Thursday, February 9, 2006

Michael Behe's Defense

In a twelve page tour de force Michael Behe presents his response to Judge Jones' criticisms of him in Kitzmiller. Since Behe was the defendants' lead witness much of the Judge's opinion derogated his testimony. Behe considers the relevant passages from the decision and TKOs the Judge's finding in about the first page or two. In his calm, professional manner Behe implicitly confirms the point we made in our own analysis of the decision - the Judge, whose experience in scientific matters was doubtless limited in his previous capacity as state liquor control board chairman, was clearly out of his depth. Sensing his inadequacy, perhaps, the judge simply chose to play it safe by accepting uncritically whatever the plaintiff's witnesses told him and rejecting whatever he heard from the defendants. His claim that Intelligent Design is not genuine science has about it the scent of a purely arbitrary judgment on his part, and Behe explains why.

Here's his conclusion:

The Court's reasoning in section E-4 is premised on: a cramped view of science; the conflation of intelligent design with creationism; an incapacity to distinguish the implications of a theory from the theory itself; a failure to differentiate evolution from Darwinism; and strawman arguments against ID. The Court has accepted the most tendentious and shopworn excuses for Darwinism with great charity and impatiently dismissed evidence-based arguments for design.

All of that is regrettable, but in the end does not impact the realities of biology, which are not amenable to adjudication. On the day after the judge's opinion, December 21, 2005, as before, the cell is run by amazingly complex, functional machinery that in any other context would immediately be recognized as designed. On December 21, 2005, as before, there are no non-design explanations for the molecular machinery of life, only wishful speculations and Just-So stories.

Behe's paper is a masterwork of well-reasoned argument and will repay anyone interested in this issue for the time invested in reading it.

The House of Islam

A friend forwards us an essay by Sam Harris on the current crisis boiling over in dar al-Islam. I don't agree with Mr. Harris on some very important issues (He's strongly antipathetic to Christianity, for instance), but in this excellent essay he consistently hits the nail squarely. Here are a few excerpts. If you go to the link, be sure to read his comment at the end as well:

Let us take stock of the moral intuitions now on display in the House of Islam: On Aug. 17, 2005, an Iraqi insurgent helped collect the injured survivors of a car bombing, rushed them to a hospital and then detonated his own bomb, murdering those who were already mortally wounded as well as the doctors and nurses struggling to save their lives. Where were the cries of outrage from the Muslim world?

Religious sociopaths kill innocents by the hundreds in the capitols of Europe, blow up the offices of the U.N. and the Red Cross, purposefully annihilate crowds of children gathered to collect candy from U.S. soldiers on the streets of Baghdad, kidnap journalists, behead them, and the videos of their butchery become the most popular form of pornography in the Muslim world, and no one utters a word of protest because these atrocities have been perpetrated "in defense of Islam." But draw a picture of the Prophet, and pious mobs convulse with pious rage. One could hardly ask for a better example of religious dogmatism and its pseudo-morality eclipsing basic, human goodness.

It is time we recognized - and obliged the Muslim world to recognize - that "Muslim extremism" is not extreme among Muslims. Mainstream Islam itself represents an extremist rejection of intellectual honesty, gender equality, secular politics and genuine pluralism. The truth about Islam is as politically incorrect as it is terrifying: Islam is all fringe and no center. In Islam, we confront a civilization with an arrested history. It is as though a portal in time has opened, and the Christians of the 14th century are pouring into our world.

Islam is the fastest growing religion in Europe. The demographic trends are ominous: Given current birthrates, France could be a majority Muslim country in 25 years, and that is if immigration were to stop tomorrow. Throughout Western Europe, Muslim immigrants show little inclination to acquire the secular and civil values of their host countries, and yet exploit these values to the utmost-demanding tolerance for their backwardness, their misogyny, their anti-Semitism, and the genocidal hatred that is regularly preached in their mosques.

Political correctness and fears of racism have rendered many secular Europeans incapable of opposing the terrifying religious commitments of the extremists in their midst. In an effort to appease the lunatic furor arising in the Muslim world in response to the publication of the Danish cartoons, many Western leaders have offered apologies for exercising the very freedoms that are constitutive of civil society in the 21st century.

The U.S. and British governments have chastised Denmark and the other countries that published the cartoons for privileging freedom of speech over religious sensitivity. It is not often that one sees the most powerful countries on Earth achieve new depths of weakness, moral exhaustion and geopolitical stupidity with a single gesture. This was appeasement at its most abject.

The idea that Islam is a "peaceful religion hijacked by extremists" is a dangerous fantasy-and it is now a particularly dangerous fantasy for Muslims to indulge. It is not at all clear how we should proceed in our dialogue with the Muslim world, but deluding ourselves with euphemisms is not the answer. It now appears to be a truism in foreign policy circles that real reform in the Muslim world cannot be imposed from the outside. But it is important to recognize why this is so-it is so because the Muslim world is utterly deranged by its religious tribalism.

This is outstanding commentary on the events of these past few days. Harris' whole piece is an important read and we encourage you to check it out.

The Evolutionary Leap to Sex

The local paper had an article last Monday about the Avida program run by Robert Pennock at Michigan State. It's a computer simulation of Darwinian evolution in which organisms, called Avidians, diversify and evolve much as real organisms are believed to do in the natural world. The program is interesting, but, despite the attempts by some to employ it in the battle against Intelligent Design, it's really quite irrelevant to that issue. We wrote about Avida a year ago (see here) and cited a critical piece by Jonathon Wells which makes this point pretty clearly.

Nevertheless, this passage in the article in our paper piqued our interest:

For instance one of [Pennock's] students is trying to show the evolution of sex. In the basic Avida program, organisms reproduce asexually, but the student changed the code to allow simulated sexual reproduction in order to understand the evolutionary advantages. While there are many theories on the subject, "everyone agrees we don't have an answer on [how sex evolved]," Pennock said.

Hmmm. Let's see. In order to get the Avidians to switch from asexual to sexual reproduction an intelligent programmer had to intervene and "mutate" the software code to facilitate the switch. From the Avidians' standpoint this looks an awful lot like a miracle, doesn't it? Isn't this confirmation of the sort of thing that IDers have been saying about evolution for the past two decades - that it doesn't happen apart from intelligent input? Just asking.