Saturday, April 30, 2011


Where You Can Get It

This is funny.

Anika Smith, the tankwoman in pink of the Discovery Institute, is all excited about the possibility that Intelligent Design Creationism might be on the rise among Scottish university students. She cites to an article in the Times Education Supplement that notes that “[o]ne in 20 first-year biology students at Glasgow University don’t believe in the theory of evolution.”

Ohh! A whopping five percent of high school graduates!

If that's what she thinks is a rise, it doesn't take much to be her significant other.

And even that doesn't represent those who believe in ID:

When asked why they rejected evolution, 41 per cent said they believed there was an alternative explanation for the diversity of life, while a third said they simply had insufficient knowledge of evolution.
In other words, about two percent of Scottish high school graduates have bought into ID. And why is that?

The findings come a year after the Scottish Qualifications Authority faced criticism from biology teachers for not including evolution and ecology in the new Higher biology syllabus.
If convincing two percent of the ignorant is cause for celebration in Seattle, ID is truly decrepit, except as a political and public relations exercise.

Thursday, April 28, 2011


Never Give Up

A thought:

Surely the scientific mind of an age which contemplates the solar system as evolved from a common, revolving, fluid mass,— which, through experimental research, has come to regard light, heat, electricity, magnetism, chemical affinity, and mechanical power as varieties or derivative and convertible forms of one force, instead of independent species,— which has brought the so-called elementary kinds of matter, such as the metals, into kindred groups, and raised the question, whether the members of each group may not be mere varieties of one species,- and which speculates steadily in the direction of the ultimate unity of matter, of a sort of prototype or simple element which may be to the ordinary species of matter what the protozoa or component cells of an organism are to the higher sorts of animals and plants,— the mind of such an age cannot be expected to let the old belief about species pass unquestioned. It will raise the question, how the diverse sorts of plants and animals came to be as they are and where they are, and will allow that the whole inquiry transcends its powers only when all endeavors have failed. Granting the origin to be supernatural, or miraculous even, will not arrest the inquiry. All real origination, the philosophers will say, is supernatural; their very question is, whether we have yet gone back to the origin, and can affirm that the present forms of plants and animals are the primordial, the miraculously created ones. And even if they admit that, they will still inquire into the order of the phenomena, into the form of the miracle. You might as well expect the child to grow up content with what it is told about the advent of its infant brother. Indeed, to learn that the new-comer is the gift of God, far from lulling inquiry, only stimulates speculation as to how the precious gift was bestowed. That questioning child is father to the man,- is philosopher in short-clothes.

Asa Gray, “Darwin on the Origin of Species: A book review,” Atlantic Monthly July, 1860

Wednesday, April 27, 2011


Rabidly Stupid

As Ed Brayton noted, the mere fact that, after a couple of years demanding that President Obama reveal his “long form birth certificate,” the mere fact that he did is not about to stop the stupid.

And among the stupidest, at least until Orly Taitz chimes in, is Joseph Farah, the founder and chief executive officer of Wing Nut Daily.

“I’m not apologizing for nothing,” a defiant Farah said in a telephone interview with NBC News, insisting there are still questions about Obama’s citizenship aside from where he was born.

The comments by Farah underscore Obama’s observation Wednesday that hard-core birthers are unlikely to be persuaded by any evidence, no matter how compelling. “I know that there’s going to be a segment of people for which, no matter what we put out, this issue will not be put to rest,” Obama said at a White House press event to release the birth certificate.
But when one comforting delusion is taken away, simply substitute another!:

In fact, Farah said, Obama’s citizenship, not his birth, is actually the principal theme of World Net Daily’s upcoming book by Jerome Corsi titled, “Where’s the Birth Certificate? The Case that Barack Obama is not Eligible to be President.” …

Farah said the real issue is that Obama is still not eligible to be president because his father was Kenyan and his adopted father was Indonesian, making him a potential “dual citizen” of two separate foreign countries. (Farah supplied no evidence to support his contention that Obama ever held “dual citizenship.” Nor did he explain why it would make any difference, given Obama’s birth to an American mother on U.S. soil, which would meet the U.S. Constitution’s requirement that he be a “natural-born citizen.”)
As Harvard Law School Professor Laurence Tribe said:

[Farah's claim] a totally wacky argument, without any conceivable merit. ... The 14th amendment unambiguously and expressly confers U.S. citizenship on everyone ‘born . . . in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof.’ This means that Barack Obama was a U.S. citizen at birth. independent of the citizenship or age of either or both of his biological or adoptive parents.
People have been wondering why the President “gave into” the birthers now. This may explain it:

Slated to be published May 17, Corsi ‘s book on Obama shot to the top of Amazon’s book rankings last week after being featured on the Drudge Report. Farah said there have already been 150,000 advance orders for the book and he ultimately expects to print between 500,000 and 1 million copies …

Farah said he and Corsi also have plotted a major publicity campaign for the book that will start on May 15, with exclusive interviews on Fox News host Sean Hannity’s radio and TV show. …
Even Farah can't shut out the reality “that the book’s title may be 'unfortunate.'” With people such as Ann Coulter already seeing this issue as a loser, the more that this “unfortunate” book is hyped by the rabid right, while also trying to backpedal furiously, the loonier they look. In turn, the the Republican establishment will be either forced to disown the the crazies or risk being tarred with the same brush.

It doesn't hurt that the President gets to stick a thumb in the eye of Corsi, who first garnered headlines in 2004 as one of the architects of the so-called “Swift Boat” attacks on John Kerry’s war record.

Sunday, April 24, 2011


Laureates vs. Lawmakers

A thought::

Dear Members of the Louisiana Legislature,

As Nobel Laureates in various scientific fields, we urge you to repeal the misnamed and misguided Louisiana Science Education Act (LSEA) of 2008. This law creates a pathway for creationism and other forms of non-scientific instruction to be taught in public school science classrooms.

The warning flags many of us raised about this law have now been proven justified. Members of the Livingston Parish School Board recently announced their desire to include creationism in the science curriculum for the 2011-2012 school year. Clearly, the LSEA is well understood by Louisiana school administrators and public officials as having created an avenue to incorporate the teaching of creationism into science curricula in Louisiana schools.

Louisiana's students deserve to be taught proper science rather than religion presented as science. Science offers testable, and therefore falsifiable, explanations for natural phenomena. Because it requires supernatural explanations of natural phenomena, creationism does not meet these standards. Seventy-two Nobel Laureates addressed these issues in 1987 in an amicus brief in the Edwards vs. Aguillard U.S. Supreme Court case, which originated in Louisiana after the passage of a 1981 creationist law:

"Science is devoted to formulating and testing naturalistic explanations for natural phenomena. It is a process for systematically collecting and recording data about the physical world, then categorizing and studying the collected data in an effort to infer the principles of nature that best explain the observed phenomena. Science is not equipped to evaluate supernatural explanations for our observations; without passing judgment on the truth or falsity of supernatural explanations, science leaves their consideration to the domain of religious faith. Because the scope of scientific inquiry is consciously limited to the search for naturalistic principles, science remains free of religious dogma and is thus an appropriate subject for public-school instruction. . . .

The grist for the mill of scientific inquiry is an ever-increasing body of observations that give information about underlying 'facts.' Facts are the properties of natural phenomena. The scientific method involves the rigorous, methodical testing of principles that might present a naturalistic explanation for those facts. To be a legitimate scientific 'hypothesis,' an explanatory principle must be consistent with prior and present observations and must remain subject to continued testing against future observations. An explanatory principle that by its nature cannot be tested is outside the realm of science.

The process of continuous testing leads scientists to accord a special dignity to those hypotheses that accumulate substantial observational or experimental support. Such hypotheses become known as scientific 'theories.' If a theory successfully explains a large and diverse body of facts, it is an especially 'robust' theory. If it consistently predicts new phenomena that are subsequently observed, it is an especially 'reliable' theory. Even the most robust and reliable theory, however, is tentative. A scientific theory is forever subject to reexamination and — as in the case of Ptolemaic astronomy — may ultimately be rejected after centuries of viability. . . .

A thorough scientific education should introduce these concepts about the hierarchy of scientific ideas. Such an introduction would permit the student to relate the substantive findings of science to the process of science. Just as children should understand and appreciate the scientific theories that offer the most robust and reliable naturalistic explanations of the universe, children should also understand and appreciate the essentially tentative nature of science. In an ideal world, every science course would include repeated reminders that each theory presented to explain our observations of the universe carries this qualification: 'as far as we know now, from examining the evidence available to us today.' . . .

Scientific education should accurately portray the current state of substantive scientific knowledge. Even more importantly, scientific education should accurately portray the premises and processes of science. Teaching religious ideas mislabeled as science is detrimental to scientific education: It sets up a false conflict between science and religion, misleads our youth about the nature of scientific inquiry, and thereby compromises our ability to respond to the problems of an increasingly technological world."
Scientific knowledge is crucial to twenty-first-century life. Biological evolution is foundational in many fields, including biomedical research and agriculture. It aids us in understanding, for example, how to fight diseases like HIV and how to grow plants that will survive in different environments. Because science plays such a large role in today's world and because our country's economic future is dependent upon the United States' retaining its competitiveness in science, it is vital that students have a sound education about major scientific concepts and their applications.

We strongly urge that the Louisiana Legislature repeal this misguided law. Louisiana students deserve an education that will allow them to compete with their peers across the country and the globe.


Nobel Laureates

Sir Harold Kroto, Chemistry, 1996

Sir Richard Roberts, Physiology or Medicine, 1993

Elias J. Corey, Chemistry, 1990

Steven Weinberg, Physics, 1979

Herbert Kroemer, Physics, 2000

Roderick MacKinnon, Chemistry, 2003

Douglas D. Osheroff, Physics, 1996

Alan J. Heeger, Chemistry, 2000

Robert Curl, Chemistry, 1996

Kurt Wüthrich, Chemistry, 2002

Martin Chalfie, Chemistry, 2008

Jack W. Szostak, Physiology or Medicine, 2009

Phillip A. Sharp, Physiology or Medicine, 1993

Craig C. Mello, Physiology or Medicine, 2006

Stanley Prusiner, Physiology or Medicine, 1997

Roger Y. Tsien, Chemistry, 2008

David Gross, Physics, 2004

Roger Kornberg, Chemistry, 2006

Robert Howard Grubbs, Chemistry, 2005

Sidney Altman, Chemistry, 1989

Jerome I. Friedman, Physics, 1990

Thomas A. Steitz, Chemistry, 2009

Venki Ramakrishnan, Chemistry, 2009

Horst Stormer, Physics, 1998

Peter C. Doherty, Physiology or Medicine, 1996

Gerhard Ertl, Chemistry, 2007

Richard Schrock, Chemistry, 2005

John L. Hall, Physics, 2005

Riccardo Giacconi, Physics, 2002

Wolfgang Ketterle, Physics, 2001

Jack Steinberger, Physics, 1988

Robert C. Richardson, Physics, 1996

Frank Wilczek, Physics, 2004

Alexei Abrikosov, Physics, 2003

Roy Glauber, Physics, 2005

Susumu Tonegawa, Physiology or Medicine, 1987

Anthony J. Leggett, Physics, 2003

Russell Hulse, Physics, 1993

Eric Wieschaus, Physiology or Medicine, 1995

Rudolph A. Marcus, Chemistry, 1992

William D. Phillips, Physics, 1997

Dudley Herschbach, Chemistry, 1986

Saturday, April 23, 2011


Two For the Price of One

Conor Cunningham is humping his book, Darwin's Pious Idea: Why the Ultra-Darwinists and Creationists Both Get it Wrong, at something called The Other Journal, which bills itself as "An Intersection of Theology and Culture."

I didn't get very far into the interview because I ran into this:

Richard Lewontin offers us two very interesting confessions regarding the relation between science and materialism: on the one hand, "It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a materialist explanation of the world, but on the contrary, that we are forced by adherence to materialist causes to create an apparatus of investigation that produces materialist explanations." And on the other hand, "We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failures to fulfill many of its extravagant promises [. . .] in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment to materialism [. . . .] Moreover that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door."[1] Imagine if a creationist had said something similar! We would all be laughing into our glasses of Oxbridge sherry.
Worse, that footnote reads:

[1] ... Lewontin, quoted in James Le Fanu, Why Us?: How Science Rediscovered the Mystery of Ourselves (New York, NY: Pantheon Books, 2009), 232; and Lewontin, "Billions and Billions of Demons," review of The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark, by Carl Sagan, New York Review of Books 44.1(January 9, 1997): 31.
You may remember Le Fanu. He was, as was suspected, the litigious gitt who threatened New Scientist with a defamation suit over Amanda Gefter's article on "How to spot a hidden religious agenda," causing it to be taken down for a while but which has since been restored with a comment by Le Fanu denying any "hidden religion agenda." Of course, the Discoveyless Institute, which is nothing but hidden religion agendas, quickly picked up on Le Fanu's book and extolled it.

The important point is that, if you go to Lewontin's original article, easily available online, and actually read it, you'll see that Lewontin is, in fact, mocking a certain attitude toward science

As I said in a comment at The Other Journal, "This is all I need to judge Cunningham's intellectual integrity and scholarship." Pretty much Le Fanu's too.

That saves me having to hunt up either of their books.

Thursday, April 21, 2011


Once You Start

... it can be hard to stop lying.

Casey Luskin, however, shows no signs of even trying.

He is over at the public relations outlet of the Discoveryless Institute misrepresenting, in every possible way, the recent Synthese affair.

If you are unfamiliar with the flap, you can catch up in these posts by John Wilkins:

Did Synthese bow to Intelligent Design pressure?

A boycott of Synthese

Boycott of Synthese Status Page

Us, them and the real issue
In brief, a special issue of Synthese, "Evolution and Its Rivals," was published on line in 2009. It was edited by Glenn Branch, Deputy Director of the National Center for Science Education, and James H. Fetzer, McKnight Professor Emeritus University of Minnesota Duluth. Afterwards, the editors in chief of Synthese raised questions about one of the articles, by Barbara Forrest, which was critical of Francis Beckwith's claim that he was never a supporter of Intelligent Design.

Without notifying the editors of the special issue or any of the authors, the editors in chief inserted a disclaimer in the print issue, which only recently came out, "that some of the papers in this issue employ a tone that may make it hard to distinguish between dispassionate intellectual discussion of other views and disqualification of a targeted author or group," thus tarring all the articles in the special issue, without giving Forrest or any other of the authors the chance to withdraw their papers or revise them.

Luskin's first misrepresentation is that the "NCSE Tries to Blacklist Synthese for Upholding Civility." Neither Glenn Branch nor the NCSE tried to "blacklist" Synthese or its editors in chief. Brian Leiter, a University of Chicago law professor who directs the Center for Law, Philosophy and Human Values at the university, called for readers of his blog to stop submitting to Synthese and stop refereeing for them ... in short, to boycott the journal.

Nor was the issue leading to the call for a boycott that the editors in chief supported "civility." It was the underhanded way they smeared authors about whom no questions of "civility" had ever been raised, not to mention that Forrest was never warned of the action before it was taken.

I suppose, though, in a sense, Luskin was right that Wilkins "wrote one of the more uncivil articles" in the special issue, since he called creationists "rational" ... while Luskin spends most of his time striving mightily to prove him wrong.


Update: The editors in chief of Synthese have published a non-response to the flap, which is being vigorously debated here (if you don't see Larry Laudan's complaints about Robert Pennock's article, complete with quote mining, be sure to click the "Show more comments" link at the bottom).

Update II: Brian Leiter has also weighed in on the Synthese editors in chief "response" and is asking for comments.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011


Send In the Jesuits


Joseph M. Palacios has a discussion of the Vatican's opposition to the United Nation Human Rights Council's “Joint Statement on Ending Violence and Related Human Rights Violations Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity.” I won't try to summarize the ... um ... "logic" used by Vatican representative Archbishop Silvano Tomasi. I think you need to read Palacios' piece to get the entire odor of it (term used advisedly!).

But this interested me:

Tomasi unequivocally stated that the Council, the UN, and other state bodies cannot base law on sexual orientation since “the ordinary meaning of ‘sexual orientation’ refers to feeling and thoughts, not to behavior.”
He then goes on to say:

But states can, and must, regulate behaviors, including various sexual behaviors. Throughout the world, there is a consensus between societies that certain kinds of sexual behaviors must be forbidden by law. Pedophilia and incest are two examples.
Setting aside the wisdom of a Catholic prelate bringing up the need for society to punish pedophilia (and those who aid and abet it), what's the reason for forbidding homosexuality? I know why laws ban pedophilia -- because it is physical and mental abuse of children -- and incest -- because of likely genetic damage to offspring of such unions -- but why homosexuality?

The real issue here is the need to ban the behavior of people who commit acts, including violence, against the rights of other people based, rightly or wrongly, on how they perceive the feelings and thoughts of others.

Now let's see ... the ordinary meaning of ‘religious faith’ refers to feeling and thoughts, not to behavior. So states couldn't prevent violence against a person because someone perceives they are thinking and feeling like a Catholic? And Muslim states could punish people for behaving like a Catholic -- by, say, going to Mass -- as long as there is consensus between two or more societies that certain types of non-Muslim religious behavior can be forbidden by law?

Now, maybe it is just the long time since my college days (or the effect of a fair amount of pot smoking back then) but I'm pretty sure the Jesuits who taught me would have flunked me badly if I floated such a lame argument.

Monday, April 18, 2011


No Intelligence Here

The NCSE has the news that a bill, inspired by high school student Zack Kopplin, to repeal Louisiana's oxymoronic "Science Education Act" has been filed in the state senate. Americans United for Separation of Church and State are urging support for the bill, as is the Louisiana Coalition for Science.

It can't be said the bill's chances are good. The Louisiana Family Forum, an affiliate of James Dobson's Focus on the Family, is politically powerful in Louisiana and was responsible for the easy passage of the SEA in the first place.

That'll be a shame for the children of Livingston Parish. It appears that the local school board is still sniffing around the "Dover trap":

According to the minutes of its March 15, 2011 meeting, the Livingston Parish School Board is maneuvering to insert Intelligent Design into its biology curriculum.
Strangely, the minutes haven't been posted at the board's website yet.

But, poking around the Livingston Parish School Board site, I learned that David Tate is no longer on the board. Tate was one of the more clueless board members and his statements letting the creationist cat out of the Science Education Act bag caused Chief IDiot Bruce Chapman to fulminate that Tate's comments were "so fallacious and confrontational that they could have been scripted by his supposed adversaries if they were looking for ways to make him look bad."

The absence of Tate may marginally lower the chance that the board will shoot itself in the foot with a 12-gauge shotgun loaded with deer slugs and, instead, satisfy itself with using a .22 caliber.

But here's the real kicker: it seems the school district is facing a $10.2 million deficit and has declared a financial crisis. So, naturally, now is the time to risk expensive litigation.

Sunday, April 17, 2011


Great Line

Robin Williams on Donald Trump, from CBS Sunday Morning (approximately):

Donald wants to see Obama's birth certificate.

I want to see his hairline.
That's why comedians are a national treasure.

Thursday, April 14, 2011


But It's Not ...

See if you can guess where this is from:

Traditionally, theology was seen as the "Queen of the Sciences," since it involves the totality and greatest of truths. Philosophy and science, while valuable in their own right, have been understood as "handmaidens" to theology. For theology, philosophy at its best can help the Christian explain and articulate the core truths of the "deposit of faith." This deposit includes the truths described in the Apostles' Creed: that there is a Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, all of whom are one God; that the Son was born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, was raised from the dead, and so forth. This content of the faith precedes our philosophizing about it.
If you guessed from some theological website, you'd be right ... The Discovery [sic] Institute's Evolution News & Views.

What follows is a long discussion by Jay Richards of the sources of Christian philosophy from Plato and Aristotle, through Bonaventure, to Thomas Aquinas and beyond. From what little I know about the subject, Richards could well be right.

What is interesting is some of the statements Richards makes:

I mean none of this to disparage the use of Aristotle for theology. Aristotle is brimming with insights. If I seem to be pushing especially hard against him here, it is because he is a key source of the blind spot that prevents some Thomists from seeing the promise in intelligent design, and in perpetuating the myth that ID is contrary to Catholic belief. ...

[I]f we want to know the innate (and God-given) capacities and limits of nature, we need to look at nature itself. ... Rather than merely analyzing various ancient and early modern philosophies of nature to answer our questions, then, we should look at nature. We should not hold a philosophy of nature that effectively dictates what God must have done, but one open to the evidence of what God has done.
But ID is science, not religion ...

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Tuesday, April 12, 2011



Poor Wyomingites!

Bill O'Reilly held a poll and you were found to be the only inhabitants of the United States where the majority will miss Glenn Beck on Fox News "tremendously"!

That has to be the definition of not having a life.


Kabbalah Mining

Rabbi Adam Jacobs is going to solve the problems of the science of evolution using the Jewish mystical tradition of Kabbalah ... in the pages of the Huffington Poo no less.

I'll wait until you finish laughing.

But what problem does evolution have?

Well, a philosopher misunderstands it. Jacobs, not understanding evolution himself, cannot realize that the late philosopher, David Stove, didn't understand it either. You can read Stove's book on line but I don't think you'll need to get very far to see what I mean. This is from the opening of the first essay in the book:

If Darwin's theory of evolution were true, there would be in every species a constant and ruthless competition to survive: a competition in which only a few in any generation can be winners. But it is perfectly obvious that human life is not like that, however it may be with other species.
Of course, Jacobs, and Stove before him, instead of wondering whether they understand the science, just assume that hundreds of thousand of scientists are too stupid to see such an obvious "objection" to their work.

In fact, this is just the confusion of the science with the metaphor of "survival of the fittest" originally coined by Herbert Spencer and, unfortunately, adopted by Darwin at the urging of Alfred Russell Wallace (who thought the term "natural selection" too metaphorical) but which would wind up causing no end of mischief.

In fact, natural selection does not rely on a "ruthless competition to survive," though that can be part of it. It relies on the existence of traits that give their possessors "differential reproductive success." And one trait that can do that is cooperation in social species, such as humans, our close cousins and our common ancestors.

Jacobs actually goes downhill from there, quote mining Niles Eldredge and Stephen Jay Gould ... inevitably concerning "Punctuated Equilibria." Then he quote mines another philosopher, Karl Popper, based on the recommendation of Melanie Phillips, of all people ... further proving his inability to judge the reliability of sources.

So, what does Kabbalah have to do with evolution? I frankly don't have a clue ... which I think puts me on a par with Jacobs. It has something to do with string theory, the book "Flatland" and Adam who originally "extended from one end of the universe to the other" and "represented the totality of all that was - a unified whole that contained all the elements of life as we know it."

[J]ust like the warping of perspective that occurs when a globe is flattened into a map or of the limited capability of perception of the Flatlanders when confronted with three dimensions, Ms. Schneider suggests that our ability to peer into our distant past is equally compromised. We see that there is a relationship between species but can't piece together precisely what it is. Perhaps this is the result of the 10 dimensional implosion of the unified whole that was our world. We can no more grasp 10 dimensional reality than the Flatlanders can 3. As she says "our earthbound minds cannot grasp its unity. Instead we observe a series of related but disconnected slices...where each appears as an entity unto itself. Still, there is no evidence that they evolve one from the other. Rather, they are simply, observably present."
That is better described as Babelahdeedah.

Saturday, April 09, 2011


Political Truth


Elizabeth Cooper is a lecturer in psychology at the University of Tennessee and a member of the Rationalists of East Tennessee.

Unfortunately, Tennessee, of late, is not friendly to education or rationality.

Ms. Cooper, given the constraints of a Letter to the Editor, gives a pretty good explanation of why creationism in general and ID in particular are not science. But this is of note:

Ironically, the folks at the Discovery Institute, a group that pushes to get intelligent design into public schools and helps lawmakers introduce bills like HB368, likely know everything I just told you. I'm quite confident they know intelligent design is not science, but they're betting voters and state lawmakers don't get it.
Well, not quite ... we already know the state senator who sponsored this bill is fully aware that ID isn't science. He's betting that certain voters will remember he is against 'godless, atheistic evolution' but forget his role in costing some school district, that takes his bill at face value, hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars when they step into the "Dover trap."

All in all, Ms. Cooper is right ... she just underestimates the cupidity of politicians.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011


Sucking Eggs

We all know about the "war on Christmas" ... the annual rite where the words "Happy Holidays" or "Seasons Greetings" are proof of a conspiracy of atheists, secular humanists and academic elites to undermine the fact that America is a Christian Nation ... no matter what that pesky Constitution says.

Now it seems that there is a "war on Easter."

Rob Boston at The Wall of Separation has the story:

Munson Township, Ohio, dared to announce a "Spring Egg Hunt" for kids. (Horrors!) According to the [American Family Association], this is really an effort to "strip 'Easter' from community events."
As Boston notes, the AFA is trying to get

... the name of a Pagan goddess back into the event. That's right – Pagan. Easter takes its name from Eoestre (sometimes spelled Eastre), an Anglo-Saxon goddess worshipped by peoples in northern Europe during the pre-Christian era.

The AFA will also be supporting a Pagan fertility ritual. Easter is essentially a celebration of, well, unbridled procreation. ... Eggs are prominent because they are obvious symbols of fertility. So is the Easter Bunny. Think of it, what are rabbits best known for? Speed and fecundity.

Even the AFA admits that egg hunts aren't exactly biblical. That's putting it mildly. Stories differ about the origin of events like eggs hunts and coloring eggs, but most accounts place them long before the rise of Christianity. It's pretty obvious they have nothing to do with the New Testament account of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.

In fact, some fundamentalists don't celebrate Easter, and they rail against its Pagan overtones and assail its emphasis on the sensual.
What I want to know is when we expect the "war on St. Patrick" and all those people who don't wear green ...

Sunday, April 03, 2011


Vision, Revision and History

Jerry Coyne is disappointed in the Center for Inquiry and, in particular, John Shook, Vice President and Senior Research Fellow at the CFI.

I don't have a dog in that hunt, so I won't comment on that part of it.

But this jumped out at me:

[F]or the umpteenth time, "faitheist" did not originate as a pejorative term, but as a term for atheists who nevertheless favor religion: those atheists who have what Dan Dennett calls "belief in belief."
Hmmmm ...

Here is where the term was "Coyned."

While it is true that Coyne originally asked for a "term for atheists who nevertheless favor religion: those atheists who have what Dan Dennett calls 'belief in belief,' he also asked for:

...a snappy, one-word name for those atheists who are nonetheless soft on faith (i.e., atheist accommodationists) ... [Emphasis added]
Are we really supposed to believe that Coyne wasn't searching for a pejorative term? Why do we need a "snappy, one-word name" for a concept like Dennett's (typically) nuanced idea of "belief in belief," unless to use it as a bludgeon against opponents? What is so onerous about referring to a philosophical contention that can be encapsulated in three words?

If that wasn't enough to question Coyne's "history" of the term, there are the suggested terms that he found to be the "Runners Up":





I'm sorry. I no more believe Coyne did not intend the term to be pejorative than I believe that the Discoverless Institute intends ID to be science.


As an aside, Coyne accuses Shook of 'redefining' "accommodationism." Where, exactly, has accommodationism been definitively defined?


Saturday, April 02, 2011


A Bo in Legislator's Clothing

The Tennessee state Senator, Bo Watson, who sponsored the latest anti-evolution legislation there (appropriately dubbed the "monkey bill" by a fellow senator) denies the obvious (from the Chattanooga Times Free Press):

"It's not an evolution bill. That's a red herring. It germinates an emotional response that [critics] want," said Watson ...
But, hey! Watson denies the very legislation he's sponsored. The bill,SB 0893, contains the usual Discovery Institute-inspired language:

(d) Neither the state board of education, nor any public elementary or secondary school governing authority, director of schools, school system administrator, or any public elementary or secondary school principal or administrator shall prohibit any teacher in a public school system of this state from helping students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories covered in the course being taught.

(e) This section only protects the teaching of scientific information, and shall not be construed to promote any religious or non-religious doctrine, promote discrimination for or against a particular set of religious beliefs or non-beliefs, or promote discrimination for or against religion or non-religion.
But Watson, much like the supporters of science education, thinks that last paragraph is mere window dressing:

Watson, who was a biology major in college, said "evolution doesn't explain everything. Currently evolution is the most legitimate scientific process that we have to explain how the world works around us. But there are competing ideas" such as creationism and intelligent design.

He said ideas don't necessarily equate to scientific theory and may fall more into areas such as philosophy or religion.

"They may not meet the scientific standard, but if they come up in a science class ... and it's not listed in the state's curriculum, a teacher should not be off-putting and say that's not in the curriculum — if you want to talk about intelligent design you should go down the hall to the religious studies class. Teachers should be able to say, look, there are people who view that as a competing idea."

But teachers still would have to teach the science curriculum, Watson said.
In other words, school teachers in science classes, as government employees, should be able to endorse philosophy or religion as "competing ideas" within science, including "creationism and intelligent design."

And they wonder why we call them dishonest.

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