Letters for the week of August 17-23, 2005 

More debate about our July 27 article on intelligent design, including Taoist, Krsna, and scientific perspectives. Plus horses and Third Eye Blind.

"Love and Redemption at Golden Gate Fields," Cityside, 7/27

Saved by the bell
I enjoyed reading your article "Love and Redemption at Golden Gate Fields." Loved the way the horse placed her head on George Luna's shoulder. George Luna made the point that a slaughterhouse might have paid for her. It is the saddest thing that these beautiful horses are slaughtered. Also they are slaughtered in a very cruel way.
Margaret Rose, Alameda

"Go Ahead, Tear Us Apart," Music, 7/27

Never let us go
Gina Arnold's statement that Third Eye Blind is a "flashy, single-hit bandwagon act" is not only staggeringly inaccurate (for starters, four of the group's singles have reached the Top 20) but also thoroughly unfair. Third Eye Blind didn't call it quits when radio programmers and fickle rock fans turned their backs. Rather, they continued to kick ass and take names. To devotees of tuneful, intelligent rock 'n' roll, Third Eye Blind will always be an "artist with true staying power."
Eamon Doyle, San Francisco

"Phillip Johnson's Assault Upon Faith-Based Darwinism," Feature, 7/27

The Taoist perspective
I would like to thank the Express for the wonderful article on Phillip Johnson's concept of "intelligent design." As usual, when academics cross from one discipline to another, a simple understanding of their history and how they made that crossover shows the danger taking this kind of crossover seriously. When Dr. Johnson made the crossover from the law to science he made one of the most basic mistakes one can make, one he would never have accepted from his students of the law.

Before one can learn the law, one must learn how the law works. Before one can study science, in no matter which science one chooses to study, one must learn how science works. While science, like all human endeavors, begins with abstract ideas (hypotheses), once the scientist has that idea, he or she must then prove it.

Darwin knew he would not be immediately accepted, and expected to have to give extraordinary proofs, which is why his two seminal works are so weighty with observation. The reason the scientific community accepts Darwin so widely is that after 150-plus years of scientific investigation, no one has found that one fact, or shown that one piece of evidence that can refute it. Granted, there are problems in the mechanisms of the theory: Science, unlike faith, does not grow full blown from a person's head, but there are people working on it.

While I appreciate Dr. Johnson's attempts to separate his theory from the religious inquiries into ways of making the monotheistic creation story into science, I would like to propose that this is impossible because his idea is based, like religion, on the idea that a humanlike intelligence is needed to first plan then execute anything. This is a very Western concept, and so it is hard for those of us in the West to wrap our minds around the idea that human intelligence is a part of creation, rather than the initiator of it. The universe was not created; it was grown.

Alan Watts, the noted philosopher and theologian, put it best in his book The Way of Zen: "The important difference between the Tao and the usual idea of god is that whereas God produces the world by making it (wei) the Tao produces it by 'not-making' (wu-wei) -- which is approximately what we mean by 'growing.'"

As an organic entity is born and grows it mutates, changes on the genetic level into an individual entity. Most of these mutations are neutral and don't show up beyond the molecular level, but some do: children born without brains, sparrows born with odd beaks, that kind of thing. Most of these things are malignant, but occasionally one of these mutations is beneficial, and if these mutations happen under certain circumstances, then a new species is created. It is not easy for variation and natural selection to create, but it is entirely possible.

If one needs to have a god in the mix, there is his or her place, but as to the need for a designer and creator, science is moving toward making that concept as antique as the gods of Mount Olympus. On the other hand, if the first aliens we contact ask if we know Jesus, I may have to rethink this idea.
Rick Umbaugh, Hercules

The scientific perspective
Intelligent design is about politics and religion, not science. Your article on the subject was far too forgiving toward the creationists and I felt that it misrepresented the entire debate between evolution and "intelligent design" by implying that the issue is somehow in serious controversy in the scientific community.

Creationists have already decided on what the "facts" are in their world -- whatever the Bible says. They start with an immovable and unshakable assertion (God created the Earth) and then work backward, piecemeal, grasping at straws and looking for any information that is convenient to their foregone conclusion. If a fossil record turned up tomorrow with every missing link plugged right in, arranged in a single file line in order of species and height, they would still refuse to accept evolution, period.

Creationists argue that the same is true of some scientists -- that if God descended from the heavens and lectured them for three hours on the process he used to make the world in six days, they would all refuse to believe it. First of all, this isn't true -- honest scientists are not dogmatists who cling to tradition and refuse to revise their ideas. That would be a good description of creationists.

Science engages in the EXACT OPPOSITE -- all theories, facts, ideas, etc., can and will be changed if the introduction of new facts or additional knowledge points science in a new direction. It can happen overnight or over the course of centuries, but the point is that it does happen and it's a built-in feature of the scientific method, and something that differentiates it from religion or philosophy in a profound way.
Ned Kelly, Woodbury, Minnesota

The Krsna perspective
The trouble with the debate about evolution is it leaves out a lot of peoples (us Hare Krsnas, for instance, who have our own elaborate take on the origin and end of the universe) in favor of a smackdown-type contest between 1) hardcore atheists for whom Darwin is an essential element in maintaining their atheistic view of things and 2) fundamentalist Christians who consider the few verses beginning Genesis to be the inviolable basis of all truth and deny any credibility whatsoever to holy books other than the Bible (such as the Qu'ran, the Vedas, and so forth). Thus one cannot join the discussion, one must only take sides in the debate.

Unfortunate, because we are saying, the bodies are not evolving -- the souls are evolving through different bodies; this universe is one of trillions of universes which are manifest and unmanifest and manifest again with the passing of eternal time, and the breathing of Maha-Vishnu. I doubt that Jesus needs to be "introduced" as suggested in the article! By the age of ten, most Americans have already made up their minds vis-à-vis Jesus.
Clayton O'Claerach, doctor of metaphysics, Oakland

The theoretical perspective
The problem with nonscientists doing science is they often get something fundamentally wrong. In this case, it's the statement, "Evolution is not fact, it's a theory." This little chestnut is pulled out by every proponent of creationism. Of course it's theory. All scientists, including Charles Darwin and Steven Jay Gould, would include evolution under the heading "theory." Scientists believe something until they are presented contrary evidence from a competing theory that makes more sense. They often don't do this without kicking and screaming, and sometimes a little bloodshed, but it happens. For instance, when I took geology in 1973, my professors told me that the plate tectonics theory of continental drift was bunkum, and smacked of catastrophism -- gradualism was the only true geologic theory. Now, of course, all geologists agree plate tectonics is a valid theory. It only took fifty years and relatively little mayhem.

Paleontologists and biologists have fought over the exact mechanisms of evolution since 1856, and they haven't finished swinging yet, but verification of observed phenomena has been building steadily. There is certainly a lot more evidence for evolution, for instance, than for any theory of gravitation, not to mention creationism or intelligent design.
Ken Sherman, Yreka

The Berkeley perspective
Justin Berton's article about Phillip Johnson's current life's work trying to topple the pillars of "evolutionary orthodoxy" was very provocative. Of course, that's how your paper makes its money, isn't it, by having provocative cover stories?

Johnson, for all of his credentials as a master debater and a fountain of knowledge, appears to me to be just as full of contradictions as the rest of us.

Toward the end of the article, Johnson is quoted saying that 1), he came to Berkeley because of the freedom of academic thought here, and 2), he is simply trying to spread the word of Jesus in the truth-seeking Christian tradition. What Christianity is he talking about? Is it the Christianity that didn't apologize for abusing Galileo until the 1970s, or the Christianity that forced Charles Darwin to recant his whole theory when he was a sick, old man? No, I guess he wasn't talking about that Christianity. What he was talking about was a distinctly modern approach to spirituality that would not even exist were it not for the enlightened influence of materialist humanism.

All of those materialists of the Age of Enlightenment that Johnson decries did some very important work fighting against the stagnant, oppressive religious environment in Europe. Our own country was founded upon those new principles of freedom of thought, and the separation of church and state is enshrined in our Constitution. So Phillip Johnson chose UC Berkeley because of the atmosphere that encouraged freedom of thought and expression. Then he wrote a book questioning Darwin's theory of evolution, and now his book is being used as an intellectual weapon by people who would prefer a world with less freedom of thought and no separation of church and state!

Evolutionary theory doesn't say there is no God. It only tries to provide evidence of how the laws of nature could result in the panoply of life that we see here on Earth. It does contradict certain beliefs about God, namely Creation, and it also does not require a God, both of which, understandably, can be very threatening to traditional religious thought.

Johnson himself admits that Darwin's theory is very compelling. I'm not an expert on it, but I am familiar with how Darwin is considered to be an intellectual giant among biologists. He has provided a framework around which all of the life sciences are now built. To the extent that evolution has become orthodoxy and intellectually dishonest, that is a disservice to science. But that doesn't negate the work of thousands of biologists who have worked diligently to put pieces of the puzzle together, trying to answer the question, "How did we get here?" It's a very daunting task, one that could not be expected to be completed in the 150 years since Darwin lived. And, it has enriched the world that we live in. I have nothing against religion per se, but when it comes to certain things, like dinosaur fossils, it just doesn't have much to say.
David Glaser, Berkeley

In our August 10 Cityside "Good Skating -- Great Lobbying," Oakland City Council President Ignacio De La Fuente was misidentified as the vice mayor. We erroneously described the volume of concrete used in a renegade skateboarding park in West Oakland; we actually don't know how much was used. And in the caption that accompanied our August 10 Bottom Feeder article about the new aide hired by Councilwoman Desley Brooks, we misspelled her employee's name. It is Christen Tucker.


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