Disco Tute Sues

Oh, lovely. The Disco ‘Tute is suing the California Science Center. Technically, the suit is about the California Science Center (I was going to say “CSC”, but that’d be confusing) not releasing certain documents that Disco asked for under FOIA. But what really chaps their hide is that scientists have a bias against bullshit pseudoscience:

“We believe the reason the California Science Center withheld these public documents is simple: the e-mails show evidence of discrimination against the pro-intelligent design viewpoint.”

Yeah, I bet those mean mainstream scientists also have a bias against dowsing, astrology, and Bigfoot sightings, too. Mean ol’ poopy heads! Why can’t they consider all opinions to be equally valid, regardless of evidence or lack thereof?

To quote David St. Hubbins of Spın̈al Tap,

I believe virtually everything I read, and I think that is what makes me more of a selective human than someone who doesn’t believe anything.

Is David Berlinski Redecorating His Home?

For those who don’t know, David Berlinski is one of the Disco Tute’s pet “scientists”. If you’ve seen the movie Expelled, he’s the one who spent his entire interview practically lying on his couch, spouting airy nonsense filled with sesquipedalian words.

The IDists love him because in addition to being an evolution denialist, he’s also a secular Jew (or so he claims), which means they can use him to prop up the idea that ID isn’t religious dogma.

He’s also appeared on the Intelligent Design the Future podcast six times in the past month, and there are thirteen posts about him at Evolution News and Views.

When an actor appears in a movie that’s far beneath them, say, if Morgan Freeman were to make a cameo in Zack and Miri Make A Straight-to-DVD Romantic Comedy, I tend to assume that said actor wants to pick up a few bucks on the side because they’re redecorating the living room.

Berlinski isn’t an actor (and I certainly don’t want to insult Morgan Freeman by comparing him to Berlinski), but he seems willing to say anything as long as the DI’s checks keep clearing. So it looks to me as though he’s trying to redecorate his living room either through speaking commissions, or through book sales. (His 2008 book is out in paperback, and he’s just published another one through Discovery Institute Press.

At any rate, I’ve listened to several of his interviews, and he doesn’t seem to have anything to say. So meh.

Awww! They Hurt Bill’s Feelings!

The Center for Inquiry is holding a blasphemy contest on the occasion of blasphemy day. So put your thinking caps on and come up with something that fits on a T-shirt, and also, in another time or place, would also get you arrested or killed for wearing said T-shirt.

What’s more amusing is that this contest has hurt Bill Dembski’s feelings and those of his sycophant, Denyse O’Leary.

He writes:

You’ve got to wonder what an organization that touts itself for critical thinking is thinking when it sponsors a BLASPHEMY CONTEST:

Um… how about an organization that believes that all ideas are worth examining critically, including the idea that there might not be any gods, or that even if there are, they might not be all they’re cracked up to be?

And then he gives up all right to complain about people misrepresenting IDC:

Since Darwin is their god, it would be interesting to submit to this contest true statements about Darwin’s less than divine attributes.

Besides the delicious schadenfreude, there’s also the irony that the commenters, by engaging in the usual fatwa envy, are most likely blaspheming Islam.

Okay, now get cracking on those contest entries! Remember: not blaspheming makes baby Jesus cry, and Buddha crave a cheeseburger.

Too bad the entries have to be text. Otherwise, I’d submit a photo of a statue of Mohammed made out of bacon.

Bill Dembski Gets A Paper Published

Huh. Looks like Bill Dembski got
a paper
published in
IEEE Transactions on Systems, Man and Cybernetics, Part A: Systems and Humans, Volume 39 Issue 5, Sept. 2009.

I haven’t had a chance to read this yet, but here’s the abstract:

Abstract—Conservation of information theorems
indicate that any search algorithm performs, on average, as well as
random search without replacement unless it takes advantage of
problem-specific information about the search target or the
search-space structure. Combinatorics shows that even a mod- erately
sized search requires problem-specific information to be successful.
Computers, despite their speed in performing queries, are completely
inadequate for resolving even moderately sized search problems without
accurate information to guide them. We propose three measures to
characterize the information required for successful search: 1)
endogenous information, which measures the difficulty of finding a
target using random search; 2) ex- ogenous information, which measures
the difficulty that remains in finding a target once a search takes
advantage of problem- specific information; and 3) active information,
which, as the differ- ence between endogenous and exogenous
information, measures the contribution of problem-specific information
for successfully finding a target. This paper develops a methodology
based on these information measures to gauge the effectiveness with
which problem-specific information facilitates successful search. It
then applies this methodology to various search tools widely used in
evolutionary search.

From a quick glance, it looks like he’s still on his No Free Lunch
Theorem kick. In the conclusion, the authors write:

To have integrity, search
algorithms, particularly computer simulations of evolutionary
search, should explicitly state as follows: 1) a numerical mea-
sure of the difficulty of the problem to be solved, i.e., the
endogenous information, and 2) a numerical measure of the
amount of problem-specific information resident in the search
algorithm, i.e., the active information.

which to me sounds like they think that people who use evolutionary
algorithms are cheating by using a search method that performs well
given the problem at hand.

In any case, I’m sure this paper will be
bandied about
as a sterling example of the research cdesign proponentsists are
doing.

Update, Aug. 21: Mark Chu-Carroll has
weighed in
on this paper, and pretty much confirms my suspicion: at the core of
the paper is a moderately-interesting idea — that it’s possible
to quantify the amount of information in a search algorithm, i.e., how
much it knows about the search space in order to produce quick results
— along with some fluff that allows him to brag that he got
a
peer-reviewed pro-ID article in mainstream […] literature“.

Who Says You Can’t Teach an Old Dog New Tricks?

If you don’t recognize the name John A. Davison, see here for the backstory. Basically, he has a history of not understanding the difference between posts and comments, and of starting blogs with one post and hundreds of comments.

So you understand why I was surprised to see that his new blog has a whole seven posts. Seven!

Then I realized that each post is about one topic, and the older ones have hundreds of comments.

In other words, he’s still confused. But this time, he’s confusing posts with categories.

But that’s okay. I guess I’ll be laughing out of the other side of my mouth when his lone paper on the Prescribed Evolutionary Hypothesis overturns 150 years of biological research.

Win Ben Stein’s Argument

Remember Expelled, the wretched movie starring Ben Stein
in which he argued that science — and evolution in particular
— causes things like the Holocaust?

Now, at BeliefNet, David Klinghoffer has an
article
in which he insinuates the same claim about von Brunn, the guy who
recently walked into the Holocaust museum downtown and started
shooting.

[Quoting von Brunn]:

[T]o the astonishment of the world, Chancellor Adolph Hitler, who emphasized genetics and the homogeneity of the Aryan race, led Germany to an amazing spiritual and economic recovery.

No, he doesn’t cite Darwin by name in the part of his book that’s
readable online — the first 6 of 12 chapters. But do you get the
general drift? And you want to tell me that ideas don’t have
consequences?

Must we go over this again? For one thing, an idea is not responsible
for those who believe in it. For another, Klinghoffer isn’t making an
argument against the truth of evolutionary ideas, only
against their usefulness.

For another thing, the reference to “genetics” is as connected to
evolution as it is to animal husbandry, an art that’s been around for
thousands of years. Von Brunn’s screeds against miscegenation are
rooted in ideas much, much older than Darwin: plain old-fashioned
racism, the idea that people outside of one’s clan/nation/whatever are
worse, and contact with them is a Bad Thing.

And finally, “is” does not imply “ought”. Science, the search for
explanations about how the physical universe works, can tell you that
if you do X, then Y will result. The question of whether Y
ought to happen is a separate one.

It’s true that if one were to kill people with certain alleles, that
the relative frequency of those alleles would decrease in the
population. But science does not answer the question, “Should
we go around killing people with genes we don’t like?”, any more than
the scientific fact that a person falling out of a 10th story window
onto pavement will die implies that one should go around
pushing people out of windows.

In
a follow-up post,
Klinghoffer asks,

If in his crazed manifesto he had somehow found support for his thinking not in evolution but in intelligent design, do you think we would have heard nothing about it from the media as in fact we’ve heard nothing (except from me) about his evolutionary thoughts? What if he had based his hate explicitly on Biblical literalist creationism? Or on Roman Catholicism? Or Evangelical Protestantism? Or Orthodox Judaism? Would that similarly have been hushed up?

Klinghoffer himself talks about “the role of evolutionary doctrine,
however distorted, in his rationale for racism”. So right off the bat,
we’re not talking about sound arguments one way or another. So yeah,
if von Brunn had said something like “The pope told me that Jews
killed God’s prophet Muhammad, so their descendants should be killed
for that”, then it would be unfair to blame his actions on
Catholicism.

However, we can contrast this with the case of George Tiller’s murder,
where a plausible rationale runs like this: “Abortion is murder.
Tiller performs abortions. Therefore, Tiller is a murderer. Killing
Tiller would prevent him from performing abortions. Therefore, one
murder would prevent countless others. Therefore, Tiller should be
killed.”

And indeed there’s been a lot of discussion about whether (or how
much) the “pro-life” movement is to blame for Tiller’s death.

But really, there’s a better way to answer Klinghoffer’s question: get
a representative sample of killers, find out how many of them use ID
or creationism or Catholicism or whatever to rationalize their
murders, and see how much attention the media paid to it.

I must give Klinghoffer points for condemning von Brunn as a sick
whackjob, which is more than I can say for the fucks at Stormfront.
When last looked, on the day of the shooting (I haven’t gone back
because I had to clean myself off with bleach and my eyes and
intestines are still burning), the general reaction was “He shouldn’t
have done that, because it’ll be incredibly bad PR for us.” Even the
pro-lifers had the decency to jump on George Tiller’s murderer with
“Dude! You don’t go around killing people!”

Disco ‘Tute Fails Some More

The latest new project by the Disco Tute’s Center for
the Renewal of Science and Culture is
faithandevolution.org.

Evidently the new creationists are feeling threatened not only by their
traditional enemy, outspoken atheists like Richard Dawkins and PZ Myers,
but by people like Ken Miller and Francis Collins, who are not only
outspoken devout theists, but are also respected biologists who aren’t
shy about pointing out that ID is a load of dingo’s kidneys.

The
About” page says:

According to noted biologist Richard Dawkins, Darwinian evolution makes it possible to become an intellectually fulfilled atheist. According to Francis Collins, former head of the Human Genome Project, evolution is perfectly compatible with his Christian faith. Who is right? And why does it matter? This website is designed to help you find out.

Which leads me to wonder whether they’re being disingenuous as usual, or
whether they’re so stupid as to miss the point that Dawkins’s and
Collins’s views don’t conflict with each other?

Positive Atheism gives a
fuller version
of Dawkins’s “intellectually fulfilled atheist” quotation:

An atheist before Darwin could have said, following Hume:
“I have no explanation for complex biological design. All I know is that
God isn’t a good explanation, so we must wait and hope that somebody
comes up with a better one.” I can’t help feeling that such a position,
though logically sound, would have left one feeling pretty unsatisfied,
and that although atheism might have been logically tenable
before Darwin, Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled
atheist.

— Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker, page 6

I think that’s pretty clear: you can be an atheist without
understanding how life evolves. But the theory of evolution answers one
nagging question.

I don’t have a similar quotation summarizing Collins’s views, but
judging by the jacket blurb of The Language of God, it
seems clear that he’s able to reconcile Christianity with evolution.

It seems pretty clear to me that the two are orthogonal to each other.
If you’re an atheist, science can help answer questions; if you’re a
Christian and like being one, that doesn’t mean you have to reject
science. Understanding evolution allows you to go either way.
So the DI’s site is setting up a conflict where none exists.

Stupid, ignorant, or deceptive? Hm, tough choice.

(Update, May 29: Fixed thinko.)

Typical Evasion

Back in the stone age, when I was a student, there was this thing
called Usenet, which had a newsgroup called talk.origins, where
creationists and evolution proponents argued.

I saw a pattern emerge: the evolution side had a number of people who
produced data to back up their claims, like experimental results,
pictures of fossils, and so forth. The creationism side, on the other
hand, seemed to have a surfeit of people providing excuses why the
evolutionists were wrong, and why creationism couldn’t be tested the
way the evolutionists said.

For all the IDists’
protests
that ID isn’t just Creationism 2.0, it seems they haven’t changed
their MO all that much.

Case in point:
PZ
forwarded a video
that challenged creationists to come up with a gene that doesn’t have
evolutionary precursors.

The
response
at UD is entirely dismissive:

So, has Myers indeed stumbled upon a true significant challenge for ID? Or, has he simply stumbled, as he so often does, over his own misconceptions and metaphysics? I vote for the latter.

There are a lot more words in that post, but they all boil down to:
no, ID can’t be tested that way. No, we’re not going to tell you how
to test ID, and we sure as hell aren’t going to perform any
experiments of our own. But you should still take us seriously because we say so.

ID FAQ 2

Barry Arrington’s
ID FAQ question 2
isn’t much better than
question 1.

2] No Real Scientists Take Intelligent Design Seriously

Yes, they do. For simple instance, in telecommunications work, we start by distinguishing the intelligent signal from the naturally occurring noise that tends to garble it.

One obvious problem with this is that in telecommunications, we know
what signal is (whatever the customer wants to send) and what noise is
(anything that changes the signal between the sender and the
recipient).

The existence of a signal is not in doubt: people pay telecoms good
money to send it, and get upset when their signals aren’t sent
reliably. We also know that people exist, and what sorts of signals
they tend to send (speech, email, streaming audio and video, etc.),
when, and why.

“Noise”, in telecommunications and signal processing, is by definition
anything that changes the original signal at the receiver. If I call
my mom on the phone and say “Hello” but she hears static crackling,
that’s noise. If I say “hello” but she hears “oh hell”, that’s noise.
But if I call a friend and send a series of high-pitched shrieks with
my acoustic modem, but he gets a Vivaldi concerto, that’s still noise:
I’m paying the phone company good money to send high-pitched shrieks,
dammit, and that’s what I want to arrive at the other end.

The
cdesign proponentsists
(hey, there’s another good example of information being garbled), on
the other hand, want to use a recieved message (the human genome, or
bacterial flagella, or mousetraps, or whatever) to try to infer the
existence of an original signal, a designer. At the same time, since
they don’t want to admit that the designer is the God of the Bible,
they play coy and refuse to ascribe any properties to the designer.

I’ve seen a variant of the telecommunications analogy, in which IDists
pointed to archeologists trying to figure out whether a given rock was
used as a tool by prehistoric humans, or was broken and scratched by
natural (non-human) processes. But again, this is exactly backward:
archeologists not only can assume that humans existed 10,000 years
ago, but know a lot about their probable motivations (food, sex,
companionship, worship, etc.) and their limitations (any hypothesis
that involves people having three arms, for instance, is going to get
shot down pretty quickly).

IDists have none of that. They’re trying to prove magic, so they have
to use this sort of smoke and mirrors.