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Past Valve Book Events

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cover of the book The Trouble With Diversity

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cover of the book What's Liberal About the Liberal Arts?

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cover of the book The Novel of Purpose

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The Valve - Closed For Renovation

Happy Trails to You

What’s an Encyclopedia These Days?

Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Intimate Enemies: What’s Opera, Doc?

Alphonso Lingis talks of various things, cameras and photos among them

Feynmann, John von Neumann, and Mental Models

Support Michael Sporn’s Film about Edgar Allen Poe

Philosophy, Ontics or Toothpaste for the Mind

Nazi Rules for Regulating Funk ‘n Freedom

The Early History of Modern Computing: A Brief Chronology

Computing Encounters Being, an Addendum

On the Origin of Objects (towards a philosophy of computation)

Symposium on Graeber’s Debt

The Nightmare of Digital Film Preservation

Richard Petti on Occupy Wall Street: America HAS a Ruling Class

Bill Benzon on Whatwhatwhatwhatwhatwhatwhat?

Nick J. on The Valve - Closed For Renovation

Bill Benzon on Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Norma on Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Bill Benzon on What’s an Object, Metaphysically Speaking?

john balwit on What’s an Object, Metaphysically Speaking?

William Ray on That Shakespeare Thing

Bill Benzon on That Shakespeare Thing

William Ray on That Shakespeare Thing

JoseAngel on That Shakespeare Thing

Bill Benzon on Objects and Graeber's Debt

Bill Benzon on A Dirty Dozen Sneaking up on the Apocalypse

JoseAngel on A Dirty Dozen Sneaking up on the Apocalypse

JoseAngel on Objects and Graeber's Debt

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Thursday, February 12, 2009

Happy Darwin Day!

Posted by Rohan Maitzen on 02/12/09 at 08:14 AM

Today is the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth. I hope you can all find some appropriate way to celebrate. Some suggestions:

Watch Richard Dawkins’s “Growing Up in the Universe“ with your children. Buy “The Genius of Charles Darwin“ for yourself.

Watch any of the Stanford “Darwin’s Legacy“ lectures I keep recommending.

Spend some time browsing Darwin’s writings or correspondence.

How about this podcast from Scientific American?

In London? Enjoy the “Big Idea Big Exhibition“ at the Natural History Museum.

Check here for Darwin Day events in your neighbourhood.

Donate to the Charles Darwin Foundation.

Curl up with A. S. Byatt’s Angels and Insects or George Levine’s Darwin Loves You.

There is indeed a grandeur in this view of life.


Comments

A moment to be seized, surely, not just to celebrate Darwin as an inspirational figure, but also to celebrate that spirit of perpetual skepticism and open-minded inquiry that is essential to this kind of science, to the best aspects of ‘Western’ philosophy, and to those elements of our political culture that are worth clinging too. Which also means understanding the limits of this mode of understanding (the danger posed by the failure to comprehend those limits is best exemplified by Dawkins, who seemingly cannot begin to understand just how much he does not know about religion and society).

The time has come - hasn’t it? - to rescue the radical and brilliant theory of evolution from the clutches of both sides of an increasingly hysterical debate - the side wishing to evangelize it as sacred and unquestionable truth, and the side that denounces it as a heresy. Perhaps I am guilty of being uncompromising by wanting to insist that the idea of evolution leaves open a space for faith in an awesome power that made such a beautifully intricate process of creation possible. (That’s not a faith I hold, but I place value on leaving a space open for it). But I think that position leaves a space open for a dialogue that looks increasingly critical (both in the sense that it is urgently necessary, and in the sense that it can enrich our understanding) just now.

By on 02/12/09 at 10:31 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Here’s a nice Intelligent Design parody:

Design

I found a dimpled spider, fat and white,
On a white heal-all, holding up a moth
Like a white piece of rigid satin cloth --
Assorted characters of death and blight
Mixed ready to begin the morning right,
Like the ingredients of a witches’ broth --
A snow-drop spider, a flower like a froth,
And dead wings carried like a paper kite.

What had that flower to do with being white,
The wayside blue and innocent heal-all?
What brought the kindred spider to that height,
Then steered the white moth thither in the night?
What but design of darkness to appall?--
If design govern in a thing so small.

Robert Frost

By John Emerson on 02/12/09 at 10:43 AM | Permanent link to this comment

"On this up trip I saw a little towhead (infant island) half a mile long, which had been formed during the past nineteen years. Since there was so much time to spare that nineteen years of it could be devoted to the construction of a mere towhead, where was the use, originally, in rushing this whole globe through in six days? It is likely that if more time had been taken, in the first place, the world would have been made right, and this ceaseless improving and repairing would not be necessary now. But if you hurry a world or a house, you are nearly sure to find out by and by that you have left out a towhead, or a broom-closet, or some other little convenience, here and there, which has got to be supplied, no matter how much expense and vexation it may cost.”

Life on the Mississippi

By John Emerson on 02/12/09 at 10:47 AM | Permanent link to this comment

The side wishing to evangelize it as sacred and unquestionable truth

Let’s call it the Straw Man Side for short.

By John Emerson on 02/12/09 at 12:03 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Survival of the fittest.

well if we go by Darwin we must ask the question whether his theory would survive the times when every one is after one single question http://controversial-affairs.blogspot.com/2009/02/darwin.html

By shishir on 02/12/09 at 01:20 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Oh my.

In my opinion, God exists, but sucks.

By John Emerson on 02/12/09 at 01:59 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Perhaps I am guilty of being uncompromising by wanting to insist that the idea of evolution leaves open a space for faith in an awesome power that made such a beautifully intricate process of creation possible.

Well, there are certainly many scientists who are believers in some version of “an awesome power,” whether nature or one of the many versions of a deity.

As for the idea that evolution is considered a “sacred and unquestionable truth,” I’m not sure who holds quite that view. As I understand it, evolution is regarded as a scientific theory--as one of the most important and best supported scientific theories we have. But it seems important to be clear about what scientists mean by “theory” (not quite the same as our idiomatic usage of the word ). It also seems important to distinguish between being convinced by a scientific theory and believing in something as an article of faith, or considering an idea “sacred.” Here’s a statement from the National Academy of Science on the question “Is Evolution a Theory or a Fact?”

It is both. But that answer requires looking more deeply at the meanings of the words “theory” and “fact.”

In everyday usage, “theory” often refers to a hunch or a speculation. When people say, “I have a theory about why that happened,” they are often drawing a conclusion based on fragmentary or inconclusive evidence.

The formal scientific definition of theory is quite different from the everyday meaning of the word. It refers to a comprehensive explanation of some aspect of nature that is supported by a vast body of evidence.

Many scientific theories are so well-established that no new evidence is likely to alter them substantially. For example, no new evidence will demonstrate that the Earth does not orbit around the sun (heliocentric theory), or that living things are not made of cells (cell theory), that matter is not composed of atoms, or that the surface of the Earth is not divided into solid plates that have moved over geological timescales (the theory of plate tectonics). Like these other foundational scientific theories, the theory of evolution is supported by so many observations and confirming experiments that scientists are confident that the basic components of the theory will not be overturned by new evidence. However, like all scientific theories, the theory of evolution is subject to continuing refinement as new areas of science emerge or as new technologies enable observations and experiments that were not possible previously. (NAS site)

The readiness to refine the theory of evolution in the face of new observations, evidence, and experiments would seem to be a key way of distinguishing between treating it as science and holding it as “faith.”

Eugenie Scott’s lecture in the Stanford series is very interesting on ways to separate the fundamental concerns or domains of science from those of religion--somewhat along the lines of Gould’s idea of “nonoverlapping magisteria.” (Not everyone will necessarily accept this distinction, of course.)

By Rohan Maitzen on 02/12/09 at 02:28 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Specifically, not Dawkins or P Z Meyers.

By John Emerson on 02/12/09 at 03:12 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Happy 200th:

http://news.yahoo.com/s/pew/20090212/ts_pew/63rejectdarwinstheoryofevolution

By Steven Augustine on 02/12/09 at 04:00 PM | Permanent link to this comment

God almost certainly isn’t god. The idea that God refers to the real God in some way makes me laugh sadly. The God that is not God is not the God that is and is not God.

I’m drunk.

By on 02/13/09 at 04:13 PM | Permanent link to this comment

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