Friday, November 30, 2007


Beneath the Morals of Lawyers

Well, it looks like my fellow lawyers have joined the Evil Atheist Conspiracy and signed up with Satan (no wisecracks!).

Ben Stein's upcoming feature fantasy, Expelled, is trotting out some of its "stars," the brave Darwin doubters who have been hunted down and their academic careers crushed. In a report on the “Expelled Road Show Tour” currently underway and scheduled to hit 40 college campuses across the country by the film’s February 2008 release date, the Christian Post has a short profile of Caroline Crocker, who supposedly lost her job at George Mason University for questioning Darwinism. She denies teaching creationism at GMU:

Rather, she contends that she taught only one lecture on the evidence for and against evolution and did not even mention creationism.

“What I really wanted to do was in an intellectually honest manner give the evidence for evolution, but also the question about evolution – the scientific critiques – that’s all I did,” Crocker said.
It almost rips your heart out doesn't it? But then the niggling doubts set in:

She has not been able to find a lawyer to represent her against George Mason since her first lawyer dropped her case.
A lawyer drops a case ... against an institution with deep pockets? There's only one reason I know for that ... there ain't no case!

And, sure enough, a little digging turns up this story from the Washington Post from back in February 2006. At that time, Crocker had moved on to Northern Virginia Community College where, according to the story, she was teaching the same class as she had at GMU. And, instead of innocently raising doubts about the evidence for evolution, she was practicing all the worst of creationist calumny: misstatements to the effect that the Miller/Urey experiment is supposed to be evidence of evolution, the lies about the peppered moth experiments, accusations of evolutionary theory leading to Nazism and the claim that it is only taught in support of the philosophy of naturalism. She apparently went a tad further than the mild portrayal she is trying to sell now:

[T]his highly trained biologist wanted students to know what she herself deeply believed: that the scientific establishment was perpetrating fraud, hunting down critics of evolution to ruin them and disguising an atheistic view of life in the garb of science. ...

"I believe in creationism, I believe in intelligent design," she declared to the class. Humans have souls, which make them different from other animals, she told me later. To believe in evolution meant that "after you are dead, you are done." ...
The moment of honesty in equating ID with creationism soon passed, however. Perhaps her claim during the Expelled dog and pony show most at variance with her attitude in 2006 was her allegation that she only wanted to give both the evidence for evolution and the scientific critiques. Besides the fact that her critiques were hardly scientific, the intent to be fair was otherwise sorely lacking back then:

Before the class, Crocker had told me that she was going to teach "the strengths and weaknesses of evolution." Afterward, I asked her whether she was going to discuss the evidence for evolution in another class. She said no.

"There really is not a lot of evidence for evolution," Crocker said. Besides, she added, she saw her role as trying to balance the "ad nauseum" pro-evolution accounts that students had long been force-fed.
Once again we see that the people who are supposedly out to save us from soulless naturalism are willing to tell any lie, misrepresent any position, cheat in any manner they feel they can get away with, in service of their agenda. I would take the morality of any other member of the animal kingdom over these hypocrites without a second's hesitation. It's not the beasts of the field I'm ashamed to be related to.

And they are delusional to boot:

Among themselves, these advocates believe the wheel has turned full circle: If Galileo and Copernicus were the scientific rebels who were once punished by the dogma and authority of the church, these advocates now believe that they are being punished by the dogma and authority of science.
As Stephen Jay Gould of fond memory famously said:

A man does not attain the status of Galileo merely because he is persecuted; he must also be right.
Boy, have they got a long way to go!


Is There a Doctor In the House?

Well, Larry Moran found my last post concerning Neal C. Gillespie's book, Charles Darwin and the Problem of Creation, "fortuitous" because of his intent to write about Marcus Ross, a young-Earth creationist who obtained a Ph.D. in paleontology from the University of Rhode Island, as well as Kirk Durston, a Ph.D. candidate in biophysics at the University of Guelph, an Intelligent Design creationist who Larry encountered in a course on ID taught by, of all people, Denyse O'Leary.

I went around with Larry on the Ross matter, differing more on the practicalities of dealing with such people rather than the impulse to somehow keep them from using degrees they attain from giving them the appearance of doing science when they are not. Fortuitous or not, I found this from Gillespie that is, I think, relevant to the discussion:

The old science was theologically grounded; the new was positive. The old had reached the limits of its development. The new was asking questions that the old could neither frame nor answer. The new had to break with theology, or render it a neutral factor in its understanding of the cosmos, in order to construct a science that could answer questions about nature in methodologically uniform terms. Uniformity of law, of operation, of method were its watchwords. The old science invoked divine will as an explanation of the unknown; the new postulated yet-to-be-discovered laws. The one inhibited growth because such mysteries were unlikely ever to be clarified; the other held open the hope that they would be.
Note that the difference is not a matter of one side having "truth" or even "evidence" on its side. The change was nothing more than a methodological change based on an unproved (and, I think, ultimately unprovable) assumption that whatever answers we can find, will be found by chasing after uniform "laws" of nature.

After discussing Darwin's brief dalliance with Auguste Comte, Gillespie goes on:

[T]heology became merely redundant. Positive science, conceived as a system of empirically verifiable facts and processes and the theories linking them, required the radical desacralization of nature. There could be no out-of-bounds signs and, despite its emphasis on a rational correspondence of the divine mind and man's, the old science did erect such barriers. God's initial processes of creation and his ultimate purposes were unknowable. Too much of the content of the old science was the result of intuition that was in principle unverifiable, either directly or indirectly.

What, then, were the reigning principles of Darwin's view of science when he wrote the Origin? He assumed, like most positivists, a system of natural causes operating according to uniform laws of nature. Neither unique causes nor absolute chance could be predicated to exist in the universe. But, unlike some, he did not turn this assumption into a system of materialist metaphysics. In point of fact, Darwin held a dual notion of natural law. In a higher sense, ... the laws of nature were God's creation, expressions of his will that regulated the world processes. Ideally, these were also the objects of scientific knowledge. Scientific knowledge, however, was made up of man's relative and fallible understanding of these laws. [Emphasis added]
Certainly early in his career, at the age of a modern grad student, Darwin, then an admirer of William Paley, would have had some difficulty getting past Larry's filter. And yet, Darwin got along well enough to attain some little notoriety in his field.


Thursday, November 29, 2007


On Devils and Details

Okay, this is more than a little embarrassing ... or would be if my country didn't already have so many other things to be embarrassed about, from Iraq, to Gitmo, to health care for poor children (not to mention everyone else), to ... well, you get the idea.

Now it turns out, according to a poll being reported by Reuters, that more Americans believe in the existence of Satan than they do in the science of evolution.

That 82 percent of Americans believe in God, 79 percent believe in miracles and 75 percent believe in heaven is not particularly surprising. But the fact that 62 percent believed in the devil while only 42 percent accept the theory of evolution is disheartening. Almost as bad is the fact that the numbers of people who believe in UFOs (35 percent) and in witches (31 percent) come all too close to the numbers for evolution.

Many people think America has been singled out for God's favor. Apparently the party favors don't include sense.


On the Ways of Change

Under the rubric of there being nothing new under the Sun, one of the more interesting facts brought out by Neal C. Gillespie in his book, Charles Darwin and the Problem of Creation, is how a "biblicist mode of thought" hung on among nineteenth century scientists despite the positivist practice taking hold even among the faithful.

The real issue was not the validity of scriptural geology but the continuing use of biblical themes and images in scientific thought quite apart from a biblical literalism. Few scientists, by mid century, any longer believed in the literal historicity of Noah's flood -- at least the majority had given up looking for geological proofs of it -- but many would not give up some sort of historical flood. Few believed in the biblical Adam and Eve, but almost everyone talked of "a single pair" in discussing the origin of species and saw man as a unique creation. Few believed in miracles, but many still spoke of creation in ambiguous terms. Few any longer thought that Genesis told the actual story of the world's creation, but some still tried to find "periods" of geological activity roughly parallel to Moses' six days and their respective events.

Charles Lyell was particularly opposed to that sort of thinking, in no small part because he was contending against catastrophism in favor of his uniformitianism, but he was hardly a critic of religion itself:

Lyell and the others, of course, were not enemies of theology as such. Lyell's aim, like that of Bacon and Galileo before him, was to protect science from the inhibitions and misdirections of theology. This he did, not in order to harm religion, but in order to serve science.

But the orthodox did not -- perhaps could not -- see it that way:

Antagonism against biblicism had reached such a point by the late 1850s that Agassiz suggested that fear of the wrath of the positivists was actually leading some naturalists with strong theological convictions to conform to the new science against their true judgment.

One might almost suspect Agassiz of alleging that the theologically-inclined were being Expelled from science.


Wednesday, November 28, 2007


Tough Choices

Guillermo Gonzalez continues to commit slow-motion professional suicide. He and his "backers" (the Discovery Institute, no doubt) are now announcing a press conference for next Monday to "discuss documents they contend will prove that Gonzalez 'lost his job' because he supports intelligent design, not because he was deficient as a scholar." One wonders if they will issue a press release to announce the announcement of the announcement of the press conference.

They are not only appealing the tenure case to the Iowa Board of Regents in February, they are threatening a lawsuit if that fails. University administrations are intelligently designed (more or less) problem-avoidance systems. This will not enhance Gonzalez' chances of getting a position at any front-line university or institute.

But the interesting part is this: if he was denied tenure because of his advocacy of a scientific theory, so what? That's a perfectly permissible basis to deny tenure. Academic discrimination is not only allowed, but the whole idea of tenure. It only becomes something that is justiciable if the discrimination is based on an invidious basis ... say, religion.

Is the DI going to like equating ID with religion?

Tuesday, November 27, 2007


Hammy Burglar

Hey, kids! Remember when Wild Bill Dembski got caught plagiarizing a video belonging to Harvard? Sure you do!

Well, Mr. Fart-Sound-Effects has now apologized in his own inimitable style ... by denying he did anything wrong except letting his dog eat his homework. If you have the stomach, read the whole sorry tap dance at Uncommon Dissonance.

Read the non-honesty-challenged account at ERV.

And these are the people who claim they will lead us out of the moral wilderness that is "materialistic science."
Update: Dembski's off the hook! He's not dishonest enough to actually monkey around with a video he had no right to use, he's just dishonest enough to take advantage of someone else's monkeying around with a video neither of them had a right to use! As ERV points out, we should always apply Hanlon's razor. Of course, when it comes to hypocrisy, other rules apply.


Now There's Your Problem!

Casey Luskin is shocked, shocked, to find out that some school officials think that Wikipedia is not an authoritative source for primary research and has published his amazement in the Discovery Institute's Media Complaints Bulletin under the title "Notice to Students: Wikipedia No Longer an Acceptable Source." Cynics might suspect, given its consensus-based editing, that IDeologists' inability to manipulate the message about their dishonest attempts to inject their religion into taxpayer supported schools is the basis of Luskin's glee at the "news."

Those in the reality-based community might be shocked to learn that there was any question about Wikipedia's academic status.

Sandra Ordonez, communications manager for Wikimedia Foundation, the nonprofit group behind Wikipedia, gave a nice explanation:

The best way to use Wikipedia is to get a global picture of a topic. It's not a primary source, and in college, you probably should not be citing an encyclopedia.
Others concur:

Greg Reihman, the Lehigh faculty development director, encourages students to use the Web site "to get a quick snapshot or an initial sense of views as they are commonly understood," according to university spokeswoman Dina Silver Pokedoff.
It seems that Lehigh University is, once again, more academically savvy than the ID crowd.

And, once again, we are faced with the conundrum of whether Casey Luskin is being incredibly stupid or all-too-credibly disingenuous.

Monday, November 26, 2007


Cooking One's Own Gosse

Philip Henry Gosse (1810-1888) was an interesting figure in the history of science and its intersection with Natural Theology. Anyone more than a little familiar with the disputes between creationists and supporters of evolutionary science will have probably heard of Omphalos -- if nothing else, as an epithet used against creationist arguments about the Earth being created with an "appearance of age" or starlight being created "already in transit." Gosse, if not the actual source of such arguments, systematized and presented them with a gloss of science.

But Gosse was not some ignorant pseudo-scientist. As Keith Thomson tells the tale in his Before Darwin: Reconciling God and Nature, Gosse was a brilliant naturalist:

He occupies a treasured and honoured place in British intellectual history, writing about science and about his travels in Canada and Jamaica. He was the first to introduce to a popular audience the life of the seashore, the fragile world of exquisite beauty and strength that lies just a few inches beneath the surface of the sea and in the rocky pools of the coast. Before Gosse, all this was largely unseen. Gosse single-handedly created marine biology and home aquaria, and became one of the great chroniclers of the intricate worlds revealed by the microscope.

So popular a scientist was Gosse that Darwin, securing his disciples even before the Origin was published, approached Gosse to see if he could be persuaded to support Darwin's theory. But Gosse was, as Thomson says, "a man weighed down by the burdens of fundamentalist Christianity." Specifically, he was a member of a fractious group named the Plymouth Brethren, founded around 1830 and quickly splitting into at least six different sub-sects. Gosse's son Edmund wrote what Thomson calls "a pitiless yet endearing" biography, entitled Father and Son, revealing their lives during the elder Gosse's years as a devout member of the Brethren, notable for his "naive intolerance and carefully measured love."

Once Lamarck and Chambers had made it possible (even necessary) to take evolution seriously, and after his meeting with Charles Darwin had shown how powerful was the extent of the challenge to his fundamentalist beliefs, Gosse felt called to respond; as a Plymouth Brother and as a scientist, it was his responsibility, just as it had been [William] Paley's and before Paley John Ray's or Thomas Burnet's.

But science had advanced substantially from even Paley's time back at the opening of the 19th century.

By the mid-nineteenth century, there were really only three ways in which natural theologians could deal with the growing evidence that the earth was very old, that it was recycling inexorably beneath their feet, and that life on earth had constantly changed over millions of years. They could ignore it, they could accommodate it to the biblical accounts of history by more or less denying the literal truth of Genesis, or they could explain it all away.

Gosse opted for the last option ... in spades.

In a classic example of ad hoc reasoning, he explained away all this appearance of change in a book entitled Omphalos, the Greek for 'navel', and in that one word is contained the core of Gosse's argument. It is the old conundrum: did Adam have a navel? If God created Adam as the first man out of nothing, Adam would have had no need for a navel, since he had never been connected by an umbilical cord to a mother. ...

Gosse simply asserted that at the moment of creation, just as God made Adam with a navel, he also made the earth with all its complex layers, its faults, every one of its fossils, volcanoes in mid-eruption and rivers in full spate carrying a load of sediment that had never been eroded from mountains that had never been uplifted. Similarly, at that instant, every tree that had never grown nevertheless had internal growth rings; every mammal already had partially worn teeth. He created rotting logs on the forest floor, the rain in mid-fall, the light from distant stars in mid-stream, the planets part-way around their orbits . . . the whole universe up and running at the moment of creation: no further assembly required.

Such an argument, of course, can never be beaten. ... Equally, of course, a theory that explains everything explains nothing. Omphalos is untestable and therefore one cannot concur rationally with its argument; you must simply close your eyes and believe. Or smile.

Perhaps worse to his contemporaries than its uselessness as science was its theological aspect. Natural Theology in particular and conventional British theism in general was invested in a rational God, an engineering God, a God that would bless the Industrial Revolution that had made Britain mighty and rich. Gosse's God was a trickster, an imp that gave minds to human beings but then took away the very rationale for having them.

Victorian England not only rejected it, they laughed at it cruelly. Gosse became overnight a broken man, his reputation as a scientist in shatters.

As the recent New York Times article, "Rock of Ages, Ages of Rock," reminds us, some modern young-Earth creationists have real science degrees. You have to wonder what gives them thicker skins than Philip Gosse.


Sunday, November 25, 2007


Teaching Responsibilities

Presented without comment:

Education content in [Michigan] high schools is mandated by the state, but teachers walk a tightrope between the state and parents who may have contrary opinions regarding evolution. ...

But according to Jan Ellis of the Michigan Department of Education, the course content expectations are not enough to stop local districts from teaching evolution as one of several theories, and not necessarily as fact. ...

The state says the material has to be taught, and school districts choose which curriculum to use, but individual high school and college teachers have the task of interacting with students who have strong religious beliefs about how life began. ...

Grand Valley State University anthropology professor Judith Corr sees religion and science as two different ways of knowing things -- but many of her students don't agree. ...

"I tell them, if you have to, just write the answers down," said Corr. "I don't want to mess up your psyche or anything.

"I also tell them, don't expect me to tell you the truth, because I don't know the truth, I just know what science tells me."

Hope biology professor Donald Cronkite, who has taught at Hope College for 28 years, received an award last year in evolution education from the National Association of Biology Teachers.

"You're doing a fearful thing as a teacher," Cronkite said. "You're asking people to change as a matter of course. You can have people get together to have discussions or take classes, but it's hard to change. I don't do it very well myself."

Cronkite said it sometimes bothers him that students will absorb information without deciding whether they believe in it or not.

"They haven't yet come to terms with how they're going to reconcile what they've learned about science and religion," Cronkite said. "They've got a lot of things going on in their lives. I can be of some use to them, but a lot of it they're going to have to work through on their own."
Okay, one comment. I happened to be watching the video of session three of Beyond Belief 2006 last night and even Richard Dawkins said that he doesn't want to take away people's religion and the various comforts it gives them.

And the comment: we don't pay teachers enough.

Saturday, November 24, 2007


Imitating Life

The above is a painting by Thai artist Anupong Chantorn entitled "Bhikku Sandan Ka," a literal translation of which would be "monks with crows' heredities." The depiction of two monk-like figures sporting bird beaks and feeding from an alms bowl is painted with acrylic colours on a piece of cloth taken from a traditional Buddhist monk's robe.

As might be expected:

... the painting couldn't fail to offend some Buddhists for its surreal depiction of monks. Some claimed that, as the artist chose to depict the bad side of the monkhood instead of its many good aspects that many other artists have portrayed, the painting was created with ill intent and to insult the religion.

The reality might be somewhat different. During his art training Anupong studied conventional Buddhist art, particularly murals portraying scenes from heaven and hell painted on chapel walls.

Anupong believes he was particularly drawn towards these visions of hell because they corresponded to what he was taught in his rural upbringing about life after death, in which one can become an evil spirit as a result of bad karma.

"It's like a good-will stratagem of adults to keep children well-behaved, like you'd become a pret, such as an evil hungry ghost with a mouth the size of a needle hole if you talked back to your parents or with hands the size of a fan palm if you hit them. It's a very ordinary child rearing strategy of Thai families, although it's not found in urban areas."

The appreciation of murals depicting hell that Anupong felt so strongly ... planted the seed of his "Pret" series, which Bhikku Sandan Ka is a part of. ... With a main canvas depicting the whole inferno, Anupong placed within it several other framed images representing various plains of hell as described in the cosmological classic, Trai Bhumi Phra Ruang. Anupong said the series underwent much evolution and transformation before becoming what it is today. ...

The problem, then, may lay more in the practice of using scare tactics on children, without knowing whether they will grow up to be artists who will reflect back your own internal ugliness. And unexpected consequences often come with the best of intentions.

"In the case of Bhikku Sandan Ka, [that term] is actually mentioned in the Tipitaka when Lord Buddha described the characteristics of sham monks. As an artist, I only visualised the image and reflected it in my work." ...

"As a Buddhist, I felt strongly affected by the situation that there are certain people, the sham monks, who take advantage of people's faith for their own gains. The motivation behind my painting is not at all different from the way my mother and my grandparents warned me about the outcome of evil acts: It's to warn those who are doing evil acts of what they will become and to remind other Buddhists that those evil people really exist in our society and that they should be distinguished from good monks."

In this country, we give sham monks television shows and take away their need for a begging bowl.

Friday, November 23, 2007


Many More Than Twice-Told Tales

Here is a bit of reporting from Oz that is interesting but typically off-kilter, as science reporting all-too-often seems to be. However, the Oznians must be congratulated on their ability to broadcast such reports when, in the United States, discussing evolution is a place where even public broadcasting stations fear to tread.

The subject is hagfish and, after a few moments of audience-capturing "eeewh!" descriptions of the hagfish's ability to produce slime, they get down to the business of interviewing Trevor Lamb, head of the ARC Centre of Excellence in Vision Sciences at the Australian National University.

The reporter sets the scene with a brief discussion of Professor Lamb's work on photoreceptors and his realization that hagfish may reveal something about how photoreceptors evolved. Hagfish have organs on either side of the head that are called eyes, but when Professor Lamb's group started looking into the details, they realized that the organs are not really eyes, but something much simpler. Apparently they are similar to the Pineal gland in humans that controls circadian rhythms.

According to the story, the lamprey is a cousin of the hagfish, also eel-like and with no jaw. Supposedly, both the lamprey and the hagfish evolved during the Cambrian Explosion. (Okay, we know they mean "have identifiable ancestors dating back to the Cambrian.") But the lamprey has well developed eyes.

Professor Lamb: It's pretty clear from that, that you can say that the last common ancestor that we share with lampreys and that's 500 million years ago, already possessed an eye that was remarkably similar to our own.

Reporter: And that's why the discovery of Dr. Lamb and his associates is so important.

One of the main questions about Charles Darwin's theory of natural selection is how to explain the existence of an organ as specialised as the eye, unless a series of gradual changes can be shown.

Professor Lamb:You may not realise it but we are related to sea squirts and they just basically have a little eye spot. But, if you look at the characteristics of say their photoreceptors, and you compare them with those of hagfish and then lampreys and then fish and any land animals, you see that there's a smooth transition.
That's all very nice and the example of the hagfish (which I assume no one had noticed before) is a nice addition to the argument, but there was this fellow a while back who addressed the problem well enough:

To suppose that the eye, with all its inimitable contrivances for adjusting the focus to different distances, for admitting different amounts of light, and for the correction of spherical and chromatic aberration, could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest possible degree. Yet reason tells me, that if numerous gradations from a perfect and complex eye to one very imperfect and simple, each grade being useful to its possessor, can be shown to exist; if further, the eye does vary ever so slightly, and the variations be inherited, which is certainly the case; and if any variation or modification in the organ be ever useful to an animal under changing conditions of life, then the difficulty of believing that a perfect and complex eye could be formed by natural selection, though insuperable by our imagination, can hardly be considered real. ...

In the Articulata we can commence a series with an optic nerve merely coated with pigment, and without any other mechanism; and from this low stage, numerous gradations of structure, branching off in two fundamentally different lines, can be shown to exist, until we reach a moderately high stage of perfection. ... With these facts, here far too briefly and imperfectly given, which show that there is much graduated diversity in the eyes of living crustaceans, and bearing in mind how small the number of living animals is in proportion to those which have become extinct, I can see no very great difficulty ... in believing that natural selection has converted the simple apparatus of an optic nerve merely coated with pigment and invested by transparent membrane, into an optical instrument as perfect as is possessed by any member of the great Articulate class.

He who will go thus far, if he find on finishing this treatise that large bodies of facts, otherwise inexplicable, can be explained by the theory of descent, ought not to hesitate to go further, and to admit that a structure even as perfect as the eye of an eagle might be formed by natural selection, although in this case he does not know any of the transitional grades. His reason ought to conquer his imagination; though I have felt the difficulty far too keenly to be surprised at any degree of hesitation in extending the principle of natural selection to such startling lengths.
This has not been 'a main question' about Darwin's theory of natural selection for a very long time, if it ever was, except in the fevered imaginings of creationists. And, given how long they've held out already against a mountain of daily increasing evidence, I doubt the hagfish will convince them, even if the hagfish has the ability to match them in slime production.

Thursday, November 22, 2007


Heaps and Heaps

For a bit more on Keith Thomson's Before Darwin: Reconciling God and Nature, this discussion of Thomas Burnet's 1681 Telluria Theoria Sacra, (or A Sacred Theory of the Earth) is worth considering. Burnet is generally accounted among the villains in orthodox histories of geology but he has already been the subject of a major "rehabilitation" effort by Stephen Jay Gould, in his Time's Arrow, Time's Cycle: Myth and Metaphor in the Discovery of Geological Time. Gould sees Burnet as a rationalist who was more strongly committed to the rule of natural law over miracle than that icon of science, Isaac Newton.

Burnet's account of the history of the Earth is too complicated to go into here (besides, you should go and get Gould's and Thomson's books for your own good) but, as Thomson says:

Burnet's sacred theory was exciting, dynamic and dramatic. For all its faults, it tried to make study of the earth compatible with biblical authority. But it was dangerously close to blasphemy in places. It contradicted the Bible and invoked Decartes too often. ...

Burnet had created a great enigma and a quandary. His sacred theory struck a little too close to some cherished beliefs; but the underlying science was not quite good enough to overcome the reservations of orthodoxy.

But that doesn't mean he mean he didn't try:

[Burnet] opened his sacred theory, however, on very safe grounds with a diatribe against Aristotle. This might seem odd, but it was part of a complex strategy. Burnet had to create as orthodox a theory as possible in order to gain acceptance for his big heretical idea, which was the very modern notion that instead of remaining unchanged since creation (except for the effects of the Flood), the earth was actually in flux and subject to powerful, continually acting forces. As Burnet could scarcely challenge the Bible head-on, he chose everyone's favourite lateral target, Aristotle, who, although the one true source of nonbiblical authority in medieval times, now stood for the Dark Ages.

It's always handy to have an Aristotle to kick around. But to come to the reason I chose to discuss Burnet and to do it on this particular day, there is the following quote from Burnet:

If I was to describe [the earth] as an Oratour, I would suppose it a beautiful and regular Globe, and not only so, but that the whole Universe was made for its sake; that it was the darling and favourite of Heaven, that the Sun shin'd only to give it light, to ripen its Fruit, and make fresh its Flowers; and that the great Concave of the Firmament, and all the Stars in their several Orbs, were ere design'd only for a spangled cabinet to keep this jewel in.

But a philosopher that overheard me, would either think me in jest, or very injudicious . . . this, he would say, is to make the great World like one of the heathen temples, a beautiful and magnificent structure, and of the richest materials, yet built only for a brute Idol, a Dog, or a Crocodile, or some deform'd Creature, plac'd in a corner of it. We must therefore be impartial where the Truth requires it, and describe the Earth as it is really in its self; . . .'tis a broken and confus'd heap of bodies, plac'd in no order to one another, nor with any correspondency or regularity of parts: And such a body as the Moon appears to us, when 'tis look'd upon with a good Glass, rude and ragged . . . a World lying in its rubbish.

That this has so many, and so relevant connotations down to this day, though never meant and unlikely to have been foreseen, recommends it as delving into some truth worth wondering over.



The Evils of the Failure to Secure Our Borders


Happy Thanksgiving to all the other descendants of undocumented aliens!

And to whatever friends we may still have in other lands (and reasonably friendly foes) a good and prosperous day to you too.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007


Second Comings

Republicans in Iowa are awaiting the Second Coming ... of Ronald Reagan. In a pinch, they might settle for that other fellow but only if he promised something nasty would happen to Hillary:

"I say we have to go vote because if we don't vote, then all the women will vote and we'll have a woman in the White House and then we got problems," bellows Larry Timmons, who is in the construction business, from the back of the room. This gets a huge laugh. But he's serious.

"God," he notes, "did not plan for a woman to run everything."
The horror of the prospect of Mr. Timmons having a say in any government with control over my life is only slightly assuaged by the evidence of dispirit in the Righteous Right:

[T]he mood among many evangelicals here reflects what is happening nationally, as Christian conservatives grapple with apathy and evaluate whether they should count on the government to legislate morality. Down the highway in Sioux City, home to nearly 300 Christian churches, Jeff Moes, a soft-spoken, 44-year-old senior pastor, is one of those who has nudged his congregation into a "new vision" of the process. "I am hearing 'what difference does it make?' " he says. "They are less and less trusting of government."
Moes' assessment of the candidates tells the story:

John McCain, he says, strikes him as "very negative, very angry," and Romney's Mormon religion "bothers more people than they care to admit."

And thrice-married Rudy Giuliani, whose children don't seem to be supporting his candidacy, is a non-starter for Moes and many others, he reports, because "he can't get his own house in order."

"The Bible says that if a man can't lead his own family, how can he manage the house of God?" he says. "And I think it's the same with the country. If he can't get his kids to love and respect him, how can he command the respect of a nation?"
Hmmm ... short memories about Maureen and Ron? Anyway, that leaves him with Huckabee ... a nice man who seems unlikely to convince even his friends that he is up to the job of being president.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007


Dishonesty Institute

This revelation from ERV is all that you need to know about the Discovery Institute in particular and Intelligent Design Creationists in general.

Plagiarism for gain is no different than any burglary or pickpocketing. Plagiarism where you take multiple steps to hide the fact that you have stolen the work of others is thievery with malice aforethought.

For these people to bemoan the supposed demise of morality due to the "materialism" of science is a cruel joke on the people who fall for their lies. These people literally wouldn't recognize morality if it introduced itself with a two by four right between their eyes.

Via Pharyngula. Spread the word.

The Panda's Thumb
Science Notes
Millard Fillmore's Bathtub
Seattle Jew
The Austringer
Surrealistic Lilliputian Realm
The Daily Irrelevant
Tangled Up in Blue Guy
Stranger Fruit
Exploring Our Matrix


Denying Denial Is Denialism

Do you suppose that the same delusional denialists who refuse to face up to human-induced climate change are likely to also be evolution deniers? Well, there is this blog entry from one Jordan J. Ballor of the Acton Institute (the home of Jay Richards, co-author, with Guillermo Gonzalez, of The Privileged Planet: How Our Place in the Cosmos is Designed for Discovery and himself a 'demise of Darwinism' predictor) who is babbling on about "the evangelical approach to global warming." It seems that one needs religion-tinted glasses to view empiric facts through if you want to get to heaven. The irony is, therefore, excruciating when Mr. Ballor goes on to say:

[I]f there is any group of people who ought to understand the rigidity of scientific dogma, it should be evangelical Christians. Given the treatment of their views in debates about evolution and more recently “intelligent design,” it shoud be clear just how biased and close-minded scientific orthodoxy can be. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to get anything published in scientific journals that takes ID seriously.
Strangely enough, it is hard to get anything published in scientific journals that take geocenricity seriously either. But Mr. Ballor provides some evidence that not all evangelicals see things his way (if you can stand the frisson of his "but" after the first sentence):

Sure, most prominent scientists that you hear about in the news believe that global warming is real, humans are causing it, and something like the Kyoto protocol is the answer. But why can’t evangelicals see that the minority opinion among scientists in the global warming debates is receiving similar treatment to that which IDers receive?
Uh, maybe when it involves their children's and grandchildren's lives, instead of who their remote ancestors might have been, even evangelicals can see that such bogus "minority opinion" ain't worth what the energy industry paid for it?

Monday, November 19, 2007


Polemic Balance

The Discovery Institute has announced the long-anticipated arrival of the sequel to Of Pandas and People, the ID "textbook" that crashed and burned in Dover. With his accustomed bravado ... as always ... greatly outweighing any substance, Casey Luskin laments the demolition of Pandas by claiming:

... the judge largely ignored the published text of Pandas, instead scrutinizing long-forgotten pre-publication drafts, alleging constitutional defects in pages that no student had ever read.
Of course, the reason that students never saw those pre-publication drafts was because they had to be changed after the Supreme Court had found such attempts to sneak religion into taxpayer-funded public school science classes to be unconstitutional. Only someone utterly dishonest ... or utterly stupid ... would think that merely substituting "intelligent design" for "creator" constitutes a cure for a violation of the Establishment clause. In turn, it is that attack on our laws and our children's educations that prompted the reaction against Pandas, not any "scare" felt by "Darwinists." Undoubtedly, the same considerations are going to govern the reaction to this newest assault on science, The Design of Life, if the past unethical behavior of authors William Dembski and Jonathan Wells holds true to form in this offering.

But the amusement in this study in untruth in advertising by Luskin is this jaw-dropper:

Design of Life is unafraid to confront the sensitive topics. "Supernatural explanations invoke miracles and therefore are not properly part of science," write Dembski and Wells, further explaining that "[e]xplanations that call on intelligent causes require no miracles but cannot be reduced to materialistic explanations."
Look, we know you guys have to talk out of both sides of your mouths if you have any hope of getting this palaver into the public schools, but just what non-miraculous and non-materialistic explanations are there?

And, while you're at it, just how many ID creationists can dance on the head of a pin?


Rewinding the Watch

A book I'm reading now and finding both interesting and well written is Keith Thomson's Before Darwin: Reconciling God and Nature. It is a treatment of the arguments leading up to the clash between William Paley's view of natural history and the increasingly secular science that was crowned by Darwin's evolutionary theory. Much of it is familiar territory to a buff like me but it is well told and will be a good primer for the less obsessed.

One item I knew in general but which is better detailed by Thomson is the unoriginality of Paley's watch analogy:

Paley himself called the watch analogy 'not only popular but vulgar' and for contemporary readers it was so familiar an analogy that they would not have thought of attributing the idea exclusively to him. (Fifty years later, enough history had been forgotten that he was accused of plagiarism, the source of these suspicions no doubt lying in the fact that, in accord with the custom of the time, Paley did not supply footnoted references to his sources.) In fact, the watch analogy can be traced back a long way.

In Paley's time, the most immediate exponents of the watch analogy may have been Baron d'Holback (The System of Nature or, the Laws of the Moral and Physical World, 1770) or Bernard Nieuwentyt (The Religious Philosopher, or the Right Use of Contemplating the Works of the Creator, 1709) who wrote of a man 'cast in a desert or solitary place, where few people are used to pass [coming upon] a Watch shewing the Hours, Minutes and Days of the month'. Hence the charge of plagiarism. Before Nieuwentyt's quite explicit use of the analogy, it occurs in a host of works, including Thomas Burnet's Sacred Theory of the Earth (1681) ... Burnet wrote: 'For a thing that consists of a multitude of pieces aptly joyn'd, we cannot but conceive to have had those pieces, at one time or another, put together. 'Twere hard to conceive an eternal Watch, whose pieces were never separate one from another, nor ever in any other form than that of a Watch.'
But the earliest is by Cicero, in his De Natura Deorum in 77 BCE:

When you look at a sun-dial or a water clock, you consider that it tells the time by art and not by chance; how then can it be consistent to suppose that the world, which includes both the works of art in question, the craftsmen who made them, and everything else besides, can be devoid of purpose and of reason.
While Thomson leads me to think that it may be unfair to Paley to compare ID creationists to him (as I have often done), it's true that his approach was unapologetically rhetorical. As such, it is hardly surprising that he'd gladly reuse an effective trope.


Sunday, November 18, 2007


Philosophical Psychology

John Wilkins is starting a series of posts on a new paper by David Sloan Wilson and Edward O. Wilson, about to appear in The Quarterly Review of Biology, that both defends and redefines the nature of sociobiology. Given the lingering animosity and misunderstandings engendered in the "science wars" of the 1970s and 1980s, this promises to be an important event in evolutionary theory and the start of another round of debate, likely of the rancorous sort. If nothing else, the Discovery Institute and other anti-science types will be circling to see if they can use any of the resulting rhetoric in their own cause, which is good enough reason for trying to understand what is really going on. It is an important debate in any event, because, as John quotes Kim Sterelny as saying, "Something like this has to be right, but what?" Or, as John elucidates:

Evolution made us what we are, that much cannot be gainsaid. The question is, what are we? What is it that evolution has made us?

Also important is the difference (and John thinks there is one) between sociobiology and evolutionary psychology. Based on my piddling knowledge of the latter, I think John is probably right when he says:

Evolutionary psychology has two major flaws in my opinion. One is that it is almost always adaptationist even when no evidence of adaptiveness is available. Adaptation is, as G. C. Williams noted of group selection explanations, an onerous hypothesis, to be supported or not used. It is too easy to come up with "possible scenarios", let alone possible adaptations. Such explanations need to follow the evidence rather than use, as EvPsych does, a priori arguments from the self-evident truth of natural selection and the nature of evolution.

Whether John is equally correct about his second objection:

The second major flaw relates to this. On the (a priori) assumption that selection always favours modularity, EvPsychologists claim that most of the human behavioural repertoire and its underlying neurology is modular. ...

I think that the modularity hypothesis is not a priori true. Evolution may favour independence of organic traits, but there's a bit of a confirmation error here - we tend to identify things that are independently able to evolve because they have done so, not because they have to be modular.

... is less obvious to me (obviousness being the only standard I can apply in my ignorance) but I look forward to John's discussion. Sorting out the real nature of the debate is going to be more than half the battle here.

There are times when having a philosopher around is not just handy but essential.

Wilkins: Part 2
Wilkins: Part 3
Wilkins: Part 4
Wilkins: Part 5


Evolving Creation

Returning once again to Neal C. Gillespie's book, Charles Darwin and the Problem of Creation, that problem was not a scientific one or even religion masquerading as science as in modern Intelligent Design Creationism:

[T]he "ordinary argument" for special creation with its emphasis on benevolent and rational design in nature, which Darwin constantly attacked in the Origin, was not, ... in a strict modern sense, a rival scientific theory. It rather represented a persuasion, an atmosphere that permeated natural history so universally that naturalists were often unaware of the extent of its influence.

While, in our day, that pervasive assumption within science has been shattered, the same contestants remain in play:

[S]pecial creation took two forms in the scientific community. One is easily identified by its proximity to the biblical tradition in language and imagery. The other was within the Newtonian convention of natural law in which the Creator was thought to employ certain laws of nature to work his will. This was not supernatural creation in the miraculous sense, but one nevertheless in which God was thought to be directly participating, guiding and supervising, each natural event.

An example of the former would be Louis Agassiz, the premier American scientist of the 19th century, who held that, of the three possible modes of the origin of new beings -- spontaneous generation by the operation of natural laws, the operation of creative laws established by God, and the immediate intervention of an intelligent Creator -- only the last was, in his view, supported by science, though the methods of how God created were unknown.

Such positions obviously linger today, represented by such Biblical creationists as Answers in Genesis' Ken Ham and his museum to nowhere, joined by the more circumspect but no less miracle-addicted ID advocates.

Charles Lyell, on the other hand, along with other nomothetic [law based] creationists, favored an unknown mode of divine action that "stayed within the confines of the laws of nature and, while involving a continuing divine initiative, did not require disruptions of that order." This was a creation no less mysterious than the more Biblical variety but less capricious.

The modern "theistic evolutionists" (a rather misleading term probably coined in more for its ease of use in rhetorical battle than any consideration of accuracy) exemplified by Ken Miller come close to this latter view.

But what made the assumption of some form of creation so pervasive in the scientific community was not faith so much as practicality:

[S]pecial creation, whether miraculous or nomothetic, was commonly recognized by [paleontologists and geologists] to have strong empirical evidence in the fossil series which seemed to support the idea that species appeared full-blown suddenly, endured unchanged, and became extinct without leaving descendents. Equally important, however, the fossil record gave no clue as to how species were created. ...

The assumption that a belief in special creation, in whatever form, was needed to explain the fossil record was, then, the linchpin that held together the opposition to transmutation.

Darwin took away that need and, like a sudden release of pressure from behind a watertight door, it permitted the way to the recognition of the transmutation of life to be thrown open and the acceptance of evolution within the scientific community proceeded with almost unseemly haste.


Saturday, November 17, 2007


Heads Up!

The Texas Board of Education, lead by Don McLeroy, appointed by Governor Rick "ID should be taught much as the theory of evolution is now taught" Perry, is in its run-up to the 2008 scheduled overhaul of the state's curriculum standards and may be warming up with a little less-than-legal dance around the law ... which, as we know from Dover, is never a sticking point for creationists.

"The state board is clearly thumbing its nose at the law," [Texas Freedom Network] President Kathy Miller said. "A united faction of its most radical members is attempting an end run around the Legislature's clear intent to bar them from censoring textbooks. If they get away with it, then it's open season again on textbooks that teach about evolution and other topics that a majority of board members may have personal and political objections to."

Earlier today, the state board voted to reject a proposed mathematics textbook for third grade. Board members who voted to reject that textbook refused to give reasons for doing so. They claimed that the board is not required to say why it rejects any textbook. Yet under a law passed by the Legislature in 1995, Senate Bill 1, the state board may reject a textbook only if it fails to cover the state's curriculum standards, has factual errors, or fails to meet manufacturing requirements. Subsequent opinions from two state attorneys general – a Democrat and a Republican – have upheld those limits on the board's ability to control textbook content.

TFN's Miller said the issue at stake is about far more than the rejection of a single mathematics textbook today. TFN takes no position on whether that textbook should have been rejected.

"If the state board does not have to give a reason for rejecting a textbook, then the law is toothless," she said. "And if that's the case, then the content of our schoolchildren's textbooks will be based on the personal and political beliefs of whatever majority controls the state board. That's precisely what the Legislature acted to prevent in 1995."
A little muscle flexing to let the publishing industry know who is in charge? It's going to be a fun 2008.

Friday, November 16, 2007


Swine Flu

Michael Behe thinks that real working scientists, like Ian Musgrave, who, unlike Behe, happen not to be laughing stocks at their own universities, are barely deserving of his notice but he can't abide the thought of admitting that SA Smith at ERV had caught him in a simple (okay, simple to a real scientist) error of fact:

While Behe will lower himself to responding to a worthless foot-soldier scientist like Ian... at least Ian already has his PhD and is a man. Admitting a female who wasn't even a graduate student at the time of the essay, bested him, well, that's obviously another reality Behe is unwilling to accept.

Behe is also unwilling to admit that maybe, just *maybe*, he doesnt know jack shit about HIV-1 and how it evolves in patients and populations.
It's one thing to be a dishonest creationist out to hide God under every molecule but quite another to be an arrogant chauvinist with delusions of competence.

Via Exploring the Matrix.

Thursday, November 15, 2007


Political Forecasts

Uh, oh! Is PZ gonna be forced to convert?

When his hour-long prayer vigil for rain ended with the sun shining through Tuesday, Gov. Sonny Perdue made a bold proclamation.

"God can make it rain tomorrow," he said.
And it did!

[A]s faith, nature and/or God would have it, Georgia did indeed get some rain. Since church and state held their intervention, a quarter of an inch to an inch of rain have fallen across northern portions of the state ...

Of course, it seems the National Weather Service had already predicted the rain by the time the governor did. And it wasn't much use. As one weather professional said, "it will come nowhere close to breaking the drought. The ground is so dry, it will absorb everything that falls on it."

But pay no attention to that meteorologist behind the curtain! After all, who could possibly think a God-fearing politician could pull a fast one?

Via The Rachel Maddow Show on Air America. If it's in your area, listen to Rachel ... she's really funny ... and smart, too.


Lift High the Lamp


Try and guess where this comes from:

According to the mindset of ID leaves could have been green or they could have been blue. But God chose green because he was feeling a bit green that day. Or maybe he thought green would really bring out the color of Adam's eyes; it's hard to say really. ...

[A]ttributing every aspect of biology to the arbitrary design of a divine tinkerer explains as much about biology as attributing the eruption of volcanoes to the anger of the Lava God would explain
geology. ...

Biology (already burdened with the study of the most complex phenomenon known to man) is reduced by Intelligent Design to a meaningless cataloguing service for divine handicrafts. ...

Everyone loves the idea that God made flowers and puppies. But do you like the idea that he made the AIDS virus, smallpox, and polio -- and is busy at work on bird flu? ID takes us back to an age when our best explanation for disease was divine will. The middle ages were nice in their way, but surely we can now move on. ...

Intelligent Design is The DaVinci Code of Biology -- an emotionally attractive conspiracy theory that seems to explain the most amazing facts and coincidences. ...

Don't bother to Google. It is from an article in, of all places, Human Events, entitled "Intelligent Design, and Other Dumb Ideas" by Mac Johnson. The subtext is at least as important, if not more so, as the message:

The Left believes, correctly, that Intelligent Design is a political loser, and so they gleefully attempt to hang it around the neck of every right-of-center movement from libertarian neo-conservatism to isolationist populism -- shouting all the while "See, the American Taliban has come for your children! Elect a Democrat before it's too late!" ...

I, for one, have religiously ignored the topic before now. I have done this partly out of a sort of professional courtesy to its supporters, with whom I share most other beliefs (and in many cases a personal affection), partly out of a belief that the idea was too obscure to argue over, and partly because the idea is so patently ridiculous to me that I felt that pointing this out would be somewhat akin to telling a friend that they have really, really bad breath. ...

Intelligent Design is a bad idea, and the otherwise intelligent men that are espousing it would do well to re-examine their beliefs, before they corrupt both science and faith --and the amazing progress that conservatism has made during the last forty years. ...

Perhaps this is another small sign of the fracturing of the unholy alliance between the Righteous Right and the rational Conservatism of yesteryear, exemplified by Barry Goldwater, where tin-plated moral certainty didn't turn every public issue into a winner-take-all death struggle and our government at least sometimes actually represented We the People. Let's hope so.


Numerical Illusions

In the category of the tricks played by the human mind and the illusory significance of certain numbers, this is the 1001 post here.

I haven't any clue why I would think that is in any way important or why anyone else might find it interesting.

Still, there it is.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007


Hurricane Pat

Okay boys and girls!

Turn off your irony meters, unplug them, take them out in the back yard and, if you don't have a sandbagged bunker, dig a hole at least three feet deep, place the meter at the bottom and fill the hole with fast drying concrete ...

Randall Terry, founder of Operation Rescue, organized a demonstration outside the Washington D.C. Headquarters of Pat Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network because of Pat's endorsement of Rudy Giuliani's Presidential bid.

"I am literally sick to my stomach over Dr. Robertson's decision,” Terry stated. “He wrote a forward to my book, Operation Rescue, I have been on the 700 Club, I have spoken at Regent University, CBN helped me get started in radio, and the attorneys of the ACLJ have been heroic advocates for our pro-life mission.

"This is what happens when a leader puts party ahead of principle; it corrupts ones ability to reason consistently. We can only pray that this horrific decision of Dr. Robertson is ignored by the 'Christian Right' and the 'Christian Coalition,' and that he comes to his senses quickly. God have mercy on him, and give long life to him."
Whew! If you're still there after that, you have correctly protected your meter. And that's among the nicer things the Righteous Right's been saying about ol' Hurricane Pat:

Reverend Wiley Drake, pastor of First Baptist Church of Buena Park and former Second Vice President of the Southern Baptist Convention, called upon his church and all Christians to boycott CBN and the 700 Club. Pastor Drake said there will be a special nationwide prayer meeting daily to pray that Robertson will "repent and return to his first love" especially concerning the unborn and the homosexual agenda in America.
I didn't know Pat's first love was the homosexual agenda! Hey, maybe those rumors about Rudy are true and Pat ... naaaw!

I wonder when one of Pat's former friends is going to say something like:

If there is a disaster in your area, don’t turn to God, you just rejected Him from your ministry. And don’t wonder why He hasn’t helped you when problems begin, if they begin. I’m not saying they will, but if they do, just remember, you just endorsed God out of your ministry. And if that’s the case, don’t ask for His help because he might not be there.
Turnabout, after all ...

Via Dispatches From the Culture Wars.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007


Practicing Press Relations

In another example of the vast media power of the Discovery Institute, it's managed to get a piece planted in something called "Cybercast News Service," the bastard stepchild of an even more doubtful enterprise called "Media Research Center." Both are organizations founded by L. Brent Bozell III, a nephew of William F. Buckley and a member of the board of Bill Donohue's Catholic League. But enough of genealogy ...

The piece repeats the Discovery Institute's claim that the "Briefing Packet for Educators" issued by PBS in connection with the NOVA showing of "Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial" is somehow encouraging unconstitutional teaching. It is notable, however, that the DI, no doubt intentionally, keeps calling the Briefing Packet the "teaching guide," which is, in fact, a separate document PBS has provided, that has no mention of religion whatsoever. Nonetheless, according to the DI:

In the booklet, teachers are instructed to use such discussion questions as: "Can you accept evolution and still believe in religion?" The answer to that query is provided as: "Yes. The common view that evolution is inherently antireligious is simply false."

"This statement is simplistic and not neutral among different religions, and in that sense arguably inconsistent with Supreme Court teachings concerning neutrality," said attorney Casey Luskin, program officer for public policy and legal affairs at the institute.

"The Supreme Court ruled in Epperson v. Arkansas that the government must maintain 'neutrality between religion and religion,'" said Randal Wenger, a Pennsylvania attorney who filed amicus briefs in the Kitzmiller v. Dover School District case.

"Because the briefing packet only promotes religious viewpoints that are friendly towards evolution, this is not neutral, and PBS is encouraging teachers to violate the First Amendment's Establishment Clause," Wenger added.

First of all, the mere mention of the existence of religions and religious viewpoints that accept evolution in connection with a program that deals with a case where, as the DI itself admits, it was "correctly found that the Dover School Board members had religious motives" for their actions, would hardly be out of place. It is not "favoring" religions that accept science to simply note that the views of the board members are not universally accepted among religious people.

But, perhaps more importantly as far as this particular bit of whining is concerned, the booklet is not "instructing" teachers as to what questions to ask in class but is, as clearly stated at page 3, intended to give "clear, easily digestible background information to guide and support educational leaders and other stakeholders in their understanding of and response to challenges to the teaching of evolution in public schools." [Emphasis added]

Isn't it nice to see that some verities still exist ... like the Discovery Institute's pressing interest in the truth?

Monday, November 12, 2007



Hey! The National Center for Science Education (NCSE) has its new logo and it is a beauty!

If you don't know what it is based on, shame on you!

But you can go and learn more about graphic artist Andrew Conti's winning design at the NCSE website.

Hat tip to Michael Barton at The Dispersal of Darwin.

(And to see the original inspiration, go here.)


Crystal Gazing

I asked a few days ago if the Discovery Institute had the capacity to surprise anyone any more or are they merely gnawing at the ends of arguments we have all heard before in a tired parade of evasions, misrepresentation and outright lies?

The answer is in and it's a resounding "No!"

Apparently unable to make any splash in the national media anymore, the best the DI can manage is the Christian Post quoting from some small newspaper chain's story about the DI claims that "a teacher's guide issued by the Public Broadcasting System in conjunction with a program on the 2005 Dover intelligent design trial is 'likely unconstitutional'."

They are encouraging teachers to do things like have discussion questions such as – 'Can you accept evolution and still believe in religion? Answer: Yes. The common view that evolution is inherently anti-religious is simply false.'
This was exactly what I said they would claim. They're as predictable as sunrise.

I should give them a bit of credit, however. They managed a touch of snark that is usually lacking in their attempted bludgeonings. The DI's spokesman, Rob Crowther, reportedly said:

Far be it from us to accuse PBS of kind of being agenda-driven, or having an anti-intelligent design bend, but it is interesting that this is the tact they've taken and now there they are injecting religion right into the classroom.
Yeah! Where does PBS get off trying to muscle in on the DI's game?

Sunday, November 11, 2007


Torchlight Don't Make It a Parade

The New York Times has a nice review of the upcoming NOVA program "Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial."

What interested me was the initial reaction of Paula Apsell, the producer of NOVA, to the possibility of doing a program on the Kitzmiller case:

"Nova" had already run an eight-part series on evolution, in 2001. And in the making of it, she recalled, she and her colleagues had felt "really assaulted" by criticism from creationists and their ideological allies, including advocates of intelligent design.
Those of us who have been at this debate for a while can forget how intimidating it can be to the uninitiated to have a horde of angry people, yammering furiously about supposed errors of fact, misunderstandings of science, bias against religion, constitutional violations and so forth, descend upon you. It's all blather, of course, but, if you haven't heard it all before, it can seem daunting and take much time to work through before you can regain confidence in your understanding of science.

Fortunately, Ms. Apsell worked through it and has provided a good object lesson for people who aren't regular combatants as to the nature of the opposition to evolutionary science and education: a religious coterie that holds its beliefs to be above the Constitution of the United States and more important than the rights of their fellow citizens. And it's not going away. As the review reminds us, the likes of Richard Thompson, president and chief counsel of the Thomas More Law Center, that represented the school board at Dover, are not going to stop. As he said:

A thousand opinions by a court that a particular scientific theory is invalid will not make that scientific theory invalid. It is going to be up to the scientists who are going to continue to do research in their labs that will ultimately determine that.
And being shown a thousand times that there is no research and no labs and no science involved in Intelligent Design Creationism is not going to change their mind a bit.

Saturday, November 10, 2007


How Not to Teach the Controversy

The State of Florida is in the process of instituting some of the best school science standards in the nation. Among other things, if the proposals are adopted evolution would be clearly identified as one of the "big ideas" in science that should be taught in depth. This would be amazing in no small part because the old standards being replaced did not even mention "evolution."

But the old ways won't go quietly. At the first public forum on the new standards, as reported by Mark Hohmeister of the Tallahassee Democrat, the director of curriculum, Beth Mims, and school board member, Greg Thomas, from Wakulla County south of Tallahassee, appeared.

Mims - of course, not speaking for the board - said adding specific requirements would take "flexibility" from the teachers. (Flexibility to do what, I wondered; to teach religion?) "There's no mention of controversy," she said. "(Evolution) appears to be a universally accepted fact."

Thomas warned that all of the hard work that went into the standards would be lost in the battle over evolution. "I don't know that the benefit is there," he said, making sure to add at the end that, when he learned about it, "it was Darwin's theory of evolution."
Those were the people under some pressure to be "neutral." Others were not under any constraints:

One parent wondered why schools can't consider "an intelligent influence," branded evolution "a tool of atheists" and spoke of the "assumption of billions of years of history." Uh-oh, I thought, we've got a young-Earth creationist here who thinks the world is just 6,000 years old.

A grandmother who had five kids go through public schools said she didn't see evolution in the similarities of life forms. (Just as Picasso paintings are recognized as being from the same artist, so are worms and humans perhaps?) She hinted at "something that I call the creator" before finally surrendering and calling it "our heavenly father." ...

[A]nother parent warned against teaching a subject when "there is theory involved." "You have disagreement among the scientists," he said. "Where there is sufficient controversy, it ought to be left out." Teach it in college, instead, he suggested.
We haven't seen that final one before, I think. I guess we can call it the "don't teach the controversy" ploy.


The More Things Change

When last we left Neal C. Gillespie's book, Charles Darwin and the Problem of Creation, the completion of the change to the positivist episteme, begun in earnest by Copernicus and culminating in the collapse of the creationist episteme in its last great bastion, biology, was already under way when Darwin delivered the coup de grâce. But just as science was changing, religion, at least among those who wanted to practice both, also had to change:

The dilemma of the theist who practiced science within the new episteme was not the least of the various and complex changes that promoted a religion of faith which paralleled the acceptance of a positive science. Just as science shifted from a theological ground to a positive one, so religion -- at least among many scientists and laymen influenced by science -- shifted from religion as knowledge to religion as faith. The attempts to defend science from the charge of irreligion, which were so common among this group, necessarily required real, if subtle, redefinitions of religion and especially of Christianity.
In short, science increasingly usurped the function of delivering human understanding of the material world. And, as science out-competed religion in that arena, religion had to adapt in order to make its way in a new and changing environment or face extinction. But as we've seen, the change in epistemes had happened over time and religion proved itself as flexible as the organisms that carry it out:

This, of course, involved no novel approach to either theology or the Scriptures. Prescient theologians had prepared the way well beforehand. The Bible as history had gone the way of the Bible as science and had given way to the Bible as myth. Myth was thought of, not as error, but as symbolic theological truth. Ethics replaced ritual purity and behavioral conformity as the center of concern. Christianity became hard to distinguish from theism and theism from a vague belief in some sort of spiritual dimension in life. The influence of scientists in weaning a large portion of the public away from biblical literalism and changing the nature of that public's understanding of Christianity should not be underrated ...
If nothing else, the lesson of history is that those who hope to stamp out religion with science have a more formidable foe than they might wish.


Friday, November 09, 2007


Inferring Design

Hey, kids! Now you too can be like the 16 attorneys and legal scholars paid by the Discovery Institute to review and analyze the constitutionality of the PBS Teacher's Guide for the NOVA broadcast of "Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial." See how many things you can find that Casey Luskin will turn into interminable multipart screeds full of really good stuff like logical fallacies, name-calling, quote mines and other outright lies! Find 10 or more and you'll be eligible for a drawing to win an all-expenses-paid trip to Disney World for a special All ID Parade at Fantasyland with Casey dressed for the day as Goofy!

By the way kids, please be sure to say a special prayer for Dr. John West! It turns out that the nice folks at the Discovery Institute had to cancel their big press conference slated to rip off the masks of the evil Darwinists lurking at Public Broadcasting, university science departments and even the Federal bench because Dr. West got laryngitis.

It seems the Designer had a plan after all!

Thursday, November 08, 2007


Tempest, Meet Teacup

I think the whole Anthony Flew hullabaloo is now officially out of hand.

John Lynch at Stranger Fruit has written about an entry Flew authored on eugenics for Prometheus Books' New Encyclopedia of Unbelief. I've admired for some time John's deep knowledge of the history and philosophy of science and his sober opinions on the blog wars over attitudes of "intolerance" versus "appeasement" at the interface of religion and science.

John's account of the article certainly raises doubts about Flew's views ... not to mention the editor's judgment (unfortunately, since John is also a contributor). But, without more, I'd have to say that it is premature, at least, to throw around terms like "eugenic leanings" in connection with Flew. Now it has been picked up by PZ Myers as "Antony Flew was, and maybe is, a eugenics sympathizer." Supposedly, "This is really going to mess up the great story of his conversion." Naturally, this version of events will now be aired far and wide.

I guess it would be useless to point out that, according to the information given by John, it is likely that Flew wrote the entry on eugenics after his "conversion." Thus, trying to have it both ways ... he converted because he is in mental decline but the eugenics article can be mined for an accurate, rather than confused, account of his beliefs ... might be a tad unjustified.

This near obsession both sides have for one old man and his beliefs is, to say the least, unseemly in the extreme.

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