I got home late Saturday night from attending a lecture by William Dembski held on the UC Berkeley campus, under the auspices of the Berkeley IDEA Club student group. This was the second lecture Dembski gave for the IDEA Club; he had one Friday night on the "scientific status of intelligent design". I spoke with him briefly after the lecture on Saturday and met his young daughter Chloe. Dembski is a personable guy.
But personal interactions are not really relevant to the issues. What's of importance there is the content that was provided in the two talks. And there I have to take issue with many of Dembski's claims and arguments.
So my first effort is going to be to provide the notes that I took at these two lectures. These will go up in very rough form, complete with typos and unmarked contractions of longer words. (I was typing in notes on an old Palm PDA that I have a fold-out keyboard for.) The Berkeley IDEA Club is selling CDs of the two lectures, and will be providing the recordings of the question and answer sessions on their website, so if you want to hear it for yourself, you can with a bit of effort. As I get time, I will work on cleaning up the notes. I will also start commenting upon and critiquing the content a bit later on. Tomorrow, though, requires attention be paid to Rusty, since it is the last day of rabbit season for the 2005-2006 hunting calendar.
On Friday, Feb. 3rd, I was able to pose a question to Greer-Heard Forum headliners Michael Ruse and William Dembski. Here's a transcript of that segment:
WRE:Actually I'm interested in a public policy aspect of this whole thing. Last month, I got on the Web of Science database search and looked up the term "cold fusion" and it came up with 900 papers there. "Cold fusion" is the poster child for the "not-ready-for-prime-time" physics theory, something that is not ready for going into 9th grade biology, no, physics textbooks. We see the process of science in things like plate tectonics, and the endosymbiotic theory, the neutral theory, and punctuated equilibria, these are things that have earned a place in the textbooks, because the people put in the work, they convinced the scientific community that they had a point, and that's why they're in the textbooks. So, what I'd like to hear from both of you is, is there a justification for giving intelligent design a pass on this process?
Dembski: That was short, but I think I can expand on that a little bit. A few years back, I wrote a paper, in fact I think I delivered it at a conference that I think that you attended, what was the title, Becoming a Disciplined Science, Pitfalls, Problems, various things confronting intelligent design, and in that paper I addressed what I thought a real concern for me that intelligent design would become in instrumental good used by various groups to further certain ends, but that the science would get short-shrifted, and I argued that the science was the intrinsic good, and indeed that's my motivation, ultimately. I could make my peace with Darwinism if I had to, and I'm sufficiently theologically astute to do the fancy footwork, but it's the science itself that I don't think holds up, and that's what motivates me to critique Darwinism and develop intelligent design. But as I argued in that paper, intelligent design has to be developed as a scientific program, otherwise you, you can't get a pass, I'm with you on that. And I was not a supporter of this Dover policy. Once it was enacted, once the Thomas More Law Center was going ahead with it, I did agree to be an expert witness there, but I think it is premature.
(From "The Austringer":)
In a clearly-argued decision, Judge John E. Jones III ruled in favor of the plaintiffs in the Kitzmiller et al. v. Dover Area School District case.
Back in 2004, Casey Luskin and I had lunch. One of the topics of conversation was the legal status of "intelligent design" and how a court case might turn out. Casey argued that since ID had no explicit mention of the identity of the "designer" as God and no explicit use of scripture, it would have no trouble in court. I argued that the history of commonality with creationism and the identity of the arguments between the two would be found to put ID in violation of the establishment clause. I'm happy to report that Judge Jones concurs with me and not Casey.
Ironically, J. Witt falsely accuses D. Morgan of constructing a strawman, while putting together his own strawman:
Most obvious among the errors, neither Sternberg nor the Discovery Institute claims he was fired from his editorship. To claim that we have claimed this is pure straw man.
Intrigued, I had a look at Morgan's post. I can't say that I was surprised to find that there was no claim made there about Sternberg being "fired". (The word "fired" doesn't even occur in the post or the following comments.) Nor does Morgan make any claim that Sternberg or the DI had said so.
Over on Michael Berube's weblog, Steve Fuller responded to various points being made about his advocacy of "intelligent design". One item caught my attention:
6.‘And please, to cite Dembski...the man is a dilettante who relies on speaking math to those who know a little biology and biology to those who know a little math. His ideas are useless.’ Well, his ideas may be wrong, but they are not useless. In any case, the man’s not finished yet – and (unlike Newton) he’s exposing his ideas for public inspection and critique, rather than going underground for 10-20 years to work all the bugs out. (Perhaps you’d prefer that approach.) Here you’ve got to take seriously what it means for ID to be primarily a science of ‘design’: God and humans design in exactly the same way (so says the theory), so the more we learn about detecting human-led design (e.g. Dembski has come up with scientific fraud detectors used by the NIH and NSF – I can already see students of Irony 101 raising their hands), the more we get (hopefully testable) ideas about how the universe might be designed. ID basically turns biology into divine technology. This is not a million miles from Herbert Simon in ‘Sciences of the Artificial’, in which he imagines (among other things) natural selection as a watchmaker who gets interrupted a lot and periodically needs to regroup from where he left off. [emphasis added - WRE]
William A. Dembski, mathematician, theologian, and philosopher, is also a heavyweight expert when it comes to self-promotion. So why is it, Steve, that Dembski has not himself boasted of the adoption of his particular methods by the NIH and NSF for "fraud detection"?
My basic stance on this is skepticism until such time as an independently verifiable reference is provided. One does not have to look far to find ID advocates exaggerating grandly from mundane reality, so I take the claim that someone other than Dembski has figured out how to make Dembski's methods work (when even Dembski has thus far failed at that task) with a dried-up Permian sea of salt.
I am not "Darwin-only"; I'm "Science-only" for the content of public school science classrooms.
Casey Luskin notes that we talked some at the Kitzmiller et al. v. DASD trial in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
I am grateful to have had numerous friendly conversations with individuals from the Darwin-only side over the past few days. Wesley Elsberry (NCSE staffer) and I spent some time shooting the breeze and taking-in the spectacle together while engaging in friendly conversation outside the courthouse waiting to watch the media feeding frenzy as the attorneys walked out of the courtroom.
I'm pretty sure that I've said this before, but I'll take this opportunity to let Casey know clearly that I'm not "Darwin-only". In fact, one can find my line of CafePress items that state the "I'm Not Darwin-Only, I'm Science-Only" slogan in the left sidebar here.
This etext covers Dr. Barbara Forrest's acceptance as an expert witness for the plaintiffs despite a series of objections by the defense and her direct examination by Eric Rothschild.
In a blurb for The Privileged Planet, Phillip Skell says
"In this fascinating and highly original book, Guillermo Gonzalez and Jay Richards advance a persuasive argument, and marshal a wealth of diverse scientific evidence to justify that argument. In the process, they effectively challenge several popular assumptions, not only about the nature and history of science, but also about the nature and origin of the cosmos. The Privileged Planet will be impossible to ignore. It is likely to change the way we view both the scientific enterprise and the world around us. I recommend it highly."
- Philip Skell, Evan Pugh Professor Emeritus of Physics, Pennsylvania State University, Member, National Academy of Sciences.
But how original is the basic idea in Gonzalez and Richards' book, that we are especially well-situated to observe and make sense of astronomical data? It turns out that the giant whose shoulders Gonzalez and Richards stand upon is none other than the Reverend William Paley.
Here's a couple of things I've been working on rather than posting here lately:
Waterloo In Dover: The Kitzmiller v. DASD Case, on the Panda's Thumb.
I may do some podcasting as the trial gets going. We'll see.
An open letter to the 600 NCSE Steves,
My dearest, my darlings, you little stinkers! In all of my 25 plus years as a professional something or other, (and believe me, I've done a lot of stuff for money!) nothing makes me prouder than to have been involved in what became known internationally as Project Steve. Oh, poo to project lead on one of BellSouth's largest re-engineering software projects of the late 90s, GE Financial Services first venture into the World Wide Web and Bechtel Engineering's Web Initiative Plan what'cha'ma'call'it. Project Steve beat the pants off all of them.
From the moment that Matt Inlay first pondered the vastness of Steves (individually or collectively, only Matt himself knows), Glenn and I fell giggling onto the floor of the NCSE office munching Twinkies and causing the Darwinian-Only Terror herself, Dr. Eugenie Scott, to come from her lair and roar, “C'mon guys, what's so funny,” we knew we were on to something.
At first we thought it just too outrageous to even contemplate. After all, who were these so-called Steves? Botanists, geologists, paleontologists, biologists, tobacconists? Would they answer our call? Well, my boys, you did answer. With all the courage and conviction of someone who would send an email to a colleague stating, “Hey Steve, did you get one of these? Are the clowns at NCSE serious about this?” you charged to the front trenches defending quality science education.