‘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

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

The 'fiasco' of Ida. Has the BBC helped deminish science?

The repercussions over Ida continue. Although I have as yet only seen the first few minutes of the BBC programme about Ida, a telling statement by Attenborough raises concern about the way the science behind Ida is being conducted. Attenborough commented that scientists had been working in secret, but are now going public in a big way on how important this find is, that is before peer review has even begun in a meaningful way. Brian Switek writes as follows.

" If Ida does turn out be more closely related to lemurs than to humans, creationists may use the hype to paint evolutionary scientists as glory hounds who care more about publicity than accuracy. Ida would not be an “icon of evolution”, as Dr Hurum hopes, but a public embarrassment that creationists would surely use to sow further doubt about evolution. Likening Ida to the Holy Grail and the Lost Ark only compounds the problem; creationists will undoubtedly argue that these metaphors reveal that evolution is a religion with its own holy relics.

What could have been a unique opportunity to communicate science has quickly developed into a fiasco. Science proceeds through discovery and debate, and hypotheses do not become accepted by flooding the media with press releases. Scientific scrutiny of Ida has only just begun, and regardless of who her closest living relatives are, I hope the debate surrounding her will not sink away from sight. She truly is an amazing find, but for now I think that she has taught us more about science communication than our ancestry."

Ida the Lemur-like creature, has had some high praise from leading Darwinists. David Attenborough announced with confidence that the missing link ‘is no longer missing,’ but the way the evidence has been presented and handled has raised questions about media manipulation, especially from the London Times science correspondent Mark Henderson; he seems quite miffed.
Mark Henderson reports that doubts have arisen now that others have finally been given access to the fossil and suggests that Ida is related to ‘nothing that exists today.’ Although Ida is an important fossil, he writes that ‘she isn’t all that’ and complains that the researchers haven’t provided sufficient evidence to justify their claims. He argues that this is…

‘…especially serious given the publicity blitz behind Ida…a popular book, a documentary, a website and an exhibition have been launched on the back of this find, before it has received full scientific scrutiny.’

Henderson comments that the researchers appear to have rushed their work ‘to fit with the media schedule.’ Rights were sold to some media outlets, including the BBC, and this has shaped the way the evidence has been conducted and presented. Science journalists without that privileged access to data were given insufficient time to properly evaluate the story. Henderson writes;

‘Is it really right that full embargoed access to important and controversial research findings should be restricted on the say-so of the authors, to media that best suit their publicity strategy? Especially when money has changed hands?’

Henderson ends by correcting a previous statement;
‘there was an unfortunate error in the graphic accompanying my piece in the paper. An early draft was printed by mistake. Darwinius masillae is not a direct ancestor of both lemurs/lorises and apes/monkeys. It seems to lie on the ape/monkey branch, after the last common ancestor of both groups, and it may well be a direct ancestor of nothing at all that exists today.’ (emphasis added)

Friday, 15 May 2009

Did Darwin Kill God ? Disappointing debate at Westminster Abbey

This event, organised by Theos, and held in Westminster Abbey seems to have failed to live up to expectations, even though 800 people attended. Reading some of the commentaries suggests the debate was a bit of a non-event. But then with all the panellists committed Darwinists that is hardly surprising.

The panel consisted of Lord Robert Winston - a Jew of unknown description, Professor Steve Jones – who likes to be identified as a 'non-theist', Dr Denis Alexander - a Christian theistic evolutionist from the Faraday Institute, and Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell – who is apparently an agnostic.

The debate was supposedly part of Theos’ project on Darwin and Religion, but the panel was disappointingly unrepresentative of the British public, 51% of whom are sceptical of Darwinism according to Theos’ own recent survey.

Paul Woolley suggests that one lesson that came out of the debate is that it demonstrates that it is possible to ‘disagree without being disagreeable.’ He accuses some atheist’ books of being ‘devoid of grace, humility and courtesy.’ A fair point, but there would appear to be a little amnesia in this statement concerning comments in a postscrtipt in Denis Alexander's recent book.

Let’s be frank. While having a superficial respectability, the shape of this debate revealed a desire to exclude the views of a large section of the population who are in fact sceptical of Darwin’s claims. Very convenient instead to pretend they are not important or their views don't matter. I would hope that the next time Theos decide to organise an event they remember to include intelligent design supporters and those who are honestly sceptical of evolution. There are many of us have long called for respectful dialogue along these lines.

Further reading:

Theos comment -

Justin Thacker’s comment -

Paul Woolley’s comment -
Andrew Sibley

Monday, 4 May 2009

A.N.Wilson returns to his Christian faith

The former noted atheist A.N.Wilson has returned to his Christian faith after years of doubting [1]. His article in the New Statement makes interesting reading, suggesting that his initial conversion to atheism was a quasi-religious experience where he felt at one with his atheist peers such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens.

However, doubts remained towards atheism. Wilson comments that he finds religious authors, such as Samuel Johnson and composers such as Bach and Beethoven more interesting than the works of atheists and sceptics such as David Hume. Furthermore, he suggests that the explanations that Darwinists give are mere story telling and every bit as creedal as the biblical stories.

Wilson comments that it is just too incredible that language simply evolved, noting the ‘amazing morphological complexity of a single sentence.’ The existence of language, and love and music, convinced Wilson that humans are spiritual beings. Furthermore, he asserts that the religion of the incarnation, where God made mankind in His image, and then ‘continually restores’ humanity is ‘simply true’; this is because it fits best with a complete understanding of life. Wilson questions whether atheists are really missing out on the richness of human experience and have ‘no ear for music, or have never been in love.’

Wilson also comments on his research into the Wagner family and Nazism in Germany, and says that he found Hitler’s neo-Darwinian ravings to be incoherent. However, the opposition to Hitler came mainly from Christians who paid for their stand with their blood. This has left an impression upon Wilson, especially Bonhoeffer's book on ethics, which shows that ethics cannot simply be of human construction. Wilson then believes that atheists are making a category mistake about what it means to be human, and that, as Samuel Taylor Coleridge noted, materialism can never explain how man came to be a living soul.
Andrew Sibley