Archive for April, 2013


this man holds the guiness world record for the world’s smallest thermometer. i like his sweater!

When I was learning to do policy analysis one point I had trouble with was that my final product would be read by a Senator in two minutes or less. You have to know your stuff, but they don’t have to know your stuff. If they want more they’ll ask someone else, and probably get a different policy recommendation from yours. And you’re supposed to jump at the opportunity to do this for a living? I think not. Better to be the Senator reinventing policy analysis than to be a policy analyst by the wayside.

If you read Intelligent Design publications as a form of mental martial arts training, as I do, you will start to believe one of their claims without hesitation: namely, that a growing number of ID arguments are being couched in technical terminology. Actually, if you want a crash course in basic molecular biology, biophysics, or nanobiotechnology, you could find much less informative sources than a place like the Discovery Institute or the Center for Science and Culture. To make their case with clarity, authors like Michael Behe and Stephen Mayer have to provide the basics and they also have to present the reader with a minimally sophisticated view of their opponent’s position. I can forgive ID writers for building straw man arguments, because their opponents do the same. I find a good deal of the ID work downright titillating.

Many people think the most powerful argument against ID is the argument from socialization, that policymakers have A DUTY NOT TO teach creationism as if it were a presently accepted scientific fact or credible theory. In response to that line of thinking, Steve Fuller has put forth the strongest response. Fuller simply points out that modern science was originally an Intelligent Design movement. If we teach our children to appreciate the history of science, we will teach them the history of Intelligent Design arguments without undermining the role of Darwin in bringing forth a new vision that accounts for a large array of accumulated evidence.

Many great contemporary Nobel Laureates and leading lights in theoretical physics and applied mathematics are ID supporters. They don’t seem to have trouble adjusting to the tension involved in maintaining an ID worldview while having a capacious mind to entertain alternative methods of explanation.

That being said, I am not nearly prepared to endorse Intelligent Design myself. My reason, however, is not that I don’t think there are unsolved mysteries that the latest Modern Synthesis of Evolutionary Theory have no answer for. On the contrary! My basic feeling is that the antagonism between evolution and ID is a sign that something is missing in our knowledge that will turn the problem into pseudo-problem. Right now the debate takes place on epistemic grounds — what is the actual fact of the matter?!?! But I suspect that as new evidence uncovered through new microscope capabilities, and as new theoretical biophysics models develop, these epistemic battles will give way to stylistic and aesthetic and ethical battles.

For example, take the case of Donald D. Hoffman’s cognitive science work at UC Irvine. One of his arguments goes like this:

1) It wasn’t until the 1981 that Alain Aspect’s team in France demonstrated conclusively that quantum entanglement operates in the real observable world. 

2) In the history of philosophy, it takes decades for verified insights from theoretical physics to percolate into other sciences.

3) We should begin to ask ourselves to what extent the brain takes advantage of quantum entanglement.

4) Even if the answer is “not at all” this answer cannot be arrived at until we give our best effort to investigate the question.

5) Thus, we need to systematically develop models and experimental designs that will probe mental activity through many methods for evidence of the appropriation of quantum mechanical properties.

That’s a pretty solid argument, I think. So, suppose that in 10 years we find out that 3.5 billion years ago some kind of quantum mechanical trick became part of the normal machinery of multi-celled organisms. It doesn’t even have to be quantum — it could be some other kind of trick that we hadn’t thought possible before. When this new evidence arrives, both the ID news outlets and the New Atheist outlets will drum up the band — “This shows the handiwork of an intelligence with a specific intention,” the ID crowd will say. “Cranes, not sky-hooks” the New Atheists will say (to use Daniel Dennett’s famous quip).

And which will be true? As more and more evidence of the intelligence of inert matter is uncovered, how will the divergent values systems manage to gather their wits and remain separate entities, with separate myths, and separate school systems?

That’s my take on the socialization argument. But my main point is different; my main point is that Intelligent Design proponents today are blandly Judeo-Christian.

To be more specific: When the ID movement claims that biomolecules and various constant values are customized for producing human life, they are claiming that the intelligence responsible has a “very particular intention” to produce human intelligence. Typically, they stop short of taking that logic the next step, that perhaps some intelligence beyond human intelligence is the real design intention of the creative intelligence responsible for “evolution”.

You will not usually find ID enthusiasts making those kind of transhumanist or posthumanist claims — but clearly their argument can be countered by claiming, along with Friedrich Nietzsche — not just Jesus and Daniel — that the view of the human we entertain today is a mere bridge to something greater.  

My own position, however, is different from both of these views. I don’t think Nietzsche had any idea what the human was already capable of in his own time. And I think almost all Christians aren’t concerned with the transformative capabilities of today’s human form. The born-again narrative of conversion and glorification that swallows religion in its maw these days is a far cry from my own view of what a creator intelligence would intend our bodies and minds to become.

What is the desired outcome of creation for the ID community? For me this is the biggest question, and it is the source of what I think is really the best argument against today’s ID arguments. In short, ID strikes me as a radical conservative movement. Rather than spew opinions about what sort of world ID proponents believe would fulfill the design intentions of the creator intelligence, I’ll simply say that this is an empirical question that could be researched. Someone could go around to all the ID proponents in the scientific community, and ask them what they think the desired outcome of creation is, in terms of what the specific intentions of the creative intelligence might be. Perhaps they will speak of free will and self-determination — we have been given the choice, and that is the creative intelligence’s intention — or perhaps some will be religious transhumanists — the lion shall lie with the lamb and the human shall receive a glorified body. But then we should also survey all those ID adherents that are not scientists.

This is where the real counter-argument to ID gains traction, I think. Some or many of the scientists who argue for ID may be rather brilliant or even visionary. They may inspire some new scholarship that will garner a Nobel Prize in chemistry in 5 or 10 years — wouldn’t that be something! But if you consider the ID movement in terms of the history of public policy, and the association between creationist worldview and mis-appropriation of scientific claims for purposes of cultural antagonism, you will hesitate to jump on the bandwagon when someone publishes a titillating book on cell biology.

Of course, the counter argument to the argument from the history of public policy is that evolution also brought a worldview that mis-appropriated scientific claims — eugenics, anyone?

This is precisely why I don’t endorse either position. I think the debate itself is a symptom of a lack of knowledge and a surfeit of ideology. If you want an alternative mingling between religion and secularism, check out

I am determined to apply for PhD programs, but this shit ain’t easy.

Heeding the exaggerated expectations of mentors, I’m aiming for the stratosphere, the best programs. To satisfy some requirements, one needs to read French and German. Can I learn to read French and German in one year? It would take Nietzschean will for that; but then, nothing less than Nietzschean will will do!

I would like to study overseas, but again the search process is laborious, and I have a job to do here in Japan. A creeping sense of how quickly my 3 months here will conclude is haunting my daydreams. No one wants to be an unemployed scholar.

I am hoping also to travel to India by year’s end to deliver some invited lectures. If all goes well I will have a tiny bundle of publications and lecture presentations, internships and work experiences — along with a documentary film appearance — to show admissions committees by early 2014.