Uncommon Descent Serving The Intelligent Design Community

A New Year’s Resolution: Keep Intelligent Design Intelligent

This is not the post I originally expected to make. But in light of the comments both here and on other blogs, I will start with a New Year’s resolution: Keep Intelligent Design Intelligent.     ‘Intelligent design’ is presumably something more than a long-winded way of saying ‘design’. The phrase implies that the design displays signs of intelligence, which in turn means that the nature of the intelligence can be inferred, however fallibly, from the nature of the design. For example, William Paley’s accounts of the design features of life draw conclusions about the divine modus operandi. (I invoke Paley not because I like his version of ID – I don’t — but because both sides of the debate Read More ›

Carl Zimmer on Irreducible Complexity

Darwinist Carl Zimmer, who maintains a blog over at the Discover Magazine website recently posted this little diatribe on irreducible complexity.

Oh No! I’ve Seen the Impossible! My Eyes!
Ah, the things you learn from creationists…

If you’ve ever read about intelligent design (a k a “the progeny of creationism”), you’ve probably encountered their favorite buzz words, “irreducible complexity.” If you take a piece out of a complex biological system (like the cascade of blood-clotting proteins) and it fails to work, this is taken as evidence that the system could not have evolved. After all, without all the pieces in place, it couldn’t work.

Scientists have shown over and over again that this is a false argument. At the famous intelligent-design trial in Dover in 2005, Pennsylvania, for example, Brown biologist Ken Miller showed how dolphins and other species are missing various proteins found in our blood-clotting cascade, and they can still clot blood. Read More ›

Analogy to human intelligence

As ID proponents we often make two claims 1. ID makes no statement about the designer. 2. The bacterial flagellum resembles an outboard motor. The second claim is an analogy to human intelligence (which can be expressed as a valid inference to the best explanation). However, the second claim is a statement that the designer of nature resembles, in someway, human intelligence – thus it is a statement about the designer. I have been reading Hume’s Dialogues for my PhD (or for my sins – I don’t quite know which). Hume, through his character Philo offers two possibilities in response to Cleanthes design argument that design in nature is in some way analogous to human intelligence. The first, in part Read More ›

ID and the Trajectory of Observational Resolution

If I may be so bold, I would like to excise a commenter’s comment from Denyse’s thread, The canals that just had to exist on Mars, and redirect to what I consider to be the greatest weakness of Darwinian orthodoxy, and that is the trajectory of the evidence, which is almost never addressed by anti-ID advocates. Regarding the notion that “canals” were early indicators of design on Mars, commenter leenibus submitted: E.M. Antoniadi, with the aid of improved technology, realized that the appearance of design was false – the “canals” were fuzzy shapes and thus natural features. Unfortunately, while it may be a good example of mindset biasing views, it is hardly a ringing endorsement for those wishing to see Read More ›

Hey, it’s Christmas. I am allowed to be a bit off topic, right? And this is about your daughter …

My favourite mag Salvo has sent round a free article – which turns out to be one I wrote in 2006 – Less than Zero – the drive to be impossibly thin:

Last October, there were some unaccustomed hisses on the Madrid catwalk—directed against gaunt girls. Size 0 scored 0. One in three models, at less than size 8, was ordered offstage by the audience.

Spain isn’t the hottest fashion walk in Europe, but some star-studded runways are grudgingly following its bold move. Maybe the starvation trend has peaked—about time, say many disgusted fashionistas.

In recent years, according to the UK’s Sarah Watkinson, who manages attractive models of normal proportions, “some designers especially like to use incredibly thin girls to wear their clothes because they like the shock aspect. These days more and more very skinny, size-zero models are being used.”

The real shock is that underneath the duds, zeros may hover wispily close to death’s door. One model fell through it last year. Read More ›

Another Christmas tale: The canals that just had to exist on Mars

The lesson is simple enough. Schiaparelli, Lowell, Wells, and a host of other scientists and popularizers wanted to see life on Mars. The alien enthusiasts just wanted to see what was fuzzy as straight and geometrical because they wanted Mars to be populated with aliens. Read More ›

I would like to donate to Wikipedia, but …

Wikipedia has a big fundraising push right now. Here’s what I sent to donate@wikimedia.org: To whom it may concern, Wikipedia is a useful resource for uncontroversial areas, but in areas of controversy I find it quite biased. My own extensive biography at Wikipedia is terribly slanted. Colleagues who try to correct misrepresentations find their edits scrupulously removed. Until and unless Wikipedia is more careful about fact-checking and provides some means for correcting the bias of editors, I cannot in good conscience donate to Wikipedia. At the very least, I would suggest that acknowledged experts in an area (such as the living subjects of biographies) be given a 1,000-word response section to relevant articles — sections completely at their discretion and Read More ›

A Resolution for Darwin Year

I have accepted an invitation to comment regularly on Uncommon Descent for the Darwin Anniversary 2009 (200 years for Darwin himself and 150 years for Origin of Species). My plan is to draw attention to some ideas, arguments, articles and books relating to the ongoing ID-evolution debate. I’ll also say something about when and where I will be speaking about these matters in the coming year.   In particular, my comments will focus on two general lines of thought that have also been featured in two books I have written relating to the debate over the past couple of years. Science vs. Religion? Intelligent Design and the Problem of Evolution and Dissent over Descent: Intelligent Design’s Challenge to Darwinism Darwinism Read More ›

EV Ware: Dissection of a Digital Organism

Can undirected Darwinian evolution create information? In a celebrated paper titled “Evolution of Biological Information,” a computer program named ev, says yes.  It claims to illustrate the following properties of evolution. “[Ev shows] how life gains information.” Specifically “that biological information… can rapidly appear in genetic control systems subjected to replication, mutation and selection.” Ev illustrate punctuated equilibrium: “The transition [i.e. convergence] is rapid, demonstrating that information gain can occur by punctuated equilibrium.” Ev disprove “Behe’s … definition of ‘irreducible complexity’ … (`a single system composed of several well-matched, interacting parts that contribute to the basic function, wherein the removal of any one of the parts causes the system to effectively cease functioning’. “ In a wonderful friendly GUI (graphic Read More ›

Evolution Emanation Seminars

All ID proponents invited (or not): http://www.insightcruises.com/seminar_d/sa03_seminar.html “Why People Believe In Strange Things” should be a fun one.

A Christmas tale: Neuroscientist discovers hope for stroke victims – and science establishment’s hostility

I’ve been reading Norman Doidge’s The Brain that Changes Itself, and in Chapter 5, Midnight Resurrections, he tells the compelling story of Edward Taub, who bucked the establishment and won.

In the mid-twentieth century, a central dogma of neuroscience was that the brain does not change. This had a major impact in decision-making about treatment for strokes and other disorders that create brain damage. Treatment was deemed useless, and patients were typically warehoused in chronic care centres.

I remember this well because in1966 I was a teenage volunteer in one such centre in Toronto – rows and rows of closely packed beds. Curiously, one patient (among many hundreds) had simply got better on her own and went home. It was considered a near miracle that gave much hope to the hard-pressed staff. I wonder, looking back, whether she had figured out something on her own – but not being an educated or prominent woman, she then took her secret with her to her grave. Here’s why I wonder about that:

Early in his career, Taub started investigating neuroplasticity – a radical new idea that you change your brain according to what you think about. Some describe neuroplasticity as “use it or lose it” and others as “what you think about, so you become.” Obviously, when we are discussing thinking, these two ideas are different ways of saying more or less the same thing. Of course, what makes the idea of neuroplaticity controversial is that it implies a subject who makes choices about what to think about – a non-materialist idea. But that is not the focus of this story.

Taub had, according to Doidge, started out in graduate school studying with behaviourists, who were interested neither in the mind nor in the brain, but only in measuring behaviour, according to stimulus and response: You = Pavlov’s dog in trousers.

Well, Taub realized that that idea wasn’t really going anywhere, so he made a risky choice – he took a job in an experimental neurology lab, to better understand the nervous system. This job included “deafferentation” experiments, using monkeys as subjects.

The basic idea is to sever the sensory nerves’ connection with the brain, so the monkey no longer feels the limb. Typically, the monkey stops moving the limb too, which doesn’t completely make sense, as the motor nerves are not severed. Taub discovered, as a graduate student, that if he put a monkey’s good arm in a sling, the monkey would start using the deafferented arm again. Essentially, the monkey had stopped using the deafferented arm as a form of learned behaviour. It preferred the arm that continued to sense things (of course).

As Doidge puts it, Taub realized a couple of facts. One was that “behaviorism and neuroscience
had been going down a blind alley for seventy years.” (P. 140) There wasn’t anything “hardwired” about the monkeys’ behaviour. They had simply made a choice; one that was reversible, given an incentive. Second, this finding could have dramatic implications for the treatment of brain damage in strokes. How much post-stroke paralysis is learned paralysis? Learned, in the sense that – having failed to use faculties for many months – the patient no longer has the nervous system connections to make movement possible or efficient. That was worth investigating.

Or so Taub thought. But he was mostly alone in that. Neuroscientists did not want to rethink their position on a fundamental issue, irrespective of what his findings clearly pointed to. “Most scientists in his field refused to believe his findings. He was attacked at scientific meetings and received no scientific recognition or awards.” (P. 140) He was accused of “insolence” and had to get his PhD at New York State University rather than his original choice, Columbia.

There, Taub discovered by experiment that if the monkey was surgically deprived of feeling in both arms, it would use both arms. He had also learned, working with the monkeys, the importance of small rewards for just trying rather than a large reward for achievement. That insight could be put to use in developing exercises for humans as well.

So, in May 1981, he found himself head of a Behavioral Biology Center in Silver Spring, Maryland, when Alex Pacheco, cofounder of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), took a job in his lab, professing an interest in medical research … Read More ›

Evolutionary psychology: The scam getting nailed at last?

Can this really be happening? Or am I going to wake up from some Nutcracker Suite fantasy tomorrow morning to discover that the cat is violently sick, due to a regrettable attempt to eat the Christmas flower arrangement? Get this: In Scientific American (December 19. 2008), a load of evolutionary psychology rubbish gets nailed. In Evolution of the Mind: 4 Fallacies of Psychology, David J. Buller notes, “Some evolutionary psychologists have made widely popularized claims about how the human mind evolved, but other scholars argue that the grand claims lack solid evidence”. Well, that is an appropriately scientifically modest way of putting it. And my best guess is that David Buller will not lose his position at Northern Illinois University Read More ›

RNA Getting Lengthy

ScienceDaily reports on an interesting experiment relevant to OOL scenarios.

With the aid of a straightforward experiment, researchers have provided some clues to one of biology’s most complex questions: how ancient organic molecules came together to form the basis of life.

Specifically, this study demonstrated how ancient RNA joined together to reach a biologically relevant length. Read More ›