Friday, March 30, 2012



According to OneNewsNow, an arm of the American Family News Network, "a Christian news service," the pending Tennessee "academic freedom" bill "enables teachers and students to debate creation and intelligent design when it comes up in the classroom."

Sen. Bo Watson (R-Hixson), says SB 893 encourages the discussion of challenges to current scientific thought, such as global warming and the theory of evolution. It does not, however, replace the state-approved curriculum for science classes or mandate the teaching of creation science.

"It makes the small caveat that says ... teachers should be comfortable having these discussions, but they need to be sure that they are directing the discussions back towards the curriculum established by the state board of education," Watson details.

The lawmaker says he does not know of any specific incidents in the past in which Tennessee teachers have had problems discussing creation and intelligent design when students asked.

"But there has been a[n] underlying tone that when these issues come up in the classroom, where students are challenging conventional scientific theories, that teachers aren't really sure how to respond to that," the senator explains.
Why is this law necessary or even useful if even the sponsor doesn't know of a problem that it addresses?

More importantly, why does the law say that:

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.

This section only protects the teaching of scientific information ...
... if the sole intent is let teachers be comfortable discussing creation and intelligent design when students ask? The law is clearly aimed at permitting the teachers to initiate the so-called analysis, critique and review of alleged scientific strengths and weaknesses which, of course, means they would be directing the discussion away from, instead of back to, the curriculum established by the state board of education.

I've said it before: given how much they lie, why are creationists so bad at it?

Saturday, March 24, 2012


Higgs for President, King, Dictator ... Whatever!

A thought (re: the mini-flap about whether Richard Dawkins is an African ape):

While many people have written interesting blog posts, here, here, here and here about the ape-hood of Richard Dawkins, I humbly suggest there's one more important point to be made. This episode has helped confirm my suspicion that you humans are embarrassed by your relatives. You don't like other apes very much. You think they're ugly and you imagine they're smelly even though most of you have never sniffed a gorilla.



Blogger Sucks

Something else has gone wrong with Blogger and made it do silly things.

I will try to restore prior posts and comments when I can.


Almost Right

Jerry Coyne is not a lawyer, so I will give him a pass on this one. His instinct is correct, though he can't link it correctly to our Constitution.

Here's the problem: the legislators of Tennessee want to make public, tax-supported, education "religion-friendly". Specifically, they want to pass this:

HB 3616 - SB 3632
February 29, 2012
SUMMARY OF BILL: Requires local education agencies (LEAs) to treat a student's voluntary expression of a religious viewpoint in the same manner that the LEA treats a student's voluntary expression of a secular viewpoint on an otherwise permissible subject. Prohibits LEAs from discriminating against a student on the basis of the expression of a religious viewpoint.

Requires LEAs to adopt a policy that includes the establishment of a limited public forum for student speakers at all school events where a student will speak publicly. This disclaimer shall be provided at all events where the LEA feels there is a need to dispel confusion over the LEA's sponsorship of a student's speech. Prohibits student expression on an otherwise permissible subject from being excluded from the limited public forum because the expression is based on a religious viewpoint.

Authorizes students to express their beliefs about religion in assignments and requires such expression to be free from discrimination based on the religious content of their submission. Requires homework and classroom assignments to be judged by ordinary academic standards of substance and relevance and against other legitimate pedagogical concerns identified by the LEA. Prohibits students from being rewarded or penalized on the basis of the religious content of their work.

Authorizes students to organize prayer groups, religious clubs, or other such gatherings before, during, and after school to the same extent that students are permitted to organize other noncurricular student activities and groups. Requires religious student groups to be given equal access to the school facilities for assembling as those given to other non-curricular groups. Requires religious student groups that meet for prayer or other religious speech to be allowed to advertise or announce their meetings in the same manner that the LEA authorizes other nonreligious student groups. Authorizes LEAs to disclaim school sponsorship of non-curricular groups and events in a manner that does not favor or disfavors groups that meet to engage in prayer or other religious speech.

Model Policy Articles I and II: Sets forth a model policy that LEAs may use and adopt in order to implement a policy establishing a limited public forum and voluntary student expression of religious viewpoints. Requires any LEA that voluntarily adopts the model policy to be in compliance with it. The model policy establishes the limited public forum for the voluntary student expression of religious viewpoints applicable to certain students.

The model policy also requires the LEA to create a limited public forum for certain other speakers and to treat a student's voluntary expression of a religious viewpoint on an otherwise permissible subject in the same manner that it treats a student's voluntary expression of a secular or other viewpoint.

Model Policy Article III: The model policy sets forth requirements for student speakers at graduation events.

Model Policy Article IV: The model policy that is adopted by the LEA shall authorize a student to express their belief in homework, artwork, and other assignments and requires such expression to be free from discrimination based on the religious content of their submission.

Model Policy V: The model policy that is adopted by the LEA shall authorize students to organize prayer groups, religious clubs, or other religious gatherings before, during, or after school to the same extent that students are permitted to organize other non-curricular student activities and groups.

The model policy authorizes school authorities to disclaim sponsorship of non-curricular groups and events; as long as they administer the disclaimer in a manner that does not favor or disfavor groups that meet to engage in prayer or other religious activity.
As always, the proponents of such legislation are their own worst enemies:

"I think the free expression of religion extends to those who may be in the public institution of education," Holt said. "I do believe in the freedom of religion, but I do not believe in the freedom from religion."
However, Coyne states that the "public expression [of religion] is illegal" in public schools. That is flat-out wrong. Students have the absolute right to express their religious beliefs anywhere and anytime it is appropriate. And the proposed law does not (obviously) change that. They can "express their beliefs about religion in assignments" as long as they are "judged by ordinary academic standards." I wonder if Jerry would actually dock a student of his, who did well on one of his exams, if s/he started out by saying "I understand, but disagree with all this, because of my religious beliefs."

The devil is, as always, in the details. Jerry's objection is not why this law is unconstitutional. Where it crashes and burns is here, in the "Model Policy":

Under the model policy, the LEA would set a maximum time limit reasonable and appropriate to the occasion for each speaker to speak at a limited public forum. Only students in the highest two grade levels of the school and who hold one of the following positions of honor based on neutral criteria would be eligible to use the limited public forum:
(1) Student council officers;
(2) Class officers of the highest grade level in the school;
(3) Captains of the football team; and
(4) Other students holding positions of honor as the LEA may designate.
Hello! You can't form an "elite" or favored class of students and give them a forum, that no one else has access to, in order to proselytize. If you are creating a public forum, it has to be open to everyone!


Friday, March 23, 2012



Via Plunderbund

Tuesday, March 20, 2012


God in the Headlights

David Klinghoffer is busily signaling the faithful that Intelligent Design is, in fact, creationism while still pretending it is science. But this is funny:

God's humility appears to us as modesty or shyness, almost. I've tried to explain this to my kids in terms they can understand, referring them to the deer that sometimes browse in the blackberry bushes at the edge of our driveway. If we want to enjoy watching them, we have to be careful not to scare away our silent, beautiful deer with loud voices or sudden movements.
It's those dang noisy scientists that keep scaring away God:

This observation about God's personality may explain why the evidence of design in the world is elusive to many people. What my colleague Dr. Stephen Meyer calls the "signature in the cell" in the genetic code, in protein synthesis, in what biochemist Michael Behe calls irreducibly complex features of biology, in the Cambrian explosion and the rest of the fossil record, in cosmology, in individual types of creatures—from butterfly metamorphosis to the history of whale evolution—whatever piece of the argument for intelligent design that you think of, it is all very lightly imprinted. It takes patience and study to see.
Oh, wait a minute! ... I thought ID was science and not about God.

Labels: ,


I Can't Help Myself

The Chronicle of Higher Education has a "special issue" on "free will."

Jerry Coyne has his usual spiel:

I construe free will the way I think most people do: At the moment when you have to decide among alternatives, you have free will if you could have chosen otherwise. To put it more technically, if you could rerun the tape of your life up to the moment you make a choice, with every aspect of the universe configured identically, free will means that your choice could have been different.
He goes on to explain that "nihilism is not an option" ... though, of course, he denies we have any options. Nor should the fact that there is no such thing as moral responsibility "seriously change the way we punish or reward people" ... as if we could.

Although he tells us that "science strongly suggests that free will of the sort I defined doesn't exist," what Coyne never attempts is an explanation of how science works if there is no way to choose between good evidence and bad; between good arguments and bad; between logic and illogic.


Update: Coyne makes it even more explicit:

In the sense that any of these thinkers agree that our will is "free," they mean that some of our decisions appear to be made after conscious processes of deliberation—after thinking about them. Of course, that's a result of evolution, and many animals probably do the same thing. Perhaps these folks will agree that humans aren't unique in having this form of "free will," for all beasts are evolved to absorb and process input before producing a behavioral output. But where is the "freedom" in all this? What, exactly, are we free to do? We're not free to think—that's a result of evolution—and we're not free in how our thought processes operate, or in what "decision" they produce.
But then, how did he come to the decision that "science" tells us "that free will of the sort I defined doesn't exist"?

Saturday, March 17, 2012


Satiric ACLU

Heather L. Weaver of the ACLU makes justified fun of Tennessee legislators who are trying to pass a pseudo-academic-freedom bill:

In passing the bill out of the Senate Education Committee yesterday, legislators claim they have fixed the language so it is no longer problematic, but a simple comparison of last year's bill and the current measure shows that all the bill's sponsors have done is consulted a thesaurus. Instead of characterizing evolution as a "scientific controversy" that requires further critical analysis, the bill now deems evolution a "scientific subject[] that may cause debate and disputation," and that, therefore, requires further critical analysis. That's right — the grand legislative "fix" merely replaces the word "controversy" with its synonyms, "debate" and "disputation." There are no other substantive changes to the proposed law and it would have the same disastrous consequences for science education as the measure defeated last year.

... We can't help but wonder what it will take to make state legislators understand that undermining the teaching of evolution in order to promote religious beliefs like creationism and intelligent design in public schools is simply unconstitutional.

And then it hit us: Maybe we just aren't using the right word to explain it. So, in case any confusion remains, Tennessee legislators take note: Under the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, your repeated attacks on evolution education are unlawful, illegal, illicit, impermissible, unauthorized, improper, prohibited, barred, lawless, banned, illegitimate, forbidden, unsanctioned, proscribed, and (something to always keep in mind) actionable. See, we have a thesaurus too, and we are not fooled when the legislature plays semantics with constitutional violations.
A Tennessee legislator's thought: $0.01, the ACLU: priceless!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012


Questioning ... Er ... Philosophy

Jerry Coyne is riffing on Victor Stenger's HuffPo article on the compatibility of science and religion:

So here's one more thing to encode in our neurons: a theistic god is indeed a god that can be examined with the tools of science and reason. Every good theologian knows that—the people who don't are the scientific organizations who have made the "god-is not-testable" statements: the National Academy of Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the National Center for Science Education.
The next few days at work do not permit me to spend much time to address either Jerry or Stenger but there is a question I have to ask ...

If, as Jerry asserts, determinism is true, just how do we go about 'encoding' anything in our neurons?

Intelligent people want to know.

Saturday, March 10, 2012


Banana Slander

That inanely grinning goober in the poorly shot video, sitting next to the mental midget claiming that the banana he is holding is "the atheist's nightmare," is, of course, Kirk Cameron.

Cameron has just revealed that there is another subject on which is as ignorant as evolution and logic ... the Constitution.

Cameron went on "Piers Morgan Tonight" (and just how stupid did he have to be to think that would turn out well?) to plug his mockumentary, "Monumental," a David Bartonish paean to the purported "Christian roots" of America, but got chivvied, instead, into talking about gay marriage. Predictably, he said things like this:

Marriage is almost as old as dirt, and it was defined in the Garden between Adam and Eve. One man, one woman for life till death do you part. ...

I think that [gay marriage is] unnatural. I think that it's detrimental, and ultimately destructive to so many of the foundations of civilization. ...

[Asked what he would say to one of his sons if he told him he was gay:] I wouldn't say 'That's great, son, as long as you're happy.' I'm going to say, There are all sorts of issues we need to wrestle through in our life. Just because you feel one way doesn't mean we should act on everything we feel.
Setting aside all those "holy" people in the Bible ... Abraham, Jacob, David, Solomon ... who didn't quite get the message that it was one man, one woman, Cameron was apparently surprised that there was pushback. Now Cameron has enlisted the equally logic-challenged WingNutDaily to publish his whine:

"I believe that freedom of speech and freedom of religion go hand-in-hand in America," he continues. "I should be able to express moral views on social issues – especially those that have been the underpinning of Western civilization for 2,000 years – without being slandered, accused of hate speech and told from those who preach 'tolerance' that I need to either bend my beliefs to their moral standards or be silent when I'm in the public square.
No, no, Kirk [holding up the Constitution and showing how it is perfectly created to be read ... by literate people at least], here's how the free speech thingie works! You get to go into "the public square" and say whatever you want and then other people are equally free to use the public square to say what they want to say about what you said. See how simple it is!

Now, it is true that nobody has the right to slander or libel (collectively known as defamation) others. But defamation requires a statement of fact about another which is untrue. Statements of opinion, such as the one that holds that loving gay and lesbian people who want the same sort of commitment as heterosexuals enjoy are somehow detrimental and destructive to society, are absolutely protected by the free speech provision of the Constitution.

So lets look at the "firestorm of criticism" (as WingNutDaily puts it) that poor Kirk had to endure:

Alan Thicke: "I'll address kirk's comments as soon as I recover from rush limbaugh's... I'm getting him some new books. The Old Testament simply can't be expected to explain everything."

Craig Ferguson: "Rush makes me ashamed to be a middleaged white man and Kirk Cameron makes me ashamed to be a failed actor. We don't all think like that NoH8."

Jesse Tyler Ferguson: "The only unnatural thing about me being gay is that I had a crush on Kirk Cameron until about 24 hours ago."

Debra Messing: "I want to thank Piers Morgan for his response to what he wud say to HIS child if (s)he came out: 'Great, as long as you're happy.'"

Roseanne: "Kirk or kurt or whatever Cameron is an accomplice to murder with his hate speech. So is rick warren. Their peers r killing gays in Uganda."

Dave Holmes: "Remember yesterday afternoon, when Kirk Cameron's views were none of our concern? Let's restore America to that golden age." [Okay, that was my favorite!]

Michael Showalter: "Idea for movie: Human Centipede 3 starring Kirk Cameron and Rush Limbaugh."

Martha Plimpton: "The word 'equality' shows up too much in our founding documents for anyone to pretend it's not the American way. #usethe19th #equalitynow."
And a few more:

"It's a very closed-minded, very homophobic view point," said Modern Family's Jesse Tyler Ferguson. "It's also surprising coming from someone who was probably brought up in the business among many gay people. It's just very sad."

"He was a such a cute little boy," said Jane Lynch, who played anti-gay activist Maggie Gallagher in the play. "He was a such a little sweetheart."
Now, I have to admit that "cute little boy" comment was pretty vicious but, all-in-all, it's rather mild. Even GLAAD, which might have the most right to be upset, only said:

"In this interview, Kirk Cameron sounds even more dated than his 1980s TV character," said Herndon Graddick, Senior Director of Programs at GLAAD.

"Cameron is out of step with a growing majority of Americans ... with an increasing number of states recognizing marriage equality, Americans are seeing that marriage is about committed couples who want to make a lifelong promise to take care of and be responsible for each other and that gay and lesbian couples need equal security and legal protections. That's not 'redefining' anything."
As far as Roseanne's opinion that what Cameron said amounts to "hate speech," it's just that ... opinion.

The closest thing to a statement of fact in the whole bunch was Craig Ferguson calling Cameron (along with himself) "a failed actor."

Besides the obviously intended humor (also constitutionally protected) and the fact that what constitutes a "failed actor" is a matter of opinion, in every defamation case "truth is a perfect defense."


P.S.: Just in case anyone might think that throwing around the "hate speech" charge is restricted to the godless supporters of (ewh!) homosexuality, here's William Donohue's comment on the open letter by the Freedom From Religion Foundation that was published as a full-page ad in today’s New York Times:

Not a single Catholic who reads this ad will be impelled to leave the Church. That is not the issue (Catholicism, unlike many other religions, is actually growing in the U.S., and worldwide). The issue is the increase in hate speech directed at Catholics.
So much for learning how to debate these things with "greater love and respect," eh, Kirk?

Tuesday, March 06, 2012


Good Advice!

A thought:

The great secret of delivering oneself from the importunity of many people is to speak reasonably to them. This language, which they do not understand, gets rid of them forever, without their having reason to complain.

- Nicolas Malebranche, Dialogues on Metaphysics and on Religion VI.viii (Jolley-Scott 102)


Via New APPS: Art, Politics, Philosophy, Science


Appropriate Venues

The Citizen of Fayetteville, Georgia is reporting that Covenant Presbyterian Church in Fayetteville will host a free three-session lecture series on "Intelligent Design" with Dr. Charles Thaxton:

The lecture series will address the history, the case for, and frequently asked questions about "Intelligent Design."

Thaxton is considered the "grandfather of the intelligent design movement." He received his Ph.D. in physical chemistry from Iowa State University and completed post-doctoral studies at Harvard University and Brandeis University.

He is co-author of The Mystery of Life's Origin and The Soul of Science, and academic editor of Of Pandas and People.
Which makes him one of the original cdesign proponentsists.

But at least Thaxton knows where ID should be taught.


When Mayans Attack!

For all of you out there that think that the world will end on December 21, 2012, good news!

It seems the ancient Mayans are fighting back! They are sending out prearranged energy beams from their temples to blow up the planet Nibiru or to stabilize the magnetic poles or maybe just to wake up their gods to jump start their calendar.

In any event it is an amazing sight.

Or maybe not.

Saturday, March 03, 2012


Thank You, Thank You Very Much!

The Alliance Defense Fund, you may know, is representing David Coppedge in his suit against Caltech's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Coppedge was a computer technician on the Cassini mission who was told to stop bothering his coworkers with his attempts to pass out Intelligent Design materials and was "demoted" and, eventually, "downsized" as the mission neared its end. It's notable that Coppedge is actually a young-Earth creationist.

The basis of Coppedge's suit, as explained by the ADF, is that "intelligent design is a scientific theory, but JPL has illegally discriminated against him on the basis of what they deem is 'religion.'"

Uh, huh.

Strangely (or not, if you've followed the history of creationist/IDist attempts to inject religion into public school science classes) the ADF is singing out of both sides of their collective mouths.

In a post at the ADF's blog Speak Up and at The Christian Post, ADF Legal Counsel David J. Hacker comments on the recent flap over the almost publication by Springer of Biological Information: New Perspectives, a book report on a young-Earth creationist and ID "symposium" held in a rented room at Cornell University. Hacker (an appropriate name) entitled his post "When Scientists Are Censors" and complains:

Of all the scientific fields, evolutionary biology has become fiefdom [sic] where academic freedom is dead and detractors are thrown out and publicly lambasted. And they protect their mandatory orthodoxy with vigor. It's no wonder so many people refuse to buy into it.
But then he goes on:

Has someone at your university criticized your Christian beliefs about human origins? Let us know by commenting below.
Wait a minute! I thought ID was a scientific theory that had nothing to do with religion? Why ask then, in connection with a post on "censorship" of a purported ID tome, whether Christian beliefs about human origins are being censored?

Oh, riiight! Lying for Jesus!

I've kept a copy of this post ... just in case a memory hole unexpectedly opens in the vicinity.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

. . . . .


How to Support Science Education