13 March 2008

Weekly sampler 10

The sun came out this week and the temperature soared to almost 50. In Phoenix, such a temperature is called 'cold'; here, it inspired us to have a cookout, though it didn't happen because the snow and ice on the deck precluded access to the blessed Weber kettle. But tomorrow, we're there.

And I've been back on my bike this week, dodging cell-phone-wielding buffoons driving alone in SUVs. I wear one of these iridescent yellow-green visible-from-space bike jackets, but I know it's just a matter of time before something terrible happens and I use the F-word on Lake Drive. FOOL!

1. Check out the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center. They sponsor lots of integrative research, and host fellows under various arrangements. (A sabbatical there sounds like a blast.) The Education & Outreach section is pretty meager, but I assume that it will continue to grow, and the Center is a co-sponsor of the new journal Evolution: Education and Outreach.

2. There's a very interesting (and large) collection of pieces on Richard Dawkins at the Times (London).

3. The RATE project is an attempt by young-earth creationists to provide a credible response to the overwhelming evidence for the great age of the earth. The project took several years, and millions of dollars, and generated a two-volume report.

As I always say, it's one thing to believe that the earth must be young, and it's quite another to assert that science backs such a claim. The RATE project, of course, takes the latter route. It's inevitable that the outcome of such an effort will involve the production of comforting folk science, cherry-picked and massaged with care. But does it have to include outright duplicity?

I'm pleased to report that the ASA has undertaken a major response to RATE, and the extent of the discussion exceeded the capacity of the ASA's journal, Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith. So the ASA has put together a web site containing the complete set of reports and articles, which includes responses from RATE and responses thereto. Related: Randy Isaac is the Executive Director of the ASA, and he has a series of articles on scientific integrity on his ASA blog.

4. Scott Carson has some interesting thoughts on miracles and explanation.

5. Every now and then I get questions about whether I'm on thin ice as a Calvin College professor who openly affirms common descent and evolutionary explanations, even for humans. Some people know that my denomination, the church that owns and operates the college, has made statements that seem hostile to common ancestry of humans and other animals. I recently commented on this over at An Evangelical Dialogue on Evolution. While you're there, check out Steve's new post on the Darwin exhibit, now in Toronto. We missed it when it was at the Field Museum in Chicago, but that's okay: we'll try to catch it in London. :-)

6. Today's issue of Nature includes an interesting book review. The book is Creationism and its Critics in Antiquity, in which the author details debates surrounding the argument from design, played out not in Victorian England or 21st-century Pennsylvania, but in ancient Greece. Here's an excerpt from the review:

The brilliance of this book is that Sedley lets the Greeks talk to us and, surprisingly, we can understand what they’re saying. Listen to Empedocles describing a time when the world was filled with a diversity of creatures with improbable combinations of features, most of which were then winnowed out, and you hear the late Stephen Jay Gould illuminating the body plans of the Burgess Shale fossils. Listen to Aristotle heaping scorn on Democritus for supposing that living things self-assemble from accidental combinations of atoms, and you hear Fred Hoyle’s gambit that “a tornado sweeping through a junkyard might assemble a Boeing 747 from the materials therein”. Truly it has been, as Darwin said, just “one long argument”.
7. Watch this weekend for a fun quiz regarding DNA content in different organisms, and my long-promised commentary on Howard Van Till's recent address to the Grand Dialogue.

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