Sunday, February 28, 2010


Why the Banner is Star-Spangled


The incident began on a Wednesday in late January, when the girl did not stand for the pledge. Her teacher yelled at her, demanded that she stand and then sent her to the office for her defiance, Quereshi said. The school system confirmed the sequence of events.

The next morning, the girl again refused to stand for the pledge. This time, the teacher called two school police officers to the classroom to escort the girl to the office.

That was not an incident in a private school. The teacher was using the power of the state not only to humiliate a student but to physically intimidate her.

Fortunately, the school realizes how inappropriate the teacher's behavior was:

A school spokesman said Tuesday that the teacher's actions were a clear violation of the school's regulations, which are based on state law. The teacher, who also has not been identified by either side, will have to apologize to the student, spokesman Dana Tofig said.

"The policy is very, very clearly stated," Tofig said. "Our teachers are expected to know the students' rights and responsibilities. . . . A mistake has been made, and it will be rectified."

Given that the student was reportedly "mocked by other children in her class," the ACLU is exactly correct that the teacher should not only personally apologize to the student and promise to respect her rights in the future but that the incident should then be discussed in the class so it can become an educational opportunity. Anyone who thinks that might be too humiliating for the teacher or undermine her authority should just remember how humiliating it is to be dragged off by police for exercising one's Constitutional rights or how the authority of the Constitution, the supreme law of our land, is undermined by petty bureaucrats with delusions of grandeur.


Oh, Canada!



And congratulations to the American team that made it such a thrilling tournament!

Good sports all around!

Fun and Games Among the Faithful

The Florida Times-Union has an article, "Understanding why the Christianity-science divide is important: Is it merely academic, or is the schism a real issue for all of us?," that shows that most Christians are not yet successfully dealing with the issue. It leads off with a (simplistic) form of Pascal's Wager from a lay person:

"If I'm right, those other guys are going to be in trouble," [Mike Hardee] said, referring to eternal torment. "If they're right, I'm just going to turn to dust and be fertilizer."
Then it moves to a young-Earth creationist:

To [Richard Overman, president of Creation Education Resources, a Middleburg-based ministry that promotes the literal interpretation of biblical creation], Scripture is clear: The Earth was created precisely as described in Genesis, which, he said, makes the planet more than 6,000 years old.

"One day is one day, not eons" as some Christians say, he said.

"If you read the Bible and you take it at face value, you get some very clear meaning from it," Overman said. "So what Satan does is he tries to convince Christians and non-Christians that's it's not true, [and] he does that by trying to use science."

Overman, who leads fossil-hunting trips and lectures church and home school groups about creation science, said he is most often asked to square dinosaurs with his theological views.

That's easy, he said: Dinosaurs existed, were on Noah's ark, and went extinct like any other species within the past six millennia.

The real issue isn't whether T-Rex existed but how it's used to undermine creationism, which in turn could erode belief in other biblical tenets, such as the divinity of Christ or that marriage should be between one man and one woman, Overman said.

"It's a spiritual battle," he said of the debate.
Riiight! Science is Satan's way of supporting the Gays! And ignorance is a spiritual duty. Next we have a Christian who looks for more compatibility:

For [Charles Foster, British author of The Selfless Gene: Living with God and Darwin], however, faith suffers most in that either-or battle between what he described as "the extreme right wing factions" of the science-versus-faith debate.

"Young Earth" creationists ignore the growing body of evidence supporting some elements of natural selection while hard-core atheists are "misrepresenting the scientific record [because] they can't cope with nuance," Foster said.

The nuance they overlook includes altruistic behaviors in various species that point to a loving intelligence behind creation that contradicts the narrow and cruel "survival of the fittest" view of evolution, Foster said.

Seeing evidence of altruism helps a person to "continue to believe that God is good" while embracing scientific discoveries.

If Christians believe their God is one of truth, they should "have a passionate interest in science and the Bible."
Ummm ... "atheists," otherwise known as "scientists" in rational circles, have not ignored altruism but, instead, have proposed testable models to explain how "fit" organisms would develop such behavior. In short, it is not inconsistent that survival of the fittest, which, after all, is a metaphor, can result in "altruistic" behavior. It does no good to have a passionate interest in science if you don't have a passionate interest in understanding science.

If you don't want to fudge science, you can always fudge scripture:

The Rev. James A. Hull, senior pastor at North Jacksonville Church of God, doesn't go "berserko-crazy" over the issue because science will eventually prove biblical teachings to be true. He cited a verse in the Hebrew scriptures referring to "the circle of the Earth" - more than a thousand years before scientists concluded that the Earth is round.

"Given enough time ... you'll find that science and the Bible really do jibe together," Hull said.
Errr ... a "circle" is not the same thing as a "sphere."

The closest to sense in the article was this:

Christians shouldn't be concerned when science contradicts faith - or seems to do so, [Rev. Ted Pisarchuk, rector of St. Justin Martyr Orthodox Church in Jacksonville] said. Nor should they get overly excited when a scientific finding seems to bolster something in the Bible.

"We can get really silly with all of this - whether there was a flood or not, it doesn't matter," he said. "I believe there was ... but God is bigger than all of this."
It is silly to try to jam revelation into science or vice versa. The fact that Christians keep trying demonstrates that they have not yet come to grips with science.



Earl Harrison is a certified professional geologist in Abilene, Texas.

He has an article in the Abilene Reporter-News explaining that "[t]he earthquake that devastated the island of Haiti was the result of natural and explainable earth processes." He explains the crust, the mantle and the core of the Earth; the forces that lead to the fracturing of the crust and the seismic waves that do the damage.

One might suppose he was countering the Robertsonian itch to lay the blame on God.

Not so much:

As we take a look at the intelligent design of the creation of our solar system, with this earth being included, we must conclude that the total creation was the handy-work of a "Supreme Intelligence" force, which we credit to God.

For the atheist, agnostics and any other nonbeliever, there is no other possible answer. They cannot prove otherwise.

In the creation, God instilled all of the principle physical forces in the creation that would preserve the creation and control its continued existence. There cannot be any other logical conclusion for the creation.

Simply stating that a conclusion is "logical" doesn't make it so, of course, perhaps especially when the only support given for the conclusion is that it can't be "proven" wrong. One might wonder why Mr. Harrison's Supreme Intelligence couldn't have done a better job designing the Earth so it wouldn't fracture and kill a quarter million people in one go but I suppose that all-purpose excuse about an apple, a girl and a serpent would be used to explain why natural and explainable earth processes so often wind up killing and maiming us sinners.

Saturday, February 27, 2010


Metaphysical Science

A thought:

A generation's worth of philosophers sought and failed to find a clean demarcation between science and non-science. For our purposes, it's better to think of this as the line between epistemically worthy and unworthy pursuits. No plausible necessary and sufficient conditions were ever found for being epistemically worthy. That doesn't mean there isn't a difference, however. There is a large difference between the modern synthesis in biology and creationism, between chemistry and homeopathy, and so on. The failure to articulate a sharp division means only that what we count as epistemically worthy is quite diverse and assessed along so many dimensions that it's hard to narrow the criteria down to something simply state-able. The marks are clear enough: empirical adequacy, simplicity, novel predictions, novel explanations, unification, consilience, and more. The metric by which we tolerate trade-offs among these virtues is less clear.

Now, as it happens, we have these concepts, 'metaphysics' and 'science'. There is no sharp difference between the two. To a rough approximation, we can think of metaphysical claims as more abstract and distantly related to experiment than scientific claims. Bear in mind that there is of course a lot of theory and metatheory in science, but at some point we start classifying the theory and metatheory 'metaphysics'.

-Craig Callender, "Philosophy of Science and Metaphysics"

Friday, February 26, 2010


Fishy Story

The Dallas Observerer has more on George M. Clayton, the Republican primary opponent of Geraldine "Tincy" Miller, one of the more moderate Republicans on the Texas State Board of Education. Asked why he was running, Clayton replied:

"I think the state board needs an educator," replied Clayton, 60, an academic coordinator and English administrator at North Dallas High School.

Fair enough. But then:

Unfair Park tried to pin Clayton down on where he stood on the GOP conservative spectrum -- using a form of reportorial shorthand. We asked him how old the Earth is, figuring anything in the 10,000-year range would peg him as a religious conservative.

"I'm not going to cut it half and count the rings," Clayton replied cannily.

That's not an "educator's" response, that's a politician's ... a cute answer to evade a question, that has nothing to do with why science knows the Earth is old.

Then there is the elephant in the room (and the author of the post, to his credit, takes it on directly):

Clayton said evolution is and should remain in science classrooms, but he thinks the alternative theories supported by the religious right -- intelligent design and creationism -- can "find a real nice home" in humanities, philosophy or world history classes.

"It's seems to me you can't be taught the one [evolution] without the other [creationism]," Clayton said. "It's an impossibility to talk about evolution without mentioning creationism."

Right. Of course. You can't have physics without metaphysics. Can't teach marine biology without mentioning mermaids.

George Clayton ... the mermaid candidate for the TSBE.

Thursday, February 25, 2010


Carnival of Elitist Bastards XXI

Better late than never, the Carnival is up at Slobber and Spittle. I liked this from "Next stop: Finlandskii Vokzal" at Electric Worry:

I'm not a Commie, not by nature. I guess that i'd call myself a libertarian-socialist if you forced me to declare a political ideology. Note which word i put first; i did it for a reason, though my idea of libertarianism probably requires a little explaining. I have no fundamental problem with economic libertarianism. Sure, it's mostly powered by unicorn farts and pixie dust, but apparently even grown men need their fairy tales. Who am i to take away another man's John Galt fetish fantasies. My problem with 99% of people who say, "I'm a libertarian," is that they seem to think that the only liberty that counts has to do with property and money. We almost never see the "libertarians" among us talking about all the other liberties we used to enjoy more fully. That's probably because most of them have a John Galt fetish, idolize a thoroughly terrible "philosopher" like Rand and so assume that other liberties magically materialize from property. See, unicorn farts.



Oh My God -- It's Full of Stars!

PZ Myearshertz has the funny story of the South Dakota legislature making (bigger) fools out of themselves over climate change. The House actually passed the following (you can go here and click on the link for 02/17/20/10, though the Senate made 'em change it):

That there are a variety of climatological, meteorological, astrological, thermological, cosmological, and ecological dynamics that can effect world weather phenomena and that the significance and interrelativity of these factors is largely speculative ...
Well, it is dark in there.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010


Anti-Evolutionary Liberalism

Here is a study that's sure to sure to ruffle some feathers:

More intelligent people are statistically significantly more likely to exhibit social values and religious and political preferences that are novel to the human species in evolutionary history. Specifically, liberalism and atheism, and for men (but not women), preference for sexual exclusivity correlate with higher intelligence, a new study finds. ...

The theory suggests that more intelligent people are more likely than less intelligent people to adopt evolutionarily novel preferences and values, but intelligence does not correlate with preferences and values that are old enough to have been shaped by evolution over millions of years."

"Evolutionarily novel" preferences and values are those that humans are not biologically designed to have and our ancestors probably did not possess. In contrast, those that our ancestors had for millions of years are "evolutionarily familiar." ...

[Satoshi Kanazawa, an evolutionary psychologist at the London School of Economics and Political Science] argues that humans are evolutionarily designed to be conservative, caring mostly about their family and friends, and being liberal, caring about an indefinite number of genetically unrelated strangers they never meet or interact with, is evolutionarily novel. So more intelligent children may be more likely to grow up to be liberals.

Data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health) support Kanazawa's hypothesis. Young adults who subjectively identify themselves as "very liberal" have an average IQ of 106 during adolescence while those who identify themselves as "very conservative" have an average IQ of 95 during adolescence.

Similarly, religion is a byproduct of humans' tendency to perceive agency and intention as causes of events, to see "the hands of God" at work behind otherwise natural phenomena. "Humans are evolutionarily designed to be paranoid, and they believe in God because they are paranoid," says Kanazawa. This innate bias toward paranoia served humans well when self-preservation and protection of their families and clans depended on extreme vigilance to all potential dangers. "So, more intelligent children are more likely to grow up to go against their natural evolutionary tendency to believe in God, and they become atheists."

Young adults who identify themselves as "not at all religious" have an average IQ of 103 during adolescence, while those who identify themselves as "very religious" have an average IQ of 97 during adolescence.

Excuse me while I get a couple of tons of salt grains.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


Bad Philosophy

The reviews are coming in fast and furious on Jerry Fodor's and Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini's new book What Darwin Got Wrong and/or their précis at New Scientist and it ain't pretty. Perhaps the most devastating review is by Ned Block and Philip Kitcher at Boston Review, entitled "Misunderstanding Darwin."

PZ Myers has two posts: "Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini get everything wrong" and "Scattered shots against Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini."

Brian Switek has "Jerry Fodor: Still getting it wrong about evolution" and Bob O'Hara has "Jerry Fodor Fails Evolution 101. Again."

The nine-fingered antipodean philosopher has "Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini on natural selection."

This isn't likely to get any better.

Monday, February 22, 2010


To the Rescue?

Ix-nay on the elp-hay!

That's no doubt what the drones at the Discoveryless Institute must be thinking. The folks at the American Family News Network's OneNewsNow "Christian news service" are out to refute the claim made in a book by University of California–Irvine evolutionary biologist John Avise that, while both natural selection in conjunction with genetic processes and Intelligent Design can account for complex biological systems, only evolution can account for "serious biological imperfections." So, how does the OneNewsNow article respond? After the usual creationist bafflegab that "information-adding genetic mutations have never been observed" (a falsehood based on equivocation as to what "information" is), it goes on to say:

[B]iological imperfections are quite consistent with a "post-Fall" world. God created life perfectly, but the effects of the Curse—especially destructive genetic mutations and disease—have partially obscured the original perfect creation with "biological imperfections." For these reasons, we contend that a combination of "intelligent design" plus a genuine, historical Fall can explain our impressive-but-imperfect biology.

In other words, the only way they can think to "rescue" ID is to appeal to God, and a particular biblical God at that. But ID has nothing to do with religion, it's only about the science! ... Except when you ask anyone who espouses it the right question.

The funny thing is that Avise's argument isn't very good (assuming he's being quoted correctly). First, and most importantly, ID doesn't account for complex biological systems ... unless you consider "and then ... poof ... something happened, somehow at some time or other" an explanation. Furthermore, as has been pointed out, by Elliot Sober, among others, the argument from bad design suffers from a serious flaw: it depends on knowing the means and motives of an unknown (and, in the case of an infinite and omniscient God, unknowable) agent. Specifically, it assumes that such an agent wanted to and could produce superefficient traits in each and every organism.

The argument from bad design is not a scientific argument but, rather, a theological one. The question really is: "what would God want?" or, in the case of the OneNewsNow response: "what kind of God, after having made a creature destined to fail (he/she/it is supposed to be omniscient, after all!), then refuses to correct his error and start over but, instead, punishes all the rest of creation for the failings of just two individuals?"

Those may be good theological questions but they are not empiric and testable ones.

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Sunday, February 21, 2010


Texas-Style Education

The ridiculous Cynthia Dunbar will be leaving the Texas State Board of Education but voters will have scant chance of reducing the clown content of the board if they rely on the local Republican party. The three Republican candidates for Dunbar's open seat are: Dr. Marsha Farney of Georgetown, Dr. Rebecca Osborne of the Austin part of Williamson County and patent attorney Brian Russell of Austin and Travis County. Russell is Dunbar's personal choice, whose main qualification seems to be that he got the Texas Republican Executive Committee to pass a resolution calling upon the Republican members of the State Board of Education to support the retention of the "strengths and weaknesses" language in the Texas science standards, officially making the results of science and educational content a partisan political issue.

According to this report, the three stooges ... er ... Republican candidates had this to say about science education:

Mr. Russell said that he is a strong supporter of "intelligent design" and students should be encouraged to "critique, evaluate, and analyze all scientific data." Dr. Farney said that she is a Christian who believes that "God created the heavens and the earth." She said that "evolution should be taught as a theory only." Dr. Osborne said, "This is an area where I see a big disconnect between the classroom and the state board." She believes teachers should be prepared to handle discussions such as those that arise from issues such as these and teachers should not be afraid to discuss it.
Their take on sex education is equally blinkered, as far as I can tell:

Mr. Russell wants the public schools to teach "directed abstinence." Dr. Farney agreed but added that the abstinence classes should be taught by gender, with the male students taught by a male teacher and so forth. Dr. Osborne would like to encourage more parental involvement in this issue and more "character education" classes.
What the heck "directed abstinence" is I haven't a clue but bet it is a pseudonym for keeping children ignorant, much like "strengths and weaknesses" is to education in evolution.

Dr. Judy Jennings is apparently the Democratic candidate. Whether or not they know it, the school children of Texas wish her well.

Saturday, February 20, 2010


The Confluence of All Lunacy

That would be the ever ridiculous WingNutDaily and, in particular, the even more ridiculous Ellis Washington, who "graces" its virtual pages. His latest screed, "Darwin is freezing over," really has to be seen to believed. The manner in which he connects Anthropogenic Global Warming, evolution, humanism and "shyster lawyers" is truly a textbook case of muddled thinking, the engine of which is willy-nilly correlation without any attempt to demonstrate causation, as exemplified in this:

In America we have record-shattering snowstorms and cold fronts from Florida to Alaska. Presently there is snow in 49 of our 50 states. Global-warming patron saint Al Gore is nowhere to be found because he knows he would be laughed to scorn at any venue where he appeared. Even a Senate committee hearing discussing the impacts of global warming was canceled last week due to record-breaking snowstorms in America's capital.

Ordinary citizens can just look out their windows and see that the premise behind anthropogenic (man-caused) global warming is a complete deception that the United Nations has wasted untold hundreds of billions of dollars funding.
Of course, weather is not the same as climate (though sometimes lay people on the other side of the "debate" can make the same error, as in proclaiming a particularly bad hurricane season as evidence of warming). There is good reason to expect snow to get worse, at least for a time, as the planet warms. But there is no need for Washington and his ilk to actually examine the evidence because their minds can only go directly between their prejudices and their conclusions, with only the briefest stopover to visit anything approaching "fact."

And, indeed, if no, even faux, fact exists, they will simply fill one in, as Washington does when he calls Darwin "an unremarkable British naturalist." In fact, Darwin was a well-respected naturalist with a reputation for important and careful work long before he published the Origin, which was one of the reasons his theory (as far as common descent was concerned, though not natural selection) was so quickly accepted by the scientific community. And when made-up facts are not enough, there is simply name-calling, as where Washington calls Darwin's theory "diabolical."

But the bottom line is this from Washington:

I cannot help to see this manmade climate change scam being our modern-day equivalent to Charles Darwin's theory of evolution 150 years ago, which I consider scientific mythology or fairy tales for adults.
Washington is exactly correct about that ... just not in the way he thinks he is.


P.S. As the Sensuous Curmudgeon has reminded me, Washington starts out with a quote mine of Darwin:

… I am quite conscious that my speculations run beyond the bounds of true science. ... It is a mere rag of an hypothesis with as many flaw[s] and holes as sound parts.

~ Charles Darwin, letter to Asa Gray
You can go to the Quote Mine Project to see the context.

I had noted the quote mine and intended to comment on it but, after such a concentrated dose of stupidity, even my brain, well-acclimatized as it is to creationist bafflegab, can become stunned and unresponsive.


Friday, February 19, 2010


Hitlerian Science

A thought:

In [Sir Karl] Popper's view then, there are two contexts in which we might investigate the history of science and the story of how certain theories come to be developed and accepted, namely the context of discovery and the context of justification. This view accords with an intuition about the autonomy of ideas from the people that have them. It is no argument against vegetarianism to point out that Hitler was a vegetarian; similarly it is no argument against Newtonian mechanics to point out that Newton was an alchemist, and had an obsessive interest in the apocryphal books of the Bible. On the other hand, it is no argument for pacifism to point out that Einstein was a pacifist. In general, the evidence in favour of a hypothesis is independent of who believes it and who doesn't, and whether an idea really is a good one is not at all dependent on whether it is a genius or a fool who first thinks of it. It seems plausible to argue that an evaluation of the evidence for a hypothesis ought to take no account of how, why and by whom the hypothesis was conceived. Some such distinction between the causal origins of scientific theories and their degree of confirmation is often thought to be important for the defence of the objectivity of scientific knowledge.

- James Ladyman, Understanding the Philosophy of Science

Thursday, February 18, 2010


A Day At the Museum

I spent the day at the American Museum of Natural History, so this is all you're getting today.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


Texas Horse Races

I previously noted the race for the GOP nomination by Tim Tuggey, a lawyer and lobbyist from Austin, against the right-wing culture warrior, Ken Mercer, for the Texas State Board of education. Now we have an article, entitled "Grading on a Curve, or: How Old Do Those State Board of Education Candidates Think the Earth Is, Anyway? Let's Ask!," at the Dallas News Blog, giving a little bit more information on the views of Tuggy, and more on the GOP opponent of Don McLeroy, Legislative consultant Thomas Ratliff from Mount Pleasant:

Do these races -- and a handful of others -- spell a GOP shift for moderation on a once-little known board that has become a battleground over über-conservative issues like teaching creationism in Texas classrooms? Yes, says Dan Quinn, communications director for the Texas Freedom Network, an Austin-based watchdog group that keeps tabs on the board's right wing. (Somebody's gotta do it. Lord knows voters haven't paid the board much attention until recently.)

Of course "moderate," especially when applied to Republican office seekers, is a slippery term -- maybe "not radical" is more accurate.

"Not radical" would be a refreshing change. According to Quinn:

The language we've seen them use throughout their campaigns has made it appear that they're going to be a lot more open to listening to what experts have to say about the best way to teach kids instead of political ideologues who are more interested in pushing an agenda. ... In the Republican Party today that's considerably more moderate.

Radcliff, however, appears to want to avoid the "honor" of being labeled a moderate in Texas politics:

I think the state board isn't focused on education," Ratliff says. "They're too focused on politics regardless of what the politics is. I think they need return the focus on public schools and not who's the best Republican or who's conservative or moderate or liberal. I want to make it nonpartisan as possible rather than making it an ideological war ... an inter-party squabble if you will.

Radcliff, asked how old he thinks the Earth is, replied:

"Millions and millions if not billions of years," he says. "I'm not an expert on carbon dating." But he does think the planet is significantly older than, say, 10,000 years, unlike his opponent.

He's not very scientifically literate and, of course, that tells us nothing about the real elephant in the room, evolution, but it's better than McLeroy.

There is another religious-right seat up for grabs, since the ridiculous Cynthia Dunbar is retiring. There are three candidates in the GOP primary in her district. One is her hand-picked loon, Brian Russell, who Quinn calls "Cynthia Dunbar in pants." Another is Rebecca Osborne, who has been endorsed by Texas Parent PAC, a bipartisan group that favors more funding and enhanced local control over schools that has also endorsed Tuggey and Radcliff. No information is given about the third candidate, not even his/her name.

On the other hand, Geraldine "Tincy" Miller, one of the more moderate Republicans, is facing a challenge from an "educator" who has said:

I have absolutely no objection to Creationism, Intelligent Design, and evolution being covered in public schools so long as they are covered simultaneously -- in a parallel lesson. All must be discussed objectively, without bias or prejudice. Evolution is yet still a 'theory.'


Tuesday, February 16, 2010


A Circle of Theologians

Jay Richards is a "philosopher" who I have written about before and who was co-author with Guillermo Gonzalez of The Privileged Planet: How Our Place in the Cosmos is Designed for Discovery, during the course of which Gonzalez was ignoring his work in astronomy, leading, eventually, to his being denied tenure. Richards is over at the Discovery [sic] Institute's Ministry of Misinformation weighing in (has anyone got one of these?) on the Stephen Barr article that is causing so much agita among ID apologists.

The reason for the scare quotes is that he is endorsing this view of Michael Behe's claims:

Consider Mike Behe. When he is discussing the bacterial flagellum, he is evaluating the powers and limits of regular, repetitive physical laws (or, as I would say, of matter insofar as it acts according to these laws), and of the Darwinian "mechanism"—natural selection and random genetic mutation. He concludes that these processes, which are not intelligent agents per se, probably don't have the power, by themselves, to produce the bacterial flagellum. That's because the locomotive function of the flagellum is inaccessible to the cumulative power of natural selection. It is, as Behe says, "irreducibly complex." It needs many separate parts working together before it gets the survival-benefitting function. That's the negative part of his argument.

To get a working flagellum, according to Behe, you need foresight—the exclusive jurisdiction of intelligent agents. That's the positive part of his argument—not just against the adequacy of selection and mutation, but for intelligent design. An agent can produce a system for a future purpose, for an end. Now it's the obvious purpose of the flagellum, along with the fact that it is almost surely inaccessible to Darwinian selection—not merely the fact that it's really complicated—that justifies his conclusion that the bacterial flagellum is better explained by intelligent design than by repetitive natural laws or the Darwinian mechanism.
So, the flagellum's present function is its "purpose" that it and any precursors must have been aimed at; purpose only come from "agents;" therefore, we know that an agent aimed at making the flagellum because it has a purpose. People making such tight circular arguments are in danger of disappearing up their own butt and any "philosopher" worth his salt would recognize it and point it out.

But it easy to see why Richards doesn't, because he is, in fact, a theologian:

But it's a misunderstanding to construe Behe's arguments as complete descriptions of what God is doing. He is talking about detectible design in a subfield of biology, in which physical constants are treated as given, and the limits of mutation and natural selection can be discerned. In the case of the bacterial flagellum, intelligent design goes beyond what known, repetitive, natural processes, as well as selection and mutation would do if left to their ordinary capacities. So we invoke intelligent design rather than impersonal processes alone here. Contrary to Barr's argument-free assertions, this is not an appeal to go "beyond science" or a claim that science is incompetent. It's an argument for why science ought to include teleology within its explanatory toolbox if it wants to adequately account for major aspects of nature. [Emphasis in the original]
And, of course, despite previous claims that the "Designer" could be a space alien or other natural agent, it's God. But ID isn't religious at all ... nosiree Bob!

And how are they intending to get God into science? Why, the usual way:

Anyone familiar with ID will know that Barr is simply defining science to exclude consideration of intelligence, whereas the burden of ID is arguments is to show that intelligence is within the purview of science properly construed. ...

When an ID theorist in question is also a theist, then these distinctions are always in the background, even if they don't show up in every argument. That's because ID arguments often focus on discrete, empirical evidence of design in nature—that is, with "design" insofar as it is detectible and tractable in an open-minded scientific framework.
Wedge Document anyone? ... Or, for that matter, 1 Timothy 6:20?

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Monday, February 15, 2010


The Sound of One Coyne Clapping

Jerry Coyne February 14, 2010:

It always amuses me when accommodationists, especially the atheistic ones, tell religious people what they're supposed to believe, or where they're supposed to find comfort.
Jerry Coyne February 15, 2010:

Once again we see that modern theology is the art of turning empirical necessities into spiritual virtues. Except for a few dissenters like Augustine and Calvin, the bulk of Christian theology up to the rise of science in the sixteenth century involved seeing the Bible literally—in its entirety. ...

This is, I think, what Dawkins means when he claims that Biblical literalists are the most honest among believers. They don't water down the Bible by picking and choosing what must be true versus what must be metaphor. On what warrant can [professor of Biblical studies Kenyon] Sparks assert that the Biblical account of the origin of plants, animals, and humans is just a metaphor, but the birth of Jesus, well, that occurred via parthenogenesis?


Tempest, Meet Teacup!

There's been a mini-fracas (defined as: the Undiscovery Institute and other ID apologists having a cow about science supporters re-shelving creationist works from the "science" section of bookstores to the "religion" section). The "culprit" in this case was the inestimable Michael Barton of The Dispersal of Darwin and he has a summary, with links, of the whole giggle-fest.

I have to confess that I would not re-shelve books myself, unless the store's catalog showed that they were wrongly shelved in the first place, because it is often hard enough to find books I want to find, especially in the big chain stores, and I wouldn't want to make it harder for anyone who wants to read to find what they want to read, even if it is dreck. Ken Perrott at Open Parachute has a nice take on it:

[W]hy bother re-shelving. This is the way I see it:

1. If creationist books are wrongly placed in the science section this should reduce sales as creationists usually don't visit that section. They would sell better in the religion section. Just imagine how uncomfortable it would be if you were forced into the religion section when looking for a science book. Many science people would give up looking before that resorted to that.

2. It's not as if a non-creationist is going to buy the book while perusing possible science purchases. Unless they really want to anyway to use as a reference.

3. If creationists are forced unwittingly into looking at shelves of science books in their desire to find a specific creationist book that can be only a good thing, surely.

So I say live and let live. It will all work out well in the end.

Mind you, it is fun watching the Discovery Institute foam at the mouth.

And that is the bottom line: anyone who thinks ID is a good scientific argument is also likely to spend a sizable amount of time perusing the religion section anyway and re-shelving won't mean that they will be long deprived of the chance to waste their money and their mind on bogus books. Conversely, someone looking to learn about science will be somewhat less likely to inadvertently spend their hard-earned money on faux versions of it.

Whether re-shelving results in a net good to that part of American society that can even find its way to a bookstore ... or recognize what it is selling ... is an open question.

But what isn't open to debate is that the DI and their fellow apologists are making fools of themselves ... even more than usual.

Sunday, February 14, 2010


Philosophizing ID

There is an interesting exchange between Nick Matzke and Francis J. Beckwith in the comments to the Stephen Barr article at First Things that I mentioned before.

Well, calling it an exchange might not be quite right. Nick made a generic comment that you can find by searching the page for the phrase "The ID movement is rather heterogeneous" (unfortunately there's no urls for individual comments).

Then Nick responded to comments by Beckwith (which I cannot find and may have been removed or come from somewhere else). You can find this comment by Nick by searching on "I just realized that [blockquote] tags don't work here".

There follows a number of long comments by Beckwith primarily aimed at showing that he was never an IDer himself, despite arguing that ID can be taught in public school science classes and despite his having been a fellow of the Discoveryless Institute. How successful he is at doing that I'll leave to the reader (you might want to particularly read the section containing "I was considering resigning as a DI fellow in late summer 2003". I'll only say that Beckwith has been by far the most erudite and philosophical of the IDers or their fellow travelers (yes, I'm deliberately mocking Beckwith's suggestion that the scientific opposition to ID may be a new McCarthyism) but that is not inconsistent with a certain amount of academic CYA.

You can find Beckwith's comments by searching on these phrases:

First, when it comes to ID, sometimes I feel like this guy

Then show me in one place--in all my published works--where I defend ID

First, ID is not "an argument."
Three things Beckwith says in these comments interest me enough to address them. First is this:

The term "intelligent design" has become ubiquitous in American popular culture as the most recognizable alternative to Darwinian evolution since the ascendancy of "Creationism" (or "Creation Science"). Although "Creationism" and "Intelligent Design" are each offered by their respective proponents as alternative accounts of Darwinian evolution, they are not identical, even though some writers in fact claim that they are identical. (One particularly annoying habit on the part of these writers is to refer to "Intelligent Design" as "Intelligent Design Creationism" for the apparent purpose of instilling in their readers the practice of thinking that "guilt by association" is intellectually virtuous). It seems to me that their confusion (if it is truly a confusion rather than just a form of McCarthyism) rests on two indisputable facts: (1) some ID advocates run in the same circles as some Creationists, and (2) Some ID criticisms to Darwinian evolution resemble, and are in some cases identical to, Creationist criticisms of Darwinian evolution. But that is a weak argument, for we can marshal just as bad a case against Darwinians who deny that their view supports atheism: (1) many politically passionate Darwinians run in the same circles as some atheists, (2) most Darwinian critiques of Creationism and ID are practically indistinguishable from atheist criticisms of Creationism and ID, and (3) most defenses of atheism maintain that Darwinian evolution is a defeater to theism. These facts, like the ones about Creationism and ID, are indisputable. So, it seems that "guilt by association" is a game that each side can play. ...

Moreover, some design arguments embraced by ID advocates are also embraced by ID critics! For example, two strong critics of ID, former Human Genome Project director Francis Collins and Brown University biologist Ken Miller, both Christians, defend the plausibility of design arguments that support some form of theism. Miller, who testified as an expert witness for the plaintiffs in the Kitzmiller case, maintains that the alignment of the cosmic constants soon after the Big Bang points toward an extra-natural mind as the Intelligent Cause of the universe. Collins agrees, but also offers an argument for the existence of God from the existence of the moral law, not unlike C. S. Lewis' argument in Mere Christianity. The sorts of cosmic "fine-tuning" arguments presented by Collins and Miller are also defended by thinkers associated with The Discovery Institute (DI), the Seattle think-tank that is in the forefront in supporting ID research.
This would be a fair point if we were discussing "creationism" in a context divorced from the political attempt to control what is taught in public schools. But we're not. In the context of Edwards v. Aguillard, "creationism" is the attempt to dress up religious ideas about the nature of life in scientific garb so that they can be endorsed by government employees who are educating children.

But Miller and Collins make no pretense that their beliefs are science. This is the difference between a philosopher appealing to some fact about the world, as revealed by science, in support of her philosophy and actually doing science. Nor do Miller and Collins lobby to have their beliefs taught as science in government schools. Even such an uber-"neo-atheist" as Jerry Coyne recognizes the difference between metaphysics and science and does not wish to teach science as if it is coextensive with atheism or philosophical naturalism:

And [Michael] Ruse, who seems to pride himself on his sophisticated knowledge of theology, runs completely aground when he equates teaching Darwinism with teaching atheism. I don't know of a single evolutionist who teaches atheism in their classrooms, or who even says in the classroom that Darwinism is tantamount to atheism. Show me, Dr. Ruse, one atheist who violates freedom of religion by saying, "God does not exist" in the public school (or even the university) classroom. Yes, teaching evolution may have the side result of eroding some peoples' faith, but, as I've pointed out before, the erosion of faith can occur in the geology classroom, the astronomy classroom, the ethics classroom, and even in the theology classroom! (How many believers have lost their faith when learning about how the Bible was actually put together?) As the respect for rational discourse increases, as it should with a good education, the respect for religion will erode. But that doesn't mean that a good education violates the First Amendment.
Thus, there is a factor missing from Beckwith's argument that provides a clear distinction that allows us to place ID apologists in the category of "creationists" and that fails to place those who oppose ID in the category of "atheists." Since ID advocates do seek to have their religious arguments taught in public schools (or, through the "strengths and weaknesses" ploy, to have all their arguments taught while just not using the words "Intelligent Design," in the same way the "cdesign proponentsists" made all the same arguments that "scientific creationists" did, just excluding the word "creation"), it is completely fair to call ID creationism.

Another thing that interests me was this from Beckwith:

As I was rereading chapter 3 of my book [Law, Darwinism, and Public Education] the other day, it occurred to me that I had mistakenly conflated two issues: (1) whether science as a discipline should be methodologically naturalist, and (2) whether our philosophy of nature should be methodologically naturalist.

I explain this in greater detail in a forthcoming series of blog posts that will appear on BioLogos.
Beckwith had previously dropped by my blog to deny he is an IDer. He claimed that his "project":

... addressed the question of whether certain sorts of arguments critical to philosophical materialism could be offered in a modest and tangential way in a public school science class. And the answer, of course, is clearly yes. ID was, of course, the most interesting proposal at the time I was in law school (2000-01). Today, if I had to rewrite my dissertation, I would be more careful to distinguish different sorts of challenges that are not affiliated with the ID movement. I sort of did that by treating ID as a kind of general category for all points of view that deny philosophical and methodological materialism.
My reaction at the time was to point out that Beckwith might be denying that ID was science but he, instead, was claiming that science can't be even tolerably well defined and, therefore, we might as well just go ahead and include metaphysics in science classes ... raising the question "why call them science classes at all then?" Furthermore, taken to its logical end, it winds up with the sort of redefinition of science advocated in the Wedge Document. Of course, arguments "critical to philosophical naturalism" were always allowed in public schools ... in philosophy classes, comparative religion classes, civics classes and the like. Maybe now that he has belatedly come to the realization that the methodological naturalism of science is somehow different than philosophical naturalism, Beckwith is prepared to say that ID, in whatever guise it is presently taking, has no place in science courses in public schools. I await his articles at BioLogos with minimally bated breath, because I have my doubts that there will be anything new, since he said in a comment a few minutes later (my third item of interest):

As you will see in my UST piece, I stand by the 2003 book since I do not think there is anything unconstitutional about the teaching of ID. I also stand by my distinctions between creationism and ID. What I do, however, is explain why I think ID is not good fro Christian theism and why both Judge Jones and Richard Dawkins actually believe in design. Thus, to answer the question of my article, "How can we be an anti-intelligent design advocate?" Simple. Believe in design. In fact, Nick, you employ it all the time. When you claim that ID advocates are duplicitous, you assume that human beings have particular end that requires that they be honest and forthright. But that's a final cause, brother.

Here's your assignment: critique ID and its advocates without once relying on final and formal causes in your conceptual framework.
Well, yes and no. As David L. Hull demonstrated in his seminal book, Science as a Process, the practice of science critically relies on honest reporting of results by other scientists, in that each scientist is building on the work of other scientists and dishonesty by one can ruin the work of many others. You might call this a "final" or "formal" cause of science in that honest reporting of the natural world is the "purpose" of science but it is clearly not the sort of final or formal causes Beckwith is talking about. Furthermore, the work of individual scientists honestly sharing information while working on different aspects of a huge enterprise is the "efficient" cause of science getting done. Thus, when scientists insist that alleged practitioners who are duplicitous are disqualified, they are not appealing to a final or formal cause but to the efficient cause of science.

I still have not been convinced that Beckwith was dispassionately exploring the philosophical and sociopolitical status of ID and was not advocating on behalf of it.



Michael Ruse on Jerry Fodor's and Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini's new book What Darwin Got Wrong (which Ruse calls "an intensely irritating book"):

The second half of the book is a frontal attack on natural selection itself. The main argument is very odd. It is allowed that there is differential reproduction. Some organisms have many offspring, and some have just a few. It is even allowed that the reason why some succeed and others don't might have to do with the superior features possessed by the winners and not the losers. At which point you might think: Darwinism wins, because what else is there to natural selection?

Not so fast, however. Our authors take as gospel the argument of the late Stephen Jay Gould and the geneticist Richard Lewontin that although some features may be adaptive others may not. This argument is then used to say that if an organism succeeds in life's struggles, you can never conclude that a particular feature was essential for this success, because there may be other features linked to it. Perhaps it was the latter features that were essential. Natural selection fails therefore as a mechanism of change.

I read all of this stuff a couple of times. I am just not used to people giving the opposition everything for which they have asked and then plowing on regardless. But, even if you ignore the apparently shared belief that selection is at work - we may not know which features were crucial, but that hardly stops us saying that there was selection at work - the other points hardly crush the Darwinian. It has long been known that features get linked. And in any case, we can ferret out which features are most useful and which are just along for the ride. Suppose eyes, which are surely necessary, are linked to tufts of hair, which may not be. Well, experiment and see how the organisms get along without eyes and then without hair.

Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini will not allow this, because apparently we are now ascribing conscious intentionality to the nonconscious world. We are saying the eyes were designed for seeing in a way that the tufts were not. And they stress that the whole point of a naturalistic explanation, to which the Darwinian is supposedly committed, is that the world was not designed.

In response, one can only say that this is a misunderstanding of the nature of science. The Darwinian does not want to say that the world is designed. That is what the Intelligent Design crew argues. The Darwinian is using a metaphor to understand the material nonthinking world. We treat that world as if it were an object of design, because doing so is tremendously valuable heuristically. And the use of metaphor is a commonplace in science.

Saturday, February 13, 2010


Idiots On Parade

This leaves me in stunned silence:

A Baraboo man is accused of repeatedly shocking a male dance instructor with a stun gun, claiming the instructor was a "sinner" who "defiles married women."

A Dane County prosecutor says 59-year-old Kevin Johnson of Baraboo hastily arranged a dance lesson at the instructor's Madison home and showed up with a stun gun and sledgehammer last Friday.

A criminal complaint says Johnson told a detective that his church does not condone touching while dancing and that he was going to scare the instructor "and tell him to leave the women alone."

The Wisconsin State Journal says the instructor told police that Johnson phoned for private dance lessons, and when he opened the door to his home, Johnson began to shock him repeatedly in the neck with the stun gun.

Friday, February 12, 2010


Sweet Kentucky Home

Kentucky is the latest state to enter the "We're Just as Stupid as Folks in Louisiana" contest. As the National Center for Science Education points out:

The text of HB 397, entitled the Kentucky Science Education and Intellectual Freedom Act, is substantially similar to the so-called Louisiana Science Education Act, Louisiana Revised Statutes 17:285.1, which was passed and enacted in 2008, over the protests of the state's scientific and educational communities. A novelty in the Kentucky bill is the phrase "advantages and disadvantages of scientific theories," a variation on the familiar "strengths and weaknesses" and "evidence for and evidence against" rhetoric.

Advantages and disadvantages of scientific theories? Let's see ... one advantage is that scientific theories are much more likely to reflect reality than just about any other human activity. And science is much more likely to be useful ... as in how scientific medicine is much more likely to save your life than a witch doctor or someone "laying hands" on you is.

What are the disadvantages of scientific theories? Well, science requires that you think and that makes some people's head hurt. Oh, wait! That means drug stores and pharmaceutical companies will do more business and provide more jobs, which is a net good to society. Nope, I can't think of any disadvantages of scientific theories.

Hey! Maybe this bill isn't so bad after all!


... Or Is That "Season's Greetings"?

Happy Darwin Day!


P.S. Long time habitué and frequent commenter here, Eamon Knight, informs me that: "To celebrate, the Ottawa Skeptics are having a dinner get-together, at which I'm giving a talk on "The Life of Darwin (and some lies about Darwin)". Bit of a combo history+debunking."

Those of you in and around Ottawa could certainly do worse to while away a Canadian mid-winter night.

Thursday, February 11, 2010


Uh, Wait ...

The mini-brouhaha about Cherie Booth Blair, wife of Tony Blair, former Prime Minister of Great Britain, has a distinct air of disconnect from facts.

First the story:

Mrs Blair was hearing the case at the Inner London Crown Court on 23 January. The court heard how Mr Miah, who described himself as a devout Muslim, had punched Mohammed Furcan in the face following an argument with over who was first in a queue at a bank.

CCTV captured Mr Miah punching Mr Furcan in the face before running out the bank. When Mr Furcan followed him to demand why he had been hit, Mr Miah lashed out again knocking Mr Furcan to the pavement and breaking his jaw.

In court Mr Miah pleaded guilty to assault occasioning actual bodily harm. At sentencing, Mrs Blair appeared to take into account Mr Miah's religious convictions as a partial reason for imposing a more lenient sentence.

"I am going to suspend this sentence for the period of two years based on the fact you are a religious person and have not been in trouble before," she said. "You caused a mild fracture to the jaw of a member of the public standing in a queue at Lloyds Bank. You are a religious man and you know this is not acceptable behaviour."

Terry Sanderson, president of the NSS, said Mrs Blair comment's appeared to show a "discriminatory and unjust" favouritism towards religious people and a presumption that people with faith are more entitled to leniency because they should have a stronger moral code than non-religious people.

"We feel it's wrong that someone so high profile as Mrs Blair, and she is very high profile as a Catholic, should make such remarks in court," he said. "The man was incredibly violent and broke someone's jaw for no apparent reason. She said that he would have got a six month sentence but was suspending it because he was a religious man and would know he was doing wrong, which we feel implies that a non-religious person wouldn't know it was wrong."

He added: "We strongly feel that this kind of consideration should not play any part in sentencing. The idea that someone who is religious gets a lighter sentence is outrageous. The indications are that people are losing their religion very fast in this country, so it would disadvantage many people if they were treated more harshly in court than people who go to church."
This has triggered a thundering reply by A.C. Grayling (along with no little consternation in the "neo-atheist" blogosphere):

It is instructive to note that when Cherie Blair gave Mr Shamso Miah an expressly lenient sentence (suspending a six month jail term for two years) despite his having assaulted another man and broken his jaw, she stated not once but twice – thus, made a point of emphasizing – her reason: the fact that he is 'a religious person.'
Certainly, if Ms. Blair treats religious people before her for sentencing differently than non-religious people, that is unacceptable. There's only one problem. Nowhere, that I can find, is there any discussion of what Ms. Blair has sentenced non-religious people charged with this crime to or even what the typical sentence for this crime is in Britain for a first offender, such as Mr. Miah, in a case involving a personal dispute. In short, there is no reason to believe that there was, in fact, unusual "leniency" exhibited to Mr. Miah or that non-religious people are treated more harshly by Ms. Blair. A two year suspension of a six month sentence (which means that if he violates the law within the next two years he can be sent to jail for six months with little additional proceedings) sounds about like the standard sentence in the US.

If, in fact, there was nothing especially lenient about the sentence, then Ms. Blair's statement becomes nothing more than a lecture, along the lines of what might be said to a child: "you're 16 years old now and should know better." Indeed, wouldn't it be a true statement if we made the substitution: "You are a humanist and you know this is not acceptable behaviour"?

Ms. Blair's comment was certainly impolitic and thoughtless. But for a community that so prides itself on reason and evidence, it is hardly becoming to go off so halfcocked.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


Imaginary Science

Boy! The examples of Intelligent Design apologists letting its thoroughly religious nature out of the bag are coming thick and fast recently. The latest to rejoin the blabbers is Wild Bill Dembski. As pointed out by John Lynch, Dembski has a hissy fit over Stephen Barr's article in First Things, where Barr, among other things, says that the ID movement "must be judged not only a failure, but a debacle." Not only does Dembski display his unjustly inflated ego, claiming credit for Barr's prior works and turning the whole question personal, but he has this to say:

Barr's aversion to ID-style natural theology, which admits limitations in nature that only divine power can overcome, thus has a long and illustrious history. To call it a "debacle," as Barr puts it, is thus historically misguided and suggests that Barr's aversion to ID is motivated by other concerns. Actually, it's not hard to see what that motivation is. As Barr states in his First Things piece: "There are plenty of ways to make a case for the reasonableness of religious belief that can be persuasive to many in the scientific world." Barr puts a premium on appearing reasonable to his scientific colleagues. And even though he chides the ID community for appearing unreasonable and thus failing to win the scientific community, a bit of self-reflection should reveal that his own approach has hardly won the day. He writes, "I have addressed many audiences myself using arguments similar to theirs [i.e., those of Ken Miller, Francis Collins, etc.] and have had scientists whom I know to be of firm atheist convictions tell me that they came away with more respect for the religious position."

More respect? How much more exactly? Respect is fine and well, but I take it from this quote that these atheists are still atheists. In my own experience, I find that I've lost the respect of many in the scientific community, but I also receive emails now and again from persons who once were atheists but then found God because ID shook them out of their dogmatic slumber. The case of Antony Flew, the best known atheist in the English-speaking world until Richard Dawkins supplanted him in this unenviable position, is a case in point (see his book THERE IS A GOD). Flew attributes his conversion to theism not to a law-based teleology and not to the insight that neo-atheists such as Dawkins illictly extract faulty metaphysical implications from their science. None of the above. Flew attributes his conversion to ID, and specifically to the coding of information inside the cell. By contrast, the Templeton-sponsored theistic evolutionary community, which Barr has now fully embraced, is welcome to the respect that have so richly earned and which buys them nothing in the eternal scheme of things.
So ID is just a style of "natural theology" appealing to "divine power"? So why should it, or its stripped-down version of "teaching the strengths and weaknesses of evolution," where the "weaknesses" are just all the old "creation science" objections to evolution with a little cheap paint slapped on, be allowed in public schools under our Constitution?

And "respect" among academics, which requires intellectual honesty at the least, is not as important as converting atheists? In other words, ID is not a scientific program but just a tool of evangelism intended by its apologists to "buy" them rewards "in the eternal scheme of things." A clearer statement of ID's religious intent and content could hardly be imagined.

It should also be pointed out that it is doubtful that Flew was converted to "theism," instead of a pale sort of Deism, but that's just a quibble.

In response to Barr's correct assessment that "there is not a single phenomenon that we understand better today or are likely to understand better in the future through the efforts of ID theorists," Dembski says "ID, at the very least, has pointed out certain weaknesses in conventional evolutionary theory." In other words, Dembski, et al. are trying to stuff their poor god into the gaps in evolutionary theory and convince innocent children that the fact that we do not know everything presently is good and sufficient reason to reject any scientific result that we don't personally like. A greater disaster for the future of our country, should they succeed, is also hard to imagine.

As to the allegedly positive results of ID "theory," as John Lynch points out, Dembski is unable to provide a single concrete example. The best, but still lame to the nth degree, that Dembski can offer is that ID "suggests a way forward through the impasse that the study of biological origins now faces as a result of its commitment to naturalism."

In other words, "the check is in the mail."

And, furthermore, the only reason a check is even necessary is because we don't know everything right now, at this moment, which he calls an "impasse" only because he doesn't like naturalism and, instead, wants to convert people to his religious beliefs.

If this isn't dishonesty, it is cluelessness to a degree so massive as to beggar anyone's imagination.



Once Upon a Midnight Dreary

The Holliston (Massachusetts) TAB has published a notice that a local church will be, as part of the Evolution Weekend sponsored by The Clergy Letter Project, screening the NOVA documentary "Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial" about the Dover Intelligent Design case. The notice drew this comment:

Read a tome entitled 'The Physics of Imortality' [sic] (on audio If you don't follow written math well) as it will indeed confirm that intelligent design is so scientifically valid that it wil [sic] preclude any other theroy [sic] as meer [sic] superstition. The bill of rights in the first amendment, the fredom [sic] of religion. The founders very perpously [sic] placed an important key to maintaining liberty while endorsing judochristan [sic] monotheisum [sic] as a nessary [sic] componet [sic] for a just goverment [sic] by and for a worthy citezenry [sic], truly theirs was an inspired vision. Sadly Saten [sic] be [sic] good at what he do [sic] best.
Call Poe or cry.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010


Lying For God

Heh! Here we go again!

John Lynch's excellent article in the Newsletter of the History of Science Society about the need for historians to engage the distortions of creationists about the historical significance of Darwin's ideas, blaming him, as they do, for all "bad things," including Hitler, the Holocaust, communism, Stalin, the Columbine shooters, Charles Manson, the Holocaust Museum shooter, the Ft. Hood Massacre, Mao Tse-tung, and Dr. Josef Mengele, among others, has drawn a complaint by Discoveryless Institute Fellow Richard Weikart. It's the usual stuff ... ID isn't creationism because only young-Earth creationism is "creationism." But then he gives away the farm:

If, on the other hand, by creationism Lynch and other historians simply mean someone who believes in some kind of intelligent being who by some means creates something or other at some time, then of course the vast majority of ID proponents are creationists (except maybe for a few skeptics, such as David Berlinski). Most people, I suspect, are not going to find this definition of creationism useful, however, since it includes the vast majority of people in the world, including multitudes of scientists. Using this definition, many biologists who clearly believe in Darwinian evolution, such as Francis Collins, would be creationists. Most theistic evolutionists would also be creationists, if we use this expansive definition.

Indeed, Collins and other "theistic evolutionists" could be called "creationists," if that was all there was to the definition. But it isn't. The crucial difference is that Collins and such people as Ken Miller, Darrel Falk, Karl Giberson, and the like, admit that their beliefs are theological, not scientific. They do not seek to dress their religious ideas up as science and have it endorsed by government and taught in public schools (whether by official sanction or by allowing religious teachers the "academic freedom" to teach their religious beliefs as if they are science).

This distinction was made clear enough in Epperson v. Arkansas, not to mention Kitzmiller v. Dover, where the motives of the proponents of a position to be taken by schools is to be scrutinized. Weikart. admits that the motives of ID apologists are, for all intents and purposes, religious and, therefore, illicit.

And don't forget ... ID is all about science and has nothing to do with religion.



O Tempora! O Mores!

I was going to wait until PZ Myers commented on Jerry Fodor's and Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini's new book, What Darwin Got Wrong and their précis of it in New Scientist but there is an amusing ... um ... convergence that needs pointing out.

Naturally, the Undiscovery Institute was quick to jump at any hint among scientists or philosophers of science that Darwin was "wrong." Robert Crowther is at the Ministry of Misinformation ... well ... crowing that "Intelligent Design Proponents Welcome Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini to the Growing Ranks of Darwin's Critics," despite their comment at New Scientist that:

Such dissent as there is [from "neo-Darwinism"] often relies on theistic premises which Darwinists rightly say have no place in the evaluation of scientific theories.

Crowther cannot help mentioning the Altenberg 16 meeting and the terminally inept "journalist" Suzan Mazur's "reporting" on it. Along the way, he trots out Stanley Salthe:

... another materialist scientist who doubts Darwrinian evolution (and has signed the Dissent From Darwin statement to boot), to convene an e-mail discussion group that became what is now known as the Altenberg 16.

... but without mentioning that Salthe did not attend the meeting and who is on record as saying of the Dissent from Darwin sham:

... that when he signed the petition he had no idea what the Discovery Institute was. Rather, he said, "I signed it in irritation."

Which brings us to Massimo Pigliucci, one of the organizers of the Altenberg 16 meeting, who has roundly criticized the hype about the meeting generated by creationists and their fellow travelers. Pigliucci points to a review of Mazur's book as "a sane discussion of the hoopla about the 'Altenberg 16' meeting that I organzied two years ago, and an expose` of pseudo-journalist Suzan Mazur." The reviewer, Ken Perrott, points out:

Like any healthy science, evolutionary biology and philosophy is living and healthy. Research produces new information. Scientists come up with, and promote, new ideas. There is active debate about these. However, scientific debate leads to advances, not throwing out the baby with the bathwater. This active discussion and new research is not a sign that evolutionary theory is dead and needs replacing. It's not a sign of a "new evolutionary theory to replace natural selection."

But, of course, that is how many creationists, and some less ethical journalists, try to represent the science. Creationists latched on to the workshop as evidence for the death of Darwinism – much to the chagrin of the workshop participants. And Suzan Mazur effectively played this creationist ball – to the disgust of many of the scientists she had interviewed.

Which brings us full circle to the DI's attempt to enlist Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini in the ID cause. So we have a prediction: "creationists will attempt to exploit any debate within science" and confirmation all within a single day.

Almost like clockwork.

Monday, February 08, 2010


Texas Two Step

Further on the race in the 5th District for the Texas State Board of Education, I heard from a candidate for the Democratic nomination:

I agree that Tim Tuggey does have a lawyer and a lobbyist. He's an intelligent man but he's not an educator. I believe that we need to bring more educators to the State Board of Education, which is why I'm running in District 5.

That would be Dr. Rebecca Bell-Metereau, a Professor of English and Film at Texas State University. There's a concept! An actual educator on a board of education!

While almost anyone, including Tuggey, would be better than Ken Mercer, it would obviously be better yet to have someone with actual training and experience in education.

Here is her campaign website for more information, including how to donate.

Sunday, February 07, 2010


"RINO" Revolt

Ken Mercer is one of the more ridiculous members of the religious right wing of the Texas State Board of Education that is doing its best to destroy education in the public schools of the state. The good news is that Mercer is facing a strong challenge in the Republican primary this year:

Ken Mercer and Tim Tuggey have a lot in common.

Mercer, the incumbent District 5 State Board of Education representative, and Tuggey, the attorney-lobbyist trying to take his seat, both consider themselves conservatives. ...

They even agree about the meaning of their primary campaign, that it's a battle to define the modern Texas Republican Party. That's where the arguments begin.

To hear Mercer tell it, Tuggey is a Republican in name only, a closet liberal who has contributed heavily to Democratic candidates in recent years.

Tuggey concedes he's contributed to a few Democrats (including Congressmen Charlie Gonzalez and Ciro Rodriguez), but argues that he — not Mercer — is the true conservative in the race. He describes local control of education as a core conservative issue, and says Mercer and his Board of Education colleagues have abandoned that principle in favor of "micromanaging" public-education curriculum in Texas with a Christian-right agenda. ...

Before his stint on the Board of Education, Mercer served one term in the Texas House. In November 2004, he lost a hotly contested re-election bid to David Leibowitz by 498 votes. Leibowitz raised nearly $700,000 for that campaign, nearly twice as much as Mercer.

This year, Mercer again finds himself facing a formidable fundraiser. Over the last six months of 2009, Tuggey collected more than $60,000, compared with just more than $8,000 for Mercer. Tuggey's contributors include high-powered San Antonio business leaders such as car dealer B.J. "Red" McCombs, Spurs owner Peter Holt, banker Tom Frost, construction contractor H.B. Zachry Jr. and H-E-B Chairman and CEO Charles Butt.

Tuggey has also earned the endorsement of the Texas Parent PAC, whose largest contributor is Butt. The organization formed in 2005 as an attempt to counteract San Antonio hospital-bed tycoon Dr. James Leininger's push for private-school voucher programs. Over the past five years, Butt has contributed more than $1.1 million to the political action committee, according to Texas Ethics Commission reports.

"Tim Tuggey brings a wealth of experience and knowledge and wisdom," said Carolyn Boyle, chairwoman of the PAC. "He is very open and inclusive, and listens to parents."

According to local contractor Mike Beldon, business leaders have lined up behind Tuggey because they're exasperated with what they view as the injection of religion into public-education debates.

"There's great concern everywhere about the State Board of Education," Beldon said. "I think the pendulum has swung hugely in the ultra-right direction, and people are looking for moderation. And Tim is enormously well-respected."

It's good to know there are rational and powerful people in Texas who are conservative but who are tired of seeing the state's educational system dumbed down. We should all support them.

Friday, February 05, 2010


Taking the Long Way 'Round

Tomorrow ... snow permitting ... we'll be holding a memorial service ... no, a celebration ... of my heart, my soul, my breath should I grow old. Opinionated blatherings will resume shortly.

Thursday, February 04, 2010



Scientists have been able to deduce the colors sported by a crow-sized, non-flying dinosaur, Anchiornis huxleyi. The story of how they did it is really amazing and you should go and read the article. But I was, given my own interests, interested in this:

So why would an earthbound dinosaur need feathers, particularly multi-colored ones? A likely reason, the team concludes, is to attract mates. Other possibilities are to warn away predators or rivals, to startle and flush out prey, to trap heat and keep their small bodies warm, and to prevent wear (melanin seems to toughen feather tips). ...

If the researchers can find other samples, Vinther said it should be possible to test the mate-attraction idea, since there should be color differences between males and females, as there are in modern birds.

That would help scientists counter a vexing argument from the supporters of intelligent design.

ID advocates insist that the incremental changes that feathers underwent for tens of millions of years – from the stubby, undifferentiated bristles of some dinosaurs to the highly complex feathers of modern birds – make no sense individually without the driving purpose of flight, presumably conceived by God.

"Darwin struggled with this," Hill said. "How do you get through all the intermediate steps to suddenly make [feathers] a tool for flight."

Mate selection provides the rationale for the changes, Hill said.

"Sexual selection can drive all sorts of crazy traits that aren't really that functional for getting food and surviving," he said. "If sexual selection drove the evolution of those long, elaborate plumes to be just basically palettes for color, then all of a sudden you're pre-adapted for flight. It all makes sense all of a sudden."

Ummm ... I'm not sure how strong that argument is. For one thing, if the pre-adaptation was in males only, as in the peacock's tail, how did females come to fly? If both males and females had the long plumes, that uncouples the length of the feathers from the color canvas idea. It might be more likely the other way around: long feathers might have arisen from some other adaptive advantage or from genetic drift and became colorful because of female selection.

Still it is a wonderful bit of work and another grain of sand in the vast beach of evidence accumulated in favor of evolution.

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