‘Induction over the history of science suggests that the best theories we have today will prove more or less untrue at the latest by tomorrow afternoon.’ Fodor, J. ‘Why Pigs don’t have wings,’ London Review of Books, 18th Oct 2007


Friday, 27 June 2008

GM crops will not solve world food crisis

The Guardian is reporting on comments by a leading biotech company boss, Martin Taylor who is chairman of Syngenta. He commented that the current industry is focused on farming in rich countries. This means that it would take 20 years to develop crops designed to address the problem in the developing world.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2008/jun/27/gmcrops.food

This would appear to contradict statements from UK and EU politicians who have claimed that GM crops may be able to solve the current problems of food shortages and excessive prices of basic foods.

Phil Woolas, Environment Minister commented recently in The Independent that "There is a growing question of whether GM crops can help the developing world out of the current food crisis. It is a question that we as a nation need to ask ourselves. Many people concerned about poverty in the developing world and the environment are wrestling with this issue." The European Commission has also recently released briefing documents that comment that GM crops can "play an important role in mitigating the effects of the food 'crisis'".

The claims for GM crops is that they can reduce losses due to pests and boost crop yields, although there are potential risk as well and the evidence is equivical. A major report by UN experts said GM crops offer limited benefits over natural crops in feeding the world's poor. The report is from the influential International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD). It noted that "Assessment of the technology lags behind its development, information is anecdotal and contradictory, and uncertainty about possible benefits and damage is unavoidable." Incidentally the GM industry, which helped to fund the report, pulled out before it was published.

Bob Watson, who is director of the UN assessment, and also chief scientist to the UK environment department Defra, said on the report's publication: "The short answer to whether transgenic crops can feed the world is 'no'. But they could contribute. We must understand their costs and benefits."

Martin Taylor, for his contribution, admitted at an agricultural conference in London this week that the main driver for GM was profit. As it is so expensive to win regulatory approval for GM crops, the industry has been forced to focus on "blockbuster" varieties, which could be sold to western farmers but had "hardly any environmental benefits".

Saturday, 21 June 2008

Wind farms and protecting the beauty of the countryside

A beautiful setting spoiled by technology
OK. I admit it. I hate wind farms. Not that there is anything wrong with them in the right place, but they tend to get build in some of the country's most beautiful wilderness areas. And they are not small, some 140 metres tall covering whole hillsides of precious Moorland.

Perhaps winds farms may enhance an urban environment, but they do nothing for the natural environment. But why does it matter you may ask if we industrialise the countryside? It matters for reasons of beauty. Human beings have the need for beauty. I believe many urban social problems are caused in part by the ugly nature of the urban landscape. The countryside then is a place where people can go to to escape the ugliness of urban space, and it is worth preserving without human interference.

Aldo Leopold commented on a 'land ethic' in the Sand County Almanac that "A thing is right if it tends to preserve the stability, integrity, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong if it tends otherwise."

Protecting the beauty of God's creation is important as a place for all people to enjoy, so that people in turn then value the countryside as a positive feedback.

But what is the Government promising? Only a 30 fold increase in onshore and offshore wind farms.

Vidal, J. Revealed: UK's blueprint for a green revolution, Guardian online June 21st 2008,

Blueprint for an industrial revolution

See also the Sunday Telegraph - Christopher Booker 22nd June 08

Wind power comes to my back yard

Windy Miller

As for the efficiency of wind farms I am reminded of Windy Miller of Camberwick Green fame whistling for the wind. That about sums up the contribution wind farms will make to the cutting of greenhouse gases. Government ministers might as well be whistling in the wind along with Windy Miller. Why? Because the wind doesn't always blow, or sometimes it blows too hard, and there needs to be coal fired power stations burning in the back ground as back up. Wind power only works at something like 30 % of maximum output over a year. If it weren’t for the subsidies they would not be built. So the beauty of the countryside is ruined for an industry built on subsidy.

I am not suggesting that cutting greenhouse gases is not important, but this big business solution is not the answer. Why not give those subsidies to ordinary householders to place solar panels on their roofs and generate their own electricity as a localised solution?
Andrew Sibley

Friday, 20 June 2008

Dissent over Descent - by Steve Fuller

Steve Fuller's new book has finally been published, "Dissent Over Descent: Intelligent Design's Challenge to Darwinism", Cambridge: Icon Books, 2008. ISBN: 978-1840468-04-5





Here is the synopsis from Amazon:

"If you think Intelligent Design Theory (IDT) is merely the respectable face of Christian fundamentalism, and Evolution the only sensible scientific world-view, think again...IDT has driven science for 500 years. It was responsible for the 17th century's Scientific Revolution and helped build modern histories of physics, mathematics, genetics and social science. IDT's proponents take literally the Biblical idea that humans have been created in God's image. This confident, even arrogant, view of humanity enabled the West to triumph in the modern era. Evolution, on the other hand, derives from more ancient, even pagan, ideas about our rootedness in nature and the transience of all life forms. It has been always more popular outside the West, and until Darwin few evolutionists were scientists. What happened to reverse these two movements' fortunes? Steve Fuller's brilliant revisionist history is essential reading for anyone who wants a deeper understanding of science's most vociferous debate."

The cover front flap has this summary:

"In Dissent over Descent Steve Fuller argues that the search for intelligent design in nature has been science's overriding concern for its entire history. Charles Darwin's theory of evolution is itself best understood as the work of a failed ID theorist. Not even Richard Dawkins, for all his condemnation of religion, can get away from ID talk. In this eagerly anticipated new book, iconoclastic sociologist of science Steve Fuller argues that hostility to ID is based less on science than sheer anti-religious bigotry. In fact, science and religion have gone hand in hand for most of Western history. Fuller shows that even theological speculations about divine justice and biblical literalism have fostered the advancement of science. However to grant these points the significance they deserve, several myths about science need to be overturned. Anyone interested in the intellectual roots and political prospects of one of the defining controversies in contemporary society will find much to come to terms with in this powerful, provocative and thrilling book, from one of the most consistently challenging and exciting authors writing on science today."

Of himself Fuller writes;

"To those not familiar with my previous work, I should say that I am a secular humanist who has been steeped in the historical and philosophical relations between science and religion since my school days with the Jesuits, the subtle masters of reconciling the seemingly irreconcilable. To this day I regard the difference between science and religion as more institutional than intellectual: they are basically trading on the same ideas but pursuing them by different means and judging them by different standards. While I cannot honestly say that I believe in a divine personal creator, no plausible alternative has yet been offered to justify the pursuit of science as a search for the ultimate systematic understanding of reality. Even if most scientists nowadays call themselves atheists, atheism as a positive doctrine has done precious little for science." (pages 8-9).

The book covers almost every aspect of the debate and crosses the fields of expertise of most of the leading ID scholars - Behe, Dembski, Hunter, Weikart et al, all need to see what they make of this book. On almost every topic Fuller has fresh and interesting things to say, some of them with exciting implications for future debate. So I hope the ID scholars will give their assessments of how well Fuller's arguments stack up in their own areas of expertise. A must read for IDers and theistic evolutionists alike.
Arthur Jones

Thursday, 19 June 2008

Thought Crimes and Human Rights in Canada

What is going on in Canada? I guess you thought like me, that Canada was a place of laid back Mounted Police, rolling countryside, mountains and lakes, and a people who didn't get too excited about issues of politics. Think again.

Denyse O'Leary has warned at a recent Christian writers conference in Guelph, Ontario, Canada, that the "THE MOST serious challenge in Canada today is [to] intellectual freedom" O'Leary was speaking at a plenary session at Write! Canada (13th June 2008) and noted that "increasingly, under our 14 human rights commissions and tribunals, governments and their appointed minders restrict what we can say, think or do, supposedly in our own interests, but certainly in theirs."

O'Leary was referencing a recent article in Maclean's by Mark Steyn about growing Muslim influence and the subsequent fall out. This article was subject to a complaint argued before the British Columbia Human Rights Commission.

The Canadian Islamic Congress apparently took offence to the Maclean's article, claiming that the magazine was "flagrantly Islamophobic" and "subjects Canadian Muslims to hatred and contempt." It was further offended by Steyn's argument concerning rising birth rates among Muslims in Europe and the effect that will have on non-Muslims who may feel forced to accept "an accommodation with their radicalised Islamic compatriots."

Whether one considers this to be a real threat is another matter, but the BC Human Rights Commission took a more determined view in favour of the complainant even before any evidence was produced. In fact in 31 years, the national Human Rights Commission of Canada has never dismissed or lost a case brought concerning a 'hate' crime. The Commission also asserts the power to force people to never speak on a matter publicly again.

The Commission first demanded that the magazine Maclean's, give equal and unedited space to respond to the tract. After refusal, the council took the magazine to a 'court' of its own making. These tribunals apparently have no rules of evidence and truth does not seem to be a defence. In fact evidence doesn't seem important at all. The only evidence necessary for hate speech to have been committed is offence taken by a person or group of people. If an offended group merely complains to a human rights commission, then the burden of proof would appear to have been met already. No wonder the commission has never lost a case.

Dean Steacy, an investigator for Canada's national commission, commented: "Freedom of speech is an American concept, so I don't give it any value." Really?

According to Canadian law and the tribunal precedents, the magazine could face unspecified fines and be ordered to publish a response, and be barred in perpetuity from publishing anything the human rights commission deems unsuitable.

O'Leary commented that "I have read the Maclean's article in question and, while some might wish to contest various matters in it, the notion that it constitutes hate is a wakeup call to every one of us." She further noted that Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms (now 26-year-old) guarantees "freedom of thought, conscience and belief," but expressed concern that the principle of the Charter is "slowly being eroded by the 'human rights' system." While "those who seek to undermine intellectual freedom in Canada aim very frequently (but not only) at Christians," she maintained the aim of such people is to consolidate "their own power over society."

The irony of all of this is that the Commission is itself causing offence and has committed a 'hate' crime against Christians in Canada and should now take itself to its own tribunal and bind itself to never commit another 'hate' crime or bring 'hate' charges against Christians again. This just shows how absurd legislation of this nature is. There is a need for respectful dialogue because suppressing legitimate argument is not healthy for a society and only encourages the hate it seeks to avoid.

See: http://www.canadianchristianity.com/nationalupdates/080619writers.html
http://post-darwinist.blogspot.com/2008/06/excerpts-from-ezra-levants-freedom-of.html

Saturday, 14 June 2008

Louisiana supports Critical Thinking in Science

Louisiana Encourages 'Critical Thinking' About Evolution in education

The Louisiana House voted in favour of a bill on Wednesday that would promote “critical thinking” in science education on topics that include evolution, the origins of life, global warming, and human cloning. The Louisiana Senate has already passed a similar bill.

http://chronicle.com/news/article/4668/darwin-defeated-in-the-bayou-louisiana-encourages-critical-thinking-about-evolution?commented=1#c018858

The National Centre for Science Education however is not so pleased.

See for instance: Creationist bill passed by Louisiana House of Representatives

The NCSE comments that it 'opens the door to creationism in public school science classes.' However, the bill states that it wants to 'promote critical thinking skills, logical analysis, and open and objective discussion of scientific theories.' Whereas Louisiana appears to gaining some success in getting critical thinking of this sort into schools, the Texas school board has had less success.

I have recently commented on an article in the New York Times on the issue of Darwinism and Education Policy.

Darwinism and Education Policy

Darwinism and Education Policy

A New York Times Editorial [1] falls back on empty rhetoric and provides a rather confused argument in seeking to defend Darwinism in the US education system. Stating in the headline for instance that ‘creationism’ is a ‘con,’ and commenting that ‘creationists tend to struggle with reality’ in the first sentence, but then they fail to present a positive case for Darwinism...

The object of the NYT attack would seem to be the Texas State Board of Education that is seeking to maintain teaching standards in the school education system. The contested approach is one that insists that evidence must be presented to schoolchildren in terms of ‘strengths and weaknesses’ in scientific theories such as Darwinism.

In arguing against this the NYT falls back on the tired old dogma that ‘science must be naturalistic’ and ‘Darwinism is proved’ by naturalistic science, which is kind of a circular argument. If naturalism is assumed true at the start of scientific investigation, a naturalistic explanation will be the result, whether naturalism is true or not.

The secular humanists and Darwinists want people to believe that they are the guardians of science standards in education, but they want to restrict education to learning given ‘facts’ and not allow students to think through issues for themselves, such as understanding the 'strengths and weaknesses' of Darwinism. This in effect leads to the ‘dumbing down’ of education that was incidentally a part of the pagan social order proposed in Plato’s Republic. On the other hand Christians believe that all students should be educated to the level of thinking human beings so they may find their potential in Christ, thus enabling them to consider the deeper meaning and purposes of life and not be reduced to the level of productive economic units serving the purpose of a neo-pagan or secular elite. Education is not simply about producing materialistic, economic human units, but about giving human beings the skills and ability to find their full God given humanity.

Sources[1] Editorial, ‘The Cons of Creationism,’ New York Times, 7th June 2008 http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/07/opinion/07sat3.html?ref=opinion

Friday, 13 June 2008

Richard Lynn - the true face of atheism?

I bet atheists wish emeritus Professor Richard Lynn would keep his views to himself as he is even more extreme than Richard Dawkins, speaking openly about eugenics and racial differences as a result of natural selection. He has further claimed recently that intelligent people are less likely to believe in God - see the Telegraph article - arguing that religious folk have lower IQ.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/2111174/Intelligent-people-

An interesting claim, but deeply flawed. Sadly Lynn has previously argued along racial lines claiming black races are genetically inferior to white people, but this is false. The difference between levels of IQ in ethnic groups has far more to do with opportunity and resources than genetic difference.

And this is so with faith as well. Christians are forced to put their children through a secular education system that is often hostile to their faith, and even when not openly questioning Christian belief through secular assumptions, there is often a general undercurrent of negativity towards faith. Many Christian children switch off from the secular humanist dominated education system because of a lack of trust in what is being taught (although it should be noted that there are some very good Christian teachers in the state education system). But is it any wonder that Christians have less opportunity to pursue academic careers under these circumstances? Having said that there are many Christians with good qualifications and higher degrees and leading fruitful professional lives. Religious believers were also instrumental in developing science.

Two responses in the Telegraph.

Chris Howse 'Clever people are atheists. Cleverer ones aren't'
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/opinion/main.jhtml?xml=/opinion/2008/06/12/do1205.xml

George Pilcher ' 'God is not for the stupid' say Chistianity's clever people.'
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/2124100/%27High-IQ-linked-to-atheism%27-claim-attacked.html

Thursday, 12 June 2008

Spirituality for Kids

The Times Online website has recently reported on a group who are active in UK schools called 'Spirituality for Kids.' This group has the endorsement of leading Hollywood actors and actresses. The Times comments: "SFK is a global youth programme that is already working within British schools as part of the curriculum and plans to expand. Its purpose, it claims, is to encourage children to recognise their own goodness, see the light and have more spiritual powers."

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/faith/article4067199.ece

A worrying trend I believe. Traditional Christian belief is being expelled from education, only to be replaced by some form of neo-Platonist spirituality - note the report says SFK is working as part of the curriculum.

Here is a response from a PSHE Teacher rated by OFSTED as ‘Outstanding’.

"To be honest, there is a big problem and a huge growing trend. The problem is that people are realising (a little too late) that we have a generation of emotionally incapable people. Partly caused by dysfunctional family life, partly caused by a target driven system, partly society dysfunctioning too - something we are all painfully aware of. There has been, rightly, a realisation that there are many teachers and head teachers within the system that are emotionally not present also and the impact that this has upon schooling. There is a big shift in education taking place.

Firstly, it is believed that primary education is what works and they are trying to work out how to embrace this within the secondary system. This is largely due to the fact that primary education works in a manner in which all the links are made for the pupils, with a strong pastoral relationship with the teacher. Secondary is typically divided into subjects with weak, pastoral relationships although schools are working to alter that.

Secondly, they are introducing programmes to help develop emotionally literacy skills (SEAL - Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning). It is realised that we are not just dealing with IQ, but EQ (emotional), PQ (physical) and SQ (spiritual). There is also a realisation that those who are more emotionally capable are those who succeed. At the core is the fundamental belief that all succeed in life. Of course, that brings up the philosophical question of what is success!

Schools are having to put themselves in the position of bringing up the child - Personal, Social and Health Education has been placed as the primary focus for every subject within the new KS3 curriculum. This is right, to a point, but it all comes down to who delivers it! They are trying to readdress the balance but PSHE is not given the kudos it needs - it is such a MASSIVE area that to begin to organise an effective programme is next to impossible!

In my personal experience, pupils are very keen and relieved to be able to talk about the different experiences that they have and trying to make sense of them. There is, however, a strong pressure to be P.C. and ensure that children are not led to draw any particular conclusion that the teacher might hold but to find their own. How we expect a ten year old to be able to draw their own, healthy conclusions without any strong, moral base being put before them? But then, the 'clever' argument will be it is only a perception of what is a strong, moral base, that may not actually be the right one! We are slowly and successfully killing ourselves with the political correctness it us and that any view is perfectly valid, it just might not be the same one as someone else's! A subtle but powerful lie. This is hence why who and how it is delivered it becomes such an issue.

There is a strong trend, at the moment, to be the one who works out how to change the world! To get to perfection (the Garden of Eden?) through our own means. Of course, we will never do it from within! However, it is strongly believed that it is possible. This, of course, must all be done without God. There are huge problems being faced, teen suicide, teen violence and so on. What can schools do? Surely they will look to anything!

With this as the culture (from one professional's perception), it is not surprised that SFK is hitting schools. There will be an initial change that it brings and schools will prove that with data - whether it is increased attendance rates or increase in attainment. If data improves then that is seen as a success. It will only take into account, however, the short term gain and not the long term. What happens to these children when they are 25? Out of a structured environment and culture! SFK has the advantage of being supported by celebrities - what do our children want to be when they grow up? A celebrity, a footballer, the winner of the lottery etc. etc. etc. Aspirations are not realistic (on the whole) and are driven by media. Life is too easy for our children - they have too much, yet have nothing. This confuses them so they will look anywhere, to be fair, many adults within the profession are finding the same too and so they are also vulnerable.

SFK, with the celebrity status - also has money therefore, so they can set up programmes, pay their staff, win credibility within the students eyes and so on. With such a spiritually starved nation it will initially attract them because this aspect of their lives they will be so keen to develop. And, of course, SFK does not mention Jesus, it does not mention salvation, it does not mention the Bible, it does not mention Christianity, therefore making it extremely attractive because we all know as soon as you mention Jesus they switch off. Why? Because of family perceptions and beliefs that have already taken hold. We have become such a data and target driven culture that everything has to be measured. They are trying to suggest ways of assessing a child's personal, spiritual and emotional development http://www.qca.org.uk/qca_1954.aspx follow this link to see the discussion and decisions around it. There are far too many factors to take into account. The biggest influence on a child is family, not school, but schools are being used to push forward many agendas.

How do we tackle this as Christians? To be honest, that task is HUGE! Where is the substance? Where is the strength? Where are the people to attach to the schools and families? Where is the professionalism so that we can be seen as credible? There is a professional association for teachers (ACT). This is a huge and complex area. Sadly, I think we will see things like SFK growing and growing and growing. We have a godless society and people will happily be pointed in any direction but the right direction. I wonder how much longer Christian collective acts of worship will be the only acceptable thing. Look to the schools in the city - they tend to lead the way in trends. Schools will have prayer rooms for Muslim children so that they can respond to their calls for prayer... We are slowly becoming the 'suppressed and persecuted' but it is subtle.

To be honest, we might just need it to wake a few people up! Materialism has not worked, so maybe spirituality will as people know they are spiritually void. How can we credibly fight this? I wish I knew! "

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Malnutrition, not climate change, is main threat to world.

The Copenhagen Consensus initiative, which includes five Nobel laureates in its panel, has declared that tackling malnutrition should be the main priority in the world.

The Times-Online news website has reported that the provision of nutritional supplements, such as vitamin A and zinc to babies and children in the developing countries is most important in order to prevent totally avoidable deficiencies that are known to affect hundreds of millions of children. They comment that this is the 'most cost-effective way of making the world a better place.'

The aim of the report is to prioritise solutions to the world’s many problems according to their costs and benefits, and the most important priorities it concludes is to improve diet. On the other hand, efforts to reduce global warming through reductions in greenhouse gases, were rated at the bottom of the league table. The economists considered the costs of effectively tackling climate change too high with limited overall benefit, while research into renewable energy and new low-carbon technologies, such as solar and nuclear fusion power, was ranked 14th in important.

See: Peter Henderson, Forget Climate Change, we should spend on nutrition.' Date 30/05/08
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/environment/article4033272.ece?token=null&offset=0