Thursday, November 30, 2006

"Extremists" shaping the future.

Lord Rees (Professor Martin Rees, Lord Rees of Ludlow Kt PRS) was interviewed by John Humphreys on the Today programme this morning.

Lord Rees was speaking in advance of his 2006 Anniversary lecture celebrating 346 years of the Society’s existence and outlining the challenges facing science and society today and in the future.

He has warned that “we may be sleep walking into a future shaped by extremists.”
Asked by John Humphreys to name the extremists he refused to do so. Amongst his concerns however is the matter of “creationism” of any sort.

In the discussion he says:

“All I would say about this is that I'm a scientist...I feel that science is part of our culture and anyone is culturally deprived (my emphasis) who can't appreciate how our universe evolved from a mysterious beginning to creation of atoms, stars, planets, biospheres and eventually brains who could wonder about it all and share the wonder and the mystery, and I think that that is a marvellous story which is part of our culture and those who can't share it are impoverished.

JH: And those who argue otherwise are extremists?

MR: No, I would say they are impoverished (my emphasis). And the view that I am taking I think is shared not just by scientists but by most people including most mainstream religious people.

It is a small step between calling any kind of creationist education “cultural deprivation” and “cultural impoverishment” to calling it “child abuse” as Richard Dawkins maintains.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Truth In Science Materials.

The "Truth in Science"

material is attraction considerable attention and discussion.

The Guardian- Revealed: rise of creationism in UK schools

The Nuffield Curriculum Centre.

The Guardian Seminar.

UPD8 Intelligent Design in Science.

BBC- Let's test Darwin.

It is also to be the subject of a discussion on Newsnight tonight between Lewis Wolpert and Andy MacIntish.

Peter Hitchen's piece in the Mail on Sunday...a rare journalist who can see the difference between ID and various forms of creationism.

Denyse O-Leary's analysis.

Lucy Sherrif writes a standard ID=creationism line at The Register.

Introduction to the Controversy - Part 2.

Contributed by Howard Taylor.

(Part 1 is here.)

My exposition of the convictions of the ID movement[1].

ID maintains that the origin, nature and development of life (the subject of biology) needs non-material and intelligent Mind as its source.

However it holds that in the final analysis materialist explanations for any physical phenomenon are inadequate. The answers to the questions ‘What is matter?’ and ‘What is energy?’ raise fundamental mysteries about the nature and the origin of the intelligibility of all material existence. Biological complexity is just one particularly striking example of this.

We can summarise the convictions under the following four headings:

I. Science.

* Science has revealed a biological world in its simplest form, (before the alleged processes of evolution could get started) that is full of information and complexity - a complexity that exceeds the complexity of the most intricate of man made machines. Intelligent mind is needed to explain the origin of life.

* ID also casts strong doubt on the orthodox theories of neo-Darwinism, believing that they are completely inadequate to explain the development of life. Intelligent mind is needed to explain the development of life.

* Alleged evidence for natural selection from ‘beneficial’ mutations in bacteria or viruses is not evidence for evolution because the changes only involve the switching on or off or shuffling of parts of the already existing DNA or RNA molecules and do not produce any new organs or features to the existing life form, or add and extra level of complexity to the bacteria or virus. On the contrary they do the opposite. As every computer scientist knows the transfer of information cannot produce more information only a change (usually a detrimental change) in the original.

II. Philosophical
ID rejects Philosophical Naturalism, which makes the false assumption (in principle an improvable assumption) that the physical world's existence and properties are self-explanatory.

* Origin of the physical world. Either the origin of all things is eternal impersonal particles/energy and laws of physics or the origin is Eternal Mind. ID holds the latter view because the origin or matter cannot be matter itself!

* Mind and Matter Interact.
Everyday we see mind and matter interacting.

* Human thinking (which cannot be completely material) affects the physical world and vice versa.

* Therefore solely material explanations for the behaviour of material things must be inadequate.

* Therefore the existence of Divine agency in the material world should not present surprises.

III. Theological and Biblical.

* The Bible teaches that it is Uncreated Mind or Word, who seeks to know and be known, who is the origin and sustainer of all physical things.

* The Creation was not one event.
There were a small number of stages. Among these were: (1). Matter-Energy, (2). Non-conscious life (3). Conscious life and (4). Conscious life that is capable of abstract reasoning.

ID concentrates on (2). - The origin and development of living things studied by biology and genetics.

IV. Ethical

* In the long term the conviction that human life is valuable cannot be sustained unless there is a belief in an overall purpose

* Morality and Ethics would be bound to disintegrate in confusion.
We see the effects of this all around us.


ID maintains that the origin and nature and development of life (the subject of biology) needs non-material and intelligent Mind as its source.

However it holds that in the final analysis materialist explanations for any physical phenomenon are inadequate. The answers to the questions ‘What is matter?’ and ‘What is energy?’ raise fundamental mysteries about the nature and the origin of the intelligibility of all material existence. Biological complexity is just one particularly striking example of this.
I. Science.
ID proponents hold that all of nature points to Mind. However its main interest is in two things namely
1. The origin of life or self replicating molecules.
2. The development of life.

1. Science reveals the inner workings of the simplest forms of life to be composed of intricate circuits, miniaturised motors and enough digital code to fill an encyclopaedia. All these things exist in a cell without any brain, nervous system, liver, eyes, ears, blood, lungs, leaves, feathers, bark, roots, petals, etc. Digital code is a form of language and all languages arise from mind. Writing cannot be accounted for from the chemistry of the ink and paper (say) but must have its origin in mind.
2. All the above must have been present before the alleged processes of evolution could get started.
3. ID people also doubt evolution as an explanation for the whole history of life. Random mutation through the sieve of natural selection may be able to account for small changes in living organisms. However sustainable mutations have their limits.
4. Therefore these changes cannot account for the huge changes from a simple bacterium to all the life forms (including ourselves) that we see around us.
5. ID proponents believe there are mathematical tests for design in the origin and development of life. They show that the type of complexity found in biological systems cannot be the result of mindless algorithms or the properties of matter but must have intelligent mind as its source. For example language needs a mind and we find codes (types of language) in all living things.

The inference of Design is used and universally accepted in several sciences. For example if someone falls off a cliff, forensic science determines whether he/she was pushed or she fell by accident. Was there a purpose (intelligent design) or was it an accident? Forensic science tells us which.

6. The world famous atheist philosopher, Professor Anthony Flew, has given up atheism for theism. What is the basis for his change of mind? The extraordinary complexity of the supposed 'simple' form of life discovered by modern biology. In a Philosophy Journal which interviews him he says: "It seems to me that Richard Dawkins constantly overlooks the fact that Darwin himself, in the fourteenth chapter of The Origin of Species, pointed out that his whole argument began with a being which already possessed reproductive powers. This is the creature the evolution of which a truly comprehensive theory of evolution must give some account. Darwin himself was well aware that he had not produced such an account. It now seems to me that the findings of more than fifty years of DNA research have provided materials for a new and enormously powerful argument to design."
II. Philosophical
What exists? (Ontology)
Resistance to the ID view comes from (a). Those who deny that non-physical entities exist or (b) those who hold that non-physical entities may exist but do not affect the physical.
Since physical science examines physical things there could be no evidence to support the position (a).
Position (b) only could have support if it could be shown that the physical universe is a closed system of cause and effect - nothing non-physical affecting what goes on in it.
If physics provided us with a TOE (Theory of Everything) it would have gone along way to reaching that goal. However there are several problems:

1. The advance of science reveals more and more mystery.
2. Many have argued from Godel's theorem that it can be proved that the universe will never be understood from within itself alone.

It makes no sense to say that the origin of matter and energy is matter or energy.
Since personal beings (with minds) certainly exist in the universe, it is reasonable to believe that the origin of all reality, at least, must be Personal Mind.

Mind and Matter.
ID holds the view that non-material minds have effects in the physical world. Therefore we should expect that the Eternal Mind also to affect the physical world.

Thinking (what minds do) cannot be simply the sum of material processes. If we discover a physical cause (say a virus in the brain) for a belief or a thought then that belief and thought would lose its value.
If all our thoughts were exclusively the movement of physical entities in our brains, then there would be no way, by thinking, of determining which 'thought' was correct and which was incorrect since that determining by thinking, itself would be a mere physical process.

One difference between physical events and thoughts of the mind.
Any physical process, unlike a thought, is neither true nor false, it just is.
However thoughts may have the additional property of being true or false.
So thoughts cannot be identical to physical processes or a combination of exclusively physical processes.

For example a river running through a valley is neither true nor false (though thoughts about the flow of the river may be true or false). Its running through the valley just exists.

Thus there is a fundamental distinction between physical processes (such as the flow of water), which merely exist, and thoughts, which not only exist but also may be true or false. Thus thoughts cannot be mere physical processes.

Bertrand Russell said:

If we imagine a world of mere matter, there would be no room for falsehood in such a world, and although it would contain what may be called ‘facts’, it would not contain any truths, in the sense in which truths are things of the same kind as falsehoods. In fact, truth and falsehood are properties of beliefs and statements: hence a world of mere matter, since it would contain no beliefs or statements, would also contain no truth or falsehood. [2]

Messages, languages, and coded information ONLY come from minds. (Minds are conscious.) - minds that have agreed on an alphabet and a meaning of words and sentences and that express both desire and intent.

The atheist Richard Dawkins writes:

What lies at the heart of every living thing is not a fire, warm breath, nor a 'spark of life'. It is information, words, instructions . . . Think of a billion discrete digital characters . . . If you want to understand life, think about information technology.[3]

If we analyze language with advanced mathematics and engineering communication theory, we can say:

Messages, languages and coded information never come from anything else besides a mind. No-one has ever produced a single example of a message that did not come from a mind.

Languages etc can be carried by matter or energy (eg sounds, ink, electronic and radio signals) but they are none of these things. Indeed they are not matter or energy at all. They are not ‘physical’.
The physical universe can create fascinating patterns - snowflakes, crystals, stalactites, tornados, turbulence and cloud formations etc. But non-living and non-conscious things cannot create language. They cannot create codes.

Drusilla Scott tells us of Michael Polanyi's reaction to the claim that the discovery of the DNA double helix is the final proof that living things are physically and chemically determined.

No said Polanyi it proves the opposite. No arrangement of physical units can be a code and convey information unless the order of its units is not fixed by its physical chemical make-up. His example is a railway station on the Welsh border where an arrangement of pebbles on a bank spelled the message - "Welcome to Wales by British Rail". This information content of pebbles clearly showed that their arrangement was not due to their physical chemical interaction but to a purpose on the part of the stationmaster ... The arrangement of the DNA could have come about chance, just as the pebbles on that station could have rolled down a hillside and arranged themselves in the worlds of the message, but it would be bizarre to maintain that this was so ... [4]

Of course many committed to materialism (without evidence) insist that the mind is no more than an aspect of the physical brain/nervous system. We should remember the words of Gödel: That the mind is the brain is the great prejudice of our age.

Mind and Matter interact.
My thoughts (non-physical) may affect the physical river if I decide to have go for a swim in it. I make a splash. So our everyday experience of thinking (and deciding) can affect the physical world - making us move our physical bodies and other things too. Thus minds can and do affect physical reality. This was Karl Popper's argument. How mind acts on matter remains a mystery.

ID believes that not only the origin of matter comes from non-material mind, but that that Mind continues to act in His creation.

John Polkinghorne believes that God’s action in the material world does not involve and extra “push” but and input of information.

This means that the physical sciences are bound to reach points in their research when they come up against a brick wall. They are right to search for physical explanations, but they must have in the back of their minds the fact that all materialist explanations are ultimately inadequate to account for the existence and properties of the physical world.

III. Theological and Biblical.
The Bible teaches that it is not uncreated impersonal particles/energies/laws of physics that are the eternal origin of all things, but an Uncreated Mind or Word who seeks to know and be known. This is how the New Testament which Christians at least accept puts it:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.[5]

ID people may have different interpretations of Genesis 1, but they believe that the Creation was not one event. There were a small number of stages. Among these were (1). Matter-Energy, (2). Non-conscious life (3). Conscious life and (4). Conscious life that is capable of abstract reasoning.

This means that the sciences should expect to find discontinuities in their examination of nature.

1. The understanding of matter and energy cannot be reduced to 'nothing'.
2. The understanding of non-conscious life cannot be reduced to a complex form of matter and energy. (Biology cannot be wholly reduced to chemistry and physics).
3. The understanding of conscious life cannot be wholly reduced to a complex form of non-conscious life.
4. The understanding of abstract reasoning cannot be reduced to the consciousness of animals.

[1] This is my own summary of ID's beliefs and it does not necessarily represent other views from within people associated with ID.
[2] Bertrand Russell, The Problems of Philosophy, page 70
[3] The Blind Watchmaker, page 112.
[4] Scott Drusilla, 1995, Everyman Revived - the Common Sense of Michael Polanyi pages 116 and 117.
[5] John 1:3,14

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Stunning Animations!

Do take time to have a look at these amazing animations....

Michael Behe and Astrology- What did he mean?

For those who are interested in what Michael Behe actually meant.
After the discussion resulting from the previous post on this subject I thought I would ask him....

Q1. At the deposition for the Dover trial when you were asked the question about astrology where you answered "It could be...Yes" were you thinking of "astrology" as it is practiced in terms of the present day...horoscopes etc or were you thinking in terms of astrology related to astronomy in the history of science... or something else?

(deposition statement)

17 Q. Using your definition of theory, is Creationism -- using
18 your definition of scientific theory, is Creationism a
19 scientific theory?
20 Behe. No.
21 Q. What about creation science?
22 Behe. No.
23 Q. Is astrology a theory under that definition?
24 Behe. Is astrology? It could be, yes.

Michael Behe:

I was not thinking of the modern superstition of astrology, but of the idea of astrology in the middle ages, when people were trying to discern what forces actually were in play in nature. After all, if planetary bodies such as the moon and sun could affect the tides on earth, perhaps they could affect other things as well, such as people's behavior. We now know that to be wrong, but at the time it was a reasonable idea, based on physical evidence. I am told by some historians of science that the educated classes of Europe thought astrology to be quite scientific.

Q2. At the time of your deposition statement did you believe that astrology (as it is understood and practiced today) was included within your broader definition of "scientific theory?"

Michael Behe:

No, not modern astrology, as practiced by card readers with bandanas on their heads and such. I had in mind astrology of centuries ago, when educated people thought it might really have explanatory power.

Q3. Do you currently believe that astrology (as it is understood and practiced today) is included now within your broader definition of "scientific theory?"

Michael Behe:

No, of course not. Best wishes. Mike Behe

This was what I had surmised from reading the transcript of Behe from the trial. It is good to know that I had understood his position correctly.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Introduction to the Controversy. Part 1

Contributed by Howard Taylor
The present day argument, considered here, is between those who hold to so-called Intelligent Design and those who accept the prevailing opinion that natural processes alone can account for two things (a) biogenesis - the origin of life (before the alleged processes of evolution could get started) and (b) the subsequent development of life.

At the outset I should say that personally I prefer the term ‘Mind’ to ‘Intelligent Design’ because there is a history of thought going back thousands of years linking non-material mind with matter in various relationships. For example in our own time Roger Penrose FRS, formally professor of Maths at Oxford, believes that a non-material transcendent reality is the source of all truth, beauty and goodness. The term intelligent designer is probably included in this view of the transcendent world but the source of matter and life is much greater than this. However, for the purposes of this paper, I will be referring to the modern term ‘Intelligent Design’ (ID).

Opponents of ID includes many Jews and Christians - even evangelical Christians[1] - who believe that natural processes for the origin of life and evolution can be reconciled with Genesis 1. They usually hold that the matter of the universe including the natural laws of nature (such as gravity) were created by God and finally tuned to allow, stars, galaxies, planets like earth, and then life to form. In this view God endowed His creation with a 'fruitful potentiality' to produce all that we see around us today. (For short we refer to this view as TE meaning Theistic Evolution or Theistic Evolutionist.)The first group says that life is so so complex and information-rich, that an Intelligent Design is needed to explain it.
An important part of the argument is that the complexity of the simplest form of life contains information in the form of 'code' or 'words' or 'language' (DNA and RNA for example). It is contended that the origin of any code has to be Mind. If one is examining ancient markings on a rock, which are not just complex patterns but a language, one will conclude that they are the products of an intelligent mind. A detailed support for this view comes from the mathematician Bill Dembski who has written extensively on mathematics and information.Advocates of ID are not proposing a belief in a young earth or a particular religion, even though some of them may hold also to a young earth view that the earth is less than 10,000 years old. They simply are saying that life requires Mind for its origin and also its development as the amount of its information content increases. (There is more information in the DNA of an elephant than of a bacterium.)Against this view is the view of evolutionists and theistic evolutionists that the ID people are invoking the 'god of the gaps'. It is true, they say, that there in no viable theory of the origin of life - but one should not put any 'god' in that gap to explain it. Science is about finding physical causes for physical phenomena, not invoking God every time science is faced with a mystery.Those holding to TE say that to invoke God to explain part of creation is to attempt to introduce Him as part of the data of natural science and that is unacceptable. The Jewish/Christian doctrine of Creation says creation is separate from God and therefore one must not look for God in Creation.To summarise so far: whereas naturalistic science says science is defined as that study, which always looks for physical explanations, ID says 'no', science means 'follow the evidence' and the evidence leads to ID.

It might be wiser for ID to argue like this: As Einstein recognised science examines the rational structure of the material world but it can't explain why it is rational- or has the fundamental properties that it does. (He said: The only thing incomprehensible about the universe is that it is comprehensible.) The intelligent (Einstein's word) non-material source of matter's rational structure, he called The Old One or The Dear Lord.

It seems to me that ID is just taking this one step further. It is saying that the properties of the living world cannot be reduced to the properties (rational structure) of the non-living material world but it has a rational structure of its own.
[1] Written from a Christian Standpoint an impressive book criticising ID is Rebuilding the Matrix, by Denis Alexander, published 2005.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Michael Behe and Astrology.

If you want to comment on Michael Behe’s desire to see Astrology in every science lesson please read the following before doing so.

Other links:
Behe believes in astrology
What's a Theory? Part II
Miller Misrepresents Behe Again
500 years ago

New Scientist reported the incident like this:

“Under cross examination, ID proponent Michael Behe, a biochemist at Lehigh
University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, admitted his definition of “theory” was
so broad it would also include astrology.”

Actually the truth is more interesting.

In Behe’s deposition he had made a careful argument using evidence from PubMed that the word “theory” is actually used in a variety of ways in scientific discourse.

He makes the point that if the NAS definition is used rigorously it would require quite a significant shift in the way the word is used by many scientists in their published work.

This was an important point in the whole debate and an important point relevant to the trial. When IDers argue that ID is a scientific theory in what sense are we using the relevant term “scientific theory”? When anti-IDers argue that ID is not a scientific theory in what sense are they using the term.

In his expert witness submission Behe argued that there are basically four different senses in which the word “theory” is used in modern peer reviewed scientific discourse.

He then went on to argue that the best sense for describing accurately ID as a scientific theory is “a proposed explanation for a set of facts.” He sets this as the alternative explanation to Ernst Mayr’s fifth claim of Evolution - natural selection as the cause of biological complexity.

The expert witness submission itself (as far as I can see- it is a set of images rather than searchable text) says nothing about astrology.
Link to expert witness

*The deposition does include the statement regarding astrology:

17 Q. Using your definition of theory, is Creationism -- using
18 your
definition of scientific theory, is Creationism a
19 scientific theory?
Behe. No.
21 Q. What about creation science?
22 Behe. No.
23 Q. Is astrology
a theory under that definition?
24 Behe. Is astrology? It could be, yes.

Link to deposition.

The astrology section comes up on Day 11 in the afternoon session
Link to court transcript

But the way you are using it (“scientific theory”) is synonymous with the
definition of hypothesis?
No, I would disagree. It can be used to cover hypotheses, but it can also
include ideas that are in fact well substantiated and so on. So while it does
include ideas that are synonymous or in fact are hypotheses, it also includes
stronger senses of that term.
And using your definition, intelligent design is a scientific theory,
Under that same definition astrology is a scientific theory under your
definition, correct?
Behe Under my
definition, a scientific theory is a proposed explanation which focuses or
points to physical, observable data and logical inferences. There are many
things throughout the history of science which we now think to be incorrect
which nonetheless would fit that -- which would fit that definition. Yes,
astrology is in fact one, and so is the ether theory of the propagation of
light, and many other -- many other theories as well.
The ether theory of light has been discarded, correct?
That is correct.
But you are clear, under your definition, the definition that sweeps in
intelligent design, astrology is also a scientific theory, correct?
Yes, that's correct. And let me explain under my definition of the word
"theory," it is -- a sense of the word "theory" does not include the theory
being true, it means a proposition based on physical evidence to explain some
facts by logical inferences. There have been many theories throughout the
history of science which looked good at the time which further progress has
shown to be incorrect. Nonetheless, we can't go back and say that because they
were incorrect they were not theories. So many many things that we now realized
to be incorrect, incorrect theories, are nonetheless theories.
Has there ever been a time when astrology has been accepted as a correct or
valid scientific theory, Professor Behe?
Well, I am not a historian of science. And certainly nobody -- well, not nobody,
but certainly the educated community has not accepted astrology as a science for
a long long time. But if you go back, you know, Middle Ages and before that,
when people were struggling to describe the natural world, some people might
indeed think that it is not a priori -- a priori ruled out that what we -- that
motions in the earth could affect things on the earth, or motions in the sky
could affect things on the earth.
And just to be clear, why don't we pull up the definition of astrology from
: If you would highlight that.
And archaically it was astronomy; right, that's what it says there?
And now the term is used, "The divination of the supposed influences of the
stars and planets on human affairs and terrestrial events by their positions and
the scientific theory of astrology?
That's what it says right there, but let me direct your attention to the archaic
definition, because the archaic definition is the one which was in effect when
astrology was actually thought to perhaps describe real events, at least by the
educated community.
-- I think astronomy began in, and things like astrology, and the history of
science is replete with ideas that we now think to be wrong headed, nonetheless
giving way to better ways or more accurate ways of describing the world.
simply because an idea is old, and simply because in our time we see it to be
foolish, does not mean when it was being discussed as a live possibility, that
it was not actually a real scientific theory.
So this was the famous section of the court transcript that shows that Behe is a scientific illiterate who wants modern astrology in science lessons!
Note Behe is not arguing that Astrology as it is understood today is a scientific theory but that possibly when it was in a hopelessy tangled state with Astronomy there may have been justification for calling it a scientific theory. He argues that the ether theory of light propagation was also an example of this kind of theory from the history of science.

Note-I am not in the habit of praising the NCSE but I think that they have done an excellent job of making all the documents available online - Thankyou!
* Updated with the correct link to the deposition - thanks to Annonymous commenter.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Why is the bacterial flagellum so important for ID?

The bacterial flagellum is a rotary motor. It needs fuel to drive its rotation. It needs a system for producing movement and a carefully crafted circular mechanism allowing smooth rotation. It also needs some kind of propeller outside the cell.

In all our observation of the material world a rotating engine visible to the human eye would be taken as proof of intelligent activity even if we knew nothing else about the object in question hence Paley’s reflections on a watch mechanism.

Also a rotary engine is an invention of genius. A great deal of our modern civilisation would be impossible without rotary engines of different kinds. Michael Faraday was a genius. To find a rotary engine produced by a mind that is not human would indicate that the mind that produced the rotary engine was in some respects similar to the human mind and consciousness. A mind that can design a rotary engine seems to be a mind that it would be interesting to know better.

The discovery of a clumsy inefficient electric motor in a physics lesson indicates that some GCSE pupils are trying to follow the thoughts of Michael Faraday.

The discovery of an electrical motor with 90% efficiency indicates civilisation at a comparable level to 20th century civilisation.

The discovery of a motor which is greater than 99% efficient and more than 10 times smaller than anything human beings have ever produced points to…