Francis Collins wins 2020 Templeton Prize


I want to congratulate Francis Collins for having just won the 2020 Templeton Prize. In Templeton’s words,

Francis Collins is the Director of the National Institutes of Health and led the Human Genome Project to its successful completion in 2003. Throughout his career, he has advocated for the integration of faith and reason.

In his scientific leadership, public speaking, and popular writing, including his bestselling 2006 book, The Language of God, Collins has demonstrated how religious faith can motivate and inspire rigorous scientific research. He endeavors to encourage religious communities to embrace the latest discoveries of genetics and the biomedical sciences as insights to enrich and enlarge their faith.

When I reviewed his book, The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief, I confess I found him “credulous.” His Statement for the Templeton Foundation strikes me as being no less credulous. Nevertheless, I find it laudable that he manages to keep his religion and his science separate, and more importantly encourages people to accept the findings of modern science and rejects all forms of creationism. Probably no one deserves a Templeton Prize more, and I was frankly somewhat surprised when I recognized that he had not won it long ago.

Creationists discover evolution – with a vengeance!


It will come as no surprise to readers of The Panda’s Thumb, but creationists have inadvertently discovered the modern theory of evolution. True, they have had to modify it, just slightly, to allow for zillions of species to have evolved from a few basic “kinds” in a few thousand years. They do not accept innovation but rather claim, without either evidence or convincing argument, that all genetic variation has somehow been preloaded into the original “kinds.” And of course they do not accept universal common ancestry.

That is more or less what I got out of a new paper, “Dissent with modification: How postcreationism’s claim of hyperrapid speciation opposes yet embraces evolutionary theory,” co-authored by sometime PT contributor David MacMillan. Mr. MacMillan, who used to be a young-earth creationist and a great fan of the Ark Park, graduated with a degree in physics and is now a law student. He is no longer a young-earth creationist but identifies as a liberal Christian. The principal author of the paper is R. Joel Duff, a biology professor at the University of Akron and the proprietor of the blog Naturalis Historia; Prof. Duff also describes himself as an evangelical Christian. The third author is Thomas R. Beatman of Carnegie Mellon University, a former student of Prof. Duff.

I will not go into great detail, but the authors describe what they consider to be a new wave of creationism: young-earth creationism with hyper-evolution. They call this view postcreationism, presumably by analogy with postmodernism. Postcreationism has been around in some form for a while, but it seems now to be, dare we say, maturing, so this paper is very timely.

Discussion: Is William Dembski's CSI argument mistaken or merely useless?


At Josh Swamidass’s site Peaceful Science, there has arisen some technical discussion of the detection of Design using Complex Specified Information and Alorithmic Specified Complexity. The discussion was originally about the SARS-CoV-2 virus, and how examining its sequences could shed light on whether it was designed or evolved. There was a sarcastic call for ID supporters to show that their methodology could shed light on this.

In the end, Dan Eastwoood, a biostatistician, and I fell to discussing where the fatal flaw was in William Dembski’s Complex Specified Information (CSI) criterion, and another version, his Specified Complexity criterion. We didn’t entirely agree. The discussion was technical, and did not involve theology, so I proposed moving it to Panda’s Thumb. Eastwood was willing to do this.

Below, I want to outline some issues, take a position or two, and also link to some resources for this discussion. I trust that Eastwood will join in, and others are welcome too, provided they stay on topic.

As Monstrous as a Quote-Mined Whale


There’s an annoying Darwin quote-mine that’s come up recently in a Discovery Institute video. But I’ve seen it many other times, sometimes from non-creationists, even biologists.

The commonly quoted bit (page 184; all quotes from the 1st edition of the Origin):

In North America the black bear was seen by Hearne swimming for hours with widely open mouth, thus catching, like a whale, insects in the water. Even in so extreme a case as this, if the supply of insects were constant, and if better adapted competitors did not already exist in the country, I can see no difficulty in a race of bears being rendered, by natural selection, more and more aquatic in their structure and habits, with larger and larger mouths, till a creature was produced as monstrous as a whale.

The video proceeds to laugh at Darwin for suggesting that whales evolved from bears and shows evolutionary biologists laughing at Darwin for the same thing. (It then proceeds to laugh at the evolutionary biologists, but that’s another subject.)

But if you read carefully, Darwin wasn’t suggesting a line of descent at all, merely a scenario for possible future adaptation. He’s not saying that bears turned into whales. He’s saying that a population of bears, in a particular environment with a particular food source, might end up converging on a whale-like phenotype. Not clear from the quote? Then consider the context.