It’s a tendancy among us as Americans to think that we’re the center of the world. Evolutionists take this tendency to the extreme when they’ve claimed frantically and repeatedly that the intelligent design evolution furor is just an outcrop of the American Christian Right Wing Republican Agenda. However that idea might need reconsideration from the thoughtful among us :-). (If reconsidering ideas is allowed in academic circles, sometimes I wonder . . . ) Evolution News reports that last year there were a couple lively lectures on intelligent design in Japan, with researchers coming from as far away as Mongolia to participate. (A cartoon that appeared in a Tokyo daily newspaper paints the this ID-Darwinism debate in all it’s military glory here.) The ID-Darwinism debate is not only active in Japan though. The Municipality of Istanbul in Turkey sponsored a conference on intelligent design just a couple weeks ago (see here and here).
March 11, 2007
February 19, 2007
Our friend Allen MacNeill over at EvolutionList has written a bunch about Steve Fuller in his last two posts, but he seems to have badly misunderstood what Fuller was saying. Allen seems to not realize (as a Macht pointed out to him in the comments) that Science Wars is a name for an intelluctual discussion between the humanities and the sciences during the nineties. It has nothing to do with evolution or ID or the culture wars. What is even sadder than this misunderstanding is that it spawned a whole conspiracy theory of an alliance between postmodernists and Christians who desperately want win some kind of social discourse.
It was common during the science wars for scientists to remonstrate that the sociologists, philosophers and historians who wrote about science knew nothing about science. It seems in this case we perhaps may have the reverse scenerio.
February 17, 2007
We’ve heard over and over again from the Darwinist side of this debate that ID offers no novel predictions. Intelligent design actually offers many intriguing and novel predictions (you can head over to ResearchID.org to see some of them), but what about Darwinism?
I would love it if some of our commentators or readers would offer what they think are predictions of Darwinism. The definiton of Darwinism that we’ll use is the following proposition:
"The origin and diversity of life has occured solely by undirected processes such as natural selection."
For a prediction to count, of course it will have to be one that only Darwinism makes.
Update: There seems to be some confusion about what kind of predictions count. No predictions count that could be made from a more modest postulate. ID has no bones about common descent, so any predictions from common descent don’t count.
The one sentence hypothesis above could of course be written as two:
1. "The origin of life has occured solely by undirected processes such as natural selection."
2. "The diversity of life has occured solely by undirected processes such as natural selection."
It’s fine to just give a prediction from just one of those hypothesis.
October 22, 2006
It doesn’t directly relate to either ID or evolution, but…
There’s a short debate available between Richard Dawkins (everyone’s favorite evolutionist) and David Quinn, on Irish radio. The topic is Dawkin’s new book The God Delusion, and it manages to get quite intense in the twenty minutes allocated to it, as they delve into fun topics such as the origin of matter and the question of free will.
Although Dawkins never gives any answers it is an interesting discussion, and there’s even a moment where our own Prof. Provine is quoted. And it won’t take more than twenty minutes of your time…
Telic Thoughts has some commentary here.
October 15, 2006
PBS’s Think Tank hosted an discussion between Steve Meyer (of the DI) and Michael Ruse (philosophy of science, Florida State) this past week. The transcript is here. It was one of those discussions where you never get to the interesting bits because you aren’t given a chance to get past the basics, but my favorite section was a rather interesting link Meyer made between the work he and other ID’ers are currently doing and Darwin’s original methodology. He begins by explaining how he became interested in the issue, and defending himself from the often-heard "antiscience!" charge…(more…)
October 6, 2006
Fall break begins tomorrow (if you think, as Cornell does, it is rational to begin a break on Saturday) but at any rate we shall all be away, or pretending to be away, as soon as our exams and classes are done today. We’re not having a meeting next Wednesday either, but that doesn’t mean you need be out of things to read. For instance, Dan at Migrations links to a special issue of the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, all devoted to the topic of ‘Conditions for the emergence of life on the early Earth’. Lots of interesting material there; I’ll definitely be printing out a few articles for the bus ride out.
October 5, 2006
Memo to friends, enemies, and anyone who wants to find out about us: You can just ask, really. We haven’t any secrets, and you don’t need to play spy games.
Of all the reporters we’ve spoken to during the past year and a half the IDEA Club has been in existence, none has been quite as interesting as last week’s exchange with Celeste Biever of the New Scientist. An exchange which we didn’t know had happened till it was over.
It began with an innocent-looking email through our contact form.
Hi, I am a student at Cornell and am interested in coming to an IDEA meeting.
When will the next one be? Thanks, Maria"
Here on campus we don’t usually introduce ourselves as "Cornell students"; that is generally considered to be a given. But, well, if she felt the need to clarify that, who were we to object? We emailed her the time, and she replied back in a request for more information, which we also provided.
But there was something odd about that email. It was from the same address that had been submitted with the contact form, and the email was still signed Maria, but the name that went with the address was one we didn’t recognize. Was "the student Maria" using a friend’s email address? Oh well, people do odd things sometimes.
From: Cel Biever <email@example.com> Signed-By: gmail.com
Subject: Re: IDEA Club
Second memo: if you want to play spy games, do it properly. For instance, changing the name your email provider uses before sending out emails pretending to be someone else might be rule one in the book.
Maria didn’t come to a meeting, and we almost forgot about the incident, till Biever’s name was brought up in an unrelated conversation. She was described as a New Scientist reporter interviewing a host of people for a story on ID, and then things fell together in a way strangely reminiscent of the games we used to play in third grade ("Go spy on the enemy, and steal their secret map!")
Now that we’re past third grade, though, surely we save those kind of expedients for crucial, perhaps life-and-death situations? Finding out publicly available information about a little IDEA club on a college campus…well, does it really qualify as a justification for outright lies?
Especially since it so ridiculously unneccessary; there is no secret map.
Our letter to the editor of New Scientist can be found here. And just so no-one makes the same mistake– if you ever want to come to a meeting or find out about what we do you don’t need to pretend to be someone else; we’ll let you in under your own name. There are plenty of Cornellians who can witness the fact that even people who come with the avowed intention of "shutting us down" are made welcome at our discussions and on our private listserves. We’re simply a forum for civil, informed discussion, and we like having various points of view. If you think you’ve got a strong argument supporting either side, we’d love to hear it. And if you just want to come and listen to the arguments you’re welcome too.
We do prefer, though, if you don’t lie to us.
Update 10/6: The New Scientist has responded to our letter, characterizing the event as unique in Biever’s history and unrepresentative of New Scientist reporting.
Update 10/19: The reply from the New Scientist is now posted on our website.
September 26, 2006
Midterm papers and problem sets take precedence, so I’m officially giving up on writing those two long posts– on our summer and on our upcoming semester. Suffice it to say we had a wonderful time in the Evolution & Design class. We managed to cover a great deal of ground and consider many issues; and I think demonstrated unequivocally that a course on intelligent design is fully in line with what the University– and Cornell in particular– is about, and need not equal indoctrination from one side or other.
Things are busy now as we go into round one of prelims, but we’re stealing little bits of time to think and read about intelligent design, and every so often to talk about it. We meet every week for discussions– 7 pm Wednesdays, at the Music Room in Willard Straight Hall– and so far have looked at irreducible complexity and specified complexity. This Wednesday we’re going to be discussing testability again, especially as it applies to this debate.
There’ll be a student debate soon as well, but details of that are still to be determined.
August 20, 2006
We’re back at Cornell for a new semester, and should be posting soon. On the agenda: a look-back at this summer’s intelligent design course, a look-ahead at the new semester, and several looks around at what is happening in evolutionary biology and intelligent design.In case you hadn’t realized, though; keeping this place updated isn’t exactly our highest prority, and how much writing you will see over the next months will depend mostly on the intensity of our classes and labwork. Classes begin Thursday.
July 12, 2006
How would we build a really complex system — such as a general artificial intelligence (AI) that exceeded human intelligence?
That is the question Steve Jurvetson addresses in yesterday’s Technology Review. He considers it as a choice between two options: evolutionary search algorithms or design, and his summary of the problems with each are illuminating:
… designed systems also tend to break easily, and they have conquered only simple problems so far.
In fact, biological evolution provides the only "existence proof" that an algorithm can produce complexity transcending that of its antecedents.
But evolved systems have their disadvantages. For one, they suffer from "subsystem inscrutability." That is, when we direct the evolution of a system, we may know how the evolutionary process works, but we will not necessarily understand how the resulting system works internally.
If biological evolution provides the only proof that evolutionary algorithms can produce complexity transcending that of its antecedents, but biological evolution happened by virtue of evolutionary algorithms producing that complexity, are we in some slight danger of circular reasoning?
Another question: how much inscrutability does positing unknown/unknowable evolutionary processes for a system add– in particular, processes we only know of because we assume that that system was produced by evolution? Is design or evolution more likely to be a science stopper in going into further research?
The article (available here) is worth reading and thinking about.
Update: ID the Future has a post up on the problems with Jurvetson’s analysis.
June 26, 2006
1. Human intelligent agency is a distinct type of causation which can be recognised and is recognised successfully as an integral part of our normal lives. The evidence left from some human acts is indistinguishable from other animals. The evidence left from other human acts is distinguishable from all other known animal activity. eg writing books and using a complex language.
2. Human intelligent causation can be recognised as having occured even in situations where we know nothing about the individual agents concerned. We believe in their existence solely on the basis of the recognition of human like intelligent causation.
3. Human intelligent causation is currently our only physical model for the whole field of intelligent causation…we have no other material intelligent agents to study yet.
4. It is possible to concieve of other different intelligent agents from ourselves. It is not impossible that such beings may exist.
5. It is legitimate to use human intelligent causation as a model for the whole field of possible intelligent causation-
(a) from different time periods
(b) from different planets.
(c) from other non-material/hyper material intelligent agents.
6. It is possible to come to a correct conclusion of intelligent causation when examining
(a) the universe as a whole
(b) particular instances of intelligent design e.g. a living cell or a flagellum.
June 24, 2006
It seems like Darwin’s tortoise has finally died. Could this be a good omen for IDers?
Update: It seems some of our readers didn’t realize this was supposed to be humorous. Next time I’ll try to put a smiley face to tip the more serious readers off. — Wulfgar
June 16, 2006
An article in the July issue of PLOS Biology details a study on environmental selection effects which came up with a rather interesting and almost counter-intuitive conclusion. The abstract:
There has recently been great interest in applying theoretical quantitative genetic models to empirical studies of evolution in wild populations. However, while classical models assume environmental constancy, most natural populations exist in variable environments. Here, we applied a novel analytical technique to a long-term study of birthweight in wild sheep and examined, for the first time, how variation in environmental quality simultaneously influences the strength of natural selection and the genetic basis of trait variability. In addition to demonstrating that selection and genetic variance vary dramatically across environments, our results show that environmental heterogeneity induces a negative correlation between these two parameters. Harsh environmental conditions were associated with strong selection for increased birthweight but low genetic variance, and vice versa. Consequently, the potential for microevolution in this population is constrained by either a lack of heritable variation (in poor environments) or by a reduced strength of selection (in good environments). More generally, environmental dependence of this nature may act to limit rates of evolution, maintain genetic variance, and favour phenotypic stasis in many natural systems. Assumptions of environmental constancy are likely to be violated in natural systems, and failure to acknowledge this may generate highly misleading expectations for phenotypic microevolution.
June 15, 2006
Another topic that has been brought up many times is the question of analogy. What is its role in scientific reasoning? When is an appeal to it justified, when not? In the thread on "Vacuity", Allen writes:
I would be happy to present a more formal analysis of the relationship between analogy, identity, and validity if any of you are interested. I’ve been working on it for several years, and would be curious to see what your reactions might be.
June 13, 2006
Fellowship of the Ring, pg. 43:
Sam Gamgee was sitting in one corner near the fire, and opposite him was Ted Sandyman, the miller’s son; and there were various other rustic hobbits listening to their talk.
‘Queer things you do hear these days to be sure,’ said Sam.
‘Ah,’ said Ted, ‘you do, if you listen. But I can hear fireside-tales and children’s stories at home, if I want to.’
‘No doubt you can,’ retorted Sam, ‘and I daresay there’s more truth in some of them than you can reckon. Who invented the stories anyway? Take dragons now.’
‘No thank ‘ee,’ said Ted, "I won’t. I heard tell of them when I was a youngster, but there’s no call to believe in them now. There’s only one Dragon in Bywater, and that’s Green,’ he said, getting a general laugh.
‘All right,’ said Sam, laughing with the rest. ‘But what do you say about those Tree-men, these giants, as you might call them? They do say that one bigger than a tree was seen up away beyond the North Moors not long back.’
‘My cousin Hal for once. He works for Mr. Boffin at Overhill and goes up to the Northfarthing for the hunting. He saw one.’
‘Says he did, perhaps. Your Hal’s always saying he’s seen things; and maybe he sees things that ain’t there.’
‘But this one was as big as an elm tree, and walking — walking seven yards to a stride, if it was an inch.’
‘Then I bet it wasn’t an inch. What he saw was an elm tree, as like as not.’
‘But this one was walking, I tell you; and there ain’t no elm tree on the North Moors.’
‘Then Hal can’t have seen one,’ said Ted. There was some laughing and clapping: the audience seemed to think that Ted had scored a point.
Freawaru — thank you for the Geswæpabinn. We really needed it.
It’s easy when you’re arguing passionately about something to feel the other person is stupid, dumb or just plain idiotic. Maybe in other places on or off-line insults and ridicule have been the usual coin of trade. However, here it’s different. We in the IDEA club have consistently felt that’s it very important to argue logically without resorting to ad hominem attacks or other insulting jibes.
I remember a couple years ago seeing a piece in Tompkin’s County Herald Examiner (it was actually a reprint of an address by Edwin J. Feulner at the 2004 Hillsdale Commencement) that succinctly stated this idea. In his address Feulner compared the broken window theory of crime to the breakdown in civility.
The whole address deserves to be read, but I’ll just repeat a couple parts here. Feulner says;
The broken window is their metaphor for a whole host of ways that behavioral norms can break down in a community. If one person scrawls graffiti on a wall, others will soon be at it with their spray cans. If one aggressive panhandler begins working a block, others will soon follow.
In short, once people begin disregarding the norms that keep order in a community, both order and community unravel, sometimes with astonishing speed.
Police in big cities have dramatically cut crime rates by applying this theory. Rather than concentrate on felonies such as robbery and assault, they aggressively enforce laws against relatively minor offenses — graffiti, public drinking, panhandling, littering.
When order is visibly restored at that level, the environment signals: This is a community where behavior does have consequences. If you can’t get away with jumping a turnstile into the subway, you’d better not try armed robbery.
Now all this is a preface. My topic is not crime on city streets, rather I want to speak about incivility in the marketplace of ideas. The broken windows theory is what links the two. . . .
. . .What we’re seeing in the marketplace of ideas today is a disturbing growth of incivility that follows and confirms the broken windows theory. Alas, this breakdown of civil norms is not a failing of either the political left or the right exclusively. It spreads across the political spectrum from one end to the other. . . .
. . .This is how the broken windows theory plays out in the marketplace of ideas. If you want to see it working in real time, try the following: Log on to AOL, and go to one of the live chat rooms reserved for political chat. Someone will post a civil comment on some political topic. Almost immediately, someone else will swing the verbal hammer of incivility, and from there the chat degrades into a food fight, with invective and insult as the main course. . .
. . . Incivility is not a social blunder to be compared with using the wrong fork. Rather, it betrays a defect of character. Incivility is dangerous graffiti, regardless of whether it is spray-painted on a subway car, or embossed on the title page of a book. The broken windows theory shows us the dangers in both cases.
Therefore, let us argue passionately about ideas, but in the heat of an argument let’s remember to respect each other’s (and our own) dignity. Let us remember the difference between an insult and an argument. Let us lay our hammers down.
If intelligence is reducible to chance and necessity and the human mind is the product of non-directed naturalistic evolution, is free will an oxymoron? In the comments of our post on vacuity Allen MacNeill gave his position:
…The reason I bring up the summer course is that for over a decade Will Provine has focused that course on precisely that question, and has forcefully argued in the negative. I must admit that when I first started participating in his course, I disagreed with him, but over the years his arguments (and those of the authors he has used as references) have convinced me that the very idea of human free will is an oxymoron. The problem as I see it is not with the term “will,” if by this we mean that internal neurophysiological state which causes us to behave in the ways that we do (including, of course, having the thoughts that we do). No, the problem is with the word “free.” Free from what? Free from coersion, perhaps, but free from natural/physical causation? Absurd. As Will always points out in his evolution course (and in the summer seminar course when he teaches it), either our actions are caused by the biochemical processes that occur in our nervous systems (in which case they cannot possibly be “free”), or they are “caused” by magic (i.e. “spooky action at a distance” as Einstein called it), which any good physicist should affirm as being completely impossible.
The paradox of course is that even most scientists “feel” like they have free will, and consequently affirm that it exists. However, the “feeling” of free will, as Daniel Wegner has pointed out (see http://mitpress.mit.edu/catalog/item/default.asp?tid=8770&ttype=2), is just that: a “feeling.” As I have argued elsewhere, this feeling (or rather the neurophysiology that underlies it) is probably itself an evolutionary adaptation, in that it allows us to use our own behavior (or rather our perceptions of our own behavior) as guidelines for the formulation of a “theory of mind” which we can then use to interpret and guide our actions.
PvM seems to disagree:
Would you agree then that there is no such thing as free will?
–Nope. What makes you think that?
My answer: simply because it seems to follow directly from your other claims. There are probably few enough issues in which I agree with Prof. Provine; but here he has convinced me as well as Allen and I can’t say I see any reasonable alternative. But I’d love to hear your reasons for accepting free will, while rejecting the possiblity of anything beyond the workings of chance and deterministic natural law in human intelligence, and why you believe your position is logically consistent.
Update: Clarification below
June 10, 2006
In the comments of several recent posts PvM has brought up the question of vacuity. The issues he raises are important ones. Is ID simply a theory which labels whatever is currently unexplained by evolution "unexplained by evolution"? Has it any substance? Can there ever be such a thing as a serious "intelligent design research program"?
To me ID is not just an eliminative game, a theory of "detecting design" in molecular machines by ruling out chance and necessity. It’s a far greater study of design– in engineered systems, in nature, in our universe. It’s a heuristic which can help us in future discoveries. And it’s a field in which very little research has been done, and so it’s wide open to advances from the next generation of researchers.
It was a milestone in scientific thinking when Newton showed that the laws of the heavens and the laws of the earth were the same; the forces we were accustomed to in our own limited experience were the same as those making the planets turn. ID makes an equally bold step in another direction, suggesting that hypothetical design in nature can be studied in the same way as the design we are familiar with in art, architecture and technology.
Think of it this way. One piece of the ID research program– intelligent design theory at it’s most basic– is the science of detecting design. We study things which we know are designed, those which we know weren’t, and we look for "hallmarks" of one versus the other– attempting to come to a rigorous way of differentiating the two. This can then be brought to bear on the thing we don’t know about, such as the machinery in living cells or life itself.
But that’s not all ID is; and the "design paradigm" has far wider reach. Suppose we come to the conclusion that certain aspects of the universe were designed, or suppose, for heuristical purposes, we decide to assume that. What then?
PvM makes the point that those who used the "design paradigm" in their scientific research most productively– Newton and Kepler, for instance– were working with much that is not available to us as scientists today. Kepler had no problem starting from the idea of a perfect God who wanted the best for his creatures. Such a notion has far more room for prediction then the puny "designed, all else unknown" we get from basic IDT today.
So are we stuck between a rock and a hard place? Must we choose between unwarranted assumptions on the nature of a designer, based perhaps on religious thought, or a theory that has so little predictive power it could almost just as well be ignored?
I don’t think so. In the basic, first step of ID we’ve stripped design down to it’s most basic components, searching for hallmarks of design that are independent of the nature or motivation of a designer. This is important for detecting design. But when we’re working forward in the rest of ID’s research program we have a universe full of other data open to us. We don’t need to bring in religious assumptions on the designer, giving up the chance of rigorous science; rather, we can use the basic knowledge of design from our detection program to build up a full-scale model of design. A model weighty enough that it can make predictions.
We’ve a long way to go, but I’m optimistic about the future. To me, ID is what happens when a student looks at that famous sentence of Dawkins’, "Biology is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed." and says: Well, maybe it has only the appearance of design– but then again, maybe it is something more. Why decide a priori that your senses are decieving themselves? Let’s leave out the assumption for a moment, shall we, and see what we get then?
And there are enough students tired of the unjustified assumption that we ought to be able to make a difference.
Allen MacNeill has posted a more detailed syllabus for this summer’s intelligent design course, Evolution and Design: Is there purpose in the universe? and includes a link to the course blog. It is still in the process of being set up right now, but after June 27 will be a good place to look for information on the course. Ofcourse this website will also continue to be updated by IDEA’ers.
June 6, 2006
The funniest abstract I’ve read in a long time, from an article available here, and which is to appear in Mod.Phys.Lett.A:
We argue that the cosmic microwave background (CMB) provides a stupendous opportunity for the Creator of universe our (assuming one exists) to have sent a message to its occupants, using known physics. Our work does not support the Intelligent Design movement in any way whatsoever, but asks, and attempts to answer, the entirely scientific question of what the medium and message might be IF there was actually a message. The medium for the message is unique. We elaborate on this observation, noting that it requires only careful adjustment of the fundamental Lagrangian, but no direct intervention in the subsequent evolution of the universe.
Question: Which sentence was introduced by the peer-reviewers?