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Darwinism and Its Discontents – Book Review Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Posted by henry000 in anti-creationism, anti-fundamentalism, anti-ID, Behe, biology, book review, Charles Darwin, Christianity, consilience, creationism, Darwin, Darwinism, Dawkins, evolution, genetics, geology, God, Gould, Haeckel, human evolution, philosophy, Piltdown Man, punctuated equilibrium, rationality, reason, religion, science, scientific theory.
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I have been thinking about the ideas in this book for about four decades and have decided that the time has come to put them all together.

This is the opening sentence of Professor Michael Ruse’s latest book Darwinism and Its Discontents. Ruse is a well-known evolutionary philosopher and has been a great defender on Darwinism for a number of years. And with an opening statement like that, naturally I was thrilled to read what the discontents are all about, and if they matter at all.

The book is a defender of Darwinism and the fact of evolution from all sides of attacks, and is understandably light on refuting creationism of various flavours, so read this book to cement your understanding of Darwinism and evolution – I certainly learned a good deal from it.

Darwinism is defined as a particular theory in which evolution works. Its heart lies in the concept of natural selection, the chief causal process behind all organisms, and is the widely accepted evolutionary mechanism by the scientific community. However, it has always been under attack from various disciplines in social science, philosophy, religion, and even within science itself, and Ruse writes how these attacks are categorically mistaken.

Darwinism and Its Discontents Cover

The first chapter goes through the historical background of Darwinism. Ruse includes a number of notable historical figures ranging from people who did not have direct contribution to Darwinism such as Lyells and Malthus, to modern day scientists such as Fisher, Haldine and Wright. The conclusion of the chapter is right on spot – why was Darwin important? Because it was after him that a revolution happened – that life is a naturalistic, not a supernatural or God-inspired one.

The next few chapters are, I think, the highlights of the book as they outline what the fact of evolution is, its path, its cause and its limitations. Ruse presented the concept of consilience argument – that is, direct evidence supporting evolution from a myriad of fields of studies: palaeontology, biogeographical distribution, classification, morphology, embryology and so on. These chapters are essential in understanding the science of Darwinian theory of evolution – population genetics, adaptation, physical constraints on the phenotype, drift, and of course, natural selection, as well as a dash of Gould’s famous punctuated equilibrium theory.

The second half of the book then takes a different turn. It examines humans, the mistakes and dishonesty made in the history of evolutionary science (such as the Piltdown Man and Haeckel’s drawings) – and finally, Ruse looks at Darwinism from philosophical and religious point of views.

Overall I thought this book is very well balanced and not too technical for the layman; however it is definitely not an introductory level kind of book. If you are looking for the whole creationism vs. evolution debate then this is not an ideal book; conversely if you are looking for a book that covers a wide areas of Darwinian evolution – from past to present and across various disciplines, then this book is it.

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“What Is The Danger of Teaching Creationism?” Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Posted by henry000 in anti-creationism, anti-evolution, anti-ID, creationism, education, evolution, God, intelligent design, science.
16 comments

This is a question asked by a fellow blogger Steve at Bits of Brain. Specifically, he would like to know what the impacts and consequences are for teaching creationism alongside of evolution in our schools:

So I remain curious as to what you see are the impacts, the consequences, the ramifications. What will HAPPEN to our children if one day our courts fail us and permit this craziness to enter the classrooms?

Naturally I was appalled by this question and so I left a couple of comments to his post, which I thought I will promote and repeat them up to a post here.

First of all here is the background. Brian at his nice blog Laelaps posted an entry titled “Combating Creationism with History“. Steve then replied with lots of questions, basically sympathesizing with the creationists and questioning why creationism must be fought against. Brian has done a lengthy reply which is worth a read, while I took a different angle in saying that it is important to combat the religious ideology because creationism and its various flavours have been a pest and great waste of resource to our educational systems.

Why is creationism dangerous? As Steve states:

… What is the danger?” What is the “threat” that creationism presents to our society, to our culture, and to our school-children?

Well, in a nutshell it is the same as teaching astrology, numerology or alchemy in our classes.

Education is established as a system to impart knowledge, values and attitudes to the children, while allowing them to learn and develop critical skills and habits.

There are several critical skills that our educational system teaches which arms the kids to become self sufficient and get more out of life. These skills include sports, using computer and learning foreign languages to other more abstract basic skill set such as critical thinking, problem solving and respecting others.

Creationism teaches none of the above – at its core it says an intelligent-designer-did-it and nothing more. Evolution, on the other hand, is a product of scientific disciplines, which is based upon several fundamental skills such problem solving and critical thinking. Now let us look at it n terms of bodies of knowledge, which for example include philosophy, arts, literature and history. Again, how does creationism fit in? What sort of knowledge does it provide?

The best category where creationism can fit in is science. But the problem is that it is not science and does not value any of the scientific fundamentals. It has nothing scientific. Granted, there are areas of uncertainty in it but this is quite normal in all scientific disciplines – just think about the fascinating unsolved mysteries in astrophysics and quantum physics. The ever-dwindling sets of unsolved problems and yet-to-be-explained phenomena are best left for science to deal with, not a religious doctrine that says god-did-it.

So we have established that creationism has absolutely no values. Therefore, the impact of teaching it in our classes is a great waste of resources. The ramification of teaching it is to dumb down or kids, and a direct insult to our educational systems.

Darwinists’ Worst Nightmare – The Frightening Spectre of ID Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Posted by henry000 in anti-creationism, anti-evolution, anti-fundamentalism, anti-ID, creationism, Darwinism, evolution, Fred Hoyle, fundamentalism, intelligent design, natural selection, naturalism, rationality, reason, religion, science, scientists, straw-man.
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Apparently the Intelligent Design movement has got the “Darwinists” scared, according to an article posted on an American right-wing extremist website (courtesy of the resourceful Darwininia).

While the title of the article “The frightening specter of Intelligent Design” sounds spectacularly frightening, it fails spectacularly to frighten anyone who knows something about ID. This is because the article is a simple repetition of the usual ID and creationism rhetorics.

So why are Darwinists scared? Because the progresses of science have rendered natural selection more and more unable to explain the complexity of life.

And this is pretty much the entire article offers – it mentions absolutely nothing, zero, nil, nada, on what these recent science progresses are.

And unlike many other more sophisticated ID arguments, the author displays all the hallmarks of basic creationism knowledge. The article starts with the main ID theme that life is too complex to be explainable by natural selection. This is where the ID argument (if there is one to start with) ends, and the good old dose of creationism takes over.

The author says that life is too complex to have come about by random chance – and he even brings up the really, really, really old and wrong Fred Hoyle chance calculation which I thought has been buried for good!

Then the scientific community is under attack with his straw-man argument:

But if design, conversely, is rational, why do so many scientists reject it? Because this is not an issue of science, but of religion. Their religion is that of materialism and naturalism, and they are under no illusions as to the implications of design.

Now this line of thinking exemplifies the frightening spectre of religious fundamentalism.

Intelligent Design Marching Into UK Thursday, July 12, 2007

Posted by henry000 in anti-creationism, anti-evolution, anti-fundamentalism, anti-ID, BBC, creationism, education, Eugenie Scott, evolution, intelligent design, Lewis Wolpert, podcast, rationality, religion, science, Science Weekly, Simon conway Morris, Truth In Science, UK, United States, video.
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Blue Rat alerts us that the dishonest, disingenuous and manipulative movement called Intelligent Design is trying to get into the UK schools. Here is a video of an interview conducted by the BBC’s Newsnight program between an ID advocate from an organisation called Truth In Science and Professor Lewis Wolpert, a distinguished biologist and humanist.

In December 2006 Science Weekly published a podcast on this very topic, this time again involving Professor Wolpert as well as the famous paleontologist Simon Conway Morris. Also in the podcast is Dr. Eugenie Scott from the USA, a leading science educator who has been at the front-line of combating creationism and Intelligent Design for years, and has recently published a book titled Not in Our Classrooms: Why Intelligent Design Is Wrong for Our Schools. You can download the entire podcast in mp3 format on the Science Weekly website.

Dembski – A Classless Bitter Soul Friday, June 29, 2007

Posted by henry000 in anti-creationism, anti-fundamentalism, anti-ID, atheism, biology, Chu-Carroll, creationism, Dembski, Europe, evolution, faith, intelligent design, Jason Rosenhouse, Jerry Coyne, rationality, religion, science, Uncommon Descent, William Dembski.
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A recent blog entry posted by William Dembski – one of the most prolific Intelligent Design proponent – has really infuriated me.

For those who do not know, Dembski posted a photo of the eminent evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne right next to a picture of Herman Munster – a Frankenstein monster from an old television show. That is right; Dembski is making fun of how Coyne looks. This sort of personal attack is low, despicable and inexcusable, and has provoked me to attack Dembski. Fellow blogger Jason Rosenhouse called Dembski “a classless, no-talent buffoon” in which I unapologetically agree.

That post was posted a couple of weeks ago. Since then I have tracked some of Dembski’s recent posts, and there is hardly any substance in any of them. They are simply short rants filled with bitterness, anger and negativity. You’d expect someone with Dembski’s qualification to do better than that. Don’t get me wrong – it is perfectly OK to post a rant or sarcastic mockery every now and then – but not continuously, not when you make fun of your opponent based on how he/she looks! This is truly sad.

Dembski Dembski in a grandpa’s sweater

So here is the list of Dembski’s posts for June 2007 in reversing chronological order.

25th June – Teaching ID = A crime against humanity

More short and bitter post by Dembski. I think he is at war against the Council of Europe. Here is what he is up against.

25th June – Dembski Interview with Mario Lopez

This is a transcript of an interview – perhaps the most positive post for this month.

22nd June – Have I been too hard on the NCSE?

Dembski complains about the National Center for Science and Education because of an advertisement states that an understanding of the separation between state and church, as well as the evolution vs. creationism is a plus.

21st June – Point-Counterpoint: Steven Weinberg vs. Eugenie Scott

I am not too sure what the point is?

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Why Darwin Matters – The Case Against Intelligent Design Saturday, June 16, 2007

Posted by henry000 in anti-creationism, anti-evolution, anti-fundamentalism, anti-ID, biology, book review, Charles Darwin, Christianity, creationism, Darwin, Evangelical, evolution, fundamentalism, Jerry Coyne, Michael Shermer, rationality, religion, science, United States, Why Darwin Matters.
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This is the title of a highly enjoyable book written by Michael Shermer, which I have just finished reading now (how can one ignore a book with such a title?). Prior to this I have never read of Shermer.

Why Darwin Matters - The Case Against Intelligent Design

It is important that we read what Shermer has to write on this topic. A former creationist and Evangelical Christian, and even more interestingly a friend to some of the Intelligent Design proponents such as Dembski, Shermer presents a highly readable and well-researched book to the general public.

The first few chapters are on the defensive. They tell what evolution is, and why it is under attack. Then the book begins its attack on Intelligent Design – its fallacies and the real agenda behind it. Shermer then concludes the book with a couple of chapters on why evolution cannot contradict religion – and why fundamentalist Christians should accept evolution.

One thing I like about Why Darwin Matters is that the author fills the book with many real life examples, not just dry and scholarly arguments. One of my favourite example looks at dogs. Dogs evolved from wolves very recently, yet there is hardly any “transitional fossils” available – however,

the convergence of evidence from archaeological, morphological, genetic, and behavioural “fossils” reveals the ancestor of all dogs to be the East Asian wolf.

Although personally I think the attack on Intelligent Design somewhat lacks some punch – see Jerry Coyne’s brilliant paper on this attack – however, I think Shermer writes with the general laymen in mind, hence the book is not as technical nor as in-depth.

In summary, I very much enjoyed reading this well-structured and well-researched book. It is a great book for the people who are curious about the whole evolution-vs.-creationism debate, and a fantastic introductory book for anyone interested in knowing evolution better.

Argh! Creationist Car Paint Job! Friday, May 25, 2007

Posted by henry000 in anti-creationism, anti-evolution, anti-fundamentalism, anti-ID, car paint job, creationism, evolution, faith, fundamentalism, funny, God, humour, intelligent design, rationality, religion, science, United States.
9 comments

Creationist Car

(click on the image to see it in its full size)

Wanted: an evolutionist’s reply to this!

(courtesy of Wikipedia)

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An Incredibly Biased Straw-man Blog Post Against Atheism Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Posted by henry000 in anti-creationism, anti-fundamentalism, anti-ID, atheism, creationism, DaveScot, evolution, faith, fundamentalism, God, intelligent design, rationality, religion, science, straw-man, Uncommon Descent.
12 comments

Warning! Creationist Ignorance Encountered!

The incredible ignorance of religious fundamentalists never ceases to amaze and offend. This time, the notorious blogger DaveScot at Uncommon Descent (an anti-evolution blog site) has done it again with a post that has to be one of the most childish and ignorant piece of writing I have come across.

Titled “Why Atheism Fails: The Four Big Bangs“, the essence of the blog can be summarised simply with the following extract:

Atheists respond to all these types of questions with essentially the same style answer. “We know God doesn’t exist. Therefore, since we’re here, though, it had to have happened this way. Thus, like the universe itself, life, mind, and morality all ‘just popped’ into existence out of nothingness.”

I call them the Four Big Bangs:

1’) the Cosmological (the universe “just popped” into existence out of nothingness).

2’) the Biological (life “just popped” into existence out of a dead thing).

3’) the Psychological (mind “just popped” into existence out of a brain).

4’) and the Moral (morality “just popped” into existence out of amorality).

For their many obfuscating words, the authors still don’t improve much beyond the “just popped” thesis, if at all.

It is recommended that you skip the rest of the blog – not only it offers nothing insightful and useful, worse, as the reader OhioJoe2 pointed out in his comment (comment number 5), it is full of utterly false, discriminating straw-man claims against scientists and atheists alike.

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Behe Writes Richard Dawkins on “100 Most Influential People of the Year” of Time Magazine Friday, May 4, 2007

Posted by henry000 in anti-creationism, anti-ID, creationism, evolution, faith, fundamentalism, intelligent design, Michael Behe, rationality, religion, Richard Dawkins, science, Time Magazine, top 100, Uncommon Descent.
2 comments

It is well-known to Richard Dawkins’ fans and observers that he has been listed as one of the “100 Most Influential People of the Year” by Time Magazine. This is all very well, given that his book The God Delusion has been selling extremely well (in the UK and US anyway).

Now, what is interesting – and outrageous – is that the Time Magazine editor has asked Intelligent Design advocate Michael Behe to write an entry on Dawkins. This has understandably caused a mass outrage amongst bloggers. Just take a look at Pharyngula’s post. Needless to say I am equally appalled by Time Magazine’s journalistic choice.

What is even more interestingly though, is that according to a post on the Intelligent Design blog site Uncommon Descent, some portion of the original entry has been edited out by the magazine.

So, here is a copy of the entire original text submitted to Time Magazine by Behe:

Of his nine books, none caused as much controversy — or sold as well — as last year’s The God Delusion. Yet the leading light of the recent atheist publishing surge, Oxford University’s Richard Dawkins, has always been a man driven by the big questions. Born in Kenya in 1941 of British parents, he received a mild Anglican upbringing. But at the age of sixteen Dawkins discovered Charles Darwin’s theory, and thought he’d found a pearl of great price.

Obsolete imperialist myth-maker

His academic career as an evolutionary biologist got off to a fast start in the 1970’s with his first book, The Selfish Gene, which argued a then-unfashionable notion: like many politicians in Congress, individual genes of a genome are looking out just for their own good. So if somehow an unconscious gene mutated to be copied more effectively, it would outcompete its fellow DNA fragments. The fundamental idea of this “gene-centered” view of evolution had been proposed by other researchers. But, using his remarkable gift of scientific exposition, Dawkins painted the abstruse concept so clearly, and drew out the logic of its problematic premises so brightly, that it quickly became evolutionary orthodoxy.

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How To Think Like a Religious Fundamentalist Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Posted by henry000 in anti-creationism, anti-fundamentalism, anti-ID, atheism, Christianity, creationism, education, evolution, faith, fundamentalism, funny, God, humour, intelligent design, parody, rationality, religion, sarcasm, science.
50 comments

I have just discovered this seemingly ancient, yet ageless article on how to think like a religious fundamentalist. Buried in a Web 1.0 style website, I decided to bring it to spotlight and submitted that page to Digg. Don’t you just love it when stumbling upon a germ like this?

The opening statement is great:

Planning a career in online Christian fundamentalist apologetics? How about the exciting world of Young-Earth Creationism? Witnessing to, and debating with, atheists and other hellbound unsaved sinners on the internet can be hard work, so you need to familiarise yourself with the tried and tested methods used by fundies all around the world. After completing this simple training course, the shadow of doubt will never again flicker across your mind whilst listening to the lies and deceptions of those ignorant infidels who disagree with your self-evident truths.

After all, that is what religious fundamentalism is about – being blinded by faith without any discourse to reason and rationality. This how-to “training course” then starts with what I call the Fundy Rule 1 on inerrancy:

First and foremost, the Bible is the absolute, literal word of God. Contrary to popular opinion, it contains none of the following: errors of any kind, contradictions or absurdities .

which I believe can be expanded to the Koran of Islam, as well as other holy scriptures, not just that of the Bible of Christianity.

Here comes Fundy Rule 2 which is on science:

There is but one measuring stick required to determine the truth of any claim – how it compares with Holy Scripture. More precisely, how it compares with your personal reading of Scripture. So, if some secular humanist scientists dare to dream up a theory (or “wild guess”, as it is more accurately known) that apparently conflicts with the teachings of the Bible, clearly these egg-head mad professors have made yet another idiotic mistake, possibly under demonic influence. How do we know they are mistaken? See “1 Inerrancy”.

Here comes my favourite – how to debate and reason against attacks on fundamentalist thinking. While I don’t claim myself as being particularly analytical and intelligent, and definitely not a fan on belittling people’s mistakes and intelligence – but, time and time again, we come across totally ignorant and utterly bewildering stupid arguments put forward by religious fundies. So this training course has it, with Fundy Rule 3 on how to debate like a fundy:

  • Self Contradiction – the Bible stands correct at all time;
  • Logic and Reason – just the playthings of the unbeliever – faith in the Lord is all that is needed;
  • Burden of Proof on the Skeptic – the unbeliever claim God does not exist – ask them to disprove that;
  • Repeating Yourself;
  • Reply with Huge Answers;
  • Grammar and Spellings – not important, as long as the Holy Spirit guides us;
  • Knowledge – there is no need to know anything science offers us – all the evidence in the world is no match for a single grain of the True Faith;
  • Definition of Words – the Spirit will guide us through if unbelievers say we are mistaken with words;

Furthermore, the training course provides the last of priceless rules, Fundy Rule 4 – performing mental gymnastics. Here is :

  • Lying for Jesus – being economical with the truth, making up data on the spot and ignoring conflicting evidence are all handy weapons to save souls;
  • Compartmentalisation – keep scriptural knowledge away from the secular knowledge that allows you to function in worldly matters;
  • Wilful ignorance – Ignorance is bliss, and what is more blissful than reading the Word Of God?

Feel free to click on the Digg button below to Digg that fantastic article.

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