Monday, February 07, 2005


AMNH Native American maskNot that they won't be inundated with responses, but here's what I said to the Times:

People are very poor at inferring design from the real world. Michael Behe claims that the difference between the Rocky Mountains and Mount Rushmore is stark (Op-Ed, Feb. 7, 2005), but New Hampshire's (sorely missed) Old Man of the Mountain shows that unguided nature can produce patterns that appear, at first glance, to be designed.

Intelligent design creationism cripples modern science by demanding that unknowable, indescribable and unpredictable supernatural designers be patched into the definition of science. If scientists were obliged to meditate on the whims of designers, Newton, Darwin and Einstein would all have been trapped in navel gazing, and modern medicine, nuclear power and interplanetary probes would never have taken off.

I also criticized them (in a “not for publication” note) for bothering to run that Op-Ed. It contributes to a sense that a debate exists when it doesn't. Now they can say “Look, we've been in the Times.” That puts a stamp of approval on their ideas, even when the Times had specifically rejected this crap in an editorial three days ago. This isn't a case where balance is needed. “Evolutionary science is as firmly supported by the evidence as Newton's physics, and you do not feel obliged to balance your coverage of physics with the views of anti-science groups.”

The Old Man of the Mountain is the mascot of New Hampshire, or was until it slid off the mountain. This was part of the curse of the state quarter, since it happened shortly after
New Hampshire used it on their quarter. The U.S. Mint says this about the “face”:

“The Old Man of the Mountain” was a distinctive rock formation on Mt. Cannon in the Franconia Notch gateway to northern New Hampshire. From the right view, this unique rock formation -- comprised of five layers of Conway red granite -- depicted the distinct profile of an elderly man gazing eastward. Geographers believe that the layers of granite were formed by the melting and slipping away action of an ice sheet that covered the Franconia Mountains at the end of the glacial period 2,000 to 10,000 years ago. Until it crumbled in early 2003, the formation measured over 40 feet high with a lateral distance of 25 feet.

I've been there in person, and I see a face in it. I don't think it was designed. To paraphrase Behe, it walks like a duck, and it talks like a duck, but it isn't a duck. Only an ass would say, “[geologists] assert that their theory can explain the appearance of design in [cliffs] as the result of random [melting] and [slipping] acting over immense stretches of time. Some scientists, however, think the [geologist]s' confidence is unjustified. They note that although [ice sheets] can explain some aspects of [geology], there are no research studies indicating that [geological] processes can make [faces] of the complexity we find on [Mt. Cannon].”

Spin away, little spiders, spin away.

Old Man” by Neil Young from the album Harvest (1972, 3:24).