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Creationists prefer numerology to real scientific research Ken Perrott Mar 17

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Ian Wishart is a local “investigative’ journalist and well-known conspiracy theorist from way back. He’s dabbled in climate change, creationism, health, political, crime, and other issues. He’s a firm creationist and so it’s no surprise he has picked up on a recently published paper Scientists dumbstruck: signs of intelligent design in DNA code. No surprise because it’s currently being promoted by creationists and the Discovery Institute as some sort of proof of intelligent design. And Wishart is part of that echo chamber.

The paper itself is extremely dense – probably only fully intelligible to computational biologists and similar specialists. Fortunately, local science blogger Grant Jacobs, who has skills in this area,  has been through the paper and explains it in an article that is accessible to most people – see Investigate magazine struck dumb by numerology of genetic code. Have a read, you can see what the paper really says, what the problems are with it and make up your own mind about the degree to which Ian Wishart, and other creationists, have been fooled by it.

“Design inference” and “reinterpretation research”

I think there is a bit of a lesson here. Grant describes a basic problem with the paper.

“it rests on a false comparison of two options:

  1. Created by random chance
  2. Created by space aliens

This is set up so that if the first is unlikely, the second “must” be right.

The setting is rigged because these two aren’t all the possibilities. There is at least one more:

  1. Created by a non-random natural process (e.g. evolved)

To declare any one the ‘preferred’ choice they’d have to investigate all three possibilities, then compare what was found. But they don’t: they only look at the first then declare the second as the ‘winner’ without ever looking at the third.”

Anyone who has followed the so-called research carried out by intelligent design proponents may recognise this pattern. Discovery Institute senior fellow William A. Dembski even formulates the pattern as a basic way of detecting intelligent design. Creationists often call it the Design Filter. (He describes it in his book  The Design Inference: Eliminating Chance through Small Probabilities).

Usually the “design inference” boils down to:

  1. Reject chance – easy to set up statistics to show probabilities are extremely low. (For example, the chance of all atoms randomly combining to form a molecule of DNA at one instant is remote);
  2. Analyse any existing scientific explanation or mechanism to show it is wrong. (Easy to do by misrepresentation, choosing old research, ignoring alternatives, etc.);
  3. Accept design as the only, default, alternative. Therefore claim design has been “proved.”

Now, combine that approach with the other leg of intelligent design research – reinterpretation research.” This has extremely low overheads as it only involves taking published work, rubbishing it by misinterpretation, etc., and inventing a different interpretation of the facts to “prove” design.

In essence this is what all intelligent design “research” boils down to. At best it can only find possible problems in current understanding (which is surely the purpose of all research). It cannot support an alternative hypothesis.

So you can see the basic character of all the intelligent design publications they claim. Work which investigates possible problems with existing ideas in evolutionary science without offering, or even considering,  alternative hypotheses. Plenty of that around – put it on the list.

But they ignore the normal honest research approach. They never advance a structured hypothesis, one that is consistent with intelligent design. They therefore never submit such hypothesis to any testing or validation.

Yet they want to claim their ideas as science – and want to teach it to children in science classes!

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Theistic science? No such thing Ken Perrott Mar 14

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I came across this interesting observation in Elaine  Howard Eckland’s book  Science vs. Religion: What Scientists Really Think:

“believers did not consider their traditions and beliefs influential on how they conducted their research. None of the religious scientists I talked to supported the theory of intelligent design”

This conclusion is based on her extensive survey of academic scientists in the USA.

It’s interesting because it confirms that those theologians and “philosophers of religion” who advocate abandonment of “materialism” or “naturalism” by scientists are barking up the wrong tree. Even scientists who have strong god beliefs don’t allow these to interfere with the way they do their science. In fact, if they did they would no longer be doing science.

Mind you, the conclusion is not at all surprising to anyone working in a scientific environment. We know from experience that religious scientists don’t change their methodology because of their ideological beliefs or world view.

A theistic science – the Wedge Strategy

The argument against “materialism” and “naturalism” in science is most clearly put in the Discovery Institute’s Wedge Strategy Document (see Wedge Strategy: Center for Renewal of Science and Culture):

Discovery Institute’s Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture seeks nothing less than the overthrow of materialism and its cultural legacies. Bringing together leading scholars from the natural sciences and those from the humanities and social sciences, the Center explores how new developments in biology, physics and cognitive science raise serious doubts about scientific materialism and have re-opened the case for a broadly theistic understanding of nature.”

And:

“However, we are convinced that in order to defeat materialism, we must cut it off at its source. That source is scientific materialism. This is precisely our strategy. If we view the predominant materialistic science as a giant tree, our strategy is intended to function as a “wedge” that, while relatively small, can split the trunk when applied at its weakest points. The very beginning of this strategy, the “thin edge of the wedge,” was Phillip ]ohnson’s critique of Darwinism begun in 1991 in Darwinism on Trial, and continued in Reason in the Balance and Defeatng Darwinism by Opening Minds. Michael Behe’s highly successful Darwin’s Black Box followed Johnson’s work. We are building on this momentum, broadening the wedge with a positive scientific alternative to materialistic scientific theories, which has come to be called the theory of intelligent design (ID). Design theory promises to reverse the stifling dominance of the materialist worldview, and to replace it with a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions.”

So, Eckland’s survey shows that even in the USA where the Discovery Institute’s Wedge strategy has been targeted, there has been no success in replacing modern science “with a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions.”

While this criticism of science, even attack on science, comes mainly from Christian apologists and “philosophers of religion” it does get a hearing from others. I can understand how many religious people feel disappointed that science does not support their beliefs. They easily fall victim to the argument that this is because “it does not accept ‘supernatural’ explanations.” But, unfortunately, even some non-religious philosophers and sociologists are also be influenced by the argument. Especially those with a post-modernistic bent.

Science requires evidence and validation against reality

But, in the end science is not about “natural”, “supernatural” or “materialism.” It is about evidence and checking ideas against reality.Those who argue for “a science consonant with christian and theistic convictions” are really arguing for a “science” stripped of this need for evidence and validation against reality. Of course that would no longer be science – it would be religion.

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The Hitchens — Dembski debate Ken Perrott Nov 24

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I am not a fan of debates. They are more a sport than a mode of informing. And of course each side in a debate has its own fans who are more concerned with “who won” than what they learned.

But a recommend this debate between Christopher Hitchens and Bill Dembski, although I have yet to watch it to the end. I make this exception basically for two reasons.

1: Like many people I admire Hitchens. He is a skilled debater which means he may produce more heat than light. It also means he is a bit of a “street fighter.” I don’t think he is necessarily reliable on scientific questions. But his literary skills are impressive. So he can be enjoyable to lsiten to for his turn of phrase alone.

But I also think he is courageous. He was diagnosed with esophageal cancer earlier this year and has been undergoing treatment, particularly chemotherapy. He is also very conscious and candid about what this means for his future prospects.

A close member of my family experienced a similar situation this year so I am very conscious of the debilitating effect of chemotherapy as well as the natural response to what the illness means for life prospects. It takes a lot of courage for such a patient to continue struggling with the ordinary mundane frustrations of life, let alone to accept the sort of challenges Hitchens is doing.

2: In my recent review So you want a conversation? (of  the book Against All Gods by Phillip Johnson and John Mark Reynolds) I suggested that the “militant” theists and intelligent design proponents who wanted to debate scientists and “new atheists” should take the initiative and organise their own.  They have been vocal with demands for their inclusion in scientific and academic forums. At the same time they conveyed a one-sided, pro-theist, version of science and atheism to their own people. So, I suggested:

“Why don’t these ‘militant’ theists get some of these new atheists along to their own meetings and begin the real discussion. It’s just possible the members of those churches and departments will learn something form the ’horses mouth’ the seminars and theological courses devoted to new atheist strawmannery don’t convey.”

So this debate, organised by the Prestonwood Christian Academy, in Texas, was a step in that direction.The invitation was not exactly completely open (have a look at the 44 page discussion guide for the debate). This was aimed at students of the academy, their parents and members of the church, hoping to provide some sort of immunity to what Hitchens might say. Prominent on page 1 was the biblical advise:

The fool says in his heart, ’There is no god.’ Psalm 14:1

Now, I wonder of the Bible Colleges, Churches, and religious groups in New Zealand who regularly study their particular “new atheist” straw man, or creation science script would be p[prepared to make a similar invitation to a speaker for atheism or scientific reason?

The You Tube videos of the debate, which was entitled “Does A Good God Exist?”, are given below. Be aware that the first 9 minutes, being part of the immunisation process, can be ignored.


Part I of the Hitchens-Dembski debate held at Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, TX on 18 Nov 2010.

Hitchens-Dembski Debate Nov 2010 (1 of 10), posted with vodpod

Part II of the Hitchens-Dembski debate:


Hitchens-Dembski Debate Nov 2010 (2 of 10), posted with vodpod

Part III of the Hitchens-Dembski debate:


Hitchens-Dembski Debate Nov 2010 (3 of 10), posted with vodpod

Part IV of the Hitchens-Dembski debate:


Hitchens-Dembski Debate Nov 2010 (4 of 10), posted with vodpod

Part V of the Hitchens-Dembski debate :


Hitchens-Dembski Debate Nov 2010 (5 of 10), posted with vodpod

Part VI of the Hitchens-Dembski debate :

Part VII of the Hitchens-Dembski debate :

 

Part VIII of the Hitchens-Dembski debate:

Part IX of the Hitchens-Dembski debate:

 

Part X, the conclusion, of the Hitchens-Dembski debate:

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Pseudoscience and anti-science nonsense Ken Perrott Jun 09

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Book Review: Nonsense on Stilts: How to Tell Science from Bunk by Massimo Pigliucci

Paperback: 336 pages
Price:
US$13.60; NZ$41.99
Publisher:
University Of Chicago Press (May 15, 2010)
Language:
English
SBN-10: 0226667863
SBN-13:
978-0226667867

The ’climategate’ fiasco revealed an undercurrent of anti-scientific thinking in our society.  But that is just the latest issue. We have continuing problems with creationism, ’alternative’ medicines, and so on. Several centuries after the scientific revolution pseudoscience and anti-science attitudes are still common. The struggle for scientific literacy continues.

Massimo Pugliucci stresses this is an important issue for citizens in today’s society:

’Given the power and influence that science increasingly has in our daily lives, it is important that we as citizens of an open and democratic society learn to separate good science from bunk.

This is not a matter of intellectual curiosity, as it affects where large portions of our tax money go, and in some cases even whether people’s lives are lost as a result of nonsense.’

So, here is the motive for Pugliucici’s new book ’Nonsense on Stilts.’ In this he makes the case for real science, warns against the dangers of pseudoscience and provides readers with help in distinguishing the two.

Science patriotism

He writes clearly. This is not a dry rendition of the subject. While his writing skills contribute to this I think his willingness to take sides also helps. To be an ambassador, even an evangelist, for science. And to call a spade a spade.

I think the clarity of Pugliucci’s writing, and his partisanship on the subject, will provoke some strong reactions — both positive and negative. Although just published one reviewer has already damned it as ’smug’ and suffering from the ’egomania and unearned arrogance of the science patriots.’ (See Carlin Romano in The Chronicle of Higher Education – Science Warriors’ Ego Trips. Romano is clearly a supporter of pseudoscience (particularly ID), so his negative review suggests to me that this book is achieving its purpose. As one commentator said Science Patriotism? Enlist Me!

On the other hand it is getting rave reviews from supporters of real science. See for, example, Amanda Gefter’s New Scientist review Tracing the fuzzy boundaries of science.’

The book explains the nature of science and pseudoscience.  In discussing separation of sciences into ’hard’ and ’soft’ he debunks the common creationist claim that ’historical science’ is unscientific. Here he uses philosopher Carol Cleland’s analysis which is always worth communicating. (For example  ’Historical science, experimental science, and the scientific method’ [download pdf here] and Methodological and Epistemic Differences Between Historical Science and Experimental Science.’) And he describes the advantage ’historical science’ has with its ’asymmetry of overestimation.’ The fact there are often many converging lines of evidence.

A later section of the book also discusses the use of Baysian statistical comparisons of the degree of support for different mechanisms provided by new evidence. This is another area creationists have sown some confusion so Pigluicci’s clear description of the correct use of this analysis is valuable.

A chapter on ’Almost Science’ discusses some of the ’fuzzy’ areas like ’string theory,’ search for extraterrestrial intelligence, evolutionary psychology, and so on. Areas which are clearly not pseudoscience but also don’t always fit into a clearly defined science scheme.

Personally I would have liked more of a description of how speculation, even unbounded brainstorming, is important in science. Some of these ’fuzzy’ areas can play a positive role here, despite their limits. I also felt he was harsh, elsewhere in the book, when discussing mistaken claims made by well-known scientists. We must have room for creative ideas and mistakes (and personalities) in science. I think it counter-productive to assign these, as he sometimes does, to ’scientific arrogance.’ (maybe there is a little bitof “philosophical arrogance” showing?)

Pseudoscience and the distrust of science

Pigliucci takes pseudoscience to task. As he puts it ’superstition kills.’ And:

’While not often lethal, faulty thinking about how the world works can hurt plenty. . . Everyone has a right to be irrational, but rampant irrationality in a society can be highly wasteful and destructive, and giving a pass to credibility on the grounds that ‘it doesn’t hurt anyone’ is, well, not a very rational position to take.’

The book details several examples of ’faulty thinking.’ For example, aids denial, astrology, creationism/intelligent design (ID) theory and global warming denial. While most people consider some of these ’way out,’ others can, and do, have a wider influence.

Taking global warming as an example he compares Bjørn Lomberg’s ’The Skeptical Environmentalist’ and Al Gores ’An Inconvenient Truth.’ He finds the latter (from an ’evangelising politician’) to be better science than the former (from a political science professor). This discussion provides an example of how to decide where the scientific evidence points and being aware of ideological and financial interests behind media reporting. He also discusses the role and activity of the modern ’think-tanks’ in these issues.

I found useful his discussion of the reasons for the distrust of science, even antagonism toward science, and ready acceptance of pseudoscience by some. There is a mistrust of science within academia – bolstered by fashionable postmodernist ideologies. As he says: ’fighting pseudoscience entails more than just science education or critical thinking.’

He identifies several causes of the attraction of pseudoscience. Issues such as emotional protest movements against science and ego trips – knowing better than the experts. Even the arrogance of ’putting down’ the experts. In the end he argues the major cause within US society at large is anti-intellectualism. Attitudes encouraged by anti-elitism and the history of a frontier society. We see this coming together in the current ’tea party’ mobilisation against president Obama.

There is the ongoing problem of ’balance’ in the media — giving equal time to contrarian and minority opinions.

Also some see science as the foe and a ’legitimising force’ for greed and naive reductionism. Puigliucci suggests that scientists often underestimate the complexity of pseudoscience culture. And this doesn’t adequately prepare them for debates with creationists for climate change deniers. Presentation of academic information rarely wins such debates.

History of science

There is a section on the history of science — the chapters ’From Superstition to Natural Philosophy’ and ’From Natural Philosophy to Modern Science.’ I think this section is valuable but inevitably far too brief. These subjects need a book for themselves — and we need more books on this subject. Especially as there is a renewed interest in the history of science and Christian chauvinists misrepresent this history. (They tend to grab everything that isn’t firmly nailed down, and have a good go at things that are – don’t they. Morals, art and now science!)

Far from their claim that Christians invented science Pugliucci shows that a condition of the modern scientific revolution is the divergence of science from the grip of religion and philosophy. Interestingly, this conclusion also comes out of Michael Ruse’s recent survey of the history of science — Science and spirituality.’

Natural, supernatural and science

Ironically my commendation for clarity also relates to my main criticism of this book. Good teachers must simplify and simplification can obscure complexity. And I think there can be a fine line between a clear presentation and a dogmatic one.

My issue is Pigluicci’s demarcation between ’natural’ and ’supernatural’, and exclusion of the ’supernatural’ from scientific investigation. Alongside this goes the claim that some issues — such as the question of existence of gods — are outside scientific investigation and must be left to theology.

These claims are made by some, but not all, other philosophers of science. For example, at the 2005 Kitzmiller v Dover ID case such arguments were accepted as part of the definition of the scientific method. (See Intelligent design/creationism I: What is scientific knowledge? and Kitzmiller_decision). The US National Academy of Sciences also use similar arguments in their statements on ID.

Personally, I find these arguments opportunist. They try to deal politically with common theological attacks on science by conceding a domain to theology. I have a picture of wise scientists patting the theological children on the head, telling them to go away and play with their ’supernatural’ magic toys. Just leave us alone to get on with the real stuff. But the moment any evidence about these ’supernatural’ playthings surfaces scientists would be in like a shot, repossessing the “magical” toys and researching them.

A concession to theology?

On the other hand these concessions don’t mute the theological criticism. If anything they provide fuel. Doesn’t it reinforce their claims of a ’supernatural’ realm and their complaints that science purposely ignores it?

Also — real science just doesn’t work that way. Scientists never make judgements of ’natural’ or ’supernatural’ before investigations and therefore ruling things in or out of the allowable realm of investigation. In fact ’supernatural’ claims can be, and often are, investigated scientifically.

Such ’politically correct,’ algorithmic rules of scientific endeavour are sterile and false.  They are a philosophical dogma for some. There is no ’rule book’ for science. In practice the scientific method is more adequately described by this from Neil deGrasse Tyson: ’Do whatever it takes to avoid being fooled by reality.’

And after all — what do we really mean by the terms ’natural’ and ’supernatural?’ What the critics of science are really arguing for is an evidence free ’science’ with no duty of verification by mapping against reality. That has been the way that proponents of ID in the US have tried to redefine ’science.’

And the scientific endeavour is not constrained in its imagination and creativity by this. After all, many people think of ’supernatural’ when they hear about quantum mechanics, ’spooky action at a distance,’ modern relativity theory, the ’big bang’ theory, and so on. Scientific theories can be far more inspiring and imaginative than any religious myth.

Trusting experts

The books last chapter ’Who’s Your Expert’ discusses the problem of whom one should trust. It takes a practical example in the evolution – ID debates by considering Ken Miller, a proponent of evolution, and Michael Behe, a proponent of ID. He effectively uses criteria suggested by Alvin Goldman to score them both. These include the track record of the experts, likely biases, independent evidence of expertise, agreement of other experts and the actual arguments used.

Miller wins 5 to 2.

The process described in this chapter will be useful for the truly non-committed. People who are genuinely open-minded and wish to determine seriously who the expert authorities are. However, I wonder how many people are that open-minded? How many will spend time objectively evaluating potential experts? Most people approach these sorts of controversies with preconceived ideas. Any ’judging’ inevitably involves confirmation bias. Searching for ’evidence’ and ’authorities’ to support one’s own bias.

This is an area Pigluicci doesn’t touch on. He provides a thorough coverage of the nature of science and pseudoscience. And he does discuss underlying reasons for the popularity of anti-science prejudices. But there is another book waiting to deal with the question of how people can overcome their subjective prejudices and instinctive response in a way necessary for objectively evaluating different sources of expertise.

In conclusion

So, I will disagree with some of Pigliucci’s positions — particularly on the use of terms like ’naturalism,’ ’supernaturalism’ and the possibility of scientific investigation of the ’supernatural.’ However, his perspective is common and I suspect a clearer definition of terminology would remove the difference.

But I have no hesitation in recommending this book. It has come at the right time. There is much public confusion about the nature of science and scientific authority. Scientists, particularly climate scientists, are being attacked unjustly. To some extent these attacks are aimed at science itself.

’Nonsense on Stilts’ is an ideal book for countering this confusion. The clarity of the writing makes it accessible to most. And the partisanship of the message adds to that accessibility.

See also:
Massimo discusses his book on the Rationally Speaking podcast -  RS10: Nonsense on Stilts
Pigliucci’s blog: Rationally Speaking.org

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Are religious scientists worried about their brethren? Ken Perrott Mar 29

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There were two public statements on science recently which seem to have disappeared into a vacuum. They were the ‘Public Statement Concerning Science and Christian Faith’ by New Zealand Religious Scientists and ‘A message to the Christian communities of New Zealand from scientists in their midst.’

I am not interested in the first statement. It’s basically a sour-grapes response to the recent visit of Richard Dawkins to New Zealand. I would think that those disagreeing with Dawkins’ religious views would attempt to ignore him. After all, he was on a promotion tour for his book The Greatest show on Earthwhich is not about religion. Bringing up the religion question only provides him a platform to pontificate on the subject. Mind you, these sorts of criticisms do help build the public interest in Dawkins’ lectures, which are always crowded. This, and the inevitable book sales, must be a good thing for the public understanding of science. So, in a sense, I am all for such irrelevant statements.

Are Christians “ignoring” science?

The second statement also seems to have been provoked by Dawkins’ vist. The Anglicantaonga website claims it was “made in the light” of his local lectures, coverage in newspapers and TV programmes. However, the statement itself limits its comment on Dawkins to just one sentence.

My interest in this second statement is that it is aimed at New Zealand Christians and seems to be expressing concerns about the attitude of many Christians towards science. It notes:

We work within a secularised society which holds science in higher esteem than it does the Christian intellectual tradition, yet often takes note of that science only when it is convenient.

And

“We note with deep concern the denial of rational thought which is taking place in both society and Church in relation to gathering environmental and ecological crises.”

And finally:

“We earnestly ask the Christian communities of New Zealand to respect and affirm the work of scientists, and to act prudently and courageously on their conclusions, in the light of Christian faith and values.”

So the authors of the statement appear concerned but it is all rather vague. I expect vagueness from theological pronouncements – I often feel that trying to understand them is a bit like jelly wrestling. Perhaps one has to read between the lines here – a bit like Soviet times when western Soviet watchers attempted to understand Kremlin power struggles by reading between the lines of Pravda editorials.

However, he statement does convey the sense of a crisis within NZ’s Christian communities regarding acceptance of science. I wouldn’t have thought that was immediately obvious, nothing seems to have changed lately. However the signatories “speak as professional scientists who hold orthodox Christian faith” so there concern may be specifically about “orthodox Christians,” or perhaps “conservative Christians.”

Another strange thing is the refusal to be specific about “environmental and ecological crises” where Christians are denying rational thought. Perhaps they mean climate change – but why not be specific?

Certainly conservative Christian have been guilty of this. One has only to read the local conservative Christian blogs to see how eagerly they have jumped onto the hysterical “climategate” bandwagon and campaigned against our local climate scientists. But isn’t this a feature of their conservatism rather than their religion? I am sure, though, that some of them can justify their conservative using biblical quotes.

Signatories divided?

Probably the statement’s vagueness results from an unwillingness to do a detailed washing of their dirty linen in public. Another reason may be that it is the result of a committee of 11 Christians with different views and different concepts of science. For example, two of the signatories are Neil Bloom and Jeff Tallon. Having heard both of these speak on the nature of science I would have thought their views would be diametrically opposed. Most working scientists would agree with the physicist Jeff Tallon’s description of the scientific method (when he leaves his god out of it). But they wouldn’t agree with the engineer Neil Broom.

Broom is well known as an intelligent design (ID) activist and author of the book How Blind Is the Watchmaker?: Nature’s Design & the Limits of Naturalistic Science. The father of ID, Phillip Johnson, gave the book a glowing review describing it as ’in the tradition of my own Darwin on Trial and Michael Behe’s Darwin’s Black Box.’ (Reviews on the Amazon site are far less complimentary). Broom is a fellow of the International Society for Complexity, Information, and Design (ISCID) a web site formed by ID guru William Dembski which presents itself as an ID ’think tank.’ (Although this is possibly defunct now as the web site shows no activity for several years).

Naturalistic science straitjacket myth.

Neil Broom strongly argues that science is restricted by it’s “naturalistic rules.” It is not permitted to consider “supernatural” mechanisms and therefore is incapable of truly understanding reality. This artificial description conflicts strongly with the actual way science is done in practice, but is a popular criticism of science by ID proponents. Their Wedge Document, for example, argues for the overthrow of such modern “naturalistic” or “materialist” science and its replacement by a “theistic science” (see The wedge undermines Christianity). Their motives are obvious – to remove from science the requirements for evidence and testing and hence provide “scientific” endorsement of religious myths.

I think Tallon and Broom must have also had problems over including a reference to evolutionary science in their statement.  “We, with contemporary theologians, affirm that historic Christian faith is compatible with an evolutionary unfolding of life.” The vagueness probably results from trying to accommodate most Christian scientists’ clear acceptance of evolutionary science together with the fact that Bloom is one of the three signatories of the notorious “Scientific Dissent from Darwinism” evolution denier list.

The actual list of signatories on the two statements is also interesting. There is a common core of 9 people on both statements. Two extra signed the “Message to Chrsitian Communities” which is described as a production of the Wellington Theological Consortium. This is made up of the Booth College of Mission, the Catholic Education Centre, the Wellington Pacific Bible College and the Wellington Theological Institute (Wellington Anglican Diocese). A separate 5 others signed the other statement. Why the difference?

Liberal Christians need clarity

I guess most of the signatories have their hearts in the right place. If there are problems with the attitudes of conservative Christians to science and scientific findings they are right to be concerned. And there is certainly a problem with their attitudes towards the science of climate change, and, in some cases, evolutionary science. But vague statements like this won’t solve these problems. Especially as they are compromised by the need to accommodate the anti-scientific attitudes of at least one of the signatories.

I think progressive, liberal and pro-science Christians should stop compromising with their anti-science brethren. They should openly and specifically challenge anti-science attitudes.

Why not clearly say that the sympathy many Christians have for creationisms/ID, and the accompanying hostility towards evolutionary science, is not acceptable in modern institutions?

Why not take issue with the hysterical and childish campaign to discredit climate scientists that some conservative Christians have willingly promoted?

Why not clearly challenge the anti-science arguments about  “naturalistic’ or “materialistic” straitjackets on science? These attitudes are even promoted by many mainstream theologians and this helps push rank and file Christians into the arms of conservative and reactionary elements. While this continues how can Christians overcome their suspicion of science.

After all, if you can portray scientists as purposely avoiding the study of reality objectively you can then make wild and hysterical claims countering the findings of those scientists.

See also: Who are the ’dissenters from Darwinism’?

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Vandalizing bookstores and censoring Books! Ken Perrott Feb 15

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This headline brings up pictures of Nazis ransacking bookshops during the Third Reich and throwing books onto fires.

But, no, it was just a bit of fanciful hysteria in an email I received from the Discovery Institute, the creationist/intelligent design “think tank” in Seattle, USA. And of course they had to blame Darwin! The actual headline was “Vandalizing Bookstores and Censoring Books in the Name of Darwin.”

This was their unbalanced reaction to a blogger who reported re-shelving  creationist books he found in the science section of his local bookshop into the religion section. I guess there are also offended Christians who re-shelve Richard Dawkins book The God Delusion from the religion to science shelves as well. There are certainly some who place religious pamphlets in copies of atheist books.

What a lot of hysteria about nothing. Their claim is silly: “his actions constitute censorship, pure and simple. Barton is trying to hide books he doesn’t like in order to prevent others from being exposed to views with which he disagrees. Indeed, he is apparently so insecure about the ability of Darwinists like Dawkins to make their case that he thinks he has the duty to vandalize private bookstores in order to keep the books of Darwin’s critics away from the public. Barton’s activities are not only juvenile, they may well be illegal.”

Just imagine the poor policemen who has to listen to that complaint!

Personally, I find bookshops shelve their books haphazardly anyway. I always have difficulty finding the books I am looking for. As for voluntary re-shelving – I must admit to hiding Eve’s Bite whenever I see it no matter the shelf (sorry, Ian, just joking). But why bother re-shelving. This is the way I see it:

  1. If creationist books are wrongly placed in the science section this should reduce sales as creationists usually don’t visit that section. They would sell better in the religion section. Just imagine how uncomfortable it would be if you were forced into the religion section when looking for a science book. Many science people would give up looking before that resorted to that.
  2. It’s not as if a non-creationist is going to buy the book while perusing possible science purchases. Unless they really want to anyway to use as a reference.
  3. If creationists are forced unwittingly into looking at shelves of science books in their desire to find a specific creationist book that can be only a good thing, surely.

So I say live and let live. It will all work out well in the end.

Mind you, it is fun watching the Discovery Institute foam at the mouth.

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The rules of science Ken Perrott Nov 16

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pz_myersPZ Myers has a great post Ten Questions to Ask Your Biology Teacher About Intelligent Design. It briefly discusses, and disposes of, some of the most common intelligent design (ID) arguments. And does it so clearly.

He is a great writer – and I just don’t know how gets time to write so well and do all the other things he does. His upcoming book should be great – but I have yet to hear of any publication date.

I have extracted question 3 because I think this is of general interest. And one I think is important to counter. The question  and accompanying argument is taken from a Christian Apologetics article by William Dembski and Sean McDowell.

Dembski’s and McDowell’s Rules of Science question:

“Who determines the rules of science? Are these rules written in stone? Is it mandatory that scientific explanations only appeal to matter and energy operating by unbroken natural laws (a principle known as methodological naturalism)?

The rules of science are not written in stone. They have been negotiated over many centuries as science (formerly called “natural philosophy”) has tried to understand the natural world. These rules have changed in the past and they will change in the future. Right now much of the scientific community is bewitched by a view of science called methodological naturalism, which says that science may only offer naturalistic explanations. Science seeks to understand nature. If intelligent causes operate in nature, then methodological naturalism must not be used to rule them out.

PZ Myers’ response:

“Who? Man, these guys have got intent and agency etched deep into their brain, don’t they?

The rules of science are entirely pragmatic – we do what works, defined as a process that produces explanations that allow us to push deeper and deeper into a problem. That’s all we care about. Show us a tool that actually generates new insights into biology, rather than recycling tired theological notions, and some scientist somewhere will use it. We’re still waiting for one.

I am amused by the use of the word ‘bewitched’ to categorize people who don’t invoke magical ad hoc explanations built around undetectable supernatural entities, however.”

So true!

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Theistic evolution? Ken Perrott Sep 21

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This term gets used a lot – but what does it mean?

In a recent discussion a local supporter (I think) of theistic evolution put it this way: Both “theistic evolutionists” and “atheistic evolutionists” accepts Darwinian evolution as true. Nevertheless – he describes these as two alternatives “theories.” But he admits: “the empirical evidence . . .  will not provide reasons for one position over another. The two positions have to be decided then on other grounds.”

I think this person, and probably most other people who use the “theistic evolution,” label are confused. They are not talking about scientific theories. They are talking about their own religious beliefs. These “other grounds” are religion.

All these people are saying is: “I accept evolutionary science but I am still a theist.”

But why do that? There is only one reality and scientific theories are tested against that reality, not against religious books or opinions of religious leaders. So why attach one’s religious beliefs to your acceptance of scientific knowledge?

The fact is that only (some) theists feel the need to declare their religious beliefs in this way. We never hear people saying they accept “atheistic evolution,” do we? So it must be something to do with the religious community these theists inhabit.

I think this must arise out of the hostility towards evolutionary science, and sometimes science in general, common in many theistic circles. Certainly, in New Zealand the 20% of the population who reject evolutionary science are mostly Christian – and they comprise about 40% of the local Christian community.

Bullying

Apparently someone who declares their acceptance of evolutionary science can sometimes be confronted with a very hostile reaction. They are probably considered “sinful” by many fundamentalists. I have heard of cases where such people are shouted down. Even where some families express concern about the children learning about science at school!

So perhaps it’s understandable that in this bullying atmosphere many Christians feel the need to add the “theist” adjective to evolutionary. But why give in to such bullying? In the long run bullies are only defeated by standing up to them.

When one gives in and resorts to calling oneself a “theistic evolutionist” isn’t it being cowardly?

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