"A self-styled form of Darwinian fundamentalism has risen to some prominence in a variety of fields, from the English biological heartland of John Maynard Smith to the uncompromising ideology (albeit in graceful prose) of his compatriot Richard Dawkins, to the equally narrow and more ponderous writing of the American philosopher Daniel Dennett . . . . - Stephen Jay Gould, "Darwinian Fundamentalism," The New York Review of Books.
Friday, April 14, 2006
Thursday, April 13, 2006
Sorry For Rushing to Judgment; Now Let's Rush to Judgment
I am a big fan of the Telic Thoughts blog, but this post had me scratching my head. Mike Gene states:
Last week, when the Forrest Mims's story about Dr. Pianka’s speech to the Texas Academy of Science broke, some of us at Telic Thoughts were among the many bloggers who commented on it with insufficient skepticism.
And then, after some discussion of some of the facts, he goes on:
Because of this, and because of the nature of the accusation, we feel forced to conclude that Mims’s report is premised on a terrible misunderstanding and misjudgment.
At the outset, let me say that I respect Gene's decision to retract what was said about Pianka. But only a partial transcript of the speech has been released! How on earth can one judge Forrest Mims when we have not seen the full transcript? Gene even acknowledges that there was some apparent confirmation of some of Mims's assertions from former students.
From what I have read, we still do not know with certainty what was said during the speech, and we should not rush to judge Mims.
The next time the media circulates an accusation that has the potential to do serious real-world harm to a person’s reputation, we promise to treat such accounts with extreme skepticism and caution. We invite our readers, both friendly and unfriendly, to hold us to this promise.
OK, Mike, as a friendly reader, I am holding you to your promise. Both Pianka and Mims have been criticized (perhaps even vilified?) all over the blogosphere. Have you seen the names Mims has been called and the labels that have been pasted to him? I suggest you use some of that "extreme skepticism and caution," and withdraw your judgment of Mims until a full transcript is out, or until we have better evidence of what was said.
Wednesday, April 12, 2006
NY Times Reports on Study That Establishes That Intelligent Design Is Falsifiable
The NY Times has this article of last week, reporting on a study that establishes that intelligent design is falsifiable:
Dr. Thornton said the experiment refutes the notion of "irreducible complexity" put forward by Michael J. Behe, a professor of biochemistry at Lehigh University.
This was one of the key arguments that opponents used to claim that intelligent design was not science. Of course, we do not need this study to show that ID is falsifiable. The obvious way to falsify ID claims is to show an evolutionary pathway that could plausibly lead to the biological system that is alleged to be irreducibly complex. Then it comes down to evaluating which is more plausible.
Michael Behe's comments on the experiment and why it does not, in fact, falsify intelligent design or irreducible complexity can be found here.
A post on the claim that no controversy exists is here.
Interesting background information on the media coverage is here.
Other posts on this issue can be found here and here.
Tuesday, April 11, 2006
More on New ID Course at Cornell: Another Comment By MacNeill
Another comment by Professor Allen MacNeill on the new course on intelligent design at Cornell University (discussed in my last post):
The course is, indeed, interdisciplinary. Credit is available through four departments: ecology & evolutionary biology, biology & society, history (of science), and science & technology studies. And it isn't just ID that will be discussed. The existence of design and/or purpose in nature (technically "teleology") has been debated for millennia. We will be approaching the topic from both a historical and philosophical point of view, using modern ID theory as a focus for our discussions. I expect that at least some participants will be surprised to learn that the question of purpose in nature has been addressed by evolutionary biologists such as Francisco Ayala, Ernst Mayr, Colin Pittendrigh, and William Wimsatt, as well as by philosophers of science such as Ernst Nagel and Andrew Woodfield. We will be reading papers and excerpts from these and other authors, as well as the books listed in the reading list. I hope that all participants will come out of the course with a much clearer understanding of just what design and purpose is, how we can recognize it, and what part it plays in natural systems.
But, of course, according to Judge Jones, none of this can be discussed in a public high school, because that would constitute the establishment of religion.
MacNeill does not take the hyper-simplistic view of intelligent design that I discuss here. Compare this university course with another university course discussed here.
Intelligent Design Course at Cornell
Several sources have reported on the new course at Cornell University. Do not miss the post and comments at Telic Thoughts. Allan MacNeill, the professor teaching the course, has posted several interesting comments there. For example, regarding Michael Behe [I have deleted his attacks on another person, which were beside the point]:
What makes Behe a worthy opponent is that Behe "follows the rules" of academic debate: he sticks to the subject, constructs his arguments by citing facts and inferences from facts, and never descends to the kind of vicious character assasination that . . . [others] seem to revel in. Behe recognizes . . . that all of us are motivated by an honest search for understanding of the workings of nature, and that we welcome a worthy opponent who helps us clarify our own beliefs and arguments.
That is precisely what I hope will happen in the course I am offering this summer. As an evolutionary biologist, I will of course be entering the discussion from the standpoint of a methodological naturalist, with all of the metaphysical assumptions that position entails. However, if am to hold my head up in the "community of scholars" I must be as prepared to change my position in the face of superior logic and evidence as I will be prepared to try to change the minds of my colleagues.
Oh to be a student at Cornell! Hopefully, more courses like this will follow at major universities.
A press release from the pro-ID IDEA Club at Cornell is very positive.
A WorldNetDaily report is here.
Allen MacNeill's announcement is here.