Friday, October 31, 2008


Figuring Figurers

Razib Khan of Gene Expression has a short piece up at the Guardian about the errors of those who use statistics while wearing glasses of their favorite tint. While he notes that predictions that Europe will soon be dominated by Muslims are wrong, he focuses on those who predict it will soon be atheistic:

Conservative commentator Mark Steyn declares that Europe will soon be dominated by Muslims. The polemicist Sam Harris observes that half of Swedes are atheists, portending a godless future. They can't both be right, but they are both making the same mistake. ...

[O]ne should be exceedingly cautious about games of prediction. Across the west the 1960s was a period of cultural change as church affiliation dropped precipitously. If one extends that decline out from the interval 1960-1970 Christianity should be extinct, and yet it is not. The decline in religiosity slowed by around 1980. Why? The will of God? A more plausible explanation is that social pressures which enforced religiosity before 1960 no longer operate, so those who were never particularly devout are more honest with themselves and society.

Labels matter a great deal here. It is not true that modern societies are divided between atheism and institutional religion. Sam Harris implicitly assumes this model when he says that half of Swedes are atheists, and it allows him to rig the game. In reality a February 2005 Eurobarometer survey (pdf) reported that 23% of Swedes did not believe in God, 20% did, and 53% believed in a spirit. A quick survey of European nations shows that the decline of traditional institutional religion has benefited both atheism and unaffiliated spirituality, but the latter has grown more robustly than the former!

As always, the universe turns out to be more complex than we might hope.


Life, the Universe, and Everything

It seems that Douglas Adams was wrong. The answer appears to be "10."

Thursday, October 30, 2008


Science, History and Politics

Peter McKnight of the Vancouver Sun has a multi-part series, that can be accessed here, about religion and science that looks pretty good so far:

Part I: Coupling of science and religion;

Part II: Religion in disguise;

Part III: Hitting a brick wall; and

Part IV: The tension between science and religion.

The third part makes some provocative claims about scientists using science to attain political ends and it also touches on methodological naturalism (which he calls methodological materialism):

[S]ince science is guided by methodological materialism - the rule that says scientists can't invoke supernatural causes in explaining the world - scientists can't then turn around and say science proves such causes don't exist.

Indeed, even if belief in the supernatural can be explained by evolutionary biology, this doesn't mean that the supernatural doesn't exist. Virtually all beliefs can be explained by evolutionary biology, at least in Wilson's view, but that doesn't necessarily render the objects of those beliefs illusory.
Although I haven't gone through it all thoroughly, it certainly appears to be a good, evenhanded read.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008


Natural Method

I've already linked to Dr. Steven Novella's two part response to what appears to be a shift in emphasis, at least, in the Intelligent Design Movement's war against science. As Larry Moran says:

As a general anti-science strategy, it's easy to see why the mind-body problem is resurfacing. The IDiots have lost the battle over evolution so they have to look around for something else to attack. We (scientists) don't understand exactly how the mind works. That's a perfect gap to shove God into, for now.

In the course of discussing that issue, Dr. Novella touched on methodological naturalism and, after a lively discussion in the comments to his post, he decided to expand on that discussion. It's a good exposition on the subject that is, I think, essentially correct. In fact, I've made a similar point to the following in arguments about whether science has disproven the existence of any god that interferes in the world:

This methodoligical approach also deals with the problem of whether or not science can deal with God. The answer is - yes and no. If a supernatural (meaning inaccessible to science) power were meddling with our universe (with stuff science could access), science could detect it, document it, and even describe it. We could say that something was happening.

However (by the premises of this hypothetical situation) if the ultimate cause of these physical effects were beyond scientific methodology, the best science could do would be to describe anomalies. Science comes across anomalies all the time, and the typical approach is to assume (because we really have no choice) that the anomalies are due to either errors in observation, errors in our current theories, or incompleteness in our current theories, meaning there is some new phenomenon to discover.

So far the scientific approach (assuming anomalies will lead to a deeper understanding of reality) has worked out pretty well. This is the best evidence we have that our universe if mostly rational and does not include "supernatural" (by my definition) forces that will remain forever "mysterious." If it did, then we would run across anomalies that we could never explain scientifically. All we could do would be to describe them, but we could never come up with a testable theory of mechanism.

I would quibble that divine action would not necessarily produce anomalies. For example, how could we tell the difference between a random mutation and a miraculous one?

Claiming that we can see no pattern in mutations, or the evolution it powers, does no good because that requires that you make an assertion about what God wants to do and how he, she or it would go about it -- and how could you know that?

This is the problem that Pierre Duhem first raised and which was expanded on by Willard Van Orman Quine. It is, cleverly, now generally known as the Duhem-Quine thesis. Elliot Sober describes it in his excellent new book, Evidence and Evolution, as follows:

Theories rarely make predictions on their own; rather, auxiliary assumptions need to be brought to bear. For example, the general theory of relativity, by itself, does not make predictions about when eclipses will occur or what features they will have. However, if auxiliary information about various celestial bodies is taken into account, the general theory of relativity does make predictions about these matters [leading to Eddington's famous confirmation of the GTR - JP]. Duhem's point holds for most of the hypotheses that the sciences consider, and it also holds when we recognize that prediction rarely involves deduction. Duhem's idea is that the usual pattern in science is that the hypothesis H does not entail whether the observation statement O will be true; rather it is H&A that will have this kind of entailment, for suitably chosen auxiliary assumptions A.

As Sober points out, both the design argument for God and arguments against God based on a supposed lack of design (Stephen Jay Gould's invocation of the panda's thumb being a prominent example) require auxiliary assumptions about the motives and abilities of God that we have no independent justification for.

But, outside of another quibble that "falsifiable" should not be understood as denoting Karl Popper's now discredited "demarcation criteria" but as a synonym for "testable," Dr. Novella is exactly right in his summation:

Saying that science requires methodological naturalism is really just another way of saying that science requires falsifiable hypotheses, which in turn requires the assumption that the universe makes sense - it consistently follows an internal set of rules. ID proponents and others who oppose this view want to inject supernatural explanations into science, by which they mean ideological beliefs that are not testable by science. They try to dress up these beliefs as scientific theories by framing god-of-the-gaps arguments from ignorance (like irreducible complexity) as if they were testable hypotheses - but they are not.


Here is Larry's objection to my point.


Tuesday, October 28, 2008


Slapstick Education

David Bradley is a clown.

However, Bradley, the current vice-chairman of the Texas State Board of Education, is a bigoted and dangerous clown:

"Do you know what the Democrat for State Board of Education supports?" reads the handout, which was disseminated at a recent gathering of the Golden Triangle Republican Women and trumpeted earlier this year at a Republican senatorial convention.

The handout features a 2004 newsletter article documenting the scandalous details: In 2003, [Laura] Ewing was one of nearly 20 social studies educators who traveled to Africa and India to study (gasp!) Islamic history and culture, with plans to develop curriculum for Texas schoolchildren in sixth-grade world cultures classes and high school-level world geography and history. ...

Need more proof? Bradley's ad features a photo of Ewing, former teacher, social studies curriculum specialist and Friendswood city councilwoman, caught red-handed, posing in front of the Taj Mahal!

Of course, Ewing's trip was as part of a group of social studies educators and arranged for by Bradley's fellow Republican, Gov. Rick Perry, with the University of Texas and the Aga Khan Foundation. Furthermore, Bradley voted, in his first term on the state board, for the state curriculum standards that call for students to study other cultures and religions that the trip was to assist in preparing and carrying out.

Asked what bothered him so much about Ewing's trip, Bradley said:

"I think Islamic curriculum is about the furthest thing that we need to be introducing into Texas classrooms," he said, adding a bit later, "I think people are real sensitive about Islamic studies, given recent events in the United States."...

"I think we need to spend a whole lot more of our time and energy on reading, writing and arithmetic," he told me. "And, you know, if there's time to spare, the students might be able to spend a little time on some electives. But we're doing a very poor job on reading, writing and arithmetic to be spending time, money and effort on other curriculums."

This goober thinks that, in our world today, understanding science and people in the rest of the world are luxuries rather than essential survival tools.

Thinking that makes him dangerous, trying to keep others from teaching those skills by appealing to hatred and ignorance is evil.

Monday, October 27, 2008


Lonesome Hawk

Would someone fire up Bobby Vinton's "Mr. Lonely" on the victrola?

The Harvard Crimson has a piece about the perceived, by some, under-representation of conservatives on the faculty. One of them is government Professor Harvey C. Mansfield, who:

... explained the presidential race in terms of his book "Manliness," which mourns the lack of manliness in a "gender neutral" society.

"The race between McCain and Obama is the classic match-up between a manly man and a sensitive man," Mansfield said. He added that McCain's 'manliness' would translate into a more aggressive national defense policy, which Mansfield supports.

And if that doesn't titillate you enough, he goes on to say that:

... he greeted McCain's choice of Palin with "modified rapture," praising the Alaska governor as a woman who has set up a new model for feminism.

"She has shown that feminism as we have defined it isn't necessary in order to change the state of women," Mansfield said. "It is possible for women to be successful and powerful without bringing with it the bondage of sexual liberation."

The bondage of liberation? Is that anything like Freedom is Slavery?

But the truly hilarious part is this:

"Liberals speak about pluralism, but there is no sympathy for downtrodden conservatives at Harvard," Mansfield said.

Mansfield recommended a form of "mild affirmative action" for conservative candidates in hiring decisions to correct the imbalance.

Poor ox! I hope it gets better after that nasty goring.

Sunday, October 26, 2008


Nearer, My God, to Thee


Maybe John McCain is learning what most of the rest of us already suspect about Sarah Palin.

According to CNN, Sarah's not about to play "good soldier" in a campaign that's looking more and more like the political version of the Titanic.

Several McCain advisers have suggested to CNN that they have become increasingly frustrated with what one aide described as Palin "going rogue."

A Palin associate, however, said the candidate is simply trying to "bust free" of what she believes was a damaging and mismanaged roll-out. ...

A second McCain source says she appears to be looking out for herself more than the McCain campaign.

"She is a diva. She takes no advice from anyone," said this McCain adviser. "She does not have any relationships of trust with any of us, her family or anyone else.

"Also, she is playing for her own future and sees herself as the next leader of the party. Remember: Divas trust only unto themselves, as they see themselves as the beginning and end of all wisdom."

As for the blame for the disastrous interviews Palin gave at the outset of her campaign, Palin apparently lays that at the feet of McCain advisors Nicolle Wallace and Steve Schmidt for limiting her initial press contact to high-profile interviews with Charlie Gibson of ABC and Katie Couric of CBS. As reported by Politico, the idea is apparently that if she had been making a fool of herself in local news interviews instead of saving it all up for high profile national broadcasts, it would have lessened the impact -- or something. Meanwhile, even some in her own camp lay the blame more on Palin's inexperience and, for want of a better word, unteachability:

[T]wo sources, one Palin associate and one McCain adviser, defended the decision to keep her press interaction limited after she was picked, both saying flatly that she was not ready and that the missteps could have been a lot worse.

They insisted that she needed time to be briefed on national and international issues and on McCain's record.

"Her lack of fundamental understanding of some key issues was dramatic," said another McCain source with direct knowledge of the process to prepare Palin after she was picked. The source said it was probably the "hardest" to get her "up to speed than any candidate in history."

In other news, as noted by Ed Brayton, George Packer, in the New Yorker, is reporting that another high-profile conservative stalwart has abandoned ship and giving Palin as a primary reason why.

Ken Adelman is a lifelong conservative Republican. Campaigned for Goldwater, was hired by Rumsfeld at the Office of Economic Opportunity under Nixon, was assistant to Defense Secretary Rumsfeld under Ford, served as Reagan's director of arms control, and joined the Defense Policy Board for Rumsfeld's second go-round at the Pentagon, in 2001. ...

Adelman gives two reasons for abandoning McCain, his temperament and his judgment:

When the economic crisis broke, I found John McCain bouncing all over the place. In those first few crisis days, he was impetuous, inconsistent, and imprudent; ending up just plain weird. Having worked with Ronald Reagan for seven years, and been with him in his critical three summits with Gorbachev, I've concluded that that's no way a president can act under pressure.

Second is judgment. The most important decision John McCain made in his long campaign was deciding on a running mate.

That decision showed appalling lack of judgment. Not only is Sarah Palin not close to being acceptable in high office—I would not have hired her for even a mid-level post in the arms-control agency.

But the Politico article also reports that there is a faction of Republicans who think Palin is the future of the party:

The emergence of a Palin faction comes as Republicans gird for a battle over the future of their party: Some see her as a charismatic, hawkish conservative leader with the potential, still unrealized, to cross over to attract moderate voters. Anger among Republicans who see Palin as a star and as a potential future leader has boiled over because, they say, they see other senior McCain aides preparing to blame her in the event he is defeated.

A battle between the religious right and traditional conservatives for the soul of the party? There's only one word for that:

Speaking of abandoning ship, Congressional Republicans are tacitly admitting that McCain is going to lose and, in order to save their own necks, are arguing that voters should be wary of one party holding all the reins of power in Washington. As the Washington Post notes, Norm Coleman and Libby Dole are prominent examples. But as the article goes on to illustrate, voters need not fear one-party rule ... as long as the party is the Democrats!


Bad Elitist! Bad!


Saturday, October 25, 2008


Carnival of the Elitist Bastards, VI


Don't sing me, Poet, of the topless towers of Ilium.
I, Odysseus, stood by while unwashed Agamemnon
and his drunken brigand Greeks toppled the last
of the rude mud bricks that made up Troy.

Tall tales are fit for songs like yours,
and to send the children off to bed,
but I was there and the reality's
enough to make the singing cloy.

You fare no better in these latter days I see,
as the story of this physic lays out plain:
PalMD's lament o'er the wantonness
of those who would pay court unto a fake disease.

Be not downcast, Poet.
Your trade is worthy still.
Like arrows, songs can pierce the heart
but have the good sense not to kill.

There's truth in poetry and other heady spirits,
as Dana can attest.
And Brian eyes the other side in metaphors
that's poesy's language at its best.

It's fantasy, of course, that says I ever stood
upon Death's Kingdom's shore.
But PodBlack Cat's tale's no less fantastic
than feeding shades upon ram's gore.

In my age politics was a straightforward trade.
Swords would thrust and spears would fly
but ne'er did we wield what Cujo359 describes:
brazen marching phalanxes of lies.

We were, admittedly, brutes and thieves and worse.
But even as we plundered and waded through the gore
unlike the sort Hoofnagle tells of
the best of us knew, and cared about, the weakness of the poor.

Circe was a witch, and though her spells were executed
mostly on her back, she could make men appear as swine.
As CousinAvi says, there's some still plying Circe's trade
but fail to even give the value Circe paid in kind.

Of course, Circe's spell was not so hard,
as Z and Hanson make plain to see,
for men ... and women too ... conspire in the trick
by taking pride in their own and others' stupidity.

The sirens were not real, but most men hear their song.
They croon "believe," despite reality's opposing call.
Stephen Law recounts how one of the sadder sort
becomes besotted and stays beneath the sirens' thrall.

But worse yet are those, who after they are enticed,
take up the spellbinders' tune,
and, as Pieret uncovers, abuse their positions of trust,
to put the young onto paths that have no end but ruin.

We strove, in former days, to achieve as one of the elites,
oft for wealth and fame, it's true, but, too, in matters of the mind.
Yet now as Ames relates, in these impoverished times,
to intellectuals, the maddened mob cries "shame."

Even when we wielded naught but wooden plows
and bronze swords from behind hide shields, we could know
that ignorance and greed had consequences that cost us dear.
Bitter Hinterlands puts forth proof that the price is greater now.

That's why I always tried to do my best in everything,
even trickery, like that time at Troy.
So NP offers life lessons on professionalism
even those not scribes, like her, ought to employ.

And if we are to do all that we seek to do
we need rely on others of like ken.
As Annie knows, when sickness grows
all hands and hearts and minds had best attend.

I, above most men, a decade getting home,
can forgive the tardy and set back to shore.
Z, last month, stood at the quay as the bastards
stood off before the wind ... no more.

The last word I give to a better rhymer:

We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

Press Gang

A company of men under an officer detailed to force men into military or naval service.

The following articles, interviews and the like are by people who may not have aspired to the (exalted) title of Elitist Bastard but who have expressed, on these occasions, sentiments that make them worthy of the company.

Teacherninja rounds up a passel of ... um ... volunteers on her his its this elitist's own.

Matt Taibbi, from "Mad Dog Palin" in Rolling Stone, has this take-home line, on Palin's convention speech:

It was like watching Gidget address the Reichstag.

Ben Zalkind has this to say in "The Mediocritization of America: Why Go for Gold When You Can Have Brass?" in the Huffington Post:

I will always prefer eloquence to down-home charm. I will never accept lies just because they're easier to digest. The fact I've historically supported brilliant minds and high-achievers is no coincidence. I would prefer to elect the best America has to offer. I want to be proud of my president. I guess that makes me an elitist.

Mitch Albom at the Detroit Free Press, in "Average Joe can't fix America's pipes:"

There is a reason we call "the average guy" average. Because he's in the middle. Average. When you aim for the White House, to lead the free world, to hold the fate of the Earth in your hands, you shouldn't aspire to average.

Jeffrey Hart, a former Nixon speechwriter and senior editor for National Review, interviewed in The Dartmouth Review, explains why he is supporting Barack Obama and passes on a few words about Sarah Palin:

I think she is a good woman. She is extremely ignorant. She appeals to the more extreme part of the Republican base, on all the social issues. It hasn't come up that she is a religious crackpot; she believes in the end of days and what they call the Rapture, in which the just are wished up to heaven and the rest are left with Armageddon.

Jeffrey D. Sachs, Professor of Economics and Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, in "The American anti-intellectual threat" in the Pakistan Daily Times, points to this:

The problem is an aggressive fundamentalism that denies modern science, and an aggressive anti-intellectualism that views experts and scientists as the enemy. It is those views that could end up getting us all killed. After all, that kind of extremism can even lead to war, based on perverted views that a particular war is God's will rather than a failure of politics and co-operation.
That's all for this month. The next Carnival of the Elitist Bastards will be on November 29th, hosted by Paul Sunstone at Café Philos. Get busy bastarding.


Friday, October 24, 2008


Whither the Religious?

John Wilkins, clinging, as always, to the Fatal Shore, has a good post up about religion and the hope-triumphing-over-experience expectations of some that religion will wither away:

[A]lthough, as PZ recently noted, some religion is on the decline and more people are declaring themselves to be non-religious (which is not the same has having no religious beliefs, by the way), this doesn't license the easy induction that religion is on the way out. These things run in cycles and like the stock market there are booms and busts for every cultural stock. ...

Humans are pre-set to make alliances and allegiances, because it's a way of ensuring one has the necessary resources to make good. So as long as this is a way of achieving these aims, which are ultimately related to our need to propagate by reproduction, religion will persist, as will other forms of community commitment signalling. ...

I promote secularism, not as a way of eliminating religion, but as a way of ensuring that no one religion can control or eliminate the others, and as a side effect, of ensuring that there is room for nonbelievers to exist as well. Secularism prevents Thirty Year's Wars, and permits Enlightenments. More than that we cannot expect, though we may work towards a less religious society. Ultimately, a lack of religion must evolve naturally (at the historical, cultural, level - I'm not talking about biological evolution here) as it has in several countries, and it cannot be imposed by propaganda or legal means. It must be an organic change, so to speak.

Thursday, October 23, 2008


Weakening Teaching

Unsurprisingly, Robert Crowther is over at the Discovery Institute's Ministry of Misinformation, mangling the message of Alan I. Leshner, chief executive officer of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and executive publisher of the journal Science, that I linked to earlier today. Crowther crows about Lesher's statement that the weaknesses of evolutionary theory should be taught and complains that Lesher misrepresents the position of the conservative board members and the DI by saying that it is their intent to teach ID in Texas classrooms.

The devil, as they say, in the details. Lesher is speaking about the scientific weaknesses in evolutionary theory, none of which come close to calling the core of the theory into question. That's why Crowther conveniently ignores Lesher's full statement about the DI:

In addition, there is no scientific controversy. Mainstream science and medical organizations in the United States and worldwide, representing tens of millions of scientists, accept evolution as the best explanation for how life developed on Earth.

Yes, the anti-evolution campaign has lined up a small number of scientist supporters, but most have no expertise in biology or evolution.
On the other hand, as I have noted before, outside of an argument from analogy which is merely an updated version of Paley's watch, there is nothing to ID except their claims of phony "weaknesses," borrowed wholesale from "creation science." Troy Britain at Playing Chess with Pigeons previously produced an excellent two part post demonstrating how the "weaknesses" claimed by the IDers, as contained in the "Leader's Guide" (a fairly large pdf file) offered at the official Expelled website, contains all the same old tired creationist "arguments" against evolution. Teaching the DI's version of "weaknesses" is teaching creationism.

The one thing ID supporters can certainly never teach is honesty.


It's the Economy, Stupid!

Alan I. Leshner, chief executive officer of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and executive publisher of the journal Science, has an op-ed piece in the Houston Chronicle worth reading if you are a Texan or anyone else concerned with good science education and its effect on America's economic future:

Texas has earned a reputation as an innovation powerhouse in fields ranging from agriculture and life sciences to high technology and space exploration.

But in a report issued this summer, a panel of Texas business, education and government leaders warned that without "critical changes" in state schools — especially in science-related instruction — the state will lose its global competitive edge.

It appears, however, that some members of the State Board of Education are working on a different agenda. Last week, they appointed three anti-evolution activists, including a leader of the "intelligent design" religious campaign, to a six-member panel that will review proposed new science curriculum standards. ...

[T]here is no scientific controversy. Mainstream science and medical organizations in the United States and worldwide, representing tens of millions of scientists, accept evolution as the best explanation for how life developed on Earth. ...

Bringing nonscientific ideas into biology classes creates unacceptable risks. It will confuse young students and teach them to distrust well-established scientific facts. Classrooms could become religious battlegrounds. Lawsuits over policy could drain local school districts. And employers everywhere would worry about the quality of Texas' students.

To maintain the state's strength as an engine of U.S. research and innovation, Texas education leaders should stick to the basics. Students need a solid science foundation to thrive in the 21st century. We don't want our children to be stragglers in an age when clear understanding of science and technology are crucial to the economy and to so many issues of modern life.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


Brain Drain


Uh oh, here we go again:

"YOU cannot overestimate," thundered psychiatrist Jeffrey Schwartz, "how threatened the scientific establishment is by the fact that it now looks like the materialist paradigm is genuinely breaking down. You're gonna hear a lot in the next calendar year about... how Darwin's explanation of how human intelligence arose is the only scientific way of doing it... I'm asking us as a world community to go out there and tell the scientific establishment, enough is enough! Materialism needs to start fading away and non-materialist causation needs to be understood as part of natural reality."

It looks like ID is morphing again. Irreducible complexity at the cellular level, except among the faithful, is pretty much dead. "Teach the controversy" had a stake driven through its heart in Dover and, although there will likely be a knock-down, drag-out in Texas in the next few months, teaching the "strengths and weaknesses" of evolution is on life support after failing in Florida and a numbers of other states this year, with Louisiana's double-edged law being its only success on the path to Texas.

So what will it be this time around? According to The New Scientist, the Discovery Institute is funding research into "non-material neuroscience".

According to proponents of ID, the "hard problem" of consciousness - how our subjective experiences arise from the objective world of neurons - is the Achilles heel not just of Darwinism but of scientific materialism. This fits with the Discovery Institute's mission as outlined in its "wedge document", which seeks "nothing less than the overthrow of materialism and its cultural legacies", to replace the scientific world view with a Christian one.

We might have guessed! ... given the recent book Denyse (accent on the "deny") O'Leary co-authored with Mario Beauregard, a researcher in neuroscience at the University of Montreal, The Spiritual Brain: A neuroscientist's case for the existence of the soul. Never one to eschew hyperbole, O'Leary calls the study of consciousness "Darwinism's grave." Besides Schwartz and Beauregard and, of course, Discovery Institute stalwarts, O'Leary, J.P. Moreland, William Dembski, and neurosurgeon Michael Egnor, another name to look out for among the would be highjackers of neuroscience is Angus Menuge, a philosophy professor at Concordia University, who is getting some of the DI's "research" funding.

James Porter Moreland (who usually publishes as J.P. Moreland), a professor at the Talbot School of Theology and a DI fellow who is usually forthright about the theological content if ID, wrote in Consciousness and the Existence of God:

"I've been doing a lot of thinking about consciousness," he writes, "and how it might contribute to evidence for the existence of God in light of metaphysical naturalism's failure to provide a helpful explanation." Non-materialist neuroscience provided him with this helpful explanation: since God "is" consciousness, "the theist has no need to explain how consciousness can come from materials bereft of it. Consciousness is there from the beginning."

Hmmm. The bare assertion that God exists and "is" consciousness (whatever that might mean), coupled with a denial of any need to explain, piled on naturalism's alleged "failure" (for the moment) to explain consciousness, is evidence for God's existence? A protean combination of circularity, shifting of burden and argument from ignorance.

Schwartz has gone a bit farther:

Schwartz used scanning technology to look at the neural patterns thought to be responsible for [obsessive-compulsive disorder]. Then he had patients use "mindful attention" to actively change their thought processes, and this showed up in the brain scans: patients could alter their patterns of neural firing at will.

From such experiments, Schwartz and others argue that since the mind can change the brain, the mind must be something other than the brain, something non-material. In fact, these experiments are entirely consistent with mainstream neurology - the material brain is changing the material brain.

Needless to say, some are unimpressed, such as Andy Clark, professor of logic and metaphysics at the University of Edinburgh:

He and others worry because scientists have yet to crack the great mystery of how consciousness could emerge from firing neurons. "Progress in science is slow on many fronts," says John Searle, a philosopher at the University of California, Berkeley. "We don't yet have a cure for cancer, but that doesn't mean cancer has spiritual causes." ...

And as Clark observes: "This is an especially nasty mind-virus because it piggybacks on some otherwise reasonable thoughts and worries. Proponents make such potentially reasonable points as 'Oh look, we can change our brains just by changing our minds,' but then leap to the claim that mind must be distinct and not materially based. That doesn't follow at all. There's nothing odd about minds changing brains if mental states are brain states: that's just brains changing brains."

So we're in for another round of picking away at the present unknowns in legitimate science, followed by the unwarranted assertion that any unexplained phenomenon is support for the preconceived beliefs of the IDeologists.

My brain is already beginning to hurt.

Update: As I had hoped, Dr. Steven Novella, a clinical neurologist at Yale University School of Medicine, has picked up on this development. And here is Part II of Dr. Novella's response.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008


Flying High?

Jeffrey Hart, a former Nixon speechwriter and senior editor for National Review is interviewed in The Dartmouth Review, during which he explains why he is supporting Barack Obama and passes on a few words about Sarah Palin:

I think she is a good woman. She is extremely ignorant. She appeals to the more extreme part of the Republican base, on all the social issues. It hasn't come up that she is a religious crackpot; she believes in the end of days and what they call the Rapture, in which the just are wished up to heaven and the rest are left with Armageddon.

She believes in Creationism, which is not intelligent design, but a literal belief in the six days of the creation, and God Rested... that is a poem, not a scientific statement. It is just a poetic answer to the question of why there is something rather than nothing. So they say “In the beginning….” That is an account for creating word and the world, and that is perfectly all right—as long as you understand that the universe was not actually created in six days.


Babu Babble

Oh, my! Babu G. Ranganathan is back demonstrating his absolute lack of understanding of evolutionary theory in particular and science in general. Not wanting to risk killing too many neurons by exposing them to the neutron-star-like density of Babu's ignorance, I stopped after I ran across this:

A true transitional form would be something like a fish having part fins…part feet, or a bird having part scales…part feathers, partially one function, partially another with neither being complete or functional.
Those are actually fairly apt descriptions of Tiktaalik roseae, an intermediate form between fish and amphibians with "fins" that had basic wrist bones and simple fingers that were weight bearing, though they probably were not used to walk but, instead, were likely used to prop up the creature's body and Dilong paradoxus, a primitive tyrannosaur, which had protofeathers which were not an not an adaptation for flight but, probably, for insulation.

The strange thing is that Babu apparently thinks that the transitional features of these creature would necessarily be functionless. In fact, functionless features of organisms tend to disappear over time (think of the eyes of cavefish). As Mark Isaak's "Index to Creationist Claims," number CB925, at the Talk Origins Archive points out:

Evolution does not predict incomplete creatures. In fact if we ever saw such a thing it would pretty much disprove evolution. In order to survive, all creatures must be sufficiently adapted to their environment; thus, they must be complete in some sense.
The notion that some feature of an animal would evolve from one function to another by going through a completely functionless stage is the surest proof that Babu doesn't know what he is babbling about.

Monday, October 20, 2008


Do Your Ears Hear What Your Mouth Says?

John McCain and Sarah Palin have (for now) dropped the charge that Barack Obama is a socialist. Besides the difficulty selling that line in the face of Obama's endorsements by Warren Buffett and Colin Powell, it may have a wee bit to do with McCain's own recent past. On Sunday, Fox News' Chris Wallace grilled McCain about his own socialist credentials:

WALLACE: But, Senator, you voted for the $700-billion bailout that's being used partially to nationalize American banks. Isn't that socialism?

MCCAIN: That is reacting to a crisis that's due to greed and excess in Washington. And what this administration is doing wrong, and what Paulson is doing wrong, is not going out and buying up home loan mortgages, home mortgages, and giving people new mortgages at the new value of their home so they can stay in their home. They're bailing out the banks. They're bailing out these institutions.

WALLACE: But you voted for that.

MCCAIN: Of course. It was a package that had to be enacted because the economy was about to go into the tank.... That's the reason why we have governments, to help those who need help, who can't help themselves, and when time of crisis to step in and do what's necessary to preserve the lives and futures of innocent people. It wasn't Main Street America that caused this. It was Washington and Wall Street.
Quite apart from the serious risk of whiplash McCain ran by making such a sharp U-turn at high speed, what exactly does he call using billions in tax dollars to preserve the lives and futures of innocent people and to help those who need help because they can't help themselves?



What was that about voter fraud?

The head of a voter registration group hired by the California Republican Party was arrested over the weekend for allegedly lying about his address in the state in order to vote illegally, the office of California's secretary of state announced Sunday.

Mark Anthony Jacoby, the owner of a signature-gathering firm called Young Political Majors, was taken into custody by Ontario police just after midnight Saturday and booked with a felony punishable by up to three years in prison.

Jacoby allegedly registered himself at his childhood home in Los Angeles, even though he no longer lives there. It is voter fraud to register if ineligible and perjury to provide false information on a voter registration card. Jacoby was charged with two counts of each relating to his 2006 and 2007 registration.

"Voter registration fraud is a serious issue, which is why I vigorously investigate all allegations of elections fraud," said Bowen, California's chief elections officer. "Where there's a case to be made, I will forward it to law enforcement for criminal prosecution."

An arraignment date has not been scheduled yet. Bail was set at $50,000.

According to The Los Angeles Times, Jacoby's firm was paid $7 to $12 by the CRP for each GOP voter registration signature, but dozens of voters who signed on said they were duped into registering as Republicans and thought they were signing a petition to toughen penalties against child molesters.

And what did the California Republican party have to say?

The CRP called the arrest "politically motivated."

"The fact that these charges are being leveled against an individual operating in a highly-contested area of California, and the significant gap between recent allegations and the charges we've seen today suggests that this is politically motivated," reads a statement by the party.

But, of course, all the hoopla over ACORN isn't!

Pot, kettle, black.

P.S. Ed Brayton at Dispatches From the Culture Wars has more on this story.

Sunday, October 19, 2008


Taxing the Truth

Colin Powell makes an excellent point towards the end of this press session he had after the announcement of his endorsement of Barack Obama:

To paraphrase: it is ridiculous to call Obama a "socialist" because he wants to look at and adjust the distribution of the tax burden in the US. All taxes are a redistribution of wealth -- usually back to the taxpayers in the form of roads and airports and other infrastructure and in the form of services, such as police and fire departments, and in the form of national defense. Taxes are the price we pay to enjoy the benefits of being Americans.

But if tax redistribution is a bad thing, as McCain and Palin say, there is one thing I want to know. I live in New York, which only gets back in Federal spending $.79 for every $1.00 we New Yorkers pay in Federal taxes, while Arizonans, like McCain, get back $1.19 for every $1.00 they pay and Alaskans, like Palin, get back a whopping $1.84 for every $1.00 they pay.

So what I want to know is when are those socialists gonna give me my money back?

P.S. By my count, 27 of the 32 socialist states -- those that get to "share the wealth" of the states that pay more in Federal taxes then they get back -- voted Republican in 2004.


Beyond Reason

Don McLeroy has a guest column in the Waco Tribune.

Texas is adopting new science standards. Scientists representing evolutionists and calling themselves the 21st Century Science Coalition say that creationists on the State Board of Education will inject religion into the science classroom. Should they be concerned? No. This will not happen.

They also say that the board will require supernatural explanations to be placed in the curriculum. This will not happen.
But, interestingly, McLeroy appears to admit that the opposition to removing the "weaknesses" language from Texas' science standards is, in fact, religion-based:

[T]he coalition also makes claims about evolution that will be challenged by creationists.
As to specifics, McLeroy quotes, without attribution, from chemist Philip Skell's disingenuous opinion piece in The Scientist (prominently hyped by the Discovery Institute) that argues that evolutionary theory is not vital to the understanding of biology. McLeroy particularly refers to Skell's claim that he "asked more than 70 eminent researchers if they would have done their work differently if they had thought Darwin's theory was wrong" and they said "no."

Amusingly, McLeroy also quotes Galileo: "In questions of science, the authority of a thousand is not worth the humble reasoning of a single individual." Then one has to wonder why Skell and those 70 unnamed "eminent researchers" are appealed to -- without any reasoning, humble or otherwise, backing them up -- in support McLeroy's contention that:

[H]as evolution been demonstrated to be true beyond any reasonable doubt? No.

Is evolution's support from the peer-reviewed literature unassailable? No.
As I've already noted, Skell's objectivity and honesty is self-destructed by his use of a quote mine of A.S. Wilkins, editor of the journal BioEssays. And PZ Myers has already explained the reasons why biologists can work without "particular reference" to evolutionary theory:

[The] whole point is bogus. Yes, I can go into my lab right now, make up some solutions, run a pH meter, collect embryos, use a microscope, etc., without once using the principles of evolutionary biology. Likewise, I can do a lot of the day-to-day stuff of the lab without even thinking about developmental biology, biochemistry, molecular biology, or physiology; that does not imply that these disciplines are not central to how life works. We don't need evolutionary biology ... except whenever we want to think about how these narrow, esoteric little experiments we do fit into the grander picture of life on earth. You know, biology.
McLeroy also quotes the experts at the National Academy of Sciences, from its booklet Science, Evolution and Creationism, which defines science as "the use of evidence to construct testable explanations and predictions of natural phenomena, as well as the knowledge generated through this process." But, if those authorities are worth quoting on that point, why doesn't McLeroy quote the reasoning that comes immediately after that:

Because observations and explanations build on each other, science is a cumulative activity. Repeatable observations and experiments generate explanations that describe nature more accurately and comprehensively, and these explanations in turn suggest new observations and experiments that can be used to test and extend the explanation. In this way, the sophistication and scope of scientific explanations improve over time, as subsequent generations of scientists, often using technological innovations, work to correct, refine, and extend the work done by their predecessors.
In other words, no one expects evolutionary theory to be "unassailable," whatever McLeroy may mean by that. Moreover, as the NAS points out, that fact is not a weakness of science. Instead, as the NAS says:

Many scientific theories are so well established that no new evidence is likely to alter them substantially. For example, no new evidence will demonstrate that the Earth does not orbit around the Sun (heliocentric theory), or that living things are not made of cells (cell theory), that matter is not composed of atoms, or that the surface of the Earth is not divided into solid plates that have moved over geological timescales (the theory of plate tectonics). Like these other foundational scientific theories, the theory of evolution is supported by so many observations and confirming experiments that scientists are confident that the basic components of the theory will not be overturned by new evidence. ...

In science, a "fact" typically refers to an observation, measurement, or other form of evidence that can be expected to occur the same way under similar circumstances. However, scientists also use the term "fact" to refer to a scientific explanation that has been tested and confirmed so many times that there is no longer a compelling reason to keep testing it or looking for additional examples. In that respect, the past and continuing occurrence of evolution is a scientific fact. Because the evidence supporting it is so strong, scientists no longer question whether biological evolution has occurred and is continuing to occur.
In short, the scientific "weaknesses" of evolution are all in the imagination of people like McLeroy, based on nothing more than their religious belief in creationism. Injecting those misunderstandings of science and of the evidence in favor of evolution into science classes is most definitely importing religion and supernatural explanations into Texas public schools.

All McLeroy has demonstrated is that evolutionary theory is not been proven beyond all unreasonable doubt.




Colin Powell endores Barack Obama on NBC's "Meet the Press."

Powell mentions Sarah Palin unreadiness to be president, the negativity of McCain's campaign, particularly the Ayers attacks, the constant suggestions by many in the party that Obama is a muslim (and that, even if he was, it would somehow matter) and the promise by McCain to make the Supreme Court more conservative as some of the reasons for his decision.

He also notes that, although he is opposed to "deadlines" for withdrawing from Iraq, the present administration is negotiating just such a withdrawal schedule and, ultimately, the Iraqis will be making those political and military decisions.

He says he regrets "disappointing" McCain, who he respects, but we need change to move toward what he believes Bush promised with "compassionate conservatism."

Saturday, October 18, 2008


Race Relations has a telling story about America in the 21st century:

So a canvasser goes to a woman's door in Washington, Pennsylvania. Knocks. Woman answers. Knocker asks who she's planning to vote for. She isn't sure, has to ask her husband who she's voting for. Husband is off in another room watching some game. Canvasser hears him yell back, "We're votin' for the n***er!"

Woman turns back to canvasser, and says brightly and matter of factly: "We're voting for the n***er."
The incident occured in Congressman John Murtha's western Pennsylvania district, not exactly easy country for Obama. As Sean Quinn says:

In this economy, racism is officially a luxury. How is John McCain going to win if he can't win those voters?

Friday, October 17, 2008



Joe the plumber is not likely to slow John McCain's passage through the porcelain exit. It seems Joe's savings under McCain's tax plan wouldn't even pay off the back taxes Joe already owes to Ohio ... even assuming Joe really earned enough to go over $250,000 in taxable earnings.

Wurzelbacher told Obama Oct. 12 as the Illinois senator canvassed his neighborhood that he was about to buy a business that earns as much as $280,000 a year.
But that doesn't appear to be true:

The company McCain said the plumber wants to buy has annual sales of $510,000, according to an analysis by Dun & Bradstreet. That makes it unlikely that Wurzelbacher's purchase would give him a taxable income of more than $200,000 -- leaving him unaffected by Obama's proposal to roll back tax breaks for those earning more than $250,000, said Steven Bankler, a certified public accountant in San Antonio, who counts plumbers and other trade professionals as his clients.
But even if Joe somehow got that $280,000 in adjusted gross income:

... he would pay just $773 more in taxes under Obama's plan than McCain's ... according to an analysis by the Tax Foundation, a Washington research group that is critical of high taxes.
On the other hand:

Wurzelbacher hasn't paid the taxes he already owes, according to the state of Ohio, which placed a tax lien against him for $1,182.98 on Jan. 26, 2007, that is still active.
As the Bloomberg story says:

The problem for McCain, tax analysts said, is that the underlying premise that Wurzelbacher would face higher taxes under Obama is neither true nor typical of how the vast majority of small businesses would fare.
It looks like Joe the plumber is no more likely than Sarah Palin to help McCain be flush rather than to be flushed.

Thursday, October 16, 2008


Exercising Both Sides of the Mouth

Just to further demonstrate what a disservice the Texas State Board of Education has done to the children of that state, here is some more from Ralph Seelke, one of the authors of the Discovery Institute's untextbook, Explore Evolution:

"Simply allowing the student to look at scientific evidence for and against something, that is not by any means, by any stretch of the imagination teaching intelligent design--which I do not want," Seelke said.

Seelke said it's important for students to look at all theories on how life came about and not just evolution.

Now, that's interesting.

Presumably, in discussing students looking at theories, Seelke is referring to subjects they will be taught in school. Furthermore, since it is "theories on how life came about," including evolution (standard disclaimer: strictly speaking, evolutionary theory is not dependent on how life started), Seelke must be talking about science classes. And since he wants all scientific theories concerning how life came about taught to students, but doesn't (Heaven forfend!) want ID taught, it follows that, as far as Seelke is concerned, ID must not be a scientific theory, right?

Strangely, in 1999, Seelke seemed to think that ID was a viable area of scientific research:

Does intelligent design lend itself to a different set of research questions for experimental scientists? Are those questions also important to those favoring a neo–Darwinian explanation? I believe that the answer to both of these questions is "yes". ...

Much has been written about whether ID can result in a viable research program (see, for example, Moreland, 1994). I believe the time has come for ID proponents to be actively contributing to important research areas.

I wonder if he told the Discovery Institute about his change of mind before he signed on as a co-author of its book?

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


Sabotaging Science

As PZ and Wes have already noted, Texas screws its own children:

Texas Freedom Network President Kathy Miller today sharply criticized the inclusion of three strident evolution opponents, including two authors of an anti-evolution textbook, on a panel that will review proposed new science curriculum standards for Texas public schools. ...

The two authors are Stephen Meyer, who is vice president of the Discovery Institute, and Ralph Seelke, a professor of the department of biology and earth sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Superior. A third panel member, Charles Garner, is a professor of chemistry at Baylor University in Waco.

All three are supporters of the anti-evolution concept "intelligent design"/creationism and have signed the Discovery Institute's "Dissent from Darwinism" statement. In addition to their textbook, Meyer and Seelke testified in 2005 against evolution in hearings called by religious conservatives who controlled the Kansas State Board of Education.

Stephen Meyer is, of course, along with Bruce Chapman and George Gilder, a founder of the Discovery Institute and its Center for Science and Culture and serves as the Center's Program Director.

As for Seelke, the following is from the biographical note supplied by the supporters of the Kansas anti-evolution standards that he testified in favor of in 2005:

He has an ongoing interest in Christian apologetics, and is convinced that Christianity is not only true, but that it is perhaps the only way of viewing the world that allows both meaning and rationality in life.

So, how else can he advance the rationality of science except by injecting Christianity into it, right?

Some ways to help:

Sign the Petition

Texas Freedom Network (Donate)

Texas Citizens for Science (Join)


Eating Their Own Young

Christopher Buckley, son of William F., an author in his own right of satirical political novels, and a contributor and editor to his father's magazine, National Review, has been fired by the magazine for apostasy. It seems that Christopher had the temerity to ... gasp ... endorse Barack Obama. The reaction has been, shall we say, predictable:

As for the mail flooding into National Review Online—that's been running about, oh, 700-to-1 against. In fact, the only thing the Right can't quite decide is whether I should be boiled in oil or just put up against the wall and shot. Lethal injection would be too painless.

... One thoughtful correspondent, who feels that I have "betrayed"—the b-word has been much used in all this—my father and the conservative movement generally, said he plans to devote the rest of his life to getting people to cancel their subscriptions to National Review. But there was one bright spot: To those who wrote me to demand, "Cancel my subscription," I was able to quote the title of my father's last book, a delicious compendium of his NR "Notes and Asides": Cancel Your Own Goddam Subscription.

Christopher notes that his father had endorsed a number of liberal Democrats for high office, including Allard K. Lowenstein and Joe Lieberman. That latter name raises interesting questions about the mail that followed Lieberman's endorsement of McCain. I somehow suspect that the reaction was no less vituperative. And the Senate Democrats' failure to take action, unlike National Review, no doubt has more to do with the precarious balance of power in that august body than in a lack of inclination.

Still, if conservatives are going to do in anyone in their ranks who dares to think ... and act on that thinking ... I for one will be glad to welcome them to the side of the angels.

Via Evolutionblog



Comedy is better than lies.

Bill Maher and Larry Charles' "Religulous," a satiric diatribe on modern religion that opened Oct. 1, will soon pass "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed," an argument for the teaching of intelligent-design theory in academia and a favorite of the faith crowd, as this year's highest-grossing documentary movie. ...

"Religulous," playing at 568 theaters, is benefiting from positive word of mouth. The controversial documentary, hosted by comedian Maher ("Politically Incorrect") and directed by Charles ("Borat"), dropped only 35% in its second weekend, compared with the industry average of about 51%. By Monday it had topped $7 million, on pace to surpass $7.7 million by Friday and ultimately to a spot in the all-time top 10 for the documentary genre.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008


Reading the Bible Doesn't Make You Stupid!

The Review of Biblical Literature, affiliated with the Society of Biblical Literature has a review (pdf file) of Intelligent Design: William A. Dembski and Michael Ruse in Dialogue by Christopher Heard of Pepperdine University that demonstrates that Heard can see through the ID sleight of hand. Heard quotes William Denbski:

Many evolutionary biologists seem to think that if you can merely imagine a material force or process that could bring about some biological structure, then it's immediately going to trump intelligent design. But is there actual evidence for the creative power of these material forces? Or is the more compelling evidence on the side of intelligent design? It seems to me that really is where the issue should be.
And then Heard evaluates Dembski's claims:

This sounds like a promising beginning, but Dembski does not deliver. He repeatedly claims, but does not demonstrate, that evolutionary biologists rest content with "imagining" evolutionary pathways; he addresses neither the fossil record nor DNA evidence, to name but two sources of data that outline such pathways and provide "actual evidence" for the "material forces" that evolutionary biologists study. Nor does Dembski provide "compelling evidence" in favor of ID. Instead, Dembski tries to set up ID as the preferred fallback position should mainstream biology fail to explain—to Dembski's satisfaction?—the evolutionary pathways leading to selected biological structures. To be blunt, Dembski does not really play fair. He asks, "[I]s it reasonable to argue that because we don't understand how the design of biological systems was implemented that it didn't happen by design at all?" (19). Yet Dembski offers precisely this argument against evolutionary biology: "if we don't understand how a given biological system (like the bacterial flagellum) emerged by evolution, it didn't happen by evolution at all."

... Dembski comes off as if he wants ID to be given a pass on the standards to which he holds evolutionary biology. In response to Ruse's question, "What are you ID people actually getting in the biological world that we evolutionists are not?"
Dembski's answer to this is:

I don't think the burden on intelligent design is simply to come up with new experiments, new facts. The important thing is to find new ways to make sense of them. I believe that we are making better sense out of them than the evolutionary biologists. The point of my joke about imagining an evolutionary pathway was that we have not been given any detailed evolutionary pathways.
But Heard sees where the trick lies (in all senses of the word):

Dembski's final claim in this quotation is not only false but also somewhat brazen, given his absolute refusal to accept for ID the "burden" of showing detailed design pathways.
Which is exactly what Michael Behe did in his testimony at the Dover trial, refusing to give any support for an actual designer or any method the design was implemented but, in return, demanding a level of detail from biologists that IDers have deliberately made it impossible to meet.

So IDeologists have to come up with another excuse.

Via Exploring Our Matrix


Who Said This?

From a political speech in the United States on Monday, October 13, 2008:

We cannot spend the next four years as we have spent much of the last eight: waiting for our luck to change.

Hint: it did not come from a politician whose name rhymes with "Osama."

The funny thing is this:

Even in the face of the dismal polls, most of Mr. McCain's campaign staff continues to hold out hope, however distant, that Mr. McCain or events will somehow turn the situation around.

In other words, they're waiting for their luck to change.

Monday, October 13, 2008


Where the Weakness Lies

The Houston Chronicle has a nice editorial endorsing Laura Ewing, the opponent of David Bradley, the vice chairman of the Texas State Board of Education. Mr. Bradley thinks that education involves teaching children to "jump to conclusions." This part of the editorial was nice (despite a slight gender error):

The question facing the board, in the first overhaul of the science curriculum in more than a decade, is whether the curriculum will continue to include teaching the "strengths and weaknesses" of scientific theories, including evolution. It sounds reasonable. But a coalition of Texas scientists says the "strengths and weaknesses" provision is simply an excuse to expose students to "supernatural and fringe explanations" instead of traditional scientific principles. Sahotra Sarkar, a professor of integrative biology at the University of Texas, stated the case for the coalition: "We should teach students 21st-century science, not some watered-down version with phony arguments that nonscientists disingenuously call 'weaknesses,' " she (sic) told the board recently. "Calling 'intelligent design' arguments a weakness of evolution is like calling alchemy a weakness of chemistry, or astrology a weakness of astronomy."

Texas children deserve better.

Sunday, October 12, 2008


Sail On

The Sixth Carnival of Elitist Bastards is due to sail on October 25th from Port Haystack.

I know that there are a lot of bastards out there who'd like to show up the stupidity, ignorance and dishonesty currently masquerading as "small town values," "common sense" and "teaching the controversy."

Here's your opportunity. Get busy on exposing the so-called "thinking" that deserves to be looked down on and extolling what truly is elite: learning, logic and science.

Send your debunkings and other demolitions to no later than October 24th (though, in kindness to a certain Ancient Mariner, early entries are preferred). And, if you see some internet article or posting particularly fitting to sail on our voyage, please pass a long the link, as our press gang is always on the lookout for hands to ... er ... volunteer.

Any questions will be entertained here. Further information can also be sought from our Vice Admiral (and no one is better suited for that job), Dana Hunter, at En Tequila Es Verdad.


Lowletist of the Low

Get Fuzzy

"Country First" ... or "Stupid Is the New Smart" ... We report, you decide.



Truth will out, even when the subject is Answers in Genesis' "Creation Museum" and the speaker is Ken Ham:

We made a decision quite a few years ago, that we wanted to do it first-class ... as good as you would see at museums or Disney World or Universal Studios. It's become an attraction in its own right, regardless of the message that we have here.

Not real museums, of course. They try for truth rather than fantasy and education over entertainment but Raiders of the Lost Bible is about all Ham has to shoot for.

Other truths are also evident, such as this from Dan Phelps, head of the Kentucky Paleontology Society:

We're depressed, I think. There's been such a push in recent years to improve science education, but stuff like this still hangs around.

Me too.


Woo Hoo!

Another great announcement!

Brian Switek of Laelaps has been tapped by the Smithsonian magazine to contribute to its new blog, Dinosaur Traking. You can see Brian's first post about termite-eating dinosaurs here.

We often think of dinosaurs as massive beasts that shook their earth with their footsteps and their roars, but under the feet of those giants were smaller, stranger dinosaurs that no one ever expected to find.

I take it that Brian will be keeping his old place at ScienceBlogs but go give his new digs a look too.

Saturday, October 11, 2008


Doubling Standards

A thought:

What I find most unconscionable is the refusal of the McCain-Palin tandem to publicly condemn the cries of "traitor," "liar," "terrorist" and (worst of all) "kill him!" that could be heard at recent rallies. ...

Is inaction tantamount to consent? The McCain campaign certainly thinks so when it comes to Obama and incendiary remarks from the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. By their own inaction, then, are McCain and Palin condoning these slurs? Or worse, are they willfully inciting the angry and venomous response that we have been witnessing at their rallies? If not, then what reaction are they hoping to evoke by their relentless public suggestions that Obama is basically an anti-American liar who won't put "country first" and has an affection for terrorists? Do they not understand the kind of fire they are playing with?

I -- and, I suspect, millions of Americans like me, Republicans and Democrats alike -- couldn't care less about Obama's middle name or the ridiculous six-degrees-of-separation game that is the William Ayers non-issue. The Taliban are clawing their way back in Afghanistan, the country that I hope many of my fellow Americans have come to understand better through my novels. People are losing their homes and their jobs and are watching the future slip away from them. But instead of addressing these problems, the McCain-Palin ticket is doing its best to distract Americans by provoking fear, anxiety and hatred. Country first? Hardly.

Khaled Hosseini, author of "The Kite Runner" and "A Thousand Splendid Suns," Washington Post, October 12, 2008


Trading Eyes

There is an interesting article, "Religion vs science: can the divide between God and rationality be reconciled?" by Paul Vallely in Britain's The Independent about the forces that rose up and bit Michael Reiss. To us in America, it might seem like undue worry on British scientists' part, given the relative sizes of our problems.

It is perhaps significant here that the two main instigators of the campaign to have Reiss ousted from his Royal Society job, Sir Harry Kroto and Sir Richard Roberts, are now based in the United States where creationism is a major phenomenon. Polls suggest that around 45 per cent of Americans are creationists with 40 per cent believing that God worked through evolution and just 10 per cent saying it was nothing to do with a God.

The experience of being a secularist in the US is clearly a radicalising one. "I don't know if it is too late to stop the slide in Britain but I think it is in the US where [the religious right] have now almost complete control over politics, the judiciary, education, business, journalism and television," Kroto, who won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1996, has said, adding darkly: "The Royal Society does not appreciate the true nature of the forces arrayed against it."

MP Evan Harris worries about the increasing activity of religious lobby groups in public life.

In the days of Thatcher all the mainstream Tories voted in favour of embryo research. Twenty years on most of the new suave modernising Cameroonian Tories vote against it." Academics detect a similar shift. Professor Steve Jones, of University College London, who has been teaching genetics and evolutionary biology for 30 years, has said that religious students – even those studying medicine – are becoming increasingly vocal in their opposition to evolution, demanding to be exempted from classes and exam questions on the subject.

Okay, but aren't the good guys supposed to be rationalists?

The fear generated by such tactics is what did for Michael Reiss. "Even if he doesn't support all this, what he said might be seen to give succour to it," says Andrew Copson of the British Humanist Association. "I can understand why alarm bells go off with people who are familiar with 'Teach the controversy' tactics of people who want to baby-step creationism into our science classrooms."

There are excuses, of course:

... Evan Harris is unapologetic about contributing to what Julian Baggini waggishly calls this "assertiveness inflation". "It's good that there's this tension," the MP says. "These debates need to be had in public. Science has nothing to fear from them. I don't think we're winning; we've won a few battles; but there's a war to be fought." He concedes that Michael Reiss may have been sacked unfairly – saying that the "overstrong line" taken by Kroto and Co should not be taken as representative of all on the secular side – but points out that employment injustices are perpetrated every time a church school refuses to appoint a maths teacher because she doesn't "have Jesus in her heart".

Ah! One injustice justifies another! I'll have to keep that in mind.

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