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Podcasts in the intelligent design controversy

1. Scientocracy Rules Welcome to the Scientocracy, where unless you fully accede to the consensus view, then your opinion not only doesn’t matter, it might even be dangerous. On this episode of ID the Future Casey Luskin shows how a recent move to redefine scientific literacy from an understanding of science into wholesale capitulation to the “consensus” damages true scientific literacy – including the right to debate and dissent. Go here to listen. Luskin’s article appeared in Salvo Magazine’s Winter 2009 issue. For more information on Salvo, go here. Well, all I can say is, first, I write the Deprogram column for that mag (not usually on line), and second, that the mag is one of the few that is Read More ›

Whale Evolution? Darwinist ‘Trawlers’ Have Every Reason To Be Concerned

“Of all whale species, by far the noisiest, chattiest, most exuberant, and most imaginative is the humpback. It is the noisemaker and the Caruso of the deep, now grating like an old hinge, now as melodious as an operatic tenor” (1). These were the words of the late oceanographer Jacques Cousteau in his epic volume Whales, originally written in French under the more descriptive title La Planete Des Baleines. The male humpback in particular had been a source of fascination for Cousteau’s exploration team precisely because of its exquisite song-making capabilities. Star Trek aficionados will no doubt remember the long-range distress calls of these ocean-faring giants in the movie blockbuster The Voyage Home.

Humpbacks can be heard for hundreds or even thousands of kilometers creating discernible noise sequences or ‘themes’ that can last as long as 20-30 hours (1,2). The available repertoire of vocalizations requires that “bursts of air” be channeled up from the lungs and through the trachea (3). The frequency range of these vocalizations is formidable- 8-4000 Hz (compared to 80-1300 Hz for a singing human; (4)). While certain sounds might serve to maintain contact between distant herds (2) others are clearly used to attract mates in the shallow breeding grounds of the tropics (5).

The sperm whale’s characteristic clicking has likewise been intensely studied and marine biologists have in the last decade described this creature’s ‘pneumatic sound generator’ in great detail (6). Usual clicks serve for echo location while so-called ‘coda’ clicks are used for maintaining the “complex social structure in female groups” (6). Remarkably the amount of air used to make each click is so small that even at depths of 2000 m, where the air volume is significantly reduced, sperm whales can phonate successfully (6). The mechanism of sound generation is exquisitely selective for the two modes of communication: “the marked differences between coda clicks and usual clicks are caused by differential sound propagation in the nasal complex” (6).

Other whale species are known to ‘talk to each other’: blue whales, fin whales, rights and bowheads all display the use of what has tentatively been called a rudimentary language (7). Equally captivating is the auditory apparatus that picks up these sounds (8). Unlike terrestrial mammals, whales sport freely-vibrating ossicles in the middle ear for more sensitive distance hearing:

“The bones of the middle ear, although fused to each other, are not directly connected to the rest of the skull; they are suspended from it by means of ligaments. All around them is a complex network of cavities and sinuses filled with a foamy mucus that further insulates the ear from the skull and provides yet another means by which whales filter out all but the essential sounds.”(9)

What are we to make of the evolutionary origins of these key designs? In the summer of 2009 a seminal publication in the journal Mammalian Biology provided fodder for one popular idea (10). Using the aquatic escape behavior of Bornean mouse deer as primary evidence for their claims, researchers from Indonesia and the Australian National University in Canberra proposed that whales might have descended from ancient members of the ruminant family tragulidae which today includes cattle, sheep, goats and deer (11). Local villagers have observed tragulids submerging themselves in rivers and streams for over five minutes at a time as a way of eschewing would-be predators (10). Read More ›

Coffee!! I am now an Examiner columnist … ?

Go here for my first column (“Some claim that Satan is a great motivator, just like God”). Sure, especially if you think you could save money by having hellfire heat your house, and here for my second, (“Faked embryos back at PBS, December 29, 2009.”)

No really. The fudged embryos are back. As a “learning tool,” in total ignorance of the development hourglass. The “hourglass” just means that embryos look different when very young, similar later, and different again when older. That says nothing about common descent, one way or the other (that is just the trouble, right?).

Embryos, like cakes, dresses, and renovations, look different at different stages.

I think common descent is probably true in most cases, but we cannot necessarily use embryos to prove it.

I wonder how long this Examiner thing will last? Read More ›

Coffee! Darwin’s granddaughter tosses the fat white woman to the snarks … but then …

A  friend references this poem, written by one of Charles Darwin’s granddaughters, comfortably seated in a train, which gives you some idea of the family’s values in general: O fat white woman whom nobody loves, Why do you walk through the fields in gloves, … to which G. K. Chesterton riposted. How do you know but what someone who loves Always to see me in nice white gloves At the end of the field you are rushing by, Is waiting for his Old Dutch? – “The Fat White Woman Speaks” You need to see the whole of both short poems to get the full flavour, and I don’t know for sure that either is in the public domain. Note: Old Read More ›

Darwinism and popular culture: Is business a Darwinian enterprise?

Recently, a correspondent was advising me that business is about Darwinian competition.

Naturally, my mind wandered to self-described Darwinian capitalist Conrad Black, who did not fare too well in the United States’s justice system. Admittedly, Canadian journalists were inclined to give him a bad rap because of his habit of suing journalists, so I will not make him an issue.

Anyway, as a long-time business teacher for people in media, I replied as follows:

This much I know is true, so let me restate it:

Darwinism is worthless as an explanation of how prosperous economies operate, though clever analogies can be drawn to “evolution, speciation, extinction, mutation, survival of the fittest” by people with the time, inclination, and contracts for books destined for the airport kiosk.

Reality check: Darwinism is – to use Edward Banfield’s book title as a phrase – “the moral basis of a backward society”.

In a state of practical Darwinism, families, clans, and tribes form tight little groups with little interest in the public welfare. They distribute public assets among themselves. So public assets are minimal and poorly maintained, as far as the general public is concerned. For example, money is stolen at the Post Office, but “no one” is responsible for the theft. It’s untraceable.

Here is an example: Read More ›

I didn’t know about this conference – and it features Michael Denton too

Tom Heneghan advises, “As Darwin Year ends, some seek to go ‘beyond Darwin,’” (Reuters Faith World: Religion and Ethics, December 14, 2009).

So I was intrigued by a conference held at UNESCO here in Paris recently about scientists who believe in evolution but want to go “beyond Darwin.” Organised by French philosopher of science Jean Staune, its speakers argued that Darwin could not explain underlying order and patterns found in nature. “We have to differentiate between evolution and Darwinism,” said Jean Staune, author of the new book Au-dela de Darwin (Beyond Darwin). “Of course there is adaptation. But like physics and chemistry, biology is also subject to its own laws.”

Well, say it in French or in English, but just say it out loud: “le darwinisme, c’est incroyable;” “Darwinism is unbelievable.”

Still, here is the story in a nutshell: Once a person claims to me that the chimp in the zoo is 99% identical to one of my grandkids, I know I am dealing with an unbelievable belief. Just how to deal with it is a difficult question, especially if the belief is government-funded and supported by all the right people (who don’t think I should have grandkids anyway).

Michael Denton, a geneticist with New Zealand’s University of Otago, said Darwinian “functionalists” believed life forms simply adapted to the outside world while his “structuralist” view also saw an internal logic driving this evolution down certain paths. His view, which he called “extraordinarily foreign to modern biology,” explained why many animals developed “camera eyes” like human ones and why proteins, one of the building blocks of life, fold into structures unchanged for three billion years.

Here’s more from Denton: Read More ›

Susan Mazur’s Exposé of the Evolution Industry

American journalist Susan Mazur has published a fascinating book about some of the current controversies among evolutionary biologists. The book is a loosley edited collection of interviews with, and comments about, various people, including the Altenberg 16. Her favorites are the “two Stus” — Stuart Newman and Stuart Kauffman. Despite the fact that Mazur seems unreflectively to share the antipathy toward ID expressed by all her subjects, and despite the fact that her book sometimes reads like a gossip column, I consider it worth reading. Some excerpts: “Evolutionary science is as much about the posturing, salesmanship, stonewalling and bullying that goes on as it is about actual scientific theory… Perhaps the most egregious display of commercial dishonesty is this year’s Read More ›

Uncommon Descent Contest 19: Spot the mistakes in the following baffflegab explanation of intelligent design theory

In a review in First Things by David B. Hart, of Richard Dawkins’s The Greatest Show on Earth, we are informed – on the mag’s cover – that Dawkins “gets a gold star” for his book of that name (January 2010 Number 199). Indeed, he does get the gold star from reviewer Hart. Hart is full of praise for Dawkins, though daintily demurs at his hardline atheism. But he is a total, unwavering convert to the greatest scam ever conceived in the history of biology, that Darwinism – a conservative aspect of wild nature that trims out life forms unsuited to an ecology – actually has vast creative powers. I can’t yet seem to find the review on line, but Read More ›

Darwin skeptic Suzan Mazur is one fine journalist

Here is her interview with David H. Koch, a Darwin-thumping multi-millionaire who has done much to front the cult to the public (“Evolution Sea Change?: David H. Koch Weighs In ,” Archaeology Today, February 17, 2009). Mazur made headlines last year when she wrote about the Altenberg 16, scientists who met in Austria to plan a way of understanding evolution that was free of tax-funded Darwin worship. Anyway, among other things, we learn:

Next year, the David H. Koch Hall of Human Origins opens at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, where evidence of 6 million years of human evolution will be part of an interactive display that includes the Laetoli footprints and a reconstruction of Lucy. Visitors will be able to pass through a time tunnel to view early humans “floating in and out of focus,” touch models of ancient human fossils as well as watch their own faces morph into those of extinct species. The Smithsonian display follows the creation of the American Museum of Natural History’s David H. Koch Dinosaur Wing.

Rendering of proposed “Human Characteristics” display at the Smithsonian’s David H. Koch Hall of Human Origins, now in development. (Courtesy David Koch)
Richard Potts, director of the Smithsonian’s Human Origins Program, explained about the new exhibition, “David’s commitment to science and the study of human evolution will enable the Smithsonian to bring the latest discoveries in this field to the broadest audiences. The exhibition, still in the planning stages, encourages the public to explore the lengthy process of change in human characteristics over time. It also presents one of the new research themes in this field–the dramatic changes in environment that set the stage for human evolution. Although the subject can be controversial, the unearthed discoveries that bear on the question of human origins are a source of deep interest and significance for everyone to contemplate.”

David Koch is Executive Vice President of $110 billion Koch Industries (he owns 42%) and CEO of its subsidiary, Koch Chemical Technology Group. He is often described as Manhattan’s wealthiest resident, and contributes to Lincoln Center, Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, and the fertility clinic at New York-Presbyterian Hospital, to name a few. He is also is the principal private funder of PBS’s Nova series.

It gets better when she begins to challenge him: Read More ›

The Problem(s) With Penguins

Penguins have always been a problem for evolution. Their flippers, for instance, are supposed to be the vestiges of wings. “Say again …?” you say? That’s right, according to evolution penguins are supposed to have evolved from an earlier bird with wings. The bird morphed into a penguin and the wings morphed into the penguin’s flippers. Anyone who has seen a penguin swim knows its flippers are not just a happenstance design. The penguin is an incredible swimmer and the last thing that comes to mind is that its flippers somehow evolved from a wing. Of course for evolutionists this transition is a fact, even though they don’t know how it happened. Now penguins have been discovered to defy the Read More ›

Darwinism and academic culture: Mathematician Jeffrey Shallit weighs in

You can tell that Darwinism is failing when it attracts completely ridiculous attacks like this one, on Signature in the Cell (Harper One, 2009). The gist is that Nagel thought Meyer’s book a prize.* But Shallit says, Meyer claims, over and over again, that information can only come from a mind — and that claim is an absolutely essential part of his argument. Nagel, the brilliant philosopher, should see why that is false. Consider making a weather forecast. Meteorologists gather information about the environment to do so: wind speed, direction, temperature, cloud cover, etc. It is only on the basis of this information that they can make predictions. What mind does this information come from? What mind indeed? If we Read More ›

Darwin’s Boulders and the human face of induction

As a young man aboard HMS Beagle, Charles Darwin was fascinated by erratic boulders. After completing his voyage, he wrote several papers about their origin. Tierra del Fuego was of particular interest, for he found boulder trains at different elevations at a place known as Bahia San Sebastian, which faces the Atlantic Ocean. Darwin actually delayed the survey work of HMS Beagle so he could gather more extensive information. On returning to the UK, he made the boulders the focus of two geological papers published in 1841. The route by which Darwin reached his conclusions is instructive for all of us involved in research today. [Details omitted of how Darwin interpreted the boulders and of the recently published revised interpretation Read More ›

Peer review: Life, death, and the British Medical Journal

Here the controversy erupted over an article critiquing estimates of  war deaths.

Researchers from Canada, the UK and Sweden have slammed the influential British Medical Journal (BMJ) for publishing an error-filled study on global war deaths, refusing an equivalent rebuttal article and having a flawed peer-review process.

Apparently, the contested article took issue with the fact that Oslo’s International Peace Research Institute data show that global war deaths “declined by more than 90 per cent between 1946 and 2002.”

“This is not some trivial academic disagreement,” says Andrew Mack, director of the Simon Fraser University-based Human Security Report Project (HSRP), which published a detailed critique of the BMJ’s claims in the December issue of the Journal of Conflict Resolution (JCR).

“Accurate statistics on the health impacts of war are critically important not just for researchers but also for humanitarian organizations whose assistance programs save millions of lives around the world.”

The BMJ doesn’t deny the problem:

“But the BMJ is well aware that its peer review process is flawed,” says Spagat. “A recent study, whose authors include the journal’s current editor, revealed that, on average, only a third of the ‘major errors’ deliberately inserted in a BMJ article were picked up by reviewers.”

In what other line of work would such incompetence be accepted? Would you like your electrician to achieve only this level of competence? He only “gets” one third of the electrical safety hazards in your home?

And remember, if you live in the UK, your taxes pay for these scholars to “do their thing.”

Adds Mack: “There appears to be no way of effectively rebutting BMJ articles that contain unwarranted — and damaging — critiques of the work of other scholars.

A couple of years back, I wrote on the problem of peer review: Often, it is simply the way establishment hacks prevent competition from new information and new interpretations.

Re war deaths, two notes: Read More ›

Podcasts in the intelligent design controversy

Bored by bickering relatives or co-workers over the holiday season? Check these out:

1. What makes Darwinism politically correct?

This episode of ID the Future features Robert Crowther interviewing CSC senior fellow Dr. Jonathan Wells on his book, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design. Dr. Wells explains the peer-pressure involved with Darwin’s theory and shares from his studies in 19th century Darwinian controversies and evolutionary development at Yale and UC Berkeley, respectively.

Listen here.

The book’s Web site is here.

In my view, Darwinism is politically correct because it is a tax-funded racket parasitizing real science. It attracts the sort of people who like free form speculation about the tyrannosaur’s parenting skills, Neanderthal man’s sex life and why homo sapiens (modern man) believes in God (not because some had an encounter with God, of course; such an idea could never be entertained).

2. The Design of Life: What the Evidence of Biological Systems Reveals

On this episode of ID the Future, Casey Luskin discusses The Design of Life: Discovering Signs of Intelligence in Biological Systems with author Dr. William Dembski. Is design in nature just an “illusion,” as Richard Dawkins proclaims? Dembski and co-author Dr. Jonathan Wells show the answer is “no.” Biologists have and continue to use the assumption of design successfully, precisely because design in biology is not an illusion but real.

Listen here.

Design is not an illusion, but then neither is the cushy position that current society grants to people who make that claim. Almost any other position, no matter how ridiculous, can be fronted (space aliens, multiple universes … and I suspect that these are only a start.)

3. How to teach responsibly without getting sued? Read More ›