Great FT Article on “Need to Know” Science

I didn’t get to do the post I had planned today, but I thought I would still put this out there for those interested in a good read.  As a science lover, I found the Financial Times’ recent (a very delayed “recent”: November 24, 2007) article on “Ten Things Everyone Should Know About Science” to be a fantastic write up: well summarized and very profitable for those who would like to know the fundamentals about the “science stuff” they hear about but haven’t read up on themselves.

Before we go any further, I should say this: Yes, the article includes Evolution — in fact, it’s the first of the ten things they expound upon.  But, frankly, I do think that a well-rounded education is going to include the biggest scientific theories of our day, and it’s hard to find one as big as Evolution in terms of its sweeping impact.  Do I agree with all of the assumptions and conclusions of the Evolutionary theory?  No.  If you are a frequent reader of this blog, then you already know that.  Evolution and Scripture are not 100% compatible (Dr. Francis Collins and other theistic evolutionists notwithstanding), and popular Evolutionists claim more ground than they have earned.  But much of my disagreement with the theory is rooted in my knowledge of it, not in my ignorance, and I think that makes a big difference.  At least it does to me!

[Actually, there is a good deal of good science that is lumped under the (very) broad category of “Evolution” that is true, and it is helpful to know what those things are.  I find this similar to the misunderstanding that arises when I tell someone that I don’t believe that God is a “Trinity” and they then assume that I do not believe in the deity of Jesus.  But that’s another story…]

Well-meaning people make poor arguments against Evolution all the time — like, “Why don’t we see any monkeys turning into people?”  Comments like that are, in the end, self-defeating and show a lack of understanding about what Evolutionists claim.  The fact is that Evolutionism is one of the dominant faiths of our time, and a good working knowledge of it–its assumptions, claims, and “evidence”–is, in my estimation, a must for those who wish to discuss it intelligently in today’s society, adherent and critic alike.  And for those who would like a primer, the Financial Times article (while taking Evolution’s “truth” as a given) does an excellent job in summarizing the theory cleanly, including some of the challenges currently facing its adherents.

I didn’t mean to make this an “Evolution post.”  “What are the other nine items?” you ask…  Read the article and see! — “Ten Things Everyone Should Know About Science” (I don’t think this link requires a subscription, but tell me if I am wrong.  Also, I haven’t checked to see if the online version is s thorough as the print version, but after a quick glance it seems to be.)

Have a  great Sabbath!

8 thoughts on “Great FT Article on “Need to Know” Science

  1. Ed Ewert

    From the article: “Evolution is coming under renewed assault, particularly in the US, from fundamentalist Christians who want creationism to be taught in schools.”

    Darwinists like to present the debate as being purely between believers in evolution and those who believe all creation occurred in six days a few thousands of years ago. Intelligent Design (ID) is a concept that worries Darwinists, one that they would like to pass off as latter day creationism, or as a pseudo-science that doesn’t amount to anything. I have found ID fascinating to look into.

    For those who want to take a deep look into Darwinism vs ID, and perhaps also the history and implications of Darwinian social theory, I would like to recommend three books:

    “The Design of Life” by Dembski and Wells
    From a review: “The Design of Life, … brilliantly lays out all the main lines of evidence and argument in the current dispute between the Darwinists and the growing body of Intelligent Design theorists.”
    This book has just come out, and I think it may right now be the finest in its class.

    “Darwin Day in America” by John G. West
    From a review: “West’s narrative explores the far-reaching consequences for society when scientists and politicians deny the essential differences between human beings and the rest of nature. It also exposes the disastrous results that ensue when experts claiming to speak for science turn out to be wrong.”
    This book also has just come out.

    Besides these two excellent books, I will also add:

    “Preaching Eugenics” by Christine Rosen
    “[A] thoroughly researched study of the eugenic movement that gained such ideological power in American thought between about 1900 and 1940.”–Books and Culture

    If I may, I would also like to recommend two excellent ID sites which I visit almost every day:

  2. Howdy, Mr. Smith, and welcome back!

    The problem with the idea that “evolution” is itself scientific (aside from the confusion over what is meant by “evolution” in the first place) was put forward by none other than the curator of the British Museum, himself a committed evolutionist: “evolution” is not a scientific theory, it’s a “metaphysical research programme”, “an anti-theory producing anti-knowledge”. That’s a damning view, coming from an evolutionist!

    You say later that “evolution” is a worldview — which is correct. When linked up with the scientific method, it produces theories of origins — (neo-)Darwinism, punctuated equilibrium and panspermia being the three I know of. But “evolution” in the broad sense is not a scientific theory, no more than is “special creation” or “intelligent design”, because it cannot be tested empirically. No one can repeat the naturalistic origin of life in the laboratory, no more than one can repeat the divine creation of life in the laboratory — just to cite one aspect. These things are metaphysical positions — articles of faith — not scientific theories.

    But if people let empirical science lead them to their articles of faith (as Paul would have them do in Romans 1) rather than the other way around, then there would be no atheism, agnosticism, polytheism, pantheism, deism, etc. — there would only be theism, including the belief that “in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Of the three major world religions, only Islam, Judaism and Christianity are compatible with that. All other worldviews are excluded by the scientific evidence alone. This is pointed out brilliantly by a book I am reading now, I DON’T HAVE THE FAITH TO BE AN ATHEIST by Norman L. Geisler and Frank Turek. And they don’t stop there — they take the reader step by step to the possibility of miracles, to the things relating to Jesus, and to the authority of the Bible as the Word of God (which falsifies everything contrary to it). There is a limit to what one can do in one book, but as far as the essential logical and factual issues goes, it’s the best one-book summary I have yet seen come from the Protestant world.

    How ironic then that when it comes to what touches upon their own Protestant theology — the actual creation itself, the Sabbath, the Law of Moses, the Trinity, the nature of God, Jesus and man, the afterlife, and the final judgment — these authors don’t follow their own rules of logic and evidence. If they did, then they would agree with us in those areas. That’s how compelling the evidence for original, apostolic Christianity is. One can’t refute it — one can only ignore or reason around it.

  3. Howdy, and thanks Mr. Ewert —

    I like Dembski a lot, and I wish I had the time to read more of his work. His concept of combining improbability and specificity was a watershed moment in such affairs as these and made me an instant fan when I first read about it.

    I think the ID movement has potential, but like many young movements it seems to need more theoretical underpinning. I think that if those involved with ID could establish more concrete results in defining evidence of intelligence in empirical terms, they would make even more headway. I’ve often thought that prgrams like NASA and SETI would be interested in such research. (As in, how could an artificially intelligent probe land on another planet and determine whether or not the planet showed signs of not only life but intelligent life — given that a hypothetical alien intelligence could differ so much from us in biology and culture that intelligence-detecting algorithms would need to ignore many of the cues that would naturally come to mind.)

    David Berlinski, author of one of my favorite books (A Tour of the Calculus), has playfully criticized both Darwinism and ID for their approaches to interpretation (although he is a fellow of the Discovery Institute), and I think he makes some good points. He has criticized Darwinism a little less playfully, I might add. 🙂

    I agree, ID is fascinating and holds a lot of potential. Here’s to hoping they can eventually deliver!

    Thanks again (and thanks for the links!) —
    Wallace Smith

  4. Greetings, Mr. Wheeler —

    I do generally agree with you. I think many discussions of Evolution suffer from difficulties of semantics, and you highlight that a bit here. I do think that there is an aspect to Evolution that is certainly scientific in even the most classic of ways and there are other aspects that are not. In some discussions, more precision helps in understanding, yet in others less precision is actually more beneficial (something I learned from Jerry P. King, the author of one of my favorite books on mathematics).

    As for calling evolution a “metaphysical research programme,” I wouldn’t call this a damning view. Karl Popper (in a way, the “father” of empirical falsification) called it this (Philosophy of Science: Contemporary Readings, Chapter 18, readable through Google Books) and did not mean to disparage the theory at all — actually complimenting it. The other comments you mention, given by Dr. Colin Patterson, are damning, indeed, and put the lie to the pretensions of Dawkins (you wonder how he would categorize Patterson: ignorant, stupid, wicked, or insane) and others.

    The way in which the word “evolution” has been used as a big, all-encompassing umbrella is what motivated me to comment in the blog post that “there is a good deal of good science that is lumped under the (very) broad category of ‘Evolution’ that is true, and it is helpful to know what those things are” — because there are discoveries out there that are valid and fascinating which are considered “evolution”-supporting discoveries but which do not at all support the inaccuracies that have come to be called Evolution.

    I will have to check out Geisler and Turek’s book.

    Of course, I accidentally turned this post into an “Evolution post.” I hope, rather, that people will overlook that and look at the article to which I link. Really, a great article on science in general and the current state of scientific understanding in some big areas.

  5. Hi, Mr. Smith!

    Thanks for your reply. You are certainly right that equivocation on what “evolution” means is part of the problem — indeed, part of the “shell game” that many evolutionists use to confuse the uninitiated (and maybe even themselves and their peers). And it gets worse — how the universe has changed over time, according to natural laws, is called “evolution” too, yet such change proves nothing about the chemical and biological “evolution” required to take you “from-the-goo-to-you-by-way-of-the-zoo”.

    Popper may agree with Patterson that “evolution” is a “metaphysical research program(me)”, but while Popper and many others would praise “evolution” for that reason, Patterson apparently would not. The reason (if I understand his position) is founded on a critique of the idea that “evolution” is “merely” (my wording) a “scientific theory” and “creation” is a matter of faith. Patterson points out how flawed such an idea is: “no one has ever figured out a way to test [falsify] it” [evolution – that is, the goo-to-you-via-the-zoo variety, or “macroevolution” – again, my wording based on shameless plagiarism from other authors].

    Patterson knows as well as Popper that in biology, (micro)evolution can be observed and tested and (macro)evolution is a matter of faith — of metaphysics. But Patterson doesn’t seem to share Popper’s joy in that knowledge. “An anti-theory producing anti-knowledge” is no praise of a metaphysical position, to be sure. Yes, one can only wonder what Richard Dawkins thinks of Colin Patterson and his ilk: evolutionists who are actually honest about evolution.

    If the books are still in print, you might want to look up a two-volume set (which I own) called THE ORIGIN OF SPECIES REVISITED by W.R. Bird. There is a lot of information and quotation therein, and unless you are a fast reader, you may not find time in your busy schedule for them. But they are VERY well worth the time. Still, I recommend I DON’T HAVE THE FAITH TO BE AN ATHEIST as your first target.

    And since you know mathematics so well…have you heard of THE DESIGN INFERENCE, a mathematician’s support of ID? It’s mentioned on the DVD called UNLOCKING THE MYSTERY OF LIFE, which is produced by the same group that produced THE PRIVILEGED PLANET (Illustra Media). I’d have to look up the video to track down the name of the book’s author, but you would love the video (if you haven’t seen it yet), and you’d get the bonus of that information about the book (if you can’t find it by other means).

    יוחנן רכב

    P.S.: I need to send a note around to my friends about my upcoming trip to Jerusalem, right after the 15th Anniversary Weekend in Charlotte. It will be both challenging and stimulating, without a doubt!

  6. Howdy, again, Mr. Wheeler —

    Actually, motivated by your recommendations and my own follow-up research I bought Geisler & Turek’s book just yesterday, using a gift card I had to get around the fact that I lack money. Now to read it I just need a temporal gift card to help me get around the fact that I lack time. 🙂

    As for The Design Inference, it sounds like a William Dembski book, and if so I think I have read many parts of it without purchasing it. The non-purchase was due to lack of funds, if I recall (a recurring theme, you see), but read as much as I could before leaving like a good mooch. I think that was the first time I had read of the concept of specified complexity (which I referred to in a previous comment), though that may have been in a different, earlier Dembski paper that I found on the Internet. Excellent stuff — really top-notch, methinks. I still think, though, that the idea needs a means of being worked with practically in emperical investigation, and while I know that I may not be as well read in the subject as I would like to be, it seems to me that such a means is not yet a part of the picture.

    As usual, thanks for your contribution, and for the Geisler recommendation, as well.

  7. Ed Ewert

    Hello again, Mr. Smith

    I thought I would add something about the struggle, as it were, between Darwinists and the ID people.

    It was just recently brought to my attention that book reviews at can be a battleground between factions.

    What happens is that people can review a book and rate it. If the book is pro-ID, then Darwinists will flock to this site to vote on whether or not a review was helpful. If the review was positive, then Darwinists will vote that the review was not helpful. The idea is to push the review down the list of reviews or even off the list of reviews, because the position of the review depends on how helpful it is regarded by those who vote on this. Furthermore, the Darwinists trash the book with their own reviews, and give it a low rating, and then they vote that the negative reviews were helpful, therefore pushing negative reviews towards the top of the list.

  8. Hello again, Mr. Smith…:)

    If Mr. Ewert thinks the fight between Darwinists and the ID people is bad, wait until he checks out the bad blood between the neo-Darwinists (Richard Dawkins et al.) and the “punctuated equilibrium” people (the late Stephen Jay Gould et al.). I understand that their disciples have actually come to physical blows (well, what does one expect from people with no possibility of absolute standards of ethics).

    Neo-Darwinists insist that evolution must progress by small steps — statistics denies that it can take huge sudden leaps as the PE people say. The PE people insist that evolution must progress in huge sudden leaps — the fossil record denies that it progressed in small steps (Gould called that fact “paleontology’s dirty little secret”). The late young-creationist Henry Morris, I think, was the one who remarked that if (macro)evolution can’t proceed by small steps or by giant leaps — which is what the empirical evidence shows — then (macro)evolution can’t happen at all!

    I think William Dembski is indeed the author of THE DESIGN INFERENCE. But Geisler and Turek address (in their book) the nature of the evidence provided by irreducible and specific complexities — as surely others must. By definition, these things relate to origins science, not to empirical science. They relate to the non-repeatable origins of objects which we did not see come into existence. They relate to forensic evidence, putting it another way. Put still another way, they address the trans-astronomically LOW probability — not the experimentally testable refutation — that life and other things that appear designed could have arisen by chance, and how we infer that hyper-low probability. If refutation were what evolutionists really wanted and accepted, then every experiment on the origins of life from Pasteur onward should’ve throttled naturalistic evolution not in the cradle, but in the womb. So asking for applicability of these complexities in empirical science is asking for the wrong thing, unless one does the (very productive and commonly done) thing of duplicating the design in another area.

    יוחנן רכב

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