Friday, July 13, 2012

Feet of Clay

The Louis Freeh report charges that a number of Penn State officials, including the late Joe Paterno, suppressed information about former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky's abusive sexual conduct with young boys and thus enabled Sandusky to continue his depradations. The report shows Paterno to have made some serious errors in judgment and to have been derelict in his moral and legal responsibilities.

This finding has led to calls for the university to disassociate itself of everything that honors Joe Paterno's enormous contribution and all of the good he did there. There are efforts now to have his statue removed from the campus and to rename those buildings that honor him.

Perhaps the university should do that, but there's something about it all that strikes me as both self-righteous and inconsistent. Do we tear down monuments to every person who has done good things because they've been shown to have feet of clay? Shall we rename Washington, D.C. and the Washington monument because George Washington owned slaves? Shall we tear down all the statues of all the Confederate generals in cities all across the South because those generals killed young union soldiers in defense, essentially, of the institution of slavery? Shall we rename J.F.K. airport because Kennedy was a philanderer? Shall we undo all the memorials to Martin Luther King because King was guilty of plagiarism, physical abuse of women, and sexual promiscuity?

Insist that the university take down Paterno's statue and rename the buildings if we think that's appropriate, but don't do it unless we're prepared to do the same with Martin Luther King and all the others as well.

If those men are considered immune to that sort of treatment then we at least need to hear an argument as to how their case is significantly different from Paterno's.

Not Helping the Cause

If there were an award for defeating your own argument while adamantly affirming it the man featured in this video would be a candidate for the prize.

Richard Dawkins interviews "Darwinian medicine" advocate Dr. Randolph Nesse, a psychiatrist at the University of Michigan and both men are insistent that design in the human body is an illusion, that all of the amazing processes and structures in the body are the result of purely unguided physical processes like natural selection and genetic mutation. Yet every time they bring up an example of Darwinian "design" Dr. Nesse seems to unwittingly refute it. It happens so often and so inadvertently that the viewer almost has to laugh.

Dr. Nesse agrees with Dawkins that the human body could not be intelligently designed because no intelligent designer would create structures like, for example, the two thin bones in our forearms because their thinness makes them susceptible to a certain kind of fracture. He then immediately goes on to explain, however, that that very thinness allows for dexterity of motion that allows for everything from piano playing to throwing a baseball. It's as if Nesse is saying that he has to say all this Darwinian stuff, but he's not sure he really believes it. He does something similar in part two when talking about the eye.

One of the most fascinating parts of the video is when Dr. Nesse says this:
I am amazed, Richard, that what we call metazoans, multi-celled organisms, have actually been able to evolve, and the reason [I'm amazed] is that bacteria and viruses replicate so quickly -- a few hours sometimes, they can reproduce themselves -- that they can evolve very, very quickly. And we're stuck with twenty years at least between generations. How is it that we resist infection when they can evolve so quickly to find ways around our defenses?
This is an excellent insight. The bacteria and viruses that wish to have us for lunch, as Nesse puts it, reproduce and thus evolve far more rapidly than do human beings. How then have they not managed to find ways to decisively defeat our immune system? Indeed, how did the immune system evolve fast enough to fend off microbial invasion in our early ancestors? It would seem that all creatures would have been vulnerable to microbial onslaught long before they'd had enough time to evolve defenses.

Nesse finishes that thought with this:
What exactly that transition was between one-celled organisms or few-celled organisms and multi-celled organisms -- the ability of an immune system to protect us from things that evolve so much faster than we do, that want to have us for lunch -- must be very crucial in the origins of life.
Crucial, yes, and awfully hard to explain in terms of Darwinian naturalism. Anyway, watch the video and note how hard it is for Dr. Nesse to talk about the body without using the word "design" and how Dawkins has to keep clarifying that, of course, Dr. Nesse doesn't really mean design.
One gets the feeling that Dawkins is thinking the whole time that this guy is just not with the program and certainly not helping the cause.