Saturday, June 30, 2012


At Last Coyne Is Clear

Jerry Coyne is again going on about how science can test the supernatural:
That is palpable nonsense. Science can, and has, constantly tested supernatural claims. Refuting creationism is the premier example. So why do accommodationists constantly make the erroneous claim that science can't test the supernatural? Boudry et al. explain it in their paper. ("IDC" below refers to "intelligent design creationism").

Perhaps some will object, saying that the supernatural encompasses things that are by definition immune to empirical investigation. And you can define "supernatural" that way, but that is not only tautological, but doesn't comport with how most people see the idea.
Because, after all, science isn't about the natural world, it is about how people see it.

Uh huh.

Thursday, June 28, 2012


Casey's Slip Is Showing

Embarrassed is the word for the Undiscovery Institute.

Just days after [cough] trumpeting biotech startups in The Big Easy as "proof" that Louisiana's oxymoronic Science Education Act hasn't hurt the state's economy, Casey is having to field calls from halfway around the world about Louisiana diverting taxpayer money into schools that are teaching that the existence of the Loch Ness Monster is one of the "evidences" against evolution.

Casey responds with the usual bafflegab about how ID is scientific and not creationism (you know, just a "science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions").

But then he says:
Apparently some private Christian schools are using wacky textbooks that claim not only that the Loch Ness monster exists, but that its existence is somehow evidence that humans and dinosaurs co-existed, ergo evolution is false. The argument, according to the article, is a young Earth creationist one. I've never paid much attention to such stuff -- my sense is that even if Nessie's existence were someday to be confirmed (something I'm not expecting to happen), then Darwinian evolutionists would find some way to accommodate the data. There's no way that materialists would let their worldview be overturned by a living plesiosaur -- or whatever Nessie is supposed to be.
Say what? Casey, as a world renowned "Intelligent Design theorist" is surely up to date on evolutionary theory. If a small population of plesiosaur descendants had managed to survive to the present, how would that upset evolutionary science ... much less a materialist worldview? After all, a very large population of dinosaur descendants have survived to fly around and poop on our heads without upsetting that scientific "worldview."

Could it be that Casey really believes that a modern day plesiosaur would show that there wasn't enough time for evolution to occur, just as those wacky textbooks say?

Or is it more parsimonious to say that Casey is a moron who will say anything in service of his theocratic and political agenda?

Wednesday, June 27, 2012


Coyne and Insecurity

All right ... this is familiar.

Jerry Coyne has found someone else who agrees with him ... maybe ... ergo he is right that science supports atheism.

We have been through this before.

This time it is "Can Science Test Supernatural Worldviews?" by Yonatan I. Fishman, Department of Neurology, Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

The kinda sad thing is Coyne's inability to hide his almost ... um ...religious belief in this proposition. He goes so far as to say about Fishman's article: "Amen, brother"! Even allowing for hyperbole and blog website informality, it is clear that enthusiasm has overwhelmed any critical sense he has.

The last time Coyne did this had to do with a paper by Maarten Boudry, Stefaan Blancke and Johan Braeckman ("BBB") entitled "How Not to Attack Intelligent Design Creationism: Philosophical Misconceptions About Methodological Naturalism." That paper was, at the very least, a sophisticated philosophical exposition. I'm not so sure about Fishman's.

For example, BBB admitted that "methodological naturalism" is the "most widespread view" among philosophers, and, perhaps, practitioners of science.

Now, I don't have the time to dissect Fishman's article right now, but this caught my eye right off:
All else being equal, the extreme extraordinariness of supernatural phenomena in light of our background knowledge of how the world works provides good grounds for being initially very skeptical indeed. After all, supernatural entities have capacities that go far beyond powers that we know exist. For this reason, most adults are not agnostic about the existence of Santa Claus, given his possession of powers that transcend well-established generalizations concerning how the world works. Moreover, more mundane alternative hypotheses consistent with our background knowledge (to be discussed in section 3 below) are available that can explain events that are traditionally attributed to Santa Claus, e.g., the seemingly miraculous overnight appearance of presents under the tree and the disappearance of milk and cookies. In the absence of evidence for Santa Claus, one should not remain agnostic, considering the probability of his existence to be around 50 percent, but should actually lean toward disbelief in his existence (see Scriven, 1966).
Um. If, as most philosophers of science maintain, what we can only "know" from science is that which science can reveal about the "natural" world (the position Fishman is arguing against), why would it be extraordinary that everything we "know" doesn't include capacities that go far beyond powers that we know exist?

Is circular reasoning "scientific"?

Tuesday, June 26, 2012


The What Me Worry State

Alfred E. ("Bobby") Jindal, governor of what used to be known as the Pelican State, has helped make it the laughing stock of the world.

That should really help the economy of Louisiana and the reputation of its universities!

Maybe he can make it up with conventions ... something like:
"Mad Magazine: Don't just read it, live it in Louisiana!"

Sunday, June 24, 2012


Media Matters

The Sensuous Curmudgeon is already on on this. The Discoveryless Institute claims Harry Lonsdale, a retired chemist and entrepreneur, is wasting the $2,000,000 he is putting up over the next five to seven years to study abiogenesis because, after "150 years of work," there has been no progress on a naturalistic origin of life. In a supreme irony, they call abiogenesis "a myth."

That 150 years is based, dishonestly (as always with the DI), on the fact that Darwin referred to life possibly arising in "a warm little pond." But Darwin had no illusions that the science of his time could even begin to address that problem. As he said:
I have long regretted that I truckled to public opinion, and used the Pentateuchal term of creation, by which I really meant "appeared" by some wholly unknown process. It is mere rubbish thinking at present of the origin of life; one might as well think of the origin of matter.
Of course, Pentateuchal creation is precisely what the DI is out to promote. And the notion that it could be shown that natural processes could give rise to "life" is a real threat to that agenda.

Not only is it dishonest to claim that there has been any serious scientific research into abiogenesis for 150 years, it is dishonest to suggest that $2,000,000 is a lot of money. As the Curmudgeon points out, in just 3 years the DI had roughly $14,000,000 to spend on the "search" for a "Designer" and they haven't come close.

But this is what got to me:
If any investors want to send even a small portion of Lonsdale's promised funding to support biomimetics projects or intelligent design organizations, such as Biologic Institute, Discovery Institute or Illustra Media, they can rest assured it won't take 150 years to show some returns.
The Biologic Institute has produced even less scientific results than abiogenesis research so far. The DI is nothing but a propaganda outlet and Illustra Media is a "documentary" producer.

It's like they are claiming that the "Science Channel" is doing real scientific research!

Oh, wait a minute! To the DI, "science" is just PR!

Saturday, June 23, 2012



Rob Boston of Americans United for Separation of Church and State has a post up about Engel v. Vitale, the case that ended government authored and enforced prayer in public schools. Contrary to the Righteous Right's spin, it did not "ban" prayer in public schools -- which will be there as long as there are pop math quizzes -- it banned the practice of the local majority enforcing their version of prayer on everyone else's kids.

There are a few personal connections that cause me to put electrons to blog.

Engel arose from a Long Island school board's order to make every child under its care recite, under the eye of a taxpayer paid teacher, a prayer authored by the New York State Board of Regents that ran:
Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence upon Thee, and we beg Thy blessings upon us, our parents, our teachers and our Country.
As Boston says, pure pabulum ... more obnoxious in its bureaucratic blandness than in its theology.

I grew up and have lived most of my life on Long Island. Boston, wanting to know more about the case, talked to Bruce J. Dierenfield, a history professor at Canisius College in Buffalo and author of the 2007 book The Battle Over School Prayer: How Engel v. Vitale Changed America.

I've said before that I was under the tender ministrations of Jesuits for four years. It was at Canisius College. I chose it because it was about as far away from home as I could get while staying in New York which, for all its officious godliness, was one of the few states at the time with a drinking age of 18. First things first.

My parents actually expressed regrets about turning me over to the "Jebbies" but they had little to fear. They were and are the intellectuals of the Catholic Church and, for all their faults, in the late 1960s in America, they acted like it. Maybe 10% of my professors were defrocked priests. I was taught the real lessons of the Bible (for example, the fact that the Old Testament Yahweh was just one of many gods believed in by the Israelites) by a Protestant professor. The county sheriff, on a ludicrous campaign to eradicate marijuana in the local universities, was not allowed on campus. The most serious action taken by the administration was the dormitory resident advisors were to inform us that, if we were going to smoke pot, we should close our doors.

The plaintiffs in Engel, of course, endured threats and harassment. The Jesuits I knew would not have merely condemned such actions but would have sneered at the "religion" that engendered it and the intellect of those who practiced it.

I suppose what I am trying to say is that, even if everyone but me is wrong, I should still recognize that not everyone else is an idiot or evil.

Friday, June 22, 2012


Of God and Godwin

At the risk of committing a Godwin, I like this:
Jury foreman Isa Logan, a bank employee and deacon at his independent West Philadelphia church, said he'd have taken a court-martial during his Army service rather than follow unjust orders.
That was the jury that found Monsignor William Lynn guilty of child endangerment for helping the archdiocese keep predators in the ministry, and keeping the public in the dark, by telling parishes their priests were being removed for health reasons and then sending the men to unsuspecting churches.

The Monsignor's defense was, in large part, that he was just a "middle manager" following the orders of Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, who died earlier this year.

Ya know, I think I'd have a lot more sympathy for some "middle manager" in a murderous, lawless, totalitarian state who said he was following orders because his life depended on it than I would someone whose only fear would be that he might be fired and lose his privileged position in a religious organization.
"He's upset. He's crushed. He's in custody and he didn't want anything else but to help kids," defence lawyer Jeffrey M. Lindy said.
If that is true, all he had to do is walk into the nearest police station and tell the desk sergeant that he had information that a Catholic priest was sexually abusing children.

That would have been a big help to a lot of kids.

Thursday, June 21, 2012


What Did the Kids of Kansas Do to Deserve This?

Topeka resident Jack Wu says his run for the State Board of Education was prompted by his opposition to public schools teaching evolution ...
Nothing too unusual for Kansas and with the added benefit of playing on the candidate's name.

But then it gets serious:
Reached by phone Thursday, Wu confirmed that he attends Westboro Baptist — which is known nationwide for its anti-gay protests — and adheres to its teachings, but has not been baptized as a full member.

Wu's campaign website notes that he moved to Topeka from California "after seeing the light of the Westboro Baptist Church."
Now, it is devoutly to be wished that this loon not be allowed any where near children, much less the levers of power over their education. There are hints that it is unlikely:
Wu has registered to run as a Republican and says he's not perturbed that the head of the Kansas Republican Party said Wu is not connected to the organization.  
"It seems kind of like they want to distance themselves from me," Wu said. "That's fine. I don't believe the party gets to decide who is and isn't a Republican."
Distance the party from him? Ya think so? A candidate who protests at the funerals of military men and women killed in action? In Kansas?

But this is a presidential election year and many people will know nothing about the Board of Education races and ... well ... stranger things have happened.

But few would be more tragic for the kids in Kansas.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012


What Up With That!?!?

PZ is already on this but ...

Between Louisiana's Science Education Miseducation Act and it's plan to give public funds to religious schools (except Muslim ones, of course) the children of the state will be getting some of the most bizarre education in the country.

One likely purveyor of this claptrap for kids is something called Accelerated Christian Education but would be called Incredible Christian Ignorance in any place with effective truth-in-advertising laws.

Here are a couple of links to the blog of "jonnyscaramanga," a British ex-Fundamentalist (they apparently do exist), who details Top 5 Lies Taught By Accelerated Christian Education and 5 Even Worse Lies from Accelerated Christian Education.

The one that gets me is:
Solar Fusion is a Myth

The nuclear fusion theory of how the sun emits heat and light is an invention of evolution scientists… All other theories require the sun to use up all its energy sooner than the evolutionists’ invented timetable would allow.
Jonny explains:
The sun, as everybody knows, works by nuclear fusion. Unfortunately, Creationists have a pet theory, outlined on pages 7-9 of Science 1096 (a PACE devoted entirely to refuting evolution, packed with misinformation and distortions of the truth). In short, Creationists want to prove that the sun is shrinking. If the sun is shrinking at a constant rate, then billions of years ago it would have swallowed up the earth. This, they say, proves that the universe must be young.

Unfortunately for them, the sun is not shrinking. That’s because, contrary to their assumptions, the sun is not a massive gas boiler gradually shrinking as it burns fuel. It’s a fusion reactor. This doesn’t fit their model, so they outright deny the truth ...
Now, I knew Kent Hovind and Henry Morris before him made the "shrinking sun" argument but I don't remember them arguing that stars weren't fueled by nuclear fusion. Neither Hovind nor Morris were very sophisticated and just assumed a constant rate of shrinkage rather than a fluctuating expansion and contraction of stars.

It just goes to show you creationists can learn new tricks ... and then stuff their fingers in their ears and deny them.

Saturday, June 16, 2012


Coyne and Philosophy

There is a group of Sophisticated Philosophers who, though a nonbelievers themselves, feel compelled to occasionally don the mantle of Sophisticated Theologian© and help the faithful find ways to comport their religion with modern science. Two specimens are Michael Ruse and Elliott Sober. ...

I'm not sure why atheist/agnostic philosophers want to spend their time harmonizing science with the very religious beliefs they reject. Sober, for example, doesn't believe in God-guided mutations, but goes around telling the faithful that God could help Darwin along by occasionally tweaking the DNA. And Ruse is a nonbeliever as well. I'm not a psychologist, so I won't suggest the motivations for this, but none of them seem savory to me. I could talk about "belief in belief," or early religious belief that, once rejected, still lingers, but who knows?
How about being intellectually honest about the limits of science? I'm not sure why Coyne wants to spend his time misrepresenting what science is and can do. I'm not a psychologist, so I won't suggest the motivations for this, but none of them seem savory to me. I could talk about "scientism," or early belief that science is a "worldview," but who knows?


Bozos On Parade

Ken Ham doesn't like being mocked:
I urge you to look at the rest and get a real feel for how atheists conduct their campaigns of mocking and hatred against God and His Word.
I didn't know that the word of God came on billboards or that it included anything about fire breathing dragons.

Thursday, June 14, 2012


On Fire!

Andrew McDiarmid, a Discoveryless Institute (surprise, surprise!) "Media Relations Specialist" (i.e. PR flack), is the latest from the DI to show an obsession with Ridley Scott's Alien prequel, Prometheus.

The so-called "science" in the movie is reportedly execrable.

But this is the funniest "justification" for ID since David Klinghoffer's "argument" that religion is good because it provides the same sort of "enchantment" that Klinghoffer's eight year old son gets from Dungeons & Dragons.

Besides the fact that Prometheus has no more science content than ID, the supposed "lesson" is that "The sure sign of a scientist with guts and integrity -- whether in fiction or real life? A willingness to follow the evidence, wherever it may point."

What evidence? Besides recycling long-discredited creationist bafflegab against evolution (which would not be evidence for ID), all the IDers offer is an analogy to human design that Willaim Paley at least had the intellectual integrity to call Natural Theology. Here is Stephen C. Meyer, DI honcho:
Based upon our uniform and repeated experience, we know of only one type of cause that produces irreducibly complex systems, namely, intelligence.
Watchmaker anyone?


Requiescat In Pace

If you don't know who and why, go here or here.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012


Something Sad This Way Comes

Tuesday, June 05, 2012


When First We Practice to Deceive

I hang my head in shame for missing this story.

The Giles County (Virginia) School Board has, for the sixth time, changed its policy on the hanging of the Ten Commandments in its public schools.

A while back, I saw that the Federal judge in the case had suggested that the school board might consider removing the first four (explicitly religious) of the Ten Commandments (Protestant version) as a way of settling the lawsuit and had meant to comment on it but never got around to it. The suggestion wasn't as crazy as it sounds, since the Supreme Court, in Stone v. Graham, a 1980 decision concerning a Kentucky statute requiring the posting of a copy of the Ten Commandments (purchased with private contributions) on the wall of each public school classroom in the State, stated:
The preeminent purpose for posting the Ten Commandments on schoolroom walls is plainly religious in nature. The Ten Commandments are undeniably a sacred text in the Jewish and Christian faiths, and no legislative recitation of a supposed secular purpose can blind us to that fact. The Commandments do not confine themselves to arguably secular matters, such as honoring one's parents, killing or murder, adultery, stealing, false witness, and covetousness. ... Rather, the first part of the Commandments concerns the religious duties of believers: worshipping the Lord God alone, avoiding idolatry, not using the Lord's name in vain, and observing the Sabbath Day.
Thus, posting the rest ... Thou shalt not kill ... Thou shalt not steal ... Thou shalt not bugger your neighbor's wife (or however they go) ... might meet constitutional muster. Personally, I don't think so, because it would be hard to disassociate the rest from the original ten in any meaningful way. I mean ... "The Six Suggestions"? Don't off anybody? Don't crib from another dude's crib? Don't snuggle with somebody's significant other?

Anyway, the above page from a Prentice Hall U.S. History textbook is what they are going to substitute for the "real" thing.

And there is no doubt why.

As far back as March 15, 2012, as the board was piling on more and more "historical documents" in hopes of somehow drowning out the clear religious meaning of the display, they began to recognize that they were succeeding ... just not in the way they intended:
Dr. Webb stated that "where is enough enough?" "A little over a year ago we had two documents up in our school. This summer, we decided to hang 11 or 12 more framed documents up in our schools and if my math is correct, we have some 18 more frames to be hung. In my mind, we are trying to cover up the main reason we want these documents up on the wall.
Yeah, we ... meaning any and all rational human beings ... know the main reason you did this: to use taxpayer money and the power of government to proselytize your religion. But how's it working out?
I don't know of many people who are going to take the time ... Maybe 5% of the school population will even see these in a days' time where they are posted ... It seems like it's defeating the purpose of even wanting this document up in the first place ... If 12 are good enough, I don't think adding 18 more is going to make it that much better ... Mrs. McMahon stated that "it seemed to her that the purpose of this was that the documents would be read and understood by the students, but you are talking about 30 of these large documents that are taking up a lot of space. I believe in all of these documents, but I think hanging them in our schools will not necessarily cause the students to read and understand these.
Now to the fig leaf. "Bobby" Lily, who kicked off the latest round of trouble for the school board, has apparently been hanging around the courthouse to admire his work:
Bobby Lilly spoke to the board about the continuing dialogue concerning the foundations of law and government display... One of the things that he discovered since the hearing in Roanoke the other day is there's an exhibit in the court file (copies provided). It is page 74, which is captioned "The Roots of Democracy," out of the United States History textbook, Virginia edition, by Prentice Hall, that is currently in use with the 11th grade classes at the high school. He said the page seemed to address several of the concerns and thoughts that have been raised during the discussion the last several weeks. It does reference two specific enlightenment philosophers (John Locke and Baron de Montesquieu) both of whom he believes were mentioned in the discussions at court as people who were conspicuously absent from the original display whose thoughts on natural rights and balance and power were important factors. It also includes a reference to the Greco-Roman roots with a depiction of Lady Justice blindfolded, as in the original display of 11 documents. It has a reference to the Ten Commandments with a graphic in the upper right hand corner and an explanation of their relevance. It goes on to mention the English Parliamentary traditions and in the middle of the page there is a depiction of the American bald eagle and an outline of the United States with the stars and stripes superimposed on it. This representation (specifically the Ten Commandments) addresses an issue which has gotten a lot of talk the last few days, specifically whether or not we should consider displaying the Ten Commandments in a way that omits some and includes others. The graphic on this page is interesting because it shows a drawing of the tablets and references what the Ten Commandments are without having to specifically quote any of the language which some people find to be objectionable. Mr. Lilly's proposal to the board was to substitute this page from the textbook for the current document captioned as the Ten Commandments.
In other words, the school board can endorse the Ten Commandments without actually quoting it. Neato! It might even work.

But nothing is perfect:
Mrs. McMahon said ... it seems like it would be a better presentation if we would remove the little critical thinking area ...


Sunday, June 03, 2012


In Which I Am Conflicted

Jerry Coyne follows up about the death of Randy "Mack" Wolford, a snake-handing Pentecostal preacher, who was done in by one of his rattlesnakes.

Specifically, he refers to an article in the "Lifestyle" section of The Washington Post: "Why I watched a snake-handling pastor die for his faith" by Lauren Pond, who was on the scene of the fatal bite because she's doing a documentary on snake handling.

Jerry endorses a comment on the article by Grania Spingies of Atheist Ireland:
The nauseating aspect is how much the reporter tries to find something good and positive in this tragedy, because you know, faith is good, and unwavering faith must be even better. Even though she is clearly troubled by the stupid and primitive practices of this church, she feels she has to write positively about deep convictions and how this has helped her "understand" - although she never elaborates what "understanding" she has gleaned from watching a man die an agonizing death while his family stood around sadly.

People respect the mere word "religion" so much that they fall over themselves trying to praise a nonsensical belief that not only led a man cause his own senseless and needless death, but paralyzed his evidently loving family to stand around mutely when they should have been trying to save him.

He didn't die for his faith, he died for his stupidity. There isn't anything praiseworthy about it.
First of all, that's not at all what Pond said:
The practices of the Signs Following faith remain an enigma to many. How can people be foolish enough to interpret Mark 16: 17-18 so literally: to ingest poison, such as strychnine, which Mack also allegedly did at Sunday's ceremony; to handle venomous snakes; and, most incomprehensible of all, not to seek medical treatment if bitten? Because of this reaction, many members of this religious community are hesitant to speak to the media, let alone be photographed.

But Mack was different. He allowed me to see what life was like for a serpent-handler outside church, which helped me better understand the controversial religious practice, and, I think, helped me add nuance to my photographs. His passing, my first vivid encounter with death, was both a personal and professional loss for me.

I decided to attend the worship service Mack was holding at Panther Wildlife Management Area, in the southwestern part of the state, on a whim, thinking that it would be good to see him again, and that I'd make the seven-hour drive back to Washington the following morning. But I haven't returned. I have been staying at a friend's house close to Bluefield, speaking with Mack's family members, and gradually allowing myself to feel some of the raw emotion that has been percolating for days. (Emphasis added)
Clearly, Pond was not saying she found something "good and positive" in Wolford's faith; she is saying she better understood Wolford's humanity, which she hopes was caught in her photographs, and about her own emotions.

Take, on the other hand, the stunt man who jumped from 2399 feet without deploying a parachute into a pile of cardboard boxes. It was every bit or more dangerous as handling a rattlesnake.

And what should we make of the attempts of Pliny the Elder, and generations of volcanologists after him, to get as close to volcanic eruptions as possible?

Don't get me wrong. By my own lights, risking your life for knowledge is far more "understandable" than risking it for fame and glory or for some ... to be kind ... obscure religious belief.

But I know of no way to objectively differentiate between them. People do dangerous things for many reasons. The most we can hope to do is understand them, and those around them, as people.


Telling It Like It Is

There's an old joke about Pennsylvania ... the state consists of Philadelphia at one end and Pittsburgh at the other and Alabama in between.

A letter to the editor to the Lebanon (Pennsylvania) Daily News proves the point.

There's two points of interest in the letter. The first is the nature of Intelligent Design:
I recently attended a two-day creation seminar under the instruction of a world renowned science and Bible teacher. The presentation completely invalidated the foolish theories of Charles Darwin and left no doubt of a Creator God and the true science of the Bible.

Here's one fragment of the marvel of intelligent design: The human body contains 100 trillion cells (that's trillions). Each single cell contains the equivilant of the total sum of a large city's components, i.e., bricks, pipes, glass, nuts, bolts, rugs, light bulbs, furnace parts and so on.

That's like 100 trillion cities, each with their trillions of parts, in the human body.
Naturally, there is the oohing and aahing over factoids ... without considering the many more trillions (that's trillions!) of cells in a blue whale's body or what those factoids really mean. More important is the clear recognition that ID belongs in a creation seminar conducted by a Bible teacher. They always know their own.

This is the second point:
Some day there will be a grand book burning of the fables of Charles Darwin. The truth is in the Bible, and that truth is eternal.
Because, of course, "eternal truth" needs to burn any books that might disagree.

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