Friday, November 30, 2007

CNN Shenanigans

Did anyone notice that the only one of the Youtube questioners in Wednesday night's presidential debate who got the opportunity to speak at the debate itself was the gay gentleman? He was handed the mike and proceeded to expound his position to the nation.

Is CNN going to give the floor over to someone from the religious right during the next Democratic debate?

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Ben Stein's new movie on Intelligent Design

This ought to heat up the debate over Intelligent Design: Ben Stein's new movie about the evolution debate, "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed".

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Left's "Two Minute Hate"

In his classic novel, 1984, George Orwell writes of the "Two minute hate": a periodic event in which members of the Party are gathered together before a video screen featuring images of Emmanuel Goldstein and his followers: the enemies of the State. Participants are worked up into a frenzy of hatred and vitriol directed against people who, later in the story, turn out to be completely fictional.

So worked up do the participants become during the Two Minute Hate that they even attack the telescreen in front of them. The object of this political ritual is to solidify the support of each individual to the Party by uniting them in hatred against its enemies.

For the increasingly strident Tolerance Police, the rhetorical equivalent of the Two Minute Hate is becoming a daily event.

The most recent object of their hate is State Rep. Jim Gooch of Kentucky, who landed himself on the national news by holding hearings at the state capitol questioning one of the left's new dogmas: global warming. The telescreen is turned on, images of Gooch, ensconced in his chair as head of the Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee appear before the audience (courtesy of the KET), and then they start into their jeering and cursing, eventually working themselves up to such a fever pitch you wonder whether they'll hurt themselves.

It is becoming a frequent, and increasingly alarming sight.

Now I too am against the rape of the environment, particularly as it manifests itself in things like mountaintop removal. Besides being bad stewardship of the land, it's just plain wrong.

To say that global warming is happening, or that global warming is the result of human activities--or that it can be corrected by human actions whether it was caused by them or not--are not unreasonable positions, whatever you think about their accuracy. What is unreasonable is the level of personal acrimony and ad hominem vitriol that are increasingly being employed by those who believe these things.

In a recent Louisville Courier-Journal editorial Gooch was term a "a global warming denier." Ooh. Did you catch the rhetorical allusion there? Sounds very similar to "Holocaust denier" to me. So now people who have legitimate beefs with the mistake-riddled rhetoric of Al Gore are akin to David Duke.

Got it.

"Jake" over at Page One Kentucky, an increasingly intemperate voice of the political left in Kentucky, insists, "Rep. Jim Gooch needs to resign immediately." Why? Because this "embarrassment," this "uneducated...fool," this, ...this "idiot" disagrees with "Jake" on a controversial environmental issue.


Then there are the gals over at "Kentucky Women: Power, Passion, and Politics" (with an emphasis on the "Passion"), who recently announced, "Speaker Jody Richards, it's time for Rep. Jim Gooch to be removed off this committee!" A suggestion in response to which Speaker Richards kindly patted them on the head and told them he didn't think he ought to do that, and didn't they have some cookies to go bake or something?

Okay, he really didn't say that last part, but it would have been fun to see their reaction if he had.

And besides, you don't "remove" someone "off" something, you just "remove" them--one possible reason the word 'Grammar' does not appear in their title along with the words 'Power', 'Politics', and 'Passion'. And why should we be such sticklers about a linguistic trifle?

Let's cut to Larry Dale Keeling. Larry, are you there? Go ahead Larry:
Introducing the main speaker at an interim legislative committee meeting Wednesday, Chairman Jim Gooch mistakenly pronounced what should have been a silent 's.'

As a result, Viscount ("v’-kount," according to Random House Webster's College Dictionary) Christopher Walker Monckton became a "vizz (rhymes with fizz)-count."

Although Rep. Mike Cherry, D-Princeton, got it right when he later addressed Monckton, several other lawmakers on the panel repeated the "vizzcount" mistake often during the course of a lengthy meeting.

Thanks for that report Larry. The Herald-Leader's Larry Dale Keeling will be back next week with a report on he, personally, pronounces the words 'Versailles' and 'Athens'.

In the Two Minute Hate there is no time for reasoned discourse or for the presentation of evidence for your position, which is why none of Gooch's critics even bothered to offer any in any of their criticisms of him.

The sole exception was Randall Patrick, the editorials editor of the Winchester Sun. He at least made the attempt, although not a very spirited one. "Maybe the reason the chairman didn't invite any scientists," said Patrick, "is because it's hard to find one who doesn't believe global warming is happening at an alarming rate and is caused in large measure by the burning of carbon fuels."

C'mon, Randall, how hard did you look? Ever heard of
Reid Bryson, Emeritus Professor of Meteorology, of Geography and of Environmental Studies, Senior Scientist, Center for Climatic Research, The Gaylord Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies (Founding Director), the University of Wisconsin, Madison? Huh?

Apparently not. It just so happens he's widely regarded as the father of climatology. Here's what he says, despite his nonexistence:
All this argument is the temperature going up or not, it’s absurd. Of course it’s going up. It has gone up since the early 1800s, before the Industrial Revolution, because we’re coming out of the Little Ice Age, not because we’re putting more carbon dioxide into the air.
Or how about Carleton University science professor Tim Patterson, who says that global warming will not bring about the downfall of life on the planet, and that much of recent research indicates that “changes in the brightness of the sun” are almost certainly the predominant cause of global warming since the end of the “Little Ice Age” in the late 19th century?

He must be imaginary too.

And what about Timothy Ball, professor of climatology at the University of Winnipeg and Chairman of the National Resources Stewardship Project in Canada, a group that argues that "CO2 is very unlikely to be a substantial driver of climate change and is not a pollutant," and that "global climate change is primarily a natural phenomenon..."?

Want more? Go visit the NRSP's website for a long list.

And why should Patrick mention scientists who he could easily have googled on the Internet when he could simply repeat discredited claims by Al Gore about "an article in Science magazine in 2004 found that out of 928 randomly selected peer-reviewed articles that have been published in scientific journals over a 10-year period, not one doubted that human beings are the cause of climate change"?

Is Patrick aware that
an English social scientist reviewed the methodology used in that study and found that the author did not actually read all 928 studies, but only the abstracts? In reality, only about 50 of those studies said it was a crisis, and some actually disagreed, the remainder saying it was unknown.

Does that prove the global warming is not a problem or that humans aren't contributing to it? No, of course not. But it does prove that there is a legitimate debate in the scientific community about it and that people who disagree with the scare talk on global warming are not ipso facto a bunch of crazies.

But it's hard for people to know this, so loud is the screaming and hollering during the Two Minute Hate.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Scientific Mysticism: A physicist betrays a closely held secret about science

Well, the advocates of scientism are up in arms about an article in yesterday's New York Times--an indication that it must be good. The article, by Paul Davies, is called "Taking Science on Faith." Of course, the violence of the negative reaction is what one would expect from those who have seen one of their own betray their deepest secrets to an unappreciative world.

Davies is director of Beyond, a research center at Arizona State University. As the title suggests, Davies argues that science has first principles of its own that are not themselves, at least for now, subject to scientific analysis.
All science proceeds on the assumption that nature is ordered in a rational and intelligible way... And so far this faith has been justified.

...Over the years I have often asked my physicist colleagues why the laws of physics are what they are. The answers vary from “that’s not a scientific question” to “nobody knows.” The favorite reply is, “There is no reason they are what they are — they just are.” The idea that the laws exist reasonlessly is deeply anti-rational. After all, the very essence of a scientific explanation of some phenomenon is that the world is ordered logically and that there are reasons things are as they are. If one traces these reasons all the way down to the bedrock of reality — the laws of physics — only to find that reason then deserts us, it makes a mockery of science.

Can the mighty edifice of physical order we perceive in the world about us ultimately be rooted in reasonless absurdity? If so, then nature is a fiendishly clever bit of trickery: meaninglessness and absurdity somehow masquerading as ingenious order and rationality.

This idea--that science operates on assumptions that are not themselves scientific--is certainly not a new one. The great 18th century empirical philosopher David Hume pointed out that several of the ideas upon which science operates, primarily induction and causation, cannot be rationally justified. We assume them as a practical matter but we cannot certify them by reason.

In the case of causation, we witness certain events that occur together repeatedly, and we therefore conclude that one causes the other. But Hume points out that there is no evidence of a "cause", only evidence of constant correlation. Our evidence only takes us to the fact that these things are repeatedly observed together, but our evidence never shows us a cause. We read a cause into it. There is no way by science in particular or reason in general to justify the belief that it is really there.

In the case of induction, whereby we infer universal laws from repeated specific observations, Hume argued that we rely on the assumption that the future will always be like the past. But our observations do not extend into the future. We only have observations about the past and the present. Any observations about the future are speculation, and the belief that the future will always be like the past has no scientific or rational warrant.

The ideas of causation and induction, upon which the scientific method depends, are ideas which not only cannot be justified by science, but by reason at all.

It seems to me that G. K. Chesterton's explanation is the only plausible one: it is magic.
My first and last philosophy, that which I believe in with unbroken certainty, I learnt in the nursery ... The things I believed most then, the things I believe most now, are the things called fairy tales.
In his great essay "The Ethics of Elfland" (which Martin Gardner included in his Great Essays in Science), Chesterton, although he never mentions him by name, takes full account of Hume. He first observes, as did Hume, that there is deductive reasoning on one hand (what Hume called "Relations of Ideas"): abstract logical and mathematical relations where certitude reigns:
There are certain sequences or developments (cases of one thing following another), which are, in the true sense of the word, reasonable. They are, in the true sense of the word, necessary. Such are mathematical and merely logical sequences. We in fairyland (who are the most reasonable of all creatures) admit that reason and that necessity. For instance, if the Ugly Sisters are older than Cinderella, it is (in an iron and awful sense) necessary that Cinderella is younger than the Ugly Sisters. There is no getting out of it. Haeckel may talk as much fatalism about that fact as he pleases: it really must be. If Jack is the son of a miller, a miller is the father of Jack. Cold reason decrees it from her awful throne: and we in fairyland submit. If the three brothers all ride horses, there are six animals and eighteen legs involved: that is true rationalism, and fairyland is full of it.
But the certainties involved in deduction are absent in induction (what Hume called "Matters of Fact):
But as I put my head over the hedge of the elves and began to take notice of the natural world, I observed an extraordinary thing. I observed that learned men in spectacles were talking of the actual things that happened -- dawn and death and so on -- as if they were rational and inevitable. They talked as if the fact that trees bear fruit were just as necessary as the fact that two and one trees make three. But it is not. There is an enormous difference by the test of fairyland; which is the test of the imagination. You cannot imagine two and one not making three. But you can easily imagine trees not growing fruit; you can imagine them growing golden candlesticks or tigers hanging on by the tail. These men in spectacles spoke much of a man named Newton, who was hit by an apple, and who discovered a law. But they could not be got to see the distinction between a true law, a law of reason, and the mere fact of apples falling. If the apple hit Newton's nose, Newton's nose hit the apple. That is a true necessity: because we cannot conceive the one occurring without the other. But we can quite well conceive the apple not falling on his nose; we can fancy it flying ardently through the air to hit some other nose, of which it had a more definite dislike.
Chesterton says that those who ignore this distinction between the deductive and the inductive are nothing more than scientific mystics who have far overstepped their reason in viewing unnecessary things as necessary:
Granted, then, that certain transformations do happen, it is essential that we should regard them in the philosophic manner of fairy tales, not in the unphilosophic manner of science and the "Laws of Nature." When we are asked why eggs turn to birds or fruits fall in autumn, we must answer exactly as the fairy godmother would answer if Cinderella asked her why mice turned to horses or her clothes fell from her at twelve o'clock. We must answer that it is magic. It is not a "law," for we do not understand its general formula. It is not a necessity, for though we can count on it happening practically, we have no right to say that it must always happen. It is no argument for unalterable law (as Huxley fancied) that we count on the ordinary course of things. We do not count on it; we bet on it...All the terms used in the science books, "law," "necessity," "order," "tendency," and so on, are really unintellectual, because they assume an inner synthesis, which we do not possess. The only words that ever satisfied me as describing Nature are the terms used in the fairy books, "charm," "spell," "enchantment." They express the arbitrariness of the fact and its mystery. A tree grows fruit because it is a magic tree. Water runs downhill because it is bewitched.
Now all this talk about magic and enchantment sound like the worst form of mysticism to materialists like Richard Dawkins. But Chesterton points out that it is people like Dawkins who are the mystics: "It is the man who talks about 'a law' that he has never seen," he says, "who is the mystic."
Nay, the ordinary scientific man is strictly a sentimentalist. He is a sentimentalist in this essential sense, that he is soaked and swept away by mere associations. He has so often seen birds fly and lay eggs that he feels as if there must be some dreamy, tender connection between the two ideas, whereas there is none. A forlorn lover might be unable to dissociate the moon from lost love; so the materialist is unable to dissociate the moon from the tide. In both cases there is no connection, except that one has seen them together. A sentimentalist might shed tears at the smell of apple-blossom, because, by a dark association of his own, it reminded him of his boyhood. So the materialist professor (though he conceals his tears) is yet a sentimentalist, because, by a dark association of his own, apple-blossoms remind him of apples. But the cool rationalist from fairyland does not see why, in the abstract, the apple tree should not grow crimson tulips; it sometimes does in his country.
Finally, Chesterton recounts how the magic evident in the world led him to another conclusion:
I had always vaguely felt facts to be miracles in the sense that they are wonderful: now I began to think them miracles in the stricter sense that they were wilful. I mean that they were, or might be, repeated exercises of some will. In short, I had always believed that the world involved magic: now I thought that perhaps it involved a magician.
Davies, however, is not nearly so rational as the denizens of Chesterton's fairyland--or at least, he still requires his fairy tales to have a scientific air to them. He cannot finally accept Hume's judgment--or Chesterton's prescription. He still longs for the day when science will be able to resolves its deepest dilemmas.

It seems to me there is no hope of ever explaining why the physical universe is as it is so long as we are fixated on immutable laws or meta-laws that exist reasonlessly or are imposed by divine providence. The alternative is to regard the laws of physics and the universe they govern as part and parcel of a unitary system, and to be incorporated together within a common explanatory scheme.

In other words, the laws should have an explanation from within the universe and not involve appealing to an external agency. The specifics of that explanation are a matter for future research. But until science comes up with a testable theory of the laws of the universe, its claim to be free of faith is manifestly bogus.

Davies just won't take the obvious way out. Still, it's a powerful thesis, and one that isn't being appreciated by many of his scientific colleagues in each of whose heart is a mystic pretending he isn't there.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

A new Chuck Norris joke

I just heard a Chuck Norris joke that is apropos of our discussion on evolution:

There is no theory of evolution, just a list of animals Chuck Norris allows to live.

A polite response to an impolite Darwinist about why we should uncritically accept Darwinism

Well we've got a little debate going on here on Intelligent Design. I'm going to bring some of the comments out on the main blog so we can talk about some of the more important aspects of this debate in the broad daylight, and to show the lack of logic that seems to plague the proponents of Darwinism.

Let's first talk about one comment from "Motheral," who, like so many people who post on Internet boards, uses a pseudonym to hide his identity. I have said numerous times before that this habit of anonymity is the technological "Ring of Gyges" that allows the person to be as rude and insulting as he wants to be without ever having to personally face anyone.

Not only is this really bad form, but I've always wondered why you would even want to pad your rhetoric with invective if your arguments are good? Isn't a crushing logical conclusion at least as personally satisfying as hurling an epithet? In his last post he compares me to the former Iraqi Information Minister. C'mon. This is like using a pitchfork in battle because you have had all your real weapons taken away.

Motheral needs to lose the attitude and address the argument.

I said that Ed Brayton over at Dispatches from the Culture Wars was assuming what he was trying to prove when he said that bias is okay in a program covering the debate between Darwinism and Intelligent Design because Darwinism is correct. Motheral disagrees. Fine. Here is his reponse:
Ed is not "assuming" anything. He's observing that evolution has been proven to be THE useful and workable scientific explanation for the observed diversity of life on Earth; and that ID/creationism has simply never been able to cut it as "science." The scientific debate here is completely one-sided, because creationism has never brought anything to the table. Therefore, it is perfectly appropriate for a TV show to recognize this fact by giving the most weight to the winning arguments. The "bias" you're going on about comes from this reality, not from PBS.
Now here is Ed's argument:
  • Darwinism is correct.
  • Bias is okay when it is shown in favor of a correct position.
  • Therefore, bias in favor of Darwinism is okay.
If you put that in the larger context of the debate about whether Darwinism is correct, how can you say that he isn't assuming what he is trying to prove? Check out the first premise. Then, in Motheral's response, he argues that Ed is not assuming what he is trying to prove because he is correct!


Ed isn't assuming what he is trying to prove because Ed is correct? Talk about turning the fallacy of principio principi into an art form!

If the debate is about whether Darwinism is correct, then obviously assuming Darwinism is correct is assuming what you are trying to prove. And simply reasserting the major premise in a circular argument is no refutation of the fact that it is circular.

Here we have a debate between two competing theories of how we got here, and one side wants the rest of us to assume, at the outset of the debate, that it is correct. Then they want the rest of us not to notice when they do it. And if we do notice, then they'll call us nasty names. Finally, despite all this, they demand that we recognize how rational and intelligent they are.

Now I'm confident that the Darwinists can do better than this, and that they can do it without personal insults and hyperbole.

C'mon Motheral, let's see if you can do it.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Judging "Judgment Day", continued

I had posted a comment about the recent PBS slam on Intelligent Design, "Judgment Day," over at Ed Brayton's blog, Dispatches from the Culture Wars, and it elicited a little discussion. But the post is getting old over there, and so I decided to take up some of the issues Ed and a couple of others brought up in response, and the commenters can post here if they like.

I made the same sorts of remarks on Ed's blog that I have already made here, mostly having to do with the fact that "Judgment Day" was not a balanced presentation of the issue of evolution and Intelligent Design. There was the usual rude ad hominem attacks here and there that plague the blogosphere, but most were pretty much to the point. Ed's responses were reasonable, so I wanted to respond to a couple of points he made.

Here was his response to one of my posts:
There is no doubt that the producers of the show were biased toward the evolution side, nor that the dramatizations portrayed the other side in a bad light (though in many cases, that was quite justifiable - reality paints them in a bad light). But here's the only question that really matters, I think: was there any claim made that was untrue? I don't care whether one side got a rebuttal while the other didn't, I wanna know if the rebuttal was true and accurate or not.
Unlike a few of the program's defenders, Ed is intellectually honest enough to admit the obvious bias in the program, but argues that the bias is irrelevant and that the only thing that matters is the accuracy of what was presented.

Now I've already said that, from PBS's perspective, I think it has an obligation to be impartial. But I think the biggest problem with Ed's position is that it basically assumes what it is trying to prove. It basically amounts to saying, "Since evolution is true, a treatment that assumes that it is true, no matter how biased it is, is perfectly acceptable." Lack of balance is okay, as I have said before, if it is for a good cause.

Well, that may be acceptable to the people who already accept Ed's position, but the question is why it should be convincing to those to whom it is presumably directed: those who haven't made up their minds yet, and who are wanting to see a fair argument between the two positions so they can make up their own minds on the basis of the best arguments on both sides.

It seems to me colossally arrogant for anyone advocating a position to say that the other side just doesn't deserve to be treated fairly because they're wrong. That kind of arrogance makes me doubt the rest of what they think. And it this kind of arrogance that turns not a few people off to the Darwinist position.

It may be correct to say that what the program as presented was accurate (although I seriously doubt it), but what if PBS put together a pro-ID documentary that was technically accurate, even by the admission of its opponents, but so deficient in its presentation of the Darwinist position, and so biased against Darwinism that it gave the impression that ID was the more reasonable position? And suppose further that the program billed itself as "educational", and gave no hint in its promotional material that was in any way unbalanced or polemical in nature?

Can you imagine the outcry over at places like Dispatches from the Culture Wars? And can you see them being mollified by the argument that, since ID was true, the program was justified in being unbalanced?

Didn't think so.

Yo, Ed, this is a debate. People expect debates to be fair.

If the Darwinists want to convince the general public, they'd be get their noses out from up in the air and their feet back on the ground.

One of the posters on Ed's blog, Troublesome Frog (obviously not his real name, although if I were to find out he was from one of certain parts of my state, it would not be out of the question) brought up another point related to this:
Of course, it's also worth remembering that this documentary was less of an in-depth examination of ID vs evolution than it was a retelling of exactly how the ID crowd got its collective ass handed to it in court. Given that, chronicling the "smoking guns" that lead to the decision makes a lot more sense than diving into the detailed defenses the ID proponents try to give on the scientific front.
Well, yes and no. The program was ostensibly about the Dover trial, but one of the two major examples I gave of bias had to do with the part of the program that went beyond the trial and presented the case for and against Intelligent Design outside of the context of the actual trial. That part of the program had little to do with what happened at the trial and was the most biased part of the program. And besides, if the part that didn't have to do with the trial was blatantly biased, why should anyone believe the part about the trial itself?

I think that programs like "Judgment Day" are in the same category as movies that are supposed to be portraying historical person or events. If they're going to pretend to be about historical events, then they have some kind of obligation to portray events with reasonable accuracy. In this respect, Judgment Day was the Oliver Stone version of events in Dover: one part history, two parts polemic.

As I have said before, those of us who are viewing the debate from the outside can be excused for getting very suspicious that the debate is rigged in favor of one side. I have posted here before about the Richard Sternberg incident, in which the editor of a Smithsonian Institute scientific publication, Sternberg, published a peer reviewed paper favorable to Intelligent Design, after which he was harassed and vilified by advocates of evolution.

The irony here, of course, is that the very people who are saying, "If you ID people really want to prove your case, then get papers published in peer reviewed journals" are the same people who will read out of polite society any editor who has the temerity to actually publish such an article, decidedly reducing the numbers of editors who will ever be willing to publish such papers in the future. No science editor in the civilized world is going to publish a pro-ID article now--not at least if he values his career.

So folks, I'm just tellin' ya: if you continue take positions like this one--that it's okay to treat positions with which you disagree unfairly in programs that clearly give the impression that they are giving a balanced presentation--you're just giving your opponents more ammunition.

Now I suppose some opponent of ID could say, "Yeah. I'm sure you're real concerned about helping the case for evolution. Thanks for the advice." And there is a certain amount of truth to that. But, you see, I am pretty confident, knowing how arrogant ID opponents seem to have become, that they will completely ignore any advice I have to give, and will continue to rig the debate in ways that will make them vulnerable to legitimate criticism.

Just watch.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Judgment Day for PBS

The chief problem with the more radical opponents of Intelligent Design (they're not all unreasonable) is that they think they are exempt from the normal rules of fairness and rationality.

They're were a few reasonable criticisms of my piece from Wednesday about the PBS program on Intelligent Design, but many responses simply shirked off my point about the program being biased. I made two observations which, so far, no one has contested:

First, the program had two parallel extended segments explaining each position: one on evolution, the other on ID. The segment on evolution was uninterrupted by any rebuttals from the ID side. In the segment on ID, however, a rebuttal from the evolution side was included on every point about ID.

Second, in the dramatized course scenes, a number of cross examinations by the anti-ID side were shown, while no cross examinations of the anti-ID side by the pro-ID side were shown.

Now journalistically-speaking these are about as egregious as it gets. The prevailing belief among the more rabid of the anti-ID crowd seem to be that it was simply okay that the program was biased: bias is okay, they seem to suggest, as long as it is for a good cause.

Is this really the position the opponents of Intelligent Design want to take?

Now I have gone back and looked at the PBS description of the program on its website, and although the documentation for the program nowhere explicitly claims that it is impartial, the language it uses obviously seeks to give the impression that is offering some kind of impartial treatment. Over and over it uses the word "educational". And most people take the word "education" in a sense that distinguishes it from "propaganda" or "indoctrination".

Nowhere on the site does it say that the program is what it is: a polemic against Intelligent Design.

Look, I have said here before that I really don't have a hard and fast position on the issue of common descent. I've said that I think anyone who publicly declares that they know for a fact what happened millions of years ago is blowing smoke. It's hard enough trying to figure out what happened a couple hundred years ago, or a couple thousand. I'm a skeptic when it comes to exactly how we got to be what we are.

The one thing I will hang my hat on is that our human nature cannot be purely a natural product because then our rational and moral faculties would be without explanation. In other words, Naturalism cannot explain the processes we employ to determine if anything--including Naturalism--are true, or whether any of our actions are right or wrong.

The concepts of truth, falsehood, validity, right, wrong, beautiful, or ugly simply make no sense in a consistently Naturalistic world, and our only choice is between holding to a worldview in which they make sense, in which case we can keep using them, and one in which they do not make sense, in which case we have to simply give them up.

My problem with many of the opponents of Intelligent Design in not primarily that they argue against Intelligent Design (I'm still trying to figure that one out myself), but that they argue on the basis of a worldview that does not allow them to argue at all.

Furthermore, I'm a scientific layman who can only judge what I don't know on the basis of what I know. And when I am trying to make a judgment, I get very suspicious when I see one side not judging the other by the best arguments for it, but the worst ones they can find.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

"Brother John": Smith-Berry's new wine

I have it on good authority that Smith-Berry Winery's new "Brother John" dry red made mostly from Syrah is the best thing they've done so far. Here is a description from their website:
It is deep garnet in color and has powerful aromatics of plum, black cherry, chocolate, licorice, vanilla, wood and subtle notes of earth. On the palate, the fruit forward nature of Syrah, along with French oak influence combine to deliver flavors of blackberry, plum, mocha, sweet oak, smoke and cherry that linger nicely on the long, deliberate finish.
I ran into John Johnson, an expert on Kentucky wines, at Heine Bros. today (next door to his excellent shop, the "Wine Rack"), where I asked if he had Smith-Berry's Norton Red back in again, and he said he was still waiting, but that "Brother John" had just come in and that it was superb.

The wine is named after John Berry, an old photograph of whom is featured on the label. John Johnson thought that John Berry was one of Wendell Berry's children who was now deceased, but, judging from the photo, and past comments Wendell has made to me, I think John is Wendell's brother. I will ask Tanya (his grandaughter, and one of my students) about this next week.

If it is even on par with the Norton, then it is good indeed.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

"Hatchet Job: PBS's Dishonest Assault on Intelligent Design"

It may be that what "Inherit the Wind" did for the Scopes Trial, PBS's "Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial", which aired to a national audience last night, will do for the Dover v. Katzmiller decision: A highly biased treatment of a famous showdown between Darwinism and its detractors.

But I don't think so.

"Inherit the Wind," the play (and, later, the movie) was, despite its misportrayal of the actual events of the Scopes Trial, a compelling piece of theatre that continues, years after its writing, to be performed and enjoyed. It's unsuspecting audiences have little clue of how inaccurate it is as a piece of history, and don't seem to really care, so gripping is the story.

"Judgment Day," however, is not nearly as compelling in its storyline as its predecessor, and it is much more evidently a piece of propaganda, wearing its bias on its editorial sleeve.

The program could well have been called "Hatchet Job: PBS's Assault on Intelligent Design." If anyone was seriously hoping they would see an objective and impartial presentation of the debate over Intelligent Design, they were quickly disabused of the notion.

The people who are advocates of the Dover policy, which would have mandated the teaching of Intelligent Design in Dover science classrooms (a policy which a number of ID advocates actually opposed, although that fact was never mentioned in the documentary), are either ignorant or evil; the opponents wise and reasonable. The actors who portrayed evolutionists in the not very convincing dramatizations are self-assured and confident; those posing as ID advocates are shown as bumbling and confused.

Repeatedly, opponents of ID get the last word. Troops of ID opponents in the scientific community were interviewed, but no attempt was apparently made to take advantage of the numerous members of the scientific community who have voiced doubts about Darwinism.

In the incredibly cheesy dramatizations, cross examinations of ID witnesses were shown again and again, yet no cross examinations by pro-ID lawyers of opponents were to be seen. ID proponents were consistently cast in a bad light.

In one scene, the ACLU attorney hired by the parents who sued the Dover School District to overturn its pro-ID policy asked ID proponent Michael Behe (a scientist himself) if, under his definition, astrology counted as science. Behe said that, yes, it did. The attorney (or, rather, the actor playing the attorney) then asked if astrology hadn't been proven false, to which Behe (or, again, the actor playing Behe) again agreed.

The viewer, of course, was supposed to be appalled at Behe's ignorance.

But, of course, Behe was right, as anyone with a passing familiarity with the philosophy of science knows. Astrology, under most definitions of science, is indeed science. It's just that it is bad science--something very different from non-science: a distinction PBS propagandists either just didn't know or conveniently ignored for dramatic effect.

The problem is not that astrology isn't science, the problem is that astrology doesn't work. If everything that has been shown not to work is ipso facto not science, then we would have to say that fundamental features of Isaac Newton's system were not science, since they have since been shown not to work. But nobody would say that--not even the propagandists at PBS.

Nor did any representatives of one of the leading advocacy groups for ID, the Discovery Institute, appear in the program. Why? Because the Discovery Institute asked that they be able to tape the interviews themselves so they could hold PBS to account for any editorial shenanigans such as those conducted by ABC's Nightline in an earlier interview with Discovery representatives.

PBS's response? No way, José. Accountability? Who did Discovery think they were dealing with here? Objective chroniclers of actual events?

One segment followed Eugenia Scott of the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) on her sober quest to see if any of the supporters of Intelligent Design were religious, a finding that would prove, she thought, that Intelligent Design itself was religious. Cameras closed in to capture her grim realization that, indeed, some of them were.

One wonders what would have been her facial expression had she realized that the argument could be turned around on Darwinists themselves if it could be determined (as it already has) that some of the theory's adherents are atheists. That, of course, would go against the repeated assertion in the program that Darwinism is consistent with religious belief--at least if we used Scott's reasoning.

Logic is apparently not a strong suit at the NCSE--or at PBS.

Important distinctions were repeatedly glossed over in the course of the clumsy mischaracterizations. In a sort of scientistic mantra the narrator kept repeating that Intelligent Design was just another version of creationism, despite the fact that its most famous adherent, Michael Behe, does not dispute common descent--nor do some other proponents of ID.

In fact, there was not a single accurate explanation of Intelligent Design in the course of the entire program.

But the most blatant evidence of the lack of balance in the program was when it went into a long and involved presentation of the Darwinist position uninterrupted by any refutation from anyone on the Intelligent Design side, while every assertion of Intelligent Design was accompanied by a swift refutation from an advocate of Darwinism.

It was enough to give shamelessness a bad name.

I have said before that the scientific layman is in a difficult position: he has to listen to people who know a whole lot more than he does about the actual science of the matter. Unless he is familiar with logic or propaganda tactics (and how to defend against them), the only thing he can really judge is the objectivity, competence, and honesty of those who are making their case.

If the advocates of Darwinism cannot be trusted to follow the canons of journalistic integrity, then how can we trust them to follow the canons of scientific integrity? If, when we can catch them at it, we find distortions, half-truths, and outright fallacies, what are we to believe about them when we can't catch them? If they lie when they speak about what can be publicly known, how do we know they are telling the truth about what they have found in the privacy of their laboratories?

The program correctly pointed out the deceitfulness of one of the pro-ID school board members (on matters that did not have anything to do with the major questions about ID). But the dishonesty and carelessness of the propagandists at PBS far overshadows the petty deceit of one Dover parent.

If I'm a scientist who believes in Darwinism, I'm going to find "Judgment Day" very disturbing, and here's why: I'm going to be sitting there waiting for calls from my Intelligent Design friends who are going to ask me if the kind of objectivity on display in the PBS program is the same kind of objectivity I employ when dealing with scientific questions that bear on Darwinism.

This question puts Darwinists in an awkward position: either they maintain that the show was, in fact, objective and impartial, in which case their own credibility on any question, including Darwinism, goes down the tubes, or they're going to admit that the program was biased, in which case they can't consider the program anything other than damaging for their cause.

So let's see what the opponents of Intelligent Design do now. Will they admit that the program was biased and preserve their own integrity? Or compromise their integrity by not admitting what to any reasonable person is fairly evident--that the show was a hatchet job?

It will tell us a lot about those who are always lecturing the rest of us about intellectual honesty.

Monday, November 12, 2007

More live sightings of the dead language

When you're looking for a name for your new advanced technological innovation, who you gonna call?

Rod Dreher's blog call attention to the next big thing: a "roadable, light sport aircraft": in other words, a airplane that can also drive on the road. The company that is launching this effort (yes, pun intended) is called "Terrafugia, Inc."

Any guesses as to what it means?

The title incorporates two Latin words: terra, meaning earth or land, and fugere, which means to fly (in the sense of fleeing). The new craft is a land fleer, I guess.

I have to point these things out for the sake of the folks who are always telling me that Latin is a dead language.

Home schools and college

An interesting post at New Covenant discussing the increasing acceptance of home schooling in colleges.

In my opinion, the whole accreditation system is coming crashing down thanks to the fact that you have home schooled students (who, obviously, come from unaccredited schools) who are going to college and doing well, and way too many functional illiterates graduating from accredited schools.

I was exhibiting at the Indiana Home School Conference a few years ago, and in the booth next to me was a booth for Indiana University/Purdue. During a slow time, I went over and said, "It's interesting that you are recruiting at a home school conference." He grinned and said, "Oh, we've seen the data."

He went on to explain that home schooled students do very well in college, which explains the fact that now numerous colleges can be found recruiting at home school conventions.

The major reason for this, I think, is that home schooled students are generally well-read--more well read than the public or privately schooled peers--the reason being that they simply have more time for it. They're not having to suffer through all of the wasted time that fills the shedule of the average day school.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Moving political operations to another blog

I'm moving political operations over to Mere Politics. This way, I can address cultural issues here and keep things a little more coherent.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Osi Speaks! blog goes on rampage: bases attack on Forgy on 2nd hand report from "a friend"

The Osi Speaks! blog, which seems to get weirder by the day, has launched an attack on Larry Forgy based on a 2nd hand account of what Forgy said on Front Page with Sue Wiley on WVLK. KYJurisDoctor, the pseudonym for, well ... we're not exactly sure who, attacks Forgy for making statements which he never actually heard him make.

The blog features an extended attack on Forgy based on nothing but what an angry friend related to him in a casual conversation.


And how do I know about this blog post? Well, a friend told another friend of mine who happened to mention it to distant relative who related it to me what it said.

That's how.

The New Parable: The greatest atheist of the 20th century changes his mind--and writes a book about it

About three years ago, it became public that the greatest and best known atheist of the late 20th century had disavowed his atheism and announced his belief in God. For many years Anthony Flew was the one atheist that Christian intellectuals really feared. Unlike most prominent atheists (and Richard Dawkins in particular), he was philosophically sophisticated--and one of the most most widely-respected philosophers of the last 100 years.
The problem with most atheist philosophers is that they set their philosophical sophistication aside in order to make many of their anti-theistic arguments. David Hume did it with his argument against the miraculous--which did not live up to the quality of the rest of his philosophical corpus. The same thing applies to Bertrand Russell, whose essay, "Why I am not a Christian," is simply a poor impersonation of a philosophical argument--and in distinct contrast to the quality of much else Russell had to say.

Flew was different. Flew was at his best when making his argument that Christianity was not falsifiable. There was simply no way, he argued, to tell what the difference would be between a world where Christianity was true and one where it was false. In his essay, "Theology and Falsification," he uses the following parable, "The Parable of the Gardner," to make his point:
Once upon a time two explorers came upon a clearing in the jungle. In the clearing were growing many flowers and many weeds. One explorer says, "Some gardener must tend this plot." The other disagrees, "There is no gardener." So they pitch their tents and set a watch. No gardener is ever seen. "But perhaps he is an invisible gardener." So they set up a barbed-wire fence. They electrify it. They patrol with bloodhounds. (For they remember how H. G. Well's The Invisible Man could be both smelt and touched though he could not be seen.) But no shrieks ever suggest that some intruder has received a shock. No movements of the wire ever betray an invisible climber. The bloodhounds never give cry. Yet still the Believer is not convinced. "But there is a gardener, invisible, intangible, insensible, to electric shocks, a gardener who has no scent and makes no sound, a gardener who comes secretly to look after the garden which he loves." At last the Skeptic despairs, "But what remains of your original assertion? Just how does what you call an invisible, intangible, eternally elusive gardener differ from an imaginary gardener or even from no gardener at all?"
But now Flew has other stories to tell. In his new book "There is a God: How the World's Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind," Flew turns his talents on those with whom he once agreed, including Richard Dawkins (who could use a few lessons in philosophical sophistication):
Let us begin with a parable. Imagine that a satellite phone is washed ashore on a remote island inhabited by a tribe that has never had contact with modern civilization. The natives play with the numbers on the dial pad and hear different voices upon hitting certain sequences. They assume first that it’s the device that makes these noises. Some of the cleverer natives, the scientists of the tribe, assemble an exact replica and hit the numbers again. They hear the voices again. The conclusion seems obvious to them. This particular combination of crystals and metals and chemicals produces what seems like human voices, and this means that the voices are simply properties of this device.
But the tribal sage summons the scientists for a discussion. He has thought long and hard on the matter and has reached the following conclusion: the voices coming through the instrument must be coming from people like themselves, people who are living and conscious although speaking in another language. Instead of assuming that the voices are simply properties of the handset, they should investigate the possibility that through some mysterious communication network they are ‘in touch’ with other humans. Perhaps further study along these lines could lead to a greater understanding of the world beyond their island. But the scientists simply laugh at the sage and say, ‘Look, when we damage the instrument, the voices stop coming. So they’re obviously nothing more than sounds produced by a unique combination of lithium and printed circuit boards and light-emitting diodes.
In this parable we see how easy it is to let preconceived theories shape the way we view evidence instead of letting the evidence shape our theories…. And in this, it seems to me, lies the peculiar danger, the endemic evil, of dogmatic atheism. Take such utterances as ‘We should not ask for an explanation of how it is that the world exists; it is here and that’s all’ or “Since we cannot accept a transcendent source of life, we choose to believe the impossible: that life arose spontaneously by chance from matter’ or ‘The laws of physics are “lawless laws” that arise from the void — end of discussion.’ They look at first sight like rational arguments that have a special authority because they have a no-nonsense air about them. Of course, this is no more sign that they are either rational or arguments….
… I therefore put to my former fellow-atheists the simple central question: ‘What would have to occur or to have occurred to constitute for you a reason to at least consider the existence of a superior Mind?
Moving on now from the parable, it’s time for me to lay my cards on the table, to set out my own views and the reasons that support them. I now believe that the universe was brought into existence by an infinite Intelligence. I believe that this universe’s intricate laws manifest what scientists have called the Mind of God. I believe that life and reproduction originate in a divine Source.
Why do I believe this, given that I expounded and defended atheism for more than half a century? The short answer is this: this is the world picture, as I see it, that has emerged from modern science. Science spotlights three dimensions that point to God. The first is the fact that nature obeys laws. The second is the dimension of life, of intelligently organized and purpose-driven beings, which arose from matter. The third is the very existence of nature. But it is not this alone that has guided me. I have also been helped by a renewed study of the classical philosophical arguments.”
It's nice when a prominent atheist comes over from the dark side. But it's particularly gratifying when it's the smartest one they've got.