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An article in The Star Press datelined Muncie, Indiana, today proclaimed, ‘Intelligent design’ professor earns tenure at Ball State. The professor in question is Eric Hedin, a physics professor who, as we reported in 2013, is apparently an intelligent-design creationist and once taught a course called Boundaries of Science. The class has, however, been canceled, and Professor Hedin has presumably been enjoined to not teach creationism in his physics classes. (No, my very dear trolls, that is not a violation of his freedom of speech.)

I looked up Professor Hedin and find that his research interests include “Teleology.” He has what seems to me a heavy teaching load, primarily General Physics 1 and 2, 5 mornings a week. I followed a link to his publications and find that he has a steady stream of publications in what look like respectable journals and conference proceedings. I did not see any papers that looked like they were concerned with teleology, and I presume that he is not surreptitiously teaching creationism.

The physics department at Ball State is blessed with 2 intelligent-design creationists. Panda’s Thumb reported, about 1 month before our report on Professor Hedin, that Gonzalez [is] appointed assistant professor at Ball State University, referring to the intelligent-design creationist Guillermo Gonzalez. Professor Gonzalez had famously been denied tenure at Iowa State University, presumably for failure to conduct an original research program and instead writing The Privileged Planet: How Our Place in the Cosmos Is Designed for Discovery.

A morbid curiosity getting the better of me, I looked up Professor Gonzalez in Google Scholar and also here. I do not know when he became a fellow of the Discovery Institute, but I noted no publications of interest after 2007, though he was a co-author of a book on observational astronomy in 2006. Like almost every other fellow of the DI, Professor Gonzalez appears to have produced virtually nothing since joining that institute.

But let us end on a positive note: The same cannot be said for Eric Hedin, and I must assume that his promotion and tenure are well deserved.


Thanks to Glenn Branch of the National Center for Science Education for the original link.

On August 14, William Dembski spoke at the Computations in Science Seminar at the University of Chicago. Was this a sign that Dembski’s arguments for intelligent design were being taken seriously by computational scientists? Did he present new evidence? There was no new evidence, and the invitation seems to have come from Dembski’s Ph.D. advisor Leo Kadanoff. I wasn’t present, and you probably weren’t either, but fortunately we can all view the seminar, as a video of it has been posted here on Youtube.

It turns out that Dembski’s current argument is based on two of his previous papers with Robert Marks (available here and here) so the arguments are not new. They involve considering a simple model of evolution in which we have all possible genotypes, each of which has a fitness. It’s a simple model of evolution moving uphill on a fitness surface. Dembski and Marks argue that substantial evolutionary progress can only be made if the fitness surface is smooth enough, and that setting up a smooth enough fitness surface requires a Designer.

Briefly, here’s why I find their argument unconvincing:

  1. They conside all possible ways that the set of fitnesses can be assigned to the set of genotypes. Almost all of these look like random assigments of fitnesses to genotypes.
  2. Given that there is a random association of genotypes and fitnesses, Dembski is right to assert that it is very hard to make much progress in evolution. The fitness surface is a “white noise” surface that has a vast number of very sharp peaks. Evolution will make progress only until it climbs the nearest peak, and then it will stall. But …
  3. That is a very bad model for real biology, because in that case one mutation is as bad for you as changing all sites in your genome at the same time!
  4. Also, in such a model all parts of the genome interact extremely strongly, much more than they do in real organisms.
  5. Dembski and Marks acknowledge that if the fitness surface is smoother than that, progress can be made.
  6. They then argue that choosing a smooth enough fitness surface out of all possible ways of associating the fitnesses with the genotypes requires a Designer.
  7. But I argue that the ordinary laws of physics actually imply a surface a lot smoother than a random map of sequences to fitnesses. In particular if gene expression is separated in time and space, the genes are much less likely to interact strongly, and the fitness surface will be much smoother than the “white noise” surface.
  8. Dembski and Marks implicitly acknowledge, though perhaps just for the sake of argument, that natural selection can create adaptation. Their argument does not require design to occur once the fitness surface is chosen. It is thus a Theistic Evolution argument rather than one that argues for Design Intervention.

That’s a lot of argument to bite off in one chew. Let’s go into more detail below the fold …

Evolution News and Views noticed my previous post, and wrote a little reply. Unfortunately for them they completely missed the point, that Dembski claimed “Darwinists” were making stuff up, when there was good theoretical and (indirect) observational evidence to be confident that planets abounded in the galaxy.

The 55 Cnc system (excluding the outermost planet), 55 Cnc e is marked by the red cross near the sun. The 55 Cne system has features similar to our solar system.

Instead, they chose to focus on whether the planets we have found are habitable, which was beside the point [1]. Guillermo Gonzalez wrote a response for them, which included this:

The typical exoplanetary system is very different from our Solar System. Jovian planets are being discovered in very tight or highly eccentric orbits. Jovian planets in our Solar System are characterized by large nearly circular orbits. Our Solar System looks ever more like the exception, and it is exceptional in ways that are life friendly.

Distribution of orbital periods of the currently discovered exoplanets. The pink bars are “Super Jupiters” and the yellow bars are Jupiter-like planets in Jupiter period orbits.

Well, that’s sort of true, but deeply misleading. When we first started looking Super Jupiters were the norm. To explain why, and why this is no longer true, I’m going to digress for a moment to explain the main methods used to find exoplanets. The first is the radial velocity method. Here the slight wobbles produced in the position of a star by the gravitational tug of an orbiting planet are detected by Doppler shift.

In the transit method, the slight dimming in the stars light as the planet passes in front of it.

It’s not certain there will be a decision immediately, though:

From the Iowa State Daily:

The Iowa Board of Regents will meet Thursday to discuss the tenure denial appeal of Guillermo Gonzalez, assistant professor of physics and astronomy at Iowa State, at its regional meeting on the ISU campus.

The meeting is at 8:30 a.m., with a one-hour closed session dedicated to discussing the appeal beginning at 8:35 a.m. The regents will emerge with either a decision on the case or a decision to postpone it.

“The board does not have to decide within the hour time slot given for the meeting, and discussion may take place over the following days,” said Iowa Board of Regents President David Miles.

Stay tuned…

Intelligent Design is a career-killer. There’s just no two ways about it. And not because of how peers treat the ID supporter; they throw their own productivity under the bus, to use Casey Luskin’s overworked cliche. We saw the same thing with Behe and Dembski. Behe has published ONE peer-reviewed paper in the last decade. And Dembski… well, does anybody even know where he works these days?

All hyperbole aside, let’s look at Gonzalez’s publication track record…

Continue reading at Neurotopia

Yesterday the Discovery Institute held a press conference at the capitol building in Des Moines, to announce Guillermo Gonzalez’s plans to sue Iowa State University over their decision to deny him tenure. Supposedly the lawsuit will be filed pending the rejection of an appeal to the Board of Regents, which is virtually guaranteed simply for the fact that the Regents typically uphold tenure decisions. Joining Casey Luskin, Rob Crowther, Gonzalez’s attorneys, and a few other DI folk was state Senator David Hartsuch (R-District 41).

The core of the DI’s assertion is that there were “secret tenure deliberations” aka a plan to oust Dr. Gonzalez because of his ID views.

Continue reading at Neurotopia.

Yesterday, Casey Luskin posted yet another article outlining still more of the Discovery Institute’s complaints about the Iowa State decision to deny tenure to DI Fellow and ID proponent Guillermo Gonzalez. This one complains about the characterization of Gonzalez as “having slowed down considerably” and “not started new things.” (That characterization appeared in the Chronicle of Higher Education last week.)

I have no intention of getting into a debate over the precise merits of Dr. Gonzalez’s case, for a number of reasons. First of all, I’m one of those who believes that the effort that Gonzalez has put into undermining quality science education in the primary and secondary public schools is something that should be considered when looking into tenure decisions. Second, I am not an astronomer and am not qualified to judge the quality of his scientific work either before or after he joined the Iowa State faculty. Finally, I am not a member of his department, and I do not know what was involved in the tenure decision in this case.

I am, however, someone who has enough reading comprehension skill to recognize when someone is playing word games, and enough of a sense of integrity to be offended when it happens. In the case of this latest Gonzalez article, that’s exactly what Casey has done. Three times.

Read more (at The Questionable Authority):

Are you getting bored with Earth? Maybe you should consider a move to 581 c:

For the first time astronomers have discovered a planet outside our solar system that is potentially habitable, with Earth-like temperatures, a find researchers described Tuesday as a big step in the search for “life in the universe.”

The planet is just the right size, might have water in liquid form, and in galactic terms is relatively nearby at 120 trillion miles away. But the star it closely orbits, known as a “red dwarf,” is much smaller, dimmer and cooler than our sun.

But don’t pack your bags just yet…

There’s still a lot that is unknown about the new planet, which could be deemed inhospitable to life once more is known about it. And it’s worth noting that scientists’ requirements for habitability count Mars in that category: a size relatively similar to Earth’s with temperatures that would permit liquid water.

Still, it’s a neat find. No word yet if the planet is “designed for discovery”, but presumably anyone living there would have discovered those things that are easy to discover, and will therefore conclude that the planet must be situated just right for discovery. At least if their species has creationists.

Below the fold I’ll add some more excerpts from the article. Or you can just read the whole thing.

In Creationism by Any Other Name, Charles G. Lambdin reviews the Privileged Planet film and describes it as ‘a contemporary classic of pseudoscience’.

I have written many postings on the Privileged Planet. Lambdin is similarly not very impressed by the correlation of ‘one’ or coincidences argued to be ‘evidence for design’.

Lambdin Wrote:

The thesis of The Privileged Planet is no different than the classic case of Presidential coincidences: Abraham Lincoln was elected to congress in 1846. John F. Kennedy was elected to congress in 1946. Lincoln was elected President in 1860, Kennedy in 1960. Both of their last names have seven letters. Both of their wives experienced the loss of child in the White House. Both were shot in the head on a Friday. Both were assassinated by Southerners and succeeded by Southerners. Lincoln was succeeded by Andrew Johnson, who was born in 1808. Kennedy was succeeded by Lyndon Johnson, who was born in 1908. Lincoln’s assassin, John Wilkes Booth, has 15 letters in his name. Kennedy’s assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, has 15 letters in his name. Both assassins were known by three names. Booth was born in 1839, Oswald in 1939. As I am unable to imagine otherwise, these coincidences are too great to have occurred due to chance alone, so there must be some Intelligent Assassin behind it. Thus runs the reasoning throughout The Privileged Planet.

Things were hoppin’ last night in Cedar Falls for DI fellow Guillermo Gonzalez’s talk. I have about 6 pages of notes from the lecture and subsequent Q&A period here, so if yu’re interested in the nitty-gritty, read below. For anyone who just wants the newspaper version, I’ll try to provide a link to the story when it’s published. My thoughts are in italics below.

Edited to add: Not chance, but design, ISU professor says from the Des Moines Register (thanks, Jason Spaceman); ISU professor argues for intelligent design, from the Ames Tribune.

Additionally, wanted to add that the next Sigma Xi lecture, Thursday, Oct. 27, will present the other side of the ID argument, when John Staver, professor of science education and director of the Center for Science Education at Kansas State University, will speak on “Evolution vs. Intelligent Design: It’s Time to Saddle Up and Draw a Hard Line.”

Jonathan Witt aruges that:

There is a factual error in the story’s headline and lead sentence. They suggest that the science documentary makes a case against biological evolution. In fact, the film doesn’t even touch on the subject.

The Privileged Planet focuses on cosmology and astronomy, and on Earth’s place in the universe. One could be a strict Darwinist and still agree with the argument in The Privileged Planet. In fact, that accurately describes at least two of the prominent scientists who endorsed the book upon which the documentary is based.

Gonzalez said this common charge isn’t true and reflects mistaken beliefs about science by its critics.

“They come from a specific philosophical point of view,” he said. “Any explanation apart from law and chance is not permitted in science.”

October 12, 2004 A universal debate By Lucas Grundmeier Daily Staff Writer

What else is there other than law and chance? Ignorance?

Also remember that in Privileged Planet, Gonzalez et al do not eliminate chance and law, only chance. In other words, they accept that laws can explain the universe. Why is it that ID proponents have no problem accepting front loading in astronomy but insist on intervention in biology?

It’s rather like a puddle waking up one morning— I know they don’t normally do this, but allow me, I’m a science fiction writer— A puddle wakes up one morning and thinks: “This is a very interesting world I find myself in. It fits me very neatly. In fact it fits me so neatly… I mean really precise isn’t it?… It must have been made to have me in it.” And the sun rises, and it’s continuing to narrate this story about how this hole must have been made to have him in it. And as the sun rises, and gradually the puddle is shrinking and shrinking and shrinking— and by the time the puddle ceases to exist, it’s still thinking— it’s still trapped in this idea that— that the hole was there for it. And if we think that the world is here for us we will continue to destroy it in the way that we have been destroying it, because we think that we can do no harm.

Douglas Adams

Now that the DVD for ‘Privileged Planet’ has been announced, it is time to remind the readers of why I believe that the Privileged Planet makes for a very poor scientific argument. Although I do believe that the argument serves well as an apologetic and rhetorical tool, which may help explain why it is given such a ‘privileged’ position at the DDD-V conference or creationist websites.

So why do I believe that the Privileged Planet approach is wrong? To quote Xia-Li Meng at the 2004 ENAR Spring Meeting in Pittsburgh PA on statistics:

“If you have not seen all the data, how can you estimate how much you haven’t seen? But, as statisticians, we can do anything!”

Privileged Planet: Amazon Review

| 1 Comment

The following review of Privileged Planet was also submitted to Amazon

Gonzalez et al appeal to Dembski’s _Design Inference_ to show how the correlation of habitability and measurability shows evidence of ‘purpose’ in the universe. Various people such as Wein, or various authors on, have already shown what is wrong with the _Design Inference_ argument. I will limit my comments to the claims by Gonzalez et al to show that their appeal to the _Design Inference_ is inappropriate. In addition I will show that their use of correlation to support ‘purpoe’ suffers from poorly defined and thus poorly quantifiable terms, that it is based on a single observation of what they call a ‘constrained optimum’ (the earth), that it is biased towards earth-like planets, and that it is based on cherry picking of examples that support the thesis. In other words, from a scientific perspective their claims are meaningless. Which of course does not mean that their book does not make for a useful apologetic tool (hence my two stars). For people who need their faith to be supported by some impressive sounding but scientifically poorly supported claims, this book serves its purpose. If one is hoping that this book will present a scientific argument for _Intelligent Design_ then one will be quite disappointed.

The authors of Privileged Planet have posted the following response at Discovery’s Center for the renewal of science and culture Was Starlight Deflection Important for the Acceptance of General Relativity? A Response to Critics

I find it interesting as to what critics the authors are referring? Because in the first paragraph they mention a single criticism posted to various places. Surely the authors do understand the difference between a single datapoint counted many times and multiple independent data pojnts? Or perhaps not as I intend to show.

For earlier reviews of Privileged Planet see:

The Privileged Wedge

Not surprisingly the Discovery Institute is getting a good mileage out of Gonzalez's thesis. Next I will explore the link between Privileged Planet, Rare Earth and the Intelligent Design movement. The book "Privileged Planet" presents a very poorly supported design argument in which the authors make claims about measurability and habitability which cannot be supported. In fact, when the authors try to link their ideas with Dembski's ideas, they only accept chance as an alternative to 'design' implicitly accepting that regularities (laws of nature) can in fact be 'designers'. Rather than strengthening the design inference, the authors have managed to undermine the design inference. The observed coincidences (can we say cherry picking) leading to a claim of correlation are not scientifically supported but do make for some interesting apologetic tools. Recently the book was reviewed in Nature: "Bright Blue Dot" by Douglas A. Vakoch in Naturel Vol 24 p 808-809

Privileged Planet: The fallout starts


Gonzalez and Richards have posted a response to some of the objections by Kyler Kuehn raised to their Privileged Planet argument.

While I intend to address in more detail Gonzalez et al’s claims in the near future (I am recovering from a nasty cold) I would like to comment on some of their claims directed at Kyler Kuehn

The authors comment how Kyler Kuehn presented his arguments during the 2003 ASA meeting but then continue:

But Kuehn has since posted essentially the same critical response online, and presented on the subject at at least one public conference. Thus, a brief response is appropriate.

Kyler Kuehn’s response has been online for quite some time. I am not sure as to which public conference the authors are refering but since I used Kyler Kuehn’s excellent arguments in my rebuttals of the Privileged Planet I feel partially responsible for these “accusations”. If Kyler Kuehn’s posting of his powerpoint is a reason for rebuttal then why did Gonzalez and Richardson wait until now? The webpage mentions that it was ‘Last Updated by Kyler Kuehn, August 11, 2003 ‘

The purpose of life is a beach part 2

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.
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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