28 December 2008

Weekly sampler 21

Well, it's the first sampler since June, but I won't try to make up for lost time.

1. Todd Wood has started a blog, and it's excellent. His slant is unique -- he's a young-earth creationist -- but his writing is superb and his expertise in genetics and genomics is world-class. My favorite entry so far: a commentary on a recent report describing genetic variation among humans. The most recent post deals with the principle of accommodation and one of its Enlightenment defenders, one John Wilkins. Todd hasn't activated comments, so expect a journal and not a conversation. But have a look, and consider the gigantic difference between Todd's work and Mike Behe's. There's just no comparison, and Todd is an example of why one should not grant respect based solely on someone's willingness to accept an ancient universe or universal common descent.

2. Okay, best segue ever. Speaking of John Wilkins, Evolving Thoughts (a blog at ScienceBlogs run by a philosopher of biology) has some very interesting recent posts defending "theistic evolutionists" like me. Back in September, he discussed "Darwin, God and chance" and concluded:

Why does this matter beyond a bit of mental gymnastics, especially since I am not a theist? Well it has one rather significant implication: it means that those who criticise theistic evolutionists (like Asa Gray) for being inconsistent or incoherent are wrong: it is entirely possible to hold that God is not interventionist, and yet hold that God desired the outcomes, or some outcomes, of the world as created. In simpler terms, there's nothing formally wrong with believing the two following things: 1, that God made the world according to a design or desired goal or set of goals; and 2, that everything that occurs, occurs according to the laws of nature (secondary causes). In other words, it suggests that natural selection is quite consistent with theism, solving a problem I discussed earlier.
Read the whole post to see how he arrived at this conclusion, and don't miss the work of his collaborator, one Phil Dowe. More recently, Wilkins has summarized the "theistic evolution" position as he sees it, and reiterated his contention that the position is not incoherent. (Well, duh, but there are plenty of axe-grinding nitwits who assert just that.) I'll discuss these ideas in a separate post soon; in the meantime, pay Wilkins a visit.

3. Steve Martin's blog An Evangelical Dialogue on Evolution has become the blogospheric world headquarters for multilateral discussion of evangelical approaches to the theological understanding of evolution. The most recent series tackled questions of evolution and original sin, centered on an article by George Murphy and featuring responses by Terry Gray, Denis Lamoureux and David Congdon. Congdon's blog, The Fire and the Rose, is one of my favorites.

Left, the human eye as sketched by Descartes. Right, the eye of a fruit fly as revealed by scanning electron microscopy. Courtesy of Wellcome Images, Creative Commons license.

4. The most recent issue of Evolution: Education and Outreach is devoted to the evolution of eyes. And it's all free. Includes an introduction by Ryan Gregory, who also points us to an issue of The Lancet that focuses on evolution. Sheesh, is there some kind of anniversary coming up? :-)

5. Illusions of various kinds are something of a hobby of mine. Hence my interest in an online collection of kinetic optical illusions at Scientific American (meaning that the images produce an illusion of movement). Something else that's cool about the collection: some of the illusions were created (or discovered) by Donald MacKay, a Christian neuroscientist who has influenced me and many of my colleagues through his vigorous and uncompromising approach to the relationship between science and Christian faith. (We read part of his Science, Chance and Providence in our randomness reading group.) Make sure you look at the third image -- it's the infamous Enigma illusion.

6. Here's another kind of illusion that is interesting and informative: synesthesia, in which a perception (such as smell or color) becomes associated with a seemingly unrelated experience (a number or a different sensation). V.S. Ramachandran devoted one of his Reith Lectures to this phenomenon, which he described as "mingling of the senses." A new report describes a new version: touch-emotion synesthesia, in which certain textures evoke particular emotions. The proposed explanation for how these peculiarities is worth a look, too.

7. Using bumps in the road to make music. It'll be a clue in National Treasure 3, you just wait. Note that this link comes courtesy of Very Short List, which is a delight.

8. Deb and Loran Haarsma's excellent book Origins got a nice review at the Reports of the NCSE. I'll write one of my own sometime this spring. When the next issue of RNCSE goes online, I hope it will include my review of Gordon Glover's Beyond the Firmament.

9. The most recent (January 2009) issue of Scientific American is all about evolution. Larry Moran has some typically excellent comments over at Sandwalk, addressing pop evolutionary psychology [gag], testing natural selection, and why everyone should learn evolution.

10. Now off to enjoy one of our family's holiday traditions, this time with a mix of Scotch and rum.