Saturday, May 31, 2008



The very first Carnival of the Elitist Bastards is now up and running at En Tequila Es Verdad.

Go give it a look.



Religious Studies

A thought:

Skeptics continue to nourish the belief that science and learning will banish religion, which they consider to be no more than a tissue of illusions. The noblest among them are sure that humanity migrates toward knowledge by logotaxis, an automatic orientation toward information, so that organized religion must continue its retreat as darkness before enlightenment's brightening dawn. But this conception of human nature, with roots going back to Aristotle and Zeno, has never seemed so futile as today. If anything, knowledge is being enthusiastically harnessed to the service of religion. The United States, technologically and scientifically the most sophisticated nation in history, is also the second most religious - after India. ...

Today, as always before, the mind cannot comprehend the meaning of the collision between irresistible scientific materialism and immovable religious faith. We try to cope through a step-by-step pragmatism. Our schizophrenic societies progress by knowledge but survive on inspiration derived from the very beliefs which that knowledge erodes. I suggest that the paradox can be at least intellectually resolved, not all at once but eventually and with consequences difficult to predict, if we pay due attention to the sociobiology of religion. Although the manifestations of the religious experience are resplendent and multidimensional, and so complicated that the finest of psychoanalysts and philosophers get lost in their labyrinth, I believe that religious practices can be mapped onto the two dimensions of genetic advantage and evolutionary change.

- Edward O. Wilson, On Human Nature

Friday, May 30, 2008


Under the Radar

CNSNews, the media outlet of the Media Research Center, both of which were founded by L. Brent Bozell III, a nephew of William F. Buckley and a member of the board of Bill Donohue's Catholic League, has an interesting article on the recent spate of so-called "academic freedom" bills being bandied about by various state legislatures. Of particular note is the reported likelihood that the Louisiana law, of these efforts the least damaging to good science education, will probably be signed into law within the next two weeks.

First of all, despite the disingenuous and legally suspect disclaimers that have been inserted in these laws, to the effect that the legislation "shall not be construed to promote any religious doctrine," it is clear what the supporters of these laws expect them to do if they are passed:

The film [Expelled] has prompted some states to consider legislation that would insulate teachers and students who believe there is evidence of "design" in nature, Walt Ruloff, a co-producer for the film, told Cybercast News Service.

Of course, arguments for design have been a staple of religious belief since time immemorial and pointing to the facts of nature as revealed by science as confirming such design goes back well before William Paley, and his famous "watchmaker" argument from analogy, that Intelligent Design Creationists have barely updated through their analogy to human design of computer programs. But Paley had the honesty to call his book Natural Theology.

Then there is Caroline Crocker ...

If you thought she was looney-toons before, wait to you see her website. There are so many third-person references; random acts of bolded type and even a reference to her promotion of "right thinking," that John Pieret would normally be lead to seriously question if it was a parody site, but for the link from the article.

And here is another bit of amusement. Crocker toes the party line by repeating in the article that the legislation "specifically excludes the teaching of religion." But rummaging around Crocker's website dicloses that she bills herself as "an experienced and popular" Alpha Evangelism speaker.

What is Alpha Evangelism you might ask? Well, according to this article, it is a program by which the evangelists act only as hosts for a dinner and some sort of video, "not facilitators, not teachers, not theologians, not even evangelists.

[T]he leaders are told to keep their mouths shut! They are allowed to ask questions and respond to the answers with non-committal comments such as: "That's very interesting!" But largely they are trained to treat the group members as if they¹re guests around their own dinner table.

In short, it is stealth evangelism and, no doubt, excellent training for the kind of stealth creationism that these laws are designed to permit in public school science classes.

The last item of note is the fact that the article is as balanced as it is. Opposing viewpoints are stated forthrightly and Josh Rosenau of the NCSE is quoted fairly extensively. Maybe the more rational members of the Right are beginning to become uncomfortable with the Righteous Right and anxious to avoid always being tied to creationists.

Thursday, May 29, 2008


Be All the Bastard You Can Be

But all you have to do is knock on any door and say, "If you let me in, I'll live the way you want me to live, and I'll think the way you want me to think," and all the blinds'll go up and all the windows will open, and you'll never be lonely, ever again.

- Inherit the Wind, Henry Drummond to Bertram Cates

Why "elitist bastards"?

Everyone will have different reasons why they gladly accept the sobriquet. Dana and Etha have already given some of their thoughts on the subject and for the very first Carnival of the Elitist Bastards, I thought I'd do likewise.

As for "bastard," I don't associate it with meanness or pugnaciousness, though that can be a part of it too. To me, it suggests being on the "wrong side of the blanket;" a stranger to the common hearth that warms the great mass of society.

A true story:

Some years ago I worked at a law firm in the outer regions of one of the greatest, most cosmopolitan, most culture-drenched cities in the world. We were undergoing the annual ritual of a "secret Santa" exchange of gifts. That year, a coworker who was also a personal friend, had drawn my name and called my wife to find out what I might like. At the time, I was anxious to get Janet Browne's definitive two-part biography of Charles Darwin, Voyaging and The Power of Place.

On the day of the exchange I opened the wrapping to discover the substantial, but hardly daunting, second volume of the biography and warmly thanked my friend. However, to the rest of the room, it was as if we had each suddenly sprouted a second head. There was much staring and even questions if I was really happy to receive the book.

But mine was not the weightiest book given as a present that day. Another person had received a tome larger than mine but accompanied neither by suspicion nor by disbelief that it was welcomed. It was one of those day-by-day, even minute-by-minute, accounts of a local baseball team's latest season. All I needed to do was to restrict myself to those things they found "normal" and "important" and all the doors of their minds would have been thrown open and the shutters unbarred.

And here is where the "elitist" comes in.

We're not talking about a sense of privilege based on birth or bank account. Far from it. In fact, it is hard to think of anyone in the United States who is derided for possessing those sorts of assets. The term, as it is used today, is a slur aimed at anyone who is not satisfied to live down to America's plastic culture; anyone who values art, literature, science and the other grand legacies of civilization over "reality" television shows, video games and "sporting" contests featuring drug-inflated multimillionaires. That is not to say that television, games and sports are, in and of themselves, something to be shunned or looked down on. They are, or at least can be, important and even uplifting recreations. I have been at times a rabid sports fan, played more than I should at video games and overindulged in mindless tv. But always I remembered that the greatest recreation is learning.

Our elitism, on the other hand, is not exclusionary. We welcome everyone to join. It is neither an aristocracy nor oligarchy. It is not even a meritocracy. All that is needed to be our brand of elitist is a willingness to learn and the determination to go on trying, regardless of how far you get.

The social attitude that thinking and learning are somehow suspect allows "elitism" to be used as a weapon -- by creationists against educators; by corporate flacks against scientists who deliver inconvenient truth; and by politicians, often themselves in thrall to the wealthiest sliver of society, against any opponent who lets it slip that they have any erudition.

Even if only in a small way, that is what the Carnival is about -- to show that it is not just a few "eggheads" stuck away in ivory towers who value education and expertise; to point to a day when it is no longer dangerous for a politician to show that he or she is smart and learned; and, if we are wildly successful, to make it as cool to be in the library as on the football field in every high school.

Oh, and if you want to live up to the other meaning of "bastard" and kick some intellectual butt along the way, feel free. After all, being made an outcast tends to make you tough ... so they deserve what they get.


Finding Faith

A thought:

I had no desire to purge religious feelings. They were bred in me; they suffused the wellsprings of my creative life. I also retained a small measure of common sense. To wit, people must belong to a tribe; they yearn to have a purpose larger than themselves. We are obliged by the deepest drives of the human spirit to make ourselves more than animated dust, and we must have a story to tell about where we came from, and why we are here. Could Holy Writ be just the first literate attempt to explain the universe and make ourselves significant within it? Perhaps science is a continuation on new and better-tested ground to attain the same end. If so, then in that sense science is religion liberated and writ large.

Such, I believe, is the source of the Ionian Enchantment [a term coined by Gerald Holton for the belief that the world is orderly and explained by a small number of natural laws]: Preferring a search for objective reality over revelation is another way of satisfying religious hunger. It is an endeavor almost as old as civilization and intertwined with traditional religion, but it follows a very different course-a stoic's creed, an acquired taste, a guidebook to adventure plotted across rough terrain. It aims to save the spirit, not by surrender but by liberation of the human mind. Its central tenet, as Einstein knew, is the unification of knowledge. When we have unified enough certain knowledge, we will understand who we are and why we are here.

- Edward O. Wilson, Consilience

Wednesday, May 28, 2008


There's Philosophers and Then There's ...

Due to overwhelming public demand,* here is my take on Pastor Paul Dean's attempt to demonstrate the superiority of Christian "philosophy" over that of non-believers, particularly atheists and agnostics. For reasons which should become obvious, your mileage may vary.

First and foremost, Dean's argument amounts to a semantic ploy.

It should be noted at the outset that Dean was not the originator of this argument. Because of a coincidence of timing and given the wild peals of laughter I am sometimes rewarded with, on occasion I listen to Hank Hanegraaff's "Bible Answer Man" radio program during a long evening commute. I have heard this stratagem recommended there any number of times over the years.

The heart of the ploy is to attempt to get a person to make a "truth claim" (or something the evangelist can assert is a truth claim) and then argue that "absolute truth" can only come from God ... particularly the Christian God. A favorite target of the ploy is the more-or-less post-modernist statement "All truth is relative":

Relativism claims to speak truth about at least one thing—namely, that truth can be "true for you but not for me." Yet it contradicts itself by claiming nothing is really true or false. Why believe the relativist if he has no truth to utter?

The claims of relativists are like saying, "I can't speak a word of English" or "All generalizations are false." Our most basic reply to the relativist is that his statements are self-contradictory. They self-destruct. They are self-undermining.
But look closer at the meaning of "truth" that each person is actually using. To begin with, the evangelical is speaking of some "objective" truth existing outside of and independent from human knowledge. Indeed, he asserts that it can only be known through non-human means, i.e. through divine revelation. On the other hand, the relativist, whether or not he or she knows it, is speaking of knowledge at a different level, namely, the sum total of human truth claims about normative ethical behavior. On that interpretation, the statement "All truth is relative" actually translates to something like: "People make many different truth claims about morals and there is no test universally accepted among human beings by which such claims can be measured."

For example, Pastor Dean's claim that Christians have a certain set of "absolute truths" through revelation is, in fact, belied by the fact that there are many other claims of revelation, both inside and outside nominally "Christian" circles, that are equally alleged to be the absolute truth, though different than Pastor Dean's version in significant part. Thus, relativism in this sense is a simple observation that there is no morality that is accepted by all. To turn the tables a bit, any claim by Pastor Dean that there is a universal morality is contradicted by his own need to evangelize, which is a tacit admission that his account of what constitutes "absolute truth" is not the only one available to humankind.

Pastor Dean's attempt to equate "objective" moral claims with the kind of "objective" human knowledge delivered by empiric investigation, shared broadly among people of widely differing philosophies, is of no avail. Certainly , as in Pastor Dean's example, there is wide agreement, based on our humanly derived knowledge of the underlying phenomena and on long experience, that the sun will "rise" again tomorrow. But even there the knowledge is not "absolute." At midnight my time the Sun might explode and the Earth could be gone before the next scheduled sunrise. In any event, empiric knowledge is of a significantly different type than ethical norms. As David Hume long ago pointed out, "ought" cannot be derived from "is."

What is more, based on his article, Pastor Dean obviously rejects the empiric evidence for evolution. Thus it is equally obvious that he rejects that sort of empiricism as delivering absolute truth. Where, then, is Pastor Dean's absolute knowledge of truth to come from?

Pastor Dean is in the same boat as the rest of us humans. His claim to absolute knowledge is ultimately based on his uncertain, and relative, "knowledge" that his, out of many possibilities, is the one and only "true" revelation from God.

The remainder of his semantic games are easy to refute based on the realization that any individual's acceptance of moral claims as "true" is equally well explained as the outcome of natural processes as by positing some supernatural morality arbitrator. Cultural (and perhaps biological) norms that are widely, but not universally, adopted within local groups of humans can credibly be traced to the instinct for survival (a trait shared with all, mostly amoral, organisms on the planet) or to other strategies for reproductive success, such as empathy arising out of the differential success of cooperative societies over fractious ones. These traits, in turn, can gain the emotional force we equate with "obvious" or "absolute" truths through the process of socialization.

In short, I ain't impressed Pastor Dean.

* Well, only Larry Moran has publically demanded it, but he can be pretty overwhelming.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008


A Challenge

Paul Dean, pastor of Providence Baptist Church in Greer, South Carolina, has an article at Crosswalk that throws down a gauntlet:

One of the basic dynamics that attends any worldview that is contrary to the Christian worldview is a lack of philosophical justification for it. This dynamic holds true even in the realm of simply knowing something to be true. In other words, the unbeliever has no basis for knowing anything.

When an unbeliever makes a statement concerning God, the world, man, morality, ethics, or any other subject, he asserts it as an absolute certainty. For example, an atheist who believes in evolution may say that God does not exist. However, on his worldview, he has no basis to make such a statement. On his worldview, knowledge is obtained through observation (or the scientific method). His problem is that he has limited knowledge and ability to obtain that knowledge. He does not have the ability to search every square inch of the cosmos to determine whether or not there is a God. On his worldview, he cannot know that there is no God. His statement of certainty is rendered completely uncertain.

At the same time, he may then say that we can't know or that we don't know whether or not there is a God. He is agnostic at that point. However, he has asserted a certainty in his mind, namely, that we don't know whether or not there is a God. Again, on his worldview, he is rendered uncertain in that he does not know whether or not there is some kind of knowledge somewhere that can tell us whether or not there is a God. He has not investigated the entirety of the universe on this point. He has no philosophical or logical basis to make such a statement.

Of course, Christians have a basis or a philosophical justification for their assertion that there is a God. On our worldview, we know there is a God because He has revealed Himself to us. We are not bound to the limits of empiricism/observation. We know that some knowledge is revealed.

Supposedly, the godless will therefore be unable to answer simple questions such as:

[W]hy do you believe spanking is wrong? Why do you believe homosexuality is not sin? Why do you think there are many paths to salvation? Why do you believe embryonic stem-cell research is a good thing? Why do you say there is no absolute truth? Why do you think pre-marital sex is okay in certain circumstances? Why do you believe in evolution? How do you know the sun will come up in the morning? ...

If someone says he doesn't believe in absolutes, simply ask him if it would be okay for you to take a key and run it down the side of his car? He will no doubt say "no" and therefore express a belief in absolutes as far as he is concerned.

But, according to Pastor Dean, the Christian has an answer:

Of course, Christians have a basis or a philosophical justification for their assertion that there is a God. On our worldview, we know there is a God because He has revealed Himself to us. We are not bound to the limits of empiricism/observation. We know that some knowledge is revealed. ...

The unbeliever ... will attempt to justify his answer or knowledge apart from God, something he cannot do logically. Without God's perspective, one's view of spanking is relative. Without a commitment to God's truth, one's opinion concerning multiple paths to salvation is arbitrary. Without a biblical worldview, one cannot know for certain the sun will come up in the morning. On an evolutionary worldview, it may not. Random chance is foundational. ...

Well, what about it? Are you up to the challenge?

Monday, May 26, 2008


The Game's Afoot!


Michael Moriarty, a moderately talented actor perhaps best known as the original prosecutor in the television series "Law and Order," is holding forth in the confines of something called Enter Stage Right, which declares itself as a bastion of laissez-faire capitalism but also declares that "religion and conservatism generally do not mix." Apparently the core statement of the group is:

We believe in real freedom. The freedom to be left alone by those who feel it is their right to impose their will on you. Who are they? Look at groups like academia, media and government.

For reasons that will become obvious, I think they have probably succeeded in their aim of being left alone by academia.

Moriarty has written three (so far -- it has the smell of a never-ending screed) articles on what he calls "Meganomicism." Meganomics is apparently a conspiracy between government, religion and corporations(!) to rob Americans of their laissez-faire capitalist freedoms. Here are parts one, two and three, if you chose to wade through them. What caught my attention, via Google, was part three.

The correlation between his screed and that thing most of us fondly think of as "reality" is nicely summarized in the fact that, as of May 12th, Moriarty is apparently firmly convinced that Hillary Clinton will be our next president. Moriarty's bugaboos are many, including Bill and Hillary Clinton, Bill and Melinda Gates, Progressivism, Religion, the New Deal, the Great Society, Planned Parenthood, Feminism and, of course, abortion.

The legalization of abortion is central to the enabling of Meganomicism. This desensitization and inhumane judgment by the Court was the defining process and the scientifically veiled ruthlessness required for America's governments, businesses and religions to turn a conglomerately blind eye to Meganomicism and its bottomless greed for money and power.

It's a funny kind of "desensitization" we have, given the constant battles over abortion during the last three and a half decades. But the "interesting" thing is what the conspirators used to prepare America for Roe v. Wade. Warning: Before reading further, put down any liquid refreshments you may be holding and swallow.

If, for the sake of simplicity, we can include quantum theory and other forms of higher mathematics under the rubric of science, then, the shockingly docile acceptance, by Americans, of the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion is ... as you will see … considerably less of a surprise than it ordinarily would have been.

How, you might ask, after you have stopped shaking your head, could quantum mechanics and "higher" math have resulted in the legalization of abortion?

With Americans increasingly trained to accept dogma veiled as a science and draped in a sometimes impenetrable lexicon, these terms infusing both abortion and global warming with distinctions such as "those of us who know" and "those of their ilk who don't know" … or are left out in the cold deliberately, forced never to know … one begins to recall that lofty region which the Catholic Church had placed itself in, an intellectual and spiritual realm encompassing so small a "few" that history described it as the Dark Ages.

You see, according to Moriarty, science is to Meganomics as Latin was to the medieval church, a "sacred language only accessible to the Chosen Few."

So Moriarty's real complaint is that some people have expertise and some don't. While he doesn't use the term, the "elitism" of the educated is the claim he is making. Never mind that the academics who are supposedly part of the conspiracy have a vested interest in turning out more, rather then fewer, experts and never mind the torrent of scientific literature, both technical and popular, that pours forth every year and is kept hidden away from prying eyes in secret places called "libraries."

Knowledge only looks like dogma to those who are ignorant. Most anyone can learn enough about biology, climate change and the other major science-based social issues to penetrate the "lexicon" and make reasonably informed decisions ... if they care enough to make the effort.

The problem is not that only a "chosen few" have the expertise to understand the great issues of the day, it is that a "self-chosen many" do not stir themselves to learn. And, according to Moriarty and his pals at Enter Stage Right, that is their fundamental right -- to be left alone by those who could, and gladly would, educate them. But with that choice they forfeit the right to complain that the experts are speaking a language they refuse to learn. And their cavils do not ring true when the rest of society attempts more rational policies based on knowledge, rather than on the lack of it.

Moriarty is peddling ignorance like a patent medicine, without regard to the harm it will do to the patient or to the rest of us.

Where's Sherlock Holmes when you need him?

Sunday, May 25, 2008


Phoenix Reborn

It appears that NASA's Phoenix Mars spacecraft has made a safe landing on Mars.

Because the signal was relayed via the Mars Odyssey orbiter, the controllers would have to wait another couple of hours, until Odyssey's next pass over the landing site, for additional word of the Phoenix's condition, including whether it had successfully unfolded its solar panels and possibly the first photographs.

If all is operating properly, the next few days will be spent checking out the instruments aboard the lander. Then, it will begin the first upclose investigation of Mars' north polar regions. That area became a prime area of interest for planetary scientists after NASA's orbiting Odyssey spacecraft discovered in 2002 vast quantities of water ice lying a few inches beneath the surface in Mars' polar regions.

There is a reason for the name:

Phoenix has the same basic design as NASA's Mars Polar Lander, which crashed while landing near the south pole in 1999. The spacecraft was originally going to Mars' equatorial region as Mars Surveyor 2001, but when investigations of the Polar Lander failure turned up major flaws in the design, that mission was cancelled, and the almost complete Surveyor spacecraft was put into storage.

Dr. Smith then proposed using the body of Surveyor and resurrect it as Phoenix for a different mission. Extensive testing identified more than a dozen flaws in the lander design, and mission managers believed they fixed all of the known problems.

Happy landings!


Remembrance of Things Not Past

On May 25, 1925, John Scopes was indicted for teaching Darwin's theory of evolution.

As this 1961 article by G.G. Simpson makes clear, not much has changed over the years since the trial:

We are all familiar with the Scopes trial, if only from being reminded by the stage and movie success, Inherit the Wind. Many people seem to consider it as a quaint and amusing bit of ancient history that occurred in one isolated backwoods community. The fact is today that there are innumerable towns and whole cities that are just as opposed as Dayton, Tennessee, was to the teaching of evolution. And they are more successful in preventing it. ...

What was actually argued in court, by prosecution and defense alike, was not the guilt or innocence of the defendant but the truth or falsity of evolution. There was, indeed, a social issue that transcended the rather trivial legal one. But certainly that really fundamental social issue was neither Scopes's guilt nor the truth of evolution. It was the competence of a legislature to enact and of a court to enforce the prohibition of teaching a theory that, whether true or not, was sustained by a large number of respectable scientists certainly competent in the pertinent field. By submitting the question of the truth of evolution to the court and jury, the defense equally with the prosecution compromised the whole situation and lost the one essential point. The point would have been the same if the law had made the teaching of evolution obligatory and Scopes had refused to teach it. Legislatures, judges, and juries cannot decide the correctness of a scientific theory or of the results of any scientific investigation. That can only be decided by further research in the self-correcting style of science. ...

Laws against teaching evolution are still nominally in effect over wide areas of the United States, but there has been no recent effort to enforce them. The prohibition is nevertheless now being applied far more effectively than by law and through agencies that are equally incompetent. ...

[A] proposed, and actually used, solution is to present both sides of the case. Teach evolution under its own name as something that certain authorities believe. Also teach that certain other authorities do not believe it, and let the student decide for himself (or ignore the whole thing). This was hailed by some teachers ... as the most 'honest' compromise on the problem, but I am afraid I cannot agree. It is less honest -- because the student is less able to judge from data in his own hands -- than teaching that some people say the earth is flat and some say it is round. It would be honest only if the teacher pointed out that the authorities who 'believe' in evolution ('believe' is a misleading word here, too) are, almost to a man, those who have actually studied the subject in a scientific way and that those who do not believe in it are, almost to a man, obviously ignorant of the scientific evidence and swayed by wholly nonscientific considerations.

- George Gaylord Simpson, "One hundred years without Darwin are enough," Teachers College Record, 60 (1961): 617-626

"Teach the controversy" and "academic freedom" are just new gilding on the old evasions designed to shield children from knowledge their parents cannot abide, much to the children's detriment.

Which is as good an excuse as any to remind people of the series that I did last year on the trial, that you can find here.

Saturday, May 24, 2008


Mooning About

Ya know, maybe the Intelligent Design advocates have a point.

Maybe critically thinking human beings should at least be prepared to consider if there is any critical body of evidence for scenarios that establishment scientists, who are linked with a consortium of elites, call farfetched. We should listen when independent-minded scientists present evidence which does not find favor with "big science." We can't be stifling academic freedom now, can we?

Alex Collier, a deemed contactee of ethical Extraterrestrial races, alleges that human free will on Earth is being systematically undermined by 'regressive' Manipulative Extraterrestrials operating on Earth. LINK. He further claims that ethical Extraterrestrials that he has allegedly been in contact with, from the Andromeda Galaxy, that are sympathetic to Earthbound humans, would like to see 'regressive' aliens leave our planet Earth.

Elitist scientists may scoff but why shouldn't we use germane current facts, data, and peer-reviewed research specific to the topic of extraterrestrials to critically analyze the dogma of the academic establishment?

[I]ndependent-minded scientists, present evidence which suggest that the moon is an artificially orbiting phenomenon, that was created by extraterrestrial intelligent engineering and design. Some researchers also believe that there are a couple of other moons in our solar system which have an orbit and properties that are consistent with intelligent design.

The moons around Mars, for example, have been represented as being artificial. In "Our Mysterious Spaceship Moon", Donald K. Wilson in 1975 cited that in 1959 eminent scientist Professor Iosif Shklovsky put forth his findings in relation to the "moons" circling Mars: "After carefully weighing up the evidence he concludes that they are both hollow."

If these independent scientists are correct about Earth's moon, then ... it is plausible that whatever alleged intelligent designers are responsible for the Moon, would have sought some kind of presence on Earth. Otherwise, such entities would not have gone through the process of designing such an orbiting "artificial moon".

Independent scientists portray a variety of evidence, that the moon is artificial. This includes evidence that the moon is hollow. Secondly, the moon's orbits around the earth in a circular manner, is consistent with human-made satellites that orbit the earth, in contrast with the elliptical orbit of the Earth around the sun. If the moon was a natural phenomenon, one would expect an elliptical rather than an atypical circular orbit.

The moon also orbits around the Earth in a synchronous manner, in which the same side always faces the earth, furthermore consistent with "intelligent design". Indeed, any Extraterrestrials that would seek to create the moon as some kind of clandestine orbiting satellite, would either be seeking to spy on humanity, or to as Alex Collier also suggests, would seek to use the moon as a basis of operation to interfere and undermine human self-determination.

If we pass laws to protect the academic freedom of those who see design in biology, why not laws to protect those who see design in our solar system? We should insist that every high school science curriculum allows teachers to present scientific information in favor of the alternative theory of Ethical Extraterrestrialism. All universities should have a Department of Critical Thinking, where Intelligent Design, UFOlogy, Crystallology, Dowsing, Perpetual Motion and, lest we forget, Time Cubism, can be gathered together as a bulwark against dogmatic academics!

Of course, the IDeologists and the Ethical Extraterrestrialists might have some disputes:

Notably, John Lash in, referred to a saviour-complex in our prevailing organized religions, as being specifically instigated by Manipulative Extraterrestrials to disempower humanity.

But, hey! That's what academic freedom is all about!

Friday, May 23, 2008


Missed It by That Much ...

The United Methodist Church -- Dubya's own church and the second largest protestant denomination in the US -- almost had a clean sweep.

During the church’s recent General Conference, held in Fort Worth from April 22 to May 2, not just one but three resolutions passed expressing the church's support for evolutionary science.

The conference also refused to label trangenderism as incompatible with Christian teaching or to bar trangendered people from church membership.

Unfortunately, just such a label and ban were retained in the case of gay people, which was, to say the least, more than queer.

Maybe next time they'll remember to turn off the cone of silence.


Birds of a Feather ...

Christ Community Church has it about right. According to the Alamogordo Daily News, it:

... offers a Christian education hour each Sunday beginning at 9:15 a.m. Children and youth classes are offered, as well as different classes for the adults to attend such as "Creation Science and Intelligent Design Theory"; "Discipline: Despise Not Chastening," a study in Galatians by Pastor Jack Brock; "Who I am in Christ" and "Learn the Bible in 24 Hours." Free coffee and donuts are offered during this Christian educational hour.
Unfortunately for you budding scientists studying the biological theory of ID between classes in speed reading ancient texts, your medical training will have to wait:

The "Rise and Be Healed" healing class has finished for the spring. The teachers, Sam and Ralana Jackson, would like to thank everyone who attended and welcome everyone to join them again in the fall session.
There's nothing like a well-rounded education.

Thursday, May 22, 2008


A Fine Judgment

Lessee ...

... God punished the residents of New Orleans by sending Hurricane Katrina.

How many people from New Orleans would vote for me anyway?

... the Catholic Church is "the Great Whore."

Um, well ... how many Catholics are there in the Red States?

... Adolf Hitler was sent by God to hunt down the Jews in order to expedite their establishment of the state of Israel.

No, that's going too far! That'll offend the non-crazy voters too much!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008


Stupid Legislator Tricks

The Louisiana House of Representatives advanced that state's version of the Discoveryless Institute's Trojan Horse "academic freedom" bill. You can find the bill and the House's amendment here.

Without minimizing the potential mischief this bill could do if it becomes law, it is, of the legislation considered by various states so far, the one that affords the best chance for advocates of good science education to counter any bad effects. As it stands now (and remembering that there may be further changes made during whatever "reconciliation" procedures the Louisiana legislature has), the bill reads, in relevant part, as follows:

The State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, upon request of a city, parish, or other local public school board, shall allow and assist teachers, principals, and other school administrators to create and foster an environment within public elementary and secondary schools that promotes critical thinking skills, logical analysis, and open and objective discussion of scientific theories being studied including, but not limited to, evolution, the origins of life, global warming, and human cloning.

Such assistance shall include support and guidance for teachers regarding effective ways to help students understand, analyze, critique, and objectively review scientific theories being studied, including those enumerated in Paragraph (1) of this Subsection.

A teacher shall teach the material presented in the standard textbook supplied by the school system and thereafter may use supplemental textbooks and other instructional materials to help students understand, analyze, critique, and review scientific theories in an objective manner, as permitted by the city, parish, or other local public school board unless otherwise prohibited by the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

First of all, unlike the Florida bill, there is no blanket protection for teachers who stray from the state curriculum. In fact, the local school board must request to implement the program (presumably by open vote and an official request to the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education), giving notice to science supporters beforehand and a first opportunity to oppose any attempt to inject creationism.

The State Board must also implement (presumably written) support and guidance for such a plan which, when read with the State Board's power to prohibit any material other than already approved textbooks, gives a second opportunity to oppose the insertion of creationism ... if need be, by court action, should creationist materials be approved for use. (It should just be noted that the law gives an extremely short date, the fall 2008 opening of school, to have this all in place, which might signal that the legislators aren't serious about getting it passed in both houses before the session ends on June 23, 2008.)

Even if, as Barbara Forrest states, the State Board would not have the ability to review and block all nonscientific materials, any supplementary materials used must be approved by the local boards, again in open session, giving another opportunity to oppose the materials or bring suit if creationist materials are approved.

Finally, the actions of individual teachers may actually be easier to control under this scheme. Under the law, local teachers are required to teach the material in the approved textbooks. As the recent survey of high school biology teachers showed, the biggest problem in science education today may be that teachers are simply avoiding teaching evolution. If teachers in the local school fail to teach evolution or try to introduce materials not approved ahead of time by the local board or fail to follow the State Board's guidelines, a simple demand to the school authorities that the teachers stop violating the law might be enough to curtail the practice and, if not, then the school district and local board can be more easily sued for failing to enforce the requirements of law.

This law could turn out to have a very sharp double edge for the creationists.


What Am I?

In the never-ending game of 20 Questions that Intelligent Design advocates play, it seems that we have a new entry.

Is ID, as William Dembski says, "the path for people to come to Christ"? Or is it philosophy of science, promising us a non-materialistic version of science?

Now it seems that it may be politics. According to the attorney representing the producers of Expelled in the Yoko Ono suit seeking to remove John Lennon's song "Imagine" from the film:

[Anthony T. Falzone] said an adverse ruling by [U.S. District Judge Sidney] Stein would mean "you have muzzled the speech of my clients" because they would have to replace the song with other images, losing the chance to make the issue important enough that it could even influence the U.S. presidential campaign.

"If you issue that injunction, you trample on these free speech rights and you put a muzzle on them and you do it in a way that stops them from speaking on this political issue leading up to the election," Falzone said.
Interesting stuff, that ID. If it can cause the nature of the world to be subject to the ballot box, it can do just about anything. I wonder if it'll remove bathtub rings?

Tuesday, May 20, 2008


Please Have a Seat ...

Missouri has joined Florida and Alabama in being unable to pass the Undiscovery Institute's misnomered "academic freedom" legislation. With Mike Fair of South Carolina predicting the same fate for that state's try, the DI might be feeling a little antsy right now ...

Via Stranger Fruit.

That's Michael Bedard's famous poster.


Educating Educators

There is a new survey of high school biology teachers published in PLoS:

The good news, as shown in the above chart, is that biology teachers are more likely to accept evolutionary theory than the general public. The worst news is how little time is devoted to the subject at all:

[W]e found that those who take most seriously the advice of NSES to make evolution a unifying theme spent the most time on evolution. Overall, teachers devoted an average of 13.7 hours to general evolutionary processes (including human evolution), with 59% allocating between three and 15 hours of class time. Only 2% excluded evolution entirely. But significantly fewer teachers covered human evolution, which is not included as an NSES benchmark. Of teachers surveyed, 17% did not cover human evolution at all in their biology class, while a majority of teachers (60%) spent between one and five hours of class time on it.

On the other hand:

We found that 25% of teachers indicated that they devoted at least one or two classroom hours to creationism or intelligent design. However, these numbers can be misleading because while some teachers may cover creationism to expose students to an alternative to evolutionary theory, others may bring up creationism in order to criticize it or in response to student inquiries. Questions that simply ask about time devoted to creationism, therefore, will overstate support for creationism or intelligent design by counting both those who teach creationism as a serious subject and those holding it up for criticism or ridicule. We asked a series of supplemental questions that provided some additional insight into the character of creationism in the classroom. Of the 25% of teachers who devoted time to creationism or intelligent design, nearly half agreed or strongly agreed that they teach creationism as a "valid scientific alternative to Darwinian explanations for the origin of species." Nearly the same number agreed or strongly agreed that when they teach creationism or intelligent design they emphasize that "many reputable scientists view these as valid alternatives to Darwinian Theory".

On the other hand, many teachers devoted time to creationism either to emphasize that religious theories have no place in the science classroom or to challenge the legitimacy of these alternatives. Of those who spent time on the subject, 32% agreed or strongly agreed that when they teach creationism they emphasize that almost all scientists reject it as a valid account of the origin of species, and 40% agreed or strongly agreed that when they teach creationism they acknowledge it as a valid religious perspective, but one that is inappropriate for a science class.

The reason for the lack of time spent isn't just the personal beliefs of teachers:

[O]pposition to evolution can be especially intense at the local level, where teachers live and work. This may occur through the election of "stealth" school board candidates, or when teachers face organized and unorganized opposition and questioning of their curriculum from religiously motivated members of the community.

Community pressures place significant stress on teachers as they try to teach evolution, stresses that can lead them to de-emphasize, downplay, or ignore the topic. This is particularly true of the many teachers who lack a full understanding of evolution, or at least confidence in their knowledge of it.

It would seem that the short term solution is for people interested in good science education to be as noisy and insistent of proper science education as those who are against it and, in the long term, to demand better education of the educators.

Via Blog Around the Clock.

Monday, May 19, 2008


Good News ... Maybe

Acccording to the sponsor of the South Carolina untruth-in-advertising "academic freedom" bill, Sen. Mike Fair (another misnomer), it has no chance of passage this year.

On the other hand, I'm pretty sure his lips were moving when he said that.

They certainly were when he said this:

The Republican told The Greenville News the bill would not advocate teaching any point of view. Fair says children at being "spoon-fed" theories as facts.
According to Fair, since the legislature is scheduled to adjourn for the year June 5, there is no time for the bill to pass this year. That this is a ruse to lull the opposition to sleep is not outside the realm of possibility. However, if true, it is good news because, by next year, there will hopefully be much more than evolution on the political front for the Righteous Right to be excised about that will keep them busy.

This part of the article was nice to see:

Education Department spokesman Jim Foster says the bill is unnecessary. Foster says teachers already are free to discuss science. He says the bill would only be needed if it was designed to introduce material that is not scientific.
How refreshing to have a government official telling the unvarnished truth.

Sunday, May 18, 2008


Fools Advice

First a quote from the Dallas News:

Our image of God strongly depends on our image of the world, and our image of the world continuously changes under the influence of science and scientific discoveries.

- Michael Heller, cosmologist, theologian, Catholic priest, and winner of the $1.6 million Templeton Prize
Then a comment from one Fred Bailey:

This man needs to spend more time reading the Bible than he does watching CNN or The Science Channel.

While I'm not exactly familiar with a "cosmologist", and don't desire to be - it is probably in the metaphysical realm, which is very dangersous (sic) scripturally. I do know what it means to consult with the stars, mediums and the like, for advice.
Oh, my ...

Also, as a "teacher", he might consider these scriptures instead of his horoscope ...
Uh ...

God does not change - and no man should be foolish enough to even suggest that He does. ...

Man should alter his opinion to meet God's, not vice versa.
But ...

I do not wish to misunderstand Mr Heller, and if I have, I wish he would please point that out to me.
Too late.


Abusing Reason

In the run-up to the Carnival of Elitist Bastards, I naturally got to thinking of the nature of terms of abuse -- why we use them and how they work.

Terms of abuse, like "elitist," are, by their very nature, broad brushes. As we've seen recently, it can be used to describe those who have the temerity to think that science is a good thing and, more importantly, that it should be taught to children as it is actually practiced, while philosophy and theology should be taught as what they really are -- conceptually separate, though potentially valuable in their own right, intellectual exercises.

"Elitist" has also be used to describe politicians -- particularly those who aspire to be statesmen -- who have the curious notion that people who lead great nations should be more educated, more knowledgeable and smarter than the average citizen and might have more valuable uses of their time than hiding that fact from general view.

And, of course, "elitist" can designate truly pernicious concepts, such as the idea that somehow an accident of birth makes one person more valuable or more worthy of respect than another.

The success of any term of abuse depends, of course, on evoking in the listener the bad connotations of the term as a "thought stopper," doing away with the need to expend further effort on considering the position of the abusee.

"Appeaser" is another good recent example and, for the record, it is not one that has been confined to less-than-historically-knowledgeable right wing talk radio hosts. And now, a more elaborate one is being bandied about: "courtier."

As Daniel Dennet pointed out in Freedom Evolves:

As creatures acquire more and more ... behavioral options, however, their worlds become cluttered, and the virtue of tidiness can come to be "appreciated" by natural selection. Many creatures have evolved simple instinctual behaviors for what might be called home improvement, preparing paths, lookouts, hideouts, and other features of their neighborhoods, generally making the local environment easier to get around in, easier to understand. Similarly, when the need arises, creatures evolve instincts for sprucing up their most intimate environments: their own brains, creating paths and landmarks for later use.
Conscious agents like ourselves, with at least some volition, magnify the problem:

We have a problem of self-control that is truly hard -- costly -- for us to solve. ... It is the problem exemplified by Ulysses and the Sirens, where the trick is to devise some way of tying yourself to the mast and blocking your sailors' ears with wax so that you can't act on your strongest inclination of the moment. (The trick is to arrange it so that "at time t" your will is ineffective.) Ulysses knows perfectly well the long-term benefits of adopting the policy of avoiding the Sirens when they sing their seductive song, but he also knows he is disposed in many circumstances to overvalue immediate payoffs, so he needs to protect himself from a somewhat misshapen preference structure that he expects will impose itself on him when time t rolls around. He knows himself, and he knows what evolution has provided for him: a slightly second-rate faculty of reason that will cause him to take the immediate payoff ... unless he takes steps now to distribute his decision-making over more favorable times and attitudes.
Many of the strategies for stopping your ears with wax rely on emotional self-manipulation. Nonetheless, they can wind up providing a benefit:

[T]he evolutionary beauty of this co-opting of emotion to play such a role in self-control is that it provides at the same time a basis for costly signaling of precisely this triumph: Others get to see that you are one of those emotional folks who can be counted on to care passionately about your commitments; it is not that you are crazy or irrational but that you put an irrationally high price (from the myopic perspective of the critic) on your integrity. You get to wear your heart on your sleeve, and a costly heart it is. The trick to gaining the reputation for being good, a valuable prize indeed, is actually being good.
"Good," of course, is defined by the group you belong to or aspire to belong to.

In sum, humans are predisposed to building intellectual "crib sheets" that are, in turn, subject to being emotionally manipulated. Enter the term of abuse. Punch an emotional button and reward the person who reacts "appropriately" with positive feedback and the deed is done.

Falling prey to terms of abuse, either by employing them or accepting them in lieu of rational thought, is not necessarily a result of stupidity, though the successful ones always result in ending thought. How gleefully anyone participates, however, says much about how they view that outcome.

Saturday, May 17, 2008


Bringing Home the Bacon

A thought:

Darwin was prepared for the abuse which the content of his theory, especially its implications for man, was to receive from certain quarters, but he was not prepared for the criticism which his methodology was to receive from the most respected philosophers and scientists of his day. Most contemporary commentators tend to dismiss these criticisms as facile, disingenuous and superficial, suspecting that they stemmed more from a distaste of the content of Darwin's theory than from his methodology, but this dismissal is itself too facile. Certainly the repeated invocation of the Baconian method by many of Darwin's critics and even by Darwin himself indicated no great understanding of the actual nature of this method or the philosophy from which it stemmed, but the leading philosophers contemporary with Darwin, John Herschel, William Whewell, and John Stuart Mill, were equally adamant in their conviction that the Origin of Species was just one mass of conjecture. Darwin had proved nothing! From a philosophical point of view, evolutionary theory was sorely deficient. Even today, both Darwin's original efforts and more recent reformulations are repeatedly found philosophically objectionable. Evolutionary theory seems capable of offending almost everyone.

- David L. Hull, Darwin and His Critics: The Reception of Darwin's Theory of Evolution by the Scientific Community (1973)


Friday, May 16, 2008


Crossville's Cool

Find out why.


Waiving It About

I'm sure Cathi and Kris Unruh are nice people. They no doubt fit comfortably within John Wilkins' 95/95 Rule: 95% of all people are decent 95% of the time. Despite their evangelical Christian faith, that led them to home school their children, they purportedly taught their children a wider philosophy and accept that they may think differently than their parents do. But ...

So for Unruh, the quick translation of Thursday's ruling by the California Supreme Court legalizing gay marriage is simple. It goes against God's plan.

A union between a man and a woman is "God's standard of what is best, what's most healthy, physically, spiritually and emotionally," she said.
What isn't clear is why the State of California should be in the business of trying to enforce "God's standard." Nor is it clear what the Unruh's think would happen if the state decided to impose someone else's idea of God's standards ... one that they didn't agree with:

In this case, they say, the court overstepped its authority.

"It's discouraging that a body . . . of a few are making public policy as opposed to just ruling on law," said Kris Unruh, 49, who works as a business analyst for Boeing Co.
Umm ... the Constitution of California is the highest law of the state and the judges were "just ruling" on it.

"They're overriding the will of the people," he said, referring to the 2000 ballot measure in which voters supported defining legally recognized marriage as between a man and a woman.
Oh, good. So the next time some Islamic nation is talking about imprisoning, or worse, some Christian missionary for trying to induce some Muslim into committing the capital crime of apostasy, the Unruh's will be heartily supporting the will of the people in that case?

Theocracy is a two edged sword ... a particularly dangerous one in the hands of those who would wield it unthinkingly.

Thursday, May 15, 2008


Standing in the Aisles

Some very good thoughts:

[W]e conclude that, under this state's Constitution, the constitutionally based right to marry properly must be understood to encompass the core set of basic substantive legal rights and attributes traditionally associated with marriage that are so integral to an individual's liberty and personal autonomy that they may not be eliminated or abrogated by the Legislature or by the electorate through the statutory initiative process. These core substantive rights include, most fundamentally, the opportunity of an individual to establish — with the person with whom the individual has chosen to share his or her life — an officially recognized and protected family possessing mutual rights and responsibilities and entitled to the same respect and dignity accorded a union traditionally designated as marriage. ...

One of the core elements of the right to establish an officially recognized family that is embodied in the California constitutional right to marry is a couple's right to have their family relationship accorded dignity and respect equal to that accorded other officially recognized families, and assigning a different designation for the family relationship of same-sex couples while reserving the historic designation of "marriage" exclusively for opposite-sex couples poses at least a serious risk of denying the family relationship of same-sex couples such equal dignity and respect. ...

[T]he exclusion of same-sex couples from the designation of marriage clearly is not necessary in order to afford full protection to all of the rights and benefits that currently are enjoyed by married opposite-sex couples; permitting same-sex couples access to the designation of marriage will not deprive opposite-sex couples of any rights and will not alter the legal framework of the institution of marriage, because same-sex couples who choose to marry will be subject to the same obligations and duties that currently are imposed on married opposite-sex couples.

- Chief Justice Ronald M. George, California Supreme Court, Majority Opinion, In re Marriage Cases, May 15, 2008

Wednesday, May 14, 2008


Modern Scholarship

Good ol' WingNutDaily! They always bring the crazy nice and frosty cold!

They have a little blurb about the upcoming oral arguments before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in Larry Caldwell's quixotic lawsuit against the University of California-Berkeley because of the University's involvement in creating the non-commercial, educational website, Understanding Evolution. The specific complaint is that the site, in stating that religion and evolution are not incompatible and pointing to a number of religious sects and organizations that accept the science, amounts to "a government funded website tell[ing] school teachers what theology is and isn't to be preferred."

I've recently discussed the decision in Sklar v. Clough and why the lower court decision there doesn't support the kind of claim that Caldwell is making. In short, informing students of differences in theological reactions to science, particularly evolution, is merely providing factual information, not making value judgments as to which is the "right" theology.

WND actually provides a superb example of the difference and why schools have the right and the need to make such distinctions. According to WND:

The site also derides religious faiths that "explicitly contradict science" by teaching six-day creation ...

If pointing out that, according to science, the Earth and the universe are billions of years old amounts to an impermissible "deriding" of religion, what science can be taught at all? Physics, astronomy, geology and all their sub-disciplines demonstrate that young-Earth creationism is wrong. And what will we do with all the other religious beliefs that may contradict science? Do we stop teaching the germ theory of disease because Christian Scientists think that sin causes illness? Do we keep mum about psychotropic drugs because Scientologists think you just need your inner Thetan audited?

Some people won't be satisfied until every child has the best education the Twelfth Century can provide.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008


Inferiority Complex

Brian C. Melton, Assistant Professor of History at Liberty University, is over at Intellectual Conservative trying to twist the cap off of another bottle of Expelled whine.

As usual, there is talk about the "naturalistic biases" of scientists, without any explanation of how unnaturalistic "explanations" could be tested ... testing being the sine qua non of science. Another complaint is that "Darwinists" only pretend to

"... have a real standard of evidence in mind and, if ID could meet it, they would allow ID into the hallowed realm of science. ... Intentionally and notably absent from most of these statements is any indication of how much or what kind of data would be "sufficient" to convince them."
There is a simple standard -- the very one evolution was able to meet -- ID advocates must present enough evidence for a testable theory to convince at least a sizable minority of the socially, culturally and religiously diverse scientific community that ID is a scientific programme worth pursuing.

Melton expends much other caterwauling over how "Darwinists" supposedly equate "science" with "reality." There is more than a kernel of truth to that charge in the case of some over-enthusiastic boosters of science. But, on the other hand, who can really blame them, given how vastly our knowledge of the world has expanded thanks to that science? But the truly silly thing Melton says is this:

Why are [Darwinists] not willing to allow that other intelligent people should be permitted to hold to a position that critiques Neo-Darwinism from a profoundly different perspective ...
They do allow it, of course. That "profoundly different perspective" is called "religion" and few, if any, "Darwinists" attempt to stop Melton or anyone else from exercising their faith.

Just because people like Melton have this terrible suspicion that their religion really is inferior to science is no warrant for them to pretend it is science.

Monday, May 12, 2008


How to Build a Quote Mine

Michael Craven (okay, that one's too easy), described as the "Founding Director of the Center for Christ & Culture," has a blog at where his latest post is more fertilizer spread around the smelly weed that is Expelled. Craven dredges up the supposedly unaddressed "holes" in the theory of evolution that only remain so if you resolutely refuse to look for the answers in those secret, hidden away places called "libraries." And there is the alleged link between evolutionary theory and the Holocaust that remains strangely "missing," except for vague dark claims about the lack of "any objective moral basis," without any attempt to show that any such thing actually exists or has influenced human history. In other words, the same ol' same ol'.

Of far more interest is the object lesson as to how quote mines originate. Craven says:

Fomented by decades of Darwinian social and ethical theories, the idea of genocide as a means of purifying the races and furthering the evolutionary development of mankind became less and less objectionable, especially among the German elite. Darwin believed this was inevitable if not necessary and T. H. Huxley, the foremost Darwinian biologist in late-nineteenth century Britain, nicknamed "Darwin's bulldog," argued, "only from death on a genocidal scale could the few progress."

Of course, Darwin actually articulated the exact opposite sentiment. But what caught my eye was the alleged quote by Huxley. Being fairly sensitive to these things, I was surprised not to have seen this alleged quote before. More importantly, only a moment's reflection is necessary to question whether the word "genocidal" had been in existence during Huxley's life. Indeed, it hadn't been coined until well after his death.

So where did Craven come up with it? He had mentioned Richard Weikart and a Google search on the offending phrase immediately turned up this:

While Malthus saw this tendency toward overpopulation as the cause of misery and poverty, Darwin explained that it was really beneficial. In the conclusion of The Origin of Species, Darwin wrote, "Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows." For Darwin death -- even mass death -- was not only inevitable, necessary. As Adrian Desmond explained in his biography of T. H. Huxley (the foremost Darwinian biologist in late nineteenth-century Britain, who earned the nickname, "Darwin's bulldog"), "only from death on a genocidal scale could the few progress."

I'll leave it up to the gentle reader to try to figure out why we should prefer if misery and death has only evil as an outcome.

But note how low someone's reading comprehension must be to mistake Weikart's phrase for a quote by Huxley, instead of by Desmond. Or how low their morals ...

It's somewhat mysterious as to what makes one quote mine take off and wind up in a thousand places and another languish. This one may disappear without a trace but the origin of quote mines is clear. All it takes is someone so indifferent to the truth as to not make even the most modest effort to check the words he or she is putting in the mouths of others.

But it is handy when people like Craven advertise their intellectual bankruptcy in such neon colors.


Sunday, May 11, 2008


Out and About the Intertubes

Freshwater, Stale Brain:

There is more on John Freshwater, the crazed teacher who thinks he was hired with public tax money to be a preacher.

Among other things, Freshwater used a device to brand a cross into the flesh of some of his students, which turned out to be a BD-10A High Frequency Generator, about the same size and shape as a power screwdriver, the tip of which puts out up to 50,000 volts of electricity. It is used to ionize gases in a test tube so that students can identify them by their glowing colors. While the manufacturer states that it delivers the equivalent of a static shock generated by "touching a metal doorknob after walking across carpet on a dry winter day," it also said:

We have instructions to warn people that it's not a toy. If this device is directed for seconds (on the skin), that's a clear misuse of the product.

Jessica Philemond, attorney for the parents of one of the boys who was branded, objected that the school did not do enough when the branding came to light:

Principal William D. White wrote a letter to Freshwater in January, telling him not to shock children with the device. The letter noted that it would not be placed in his personnel file unless he shocked his students again.

Indeed, the administration apparently didn't take Freshwater's antics seriously at all, until the parents started making noise:

Philemond sent a letter to Short on April 14 saying that she would suggest the family sue the district if nothing was done.

The same day, administrators ordered Freshwater to remove religious items, including Bibles, the Ten Commandments and posters with Bible verses, from his classroom. Freshwater complied but objected to removing his personal Bible from his desk.

The horse didn't even feel the wind of that barn door closing behind it. Furthermore, Philemond says that Freshwater teaches religion in his classroom:

"When Mr. Freshwater disagrees with teaching material based upon his own religious beliefs, he advises the students that, although he is forced to teach from the textbooks, the teachings are wrong or not proven according to the Bible," Philemond's letter states.

And Freshwater's crazy keeps coming:

As moderator of a meeting of Christian athletes in the school, she said, Freshwater led a healing ceremony to drive Satan from an ill school visitor and asked students to distribute Bibles to other students.

This man's disrespect for the law of the land is enough to morally, if not legally, disqualify him as a holder of the public trust.

Northern Lights Out:

A school district in central Maine is threatening to become the next Dover:

[School Board] Director Matthew Linkletter claims evolution is an unprovable theory and shouldn't be taught as fact. He's urged the [School Administrative District 59] Board of Directors to consider his view during its May 19 meeting in Madison, with a goal of removing evolution from science classrooms.

Mike O'Risal at Hyphoid Logic sounded the alarm but the news has been slow to be picked up around the science blogging community. These sites have noticed: Further Thoughts and Science After Sunclipse.

Other news stories about SAD 59.

Not All Is Lost:

Tom Megeath, an assistant professor of astronomy and physics at the University of Toledo, has a very good guest editorial in the Toledo Blade:

Just as the physical theories of motion, electromagnetism, and quantum mechanics led to the technologies that transformed society in the 20th century, modern biology will enable technologies that will transform human society in the 21st century. ...

Unless we move the debate over evolution and the teaching of biology from the 19th century to the 21st century, we as a nation will sail into this uncharted territory with our eyes shut.

Well said.

Ah, good! PZ Myearshertz has picked up on the story from Maine.


Monkey See

The Gofer General of the Discoveryless Institute, Casey Luskin, is holding forth on what he calls "a biased and error-filled post at the Chronicle of Higher Education by Richard Monastersky." As a sleight-of-hand artist, Luskin lacks all panache, so I'll refrain from chasing the weasel all the way 'round this mulberry bush. Suffice it to say that he is pumping the DI's bait-and-switch that the legislation isn't about injecting Intelligent Design Creationism into public schools because the DI is against mandating its teaching -- they're just in favor of mandating the freedom for teachers to teach it if they want.

Now, if after that you've gotten over your urgent desire to take a shower, this part is actually amusing. Luskin will have us believe the boilerplate inserted in these legislative two-steps to the effect that they "shall not be construed to promote any religious doctrine" and cites, in support of that, the fact that "just last week, University of Missouri Professor of Medicine John Marshall testified in favor of an academic freedom bill before the Missouri House Committee on Elementary and Secondary Education." That would be the same John Marshall who, not so long ago, was featured in the Columbia, Missouri Missourian:

[A]fter becoming a Christian, Marshall found it hard to reconcile evolutionary theory with Genesis, the biblical account of how God created the earth and everything on it in six days. Marshall has since become a proponent of the view that there are some natural systems that cannot be adequately explained by natural forces, and therefore must be the result of intelligent design, or ID. ...

Marshall said teachers should have the right to discuss both Darwinian evolution and intelligent design in the classroom. However, he said, teaching ID should not be required until it becomes better established in the scientific community.
Yup. ID has nothing to do with religion and nobody wants to see it treated on the same par with evolution in the public schools, least of all the sponsors and supporters of these bills.

Us Darwinists are all just imaginin' it.


Thinking Out Loud

Will you risk being sneered at by both Hillary Clinton and Rush Limbaugh? Would you like to stick your thumb in the eye of people who believe knowledge is a bad thing? Do you think that science and education and culture are all things worth openly and proudly pursuing?

If so, you may be ready to participate in the Carnival of the Elitist Bastards.

Dana at En Tequila Es Verdad is organizing a carnival to raise high the Chablis:

I think it's time we stop letting our culture celebrate willful ignorance and start promoting genius instead.

So that's my view of this Carnival of the Elitist Bastards: we celebrate our cerebrums, jerk the sledgehammer out of the hands wielding it against us, and kick anti-elitists to the curb. We'll delve into the delightful varieties of elitist and elite pleasures. We'll wax philosophical and hold up the elite of our societies for praise.

If you're prepared to declare that you want to be more than "just plain folks," join Dana and the rest of the Elitist Bastards in supporting and contributing to this new carnival.

Besides, "Elitist Bastards" has so much more je ne sais quoi than "Brights" ...

Saturday, May 10, 2008


Propping Up the 'Ganda

There is a nice example in The Modesto Bee of how the Discoveryless Institute goes about making its alleged connection between "Darwinism" and Hitler and the Holocaust, and the best that can be said of it is that the smoke and mirrors are artfully arranged.

The article focuses on Richard Weikart, author of From Darwin to Hitler: Evolutionary Ethics, Eugenics, and Racism in Germany. According to the article, Weikart makes the following claims (though without connecting them):

About that last, Larry Arnhart has correctly categorized this maneuver, which Weikart shares with, among other DI stalwarts, John West and his book Darwin Day in America, as follows:

Like Weikart, West [claims] that I am criticizing a straw man because "not everything in the book is directly tied back to Darwin." As West indicates, he does say in his Introduction (p. xvii) that Darwinism is "only one part" of the larger story of "materialistic reductionism" from Democritus to the present. But on that same page, West claims that "the work of Charles Darwin ultimately supplied the empirical basis for a robust materialism finally to take hold."

Like Weikart, West employs a rhetoric of bait and switch. He draws attention to the supposed primacy of Darwin as a source of evil policies, but then when readers ask for evidence and arguments to support this strong claim, he insists that he has never made such a claim.

In short, the Undiscovery Institute drones tell one crude story to the faithful and, when they want to maintain a rag of intellectual integrity to cover themselves, they retreat to caveats about how it is their audience who should go out "on their own" to find out what they aren't being told by the very people who claimed the connection in the first place.

But beyond the disingenuousness, let's look at the central claim: that the supposed "replacement" of "Judeo-Christian sanctity-of-life ethics" with "evolutionary ethics," somehow, in some unspecified manner, "influenced" Hitler and the Nazis. Ignoring those "Gott Mit Uns" belt buckles the Nazis wore or Hitler's proclamations of doing "the Lord's work;" forgetting the "influence" of Luther and a thousand years of Christian anti-Semitism on Hitler; overlooking Darwin's own invocation of "the noblest part of our nature" against simplistic attempts to apply selection within human societies; and paying no mind to the fact that, well before Hitler had embarked on his murderous spree, evolutionary science had shown that eugenics could never work; does Weikart's claim even make sense on its own terms?

The claim that it was "evolutionary ethics" (whatever that might be) replacing Christian ethics that freed Hitler to pursue crimes against humanity only holds water if Christian ethics would have prevented or massively ameliorated the Nazi program. What evidence is there of that? Slavery, in which millions died and were horribly abused, prospered under Christianity and was defended with vigor from the pulpit. The Crusades, the Thirty Years War, the Inquisition and numerous other examples show the compatibility of "Judeo-Christian ethics" with the condemnation of "the other" and exercising the "final solution" of putting them to fire and the sword.

Weikart has attempted to excuse Hitler's explicit invocation of Christian ethics by claiming that the Nazis' "Christianity was always interpreted through the lens of their racial ideology, not vice versa." But, as Larry Arnhart points out, exactly the same can be said of what the eugenicists and Nazis did with evolutionary theory, including the mistake that Weikart himself promotes. In his next book, Weikart will claim that "Hitler's ideology revolved around evolutionary ethics ... whatever promoted evolutionary progress is good and whatever hinders it is bad." Since evolution doesn't promise progress, especially not within the human species, Weikart is merely positing that Hitler misunderstood evolution as badly as he did Christianity.

Weikart is either as ignorant of evolutionary theory as Hitler was or, like Hitler, he has no compunction about using any misrepresentation, any lie, to advance his own agenda.

Professor Arnhart is a good source of criticism of Weikart and his book, as is Pat Hayes' unfortunately inactive blog, Red State Rabble.

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