Friday, March 17, 2006

Cool Juggling

Check this out.

Good Math Blog

Computer scientist Mark Chu-Carroll has started an excellent blog called Good Math, Bad Math. I've only been able to skim his posts so far, but it looks like he has some first-rate essays ripping into creationist mathematics. I know what I'm going to be reading this weekend!

Klugman on God

I'm a big Jack Klugman fan. Twelve Angry Men is one of my favorite movies. He was in some terrific Twilight Zone episodes. (I especially like that one with Jonathan Winters in the pool hall). And television definitely hit a high-water mark with Quincy.

But I must take issue with part of this brief essay from The Huffington Post:


I'll come back to what the movie says about God in a minute -- now I'm gonna get political for you. Remember, I'm a lifelong Democrat. Never vote any other way. And as a Democrat, I want to say this to the Democratic Party, "GOD IS NOT A REPUBLICAN!" Get that? Heard me clearly? Read it again. That's why I wrote it in capital letters.

We live in a religious country. Get over it. And not only that, but religion is not a superstitious bromide for the ignorant. There is tremendous wisdom, accumulated over centuries of deep thought, in all the major traditions, and all those folks who invest their time and energy in faith are NOT idiots. Why is this a political thought? Because our party has set itself up as the party that's against God, and as long as it does that, we will keep losing power. If we were to do all the same things we're doing now, however, and somehow extend an olive branch to the faithful, we could swing the Washington pendulum hard and fast to our side. Think about it. There are plenty of religious people who respect women's rights and believe in evolution - that's not the point. The point is, as Abraham Lincoln said, “Both sides pray to the same God.” God is not a Republican, and it's about time we gave Him equal opportunity on our platform.


For the purpose of this blog entry I will accept the premise that Democrats lose elections because they don't appeal to religious people.

My question is: what form does the olive branch take? The Democratic party believes in a strong separation of church and state. It believes that the decision to terminate a pregnancy should reside with the mother in most cases. It believes that science and rationality are sounder bases for public policy than religious faith. It believes in full civil rights for homosexuals. Granted, the party has not always been as steadfast in defense of these principles as it should have been. Individual Democrats might dissent from one or more of these ideas (or various other issues I could have listed). But the fact remains that these are things that Democrats have historically stood for. Does Klugman believe that Democrats should compromise these principles?

In what sense is the Democratic party hostile to God or religious people? Certainly they are hostile to using the government to promote particular religious ideologies, but any religious person who sees no distinction there is not someone we want to court. Has any Democrat of any prominence made statements hostile to religion? Has any Democrat proposed legislation that is hostile to religion? Is there any plank in the Democratic platform that is hostile to religion? I fear that Klugman has simply absorbed a standard Republican talking point (no doubt because of its frequent repetition.)

Democrats believe that religion is a personal matter and should not be used as the basis for public policy. If extending an olive branch to religious people means sacrificing that principle, then I would prefer to lose elections.

Barrow Wins Templeton Prize

From The New York Times:


Continuing a recent trend in which the world's richest religion prize has gone to scientists, John D. Barrow, a British cosmologist whose work has explored the relationship between life and the laws of physics, was named the winner yesterday of the 2006 Templeton Prize for progress or research in spiritual matters.

Dr. Barrow will receive the $1.4 million prize during a ceremony at Buckingham Palace on May 3. The prize was created in 1972 by the philanthropist Sir John Marks Templeton, who specified that its monetary value always exceed that of the Nobel Prize. Five of the last six winners have been scientists. Asked about this, Dr. Barrow said, “Maybe they ask the most interesting questions.”

Dr. Barrow, 53, a mathematical sciences professor at the University of Cambridge, is best known for his work on the anthropic principle, which has been the subject of debate in physics circles in recent years. Life as we know it would be impossible, he and others have pointed out, if certain constants of nature — numbers denoting the relative strengths of fundamental forces and masses of elementary particles — had values much different from the ones they have, leading to the appearance that the universe was “well tuned for life,” as Dr. Barrow put it.


Ugh.

Make the commonplace and trivial observation that the universe is congenial to our sort of life, assert this is evidence for God, ignore rival explanations that can claim at least some evidential support, win $1.4 million. Lovely.

The Times article closes with:


Noting that Charles Darwin is buried in Westminster Abbey, Dr. Barrow said that in contrast with the so-called culture wars in America, science and religion had long coexisted peaceably in England. “The concept of a lawful universe with order that can be understood and relied upon emerged largely out of religious beliefs about the nature of God,” he said.


That last claim gets repeated a lot, but it sounds like nonsense to me. The concept of a lawful universe with order that can be understood and relied upon seems amply justified by our everyday experience. Adding God to the mix only creates a reason not to have confidence in the regularities of mature.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Round Two with Cordova

UPDATE: March 17. 2006.: Salvador has replied to this post. You will find his reply as comment seven here. I will let him have the last word.


Salvador has now replied to yesterday's post. You will find his reply as comment six.

Here's a quick recap of the argument thus far: On Tuesday evening I attended a talk given by John Angus Campbell on the subject of teaching ID in schools. During his talk Campbell argued that Darwin contrasted his ideas about common descent against rival ideas that we would nowadays refer to as ID. I criticized this on the grounds that there was an equivocation in the use of the term ID. The thing with which Darwin contrasted common descent was the idea that species were special creations of God and fixed through time. That is not what the term ID means today. Therefore, this was not a good argument for defending the inclusion of modern ID in science classes.

Salvador replied by providing a few quotes from Darwin in which Darwin explicitly refers to creation or design. This, sadly, completely missed the point. The question was whether what Darwin had in mind by those terms was equivalent to what modern ID folks have in mind. I went on to show, by placing Salvador's Darwin quotes in their proper context, that Darwin was not talking about ID as that term is understood today.

Apparently Salvador continues to miss the point. He writes:


Rosenhouse objects by saying that Darwin was arguing for common descent and the mutability of species as the conclusion of the theory. However, Rosenhouse misses the fact that Darwin had to use anti-Design arguments, particularly in chapter six to justify his conclusion. Also his writing was targeted at the pro-Design culture of the time. To arrive at that conclusion, Darwin had to make anti-Design arguments. One will see his writings anticipate design arguments of his day and today:

In Chapter 6


Organs of extreme perfection and complication.
….
It is scarcely possible to avoid comparing the eye to a telescope. We know that this instrument has been perfected by the long-continued efforts of the highest human intellects; and we naturally infer that the eye has been formed by a somewhat analogous process. But may not this inference be presumptuous? Have we any right to assume that the Creator works by intellectual powers like those of man?
….
may we not believe that a living optical instrument might thus be formed as superior to one of glass, as the works of the Creator are to those of man?

If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed, which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down.


“It is scarcely possible to avoid comparing the eye to a telescope,” and in the modern day it is scarecly possible to avoid comparing the flagellum to an outboard motor, or some parts of the cellular machinery with a computer, or biological clock with clocks. Darwin recognized he had to address the design argument for his anti-creationist theory to be received.

Darwin would not reach Chapter 14 had he not felt he offered a sufficient designer substitute. I think Jason is underestimating the importance of the anti-design arguments which are in Darwin’s work. Darwin recognizes that the problem of design in “organs of extreme perfection” could sink his whole theory. And that is very much the same battle ground being fought today!


First off, in my original blog entry I was explicitly talking about Darwin's arguments in favor of common descent. Salvador's first reply used quotes related to that subject as well. He has now changed the subject to the question of how Darwin defended natural selection as the mechanism of evolution. This is a different issue.

Of more import, however, is that Salvador has once again misrepresented what Darwin said. Let's look at the full context of that “telescope” line:


He who will go thus far, if he find on finishing this treatise that large bodies of facts, otherwise inexplicable, can be explained by the theory of descent, ought not to hesitate to go further, and to admit that a structure even as perfect as the eye of an eagle might be formed by natural selection, although in this case he does not know any of the transitional grades. His reason ought to conquer his imagination; though I have felt the difficulty far too keenly to be surprised at any degree of hesitation in extending the principle of natural selection to such startling lengths.

It is scarcely possible to avoid comparing the eye to a telescope. We know that this instrument has been perfected by the long-continued efforts of the highest human intellects; and we naturally infer that the eye has been formed by a somewhat analogous process. But may not this inference be presumptuous? Have we any right to assume that the Creator works by intellectual powers like those of man? If we must compare the eye to an optical instrument, we ought in imagination to take a thick layer of transparent tissue, with a nerve sensitive to light beneath, and then suppose every part of this layer to be continually changing slowly in density, so as to separate into layers of different densities and thicknesses, placed at different distances from each other, and with the surfaces of each layer slowly changing in form. Further we must suppose that there is a power always intently watching each slight accidental alteration in the transparent layers; and carefully selecting each alteration which, under varied circumstances, may in any way, or in any degree, tend to produce a distincter image. We must suppose each new state of the instrument to be multiplied by the million; and each to be preserved till a better be produced, and then the old ones to be destroyed. In living bodies, variation will cause the slight alterations, generation will multiply them almost infinitely, and natural selection will pick out with unerring skill each improvement. Let this process go on for millions on millions of years; and during each year on millions of individuals of many kinds; and may we not believe that a living optical instrument might thus be formed as superior to one of glass, as the works of the Creator are to those of man? (Emphasis Added)


Note that first bold face statement, in which Darwin explicitly separates the question of common descent from the question of natural selection as the mechanism of that descent.

Now look at the final bold face statement. This makes it obvious that Darwin has no problem with the idea of intelligent design in the abstract. There is evidently nothing in his arguments that rules out the existence of a Creator who produces various works. It is, therefore, far too simplistic (to put it kindly) to say that Darwin was presenting anti-design arguments.

Now look at the middle bold face statement. What he is criticizing there is not the idea that there is a Creator who creates, but rather the presumption that such a Creator would produce his works by the same mechanisms through which human designers produce theirs. In other words, he is criticizing the idea that the eye (in this example) was produced by divine planning and fiat, as opposed to appearing via a gradual process presumably set in motion by the Creator.

Or to put it yet another way, he is not criticizing design in some vague sense, but rather the idea of the special creation of species with all of their structures in their present form. This is exactly what I argued in my previous post.

The only way Salvador's argument makes sense is if you construe the design argument as merely the claim that the complexity of certain anatomical structures, all by itself, implies they must have been designed. In that case, your argument is identical to the one offered by William Paley, and you should call it natural theology, not ID. Modern ID, as proposed by people like William Dembski and Michael Behe, was supposed to be a huge leap forward from Paley. They claimed to have produced a rigorous, quantifiable procedure for proving to a certainty that certain structures were designed. This was said to be an improvement over Paley's mostly analogical arguments.

The claim that Darwin set his arguments in opposition to ID can only be defended by defining ID in a way that ignores everything that modern ID proponents claim to have produced. But then you are left with the statement that Darwin set his arguments in opposition to Paley's earlier arguments, which everyone already knew.

So let's turn this in to something productive. If by “teaching ID” you mean that you should say that before Darwin it was very common for people to analogize complex anatomical structures to machines and conclude that they were designed directly by God, but then Darwin came along and showed that this analogy is seriously deficient, then I am all in favor of teaching ID. But if by “teaching ID” you mean that we should give respectful mention to things like irreducible complexity or complex specified information, then I am opposed to that, for the simple reason that we shoudn't be presenting false information to children.

Likewise, if “teaching the controversy” means that we should teach so much about evolution that we actually come to those esoteric issues that professionals actually argue about, then I am all in favor of it. But if by “teaching the controversy” you mean we should present respectfully the sort of bogus anti-evolution arguments offered by, say, Jonathan Wells, then I am against it.

Campbell himself was a bit confusing on these points. At times he seemed to be advocating the first option in these two paragraphs. Other times he seemed to prefer the second. Salvador appears to be defending the first in his reply. If that was his intention, then we don't disagree on very much, but he is abusing language in a serious way to describe that as teaching ID. But if actually he thinks that anything produced by contemporary ID advocates, most notably William Dembski and Michael Behe, is relevant to understanidng any of Darwin's arguments, then he is terribly confused.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Cordova on Campbell

Yesterday I offered up this account of John Angus Campbell's presentation at James Madison University. Salvador Cordova was also in the audience, and he has offered his account here.

Cordova describes his blog entry as a competing account to what I wrote, but he actually only challenges one thing that I said. Cordova writes:


Campbell argued that Darwin’s idea can’t be fully understood without understanding the idea Darwin was seeking to replace, namely (using today’s jargon) intelligent design. Thus to learn about Darwin correctly, one must learn about intelligent design.

Darwin explicitly points out he’s going after “special creation”, “plan of creation” or “unity of design”. (See Chapter 14.)


It is so easy to hide our ignorance under such expressions as the `plan of creation,’ `unity of design,’ &c.,

This grand fact of the grouping of all organic beings seems to me utterly inexplicable on the theory of creation.
….


What is the proper relationship of special creation to intelligent design? Intelligent design is a necessary but not sufficient condition for special creation. This logically implies that if one can negate the design argument through a designer substitute (Darwinian mechanisms), one can destroy not only the design argument, but also the case for special creation.

To illustrate, a typical car needs fuel to run. Fuel is a necessary, but not sufficient condition for a car to run (a lot of other things like electricity and oil are needed to make a car run, not just fuel). But if there is no fuel, the car doesn’t run.

In like manner, if there is no intelligent design, there is no special creation. In fact, since intelligent design is a necessary condition for theories like Front Loading, PEH, etc., they (in addition to special creation) would be swept away if Darwin’s hypothesis were true.


Total poppycock, I'm afraid.

First off, since Cordova presents this as an account that is competing with my own, I assume he thinks this is a counter to what I wrote in my blog entry on this subject:


Another point that arose in our conversation was the role of ID in the Origin. I pointed out that Darwin did not contrast evolution with ID as that term is understood today. Instead he contrasted the idea of common descent with the idea that species were fixed through time. That is a specific hypothesis with different predictive consequences from common descent. Consequently, it was not a good argument to say that we should present ID in science class because that is how Darwin did it in his own work. (Emphasis added)


ID as that term is understood today. Salvador seems to have overlooked that part.

When Darwin spoke of the theory of creation, he had in mind the idea that each species was a separate and independent creation. To put it another way, he was contrasting the idea of descent with modification with the alternative hypothesis that species were fixed through time. This is made clear throughout the Origin, including in the few sentences that precede the one Cordova so selectively quoted:


This tendency in the large groups to go on increasing in size and diverging in character, together with the almost inevitable contingency of much extinction, explains the arrangement of all the forms of life, in groups subordinate to groups, all within a few great classes, which we now see everywhere around us, and which has prevailed throughout all time. This grand fact of the grouping of all organic beings seems to me utterly inexplicable on the theory of creation.


This fact is made even clearer in this statement, from earlier in Chapter 14 of the Origin:


On the view that species are only strongly marked and permanent varieties, and that each species first existed as a variety, we can see why it is that no line of demarcation can be drawn between species, commonly supposed to have been produced by special acts of creation, and varieties which are acknowledged to have been produced by secondary laws. On this same view we can understand how it is that in each region where many species of a genus have been produced, and where they now flourish, these same species should present many varieties; for where the manufactory of species has been active, we might expect, as a general rule, to find it still in action; and this is the case if varieties be incipient species. Moreover, the species of the large genera, which afford the greater number of varieties or incipient species, retain to a certain degree the character of varieties; for they differ from each other by a less amount of difference than do the species of smaller genera. The closely allied species also of the larger genera apparently have restricted ranges, and they are clustered in little groups round other species -- in which respects they resemble varieties. These are strange relations on the view of each species having been independently created, but are intelligible if all species first existed as varieties. (Emphasis added)


The ideas that each species was specially created and that species are fixed through time are manifestly not ones that the leading proponents of ID attempt to defend. In fact, they typically distance themselves from them, pointing out that one can accept both common descent and ID. Darwin's only comment about things like irreducible complexity or complex specified information, the pillars of modern ID, was to note that we shouldn't be so cavalier about saying that this or that complex structure could not have evolved gradually.

No one objects to showing how common descent provides a better explanation for the facts of nature than the rival hypothesis of species fixity. More than that, I agree with Campbell that it is almost impossible to present evolution effectively without making this comparison. I don't know anyone who disagrees with this. That Campbell seems to think that is what is at issue suggests to me that he doesn't really understand the modern evolution/ID debate. That is why I said in my previous entry that he should stick to talking about science education, where his ideas have some merit, and stay away from evolution, where they do not.

If Darwin is correct then the idea that each species was created in its present form, in a puff of smoke, with one waggle of God's finger, is out the window. This has nothing to do with front-loading, or the PEH, or any other idea that takes a more nuanced view of God's action. Mind you, I think front-loading and the PEH are silly ideas for other reasons, but they are not ruled out by accepting the hypotheses of common descent and natural selection. Indeed, the PEH is the brainchild of John Davison, who accepts common descent. Likewise, front-loading has been seriously proposed by Michael Behe, who also accepts common descent.

We see, as usual, that Salavdor is talking through his hat.

Incidentally, let me note that Salvador's headline for his blog entry was:


Rosenhouse Praises Discovery Institute Fellow John Angus Campbell.


Pretty misleading, don't you think? I praised certain aspects of Campbell's remarks about science education, but also criticized much of his take on evolution and ID. And considering that I specifically singled out our differing views of the Discovery Institute as one of our main points of disagreement, it was rather poor form to imply that by saying something nice about Campbell I was liekwise praising his involvement with the DI.

One suspects that if I had written a slash and burn post ripping in to Campbell, but then paused to note that he had good taste in clothes, Salvador would have used the same headline.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Campbell at JMU

I just got back from a public presentation given by John Angus Campbell on the subject of what to teach in high school biology classes. You may recognize Campbell as the coeditor (with Stephen Meyer) of the Michigan State University Press anthology Darwinism, Design and Public Education. I reviewed this book a while back for Skeptic magazine. You can read my (mostly negative) review (PDF format) here.

I agreed with most of what Campbell had to say. He began by extolling the virtues of civil discourse and respecting those with whom we disagree. No argument there. He had nothing but praise for Charles Darwin, both as a scientist and as a writer. He mentioned also that he was himself a Darwinist, which he reiterated to me in our conversation after the talk (more on that later). I liked all of that.

Eventually he got to his main point, which was that science education should emphasize the role of argument and intepretation of evidence in its presentation. There should also be enough philosophy introduced to help students understand the distinction between science and nonscience. He argued that in The Origin Darwin frequently contrasted evolution with the rival idea of ID, and as a result it was impossible to understand Darwin's argument without discussing the rival ideas prevalent at the time. It was in this context that ID had a role in science classes.

After the talk I had the opportunity to talk to him semi-privately (there were a few other people hanging around who also offered some thoughts). I pointed out to him that I agreed with nearly everything he said, but that I thought he had avoided most of the issues that cause all the heat. What gets scientists angry is not the idea that there should be more discussion of the nature of science and the role of argumentation and interpretaion of evidence within it. Nor is anyone bothered by the idea of presenting Darwin's work in the historical context of the times in which he was writing.

Rather, the problem comes in presenting the modern incarnation of ID as a legitimate scientific theory alongside evolution. I argued that we should not do that because the arguments ID proponents make are totally false. I also pointed out that civility is a two-way street, and that considering that all of the leading ID proponents engage in sleazy, dishonest rhetoric, it was a little galling that I was expected to be civil towards them.

Campbell didn't seem to disagree with any of this. In the end, I was a little confused about what role ID was playing in his argument. After all, he made it clear during his talk that it was not his intention to single out evolution for special treatment. Rather, he was making suggestions for fundamentally rethinking the way science gets taught. I suggested to him that he shouldn't be casting his argument in the context of evolution and ID, but rather as a more general talk about the nature of science education. He even seemed to agree with that!

Another point that arose in our conversation was the role of ID in the Origin. I pointed out that Darwin did not contrast evolution with ID as that term is understood today. Instead he contrasted the idea of common descent with the idea that species were fixed through time. That is a specific hypothesis with different predictive consequences from common descent. Consequently, it was not a good argument to say that we should present ID in science class because that is how Darwin did it in his own work.

Yet another point that came up was the role of the courts. Campbell fretted that it was a bad idea to look to the courts to resolve this issue, since that leads to ill will from non-scientists who dislike being told what they can and can not teach in schools. Curiously, though, Campbell was adamant that he did not favor any sort of equal-time treatment of evolution and creationism or ID.

So I pointed out that the equal time question was precisely the one the courts were adjudicating. This was explicit in the 1982 Arkansas trial, and implicit in the recent Dover trial. The courts only come into this to prevent people from taking over science classrooms to teach their preferred religious views. Again Campbell didn't seem to disagree, but argued instead that it should be possible to develop a scientifically rigorous curriculum along the more ecumenical lines he was suggesting.

One genuine point of disagreement was the role of the Discovery Institute in all of this. I tend to see the DI as a sinkhole of darkness and rottenness, whereas Campbell seems to think they want something along the lines of what he is suggesting. I argued that the DI might go along with Campbell's ideas, but only as a stepping stone towards their real agenda of having their religious views taught in public schools.

One final point that came up was when Campbell quoted from the book The Evolution of Darwinism by Timothy Shanahan. In the quote Shanahan was talking about debates from within Darwinism on certain fundamental issues about evolution. Campbell suggested that in light of this scientists shouldn't be so quick to say that there is no controversy.

I have not read Shanahan's book, but from the nature of the quote that was read I surmised that he wasn't talking about anything the creationists or ID folks are pointing out, but rather about more esoteric points. Judging from the blurb linked to above, I believe I had it right. So I replied that such controversy as exists among biologists on the subject of evolution has nothing to do with those portions of it that get taught in high schools. The hypotheses of common descent with natural selection as a major mechanism of evolution are, indeed, noncontroversial. Anyway, we didn't have time to discuss this in much depth.

All in all, it was an interesting night. Initially I was annoyed that he had been invited as the only guest to lecture publicly on this, since I knew him only from the awful anthology he coedited. But I was pleasantly surprised by his talk and found that he had a lot of interesting things to say. I think he has some interesting ideas about science education but shouldn't really be talking about evolution and ID at all.

An enjoyable evening nonetheless.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Nakamura in Salon

Today's issue of Salon features this profile of U.S. Chess phenom Hikaru Nakamura. He is undoubtedly the most talented American chessplayer on the scene today, and with a little more experience could probably compete at the highest level. He won the U.S. Chess Championship in 2005, though he failed to defend that title in the recently completed 2006 version of the event.

Sadly, Nakamura will probably have to give up competitive chess because it is virtually impossible to make a living at it.


Nakamura's potent brew of balls and brains has earned him the obvious comparison: Bobby Fischer. But for Nakamura, Fischer, the wunderkind who became a wild-eyed, long-bearded paranoid, who vanished mysteriously during his prime, serves also as a cautionary tale. “He played too much chess and went crazy,” says Nakamura. “I'm not a mad genius.”

But his experience serves as a sort of modern parable about the game. Nakamura rode the fuel of new technologies to become a powerhouse player. But his hard, fast rise has left him feeling burned out and, unlike his coddled peers in Europe, ready to pull the plug. “When it's this hard to make a living,” he says, “you're not going to keep the talent in the game. Eventually, they have to go into other things.”


Actually, concerning Fischer, it has been wisely said that it wasn't that chess drove him crazy, it was that he was always crazy and chess was the only thing keeping him sane.

The whole article is worht reading for its comments about the scene at the thighest levels of competitive chess. Experienced chess players will role their eyes a bit at some of the comments the author makes, but it is mostly an accurate and engaging read. Here's one more excerpt:


But America is another story. The cost of living is high, the respect is nil, and the sponsorships nonexistent. Nakamura explodes when he talks about the other players' sponsors because, despite being the U.S. champion, he has none. “Any other young person who devotes his life to becoming the best in the world at something is making millions of dollars!” he fumes. He's exaggerating, but the point is well taken. He's the best, and for this he has given up plenty. Before he goes onstage, he likes to slip on his iPod and crank up his theme song. “It's by Green Day,” he says. “'Boulevard of Broken Dreams.'”

Notable Book Reviews

The current issue of Quarterly Review of Biology has a couple of book reviews that are worth looking at.

First, Christoph Adami rips into Hubert Yockey's new book Information Theory, Evolution and the Origin of Life. Yockey will be familiar to devotees of evolution/creationism disputes because of his endorsement of various probability arguments against naturalistic explanations of the origin of ife. Yockey's arguments are considerably more sophisticated than the ones offered by the creationists, but they are no less wrong for that.

Anyway, Adami is very unimpressed with the present volume:


These are only mild idiosyncrasies compared to the author's serious departures from accepted scientific standards of conduct. To begin with, at least half of the (poorly edited) book is a nearly verbatim copy—including typographical errors—of the author's previous volume, Information Theory and Molecular Biology (1992. Cambridge (UK): Cambridge University Press). This information is disclosed nowhere in the current book. The parts that are new to this volume are a mixture of historical and philosophical notes on origin-of-life research and researchers (in a section entitled The Life of Walther Löb, we learn the names and ages of the four daughters of the electrochemist at the time of his death), and reiterations of the same points already put forth in the older material. Even worse, some literature sources are either changed to conform or falsified. The sequence data for much of the presentation in Chapter 6—unchanged since its 1992 inception—is ostensibly from the Protein Information Resource 2003, but checking with the 1992 book reveals that the source is a 1986 paper. Despite its appearance as rigorous by the use of mathematical jargon, many derivations in this book (all of them already present in the 1992 version) are deeply flawed either mathematically, or by the use of inappropriate biological assumptions, or both. What is most surprising is that such a volume could pass an impartial peer review process. Cambridge University Press would do well to examine the circumstances of this and the previous book's approval and editing process. (Emphasis Added)


Phony rigor to disguise mathematical emptiness? Small wonder creationists like Yockey so much.

The comments about peer review are also well-taken. Passing peer-review is a necessary condition for meriting serious consideration from knowledgeable people. Sadly, it is far from sufficient.

There is also this review, by philosopher Evan Selinger, of Michael Ruse's The Evolution-Creation Struggle.


Ruse provides a historical framework for understanding the current and seemingly interminable clash between proponents and detractors of evolution. In a manner reminiscent of Paul Feyerabend, Ruse even wants to examine the seemingly dogmatic (if not downright fundamentalist) position on evolution that some of its staunchest proponents take. He declares, “[e]volutionism— making evolution into something more than a science—is the cause of the trouble” (p 281). To articulate such a proposition is to create some conceptual space for symmetrical inquiry—and this, in turn, provides a diplomatic opening from which to get beyond the denunciatory platitudes that often render discussions of the topic incendiary and redundant. (Emphasis Added)


Selinger gives Ruse a mostly positive review, but I would like to address that bold-face sentence. I have blogged about this recently, but it bears repeating. If the trouble being referred to here is the widespread rejection of evolution and acceptance of various forms of creationism, then I suspect Ruse is wrong. And if he's right then the implication is that religious believers are so emotional and irrational that they can't be expected to base their opinions on an understanding of the basic facts of biology. Rather, they just hear some snide remarks from Richard Dawkins or E. O. Wilson, and run screaming to the other side.

As for denunciatory platitudes, here are a few more. There is a simple fact that people like Selinger never get around to discussing. In the evolution/creation dispute, the evolutionists are arguing from more than a century's worth of meticulously collected scientific data while the creationists are arguing almost exclusively from ignorance, religious extremism, and sleazy rhetoric. Selinger can talk all he wants about conceptual space and symmetrical inquiry, but the fact remains that there is nothing of any substance at all in creationist arguments or literature. Surely that fact needs to figure prominently in any philosophical analysis of this conflict.