Jason Rosenhouse Archives

Here’s some reading material for you: A new article by Chris Mooney, posted at Mother Jones, argues that we have certain psychological dispositions that make it easier for us to accept religion than evolution. Larry Moran was not impressed with the article. Neither was Jerry Coyne. But I think the article was a bit better than they suggest, and I make my case in this post over at EvolutionBlog. Comments may be left there. Enjoy!

Coyne vs. Nelson

In this note, Nick Matzke directs PT’s readers to this post, by Jerry Coyne. Jerry, you see, had received an e-mail from the prominent creationist Paul Nelson, in which Nelson cited recent work by several prominent scientists as challenging the efficacy of natural selection in crafting complex adaptations. Jerry went to the trouble of contacting the folks cited by Nelson, and he posted their replies at his website. You can probably imagine how it went for Nelson, but I recommend reading Jerry’s post nonetheless. Take a browse through the comments as well, since Nelson shows up to dig the hole a bit deeper.

In his e-mail, Nelson also called attention to this talk that he recently gave at Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church in California. He asks Jerry to comment on the argument he presents to the audience. Well, I can’t speak for Jerry, but I have listened to the presentation and present my own thoughts in this post over at EvolutionBlog. The short version: I think his argument has some flaws, to put it kindly. For the longer version follow the link, and feel free to leave comments over there.

A Reply to Robert Asher

I see that Robert Asher has offered a belated reply to a blog post I wrote earlier this year, in reply to a post of his over at HuffPo. I thank him for taking the time to reply, as I enjoyed reading his thoughts. However, I am sure that no one will be shocked to learn that I have not been moved by his remarks to revise anything I said in my original post. I provide a reply to his reply over at EvolutionBlog. Comments can be left there.

In a post already noted by Mark Perakh below, Michael Ruse is floating an argument that those of us who argue against the compatibility of evolution and Christianity are endangering the constitutionality of teaching evolution. He writes:

So my question (and it is a genuine one, to which I don’t have an answer) to David Barash is this. Suppose we agree to the conflict thesis throughout, and that if you accept modern science then religion–pretty much all religion, certainly pretty much all religion that Americans want to accept–is false. Is it then constitutional to teach science?

The first amendment of the U.S. Constitution separates science and religion. (Don’t get into arguments about wording. That is how it has been interpreted.) You cannot legally teach religion in state schools, at least not in biology and other science classes. That was the issue in Arkansas and Dover. (I am not talking about current affairs or like courses.) But now ask yourself. If “God exists” is a religious claim (and it surely is), why then is “God does not exist” not a religious claim? And if Creationism implies God exists and cannot therefore be taught, why then should science which implies God does not exist be taught?

Interestingly, Ruse closes his post with this:

I should add that when I raised this worry with Eugenie Scott, her response was that I am just plain “dumb.” But while that may indeed be so, I am not sure that it is an argument.

Now, it seems very unlikely that Genie would have said any such thing. Far more likely is that she called Ruse’s idea dumb. And since she is pretty much omniscient on this issue that’s an assessment that ought to be taken seriously. In this post over at EvolutionBlog I have taken my stab at providing the argument Ruse overlooked. Comments can be left there.

Barr Bashes ID

Writing in the journal First Things, University of Delaware physicist Stephen Barr offers some frank words for the ID movement:

It is time to take stock: What has the intelligent design movement achieved? As science, nothing. The goal of science is to increase our understanding of the natural world, and there is not a single phenomenon that we understand better today or are likely to understand better in the future through the efforts of ID theorists. If we are to look for ID achievements, then, it must be in the realm of natural theology. And there, I think, the movement must be judged not only a failure, but a debacle.

Goodness! And that’s just the first paragraph.

It is hard not to like an essay that begins like that, and I certainly agree with his general assessment of the ID movement. This criticism is all the more significant for appearing in a religious venue by a writer who is himself religious. (Barr is the author of the book Modern Physics and Ancient Faith). Still, I found much to criticize in some of the specific arguments Barr offers. The details can be found in this post over at EvolutionBlog. Comments can be left there.

Lunacy From Campolo

Writing in Christian Today, Tony Campolo unloads the familiar creationist cliches about what a big racist Charles Darwin was.

Campolo is something of a celebrity on the evangelical left, you might recall that he was a spiritual advisor to President Clinton, which makes this essay especially disappointing. In the past I have tended to view him as an island of reason in what often seems like an ocean of evangelical narrow-mindedness. To see him casually repeat a pile of hoary old smears and vile falsehoods about Darwin and his work is rather depressing, to put it mildly.

Anyway, I ponder the grim details over at EvolutionBlog. Comments may be left there.

The Trouble With Science Journalism

One of the great frustrations of science journalism is its tendency to sensationalize every small advance into a worldview shattering revolution. As a case in point, consider this article, from the current issue of New Scientist magazine.

The magazine's cover depicts a plush, green tree bearing the words “Darwin Was Wrong.” As P.Z. Myers has noted, it is an annoying sign of creationist influence that revisions in a 150 year old theory are considered cover-worthy. Larry Moran makes a similar point in this post.

Things get worse, oh so much worse, when you read the awful article itself. Never have you seen a science writer try so hard to make so big a deal from such meager materials. It turns out the breathaking news is that horizontal gene transfer among single-celled organisms means that the tree metaphor of evolution does not work so well for the earliest stages of life's history. The article does point to a few reasons why the tree metaphor may be problematic for certain aspects of plant and animal evolution as well, but this too is mostly familiar stuff.

Over at EvolutionBlog I offer some further thoughts on all that is wrong with this article. Comments can be left there.

As a follow-up to P.Z.’s post on evolution and entropy, I have added some context to the thermodynamics argument in this post over at EvolutionBlog (comments may be left there.)

Oberlin College physicist Daniel Styer has published a brief, but very useful, article in The American Journal of Physics showing that even under very conservative assumptions the change in entropy of the biosphere as the result of evolution is negligible compared to the entropy flux of the Earth that results from the Sun’s heating. Sadly, I know from personal experience that this sort of thing tends to leave creationists unimpressed. This is because their arguments use only the language, but not the substance, of thermodynamics. Their assertion that evolution violates the second law is not really an invitation to carry out entropy calculations. Rather, it is just another incarnation of ye olde argument from incredulity, in which they express the difficulty they have in believing that fully naturalistic processes can explain the growth in complexity in organisms over time.

I provide some details in my post. Enjoy!

Carnival of Evolution!

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Good news! Thanks to the pioneering efforts of Daniel Brown, there is now a Carnival of Evolution. Better news! I will be hosting the next installment over at EvolutionBlog. So send your best evolution related writing to me at rosenhjd@jmu.edu. I'm looking for good, original writing on anything related to evolution, so make sure you proofread your stuff before sending it to me. It's always nice to give a little link love to undeservedly obscure bloggers, so here's your chance to get some publicity. The deadline will be September 14.

The Sixth Intenrational Conference on Creationism was held from August 3-7, in Pittsburgh, PA. That being a mere five hour drive from my digs in Harrisonburg, I naturally attended.

Unlike the revival tent atmosphere that prevails at Ken Ham's ubiquitous gatherings, the ICC's represent an attempt at a serious scientific conference on creationism. If you flip through the conference proceedings and just give it a quick skim, you could easily be impressed by the professionalism of the volume and the level of technical detail in the papers. It's a side of creationism we rarely see, and serves as a reminder that these folks honestly believe what they are saying, and at least attempt to do science with their idiosyncratic interpretaion of the Bible as their starting point.

Alas, combining the scientific legitemacy of creationism with the turgid style of academic prose is not the formula for a pleasant conference. I will be reporting on my experiences at the conference over at EvolutionBlog. The first two installments are already up: Part One and Part Two. Comments can be left there. Go have a look, and stay tuned for further installments.

People looking for passionate defenses of theistic evolution certainly have a lot of options this summer. Having recently reviewed Ken Miller’s Only a Theory, I decided next to have a go at Karl Giberson’s book Saving Darwin: How to be a Christian and Believe in Evolution. Giberson is a professor of physics at Eastern Nazarene College.

Those of us who believe that the union between evolution and Christianity is at best an unhappy marriage are often lectured about having an unsophisticated view of theology. I can only reply that I judge theistic evolution by the arguments I find in the books defending it, and those arguments are not very convincing, in my opinion. I elaborate on this statement in my review of Giberson’s book. Comments may be left there.

Reviewing Ken Miller

I have spent the last few days reading Ken Miller's new book Only a Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America's Soul. Short review: Well worth reading, but also a bit disappointing in places. Miller is at his best when he is describing the science behind evolution, and he has many illuminating things to say about the importance of the evolution/ID issue to the future of American science. But I find his theological arguments to be a bit weak, and there are places where his arguments against the ID folks are not as sharp and forceful as they might have been. Click here for my full review, and let me know what you think!

Still think ID takes no stand on the identity of the designer? Then check out the latest musings from William Dembski. He writes:

Colorado Governor Bill Ritter’s signing of a transgender anti-discrimination bill points up the lunacy that ensues in a world without design

Worry over the possibility that transgendered people will be treated with respect and dignity is one of the more bizarre concerns of the ID crowd. Phillip Johnson, afer all, devoted a whole chapter to the issue in his book The Right Questions. I offer some thoughts on the matter in this post. Comments may be left there.

Does ID Predict Anything?

ID folks make numerous assertions said to represent scientific challenges to conventional evolutionary theory. These claims are uniformly wrong, which is one of the reasons scientists generally ignore them.

But ID folks also claim that adopting a design perspective could lead to great progress in science, if only scientists would take off their materialist blinders. There is an acid test for all such claims: Go discover something! Writers are fond of saying “Show, don't tell,” and that adage applies very well here. If your perspective is so useful, then prove it by discovering something the conventional methods had overlooked.

Denyse O'Leary has posted her very own list of nine “predictions” that follow from ID. Why do I put the word “predictions” in sneer quotes? Because with this post O'Leary has achieved a level of cluelessness to which most ID proponents can only aspire. I elaborate over at EvolutionBlog. Comments may be left there.

The O’Reilly-Stein Transcript

For those who find it too painful to watch the video of Bill O’Reilly interviewing Ben Stein on his show last night, I have taken the liberty of posting a transcript over at EvolutionBlog. Read it and weep. (And believe me, I do mean weep.) Comments can be left there, but please keep in mind that I am only the messenger!

Fodor on Natural Selection

Writing in the London Review of Books, philosopher Jerry Fodor offers the latest in a familiar genre: essays declaring the forthcoming demise of natural selection coupled with very little in the way of argument to back it up. Over at EvolutionBlog I offer up my reasons for thinking that Fodor's argument is pretty wide of the mark. Comments can be left there. Enjoy!

See Behe Flail

Last week The New York Times ran this article by Kenneth Chang. He was reporting on recent work on protein evolution:

Offering insight into how evolution progresses inside a gene, scientists have pinpointed mutations in an ancient protein that transformed its shape and function more than 400 million years ago.

Scientists at the University of Oregon and the University of North Carolina used modern technologies to conduct an archaeology of genes and help answer a longstanding question about how proteins change over time and develop new roles.

“We have now seen the mechanisms by which a new function evolves at the atomic level, how evolution sculpted the protein structure to produce a new function,” said Joseph W. Thornton, a biology professor at Oregon who led the research.

Fascinating stuff! There's nothing novel in the idea that proteins can acquire new functions through evolution, but the level of detail here is simply astounding.

Of course, this work has obvious relevance to evolution/ID dust-ups. It was not long before Michael Behe devoted a lengthy blog entry to showing -- are you sitting down? -- that this work actually provides stronger evidence for design than it does for evolution. Over at EvolutionBlog, I have a lengthy discussion of why Behe is wrong. Comments can be left there. Enjoy!

Luskin Being Silly

Over at the Discovery Institute's blog, Casey Luskin thinks he's caught evolutionists wanting it both ways:

Question: What do you do when a theory logically predicts both (a) and not (a)? Answer: Apparently you heavily promote it.

MSNBC recently published two articles promoting Darwinian just-so stories to the public. The first article about the evolution of Waterfowl genitalia contends, “Scientists had speculated that male waterfowl evolved longer phalluses to give them a competitive edge over those not as well-endowed when it came to successfully fertilizing females.” That makes sense, I suppose. But the article makes one admission that strikingly contradicts that little just-so hypothesis: “Most birds lack phalluses, organs like human penises. Waterfowl are among the just 3 percent of all living bird species that retain the grooved phallus...” If long phalluses are so advantageous for reproduction, why did so many birds supposedly lose them? Darwinists will look back retroactively and claim that under the environmental conditions or sexual selection pressures experienced by most bird species, long phalluses weren't advantageous. The problem in so doing is that they now have a theory which can explain both (a) long phalluses, and also not (a).

You might enjoy listing all the reasons why that is a silly criticism. My list is available over at EvolutionBlog. Comments can be left there. Enjoy!

A new ID book, a new selection of yummy delicious quote-mines to ponder. EoE offers up quite the little smorgasbord. Over at EvolutionBlog I analyze a tediously commonplace example of Behe not merely removing a quotation from its proper context, but actually deleting part of it to give a false impression of its meaning. Behe has done this before, as I also discuss. Comments can be left there.

Tonight's edition of the Fox News chat show The O'Reilly Factor featured a segment on the big Creation Museum. Lawrence Krauss defended science and reason against the crazed rantings of Answers in Genesis frontman Ken Ham. Guest host John Kasich was sitting in for Bill O'Reilly. I have posted the full transcript, along with some brief remarks, over at EvolutionBlog. Comments can be left there. Enjoy!

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