Friday, March 31, 2006
On Pigs and Lipstick
After noting both the political and legal victories for science education in Dover, and trotting out the obligatory kvetch about not being allowed to challenge "science's sacred dogma" with religious sacred dogma, Mator rather pathetically says:
But a Southern California school district on March 21 demonstrated that winter is over and spring is bringing new hope to ID proponents: The Lancaster, Calif., school board of trustees unanimously adopted a science policy that allows teachers to discuss problems in Darwin's theory. The new policy, while not calling for the teaching of ID, discourages a view of evolution as "unalterable fact."
The battleground has been reduced to public schools, and creationism has been reduced to intelligent design -- a pathetic, agnostic, empty shell. Creationists can't teach a dogma, so they "teach the controversy." They accept more and more of Darwin's theory, narrowing the dispute to isolated systems -- the eye, the flagellum, the blood-clotting system -- that they say Darwinism can't explain. They just want science to stop short of denying God's possibility. A little bit of mystery, a parcel of unspoiled divine wilderness, is all they ask.
The Seattle-based Discovery Institute, a pro-ID think tank, endorses the strategy of exposing the holes in Darwinism rather than offering alternative theories. The reason: True scientific research acknowledges inconsistencies or gaps in data, but when ID is taught in the classroom, the public often perceives this as religious indoctrination.
Thursday, March 30, 2006
Not Gary . . . Though It Could Be
The article is a good thumbnail sketch of the evolution/creationism controversy in United States public education in the 20th Century and the beginning of the 21st. As Larson tells the tale, there have been three phases of the fight over science education: (1) attempts to remove evolution from the classroom; (2) attempts to "balance" the teaching of evolution with creationism; and (3) attempts to teach evolution as "just a theory."
In a post-lecture interview, Larson said the future of the controversy could depend on the outcome of the Selman case, which is currently before the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. "The Selman case is definitely worth watching, and also what happens in Kansas with the teaching standards," Larson said.
These latest cases show that the controversy is not likely to die down and can resurface at any time, he said. "The controversy has tapped into a cultural divide. It is an oscillating controversy," he added, referring to its cyclical nature. "If history is any guide, then we’re in for heavy weather again."
Wednesday, March 29, 2006
Maringer said he found a "massive amount of complacency" on the part of science teachers who brought their students to the center. Some said they taught evolution in spite of pressure not to, he said, but some said they didn’t have time to teach everything, so they left evolution out, or said they didn’t teach it because they didn’t know enough about it. One, he said, told him, "Our administrator told us it would be good for our careers if we just don’t talk about that."
"The radical Christian right has basically been spurned at the court level time and time again," he said. "They’ve recruited church members to act one-on-one at the principal and individual teacher level. If they can’t get creation in, then they want evolution out.
"I personally find that chilling at a core level, the suppression of information."
Tuesday, March 28, 2006
The curious thing is that among those celebrating the prominence of these two Darwinians on both sides of the Atlantic is an unexpected constituency - the American creationist / intelligent - design lobby. Huh? Dawkins, in particular, has become their top pin-up.
How so? William Dembski (one of the leading lights of the US intelligent-design lobby) put it like this in an email to Dawkins: "I know that you personally don't believe in God, but I want to thank you for being such a wonderful foil for theism and for intelligent design more generally. In fact, I regularly tell my colleagues that you and your work are one of God's greatest gifts to the intelligent-design movement. So please, keep at it!"
Evolution is losing the battle, says Ruse, and it's the fault of Dawkins and Dennett with their aggressive atheism: they are the creationists' best recruiting sergeants.
Another charge by Ruse is rooted in ignorance of the case law involving the Establishment clause of the Constitution:
If Darwinism equals atheism then it can't be taught in US schools because of the constitutional separation of church and state. It gives the creationists a legal case. Dawkins and Dennett are handing these people a major tool.
That said, it does feed the fears of moderates as well as fundamentalists to hear prominent evolution supporters gleefully proclaim the triumph of science over religion. A touch of humility might not be amiss.
On Public Relations and Pepto Bismol
Geocentrism is a less known cousin of the intelligent design, or anti-evolution, movement. Both question society's trust in science, instead using religion to explain how we got here -- and, in geocentrism's case, just where "here" is.
Sunday, March 26, 2006
A Pawn's Eye View
As a legal strategy during the trial, attorneys with the Thomas More Law Center essentially separated Buckingham from the rest of the board members. Numerous times, they mentioned his addiction to painkillers and said the other board members, who voted in favor of intelligent design, shouldn't be held accountable for his remarks.
... Dover attorney Patrick Gillen summed up the lawsuit by saying it was "built on a molehill of statements by one board member (Buckingham) fighting OxyContin addiction."
Buckingham said he doesn't understand why the district's attorneys did that, "unless they thought I did something along the way that was detrimental to the case."
But he said he understands they had to do what they felt was best. And he still respects them, especially Richard Thompson.
Still, Buckingham admitted, it stung a bit.
At one point - he doesn't remember when - he was contacted by Seth Cooper, an attorney with the pro-intelligent design Discovery Institute.
While the Discovery Institute's opposition to Dover's curriculum policy has been widely reported, Buckingham said at first Cooper was enthusiastic and supportive. Cooper offered to send him materials about intelligent design.
"He'd call me to see if we were going to go forward," Buckingham said.
But gradually, as the publicity continued, the attorney began to suggest that the board should not move forward on the curriculum change because it could lead to a lawsuit.
"He was afraid we were going to lose the case," Buckingham said. "And he thought, if we did lose the case, it was going to set intelligent design back for years.
"He just didn't think we were the proper people to be pushing this at this time," Buckingham said.
The day after the school board voted in October 2004 to include intelligent design in its biology curriculum, Discovery Institute posted a news release saying it didn't support the school board.
"I think they thought we jumped their gun, so to speak," Buckingham said.
They Ain't Making Jews . . .
How can you look at the Texas Legislature and still believe in intelligent design?
Saturday, March 25, 2006
Tap Dancing in California
Anyway, here is the text of the new policy:
The Science curriculum of the Lancaster School District is standards-based and reflects the fundamental belief, as stated in the 2004 Science Framework, "that all students can acquire the science knowledge and skills needed to succeed in the world that awaits them." To provide students with a high degree of science literacy the following expectations should be met:
The goal of science education is to encourage inquiry, investigation and understanding.
The domain of the natural sciences is the natural world. Science is limited by its tools – observable facts and testable hypotheses.
The character of science is open to inquiry. The curriculum promotes student understanding of how we come to know what we know and how we test and revise our thinking.
To be fully informed citizens, students do not have to accept everything that is taught in the natural science curriculum, but they should understand the major strands of scientific thought, including its methods, facts, hypotheses, theories and laws.
Students should learn that science never commits itself irrevocably to any fact, hypothesis, or theory, no matter how firmly it appears to be established. Evolution, then, should be taught as theory, as opposed to unalterable fact. Discussions that question the theory may be appropriate as long as they do not stray from the current criteria of scientific fact, hypothesis and theory. Science instruction must respect the private beliefs of students, but discussion in this regard should not be part of the science curriculum.
Students are given opportunities to construct the important ideas of science, which are then developed in depth, through inquiry and investigation.
The three basic scientific fields of study – earth, life and physical sciences – are taught and connections among them developed.
Science is presented with its applications in technology and its implications for society.
Science is presented in connection with the students’ own experiences and interests, frequently using hands-on experiences that are integral to the instructional sequence.
Instructional strategies and materials allow several levels and pathways of access so that all students can experience both challenge and success.
Textbooks are the major, but not sole, source of the curriculum; everyday materials and laboratory equipment, video and software, as well as other printed materials such as reference books and periodicals provide a substantial part of the student experience.
Assessment programs should be aligned with the standards-based instructional program. Student performance and investigation play the same central role in assessment as they do in instruction.
Mr. Branning claimed that the policy:
. . . is not an attack on evolution, nor is it a "backdoor" for the creationists. It simply allows (even encourages) the teachers to have discussions about science in the classroom.
Because of the scare tactics and fear-mongering of the NCSE and other organizations, it is an automatic response to put anyone who even resembles an anti-evolutionist in the "creationism" camp - and then to immediately assume that I want to bring the Bible into the science class. These things couldn't be further from the truth. The motives behind this move are the sinking test scores - students don't care about science and they are failing the class miserably. While my idea to promote discussion (and hopefully pique their curiosity at the same time) may be off the mark, we must do something!
Many of you ask why single out evolution? The answer is simple: it is the only scientific theory that people talk about, arguably the only one laymen care about.
I fail to see how running a web site with a catchy title (perhaps too catchy) that questions the science behind evolution makes me a creationist.
So, when it comes to catchy titles and creationism, which is it? Does becoming an anti-evolutionist lower your IQ by forty points or does it lower your honesty by 100%?
For those interested in a deeper draught of philosophy, wander over to John’s blog, Evolving Thoughts, and check out his recent discussion of essentialism. I promise your eyes won’t bleed . . . much.
Friday, March 24, 2006
American Science Circling the Drain
. . . are forbidden to use the "e-word" (evolution) with the kids. They are permitted to use the word "adaptation" but only to refer to a current characteristic of an organism, not as a product of evolutionary change via natural selection. They cannot even use the term "natural selection." Bob feared that not being able to use evolutionary terms and ideas to answer his students’ questions would lead to reinforcement of their misconceptions.
I am instructed NOT to use hard numbers when telling kids how old rocks are. I am supposed to say that these rocks are VERY VERY OLD ... but I am NOT to say that these rocks are thought to be about 300 million years old.
I’m not familiar that [schools are] dodging it. Maybe they are. But I think schools also ought to be fair to all views. Because, frankly, Darwinism is not an established scientific fact. It is a theory of evolution, that’s why it’s called the theory of evolution. And I think that what I’d be concerned with is that it should be taught as one of the views that’s held by people. But it’s not the only view that’s held. And any time you teach one thing as that it’s the only thing, then I think that has a real problem to it.
Perhaps the most insidious problem with [Huckabee’s] response is that it plays on our sense of democracy and free expression.
Thursday, March 23, 2006
Publishing After Perishing
Despite Jones's protestations to the contrary, his attempts to use the federal bench to declare evolution a sacred cow -- unquestionable in schools and fundamentally compatible with all "true" religion -- are exposed by these critical authors as a textbook case of good-old-American judicial activism.
Michael Behe apparently can’t wait for the upcoming tenth anniversary reissue of Darwin’s Black Box, which he has already promised will vindicate him and show those nasty Darwinists that they were wrong about how his testimony went in Dover, to mount a campaign to recover a modicum of respect within the ID crowd:
The book also includes a lengthy response to the ruling from Dr. Michael Behe, entitled "Whether ID is Science: Michael Behe’s Response to Kitzmiller v. Dover." Dr. Behe was the lead expert witness for the defense at the trial.
Wednesday, March 22, 2006
Mutant Killer College Professors
Horowitz exposes 101 academics -- representative of thousands of radicals who teach our young people --who also happen to be alleged ex-terrorists, racists, murderers, sexual deviants, anti-Semites, and al-Qaeda supporters. Horowitz blows the cover on academics who: -- Say they want to kill white people. -- Promote the views of the Iranian mullahs. -- Support Osama bin Laden. -- Lament the demise of the Soviet Union. -- Defend pedophilia. -- Advocate the killing of ordinary Americans.
As you can imagine, with Pat all stirred to righteous passion, the rather predictable free association resulted:
. . . these guys are out and out communists, they are radicals, you know some of them killers, and they are propagandists of the first order and they don't want anybody else except them. That's why Regent University for example is so terrifically important and why we're setting up an undergraduate program that hopefully will see shortly 10,000 students, and then from there 250,000 because you don't want your child to be brainwashed by these radicals, you just don't want it to happen. Not only brainwashed but beat up, they beat these people up, cower them into submission. Ahhh! "The Professors", read it.
More evidence that Tailgunner Joe did not live in vain but that Santayana did.
Tuesday, March 21, 2006
Turning Mock Turtle
It is a serious offense to mock God.
Monday, March 20, 2006
Good Sense and Faith
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, has come out against the teaching of creationism:
I think creationism is ... a kind of category mistake, as if the Bible were a theory like other theories ... if creationism is presented as a stark alternative theory alongside other theories I think there's just been a jarring of categories ... My worry is creationism can end up reducing the doctrine of creation rather than enhancing it.
Sunday, March 19, 2006
On Whistling and Graveyards II
Right off the bat, this argument merely raises the question of when "vanishingly small" equals "none." As has been noted elsewhere, even if you grant as valid all the supposedly peer-reviewed material that ID supporters claim, the total output after nearly two decades of the modern Intelligent Design Movement is a fraction of the weekly output of peer-reviewed science supporting evolutionary theory. Therefore, at worst, Keith’s criticism is literary one: the Judge should have said "practically no" instead of "no peer-reviewed science literature."
But was that what the Judge was really saying? This being from the Discovery Institute, it is wise to check the source (pp. 87-88):
A final indicator of how ID has failed to demonstrate scientific warrant is the complete absence of peer-reviewed publications supporting the theory. Expert testimony revealed that the peer review process is "exquisitely important" in the scientific process. It is a way for scientists to write up their empirical research and to share the work with fellow experts in the field, opening up the hypotheses to study, testing, and criticism. In fact, defense expert Professor Behe recognizes the importance of the peer review process and has written that science must "publish or perish." Peer review helps to ensure that research papers are scientifically accurately, meet the standards of the scientific method, and are relevant to other scientists in the field. Moreover, peer review involves scientists submitting a manuscript to a scientific journal in the field, journal editors soliciting critical reviews from other experts in the field and deciding whether the scientist has followed proper research procedures, employed up-to-date methods, considered and cited relevant literature and generally, whether the researcher has employed sound science.
The evidence presented in this case demonstrates that ID is not supported by any peer-reviewed research, data or publications. Both Drs. Padian and Forrest testified that recent literature reviews of scientific and medical-electronic databases disclosed no studies supporting a biological concept of ID. On cross-examination, Professor Behe admitted that: "There are no peer reviewed articles by anyone advocating for intelligent design supported by pertinent experiments or calculations which provide detailed rigorous accounts of how intelligent design of any biological system occurred." Additionally, Professor Behe conceded that there are no peer-reviewed papers supporting his claims that complex molecular systems, like the bacterial flagellum, the blood-clotting cascade, and the immune system, were intelligently designed. In that regard, there are no peer-reviewed articles supporting Professor Behe’s argument that certain complex molecular structures are "irreducibly complex." In addition to failing to produce papers in peer-reviewed journals, ID also features no scientific research or testing.
 The one article referenced by both Professors Behe and Minnich as supporting ID is an article written by Behe and Snoke entitled "Simulating evolution by gene duplication of protein features that require multiple amino acid residues." (P-721). A review of the article indicates that it does not mention either irreducible complexity or ID. In fact, Professor Behe admitted that the study which forms the basis for the article did not rule out many known evolutionary mechanisms and that the research actually might support evolutionary pathways if a biologically realistic population size were used. (Citations omitted)
Okay, going beyond the Discovery Institute form of propaganda . . . err . . . argument, what Keith has done is mischaracterize what the decision said. Judge Jones wasn’t saying that there was no peer-reviewed material that ID advocates have published, he was pointing out that none of the material (that they were willing to talk about at the trial) supports ID as a positive research program. Instead, almost without exception, the cited articles merely question the adequacy of some evolutionary mechanisms to explain some feature of life. Sparse attacks on some parts of evolutionary theory do not qualify ID as itself a science but is merely the manifestation of the updated "contrived dualism," borrowed from "creation science," that claims that everything that fails to support evolution is evidence of design. The Judge addressed that fallacy elsewhere in his decision.
Keith only points to one supposedly peer-reviewed article as his "refutation" of Judge Jones’ decision: Stephen C. Meyer, "The origin of biological information and the higher taxonomic categories," Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, 117(2) (August, 2004):213-239. He also waves in the direction of other articles that were also cited to in an appendix to the amicus brief submitted by the Discovery Institute.
First of all, I hate to break it to Keith but a citation to an article in an appendix to an amicus brief is not evidence in court. The Judge was fully justified in ignoring what, at best, would be an attempt by Discovery Institute to circumvent the rules of evidence.
The history of Meyer’s article, including the highly questionable circumstances of its publication, has been too widely discussed to be rehearsed here. But it should be noted, as a measure of the incestuous nature of the publication history, that Richard Sternberg, the former managing editor of the Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, who shepherded the article into publication with, at best, questionable review, was recently recommended by the Discovery Institute to South Carolina State Senator Mike Fair as a witness to testify in favor of the ploy of adding "critically analyze" to its educational guidelines on evolution. Fortunately, that effort recently failed. In any event, given the Judge’s obvious annoyance with dissembling by ID advocates, the lawyers from the Thomas More Legal Center probably made one of their few good tactical decisions by not wading into that quagmire.
But, even if the Judge had any obligation to consider it, what did Meyer’s article establish about ID? Even as the Discovery Institute describes it, the article was:
An experience-based analysis of the causal powers of various explanatory hypotheses [that] suggests purposive or intelligent design as a causally adequate -- and perhaps the most causally adequate -- explanation for the origin of the complex specified information required to build the Cambrian animals and the novel forms they represent.
The rest of the articles cited in the Discovery Institute’s appendix suffer similar difficulties. The few articles close in form to actual science argue, according to the Discovery Institute’s own descriptions, that evolutionary theory fails in one way or another without any empiric evidence of a designer or that "design" is a better explanation. Most of the rest come from the book Debating Design edited by William A. Dembski and Michael Ruse (where the only peer review necessary would be "is this an argument actually used for or against design?"); or from Darwinism, Design, and Public Education, a book edited by an ID advocate, John Angus Campbell. Two of Dembski’s books are cited but, as a philosopher and mathematician, it is unlikely that those would have been reviewed by anyone truly familiar with evolutionary biology.
To sum up then, Keith Pennock actually makes the logical error he accuses Judge Jones of, misrepresents what the decision actually said, displays his ignorance of how evidence is handled in American courts, cites to articles and other materials that do not support the idea that ID advocates are actually doing science and otherwise fails to make a case. And I haven’t even plumbed the entire depth of what Keith gets wrong in this article. For example, he accuses Judge Jones of being an activist, an issue I’ve already addressed.
All in all, as a commentator on matters philosophical, legal or scientific, Keith Pennock is well advised to keep his day job.
Stand Up and Cheer
This was too funny:
Nelson had two "arguments." The first was that we naturally detect design in artifacts and, therefore, should extend these intuitions to living objects. Let’s concede this line of reasoning and see where it leads. Thanks to our ears (and other organs) we naturally detect motion when we are in moving objects and we equally naturally detect rest. Now, when we sit in our homes (assuming that these are not mobile homes) we use the same ability. We now detect that the Earth is at rest. (This is wonderful -- finally a real scientific discovery from the so-called Discovery Institute.)
The second was a hackneyed version of the old God-of-the-gaps argument. Nelson claimed that there were many biological cases he found difficult to explain using evolutionary theory. I agree but this only suggests that he needs to learn more evolutionary theory.
Bad Missouri Breaks
Public elementary and secondary school science teacher instruction for sixth grade through twelfth grade courses in physics, chemistry, biology, physical science, earth science, and other natural science courses shall comply with the following best practices . . .
When information other than verified empirical data [defined as: "information representing physical reality based upon repeated independent human observation, measurement, and experimentation with consistent results"] is taught representing current scientific thought such as theory, hypothesis, conjecture, speculation, extrapolation, estimation, unverified data, consensus of scientific opinion, and philosophical belief, such information shall be within the purview of critical analysis and may be critically analyzed.
When information other than verified empirical data is taught representing current scientific thought such as theory or hypothesis regarding phenomena that occur in the future or that occurred previous to written history, a critical analysis of such information shall be taught in a substantive amount. If a theory or hypothesis of biological origins is taught, a critical analysis of such theory or hypothesis shall be taught in a substantive amount.
Critical analysis includes the teaching of anomalous verified empirical data, contrary verified empirical data, missing supporting data, inadequate mechanisms, insufficient resources, faulty logic, crucial assumptions, alternate logical explanations, lack of experimental results, conflicting experiments, or predictive failures where applicable ...
Now the bill does have some safety valves. Its implementation (for 5 years, at least) is subject to the availability of teaching materials, so that they don't have to shut down all science education if they can't find Constitutionally acceptable course materials to teach as "critical analysis." It also allows local districts to modify or expand the definition of "substantive" as necessary for local use, though that could be a two edged sword.
Sometime you just have to admire the craft that went into something like this, even if you don't like it. The only mistake made in drafting it (besides its intent) was that they just couldn't resist driving the point home and, instead of leaving well enough alone, they went ahead and separately mentioned as requiring "critical analysis" any "theory or hypothesis of biological origins." Maybe whoever drafted it looked at Dover and figured that local boards couldn't be trusted to get anything too subtle. Or maybe they were worried the constituency that they are playing to here couldn't be trusted to read between the lines and give the legislators their political reward. But, whatever the reason, that will now be a problem for this bill if it ever becomes law and winds up in the courts.
Saturday, March 18, 2006
On Whistling and Graveyards
Now, I did a search on "Keith Pennock" on the Discovery Institute’s own website and the most I could discover about what "league" Keith plays in is that he once was a "Program Administrator" at the Center for Science and Culture and that, as of the publication of the "Winter 2006" issue of the Discovery Institute Views, he commands the exalted title of the "D.C. Office Manager" for the Institute. The only other obvious qualification he has for writing what he did is that he has the same last name as Robert.
Amusingly, Keith, in his jeremiad, extols Alvin Plantinga’s article on the subject of Dover that, like Robert’s, appeared in Science & Theology News. But in his article, Plantinga says:
[T]aking these notions [of verification or falsification] in a rough-and-ready way we can easily see that propositions about supernatural beings not being verifiable or falsifiable isn’t true at all.
For example, the statement "God has designed 800-pound rabbits that live in Cleveland" is clearly testable, clearly falsifiable and indeed clearly false. Testability can’t be taken as a criterion for distinguishing scientific from nonscientific statements. That is because in the typical case individual statements are not verifiable or falsifiable.
To falsify design theory a scientist need only experimentally demonstrate that a bacterial flagellum, or any other comparably complex system, could arise by natural selection. If that happened I would conclude that neither flagella nor any system of similar or lesser complexity had to have been designed. In short, biochemical design would be neatly disproved.
And, of course, even if we could overcome those obstacles, it would merely falsify the design of flagella and the ID advocates could (and, based on past behavior, would) simply move on to the blood clotting cascade or some other feature that their ingenuity could describe as too complex to evolve. Maybe we could take Behe at his word that he, at least, would give up the claim under those conditions but, if so, it is only because the idea of testing the actual hypothesis is not important to him in the first place.
So, at best, Keith’s paragon of philosophy is torching a strawman of "naive falsification" that Popper himself abandoned. It is, as Plantinga says, entire theories or, at least, bundles of hypotheses, that have to be testable and ID is clearly not, something that Plantinga never quite gets around to discussing. He merely asserts that "whole theories involving intelligent designers also make verifiable or falsifiable predictions" without any sort of example. You just have to wonder then what criteria Keith uses to judge philosophers knowlege about the demarcation issue.
But what do I know? I’m just a lawyer, not an Office Manager . . .
Thursday, March 16, 2006
Waiting In the Wings
In the midst of a thoroughly silly argument, Hal outdoes himself with this:
The assumption that random chance is distinguishable from intelligent design is one of those things that needs no further explanation. It is completely observable in our world.
An image of the Virgin Mary appearing in the grill marks of a grilled cheese sandwich is a case of random chance. A painting of the Virgin Mary is evidence of intelligent design.
If the best you can offer, Hal, is your personal opinion, those of us who remember your stuff from the 70s might just want to pass.
Wednesday, March 15, 2006
Screw Loose Comedy
Paramount studios is apparently intending to bring out a movie about the Dover School Board case:
According to Variety, the studio just hired Ronald Harwood to write a screenplay based on last year's court decision ruling that a Pennsylvania school board didn't have the right to force teachers to teach intelligent design. (Interestingly, the film's producer was thinking "movie" from the very start, so much so that she actually sent someone to watch and take notes on the trial - does that show clever foresight or a disturbing tendency to turn every major news story into tomorrow's blockbuster? Both?) In Harwood's eyes, his benchmark is Inherit the Wind, the play and film that told the story of the famous Scopes trial, which allowed evolution into (Tennessee) classrooms in the first place. "Our aspiration is to make a film that powerful...We have a highly emotional case that divided a town right down the middle, and a judge whose summary was spectacular."
Harwood is currently doing a rewrite on Baz Luhrmann's mysterious Outback Romance, but as soon as he finishes that, it's all intelligent design, all the time.
Tuesday, March 14, 2006
Hyperbole on Hyperdrive
The ACLU and the courts are "basically cleansing America of religion and particularly Christianity. It's almost like a genocide. It's a sophisticated genocide."
- Richard Thompson, President and Chief Counsel of the Thomas More Law Center
Thompson responds: Don't "look at the words so much, but look at the actions."
Focus on the banning of "nativity scenes, the cross, prayer in schools, bible reading in schools, moments of silence, prayers at football games - it's a very militant attempt to surgically remove religion from the public square and turn us into an atheistic society," Thompson says.
But, for some religionists, the persecution complex cannot be denied as easily as reality can be.
Monday, March 13, 2006
Pregnancy can be the most wonderful experience life has to offer. But it can also be dangerous. Around the world, an estimated 529,000 women a year die during pregnancy or childbirth. Ten million suffer injuries, infection or disability.
To David Haig, an evolutionary biologist at Harvard, these grim statistics raise a profound puzzle about pregnancy.
"Pregnancy is absolutely central to reproduction, and yet pregnancy doesn't seem to work very well," he said. "If you think about the heart or the kidney, they're wonderful bits of engineering that work day in and day out for years and years. But pregnancy is associated with all sorts of medical problems. What's the difference?"
The difference is that the heart and the kidney belong to a single individual, while pregnancy is a two-person operation. And this operation does not run in perfect harmony. Instead, Dr. Haig argues, a mother and her unborn child engage in an unconscious struggle over the nutrients she will provide it.
The inspiration for Dr. Haig was the work of Robert Trivers, one of the pioneers in sciobiology and also cited by Steven Pinker, as I’ve already noted, as a major influence.
In the 1970's, Dr. Trivers argued that families create an evolutionary conflict. Natural selection should favor parents who can successfully raise the most offspring. For that strategy to work, they can't put too many resources into any one child. But the child's chances for reproductive success will increase as its care and feeding increase. Theoretically, Dr. Trivers argued, natural selection could favor genes that help children get more resources from their parents than the parents want to give.
One apparent success of Dr. Haig’s hypothesis, originally set out in a 1993 paper, that predicted that many complications of pregnancy would turn out to be produced by this conflict, is what has been recently learned about a complication called pre-eclampsia. In that condition, which occurs in about 6 percent of pregnancies, mothers experience dangerously high blood pressure late in pregnancy.
Dr. Haig proposed that pre-eclampsia was just an extreme form of a strategy used by all fetuses. The fetuses somehow raised the blood pressure of their mothers so as to drive more blood into the relatively low-pressure placenta. Dr. Haig suggested that pre-eclampsia would be associated with some substance that fetuses injected into their mothers' bloodstreams. Pre-eclampsia happened when fetuses injected too much of the stuff, perhaps if they were having trouble getting enough nourishment.
In the past few years, Ananth Karumanchi of Harvard Medical School and his colleagues have gathered evidence that suggests Dr. Haig was right. They have found that women with pre-eclampsia had unusually high levels of a protein called soluble fms-like tyrosine kinase 1, or sFlt1 for short.
Other labs have replicated their results. Dr. Karumanchi's group has done additional work that indicates that this protein interferes with the mother's ability to repair minor damage to her blood vessels. As that damage builds up, so does her blood pressure. And as Dr. Haig predicted, the protein is produced by the fetus, not the mother.
Scientists have found that some genes are imprinted in the brain after birth, and in some cases even in adulthood. "Imprinted genes and behavior are the new frontier," said Dr. Lawrence Wilkinson of the University of Cambridge. In a paper to be published in The Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, Dr. Wilkinson and his colleagues argue that the evidence on imprinted brain genes — preliminary as it is — fits with Dr. Haig's theory. They call it "the most robust evolutionary hypothesis for genomic imprinting."
One major source of conflict after birth is how much a mother will feed any individual offspring. A baby mammal is more likely to thrive if it can get more milk from its mother. But nursing demands a lot of energy from mothers that could be used for other things, like bearing and nursing more offspring. ...
Dr. Wilkinson suspects that conflict between imprinted brain genes may add to the risk for mental disorders, from autism to depression. Because one copy of each of these genes is silenced, they may be more vulnerable. "If you ask me, do I think that imprinted genes are likely in the next 10 years to crop up as mechanisms in mental disorders, I'd say yes," he said.
Sunday, March 12, 2006
Pinker quotes biologist Robert Trivers on the subject of self-knowledge from the foreword he wrote to the 1976 edition of Richard Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene:
If . . . deceit is fundamental to animal communication, then there must be strong selection to spot deception and this ought, in turn, to select for a degree of self-deception, rendering some facts and motives unconscious so as not to betray -- by the subtle signs of self-knowledge -- the deception being practiced. Thus, the conventional view that natural selection favors nervous systems which produce ever more accurate images of the world must be a very naïve view of mental evolution.
The conventional view may be largely correct when it comes to the physical world, which allows for reality checks by multiple observers and where misconceptions are likely to harm the perceiver. But as Trivers notes, it may not be correct when it comes to the self, which one can access in a way that others cannot and where misconceptions may be helpful. Sometimes parents may want to convince a child that what they are doing is for the child's own good, children may want to convince parents that they are needy rather than greedy, lovers may want to convince each other that they will always be true, and unrelated folks may want to convince one another that they are worthy cooperators. These opinions are often embellishments, if not tall tales, and to slip them beneath a partner's radar a speaker should believe in them so as not to stammer, sweat, or trip himself up in contradictions. Ice-veined liars might, of course, get away with telling bald fibs to strangers, but they would also have trouble keeping friends, who could never take their promises seriously. The price of looking credible is being unable to lie with a straight face, and that means a part of the mind must be designed to believe its own propaganda -- while another part registers just enough truth to keep the self-concept in touch with reality. ...
Though modern psychologists and psychiatrists tend to reject orthodox Freudian theory, many acknowledge that Freud was right about the defense mechanisms of the ego. ...
[T]he healthy parts of the brain engage in extraordinary confabulations to explain away the foibles caused by the damaged parts (which are invisible to the self because they are part of the self) and to present the whole person as a capable, rational actor. A patient who fails to experience a visceral click of recognition when he sees his wife, but who acknowledges that she looks and acts just like his wife, may deduce that an amazing impostor is living in his house. ...
In social psychology experiments, people consistently overrate their own skill, honesty, generosity, and autonomy. They overestimate their contribution to a joint effort, chalk up their successes to skill and their failures to luck, and always feel that the other side has gotten the better deal in a compromise. People keep up these self-serving illusions even when they are wired to what they think is an accurate lie-detector. This shows that they are not lying to the experimenter but lying to themselves. For decades every psychology student has learned about "cognitive dissonance reduction:' in which people change whatever opinion it takes to maintain a positive self-image. ...
Self-deception is among the deepest roots of human strife and folly. It implies that the faculties that ought to allow us to settle our differences -- seeking the truth and discussing it rationally -- are miscalibrated so that all parties assess themselves to be wiser, abler, and nobler than they really are. Each party to a dispute can sincerely believe that the logic and evidence are on his side and that his opponent is deluded or dishonest or both. Self-deception is one of the reasons that the moral sense can, paradoxically, often do more harm than good . . .
Unless, of course . . .
But no. Right there is one bit of evidence on our side. Science continues to ask itself these questions, as well as conducting reality checks by multiple observers. As Bertrand Russell said once: "The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt." Maybe that won’t always save it in every case and every time but the odds are in science’s favor.
Dressing For the Occasion
Setting aside the incongruity of having serious discussions about morality among the parrotheads, Pulitzer Prize winning historian and former Discovery Institute fellow (from back when it was attempting some academic respectability) had occasion to speak of the "fundamentalist subculture" that resulted from the perception of conservative Christians that they have suffered repeated blows from Darwin's Origin of Species, Biblical criticism, positivism, Marxism, and Freudianism. Following the Scopes trial, the media was less respectful of religion, denominational universities adopted modernism and the courts struck down religious instruction, mandatory school prayer and government sanctioned Bible readings in public schools. According to Larson, the religious right retreated to its churches, radio stations, and home schools. Saletan continues:
I've always thought of subcultures as decadent and left-wing. Key West is full of them. Down the block from the conference site, you can buy penis-shaped lighters and bikinis that say "your face here." In our hotel rooms, the staff has left fliers announcing "Fantasy Fest 2005," which begins the day after we depart. On our coffee tables, Key West magazine shows what's in store: drag, geishas, nudity, leather, S&M. The lobby is already festooned with movie stills from The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
This, more than monkey ancestors, is what alarms creationists. Larson lists the social ills they blame on the teaching of evolution: abortion, eugenics, homosexuality, effeminacy, divorce, communism, long hair. He's been told that Phillip Johnson, the founder of the intelligent design movement, brought up cross-dressing three times in his most recent book. "And those are important issues," Larson adds, trying to sound even-handed, but the journalists laugh. "It is important," a colleague next to me whispers. "There's a lot of shopping involved. You have to buy for two."
What used to be shocking is now just fun or silly, even to those of us who think of ourselves as believers. Fundamentalists have lost the media, the colleges, and the science academies. The battleground has been reduced to public schools, and creationism has been reduced to intelligent design -- a pathetic, agnostic, empty shell. Creationists can't teach a dogma, so they "teach the controversy." They accept more and more of Darwin's theory, narrowing the dispute to isolated systems -- the eye, the flagellum, the blood-clotting system -- that they say Darwinism can't explain. They just want science to stop short of denying God's possibility. A little bit of mystery, a parcel of unspoiled divine wilderness, is all they ask.
Saturday, March 11, 2006
Intelligent design proponents have conceded the superiority of the scientific method to faith. They know that an assertion based on scientific research is more credible than an assertion based on faith. So they have endeavored to promote their creationist beliefs as scientific.In response, the creationist claimed (as close as I can reckon -- you have to go see the original to understand the caveat) that faith is, in actuality, based on the correspondence of the Bible to reality or, in other words, on whether the Bible is shown to be literally true. Idly casting about for definitions of "faith" led to me to this from the Correspondence section of Nature (435, 275-276, 19 May 2005):
Seeking evidence of God's work undermines faith
Douglas W. Yu
. . . In the Bible (John 20: 25-29), Thomas doubts that the man speaking to him is the resurrected Christ until Jesus reveals his wounds. Thomas then believes, but Jesus says: "Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed".
The Bible throughout teaches that faith is more valuable when expressed in the absence of evidence. For a Christian, when science is allowed to be neutral on the subject of God, science can only bolster faith. In contrast, and I imagine without realizing it, ID proponents have become professional Doubting Thomases, funded by Doubting Thomas Institutes. When advocates of ID use the vocabulary of science to argue for God's presence in cellular machinery or in the fossil record, they too poke their fingers through Jesus' hands. In so doing, ID vitiates faith.
But the image of William Dembski with his fingers up inside Christ I could have lived without.
Friday, March 10, 2006
In December, Martin Roth professor of philosophy of science at Knox taught a short philosophy course titled, "Intelligent Design," to explore the topic historically and critically at the secular college. ...
Roth designed the course to "look at intelligent design on three levels: as an argument for the existence of God, as an alternative to evolution in science, and in the context of the current debate over evolution and religion." According to Roth, it is important to understand that ID is not something recently installed on today’s front page like an ice block to cool the seething evolution-creation debate. Rather, "intelligent design has a long history. The idea originated well before Darwin’s work in the 1850s," Roth said.
The course delves into the history of the intelligent design movement, beginning with Plato, the first philosopher to make an argument for the existence of God based upon the design of this world. Our seemingly miraculous, biological design and the fine-tuning of the universe allowing for the existence of life have become the chief supports for this argument. Second, the class tackled current scientific debates, including Darwin’s argument for natural selection and whether or not intelligent design fits into the category of science as enterprise. Finally, the class discussed the multi-faceted question of how this affects religion and morality.
Thursday, March 09, 2006
The Empty Cat Bag
Johnson's extraordinary leadership also is clear: rather than fall into the trap of building a cult of personality around himself and his own considerable intellectual talents, he has instead helped raise up and promote a whole group of intellectual leaders in the cause of scientific renewal. This kind of selfless Christian leadership is a shining example to us all, young and old.
Labels: ID Not Religious
Wednesday, March 08, 2006
Rep. Bob Walker, a Spartanburg Republican and a member of the Education Oversight Committee urged adoption of the additional language so students can talk about the "holes" in theories on evolution and natural selection. Rep. Walker presented a letter, signed by 67 members of the House, which included a statement that the legislature may intervene if the board rejects the recommendation.
It is good that the Board of Education did not cave to the legislature’s threats. Make them go on record as rejecting the Board’s decision. When push comes to shove they will doubtless debate the issue much as the legislature in Utah did, making it abundantly clear that the real motivation is religious, not scientific or educational.
Tuesday, March 07, 2006
Zogby’s report is contained in a pdf file that demonstrates how the results are manipulated. Here are the relevant questions and results:
Which of the following two statements come closest to your own opinion?
Statement B: Biology teachers
should teach Darwin’s theory
of evolution, but also the
scientific evidence against it. ...........69%
Statement A: Biology teachers
should teach only Darwin’s
theory of evolution and the
scientific evidence that supports it. .....21%
Strongly agree ..........51%
Somewhat agree ..........26
Somewhat disagree ........6
Strongly disagree .......13
Not sure .................4
Totals: Agree 77%; Disagree 19%
The problem is that the ID movement couldn't find enough of that supposed "scientific evidence" to even get a conservative Republican judge to say it was close enough to science to give it the benefit of the doubt.
How about a fair question instead?:
Do you strongly agree, somewhat agree, somewhat disagree, or strongly disagree with the following statement: "When the theory of evolution is taught in school, teachers should be able to proselytize your children to join their religion."
Wanna bet that the percentages would change considerably?
Monday, March 06, 2006
Checking the Designer's ID
For example, we have William Dembski, right after Judge Jones’ decision saying*:
[T]his galvanizes the Christian community. People I’m talking to say we’re going to be raising a whole lot more funds now.
Ronald Bailey at Reason Magazine has this from David Klinghoffer, another senior fellow at the Discovery Institute:
There is no coherent reconciliation between God and Darwin. One may choose Darwin or one may choose God.
I'm very sad that we have taken God out of the schools. When I went to school, we had a prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance. Now, they are even disputing the word `God' in the Pledge of Allegiance. It is all very frustrating to a lot of us.
Labels: Designer As God
Sunday, March 05, 2006
Bill Gates Quote Mined
This is a quote mine of Bill Gates and the response soon to be in the Quote Mine Project:
DNA is like a computer program but far, far more advanced than any software we've ever created. - Bill Gates
Bill Gates has said, "DNA is similar to a software program" but more complex . . .
Representative quote miners: Tom Bethell: Banned in Biology; Stephen E. Jones: Creation/Evolution Quotes: Origin of Life #3: Information and Professor Knockout Quotes!: Encyclopedic Information.
The truncated version apparently originated in an article by Stephen C. Meyer, "DNA and Other Designs" in the journal First Things that can be found in many places, including the following: Catholic Culture; The Center for Science and Culture and Access Research Network.
This quote mine has been promoted quite a bit recently by intelligent designer advocates. I found an early use of it by Stephen C. Meyer, Discovery Institute Fellow and young earth creationist. He used it this way, "If, as Bill Gates has said, "DNA is similar to a software program" but more complex, it makes sense, on analogical grounds, to consider inferring that it too had an intelligent source." in "DNA and Other Designs" Stephen Meyer First Things 102, April 1, 2000 but without citation..
We have all had teachers who made a difference. I had a great chemistry teacher in high school who made his subject immensely interesting. Chemistry seemed enthralling compared to biology. In biology, we were dissecting frogs - just hacking them to pieces, actually - and our teacher didn't explain why. My chemistry teacher sensationalized his subject a bit and promised that it would help us understand the world. When I was in my twenties, I read James D. Watson's "Molecular Biology of the Gene" and decided my high school experience had misled me. The understanding of life is a great subject. Biological information is the most important information we can discover, because over the next several decades it will revolutionize medicine. Human DNA is like a computer program but far, far more advanced than any software ever created. It seems amazing to me now that one great teacher made chemistry endlessly fascinating while I found biology totally boring. (Gates, The Road Ahead, Penguin: London, Revised, 1996 p. 228)