brainwagon "There is much pleasure in useless knowledge." — Bertrand Russell


Gutenberg Gem: The Botanical Magazine, by William Curtis.

It's been a while since I posted a link to a Gutenberg Gem, so here's to help make up for lost time. This neat little book includes thirty-something nice watercolors of flowers that can be turned into useful clipart. I mucked around a little bit with the picture of the Siberian Iris, and came up with the decoration to the right. I'm sure you can think of something artsy to do with 'em. In any case, check 'em out.

The Project Gutenberg eBook of The Botanical Magazine, by William Curtis.

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Typical Objections to Intelligent Design by Bob Murphy

As part of my usual scuffling around, reading about intelligent design, I ran across this article:

Typical Objections to Intelligent Design by Bob Murphy

which appears to be a sincere attempt by someone who doesn't follow the issue of intelligent design very closely to make some sense out of the recent hullabaloo regarding it. He begins by stating:

However, I do think I’m pretty good at analyzing arguments, and – as I’ve said before on this site – the more I look into this stuff, folks, the more I think that the ID people are on to something, while the proponents of Darwinian evolution are missing the point. In the present article, I want to quickly discuss several typical objections to ID.

The first primary objection is that scientists have accused Behe of being ignorant and/or deceitful. Murphy cites Behe's own statement of his curriculum vitae in order to show that he shouldn't be labelled as ignorant. On the face of it, I think that Murphy is right: Behe should not be assumed to be ignorant solely because of his stand on Intelligent Design. We should look at what his qualifications are in the field in which he is engaged and his publications and statements to decide whether he is qualified or not. Certainly, he has a PhD from the University of Pennsylvania in biochemistry. He certainly has published, he was tenured, he gets research money. All good signs that he's qualified.

But if you look closer to the statements that Behe is responding to, people are making very specific accusations: that Behe made a claim that he knew of no papers which tried to illustrate evolutionary pathways for irreducibly complex systems, and in this, Behe showed that he really didn't do his homework (despite his protestations to the contrary). For example, Behe made the claim that there were only two papers that "even attempt to suggest a model for the evolution of the cillium". But David Ussery did a quick search on PubMed (a standard database of relevent publications) and located 107 at the time he did the search (188 showed up just now when I did it). From:

A quick PubMed search (, (all the PubMed searches were done in July, 1998 - here I just typed in "cilia" and "evolution"), revealed 107 articles, many of which discuss exactly the types of mechanisms Behe claims are missing from the literature. The interested reader with web access is certainly encouraged to try this little experiment for themselves - how many articles can you find about the evolution of flagella? According to Darwin's Black Box, "Even though we are told that all biology must be seen through the lens of evolution, no scientist has ever published a model to account for the gradual evolution of this extraordinary molecular machine." (page 72, emphasis his) I found 125 articles, several of which DO discuss and give models for gradual evolution of flagella, with titles such as "The flagella apparatus of spermatozoa in fish. Ultrastructure and evolution". So my point in all of this is that Behe hasn't done his homework.

It's usually in this kind of context that strong criticism of Behe's competency and honesty are put into question.   He does respond usually that such papers aren't significantly detailed, but that amounts to hair splitting, and is different than saying that such papers don't exist at all, which was his argument in the first place.   When someone tries to shift the aim of an argument, that amounts to deceit.

Murphy goes on to Behe's admission that ID that under his definition of science, astrology would also be classified as a science, as if that admission where somehow proof that Behe was honest.   I would merely suggest that when one is part of a court proceeding and sworn in as a witness, there are very serious legal consequences to lying to the court.  It was not laudible for Behe to tell the court the truth in this case: it was required by law.

Regarding peer reviewed publications, Murphy again leaps to Behe's defense.   It's simply a fact that intelligent design papers aren't published in scientific journals.   There is a good deal of evidence to suggest that this is in part because ID theorists don't actually submit articles to scientific journals for review and publication.   Science journals are (by and large) not particularly scared of publishing scientific work which may not pan out, which might be speculative, which could be wrong.  This is because science publication is a conversation amongst the world's scientists, and the ability to think and speak freely are good.   But it's also true that such publications have review processes, and they are unlikely to publish things which are of dubious value or are by their very nature unscientific.   In other words, scientific publications do have a bias: it's a bias against crap.  ID loses on two fronts here: scientists like Behe are for the most part not submitting such papers for publication, and when they are submitted, they are recognized for being incredibly unscientific in their methodology and conclusion.

Murphy goes on to address the issue of Intelligent Design being unscientific.   It is.   As a counterargument, he quotes William Dembski as saying that Intelligent Design might be useful in determining if a disease outbreak was the result of bioterrorism or a naturally occuring mutation.  Of course, Dembski doesn't actually have any idea how to do that: he's just riding the bandwagon of anti-terrorism hysteria in some attempt to make his work appear relevent.   I'd also add that forensics, which nominally tries to reconstruct what actions were performed by intelligent agents, gets all its leverage from actual observations of the intelligent designers.   When we see a bullet-ridden corpse lying in an alley, we don't consider that Wesson, the American God of Bullets suddenly appeared and shot him full of holes, we consider the motives, means and opportunity that known intelligent beings had.  Since ID works so consistently to avoid determining any properties of their ID, they really can't pretend they are very good at this forensics game.

Murphy then addresses the issue that critics call Intelligent Design an Argument from Ignorance.  Well, it is.   Behe says that since he can't imagine a probable pathway that leads to the blood clotting cascade or the bacterial flagellum, that the most reasonable conclusion is that some unnamed designer, about which he can tell you nothing, is the most likely alternative.   Does that seem sensible to anyone?

The last argument he addresses is that Intelligent Design is simply Christianity in disguise.  Well, it is.  The testimony in Kitzmiller v. Dover was pretty conclusive, and witness the response.   The outrage of Christian group after Christian group. Where are the scientists arguing that it was a bad decision?  Where are the atheists?

In the end, Murphy misses the real point.   The real point is that there is no scientific controversy: ID began and remains a political and social issue.  ID theorists want to adopt the mantle of science without doing the work.  They want the respectability that science has in the modern world, but they aren't going to earn it.   Scientists and people of good conscience simply aren't going to stand by and let that happen.

Addendum: One last thing regarding Behe.   His own department at the University of Lehigh has this to say:

The faculty in the Department of Biological Sciences is committed to the highest standards of scientific integrity and academic function. This commitment carries with it unwavering support for academic freedom and the free exchange of ideas. It also demands the utmost respect for the scientific method, integrity in the conduct of research, and recognition that the validity of any scientific model comes only as a result of rational hypothesis testing, sound experimentation, and findings that can be replicated by others.

The department faculty, then, are unequivocal in their support of evolutionary theory, which has its roots in the seminal work of Charles Darwin and has been supported by findings accumulated over 140 years. The sole dissenter from this position, Prof. Michael Behe, is a well-known proponent of "intelligent design." While we respect Prof. Behe's right to express his views, they are his alone and are in no way endorsed by the department. It is our collective position that intelligent design has no basis in science, has not been tested experimentally, and should not be regarded as scientific.

This comes from the people that sign his checks.

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New Horizons in Hold

I've got Realplayer fired up and watching NASA TV and the impending launch of the Atlas V launch vehicle that will carry the NASA New Horizons probe. They are currently holding at T minus 4 minutes, and have rescheduled to a new launch window at 1:45EST. Apparently there are some issues with wind gusting above their launch limits, and they are taking time to consider some valve issue (mentioned in the audio of the NASA TV feed, nothing on the web page about that as far as I can see). Hopefully we'll see a launch in about 28 minutes.

NASA - New Horizons

Addendum: Now on hold till 2:10 EST.

Addendum: Looks like they are go for launch at 2:23EST. They are about to resume the countdown.

Addendum: T-4 minutes and counting.

Addendum: Argh!  T-2:34, went to no-go as a redline monitor fault.   They now are down for a 24 hour recycle.

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Project Oberon

You can download a number of books on the Oberon system, designed at the Compter Systems Institute at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology. This project was launched in 1985 by Niklaus Wirth and Jurg Gutknect to build a single user, multi-tasking operating system from scratch. The resulting software is available under a straightforward BSD-like license, and you can download many of the books on Oberon and its compiler as PDF files. Lots of good reading from an alternate path in the world of compilation and operating system design. Via Lambda the Ultimate

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