Uncommon Descent Serving The Intelligent Design Community

Poetry Prize Goes to Poster Whom Some Call “Tim”

Picking up on my Beaver post below, Tim writes: Barry’s query forms an eco-humdinger As beavers, by nature, give some greens the finger. I opine that the test (to make a formal arrest?) Means the cop’d have to be Peter Singer.

Science fiction: Interesting idea on the nature of time and mind

Over at Jason Rennie’s Sci Phi: Journal of Science Fiction and Philosophy, Michael Spence offers “Requiem for a Harlequin: Two Perspectives on Time, and a Celebration of Kairos, in Three Stories by Harlan Ellison” – a look at Ellison’s sf fantasy stories that involve the nature of time:

In Harlan Ellison’s long career of resisting genre labels, none of his stories has proved more label-elusive than the one most frequently reprinted, “‘Repent, Harlequin!’ Said the Ticktockman.” The story is not precisely science fiction as opposed to fantasy: the world is presumably our earth, yet the society appears archetypal as well as the only one on the planet, with no explanation why. Nor is it precisely fantasy as opposed to sf: the setting is futuristic, the lifespan-controlling power of the Master Timekeeper is described in technological terms, and one also finds familiar sf devices such as slidewalks).

In his essay, Spence makes the interesting point that, of our two concepts of time, chronos and kairos (measurement vs. moment), the second requires the notion of a mind – an intelligence that comprehends its significance – to make any sense: Read More ›

Reinstating the Explanatory Filter

In an off-hand comment in a thread on this blog I remarked that I was dispensing with the Explanatory Filter in favor of just going with straight-up specified complexity. On further reflection, I think the Explanatory Filter ranks among the most brilliant inventions of all time (right up there with sliced bread). I’m herewith reinstating it — it will appear, without reservation or hesitation, in all my future work on design detection. P.S. Congrats to Denyse O’Leary, whose Post-Darwinist blog tied for third in the science and technology category from the Canadian Blog Awards.

Beavers Gone Bad

Whacha gonna do when they come for you, bad beav, bad beav. From the December 9, 2008 Austrian Times:   Green campaigners called in police after discovering an illegal logging site in a nature reserve – and rounded up a gang of beavers.  Environmentalists found 20 neatly stacked tree trunks and others marked for felling with notches at the beauty-spot at Subkowy in northern Poland.  But police followed a trail left where one tree had been dragged away – and found a beaver dam right in the middle of the river.  A police spokesman said: “The campaigners are feeling pretty stupid. There’s nothing more natural than a beaver.”   Most crimes require the prosecution to prove a culpable mental state.  Read More ›

NHM – 99% Ape – press release

The Natural History Museum (NHM) has issued a press release on the 5th December 2008, extolling the virtues of its new book ‘99% Ape: How evolution adds up’ and why Intelligent Design is flawed. This book has been written by academics at the Open University (OU) in the UK, and it is aimed at pre-university level (level 1), either for general interest, or to prepare potential students for study at university levels 2 and 3 – written, apparently, for those with no prior knowledge of science. Pointing out errors in such works is in the public interest to maintain scientific accuracy. It would be a disgrace for anyone to suffer for merely pointing out that material in a textbook from Read More ›

Altruism, evolutionary psychology, and the heroes of Mumbai

(Service note: If you had trouble finding Uncommon Descent last night, we had to change servers due to traffic problems. Sorry for inconvenience. – d.)

Yesterday, in “From the Small Warm Pond to Cooties,” Barry challenged an attempted “evolutionary” explanation of teasing. Evolutionary psychology’s explanations of just about anything are routinely uninformative, but they tend to fare unusually badly with altruism, of which there were some remarkable examples in the recent Mumbai terror attacks.

In “Heroes At The Taj” (Forbes, December 1, 2008) Michael Pollack thanks his saviors:

Far fewer people would have survived if it weren’t for the extreme selflessness shown by the Taj staff, who organized us, catered to us and then, in the end, literally died for us.
They complemented the extreme bravery and courage of the Indian commandos, who, in a pitch-black setting and unfamiliar, tightly packed terrain, valiantly held the terrorists at bay.

It is also amazing that, out of our entire group, not one person screamed or panicked. There was an eerie but quiet calm that pervaded–one more thing that got us all out alive. Even people in adjacent rooms, who were being executed, kept silent.

It is much easier to destroy than to build, yet somehow humanity has managed to build far more than it has ever destroyed. Likewise, in a period of crisis, it is much easier to find faults and failings rather than to celebrate the good deeds. It is now time to commemorate our heroes.


Also, in “For heroes of Mumbai Terror Was a Call to Action” (New York Times, December 1, 2008), Somini Sengupta reports,
Overnight, Mr. Zende became one of Mumbai’s new heroes, their humanity all the more striking in the face of the inhumanity of the gunmen. As the city faced one of the most horrific terrorist attacks in the nation’s history, many ordinary citizens like Mr. Zende, 37, displayed extraordinary grace.
Many times, they did so at considerable personal risk, performing acts of heroism that were not part of their job descriptions. Without their quick thinking and common sense, the toll of the attacks would most likely have been even greater than the 173 confirmed dead on Monday.


A friend wrote to ask me if I knew of an evolutionary explanation for altruism. I replied: Read More ›

Anybody can create the universe, as long as it isn’t, like, God?

In “Why it isn’t as simple as God vs. the multiverse”, Amanda Gefter (December 4, 2008) who seems determined to turn Britain’s New Scientist into the “National Enquirer” of pop science mags, advises that

Pitting the multiverse against religion presents a false dichotomy. Science never boils down to a choice between two alternative explanations. It is always plausible that both are wrong and a third or fourth or fifth will turn out to be correct.

What might a third option look like here? Physicist John Wheeler once offered a suggestion: maybe we should approach cosmic fine-tuning not as a problem but as a clue. Perhaps it is evidence that we somehow endow the universe with certain features by the mere act of observation. It’s an idea that Stephen Hawking has been thinking about, too. Hawking advocates what he calls top-down cosmology, in which observers are creating the universe and its entire history right now. If we in some sense create the universe, it is not surprising that the universe is well suited to us.

Well, that’s a pretty remarkable idea: We create the universe?

Okay. Let’s take a deep breath and think about what this means: Read More ›

From the Small Warm Pond to Kooties

Evolutionary psychology, the idiot cousin of evolutionary theory, has dropped another bombshell of scintillating cutting edge science on us – when a kid calls the kid across the street a “poopyhead” he’s not being mean.  He is just following the dictates of his genes, because teasing is an evolutionary adaptation, don’t you know.   Dacher Keltner, a professor of psychology at Berkeley, gives us this   Given the perils of negotiating rank, many species have evolved dramatized status contests, relying on symbolic displays of physical size and force to peacefully sort out who’s on top. Stags roar. Frogs croak. Chimps throw branches around. Hippos open their jaws as wide as possible to impress competitors.  And humans tease.  Teasing can be Read More ›

Good Problems at UD

Dear UD Visitors   Today you may have noticed that UD went out of commission a couple of times.  We are experiencing technical difficulties resulting from a significant upswing in site usage.  Obviously, the more visitors we have the more we fulfill our mission of serving the ID community and promoting a vigorous debate, so from our perspective we count this as a “good” problem to have.   Nevertheless, we are always distressed when our service goes down, and I want to assure the users of our site that we are actively working to prevent these problems from recurring.  In the mean time, I apologize for any inconvenience or frustration.   On behalf of myself and the others who work Read More ›

The Psychology of Blinding Obedience to a Paradigm

In church on Sunday the sermon was about Jesus’ raising Lazarus from the dead.  What does this have to do with the ID/Darwinism debate?  Nothing, of course.  But the story does contain a remarkable illustration of what I will call the “psychology of blinding obedience to a paradigm.” 


The central claim of ID can be illumined by a very simple illustration from the movie 2001, a Space Odyssey.  After the opening sequences, the plot of the movie shifts to a scientist journeying to the moon to investigate an “anomaly” that has been discovered buried under the moon’s surface.  Here is a picture of the anomaly.  The scientists immediately reach an obvious conclusion – the anomaly was created by an intelligent being.  In other words, they make a “design inference.”  Why do they make such an inference?  Because the anomaly exhibits complex specified information (“CSI”) that cannot reasonably be attributed to chance, mechanical necessity or both acting together.  Therefore, the commonsense conclusion reached by the scientists is that “act of an intelligent agent” is the most reasonable explanation for the existence of the anomaly.  Read More ›

What hell is this?

I’ve just discovered that my friend Richard Buggs is in some kind of trouble for having said what everyone obviously knows, that chimpanzees are NOT 98% human (and therefore humans are not 98% chimpanzee).

Guys, have you ever even considered dating a female chimp?

Yuh, thought so.

Common ancestry? Well, it’s way easier to defend if we start with the fact that humans and chimps are NOT obviously all that similar. So starting with a lower (believable) figure would be a better way to begin than starting with a higher (unbelievable) figure.

That’s all Buggs was trying to do. But, to keep the UK government-funded trolls at bay, Buggs clarified:

Given these statistics, it is factually incorrect to say that humans are 99% the same as chimpanzees. Yet, just last month, the Natural History Museum in London and the University of Chicago Press in the USA published a book entitled “99% Ape: How evolution adds up.” This misleading title was doubtless chosen by a marketing guru rather than the editor, who is a reputable and distinguished scientist in plant evolutionary ecology (the field in which I did my doctoral research). Such promotion of the ”myth of 1%” to the public as evidence for evolution is probably why some non-scientists have suggested on the internet that my earlier article, dispelling this myth, is somehow a death-blow to evolution – it is not.

Look, I am totally sorry that my friend Buggs is pestered by these creepy trolls. Can anyone call the trolls off? Or is this going to end like another Michael Reiss “sinner in the hands of an angry God.” story?

And DON’T try telling me that some supposed Christian Brit toff like Denis Alexander is going to, like, do something about it.

We know that if he cared, he would have done it already …

Dammit, Brits, we’ve bailed you out of two World Wars. Don’t force us to do it again. My Dad was one of the very few survivors of his Canadian air force unit.

It is overwhelmingly obvious that Darwinism and its attendant =isms are a bunch of crap. How many of your own must you feed to the shredders before you recognize that?

Hey, I’m a Canuck (really, honestly) and we’re a-watchin’! And we don’t see why you need us to tell you.. Maybe this is the day when you need us and all you get is awful silence. Read More ›

Oxford Conference – Religious Responses to Darwinism

The Ian Ramsey Centre’s annual international conference is planned to take place in July 2009 (July 15th – 18th) – RELIGIOUS RESPONSES TO DARWINISM 1859-2009: Commemorating the 150th anniversary of the publication of Darwin’s ‘Origin of Species’. At St Anne’s College, Oxford, England. http://users.ox.ac.uk/~theo0038/Conferenceinfo/General.html There is a call for short papers of 20-minutes duration plus 10 minutes discussion.  Topics to include, but are not restricted to, the following: Historical accounts of religious reactions to Darwin’s thought. Specific problems raised for religious belief by Darwinism (e.g.: theodicy, human uniqueness, the contingency of natural selection, the basis of morality), and theological responses to these problems Darwinism, naturalism, and the ‘new atheism.’ The history and/or sociology of religiously-motivated anti-evolutionary movements. Evolution-religion conflict as Read More ›