Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Wesley Elsberry and the OSC

Wesley Elsberry is a speaker and staff member of The NCSE a US organisation that despite its rather grand title “National Centre for Science Education” has as its main function organising opposition to creationism and intelligent design.

During the furore that erupted following the publication of Steven Meyer paper “The Origin of Biological Information and the Higher Taxonomic Categories” in the Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington the man at the storm centre – Richard Sternberg- of the firestorm called in the Office for Special Counsel (OSC) over allegations that the Smithsonian Institute (SI) were engaging in illegitimate practices to discredit him and make his work environment impossible for the continuation of his research.

The OSC investigated the situation and prior to it becoming clear that the SI were not officially the employer of Sternberg obtained copies of the fascinating emails that were flying around the museum and to and from other scientists from outside the museum. Some of these emails appeared in the final report of the OSC which basically upheld Sternberg’s complaint while pointing out that no action could be taken because the SI was not Sternberg’s employer.

Two of the statements in the report are the following:
1. “Eventually, they determined that they could not terminate you for cause and they were not going to make you a "martyr" by firing you for publishing a paper in ID. They came to the conclusion that you had not violated SI directives and that you could not be denied access for off-duty conduct. This was actually part of the strategy advocated by the NCSE.”

2. "In fact, members of NCSE worked closely with SI and NMNH members in outlining a strategy to have you (Sternberg) investigated and discredited within the SI."

Regarding these statements Wesley Elseberry said:

“I understand that statement (2) to be completely unsubstantiated, and in contradiction to the statement I previously quoted (1). I know that the statement I quoted, that NCSE advised against making a martyr of Sternberg, is correct. So thanks for pointing out that the OSC could not, itself, resist engaging in some whopper-telling of their own, undermined by their own report of NCSE's advice to the SI.”

So (as I understand it) Wesley Elsberry is saying that statement 2 is a false allegation against the NCSE. He is alleging that the OSC judge made a false allegation against the NCSE. Presumably Wesley has clear evidence that statement 2 is false.

When Wesley was challenged to put that evidence in the public domain to clearly demonstrate the dishonest character of the OSC judge he refused. When it was suggested that this made it appear that he did not have the evidence he made the following statement:

“I see that "PicoFarad" (his challenger) rejects the part of US jurisprudence that holds that parties are considered innocent until proven guilty. I'm not surprised.”

Does this innocence until proven guilty apply to both parties – the OSC judge (accussed by Wesley of telling a whopper) and to Wesley Elseberry or just to Wesley Elsberry? If you accuse someone of lying and refuse to present the evidence that you have for this can you be someone who really believes in innocence until guilt is proven?

Monday, February 27, 2006

ID- Foundational Issues

1. The definition of science.
Is design type thinking permitted in science? Is science necessarily methodologically naturalistic? Has science always been methodologically naturalistic? Is there a close alliance between methodological naturalism and philosophical naturalism?

2. The problem of a reigning paradigm.
Is there a real problem in the whole scientific enterprise that basically we are like sheep and we like to be in groups that all believe the same things? Is there such a thing as scientific dogmatic slumber? Is there a “waking up to battle” going on amongst Darwinists? Is there a serious reflection upon and an assembly of the best arguments? Is there a cut and thrust of good hard argument and debate? Is this a very good thing or a complete waste of valuable time? Could this have happened at as fundamental a level without ID? Is there is as much need of fight to maintain a free market of ideas in science as there is to maintain a free market of goods?

3. Education- who decides what is taught? .
Who should have the responsibility of determining what children are taught regarding the origin of humanity and the origin of living organisms and the origin of space, matter, time and energy? Are parents the ones who should have this responsibility or is this a responsibility best given to the state? Should a state impose a curriculum on all educational activity by force of law? Is the idea of the secular state effectively and practically the establishment of state atheism? Is education an inherently religious activity? Does a state school system imply a state “religion” whether it be Atheism, Hinduism, Islam, Christianity or Paganism? Are there clear examples of “propagandistic” activity in the historical teaching of neo-darwinism in biology some of which continue to be taught unchallenged?

4. Macro-evolution evidence. Origin of Life evidence.
Are we right to give the impression that basically the problem of the origin of morphological novelty and complexity has been solved by neo-darwinism? Are we right to give the impression that we know there are perfectly acceptable naturalistic routes to the first living organism?

5. The “Privileged Planet” type of arguments.
Can a legitimate set of arguments be assembled from the structure and position of this planet and from the idea of cosmological fine tuning of constants for some kind of teleology in science? (I am not personally very familiar with these arguments and this type of reasoning but I include it for completeness.)

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Beyond Belief

The programme is available here.

This was a rather short programme to examine the subject of intelligent design. The informal format tended to make the discussion rather hit and miss. This would not be a good introduction to Intelligent Design for someone who knew little about it.

All three members of the “panel” were Christians – Prof. Andy Macintosh (Thermodynamics) Dr. Dennis Alexander (Immunology) Dr Roger Trigg(Philosophy)
Prof Macintosh is a YEC (Young Earth Creationist), Dennis Alexander is a Theistic Evolutionist (his position reminds me somewhat of Ken Miller in the US) and Roger Trigg is (I think) sympathetic towards the concept of design in nature.

The presenter wanted to ask the question whether ID is a viable position scientifically and theologically as a middle way between Creationism and Evolution.

Each member of the panel had their own point that they wanted to make…but to be fair the programme was simply not long enough to fit in all the points that the participants wanted to make which was a shame. This sort of programme tends to turn serious discussion into a “sound bite Punch and Judy show.”

Roger Trigg’s point was that generally scientists are not aware of the crucial assumptions that they are all relying upon when the go about their daily labours – They assume that the universe is orderly and follows logical patterns which are comprehensible to the human mind. This was the truth that Einstein found so astonishing. In the early days of science it was described as the experience of thinking God’s thoughts after. Given that Roger is at Warwick I wondered whether he and Steve Fuller ever talk to each other….

Andy Macintosh’s point was that the great problem with evolution is that time and chance are poor resources to explain the origin of information. He made the point that the writers of the New Testament exhibit a straightforward understanding to the early chapters of Genesis so that the integrity of the whole bible is affected by ones understanding of them.

Dennis Alexander’s point was that there are many Christians in Science who accept the Theory of evolution and creation for them is the establishment of nature from nothing.

I think it was a good panel to bring together for a discussion but the time limit and format simply did not allow a satisfying discussion to take place.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Thanks to Commenters!

Just a quick note to those who add comments to the posts on this blog.... Thank You! Many of you work much harder with your comments than I do with the original posts it seem to me! I apologise I have not responded to many of them especially over the last few weeks but I do read them all and I am impressed with the thoughtfulness and tone of nearly all of the comments here...from both sides of the argument. Thank you all once more.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

A War on Science

This is a rather belated review of the Horizons Documentary- “A War on Science.”

I didn’t have time to watch the video until now.

Related Posts:
Horizon Origins Poll (here)

Another review (The Groggy Exile ;-))

The programme was cast in the mould of science vs religion documentary with the assumption built in that ID is the latest manifestation of Christian fundamentalists trying to get creationism into school science lessons. The background is the Scopes trial and the following US court cases to outlaw creationism from science education.

Despite this background it did allow several ID people to speak for themselves and this assumption in the background scenery could not prevent some of the key ID point coming across quite clearly.

In most cases the basic ID arguments were presented and the opponents were allowed to respond to this basic arguments with no opportunity for the ID people to come back at their opponents which tended to give the false impression that the anti-ID camp had won the scientific arguments and that ID was left as purely a political/social/religious movement.

Ken Miller appears with his dramatic assertion that the fight against ID is a battle for the “scientific soul of America.”

A very one sided view of the events leading up to the Dover trial is presented as the narrative background to the discussion of ID. No effort is made to present the real problem of secular education in a religious community. Only the anti-ID side were allowed to present what had happened at Dover. This may have been because the pro-ID side refused to give any help however but it was noticeably imbalanced I felt at that point.

ID was defended by interviews with Phillip Johnson, Stephen Meyer, Michael Behe and William Dembski. The arguments focused on the issue of evolution as science and evolution as an integral part of a societal creation story and the concept of irreducible complexity of the bacterial flagellum.

I thought that the editors of the programme should be commended in allowing the main story of ID to be told by the leaders of the movement themselves and they gave a good overview of the basic ideas of ID.

The UK scientists who spoke against ID came across (to a pro-ID man) as remarkably ignorant of the arguments of ID given that they had agreed to appear on the programme and that they must have spent at least some time seeking to familiarise themselves with its arguments.

I do think that if Richard Dawkins wants to be taken seriously in this debate he will have to change his approach completely. His approach is to snub ID and dismiss it entirely portraying its proponents as “ignorant people” and the “yapping terriers of ignorance” forcing real scientists to “waste their time and effort having to respond to them” He has refused any public debate over these issues based on the argument that to appear in debate with these ignorant people would of itself give the impression that they had a legitimate case that ought to be heard. He maintained that ID is only spreading in parts of the population that “don’t know anything”

David Attenborough seemed to be presenting a version of Stephen Gould’s “two separate magisterial view of science vs religion he argues that ID is religious and no different from creationism. He suggests that religion cannot overlap with science as it belongs in a different category of discourse. It concerns religious emotions and ethical feelings and spiritual values –it is entirely subjective.

UK spokesmen against ID were not very clear about what it was and what it was saying.

They are way behind the argument and have not bothered to learn the foundational issues.

The impression that the Dover judgement settles the issue over ID even in terms of the legal battles over how ID is taught is an error.

As far as ID is concerned this was a poisoned well from the start. Buckingham and the other pro-creationism members of the school board were from an ID point of view a liability- In Dover ID tried to make the best of a bad job and the Judge sought to make a supreme court judgement about ID for the united states rather than a limited judgement about this particular case.

Overall the BBC is to be commended for allowing the ID proponents to speak for ID themselves and highlighting the importance of the controversy. It was a shame however that they failed to present the underlying issue of conflicting worldviews impacting on education in a society which is still heavily influenced by Judeo/Christian foundations.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Macro-evolution as a religious Doctrine.

“It is totally futile to ignore the reality of a scientist’s subjectivity.
This is to deny to faith, to religious and moral convictions, to metaphysics and philosophy their influence on scientific study.

One may attempt it but will never succeed because the scholar can never be separated from the human being.”

Herman Bavinck – Reformed Dogmatics- Prolegomena.

One of the very useful things that the Intelligent Design Movement has achieved is that it has underlined the reality of what Herman Bavinck was articulating 100 years ago. A much wider audience has learned that some supposedly objective scientists who are only concerned with “facts” actually have a deeply emotional and what could accurately be described as a “religious commitment” to macro evolution as the central dogma of naturalism. This emotional and “religious” commitment extends well beyond the realm of facts and functions in a way analogous to any organised religion.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Stephen Meyer in the Daily Telegraph.

Stephen Meyer had a piece published in the Daily Telegraph and this generated two surprisingly supportive letters.

The letter from Dr Wainwright at Sheffield is interesting as he is an agnostic. If my memory serves me correctly he believes in Panspermia - life from outer space.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Radio 4 - Beyond Belief

This was delayed until the 20th February.....

Prof. Andy Macintosh, Dr Dennis Alexander and Roger Trigg will be involved in a discussion on ID which will be brodcast on Radio 4 at 4.30pm on Monday 6th February. All three are, I think, professing Christians but they have very different views on Intelligent Design.

The BBC webpage does not say very much that is helpful.....