Monday, August 01, 2005

The Under-reported Purge of the U.S. Officer Corps

--- The Most Critical Issue of Our Time:

The Under-reported Purge of the U.S. Officer Corps
---

I want to comment on one of our most controversial topics of the last few months... the shameful way that the American Left has chosen to virtually ignore one of the most dangerous and dastardly betrayals of our country in recent generations - a deliberate, ferocious and relentless political purge of the U.S. Officer Corps.

I believe the failure of the Left to notice or speak out about this vital issue makes them complicit in it. The matter is that serious. (Far more serious, even, than the Iraq War itself.)

I have spoken about how terribly important it is to defend the professional detachment and untampered political neutrality of men and women who volunteered to devote the core of their lives defending our civilization and freedom. Thanks to reforms instituted six decades ago by George Marshall (arguably the greatest man of the 20th Century), the Officer Corps (including the intelligence, military and diplomatic communities) has striven hard to become the third best-educated clade in American society today, right after university professors and medical doctors.

Yes, there have been some awful aberrations, cabals and crimes - from My Lai to Iran-Contra to Abu Ghraib - the sort of thing that can erupt out of fallible human nature whenever accountability gets trumped by secrecy, either because of national need or venial self-interest.

(It can be hard to tell the difference, especially from the inside -- which is why I speak elsewhere about methods to ensure accountability without giving away the store.)

Nevertheless, members of the U.S. Officer Corps tend to have a better on average record of rectitude than people in most other fields. And no one can match these men and women for devotion to Constitutional government, often in the face of either neglect or unfathomable misuse by the political caste.

How ironic, that the present phase of meddling - worse than anything seen in a hundred years - is being perpetrated by people who used to rail against "political interference" for costing us the Vietnam War. (The eerie comparison of Donald Rumsfeld's FIRST term as Secretary of Defense - overseeing our final humiliation in Vietnam - with this term in the same office, is just too creepy even to describe.)

Likewise, the same people who sneered at the"failed utopian fantasy of so-called nation building" are now spending vastly more, per day, on the openly and avowedly utopian notion of building a modern, democratic Iraq from the ground up, than any combination of their predecessors ever tried to do in, say, the Balkans, or even Cambodia.

And yet, who is to blame? A political cabal whose members are clearly acting in ways that - while corrupt and loony - at least have plenty of precedent in human history? (Find me one other time in history when aristocratic elites did NOT conspire?)

Or should we blame the "loyal opposition" for failing to even notice this shameful turn of events, let alone stand up for the brave professionals who stand between us and the cold wind?

After the Officer Corps is fully suborned, who will we turn to, when fanatics come up with pretext after pretext for re-establishing the age-old human pyramid of tyranny? By then, it will be too late.

Once upon a time, liberals viewed the military - and America's churches - as allies in the struggle to reform society, to rid it of racism, sexism and other perversions that were not only immoral, but grossly IMPRACTICAL wastage of valuable human resources. (To a modernist, inefficiency usually points to something immoral, and vice-versa.)

The military was the first major U.S. institution to desegregate, for example, becoming a giant school for tolerance that processed a majority of adult males, back in the era of the draft. Preconceptions that men had grown up with were challenged by daily exposure to the competent courage of other soldiers who just happened to look a little different. Once this happened, there was no turning back.

So then, why did liberalism turn its back upon the military, which pummeled Hitler, staved off Stalinist monsters, pioneered equality, and remained the one force standing decisively between us and any possibility of Big Brother?

Yes, Vietnam was traumatic. But I figure this attitude reversal was also exacerbated by lefty-antimodernists who have striven relentlessly to drive away Americans of faith, until the churches became de-facto strongholds of rightwing fanaticism.

How else could one of the most noble words - liberalism - have became a curse on the lips of millions of decent citizens?

Today, only a few Democratic politicians will even comment on flagrant efforts by right-wing forces to politicize the intelligence and military communities. Nor are many members of those communities speaking up.

Most are forbidden to do so until they retire. And even retirees (a rapidly growing group, as top officers resign) are reticent out of habit.

Still, they will speak, if you ask. If anybody bothers to ask. And I've had recent opportunities. As a frequent consultant on issues of "future threats to national defense," I was recently invited to speak at conferences on "Future WMD Dangers" and "Terror Threats to Soft Targets". (The latter was especially frightening, as we studied vulnerabilities of our schools, airports and shopping malls, charged to come up with imaginative ways to defend them.)

At such conferences I get to listen to intelligence and military officers after hours, in the bar, when they can let their hair down. Off the record, of course. And even after a few drinks, they are still generally more guarded and circumspect than a civilian would be at any time. So I'll respect them by not naming names or even places.

But they do talk, in general terms, about plummeting morale.

And make no mistake, things are getting VERY bad, boys and girls. The Officer Corps is being assaulted from both ends.

While radical congressmen are stocking the military academies with young fanatics, filling the pipeline with extremist zealots...

...those at the other end - generals and admirals who are the competent, brilliant and mature heirs of George Marshall - are being chased out. Subjected to political litmus tests. Cauterized in dead-end jobs....

... while middle-grade officers stare in dismay, worrying about their careers, their families, and their nation.

A majority of these guys are lifelong republicans, so this re-evaluation is hard on them. And it would be unwise to make of their despair more than it is. For example, they are not sudden-converts to Hillary Clinton! (Though, ironically, she is one of the few democratic officeholders who has taken a stand on this issue, stepping forward on their behalf.)

Still, these guys can tell that this is not the GOP of their fathers, nor of Barry Goldwater, nor even Billy Graham.

This is something else. And we had better study it carefully, before all the heroes are cowed or collared or driven into exile. If we wait too long, it will be too late.

And there won't be anybody left to stand between us and the wind.

Follow-up: See The Officer Corps Fights Back...Shall We Help Them?

                         The GOP vs. The U.S. Military: Indoctrinating the Ranks

                         The Officer Corps Stands Up!


==Personal Note==

I suppose I owe an explanation for this long absence, which has turned into a Summer Hiatus... at least for the whole month of July.

In fact, as I said at the beginning, I am not a blogger by nature, or by passion, or for lack of other outlets of self-expression. With far too little time for my novels, speeches and nonfiction projects - or even sometimes my family - this medium has to take last priority.

And yet, it does offer a place to deliver (in episodic form) some items that I want to share, such as:

- musings about where we stand in the Enlightenment's long term project to improve human society...

- ammunition for those of you out there who may be allies in what I call "the Real Culture War"... a hidden conflict that is so thoroughly masked by the hoary/stupid "left-right axis" that it appears to have gone virtually unnoticed. And yet, I feel it underlies our struggle to preserve modernist confidence against a rising tide of fear & superstition...

- commentary on recent cultural events... such as the new Steven Spielberg film...

- an upcoming serialized essay on "Twelve Major Theological Questions for Twenty-First Century Humanity." (This one ought to be way fun.)

- news about various projects and books, etc. And so on.


On the latter front, do drop by my main web site - http://www.davidbrin.com/ and see items like my recent review of Robert O'Harrow's book about privacy called No Place to Hide, published by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Also try out samples of my books and stories, plus the popular graphic novel The Life Eaters, which has lately attracted some real interest from game developers!

49 comments:

Gregory said...

I suspect that a large part of the problem, vis a vis the issue of the Left and the military, is the sad fact that for many people who don't look too deeply into the matters, the whole military gets painted with the same brush as those calling the shots at the very top (ie, the politicians). I think most have a simplistic view that says that the military is composed of two groups 1 -- the kids, mostly poor and minority, who are 'conned' into military service because it's their only hope of getting out of desperate circumstances (a charge with some validity, at least), and 2)the guys at the top, which I think in the popular Left mind are composed of politicians and cetain generals and admirals who are buddy buddy with Industry. That last, of course, is a tad ironic since it was a Republican president who warned us of that danger.

This oversimplified view possessed by many is, I think, partly the result of a bit of overload -- I often get the feeling talking to fellow progressives that they are simply overwhelmed by what they feel are so many fundamental issues that are proving dangerous that they almost can't handle anymore. The result, frankly, has continued to be near-paralysis. And given that many on the Left -- myself included - already have a bit of an anti-military feeling, it becomes way too easy at times to oversimplify *that* particular issue, and thus miss the complexity. I know I have to fight the tendency myself constantly.

And it's definitely something we have to address. The idea of the officer corps being taken over by radicals is chilling, to say the least, and perhaps one of the greatest threats to democracy imaginable. And however much I will always push for peace, we need these guys. (Partly, of course, because sometimes bullies will listen at the peace table if there's a guy standing behind it with a Big Huge Stick)

fpoole said...

Churches were and are one major unifying thread in the black community. It is because of this (I think, at least) that the churches played much of a role at all in previous leftist movements. If the rights of all were to be secured, we had to make the most of the existing social structures in order to fight for the greater good. Now, however, religion has been a stumbling block for a lot of efforts, and the current (radical) traits that are becoming more prevalent are quite repellent to the leftist community. Instead, secularism (or neutrality, if you prefer) seems to dominate the left currently because it opens up new frontiers for the inclusion of multiple religions in efforts and weeds out the religious fanatics in the process. However, unfortunately, removing crazies already aligned with the left isn't so easy...

Tom Stormcrowe said...

Hello David! I think you would nicely fit in in a forum I am participating in! It's called Baens Bar! The URL is http://bar.baen.com . Stop by and check it out if you want. It's operated by Baen Books and is a community of Authors and fans. The topics range from political to everything else! I've enjoyed your work over the years and would like to thank you for many years of entertainment! Now to my point, I tend to think that the media overamplifacation of problems like Abu Ghraib is contributing a lot to the problem. I'm not advocating slapping a gag on them! I just believe that perhaps they are a bit hysterical about it. As to "Kids" getting conned into joining, I think that concept does a major disservice to our soldiers currently serving so well! I'm not a dove, but neither am I a hawk! I just believe that the more media overattention to many issues, the more our troops are put at risk partially due to erosion of home support through tactics of fear re our soldiers safety. As to the issue of how they deal with the enemy, that is what our troops are for! Their primary purpose is to kill people and break things and reduce or eliminate our enemies capacity and will to attack us. War is not civilized by it's very nature. Also feel free to visit one or both of my blogs!

Tony Fisk said...

Welcome back David,

I can appreciate you have plenty of other irons in the fire, but had been wondering whether or not to start a conspiracy rumour as to your absence...

Enough of that! Since you've again raised the issue of Officer Corp subversion, I will point out that a few people have asked for references to this assertion.

Personally, I don't doubt that the Bush administration is indulging in 'jobs for the boys' with a vengeance. (eg the 'Bolt on' appointment, judicial nominations), but a few independent sources (even some search strings to toss at Google news) would strengthen the case.

And don't doubt that clear evidence of overt stacking would make a difference to voter opinion! Some years ago, the Kennett government in the (Australian) state of Victoria appeared unbeatable (having taken the reigns from a deeply disgraced Labor government). Having sold off public school land, having forcibly abolished and reformed local councils, having dismantled and privatised a swathe of public utilities, and having sidelined the media by the simple technique of ignoring them, they then decided, in their second term of office, to dismantle and privatise the auditor-general's office. Now, this is an important function that needs to be kept separate from normal government to have any real integrity. By proposing to turn it over to private companies bidding *to the government* for the right to run internal audits, this independence was clearly being reduced. Fortunately, Kennett made the mistake that, because the Auditor-General was by nature and profession a mild, retiring man who preferred to keep out of the public arena, he would be a pushover. Instead, by a brilliant piece of what would now be called 'reframing' , he applied these very attributes to bring the real issue out.

It was astonishing: even up to the eve of the '99 election, Kennett seemed a shoo-in for a third term. Yet, he lost, and the auditor-general issue did seem to be the clincher.

So, there's hope!

Finally, a bit of 'Kate Citing':
Still, these guys can tell that this is not the GOP of their fathers, nor of Barry Goldwater, nor even Billy Graham.

Wikipedia comment:
Politically, and perhaps quite surprising to many, Graham is a registered (if somewhat nominal) Democrat; but he is still very close to the powerful Bush family.

...maybe the good Reverend is just practising your idea about registering for the opposition to select the least worst candidate ;-)

DoctorB said...

Welcome back, David.
Of course, real life takes precedence over even a very popular blog. Still, I have missed your discussions.

You alude to terrible consequences for this stacking of the officer corps, but I am not sure what those are. The current junta in the US has shown no limit on their thirst for power or for looting the country for their short-term benefit, like any illegitimate third-world government. I wonder if they would go so far as to call for a military coup if an election went against them. Do you think this is what we could see?

David Brin said...

Interesting Australian insights!

If I could write one incredibly useful law - and it would take just one page - I would establish the office of Inspector General of the United States and have all the Inspectors General of all the federal agencies report to her, anstead of the politicians to whom they owe their jobs.

More soon.

Nate said...

Welcome back, Dr. Brin.

I can't comment specifically on the officer corps retiring, though I can certainly imagine that any competent, sane, officers would consider it. But as to "zealots" in the upcoming ranks, this article sprang to mind, about religious intolerance and harassment at the Air Force Academy, by fundamentalist evangelistic Christians.

And also, I agree with gerg, about how the Bush administration is attacking everything that liberals take as fundamental to America, so many people feel have "outrage fatigure", and choose to focus on just one thing. How do you keep up when they're torturing people, attacking the first and fourth amendments, trying to destroy Social Security, taking us trillions into debt to give money away to their billionaire friends, and exploiting the flaws in both our electoral system and the press? Which seems to be part of their strategy, attack everything and destroy whatever people can't mobilize to defend, to make the most of their time in power.

Lindy said...

I need to tell you how this looks to many of us. It looks as though a coup has already taken place in our government, and we are no longer governed by our elected representatives, but rather by an oligarchy that controls both houses of Congress, the Judiciary and the “free press”. We’re wondering what has happened to the oaths that were sworn to “protect and defend the constitution of the United States." I didn’t sign up for this. I’m neither a pacifist nor a war monger. Most eligible members of my family have always served in the military (Navy and Army). I believe that we have a clear duty to defend our country, but I feel that the war in Iraq is an unlawful aggression against a people that did us no harm and whose leader was effectively contained by the sanctions imposed against him.

Looking at the evidence that we've been permitted to see, it becomes clear that Karl Rove (and others) committed what I consider a treasonous act (one in many, but the one that's public). His statement that he never actually identified Ms. Plame by name is one of the most absurd things I have ever heard. How many wives did Ambassador Wilson have? People are sent to jail every day on less evidence. To leak the identity of a covert operative in a time of war (or any other time) is an act of treason. How did Rove come by this classified information? Do you think it might have come from the president's Dick Cheney, who was in and out of the CIA so much during that time? Do you think Dick Cheney was working to "fix the intelligence around the policy," as it states in the leaked Downing Street Documents? If this turns out to be a conspiracy (it's looking more that way every day), does that make us complicit if we fail to act?

Rove, Libby et al. are actually a side-issue and an attempted distraction (or just one piece of the puzzle). The REAL concern that is being felt by more and more Americans is that the President and his gang…I mean advisors, lied us into this unjust aggression. They didn't go to war with MY consent. I was NOT convinced by all the rush. And the consent they managed to sell Congress and the people who ACTUALLY foot the bill (that's us, in case they've forgotten) was based on lies of such magnitude that they look like treason to me. It's past time to investigate and level charges. If it IS treason, let the justice department freeze and seize the assets of the perpetrators as reparation for this monstrous crime against the world. THAT would decrease the deficit significantly.

This administration has managed to bring this country to its knees economically, so that his “base” could take their slice off the top, while the rest of us are in debt for many years to come. Our children and grandchildren will be paying for this crime.

"Bush Family Values"...jobs shipped overseas, family homes repossessed by the Corporate Banks, children uneducated (hence easier to control)and a draft to ensure the Loonie Hawks have cannon fodder for the rest of the Project for a New American Century.

Lindy said...

P.S. Would you find Howard Dean an acceptable alternative to Hillary? I certainly would.

Nate said...

Oy Vey. See what I mean about attacking on every front?


Bush: Intelligent Design Should Be Taught

The Associated Press
Tuesday, August 2, 2005; 7:05 AM

WASHINGTON -- President Bush said Monday he believes schools should discuss "intelligent design" alongside evolution when teaching students about the creation of life.


Except... I still don't understand what makes "intelligent design" incompatible with evolution. But I've yet to hear a version that's testable, which is one of the keys of science. I mean, hell, if they do this, what's to stop anybody else from going to the school board and saying "I want you to teach that people all came from the giant cosmic egg."

(from Obsidian Wings

DoctorB said...

Some days I cannot escape the feeling that we are living in Rome in 400 AD.

Alaric the Goth sacked the city in 410, and the western empire teetered on until 476. The writing was on the wall before Alaric, but I am sure plenty of politicians were talking about how Rome was as strong as ever, even while stashing their money in Constantinople.

In my household, we have a running line about the "Atrocity of the Day." Outrage fatigue indeed.

Steve said...

Dr. Brin - I have enjoyed your books and comments online. Thanks for the stimulation!

@nate - Intelligent Design (sic) is incompatible with evolution. It is a statement (not even a theory) that life is just too darn complex to have evolved using natural processes, so us humans best not even spend time on natual explanations since we are doomed to failure. It a priori states we can't figure it out. The "testability" aspect of science is also not an absolute - this comes, I believe, from Popper's falsificationism, which working scientists mostly disregard as a simplified approximation of the scientific method. Just think for a moment - what about stellar evolution theory is testible? However, science does require conformance with observation to make a hypothesis (ID fails here) and it is nice if your hypothesis gives you some predictions that you can test (ID fails again). Consider the following dialog:

Observation: Fruit flies and humans and most other animals share a surprising number of genes that perform the same function.

Science: That is interesting. Perhaps these functions are highly conserved because they are essential to the functioning of animal life and are an indication of our shared ancestry.

ID: God just did it that way. Don't ask why.

Observation: Primates, including humans, have a lot of genes in common. Chimpanzees, which are structurally similar to us share an enormous amount of our genes.

Science: Perhaps this is an indication of a common ancestor in geologically recent times. Perhaps the high similarity in genetic makeup relates to the similarity of form and behaviors wwe share with chimps.

ID: God just did it that way. Don't ask why.

...and so on. ID raises no interesting questions and the answer to every question raised is, "God did it that way." (Though the public face of ID will not say God, they will refer the design to some all-powerful all-knowing creator. Walks like a duck...)

Back on topic, I too would like to see sources for the attack on the Officer Corps. I feel that it is happening, but I would like to see proof. I live in Colorado and we had a stink about evangalistic happenings at the Air Force Academy, which I think someone hyperlinked to above. I don't know if I can ascribe it to a cabal at this point. More of what I like to call a "conspiracy of ignorance" in which no one or group is planning all of these attacks on moderninity, but it is a natural outgrowth of a bunch of ignorant idealogues and kleptocrats when they are in power.

Thanks for the forum!

Anonymous said...

The attempt to force creationism (however it may be labeled) into schools is an unambiguous example of modernity under fire.

It isn't, as the advocates would have you believe, about wanting to give students a choice or wanting a fair hearing. After you've let them rant about junk science and the Second Law of Thermodynamics, they'll get to the heart of the matter:

"What an insult to teach children that they have evolved from a lower life to what they are now, and then they go home and learn that they are someone special, a child of God"

This from an article in which a Utah state senator cuts to the chase and is demanding that what he calls "Divine Design" be taught along with evolution:

http://www.sltrib.com/utah/ci_2777333


Stefan

Brother Doug said...

Welcome back David!

Right before the recent IRAQ war my friend a fellow pacifist in a Veterans organization was actually on the mailing lists of an old boy network of high level officers who were in opposition to the recent war in IRAQ. So the left was and is trying to be engaged with the military but I think there still is misunderstanding and ignorance on both sides. One reason for the hostility of the left was the COINTELPRO intelligence program where military agents and the FBI were spying on and spreading disinformation on over two million US civilians during the Vietnam War.
http://www.ucpress.edu/books/pages/9653/9653.ch01.html . Based on reading that book I think that some pacifists and antiwar activists I knew personally were subject to wiretaps and intimidation under this program. Now with the patriot act the same thing is probably happening again, it will most likely take years to find out the full extent.

The present situation reminds me of Stalin’s officer purge in the 1930. Which every historian knows was the major reason Hitler was successful in his invasion. A great book I recently read proving that good officers and rational plans matter is the blitzkrieg myth. http://www.curledup.com/blitzkr.htm

David Brin said...

Lindy, I do not agree with your reasons for objecting to this insane war. I think you fall into a trap, laid for those who the right wants to portray as weak-willed appeasers. I will not concede that Saddam Hussein was "effectively contained" by sanctions. He was a monster whose role model was Adolf Hitler. The neocons are right that it is our duty to help oppressed people around the world to topple monstrous tyrants and move along down the road to freedom.

No, what makes the neocons loony hypocrites is the fact that they had Saddam in the palm of their hand, back in 1991, and let him go back to savaging his people, all on orders from the real masters in Riyadh. They refused Gen Schwarzkopf 12 more hours to kick Saddam out of Basra... and thus consigned those people to 12 more YEARS of living hell. The worst stain on our honor in living memory. Such people have no right to preach to us about "freedom in Iraq", let alone lie to us cynically and relentlessly about WMD and everything else in this mess.

The towering, blithering incompetence of this campaign, in which politicians over-ruled and micromanaged every single aspect, over the heads of the professionals who used force with such delicate precision and skill in the Balkans and Afghanistan. THIS is another scandal that sensible people could use against the neocons. AND MIDDLE AMERICANS MIGHT HEAR IT. Whereas, reflex anti-war sentiments can and will be dismissed as the talk of idealistic wimps. We could have off'd Saddam with a scintilla of the cost and agony and death and pain... but all of these things are wished for us by our REAL enemies, the ones who control the guys who are supposedly in control.

(Sound paranoid enough? But then, how much money does it take to be illuminati? Who on Earth HAS that kind of money, hm?)

No, the Balkans and Afghanistan showed what can be accomplished by a Pax Americana that sincerely leads willing and cooperative allies in uses of power that resemble efficient police action, efficient and staggeringly competent. Both were planned under Clinton by Wesley Clarke and the same skilled Officer Corps that is now under ruthless purge. Make THESE points and some middle americans may listen. Moan about how much better it would be to leave Saddam in power? You'll only shoot us in the foot.

Lindy, I do not consider Howard Dean to be a viable candidate. First, while he is personally more reasonable than oft depicted in the press, he is easily exaggerated into a buffoon. Moreover, many of those flocking around him are the very same lefties who have undermined the credibility of liberalism, year after year. I am NOT looking for a moderate who is "republican-light". I am looking for a moderate who is aggressively and proudly modernist, who can communicate with middle americans and address their concerns without pandering to their prejudices. Someone who can firmly separate genuine reform from political-correct frippery. Someone who can use military power to advance a Pax Americana agenda that makes sense (as it did in the Balkans) while seeking consensus and advice from loyal allies. And so on...

Nate, there are many sincere scientists who are willing to contemplate the possibility of an intelligent force who plays a role in some Universal Plan. Many are believers. But they feel it's pretty clear that God made a complex and ambiguous universe, not one described in a children's book 4000 years ago. Science works, and clearly God meant it to be that way. We were made to be scientists... or His apprentices. Now we're in His lab. That work is not helped by dulling the minds of adolescents.

Actually, the new Pope has put up trial balloons to revise the Catholic acceptance of evolution. It appears that they plan to say: "Yes, Earth is 4 billion years old and evolution made us... but an invisible guiding hand has nudged the process all along with some plan in mind." While you may find this unscientific, it remains vastly better than fundamentalism.

People rightfully challenge me to back up my assertions about the purge of the Officer Corps... and I rightfully answer that I cannot cite names or even places where I hear the low groans from men and women in the fields and trenches. Take this as an assertion and go find your own evidence. If you do not know any of these people, you should. They are among the best our nation can create... and if my assertions do nothing more than to get people to appreciate them more, I'll be content. Somewhat.

There are some books on related subjects. e.g. The New American Militarism: How Americans Are Seduced By War
by Andrew Bacevich Some take perspectives I don't share. For example, I have made clear that I am fine with the use of US military force, if it is used by adults who consult allies and all legitimate institutions, who tell the truth, who try all diplomacy first and who aim to use it responsibly.

Define responsibly? How about ensuring maximum beneficial effects at minimum costs? (No US servicemen died of enemy action in the Balkans... not ONE... while the "effect" was a European continent at peace for the first time in 4,000 years.)

How about ensuring that our overall readiness does not suffer? (Today, our readiness is so badly damaged that we are sitting ducks, worse than pre- Pearl Harbor.) Or that morale and recruitment don't suffer? Or that our states get to keep their national guard volunteers at home, at their jobs and families, ready for homeland emergencies?

How about heeding our friends and making sure our alliances are STRONGER after intervention, rather than demolished?

I could go on and on... but the key point is that these are all issues that would WORK in arguing with middle americans. Take note.

Anonymous cited a state senator (who?): "What an insult to teach children that they have evolved from a lower life to what they are now, and then they go home and learn that they are someone special, a child of God"

Well, this encapsulates the romantic-vs-modernist war! To a modernist, it is NO insult to say "you are better than your parents, who were better than their grandparents, and so on..." It is no insult because the fundamental premise of modernism, and science fiction, is that children can be better than us, and that will be a good thing.

This very notion terrifies romantics of ALL political stripes. It is (I think) the one thing driving them quite bonkers.

Doug, good parallel with Stalin in the 30s. Let us pray we do not suffer for what these guys are doing.

db

GreedyAlgorithm said...

What is the real reason ID is disdained? Because it is false or unscientific? Certainly not. Science itself is unscientific according to most of its principles. We believe it works because it has worked in the past, but we believe things that have worked in the past will work because things that had worked in the past often turned out to work later. Circular. It's the principle of the uniformity of nature. Can't prove it, everyone believes it. None of science is testable if you can't prove your tests. But superficially, we have noticed that certain ways of thinking are correlated with results. ID is rejected because it "raises no interesting questions", which is certainly a valid reason to reject studying something, but is certainly not a valid reason to reject the truth of a thing. The reason that we have not often heard "I want you to teach that people all came from the giant cosmic egg." is because not as many outspoken people in the U.S. care about holding it to be true. If we could get the difference straight - useful vs. true - it'd be so much easier. After all, we already make the compromise of teaching known false things in the interest of learning and growth (can't subtract 5 from 3, can't find the square root of -1, F=ma instead of F=d[m(t)v(t)]/dt, etc.), so why not teach a thing which only some think to be false in the interest of learning and growth?

Lindy said...

Dr. Brin, I never thought of myself as a weak-willed appeaser. My objections to THIS war stem from the number of lives sacrificed on both sides for power and profit. Taking out Saddam was an afterthought. I supported the Afghanistan campaign, and the campaign in the Balkans. I mean what I say when I say that Saddam was contained by the sanctions against him. Do I think he needed taking out? Hell, yes! But not like this. This "war" is nothing if not an atrocity and a disgrace to our country.

You also made a passing comment on our sitting duck status. I've been worried about this too. We don't even have a militia in this town, and in times of war there has always been home militia. I'd certainly volunteer. I'm sure they could find some use for an older woman, if only in the quartermaster's area.

lucky doubles roller said...

Your prayers make the real gods angry.

http://backgammonmotherfucker.blogspot.com/

Lindy said...

One of the advantages of living in a college town is that one has access to experts, particulary in areas of mathematics. I found an article on the last TWO elections that I thought was very interesting at Zogby International

I took this to an acquaintance in the biostatistics department (one of the brightest people I've met) and asked him to pick holes in it. What he said was that the tests used on the data were standard statistical testing, and valid. He considers it good evidence, but how do you tell that to middle america?

Frank said...

Not a state senator but...

"...conservative activist Gayle Ruzicka, who has independently pushed for divine design education in the schools."What an insult to teach children that they have evolved from a lower life to what they are now, and then they go home and learn that they are someone special, a child of God," Ruzicka said. "This is not right." ..."

Helpful religious people want to give the unloved (or the ones seriously lacking in self-esteem) a simple message:"You are SPECIAL (even if you are not better than your parents) because God took the time and effort to create you. You are a part of His plan so there must be a place for you in this world"

The theory of evolution is less uplifting and a lot less simple. (but I will not easily trade it in for ID)

Also,

"filling the pipeline with extremist zealots"
"generals and admirals who are the competent, brilliant and mature heirs of George Marshall - are being chased out."

Looks like a brain drain of the military apparatus. I guess the administration is betting on superior combat-technology rather than superior combat-intelligence.

Welcome back, David Brin

scribe said...

My God I'm glad I never bought "Kiln People."

Steve said...

@GreedyAlgorithm

Ah, the feral cry of the postmodernist! According to your reasoning, we can know nothing. All statements carry equal weight, for they are merely statements and there is no objective reality, no cogito ergo sum. This may be philosophically defensible to some, but whether you choose to call it F=ma or not, that real truck is going to smack you flat if you step in front of it. To address your strawman dichotomy: if something is false, it is not useful. If it is true, it may be useful or not depending on to what use you want to put that knowledge.

Interestingly you then contradict this position and seem to suggest that since many people want to believe something is true it gains some credibility as a valid explanation of reality. Reality does not change based on people's belief.

ID is not scientific in that it is not a theory or hypothesis since it explains nothing and is supported by no evidence. It is only a statement that humans shouldn't even try to explain the origin of life.

The reason not to teach ID on equal footing with a naturalistic explanation is that it is a statement of faith - faith in the inability of humans to formulate natural explanations for the fact of evolution. (Clearly understand - organisims have changed through time that is the fact of evolution - the various theories of evolution attempt to explain the whys and hows of this fact.) This statement of ID faith is contradicted by loads of evidence, and thus false in addition to being unscientific. If the majority of people in the US had faith that the world ended yesterday, contrary to all of the evidence, would you propose that this be taught on equal footing with anything? One of many examples: ID proponents say that hemoglobin couldn't have evolved since in its intermediary stages it would do no good for the organism. Well someone showed recently how the genes that code for hemoglobin are suspicously similar to the genes that code for an enzyme that breaks down bacteria cell walls, and if you can imagine a common transcription error that duplicates the code for this enzyme, you have plausible path to hemoglobin. (see http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/bv.fcgi?rid=iga.section.4127 for more) Did it happen this way? Is it the truth? We may never be able to tell something from that far back in Deep Time. But, ID said that hemoglobin could not evolve, and here we have a way it plausibly could have. Ergo, ID is demonstrably false. No doubt an ID'er will come back and say, "Oh yeah, well this other thing is impossible to have evolved, and we shouldn't even try," but sooner or later a scientist will find a way it might have happened.

Do we know it all? Nope. But by using our over-evolved brains, we can get closer and closer to the truth. To believe that ID is anything like the truth, one must believe in a God who has purposefully constructed an entire world (maybe two if we find remnants of life on Mars) and all its organisms to trick people into falsely believing evolution is real.

As the the truth of a statement, the strength of the scientific method in regards to theory is that it never claims to be the truth, only an approximation that explains the available information and opens new lines of inquiry. But ID has nothing to add to our approximation of the truth.

And your examples only show your lack of understanding of basic physics and math, and do not stand as a testament to how "we knowingly teach false things." Unless you are saying that someone at one point taught you those things as truth, in which case they were wrong to do so. Heck, my five-year old daughter clearly understands negative numbers when she tells me I owe her two more pieces of candy after promising five and delivering three. And electronics wouldn't work if we couldn't take the squre root of -1. But let's use the planetary model for atoms as a better example. Are we teaching a false thing if we say that is reality? Yup. But we are not doing it "in the interest of learning and growth" but as a first approximation of reality. See, that is the difference - as you learn more physics you attain the tools to move from familiar concepts used as approximations to less concrete but more "true" models. One must be careful to keep an open mind, but at some point you have to close it when the evidence dicates - otherwise, all sorts of junk can fall in. That point has come and gone on ID.

Teach ID in a comparative religions class, or in a class on magical thinking in the 21st century, but to teach it as if it represents an approximation of the truth violates the purpose of education - fitting people with the knowledge they need to understand and thrive in the real world.

Note that evolution does not preclude religion, but if your religion rests upon the fact of evolution being false, you are not being intellectually honest with yourself, or you have not looked into the subject very deeply. Even the Catholic Church sees no conflict between evolution and their faith. (see http://www.cin.org/users/james/files/whatsaid.htm)

Sorry to have hijacked the thread - but it feels icky to me when someone proposes teaching intellectual futility to our impressionable children.

@Dr. Brin: I am with you 99% of the way. The final 1% is that if the "Left" or the media have been remiss in raising the issue of the Great Officer Purge (GOP), perhaps they would rectify their omission if there were sources of information they could use to support the assertion. I completely respect your not being able to reveal your sources. Hopefully Sen. Clinton had some sources she used in her statements on the topic. Otherwise, it would sound to middle America like tinfoil-hat talk. Do you know those sources? Google-ing the senator is non-value added as the links in the top 20 are mostly conservative smear sites.

Kind Regards

William Malo said...

“...there are many sincere scientists who are willing to contemplate the possibility of an intelligent force who plays a role in some Universal Plan. Many are believers. But they feel it's pretty clear that God made a complex and ambiguous universe, not one described in a children's book 4000 years ago. Science works, and clearly God meant it to be that way. We were made to be scientists... or His apprentices. Now we're in His lab. That work is not helped by dulling the minds of adolescents.”

As part of a public school science curriculum “Creationism” would invariably become its own “worst enemy”. The absurdity of suggesting this splendid universe is created solely for the “enlightenment and eternal salvation” of only one of billions of evolving species would only confirm the grandiose and deluded hallucinations of all “good and god-fearing men”.

Once you refer to “a plan”, the notion of an author, originator, creator, becomes precedent. Predestination must be accepted, since a “plan“ consists of steps in a progression, in an intended direction with a destination in “mind“. By the very mention of the word you not only validate the ignorance of “creationists”, but you minimize the concept of god. You sound like a believer, why not include ID?

ReeseC said...

First let me echo the sentiments of the others in welcoming Dr. Brin back.

Let me relate a few pieces of anecdotal evidence in support of Dr. Brin's Officer Corp purging.

I served in the US Navy from 88-93 as a Search and Rescue helicopter crewman. In Gulf War Part I, my squadron was one of the main CSAR(Combat Search & Rescue) elements available. The Esprit De Corps that filled the military was high and on an upward trend. We were proud to wear the uniform and stomping Saddam was a priviledge. The feelings of betrayal ran very high when the truce was called. Not surrender, truce. Then to sit back(literally, we still had a carrier fleet in the Gulf) and watch some very brave people get slaughtered by the man we had just crushed was shaming and was a direct reason why I chose to leave the Navy. I felt like a mercenary. Bush Sr. had sold the services of the best fighting force in history to Kuwait's ruling overlords.

I remember him(or someone in his administration) saying. "We didn't invade Iraq because we fear that 10 years from now, we'll still be occupying Baghdad."

I still have many friends who made careers in the military. All of them are the type of person that we want serving; Brave, loyal, intelligent and educated. They range in jobs from Special Forces to Airforce pilots. Each of them talks about how low morale is and that as soon as their terms are up they plan on retiring. In fact one SEAL said he would've retired already if the Navy hadn't thrown such a huge re-enlistment bonus at him.

The stories they tell me regarding the sheer amounts of mis-management, waste and incompetent/inappropriate behavior is mind boggling. More than one has said the current state of fighting readiness reminds them of the Vietnam era.

The outright screwing that this administration is giving this nation boggles my mind. How is it that this is occuring and people are not up in arms? Where is the outrage?

Thanks and have great days.

Steve said...

@ William Malo - Not to put words in his mouth, but I think Dr. Brin was going through the thinking of what "sincere scientists who are willing to contemplate the possibility of an intelligent force" would think in that situation, showing even then that we should not teach ID. There are few of these. See http://www.stephenjaygould.org/ctrl/news/file002.html

Interestingly, I have seen in other sources that among scientists biologists are least likely to believe in a supernatural force that guides evolution, mathmaticians the most (though still well below the rate of the population).

@ reesec - I have a few relatives who are going back into the armed services with enthusiasm. I don't know if this is due to the financial incentives, patriotism, or what, but they are for sure not officers, either.

The Army's OIF-II report shows that in Iraq there has been an increase in morale from 72% reporting low or very low morale in their unit to 54%. See http://www.armymedicine.army.mil/news/mhat_ii/OIF-II_REPORT.pdf for the report. This is still a hideous level of morale, but depending on how you want to spin it, it is also a big improvement over where it was before. Also the suicide rate has dropped back down below normal rates.

I feel like the Administration is abusing the armed services, so I distrust myself and keep searching for information to confirm it.

Why are people not feeling outrage? I think it is a confluence of factors. I think the Administration has insulated the citizens from the war - unlike previous wars we have been exhorted to go out and buy stuff since that is what will make the terrorists lose [sic]. Second, there is the post-9/11 fear tinged with "My country right or wrong." I also think there is a feeling that if we admit Iraq was a bad idea we will have to admit that we were fooled by our leaders, consciously or not, and most people don't want to admit that in a time of perceived crisis. Finally, the "War on Terror" has been painted to be so big that people can't grasp it and so ignore it, feeling there is nothing they can do anyway and resulting in an ongoing low-level anxiety.

GreedyAlgorithm said...

@Steve: I'm sorry if I was ambiguous. When I said "So why not teach a thing which only some think to be false..." I was referring to teaching evolution. My post was intended to bring up the difference between truth and usefulness - that ID vs. evolutionary theories is a debate in the realm of truth but ID fails immediately in the realm of usefulness.
"...teaching intellectual futility to our impressionable children"
I don't know the term for my philosophical position, but it can be stated something like "PUN is indefensible but I don't care; that which I percieve as useful I will use". I believe that nothing is knowable for certain but choose to act as if it is. Why? Though I may believe certainty is false, I also believe it will be useful. These are not contradictory, I am simply saying "PUN is true; I cannot know it is true." What does this tell me about teaching children? It tells me I should not let them know I believe certainty is unachievable. Truth is not the goal. I am perfectly willing to teach something I believe to be false if I also believe it will further society. And that is what I was saying I wish ID proponents would realize. That despite their beliefs in the truth of a statement, if that statement stunts growth, it should perhaps be kept in a corner somewhere to be suggested after students have learned what is likely to produce results.

Tom Stormcrowe said...

To David: I truly agree with your stance on "Looking for a true Modern Moderate"! We need someone that is willing to address domestic issues without neglecting foreign policy. Right now, all I see are "Hawks" and "Doves". I tend towards being conservative in the "Old School" myself rather than a Neocon. My biggest problem is that politically, all I currently is either one bad choice or another.

As to your stance on a US Inspector General to serve as a central controlling figure of all the IG's, I think that is a spectacular idea. It would remove a lot of but unfortunately all of the politics from that process. Unfortunately, that is the nature of the beast though! It's too bad you wouldn't consider public office, although that would be an absolute disaster......not for the reason of you being incompetent though! You wouldn't have time to write your highly nutritious "mindfood"! Keep up the most excellent writing!-Tom

Steve said...

@GreedyAlgorithm:

Hmm, well I did misunderstand you, but I am not sure I fully understand where you are now. Do you contend that the chair you are sitting in cannot be proven to exist, but you will use it anyway? If so, I recommend "The New Skepticism - Inquiry and Reliable Knowledge" by Paul Kurtz who discusses the historical skeptics (into whose camp it sounds like you fall) and the modern version. He contends that the old-style "we can't know anything for sure" must be rejected and that there are objective measures of testing knowledge claims. To me this is a subtle but important distinction. Enemies of moderninity use the concept of contingent explanations in science to imply that "scientists can't know for sure, so they could be wrong." Kurtz contends that knowledge is not truth, and that truth is when knowledge is backed by information. Hence I conclude science is the only knowledge generating methodology that can generate truth, since it teaches us to make up an explanation and then test it.

I would modify what you say slightly to fit with the way I think. Truth is the goal, and we must insure that our society and education insure that we get closer and closer to that noble end. I fear that if we teach something we know to be false to "further society" we enter a very scary discussion about who decides what furthers society and what it furthers it to. Social Darwinism, morality-based eugenics, anti-semitism - all these were promulgated falsehoods with the intention of furthering the societies in which they were taught. I don't think you are suggesting such things, but if we stick with truth as we know it, we avoid all that baggage.

Also, I think you give ID'ers far too much credit if you think their objective is the growth of students. LOL! Merely examine the statements they make that have been refuted time and time again, or when they purposefully mis-quote people to further their agenda. Thier objective is muddying the water and making it seem as if there is a debate about evolution, for their strength lies in confusion and uncertainty. A good exmaple of that is Bush's quote, "I think that part of education is to expose people to different schools of thought." This completely misunderstands the purpose of education. Perhaps he would endorse teaching Atheism, Islam, Hindu, and Satanism, as "other truths" to further the objective of "exposing people to different schools of thought"? I don't think so.

Again my apologies for going off-topic. This is the first blog thread I have posted to, so please forgive any lack of netiquette on my part. It terrifies me to hear a sitting President support ID being taught side-by-side with evolution.

Nate said...

Dr. Brin said:

"Nate, there are many sincere scientists who are willing to contemplate the possibility of an intelligent force who plays a role in some Universal Plan. Many are believers. But they feel it's pretty clear that God made a complex and ambiguous universe, not one described in a children's book 4000 years ago. Science works, and clearly God meant it to be that way. We were made to be scientists... or His apprentices. Now we're in His lab. That work is not helped by dulling the minds of adolescents."


That's close to what I was trying to say. There's vareties of belief like "God made life, and he did it by these rules," pointing at evolution. And then there's the people who're just trying to make Creationism seem "scientific" by taking out any reference to God, which invalidates their whole theory about "Life is too complicated to arise without design," because then either a) you have to say God Did It, or b) who designed the designers? (There's paralells there to the Progenitors from the Uplift books. I only just finished reading Brightness Reef, so nobody give spoilers.)

As for military morale, my best friend from High School went into the military, and has been in Kuait, doing communications stuff for the past couple years. Before the Iraq war, he was thinking about making the military a career, but now he's decided not to, especially since he just got married a couple months ago. I don't know his specific reasons, but I think I can make a generalized guess, of which the mistreatment of the military would be a big part.

And several of my other friends are former military, and none of them have shown the slightest interest in going back. And they're also some of the most liberal folks I know, as well.

Again, just anecdotes, nothing systematic, but it doesn't really bode well.

Jacare Sorridente said...

First, I would like to point out that those of you who heap blame on the Bush administration for everything from a terrible economy (which is currently very strong) to your grandmother's bad back come across as too foolish to lend any credence to.The current administration has plenty of dirty laundry to account for without straining credibility by trying to build the deepest pile you can.

With regards to intelligent design, I think that most of you are exhibiting far too much pleasure in beating a straw man into a pulp. Real, scientific, intelligent design theory does exist. Mostly it is preoccupied with devising ways to determine whether or not a designer might have tampered with something. Outside of questions of theology, such advances, if they come, could have real use for fields such as archaeology, anthropology, exobiology and so on.

Clearly intelligent design as an unproven theory has no place in schools, but I would like to point out that we do in fact give a pass to other unproven theories which are quite commonplace in public school textbooks. As an example, take a look at the theory of terrestrial abiogenesis. I clearly recall reading in several different biology books in high school and college about the Miller-Urey experiment. The brief summary of the experiment is inevitably followed with language indicating that abiogenesis is a proven fact with a few minor details left to iron out. Of course, anyone familiar with the state of abiogenesis research knows that many different theories have been proposed, but there are very serious difficulties with all current theories stemming from things like short persistence times of putative self-replicator building blocks, chirality of products and so on.

Such sloppy presentation of science for a key biology topic opens the door for introducing further sloppy presentations. For example, as abiognesis is often conceptually connected to evolution, the pass given to abiogenesis opens the door to other theories which are as lacking in confirmation as terrestrial abiogenesis.
A simple way to address this would be a brief discussion of the various major origin of life theories and their challenges and evidential support (e.g. ID, panspermia, abiogenesis etc.).

David Brin said...

sayeth Jacare Sorridente " ...those of you who heap blame on the Bush administration for everything from a terrible economy (which is currently very strong) to your grandmother's bad back come across as too foolish to lend any credence to..."

Sorry, had to weigh in here.

We are sincere fellow citizens who probably are among the brightest and most evenhanded you'll find on the web. By the very nature of the topic at hand, most of us are pragmatist-modernists who despise reflex ideology.

So when most of US start chewing over the mountain of evidence that this administration is something very different than any of us have seen in all our lives... well, it's your privilege not to give us "credence". But announcing it is an unnecessary insult.

In fact, it is becoming clear that something IS going on, that's unprecedented in all of our lives... but that is NOT unprecedented in the long sad litany of human history.

Find me (and this is a bona fide dare) one time in human history when cabals of aristocrats did not conspire to pool their influence, rouse the rabble, and manipulate government tools in order to gain permanent control over the state and all its wealth.

In fact, you'll find only one example. The second half of the 20th century, during the Great Modernist Experiment.

Alas, we have become so used to a very exceptional and unusual set of circumstances that people are unable even to PERCEIVE the return of an age-old human pattern.

Working people forget WHY there was a labor movement. Citizens forget WHY military readiness is more important than adventurism. Fear of terrorism (which could never harm us as much as a single soviet bomb) excuses the biggest increase in government secrecy in our lifetimes.

And people who claim to worry about "big government" vote for a party that has deliberately increase big government in every part of our lives, to a degree that would have staggered our imaginations, back in the 1990s.

Oh, the "economy is good"...? How old are you, ten? Otherwise, you might recall the 1990s, when every-freaking-aspect of the economy was better, better, better...

ooooooog

Jacare Sorridente said...

David Brin said:
We are sincere fellow citizens who probably are among the brightest and most evenhanded you'll find on the web. By the very nature of the topic at hand, most of us are pragmatist-modernists who despise reflex ideology.

So when most of US start chewing over the mountain of evidence that this administration is something very different than any of us have seen in all our lives... well, it's your privilege not to give us "credence". But announcing it is an unnecessary insult.


I have in fact posted on your blog on several of your previous essays. I have, in fact, received pretty even handed treatment from you when I tried to bring some balance to the discourse. A quick read through the posts here show that nearly all of the posters consider themselves liberal. That is fine in and of itself. However, many also seem to me to manifest the all too common malady of believing all of the worst about those who disagree with them. They then proceed to build straw men based on the imputed position of their opponents.

This practice is repugnant to me, and apparently to you as well since you mildly corrected one of the posters who did this most egregiously.

David Brin said:
Oh, the "economy is good"...? How old are you, ten? Otherwise, you might recall the 1990s, when every-freaking-aspect of the economy was better, better, better...

I assume that suggesting that I am ten means that you believe me stupid or ignorant for suggesting that the economy is good?

At any rate, the economy is good. Unemployment is low, corporate profits have recently been at their highest levels ever (with a subsequent increase in flow to the public coffers), the recently signed CAFTA will likely aid poor nations without negatively affecting our own...

So while we have nowhere near the expansive returns on stocks that were true of the heady days of rampant technology speculation, I wonder what it is that might lead you to say that the economy is not good. Perhaps the current real estate speculation is unstable and unhealthy, but no more so than the stock market speculation of 7 years ago.

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Big C said...

Jacare Sorridente:
"With regards to intelligent design, I think that most of you are exhibiting far too much pleasure in beating a straw man into a pulp. Real, scientific, intelligent design theory does exist. Mostly it is preoccupied with devising ways to determine whether or not a designer might have tampered with something. Outside of questions of theology, such advances, if they come, could have real use for fields such as archaeology, anthropology, exobiology and so on."

Could you point me to some references for the intelligent design research you mention here? The only work I've seen on ID comes from folks like William Dembski and the Discovery Institute. I'm no expert in biology, but the arguments they've proposed don't seem very scientific.

My understanding of their arguments is that they say some biological structures look too complex to have evolved via natural selection, and we don't know how to construct an evolutionary pathway, therefore they were designed. It's a bit of a stretch to argue that because we currently can't conceive of how such complexity would develop naturally, therefore we conclude that it's impossible and must have been designed.

In fact, one of the examples that the ID folks have trotted out a few years ago, the development of a baterium's flagellum, has been shown that there is a plausible evolutionary explanation from the development of other parts that originally had different functionality. See:

Evolution of Bacterium Flagellum


I'm not saying that this is the way it must have happened, but merely that the hypothesis that the flagellum could not possibly have evolved is shown to be false.

Furthermore, if you propose a theory of intelligent design, the first thing I'd like to know is the method, means, and motivations of the designer. This is where I'd expect the laborious research work to come in. ID avoids these questions entirely and I haven't heard any work that people are doing to address these crucial questions. All I've seen is flawed probability calculations that try to poke holes in evolutionary theory.

ID asserts that we can infer design without knowing anything about the designer, and in fact, that if you propose any limitations on the designer, you're introducing a bias. How, then, can we form testable hypotheses to generate positive evidence for the designer? All other science that deals with figuring out if things were designed, like archaeology, antropology, exobiology, etc. makes use of the fact that we can make some assumptions about the designer. In archaeology and anthropology, we know the designers were human, can make inferences about what kinds of tools were available at the time, and what motives they might have had for designing things. All this information is necessary to allow an archaeologist to determine whether a rock they find at a dig site is a spearhead, or just a pointy rock. ID theory asserts that if I couldn't imagine how the rock could naturally become pointy, it must be a designed artifact. Similarly with SETI research, they make assumptions that an ET intelligence would use radio waves, would transmit in a certain band, and would want to communicate. How can I know absolutely nothing about the designer, and still infer design?

I'm not against researchers pursuing a "real, scientific, intelligent design theory" but the stuff I've seen from the ID crowd doesn't fit that description. All I've seen are criticisms of evolution, and no positive evidence for the existence of a designer. Additionally, they deny much of the positive evidence that all organisms are descended from a common ancestor, and form a nested hierarchy in the tree of life, which is a cornerstone of evolutionary theory. The evidence for this fact from biology, genetics, geology, and paleontology that all converge on this same conclusion, seems overwhelming to me, despite the fact that we haven't mapped out every single evolutionary process for every single organism that ever lived. We haven't proven the existence of graviton particles yet, but we still accept gravity as a fact of reality.

Jacare, I'm perfectly willing to be proven wrong, so feel free to point me to evidence that counters what I've seen so far. I fear this is already way off topic on David's blog, but I've been recently reading a lot about the controversy swiling around teaching evolution, and couldn't resist sharing.

For more info, the TalkOrigins site has a plethora of info on evolution and responses to many criticisms. Particularly check out their Index to Creationist Claims which includes a section on ID. Also, the Panda's Thumb blog is a cool site as well.

Charles

Tony Fisk said...

I had my blog rant on ID a while back.

To recap, I concluded that ID might be a reasonable hypothesis, but that it isn't helpful (what does it say that's new?) and that pan dimensional superbeings are an unnecessary complexity (invoking William's snickasnee). Just because a few apparently insoluble problems can be rustled up is *not* proof of PDSBs, just proof that we don't know everything.

Isn't it frustrating that not everyone can see that?

One reason the promoters of ID are succeeding is that they have a very good grasp of what appeals to the general public.

And it's not a set of facts. It's emotions.

Thus, while I can quite cheerfully dismiss the ID examples as proof that we don't know everything, it is n't a particularly comforting thing for the average reader to take home.

So, if someone says 'well, perhaps someone is out there, taking care of things'... a much more snug feeling results!

...and, if you can couch your hypotheses in terms that make the whole thing seem reasonable (ie you don't openly transgress the ethical mores of your opponents), you can get them to at least consider it.

This is called 'framing'.

Unfortunately, those who promote ID aren't after a level debating field. They have an agenda, and will employ 'ratchet' logic to winch their message into the mainstream.

As George Lakoff says, you can't negate a framed argument without buying into it's logic. You have to reframe the whole argument (See this 'New Matilda' article for details)

David gave a wonderful example of this in his riposte to the 'insult that we are evolved from inferior beings' argument.

Jacare Sorridente said...

Big C said:
Could you point me to some references for the intelligent design research you mention here? The only work I've seen on ID comes from folks like William Dembski and the Discovery Institute. I'm no expert in biology, but the arguments they've proposed don't seem very scientific.
I am not an adherent of ID as proposed by Behe, Dembski et al, but I have read some of their work. Dembski, in particular is not a biologist but rather a mathematician. Here is a link to a web site with some of his work including his reasoning behind using certain statistical methods for determining design.

Now, the major issue as I see it with ID is that it resorts to a "God of the gaps" explanation which has been a silly way to approach theology for a long time, and which I believe continues so. If God is limited to only doing things which we can't concoct a naturalistic explanation for then he must be a very limited being indeed.

Nevertheless, as I stated, ID can be a potentially useful tool. In the first case because it challenges the incumbent theory, and that can only lead to a better refinement of the theory. In the second place, as I said, it might lead to useful information independent of whether or not it achieves its end goal.

Even if it produces nothing useful itself, challenges to evolution are useful in stirring the pot. The simple fact is that evolution is by no means a complete theory, and until it can address all relevant issues the possibility remains that it may need to be radically revised or even discarded in favor of a better model. Recall that near the end of the 19th century the triumph of Newtonian mechanics seemed complete. Most of the experts in the field assured us that there remained only a few mostly trivial questions left to answer. One of these trivial questions- blackbody radiation- led to the development of an entirely new branch of physics which still has much valuable information left to mine.

Further, note that challenges to evolution such as the failure of the fossil record to conform to evolutionary theory prompted Gould et al to propose punctuated equilibrium - a model which both accounts for observations and increases the explanatory power of the theory.

Evolution still faces challenges to explain things such as the so-called "irreducible complexity" of the ID theorists as well as issues of the development of novel information based on the corruption of existing information and issues of the unexplicably rapid rate of adaptive mutation as seen in certain bacteria.

Rob said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Rob said...

Jacare, your link didn't work.

"At any rate, the economy is good. Unemployment is low, corporate profits have recently been at their highest levels ever (with a subsequent increase in flow to the public coffers), the recently signed CAFTA will likely aid poor nations without negatively affecting our own..."

Unemployment is low, but long-term unemployment is up:

Unemployment rate and long-term unemployment continue to diverge

Except for the Great Republican Jobs Plan (start a war and increase Defense spending), we would have less jobs now than 4 years ago:

Without defense-related spending, private sector would still be in a jobs hole

Corporate profits lead to increased revenue in the public coffers? I must laugh:

Corporate Profits Are Moving Offshore

The economy is good if you are a corporate executive and/or member of the top 1% in net worth in this country. If you are not, you are facing stagnant wage growth, shrinking job openings (except in Defense/Homeland Security), spiraling health care costs, increased foreign competition from cheaper labor markets...it goes on and on. Wake up and smell the coffee, Jacare. For the vast majority of Americans, the economy sucks.

Rob said...

This whole "Intelligent Design" thing is a smokescreen to get Creationism back on the table. Remember that Creationism's full name was "Scientific Creationism" when it first came out. Then it turned out that it wasn't so scientific after all, as scientific inquiry poked hole after hole in it, until finally no one outside of the radical religious community promotes it as science anymore. So Plan B is to redefine science to include being able to do thought experiments on your theory, not just being able to prove things with repeatable evidence. And really, what that means is that Philosophy is science too, so philosophers should be put on the same playing field as scientists: anything a philosopher can prove rhetorically (OK, be charitable, through logic) is just as valid as anything a scientist can prove in a lab. After all, they both get Ph.D.s, right? Heh.

String theorists should be ecstatic; if Intelligent Design is science, then there will no longer be any objections to String Theory as being empirically unprovable. But for those of us who love science, it's hard to swallow. Jacare pointed out his discomfort with the "God of the gaps" theory; well, Jacare, ID is exactly that. ID postulates that once science reaches a point of "irreducible complexity", i.e. something whose complexity cannot be explained by science, that complexity must be attributed to an Intelligent Designer. A.K.A. God, but you might have a hard time pinning ID proponents down on that (Diane Rehm had an ID panel on her show this morning, and it was a laugh riot listening to the ID guy squirm and twist trying to avoid saying that the Intelligent Designer was in fact God; Diane kept after him a couple of times but was too sweet to pin him to the wall). They know that as soon as the Intelligent Designer is named God, they're back to trying to teach God in school and that's not going to fly. So they won't call it God; I was itching to call up and ask if the ID guy felt that perhaps it was space aliens who brought single-celled life to earth. After all, if the Intelligent Designer isn't God, it has to be someone, right? (That's the logical, scientific question to ask!) Maybe Stan Lee was right, and it was the Celestials! ROFL.

No, Intelligent Design serves no purpose. It will waste a lot of time as actual scientists are forced to drop what they are doing and shoot this one down just like they did Scientific Creationism. The theory of evolution will not be enhanced by this, as no new scientific evidence will be revealed. Indeed, I think Evolution is largely complete; once the single-celled life gets there, evolution takes hold. Evolution does not try to explain what happens before then or how the single-celled life comes to be, and trying to stretch it to cover that is a mistake. ID guys seize on that as evidence: "see, evolution can't explain how single-celled life comes to be, and if a theory can be shown false in any respect the entire theory must be wrong, therefore evolution is wrong." That isn't science, it's rhetoric, and it misses the point anyway, but people have to be shown how that argument is misdirected. That takes time, time better spent doing science rather than rhetoric; but now we'll have to do it, because thanks to the Enlightenment the religious nutjobs have to have some sort of scientific basis for their faith nowadays (or something that is accepted as scientific, even if it really isn't). It's just another battle in the war between ignorance and reason.

Seth said...

Purging the officer corp is such an old tactic for taking control of the military, it isn't surpising that Team W is working on it.

But I am far more disturbed by the courts failure to stand up for federalism in the recent term. The government currently would appear to have absolutely unchecked power to investigate, confiscate, and redistribute wealth.

Interestingly, even the lefties I know are disturbed by this, as they recognize the resurgence of the concept of the divine right of kings, and they don't like the current king.

Which of course, gets back to replacing the officer corp, purging officers with a loyalty to the law and replacing them with officers loyal to the throne.

Speaking on the ID debate... what can you say. ID is patently ridiculous and has no scientific or mathematical basis. The argument from complexity is at direct odds with complexity theory and the gaps argument is the twinkie of terrible philisophical arguments.

William Malo said...

God is not science.

Evolution is undeniably the only empirically data-satisfied “scientific” theory of life existing today.
There is neither a reasonable explanation for how, when or where a god fit(s) into evolution, be it Genesis, gaps or the eminent Rapture, nor is there one iota of proof. Any effort to ‘scientifically’ link the existence of such an entity contaminates the noble pursuit of ethical scientific research.
Attempting to stick a hallucinated deity (a male Christian one at that) into science serves no intellectual purpose. It is ignorant religiosity that cripples humanity, dragging that damned cross into every thoughtful discourse, screaming dogmatic ‘don’t go there‘s.
Fear of the unknown is not an attribute of a scientist exploring the myriad wonders of this vibrant, energized cosmos. Caution for fear of stepping on gods’ toes discourages investigation subsequently handcuffing the explorer and distancing discovery.
The only connection between science and religion that I can accept -- religion is a viral infection for which science may discover a cure.

Jacare Sorridente said...

Rob said:
Corporate profits lead to increased revenue in the public coffers? I must laugh

Laughing doesn't make you right. The CBO estimates that unexpected higher tax revenue will decrease the budget shortfall by about 75 billion.
http://www.cbo.gov. Investors have seen unprecedented amounts of cash flow from dividends and increasing stock prices as stock buybacks become more common place. Companies generally don't know what to do with their money, in part perhaps because the constant wailing in some corners about how the economy only looks like it is strong discourage the investment in growth which companies would normally put their excess earnings into.

The economy is good if you are a corporate executive and/or member of the top 1% in net worth in this country. If you are not, you are facing stagnant wage growth, shrinking job openings (except in Defense/Homeland Security), spiraling health care costs, increased foreign competition from cheaper labor markets...it goes on and on. Wake up and smell the coffee, Jacare.

You are painting a bleak picture, but to be honest I can't understand where it is coming from. The danger to the economy is from a frothy housing market rife with speculation and from the trade imbalances with other nations.

Competition with low wage markets is simply a part of globalization and is inevitable in the current economic reality. Most economists would likely agree that outsourcing low wage jobs to free up our labor force which is generally more skilled and educated anyway is a good thing.

Rob said:
This whole "Intelligent Design" thing is a smokescreen to get Creationism back on the table.

Possibly it is used that way in part. However, whether it is or is not in no way affects the validity of the theory. The only tangible negative you seem to attach to ID is the nebulous idea that scientists will have to waste their time to combat it. This is a non-starter as the scientists who are at all concerned with the issue would spend their time addressing the very issues ID raises whether ID existed or not.

I can't tell whether your comments about "religious nutjobs" are meant to apply to the entire religious community or not, but either way your denunciation serves to illustrate rather starkly that your opposition to ID rather than having any objective basis is the result of simple prejudice.

Rob said...

The CBO estimates that unexpected higher tax revenue will decrease the budget shortfall by about 75 billion.

Hey, that's great; the deficit will be only $325-$350 billion instead of $400-$425 billion. Let's cut taxes some more!

Investors have seen unprecedented amounts of cash flow from dividends and increasing stock prices as stock buybacks become more common place.

Dividends? Who gives out dividends nowadays? And beyond that, who are these investors of whom you speak, who are doing so well? My 401(k) is invested in mutual funds; I have around 50k in there, and it's grown at a decent 4% clip YTD; but in raw numbers, I have appreciated only about $2000 this year. That's hardly enough to run out and buy a Lexus with. These investors who are doing so well must be raking in way more than that; which means they have much more invested than I do, probably in the millions of dollars (and up!). In short, they are already fabulously wealthy in comparison to me, with my $52k salary; and I'm doing better than a lot of Americans!

It seems to me that you are looking at the elite, you see them having a great time, and so you say "see, the system is working fine!" It is- if you are one of the elite. For the rest of us, not so much.

...perhaps because the constant wailing in some corners about how the economy only looks like it is strong discourage the investment in growth which companies would normally put their excess earnings into.

You go on and on about straw men and then you stand this one up. Look, if companies wanted to put their excess earnings into growth, they would, regardless of whiners like me. Bottom line is, they don't. Some of it goes offshore to tax havens, as the article I linked to describes. Some of it goes to lobbying Congress, getting favorable laws passed, and backing candidates to pass those laws. Some goes into executive pockets via egregious bonuses. And some goes to the "investors" who help legitimize the whole thing. They know who their friends are.

This 2004 report detailed 82 Fortune 500 companies that paid zero income tax in the years 2001-2003. Let's be clear: these companies all were profitable in the years in question, yet breaks, subsidies and loopholes enabled them to pay not one cent in taxes (and in many cases, they got hefty rebates- money from average Americans!). Explain to me again how corporations are going to finance the economic well-being of all Americans.

Competition with low wage markets is simply a part of globalization and is inevitable in the current economic reality.

I agree with you on this. I support free trade, if it is truly free. It is not free when countries use essentially (or literally) conscripted labor to compete with us, or use environmentally unsound methods that cause impacts on us even if it's decades down the road. NAFTA and CAFTA and the WTO are important and necessary, but they must not be the end of our initiatives.

Most economists would likely agree that outsourcing low wage jobs to free up our labor force which is generally more skilled and educated anyway is a good thing.

Yes, economists would agree with that, but economists don't have to find a new job when the manufacturing plant they've worked in for 20 years is moved to Mexico or Malaysia. What seems to make sense to an economist is all well and good when you think of it as an economic equation; but there's a reason economics is called "the dismal science", and that's because it treats people as numbers on a chart. It's all very well to say "well, those people should just get another job", but in the real world it isn't that easy. If the other job is in Seattle and you're in North Carolina, and (like most employers today) relocation is not included in the job offer, that other job might as well be on Pluto. There's also the question of the salary of the new job; when I was laid off in 2001, I had to take a job that paid 33% less than I was making previously. Not a big deal for a single guy, but for someone with a family it might not be so easy. Also you have to factor in relative cost of living between the place you are now and the place the prospective job is. There are all sorts of considerations that the glib statement "outsourcing low wage jobs to free up our labor force" doesn't take into account. I think you have to account for them.

The only tangible negative you seem to attach to ID is the nebulous idea that scientists will have to waste their time to combat it. This is a non-starter as the scientists who are at all concerned with the issue would spend their time addressing the very issues ID raises whether ID existed or not.

Oh really? Scientists working on the origins of life would have to contend with assertions that their work is moot because it is "irreducibly complex" even absent an ID movement? They'd have to face skeptics who wondered about the utility of their research anyway when asking for research grants, even if those skeptics weren't armed with the argument that ID explained the very thing they wanted to research? I don't see it as a non-starter at all. Instead, I see it as the nose under the tent of a movement to end all research on the origins and mechanisms of life: "OK, well done, you've learned a lot, now let's stop because we all know an Intelligent Designer did all the rest; no need to go further." I can't believe you don't see that argument coming. Yes, let's push scientific research back to the era of Galileo and Copernicus, where the Church already knew all there was to know about the world from the Bible; we'll just draw the line a little further down the road.

Not only will scientists be wasting their time, they run the risk (if they argue poorly) of legitimizing it. Intelligent Design/Scientific Creationism II could potentially set science back 500 years.

Rob said...

I can't tell whether your comments about "religious nutjobs" are meant to apply to the entire religious community or not, but either way your denunciation serves to illustrate rather starkly that your opposition to ID rather than having any objective basis is the result of simple prejudice.

No, it demonstrates that IN ADDITION to the objective basis I stated, I also have prejudice against those who use some mystical entity's unknowableness as an excuse to prevent others trying to find out whether he/she/it wears boxers or briefs.

I freely admit that I find all religious faith a curious affectation. I don't care what people believe individually. It becomes problematic when the religious people decide that I must accept their religion and define my life by the same parameters they do, just as I'm sure they don't appreciate my desire to live completely apart from their beliefs. I will do all I can (which currently amounts to blathering on blogs) to express my contempt for those who would enforce their religious dogmas on me or the country I live in. I'm a humanist; I don't see God in every rock and blade of grass. Deal with it.

Jacare Sorridente said...

Rob- Certainly the administration could do a much better job at controlling the deficit. I certainly won't argue that. However, the point we were discussing is whether or not the economy is 'good'. Unexpected tax revenue of the magnitude I described certainly doesn't happen when the economy is bad.

As far as dividends- a very good article from the Sp2 2004 Economist entitled "Growth Down, Dividends Up" describes the recent trend in American companies to pay out dividends rather than invest in growth. The unprecedented Microsoft dividend of a year ago serves as the poster child to this trend.

Undoubtedly you are right that you hold no particular sway over the decisions of corporations. However, your attitude seems indicative of a broad trend in the mainstream media to always view the economy in a negative light. Perhaps this is because bad news is always so much easier to discuss and seemingly more interesting than good news. Whatever the case, clearly executives have been scared to invest in growth with the unprecedented profits their companies have been earning.
For further reading on these unprecedented profits I suggest an article from the Feb 10 2005 Economist entitled "A Global Profit Boom". There is also a current article up at www.economist.com entitled "Confident Bosses" with relevant information. Here is a snippet from that article:
Corporate profits tell much the same story. Firms in the S&P 500 have now reported 13 consecutive quarters of double-digit profit growth, equalling the all-time record set in 1992-95. Profit growth is also strong outside the S&P 500.

And from the Reuters stock report this morning:
"For the stock market, it's a sweet and sour report. On the sweet side, the economy is doing well. It's clearly generating jobs and sustaining growth," said Ed Yardeni, chief investment strategist at Oak Associates in Akron, Ohio. "On the sour side, the Fed will continue raising interest rates."
As far as free trade goes, it sounds like you and I agree that it is generally a good thing, as long as minimum standards of safety, wages and environmentalism are met. In fact, the continuing position of China as a "most favored" trading partner is inexplicable in terms of both driving the gaping chasm of trade deficit between the US and the rest of the world as well as outsourcing technology jobs. Certainly a loan shark might have the money you need right now, but giving him the mortgage to your house and the title to your car and hoping that he will take proper care of them is ludicrous.

About churn in the job market- economists deal with large scale numbers, not individual effects. So while a given trend might benefit the economy as a whole, there is no comfort for the individual if his particular circumstances are bad, even if the economy as a whole is doing well. It sounds like you have experienced this pain first-hand in the recent past. While wage growth has been slow compared to, say, the amazing wages any worker with a pulse could command in the mid to late 90's, I don't think that there is any basis for claiming that wages are generally lower since the recovery from the last recession. However, wage growth is hugely influenced by inflation, so hopefully the Fed will be able to keep inflation in check, or we all really will be making less money.

As far as scientists 'wasting time': evolutionary biologists and the like already routinely examine important structures for homologies and propose possible evolutionary paths. To do so for what ID adherents claim are IRC structures at worst simply requires the biologists to study a specific set of structures rather than others they might prefer to study. I wonder who it is that you think will force scientists to stop their work because a putative designer is said to have intervened?

Seth said...

@greedy algorithm

The problem with ID is that it is a completely unsupported and unsupportable scientific premise.

Studying supposedly IRC structures instead of structures that are considered interesting for valid scientific reasons amounts to following a philosophical cause in research rather than a scientific cause.

In other words, the structures that scientists prefer to study are interesting for better reasons, and studying them will lead to better results, so at worst, widespread requirements to filter research through Intelligent Design would utterly destroy our ability as a country to compete in the biological sciences.

Furthermore, children who are taught that the idea of irreducible complexity has any merit are simply being lied to. This idea is at direct odds with complexity theory and all of our understanding about how the world actually works.

Your namesake suggests that you should have a better understanding of complexity than you are showing. And your econ posts suggest that you should be much better at finding and evaluating evidence. Are you just playing devils advocate for ID?

Michael said...

1) ID IS NOT A THEORY! It is a dogma. It is thinly disguised theology.

Someone suggested the it is useful in that it presents a challenge to the currently dominant theory of Neo-Darwinism. The simple fact is that Neo-Darwinian evolution is its own challenge.

There are literally dozens of competing theories regarding all aspects of the overall theoretical structure of evolution. There is no need for religious challenge to Darwinian theory because REAL SCIENCE is being being done in labs and field work by thousands of scientists around the world.

A few disguised preachers cannot contribute meaningfully to that great and wholesome scientific debate.

2) THE GREAT OFFICER PURGE IS MOSTLY SELF-SELECTION. Or, at least, that is my impression. Principled and professional soldiers are leaving the Forces out of disgust with what it has become.

One examaple: An airforce Captain I know was a surgeon and commander over 5 deployments on foriegn assignments. He is a devout Christian and a father of two. Upon the advent of Bush's war he felt that because the Church had denounced the war as unjust, he could not participate. He didn't believe the war was justifiable or moral and refused to set an example of hypocrisy for his children. He resigned his commission and lost his retirement and his benefits in the process.

Now, this man wasn't forced out, he was self-selected out because of the immoral things being done with the armed forces. That is how the purge progresses; not be denouncements and persecutions, but by the good guys refusing to do the job anymore.

Jeff Huber said...

I'm one of those self-selected purges. I didn't like what I was seeing as the new administration came in. The second W. started talking "Axis of Evil" I thought uh-oh. Not a day goes by now that I don't thank my lucky stars I retired when I did.

The purge of the dissenters started as soon as the neocons came into office. Such a shame for our country that nobody's left but the yes men.

Commander Jeff Huber, US Navy (Retired)

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