Monday, December 31, 2007

Evil Bender comes through

Although I haven't gotten a chance to delve into his last post in any detail, Evil Bender has responded to my last post and has stood by his promise to acknowledge if he was mistaken in his predictions about what I would say about Intelligent Design. He still has problems with my position, but he did what he said he would do.

Time allowing, I'll respond to some of the other arguments he makes in his newest post, but let's acknowledge intellectual honesty when we see it. If I knew who he was and had his address, I would send him a fine cigar. This debate is acrimonious enough without being a jerk about things like this. So my hat's off to him.

And he is right about the difficulty of conducting searches on my blog in order to get a history of this debate, but hey, I can't complain about blogspot. Generally speaking, it works well from my end--and it's free!

On whether I believe Intelligent Design is science

Samuel Johnson once said the people need more often to be reminded than informed.

The brave troop of ID critics (most of whom, I'm fairly confident, would quickly scurry for cover if I changed the setting on my blog to require them to identify themselves) has asked several questions about my views on several questions related to Intelligent Design. And if you peel off all the invective, the questions themselves are perfectly fair, although I have answered most of them in previous posts or in the comment sections of other posts.

But I suppose there are new readers here who have had not had the chance to read the previous posts. So this is the first of several posts answering questions about my views on Intelligent Design and science.

Several posters have called on me to say why I think Intelligent Design is science. I have delayed answering this question for a few days because I wanted to go back and verify my recollection on what my position on this has always been. Well, I had some time yesterday afternoon to do that, and my memory was indeed correct.

I have never said that Intellectual Design was science. In fact, as my search verified, I have said this--or, rather, said that I have not said this--several times.

So let me just repost a comment from my post, "Is Intelligent Design Science (cont.)," which ran on Oct. 3, 2006, since it adequately sums up what my position has always been. It was my answer to a commenter's question, “Can you propose a test of science that you think ID can pass?”:
My answer to that question is, I don’t need to, because I have not made the claim that ID is science. I don’t know whether it is or not, and am not sure it matters a great deal, except to people who think science is the only legitimate form of inquiry. But I am curious, as a cultural observer, about the enthusiasm with which the scientific establishment has attacked ID, an enthusiasm that results in reckless assertions about what science is and isn’t that bring even theories well within its own domain into question.
That last sentence was a reference to superstring theory and some of the more exotic aspects of physics.

Now "Evil Bender," in a post yesterday, said the following:
You’ll notice, despite repeated attempts by commenters to get him to explain himself, Cothran hasn’t done so. He has not weighed in on what science is, nor has he explained why ID should be science. He has not explained what ID predicts, or added anything to the conversation. He’s instead asking a question that brings nothing to the discussion, and steadfastly avoiding coming to any conclusions.
Please note again the date of my post quoted above: October 3, 2006. You can also throw in comments in various posts on this blog to the same effect. "Cothran hasn't done so"? Actually Cothran has done so. He did it a while ago, and has done it repeatedly. Evil Bender would be a lot more credible if he checked his facts out before making reckless charges.

Oh, and while we're at it, let's deal with another myth I see making the rounds: that I think Intelligent Design should be taught in science classes.

Maybe the people who are making this claim could do their own little search and tell me where I said this. My position (and I haven't done a search on this one, but I'm fairly confident I've never said anything else) is that what science teachers teach in their classrooms should be left up to science teachers. I'm against mandating it and I'm against prohibiting it. If teachers think that it is appropriate to mention the raging debate now going on about this issue, and explain some of the issues that we are discussing on this blog, I don't think that would be inappropriate.

I also think that if I were a science teacher, and if I believed that Intelligent Design did fall into the realm of science, that I would continue to be reticent about spending classroom time on it (other than mentioning that it is an issue) until it had had a chance to show whether it can succeed as a more formal scientific enterprise. But it the meantime, I'm going to continue to point out the curious enthusiasm shown by Darwinists to makes sure ID doesn't get that chance by doing things like shutting down programs that even try to inquire into it.

Finally, Evil Bender also made the following remark in his last post:
Once again, I’ll predict: this is all about trying to get ID defined as science. If Cothran ever follows up with any real discussion (which I doubt–he completely avoided my point that we’ve already seen ID folks do what I’m predicting he’ll do) and he does not use all this as a prelude to claiming science includes his favorite God-of-the-Gaps theory, I’ll happily retract my claims, and admit it publicly. But I’ll only do so if he demonstrates his agenda is anything other than re-defining science to get ID the credibility it can’t find in the scientific community.
Okay Evil Bender, I'm waiting...

Saturday, December 29, 2007

A response to a scientific paranormalist

Would that everyone who attacked me called himself "Evil." I doubt, of course, that this is the actual name he was given by his mother at birth (what was her name, "Lilith"?), but someone by the name of "Evil Bender" claims to know what I am thinking, despite acknowledging that he doesn't know me at all.

Who is Evil Bender? According to his website, he "teaches in an English department, dabbles in science and enjoys calling out bigots, hate-mongers, liars and idiots." Can you feel the love?

The one thing he left out was "mind reading". Mind reading is apparently a common talent among the scientific mystics, who enjoy imparting motive to those with whom they disagree. Evil Bender did not like my observation that the question "What is science?" is not itself a scientific question. I made the remark in the context of ISU's decision to deny Guillermo Gonzalez tenure, a decision which, in light of e-mails made public by the Discovery Institute, appeared to have been made at least in part on the basis of Gonzalez's opinion that Intelligent Design is scientific.

The extent of his dislike of this observation seemed to be in direct proportion to his inability to refute what I said. And when the scientific mystics can't refute your argument, they simply raise their hands, squint real hard, and direct their paranormal powers in the general direction of your brain and, when contact has been made, determine something else you might believe that they feel more comfortable being able to refute.

In Evil Bender's case, he simply postulated that I thought that scientists should somehow be prevented from making decisions concerning tenure of science faculty:
But it seems Cothran does have one thing on his side: the ability to make disingenuous arguments. Take this one, where he’s eager to claim little old scientists shouldn’t be the ones discussing what is science ...See, the real goal is to insure that scientists don’t have a say in, say, the Gonzalez tenure.
Of course, what I actually said was that the question of what science is is not itself a scientific question and that, therefore, it was not within their realm of expertise as scientists, but was a question more appropriate to the philosophy of science. And if you look at the discussion in the comments section of that post, you will see that I made the point that I was not challenging the right of any scientist to make a judgment of what was or wasn't science, but simply pointing out that anyone's opinion of what is science does not depend on their competence as scientists but their competence as philosophers. In other words, it is neither necessary nor sufficient that a person be a scientist in order to answer the question, "what is science?", and, therefore, if a tenure committee for a scientific discipline makes such a judgment, they have an obligation to justify it on the basis of philosophical arguments, not scientific ones.

Evil Bender's first charge is that my comments were disingenuous. In other words, he is asserting that I am making arguments in which I do not myself believe. He offers no evidence for this claim, but then the scientific mystics never do offer evidence for their mind reading results (in fact, I am wondering if Evil Bender is really Uri Geller using a pseudonym). He then claims he knows my "real goal". Wow. Is this guy talented or what?

Does Evil Bender think that the question "what is science?" is a scientific question after all? And if he does, on what basis does he think it is? On the basis of science? And if so, can we ask the question, "Is the question 'Is the question "What is science?" a scientific question?' itself a scientific question?" And if we could, could we then ask what expertise Evil Bender brings to the question, since he is not a scientist?

No, we'd better not. He'll read my mind and conclude I'm asking the question just to be a smart alec.

Friday, December 28, 2007

The "Two Jones" Thesis and its Detractors: More ID opponents experience binary fission

Well, it appears that my article about the inherent contradiction in an important section of the Dover vs. Kitzmiller decision is making evident some potentially dangerous developments among Darwinist opponents of Intelligent Design. Both Richard Hoppe at Panda's Thumb ("The Disco 'Tute's New Man") and Ed Brayton at Dispatches from the Culture Wars ("ID and Testability") have offered arguments against my position, and with each other--and, it turns out (at least in Brayton's case), with themselves.

I had pointed out that Judge John Jones affirmed a blatant contradiction in his opinion. He argued that the alleged unsoundness of the argument from irreducible complexity is a blow to Intelligent Design, since it is "central to ID", and then later argues that even if irreducible complexity were true, it wouldn't confirm ID because it isn't central to it, but "merely a test for evolution, not design".

I also said that this kind of argument falls into the trap of affirming two more general contradictory positions: that ID is not falsifiable, and that it is false.

I argued two points:
  1. That Judge Jones both affirmed and denied that irreducible complexity is "central to ID"; and
  2. That, as a consequence, he only allowed irreducible complexity to count against ID, but not for it.
This was completely lost on Hoppe, who just ran on about how ID makes testable claims he says are false, and untestable claims that can't be judged true or false:
What Cothran is apparently unable to comprehend is that while ID proponents occasionally make testable empirical claims, ID theory itself does not.
No, sorry. Cothran comprehends Hoppe, but Hoppe doesn't comprehend Cothran. I understand Hoppe's point. In fact, I understand it so well that it is very plain to me that it doesn't address my argument. It's a convenient distinction to make, but it isn't a distinction the Dover decision makes.

Hoppe agrees with Jones--and he doesn't. He agrees with the Jones who says that irreducible complexity is not central to ID, but disagrees with the Jones who says that it does. But nowhere does he deny my central thesis: that there are two Jones', and that they disagree with each other.

So what does Ed Brayton say to this? First, that he has heard my argument "many times" before. Shucks. And I thought my "Two Jones" thesis was my very own discovery. Turns out, claims Brayton, that someone beat me to it, although he doesn't say who it was.

Brayton, it turns out, is not only unimpressed by my argument (or the one I thought was mine before Ed informed me it wasn't--although, in a Jonesian logical maneuver, he's going to hold it against me anyway) but is less than impressed with Hoppe's refutation of it, saying that he gives my argument "too much credit":
I think he's actually making things more complicated than they are. There is no "ID theory" and there never has been. What ID proponents call "ID theory" is nothing more than a set of bad arguments against evolution, all straight out of the creationist jokebook. They all take the form of a basic god of the gaps argument: "not evolution, therefore God."
Note carefully what is going on here. Neither Hoppe nor Brayton addresses the two central points of my argument. Hoppe agrees with the Jones who says that arguments against evolution are not central to ID, and disagrees with the Jones who says they are, while Brayton agrees with the Jones who says that arguments against evolution are central to ID and disagrees with the Jones who says that they aren't.

Neither, however, denies there are two Jones': they simply disagree on which is the better Jones. In fact, when you put them together, not only do Hoppe and Brayton not address my argument, they actually confirm it: in agreeing with different Jones' they implicitly recognize that there are two of them.

Yet, in the final analysis, even Brayton can't resist the apparently contagious logical schizophrenia that is increasingly infecting opponents of ID:
ID argument like this can be falsified because they are tests of evolution, not of the non-existent "ID theory." ID is a purely negative argument that invokes supernatural causation, and that is why it cannot be tested on its own merits.
In other words, Brayton too argues that ID is both false and unfalsifiable. Not only are there now two Joneses, there are two Braytons.

Is it only a matter of time before Hoppe too--and all the other ID opponents--begin to experience this peculiar form of alogical reproduction? Considering the consequences (such as the potential twofold multiplication of bad reasoning), let's hope not.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

What we read this year (with ratings)


Shadows on the Hudson, Isaac Bashevis Singer
Cold Mountain, Charles Frazier
Beowulf, trans., Joseph Spaeth
The Return of Jeeves, P. G. Wodehouse
Emma, Jane Austen
The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, Carson McCullers
Hard Times, Charles Dickens (in progress)
Satan in Goray, Isaac Bashevis Singer (in progress)
That Hideous Strength, C. S. Lewis (in progress)

Short Stories*:
"The Whirligig of Life," O. Henry
"A Good Man is Hard to Find", Flannery O'Connor

"Ash Wednesday," T. S. Eliot
"The Stolen Child," W. B. Yeats
"Fire & Ice," Robert Frost
From the Mountain, From the Valley: New and Collected Poems, James Still (in progress)

Hamlet, William ShakespeareHenry VI, William Shakespeare
Richard III, William Shakespeare
The Taming of the Shrew, William Shakespeare
The Comedy of Errors, Williams Shakespeare
Titus Andronicus, William Shakespeare
The Two Gentlemen of Verona, William Shakespeare

History, Literature, & Biography:
Einstein: His Life and Times, Walter Isaacson
The Politically Incorrect Guide to English and American Literature, Elizabeth Kantor
Postmodernism, Glen Ward
Derrida in 90 Minutes, by Paul Strathern
Introducing Critical Theory, by Stuart Sim and Borin Van Loon
Poetic Diction, Owen Barfield
After Theory, Terry Eagleton
Introducing Postmodernism, Richard Appignanesi and Chris Garratt
Magic into Science: The Story of Paracelsus, Henry M. Pachter (in progress)
Lessons of the Masters, George Steiner (in progress)
Metaphors We Live By, George Lakoff & Mark Johnson (in progress)
Ironies of Faith: The Laughter at the Heart of Christian Literature, Anthony Esolen (in progress)
J. R. R. Tolkien's Sanctifying Myth, Brad Birzer (in progress)
The Seekers: The Story of Man's Continuing Quest to Understand His World, Daniel J. Boorstin (in progress)
G. K. Chesterton's Collected Works, vol. XXX, The Illustrated London News, 1914-1916 (in progress)
God's Funeral: The Decline of Faith in Western Civilization, by A. N. Wilson (in progress)

Philosophy & Science
The Illusion of Technique, William Barrett
The Gay Science, Friedrich Nietzsche
The Philosophy of Science, Jeffrey Kasser
Nietszche in 90 Minutes, by Friedrich Nietzsche
The Making of the Fittest: DNA and the Ultimate Forensic Record of Evolution, Sean B. Carroll (in progress)
The Night is Large: Collected Essays, 1938-1995, Martin Gardner (in progress)

"Modern Science, Metaphysics, and Mathematics," Martin Heidegger
"Diagnosing the Modern Malaise," Walker Percy
"Paul Elmer More," H. L. Mencken
"Superstrings," Martin Gardner
"The Man of Letters in the Modern World," Allen Tate
"Written to Last," Joseph Epstein (The New Criterion, vol. 25, no. 1)
"On the Essence of Truth," Martin Heidegger

The Epistle of Jude** (from the Vulgate)
The Epistle to the Galatians** (from the Vulgate)
The Life You Save May Be Your Own, Paul Elie
Socrates Meets Jesus, Peter Kreeft
The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins
History and Spirit: The Understanding of Scripture According to Origen, Henri de Lubac (in progress)
The Beginning of Wisdom: Reading Genesis, Leon Kass (in progress)

*Just the highlights
**We don't rate the Scriptures: they rate us.


Tuesday, December 25, 2007

"The Wise Men," by G. K. Chesterton

Step softly, under snow or rain,
To find the place where men can pray;
The way is all so very plain
That we may lose the way.

Oh, we have learnt to peer and pore
On tortured puzzles from our youth,
We know all the labyrinthine lore,
We are the three wise men of yore,
And we know all things but truth.

We have gone round and round the hill
And lost the wood among the trees,
And learnt long names for every ill,
And serve the made gods, naming still
The furies the Eumenides.

The gods of violence took the veil
Of vision and philosophy,
The Serpent that brought all men bale,
He bites his own accursed tail,
And calls himself Eternity.

Go humbly ... it has hailed and snowed...
With voices low and lanterns lit;
So very simple is the road,
That we may stray from it.

The world grows terrible and white,
And blinding white the breaking day;
We walk bewildered in the light,
For something is too large for sight,
And something much too plain to say.

The Child that was ere worlds begun
(... We need but walk a little way,
We need but see a latch undone...)
The Child that played with moon and sun
Is playing with a little hay.

The house from which the heavens are fed,
The old strange house that is our own,
Where trick of words are never said,
And Mercy is as plain as bread,
And Honour is as hard as stone.

Go humbly, humble are the skies,
And low and large and fierce the Star;
So very near the Manger lies
That we may travel far.

Hark! Laughter like a lion wakes
To roar to the resounding plain.
And the whole heaven shouts and shakes,
For God Himself is born again,
And we are little children walking
Through the snow and rain.

A Garrison Keillor Christmas

Garrison Keillor, speaking to skeptical New York Teenagers (an excerpt):
We sat in a sort of triangle, two couches at a right angle, a line of chairs, a window looking out at the snow on Amsterdam Avenue, and talked about the rather improbable notion that God sent Himself to Earth in human form, impregnating a virgin who, along with her confused fiancé, journeyed to Bethlehem where no rooms were available at the inn (it was the holidays, after all), and so God was born in a stable, wrapped in cloths and laid in a feed trough and worshipped by shepherds summoned by angels and by Eastern dignitaries who had followed a star.

This magical story is a cornerstone of the Christian faith and I am sorry if it's a big hurdle for the skeptical young. It is to the Church what his Kryptonian heritage was to Clark Kent -- it enables us to stop speeding locomotives and leap tall buildings at a single bound, and also to love our neighbors as ourselves. Without the Nativity, we become a sort of lecture series and coffee club, with not very good coffee and sort of aimless lectures.

On Christmas Eve, the snow on the ground, the stars in the sky, the spruce tree glittering with beloved ornaments, we stand in the dimness and sing about the silent holy night and tears come to our eyes and the vast invisible forces of Christmas stir in the world. Skeptics, stand back. Hush. Hark. There is much in this world that doubt cannot explain.

Monday, December 24, 2007

An interesting take on the Star of Bethlehem

An article by Craig Chester, an astronomer at the Monterey Institute for Research in Astronomy, with an interesting take on the Star of Bethlehem.

Here's an excerpt:

What astronomical events, possibly in the years 3 or 2 B.C., might have been related to the Star of Bethlehem? A nova—the unexpected, sudden brightening of a star from invisibility into a bright object for a period of days or weeks—has been suggested. But there is no historical record of such a nova, nor is it clear what a nova’s astrological significance would be. Origen himself suggested a comet, for comets appear sporadically, move, and can even seem to point down to the earth. But the recorded comets around this time, even Halley’s Comet in 12 B.C., were not very impressive; astrologically, they were considered ominous. Meteors and fireballs are even less likely candidates.

Conjunctions of planets have also long been considered good possibilities. A conjunction is a close apparent approach between two celestial objects. Technically speaking, a conjunction occurs at the moment when both objects have the same celestial longitude; one is due north of the other. The closer the objects, the more visually impressive the event and the more significant astrologically. In 3 B.C. and 2 B.C., there was a series of close conjunctions involving Jupiter, the planet that represented kingship, coronations, and the birth of kings. In Hebrew, Jupiter was known as Sedeq or “Righteousness,” a term also used for the Messiah.

In September of 3 B.C., Jupiter came into conjunction with Regulus, the star of kingship, the brightest star in the constellation of Leo. Leo was the constellation of kings, and it was associated with the Lion of Judah. The royal planet approached the royal star in the royal constellation representing Israel. Just a month earlier, Jupiter and Venus, the Mother planet, had almost seemed to touch each other in another close conjunction, also in Leo. Then the conjunction between Jupiter and Regulus was repeated, not once but twice, in February and May of 2 B.C. Finally, in June of 2 B.C., Jupiter and Venus, the two brightest objects in the sky save the sun and the moon, experienced an even closer encounter when their disks appeared to touch; to the naked eye they became a single object above the setting sun. This exceptionally rare spectacle could not have been missed by the Magi.

In fact, we have seen here only the highlights of an impressive series of planetary motions and conjunctions fraught with a variety of astrological meanings, involving all the other known planets of the period: Mercury, Mars, and Saturn. The astrological significance of these impressive events must surely have been seen by the Magi as the announcement of the impending birth of a great king of Israel.

September 11, 3 B.C., is perhaps the most interesting date of all. Not only was Jupiter very close to Regulus in the first of their conjunctions, but the sun was in the constellation of Virgo (of obvious symbolism), together with the new moon, in a configuration that fits a plausible interpretation of a passage in the Book of Revelation describing the birth of a male child who is to be the ruler of the universe. Significantly, September 11, 3 B.C., also marked the beginning of the Jewish New Year, traditionally regarded as the anniversary of Noah’s landing after the Great Flood.

But if the planet Jupiter was the Star of Bethlehem, or was a component of the events that triggered the visit by the Magi, how do we view the final appearance of the Star on their journey to Bethlehem? It would have been in the southern sky, though fairly high above the horizon. Could the Star have stopped over Bethlehem? The answer is yes. The word “stop” was used for what we now call a planet’s “stationary point.” A planet normally moves eastward through the stars from night to night and month to month, but regularly exhibits a “retrograde loop.” After it passes the opposite point in the sky from the sun, it appears to slow, come to a full stop, and move backward (westward) through the sky for some weeks. Again it slows, stops, and resumes its eastward course.

It seems plausible that the Magi were “overjoyed” at again seeing before them, as they traveled southward, “his star,” Jupiter, which at its stationary point was standing still over Bethlehem. We do know for certain that Jupiter performed a retrograde loop in 2 B.C. and that it was stationary on December 25, interestingly enough, during Hanukkah, the season for giving presents.

Reprinted by permission from Imprimis, a publication of Hillsdale College.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

A big welcome from Panda's Thumb

Well now I can add to my resume the fact that I have been attacked by a non-indigenous, arguably ursine species: ailuropoda melanoleuca to be precise. Actually, the attack did not involve the whole animal, but only a short, apparently imperfect, appendage of it.

"Panda's Thumb," a website devoted to purist evolutionary doctrine has taken a swipe at me for having joined Discovery Institute as a contributor to their website.

I'm never entirely sure what to think of organizations that name themselves after mammalian anatomical parts for which they admit to having a low regard, but we know from their most recent post that they do have an attitude. Just shows what an exclusive diet of bamboo will do for you.

I am, according to Panda's Thumb, "a fairly garden variety ideologue, albeit with a better vocabulary than many such." Okay, so they've identified my species, but it goes down hill from there. First they say that my piece criticizing the PBS's "Judgment Day" appeared in the Louisville Courier-Journal. Well, sorry, but it only appeared on my blog.

Then the post proceeds to completely ignore the argument I made about Judge Jones' decision in favor of one much more convenient for them to argue against--and follows it by accusing me of a fallacy.

Hmmm. This could be the beginning of a beautiful relationship.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Growing up on the Internet

I'm instituting a new policy on comments, which is that I'll let your comment run as long as you don't needlessly insult someone or call into question someone's honesty or integrity without some kind of justification.

There are people who want to post on this blog without giving their names and want to hide behind their anonymity while calling other people's integrity into question. What's particularly ironic is when, while using anonymity to avoid responsibility for their own behavior, they accuse me or someone else of hypocrisy. I'll just call it hypocrisy squared.

So if you want to make a legitimate point, go ahead. But don't get on the board and display your immaturity to the public by making wild personal charges unless you can a) use your own name, and b) back up your personal charges with some kind of evidence. Just because someone disagrees with you doesn't mean they're evil or dishonest, and I'm getting a little tired of having to give what I perceive are full grown adults the same lecture I give to my teenage boys about common politeness.

If I have to take your post off, and it contains a legitimate argument (and one I just took off did), then I'll either edit it, indicating which part I had edit for lack of maturity and post the rest, or I'll include a summary of the point, and maybe even a quote, when I get around to answering it.

And if you're one of the violators who don't like it, then my suggestion is to do everyone a favor and grow up before you post on the Internet. And if your intellectual adolescence doesn't allow you to understand why this is necessary and think it is somehow unfair, let me just assure you that I'm doing you a favor by shielding the readers of this blog from behavior that doesn't reflect well on you or your position.

"I am Legend": heroic and human

I saw Will Smith's "I am Legend" last weekend and it was not only a very frightening, but a very outstanding movie. While it has a very science fiction-oriented setting--a desolate, post-plague New York City, it is a very human movie: as much about how a man deals with loneliness, as with how he saves the human race.

Karnick on Culture has an excellent review here.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Discovery Institute carries post on ID opponents' logical dilemma

The Discovery Institute today (the two-year anniversary of the Dover v. Kitzmiller decision) carried my piece on the logical dilemma in Judge Jones' ruling that Intelligent Design is not science. They will also be carrying some of my future articles on the issue on their Evolution News & Views blog.

When did the 60's happen?

An interesting post that backs up my long held contention that much of the 60's actually happened in the 70's.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

10 Modern Wise Men

A list of men who order things rightly and judge them well:

Leon Kass
Neil Postman
Ken Myers
Wendell Berry
Thomas Howard
George Steiner
William Barrett
Anthony Esolen
Jacques Barzun
Harold Bloom

These are people I don't even necessarily agree with, they they are people whose books anyone would do well to read and ponder.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Is the question "What is science?" a scientific question? (Part II)

In an earlier post, I asked whether the question of what is science is itself a scientific question. This caused a high level of consternation among the anti-Intelligent Design commenters on this blog, but not any satisfactory answers.

I even tried to set forth their arguments for them in a categorical syllogism in a way in which we could more clearly see potential problems with their position. I took their conclusion, that the question of what is science is a scientific question, and put their answers in the form of premises in the argument. But, alas, we still have not found a sound argument for their position.

But I, being the gracious person I am, am going to try to make it even easier for them. I'm going to show them specifically where their problem is and see if they can solve it. I'm going to write their argument out, and leave a blank for them to fill it. That's all they have to do: fill in the blank! It's so easy!

Here goes:

Premise #1: _____________________________________ are scientific questions.
Premise #2: The question of what is science is ______________________________.
Conclusion: Therefore the question of what is science is a scientific question.

There. I've laid it all out for them. The conclusion, as always in an argument, provides us with our minor and major terms, and I have put them in their proper places in the premises. All that is missing is the middle term. It will be the same for both blanks, so all they need is one expression to solve their problem.

Not only that, but I have set this forth in the simplest and most basic of the 19 valid syllogism forms, what, in traditional logic, is called a "BARBARA".

Of course the opponents of Intelligent Design are always accusing their opponents of being irrational. But that will be hard to do if they can't set forth their own position in the most basic of argument forms.

So there we go. Let's see what they can do.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Anti trivial trivialities in the presidential election

In yesterday's presidential debate, the Republican presidential candidates were asked for a show of hands to indicate whether they believed that global warming was a significant threat caused by man. Fred Thompson rebelled against the format and asked if he could give a minute long answer.

No way, said the moderator.

Thirty seconds?


Thompson refused to play along, an act that is now being compared to Ronald Reagan refusing to give up the microphone in the 1980 New Hampshire debate. Some are speculating that this trivial little incident could light a fire for the campaign.

Now think about this suggestion--that one mildly entertaining little comment could change the course of the presidential race. Thompson was rebelling against the format of the debate because it trivialized the process, and now that trivial little act could spark a renewed public interest in the campaign?

Don't get me wrong. I'm for Thompson. We'll take it. But the political process gets more surreal by the day.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Is the question "What is science?" a scientific question?

Should a tenure committee for a scientific academic position make its decisions on the basis of a candidates opinions on non-scientific questions?

I ask the question because recently Iowa State University appears to have denied tenure to astronomer Guillermo Gonzalez on the basis of his opinion on the question of whether Intelligent Design is science. But (and this will really send the anti-ID crowd into paroxysms of rage) the question of what science is is not itself a scientific question.

It seems to be an unquestioned assumption on the part of everyone involved in the debate that those most qualified to answer the question of what science is are scientists. But that would only be the case if the question, "What is science?" were a scientific question.

Well, is it?

If it is, then answers to it should meet scientific criteria. Let's take testability as an example (that is, after all, the one most often used against ID): Is the statement "Science is what is testable" a testable statement?

How about the scientific method? Is the statement "Science consists of those things which are amenable to the scientific method" amenable to the scientific method?

Come up with whatever criterion you will, I think you will have a hard time finding one that meets its own criterion. What does that say about the question, "What is science?"

It seems to me that where science lies in the larger scheme of things is not a question for someone who specializes in science, but for someone who specializes in the larger scheme of things--in other words, a philosopher. Is it not a philosophical, and not a scientific question? In fact, it is pretty clear that it is the philosopher of science who is the expert in this area.

If this is the case, then ISU, in denying Guillermo Gonzalez tenure because of this views in support of ID, is taking this action on the basis of a question that is outside their realm of expertise. It is not deciding on his tenure on the basis of scientific questions, but on the basis of philosophical questions which to my knowledge have not been settled in the field of the philosophy of science.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Tebow home schooled

Tim Tebow, this year's winner of the Heisman Trophy, college football's most coveted award--and the only sophomore ever to win it, was home schooled.

Just thought I'd mention it.

Did they or Didn't They? Another dilemma for the opponents of Intelligent Design

Opponents of Intelligent Design seem to be very conflicted about what to say concerning Iowa State University denying astronomer Guillermo Gonzalez tenure because he supports Intelligent Design.

On the one hand, ID opponents seem to think ISU should have denied him tenure for thinking ID is science, since, they say, it clearly is not science. On the other hand, it is hard for them to admit that this is what ISU did, since, if they do, they would be supporting misrepresentation by the University and the tenure committee about what their decision was based on.

To put the dilemma another way, if you don't admit that he was denied tenure because of his support for Intelligent Design, then you look like you're slightly out of touch with reality, since the evidence appears to be pretty damning. And if you accept that Gonzalez was denied tenure on the basis of his support for Intelligent Design, then you have to admit that ISU and his tenure review committee were dishonest.

So the choice for ID opponents involves which horn of the dilemma they want to impale themselves on.

Over at Panda's Thumb, Mike Dunford seems to favor the first horn. He says, in the face of the of the e-mail evidence, he is "unconvinced" that ID played a significant role in tenure denial for Gonzalez. Well, you can see some of the e-mail remarks documented by the Discovery Institute here and see for yourself. This is the kind of evidence that, under any other such circumstances would be considered definitive, but which, in the intellectual fever swamps of scientism just simply cannot be admitted:
Given the notorious track record of the entire anti-evolution movement when it comes to quoting scientists, I'm somewhat reluctant to accept the quotes provided at face value, particularly since the DI has not made the full text of the sources available for examination. Even if all of the quotes the DI uses do accurately capture the spirit of the full emails they are taken from (and does anyone want to offer me odds on that), I still don't think they've made their point.
It makes you wonder whether the anti-ID crowds assertion that Gonzalez was treated fairly is a falsifiable belief, doesn't it?

A slightly more lucid Jason Rosenhouse over at EvolutionBlog finds the second of the two horns of the dilemma a less painful alternative. He admits that, indeed, ISU appears to have considered Gonzalez' belief in ID in its decision, and was simply dishonest in its denials:
... [H]ad the ISU physics department stated forthrightly that he was being denied tenure because his advocacy of ID pseudoscience was hurting the department and plainly hampering his scientific work, there might have been no reason for this blog entry.

But they didn't, at least not primarily. Instead they publicly denied that Gonzalez's ID advocacy played a significant role in his tenure denial. One member of the department, John Hauptmann, wrote an op-ed in which he argued, preposterously, that Gonzalez did not understand the scientific process and that was the reason for denying him tenure. I reported on this sorry essay here.

In other words, Dunford is concerned with the honesty of the advocates of ID, but Rosenhouse is admitting a virulent case of dishonesty in it's own ranks.

Some days you just can't win.

Friday, December 07, 2007

The Universal Explanation: How global warming is being used to explain anything and everything

You will remember that global warming was blamed for the recent prevalence of hurricanes. Well, last hurricane season was a bust. There was nothing like the hurricane activity that the global warming gurus were predicting. And the cause for the low hurricane activity?

You got it: global warming.

Global warming was the cause of too many hurricanes, and also the lack thereof. In fact, says David Freddoso at National Review, Global warming is now invoked as the cause of almost everything--including things that are entirely opposite one another:
We know the possible consequences of tinkering with our environment, causing unprecedented changes. This is how we approach the subject of man-made global warming. Wherever there is change, we turn immediately to global warming to explain it. Heat and cold, drought and downpour, famine and plenty — all can be caused by global warming. It can cause more foliage and less foliage; a slower-spinning earth and a faster one; more snow and less snow; a sun-scarred desert world, or a new ice age. Climate change makes mountains grow and it makes mountains shrink.

It is not impossible that all (or at least most) of these theories are simultaneously true. But they also have the advantage of making global warming an unfalsifiable theory. Not only can no possible event disprove it, but it can actually serve as an explanation for any natural event worthy of note.
Want to know how many different things are explained by global warming? Try going here.

I'm just waiting for all those people who talk about how science must be falsifiable to denounce global warming as a pseudo-science.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Top Ten Bad Books Everybody Has to Read

Touchstone Magazine's Mere Comments blog has a useful list of the Top Ten Bad Books Everybody Reads. They could have said the "Top Ten Bad Books that Everybody Has to Read" If many of these books weren't assigned it schools, few would read them--and many would be better off for it.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Sauce for the gander

ID opponents are defending Iowa State University for apparently denying tenure to Guillermo Gonzalez for supporting Intelligent Design, but are up in arms about Texas Director of Science Curriculum Chris Comer being fired for being against Intelligent Design. The former, they say, is perfectly okay, but the latter is an outrage.

I'm shocked.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

The logical bankruptcy of the argument that Intelligent Design is not science

Well, the scientific mystics are trying to slither out of the logical dilemma they have created for themselves. I have pointed out that opponents of Intelligent Design make two mutually exclusive claims: First that ID is not science, and, second, that ID makes false claims.

The whole reason opponents say that ID is not science is because it doesn't make falsifiable claims. But if it doesn't make falsifiable claims, then it can't be said to have made claims that have been found false, which they say it has made.

Opponents of ID have done logical contortions of extraordinary dexterity to get out of this dilemma. One commenter on this blog, Motheral, tries to get out of the dilemma this way:
Here's the reality: SOME of ID's claims are un-falsifiable, and therefore unscientific; while OTHER ID claims (such as "irreducible complexity") are falsifiable and have been proven false. (There's also the matter of those false claims resulting from unscientific thought-processes, but that's another matter.) There's nothing inconsistent about this, unless we are alleging that this or that PARTICULAR ID claim is both unfalsifiable and proven false. You have not specified any particular ID claim about which both of these things have been said; therefore your allegations of our "inconsistency" are groundless.
The trouble with this Motheral's retort is the same trouble that is on display in Judge John Jones arguments in Dover vs. Kitzmiller: both are trying to have it both ways, but at the cost of logical consistency.

In the Dover decision, Judge Jones unwitting lays a trap for himself, and then spends a good part of the decision falling into it. On p. 64 of the decision, Jones gives three reasons for determining that ID is not science:
  1. It permits supernatural causation
  2. It assumes a "contrived dualism" in the argument for irreducible complexity
  3. Its negative arguments against evolution (like irreducible complexity) have "refuted by the scientific community"
In all of this discussion, there is a particular view of how to demarcate science from non-science. It is philosopher Karl Popper's demarcation criterion: that in order for something to be science it has to be falsifiable, or testable. We see this in the following comment by Jones:
Accordingly, the purported positive argument for ID does not satisfy the ground rules of science which require testable hypotheses based upon natural explanations. (3:101-03 (Miller)). ID is reliant upon forces acting outside of the natural world, forces that we cannot see, replicate, control or test, which have produced changes in this world. While we take no position on whether such forces exist, they are simply not testable by scientific means and therefore cannot qualify as part of the scientific process or as a scientific theory. (p. 82, emphasis added]
It is in his statement of the second point where Jones sets himself up. He says that the argument for irreducible complexity is "central to ID". Otherwise, why would he include it in a discussion of whether ID is science? And, in reason 3., he also says it has been "refuted": in other words, falsified. But if the argument for irreducible complexity is, as Jones later determines, falsified, then ID is falsified, since irreducible complexity is "central to ID".

But if ID is not falsifiable, then (if you assume Popper's criterion, which is far from noncontroversial among philosophers of science) it is not science--and it cannot therefore be falsified. So how does Jones get around the fact that he just says both that ID is not science because it can't be falsified, and that an argument "central to ID" has been falsified?

His method is simply to skip back and forth between the two arguments hoping the reader will not notice.

He says first that the truth or falsity of arguments for ID are irrelevant:
After a searching review of the record and applicable caselaw, we find that while ID arguments may be true, a proposition on which the Court takes no position, ID is not science.
Judge Jones then goes on an extended argument explaining why he thinks the argument or irreducible complexity fails (the argument for which essentially consists of the fact that lots of evolutionists say so). But then, obviously cognizant of the inherent contradiction in his argument (that the court takes no position on the truth of the arguments for ID and that it does), he points out that irreducible complexity is an argument against evolution, not an argument for Intelligent Design:
Irreducible complexity is a negative argument against evolution, not proof of design, a point conceded by defense expert Professor Minnich. (2:15 (Miller); 38:82 (Minnich) (irreducible complexity “is not a test of intelligent design; it’s a test of evolution”). [p. 68, emphasis added]
He says this, in fact, in several places:
As irreducible complexity is only a negative argument against evolution, it is refutable and accordingly testable, unlike ID, by showing that there are intermediate structures with selectable functions that could have evolved into the allegedly irreducibly complex systems. [p. 76, emphasis added]
Jones' argument is that the alleged failure of irreducible complexity can be charged to ID's account only if irreducible complexity is not a part of Intelligent Design theory itself, since ID itself is not science and therefore not falsifiable. And yet, if it isn't a part of ID, then it obviously cannot undermine the theory itself.
Importantly, however, the fact that the negative argument of irreducible complexity is testable does not make testable the argument for ID.
How can this be if irreducible complexity is "central to ID"? He wants to use the alleged refutation of irreducible complexity against Intelligent Design, but he doesn't want to do it at the cost of his argument that it isn't science. And he does this by employing an explicit contradiction: that irreducible complexity is both central to ID and not central to it.

He then complicates his position even further:
...[E]ven if irreducible complexity had not been rejected, it still does not support ID as it is merely a test for evolution, not design. [p. 79, emphasis added]
In other words, what Jones is saying is that the falsity of irreducible complexity can be held against ID since it is "central" to it, but that, even if it were true, it wouldn't count in favor of it, since it is not central to ID!

It is a clever bit of sophistry.

If anyone was in any doubt as to whether the debate over Intelligent Design was rigged, Jones dispels it here. In the duel between the scientific mystics and the advocates of Intelligent Design, the scientific mystics are the only ones allowed a loaded gun.

How can Jones justify this? The short answer is that he can't--not, at least, if he wants to maintain any kind of rational credibility. But if it is not clear how he can do this and remain within the bounds of reason, it is clear why he does it.

ID is science insofar as irreducible complexity (and other similar arguments) are part of it, and unfalsifiable insofar as they are not. And Jones knows this, but wants to have his cake and eat it anyway.

If opponents of ID want to hold irreducible complexity against ID, then they will have to abandon their argument that ID is not science. And if they want to preserve their argument that ID is not science, they will have to stop using arguments against irreducible complexity against ID.

Until they do, they are simply being irrational.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Words Matter in the Intelligent Design Debate: A personal confession

Okay. I have a confession to make. There is a secret I have been harboring for years now, and, on the advice of my therapist, I am now making it public: I think words are important. And it doesn't stop there. There is something else: I also think logic is important.

Of course my therapist is not a psychologist, but a metaphysician, and, rather than wasting his time with Freud, he has pondered the finer points of Duns Scotus. But I am the better for it.

And besides, I feel so much better now, having revealed this deep, dark secret, a secret I felt compelled to admit after an anonymous commenter on my previous post about Ben Stein's new documentary on Intelligent Design accused me of "parsing words" when I asked him whether he was saying ID was bad science or not science at all.

Now accusing a Latin teacher of "parsing words" is a little like accusing a plumber of fitting pipes, but the question he seems to be hinting at is: "Does it matter whether ID is bad science or non-science? Isn't ID cooked either way?"

Well, yes. If ID is science, and it is bad science, then that is a problem. And if it is non-science and makes scientific claims, then, true or false, it is meaningless. But it can't be both science and non-science: it has to be one or the other.

The problem is that people like this anonymous commenter want to make two mutually exclusive claims that cancel each other out. As soon as they make the argument, their argument is refuted.

They want to say on the one hand that ID is not science at all because it does not make falsifiable claims. That is why why say it shouldn't be taught in science classrooms. But then they say that it's claims are false. But how can it make false claims unless its claims are falsifiable?

You have to commit yourself to one of these positions and argue it consistently, otherwise your position refutes itself. You either have to say that it is non-science, in which case your arguments have to be directed at the nature of ID's claims as non-scientific claims, or you have to say it's bad science, in which case you can catalogue its false claims to your heart's content--but that cuts you off from saying that it isn't science.

Critics of ID want the rest of us to look the other way when they violate the simple rules of logic and get upset with us when we point it out. This indicates a deep-seated fear of ontological realities. That's how my therapist puts it, anyway.

If you are going to argue against Intelligent Design, you're going to have to commit yourself. And if you want a recommendation on a good facility, I'm sure my personal metaphysician will be happy to recommend one.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

If Carrie Nation were an Evolutionist...

My, my. How terribly intolerant we are becoming. And by "we", of course, I mean "them".

In yesterday's Louisville Courier-Journal James Wilmott, a former science teacher in Goshen, KY who now lives in England, wags his finger at the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky, and anyone who might choose to go there. It is a travesty, Wilmott suggests, that there are people out there who have the temerity to disagree with him on the issue of human origins, and something's got to be done about it.

Wilmott is one of those terribly concerned public scolds who comes along every now and then to lecture the rest of us on our wayward thoughts and actions--the evolutionists' version of Carrie Nation. If anyone sees a guy in Petersburg, KY swinging an axe trying to break up the dinosaur displays, we'll know who it is.

One of the thing's Wilmott wants is a law forcing home school families to teach the evolutionary theory to their children.

So, let's see if we've got all this straight: we're supposed to be scared of Ken Hamm, who runs a museum that people can choose to go to if they want, but completely unconcerned about someone who wants to pass laws mandating what parents have to teach to their own children in their own homes?

I don't even agree with Ken Hamm, but I've got enough sense to know which one to fear--and it isn't the guy with the robotic dinosaurs.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

What does the title of the Pope's new encyclical mean in English?

The Pope's new encyclical is out. It is called "Spe Salvi". I have noticed quite a plethora of translations of this phrase being bandied about. So far, we've got these:
  • "Saved by Hope"
  • "In Hope we were Saved"
  • "Saved in Hope"
  • "On Christian Hope"
  • "Saved by Hope"
  • "Saved in Hope"
  • "Saved in Faith"
  • "Salvation Thanks to Hope"
Well, which is it? All by itself, it would appear to mean something close to "In the hope of salvation" or "With the hope of salvation". The word spe is the ablative form of spes, which means hope. The ablative is a sort of prepositional case and indicates by, with, from, or in. The word salvi is the genitive (or possessive) form of salvus, the adjective saved.

But it is apparently a shortened version of Romans 8:24 in the Latin Vulgate, which reads "Spe enim salvi facti sumus", which means, "For (enim) we were saved (salvi facti sumus) by hope (spe)." The form of salvi makes much more sense in the context of the sentence. It appears that some of these translations are translating this whole phrase from Romans.