24 April 2010

Signature in the Cell: Chapters 9 and 10

"He..strikes at randome at a man of straw."
– Richard Saunders, A Balm to heal Religious Wounds, 1652. Quoted in the Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd Edition

"An imaginary adversary, or an invented adverse argument, adduced in order to be triumphantly confuted."
– Second definition entered for "man of straw" in the Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd Edition

Chapter 9 is called "Ends and Odds." Chapter 10 is "Beyond the Reach of Chance." Between them, they advance a straw man so idiotic that I wonder whether Meyer will be able to reclaim any significant intellectual integrity in the chapters that follow. I've already noted that this is not a book of science or of serious scholarship. Now it seems that it doesn't even merit the distinction of popular science or pop philosophy. These two chapters have purely propagandistic aims, and they do serious damage to the book's credibility and to the author's reputation. Meyer has shown his cards.

18 April 2010

Signature in the Cell: Chapter 8

It's been a month and a half since my last post in this series, and recently a friend asked me why I stopped. I can think of two reasons: first, I spent the month of March teaching a graduate course for the first time; second, I'm worried about how this is going to go. I'm worried because I can see that the book is poor scholarship – Meyer is either underinformed or overcommitted to his cause – and I can see that my critique will be considered within a religious milieu that hinders straightforward criticism and analysis. Ergo, I think this might not be very pretty. It would be a lot more fun to blog about any of 15 different papers from the last two issues of Nature.

But we need to finish, partly because I'll be on a panel of critics at an event with Stephen Meyer himself in Los Angeles next month. (Not just critics: "a powerful group of credentialed critics." More later.)

Chapter 8 is called "Chance Elimination and Pattern Recognition." It deals first with the notion of chance and then with subjects that are at the very heart of design thought – the dual consideration of improbable events and the genesis of phenomena that exhibit "patterns." The chapter is pretty good, but seems to contain seeds of significant future confusion.

04 April 2010

Behe and probability: one more try

Almost two years ago, I reviewed Michael Behe's latest book, The Edge of Evolution, here on the blog. I was unimpressed, to say the least, and remain of the opinion that Behe should not be considered a serious scientific thinker given his failure in that ludicrous book.

Since then, my posts have been referenced occasionally in the blogosphere, typically by people trying to explain Behe's surprisingly crude mishandling of probability in the context of genetics. One particular point has been singled out as a mistake on my part, and some ID defenders want that mistake to rescue Behe's argument. Let me describe the so-called mistake, then explain why I'm right.