Wednesday, February 28, 2007
We Just Need More Legal Battles
That's what Ventura County California Board of Education trustee Ron Matthews replies when it is pointed out to him that the Supreme Court has already ruled that you cannot teach creationism in public school science classes.
The underlying issue is the choice of a a science textbook to be used by about 30 seventh-graders attending Gateway School, a school for students who have been expelled from other local schools or who are habitually truant or who are in juvenile hall.
Another Board member, Chris Valenzano, agrees with Matthews:
Valenzano would like the county to offer an elective class that would teach creationism, so that students who want to could learn that theory, too.
One has to wonder just what representation of electromagnetic radiation Mr. Olson wants ... or, scarier yet, what he thinks electromagnetic radiation is.Carl Olson, the father of a Simi Valley High School student, also spoke against the book, saying that it contains "factual defects."
Among the examples he presented to the board in a paper, Olson noted that on page 35 the book "has a label ‘electromagnetic radiation' with squiggly lines — which is not what electromagnetic radiation is."
Tuesday, February 27, 2007
Good News, Bad News
There's not much more to say about this:
On the other hand:BOISE, IDAHO -- Members of the Idaho Science Teachers Association have approved an official position against teaching intelligent design in Idaho's public schools.
Rick Alm is the president of the ISTA's board and a science teacher at Bonneville High School. He says teachers in public schools are charged with teaching methodology that's been approved by the scientific community..He also says the teachers' group isn't taking a position against teaching religion. But he says under the law, religion has its place, and it's not in the science classroom.
Idaho state standards contain no mention of intelligent design. Idaho Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna says he'll leave it up to local school districts to decide whether or not to teach it..
From the Corral
Never one to forsake the bludgeoning of moribund Equidae, here's a little more on the wit and wisdom of Ben Bridges. Of course, there could hardly be anything else but little more on that topic ...
A memo was sent out in the name of Bridges, a Georgia State Representative, to various other state legislatures, urging action against the teaching of evolution in public schools because it, and other foundational scientific theories, such as the Big Bang and even heliocentrism, are supposedly a Rabbinic plot linked to the Kabbala to undermine "Christian" origins beliefs.
Umm ... didn't those "Christian origins beliefs" themselves originate in the Old Testament, authored by ... oh, never mind ... what's the use?
Bridges denies sending the memo and says that Marshall Hall, president of the Fair Education Foundation Inc., a Cornelia, Ga.-based organization that maintains the website that originated these claims, actually sent it.
"I did not put it out nor did I know it was going out," Bridges said. "I’m not defending it or taking up for it."Au contraire, says Hall:
"I gave him a copy of it months ago," said Hall, a retired high school teacher. "I had already written this up as an idea to present to him so he could see what it was and what we were thinking."Well, if he's going to put it that way, it's no wonder Bridges missed it ... given how small the target was and all ...
Bridges mustered every bit of political acumen at his disposal, however:
Asked about the ADL’s call for an apology, Bridges said: "I regret that these people have been offended, but I didn’t offend them because I didn’t put the memo out." ...
Bridges said the views in the memo belong to Hall, though Bridges said he doesn’t necessarily disagree with them.
"I agree with it more than I would the Big Bang Theory or the Darwin Theory," Bridges said. "I am convinced that rather than risk teaching a lie why teach anything?"
With minor plagiarism from Robyn Blumner of the Sacramento Bee.
Monday, February 26, 2007
Oldies Not Always Goldies
Tennessee is trying to make it into the new century ... the 20th, as far as I can tell.
A Tennessee State Senate member has filed a resolution asking the Tennessee Department of Education to address a few basic questions about life, the universe and all that:
- "Is the universe and all that is within it, including human beings, created through purposeful, intelligent design by a Supreme Being, that is a Creator?"
- "Since the universe, including human beings, is created by a supreme being (a creator), why is creationism not taught in Tennessee public schools?
- "Since it cannot be determined whether the universe, including human beings, is created by a supreme being (a creator), why is creationism not taught as an alternative concept, explanation, or theory, along with the theory of evolution in Tennessee public schools?"?
This senator is a retired (thank goodness) physician, Raymond Finney. What's with physicians of late? Actually, Ken Whitehouse of the Nashville Post suspects that it might be "the same reasoning that encouraged the Rhea County leaders to spark the debate: a desire for attention."
The resolution needs only to be passed by the Republican-controlled Senate in order to force Tennessee's Department of Education to answer on the record. A joint resolution would have to pass the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives, where it would likely find itself relegated to a black hole committee and not see the light of day.
By circumventing the the House, Senate Republicans would then be forcing a [Governor Phil Bredesen] cabinet member to weigh in on the creationism argument, right before next year's legislative session when both parties would be seeking to add to their numbers in the 2008 elections.
After noting the election results in Kansas, Whitehouse says that it will be interesting to see how the Republican caucus reacts.
Poison pill, anyone?
Sunday, February 25, 2007
The Mechanism of ID
Peace Is War
Tom Barry, the Policy Director of the International Relations Center, has an interesting article, "America's crusaders," that, among many other things, points out a great irony in the recent history of the U.S.:
[W]hile the ideology and faith-based politics of "America's enemies" routinely come under attack by U.S. social conservatives and neoconservatives as dangerous manifestations of radicalism, the ideology and faith-based politics of America's would-be defenders are presented as redemptive forces in world affairs.
Immediately after his electoral defeat in November 2006, Santorum announced his plans to carry his crusading politics into private life, which resulted in the creation of [the Ethics and Public Policy Center's] "America's Enemies" program. The program focuses on "identifying, studying, and heightening awareness of the threats posed to America and the West from a growing array of anti-Western forces that are increasingly casting a shadow over our future and violating religious liberty around the world."
Rather than regarding his overwhelming electoral defeat last November as an indicator that his own extreme notions about domestic and foreign policy were misguided, Santorum concluded that Americans are slumbering while at the gates gather barbarians such as "Islamic fascism."
Funny ... from inside America, it is people like Santorum who appear to be the nearest and greatest danger to those ideals of the Enlightenment that the Founders of this country, all revisionist history aside, revered as their inheritance from Western civilization. Santorum and his ilk share far more intellectually and morally with those "Islamic fascists" than they do with the likes of Jefferson and Madison.
The themes that echo through the rhetoric of the far Right are no accident:
Perhaps the most tragic development in U.S. foreign policy during the Bush presidency has been the reinstitution of a Manichean, Cold-War-like worldview, which has been promoted ably by social conservatives of the Religious Right and the neoconservatives in and outside the administration. Instead of working to reap the long-lost peace dividends that were supposed to emerge after the end of the bipolar confrontation, institutes like the EPPC, the Committee on the Present Danger, and the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, along with their influential spokespersons, are intent on propagating an imperial foreign policy that envisions the United States forever at war.
Oceana has always been at war with Eurasia.
Saturday, February 24, 2007
Unscrewing the Right Politics
The New York Times has a good article on the struggle the Righteous Right is having in coming up with a candidate able to fit within its ideological ... um ... straight jacket. The threat is that, like 1996 where, despite their utter hatred of Bill Clinton, the far Christian right would not vote for Bob Dole out of distrust for his complete commitment to their ideals.
Many conservatives have already declared their hostility to Senator John McCain of Arizona, despite his efforts to make amends for having once denounced Christian conservative leaders as "agents of intolerance," and to former Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani of New York, because of his liberal views on abortion and gay rights and his three marriages.
Many were also suspicious of former Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts; members have used the council as a conduit to distribute a dossier prepared by a Massachusetts conservative group about liberal elements of his record on abortion, stem cell research and gay rights. (Mr. Romney has worked to convince conservatives that his views have changed.)
The Council for National Policy, a secretive group founded 25 years ago by the Rev. Tim LaHaye as a forum for conservative Christians to strategize about turning the country to the right, presently has such members as Dr. James C. Dobson of Focus on the Family, the Rev. Jerry Falwell of Liberty University and Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform. It has been vetting the various aspirants to the mantle of the Christian Nationalist candidate for president at a meeting at a Florida resort this month.
[I]n a measure of their dissatisfaction, a delegation of prominent conservatives at [the Council's meeting in] Amelia Island tried to enlist as a candidate Gov. Mark Sanford of South Carolina, a guest speaker at the event. A charismatic politician with a clear conservative record, Mr. Sanford is almost unknown outside his home state and has done nothing to prepare for a presidential run. He firmly declined the group’s entreaties, people involved in the recruiting effort said.To get an idea of Sanford's abilities and ideas, there was a previous "statement" he made on evolution that might be enlightening.
One problem is that the alternatives to McCain, Giuliani or Romney have limited fundraising prospects. But even beyond that, each has baggage that some in the Council find problematic:
Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas gets good marks for his emphasis on restricting abortion and amending the Constitution to ban same-sex marriage but loses points for being insufficiently troglodyte on immigration, supporting the President's guest worker plan, and not being inflammatory enough in his rhetoric about Islamic terrorism.
Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas has strong personal ties to many of the Evangelical leaders, since he was a Southern Baptist minister and head of the Arkansas Baptist convention before becoming governor. He faces resistance from some limited-government, antitax participants for presiding over tax and spending increases in Arkansas.
Representative Duncan Hunter of California is a supporter of Iraqi troop surge and, as we have already seen, more than sufficiently fascist on immigration. But his stance on trade has alienated the business wing of the Republican Party, compounding his substantial fundraising problems.
Why do I suspect that screwing all our Constitutional rights won't count against them either?Mr. Norquist said he remained open to any of the three candidates who spoke to the council or to Mr. Romney. He argued that with the right promises, any of the four could redeem themselves in the eyes of the conservative movement despite their past records, just as some high school students take abstinence pledges even after having had sex.
"It’s called secondary virginity," Mr. Norquist said. "It is a big movement in high school and also available for politicians."
Rough Seas Ahead
Matthew LaClair, a Kearny, New Jersey high school student who dared to point out that a popular teacher (supposedly of American history but actually a person utterly ignorant of the Constitution of the United States) was violating the Establishment Clause by proselytizing in class on the taxpayers' time, and his parents are contemplating a suit against the school district and they are being supported by the ACLU and People for the American Way.
Matthew, 16, taped the teacher, David Paszkiewicz, telling students in a history class at Kearny High School that if they do not believe that Jesus died for their sins, they "belong in hell."
On the recordings, which Matthew made covertly, fearing that his word would not be accepted against that of the popular teacher, who reportedly denied the charges until the recordings were produced, Paszkiewicz can be heard saying in class that dinosaurs were aboard Noah's ark and that evolution and the Big Bang theory have no scientific basis.
The LaClairs filed a notice of claim against the school board, Paszkiewicz and other school officials, a legal requirement before a lawsuit can be filed.Since Matthew turned over the tapes to school officials, his family and supporters said, he has been the target of harassment and a death threat from fellow students and "retaliation" by school officials who have treated him, not the teacher, as the problem. The retaliation, they say, includes the district's policy banning students from recording what is said in class without a teacher's permission and officials' refusal to punish students who have harassed Matthew.
Matthew and his parents, Paul and Debra LaClair, are demanding an apology to Matthew and public correction of some of Paszkiewicz's statements in class.
"The school created a climate in which the students in the school community held resentment for Matthew," said Deborah Jacobs, executive director of the ACLU in New Jersey. She said Kearny High School had "violated the spirit and the letter of freedom of religion and the First Amendment."
A lawyer for the district, Angelo J. Genova, said that Kearny school officials had addressed Matthew's complaints and had reaffirmed their commitment to the separation of church and state in the classroom. Also, Bernadette McDonald, president of the school board, said in a statement that "we took his concerns very seriously. The result was that we have received no further complaints about such religious proselytization in our schools."
Ms. McDonald is being somewhat disingenuous making this assertion, in that, if the LaClair's accusations are true that the board is protecting the teacher and refusing to punish those who are harassing Matt, there would be little wonder that no other student would dare to complain. That's rather the point of the prospective suit. Nor are the complaints farfetched, given the fact that, to this day, the district has refused to disclose what action it has taken against Paszkiewicz, who is now teaching the same course to a different group of students.
One reason for the requirement of a notice of claim is to give a governmental agency warning of the problem it is facing and to give it a chance to address the issue and change course before incurring even greater liability.
Remember the good ship Dover!
Monument to Ignorance
There has been much mirth had in the anti-acephalus community of late about Conservapedia, the "conservative" version of Wikipedia intended to correct the bias resulting from actual thinking. To be fair to thinking conservatives everywhere, Conservapedia should be renamed Lunaticfringeapedia. Case in point and Exhibit A for that proposition is the news that Andrew Schlafly is the founder of Conservapedia.
Proof that the nut doesn't fall far from the tree, Andy, the son of Phyllis, was once a more-or-less regular on the talk.origins usenet group. One of his more spectacular delusions was about Devil's Tower. Here, lightly edited, are Andy's views on the subject, taken from three posts of his (one, two, three) from back in 2001:
Some people think that Conservapedia is having bandwidth problems because of all the traffic rubbernecking the wreck. I think it just runs slow in honor of its founder.Devils Tower is a mile-high, pure rock mountain in Wyoming with no other mountains nearby. It's flat at the top, and a sheer drop on all sides.
Easy to describe, impossible to explain -- unless the area was once a mile deep in water. Some speculate it was a volcano, and that it's unique columns formed from a cooling process. Water best explains the cooling and erosion, which were (1) enormous and (2) seem to be greater in its middle than at its top. A river still runs nearby.
Locked in their "us v. them" approach, evolutionists seem to instinctively oppose the past existence of enormous floods. How can they oppose the notion of a flood eroding and cooling Devils Tower?
The erosion is plainly from currents, not rainfall. The rapid cooling of the columns is more easily explained by a flood as well.
A massive flood likely carried away all the volcanic remnants and eroded the rock.
Many evolutionists oppose the possibility of an enormous flood at all costs, simply because their adversaries support one.
Thanks to the inestimable Louann at talk.origins for the tipoff.
Friday, February 23, 2007
Our favorite Georgia saltine is at it again.
To recap: a memo went out to legislators in several states in the name of Georgia State GOP Representative Ben Bridges that advocated that public schools be stopped form teaching evolution and giving the Web address to a site that warns of an international Jewish conspiracy to use scientific theories to destroy the Christian teachings of Earth's origins.
According to this story, Bridges now denies having anything to do with the memo, which was allegedly written by Marshall Hall, a retired high school teacher who is the husband of Bridges' campaign manager, Bonnie Hall.
Bridges has introduced legislation every year for the past 11 years to curtail the teaching of evolution in public schools. None of them have even made it to the floor for a vote.This thing got blowed out of proportion. I didn't know (the memo) was going to be sent out, nor had I read (the memo). ...
I ain't guilty of anything. I regret the media made what they made out of it.
Bridges claimed that the media's job is to cause controversy that sells. He then delivered this giant irony:
I guarantee you telling lies and misleading the public has gone out and will catch up with you.Which only raises the question of why he is still in the legislature.
Thursday, February 22, 2007
Republican presidential candidate Duncan Hunter [allow me: who???] has named Horry County, South Carolina, Auditor Lois Eargle as an advisor. Eargle boasted about her hard-line stance on illegal immigrants:
Yes, that's what she said ... an abused child! Just in case you might think the appointment was a horrible mistake on Hunter's part that he will be apologizing for throughout the rest of his brief campaign run, the California congressman is reported to have said that if a fence was not built along the Mexican border by 2009, as president he would ensure it was "built start to finish in six months."The former county GOP chairwoman said an illegal immigrant with three children came to her office this week asking for free legal help for an abused child.
"I told her the best thing for her to do was to get back to Mexico," Eargle said.
Putting the ... uh ... finishing touches on his staff, Hunter also named Dr. Henry Jordan as one of his campaign co-chairmen. No doubt Hunter wanted to avoid being seen as merely an anti-Hispanic candidate. Jordan's headline-making disparaging comments about Muslims and Buddhists will lend some needed balance to Hunter's campaign.
As for the reason this all came to my attention:
Jordan said in May that science does not support Darwin's theory that man evolved from monkeys. He said students should learn "intelligent design" along with evolution.
"I mean you've got to be stupid to believe in evolution, I mean really," he told The Associated Press then.
Worrying the bone of Phillip Johnson's article, "Intelligent Design in Biology: the Current Situation and Future Prospects," a bit more, I wonder why the ID crowd is so contemptuous of theology. After all, after much whining about how mean scientists are not to welcome Johnson's unevidenced speculations about a "creator" into science, he says:
The goal of the Intelligent Design Movement is to achieve an open philosophy of science that permits consideration of any explanations toward which the evidence may be pointing. This is different from the current restrictive philosophy that rules out of consideration the possibility that a creator may be responsible for our existence ...
One of the strengths of science is that it does not require that scientists be unbiased, only that different scientists have different biases.
In point of fact, Johnson and the whole movement suffers from "science envy" and the niggling suspicion that, in direct competition with the clarity and power of science, their beliefs are so weak as to be unable to compete. That's why William Dembski has to admit that the science that Johnson and he (falsely) equate with "materialism" "rules out Christianity so completely that it is not even a live option." It doesn't, of course, as Christians such as Ken Miller, Francis Collins and John Paul II, among many others, amply demonstrate. That's another of Johnson's logical fallacies: a false dichotomy. If it is true at all that science rules out "Christianity," it is only because they are speaking of a particularly narrow and fragile version.
So they do what any childhood bully does and try to change the rules so they can win (or, in this case, at least pretend they have a seat at the same table as science).
The question is, if their beliefs are so sickly and easily defeated, why do they bother?
Wednesday, February 21, 2007
A Tale of Two Mouths
Well, the Discovery Institute has joined the Wild Bill sycophants at Uncommon Descent in, as Shalini put it, "wetting their pants in excitement" over Phil Johnson's article, "Intelligent Design in Biology: the Current Situation and Future Prospects." Larry Moran gives it his commonly pithy treatment. Joe Meert, on the other hand takes a scorched wedge approach, effectively leaving nothing but the ashes appropriate for the day after Fat Tuesday. There's only a couple of things left to mention.
Strangely, the DI somehow quoted from Johnson without including even one of his sixteen references to God. But what is interesting is that, as has already been pointed out, there was no evidence presented in support of design. Johnson, as is ultimately the case with all the defenders of ID, is reduced to trying to make an argumentum ad ignorantiam based on the supposed inability of evolutionary theory to explain the complexity of life. The featured ignorance Johnson touts is the alleged failure, "after nearly a century" to observe natural selection crossing some undefined line between "minor" and "major" changes in life:
There is an immense gap between the creative feats that Darwin’s mechanism is supposed to have accomplished in taking life from a unicellular starting point up to the highly complex plants and animals of today, including humans, and the modest temporary variations that it has actually been observed to produce in nature.
The important thing to remember here is that Johnson offers not an iota of evidence to believe that selection cannot, operating over billions of years, create all the complexity we see in life today. The only reason he even questions that conclusion is that he would really prefer to believe that God took the trouble to create his ancestors directly, instead of through natural processes. It is naked egotism.
Johnson also cozies up to an argumentum ad populum:
Although naturalistic dogma has dominated public education for a half century, its mandarins have failed to convince the American public to embrace the dogma, and I see many signs that dissatisfaction with evolutionary naturalism is spreading throughout the world.But given that less than 30 percent of the people of the U.S. are scientifically literate enough to understand the New York Times Science section or the Public Broadcast System's NOVA series, that is hardly surprising. That ID is taking advantage of the ignorant is hardly a recommendation.
One final point is Johnson's giving away the game on the identity of the "Designer."
For now, the influential scientific organizations are passionately committed to explanations that consider only material causes, so they reject out of hand any suggestion that intelligent cause may also have played some role. It seems that supporting materialism, rather than following the evidence to whatever conclusion it leads is their prime commitment.But aliens or visitors from the future would be material beings and material causes. Now, what non-material intelligence is ID talking about?
Anybody in the market for a used cat bag?
Labels: Designer As God
Tuesday, February 20, 2007
Isn't It Camels That Have Humps?
Shelley started it and PZ Myearshertz spread it around. PETA has this ... strange ... ad out that apparently is trying to get people as freaked about the treatment of chickens as they are about the thought of their parents bumping uglies.
You can actually find out the names of the Art Director and the Copywriter for this Freudian slip and fall here. I won't publish them, though, since I wouldn't want to embarrass their parents.
But PZ may have done the most damage:
[W]hat if every time you had sex you couldn't get dead chickens out of your mind?
Just for good measure, there is also Sarah Lucas' Chicken Knickers, from the collection of the Tate Museum.
John Young, in the Waco (Texas) Tribune-Herald, points to the example of the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh who, in the 1980s, purchased 64,000 acres in north central Oregon and, after thousands of adherents moved to the site, was able to take over the city government of nearby Antelope, Oregon with a population of 40.
Young also points out that, in Antelope "opportunists seized on a vacuum, a near-ghost town." He then compares that to the school board in Kansas, where, he says:
... the opportunists seized on low-glamour elected policy-making roles that turned out to have a tremendous impact on the state. Indeed, they made Kansas a running joke.
There is one lesson that Young doesn't point out, however. Those opportunists aren't the only ones in the world. What they can do to others can be done to them as well. There are Bhagwans everywhere and of every sort. In a global society, they may not always be the majority. Then they may regret trying to subvert the 1st Amendment.
Monday, February 19, 2007
Charles Swift, the Navy Lt. Commander from the Judge Advocate Corps who sued the United States on behalf of his client, Salim Hamdan, who was being held at Guantánamo Bay in solitary confinement with no prospect of a trial unless and until he pleaded guilty, has written a powerful essay for Esquire magazine.
Swift eviscerates the arguments for the present utter abandonment of the rule of law we Americans have always preached to the rest of the world. Anyone who wants to go on being proud to be an American should be outraged at what has been done in our names.
Swift says he sued his chain of command, right up to the President, "[b]ecause I believe that resorting to secret prisons, coercive interrogations, and the abandonment of the rule of law is not the way to keep our country safe from a handful of fanatics." It could be added that, in such circumstances, it is hard to tell just who are the fanatics, the jailed or the jailors.
Swift quotes George Marshall:
The United States abides by the laws of war. Its Armed Forces, in dealing with all other peoples, are expected to comply with the laws of war, in the spirit and the letter. In waging war, we do not terrorize helpless non-combatants, if it is within our power to avoid so doing. Wanton killing, torture, cruelty, or the working of unusual hardship on enemy prisoners or populations is not justified under any circumstance. Likewise respect for the reign of law, as that term is understood in the United States, is expected to follow the flag wherever it goes….
It is not about them. It is about us.
Woo Hoo Haw
Well, there's more on those state legislators from the land of Woo.
When we last saw our intrepid pair, Texas Republican House Appropriations Chairman Warren (Moe) Chisum and Georgia GOP Representative Ben (Larry) Bridges, Moe was trying to stick his thumb in Larry's eye at the same time as he was blaming Larry for getting him into a mess with the Anti Defamation League over a memo Moe claims he distributed to his fellow Texans as a favor to Larry. Among other things, the memo and the website it pointed to suggest that Jewish physicists are part of a "centuries-old conspiracy" to destroy the Christian teachings of Earth's origins.
Larry has now denied knowing anything about it and is trying to hit 76-year-old retired high school teacher Marshall (Curly) Hall with a baseball bat. Curly, who runs the anti-evolution Web site in question, www.fixedearth.com, and who claims that his wife ran Larry's election campaign, says that Larry gave him approval to write the memo in Larry's name, which has been distributed to legislators in several states.
Curly is also complaining about his website being described as anti-Semitic. "I think they tar people with that brush a little too readily," he said.
He may have a point. We should beat him with the "stupid" brush a few million times first.
The folks at the sewage facilities for Knoxville Tennessee should be on the alert for a sudden inflow.
A plan has been announced for the release of excessive amounts of bovine excrement into the environment around the Knoxville Convention Center come late March.
Specifically, various manure spreaders will be used to throw around great heaping gobs of intestinal discharge on the subject of the so-called "emerging scientific theory of intelligent design." That would be the "emerging scientific theory" which, for some reason, is only suitable for teaching in high schools, contrary to the standard practice, where new sciences are first explored in graduate studies, slowly work their way into university curricula and only then, once well tested and fully developed, start to appear in high school texts. Even then, ID only gets into high schools if it is politically mandated. ... That "emerging scientific theory" ...
But there is a head-snapping bit of accidental truth involved. The announcement prominently names among the speakers in favor of this "emerging scientific theory" one Lee Strobel, a journalist and bestselling author of ... wait for it ... The Case for a Creator. Let's see ... creator ... science ... um ... Creation Science, anyone?
Sunday, February 18, 2007
I'm afraid I've annoyed Larry Moran again (it's not my mission in life, honest, it just seems to happen).
This time it was over my lawyerly dislike of unclear criteria for taking action against a person's life and livelihood. The specific case involves Marcus Ross, a young-Earth creationist who, nonetheless, recently received his doctorate in geosciences at the University of Rhode Island based on a dissertation about mosasaurs, marine reptiles that disappeared 65 million years ago.
I'm fairly sure Larry wouldn't like the idea that his phone could be tapped just because George Bush thought Larry wasn't sufficiently "sincere" about his dedication to democracy. I have no more faith in the idea of leaving judgments about who should get to have a Ph.D., with all that entails in a person's life and employment, to some vague idea about who is sincere about science and who isn't.
There are two famous Ph.D.s whose religious beliefs are in apparent conflict with the science they got their degrees in: Jonathan Wells and Kurt Wise. Wells, a Moonie who was told by his cult's leader to get a degree to attack "Darwinism," is a thoroughgoing dissembler who has done much damage to science in support of Intelligent Design. Wise has been called an "honest creationist" by no less a personage than Richard Dawkins. But the simple fact is that this is not a rampant problem.
Actually, it might be more of a problem for the creationists. Ronald Numbers, in his definitive history of American creationism in the 20th Century, The Creationists, documented the efforts of various creationist groups to "pump out" people with doctorates in relevant sciences and their failure to be able to do so. In no small part it was because people who conscientiously studied the subject often lost or at least greatly modified their belief in creationism.
Now Peter McKnight, columnist for the Vancouver Sun, has weighed in, more or less on my side, giving Larry a fellow Canadian to be annoyed at.
McKnight notes that National Center for Science Education executive director Eugenie Scott thinks that refusing degrees to people whose views "are so at variance with what we consider standard science," would be acceptable because it would amount to discrimination "on the basis of science" rather than because of his personal beliefs." However, McKnight points out that Ross's advisers described his work as "impeccable." McKnight concludes:
It's apparent, then, that Ross's personal beliefs really are the issue here. And, let's be honest, the personal beliefs of many important scientists throughout history can charitably be described as wacko. They include Pythagoras, who is arguably the most influential figure in the history of western thought and who was also a member of a cult that subscribed to bizarre beliefs; Nobel Laureate transistor inventor William Shockley, who abandoned physics for psychology and then promoted eugenics and the sterilization of the mentally handicapped, and Nobel Laureate, LSD enthusiast and AIDS denier Kary Mullis.
Indeed, that groundbreaking scientists harbour some odd beliefs seems more the rule than the exception. Yet the world would be immeasurably impoverished if such scientists were prevented from doing their work because of those personal beliefs.
... Ross's views present an even greater challenge to religion than to academic institutions. After all, there are only two ways to explain how Ross can simultaneously subscribe to two incompatible belief systems, and neither way is particularly palatable: Either Ross is dishonest, with little interest in witnessing what he believes to be the truth, or he is a relativist, with no belief in truth at all.Taking note of the fact that Ross spoke of "paradigms" as if such an appeal explains his contradictory stances, McKnight says this "immediately brings to mind Thomas Kuhn, the physicist and historian of science who popularized the term in his seminal work, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions." To Kuhn:
... [P]aradigms are conceptual frameworks, since they define the way in which scientists view their subject and assess their theories ... Truth therefore becomes relative to paradigms, which means there is no objective way to determine which of two competing paradigms has a stronger claim to truth.
This opened Kuhn to charges of relativism ... he maintained until his death that science wasn't necessarily about getting closer to the truth. This provided a tremendous boost to postmodernists, who have used Kuhn's theory to deny the existence of objective truth.
In accepting that Scripture merely presents one paradigm among many, and that the claims in the Bible are therefore no more or less true than the claims made in any other paradigm, Ross must abandon the belief that the Bible speaks the Truth -- not just the truth relative to a specific conceptual framework, but the truth that exists always and everywhere.
Consequently, while Ross might use his credentials to attack evolutionary theory, much to the consternation of science faculties, his philosophy represents a much greater threat to his own religion.
Telling America's Fortune
A slightly higher proportion of American adults qualify as scientifically literate than European or Japanese adults ...
We should take no pride in a finding that 70 percent of Americans cannot read and understand the science section of the New York Times.
A slightly higher proportion of American adults qualify as scientifically literate than European or Japanese adults, but the truth is that no major industrial nation in the world today has a sufficient number of scientifically literate adults ...
Miller opined that one reason for the slim lead Americans hold is that the U.S. is the only major nation in the world that requires its college students to take some general science courses. But perhaps we can do even better:
Although university science faculties have often viewed general education requirements with disdain, analyses indicate that the courses promote civic scientific literacy among U.S. adults despite the disappointing performance of American high school students in international testing.It certainly could not hurt if universities made general science education even more a priority and if there was a little more enthusiasm from the faculty for such courses, making them solid educational experiences rather than mere "ticket punchers." Also, Carol Susan Losh, an associate professor at Florida State University, said that discussion of what is wrong with pseudoscience is often absent from the classroom, so "we have basically left it up to the media."
Even that mild good news is balanced by plenty of bad news. Losh said that when it comes to pseudoscience, "the news is not good." Americans are giving increasing credence to such things as visiting space aliens, lucky numbers and horoscopes. Losh points out that pseudoscience can speak to the meaning of life in ways that science does not.
"What does astrology speak to? Love relationships," Losh said, noting that belief in horoscopes is much higher among women than men.
Of course, our old friend, creationism, figures prominently, making religious fundamentalism and aging a major negative factor to scientific literacy:
I'll let Miller have the last word as to why we need to do better:Raymond Eve of the University of Texas at Arlington had mixed news in surveys of students at an unnamed Midwestern university.
The share that believed aliens had visited Earth fell from 25 percent in 1983 to 15 percent in 2006. There was also a decline in belief in "Bigfoot" and in whether psychics can predict the future.
But there also has been a drop in the number of people who believe evolution correctly explains the development of life on Earth and an increase in those who believe mankind was created about 10,000 years ago.
Over recent decades, the number of public policy controversies that require some scientific or technical knowledge for effective participation has been increasing. Any number of issues, including the siting of nuclear power plants, nuclear waste disposal facilities, and the use of embryonic stem cells in biomedical research point to the need for an informed citizenry in the formulation of public policy..
Saturday, February 17, 2007
The Ministry of Misinformation at the Discovery Institute is busily trying to counter the popularity of Randy Olson's movie, Flock of Dodos, by doing what they do best -- lying.
Dr. Olson can take comfort in the fact that the Seattle Slanderers reaction is always in direct proportion to the damage they perceive has been done to their crusade by their victim. Getting Judge Jones treatment, as Dr. Olson is now enjoying, is a sincere, if perverse, tribute to the effectiveness of his work.
But the Discovery Institute is sure showing why the dodo might just make a good mascot for their cause.
Out Thinking ID
The National Center for Science Education has pointed out that Elliott Sober's article, "What is wrong with intelligent design?," in Quarterly Review of Biology (March 2007, vol. 82, no. 1, pp. 3-8) is available online in pdf format.
Sober, who holds two chairs in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Wisconsin and who is a renowned philosopher of science, starts by noting that ID is often formulated as a comparatively modest claim (for Constitutional reasons, of course). While Young-Earth Creationism denies common descent or that life on earth is more than 10,000 years old, ID is often stated in a minimalistic form that remains officially neutral on such claims. Sober calls this formulation "mini-ID," which consists solely of the claim that "the complex adaptations that organisms display (e.g., the vertebrate eye) were crafted by an intelligent designer."
While modest in scope, ID advocates hope it will have a large effect by getting into public school science classes and reversing the supposed "stifling dominance of the materialist worldview, and to replace it with a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions." (Wedge Strategy" available [here])
The argument from bad design is, to my mind, a theological argument -- but one that goes to why theology should not get involved with empiric investigation of the material universe, rather than an argument about what science can say about God.
That quibble aside, Sober deftly shows why Popper was wrong to think that his criteria of "falsifiability" was the same as "testable" and, therefore, why falsifiability failed as a demarcation criteria between science and pseudoscience. Sober then goes on to develop a different account of testability. First, Sober notes that testing is typically a "comparative enterprise" where one hypothesis is tested against one or more competing hypotheses. But first, they must be shown to actually compete. In other words, the hypotheses must not only make prediction but they must be different and incompatible predictions. But there is a further complication:
As the philosopher Pierre Duhem (1954) emphasized, physical theories, on their own, do not make testable predictions. One needs to add "auxiliary propositions" to the theories one wishes to test. (See the entry on the Duhem–Quine thesis at Wikipedia)But, in science at least, you can't just invent auxiliary propositions out of thin air.
By inventing assumptions, we can equip a theory with favorable auxiliary propositions that allow it to fit the data. Conversely, a theory also can be equipped with unfavorable auxiliaries that lead it to conflict with the data. An important strategy that scientists use to avoid this nihilistic outcome is to insist that there be independent evidence for the auxiliary propositions that are used.
The important scientific strategy of rendering theories testable by finding independently justified auxiliary propositions does not work for mini-ID. We have no independent evidence concerning which auxiliary propositions about the putative designer’s goals and abilities are true.
... have lost sight of the role of observation in Popper’s concept of falsifiability. For a proposition to be falsifiable, it is not enough that it be inconsistent with a possible state of affairs; it must also be inconsistent with a possible observation. Granted, the ID position is inconsistent with the existence of complex information that never had an intelligent designer in its causal history. It is equally true that "all lightning bolts issue from the hand of Zeus" is inconsistent with there existing even one Zeus-less lightning bolt. These points fail to address how observations could refute either claim.
... does nothing to test ID. For ID to be testable, it must make predictions. The fact that a different theory makes a prediction says nothing about whether ID is testable.
One good criticism of Behe's "irreducible complexity" argument that Sober points to is:
... his assumption that evolutionary processes must always involve a lockstep increase in fitness. This ignores the fact that contemporary evolutionary theory describes evolution as a probabilistic process. Drift can lead to evolutionary changes that involve no increase in fitness and even to changes that lead fitness to decline. Evolution does not require that each later stage be fitter than its predecessors. At least since the 1930s, biologists have understood that evolution can cross valleys in a fitness landscape.
The most that can be claimed about irreducibly complex adaptations (though this would have to be scrutinized carefully) is that evolutionary theory says that they have low probability. However, that does not justify rejecting evolutionary theory or accepting ID.
The fact that a system can be segmented into n parts in such a way that it counts as irreducibly complex does not guarantee that the evolution of the system involved a stepwise accumulation of parts, moving from 0 to 1 to . . . to n-1 to n parts coming on line. What we call "the parts" may or may not correspond to the historical sequence of accumulating details.
So far so good -- the tetrapod arrangement satisfies the definition of irreducible complexity. The mistake comes from thinking that horses (or their ancestors) had to evolve their tetrapod morphology one leg at a time. In fact, the development of legs is not controlled by four sets of genes, one for each leg; rather, there is a single set that controls the development of appendages. A division of a system into parts that entails that the system is irreducibly complex may or may not correspond to the historical sequence of trait configurations through which the lineage passed. This point is obvious with respect to the horse’s four legs, but needs to be borne in mind when other less familiar organic features are considered.
It is easy enough to construct a version of ID that accommodates a set of observations already known, but it also is easy to construct a version of ID that conflicts with what we have already observed. Neither undertaking results in substantive science, nor is there any point in constructing a version of ID that is so minimalistic that it fails to say much of anything about what we observe. In all its forms, ID fails to constitute a serious alternative to evolutionary theory.
Friday, February 16, 2007
Disney Does Dallas
Okay, so you may have heard about this Texas State Legislator:
For some reason, the Anti-Defamation League was not amused, calling the memo "outrageous anti-Semitic material." But the kicker was this:On Tuesday, [Republican House Appropriations Chairman Warren Chisum] distributed a memo written by Georgia GOP Rep. Ben Bridges to Texas House members' mailboxes. The memo advocated that schools stop teaching evolution and contained links to a Web site that warns of international Jewish conspiracies. It also directed readers to the group that created the Web site – the Atlanta-area Fair Education Foundation. ...
The memo points to "indisputable evidence" that "evolution science has a very specific religious agenda" and refers readers to a Web site that asserts the universe revolves around the earth. It also suggests that Jewish physicists are part of the force behind a "centuries-old conspiracy" to destroy the Christian teachings of Earth's origins.
He's against the goofy stuff! Uh huh! But, on the other hand:Mr. Chisum said he hadn't looked at the Web site and didn't realize that he was distributing that type of material. He expressed chagrin that he didn't vet the material more carefully..He said he believes creation and evolution should both be taught in schools, and he separated himself from what he called "goofy stuff" on the Web site.
Mr. Chisum said all he thought he was doing was "a Good Samaritan" deed for a fellow legislator.
"If that's a sin, well, shoot me."
Thursday, February 15, 2007
"TomS" over at the talk.origins newsgroup makes a most interesting point about the similarities between the human body and the generic mammalian body. These similarities also happen to be the only things that are mentioned as "designed," including such things "the eye." In fact, we share the same "eye design" with many other mammals.
There are some of the "design" advocates who offer reasons for these similarities, such as "this shows that we share the same designer", or "this shows that there is a common purpose or a common material". This should be shocking to anyone who doesn't like being related to monkeys. It says that the designer either wanted us to be monkeys, or that the designer didn't care enough about us to make us markedly different, or that the designer had little choice. ...
[T]he arguments of ID are meant as "feel good" arguments. It makes people feel as if they are arguments against being related to monkeys. They have the superficial appearance of being "scientific", and against something or other uncomfortable. But they are not arguments against what is uncomfortable about evolutionary biology. If the entirety of the ID arguments were accepted, it wouldn't change a thing about being related to monkeys.
Wednesday, February 14, 2007
Its Own Reward
New Mexicans for Science and Reason has announced its ... uh ... uncoveted Last Nail in The Coffin of ID Award (seen right):
May I have the envelope, please.
And the Nailie goes to ...
An early leader for the 2007 But I Swear It Is All About the Science Award is John Calvert, Managing Director of the Intelligent Design Network, a major force behind the 2005 Kansas educational unstandards, who issued a press release claiming:William Dembski
... who absolutely destroyed any remaining credibility Intelligent Design may have had, when he responded to Judge John E. Jones' powerful ruling of December 2005, not by defending ID in science journals, nor in courts of law, but by parodying the judge's decision with an Internet video that featured animated farting sounds. The Awards Committee had the most trouble with this award, as several members wanted to name it the "Not So Noble Gas" Award. However, all members were agreed that Dembski edged out [Jonathan] Wells and [Ann] Coulter, and did the most damage to ID this year.
Foreign philosophy (why do I suspect Calvert misses the Soviet Union?) and ... gasp! ... Humanism! ... The Horror!Many Kansans are concerned that proposed changes to Kansas Science Standards will cause Kansas Public Education to indoctrinate young children in Materialism, the philosophy that dominates Russian culture. ...
Kansans are concerned because Materialism is the origins story that is the foundation for a variety of non-theistic religions and religious beliefs. Atheism and Humanism depend on a purposeless self-existing universe with life being the product of unguided evolutionary change.
Kansas, the state obsessed with rectangles, has rejoined, for the moment at least, the land of those who'd like their children educated in actual science, instead of a mere masquerade. Pat Hayes of Red State Rabble, who has been no small contributor himself in the fight to have his fellow Kansans at least wave at the 21st Century as it goes by, has a short appreciation for the people who worked so hard to make sure the young people in the state get a good education.
As Pat notes, this fight is far from over and you can be sure that the forces of the Righteous Right are already gearing up for the next election in 2008 in hopes that the rest of us will go to sleep again. I'm keeping Kansas Citizens for Science in my roll of organizations worthy of support. I urge everyone else to keep them in mind as well.
Tuesday, February 13, 2007
Originating at The Thinking Blog, the rules of participation are simple:
Quite a few of the names from my blogroll have already been tagged: Evolving Thoughts, Pharyngula, Dispatches from the Culture Wars, Sandwalk, Thoughts from Kansas, and The Loom. Others who have been named that should be in my roll include: The Lippard Blog, Living the Scientific Life, and Science Notes.1. If, and only if, you get tagged, write a post with links to 5 blogs that make you think,
2. Link to this post so that people can easily find the exact origin of the meme,
3. Optional: Proudly display the 'Thinking Blogger Award' with a link to the post that you wrote.
That was that! Please, remember to tag blogs with real merits, i.e. relative content, and above all - blogs that really get you thinking!
Taking a cue from Brian, I'll name some that haven't been "got" yet. So, here are my picks, which barely scratch the surface of the worthy possibilities:
The Discovery Institute Ministry of Misinformation is at it again.
This particular instance is occasioned by the case of Marcus R. Ross, looking to complete his doctoral degree in geosciences at the University of Rhode Island on the subject of the abundance and spread of mosasaurs, marine reptiles that, as he wrote, vanished at the end of the Cretaceous era about 65 million years ago. The unusual thing is that he is a young-Earth creationist. Some people have questioned whether such a person is engaging either in a mammoth mental disconnect or deliberate deception and, in turn, whether he should be awarded the Ph.D. I think that that is a dangerously slippery slope to climb onto, given the relative risk posed.
In any case, there does not appear to be a movement towards any sort of ban on people getting degrees because of their religious beliefs, even where the possibility is high that the person is getting the degree solely to be more effective in attacking science in the name of religion (ala Jonathan Wells). This lack of threat is shown by the fact that the DI is reduced to complaining that such a possibility is "posed coyly as an open question on the news pages of the New York Times."
Next thing you know people will be able to say they don't agree with government or something, if you let this free speech thingie get out of hand!
But back to the dishonest part:
[Reporter Cornelia] Corny Dean, from my experience, decides on her own what terms--and science standards--mean. For example, "creationism" in the Dean Lexicon is a totally flexible term that embraces without distinction people who support intelligent design and those who support a Young Earth. Dean knows the difference in common usage, but she isn't about to let the readers in on it. For her the pejorative terminology carries too much ideological advantage to let mere accuracy, let alone nuance, intervene.Now, that would be the same difference between IDers and YECers that prompted Phillip Johnson, the "Godfather of ID" to tell Coral Ridge Ministries’ "Reclaiming America for Christ" conference in 1999 that "You must unify your own side and divide the other side," adding that the debate between YECs and old-Earth creationists should be temporarily suspended and only resumed once Darwinism is overthrown. Just in case you might think that was a misstatement of ID's aims by Johnson, there is also this statement by Paul A. Nelson, a fellow of the DI's Center for Science and Culture, in his article, "Life in the Big Tent: Traditional Creationism and the Intelligent Design Community":
Under the canopy of design as an empirical possibility, however, any number of particular theories may also be possible, including traditional creationism, progressive (or “old-earth”) creationism, and theistic evolution. Both scientific and scriptural evidence will have to decide the competition between these theories. The “big tent” of ID provides a setting in which that struggle after truth can occur, and from which the secular culture may be influenced.In short, when they want to keep the Big Tent open and operating, ID is part and parcel of creationism. When they want to pretend they are doing science, they deny ever having even heard the word. Dishonesty, thy name is ID!
Monday, February 12, 2007
The question always hangs in the air when evolutionary theory is being attacked: "Is there any dishonesty, any prevarication, any distortion that the Discovery Institute and its Media Misleading Unit won't stoop to?"
Invariably, the answer is "No!"
The latest is their claim that the recently restored non-lunatic-fringe majority on the Kansas State Board of Education's intended vote, to remove the unscientific and sectarian-inspired science standards installed against all good educational practice in 2005, is actually a vote on whether to delete from its science curriculum the study of the abuses of science as well as the successes. Specifically, John West of the DI is claiming that:
The board's plan [is] to whitewash the history of science ... Especially disturbing is the board's proposal--during Black History month no less--to eliminate any mention of the infamous Tuskegee syphilis experiment from the state curriculum, as well as any reference to the eugenics movement that targeted the disabled.The Tuskegee experiment, conducted by the U.S. Public Health Service, running from the 1930s to the early 1970s, saw about 400 African-American men with the late stages of syphilis left untreated in order to collect medical data concerning the terminal stages of the disease. It was a shameful episode in American history and the doctors and scientists who participated should be gravely ashamed. But it had nothing to do with the nature of science in general and absolutely nothing to do with "Darwinism." Therefore, it properly belongs in a history class and not a science class, particularly a class about evolution.
Only slightly more relevant is the DI's invocation of the eugenics movement. Again it was a shameful episode in American and human history that the participants, most of whom were not scientists, should be ashamed of. But it has nothing to do with "Darwinism" (other than the disingenuous attempt to blame everything wrong with society on science).
The eugenics movement wasn't following Darwin but farming -- good ol' animal husbandry and plant breeding. There was no attempt to give rise to a new species. Eugenics was simply trying to "improve the breed." And it depended on nothing more than the long-observed "micro evolution" that even benighted young-Earth creationists, such as Ken Ham's Answers in Genesis, agree happens. Add to that the fact that such eugenics (without the name) goes back at least as far as ancient Sparta and its systematic killing of weak and disabled infants and it is easy to see that blaming Darwin for any of that is no more fair than blaming present-day Christians for the Crusades. Again, eugenics is something that belongs in a history class, where the full range of the causes for the movement, far from being limited to science, can be explored.
But fairness ... and intellectual honesty ... is not what the Discovery Institute is about.
Happy Birthday, Mr. Darwin!
Sunday, February 11, 2007
Open Wide For Science
Helicobacter pylori is a bacteria that causes ulcers and stomach cancer in human beings. An international team of researchers led by microbiologist Mark Achtman of the Max-Planck Institute for Infection Biology in Berlin has been collecting samples of the bacteria from the guts of humans from around the world since 1999 and, at last count, had gathered 532 strains of H. pylori from people belonging to 51 ethnic groups. The researchers then sequenced seven gene fragments from the DNA and:
... used population genetics models to sort the strains into clusters that showed their genetic and geographic patterns. People from east Africa had the most kinds of H. pylori. The further people lived from east Africa, the fewer strains the researchers found. This suggests that the bacteria arose in humans in east Africa, because it would take more time to accumulate so much diversity -- and because the root of all the clusters was in east Africa. Conversely, fewer people -- and, thus, fewer bacterial strains -- reached the hinterlands where the bacteria had less time to accumulate genetic mutations.While there is already much genetic evidence that H. sapiens originated in Africa, the timing of the spead of humans out from there has been variously put at a point earlier than 100,000 years ago or as recent as within the past 60,000 years.
What? No mention of Mount Ararat?In the new report, the researchers use computational simulations to date the spread of H. pylori out of Africa to about 58,000 years ago, which supports a more recent migration out of Africa. "The real novelty here is the timing," says population geneticist Keith Crandall of Brigham Young
University in Provo, Utah.
The report does not address two other controversial questions -- whether modern humans swept out of Africa in one or multiple migrations, and whether modern humans completely replaced the archaic people they encountered in Europe and Asia.