Monday, September 30, 2013


Failing to COPE

I noted before the suit that has been brought in Kansas by Citizens For Objective Public Education, Inc. (COPE) to prevent the implementation of the Next Generation Science Standards. You can see the complaint here.

Just nine paragraphs in they dredge up the infamous quote from Richard Lewontin from his review of Carl Sagan's The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark:
The Orthodoxy is an atheistic faith-based doctrine that has been candidly explained by Richard Lewontin, a prominent geneticist and evolutionary biologist, as follows: "Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to an understanding of the real struggle between science and the supernatural. We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door." [Richard Lewontin, Billions and Billions of Demons 44 N.Y. REV. OF BOOKS 31 (Jan. 9, 1997) (emphasis added)]
I was unaware before that Lewontin was a prophet or that the New York Review of Books was scripture that could establish "Orthodoxy."

Anyway, here is the quote in context:
With great perception, Sagan sees that there is an impediment to the popular credibility of scientific claims about the world, an impediment that is almost invisible to most scientists. Many of the most fundamental claims of science are against common sense and seem absurd on their face. Do physicists really expect me to accept without serious qualms that the pungent cheese that I had for lunch is really made up of tiny, tasteless, odorless, colorless packets of energy with nothing but empty space between them? Astronomers tell us without apparent embarrassment that they can see stellar events that occurred millions of years ago, whereas we all know that we see things as they happen. When, at the time of the moon landing, a woman in rural Texas was interviewed about the event, she very sensibly refused to believe that the television pictures she had seen had come all the way from the moon, on the grounds that with her antenna she couldn't even get Dallas. What seems absurd depends on one's prejudice. Carl Sagan accepts, as I do, the duality of light, which is at the same time wave and particle, but he thinks that the consubstantiality of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost puts the mystery of the Holy Trinity "in deep trouble." Two's company, but three's a crowd.

Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to an understanding of the real struggle between science and the supernatural. We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door. The eminent Kant scholar Lewis Beck used to say that anyone who could believe in God could believe in anything. To appeal to an omnipotent deity is to allow that at any moment the regularities of nature may be ruptured, that miracles may happen.
While I think that Lewontin was not terribly clear in this review, the closing paragraph of the review helps:
Conscientious and wholly admirable popularizers of science like Carl Sagan use both rhetoric and expertise to form the mind of masses because they believe, like the Evangelist John, that the truth shall make you free. But they are wrong. It is not the truth that makes you free. It is your possession of the power to discover the truth. Our dilemma is that we do not know how to provide that power.
Contrary to the plaintiff's claim that Lewontin was establishing or expressing an "Orthodoxy" of atheistic science, he is actually arguing against such certainty and against what he sees as the rhetoric of Sagan and the other "proselytizers" "populizers" of science.

It's not exactly a quote mine ... it's a failure of reading comprehension, whether inadvertent or intentional.

Thursday, September 26, 2013


Tilting Again

Don John Quixote Calvert rides again!

You may remember Calvert as a lawyer (Oh, Shame!) who was a prominent figure in Kansas "evolution wars" of the 2000s. He was a founder of the Intelligent Design Network that helped, briefly, to make Kansas a laughingstock by removing the word "evolution" from the state standards and by redefining "science" to include supernatural causes.

Now he seems to be behind a lawsuit to prevent Kansas from actually adopting the Common Core State Standards for science Next Generation Science Standards, recently approved by the Kansas State Board of Education (will miracles never cease?).
An anti-evolution group filed a federal lawsuit Thursday to block Kansas from using new, multistate science standards in its public schools, arguing the guidelines promote atheism and violate students' and parents' religious freedom.

The group, Citizens for Objective Public Education, had criticized the standards developed by Kansas, 25 other states and the National Research Council for treating both evolution and climate change as key scientific concepts to be taught from kindergarten through 12th grade. The Kansas State Board of Education adopted them in June to replace evolution-friendly standards that had been in place since 2007.

The new standards, like the ones they replaced, reflect the mainstream scientific view that evolution is well-established. Most board members believed the guidelines will improve science education by shifting the emphasis in science classes to doing hands-on projects and experiments.
Not so, says Calvert!:
"The state's job is simply to say to students, 'How life arises continues to be a scientific mystery and there are competing ideas about it,'" said John Calvert, a Lake Quivira attorney involved in the lawsuit.
Huh? I'd be very surprised if the standards say the origin of life is scientifically settled.

Oh, wait a minute, that's a windmill, isn't it? What he really means is that the diversity of life, particularly how humans originated, is not scientifically settled.

Of course, it is! Common descent is as firmly established scientifically as that the Earth orbits the Sun rather than vice versa.

As Joshua Rosenau, programs and policy director for the National Center for Science Education, said: "[t]hey're trying to say anything that's not promoting their religion is promoting some other religion."
The lawsuit argues that the new standards will cause Kansas public schools to promote a "non-theistic religious worldview" by allowing only "materialistic" or "atheistic" explanations to scientific questions, particularly about the origins of life and the universe. The suit further argues that state would be "indoctrinating" impressionable students in violation of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution's protections for religious freedom.

Calvert said the new standards are particularly troubling because students would start learning evolutionary concepts in kindergarten.

"By the time you get into the third grade, you learn all the essential elements of Darwinian evolution," Calvert said. "By the time you're in middle school, you're a Darwinist."
No, by the time you're in middle school, you'll (hopefully) be educated in science.

As Judge Overton stated in McLean v. Arkansas Board of Education, favorably cited by Justice Powell and Justice O'Connor in their concurrence in Edwards v. Aguillard:
[I]t is clearly established in the case law, and perhaps also in common sense, that evolution is not a religion and that teaching evolution does not violate the Establishment Clause (Citations omitted).
As Steven Case, director of the University of Kansas' science education center, said, previous court rulings suggest that this lawsuit "won't hold up."
"This is about as frivolous as lawsuits get," Case said.
But what fun would it be if John Don Calvert Quixote didn't try?

Update: The NCSE has a post on this with more good legal references.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013


Old Guy: "Get Off My Lawn!"

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has made his first public statement since resigning the Papacy in February and it's ... interesting.

He made his comments in a letter published by Italy's La Repubblica newspaper on Tuesday. Specifically, it was in response to a book by Piergiorgio Odifreddi, a member of the Italian Union of Rationalist Atheists and Agnostics.

Benedict spends time in the letter denying that he tried to cover up sexual abuse of children by Roman Catholic priests or was otherwise part of the problem rather than the solution. But here's the part where the stomach-wrenching turns to belly laughs:
In response to Odifreddi's 2009 declaration that the church preaches conjecture, not facts, and is therefore "science fiction", Benedict said: "There is, moreover, science fiction in a big way just even within the theory of evolution. The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins is a classic example of science fiction."

He added: "The great Jacques Monod wrote the sentences that he has inserted in his work certainly just as science fiction. I quote: 'The emergence of tetrapod vertebrates … draws its origin from the fact that a primitive fish' chose 'to go and explore the land, on which, however, was unable to move except jumping clumsily and thus creating, as a result of a modification of behaviour, the selective pressure due to which would have developed the sturdy limbs of tetrapods'".
I suggest one old fossil should visit another ... by the name of Tiktaalik.

Sunday, September 22, 2013



At the risk of trampling on the Sensuous Curmudgeon's territory, here's a bit of Creationist Wisdom from a certain Lee Harvill, of Meadows Place, Texas:

This is the fun part:
The general theory of organic evolution requires that animals with four-chambered hearts, mammals and birds, evolved from animals with three-chambered hearts, amphibians and reptiles. If so, sometime along the way there would have been animals with three-and-a-half chambered hearts. Now, every oilfield roughneck, as I was, knows that a three-and-a-half cylinder pump would not work. It does not require science credentials to know that.
Except ... wait for it ... there are animals with three-and-a-half chambered hearts. They are called "turtles":
Turtles are a curious transition — they still have three chambers, but a wall, or septum is beginning to form in the single ventricle. This change affords the turtle's body blood that is slightly richer in oxygen than the frog's.
Once again, a creationist mistakes ignorance for evidence.


Handy Helper

Here's something handy: Darwin's Doubt Critical Reviews, which is aggregating, as the name implies, critical (i.e. honest) reviews of Stephen Meyer's recent book and other supporting information, such as explanations of just what "information" is and takedowns of stuff that Meyer mentions prominently, such as Douglas Axe's protein folding "problem."

Most up to date is Charles R. Marshall's review in Science entitled "When Prior Belief Trumps Scholarship." Of most interest to me is this from Marshall's review:
It [Marshall's disappointment in the book] stems from Meyer's systematic failure of scholarship. For instance, while I was flattered to find him quote one of my own review papers*—although the quote is actually a chimera drawn from two very different parts of my review—he fails to even mention the review's (and many other papers') central point: that new genes did not drive the Cambrian explosion. His scholarship, where it matters most, is highly selective.
That's the same "chimera" (a polite term for "quote mine") that John Farrell revealed in his review of the book in National Review.

Casey Luskin tried to poo-poo the quote mine as merely an "alleged misuse of an ellipsis" but now we see that the author himself feels abused by Meyer.

Not that a little thing like honesty is going to give the IDers any pause.

*C. R. Marshall, Annu. Rev. Earth Planet. Sci. 34, 355 (2006).

Via John Harshman at

Saturday, September 21, 2013



In his last chapter in Darwin's Doubt, Stephen Meyer makes clear what his purpose is ... and it is not science!

He states that ID challenges "New Atheism" (of Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens) and "Theistic Evolutionism" (of Francis Collins) ... neither of which are science. Amusingly, he goes so far as to say "the theory of intelligent design, which Collins says he opposes, does not necessarily challenge this part (common descent) of Darwinian theory" (Emphasis added). It's hard to see how you can be "scientific" and not necessarily support common descent but, hey, they're striving for nothing if not a big tent.

But let's get down to the nitty-gritty:
Unlike the theistic evolution of Francis Collins, however, the theory of intelligent design does not seek to confine the activity of such an agency to the beginning of the universe, conveying the impression of a decidedly remote and impersonal deistic entity. Nor does the theory of intelligent design merely assert the existence of a creative intelligence behind life. It identifies and detects activity of the designer of life, and does so at different points in the history of life, including the explosive show of creativity on display in the Cambrian event. The ability to detect design makes belief in an intelligent designer (or a creator, or God) not only a tenet of faith, but something to which the evidence of nature now bears witness. In short, it brings science and faith into real harmony.
Because the purpose of the "science" of ID is to bring science and faith into harmony ... opps! Where have I heard that before?
Just as importantly, perhaps, the case for design supports us in our existential confrontation with the void and the seeming meaninglessness of physical existence—the sense of survival for survival's sake that follows inexorably from the materialist worldview. Richard Dawkins and other New Atheists may find it untroubling, even amusing and certainly profitable, to muse over the prospect of a universe without purpose. But for the vast majority of thoughtful people, that idea is tinged with terror. Modern life suspends many of us, so we feel, high over a chasm of despair. It provokes feelings of dizzying anxiety—in a word, vertigo. The evidence of a purposeful design behind life, on the other hand, offers the prospect of significance, wholeness, and hope.
Well, so much for the claim, solely for constitutional purposes, that the "Designer" is anything other than God. After all, why would an alien or time traveler or some such offer us a "prospect of significance, wholeness, and hope"? More importantly, if you are willing to lie in order to evade the consequences of the Establishment Clause of the Constitution, why should we believe you about anything else, including your criticism of evolutionary theory?
As my son walked out across the mountain high above the Yoho Valley, he was surrounded by many slabs of rock containing some of the very fossils we had come to see. But as he surveyed that barren portion of landscape, he lost perspective on where he was and what he had come to do. Without landmarks or steadying points of reference, he felt as if he were lost in a sea of sensory impressions. Without his sense of balance, he feared even to take a step. He called out for his father.

It occurred to me only much later how closely his experience parallels our own as human beings trying to make sense of the world around us. To gain a true picture of the world and our place in it we need facts-empirical data. But we also need perspective, sometimes called wisdom, the reference points that a coherent view of the world provides. Historically, that wisdom was provided for many men and women by the traditions of Western monotheism—by our belief in God. The theory of intelligent design generates both excitement and loathing because, in addition to providing a compelling explanation of the scientific facts, it holds out the promise of help in integrating two things of supreme importance—science and faith—that have long been seen as at odds.

The theory of intelligent design is not based upon religious belief, nor does it provide a proof for the existence of God. But it does have faith-affirming implications precisely because it suggests the design we observe in the natural world is real, just as a traditional theistic view of the world would lead us to expect. Of course, that by itself is not a reason to accept the theory. But having accepted it for other reasons, it may be a reason to find it important.
Except that your stated "consummation Devoutly to be wished" gives us reason to doubt your "compelling explanation" for accepting ID, especially since the vast majority of scientists reject it.

If it quacks like apologetics ...

Wednesday, September 18, 2013


Ignorance on Parade!

'Nuff said!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013


Philosophy Phight!

I knew it!

Philosophers are not nice people!

From HuffPo, "Philosophy Is Dangerous! Immanuel Kant Debate In Russia Leads To Fist Fight, Ends In Gunshots":
MOSCOW -- An argument in southern Russia over philosopher Immanuel Kant, the author of "Critique of Pure Reason," devolved into pure mayhem when one debater shot the other.

A police spokeswoman in Rostov-on Don, Viktoria Safarova, said two men in their 20s were discussing Kant as they stood in line to buy beer at a small store on Sunday. The discussion deteriorated into a fistfight and one participant pulled out a small nonlethal pistol and fired repeatedly.

The victim was hospitalized with injuries that were not life-threatening. Neither person was identified.

It was not clear which of Kant's ideas may have triggered the violence.
When will we have the pay-per-view of Nagel v. Dennett?

Thursday, September 12, 2013


Texas Education

What more needs to be said?
"I understand the National Academy of Science's strong support of the theory of evolution," said Texas A&M University nutritionist Karen Beathard, one of the biology textbook reviewers. "At the same time, this is a theory. As an educator, parent and grandparent, I feel very firmly that creation science based on biblical principles should be incorporated into every biology book that is up for adoption."
That's right, one of the appointed members of Texas' textbook review panel wants to force biology textbooks used in the state to include, in clear violation of the Supreme Court's decision in Edwards v. Aguillard, "creation science."

Okay, she is only one member of one panel of reviewers but what does it say about education in Texas that she was even appointed to review anything having to do with education?

Update: The blog of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Wall of Separation, has more on the Texas Textbook Massacre, including links to Texas Freedom Network's report on the situation and a sampling of the crazy objections to the textbooks, including by Raymond Bohlin, a Fellow of the Center for Science & Culture, who pushes for both evolution and climate change denialism.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013



David Klinghoffer has taken a shot at me over at the Undiscovery Institute's propaganda outlet, Evolution News & Views, the motto of which was once (but still remains, in principle): "The misreporting of the evolution issue is one key reason for this site."

Now, I can't get too upset. I've taken one or two (or a a whole bunch) of shots at David in the past. My favorite was "Dungeon Master God" and David had the good grace to show up in the comments to say "John, this was very funny. Keep up the good work!"

But I have to point out that David played a little dirty pool this time. He quote mined my post (though, to his credit, he linked to it).

In my post (though not a reason for it, as will be later seen), I listed a number of critical reviews of Stephen Meyer's Darwin's Doubt (and have been adding to it since).

David's "premise," such as it is, is that the IDers "have exhaustively debunked the critiques offered by ... Matzke, Prothero, Cook, and Farrell," who were among the people who reviewed Darwin's Doubt I listed. Quite beyond the fact that most of the "exhaustive" debunkings were by attack chihuahua, Casey (what does "eponymous" mean?) Luskin, that was not what my post was about.

But David nonetheless went on to say:
The champions cited by the two Darwin defenders include Matzke, Prothero, Cook, and Farrell. Pieret himself cheers,
The Discovery Institute crowd have complained that reviewers aren't seriously engaging with the arguments in Stephen Meyer's Darwin's Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design.

Be careful what you wish for.
But I wasn't talking about those reviews (or the lame "rebuttals" of them by the likes of Luskin) when I said that. I was talking about the detailed review being done by Smilodon's Retreat.

So far, the only "rebuttal" that the DI has attempted of Smilodon is a contentless, nervously mocking post by Donald McLaughlin, who is ... cough ... as eminently qualified to be waxing scientific as Casey and David.

Really, David, if EN&V ever gets around to permitting comments, I'll drop by to compliment you on how funny you are ... but today wouldn't be one of those days.

Saturday, September 07, 2013


Just Because It's Cool!

Via Exploring Our Matrix

Friday, September 06, 2013


It's Nervous Time!

Woo Hoo!

The Discovery [sic] Institute is getting nervous.

With a small bump from me, Richard B. Hoppe noted at The Panda's Thumb the detailed review Smilodon's Retreat is doing of Stephen Meyer's Darwin's Doubt.

The DI has rushed out a contentless post by Donald McLaughlin (who?) that "objects" that what Richard "leaves out of his post is that 'Smildon' is also a self described atheist and skeptic." In point of fact, Richard linked to Smilodon's "About" page where Smilodon did that "self-describing." More importantly, if ID is a scientific argument and not religious apologetics, why would it matter if he is an atheist and skeptic? Once again , the DI lets the real purpose of ID out of the bag.

Then McLaughlin quotes Smilodon's introduction:
I fully intend to (somehow) acquire the references (if any) used by Meyer. I'll review them to see if Meyer reports them accurately and if the same conclusion is drawn. It's not that I don't trust Meyer… well… OK… it's that I don't trust Meyer. The people from the Discovery Institute are consummate charlatans.

I'll be perfectly honest, there isn't anything in this book that shows evolution is wrong or that ID has any supporting evidence. If there was, they would publish and then they wouldn't shut up about it. This is just book to lead the lay-person to the conclusion that science can't explain everything.

I may sound biased, and I am, a bit. The DI doesn't do science. Meyer doesn't do science. Behe has tried to redefine science. Dembski doesn't do science. How can one refute science when one does not do science?

That all being said, I will try my best to be scrupulously fair. I will let you, my readers, decide if I'm being fair or biased.
McLaughlin seems to think that stating up front your doubts about the author of the book you are reviewing and inviting the reader to examine the review in that light is somehow a bad thing. Did Meyer start his "review" of Darwin's work by revealing that he is a contributor to Focus on the Family's "TrueU" course "Does God Exist," described as "an apologetics training series" and invite his readers to view his criticism of evolutionary theory in that light? If not, who is the more honest?

The important thing is that Smilodon intends to counter any bias he has by acquiring and reviewing the references Meyer uses, out in the open, where anyone can see.

Also unsurprising is the sneering reference to Smilodon as the "Unknown Scientist" and the "comparison" to "the well-known 'Unknown Comic' from the 1980's."
I can picture "Smildon", sitting in his armchair, bag over his head, reciting his "scrupulously fair" review of Darwin's Doubt.
There is a long tradition in literature of anonymity in criticism. Elia anyone? Or maybe Charles Lamb was the "Unknown Essayist" with a paper bag over his head?

The utterly vapid nature of McLaughlin's post is an early indication of how little the DI has, even in these beginning stages, to counter Smilodon's criticisms and just how nervous they are about what he will reveal about Meyer's book.

Wednesday, September 04, 2013


Tell the World!

I already told my ... um ... select group of readers about the detailed review being done by Smilodon's Retreat of Stephen Meyer's Darwin's Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design. I worried that the poor guy might exhaust himself with his self-imposed Sisyphean task. It appears my (very) modest encouragement has had a heartening effect:
I've been piddling on this for a while. Honestly, I find the whole exercise extremely annoying. But I promised I would do this and I've been inspired to continue. Thanks to the Thoughts in a Haystack blog. I'm something of a narcissist (apparently) and if someone doesn't tell me how awesome I am every few weeks, I go and get depressed.
C'mon folks! Those with blogs, post a few kind words and a link. Those without, when you see something about Meyer's book, leave a comment with a link. If you have some other way of letting people know, use it.

If Smilodon is willing to do the dirty work of slogging through Meyer's horsehockey, the least all the rest of us can do is tell the world.

Sunday, September 01, 2013


If the Universe Was Fair

Non Sequitur


Open Wide

The Discovery Institute crowd have complained that reviewers aren't seriously engaging with the arguments in Stephen Meyer's Darwin's Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design.

Be careful what you wish for.

Smilodon's Retreat (a blog by an anonymous scientist ... here's more on Smilodon's qualifications) has begun a review of the book in such detail that he had four posts on the Prologue and three, so far, on Chapter 1.

There are 20 Chapters in the book and, if the poor guy doesn't exhaust himself, the DI drones may get the heebie-jeebies whenever they see that dentition.

As long as I'm here, I'll list some of the other reviews:

Nick Matzke's Meyer's Hopeless Monster, Part II

Donald Prothero's Stephen Meyer's Fumbling Bumbling Cambrian Amateur Follies

Michael Schulson's Creationism 3.0: Meet Intelligent Design's Huckster

John Farrell's How nature works

Gareth Cook's Doubting "Darwin's Doubt"

John Harshman of has technical objections at The Panda's Thumb

Elizabeth Liddle at The Skeptical Zone has "Meyer's Mistake"

Larry Moran at Sandwalk gives Meyer short but telling shrift at "Darwin's Doubt: A Synopsis" but then expands on it in "Darwin's Doubt: The Genes Tell the Story?" (with a a couple of detailed comments by John Harshman) and Larry promises more ... And here are two additional posts: The Cambrian Conundrum: Stephen Meyer Says (Lack of) Fossils Trumps Genes and Stephen Meyer Says Molecular Evidence Must Be Wrong Because Scientists Disagree About the Exact Dates. Here are two more: Stephen Meyer Says Molecular Data Must Be Wrong Because Different Genes Evolve at Different Rates and Stephen Meyer Says That Constant Mutation Rates Are a "Questionable Assumption."

Ack! I am remiss! Richard B. Hoppe had this at The Panda's Thumb some time ago: "Stephen Meyer: workin' in the quote mines"

Here's something handy: Darwin's Doubt Critical Reviews, which is aggregating critical reviews of Meyer's book and the underlying work by IDers that Meyer relies on heavily. The site has Charles R. Marshall's review in Science entitled "When Prior Belief Trumps Scholarship."

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