The tiger we have by the tail in Baghdad is a real tiger that exists, whether we have it by the tail or not. I can think of a few appendages I would rather have it by, but the tail is better than nothing.

It is too Cindy’s fault

Monday, August 22nd, 2005

Posted by Andy

Just got around to reading your Aug. 15 post…can’t say I share your generosity toward Cindy Sheehan. Her demand to meet with Bush a second time was not only presumptuous grandstanding but transparently phony. Nothing he could say to her about the war that he hasn’t already said over and over, or, given her prejudices, anything that might ease her personal loss. However genuine her feelings about the war, I find it disgusting that she used her dead son to take off on what boils down to a self-dramatizing ego trip. I felt the same way about the Trade Center widows, with their self-important pronouncements and inane recommendations to the 9/11 Commission, as though bereavement confers some special right to (ax-grinding) pontification. Closure, shmosure. But I guess a lot of people relish their 15 minutes of fame, particularly if they can cloak it in self-righteousness.

I too have several friends who feel the same way about Bush and the war, notably including my wife, and of course they have an unquestioned right to protest. They might even be right, although they don’t present any realistic options. Now that Bush has got us there, for better or for worse, we can hardly just get out and let Iraq dissolve into civil war, with God knows what consequences down the line. Of course that might happen anyway, but I don’t see any reasonable alternative, at this juncture, to the broad outlines of present U.S. policy.

I don’t quite agree with you about the MSM. However inauthentic and bubble-headed Cindy may be, her theatrics and the war protests in general are certainly a legitimate story, worth the heavy coverage. Nor do I think the aim is necessarily to damage Bush. Cindy’s own statements pretty much speak for themselves–don’t really require much analysis or rebuttal. And the MSM haven’t been entirely uncritical. I didn’t see the program, but I understand, for instance, that Anderson Cooper on CNN confronted her with some of her quotes and pressed her rather adversarially to defend them, if she could.

I also don’t agree that Iraq, or even the over-all “War on Terror,” is at this point a war for our very survival. Bush’s dictum about the defense of freedom requiring the advance of freedom is lovely rhetoric but not really true. Freedom has survived quite nicely in the U.S. for a couple of centuries, in a world that has never been conspicuously lit by the torch of liberty, and I see no reason to believe that present circumstances have changed the equation. Anyway, we sure as hell have a tiger by the tail in Baghdad.

It’s not Cindy Sheehan’s fault

Monday, August 15th, 2005

I find no fault with Cindy Sheehan. I have several friends who believe as she does about Bush and the war, and who would leap at the chance to propogate their views through whatever means of public communication were made available to them. As would I. She has every right to take advantage of the megaphone which has so generously been given her, even though her opinions are nonsense. What I find disgusting is the eagerness with which the MSM has placed the bull horn in her hands. What I find encouraging is that she is the only berieved mother they have been so far able to find. Wasting the media public’s time on the Michael Jackson trial or Tom Cruise’s latest squeeze or events in Aruba, while we are in the middle of a war for our survival, is regrettable, but at least neutral in its effect, soporific but neutral. Turning over the entire arsenal in the MSM armory to Cindy Sheehan, for the sole purpose of damaging the American commander in chief during a time of war, is worse than regrettable. Putting out nationwide propoganda, unedited and unanalyzed, to the effect that the President has invaded a foreign country, at the behest of the Jews, for the purpose of enriching his friends in Texas, goes beyond incompetence and irresponsibility.

Remodeling the house

Thursday, August 4th, 2005

We have been ferociously remodeling the new house prior to moving in, me, Candace, and, most of all, our friend Daniel. Here is a slide show of the work in progress. You need QuickTime to view it. If you use Windows and don’t have QuickTime, you can download it here.