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Prof Denied Funds Over Evolution Evidence 953

radarsat1 writes "The Montreal Gazette today reported that a professor at Montreal's McGill University was refused a $40,000 grant, allegedly because 'he'd failed to provide the panel with ample evidence that Charles Darwin's theory of evolution is correct.' Ironically, the grant was for a study into the detrimental effects of intelligent design on Canadian academics and leaders." From the article: "Jennifer Robinson, McGill's associate vice-principal for communications, said the university has asked the SSHRC to review its decision to reject Alters's request for money to study how the rising popularity in the United States of 'intelligent design' - a controversial creationist theory of life - is eroding acceptance of evolutionary science in Canada."
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Prof Denied Funds Over Evolution Evidence

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  • Correction (Score:4, Interesting)

    by XorNand ( 517466 ) * on Thursday April 06, 2006 @04:24PM (#15079396)
    ...rising popularity in the United States of 'intelligent design'
    I'd say "formally rising" and now "waning". The ID people have been quietly nursing their wounds since U.S. District Judge Jones, really put them in their place last December. The opinion he wrote was extraordinary lucid and well-reasoned. If anyone here hasn't read it, I would highly recommend it. It is anything but a dry legal document.
  • by SeanDuggan ( 732224 ) on Thursday April 06, 2006 @04:28PM (#15079433) Homepage Journal
    I'm holding opinion until we see what the actual criteria for rejection were. I could see this as a situation where the letter said something along the lines of, "We found that you did not do sufficient work to establish your definition of evolution when surveying the people." The researcher, of course, would like to have a groundswell of earnest defense from reactionaries, so he rephrases it to sound like the government is advocating ID. In all the noise and hubbub, the government cuts its losses and pays him off rather than spend tons (metric tonnes, I'm sure) of money defending themselves.
  • by vlad_petric ( 94134 ) on Thursday April 06, 2006 @04:32PM (#15079475) Homepage
    The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter. Winston Churchill
  • by n9uxu8 ( 729360 ) on Thursday April 06, 2006 @04:37PM (#15079536) Homepage
    Amen! I've seen plenty of grant applications with great titles that inevitably show that either the author has no idea how to write a grant to properly convey his ideas/requests or that he is a complete idiot and, while able to identify hot-button issues, couldn't design a decent research plan to save his life.

    In this case, I would think that it is at least possible that the grant app didn't seem worth $40k to the review board (more due to the former rather than the latter judging by the PIs standing in the community). After he enjoys the free press, he will resubmit or move on to something else. Not every grant proposal can be funded.

  • by DesertWolf0132 ( 718296 ) on Thursday April 06, 2006 @04:41PM (#15079577) Homepage

    Hold on for a moment while I calm the spasms of laughter...

    Ok, first, the study for which he applied for the grant was flawed. ID does not in any way claim that evolution did not happen, only that it may be the method through which an intelligent entity created us. To study the effects of a belief in a socialogical sense one must first understand the real belief, not the view of the uneducated on the topic. ID offers evolution as one of the possible methods of Intelligent Design. I will grant here that much of ID is conjecture and more hypothesis than theory. Creationists of late have been twisting ID to fit their view that nothing evolved but was created. The grant therefore should have studied Creationism and its negative effects on the study of evolution. True ID still allows for the study of evolution and Darwin's theories. It merely attempts to give an explanation of the catalyst for it. Anything that calls itself ID but eliminates evolution is Creationism.

    Now before the Creationists and followers of Darwin on this site try to have me drawn and quartered, I personally withhold my opinion. I merely wish to state that parties on all sides of this debate are fond of not taking the time to understand each other's arguments.

    Let the flaming by those who don't take the time to read my entire post begin...

  • Re:I don't get it (Score:3, Interesting)

    by necro2607 ( 771790 ) on Thursday April 06, 2006 @04:50PM (#15079674)
    Yeah, what "God" is going to want to sit around and come up with all these weird ass creatures all day long? Why not "write" a procedural "program" to design all that for you? Actually, this is starting to sound like that upcoming game Spore [wikipedia.org]...
  • That's just trolling. Even if we were all insanely intelligent, there would still be a majority of people under 110 IQ. By definition, 100 is the median IQ, therefore claiming that there is a majority of people with an IQ below X (where X is an IQ larger than 100) is meaningless. The more important question is that of the capabilities of a person with an IQ of 100.
  • by dada21 ( 163177 ) <adam.dada@gmail.com> on Thursday April 06, 2006 @05:04PM (#15079841) Homepage Journal
    No Child Left Behind and various other laws make education a nationally standardized mess of differing opinions. With more Federal money being thrown at what should be a local issue, we're going to have more problems like this than ever.

    I'm not fond of any public funding, grants, guaranteed loans or any form of research, but I am also not the kind of person to push my opinions on people I don't know. I am frustrated that my future kids would have to learn subject matters that are outside of my belief system. I believe that if a family wants to teach their children creationism, they'd choose a school that teaches it. If they want to teach evolution, the same would be true. That is more important than shoving every kid of every family into a common thinking (indoctrination).

    Why the debate, anyway? What do you care what people you don't know, will never meet, and have no direct contact with teach their children? How does the standard I set affect you, even if you're 2 communities over?

    Learning is about basic math, basic reading and writing, and basic discipline. It isn't about higher science or sex ed or history or foreign languages -- that is for the individual to decide if they want it as an elective that will affect their futures.

    The more we shove people into the same mold, the less we'll be able to compete in the world. Variety is the spice of life, including in education, faith and science.
  • Exactly (Score:3, Interesting)

    by roman_mir ( 125474 ) on Thursday April 06, 2006 @05:07PM (#15079875) Homepage Journal
    my first thought was, HA, this is a stupid study. What is the difference how intelligent design affects our thoughts on evolution? Then I realized that this is what social studies are all about, some Phd or whatever is sitting there and coming up with ideas for his/her funding for the next year. Obviously nobody really cares about this except for this individual (he has plenty to gain from it.) What is more interesting what other totally pointless 'studies' are conducted in this way and paid for by our tax money?
  • That's just trolling. Even if we were all insanely intelligent, there would still be a majority of people under 110 IQ. By definition, 100 is the median IQ, therefore claiming that there is a majority of people with an IQ below X (where X is an IQ larger than 100) is meaningless. The more important question is that of the capabilities of a person with an IQ of 100.

    Exactly- and I say those capabilities do NOT include comprehending the evidence for evolution at this point in time. Maybe someday- but not now.
  • Re:Yay! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by gobbo ( 567674 ) <wrewriteNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Thursday April 06, 2006 @05:23PM (#15080021) Journal
    $40,000 was saved from being wasted on a useless study.

    Do you have any idea how much of your daily life is impacted by government and bureaucratic policy decisions? I didn't think so.

    Policy makers who are acting in good faith (OK, maybe that's rare, just to be cynical) rely on studies like this. It is anything but useless, it's crucial.

    Before anyone sputters about it not really being about science, well, it isn't supposed to be. It's about social power. ID isn't about science either: its express goals are to displace science with political, cultural, and moral authority derived from the Bible. In other words, ID is about social power.

  • Cargo Cult Science (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Ranger ( 1783 ) on Thursday April 06, 2006 @05:25PM (#15080043) Homepage
    The blurb was poorly worded, so I went and read the story. And it didn't make much sense either. Intelligent Design is just Creationism dressed up in scientific clothing. Lots of pseudoscience proponets try to dress up their ideas under the guise of science. As the late great Richard Feynman so aptly called it Cargo Cult Science [brocku.ca]. They talk the talk, but when they attempt to walk the walk, they can't.

    For years Johannes Kepler [wikipedia.org] tried to make his observations fit his theory that the planetory orbits corresponded to the five perfect solids. He took the courageous step to reject his pet theory because it was wrong and came up with his three laws of planetary motion. They fit his observations better and made actual predictions. It was, it is testable.

    The fundamentalists are trying to make their observations fit their 'theory'. Except they have no observations and a theory that is mere window dressing. The problem is most Christians forgot God was a metaphor and are trying to interpret their flavors of the Bible as absolute fact and history. You can still be a devout Christian and understand evolution and accept it happened (I'm not a Christian). By rejecting Creationism they don't have to reject their entire faith. That is to say they don't have to throw out the baby with the bathwater.
  • Here here. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Main Gauche ( 881147 ) on Thursday April 06, 2006 @05:26PM (#15080059)
    "I could see this as a situation where the letter said something along the lines of, 'We found that you did not do sufficient work...' ... "

    That was exactly my first thought on this matter. Perhaps the researcher thinks that any proposal on this topic should be funded, regardless of quality?

    Grants are never awarded "perfectly," expecially in the eyes of the applicants. But this simplistic reaction is absurd.

    While the researcher claims that this rejection "proves him right," I, OTOH, find that his (and/or the media's) reaction proves the committee right for having rejected him in the first place.
  • If their original letter had left out the following:

    "Nor did the committee consider that there was adequate justification for the assumption in the proposal that the theory of Evolution, and not Intelligent Design theory, was correct."

    I would have taken this correction just a little more seriously.

    But that sentence is what the rejection letter said, and no amount of "we didn't mean that" is going to fix their mess. If they didn't want to come across as a anti-evolutionary idiots, they shouldn't have written crap like that.

    If they *meant* that assumption from a social sciences perspective (where in America, supposedly 50% of the population doesn't accept evolution through natural selection as the means by which the current (and many past) species exist on this planet), then perhaps they are right by simply pointing out (politely, perhaps) that 50% of the population are a bunch of idiots and you can't assume that they accept as true what you assert to be scientificly factual.

    In other words, from a social sciences point of view, you can't look at "evolution is an accepted fact" as a constant, as a control, for basing a scientific experiment around ID.

    In this, they are perhaps correct. If that is what they meant.

    Although I had thought the Canadian population as a whole was better than that...
  • by Mattcelt ( 454751 ) on Thursday April 06, 2006 @05:44PM (#15080201)
    I hold firmly to the idea that a civilization is only advanced to the point where its average person (or a group of average people) can recreate a concept.

    That said, the problem - since the beginning - with Evolution is that fanatics have tried to use it as evidence that there is no God. ID is a social manifestation of Newton's Third Law, where the fanatics on the other side are trying to prove there is.

    I have yet to see any evidence whatsoever that ID vs. Evolution is anything but a religious debate. Evolution may be sound scientific principle, and ID may not be - but it doesn't matter a whit, because this debate isn't about science. It's about whether or not there is a God.

    This seems a horrendous misapplication of intelligence and faith to me. There should be no debate - Evolution is not inconsistent with the existence of God. If everyone treated it that way, there would be no need for ID.
  • by vidarh ( 309115 ) <vidar@hokstad.com> on Thursday April 06, 2006 @05:52PM (#15080261) Homepage Journal
    That said, the problem - since the beginning - with Evolution is that fanatics have tried to use it as evidence that there is no God. ID is a social manifestation of Newton's Third Law, where the fanatics on the other side are trying to prove there is.

    I can honestly say that I've never discussed religion with anyone who claimed evolution was evidence that there is no God. I'm an atheist myself, and I don't see evolution that way.

    HOWEVER, an understanding of evolution for many lessens their belief in god, because it is yet another explanation that lessens the need for the ultimate "catch all" explanation for "unsolved" mysteries, and as such it's an important fight for many of those that strongly believe.

  • by Moulton ( 44252 ) on Thursday April 06, 2006 @06:03PM (#15080352) Homepage Journal
    The problem to be solved is that there is more to the story than the part explained by Darwinian Theory.

    After Darwin's day, we learned how DNA carries the genetic code, and how the encoded blueprint for an organism code can change from one generation to the next, producing variations within a species and the occasional emergence of viable new species.

    We have a pretty good story to tell about how DNA codes for proteins, how proteins build tissues, how tissues make organs, how collections of organs comprise an organism, and how organisms mate, exchange DNA, and reproduce.

    What we don't yet have is good story to tell about how DNA-based life arose in the first place.

    For that, we might eventually learn from research in Molecular Biology how DNA-based self-replicating structures arose from simpler nonliving precursors.

    Or we might learn from space scientists that DNA-based micro-organisms (or their more primitive precursors) arrived on Earth via cosmic dust from extraterrestrial origins beyond the Solar System.

    As wonderful as Darwin's Theory is, and as wonderful as present day Molecular Biology is, we still have a gap in the story when it comes to explaining how it all got started in the first place.

    Rather than argue about Evolution vs ID, we ought to be looking for evidence to answer the question about how DNA-based life got started in the first place, and whether it got started here on Earth or arrived here via some precursor carried in the cosmic winds.

    If and when space scientists demonstrate compelling evidence for Panspermia, we can then have a good time speculating on whether DNA-based self-replicates arose through elementary natural processes explainable with Freshman Chemistry rather than by sophisticated molecular engineering by some long-lost intelligent race of technogeeks who lived inside of some ancient computer-based technocivilization long before the creation of our own Latter Day Solar System.
  • by 0xABADC0DA ( 867955 ) on Thursday April 06, 2006 @06:31PM (#15080535)
    So-called intelligent design is a belief in creationism opposed to knowledge about evolution. Thus, ID is fighting against knowledge which is why their arguments are of the form "but the eye is too complex, prove it evolved. oh you can't and btw where's the missing link?". So how do you fight belief? By mocking it of course, hence the "flying sphagetti monster". Both approaches are similar in that they basically just insult the other side's core principles.

    If you really want to fight their belief then come back with an equally compelling belief of your own. For example, argue with IDers that our universe is a mere simulation contained in another, greater one. "God" is a computer. This should be particularly infuriating because it actually makes more sense than "big bang" -or- christianity because it gives you an appeal to authority that is completely consistent with science. When they say "well science can't even explain gravity, what causes that? or explain quantum physics then?" you just say "it's part of the simulation duh". It just is, and covers for science's "problem" of not knowing everything. Plus you get to look as insane to them as they look to you, and by being finally on the same level of discourse some progress can be made.

    Incidentally I think a Finite State Monster would be far more terrifying...
  • Fairy Tales (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Moulton ( 44252 ) on Thursday April 06, 2006 @06:33PM (#15080540) Homepage Journal
    One doesn't have to be a Christian to be in favor of telling fairy tales to school children.

    Every culture has its myths, including secular beliefs that eventually prove to be misconceptions.

    The history of science is full of paradigm shifts, including many that are still underway.

    If we want to attack myths, how about attacking myths about regulatory structures that claim to yield order, predictability, and stability (rather than chaos and instability).

    I daresay that most people blithely adopt the widely-held secular belief that rule-driven systems are inherently stable, orderly, and predictable. School children are not only taught this, they are obliged to adopt this belief as our prevailing secular religion.

    The mathematical truth may be a bit jarring, but the problem is that most people don't have enough math to understand why rule-driven systems are likely to be chaotic and unpredictable.

    What's even worse, most people don't have enough math to understand how to design a functional regulatory structure that yields the stability lacking in rule-based architectures.

    Poincare and Lorentz notwithstanding, this isn't a new idea. One can find this same idea in the Story of Adam and Eve.
  • Re:Fairy Tales (Score:4, Interesting)

    by SimHacker ( 180785 ) * on Thursday April 06, 2006 @07:07PM (#15080776) Homepage Journal

    There's a big different between telling fairy tales to children, and teaching them as facts, to children and adults.

    Is it really that grown-up Creationists actually don't believe in Adam and Eve themselves, but they just want their kids to believe in it just like they believe in Santa Clause and the Easter Bunny? Isn't it cute the things that kids will believe when adults systematically lie to them?

    Moulton believes that intelligent design should be taught in schools:

    My position on Intelligent Design is that it should be taught in the Engineering Curriculum, so that our engineered products are intelligently designed.


    It would astonish me if you didn't believe in teaching the principle of intelligent design when designing systems that mimicked the dynamics of the real world.

    Moulton is being intellectually dishonest and taking a page from the Discovery Institute's play book, by trying to divert the conversation away from the real topic, and pretending to misunderstand the meaning of the words, and constructing a straw-man argument instead.

    Moulton, can you answer a straightforward question without pretending to misunderstand and weaseling out of addressing the topic? Do you believe in Creationism or not? Yes, you know what I mean, and no I'm not talking about "creativity", and yes you've already made that "joke" of misunderstanding me twice. If you still can't answer it directly, I'll have good reason to assume that you do believe in Creationism, because of your evasiveness on the subject.


  • Re:I don't get it (Score:2, Interesting)

    by daiichi ( 888740 ) on Thursday April 06, 2006 @07:35PM (#15080936)
    I so agree with this. I've always told my kids that (1) I believe God exists (2) He is a programmer and (3) He believes in code reuse. The silliness that commonality = evolution (we differ from the Apes by only 2%!) is getting way out of hand. Compare the bytes that make up Microsoft Excel to Microsoft Word and you'll likely find that they too are quite similar (excel.exe has long strings of 0x00 just like word.exe does!)--and we should therefore conclude that they weren't designed, but have evolved from one to the other. As so many have said--evolution does not exclude intelligent design (or vice versa). I, for example, believe in evolutionary adaptation within a species, and concur that interspecies evolution is plausible (though very difficult to prove, maybe to the same order of difficulty as proving God exists...or doesn't). The bonehead self-proclaimed "scientists" we find here on /. are so arrogant that they forget that until relatively recently, we had been teaching that dinosaurs were reptiles as if it were accepted fact. My God is not so small that He could not conceive of "evolution" as a way to accomplish His Will.
  • by heavy_metal_chemist ( 858632 ) on Thursday April 06, 2006 @08:31PM (#15081253)
    There was an interesting article in the Guardian http://education.guardian.co.uk/faithschools/story /0,,1740548,00.html [guardian.co.uk] the other day. The thesis is that it is the atheistic stance of many proponents of evolution that leads religious people to believe that evolution is an attack on religion and thus they must "choose" between the two. I personally believe that generally science and religion are incompatible, but the pro-evolution people should consider whether attacking church-dogma directly is a good idea if they are trying to "convert" the masses to rational thought.
  • by LordOfTheNoobs ( 949080 ) on Thursday April 06, 2006 @09:32PM (#15081555) Homepage
    At the risk of further whoring myself upon the top of this article, I will point out that they did, at least, leave the April 1st `!gay` and `heterosexual` tags well in place. Apparently it's only the gay tags that get deleted. :p
  • Re:More precisely (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ShakaUVM ( 157947 ) on Thursday April 06, 2006 @09:34PM (#15081564) Homepage Journal
    Humans are 90%+ similar to most animals on the planet, IIRC.

    However, humans are the only beings capable of meta-examining one's impulses, and choosing among (or denying them). This is the fundamental basis for ethics, and the very real line that separates us from animals. I'm quite sure that someone like a Jane Goodall could have some example of primitive meta-cognitive thinking in apes or dolphins, but nonetheless, I feel my statement holds true.

    >>In other words, it's about the nature of humanity, which they see as
    >>distinguished from other animals by a spark of divinity.

    Some people might call this division between man and animal "a spark of divinity". I don't. You can call it what you will, but the division is actually more real and profound than people who always quote the "we're 99% the same as chimps DNA-wise" would let on. Comparing percentages of DNA being similar is a misleading statistic, by the by. We're very genetically similar to most animals on the planet. The devil is in the details, after all.

    I'm a Christian, but I'm also not a fundamentalist. I believe in the primacy of reason, and feel that fundamentalists in general are irrational, and give Christians a bad name. I also find it aggravating that places like Slashdot tend to lump all Christians together under one label.

    >>It's not just the existence of God that people are arguing for. Christian
    >>fundamentalists would be horrified to be told that God exists but doesn't
    >>intervene in human affairs, for example.

    Sure, and I disagree with fundamentalists on this point. If they are spared from some natural disaster, they claim it was God that intervened to save them, but if they died, it would be part of his great plan. I think it is contradictory to claim that God would establish a natural order and then routinely violate it. I personally don't believe in fate, though I do thank God for any beneficial things that happen in my life -- why not? If God intervenes, I'd suspect it would be on much more a limited basis than what fundamentalists claim, who say things like "God provided me with my wife". Well... what if she didn't want to be your wife? Does that make God some kind of pimp? No. The notion is completely contrary to free will, self-accountability, and right and wrong.

    >>You could try pointing out that humans were decorating graves and writing
    >>theCode of Hammurabi long before the Bible was written and won't suddenly
    >>revert to animalism if they abandon the 20th-centruy movement to take the
    >>entire Bible literally.

    20th century movement? Some people consider it simply reactionary on the part of Christians to now treat Genesis as allegory, now that evolution is on the scene. But as far back as the church goes, there are different camps treating the creation story as allegory or fact -- long before the evolution argument ever arrived. St. Augustine considered the creation story as allegory, for example, and he lived around 400 AD. He pointed out that there are two creation stories in the bible, that contradict each other in the exact order of the "days" (they basically go backward).

    However, there is a lot to be said for the existence of a Christian church regardless of other factors. Examining the differences in states which are Christian and those that are militantly secular shows a much greater respect for the individual in the Christian states. While most atheists are also humanists, it is only the Christian humanists that seem to really believe in what they are saying. The USSR was established on humanist principles, and, well, produced the biggest mass-murderer of all time, Stalin.
  • Re:Please tell me (Score:1, Interesting)

    by cybrzndane ( 632057 ) on Thursday April 06, 2006 @10:03PM (#15081701)
    From what I gather from the article on falsification, it appears to me that theories consiste of falsifiable statements. I do not know what falsifiable statements make up the theory of Intelligent Design. If there are none, then you are indeed correct it should not be labeled as a theory, but instead maybe some soft of a guess or hypothesis. As far as I can tell, there is little better we can do to presume what happenned to start the whole universe ball rolling. I still do not see from the article on falsifiability why we need a prediction to come from the theory. Are there not generally accepted theories which only attempt to explain the reason something is the way it is. We are talking about something that is past tense, so how can a prediction be made. What is the testable prediction made by the "Big Bang" theory? That is how I see ID.
  • Re:Perspective (Score:3, Interesting)

    by XanC ( 644172 ) on Friday April 07, 2006 @01:50AM (#15082381)
    My bad; I hadn't read it in long enough that I misunderstood you.

    But I don't think it's necessarily true that the physical creation of man and the spiritual creation of man are one and the same. Did every early hominid have a soul? Who knows. It's certainly possible that event took place 6,000 years ago, with Adam and Eve, where the chronicles begin.

    I'm a little rusty on this, but in Genesis, doesn't Cain run off and join "the others"? Seems to suggest that there were hominids already running around by the time A&E left the Garden.

No amount of genius can overcome a preoccupation with detail.