Intelligent Design

The Altenberg 16 — coming to a bookstore near you February 9th

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< This book takes a look at the rivalry in science today surrounding attempts to discover the elusive process of evolution. In one camp are the faithful followers of the long-standing theory of natural selection promulgated by Charles Darwin more than 150 years ago. This “survival of the fittest” theory, according to author Suzan Mazur, is no longer the scientific cornerstone of biology and has been challenged for decades. In the other camp are those challengers who want to steer evolutionary science in a more honest, scientifically accurate direction. However, the Darwinian theory has become a political powerhouse brand that is hard to unseat because of the money and power associated with it.

The Altenberg 16 is about a group of evolution scientists who met in 2008 in Austria to discuss and attempt to tell the truth about this “brand.” Will they and their findings help rid us of the natural selection “survival of the fittest” mentality that has plagued civilization for a century and a half, now that the cat is out of the bag that natural selection is largely a political brand? It’s almost guaranteed that debate and contention will continue into the foreseeable future.

Some of the biggest names in evolutionary science and related fields are profiled or interviewed by Mazur. They include Richard Lewontin (Harvard University), Robert Hazen (Carnegie Institution), Richard Dawkins (bestselling author), Stuart Newman (New York Medical College), Lynn Margulis (University of Massachusetts and Oxford University), Noam Chomsky (MIT), and many others from around the world.

From the introduction:

“Evolutionary science is as much about the posturing, salesmanship, stonewalling and bullying that goes on as it is about actual scientific theory. It is a social discourse involving hypotheses of staggering complexity with scientists, recipients of the biggest grants of any intellectuals, assuming the power of politicians while engaged in Animal House pie-throwing and name-calling: ‘ham-fisted’, ‘looney Marxist hangover’, ‘secular creationist’, ‘philosopher’ (a scientist who can’t get grants anymore), ‘quack’, ‘crackpot’. . .

“In short, it’s a modern day quest for the holy grail, but with few knights. At a time that calls for scientific vision, scientific inquiry’s been hijacked by an industry of greed, with evolution books hyped like snake oil at a carnival.”

13 Replies to “The Altenberg 16 — coming to a bookstore near you February 9th

  1. 1
    anonym says:

    What Darwin Got Wrong by Altenbergers Jerry Fodor and Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini comes out a week later.

  2. 2
    Upright BiPed says:

    …from anonym’s link above:

    “This is not a book about God, or about intelligent design. Rather, here is a remarkable book, one that dares to challenge natural selection—not in the name of religion but in the name of good science. Most scientists are so terrified of religious attacks on the theory of evolution that it is never examined critically.

    But there are major scientific and philosophical problems with the theory of natural selection. Darwin claimed the factors that determine the course of evolution are very largely environmental. This is a thesis that empirical results in biology are increasingly calling into question. The authors show that Darwinism is committed to inferring, from the premise that a kind of creature with a certain trait was selected, the conclusion that that kind of creature was selected for having that trait. Though such inferences are fallacious, they are nevertheless unavoidable within the Darwinist framework. Ultimately, Jerry Fodor and Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini level a devastating critique against Darwinist orthodoxy and suggest new ways of thinking about evolution.”

  3. 3
    Mung says:

    2010 looks like it’s going to be another banner year for Darwinism!

    The authors show that Darwinism is committed to inferring, from the premise that a kind of creature with a certain trait was selected, the conclusion that that kind of creature was selected for having that trait. Though such inferences are fallacious, they are nevertheless unavoidable within the Darwinist framework.

    Excellent point. The alternative is that the trait is a “spandrel,” some non-selective by-product of some other beneficial trait, which merely shifts the inference, makes the entire edifice untestable, and since there is no way to distinguish spandrels from the real thing, abandons selection in all but name.

  4. 4
    anonym says:

    Personally I think the most interesting quote from the publisher’s information for What Darwin Got Wrong is in the words of praise from student of linguistics Norbert Hornstein:

    The argument is largely conceptual and proceeds in two steps: (1) that theories of NS are conceptually parallel to Skinnerian theories of learning and so share most of the same debilitating problems

    There is also (slightly non-committal) praise from Chomsky himself. For a while now I’ve suspected that the question of cognitivism vs. behaviorism (vs. not-purely-naturalist alternatives) is very relevant to the question of neo-Darwinian gradualism vs. punctuationism/”nice” structuralism/etc. (vs. ID including “naughty”, non-naturalistic structuralism). Not only is there an apparent congruence between the two controversies, they’re also directly connected in the problem of explaining and understanding the mind/brain.

  5. 5
    Heinrich says:

    This, quoted from the book, is simply rubbish:

    recipients of the biggest grants of any intellectuals,

    Both physics (the experimental work, not the theoretical) and medicine (think clinical trials) get much bigger grants. Once one sees that sort of inaccurate hyperbole, one wonders about the rest of the book.

  6. 6
    Joseph says:

    Heinrich,

    Any evidence for your claim?

  7. 7
    Heinrich says:

    Joseph – primarily my own experience. But looking at last year’s NSF grants, the mean grant for biology (BIO) is not at the top: EHR (EDUCATION AND HUMAN RESOURCES) and OPP (POLAR PROGRAMS) both have higher averages. Within biology, many subjects are not evolutionary biology, and my impression is that evolutionary biology isn’t getting the big bucks even there.

    I’d be interested to see a list of (say) the 50 largest grants awarded: my prediction is that none would be directly to evolutionary biology: some (though) might be used by evolutionary biology – infrastructure such as ships could be used by them.

  8. 8
    Joseph says:

    Thanks Heinrich but I doubt the book was referencing only last year.

  9. 9
    Heinrich says:

    I don’t see why last year should be any different to previous years, though.

  10. 10
    Heinrich says:

    BTW, anonym @1 – neither Fodor or Piattelli-Palmarini were listed as attendees at Alterberg.

  11. 11
    anonym says:

    I stand corrected. Nonetheless Fodor is prominent in Mazur’s book

    http://www.suzanmazur.com/?p=20

    and – if Mazur is to be believed – his LRB article was instrumental in stirring up the activity that in turn led to Altenberg. But maybe Pigliucci has a different version of events.

  12. 12
    jerry says:

    Dr. Dembski,

    Since you cut off comments on the other thread, I will make a brief reply here. You asked what I meant by micro biology and macro biology. That was purely a mistake made in haste as I finished up listening to the debate, wrote a quick comment on my reaction to it and then had to make a phone call. I meant micro evolution and macro evolution. I am not the best of writers and am prone to making small mistakes in haste.

    I gave you my reactions to the debate and you remembered the incident from four years ago. I actually was going to refer to it when I made the comment about not offending you. I tend to be a thorn in a lot of people’s sides here as I try to speak what I believe but there is no greater defender of ID than me here.

    I was very critical of Steve Fuller in his debate at the university of London a couple years ago and it led me to write something about what ID should do in such debates in order to avoid irrelevant issues. This is all offered in good spirit as I want you and others to succeed in the ID debates. If you want to strip this comment here, do so but I had to find some place to respond. I have it saved for an appropriate future post if a more relevant thread appears.

  13. 13
    anonym says:

    3: Truth be told, Fodor’s “conceptual argument” against adaptationism in his http://www.lrb.co.uk/v29/n20/j.....have-wings LRB article seems to me to be empty logic-chopping. I’ll just point out that it attacks the concept of stabilising selection just as much as any idea of common descent through Darwininan gradualism. Wild dogs have the genetic plasticity that allows them to be bred into dachshunds, yet successive generations of dogs in the wild rarely come to resemble dachshunds, and this is because the wild environment generally selects against dachshund traits. Is there any less controversial idea in the evolution debate than this? Asking “ah, but what is being selected against: having stumpy little legs, or being incompatible with the environment?” does not seem to be a weighty counterargument. Outside of biology, it seems clear that professional basketball selects in favour of tallness in its players, even though basketball isn’t a means of artificial selection in the relevant sense: while basketball is an artifact – a product of human design – it’s never been designed with the intention of selecting tall people, or even with the intention of selecting people who are good at basketball.

    I just hope that when What Darwin Got Wrong comes out, this “conceptual argument” about coextensive traits won’t distract attention from more interesting questions about the relationship between learning and evolution.

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