Tuesday, February 28, 2006


Doctors Making Museum Calls

The University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine is collaborating with Carnegie Museum of Natural History to offer workshops, seminars and courses as well as opportunities to conduct scholarly research projects at the museum. The intent is that understanding of the origins of human diseases could help identify fresh avenues toward their prevention and treatment and an appreciation of the evolutionary history of humans and other animals should make for better medical doctors and physician-scientists. As John S. Lazo, Ph.D., Allegheny Foundation Professor of Pharmacology at Pitt's School of Medicine and Carnegie Museum of Natural History board member, put it:

Our goal is to give medical students insight into the interrelationships between medicine and natural science, which we believe will enhance their understanding of the scientific discovery process while getting them to think about medicine in new ways. Together, the two institutions are able to create a uniquely enriching environment with an approach to medical education that focuses on how research themes of interest to museum scientists can reveal so much about contemporary medicine.

The first course offered, "The Natural History of Medicine," is on "the evolutionary origins of human disease, including the history of disease-causing pathogens, a topic that should help students better understand relevant contemporary public health concerns, such as avian flu, and think about treatment and prevention approaches that modern society may have overlooked."

The museum gets benefits as well, such as use of the most state-of-the-art CT technology. Researchers from the museum and imaging specialists at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center scanned the spine and pelvis of a Camptosaurus, a Jurassic dinosaur, prior to attempting to remove the pelvis and tail from its rock matrix.

Monday, February 27, 2006


Clueless in Seattle

Glenn Branch of the National Center for Science Education was kind enough to tip me off to some further information on the New York Times article, "Few Biologists but Many Evangelicals Sign Anti-Evolution Petition" by Kenneth Chang, about the Discovery Institute’s less-than-kosher list of "scientists" who supposedly express "Scientific Dissent From Darwinism." Apart from the questionable nature of the list that I’ve already addressed, the Discovery Institute tried to deflect the criticism by expressing shock, shock I say, that anyone might inquire into the beliefs of the signers:

John G. West, a senior fellow at Discovery, said it was ‘stunning hypocrisy’ to ask signers about their religion ‘while treating the religious beliefs of the proponents of Darwin as irrelevant.

It turns out that Mr. Chang didn’t ask, they told:

I did this article because I was interested in understanding the reasoning of the people who signed the petition. Thus, the first question I always asked was not, "Are you an evangelical Christian?" but "Why did you sign the petition?"

The question that drew the most interesting responses was, "What led you to start doubting evolution?" In several cases, the answers were not scientific -- that is, not something they had witnessed in an experiment or read in a scientific journal -- but religious, that the doubts had started following a conversion to Christianity or from discussions at church.
Now there’s a surprise: evangelical Christians freely talking about their faith. It sort of makes you wonder why the professional ID advocates want to disguise their faith as science.

The other fun stuff in the follow up with Mr. Chang is that he brings us up to date with another list started by R. Joe Brandon, an archaeologist. I had been aware of Dr. Brandon’s list but had lost track of it. Mr. Chang reports:

"After I looked at the D.I. signatories," Dr. Brandon said in an e-mail, "I was surprised to see that while a number of the people had advanced degrees, there seemed to be a paucity of any with the educational background that would give them grounds for scientifically evaluating evolution/intelligent Design. I did a rough count and was surprised to see it was around 80 signatories or so who actually had titles which indicated a background in biology or a related evolutionary field. So when I started my petition my original goal was to get 400 signatories from scientists with backgrounds in evolutionary sciences in four hours. I was about 75 signatories shy at the four hour mark, so to save face I decided four days was a legitimate benchmark to shoot for."

The pace of signatures quickened -- at one point it reached one every 3.5 seconds -- and by the end of four days, Dr. Brandon had 7,733 signatures, of which 4,300 hold doctorates. To make sure that the responses weren't spoofs, Dr. Brandon enlisted the help of Mark Siddall of the American Museum of Natural History to check that the numerical computer addresses in the e-mails (the I.P. addresses) matched the institutions that the individuals claimed to be from.

Dr. Brandon offers this "rough" breakdown of his list:

3,385 with biology in their title
850 with anthropology/archaeology
680 evolutionary & ecology
394 field of genetics
270 geology and
related fields
234 physics/astronomy/space sciences
111 chemists
110 psychology
75 computer sciences
50 engineers

That would be 68 percent working in biology-related fields (the first four in the list).
Quite a difference from the list that took five years to collect five hundred signatures, most of which are not from biologists. The only "controversy" associated with the Discovery Institute’s list is whether ID advocates can get any lamer.


Brokeback in the Mountains

The anti-evolution bill that was pending in Utah is dead.

After a legislative maneuver where the Utah House amended the original bill, essentially gutting it, the House voted overwhelmingly, 46-28, to kill it, to stop the Senate from having the ability to revive the issue.

The original would have required a teacher to say the state does not endorse evolution and that the controversial theory is not a proven fact. The gutted bill simply read: "The State Board of Education shall establish curriculum requirements relating to scientific instruction."

"There are a number of influential legislators who believe you evolved from an ape. I didn't," said Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan, who sponsored the bill.

I'd have to agree that Sen. Buttars shows scant evidence of evolution of any sort. He did say it was "doubtful" that he would try a similar bill in the future, so it appears that he at least has some limited learning ability.

Sunday, February 26, 2006


Real Miracles

See the rest here for the punchline. (Or go here and search the "archives" for the February 26, 2006 strip.)



Biology and the Law

Wesley R. Elsberry, a biologist, long time habitué of the talk.origins usenet group and more recently Information Project Director for the National Center for Science Education, spoke recently to the Carolina Law Review while he was attending its Symposium on Religion in the Public Schools.

He has put up a copy of his talk at his blog, The Austringer. Here is a sample to whet your appetite:

In 1825, one can find the first appearance of the claim that old earth speculations were being steadily abandoned by serious naturalists, who preferred the account of Moses in Genesis. This argument, modified and extended to say that evolution is a theory in crisis and that antievolution is the preference of more and more scientists is a canard belied by the fact that this supposed always-growing body of antievolutionists has over 14 decades remained a tiny minority of scientific practitioners. It is not clear that the growth has even kept up with the rate of human population increase.

Unable to make inroads in the scientific community, the antievolution movement has relied upon political action to gain the imprimatur of the government for their views.
Well worth the read.

Saturday, February 25, 2006


A Word to the Wise . . .

Mary Lang Edwards, who is a professor of biology at Erskine College and who was appointed to a panel of scientists asked to advise the South Carolina Education Oversight Committee about the proper teaching of evolution in public high school biology classes in that state, has an opinion piece entitled "The Wedge Into Biology Standards" in today's The State.
The other two scientists on the panel, appointed by state Sen. Mike Fair, each has ties to the Discovery Institute, a "think tank" as it likes to style itself, a PR establishment as people familiar with it know, promoting Intelligent Design. Perhaps not surprisingly:

On Feb. 13, the Education Oversight Committee voted against accepting the 2005 Science Standard for Biology as written, despite overwhelming support of the standard by the state Department of Education and S.C. biologists.

The 2005 Science Standard was:

. . . the result of a rigorous process of consultation and review. Three separate committees approved standards for biology to teach students how to evaluate investigations, engage in problem-solving, think critically and draw conclusions, all within the boundaries of accepted science. Using scientific methods, students will examine many factors that affect evolution. This is very different from what the EOC advocates.

Apparently, the EOC intends "to include the Discovery Institute’s agenda to 'critically analyze' evolution in the science standard." As Dr. Edwards points out:

Unless you are accustomed to thinking about science as practiced by the scientific community, the issues may be confusing. This confusion is exactly what the Discovery Institute hopes to accomplish. ...

Their slogans — "teach the controversy" and "critically analyze" — are designed to undermine the real science supporting evolution. According to the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the National Academy of Sciences and the Southeastern Association of Biologists, the evidence for evolution is irrefutable.

Dr. Edwards sums up the situation:

South Carolina now is where Ohio was in 2002, when the term “critically analyze” was inserted into science standards. After years of effort by proponents for good science, the Ohio Board of Education voted Feb. 14 to delete a lesson plan and science standards with the term “critically analyze” that would have opened the door for students to be taught intelligent design. Other states have also successfully fought strategies used by proponents of teaching intelligent design.

We have the opportunity in South Carolina to stand behind a science program that can contribute to our efforts to improve our national standing in education.

It sounds like it's time for people who care about good science education in South Carolina to get involved. Ohio shows that it can make a difference.

Friday, February 24, 2006


Immune Response

The plaintiffs in the Dover School Board case have been asking the former Board members for an apology for setting off the sensational trial that resulted in a ruling that the Board violated the First Amendment Establishment clause and a $1 million settlement of claims for legal costs involved in forcing the Board to comply with the law of the land. It doesn’t look like they are going to get it:

Alan Bonsell, one of the former board's most outspoken intelligent design proponents, provided a written statement in response to the parents' request.

He said intelligent design, which the federal judge said is religious in nature, is science "and will always be science."

He said the parents "are the ones that sued the Dover community, not the board. So if anyone is responsible for this bill, it is they."
Bonsell’s mixture of ignorance and bravura is apparently immune to either embarrassment or the humility recommended by a certain well-known rebbe a couple of millennia ago.

Thursday, February 23, 2006


What Controversy?

The mantra of the Intelligent Design Movement has been "teach the controversy," at least since it became clear that it wasn’t going to be "teach ID science."

That, of course, presupposes that there is a controversy to teach. Hence the Discovery Institute’s lame attempt to assemble a list of "scientists" who express "Scientific Dissent From Darwinism." "Project Steve," though a tongue-in-cheek effort, showed how hollow the DI’s list was. Now there has been a more formal survey done to see what sort of scientific controversy there might really be.

After considering how best to test what controversy might exist, Robert Camp decided:

. . . the way to determine the truth of "teach the scientific controversy" seemed obvious. If there are authoritative voices on the purported existence of a controversy among biologists regarding mechanisms of evolution, they belong to those individuals who are well aware of the most current scholarship in their field and are in touch with daily discussion of that scholarship. This effectively describes the heads of prominent research university biology departments.

He compiled a list of 158 schools meeting his criteria and emailed the following:

Survey of Biological Sciences department heads regarding "Teach the controversy."

Q: Regarding the issue of "Intelligent Design theory" vs. current biological consensus on the mechanisms of evolution - is there a difference of professional opinion within your department that you feel could be accurately described as a scientific controversy?

1. No
2. Yes
Of the 158 initial queries, Mr. Camp received 73 responses, 71 of which (97.3%) were unqualifiedly negative as to the existence of any controversy. One response said there was no controversy but qualified that response and one (which came from a theological medical university) said there was a controversy.

‘Nuff said.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006


Wise Words

Martha Wise, an elected member of the Ohio Board of Education and one of the leaders in the successful reversal of Ohio’s benchmark requiring "critical analysis" of evolution and the approved model lesson plan for doing so has an interesting opinion piece in the Cincinnati Enquirer called "Conservative Ohio values led to change in evolution policy." Much of it is what science advocates have been saying all along, highlighted by a punch line worthy of Eugenie Scott: "There is no scientific controversy - only a religious one."

What I found interesting and somewhat hopeful was this:

Creationism is religion and deserves to be respected as religion, and protected. Creationists do not all believe exactly the same thing. This may be the best-kept secret in the whole creationist movement. So if we were going to teach creationism or other religious concepts in school, how would we decide whose view to teach? How can we be fair to all people of faith? The founding fathers came to the conclusion that the only way to protect religion was for the government to keep its nose out of it. I believe the founding fathers were right.
Now, the different flavors that creationism comes in is no surprise to those of us who have observed the phenomenon of anti-evolutionism in the U.S. over the years. The Discovery Institute and others have been busily trying to paper over those differences in order to foster a "big tent" but sectarianism cannot be held in check forever. Ultimately, the separation of church and state is not a weapon against religion, it is its greatest shield.

The sooner conservative theists realize this, the safer we’ll all be.


The Bill Comes Due

The Associated Press (found here in the New York Times) is reporting that the Dover School Board has agreed to a settlement of the plaintiff's claims for legal fees:

The Dover Area School Board unanimously agreed Tuesday to pay $1 million in legal fees to the plaintiffs who successfully sued to end the policy of presenting ''intelligent design'' as an alternative to evolution.

The eight board members agreed to pay three legal organizations that represented the plaintiffs in the case.

The organizations also said they agreed to reduce their attorneys' fees and expenses by more than $1 million because members who supported the intelligent design policy had been voted off the board.

It is truly a shame that the children of the District will be deprived of what that money could give them in terms of education but I'm sure that the old board members who were responsible for the policy were aware of the concept that actions have consequences.
Too bad they didn't have the consciences to go along with that loudly proclaimed faith.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006


Dizzy from the Spin

The Discovery Institute is attempting to counter the recent articles about the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science with the news that, after five long years, its list of "scientists" who express "Scientific Dissent From Darwinism" has finally eked its way over 500 signatures.

The New York Times (may need free registration) has done some investigation of the list. It did "random interviews with 20 people who signed the petition and a review of the public statements of more than a dozen others" and found that many were "evangelical Christians." But first, some additional background:

The National Center for Science Education initiated "Project Steve" as a tongue-in-cheek parody of such lists, which are not limited to the Discovery Institute but have a long history among creationists. In much less time the NCSE was able to get over 700 signature of scientists limited to those with the name "Steve" (or some variation thereof, such as Stephen, Steven, Stephanie, Stefan, and so forth), a name chosen to honor the late Stephen Jay Gould. The Project Steve statement reads:

Evolution is a vital, well-supported, unifying principle of the biological sciences, and the scientific evidence is overwhelmingly in favor of the idea that all living things share a common ancestry. Although there are legitimate debates about the patterns and processes of evolution, there is no serious scientific doubt that evolution occurred or that natural selection is a major mechanism in its occurrence. It is scientifically inappropriate and pedagogically irresponsible for creationist pseudoscience, including but not limited to "intelligent design," to be introduced into the science curricula of our nation's public schools.
By the Discovery Institute’s own figures only about 30% of the signatories of its list are biologists (there is a discrepancy between the DI’s figure of 154 biologists and the Times’ article’s 128, so I’m crediting the larger figure), while about two-thirds of the signers of Project Steve are biologists, the people with the most knowledge about evolution. According to census figures, the name "Steve" or its variants occurs in roughly 1% of the American population, a figure that should hold for scientists (and biologists) as well. [February 26, 2006 update: Glenn Branch of the NCSE brought to my attention some further information from Kenneth Chang, the Times reporter who wrote the original article, concerning the numbers. He states that the NCSE reported that 54 percent (381) of the Steves work in biology, including anatomy, anthropology, biochemistry, biophysics, botany and cell biology. If related life sciences fields like medicine, forestry and agriculture are included, the percentage rises to 61 percent. With the Discovery Instititute petition, including all of the life sciences (biology, biochemistry, medicine) raises the number to 178, or 34 percent, even higher than the DI's claim of 154 biologists. My use of "about two-thirds" was based on a NCSE FAQ that clearly stated it was only an approximation of the figures for the original 220 signers and my laziness in not getting a better figure.]

Furthermore, a number of people have pointed out that the statement that the Discovery Institute has circulated is not really "dissent" from evolutionary theory. It reads:

We are skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life. Careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged.
As "Steven J.," a regular poster at the usenet site, talk.origins, put it:

Strictly speaking, there is nothing in [the DI’s] statement that contradicts the statement signed by 700+ participants in "Project Steve" . . .

Mainstream "Darwinists" routinely grant that some portion of evolution results not from natural selection, but genetic drift (the question being just how much). "Darwinists" who are developmental biologists commonly consider that physical constraints on developmental processes play as large a role as mutation and selection. Nor, of course, is any evolutionary biologist going to discourage "careful consideration of the evidence for Darwinian theory." The problems arise only when "careful consideration of the evidence" means presenting incorrect or misleading information in biology classes.
In other words, the Discovery Institute is dishonestly equivocating between "Darwinism" (itself not fairly represented) and "evolutionary theory" and trying to confuse the two to serve a public relations purpose unrelated to the actual science of evolution.

In response to the Times’ investigation, "John G. West, a senior fellow at Discovery, said it was ‘stunning hypocrisy’ to ask signers about their religion ‘while treating the religious beliefs of the proponents of Darwin as irrelevant.’" Of course, the difference is that the Discovery Institute is humping this list as evidence for scientific dissent from evolutionary theory. Clearly, if the people who sign the list are disproportionately from one particular religious view, that calls into question whether it is science or religion that is fueling their dissent.

Perhaps the most telling part of the article on that point is:

Discovery officials did point to two scientists, David Berlinski, a philosopher and mathematician and a senior fellow at the institute, and Stanley N. Salthe, a visiting scientist at Binghamton University, State University of New York, who signed but do not hold conservative religious beliefs.

Dr. Salthe, who describes himself as an atheist, said that when he signed the petition he had no idea what the Discovery Institute was. Rather, he said, "I signed it in irritation."

He said evolutionary biologists were unfairly suppressing any competing ideas. "They deserve to be prodded, as it were," Dr. Salthe said. "It was my way of thumbing my nose at them."

Dr. Salthe said he did not find intelligent design to be a compelling theory, either. "From my point of view," he said, "it's a plague on both your houses."
Not only does this point out the equivocation as to "Darwinism" noted above but it demonstrates that the Discovery Institute, contrary to its claims, is quite aware of the religious beliefs of the signers and the proportion that come from evangelical Christianity.

Furthermore, when faced with the disproportionate numbers of scientists supporting evolutionary theory demonstrated by Project Steve, Bruce Chapman, president of the Discovery Institute, said "We never claimed we're in a fight for numbers." But how is that reconciled with what he said elsewhere in the article: "How many does it take to be a noticeable minority -- 10, 50, 100, 500?" The numbers, as an indicator of the consensus of the scientific community, do count as to whether it is a "noticeable" scientific minority. When it is well less than a fraction of 1% of people knowledgeable in the field and the evidence strongly suggests that the "dissent" is religious and not scientific, that is not "noticeable" scientific dissent. This is even more the case when they cannot muster enough science to convince even a conservative Republican judge that science is what they are doing.
It certainly shows that the DI’s claim that the list represents a "fast growing number of scientific dissenters," is, to put it charitably, laughable.
P.S. For some further information on Stanley N. Salthe, mentioned above as a signer of the Discovery Institute's "dissenters" list, see his homepage. Note that his objection to "Darwinian evolutionary theory" (which he appears to equate with natural selection) is primarily that he sees it as "morally vicious" in its role "as a myth congenial to capitalism." While he raises some scientific objections to natural selection as the prime engine of evolution, it is clear that his main problem with "Darwinism" is philosophical and he seems to have no difficulty in accepting that evolution has occured.
Of course, many of the same people who support ID might find the notion that capitalism is morally vicious somewhat distressing.
Strange bedfellows and all that . . .

Monday, February 20, 2006


Discovery Institute Out for a Spin

For more on the formation of the Alliance for Science, see the article, "Scientists rally here for evolution," in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, about the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science:

For the first time, the scientists invited public school teachers to their annual conference to voice their needs in the contentious national debate.

Recent court rulings have gone in favor of evolution. But many teachers are still worried. More than 300 came here from across the Midwest. They arrived with stories of finger-wagging parents who insist they abandon high school biology texts in favor of biblical creationism or intelligent design - the theory that life is so complex that it must be the work of a supernatural designer. They told of school board pressure in the science classroom. They spoke of helping students torn between academics and Sunday school learning.

Presenters at the conference said the battle is far from over. On Sunday morning, they announced the formation of a new organization of scientists, scientific groups and supporters -- the Alliance for Science -- to fight what they see as an assault on science from religious conservatives. The new organization aims to create graduate fellowships, increase funding for research, train math and science teachers, and build tax incentives for research and development, said co-chairman Paul Forbes.
Of course, the Discovery Institute is busily doing what it does best . . . not science, that’s for sure, but public relations spin:

"I don't understand how you can have a discussion of intelligent design if you only invite critics," said John West, a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, a Seattle think tank that supports scholars researching intelligent design. "That sounds like a monologue, not a discussion. I thought this was supposed to be science, not a pep rally."
What West slides over is, while this is a science conference, the scientific community is not debating Intelligent Design. It has already reached an overwhelming consensus that ID was not science back when it was called "Natural Theology" and that it isn’t science now just because some people slapped a new coat of paint on it.

What the AAAS is discussing is the political and educational response it should mount to a political movement seeking to force pseudoscience into public schools as cover for the theological beliefs that it wants to teach there in violation of the United States Constitution. If ID advocates were interested in contributing to that debate, well, they wouldn’t be ID advocates, would they?

I must admit, though, I liked Eugenie Scott’s response to the Discovery Institute’s whining:

Scott said that she and her colleagues had devoted a great deal of effort to organizing sessions for the AAAS meeting on the science of evolution.

Her advice to those who felt left out took on a biblical tone. "Go forth and do thou likewise," she said.
But I'm afraid that, as long as there is a PR stone left unturned, the Discovery Institute will not do anything as rash as going out and actually trying to discover something.

Sunday, February 19, 2006


The Alliance for Science

An important announcement:
Anti-evolutionism in America—What's ahead?

Today an organization representing 10,000 Christian clergy from many denominations will join with scientists and educators to launch The Alliance for Science, which opposes the teaching of creationism/intelligent design in public schools. The announcement is part of an American Association for the Advancement of Science symposium entitled, "Anti-Evolutionism in America
– What's Ahead."

The symposium will examine the current legal and educational challenges to teaching evolution taking place at all levels, as well as scientific content of both sides of the issue. Since the anti-evolutionary movement presumes a conflict between religion and science, the support for evolution among the 10,000 Christian clergy is particularly noteworthy.

The program will explore the impact of the anti-evolution movement on its primary target: high school students and teachers, with a frontline report from Cobb County, Georgia and Dover, Pennsylvania, sites of successful court challenges to the teaching of intelligent design.

"The goal of this symposium," said organizer Dr. Irving Wainer of the National Institute on Aging, "is to set the basis for a united effort of the scientific community, allied with the religious, educational and business sectors, to educate the public about the different but complementary roles of science and religion. We want to improve the teaching of science in our public schools and to restore the excitement about science that once characterized the United States." Paul S. Forbes, co-chairman of the Alliance for Science will also announce that in addition to keeping creationism out of public schools, the Alliance will mobilize national support for a new bipartisan national science agenda that is now being formulated in Congress. This agenda, which is based upon a report from the National Academy of Sciences1, includes increased support for basic research; more scholarships for future math, science and engineering teachers; more graduate fellowships in these fields; tax incentives for scientific innovation; establishment of a new federal Advanced Research Projects Agency; and expanded access to broadband communications.

"According to a study funded by the National Science Foundation, 93% of Americans are scientifically illiterate," says Forbes. "That is unacceptable in a world in which scientific knowledge, prosperity and security are inseparable. Unless we remain the world leader in science and technology, it is doubtful that our families will be able to continue to enjoy the comfortable, middle class life to which they have become accustomed."
Contact: Barbara Hyde
202-550-8959 (cell)


Vigilance Is Its Own Reward


There was a recent newspaper story about some Toledo, Ohio teachers who were including creationism in science classes. Shortly after the article appeared, the Ohio ACLU wrote a letter to the Toledo Public Schools demanding that it cease any teaching of creationism or Intelligent Design at once.

The school district is not resisting:

"We intend to inform our teachers that they need to stick with the state standards," said John Foley, the district's chief of staff.

"We have sanctioned the state standards, which includes evolution as the scientifically proven theory" of how life developed, Mr. Foley said.


Darlene Fisher, president of the Toledo Board of Education, said the district will send a reminder to those in charge of curriculum that all must adhere to the state standards.

"We've always followed state guidelines," Ms. Fisher said. Teachers who took up creationism arguments in the classroom were acting without school sanction.

But she said that a second notice probably will be circulated to cover the state Board of Education's decision yesterday to drop all mention of alternative theories to evolution from state science standards.

"Once we get the ruling of the new state change, we will send another letter to our teachers and curriculum chairs,'' she said.



Mote, Meet Beam

There is an article by Catherine Tsai of The Associated Press being carried in a number of venues, including the Washington Post, about the phenomenon of creationist groups organizing tours of natural history museums to put Biblical spins on the displays.

I’m not concerned with the tours, which, as one curator put it, "at least exposes children taught only about creationism to other ideas," but rather with the moral blindness displayed by some of those running them.

First we have Bill Jack, founder of Biblically Correct Tours, who denigrates those who accept science:

"My contention is evolution kills people," Jack said in an interview. "It's not that evolutionists don't have morality, it's that evolution can offer no morality. Ideas have consequences. If you believe you came from slime there is no reason not to, if you can, get away with anything."
But then again:

The tours are not all fun and games, with the guides claiming that evolutionist thinking supports racism and abortion. This happened on a recent [National Center of Atmospheric Research] tour, when [Rusty Carter, a guide with Biblically Correct Tours] told a dozen children and their parents abortion was an act of natural selection carried out by humans.
Jack is partly right. There is slime around willing to try to get away with just about anything. It just happens to reside in the vicinity of Jack’s mirror.

Saturday, February 18, 2006


A Fly in the Ointment

The American Family Association’s Center for Law and Policy has weighed in on the decision by Ohio’s Board of Education to immediately repeal both its benchmark requiring critical analysis of evolution and the approved model lesson plan for doing so.

In a press release entitled "Darwin’s Censors Strike Again," the CLP says:

. . . Martha W. Wise, the board member who offered the emergency motion [to repeal the measures], told her colleagues during the debate Tuesday afternoon that "tis (sic) lesson is bad news, the 'critically analyze' wording is bad news." She is also reported to have said, "It is deeply unfair to the children of this state to mislead them about the nature of science."

"It is inconceivable that someone in the business of education could argue that the ‘critically analyze’ wording in the Ohio standards is ‘bad news,’" said Brian Fahling, senior trial attorney for the American Family Association Center for Law & Policy (CLP). "[Wise] followed up that astonishing comment with the absurd conclusion that children who are taught to think critically about evolution will be mislead about the nature of science," Fahling added.

CLP chief counsel Steve Crampton said he was "hopeful that the board will revisit the issue and vote in favor of critical thinking, rather than censorship. Governmental imposition of orthodoxy of belief such as the board has voted in favor of is inimical to a free society and genuine scientific inquiry." Crampton offered to defend the Ohio Board free of charge in the event the mandate was reinstated and the board was sued.

First of all, after Dover, the best advice for any school board when it comes to offers of help from "public policy law centers" is: Be afraid . . . be very afraid . . .

The Dover School District still faces paying the plaintiffs’ legal fees of a million dollars or more and, like the Thomas More Legal Center, the AFA’s Center for Law and Policy is not apparently offering to indemnify the State of Ohio for that.

As to "critical analysis," only the uninformed could think this is anything but a way to smuggle theology into public schools. No one could be against "equal education" either . . . as in "separate but equal education." It is axiomatic that the very first thing people who are bent on mischief will do is invent a fair sounding name for it.

That the real aims of the AFA have nothing to do with science education is let slip by the claim of censorship on behalf of "orthodoxy of belief."

Not every possible subject is taught in public schools. Some, like the truth or falsity of religious tenets, are positively forbidden by the American Constitution. Not giving access to a particular forum for the discussion of an idea is not censorship, as long as other forums are open to those discussions. You may have the right to express you views in public but not with a bullhorn outside my bedroom window at 2 a.m.

Science classes in American public schools represent a small proportion of the school year, which itself consists of only six or seven hours a day, five days a week, for about nine months a year. Add to that the fact that evolution is only a tiny portion of the science curricula and compare that to the access that parents and churches have to children for purposes of teaching their religious views, and the claim of "censorship" is revealed to be completely empty.

Even more, the statement of Mr. Crampton shows that he considers science to be a belief system, rather than an empiric enterprise engaged in by anyone willing to restrict themselves to evidence that can be shared regardless of faith.

I suppose we should be grateful that Mr. Crampton and his ilk are so bad at hiding their agenda.

Friday, February 17, 2006


Befuddled in Bethlehem

I previously addressed a Chicago Tribune article and its quotes of Michael Behe. Behe has complained on the Discovery Institute blog, "Intelligent Design The Future," that the "Chicago Tribune Reporter Puts False Words in My Mouth, Leaves Out Those That Didn't Fit His Script." (Thanks to "analyysi" for pointing to this.)

Well, if Behe says he was misquoted, we will have to give him the benefit of the doubt.


Normally, I’d have no problem with accepting the word of a scientist who said that a journalist had mistaken or misstated his work. But Behe has credibility problems of his own, since he has no compunction about abusing the words of others. Of course, if Behe wants to better his credibility, he could take the occasion of the tenth anniversary reissue of Darwin’s Black Box, that he claims will show that there has been no progress whatsoever on the evolution of "irreducibly complex" systems, to correct the quote mines he included in the original. I’ll not hold my breath.

Actually, Behe’s complaints have to do more with what Ken Miller is quoted as saying in the article, what Judge Jones said in his decision in the Dover school board case and whether the article confused the flagellum of a sperm with the flagellum of a bacteria than with bad attributions. But here is the quote that Behe claims the journalist, Jeremy Manier, made up:

"They've admitted, under oath, that they have no direct evidence for design at all," Miller said.

That's true, Behe said; his focus has been on arguing that some systems could not have evolved naturally. He said he has no idea how complex biochemistry actually came about, no suggestions for testing how intelligent design occurred, and he knows of no scientists who are planning such tests.

"Trying to figure out how something was designed -- where or when, or by whom -- are different questions and much more difficult to address," Behe said.
And here is Behe’s complaint:

I did not say it is true that there is no direct evidence for design, as the piece makes it seem. The structure of a system is direct evidence for design, ala Mount Rushmore. I said that one can't easily find out how design occurred; for example, how Stonehenge was designed, which stumped people for a long time after they knew it was purposefully designed. I stressed that design is falsifiable, and therefore testable. That statement is nowhere to be seen in the piece. I also stressed that Darwinism is for all intents and purposes unfalsifiable. That didn't fit the story line either.

Note how Behe does not deny that he lacks any suggestions for testing how intelligent design occurred and knows of no scientists who are planning such tests. How the rest of his statement lines up with Behe’s constant refrain on the stand in Kitzmiller that "we infer design by the purposeful arrangement of parts," I will leave to the reader to figure out, merely pointing out that if we have direct evidence of the purposeful arrangement of parts, what need do we have to infer design?

Even more amusing is what Behe has to say about Judge Jones:

[Manier] repeats the ACLU attorney's words about work on the immune system not being "good enough" which the judge in his decision put in my mouth. They make me seem petulant using the other attorney's words. I point out the misattribution of those words in my response to the Dover decision, published by Discovery.
Following his links, we eventually arrive at a pdf file, "Whether Intelligent Design is Science: A Response to the Opinion of the Court in Kitzmiller vs Dover Area School District." Here is Behe’s complaint about the "good enough" comment:

(11) In fact, on cross-examination, Professor Behe was questioned concerning his 1996 claim that science would never find an evolutionary explanation for the immune system. He was presented with fifty eight peer-reviewed publications, nine books, and several immunology textbook chapters about the evolution of the immune system; however, he simply insisted that this was still not sufficient evidence of evolution, and that it was not "good enough." (23:19 (Behe)).

Several points:
1) Although the opinion’s phrasing makes it seem to come from my mouth, the remark about the studies being "not good enough" was the cross-examining attorney’s, not mine.
2) I was given no chance to read them, and at the time considered the dumping of a stack of papers and books on the witness stand to be just a stunt, simply bad courtroom theater. Yet the Court treats it seriously.
As far as I have been able to tell (not reading the whole of his testimony over again), Behe did not use the words "good enough." But neither can I find any instance of the plaintiffs’ cousel using it either. The simplest explanation is that Judge Jones was characterizing Behe’s testimony when he was asked if it was still his opinion, first expressed in Darwin’s Black Box, that the "theory of Darwinian molecular evolution, has not published, and so it should perish," to which, after much quibbling, Behe replied:

[B]y . . . publications, I mean detailed rigorous accounts for complex molecular machines, not just either hypothetical accounts or sequence comparisons or such things. (Trial testimony, October 19, 2005, p. 19-22)
Again, I’ll leave it to the reader to decide if the Judge fairly characterized Behe’s attitude toward what he would accept as evidence for "Darwinian evolution" (and his equivocations about what that means) and merely point out the disparity between that standard and what he accepts as "direct evidence" for design.

The really hilarious bit is Behe’s statement that he was "given no chance to read" the papers and books the plaintiffs produced by the plaintiffs.

Earth to Michael Behe: You were called to the stand as an expert witness. You may have even received pay or other remuneration for being an expert witness. You held yourself out, under oath, to be an expert. You made claims in your expert testimony that there was no scientific literature giving an evolutionary explanation for the immune system. It is reasonable to expect an expert to be familiar with the scientific literature in the field he is claiming expertise in.
Surely, as an expert in the field, making assertions about the state of the literature, you would have kept up with the scientific literature in that area. If so, you should have been familiar with at least most of these 58 publications. That your excuse is that you first needed to read the papers and books the plaintiffs produced speaks volumes.

Trust me Dr. Behe, bringing out the fact that you weren’t familiar with the literature was not "bad courtroom theater," it was quite good evidence of the value of the whole of your testimony.

Thursday, February 16, 2006


Knowing Little . . . And Proud of It

There is a good article in the Chicago Tribune (free registration may be necessary) about how basic research into bacterial and sperm flagella and the blood clotting system is countering the claims of Intelligent Design advocates that "irreducible complexity" demonstrates design. Scientifically, there is nothing much new here but some of the statements of Michael Behe recounted in the article are most enlightening. For example, there is the following:

No one yet has a complete theory of how the cell's most complex systems evolved -- a fact seized upon by Michael Behe, a biochemistry professor at Lehigh University who first outlined intelligent design in 1996.

Behe was a central witness in last year's federal suit over whether the school board in Dover could require ID to be taught in biology classes. U.S. District Judge John Jones III ruled against the school board, concluding after a review of the testimony that "ID is not science." Behe said the ruling did not faze him.

"It probably gave a black eye to [ID] in the newspapers and so on," Behe said. "But in my mind ID is an explanation for the biology we see."
Of course, this is an admission that what he is doing is not science, which admits no personal explanations for phenomena absent evidence. And Behe’s claims are lacking evidence:

Critics of ID say its proponents have ignored the scientific method, offering no testable ideas about how the sperm flagellum or anything else came to be. Instead they simply leap to the conclusion that a designer made complex biochemistry.
"They've admitted, under oath, that they have no direct evidence for design at all," [Kenneth] Miller said.
That's true, Behe said; his focus has been on arguing that some systems could not have evolved naturally. He said he has no idea how complex biochemistry actually came about, no suggestions for testing how intelligent design occurred, and he knows of no scientists who are planning such tests.
"Trying to figure out how something was designed -- where or when, or by whom -- are different questions and much more difficult to address," Behe said.
Of course, difficult questions are always the most interesting ones in science and are eagerly sought out by people who are really trying to understand the universe. The utter lack of interest on the part of Behe and the rest of the "ID Movement" to try to understand biology is most telling.
After quoting from Judge Jones’ decision in the Dover case to the effect that Behe, when faced with numerous works concerning the evolution of supposedly irreducibly complex systems, simply insisted that they weren’t ‘good enough,’ the article turns to Ken Miller to sum up:

Behe's dismissal of the immune system research "tells you right away, ain't nothing gonna convince this guy," he said.

Charles Darwin knew those kind of people too:

[I]gnorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, and not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006


Chicken Run

As you have probably already heard (if this blog is at all interesting to you), Ohio’s Board of Education voted 11 to 4 Tuesday to immediately repeal both its benchmark requiring critical analysis of evolution and the approved model lesson plan for teaching critical analysis of evolution, both of which were adopted in 2002 when Ohio became the first state in the nation to single out evolution for special scrutiny. Since then, Kansas, Minnesota, New Mexico and Pennsylvania have adopted similar "critical analysis" standards, and South Carolina’s Board of Education is scheduled to vote next month on a similar proposal. A committee of the Ohio Board will study the issue to see if some substitute should be adopted but for the time being the model lesson plan and benchmark are out.

Naturally, the Discovery Institute is upset, as Ohio was its first real success and having even "Intelligent Design lite" in the form of "critical analysis" thrown out in the wake of Judge Jones’ decision in Dover must be as depressing for them as it is heartening for anyone who cares about good science education in America.

As the New York Times (may need free registration) reports the Discovery Institute’s reaction:

"It's an outrageous slap in the face to the citizens of Ohio," said John G. West, associate director of the Center for Science and Culture at the institute, referring to several polls that show public support for criticism of evolution in science classes. "The effort to try to suppress ideas that you dislike, to use the government to suppress ideas you dislike, has a failed history," Mr. West said. "Do they really want to be on the side of the people who didn't want to let John Scopes talk or who tried to censor Galileo?"
I’ve already mentioned the attempt by creationists to dress themselves up in Galileo drag but it’s pretty sad when, in the same breath, you appeal to the majority support your beliefs enjoy and claim that democratic government is oppressing you.

Running around in circles like Gallus domesticus sans crania is so undignified.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006


Flying Elephants Everywhere

There is some luscious irony on display in a recent article in the Toledo (Ohio) Blade. Discussing the current debate over whether or not the Ohio Board of Education should revisit its decision to include "critical analysis of evolution" in 10th-grade science curriculum, the article quotes Susan Spath, a spokesman for the National Center for Science Education as saying:

"No one was fooled by the phrase intelligent design. Everyone knew the designer was the Judeo-Christian God." ...

Intelligent design proponents knew the idea "would likely fail the constitutional test, so they ... did move away from teaching intelligent design to teaching the strengths and weakness of evolution," she said. "On its face, there's nothing wrong with that, but context is everything. The real context is that people who have been pushing [critical analysis] are using that language to push attacks on the credibility of evolution. What they mean is, ‘Hey kids, criticize evolution and don't take it seriously.’"
Casey Luskin, the Discovery Institute’s traveling spokesman, is then reported to have this reaction:

"To me, it sounds like the Darwinists are afraid of having material taught to students," Mr. Luskin said. "They're trying to dumb down the curriculum."
Casey's problem is that the article starts with this:

Michael Maveal wants his eighth-grade students at Jones Junior High to know the truth - as he sees it.

So, the Toledo Public Schools science teacher tells them that evolution is an unproven theory, as is creation.

He teaches them about Nebraska man, a creature rejected by science long ago, to demonstrate the fallibility of evolution. He teaches them that Pluto has never been seen. [It has.] He teaches them that humans are not animals. [We are.] He teaches them about the famous scientific hoax, Piltdown man, once purported to be an early human ancestor.

"I'm not afraid of dealing with all the fakery that's going on in all the science community,'' Mr. Maveal said. "We have to present information to the kids so they can make an intelligent decision for themselves.

"I tell them what the scientists won't admit."
What was that about dumbing down the curriculum, Casey?

Monday, February 13, 2006


Birthday Boy


Maybe it was the Nor'easter dumping record amounts of white stuff on my house (and a few million neighbors) yesterday but I completely forgot to send greetings on a special person's day. Better late than never . . .
Happy Birthday Charles!

Sunday, February 12, 2006


Taking (Dis)credit

I previously addressed the report of a speech Phillip Johnson gave at Campbell University that included the following:

"We want to discredit Darwinism," Johnson said. "This theory has had an enormous impact on secularization because it eliminates the Creator. We thought that if the theory of evolution was cast into doubt, it would have a big cultural impact, just as it did when it was discovered."
Something about that rang a bell and I finally found this from the Opinion of the Court in the decision in Edwards v. Aguillard, ruling Louisiana’s "Balanced Treatment for Creation-Science and Evolution-Science in Public School Instruction" law was unconstitutional:

The [Court of Appeals] found that the Louisiana Legislature's actual intent was "to discredit evolution by counterbalancing its teaching at every turn with the teaching of creationism, a religious belief." Ibid. Because the Creationism Act was thus a law furthering a particular religious belief, the Court of Appeals held that the Act violated the Establishment Clause. ...

If the Louisiana Legislature's purpose was solely to maximize the comprehensiveness and effectiveness of science instruction, it would have encouraged the teaching of all scientific theories about the origins of humankind (9). But under the Act's requirements, teachers who were once free to teach any and all facets of this subject are now unable to do so. Moreover, the Act fails even to ensure that creation science will be taught, but instead requires the teaching of this theory only when the theory of evolution is taught. Thus we agree with the Court of Appeals' conclusion that the Act does not serve to protect academic freedom, but has the distinctly different purpose of discrediting "evolution by counterbalancing its teaching at every turn with the teaching of creationism. ..."
Johnson, as the "godfather" of Intelligent Design, is certainly in a position to know the motivations that fuel the "Intelligent Design Movement." Whatever superficial changes were made in "creation science" by ID advocates (as demonstrated by Barbara Forrest’s testimony about the history of the manuscript of Of Pandas and People in Kitzmiller v. Dover), the intent is still the same according to Johnson. It has nothing to do with science and everything to do with supporting a particular religious view by discrediting evolutionary theory, which is alleged to be incompatible with that religious belief.

The Discovery Institute, no doubt recognizing, even before the Debacle in Dover, that it was problematic, to say the least, for ID to pass Constitutional muster if mandated by public school authorities, has seized on Justice Brennan’s words above suggesting that teachers must be free to "teach any and all facets" "about the origins of humankind" and now counsels that school boards "not [infringe] on the academic freedom of teachers to present appropriate information about intelligent design if they choose." Of course, Justice Brennan made clear that he was speaking of teaching "scientific theories," not discrediting them.

Given the record of dissembling from the ID Movement, it is fair to suspect that "not infringing" on teacher’s rights will devolve into some school boards refusing to hire science teachers unwilling to discuss ID and threatening, subtly or not, present teachers who resist.

Ultimately, it is hard to see how the Discovery Institute’s ploy can work, unless or until the Supreme Court makes major changes in its First Amendment jurisprudence that would then render the ploy unnecessary. Teachers, in their official role in the classroom, are government officials, just as bound by the strictures of the Constitution as the school board itself is. If sued over the actions of a teacher, the school district would be responsible for the legal fees of the plaintiffs under 42 U.S.C § 1988 if the teacher was found to have been violating the Establishment clause. And if the teacher had been ordered by the school district not to teach ID, he or she might be personally liable.

That leaves the ugly reality that the DI hopes that teachers will "defend the faith" by flaunting an utter disrespect for the law of the land before the children in their care and teach them that they should be prepared to commit any act of dishonesty in the name of God.
The real question is: why do these people imagine that what they are discrediting is evolution?

Saturday, February 11, 2006


Back to Un-Kansas

I previously addressed the proposed bill of Wisconsin state Representative Terese Berceau to prevent the teaching of creationism or Intelligent Design as science in that state's public schools. Here is the text of the proposed bill, from a pdf file on Rep. Berceau’s website:

AN ACT to create 118.018 of the statutes; relating to: science instruction in public schools.
Analysis by the Legislative Reference Bureau
This bill directs each school board to ensure that any material presented as science within the school curriculum is testable as a scientific hypothesis, describes only natural processes, and is consistent with any description or definition of science adopted by the National Academy of Sciences.
The people of the state of Wisconsin, represented in senate and assembly, do enact as follows:
SECTION 1. 118.018 of the statutes is created to read:
118.018 Science instruction. The school board shall ensure that any material presented as science within the school curriculum complies with all of the following:

(1) The material is testable as a scientific hypothesis and describes only natural processes.
(2) The material is consistent with any description or definition of science adopted by the National Academy of Sciences.
I’m afraid that the actual text does little to allay my concerns about this effort by legislators to become arbiters of science.

Friday, February 10, 2006


Janus Speaks

Well, the Discovery Institute is having trouble keeping its story straight again.

Commenting on "Evolution Sunday," an event intended to combat what over 10,000 Christian clergy have called a false dichotomy: that people must choose between religion and modern science, the DI’s Bruce Chapman and John West are quoted by Robert Crowther as follows:

"Evolution Sunday is the height of hypocrisy," says Bruce Chapman . . . "Why do Darwinists think it is not okay for people to criticize Darwin on religious grounds, but it is just fine to defend him on religious grounds?" ...

Chapman pointed out that increasingly the only time religion is brought up in the debate over evolution is when Darwinists falsely charge that anyone criticizing Darwin’s theory is religiously motivated.

"We maintain a list of hundreds of scientists who are skeptical of Darwinian evolution because of the unresolved scientific problems with the theory, not because of any so-called religious motivation," said Chapman. The Scientific Dissent From Darwinism is available on the Institute’s website at http://www.discovery.org/.

"This isn’t science versus religion, it’s science versus science," added West.
First of all, no mainstream supporter of evolutionary theory has, to my knowledge, said that it is "not okay for people to criticize Darwin on religious grounds." What they have said is that it is not okay for people to pretend that religion is science and that it is especially not okay to do so in order to sneak religion into public schools in violation of the Constitution. The Three DI Stooges may protest all they like but they and the rest of the IDeologists had their chance to strut their supposedly scientific, non-religious stuff in front of Judge Jones in the Dover case and could not cut the mustard before a conservative Republican jurist.

Even more tellingly, Phillip Johnson, the DI’s "Program Advisor" for the Center for Science and Culture had the following to say recently at Campbell University (a Baptist institution):

Intelligent design has caused controversy throughout the world. A federal judge ruled recently that intelligent design cannot be taught in biology classes in a Pennsylvania school district because the teaching of the Bible does not belong in science classes, but Johnson isn’t concerned about the theory being taught in public schools.

"We want to discredit Darwinism," Johnson said. "This theory has had an enormous impact on secularization because it eliminates the Creator. We thought that if the theory of evolution was cast into doubt, it would have a big cultural impact, just as it did when it was discovered."
Trying to discredit Darwinism because it eliminates the Creator is apparently the DI’s idea of science. I’d like to think that Johnson is being this candid because he recognizes that the attempt to get ID into public schools is dead but it is just as likely that it is a case of the DI message changing based on who the audience is.
Thanks to Pat Hayes for finding the report on Johnson's talk and posting it at his excellent blog, Red State Rabble..

Thursday, February 09, 2006


A Dorothy for an Un-Kansas

A Wisconsin state Representative, Terese Berceau, has proposed a bill in the state Assembly to prevent the teaching of creationism or Intelligent Design as science in Wisconsin public schools. Alan Attie, a biochemistry professor at UW-Madison and a supporter of the bill, said "We can be the un-Kansas."

I should say that my initial reaction is that no good can come from attempts by politicians to legislate what "science" is or what falls within its purview. This may sound like a nice change of pace from the drumbeat of anti-evolution legislation and curriculum actions, but it has all the earmarks of the work of the Perdition Paving Company. The only information on the proposed language I have found is the following:

The bill would stipulate that "any material presented as science within the school curriculum ... is testable as a scientific hypothesis and describes only natural processes [and] ... is consistent with any description or definition of science adopted by the National Academy of Sciences."
That "testable as a scientific hypothesis" is potentially troublesome from a philosophy of science standpoint, as possibly inviting simplistic divisions into "science" on one side of a deceptively "plain" line and "pseudoscience" on the other, while ignoring difficult to categorize areas such as string theory. PZ Myers has the same take on this from the perspective of a scientist.

Worse, perhaps, from the standpoint of pro-science people is the opportunity for rhetoric it gives to the IDeologists. William Dembski was quick out of the gate with this:

William Dembski, one of the leading proponents of Intelligent Design, described Berceau's proposed legislation as "a clear sign that we are winning." Critics of Intelligent Design "look foolish when they have to take political action to quash ID," he stated on his weblog. ...

Some ID proponents have resorted to political measures in order "to break up that monopoly," Dembski acknowledged, but "for materialistic evolution to require legislation to preserve its monopoly will in the end be seen as heavy-handed and self-serving. ...

"[F]or academics with stellar reputations like [Elliott] Sober and [Ronald] Numbers [who attended Berceau's news conference] to be actively supporting such political interference signifies that they are losing not only the war of ideas but also their position of cultural dominance," Dembski said. ...

"Unlike Dover, where the focus was on ID's legitimacy as science, such a trial [in Wisconsin] would focus on the exclusive right of evolutionary theory to maintain its monopoly over the teaching of biological origins.... [T]his will be a much more difficult case for the ACLU to win. In Dover, ID needed to defend itself. In such a case [in Wisconsin], evolution will need to defend itself. ...

"Dover certainly wasn't ID's Waterloo. Wisconsin may well be evolution's Waterloo," Dembski said.
Of course, this is straight runoff from the swine showers, with the typical creationist "heads we win, tails you lose" ploy of excusing their resort to legislative action to promote their so-called "science" but claiming that the use of laws to protect science education is evidence that ID is winning something more than a political battle. Ignore ‘em and it’s because you have no answer to their claims, pay attention to ‘em and it’s proof that there really is a scientific dispute.

Unfortunately, ID has been winning the political battle across the country with rhetoric just this transparent. The Discovery Institute has been desperately searching for something . . . anything . . . to divert attention from the Debacle in Dover. It isn’t necessarily the best strategy to give them a political sideshow to rally the troops around just when they were on the run.

Oh, and one last note I can’t resist: Rob Crowther, director of communications for the Discovery Institute, and frequent comic relief in the ID camp had this to say:

We think it is a scientific theory. There are a lot of scientists and scholars doing a lot of research on the topic in research institutions. Any effort to stifle the subject really ultimately harms the work they're doing. We see this as an academic freedom issue, not just for teachers, but for scientists.

If the IDologists would just stop setting up their "research institutions" in K-12 schools and hiding all those "scientists and scholars" there, instead of having them out and publishing in the scientific journals, they wouldn’t have to worry about being evicted from high schools and maybe they could have demonstrated some real research results over the last decade and a half to Judge Jones in the Dover case.

But, hey, then they would actually have to do some science . . .

Tuesday, February 07, 2006


From the ‘What Did You Expect’ Department

George Deutsch, a presidential appointee as a PR flack for NASA, who was exposed trying to strong-arm NASA scientists into spinning their results in ways favorable to the Administration’s objectives, may have been doing a little creative advertising himself when it came to his résumé.

It seems that, contrary to the New York Times’ report that Mr. Deutsch’s résumé stated that he was a 2003 graduate of Texas A&M’s journalism program, Mr. Deutsch dropped out before completing his degree so that he could work on the Bush campaign, for which he was rewarded with a job doing for science what he had learned to do to politics.

Is it just me or does it get more depressing in America every day?

Thanks to PZ Myers for the pointer to this.
Late breaking news from the New York Times:
George C. Deutsch, the young presidential appointee at NASA who told public affairs workers to limit reporters' access to a top climate scientist and told a Web designer to add the word "theory" at every mention of the Big Bang, resigned yesterday, agency officials said.

Mr. Deutsch's resignation came on the same day that officials at Texas A&M University confirmed that he did not graduate from there, as his résumé on file at the agency asserted.

Officials at NASA headquarters declined to discuss the reason for the resignation.
I am not happy to see anyone lose their job (though I suspect he will, as a true Bushite believer, land on his feet) but there once was someone who said something about what you sow . . .

Monday, February 06, 2006


A Kettle By Any Other Color

Bruce Chapman himself is posting at the Discovery Institute's blog, Evolution News & Views, humping an article in the Wall Street Journal about the Ota Benga story that he says is:

. . . embarrassing history you will not see acknowledged at the AMNH's self-congratulatory Darwin retrospective -- or anywhere else that Darwinists are in charge.

Darwinism helped perpetuate and justify racism, as the Ota Benga story makes clear. It also produced the eugenics movement, where Darwinists (including, please note, the American Museum of Natural History) were the leaders.
First of all, go to the AMNH site and search on Ota Benga and you will see that the Museum aired a documentary about Ota Benga from 2002 that "presents a shocking cautionary tale about scientific racism in turn-of-the-century America" and has some other information on this unfortunate but obscure event.

Even more so is the case of eugenics, where a search comes up with numerous references, number one of which includes:

Eugenicists at universities and other institutions across the nation, including some at this Museum, validated their efforts through a misguided use of basic genetics.
Scientists are not alone in having "embarrassing history" about perpetuating and justifying such ill-use of others, as any history of anti-Semitism, racism and slavery in America and around the world will attest.
Creationists have no moral high ground beneath their feet here but they will claim it anyway because they have nothing better than dissembling and logical fallacies.

Sunday, February 05, 2006


Everything Old . . .

Michael Shermer has a letter in the New York Times Books section (may need free registration) in response to the essay, "When Cosmologies Collide," by religion writer Judith Shulevitz:

Although it is occasionally true that evolutionism can turn into bad philosophy in the hands of a rabid anti-theist, intelligent design (I.D.) creationism is always bad science and bad theology. We saw in the Dover trial why I.D. is bad science. I.D. is bad theology because it turns God into a mere garage tinkerer, a fumbling watchmaker, a Dr. Frankenstein cobbling together biochemical parts from the primordial soup into complex organisms. Such a God cannot be the omniscient and omnipotent God of Abraham . . .

Which is a nice contemporary way of saying what John Stuart Mill said some 135 years ago about ID, in its original form of Natural Theology:

It is not too much to say that every indication of Design in the Kosmos is so much evidence against the Omnipotence of the Designer. For what is meant by Design? Contrivance: the adaptation of means to an end. But the necessity for contrivance -- the need of employing means -- is a consequence of the limitation of power. Who would have recourse to means if to attain his end his mere word was sufficient? The very idea of means implies that the means have an efficacy which the direct action of the being who employs them has not. Otherwise they are not means, but an incumbrance. A man does not use machinery to move his arms. If he did, it could only be when paralysis had deprived him of the power of moving them by volition. But if the employment of contrivance is in itself a sign of limited power, how much more so is the careful and skilful choice of contrivances? Can any wisdom be shown in the selection of means, when the means have no efficacy but what is given them by the will of him who employs them, and when his will could have bestowed the same efficacy on any other means? Wisdom and contrivance are shown in overcoming difficulties, and there is no room for them in a Being for whom no difficulties exist. The evidences, therefore, of Natural Theology distinctly imply that the author of the Kosmos worked under limitations; that he was obliged to adapt himself to conditions independent of his will, and to attain his ends by such arrangements as those conditions admitted of.
Some thing don’t get better with age.

P.S. There is also a letter from Niles Eldredge well worth reading.


Nothing But the FAQs

Everyone with a tongue and a cheek should see the Intelligent Design Society of Kansas’ Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ). Here is a sample:

What is the agenda of the Intelligent Design Society of Kansas?

We want schools to teach the evidence against evolution and that alternatives to evolution exist, such as Intelligent design.

Should schools teach the evidence against Intelligent Design, or an Intelligent Designer?

No, that would violate the religious freedoms of the children.
As always, be warned: "Any sufficiently advanced parody is indistinguishable from a genuine kook." - Alan Morgan

Saturday, February 04, 2006


Studies In Political Science

New signs of the imminent demise of science in America:

The New York Times has an article (free registration may be necessary) about attempts by Bush administration political appointees at NASA to control the flow of scientific information coming from the agency. One particularly egregious example:

George Deutsch, a presidential appointee in NASA headquarters, told a Web designer working for the agency to add the word "theory" after every mention of the Big Bang ... Mr. Deutsch [is a] 24-year-old presidential appointee in the press office at NASA headquarters whose résumé says he was an intern in the "war room" of the 2004 Bush-Cheney re-election campaign [and a] 2003 journalism graduate of Texas A&M.

In October 2005, Mr. Deutsch sent an e-mail message to Flint Wild, a NASA contractor working on a set of Web presentations about Einstein for middle-school students. The message said the word "theory" needed to be added after every mention of the Big Bang.

The Big Bang is "not proven fact; it is opinion," Mr. Deutsch wrote, adding, "It is not NASA's place, nor should it be to make a declaration such as this about the existence of the universe that discounts intelligent design by a creator."

It continued: "This is more than a science issue, it is a religious issue. And I would hate to think that young people would only be getting one-half of this debate from NASA. That would mean we had failed to properly educate the very people who rely on us for factual information the most."
[I will pause here to allow the consternation at the thought of NASA instructing the youth of America in matters theological to pass.]

More directly important for governmental policy and, therefore, more frightening:

James E. Hansen, [said] he was threatened with "dire consequences" if he continued to call for prompt action to limit emissions of heat-trapping gases linked to global warming. He and intermediaries in the agency's 350-member public-affairs staff said the warnings came from White House appointees in NASA headquarters.

The only official reaction to these and other examples came from Donald Tighe of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. "Science is respected and protected and highly valued by the administration." But Mr. Tighe can’t hide the President himself under the carpet when he insists on going out and making State of the Union addresses that show nothing but ignorance about and disdain for science. (See PZ Myers’ piece on the President’s request for legislation to prohibit, among other things, "creating human-animal hybrids" and the researchers who have inserted a complete human chromosome 21 into mouse embryonic stem cells, generating a line of aneuploid mice that have many of the symptoms of Down syndrome, thus creating an invaluable tool for research into treatment of a significant cause of human suffering.)

The only good news is that Michael D. Griffin, the current head of NASA took Mr. Deutsch and his compatriots out to the woodshed for a public tanning in an email sent to all 19,000 NASA employees:

It is not the job of public-affairs officers to alter, filter or adjust engineering or scientific material produced by NASA's technical staff.
But, as I said, he is the current head of NASA . . .

Friday, February 03, 2006


Quick, Activate the Cloaking Device

There is an excellent article in Slate about attempts by Intelligent Design advocates to wrap themselves in the mantle of Galileo, casting him as an outsider ahead of his time who had to suffer the disapproval of the establishment, if not the actual instruments of torture, before being justified by later generations. Of course, the IDers can only claim half the comparison at best. As Steven Jay Gould once said, "A man does not attain the status of Galileo merely because he is persecuted; he must also be right." Still, it may be a particularly valuable strategy now that the Vatican is distancing itself from ID, as demonstrated by Fiorenzo Facchini’s article in its official newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, scolding ID advocates for "pretending to do science."

The fly in the ointment, as Peter Dizikes shows in the article, "Galileo Groupies," is the one that always bedevils the ID crowd: the truth. He first notes a prime example of the ID ploy:

"Galileo was not considered reputable when he came out with his theory," said Kathy Cox, Georgia's schools superintendent, while backing creationism in 2004.

Then Dizikes gives this compelling summation:

In reality, Galileo was a prominent university professor in the 1590s, before he turned 30. It was precisely because of his scientific eminence that the church made an example of him. A full two decades before his trial, Galileo had discovered Jupiter's moons, observed mountains on our own moon, helped prove the heliocentric thesis with his observations of Venus, formulated what we now call the first law of motion, and defined uniform acceleration. He wasn't a rogue scientist to his many admiring colleagues -- only to the inquisition.

But those are mere facts. For creationists, it's the Galileo legend that matters. Now that Rome has also rejected ID, albeit for wholly different reasons, expect more tailored-to-fit comparisons. What would Galileo say about all this? Perhaps what he wrote in the Dialogue: "The deeper I go in considering the vanities of popular reasoning, the lighter and more foolish I find them."
There is another bit of wisdom from Galileo that also applies:

There is no greater hatred in the world than the hatred of ignorance for knowledge.



It’s All Happening At the Zoo

The Sacramento Zoo is presenting a lecture series on the subject of evolution and intelligent design. Sadly, the report in the Sacramento Bee felt it necessary to say that the Zoo is taking "Darwin's side," as if any scientific institution could possibly be justified in doing anything else.
The excruciating irony comes here:

The format already has drawn objections from a few people who say the question of how species developed is inappropriate for the zoo . . .

Some days it's almost enough to make a grown H.sapiens cry.

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