Thursday, January 26, 2006

E.O. Wilson on ID

In a recent column in USA Today biologist E.O. Wilson writes that evolution is a fact and there's no point in denying it. Intelligent Design, on the other hand, is untestable and it's pointless to try to make it into a science:

Modern biology has arrived at two major principles that are supported by so much interlocking evidence as to rank as virtual laws of nature. The first is that all biological elements and processes are ultimately obedient to the laws of physics and chemistry. The second principle is that all life has evolved by random mutation and natural selection.

Although as many as half of Americans choose not to believe it, evolution, including the origin of species, is an undeniable fact. Furthermore, the evidence supporting the principle of natural selection has improved year by year, and it is accepted with virtual unanimity by the biologists who have put it to the test.

Scientists are not opposed to the search for intelligent design, only to the claim that it is supported by scientific evidence. To think otherwise is to misunderstand the culture of science. Discoveries and the testing of discoveries are the currency of science; they are our silver and gold.

If positive and repeatable evidence were adduced for an intelligent force that created and guided the evolution of life, it would deservedly rank as one of the greatest scientific achievements of all time. I doubt that there is a researcher alive who would not race to make such a breakthrough if the minimum criteria of science could be met.

Wilson here commits a common mistake in this debate. He assumes that ID is something which requires its own evidence, as though the evidence for design is somehow qualitatively other than the facts that can be found in any cosmology or biochemistry text. The evidence for ID is the evidence that is discovered by the scientist every day in his laboratory. That evidence belongs to everyone, not just the researchers who glean it, and the evidence is mountainous.

To suggest that the current dispute is about evidence is to misunderstand things entirely. The dispute is over how best to interpret evidence that scientists have been accumulating now for centuries. The crucial question is not which side has the most evidence but whether what we have discovered about life and the cosmos should be seen as the product of chance accident and serendipidity or whether it should be seen as the product of intention and purpose. Complaints about the lack of evidence for a designer are red herrings in this controversy.

He goes on to write that:

Biology is biology, conservative Christianity is conservative Christianity. The two world views - science-based explanations and faith-based religions - cannot be reconciled.

What then are we to do? Put the differences aside, I say. Meet on common ground where we can find it. An excellent example taking form is the cooperation between science and religion, the two most powerful forces in the world, to protect Earth's vanishing natural habitats and species - in other words, the Creation, however we believe it came into existence.

Oops. Where does this come from? If religion, the realm of values, should stay out of science, and vice versa, how does a scientist make a value judgment such as that we ought to save the earth's natural habitats? A Christian can certainly conclude this from the mandate we have to be stewards of the earth, but how does a scientist who, qua scientist, can say nothing of values and morals and scriptural mandates, arrive at this conclusion, much less take it for granted.

Wilson finds that he can't live consistently by the principles he espouses, and so from time to time he, and other scientists, slip off their lab coats, enter the metaphysician's study, and think no one will notice. That's fine in their personal lives but it is disingenuous of them to use their authority as scientists to pontificate on values while at the same time they try to hold up a wall of separation between the realm of facts (science) and the realm of values (religion, philosophy).

Wilson wrote a wonderful book on ants. Anything he tells me about ant behavior I will certainly accept on his authority. But as a philosopher ... well, he's a great entomologist.

Great Game Plan

So a major terrorist organization swept to victory in Palestine. Iran is on the verge of getting nuclear weapons. Bin Laden is threatening us with more death and destruction. And what are the Democrats trying to do? Get George Bush impeached for surveilling telephone calls in which one of the parties is a foreign terrorist suspect. Yesindeedee, that'll be a winner with the American people in November.

Combat Zones: Foreign and Domestic

A friend passes along this observation:

If you consider that there have been an average of 160,000 troops in the Iraq theater of operations during the last 22 months, and a total of 2112 deaths, that gives a combat death rate of 60 per 100,000.

The firearm death rate in Washington D.C. is 80.6 per 100,000. That means that you are about 25% more likely to be shot and killed in our Nation's Capitol, which has some of the strictest gun control laws in the nation, than you are in Iraq.

Conclusion: We should immediately pull out of Washington D.C.

We don't vouch for the accuracy of the figures, but if they're correct perhaps Nancy Pelosi, John Murtha, and Ted Kennedy will organize the exodus.

Alternate Universe at the NYT

The New York Times treats its readers to one of the most implausible analyses of the GWOT, perhaps, that has appeared to date in any major newspaper. The editorial, titled al-Qaeda is Winning, is written by Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon:

Had Americans ....listened [to Osama's tape] with the ears of those for whom the message was intended - Muslims around the world - they would have heard something very different. Instead of a weak Osama bin Laden, they would have heard a magnanimous one who could offer a truce because "the war in Iraq is raging, and the operations in Afghanistan are on the rise in our favor." Mr. bin Laden staked his claim to leadership of the Muslim world on 9/11, striking us as others only dreamed of doing. On the tape, he shows strength by taking credit for America's humiliation in Iraq and continues to do what we are not: fighting for the hearts and minds of the Muslim world.

Yes, but even Islamist true-believers must know that truces are not offered, especially by Islamists, when the correlation of forces is in their favor. They are not signs of strength. They're offered when one side feels the need to regroup, reorganize, catch their breath and slow down a superior force. If Osama is using words like "truce" it's only because he sees the jittery leadership of his movement casting sidelong glances toward the skies in a worried search for predator drones, and he sees his forces in Iraq being cut to pieces, not just by Americans, but by Iraqi militias. He's losing in Iraq, he has lost in Afghanistan, and if any more of his lieutenants are visited in the middle of the night by hellfire missiles his organizational structure will begin to crumble. That's why he's calling for a truce.

It is too early to say how this tape will affect Muslim opinion, but there is no doubt that Mr. bin Laden's strategy has been paying off. According to a poll released last month by Shibley Telhami of the University of Maryland and Zogby International, when Muslims in several countries were asked what aspect of Al Qaeda they "sympathize" with most, 39 percent said it was because the group confronted the United States. Nearly 20 percent more sympathized because it "stands up for Muslim causes," which is really just a polite way of saying the same thing.

How is this poll result any different than those obtained in polls after 9/11 or prior to the invasion of Iraq? Indeed, in the wake of 9/11 one could buy Osama t-shirts in the markets of almost every Muslim city, but they're considerably more scarce today than they were then. Al-Qaeda has alienated large swatches of Muslims through their attempted WMD attack in Jordan, their murderous attacks in Saudi Arabia, the attempts on the life of Pakistan's Prime minister Musharraf, and the savagery of their war on Iraqi civilians. To say that bin Laden's strategy is working seems needlessly pessimistic.

Two other phenomena also show the movement to be strengthening. The first is the emerging breed of self-starter terrorists with few or no ties to Osama bin Laden, like the Madrid and London bombers, and others who have been arrested before they were able to carry out attacks in Pakistan, Australia and elsewhere. The second is the emergence of an indigenous jihad in Iraq. Much is said about the foreign fighters in Iraq, but the truly dramatic development is the radicalization of Iraqis who will continue the insurgency or travel abroad to kill, like those who bombed three Western hotels in Jordan in November.

Perhaps Benjamin and Simon are a pair of twenty-somethings with short historical horizons, but the "self-starters" are not a novel development. They've been around since the 1970s. The indigenous jihad in Iraq is, even as you read this, largely occupied fighting al-Qaeda foreigners and running for political office. Those who are still engaged in trying to run the infidels out of their country find themselves more and more often confronted by competent Iraqi military units rather than Americans.

Despite so much evidence that the jihadists are winning sympathy, America has provided no counter-story to their narrative.

The evidence to which the authors refer exists only in their own minds. Unless they are aware of facts that have not yet been made public there's very little reason to think that the jihadists have more sympathy among their co-religionists today than they did six months or a year ago and lots of reasons, as we've outlined above, to think that they have less.

The American counter-story, for those who have been paying attention, has been the progress made by the people of Afghanistan and the purple fingers of the people in Iraq.