Uncommon Descent Serving The Intelligent Design Community

Dawkins and a ‘National Disgrace’

According to a Mori poll in the UK, 29% of science teachers want to allow teaching of creationism in school science classes. Presumably that includes intelligent design, which is usually lumped into a ‘one-size-fits-all’ creationism. Furthermore, 73 percent of science teachers think creationism should be discussed in other lessons. Dawkins calls the fact that 29 percent of science teachers want to allow creationism to be taught in schools to be a ‘national disgrace.’

Richard Dawkins and Steve Jones give their views on creationism teaching poll

Quarter [29%] of science teachers would teach creationism

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As we head into the new year and the impending Darwin bi-centennial on February 12th, we’re sure to be regaled with story after story of the wondrous things that Darwinian evolution hath wrought.  A friend e-mailed the following to me, and with his permission, I reproduce it here below the fold.  Perhaps pondering some of these questions might bring some balance to what is otherwise sure to be a lopsided Darwin love-fest for the next couple of months.  The original of this can be found at the University of California Santa Barbara Veritas Forum website Read More ›

Got mail: Historian is idiot. But guy who pretends to know prehistory is genius

Recently, I got mail. Some U dullard thought I had bumped the shark, when I quoted Bruce Thornton on false knowledge – presumably because a classics prof like Thornton couldn’t really know anything. Wowza! A guy who actually knows what happened thousands of years ago (when at least some people were literate) is an ignoramus, but dullards who make up stupid stories about stuff that allegedly happened tens of thousands of years ago – when there is no way of checking – are scholars? People who honestly believe that kind of thing are self-refuting. Apart from government funding, they are a problem that would solve itself. Look, when I was in school in the early 1970s, my classics profs were Read More ›

A Poem of Christmas

A baby’s cry pierces the dark night Breath begins   A hanging man cries, “It is finished!” Breathing ends   A precious child, sinless and pure Wrapped in clothes against the cold   He who knew no sin, becomes sin That he might be our righteousness   A Christmas babe A dying man   As dark night follows the bright day So Love bids one follow the other   But Sunday morning comes And there is hope.

On false knowledge …

Bruce S. Thornton of the Classics department at Fresno State University in California , author of Plagues of the Mind: The New Epidemic of False Knowledge (ISI Books, 1999), certainly spoke for me when he said,

What makes us recognizably human, then, is not what is natural about us but what is unnatural: reason and its projections in language, culture, ritual, and technology, self-awareness, conscious memory, imagination, and the higher emotions; and, most important, values, ethics, morals, and the freedom from nature’s determinism that allows us to choose, whether for good or ill. Nothing else in nature possesses any of these attributes, despite the wishful thinking of those who believe they are teaching chimps to “talk,” or who consider a monkey digging up termites with a stick to be “using tools,” or who label baboon rump-submission a “social practice,” or who subjectively interpret the behavior of animals to indicate the presence of “self-awareness” ore higher human emotions such as love, grief, regret, guilt, shame, or loyalty. For every dog that howls over the body of its dead master there is another that, if necessary, will happily eat his corpse.

Ah yes, … happily eat his corpse.

The meticulously tailored attendants at the funeral parlour down the street from my home are not, typically, told what to do when the bereaved open the coffin and start to … Read More ›

David Berlinksi on Physics and Metaphysics

The discussions on multiverses and string theory bring to mind the following comments of David Berlinski (in “Was There a Big Bang?”): “Standing at the gate of modern time, Isaac Newton forged the curious social pact by which rational men and women have lived ever since. The description of the physical world would be vouchsafed to a particular institution, that of modern physics; and it was to the physicists and not the priests, soothsayers, poets, politicians,…that society would look for judgments about the nature of the physical world…In exchange for their privilege, the physicists were to provide an account of the physical world at once penetrating, general, persuasive, and true. Until recently, the great physicists have been scrupulous about honoring Read More ›

A wad of fraud, falsified data, and other award-winning tenure strategies …

I just got my e-mail notice of the December edition of the “Outside the Cover” of The Scientist, and it made for a curious reading experience:

Bad news at Cell

Improper citation, disregard for antecedent research, and shoddy experimentation – those are just a few of the allegations levied against a recent Cell paper. Is this paper emblematic of a larger problem in scientific publishing?

(Um, it’s a big topic, but let’s start with peer review and work backward, okay? The skinny: Do third rate minds get together in peer review committees to suppress first rate minds who challenge their “findings”?)

And at JEB (Journal of Experimental Biology):

In the first retraction in its 85-year history, the journal calls the authors’ reuse of images a case of outright fraud, not a careless error as claimed

Nature to retract plant study

A highly cited paper that identified a long-sought receptor critical for mediating plant response to stress is being retracted after researchers were unable to reproduce the results

(“But we ran out of Fairy Dust, you see … ” (?))

A Texas stem cell researcher falsified data by mucking around with her results in Photoshop (Another shoo-in for the Muddy Waters award?)

“Officials have halted enrollment in more than 600 human research studies due to shoddy paperwork” (Too bad Miss Grimstone, Secretary (and don’t you ever forget it!), retired twenty-nine years ago today … )

Journal of Evolutionary Psychology: Several prominent evolutionary psychologists have been accused of fraud, in appropriating hundreds of Just-So Stories from other evolutionary psychologists. These academics have hired a lawyer who is defending them on the grounds that they cannot be guilty of fraud because their work is 100% speculative fiction. They can, he admits, be sued for plagiarism. But plagiarism must be proved, and he says there is not enough proof. The urban legends in question have been floating around in the pop science culture for decades, under various guises. His clients also can’t be nailed for libel, he advises, because one cannot libel the dead – let alone persons who probably never existed. Read More ›

Conversations: A defense of amateur science

Friend Forrest Mims, recently targeted as one of Discover Magazine’s50 best brains in science, fielded a complaint from a mutual acquaintance about the fact that I routinely call myself a “hack.” (The complainer probably hoped Forrest would ask me to stop because it sounded like a self-putdown.)

I defended myself, pointing out that “Among journalists I know, it is not necessarily a term of abuse. It means “one who lives by writing.” That’s why I called my neuroscience, spirituality, and popular culture blog, The Mindful Hack.

Enough of this. Forrest went on to say something I want to share, namely that he is proud of being an “amateur” scientist, meaning that he has many science publications but no science degree. Indeed, he notes,

Discover Magazine has named 10 amateur scientists to its list of “50 Best Brains in Science,” including my colleagues Ely Silk, Bill Hilton Jr. and me from the Society for Amateur Scientists.

That’s impressive, and it was presaged by an essay he wrote nearly a decade ago for Science: Read More ›

Finally – Proof of Evolution

It’s all over now. Evolution has been proven. I’ll get me coat… Earth’s Original Ancestor Was ‘LUCA’ ScienceDaily (Dec. 19, 2008) — An evolutionary geneticist from the Université de Montréal, together with researchers from the French cities of Lyon and Montpellier, have published a ground-breaking study that characterizes the common ancestor of all life on earth, LUCA (Last Universal Common Ancestor). Their findings, presented in a recent issue of Nature, show that the 3.8-billion-year-old organism was not the creature usually imagined. The study changes ideas of early life on Earth. “It is generally believed that LUCA was a heat-loving or hyperthermophilic organism. A bit like one of those weird organisms living in the hot vents along the continental ridges deep Read More ›

Compatible? Not Really.

One of our commenters says he has solved the determinism problem by becoming a “compatibilist.”  Briefly, a compatibilist is someone who tries to avoid the logic of his premises by resorting to semantic dodges about the meaning of free will.  The compatibilist says that free will is compatible with determinism (thus the name).  Isn’t that kinda like saying my existence is compatible with my nonexistence?  Yes, it is.  But the compatibilist avoids this problem by re-defining “free will.”  The compatibilist says that “free will” does not mean “the liberty to choose;” instead, says he, it means “the absence of coercion.”  In other words, he says that so long as a choice is not coerced it is completely free even if Read More ›

Neuroscience in the News: Here comes the ambiguously described Decade of the Mind

We are told that

Recent advances in brain research, in combination with the scientific consensus that mind emerges as a result of the activities of brains, has led to the notion of a new “Decade” project — one dedicated to understanding the phenomenon of mind within the context of neuroscience.

That’s actually a rather ambiguous statement. To see what I mean, consider the following:

“mind emerges as a result of the activities of brains”

“ice storm emerges as a result of the activities of variable fronts”

“foal emerges as a result of the activities of horses”

“dinner emerges as a result of the activities of cooks”

“news magazine emerges as a result of the activities of journalists”

Now, I wonder which of these sentences the conference organizers think is most like the other – or are they too smart to pick just now?

Well, the 1990s was declared the Decade of the Brain, and ready or not, we are now in for a Decade of the Mind. Its objects are as follows:

The Decade of the Mind initiative focuses on four broad areas:

Healing and protecting the mind: This is the notion of improving the public health by curing diseases of the brain that affect the mind. An example of such a disease is Alzheimer’s disease.

Understanding the mind: This aspect of the initiative seeks to understand how mind actually emerges from brain functional activity. Some of the key characteristics of the mind that are still not understood include consciousness, memory and dreams.

Enriching the mind: Improving learning outcomes in education is a key component of this part of the initiative.

Modeling the mind: A key approach to understanding the mind is to model it either analytically or using computation. Such models of mind may facilitate the creation of new hypotheses which can then be tested in the laboratory or clinic. Modeling the mind may also allow for the creation of new applications, technologies and inventions.

I am glad to see that the first priority is something useful, and I hope it stays that way.

Also just up at  The Mindful Hack, my blog on neuroscience and spirituality, which supports The Spiritual Brain: Read More ›

The (non)Heuristic Value of Evolution

Theodosius Dobzhansky once famously said that “nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.”   Except, of course, when biology doesn’t need to even consider evolution, which for practicle purposes is most of the time. 

Today, I had the privilege to have lunch with a research scientist who works in the area of bio-pharmaceuticals for a pharmaceutical company.  He told me about their research with proteins and genes that enable them to develop products that alleviate or cure a wide range of diseases at the cellular level.  Of great value to the research they do was the Human Genome Project because it made available the entire database to whoever needed it.  That information enabled them to move several projects forward.

He knew from our conversation that I had been involved in the Intelligent Design/Evolution debate, so I asked him

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I get mail: More on the awesome, totally world-famous mind reading machine …

Recently, I have been reading  Plagues of the Mind by Bruce Thornton, about which I will say more shortly, on the epidemic of false knowledge that surrounds us these days.

False knowledge is what we know that ain’t really so. And often common sense will help us see why it can’t be so. Here’s one example: We are told that the human and chimp genomes are 99.5% similar.

You heard that? Now forget it. Here is a more realistic summary, with explanation, offering a figure in the 70 per cent range – a figure you can believe is reasonable.

I use this example because no one has much difficulty figuring out the difference between a human and a chimpanzee, and if the 99.5% folk were right, it should be difficult. Otherwise, the only conclusion I can draw is that the genome is not as important a source of information as we once supposed.

This, by the way, has nothing whatever to do with controversies over common ancestry of humans and chimps. In theory, we have a common ancestor with silverfish too, but if you hear that your genome is 97.5% similar to that of a silverfish, you should suppose that some pretty important information is stored somewhere other than the genome.

Incidentally, if it were true that the human and chimpanzee genomes were 99.5 percent similar, that would shoot genetic determinism dead in the water. Just sayin’ is all …

In short, common sense is our best defense against epidemics of false knowledge blowing through the pop science media.

That said, in response to my skepticism about new mind reading techniques, someone wrote to assure me that, at the pace of current progress, there is no doubt we will soon use machines to read minds. (my reply below) Read More ›