Evolving Thoughts

Evolution, culture, philosophy and chocolate! John Wilkins' continuing struggle to come to terms with impermanence... "Humanus sum, nihil humanum a me alienum puto" - Terence

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Another damned quiz

Well, no surprise here:

You Should Be a Science Fiction Writer

Your ideas are very strange, and people often wonder what planet you're from.
And while you may have some problems being "normal," you'll have no problems writing sci-fi.
Whether it's epic films, important novels, or vivid comics...
Your own little universe could leave an important mark on the world!

From Living the Scientific Life.

Friday, May 05, 2006

How many fallacies can ID pack in one article?

Over in Oregon, a couple of ID shills are giving a talk. Just based on this article, let's see how may errors they can stuff in (find the fallacies listed at The Fallacy Files):

A nationally known author, a local attorney and a University professor teamed up to argue on Wednesday night that a powerful being created all life and that evolution-supporting scientists engage in “intellectual totalitarianism” by ignoring proponents of intelligent design.
1. ID is ignored because it fails to make any predictions or guide research. Ad hominem fallacy. And speaking of ad hominem (it's only a fallacy if the argument doesn't rest upon it), what's a lawyer, a popular author and an unspecified academic doing talking about science? Are any of them, you know, actual scientists? Appeal to authority.

Alderman said that if an object is complex, has a purpose and has no plausible physical cause, it implies design. He said that physicists employ design in their work.

There is “a mountain of evidence that the universe was designed,” he said.

“Design has been proven to an extreme probability,” he said.
2. Evolution provides plausible causes of apparent design and purpose in animals. That's why it was accepted by scientists, because it explains these things. False dichotomy, argument by assertion, falsehood.

3. There is no evidence at all of design. ID specifically states that we know nothing about the what, when, how, or who of design. Self-contradiction.

4. There are no arguments to show that design is a probability, only (rather bad) arguments to show that nothing else is, specifically (their strawman version of) evolution. Non sequitur, false dichotomy.

Alderman said scientists believe humans are complex machines without free will. Scientists prejudice their conclusions by ignoring the human consciousness, he said, and that the Catholic Church alienated science when it imprisoned Galileo in the 17th century for proposing that the Earth rotates around the sun.

“Science and religion are certainly different things, but they are not opposites,” Alderman said, “and they are certainly not mutually exclusive.”
5. Psychology certainly doesn't ignore human consciousness, does it?

6. Red herring - what the Catholic Church did or did not do in the Galileo case is entirely irrelevant to the way religion is treated in science now. The reason religion fails to be included in science is that it is not science.

7. Science and religion can be opposed if religion denies facts or best explanations for no reason other than it sits badly with doctrine. Religion shouldn't do this, of course, but it constantly tries to from time to time. [Incidentally, this very event is just such a case.]
Scientists’ prejudice leads them to deny hearing anyone who disagrees with evolution, which is an example of “intellectual totalitarianism,” Alderman said.
8. Scientists will consider any avenue that offers promise. If they can show promising leads this way, then scientists will take them up, prejudice or no. Scientists are whores for factual explanations. But the reason why scientists don't take ID seriously is no such leads have ever been offered by ID.
He also spoke about the recent court case, Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District, in which the judge decided that intelligent design was a religious theory that has no place in public school classrooms. Alderman said the lawyers did not handle the case well and that the loss set back the movement by years.

“It’s gonna be very difficult to use the courts,” Alderman, who is a Christian, said. “The argument needs to be won in the universities.”
9. About time. So why did they try that avenue first? Why not do the damned research and convince the specialists? Why do everything by PR firms? And no, the laswyers didn't handle that case well. That's because they handled the case. It was legally and scientifically a dead dog from the beginning. The fallacy here is argumentum ad populum - if you can get the broader society to accept it, then those damned scientists will have to, right?

“I’m confident that Genesis is true,” he said. “God’s deity and power are revealed in the cosmos.”
10. Hang on. I thought ID was not about religion. Isn't that what the Dover case was about, and why they lost? Were they (dare one say it) lying? No fallacy, just dishonesty.

Alderman said that the Big Bang must have had a cause that is timeless and immaterial.

“It sounds like the God from the Bible,” he said.
11. Why should the Big Bang have a cause if God doesn't need to? Why should our notions of causality, which are derived from within-universe observations, apply to the universe as a whole? This is the fallacy of composition.

Simmons, author of “What Darwin Didn’t Know,” showed pictures of the galaxy, the planets and a group of cells that would grow into a human being.
12. Immediately, the fallacy of many questions, also known as the Gish Gallop - throw many instances together without explaining why they are related, to generate an impression of relatedness. Nice politician's rhetorical trick.

He said the improbability of our solar system being placed in The Milky Way Galaxy, a safe place away from black holes or exploding stars, shows an intelligent designer. He said the location of our planet in relation to the sun — the perfect distance to avoid scalding off our skin or freezing it the bone — shows a designer as well.
13. Probability? On what basis? There are two ways to draw a probability - either sample a large enough set of cases, or by working out the likelihood based on prior knowledge. We know there are literally trillions of planets in our immediate region of the universe, the bulk of them in equally "safe" regions of galaxies. Some of them must have similar conditions. [Does he know that there are black holes and exploding stars in the Milky Way galaxy?]

Moreover, the fact that this planet has those conditions doesn't make it either likely that only in those conditions will living things exist, nor that life like ours can only exist in those conditions (there may be other ways life can survive to something similar to us). The fallacy here is affirming the consequent, or inferring from the fact that the premises are consistent with the conclusion, that the conclusion is true. First, you have to establish that the premises are true.

Cells, which are small enough to fit on the head of a needle, know how to develop and multiply in a rapid and complex fashion to turn into a human being, showing that they could not have evolved through trial and error.
14. Cells don't "know" anything. They have at best genetic machinery and processes that reliably form zygotes and mature organisms, and what's more we are learning a massive amount about those processes without any assumption of design. A couple of fallacies here: the fallacy of reification or abstraction (using an abstract term, like the metaphorical "know" and then thinking it is concrete), and the fallacy of argument by assertion (trial and error is exactly what is used to explain how complex systems evolve. In fact, it's the same argument used when we explain how complex designed systems evolve.

“A single cell is not an accident,” Simmons said. “It’s like all the factories in this country combined.”
15. It's also like all of the rocks in that country combined, and all of the clouds in that country combined, and all of the rivers in that country combined... you can find resemblances between any two class of objects if you like. Cells are "like" factories in that we apply the manufacturing metaphor to them because they form proteins and other molecules. But they are nothing like factories we know - if you can find a factory that works like a cell, write it up for Nature, because it's going to be an amazing thing. There is no substantial analogy here.

Simmons gave a list of living beings that he deemed too complex to have evolved. He said archeologists claim monkey skulls they find are pre-human to get their pictures in magazines and make more money.
16. Argumentum ad hominem, and besides it's false. Scientists earn much less than accountants, ministers of religion who go on television, and authors of bad ID books. And getting one's picture in National Geographic earns you nothing as a scientist. There is no product they are selling on which they can get a return from publicity. And any anatomist knows the difference between a monkey and a hominid skull - this was discovered around the late 18th century when comparative anatomy got going, a half century before evolution was proposed. Only a truly clueless individual could even claim this.

Simmons said many animals, such as giraffes and blue whales, have no fossils on record or any record of species from which they could have evolved. Simmons said intelligent design supports the theories of natural selection and survival of the fittest, but neither of those theories proves evolution.
17. Giraffes and whales have fossil records, and modern species similar enough to what they evolved from. Falsehood.

18. Theories aren't "proven", they are accepted provisionally, and are confirmed over time by evidence, until nobody is likely to think they are false. natural selection confirms evolutionary dynamics. Survival of the fittest is a slogan that means... natural selection. Falsehood.

“Billions of years isn’t enough time,” Simmons said. “Nobody has shown that a dog can become a cat.”
19. Why isn't billions of years enough time? Show your work. Argument by assertion.

20. Strawman fallacy. Nobody ever said a dog would evolve into a cat. But they share a common carnivorous ancestor that looked like neither, some 50 million years ago. This is a classical creationist canard.

Simmons said scientists do not ask what happened before the Big Bang.
21. Avoiding the question (non sequitur). That has nothing to do with intelligent design, which is supposed to be about the features of living things. So ID really is creationism?
“It’s time to tell them that the emperor is not wearing any clothes,” he said.
Well buddy, someone's not wearing any clothes, but it ain't us.

“I don’t believe evolution explains everything I see in this world,” Long said, but “I would not want intelligent design taught in (K-12) schools as a science.”

Long said teachers should encourage students to study the theory and to remain open minded.

Long said that he does not include evolution in his curriculum; instead, he teaches that a creator designed the cell with impressive power and subtlety.
Of course, ID isn't about religion, is it?

I know this is a newspaper report, but one has to assume they said all this. If you needed any reason to think ID is creationism in a tuxedo, here it is.

Species concepts DO matter, 2

A University of Vermont botanist is visiting China to see whether 168 described species actually are. Using modern techniques, David Barrington is going to revisit the descriptions of the endemic flora of China to see if the morphologically based criteria actually dilineated rela species (where "real" equals "Mayrian definitions of species").

I truly hope he also recasts them in terms of some of the other species concepts out there - in particular Alan Templeton's Genetic Cluster concept and Hugh Paterson's Recognition Concept, neither of which rely on the negative "property" of being unabel to breed with other things.

Checks and balances not needed in America

Sorry. A politicohistorical one today.

In a famous case in Australia, an autocratic and corrupt state premier was asked on television what the three arms of the government were and the separation of powers. He stammered through something about the police, the bureaucracy and the premier's office, and was almost immediately ejected from office at the next election.

Oddly, in Australia, the three arms of government that are often quoted - the judiciary, the legislature and the executive - are not separated. The executive is elected within the legislature, and the judiciary is appointed by, and monitored by, legislative committees. But the overall effect is much the same. There are some (woefully too few, however) checks and balances against corruption and perversion of due process of the rule of law.

In America, however, the separation of powers has the force of written constitutional backing, and has been consistently defended by the judiciary there. Until recently. Now, George W. Bush has overturned a key element of the American system by simply claiming that he doesn't need to enforce or obey any law he believes is unconstitutional. Simple as that. If the legislature rules that a given action is unlawful, he can ignore them. He is judge, jury and policeman.

This just begs a comparison with the King (Charles I) and Parliament debates of the 17th century in England. The King prorogued Parliament because it was rejecting his decisions, and declared he was not bound by the laws of the land, as he was the law of the land. The end result was a civil war and the execution of the King, followed by a dictatorship. The present checks and balances of the British system, although not written down as neatly or legalistically as the American Constitution and Bill of Rights, are the result of that terrible time. The British, it seems, can learn from history.

Will there be a civil war in America? The way that the conservative extremists are behaving, demonising opponents as non-Americans and traitors, profiling entire religious communities on the basis of the actions of a few, and running witch hunts and arbitrary arrest and incarceration, it certainly looks like the prerequisites are there. Either the partisanship will succeed in taking full control, resulting in a classical tyranny, or the "Others" (liberals, gays, Jews, the educated) will have to combine to fight them. And there will be a civil dispute, if not an out and out war.

America has always had a tendency to demonise those who are not in line with the ruling culture; from the Salem witch trials, which were the last gasp of that sort of thing, through to the massacre of freethinkers in Texas, to of course Joe McCarthy, it seems that a considerable number of people think it is a good thing to divide a society, ignoring the now-abandoned motto that once adorned its money - "out of the many, one". These days it's "in [my] God, we trust [or else]".

I believe America will end up in civil war. All the signs are there, and this is the beginning of the classical arrogation of power that leads to such strife. While each historical case is unique, there are sufficient similarities to be worried. Unless something is done by the populace, but the legislature, by the judiciary, and the public service, to reign back this partisan grab for control over social institutions, the fragmentation of American polity seems inevitable. And that will be very bad for everyone else who depend upon the US in various ways, economically, politically, militarily and culturally.

Sunday, April 30, 2006

And now, the 17th century news...

Frinktank notes that the Discovery Channel is announcing that there is a "growing body of evidence that there is no scientific basis for star signs, such as Aries, Taurus and so on". Frink suggested that the study should be called "Hey Asshole! The Universe Doesn't Revolve Around You!", which might be a message that Behe needs to hear, given that he said at the Dover trial that astrology could be considered science. There are many similarities between ID and astrology, I admit, but being science isn't one of them.

In other news, medical research has shown that there is a lack of evidence for the Four Humours theory of disease, and that influenza isn't caused by a miasma. Film at 11.