Tuesday, June 30, 2009


Word Play

As long as I'm talking about new coinages, here's one from John Wilkins that I like: "indifferentialism."

John has coined this as a description of a position I've taken in the past, that that the non-religious should not care about the theology of the religious or their internal struggles with it, that is set out nicely by The Sensuous Curmudgeon (and why wasn't I told about this blog before, eh?):

Our position is to totally disregard what we consider to be a sectarian disagreement among various denominations about whether scripture should be read in a manner to deny verifiable information about reality. One might describe our position as including both curiosity that such disputes exist, and indifference as to whether the disputants ever figure it out.

We become concerned only when a reality-denial sect threatens to go malignant, seeking to forcefully spread its dogma beyond its own voluntary membership. Absent such malignancy — which requires vigorous opposition — why should we care about theological debates among denominations? And why should we involve ourselves in their disagreements?

Don’t misunderstand — we’re not impartial. We prefer a world in which everyone thinks and behaves rationally, and we approve of scientific research and education. We humbly endeavor to achieve to those ends. (What else is this blog?) But we recognize that such efforts are unappreciated by some groups. Their choices are not our concern — unless they are literally a threat to our freedom. Should that happen, and it does, you’ll hear from us, and you do; but such are exceptional situations.
As John says:

[I]n my intellectual imperialism, I take it to be my own position, and hence either an accommodationism, or accommodationism is an indifferentialism.


P.S. Don't forget “New Agnostic” too (scroll down in comments).



Knot Making

Woo hoo!

John Lynch at a simple prop has some follow-up on Creation Ministries International's "documentary" about Darwin's voyage on the Beagle, The Voyage That Shook The World, and the lie of omission the producers perpetrated. He links to CMI's "defense" that has some amusing squirming. (It would be appalling, if we expected any better behavior from creationists.)

John notes a new word of the day: "atheopath":

Clinton R. Dawkins often calls theistic religion a 'virus of the mind', which would make it a kind of disease or pathology, and parents who teach it to their kids are supposedly practising mental child abuse. But the sorts of criteria Dawkins applies makes one wonder whether his own fanatical antitheism itself could be a mental pathology.

But once you start coining words, it seems it is hard to stop. There is also "agnostopath" (presumably a practitioner of "fanatical agnosticism" -- huh? -- I wonder if that means that an "osteopath " is a fanatical doctor?). And then there is "misotheist" ("hater of god").

But the really strange bit is that they claim that atheists (and, no doubt, agnostopaths) have "no compunction to be truthful at all" but then go on to say:

As we've pointed out before, the Gospels specifically state that Jesus spoke in parables to hide the truth from the masses"

... citing three passages: Matt. 13:10 ff., Mark 4:11–12 and Luke 8:10.

So, basically, they say it's okay to lie to atheists because they have "no compunction to be truthful at all" and then go on to cite Bible passages where, they claim, Jesus had no compunction to be truthful either.

Is it just me or is there a little disconnect here?

Monday, June 29, 2009


The View From the Other Side

Jerry Coyne started the Great Accommodationist-Incompatiblist Flap by, in part, accusing the NCSE of improperly taking sides as to the compatibility of science -- in particular, evolutionary theory -- with religion.

Now comes a well-known expert on religion and science -- Casey Luskin -- with another view. It seems that Casey finds the NCSE and its Executive Director, Eugenie Scott, to be incompatibilists. Referring to the NCSE's "Preparatory Materials for Speakers at the 21 January 2009 Texas SBOE Meeting," Casey says:

[S]omehow their "talking points" they released for Texas State Board of Education meeting in January advocated that activists press the SBOE to adopt scientism as the state's official ideology and expressly deny the existence of the supernatural as a matter of state education policy. As the NCSE's talking points argued: "Science posits that there are no forces outside of nature. Science cannot be neutral on this issue.… All educated people understand there are no forces outside of nature."

Uh, oh! Ellipses being used by creationists mean that we have to check the source (with the caveat that the copy is a DI document). In fact, although the parts of the "quote" are 12 pages apart, Casey has not seriously misrepresented the NCSE document's position (though some nuance was lost). I do think the author(s) of the materials overlooked or misstated the methodological naturalism position. Or, if they wanted to state that science was equivalent to philosophical naturalism, it would be a strange audience indeed to try to make that case to.

As to Scott, Casey quotes an answer she gave in an interview on the Minnesota Atheists' radio show, "Atheist Talk," to a question about why evolution is the area of science most attacked :

"Evolution is the scientific explanation that has the most repercussions, shall we say, for people's worldview and religious perspective. Evolution tells you that humans share kinship with all other creatures. For some, that's a very liberating and exciting idea, and it makes them feel one with nature and it's empowering and so forth. For others, it's threatening. If your view is a human exceptionalism kind of view, that humans are separate from nature and special -- especially if they are special to God as in some Christian traditions, then evolution is going to be threatening to you." [48:05-48:50]

That's an accurate transcript of what Scott said, though I think Luskin is misinterpreting what Scott meant (dare I say deliberately?), in that I think another reasonable interpretation of what Scott intended is that people who believe "they are special to God as in some Christian traditions" tend to perceive evolution as a threat to those beliefs, not necessarily that they are justified in that perception.

Still, it's interesting that the Great Accommodationist Satan is seen as shy one of one of those terms in some circles.


Sunday, June 28, 2009


Carnival Of Elitist Bastards Fourteen


[cough ... hack ... moan]

What day be it?

What? Blistering barnacles!

The Bastard t'were supposed to set sail on yesterday's tide!

Pirates have birthdays too 'n yesterday be mine. A modest celebration t'were planned but ended as such things always do, with all 'n sundry hanging out the scuppers.

But as Decrepit Old Fool reminds us, consistency be important to a Bastard and a matter even of life 'n death.

'Tis no surprise that the crew be not stirrin' -- the layabouts -- when summer breezes waft among the masts and grog be free at hand.

Vice Admiral Dana takes to discussin' why even pirates can find they care about strangers. But I reckon that won't be applyin' to those who failed to be back aboard in time to hoist sail. There be some keelhaulin' in store for some.

That is, if the Admiral don't forget about it lookin' at the night sky.

Given the odds the Bastard always sails against, it wisely carries at least two physiks to mend bones broke by ignorance. Sawbones Steve of Science-Based Medicine warns of an enemy that sails under an ally's flag but turns its guns on knowledge at every turn. And Doc Barbara from ICBS Everywhere tells, not once but twice, of how distortion can kill.

As the tide was about to turn, stragglers began to make their way up the gangplank:

Z from It's the Thought That Counts came aboard hauling a chest labeled "Culture."

Heather from provisioners named Steingruebl World Enterprises stopped to tell the tale of fighting her way past bureaucrats to find a real treasure in community.

A gang of longshoremen staggered under the weight of Cujo359's sense of wonder he sent ahead from Slobber And Spittle. Then came another gang carrying Cujo's twin duffels labeled Iraq Iran one and two.

Not happy with the crew, the Admiral sent out the press gang to round up some more:

A lubber named John Wilkins, from the Fatal Shore and a place called Evolving Thoughts, was hauled aboard. He is some sort of philosopher. He was warning of a danger to the crew if they mishandled the guns. Knowing the exact nature of the ammunition being loaded would keep the cannons from exploding in their face.

Taken from the streets of Ecstathy, Efrique tells of attempts to stop laughter because the forces of repression and fear know humor is their greatest foe.

The Admiral particularly wanted someone called PZ dragged aboard and forced to read drivel until he could stand no more.

Oh, and what of me? Did you expect me to work on my birthday?

The Admiral had asked about a prior engagement with a brig flying the ID colors. So here is an account of a running battle with four broadsides fired: one, two, three and four.

Now go away and leave a man to sleep it off in his own hammock.





Forty years of progress to be proud of ...
Forty years of progress that has not yet been enough.

Saturday, June 27, 2009


Evil Designer

According to this article in The Christian Post, the late Dr. Ralph D. Winter, described as one of the most influential missiologists* of the 20th Century, had a slightly different take on Intelligent Design:

Those Christians who support Intelligent Design, not surprisingly, identify that "intelligent cause" to be God.

But some would argue that such an association would then suggest that God designed viruses, bacteria, parasites and other harmful and destructive organisms that do nothing but bring disease and suffering to God's creation. ...

It's an age-old question on a microscopic level – did God create the "tiny evils" that spread disease and death throughout the world? If so, then isn't He to blame for mankind's suffering?

Winter knew who is responsible:

Dr. Ralph D. Winter, who recently died at the age of 84, had argued that all violent forms of life – including all disease pathogens – are the works of an "intelligent evil power" that seeks to destroy God's creation. ...

"Our theologies – that is, our formalized ways of attempting to think biblically – were hammered out during centuries that were totally blind to the microscopic world," he added. "Our current theological literature, to my knowledge, does not seriously consider disease pathogens from a theological point of view – that is, are they the work of God or Satan?"

As a result, God has for far too long been taking the blame for Satan's destructive works, Winter contended. And even Christians are confused over who is responsible for all the evil in the world, including disease and suffering. Some even claim that God wants diseases in the world.

"This is perhaps due to a theological tradition which does not understand demonic powers to have the ability to distort DNA," he expressed. ...

"[D]estructive viruses, bacteria and especially parasites ... represent incredibly ingenious evil. They represent, I am thinking, the involvement of intelligence. They are not just unguided evolution or, much less, errors in creation."

That lead Winter to something of a strange conclusion:

Therefore, Christians must not only pray for healing as if it is only up to God to cure diseases, Winter said. Instead, they should use scientific knowledge that God has allowed them to understand to actively work toward eradicating diseases by fighting the source of the problem.

But that implies that this "evil intelligence" has equal power with God ... or else, why isn't it only up to God to cure diseases? Dr. Winter was propounding Manichaeism, that holds that there is no omnipotent good power but, instead, two equally powerful opposing forces, one good and one evil. Manichaeism was considered a heresy by the early Christian church, including by St. Augustine.

Note yet again how the faithful have no trouble identifying ID as theology. It also raises a good question. As we all know, some design in nature isn't all that good, a fact that Casey Luskin famously explained by comparing "the Designer" to the people who designed the Pinto.

Now the question is: just who is the inept Designer, the Good Designer or the Evil Designer.

I assume Casey thinks he was designed by the Good Designer. If that's the inept Designer, it would explain a lot.


* Yeah, I had to look it up: "Missiology, or mission science, is the area of practical theology that investigates the mandate, message and work of the Christian missionary."


P.S. Mark Abner of The Divine Afflatus gives another example of ID advocates invoking malevolent design.

Friday, June 26, 2009


PZ Explains

PZ Myers has a good post up on the accommodationist/incompatibilist flap that is, despite the unnecessary slap at "feeble accommodationist claptrap," a reasonable attempt at clarifying matters that I can agree with in large part.

That word, "incompatibility", is a problem, though. The uniform response we always get when we say that is "Hey! I'm a Christian, and I'm a scientist, therefore they can't be incompatible!" Alexander was no exception, and said basically the same thing right away. It's an irrelevant point; it assumes that a person can't possibly hold two incompatible ideas at once. We know that is not true. We have complicated and imperfect brains, and even the most brilliant person on earth is not going to be perfectly consistent. When we talk about incompatibility, we have to also specify what purposes are in conflict, and show that the patterns of behavior have different results. ...

In order to probe the nature of the universe around us, science is a process, a body of tools, that has a long history of success in giving us robust, consistent answers. We use observation, experiment, critical analysis, and repeated reevaluation and confirmation of events in the natural world. It works. We use frequent internal cross-checking of results to get an answer, and we never entirely trust our answers, so we keep pushing harder at them. We also evaluate our success by whether the end results work: it's how we end up with lasers and microwave ovens, and antibiotics and cancer therapies.

Religion, on the other hand, uses a different body of techniques to explain the nature of the universe. It uses tradition and dogma and authority and revelation, and a detailed legalistic analysis of source texts, to dictate what the nature of reality should be. It's always wrong, from an empirical perspective, although I do have to credit theologians with some of the most amazingly intricate logical exercises as they try to justify their conclusions. The end result of all of this kind of clever wankery, though, is that some people say the world is 6000 years old, that it was inundated with a global flood 4000 years ago, and other people say something completely different, and there is no way within the body of theology to resolve which answers are right. They have to step outside their narrow domain to get an independent confirmation — that is, they rely on science to give them the answers to the Big Questions in which they purport to have expertise.

So what theistic scientists have to do is abandon the operational techniques of religion and use science to address those questions. The "theistic" part of their moniker is nothing but useless baggage which, if they take it at all seriously, would interfere with their understanding of the world. That is what I mean by an incompatibility between the two.
While I have qualms about what gets included in "the nature of the universe around us" and the assumption, embodied in the quote of J.B.S. Haldane cited by PZ and Lawrence Krauss before him:

My practice as a scientist is atheistic. That is to say, when I set up an experiment I assume that no god, angel or devil is going to interfere with its course; and this assumption has been justified by such success as I have achieved in my professional career. I should therefore be intellectually dishonest if I were not also atheistic in the affairs of the world.
... that because a technique works well in one field of inquiry, it necessarily will in others (a point PZ acknowledges), PZ makes the most reasonable case for incompatibility I've seen so far.



Dissembling For God

David Klinghoffer is trying to claim that even a "deist" like Thomas Jefferson supported Intelligent Design. He bases this on a quote mine that I've already addressed:

I hold (without appeal to revelation) that when we take a view of the Universe, in its parts general or particular, it is impossible for the human mind not to perceive and feel a conviction of design, consummate skill, and indefinite power in every atom of its composition....

The movements of the heavenly bodies, so exactly held in their course by the balance of centrifugal and centripetal forces, the structure of our earth itself, with its distribution of lands, waters and atmosphere, animal and vegetable bodies, examined in all their minutest particles, insects mere atoms of life, yet as perfectly organised as man or mammoth, the mineral substances, their generation and uses, it is impossible, I say, for the human mind not to believe that there is, in all this, design, cause and effect, up to an ultimate cause, a fabricator of all things from matter and motion, their preserver and regulator while permitted to exist in their present forms, and their regenerator into new and other forms.[Emphasis Klinghoffer's]
Unfortunately, conservative theists are not the only ones who try to dig up Jefferson and flop him around after his death like the poor Ayatollah. Sometimes atheists do too.

Jefferson was neither a deist nor an atheist (nor, perhaps, a Christian, depending on how you define the term). But he certainly was a theist and a providentialist and a believer in an interventionalist God.

But Klinghoffer adds a layer of stupidity by emphasizing Jefferson's understanding of biology. As a commenter there, "freelunch," says:

So, David, you have to go back before scientists had any idea how the complexity of life came to be to find a sensible person whose speculation fits your biases. Wow.

Your problem is that you cannot find us a scientist of today who believes this. You have to ignore two centuries of discoveries to defend your thesis.
Before Copernicus, many, if not most, intelligent people perceived and felt a firm conviction that the sun orbited the Earth ... and why not? In the absence of science, it certainly seems that the Earth is immovable and that the sun moves around it. The point of science is to extend our knowledge beyond so-called "common sense" and to discover how the world really works.

Jefferson's letter makes it clear beyond any doubt that he is discussing a theological argument of the sort made by William Paley in his book Natural Theology. His statement that he is not appealing to revelation is not, as Klinghoffer tries to imply, a claim that it is a scientific or secular claim. Quite the contrary.

Klinghoffer is either incapable of reading English; did not read Jefferson's letter in full, in which case he mislead his readers about his knowledge of Jefferson's intent; or he is deliberately dissembling. He's a professional writer and can obviously write in English.

That leaves one option.


Thursday, June 25, 2009


Now We Know

Some people are in thrall to cephalopods. Now we know why ... at least in the case of the grown-up boy on the right.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009


I Say Agnostic ...

John Wilkins has a nice post up about the taxonomies, such as they are, of "atheists" and "agnostics" and why John self-identifies as an agnostic (as do I). John discusses the attempt by atheists to pull, and theists to push, agnostics into the atheist camp via the now popular "definitions" of "strong atheism" and "weak atheism," with agnostics put, rather unflatteringly, the latter category . John traces that distinction to Anthony Flew, a famous (as those things go) philosopher and atheist who has become, in later life, a theist or maybe "just" a deist.

As John says:

So, to summarise, when an atheist says to me I am an atheist because I lack a view, I am minded to reply, "I am also an asportist" for failing to have a team in any sport that I support. It makes about as much sense. Flew's faux etymology is just special pleading. While I agree that there is a presumption that there are no gods for some people, I do not think this is a truth of nature or fact about logic, as some seem to. What counts as the "default" view is a historical contingency, and we have to recognise that. In my history, the burden of proof falls on those who wish to make any kind of knowledge claim one way or the other.

Agnosticism, not theism or atheism, is the default position… for me, at any rate. So I repeat: I am not an atheist. I am myself, and I self-identify as an agnostic.



PZ Mxyzptlk is psychic!

No sooner does PZ suggest, in response to whining by Ken Ham, that, for the price of a plane ticket, he'd come and personally tour Ham's "museum," along with a small group of "mouthy, obnoxious, and culturally prominent godless scientists" and let Ham point out the supposed misconceptions PZ has about the place.

Mere hours later comes word of six dozen paleontologists who visited the museum today.

"The real purpose of the museum visit is to give some of my colleagues an opportunity to sense how they're being portrayed," said Arnold Miller, a professor of paleontology at the University of Cincinnati, which is hosting the conference. "They're being demonized, I feel, in this museum as people who are responsible for all the ills of society."

The reviews were not kind:

"It's like a theme park, but the problem is it masquerades as truth," said Derek Briggs, a Yale University paleontologist. ...

"Faith is one thing," said Mark Terry, a high school science teacher from Seattle, "but when it comes to their science statements, they're completely off the wall."

And the defense was lame:

David Menton, a cell biology professor and researcher with Answers In Genesis, which founded the museum, made no apologies for the fact that the museum's teachings are rooted in the Old Testament. He insists they rely on largely the same facts scientists use, just with a starting point millions of years later. Anything before that can't really be proven by science anyway, he says. ...

He defended the displays that argue people and dinosaurs are contemporaries, including one at the museum entrance that show two young girls playing in a field near a dinosaur.

"I'm not saying dinosaurs and man frequently hobnobbed," Menton said. "I live on Earth at the same time as grizzly bears, but if I could stay as far away from grizzly bears, that suits me fine."

I distinctly remember reading stories of grizzly bears killing people. You'd figure if a T. Rex took out a village or two, it might get a mention in the Bible.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


Religious Science

Christopher Schoen of u n d e r v e r s e makes an excellent point about how little the incompatibilist "atheist-scientists," as Jerry Coyne calls them, actually use empiric fact or science when describing the religion they deride.

Specifically, Chris, in a post titled "Is Neo-Atheism a Pseudo Science?" discusses physicist Sean Carroll's piece at his blog, Cosmic Variance, and Coyne's laudatory post at Why Evolution Is True and how they characterize "typical" religious belief in vague terms, without any appeal to actual studies of religion and the nature or effect of religious belief:

To the extent this kind of work is done at all it tends not to support the "incompatibilist" position. Anthropologist Scott Atran has tried to look empirically, scientifically, at the phenomena we lump together under the rubric of "religion." His field study of jihadi suicide bombers, for example, has cast serious doubt on many of the causal factors that supposedly link religious fervor and piety to violence and other social evils. On the other hand I have not seen Carroll, Coyne, Dawkins, Hitchens, Weinberg, or any of the others who make these kind of claims make any appeals to science whatsoever, and I suspect it is because there is no science that confirms the kind of folk wisdom that says it's "perfectly evident" that religion is intrinsically antagonistic to reason and human rights.

Chris concludes:

Too, too many scientists are making too, too many unsubstantiated claims about what religion is and how it functions in our culture for this conversation to be fruitful and increase our understanding of how faith and reason interact. My question to them is this: if the most vociferous defenders of the scientific method won't bother themselves to use it in this passionate defense, then who will?

Before anyone dusts off the Courtier's Reply, Chris is not saying that anyone needs to study the theology of religion in order to criticize it; he is pointing out the lack of evidence for the empiric claims that are being made about religious belief and the sociological effects thereof. As we all know, the plural of anecdote is not data.

Of course, the failure to present evidence for the incompatibilists' beliefs about which religious tenets are, in fact, "typical" or their actual social effects does not mean that they are wrong about those claims. But it is a strange omission in people who proclaim, as Coyne has, that "the scientific attitude of requiring evidence for what one believes is incompatible with the religious attitude of requiring no evidence beyond revelation and dogma."

One might even call it a revelation.



Two Faced Book To Match

PZ Myearshertz took notice of Ray Comfort's latest exercise in stupidity: an abridged Origin of Species with a 50 page "'Special Introduction" by Comfort himself. Comfort or someone in his pay must read PZ ... well ... religiously because, within hours Comfort issued a press release that notes that the edition is "getting raving reviews from evolutionists" and quotes PZ:

It's like a book with multiple personality disorder — two parts that absolutely hate each other, an intro that is the inane product of one of the most stupid minds of our century, and a science text that is the product of one of the greatest minds of the author's century.

Only a delusional person like Comfort could possibly think he would come off well in the comparison.

Comfort reveals his other major character aspect clearly:

Comfort added, "People that feel strongly about this issue can simply stand on the sidewalk at the main entrance of any college or university with a sign that says: 'Free 150th year anniversary editions of Origin of Species.'

What is it with creationists and the inability to understand the concept of "lies of omission"?

Monday, June 22, 2009



I previously mentioned the new "documentary" about Darwin's voyage on the Beagle, The Voyage That Shook The World, from Creation Ministries International and the fact that it includes interviews with two of the best historians of evolution, Peter Bowler and Janet Browne, along with a number of legitimate scientists.

Now, in no surprise whatsoever, comes word from William Crawley's blog, Will and Testament, that the producers of the film were less than forthcoming with the people who participated:

Professor Peter Bowler, the author of a biography of Charles Darwin and many other books on the history of evolution, said he was interviewed for the The Voyage That Shook The World without realising that the film was being made by a Creationist group.

Professor Bowler, who has spent most of his academic career at Queen's University, Belfast, researching Darwinism, says he is unhappy to be appearing in what he regards as an "anti-Darwinian" film which offers an historically distorted portrait of Darwin. He claims that the film's narrative implies that Darwin's theory led him towards racism, whereas recent historical work by James Moore and Adrian Desmond shows that Darwin's scientific work was partly motivated by the naturalist's passionate opposition to racism.

Professor Bowler says he, along with his colleagues Sandra Herbert and Janet Browne, only discovered that they had inadvertently contributed to a Creationist film a month before the film's release. Peter Bowler also raised concerns about how the editing of his own interview could leave viewers with a false impression of his own perspective on Darwin.
John Lynch has, therefore, amusingly dubbed the CMI opus "Son of Expelled."

CMI was a little more honest than their Expelled counterparts, however:

I asked Phil Bell [CEO of Creation Ministries UK] if this method of securing an interview was "deceptive". He said: "Well, it could be called deceptive. But I think, at the end of the day, I would say that more people are concerned about how we've made a documentary, that's a world-class documentary, clearly with wonderful footage, with excellent interviews, and balanced open discussion."
But he still denied that they had broken the ninth commandment by "bearing false witness," stating that "Nobody was told any lies."

Presumably, Mr. Bell has never heard of "lies of omission." He certainly has heard of "the end justifies the means."

John 11:35.

Sunday, June 21, 2009


Now It Gets Interesting

It seems that there isn't just the accommodationists and the incompatiblists. There are the True Incompatiblists™ and the not-so-true incompatibilists.

According to Larry Moran, Jerry Coyne (and, presumably, PZ Myers, who has taken a similar position) are not the real sort of incompatibilists:

If [under the US Constitution] the proper teaching of science promotes a "religious" point of view, namely atheism, then science can't be taught in public schools. It's fun to watch the contortions that many atheists have to go through in order to escape the obvious conclusion. ...

Jerry Coyne tries to get around the problem by concentrating on the teaching of evolution (just the scientific truth) and not "science" ... I think this is disengenuous ...

Now we'll have to keep all the players straight. May I suggest we all call the True Incompatiblists "Churchillian Incompatibilists" and the untrue-blue incompatibilists the "Chamberlainian Incompatibilists"?

I believe there is some precedence for this.


P.S. Can a Courtier's Reply for those who claim that an understanding of the intricacies of American Constitutional law is necessary before criticizing Chamberlainian Incompatibilism be far behind?




It's one week until the next voyage of the H.M.S.* Elitist Bastard.

But the deadline is earlier than that: midnight (or there abouts) this coming Friday, June 26th. Send your links in to elitistbastardscarnival@gmail.com.

Since it will be here, I'll take it as a personal affront if there is not a plethora of material. You don't want a lawyer with delusions of being a pirate to be pissed at you.

Besides, it's my birthday and, if it isn't a good Carnival, I might cry. If there's anything that you don't want to see more than a pissed lawyer with delusions of being a pirate, its a lawyer with delusions of being a pirate crying.

* Highly motivated snobbery.

Saturday, June 20, 2009


Science, Philosophy and Law

In which I agree more than disagree with Jerry Coyne.

Coyne quotes a blog post by Andrew Brown (who, with Michael Ruse, has recently drawn the ire of Coyne), the relevant part of which to me is:

But the American courts have never been asked to decide whether science is the negation of religion: in fact the defenders of evolution and of science teaching in schools have gone to great lengths to ensure that the question was not asked. The "accommodationists" whom Coyne so despises, have been brought out in all the court cases so far to say that that evolution and Christianity, science and religion, are perfectly compatible. If the courts were asked to decide whether not whether ID was a religious doctrine, but whether evolution was a necessarily atheist one, and if they decided that Jerry Coyne and PZ and Dawkins and all the rest are right, then science teaching would become unconstitutional in American public schools. They would, in short, have fucked themselves.
Now I've thought it right and proper to upbraid Coyne for calling science a "world view," as well as for his substitute formulation of claiming that the only proper "attitude" for scientists is to demand evidence for all their beliefs (which, in context, was saying the same thing). I even pointed out at Coyne's blog that if, in fact, science is a world view, it would have to be taught as a philosophy only, not as true, and that Coyne's statements could be used as ammunition by creationists in any future cases.

Creationists have long made the claim that evolutionary theory is just atheism dressed up in scientific terms. Judge Jones addressed this claim in the Kitzmiller case:

[M]any of the leading proponents of ID make a bedrock assumption which is utterly false. Their presupposition is that evolutionary theory is antithetical to a belief in the existence of a supreme being and to religion in general. Repeatedly in this trial, Plaintiffs' scientific experts testified that the theory of evolution represents good science, is overwhelmingly accepted by the scientific community, and that it in no way conflicts with, nor does it deny, the existence of a divine creator.
To the extent that some of the more, shall we say, vigorous statements of "scientist-atheists," as Coyne calls them, tend to negate that position, there is a potential concern for the effect it may have in future cases. Conversely, to the extent that other scientists and/or scientific organizations say that science neither conflicts with or denies the existence of a divine creator, it reduces those concerns.

But (and its a big but) the views of Coyne, PZ and Dawkins in open debate are unlikely to tip the balance in any court case, precisely because they are unlikely to make it into a science classroom. As long as the scientist-atheists are willing to say what Coyne says in his most recent post:

Does anybody seriously think that teaching evolution is a deliberate promotion of atheism? If so, I haven't met any of them, and that includes P.Z. Myers and Richard Dawkins. ...

Actually, we teach evolution because it's a wonderful subject, explains a lot about the world, and happens to be true. And yes, it's likely that teaching evolution probably promotes a critical examination of religious beliefs that may lead to rejecting faith. But teaching geology, physics, or astronomy does that, too. In fact, education in general leads to the rejection of faith. (Statistics show that the more education one has, the less likely one is to be religious.) Should we then worry about teaching physics, astronomy, or indeed, allowing people access to higher education, because those "promote" atheism?? Should we constantly be looking over our shoulders because the courts may catch onto this? Well, American courts may be dumb, but even our benighted Supreme Court is more rational than Mr. Brown.
... the debate over accommodationism and incompatibilism should be recognized as a larger philosophical debate outside of science itself. Teach only the science and the "problem" evaporates. Any tendency to reject faith because of the teaching of the science is what church and state scholar Kent Greenawalt has called "spillover effects," which do not render the teaching unconstitutional because they are not a "primary effect" of it. Government could even teach about the accommodationism / incompatibilism kerfuffle, as long as it didn't take sides as to which was right.

So, no, what Coyne and PZ and Dawkins say about their personal philosophies about science and religion should not result in science being relegated to philosophy classes or, worse, ejected completely from public schools, though it would be nice if they kept the distinction between their philosophies and science clear.


Friday, June 19, 2009


Clown Philosophy

Oh, drat!

The accommodationists have well and truly lost now.

Dr. Michael Egnor has come out on their side:

We are entering an era in which a substantial and loud minority of atheist scientists and philosophers are claiming that science validates and depends on atheism and materialism. A ferocious fight has broken out in the pro-Darwinist blogosphere over this question: are philosophical naturalism and atheism essential to good science? Some of those on the side of accommodation with religion no doubt are atheists who believe that accommodation of religious beliefs is necessary for tactical reasons; others, such as Ken Miller and Francis Collins, are scientists who are Christians and who see their science as entirely compatible with their theism.

This debate is about whether worship at the materialist/atheist altar is a prerequisite for good science. My sense of it is that the accomodationists have easily gained the upper hand. The atheist insistence that science depends on and validates atheism is historically ignorant and philosophically incoherent.
The man who has never been right about evolutionary theory or the philosophy of science has taken the accommodationists' side, which guarantees that they must be wrong.

But wait a minute! The reason he's taking their side is so spectacularly wrong that it's clear that he has no clue what the argument is about! Therefore, it is no more than blind chance that he chose the accommodationist side (indeed, most of his Discovery Institute colleagues have chosen the side of the incompatiblism supporters, the better to argue against theistic evolutionists).

To begin with, "theists and open-minded agnostics and atheists on the pro-Darwinist side of this debate" are not "engaging the same fundamentalist atheist dogma that intelligent design proponents have engaged for several decades" because "[t]eleology is obvious in nature" or because "[a]theists and materialists intrinsically deny the reality of teleology -- Aristotelian final causation -- in nature" and certainly not because "nothing in the natural world can be understood without reference to teleology." The argument is over the limitations of science, the proper "attitude" to bring to scientific practice and what should be said about these issues to the public by scientific organizations. It isn't the position of anyone I know of in the accommodationist camp that babbling on about Aristotelian final causation is a part of science today.

Nor do I know of any incompatibilists or atheists who think that "to raise the question of teleology in nature is to answer it" -– except in the negative -- or who acts in any way that betrays that "[a]theism, for good reason, fears questions." If anything, the complaint about incompatiblists by some accommodationists is the exact opposite.

But what can you expect from Egnor? After all, even though he is a pediatric neurosurgeon, he joins in a tirade against "secular priests—Experts" while he himself engages in one of the most technical and arcane of the healing sciences.

Presumably, he will now be passing out do-it-yourself-brain-surgery-kits to his young patients so they won't have to bow to his expertise. And instead of rigorous planning of his surgeries and careful technique, he'll just be sprinkling a little Holy Water around inside his patients skulls and closing 'em back up to show he's not secular ... right after he dons his floppy shoes and big red rubber nose.


Thursday, June 18, 2009


Coyne Buys Back the Store ... Sort Of

Jerry Coyne has backed away from his previous claim that science is a "world view":

o.k. let me clarify this for everyone who seems to have misunderstood it. I don't know if I'd call SCIENCE a world view in itself. But that's irrelevant. What I meant is that the scientific ATTITUDE of requiring evidence for what one believes is incompatible with the religious ATTITUDE of requiring no evidence beyond revelation and dogma.

This is dichotomy that I was talking about. Please get over the "world view" stuff; it's irrelevant.
Well, that certainly clears things up, doesn't it? Real rigor and logic there, right? Science is not a philosophy but the only "attitude" that a scientist can properly have is that everything that one believes must be supported by, presumably, scientific evidence -- or else why can't Miller accept science, as he does, and believe in nonscientific ways where science provides no answers?

As "smijer," who is one of the better commenters in the thread, pointed out immediately:

Yes, you have to assume a naturalistic attitude – or put more precisely – you have to employ methodological naturalism to do a science project. I'm not religious, but if I were, nothing about the fact that I was religious would prevent me adopting a naturalistic attitude (i.e., adopting methodological naturalism) to do a science project.

Nobody disagrees with this. It's as you say, "trivial".

If your goal is to garner the authority of science for the philosophy of naturalism – an observation about attitudes and methods is only a tiny first step in doing it. To make such an observation one's entire case is probably a fallacy of composition.
I'd add that it is a rare scientist indeed who meets Coyne's standard. Larry Moran believes that J.M.W. Turner is the greatest artist who ever lived but I've yet to see him produce any scientific evidence on that point. Great art and literature, beauty, who we love, and numerous other things human beings, including scientists, "believe" are determined not on evidence but based on emotion, intuition, social convention and other unconscious or semiconscious influences. Coyne is free to try to make the case that religion is somehow different than these other very human beliefs or to try to convince us that scientists are somehow above these "failings" but, as smijer points out, merely smudging the difference between methodological and philosophical naturalism won't cut it.



A Pretty Pickle

You may have heard (from A list blogs like Pharyngula and Respectful Insolence) about Zicam, a homeopathic “medicine” for colds that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has issued an advisory against using because it can cause a long-lasting or permanent loss of sense of smell (anosmia).

As Orac points out, “drugs that appear in the Homeopathic Pharmacopoeia are given automatic FDA approval, no science, evidence, or messy clinical trials needed.” The reason is:

... true homeopathic remedies are diluted to far, far below 1 ppm. In fact, even a 12C homeopathic dilution represents approximately a 1024-fold dilution. Get up to 20C or 30C, and there is, to a very good approximation, zero chance of even a single molecule of the active remedy remaining.
In short, if you’re stupid enough to buy water at highly inflated prices as a “medicine,” the government will let you on the assumption that water won’t hurt you. The problem is that some marketers are including some real ingredients in their supposedly homeopathic remedies.

The obvious solution is that the FDA will now have to test homeopathic preparations and certify that they have no effect at all.

Put another way, government should spend scarce resources to assure consumers that they are being completely, and, therefore, safely, cheated.


Wednesday, June 17, 2009


Default Philosophy

A thought:

The Dialogues are a criticism of the argument from design in the form in which that argument was current in Hume's time - a form in which it persisted into the nineteenth century in the writings of Paley and so many others, and which survives in popular and semi-popular forms to the present day. This argument, it cannot be too emphatically insisted, is not a teleological argument of the Aristotelian type. It does not, that is to say, consist in the thesis that the natural order, with which man is so integrally bound up, fulfils an end of absolute and intrinsic worth. It is an essentially anthropomorphic type of argument, resting upon an alleged analogy between natural existences and the artificial products of man's handicraft. We can, it was maintained, gain a sufficient basis for the conception of God as an ordering intelligence in our knowledge of the self and of its relation to the products which it consciously designs. ...

In the absence of an alternative explanation of a more credible kind, the 'religious hypothesis' (to use Hume's phrase) held the field. It was not, as a rule, that it was thought out, and quite deliberately adopted, still less that it was held as a belief which played a specifically religious role in their minds. No alternative being in sight, it was conceded, especially as regards living organisms; and having been conceded, it came in only when quite ultimate issues were raised; and even then it was little more than an admission of ignorance, expressed in the terms of the traditional creed. This attitude was the more practicable, in that the argument from design was, as already stated, formulated with only incidental reference to moral or scientifically religious considerations.

- Norman Kemp Smith, Introduction, Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion by David Hume

Tuesday, June 16, 2009


Coyne Gives Away the Store

Jerry Coyne has responded to Ken Miller's piece (parts of which I thought were less than fair) and, in doing so has expressed a view of science which, if accepted by American courts, would guarantee that science could not be taught as true in our public schools, but could only be taught as a one philosophy out of many or in comparative religion classes. Specifically, Coyne states:

While science and theism (i.e., the view that God acts to change things in the material world) are compatible in the trivial sense that some people adhere to both, they are incompatible in the philosophical sense of being harmonious world views.
Science can be taught as true in American public schools precisely because it is deemed not to be a "world view" but, instead, is a methodology (though not the simplistic one unfortunately often taught) that can be consistently applied by people of many different philosophies and theologies or lack thereof. In other words, that science is something separate and apart from either philosophy or theology.

Fortunately for American school children, Jerry Coyne does not determine what science is -- which may account for his frustration that so many science organizations have failed to take his preferred position on the subject of science and religion. And, it is to be hoped, we will, with help from people like Ken Miller, continue to be able to teach science for what it is: the best tool we have for exploring the natural world.



Taking Things Two Ways

Two Danish schools are under suspicion:

Brændstrup Christian School in Rødding and Adsbøl Christian School in Gråsten were both inspected by the Board of Education last week, resulting in the Board raising concerns about their belief that the schools are using science classes to teach alternate theories of origin, including creationism.

If the Board’s suspicions are found to be true, the schools would be in violation of Education Ministry guidelines.

‘Teaching in the natural sciences cannot include either intelligent design or the creationist account from the Old Testament,’ said Bertil Haarder, the education minister. ‘Those teachings belong in Christianity classes. You can’t use state funding to teach religious ideas in natural science classes.’

The schools' response is that "Our core Christian values are not specifically part of the classes’ educational content."

Wait a minute ... isn't "Thou shalt not bear false witness" a core Christian value?


Holocaust Reliers

John Wilkins has an important post on Herbert Spencer, "Social Darwinism" and the alleged complicity of Darwin and science in the Holocaust:

When I first started to read philosophy and history I heard about this demon. His name was Herbert Spencer, and he was famous for three things:

1. Incomprehensible prose

2. Coining "Survival of the Fittest", and

3. Coming up with a "devil take the hindmost" laissez faire political philosophy that was called "social Darwinism".

I have since learned that demons are figments of the imagination, and so it is here, as well.

Read it.

Monday, June 15, 2009


The Cruelest Cut

The Discovery Institute is bucking for another entry in Glenn Morton's list: "The Imminent Demise of Evolution: The Longest Running Falsehood in Creationism," right along with its director, Stephen Meyer, in his about-to-be-released book, Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design.

Actually, they are after even bigger fish: scientific materialism. Methodological naturalism, whereby science assumes that natural phenomena have natural explanations -- that has so advanced human knowledge over the last 500 years -- is said to be crumbling, leaving us with ... what? According to Meyer, it is "intelligence that stands outside nature and directs the path life has taken." If that isn't God, I'll also eat John Wilkins' epistemological hat.

Since we are, if Meyer is right, allowing supernatural explanations into science, let me exercise my extrasensory perception and predict what the major themes of the book (which I obviously have not read) will be:

There will be an analogy to human design, particularly analogizing DNA to computer software;

There will be an argument that any inability of science to explain the origins of biological "information" demonstrates design;

There will be an argument claiming that any inability of science to explain the origins of DNA disproves evolution.

Okay, so maybe I'm not psychic, since Meyer's own webpage shows that he is making all those arguments in the book and they are, contrary to the DI's claim, hardly a "unique, new argument for intelligent design."

There is one claim that Meyer has made before but is not as common as the others:

Drawing on data from many scientific fields, Stephen Meyer formulates a rigorous argument employing the same method of inferential reasoning that Darwin used.

So, what sort of inferential reasoning is he talking about? He tips his hand here too, with the blurb claiming the book "argues convincingly for intelligent design as the best explanation of life's beginning" i.e. the inference to the best explanation (IBE).

Samir Okasha's Philosophy of Science: A Very Short Introduction (recommended by Massimo Pigliucci) has a good discussion of the inference to the best explanation. He has an example:

The cheese in the larder has disappeared, apart from a few crumbs;

Scratching noises were heard coming from the larder last night;

Therefore, the cheese was eaten by a mouse.

It is obvious that this inference is non-deductive: the premisses do not entail the conclusion. For the cheese could have been stolen by the maid, who cleverly left a few crumbs to make it look like the handiwork of a mouse. And the scratching noise could have been caused in any number of ways - perhaps they were due to the boiler overheating. Nonetheless, the inference is clearly a reasonable one. For the hypothesis that a mouse ate the cheese seems to provide a better explanation of the data than do the various alternative explanations. After all, maids do not normally steal cheese, and modern boilers do not tend to overheat. Whereas mice do normally eat cheese when they get the chance, and do tend to make scratching sounds. So although we cannot be certain that the mouse hypothesis is true, on balance it looks quite plausible: it is the best way of accounting for the available data.

And, as Okasha points out, this is a sort of reasoning that scientists, including Darwin, frequently use:

... Darwin argued for his theory of evolution by calling attention to various facts about the living world which are hard to explain if we assume that current species have been separately created, but which make perfect sense if current species have descended from common ancestors, as his theory held. For example, there are close anatomical similarities between the legs of horses and zebras. How do we explain this, if God created horses and zebras separately? Presumably he could have made their legs as different as he pleased. But if horses and zebras have both descended from a recent common ancestor; this provides an obvious explanation of their anatomical similarity. Darwin argued that the ability of his theory to explain facts of this sort, and of many other sorts too, constituted strong evidence for its truth.

So, does ID fit within the category of IBE?

[O]ne issue clearly demands more attention. If we want to use IBE, we need some way of deciding which of the competing hypotheses provides the best explanation of the data. But what criteria determine this? A popular answer is that the best explanation is the simplest or the most parsimonious one. Consider again the cheese-in-the-larder example. There are two pieces of data that need explaining: the missing cheese and the scratching noises. The mouse hypothesis postulates just one cause - a mouse - to explain both pieces of data. But the maid hypothesis must postulate two causes - a dishonest maid and an overheating boiler - to explain the same data. So the mouse hypothesis is more parsimonious, hence better. Similarly in the Darwin example, Darwin's theory could explain a very diverse range of facts about the living world, not just anatomical similarities between species. Each of these facts could be explained, in other ways, as Darwin knew. But the theory of evolution explained all the facts in one go - that is what made it the best explanation of the data

This is Occam's razor, of course. But the razor is not a rule of logic nor even a well-supported inference. Okasha explains this well:

The idea that simplicity or parsimony is the mark of a good explanation is quite appealing, and certainly helps flesh out the idea of IBE. But if scientists use simplicity as a guide to inference, this raises a problem. For how do we know that the universe is simple rather than complex? Preferring a theory that explains the data in terms of the fewest number of causes does seem sensible. But is there any objective reason for thinking that such a theory is more likely to be true than a less simple theory? Philosophers of science do not agree on the answer to this difficult question.

The razor is, in fact, an organized way to make a first approximation -- in simpler terms, a guess. It is often difficult, if not impossible, to determine which hypothesis is "simpler." Certainly, an omnipotent God can explain any and all results in one go ... as long as you're willing to accept the theological consequences.

But even if we grant that Occam's Razor is a valid criteria and God has a claim to being a simple cause, does that help ID? Let's not forget that Meyer is claiming that it is scientific materialism that is really at stake. But is Meyer positing ID in everything? Does it explain the weather, the nature of atoms and chemical reactions, the movements of the planets and all the myriad other facts about the world that science has explained so well? If not, then ID is positing two causes: natural causes for many things and ID for some subset of the world that is supposed to be designed. Methodological naturalism only posits one cause for natural phenomena.

But ID's invocation of an intelligence that stands outside nature -- God -- has another effect: it cannot, therefore, be science, because the cause cannot be scientifically tested. Darwin's theory could be tested in many ways and the wide areas of research it suggested was one of the most attractive aspects of it to scientists. The paucity of research in ID (even accepting the DI's count of the research done) shows how scarce are the means of testing it or the uses that it can be put to in explaining the workings of the world.

When Darwin argued that evolution was a better explanation than special creation, he was not arguing against a competing scientific explanation; he was arguing against natural theology, particularly of the sort formulated by William Paley in his book of the same name. In fact, in Darwin's time, there was no science to explain the nature of life, any more than, before Newton, there was any science to explain how the planets moved.

The situation has not changed in 150 years and Meyer's book, if we take his own preview to be a fair representation, has little prospect of changing that fact.

Sunday, June 14, 2009


Not Helping

From the American Family News Network's site, OneNewsNow:

Finn Laursen is executive director of Christian Educators Association International, of which [John] Freshwater is a member.

"I am pleased to see a public school teacher like John Freshwater willing to go outside his comfort zone and fight for the religious freedoms our forefathers guaranteed is through the U.S. Constitution," says Laursen. "It is imperative that all Christian educators, students, and parents be willing to step forward to insist on their rights -- or those rights will slowly be forfeited.

"John is proving to be a hero of the faith," he adds.

If, as Freshwater claims in his lawsuit, he wasn't teaching creationism or attempting to advance or inhibit any religion, this is not the image he wants to project.

That is, if anyone was supposed to believe him in the first place.


Rally 'Round the Flag!

Demonic forces intent on destroying the American way of life are attacking!

We are being invaded! ... overrun! ... assaulted on our own shores! ... by a foreign power trying to force its alien values upon us!

Worse, they are being led by a shadowy figure who sends his minions orders over the internet our own former vice president invented.

We must rise up and repel the invaders!

Saturday, June 13, 2009


Hopes and Desires

A thought:

Whether God exists is a metaphysical question. But there is also a neglected evaluative question about God's existence: Should we want God to exist? Very many, including many atheists and agnostics, appear to think we should. ... Some remarks by Thomas Nagel suggest an opposing view: that we should want God not to exist. I call this view anti-theism. ...

Thomas Nagel writes

I hope there is no God! I don't want there to be a God; I don't want the universe to be like that.

I don't know why Nagel is an anti-theist—to what he referring when he writes that he doesn't want the universe to be like that. But I suspect Nagel has in mind something like the following. A world in which God exists is a world where human beings stand in a distinctive and inescapable relation to another person. It is a world where we are the subordinates of a moral superior, a superior that deserves our allegiance and worship, and where we have been created to play a part in some divine cosmic plan. It is a world where everything about us is known and fully understood by another, a world where even our innermost thoughts and feelings are not entirely private. It is a world in which we are never truly alone, away from the presence and attention of another. And if the true nature of God is beyond human comprehension, it would also be a world that we can never hope to fully understand.

The idea is that God's existence is logically incompatible with the full realization of certain values. Thus a world in which God exists is a world where we would not be the moral equals of all other rational beings—equal members of a kingdom of ends that has no ruler. Such a world seems incompatible with complete independence, or with complete privacy and genuine solitude. And it might also be a world where it would be pointless for us to strive for a complete and unqualified understanding of the universe.

Philip Larkin wrote that "It was that verse about becoming again as a little child that caused the first sharp waning of my Christian sympathies." Imagine that instead of growing up to become an independent adult, you would forever remain a child, forever under the protection of wise and loving parents. Or imagine living in a land ruled by a benevolent monarch who, although keeping constant watch over everything his subjects do, grants them extensive liberties. These counterfactual worlds would be better, even much better, in various respects. Yet few of us, I believe, would prefer them to the way things actually are, however imperfect.

- Guy Kahane, "Should We Want God To Exist," Philosophy and Phenomenological Research (forthcoming)


Exegesis Excavations

David Klinghoffer is playing the 'Darwinism causes people to do bad things, so don't believe modern evolutionary science' card again.

It started this time with his post "James von Brunn, Evolutionist" at his blog, Kingdom of Priests at BeliefNet. Von Brunn is the lunatic white supremacist who shot up the Holocaust Museum, killing a guard. Basically, Klinghoffer is claiming that von Brunn is an "evolutionist," because he had views that Klinghoffer himself admits are "distorted" views of evolutionary theory but, nonetheless, von Brunn's crazed actions are supposedly part of "Darwinism's ongoing moral legacy."

Of course, in order to equate "Darwinism" with modern evolutionary theory, Klinghoffer has to keep switching back and forth between Darwin's admittedly 19th Century social views, including those that are, by 21st Century standards, racist and sexist, and today's science. In the course of this dishonest exercise, Klinghoffer, in order to try to link "Darwinism" with the eugenics movement, produces a quote mine of Darwin so dishonest even Ben Stein has repudiated it. He also has to speak of "Darwin believers," as if modern science is a religion wedded to the words of a prophet. And he has to commit the logical fallacy of an appeal to consequences:

[I]deas have consequences and knowing those consequences can rightly prompt us to look with renewed skepticism at a given idea, whether religious or scientific. 9/11 was a good reason to go back and take a second look at Islam. Not to reject it, but to consider it critically. The Crusades are a good reason to do the same with Christianity. Not to reject it, but to think twice. That's all.
Of course, it is one thing to question beliefs that are based on tradition and so-called "revelations," and quite another to question the empirical facts of the world as revealed by science. In fact, it is the basic precept of science -- that the universe is intelligible to human reason and powers of observation -- that creationists like Klinghoffer deplore ... making their attempts to get ID recognized as science all the more pathetic. But if we are questioning ideas, why not gravity? After all, the concept has been so abused in the past that we have come up with a separate word for it: "defenestration."

Having dug himself into a hole and ignoring the common sense advice in such an event to stop digging, Klinghoffer posted "What if James von Brunn Had Been an Intelligent Design Advocate?" Having had his hat ... and the attached head ... handed to him in the comments to those posts, Klinghoffer decamped to the Discovery Institute's propaganda outlet, Evolution News & Views ("The misreporting of the evolution issue is one key reason for this site."), where comments are not allowed, though he did, to his small credit, post a snippet and a link to EN&V at his Kingdom of Priests blog.

Rather than plow this ground again, I recommend reading the comments (one, two and three), particularly those of "Turmarion" and Glen Davidson. I do want to especially highlight this comment from Turmarion:

June 13, 2009 12:58 AM

Repeated from the previous post, since I still haven't got a response to my questions, it's pretty far down on the last, and I think the point bears repeating:

David: Why would the incredibly popular and influential work called Mein Kampf not be a reason to think twice about Darwinism? Not to reject it, but to get yourself properly informed and make up your own mind rather than simply go along with the prestige culture and media view.

Here David is fully (and falsely) equating a scientific theory with religion. In fact, further down, he says:

It doesn't negate the point to remind me that Hitler put his own wicked spin on kindly Charles Darwin's words...Nor that today's evolutionary scientists, unlike their fairly recent predecessors, do not truck with racism (though some certainly do truck with anti-religious agitation, reserving special venom for the God of the Hebrew Bible). All these same things could be said about religion-based haters of today and centuries past. They too distort their tradition. Yet they emerge from it, and so, again, that's a sound reason to give a second, skeptical look to the relevant religious traditions. (emphasis added)

This paragraph makes it completely clear that David views scientific theories (and like many Americans, he erroneously identifies "theory" with "hypothesis", which he further misunderstands as "mere guess") as pretty much no different from religions. It's especially ironic that he comments on those who "reserve special venom for the God of the Hebrew Bible", and then three sentences later says that distortion of religious tradition is a "sound reason to give a second, skeptical look to the relevant religious traditions." Given that the Hebrew Bible itself mandates genocide ("kill every one that pisseth against the wall"--I'm not going to bother to give specific quotes, since I've done it before--just read Joshua, Judges, I and II Samuel, and I and II Chronicles for highlights, and Google "Amalek"), this is, to say the least, either hilarious, droll, inconsistent, or way out there, depending on one's point of view.

By the way, as a Christian myself, I'm not attacking Christianity or Judaism. It's just that if the less savory aspects of the Hebrew Bible were brought up to David as an attack on his faith, he'd take issue with it, no doubt, but is at the same time claiming that negative fallout from religion merits a second look at those traditions. Can't have it both ways!

In any case, the equation of scientific theory and religion is totally specious. Evolution or any other scientific theory, regardless of any social, moral, or metaphysical implications, good or bad, stands or falls solely based on empirical grounds rooted in the scientific method. One might "make up one's own mind" about a religion, since no religion can be either proved or disproved empirically or philosophically; better or worse reasons for adherence might be put forth, but that's not the same as proof. On the other hand, regardless of evolution's reputed socio-cultural effects, "making up one's own mind" on it makes no more sense than making up one's own mind on the spherical shape of the Earth, or heliocentrism, or the speed of light. These are ; one may choose to reject them, just as one may insist that 2+2=743.1, but that doesn't alter the way the world is.

I've pointed out to David before, in this regard, that some historians of ideas have argued that the socio-cultural effects of the heliocentric cosmos were largely negative, and yet no one suggests it should be given "a second, skeptical look" or that geocentrism is true for these reasons. Of course, he has yet to address this.

Once more, this is just another example of David's using subtle and disingenuous rhetorical techniques to argue that evolution's truth or falsity depends on its social effects, real or otherwise, and to equate it with a religious belief. What's worse, he makes all these provocative statements linking evolution causally with Nazism, eugenics, and now murder, and then when he's called on it, he retreats back to a "I'm just sayin'" defense and saying it's not about rejecting evolution, but taking a second look at it and making up one's own mind. This is disingenuous and deceptive.

Finally, I notice that David still hasn't answered the questions I explicitly directed to him. If he is sincere in wanting dialogue, he should come clean. Otherwise, he is just engaging in talking points and ugly slurs that might play well with the ID/creationist community, but will only alienate anyone else.

Friday, June 12, 2009


Plumbing the Depths

Alan Keyes' Renew America site is a low-rent version of WingNutDaily entered in the ongoing limbo contest of "how low can you go" among the Rabid Right "media." One of Renew America's regular contributors is Rev. Michael Bresciani, self-described as a Christian author and a columnist for several online sites and magazines whose articles "are now read in every country in the world." Fortunately for it, most of the world can't read English.

His latest effort is another in the dreary line of "secularists (by which he obviously means "atheists") believe in evolution because they are rebelling against God" screeds that is even less imaginative than most. He actually drags out "the complexity of the human eye" as proof positive of intelligent design; claims it takes more faith to believe in evolution than in God; and appeals to "[s]omething within each of us ... [that] can't accept that a bolt of lightning hit the primordial ooze and out popped all this living and incredibly balanced and ecologically ordered living matter" as if it was a cogent argument.

Inevitably the fallacy of distribution pops up in the form of "evolution must be untrue because we don't know what caused the Big Bang." But here he displays some panache by so screwing up the idea of the Big Bang that it is the equivalent of the Three Stooges doing a plumbing job:

Somewhere back in time the nebulous gasses and particulates aimlessly wandering around the universe came together, and then by pure chance perhaps a cosmic lightning bolt ignited the entire cloud in a big bang. Behold, the universe was born!

Could someone turn off the water before the entire internet is flooded?

Thursday, June 11, 2009


Caught In the Middle

Two highly polarized camps agree on one thing: anyone who is trying to steer anything like a middle course and pragmatically achieve the socially possible, while attempting to move the debate in a progressive direction, is to be scorned.

No, I'm not talking about the reaction of both IDers and "incompatiblists" towards theistic evolutionists. This time it's the reaction of fundamentalists and some portions of the LGBT community to President Obama's quiet proclamation of LGBT Pride Month. As described by Nick Street:

One of the ironies in the broader reaction to Obama's maneuvering around the issue of legal parity for queerfolk in various domains of American life is the fact that, like the busybodies on the religious right, many of my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters have a hard time letting themselves feel good about this president.

Among the reactions:

"Homosexuality is nothing to be proud of," Peter LaBarbera told One News Now, the online news division of the American Family Association. "The fact is people have left the lifestyle," said LaBarbera, president of Americans for Truth About Homosexuality. "People have overcome homosexuality—I think that's something to be proud of." ...

"Obama is a better friend to Rick Warren's constituency than to LGBT," one "homosexual activist" remarked, apropos of the White House press release, on the Advocate's Web site. "In fact, Obama is not now and has never been a friend of LGBT. I didn't believe his lies before November 4, 2008, and I don't believe his lies now."

Street calls it the "unanimity of displeasure among restive queerfolk and the modern-day Pharisees who lovingly hate them."

It isn't the only arena where the concept applies.

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How to Support Science Education