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ANTI-SCIENCE climate science denial

John Mashey produced Plagarism? Conspiracies? Felonies? to explain how it’s done and who does it. Although schools wouldn’t touch it with a barge pole for fear of (well for fear of what?) something, this is the sort of thing that 14-16 year olds should be getting to grips with together with learning science as a discipline.

Apparently John doesn’t have a blog of his own but there is a list of his writing on climate change in a post in Warming101 Blog. It describes the pdf  he has put together as “ organised defamation of science has been structured and funded”.

Here,  John gives a list of reasons for anti-science.

There is also  a short paper:

Denialism: What is it and how should scientists respond?

which is linked to in Skeptical science in post:   The 5 characteristics of scientific denialism.

April 25, 2010 Posted by | anti-science, science, science denial | , , , | Leave a comment

“Sir, I Don’t Believe in Evolution.” Creation in the classroom II.

Michael Reiss has resigned from the Royal Society.  This <- article does explain what he said he meant. Richard Dawkins, yesterday , in a letter to New Scientist, thinking the ‘resignation’ a bit harsh, also helped to clarify what Reiss meant.  Though all this is not necessary because the notes of Reiss speech is available online.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, didn’t want creationism/ID taught science classes.  Reiss wasn’t asking for it to be taught, merely discussed. But to discuss it properly  requires a set of bigger questions to be asked such as  What is Science?

Evolution vs. Creation is definitely a minority sport.  I’ve always found it fascinating: but there has always been a tug between nailing it again and moving on: the feeling that the time could be better spent on other more important things.

Is it an intriguing debate but does it really matter to society as a whole? Try to imagine a world without Darwin’s theory (well it is in fact in a way because so few people have any idea what it is…) and the subsequent science which underpins it like genetics and the discovery of DNA.  Would it make life any better?  Apart from undermining an existing paradigm, God,  what from knowing that life is a continuum and that one species derives from another  do we get out of it? Or what about no evolutionary theory but a lot known, from Mendel’s peas onwards, about genetics.  At least genetics has had a obvious practical effect. And I would suggest the simplest starting point for arguing the case for evolution. We cannot deny we breed and pass on our genes. Recombination at gametogenesis, all that stuff.  The simple observation that you and I represent a continuous line of successful breeding – not a single break in the transfer of genes – since the first man (even if you don’t want to go back and further) is pretty impressive.

If the science teacher was to venture into this minefield in class its seems a  wise strategy, first, for the doubting student to be asked what it is particularly about evolution he or she doesn’t believe or is unhappy about – the old working from the known to the unknown, which is the cornerstone of teaching. It might be confusion or lack of understanding over origins of life and the origin of species.

It is clear where a big problem lies in the classroom: the student going home to tell parent science teacher was proselytizing for evolutionary theory.

The last post was provoked by Reiss’s suggestion that creationism might be discussed in science lessons and because i have encountered a few students who were prepared to say they didn’t believe in evolution.  They were probably Jehovah’s Witnesses. Possibly Muslims. I can’t remember what I told them. Probably because it was revision time in Year 12, only a few weeks before exams, that if they wanted to pass the exam they’d have to know the facts!

Having read a bit more from the web, it is clear that the biology teacher has to be prepared well for the question, even though it won’t come up very often in British classrooms.  For example: the fundamentalist Christian approach is different in places from the Witnesses, and both might well be different from any Muslim objections:  so lump them all under anti-evolution won’t do if you don’t want to upset someone unnecessarily.

The title of that post hints at my typically British attitude: biology  teacher has quick chat with the unbelievers and moves swiftly on.  In practice, there is no time in a hectic teaching schedule to idly stand around discussing this subject, which if teased out to its fuzzy horizons would encompass everything from what truth is, what science is,  religion,  theology, the philosophy of belief, history, sociology, politics, Uncle Tom Cobley ‘n All.

In the States, the problem of the resurgence of creationism/ID has been seen by the American science teaching profession as a serious threat for some time. How seriously they take the anti-science movement can be seen from the existence of books like Defending Evolution in the Classroom by Brian J and Susan Alters, published in 2001(of which there are a few pages in GoogleBook including the complete forward by the late Stephen Jay Gould.) Then there is: Case Teaching Notes for “Equal Time for Intelligent Design?  An Intimate Debate Case” (with undergraduates in mind) by Clyde Freeman Herreid, Department of Biological Sciences, University at Buffalo, State University of New York. Note the  mention of the fallacy of “false dichotomy”. SEE wiki:false dilemmaBlack-or-White Fallacy.  Also useful portion of GoogleBook, Evolution Vs. Creationism by Eugenie Carol Scott, published in 2005 and a website “Creation “Science” Debunked by Lenny Flank, which deals with every aspect.

This short paper does not do the detail but has some interesting points: Why Creation ‘Science’ Must Be Kept Out of the Classroom.

Creation “Science” Debunked a website by Lenny Flack ( “This website has one very clear objective in mind — to present a history of creation “science” and its latest reincarnation as Intelligent Design “theory”, and to lay bare the political and social roots of this movement.”)

Modern Creationists is a post in a website called Bad Archaeology Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews and James Doese.

There is another way to tackle this: What is going on amongst UK intellectuals on evolution vs. creationism?  We know what Dawkins, Dennett and co think. Anything else?  New Humanist covers the argument which ensured from A C Grayling’s review of Sam Fullers’ book, Dissent over Descent.

Sam Fuller was a witness at the Dover trial. Right at the bottom it tells us he is author of book called The Intelligent Person’s Guide to Intelligent Design Theory.

Richard Dawkins and Jerry Coyne (Guardian 1 September 2005), One Side can be Wrong, in arguing that creationism has no place in science classes, also adds that there is plenty of debate within evolution, which they outline.

There is a link to 29+ Evidences for Macroevolution: The Scientific Case for Common Descent

(Theobald, Douglas L. “29+ Evidences for Macroevolution: The Scientific Case for Common Descent.” The Talk.Origins Archive. Vers. 2.83. 2004. 12 Jan, 200)

Reading that Intelligent Design Comes to Blighty ( Or, rather came in 2006. ) I begin to think I might be totally out of touch. You can take any of those links at the bottom of the page and get a  pretty good idea of what had been going on in the last year or so.  Wiki:Truth in Science

Truth in Science looks superficially like a science site.  The About page doesn’t give too much away. Though the Paul Johnson quote in the top left panel does rather give it away:

The truth is that once you embark on Darwinian nihilism there is no resting place. If there is no point in life, everything in the end has to go — duty, laws, arts, letters, society — and you are left with nothing, except ‘proceeding’.

Paul Johnson (The Spectator, 23 April 2005)

Surely all this is at the root of what education is about? For  intelligent !6+ students to get their heads around how  Andrew MacIntosh {2} can be a  serious chemical engineer, while at the same time being a Young Earth Creationist.  I’m think along the lines of  incommensurability of values.

I’m also seeing that the latest upsurge of venom from the UK scientific community against anti-evolutionism has its roots in the  pressure brought to bear by organisations like Truth in Science.  So, in essence, in a mini version of what has been going on in the U.S. for years is beginning in the UK.  Not a lot of people know that.  Not a lot of people really know what evolution is either. A failure of the education system?  The surveys such as the one done by the BBC show a surprising  large number choosing ID.  Perhaps this is because they know little if nothing about evolutionary theory except the slogans of the anti-evolutionists. Is there such a thing as a priming of (for) ignorance?

September 17, 2008 Posted by | science | , , , , , , | Leave a comment


Darwin and Wallace’s papers were presented to the Linnean Society on 1 July 1858. Neither attended.

The Guardian’s contribution to the anniversary.  My eye was caught by the  panel at the top left bylined Teflon Charlie.  There are a few interesting blog posts by Adam Rutherford.

In a TimesOnline promo-interview for Dawkin’s new Channel 4 Series, Dawkins on Darwin, Dawkins says:

“There’s a very important misunderstanding of the relationship between Hitler and Darwin, which is relevant to this,” ….. “A lot of people think that Hitler sort of was a Darwinian, which he absolutely wasn’t. What Hitler did was to take the principle of domestic breeding of animals and apply it to humans. What Darwin did was to take the principle of the domestic breeding of animals and apply it to nature. It’s all done by nature…[].”

which made me think yet again of section 2 of a short 1997 paper by Allison Barnes and Paul Thagard, Empathy and Analogy, dealing with Analogy as a cognitive process. To explain what they mean, they use Darwin’s use of analogy in The Origin of Species, as an example.

Just as artificial selection by breeders using the natural variability of organisms explains how new breeds of plants and animals can arise, so variability and natural selection explain how new species arise.

The analogical comparison in this example involves more than seeing the correspondences between attributes such as develop and relations such as selects. The explanatory power of the analogy derives from the correspondence between the high-level causal relations: just as human selection of traits causes new breeds to develop, so natural selection of traits causes new species to develop. In this example, natural selection is the target analog which needs to be understood and developed, while artificial selection is the source analog that is intended to further explanation and problem solving.

A lot of people might react to the Dawkin’s Hitler point by saying we are animals.

The clarity of the explanation of analogy in the paper could be used by Dawkins.

The Rhetorical Structure of Darwin’s Origin of Species


John Angus Campbell

The Complete Works of Charles Darwin Online

Dawkins ( Why Darwin Matters, Guardian, 9 February 2008 ) :

….natural selection is all about differential survival within species, not between them.

July 27, 2008 Posted by | analogy, argument by analogy, Darwin, evolution, evolutionary biology, science | , , , | Leave a comment

Thinking of my amygdala makes the amygdala light up

The title is my little joke. This type of stuff is everywhere nowadays, so these to are just two examples.

3 Quarks has today, ( 17 July 08 ) linked to a very good, and I consider, important essay in The New Atlantis, The Limits of Neuro-Talk*, by Matthew B. Crawford — a fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture at the University of Virginia and a contributing editor of The New Atlantis — which perhaps ought to to go out with every report of a new attempt to localise cognitive functioning by scanning the brain. Make a cup of tea or coffee, and settle down to absorb this. The writers amongst you who might have been toying with the idea of doing a satire on this type of thing, note there is already company called NoLieMRI:

” No Lie MRI, Inc. provides unbiased methods for the detection of deception and other information stored in the brain.

The technology used by No Lie MRI represents the first and only direct measure of truth verification and lie detection in human history!

No Lie MRI uses techniques that:

  • Bypass conscious cognitive processing
  • Measure the activity of the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) rather than the peripheral nervous system (as polygraph testing does).”
  • (1) My Amygdala, My Self,  Jeffrey Goldberg,  Atlantic Monthly, July/August 2008

    Intrigued (and alarmed) by the new science of “neuromarketing,” our correspondent peers into his own brain via an MRI machine and learns what he really thinks about Jimmy Carter, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Bruce Springsteen, and Edie Falco.

    “[…] dorso-lateral prefrontal-cortex activity means … trying to inhibit your automatic responses.”

    Which is what happened when I saw a picture of my wife. This had me concerned, but Iacoboni explained: “The dorso-lateral prefrontal-cortex activity means you’re trying to exercise cognitive control, that you’re trying to protect the privacy of your relationship with your wife. I interpret this positively because there’s also medial orbito-frontal cortex activity, which is a region associated with positive emotion.” Iacoboni could not explain one other response to my wife’s photograph: “You have weird auditory-cortex activity, almost like you’re hearing her voice, even though we just showed you her picture without sound.” When I told my wife about this, she asked me how it could be that I hear her when she’s not speaking, but don’t hear her when she is speaking. I said that this was a question well beyond the capacity of neuroscience to answer.

    (2) Passive learning imprints on the brain just like active learning

    This too, is an fMRI* study. Here a short report on the research in Physorg.

    It is quite instructive to go back to the old fashioned type of psychology experiment relying on subjective report such as psychological studies on ironic effects, for example Daniel M. Wegner’s Ironic Processing Theory.  A page of Wegner‘s which has a list of pdf format papers on this subject  here.  One of his well-know papers is the short, data-free Seeds of Our Undoing.  People who scribble: note the last para.

    July 8, 2008 Posted by | human nature, neuroscience, psychology, science | , , , , | Leave a comment

    Is Google Making Us Stupid?

    Nicolas Carr writes in Atlantic Monthly (link from 3 Quarks) on reading and writing styles and technology. Though it deals with surfing vs. old fashioned reading, it also picks up on such fascinating arcanerie as Nietzsche having to resort to a typewriter when he couldn’t write by hand any more and what effect this had on his writing style attested to by contemporaries.

    John Naughton [Observer, 22 June 2008 ], I Google, therefore I am losing the ability to think, takes up the cudgels bringing in mention of Sven Birkerts’ The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age and the  notion that having it so readily to hand removes the need to remember it. Then he finishes with:

    But people have worried about this since… well… the Greeks. In the Phaedrus, Socrates tells how the Egyptian god Theuth tried to sell his invention – writing – to King Thamus as ‘an accomplishment which will improve both the wisdom and the memory of the Egyptians. I have discovered a sure receipt

    for memory and wisdom.’ To which the shrewd old king replied that ‘the discoverer of an art is not the best judge of the good or harm which will accrue to those who practise it… Those who acquire writing will cease to exercise their memory and become forgetful… What you have discovered is a receipt for recollection, not for memory.’

    If you are talking about the web you are talking about hypertext, which can be revised by checking out The Electonic Labyrinth. One of the main points is that hypertext existed before the web. This particular website deals with the creative implications of digital hypertext — pointing out that hypertext itself existed before digitally hyperlinked hypertext — which can be read starting from the page, The non-linear tradition in literature.

    I have written on the web as hypertext, including what a blog is and isn’t in this respect( e.g. TiddlyWiki ). When checking this post from Moleskine Modality, make sure to go to Eli Springer’s home page, then open up links in it to see how the new information is added to the original home page text. Stage I: open link Eli Springer in the home page then in that page, as an example, the link ‘moral change’ to show how all three sets of text are available on the same page. Note in each new text box, in the top right-hand corner, there is a choice to close the box down. It is possible to open every link in the home page, and every link in (for simplicity) the Eli Springer page.

    In the Carr is the argument that something radical is happening to both reading and writing, in the suggestion there might be some sort of cognitive change going on. This, from the background of writing being something we learn as opposed to spoken language which we are essentially born with the ability to use.

    Since the brain is an associative organ (but this only works because it had something stored away in memory) it seems more likely that the web, as the ultimate, though not infinite, hypertext, is echoing what the brain is already good at. And that linear texts, though traditional and popular, are the anomoly. It is just that the technology took time to catch up with the the way the brain works. Saying this does not mean that surfing is more efficient than reading books.

    There can be no better analogy to this than conversation. There are different styles, but in the main we latch onto keywords and respond to them, much in the same way we are attracted to a particular link in a webpage. When we pick out a keyword from someone else’s speech, we might intervene if we know something about the subject and want to say what we know or think. We often semi-switch off our concentration when someone is saying something we feel we already know a lot about, but switch back on (if we are good listeners) when words and phrases alert us.

    A conversation between two people, is often surrounded by other external events such as other people talking who may not be connected with that particular conversation and other things going on which the couple talking are not interested in. It is not unknown for a person to be distracted by something happening even if the conversation is riveting. A child falls off his tricycle; a car backfires; a light-bulb blows; a woman breaks down in tears. This can stop a conversation and lead to the two people talking about the ‘external’ event. What is this if not coming across something startling in a webpage and taking the link to find out what it offers?

    Leaving aside surfing as a way to pass time, there is ‘good’ surfing and ‘bad’ surfing just like good conversation. Good surfing is a discipline in which the surfer does not stray too far from the intended object just like good research from books. The worst surfing is a kind of Freudian free-association, in which at the end of the session you have no idea why you started, and may be a bit vague as to why you began. A good surf always stays within bounds or reason because there is a limited goal and because within each brain is a core of what the individual possessing it considers important or significant. So a fact already known or an idea already familiar, will be skipped or rapidly scanned. Isn’t this what we do in books? Book index people check what is in a book by checking its index. This may lead one to decide not to read a particular book because enough keywords do not appear to overcome a threshold of interest or relevance. So what is the difference between all this and leaping over web pages to get to one you think is important?

    June 19, 2008 Posted by | books, culture, digitisation, hypertext, Internet, Literature, narrative style, neuroscience, Nietzsche, reading, science, Writing | , , | Leave a comment

    Smorgasbord {2} science, writing

    Three from the inestimable 3 Quarks:

    Evolving Thoughts science blog : Basic concepts : A List

    If a non-scientist mostly reading fiction but wanting some science, then this might be the place to start.

    Even Tierra Fuegans Do IT

    The Uncashed Metaphor of Natural Selection

    Long essay by Justin E.H. Smith

    How Daphne du Maurier wrote Rebecca Telegraph 19 April 2008

    April 29, 2008 Posted by | science, Writing | , , | Leave a comment

    The Great UK Vitamin Scare {1}

    UK media have persistently refused to mention a single milligramme: the image of worried people bringing in bagloads of vitamin and mineral bottles to ask the pharmacist at Boots whether what they are taking is o.k. is ridiculous. What is the bloody internet for?

    What is a high dose? It’s useless to lump all vitamins together. Each one has to be dealt with separately. The main news reports mentioned vitamins A, C, D and E. No figures were given for doses.

    In any case, this issue is heated because it is a battle between the vitamin manufacturers and sellers (and their scientific data) and ‘sensible’ science (and conventional medicine). It is virtually impossible to talk about how much of any one vitamin you can take without dealing with the general debates such as do we need to take supplements at all and are we being given the facts?

    Let’s take one vitamin, B6, not mentioned in the reports, and see what we can find.

    It take seconds to discover the suggestion that over 200mg. per day of B6 can cause nerve damage when taken for long periods, though stopping reverses the damage.

    This official looking website, Office of Dietary Supplements, under the auspices of the National Institute of Health (U.S.), in its B6 Fact Sheet suggests 100 mg. daily as the safe level. It is pretty scathing (about the efficacy of B6 (therapeutically) where there is little or no evidence. Several experiments show that placebo is effective as therapeutic doses.

    The daily recommended target (RDA) in the U.S. is 1.3 mg. for men and women between 19-50 years of age : a balanced diet would (should) provide this level. A banana a day would give you 0.68 mg., a baked potato, 0.7 mg.

    For lowering homocysteine levels (implicated in heart and vascular disease): 3mg. per day. Eat more healthy food! Some suggest taking 50 mg. a day (about 74 bananas). However, SEE B6 Fact Sheet :

    What is the relationship between vitamin B6, homocysteine, and heart disease?

    A deficiency of vitamin B6, folic acid, or vitamin B12 may increase your level of homocysteine, an amino acid normally found in your blood. There is evidence that an elevated homocysteine level is an independent risk factor for heart disease and stroke [my italics] The evidence suggests that high levels of homocysteine may damage coronary arteries or make it easier for blood clotting cells called platelets to clump together and form a clot. However, there is currently no evidence available to suggest that lowering homocysteine level with vitamins will reduce your risk of heart disease. Clinical intervention trials are needed to determine whether supplementation with vitamin B6, folic acid, or vitamin B12 can help protect you against developing coronary heart disease.

    One report suggested that B6 may protect against heart disease in other ways (i.e. not connected to homocysteine).

    For what sort of things do people take B6 in therapeutic doses?

    That is: self-administered or under medical advice.

    • Cardiovascular disease and strokes
    • depression
    • insomnia
    • carpel tunnel syndrome
    • PMS
    • asthma
    • epilepsy

    Three quite interesting areas:

    (1) Pre-mentrual tension.

    Said to help relieve the symptoms. Suggested it clears excess oestogen. [ {1}’ Oestrogen leads to depression because it does not only block vitamin B6 activity but also accelerates the metabolism of tryptophan, thereby leading to low serotonin levels and hence to symptoms associated with these. ‘ ]

    (2) Depression

    Up to 25% of people with depression may be deficient in B6.

    A study found plasma pyridoxal-5-phosphate (active vitamin B6) levels were about 48% lower in depressed patients than in controls, a statistically significant finding. 57% of depressed patients, but none of the controls, were B6-deficient. When B6 nutriture was evaluated by enzyme stimulation testing (a more sensitive method), all the depressed patients and none of the controls were deficient. [Russ CS et al. Vitamin B6 status of depressed and obsessive-compulsive patients. Nutr Rep Int 27( 4): pp.867-73, 1983]

    (3) Epileptic seizures

    Role in building blocks for neurotransmitters. May reduce frequency of attacks.

    (4) Diabetes

    May reduce risk of nerve damage.


    The information sheet {1} says:

    Vitamin B6 supplements have been tested extensively for toxicity by a number of research groups. No evidence of toxicity has been reported in human trials using 225mg of vitamin B6 daily for one year (56), or taking 250-500mg for an average of 2.3 years (57). A review of vitamin B6 toxicity states: “there are many reports stressing the absence of toxic side effects in people taking 200-500 mg per day for extended periods” (58). This also became apparent when Brush and Perry followed 630 women who had been taking up to 200mg of pyridoxine per day for years, none reported any side-effects whatsoever (59).


    57. Mitwalli A et al: Safety of intermediate doses of pyridoxine. Can Med Assoc, 131:14, 1984

    59. Brush MG, Perry M: Pyridoxine and the premenstrual syndrome. Lancet, 1:1399, 1985

    This by Jurriaan Plesman, a clinical nutritionist {2} discusses drug therapy over nutrition in depression.

    April 17, 2008 Posted by | medicine, science, vitamins | , , | Leave a comment

    Epistemology matters {1}

    Reason and Common Ground: A Response to The Creationists’ “Neutrality” Argument

    By Timothy Sandefur

    He summaries the article in an abstract at Social Science Research Network:

    Although it is a well-established scientific fact, evolution remains a controversial subject in the United States, and especially the issue of teaching evolution or creationism in public schools. An argument that appears to be increasingly popular among creationists is based on a postmodernist notion that science is simply one among many different but equal “ways of knowing,” and that its ascendancy over other methods is due to conflicts between social power structures rather than any objective superiority. Several creationist writers have argued that science’s exclusive reliance on natural causes (so called “methodological naturalism”) is an a priori assumption, or an arbitrary preference, and therefore that both it and religion are equally valid epistemologies. In addition, they argue that the Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses of the First Amendment prohibit government from endorsing or granting “preferences” to science over supernaturalism.

    This article is a response to these theories. In Part I, I argue that science is an objectively superior means of knowing, and that methodological naturalism is not an a priori assumption, but both an a posteriori preference and one that is necessary for any valid epistemology. I also reject the argument that naturalism or “humanism” are “religions” or that science requires a “leap of faith.” In Part II, I address whether the First Amendment requires the government to remain “neutral” between supernatural and naturalistic worldviews. I conclude with some general observations on the conflict between science and supernaturalism.

    February 7, 2008 Posted by | Bronowski, Darwin, Enlightenment, epistemology, evolution, science | , , , | Leave a comment

    It’s true: Its truth

    Apparently Chaucer didn’t use the word its in The Canterbury Tales or perhaps any of his writing. He uses his for its in the opening line of The Prologue:

    Whan that April with his shoures soote {1}

    There are any number of wonderful websites on Chaucer, including the Harvard University Geoffrey Chaucer, but so far I have not found a mention of why no its. It’s a mystery! However, pages such as this English Language in the Fourteenth Century: The Status of English are fascinating.

    We can learn where and how and why Chaucer used fart {2}, but not its. It’s a bit frustrating to find its not mentioned. One expects to be able to find an instant answer to anything nowadays but there just isn’t one on its. Perhaps if a Chaucer expert comes across this post while idly checking for mentions of his or her own work in Google, or other reputable search engines, he or she will pass on the story of itslessness.

    Presumably it’s not just Chaucer but everyone who had no its, so it will be a general story about the development of English with particular reference to its.

    The Historical variability of English

    Introduction to “The General Prologue” of The Canterbury Tales

    This a lecture given by Ian Johnston which covers an awful ot of ground and is also interesting

    The Making of Chaucer’s English: A Study of Words [1998] By Christopher Cannon

    A Google Book, and therefore not completely transcribed, but there is enough there to get the idea. Don’t forget the text is searchable through the Google ‘Search in this book’ feature on the bottom right. The page may need to be scrolled down a bit.


    Ian Johnson’s home page is full of lecture and essays on all sorts which also look….very interesting.

    This one written in 1998, The Illogic of a Creationist Argument, I noted, noting particularly how he has come to the nub so clearly that even Richard Dawkins might learn something from it. It might give a clue as to how well he does on other themes, including many literary and philosophical one’s he covers.

    Equally readable, a lecture to biology students, Some Non-Scientific Observations on the Importance of Darwin [1998] Ian Johnston, Liberal Studies Department, Malaspina-University College, Nanaimo, BC.


    All for the want of a horse shoe nail…..

    February 2, 2008 Posted by | Biology, Chaucer, English language, evolutionary biology, science | , , , | Leave a comment

    The Science Network Forum – Enlightenment 2.0 {2}

    My immediate reaction to the talks in Enlightenment 2.0 was there wasn’t quite enough discussion on Enlightenment 1.0 (the cool new way to say The Enlightenment). Presumably the assumption was (many speakers were apologetic about covering the basics in such august company) the other participants knew all about it. However, because the Forum has been publicly broadcast with an wider, general educational aim –so will be watched by many to whom much of this is relatively sketchy, and some totally new to them — it might be worth TSN’s while to fill in some of the the gaps by adding to the website.

    If you like me feel a need to start with the basics of The Original Enlightenment, the {Wiki: enlightenment} is a good way to start checking its main features were. It helpfully gives a list of names associated with the enlightenment and quite a few links.

    This short student guide to The Age of Enlightenment lists Voltaire’s view in a seven point list, which is also a short-cut way of getting to the nub. If you are not proud: SparkNotes on The Enlightenment (1650 – 1800) is also useful.

    The point, if you have watched Enlightenment 2.0, is to figure out what E v 2.0 might be or aim to be. I am not too convinced the talks did this. Some clever chap might have put up a comparison chart.

    I started by looking at what was available on-line on the academics who contributed. People like Dawkins and Dennett are pretty well know public intellectuals, but there are other who are not but who introduced interesting research or ideas.

    I will, later, put up a list of those speakers who I thought were really useful, those less useful, and those plainly there to sell books. One in the useful category is Melvin Konner, who wrote The Tangled Wing, considered a pop classic on nature v nurture, or as someone in a talk termed it, “hard-wired or culture”. This is Konner’s Notes and References (Caveat: The Dangers of Behavioral Biology), a chapter critique / analysis (pdf, be warned) of The Tangled Wing. Two good reviews of The Tangled Wing : here and here.

    Sam Harris stands out in the “I’m here to sell my book” category. Now famous for his book, The End of Faith: Religion, Terror and the Future of Reason , that topped the New York Times bestseller list. Or, maybe it is back there now? I wonder if they read him in the UK, us being heathens ‘n all He later wrote Letter to a Christian Nation. He features in the E 2.0 debate a lot. Makes sense to me! One of the themes across several speakers was natural morality vs. religious morality. Harris argues at least once that there is no need for morality derived from religions because natural morality suffices. In the main he seemed to reiterating small sections of his book on two main areas: Islam (and religion – bad things) and meditation (he has become interested in Buddhist meditation, which is vaguely 70s). I haven’t read the book, and am not likely to just yet, but you can be pretty sure any ideas he has have been around in some form or other since the last Enlightenment, apart from the neuroscience, evidement.

    Dawkins (“that’s rubbish”; anti-God book out), Dennett (author of Consciousness Explained; anti-God book now out) and Harris (anti-God books now out) were the three most strident anti-religionists. Many others debated reasonably the ins and out, advantages and disadvantages of religion (and or science) while professing atheism. A small number simply put out their research interests without contextualisation. In the end it was up to the viewer to see how the ideas fitted into any notion of what E 2.0 might be. For example, there was a significant amount of neuroscience and a bit of psychology which was implied we know more about ourselves, but at no point did anyone say because we understand ourselves more clearly this and this is therefore true for E 2.0 over E 1.0

    Professor Mahzarin Banaji, a Harvard psychologist, presented research results in cognitive illusion that reminded me of Daniel M Wegner’s Ironic Process Theory. Not listed on Wegner’s papers on ironic effects (pdfs!) is The Seeds of Our Undoing (1999).

    January 24, 2008 Posted by | Enlightenment, Enlightenment 2.0, epistemology, evolutionary biology, Ironic effects, religion, science | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

    FOVA.TV Debate – My Brain made me do it

    My Brain made me do it

    I didn’t want to do it

    Raymond Tallis discusses the debate in a Times article

    January 24, 2008 Posted by | epistemology, evolutionary biology, free will vs. determinism, human nature, neurolaw, neuroscience, Philosophy, science | Leave a comment

    Beyond Belief & Enlightenment 2.0 Academic Forums

    (1) Conference, Salk Institute, 31 October – 2 November 2007, titled

    Enlightenment 2.0

    The whole conference was videoed under the auspices of The Science Network

    A range of academic speakers contributed.

    This page takes you out to some of the speakers websites.

    Deirdre McCloskey, professor of economics amongst other disciplines, quotes on her front page from Amélie Oksenberg Rorty:

    Our ability to engage in continuous conversation, testing one another, discovering our hidden presuppositions, changing our minds because we have listened to the voices of our fellows. Lunatics also change their minds, but their minds change with the tides of the moon and not because they have listened, really listened, to their friends’ questions and objections.

    No Double Standards blog has contributed thoughts to this and also lists briefly what each speaker was dealt with.

    Sandwalk blog illustrates in the comments stream how confused things can get.

    (2) TSN hosted another conference BEYOND BELIEF:Science, Religion, Reason and Survival also at the Salk Institute, La Jolla November 5-7, 2006, which was attended by many of the same academics.

    The 2006 debate was divided into three section around three basic questions:

    Should science do away with religion?
    What would science put in religions place?
    Can we be good without God?

    It’s debatable whether this was really tackled. Most of the talks seemed to be set around each persons specialism, and were really about they had recently been up to. Though it was not to difficult to see where the subject matter fitted into the three questions. But it is really up to you to take it further.

    So far there doesn’t seem to be much of an e-text/ transcript to go with the forum videos: watching the talks which go on for hours is not the quickest way to take on board the ideas. Two of the contributors were especially unhappy with the overall tone of the forum. Joan Roughgarden ( was reported later as calling it “an exaggerated and highly-rose colour view of the capabilities of science “) {2}. She is a biology and geophysics professor and Christian. Scott Atran (wasn’t happy either terming it “a neo-Christian cult”, by which he meant a scientist cult). He is amongst other things an anthropologist at CNRS (National Centre for Science Research), Paris. This dissatisfaction followed through into the second conference in 2007.

    Melvin Konner, famous for his book The Tangled Wing: Biological Constraint on the Human Spirit (1982), (A must read by the way) took a rigorously analytical, yet conciliatory approach. The atheistic hawks such as Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris both with anti-God books out left no prisoners, attacking religion rather than defending science.

    There is a subsequent Edge debate around Scott Atram’s contribution in 2006.

    There are interesting personal stories which were revealed during the conference or will become apparent if the speakers backgrounds are examined with online material. I will write a dedicated post to a couple of these which are fascinating.

    The posts here will concentrate on these two conferences for a while, with anything I find interesting or think important, though it is so vast if all the side issues are considered. Why isn’t there some sort of tight summary/synthesis by now.

    The man in charge of both conferences is Roger Bingham, Centre for Brain and Cognition, University of California, San Diego (UCSD) is a Brit with a sharp wit. His asides between the talks are entertaining in themselves. Quite a few good jokes and quotes. He explained at one point that he had been influenced early in life by Bronowski’s “The Ascent of Man” {2}TV programme, reading out the words from the famous scene where Bronowski stands in the pool at Auschwitz to scoop up a handful of wet ash:

    It is said that science will dehumanise people and turn them into numbers. That is false, tragically false. Look for yourself. This is the concentration camp and crematorium at Auschwitz. This is where people were turned into numbers. Into this pond were flushed the ashes of some four million people. And that was not done by gas. It was done by arrogance. It was done by dogmas. It was done by ignorance. When people believe they have absolute knowledge, with no test in reality, this is how they behave. This is what men do when they aspire to the knowledge of gods.
    This is the Youtube of that section.

    JB’s family perished in the holocaust. 18 January 2008 was the 100 anniversary of his birth.

    January 17, 2008 Posted by | Bronowski, Enlightenment, Philosophy, religion, science | , , | Leave a comment