Tuesday, June 29, 2010


Enlightened Tolerance

A thought:

[T]he Enlightenment [arose] out of a complex mixture of cultural-social and intellectual causes. The direct intellectual causes were what I call the "Philosophical Revolution" of the late seventeenth century and what historians have long referred to as the Scientific Revolution. The effects of the latter in changing notions of nature and natural causes are well known ... [T]he Philosophical Revolution ... has been underestimated but is of the greatest importance. At least six great philosophers—Descartes, Hobbes, Spinoza, Locke, Leibniz and Bayle—stipulated, all within a very short space of time, that both the basic assumptions of centuries of previous thought and most men's actual beliefs and ideas at the time were fundamentally wrong. Furthermore, if it were possible to improve men's thinking and ideas this would considerably improve human life by making society safer, more tolerant, and better governed. ... Spinoza's contribution [was] foremost in crystallizing Radical Enlightenment ... primarily because his thought goes further than the others in undermining belief in revelation, divine providence and miracles, and hence ecclesiastical authority, and because he was the first great democratic philosopher.

Besides the Philosophical and Scientific Revolutions, there were also other fundamental cultural and social factors at work in preparing the ground for the Enlightenment ... [especially] the role of religious stalemate, with the Protestants and Catholics fighting each other to a draw at the end of the Thirty Years' War (1648). Surely God had to be on one side or the other, yet neither side won. How could this be? The psychological effect was tremendous, and the pressure to develop notions of tolerance and justifications for co-existence of religions much increased.

-Jonathan Israel, "What Samuel Moyn Got Wrong in His Nation Article," History News Network

Monday, June 28, 2010


Real American = Stupid, Racist and Insecure

At least if you listen to Rick Santorum:

Obama is detached from the American experience. He just doesn't identify with the average American because of his own background. Indonesia and Hawaii. His view is from the viewpoint of academics and the halls of the Ivy league schools that he went to and it's not a love of this country and an understanding of the basic values and wants and desires of it's (sic) people. And as a result of that, he doesn't connect with people at that level," said Santorum.

Last time I looked, Hawaii was part of the US and Alexander Hamilton was not hurt, patriotism-wise, by being raised abroad. As for being educated, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison attended one of the premier universities in America at the time, William & Mary, as did sixteen of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, and John Adams was a Harvard graduate.

It's impossible to tell if Santorum actually believes this crap or is just playing to the looniest tea party wing. Either way, he is a despicable toad.*


* With apologies to toads everywhere!

Sunday, June 27, 2010


Some Like It Not

In the category of knickers in a knot, there is this article "10-Year-Old Boy Used as Grand Marshal of Arkansas Homosexual Fest" at something called LifeSiteNews:

A 10-year-old boy is being used as Grand Marshal of an Arkansas homosexual pride parade this weekend. The move has attracted opposition from pro-family leaders, who have decried the movement's exposure of the boy to the lewd festival of sexual deviancy as "a form of child abuse."

The boy, Will Phillips, attracted national media attention last year after he refused to say the Pledge of Allegiance at school, saying that homosexuals are refused "liberty and justice" because the government defines marriage as between a man and a woman. ...

"It's shameful that adults would abuse a brain-washed child in this way," said American Family Association president Tim Wildmon. "He's obviously just parroting the nonsense he's been told by manipulative adults. For gay activists to trot out this child and make him the poster child for promoting unnatural sexual expression is a form of child abuse."

Brain-washed? For thinking "with liberty and justice for all" actually means all? The Pledge of Allegiance is "nonsense"?

Does he sound brain-washed?

This part is creepy:

Brian Camenker, the leader of MassResistance, a pro-family group in Massachusetts, told LifeSiteNews.com that saying Phillips is being "indoctrinated" is "not a strong enough word."

"They are taking these kids who are in a very vulnerable and formative time in their lives, and basically telling them they're gay or what have you," he said, adding that "the kinds of things that go on in these parades ... are just really gross and hideous."

"Transexual, S&M, they're getting more into young kids," he said.

Camenker related the story of a MassResistance volunteer whose daughter similarly drew media attention when, after being pressured by the gay-straight alliance at her high school, declared that "she's a lesbian, hates her mother and father, [and] has this lesbian girlfriend."

"The gay newspapers of course wrote it up, because she was involved with us, and they were inviting her to be involved with the gay pride parade ... even the Boston Globe called her up to interview her," he said. Things changed, however, when the girl's mother removed her from the school and sent her to an out-of-state Christian school. The girl is now preparing to marry her male fiancé in August, and, according to Camenker, now dismisses her youthful flirtation with lesbianism.

"She wasn't lesbian any more than I was a lesbian," he said. "I think that happens with a lot of kids. So this is really dangerous."

Why do I suspect that these people know a thing or two about brain-washing.

Saturday, June 26, 2010


When Belief Lowers Your IQ

PZ Myers thinks a poll is "revealing."

Specifically, a poll at KTRH radio that reads:

BP has tried many ways to stop the Gulf oil leak. Is it time to give prayer a chance?

According to PZ:

A few people have written me saying I should go easy on those Christian praying for the Gulf — it's harmless, they say, it's just building social bonds, etc., etc., etc. Well, la-de-dah — they're delusional. I don't just mean the people praying, but also those making excuses for them. Somehow, it's OK to pretend that the Baptist getting down on his knees begging God to stop the oil isn't really asking God to stop the oil…he's just engaging in a social ritual to soothe his psyche, and we shouldn't disturb his emotional equilibrium.

Bunk. Believers believe. Quit pretending that they're all really just faitheists, because they're not.

So, naturally, PZ, being a good empiricist, thoroughly investigated the meaning of the poll ... such as reading the story entitled "Is It Time To Start Praying for the Gulf?" ... instead of just making assertions based on his belief in atheism, right?

Not so much:

Calling it a time to mourn the loss of both human and animal lives as well as the destruction of God's gifts, Saint Stephen's Episcopal Church in Houston held a prayer vigil for the Gulf, giving those in attendance a chance to seek divine intervention in coping with the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history.

Reverend Lisa Hunt told those in attendance Tuesday night "that as people of faith, we need to come together and acknowledge God's presence in the midst of the darkest night, the most fearful tragedy that seemingly knows no bounds."

Rev. Hunt also gave worshippers a chance to speak publicly about their fears and concerns over the gulf tragedy, with many saying they are worried what might happen if a hurricane were to strike the Gulf of Mexico before clean-up efforts are complete.

"We really wanted to give people a safe place to come and tell their stories, their grief and their anxieties," says Reverend Carissa Baldwin adding in times of need, its best for people to share their feelings with others.

One of the more emotional moments came when the congregation in unison prayed for the 11 oil workers who were killed when the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded April 20th.

Now, PZ might well still denigrate that kind of ... well ... communion, but it certainly doesn't support his rant.

But, in this instance, PZ doesn't seem interested in the truth, since it might contradict his belief.

Friday, June 25, 2010


ID Dipsticks ... Or Words to That Effect

Steve Matheson is continuing his campaign against the Discovery Institute and its minions. Not only has he called out Uncommon Dissonance Dissent Descent, he has established an "integrity dipstick":

Every time a cool new microRNA turns up in an intron, or a retroviral sequence is found to comprise a structural gene, or a pseudogene is shown to influence gene expression, ID propagandists go bananas as though they've just overturned evolutionary theory. Why? Because they seem to actually believe that "Darwinists" (by this they mean people who accept evolutionary theory in just about any of its forms) still think that non-coding DNA is all junk. The reality of current controversies in genomic structure and evolution couldn't be more different. Some hard-core adaptationists (the truest "Darwinists") share ID's commitment to the notion that genomes should contain very little non-functional debris, and you can learn a lot about the mendacity of ID mouthpieces by reading the disagreements between Larry Moran and his Darwinist detractors.

So, let's learn a little about introns. It should be fun. But don't fall for the misinformation from the propaganda network. In fact, think of "junk DNA" as an integrity dipstick. If you see those falsehoods on the dipstick, you're probably reading propaganda or uninformed nonsense. Caveat lector.

There is a slight variation on the term that is also applicable.



Footnote Mystery

I'm finally getting around to looking through the decision on the Institute for Creation Research lawsuit against the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board for its refusal to sanction the ICR's phony MS degrees in "science education."

Right off, one thing popped up in a footnote. In the course of describing the events that lead up to the denial of the ICR's application, Judge Sam Sparks recounts the fact that the initial "site team" from the Board that visited the ICR's "school" found that the "proposed master's degree in science education, while carrying an embedded component of creationist perspectives/views, is nevertheless a plausible program[,]" and would be "generally comparable to an initial master's degree in science education from one of the smaller, regional universities in the state."

To say the least, the reality-based community was universally perplexed at the time.

As explained by the judge, the procedure is as follows:

The site review team generally conducts an on-site review of the institution and prepares a report on the institution's ability to meet the Board's standards of operation. ... The institution then has thirty days in which to respond to the site review team's report; once it has done so, the Certification Advisory Council (the "CAC") will review both the site visit report and the institution's response and make a staff recommendation to the Commissioner. ... Upon receipt of the CAC's recommendation, the Commissioner will make his recommendation regarding the application to the Board, and the Board will either approve or deny the application.
As the decision notes: "Based on the report and ICRGS's response, the CAC recommended conditional approval of ICRGS's proposed program at its December 14, 2007 meeting."

The Board's Commissioner, Raymund Paredes, greatly to his credit, ordered a further review by another panel:

As justification for having a separate panel re-evaluate the proposed program, [Commissioner Paredes] stated that upon reading the initial site visit team's evaluation "[i]t was immediately clear to me that the review process had been flawed"—first, because the site visit team had "included no experts in science education," and secondly, because "the site visit team members were instructed to focus on questions of process and infrastructure and to disregard the academic focus of the proposed program[,]" and the CAC had followed a "similar tack" in its review.8
Instructed to ignore the "academic focus" in an application for "a certificate of authority to offer a Master of Science degree with a major in Science Education in Texas"? By F...ing Who?

That's where the smoking footnote comes in:

8 It should be noted ICRGS strongly disagrees the initial site visit team was asked to disregard the academic focus of the degree program and adamantly denies other members of the initial site team did not have science education experience (although it presents no evidence on this point). It refers to Commissioner Paredes's statements on these points a "revisionist mischaracterization" of the site team's actual evaluation. ... Commissioner Paredes does not indicate who, if anyone, instructed the site visit team to disregard the academic focus of the degree program. But because ICRGS does not dispute the Board has authority to re-evaluate a proposed program or to review a certain aspect of the program more thoroughly during the time the evaluation is pending, the Court finds no basis to dwell on the justification for the re-evaluation, which is unimportant.
So we're never going to find out who was trying to grease the skids for the forces in favor of lowering IQs in Texas?

Commissioner Paredes has done a great service for education in Texas and I'm certainly not going to blame him for avoiding stepping on a political landmine by naming names.

But let's not forget that this all went down at about the same time that the Texas Education Agency fired Chris Comer as director of science curriculum for not being "neutral" in the conflict between creationism and science. The people involved in that educational miscarriage might be a good starting point in assembling a list of suspects.

Thursday, June 24, 2010


Mud Wrestling on the Right

Candace Chellew-Hodge at Religion Dispatches has an amusing food fight among some conservative "heavyweights." Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform against Tony Perkins at the Family Research Council.

It seems Norquist joined the advisory board of GOProud, a gay-Republican advocacy group. That was enough to get Perkins' panties all in a knot:

[Norquist] is well known for his questionable affiliations (from being a middle man for convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff, profiting from the oppressed Northern Mariana Islands to partnering with Poker Players Alliance to advocate for legislation that ultimately taxes the Internet) and also for his disdain of social conservative issues like life and marriage (once deriding pro-lifers as 'pontificators' and on marriage that he doesn't 'focus on it.') Yet in this case he is actually going beyond his normal 'profit and party before principles' motto.

Of GOProud's agenda, Perkins said:

[M]ost of their "conservative" positions are centered and conditional on that the "gay community" gets special carve-outs. They oppose the Death Tax, but according to their own website they oppose it because it "discriminates against gay and lesbian couples for whom there is no marital exemption." They opposed the health care bill, and again according to their own website, because it "does indeed discriminate against gay families."

Riiight! As if Family Research Council doesn't do the same thing on behalf of the Looney Religious Right, as Christopher Barron, chairman of GOProud's board, immediately pointed out:

Tony Perkins and his cronies at the Family Research Council aren't for limited government. They support policies, like the federalization of marriage and family laws, which would represent one of the greatest usurpation of state's rights in the history of this country.

And the only reason they're for such a "Federal usurpation of States Rights" is that some states are too sane to to let Perkins' crowd have ther way by denying basic civil rights to gays and they hope to do better at the Federal level.

Somebody bring some soda and I'll get the popcorn.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


Water : Oil as Science : Politics

A thought:

Some fear that there is too much embracing of prayer lately, and not enough looking at scientific solutions. [Len Bahr, former director of the Louisiana's Applied Coastal Science Program] and other scientists are particularly concerned with various cleanup programs, which they say could end up making the Gulf worse, rather than better. Bahr's LaCoastPost, a blog devoted to coastal reconstruction, is highly critical of what he describes as politically motivated solutions, particularly Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal's coastal barrier project.

The governor is a young earth creationist and notoriously anti-science. So it's not surprising that he is proceeding on the $360 barrier project without the input of scientists, who say the project will do little to keep oil out of Louisiana's marshes and could possibly make the situation worse.

And Bahr said it's really too late to restore the Gulf to a condition better than before the spill. "I believe we are no longer in the Holocene age and have moved on to the Anthropocene age," he said, describing the theory that humans have so altered Earth's ecosystem — climate change being a primary example — that time since the Industrial Revolution should count as its own global epoch.

- "Oil Spill Blues: Prayer, Science, and Grassroots Activism," Religion Dispatches

Tuesday, June 22, 2010


How To Piss Off a Federal Judge

The present titleholders as experts in that field (though I admit I've vied in the past for the crown) are the Institute for Creation Research and its "lawyers." I've blogged before about the silly complaint they filed against the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board for its refusal to sanction the ICR's "graduate school" handing out specifically creationist MS degrees in "science education." District Court Judge Sam Sparks was less than impressed and dismissed the suit. Having decided on the basis of statutory interpretation that the Texas law on accreditation did not intend to limit itself only to institutions supported by state tax funds, Judge Sparks goes on to say:

Having addressed this primary issue, the Court will proceed to address each of ICRGS's causes of action in turn, to the extent it is able to understand them. It appears that although the Court has twice required Plaintiff to re-plead and set forth a short and plain statement of the relief requested, Plaintiff is entirely unable to file a complaint which is not overly verbose, disjointed, incoherent, maundering, and full of irrelevant information.

Federal judges, with no little justification, like to think of themselves as Very Busy Persons and there is no better way to irritate them than to present them with verbose, disjointed, incoherent, maundering, and irrelevant pleadings. (BTW, if anyone wants an OCRed copy of the ICR's final complaint, leave me a comment with contact information.)

[A]lthough it is difficult to follow ICRGS's complaint, it appears ICRGS contends the Board engaged in "viewpoint discrimination" against ICRGS, thereby violating its constitutional rights to free exercise of religion, free speech, and equal protection.

"Viewpoint discrimination?" Oh, where have I heard that before?

It's late and the ruling is complex but if time allows and someone doesn't beat me to it, I'll try to summarize tomorrow.


Via The Sensuous Curmudgeon

Monday, June 21, 2010



New Scientist has an article on "warfare" between chimp troops:

A bloody 10-year dispute in the Ugandan jungle ended in mid-2009 with the victors seizing territory held by the vanquished. The episode represents the first solid evidence that chimpanzees kill their rivals to acquire land, and could help explain the evolutionary origins of some aspects of belligerent as well as cooperative behaviour in humans.

John Mitani, a primatologist at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, and his team have observed the Ngogo chimpanzee troop in Uganda's Kibale National Park for over a decade. Between 1999 and 2009, they witnessed 18 lethal attacks led by Ngogo males on another, smaller group of chimps. They also found indirect evidence of another three lethal attacks, making the Ngogo troop one of the most violent groups of chimpanzees so far studied.

With more than 150 individuals, the troop is two or three times as large as other well-studied groups. Superiority in numbers allows it to patrol its territory's hinterlands, where members are likely to encounter smaller, neighbouring troops. "Attacks are made when there's more of us than them," says Mitani.

In mid-2009, his team noticed that the Ngogo chimps had finally seized part of the home range of their rivals, so increasing the size of their territory by 6.4 square kilometres, or 22 per cent. Where only adult males on patrol had previously visited this area, now the team saw them "going in there with females and children and acting and shouting like they would if they were in the middle of their territory", Mitani says. The Ngogo chimps were probably drawn by food: black mulberry trees had begun fruiting in the area around the time of the takeover.

The territorial gain is likely to bring about other advantages. Chimps belonging to troops with large home ranges tend to weigh more than those with less land and their females tend to have more offspring. What's more, territorial gains could draw in females from neighbouring troops, offering more mating opportunities to the males.

Land, food and sex leading to war? Why does that sound familiar?

Mitani warns about making too much of this:

Humans go to war for a variety of reasons ranging from disputes over resources to religion, and such conflicts can often be settled by negotiation. "We might be comparing apples and oranges," he says.

In fact, rather than explaining the evolutionary origins of war, chimpanzee disputes could help explain the evolution of human cooperation. Samuel Bowles at the Santa Fe Institute in New Mexico has used evolutionary models and archaeological evidence to argue that altruism emerged in humans as a result of violent conflicts between groups of people who were willing to die for their comrades and more selfish, individualistic populations – with the altruistic warriors winning out.

But isn't that what the Ngogo were doing? Anyway, the phenomenon is close enough to our own behavior to emphasize chimps' similarity to us in more than physiology.

Sunday, June 20, 2010


Dishonesty Institute

The National Center for Science Education has an excerpt from Massimo Pigliucci's Nonsense on Stilts: How to Tell Science from Bunk, specifically Chapter Seven, "Science in the Courtroom: The Case against Intelligent Design," about the Dover trial.

Naturally, that reminded me of Barbara Forrest's devastating testimony at the trial concerning "cdesign proponentsists." Not only was Of Pandas and People a distinct nail in the coffin of the school board's case, it provided yet another opportunity for dissembling by the Discovery Institute, the documenting of which is always worth a blog post.

The DI quickly realized (December 28, 2005, eight days after Judge Jones' decision) the need to distance ID from Pandas. John West, a former associate professor of Political Science, deigned to tell us why Judge Jones was wrong to place "great weight on the early intelligent design textbook Of Pandas and People."

Most of it is the usual bafflegab not worth commenting on. Some of it is just laughable, such as the claim that the change from the early drafts to the published text showed a rejection of creationism ... which might have had a chance of making sense but for "cdesign proponentsists," which clearly showed that the change was cosmetic only.

But this was the part that was the most dishonest:


If this case were being argued in 1989, Pandas might be more dispositive as an authoritative guide to the theory of intelligent design. But there is now more than 15 years of scholarship by scientists and philosophers of science who think there are empirical means to detect design in nature. Pandas predates most of the major works of the contemporary design movement in science, including monographs by Cambridge University Press, and technical articles in peer-reviewed science and philosophy of science journals. The primary guide to the beliefs and views of intelligent design scholars today should be this record of scholarly and scientific and technical articles, not a supplementary high school textbook written more than a decade-and-a-half ago.
Riiight! So why was the DI recommending Pandas to school boards?:

[S]chool boards have the authority to permit, and even encourage, teaching about design theory as an alternative to Darwinian evolution-and this includes the use of textbooks such as Of Pandas and People that present evidence for the theory of intelligent design.
Oh, that must have been early on? Back in 1989, right? No, it was in Intelligent Design in Public School Science Curricula: A Legal Guidebook, published as late as 1999, a full decade into the supposed "scholarly and scientific and technical" success of ID. Indeed, the captain of the H.M.S. Dover Titanic, Richard Thompson of the Thomas More Center, blamed Intelligent Design in Public School Science Curricula for seducing the school board into making asses of themselves and costing the children of the district a million dollars in education resources.

If IDers had any intellectual integrity, they wouldn't be IDers.

Saturday, June 19, 2010


Science and Morality

A thought (via Wilkins):

Although science makes some impact on many religious ideas, it does not affect the moral content. Religion has many aspects; it answers all kinds of questions. First, for example, it answers questions about what things are, where they come from, what man is, what God is – the properties of God, and so on. Let me call this the metaphysical aspect of religion. It also tells us another thing – how to behave. Leave out of this the idea of how to behave in certain ceremonies, and what rites to perform; I mean it tells us how to behave in life in general, in a moral way. It gives answers to moral questions; it gives a moral and ethical code. Let me call this the ethical aspect of religion.

Now, we know that, even with moral values granted, human beings are very weak; they must be reminded of the moral values in order that they may be able to follow their consciences. It is not simply a matter of having a right conscience; it is also a question of maintaining strength to do what you know is right. And it is necessary that religion give strength and comfort and the inspiration to follow these moral views. This is the inspirational aspect of religion. It gives inspiration not only for moral conduct – it gives inspiration for the arts and for all kinds of great thoughts and actions as well.

These three aspects of religion are interconnected, and it is generally felt, in view of this close integration of ideas, that to attack one feature of the system is to attack the whole structure. The three aspects are connected more or less as follows: The moral aspect, the moral code, is the word of God – which involves us in a metaphysical question. Then the inspiration comes because one is working the will of God; one is for God; partly one feels that one is with God. And this is a great inspiration because it brings one's actions in contact with the universe at large.

So these three things are very well interconnected. The difficulty is this: that science occasionally conflicts with the first of the three categories – the metaphysical aspect of religion. For instance, in the past there was an argument about whether the earth was the center of the universe – whether the earth moved around the sun or stayed still. The result of all this was a terrible strife and difficulty, but it was finally resolved – with religion retreating in this particular case. More recently there was a conflict over the question of whether man has animal ancestry.

The result in many of these situations is a retreat of the religious metaphysical view, but nevertheless, there is no collapse of the religion. And further, there seems to be no appreciable or fundamental change in the moral view.

After all, the earth moves around the sun – isn't it best to turn the other cheek?

- Richard P. Feynman, "The Relation of Science and Religion"

Friday, June 18, 2010


Back Toiling in the Philosophy Mines

Russell Blackford is one of the more reasonable people engaged in the accommodationist / incompatiblist wars, even if we are on (somewhat) opposite sides. Russell is probably right to complain that accommdationists overlook the nuance in incompatiblist positions, though his point is blunted, in no small degree, by his starting it out with "As usual with accommodationists ..."

As Russell points out:

In my case, what I say is something like this: they are incompatible in a sense. Accordingly, it is misleading to state simply "science and religion are compatible" as if there's no problem. If you say that, you'd better gloss it, and you'd better acknowledge that, in the sense that actually matters to traditionally religious people, they may not be compatible, and that there's thus a big problem.

Russell is correct that the article in the Huffington Post by Alan I. Leshner, CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and Executive Publisher of Science, was pretty bad. On the other hand, not all incompatiblists show Russell's nuance either.

Similarly, not all of us in the "accommdationist" camp view it as simply a public relations ploy to suck "traditionally religious people" into accepting science ... a rather unnuanced view of accommodationism. Some of us view it as a reasoned attempt to understand what science is and whether people of good will who value science, both theist and non-theist, can reach some understanding on that issue that both sides can live with.

In a comment to his own post, Russell says:

I think I've said enough to explain why it won't wash to say, simply, "Religion and science are compatible" (or not incompatible in any serious sense) usually followed by "because there are lots of religious scientists" and then a reference to Ken Miller or, as in the case before us, to Ecklund's study.

I, for one, have been pointing out that the real import of the fact that theists are among those who are good, and even great, scientists is that it demonstrates that science is not a "worldview" but a method that, in fact, draws its greatest strength from the very fact that it can be conscientiously practiced by people of many different worldviews, thus self-correcting for such biases. It follows, then, that religion and science, being on different philosophical levels, are "incompatible," to borrow from Robert Pennock, in the same way religion and plumbing are incompatible because you don't need to invoke god(s) to explain why a toilet flushes.

If Russell really wants accommodationists to recognize the nuance in incompatiblist arguments, maybe he should practice what he preaches.


Thursday, June 17, 2010


True ScienceTM


Secular scientists often mock the simple faith of those who believe in an unseen God. But statisticians say the odds are impossible that this incredibly intricate, elegant code could ever just evolve.

Because of that, they say it takes much more faith to believe in such chance than it does to believe an intelligent designer is behind this code at the core of all life.

Science philosopher Stephen Meyer, in his book "Signature in the Cell," lays out the evidence for such intelligent design. He refutes the arguments that the theory of intelligent design is just religion and not true science. It's a battle over the very origin and meaning of life that the secular media rarely allow to break out into the open.

But ... but ... if ID is "true scienceTM," why would the "secular media" be prejudiced against it? If ID isn't "simple faith," why single out the "secular" media as the ones "suppressing" ID?

And if ID is science, how to explain this?:

Meyer will talk more about the evidence for an intelligent design on The 700 Club, Friday, June 18.

Oh, that's right! Such notable scientists as Ray Comfort have appeared on the The 700 Club, haven't they?

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Wednesday, June 16, 2010


Science Wars

A thought:

Since Kuhn's work, there has been an intense debate about many of the issues he raises. The stakes are high in any debate about science because, as I have emphasised, what we regard as scientific has such an effect on our lives. It is not clear what exactly the sides are in the so-called science wars, but unfortunately, as with so many issues, we can approach this one by considering the extreme positions on each side. On the one hand are those who hold science up as the source of all knowledge, and the only intellectually legitimate form of inquiry. According to them, not only are the teachings of the book of Genesis scientifically proven to be wrong, but we have no need of the myths of any culture, because modern science gives us a comprehensive account of most natural phenomena and the history and geography of the Earth and the entire universe. Of course, scientists vary in their evangelism, but in any bookshop one can find texts offering grand scientific explanations of language, the mind, ethics, human behaviour, the creation of the universe and so on. The most extreme defenders of science think their opponents are superstitious and irrational. On the other hand, there are those who argue that there is nothing special about science, and that indeed it may be worse, or at least no better, than creation myths.

However, it is quite possible to defend the rationality of science without being committed to reductionism about the mind, atheism, the invalidity of other forms of inquiry and so on. Furthermore, a defender of scientific rationality might at the same time be highly critical of the contemporary practice of some or all of the sciences, and highly sceptical about some particular scientific theories. Someone who has a definite account of when science is being conducted properly is able to criticise a particular scientific community on a principled basis. For example, it is plausible that the free exchange of ideas and information is an essential feature of good science. Hence, if the commercial interests of their sponsors are interfering with scientists' freedom to communicate, this can be criticised as unscientific.

Kuhn's history of various scientific revolutions shows us that individual scientists do not live up to the philosopher's ideal of maximally rational agents, always making decisions based on the evidence independently of their own personal interests and goals. On the contrary, according to Kuhn, scientists are often very much attached to a paradigm, and sometimes particular individuals will do almost anything to retain it in the face of contradictory evidence, including perhaps, distorting experimental data, using institutional power to stifle dissent, using poor reasoning and bad arguments to defend the status quo, and so on. Indeed, sometimes the established scientists will refuse to adopt the new paradigm and, rather than being persuaded by rational argument, eventually they simply die out, while the next generation get on with developing the new approach. Of course, disreputable behaviour and fallacious reasoning seem to be features of all spheres of human life, so it would be pretty surprising if they were never found in science, and clearly the idea that all scientists are saint-like pursuers of the truth is unrealistic to the point of being ridiculous.

- James Ladyman, Understanding Philosophy of Science

Tuesday, June 15, 2010


Yogi At the Bat

In the present state of American politics, it was bound to happen that attempts would be made to blame the British Petroleum oil disaster on the Obama Administration. Failing to make a case that, just a little over a year into its tenure, the administration should have managed to have reformed the up-until-recently obscure Minerals Management Service, the finger pointing has devolved into the supposed failings of the "response" to the disaster. Unlike hurricanes, such as Katrina, and the subsequent flooding, the well blowout is a first-time event, and we have no prior experience to guide us. So what should have been done better?

This editorial, "New drilling can wait," in the Kansas City Star may exemplify the less rabid form of the criticism:

The Obama administration has been unimpressive in its response to the spill from the beginning. At first the president was low-key, and he waited too long to visit the disaster site. Then he started giving angry speeches and showing up for gulf photo ops, but the government still failed to require BP to take aggressive action.

Being "low-key" ... that is, calm and collected ... in the face of a disaster is wrong. But so is giving angry speeches. Not visiting the disaster site is wrong but so is visiting the site for photo ops, which is what is going to happen anytime a President visits someplace, and about all the President can do while visiting a disaster site, short of putting on Superman's cape, diving a mile deep in the ocean and plugging up the leak with his bare hands. In short, the editorial thinks the President could have done better political theater ... as if that would have made a single thing better. Nor is there any mention of what "aggressive action" BP could have been ordered to take that it isn't already doing.

But the credit for the stupidest criticism yet has to go to Rudy Guliani. I heard this on a New York sports talk show that was broadcasting from a charity golf tournament hosted by Yogi Berra. Rudy actually said that Obama's biggest mistake was not doing what Rudy would have done: assembling a committee of advisers drawn from executives of the other mega-oil companies, such as ExxonMobil, Shell, etc.

Riiight! As if they wouldn't be tempted to advise the President that their competitor undertake every expensive, no matter how dubious, remedial action. Worse yet, Rudy, unlike the editorial, keeps singing "drill, baby, drill," criticizing Obama for imposing a six-month moratorium on deep-water drilling ... no doubt based on those other oil company executives advice that if they "follow proper well design, drilling, maintenance and training procedures accidents like Deepwater Horizon explosion on April 20 'should not occur.'" In other words, "New regulations, we don't need no stinking new regulations." Talk about putting the foxes in charge of the hen house!

There are sure to be things that the administration could have done better in the face of this mess. That is just inherent in the nature of the beast called government. The editorial may have identified one such area when it points out that the commission that is supposed to investigate and make recommendations on how to prevent similar disasters is not yet up and running. Still, hiring people just for the sake of hiring them is not a good way to proceed either.

The issue for future historians will not be "could anything have been done better" ... that is trivially certain to be true ... but whether basic competence was exhibited in the face of extraordinary circumstances.

Or, as Yogi might say: "It's like deja vu all over again."

Monday, June 14, 2010


Antipodian Doh!

The Australian Conservative has finally noticed that the editorial page of The New York Times has a liberal bent.

Typical of conservatives, they have to be explicitly told in no uncertain terms by some "authority" before it penetrates ... in this case, by outgoing public editor Clark Hoyt.

Also typical of conservatives, they mistake a liberal editorial policy for a justification to deny reality, making a particular point of noting Hoyt's statement:

[The Times] does not take creationism or intelligent design as serious alternatives to the theory of evolution.

Now, I'm more than willing to take any Times story with a grain of salt when it deals with a social policy under reasonable debate. I'd do the same with the "Fair and Balanced" network too ... away from the "editorial policy" of known loons like Glenn Beck.

But when it comes to a little thing called reality, why would you declare that everything a source says is false based on ideology?

Oh, wait ... they're conservatives ... never mind!


P.S. This has nothing to do with a certain Silver Back's pointing out that Americans lead the world in serial killers.

Sunday, June 13, 2010


Dirty Commies On the Texas SBOE

The majority on the Texas State Board of Education, when the backs of the God-fearin', capitalism ... er, free enterprise ... lovin', True 'MericansTM in the Lone Star State were turned, was sneaking the beliefs of a low-down Commie into the lessons of innocent children:

[Business] is devoted to satisfying the desire for profit, and such desire knows no bounds and always strives for more. And so business, absolutely speaking, is wicked, since it does not essentially signify a worthy or necessary objective.

How could any author who would write that wind up in the Social Studies standards, unless the people who put him there intended to undermine our God-given right to make a buck? Sure, the SBOE kept a children's author out of the third-grade section of the standards just because he had the same name as a person who wrote a book on Marxism but that was obviously just a smoke screen to fool everybody into thinking they were just dumb, while they were, in fact, planning all along to subvert the minds of the children of Texas.

Oh, and the Commie author ... some obscure monk named Thomas Aquinas or something like that.


Via Leiter Reports

Saturday, June 12, 2010


Exorcising All the Wrong Demons

This is oh so sad.

The prophet had come up from Georgia. She stood at the front of the Holy Ghost Temple Church and called for parishioners to come forward. On this Sunday in February, roughly 100 worshippers filled the white-walled Pentecostal sanctuary that sits on a wooded hill beside a BMW dealership. Among them was 20-year-old Kevin Robinson. He stepped out from his pew, walked up the lavender carpet, and joined the line in front of the prophet. He wanted to be prayed over, as is common in the Pentecostal tradition, by this powerful preacher. In the eyes of believers such as Kevin, a prophet speaks the very word of God and can divine the future. ...

"Are you gay?" the prophet asked him.

In a quiet, gentle voice, Kevin acknowledged that he was.

"Speak up," the woman commanded. "I can't hear you."

Yes, Kevin repeated, he was gay.

"You need to be delivered from homosexuality," the prophet said into a microphone so that all the church could hear. Kevin was embarrassed, but he stayed put. This was no normal preacher—she spoke God's truth. According to church dogma, homosexuality is a sin foisted on humans by demons who take possession of their bodies and compel them to act against God's will. These evil spirits can be exorcised by those trained in spiritual warfare in a ritual known among Pentecostal Christians as deliverance. Perhaps, Kevin thought, this prophet could finally deliver him from his demons. ...

Kevin closed his eyes, thinking to himself, "There's something wrong with me; I need to change." A part of him believed this prophet could do what no one else had been able to do during previous deliverance attempts—make him heterosexual. But the prophet was loud and she looked at him with disgust and contempt as her chants became more and more belligerent. Even now Kevin can't bring himself to repeat the most hurtful things she said. He soon began to cry. And then, with the prophet still exhorting the demons in him to depart, he blacked out and collapsed. When he regained consciousness, he stood up and returned to his seat. His shame was turning to rage. He searched his mind and thoughts and found he was unchanged—he was still attracted to men. In the past it had been family members—his mother, his aunt, or his uncle, the church's pastor—who performed deliverance on him. This time it was a stranger, and she had pushed him beyond the breaking point. Never again, he decided, would he allow himself to be treated this way.

It was, by Kevin's count, at least the 10th time since he was 16 that he'd subjected himself to gay exorcism.

The story goes on to detail the tribulations of Kevin -- and others -- at the hands of ... there are no other words for it ... religious fanatics, including his own family.

Some slight movement has been shown by his mother:

Vivian Robinson acknowledges that her son still has homosexual feelings, but she has no plans to try to deliver him again. She loves him, she says, and she was very unhappy at the way the prophet from Georgia vilified her son in church. "God doesn't hate anybody," Vivian says. "God loves everybody." To her, many of their family issues had to do with Kevin's age. He was a difficult teenager who is growing easier to relate to. Since he moved out they have a better relationship. And she acknowledges that perhaps she has to allow Kevin—and God—to work things out for himself. "I do look at things a little differently now," she says. "I've learned that a person has to want to be delivered."

But that's exactly the saddest part. Kevin wants so very much to be "delivered":

I ask Kevin whether he would make himself straight if he could. "Yeah, I would," he says without hesitation. "I'm not going to lie—I would love to just fit in and be accepted."

His family's love ... his community's acceptance ... is all the "deliverance" he needs. All they need to do is to want to give it to him!


Via Exploring Our Matrix and Unreasonable Faith.


Our Time

shoots thrown
for a season
off an ancient stock

we are an illusion

tendrils that weave the air
and take the briefest grip
to disappear

with no resolution




Hey! At least it is something new!

It comes from one Joe Sobran, who calls himself "The Reactionary Utopian," and is associated with something called the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation.

Sobran starts off with a reasonable enough attack on Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code, which has about as much to do with history as Perry Mason has to do with the law.

But then he loses it ... spectacularly:

Some of the great frauds of modern history have been perpetrated by highly intelligent men who have appealed to the desire for relief from the unbearable demands of Christianity; and other intelligent men have welcomed their doctrines. ...

Today Marxism has been so falsified by disastrous experience that few still believe in it; but we are finding that Darwin has outlived Marx. Darwinism also appeals to godlessness, but Darwin, in contrast to Marx, didn't make predictions that history could refute in a generation or so. Today, in consequence, the Darwiniacs, as I like to call them, are going strong.

A federal judge named John E. Jones has overjoyed the Darwiniacs by ruling that the teaching of "intelligent design" in public schools, even as an alternative to Darwinian evolutionism, violates the U.S. Constitution. Apart from being legal nonsense, that would outlaw even Aristotelian teleology as "religious." Children must be taught that nature has no purpose, beyond "survival of the fittest" - though even survival is, strictly speaking, an accident rather than a purpose. We owe our existence, our humanity itself, not to anything intelligent, but to the chance mutations of stupid matter.

This is the dogma of Darwinism, which passes for "religious neutrality" (at least among the modern mainstream of the irreligious). As always, liberalism is playing its old game of "Let's compromise my way." The happy medium between theism and atheism is atheism. As long as you don't call it atheism, of course. (You should call it Science.) ...

Why is it so urgent to teach the kids that life is absurd? Are little Darwinists better equipped for survival than little Christians? Is that what the Constitution tells us?
Setting aside the question of Marxism, "Darwinism" did not, in fact, refrain from making "predictions that history could refute." The science of evolution, as expounded by Darwin and generations of scientists since his time have made a plethora of predictions that have been massively confirmed over the last 150 years. That is why, within the scientific community, evolution is all but universally accepted as the best scientific explanation of the structure of life.

Since Judge Jones did not rule that ID or Aristotelian teleology could not be taught as an "alternative" view of the world in public schools, the only "legal nonsense" that is being peddled is Sobran's. What Judge Jones ruled, fully in concert with far more knowledgeable legal authorities than Sobran, namely, the Supreme Court, is that the government cannot dress up religious claims, such as ID, and pretend that they are science.

The main beneficiaries of this separation of church and state are religions themselves. Elsewise, Catholics in local majorities would be able to dress up their doctrines in various disguises and force Protestants to pay taxes to have them taught to the children of Protestants as established fact; Jews could do the same to Christians; Muslims to Jews; and so on and so on. There is nothing, however, to prevent public schools from teaching about ID and/or Aristotelian teleology as alternatives ... except the fact that ID advocates don't want to be just an alternative, in appropriately neutral philosophy or comparative religion classes, they want the government to put its imprimatur on their own sectarian beliefs.

What the Constitution tells us is that children who are taught at taxpayer expense should be educated about the world as free of sectarian religious views about the world as possible. Science, practiced by people of all faiths and no faiths, should be taught as envisioned by the scientific community as a whole. That excludes teaching children that ID, creationism, Christian Science, shamanism, atheism and a slew of other "worldviews" are scientific. Children can and should be taught about those worldviews ... but as precisely that: worldviews.

Friday, June 11, 2010


Facepalm Central

Oooh! This is Jerry Coyne at his philosophical best!

He declares:

It's time to admit that those who still claim that religion and science are compatible–ignoring their fundamental and blatantly obvious differences in philosophy, methodology, and success at understanding the universe–are intellectually dishonest.
Why "intellectually dishonest"? Because, according to Coyne:

[Stephen Hawking is] always cited by accommodationists as being quasi-religious, since he said in A Brief History of Time that if physicists were to hit on a "theory of everything" they would have seen into "the mind of God."
"Always"? It's amazing that accommodationists have attracted so much attention if all they do is go around and babble on incessantly about a single sentence in one of Hawking's books. Strangely, even though I would doubtless be considered an "accommodationist" by Coyne because I don't consider science to be a "worldview," an "approach to the world," or an "attitude," I don't ever remember mentioning Hawking's line about God ... and neither does Google.

In any event, stating that science and religion are compatible because one prominent scientist said they were would be the logical fallacy of an appeal to (inappropriate) authority ... unless, of course, you could show that the prominent scientist was also an expert on the philosophy of science and religion. So how does Coyne "demonstrate" that science and religion are incompatible? Why, by citing a few sentences from an interview Hawking recently gave, particularly this one:

There is a fundamental difference between religion, which is based on authority, [and] science, which is based on observation and reason. Science will win because it works.
According to Coyne:

The last, terse sentence sums up in six words the entire history of science and faith. Hawking, willfully misunderstood by those desperate to harmonize science with faith, recognizes their profound incompatibility.
And that's based on "evidence" consisting of a "terse" sentence from a television interview by a person, with no demonstrated expertise, over twenty years after his book was published? On that grounds we can declare that anyone who disagrees with Coyne's philosophy to be "intellectually dishonest" because they have "willfully misunderstood" Hawking?

Glass. Houses. Stones.

Thursday, June 10, 2010


Exploding the Cambrian

A thought (via The Dispersal of Darwin):

By studying Darwin's finches and East African cichlids, scientists can get clues that help them understand much older, much bigger adaptive radiations. One of the biggest was the early rise of animals. This period of animal evolution is sometimes nicknamed "the Cambrian explosion." Unfortunately, that name gives the impression that all the modern groups of animals popped into existence 540 million years ago at the dawn of the Cambrian period. Animals evolved from protozoans, which left fossils over a billion years before the Cambrian. Some 630 million years ago, one group of living animals—sponges—was already leaving behind biomarkers. By 555 million years ago, fossils belonging to some living groups began to appear—12 million years before the Cambrian Period.

The phylogeny of early animals is also showing how the body plans of living animals emerged not in a single leap, but in a series of steps. Arthropods, for example, have a body plan with a combination of traits (such as segments and an exoskeleton) seen in no other group of living animals. But some Cambrian fossils had some of those traits and not others. ...

Clearly, then, animals did not drop to Earth in the Cambrian Period. They evolved. Nevertheless, the fossil record of the Cambrian chronicles a remarkable pulse of rapid evolution. When paleontologists look at 530-million-year-old rocks, they mainly find small, shell-like fossils. When they look at rocks just 20 million years younger, they find fossils that are recognizable relatives of living arthropods, vertebrates, and many other major groups of animals.

Carl Zimmer, The Tangled Bank: An Introduction to Evolution

Wednesday, June 09, 2010


How to Out-Big Texas

One of the things to offer hope that the insanity of the Texas State Board of Education won't infect the rest of the country is the Common Core State Standards Initiative. Almost all the states (48 states, 2 territories and the District of Columbia) except ... guess! ... Texas and Alaska ... are collaborating on core curriculum for K-12 education. Limited to English Arts and Mathematics for the moment, science standards are also planned.

While, of course, the proof is in the pudding, the people running this are promising that the standards will not cater to the "lowest common denominator" but, instead, will incorporate the highest possible standards.

So, publishers ... would you rather sell textbooks in Texas and Alaska only or would you like to sell them to the rest of the country?

Tuesday, June 08, 2010


Oblivious In Atheism

Jason Rosenhouse doesn't like what Stephen Prothero said about atheists, particularly:

[Interviewer Garrett] Baer: Proselytizing atheists like Dawkins have carved out a niche within a largely religious public sphere. Would a less emotional, less evangelistic atheism be capable of maintaining even this degree of influence?

Prothero: I feel quite certain that a less emotional and less evangelistic atheism would garner far more influence. Atheism has a brand problem. Lots of the people who do not believe in God refuse to call themselves atheists. Why? Because they don't want to be associated with proselytizers.

Jason objects:

Where is the evidence to support this canard?

There is, after all, an obvious data point against what Prothero is saying. Rampant hostility towards nonbelievers long predates the arrival of the New Atheists. This hostility is the result of mindless religious bigotry. More precisely, it is the result of the commonly held belief that atheists have no foundation for morality. It is not a response to anything atheists have actually done.

The public opinion polls do not record any backlash against nonbelievers in the last few years. In fact, the numbers are slowly but surely going in the right direction.

Strangely, Jason ignores this:

Baer: Still, today, the New Atheists have succeeded in attracting a lot of public attention? Isn't this significant?

Prothero: The public role of the New Atheists is, in my view, important. Most obviously, they are raising questions about precisely the things many people value most, not least God, Jesus, and the Bible. More urgently, however, they are calling the Religious Right to task. There used to be a gentleman's agreement that kept both our faith and our doubt out of the public square. After Christians raced into U.S. politics in the 1970s and 1980s, that agreement was breached. Many of the New Atheists are criticizing the God proposition not only because they don't believe it but also because they object to the conservative political uses to which that proposition has been put. Here too they are advancing the conversation, by pointing out there is a price to pay for enlisting God in political projects.

Now Prothero does make the real point about the ignorance of atheists of theology (that the "Courtier's Reply" cannot disguise) namely: that not all religions are the same ... a blind spot they share with their bitter enemies, the fundamentangelicals.

But back to Jason:

As for nonbelievers eschewing the term "atheist," I very much doubt that has much to do with distaste for "prostletyzers." Another possible explanation is that people do not want to associate themselves with a social group that is despised in many parts of the country. Yet another is that the term "atheist" tends to imply, somewhat unfairly in my view, a level of certainty that many people do not feel.

Really, Jason? You are going to float the "canard" that those of us who are nonbelievers but don't self-identify as "atheists" are cowards? And since you demean Prothero for a lack of evidence of his "canard," are you are prepared to offer evidence of yours?

As to "a level of certainty that many people do not feel," have you upbraided Jerry Coyne for his claims that science has ruled out the supernatural? Or do you think science has no claim on giving anyone a level of "certainty"? When you show me the "New Atheists" who express any real lack of certainty, I might concede your point. But I ain't holding my breath.

Monday, June 07, 2010


Do You Think He Doesn't Like Them?

A thought:
Your Discovery Institute is a horrific mistake, an epic intellectual tragedy that is degrading the minds of those who consume its products and bringing dishonor to you and to the church. It is for good reason that Casey Luskin is held in such extreme contempt by your movement's critics, and there's something truly sick about the pattern of attacks that your operatives launched in the weeks after the Biola event. It's clear that you have a cadre of attack dogs that do this work for you, and some of them seem unconstrained by standards of integrity. I can't state this strongly enough: the Discovery Institute is a dangerous cancer on the Christian intellect, both because of its unyielding commitment to dishonesty and because of its creepy mission to undermine science itself. I'd like to see you do better, but I have no such hope for your institute. It needs to be destroyed, and I will do what I can to bring that about.

-Stephen Matheson, "An open letter to Stephen Meyer," Quintessence of Dust


Sunday, June 06, 2010


Psychotic Morality

Ohh! This is bad.

Steve Stewart-Williams is at Psychology Today arguing, in "Rewriting Morality I: Goodbye to Human Dignity," that "applied ethics, including suicide, euthanasia, and the proper treatment of nonhuman animals" is somehow tied to the "recalibration" we must make to "the value we place on the lives of human beings vs. other animals" inherent in evolutionary theory.

After noting that most everyone has abandoned "Social Darwinism" -- for the simple good reason that it was a crude and untrue view of what "natural selection" implies -- Stewart-Williams makes a logical leap that morality is a zero-sum game:

[James] Rachels identified an important trend in traditional Western moral thinking, which he dubbed the doctrine of human dignity. (Peter Singer uses the phrase sanctity of human life to refer to essentially the same thing.) Although the doctrine of human dignity is often not explicitly expressed, it is the heart and soul of the Western moral system, and provides the moorings for traditional morality.

The doctrine has two parts; the first pertains to humans, the second to nonhuman animals. The part pertaining to humans is the idea that human life has supreme worth - according to some, it has literally infinite value. A corollary of this view is that any activity that involves taking a human life (or at least an innocent human life) is utterly forbidden. This includes suicide, euthanasia, and abortion.

The flipside of the doctrine of human dignity concerns nonhuman animals. According to the doctrine, the lives of nonhuman animals have vastly less value than human lives. In fact, according to some commentators, such as the German enlightenment philosopher Immanuel Kant, they have no intrinsic value whatsoever. This means that, although it would be wrong for someone to torture your cat (sorry to put that image in your head), this is not because the cat wouldn't like it; it is only because you wouldn't like it. Animals have no intrinsic value; they exist for our benefit and may be sacrificed for our purposes.
Say what? In what sense does human "dignity" (whatever the heck Stewart-Williams means by that) depend on the absence of "dignity" in other life forms? After noting -- correctly -- that evolutionary theory undermines both the idea that we are made in the image of God and the idea that we are distinguished in some morally significant way from other animals by our possession of rationality, this is as close as he comes to explaining:

By undermining both the rationality thesis and the image-of-God thesis, the Darwinian worldview undermines the doctrine of human dignity. It leaves it without intellectual foundations. This has important implications for many key issues in ethics. The idea that human life, and human life alone, is infinitely valuable has impregnated the ethical systems of the world, especially those of the West. Although the doctrine of human dignity has its origins in the religious conception of humankind, it has woven its tendrils into our secular codes of ethics. It is implicit in the ethical beliefs of many who doubt or even reject the various religious accounts of human origins, and who believe that right and wrong exist independently of religion. Thus, even though we in the West live in a semi-post-Christian world, in which the image-of-God thesis and the rationality thesis are widely dismissed, the ethical attitudes they inspired linger on. But what happens to these attitudes when we really get to grips with the fact that the foundations of our traditional morality have eroded?
Okay, we haven't really rethought our old ways of doing things in light of modern science. Is this supposed to be something new? How long did it take us to rethink slavery as an economic system or the burning of witches as treatment of plagues? The simple fact that we have built our old "moral" views on the utter subjugation of other forms of life doesn't mean that is a problem.

Why is our only means to "dignity" if we can indiscriminately kill everything else? Life lives off us too, from the fauna in our guts and those that eat us at death, to the "domesticated" dogs and cats that take advantage of our evolved traits to get us to care for them and much else besides. What possibly prevents us from building a morality that gives "dignity" to that life without saying that we're not all in this together and have to share?

It is a false conundrum.

Saturday, June 05, 2010



Stephen Matheson is a Christian. He also teaches at a Christian institution, Calvin College. But, mostly, he is a scientist ... specifically, a biologist.

He has been doing a chapter-by-chapter deconstruction of Stephen Meyer's Signature in the Cell:



Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapters 4 and 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapters 9 and 10

Recently, Matheson has been distracted by real life (you know, real science and real education) and has yet to complete his review of Meyer's bloated screed, though I will continue to follow for new installments and will be posting them all in some convenient place.

Of course, the Discoveryoids are particularly discomforted by Matheson, who they have a hard time categorizing as a "Darwinist" ... by which they mean a philosophical materialist ... and, therefore, his criticism cannot be as easily deflected by ad hominem.

Matheson and another actual scientist, Arthur Hunt, decided to beard the lyin' lion on its own favorite turf, Biola (Bible Institute Of Los Angeles) University. As Matheson pointed out, that promptly resulted in his being "quotemined and utterly misconstrued" by the Disco 'Tute's spin machine. Matheson has been exposing that dishonesty here:

Bread and circus: Signature in the Cell at Biola (Part I)

Bread and circus: Signature in the Cell at Biola (Part II)

Bread and circus: Signature in the Cell at Biola (Part III)

Most recently, Richard Sternberg, the king of pseudo-martyrdom, has been making such a fool of himself over something that Matheson wrote that Larry Moran has, in a perhaps slightly surprising alliance, taken to whacking Sternberg over his lack of knowledge of biology and arithmetic. Now Matheson who, unlike Larry, tends to be generous (perhaps to a fault) in assessing the motives of those who disagree with him, has apparently had enough.

After responding to Sternberg with no little ... and literary ... sarcasm, Matheson stated that "it will be useful to send a clear message to the Discovery Institute as an organization, now that I've seen its mode of response to me since Meyer and I met."

And then he hoisted the Jolly Roger.

For those of you that don't already have Quintessence of Dust in your newsreaders, I strongly urge you to add it.

This could be fun!



Racing Jackasses

I certainly can't draw more attention to this than PZ Megahertz and Wonkette already have but there are some things that maybe need to be highlighted some more.

The basic story is that a mural was being painted on two walls outside Miller Valley Elementary School in Prescott, Arizona, that was designed to advertise a campaign for environmentally friendly transportation. It features portraits of four children, with a Hispanic boy as the dominant figure.

Some of the good citizens of Prescott took it upon themselves to demonstrate that the real impetus behind Arizona's recent "immigration" law was making Arizona safe for whites only by driving by as the mural was being painted (including by the school children) and shouting "Nigger" and "Spic." A City Councilman, Steve Blair, who had a radio show on the local conservative rant radio:

... spearheaded a public campaign on his talk show at Prescott radio station KYCA-AM (1490) to remove the mural.

In a broadcast last month, according to the Daily Courier in Prescott, Blair mistakenly complained that the most prominent child in the painting is African-American, saying: "To depict the biggest picture on the building as a Black person, I would have to ask the question: Why?"

The obvious reply is "Why not? Apparently, Blair is under the impression that showing dark-skinned children is somehow racially divisive:

... Blair ... insists the controversy isn't about racism but says the mural is intended to create racial controversy where none existed before.

"Personally, I think it's pathetic," he says. "You have changed the ambience of that building to excite some kind of diversity power struggle that doesn't exist in Prescott, Arizona. And I'm ashamed of that."

Riiight! Showing a dark-skinned child on a mural causes some people to shout racial epithets and it is the mural that is causing the problem! Blair certainly has a lot to be ashamed of. The whole ugly mess is only compounded by the school Principal, Jeff Lane, demanding that the artists lighten the skin tones of the children depicted in the mural with the painfully transparent "excuse" that:

"We asked them to fix the shading on the children's faces," he said. "We were looking at it from an artistic view. Nothing at all to do with race."

But this wouldn't be a Haystack post without some giant irony lurking in the wings.

There is one artistic representation in Prescott that is oh-so-true-to-life. Remember Blair's radio show? It is on KYCA, which "boasts" the usual Uber Right Wing suspects: Laura Ingraham, Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage, Sean Hannity, etc.

Well, the station's logo features a group of jackasses all lined up and ready to go.

Now that's artistic integrity!

Friday, June 04, 2010


Stupid Political Tricks

American politics keeps showing the class that we've come to expect:

With a bead of sweat rolling down the side of his face outside a Columbia bar, Republican S.C. Sen. Jake Knotts called Lexington Rep. Nikki Haley, an Indian-American Republican woman running for governor, a "raghead" several times while explaining how he believed she was hiding her true religion from voters.

"She's a f#!king raghead," Knotts said.

He later clarified his statement. He did not mean to use the F-word.

Knotts says he believed Haley has been set up by a network of Sikhs and was programmed to run for governor of South Carolina by outside influences in foreign countries. He claims she is hiding her religion and he wants the voters to know about it.

As Candace Chellew-Hodge notes at Religion Dispatches:

I had no idea that taking over South Carolina was on the Sikh agenda for world domination.

I suppose we should be surprised that a woman and ethnic minority is actually leading in the four-way Republican race for governor in South Carolina. But you know the Knotts-heads are lurking in the wings.

Thursday, June 03, 2010


Stunning Stupidity

This may be the single most concentrated example of creationist stupidity and invincible ignorance I've ever seen ... and I've been at this for a long time!

It has everything! Too much to even catalog:

Only Secular Humanists and Marxists are "evolutionists" ... Darwin was racist because of the subtitle to the Origin ... Lenin, Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot and (for a change) Mussolini were all "evilutionists" ... evolution teaches only the strong have value ... "true science," i.e. the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics, the Anthropic Principle, the "lack" of transitional forms, Pasteur and Spontaneous Generation, "obvious" Intelligent Design" in bacterium, etc., etc., "disproves" evolution ...

It just goes on and on, though I have to admit that this was my favorite:

The silliness of Punctuated Equilibrium, also known as the "Hopeful Monster" theory, which states that millions of years can go by with no change and then "Blam", an alligator lays an egg, and a bird flies out (I'm serious).

Seriously ignorant, of course. Not to mention irony-proof, since he ends with this:

Do you care about what God thinks, or what man thinks?

It's easy enough to disregard what man thinks ... when you've never tried it yourself.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010


Once a Lying Sack of ...

Ken Mercer is quoted at Burnt Orange Report as saying, in response to the question: "What is your position on the teaching of evolution?":

"My biggest quote was, 'If our kids do not have the freedom to raise their hands in science class and ask honest questions, then we are no longer living in the United States of America.' You can call it strengths and weaknesses, but we won the right for kids to ask questions in class, and that was the battle. It wasn't religion. It was just a right to ask questions."


That is the same Ken Mercer who, when the Texas State Board of Education was fighting over injecting that "strengths and weakness" language into the science standards, said:

"This is a battle of academic freedom. This is a battle over freedom of speech," Mercer said. "It's an issue of freedom of religion."

He also said that one of the "weaknesses" in evolutionary theory is the "controversy" over "macroevolution," though:

Most people of faith agree with what is commonly referred to as "micro" evolution," small changes that are clearly visible.

So, of course, Mercer didn't have religion in mind at all!

It is also a load of manure that the neo-theocrats on the board only wanted to protect the right of students to "ask questions." Any good teacher will allow students to ask! But good teachers will also refuse to allow students to disrupt classes or waste class time with irrelevancies. While this can be a delicate task for teachers faced with students wanting to discuss creationism in a science class, what Mercer and his coconspirators wanted was to mandate that teachers lead class discussions to:

... "analyze and evaluate the sufficiency or insufficiency of common ancestry to explain the sudden appearance, stasis, and sequential nature of groups in the fossil record" ...

... among other inanities. And inanities is just what Mercer has in mind. This is an example of what he thinks are the "weaknesses" of evolutionary theory:

The controversial "macro" evolution was commonly understood as those major changes that could occur if one species jumped to another. For example, have you ever seen a dog-cat, or a cat-rat?

Dishonesty and stupidity ... a deadly combination ... when it comes to education.

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How to Support Science Education