How and Why: questions for scientists and philosophers?

The late John Davison often remarked that science could only answer “how” questions, not “why”. It seems to me philosophers, perhaps I’m really thinking of philosophers of religion rather than in general, attempt to find answers to “why” questions without always having a firm grasp on how reality works. Perhaps this is why there is so much talking past each other when the explanatory power of science vs other ways of knowing enters a discussion. Continue reading sides with UMC against the DI / ID.

Here’s the article in full:

Christian Today Article

The best bit?:

….However, the UMC has taken the view – expressed though it is in dusty legalese – that in allowing the promotion of intelligent design at its conference would to connive at something which is, not to put too fine a point upon it, not true.

In this respect, it is surely right. It’s always possible to find things about life and its development that evolutionary theory has not yet succeeded in explaining. To argue from this that the answer must be “God did it” is ultimately self-defeating. Science advances, the number of unknowns diminishes, and God is driven into a smaller and smaller space accordingly. This “God of the gaps” approach has long been discredited.

The UMC appears to have taken the view that giving a platform – no matter how small – to a view as mistaken as this undermines the credibility of the gospel because it encourages people to believe things that aren’t true. Building a faith around falsehood is putting people’s souls in peril. The Discovery Institute may not like it, but the UMC is surely right to stand its ground.

(format not the same as the original). Thoughts?

Excilience and Contextomy

consilience. : the linking together of principles from different disciplines especially when forming a comprehensive theory.

contextomy. : an informal fallacy and a type of false attribution in which a passage is removed from its surrounding matter in such a way as to distort its intended meaning. Quote mining.

excilience. : the linking together of Contextomies from different disciplines especially when forming a comprehensive theory. Thought mining.

The Quote Mine Project provides excellent examples of contextomy. Uncommondescent provides excellent examples of excilience.

The practices lend themselves to all kinds of humorous incongruities. Among them are:

1. free will vs predestination
2. deism vs interventionism (Michael Denton vs Michael Behe)
3. front loading vs twiddling (Mike Gene vs gpuccio, etc.)
4. ascentism vs degenerationism (Chardin vs Sanford)
5. old earth vs young earth
6. realism vs last thursdayism
7. biblical literalism vs inspirationism

There are probably a lot more, but these come up frequently. The humor comes from observing that the armies of ID clash by night, without ever mentioning or discussing their differences and their contradictory assumptions and conclusions.

Food for discussion.


The subject of obscure writing came up on another thread, and with Steven Pinker’s new book on writing coming out next week, now is a good time for a thread on the topic.

Obscure writing has its place (Finnegan’s Wake and The Sound and the Fury, for example), but it is usually annoying and often completely unnecessary. Here’s a funny clip in which John Searle laments the prevalence of obscurantism among continental philosophers:

John Searle – Foucault and Bourdieu on continental obscurantism

When is obscure prose appropriate or useful? When is it annoying or harmful? Who are the worst offenders? Feel free to share examples of annoyingly obscure prose.


There’s a lot of discussion of censorship swirling around the ID/evolution/online world right now, which I find very odd.  Apparently the magazine Nautilus has closed a comment thread (without apparently deleting any comments) on the basis that “This is a science magazine, and our comments section isn’t the place to debate whether evolution is true”.

Accusations of “censorship” by “evolutionists” have been flying around for a while now, at least since the Expelled movie and it resurfaced regarding the withdrawal of the Biological Information: New Perspectives  book from the Springer catalogue. And now, recently, Jerry Coyne has been named “Censor of the Year” by the Discovery Institute.

My own instincts tend against censorship, and although I do not think that all censorship is bad, I would certainly rather err on the side of too little than too much.  Here, as I hope everyone knows, only a very narrow class of material is ever deleted, and only a very narrow class of offenses bring down a ban.

But what is censorship, and who, if anyone, is censoring whom in the ID/evolution debate?

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A Quiz for ‘Intelligent Design’ Theory Proponentsists

A Quiz for ‘Intelligent Design’ Theory Proponentsists

(Even for those IDist outliers like nullasalus at UD who don’t think IDT is scientific, but who think they are tricking people that logically & responsibly reject IDT)

 Another simple YES/NO exercise.


IDM = Intelligent Design Movement

IDist = Intelligent Design ideologue

DI = Discovery Institute

IDT = (Uppercase) Intelligent Design theory

USA = United States of America = )



 1. Is the DI-led IDM making a concentrated, dedicated effort to distinguish good science from bad science by actively and publically rejecting the outdated ‘young Earth’ views of many undereducated, anti-science, evangelical Christians in the USA?

2. Have IDM leaders Michael Behe, Stephen Meyer, William Dembski and Phillip Johnson *all* linked their own version of IDT to their personal Christian faith in public statements, interviews and/or articles?

3. Have several prominent Abrahamic theists (particularly those active in science, philosophy & theology/worldview conversations) openly rejected IDT on the basis of distinguishing Uppercase ‘Intelligent Design’ Theory (the Discovery Institute’s ‘strictly scientific’ theory) from lowercase ‘intelligent design’ (aka the non-scientific, theological/worldview ‘design argument’)?

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Charity and desserts

The game rules of this site are “assume other posters are posting in good faith”.  This applies whether or the assumption is valid.  The reason for this rule is that I set up this site to be a place where we could get past arguments about motivation and down to the nitty gritty of whether an argument actually makes sense, or is supported by evidence.

Things get a little tricky when it comes to perfectly valid topics like church-state separation, or other topics with a political dimension, for example anthropogenic climate change.  But I want to make it clear to all readers that the game rules for this site are simply: for the purposes of debate here, assume other posters are posting in good faith.  You do not have to assume that people are acting in good faith when they are acting as public figures, or elsewhere, but you do have to assume it when they are posting here.

So, no, I don’t think ID proponents “deserve” charity, nor do “Darwinists”.  I don’t think that anyone “deserves” charity.  I think charity is a good thing, but I think it is orthogonal to what anyone “deserves”.  It is also irrelevant to the rules of this site, where the assumption that other posters are posting in good faith is simply a rule that applies irrespective of who the other poster is, or what anyone thinks they “deserve”.


Crappy reporting at UD

Okay, Darwinism IS a religion … and a crappy one, too

writes Denyse O’Leary in what goes for – and by – “news” at Uncommon Descent.

There have been truly horrible twitter attacks on Caroline Criada-Perez and Labour MP Stella Creasey for succeeding with their lobby for a female face on the new £10 note, replacing Charles Darwin. But O’Leary, who must be the most incompetent reporter of “news” ever to have a byline, and who seems to do nothing more than google “Darwin” to find items that could be used to smear a perfectly serviceable scientific theory, spins this story as a story about the depths “Darwinists” will sink to in support of their “religion”.

I doubt if any of the misogynist cranks who attacked Criada-Perez and Creasey were “Darwinists” at all.  In fact, if I had to guess, I’d suspect right-wing zealots who think women belong back in the kitchen, and have no business writing novels, let alone having a say in who should be on a bank-note.  But that would be speculation,  not “news”.

Shame on you, Denyse, as a professional woman yourself, to spin a misogynists-are-evil story into a Darwinists-are-evil story. Go find some real battles to fight – there are enough of them.  And try doing some actual reporting instead of spinning.


Ball State University – my answer to vjtorley

I expect that most here have heard about the situation at Ball State University (in Muncie, Indiana), where a physics professor was apparently including some Intelligent Design in a science class.  There was a public fuss.  And, more recently, the president of Ball State wrote a letter to the faculty about the situation.  It seems to have been a classy letter.  She described the issue as one of academic integrity, rather than one of academic freedom as a few commentators had suggested.  She apparently agreed that there were first amendment issues, as others suggested.  But she saw academic integrity as the main issue.  Incidentally, I also thought academic integrity was the issue.

The ID people don’t like what she wrote, because she was blunt about ID not being science.  Over at UD, vjtorley has a post “An open letter to BSU President Jo-Ann Gora” where he raises some questions that he would like the Gora to answer.  I’m giving my answers here, rather than in a comment at UD, because I think the issues warrant more discussion, and I’m sure others here will want to join in. Continue reading

Is ‘Darwinism’ Science or Ideology or Both or Neither?

Recently, Neil Rickert wrote to me:

“To me, the technical distinction between “Darwinian” and “Darwinism” is that “Darwinian” is a adjective while “Darwinism” is a noun.

Please start a separate thread to help clear this up.”

Similarly, this post was added recently at UD and has generated some feedback from TSZers who dialogue there:

“Everyone now knows that Darwinism, adn [sic] its parent materialism, are ridiculous, but for some people they are the only possible position. Those people would abandon the follies in an instant if they could just come up with a reliably non-theistic alternative. Meantime, the public face of Darwinism is dominated by anti-religious fanatics and self-condemned trolls. That is a key reason we can dispense with any notion that Darwinism is some kind of a science. A real science offers few attractions for such types.” – Denyse O’Leary

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Why be concise?

This is an obsession of mine, but I think it matters.  From to time we are all guilty of over-long sentences,  unnecessarily long, unusual, technical or abstract words, or just writing too much. But surely some of the citizens of UD are the worst offenders. I was moved to write this by the most recent post from KF which runs to  3000 words – quite short by his standards but rather longer than the word limit for most university essays. I don’t often have time to wade through posts of this length but for once I tried and I think it can be summarised as:

Materialism means there is no ultimate foundation for ethics and no human free will and this leads to all sorts of evil behaviour.

(I may have missed other important points amongst the deluge)

I am picking on KF because he just posted and he is a serial offender, but many of us do it on both sides of the debate. Does it matter if posts and comments are too long and difficult to read? After all isn’t it the content that matters not the presentation?  I don’t think so.

  • Your critics are unlikely to take the time to read it. So you have subtly cut off discussion and debate.
  • It often covers sloppy thinking. It is so easy to hide fallacies and lack of evidence under a blizzard of abstractions and quotes.

On a more personal level it is egocentric. It is saying that I and my idea are so important you should all be prepared to spend the next 30 minutes wading through my post. My time is too important to be spent extracting the essential points and anyway I want to show how clever I am.

Now I am must stop before I go on too long Smile

On the malleability of language

Barry Arrington has a new post at UD:

where he objects to the discussion, particularly by thaumaturge, on an earlier thread:

The earlier thread is based on the accusation that Jerry Coyne and Richard Dawkins “believe the fundamental questions in biology have been settled and all that is left is to suss out the details.”

Suppose that I were to argue that

  • water is wet;
  • therefore roses are red.

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Todd Wood on the Tennessee bill (and falsification)

He makes some very interesting comments, and also this point, which I think is worth making:

I know for a fact that evolution cannot be falsified; it can only be replaced.

“Falsification” has become kind of shibboleth that in my view has outlived its usefulness as a criterioin for what is, or is not, science.  We don’t actually proceed by what people usually mean by “falsification” in science, IMO, we proceed by replacing existing models with better ones (in that sense, of course, all models with a better fit to data than a previous model “falsify” the previous model – but that’s not what people usually mean).  So I think Todd, as so often, is right here.  Of course I think he is radically wrong about the age of the earth, but that’s another story!

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