Photograph by Dan Phelps.
Nine scientists have been newly elected to the U.S. Congress this year. One, Jacky Rosen of Nevada, has been elected to the U.S. Senate; the eight others, to the House of Representatives. I will not paraphrase them, but you can find articles in the Washington Post, Business Insider, and The Verge. Additionally, The Scientist lists all the scientists who ran for Federal or State office, including the three holdovers who won reelection to the House. The Scientist also lists 11 scientists who ran for Federal office and lost. Their definition of scientist is fairly broad and includes physicians, dentists, and engineers. Jacky Rosen, for example, is a software developer. Of the 11 (counting holdovers) who were elected, eight are Democrats; the three Republicans are physicians, according to The Verge.
A parallel thread to this one will be found at The Skeptical Zone.
At Mind Matters, the blog of the Discovery Institute’s Walter Bradley Center for Natural and Artificial Intelligence, Eric Holloway has argued that no critic of Intelligent Design has yet refuted William Dembski’s information-theoretic arguments for ID.
The situation sounds dire. He writes:
When I first began to look into intelligent design (ID) theory while I was considering becoming an atheist, I was struck by Bill Dembski's claim that ID could be demonstrated mathematically through information theory. A number of authors who were experts in computer science and information theory disagreed with Dembski's argument. They offered two criticisms: that he did not provide enough details to make the argument coherent and that he was making claims that were at odds with established information theory. In online discussions, I pressed a number of them, including Jeffrey Shallit, Tom English, Joe Felsenstein, and Joshua Swamidass. I also read a number of their articles. But I have not been able to discover a precise reason why they think Dembski is wrong. Ironically, they actually tend to agree with Dembski when the topic lies within their respective realms of expertise. For example, in his rebuttal Shallit considered an idea which is very similar to the ID concept of "algorithmic specified complexity". The critics tended to pounce when addressing Dembski's claims outside their realms of expertise.
Is that really the state of debate about Dembski’s arguments? I’d say that we can point to a number of arguments that Holloway must have missed. Let me list them …
Friday night I had the great pleasure – no, the honor to attend a celebration of the monumental Supreme Court decision Epperson vs. Arkansas at the house of Susan and Jon Epperson. That was the decision, 50 years ago, that struck down an Arkansas law prohibiting the teaching of evolution. I may be nostalgic, but it is hard not to note that that the Court ruled by a margin of 9-0.
It was a celebration, not a seminar, so I did not take notes. In 1968, Mrs. Epperson was a biology teacher in Little Rock Central High School and, to paraphrase her words, she had a choice between violating the law, and following the law and doing her students a disservice. Had she been found guilty of violating the law, she would have lost her job. She decided to file suit preemptively and won.
Mrs. Epperson, in her remarks Friday night, averred that the real hero of Epperson was her lawyer, Eugene Warren, who prepared the case and argued before the Supreme Court. I cannot entirely agree. Mrs. Epperson was the ideal plaintiff. She was bright and articulate, and undoubtedly made an excellent witness. She was a native of Arkansas and a believing Christian. Her father, also a believing Christian, was a biology professor at what is now the University of the Ozarks. Perhaps importantly, her husband was an Air Force officer with top secret security clearance, so it would have been difficult for anyone to have red-baited them. Interestingly, her son Mark has a Masters degree in divinity, whereas her daughter Elaine has a PhD in (I think) molecular biology.
Mrs. Epperson’s husband Jon, to whom she had been married for 3 months when she undertook the lawsuit, was instantly supportive and apparently served as archivist, collecting and filing both supportive mail and hate mail. It may be instructive that 50 years ago Mrs. Epperson did not think that she was in any physical danger, despite some of the mail she received.
I will conclude with two of the pictures that were handed out during the celebration and doubtless come from Mr. Epperson’s archive. The first is a photograph of Mrs. Epperson with John Scopes in 1959. Mr. Scopes declined to participate in the legal proceeding but observed, correctly, that Mrs. Epperson was (I think I have the right adjective) “attractive.” The second, with the headline “Wants to Teach Evolution,” was one of the milder criticisms; it reads, “There is a striking resemblance between you and a monkey. I would advise you to go ahead and teach it [evolution]. You are living proof of it.”