Monday, December 31, 2007


Special Educators

Uh, oh! Dust off the ol' dunce cap!

The Polk County, Florida school board just got finished dousing their flaming fingers when, lo and behold, another school board member pops her head up downrange. Chairwoman Carol Hilson of the St. Lucie County School Board delivered herself of this forehead slapper:

My children need to be exposed to everything, but taught as a theory. Science is, well, not an exact science. It's all so subjective. There are a lot of holes in the theory of evolution.

I can't imagine that we would teach science and not teach intelligent design.
One has to wonder what Ms. Hilson thinks counts as an "exact science" if "science" doesn't but I can certainly imagine the Florida ACLU coming into a considerable windfall if Ms. Hilson somehow gets her way.

Other boards are also being heard from. Martin County School Board member David Anderson wants evolution referenced only as a "theory that some people believe in."

I'm a Christian and I believe in the Creation. I'm the son of a minister. I am in no way endorsing the teaching of evolution.
That's kind of the reason for the standards in the first place, I suppose. To make sure that children don't get shortchanged in their education because people stuck in the Middle Ages happen to gain a majority on a school board. The stakes involved are also well stated:

The United States ranks behind 15 other industrialized countries, including China, Iran and Finland, in the percentage of college graduates with first degrees in science or engineering.

"There has been the growing realization that our Florida graduates are not competing with students in just ... Atlanta or New York," said Jim Warford, executive director of the Florida Association of School Administrators and former state public schools chancellor. "They're competing with students around the world."

The decisions about what is good science should be left to the scientific community, Warford said.
There's a lesson!

Sunday, December 30, 2007


High Anxiety

This a bit old but Denyse (accent on the "Deny") O'Leary was over at Mens News Daily a couple of weeks ago, trying to harness Anthony Flew to her Christ wagon and flogging the poor ol' guy for all he's worth. First she tries to get him to drag around the weight of being "the world's most important atheist scholar." While it's true that Flew was certainly a prominent philosopher in the area of religion and morality in the latter half of the 20th century, to call him the most important anything, atheist or not, as usual with O'Leary's claims, is most charitably described as "greatly exaggerated."

The dishonest (though amusing) part is this:

Some are seeking legislation against discussing the idea of intelligent design in school settings. The Council of Europe considers it a threat to human rights. But their panic isn't my panic or yours. Or Antony Flew's, either, it turns out. I guess we choose our panics.
Now, of course, if you chose to exalt the worthiness of ID for discussion in schools by citing to the conclusions of a philosopher, it naturally follows that the appropriate school forum for it should be in philosophy classes. But who, exactly, has sought legislation to ban teaching about ID in philosophy? Certainly not the Council of Europe. That resolution urged its member states to:

... firmly oppose the teaching of creationism as a scientific discipline on an equal footing with the theory of evolution and in general the presentation of creationist ideas in any discipline other than religion.
I'm pretty sure that "the discipline of religion" would include the kind of philosophy of religion that Flew was expert in as well.

So it does seem that Denyse has chosen (or is trying to get others to chose) to suffer from an unfounded panic.

Saturday, December 29, 2007


Morose Delectation

Ross Douthat at The

Huckenfreude (n): Pleasure derived from the outrage of prominent conservative pundits over the rising poll numbers of Mike Huckabee. Particularly sharp when the pundits in question are partisans of Rudy Giuliani, but extends to supporters of Mitt Romney as well. Usually experienced by evangelicals, crunchy cons, populists, and other un-airbrushed elements of the conservative coalition. Tends to coexist with an awareness that Huckabee isn't actually ready for prime time, and that his ascendancy may ultimately do their various causes more harm than good.
He left out at least one liberal.

Via Jay Rosen at the HuffingtonPost.


Evangelical Stand Up

Hoo Boy!

Resisting cheap jokes isn't going to be easy here ...

There is an article in the Boston Globe by Rich Barlow, entitled "Evangelicals gather to brainstorm" ...

[Were the results as bad as Katrina? ... No, no ... forget I said that!]

... about a conference, earlier this December at Boston University's law school, bringing together evangelicals from across the country and various academic disciplines, including law, history and philosophy. The ... um ... brainchild of Peter Berger, a BU sociologist (and "theologically very liberal Lutheran") and Timothy Shah, a Washington foreign policy expert (and evangelical), who together are conducting a two-year research project on the "Emerging Evangelical Intelligentsia."

[Wherever they are emerging from should be investigated! It's so well hidden, maybe Saddam's WMDs are there! ... Sorry!]

Even Berger concedes that the term "evangelical intelligentsia" will sound oxymoronic to many.

[Well, he's half right! ... No, I promise I'll stop!]

"This is an enormously significant phenomenon . . . and there's remarkably little information about it," Berger said during an interview. "You're dealing with at least 60 million [evangelical] Americans and possibly as much as 100 million Americans, and if that large a community is considered . . . not respectable in public discourse by academics, media people, and the broader educated public, that's very bad."
[Patient: "Doctor, when I talk about my religion, people think I'm stupid." Doctor: "Don't do that!" ... Honestly, I can stop anytime I want ...]

As an example of the influence of these thinking-person's evangelicals, Shah and Berger point to the fact that "intelligent design" has entered the vernacular. Shah is not sure he buys the concept, and Berger labels it theology, not science.

"Science depends on falsification [of inaccurate hypotheses], and you can't falsify God," Berger said.

But both call intelligent design a more sophisticated response to Darwin than evangelicals' traditional, literal belief in the Genesis account of creation.

Tossing overboard the term "creation science" demonstrates a defining trait of this faith-based intelligentsia.
[Okay, I give up! I can't come up with a cheaper joke than that!]

Friday, December 28, 2007


Pie Is Pie

Click to enlarge.

For your own form, go here.

Via "Laugh Lines" at the New York Times.

Thursday, December 27, 2007


Roll Over and Say a Prayer

The San Mateo County (California) Times has an article on something I've never heard about before: "parish nursing." The article starts with the unsurprising relationship between religion, mental well-being and recovery from injury or disease:

Religion can help those with chronic conditions, including traumatic brain injury, spinal cord injury, stroke and arthritis, say the authors of a study at the University of Missouri at Columbia.

"Religion is infrequently discussed in rehabilitation settings and is rarely investigated in rehabilitation research," said Missouri health psychologist Brick Johnstone. "To better meet the needs of persons with disabilities, this needs to change."

Yoga, reading of religious texts, meditation or the laying on of hands have value in a clinical setting, the researchers concluded.
None of that seems particularly controversial ... nor particularly exclusive. The same could be said about intellectual stimulation, massage, greater contact with family and friends and many more possibilities. Even spending time with pets has been touted as a cause of improvement in the elderly and chronically ill. That's why this seems somewhat out of balance:

"Our goal is to bring to the conversation that health is more than fixing your body," [neuropsychiatrist James Duffy, president and CEO of the Institute of Religion and Health in Houston] said. "Health is a transformative process that involves healing the spirit."
But that's just the beginning:

Parish, or faith community nursing, which combines spiritual and health service, has exploded since the American Nursing Association recognized the specialty in 2005.

Today, an estimated 10,000 faith community nurses work in American congregations.

John Muir Medical Center in Walnut Creek recently advertised for a supervising nurse with theological education. The new manager will offer support to nurses who work in religious congregations.

"We have a mission statement that says faith plays a role in healing," said Dwayne Michael, director of pastoral care at Muir. "We do a spiritual assessment (of each patient)."
Rebecca Faith (no, seriously!) is a a nurse practitioner at University of California, Berkeley, and a registered nurse at Alta Bates Summit Hospital.

Many chronic health problems have at their root a spiritual as well as a physiological dysfunction, she said.

"I see an epidemic of anxiety and fatigue among women. I will say, 'How's your spiritual life?' and (a woman) will say, 'I used to meditate but I don't anymore.'"

A spiritual emptiness helps spur addiction, and irreverence for the body as a sacred vessel can lead to disorders such as obesity and hypertension, she said.

"What do I do with them? I pray, I enter into an I-thou divine relationship and I covenant with the community," she said. "I speak to their values and beliefs."
There are, naturally, those who are opposed. Richard Sloan, the author of Blind Faith: The Unholy Alliance of Religion and Medicine (St. Martin's Press, 2006) said it well:

It can do all sort of harm because it causes people to confuse medical care with other aspects of their lives. It can lead them to avoid conventional medical care. And it can lead them to believe their health problems are from inadequate faith and devotion.
And Jeff Leinen, medical director of the emergency department at Sutter Delta Hospital, who himself says a prayer before he performs a procedure, or when a patient dies, but quietly to himself, warns that it is too easy to impose one's faith on a patient.

No! Ya think?

Wednesday, December 26, 2007


Why Do They Hate America?

John E. Jones III, the Federal District Judge who decided the Intelligent Design Creationism case, Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District, has given a speech sponsored by the League of Women Voters of St. Louis that touched on the aftermath of the ruling and the need for judicial independence. As reported by The St. Louis Jewish Light, Judge Jones also spoke in favor of Missouri's Non-Partisan Court Plan, in place since 1940, whereby judges are nominated on a non-partisan basis, for later appointment by the governor. Typically, the Plan has been under attack from various conservative groups. In explaining his support, the Judge said:

I have had the most remarkable odyssey since deciding the intelligent design case in 2005. Without the principle of judicial independence in our federal court system, I could not have rendered such a decision. Judicial independence means that judges must strive for fair and impartial ruling, hearing cases free of favor or political influence by those who put the judge in office. This certainly was true in the case of Kistmiller v. the School Distrcit of Dover.

[U]nfortunately, very few Americans really understand and appreciate the concept of judicial independence. I was a Republican when I was named to the federal bench in 2002. The Kistmiller case came to me in December 2004, and was really an example of the 'third rail' kind of hot button issue, the intersection of religion, the Constitution and politics. I decided the case not on the basis of political considerations, but on the basis of the law.
As the judge noted, the fallout was less than pleasant, naturally enough considering the sources, including such mouth-breathers as Bill O'Reilly and Phyllis Schlafly, among others:

Ann Coulter said that I was a 'hack,' and the worst judicial selection Bush made since he nominated Harriet Miers to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Coulter calling anyone else a "hack" creates such massive irony that it threatens to collapse into a singularity that could suck the entire universe into a black hole of stupidity. Jones continued:

It is alarming to me that the public is being fed this kind of misinformation about the role of the judiciary. Judges should not rule on the basis of who their political benefactors were or are, but on the basis of the law.
But those self-proclaimed patriots of the Righteous Right actually loathe the form of government the Founders envisioned.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007


Civil Service

Ruskin said: "Great nations write their autobiographies in three manuscripts, the book of their deeds, the book of their words and the book of their art. Not one of these books can be understood unless we read the two others, but of the three the only trustworthy one is the last." On the whole I think this is true. Writers and politicians may come out with all sorts of edifying sentiments, but they are what is known as declarations of intent. If I had to say which was telling the truth about society, a speech by a Minister of Housing or the actual buildings put up in his time, I should believe the buildings.
That truism by the great British art historian, Kenneth Clark, comes from the opening of the grand BBC documentary Civilisation: A Personal View by Lord Clark. The first major project undertaken by David Attenborough at BBC Two, this groundbreaking merger of education and television was to influence a generation and more of documentaries, including those authored and hosted by Attenborough himself. Filmed in color at the very dawn of color television, the device of a knowledgeable guide visiting and interacting with the places and objects and people he or she was discussing would become a familiar one in such subsequent efforts as The Ascent of Man and Cosmos.

The BBC has lost its collective mind and is selling this monumental 13 part series for a mere pittance ($58.49 US on Amazon). I watched the first episode today an can report that it is every bit as wonderful as my aging memory recalled. The original film is transferred well to the DVD, with the color very vivid and the sound quality excellent.

I have to agree with Clark:

People sometimes tell me that they prefer barbarism to civilisation. I doubt they have given it a long enough trial.
If you want a trial of the civilisation side of the equation, there is no better place to start than this series. Take advantage of the Brits before they come to their senses.


Merry Winter Solstice!

May you have a happy and healthy solstice season, whether you celebrate the Saturnalia, Hanukkah, Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, Brumalia, Sankranti or that latecomer, Christmas!


We Apologize for the Inconvenience


We have been experiencing technical difficulties with our signal, causing an outage for the last 48 hours. We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused. We appreciate your patience.

@#%$&%#&@%& internet connection!

Sunday, December 23, 2007


Four and Counting

Ron Paul has joined the 19th century:

Cross another off the list.

Via Truthdig.

Saturday, December 22, 2007


To the Letter

I previously posted the text of a letter signed by faculty members from university biology departments across Texas to Robert Scott, the head of the Texas Education Agency, protesting the ouster of Chris Comer as director of the Agency's science curriculum. Scott sent a letter in reply and Texas professor Daniel Bolnick, who organized the original letter has replied to Scott. The full texts are below:

..........Dec. 13, 2007

To biology faculty members:

Thank you for your recent correspondence stating your concerns regarding recent events here at the Texas Education Agency. I appreciate the concern you have for Texas public schools, and know we all share the desire to provide the best science education possible to our students.

I am not at liberty to discuss the particular circumstances surrounding the departure of Chris Comer from the agency because it is a personnel matter.

In response to your concerns about science education in Texas, it is important to note the respective roles of the State Board of Education and the Texas Education Agency. The State Board of Education, as the policy making body for public education, establishes what is taught in Texas schools through its adoption of the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS). Agency staff members are responsible for implementing the curriculum standards adopted by the board. During the curriculum review and revision process, it is essential for Agency staff to provide a fair and open forum in which all viewpoints can be presented to the board. The current curriculum standards require the teaching of evolution in our schools. The concepts regarding biological evolution are in the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) for Biology:

TEKS #7 Science concepts. The student knows the theory of Biological Evolution. The student is expected to:
(A) identify evidence of change in species using fossils, DNA sequences, anatomical similarities, physiological similarities, and embryology; and
(B) illustrate the results of natural selection in speciation, diversity, phylogeny, adaptation, behavior, and extinction.

In addition, students in science from 3rd to 12th grade share the following science process:

TEKS #3 Science Processes. The student uses critical thinking and scientific problem solving to make informed decisions. The student is expected to:
(A) analyze review, and critique scientific explanations including hypotheses and theories, as to their strengths and weaknesses using scientific evidence and information."

The science TEKS will be reviewed and updated by the SBOE in 2008 but at this point, I am not aware of any plans to change these particular curriculum standards. Information will be available on our website at as this process moves forward. I encourage you to follow the revision process and provide written and oral comment at the appropriate time to help us craft the best science standards in the country.

It is my expectation that agency staff members will be mindful, particularly on policy matters, that anything said will be scrutinized and may be interpreted as representing a position of the agency or State Board of Education. This controversy is an example of how closely policy makers and the public examine this agency's every word and action.

I know you understand and appreciate this position because in your correspondence your first footnote states that "the opinions expressed in this letter are not necessarily those of our universities, but rather our own professional opinions as Ph.D. biologists."

Thank you again for your comments and dedication to public education.


Robert Scott
Commissioner of Education

And this is Professor Bolnick's reply:

..........December 18, 2007

Dear Mr. Scott,

Thank you for your reply to the biologists' letter concerning the TEA's "neutrality" regarding evolution and intelligent design. I have forwarded your response to my colleagues. I believe I can speak for most of the faculty who signed the letter (now over 150), when I say that the work that you and the TEA do to strengthen K–12 education in Texas is appreciated. It is precisely because we recognize your efforts that we felt it would be helpful to contact you with our concerns as professional educators and researchers in the biological sciences.

I and the other signers of the biologists' letter recognize the distinction between the policy-setting role of the Board of Education and the implementation duties of the TEA. As public bodies, both must be responsive to the public's concerns. However, it is also essential that these public bodies stand for the highest educational standards that reflect the current state of scientific knowledge. Listening to the public is essential, but the public is not always fully informed or correct when it comes to technical matters like the content of a science curriculum.

There is an old joke about the tendency of elected bodies such as school boards to want to compromise: If group A thinks that 2 + 2 is 4, and group B thinks 2 + 2 is 6, the school board will declare that 2 + 2 is 5. (My favorite historical example is the Indiana State Legislature's House Bill No. 246, which passed 67 to 0 and redefined the mathematical constant pi to be 3.2, rather than 3.14159…, at the urging of a doctor and amateur mathematician Dr. Edwin Goodwin.) There are times when 2 + 2 simply has to equal 4, and pi does not equal 3.2 no matter what the House Bill said.

Likewise, evolution has overwhelming empirical support, while there is zero original empirical research supporting intelligent design, and no credible evidence against evolution.

You write "that anything said will be scrutinized and may be interpreted as representing a position of the agency or State Board of Education." The Board's position on science education should be to provide the best and most accurate science possible, regardless of the political consequences. There are times when public bodies need to lead, and this is one of them. Speaking on behalf of my colleagues, I urge both the Board and the TEA to exercise such leadership by issuing statements that unambiguously support the teaching of evolution and omission of intelligent design in public classrooms. The full weight of scientific evidence would be on your side. The scientific community is agreed that evolution should not only be taught, but taught in a straightforward manner, unqualified by alleged "weaknesses" that are invariably based on faulty logic or misrepresentations of available data.

This is emphatically not an attempt to suppress contrary viewpoints. Rather, it is a professional judgment that the claims of "weaknesses" in evolution are based on shoddy scholarship. We wish to assure you that not a single so-called weakness promoted by anti-evolutionists has passed scientific muster. For example, the Discovery Institute's recent publication Exploring Evolution: The Arguments for and against Neo-Darwinism, which was written to facilitate classroom discussions of "weaknesses," is demonstrably full of factual errors and logical fallacies. We would be more than happy to help you understand the flaws in any of the "weakness" arguments that you or members of the Board are uncertain about.

This is not to say that there are no controversies in evolution. But the genuine controversies concern esoteric points about how evolution works, not whether it works. Such debates are a normal component of active research in any scientific field, and do not signify the existence of "weaknesses". For example, there is currently a vigorous debate over whether coding or regulatory genetic changes contribute more to evolution. Coding changes alter the structure of proteins and their functions; regulatory changes alter when and where a given protein is produced. Clear instances of both types of evolutionary change have been documented, but their relative importance is a subject of active research. Personally, I would love to see these kinds of debates taught in science classes, but they do not represent "weaknesses" in evolution as a whole. The difficulty is that understanding these topics requires a substantial level of background knowledge. In the case I just outlined, students must understand how coding and regulatory genes work, but gene regulation is not covered until university-level biology courses, so students are not equipped to investigate this topic until late in their undergraduate careers. The same pedagogical problem arises for many of the supposed "weaknesses" of evolution described in creationist sources like Explore Evolution.

In your response to the biologists' letter, you mentioned Process Skill 3A, which taken on its face, is innocuous and seems to be admirable pedagogy: "The student uses critical thinking and scientific problem solving to make informed decisions. The student is expected to: (A) analyze, review, and critique scientific explanations including hypotheses and theories, as to their strengths and weaknesses using scientific evidence and information." You correctly identified 3A as being applied to all science standards from 3rd grade through the discipline-related standards for high school. From its ubiquity across the curriculum, we assume that the purpose of 3A is to encourage students to exercise scientific reasoning, which is quite appropriate. However, you probably recall that in 2003, during the textbook adoption hearings, the evolution-related standards were the only standards to which 3A directly was applied, in an effort to weaken the coverage of evolution in the books. An attempt to force textbook publishers to rewrite their textbooks to include non-existent "weaknesses" almost succeeded. This would have resulted in students in Texas and nationally being miseducated about evolution. Upon entry to university science classes, they would have to unlearn the spurious "weaknesses" they had been taught in high school, which is profoundly unfair to them.

We look forward to working with the SBoE to rephrase 3A to encourage critical thinking in all the sciences, without providing a backdoor for scientifically unsound "weaknesses" that are currently being promoted by the Discovery Institute and other creationist organizations. Dropping the "strengths and weaknesses" language from the TEKS is an important first step. I and others of my colleagues are willing to assist the TEA or the TEKS reviewing committees in this effort. Having science standards that accurately reflect the scientific community's consensus is essential to the successful education of Texas students.

In conclusion, biology faculty around the state are deeply concerned that next year Texas will be a battleground where creationists (including advocates of intelligent design and "weaknesses" of evolution) try to water down evolution education. This would harm public understanding of biology (already poor), weaken the quality of university-bound biology students, and undermine Texas's ability to compete in tomorrow's biotechnology-driven economy. I hope that as the TEKS revisions move forward, both the TEA and the Board adopt firm stances in support of improving evolution education. I also hope that the the Board consults more extensively with Ph.D. biologists among the highly qualified research and teaching faculty at universities around Texas. Finally, on behalf of all my co-signers, I extend an invitation to you to discuss details of evolutionary biology with faculty from any of the universities in Texas. There is a vast reserve of knowledge about science and in particular about evolution in this state that is at your disposal as you and the Board work to understand the current state of knowledge on this topic. Please avail yourself of this resource, and take a firm stand in support of increased quality of evolution education in Texas.


Dr. Daniel Bolnick, University of Texas at Austin

P.S. You commented on the disclaimer in our original letter, that the letter reflected our own professional opinions. I should point out that this was only added because the ouster of Ms. Comer created an atmosphere of intimidation. A number of faculty expressed concern over possible retribution from their state employers for signing the letter. Some chose not to sign for fear of their jobs, others signed on the condition that the disclaimer be added.

How shameful is it that state university faculty, in this day and age, have even the perception of possibile reprisals because they support the best available science?


Not-So-Big Brother

Don McLeroy, the creationist dentist chosen by Texas Governor Rick Perry to lead one of the largest school systems in the country, is out with a letter to the editor in The Dallas Morning News that should send shivers down the spine of anyone interested in good science education:

Science education has to have an open mind

Re: "Teaching of evolution to go under microscope – With science director out, sides set to fight over state's curriculum," Thursday news story.

What do you teach in science class? You teach science. What do you teach in Sunday school class? You teach your faith.

Thus, in your story it is important to remember that some of my quoted comments were made in a 2005 Sunday school class. The story does accurately represent that I am a Christian and that my faith in God is something that I take very seriously. My Christian convictions are shared by many people.

Given these religious convictions, I would like to clarify any impression one may make from the article about my motivation for questioning evolution. My focus is on the empirical evidence and the scientific interpretations of that evidence. In science class, there is no place for dogma and "sacred cows;" no subject should be "untouchable" as to its scientific merits or shortcomings. My motivation is good science and a well-trained, scientifically literate student.

What can stop science is an irrefutable preconception. Anytime you attempt to limit possible explanations in science, it is then that you get your science stopper. In science class, it is important to remember that the consensus of a conviction does not determine whether it is true or false. In science class, you teach science.

Don McLeroy, chair, State Board of Education, College Station
Quite apart from the appalling notion of a dentist, with an admitted bias that no amount of pious talk about "empirical evidence" can paper over, deciding what "scientific merits or shortcomings" evolutionary theory may or may not have, what science does he expect to be done in grade and high schools that could be "stopped" by teaching the overwhelming consensus of biologists that evolution is the only valid scientific explanation for the nature of life on Earth?

But if this is really about the science and not McLeroy's religious beliefs, then I look forward with interest to the curriculum standards that challenge the scientific interpretations of the evidence for the germ theory of disease, the theory of gravity and the heliocentric solar system. After all, there is no place for dogma and "sacred cows" in those areas either, right?

Via Pharyngula and Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub.


Talking Design

George Douglas Campbell, 8th Duke of Argyll, was the very model of a Victorian establishment insider. He was a close associate of Prince Albert and served under a number of Prime Ministers in various positions such as Lord Privy Seal, Postmaster General and Secretary of State for India. He was also a well-known scientist of his day or, perhaps more correctly, as the present Wikipedia entry puts it -- delicately -- "an eminent publicist on scientific matters." An opponent of Darwin's theory but not of the man, Argyll may have come up with one of the more ingenious arguments in favor of intelligent design ever, as recounted by Neal C. Gillespie in his book, Charles Darwin and the Problem of Creation:

The old episteme, with its emphasis on the union of theology and science in the study of nature, had no more devoted champion in the years after 1859 than this Scottish nobleman. Argyll's primary strategy in his effort to preserve a unity of science and religion by means of the design doctrine was to insist that purposeful teleological language (which scientists, try as they might, seemed unable to avoid) was necessary in carrying on scientific work because a complete scientific explanation must involve the idea of purpose. "It is well worthy of observation," he wrote in the 1880s, "that in exact proportion as [scientific] phrases do avoid [teleological language], they become incompetent to describe fully the facts of science." For example, describing the various stages in the unfolding development of an embryo as "differentiations" failed utterly to encompass the goal-directed nature of those changes. The element of preparation for future use was the linkage that connected the entire process. Scientists of positivist bent, Argyll further charged, who, in an attempt to avoid religion and metaphysics, renounced teleological concepts in their work, were only substituting a metaphysics of their own: materialism. This was a bad metaphysics because it excluded a priori evident aspects of reality. ... The fullness of nature was not to be found in a "sameness of material" or in an "identity of composition" or in "mere uniformity of structure." It lay in a unity of "aims" or "action' -- in short, of mind. But positive science, moved by the philosophical needs of its method, relegated these elements of nature to theology and so dismissed them from "the category of scientific facts.
Argyll recognized that these teleological elements could justly be classed as theological but he denied they should be excised from science merely for that reason. They were, he believed, a necessary part of any complete understanding of the universe.

Those who used purposeful language -- as any honest scientist would, and must -- and denied its reference to mind, were giving the attributes of mind to matter. The metaphysics of language, then, was an issue greatly needing analysis; and the heart of that problem was metaphor and, of course, analogy.

The essence of Argyll's interpretation of language is found in two phrases: "I hold that the unconscious metaphysics of human speech are often the deepest and truest interpretations of the ultimate facts of nature" and "all metaphor is essentially founded on the perception of analogies.
As evidence of the first proposition, he pointed to the similarity of "folk taxonomy" to the binomial classification system as finally worked out by Linnaeus. As to the second and far more important of Argyll's propositions:

Teleological language in science, the significance of which some scientists tried to evade by pleading the use of metaphor, recommended itself to them in the first place only because of its evident appropriateness. Cuvier's work had been filled with it -- not from choice, however, but because "it was the automatic impression made by external facts upon the receptive structure of Cuvier's mind. He could no more have abandoned it, or departed from it, than he could have abandoned the use of speech." Similarly, "Mr. Darwin does not use this language with any theological purpose or in connection with any metaphysical speculation. He uses it simply and naturally for no other reason than that he cannot help it. . . . The greatest observer that has ever lived cannot help observing [purpose) in Nature; and so his language is thoroughly anthropopsychic," that is, teleological, as a consequence. The excuse of mere metaphorical color would not wash: the analogy was genuine, the perception true.
For once, Herbert Spencer, who so often managed to distort public understanding of Darwin's work, did good service by producing a credible explanation for this linguistic difficulty:

"The general truth," [Spencer] wrote in the Principles of Sociology, is "that the poorer a language the more metaphorical it is, and the derivative truth [is] that being first developed to express human affairs, it carries with it certain human implications when extended to the world around. . . ." Spencer spoke, in this case, of primitive language, but his remark was equally apropos of scientific language during a "primitive" stage such as evolutionary biology was experiencing in the nineteenth century. Not the least noticeable feature of the Origin is Darwin's struggle to express ideas for which an adequate language had not yet been invented. As biology matured its vocabulary, metaphors and "anthropopsychisms" tended to disappear.
The irony of all this was that Darwin ended up adopting a phrase coined by Spencer, at the urging of Alfred Russell Wallace (who thought the term "natural selection" too metaphorical) which would wind up causing no end of mischief ... "survival of the fittest."


Friday, December 21, 2007


Southern Fried

This is disheartening. Florida's new education commissioner, Eric J. Smith, was a science teacher by training. And, yet, he's saying this about the proposed science standards:

Do you believe evolution should be taught in the science curriculum?

This decision will ultimately be made by the state Board of Education. The public input period for the Web concluded on Friday and we have two public hearings set to take place in January. I'm going to reserve my opinions on the matter until all of that input has been received and I have had a chance to review it.

Does the state need to include other "alternatives" such as creation or intelligent design and let the students decide for themselves?

Again, I'm going to reserve my opinions on the matter until I am able to review public input and listen to what is said during the public hearings.
It is perhaps understandable that he might not want to waive a red flag in front of the already building opposition but how can the Board of Education stand up to the political pressure if the commissioner isn't willing to state forthrightly that evolution needs to be taught and that there are no scientific "alternatives"?

The children of the state are not being well served.


Real Ghosts

Alan Boyle of MSNBC has more about Carl Sagan, in an article entitled "Religion vs. Science VS. Politics," including comments by Ann Druyan, Sagan's widow.

On the issue of the proposed Science Debate 2008:

Sagan's name has come up as the kind of person who could moderate Science Debate 2008 - if the idea could ever get off the ground. "I'd have loved to see Sagan host this," one commentator opined in response to Matthew Chapman's essay on the debate movement.

Ann Druyan, Sagan's widow and the keeper of the "Cosmos" flame, agrees that her husband would have been engaged in the political debate - just as he was during the debates over nuclear war and global warming back in the 1980s. The current times are similarly dire, she said. ...

Druyan would love to see someone of Sagan's stature try to turn the agenda toward scientific topics - and that's why she was one of the first advocates to sign up in support of Science Debate 2008. "I really feel like it's been so long since we had an exponent of science, doing it the way Carl did it - without tearing anybody down, but being very direct," she said.

She doesn't think the confrontational approach taken by Dawkins and other militant atheists is doing the trick. In fact, that approach runs the risk of closing off the dialogue and drawing even sharper battle lines. "The frontal assault on religion has not resulted in the degree of communication that was possible even a few years ago," she said.
In her own entry in the blog-a-thon, Druyan said:

He believed that science must always remain scrupulously faithful to the most rigorous possible methodological standards but that we shouldn't shrink from the spiritual implications of its insights. He dreamed of a civilization rooted in our dawning understanding of nature, where skepticism and wonder went hand in hand. He didn't want to humiliate or demean the believer. He was always ready to communicate.
This isn't meant as a backhanded criticism of the "New Atheists" (I'm not shy about direct criticism, as any observer might notice). It's only fair though, in this political season, when the shouting will reach category 5 intensity, that the quieter voices, including those echoing out of the past, should have a moment of our thought.

Thursday, December 20, 2007


Not Choosers

Uh, oh! Is there trouble in Seattle? Has Howard Ahmanson Jr. got tired of throwing his money down a [cough] rat-hole?

For the first time in my memory (which is admittedly swiss-cheese-ish) the Discovery Institute is making an appeal for donations to the general public on its Kvetch & Release blog. And one day shy of the second anniversary of the decision in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District! Coincidence or Kismet?

It's almost sad:

[O]ur budget is dwarfed many times over by our opponents. Just one small biology department at a mid-size college has an annual budget several times larger than the CSC's.
But, hey! They're actually teaching people. Do you think that comes as cheap as sitting around trying to think up ways to get people not to educate themselves?

Think about how many such departments there are, not to mention the huge biological science establishment at major research universities – most of which are dominated by very dogmatic, intolerant Darwinists.
In other words, it costs more to do science than it does to do pseudoscience. I can see that. And biologists as the Evil Empire is a bit risible, dontcha think?

Here's a thought ... how about you guys go out and get a job preaching your faith openly and honestly? I'd have a lot more respect for you then.

P.S. Ed Brayton has an amusing take on this over at Dispatches From the Culture Wars, focusing on the ridiculousness of accusing "Darwinists" of paranoia while going off on a whine about how oppressed IDeologists are. My favorite line:

At the very least, there should be a Pulitzer Prize for the Diary of Casey Luskin, where he recounts how he and his family had to hide from the Darwinian SS in a secret room in Douglas Axe's lab in Seattle.


Ex Libris Veritas

It is time for the second annual Carl Sagan memorial blog-a-thon, on the occasion of the 11th anniversary of his death. My entry for this year is a paean to learning from Cosmos that, considering the fate of scholarship in Alexandria, bears an implicit warning about the vulnerability of science and education to the forces of politics and sectarianism that is all too pertinent today.

[T]he greatest marvel of Alexandria was the library and its associated museum ... the first true research institute in the history of the world. The scholars of the library studied the entire Cosmos. Cosmos is a Greek word for the order of the universe. It is, in a way, the opposite of Chaos. It implies the deep interconnectedness of all things. It conveys awe for the intricate and subtle way in which the universe is put together. Here was a community of scholars, exploring physics, literature, medicine, astronomy, geography, philosophy, mathematics, biology, and engineering. Science and scholarship had come of age. Genius flourished there. The Alexandrian Library is where we humans first collected, seriously and systematically, the knowledge of the world.

In addition to Eratosthenes [who calculated the circumference of the Earth], there was the astronomer Hipparchus, who mapped the constellations and estimated the brightness of the stars; Euclid, who brilliantly systematized geometry and told his king, struggling over a difficult mathematical problem, "There is no royal road to geometry"; Dionysius of Thrace, the man who defined the parts of speech and did for the study of language what Euclid did for geometry; Herophilus, the physiologist who firmly established that the brain rather than the heart is the seat of intelligence; Heron of Alexandria, inventor of gear trains and steam engines and the author of Automata, the first book on robots; Apollonius of Perga, the mathematician who demonstrated the forms of the conic sections" -- ellipse, parabola and hyperbola -- the curves, as we now know, followed in their orbits by the planets, the comets and the stars; Archimedes, the greatest mechanical genius until Leonardo da Vinci; and the astronomer and geographer Ptolemy, who compiled much of what is today the pseudoscience of astrology: his Earth-centered universe held sway for 1,500 years, a reminder that intellectual capacity is no guarantee against being dead wrong.
It is a measure of the man that, in reciting the glories of our species' past achievements, he would include a reminder that humility is an important lesson too.

There's no more appropriate ending for this occasion than the final words from Cosmos:

[W]e are the local embodiment of a Cosmos grown to self-awareness. We have begun to contemplate our origins: starstuff pondering the stars; organized assemblages of ten billion billion billion atoms considering the evolution of atoms; tracing the long journey by which, here at least, consciousness arose. Our loyalties are to the species and the planet. We speak for Earth. Our obligation to survive is owed not just to ourselves but also to that Cosmos, ancient and vast, from which we spring.


To see the other posts in the blog-a-thon, go to Joel's Humanistic Blog.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007


School Daze

Kristen Maguire, a County Republican Party official and cofounder of South Carolina Parents Involved in Education, a group that advocates taxpayer-supported vouchers for private school tuition, school choice, and an intelligent design curriculum, has been a member of the South Carolina Board of Education since 2000. She has now been voted chairperson-elect of the Board. The real kicker: Maguire home-schools her four daughters.

When asked by The State about the incongruity between her choice for her children's education and her service on the state public school board, she sniffed, "That's pretty much off the record. That's out of bounds."

Uh, I'm gonna have to agree with S.C. Democratic Party chair Carol Fowler who issued a statement saying, "Having Kristen Maguire chair the state Board of Education is akin to Dick Cheney teaching a gun safety course ... What does a woman who home-schools her four children know about South Carolina public schools?"
Can you give an entire state an "F"?

Tuesday, December 18, 2007



Well, it's pretty clear what Chris Comer's next move should be ... apply for a job in the Florida Department of Education!

It seems that one Selena "Charlie" Carraway, the program director of the department's instructional materials office, went way beyond the mere forwarding of an e-mail notice of an appearance by a noted university professor and opponent of forcing creationism into public school science classes. Ms. Carraway circulated an e-mail that started:

My name is Charlie Carraway and I'm a member of Sopchoppy Southern Baptist Church, Sopchoppy, Florida, but I also work for the Florida Department of Education as the Director of the Office of Instructional Materials. That means I oversee the adoption process in the state, and I work in close proximity to the folks in the Office of Mathematics and Science, who have been in charge of the revision of the science standards. I say all of this, obviously, to give this e-mail credibility, so that you'll continue to read and pass on the information I'm sharing with you.

She proceeds to show her ignorance of science by hauling out this hoary bit of nonsense, breathlessly warning her correspondents that the new standards, if adopted, will "explicity teach evolution - and not as a theory!!!" It's indeed worth triple exclamation points ... just not in the way she thinks. It continues:

Please join me in keeping these standards from being approved and adopted by our State Board of Education at their December meeting. The least we can do is make sure evolution is presented to our children and grandchildren as a theory as it has been in the past. Hopefully, though, we can do better than that.

Now, after having hijacked the prestige of her official position (while objectively demonstrating her unfitness for it) in service of an anti-educational cause, what is the reaction? Was it termination, reassignment or forced resignation? Nope. She was brutally counselled!!!! (Four exclamations!)

Carraway certainly has the right to express her opinion and participate in public debate as a member of the general public, DOE spokesman Tom Butler said.

But she appears to have stepped over the line when she used her department job to lend credibility to a private e-mail that has been forwarded throughout the state urging people to oppose the proposed standard.

"It is inappropriate for any department employee to use their public position to advocate their personal positions," Butler told the Gradebook.
Which just highlights the fact that the promotion of creationism is not -- and should not be -- a public position of any Department of Education.

Monday, December 17, 2007


Makeup Exam

Kevin Coe, a doctoral candidate in Speech Communication at the University of Illinois, and David Domke, Professor of Communication and Head of Journalism at the University of Washington, are authors of the just-published book, The God Strategy: How Religion Became a Political Weapon in America. They have a short article in George Mason University's History News Network about how we got to the pass in this country that we can't get our politicians shut up about religion and God. As with most bad trends in our body politic, it can be traced directly to Ronald Reagan.

Our analysis of thousands of public communications across eight decades shows that American politics today is defined by a calculated, demonstrably public religiosity unlike anything in modern history. Consider a few examples.

If one looks at nearly 360 major speeches that presidents from Franklin Roosevelt to George W. Bush have given, the increase in religiosity is astounding. The average president from FDR to Carter mentioned God in a minority of his speeches, doing so about 47% of the time. Reagan, in contrast, mentioned God in 96% of his speeches. George H. W. Bush did so 91% of the time, Clinton 93%, and the current Bush (through year six) was at 94%. Further, the total number of references to God in the average presidential speech since 1981 is 120% higher than the average speech from 1933-1980. References to broader religious terms, such as faith, pray, sacred, worship, crusade, and dozens of others increased by 60%.

Presidential requests for divine favor also show a profound shift. The phrase "God Bless America," now the signature tagline of American politics, gained ubiquity in the 1980s. Prior to 1981, the phrase had only once passed a modern president's lips in a major address: Richard Nixon's, as he concluded an April 30, 1973, speech about the Watergate scandal. Since Reagan, presidents have rarely concluded a major address without "God Bless America" or a close variant.
And the sad results are:

Presidents and presidential hopefuls since Reagan have been afraid to be seen as the apostate in the room. They put religion front and center to show they're not.
But that's not faith, it's greasepaint.

Sunday, December 16, 2007


A Matter of Some Gravity

I'm currently picking my way through Norman Kemp Smith's classic study, The Philosophy of David Hume. One of the major influences on Hume was Newton's formulation of the experimental method, which rejected the use of hypotheses, except as subservient explanations of properties already discovered or to suggest further experiments. That formulation was to prove too restrictive, especially outside the relatively simple confines of the physics of Newton's time. That doesn't mean he was all wrong, of course.

Newton, naturally enough, bristled when it was suggested that gravity was a hypothesis. Instead, Newton held that gravity, along with other "principles" or "phaenomenon" such as mass and inertia, are "ultimate characters" of bodies, learned directly from experience. They are "manifest" because they are properties that can be observed experimentally. Newton makes no attempt to explain the ultimate nature of gravity, which may or may not rest on more basic properties of matter. But gravity is an ultimate phaenomenon as far as we are concerned.

The contrary to phaenomenon is the "occult," that which is not manifest and is, instead, secret or hidden. As Newton explained in the Opticks:

[T]he Aristotelians gave the name of occult qualities, not to manifest qualities, but to such qualities only as they supposed to lie hid in bodies, and to be the unknown causes of manifest effects: Such as would be the causes of gravity, and of magnetic and electric attractions, and of fermentations, if we should suppose that these forces or actions arose from qualities unknown to us, and uncapable of being discovered and made manifest. Such occult qualities put a stop to the improvement of natural philosophy, and therefore of late years have been rejected. To tell us that every species of things is endowed with an occult specific quality by which it acts and produces manifest effects, is to tell us nothing: But to derive two or three general principles of motion from phenomena, and afterwards to tell us how the properties and actions of all corporeal things follow from those manifest principles, would be a very great step in philosophy, though the causes of those principles were not yet discovered: And therefore I scruple not to propose the principles of motion above­mentioned, they being of very general extent, and leave their causes to be found out.
The Intelligent Design Creationists attempt to make this sort of distinction. For instance, Michael Behe, in Darwin's Black Box, says (p. 197):

The conclusion that something was designed can be made quite independently of knowledge of a designer. As a matter of procedure, the design must first be appreciated before there can be any further question about the designer. The inference to design can be held with all the firmness that is possible in this world, without knowing anything about the designer.
Quite apart from the silly claim that knowing the means and motives of a possible designer (i.e. humans, the only designer we have experience of) can't aid in the identification of human artifacts, the problem with ID's contention is that design is not "manifest" in biology, a fact that Darwin established by showing how adaptation (and non-adaptation) can arise spontaneously out of the processes of life. Instead, IDers have to hunt for their claimed examples of design here and there in the nooks and crannies of minutia like the flagellum, the very opposite of the manifest laws of the universe "of very general extent" that Newton discovered.

Instead, ID puts a stop to the improvement of our scientific knowledge. To tell us nothing more than that living things have an occult specific quality called "design" by which manifest effects of biology are produced, is to tell us nothing ... except, that is, something about the religious beliefs of the proponent.

Saturday, December 15, 2007


Texas Two-Step

No one can accuse the Texas state government of not having a plan for education in the state.

On top of the ouster of Chris Comer as director of science curriculum for the Texas Education Agency, an advisory group of educators and officials has now approved the Institute for Creation Research (ICR) to teach a masters program in science education. Final approval rests with the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.

The ICR was founded in 1970 by the late Henry M. Morris, widely known as the father of "creation science." They are following closely in his footsteps:

Patricia Nason, chairwoman of the institute's science education department, said that, despite the institute's name, students learn evolution along with creationism.

"Our students are given both sides," said Dr. Nason, who has a doctorate in curriculum and instruction from Texas A&M University. "They need to know both sides, and they can draw their own conclusion."
While, according to the school's Web site, the ICR apparently offers typical education classes, it also offers a class called "Advanced studies in creationism." The ICR also states that the graduate school aims to prepare science teachers "to understand the universe within the integrating framework of Biblical creationism using proven scientific data." And, on top of that:

... the course Web page for "Curriculum design in science" gives this scenario: "The school board has asked you to serve on a committee that is examining grades 6-12 science goals. ... Both evolutionist and creationist teachers serve on the curriculum committee. How will you convince them to include creation science as well as evolution in the new scope and sequence?"
Well, one thing the student might suggest is to take out a gun and shoot all the board members in the foot and save them the trouble.

The advisory group that approved the plan Friday includes professors and administrators from six colleges – two public and four affiliated with religious institutions.

One member of the team that visited the school has a background in math and science education. But no one on the team or the panel that gave approval Friday has a background in pure science, records show.
Needless to say, the reality-based education community is less than pleased. Dan Quinn of the Texas Freedom Network said:

It just seems odd to license an organization to offer a degree in science when they're not teaching science.
Odd, like everything else in Texas, seems to come oversized.

Update: Texas Citizens for Science has learned more on this subject and it seems even worse than before. As PZ reports, it appears that ICR is tired of trying to peddle its wares only to the fundamentalist Christians with more money than sense and this is an attempt to obtain an accreditation with the appearance, if not the substance, of credibility. Worse, it looks like there are those in the educational community in Texas who are in active cahoots with the ICR, not just being used as unwitting tools. There is a pdf file of the site visit report, which has this howler: "... the proposed master's degree in science education, while carrying an embedded component of creationist perspectives/views, is nevertheless a plausible program." Only in Texas!

Friday, December 14, 2007


The Science of God

I'm just tucking this away here for future use.

The problem for ID has always been how to signal to their intended audience that ID is supposed to provide evidence for the existence of God while, at the same time, keeping up the pretense that ID is just science, so they can get it into public schools, in one form or another, despite the Constitution. Sometimes they simply send both messages at once and pretend there is no conflict at all. That is the case with this latest pronouncement by William Dembski in an interview in the friendly confines of CitizenLink, the house organ for James Dobson's Focus on the Family:

4. Does your research conclude that God is the Intelligent Designer?

I believe God created the world for a purpose. The Designer of intelligent design is, ultimately, the Christian God.

The focus of my writings is not to try to understand the Christian doctrine of creation; it's to try to develop intelligent design as a scientific program.
That's their agenda: to present ID as "scientific" proof not just of any old God, but of the Christian God. But ID ain't about religion ... perish the thought!

Via Pharyngula.

Labels: ,


Selective Facts

I've mentioned before that modern evolutionary theory, quite contrary to what propagandists like John West of the Discovery Institute would have the uninformed believe, not only was not the source of the notion of eugenics but, in fact, demonstrates that such attempts at breeding for social betterment are doomed to failure. Jim Curtsinger, a Professor in the Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, and a contributor to Minnesota Citizens for Science Education, has a nice article about West's misinformation minstrel show. At the end he gives a good explanation of why "evolutionists" don't think eugenics is part of their theory:

Enough of West's baloney – even I have limits on how much nonsense I can digest. Let's talk about real science, some very interesting stuff that is fundamental to understanding inherited human diseases. I'm speaking of the evolutionary genetic model called "mutation-selection balance", which was developed by the British evolutionary biologist, biochemist, and physiologist J.B.S. Haldane in 1927. I'll present a very simplified description here; the model is fully laid out in any standard population genetics text.

Haldane analyzed a mathematical model of an idealized population of organisms that have only one gene. Spontaneous mutations are assumed to occur in this gene at a constant, low rate. If one of the hypothetical organisms happens to inherit two copies of the mutated gene, it has an inherited disease and does not survive to reproduce.

From the point of view of the gene pool, two processes are going on simultaneously in Haldane's model: spontaneous mutation is dumping "bad" alleles into the gene pool every generation, and selection is cleaning them up at a certain rate through the deaths of carriers. What is not obvious but was shown mathematically by Haldane is that the gene pool gradually evolves to a state where the rate of input of deleterious mutations is precisely balanced by the rate at which they are removed by natural selection (hence the name of the model). An equilibrium frequency of deleterious mutations is reached.

Haldane's insight has important implications for understanding inherited human diseases. There are thousands of different diseases, but fortunately for us, each is rare. This occurs because with realistic mutation rates the equilibrium level of deleterious alleles attained in the mutation-selection balance model is always low, significantly less than one percent. Though rare, the deleterious recessive mutations are always there, a permanent fixture of the gene pool. This helps explain the bad effects of inbreeding, since close relatives have increased chances of carrying the same mutations. This result also says that negative eugenics can never clean up the gene pool completely. In particular, even if a society were to screen everyone every generation and prohibit any carriers of deleterious mutations from reproducing, that would still never completely eliminate the mutation - it would only reduce the frequency somewhat, at unthinkable social cost. Negative eugenics can't purify the human gene pool.
Not that the Discovery Institute or its band of blatherers are interested in anything as inconvenient as the truth.

Via Pharyngula.


Comer and Going

The Austin American-Statesman has published an interview with Texas Education Agency Deputy Commissioner Lizzette Gonzalez Reynolds, the former lobbyist and political appointee during George W. Bush's stint as Texas governor and then in the U.S. Department of Education, who touched off the ouster of Chris Comer, the TEA's science curriculum director. The following are some of the more ... um ... shall we say interesting parts, rearranged to make certain juxtapositions clearer:

Were you surprised she resigned?

Yes, because I had asked her supervisor to look into the e-mail issue. But I wasn't kept in the loop. I was at a meeting some time later when someone mentioned, "By the way, she (Chris Comer) is resigning today."

Knowing what you know now, what would you do differently?

I would have alerted the proper people that something was being sent on the state e-mail. I would have said, "Let's discuss this," instead of giving my opinion in the e-mail. … Should I have used the words "termination" or "reassignment"? I don't know.
So, she was surprised Comer resigned rather than being terminated or reassigned?

The TEA has received a lot of criticism, especially from scientists, who note that evolution is not a relic or abstract theory, but an important plank in the study of modern sciences and in scientific research. Were you aware of the significance of evolution?

I didn't recognize the importance of the subject in terms of it being tagged "evolution." I know now that it has very real importance in modern science and research. I know that it is in our TEKS, and I've no reason to believe it won't continue that way. What I didn't think about was evolution in terms of a political struggle. That took me by surprise because the science is being utilized in all our schools.

Has this episode had a chilling effect on TEA employees?

I don't think there is a muzzle on anyone. Everyone can express their opinions — goodness knows I have many — but we are a state agency and must respect the beliefs of Catholics, atheists, Jews, Christians, Muslims, everyone. And we should all respect the fact that it is the bailiwick of the State Board of Education to write (curriculum) standards.
Now let's see ... a high official in Texas' Education Agency has only just learned that evolution is real important in modern science and research? And she didn't realize the "termination" or "reassignment" of the science curriculum director for forwarding an e-mail about an appearance by a well-known opponent of creationism in public education might be "tagged" (whatever that might mean) as involving evolution education? And, furthermore, it never crossed her mind that a political struggle might be involved, despite the e-mail having something to do with the beliefs of Catholics, atheists (nice touch, that!), Jews, Christians, [and] Muslims," as well as with the elected and/or politically appointed State Board of Education, the head of which is a well-known creationist?

I'd ask who she thought she was kidding but she studied at the knee of one of the best practitioners of "the big lie" around.

Thursday, December 13, 2007


Cliff Notes

You may remember my pointing out that attempts to link Darwin directly to eugenics, and from there to Nazism, run afoul of the fact that the Spartans were practicing eugenics long before Darwin was born. Well, it appears that at least a part of the story told about the Spartans, not all that surprisingly when you think about it, may have been a bit of propaganda by earlier moralists.

According to Athens Faculty of Medicine Anthropologist Theodoros Pitsios, the Spartans did not throw babies into the pit at the bottom of the infamous cliff known as the Apothetes.

"There were still bones in the area, but none from newborns, according to the samples we took from the bottom of the pit" of the foothills of Mount Taygete near present-day Sparta.

"It is probably a myth, the ancient sources of this so-called practice were rare, late and imprecise," he added.

Meant to attest to the militaristic character of the ancient Spartan people, moralistic historian Plutarch in particular spread the legend during first century AD.
First of all, the fact that infants were not found at the bottom of the cliff does not mean that the Spartans did not practice infanticide, which has been performed in other societies by simple exposure without the direct violence of blunt trauma. These new findings merely mean that, if the Spartans practiced eugenics, it wasn't by throwing the infants off this particular cliff.

More importantly, the concept of that sort of eugenics was extant at least as far back as Plutarch and widely enough understood that it could be "pinned on" the Spartans as an already disreputable practice. Eugenics arose out of and is more compatible with the animal and plant breeding inherent in farming than it is with the science of evolution, which actually indicates than any such attempt must fail.

Whether or not the Spartans actually practiced eugenics, the idea of it long predated Darwin and attempts to link him and evolutionary theory to the ugly history of the early 20th century are nothing but cheap rhetoric.


That's a Spade!

Mac Johnson had better hurry while there is something left of Michael Egnor other than a greasy spot on the canvas. Wayne Adkins at American Chronicle has weighed in nicely with "The Discovery Institute and More Intelligent Deception." The best part:

Michael Egnor says "Intelligent Design and creationism are not the same, and one is not derivative of the other." He wants us to believe it is pure coincidence that the leading proponents of ID are part of an organization whose stated goal [in the Wedge Document] is replacing "materialistic explanations with the theistic understanding that nature and human beings are created by God." If you contradict yourself and say on the one hand that your goal is to defend the doctrine of creation and promote belief in God and say on the other hand that you are not a creationist and that Intelligent Design is not derived from creationism, you have integrity issues. You are being dishonest with others and with yourself. Mac Johnson doesn't owe the Discovery Institute an apology for calling them on it. The Discovery Institute owes everyone else an apology for the campaign of deliberate deceit. If you really do want to be men of honesty and integrity, the way Webster's defines them, just stop it. Stop the lies.
Not only has Adkins properly identified a spade as a spade, but noted that it is the knave as well.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007


Teh Stoopid, It Berns, It Berns!

I don't know if I can even comment on this one:

A concerned parent questioned Pymatuning Valley [Ohio] Local School officials at Monday's meeting, as to how they are teaching the science curriculum regarding the theory of creationism.

The parent, a Frank Piper, whose daughter is a PV Middle School fifth-grader, is concerned because the district is teaching the "big bang theory" of the creation of the universe and not presenting students with alternatives to Darwin's theory of evolution. ...

Piper said his daughter is a straight A student and failed her test on the "big bang theory" because she didn't understand it.

"We're Christians," he said. "I couldn't even help her because I don't understand it."

Board of Education President Brad Lane said he was under the impression the district was teaching both sides of the issue, but PV Middle School Principal Andrew Kuthy said that is not the case. ...

Superintendent Jake Rose said the district would look into whether it could teach both views as part of the curriculum. Rose said he was going to do some research on the issue and speak with the district's science consultant as to where the state stands on the issue.

"The big-bang theory has been around forever, but (the parent is) right; it's just a theory," Rose said.


The Eyes Have It!

There is a report out concerning a study of 400-million-year-old Devonian placoderms from Australia (like that handsome fellow to the right) published in the latest edition of the journal, Biology Letters of the British Royal Society. According to the report (always to be allowed some grains of salt), these extinct armored fishes provide "the first definite fossil evidence demonstrating an intermediate stage in the evolution of our most complex sensory organ," the vertebrate eye. As Dr. Gavin Young from the Department of Earth and Marine Sciences of the Australian National University put it:

The vertebrate eye is the best example of structural perfection – as used by proponents of intelligent design to claim that something so complex couldn’t possibly have evolved.
Well, not quite. Although they are definitely the direct descendents of William Paley, who, along with many others, extolled the vertebrate eye as an evident product of design, modern ID creationists have moved on to newer, but not any better, targets for their "gee, that's complicated, it must be designed" arguments. Still, the news is exciting anyway:

The palaeobiologist discovered that unlike all living vertebrate animals – which includes everything from the jawless lamprey fish to humans – placoderms had a different arrangement of muscles and nerves supporting the eyeball – evidence of an “intermediate stage” between the evolution of jawless and jawed vertebrates. ...

Part of the trouble in tracing the evolution of the eye is that soft tissues don’t tend to fossilise. But the eye cavities in the braincase of these 400 million-year-old fossil fish were lined with a delicate layer of very thin bone. All the details of the nerve canals and muscle insertions inside the eye socket are preserved – the first definite fossil evidence demonstrating an intermediate stage in the evolution of our most complex sensory organ.

These extinct placoderms had the eyeball still connected to the braincase by cartilage, as in modern sharks, and a primitive eye muscle arrangement as in living jawless fish.” Dr Young said that this anatomical arrangement is different from all modern vertebrates, in which there is a consistent pattern of tiny muscles for rotating each eyeball.
Drat the mean ol' Darwinists! They just insist on coming up with more evidence all the time!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007


Behind the Times

Well, the Discovery Institute finally got around to trying to answer the thumping they received in, of all places, Human Events, and who should they choose as sacrificial goat but Dr. Michael Egnor! As usual, the good doctor brings a stunning combination of arrogance and ignorance to the table. I'll be interested to see if Mac Johnson, who administered the original woodshedding, gets the opportunity to respond under the aegis of Human Events and how well he does.

But a few things should be addressed before then, if for no other reason than to help interested spectators tell who the players are. First of all, Dr. Egnor drags out this moldy corpse and flops it around like the poor old Ayatollah Khomeini at his funeral:

Intelligent design is not creationism, and it is not derived from creationism. Creationism is the view that Genesis is literally true as science.
That's what the IDeologists want you to believe because they hope to limit the Supreme Court decision in Edwards v. Aguillard, banning the teaching of "creationism" in public schools, to outlawing young-Earth creationism. The rationale of Edwards was not so limited, however. The point was that religious doctrine of any sort, masquerading as science, which is an exact description of ID, constitutes endorsement of religion when taught at public expense.

While Egnor is correct that the argument from design (as opposed to the specific Intelligent Design Movement) predates Christianity, the fact is, as set forth in great detail in my series on Neal C. Gillespie's book, Charles Darwin and the Problem of Creation, that Christianity adopted design and made it wholly its own. The Christian design creationism prevalent at the time of Darwin never went out of favor among the more sophisticated believers, though it was ousted from actual scientific practice. Which brings us to a second misrepresentation Egnor makes:

The inference to design was excluded from many areas of science (such as biology) only in the later half of the 20th century.
That's flat-out wrong, as Gillespie (among many others) pointed out. The positivist movement toward methodological naturalism in science had begun long before Darwin, dating back at least to Bacon and Newton, though it, like Rome, was not done in a day. But the last road block was removed by Darwin and the scientific community rushed to take advantage of the newly opened highway:

Thus the unstable Newtonian legacy of nature as matter in motion coupled with the idea of a supervising Creator finally fell apart [with the elimination by Darwin of the need for design as an explanation in biology]. Its materialist, or positive, tendencies had long been gaining ascendency and had long been an increasing source of worry to its supporters. Design was the means by which it had been anchored to a theological base. Without design, a material science was almost irresistible. The virtual disappearance of natural theology from scientific discourse by the century's end signified more than the passing of a generation of scientists who had been born and educated in a more devout era. It indicated a change in the way scientists thought about nature and science, and in the practice of science. Not impiety but positivism had banished both theological explanations and concerns from the minds of working scientists.
So Egnor ... appropriately enough, all things considered ... is only off by a century or three.

There's more that is wrong about Egnor's screed but we shouldn't deprive Mr. Johnson of the opportunity for some fun of his own.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

. . . . .


How to Support Science Education