Krug’s feet of clay…

October 24, 2009

Feet of clay

More on the theme of Paul Krugman going off the deep end after serving the country so well.  In a recent blog post of his, he weighs in on the lastest kerfluffle about climate change.  The guys who wrote the best-seller, Freakonomics, have a new book out with a chapter that is somewhat critical of the so-called consenus on human civilization causing the planet to get warmer.  He delivers himself of this ghastly howler, emphasis mine:

…not only that they didn’t check out the global cooling stuff, the stuff about solar panels, and all the other errors people have been pointing out, but that they didn’t even look into the debate sufficiently to realize what company they were placing themselves in.

No, it’s not his placing of the preposition at the end of the sentence that has my blood boiling.  It’s the idea that the way science should be done is by checking out who’s on what side of the controversy, and then joining the right team.  That’s politics, and people who can’t tell the difference shouldn’t be writing about this issue.

And by the way, I am trying to still admire Krug a little, but it’s getting hard.

“Feet of Clay,” by the way, comes from the Old Testament (Dan.2:31-32).


My man, Dan

August 26, 2009

Not-blind watchmaker

The latest pseudo-intellectual sally to save the “God hypothesis” published on the NYTimes OpEd page brought forth some good responses from letter writers.  Among them, was this pithy observation:

…While personal revelation is an excellent way to know whom we love, it is an abysmal way to seek knowledge about the universe. It becomes an excuse to believe what one wishes to believe.

Paul L. LaClair   Kearny, N.J., Aug. 23, 2009

My hat’s off to Dan Dennett for his great response, quoted in full here (my emphasis):

To the Editor:

Robert Wright notes that the speculations he outlines on how a moral sense could evolve are “compatible with the standard scientific theory of human creation.” Indeed, these speculations — actually rigorous abstract arguments — have been developed by evolutionary theorists who, like Mr. Wright, see our moral intuitions as real phenomena in need of an explanation.

But the point of these arguments is to demonstrate that there can be a traversable path, an evolutionary process, from, say, bacteria, to us (with our moral intuitions) that doesn’t at any point require that the evolutionary process itself have a purpose. In other words, their implication is that our moral sense would evolve even if there weren’t a creative intelligence in the background.

So the compatibility that Mr. Wright finds is trivial.

Go ahead and believe in God, if you like, but don’t imagine that you have been given any grounds for such a belief by science.

Daniel Dennett     Medford, Mass., Aug. 23, 2009

Dennett is the author of Consciousness Explained, one of the best books I have ever read on the mind-body problem.  I am tickled to see that the Wiki article cites T. Nagel’s criticisms of the book in its summary – one of my favorite parts of Dan’s book is his dissection of Nagel’s famous article, “What is it Like to Be a Bat?”

Reason Triumphs!

December 21, 2005

Another pseudopod heard from!

Judge Jones, a conservative, a republican, appointed by George Bush, Sr., has issued a sweeping ruling that places the claims of the Intelligent Design science-bashers into the dustbin where they belong. From his ruling, as reported in the NY Times, emphasis added:

It is notable that defense experts’ own mission, which mirrors that of the IDM itself, is to change the ground rules of science to allow supernatural causation of the natural world, which the Supreme Court in Edwards and the court in McLean correctly recognized as an inherently religious concept… First, defense expert Professor Fuller agreed that ID aspires to “change the ground rules” of science and lead defense expert Professor Behe admitted that his broadened definition of science, which encompasses ID, would also embrace astrology. Moreover, defense expert Professor Minnich acknowledged that for ID to be considered science, the ground rules of science have to be broadened to allow consideration of supernatural forces.

To be sure, Darwin’s theory of evolution is imperfect. However, the fact that a scientific theory cannot yet render an explanation on every point should not be used as a pretext to thrust an untestable alternative hypothesis grounded in religion into the science classroom or to misrepresent well-established scientific propositions.

The citizens of the Dover area were poorly served by the members of the Board who voted for the ID Policy. It is ironic that several of these individuals, who so staunchly and proudly touted their religious convictions in public, would time and again lie to cover their tracks and disguise the real purpose behind the ID Policy.

Those who disagree with our holding will likely mark it as the product of anactivist judge. If so, they will have erred as this is manifestly not an activist Court. Rather, this case came to us as the result of the activism of an ill-informed faction on a school board, aided by a national public interest law firm eager to find a constitutional test case on ID, who in combination drove the Board to adopt an imprudent and ultimately unconstitutional policy. The breathtaking inanity of the Board’s decision is evident when considered against the factual backdrop which
has now been fully revealed through this trial. The students, parents, and teachers of the Dover Area School District deserved better than to be dragged into this legal maelstrom, with its resulting utter waste of monetary and personal resources.

Melancholy Baby

November 14, 2005

Robert Burton, author of the raging bestseller of the 1600s, 1700s, and 1800s, Anatomy of Melancholy, provides us with a look at what our intellectual world might be if our friends, the advocates of Intelligent Design, have their way. After all, Professor Michael Behe testified under oath that according to his definition of science, Astrology would be considered a scientific discipline. Perhaps we would return to the intellectual world of Mr. Burton, before the scientific method was accepted, by some, and the chief source of authority was textual. Not that the IDers will insist on literal interpretation of the Bible, but their constant insistance on the false notion that evolution is just a theory, and that their “theory” therefore deserves equal time, opens up the vista of science classes clogged with references to all current notions about this or that, all of which are treated equally.Here is an excerpt from Mr. B. on the influence of the stars on melancholia:

Paracelsus is of opinion, that a physician without the knowledge of stars can neither understand the cause or cure of any disease, either of this or gout, not so much as toothache; except he see the peculiar geniture and scheme of the party effected. And for this proper malady, he will have the principal and primary cause of it proceed from the heaven, ascribing more to stars than humours,”and that the constellation alone many times produceth melancholy, all other causes set apart. He gives instance in lunatic persons, that are deprived of their wits by the moon’s motion; and in another place refers all to the ascendant, and will have the true and chief cause of it to be sought from the stars. Neither is it his opinion only, but of many Galenists and philosophers, though they do not so peremptorily maintain as much. This variety of melancholy symptoms proceeds from the stars, saith Melancthon: the most generous melancholy, as that of Augustus, comes from the conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter in Libra: the bad, as that of Catiline’s, from the meeting of Saturn and the moon in Scorpio. Jovianus Pontanus, in his tenth book, and thirteenth chapter de rebus coelestibus, discourseth to this purpose at large, Ex atra bile varii generantur morbi, etc.

Notice the deference to published sources, the voluminous quotations, the piling on of examples from stories, annecdote, and text. Notice the tone of, “So and so says,” “while, Mr. X said…” Never an attempt to TEST any of them. His book, highly entertaining, goes on like this for thousands of pages, and I recommend it enthusiastically as a literary diversion, and a window into another world, but science it ain’t! Can’t you see it? “Darwin’s theory of evolution says this, and predicts that, all of which have been borne out by field evidence and laboratory experiment. On the basis of this theory, now proven, we can develop vaccines, improve animal breeding, create new strands of wheat….The theory of Intelligent Design, on the other hand, asserts that there must be a guiding force behind this process. We can’t say what it is, but we suspect that it is God, whatever that is. There are a lot of authors who feel this way, and even some with Ph. D.s in science…”