Wednesday, November 29, 2006
Quote of Now and Then
There is a widespread misunderstanding about the rule of law. All the O'Reillys and Schlaflys and Robertsons and Coulters work to create an impression that judges should operate personally, that they should make ad hoc or personal rulings or, worst yet, respond to public will. The truth is that article three of the Constitution is a bulwark against the public will.
This is one of the reasons I keep insisting that I'm not an activist judge. If I had come to a different conclusion and ruled that it was acceptable to teach religious material in school — thrown one for the team — then I would have been an activist judge. Activist judges are not desirable.
How desperate is the radical right now? Having apparently missed the evidence from a few Tuesdays ago as to who is really out to get them, they are hanging out at the Saturday matinees searching among animated movies aficionados for demons to bludgeon.
"Happy Feet," an animated film about a dancing Emperor penguin that has right-wing bloviators such as CNN's Glenn Beck and Fox News' Neil Cavuto crying "fowl" over its supposed promotion of environmentalism and global warming theories. ...
In "Happy Feet," a tone-deaf young penguin who doesn't quite fit in with his peers ends up discovering the world, encountering unpleasantries such as polluted oceans along the way. That led Beck to label the film an "animated version of 'An Inconvenient Truth'" and Cavuto to say he "half expected to see an animated version of Al Gore pop up."
It's the second time in as many years that the celluloid penguins have irritated America's ever-fragile political nerves. When the very successful "March of the Penguins" hit screens last year, conservative groups and radio hosts such as Michael Medved co-opted the film's message as a galvanizing call for Americans to emulate the on-screen penguin family values - monogamy and good parenting.
But back to "Happy Feet." The people in the street are taking this about as well as they took the idea of D.C. drones interferring in the Terri Schiavo case:
"It's a movie for Pete's sake," said Mike Grabner of Davison, who laughed and nearly cried during "Happy Feet" with his wife and two daughters.
"And so what if it talked about pollution and global warming or whatever they're saying? I don't think there are many people who don't believe that those things really happen."
That they have to attack a cartoon is pretty sad. It sounds like something Rush Limbaugh would do.
Tuesday, November 28, 2006
Jim Chen, University of Minnesota professor of law and a man obviously intent on making me feel guilty for taking time out of my day for such petty pursuits as eating, sleeping and breathing, has given birth to yet another website to go along with a herd that already puts tribbles to shame.
The newest is Law and Technology Theory, which has already endeared itself to every right-thinking American by thoroughly trashing Microsoft and its newest soon-to-be-industry-standard-even-if-it-sucks Ipod ripoff, the Zune.
And Jim, go see a movie, take a nap or something, and stop making the rest of us feel inadequate, would ya?
The Night They Drove Ol' Dixie ...
The commissioners of Dixie County Florida endorsed the erection by a group of private citizens of a black granite, 12,000 pound monument displaying the 10 Commandments with the admonition to "Love God and keep his commandments" on the county courthouse steps.
In no surprise whatsoever, the ACLU is already circling:
Brandon Hensler, director of communications for the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida said, "There are certainly values in the Ten Commandments that are enshrined in the law and should be upheld, like 'Thou shalt not murder.' "
But he continued, "If there are residents of Dixie County who understand our country's constitutional values and that it is the role of churches - not of government - to urge people to love God and keep his commandments, we would be interested in speaking with them."
On the other side stands former county attorney Joey Lander, who told the board he would defend any lawsuits stemming from the decision for free before his resignation from the post. He has since promised to abide by his offer but isn't exactly waiving any gauntlets around: "I will gladly represent them for free but I wouldn't want to challenge someone to file a lawsuit."
A couple of articles about this story have mentioned the Supreme Court case of Van Orden v. Perry, where the Justices allowed a 10 Commandments monument to remain on the Texas Capitol grounds by a 5 to 4 vote. First of all, unlike the Dixie case, there were 16 other monuments and 21 historical markers, diluting its impact as an endorsement of a religious view. More importantly, as Justice Rehnquist wrote for the majority:
Of course, the Ten Commandments are religious -- they were so viewed at their inception and so remain. The monument, therefore, has religious significance. According to Judeo-Christian belief, the Ten Commandments were given to Moses by God on Mt. Sinai. But Moses was a lawgiver as well as a religious leader. And the Ten Commandments have an undeniable historical meaning, as the foregoing examples demonstrate. Simply having religious content or promoting a message consistent with a religious doctrine does not run afoul of the Establishment Clause.
The folks in Dixie just couldn't be content with the 10 Commandments as a symbol of law giving. They had to add that "Love God and keep his commandments." Short of a complete gutting of the Establishment clause by the changed Court (that I tend to doubt will happen no matter how much Scalia and Thomas want it) this monument is doomed and the county faces paying the ACLU's legal fees.
What was that saying of Forrest Gump's mom again?
And The Children Shall Lead Us
There is a pretty wise op-ed piece, "Religion, science not incompatible," by Shazia Haq in the Daily Trojan, the student newspaper of USC, concerning the recent conference "Beyond Belief: Science, Religion, Reason and Survival."
The author quotes Neil deGrasse Tyson to the effect:
What concerns me now is that even if you're as brilliant as Newton, you reach a point where you start basking in the majesty of God and then your discovery stops - it just stops ...[Considering the fact that Newton did "bask in the majesty of God" one wonders at what point Tyson supposes Newton "just stopped."]
After then quoting Francisco J. Ayala on the futility of missionary attempts to convert the world to a rational life based on scientific knowledge, the author quotes Salman Rushdie, from The Satanic Verses:
Question: What is the opposite of faith?
Not disbelief. Too final, certain, closed. Itself a kind of belief.
Doubt does not constitute a dismissal of religion. Accordingly, faith is not the antonym of curiosity, and religion and science do not have to be contradictory ideals.
Monday, November 27, 2006
In His Cups
Robert Pennock, the philosopher of science who was a prominent witness for the plaintiffs in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School Board Intelligent Design case has been named an American Association for the Advancement of Science Fellow for 2006. Pennock is being recognized for distinguished service in arguing against Intelligent Design by highlighting its philosophical deficits and fighting against its inclusion in science education.
Pennock, author of Tower of Babel: the Evidence Against the New Creationism, is a professor in the Lyman Briggs School of Science, the Department of Philosophy, the Department of Computer Science and Engineering, and the Ecology, Evolutionary Biology and Behavior graduate program at Michigan State University.
Congratulations on the well deserved honor.
Sunday, November 26, 2006
I was leafing through my October 2006 copy of Natural History and noticed a small piece, "Lucky Break," on the discovery of traces of bone marrow in 10-million-year-old fossils of frogs. This is actually fairly old news but I had missed it. The researchers speculated that the bacteria that consumed the skin and muscle couldn’t fit through the minute pores in their bone to attack the marrow.
Instead, even smaller sulfur molecules seeped in and chemically fixed the marrow in much the same way formaldehyde would.
Anyway, I got curious to see how the creationist community was reacting to this find and was somewhat surprised when I found a mention at William Dembski's Intelligent Design blog, Uncommon Descent. The frog marrow was brought up in connection with a number of similar finds, the most famous of which was the discovery of still pliable blood vessels inside a 70-million-year-old Tyrannosaurus rex femur.
The occasion for one of Wild Bill's minions to post about this topic was the discovery of 400,000-year-old bear DNA. But there was little or no explanation of its relevance. that's where the comments section took over.
One poster, "bFast," starts out saying:
Though I am not a young earther, I find this evidence to be a compelling case for a young earth.
I’m not entirely sure why the article is posted here unless ID is attempting to promote the young earth theory - in which case Intelligent Design simply collapses into young-earth creationism. 400,000 year old DNA should be no less surprising to old-earth IDists than to Evolutionists.
The truth is that soft tissue usually doesn’t survive very long at all, a few years is most usually plenty enough to dispose of it. If we add a world-wide flood killing off the dinosaurs, as the YEC hypothesizes, how much soft tissue would survive? Very little soft tissue surviving is consistent with the YEC hypothesis.
[All right, class, if you don't settle down right away and stop giggling you're all going to get detention!]I would suggest that ID, if agnostic on the question of a young earth, is solidly biased towards an old earth. With that in mind, this find is almost as surprising to the ID community as it is to the scientific community at large.
I believe that there are two primary reasons why this article is being discussed in this forum:
1 - IDers have a committment (sic) to let the evidence take them where it will.
This is evidence. It must find its way to fit into our understanding.
2 - This is an excellent example showing that the scientific community doesn’t "know" as much as it thinks it does. Further, it shows that our expectations inform our observations. IE, we didn’t find soft tissue earlier because we were not looking.
Okay, but the IDists who continue to believe in an old-earth in light of this finding - aren’t they in pretty much the same position as evolutionists?
To put it another way, it seems like IDists could say that there is too much evidence for an old earth to let this evidence (and other preservation of soft tissue) change them to a young earth view. It might be rationalized that soft tissue survives much longer than previously imagined. But, that position is identical to the evolutionists position. Further, it raises questions about why IDists who use these rationalizations are "[letting] the evidence take them where it will" whereas evolutionists who take this view are not - since both use the same rationalization.
But, and this is important, science has all the time in the world. It is an open-ended process that needs only stop if our species goes extinct ... in which case, science will be the least of our cares. There is no need to rush to judgment and one or a few anomalous results shouldn't overturn a otherwise well-supported theory until we are really sure we understand what is going on.
In any case, scientists like unanswered questions. Contrary to the inference that bFast would like you to draw, scientists love to tell you about what they don't know ... they call it "my research project" or "this really exciting new area of research."
But the very last thing scientists as a group do is throw up their hands and say, "we can't find a reason for that, so God must have done it." They've been burned too often in the past when other people came along later and showed how things supposedly impossible except by divine action turned out to have natural explanations. Now, maybe there is or was something out there that God did that science will never be able to find an answer to. That's okay. Science isn't looking for the answer to "life, the universe and everything." It's got quite enough on its plate already just looking at the empiric evidence at hand.
About the rest of what bFast said, I'm afraid he told a little fib or two. As Paul Nelson, a leading light at the Discovery Institute, said just a few days ago:
The intelligent design debate has nothing to do with the evidence. It has everything to do with what we are going to let that evidence tell us.
Saturday, November 25, 2006
PZ Myers (via Brock at Stupid Evil Bastard) and John Lynch have mentioned the Southern Poverty Law Center's nationwide roundup of hate groups by state.
My own state, at 19 groups and considering that it is third in the nation in population, is not doing too badly. It has one hate group for each 1,012,000 of its population. As PZ notes, California's 52 hate groups (1/695,000) and Texas' 43 (1/532,000) are bad but, his state of Minnesota, with 8 groups in a population of 5,132,799, falls between them with 1/642,000. Lynch's Arizona is worse than all of them with 1/396,000.
But, without going through all 50 states, South Carolina looks like the champ. With a population of only 4,255,083 but with 46 groups (three more than Texas, which has more than 5 times the population) South Carolina weighs in with one hate group for every 93,000 people.
I wish I had something profound to say about this, especially about how to make maps like this unnecessary, but I don't.
Friday, November 24, 2006
Larry Moran, in his inimitable style, has seen the firestorm he has touched off and rushed in ... to slosh some more gasoline around.
Public understanding of science will not be advanced by people like Francis Collins, Simon Conway Morris, and Ken Miller. They are subverting science in order to make it conform to their personal religious beliefs. (Which, by the way, conflict.) They are doing more harm to science than those who oppose it directly from the outside because the Theistic Evolutionists are subverting from within. It is sad that they are being supported by people who should know the difference between rationalism and superstition.
I don't have any problem with Larry expressing his beliefs, by the way. I'll just do what Larry does when someone says something stupid about evolutionary theory. I'll say it's stupid. And I'll make it as clear as I can to everyone that he does not speak for me and I don't share that particular stupidity. I'll stick with my own, thank you very much. I have no need to import Larry's.
To see the emptiness of Larry's position read, instead, John Wilkins' article, "On Learned Ignorance" for a dose of real rationalism, in contrast to Larry's hysteria.
More people are weighing in: Josh Rosenau, John Lynch, and Lynch again (making his third), are more or less in the anti-Larry camp. Coturnix and Buridan are in the pro camp.
Mike Dunford, in an act of incredible bravery or incredible foolhardiness, entered the fray between atheists and those they call wimps for not "taking a stand," by staking out a position between them, where both can draw a good bead ...
Well, no one can accuse the pro-science side of trying to maintain an artificial "big tent" ...
Thursday, November 23, 2006
And So Forth
Further developments on the Larry Moran flap:
PZ Myers responded to Pat Hayes in the comments of Pat's original post at Red State Rabble. Pat, in turn, responded to PZ here. Pat doesn't need my help but there are some things in PZ's reply that demonstrate that rationalism need not be a victim only of religious thought. Here is PZ's post in full:
Now wait a minute! Who is doing the dividing? I already pointed out Dawkins' claim (and bad analogy) that "[s]cientists divide into two schools of thought," essentially the brave Churchillian fighters against "supernaturalism" versus the craven Chamberlainesque appeasers of "bishops and theologians." Larry goes even further:If this is the way it's going to work, if you're going to go along with Brayton's division into us and them, and his outrageous distortions of our position (we're out to attack and destroy religion by any means possible? Please.) then I will plainly state that I am not on "Ed's team".
I'm also not interested in being on any "team" that treats criticisms of its members as intolerable dissent, and who react to disagreement by announcing that they're going to treat the critics as schismatics. I know which side is hypocritically demanding conformity and purity of the movement, and it ain't us evil atheists..Have you even noticed the irony of decrying those " who want to divide the movement" while announcing that you've decided there are two teams, and denouncing the other guys?
As for literature, drama, the visual arts, etc....only an idiot would think Moran or I are denying the importance of art, and only an idiot would equate superstition with art. That was an appallingly stupid comment.
When Eugenie Scott and others promote a theistic version of science they seem to think they are allowing for a safe middle ground where Theistic Evolutionists like Francis Collins, Simon Conway Morris, and Ken Miller can find common cause with scientists who don't let superstition masquerade as science. They are wrong. There is no common ground between the rational and the irrational.If that ain't "demanding conformity and purity of the movement," I don't know what the heck else it could possibly be.
Neither Ed nor Pat were dividing the pro-science side into "us and them," they were reporting Larry's (and Dawkins') attempts to do so and refusing to join with them. There was nothing in what Ed and Pat said that even hinted at an attempt to shun Larry or Dawkins or eject them from the ranks of science. I wish I could say the same in reverse.
As for art, I don't know what PZ's attitude really is but there is no doubt that at least the best of art doesn't fit Larry's black and white world where there is "no common ground between the rational and the irrational." Is it really asking too much of a supposed rationalist to work out the logic of what he says? But maybe Larry's just kidding again.
Wednesday, November 22, 2006
Half a Vee Sign
Larry Moran has set off a tizzy with certain of his comments, picked up first by William Dembski and then Casey Luskin of the Discovery Institute. Essentially, Larry opined that any university students who reject evolution should be flunked or not admitted in the first place. He also called ID proponents "IDiots" and, in the case of Dembski's blog crawlers, "sycophants." That is not very inflammatory by talk.origins standards where, for going on a decade, I have observed and interacted with Larry.
First of all, if Larry says he intended his remarks as humor and sarcasm, I believe him. Larry has long had a reputation as a curmudgeon at talk.origins and revels in it not a little bit. Thowing bombs just to see what happens would not be out of character for Larry. He is wrong that his humor and sarcasm are always obvious, as the hurt feelings he recently engendered in another long time talk.origins habitué and friend of his demonstrated.
Ed Brayton at Dispatches from the Culture Wars chided Larry in a post entitled "With Friends Like These," to which Larry responded, which Ed then sur-replied to. Now Pat Hayes of Red State Rabble, another good friend of science who worked hard in the recent evolution wars in Kansas, has weighed in, coming down squarely on Ed's side. For the record, so am I, though there is always room for some quibbles.
As someone who has been around this mulberry bush with Larry fairly extensively at talk.origins in the past and somewhat more since Larry has put a toe in the blog pool, I can say with high confidence that Larry will go on insisting that Ken Miller and other theistic evolutionists are mixing science and theology, no matter how often and clearly they separate the two in their books and other writings.
Larry has yet to give me a clear explanation for this claim. Sometimes he seems to be claiming that anything that slightly bears on science is completely closed to religion, as if theists have to deny the Earth is round or stand convicted of mixing science and religion. At other times he appears to defend some sort of notion that scientists are required to do nothing but science and should turn the method of science into a worldview. Then he will often simply refuse to recognize any difference between science and theology, as when he takes that diagram by Rev. Ted Peters, clearly labeled "theistic evolution" and claims a position for himself on it, despite the fact that, as I know from personal experience, one of the easiest ways to get Larry's goat is to say that he is engaged in theology.
But let's take another tack for the moment. Richard Dawkins has another analogy that I think is spectacularly misguided, as bad as his "Jesus' divinity is a scientific question" attempt. Normally, shooting down Dawkins would please Larry, who hates Dawkins' scientific work, which Larry thinks is both factually wrong and illogical. In this case, I think Larry's right about Dawkins ... but will he be happy about it?
The following comes from the same article that the Jesus' DNA analogy came from, "Why There Almost Certainly Is No God," that can be found here, among many other places:
Scientists divide into two schools of thought over the best tactics with which to face the threat. The Neville Chamberlain 'appeasement' school focuses on the battle for evolution. Consequently, its members identify fundamentalism as the enemy, and they bend over backwards to appease 'moderate' or 'sensible' religion (not a difficult task, for bishops and theologians despise fundamentalists as much as scientists do). Scientists of the Winston Churchill school, by contrast, see the fight for evolution as only one battle in a larger war: a looming war between supernaturalism on the one side and rationality on the other. For them, bishops and theologians belong with creationists in the supernatural camp, and are not to be appeased.Besides the blatant attempt to wrap himself and his allies in the image of one of the indomitable heroes of the last century, a technique as familiar to scoundrels as wrapping the flag around themselves, Dawkins seems to forget that Churchill, when he looked at the "big picture," was more than willing to make common cause with a monster every bit as evil and depraved as Hitler ever was: Joseph Stalin. Ken Miller, Francis Collins, Francisco Ayala, George Coyne and the many other scientists and supporters of science who are also theists don't remotely compare to the devil Churchill willingly shook hands with. And Larry's claim that those people are a worse threat to science and science education than Behe, Dembski, Ham and Morris is just the kind of overheated rhetoric that may be humor and satire in Larry's mind.
No matter what, it is a pretty basic rule of warfare that you don't shoot the guys in your own trench.
In Dire Straits
I've only written once or twice about David Horowitz and his campaign to intimidate ... opps ... counterbalance liberal professors in American academia with his so-called Academic Bill of Rights. There was reason enough to ignore him once he broke PZ Myers' heart by not including him in Horowitz' jeremiad, The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America. But Horowitz' little red caboose has hopped the tracks and, like most wrecks, it deserves a rubber of the neck.
The Pennsylvania House of Representatives created a special legislative committee to investigate the condition of academic freedom in the state and whether students need additional protection if they hold views that are "unpopular" with professors. Horowitz applied much swine lip gloss when news of the committee's draft report broke, in an attempt to paint a loss as a victory. But when the final report removed those fig leaves, as reported in an article by Scott Jaschik at Inside Higher Ed, Horowitz just lost it:
Horowitz said that he was furious about the “breathtaking audacity of this theft of the report by the Democrats and the unions,” and that a “cabal” of faculty leaders had convinced “weak-spined Republicans” (who controlled the committee) to go along with the “theft.”I suppose we will now get The Politicos: The 101 Most Dangerous Spines in America. But as Jaschik noted:
[B]ecause the final vote on the report was unanimous -- on a committee controlled by Republicans -- the committee made it more difficult for Horowitz to blame his problems on liberals.Not one to let going down in flames deter him for long, Horowitz rebounded:
He maintained, however, that despite the “travesty and the cover-up,” he was in fact pleased with what he accomplished in Pennsylvania.A perhaps more realistic assessment comes from Jaschik:
In the end, though, the panel on Tuesday stripped away what he had been citing as points of victory. The final report kept the language saying that it couldn’t find evidence of problems with students’ rights. On whether colleges need new policies, the report’s language changed, noting that some colleges have such policies and need only review them. On student evaluations of faculty members, the report shifted from urging colleges to change them to urging colleges to look at them and make their own decisions.Reality is a terrible thing to waste.
Monday, November 20, 2006
Blogtime for Bozo
Casey Luskin of the Discovery Institute is on quite a roll lately. First there was the sight of Luskin dissing poor old Phillip Johnson because he is merely a lawyer, not one of the scientists whose works you have to study "[i]f one wants to understand the theory of intelligent design." The problem is that Luskin is one of the most prolific, if not prolix, authors at the DI's blog, Evolution News & Views, most recently writing multiple articles about Carl Zimmer's piece, "A Limb Is a Fin Is a Wing," that appeared in National Geographic. Luskin advanced numerous "scientific" arguments in favor of ID but Luskin himself is ... wait for it ... a lawyer. To be fair, Luskin apparently has a B.S. and M.S. in Earth Sciences from the University of California, San Diego and spent five years at Scripps Institution for Oceanography before discovering he had no aptitude whatsoever for science and instead opting for ID and flackery.
Intent on proving how little of his science training stuck, Casey perpetrated the Pinto ... um ... car wreck, wherein our intrepid boy wonder, in the course of his third article about Zimmer, managed to actually argue that suboptimal design wasn't a problem for ID by asking the question:
Was the Ford Pinto, with all its imperfections revealed in crash tests, not designed?
Apparently, the vertebrate eye is backwards because God decided it was cheaper to settle the lawsuits than make the cheap fix earlier implemented for the cephalopods.Others who have been having some merriment at Master Luskin's expense include: PZ Myers, Coturnix and the supposed victim of Casey's logorrhea, Zimmer himself.
But now Casey may have topped even himself. Long a sycophant of William Dembski's, Luskin quickly picked up on Wild Bill's rant about Larry Moran's typically tart recommendation for what to do with biology students who believe in ID. As ominously as he could muster for all the breathlessness, Luskin warns:
Parents and students beware: the author of a leading college biochemistry textbook believes that pro-intelligent design students are not smart and should not be admitted to college.
I agree with the Dembski sycophants that UCSD should not have required their uneducated students to attend remedial classes. Instead, they should never have admitted them in the first place.
It is also worth noting that Professor Moran called ID-proponents "IDiots" and "sycophants."Uh huh. Larry said it in the paragraph right above that. Luskin, who should know his target audience, apparently thinks they need to read everything at least twice in order for it to have a chance to penetrate. But just in case there is any doubt about how Luskin assesses the abilities of those students who are supposedly ready for university, he gives them a little dictionary help:
A sycophant is "a self-seeking, servile flatterer; fawning parasite."
Flaw 'n Order
Ed Brayton at Dispatches from the Culture Wars has produced his own video concerning the Dover case that is both funny and sneakily true.
It's well worth a look.
Sunday, November 19, 2006
March of the Robots
First of all, we've got another one for Glenn Morton's collection: "The Imminent Demise of Evolution: The Longest Running Falsehood in Creationism." Jay Richards, co-author (with Guillermo Gonzalez) of The Privileged Planet: How Our Place in the Cosmos is Designed for Discovery, has been reported in a Nov. 18, 2006 Christian Post article, "Science Gives Christians Upper Hand Over Atheists" to have made the following claim at the "Loving God with All Your Mind" Apologetics Conference held at the McLean (Virginia) Bible Church:
Philosopher Jay Richards of Acton Institute concluded from his findings that the universe was designed for discovery. And with each discovery, the Darwinian theory of evolution is expected to go down as "a huge mistake in history," Richards said.People have, as Glenn documents at his site, been "expecting" that for over 150 years, even before Darwin published. There is an old saying: "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results." Saying something is a type of "doing."
Of course, that does not particularly support the main contention of the article:
Over the last several decades, Christians have begun to emerge back into the intellectual public square. This is primarily occurring in the field of philosophy, New Testament studies with regard to the historical Jesus and the gospels, and it is now beginning to occur in the physical sciences as manifested in the Intelligent Design movement ...
Now, Christians can stand confidently within biblical truth knowing that it's in line with astrophysics and cosmology, said [Lee] Strobel, [author of The Case for a Creator] quoting a cosmology expert. "It is now the atheist who has to maintain by faith, despite all of the evidence to the contrary, that the universe did not have a beginning."Strange, I hadn't noticed the slightest look of fear in Richard Dawkins ... or, for that matter, in other "atheists," such as Ken Miller.
I suppose that, sooner or later, rather than doing the hard work of actually developing theories for testing and seriously engaging the intellectual challenges, the temptation to declare victory to your followers, who are more than disposed to accept without question the enemy's surrender in absentia and parade off, is just too great.
Saturday, November 18, 2006
Body Found Crammed in Tiny Opening
MCLEAN, Va. - Local police are investigating the gruesome discovery of remains mangled beyond all recognition by having been stuffed into a tiny gap. The local authorities are asking that anyone with any information about this incident to please contact the police. The Police Chief of McLean said that they are particularly interested in the whereabouts of Pauley "The Crunch" Nelson, who is described as "a person of interest" in the case. Nelson is reputed to be a member of a shadowy organization known as "The DI," the members of which have been implicated in such finds in the past. Law enforcement sources say that this technique for disposing of victims is a trademark of the DI.
Paul Nelson of the Discovery Institute, variously described as a "Christian professor of science and religion" and a "a Biola professor and apologist," (if you take the first word and the last, you've got the picture) recently appeared, appropriately enough, at "a three-day apologetics conference at McLean Bible Church."
Let's get straight to the real news, as reported by the Christian Post:
I want to remind you that you don’t need a theory of design to know that is design. The reality of detecting intelligence doesn’t require a theory. A theory is a nice thing to have, certainly if we are going to apply this to biology, but design inferences are sound and stable even if we don’t have a fully articulated theory.
I also don’t think that there is really a theory of intelligent design at the present time to propose as a comparable alternative to the Darwinian theory, which is, whatever errors it might contain, a fully worked out scheme. There is no intelligent design theory that’s comparable. Working out a positive theory is the job of the scientific people that we have affiliated with the movement. Some of them are quite convinced that it’s doable, but that’s for them to prove…No product is ready for competition in the educational world.
But perhaps even more tellingly, Nelson went on, according to the article, to not only urge the audience "to ignore philosophical rules" but to say outright:
The intelligent design debate has nothing to do with the evidence. It has everything to do with what we are going to let that evidence tell us.
And if that evidence is telling you something you don't want to hear, just ignore it. "Truth," to Nelson, is malleable and reality can be safely ignored.
The particular gap he was stuffing his God into that evening is the issue of ORFans, "orphan Open Reading Frames," stretches of DNA that appear to code for real, functional proteins but which have no sequence homologs in other genomes. Although I won't pretend to understand the science involved, I sure recognize the nature of Nelson's argument and why he wants people to ignore the rules of philosophy. Those interested in the science can go to Ian Musgrave's piece at the Panda's Thumb, "An argument is ORFaned," or to the article by Yanbin Yin and Daniel Fischer, "On the origin of microbial ORFans: quantifying the strength of the evidence for viral lateral transfer."
As the Yin and Fischer article says, "[b]ecause of the lack of homology to other proteins, the origin of ORFans entails an evolutionary puzzle." In science puzzles invite investigation but, to Nelson, it is merely a place to hide what is left of a God so unsubtle and so clumsy, that Nelson cannot imagine that He might not leave any fingerprints for finite creatures like us to find. The final touch is to firmly cement Him in place by demanding totally unreasonable standards of proof before He can be dislodged from His gap:
Nelson said that if the theory of evolution were completely true, then there "must" be a way to reconstruct evolutionary history of every gene and protein and we would not expect so many unknown genes or proteins.
One can only hope Nelson never sits on a jury. By that standard of proof, the police would have to show each and every place where a suspect stepped going to and from the murder scene, even if it was over pavement that a million people have walked on since, before he would convict.
Comparing Nelson's approach with that shown by the Yin and Fischer article is instructive as to the difference between science and the kind of apologetics that Nelson is engaged in. Faced with that evolutionary puzzle, scientists don't throw up their hands and say "That's it, we'll never know the answer to that one." Instead, they dig in and look for evidence that might support or refute possible explanations for the problem. In other words, they test those theories Nelson says he doesn't need. One of the myriad suggested explanations for ORFans (see Musgrave's article) is that these sequences resulted from lateral genetic transfer from viruses. Right now, the evidence is not looking good for that particular explanation but the authors suggest other possible lines of investigation.
But, that's not what Nelson is after. If you stuff God in that little crack in our knowledge and [cough] wedge Him in real tight, you can successfully put your brain in idle so it can't be disturbed by anything as dangerous as a doubt. The only thing Nelson wants to let that evidence tell him is that his fingers are still firmly stuffed in his ears. He's right that you don't need a theory for that.
But not only isn't that science, it's not much in the way of theology either. Compare Nelson's God, who only creates the things we can't explain ... yet ... to the one Rabbi Natan Slifkin worships, who does not limit "His appearance in the universe to the bacterial flagellum and the blood-clotting system." You don't have to be a theist to see the differences in the grandeur of those views of life.
The God of the IDers in some ways reminds me of Harvey, the six foot three and a half inch tall white rabbit; a "pooka" that "appears here and there - now and then - to this one and that one - a benign but mischievous creature - very fond of rumpots [and] crackpots."
And how are you, Mr. Nelson?
Friday, November 17, 2006
Variety is reporting that:
Paramount Pictures has hired Ron Nyswaner to pen the screenplay for "Dover," based on the landmark 2005 trial that stopped a Pennsylvania school board from teaching "intelligent design" -- i.e., creationism -- over evolution.
I will note that I had a choice to make in the beginning of the case as to whether or not I wanted to make myself available at all to the press, and some judges do and some judges don't. I decided that I would do that so long as I didn't discuss the merits of the case. And so I allowed certain reporters at times to interview me in chambers. This worked out well, save for some over-the-top questions, Oprah-like questions, if you will, that I got, such as "What's your favorite sports team? How many times a week do you work out?" And my favorite: "Who do you want to play you in the movie version?" For the record, that's the Philadelphia Eagles, six times a week, and Tom Hanks.Humor is not a well known commodity in parts of Seattle but I suspect the DI is fully aware that the Judge's tongue was firmly in cheek when he said that. But there is nothing they will not distort in furtherance of their dishonest agenda.
Besides, who else in Hollywood could convincingly portray a judge with the patience of a saint sufficient to sit through the outright lies of a William Buckingham and the smarmy disingenuousness of a Michael Behe without exploding?
Thursday, November 16, 2006
As reported by the NCSE, "the 167th convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri adopted a resolution opposing the teaching of 'intelligent design' in the public schools." The official rational was:
The intent of this resolution is to resist the introduction of religion into the science curriculum of our public schools and to maintain the separation of church and state.
Wednesday, November 15, 2006
Agnostic About Atheism
There's been an outbreak of back and forth among the science bloggers about the difference, if any, between agnostics and atheists. The discussion, as might be anticipated, was occasioned by Richard Dawkins' new book, The God Delusion.
John Wilkins, the unabashedly antipodian philosopher of science, led off the latest round with a review of The God Delusion that particularly focused on Dawkins' discussion of agnosticism that John found to be "just bad." Jason Rosenhouse responded to Wilkins, agreeing with Dawkins that agnosticism is unjustified fence-sitting. Wilkins responded to Rosenhouse, further expanding on what he sees as the crucial question: what issues empirical data can eliminate. Larry Moran has chimed in, as has PZ Myers.
It is an interesting discussion, no matter which side you come down on. I'm firmly on Wilkins' side and I can not improve on his explanation of the agnostic position. Instead, I'd like to explore one of Dawkins' arguments that I think shows the real difference between agnostics and atheists.
In his article "Why There Almost Certainly Is No God," which can be found at many places on the web, Dawkins discusses Stephen Jay Gould's notion of "NOMA" - "non-overlapping magisteria." I'm not at all sure that Dawkins is fairly characterizing Gould's position, but I have no interest in that here. Dawkins, however, makes the following claim:
First of all, the vast majority of Christians hold to a theology that Jesus was both fully human and fully divine. If you demonstrated that Jesus had human DNA, that would not disturb any competent Christian theologian, anymore than the observation that he had human eyes and human ears and a human heart would. That some Christians might, faced with the opposite situation, fall into the heresy that Jesus was not fully human and that such a fact somehow supported Christianity does not demonstrate that NOMA is false, any more than the fact that some pro-evolution debaters make bad arguments in its favor demonstrates that evolution isn't science. But that is not the point I really want to make.To see the disingenuous hypocrisy of religious people who embrace NOMA, imagine that forensic archeologists, by some unlikely set of circumstances, discovered DNA evidence demonstrating that Jesus was born of a virgin mother and had no father. If NOMA enthusiasts were sincere, they should dismiss the archeologists' DNA out of hand: "Irrelevant. Scientific evidence has no bearing on theological questions. Wrong magisterium." Does anyone seriously imagine that they would say anything remotely like that? You can bet your boots that not just the fundamentalists but every professor of theology and every bishop in the land would trumpet the archeological evidence to the skies.
Either Jesus had a father or he didn't. The question is a scientific one, and scientific evidence, if any were available, would be used to settle it. The same is true of any miracle - and the deliberate and intentional creation of the universe would have to have been the mother and father of all miracles. Either it happened or it didn't.
The mere fact that some people may practice internally inconsistent theology also does not, by itself, establish that Dawkins' proposed evidence logically bears on the issue of Jesus' divinity. Let's turn Dawkins' argument around and ask what the reaction of the scientific community would be to such evidence. Dawkins' posited evidence would have to be, to some degree or another, inferential evidence, since we do not have the subject to draw the DNA from directly. Would the scientific community, based on non-direct evidence of the DNA of someone who might have been the person known to history as "Jesus," leap to a consensus that Jesus was God because of some anomalous evidence? Or would other hypotheses be explored, such as whether some sort of contamination of the evidence occurred, or even wilder possibilities, as in a metamutation occurring that permitted human asexual reproduction? Even if you try to posit some unusually certain evidence that is somehow shown not to be contaminated or mistaken or misreported or any of the other myriad ways that scientific evidence is questionable in the real world, would the scientific community still come to a consensus that Jesus was God? Ultimately, the way science is actually practiced on the ground, if no reasonable naturalistic explanation is uncovered, a single anomalous result will be put down merely as an unknown phenomenon needing further investigation.
To form a scientific theory takes more than one unexplained result. How much more so is that the case when the proposed theory is an ultimately radical one that denies any possibility of a naturalistic explanation? In point of fact, any action by an infinite, omnipotent being not restrained by the laws of nature must, of necessity, be an anomalous result beyond resolution by science.
Thus, if the scientific community would not treat the example posed by Dawkins as one amenable to formation of a scientific theory, in what sense can Jesus' divinity, or any other miracle, be called a scientific question or an empiric issue of any sort? And would that reaction by the scientific community be justly called "fence-sitting"? I don't think so.
Finally, in a bit of irony, after claiming that there is no real difference between atheists and agnostics -- "if you don't believe, you're an atheist" -- a couple of posts later PZ is complaining: "I keep being told what I believe."
We agnostics feel your pain, PZ.
Bite Someone For Christ
Okay ... Answers in Genesis is training attack dogs for its new museum.
Now let's see ... how does that go again?
... whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also ... as long as thy dog haveth a good grip on the offender and the police hath been called?
Tuesday, November 14, 2006
A Bolt From Above
The New York Times has an interesting piece today, "Ancient Crash, Epic Wave" by Sandra Blakeslee. A group of scientists have proposed that chevron deposits, wedge-shaped sediment deposits containing deep ocean microfossils fused with a medley of metals typically formed by cosmic impacts, and all pointing toward the middle of the Indian Ocean, are evidence of a large asteroid or comet strike.
A strike this big could have killed a quarter of the world’s population by producing a tsunami at least 600 feet high, about 13 times as big as the one that inundated Indonesia two years ago. A crater 18 miles in diameter has been found 12,500 feet below the surface.
But, if that wasn't interesting enough, there is the date that is being proposed -- 4,800 years ago.
The two-year-old Holocene Impact Working Group, a band of self-described "misfits," have yet to win over mainstream astronomers but they are obviously attracting attention. The group is made up of experts in geology, geophysics, geomorphology, tsunamis, tree rings, soil science and archaeology, including the structural analysis of myth. That may be the evidence hardest for some scientists to accept.
If it requires that the scientific community climbs aboard the Ark, it might be quite a wait.Dr. [Bruce] Masse analyzed 175 flood myths from around the world, and tried to relate them to known and accurately dated natural events like solar eclipses and volcanic eruptions. Among other evidence, he said, 14 flood myths specifically mention a full solar eclipse, which could have been the one that occurred in May 2807 B.C.
Half the myths talk of a torrential downpour, Dr. Masse said. A third talk of a tsunami. Worldwide they describe hurricane force winds and darkness during the storm. All of these could come from a mega-tsunami.
Of course, extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof, Dr. Masse said, "and we’re not there yet."
Monday, November 13, 2006
A Worm's Turn
Wesley Elsberry at the Panda's Thumb has an interesting tale of a politician misusing the work of a scientist (gasp!) to support injecting the politician's religion into the public school curricula.
I know ... dog bites man. But there is one aspect that I think makes this story notable.
Briefly, Susan Haverkos, the only supporter of Intelligent Design Creationism to slip through in the recent Ohio School Board elections, used a Popular Science story on ten of the most creative young scientists of the year as justification for the "teach the controversy" ploy. Specifically, Hverkos cited the work of Kelly Dorgan, a Ph.D. Candidate at the University of Maine School of Marine Sciences, on the mechanics of burrowing. Ms. Dorgan's work was clever research into an area that is, to say the least, difficult to investigate, that demonstrated that Darwin's hypothesis that earthworms swallowed a path through the soil was wrong.
Having elevated Darwin's tentative suggestion of a mechanism to the status of a "theory" on a par with evolution, Haverkos then torched the strawman:
What if she had been told, "We only teach Darwin's theories, and you can't question it". Worms would still have to "eat dirt". If she were a student in Ohio, she would have been taught to accept what she was taught, it's the truth, and that all there is. But somewhere in her education she was taught to question, to be creative, to have tenacity.In a letter to Ms. Haverkos and the Board that is included in an article on her website, "Why I oppose the teaching of 'intelligent design'," Ms. Dorgan first sets the record straight as to what her work entailed:
Contrary to Ms. Haverkos' assertions, my work does NOT in any way challenge Darwin's theory of evolution; in fact, my work on worm burrowing illustrates an outstanding example of convergent evolution. I have found that burrowers across many animal phyla exert forces in similar ways and have evolved to have a wedge shape and/or anatomies allowing exertion of large forces to propagate a crack. Without an understanding of the theory of evolution, I would not be able to explain this similarity across unrelated animals.Then she eloquently explains why ID and the "critical analysis" scams are just that:
I find it very disturbing that my research has been grossly misinterpreted to support the idea of intelligent design. Intelligent design is NOT a testable hypothesis and therefore has no place in science classrooms. Ms. Haverkos points out the importance of challenging theories, which I fully support. However, the way scientists challenge theories is by generating alternative TESTABLE hypotheses and collecting data to TEST those hypotheses. Students of science should certainly be taught to ask questions and to challenge established ideas, but they should be taught to do so using the scientific method. In addition, in order to generate intelligent questions that can advance the field of biology, it is essential to have a basic understanding of the field. The theory of evolution explains a tremendous amount of scientific data and there are currently NO other viable theories to explain those data that withstand scientific tests. Telling students to challenge an established theory without either presenting a testable alternative hypothesis or specifically encouraging students to develop their own testable alternative hypothesis confuses them not only about the theory itself, but about the entire process of doing science.
As for Ms. Haverkos, she loudly proclaims her "community values." I wonder if that includes apologizing for misappropriating Ms. Dorgan's name and work in furtherance of a religious attack on science?
Sunday, November 12, 2006
John Baez rather famously developed "The Crackpot Index," a "simple method for rating potentially revolutionary contributions to physics." Now John Wilkins has adapted it to perform a similar service for biology and evolutionary theory.
Some of the ... um ... evolved parts of the index include:
8. 5 points for each mention of "Heackel", "Dawkin", "Steven Gould" or "Eldridge".
9. 10 points for each claim that genetics or evolution is fundamentally misguided (without good evidence).
10. 10 points for pointing out that you have gone to school, as if this were evidence of sanity. An extra 5 points for citing your engineering, dentistry, medical or computing degree as authoritative in biology. An extra 5 points for a pseudomedical qualification (such as homeopathy or holistic massage).
And number 20:
20 points for every use of religious or science fiction works or myths as if they were fact.... sounds strangely familiar.
But I think John should have included a 50 pointer for each prediction of the imminent demise of the present theory.
Saluting the Troops
Congressional Republicans are mad as hell and ... well, they don't have much choice but to take it but they don't have to like it:
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has suggested that if Bush replaced [Secretary of Defense Donald] Rumsfeld two weeks before the election, voters would not have been as angry about the unpopular Iraq war. Republicans would have gained the boost they needed, according to Gingrich, to retain their majority in the Senate and hold onto 10 to 15 more House seats.
"The president was not going to replace Secretary Rumsfeld unless he was confident that he had a very strong replacement available to him to put in place," Bolten said.But Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., the outgoing chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee admits he doesn't know when the President made the decision but he figures "it's highly doubtful that he made up his mind between the time the election returns came in on Tuesday and Wednesday when Rumsfeld was out." If Gates showed up on the White House steps Tuesday night, it was quite a stroke of coincidence.
Given the transparency of that excuse, that salute is looking four fingers short.
Larry Moran, Professor of Biochemistry at the University of Toronto and longtime habitué of the talk.origins newsgroup has started a blog named for Darwin's favorite part of his home, Down House, where he would walk ever day and think: the Sandwalk.
If Larry's blog is half as informative, opinionated, infuriating and invigorating as his posts in talk.origins always are, it will be ... well ... just about everything you could hope for in a blog.
Saturday, November 11, 2006
Hasta La Vista, Baby!
After reveling in the "big picture" of the election results for a while and after checking on the outcome of the races where creationism was a specific issue, the next thing I looked for was what happened in a congressional race three-fourths of the country away from my home. I wanted to know the fate of J.D. Hayworth (R-Ariz. 5), an alleged human being who had not yet achieved the obscurity he so richly deserves. Among the many heartening results of the last election, Hayworth's defeat stands near the top.
One of Hayworth's greater accomplishments in odious demagoguery was the attempt to amend the Immigration and Naturalization Act to circumvent the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, where it says:
All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
A great many gave "the last full measure of devotion" to support the proposition that it does not matter how your ancestors arrived here -- on a slave ship or by following a coyote across the desert, in steerage to Ellis Island or on the Mayflower -- if you are born here, you are a citizen, with all the rights and duties that entails. In that promise and in that hope lies what it really means to be an American and those who would deny it are, in perhaps the deepest sense of all, traitors to this country and its ideals.
Now Jim Chen at Jurisdynamics has an article that points to Hayworth's defeat being possibly more than a mere momentary pleasure. Mired in the Iraq mess, Republicans cast about for something -- anything -- that might distract the public from the war. As the Wall Street Journal said:
Many Republicans bet that tough talk on immigration would lure enough votes from immigration skeptics to offset the loss of Hispanic votes.
As Professor Chen points out, Hispanics are, as a group, socially conservative and, like most new immigrants, highly entrepreneurial. In short, they would appear to be natural constituents of the Republican party. And, indeed, Republicans had made great inroads in that regard, In 2004, a generally poor and working class minority voted for a generally white and middle class and above political party with only a relatively modest deficit of 44 percent Republican to 55 percent Democratic.
However, many Republicans insisted on demonizing poor people for "voting with their feet" for the better life we loudly proclaim to be our gift to the world. Labeling them as a threat to national security as great as terrorists and promising to build El Muro, the 700 mile Berlin Wall in reverse along the Mexican border, made major changes in Hispanic voting patterns. The Republican party may well come to regret this even more in the future, given that Hispanics are the United States' fastest-growing demographic group. In 2006, Hispanics voted for Democrats by a margin of 69 to 29 percent.
Do the numbers.
Friday, November 10, 2006
Pat Hayes over at Red State Rabble was wondering at the lack of any comment coming from Evolution News & Views or Uncommon Descent about the recent U.S. elections, considering all the time they spent telling us that public opinion surveys showed how many people were absolutely clamoring for ID to be taught in public schools.
Well, finally the DI has broken the silence.
And who should they shove out in front of the lines ... I mean turn to for sage comment ... but Denyse (accent on the "Deny") O'Leary, who they call a "Canadian science writer" (of all things), claiming that she is "famed" for her Mindful Hack blog that she just launched a tad over 24 hours ago! It supposedly will deal with the "neuroscience implications of ID", which we can all agree, I'm sure, good ol' Deny is expert in.
Oh, and about the elections . . . if you parochial Americans think, just because pushing ID into public schools is dead as a political ploy in the U.S., that means that the rest of the world won't fall for it, at least for a decade or two, you got another think coming!
The DI makes the obligatory claim that neither elections nor court cases can keep ID down because it is a scientific controversy. But, as "Ron O" over at talk.origins pointed out, if they can't convince even Phillip Johnson, the acknowledged "Godfather" of ID, that there is a real scientific controversy, why should anyone else believe 'em?
I also don’t think that there is really a theory of intelligent design at the present time to propose as a comparable alternative to the Darwinian theory, which is, whatever errors it might contain, a fully worked out scheme. There is no intelligent design theory that’s comparable. Working out a positive theory is the job of the scientific people that we have affiliated with the movement. Some of them are quite convinced that it’s doable, but that’s for them to prove … No product is ready for competition in the educational world.
But maybe Phil is just another one of those biased materialistic Darwinists ...
There is this:
Prime Minister Tony Blair said today that the threat from home-grown Islamic terrorism would last “a generation,” reinforcing a highly unusual warning by the head of the MI5 domestic intelligence agency that some 1,600 suspects in 200 terrorist cells were under surveillance.And then this:
The [intelligence] estimate by Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller, head of MI5, was by far the most extensive and alarming report given by the government. It included assertions that some 30 terrorist cells were under surveillance and that “tomorrow’s threat may include the use of chemicals, bacteriological agents, radioactive materials
and even nuclear technology.”
- "Blair Says Terrorist Threat to Last ‘a Generation’" by Alan Cowell, The New York Times, November 10, 2006.
Earlier this year, at a lecture sponsored by the Royal Society, Steve Jones, the British geneticist, noted that more than half of all Americans, including President Bush, believe in some form of creationism, and that creationism was "beginning to find a significant toehold in the U.K."I wish I had a solution for either problem ... assuming they are separate problems.
Jones called this a "step back from rationality." As in the U.S., main proponents of creationism are religious fundamentalists. In Britain's case, however, the fundamentalists tend to be Muslims rather than Christians.
Earlier this year, Muslim medical students at one London university distributed leaflets challenging Darwin's theory and citing a verse from the Koran that says God created every animal from water.
- "Society fights battle royal over creationism, global warming" by Tom Hundley, The Chicago Tribune, November 10, 2006.
I am afraid that Richard Dawkins-style scolding does nothing or, worse, exacerbates the problem, by making the choice between religion and rationality starker than it really is, in the unfortunately mistaken belief that people will choose rationality over religion when they are presented as mutually exclusive.
Nor can I see how freedom can exist in the absence of religious freedom; so crude steps to outlaw even the most extreme beliefs are only solutions in the same sense as cutting off a leg cures a frostbitten toe.
Thursday, November 09, 2006
Light a Candle
It seems that shinning a light into the dark places of human behavior can have salutary effects. The documentary Jesus Camp looked into a particularly unlit corner of the human soul, where it is considered a good thing to frighten and brainwash children into becoming fanatical warriors for Christ, every bit as willing to kill for religion as any Al-Qaeda jihadist.
The camp's director, Becky Fischer, originally welcomed the documentary's depiction of the program, apparently under the delusion that it would be a good advertisement. Reality intrudes:
The summer camp "Kids on Fire" where children would tearfully beg God to end abortion and bless President Bush, will shut down for at least several years after a documentary about the camp. ...
Titled "Jesus Camp," the documentary sparked a negative reaction, said the camp's director.
"Right now we're just not a safe ministry," Becky Fischer, the fiery pentecostal pastor featured in "Jesus Camp," said Tuesday.
As an American, all I can say is "Thank God!"