Wednesday, April 06, 2005


James Barham: Kansas Intelligent Design Witness

Kansas intelligent design proponents have announced their witness list for the evolution show trial to be held by three-member Science Committee of the Kansas State Board of Education on May 5, 6 and 7, in Topeka. Among the names is James Barham, who is described as an "independent scholar and author specializing in evolutionary epistemology, the philosophy of mind, and the foundations of biology."

Kansas Citizens for Science has called for a boycott of the hearing, which they characterize as a kangaroo court. All three school board members on the committee are creationits who have already made up their minds to introduce intelligent design into the state school curriculum, despite recommendations from the science curriculum development committee made of scientists and educators.

Real scientists are boycotting the hearings, as well. As a recent editorial in the Wichita Eagle put it recently, "a boycott of the hearings now appears likely -- and it's understandable if scientists stay away in droves. Simply put, the hearings have no credibility."

So, who is James Barham, independent scholar? According to biographical information supplied by Barham, he received a B.A. in Classics from the University of Texas at Austin, and an M.A. in the History of Science from Harvard University. During 1976--1977, he was a Sheldon Traveling Fellow in Athens, Greece, doing research for a dissertation on Byzantine astronomy.

He's not a scientist.

In a 2003 paper, "Thoughts on thinking matter" Barham attempts to demonstrate "the possibility that certain forms of matter may be intrinsically endowed with mind-like properties, that these properties are irreducible to mechanistic interactions, but that they may nonetheless be subject to investigation by the methods of empirical science. In the conclusion, he writes:
"it just obvious that living matter is fundamentally different from inanimate matter, and that one of the hallmarks of this difference is its intelligence, in the sense of its ability to adjust means to ends? One has only to watch a cell moving purposively under a microscope to see that this must be so... "

Now, Red State Rabble isn't the sharpest tool in the shed, but we swear we remember our tenth-grade biology teacher saying that the hallmarks or characterisics of all living organisms are:

Funny, there's nothing at all there about intelligence. Red State Rabble is curious, does a virus exhibit intelligence? How about algae? RSR has watched amoeba under a microscope many times but remembers no purposeful movement suggestive of intelligence.

Then there is this:

"Over the past twelve years I have produced a series of papers articulating a philosophical viewpoint I call "biofunctional realism." In a nutshell, biofunctional realism draws upon work in nonlinear dynamics and condensed matter physics in order to explain the teleological and normative features of life and mind as objective, emergent properties of the living state of matter."

RSR can't be sure, but when Barham talks about nonlinear dynamics, he is probably referring to chaos theory, which, in mathematics and physics, deals with the behaviour of certain nonlinear dynamical systems that (under certain conditions) exhibit the phenomenon known as chaos, most famously characterised by sensitivity to initial conditions (see butterfly effect). Examples of such systems include the atmosphere, the solar system, plate tectonics, turbulent fluids, economies, and population growth. In other words, they're unpredictable.

Condensed matter physics is the field of physics that deals with the macroscopic physical properties of matter. In particular, it is concerned with the "condensed" phases that appear whenever the number of constituents in a system is extremely large and the interactions between the constituents are strong. The most familiar examples of condensed phases are solids and liquids, which arise from the electric force between atoms.

It's only a guess, but aren't these fields a bit of a stretch for someone with a BA in classics and an MA in history of science?


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