Tuesday, May 29, 2012


image source
Today I got to do something that just doesn't happen every day.

I told a Nobel laureate
they are wrong

It's really not terribly interesting, so here is the short version (after the break):

Click for more.

1) On May 16th, Russell Garwood's column "Reach out to defend evolution" is published at Nature.com.

2) On May 22nd, Brian Josephson posts some nonsense about Intelligent Design. (text below)

3) On May 24rd, I am directed to the article from Gary Hurd's post about it on Stones and Bones. I leave a comment of my own, which indirectly addressed several comments, including Brian Josephson's. At this point, Brian Josephson carried no particular significance for me. Only after re-reading Gary's post did I realize it why the name Brian Josephson should be significant.

4) Later on May 24th, I learn that Gary is no longer able to post at Nature. I was already pondering a second response anyway, and Gary agrees to review my comments.

5) On May 29th (today), after several days contemplation (and a nice Memorial Day weekend) I post my second response, which includes some very helpful suggestions from Gary. (text below)

That's the short part. The text of the comments follows. If you looked at the links you have already then you can skip the quoted bit.

Here is what Dr. Josephson wrote:
Brian Josephson said: I do not recognise Gary Hurd's characterisation of Intelligent Design . Has he actually studied work in this field, such as that of Stephen Meyer (who has a Cambridge Ph.D. in philosophy, for what that is worth). Hurd seems typical of those who I suspect are scared of the possibility that there may really be a deeper intelligence at work in the natural, and are driven by these fears to avoid examining in a realistic way what experts such as Meyer are in fact doing.
I instigated the Mind–Matter Unification Project at the Cavendish Laboratory because, in my perception, orthodoxy fails in a number of ways. An example of our research is a collaboration with a musicologist arguing that conventional scientific attempts to explain music is are flawed, while alternatives that invoke deeper aspects of nature can account for a number of key facts. We are currently following up ideas of the quantum physicist John Wheeler to the effect that participating observers are the source of natural laws, and hope to gain a systematic account of how his 'observer-participation' operates (for a preliminary account, see this conference report ). I believe science has been seduced by a certain view of nature, and that the next great advance in science will follow when certain destructive influences on progress are superseded by the ideas of those who do not adhere to such tenets.

I did try to be polite in my response, but my inner sarcasm probably shines right through. Here is the text - I am leaving out the first paragraph, which was in response to another comment:

Dan Eastwood said: [...] With all due respect to Dr. Josephson, Intelligent Design Creationism is a well-funded political movement which "... seeks nothing less than the overthrow of materialism and its cultural legacies." (1 ,2 ). Its proponents are continually abusing, misinterpreting, and misrepresenting established fact. This includes erroneous claims that basic principles of physics such as the Second Law of Thermodynamics forbids evolution, and these claims do not cease even though they have been shown to be wrong. Even then, IDC has received due consideration both scientifically and legally. The alleged grounds for such opinions have been examined and they have not stood up to detailed scrutiny. In the words of Philip Johnson, "This [the intelligent design movement] isn't really, and never has been, a debate about science, it's about religion and philosophy." (World Magazine, 30 November 1996).
Dr. Gary Hurd contributed usefully to these comments. Dr. Hurd's further comments can be found here.

So that's it. Medal or not, Dr. Josephson is wrong. I don't think musicology*, philosophical dodges, or New Age quantum mechanical warm-fuzziness have much of anything to contribute to science, and have no place in science education.

* No disrespect to the musicologists!

found somewhere on the Internet
[Minor edit to add links and improve readability, 07/01/12]