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Re: Dawkins' open letter to Dembski

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  • Stephen E. Jones
    Group Here is a fascinating open letter from Dawkins to Dembski. My comments are in square brackets. Steve
    Message 1 of 5 , Oct 1, 2002
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      Group

      Here is a fascinating open letter from Dawkins to Dembski.

      My comments are in square brackets.


      Steve
      ========================================================================
      http://ecology.cwru.edu/ohioscience/newsletterAugust.asp

      Ohio Citizens for Science
      August, 2002

      Two Cents Worth from the Editor

      [...]

      We include another gem: a letter from Richard Dawkins to William
      Dembski in response to Dembski's invitation to Dawkins to become a
      fellow of "International Society for Complexity, Information and Design."
      Written in Dr. Dawkin's usual "take no prisoners" style, it requires little
      interpretation. He not only authorized reprinting of the letter, but also
      encouraged wide distribution.

      [...]

      Letter to William Dembski
      Dear Dr. Dembski

      You have invited me to contribute to your journal, and to become a
      member of your society. I decline both invitations, having no desire to be
      used in your publicity campaign, (the Wedge, isn't that what it is called?
      Apt title, though not very endearing.)

      [Dawkins has declined several opportunities to debate his Darwinian
      position in forums where they could be criticised. One would think that if
      he was *really* confident of the truth of what he proclaims from his `ivory
      tower', he would be happy to have an opportunity to debate them with a
      leading IDist like Dembski.]

      I am now sixty years old and increasingly conscious that time is finite. The
      thing I really resent about people like you and Johnson and Behe is that
      you are a gratuitous waste of precious time. You hold scientists back by
      forcing them spell out what is wrong with your supernatural spooks,
      instead of getting on with trying to gain a real explanation of how the
      world works.

      [Science is supposed to be all about being "forcing" scientists to "spell out
      what is wrong with" opposing theories. Dawkins' atheistic prejudice is
      evident in his contemptuous language, "spooks". Dawkins assumes that he
      already knows that "a real explanation of how the world works" does not
      include intelligent design. But he doesn't tell us how he knows this.]

      Spooks and sprites, spirits and gods, intelligent design - these
      obviously don't explain anything because they simply regress to the
      question of where the spooks, (designers, etc.) came from in the first place.

      [This is a favourite argument of Dawkins, but it is fallacious. As Ratzsch
      points out: "Any explanation has to begin somewhere, and the principle
      that no explanation is legitimate unless anything referred to in the
      explanation is itself explained immediately generates a regress that would
      effectively destroy any possibility of any explanation for anything" (see
      tagline)]

      If (which I hugely doubt) you are right that natural selection constitutes an
      illegitimate free lunch, design' is bound to be all the more illegitimate, a
      fortiori, because it is even more 'free'!

      [It is interesting that all Dawkins has to offer against Dembski's claim that
      natural selection cannot generate specified complex information is his own
      "Argument from Personal Incredulity" which he has derided in others.]

      At least Darwinism makes a sporting
      attempt (and I think a deeply satisfying one) to explain how complexity can
      grow out of primordial simplicity.

      [So in the final analysis, all that Dawkins can say of "Darwinism" is that it
      "makes a sporting *attempt* ... to explain how complexity *can* grow out
      of primordial simplicity" (my emphasis)! The fact that Darwinism is "deeply
      satisfying" to an atheist like Dawkins is irrelevant as to whether it is
      *true*.]

      It is, indeed, the only theory known to
      me that offers any kind of payment' for the 'lunch'.

      [Notice the qualification "known to me". Dawkins just rules out intelligent
      design, even though he admits that it *could* make "payment' for the 'lunch'".]

      Intelligent design just
      gives up on the problem before even starting, by simply postulating: "Let
      there be a solution!"

      [It is not to "give... up on" a "problem by ... postulating ... a solution
      to it. *Every* scientific theory, including Dawkins' `blind watchmaker'
      theory, postulates "a solution" before it starts to consider evidence for
      and against it.]

      Any fool can see that if design had been a satisfying
      explanation which does some work (rather than just a redescription of the
      problem), we would never have needed to look any further.

      ["Satisfying" to whom? The fact that design was not "satisfying" to atheist/
      agnostics like Darwin and Huxley, and is not "satisfying" to the ~90% of
      atheist/agnostics that make up leading science organisations like the NAS,
      is no good reason to reject it.]

      In fact if
      design were a legitimate explanation, science itself could just pack its bags
      and go home.

      [This is simply false. If design was the *true* explanation, then science
      would still have substantially the same job as it has now: tracing back the
      designs to as close to their source as is possible. In fact, the re-discovery
      of design in nature would be a *huge* shot in the arm for science.]

      So, no thank you, I have not the slightest desire to contribute to your
      journal nor to become a fellow of your society.

      [What a pity. But at least Dawkins said "thank you" for the invitation! :-)]

      Yours sincerely
      Richard Dawkins

      [...]
      ========================================================================

      Steve


      --------------------------------------------------------------------------
      "As Dawkins sees it ... any appeal, whether direct or indirect to divine
      activity logically short-circuits the entire process. The argument goes as
      follows. The object is to explain the existence of *organized complexity*-
      life, the eye, echolocation and so forth. But `a deity capable of engineering
      all the organized complexity of the world...must already have been vastly
      complex in the first place.' (Dawkins R., `The Blind Watchmaker,' Norton:
      New York, 1987, p.316). Thus to appeal in any way to any deity
      presuppose the very thing-complexity-whose explanation is at issue. This,
      Dawkins thinks, gets us nowhere at all. As Dawkins sees it, `explanations'
      of complexity that appeal to a deity already possessing complexity will be
      completely vacuous unless we can take the next step and provide an
      explanation for the deity's complexity. ... Dawkins seems to be
      presupposing that if explanations are not ultimate they are vacuous. .... He
      seems to be assuming that no origin has been explained unless the ultimate
      origin of anything appealed to in the explanation has also been explained.
      In addition to being mistaken, that principle is surely as dangerous for the
      naturalist as for the theist. To take the parallel case, one could claim that to
      explain the origin of species by invoking natural processes is to explain
      precisely nothing, for it leaves unexplained the origin of natural processes.
      And, of course, attempts to explain natural processes by invoking the big
      bang or anything else-will generate an exactly similar problem with
      anything appealed to in *that* explanation. Any explanation has to begin
      somewhere, and the principle that no explanation is legitimate unless
      anything referred to in the explanation is itself explained immediately
      generates a regress that would effectively destroy any possibility of any
      explanation for anything." (Ratzsch D.L.*, "The Battle of Beginnings: Why
      Neither Side is Winning the Creation-Evolution Debate," InterVarsity
      Press: Downers Grove, IL, 1996, pp.191-192. Emphasis in original)
      Stephen E. Jones sejones@... or senojes@...
      Home: http://members.iinet.net.au/~sejones
      Group: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/CreationEvolutionDesign
      --------------------------------------------------------------------------
    • Cliff Lundberg
      Stephen E. Jones wrote: [Dawkins:] ... This objection of Steve s doesn t seem valid to me, because the thing Dawkins tries to explain is the origin of life
      Message 2 of 5 , Oct 1, 2002
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        Stephen E. Jones wrote:

        [Dawkins:]
        >Spooks and sprites, spirits and gods, intelligent design - these
        >obviously don't explain anything because they simply regress to the
        >question of where the spooks, (designers, etc.) came from in the first place.
        >
        >[This is a favourite argument of Dawkins, but it is fallacious. As Ratzsch
        >points out: "Any explanation has to begin somewhere, and the principle
        >that no explanation is legitimate unless anything referred to in the
        >explanation is itself explained immediately generates a regress that would
        >effectively destroy any possibility of any explanation for anything" (see
        >tagline)]

        This objection of Steve's doesn't seem valid to me, because the thing Dawkins
        tries to explain is the origin of life from inanimate matter. There's no
        regress
        because there's no duplication, no turning of a concept upon itself, which
        often
        generates philosophical quandaries. It's not a matter of life evolving from or
        through some other kind or level of life, it's a matter of life coming from
        something non-living. This contrasts with the ID program, in which, as Dawkins
        points out, the regression is there. Dawkins's explanation does indeed "begin
        somewhere"; ID theory doesn't.

        Ratzsch seems to hint that that which hasn't been explained "immediately"
        (the ultimate origin of the designer) might yet be explained at some other
        time. Is this a tenet of ID theory? Or is ID theory committed to the ultimate
        ineffability of the designer's origin? If the former, what would the
        explanation
        be like? Would it be a description of how the designer arose from something
        non-living?

        Cliff
      • Stephen E. Jones
        Group On Tue, 01 Oct 2002 23:54:37 -0700, Cliff Lundberg wrote: A `welcome back to Cliff! CL [Dawkins:] ... CL This objection of Steve s doesn t seem valid to
        Message 3 of 5 , Oct 2, 2002
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          Group

          On Tue, 01 Oct 2002 23:54:37 -0700, Cliff Lundberg wrote:

          A `welcome back' to Cliff!

          CL>[Dawkins:]
          >SJ>Spooks and sprites, spirits and gods, intelligent design - these
          >>obviously don't explain anything because they simply regress to the
          >>question of where the spooks, (designers, etc.) came from in the first place.

          >SJ>[This is a favourite argument of Dawkins, but it is fallacious. As Ratzsch
          >>points out: "Any explanation has to begin somewhere, and the principle
          >>that no explanation is legitimate unless anything referred to in the
          >>explanation is itself explained immediately generates a regress that would
          >>effectively destroy any possibility of any explanation for anything" (see
          >>tagline)]

          CL>This objection of Steve's doesn't seem valid to me, because the thing Dawkins
          >tries to explain is the origin of life from inanimate matter.

          Does he? Where? How?

          CL>There's no regress
          >because there's no duplication, no turning of a concept upon itself, which
          >often generates philosophical quandaries.

          I don't follow this. Perhaps Cliff will explain what he means?

          CL>It's not a matter of life evolving from or
          >through some other kind or level of life, it's a matter of life coming from
          >something non-living.

          So the next question (to use Dawkins' own argument) would be: where did the
          "something non-living" come from?

          And when that is answered, the next question (to use Dawkins' own argument)
          would be: where did the something that produced the "something non-living"
          come from? And so on ...

          CL>This contrasts with the ID program, in which, as Dawkins
          >points out, the regression is there. Dawkins's explanation does indeed "begin
          >somewhere"; ID theory doesn't.

          That begs the question that "Dawkins' explanation does indeed `begin
          somewhere'". Ratzsch's point is that it doesn't in an *ultimate* sense.

          And "ID theory doesn't" either. "ID theory" only concerns itself with the
          evidence for design in nature. The ultimate question of who is the designer
          is beyond "ID theory", just as "the ultimate question of where the life, non-
          living chemicals and ultimately the universe is beyond "ID theory".

          For Dawkins to demand that "ID theory" must provide an ultimate answer
          to where the designer came from, yet maintain that Darwinism not have to
          provide an ultimate answer to where the `blind watchmaker' came from, is
          just a "double-standard with a single hidden agenda", to paraphrase G.K.
          Chesterton.

          CL>Ratzsch seems to hint that that which hasn't been explained "immediately"
          >(the ultimate origin of the designer) might yet be explained at some other
          >time.

          Where does "Ratzsch seem... to hint that"?

          CL>Is this a tenet of ID theory?

          If the "this" is that "the ultimate origin of the designer ... might yet be
          explained at some other time", the answer is no. As I have said *many* times
          before, "ID theory" is about *design* not "the designer".

          It is the intelligent *design* movement, not the intelligent *designer*
          movement!

          "ID theory" agrees with Hume that "we ... can never be allowed to ascribe to
          the cause any qualities, but what are exactly sufficient to produce the
          effect".

          That is, based on the evidence of *nature* "ID theory" can never claim more
          for the designer than the evidence in *nature* reveals.

          There is simply no way to derive "the ultimate origin of the designer" from
          the evidence of nature.

          CL>Or is ID theory committed to the ultimate
          >ineffability of the designer's origin?

          No. "ID theory" simply does not address "the designer's origin", as
          Darwinian theory does not address the universe's ultimate origin.

          CL>If the former, what would the explanation be like?

          It isn't "the former".

          CL>Would it be a description of how the designer arose from something
          >non-living?

          No. "ID theory" has nothing to say about "how the designer arose". ID is
          about *design* not the *designer*. To be sure, ID entails a designer, but
          only sufficient to account for the design in question.

          Just as biology presupposes the laws of physics but does not itself deal with
          the origin and nature of those laws, so does ID presuppose a designer but
          does not itself deal with the origin and nature of that designer.

          But Cliff knows this, because I have said it *many* times before on CED,
          including to Cliff.

          [...]

          Steve

          --------------------------------------------------------------------------
          "When we infer any particular cause from an effect, we must proportion
          the one to the other, and can never be allowed to ascribe to the cause any
          qualities, but what are exactly sufficient to produce the effect. A body of
          ten ounces raised in any scale may serve as a proof, that the
          counterbalancing weight exceeds ten ounces; but can never afford a reason
          that it exceeds a hundred. If the cause, assigned for any effect, be not
          sufficient to produce it, we must either reject that cause, or add to it such
          qualities as will give it a just proportion to the effect. But if we ascribe to it
          farther qualities, or affirm it capable of producing other effects, we can
          only indulge the licence of conjecture, and arbitrarily suppose the existence
          of qualities and energies, without reason or authority. The same rule holds,
          whether the cause assigned be brute unconscious matter, or a rational
          intelligent being. If the cause be known only by the effect, we never ought
          to ascribe to it any qualities, beyond what are precisely requisite to produce
          the effect: Nor can we, by any rules of just reasoning, return back from the
          cause, and infer other effects from it, beyond those by which alone it is
          known to us." (Hume D., "An Enquiry Concerning Human
          Understanding," [1777], Hackett Publishing Co: Indianapolis IN, 1977,
          Third Printing, 1980, pp.93-94)
          Stephen E. Jones sejones@... or senojes@...
          Home: http://members.iinet.net.au/~sejones
          Group: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/CreationEvolutionDesign
          --------------------------------------------------------------------------
        • Cliff Lundberg
          ... This is what evolutionary biology does. It begins with the beginning of life. Whether it s right or wrong, this is its scope. CL There s no regress because
          Message 4 of 5 , Oct 5, 2002
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            Stephen E. Jones wrote:

            >CL>This objection of Steve's doesn't seem valid to me, because the thing
            >Dawkins
            > >tries to explain is the origin of life from inanimate matter.
            >
            >Does he? Where? How?

            This is what evolutionary biology does. It begins with the beginning of
            life. Whether it's right or wrong, this is its scope.

            CL>There's no regress because there's no duplication, no turning of
            >a concept upon itself, which often generates philosophical quandaries.

            >I don't follow this. Perhaps Cliff will explain what he means?

            When one asks what contains space, or when time began, or what is the
            meaning of meaning, or the definition of definition etc, one tends to generate
            philosophical problems or perhaps pseudo-problems. This demand for an
            explanation of ultimate origins seems similar. But Dawkins is not vulnerable
            to this criticism; his scope has an axiomatic starting point, the beginning of
            life from presumably inorganic matter.

            >CL>It's not a matter of life evolving from or
            > >through some other kind or level of life, it's a matter of life coming from
            > >something non-living.
            >
            >So the next question (to use Dawkins' own argument) would be: where did the
            >"something non-living" come from?

            That is outside the scope of evolutionary biology. Dawkins doesn't have to
            worry about it.

            >And when that is answered, the next question (to use Dawkins' own argument)
            >would be: where did the something that produced the "something non-living"
            >come from? And so on ...

            Again, this is outside the scope of evolutionary biology.

            >CL>This contrasts with the ID program, in which, as Dawkins
            > >points out, the regression is there. Dawkins's explanation does indeed
            > "begin
            > >somewhere"; ID theory doesn't.
            >
            >That begs the question that "Dawkins' explanation does indeed `begin
            >somewhere'". Ratzsch's point is that it doesn't in an *ultimate* sense.

            I'm reminded of toddlers who keep asking 'why?' to every question.
            And of Zeno of Elea, who proved that an arrow could never reach
            its target, because first it would have to go half the distance, but before
            that it would have to go half that distance, etc etc.

            >And "ID theory doesn't" either. "ID theory" only concerns itself with the
            >evidence for design in nature. The ultimate question of who is the designer
            >is beyond "ID theory", just as "the ultimate question of where the life, non-
            >living chemicals and ultimately the universe is beyond "ID theory".

            That makes ID theory invulnerable to this 'infinite regress' criticism. Why
            not extend to the same privilege to evolutionary biology, which also
            delimits its field, specifically excluding the inorganic precursors of life?

            >For Dawkins to demand that "ID theory" must provide an ultimate answer
            >to where the designer came from, yet maintain that Darwinism not have to
            >provide an ultimate answer to where the `blind watchmaker' came from, is
            >just a "double-standard with a single hidden agenda", to paraphrase G.K.
            >Chesterton.

            ID theory says the designer is just assumed, then? Leaving the designer's
            nature and origin to theology, or exobiology? But it's hard to imagine that
            before the design was implemented by the designer, the universe included
            no design, that the universe and its designer existed in a state of total
            randomness.

            Cliff
          • Stephen E. Jones
            Group On Sat, 05 Oct 2002 15:18:13 -0700, Cliff Lundberg wrote: [...] ... CL This is what evolutionary biology does. It begins with the beginning of ... Fine.
            Message 5 of 5 , Oct 5, 2002
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              Group

              On Sat, 05 Oct 2002 15:18:13 -0700, Cliff Lundberg wrote:

              [...]

              >>CL>This objection of Steve's doesn't seem valid to me, because the thing
              >>Dawkins tries to explain is the origin of life from inanimate matter.

              >SJ>Does he? Where? How?

              CL>This is what evolutionary biology does. It begins with the beginning of
              >life. Whether it's right or wrong, this is its scope.

              Fine. ID "begins" with the evidence of design in nature. That is its
              "scope".

              Just as "evolutionary biology" presupposes an origin of life, but it is
              beyond its scope to deal with it, so ID presupposes a designer, but it is
              beyond ID's scope to deal with the designer.

              >CL>There's no regress because there's no duplication, no turning of
              >>a concept upon itself, which often generates philosophical quandaries.

              >SJ>I don't follow this. Perhaps Cliff will explain what he means?

              CL>When one asks what contains space, or when time began, or what is the
              >meaning of meaning, or the definition of definition etc, one tends to generate
              >philosophical problems or perhaps pseudo-problems. This demand for an
              >explanation of ultimate origins seems similar. But Dawkins is not vulnerable
              >to this criticism; his scope has an axiomatic starting point, the beginning of
              >life from presumably inorganic matter.

              So has ID an "axiomatic starting point", the evidence of design in nature.

              The point was that if Dawkins expects ID to explain the origin of its
              "axiomatic starting point", then ID can expect Dawkins to explain the
              origin of Darwinism's "axiomatic starting point".

              >>CL>It's not a matter of life evolving from or
              >>>through some other kind or level of life, it's a matter of life coming from
              >>>something non-living.

              >SJ>So the next question (to use Dawkins' own argument) would be: where did the
              >>"something non-living" come from?

              CL>That is outside the scope of evolutionary biology. Dawkins doesn't have to
              >worry about it.

              So is the origin of the designer "outside the scope of" ID. ID "doesn't have to
              worry about it"!

              >SJ>And when that is answered, the next question (to use Dawkins' own argument)
              >>would be: where did the something that produced the "something non-living"
              >>come from? And so on ...

              CL>Again, this is outside the scope of evolutionary biology.

              See above.

              >>CL>This contrasts with the ID program, in which, as Dawkins
              >>>points out, the regression is there. Dawkins's explanation does indeed
              >>"begin somewhere"; ID theory doesn't.

              >SJ>That begs the question that "Dawkins' explanation does indeed `begin
              >>somewhere'". Ratzsch's point is that it doesn't in an *ultimate* sense.

              CL>I'm reminded of toddlers who keep asking 'why?' to every question.
              >And of Zeno of Elea, who proved that an arrow could never reach
              >its target, because first it would have to go half the distance, but before
              >that it would have to go half that distance, etc etc.

              In this analogy Dawkins is one of those "toddlers who keep asking 'why?'".
              But he is only asking it of creationism/ID, not his own position.

              >SJ>And "ID theory doesn't" either. "ID theory" only concerns itself with the
              >>evidence for design in nature. The ultimate question of who is the designer
              >>is beyond "ID theory", just as "the ultimate question of where the life, non-
              >>living chemicals and ultimately the universe is beyond "ID theory".

              CL>That makes ID theory invulnerable to this 'infinite regress' criticism. Why
              >not extend to the same privilege to evolutionary biology, which also
              >delimits its field, specifically excluding the inorganic precursors of life?

              Nice attempt by Cliff to twist it around! It was *Dawkins* who is making
              the claim that ID must explain the ultimate origin the designer, and not
              allowing ID to "delimit... its field".

              All Ratzsch was doing was defending ID from Dawkins' claim, by pointing
              out Dawkins' inconsistency in demanding that ID provide an ultimate
              explanation when "evolutionary biology" doesn't.

              >SJ>For Dawkins to demand that "ID theory" must provide an ultimate answer
              >>to where the designer came from, yet maintain that Darwinism not have to
              >>provide an ultimate answer to where the `blind watchmaker' came from, is
              >>just a "double-standard with a single hidden agenda", to paraphrase G.K.
              >>Chesterton.

              CL>ID theory says the designer is just assumed, then? Leaving the designer's
              >nature and origin to theology, or exobiology?

              That's correct.

              CL>But it's hard to imagine that
              >before the design was implemented by the designer, the universe included
              >no design, that the universe and its designer existed in a state of total
              >randomness.

              ID makes no claim that originally "the universe included no design".

              But interestingly, that presumably is the Darwinist claim, which Cliff finds
              "hard to imagine"!

              ID is consistent with (yet not requiring) a wide range of views that accept
              the reality of design in nature.

              For example, ID is consistent with theistic views that the designer was a
              Creator who originally brought the raw materials of the universe into
              existence out of no preexisting material.

              But ID is also consistent with a Platonist or Idealist view (e.g.
              Davies, Leslie, Denton) that the laws of nature existed originally and
              brought the universe into existence by logical necessity.

              In fact at its most minimalist, ID is consistent with an agnostic view
              about the ultimate origin of the design, which makes no claim about
              the ultimate origin of the designer, but just accepts the reality (or at
              least the real possibility) of design in nature as its "axiomatic starting point".

              Indeed it is this minimalist view of ID, which is the ID movement's entry
              level.

              In principle the ID movement is open to all who accept the reality (or at
              least the real possibility) of design in nature.

              And there probably are a lot of scientists in that category, even though they
              have been trained by decades of Darwinist indoctrination to think that it
              is "unscientific" to admit it (see tagline).

              Only those who deny the reality (or even the real possibility) of design
              in nature are not welcome in ID's `Big Tent'.

              However, in practice, in order to protect itself as a fledgling movement
              against those who would dishonestly or self-deludedly claim they believe in
              design, so they could join the ID movement and then attack it from within,
              the ID leadership would probably require some evidence of one's bona fides,
              (e.g. public defence of ID, attacks on anti-ID, etc).

              [...]

              Steve

              --------------------------------------------------------------------------
              "Myers was the guy who put together Celera's genome map. Celera's
              sequencing machines had broken the 3 billion chemical letters in a strand of
              DNA into millions of fragments, each a few hundred letters each. His
              software put the fragments back in order just days before Celera and the
              leaders of the Human Genome Project shared a stage with former President
              Clinton, last June, to say that they knew the sequence of the genome from
              end to end. Talk about deadline pressure! Now, with the pressure off, this
              former University of Arizona professor waxed philosophical on the code
              his team had cracked. `What really astounds me is the architecture of life,'
              he said. `The system is extremely complex. It's like it was designed.' My
              ears perked up. Designed? Doesn't that imply a designer, an intelligence,
              something more than the fortuitous bumping together of chemicals in the
              primordial slime? Myers thought before he replied. `There's a huge
              intelligence there. I don't see that as being unscientific. Others may, but not
              me.'" (Abate T., "Human Genome Map Has Scientists Talking About the
              Divine: Surprisingly low number of genes raises big questions," San
              Francisco Chronicle, February 19, 2001.
              http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/2001/02/19/BU141026.DTL)
              Stephen E. Jones sejones@... or senojes@...
              Home: http://members.iinet.net.au/~sejones
              Group: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/CreationEvolutionDesign
              --------------------------------------------------------------------------
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