Pharyngula

Monkey Girl

Oh, but I am dragging this morning. Have you ever done that thing where you start reading a book and you don’t want to put it down, and eventually you realize it’s late and you need to get some sleep, so you go to bed but you can’t sleep anyway so you get up and finish the whole book? And then you get a couple hours of sleep before you have to get up again? And your whole day is like trudging through molasses afterwards? That’s me.

The book is Monkey Girl: Evolution, Education, Religion, and the Battle for America’s Soul(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll) by Edward Humes, and from the title I think you can guess why I’d find it engrossing. But it’s more than just a copacetic subject, though: this book reads like a novel. Even though I knew how it would turn out, I had to keep going.

It begins with a few science teachers in Dover, Pennsylvania trying to get the school board to approve the purchase of new textbooks and ends with the community trying to resolve the aftermath of Judge Jones’ decision—it’s a retelling of the key events in the Kitzmiller, et al v. Dover School District, et al. court case, with a few brief digressions to visit places like Kansas. Seriously, it reads like a courtroom thriller, with a ‘crime’ at the beginning, the gradual build-up as events spiral out of everyone’s control, culminating in a courtroom drama complete with revelatory rhetoric, Perry Mason-like traps set in the cross-examination, and last-minute discoveries of crucial pieces of information…and then, finally, a resoundingly unambiguous resolution, a complete victory for the good guys. This could be a movie.

The story has ‘villains’, too, but they aren’t quite as black and evil as you’d expect in a work of fiction—writing an accurate account of a historical event, as Humes has done, usually doesn’t give you much choice in your bad guys. They’re all human and trying to do what they think is honestly right. Unfortunately for them, the overriding message is that the trouble-makers here, the various bad actors in this drama, may be piously sincere, but they’re also astoundingly ignorant. Buckingham, Bonsell, Geesey, Dembski, and most of all, Behe emerge as grossly uninformed clowns who stroll out onto the stage of the courtroom to do the most entertaining pratfalls. The book ought to be mandatory reading for schoolboards across the nation, as a cautionary tale: the bottom line is that the Dover school board members who launched their district on this expensive, damaging journey were completely unqualified to have any say at all in science education, and worse, were completely incurious about trying to find out anything about this theory of evolution they were critizing, or most damaging of all, even about this Intelligent Design idea they were trying to peddle. Like the stories in most crime dramas, what eventually trips up the bad guys is their stupid mistakes, and the clever sleuthing of the heroes.

Oh, yes, there are heroes: the most obvious are Barbara Forrest, who gave meticulous testimony that demolished the creationist case; Nick Matzke, the eager young rascal who dug up the most damning pieces of evidence; and Eric Rothschild, who eviscerated the witnesses for the creationists, exposing their dishonesty and foolishness on the stand. There is a huge amount of sympathy for the people of Dover, in particular the teachers and parents who were watching this farce consume their hometown in a feast of mockery and laughter and waste.

We also meet lots of other characters. The prologue opens with the Reverend Jim Grove, Burt Humburg and Kent Hovind pop up near the end, Irigonegaray and Calvert square off, and Bill O’Reilly and George W. Bush speak up. The blogs even make an appearance; Red State Rabble does a cameo, as does the Panda’s Thumb, and I even appear as a fierce and furious “one-man wrecking crew” offstage. (That was a bit discombobulating. Imagine reading fixedly through a John Grisham novel at 1am and unexpectedly encountering your name in an aside. Really, it broke my attention for a moment and gave me a weirdly meta sensation. You probably won’t have that problem.)

I knew there was a first-rate dramatic story in the Dover trial, and Edward Humes has written it. Now I’m just waiting for the movie.

Comments

  1. #1 Andrew
    January 30, 2007

    Inherit the Wind, anybody?

  2. #2 Far Away
    January 30, 2007

    On an unrelated (but interesting) topic see this
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/6311619.stm

  3. #3 Jud
    January 30, 2007

    Hey, this is just like Oprah’s book club! Time to 1-Click!

  4. #4 NJ
    January 30, 2007

    I even appear as a fierce and furious “one-man wrecking crew” offstage

    Now I’m just waiting for the movie.

    Soooo, who do we cast in a cameo for the role of PZ? Bruce Willis? Denzel Washington? Jet Li?????

    I’ve got it! “One-man wrecking crew”? Mel Gibson!

    Oh…wait…

  5. #5 PZ Myers
    January 30, 2007

    The reference to me is very, very brief, and as a minor character who is completely offstage. It wouldn’t survive conversion to the screenplay, and if it did, it wouldn’t demand a big name actor. Clint Howard, tops; more likely they’d draft a stagehand to film some fingers tapping on a keyboard.

    The mention of my name loomed large for me, but really — most readers won’t even notice it.

  6. #6 DMC
    January 30, 2007

    Fascinating book.

    A serious question, though. Why did the lead counsel for the defense from the Thomas More center leave the courtroom for days at a time leaving his two assistants against nine members of the plaintiffs team?

    No explanation was given, he didn’t say he was ill (in which case a trial could be continued if the lead counsel was truly ill) so what was up?

    Did he plan on throwing the thing from the beginning. He hardly tried.

  7. #7 Abbie
    January 30, 2007

    Okay, I’m buying this. I still need to finish Freethinkers though… I’m behind on PZ’s book club.

  8. #8 stogoe
    January 30, 2007

    Wanker-troll, you keep saying the same things over and over. Now go away, or I shall taunt you a second time.

  9. #9 notthedroids
    January 30, 2007

    Two words: Paul Giamatti.

  10. #10 windy
    January 30, 2007

    Who’s the Monkey Girl?

  11. #11 PZ Myers
    January 30, 2007

    Good question: it’s the daughter of Kitzmiller, the woman who brought the complaint. Schoolkids insulted her with that label.

  12. #12 llewelly
    January 30, 2007

    It’s interesting, in a sad way, that so many humans choose to view monkeys, not as fascinating and wonderful creatures in their own right, but as insulting parodies of humans.

  13. #13 The Ridger
    January 30, 2007

    Damn you, PZ! (oo)g The last thing I need is another book to read… must resist… too late.

  14. #14 David Livesay
    January 30, 2007

    I honestly think this whole issue is going to keep resurfacing because neither side in the debate really understands the history, and the public at large doesn’t really understand Natural Selection.

    Proponents of Intelligent Design are right when they say that life, in its present form, can’t be explained without a designer. No one understood this more clearly than Darwin.

    Darwin was totally persuaded by Paley’s formulation of the argument from design, and he was absolutely convinced that there had to be a designer. He was not, however, convinced that that designer had to be a god, although he took that explanation for granted while he searched for something more tangible.

    Darwin’s contribution was to discover the true designer and describe in great detail how it worked, and he gave it a name: Natural Selection.

    So when the proponents of ID say that life can’t come about through random processes, they’re right! A tornado can’t assemble a Boeing 747 out of a junkyard. But a tornado is nothing like Natural Selection, and we understand both phenomena in sufficient detail to explain precisely how they differ.

    If the debate is only about whether or not the designer is intelligent, we can even concede that point. If you want to insist that a process capable of producing intelligence is itself intelligent, okay, fine. Natural Selection is an intelligent designer. In fact, one definition of intelligence seems to fit Natural Selection precisely: able to vary its state or action in response to varying situations, varying requirements or past experience.

    So now what are we going to argue about? Are there some people who still want to argue that the intelligent designer is something other than Natural Selection? Well, they only face two problems: there is absolutely no evidence that anything other than Natural Selection is involved, and if they want to propose their personal deity as a candidate, they run headlong into the separation clause.

    So if anyone wants to insist that Intelligent Design theory be given balanced treatment with Natural Selection, I for one don’t see how that’s avoidable. When we talk about Natural Selection we are talking about Intelligent Design.

  15. #15 quork
    January 30, 2007

    Inherit the Wind, anybody?

    With Bill Dembski supplying the wind noises.

  16. #16 Caledonian
    January 30, 2007

    No, Mr. Livesay. Go directly to Jail. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200.

  17. #17 quork
    January 30, 2007

    I honestly think this whole issue is going to keep resurfacing because neither side in the debate really understands the history, and the public at large doesn’t really understand Natural Selection.

    Maybe the public would understand natural selection better if one “side” would stop trying to obstruct and sabotage good biology teaching.

  18. #18 guthrie
    January 30, 2007

    Mr Livesay-

    First, give us a citation or two for Darwins opinions on paley and the need for an intelligent designer.

    Secondly, give us evidence as to why life in its current form requires an intelligent designer.

  19. #19 Monado
    January 30, 2007

    That’s it! I’m asking for this as an early Valentine’s Day present from an understanding Significant Other. Last birthday it was Rigor Vitae.

  20. #20 Graculus
    January 30, 2007

    Soooo, who do we cast in a cameo for the role of PZ? Bruce Willis? Denzel Washington? Jet Li?????

    Oliver Platt?

    *runs away*

  21. #21 David Livesay
    January 30, 2007

    Mr. Guthrie,

    I hardly know where to start in providing you with the citation you have requested. It’s difficult to find any serious discussion of Darwin that doesn’t mention his appreciation for Paley’s argument. It’s common knowledge. Pick up Darwin’s autobiography for starters.

    As to your second point, do you seriously believe that any organism alive today came about through purely random processes? If you do, you don’t understand Natural Selection.

  22. #22 llewelly
    January 30, 2007

    Darwin’s contribution was to discover the true designer and describe in great detail how it worked, and he gave it a name: Natural Selection.

    ‘Design’ implies intent. There’s no intent in natural selection.

    Your problem is that you unaccustomed to describing a complex result with words that do not imply intention. Human language evolved primarily to describe human behavior – and therefor has few words which do not imply intent. Nearly all words we have to describe complex processes and results contain built-in anthropomorphization.

    Nearly all of us carry within ourselves the assumption that most important events are intended. But Darwin’s most important contribution was a theory that did not require intent.

  23. #23 David Livesay
    January 30, 2007

    quork,

    If people can’t tell the difference between Natural Selection and “random processes” then I’m not convinced that there is a lot of good biology teaching going on out there, or at least there is a lack of good learning.

    Somehow a lot of people seem to make it through high school and even college biology curses without understanding the difference between Natural Selection and the caricature of that process its opponents present.

  24. #24 Graculus
    January 30, 2007

    Mr Livesay, it’s where you conflated “non-random” with “intelligent”, and “happenchance” with “design”.

  25. #25 David Livesay
    January 30, 2007

    llewelly,

    There is a lot of intent involved in Natural Selection, but it just doesn’t go beyond individual reproductive success. If you remove that kind of intent from the process, it completely falls apart.

  26. #26 Caledonian
    January 30, 2007

    Um, no. The vast majority of genetic recombination events have no intent whatsoever. And of those that do, the intention is to get off, not produce offspring.

  27. #27 David Livesay
    January 30, 2007

    Caledonian,

    Sure, you can point to a part of any process and say, “no intent here!” It doesn’t follow from that that the entire process is devoid of intent.

  28. #28 llewelly
    January 30, 2007

    Caledonian,
    Sure, you can point to a part of any process and say, “no intent here!” It doesn’t follow from that that the entire process is devoid of intent.

    Please read up on Occam’s razor.

  29. #29 David Livesay
    January 30, 2007

    llewelly,

    I’m very familiar with it. What’s your point?

  30. #30 llewelly
    January 30, 2007

    llewelly,
    There is a lot of intent involved in Natural Selection, but it just doesn’t go beyond individual reproductive success. If you remove that kind of intent from the process, it completely falls apart.

    First, I was referring to the process as a whole, not the individuals involved. I apologize if that wasn’t clear.
    Second, the overwhelming majority of said individuals are bacteria and viruses. They haven’t the intellectual properties to have anything remotely resembling intent in human terms.

    It’s tempting to use anthropomorphization at every turn, but it makes everything look a nail, and here, we must distinguish between intended processes and unintended processes.

  31. #31 BlueIndependent
    January 30, 2007

    Livesay,

    You are making assumptions for a designer where none can be derived. There is nothing in the process that could remotely point to that as cause. Just because something turns out orderly means nothing with respect to a possible designer. The designer could be any one of infinite possibilities, and there is no way to take any one interpretation into account at the start and build from there. And if identifying a specific designer weren’t hard enough, trying to determine intentfrom that, and what the goal of the intent even is, is many orders of magnitude more difficult.

    ID is not a viable scientific theory at all because it is an intellectual dead end, regardless of how many so-called “experts” say it isn’t. All the arguments for a designer are only intended to prove that a designer did it as opposed to a natural process, and thus halt any further inquiry due to the rest of the process being not understandable by us. It’s an extravagant and useless mechanization of denial. It’s also an excuse for people to substitute belief for real skepticism, and then do the work of back-filling in all the holes, which leads inevitably to sloppy thinking and an increasingly faulty foundation.

    Real science is the process of building a firm base of knowledge, and building on that knowledge and research. It’s ground-up, not top-down like ID. What the clash between evolution and ID/creationism really is about is the struggle between open-minded skepticism and discovery, versus millenia of rote, unquestioned interpretations of all-too-easy explanations for why things happen.

  32. #32 Graculus
    January 30, 2007

    Sure, you can point to a part of any process and say, “no intent here!” It doesn’t follow from that that the entire process is devoid of intent.

    It does follow, however, that if no part of the process has intenet, then the whole process has no intent.

  33. #33 PZ Myers
    January 30, 2007

    More importantly, someone advocating intent must show evidence of intent in at least one step. Saying, “you have shown there is no intent in step 31, but what about step 243? Huh? How about that, smart guy?” is not an argument.

  34. #34 Ian
    January 30, 2007

    Mr. Livesay,
    I think you’re just making an argument from semantics. The only actual assertion of yours that I disagree with was your openning statement:

    “I honestly think this whole issue is going to keep resurfacing because neither side in the debate really understands the history”

    You seem to be sounding like a modern reporter: no matter what the facts, if there’s a disagreement, both sides are equally wrong. I disagree.

    The rest of everything you say seems to boil down to “evolutionists are unnecessarily confused/confusing when they call evolution a random process.” I’m sure there are people who take science on faith and will defend it without really understanding it, but they’re not the ones fighting conservative school boards. If creationists misunderstand what the theory of evolution proposes, it’s their own fault for refusing to learn more about it.

    I think you’ve misunderstood the central tenet of intelligent design, which is that the designer cannot by definition be an unthinking phenomenon, but must actually be a sentient being or sentient beings with some actual human-like motivation for their design. You can define the “designer” to be natural selection if you want, as if that’s going to settle the debate. Sure, by that definition I’ll concede that human beings were designed, but that is neither standard accepted definition of designer that most people use, and more significantly it’s not the definition that the inventors of intelligent design use. You can’t make ID and science compatible by playing word games.

  35. #35 BlueIndependent
    January 30, 2007

    I would also say ID and its “scientific pursuit” is analagous to choosing a random number, and then using that as the basis, trying to determie which mathematical formula produced it. How can you be sure one specific formula produced that number? Why couldn’t it be a mixture of formulas? How can you be sure someone didn’t just come up with it?

    It’s not possible to continue any further because the possibilities are so endless that the endeavor would be fruitless and you’d learn nothing more than just how many ways there would’ve been to produce that number. The method doesn’t produce evidence, it only produces more uncertainty.

  36. #36 Joshua
    January 30, 2007

    Clearly, the only appropriate person to do a PZ cameo in a film of Monkey Girl is Chuck Norris.

    There is no Theory of Evolution, only a list of lies and distortions spread by bloodthirsty pirate (yarr), rabid atheist (God sucks!), and cephalopodufascist (tentacles FTW) PZ Myers because he hates America and wants the terrorists to win!

  37. #37 Reed A. Cartwright
    January 30, 2007

    I got a free copy of the book at the Science Blogging Conference.

  38. #38 mark
    January 30, 2007

    Yes, a movie is in the works. Last I heard (article in one of the York, Pa., papers) the screenplay was deviating from a straightforward factual account (literary reasons, of course). So in a sense it may very well be like Inherit the Wind.

  39. #39 Hank Fox
    January 30, 2007

    Um … Michael J. Pollard?

    John Rhys-Davies!

  40. #40 craig
    January 30, 2007

    “Clint Howard, tops”

    Charles Martin Smith.

  41. #41 David Livesay
    January 30, 2007

    I don’t suppose any of you have noticed that the word “selection” also implies intent.

    I mean “design” in precisely the same sense in which Darwin meant “selection”.

  42. #42 David Livesay
    January 30, 2007

    Ian,

    I think we can “make ID and science compatible by playing word games.” This is exactly the opening ID’s advocates have left for us by being deliberately vague about the nature of the designer. It cuts the ground out from under them and forces them to be more specific, which they have nor real recourse to because there are reasons for avoiding specifically evoking a deity or other supernatural agents.

    It also gives us an opportunity to point out something that is apparently overlooked even by some practicing biologists: Natural Selection is not a random process.

  43. #43 David Livesay
    January 30, 2007

    “First, I was referring to the process as a whole, not the individuals involved. I apologize if that wasn’t clear.”

    How can you separate “the individuals involved” from the “process as a whole”????

  44. #44 Steve Watson
    January 30, 2007

    I don’t suppose any of you have noticed that the word “selection” also implies intent.
    No, actually, I’d never noticed that. In almost 50 years of using the English language, of reading widely (and occasionally spouting, mostly on-line), I’d never noticed it.

    And I still haven’t noticed it. Funny, that.

  45. #45 David Livesay
    January 30, 2007

    Mr. Watson,

    I’d like to hear how you define “selection” without appealing to some concept of intent or one of its synonyms.

  46. #46 BlueIndependent
    January 30, 2007

    Livesay,

    The word “natural” preceding “selection” stops your argument before it even starts.

    You cannot choose the words and define the theory based on items that strike your fancy.

  47. #47 David Livesay
    January 30, 2007

    BlueIndependent,

    No, the word “natural” does not stop my argument. This is really the whole point I am trying to make: in science, the word “natural” precedes everything!

    Science evolved from natural philosophy. Its whole subject matter is what happens in nature. If you want to talk about the supernatural, that’s a different subject.

    All I’m suggesting here is that we tell the proponents of ID, “You want to look for a designer? Let me save you the trouble. Darwin already did that. He looked for it, he found it, and he called it ‘Natural Selection.'” If they respond, “No, it has to be supernatural,” they’ve given away the game, because there simply isn’t room in any branch of science for the supernatural.

  48. #48 Clarissa
    January 30, 2007

    Just as Inherit the Wind was a charactiture of the Scopes trial, if there is a movie about Dover we can expect more of the same.

    Its a damn good thing for the ID crowd that it didn’t get appealed and end up being a Supreme Court decision. As it is, they can regroup and claim…correctly (and I am speaking fo the Disco Institute) that they told the board to back down when the threat to sue came in because they couldn’t win.

    But they chose to do ahead>

    Why? And why DIDN’T the lead counsel show up for days at a time, as DMC asked?

  49. #49 kmarissa
    January 30, 2007

    Livesay, I believe that this is why ID went with the name *Intelligent* Design — to emphasize the aspect of intent that they so desperately want to “prove” is present.

  50. #50 Jessica
    January 30, 2007

    Despite my much-derided theistic ways, even I have the wherewithal to recognize that natural selection does not imply intent.

    If a bird eats four seeds and then shits them all out on inhospitable terrain, they won’t grow. If one of them just happens to contain a random, accidental, biochemical mutation that allows it to grow in the inhospitable terrain, it may grow and produce offspring capable of growing in inhospitable terrain. Eventually a new species– different from the parent species, and capable of growing in the formerly inhospitable terrain– may result.

    Where is the intent here? With the bird? The seeds? The terrain?

  51. #51 David Livesay
    January 30, 2007

    Jessica,

    Where’s the selection? Find the selection: there’s your intent.

  52. #52 Jessica
    January 30, 2007

    Um… death? Survival? I’m not seeing “intent” in those processes.

  53. #53 stogoe
    January 30, 2007

    Wow, Livesay. This may be the first Argument from Opposite Day I’ve ever witnessed.

  54. #54 Steve_C
    January 30, 2007

    I think Livesay wants to call it design through natural selection or something. Or Natural Design. We are just all arguing semantics… but we aren’t willing to play that game because it’s not effective and it’s confusing.

    Design can equal patterns in nature and form following function, without intent being involved… however it’s not the accepted use in science.

    Natural Selection is the process. Not the designer. No designer required.

  55. #55 Tukla in Iowa
    January 30, 2007

    I would also say ID and its “scientific pursuit” is analagous to choosing a random number, and then using that as the basis, trying to determie which mathematical formula produced it.

    Hey, now. 42 was not chosen at random!

  56. #56 mark
    January 30, 2007

    The York Dispatch has an article about the book.

    And by the way, selection without intent–consider a placer deposit, where the current selects which mineral grains are deposited. No intent there.

  57. #57 David Livesay
    January 30, 2007

    Steve,

    “Natural Selection is the process. Not the designer. No designer required.”

    The weakness in that position, of course, is that you cannot prove a negative proposition. If you try to make the argument that Darwin went looking for a designer and failed to find one, it isn’t just historically inaccurate; it also opens you to the claim that, just because someone failed to find something, that does not prove it doesn’t exist.

    I believe he did find it, it does exist, and we know it as Natural Selection.

  58. #58 David Livesay
    January 30, 2007

    Look, if you’re all insisting that “intent” implies some kind of consciousness, rather than mere determination, then I’m going to have to object to the original claim that design implies intent, because organisms clearly are well designed for their ecological niches. (And don’t tell me you have never used that term in that context.)

    Perhaps I should have insisted, as Dawkins did, that the watchmaker is blind, the designer has no intent in the teleological sense. I guess it all boils down to where you stop making anthropocentric assumptions. Does intent imply a conscious intender? Does design imply a conscious designer? Does selection imply a conscious selector? If you can have natural selection, why not natural design or natural intention (and don’t tell me you’ve never used the phrase “as nature intended”)?

  59. #59 Saint Gasoline
    January 30, 2007

    So the other kids mocked the child of Kitzmiller by calling her “Monkey Girl”, eh?

    I hope she called them dirtbags in response. Isn’t that what they believe? We were made from dirt? In one single step? That seems just as plausible, right?

  60. #60 BlueIndependent
    January 30, 2007

    Livesay,

    The word “natural” is used because it belongs to the Earth; it is a function of the planet. Your argument, as I understand it, is to suggest that “natural” implies an intelligence. However if that “intelligence” is the planet, you are only left with what Darwin was talking about, i.e. evolution at the micro level that is the underpinning of everything at the macro level. The planet has never been shown to possess a “spirit” or “intelligence” beyond what we observe in nature.

    Your argument is a form of the Earth religion that some people practice today, and in spirit very similar to what many native tribes in country. Gaia and all that stuff. Mother Nature, Father Time. Again, it’s an anthropomorphization of something because we have only ourselves as the context in which to see things.

  61. #61 Chris
    January 30, 2007

    It does follow, however, that if no part of the process has intenet, then the whole process has no intent.

    Well, I was going to intend to disagree with this, but none of my neurons could formulate the necessary intent, so my brain as a whole can have no intent. (Furthermore, no individual computer “has” the Internet, therefore it doesn’t exist, which makes it difficult to post.)

    In other words, this is a fallacy of composition.

    This is not to say that I don’t think Livesay is irresponsibly over-anthropomorphizing a nonsentient and fundamentally mindless (therefore intentless) process; I think he is, and if by “intent” he means something that doesn’t require a mind and, well, intentions, then he is just playing Humpty Dumpty. But let’s not resort to logical fallacies to argue against him, shall we?

  62. #62 Steve_C
    January 30, 2007

    Natural Selection is what it IS called. Whether you like it or not.

    We know exactly what the ID crowd’s intention is. They won’t accept your definition of the designer and if you try to use your version of Design or Intent they’ll just say you accept THEIR theory.

    Surviving long enough to breed and carry on beneficial traits has nothing to do with any intent or design. It’s like saying water designed fish. Or flowers, tropical birds.

  63. #63 llewelly
    January 30, 2007

    Perhaps I should have insisted, as Dawkins did, that the watchmaker is blind, the designer has no intent in the teleological sense. I guess it all boils down to where you stop making anthropocentric assumptions.

    There is a very good reason Dawkins is so careful to attach qualifiers like ‘blind’ and ‘blindly’ to words like ‘watchmaker’ and ‘programmed’ . It is vital that his reader not become confused about whether (or where) consciousness is present.

  64. #64 Bob
    January 30, 2007

    Imagine reading fixedly through a John Grisham novel at 1am and unexpectedly encountering your name in an aside. Really, it broke my attention for a moment and gave me a weirdly meta sensation. You probably won’t have that problem.

    Ummmm…PZ, are you saying here that (1) none of us would ever be famous enough to ever be mentioned in a book (like you), or (2) if we were famous enough and read our own names at 1am, it wouldn’t give us that weirdly meta sensation (like you)?

    ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Sorry, just had to take that dig…

  65. #65 Joel
    January 30, 2007

    David Livesay seems to be making more an argument about how “intent” and “intelligence” should be understood than he is about whether “natural selection”. When he says,

    “Perhaps I should have insisted, as Dawkins did, that the watchmaker is blind, the designer has no intent in the teleological sense.”

    I read that as a clarification that, no, whatever else is implied by intent or intelligence, Livesay is not trying to imply a teleological connotation to intent, nor is he trying to suggest selection has anything to do with the involvement of some consciousness.

    So the point may be, if you remove the baggage of teleology and consciousness from “intent” and “intelligence”, do you not actually have a natural selection process?

    I, for one, am not convinced it is possible to engage the public with words like “intent” or “intelligence” — without conveying, at least in thier minds, exactly the teleological content we want to avoid.

  66. #66 PZ Myers
    January 30, 2007

    Yeah, you’re all peons compared to the mighty me.

    No, seriously, I’m referring to just this one book — it doesn’t name everyone in the world.

  67. #67 Steve_C
    January 30, 2007

    You can’t change what the IDers say their theory means.

    They mean something quite specific, and that is an opposite of what evolution through natural selection means.

    We know it’s not a random process and they do too… they just pretend it is to make their case.

  68. #68 Ian
    January 30, 2007

    “I think we can “make ID and science compatible by playing word games.” This is exactly the opening ID’s advocates have left for us by being deliberately vague about the nature of the designer.”

    Yeah, I still don’t buy it. You are correct in that they are purposely vague about the designer’s identity so they can claim the “theory” is not religion even though they’ll generally admit that they personally think the designer is God. But the basic premise of I.D. is an unambiguous assertion that there are attributes of biological systems that cannot be explained by natural selection alone. Natural selection might be involved, it might contribute to evolution or be a tool of the designer, but it CANNOT be the sole designer according to I.D. They claim that natural selection would never evolve an eye, for example, because to get from no eyes to working eyes, the intermediate steps offer no competitive advantage. So to explain the development of the eye, they conclude that someone or something had to have been influencing the selection process beyond favoring survival/gene spreading and specifically steering it towards forming eyes. The designer is called an “intelligent designer,” and the theory is called “Intelligent Design” specifically to exclude any interpretation that natural selection itself could be the designer.

    As to your second point about randomness: I think you’re being overly harsh on biologists. To be fair, you only claim “some” biologists make this mistake, and certianly like in any other field, there will be practioners who are not as precise or knowledgable as they should be. But your point seems to be (and maybe I’m misreading it) that we could win the debate and end the problem forever if those mistaken biologists would just shut up and stop confusing the issue. Biologists as a general rule do not claim that natural selection is a random process, certainly PZ has made that point about a trillion times on this blog. It seems like you’re trying to blame biologists as a whole for not being clear enough, but I would again claim that if there are misconceptions about the details of evolution among creationists, it’s far more likely a result of their actively avoiding learning about the subject rather than poor teaching by their biology teachers/profs.

  69. #69 Kagehi
    January 30, 2007

    Hmm. Why can’t “intent” follow “selection”? If I throw some cement in a hole, then later dig it out and decide that the result wold make a nice door stop or paper weight, there was no “intent” to create a door stop or paper weight, its not until I as an intelligent agent decide its useful for something that there is an “intent” involved. The same thing can be said for looking for a particular shaped rock on the shore. Nothing “intended” the rock I find to be useful to me, but “I” decided its useful. In that sense, intent is defined by what the organism does with what it is *after the fact*.

    Just to muddy the waters a bit. ๐Ÿ˜‰ lol

    But seriously, I have to agree. In the most general sense, lots of things just happen. Intent only becomes relevent when that happening produces something that some “active agency” finds useful. Prior to that, it might as well never have even happened, for all the result of the entire process matters. There might be a perfect rock for the top of my desk sitting right now on the surface of some planet some place millions of light years away, but it might as well not exist, *unless* I have some way to get there and retrieve it, never mind recognize that it exists at all. Natural selection produced a lot of stuff that is, basically, completely irrelevant to use, because a) it doesn’t exist anymore, b) all evidence of that specific organism is gone and c) its not even related to anything currently living. We might find it useful, if any a-c where not true, but *we* would be defining the intent, as the intelligent agents who have a use for that stuff, not the, “It might as well never existed”, whatever that we can only ponder might have been there.

  70. #70 Tony Smith
    January 30, 2007

    Re much of the above, /me wanders outside to study snowflake design. (Or at least I would if I was on the other side of the pond.)

    Intelligence is overrated.

  71. #71 Graculus
    January 30, 2007

    I’d like to hear how you define “selection” without appealing to some concept of intent or one of its synonyms.

    Stop playing Humpty Dumpty, please, and show a single iota of intenet *as it is normally defined in English* in natural selection.

  72. #72 David Marjanovi?
    January 30, 2007

    If you want to insist that a process capable of producing intelligence is itself intelligent, okay, fine.

    Two words: Stupid Design.

    And no, I’ve never used any such phrase as “Nature intended”. I hate it when nature is personified into an 18th century Enlightenment goddess.

  73. #73 David Marjanovi?
    January 30, 2007

    If you want to insist that a process capable of producing intelligence is itself intelligent, okay, fine.

    Two words: Stupid Design.

    And no, I’ve never used any such phrase as “Nature intended”. I hate it when nature is personified into an 18th century Enlightenment goddess.

  74. #74 Chinchillazilla
    January 30, 2007

    Ooh, cool. I zipped through all the Dawkins books I got for Christmas (including The God Delusion; my mom’s great) and have been keeping an eye out for something else on evolution versus religion.

  75. #75 mgr
    January 31, 2007

    David Livesay argues that Natural Selection, as understood by Darwin, had intelligent design; and argues that Darwin accepted much of Paley.

    1.) In the Origin, the first chapter describes artificial selection–Darwin was a pigeon fancier and breeder, and uses the artifical breeding practices to draw comparison to natural selection. The same mechanism underlying selection applies–that more offspring are born than survive to breed. It is with artificial selection that one can find design–the breeder has an intention and a fixed outcome in mind. Natural selection by contrast lacks the intent and fixed outcome–without selection, with each generation random changes may occur within the frequency of heritable traits (Hardy Weinberg equilibrium), but there will be no direction to a change in frequency, unless environmental conditions dictate, and that a heritible trait is present in the population. If environmental conditions persist over several generations, and a heritible trait that enhances individual propagation within a population of sexually reproducers, then the frequency of the heritible trait will increase in later generations.

    2.) Darwin and Paley–this area I am a little foggy on, but my understanding is that Darwin’s belief in God and design did not survive through out his entire life. I would suspect that most favorable discussions of Paley occurred prior to Darwin’s child’s death, and that this changed after.

    Mike

  76. #76 MTran
    January 31, 2007

    Conflating “intent” with natural “selection” only adds confusion to a debate with people (IDiots) who are confused enough when it comes to understanding the meaning of “theory.”

  77. #77 David Livesay
    February 1, 2007

    Mike,

    You’re right in suspecting that Darwin’s appreciation for Paley’s argument predates the death of his daughter. In fact, it goes back to his college years at Oxford, where he lived in Paley’s old rooms.

    Darwin’s religious beliefs were never strong, despite his skill as a student of theology, but I believe his appreciation for the argument from design as an intellectual argument is what set him on the course he took in life. I don’t think that, in Darwin’s case, Paley’s argument ever had the effect its author intended, which was to convince the reader of the existence of God, but I think it did give him a very deep appreciation of apparent design in nature.

  78. #78 Michael VF
    February 2, 2007

    PZ, I have a quick question? Do you ever feel like the person in this song? (Asshole by Dennis Leary)

    Maybe I shouldnt be singing this song
    Ranting and raving and carrying on
    Maybe theyre right when they tell me Im wrong…
    Nah

    Substitute singing for writing and song for blog and there you have it.

    I asked Scott the same question and am looking forward to the answer ๐Ÿ™‚

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