April 18, 2004 - April 24, 2004 Archives

Sorry, this one's about a week late. But best to have it logged for future reference... Our close buddy Kent Hovind is apparently in trouble with the law (yet again) for tax evasion. Hovind (or Dr. Dino as he prefers to be called, though his 'PhD' is from a diploma mill) is a popular, if totally wacky, YEC who runs a "ministry" down in Florida, complete with Dinosaur Adventure Land theme park. It's basically a home-made obstacle course that seems to have nothing to do with dinosaurs, other than looking very dangerous.

Still No Free Lunch from Bill Dembski!

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Andrea Bottaro has shown by example the irrelevance of William Dembski’s explanatory filter to archaeology. In this contribution, I want to show how in the real world the explanatory filter can lead to a false positive.

Dembski’s vaunted explanatory filter is no more than a flow chart designed to distinguish events of low probability. If the probability of an event is low enough and if Dembski can discern a pattern, then he concludes that the event must have been the product of design. Dembski admits that the explanatory filter may produce a false negative (fail to infer design where design exists) but claims it will never produce a false positive (infer design where none exists). In this article, I will give a real example wherein the explanatory filter could have yielded a false positive.

John Maynard Smith

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I'm trying a little experiment on the web—a project to highlight and encourage other people to write about biology or medicine or natural history by posting a biweekly digest of interesting weblog articles on those topics. The project is called The Tangled Bank. The first entry is currently posted at my website, and the next edition will be published in two weeks and hosted at the Invasive Species Weblog. These will be places where you can learn about other weblogs that should be of interest to readers of The Panda's Thumb.

Our first edition has only seven entries, but we hope that will grow, and that's why I'm mentioning it here. If you even occasionally write about science on your weblog, send a URL to one of your recent articles, preferably with a brief synopsis, to host@tangledbank.net. If the article meets our generous criteria, we'll acknowledge you with a link in the next edition. Join in, make connections, spread the word about good science!

Some time ago, an Insight article by Stephen Goode quoted ID advocate and Discovery Institute Senior Fellow William A. Dembski as saying that biologists opposed to “intelligent design” were like the repressive former Soviet regime. Knowing something of the history of science under Soviet rule, I knew that the actual lessons of history were being completely inverted by Dembski. Scientists who applied principles of biology accepted in the West were, in fact, repressed under Soviet politically mandated biological doctrines, specifically those teleological principles of Michurinism promulgated by Trofim Denisovich Lysenko.

I joined with Mark Perakh, who lived through Soviet scientific repression and encountered Nazi materials in World War II, to write an essay that explores the ID advocates’ deployment of invidious comparisons of biologists to the Soviet and Nazi regimes. We conclude that these comparisons cannot be sustained, that they can only be proposed through thorough ignorance of the actual historical record, that politically mandated biology is a costly proposition, and that the elements of self-aggrandizement in ID advocacy ironically echo the Soviet and Nazi regimes that they invoke as being like their opponents.

The essay is available on TalkReason.org and as a PDF at TalkDesign.org and atAntievolution.org.

There is a thread on invidious comparisons used by “intelligent design” advocates on the Antievolution.org discussion board.

The Stars like Dust

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I was somewhat bemused by Francis Beckwith’s report that ID advocates consider Forensic Science to not be a part of natural science (perhaps natural science is only that which is presented by David Attenbrough). How could reasonable people not see that Forensic science is part of natural science thought I.

Then I had one of my semiannual encounters with the public understanding of science.

Following Pharyngula's lead I have posted a reply to this breathtakingly stupid column from the conservative website WorldNetDaily. Its author, Kelly Hollowell, repeats the usual charges about how teaching evolution corrupts the youth, turning them into a bunch of knuckle-dragging, godless moral relativists. What's novel here is her insistence that it is not just evolution, but also the theory of relativity that corrupts the youth. Here's a sample, make sure you're sitting down. This is not a parody:
The basis of Einstein's life-changing view called the theory of relativity can be summed this way: Time is not constant. Both velocity and gravity can distort time. Nearly nine decades ago, this surprising discovery shook the very foundation of human perception, understanding and reality. Mistakenly, in the minds of many, the theory of relativity became relativism. So it was in the 1920s and still today that the popular interpreter of Einstein's work finds himself saying "All things are relative" and thinks that he is voicing a scientific discovery. This notion of "all things relative" moved from the laboratory into the public domain, creating an era in which all absolutes disappeared. Relativism has become the prevailing spirit of thought and action in our modern culture, but that is just half the equation.
My reply is available at EvolutionBlog. Enjoy!

The purpose of life is a beach part 2

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This morning, on my way to work, I listened to NPR. One of the guests, Ebbesmeyer described his recent work on tracking items found by beach combers. Once again I came to realize how the beach provides us not just with pleasurability but also measurability. Without beaches we would not be able to track Rubber duckies.

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Recently Alabama Citizens for Science Education (www.alscience.org/) has formed, the tenth of similar citizen groups in states around the nation. As has been the case with other groups, ACSE formed partially in response to creationist bills in their legislature seeking to allow the teaching of "alternate theories" to evolution. As vice-president of Kansas Citizens for Science (KCFS), I would like to welcome Alabama to the growing list of citizen groups working to combat these political attempts to insert creationism into the public school system.

Recently deceased NYU professor and postmodernist cultural critic Neil Postman (1931-2003) has a cult following for books such as Amusing Ourselves to Death and Technopoly. I have always been mystified by this, since Postman demonstrated again and again in his writings that he was actually remarkably ignorant of the technology he chose to criticize.

This week I picked up a copy of Postman's 1988 book Conscientious Objections at a local book sale. Not surprisingly, Postman's ignorance is on display again, this time about evolution.

I am starting what I intend to be a regular contribution in which I will share some of my almost spiritual experiences and insights gained when I was on the beach. It was this unforgettable moment late summer, the first time that I realized how special the beach really is.

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