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Endless campaign a poor way to choose a president

In the recent dog days of summer, over a hundred people showed up at Seattle’s Washington Institute to meet one of the superficially more improbable candidates for President in 1996, the articulate black Republican, Alan Keyes. A former Reagan Administration official, Keyes believes that the decline of the family is the central problem in society, around which almost all other Read More ›

Ecology

For more than 90 years, the national forests and grasslands that cover more than 8% of the United States have effectively been all things to all people. Loggers regarded them as reserves of low-cost timber, easily reached on government-built roads. Vacationers treated them as giant playgrounds, studded with picnic areas and campsites. Environmentalists wanted them to be nature reserves, minimally Read More ›

A Report on the ASA Conference Debate on Pandas and People Textbook

On Sunday, July 23, 1995, at its annual meeting, the American Scientific Affiliation (ASA), an organization of Christians in the sciences, sponsored a debate on the supplemental biology textbook Of Pandas and People: The Central Question of Biological Origins, 2nd ed. (Dallas, TX: Haughton, 1993). This 170 page book, written by the biologists Dean Kenyon and Percival Davis, has engendered controversy since it was first published in 1989. Intended for use in public school classrooms as a constitutionally unobjectionable presentation of the notion of “intelligent design,” Pandas has found opposition wherever it is considered by state textbook adoption panels or school boards.

Pandas raises many issues, among them the scientific soundness of “intelligent design,” the empirical adequacy of neo-Darwinism, and the proper content of science education. Thus, members of the ASA resolved to air these differences in a debate, and invited Michael Behe, an associate professor of biochemistry at Lehigh University, and Kenneth R. Miller, a professor of biology at Brown University, to take opposing sides, with Behe defending Pandas, and Miller critiquing it.

Paul Nelson attended this meeting. What follows are his observations.

This is my report on the recent (July 23) ASA Behe/Miller debate about the book Of Pandas and People. Actually, I’ll have much more to say about my conversations with Ken Miller than about the debate itself. Like Mike Behe, I’d judge the debate a draw, or, perhaps more accurately, a stalemate. Ken wanted to hear how we (the design guys) explained the fossil record and earth history, and we wanted Ken to explain how complex biological systems evolved. Because neither Mike nor I had much to say about the fossil record, and because Ken pled ignorance about the actual mechanisms of evolution, I think the audience was left in some frustration (or confusion). Pandas took some genuine hits from Ken, but none, I think, that would sink the book. Certainly (as Mike pointed out), Ken’s own textbook Biology (Prentice-Hall) has problems – some of which Ken very honorably offered to fix in the next edition – and I think nearly all the problems Ken mentioned with Pandas are reparable, without affecting the book’s distinctive intelligent design thesis.

That thesis, of course, can’t be “fixed” (removed to accomodate methdological naturalism) without destroying Panda’s very raison d’etre. But I’ll come to that issue later. When Steve Meyer originally approached me about taking his place as “resident philosopher” at the debate, he mentioned that Ken was going to be Mike’s opponent. When I heard that, I couldn’t say no. Ever since I began reading his essays on the creation/evolution debate, in the early 1980s, Ken has struck me as the opponent I’d least like to face in a debate – in other words, as the most effective and articulate spokesman for the received view of evolution. When I heard him speak at the 1993 AAAS meeting in Boston, on intelligent design (and why organisms showed evidence of unintelligent design), I thought, now here’s someone I’d like to talk to, one-on-one, about evolution, because unlike the agnostics I usually talk to at the University of Chicago, who find problems with every evolutionary idea, he sure seems to know how the process works.

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The Wizard of NMFS

The story so far: It is a calm day in the Sound of Puget. Dorothy, our heroine, is washing her sports utility vehicle in the driveway of her 6000 square-foot farmhouse, fresh from applying herbicides to the north-forty acres of lawn. Her pet sea lion, Herschel, frolics in the suds that run down the driveway into the storm sewer. Suddenly, Read More ›

A Look at New Approaches to Conservation

Every month since 1993, about 30 environmentalists, loggers, biologists, union representatives and local government officials have met the library of Quincy–a timber town in northern California that has been the site of a nasty 15-year battle over logging. Out of these monthly meetings has emerged a plan to manage 2.4 million acres of the surrounding national forests. Instead of leaving Read More ›

Seattle’s Future: Forward Thrust or Bust?

The danger in next month’s capital improvements election–with the Seattle Commons, neighborhood ball parks and a big outdoor ballpark for the Mariners on the ballot–is not that voters of Seattle and King County will lack the facts upon which to make a sound judgment. There will be plenty of healthy debate. The real danger, especially for young voters and newcomers, Read More ›

The little train to Bellingham that could–and should

Working with the Legislature, state transportation department and Amtrak West officials, a second train was added last year to the Amtrak Cascades service between Seattle and Bellingham. People responded....(ridership increased and ) the Provincial government...was set to announce a $20 million investment in Amtrak's Cascades service ...(to)...allow the second train to join the first train continuing up the coast from Bellingham to Vancouver, B.C....Last week, buried in the details of the state House $3.2 billion transportation budget was a $3.5 million reduction that could eliminate the second train....The House cut is perplexing...for a savings of $3.5 million, the pending $20 million British Columbia contribution is put in jeopardy. And $30 million in previous investments by Washington state, Amtrak West and Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad would be negated. ...As more people move to Skagit and Whatcom counties and commute to jobs in King and Snohomish counties, (the need increases for)...commuter rail from Everett to Blaine. Commuter rail would service the demands of companies such as The Boeing Co. in Everett. Without the two trains, however, these dreams would die. Beyond the damage to communities north of Seattle, this cut will add more congestion on I-5 into King County from the north. Train service is a real, if modest, opportunity to target spikes in rush-hour traffic. Read More ›

Time to Forget the Superpower Thing?

Ideas have consequences. Especially ideas that can get you killed. Take, for example, the cluster of notions expressed by the phrase, World’s Only Superpower. Everybody says it. Everybody says it because everybody says it. Perhaps, in some ways it’s still true. But today, the military Superpower idea is obsolete, misleading, and potentially fatal. Three big reasons why. First, with each Read More ›

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Electric power tower showing structural complexity
Photo by Shane Rounce on Unsplash

Is There Scientific Evidence for the Existence of God?

Introduction What is implied by the concept of “an intelligently designed universe”? What does it mean on a grand scale to assert that the universe is the product of an intelligent designer? In a scientific age that exalts rationalism and chance, what empirical evidence could possibly support such a claim? As humans contemplating the immense complexity of the cosmos, might Read More ›

From Wires to Waves

U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska wants to know: With deregulation of telecommunications, who will bring connections to Unalakleet, to Aleknagik and to Sleetmute? Who will bring 500 channels up the Yukon with the salmon to the people in Beaver? What will happen to the Yupik, the Inupiat and the Inuit? Will we leave them stranded in the snow while Read More ›