Wednesday, January 31, 2007

500,000,000 cups...

... of food to the hungry. This is my home page. In the event that you've not seen it before, the idea is that you click on the "Help Feed the Hungry" bar in the centre of the screen, and the advertisers whose adverts you then see pay "The Hunger Site" for the privilege of showing them to you, and "The Hunger Site" then uses that money to buy food to give to hungry people. Obviously, the advertisers hope that they will attract your attention sufficiently that you will then click through to them - but this isn't required.

There are sister sites on tabs -you can click to raise money for mammograms, child health, literacy programmes, animal rescue and preserving the rainforest. Only one click per day will be registered per computer. But basically, this is a way of raising funds for worthy causes at the expense of no more than a few seconds of your time.

The Hunger Site currently has its sights on an aggregate donation of 500,000,000 cups of food.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

A really useful WordPress resource ...

... for anybody working seriously with it, as I am at the moment, despite having this on Blogger, can be found here. The source of every file that is distributed with WordPress, with all functions referenced, files included, function definitions, classes, constants and so on.

The aim is presumably to document all these things in the fullness of time. For now, at least it's possible to trace fairly easily using it where everything comes from ....

Sunday, January 28, 2007

The Wedge Document; so what?

Allygally continues to try and make political capital here with reference to the "Wedge Document" - for example, he says:
To quote the "Wedge " document, the Discovery Instutute's battle plan, available here ...

"Design theory promises to reverse the stifling dominance of the materialist worldview, and to replace it with a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions."

The aim of IDers is not just to replace the dominant theory of evolution, the neo-Darwinist synthesis, which currently holds. It is to replace the whole modern and enlightened edifice of reason and logic and replace it with "Christian and theistic convictions", i.e. religion if you are a religious person, superstition if you know better.
He manages to sway the easily impressionable:
I confess that I hadn't read the Wedge document. Thanks for that tip, I'm just looking at it now.

Bloody Hell...are these guys for real? Obviously I have a lot of catching up to do.
I have not taken much notice until now, because I don't think it's terribly sinister - I agree with much of the agenda it sets out - I think that materialism is culturally destructive, and needs to be responded to. I do that as I tell people the gospel, and also in reflecting what I consider to be a more positive and holistic perspective in my writing.

But just for the sake of anyone who might think this is a great creationist conspiracy, I think it would be sensible to point out that you don't have to dig out the text of the Wedge document in obscure places where copies have been hidden safely out of reach of the grasping claws of the coming theocracy - you can get it direct from the Discovery Institute itself. Here's a link. Not only do they include the text of the document, but for good measure, they also explain why it was written, what it means, and they point out that far from being a secret conspiracy, their programme for challenging materialism and its legacies is public. I would draw your attention to the section starting half way down page 3.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Lazy Dawkins? Scary Dawkins?

Sorry to keep taking potshots at such an obvious target. But he is quite capable of defending himself, and he even has tribes of henchmen who view it as their responsibility to do it for him. David Heddle reacts to a quote from Richard Dawkins, from the Sunday Herald on why eugenics may not be bad:
I wonder whether, some 60 years after Hitler's death, we might at least venture to ask what the moral difference is between breeding for musical ability and forcing a child to take music lessons. Or why it is acceptable to train fast runners and high jumpers but not to breed them. I can think of some answers, and they are good ones, which would probably end up persuading me. But hasn't the time come when we should stop being frightened even to put the question?
This intrigued me - it was presented as though this actually represented the heart of a basically solid argument, with - as he said earlier in the piece, "I suspect that the idea is too dangerous for comfortable discussion, and my conjecture is that Adolf Hitler is responsible for the change" - the only reason it is unthinkable being because Hitler is viewed as a Bad Thing.

Let's think a little more carefully about this.

To an extent, it is possible to argue that "breeding for musical ability" already occurs. If the ability to play music is a desirable quality for somebody in a mate, and assuming that the ability to play music is a heritable characteristic (which is assumed by Dawkins anyway), it is fairly likely that their offspring will also have a well-developed musical ability.

But what is important about this "breeding" (if we reduce family life to such labels) is that it is the choice of the parents. It isn't the choice of the state, or the Academy, or an intellectual elite. This is what differentiates eugenics from the accepted norms of society.

If Dawkins is suggesting we think through the concept of eugenics, he is in effect saying that we should consider the possibility of the state "breeding" for traits, because it is the same as parents "forcing a child to take music lessons". Notice when teased out just a little, we start to see a very startling inference in the argument - that the state being involved in "breeding" is the same as parents rearing children.

Next, let's think about this issue of parents "forcing a child to take music lessons" - or, for that matter (because it also relates to Dawkins' thinking) parents bringing their children up within a particular religious context. Why not take the argument just a little bit further? Why should parents force their children to go to school? Why should parents force their children to clean their teeth? Why should parents force babies to change their nappies when they are soiled?

These questions are, of course, absurd. There is a kind of Rousseau-ist assumption here, that in actual fact children are quite capable of looking after themselves, and if we just allow them to develop as they wish, the world would be a much happier place. But they aren't. They don't have the maturity to know what is good for them, and it is the responsibility of parents to bring up their children as best they can so that when they are able to make decisions for themselves, they will make wise ones. Obviously, if there is no objective difference between "wise" and "foolish" - which may be what Dawkins thinks, given the assumption that we are ultimately no more than the product of chance - then there is no point in doing this. (Incidentally, the fact that people take their responsibilities seriously, by and large, is more evidence that there is more to us than a philosophical "zero". But if we are a philosophical zero, then what is the value of "improving the breeding stock", anyway? Why bother?)

We may not agree with somebody's religious views, and we may wish that an absolute tolerance is inculcated into people alongside their absolute beliefs (or more likely, these days, we may wish that everybody is taught that such beliefs are all relative). However, the reason for this form of upbringing isn't for the gratification of the parents (which is what is normally characteristic of abuse, from the abuser's perspective), but the desire in the parents to teach the child the right way to live.

What about forcing children to have music lessons, then? Well, in some families that happens. And if it is really against the will of the children, then in the fullness of time, they will rebel and never touch a musical instrument again. But that's not how it's supposed to be - and to use something that should not be the case as an argument for something else is yet another gaping hole in Dawkins' reasoning. It's like saying - "Well, people are murdered anyway, so capital punishment is okay." There are sensible arguments for capital punishment - but that certainly isn't one of them.

In our family, we took our son seriously when he said he wanted to play the violin. For five years, we have encouraged him to practise on a near-daily basis. He now makes a pleasant noise. In the first couple of years in particular, he didn't really want to practise. So we said to him: "That's no problem - but if you don't practise, you can't have lessons. Do you want to stop having lessons?" And the answer that he came back with was: no - he wanted the lessons to continue. So we persisted - if you want to learn, then you need to practise. This is something that as a younger child, he wasn't able to understand or enjoy - but now we are reaching the dizzying heights of Grade 3 (!), he is used to, and can see the benefit of.

The same argument holds in relation to the difference between breeding fast runners and training them. It is the question of who is doing what.

If Dawkins is prepared to ignore the difference between what a family might do and a state doing the same thing, then he is either incredibly lazy, or he is becoming almost as scary as Hitler.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Blocking spam registrations in WordPress 2.1

WordPress 2.1 incorporates significant updates to the registration and login process, which means that the fix I outlined below no longer works. Here are revised instructions, if anybody is interested.

In wp-login.php at the root level:
$user_email = apply_filters( 'user_registration_email', $_POST['user_email'] );
$user_verify = $_POST['user_verify'];

$errors['user_email'] = __('< strong > ERROR< /strong > : This email is already registered, please choose another one.');
if ($user_verify == '') { // verification
$errors['user_verify'] = __('< strong > ERROR< /strong> : Only real users can register.');
$user_verify = ''; // obviously no effect as it stands at the moment, but deals with failed verification

< p >
< label > <?php _e('E-mail:') ... < /label >
< /p >

< p >
< label > <?php _e('Are you real?') ?> < br />
< input type="text" name="user_verify" id="user_verify" class="input" value="" size="10" tabindex="25"> </label>
< /p>

I hope that makes some sense over the noise of Blogger formatting. As before, it adds a new input field to the registration screen which asks: "Are you real?" and which (as it stands) accepts any non-null response ("Yes", "y", "no", "What do you think?") to allow registration to continue.

I don't know whether the hooks exist to make this into a plugin, and I'm not promoting it on the site as if I were them, I'd take a dim view of somebody hacking around with their nice new code. However, this is effective. I got four more spam registrations in the 24 hours that I was running with 2.1 prior to modification, and they've stopped again now. And the domains from which they registered were new to me, so a blacklist wouldn't have helped.

Evidence for Intelligent Design

A challenge to proponents of Intelligent Design is that there is no scientific evidence for what they believe, and they believe it on what are fundamentally religious or presuppositional grounds.

Well, beliefs are of course consistent with people's metanarratives - most people who have some concept of logic (which rules out a whole crowd of postmodernists) believe things that are consistent with their metanarrative. If they don't, they have to change the metanarrative to fit - a painful process, but necessary if people are going to hang together mentally.

The next question then, is whether my beliefs are consistent with external evidence. Again, I am bound to say that I think this is so. It is normal for people's presuppositions to affect their interpretation of evidence. Part of what underlay the work of Dembski and Behe - which started prior to the supposed "politicization" of ID - was a formal attempt to get people to say under what circumstances design could be reasonably inferred. This was an agenda that was in principle accepted by Darwin, for example, in his statement that if something could be shown not to have arisen by step-by-step processes, his theory would be falsified. But in many cases, if Dembski's and Behe's work in this regard is accepted, it is then ruled outside the scope of science. So these projects having failed to win acceptance, we are left with everybody making observations and interpreting them in accordance with their presuppositions.

Take the plausibility scale in the post below, of evolutionary events of seven different levels. (Or six, if you exclude abiogenesis, which would still need a naturalistic explanation, of course. Had to get that in, didn't I, Allygally?!) The darwinist looks at the fossil evidence, homologies and so on and says - "Belief that darwinism can cover all seven [or six] steps is reasonable. (It has to be, because there is no alternative.)" The proponent of ID looks at the same evidence, and says, "I can accept that evolution is a reasonable explanation of [say] steps 1, 2 and 3, but since I believe in the possibility of external agency as an alternative explanation, I don't accept - and don't have to accept - that it is a reasonable explanation of 4, 5, and 6." Same evidence, different conclusions. The "evidence for Intelligent Design" is the same as the "evidence for darwinism" - but interpreted according to a different set of presuppositions.

Which interpretation is right? Of course, from where I sit, I will tend to think that my interpretation is right - otherwise, I'd be busily revising my metanarrative. And don't think I can't - I used to be a Young Earth Creationist - a metanarrative which is built around a particular way of interpreting the first chapters of Genesis - but I have shifted. Darwinists will believe that their interpretation is right. Is there any way of moving the debate on?

Here's an example based on that plausibility scale, that shows how the debate might be moved on. Can you present scientific evidence that belief in the descent of whales and bats from a common ancestor is better explained by darwinism than it is by non-darwinian means without first presupposing the absence of a designer? In other words, do you have a naturalistic mechanism that reliably explains this? I would argue not. There is evidence, which is interpreted in a particular way by darwinists and in a different way by non-darwinists. What darwinists have is a naturalistic mechanism that is completely untried on this scale, which they assume must be true because they have already decided that the alternative can't be true. Unless a better means for testing the evidence is available, the debate stalls at this point.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Microevolution and macroevolution

There are no such things, according to some opponents of ID. It's all the same.

Those people who are prepared to think beyond a presuppositional framework don't have a problem with there being different degrees of evolution. The quote below is picked up from "Darwinian Fundamentalism", and gives evolutionary steps of seven different sizes - the aim being to see what likelihood people give out of 10 for a darwinist explanation being a valid explanation to them personally.

I honestly find it hard to believe that, once the science is explained to him, Joe Public would think that step 1 is functionally identical to steps 5 to 7 - which is what is implied by squashing "microevolution" and "macroevolution" together. For the record, the only one of these that the blogger at Darwinian Fundamentalism tags as "microevolutionary" is step 1 - step 2 he tags as a "minor macroevolutionary event".

It doesn't suit darwinists to draw a distinction between degrees of event, because it makes their case much stronger if they can argue that events of type 1 imply events of type 7*. Well, that's why I both distinguish between micro and macro (even if they aren't tightly defined) and don't believe that darwinism is an adequate explanation for macroevolution.
1. evolutionary changes such as bacterial resistance

2. minor evolutionary events such as the appearance of varieties of beetle species with no significant morphological changes.

3. minor evolutionary events such as the appearance of horses and zebras from a common ancestor.

4. moderate evolutionary events such as the appearance of horses, cows and sheep from a common ancestor.

5. evolutioary events such as the emergence of whales and bats from a common mammal ancestor.

6. the Cambrian Explosion (the apparently sudden appearance in the fossil record of many complex, multicellular animals, dated at about 540 million years ago).

7. the origin of life itself - the first appearance of life on earth.
*Actually, before I am corrected, darwinists will often draw the line at step 7, and argue that "Evolution is nothing to do with the ORIGIN of life. Oh, no, of course not. I don't think we ever said we were talking about that, did we George? No. Definitely not." Unfortunately, the fact that evolution supposedly makes no claims about the origin of life is a distinction that is far more subtle than Joe Public is ever likely to realise, and also one that is kept very hush-hush until it is needed to "refute" their opponents.

What are proponents of Intelligent Design playing at?

Are they just "rubbishing the theory of evolution"?

No. They are happy to say that it is a theory that has been very successful at explaning a range of phenomena at the "micro-evolutionary" level. However, they wish to make clear that it has yet to be established as true at a "macro-evolutionary" level - as an explanation of the origin of life, complexity and intelligence. You can't just add an order of magnitude of time to a speciation event to get flight, or sight.

This is important, because the darwinist explanation of origins has philosophical implications, whether the darwinist acknowledges them - or is aware of them! - or not. If we are the product of time and chance, then cosmically speaking, nothing really matters - we are zeroes, at best like Arthur Dent with tendrils of guilt flapping meaninglessly and pointlessly around in an indifferent universe.

Now if this really seemed to be the case - if it looked as though time plus chance, random mutation plus natural selection, were an adequate explanation, then we could shrug and say, "Deal with it" (as Douglas Adams did to Arthur Dent and Trillian when all that they considered important was destroyed). But the fact is that life doesn't seem to be like that. The universe doesn't seem to be a "chance" place - we seem to have some an unusual place in the universe that is more than anthropically significant - accepted by non-ID people (Ward and Brownlee) as well as ID people (Gonzalez and Richards). Life doesn't seem to be the product of time and chance, at least for those people who haven't already presupposed this, and have to fit the evidence into their presuppositions - again, the fact that despite their public denial of anything other than consensus, the basis of large-scale evolutionary mechanisms are still a matter for debate (for example, between Dawkinsian gradualists and Gouldian punctuated equilibrians) underlines this point.

Perhaps this significance is illusory. Perhaps we are just like Adams' puddle, slowly drying in the sun. Perhaps the darwinian explanation will win through, and be backed up by science in the fullness of time. But at the moment, I (and proponents of ID) simply don't think it is the best explanation, and that the case for external intelligent agency isn't getting weaker, but stronger. I think people accept darwinism fundamentally because it fits with their presuppositions, not because of the strength of the evidence. In fact, by virtue of an ongoing debate, darwinism is intellectually stronger now than it was 25 years ago, when it was a lot more "the only game in town" from a scientific point of view. It's just that the case against darwinism has also strengthened.

So proponents of ID are trying to point out that the hard sell of darwinism isn't fundamentally about science - it's about presuppositions - philosophical and religious. Opponents of ID are just as much "religiously motivated" as its proponents. ID may be religion/philosophy - but for most scientists, darwinism has exactly the same status.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Really interesting discussion ...

... on ID in the UK. 142 comments so far - respect! Much of the usual anti-ID claptrap - for example, from Tony Jackson, a Cambridge lecturer, who thinks that the subsidiary questions:
1)Who is the Designer?

2)Where did s/he/it come from?

3)Is there just one designer or are there many?

4)How did the Designer do the designing?

5)When did the Designer do the designing?

6)Is the Designer still designing or has s/he/it retired?
represent a refutation of the concept of Intelligent Design. No doubt he also thinks that Stonehenge is a natural arrangement of rocks, pending somebody telling him the name of the site foreman.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

"Blue on blue", again

I have kept on listening to Leigh Nash's dulcet tones for several days, and I've come to the conclusion that I was probably excessively harsh in my criticisms (even though they were actually not that harsh at all ...).

The two general criticisms still stand - first, that the album was tagged as "religious" when it frankly isn't - unless singing about a permanent relationship these days counts as religious, in which case "Prettiest Eyes" by The Beautiful South would also qualify. (Incidentally, do go and read the lyrics - they are fantastic, and completely not what you'd expect from pop/rock.)

Aaaaanyway, the other criticism is that some of the words are clichéd. And they are. I'm really sorry, Leigh (in the unlikely event that you ever come here), but "My Idea of Heaven" still irritates me.

But if you are going to sing clichés, then at least sing your own clichés - which is what Leigh does. A lot of the rubbish in the market is people singing clichés other people have written - most bands don't even have the imagination to write their own clichés. And let's face it, life is sometimes clichéd. There's nothing inherently wrong with writing or singing songs like that - although you might be concerned if somebody never got beyond clichés.

On the more unequivocally positive side, the words of the non-clichéd songs have grown on me. They are good poetry, I think; they do make imaginative use of language. Here's an extract:
Between the lines
Can you read me?
Between the lines
That's where I'll be
Between hello and
I would give you the moon
Between I love you and I
I'll see you soon
And there is pain as well, contrary to what I said when all I could see was the clichés:
It's a cold, cold night are you going to call me
And tell me about how I go on and on about you
Being like you used to be
And how it's all about me

Oooh I would like to know
Who is the wounded one
Which one will make the move
Which one is willing to lose.
And to finish with, the spine-tingling, simple words from the end of the album:
I will sing to you
When the road sings me to sleep
Baby you stay with me
And I will give you songs you can keep
So amended advice. If you are thinking of buying this, do. But then buy the Sixpence None the Richer albums as well.

UPDATE: You can hear "Ocean Size Love" (which I recommend), "Along the Wall" and "My Idea of Heaven" (which I don't), and see the video for "My Idea of Heaven" on Leigh Nash's Myspace.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Another WordPress hint

How to make a WordPress blog have a static front page...

The best technique I've found is here. Better than some rather messy plugins.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Work on Wordpress registration

Sorry, this is technical. I've written a small modification for the Wordpress registration screen. This is because I am (already) fed up with what I assume are spambots registering accounts on a Wordpress blog/website that I have set up (here), in the hope that they can put comments full of adverts for Cialis, cheap mortgages and other less pleasant things on posts. The hope is forlorn, since all comments have to be moderated - but I wanted to find a way of blocking the registrations.

So here goes ...

I think the bots work by searching for the file "wp-register.php" in domains, and using the known default behaviour of this file to register accounts automatically. So make the default behaviour not work ....

In wp-register.php, find:
$user_email = $_POST['user_email'];
and add:
$user_verify = $_POST[user_verify'];
as the next line.

$errors['user_login'] = __('<strong>ERROR</strong>: This username is invalid. Please enter a valid username.');
$user_login = '';

and add:
if ($user_verify == '')
$errors['user_verify'] = __('<strong>ERROR</strong>: You can only register if you are real!');
$user_verify = '';

<label for="user_email"><?php _e('E-mail:') ?></label> <input type="text" name="user_email" id="user_email" size="25" maxlength="100" value="<?php echo wp_specialchars($user_email); ?>" />

and add:
<label for="user_verify"><?php _e('Are you real?') ?></label> <input type="text" name="user_verify" id="user_verify" size="10" maxlength="15" value="" />

Unless the person registering puts anything non-blank in the "verify" window, the registration won't work, I think - and a spambot would not know to look for this yet. However, by putting particular words in for verification - change the question on each website, or whatever - this fix could be made non-generic.

I'll let you know if it cuts down the spam.

UPDATE: A more usable (as it is a plugin), but less effective (as it is reactive rather than proactive), method of achieving the same thing can be found here.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Here's another plugin that works by blacklisting.

YAA: Due to the way special characters are formatted, you're probably better off reading the code for this on the Suggestions site. Here is a link to the relevant page - the code is about half way down.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Debunking myths

Sam Harris, an American author of some renown, rather in the Dawkins mould, writes in the L.A. Times concerning ten myths about atheism that he feels need debunking.

The debunking has to wait, however, since his article fails to do this. Joy, at Telic Thoughts, draws attention to his lack of logic here and here.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Like sheep without a shepherd

Following a particularly busy time for the disciples, Jesus attempts to take “time out” with them in Mark's gospel (6:31), by heading off in a boat. But the crowds of people work out where he is headed, and arrive there first. Jesus has compassion on them, “because they were like sheep without a shepherd.”

This phrase has a rich heritage in the Bible. It crops up for the first time when Moses asks God to appoint somebody to lead the people, so that they won't be like sheep without a shepherd. Joshua is appointed to succeed Moses.

We find it again in 1 Kings 22:17 – an interesting passage. There is one honest prophet of the Lord in Israel (the Northern Kingdom), and the king of Judah, currently working with Israel, is keen to know what he has to say, rather than the opinions of those prophets who aren't of the Lord. He says, “I saw all Israel scattered on the hills like sheep without a shepherd, and the LORD said, 'These people have no master. Let each one go home in peace.'”

Next in Ezekiel 34, the prophet is writing about the “shepherds of Israel”, and says of the sheep of Israel, “They were scattered because there was no shepherd.” But he's not really talking about sheep – the sheep, as we have seen already, are the people of Israel, and the shepherds the leaders of Israel.

So, when the gospel writer says that Jesus looks at the crowds and concludes that they are like sheep without a shepherd, where should we look? To the palace. And in Mark's gospel, what has just happened in the palace? The last prophet (John the Baptist) has just been put to death by the king in an erotic, drunken haze. The people are indeed like sheep without a shepherd.

So what does Jesus do?

He teaches them. He does what the shepherd of Israel was supposed to do – bring the people of Israel to the word of God. And he then backs up what he is doing by feeding them. Miraculously.

And just to get the significance of this feeding, note that Mark writes that the people were directed to sit down “on the green grass”. And they were beside the lake. Does that remind you of something? Which is, of course, what Ezekiel had said would happen after he had condemned the existing shepherds of Israel.


"It is clear from the fossil record that chordates and arthropods diverged at least by the Cambrian. The appendages of these two groups are not homologous because phylogenetically intermediate taxa (particularly basal chordates) do not possess comparable structures. The most surprising discovery of recent molecular studies, however is that much of the genetic machinery that pattern the appendages of arthropods, vertebrates and other phyla is similar." (Shubin et al. (1997) "Fossils, genes and the evolution of animal limbs", Nature 388)

There is, therefore, confusion as to what the genetic basis is for homologies. Clearly some homologies seem to share similar genes (upholding Darwinism) but many do not. Also, in the case of limbs, as already mentioned, the same sort of genes seem to control the limb development of widely separated taxa such as arthropods and vertebrates. It is a puzzle as to how such widely separated and phylogenetically distinct phyla could have the same genes for such totally different limb designs.

Antony Latham, "The Naked Emperor", 176-7
Is this true? And if so, why doesn't it matter (as I'm sure that there is an excellent darwinian explanation for it)?

Wednesday, January 03, 2007


Some conservative Christians may feel this faced with U2 - their theology just seems a way out at times. They may be reassured to know that Greg Clarke, director of CASE, has a lot of time for them as well as me.

"The God Delusion"

... is substantively reviewed by H.Allen Orr in "The New York Review of Books". This is an incredibly quotable article - it's really better to read the whole thing than simply try and find a choice selection.
As T.S. Eliot famously observed, to ask whether we would have been better off without religion is to ask a question whose answer is unknowable. Our entire history has been so thoroughly shaped by Judeo-Christian tradition that we cannot imagine the present state of society in its absence. But there's a deeper point and one that Dawkins also fails to see. Even what we mean by the world being better off is conditioned by our religious inheritance. What most of us in the West mean—and what Dawkins, as revealed by his own Ten Commandments, means—is a world in which individuals are free to express their thoughts and passions and to develop their talents so long as these do not infringe on the ability of others to do so. But this is assuredly not what a better world would look like to, say, a traditional Confucian culture. There, a new and improved world might be one that allows the readier suppression of in-dividual differences and aspirations. The point is that all judgments, including ethical ones, begin somewhere and ours, often enough, begin in Judaism and Christianity. Dawkins should, of course, be applauded for his attempt to picture a better world. But intellectual honesty demands acknowledging that his moral vision derives, to a considerable extent, from the tradition he so despises.[

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Olorin says ...

A comment by Olorin contained so much that was so useful and thought-provoking, it deserved a post of its own. I hope he/she doesn't mind.
Let me close with a couple of stories.

In the 1930s, the Nazis decided that quantum physics and relativity were "Jewish science" and thus incorrect. Many of the (Jewish and non-Jewish) physicists they hounded out of the country came to the US. Some of them were key players in the development of the atomic bomb, and they established US dominance in that field. Now Germany--the birthplace of modern physics--is an also-ran, and probably always will be. Politics trumped science, and Germany lost.

In the USSR, an agronomist named Trofim Lysenko convinced Communist Party officials that Darwinian evolution was inimical to communism, and put forward a brand of Lamarckism. Plants, he said, could pass on acquired characteristics, just as human nature could be molded under communism. Plants of the same species should be planted together, because, being comrades, they would not engage in class warfare. (Guess what: in fact, they competed for the same resources and all withered.) In the 1920s and '30s, Russia was a breadbasket to the world, even after forced collectivization. By the 1950s, recurrent famines forced the USSR to import millions of tons of grain annually. The leadership finally broke through its ideological fog and canned Lysenko. Ideology trumped science, and Russia lost.

By the 11thC, Muslim civilization had not only preserved Greek mathematics and physics, but had gone far beyond it in many areas. Over the following couple of centuries, however, Islam turned inward, and the mystics decided that science was bad for the soul. But the nascent Europeans picked up the torch and carried it forward in a burgeoning scientific revolution. Islamic science never recovered. Theology trumped science, and Islam lost.

Will the US and UK lose too? The "theistic science" of intelligent design is a warning sign, and Asia awaits.
I think that the final whistle has yet to be blown on Germany, Russia or Islam, but let's not worry about that right now. Olorin is talking about the danger of placing ideology ahead of science. The really interesting thing about this is that both proponents and opponents of ID think this is exactly what the other side is doing.

Opponents of ID live in fear of "the coming theocracy". Perhaps this seems like a realistic fear in the US - but in the UK, frankly, I think that a "liberal atheocracy" that is actually very illiberal when it comes to expressions of belief in absolute truth is the more likely outcome. The idea of tolerance of religion is, I suspect, something that arose in Reformation England - those vicious evangelical Christians again. You certainly don't see tolerance like this within Islamic states - the most "tolerance" you can hope for is the freedom to participate in non-Islamic religions within enclaves. You are not free to convert. You didn't see tolerance like this within Catholic countries (Spain/Italy) prior to EU days, and you don't see it in Orthodox countries (Belarus, Russia) even today. The world has come to the UK, Germany, the Low Countries, in the knowledge that even though there may be intolerant people within those societies, they will be allowed to continue to practice their beliefs.

How long will this state of affairs continue - either for people practising non-European religions, or for Christians? Telic Thoughts have traced the intolerant noises being made by opponents of theistic alternatives to naturalism over the past year. And it's not confined to the UK. They also looked at the supposed link between non-belief in evolution and the threat of doom to a society on this post, which bears inspection.

So suppose we turn it around. Just for a moment, is it possible to conceive of the possibility that in actual fact, it is ideology (in the form of philosophical naturalism) which is driving science at the moment? That any evidence which might undermine the dominant paradigm is already being ruled "out of court"? That lines of research are being closed down because they don't fit?

Well, proponents of ID say yes - they say that the things that Olorin warns about are already happening. And also in historical context (Nazis, Communist Party, Islamic religious leaders), it seems to be the case that it is the dominant religious or political faction that seems to call the shots - and in terms of science, that would certainly be philosophical naturalism today - they have every mainstream scientific channel of communication. Whilst you might argue that our political leaders align themselves with theism, they are hardly defining the shape of science in any way.

So I'd echo what Olorin says - and underline it, and put it in bold. It's very important. And I'd just ask the opponents of ID to think very carefully about what they see around them as they plead for ideology not to trump science.