Wednesday, September 30, 2009
To continue with Nick Smyth's response to criticisms, Nick asks:
I have come to accept that we shouldn't dwell on the semantics of the prefix "pseudo", here, but rather that we should just ask ourselves how we would feel if we were the target of this kind of accusation. That is to say, what if someone walked up to you and accused you of being a "pseudo-person".
I find it incredible that Smyth somehow thinks that people will feel less "exclude[ed] ... from social and political power" if they are told by government that their religion is bollocks than if they are merely told it is not science and, therefore, their religion cannot be taught in secular science classes.
Nick makes the assertion that, in order to make "a valid demarcation of 'science' from other fields ('non-' and 'pseudo-science') [we] must provide necessary and jointly sufficient criteria for science'." I've already responded that I think that science is a sorites heap and the existence of gray areas is no bar to speaking intelligibly of broad categories. But don't forget that Nick is doing exactly the same thing himself. It is, according to Nick, an "obvious truism" that science "deliver[s] truths about the world" and religion (in the form of creationism/ID) doesn't. I would like to see his necessary and jointly sufficient criteria for TruthTM.
Even if we grant Nick's contention that a satisfying philosophical definition of science is necessary to demark it from non-science, as a social criteria for determining what may, under our Constitution, be imposed by the majority on the minority in the area of school curriculum, Nick's scheme is a disaster.
It is clear that Nick thinks there is a demarcation to be had between science and the sort of religion that many people in the US hold to. The question is why he thinks its better social policy to defend the broader, even less easily definable categories, that, in fact, go to the very heart of religious belief, than defending the less fuzzy categories that do not strike at the core of people's constitutionally guaranteed right to believe in the religion of their choice?
More to follow as I can get to it.
Labels: Smyth's Bollocks
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
We're Gonna Be Here a While
There's nothing like a challenge to get me moving. Nick Smyth showed up here and laid some snide on me:
I can't help but suspect that you can't think of ways to respond to my specific critiques aimed at your points. I made three (three!) in the new response and there is nothing about them here.
That's all I have time for this morning but I'll come back to this, I hope, later today with a few more thoughts, as well as corrections of Smyth's misconstruals of my criticisms.
Let me finish what I started before about the US Constitutional scheme and respond to some comments Nick made to my post earlier today. Nick says in his post at his blog:
I concluded with an obvious truism, one that even most IDers would support: scientific practices, as diverse and indefinable as they may be, seem to deliver truths about the world. This is what is important about them. The alleged "pseudosciences" (astrology, ID-creationism) do not deliver such truths.
Every young-Earth creationist organization that I've ever investigated has some version of AiG's denial and, to the extent you believe polls, anywhere from a third to almost a half of the American public is willing to treat YEC as "truth." ID adherents, though they will pay lip service to the truth-value of science, also decry "materialistic science" by which they mean, if you study what they say to friendly audiences, the very science that Nick claims they will respect.
Worse, in terms of Nick's scheme, as a religious belief, American governments and their employees are not permitted, under our Constitution, to call creationism "bollocks," as was shown in the recent case of James Corbett. Note that there is a structural asymmetry here under our Constitution. It is perfectly all right, as the court in the Corbett case found, to say:
"Therefore, no creation, unless you invoke magic. Science doesn't invoke magic. If we can't explain something, we do not uphold that position. It's not, ooh, then magic. That's not the way we work."
"Contrast that with creationists. They never try to disprove creationism. They're all running around trying to prove it. That's deduction. It's not science. Scientifically, it's nonsense."
Nick also says in the comments that I:
... claim that the courts need to keep hammering away at the "science" question [to keep creationism out of public schools in the US]. When you prove that something is nonscientific, you do not prove that it is religion.
Lastly, for the moment, Nick says at his blog post:
We should only teach children truths. Therefore, we should teach them about the sciences, and pass over astrology and creationism in silence. We do not need the demarcation project, we should abandon the search for a definitive "scientific method", and we should recover the older idea that the value of the sciences lies is the value of truth.
That might be a tad difficult if we started out by claiming that all the supporters are full of bullocks.
Labels: Smyth's Bollocks
Well, the long anticipated response of Nick Smyth to criticisms of his article at 3Quarks Daily is up at his own blog and I can't muster much enthusiasm for another round of discussion about it. There's not much new there and what there is, at least in the case of my criticisms, suffers from a lack of understanding of the original critique.
Let's start with the big one, since this whole discussion is in the context of whether there is a definition of "science" that would exclude creationism from public school science classes in the US. As I said before, I suppose that Nick, as a Canadian, may not understand the American constitutional scheme and he has proved me right. His main contention, as you'll remember is that we cannot make a distinction between "science" and "pseudoscience" (or the more correct term, "non-science") but we can make a distinction between "truth" and "bollocks." He then says:
I cannot believe that a supreme court judge in America could fail to see the logic of don't teach false things in schools.You may well be able to convince a Supreme Court Justice that it is bad public policy to teach false things in schools, but the Supreme Court does not decide (at least officially*) between good and bad public policy. That is the job of the legislative and executive branches of government, subject to the will of the majority. This is further complicated by the fact that public education in the US is decided by local elected school boards subject to the will of local majorities.
The Supreme Court (in this context) is limited to protecting the rights of the minority as defined by the Constitution. The logic that the Supreme Court is permitted to exercise is restricted to what follows from the premise that the majority can dictate the public policy except to the extent that such policy violates a constitution rights of any minority. Nothing in the Constitution gives anyone a right to "truth" (as even a quick glance at our political history and Supreme Court jurisprudence would reveal).
The Constitution, however, gives the right to be free from religious proselytization by the government. The Supreme Court has ruled that dressing religious concepts up in pseudoscientific garb and teaching it in science classes is religious proselytization. If we concede that there is no distinction to be made between science and non-science, then there are no constitutional grounds to bar the majority from teaching what they want in public schools with their tax money.
That, of course, is no evidence that a distinction can, in fact, be made between "science" and "pseudoscience" but it does indicate that Smyth deeply misunderstands the context of the debate in the US.
That's all I have time for this morning but I'll come back to this, I hope, later today with a few more thoughts, as well as corrections of Smyth's misconstruals of my criticisms.
* There are, of course, political claims (not least in the area of church/state separation) that the Supreme Court has engaged in policy-making but it is generally agreed that, if such claims are true, it is a bad thing under our Constitution.
Labels: Smyth's Bollocks
Monday, September 28, 2009
Double Woo Hoo!
Brian Switek of Laelaps and Dinosaur Tracking has announced that his first book, Written in Stone, will be coming out next year:
In it I tell the stories of some of the most magnificent evolutionary transitions in the vertebrate fossil record, such as the evolution of birds from feathered theropod dinosaurs and whales from land-dwelling ancestors, and I use the history of science to sketch our changing understanding of these major events in vertebrate evolution. Written in Stone is not just a compendium of evidence for evolution from the vertebrate fossil record. It is a grand tale that traces the circuitous path our perception of evolutionary history has taken over the past 200 years.Given the high standard of writing that he has always displayed at his blogs, it will doubtless be a great read!
Save the Planet ... Believe in a Fuzzy God
Robert McCredie May, Lord May, the president of the British Science Association, a former President of the Royal Society and a former British Government chief scientific advisor thinks the world is on a "calamitous trajectory" because of its failure to coordinate measures against global warming ... and belief in God may be the answer:
He said that no country was prepared to take the lead and a "punisher" was needed to make sure the rules of co-operation were not broken.
[Lord May] said in the past that was God and it might be time again for religion to fill the gap.
"Maybe religion is needed," said Lord May, who was brought up a Scottish Presbyterian but went through an "inverse epiphany" at the age of 11.
"A supernatural punisher maybe part of the solution."
He said in the past a belief in a god, or gods, that punish the unrighteous may have been part of the mechanism of evolution that maintains co-operation in a dog-eat-dog world.
Having a god as the ultimate punisher was possibly a logical step for a society to take, he added.
"Given that punishment is a useful mechanism, how much more effective it would be if you invested that power not in an individual you don't like, but an all-seeing, all powerful deity that controls the world," he said.
"It makes for rigid, doctrinaire societies, but it makes for co-operation."
Such a system would be "immensely stabilising in individual human cultures" and societies, he pointed out.
He said that while religion maybe one possible answer, it remained, at the moment, very much part of the problem as it had teetered ever more towards fundamentalism.
In less troubled times religions had become softer and less dogmatic, and embraced a more humane set of values, he said.
But that pattern was now reversing with the rise of fundamental Islamic and Christian beliefs.
At the same time, the human race was facing tremendous challenges with population soaring, energy and food resources running out, and the spectre of climate change looming in the distance.
"Under stress you reduce complex doctrines to simple mantras," said Lord May.
"I would say the US is one of the worst examples. The Catholic Church under Its present pope is another appalling example, for instance with its declaration that people with HIV shouldn't use condoms. I think that's a reaction to difficult times."
Authoritarian religion had directly undermined attempts to achieve global co-operation on climate change, he maintained.
"People who believe in the End of Days, who believe the world is going to come to an end, don't care about climate change," he said. "I think there is quite a strong connection between the religious right and climate change denial."
In something that may be related to the dustup with Nick Smyth, I present the Intelligent Alien Intervention Institute!
Via John Lynch
Carnival of the Elitist Bastards XVII
Labels: Carnival of Elitist Bastards
Sunday, September 27, 2009
Nick Smyth has been continuing the discussion of my criticism of his article at 3 Quarks Daily, entitled "Science, Pseudoscience and Bollocks," in the comments here.
The gist of his claim is that "science" is impossible to define and, therefore, there is no basis for denying anyone the right to call whatever activity they want "science." Instead of defending any definition of "science," as opposed to non-science/pseudoscience:
... truth is what matters, and that all we need to say about creationism, astrology and the like is that they are extremely bad truth-tracking programmes. They are, in a word, bollocks.My contention is that he is, at least as far as solving the problem of how to keep creationism out of public school science classes, simply pushing the problem back one step ... to distinguishing truth-producing epistemology from epistemology that does not reliably produce truth. I am not denying that such epistemology exists, just that it suffers the same problems that distinguishing "science" from "pseudoscience" suffers from.
More importantly, his criteria actually produces a demarcation between "science" and "pseudoscience." I've asked him what truth-producing epistemology that he is discussing (but has declined to define) "science" does not employ. My point is: if science employs truth-producing epistemology and pseudoscience, in whole or in part, does not, that is a basis for distinguishing "science" from "pseudoscience." His "truth programme" is, itself, I think, a way of telling one from the other. It is not necessary to completely define "science" in order to distinguish it from other truth-claims as long as we have a marker that is consistently found in one and not consistently found in the other. I need not define every characteristic of those organisms within the family Suidae or of devices for holding money to know a pig from a poke.
On another level, his attempt to use epistemological arguments, rather than a demarcation between science and pseudoscience, as a social argument against creationism is deeply impractical. Despite at least one hundred years of experience (as far as creationism goes), he insists that creationists will somehow be more amenable to accepting epistemological principles that refute their beliefs than they are in accepting that part of "science" which refutes them. But anyone who has followed the "controversy" knows that creationists regularly deny the epistemological basis of "science" as it is practiced (though they don't use the word, since they know their target audience's eyes would glaze over -- which is, I think, what would happen generally no matter which side raises it).
In, what is to me, a telling admission on Smyth's part, he accuses me of:
... skepticism about epistemology [which is] is not wise. It amounts to saying that we cannot say what "truth" is at all. This is relativism! In effect, you undermine the entire discipline of science by denying it the right to claim truth-status over other fields. If you look into it, you will find that there are clear-cut, widely accepted logical rules that are not "fuzzy" and which can help us do epistemology correctly.Quite apart from the irony of accusing me of relativism when his original argument, that there is no such thing as "science" but that it is only a social claim to prestige, is precisely the argument made by Steve Fuller in his defense of ID, I think this assertion leads to the refutation of Smyth's point. I fully agree that we have epistemological methods that produce (within the limits of human knowledge) greater and more reliable "truth" than other methods. But I maintain that is why we can speak about the "discipline of science" and its "truth-status" in the first place. If we can't define the "discipline of science" (and, necessarily, what counts as "non-science"), then we can't talk about its truth-value, since there is no "there" there that to could be discussed and evaluated. If we can rationally talk about those things, then Smyth's contention that science cannot be defined -- at least sufficiently well to distinguish it from pseudoscience -- is refuted.
Anyway, Smyth is promising to produce a response at his own blog, which I will doubtless respond to, so, if your eyes have not already glazed over, you might want to review the discussion ... or else skip reading this blog until the dust clears.
Labels: Smyth's Bollocks
Saturday, September 26, 2009
The Dishonesty Institute has released a "College Student's Back to School Guide on Intelligent Design."
All you need to know about this piece of crap is that, within two short paragraphs, it perpetrates a quote mine of Darwin:
Part I: Letter of Introduction: Why This Student's Guide?
Welcome to College, Goodbye to Intelligent Design?
The famous Pink Floyd song that laments, "We don't need no education / We don't need no thought control," is not just the rant of a rebellious mind; it is also a commentary on the failure of education to teach students how to think critically and evaluate both sides of controversial issues.
Few scientists understood the importance of critical thinking better than Charles Darwin. When he first proposed his theory of evolution in Origin of Species in 1859, Darwin faced intense intellectual opposition from both the scientific community and the culture of his day. To help restore objectivity to the debate over evolution, Darwin wisely counseled, "A fair result can be obtained only by fully stating and balancing the facts and arguments on both sides of each question." [Emphasis in original]
But what about that quote? Here it is in context, with the quote-mined part in bold:
This Abstract, which I now publish, must necessarily be imperfect. I cannot here give references and authorities for my several statements; and I must trust to the reader reposing some confidence in my accuracy. No doubt errors will have crept in, though I hope I have always been cautious in trusting to good authorities alone. I can here give only the general conclusions at which I have arrived, with a few facts in illustration, but which, I hope, in most cases will suffice. No one can feel more sensible than I do of the necessity of hereafter publishing in detail all the facts, with references, on which my conclusions have been grounded; and I hope in a future work to do this. For I am well aware that scarcely a single point is discussed in this volume on which facts cannot be adduced, often apparently leading to conclusions directly opposite to those at which I have arrived. A fair result can be obtained only by fully stating and balancing the facts and arguments on both sides of each question; and this cannot possibly be here done.Contrary to the implication arising from the period the DI inserted where none existed, the quote-mined part was not a complete thought. Darwin was not saying that every alleged theory has to be weighed before a fair scientific result can be reached. He was saying that he had many more facts in support of his theory but could not fit them all in the scant 490 pages he had at his disposal in the Origin.
One aspect of "critical thinking" is that, if someone has lied to you from the outset, you probably shouldn't believe anything else they say without a whole lot more evidence ... something that ID is distinctly missing.
Labels: Quote Mining
Friday, September 25, 2009
Jerry Coyne is not only somewhat crippled in his ability to address the subject of religion rationally, he seems to lose his ability to comprehend the English language when the subject comes up. His latest is dubbing the following from Josh Rosenau as part of some "Hall of Shame":
If the goal of this blog is to be at all educational, one hopes that a vigorous defense of analogy will serve some salutary effect in the difficulties people have with analogical thinking, whether they be religious fundamentalists bent on Biblical literalism, or atheists bent on insisting that literalism is the true form of religion.
I weep for the NCSE if this kind of idea is running the railroad. We atheists don't give a tinker's dam about what the true form of religion might be, because we don't think there is one! Nor do we have one. We don't worship Darwin, nor think that he's infallible. Is this part of a strategy to marginalize atheists along with Biblical fundamentalists?
[T]here's one thing that both atheists and the devout agree on: Karen Armstrong's God-is-but-a-transcendence-beyond-a-symbol theology is not only unrepresentative of religion in general, but hard to distinguish from atheism.
Nor is it surprising that other people think Coyne insists that the "true form" of religion is closer to literalism than the more liberal and less primitive faiths, since the former is so much easier to debunk.
Update: Josh has his own response to Coyne.
Thursday, September 24, 2009
There's Bullocks In Philosophy, Too!
Nick Smyth has posted an article at 3 Quarks Daily, entitled "Science, Pseudoscience and Bollocks," that John Wilkins calls "infuriating but thought-provoking." I confess that I find it mostly confusing. Smyth wants to replace any talk about a demarcation between science and non-science/pseudoscience with a demarcation between "truth" and "bollocks."
According to Smyth, the current way of opposing creationism is deficient.
[M]any of us will continue to oppose religious/mystical/creationist "cranks" in the name of Science. One of our main lines of attack will be territorial: we will accuse them of being on the wrong side. Science is over here, we will say, and you are over there, and we all know what that means.
The most interesting thing about this manoeuvre is that almost no-one performing it—scientist, philosopher, or otherwise—will be in possession of a single defensible definition of "science". In other words, they won't know what they're talking about.
In place of any such attempt, Smyth proposes:
Want to keep creationism out of schools? Point out that we shouldn't teach bollocks in schools, and that constitutional freedom of religion cannot imply that false things should be taught as if they were true things. Want to keep government funding away from creationists? Point out that the government shouldn't fund bollocks. I could go on, but Reisch, Pennock and others seem to think that once we abandon formal demarcation we are left with "no difference" between molecular biology and talking snakes. This is clearly absurd.
The only rational and intellectually honest thing to do is to forget about demarcation and to give authority to powerful, accurate and consistent explanatory programmes. In other words, we must recover the original sense of "science" as a diverse, evolving set of human activities that are only important because they produce systematic knowledge. Otherwise, that clever creationist is going to come along one day and point out that a central pillar of our rejection of his doctrines—the concept of "pseudoscience"—is bollocks.
But to take on Smyth's arguments on his own terms, his dismissal of demarcation commits, I think, the error of assuming that, because we cannot know exact boundaries of any particular category, we cannot know what we are talking about.
Day and night imperceptibly merge into each other at dusk and dawn, but can we not tell night from day tolerably well despite the existence of twilight? Science, like most human activities, is a sorites heap. There are many of them. What is the exact dividing line between democracy and tyranny? Should we then stop talking about them and speak only of government and "bullocks government"? Must we decide that molehills are indistinguishable from mountains? In science, what is the definition of "species" that does not exclude too much, or include too much? (A shameless plug for Wilkins' new book.) What is the "bright line" between "variety" and "species"?
To say that, because there is no bright line definition to precisely separate one category from another, we cannot speak intelligibly about those categories would reduce us almost to complete inarticulateness.
The real question here is how precise our definition has to be to serve the purpose we want to fulfill and, of course, what our purpose is. Since Smyth himself raises the question of how we keep creationism (or other religious content) out of public school science classes, I'll concentrate on that, especially as it plays out in the United States, under its particular (if not peculiar) constitutional scheme. (Smyth is a Canadian and may not have understood that context but, if so, what justification does he have to pronounce on what Judge Jones wrote?)
First of all, I don't see how Smyth's alternative helps us at all in terms of keeping creationism out of public school science classes. His "solution" is as follows:
We can go back 150 years and recover our epistemological focus. We will discover that truth is what matters, and that all we need to say about creationism, astrology and the like is that they are extremely bad truth-tracking programmes. They are, in a word, bollocks.
Someone once famously asked "What is truth?" How are we, philosophically or legally, to answer that question? And what is the "proper" epistemology? Creationists, such as Answers in Genesis, have their own answer:
The 66 books of the Bible are the written Word of God. The Bible is divinely inspired and inerrant throughout. Its assertions are factually true in all the original autographs. It is the supreme authority in everything it teaches. Its authority is not limited to spiritual, religious, or redemptive themes but includes its assertions in such fields as history and science. ...
By definition, no apparent, perceived or claimed evidence in any field, including history and chronology, can be valid if it contradicts the scriptural record. Of primary importance is the fact that evidence is always subject to interpretation by fallible people who do not possess all information.
According to their epistemology, it is evolution that is "bullocks." And in a democracy, why shouldn't their definition of bullocks prevail if they are, as they are in many places in this country and around the world, in the majority?
The problem, then, has just been pushed back one step by Smyth. Instead of deciding what is science and what is non-science/pseudoscience, now we are required to decide which epistemology best produces "truth," a category even less capable of a bright line definition than "science."
Smyth seems to recognize this in the comments:
You're right that the ultimate success of the strategy I advocate depends on the establishment of some epistemological ground rules. Indeed, I have been whinging--annoyingly--about this on 3QD for years now: science requires philosophy, and this is one of the (many) reasons why.
Yet, I think this particular post is better read as an address to you, I, or any other "scientifically-minded" person. Do you believe that creationism is pseudoscience? If yes, then tell me what science actually is. Hey, it turns out you can't. Alternately, do you believe that creationism is false? Well, clearly you do. So, why not specify the grounds on which you think it is false?
But the issue before the court in Kitzmiller was not whether creationism is false -- which Smyth certainly must have known because the very sentence before the part of Judge Jones' decision that Smyth quoted is:
After a searching review of the record and applicable caselaw, we find that while ID arguments may be true, a proposition on which the Court takes no position, ID is not science.
The question Judge Jones was answering was more limited than the one Smyth wants to address: 'is ID sufficiently like science as it is presently practiced that its roots in and support for religion must be ignored in determining whether it violates the First Amendment separation of church and state?' Government teaching of science is a legitimate "secular purpose," even if the science contradicts some religious tenet. But the reverse is true as well and, if some scientific result supported a religious tenet or contradicted an atheist position, the state could legitimately teach that as science.
Thus Judge Jones was, by the nature of the case (not to mention the arguments of the parties), required to determine whether or not ID was within the parameters of science as presently practiced.
Ironically, the way that courts go about this task -- which they also do in deciding whether a person who claims to be an "expert" in science can testify to his/her "opinion" rather than be limited to testifying about "facts" as every other witness is -- has to do with the epistemology the "expert" uses and whether or not other "scientifically-minded" people (i.e. scientists) accept the "expert's" methods as within present-day scientific practice, even if they disagree with the conclusions the "expert" reaches.
In other words, the law applies the very criteria Smyth is groping for. And in what way is Smyth's proposal not a demarcation criteria, since it is the same as what Judge Jones ultimately applied?
This is long enough, so I'll close here. But I may come back to address other things I think Smyth got seriously wrong.
Labels: Smyth's Bollocks
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
Bozo Goes to College
In another sign of the coming Apocalypse, there is an actual indication that Ray Comfort can learn ... or else yet another creationist is lying through his teeth depending on what audience he is speaking to, which would be a sign that everything is normal.
Last February 12th, Comfort appeared on Pat Robertson's delusion-fest and had this to say (starting at around 1:52):
Robertson: Tell me about the essentials of Darwinism. What have you understood that Darwin taught.
Comfort: Well, Darwin was a very bitter man, who went into the ministry ... fell away ... never knew the Lord ... and lost his daughter at the age of 12 ... she was 12 ... and became very bitter at God and then denied his faith and came up with this fairy tale for grown ups.
In fact, as Darwin remembered it in his Autobiography:
Another source of conviction in the existence of God, connected with the reason and not with the feelings, impresses me as having much more weight. This follows from the extreme difficulty or rather impossibility of conceiving this immense and wonderful universe, including man with his capacity of looking far backwards and far into futurity, as the result of blind chance or necessity. When thus reflecting I feel compelled to look to a First Cause having an intelligent mind in some degree analogous to that of man; and I deserve to be called a Theist.
This conclusion was strong in my mind about the time, as far as I can remember, when I wrote the Origin of Species; and it is since that time that it has very gradually with many fluctuations become weaker. But then arises the doubt—can the mind of man, which has, as I fully believe, been developed from a mind as low as that possessed by the lowest animal, be trusted when it draws such grand conclusions? May not these be the result of the connection between cause and effect which strikes us as a necessary one, but probably depends merely on inherited experience? Nor must we overlook the probability of the constant inculcation in a belief in God on the minds of children producing so strong and perhaps an inherited effect on their brains not yet fully developed, that it would be as difficult for them to throw off their belief in God, as for a monkey to throw off its instinctive fear and hatred of a snake.
I cannot pretend to throw the least light on such abstruse problems. The mystery of the beginning of all things is insoluble by us; and I for one must be content to remain an Agnostic.
So now we come to Comfort's latest press release about his Darwin giveaway:
Comfort cites a recent Wall Street Journal article, titled "Man vs. God" that pits atheism against God, and wrongly depicts Darwin as going head-to-head with God.
Comfort says of the common gaffe, "The newspaper is free to publish anything they wish, but they are revealing either ignorance or a strong bias. Darwin wasn't anti-God at all. In his famous book Origin of Species, Darwin refers to creation as the 'works of God,' and calls Him the 'Creator' an amazing seven times!"
Of course, being Comfort, he has to embellish and, in the process, reveal his ongoing unfamiliarity with the subject he is so confidently pontificating about. Before he went on in such glowing terms about Darwin's use of the term "Creator," he might have learned about what Darwin later said about it:
But I have long regretted that I truckled to public opinion, and used the Pentateuchal term of creation, by which I really meant 'appeared' by some wholly unknown process. It is mere rubbish, thinking at present of the origin of life; one might as well think of the origin of matter.
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
One Order of Gander Sauce, Please!
Here is PZ Myers discussing the new report on that 15% of Americans who responded "No Religion" to the American Religious Identification Survey that shows that only 10% of the "nones" identify as atheists:
Those "Nones" don't believe in a Bearded Ape of Cosmic Proportions, they aren't propping up the local priestly den of ignorance with donations, and Pat Robertson is still confident that every one of them will burn in hell. Most are not as vocal or as confident as the spokespeople for atheism are, but then, most of the people who have been filling church pews for centuries haven't been as noisy or assertive about their faith as have the priests and bishops and deacons, but no demographers have therefore felt compelled to split definitions and point out the weakness of Christianity by declaring only some tiny percentage to be church leaders.
Don't fall for their subtle attempts to divide the unbelievers. Religious institutions would love to see atheists continually demonized, even by, especially by, agnostics. It furthers their ends, not ours. There is no meaningful division — we are all abandoning the old superstitions together.
I'm sorry, but where is the danger that agnostics will start "demonizing" atheists? I can't see agnostics doing that ... unless PZ means criticizing them (or some subset of them) for perceived excesses. And why shouldn't agnostics do that? Simply because there is no "meaningful division" between atheists and agnostics?
So, let me get that straight ...
Since agnostics share common aims with atheists, they should engage in ... what's the word I'm looking for? ... self-censorship in order to better achieve the joint goals of the two groups?
Now, didn't I recently hear some people arguing that any suggestion along those lines would be highly improper? Who was that? Don't tell me! It'll come to me.
This Is a Tribulation?
Have any Christian friends or neighbors? Go knock on their door. If no one answers, they're in paradise — help yourself to their house, their car, their jewelry, that nice TV in their living room. Traffic on your commute should be a little lighter in the morning. The Republican party has evaporated, and the entire staff of Fox News are gone, and the network will have to shut down.
Monday, September 21, 2009
May the Farce Be With You
Daniel Jones, founder of the religion inspired by the Star Wars films, says he was humiliated and victimised for his beliefs following [an] incident at a Tesco store in Bangor [Wales].
The 23-year-old, who founded the International Church of Jediism, which has 500,000 followers worldwide, was told the hood flouted store rules.
But the grocery empire struck back, claiming that the three best known Jedi Knights in the Star Wars movies – Yoda, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Luke Skywalker – all appeared in public without their hoods. Jones, from Holyhead, who is known by the Jedi name Morda Hehol, said his religion dictated that he should wear the hood in public places and is considering legal action against the chain. ...
Tesco said: "He hasn't been banned. Jedis are very welcome to shop in our stores although we would ask them to remove their hoods.
"Obi-Wan Kenobi, Yoda and Luke Skywalker all appeared hoodless without ever going over to the Dark Side and we are only aware of the Emperor as one who never removed his hood.
The Long Goodbye
PZ Megahertz already had this but I just thought I'd say goodbye to all my friends and readers who are going to be raptured today ... assuming I have any that qualify..
Sunday, September 20, 2009
I Have a Theory
In the American vernacular, "theory" often means "imperfect fact"—part of a hierarchy of confidence running downhill from fact to theory to hypothesis to guess. Thus creationists can (and do) argue: evolution is "only" a theory, and intense debate now rages about many aspects of the theory. If evolution is less than a fact, and scientists can't even make up their minds about the theory, then what confidence can we have in it? Indeed, President Reagan echoed this argument before an evangelical group in Dallas when he said (in what I devoutly hope was campaign rhetoric): "Well, it is a theory. It is a scientific theory only, and it has in recent years been challenged in the world of science—that is, not believed in the scientific community to be as infallible as it once was."
Well, evolution is a theory. It is also a fact. And facts and theories are different things, not rungs in a hierarchy of increasing certainty. Facts are the world's data. Theories are structures of ideas that explain and interpret facts. Facts do not go away when scientists debate rival theories to explain them. Einstein's theory of gravitation replaced Newton's, but apples did not suspend themselves in mid-air, pending the outcome. And humans evolved from apelike ancestors whether they did so by Darwin's proposed mechanism or by some other, yet to be discovered.
Moreover, "fact" does not mean "absolute certainty." The final proofs of logic and mathematics flow deductively from stated premises and achieve certainty only because they are not about the empirical world. Evolutionists make no claim for perpetual truth, though creationists often do (and then attack us for a style of argument that they themselves favor). In science, "fact" can only mean "confirmed to such a degree that it would be perverse to withhold provisional assent." I suppose that apples might start to rise tomorrow, but the possibility does not merit equal time in physics classrooms.
Evolutionists have been clear about this distinction between fact and theory from the very beginning, if only because we have always acknowledged how far we are from completely understanding the mechanisms (theory) by which evolution (fact) occurred. Darwin continually emphasized the difference between his two great and separate accomplishments: establishing the fact of evolution, and proposing a theory—natural selection—to explain the mechanism of evolution. He wrote in The Descent of Man: "I had two distinct objects in view; firstly, to show that species had not been separately created, and secondly, that natural selection had been the chief agent of change. . . . Hence if I have erred in . . . having exaggerated its [natural selection's] power . . . I have at least, as I hope, done good service in aiding to overthrow the dogma of separate creations."
Thus Darwin acknowledged the provisional nature of natural selection while affirming the fact of evolution. The fruitful theoretical debate that Darwin initiated has never ceased.
-Stephen Jay Gould, "Evolution as Fact and Theory," Hen's Teeth and Horse's Toes, New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1994, pp. 253-262.
Saturday, September 19, 2009
When Pigs Fly
I always knew there was something deeply disturbing about Oznians.
Miss Porky Pig flies through the air during the Pig Racing and Diving show at Melbourne Showgrounds, September 18, in Melbourne, Australia. The Show has been taking place in Melbourne since 1848 and is Victoria's largest and longest running annual public entertainment event, expected to attract around half a million visitors in 2009. Photo: Scott Barbour/Getty Images
Abbie at ERV has pointed out the announcement that the powers that be at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History have listened to the science-friendly blogosphere (or, just maybe, being highly intelligent people themselves, were working on it all along). The museum is not just going to open for special hours between 6 and 11 p.m., free of charge, the night of the Invasion of the Brain Snatchers, but will be presenting a free public lecture beginning at 5 p.m. (the Discovery Institute's flimflam film starts at 7 p.m.) by the museum's curator of invertebrate paleontology, Stephen Westrop, titled "The Cambrian Explosion and the Burgess Shale: No Dilemma for Darwin."
As Abbie says:
So if youd like to laugh at Darwins Dilemma'/Wells/Meyer, there will be plenty of guilt-free science activities to help you get over your TARD hangover! YAY!
Ain't science grand?
I Knew That!
And so it continues.
There is a lot of rational discussion being had about Josh Rosenau's piece on different "ways of knowing" and Jerry Coyne, as usual, is adding nothing to that discussion. His latest is a pep rally for Jason Rosenhouse's post on the subject. But I shouldn't say Coyne has added nothing because I think he has inadvertently revealed one of the real problems here.
First, let me digress and recommend Chris Schoen's entry at u_n_d_e_r_v_e_s_e. Chris, along with making an eloquent case for our being a storytelling species, where we convey and learn knowledge best through the stories we tell each other, discusses Ophelia Benson's and Jason Rosenhouse's posts and notes that they both concede that nonscientific means can lead to "truth." Benson agrees that "[t]elling stories ... can be a great way to convey certain truths about the world" and Rosenhouse relates a story about how a difficult chess match revealed things about himself that he may not have learned otherwise. Both then turn on a dime and declare that those truths are not a result of a "way of knowing," with little or no explanation.
It is at this point that Coyne comes to the "rescue":
As Jason says, nobody has yet provided one truth — about the divine or otherwise — that has come from non-empirical ways of knowing.
... about the world and/or universe that has been arrived at by faith alone, could not be arrived at by secular reason or science, and that is true in that it is in principle verifiable by all people.
OED: Truth: Conformity with fact; agreement with reality
Now just because a person's reasoning is circular does not mean they may not have (more or less accidentally) arrived at the truth. Let's take it a step further. Is education a "way of knowing"? After all, how much of the science that Coyne "knows" has he empirically confirmed himself? Has he conducted all the experiments and observations that confirm what he has read in books about atoms and biology and botany and a thousand other "facts"? Does he not "know" these things?
Sure he might be able to empirically confirm all those experiments and observations, if he had the time and means, but then he'd have no time to do any new science. Science education is a "story" told to students, every bit as much as Buffy the Vampire Slayer. We can rationally distinguish the "truth-content" of science's story and Buffy's but the process is the same.
But do we empirically confirm the "truths" we learn from great art and literature? Do we test them against "reality"? Yes, we do ... by living life and comparing our experience with what we have leaned from others.
Ultimately, this argument, I think, boils down to a distinction the "science as the only way to knowledge" crowd want to make between "collective" knowledge and "individual" knowledge. But collective knowledge is just the aggregation of our individual knowledge. Can we truly have a "way of knowing" that arises out of something that is, itself, a stranger to knowledge?
Friday, September 18, 2009
In no surprise at all, the Discovery Institute's Ministry of Misinformation is claiming that it is being subjected to "Suppression and Censorship" because the science-respecting part of the blogosphere is upset about the screening of the DI's propaganda film, Darwin's Dilemma: The Mystery of the Cambrian Explosion, at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History.
Well, sort of. In fact, Robert Crowther quotes from a post by PZ Myers (though, for the moment, at least, he links to a different follow-up post) that nowhere recommends that the museum refuse the DI the use of its auditorium. Instead, they quote PZ to the effect that having such an event puts a "little spot of schmutz on [the museum's] glossy reputation" and that the "University of Oklahoma biology professors ... the staff of the museum ... [and] the rational people of the state of Oklahoma ... should all be rising up in disgust to mock this ridiculous affair."
This Crowther calls "an implicit threat of censorship." I suppose the sort of mentalist ability to discern censorship in a call for more speech is the same power that enables IDeologists to detect science in their theological babblings.
The follow-up article from PZ makes it even clearer, if possible, that he is not calling for censorship:
They [the museum staff] need to address the dishonesty directly: stir up controversy of their own to get people to want to hear the rebuttals. Don't claim to respect every religious belief out there; point out that this religious belief is incredibly bad science and rotten theology, and have people lined up to criticize it without the lame excuses. They don't need to bring in a bunch of atheist hired guns to do that, either: they almost certainly have biologists on campus with religious views of all kinds who will happily agree that intelligent design creationism is garbage.
When you have facts instead of sleight of hand on your side, bright light and an open display of what you are doing presents no problem.
Thursday, September 17, 2009
I've long known about Cornell University biologist Allen MacNeill's blog, The Evolution List, but have not, for some reason, followed it. It hasn't been updated in a while (which I hope is related to the summer break) but it's well worth reading back through it.
One interesting post ("What's So 'Intelligent' About 'Intelligent Design'?") is on why the problem with Intelligent Design Creationism isn't "design" but, rather, with "intelligence." It also touches on a point I've noted before, namely: when creationists speak about "random" evolution, they mean "non-intentional," not "highly contingent" or "unpredictable," and, therefore, pointing out that natural selection is not "random" has no effect on their real objection ... which is that evolution eliminates a supernatural force or deity as the causal factor in biological evolution.
Another post ("Why Intelligent Design Supporters Insist That ID Must Be True") that caught my eye delves into:
... why Intelligent Design (ID) exists, why websites like Uncommon Descent exist, and why the regular commentators who support ID at those websites are so determined to assert the absolute reality of ID, in spite of a complete lack of empirical evidence.
Of course [the validity of an objective moral code] is all dependent upon the truth of the existence of God and the truthfulness of scripture - most of us here are aware of that.
Since God must exist (otherwise there are no morals and anything is permitted), then there must be empirical evidence for His existence. Finding none, it is therefore necessary to pretend that some exists, or to make some up. Otherwise there can be no objective basis for morals, society will necessarily collapse into chaos, and we will all inevitably become insatiable, maniacal, cannibalistic, orgiastic mass murderers, rapists, and thieves.
[A]n action is permissible if and only if it's not the case that one ought to refrain from performing that action. This is just the standard inferential scheme for formal deontic logic. We've conformed to standard principles and inference rules of logic and we've started out with assumptions that atheists have conceded. And yet we reach the absurd conclusion: therefore, for any action you care to pick, it's permissible to perform that action.
In point of fact, all our moral codes come from human sources ... even the supposedly "God-given" ones are written down by fallible human beings who merely claim the authority of God.
Leaving on a Jet Plane
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
The Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History has issued a statement on its website about the Discovery Institute's screening of the propaganda film, Darwin's Dilemma, at the museum's Kerr Auditorium:
Although the museum does not support unscientific views masquerading as science, such as those espoused by the Discovery Institute, the museum does respect the religious beliefs of all people. Moreover, the museum is obligated to rent its public space to any organization that is engaged in lawful activities, free speech and open discourse. The museum does not discriminate against recognized campus organizations based on their religious beliefs, political philosophy, scientific literacy, or any other factors.
The museum's many galleries will be open for free before and after the showing of the Discovery Institute's film "Darwin's Dilemma" on Sept. 29 so the public can see that there is no scientific controversy in evolutionary science's explanation of the development and history of Earth's biodiversity.
The museum also highlights its extensive upcoming series of public education programs on evolution. I still think a program directly addressing the claims of the film would be appropriate and not that hard to organize.
Overall, though, I think the museum is doing the right things.
Jerry Coyne is once again displaying for all to see the entire depth of philosophical reasoning and discourse he is capable of.
Naturally, that involves name-calling and passing the buck to others to do the heavy lifting, in this case, Ophelia Benson (not necessarily the best choice) and her commentariat. I suppose that's better than if he does it himself, given past results.
The particular occasion for Coyne's latest outburst is Josh Rosenau's piece at Thoughts from Kansas, "On vampires and ways of knowing." Josh's main point (if I may be so bold as to interpret) is that religion and science are making different sorts of "truth claims" and, so, the standards imposed on one sort are, at least, potentially inappropriate to apply to the other.
Of course, there can be intelligent and reasoned disputes about Josh's view. Coyne will have none of that, however. Invective and ridicule is the most he can muster.
But what I find most interesting relates to a post by Ed Brayton on what may seem like a different topic but which I think is deeply related to all of Coyne's posturings. Ed points out a recent exchange between David Frum and David Horowitz over whether conservatives should defend Glen Beck's "over-the-top" (read: "dishonest") attacks on Cass Sunstein. Frum's point is, basically, that the end does not justify the means, especially when the means contradict your own ends. As Ed puts it:
This is the mantra of extremists. No matter how bad they can admit their own behavior is, it's justified because the other side is even worse. Strength and vigor in one's opposition to the evil other side becomes paramount and no tactic can ever be too much because, after all, They are even worse and must be stopped.
The only basis Coyne offers, and the only one I can recall being offered by other enablers [people who, like Coyne, support creationists in their muddling of the nature of science], is that religion and science are incompatible because religions can make false empirical claims.
But so can art. I think that people who would read A Tale of Two Cities as an historical account of the French revolution are being just as bad as those who read the Bible as an historical account of the Bronze Age. It's perfectly possible to read Dickens or the Bible as true, but not as empirically true. And if the battle is between people who read the Bible in a non-empirical sense and those who don't, then it seems like we should strengthen the hand of moderate theists, not disparage them.
I wasn't aware that there was a movement to replace the teaching of European history with the view given in Dickens's novels, nor a push to deny people contraception because that's what Dickens would want, or to keep women subordinate because Mrs. Micawber would never desert Mr. Micawber.
More and more, Jerry Coyne is showing himself to be the David Horowitz of the "New Atheists."
Update: Josh has his own reply to Coyne.
Vote For the Nut!
In the category of campaign ads that might need to be rethought:
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
Too Crazed for CPAC?
In a development that promises that pigs will soon sprout wings:
[O]rganizers of next year's Conservative Political Action Conference — the country's biggest annual meeting of activists on the right — said last week that they had rejected a request to schedule a panel on whether Obama was a native-born U.S. citizen.
"It would fill a room," said event director Lisa De Pasquale. "But so would a two-headed monkey. There really are so many more important issues, and it's only a three-day conference."
But never fear, loonies! There will always be a home for you!
CPAC officials said WorldNetDaily's [Joseph] Farah asked the group to hold the panel.
Via En Tequila Es Verdad
A Journey Only Begins With One Step
In response to yesterday's post about the debut of the propaganda film by Intelligent Design creationists, Darwin's Dilemma, at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History, a comment was left by Linda Coldwell, of the SNOMNH:
You are correct that the Sam Noble Museum is not endorsing this film or this school of thought. As an equal opportunity institution, and part of the University of Oklahoma, the museum rents its facilities out to any organization able and willing to pay for the space.
A tour of our terrific Paleozoic exhibits will provide lots of fascinating, factual information on the current scientific understanding and interpretation of the Cambrian Explosion.
Still, I think more needs to be done. As an attorney, I understand full well the difficulty the museum faces once it starts renting its facilities to outside groups. However, that does not mean that the museum does not also have a responsibility both to the public and to the science it represents to make sure that its reputation is not hijacked by pseudoscience. At the very least the museum should issue a statement in the strongest terms that the use by ID advocates of its facilities is not in any way an endorsement of ID or of claims that there is any scientific controversy about the general correctness of evolutionary theory or about the scientific fact of common descent.
It would be an appropriate discharge of the museum's duty to the public to organize and present post haste some program countering the propaganda use that its facility will be put to, which should not be all that difficult as it has the resources of the university's science and philosophy departments at hand. The exhibits are, no doubt, fine expositions of our current scientific understanding but, as is the case with all such exhibits, they will have the most impact and influence on those who already have an appreciation for science over pseudoscience. I suggest that, as an abettor, however unwillingly, of pseudoscience, it is the museum's duty to go outside the four corners of the exhibition walls and make an effort to reach out to those who may be mislead by this event.
Monday, September 14, 2009
W. T. F. ?
According to Reuters:
Darwin's Dilemma will be screened at Kerr Auditorium in the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History, with a post-film discussion featuring two leading intelligent design scientists, Dr. Stephen C. Meyer, author of Signature in the Cell, and Dr. Jonathan Wells, biologist and author of Icons of Evolution.
The film supposedly "explores" the "sudden appearance" in the fossil record during the Cambrian Explosion of "dozens of major complex animal types" without the "gradual transitional steps" predicted by Darwin. In other words, it will be mangling all the actual evidence that it isn't busily hiding from its target audience.
No doubt the museum is renting out its auditorium without endorsing the groups coming up with the gelt ... but surely there should be some consideration of avoiding lending an aura of legitimacy to pseudoscience.
Abbie at ERV will be watching this up close and personal. Watch that space.
Sunday, September 13, 2009
To Everything There Is a Season
Randal Rauser, and his Food for the Soul blog at The Christian Post, is back at the ol' ID stand peddling nonsense, as he has done before. The interesting part is that, much as he did in criticizing Expelled, he is doing it under cover of reasonableness:
What I find most interesting, and disturbing, about the current health care debate is the way that advocates of a public option in health care are marginalized with the accusation that they harbor a "socialist" or even "communist" agenda. ...
This is deceptive in two ways. First, the vast majority of those advocating health care reform do not subscribe to a sweeping socialist agenda. ...
Second, the critics of the public option also accept a mixed economy. They may not be "socialists" with respect to health care, but the vast majority are "socialists" with respect to the fire and police service as well as national defense.
In sum, sweeping warnings against socialism are a mere canard, a red herring, and the fact that they are tolerated as much as they are suggests to me a depressing denigration in the quality of debate in the public square.
First, the advocate of ID does not infer God in debate, they infer intelligence (even if they believe the intelligence may be God -- that is simply irrelevant). Second, the advocate of ID does not accept intelligence based on what we don't know but rather on what we do know. (See Meyer on the DNA digital code.)
As to the second, simply throwing in some fact revealed by science does not make a proposition scientific. If someone argued that the fact that the Earth takes approximately 365 days to orbit the Earth (which, in turn, determines the length of the seasons that happen to be well suited to living things), was grounds to "infer" a designer, need we take that as a scientific argument? William Whewell, an advocate of "Natural Theology," in The Bridgewater Treatises on the Power Wisdom and Goodness of God as manifested in the Creation, did exactly that and Darwin himself pointed out that that life adapting to the length of the seasons was just as valid an explanation (and scientific to boot, in that it could be tested). Whewell's argument was an appeal to a "scientific" fact without being a scientific (rather than theological) argument. Whewell was at least smart enough to know what he was doing and had the intellectual integrity to state so clearly.
The fact that DNA is complex is not, itself, evidence of design. Many things that we consider to be "natural" exhibit complex patterns: weather systems, climate systems, snowflakes, crystal structures, etc. Of course, you can claim that each individual snowflake is "designed" but how would we test it, anymore than we could test design in DNA? What is missing from ID is empiric evidence (the sina qua non of science) for a designer, the way we have evidence for evolution.
All of ID comes down to two arguments: 1) evolution can't work -- all of which claims have been shown to be either outright untrue or not valid objections because they rely on a misstatement of what evolutionary theory holds -- and 2) "boy, that sure looks complex, so it must have been designed!" -- which is not a theory at all, much less a testable one, and, therefore, cannot be scientific.
Scientists are not marginalizing IDers from science ... they have marginalized themselves by doing theology instead of science.