Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Every now and then ...

... you come upon an article that explains something you've been trying to get across better than you ever really could. Such, for me, is Adam Wolfosn's Survival of the Evolution Debate:

"... if the point of Darwinism is to refute the existence of God, as these popularizers tend to claim, then it too would have to be excluded from the science curriculum. The Supreme Court, after all, has ruled that the state must remain neutral between religion and irreligion. In their more heated polemics, Darwin's popularizers paint themselves into this intellectual corner."


  1. There is a lot of excellent materianl on this topic in Nature. As I've mentioned, unfortunately you need a subscription or site licence to read it, but the daily news section,, is free access. Nature was founded in 1869 by Thomas Huxley and friends to promote the ideas of Darwinism (Darwin was a frequent author), and we continue holding the torch today -- apart from the site licence/subscriber part: my excuse there is that I'm an editor not a publisher.

  2. I did not know that Nature was founded by Thomas Huxley. And, speaking of evolution, does anyone remember Teilhard de Chardin's The Phenomenon of Man, with its introduction by Julian Huxley, Thomas Huxley's grandson? I think this debate over evolution and religion is a marvelous example of people talking and thinking at cross-purposes. On the one hand you have a group who are sort of like people trying to figure out the meaning of Hamlet by studying the carpentry of the Globe Theatre, and on the other a group who, having figured out the carpentry, conclude that Shakespeare never existed.

  3. This is an attempt to introduce a humourous but nonetheless logically consistent challenge to the ID-ers:

    Nature 438, 422 (24 November 2005) | doi:10.1038/438422c

    Is the ID debate proof of an intelligent deceiver?

    A. Richard Palmer

    Systematics and Evolution Group, Department of Biological Sciences, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta T6G 2E9, Canada


    In the ongoing debate over whether intelligent design (ID) should be taught as a legitimate alternative to evolution in schools ("Expert witness: the scientists who testified against intelligent design" Nature 438, 11; 2005), I suggest that ID could be presented as an alternative so long as it is always accompanied by a third option: intelligent deception.

    This hypothesis proposes that the ID movement is motivated by an 'intelligent deceiver'. Individuals who understand how to debate alternative scientific hypotheses would never intentionally promote religious dogma as science. So an intelligent deceiver must be at work, guiding proponents of ID to sow confusion over valid scientific debate.

    To exclude intelligent deception from debates over ID versus evolution could be considered hypocritical on both legal and moral grounds. And if proponents of ID reject the hypothesis of intelligent deception, their objections would be most interesting to hear, particularly the ones that dismiss the deceiver without imperilling the designer.

  4. Hi Maxine,
    Since you are a recent visitor to this blog, I should explain that what interests me in this debate is the form of the argumentation (Jesuit-trained fellow that I am).
    Richard Dawkins has defined biology as "the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose." He is therefore accepting the concept of design as being a part of the debate. (I don't think it should be entered into the debate. To use very old-fashioned terms, I think science should confine itself to the study of instrumental causes and steer clear of efficient causality.) One of these days I may actually write up my overall view of the matter, but it probably wouldn't be acceptable to either camp.

  5. Thanks for the clarification, Frank! From the coal face, Richard Dawkins' style of argument is not held in generally high esteem by those whose views he "represents", increasingly so these days. (Witness his recent UK TV programmes.) Many scientists feel he is unnecessarily polarising and oversimplifying the positions.
    Authors such as Steve Jones, Jared Diamond and Nature's own Henry Gee, as well as many others, might be more rewarding, in terms of arguments put forward, than Dawkins. (Or indeed, a classic writer of a slightly earlier generation, Peter Medawar, who indulged in some debate with the ideas of Teilhard de Chardin whom you mentioned in an earlier comment.)
    I think you are saying that you are more interested in the style of arguing than the god vs biology debate per se. In which case, apologies if my past two comments have been irrelevant to your point.