Intelligence and Intelligent Design

The Chicago Tribune (dead-tree version; don’t know about Web site) had three grouped articles about Intelligent Design (ID) in its Perspective section today (Sunday, Nov. 27, 2005).

A summary of each article is the following:

  • Christians can’t afford to oppose evolution – it’s too well accepted and documented. The fight should be for ID, not against evolution.
  • ID makes inspiring students that much harder, especially at a time (now) when the country’s science skills/interests are going in the crapper.
  • There’s room to teach both – at least mention creationism etc. as an aside, possibly.

All three articles were fairly short, well-written and without any of the hyperbole and divisive/dismissive language that has often been part of this argument.

And it has caused me to weigh in on this subject.

Before I begin, I want to explain what I believe ID is – in case I get it wrong:

ID basically says that the world is way too complex to have evolved from molecules and so on to humans and reptiles and other living organisms. And – if you look closely at evolution, there are gaps that are not yet explained. The way to explain the gaps and the complexity is to say there was some sort of Intelligent Design behind all of life. ID tries hard to not invoke the “God” word, but – tacitly – that seems to be the premise.

Now, I disagree with ID, for reasons outlined below, but I will say that the ID thinking has merit. Life is incredibly complex, and to say that my cat and me both – at the end of the day – evolved out of the same pool of organic molecules is pretty stunning. Ditto for trees and those scary-looking carpet bugs that look like elephants. We’re distant cousins? No way, Jose…

But most of the arguments ID offers are ineffectual, and – to a certain degree – can be explained away by invoking the God word:

  • Life is too complex to be the result of evolution: If there is an omnipotent God that created the universe, all we know and see, why could this God not design a complex system that is the result of a god-driven evolution (as God’s choice)? Why not? I think such a God could knock this out faster than I could whip up a Perl script for a log file.
  • There are gaps in evolution: Agreed, yet the gaps keep getting filled in. Only a couple of thousand years ago – a mere blink in the history of the earth – the world was make of hard, indivisible atoms. Then atoms were made of particles (proton, neutron, electron). Then these particles were made of other particles (quarks, leptons, mesons) and so on. Let’s say this ID theory was around a century or so ago, when anti-particles(!) were postulated and detected (positron, for example). This was way too complex for the time, so it must be ID! Right?
  • What happens when the gaps are closed? When gaps – which were explained away as ID – are pretty conclusively proved, what happens then? Uh, well, ID still explains this other gap, that hasn’t been proved….
  • There are gaps in our knowledge overall: Maybe we didn’t all come from one pool of organic molecules, maybe there were hundreds. Or a meteorite with molecules hit us and gave us another batch? Who knows? We’ve gone for Helios riding across the sky pulling the sun through a heliocentric system (Galileo) to our current, more Einstein view of circling the sun (depends on where you’re standing). Simply because we don’t understand everything – or anything – about an area of science today doesn’t mean it’ll never be understood.
  • Room to Teach Both: The author mentioned that he had a Mennonite biology teacher who would mention creationism – as an aside – rolling his eyes a bit – but mentioning it. OK. I don’t have a problem with that. That’s the teacher’s – and, to a degree, the community’s – choice. The issues in Kansas and the Keystone State [where the issues split] called for teachers to be required to teach ID. That’s way different from being allowed to mention it. Vastly different. And if you don’t get the difference, read the Constitution of the US, Amendment 1.
  • Francis Bacon: You know, the whole scientific method. Controls, cause vs. effect and so on. Empirical evidence. ID is the explanation for LACK of empirical evidence. That’s not science – it’s religion or philosophy (which is fine, but don’t require it in science classes). Lack of expected empirical evidence can be a good thing – see the Michelson and Morley Experiment, that failed…brilliantly! It did not give the empirical evidence expected, but the data – empirical evidence – led to acceptance of Einstein’s convention of a universal speed of light.
  • Why Limit ID to Evolution Knocking? Genesis says the earth and all its stuff were made in six days (on the seventh, God kicked back – whew!). Evolution says it’s a long, slow process (though punctuated equilibrium/evolution has gained ground lately; I personally feel it’s valid). So they’re at odds. But – unless it truly is a Biblical vs. Empirical issue (which ID keeps saying it isn’t), aren’t there better/additional areas to apply ID? Big Bang vs. Steady State? If the former, what “there” was there before the bang? The Big Bang – overall – goes against Genesis; why no ID outcry here?. Quantum physics – hell, quantum mechanics gave rise to Einstein’s famous “I cannot believe that God plays dice with the world” utterance. The more one looks as quantum mechanics, the more obtuse it seems. A century after Heisenberg, we still don’t fully get it. Must be the hand of God Intelligent Design…
  • Science/scientists != atheism/atheists: Einstein believed in god; it’s almost hard to really delve into astrophysics – with wormholes, curved space, edge of the universe (what’s on the other side?) and so on without thinking about some larger power. No, we can’t prove it – does that mean we’ll stop trying to get empirical evidence?
  • We ARE a Lazy Science Nation: Ever see the Jaywalking episodes on the Tonight Show? Where Jay Leno just cruises the streets and asks ordinary folks basic questions? Be very afraid; we don’t look so good. And science is a discipline where not knowing the answer is OK; where our understanding of issues changes over time (see the atoms issue, above); where we’re often wrong (see the Michelson and Morley Experiment), but pursuit of truth continues. Can you prove that this or that is ID? Yes? Then let’s stick it in the canon of science and then – as always – try to repeat the proof, debunk the proof, offer alternatives and so on. Let’s not just say the hard stuff is ID. Even if true (if so, prove such), this isn’t the scientific method (see Bacon, above). This is like a parent explaining to a child why the kid has to go to bed: “Because I said so.” Fine in this context; but it’s not science.

And that’s all I have to say about this at this time…

Open-Source Silliness

Tim Bray points to what it a very odd ZDNet blogger entry by Dana Blankenhorn suggesting – well, saying – that open-source applications are overwhelmingly just followers, not innovators. (And so what’s the use of it?)

While there is a certain degree of truth to this – Open Office is replicating MS Office, the GIMP trying to give the world a free Photoshop and so on, this isn’t the whole story. Because you could say the same thing for closed source software.

  • MS Office was just a WordPerfect and Lotus 1-2-3 clone with some other tools.
  • Aldus Freehand tried (tried…) to duplicate Adobe Illustrator.
  • Aldus PageMaker was a QuarkXpress copy, and now Adobe has their InDesign (I think that’s what it’s called).
  • On the Web scripting language side, I don’t know who came first, but I guess the first one – to Blankenhorn – is the only innovator, the rest mere clones, be they OSS or CSS. So only one the following (abbreviated list) is an innovator, the rest imitators: PHP, ASP, ColdFusion, JSP, Lasso.

I really don’t see a lot of breakthrough apps on either side; sometimes the first innovator remains the best (Apache) in many respects; in some cases, the innovator falls by the wayside as others jump on this band wagon (Netscape eclipsed by IE, later by Firefox and Safari; Radio blogs bested by SixApart and Blogger). There are different types of innovation: breakthrough and incremental, for example.

And let’s take a look at a handful of OSS projects that were truly innovative and still remain the leaders:

  • Apache – OK, I think this began as NCSA Server, but this was before the Web itself existed. Apache currently has approximately a 70% share of the server market, a figure that has remained pretty consistent (with an overall uptick trend) for the past five years. Apache runs the Web. Even Microsoft, with its large installed base and millions in advertising yearly, is second with roughly 20%.
  • Perl – Before Perl, there were handfuls of shell and C scripts. Perl still massages the data that is presented on the Web. Python – and now Ruby – have made some inroads, but Perl is still out there and running strongest. Virtually every Unix server – and many MS servers – have Perl on them; few have Python or Ruby. First of its kind; still the most popular.
  • Javascript– Developed by Netscape, this language (whose name was changed from LiveScript to cash in on the growing popularity of the then-new compiled language, Java [NOTE: JavaScript != Java except for some similarities of syntax]) is now the engine (along with CSS) that is AJAX: Part of what some call Web 2.0. VBScript is the only competitor, and only really used with ASP.
  • CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) – Interestingly, I have no idea where this came from; I think it might be a W3C implementation. I just don’t know. All I do know is that it’s not a shrinkwrapped product. It’s a spec, more than an app.

Also, Blankenhorn missed the mark – to me – by suggesting that apps are only innovative if they are totally new (for example, he points to TiVo, which is a good example of such; another [more retail] would be Netflix).

But sometimes the way an app/software is innovative is in the way you can use it, or how you can build it. JavaScript, for example, is a weak language. But you put it in a browser and can do things client-side: No server hit. Whoo-hoo! This made it powerful if it were the first or 1,000th incarnation of this type of language.

And do you every wonder why there are so many (according to surveys) VB coders vs, for example, C++ coders? Two reasons: 1) VB is built to be easy to use; 2) MS’s Visual Studio is an amazing work environment. Easy – but powerful – language with a great IDE. Duh. So we gots lots of VB apps.

If you applied Blankenhorn’s statements to cars instead of software, well, hell, the Toyota Prius, Audi Quattro and Hummer H2 are all just efforts to replicate the Model T (or perhaps Daimler’s and Benz’s first horseless carriage…).

Blankenhorn also misses one very important point, one he almost captured…but missed.

Projects like Mozilla and Openoffice are all about offering free replacements to proprietary monopolies. Databases like mySQL are still working on “innovations” proprietary products had years ago.

This is true in Linux as well and it’s not necessarily a bad thing.

See – he almost had it: One of the truly innovative aspects of open-source software is that it is about offering free replacements to proprietary products.

View this as a good thing or bad (Blankenhorn agrees, at least for Linux, this is a good thing), it’s definitely new.

And innovative, Ja?

You are Being Watched

I’ve installed Google’s Web Analytics, so I just wanted to let readers – yes, BOTH of you – know that they are being tracked. I’ve plugged it into most of the areas of

Ironically, this Google tool – which should certainly raise privacy concerns by those so disposed – isn’t ruffling feathers the way GMail did (“They’re reading my e-mail!!”) .

Yes, there are questions, but Google seems to have avoided the wrath of the Net in this case. Interesting.

Right now, the performance of this tool is really uneven and sluggish.

11/20/2005 Update – Google’s posted this on the analytics page:

Analytics has been successfully installed and data is being gathered now. The demand for Google Analytics surpassed even our highest expectations and as a result some customers may temporarily experience report-update delays. All data continues to be collected and no data has been lost. We are currently adding resources to ensure high-quality service. We apologize for any inconvenience.

However, the data it presents – and how it presents it/options to export same – is remarkable. I mean, holy crap. WebTrends must be curled up in a ball in the corner sobbing. They – and others – have per hit, per processor, per bandwidth yada yada costs; Google’s offering currently has the following pricing structure: FREE. FOR ANYONE/ANYTHING.


There have been many articles – some by me, if I recall – saying Google is (or isn’t) the new/another Microsoft, and – to a degree – there’s an argument to be made either way. Since this issue even comes up makes it an approachable issue, to a degree – hell, if I keep being compared to Donald Trump or Doctor Ruth, for example, well, probably not true but worth investigating….

However, there are two important differences twixt MS and Google, as this analytics tool clearly delineates:

  • No Lock In – Installed base is huge, especially when docs have to be shared. That’s why it’s important to have MS Office and so on. An Excel doc is an Excel doc. Standardization is key. But – with tools like Google Analytics – there isn’t such a issue. The reports are for you/your company – and Google offers export options (including Excel!). So a company can ditch this tool and go to AwStats, WebTrends and so on and there is little impact.
  • Price Structure – I understand that MS has to make money – it’s a business, dammit! So does Google. Each company is approaching the issue from a different direction. MS is tapping the end user; Google is using the end user’s activity to fund its apps at no (up-front) cost to the end user. Merits to both views and I’m not going there tonight; I’m just saying these are fundamentally different approaches.

Damn. Where did this week go?

The Dooced Factor

With the rising profile of blogs, even the mainstream media is covering a phenomena well-known in the blogosphere: Hey, blog about your job and you might get fired for same.


Sacked by Google, an airline and Microsoft. There are about a bazillion other examples, but this handful of links show concrete examples of what I wrote above: Hey, blog about your job and you might get fired for same.

Perhaps the best example – in the blogosphere – is Heather Armstrong, webmistress of Yeah, she got fired for her blog postings (and she was stoooopid, as she admits). Read her; she’s smart and sassy.

This whole leadup is to something wedged into something Jakob Nielsen recently wrote about – about usability and so on for blogs.

I have my differences with Nielsen, but he’s generally 90% on the mark for me.

One item – a lower priority item – on his list for blog usability etc was something I hadn’t really thought about. His issue was the following:

Forgetting That You Write for Your Future Boss
Whenever you post anything to the Internet — whether on a weblog, in a discussion group, or even in an email — think about how it will look to a hiring manager in ten years. Once stuff’s out, it’s archived, cached, and indexed in many services that you might never be aware of.

I’ve thought about the whole Internet archive thing before, but never in terms of a blog and a future boss/employer: This gives one pause.

That post about Sun Niagra servers hurting/helping a job X years from now?

That post showing an obvious tilt toward/against OSS/MS, Blue States/Red State, Pro-Choice/Pro-Life or whatever.

Yep, it’s out there. And it can help/hurt you in the future [which is Nielsen’s postulate]; not just today – which are all the stories you read.

I’ve never read about someone fired/not hired because of some old blog post; but why would that never happen?

It will.

I just never thought about it.

Will I stop blogging/change my voice?


Still – interesting.

Fall Has Fallen

This weekend is either peak or just past peak of Autumn here in Chicago. Tomorrow I’ll be a raking fool…

Accordingly, I’ve switched the default stylesheet over to the Autumn one.

One thing I never did this year was build a summer stylesheet (I just copied the spring one to summer). I have the pics; just not the time to do such. Maybe sometime in the bowels of winter clicking on the Summer stylesheet will appear…or not.

Legalizing Torture

From the Seattle Times:

Cheney appeals for torture exemption

WASHINGTON — Vice President Dick Cheney made an unusual personal appeal to Republican senators this week to allow CIA exemptions to a proposed ban on the torture of terrorism suspects in U.S. custody, according to participants in a closed-door session.

Now, like or dislike the Vice President, be a Republican/Democrat/Independent, I just don’t see how this is consistent with the US’s efforts to install US-style democracy around the world.

A system of government where the secret police are not banned from torturing prisoners sounds a lot more like Nazi Germany or Stalin’s Russia than the 1776 democratic movement.

Would Mr. Cheney be pleased to hear that other countries were condoning torture against those they view as terrorists – especially since that is exactly what many protesters are calling President Bush, who is in Argentina for the Americas Summit?