Wednesday, November 30, 2011

No, Virginia, Intelligent Design Isn't Dead

I recently received this query from a young girl:

Dear Recursivity:

Some bloggers, like Jason Rosenhouse and Jerry Coyne, have said that intelligent design is dead. Papa says, "If you read it on Recursivity, it's so." Please tell me the truth; is ID really dead?

(signed) Virginia O'Hanlon, 115 W. 95th St., New York

and here is my reply:

Virginia, those little bloggers are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except what they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men's or children's, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the Christian god and his inordinate fondess for beetles.

Yes, Virginia, intelligent design still lives. It flourishes as certainly as fundamentalist and evangelical Christianity exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no creationists. It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias! There would be no childlike faith then, and everyone would have to read biology textbooks and learn what the theory of evolution actually says. Bill Dembski and Michael Behe and Phil Johsnon would be out of jobs. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which religion fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in an Intelligent Designer! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to try to find traces of the Intelligent Designer, but even if they did not see Him, what would that prove? Nobody sees the Designer, but that is no sign that there is no Designer. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see, like David Berlinski's mathematical achievements or Denyse O'Leary's command of the English language. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that's no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You may tear apart the baby's rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only religion and intelligent design, not science, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding, except maybe Howard Ahmanson's checkbook -- if you know what I mean.

No Intelligent Designer! Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, we will continue to smear scientists and destroy public education. As long as there are credulous Christians and Muslims looking for something, anything, to prop up their faith, intelligent design will live. As long as there are Religious Right warriors like Bruce Chapman able to dole out the big bucks to third-rate law school graduates like Casey Luskin, intelligent design will live. As long as there are ignorant sociologists hoping to cash in like Steve Fuller, ID will live. As long as faux journalists like Denyse O'Leary need you to buy their books, ID will live.

Don't believe everything you read, Virgie baby. Intelligent design's still around.

I Used to Live in New Hampshire

... and I liked it there.

But take a look at this and you will see the utter insanity of the New Hampshire Republican party.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A New Self-Published Creationist Book?

Oh, lookie!

Our local creationists at the University of Guelph, Kirk Durston and David Chiu, have teamed up with wacky David Abel and Donald Johnson on a book!

(Kirk Durston is the creationist who thinks that his god magically calms angry bulls, and David Chiu is the guy who stuck in an irrelevant citation to Dembski's work in a paper having nothing to do with Dembski, and told me he did it as a "courtesy".)

Judging from this excerpt, it's not likely that real scientists will take it seriously, with laughably bogus claims such as
- "Fifteen years ago, it started to be realized that `junk DNA' was a misnomer."
- "All known errors during replication result in a decrease of both Shannon and functional information"

I wondered who would publish this drivel. It's a place called "Longview Press". Never heard of it? I hadn't either. But this page suggests that it's just David Abel's private little enterprise. Wow, what a surprise.

It's in keeping with the intelligent design vanity journal, Bio-Complexity, which seems to have a hard time finding papers to publish (7 in 2 years). But hey! It has no problem publishing papers by people who are on the editorial team. And look: David Abel is there, too.

And they wonder why we call it pseudoscience.

Addendum 1: even the University of Guelph library, where Durston and Chiu are based, doesn't have the book in its collection.

Addendum 2: Thanks to Bayesian Bouffant for pointing out the self-congratulatory description of the book on Amazon. I especially love this part: "Change in the FSC of proteins as they evolve can be measured in “Fits”— Functional bits. The ability to quantify changes in biofunctionality during evolutionary transition represents one of the most important advances in biological research in recent decades. See especially, Durston, K.K.; Chiu, D.K.; Abel, D.L.; Trevors, J.T. 2007, Measuring the functional sequence complexity of proteins, Theor Biol Med Model, 4, 47".

Well, if it's "one of the most important advances in biological research in recent decades", then it's amazing how few citations there are to this groundbreaking paper. ISI Web of Science lists exactly 4 citations, 3 of which are self-citations by Abel and Trevors. Wow, that is sure important and groundbreaking.

He's Definitely in Favor of Romney for President

Politicians of all stripes are generally spineless opportunists, but Mitt Romney has got to be an extreme example of the genre.

See the video.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Waterloo Ignorance Day

This looks like a lot of fun (details in the poster here).

That's the difference between science and religion. Scientists are happy to admit when they don't know something, and they view it as a challenge to learn more, while religionists like to "revel in the mystery" and just sit there.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Encomiums for Incompetence: The Case of Phillip Johnson

It's been 20 years since the publication of that exemplar of religiously-motivated incompetence, Darwin on Trial, by lawyer Phillip Johnson, and the creationists are salivating over the anniversary.

Johnson, who had no training or expertise in biology, but did have a recent conversion to Christianity following a divorce, penned a book that was widely panned. And with good reason: Johnson had nothing new to say, preferring to trot out the old creationist canards such as gaps in the fossil record, natural selection is a tautology, and many others.

Johnson's book had basically no effect whatsoever on the scientific debate about evolution. To see this, one only need look at Web of Science (previously called Science Citation Index). I searched for references to Darwin on Trial and found exactly 6 citations. Three were reviews of the book in La Recherche, Nature, and Zygon. Two were articles in International Journal for Philosophy of Religion and Theology Today. Finally, there was a citation in the book Does God Belong in Public Schools?

To illustrate the contrast, I also searched for Dawkins' The Selfish Gene on Web of Science, and found 3,954 citations in dozens of fields: ethology, biology, genetics, engineering, modeling, computer science, and economics, just to name a few.

Google Scholar provides another example of the disparity. Darwin on Trial gets 393 citations, while The Selfish Gene gets 12,727 citations. Looking at the citations themselves is also quite revealing: Darwin on Trial is cited primarily as a negative example (in books such as Tower of Babel: The Evidence Against the New Creationism) and there are only 12 citations in the primary biological literature, largely negative -- such as this article by Forrest and Gross.

So Johnson's book had little impact. But if you think that's going to stop creationists from hagiography, you're wrong. Tom Bethell, a reliably blathering buffoon, has emerged to produce this encomium (no comments allowed, of course). The single funniest line: "Phil Johnson was a highly skilled and tactful electronic correspondent".

Yes, I remember very well when Johnson visited the Usenet newsgroup He, a recent convert to evangelical Christianity (oh! the irony!), liked to say things such as "My purpose is not to insult anyone, however, but to free minds. Many of you have been indoctrinated not to question assumptions that are based on ideology rather than evidence. You can be free of that indoctrination if you wish to be." He also claimed, "It is my practice always to respond to well-informed and intelligent criticism", but when well-informed and intelligent commenters pointed out that Johnson's doubts about whale evolution were ill-founded, they were surprised to find that Johnson never responded to them at all.

Ultimately, it turned out to be a pretty brief visit: Johnson's ignorance of biology was quickly exposed, and he left in a huff. So much for his "skilled and tactful" e-correspondence.

So, creationists, enjoy your 20-year anniversary of more religiously-inspired foolishness masquerading as scholarship. Anyone who's willing to dig into the record can see how pathetic it is.

Friday, November 18, 2011

More Books

How could I have forgotten these?

21. John Sayles, The Anarchists' Convention

22. J. D. Salinger, Nine Stories

23. Alexander Solzhenitsyn, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

24. Miles Franklin, My Brilliant Career

25. Benjamin Franklin, Autobiography

26. Glenn T. Seaborg and Evans G. Valens, Elements of the Universe

27. E. L. Konigsburg, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler

28. Richard D. Alexander, Darwinism and Human Affairs

29. Martin Gardner, In the Name of Science

30. Jared Diamond, Guns, Germs, and Steel

31. J. Anthony Lukas, Common Ground: a Turbulent Decade in the Lives of Three
American Families

32. Larry McMurtry, All My Friends are Going to be Strangers

Thursday, November 17, 2011


My wife and I own a lot of books - I once estimated something like 10,000. We have so many that some of them are in boxes in the attic, boxes in the basement, and in rented storage. So I was interested to read this article in the Financial Times where some famous authors are interviewed about their book collections. There are also some nice photos of their libraries.

Those interviewed were also asked to list their top 10 books. I've read hardly any of the books listed in that article, but it did prompt me to make my own top list. These are books that had the most influence on me in various ways. They are not listed in any particular order, and I've probably forgotten a lot of important ones.

1. All Quiet on the Western Front, Erich-Maria Remarque

2. Look Homeward, Angel, Thomas Wolfe

3. The Lord of the Rings, J. R. R. Tolkien

4. An Introduction to the Theory of Numbers, G. H. Hardy and E. M. Wright

5. The Selfish Gene, Richard Dawkins

6. A Handbook of Integer Sequences, N. J. A. Sloane

7. The Art of Computer Programming, Donald Knuth

8. Recreations in the Theory of Numbers, Albert H. Beiler

9. Men of Mathematics, E. T. Bell

10. The Happy Hollisters and the Haunted House Mystery, Jerry West (Andrew E. Svenson)

11. The Caves of Fear, John Blaine

12. Mathematics, David Bergamini

13. Arrowsmith, Sinclair Lewis

14. The Martian Chronicles, Ray Bradbury

15. The Basketball Diaries, Jim Carroll

16. Catcher in the Rye, J. D. Salinger

17. APL\360 User's Guide, K. E. Iverson and A. D. Falkoff

18. Basic Programming, John G. Kemeny and Thomas E. Kurtz

19. Getting Even, Woody Allen

20. A People's History of the United States, Howard Zinn

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Small Minds are Easily Amused

Over at Uncommon Descent we learn the most amazing things about mathematics:

Take the last two digits of the year in which you were born and the age you will be this year and the result will add up to 111.

It works for everyone this year.

Shshsh! Don't tell Denyse about people born in 2001. It might upset her world view.

I don't know which is more pathetic, the Toronto Star for printing this drivel, or Denyse O'Leary, for thinking it was interesting. Or maybe me, for thinking it is worth pointing out the mistake.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Friday Moose Blogging

From reader "MiKo", here is some great footage of a moose being induced to leave a swimming pool.

It probably would have been easier just to announce that moose swim was over, and that wolf swim was next.

Monday, November 07, 2011

"Pathological Liar" Horowitz Reflects on His Own Mortality

Let's see: start with a guy who claims that left-wing intellectuals are responsible for the death of culture because they are intellectually dishonest.

Let him be the book reviewer for a book written by a fierce right-wing partisan described over and over again as a "pathological liar" (and with good reason).

Have the reviewer say not a single word about the well-documented dishonesty of the author of the book he is reviewing. And, for good measure, have the reviewer make ill-considered remarks about neuroscientists, claiming that their goal is to "empty life of its mystery".

Result: pompous drivel applauded by my favorite faux journalist.

But it is funny!

Friday, November 04, 2011

Friday Moose Blogging

For your entertainment, here are some Quebecois enjoying their time with a moose:

We never get to enjoy this where I live.