March 12, 2006 - March 18, 2006 Archives

I don’t know about you, but whenever I want to learn about information theory, I naturally turn to the creationists. Why, they know so much about geology, biology, and paleontology, it only seems reasonable that their expertise would extend to mathematics and computer science.

Take Nancy Pearcey, for example. Here, for example, we learn that Ms. Pearcey has studied philosophy, German, and and music at Iowa State; that she has a master’s degree in biblical studies; that she is a senior fellow at that temple of truth, the Discovery Institute; and that for nine years she worked with former Watergate conspirator and convicted criminal Charles Colson on his radio show, “Breakpoint”. Why, those seem exactly the sort of credentials one would want in an instructor of information theory…

Read more at Recursivity.

Well, tonight I let my macabre sense of fascination with creationism get the better of me, and I skipped the premier of the new Dr. Who on the SciFi channel and went to see the the Dembski lecture over at Berkeley. I should have stayed home. At least Phillip Johnson gets to his point and outrages you enough to get your blood flowing. Dembski just sort of meanders around and issues ultravague utterances about how maybe design did something somewhere, and how we should think this because “Darwinists” can’t list every single mutation that occurred over billions of years, therefore their research program has failed. Yawn. The only good bit was when Dembski put up a flagellum graphic with “liquid cooled” written in big bright letters across it. I wonder how long it will be until the aquariums add this label to the fish species descriptions.

CURSES! Foiled again!

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Vizzini copy.JPGIt looks like my latest “Darwinist scheme” fell straight into Jonathan Witt’s clever trap.

See, in his recent response to my post about the parallelisms between Percival Lowell’s and modern ID advocates’ arguments, Witt says that he didn’t originally mention Lowell’s failed design inference on purpose, because

… knowing how irrational some ultra-Darwinists can be, I knew some of them would raise the objection anyway, and in the process, perform invaluable rhetorical work for the cause of intelligent design.

I tell you, these guys are just too smart for us!

Alas, when it comes to actually showing how “invaluable” the rhetorical work that I supposedly did for him was, Witt just has to resort to putting words in my mouth, to do for me the work he claimed I was supposed to have done for him on my own. (I know: Never mess with a Sicilian…)

Dear all, I must apologise for the lateness of my report on the December visit to London and the Natural History Museum. Blame Nedin, I do. I am in the midst of a walkabout in the wilds of Australia, encountering a number of highly venomous creatures, but more on that in a later update.

jah.jpg Anyhow, In December I travelled to London with Nedin. I, of course travelled at the pointy end of the plane, as befits my role as roving ambassador and famous panda. As you can see from the photograph, they have nice seats up the front end, plenty of leg room, and lots of bamboo shoots specially ordered. So, after a relaxing, comfortable 20 hour journey, I arrived in London, where I spent a pleasant evening going through Nedin’s duty free scotch (which was only fair as Nedin had not arranged for bamboo shoots to be available). The next morning (Saturday) we headed off to central London. Me, bright and eager, Nedin with a near visible burden of jet lag. Being a panda, I am of course, immune to jet lag. The list of attendees (as best as Nedin can remember) was: David Clark Tom Morris Jeremy Bone Bob Ding Steve (another one)

One of the better posts mentioned in yesterday’s Tangled Bank can be found over at Adventures in Science and Ethics. In that article, Janet provides a clear and detailed explanation of the limits of scientific expertise. As she reminds us, scientists are not near-omniscient beings, endowed with some sort of infailable ability to assess ideas across all the fields of scientific research. Scientists are primarily qualified to comment on matters within their own field. If a scientist is not an expert in an area of science, he or she should give the scientists within the other field the benefit of the doubt, and assume that they have a better understanding of their own area. As Janet points out, scientists (and other adademics) should be responsible enough to know their own limitations.

This sense of responsibility seems to be somewhat lacking among some of the more prominant proponents of Intelligent Design. It’s shown up in any number of places, including a recent article by well-known philosopher Alvin Plantinga.

Read more (at The Questionable Authority):

Over at Immunoblogging, Joseph has a multi-post series on the evolution of the immune system that I’ve been meaning to highlight, since obviously the claim that there’s no research done in this area plays a large part in IDists’ claims. So, some background reading on a few of the issues:

Part One Part Two Part Three and a bonus (if a bit older) post on Toll-like receptors here, along with a newer overview here.

Additionally, at the new Good Math, Bad Math, MarkCC discusses Dembski’s (mis)use of the NFL theorem and creationist use of probability. Check ‘em out.

…because paramount has apparently got a serious scriptwriter signed up to do Kitzmiller v. Dover: the movie.

It will be interesting to see how this turns out. I tend to think the only way to make Dover into a watchable movie would be to basically do an Inherit the Wind remake, which would require some substantial rewriting because the plaintiffs were parents, rather than the defendant being a teacher. But on the other hand, the poor teachers in Dover were pretty seriously oppressed by William Buckingham et al., so it might work.

In other news, Nova is doing a documentary on Kitzmiller v. Dover, which will apparently include some remakes of courtroom scenes.

Everyone has already decided that Tom Hanks should play Judge Jones…

Tangled Bank #49


Life on Mars? The real lesson from Lowell

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Mars channels JPG.JPGIn an almost comical display of lack of self-awareness, Jonathan Witt of the Discovery Institute has recently taken inspiration from Google’s homage to Percival Lowell, the 19th century astronomer who argued for the existence of a system of engineered channels on the surface of Mars, to extract from this glorious scientific blunder the lesson that science moves, at times, “backwards”, i.e. rejects apparently established theories for more traditional, often religiously inspired views (something that Witt clearly wishes would happen far more often).

In addition to Lowell’s channels-on-Mars theory, Witt mentions in his article the idea of a Universal Beginning and opposition to spontaneous generation as other instances in which ideas originally found in the Judeo-Christian tradition have at some point worked their way back into the scientific mainstream. I’ll just pass on discussing Witt’s rather simplistic ideas about modern cosmology and abiogenesis, not to mention the history of science, since his arguments are just a rehash of well-known ID and Creationist talking points that have been abundantly critiqued before. I want instead to point to another obvious, and far more topical lesson that Witt could have taken from Lowell, but, alas, didn’t.

Larry Caldwell’s suit against Berkeley’s Understanding Evolution website has been dismissed for lack of standing. You can find the judge’s order at Dispatches from the Culture Wars.

Edenomics 101

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I mentioned yesterday that Mike had a post on the war on epidemiology. That might sound a bit strange–doesn’t have quite the ring to it as Chris’s book. But, never fear, epidemiology is indeed under attack–or, at least, it’s being redefined by young earth creationists.

In a pair of articles published in the esteemed journal, Creation Research Society Quarterly, Jeffrey Schragin has put forth his argument that “the Bible’s epidemiology is scientifically sound” and that the “Creation Health Model (CHM) offers a more comprehensive understanding of health and disease than standard molecules-to-man evolutionary theory.”

(Continued at Aetiology)

Since they say this more succintly than I probably could, I’ll just quote from the email I received:

AAAS is providing educators with practical resources to meet the challenge of teaching evolution. For example, at a successful special event for local teachers during our Annual Meeting in February, we distributed a packet titled Evolution on the Front Line: An Abbreviated Guide to Teaching Evolution. Project 2061, our long-term science education reform initiative, prepared the materials, which included the educational benchmarks for evolution knowledge at specific grade levels and other valuable teaching tools.

You can access the guide, speaker presentations, and the AAAS opening video shown at this event at….

AAAS has responded to mounting attacks on evolution, including attempts to insert intelligent design into science curricula, with a series of op-ed commentaries, letters, and high profile interviews. We have adopted a “local strategy” through which we intervene, whenever we can, at the local level where the real action usually is. From Kansas to Pennsylvania to Georgia and, most recently, South Carolina, we have defended evolution as one of the most robust and widely accepted principles of modern science. We are being heard, but there constantly are new audiences to reach. We encourage you to add your voices, as scientists and educators defending the integrity of science and science education in our places of worship, schools, and community organizations. Visit our website for in-depth resources and news reports for the press and the public:

Only had a chance to browse it so far, but looks like some good stuff.

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