Saturday, July 16, 2005

And Now For Something Lighter

This is a little old, but if you haven't seen it, you should. Check out the amazing news report, "Natural Selection Shrinks Herd of Kansas Darwinists." Finally, some news we can trust.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Not That There's Anything Wrong With That: the Meaning of the Word “Fundamentalism”

I will elaborate eventually on many of the definitions and meanings of important terms in the evolution debates. However, I wanted to add a quick note on one in particular which is in the title of this blog.

The word “fundamentalism” has many meanings. Its original meaning in connection with the Christian faith is virtually unknown to many people these days. The extension of the term to Muslims has further influenced the popular meaning. I have no objection to “fundamentalism” in the sense of faithful commitment to the fundamentals of one’s faith or philosophy, or zeal for one’s religion. I do object to “fundamentalism” in the sense of intolerance, obscurantism, narrow-mindedness and anti-intellectualism. It is in this sense that it is used in the title of this blog.

Paul Johnson Observes the Darwinian Fundamentalist Phenomenon

Eminent historian Paul Johnson agrees with the basic focus of this blog and recognizes the Darwinian fundamentalist phenomenon in a column in Forbes:
Of all the fundamentalist groups at large in the world today, the Darwinians seem to me the most objectionable. They are just as strident and closed to argument as Christian or Muslim fundamentalists, but unlike those two groups the Darwinians enjoy intellectual respectability.
When will the mainstream media pick up on the fact that the roles have changed in the current evolution debates? The supporters of Darwinian theory show many of the characteristics of religious fundamentalists, and the critics of the theory are not appealing to scripture or religion, but are basing their arguments on scientific evidence. The Darwinists are lobbying for a "Darwin only" doctrine in public schools and want to ban any consideration of the weaknesses of the theory. The critics are actually lobbying for more teaching on evolution-- exposing students to the evidence for evolution and the evidence against and encouraging them to think critically and analyze the evidence for themselves.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Darwinian Fundamentalist Manifesto: Richard Lewontin's Commitment to Materialism

Richard Lewontin's January 9, 1997 article, Billions and Billions of Demons, which is a review of Carl Sagan’s book, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark contains the oft-quoted line about not allowing “a Divine Foot in the door.” The entire paragraph in which this line appears is worth quoting. It seems to me to be the best statement of the philosophical foundation for the Darwinian fundamentalist perspective:

Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to an understanding of 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 unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door. The eminent Kant scholar Lewis Beck used to say that anyone who could believe in God could believe in anything. To appeal to an omnipotent deity is to allow that at any moment the regularities of nature may be ruptured, that miracles may happen.

Empiricism is subservient to philosophy. Facts are subservient to a priori presuppositions.

What distinguishes this statement is how forcefully he insists on not being open to the possibility that there may be a supernatural realm or that miracles may happen. A preference for natural explanations could be reasonable. But it is impossible to prove the contention that "miracles may not happen" or that there is no supernatural realm. Therefore, a willingness to adopt such an a priori position, and hold that as superior to facts, reflects a philosophical fundamentalist position as rigid as a religious fundamentalist position.

Seeking natural explanations of phenomena, while remaining open to the possibility of the supernatural, seems to be a more rational starting point.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Evolutionary Hymn

by C.S. Lewis

Lead us, Evolution, lead us
Up the future's endless stair;
Chop us, change us, prod us, weed us.
For stagnation is despair:
Groping, guessing, yet progressing,
Lead us nobody knows where.

. . .

To whatever variation
Our posterity may turn
Hairy, squashy, or crustacean,
Bulbous-eyed or square of stern,
Tusked or toothless, mild or ruthless,
Towards that unknown god we yearn.

Ask not if it's god or devil,
Brethren, lest your words imply
Static norms of good and evil
(As in Plato) throned on high;
Such scholastic, inelastic,
Abstract yardsticks we deny.

Far too long have sages vainly
Glossed great Nature's simple text;
He who runs can read it plainly,
'Goodness = what comes next.'
By evolving, Life is solving
All the questions we perplexed.

. . .


You can find the full text here.

I wonder if this will make it onto the soundtrack of Disney's upcoming version of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe?

Monday, July 11, 2005

Eugenie Scott's "Mea Culpa" Solidifies Her No.1 Ranking

I have rated Eugenie Scott the No. 1 Darwinian fundamentalist for her zealous mission to protect macroevolutionary theory as the only acceptable way to think about the origin of species in public schools and public life, and her willingness to use misrepresentations and misleading statements to do so. Science magazine has now picked up on an example of this. You can read all about it here and here.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Freaking Out About Christoph Schönborn

Cornelia Dean, in a "news" article in the July 9, 2005, New York Times, makes much of Christoph Schönborn's recent Op-Ed piece in that same paper. She reports on extreme reactions from from various quarters:
But scientists and science teachers reacted with confusion, dismay and even anger. Some said they feared the cardinal's sentiments would cause religious scientists to question their faiths.
Oh my! Oh my! We must do something to protect the fragile faith of those "religious scientists" who are so weak in their faith. Come on, this is condescending drivel. I would love a quote or reference to a specific "religious scientist" who confirms that her faith has been weakened by this essay.

And now for some really breaking news from Cornelia:

Darwinian evolution is the foundation of modern biology. While researchers may debate details of how the mechanism of evolution plays out, there is no credible scientific challenge to the underlying theory.

This is the New York Times informing us of "all the news that's fit to print." News? Cornelia Dean and the Times, with these dogmatic statements of personal opinion, show that they belong in the Darwinian Fundamentalism Hall of Fame. You can say that most mainstream biologists believe this, but how do you even prove what is the "foundation of modern biology"? Excuse me, is that a factual statement? (And what does that even mean, in fact?) Stating personal belief as fact is a hallmark of dogmatism and fundamentalism.

As to the second sentence, she ignores the many scientists and non-scientists who think that there is credible evidence that challenges the underlying theory of macroevolution. Why is Dean so eager to present this point of view as fact and pretend that there is no other scientific point of view? This is obscurantism pure and simple and the Times should be ashamed of it.