Thursday, March 31, 2011


Putting God to the Test

Casey Luskin, gofer general of the Discovery Institute, has produced another of his dreadful screeds, this time on the supposed "testability" of Intelligent Design. I saw it last night and, even at a quick glance, could see that it was going to involve quote mining, much obfuscation, logical fallacies and all the rest of Casey's usual toolkit.

Frankly, I simply could not steel myself to go over it in detail or to endure the painful facepalms it would doubtless invoke.

Fortunately, John Farrell is made of sterner stuff and not only did he do "drivel duty" but got the main victim of Casey's maladministrations, Mark McPeek, the David T. Mclaughlin Distinguished Professor of Biology at Darmouth College, to respond to Casey.

John's article is worth the read on its own but I particularly liked McPeek's response to Casey's claim that the fact that "[s]imilar parts are commonly found in widely different organisms [and are] not distributed in a manner predicted by ancestry, and are often found in clearly unrelated organisms" can be explained by ID but not by evolutionary theory. McPeek explains:

[Luskin] is interpreting examples of parallel and convergent evolution as evidence that the designer solves the same problem the same way in different organisms. I think the point there is that if organisms are random collections of traits, more closely related taxa should be more similar, and so therefore things that are far apart phylogenetically must be more different. Thus, when they aren’t, that is de facto proof of design.

Of course, Casey is deliberately ignoring the fact that evolutionary science has proposed and tested the power of natural selection to result in adaptation, a fact that even the rankest young-Earth creationists have admitted. It can hardly be said it cannot explain similar adaptations in organisms that are competing in similar environments for similar ecological niches. A water dwelling mammal, needing to swim fast, is likely to develop a streamlined shape, similar to fish, for example. As McPeek points out:

This is exactly the issue of testability. On this specific point, ID and evolution make exactly the same predictions. However, the mechanisms of evolution that produce this outcome are (and have been) imminently testable and tested, and so are legitimate mechanisms to postulate as an explanation. I’d have to know what mechanisms the creator was using to produce that outcome and see if I can replicate those mechanisms.

Sure, a "Designer" that IDers resolutely refuse to posit any limit to -- even calling the identity and, therefore, his/her/its abilities and motives, "a strictly theological question" -- can explain anything ... and, therefore, nothing.

Casey is free to have his theological beliefs but he and the rest of the IDers have to do much more to make those beliefs empirically testable and scientific.

And then there is Matthew 4:7.


Sunday, March 27, 2011


Quote of the Day ... Week ... Whatever

The silverbacked Oznian [starting off with the apocryphal "it's turtles all the way down" story]:

Recently, an article claimed that religion is becoming extinct in some countries. This is because the trends to date have been the decline of religious adherence there. But trends in social structure are not like the movements of continents or large weights on ice. They have no momentum. They change because conditions are such that individuals may choose not to put resources into religion, or because religion no longer serves a particular need, or simply because it hasn't yet adapted to new technologies and economic conditions.

All religions have a social ecology to which they must adapt. And they do adapt, just like a species of plant or animal that must adapt to an invader or new disease. Some fail to do this, of course, and they become extinct. We do not hear very much about the Moravian Brethren or the Shakers these days. Others find a way to circumvent or even exploit the new conditions. Hence televangelists. But if we think that because we in these nine enlightened countries happen to have the conditions under which around 20% of people lack religious beliefs, that no more means that religion will fail ultimately than the fact some people have a resistance to AIDS means AIDS will eventually disappear. And no amount of Turtle Anecdotes will make it so.


Bridge to Nowhere

Hee! David Klinghoffer is at it again! The Discovery [sic] Institute drone most likely to deliver a confused screed has again proven his special talent in that regard. He begins:
Could it be a trend, with critics of intelligent design and others outside the familiar world of ID's friends and advocates at last realizing that ID isn't merely NOT the same thing as creationism?

Few, if any, critics of intelligent design have thought ID is merely the same thing as creationism. We've known for a long time, as confirmed so spectacularly by Barbara Forrest during the Kitzmiller case, that ID is creationism that is dishonest.

Be that as it may, Klinghoffer tries to take advantage of the willingness of a couple of people to contemplate what ID would be like if it wasn't a disingenuous political movement to "make room" for conservative religious belief in public school science classes, to argue that it isn't religious at all.

Jack Scanlan is a second year university student in Oz who has a highly recommended blog called Homologous Legs. But Jack is young and did not go through the creationism wars of the 1980s and 1990s. I admire his willingness to take ID at its word but I have too much experience not to be more cynical.

I know nothing of James Kirk Wall, but his idea that anyone is saying that there are only "two alternatives in this debate; nothing vs. Christianity" reveals a deep ignorance of the whole kurfluffle ... including the views of people like Ken Miller and those at Biologos.

But back to Klinghoffer. First of all, he extols George Bernard Shaw's dislike of science's "damnable reduction of beauty and intelligence, of strength and purpose, of honor and aspiration" and, instead, hypes his idea of "enchantment." Of course, Klinghoffer fails to note that an acceptance of evolutionary science does not require an acceptance of extreme scientific reductionism, as any number of philosophers could tell him if he bothered to educate himself.

Instead, he has, in the past, appealed to the feelings of his eight year-old son towards Dungeons & Dragons ... as if that deprived science of the "enchantment" that even the most materialist scientist finds in the physical world. More importantly, Klinghoffer conflates "religion" with "orthodox religionists."

As usual of late with the DI, Klinghoffer cites to Alfred Russel Wallace's belief in "the existence of a spiritual world." If that doesn't qualify as "religion" for purposes of the Constitution, would Klinghoffer endorse the teaching of the scientific validity of seances, as Wallace advocated, while creationism remains banned?

If you believe that, I have a bridge ... .


Misfeasance and Malfeasance

The people who read this blog have probably already heard about Beau Schaefer, a teacher at Libertyville High School, in a suburb of Chicago, who was introducing creationism into his science classes. The Libertyville School District has decided not to try to try to fire Schaefer, and I'm okay with that. Everybody is entitled to a second chance and, in any case, if anything can be learned from John Freshwater, the biggest losers in any such attempt are the children of the school district, when large amounts of money go to legal and associated fees, instead of, you know, actually educating them. But this kinda bothers me:

Ken Eichelberger, 71, of Grayslake and former 15-year president of District 128, said teaching creationism in science class has been going on for a while at the district. "As I understand it, it has been taught that way for years. If there was no board policy to the contrary, I don't think the teacher should be held accountable," Eichelberger said.

Now, Edwards v. Aguillard, which ruled the teaching of creationism in public schools was unconstitutional, was decided 24 years ago. If the violation of the Constitution has been going on for "a while" and the board had no "policy to the contrary," was it because Mr. Eichelberger and his compatriots on the board were incompetents or were they deliberate malefactors who broke their oath of office?

Maybe somebody should look at what else these people have been doing. .

Saturday, March 26, 2011



Noted without comment:

The author of God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything said that he is a "guinea pig" for a new personalised medicine partly developed by Dr Frank Collins, a geneticist with very strong religious views.

The two had often met in the past as adversaries in the debate about whether God exists.

Against the odds they had become friends.

Now Hitchens is one of the few people in the world who has had his entire genetic make up mapped and is receiving a new treatment that targets his own damaged DNA.

"I'm an experiment," Hitchens said.

"These are early stages, but in theory it should attack the primary site of the tumour.

"If that does happen, it won't just be good news for me, it will be very exciting in the general treatment of cancer."

Dr Collins is a former director of the National Human Genome Research Project and is now the director of America's National Institutes of Health.

He is the author of a bestselling book, The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief.

"It is a rather wonderful relationship,' said Hitchens.

"I won't say he doesn't pray for me, because I think he probably does; but he doesn't discuss it with me.

"He agrees that his medical experience does not include anything that could be described as a miracle cure – he's never come across anything."

Friday, March 25, 2011


Ignorant, Stupid and Dangerous

That's a fair description of Bryan Fischer, Director of Issues Analysis for the American Family Association.

His latest example (out of many, as documented by Joseph L. Conn at The Wall of Separation) is his claim that the First Amendment's guarantee of religious freedom applies only to Christians. Ed Brayton at Dispatches From the Culture Wars shows that Fischer can't even read.

Thomas Jefferson, responsible for the Declaration of Independence, and James Madison, responsible for the Bill of rights, are certainly more reliable sources on the intent of the Founders than a lunatic like Fischer.

Fischer claims that Jefferson was shocked to find out during the Barbary wars "that Islam requires Muslims to rob, kill and pillage infidel Christians wherever they find them." But Jefferson also wrote the Virginia Act For Establishing Religious Freedom, passed shortly before the Bill of Rights and certainly an inspiration for the freedom of religion clause of the First Amendment. In his autobiography, written long after the Barbary wars, Jefferson remembered with pride:

Where the preamble declares that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed, by inserting the word "Jesus Christ," so that it should read "a departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion." The insertion was rejected by a great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of it's protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan, the Hindoo, and infidel of every denomination.

James Madison wrote his Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments in opposition to a bill in the General Assembly of Virginia that would have levied a general assessment for the support of teachers of religions. That bill was tabled and a few months later the General Assembly passed Jefferson's religious freedom bill. Madison wrote in the Memorial and Remonstrance:

Who does not see that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other Religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other Sects? that the same authority which can force a citizen to contribute three pence only of his property for the support of any one establishment, may force him to conform to any other establishment in all cases whatsoever?

Only an idiot could think that the man who wrote those words could turn around and a few years later usher in a Bill of Rights, without a word of protest, that gave freedom of religion only to Christians.

Fischer is that idiot. But he spreads his ignorance to others and that makes him dangerous.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


A Little Help

This is pretty funny.

The European Court of Human Rights recently reversed itself and permitted crucifix displays in public schools and courtrooms in Italy.

The European Centre for Law and Justice, a branch of TV preacher Pat Robertson’s American Center for Law and Justice, as well as the Alliance Defense Fund, had filed briefs urging the court to permit the crucifixes and have hailed the ruling.

One little problem.

The Italian Federation of Evangelical Churches called the ruling “a decision that does not fully realize a secular state” and “baggage from a society dominated by Catholic culture.”

Added the evangelical churches, “Crucifixes will continue to be present in schoolrooms and courtrooms, but for the minorities who won religious and civil rights 150 years ago, such as the evangelical churches, these crosses do not convey a common sense of belonging.”

You see, crucifixes, which include a depiction of the dead body of Christ, are a Catholic or Orthodox symbol, while Protestants use crosses sans remains.

As Rob Boston points out:

So, the ACLJ and the ADF are celebrating a court ruling that elevates a majority faith and actually takes away the rights of minority evangelicals. These Religious Right zealots are so obsessed with opposing secular government they’re willing to throw their own coreligionists under the church bus. Yet, both groups expect us to believe that they don’t want religious majority rule in America.

The other possibility is that the people at the ACLJ and the ADF really are so stupid that they don't know the difference between crosses and crucifixes or the sectarian significance of each.

In which case, that diagram may help.


Their Lips Are Moving ...

It's John West's turn to lie today.

He's kvetching about Lauri Lebo who, according to West:

... rewrites history by suggesting that the focus on the critical analysis of Darwin's theory (rather than the teaching of intelligent design) is somehow a post-Dover development.

There is actually one and a half lies here ... or an inability of West to read, which is always a possibility with creationists. Lebo didn't say that this was a new tactic since the Dover case, she said:

As always, since intelligent design was ruled unconstitutional in Kitzmiller v. Dover, the introduced bills rely on such creationist code words as "teaching the controversy," "academic freedom," or "critical analysis." (Emphasis added)

That's true enough and is a direct result of the DI launching its "Model Academic Freedom Statute on Evolution" in 2008.

More importantly on the lying front, West touts a press release [snort!] about how it gulled the Ohio State Board of Education, first into a benchmark in 2002 and then a model lesson plan in 2004, on the "Critical Analysis of Evolution," which the board later regretted and reversed precisely because the nature of the ID Movement was revealed for all to see in the Kitzmiller decision. The DI press release claims:

[T]he lesson plan is exactly the approach to teaching evolution that Discovery Institute has advocated all along, helping students learn both the scientific strengths and weaknesses of Darwin’s theory. ...

The lesson plan does not discuss religion or alternative scientific theories such as intelligent design.

What West is covering up is that, in 2005, after things had gone badly in the Kitzmiller trial but before the decision was handed down, the DI was saying:

We strongly believe that teaching about intelligent design is constitutionally permissible, but we think mandatory inclusion of intelligent design in public school curricula is ill-advised. Instead, we recommend that schools require only that the scientific evidence for and against neo-Darwinism be taught, while not infringing on the academic freedom of teachers to present appropriate information about intelligent design if they choose.

In other words, phrases like "teaching the controversy," "academic freedom," and "critical analysis" are just intended to be a cover to allow teachers who are creationists or who want to avoid problems with creationist parents by throwing them a sop -- which we know amounts to all too many teachers -- to bring ID into the classroom.

The DI's position is clearly a subterfuge to get ID into public schools by hook or by crook ... which is more than enough reason to stop listening when their lips start to move.


Update: Lauri Lebo has now responded to West. Wes Elsberry also noticed.


Of Cats and Bags

Not that it's a surprise or anything, but here is the Undiscovery Institute openly admitting that the Intelligent Design Movement's real motive is to roll back the Enlightenment and modern science.

Why is there a debate over intelligent design and Darwinism? Why are people more passionate about how some scientific theories are taught and not others? And perhaps, an even broader question, are these debates new or is it the same debate dressed in different trappings? Nancy Pearcey's latest book, Saving Leonardo: A Call to Resist the Secular Assault on Mind, Morals, and Meaning, takes a bird's-eye-view of the history of ideas revealing a tapestry of thought dating back to the Enlightenment that provides impeccable insight into why we think the way we do today.
Pearcey, you see, gives "worldviews and cultural commentary" for "both the culture-at-large and ... the Christian sub-culture" by providing "a history of ideas that have lead to the secular worldviews dominating the marketplace of ideas today." And what does that "history" reveal"

Honing in on the Enlightenment line of history, we see a very clear picture of how science and the study of nature was at one time a deeply spiritual and meaningful endeavor, but eventually became a meaningless, exercise of manipulation and control. For example, technological advancement was seen as a way to alleviate people, who had inherent value and dignity, from tasks that were monotonous or dangerous. This view of technology was influenced by a Christian worldview, which assumed man was made in the image of God. The machine did the menial tasks that were not worthy for man to do. It was recognition of man's dignity; that is, until the machine usurped man's dignity.
And what turned science away from the "Christian worldview"? Why, "Empiricism became the dominant philosophy of the day." How did the nasty Empiricists do that?

While it is true that some knowledge can be gained from the senses, empiricism claimed that knowledge can only be gained through the senses. Therefore what we see, feel, taste, and touch is real; everything else is meaningless. In their mind, there was no spiritual realm, no mind, and nothing of meaning beyond the physical world.
Now, anyone who reads this blog knows I have a certain sympathy for the view that science is not the be-all and end-all of human "knowledge" ... that at least some out of the categories of "philosophy, theology, literature, or art" deliver things that we do and should "know." But, when it comes to the "physical world," science is our best, if not only, guide. Not so the DI:

The high regard for the scientific method as a source of reliable knowledge was born in the empiricist thinking.
So, what is really the DI's "enemy" is that "high regard for the scientific method." Their program is not itself scientific. They are out to destroy that "high regard" ... and, with it, science and science education ... because:

These debates go beyond weighing evidences on a scale and seeing which side is the heaviest. Most people agree on what they see, but they disagree on what is the correct interpretation, which is a matter of philosophical perspective.
Now, where have I heard that before? Oh, right ... from the DI's fellow creationists.

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Sunday, March 20, 2011


Lying Down With God


When a Discovery Institute drone starts off a screed:

In the history of modern propaganda with its technique of the Big Lie, it's hard to think of a brazen untruth more successful in shaping opinion than the one that equates intelligent design with Christian fundamentalist creationism ...

... you know what will follow will be filled with Big Lies.

And when the screed-purveyor is David Klinghoffer, you can be sure it will be confused.

The next Big Lie comes in the very next sentence:

Almost as influential is the related lie that there is no serious scientific controversy over Darwinism, that main support pillar of contemporary materialist or naturalist doctrine.

Of course, there is no serious scientific controversy about the theory of evolution, which is not the same thing as "Darwinism" as the DI defines it ... materialism or naturalism.

And, being a Klinghoffer screed, it immediately contradicts itself by attacking naturalism, a philosophical concept, instead of touting any scientific evidence for ID, which, of course, doesn't exist ... just the same ol' anti-evolution arguments, such as Michael Behe's Edge of Evolution, linked to the "contrived dualism" that Judge Jones rightly skewered in the Kitzmiller decision. The cdesign proponentsists have tried to scrub ID of its obvious theological content but you have to be pretty gullible to buy that.

That, naturally, is the Big Lie in the first sentence. ID certainly was born in the Christian fundamentalism of its founders, such as Phillip Johnson and William Dembski (who is described as having "moved on to other academic posts," without mentioning that his present academic post is a Southern Baptist seminary, where he was recently shown the instruments of torture and forced to recant).

So, while IDers try to maintain a "big tent," it is clear that the real motive is conservative theological creationism, as shown in this from Jay Richards:

I argue in the introduction to the just-released book God and Evolution that theism and Neo-Darwinian evolution, under standard definitions, are incompatible creeds. Insofar as a view is theistic, I argue, it will modify Neo-Darwinism. And insofar as it is Neo-Darwinian, it will modify theism. So it's no surprise that attempts to reconcile the two invariably result in heterodoxy (whether theological or scientific), fuzzy and ambiguous language, distinctions without a difference, or all of the above.

Not that Klinghoffer is capable of hiding this fact:

You could put it this way: The universe is haunted.

Haunted not by ghosts but by a source of ancient, unseen, immaterial agency.

Riiight! An ancient, immaterial being. That isn't a theological position ... nosiree Bob!

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Friday, March 18, 2011


Making a Splash!

Ed Brayton, in a post at Dispatches From the Culture Wars entitled "Answers In Genesis Blows the Answer" (ignore the two unnecessary words), notes AiG's take on the earthquake and tsunami in Japan:

In the face of such destruction, suffering, and death, many people question how a good and loving God could allow such evil to happen. However, this is just another painful reminder of how the curse of sin has affected our world.

Ed replies:

No it isn't. it's a painful reminder that when tectonic plates rub up against one another, sometimes bad shit happens. Sin doesn't have a damn thing to do with it.

No, no, Ed! Don't you understand? There wouldn't be tectonic plates to rub up against each other if Adam and Eve hadn't ate that apple!*

The whole disaster was caused by humans!


* If you think I'm kidding, click on the "tSINami—lost without Genesis?" link at AiG.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011


'Tis Folly to Be Wise

The mind boggles!

Stephen Wise, a Florida state legislators, is at it again, trying to gut science education in the Sunshine State. He has revived his 2009 bill that calls for a "thorough presentation and critical analysis of the scientific theory of evolution."

"Why would you not teach both theories at the same time?" Wise said, referring to evolution and what he called "nonevolution."

"You have critical thinking in school," Wise added. "Why would you not do both?"

And what sort of critical "thinking" does he want?

"Why do we still have apes if we came from them?" ... "And those are the kind of questions kids need to ask themselves. You know, 'how did we get here?' And, you know, there's more than one theory on this thing. And the theory is evolution, the other one is intelligent design."

But that's not the worst of it. Wise is a "a retired educator" and chairman of the Senate Education Committee!

The poor schoolchildren of Florida ... both past and future.

The only good thing about this may be that the Discoveryless Institute could be embarrassed by having such ignorance associated with ID.

On the other hand, given the DI's own dishonesty, maybe not!

Saturday, March 12, 2011


Spin Cycle

Ya gotta love this:

Todd Thomas is pastor of Timberville Church of the Nazarene in or around Harrisonburg, Virginia. He writes to complain about an earlier letter. Mr. Thomas suffers the typical creationist failure of imagination:

Mutations do not support Darwin's theory of evolution. Mutations cause changes within a biological organism, yet these mutations never cause one species to mutate into a new species. The cumulative effect of mutation may cause dramatic changes, even death or extinction. But those changes cannot transform a reptile into a bird.

Of course, it is not explained why "dramatic changes" in reptiles don't amount to "birds." But that isn't the fun part:

Mr. Holzner's claim that the Bible encouraged incest is unfounded. Cain's marriage to his sister was a biological necessity, which is something quite different than "encouraging" incest. Chapter 18 in the Old Testament book of Leviticus expressly forbids any type of incest.

Wait a minute! God was restricted by "biological necessity"?

But this is my favorite!:

The Old Testament ban on clothing of mixed fabric is simply explained as well. Wool required one type of laundering, linen another. A garment that mixed wool and linen could not be sufficiently laundered with their primitive methods.

God endorses the washing machine!

Friday, March 11, 2011


Comedy Club

An old friend, Utah State Senator Chris Buttars, is retiring.

Ed Brayton of Dispatches From the Culture Wars has followed Buttars career even more closely.

Buttars has consistently been one of the loonier of the Religious Right state legislators ... which is quite an accomplishment.

Anyway, now we have one less Butters of our jokes.

Thursday, March 10, 2011


When You Know You've Lost

If a supposedly scientific argument needs a legislature's protection, it is already defunct.

Bill Zedler, a member of the Texas House of Representatives, has declared Intelligent Design dead:


An institution of higher education may not discriminate against or penalize in any manner, especially with regard to employment or academic support, a faculty member or student based on the faculty member's or student's conduct of research relating to the theory of intelligent design or other alternate theories of the origination and development of organisms.

Just in case someone misses the point, banning religious dogma from high school science classes is not the same thing as trying to protect ID in academia.

No one, outside crazies, expects real science to originate in high schools.

Despite propaganda, such as Expelled, if someone can come up with the real goods, they will get a hearing in academia. Of course, those who challenge well-established science will have a hard row to hoe, but the history of science is replete with examples of those who have succeeded.

Bill Zedler has conceded that ID has no chance to do that.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011



Some people want to be Christians and to be scientists.

Some people want to be Christians and to be gay.

Am I in any way ethically bound to tell gay Christians that that they can't be both?

Do I have to proclaim that gay people who identify as Christians are wrong?

Am I enabling Afghani abuse of children by not condemning gay Christians?

Do you want to criticize me for my refusal to condemn gay Christians?

If so, f...k you!


Our Program Will Resume Momentarily


I am recovering from some flu-like illness and, though I am feeling better, I still don't have the stamina to give much serious thought to blogging. Our normal babbling schedule will return shortly.

Saturday, March 05, 2011


Ugly Gods

Via Tantalus Prime comes this criticism of Amy Peters' guest post at Pharyngula by Georgia Purdom.

Purdom is a not very perceptive employee of Answers in Genesis (you should forgive the redundancy), who finds it horrible to think that humans might be "animals" and, worse, that a mother might tell her child about it.

When Peters' child asks "But, Mommy, we seem . . . different," Purdom responds "Out of the mouths of babes!" But of course, we are different ... that's practically the definition of species. But we also have vast similarities to the rest of life. One thing that humans do that few if any other species do is go around wondering about their "special place" in the universe.

Peters finds it in being the one with nature and millions of years of evolution. Purdom cannot find any meaning unless as a pet of something bigger than herself but still not competent enough to make its creation to its own satisfaction.

But the ugliest and meanest part of Purdom's failure of imagination is this:

I wonder what this mother would think if her son grew up and murdered someone. I'm sure she would be horrified. But if the Bible isn't true and humans are animals, then she wouldn't have a basis for saying what her son did was wrong, because after all, he's just an animal, and morality doesn't apply to animals.

What would she think if her son grew up to believe that someone had the knowledge of what some god wants and that included, against all human feelings and sense of morality, that innocent children should be killed in cold blood?

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