Monday, August 15, 2005

"The Evolution Wars" (TIME, August 15, 2005) #1

This is the first part of a multi-part critique of TIME magazine's articles under the cover story, "The Evolution Wars" (August 15, 2005, pages 52-59). Over the coming weeks, I will work my way through each article, but interspersed with posts on other issues. Before considering the first article, the cover poses the following question:
EVOLUTION WARS
The push to teach "intelligent design" raises a question: Does God have a place in science class?
This is a form of the fallacy of false alternative (or false dilemma), in that it implies that the only alternatives that can be taught "in science class" are either evolution or creation by "God" and therefore "intelligent design" (ID) must be the latter. But clearly the question, "is there empirically detectable evidence of intelligent design in nature?" is separate from the question, "who is the designer?" For example, if the evidence shows that the minimal self-replicating cell was too complex to be plausibly explained by unintelligent natural processes, then design can be reliably inferred without needing to uniquely identify who the designer was.

This is no mere hypothetical example. Recently one of the world's leading atheists, British philosophy professor Antony Flew, author of a book "Darwinian Evolution" (1984), came to that very conclusion, based on the scientific evidence, and citing arguments of intelligent design theorists, that the complexity of the first self-replicating organism was so great, that unintelligent natural processes were inadequate to produce it from non-living chemicals, so it must have been created by God:
"A British philosophy professor who has been a leading champion of atheism for more than a half-century has changed his mind. He now believes in God -- more or less -- based on scientific evidence, and says so on a video released Thursday. At age 81, after decades of insisting belief is a mistake, Antony Flew has concluded that some sort of intelligence or first cause must have created the universe. A super-intelligence is the only good explanation for the origin of life and the complexity of nature, Flew said in a telephone interview from England. Flew said he's best labeled a deist like Thomas Jefferson, whose God was not actively involved in people's lives. "I'm thinking of a God very different from the God of the Christian and far and away from the God of Islam, because both are depicted as omnipotent Oriental despots, cosmic Saddam Husseins," he said. "It could be a person in the sense of a being that has intelligence and a purpose, I suppose." … Over the years, Flew proclaimed the lack of evidence for God while teaching at Oxford, Aberdeen, Keele, and Reading universities in Britain, in visits to numerous U.S. and Canadian campuses and in books, articles, lectures and debates. There was no one moment of change but a gradual conclusion over recent months for Flew, a spry man who still does not believe in an afterlife. Yet biologists' investigation of DNA "has shown, by the almost unbelievable complexity of the arrangements which are needed to produce (life), that intelligence must have been involved," Flew says in the new video, "Has Science Discovered God?" … The first hint of Flew's turn was a letter to the August-September issue of Britain's Philosophy Now magazine. "It has become inordinately difficult even to begin to think about constructing a naturalistic theory of the evolution of that first reproducing organism," he wrote. … Flew told The Associated Press his current ideas have some similarity with American "intelligent design" theorists, who see evidence for a guiding force in the construction of the universe." (Ostling R.N.,"One of the world's leading atheists now believes in God, more or less,"San Francisco Chronicle/Associated Press, December 9, 2004)
But note that while Flew concludes from the scientific evidence of nature that there is design, he assumes that the designer was the deistic God of Thomas Jefferson, whereas a Christian IDist like me assumes (but cannot prove-from the evidence of nature alone) that the designer was the "God of the Christian" and a Muslim would assume that the designer was "the God of Islam." In fact there are IDists who are not even theists, like the agnostic Michael Denton, who regards design as an intrinsic teleological property of the laws of nature, and explicitly rejects the designer being a supernatural creator:
"Because this book presents a teleological interpretation of the cosmos which has obvious theological implications, it is important to emphasize at the outset that the argument presented here is entirely consistent with the basic naturalistic assumption of modern science-that the cosmos is a seamless unity which can be comprehended ultimately in its entirety by human reason and in which all phenomena, including life and evolution and the origin of man, are ultimately explicable in terms of natural processes. is an assumption which is entirely opposed to that of the so- called `special creationist school.' According to special creationism, living organisms are not natural forms, whose origin and design were built into the laws of nature from the beginning, but rather contingent forms analogous in essence to human artifacts, the result of a series of supernatural acts, involving God's direct intervention in the course of nature, each of which involved the suspension of natural law. Contrary to the creationist position, the whole argument presented here is critically dependent on the presumption of the unbroken continuity of the organic world-that is, on the reality of organic evolution and on the presumption that all living organisms on earth are natural forms in the profoundest sense of the word, no less natural than salt crystals, atoms, waterfalls, or galaxies. In large measure, therefore, the teleological argument presented here and the special creationist worldview are mutually exclusive accounts of the world. In the last analysis, evidence for one is evidence against the other. Put simply, the more convincing is the evidence for believing that the world is prefabricated to the end of life, that the design is built into the laws of nature, the less credible becomes the special creationist worldview." (Denton M.J., "Nature's Destiny: How the Laws of Biology Reveal Purpose in the Universe," Free Press: New York NY, 1998, pp.xvii-xviii. Emphasis in original).
It is hard to believe that the top-flight journalists and editors of TIME would not be aware of ID's distinction between the evidence of design in nature and the identity of the designer, the former being ID's primary focus with the later being left to philosophy and theology. Especially since (as we shall see) their own articles in this very issue make that point!

[Continued in part #2]

Stephen E. Jones, BSc (Biol)
Problems of Evolution"

4 comments:

John A. Davison said...

Stephen
Why do you continue to delete my comments? Please explain either openly or privately via email. I would really prefer banishment as it is much more civilized and will save me the trouble of offering my sincere opinions and conclusions for your consideration only to see them disappear without comment or explanation.

Stephen E. Jones said...

John

JD>John A. Davison said...
Stephen
Why do you continue to delete my comments? Please explain either openly or privately via email. I would really prefer banishment as it is much more civilized and will save me the trouble of offering my sincere opinions and conclusions for your consideration only to see them disappear without comment or explanation.

I actually did send you a private email to explain why I deleted *some* of your emails (and not others), but it bounced.

The reason is stated on CED's front page:

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http://creationevolutiondesign.blogspot.com/
Policies:
1. Nasty comments will be deleted and low-quality comments ignored.
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For example, you recently posted a good post, but at the very end you added this comment:

"On the creation-evolution debate, I foresee continued conflict. Both sides will continue to lie, cheat and steal to make their points."

So I deleted the whole comment as "nasty". I also have deleted any other "poisoning of the well" (see tagline) comments you have made about those who disagree with you as "idealogues", etc. I will also delete any other comments by you (or anyone) that complain about their entire comment being deleted. I was going to delete this comment of yours too but I thought I would explain it *just this once* to you.

I suggested to you in my private email which bounced that when one of your comments gets deleted, you cut out of it what you think I might have deemed to be "nasty" and send it again. Then if it did not get deleted, you would have your answer.

As to what I consider "nasty", the first four rules of my now terminated list CED is a guideline:

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http://groups.yahoo.com/group/CreationEvolutionDesign/
The rules of CED are:
1. Undermining the Moderator is incompatible with membership.
2. Rudeness, vulgarity, profanity and blasphemy are not permitted.
3. Vigorous attacks against a member's *position* are expected, but attacks against a member's *person* (e.g. "liar", "dishonest", etc), won't be tolerated.
4. Mutual respect and sensitivity towards opposing views are essential. [...]
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I *never* have, and *never* will, delete a comment just because I disagree with it. But on this blog, since I cannot moderate members for nasty comments (unless I turn comments into `members only') as I could on my list CED, my only option is to delete the entire comment.

I have also explained that one reason I shut down my list and started a blog is that I don't have the time to waste anymore arguing at length with those who it makes no difference to what I say anyway. My main focus is my blog posts, not arguing in comments under those posts.

I have a Mailwasher program that alerts me as soon as there is an incoming post on my ISP's mail server. If I see that it contains a nasty comment from you (or anyone), I just click on the link at its end and it takes me to the post of mine that the comment is under, where I can delete the nasy comment. The whole process takes me only a few clicks and 30 seconds at the most. It would be unlikely that anyone else would ever see your (or anyone's) nasty comment. So you (or anyone) are free to waste your time making nasty comments on my blog, and I am free to save my time by deleting them without comment. I have stated upfront what my policy is, so those who make nasty comments (like you) cannot really complain if I delete their nasty comments without further explanation.

So this is my *one and only* explanation to you of why I delete *some* of your comments (and not others). In future I will continue to just delete your (or anyone's) entire comment that has what I deem to be unnecessary nastiness it. Again, if you (or anyone) cuts out what you think might be what I deemed to be the nasty part of a deleted comment, and sends it again, and it is not deleted, then you (or anyone) have your answer.

Steve

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"The final fallacy of this sort that we will consider is known as poisoning the well. In such arguments an attempt is made to place the opponent in a position from which he or she is unable to reply. This form of the fallacy received its name from John Henry Cardinal Newman, a nineteenth-century British churchman, in one of his frequent controversies with the clergyman and novelist Charles Kingsley. During the course of their dispute, Kingsley suggested that Newman, as a Roman Catholic priest, did not place the highest value on truth. Newman protested that such an accusation made it impossible for him, or for any other Catholic, to state his case. For how could he prove to Kingsley that he had more regard for truth than for anything else if Kingsley presupposed that he did not? Kingsley had automatically ruled out anything that Newman might offer in defense. Kingsley, in other words, had poisoned the well of discourse, making it impossible for anyone to partake of it. ... Anyone attempting to rebut these arguments would be hard pressed to do so, for anything he or she said would only seem to strengthen the accusation against the person saying it. The very attempt to reply succeeds only in placing someone in an even more impossible position. It is as if, being accused of talking too much, one cannot argue against the accusation without condemning one self; the more one talks the more one helps establish the truth of the accusation. And that is perhaps what such unfair tactics are ultimately designed to do: by discrediting in advance the only source from which evidence either for or against a particular position can arise, they seek to avoid opposition by precluding discussion." (Engel S.M., "With Good Reason: An Introduction to Informal Fallacies," St. Martin's Press: New York, Fourth Edition, 1990, pp.195-196)
Stephen E. Jones, BSc (Biol).
http://members.iinet.net.au/~sejones
http://creationevolutiondesign.blogspot.com/
http://members.iinet.net.au/~sejones/PoE/PoE00ToC.html
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John A. Davison said...

Speaking of talking too much, have a nice monologue because that is really all that it so obviously is. This is not a forum as the absence of comments so eloquently testifies.

Stephen E. Jones said...

John

JD>John A. Davison said...
Speaking of talking too much, have a nice monologue because that is really all that it so obviously is. This is not a forum as the absence of comments so eloquently testifies.

Actually I am *happy* about the "absence of comments" here on my blog CED. As I have said a number of times, it is a main reason I shut my list CED down because I increasingly found most (not all) comments I received (in the form of debates) largely a waste of time. In fact I said as much in my first post here:

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http://creationevolutiondesign.blogspot.com/2005/07/introduction-to-ced.html
Introduction to CED […]
Since February 2001 I have been moderating a Yahoo eGroup called CreationEvolutionDesign, which I am going to terminate because I want to write a book, "Problems of Evolution" and after over a decade of debates I find most debates largely a waste of time. I regard this blog (CED) as a successor to my list (CED). […]
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For a long time what was really fulfilling me on my list CED was finding, posting and commenting on science and other news articles (and I only post about 10% of the articles I read). I am now *enjoying* having the extra time to read and post articles to my blog and writing my book, "Problems of Evolution" [http://members.iinet.net.au/~sejones/PoE/PoE00ToC.html].

After I announced I was terminating my list CED and replacing it with a blog of the same name, an atheist member complained that on my blog "No one will be able to post (except Steve …)" and I pointed out that "unlike a list a blog is not measured by the number of *debates*, but by the number of *visits*" (my emphasis):

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http://groups.yahoo.com/group/CreationEvolutionDesign/message/14646
From: "Stephen E. Jones" ...
Date: Thu Jul 21, 2005 8:23 pm
Subject: Re: MODERATOR The End of CED [...]
JD>Of course, CED will still be around... sort of. No one will
>be able to post (except Steve the moderator,

*** John is right that "CED will still be around" in the form of my blog CED [http://creationevolutiondesign.blogspot.com]. As with all blogs AFAIK), "No one will be able to post" except the blogger. However, comments can be made about my posts to which I can reply. I have already had an exchange with one person. But unlike a list a blog is not measured by the number of
*debates*, but by the number of *visits*. I have just installed a Site Meter which records the number of visits. They are (including my own visits - have today installed some code that will from now on exclude my own visits): "Total 106" and Average Per Day 45", and "Today 74". I thank any Anti-CED members who are in those totals!*** [My emphasis]
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BTW, "JD>" is not a typo, his initials were also "JD" and so was his name "John".

And the average number of visits of my blog has increased from 45 to 50 per day in less than a month. Average pages viewed by visitors is now up from 89 to 96 per day.

I had already responded to one of John's comments, with the following tagline quote from a webbed article, "What are the Differences Between Message Boards and Weblogs?" The point that is relevant to John's misapprehension, evident in his comment above: "This is not a forum as the absence of comments so eloquently testifies" is: "weblogs and message boards *are* different .... Weblogs and Message Boards both allow for responses from the community- new topics can be responded-to by others. Weblog topics have comments and message board topics have replies. This subtle difference in syntax reveals a difference in the roles. The word comment for weblogs implies that the author does not need further participation to reach a goal- comment if you want. Reply, on the other hand, implies that participation is explicitly requested by the poster. A discussion is not a discussion without a reply."

IOW, this my blog is *not intended* to be a "forum" (I had that on my list CED - which had 200+ members and 300+ messages a month - and I shut it down). My blog posts are for visitors to *read* and they can comment if they want to, but I am not concerned in the *slightest* if they don't.

Steve

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"Worlds are colliding, people. Your friendly neighborhood message board is not alone in the online community world any longer. This year we are celebrating the 25th anniversary of the message board. Since that time, interfaces have improved, email has been integrated, but comparatively little has changed regarding the basic structure and intent of the message board. However, in the last few years, we've seen the arrival of a new set of tools and processes that offer additional opportunities for message board-based online communities. The appearance of weblogs have left many observers, including me, wondering about the differences between the two technologies and how they will be used inside online communities. Are weblogs really that different from message boards? How? Note: Below I make assumptions and generalizations about message board and weblog design. My goal is to discuss what I think are standard practices across the technologies. I realize that the assumptions below may or may not match with your experiences and I present them as suggestions. .... First, I believe that weblogs and message boards *are* different .... Perhaps the most compelling difference in weblogs and message boards is the locus of control. Weblogs are individual or small group resources- the control of content and value is driven by a single person or small group. Message Boards are group resources- the control of content and value is shared equally across all users. ... The locus of control matters most in defining who can post new topics, which drive the content of the resource. In weblogs, this role is centralized, with new topics being presented by a defined and focused person or small group. This centralization facilitates focus and direction on behalf of the webloggers. In many message boards, all members usually have the ability to create new topics. This decentralization allows for more emergent and unpredictable directions that may reflect the group's desires as a whole. ... The centralized vs. decentralized nature of the technologies fit nicely into two distinct intentions. With weblog authorship being centralized inside a community, they can easily become news sources, where trusted individuals provide accounts of events and information. The decentralized nature of message boards works well to accumulate group input and facilitate collaboration and group decision making. ... Weblogs and Message Boards both allow for responses from the community- new topics can be responded-to by others. Weblog topics have comments and message board topics have replies. This subtle difference in syntax reveals a difference in the roles. The word comment for weblogs implies that the author does not need further participation to reach a goal- comment if you want. Reply, on the other hand, implies that participation is explicitly requested by the poster. A discussion is not a discussion without a reply. ... The order and presentation of topics across message boards and weblogs relate another difference. Weblogs are consistently arranged with the most recently posted topics at the top of the page, regardless of new comments. With a message board, the posting of replies can govern the presentation of the originating topic- topics with new replies are often presented at the top (but not always, of course). This illustrates the relative importance of replies in message board discussions. Replies can keep a discussion alive and at the top of the page for months or even years in some cases. ... Since a weblog depends on a single person or select group, the likelihood of off-topic or inappropriate topics (or responses) is greatly reduced. Further, as discussed previously, weblogs do not depend on responses to provide value. So, in situations where spam or flame wars are a problem, weblogs can turn-off comments and depend on new topics from the webloggers for value. Being group resources, message boards do not have the luxury to turn off replies, but do prevent problems with moderation of each new topic or response. ... How topics are archived and organized provides another look at the differences. Often, each new topic in a weblog is assigned to a category that is used to organize the topics for future reference. A single weblog may have many categories that archive and organize posts that were originally presented on the weblogs' front page. Message boards are often presented with multiple starting points for creating a new discussion. The member chooses the appropriate location to post a new topic, depending on subject matter. In this way, message boards create multiple "front pages", spreading the presentation of new topics across locations/content buckets in the community." (LeFever, L., "What are the Differences Between Message Boards and Weblogs?," Common Craft weblog, August 24, 2004. Emphasis in original. http://www.commoncraft.com/archives/000768.html)
Stephen E. Jones, BSc (Biol).
http://members.iinet.net.au/~sejones
http://creationevolutiondesign.blogspot.com/
http://members.iinet.net.au/~sejones/PoE/PoE00ToC.html
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