Sunday, September 30, 2007

Willful Obtuseness Begins To Grate

It all gets so tiresome. People who are hell-bent to believe something apparently need very little evidence. For the rest of us, this sums things up pretty well (from the comments to this post):


Your rather dogmatic affirmations deserve very long answers, but for the moment I would like only to clarify a fundamental misunderstanding about the flagellum and Behe’s IC, becuse you, like others, go on repeating, after Miller, the false concept that IC of the flagellum has been refuted. I’ll try to keep it simple (and yes, I have read the paper to which Miller refers).

The discussions about homologies, more or less strict, of some proteins of the flagellum to others of T3SS pump or of any other existing molecular machine are very debatable (indeed, any discussion about homologies is totally debatable) and completely irrelevant to the concept of IC. All so called answers to Behe’s formidable concept of IC seem to be completely unaware that IC is about the realistic credibility of a causal mechanism. So, to refute the IC of the flagellum, correctly affirmed by Behe, any darwinist should succeed in showing a sufficiently detailed and credible causal mechanism which can have produced the flagellum. In other words, something like that:

1) Let’s start form an organism, a bacterium, which has no flagellum, but has, for instance, the pump wich is supposed to have produced, evolutionarily speaking, the flagellum. Let’s call this bacterium A.

2) Let’s consider the final goal, that is a bacterium which has the flagellum. Let’s call that B.

3) Now, let’s calculate, even approximately, the modifications which can bring from A to B, and express them in number of necessary point mutations (or, if you don’t like mutations, in number of any given single random event you like, be it gene duplication, inversion, deletion, or any other thing). Let’s call every single random event which is necessary to go from A to B a “genetic bit”. Plese note that, even if the model is not completely detailed, it should be realistic enough to account for the transformation from the A genome to the B genome, at least as far as a fully functional flagellum is concerned.

4) Now, let’s divide the transition in any number of intermediate states.

The model will be successful in refuting the IC of the flagellum if, and only if:

a) Each intermediate state differs from the previous and the following one for a number of “genetic bits” small enough not to face unsurmountable probabilistic difficulties (in other words, no more than a few unrelated mutations are allowed, probably no more than two or three, but we can be more generous, if you need)

b) Each intermediate state is specifically selectable because of a distinct functional advantage, capable of giving a reproductiove advantage and therefore a sufficient expansion of the mutated clone (here, unfortunately, we cannot be generous, distinct functional advantage must be present at each selected step).

In my knowledge, nobody has ever even vaguely attempted to refuted the IC of the flagellum (or of any other IC structure) in this way.

Please note that I am not asking too much. I am not asking, for example, that such a model be “proven” as real. I will be satisfied with a theoric model, provided it is detailed enough, credible, and quantitavely analyzed at the molecular level.

Furthermore, I am not asking that the increased function of each intermediate state be the same as the final (or initial) function. Any form of the mythological “cooption” is allowed, provided that the coopted functions are demonstrated and that their molecular derivation from other functions in terms of a very small number of “genetic bits” be verified.

I am, anyway, asking that the model eaxplain all the necessary molecular changes in as much detail as reasonalbly possible, and that it include not only the changes in the effector genes (the proteins), but also all the new regulatory and assembling functions, at least as far as we can understand a minimum of them (for instance, the necessay regulations of transcription, the correct rate, the temporal sequence, and so on). I understand that almost nothing is known of these matters, and therefore I would be happy, in a first moment, with the explanation of the modifications in the final proteins, but let’s remember that, probably, the greatest impossibilities are to be found in the “evolution” of the new regulatory network.

In the light of what above said, I can confidently affirm: nobody, and I mean nobody, has in any way refuted the irreducible complexity of the flagellum, as shown by Behe.

Darwinists claim to have such an explanation for everything, but when you actually ask for it, all you get are excuses and cries of "foul!" And yet still they believe.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Minds Can Change

A 9/11 Truther does an about face. No doubt he is in for a ton of abuse.

Really Cool Tribute

Neat U2 music video highlighted by the Anchoress.

Interesting Speculation

Who knows.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Stupid Is As Stupid Does

And the stupidest of all don't have even the faintest glimmering of how stupid they really are.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Funny Stuff

As good a video commentary on Ahmadinejad,'s visit as you're going to find.

A Parable

Outstanding post by John C. Wright.

We Have Sown The Wind

I will gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today. Some interesting financial analysis.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Good Point

In the last few days I've stumbled across a really well-written blog by the science fiction author John C. Wright, who was once a vehement atheist, but converted to Roman Catholicism.

Here's a nugget:

[U]nder this assumption there is some advantage to the Darwinian struggle for reproduction in religion which is absent in skepticism. And this assumption is that skepticism delivers a true picture of the universe, and prevents irrational acts prompted by religious delusion.

In other words, we have to assume human beings live in an environment where the people whose brains function improperly, the ones who listen to invisible voices, rejoice at unrealistic hopes and quail at entirely imaginary goblins, prosper and have more children than the rational people, who see the universe as it is: perception is disadvantageous for child-bearing.

You would not make this far-fetched assumption for any other organ in the body. If we found a heart or liver in an organism that did not do what hearts or livers were supposed to do, we would have to make a pretty strong case to say there was a Darwinian advantage to this malfunction.

Does it not seem like a bit of a coincidence that we just so happen to live in an environment where by accident all the facts just so happen to be arranged so that the religious-hallucination-causing lobe of the brain is the only organ in the body which has a Darwinian advantage when it malfunctions?

It is not a simpler explanation to assume the religious perception in the soul, in people otherwise sane and healthy, functions as its Creator designed?

The first model postulates an incredible ad hoc coincidence; the second one postulates a cause and effect.

Monday, September 24, 2007

We Have Little Idea What's Going On Down There, But We Know For Sure How It Came To Be!

Boston Globe:

The science of life is undergoing changes so jolting that even its top researchers are feeling something akin to shell-shock. Just four years after scientists finished mapping the human genome - the full sequence of 3 billion DNA "letters" folded within every cell - they find themselves confronted by a biological jungle deeper, denser, and more difficult to penetrate than anyone imagined.

"Science is just starting to probe the wilderness between genes," said John M. Greally, molecular biologist at New York's Albert Einstein School of Medicine. "Already we're surprised and confounded by a lot of what we're seeing."

A slew of recent but unrelated studies of everything from human disease to the workings of yeast suggest that mysterious swaths of molecules - long dismissed as "junk DNA" - may be more important to health and evolution than genes themselves.

Meanwhile, a tricky substance called RNA - for decades viewed as the lowly "messenger boy " for genes and proteins - turns out to be a big league player in cell function. It may even represent the cell's command and control system, according to its more vigorous proponents.

In any event, lots of basic biological beliefs are going out the window these days as new discoveries come so rapid-fire that the effect is almost more disorienting than illuminating.

The discoveries have one common theme: Cellular processes long assumed to be "genetic" appear quite often to be the result of highly complex interactions occurring in regions of DNA void of genes. This is roughly akin to Wall Street waking to the realization that money doesn't make the world go 'round, after all.

"It's a radical concept, one that a lot of scientists aren't very happy with," said Francis S. Collins, director of the National Human Genome Research Institute. "But the scientific community is going to have to rethink what genes are, what they do and don't do, and how the genome's functional elements have evolved.

"I think we're all pretty awed by what we're seeing," Collins said. "It amounts to a scientific revolution."

For half a century, the core concept in biology has been that every cell carries within its nucleus a full set of DNA, including genes. Each gene, in turn, holds coded instructions for assembling a particular protein, the stuff that keeps organisms chugging along.

As a result, genes were assigned an almost divine role in biological "dogma," thought to govern not only such physical characteristics as eye color or hair texture, but even much more complicated characteristics, such as behavior or psychology. Genes were assigned blame for illness. Genes were credited for robust health. Genes were said to be the source of the mutations that underlay evolution.

But the picture now emerging is more complicated, one in which illness, health, and evolutionary change appear to be the work of almost fantastical coordination between genes and swaths of DNA previously written off as junk.

The idea that genes possess a singular supremacy took a knock when the human genome was fully sequenced in 2003, revealing that only about 1.5 percent of our DNA consists of actual genes coding for protein.

Another 3.5 percent of DNA is of gene-linked regulatory material whose function isn't well grasped, but which is recognized as vital because it has been precisely duplicated in living things for hundreds of millions of years. "That's smoking gun evidence that nature cares about this stuff," said Eric S. Lander, director of the Broad Institute, a research center affiliated with MIT and Harvard that focuses on applying genomics to medicine.

As for the remaining 95 percent of the genome? "There's this weird lunar landscape of stuff we don't understand," Lander said. "No one has a handle on what matters and what doesn't."

Until recently, the rest of the genome - the murky regions between individual genes - was viewed as occupied by more or less useless glop. Noncoding DNA is the polite term for junk DNA.

But the glop is starting to look like gold. And genes, in a sense, are losing some of their glitter.

"To our shock and consternation, we're learning how little we know about the parts of the genome that may matter most," said Dr. David M. Altshuler, associate professor of genetics and medicine at Harvard Medical School and also a top researcher at the Broad Institute.

"Maybe some of it really is junk. Maybe most of it is junk," he said. "But one shouldn't bet against nature. Maybe it all serves some sort of a purpose. We really don't know."

[more follows]

The Fundamental Reason Why Materialism Is So Laughable

This is good:

For some reason I thought of a friend's story of a drug trial he participated in in college. A pharmaceutical company was offering to pay people $1,000 to have a minor medical procedure performed in return for feedback about a new pain medication they were testing. After a quick calculation of how many six packs of Schlitz they could buy with that kind of money, my friend and his roommate signed up. Participants were aware that some people would be given the real drug, whereas others would receive only a placebo, a sugar pill, to control for potential psychological factors (e.g. people feeling pain relief because they expected to, not because the drug was actually working).

When I asked about the results my friend said that his roommate wasn't sure if he was part of the control group -- his pain was pretty bad, but it seemed to go off and on, so he was pretty sure he got the sugar pill. When I asked my friend if he thought he got the real drug, he said with a laugh, "Ooooooh, yeah. You know the real thing when you get it." In what was probably an annoying attempt to play devil's advocate, I pushed him on the issue. How did he know that the pain relief wasn't just the placebo effect, the results coming only from his mind? He responded with a laugh, "Because it completely knocked me on my a**."

Though it's not a very eloquent way to phrase it, that's how I feel about Christianity.

Every now and then I get a comment suggesting that all of changes I've seen in my life since my conversion can be chalked up to a sort of placebo effect...

Good stuff follows.

On The Couch

Gagdad Bob:

The unconscious doesn't relate to individuals, but to classes. To put it another way, to the extent that the unconscious perceives the individual, it does so in terms of the class (in the mathematical sense of a set) of which it is a member.

Right away you see a potentially vast difference between leftists, who tend to see only groups, and classical liberals, who value the individual. But because the leftist sees only groups and classes, he doesn't realize the extent to which his thinking is susceptible to, and determined by, unconscious influences. This is why it is such truism that virtually all of the wholesale racism in America comes from the left, since they openly admit to their prejudice, i.e., that they can't help categorizing people by race, gender, or sexual orientation. They then want to paradoxically enact discriminatory laws to keep them from discriminating.

But as Chief Justice Roberts recently taught all of us in a tautologous decision, the best way to end discrimination is to end discrimination.

Actually the best way is to end descrimination is to begin discriminating, since discrimination is the opposite of indiscriminately lumping individuals into groups. For a person with discrimination, Thomas Sowell and Cornell West belong to wildly divergent groups with virtually nothing in common. There is nothing similar about them -- that is, unless you are a leftist racist who notices only their skin color.


[W]henever my two and a-half year old son gets into a tight spot, he immediately begins chanting like Dustin Hoffman in Rainman, "up on mommy... up on mommy... up on mommy." I am quite certain that in these moments of unbound anxiety or pain or fear, "mommy" doesn't just refer to Mrs. G. Rather, "mommy" is simply a signifier for the the Great Comforter in the Sky, the class of all objects that can transform pain into security or pleasure.

In other words, the actual mommy -- Mrs. G. -- is a member of a much more expansive class of the Magically Infinite Comforter, or Good Breast. No human could ever live up to those expectations, which the baby, to his dismay, eventually discovers. Or not. And if not, he may spend the rest of his life in search of the lost entitlement, that Great Breast in the Sky.

Again, liberals are tranceParently prone to this, what with their wild, utopian schemes to end all pain and want -- free housing, free college education, free healthcare. Once you are in the unconscious, its needs are naturally infinite.

You might say that Dennis Kucinich is the most capable articulator of the infinite needs of the infantile unconscious, but all leftist politicians are in the same mold. But they have to speak more in code, so as to not alienate the parents who will have to take care of all the hungry and whining infants. After all, someone has to do it. Babies can't take care of themselves. Free healthcare is obviously not free. To the contrary, it's actually more expensive than the kind you pay for, since it removes any disincentive to use it. And when you put a baby with infinite needs in a context in which he is infinitely ministered to, guess what happens?

That's right. Old Europe.

Young people are naturally drawn to leftism, since they are at a developmental stage in which their task is to go from being a member of a primitive group -- the family of origin -- to a mature individual. This provokes a tremendous amount of anxiety (remember?), anxiety which -- because of the structure of the unconscious mind -- resonates with every past maturational stage, in which one had to pull away from "fusion" with the group (which ultimately goes all the way back to the Omnipotent Cosmic Comforter alluded to above) and become an individual.

Wahhhh, Don't tase me, Dad!!!

Looking back on your own life, you can no doubt reconstruct when you were in these transitional phases between fusion and individuation. Robin spoke of one the other day, in his real-life sandbox allegory. There he was, caught between two worlds, the one of blissful primary fusion with the enveloping cosmos, vs. breaking out and becoming an individual in the decaying world of time and form. Growth can only take place by leaving the world of fusion, but it is fraught with anxiety and depression. In fact, the great psychoanalyst Melanie Klein called it the depressive position, not just because it is inherently depressing, but because one must master and assimilate the depressing loss of unity. One must contain it or be contained by it.

But many people obviously do stay behind. However, it is no picnic. It is what Klein called the paranoid-schizoid position, which has a whole array of specific (and more primitive) defense mechanisms to keep the reality of time, growth, and separateness -- and depression -- at bay. For example, one way to deny depression is through the "manic defenses," and again, we can see how leftism fits the bill, what with its manic utopian promises to end all pain and want.

The Buddha realized that attachment to our desires is the source of suffering. The left has a better idea: just make unfullfilled desire against the law.

A young adult will often embrace leftism as a form of pseudo-maturity. In other words, it gives one the appearance of strength, maturity, and adulthood, since you can be so freely aggressive, hostile, and belligerent. But this is entirely counterfeit, merely the weak man's impersonation of a strong man -- you know, "General Betray Us," and all that. Imagine General Petraeus -- who, among other inconveniences, took a bullet in the chest while training for the defense of his country -- being aggressively called a traitor by these infantile chicken doves!

Only in the unconscious, where heroes can be cowards and cowards can be heroes, where dissent is the highest form of patriotism and patriotism is the lowest form of treason.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Why Do They Rage?

Great essay.

I Demand My Oil Change Insurance

John Stossel:

Almost daily we're bombarded with apocalyptic warnings about the 47 million Americans who have no health insurance. Senator Hillary Clinton wants to require everyone to have it, to require big companies to pay for it, and have government buy policies for the poor.

That is a move in the wrong direction.

America's health-care problem is not that some people lack insurance, it is that 250 million Americans do have it.

You have to understand something right from the start. We Americans got hooked on health insurance because the government did the insurance companies a favor during World War II. Wartime wage controls prohibited cash raises, so employers started giving noncash benefits like health insurance to attract workers. The tax code helped this along by treating employer-based health insurance more favorably than coverage you buy yourself. And state governments have made things worse by mandating coverage many people would never buy for themselves.

Competition also pushed companies to offer ever-more attractive policies, such as first-dollar coverage for routine ailments like ear infections and colds, and coverage for things that are not even illnesses, like pregnancy. We came to expect insurance to cover everything.

That's the root of our problem. No one wants to pay for his own medical care. "Let the insurance company pay for it." But since companies pay, they demand a say in what treatments are—and are not—permitted. Who can blame them?

Then who can blame people for feeling frustrated that they aren't in control of their medical care? Maybe we need to rethink how we pay for less-than-catastrophic illnesses so people can regain control. The system creates perverse incentives for everyone. Government mandates are good at doing things like that.

Steering people to buy lots of health insurance is bad policy. Insurance is a necessary evil. We need it to protect us from the big risks--things most of us can't afford to pay for, like a serious illness, a major car accident, or a house fire.


Imagine if your car insurance covered oil changes and gasoline. You wouldn't care how much gas you used, and you wouldn't care what it cost. Mechanics would sell you $100 oil changes. Prices would skyrocket.

That's how it works in health care. Patients don't ask how much a test or treatment will cost. They ask if their insurance covers it. They don't compare prices from different doctors and hospitals. (Prices do vary.) Why should they? They're not paying. (Although they do in hidden, indirect ways.)

In the end, we all pay more because no one seems to pay anything. It's why health insurance is not a good idea for anything but serious illnesses and accidents that could bankrupt you. For the rest, we should pay out of our savings.

When Overeagerness To Make The Other Guy Look Like A Moron Makes You Look Like A Moron

I'm sick to death of bad faith and false witness. Here's the latest.

Emmanuel Goldstein Speaks

Good interview with Michael Behe (PDF transcript). The man is quite obviously a liar, a scoundrel, a moron, and a grave threat to science. No wonder all the smartest people hate him.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

96.67%, Baby!

That's what I scored on this Civic Literacy Quiz. College students, well, they didn't do so great.

Good Retort

Vis Instapudit:


Seriously: why on earth would the definition of a "conservative" court in 1980 be some sort of lodestar by which all future courts should be judged. By the standards of 1880, the current court would be a bunch of wild-eyed socialist libertine radicals bent on undermining everything that made America great. Does that entitle me to re-nominate Oliver Wendell Holmes, or his modern day equivalent?

Cass Sunstein (who graduated from law school in 1978) seems to be under the delusion that the conditions of his youth are the golden mean by which all future events are to be judged and found wanting. I mean, we all feel the same way, but most of us don't expect anyone younger to take us seriously when we drone on about how much better The Pogues were than any of this modern noise. . . .

The court is to the right of the average law professor, not to mention the average Cass Sunstein. But that's because the average law professor is to the left of the average American, and any reasonably democratic system is going to produce a Supreme Court whose mean opinion hews more closely to that of the voters than to that of any larger group from which the appointees are drawn.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The Hopeless Nightmare That Is A Windows Computer

This is good.

Putting The Taser To Foolish Hysteria

Ann Althouse skewers Naomi Wolf's over the top reaction to that poor, dumb, arrest-resisting leftie whiner getting tasered in Florida. Good stuff.


A few from my Seattle vacation visiting my Dad.

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Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Why The Going Got Weird

Interesting brief analysis of why the 60's happened as they did, by Shrinkwrapped.

Better To Fall Than To Redefine Goodness

American Thinker:

Many leftist partisans are licking their chops over the revelation that Idaho Republican Senator Larry Craig solicited sex from a male undercover detective in a Minneapolis airport bathroom. This scandal is reminiscent of that involving Ted Haggard, the disgraced preacher who had relations with a male prostitute. You may remember Haggard: he was the Distraction du Jour the Shill Media conjured up right before the 2006 election. (I keep my finger on the pulse of our culture and I had never heard of this Haggard fellow. But fixating on this minor story served well the purposes of demonizing the "right" and distracting people from the real issues -- always useful during an election cycle.)

What is interesting about our time, though, is that these men are castigated not because they have been living an immoral lifestyle but because they have been living an immoral lifestyle without also sanctioning that immoral lifestyle.


What interests me, though, are not the obvious double standards, but identifying the correct standards. You see, it's interesting how the Studds and Franks of the world are often cast as superior to the Craigs and Haggards merely because it was they -- and not someone else -- who thrust open their closets and dumped the contents in the public square. The idea is that it's worse to espouse a standard you cannot live up to than one you can and do live down to; second, it's always implied that an individual's position cannot be credible if he lacks personal credibility. And such tacks certainly are rhetorically effective.

They're also nonsense.

Let's examine the second point first. Does a virtue cease to be a virtue simply because the vice-ridden espouse it? If a preacher teaches that "Thou shalt do no murder," do we conclude that murder must be a moral act if we discover he is a serial killer? Or, for those on the left, would you assume preserving the environment was unimportant simply because you discovered that an environmentalist -- like, oh, let's say, Al Gore or Ted Kennedy -- uses far more energy than the average person or preaches wind power but opposes it in his neighborhood? It's silly. You may as well say you won't believe a mathematician when he tells you that 2+2=4 if you find out he is a bad man.

A position either has merit or it doesn't, either a basis in Truth or it doesn't. The rightness of a position is not determined by the righteousness of a politician.

Once this is understood, refutation of the first point is simple. It cannot be said that a person who espouses everything he lives is morally superior to one who doesn't -- nor can we say he is inferior -- as greater specificity is required; we have to ask what behaviors he engages in and whether or not they would translate into valid positions if advocated publicly. In reality, though, it's seldom very cut-and-dried, for while Truth is black and white, people are shades of gray, possessed of both virtue and vice. And our standards should reflect not our virtues and vices, but the virtues we possess and those we should possess.

In other words, it's ideal to have saintly leaders whose lives reflect the highest standards, but what is the next best thing? If a leader is lacking, will we really be better served if he translates his vice into policy than if he merely practices it while advocating the virtue that eludes him?

We would readily understand this if we applied it to other domains. If a teacher lived a decadent lifestyle, would we prefer that he advocated same in the classroom? Would we say, "Well, it's so commendable that he's no hypocrite, that he lives no double life. Why, he possesses the virtue of consistency!"? If a parent cannot stop smoking, is a glutton, is lazy, or has a tendency to tell lies, would it be a good thing for him to sanction this behavior in his children? Should a therapist with a gambling or drinking problem encourage it in his patients?

Moreover, if one did so, it would most likely be part of a rationalization, one that says his darkness is actually light and that he designed his position so he could feel better about himself.

And this brings us to an important point: Such behavior is antithetical to love, as it is selfish. It is directed toward satisfying the emotional needs of the self, not the moral needs of others. We would do well to remember that misery does love company, but true love doesn't spread misery.

Now we come to a very simple principle, one that applies whether your designation is politician, preacher, parent or person. No one is perfect, as we're all bedeviled by frailty, and we all commit our sins. But whatever one's sin may be, there is one greater: Leading others into sin. This is why closets exist, because certain things should be kept in them. There is no nobility in releasing your inner demons when doing so means they will possess your fellow man.

Lest I be misunderstood, my title is somewhat figurative; hypocrisy isn't really a good state, but it can be the lesser of two evils. Sure, we should strive to elect politicians of strong moral fiber and I certainly think we can do better than Larry Craig, Barney Frank and Gerry Studds. But I do know this: I'd rather have a politician propositioning in a bathroom than proposing policy that turns the whole country into a bathroom.

We should, however, also understand what hypocrisy is. It is not saying one thing but doing another; rather, it's saying one thing while intending to do another. In other words, let's say a man has a weakness for drink but seeks to abstain from alcohol and preaches sobriety. Let's then suppose he attends a party, has alcohol waved under his nose, is overcome by temptation and becomes soused. While this isn't good, it also doesn't mean he is a hypocrite. It simply means he is weak.


As for the matter of weakness versus hypocrisy and the Craigs and Haggards of the world, my guess is it isn't that their values are a facade but that their vice is a fall. Whether I'm correct or not, though, I do know one thing for certain, and this I direct toward the open-closet crowd on the left.

They're better than you.

Yes, they might have fallen from grace in a shameful way, hurting their families, party and/or cause. They may be light years away from Heaven and a heartbeat from Hell, but your greatest sin cannot be laid at their feet. That is, such people don't aggressively push libertine values to create latitude for vice. They don't seek to transform their nation into a toxic wasteland just so they can feel (because, above all else, leftists just have to feel good) better about themselves. Their secretiveness is their saving grace, in that they limit their battle to the confines of their minds and souls. Theirs is an internal battle against personal corruption, not an external one for the public variety. They leave the rest of the world unmolested.

So perhaps, just maybe, they're the worst thing they could be: Hypocrites. But they're still better than you.

The Future Lies Ahead

They nailed it. H/T Peeve Farm.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Winners And Losers

I probably linked this a couple of years ago, but it seems as pertinent as ever.

Planet Pupulon

This is kind of funny.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Thoroughly Depraved

"Starter Husbands"

Only Fringe Publications Deal In Facts

It's just not the MSM's job. An excellent illustration described here.

Self-Refuting Studies

"You haven't told us much about our way of thinking. But you've told us a lot about yours."


Friday, September 14, 2007

Better Is In The Name

Well said:

We all want progress. We may disagree whether gay marriage or drug legalization constitutes progress or not. But we all want better things for the world -- better food, better health and well-being, scientific and technical advances, wiser political systems, more peace and freedom, more happy children, more humane treatment of animals, more tolerance, more prosperity for the world, you name it. That's called being a decent person.

So what kind of person has to label himself "Progressive?" Obviously somebody who believes he (or she) understands real progress better than the rest of us. Because if you are a Progressive it implies that everybody else, let's face it, is a Regressive, or maybe just a Stagnant. It's a smirky, self-flattering way of saying you're a lot better than the rest.

So what kind of ego needs do you have to have to call yourself that? And what do you believe about others? In fact, Progressives must believe that other people are worse than they are; that only they can Save the Planet, or create Peace on Earth, or Solve Inequality, or whatever sin bedevils mankind.

Like the preacher who is focused on nothing but sin, Progressives must emphasize the alleged flaws of other people. They need to pinpoint those flaws, to feel important. Because Progressives make it clear that the real obstacle to Progress is Other People. In fact, if you really ask a "Progressive" what other people are like, you're likely to hear that much of humanity is either ignorant or evil.

The word Progressive first became popular in the late 19th century, but has now been adopted as a popular synonym for "socialism." Americans tend not to like socialism, associating it with the Soviet Union and other bad characters. But "Progressivism" sounds fine. So it is a euphemism for something people fear; a cover-up label.

The odd thing, of course, is that real progress in the world is almost never achieved by self-proclaimed "Progressives." They generally make things worse rather than better. (See all the mad utopian schemers from Bin Laden to Stalin and Ahmadi-Nejad.) As a group, they are strikingly ill-equipped to even understand the world in any depth. Rather, it's farmers, business people, engineers, teachers, laborers, scientists, soldiers, cops, doctors, writers, inventors, all of whom create real progress --- or who keep the world from sliding back into barbarism.

All the radicals in the world together have not created as much economic progress as the inventor of Diet Coke or the Post-It Note. I'm sorry, but it's plainly true. So the "Progressive" ego trip is really only an ego trip.

Obvious Finally Stated

In such a target-rich environment, I've always wondered why the Republicans are such a bunch of milquetoast fools. Maybe that's changing. Here's a good political ad takes Hillary to the woodshed.

Monday, September 10, 2007


Back Friday afternoon, 9/14.

Saturday, September 08, 2007


All taken yesterday.

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Friday, September 07, 2007

Anything Can Happen And It Usually Does

With the idea of a multiverse we can throw out God. But then we throw out everything else, too. Pretty interesting philosophical reasoning in this blog post.

I'm Glad I Don't Have This Job


Thursday, September 06, 2007


Gagdad Bob:

In order to see something, it is not necessary to logically prove the existence of sight.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Monday, September 03, 2007

Biologists, By And Large, Are Simply Not Qualified To Judge The Designedness Of Things

It all seems so simple. If something would be advantageous, it will appear. Yes?


This is good:

Several years back I thought that the Darwinian theory was probably the best explanation for the emergence of biotic structures. That was before the stunning details of molecular machines were discovered. As the details of these remarkable machines rolled in, I became more and more skeptical that the random step-by-step process of mutations propounded by Darwinian theory could, in fact, account for what we see. It wasn't common descent (which I accept) or the increase of complexity over time that bothered me. It was the idea that the complex machines we see could come about with no planning or some sort of cognitive factor. Having been a machine designer for many years and designed many complex machines and systems, the probability that such remarkable machines could come about unplanned just seemed beyond rationality.

This is not to say that people haven't tried to construct gradualistic scenarios to account for these machines. The problem is that they seem to be totally oblivious to the combinatorial dependencies that are present in any complex machine. One predominant idea in these scenarios is exaptation. This idea suggests that something that offers some function can be utilized with other components to create a new function. So far so good. This happens all the time in design engineering. You take a gear box that is used for rotary motion, add a worm screw at its output and you've got a linear motion. What is ignored in these "just so" scenarios is that you can't just grab any ole gear box and any ole worm screw and get anything that works. The gear box has to be the right size, power factor, rpm, output size, materials, etc. The worm screw also has to have the right coupling design, pitch, power capacity, length, diameter, etc. And that's only one part of the design. The motor has to be the right type, size, torque, power, rpm, etc. Then there is whatever function is at the end of the worm screw. All these components are interdependent. In every complex function there are combinatorial dependencies.

An illustration of one such "just so" scenario can be found here. It's an animation to illustrate Nick Matzke's proposed Darwinian process to create bacterial flagellum. To the uninitiated this all looks pretty reasonable. From a combinatorial-dependency perspective it looks incredibly improbable.

Let's take a look at this in a little detail. First we have a passive pore that starts things off. Since this is the base of the eventual flagellum one has to ask is the pore the right size that the whip of the flagellum can provide the locomotion we see? If it is too small the resulting whip will not be able to handle the stresses from torsion and coupling. If it is too big the whip will be too bulky to be driven in any effective way by the motor. Then we add the secretion system. Is the pore the right size and of the right protein type for the existing secretion system? If not there will be no coupling of the two and no progress.

Ok now we have a selective pore and an secretion system but does it secrete proteins that will be right for the whip? The whip has to have the right protein shape. In engineering the components of a flexible whip have to be designed to mesh correctly such that there is just the right combination of coupling, flexibility, and rigidity. They also have to be the right material. If they are too soft there will be galling. If they are too hard fatigue cracks will set in and destroy the whip. The same goes for clearances between parts. This is a goldie-locks situation. Things have to be just right or it won't work.

Next we have to add the motor. Let's assume we're very lucky that a motor will fit and couple with what we have so far. However, the motor has to have the rpm and torque to drive the whip just right. If it doesn't have enough torque we won't get what we see. If the rpm is too fast the whip will destroy itself because of the hydrodynamic forces applied to it by the fluid. Then it and all the other components have to be sized just right to reverse or the torsional forces on the wip will rip it apart. Remember the diameter, materials, meshing of parts, etc. in this Darwinian scenario have no idea what will be required later.

I could go on and on but I hope you get the idea of combinatorial dependencies. And things are really worse when you consider the problem of "you just can't get there from here". If one component violates the needed dependencies that must be satisfied, you can't just mutate that one component because every component depends on the others. As any design engineer will attest from their mistakes, you just have to start over. In real design a computer program would probably be written to play what-if scenarios to match the torque required, the materials and configuration of whip components, the bearing size and thickness based on cell wall strength, hydrodynamic factors, torsional and coupling stresses, etc and etc. Also this doesn't even take into account the assembly processes that are required. They also have their own dependencies.

The point is that simplistic just-so stories based on random mutations just aren't adequate from an engineering perspective. There's entirely too much luck involved to be taken seriously. Darwinian proponents will have to do much better than this to convince anyone acquainted with real machines.

As an engineer, I couldn't agree more.

New Nikon 18-200 VR Lens Continues To Rule

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Poetic Justice

Has been served.

A Couple Of Vehement Pro-Darwinist Arguments Shot Down

Richard Dawkins "blows away" Michael Behe's latest book in the New York Times, by referring to dog breeding. A blogger named ERV finds a "fatal mistake" in the book. The Darwinists all party like it's 1999, doing a victory dance in the endzone, not noticing the flags on the field.

Post Darwinist
has an excellent post illustrating that dog breeding proves quite the opposite of what Dawkins thinks. The way I've summed up the erroneous reasoning of Dawkins is that, while you can get a Chihuahua from an Arctic wolf, you will never get an Arctic wolf from breeding Chihuahuas. The complete information necessary to build an Arctic wolf is missing from Chihuahuas. It has been bred out. Domestic breeding is not "evolution". Dawkins leaves that inconvenient truth out of his diatribe. Another inconvenient truth is that domestic breeding is an intelligent process. Breeders impose huge selection coefficients on particular characteristics that nature never could. You could wait in vain for millions of years, and nature would not yield a Jack Russell terrier, a Pekingese, or a St. Bernard. And yet the Darwinists jump up and down with glee over Dawkins and his "argument".

ERV's challenge is given here. Upon seeing it, the Darwinsts declared, "GAME, SET AND MATCH!!!"

Not so fast, kids. This post opened up a heated discussion, which included ERV for a time, until she was given the boot (unfairly in my opinion). The discussion carried on elsewhere. This comment, I think, summarizes where things stand:

I’ve been over at ERV’s blog trying to discuss her ‘challenge’. ERV has been, for the most part, AWOL. (In her defense, she’s a student. OTOH, she’s started up a thread or two in the meantime).

In any event, it seems to me that there’s several issues involved here.

ERV’s basic challenge–although it wasn’t formally accepted as such on her blog–is that, contrary to what a.) Behe says in EoE, and contrary to what he should clearly have been aware of, b.) HIV presents an example of multiple protein-to-protein binding sites (4) in c.) much less the number of replications in a CCC (10^20), thus d.) falsigying Behe’s claims.

I’ll start with d.) and work backwards.

The argument Behe makes in EoE deals exclusively, and consistently, with eukaryotic cells. Viruses aren’t even classified as “life”. We’re not even dealing with prokaryotic life. So, to take what Behe claims about “cells” (meaning eukaryotic cells) and then to turn that around and claim that this is falsified by what is found in a virus, is, I believe, to completely miss the point of the book. Behe wants to compare the number of replications (progeny) that eukaryotes need simply to come up with a two a.a. change to its genome (in the case of the malarial parasite) to the number of mammals that have ever arisen. If an argument is to be attacked, that’s where one should start.

I think this is so self-evident, that I won’t comment any further.

As to c.)—where it is being claimed that novel complexity is seen occurring in far less replications than a CCC (10^20)—I think we have to step back and remember point d.), that Behe claims a CCC limit in eukaryotic cells—not in any kind of virus; and then we need to try and remember how Behe arrived at his CCC in the first place.

His CCC is based on a review written by Nicholas White. In that review, quoting EoE, White “[multiplied]the number of parasites in a person who is very ill with malaria times the number of people who get malaria per year times the number of years since the introduction of chloroquine, then you can estimate that the odds of a parasite developing resistance to chlorquine is roughly one in a hundred billion billion. In shorthand scientific notation, that’s one in 10^20.” (p. 57)

Now, to get an idea of Behe’s thinking on this, here’s what he wrote on p. 59:
“The odds [of achieving atovoquone resistance and of chloroquine resistance] are, respectively, one in a trillion (10^12) and one in a hundred billion billion (10^20). The ratio of the two numbers shows that the malarial parasite is a hundred million times (10^8) less likely to develop resistance to chloroquine than to atovaquone. This is reasonable since the genome size of the malarial parasite is in the neighborhood of a hundred million nucleotides. The implication is that if two amino acids in a protein have to be changed instead of just one, that decreases the likelihood of resistance by a factor of about a hundred million.”

As I pointed out at ERV’s blog, it’s quite obvious that Behe sees a connection between genome size and the level of improbability of getting particular point mutations in that same genome. But why, then, isn’t the CCC one in 10^16 (i.e., 10^8 for the first mutation, times, 10^8 for the second), and not, as Behe presents, one in 10^20? Well, it’s because Behe is using actual in vivo numbers. The fact is that the in vitro (what is seen in the lab) resistance to atovaquone is one in 10^10 or lower, but because of some kind of in vivo (the more life-like scenario) effect (for some of the reasons that White points out in his paper, and especially host immunity) inerfering with the development of resistance to atovaquone. So we end up with one in 10^20. But Behe’s remark about one in 10^8, linked as it is to genome size, makes it legitimate (in my view, at least) to sort of guess how Behe would approach the case of the virus. In EoE, he tells us that the mutation rate of the HIV virus is 10,000 greater than eukaryotes (which ought to be a warning about comparing the two). The figure, per Wikipedia, is in the area of 3×10^-5. The actual genome of HIV is roughly the inverse of this number. For two mutations, then, a simple calculation would be (3 x 10^-5) x (3 x 10^-5)= 9 x 10^-10=approx. 10^-9. Well, this 10^-9 number is the very number that Ian Musgrave (I believe it was he who made the calculation) gives for HIV-1 and the changes it has undergone. I hope this makes clear that it would be wrong to simply carry over the one in 10^20 CCC number that Behe uses for eukaryotes and apply it to the case of HIV.

Let’s now discuss b.): HIV presents an example of multiple protein-to-protein binding sites. Again, the starting point has to be EoE. It is very clear that Behe was talking about protein-to-protein interactions arising within the eukaryotic cell. If you look at his book, and the language that he uses, he’s always talking about the “cell”. Well, HIV isn’t a cell. For most scientists, it doesn’t even represent “life”. But what one also finds is that Behe is preoccupied with the development of novel cellular structures. In the case of P. falciparum, the malarial parasite, the a.a. changes happened to IT. The PARASITE changed. Two transporters have changed, allowing IT to survive. In the case of HIV, the vpu protein has changed, protecting it from the human immune system, in fact debilitating it. But the effect is exogenous, not endogenous, as in the case of P. falciparum.

Now this could be misconstrued as being too nitpicky: what does it matter if the changes are inside or outside? Well, to be consistent with Behe’s argument, it should technically consider only internal changes. When Behe addresses HIV, he says he see no novelty in it, meaning, I’m rather sure, that you have the same complement of genes now as you did 50 years ago; and, if you look at HIV microscopically, it doesn’t appear to be any different than before. This, pretty much, is what a.) is all about: simply understanding what Behe meant in his comments about HIV.

But, for the sake of the argument, let’s leave this solid understanding of Behe’s argument to the one side, and simply begin to examine just how many a.a. substitutions are involved in the changed function of vpu in HIV-1 versus, let’s say, vpu in SIVcpz. The first thing we have to consider is just how highly variable HIV is, as Behe rightly points out. Wikipedia says this: “HIV differs from many other viruses as it has very high genetic variability. This diversity is a result of its fast replication cycle, with the generation of 109 to 1010 virions every day, coupled with a high mutation rate of approximately 3 x 10-5 per nucleotide base per cycle of replication and recombinogenic properties of reverse transcriptase.”

HIV’s genome size is in the tens of thousands of nucleotides—very small. So, at 10^9 to 10^10 virions per day, and with the high error rate associated with reverse transcriptase (HIV’s genome is basically RNA, which is then “transcribed” [in reverse fashion] to DNA) all kinds of things can happen to HIV in very short order. So why should we be surprised that vpu in HIV is different from that of SIVcpz? There are all kinds of possibilities that can be explored mutationally in any of HIV’s gene complement. But, again, what about genetic, biochemcial novelty? Do we see it? Well, no. What we do see, though, are changes in the effects its gene’s products have on its hosts; and, thus, its survivibility. Yes, it’s NS at work. And so it would be no surprise at all that different “types” (subtypes) of HIV could co-exist. And they do. Again, no surprise here. Well, what about these changes, what’s involved? How complex are they? My brief literature search suggests to me that in some of the changed interactions between host and HIV that ERV mentions, that the “essential” changes (remember, there can be lots of so-called “neutral” substitutions) involve two a.a.s. Rather ho-hum, don’t you think?

I must confess, though, that what was not so ho-hum, and which actually startled me at first about ERV’s claims was that vpu (she writes Vpu; BTW, this stands for viral protein U) HIV’s vpu, that is, could now form an “ion-channel”, and that it did so by forming a viroporin (a composite structure). Well, this deserved some examining. And upon a very brief examination (you can look here and here, for example) interestingly, vpu is found to be structurally similar to the M2 gene of Type A influenza, and, in turn, M2 proteins, more or less, spontaneously form “ion-channels”. This then brings up the whole question as to whether what makes HIV the unique virus it is (different, that is, from the vpu in SIVcpz), is that somewhere along the line, whether in a human or a simian, it replaced its original vpu gene with this M2 gene. HIV is known to form hybrid viruses. M2 is also known to interact with CD4+T-cells. So, are we dealing with a case here where two viruses swapped genes? In all honesty, I can’t say (and I have no desire to spend all the time and effort that would be needed to run this down); but what little I have looked at is very suggestive. In Dembski’s terms, maybe all we’re seeing is the Law of Conservation of Information at work, where the information of the M2 gene is simply being “added” to that of SIV/HIV (really, replacing the previous information with this different information). I’m sure our Darwinian friends would strenously disagree with this view. But I don’t think it unreasonable in the least. I think the burden of proof is on them to demonstrate unequivocally that vpu does not have its origins in M2.

To summarize, then, the probability of a CCC occuring in a eukaryotic cell is far different from that of HIV. The challenges that ERV makes to Behe and EoE, fall outside the import of what Behe was saying about HIV in his book. The supposed novelty(ies) in HIV-1 may not, in some cases, be real novelties at all, but may in some way be linked to the phylogenetic history of the vpu gene itself. And, in those instances where some kind of novel interactions with the host are involved, in those changed interactions between host and HIV, what is seen represents, at least preliminarily, no more than an equivalent viral CCC; i.e., a two a.a. change within 10^9 replications of HIV.

[[As a kind of addendum to all of this, let me make a point here that I briefly alluded to at ERV’s blog. The current cry of OOL Darwinists is that DNA didn’t get everything started; that life began as a RNA-world. And they would argue that all that would be needed is for replication to start happening. Well, are those ingredients found in retroviruses, where you have RNA replicating itself at will? And don’t you have even much more than that, given that the replication takes place in an eukaryotic host which has an abundance of RNA and DNA among its constituents? Think of the speed of replication. Think of its high error rate (mutation rate). Think of its high recombinant rate. And what do we have after millenia of interactions between viruses and their hosts? Viruses and their hosts. And, viruses haven’t even made it to the starting gate: they’re still not considered “life”.]]

It is as I have witnessed it, again, and again, and again over the last ten years. "Devastating" pro-Darwinist arguments are always reasonably rebutted. But this will not prevent us from endlessly hearing from now on that Behe has been consigned to the outer darkness by Dawkins and ERV, and that there's "nothing to see here". When reasonable folks who have been following the debate disagree, they will be branded as IDiots, theocrats, creationists, and morons.

Ah, well.

The world can be a very confusing place to those blinded by their metaphysical commitments.

A Raving Theocrat And An IDiot

Just ran across this:

The following exchange is from the newsletter CCNet 66/2007 - 27 March 2007:

Christopher Morbey: Dear Professor Dyson: Thanks for taking time to answer questions! I’m wondering if you have an opinion regarding the new interest in “intelligent design” as an independent mode of explaining an event. Typically, pervading opinion demands that events occur only by chance and/or necessity.

What strikes me as strange is that many scientists are so willing to discard ideas that may offer help to overcome significant difficulties in evolution hypotheses. Instead, they tend to make alarmist comments that ID is merely a creationist ploy, that Darwinian claims should be assumptions, not conclusions.

Global warming skeptics point to fundamental temperature and CO2 data, then ask pertinent questions. In a similar way, ID proponents look at fundamental, complex biological and cosmological data, then ask pertinent questions. As you might point out, asking questions could be perceived as rebellion.

But it would appear that most scientists these days are not rebels at all; each is but one case of an emotional-contagion pandemic. It is interesting that war and peace and religion all require a certain discipline of obedience rather than too many questions. Each would offer the chance for freedom yet each would demand necessity for devotion.

Freeman Dyson: My opinion is that most people believe in intelligent design as a reasonable explanation of the universe, and this belief is entirely compatible with science. So it is unwise for scientists to make a big fight against the idea of intelligent design. The fight should be only for the freedom of teachers to teach science as they see fit, independent of political or religious control. It should be a fight for intellectual freedom, not a fight for science against religion.

Well. Now we know that Freeman Dyson doesn't understand science.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Then And Now

This is very good. For a bit of photographic whackiness, see also this.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Good Summation

I recently reread Darwin On Trial by Phillip Johnson. It has held up well over the last 15 years.

Stephen Meyer gives his reflections:

I first met Phillip Johnson in a small Greek restaurant on Free School Lane, next to the Old Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge in the fall of 1987. The meeting had been arranged by a fellow graduate student who knew Phil from Berkeley. My friend had told me only that his friend was "an eccentric but brilliant law professor" who "was on sabbatical studying torts," and that he "had become obsessed with evolution." "Would you talk to him?" he asked. His description led me to anticipate a very different figure from the one I encountered. Though my own skepticism about Darwinism had been well cemented by this time, I knew enough of the stereotypical evolution-basher to be skeptical that a mid-career non-scientist could have stumbled onto an original critique of Darwin's theory.

I should have known better, but only later did I learn of Johnson's full intellectual pedigree: Harvard B.A.; top-of-the class University of Chicago law graduate; law clerk for Chief Justice Earl Warren; leading constitutional scholar; occupant of a distinguished chair at the University of California, Berkeley. In Johnson, I encountered a man of supple and prodigious intellect who seemed in short order to have found the central pulse of the origins issue.

Suspicions Aroused

Johnson told me that his doubts about Darwinism had started with a visit to the British Natural History Museum, where he learned about the controversy that had raged there earlier in the 1980's. At that time, the museum paleontologists presented a display describing Darwin's theory as "one possible explanation" of origins. A furor ensued, resulting in the removal of the display, when the editors of the prestigious Nature magazine and others in the scientific establishment denounced the museum for its ambivalence about "established fact."

Intrigued by the response to such an (apparently) innocuous exhibit, Johnson decided to investigate further. He began to read whatever he could find on the issue: Stephen Jay Gould, Michael Ruse, Mark Ridley, Richard Dawkins, and Michael Denton's Evolution: A Theory in Crisis. What he read made him more suspicious of Darwinist orthodoxy. "Something about the Darwinists' rhetorical style," he told me later, "made me think they had something to hide."

His examination of evolutionary literature confirmed his suspicion. Darwinist polemic revealed a surprising reliance upon arguments that seemed to assume rather than demonstrate that life had evolved via natural processes. Johnson also observed an interesting contrast between biologists' technical papers and their popular defense of evolutionary theory. When writing in scientific journals, he discovered, biologists acknowledged many fundamental difficulties with both standard and newer evolutionary models. Yet, when defending basic Darwinist commitments (such as the common ancestry of all life and the creative power of natural selection) in popular books or textbooks, Darwinists employed an evasive and rhetorical style to minimize problems and belittle critics. Johnson began to wonder why, given mounting difficulties, Darwinists remained so confident that all organisms had evolved naturally from simpler forms.

Opening the Trial

In Darwin on Trial (Regnery, 1991) Johnson first made his skepticism public. There he argued that evolutionary biologists remain confident about neo-Darwinism, not because empirical evidence generally supports their theory, but because their perception of the rules of scientific procedure virtually prevents them from considering any alternative view. Johnson cited, among other things, a communiqué from the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) issued to the Supreme Court during the Louisiana "creation science" trial. The NAS insisted that "the most basic characteristic of science" is a "reliance upon naturalistic explanations."

While Johnson accepted that the use of naturalistic explanation describe the method in much of science, he argued that treating it as a normative rule when seeking to establish that natural processes alone produced life, assumes the very point that Darwinism does not just claim that evolution (in the sense of change) has occurred. Instead, it purports to establish that the major innovations in the history of life arose by purely natural mechanisms-that is, without any intelligent direction or design. He thus distinguished various meaning of the term "evolution" from the central claim of Darwinism, which he later identified as "the Blind Watchmaker thesis," following Richard Dawkins, the staunch modern defender of neo-Darwinism.

Yet if the design hypothesis must be denied consideration from the outset, and if, as the NAS also asserts, exclusively negative argumentation against neo-Darwinism is "unscientific," then, Johnson asserts, "the rules of argument . . . make it impossible to question whether what we are being told about evolution is really true." Defining opposing positions out of existence "may be one way to win an argument," but, says Johnson, it scarcely suffices to demonstrate the superiority of a protected theory.

Examining the Evidence

To establish that such philosophical gerrymandering lies behind the success of the evolutionary program, Darwin on Trial evaluated the scientific arguments that ostensibly establish the "fact of evolution." Johnson trained his considerable facility for analysis upon the whole edifice of Darwinist argumentation. He found a panoply of euphemisms and wishful thinking masquerading as evidence: the pattern of gaps and sudden appearance of new species in the fossil record described as "rapid evolutionary branching"; superficial variations in moths or fruit flies cited to substantiate the possibility of grand "macroevolutionary" changes; elaborate depictions of human ancestors based on scanty bone fragments; and biochemical observations laden with Darwinist assumptions used to justify Darwinist claims.

Along the way, Darwin on Trial asked a good many questions rarely asked in polite biological society. Given the fossil evidence, how do we know that hypothetical "transitional" organisms existed? How do we know that natural selection can create complex organs and organisms when genetics suggests the vast improbability of random mutations producing advantageous and novel structures? How do we know that the first cells did arrange themselves from simple chemicals if we haven't yet established that they could? In each case, Johnson argued that "we know because we have equated scientific method with a philosophy of naturalism (or materialism)." We know because the rules of science require that some form of strictly naturalistic evolution must be true.

Johnson's attempt to re-open such questions angered many members of the biological establishment who had grown accustomed to offering the public what Johnson called "proof through confident assertions." His criticism of Darwinist orthodoxy initially earned him dismissive reviews in Science, Nature, and Scientific American, the latter written by Stephen J. Gould. Yet these reviews also helped publicize Johnson's thesis and attracted many skeptical scientists to his cause. For example, biochemist Michael Behe of Lehigh University first came to Johnson's attention after Behe wrote a letter defending Darwin on Trial in response to its review in Nature.

Debating the Verdict

Even so, some prominent neo-Darwinists, such as Michael Ruse of the University of Guelph and William Provine, welcomed the spirited challenge that Johnson has provided to their views. Ruse and nine other scientists and philosophers (including both defenders and critics of modern Darwinism) joined Johnson at Southern Methodist University in the spring of 1992 to debate the central thesis of his book. The success of that event has led to many other academic symposia, including three high-profile conferences last year, entitled "The Nature of Nature" (at Baylor University), "Design and Its Critics" (at Concordia University), and "Science and Evidence of Design in the Universe" (at Yale University).

Johnson's intellectual leadership has inspired a growing movement of scientists and scholars (which Johnson has dubbed "the wedge") willing to examine the issues that he first raised in Darwin on Trial. Since its initial publication, Johnson's younger colleagues have published over twenty books extending his critique within their areas of technical expertise. These include such books as Michael Behe's Darwin's Black Box (The Free Press, 1996), Jonathan Wells's Icons of Evolution (Regnery, 2000), Paul Nelson's On Common Descent (University of Chicago Evolutionary Monograph Series, 2001), and William Dembski's The Design Inference (Cambridge University Press, 1998). Two recent anthologies also showcase the scientific and intellectual breadth of "the wedge": Mere Creation (InterVarsity Press, 1998) and Signs of Intelligence (Brazos Press, 2001) (the latter based on a special July/August 1999 issue of Touchstone).

Johnson's leadership of "the wedge" has derived from his fearless challenge of the Darwinian establishment and his trenchant critique of its philosophically tendentious rules of method. Darwin on Trial, where Johnson first presented this critique, launched a sophisticated challenge of Darwinist orthodoxy written by a well-informed biological outsider. The scientific research program that Darwin on Trial has inspired will continue to make it difficult for biological insiders to ignore Mr. Johnson and his ever-thickening wedge.