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Origins + Science

Intelligent Discussion of Intelligent Design

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With yet another volume bearing his name, Debating Design (422 p.), one has to wonder if William Dembski ever sleeps. His recent publications also include Uncommon Descent (366 p.), Signs of Intelligence (224 p.), and The Design Revolution (330 p.). But, especially in light of Antony Flew’s recent comments about the force of arguments from Design, his latest project may win an audience his previous works missed. Bearing the weighty imprint of Cambridge University Press and co-edited with Michael Ruse, Debating Design hosts a discussion between leading advocates and critics of Intelligent Design. William, nice work. And get some sleep.

Scott D. Sampson on Interpretive Paleontology

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The bones were the same, nothing had changed. But people started to look at the dinosaurs differently. Same fossils. New ideas… People keep forgetting that paleontologists are really limited. We have a bunch of bones and teeth — for the most part — to work with. So really it’s the ideas that drive the science. The ideas, of course, are driven by the biases of that particular moment. So we went from a lizard bias to a bird bias, and now the pendulum is actually swinging, once again, back to the middle.

Survival of the Rhetoricians

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For any of you nostalgic for your days sparring for your high-school debate team, here’s a spirited argument of the point-counterpoint variety that is sure to please. A while back Jonathan Wells, author of The Icons of Evolution, shot off the salvo, “Ten Questions to Ask Your Biology Teacher about Evolution“. The National Center for Science Education has offered its own defense in lieu of your own local “high school biology professor”. And now, to counter that counterpunch, Wells has written “Inherit the Spin” wherein he countenances each of the NCSE’s answers and finds them unsatisfying. With this most recent contribution Wells has elevated the debate considerably and one hopes that the NCSE will return for round four.

The Divine Lawmaker

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John Foster presents a clear and powerful discussion of a range of topics relating to our understanding of the universe: induction, laws of nature, and the existence of God. He begins by developing a solution to the problem of induction — a solution that involves the postulation of laws of nature, as forms of natural necessity. He then offers a radically new account of the nature of such laws and the distinctive kind of necessity they involve. Finally, he uses this account as the basis for an argument for the existence of God as the creator of the laws and the universe they govern. The Divine Lawmaker is bold and original in its approach, and rich in argument. ~ Product Description • "John Foster… uses his philosophical background to analyze the question of the rationality of belief in God as a causal agent for nature’s regularities… Foster is writing for the philosophically literate; The Divine Lawmaker will appeal to the specialist and professional philosopher of science or religion…" ~ Science & Theology News

A History of Half-Truths

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Jef Raskin, one of the originators of the Macintosh, writes an interesting lament at what often passes for the history of its development. “Holes in the Histories” is instructive for its catalogue of how the telling of history can be corrupted by the use of secondary sources, by oversimplification, by misrepresentation, by an affection for celebrity, by relying on appearances, and by a general lack of interest in the truth of the matter. Every day, each of us hears countless reports, studies, and comments about the way of things and Raskin’s article is a welcome reminder to be wary of taking such claims at face value. It is also a call to avoid such carelessness about truth in our own words. We are especially vulnerable to being taken in by fictions when we are inclined to agree with their source for other reasons. David C. Wise’s Creation/Evolution page (link expired) is a sobering account of ways in which the “Creation Science” movement has been incorrigibly guilty of many of the sins of scholarship that Raskin describes. For example, see his article “Moon Dust” (link expired).

What Darwin Didn’t Know

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The author, a medical doctor, in this book recounts his conversion from a Darwinist to an Intelligent Design advocate. He also goes into detail about his indoctrination into Darwinism in school and why he began to doubt Darwinism in later life (as have more and more intellectuals today). What Darwin Didn’t Know is an excellent, very readable, work about how little Darwin knew about biology, especially cell biology, because so little was known when he lived and worked. If he lived today in a non-Darwinian world, his theory would have difficulty getting published in a mainline journal. For example, in the middle 1800s cells were thought to be simple globs of protoplasm that served as mere building blocks of a body much like bricks are used to construct a house. Now we realize that cells are the most complex machine in the known universe that can live on their own in the right environment. Over 200 very different types are known. Much of the book is on human anatomy and physiology and why our modern knowledge has proven Darwinism wrong. It is an excellent introduction to anatomy and physiology that covers all 10 organ systems plus cell biology.

Richard Swinburne on Simplicity

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Its degree of simplicity and its scope determine the intrinsic probability of a theory, its probability independent of its relation to any evidence. The simpler a theory, the more probable it is. The simplicity of a theory, in my view, is a matter of it postulating few (logically independent) entities, few properties of entities, few kinds of entities, few kinds of properties, properties more readily observable, few separate laws with few terms relating few variables, the simplest formulation of each law being mathematically simple. … A theory is simpler and so has greater prior probability to the extent to which these criteria are satisfied.

Douglas Adams on the Anthropic Principle

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Imagine a puddle waking up one morning and thinking, ‘This is an interesting world I find myself in — an interesting hole I find myself in — fits me rather neatly, doesn’t it? In fact it fits me staggeringly well, must have been made to have me in it!’ This is such a powerful idea that as the sun rises in the sky and the air heats up and as, gradually, the puddle gets smaller and smaller, it’s still frantically hanging on to the notion that everything’s going to be alright, because this world was meant to have him in it, was built to have him in it; so the moment he disappears catches him rather by surprise.

Is There an Evolutionary Foundation for Human Morality?

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I am going to talk about the question of whether we can find an evolutionary basis for human morality. I am not a scientist, but a philosopher. So I am not going to try to pass judgment on the theory of evolution itself, as it applies to human beings. I do not regard philosophers as professionally competent either to pass a positive or negative judgment on the theory, except insofar as there are philosophical commitments embodied in it. However, I do regard myself as having made some progress in understanding human morality. In particular, I have been interested in and have written about the gap between the demands of morality on us and our natural capacities to meet those demands. This gap presents the problem of how we can be held accountable or responsible for a standard we are not equipped to meet either by innate capacity or natural development. So I want to ask the conditional question: if we assume that the theory of evolution as it applies to human beings is correct, does this help us answer the questions of whether we can be morally good and why we should be morally good? The first question, whether we can be morally good, is the question raised by the moral gap between the demands of morality and our natural capacities. It is only after answering this first question, “yes, we can be morally good,” that the second question arises of why we should be morally good, for we can only be held accountable or responsible for standards that we are able to reach. The burden of my presentation will be that we do not get an answer to these two questions from the theory of evolution. I am not arguing here that the theory is false, but that even if it is true, it doesn’t give us an answer. I will be looking at a number of recent attempts to provide such an answer from the theory, but I will claim that all of them fail.

The Argument From Design

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I understand by an argument from design one which argues from some general pattern of order in the universe or provision for the needs of conscious beings to a God responsible for these phenomena. An argument from a general pattern of order I shall call a teleological argument. In the definition of ‘teleological argument’ I emphasize the words ‘general pattern’; I shall not count an argument to the existence of God from some particular pattern of order manifested on a unique occasion as a teleological argument.

Darwinism, Design, and Public Education

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There are two controversies surrounding neo-Darwinian evolution – one scientific about Darwin’s theory itself and the merits of intelligent design theory, and a second over whether our education system should expose students to this controversy. "Darwinism, Design and Public Education" is a stellar volume that will prove to be of great influence and significance in the years ahead, as this debate continues and intensifies. This peer-reviewed book collects several excellent essays that were previously available in separate, difficult-to-find publications, as well as some entirely new scientific material. Leading proponents of design theory, from multiple disciplines, are represented, as are some of the leading critics of design theory. ~ Seth Cooper

The Blank Slate

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In The Blank Slate, Steven Pinker, one of the world’s leading experts on language and the mind, explores the idea of human nature and its moral, emotional, and political colorings. With characteristic wit, lucidity, and insight, Pinker argues that the dogma that the mind has no innate traits-a doctrine held by many intellectuals during the past century-denies our common humanity and our individual preferences, replaces objective analyses of social problems with feel-good slogans, and distorts our understanding of politics, violence, parenting, and the arts. Injecting calm and rationality into debates that are notorious for ax-grinding and mud-slinging, Pinker shows the importance of an honest acknowledgment of human nature based on science and common sense. ~ Product Description

Michael Crichton on SETI

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Cast your minds back to 1960. John F. Kennedy is president, commercial jet airplanes are just appearing, the biggest university mainframes have 12K of memory. And in Green Bank, West Virginia at the new National Radio Astronomy Observatory, a young astrophysicist named Frank Drake runs a two-week project called Ozma, to search for extraterrestrial signals. A signal is received, to great excitement. It turns out to be false, but the excitement remains. In 1960, Drake organizes the first SETI conference, and came up with the now-famous Drake equation: N=N*fp ne fl fi fc fL. Where N is the number of stars in the Milky Way galaxy; fp is the fraction with planets; ne is the number of planets per star capable of supporting life; fl is the fraction of planets where life evolves; fi is the fraction where intelligent life evolves; and fc is the fraction that communicates; and fL is the fraction of the planet’s life during which the communicating civilizations live. ¶ This serious-looking equation gave SETI a serious footing as a legitimate intellectual inquiry. The problem, of course, is that none of the terms can be known, and most cannot even be estimated. The only way to work the equation is to fill in with guesses. And guesses — just so we’re clear — are merely expressions of prejudice. Nor can there be “informed guesses.” If you need to state how many planets with life choose to communicate, there is simply no way to make an informed guess. It’s simply prejudice. ¶ The Drake equation can have any value from “billions and billions” to zero. An expression that can mean anything means nothing. Speaking precisely, the Drake equation is literally meaningless, and has nothing to do with science. I take the hard view that science involves the creation of testable hypotheses. The Drake equation cannot be tested and therefore SETI is not science. SETI is unquestionably a religion… ¶ The fact that the Drake equation was not greeted with screams of outrage — similar to the screams of outrage that greet each Creationist new claim, for example — meant that now there was a crack in the door, a loosening of the definition of what constituted legitimate scientific procedure. And soon enough, pernicious garbage began to squeeze through the cracks.

Michael Crichton on Scientific Consensus

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I want to pause here and talk about this notion of consensus, and the rise of what has been called consensus science. I regard consensus science as an extremely pernicious development that ought to be stopped cold in its tracks. Historically, the claim of consensus has been the first refuge of scoundrels; it is a way to avoid debate by claiming that the matter is already settled. Whenever you hear the consensus of scientists agrees on something or other, reach for your wallet, because you’re being had. Let’s be clear: The work of science has nothing whatever to do with consensus. Consensus is the business of politics. Science, on the contrary, requires only one investigator who happens to be right, which means that he or she has results that are verifiable by reference to the real world. In science consensus is irrelevant. What is relevant is reproducible results. The greatest scientists in history are great precisely because they broke with the consensus. There is no such thing as consensus science. If it’s consensus, it isn’t science. If it’s science, it isn’t consensus. Period… I would remind you to notice where the claim of consensus is invoked. Consensus is invoked only in situations where the science is not solid enough. Nobody says the consensus of scientists agrees that E=mc2. Nobody says the consensus is that the sun is 93 million miles away. It would never occur to anyone to speak that way…

Lynn Margulis on the Limits of Natural Selection

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We agree that very few potential offspring ever survive to reproduce and that populations do change through time, and that therefore natural selection is of critical importance to the evolutionary process. But this Darwinian claim to explain all of evolution is a popular half-truth whose lack of explicative power is compensated for only by the religious ferocity of its rhetoric. Although random mutations influenced the course of evolution, their influence was mainly by loss, alteration, and refinement. One mutation confers resistance to malaria but also makes happy blood cells into the deficient oxygen carriers of sickle cell anemics. Another converts a gorgeous newborn into a cystic fibrosis patient or a victim of early onset diabetes. One mutation causes a flighty red-eyed fruit fly to fail to take wing. Never, however, did that one mutation make a wing, a fruit, a woody stem, or a claw appear. Mutations, in summary, tend to induce sickness, death, or deficiencies. No evidence in the vast literature of heredity changes shows unambiguous evidence that random mutation itself, even with geographical isolation of populations, leads to speciation. Then how do new species come into being? How do cauliflowers descend from tiny, wild Mediterranean cabbagelike plants, or pigs from wild boars?

Dallas Willard on Causation

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We should keep in mind that we have a vast amount of experience of things, with relative degrees of order, coming into existence, and no one has every yet experienced anything, or has plausible empirical evidence of anything, coming into existence from nothing or from “something” with no order — which really means no nature, no character — at all. In this sense the emergence of something from nothing or from chaos has a probability of exactly zero relative to our data. Now it is true that probability, like “logic,” can be interpreted in numerous ways. But it would be refreshing to hear the naturalistic cosmologist admit that all of our empirical evidence is against order emerging from disorder and something emerging from nothing, and to confess that his metaphysical necessity of such emergences rest on the assumption of a naturalistic world view, rather than proving such a view.

J.L. Mackie on Mind Creating Matter

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On the other side, the hypothesis of divine creation is very unlikely. Although if there were a god with the traditional attributes and powers, he would be able and perhaps willing to create such a universe as this, we have to weigh in the scales the likelihood or unlikelihood that there is a god with these attributes and powers. And the key power … is that of fulfilling intentions directly, without any physical or causal mediation, without materials or instruments. There is nothing in our background knowledge that makes it comprehensible, let alone likely, that anything should have such a power. All our knowledge of intention-fulfillment is of embodied intentions being fulfilled indirectly by way of bodily changes and movements which are causally related to the intended result, and where the ability thus to fulfill intentions itself has a causal history, either of evolutionary development or of learning or of both. Only by ignoring such key features do we get an analogue of the supposed divine action.

Dallas Willard on Evolution

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Evolution, whether cosmic or biological, cannot — logically cannot! — be a theory of ultimate origins of existence or order, precisely because its operations always presuppose the prior existence of certain entities with specific potential behaviors, as well as of an environment of some specific kind that operates upon those entities in some specifically ordered (law-governed) fashion, to determine which ones are allowed to survive and reproduce. Let us quite generally state: any sort of evolution of order of any kind will always presuppose pre-existing order and pre-existing entities governed by it. It follows as a simple matter of logic that not all order evolved. Given the physical world — and however much of evolution it may or may not contain — there is or was some order in it which did not evolve. However it may have originated (if it originated), that order did not evolve, for it was the condition of any evolution at all occurring. We come here upon a logically insurpassable limit to what evolution, however it may be understood, can accomplish.

On Pascal

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On Pascal, like other titles in the Wadsworth Philosopher’s Series, offers a concise, yet comprehensive, introduction to this philosopher’s most important ideas. Presenting the most important insights of well over a hundred seminal philosophers in both the Eastern and Western traditions, the Wadsworth Philosophers Series contains volumes written by scholars noted for their excellence in teaching and for their well-versed comprehension of each featured philosopher’s major works and contributions. These titles have proven valuable in a number of ways. Serving as standalone texts when tackling a philosophers’ original sources or as helpful resources for focusing philosophy students’ engagements with these philosopher’s often conceptually daunting works, these titles have also gained extraordinary popularity with a lay readership and quite often serve as “refreshers” for philosophy instructors. ~ Publisher’s Description

The Structure of Evolutionary Theory

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The culmination of about 25 years of research and study, this book traces the history of evolutionary thought and charts a path for its future. After Darwin wrote The Origin of Species in 1859, scientists created a synthesis of genetics, ecology and paleontology to explain how natural selection could produce change and form new species. Gould thinks that this "modern synthesis" has hardened into a dogma stifling the science. Gould claims that an obsession with "selfish genes" and simplistic versions of natural selection blinds researchers to the significance of new discoveries about how evolution really works. The rules by which embryos develop, for example, create constraints that channel the flow of evolution. Asteroid impacts and other catastrophes can send evolution off on unpredictable trajectories. And selection, Gould contends, may act not just on individuals or their genes, but on entire species or groups of species, and in ways we’ve only begun to understand. This book presents Gould in all his incarnations: as a digressive historian, original thinker and cunning polemicist. It is certainly not a perfect work. Gould gives short shrift to the tremendous discoveries spurred by "Darwinian fundamentalism," while he sometimes overplays the importance of hazy theoretical arguments that support his own claims. But even Gould’s opponents will recognize this as the magnum opus of one of the world’s leading evolutionary thinkers. ~ Publishers Weekly

Jonah Goldberg on Postmodernism and Science

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For obvious reasons, PoMos hate science more than dogs hate vacuum cleaners, and they bark at it about as much. You see, scientists work on precisely the opposite assumptions as PoMos; they actually think that facts exist outside of clever word games. You can say all you like that physics is phallocentric, but it’s not going to change the rules of thermodynamics. This really pisses off PoMos, because scientists keep making really cool gadgets that work while, to date, Duke’s English department hasn’t been able to make an airplane run on metaphors or to illuminate a football stadium with the adverbs from James Joyce’s Dubliners.

Phillip E. Johnson on the Age of the Earth

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In this I tend to share the concern of Richard Lewontin, who wrote in the New York Review of Books: "Who am I to believe about quantum physics if not Steven Weinberg, or about the solar system if not Carl Sagan?" What worries me is that they may believe what Dawkins and [Edward O.] Wilson tell them about evolution. What worries me is that so many physicists and geologists seem to think that the peppered moth or finch beak observations illustrate a mighty creative force that produced moths and birds in the first place. I hope that they apply more rigorous standards for evaluating evidence when they are estimating the age of the earth.

The Evolutionists

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Evolution is a fact: of that there can be no dispute. But, writes Richard Morris in this lively overview of modern biology, scientists have been arguing about most other aspects of Darwinian thought for generations, and the battle is growing ever fiercer with the advent of "evolutionary psychology" and other new approaches. Following the biologist Ernst Mayr, Morris identifies at least five subtheories in the theory of evolution: "evolution as such," or the idea that evolution takes place at all; "common descent," the notion that all life originated in a common ancestor; "multiplication of species," or the splitting of one species into two or more species over time; "gradualism," the idea that evolutionary change happens slowly over a long period of time; and "natural selection," the idea that favorable genetic characteristics prevail over less desired ones. These subtheories are widely debated these days, with controversial scientists such as Stephen Jay Gould advancing ideas of "punctuated equilibrium," whereby change happens suddenly and often catastrophically; Gould’s nemesis Richard Dawkins advancing orthodox Darwinism under the "selfish gene" metaphor; and other scientists turning up bits and pieces of evidence of environmental determinism and parallel evolution in nature that alternately undermine and support Darwinian thought. The arguments among these contemporary scholars are lively, often acrimonious, and amply fueled — after all, Darwin himself puzzled over whether natural selection was the driving force of evolutionary change. Morris offers an evenhanded account of the many schools of thought at work today, and his book will be of great interest to students of the life sciences. ~ Gregory McNamee of Amazon.com

Knowledge, Truth, and Duty

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This volume gathers eleven new and three previously unpublished essays that take on questions of epistemic justification, responsibility, and virtue. It contains the best recent work in this area by major figures such as Ernest Sosa, Robert Audi, Alvin Goldman, and Susan Haak.Topics in this book include: 1. Whether we have voluntary control over what we believe. 2. Whether the issue of voluntary control is relevant to epistemic justification. 3. And the relationship between issues 1 and 2 to the analysis of knowledge. ~ Product Description

Icons of Evolution: Science or Myth?

Go The author retraces the reasoning of proponents of evolution from Darwin to the present to show what he sees as their empirically false, and frequently faked conclusions. He contends that these conclusions are presented to the public so many times and in so many ways that they become irrefutable "icons." The information conveyed by these icons is never questioned and is in fact promoted with tax dollars in many contexts. Wells is a postdoctoral biologist (with Ph.D.s from both Yale and the U. of California at Berkeley) who is currently affiliated with the Discovery Institute, Seattle, Washington) ~ Book News, Inc.