Tuesday, August 31, 2010


Angels & Devils

This is kinda cute:

According to Jesse Bering, a psychologist and an atheist:

"I've always said that I don't believe in God, but I don't really believe in atheists either," Bering says. "Everybody experiences the illusion that God — or some type of supernatural agent — is watching them or is concerned about what they do in their sort of private everyday moral lives."

These supernatural agents, Bering adds, might have very different names. What some call God, others call Karma. There are literally thousands of names, but according to Bering they all have the same effect.

"Whether it's a dead ancestor or God, whatever supernatural agent it is, if you think they're watching you, your behavior is going to be affected," he says.

In fact, Bering says that believing that supernatural beings are watching you is so basic to being human that even committed atheists regularly have moments where their minds turn in a supernatural direction, as his did in the wake of his mother's death.

"They experience it but they reject it," Bering says. "Sort of override or stomp on their immediate intuition. But that's not to say that they don't experience it. We all have the same basic brain. And our brains have evolved to work in a particular way."

Then there's this from a well-known squid-master:

... I had a little internal debate between the nice angel on my left shoulder, and the dickish devil on my right.

And the angel said, "Oh, look, it's just a little soreness and it's going away already. Go home, have a cup of tea, lie down for a bit, and then you can get back to work, no worries. You'll feel fine."

And the devil replied with the potent one-two punch of reason and abuse: "You teach human physiology, you moron — you know this is one of the warning signs of heart disease. You'd have to be incredibly stupid to ignore this and hope it goes away…until a heart attack comes along to blow your heart up. Jerk. This isn't even a choice."

Monday, August 30, 2010


Bloggus Interruptus

Because of "real" life's inconsiderate imposition of itself on my affairs, blogging over the next several weeks may be, at best, intermittent.

I hope my select readership can withstand any withdrawal from deadpan snark and amateur philosophical ramblings until such time as business resumes on a regular basis.


CFI F...s Up

Orac -- rightly, I think -- took the Center For Inquiry to task for the same sort of demonization of those who they disagree with that we have come to expect from the BeckLimbaughPalinistas.

While the president of CFI, Ron Lindsay, who already had a messy falling out with Paul Kurtz, the founder of CFI, has apparently realized that the original release was a mistake, Orac does not seem placated.

Russell Blackford was also appalled by the CFI's first statement but thinks it got it right the second time around.

Larry Moran, who might seem unlikely to disagree with CFI at all, thinks the original statement was wrong but the second is:

... better but it's still silly. I look forward to a time when nobody wants to built houses of worship but until that time they are free to build them wherever they want, as far as I'm concerned. The "revised" (i.e. backpedeling) statement is better but it still sounds like CFI USA is against building of houses or worship when they should be advocating rationality and skepticism.

Ultimately, if you value "tolerance" as a social value, you must be willing to extend tolerance to those you disagree with. There is, of course, no "bright line" distinction between "criticism" and "intolerance." But one thing is sure: those who will lump all people included within such amorphous categories as "religious" ... or, for that matter, "godless" ... are, most likely, on the wrong side of the line.

Sunday, August 29, 2010


Christian Paranoia

... is on full display in "Why Islam is Fine and Christianity is Not" by Gina Miller at Dakota Voice, a kind of rural WingNutDaily. It's depressingly familiar:

For so long I keep hearing people ask why are Christians so maligned and hated? And why are Islamists suddenly getting all this religious freedom support from the American left that doesn't give a rip about freedom of religion for Christians?

Maligned and hated? More than Muslims? What America is she living in?

The "basis" for this (other than her belief that the left is part of "the forces of hell under Satan") is:

Evidence of this truth is clearly seen everywhere we look. Christians and Christianity are under a constant assault and always have been, whether it's the ACLU in their crusade to purge any sign or hint of Christianity from the public square , or the murdering of Christians around the world by practitioners of the "religion of peace," or even the snide, slanderous and libelous portrayal of Christians by the media, Hollywood and academia. ...

It is those on the left who are such ardent supporters of the Ground Zero mosque. They are screaming that those of us who oppose it want to deny the Islamists their freedom of religion to build the mosque; that's a lie, and we know it. Those same leftists are the ones who scream for all evidence of the God of Christians to be removed from their sight and for his followers to never utter a prayer in the name of Jesus within their hearing. The split personality of these people is amazing to behold! But it makes perfect sense when you consider the spirit forces behind them. In their thinking, Islam is good, but Christianity is not.

Riiight! With a mere 300,000+ Christian churches in the US, they are really out of sight. Of course, the "public squares" they want access to are not the ones that already have a church on them nearly universally, it is the government they want to have uttering prayers ... but only Christian prayers.

It doesn't take the media, Hollywood and academia to make these people look bad.

Friday, August 27, 2010


Richard Dawkins, Accommodationist

The Greatest Show On Earth has finally risen to the top of my "to read" pile. While I'm not yet deep into it, it has all the lucid prose and ability to simply expound complex issues to lay audiences that we've come to expect from Dawkins.

But this caught my eye:

It is frequently, and rightly, said that senior clergy and theologians have no problem with evolution and, in many cases, actively support scientists in this respect. This is often true, as I know from the agreeable experience of collaborating with the then Bishop of Oxford, now Lord Harries, on two separate occasions. In 2004 we wrote a joint article in the Sunday Times* whose concluding words were: 'Nowadays there is nothing to debate. Evolution is a fact and, from a Christian perspective, one of the greatest of God's works.' The last sentence was written by Richard Harries, but we agreed about all the rest of our article. Two years previously, Bishop Harries and I had organized a joint letter to the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, which read as follows

Dear Prime Minister,

We write as a group of scientists and Bishops to express our concern about the teaching of science in the Emmanuel City Technology College in Gateshead.

Evolution is a scientific theory of great explanatory power, able to account for a wide range of phenomena in a number of disciplines. It can be refined, confirmed and even radically altered by attention to evidence. It is not, as spokesmen for the college maintain, a 'faith position1 in the same category as the biblical account of creation which has a different function and purpose.
The issue goes wider than what is currently being taught in one college. There is a growing anxiety about what willbe taught and how it will be taught in the new generation of proposed faith schools. We believe that the curricula in such schools, as well as that of Emmanuel City Technology College, need to be strictly monitored in order that the respective disciplines of science and religious studies are properly respected.

Yours sincerely

The Rt Revd Richard Harries, Bishop of Oxford; Sir David Attenborough FRS; The Rt Revd Christopher Herbert, Bishop of St Albans; Lord May of Oxford, President of the Royal Society; Professor John Enderby FRS, Physical Secretary, Royal Society; The Rt Revd John Oliver, Bishop of Hereford; The Rt Revd Mark Santer, Bishop of Birmingham; Sir Neil Chalmers, Director, Natural History Museum; The Rt Revd Thomas Butler, Bishop of Southwark; Sir Martin Rees FRS, Astronomer Royal; The Rt Revd Kenneth Stevenson, Bishop of Portsmouth; Professor Patrick Bateson FRS, Biological Secretary, Royal Society; The Rt Revd Crispian Hollis, Roman Catholic Bishop of Portsmouth; Sir Richard Southwood FRS; Sir Francis Graham-Smith FRS, Past Physical Secretary, Royal Society; Professor Richard Dawkins FRS
Bishop Harries and I organized this letter in a hurry. As far as I remember, the signatories to the letter constituted 100 per cent of those we approached. There was no disagreement either from scientists or from bishops.

The Archbishop of Canterbury has no problem with evolution, nor does the Pope (give or take the odd wobble over the precise palaeontological juncture when the human soul was injected), nor do educated priests and professors of theology. This is a book about the positive evidence that evolution is a fact. It is not intended as an anti-religious book. I've done that, it's another T-shirt, this is not the place to wear it again. Bishops and theologians who have attended to the evidence for evolution have given up the struggle against it. Some may do so reluctantly, some, like Richard Harries, enthusiastically, but all except the woefully uninformed are forced to accept the fact of evolution. They may think God had a hand in starting the process off, and perhaps didn't stay his hand in guiding its future progress. They probably think God cranked the universe up in the first place, and solemnized its birth with a harmonious set of laws and physical constants calculated to fulfil some inscrutable purpose in which we were eventually to play a role. But, grudgingly in some cases, happily in others, thoughtful and rational churchmen and women accept the evidence for evolution.
While Dawkins goes on to lament that the bishops' congregants are slow to take their lead, he was willing to work with the bishops toward a common goal and even allow his name to be appended to a bit of theological fluff as a spoonful of sugar to help the congregants' medicine go down.

Now, the people who are called "accommodationists" by the people who are called "New Atheists" have a variety of views ... just as the Gnu Atheists do, many of whom don't much like being lumped together with everyone else who happens to share some of their views.

There is a place for making soothing sounds in the direction of theists to help them accept the results of science -- particularly by organizations attempting to spread scientific education -- that does not preclude the criticism of religion -- particularly by individual scientists.

It's not so clear that there is any place for the labels.


* "Education: questionable foundations," Sunday Times, June 20, 2004

Thursday, August 26, 2010


John West Don't Know Philosophy

... or much else. Certainly not "honesty."

The particular occasion for this observation is West's response to an article, "Self-Assembly of the Bacterial Flagellum: No Intelligence Required" at The BioLogos Foundation by Kathryn Applegate.

The Sensuous Curmudgeon has already gone over the dishonest part of West's response, so there is no need to repeat it here. I want to focus on what is (charitably) West's misunderstanding of Applegate's point. She says:

The bacterial flagellum may look like an outboard motor, but there is at least one profound difference: the flagellum assembles spontaneously, without the help of any conscious agent.
This is a point that Kant made even before William Paley wrote his honestly titled Natural Theology, that so much of ID merely regurgitates:

In a watch one part is the instrument for moving the other parts, but the wheel is not the effective cause of the production of the others; no doubt one part is for the sake of the others, but it does not exist by their means. In this case the producing cause of the parts and of their form is not contained in the nature (of the material), but is external to it in a being which can produce effects according to Ideas of a whole possible by means of its causality. Hence a watch wheel does not produce other wheels, still less does one watch produce other watches, utilising (organising) foreign material for that purpose; hence it does not replace of itself parts of which it has been deprived, nor does it make good what is lacking in a first formation by the addition of the missing parts, nor if it has gone out of order does it repair itself—all of which, on the contrary, we may expect from organised nature.— An organised being is then not a mere machine, for that has merely moving power, but it possesses in itself formative power of a self-propagating kind which it communicates to its materials though they have it not of themselves; it organises them, in fact, and this cannot be explained by the mere mechanical faculty of motion.
West tries to blunt Kant's and Applegate's point while missing its import:

One wonders whether Dr. Applegate draws the same conclusion every time she opens a spreadsheet program and discovers that it "magically" adds and subtracts sums--no intelligence required. Or when her word processing program "magically" checks the grammar and spelling of her blog posts--no intelligence required. One further wonders whether Dr. Applegate has ever visited a modern assembly line, where robotic equipment "magically" assembles any number of amazing products--no intelligence required.

Of course, intelligence is required for each of these actions; the intelligence simply happens to be pre-programmed into the computer operations and assembly instructions.
But spreadsheets and word processors do not reproduce the computers they need to work and the robotic equipment assembling other objects does not, itself, self-assemble. Thus, the analogy, so central to the whole ID "argument," that the flagellum looks like an outboard motor and, therefore, must have the same causes, fails. You don't have to agree with Applegate's "feelings of awe and wonder" and desire to "praise our great God" over the self-assembly of life in order to grasp the philosophical point that ID is empty handwaving.

Amusingly, West cites C.S. Lewis: "Logic! Why don't they teach logic at these schools?" West should have asked the question of the ones he attended.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


Apathetic Study

Here's an academic study of non-religious attitudes that is in need of more responses from people who consider themselves "agnostics." The aim is:

In the present study, we are particularly interested in differences between believers and unbelievers in fundamental values and attitudes that underlie their differences on specific social issues. In addition, we are interested in the origins of unbelief. Few people are raised in explicit traditions of unbelief and hence must arrive at their positions through some sort of explicit decision. There are many accounts of religious conversion experiences and how it affects people's lives. There has been, however, little written on how people come to be unbelievers and how, or whether, their unbelief affects their daily lives with family, friends, or workmates.
Since I am a militantly apathetic agnostic, I've heeded John Wilkins' call to respond to the survey, which was relatively painless.

But I have my doubts it will be of much real use. As someone recently noted, to some fundamentalists they were once "atheists" because they didn't go to church at least once a week (and didn't feel bad about it).

I suspect that most people who self-identify as agnostics have an idea that it means that they haven't committed to any particular god(s), which is far from my definition.

But, anyway, if you want to add to the survey ... even if you are one of those deluded atheists, doubters, sceptics etc., rather than a True AgnosticTM, please do so.


We Have To Destroy It To Save It

Sarah Posner at Religion Dispatches has an article on former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum (and never was a title more richly deserved) and his all-too-literal "Crusade" to save Christendom against Islam by destroying the secular government of the United States. Posner quotes Santorum:

[In a speech] I equated the importance of winning the culture war here in this country as a prerequisite to be able to successfully win the war against these jihadis over the long term. And I made the comparison that if you look at Europe, Europe is not fighting by and large. And the reason they’re not fighting is because they’ve lost the culture war. They are a post-Christian country, they are not a people of faith, their churches are empty, they are people who are not reproducing at any rate to sustain a population. ... The problem with the Europeans is that they are completely secular folks, by and large, who see the world through the eyes of reason. Well, these people don’t – these people reject reason. These people say that their lives are governed by faith, period, by the rule of law. That was handed down in Sharia. And it is all-encompassing and it is perfect and it is not to be added to. ...

Posner surmises that Santorum is saying that "having a 'Christian nation' is the only way to combat Islam because a secular country wouldn't grasp the irrationality of jihadists." I don't think that's what Santorum means at all (though he might never say it out loud). He means that the only way to fight jihadists is with a populace that equally rejects reason; that is equally willing to have their lives governed by faith; and equally committed a divine rulebook that is perfect and not to be added to (so science can never be accepted if it contradicts that rulebook).

Santorum, in short, wants Christihadists to match the jihadists and wants the government's help in inculcating that rabid faith in the citizenry.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


Why Can't We All Just Get Along?

First it was David Klinghoffer calling Andrew Breitbart a 'potty-mouthed crazy-con' and one of Breitbart's minions calling Klinghoffer a creationist and purveyor of 'sanctimonious rants.'

Then Joseph Farah, editor and chief executive officer of WingNutDaily, decided that Ann Coulter was a proponent of materialistic libertarianism because she agreed to speak at an event held by a gay Republican group, GOProud. Coulter called Farah a "swine," for releasing what she considered a private email exchange. Then she upped the ante by calling Farah a "publicity whore" and a "fake Christian."

And now, Bryan Fischer, spokesman for the American Family Association, has weighed in with claims Coulter and Glenn Beck are not being sufficiently homophobic, calling them "the latest deserters in the culture war." He calls Coulter a 'Benedict Arnold impersonator.'

I am so distressed by the falling out among the Loony Right that I may have to take to my fainting couch until the vapors pass.

Monday, August 23, 2010


Pat Robertson, Anti-American

Pat Robertson apparently thinks the First Amendment guarantee of freedom of religion has been revoked ... or wishes it was.

Not only has Robertson's badly misnamed American Center for Law and Justice filed a frivolous lawsuit against the so-called "Ground Zero Mosque," he has now accused local officials in Murfreesboro, Tennessee of possibly being bribed in order to approve a place of worship in their town ... as if it was necessary as long as local zoning and building codes are met.

And his stated reason for opposing the mosque in Murfreesboro is truly stupid*:

He went on to say that Muslims could end up taking over the city council to pass ordinances that require public prayer and foot washing. The new Islamic Center is outside the Murfreesboro city limits. An existing center is much smaller and has been in the city for years.

Robertson said a Muslim takeover would mean girls would have to wear headdresses to school.

No, idiot! That's what the First Amendment is all about! In the United States, Muslims don't get to tell other people to follow the dictates of Islam. But it's understandable that Robertson would think that's possible, since he spends so much of his time trying to use the law to make other people follow the dictates of his religion.

It's a simple case of projection.


* On the other hand, Robertson's reason isn't the absolutely stupidest basis for fear of the mosque. This is:

"What I sense is a certain amount of fear fueling the animosity," said Jim Daniel, a former county commissioner and former county Republican Party chairman, sitting down for lunch one day last week at City Cafe. Residents worry that "the Muslims coming in here will keep growing in numbers and override our system of law and impose sharia law."

It's a shame that so many Americans are so deeply ignorant of the government they live under.

Sunday, August 22, 2010


Identifying Creationists

As Brian Switek points out at Dinosaur Tracking one way to identify creationists is to find out who confuses the two animals above ... and thinks it is somehow important anyway.

Saturday, August 21, 2010


Stop the Islamic Triumph Carts!

Via Ed Brayton and The Daily Show, we have been alerted to a new nefarious plan that all (the Right-) God-fearing Americans must stand up against: the Ground Zero Halal food carts!

As any student of (the Right) history knows, not only does Islam build mosques to celebrate their conquests, they build eating places that bring their strange cuisine where you can hardly get a good ol' Bacon Cheese Burger and literally force it down the throats of the conquered people!

IslamoFascists all over the world will celebrate these food carts as proof of their triumph over America on 9/11!

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Municipal Land-Use Update - Ground Zero Mosque
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party


Friday, August 20, 2010


You're Not Helping!

Poor David Klinghoffer!

He seems to have been so savaged by Lauri Lebo that he needs help from the other Discoveryoids ... in this case, Michael Flannery. Unfortunately, he does barely better than anything Kinghoffer could muster.

Some small credit should be given to Flannery, since, unlike Klinghoffer, he doesn't assert that the one true definition of "creationism" is the young-Earth variety:

One possible definition of "creationism" is the attempt to make scientific assertions regarding the natural world and/or the origin of life based upon a literal reading of Genesis. Yet with intelligent design, as David Klinghoffer points out, even if the source of the intelligence were identified as a deity, that wouldn't make it creationism in this sense of Genesis literalism. In short, when it comes to speaking of "creationism," there is a need for much greater clarity of thought and expression.
Well, the need to be so precise is up for grabs. After all, there is little doubt that old-Earth creationism or progressive creationism or, for that matter, theistic evolution, cannot be taught as science in public schools. Judge Jones, in no uncertain terms, showed exactly why Intelligent Design creationism is in the same boat. Flannery, naturally, makes no attempt at a definition of "creationism."

Instead, Flannery makes a strange but, perhaps, unsurprising move, given how much the Undiscovey crowd focuses on Darwin instead of really dealing with the present state of evolutionary science. He cites to a 100 year old opinion of Alfred Russel Wallace about the origin of life:

Well, it is the very simple, plain, and old-fashioned one that there was at some stage in the history of the earth, after the cooling process, a definite act of creation. Something came from the outside. Power was exercised from without.

[F]or Wallace, man's "ape-like ancestry" did not mean that man was in any sense related to the ape. Wallace always pointed out that the imbuing of man with a soul made him substantively different, a change in kind not degree. Wallace never agreed with Darwin's Descent of Man.
This, given that Wallace "was not a Christian by any measure," supposedly demonstrates:

[T]he co-discoverer of natural selection clearly espous[ed] a version of "creationism" according to Lauri Lebo's expansive definition. And how did Wallace come to this? Certainly not from Scripture but from Darwin's own principle of utility, the idea that no organism will develop an attribute unless it affords it some survival advantage.

Wallace concluded that those things that make us most human -- our ability to reason, to enjoy art, music, and so on -- were inexplicable on Darwin's own principle. So what precisely do we mean by creationism?
Well, no! Wallace's belief in the inability of natural selection to account for human traits was deeply tied up in his belief in spiritualism. And his belief made him so unable to apply science to it that he would overlook the fraud so widespread in the spiritualism movement. Yes, I would classify spiritualism, as an explanation of the beginnings and shape of life, as "creationism," especially in its ability to blind its adherents to contrary evidence.

But the really ironic part is contemplating how the Discoveryless Institute drones would react to any school board that decided to teach their children that the rappings, apparitions and floating chairs perpetrated by mediums counts as "scientific evidence."

Thursday, August 19, 2010


Caine's Wife

Orly Taitz is at it again.

You'll remember when we last left the intrepid Taz, she had proved beyond the shadow of a doubt and with geometric logic that a duplicate key to the wardroom icebox ... err ... that Justice Thomas had never seen her petition for an emergency stay of the sanctions imposed on her for frivolous conduct in a Federal District Court in Georgia and that, instead, someone was manipulating the Supreme Court's computers and dockets to prevent The TruthTM about President Obama from coming out.

The Taz posted at her website a motion she supposedly filed addressed to Chief Justice Roberts requesting that she be allowed to have a forensic document expert examine the order denying the stay to confirm it was signed by Justice Thomas and a computer security expert examine the Court's computers to see who was entering these bogus orders and deleting various applications. Strangely, that motion does not appear on the docket of her case (AHA! Another conspiracy!).

In any event, the docket shows she resubmitted her motion for a stay of the sanctions to Justice Alito, who referred it to the full Court (no doubt figuring he shouldn't hog all the humor), which promptly denied the stay.

So what did the indefatigable Taz do then? Why, she filed a motion to reconsider the denial of the stay based on the fact that ... wait for it ... the President released a video of his passport that constitutes:

... newly discovered evidence of fraud on this honorable court, forgery of passport records, uttering, obstruction of justice, committed by Barack Hussein Obama, aka Barry Soetoro, aka Barry Soebarkah, President of the United States (hereinafter Obama) in order to improperly influence this Honorable court in it’s August 16, 2010 decision on application for stay and reversal of $20,000 sanctions against a political dissident attorney Dr. Orly Taitz, as a punishment for her representation of members of the US military, questioning legitimacy of Barack Obama for the position of the President and Commander-in-Chief.

I'll leave you to sort out the geometric logic that shows that the passport is a fraud (I'd try but I don't have that much aspirin at hand) but it is interesting to contemplate just what The Taz thinks is the connection between this video and the sanctions against her. Even if we somehow live in a universe with such a colossal sense of humor that it could permit her to be right about the President, that would not change the frivolousness of her conduct in the district court. It's no defense to past frivolous conduct that your case ultimately proves to be true.

Perhaps Taz thinks the justices are all sitting around spending the day scanning YouTube for reasons to deny her applications. That would fit her delusions, given how she is now comparing herself to, of all people, Nelson Mandela. Of course, if that was the case, it wouldn't make much sense to ask them to reconsider. Better she should just stick with that appeal to "an international court of Human Rights."

The only question is how long will it be before the Supremes get tired of her antics and start imposing their own sanctions.


Via Ed Brayton at Dispatches From the Culture Wars

Wednesday, August 18, 2010



Casey Luskin is playing the ol' "Woe as me, they don't take us seriously card," once again.

This time it's about the California Science Center's cancellation of the American Freedom Alliance's dishonest presentation of the Undiscovery Institute's propaganda film, Darwin's Dilemma. Supposedly, the ID apologia was to be "balanced" by a "pro-evolution film" that the AFA, nonetheless, described as providing:

... a view of the true structure of DNA never before witnessed in a wide screen format. Once one views DNA in motion, with the full scope, intricacy and supercoiling magnificence of this essential building block of life, the issue of our origins takes on an even deeper mystery and wonder.

In other words, the AFA's allegedly "pro-evolution" film was going to be touted as actually being anti-evolution. Now, why exactly might scientists not take the AFA and the DI seriously?

In any event, Luskin trots out bits and pieces of emails by people more or less associated with the CSC. As always, the disingenuous quote mining by creationists must be taken into account. But even assuming the quotes are remotely accurate, what do they signify?

As a mater of constitutional law, if a government entity opens its facilities to the use of the general public, then it may not censor the free speech expression of viewpoints it disagrees with. The CRC allows (or, at least, did) a broad spectrum of individuals and groups to book its facilities, including everything from weddings to corporate meetings to political groups. The CSC's excuse for the cancellation was that the AFA broke it's contract by not clearing all advertising of the event with the CSC. However, it appears that the offending ad was, in fact, issued by the DI, which was not a party to the contract. As I noted before:

If that is the sole basis for the cancellation, the CSC can be in some trouble and should probably settle.

Either the management of the CSC did not consult their attorneys before canceling the event or were ill-served by them.

But what does that have to do with the emails by the scientists? After all, it can be assumed they aren't constitutional lawyers. Let's look at this (remembering to bring our two-ton salt shaker when it comes to Luskin "quotes"):

Ken Phillips, a curator at the California Science Center:

I personally have a real problem with anything that elevates the concept of intelligent design to a level that makes it appear as though it should be considered equally alongside Darwinian theory as a possible alternative to natural selection. In other words, I see us getting royally played by the Center for Science and Culture resulting in long term damage to our credibility and judgment for a very long time.

Oh, wait a minute! Let's recast this just a little bit!:

I personally have a real problem with anything that elevates the concept of young-Earth creationism to a level that makes it appear as though it should be considered equally alongside Darwinian theory as a possible alternative to natural selection. In other words, I see us getting royally played by the Louisiana Legislature resulting in long term damage to our credibility and judgment for a very long time.

Now, under the Constitution, it would be just as wrong, under the apparent circumstances of this case, to cancel a YEC program as it would be to cancel an ID program. But would it be wrong for a scientist to feel that equating YEC with evolutionary science was both dishonest and does damage to the credibility and judgment of any scientific institution, given that the Supreme Court, in Edwards v. Aguillard, reached essentially the same conclusion?

The only reason not to feel the same way about ID is if, as the DI claims, it isn't "creationism" ... which we have every reason to believe is a sham.

There are more supposed examples of scientists' "intolerance" to lying and the deliberate promotion of pseudoscience ... but that falls into the category of "Film at Eleven!"


Toleration Is Not Enough

Just another "dumb" thought from a politician who fails to cater to the emotional issues of the public:

The Citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy: a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship. It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent national gifts. For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.

It would be inconsistent with the frankness of my character not to avow that I am pleased with your favorable opinion of my Administration, and fervent wishes for my felicity. May the children of the Stock of Abraham, who dwell in this land, continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other Inhabitants; while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and figtree, and there shall be none to make him afraid.

- G. Washington, "Letter in response to Moses Seixas," 1790

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


Fruit Loops

This doesn't need much comment ... except, maybe, can we get Marsha West a date with Ray Comfort? They ... and the bananas ... would be perfect together:

I don't hold a biology degree and I'm no expert in any area of science, and I know very little about philosophy, but one thing I do know is that the brain is very complex. It doesn't take a Ph.D to understand that the brain controls every single bodily function. Which begs the question: Before the brain developed how could any creature draw a breath? Without a fully developed brain, what controlled body temperature...blood pressure...digestion? How did creatures chew their food/swallow...excrete waste...recognize danger? Did the memory evolve? Homo sapiens somehow came to realize that they couldn't see. So they set about evolving something to see with. And lo, 1 billion years later the eye came into being. So here's my next question: Did primitive humans have to stay in the swamp to avoid bumping into trees or stepping off a cliff, or did they feel their way around?

One last question: Wouldn't organs have to evolve at precisely the same time for the body to be able to function? I mean, think about it. If all our vital organs fail to operate in harmony, our bodies shut down and die! Yet we're supposed to believe that Homo sapiens managed to evolve into modern man sporting all our pretty amazing bells and whistles!

Monday, August 16, 2010


Stupid Redux

Boy! Can't the Righteous Right come up with any new ideas at all?

California's Proposition 8, which limited marriage to one man and one woman, U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker found that "Religious beliefs that gay and lesbian relationships are sinful or inferior to heterosexual relationships harm gays and lesbians."

Mathew Staver, dean of the Liberty University Law School and chairman of the Orlando-based Liberty Counsel, said Walker's finding is shocking, and, if upheld, would have ominous implications for Christians wanting to present the Bible's position on homosexuality.

"It's an astounding statement by a judge, and if that finding were to be upheld, it would criminalize Christian beliefs, because the Bible and Christian beliefs historically have clearly indicated that homosexuality is sex outside of marriage – and is contrary to God's design," Staver told CNSNews.com.

He added: "For this judge to say that Christian beliefs or religious beliefs contrary to homosexuality are actually harmful -- what that essentially says is, that if that's the case, then you've got to change your religious beliefs, and if you don't, you're going to be penalized as result. That is a very dangerous aspect of this court decision."
Dr. Richard Land, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberties Commission (ERLC) of the Southern Baptist Convention goes even further:

"Let me spell it out for you, If they say that telling what the Bible says about homosexuality is hate speech, and cannot be allowed -- we will be arrested in our pulpits. We will obey God rather than man," he told CNSNews.com.
Here we go again! Remember how the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which added sexual orientation, gender identity and disability to race, religion, ethnicity, nationality and gender as categories covered by federal hate-crimes statutes, was supposed to "criminalize preaching the Gospel and put preachers in the crosshairs"?

No wave of preacher arrests followed passage of the Hate Crimes Prevention Act for the simple reason that it wasn't a "hate speech" law which, in any event, would be unconstitutional under the 1st Amendment.

Similarly, it does not matter that religious beliefs harm gays and lesbians. Those beliefs can still be held and preached under the 1st Amendment and cannot be "criminalized." What religious beliefs cannot be is enacted into law to discriminate against "sinners."

The only question is whether Staver and Land are really so stupid or are they just lying to the faithful to increase their fear ... and donations. The only sure thing is that the Righteous Right has as little knowledge of the Constitution as they have respect for it.


Via Candace Chellew-Hodge at Religion Dispatches

Sunday, August 15, 2010


What's Wrong With the GOP

This is from today's Face the Nation segment on President Obama's speech about the so-called "Ground Zero Mosque":

Republican strategist Ed Rollins, who was the National Campaign Director for the Reagan-Bush campaign in 1984 and the national campaign chairman for the Mike Huckabee presidential campaign in 2007, even called Obama's comments "probably the dumbest thing that any president has said or candidate has said since Michael Dukakis said it was okay to burn the flag. And it was very similar."

"This is an emotional issue," Rollins said. "Intellectually the president may be right. But this is an emotional issue. People who lost kids, brothers, sisters, fathers, what have you, do not want that mosque in New York."
The "Party of Lincoln" no longer even pays lip service to principle. It is only interested in winning partisan battles and is more than willing to live down to the public's fears, to play off them and to reinforce them, rather than to fight those fears and lead the public to a better understanding of the real issues. It is "dumb" to stand up for what is constitutionally and morally right.

Maybe it is "dumb" when your only measure of what is "right" is "what wins elections." Personally, I'd rather have a president who, at least occasionally, stands up for what is right despite its effect on his reelection chances.

Friday, August 13, 2010


Of Sneaks and Creationism

Smarting from being roughed up by Lauri Lebo, David Klinghoffer resorts to that he knows best: obfuscation and cheap rhetorical tricks.

Responding to Lebo having pointed out that:

No matter how many times they deny it, intelligent design relies on the supernatural. They can hide it in the passive voice all they want, but when you talk about an "intelligent cause" you are talking about a creator. And that makes it (wait for it) creationism.

... Klinghoffer, after denying that the intelligent cause "must be supernatural in the sense we normally give to that word" (and just who is that "we," anyway?), goes on to say:

[E]ven if the definition did speak of a "supernatural intelligent cause," ID would not be relying on the supernatural but arguing for it.

But as a thought experiment, imagine that ID really did identify the "intelligent cause" as a deity, a creator. Would that make it "creationism"?

No, not unless you are in the habit of buying lame arguments based on tenuous verbal comparisons. Words have meanings. "Creationism" is a useful word to designate the claim of scientific evidence for a literal reading of Genesis, from the creation story to Noah's flood. ID not only does not provide proof for a literalist Biblical theology. It goes head-on against such a theology on major points.

So even if ID spoke of a deity, what would support Ms. Lebo's application to intelligent design of the scare word "creationism"? Nothing, if you understand that we use different words to denote different things precisely to avoid confusion of the kind Ms. Lebo has fallen into. Dear Lauri Lebo, the fact that some people have used the same word in different contexts does not prove that everything so designated is the same.

The excruciating irony of this is that Klinghoffer starts off by calling Lebo a "conspiracy theorist." As Wikipedia notes, "conspiracy theory" is a term "used almost exclusively to refer to any fringe theory which explains an historical or current event as the result of a secret plot by conspirators of almost superhuman power and cunning." But can the identification of ID with creationism be called a "fringe theory" when a conservative Republican judge, after taking weeks of evidence, came to the same conclusion? As Judge John E. Jones III found in the Kitzmiller case:

The overwhelming evidence at trial established that ID is a religious view, a mere re-labeling of creationism, and not a scientific theory.

What was that about "lame arguments based on tenuous verbal comparisons," David?

Arguing for a supernatural "Designer" responsible for the existence of life, the universe and everything is, by any definition, "creationism," just as Judge Jones found:

An objective observer would know that ID and teaching about "gaps" and "problems" in evolutionary theory are creationist, religious strategies that evolved from earlier forms of creationism.

Klinghoffer tries his best to defuse Lebo's recounting of William Dembski's statement that "intelligent design is just the Logos theology of John's Gospel restated in the idiom of information theory," by saying that Lebo ignores Dembski's "consistent statements about why intelligent design is not creationism." The problem here is, as the Supreme Court found in Edwards v. Aguillard, statements of secular purpose must "be sincere and not a sham." After all the lying, all the subterfuge ("cdesign proponentsists," anyone?) and the cheap semantic tricks, such as Klinghoffer's, why would anyone believe the denials of Dembski or any of the other Discovery Institute drones?

Of course, if David is so sensitive about the supposed differences between ID and biblical creationism, we'll be happy to call them "Intelligent Design creationists." ... Oh, wait! They don't much like that either, do they?

Thursday, August 12, 2010


A Philosopher Dies

David L. Hull has died. Author of two of my favorite books in the field, Science As a Process and Darwin and His Critics, John Wilkins, who Hull mentored, has an appreciation of Hull's career.

This link is to a series of posts I did drawing from Darwin and His Critics.

Philosophy is much poorer today.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010


Amphibian Spittle

When I first heard about David Klinghoffer's sneering, even sexist ("she seems bright enough"), attack on Lauri Lebo, I hoped Ms. Lebo noticed, since, given their relative abilities, I expected things to turn out badly for Klinghoffer.

Danged if I wasn't right:

I have to admit, when I saw over the weekend that I had been called out by the Discovery Institute, the conservative think-tank committed to promoting intelligent design, my first thought was of what the late great Molly Ivins once said after she had been attacked by Rush Limbaugh on his radio show.

"It's like being gummed by a newt. It doesn't actually hurt but it leaves you with slimy stuff on your ankle."

Trust me, it goes downhill for Klinghoffer and the other DI drones from there!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


Factualizing Religion

Timothy Sandefur is over at The Panda's Thumb kicking sand in the face of the 98 pound weakling of the law, Casey Luskin. The occasion is Luskin's article in that bastion of legal scholarship, Liberty University Law Review.

Luskin's thesis is that criticizing Intelligent Design creationism = attacking a religious viewpoint. He combines this with an insistent denial that ID is a religious viewpoint, which is an amusing effort to stick to the Discovery Institute party line, but is not, strictly speaking, illogical. His position is that, if we assume the fact (which is a fact, but he assumes, rather than believing it) that ID creationism is a religious viewpoint, why, then, it violates the First Amendment to disparage it: "Sylvia Mader's 2007 introductory biology textbook, Essentials of Biology…plainly communicates that ID runs counter to the factual scientific data," he writes. "If she is correct that ID is a religious viewpoint, is it appropriate for state schools to use her textbooks that unambiguously claim ID is empirically wrong?"

Sandefur is exactly right about this:

The correct answer is, yes, it's perfectly constitutional and perfectly appropriate ...

The neutrality requirement in the First Amendment forbids the government from taking a position on the truth or falsehood of a religious doctrine in religious terms, but it may take a position on any matter on areligious or non-religious terms. That is, the Constitution forbids the government from endorsing or propagating or censoring the doctrinal truth of a religious proposition, but it does not forbid the government from endorsing or propagating the factual truth of a proposition, even if those propositions turn out to be the same in content. It does not forbid the government from reaching a conclusion, and stating or endorsing that conclusion, from secular premises, even if that conclusion happens to clash with someone's religious view. Government may not take religious positions, but it take secular positions that happen to clash with positions endorsed by a religious viewpoint.

This is obviously the lesson of Edwards vs. Aguillard. The state can teach the secular science from physics, astronomy, geology and other sciences that unambiguously claim that the sort of biblical literalism that insists the Earth is only 6,000 years old is empirically wrong. The government cannot teach that belief in the Bible is wrong or that YEC is bad theology, but teaching the evidence of science is perfectly permissible, even if it has the "spillover effect" (in the words of 1st Amendment expert, Kent Greenawalt) that it contradicts those beliefs.

Go read Sandefur's article. It's well worth the effort ... especially since it might be his last, given his insult to Poseidon.

Monday, August 09, 2010


Coherent Bigotry

A thought:

[T]he "responsible" argument against the Islamic center ... goes something like this:

Those who are opposing the mosque as part of an effort to conflate all Islam with the 9/11 attacks are bigoted and wrong. But there are vague associations between Islam and the attacks -- Osama said he carried the attacks out in Islam's name, and the attackers were Islamic -- and this is hurtful to 9/11 families. Proceeding with the center will only undermine efforts to achieve the reconciliation the center is designed to achieve. Therefore, all legal niceties aside, it must be opposed.

Here's the problem with this argument: It doesn't reckon with the question of whether it's legitimate to see the construction of an Islamic center near Ground Zero as an inherently provocative act. Either it's legit to see the building of the center as provocative, or it isn't.

The only way to see this as a provocative act is to buy into the notion that the building of a center devoted to Islamic heritage is, by accident or by design, tantamount to rubbing the victims' noses into what happened on 9/11 -- that it is inescapably a "victory mosque." To believe this is to legitimize -- wittingly or not -- the world view of the center's bigoted foes.

In fact, it is not legitimate to see the building of a center devoted to the study of Islam near Ground Zero as an inherently provocative act. You can't endorse the idea that it's provocative to study the heritage of Islam in the vicinity of Ground Zero while simultaneously arguing that the bigots are wrong to conflate the 9/11 attacks with Islam as a whole. Period. It's not a coherent or sustainable argument.

- Greg Sargent, "The "responsible" argument against the Ground Zero mosque," The Plum Line

Sunday, August 08, 2010


Why Some People Hate America


Here's an example of "thinking" by the Righteous Right: "There's Nothing Gay about Being Gay" by Alan Caruba:

I would avoid examining gay "marriage" if I could, but the gay and lesbian community will not let me.

'Drat those nasty gays for making me think ... when I'm so bad at it!'

With seven decades of life under my belt, I have had plenty of time to learn about homosexuality, know homosexuals, and to have arrived at some conclusions about it. My basic conclusion is that homosexuality is hard-wired into an individual at birth. It is not, in my opinion, a lifestyle option one learns about and decides to choose.

Those who discover their homosexuality, early or late, know well that it positions them outside the acceptance of our society and those worldwide. As such, it is a cause of much abuse and, to varying degrees, self-hatred.

The three monotheistic religions made it clear in their sacred texts that homosexuality is a sin, but that is a matter of belief.

Now, that's better than most on the Rabid Right ... no talk of "lifestyles" or "reparative therapy" but from a good start comes much bizarre "reasoning," not nearly limited to the notion that self-hatred is somehow deserved because of the irrational prejudices of others.

On a strictly physiological basis, nature ordains that there are two sexes, male and female, and they exist for the propagation of the species. That's why marriage is regarded as essential to any society.

Since homosexuals must function within our society, one might reasonably assume they would accept society's need to maintain marriage as between a man and a woman, but among militant homosexuals, there has been a growing movement to require a redefinition of this ancient model.

Well, no! That was a major point of Judge Walker's decision that Caruba has obviously not read, even though he feels qualified to pontificate on it. The state, which has controlled marriage throughout American history, has never inquired of people seeking to get married whether or not are willing or able to procreate, much less required that they be so. Worse, there is a complete disconnect here. Opening marriage to gays no more threatens procreation of the species than allowing women past menopause to marry ... as we have just as 'anciently' allowed. Nothing about gay marriage will stop women and men f**king.

Proposition 8 was approved by voters by a margin of 52 percent in favor versus 48 percent who opposed it. The majority of U.S. States have laws recognizing marriage as between members of the opposite sex.

So, our fundamental rights depend on local bare majorities? If the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh moves his commune into some remote county and establishes his own city council, he can outlaw Christianity? No, that's the idea of our Bill of Rights: to protect minorities from the tyranny of the majority.

Then there is this little bit of nonsense:

What makes Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker's decision questionable, beyond issues of the law, is a factor noted in a Washington Times article that reported "The Los Angeles Times and San Francisco Chronicle have both reported that Judge Walker's sexuality, though he is not 'out', is an open secret in California gay and legal circles."

As such, he should have recused himself from the case.

If it was an "open secret," then the proponents of Prop 8 knew about it. And yet, they did not ask the judge to recuse himself. In any event, if the judge had been a conservative Protestant, a Catholic or a Mormon ... all groups that supported prop 8 ... imagine the outrage if the plaintiffs had asked him to recuse himself. Indeed, if Walker should have recused himself because he had a stake in the decision, then all the Catholics ... whose hierarchy has opposed gay marriage ... on the Supreme Court would have to recuse themselves as well. Let's see ... that's Chief Justice John Roberts, Samuel Alito, Sonia Sotomayor, Clarence Thomas, Antonin Scalia and Anthony Kennedy. That would leave Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan to decide the case. If I was the plaintiffs, I'd take that!

I have not known that many happy homosexuals.

Oh, gee! I wonder why that might be? People who have no choice in their sexuality, as Caruba admits, are told they are 'dangers to the species,' not 'acceptable to our society' and should be content to 'shut up and be grateful to be able to sit in the back of the bus.' Naw! No reason at all to be unhappy!

This is so stupid I won't even dignify it with a response except to note that, if one's rights, even arguably, depend on making good lifestyle choices, the vast number of obese Americans have no rights:

Putting aside the link between homosexuality and AIDS, such studies as have been undertaken have generally concluded that being homosexual increases one's potential for a variety of bad lifestyle choices.

This is hardly less stupid:

The debate about gay marriage is not about civil rights and certainly not about the equal rights amendment which was passed following the Civil War to ensure that newly enfranchised black citizens received formerly denied protections. The 13th Amendment, ratified on December 6, 1865 bans slavery. The 14th Amendment was ratified on July 9, 1868. Neither applies to homosexuality.

The 13th and 14th Amendments was not aimed at "black citizens," except as an accident of history. At the time, the most pressing problem was our denial of rights to black slaves. But those amendments were aimed at establishing the rights of human beings, which includes gays.

It seems to me that the issue does little other than to inflame the fears and prejudices of the majority for no good purpose.

There is no right to have the government cater to the fears and prejudices of the majority, especially at the expense of the fundamental rights ... such as to marry who we choose ... of any minority.

To say that the irrationality of the majority outweighs the rights of anyone is a deeply un-American and unpatriotic position.

Saturday, August 07, 2010


Making Bruce Chapman Cry

To be fair, the article at something called Everyday Christian, entitled "Does Seperation [sic] of Church and State Prohibit Teaching Creation Science in Public Schools?," by Jack Wellman, will make any civil libertarian cry too.

Where do you find the separation of church and state? In the U.S. Constitution?

Why, yes, you do. Oh, there is no "proof-text" ... no statement that "listen, idiot, let me spell it out for you, the government should be separate from religion." You have to be able to actually read and think ... but it is there as plain as day:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof ...

Let me translate for the incapable-of-reading-crowd: "Whether you like it or not, not everyone believes in your religion. You can't use the government and taxpayer money to proselytize your religion -- even if you happen to be in the majority in any one place -- because all the people, even if it is one person only, have the right to exercise their own religious conscience -- including the right to have no religion at all -- without their pockets being picked to support someone else's religious beliefs." Simple ... except for the simple-minded.

And, of course, the Fourteenth Amendment, the result of a bloody Civil War, extended that principle to state and local governments

No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

But the inability to read is multiplied in this screed beyond all belief:

The Supreme Court has already been made it crystal clear that the teaching of creation science cannot be legally prohibited from being taught in the classroom, if the local school district opts for it. Incidentally, this is what the Supreme Court calls it: Creation science. Former Chief Justice William Riehquist [sic] and current Justice Antonin Scalla [sic], "We have no basis on the record to conclude that creation science need be anything other than a collection of scientific data supporting the theory that life abruptly appeared on the Earth." Edwards vs. Aguillard, Dissent (1987).

Apparently, black is white, up is down and "dissent" means "ruling." Hint to idiot: "dissent" means their arguments lost and "creation science" is specifically banned from public schools.

The meaning of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution should be disbarred.

Okay, this makes no sense but why should we expect anyone who can't read to be able to write cogently?

This Amendment clearly says, "Congress cannot pass any law concerning a religion or establishing a religion; and cannot pass any law that prevents the free exercise of religion." To do otherwise is clearly a violation of the Constitution and discrimination and hate crime against believers. The U.S. Supreme Court decision concerning separation of church and state is clearly a violation of the U.S. Constitution.

I have to admit this is beautifully insane -- a Salvador Dali of fractured logic -- "since the Constitution prohibits establishing a religion, it also prohibits enforcing its own prohibition." It takes the breath away!

Now, here's the part that'll make Bruce Chapman cry:

Louisiana's "Creationism Act" - the Edwards v. Aguillard Supreme Court decision - forbid the teaching of the theory of evolution in public elementary and secondary schools unless accompanied by instruction in the theory of creation science. Appellees, who included Louisiana parents, teachers, and religious leaders, challenged the act's constitutionality in U.S. District Court, seeking an injunction and declaratory relief. The district court granted summary judgment to the appellees, holding that the act violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The Court of Appeals affirmed ...

The U.S. Constitution guarantees that nondiscriminatory teaching of creation science and intelligent design theory and freedom of speech cannot be denied to schools. The power to legislate - - pass laws is specifically allocated in the U.S. Constitution to Congress; not the U.S. Supreme Court justices. What laws Congress cannot make are also stated in the Constitution. The Supreme Court is the judicial branch of our government, conceived as a counterbalance to the legislative branch. In this capacity it has the ability not to make laws, but to judge whether or not a law is being broken. The courts have been making laws, and this is not their job. That falls to Congress and even then, and then to two thirds majority of the states.

Damn! I would have sworn that a random word generator would be ... well ... less random than that!

The legal challenges to intelligent design center around the notion that if a superior being created the universe and that superior being is God – then such a theory violates the separation of church and state and cannot be taught in public schools. But consider what the Supreme Court has said about this issue. In 1987, in Edwards v. Aguillard, the high court concluded that "teaching a variety of scientific theories about the origins of humankind to school children might be validly done with the clear secular intent of enhancing the effectiveness of science instruction." The court also said that teaching these theories would pose no constitutional problems provided they are not taught to the exclusion of evolution. If the classroom is indeed, as the Supreme Court has said, "the marketplace of ideas," why not teach multiple theories regarding the origins of mankind – including Intelligent Design?

But there is that kicker in Edwards ... it has to be "scientific theories" ... and "creation science," even if dishonestly called "Intelligent Design" doesn't qualify.

Parents and their children ought to have the right to question current theories and be able to consider alternative explanations, especially when a theory is regarded as fact and has yet to be conclusively proven.

Of course you do. Even when it is something as "conclusively proven" as anything in science ... like evolution. But where does it say that you get to use my tax money to do it? That's what homes and churches are for.

Let the children make up their own minds.

Hmmm. As Judge Walker just demonstrated, the real impetus behind the Proposition 8 victory in California was that some people didn't want their children taught about homosexuality unless they were also taught it was wrong! So, you are in favor of using Heather Has Two Mommies in Louisiana schools and letting the children make up their own minds? Right? ... Right?

What do evolutionists have to fear?

Ignoramuses ... who shall remain nameless.

Evolution has become like a state ideology and instead of people worrying about the separation of church and state, it has turned to an effort to become a separation of church from state. This was most certainly not the founding fathers intent.

And intent is everything.

Yes. And thanks for confirming, once again, that ID is just a a transparent fig leaf intended to permit the teaching of creationism in public schools.

Bruce ... here's a towel.

Friday, August 06, 2010


Haystack History

Since Michael Barton has graciously mistakenly foolishly included Thoughts in a Haystack in a list of "history of science blogs," I thought, since it has been a while since I babbled on about the history written by others, that I give some links to past efforts, to guide any innocents who might have been misdirected here and prevent complete frustration. Most of the following are "labels" that will each bring up several posts:

David Hull and Darwin's Critics

Neal Gillespie and Charles Darwin and the Problem of Creation

Richard Hofstadter and Anti-intellectualism in American Life

Edward Larson and Summer for the Gods; Ray Ginger and Six Days or Forever?

Keith Thomson and Before Darwin: Reconciling God and Nature

And then there is my very favorite:

Mooning Over Evolution


Who's Sweating?

Jerry Coyne is "doing" philosophy again ... but maybe this time we should forgive him since he is just out of his sickbed. The occasion is Massimo Pigliucci's response to Coyne's last foray into philosophy.

It's the same old topic and the same old result. Coyne is unable to even conceive of the possibility that his personal weltanschauung may not be coextensive with "science."

Coyne has asserted this confluence in the past by equating "science" with a "world view" (though he tried to back away from that, without success, by switching to "the scientific attitude"). He has also called "science" an "approach to the world." Coyne continues in this "tradition" of confusion in his latest piece:

What I mean by “philosophical consistency” is that one’s philosophies are consistent. In the case of a scientist, one’s scientific philosophy is that you don’t accept the existence of things for which there is no evidence. In the case of a religious person, your philosophy requires you to believe in things for which there is either no evidence or counterevidence. It’s just that simple.
I will resist the temptation to say that it is just that simple-minded ... though I will not succeed.

To start with, as I have pointed out before, if, in fact, science is "a philosophy" or a "worldview" (i.e. a metaphysical belief about how best to approach all aspects of life), then it is on equal footing with religion under the American Constitution. If, as Coyne correctly points out, science contradicts at least some religious claims, then science cannot be taught as true in American public schools but, at best, can be taught in comparative religion or philosophy classes as one competing "worldview" out of many.

If, on the other hand, it is not a weltanschauung, there is nothing "inconsistent" in applying the scientific method to some things and not to others, depending on your objectives.

Of course, this does not demonstrate that Coyne is wrong about the philosophy of science. That comes from the fact that the scientific community doesn't act as if science is a "worldview." They do not employ it in such matters as who they should love and what music they should listen to and, more importantly, they also do not take one another's "worldviews" into account in deciding which other scientists' work to trust and incorporate in their own, unless and until it's shown that the science has been tainted by a "worldview." Coyne would, doubtless, accept a paper by Ken Miller on the same basis he would any other scientist.

But the damage Coyne's ignorance of the subject can do to science education in the US may well explain why others are so adamant about countering Coyne's philosophical nativité. I seriously doubt the truth of Coyne's whiney plaint that Pigliucci "doesn’t like me" but I would credit his impression that Pigliucci "thinks I don’t know anything about philosophy and therefore I—and most other scientists—should shut up about it." After all, Coyne has spent much time demonstrating his lack of understanding of philosophy in general and the philosophy of science in particular. I suspect that Pigliucci's attitude toward Coyne when it comes to philosophy is about the same as Coyne's attitude toward any creationist who spouts ignorant nonsense about evolution.

There's much more that could be said about Coyne's post but there is nothing new there and Coyne wouldn't listen anyway. It's ironic that Coyne complains that he has repeated his "points" over and over again. Those who have attempted to correct his primitive understanding of philosophy could say the same thing ... in spades!


Update: It seems my interpretation of Pigliucci's attitude towards Coyne was right.



Kicking Out the Props

Dahlia Lithwick at Slate has a nice summary of why Judge Vaughn R. Walker's decision on Prop 8 has been well-crafted to give it the best possible chance of surviving appellate review, including in the United States Supreme Court.

The following from the decision (citations omitted) is a good explanation of why the "Chicken Little argument" by the proponents of Prop 8 is fallacious:

Race restrictions on marital partners were once common in most states but are now seen as archaic, shameful or even bizarre. When the Supreme Court invalidated race restrictions in Loving [v. Virginia], the definition of the right to marry did not change. Instead, the Court recognized that race restrictions, despite their historical prevalence, stood in stark contrast to the concepts of liberty and choice inherent in the right to marry.

The marital bargain in California (along with other states) traditionally required that a woman’s legal and economic identity be subsumed by her husband’s upon marriage under the doctrine of coverture; this once-unquestioned aspect of marriage now is regarded as antithetical to the notion of marriage as a union of equals. As states moved to recognize the equality of the sexes, they eliminated laws and practices like coverture that had made gender a proxy for a spouse’s role within a marriage. Marriage was thus transformed from a male-dominated institution into an institution recognizing men and women as equals. Yet, individuals retained the right to marry; that right did not become different simply because the institution of marriage became compatible with gender equality.

The evidence at trial shows that marriage in the United States traditionally has not been open to same-sex couples. The evidence suggests many reasons for this tradition of exclusion, including gender roles mandated through coverture, social disapproval of same-sex relationships, and the reality that the vast majority of people are heterosexual and have had no reason to challenge the restriction. The evidence shows that the movement of marriage away from a gendered institution and toward an institution free from state-mandated gender roles reflects an evolution in the understanding of gender rather than a change in marriage. The evidence did not show any historical purpose for excluding same-sex couples from marriage, as states have never required spouses to have an ability or willingness to procreate in order to marry. Rather, the exclusion exists as an artifact of a time when the genders were seen as having distinct roles in society and in marriage. That time has passed.

The right to marry has been historically and remains the right to choose a spouse and, with mutual consent, join together and form a household. Race and gender restrictions shaped marriage during eras of race and gender inequality, but such restrictions were never part of the historical core of the institution of marriage. Today, gender is not relevant to the state in determining spouses’ obligations to each other and to their dependents. Relative gender composition aside, same-sex couples are situated identically to opposite-sex couples in terms of their ability to perform the rights and obligations of marriage under California law. Gender no longer forms an essential part of marriage; marriage under law is a union of equals. ...

Plaintiffs do not seek recognition of a new right. To characterize plaintiffs’ objective as “the right to same-sex marriage” would suggest that plaintiffs seek something different from what opposite-sex couples across the state enjoy — namely, marriage. Rather, plaintiffs ask California to recognize their relationships for what they are: marriages.

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