Sunday, December 31, 2006
That Time Again
ID Across the Sea
The Times of London is reporting that the British government has cleared the way for Intelligent Design to be taught in Britain’s schools as part of the religious syllabus.
Lord Adonis, an education minister, is to issue guidelines within two months for the teaching of "intelligent design" (ID), a theory being promoted by the religious right in America.
Until now the government has not approved the teaching of the controversial theory, which contradicts Darwinian evolutionary theory, the basis of modern biology.
Adonis said in a parliamentary answer: "Intelligent design can be explored in religious education as part of developing an understanding of different beliefs."
Strangely, a spokesman for Americans United for Separation of Church and State weighed in:It has emerged that 12 prominent academics wrote to Tony Blair and Alan Johnson, the education secretary, last month arguing that ID should be taught as part of science on the national curriculum.
They included Antony Flew, formerly professor of philosophy at Reading University; Terry Hamblin, professor of immunohaemotology at Southampton University; and John Walton, professor of chemistry at St Andrews University.
Robert Boston, a spokesman for the group, warned against the teaching of ID in Britain.
He said it "could possibly leave an entire generation of people not capable of meeting the scientific challenges of this century".
As an example of that attitude in Britain, Colin Slee, the Dean of Southwark, said:
Everything needs to be explored, so that children can ask sensible questions. Though I see no huge difficulty with exploring intelligent design or creationism or flat Earth, they happen to be misguided, foolish and flying in the face of all evidence. I see no problem with Darwinian theory and Christian faith going hand in hand.On the other hand, Canon Jeremy Davies, Precentor of Salisbury cathedral, said:
I don’t see why religious education should be a dumping ground for fantasies. If it is claimed that this is a scientific theory, why isn’t it explored in science classes? Its validity or otherwise should be tested against the usual criteria.
Saturday, December 30, 2006
The latest to-do in the religion/atheism debate is Richard Dawkins' unfortunate support of a petition that reads:
We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to Make it illegal to indoctrinate or define children by religion before the age of 16.There is a link at the end of the above to "More details" which leads to the following (that is, in any event, on the same webpage):
In order to encourage free thinking, children should not be subjected to any regular religious teaching or be allowed to be defined as belonging to a particular religious group based on the views of their parents or guardians. At the age of 16, as with other laws, they would then be considered old enough and educated enough to form their own opinion and follow any particular religion (or none at all) through free thought.
... If I had read that, I certainly would not have signed the petition, because, as explained in The God Delusion, I am in favour of teaching the Bible as literature, and I am in favour of teaching comparative religion. In any case, like any decent liberal, I am opposed to the element of government coercion in the wording. Furthermore, the Prime Minister, thank goodness, does not have the power to 'make' anything 'illegal'. Only parliament has the power to do that.
I signed the main petition, because I really am passionately opposed to DEFINING children by the religion of their parents (while 'indoctrination' is such a loaded word, nobody could be in favour of it). I was so delighted to hear of somebody else who cared about the defining or labelling of children by the religion of their parents (how would you react if you heard a child described as a 'seclular humanist child' or a 'neo-conservative child'?) that I signed it without reading on and without thinking. Mea culpa.
It was, by Dawkins' own account (that I have no reason whatsoever to disbelieve), a sloppy, stupid mistake that does not reflect his real beliefs. Everyone makes them and he should be forgiven and defended from attacks that do not take his retraction into account. However, in my opinion, he should do more than merely retract his support in the comments section of a blog or by proxy at PZ's blog or merely by asking that his name be removed from the petition. Since the petition was advertised in a prominent place on his website, he should issue an apology and clarification there as well, also prominently.... I really do regret signing the petition, and I don't see why that is not regarded as admitting that I was wrong. I regret signing it, and I admit that I was wrong to do so. OK?
I also regret the confusion resulting from the fact that, in my past writings, I have used the word abuse in two different contexts. Both are important. One is the labelling of children with the religion of their parents. The other is terrifying children by threatening them with violence, whether that violence is physical (as in whipping them) or mental (as in telling them they will roast in hell). Both labelling and the threat of hell are potentially abusive. Neither is a necessary part of religious education. I have never said that religious education per se is abusive, nor have I opposed religious education per se.
Much of the rest of the heat consuming so much bandwidth has more to do with personalities -- and not just Dawkins'. Myers and Brayton have long clashed, despite the many views they hold in common.
Meanwhile, Rome burns:
... Scott said when he was living in Mobile, Ala., people were tipped off to his atheist views after he wrote an editorial to the local newspaper protesting a proposed bible class at a public school. He said he never mentioned that he was an atheist in the letter.
Scott said after that, his car was bashed up by a baseball bat and a cross was planted in his yard.
Phil Plait, of Bad Astronomy, has had is book from 2002 (also called Bad Astronomy) named one of the five best books on space by William Burrows in the Wall Street Journal:
Congratulations!"Bad Astronomy" by Philip Plait (Wiley, 2002)..Philip Plait is a California astronomer who evidently became so exasperated with the contemporary warping of science by ideology or just plain ignorance that he wrote "Bad Astronomy" as an antidote. This primer on basic astronomy explains, among much else, why the moon sometimes hits your eye like a big pizza pie (it happens when the moon reaches the perigee of its elliptical orbit and is closest to us). But Plait's astronomical discussions also take on creationism. My favorite part of the book: when he goes after the crowd that claims the Apollo moon landings were a hoax. Years ago, Buzz Aldrin showed one way to deal with this bizarre belief when someone shoved a Bible at him and demanded that he swear he actually landed on the moon; Aldrin decked the guy. Plait achieves the equivalent with words.
Friday, December 29, 2006
PZ Myers has already mentioned "IDiots, the Board Game" or whatever it's called, by those wild and crazy guys, Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron:
You know, the insane guys with the banana.
“Intelligent Design versus Evolution” also comes with a free award-winning DVD called “The Science of Evolution,” in which Comfort and Cameron take an orangutan to lunch and discuss the theory of evolution.
Thursday, December 28, 2006
Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) has complained to Mary Bomar, the Director of the National Park Service, that, since 2002, the Park Service has, at the insistence of Bush appointees, blocked publication of a pamphlet providing guidance for park rangers and other interpretative staff at the Grand Canyon National Park as to the lack of any scientific basis for creationist estimates of the age of the canyon.
As a consequence, NPS staff has no official guidance as to how to answer questions from the public concerning topics such as creationists’ "young earth" claims. Further, media inquiries to the Grand Canyon superintendent seeking an official statement on the geologic age of the Canyon have produced replies such as "no comment" and referral of the reporter to NPS Headquarters.
As one park geologist said, this is equivalent of Yellowstone National Park selling a book entitled Geysers of Old Faithful: Nostrils of Satan.
To quiet the resulting furor, NPS Chief of Communications David Barna told reporters and members of Congress that there would be a high-level policy review of the issue.
According to a recent NPS response to a Freedom of Information Act request filed by PEER, no such review was ever requested, let alone conducted or completed.
According to responses PEER obtained from NPS under the Freedom of Information Act, NPS deliberately avoided conducting the review in order to let the controversy die down.
Wednesday, December 27, 2006
Illusion du Jour
Brian Fahling, senior litigation counsel at the American Family Association Center for Law & Policy, is being quoted in the Journal Chrétien as "expressing disappointment over a Georgia school district’s decision to drop its efforts to expose students to the debate surrounding Darwinian evolution." Fahling supposedly wanted the Cobb County board to "stay the course" and fight to keep the stickers.
The stickers stated, in their entirety:
This textbook contains material on evolution. Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully and critically considered.How such stickers, that expose students to nothing but official disapproval of one, and only one, scientific theory, expose students to any alleged debate is not explained by Mr. Fahling, any more than it was explained by the school board. That, of course, was the problem that led the board to capitulate. But Mr. Fahling goes on to deliver himself of this lovely bit of self-contradiction:
Evolution stands out alone as the only area of science that is absolutely cordoned off from any criticism; there is a great wall around it and they simply do not admit any dissenting voices. [However,] that [wall] is beginning to crumble a little bit, because inside the camp of Darwin, there is tremendous dissent.
And you can find that dissent right next to the WMDs, as long as we stay the course while constantly adapting ... or something like that.
Tuesday, December 26, 2006
Along Came a Spider
It would be easy to get lost in the meanderings of the filamentary structures or get stuck in the web of the giant arachnid, as is easily experienced with the zoom-in feature provided on the associated photo page, and it is therefore difficult to mention all the unique objects to be discovered. Deserving closer attention perhaps is the area at the right-hand border of the Tarantula. It contains the remains of a star that exploded and was seen with the unaided eye in February 1987, i.e. almost 20 years ago. Supernova SN 1987A, as it is known, is the brightest supernova since the one observed by the German astronomer Kepler in 1604. The supernova is known to be surrounded by a ring, which can be distinguished in the image.
Monday, December 25, 2006
Tons of Joy
Always one to spread happiness and comfort, I think today is a good day to bring this to your attention. The good news is that, while many Americans gain five to seven pounds between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day, most only gain a pound or two. The bad news is "even a slight weight gain, if not taken off, can accumulate yearly and endanger health." According to Lona Sandon, assistant professor of clinical nutrition at the University of Texas:
The problem is in gaining a pound or two and not working it off, even with good intentions and New Year's resolutions. The gain stays on and adds up each year; in a decade it's 10 or 20 pounds. That can lead to obesity and related health problems such as hypertension, stroke, diabetes and other maladies.Eating "healthy" is no protection:
The key is moderation, Ms. Sandon said. Eating large portions of even healthy foods can prompt weight gain. Even an extra 150 calories per day -- the amount in a 12-ounce soda or a chocolate chip cookie -- can add up to a pound of extra weight in about three weeks.Now, as Christmas comes to a close in a haze of good food and drink, just remember that all too soon you'll have to sweat it all off again! Happy Holidays!
Sunday, December 24, 2006
Feliz Navidad, Zalig Kerstfeast, Joyeux Noel, Kala Christouyenna, Nollaig Shona Dhuit, Buone Feste Natalizie, Gledelig Jul, Boze Narodzenie, God Jul, Srozhdestvom Kristovym, Hyvää Joulua, Vesele Vanoce, Boas Festas, Glædelig Jul, Merry Christmas.
The ID in Ideology
Just in case there was any question about the objectivity of the report on the Richard Sternberg affair issued by the staff of the House Government Reform Subcommittee on Criminal Justice, Drug Policy, and Human Resources, the outgoing chairman of the subcommittee, Rep. Mark Souder, Republican of Indiana, has an interview in the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette where he was asked if he had any disappointments in the past Congress:
In a number of our key pro-life things we were defeated – the unborn pain awareness, the Plan B. We got setbacks on intelligent design. A lot of the social issues it was a year we tried to make progress, we had the debates, but we lost.
Saturday, December 23, 2006
Science and Philosophy
The NCSE has just put up a pdf file of Eugenie Scott's Expert Witness Statement, prepared for the planned retrial in the Cobb County "sticker case," at its website. She has a nice section on the interface of science and religion (pp. 11-12):
Although many scientists believe in God, all scientists regardless of personal religious or nonreligious views restrict themselves to natural causes when doing science. The reasons are simple. First, restricting science to explaining natural phenomena in terms of natural causes has yielded spectacular results, and we see no need to change. More importantly, natural causes are the only ones that we can test. Because it is impossible for scientists to test (i.e., hold constant) the acts of a supernatural agent, we have no choice but to limit ourselves to testable natural causes for purposes of doing science. In other words, as scientists we must reject intelligent design’s proposition that some phenomena cannot be explained except through supernatural causes, and must instead seek natural explanations. The as-yet unexplained is not therefore unexplainable, and we do not treat it as such.
Put differently, if scientists were permitted, in their capacity as scientists, to consider supernatural causes, those causes could never be ruled out by scientific experimentation. It would never be possible to disprove that a supernatural force (i.e., God) was responsible for whatever natural phenomenon one was observing. So as a scientist one would never be able to draw conclusions about the natural causes for that phenomenon. To take natural phenomena off the table of natural explanation by regarding them as unexplainable or as potentially attributable to a supernatural force would thus be a "science stopper."
The methodological limitation that restricts science to natural causes does not mean that there cannot in reality be supernatural causes, nor does it say anything about whether a supernatural agent (e.g., God) does or does not exist. It simply means that, as scientists conducting scientific inquiry, we exclude the supernatural and work to develop the best natural explanations that our observations and data permit. To do otherwise would be to cease engaging in science.
The restriction of science to natural cause is sometimes referred to as "naturalism." That term generates confusion, however, because there is also a philosophical view called "naturalism," according to which the supernatural does not exist and reality consists only of material (matter and energy) causes. The philosophical view is a claim that is logically independent of science because science cannot say whether supernatural causes do or do not exist. In the attempt to avoid confusion, philosophers of science often refer to the restriction of science to natural causes as "methodological naturalism," and the philosophical view as "philosophical (or metaphysical) naturalism."
Creationists commonly confuse these two uses of the term "naturalism" because they view evolution as being an antireligious philosophical view. They oppose evolution because they believe that acceptance of evolution requires abandonment of faith — a belief that is refuted by the fact that many scientists are also people of faith. The district court in the Kitzmiller case considered testimony from some of intelligent design’s chief proponents, as well as experts in evolutionary science and science education. The court correctly found that, whereas evolution is a scientific theory that respects these necessary methodological limitations, intelligent design is a non-scientific religious view that assumes there are unexplainable supernatural causes._________________________
 Pennock, Robert 2003. Creationism and Intelligent Design, Annual. Rev. Genomics Hum. Genet. 2003. 4:143–63.
 Religious conservatives are not the only ones who confuse philosophical with methodological naturalism and thus misunderstand the nature of science. Some scientists have written that evolution and faith are incompatible, and creationists love to cite them to support the creationist view. But philosophical materialists (such as Richard Dawkins and William Provine) who claim the authority of science for their philosophical views do not speak for the scientific community. Their claims about science have been strongly criticized even by fellow materialists. Scott, Eugenie C. 2004. Evolution vs Creationism: An Introduction. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press and references therein.
 Much of the objection to evolution found among conservative Christians stems from the belief that acceptance of evolution entails the abandonment of faith. That belief depends on a misunderstanding of the nature of science. Science is a limited way of knowing that attempts to explain the natural world based on natural causes, but it does not claim that science is the only possible way of understanding the world. There are evangelical Christians, such as Francis Collins, who accept evolution; they are frequent contributors to the website and annual meetings of an esteemed organization of evangelical Christians called the American Scientific Affiliation (http://www.asa3.org/).
Friday, December 22, 2006
You May Call Me "Your Excellency"
As presented by Lady Fortune the Absurd of Greater Internetshire, my peculiar Aristocratic Title is:
There is a perceptive (read: compatible with my own views) article, "The carbon and the Christian" by Thomas Dixon, Lecturer in History at the University of Lancaster, in The Times Literary Supplement. It takes the form of a collection of mini-reviews of four recent books on the intersection (such as it is) between science and religion: Owen Gingerich's God’s Universe; Francis S. Collins' The Language of God: A scientist presents evidence for belief; Todd Tremlin's Minds and Gods: The cognitive foundations of religion; and J. Wentzel Van Huyssteen's Alone in the World?: Human uniqueness in science and theology. Not having read any of these books, I cannot state that Dixon is doing their authors justice but his explanation of the landscape of the problem seems to me to be astute.
After giving the context of these books as the hyper-religiosity of America as measured against other developed nations, Dixon states:
As I've said before, that is poppycock, at least if Dawkins intends what he says to be taken literally. If so, I want to see his research proposal and his request for funding. Equally important is the strawman nature of Dawkins' argument:... it is understandable that books about science and religion sell well and that they have a more tangible political impact than they do in Britain. In this American context, Richard Dawkins’s recent atheistic broadside, The God Delusion, also makes a little more sense. It is really a book to keep up the morale of that embattled 10 per cent of Americans who think God has nothing to do with evolution.
Although Dawkins of course has no truck with "irreducible complexity", one thing that he and his Intelligent Design antagonists agree about is that God’s existence or non-existence is, in Dawkins’s phrase, "a scientific fact about the universe".
Most theologians would want to reject Intelligent Design, along with the theology of The God Delusion, for exactly that reason. For them it is axiomatic that if we are going to talk about God at all, then God is not part of the natural order and should not be expected either to conform to the laws of physics or to feature as another entity in scientific accounts of life or the cosmos. Whatever theology is, it is not the attempt to provide empirical confirmation for "the God hypothesis". Many theologians consequently regard the whole area of science and religion with some suspicion. They fear that this is an academic field entirely built on an outdated view of knowledge that might be described variously as empiricist, scientistic, or foundationalist.
As a historian of science, Gingerich is well aware of the complexities involved in producing scientific and religious knowledge. The debates about Galileo’s support for the new heliocentric astronomy, as Gingerich explains, involved a mixture of empirical evidence, theoretical assumptions and rhetorical persuasion on both sides.As is perhaps fitting for an astronomer, Gingerich raises the "Anthropic Principle," the claim that the universe seems "fine-tuned for carbon-based life." Dixon's response to this argument, though more erudite, is the same as mine:
I am almost always left feeling that the question is confused and the answer unconvincing. How do we know whether or not to be surprised by any given configuration of physical constants? Surely any combination is almost infinitely improbable? How, in any case, do we know that these constants are free to vary in the way these arguments assume they are, and are not simply fixed by nature or linked to each other in a way we do not understand? And should the actual existence of trillions of other universes, as opposed to their merely possible existence, really make us any less surprised about the existence and physical make-up of our own (supposing we were surprised in the first place, which honestly I wasn’t)? As Hume’s Philo put it, "having found, in so many other subjects much more familiar, the imperfections and even contradictions of human reason, I never should expect any success from its feeble conjectures, in a subject so sublime, and so remote from the sphere of our observation".This ultimately cuts against Dawkins' position as well, particularly any claim that merely finding sufficient natural explanations for phenomena is the same as finding that non-natural explanations are ruled out. In contrast to both ID advocates and the likes of Dawkins, Dixon notes that:
It is suitable testament to Gingerich’s caution that his speculations on this subject are not presented as confirming any scientific or theological hypothesis but come in a chapter entitled simply "Questions without Answers".
The Language of God is aimed at those tens of millions of Americans who still believe that they must choose between the Bible and Darwinism. Collins’s primary ambition is to persuade his fellow Christians away from their commitment to either young-Earth creationism or Intelligent Design. He champions instead a version of theistic evolution which he calls "BioLogos", embracing both God and Darwinism. His attempt to show that there is a "satisfying, enriching, consistent" harmony between his scientific world-view and his personal "surrender" to Jesus Christ will probably persuade few theologians and even fewer scientific atheists. ... Yet this [guitar] strumming, sentimental Christian geneticist will do more to promote the acceptance of Darwinism in modern America than any number of polarizing and polemical atheistic tracts could hope to do.
Neither altruism nor religious experience presents an insurmountable challenge to those seeking entirely naturalistic explanations of human nature, as exponents of the human sciences have been demonstrating for well over a century.
Tremlin tells us that this new theoretical approach to religion "is already proving itself to be the most significant and fruitful approach to the subject ever undertaken". Throughout the rest of the book this disciplinary self-appreciation continues. The writings of Pascal Boyer, Robin Dunbar, Harvey Whitehouse, Tom Lawson, Bob McCauley, Dan Sperber and others in the field of cognitive science are regularly quoted and their research described as extremely valuable, fruitful, exciting and important, but never as contested, problematic, hard to interpret or even open to debate. I am afraid that my reaction to all this is the same as it is to people who phone me up to tell me I have won a free holiday, or who knock on my door to say that I can have a half-price kitchen, but only if I sign up today. If the product is any good, I ask myself, why the hard sell? Can’t I judge for myself how new, exciting and valuable the cognitive science of religion is without constantly being told?Still, it is "a very clear introduction to the work of the [mentioned] theorists of religion," who argue:
... the origins and function of religion are to be explained not in terms of social utility or cultural transmission (indeed, "cultural relativism" and the "Standard Social Science Model" are among the villains of this story), but primarily in terms of individuals and their brains. Religion, for the cognitive scientist, is primarily about beliefs in supernatural agents, and these are beliefs that originally began "quite naturally in people’s heads" through the activity of the "Agency Detective Device" and the "Theory of Mind Mechanism". The former leads us to infer conscious agency to explain unexpected changes in our environment. The latter seeks to understand agents in terms of beliefs and desires. The result? An almost irresistible natural tendency, embodied in every single human brain in much the same way, to explain natural phenomena as the results of deliberate actions by thinking, feeling, supernatural agents.Calling this "speculative," Dixon wonders "whether future experimental and theoretical work can pin these "devices" and "mechanisms" down with more precision, conceptually, anatomically and functionally, and as part of a disciplinary discourse which is less needlessly dismissive of cultural, social and philosophical approaches to understanding religion."
van Huyssteen’s book, an adaptation of his Gifford Lectures, offers an "actively interdisciplinary take on the naturalness of religion" that uses:
... scientific studies of the evolution of the human mind to reinforce and reinterpret Christian teachings about human uniqueness and the imago Dei ... by setting up an extended interdisciplinary dialogue between palaeoanthropology and Christian theology. The key idea is that the "image of God" should be thought of as something that emerges in flesh-and-blood human beings during the course of their evolution. On this account, language use, symbolic thought and religious imagination, along with bipedalism, a large brain and social morality, can all be seen both as fundamental to human uniqueness and also as entirely natural phenomena.This demonstrates that "van Huyssteen’s approach to natural theology is to see how scientific accounts of human evolution appear when investigated from within a particular religious tradition," without an attempt to collect evidence to confirm "the God hypothesis."
Dixon notes that van Huyssteen and Tremlin both make reference to the same scientific ideas about cognitive evolution and "each book gives us is one part of the story of how religious understanding is produced."
The contributions of a historical tradition of religious writing are just as essential as the natural operations of the human brain. While Tremlin systematically overemphasizes the latter, van Huyssteen’s postfoundationalism avoids exclusive claims for either. What is interesting is that both authors resist the temptation to make hasty inferences from their observations about the naturalness of religious beliefs to a conclusion about either the truth or the falsity of those beliefs.
... most of us assume that all our beliefs – the true ones as well as the false ones – are, among other things, products of an evolved brain. The fact that many writers about science and religion no longer assume that such an observation is a knock-down argument either for or against religious faith is surely a sign of progress in the field of science and religion..
Thursday, December 21, 2006
Cobb County Crusher
The following (from a pdf file on the NCSE website), is the pertinent language from the Consent Judgment and Order ending the "textbook stickers" case in Georgia. It is fair to call it a complete rout.
This last part is particularly telling. Any future attempt to implement any of the prohibited actions or any failure to fully comply with the state standards will only require a motion to enforce the order and, at most, a hearing to determine damages. The school board continues to claim that there was no Constitutional violation but then the question is why they have promised so finally never to ever do it again?Defendants, their officers, agents, successors, servants, employees, attorneys, and anyone acting in concert with them are enjoined from restoring to the science textbooks of students in the Cobb County schools any stickers, labels, stamps, inscriptions, or other warnings or disclaimers bearing language substantially similar to that used on the sticker that is the subject of this action.
[Defendants] are further enjoined from taking the following actions that would prevent or hinder the teaching of evolution in the School District:a. making any disclaimers regarding evolution orally, in writing, or by any other means;
b. placing on students’ science textbooks any stickers, labels, stamps, inscriptions, or other warnings or disclaimers referring or relating to evolution or Charles Darwin;
c. placing on students’ science textbooks any stickers, labels, stamps, inscriptions, or other statements relating to creationism, creation science, intelligent design, or any other religious view concerning the origins of life or the origins of human beings;
d. excising or redacting materials on evolution in students’ science textbooks; or
e. violating [Georgia statutes], which requires that local school boards adopt the State Board of Education’s "uniformly sequenced core curriculum as the basis for its own curriculum," including the state’s requirements with respect to the teaching of evolution, and ... which deems each local schoolboard "responsible for ensuring that," among other things, "the uniformly sequenced core curriculum . . . [is] fully and effectively implemented."This Order is binding on the Cobb County Board of Education and its officers and members in perpetuity, notwithstanding any changes to the Board’s membership that may result from future elections, appointments, vacancies, or other changes to the Board or its composition. ... Defendants are deemed to have submitted irrevocably to the jurisdiction and venue of this Court, and to have waived any objection thereto, for any proceeding to enforce this Order.
Wednesday, December 20, 2006
Adding my small voice to the Carl Sagan memorial blog-a-thon in honor of the tenth anniversary of his death, I, like PZ Myers, want to take my text from Sagan's book, The Demon Haunted World. But instead of discussing his science, I want to focus on his deep humanity and his understanding of its glories ... and its failings.
For this passage (pp. 414-15), Sagan begins by discussing George Orwell's 1984 and its roots in Stalinism:
How prescient he was, given how many Americans believe that weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq or are convinced that Saddam Hussein was involved in 9/11. But would even Sagan have foreseen our falling for exactly the same ploy, in the same place, with the same players, twice?Soon after Stalin took power, pictures of his rival Leon Trotsky -- a monumental figure in the 1905 and 1917 revolutions--began to disappear. Heroic and wholly anhistoric paintings of Stalin and Lenin together directing the Bolshevik Revolution took their place, with Trotsky, the founder of the Red Army, nowhere in evidence. These images became icons of the state. You could see them in every office building, on outdoor advertising signs sometimes ten stories high, in museums, on postage stamps.
New generations grew up believing that was their history. Older generations began to feel that they remembered something of the sort, a kind of political false-memory syndrome. Those who made the accommodation between their real memories and what the leadership wished them to believe exercised what Orwell described as "doublethink." Those who did,not, those old Bolsheviks who could recall the peripheral role of Stalin in the Revolution and the central role of Trotsky, were denounced as traitors or unreconstructed bourgeoisie or "Trotskyites" or "Trotsky-fascists,'' and were imprisoned, tortured, made to confess their treason in public, and then executed. ...
In our time, with total fabrication of realistic stills, motion pictures, and videotapes technologically within reach, with television in every home, and with critical thinking in decline, restructuring societal memories even without much attention from the secret police seems possible. What I'm imagining here is not that each of us has a budget of memories implanted in special therapeutic sessions by state-appointed psychiatrists, but rather that small numbers of people will have so much control over news stories, history books, and deeply affecting images as to work major changes in collective attitudes.
We saw a pale echo of what is now possible in 1990-1991, when Saddam Hussein, the autocrat of Iraq, made a sudden transition in the American consciousness from an obscure near-ally -- granted commodities, high technology, weaponry, and even satellite intelligence data -- to a slavering monster menacing the world. I am not myself an admirer of Mr. Hussein, but it was striking how quickly he could be brought from someone almost no American had heard of into the incarnation of evil. These days the apparatus for generating indignation is busy elsewhere. How confident are we that the power to drive and determine public opinion will always reside in responsible hands?
Really Real Reality
There is a nice appreciation of Judge Jones on the one year anniversary of his decision in Kitzmiller at The York Dispatch.
He said he's reluctant to share stories about the party because "the Discovery Institute will say, 'Here's star-struck Judge Jones.'"
But he gives in.
"Stephen Colbert ... was moving quickly (around the room) and he sort of arrived in front of me and he said, 'Judge Jones,' and I started laughing because I think he's funny.
"And I said, 'Stephen Colbert.'
"Then, squinting his eyes, he said, 'Intelligent design: Seemed like a good idea at the time, didn't it?'
"And I said, 'I guess it did.'"
"(Testifying) was daunting and at once exhilarating. I very much enjoyed the back and forth in the courtroom. ... I felt my own testimony went very much better than the opinion reflects.
The one thing I want you to remember, if I leave you with nothing else tonight, is that the Rule of Law is not a conservative or liberal value. It is assuredly not a Republican or Democratic value either; rather, it is an American value. ... The challenge for our time, then, as it relates to the cherished system of justice created by our Founders, is to ensure that threats against judges -- and by implication to judicial independence -- are ratcheted down, and that our independent judiciary is thus preserved.
Justice and the American Way
As has been widely reported in the science-friendly blogosphere already, the Cobb County, Georgia school board has given up the fight to keep stickers disparaging the scientific standing of evolutionary theory in its biology books. The case had been sent back by the appellate court to the trial court for further proceedings and Judge Cooper had decided on a full trial with expert witnesses and all the attendant costs. Perhaps of no small effect was the involvement in the case on remand of a number of the lawyers from the Dover case, including Eric Rothschild of Pepper Hamilton, the lead lawyer in Kitzmiller.
Then comes the "uh-huh moment":
Linwood Gunn, an attorney for the school board, said the agreement is not an admission that the stickers were unconstitutional, as critics claim..
"When we started down this road, we were threatened with lawsuits by both sides," Gunn said, noting that some parents did not want evolution taught at all. "The school board attempted to reach what they thought was a reasonable compromise."
The board agreed to pay about one-third of the plaintiffs' court costs, Gunn said.
PZ Myers at Pharyngula is right though. While another set of burned fingers is a good deterrent to other school boards, improving science literacy, rather than just fighting to keep it from being degraded further, is the real number one priority.
Tuesday, December 19, 2006
Lambs to Slaughter
The court in Libya has again sentenced the Tripoli Six to death. It is clear both scientifically and as a matter of common jurisprudence that the Palestinian doctor and the Bulgarian nurses accused of deliberately infecting children with the AIDS virus have been railroaded and are mere scapegoats for the government's own incompetence.
Americans should not stand by while this happens. Colonel Kadafi has recently tried to rejoin the ranks of civilized nations. He and his nation should not be allowed to if they are going to commit atrocities such as this. Write your Congressperson and Senator. Don't let the U.S. be complicit in this perversion of justice!
In the Pink
He is a self-described introvert who avoids politics, preferring to talk about a Gen-X service at the nondenominational church he started 28 years ago in his basement, church officials said.
Barnes and Grace Chapel stayed out of the debate over Amendment 43, a measure approved by Colorado voters last month defining marriage as between one man and one woman."I can't think of a single sermon where he ever had a political agenda," said Dave Palmer, an associate pastor.
Now, the 54-year-old Barnes joins Haggard as a fallen evangelical minister who preached that homosexuality was a sin but grappled with a hidden life..
"I have struggled with homosexuality since I was a 5-year-old boy," Barnes said in the 32- minute video, which church leaders permitted The Denver Post to view. "... I can't tell you the number of nights I have cried myself to sleep, begging God to take this away."
When Barnes experienced a Christian conversion at 17, it gave him a glimmer of hope. But his homosexual feelings never went away, he said. He said he cannot accept that a person is "born that way," so he looks to childhood influences.
In their only talk about sex, Barnes said his father took him on a drive and talked about what he would do if a "fag" approached him.
Barnes thought, "'Is that how you'd feel about me?' It was like a knife in my heart, and it made me feel even more closed."
Barnes expressed hope for a future where one can "be who you are" and be accepted and loved in the Christian community and also spoke about "separating some of the teachings from Scripture" from Jesus Christ.
Monday, December 18, 2006
Ed Brayton at Dispatches from the Culture War has a very telling piece about the Discovery Institute and its sense of honesty (such as it is).
It seems the DI's "crack legal team" of Professor David DeWolf and Casey Luskin (along with John West, whose only listed degrees are a Ph.D. in Government and a B.A. in Communications), tried to pass off an "article" for publication in the Montana Law Review that was, in fact, almost entirely the same as the DI's hastily prepared and less-than-honest book, Traipsing Into Evolution, about Judge Jones' decision.
Professor Peter Irons of the University of California was asked by the Law Review to prepare a response to the article. Having read widely in the area while preparing his own upcoming book, God on Trial: Dispatches From America's Religious Battlefields. He immediately recognized the similarity between the article and Traipsing. This was contrary to the Law Review's policy that only original work will be accepted, which had previously been conveyed to the DI authors and is, in any case, standard practice for law reviews, something Professor DeWolf at least should be aware of. Eventually Irons did a study of both the article and Traipsing. As reported in Ed's article:
On August 26, Irons wrote to the editor: "I have compared [the Traipsing book] with the article, and they are about 95 percent identical; a few word changes, and lengthier footnotes in the article." Irons noted that even the chapter and section headings in the book and article were identical.
Following Irons's revelation of the virtual identity of the Traipsing book and the MLR article, DeWolf, West, and Luskin agreed with the the MLR's insistence that they write a new article, which was finally submitted on September 28, with the new title, "Intelligent Design Will Survive Kitzmiller v. Dover." This "new" article borrowed heavily from the Traipsing book, but Irons and the MLR editors agreed that it was sufficiently revised to meet (barely) the requirement of "original" work. In response, Irons wrote a rejoinder, titled "Disaster in Dover: The Trials (and Tribulations) of Intelligent Design." Both articles will be published in the MLR's next issue, in January or February, 2007.
Professor Irons concluded his study with these comments: "It seems to me the height of hypocrisy for the Discovery Institute to accuse Judge Jones of copying 90 percent of one section of his opinion (just 16 percent of its total length) from the proposed findings of fact by the plaintiff's lawyers, when the DI itself tried to palm off as 'original' work a law review article that was copied 95 percent from the authors' own book. Concealing this fact from the law review editors, until I discovered and documented this effort, seriously undercuts the credibility of the DI on this or any other issue."
Robert G. Natelson, a Professor of Law at the University of Montana who was instrumental in originating the plan to have the DI article appear in the Law Review, has come out in defense of the actions of David DeWolf in a series of sharply worded exchanges between Natelson and Ed Brayton in the comments section of the original article. Then the student editor of the review provided a version of events that pretty much absolves all sides of active deception but still leaves all the humor of the Discovery Institute complaining about the Judge copying a small part of his decision from work the lawyers were required to provide just for that purpose, while, at the same time, its chief legal advisor is submitting an article copied almost in its entirety from previous work, perhaps under the belief that it was okay with the review, but without making that point in the submitted material. Perhaps not unethical but still funny as hell.
Sunday, December 17, 2006
Duck and Cover
Quoted from "Atheist Chic" by Dan Neil without further comment:
Excuse me, I hear my shell calling.I am a white Anglo-Saxon male born in late-20th century America—in other words, one of the most privileged beings to walk the earth. And yet insofar as my godlessness is concerned, I am a member of a despised minority. It's like being gay.
I do appreciate the company, and the ammunition in these books [Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion, Sam Harris' Letter to a Christian Nation, et al.], and the occasional exchanged glance of solidarity in the bookstore. But I'm just slightly alarmed. The new atheism is pretty hard-core, militantly insisting we challenge religiosity wherever we meet it, or else enable its darker extremist tendencies. In other words, the new atheism is on a quest for conversion. Having insisted on tolerance of our non-faith, Dawkins and Harris' take-no-prisoners orthodoxy would have us be intolerant of others' faith. Oh boy, just when I was beginning to enjoy being an atheist.
I can't bring myself to confront others on the truth-data of their religious beliefs, even if they do involve some strange convoluted myth of Old Testament prophesy and Hellenistic blood cults. I was brought up better than that. Believe what you like, insofar as it does not interfere with my lack of belief. Believe in Thor's mighty hammer, for all I care. Tell me Merry Christmas when I'm coming out of Wal-Mart. And happy holidays right back at ya.
The Union of Concerned Scientists has released a statement signed by 10,600 scientists from all 50 states deploring how "science continues to be misrepresented for political gain." The list includes 52 Nobel Laureates, 63 National Medal of Science recipients, and almost 200 members of the National Academies of Science.
Also released was an "A to Z" guide that documents dozens of recent allegations involving censorship and political interference in federal science. Here it is:
A: Army Science Board
Ab: Abstinence Only Sex Education Science
Ac: Arms Control Advisory Panel
Ae: Abstinence Only Sex Education Cirriculum
Ai: Airborne Bacteria
Aq: National Ambient Air Quality Standards
B: Bull trout
Bc: Breast Cancer
C: Climate Change
Cg: Cattle Grazing
Da: NIH Drug Abuse Panel
E: Endangered Species Act
Ec: Emergency Contraception
F: Forest Management
Fe: Fuel Efficiency
Fi: NIH Fogarty International
Fp: Florida Panther
Fs: UCS Federal Scientists Surveys
G: Endangered Species Genetics
H: HIV/AIDS Education
Ia: International AIDS Conference
It: Aluminum Tubes in Iraq
J: James Hansen
Lp: Childhood Lead Poisoning Panel
Mi: Prescription Drugs Mifepristone and Misoprostol
Mm: Marbled Murrelet
Mr: Mountaintop Removal Mining
Nn: National Nuclear Security Administration Panel
Ns: Nerve Stimulator
O: Oil Extraction
Pc: President's Council on Bioethics
Pd: Prarie Dogs
Pl: Post Disturbance Logging
Pm: Particulate Matter Pollution
Pp: Plywood Plant
Pr: OMB Peer Review
Q: Air Quality Proposals
R: Red Frog
Rc: Roundtail Chub
Re: Reproductive Health Advisory Committee
Rp: Racial Profiling
S: Sage Grouse
Sa: Endangered Salmon
So: Sonar and Whales
Sp: Spotted Owl
St: Sexually Transmitted Disease Panel at CDC
T: Toxic Chemicals Release
Tr: Trumpter Swans
Tr: Tabernamontana Rotensis
V: Vetting of experts on WHO Panel
Vo: School Vouchers
Ws: Workplace Safety Panel
Z: Ground Zero
If your Congressperson is not interested, make 'em!
Happy ... er ... Merry ... Oh, Forget It!
Saturday, December 16, 2006
Send in the Clowns
The Discovery Institute is showing signs of stress.
Jonathan Witt has an article up at Evolution News & Views, entitled "From Darwin to Hitler: A Straightforward Path to Horror," reporting on a review by a Jesuit priest, Edward T. Oakes, of Richard Weikart's book, From Darwin to Hitler: Evolutionary Ethics, Eugenics, and Racism in Germany. Oakes' review is lame in its own ways, as shown by John Lynch at Stranger Fruit. But Witt, for his own part, states:
What is striking is how straightforwardly many of the horrors documented in Weikart's book follow from Darwinian principles -- e.g., the survival of the fittest populations (genocide), the great good that supposedly comes from natural selection eliminating the weak and defective (eugenics and forced sterilizations), the notion that humans are merely smart animals (moral pragmatism, which in turns underwrites not only genocide and eugenics but also even the cruelest kinds of human experimentation, provided they can further medical research).
... note my terminology carefully -- "played a key role." Nowhere do I claim -- and in the introduction of my book I specifically deny -- that Darwinism is the sole cause or sole factor behind Nazi ideology.
He says that I "incorrectly allege that I argue a straightforward 'Darwin-to-Hitler'thesis." He accuses me of reading the book with "the (false) preconceived idea that my book argues for a direct line from Darwin to Hitler." To support this claim, he quotes from page 4 of his book: "Darwinism does not lead inevitably to Nazism." In other words, he argues that the thesis of his book is not accurately conveyed in the title -- From Darwin to Hitler -- which he says is "ambiguous."
[Witt's article] directly contradicts Weikart's response to me saying that it is wrong to see his book as arguing for "a straightforward 'Darwin-to-Hitler' thesis."
I hope that Weikart will correct this interpretation of his book, and that the Discovery Institute will issue a retraction of its claims about his book.
This is, of course, just another application of the "wink, wink, nudge, nudge" tactic of the Discovery Institute and ID movement at large. Witt is surely aware of Weikart's thesis, given that they are both Fellows of the Center for Science & Culture. Weikart will be no more outraged by Witt's "false idea" of his book than the DI is outraged by the general public identifying the "Designer" as God. Weikart wants to maintain his academic standing by denying that he is making the insupportable claim of a direct connection of Darwin to Hitler while fully hoping his intended audience, aided and abetted by the likes of Witt and D. James Kennedy, whose execrable "documentary," Darwin’s Deadly Legacy, Weikart participated in, will make just such a connection.
On the positive side, with all the squirming the DI has been doing of late, what with Witt's piece, the resurrection of Richard Sternberg by the DI's tame congressman and the renewed assault on Judge Jones, including lame attempts at Monty Python-ish flash animations voiced by none other than the (self) vaunted "Isaac Newton of ID" himself, Wild Bill Dembski, the ID cause sounds to be in desperate shape.
Maybe as an act of kindness we should start mailing donations of red rubber noses to Seattle. Supplying them to the DI Fellows must be making a real dent in their budget.
It is a lie to claim that Judge Jones has gone around the country "attacking anyone who criticizes" his ruling. A flat out baldfaced lie. The only criticism he has ever engaged is the unbelievably ignorant criticism that came from Phyliss Schlafly, and only then in the context of giving a civics lesson on how the courts operate in our constitutional system. The DI has spent almost all of their energy for the last year attacking the ruling and he has never even responded to them, much less attacked him.
But then the funny part:
Isn't it odd that they're claiming simultaneously that he attacks anyone who criticizes his ruling and that he's not responding to their criticisms? Consistency is hardly their strong suit, but hey, whatever it takes to cast aspersions on people. Who cares about little things like the truth?
Maybe the question should be "Who can even recognize it any more, after all the lies?"
In a stunning turn of events, PZ Myearshertz, of the unspellable last name and blog title, after trailing for most of the last day of voting in the Weblog Awards for Best Science Blog to his nearest competitor, the Bad-assed Astronomer, Phil Plait (as if we believe that's not an alias), suddenly and suspiciously eked out a 230 vote win in the final hours of voting. Representing a mere 1.236559139785 percent of the ballots out of a surprisingly even total of 18,600 cast, the narrowness of the victory, coupled with certain other suspicious activity, has led to a swirl of charges. Veteran poll watcher, Karol Wojtyla, noted that, just yesterday, Professor Mieers was known to be loudly attempting to have his soul damned to hell, prompting charges that, instead of a making a statement about his atheistic beliefs, Professor Myearz was, in fact, striking a Mephastophelean deal for the extra votes he needed at the end.
We Demand a Recount!!!
Not so much because of any real concern about the outcome but because of several practical benefits that will flow from keeping this whole thing up in the air:
Don't forget folks, if you believe in truth, justice and the American way, write your Congressperson and demand that they clean up the corruption in Washington. Otherwise, write the Weblog Awards and stir up as much trouble as you can!a) We get to see the continuation of the pathetic, but amusing, whining of two alleged adults involved in the soapiest of Geek tragedies;
b) The potential economic benefits flowing from the transfer of several large bribes coming from the various wings of the Evil Atheist Conspiracy, particularly the Clement Attlee "brook no dessert" camp currently in a steel cage of death match with the Anthony Eden "appetizer" faction;
c) Perhaps most importantly, maybe, if the rest of us play our cards just right, we can chivvy them into a nude mud wrestling match for the inevitable sequel to Borat.
Friday, December 15, 2006
It's been announced over at Jurisdynamics that Professor Jim Chen will become the new dean of Brandeis School of Law at the Univeristy of Louisville.
I hope that the School of Law will play a leading role in helping the law accomplish those things that law is best equipped to do: avoid conflicts, resolve them when they arise, build productive organizations and, ultimately, solve social problems.
Brandeis School of Law and the Univeristy of Louisville are lucky indeed.
Defame and De Glory
Now, now! Let's get this right!
Blasphemy is the defamation of the name of God. This may include using sacred names as stress expletives without intention to pray or speak of sacred matters.
Defamation, in turn, is the communication of a statement that makes an express or implied factual claim that may harm the reputation of an individual, business, group, government, nation or, in this case, a god.
So, when PZ Myearshertz says "I deny the holy spirit," he is making a factual statement but only about himself (his state of belief towards the god in question) not about the Holy Spirit. Even if we interpret this to mean that PZ is making the factual claim that the Holy Spirit does not exist, is hard to see how the statement of that sort, from an outspoken atheist, could be interpreted as anything more than an opinion, and, therefore, not a defamation.
I'm sorry PZ, but it is my considered legal opinion that any second-year law student could get you off and that you are not yet damned to hell.
Allow me to help. Say after me:
The Holy Spirit rests on Sunday on Fire Island dressed in a pink bra and panty set, while tastefully decorating heaven the rest of the week.There. That is real defamation ... at least among the crowd that believes in the Holy Ghost thingie to begin with.
Thursday, December 14, 2006
Let Me Just Turn Off the Light ...
According to Science, researchers have found a protein in flies and human saliva that seems to signal how sleepy an individual is. This can have obvious application to making sure that certain professionals and crucial workers are really fit to do their jobs, assuming an easy test can be devised. Airline pilots, medical interns, long-haul truck drivers and the like could possibly be monitored to insure they are not too fatigued to properly do their work.
The first tantalizing clue came last year when neurobiologist Paul Shaw and his team at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, found that when fruit flies get sleepy, they make more amylase--an enzyme found in human saliva that breaks down starches. The protein did not appear to control sleep, says Shaw, but he wondered if it could serve as "a readout of being sleepy." ...
Flies take short naps during the day, and researchers can judge how tired the insects are by observing how much extra naptime they need. After a several hours spent wired with caffeine, flies deprived of sleep for 9 to 12 hours increased their nap length 2 to 7 fold. In addition, their amylase levels were five times those seen in flies not given caffeine. In another experiment, the team marked the amylase with a bioluminescent protein. Flies kept awake using caffeine glowed brighter than those allowed to sleep on their own schedule, the team reports online this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The findings appear to hold true in people as well. When the team deprived nine volunteers of sleep for 28 hours, all showed either higher levels of amylase protein or amylase messenger RNA (an indicator of gene activity) in their saliva than they did after a normal night's sleep.
Although more study in humans is needed, "such a finding could eventually lead to a practical assay for sleepiness to identify people at risk for sleepiness-related mishaps," says James Walsh, a psychologist at Saint Louis University in Missouri ...