Saturday, July 30, 2005


We're at the Carey Family Conference in Shropshire this week, followed by a few days with friends.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Poem for Summer

The theme was an original creation of my eldest, when aged about 3. The variations were just for fun, and have little artistic merit, but might raise a smile.

Variations on a theme

Two little piggy hays
in the ragy run.
One got tired
and then with one.

Variation I

Ten little lemmings
sitting on a wall.
One jumped off
and so did all the rest.

Variation II

Five little pussy cats
who couldn't add up.
One brought a friend
and then there were eight.

Variation III
Six little hedgehogs
who couldn't take away.
One went to get some lunch
and then there were four.

Variation IV
Ten corrupt politicians
holding an election.
When the ballot was counted
then there were five hundred.


Monday, July 25, 2005

What makes somebody a universal hero?

(With apologies to David Colbert, who has a similarly titled chapter in "The Magical Worlds of Harry Potter")

I have a theory. Humans are supposed to respond to stories, because God has designed us to respond to the Great Story - the storyline of the Bible in which God reveals himself and displays his purposes to save people from out of the world. (Incidentally, I'm not sure that evolution has a terribly sound explanation as to why we should relate to narrative! :-) )

I would suggest that one of the implications of that is that there are various narrative motifs which have near-universal human significance. Sacrificial love is one; the idea of a hero is another. I have no doubt that there are learned papers that have been written that explore these themes, though possibly not making the connection with the plotline of the Bible. One of the problems of the Bible is that it is rarely regarded these days as a narrative whole. Christians focus on individual chapters. Non-christians tend to focus on the fact that the book was written over 1600 years by lots of different authors, and overlook the overarching themes. (Like the fact that it starts of with humans created in the presence of God, and ends with humans in the presence of God). Biblical theology seeks to move back towards having a regard for the whole Bible, and I have been strongly influenced by this approach for some years.

Anyway, it was interesting to read in Colbert's book above reference to the idea of a universal hero. Examples of universal heros or Hidden Monarchs - such as "Oedipus, Moses or King Arthur" - or Cinderella or the Ugly Duckling! - abound in "every culture". What are the characteristics of "The Hero with a Thousand Faces"? According to Joseph Campbell (cited in Colbert's book), their story may be summarized as follows:
A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder. Fabulous forces are there encountered and decisive victory is won. The hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow books on his fellow man.
Here are some of the characteristics of these heroes:
@ The hero is called to adventure from everyday life.
@ The hero may refuse the call to adventure, but if he does, he will find he has no choice.
@ The hero meets a protector and guide who offers supernatural aid.
@ The hero encounters a first threshold to the new world, and enters "the belly of the whale".
@ The hero follows a road of trials.
@ The hero is abducted.
@ The hero fights a symbolic dragon. He may suffer a ritual death.
@ The hero is recognised by or reunited with his father. He comes to understand this source of control over his life.
@ The hero becomes nearly divine. He has travelled past ignorance and fear.
@ The hero receives the goal of his quest.
@ The hero takes a "magic flight" back to his original world. He crosses the return threshold.
@ The hero becomes master of two worlds.
@ The hero has won the freedom to live.

Interesting how close some of those are to the story of Jesus. Campbell (whose book on the basis of these comments I feel strongly drawn to read!) says, apparently, "every one of us shares the supreme ordeal." However, what Biblical theology would imply is that the reason the hero is significant for us is because we don't all share this ordeal - we are looking for a hero who will do this on our behalf, and who will bestow his favour on us.

ID - the "debate"

This is really a response to a comment in a post below, but what I wanted to say is more widely applicable to any darwinist who might end up here.

What really frustrates me about "the debate" is the attempt to suppress dissenting opinion that is being carried out in the name of objectivity and science - the wrangling over one guy's Ph.D. is only the tip of the iceberg. There is the offering to pay the Smithsonian to back out of an arrangement; blackballing and abusing journal editors who dare to publish articles that don't toe the line; (in the case of Eugenie Scott, NCSE, the demonstrated) writing of misleading and inaccurate articles; the re-presentation of already refuted arguments (in New Scientist). How is so-called academic freedom going to be defended by thousands of scientists - 95%+ of whom don't actually know the details of what's happening - emailing people in authority to get them to exert pressure on one or two scientists? What affect will that have on them? And will this pressure make it more or less likely that the truth will become apparent? What would happen to you if you found yourself the target of this sort of witchhunt? Would it improve the standard of your work?

Take a look at what's going on. I know it's really hard, but try and detach yourself from where you are arguing from, and look at what's happening from a neutral standpoint. Look at the rhetoric on both sides. Look at what people who hadn't even seen it were saying about "Privileged Planet" - can't you see that this is the exact opposite of the freedom which you claim to love? If you think the attitude of people who suppress the truth is undesirable, then why are you trying to become like one of them?

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Universal probability bounds

In Specification: The Pattern that Signifies Intelligence, William Dembski revisits the idea of a "universal probability bound" (see also "The Design Inference"). This is a useful concept - as a bound, it is "impervious [to] any probabilistic resources that might be brought to bear against it." If the probability of a specified event is smaller than this, then it basically won't happen by chance.

The word "specified" is important. Consider the probability bound of 10-150 that Dembski suggests. A computer could generate a random sequence of 100 letters, spaces, commas and full stops. Each 100 character sequence has a probability of one in 10-150 of arising. However, the program has to produce something - an improbable event in itself isn't significant. But suppose I wrote down a particular series of 100 letters, spaces, commas and full stops (with no knowledge of the algorithm that was used by the program). What is the likelihood of the program generating this sequence that I have specified? It is (roughly) 1 in 10150 - and with this universal probability bound, I am able to assert that this is unlikely to arise by chance in the life of the universe - and by extension, in however long the program runs for. So if the program generates this specified sequence, then somebody has cheated somewhere. Or, in Dembski's terms, we can draw an inference of design.

This figure of 10-150 is based on "the number of state changes in elementary particles throughout the history of the universe." It is reasonable to regard this as a "worst possible case" - the universe has a maximum total number of 10150 goes at anything that can be possibly conceived of - so if the probability of a specified event happening by chance is less than the reciprocal of this, we would conclude that it didn't happen by chance.

If this figure is the universal probability bound, I'd like to propose the introduction of slightly different but related probability bounds - perhaps we could call them biochemical, biological, thermodynamic and chemical probability bounds. Considering biological systems, for example, the total number of state changes in the universe is not really relevant. Fast biochemical reactions are fast, no doubt, but whereas the Planck time used to derive this universal probability bound is 10-45 seconds, the fastest biochemical reactions require a period of time at least some 30 orders of magnitude greater (the initial stages of photosynthesis reactions take a period of time of the order of 10-12 seconds. We might allow that most of the history of the universe is relevant for consideration of biochemical processes - but since the majority of the matter of the universe is hydrogen and helium (all but one thousandth of 1 percent), given that biochemical reactions basically involve mass of the universe that isn't dominated by hydrogen and helium, it would also seem to be sensible to reduce the biological probability bound by five further orders of magnitude from the cosmic probability bound. Thus an estimate for the biochemical probability bound would be 10-115.

It seems odd to be fiddling around with orders of magnitude when we are discussing such small numbers. However, probability bounds have relevance to consideration of real scientific processes, so it helps for such discussions to be based on realistic estimates. I intend to explore the implications of the biochemical probability bound in a subsequent post.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of ...

Some people (well, actually one person, although maybe others nearly did) have asked me about the Google adverts which appear on my page. I don't endorse any of the products or services offered, I don't expect to receive a particularly lucrative stream of revenue from having the adverts there, and I have only been interested in "clicking through" myself a handful of times.

I put them there for several reasons - for the technical practice of fiddling around with the Blogger template to make it work; out of interest to see how intelligently AdSense (the advertising scheme) "understood" the text in my posts; to have something on my page that would be a little more original; and to provide more links that might improve my visibility in search engines (the ratings game ... I want to know if "Exile from GROGGS" can take over the world - buwah hah hah hah haaaaa!).

No reasons of any great significance, really, any more than this blog has any real significance. But rather more honestly than many advertising media, and at risk of biting the hand that feeds (not that it's really fed at all...), I would just like to say, "Caveat Emptor". Or "Caveat spector". Or whatever ....

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Harry Potter and the Anticipated Storyline

I was one of the 68 trillion people who got "Half Blood Prince" on the day it came out - though I did at least wait until the afternoon before picking up my pre-ordered copy, and not go to the shops at midnight specially. This may have been partly due to the fact that I had to get up at 4.30 for work (yes, I do work sometimes: yes, in the morning: no, I know that's "not a time" for most people).

It took me several years before I read the first one, and then the pace has quickened through the other five. The initial hesitation was partly due to the furore amongst Christians - I am still conscious of the fact that some Christians would not be happy with their children reading it. This is certainly an opinion they are free to hold, though in defence of the Harry Potter stories, J.K.Rowling's world is apparently a great deal more "Christian" than that of Philip Pullman, in the "His Dark Materials" series,

I had mentally sketched out where I thought the narrative would be going in book 6 and onwards. One of the themes that I had assumed would become more important would be the songs of the Sorting Hat - which has, in a semi-prophetic way, been saying for the last few books that the houses in Hogwarts need to pull together to overcome evil. I assumed that this would lead at some stage to Harry and Snape somehow coming to terms with their past, so that Slytherin could work with the other houses to overcome Voldemort. Suffice it to say that it now looks like this isn't going to happen....

Also, given that Harry's power over Voldemort is the fact that he is able to love, his motivation is drifting rather strongly towards hatred - understandable, but a conundrum that has to be overcome, I suspect. I'm reminded of Luke Skywalker being challenged by the emperor to fight him with hatred in "Return of the Jedi".

Incidentally, for anybody else who ends up here who has read the book, is it only me who thinks that Rowling has left herself an awful lot of loose ends to tie up in what she has said will be the last book of the series?

Monday, July 18, 2005

Academic freedom?

How much might it cost to express opposition to darwinism in a university? Follow this link for more information.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

New Scientist reaction 4

One of the consistent objections to Intelligent Design is that its proponents are often Christians, or theists, and that this constitutes an argument against ID - I'm not sure it was specifically included in the list below, although the "Monty Python Proof" comes close. Hence, the New Scientist article (Holmes and Randerson) highlighted the following phrase:
Most advocates of intelligent design are professed Christians, yet avoid spelling out the kind of designer they have in mind.

In Lawrence Krauss's addition to the article, "Survival of the Slickest", he says:
[Jonathan Wells] claimed his attacks on evolution follow from his years of studying biology. But in an essay ... he says that as a follower of the Unification Church ... he was given a mission to undermine Darwinism.
(as though those two things are mutually exclusive).

In the editorial, New Scientist points out that
one of the governing goals of the Discovery Institute, ID's spiritual home, is to spread the word "that nature and human beings are created by God."

This approach is shared by Scientific American - in their article "The Woodstock of Evolution", by Michael Shermer, published Jun 27,2005, he writes:
The fact is that virtually all Intelligent Design creationists are Evangelical Christians who privately believe that ID and God are one and the same.
He does have the decency to add, "There is nothing wrong with that..." - thanks, pal! So freedom of religion isn't quite dead, yet.

A couple of comments.

1) Isn't it likely that people are going to do research and present opinions that are consistent with their worldview? What is the likelihood of somebody who believes that the whole idea of God is ridiculous doing research that might demonstrate that there is a requirement for an external intelligent agent? Or seeking to challenge the consensus that there is no such requirement?

2) Although people's worldview will have a bearing on the sort of studies they undertake, it is not appropriate to make a judgement on the quality of their research based on their worldview. In fact, this is what is known as prejudice - prejudging something. For example, Dembski's explanatory filter stands or falls as a piece of analysis independently of whether he is a Christian. Irreducible complexity can be identified (or not) independently of whether Michael Behe goes to church. So why raise their personal beliefs at all? And yet, in almost every article analysing the ID movement, there it is! "They're all Christians!"

Let's put it another way. Supposing somebody wrote a paper in support of evolution - perhaps a response to one of the ID papers. Is it a valid argument to say: "Ah! But the person who wrote that is an atheist! That means he's bound to take that point of view - because he is trying to show that God doesn't exist"? On one level, it's trivial - that much is obvious. But on another level, the writer would have every right to be gravely offended - "What do my beliefs about God have to do with it?" This cuts both ways.

3) It is inevitable that, if ID were to prove itself to be well-founded, this would have a philosophical impact beyond science (note the darwinist criticism of the broader agenda of ID and organisations such as the Discovery Institute). But darwinists can hardly grumble at that - look at the way in which darwinism has crossed into all sorts of other disciplines - not always for the good of society. The problem is that it is the wider impact of an alternative worldview that makes it so unpalatable to the atheist world (in which I am including people whose idea of God is of something solely subjective, who is unable to have any real impact on the universe - a definition that I know would make them angry! :) ). Of course anything that might lead to the conclusion that there is a God who is there, and who acts, will rattle people's cages. But shooting (or ridiculing) the messenger won't change whether it is true or not.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

New Scientist reaction interchange

"ID is not anti-evolution"

If ID isn't anti-evolution, why is the best-selling book promoted by ID advocates the rabidly anti-evolution (and grotesquely in error) Icons of Evolution by rabid anti-evolutionist Jonathan Wells?

Even if there is "something in" some of the icons, they are presented in a misleading way by biology textbooks - and they imply that darwinian evolution has everything sewn up, when in fact it has yet to show that it is capable of anything really substantial (origin of life, significant morphological changes, transitions between phyla, changes in numbers of chromosomes). However, most ID proponents believe in an old earth, and different ID proponents believe that evolution could have been responsible for different aspects of organisms.

As to why the book is best-selling - well, that's because people buy it. But that doesn't signify - I suspect that "The Blind Watchmaker" sells just as well ....

Also, nobody - not even the most fundamentalist Young Earth Creationist - argues against evolution in its broadest sense - which is what is implied by saying that ID and creationism are "anti-evolution", without defining evolution, and then ridiculing them for this stance - because that would include any form of descent with modification. Everybody accepts that descent with modification happens - it's what happens when humans breed animals, for example.

But suppose one were rather to say, "ID proponents don't believe that naturalistic mechanisms explain the initial origin of life." Or, "ID proponents don't believe that descent with modification as a mechanism is powerful enough to get us from the first prokaryotic cell to homo sapiens." Worded in those terms, suddenly the position of ID proponents looks a bit less stupid. But of course, because the game being played by the evolutionist establishment is every bit as political as that they accuse the ID community of playing, there is no way that they would use precision to ensure clarity in this debate.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

New Scientist reaction 3

A couple more quick responses to the articles in "New Scientist" - which I have now bought!

ID is not creationism. Creationists don't recognise ID as creationism. ID'ers don't recognise ID as creationism. Creationism carries out science with a prior commitment to the authority of the Bible. ID doesn't. The fact that many ID proponents are Christians is actually irrelevant - firstly, some aren't; secondly, their religious beliefs have no more bearing on the validity of their conclusions than their sexuality or their height. To argue otherwise is a form of discrimination. Debating on the character of the proponents is not science. Arguing that they are pursuing a political or religious agenda may or may not be true - but again, it is irrelevant to the science of the issue.

The film at the Smithsonian, Washington D.C. was not "creationist". In fact, it wasn't about evolution at all. It is about the Copernican Principle. See the website if you want more accurate information.

ID is not anti-evolution. ID says that darwinian evolution doesn't answer all the problems. At the recent Galapagos Islands conference, reported by Michael Shermer in Scientific American, apparently as much was said by William Provine and Lynn Marguiles - but the science establishment didn't bat an eyelid. And yet ID is portrayed in New Scientist as being as stupid as somebody telling a class that it is disputable that the earth goes round the sun. Why?

Early World Music

Live8 was criticised in some quarters for having insufficient regard to African artists, particularly given the focus of the concert on African poverty. This criticism showed recognition of the fact that the sounds and variety of popular music are far more diverse now than they have been in previous decades - popular music is no longer the sole preserve of Western Europe and North America. Hats off particularly to Andy Kershaw, and the BBC who have given him a platform, for bringing much world music to the attention of British hearers.

It could be argued that Paul Simon ("Graceland", "Rhythm of the Saints") and David Byrne ("Rei Momo") were influential in first bringing African and South American music into the mainstream. However, in the early 70's, a serious attempt was made to bring African music, rhythms and themes to the mainstream - by somebody who would probably be regarded by many people as the antithesis of progress in music - Neil Diamond.

Of "Tap Root Manuscript", Neil Diamond wrote:

When rhythm and blues lost its sensuality for me I fell in love with a woman named gospel. We met secretly in the churches of Harlem, and made love at revival meetings in Mississippi. And loving her as I did, I found a great yearning to know of her roots. And I found them. And they were in Africa. And they left me breathless. The African Trilogy is an attempt to convey my passion for the folk music of that black continent.

On one side (pre CD era, of course!) was a series of conventional tracks, including the single "Cracklin' Rosie" and a cover of "He ain't heavy, he's my brother." On the other side were a set of songs that used African rhythms, African voices, and African themes. See also the reviews on This is a stunning and significant piece of work: it never fulfilled the potential it had to revolutionise popular music in the West, but it is remarkable nonetheless.

Monday, July 11, 2005

New Scientist reaction 2

ID's appeal to supernatural forces by definition puts it outside the scope of science, says Eugenie Scott head of the NCSE. After all, saying "God did it" can never be disproved.

This was highlighted in the text - the editors presumably regarded this as a key point. However, it is misleading. ID isn't appealing to "supernatural forces". It is appealing to intelligent agency. It is saying that various characteristics of creatures and the universe cannot be explained by naturalistic mechanisms. The same analysis occurs when archaeological artefacts are discovered; the same process is occurring at the moment as the SETI programme analyses radio signals from outer space; the same process occurs when a pathologist looks at a corpse and has to come to a conclusion as to the likely cause of death.

What ID - more specifically, Dembski's Explanatory Filter and the mathematics surrounding it - have done is seek to provide a mathematical basis for this previously intuitive assessment. And what happens when this Explanatory Filter is applied to the information in creatures is that it suggests that they require agency.

The argument against ID should not be on the level of objecting to the conclusion - that an intelligent agent is required. It should be on the level of the presuppositions - either the Explanatory Filter is wrong, or the assessment of the amount of complex, specified information in organisms is wrong.

Secondly, as was pointed out in "By Design or by Chance?" by Denyse O'Leary (as well as elsewhere), requiring the presence of a god doesn't place a line of enquiry outside the scope of science. It places it outside the scope of philosophical materialism. It is incorrect to identify philosophical materialism as science. Maxwell, Newton, Galileo, Copernicus, Kepler, and many other people who have shaped science would strongly disagree with this sentence.

Finally - theological point - there is a false dichotomy here. Materialistic science here is still playing the "God of the Gaps" game - if we can just show that God isn't required, then we can show that belief in God isn't required, and we can do away with the whole God thing once and for all.

Of course, it isn't worded like that. The article talks about the politics of the ID movement. However, the anti-ID movement is playing political games as well - by seeking to relegate all religious belief to an entirely private sphere, and exclude it from public discourse. See "Rocks of Ages" by Stephen Jay Gould for his perspective on this - I suppose that we should at least be thankful that, unlike Richard Dawkins, he wasn't pushing to have people with religious beliefs locked up.

However, from a theological perspective, it is incorrect to argue that God is only involved if we can't come up with a naturalistic explanation of a phenomenon. From a theological perspective, the universe behaves in an orderly manner because God is orderly. The sun rises because God commands it to - although the mechanism that allows the sun to rise is the rotation of the earth. Yes, I know that there is the problem of evil - but there are answers for that, it isn't insurmountable. On the other hand, to the best of my knowledge, the only answer to the problem of tractability is the rather lame anthropic one - "well, it has to be like that, or we wouldn't be able to observe it." Another key ID book - "The Privileged Planet" - addresses this and other cosmological issues. Again, the authors of the New Scientist article made no reference to it.

New Scientist reaction 1

From "A sceptic's guide to intelligent design", New Scientist 9/7/05(Bob Holmes and James Randerson)
But these calculations [of how improbable it is that proteins could arise by chance] are logically flawed because they focus on a single, specified outcome, says Kenneth Miller ... It is like equating the odds of drawing a particular two-pair hand - say a pair of red queens, a pair of black 10s and the ace of clubs. "By demanding a particular outcome, as opposed to a functional outcome, you stack the odds," Miller says. What these calculations fail to recognise is that many different protein sequences can be functional. It is not uncommon for proteins in different species to vary by 80 to 90 per cent, yet still perform the same function.

Firstly, let's note that the odds of a particular sequence of amino acids arising varies geometrically with the length of the sequence. So if 10 amino acids need to be specified, the improbability is 1 in 20^10 - that is, 1 in 10^13. If 100 amino acids need to be specified, the improbability is 1 in 20^100 - that is, 1 in 10^130. For the sake of argument, let's assume that this represents one typical protein. This number - 1 in 10^130 - is pretty much at the limit of the "probabilistic resources" of the universe - in other words, in the entire history of the universe, if all matter were dedicated to randomly producing amino acid sequences all the time, you might stand a reasonable chance of coming up with one fully specified 100 aa residue protein.

That much isn't contested. What is disputed by ID opponents is that this 100 amino acid protein needs to be fully specified. The improbability is irrelevant, opponents of ID argue, because a less specified protein would still be functional, and natural selection provides a basis for improving its functionality. "Therefore evolution is true." (see below)

However, how specified does a sequence of amino acids need to be to provide some functionality? The authors mention that proteins in different species might vary by 80 to 90 per cent and yet still perform the same function. Let's say that our 100 aa residue protein only needs to be 15% specified: this represents an improbability of 1 in 10^19. Where do first attempts at searching for new functionality come from? And do cells really have the energy resources and the informational resources to experiment with new amino acid sequences to search for particular functionality? These questions are fundamental to the debate about whether random mutation and natural selection might work as a basis for evolution.

Most papers which talk about the appearance of new functionality in organisms show the co-option of already present complex proteins. But the question isn't addressed as to where these predecessors might have arisen from. You can't keep on moving the problem back - at some stage, proteins with specific functionality have to appear from somewhere (even if the level of specification only amounts to improbabilities of between 1 in 10^20 and 1 in 10^50).

Is 10 to 20 per cent a typical level of specification for proteins to start to express functionality? Or is this the most generous estimate? The similarity in Cytochrome C (conveniently, a protein that is around 100 aa residues in length) between humans and yeast, discussed in an article here,
is 64%. If cytochrome C has to be 36% specified to have the required functionality, this still represents an improbability of 1 in 10^46. Obviously, this is a lot less improbable than 1 in 10^130 - but if the entire mass of the earth were randomly generated proteins of typically 1000 proton molecular weight, only 1 in 10 would correspond to this reduced specification of cytochrome c.

(I think!)

If it doesn't need to be 36% specified to have the required functionality, then how specified does it need to be? Convincing answers to questions like this would do a great deal to bolster the credibility of darwinian challenges to ID - but they don't arise.

This argument against ID is not sound. It is a vague hand-waving argument, which when examined closely fails to offer any detail or insight into how evolution might solve probabilistic problems.

New Scientist - poor article on Intelligent Design

I have read New Scientist on-off since I was doing O-levels, so was interested to see what they would write about Intelligent Design. However, having read the article (there is a link to it on William Dembski's blogsite listed below), I have to say that I thought it was poor - at best the journalists uncritically presented out of date argumentation from opponents; at worst the writers and editors have used their position to deliberately misrepresent and undermine ID.

I would strongly encourage any New Scientist readers who read the article and who come here for comment to at least read William Dembski's comments. If I get the chance, I'll highlight some of the weaker points in future posts.

PS See above.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Terrorism in UK

The consensus is that it was only a matter of time before the UK was hit by the sort of terrorism that has hit other countries. There is also a pretty widespread acceptance that, dreadful as yesterday's events were, particularly for those people caught up in it or affected by it, then if that is all the UK faces, we will have got away lightly.

One of the odd things that I noticed in people talking about the events of yesterday, and the people who might have been directly affected, was how many people had "lucky escapes" - a woman who chose to go into a different carriage because the one she first went to was too full - somebody who chose to work from home that morning, and so was away from the affected area - and so on.

There are two possible conclusions - the relative weight you give to one over the other will depend a lot on your worldview. The first is to attribute these "lucky" escapes to providence - effectively saying that God overruled to keep me clear of these incidents. A corollary of this is that you are then compelled to conclude that God also overruled to determine those people who were caught up in it - who probably made a series of just as arbitrary decisions, which led to them being in "the wrong place at the wrong time". Whilst those people who had narrow escapes can be thankful, is it right for those people who happened to be affected to be resentful?

Theologically, this perspective is correct if you believe in a sovereign God. However, in coming to this conclusion as to how God acts, it is important to bear in mind what Jesus said about both natural disasters and human tragedies - it isn't possible to know what God's purposes are in allowing these things to happen, but we all need to be aware of the fact that death walks close to us all the time - and furthermore, that death isn't the worst thing that can happen to you.

The alternative is to say that everybody's lives are really a whole series of co-incidences anyway. What decides which carriage of a train I will go in? What determines which train I catch, when there is one every five minutes? What determines whether I will only go into work this afternoon? Well, it's all arbitrary and certainly hardly predictable. Some people had a lucky escape; other people were unlucky to be affected. It's just one of those things.

In some ways, since in most circumstances we can't have any idea what God's ultimate purposes are in what happens, even for Christians this may be a safer perspective. After Hitler survived an assassination attempt, he concluded that it was his destiny to survive - and he pursued his programmes of genocide all the more vigorously. It's probably safer for all of us to accept we can't know what God's purposes are than to try and work out exactly what God may have had in mind when he allowed something to happen.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

ID and research

A pretty consistent charge levelled against ID is that it isn't producing research, and it isn't publishing papers. Here's a couple of quotes from ARN
We await with anticipation the IDist research proposal to study how intelligent causation brings about convergent evolution.

Go to it. We've been waiting and waiting and waiting for some details from the "intelligent design" community.

... and one in response to an earlier post from me ...

What evidence is there from intelligent design? Even the few ID-favorable articles that have slipped into science journals admit they are reviews of arguments, not new data.

So why aren't papers being published? I think one only has to look at the furore that accompanied the publication of "The Origin of Biological Information and the Higher Taxonomic Categories" by Stephen C. Meyer to know the answer to this. For those who don't know, the outgoing editor was accused of all sorts of misbehaviour by (amongst others) the National Center for Science Education and its co-belligerent, Panda's Thumb. The accusations were unfounded, but in most walks of life would be considered to be intimidation.

In most settings, a paper won't even get that far. A large proportion of the science community is still strongly committed to the idea that external agency lies outside the realm of science - despite the fact that the detection of external agency (which is what ID is all about) is precisely the nature of SETI, forensics and archaeology. So (in accordance with one of the arguments against ID given below!) ID isn't science. Therefore it won't be published.

Even if somebody with a position of influence is prepared to look at a paper which advocates Intelligent Design, the treatment meted out to people and organisations that are prepared to present this material would seriously discourage them. Again, I would point out that in any other walk of life, this behaviour would be called intimidation.

On the basis of what happened within creationism, of course, this won't make "the problem" for anti-ID'ers go away. What will happen, if what happened with creationism is anything to go by, is that an ID "counter culture" will be established. This would actually be a shame, in my opinion - ID has the potential of re-unifying strands of knowledge that became separate in the enlightenment.

As was remarked in Denyse O'Leary's book, it would have been unfortunate if the editors who reviewed Einstein's original papers on relativity had been bothered by the unorthodoxy of his background or ideas - but although relativity overturned the world of physics, they had nothing to prove.

However, despite the opposition, the body of ID-related literature is growing. See this list, on the Discovery Institute website.

Why isn't research happening? This kind of follows on. Obviously many scientists in universities will have a prior commitment against ID. But which head of department would be prepared to admit that staff were being funded to carry out research in an area related to ID? What would be the impact on that department when the first paper appeared? "Professor Steve Stevenson - he's the one who funded Dr Steph Stefano who tried to get the paper published demonstrating that the genetic code could not have arisen by any naturalistic process." "Oh yeah! Well, can't say much for what goes on in his labs, then, because anybody who argues that isn't being scientific." "Won't look at any papers from there in future." "Won't encourage students to go there in future." "Must have a word with the trustees and let them know that they are risking funding to the department." etc.

G8 summit

There is much that could be said about trade justice, reduction of carbon dioxide levels, elimination of debt, globalisation and so forth. However, time is short, and much has been said already.

However, in honour of the summit, let me give a link to a new website that an old friend of mine is involved in putting together. Remember that global problems are only the expression of the behaviour of billions of individuals.

Monday, July 04, 2005

After the storm

The bright greens of spring give way to the more intense, richer greens of summer. The greys and browns of winter are already appearing within the summer hues.

After a July storm, the sky is washed clean, and brilliant diamonds drop from the trees, catching the sunlight.Posted by Picasa

Under the anvil

The power and scale of a cumulonimbus cloud are phenomenal. The entire population of the world would fit into a cube a mile on a side (though you'd have to get your own lunch) - which could be dropped into the Grand Canyon, or alternatively disappear into even a small thunder cloud.

This storm is largely spent, the anvil marking its presence, looking deceptively soft ....Posted by Picasa

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Dimensions of speed

I was talking to one of my children about units of speed. We'd covered miles per hour, kilometres per hour, and proportions of the speed of sound. Then I said, "How about some more units - you need a unit of length and a unit of time."

She suggested centimetres per hour, so I asked what might move at centimetres per hour, and she suggested a snail.

"OK, another unit of speed, then."

"Millimetres per hour."

"And what might move at that sort of speed?"

"A snail with a broken leg?"

Friday, July 01, 2005

The dangers of children using computers

My youngest daughter (4 years old) has developed a habit of "doing her writing" at the computer. This involved opening a document in Open Office, and typing random letters into it. From time to time, she hits the "paste" key by mistake, and something gets stuck into the text that was left there by the last user. Occasionally, she types a list of the names she can remember (pretty well! Good old Foundation Stage), or her older sister helps her embed a series of names. Occasionally we see the keys have been pressed in sequence. But for the most part, it is just random letter sequences. "To be or not to be" hasn't appeared yet.

I thought this was a mostly harmless activity. However, I am typing something at the moment, and when I tried to type "point", the auto-complete kicked in after three letters to suggest: "poiiuyrewefoplmkjklpoiyyujpoloiuytrewqaasdfdfgvvlpoie- rfgvbhhynmjuiklopaqzzzlkjhcfrt7iop".
I think I ought to go and tidy up my auto-complete dictionary ....