Sunday, April 30, 2006


Religiously Godless

Here is a nice confluence for a Sunday:

PZ Myers, at his blog Pharyngula, has an essay called "Secular horror?" on what he sees as the proper role of "secularism" in the American form of government and secularism’s relation to atheism.

[S]ecularism is a progressive value; it is something we should be promoting as a core part of our identity, and an absolutely essential property of good government. Secularism does not in any way imply atheism or agnosticism, nor is unbelief a prerequisite for favoring a government that is completely independent of sectarian religion. At the time of the founding of our country, among the most vigorous advocates of the separation of church and state were the Baptists, not the atheists, who were then and have always been a tiny minority. In a country with a plurality of diverse beliefs (and that also has not changed), it makes sense that the government that serves them all should make no commitment to any one brand of religion, and that we should enforce a studied indifference to all forms of the sacred. ...

At the same time, there is "Founding Fathers had a nonsectarian god in mind," a joint review by Bruce Tomaso of American Gospel: God, the Founding Fathers, and the Making of a Nation by Jon Meacham, managing editor of Newsweek, and David L. Holmes’ book, The Faiths of the Founding Fathers. As the article points out, while the Founders rejected invoking the Christian God:

[T]hey chose what Benjamin Franklin called our "public religion," a sort of benign homage to a sort of generic god, one whose outline, and agenda, were deliberately left vague.

It's a nonsectarian god, a god not weighted down by dogma. He made us. He watches over us. But he isn't kicking butt and taking names. Unlike the Old Testament God, or the God of the Crusaders, or the God of the Wahhabi, he doesn't exhort his followers to lop off the heads of those who worship in the wrong temple. ...

Still, these men were not atheists, and they didn't expect Americans to act as atheists. "For the Founders," Meacham writes, "religious freedom was not equivalent to a public life free of religion."

Meacham, a devoted Episcopalian, believes that:

. . . America's public religion, this religiosity without specificity, has been a national strength -- and that we weaken ourselves culturally and politically when we let the fringes on either side define God in their image.

"Everybody's blood pressure, on both the left and the right, could be reduced at least a few notches if we accept that historically there is this religious language in the public sphere, but it is not coercive," he said.

Back to PZ:

I think that what does far more harm to our cause is to consciously and explicitly associate that reasonable insistence on a secular government with atheism (at least, that is, until we remove the stigma of atheism). It reinforces those false notions that good Christians want a Christian government, that America is a Christian nation, that religion is an essential part of patriotism, and that only the godless would want to keep superstition, religion, dogma, and the supernatural out of a rational government. That is the antithesis of a liberal position, and it supports the goals of the Religious Right. ...

Here's another important progressive value: tolerance. There is much confusion about what tolerance means. It does not mean that you only allow people whose ideas you like in the party; quite the contrary, if you like and approve of them, it doesn't require the virtue of tolerance to accommodate them. ...

It will never be easy to reconcile these competing beliefs and the various ideas of how they should be accommodated within a democracy. It is no accident that the Establishment clause opens the Bill of Rights. There is no issue more divisive and more likely to play havoc with a civil society than our beliefs about religion.

James Madison, architect of the Bill of Rights, recognized that it was ultimately a "parchment barrier" against tyranny. It is only as strong as the people who take its meaning to heart.

Saturday, April 29, 2006


Nothing But the FAQ

Pat Hayes at Red State Rabble has an article about a new four color brochure titled "FAQ About the New Kansas Science Standards" that is being circulated during the run-up to the Kansas School Board elections this fall. While no one is taking credit for this effort, it does refer readers to websites of the Kansas Department of Education and something called Kansas Science 2005. The Kansas Science 2005 site states that it "reflects the work of eight of 25 members of the Kansas Science Writing Committee appointed in 2004 by the Kansas State Board of Education" or, in other words, the authors of the "Minority Report" adopted by the conservative majority on the Board. The brochure can be found in pdf format at the site.

This set of questions and answers stands out:

Q: Why is the teaching of origins so controversial?

A: It is scientifically controversial because it is an historical science, and therefore very subjective. It is religiously controversial because it addresses the question: "Where do we come from?" This is a question that some claim is inseparably linked with the question: "Where do we go?"

Q: Do the changes seek to criticize evolution to advance religion?

A: No. They seek to eliminate rather than advance a religious bias that permeated the old standards.

In other words, in the State of Kansas all "historical sciences" are considered subjective and, if they deal with "origins," they are deemed to be religious in nature.

But that contention, written into official state policy, won’t "drive businesses out of Kansas and disqualify students for college." That was just "propaganda designed to frighten rather than inform . . . concocted by founders of Kansas Citizens for Science and . . . outlined in the November 2000 issue of Freethought Today, a publication of atheists and agnostics."

But remember folks, it ain’t about religion! It is all about the science!

Friday, April 28, 2006


Walking the Dogma

In their continuing effort to plumb just how disingenuous they can be, the people over at the Discovery Institute, just two days after emphatically denying that ID is an argument from ignorance, have heaped effusive praise on an article by Greg Frankey in Human Events Online, even quoting this bit:

As counterintuitive as it seems that a species could develop new physical traits simply because such a mutation might be advantageous (can we all learn to fly or to breathe underwater if we just wish to long enough?), it simply defies credulity to think that human beings not only physically evolved from ape-like creatures, but developed the ability to think rationally by a similar process. ...

According to Casey Luskin, Public Policy spokesman for the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, which is seeking to establish the right of teachers to question Evolutionary theory, the question isn't whether it would have been advantageous for man to develop the ability to reason -- of course it would have. The real question is whether mutations are capable of producing this. "This certainly seems to strain Darwin's theory. It appears that something else has to be added to the equation to explain human complexity."

So 'defying credulity' and 'seems to strain Darwin's theory' are somehow not arguments from ignorance?

Ya just have to wonder if these guys ever get whiplash from their 180s.

Of course, it is somewhat amusing to see the Discovery Institute tout an article that, though the height of its intellectual content is incredulity, still says the following about the objection that ID "is inappropriate for a science curriculum because it relies on something other than pure science to advance its assertions":

This can seem eminently sensible to most reasonable people. After all, a theory that relies on something as unverifiable as a Supreme Creator is hardly fitting for a science lab -- it would be much more appropriately addressed in the context of a philosophy or humanities class.

But not letting embarrassment stand in their way must be something that the guys at the DI are very used to.

Thursday, April 27, 2006


Tentless in Seattle

The Discovery Institute has responded to the Seattle Times article that I previously posted on. Once again, it is whining that nobody understands ID when, in fact, more and more people understand it all too well, ever since Judge Jones explored it so thoroughly. Robert Crowther claims that ID is not an argument from ignorance but he nonetheless cites to an article, "Not by chance: From bacterial propulsion systems to human DNA, evidence of intelligent design is everywhere," by Stephen C. Meyer, that claims:

1) "Either life arose as the result of purely undirected material processes or a guiding intelligence played a role."
2) There is an "appearance of design."
3) This appearance is "unexplained by the mechanism -- natural selection -- that Darwin specifically proposed to replace the design hypothesis."

In other words, the Discovery Institute, while brazenly denying it is doing it, cites to an article that makes just such an argument from ignorance, set on top of what Judge Jones rightly called a "contrived dualism." The rest of the "substantive" claims of the article are, hard as it may be to believe, equally disingenuous.

As to the unraveling of the "big tent," Crowther tries to downplay the criticism of ID by implying it is limited to people "such as Rush Limbaugh" and by simply denying that ID advocates are trying to sneak their religion into public schools. The problem for the ID advocates is that they can't maintain this pretense against criticism from within the big tent they have tried to erect. Take, for instance, William Dembski's attempt to blunt ID's differences with traditional creationists in his article, "Intelligent Design's Contribution To the Debate Over Evolution: A Reply To Henry Morris":

Despite my disagreements with Morris and young earth creationism, I regard those disagreements as far less serious than my disagreements with the Darwinian materialists. If you will, young earth creationism is at worst off by a few orders of magnitude in misestimating the age of the earth. On the other hand, Darwinism, in ascribing powers of intelligence to blind material forces, is off by infinite orders of magnitude. ...

ID is part of God's general revelation. Consequently, it can be understood apart from the Bible. That's why, for instance, the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies invited me to lecture on intelligent design and warmly embraced my message (this happened in October 2003). Just about anyone who is not wedded to a pure materialism agrees that some sort of design or purpose underlies nature. Intelligent design not only gives a voice to these people, but also gives them the tools to dismantle materialism.

Dismantling materialism is a good thing. Not only does intelligent design rid us of this ideology, which suffocates the human spirit, but, in my personal experience, I've found that it opens the path for people to come to Christ. Indeed, once materialism is no longer an option, Christianity again becomes an option. True, there are then also other options. But Christianity is more than able to hold its own once it is seen as a live option. The problem with materialism is that it rules out Christianity so completely that it is not even a live option. Thus, in its relation to Christianity, intelligent design should be viewed as a ground-clearing operation that gets rid of the intellectual rubbish that for generations has kept Christianity from receiving serious consideration.

It doesn't even take reading between the lines to know what ID's real concern is.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006


Driving the Dodge

Proving again that nothing can get by him, Bruce Chapman, founder and president of the Discovery Institute, is quoted in the Seattle Times as allowing that:

Dover is a disaster in a sense, as a public-relations matter. It has given a rhetorical weapon to the Darwinists to say a judge has settled this.

Try as they might, the whistling doesn’t seem to be getting the the ID advocates past the graveyard. Despite the fact that that the decision of Judge John E. Jones III in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District was not appealed and is binding precedent only in the Middle District of Pennsylvania, the sheer weight of the opinion, firmly grounded on a mountain of evidence, gives it influence well beyond Judge Jones’ jurisdiction. In this regard, it bears much in common with the decision of Judge William R. Overton in McLean v. Arkansas Board of Education that was also influential well beyond the borders of Arkansas.

Now ID is beginning to wear thin even with evangelicals. Chapman goes on to admit:

We have problems on both sides. There is no doubt that many conservatives and liberals alike -- if they have not studied the matter -- mix up the science issue with religion.

In fact, the real problem for the Discovery Institute is that too many people are not mixing up science with religion. Scientists have long resisted the attempts to do so and now more and more creationists are tired of the ID pretense. Answers in Genesis has already defected from the "big tent." And, as the article notes, talk-radio host Rush Limbaugh and syndicated columnist Cal Thomas have called ID a failed strategy to bring religion into the public schools. Another example is:

Paul Chesser, an editor at a North Carolina free market think tank, the John Locke Foundation, calls intelligent design a "diluted account of Creation." He wonders why it left out God.

"Why do Christians wage combat over taking Christ out of Christmas but employ weak dodge-and-parry tactics when educating their kids about life's beginnings?" Chesser wrote in a column headlined "Cowering Christians."

Hugh Ross, president of Reasons to Believe, a group that promotes old-earth creation supposedly based on "scientifically testable evidence to support the accuracy of the Scriptures," considers himself a Discovery Institute ally but says that the DI is making a mistake to walk a middle ground between evolution and creationism:

By doing that, he said, "you make theology weak and you make science weak."

His advice: Acknowledge that God is the designer. "We're just saying, 'You guys need to go a lot farther than you're going. You've got to quit ducking the issue.' "

Of course, if the Discovery Institute was to be that honest, it would end even its sub rosa "teach the controversy" and "allow individual teachers the freedom to teach ID if they want to" approach.

Ultimately, the Discovery Institute’s problem is how to walk the line between its real intent to promote its version of Christianity at taxpayer expense and the strictures of the Constitution. As Brian Ogilvie, who teaches the history of science at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and who is writing a book on the history of various intelligent-design arguments points out:

When intelligent-design proponents speak to Christian audiences, "there's no question about who the designer is," Ogilvie said. "They've adopted the strategy of saying one thing to the faithful and another one to the scientific community."

But that has its own drawbacks. As Richard Thompson, president and chief counsel of the Thomas More Law Center that represented the Dover school board in Kitzmiller and who had a rather public falling-out with the Discovery Institute, says:

You can be so nuanced people lose the point. They can't understand what you're doing and why you're saying what you're saying, and that might be the problem with the Discovery Institute.

There may be a lesson here: If you really want to be understood, it is probably best not to speak out of both sides of your mouth.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006


Intelligent Dupes

Christianity Today has a most interesting article called "The Other ID Opponents: Traditional creationists see Intelligent Design as an attack on the Bible." The article notes that:

[S]pokespersons at the Discovery Institute routinely distanced their theory from creationism and from those who wanted to teach ID in science classrooms.
In return:

[C]reationists were warning their millions of followers about the dangers of ID. Its foundation in science, not the Bible; [and] its willingness to accept large aspects of evolutionary theory . . .
After all, as the article says:

[Traditional creationists] don't need ID's help to topple evolution. They're doing just fine. An April CBS poll found that 44 percent of Americans believe God created humans in their present form within the last 10,000 years.
Unconcerned with academic acceptance, [Answers in Genesis’] Mark Looy, vice president of outreach, condemns "compromise positions" such as theistic evolution, progressive creation and even the gap theory, which allows for ages of time to pass between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2. But beyond that:

The most recent attack on Genesis, one that to AiG's dismay is accepted and promoted by evangelicals, is Intelligent Design.
Terry Mortenson, an AiG lecturer and researcher, is even more blunt:

Christians are being duped, Mortensen says. "Most if not all of the ID books are published by evangelical Christian publishers, which are marketing to an evangelical audience. And our concern is that [although] in those books there are good design arguments, there are statements sprinkled in them implying or stating openly that Genesis isn't important."


"In a subtle way, none of the ID people are coming out and attacking the Bible," says Mortenson, "but by leaving the Bible on the side and saying Genesis isn't really important, and we don't need to worry about that, is a very subtle form of undermining the authority of the Bible in the church."
This is all the more galling since, as Ken Ham, president of AiG, says:

I don't think the ID movement would be where it is even now if it was not for the general creation movement. They're riding on the coattails of the creation movement.
So AiG at least knows what is going on with ID:

"I would venture to guess," says Mortenson, "that it would be very likely that the majority of people who are trying to influence the schools are creationists rather than ID [proponents]." ID, he says, was seen as a way to challenge evolution without violating court rulings on the separation of church and state.
Not only are we seeing some rips in the "big tent," there is the spectacle of young-Earth creationists teaching the IDeologues a thing or two about honesty and straight talking. Who’d have thunk it?

Monday, April 24, 2006


Pick of the Crop

There is an article in the Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy by Kristi L. Bowman, an Assistant Professor of Law at Drake University Law School, that addresses some difficult issues surrounding the "objective observer" test, created and championed by Justice O’Connor, of the constitutionality of government action under the Establishment clause. Professor Bowman does this specifically in the context of the decision in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District.

I may post about the article later, if it proves interesting. In the meantime, I just want to note that Michael Francisco, the Discovery Institute’s own law student, has a post about the article up at the DI’s blog, Evolution News & Views. It is the usual whinging about how poor little ID is so misunderstood. However, this jumped out as head and shoulders above all the other mewling:

To be clear, Bowman presents intelligent design in a more accurate light than many of the critics. For example, she recognizes that "intelligent design advocates’ purpose is nearly always less overtly religious than that of traditional creationists."

Well, sure! That is about like saying that a pickpocket's purpose is less overtly criminal than an armed robber's. It sort of comes with the territory when you are a stealth creationist.

But I think we should thank Mr. Francisco for admitting that it is accurate to say that the less-than-overt purpose of ID advocates is religious.

Sunday, April 23, 2006


Mo' Pomo

A poster known as "Alexander" over at, who is no apologist for ID or anti-scientism of any sort, has objected to the connection being made between the Intelligent Design Movement and postmodernism that I reported on in my prior post, "Greasing Up the Truth."
While I can't say he has convinced me yet that there is no connection, his point that postmodernism may be unfairly conflated with epistemological relativism should at least be seriously considered. You can read the exchange in this thread. Oh, and I see John Wilkins just stopped in to spread a little reason and sense about . . . the bastard!

Saturday, April 22, 2006


Baptizing Public Schools

A very interesting development:

The Baptist Center for Ethics, consisting of dozens of pastors, including some from the conservative Southern Baptist Convention, have signed a letter asking fellow ministers to reject the movement by conservatives to abandon public schools.

According to the Center, Baptists should "recommit themselves to the separation of church and state."

And, what is more, public schools should be free from attempts to promote "sectarian faith," such as state-written school prayers or the teaching of intelligent design.


Greasing Up the Truth

There is a very good editorial, "A new alliance against science," by Peter McKnight in the Vancouver Sun that uses the recent decision of the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada not to fund a study by McGill University's Brian Alters into the detrimental effects of popularizing "Intelligent Design Theory" on Canadian students as a springboard to discuss the wider issue of the "unholy alliance" between the Intelligent Design Movement and the postmodernist academic left.

McKnight begins by recounting the actions of the SSHRC:

In its terse rejection letter, the SSHRC said "the proposal did not adequately substantiate the premise that the popularizing of Intelligent Design Theory had detrimental effects" and there was inadequate "justification for the assumption in the proposal that the theory of Evolution, and not Intelligent Design Theory, was correct."

Now those reasons would be laughable if they weren't so pathetic. First, Alters's reference to the detrimental effects of popularizing intelligent design isn't a premise, but a hypothesis. This is what the study was designed to test, so it's a bit much to expect Alters to have the evidence in hand prior to conducting the study. Indeed, were he already in possession of the evidence, there'd be no need to conduct the research.

But as it turns out, the panel's second reason for rejecting funding provided exactly the evidence Alters was looking for. That a committee of "experts" could suggest that ID and evolution are equally plausible theories reveals just how great the detrimental effects of popularizing ID have been.
Faced with a storm of criticism from scientific groups, SSHRC executive vice-president Janet Halliwell and review committee member Larry Felt, a sociologist at Memorial University, made some attempt to acknowledge evolutionary theory’s place in science, only to slyly attack the larger claim of science to objective knowledge. For example, while Halliwell issued a statement saying, "The theory of evolution is not in doubt," she also said that there are some phenomena that "may not be easily explained by current theories of evolution." Well, duh! That’s why we keep doing science (and why it is still so much fun); there is still so much to learn! That is totally irrelevant, however, to the bogus claim of ID to itself having scientific status. Felt went even further, saying that evolution and ID might "come together," and gave the excuse that the review panel feared Alters's proposed study would "dump on the religious right."

. . . I think Felt's comments reveal what's really going on here. The SSHRC, it seems, has adopted wholesale the postmodern epistemological relativism that has for years been promoted in many university humanities and social science faculties.

Central to the project of epistemological relativism is the notion that, contrary to popular belief, science doesn't occupy a privileged position, that it doesn't have any special claim to truth. Rather, science maintains its authority through power rather than truth -- through carefully controlling access to resources and bullying its opponents into submission. ...

For the postmodernists, then, all truth is relative, and all attempts at finding it ought to be equally valued. This fits in nicely with the lefty postmodernists' warm-and-fuzzy egalitarianism.
Obviously, high on that list is the "Social Constructivist" Steve Fuller, an American at the University of Warwick in the United Kingdom, who testified for the defense in Kitzmiller v. Dover School District. McKnight rightly cites to an article, "Steve Fuller and The Hidden Agenda of Social Constructivism," by Rutgers University mathematician Norman Levitt, for a devastating demolition of Fuller's postmodernism. More important, perhaps, to understanding the import of this situation is the fact that ID advocates have "returned the favour by becoming the chief purveyor of the left's crass relativism," a phenomenon detailed in Noam Scheiber’s article, "Science Fiction." This development is, as McKnight notes:

. . . more than a little ironic, since the religious right was once the main critic of leftist relativism, and ID godfather Phillip Johnson specifically promoted ID as an alternative to the relativism he wrongly believed stemmed from Darwinism.

This turnaround is to be found in the drumbeat from the ID advocates that "those of us who value science and object to intermixing science and pseudoscience are closed-minded." Even politicians have, for the obvious reasons, joined in, including those who should know better:

. . . Arizona Sen. John McCain, who I long thought was the only hope to rescue the Republican party from the talons of the theocrats, says that all points of view should be represented. The postmodern left couldn't have said it any better.

Thus the ostensible purveyors of "eternal truth" have become champions of the postmodern ideal: "the notion . . . that all truth, and all methods for arriving at truth, are equal."

By learning to speak the language of postmodernism, the religious right has therefore succeeded in gaining a foothold in the academy, and in influencing funding decisions in the social sciences and humanities. But it has paid a great price, a price that involves denying the existence of absolute truth.

"Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows," wrote William Shakespeare, and nowhere is the truth of that nugget more in evidence than in the unhappy marriage of the postmodern left and the premodern right, a marriage made not in heaven, but consummated by the parties' mutual commitment to the relativity of truth.
Sadly, the children are bound to be ugly . . . and slippery too.

Friday, April 21, 2006


To See the Forrest . . .

Pat Hayes has an excellent profile of Barbara Forrest, her testimony at the Dover trial and the history of the ID movement over at his blog, Red State Rabble:
One interesting titbit:

Richard Thompson, the lead attorney for the Thomas More Law Center, which describes itself the sword and shield for people of faith, went to extraordinary lengths to prevent the soft-spoken Forrest, a professor of Philosophy at Southeastern Louisiana University, from testifying as an expert witness for the plaintiffs in the Dover intelligent design trial last fall.

In June, before the trial began, Thompson flew to New Orleans to take Forrest's deposition. As attorneys, witness, and stenographer met in the offices of a local law firm for the deposition, Forrest was surprised to find that Thompson had intelligent design activist William Dembski in tow.

Dembski, who was himself to have been an expert witness for the defense, sat in on the early stages of her deposition. He was brooding presence, Forrest recalls, and extremely hostile.

"I just did my Southern magnolia routine on him," says Forrest, "and made him shake my hand."

No wonder they were so scared of her that they moved legal heaven and Earth to have her excluded as a witness in Dover.


Dumbledore and Darwin

Laura Mallory of Loganville, Georgia wants to ban the Harry Potter books from Gwinnett County school libraries because they are "anti-Christian."

John Sugg, senior editor of the Creative Loafing group of newspapers and himself a Christian, points to a possible connection with anti-evolutionism in the United States in his article "‘Potter’ fight reflects religion’s growing role in public debate."

Like many religious Americans, she feels beleaguered. A poll commissioned by the Anti-Defamation League last November showed 57 percent of Americans feel religion is under assault.

. . . A 2004 Newsweek poll showed 55 percent of Americans believe the Bible is literally accurate, and the Anti-Defamation League survey showed about the same percentage want creationism taught in public schools.

To understand Mallory, keep those numbers in mind and recall a little history. Beginning in 1926, with the Scopes "monkey" trial in Tennessee, religion has been in retreat. Courts have tossed prayer out of school and banned religious symbols from courthouses. Time magazine’s cover, on April 8, 1966, asked: "Is God Dead?"
After stating that, as a result, "[r]eligion turned inward, away from politics" he notes:

There has been, of course, a counter-movement. Many date it back to the 1981 book, "A Christian Manifesto," by Presbyterian theologian Francis Schaeffer. He elevated abortion, largely a Catholic issue at that time, to a primary cause among many Protestants. He challenged Christian soldiers to fight. Many did.

Today we see religion dominating public debate. Alabama’s Roy Moore plants the Ten Commandments in courthouses. South Dakota adopts what may be the definitive challenge to abortion. And, Laura Mallory seeks to purge Potter from schools. Our countrymen are engaged in holy warfare. Republican strategist Kevin Phillips, in his recently published "American Theocracy," chides his own GOP as the nation’s first religious party.
One can certainly dispute that it was "religion" that turned inward. Instead, it might be more appropriate to say that some public religious practices, owing more to the Pharisees than to a certain itinerant preacher, were, for a time, abandoned or suppressed in the interest of a civil society.

But there is no doubt that we are suffering a backlash from those who think that government, from school boards to the President and Congress, should be enforcing their religious sensibilities on everyone, be it in matters of science, childrens' literature or anything and everything in between. Those of us who still want that civil society had better understand the breadth of this phenomenon and be prepared to counter it.

Thursday, April 20, 2006


The Luck of the Draw in Wichita

There is more on the inability of Connie Morris, a part of the conservative majority on the Kansas state Board of Education, to understand the limits of her authority in her role as a government official in a democracy, much less get what the Flying Spaghetti Monster is all about. There is also a sign of hope.

In an article by Roy Wenzl in The Wichita Eagle entitled "Flying Spaghetti Monster: Lessons in wielding authority," there is a retelling of the tale of what happened when Morris, on a tour of Stuckey Middle School in Wichita, discovered a poster of the FSM on science teacher Randy Mousley's classroom door. Morris, who was keeping mum about the incident before, now says she has received at least a thousand e-mails from "Pastafarians" and:

We know it's a satire. I don't mind the ridicule; it comes with the job. But I do personally object to my own religious beliefs being ridiculed, and that's what the Pastafarians delight in doing.

Now, I can't speak for every person who e-mailed Ms. Morris but she has certainly missed the point of the original exercise. Some people have created a fictitious program to serve as a stand-in for their theological and philosophical beliefs and are demanding that it be taught in public schools at taxpayer expense.

And once Ms. Morris and the rest of the ID Movement stop doing that, most people will stop ridiculing them. And it isn't Ms. Morris' religion that is being mocked; it is the pretense of Ms. Morris and the rest of the majority on the board that they aren't trying to abuse their authority by injecting their religion into public school science classes that is being mocked.

On the positive side is the profile of Mousley (who, incidentally, was not the person who put the poster up on his classroom door). More concerned with teaching the kids in his charge than pandering to the nobs, he was not overly impressed by the boards visit:

Controlling and teaching hundreds of middle-schoolers keeps a teacher on tip-toe all day. So if somebody wants to take a tour, Mousley lets them in the door and keeps on booming out facts and theories and questions about geology or astronomy or Newton's Laws of Motion or whatever is on his classroom agenda that day.

Mousley was teaching hands-on geology when [Principal Kenneth] Jantz led the board members through the classroom.

Mousley barely looked at them.

As to his attitude about the whole brouhaha:

[H]e is no atheist. "I'm just a guy who believes that beliefs, including my own, should be kept private. They are nobody else's business."

Sometimes when he teaches that the Earth is billions of years old, students will say that their parents teach them that the Earth is only 6,000 years old according to the Bible.

He says he tells these kids that he is glad they have these beliefs, and that religious beliefs should be respected, but that this is a science class where science is taught. Then he moves on.

He did, according to an analysis of the public testimony concerning the "Minority Report" adopted by the board implementing the ID strategy, testify that he opposed the Minority Report because "Teaching Creation is unconstitutional." He is not alone in that opinion, of course.

In any event, after Jantz told Mousley that Morris had found the monster poster offensive:

Mousley felt bad for Jantz; he respects Jantz as a good administrator, "a straight talker" who supports his staff. Jantz's leadership makes people want to work for him, Mousley said.

He noticed that Jantz didn't ask him to take down the poster. He merely reported what had been said. Then Jantz walked away.

Mousley had to decide what to do.

There was more than a little riding on this: Mousley is a teacher of influence. For the past three years, the district has appointed him to serve on committees that tweak the district science curriculum.

He is an authority figure. What he decided now had to be based not only in what was right, but in whether obedience to authority is a respected value. Morris, he knew, represents a certain authority, and the conservative thinking of many Kansans who pay taxes to schools.

It took only moments for him to decide.

Jantz had made no requests. Teachers, though they are often rigidly scripted by the rules of curriculum, are still free to be their own authority figures, up to a point.

Given that authority, there was no doubt in Randy Mousley's mind about what to do with the poster.

He left it on his door.

There are some real lucky kids in Wichita.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006


Dembski, Cats and Bags

The Baylor University student newspaper, The Lariat, has a most revealing article, entitled "Baylor not immune to scholarly feud over origin" by Van Darden and Josh Horton, on the recent denial of tenure to Dr. Francis Beckwith and the possibility that it resulted from Beckwith’s outspoken support for the Intelligent Design Movement.

After recounting the history of the Michael Polanyi Center and its original head, William Dembski, and the presidency of the University by Dr. Robert B. Sloan Jr., who some faculty felt was attempting to move the institution to the far right, the article quotes Dembski as saying:

Dembski said he thought part of the controversy surrounding the Polanyi Center had to do with university politics, as the center "became the poster child of what Robert Sloan was doing with the university."

Many members of the faculty expressed concern at the time that Sloan was pushing an aggressive conservative agenda for the university.

"I think with the conservative-moderate split, there's just a lot of bad feeling and I think it's unfortunate that intelligent design got rolled into what's perceived as conservative fundamentalism and put that side of the aisle," Dembski said. "(The center) was stereotyped and demonized."

He said that, as a Christian school, Baylor should be a place where Christian ideas are debated.

"A flagship evangelical institution -- at least that's what the 2012 vision says -- is a place where these ideas can be freely discussed." Dembski said. "I think it's shameful what's happened in the last five years."

Now, remind me how this works again . . .

ID is all about the science, right?

No doubt we will find out that Dembski was quoted out of context or misunderstood or something. After all, it is not like he has ever been caught speaking out of both sides of his mouth before.
The article was not on The Lariat's site for a time yesterday but is now back.
Anyone who is interested in learning more about the Michael Polanyi Center and Dembski's relationship with it can go to the site maintained by Steven Schafersman, of Texas Citizens for Science, for a large collection of the contemporaneous reports.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006


How About a Search for Intelligent Life on Earth?

There is an interesting article in The Guardian by Seth Shostak, senior astronomer at the Seti Institute in California, that bears the unfortunate title "We believe in ET, not ID."

First he explains why the attempts to force creationism into American schools has become personal for him. Intelligent Design advocates, in particular, are ever vigilant for real science to highjack:

They say: "If you Seti researchers receive a complex radio signal from space, you'll claim it as proof of intelligent, alien life. Thus your methodology is completely analogous to ours - complexity implying intelligence and deliberate design." And Seti, they pointedly add, enjoys widespread scientific acceptance.

Shostak explains that they are wrong about what Seti is looking for:

In fact, we are not looking for complex signals, but simple ones (such as a pure radio tone). And we seek this type of signal in places where we suspect planets might exist. It is universally acknowledged that planets don't produce such radio tones; only transmitters do. The analogy with Seti is a poor tactic for defending ID.

In other words, they are looking for the kind of design in radio signals that a "technologically adroit society [would] be capable of broadcasting to listeners light years away," not some amorphous design "concept" disembodied (by design and for legal purposes) from any particular being or any limitation as to "its" abilities.

But then the ID crowd got really personal:

Appropriating my day job wasn't the end of the insults. Last year, ID adherents released a one-hour film, Privileged Planet, that caused a minor brouhaha when plans were announced to screen it at Washington's Smithsonian Institution, a few blocks from the Capitol. To my chagrin, I appear in the film, though I say nothing about design, intelligent or otherwise; I simply describe my own research - spliced in, presumably, for the modicum of credibility I bring.

Unlike many Europeans, who find this whole debate faintly farcical, I am not amused. Teaching ID in biology class muddles science with metaphysics. In a country that rides high on technical proficiency, that's serious business.

After noting with approval that the American Association for the Advancement of Science "is finally urging scientists to push back on ID" and "defend the modest claim that 150 years of research has actually taught us something," Shostak sums up:

Tweedy academics may view stepping on to the street to face down their opponents as inelegant and threatening. But sometimes confrontation is the only option. The ivory tower brigade has thrown down the gauntlet. It will surely be bloodied and bruised. But America can no longer afford fantasy science.

I might go a step further and say that, as we teeter on the brink of real disasters such as global warming and real promise as in stem cell research, the world can no longer afford to have science in thrall to ideologies of any sort.
Almost on cue, Pat Hayes reports at his blog, Red State Rabble, on this article published today at PLoS Biology:
Scientific Illiteracy and the Partisan Takeover of Biology
by Liza Gross
Americans have long been ambivalent about science. Conflicting attitudes toward science are not uncommon among industrialized countries—Canadians, Europeans, and Japanese, for example, also appreciate the benefits of science but worry about potential impacts on society. What sets Americans apart is that their reservations center primarily around religion. And now, as the United States struggles to maintain its undisputed position as world leader in science and technology, religious ideology has spilled over into the public sphere to a degree unmatched in other industrialized societies. Religious groups are turning scientific matters like stem cells and evolution into political issues.

Though some see the growing influence of ideology over scientific issues as a threat to America's standing as global science leader, a leading analyst of public attitudes toward science sees it as an opportunity for increasing scientific literacy. “Even though the scientific community can feel besieged by this anti-science sentiment,” says Jon D. Miller, who directs the Center for Biomedical Communications at Northwestern University Medical School, “most people really haven't made up their mind about this issue and, in fact, really haven't even thought about it.” Rather than fretting about the cultural divide—or worse, doing nothing—Miller urges scientists to do their part to bridge the gap.
Then there is this to contemplate:
Because simple true–false questions exaggerate the strength of both positions, Miller also asked more nuanced questions in 1993 and 2003. Again, the proportion of adults holding tentative or uncertain positions increased, but the percentage holding strong positions remained steady over the past 10 years. One-third of Americans think evolution is “definitely false”; over half lean one way or another or aren't sure. Only 14% expressed unequivocal support for evolution—a result Miller calls “shocking.”
It's well past time to get to work.

Monday, April 17, 2006


Of Birds and Feathers

In a move that must make the Discovery Institute soooo happy, it is reported (may need free registration) that the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary has announced that Kurt P. Wise, presently a professor at Bryan College in Dayton, Tennessee, will be replacing Willaim Dembski as the head of the Seminary’s Center for Theology and Science. Wise is a young-Earth creationist who obtained his Ph.D. in paleontology under the late Stephen Jay Gould. He has also been called an "honest creationist" by no less than Richard Dawkins for having stated his beliefs openly:

I am a young-age creationist because that is my understanding of the Scripture. As I shared with my professors years ago when I was in college, if all the evidence in the universe turns against creationism, I would be the first to admit it, but I would still be a creationist because that is what the Word of God seems to indicate. Here I must stand.

Of course, the Discovery Institute won’t admit the obvious . . . that their "science" is interchangeable with "creation science." But maybe they will be at least privately embarrassed by the comparison to someone with both belief and integrity.

Sunday, April 16, 2006


Happy Easter!

May all Christians of good will have a solemn but joyous day and I hope everyone has colorful eggs and (especially) chocolate bunnies in abundance.

Saturday, April 15, 2006


Cornell Wild

For some more on the Cornell seminar this summer that will include discussion of Intelligent design, where better to go than the horse's mouth, Allen MacNeill, who will be teaching the course? He gives the background on how the course came about and his intentions for it at his blog, The Evolution List, in an article not so surprisingly called "Riding the Evolution-Design Roller Coaster." Among his points:

For years Will Provine and I have been teaching an undergraduate seminar in the Cornell Summer Session entitled "Seminar in History of Biology." Between ourselves, we have always called the course "philosophical implications of evolution," and have always thought of it in those terms. The course description stayed the same from year to year, but the focus of the course changed, depending on what we found most interesting to discuss with our students. For the past few years, Will has focussed on the implications of evolution for the concept of human free will. When I taught the course, I focused on three topics: the implications of evolution for free will, purpose, and ethics.

After reviewing how the media and blogosphere frenzy developed, he discusses his aims in the course in particular and in teaching generally:

I believe (based on past experience) that when the cases for ID and evolutionary biology are fully and fairly made in this way, evolutionary biology will be the winner. After all, it has mountains of empirical evidence to back it up, and empirical evidence is the basis for all of science, as far as I understand it.

In answer to some of my critics from evolutionary biology, therefore, I feel that it is very appropriate for this kind of discussion to take place in a science course, rather than just a history or philosophy of biology course. Students, including science majors, are far too often not given enough credit for their ability to both formulate and judge rational arguments in a free and open forum of ideas. Despite the fact that the topic is ostensibly the philosophy of science, the debate over the validity of ID versus evolutionary theory is fundamentally a scientific debate. If scientists refuse to debate the subject, we will leave the floor open for not-quite-science, pseudoscience, and (worst of all) anti-science to claim victory, and believe me that will be what the general public perceives the ID community has achieved.

Then he ends with some good sense (including sense of humor):

So, we shall proceed this summer, a little less naive about the "culture wars", but firmly in the belief that courteous, rational, informed discussion is the only reliable way to truth. And then, when we come to the end, we can step off the roller coaster, take a deep breath, and go look for a cotton candy stand.

While I'm afraid he is still being naive to think that public opinion will be swayed by academic debate, it sounds like it will be a fascinating course. I wish I could take it.

Incidentally, for the morbidly curious, according to this article, MacNeill attends Quaker meetings, used to practice Zen Buddhism and says "I can say I was an evolutionist before I was a Buddhist or a Quaker. I've been an evolutionist since I was 8 years old."
Also of interest is an article over at the Panda's Thumb with more about Professor MacNeill's intentions for the course.

P.S. Sorry about the title . . . I just couldn’t resist.

Friday, April 14, 2006


Missing Pieces

Cornell University will be offering a summer class on intelligent design.

The course will include texts that oppose and support the theory of intelligent design and will be offered through the undergraduate biology program. It will be a history of biology class that looks at ethics and philosophy.

"I'm not going to be bashing (intelligent design), but I'm also not going to be advocating it," said lecturer Allen MacNeill, an evolutionary biologist who will teach the course. "I'm going to be using it -- and evolutionary biology too -- to think about these very complicated ideas."

There's nothing wrong about that. First of all, it is not being offered at a public school subject to the limitations of the Establishment clause of the Constitution and, in any case, ID is not being taught as science per se but as part of historical, philosophical and ethical issues.

But as to this:

Hannah Maxson, president of the Intelligent Design Evolution Awareness Club at Cornell, said she is glad the issue is being taken seriously.

"We'd just like a place at the table in the scientific give-and-take," she said.

She and the rest of the ID advocates have one little stumbling block to overcome: in order to get a place at that table, you actually have to be doing science.

Humorectomies In Kansas

Some of this stuff you just can't make up:

State Board of Education member Connie Morris took exception Wednesday to a picture of a made-up creature that satirizes the state’s new science standards hanging on a Wichita middle school teacher’s door. ...

The creature, called the Flying Spaghetti Monster, is the creation of Bobby Henderson of Corvallis, Ore. It looks like a clump of spaghetti with two eyes sticking out of the top and two meatballs flanking the eyes.

Henderson created the entity and an accompanying mythology on the origin of mankind to make fun of Kansas’ recent debate over the teaching of criticisms of evolution, including intelligent design. ...

[Fellow board member Sue] Gamble [who voted against the change in the standards] said that when Morris saw the picture, she asked the principal, who was on the tour, to take it down. [Principal Kenneth] Jantz did not comment for this report.

Gamble said she didn’t see Morris talk to Randy Mousley, the teacher, or to the principal, but that she later went up to Mousley and asked if Morris said anything to him about the picture.

That’s when Gamble learned that Morris had asked the principal to take it down.

The monster’s picture has hung on the door since September or October and was put up there as a joke, Mousley said.

“It’s a parody,” he said. “It’s just making fun of anti-evolution.”

Mousley said he doesn’t teach students about the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

Also on the door is a Doonesbury comic strip about science, said board member Carol Rupe, who represents Wichita. She also voted against the new standards.

“It was two little pieces of paper on the door,” she said. “It was poking good fun.”

Gamble said she told the principal that it was his decision whether the monster could stick around.

“I advised the principal that Morris has no authority,” she said. “I told him to deal with his staff as he saw fit, not by what a state board member says.”

Commenting would be gilding the lily.

Thursday, April 13, 2006


The Disciples of Dissembling

There is a depressing article in Agape Press today:

A public school superintendent in South Dakota says he wants to dispel the notion that all public schools are harmful to children. Christian administrator Dr. Gary Harms contends that many public schools do not fit the description of some liberal education institutions on the east and west coasts and in some urban areas.

Harms, a school superintendent in Aberdeen, South Dakota, believes a strong Christian influence remains in many school districts in the Dakotas, Minnesota, Kansas, and down through the Bible Belt. ...

"We're limited, of course, by law in what we can and cannot do within our buildings," the Aberdeen superintendent says, "but it doesn't mean that we are as liberal and as disallowing as some of the schools in California and Massachusetts." ...

[A]lthough intelligent design and other alternatives to the theory of evolution are not officially a part of the district's science curriculum, he says Aberdeen teachers are not discouraged from discussing intelligent design theory or creationism with their students.

Piously passing up the obvious comments about the administrator's name, this stealth creationism is, of course, the Discovery Institute's fall back from the fall back position. Having acknowledged, even if only tacitly, the unconstitutionality of trying to teach Intelligent Design as science and even bailing out on schemes to require only that teachers tell students that there is a book in the library about ID, the DI is down to attempting to have individual teachers sneak it into classrooms piecemeal, especially in areas where most of the parents are for the idea and the rest can be intimidated or ignored. After all, you can almost hear them say, can the ACLU post a lawyer in every classroom?

Such is the stuff these latter-day apostles are made of.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006


Spiritual Progressives

There is an interesting article in The Nation by Rabbi Michael Lerner.

After recounting how a funder of leftist causes reacted badly to the Rabbi’s bringing up God (!) in connection with economic activism, he goes on:

In my research on the psychodynamics of American society I discovered that the left's hostility to religion is one of the main reasons people who otherwise might be involved with progressive politics get turned off.

Wondering why there is such animus, Rabbi Lerner notes:

[C]onservatives have historically used religion to justify oppressive social systems and political regimes. But this can't be the whole answer, since it's not as if the left has never seen anyone misuse its own ideas to serve hateful and repressive purposes ...

The Rabbi considers a number of possibilities but concludes:

[T]he main reason that underlies the left's deep skepticism about religion is its members' strong faith in a different kind of belief system. Even though many people on the left think of themselves as merely trying to hold on to a rational consciousness and resist the emotionalism that can contribute to fascistic movements, it's not true that the left is without belief. The left is captivated by a belief that has been called scientism.

Although Lerner is one of the founders of a new organization called the Network of Spiritual Progressives, one of the goals of which is "defending science from interference by the state, religion or the capitalist marketplace," he is no fan of scientism:

Science, however, is not the same as scientism -- the belief that the only things that are real or can be known are those that can be empirically observed and measured. As a religious person, I don't rely on science to tell me what is right and wrong or what love means or why my life is important. I understand that such questions cannot be answered through empirical observations. Claims about God, ethics, beauty and any other face of human experience that is not subject to empirical verification -- all these spiritual dimensions of life -- are dismissed by the scientistic worldview as inherently unknowable and hence meaningless.

Scientism thus extends far beyond an understanding and appreciation of the role of science in society. It has become the religion of the secular consciousness. Why do I say it's a religion? Because it is a belief system that has no more scientific foundation than any other belief system. The view that that which is real and knowable is that which can be empirically verified or measured is a view that itself cannot be empirically measured or verified and thus by its own criterion is unreal or unknowable. It is a religious belief system with powerful adherents. Spiritual progressives therefore insist on the importance of distinguishing between our strong support for science and our opposition to scientism.

While I am not sure the Rabbi’s proposed methods are well suited to his political aims, it is hard to argue with this:

To be effective, a social change movement will need to make a place for everyone who shares the same political values, even though they may belong to different religious traditions or hold different philosophical positions. Speaking from a religious perspective should be normal in political meetings or at public events sponsored by the left -- and the left should work as hard to create an inclusive feel for this as it does to include any other constituency.

After all, the "big tent" has shown its usefulness in support of far less worthy causes.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006


Royal Treatment

A statement by the Royal Society on evolution, creationism and intelligent design
April 2006
The Royal Society was founded in 1660 by a group of scholars whose desire was to promote an understanding of ourselves and the universe through experiment and observation. This approach to the acquisition of knowledge forms the basis of the scientific method, which involves the testing of theories against observational evidence. It has led to major advances of understanding over more than 300 years. Although there is still much left to be discovered, we now have a broad knowledge of how the universe developed after the 'Big Bang' and of how humans and other species appeared on Earth.

One of the most important advances in our knowledge has been the development of the theory of evolution by natural selection. Since being proposed by Charles Darwin nearly 150 years ago, the theory of evolution has been supported by a mounting body of scientific evidence. Today it is recognised as the best explanation for the development of life on Earth from its beginnings and for the diversity of species. Evolution is rightly taught as an essential part of biology and science courses in schools, colleges and universities across the world.

The process of evolution can be seen in action today, for example in the development of resistance to antibiotics in disease-causing bacteria, of resistance to pesticides by insect pests, and the rapid evolution of viruses that are responsible for influenza and AIDS. Darwin's theory of evolution helps us to understand these problems and to find solutions to them.

Many other explanations, some of them based on religious belief, have been offered for the development of life on Earth, and the existence of a 'creator' is fundamental to many religions. Many people both believe in a creator and accept the scientific evidence for how the universe, and life on Earth, developed. Creationism is a belief that may be taught as part of religious education in schools, colleges and universities. Creationism may also be taught in some science classes to demonstrate the difference between theories, such as evolution, that are based on scientific evidence, and beliefs, such as creationism, that are based on faith.

However, some versions of creationism are incompatible with the scientific evidence. For instance, a belief that all species on Earth have always existed in their present form is not consistent with the wealth of evidence for evolution, such as the fossil record. Similarly, a belief that the Earth was formed in 4004 BC is not consistent with the evidence from geology, astronomy and physics that the solar system, including Earth, formed about 4600 million years ago.

Some proponents of an alternative explanation for the diversity of life on Earth now claim that their theories are based on scientific evidence. One such view is presented as the theory of intelligent design. This proposes that some species are too complex to have evolved through natural selection and that therefore life on Earth must be the product of a 'designer'. Its supporters make only selective reference to the overwhelming scientific evidence that supports evolution, and treat gaps in current knowledge which, as in all areas of science, certainly exist - as if they were evidence for a 'designer'. In this respect, intelligent design has far more in common with a religious belief in creationism than it has with science, which is based on evidence acquired through experiment and observation. The theory of evolution is supported by the weight of scientific evidence; the theory of intelligent design is not.

Science has proved enormously successful in advancing our understanding of the world, and young people are entitled to learn about scientific knowledge, including evolution. They also have a right to learn how science advances, and that there are, of course, many things that science cannot yet explain. Some may wish to explore the compatibility, or otherwise, of science with various religious beliefs, and they should be encouraged to do so. However, young people are poorly served by deliberate attempts to withhold, distort or misrepresent scientific knowledge and understanding in order to promote particular religious beliefs.

Monday, April 10, 2006


ABC News Person of the Week: Neil Shubin


For his discovery of Tiktaalik roseae:
Neil Shubin has greatly expanded our knowledge about the origins of life. This week Shubin, a professor at the University of Chicago, unveiled an incredible discovery: the missing link between ancient sea creatures and the first creatures to walk on land.


There Are Worse Places . . .

Just imagine it was sand instead of pavement.
From the U.S. Geological Survey Photographic Archive.


Thanks to Earle Jones over at for tipping me off to the following quote from Ernest Nathaniel Smith, class of 1908, Stanford University, concerning the aftermath of the 1906 earthquake:

In front of the Zoology building was a peculiar sight. A large statue of Agassiz pitched off a platform on the second story and plunged headfirst through the pavement. That was the one funny thing in the whole scene of wreck and ruin. They have been joking about poor Agassiz ever since, calling him the head foremost scientist of America, a man of great penetration, and one who was alright in the abstract but not very good in the concrete.


Sunday, April 09, 2006


Reelin' 'Em In

Jerry Adler over at Newsweek is having a little fun slapping the IDeologues of the Discovery Institute around for their stand on Tiktaalik roseae*.

After noting that gaps in the fossil record between related species are a major theme in the effort to discredit evolution with the public, Adler points to the obvious implications of the find: "Tiktaalik could turn out to be as iconic as Archaeopteryx, the fossil link between dinosaurs and birds."

After recounting the Discovery Institute’s reaction that Tiktaalik "poses no threat to [ID] ... Few leading [ID] researchers have argued against the existence of transitional forms," Adler sets the gaff:

Those "leading researchers" may know better, but the fossil gaps are cited many times in the controversial ID textbook "Of Pandas and People." The book takes particular note of the large difference between "the oldest amphibian" and "its presumed [fish] ancestor."

And then he drags it over the gunwale to flop around in the bottom of the boat:
It's a gap wide enough for a fish to walk through -- and now we know that one did.
* I'm assuming just about everyone has heard about this excellent fossil find but, if not, go to PZ Myers blog, Pharyngula for a good summary.


Dembski Changes Jobs

William Dembski is leaving Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, for personal reasons after only one year. Dembski was appointed with great fanfare before the 2005-06 school year as both a professor and as the director of a new Center for Science and Theology. A spokesman for the Seminary stated that a replacement would be named soon.

Dembski will become a research professor of philosophy at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas which, like Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, is operated by the Southern Baptist Convention.

As for his reasons for making the move, Dembski said he wanted to work closer to the home in Waco, Texas he has maintained while commuting to Louisville to teach.

I've enjoyed my time at Southern Seminary -- the students were great and the faculty were very warm and welcoming. Family considerations (especially a son dealing with autism) drove my decision.

Whatever differences with his views on science and religion I might have, I wish him and his family well.

Saturday, April 08, 2006


Galileo Envy

I have already posted a couple of times about the denial of a research grant to Brian Alters to study how the rising popularity in the United States of Intelligent Design might be eroding acceptance of evolutionary science in Canada. Now the Righteous Right is out to compare Janet Halliwell, vice-president of Canada's Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, to Galileo because of her attempt to justify the Council’s action. Supposedly her defense was:

There are phenomena, she said, "that may not be easily explained by current theories of evolution." After all, the scientific understanding of life "is not static. There's an evolution in the theory of evolution."

Now, of course, if that was meant in the prosaic sense of "there is more to learn about how evolution occurred," it is not wrong. But stating the obvious is no reason to be compared to Galileo. If she meant that there is some significant feature of life on Earth that cannot be explained by evolutionary theory, which is certainly the sense ID advocates want to convey, she is seriously wrong and probably suffers, as I already suggested, from post-modernitis.

This is all an example of the public relations that the ID movement substitutes for actual science. Attempts to wrap themselves in Galileo’s cloak are ludicrous, since he was, at the time of his problem with the Church, a firm member of the scientific mainstream who ran afoul of a completely different "establishment," much more in line with the ID advocates, than with some alleged "Darwinian" Mafia.

Besides, as Stephen Jay Gould said once: "A man does not attain the status of Galileo merely because he is persecuted; he must also be right."

Support for Intelligent Design Waxing

The latest reason to be against Intelligent Design is something called "manscaping":

Maybe it's a function of the intelligent design movement, but these days, at least among many teens and twentysomethings, men are expected to remove all traces of their primate origins. And we're not just talking shoulders and backs. Men are waxing their chest, arms, hands and, occasionally (or so I'm told), their pubic region.


Friday, April 07, 2006


What Was It That Forrest Gump Said?

I previously brought up the denial of a research grant to Brian Alters of McGill University in Montreal by Canada's Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council. Alters sought to study how the rising popularity in the United States of Intelligent Design might be eroding acceptance of evolutionary science in Canada. The Research Council turned him down, saying that he had not supplied "adequate justification for the assumption in the proposal that the theory of evolution, and not intelligent design theory, was correct."

Janet Halliwell, vice-president of the Research Council, and Larry Felt, a sociology professor at Memorial University of Newfoundland and one of the panellists who examined Alters' application, are now saying that the letter was badly worded and, therefore, misleading. Halliwell said that the Federal agency did not intend to cast doubt on the survival-of-the-fittest theories advanced in the 1800s by British biologist Charles Darwin. Felt said he also regretted the "misintended and misphrased'' wording.

On the other hand, Halliwell also claimed there is a growing belief among scientists that certain phenomena in the natural world "may not be easily explained by current theories of evolution." After bestowing rather faint praise on the theory of evolution as a "powerful interpretive tool not without some difficulties, but nothing that renders it obsolete," Felt went on to say that there are features of the natural world including the rapid development of complex organs that "evolution has some trouble accounting for."

So what is going on here? This part of the article near the end is enlightening:

Felt also echoed Halliwell's assertion that intelligent design cannot be easily dismissed as mere "religious dogma"' or "theocratic garbage" being foisted upon the world by conservative Christians in the U.S."

Credible people are trying to see areas where they (evolution and intelligent design) might come together and not necessarily be in conflict,'' he said. There is a "possibility of synthesis,'' he added, that compels scholars to keep an open mind.

Though reluctant to discuss details of the committee's deliberations about Alters's proposal, Felt recalled there was a general consensus on the panel that the McGill professor's research framework was flawed and would have yielded predictable results that "dump on the religious right."

He described Alters' planned study as being framed in "good guy versus bad guy" language that rejected intelligent design out of hand.

What I think you pretty clearly have here is post-modernist, social constructivist, academic babble at work. There is no such thing as objective truth, inasmuch as everything is relative and all cultural responses to the world are equally valid. Science is merely a weapon of oppression used by dominant white males in social conflicts against everyone else, apparently now including the religious right (an ironic thought in and of itself).

So what it boils down to is Halliwell and Felt defending themselves against charges of ignorance by pleading stupidity. That works.

A Hot Wind Blowing

Sometimes when [Kansas Commissioner of Education] Bob Corkins speaks to a group of people, his first order of business is to try to persuade them he doesn’t want to wreck the public school system.

Seems like an odd task for the top public school official in Kansas.

Then again, maybe not when you consider:

Before his appointment, [Corkins] operated single-man think tanks that criticized public schools and worked against increased funding for schools in legal fights that have reached the Kansas Supreme Court. Before that, he had been a lobbyist for what is now the Kansas Chamber of Commerce.

Notice the lack of any actual training in education? You aren’t the only one.

Even Education Board Chairman Steve Abrams, one of the leading proponents of hiring Corkins, said:

The biggest challenge he has had is from the schools and convincing them that he isn’t trying to destroy public education.

I know that would be the first qualification I would look for in a Commissioner of Education.
Unfortunately Toto, I think we are still in Kansas.
Via Red State Rabble.

Thursday, April 06, 2006


A Ruse Is a Ruse Is a Ruse

John Wilkins, down under philosopher and polymath (which I think means he, like I, is really bad at arithmetic and keeps getting more than one answer to 2+2) has a good piece on the Ruse / Dennett imbroglio.
John notes that:

Dennett . . . appears to be arguing some potentially reasonable views that I think are just unsupported by simple appeals to evolutionary biology. ... Biology may explain religious belief, or it may not completely explain it and leave some of the explanatory work to be done by the social sciences. But no matter what, so far as I can tell evolution doesn't require atheism. ...

Why do people insist on making an ideology out of a scientific theory? I mean, I can understand that ID is an ideology - it is precious little else . . . That doesn't mean we have to go out of our way to accept the way in which ID and religious claims in general frame the debate. That would be like allowing the defendant to set the rules of the trial.

On the other hand:

Ruse appears to think that there is an ideological movement called "Darwinism". I'm not sure why, apart from the tendency of historians and philosophers to reify abstract positions with labels that have capital letters. There have been any number of people who have called their views "Darwinism" - I'm thinking of the despicable views in the early 20thC of Benjamin Kidd and John B. Haycraft - but calling it "Darwinism" doesn't make it so. The term has also been employed in many contexts within science, usually to mean just an emphasis on natural selection. ...

Ruse is on track to end up like Steve Fuller - although unlike Fuller he doesn't think ID is science, by giving it the credence he does, he is perilously close to the sort of epistemic nihilism that Fuller espouses. Either science is the best way of knowing about the natural world, in which case ID is bankrupt and not worth dignifying, or it isn't, and Ruse's entire corpus is based on a mistake.

I have just started on Ruse’s latest book, The Evolution-Creation Struggle, and I will probably have more on this as I can get through it between bouts of (my) real life.

Forewarned and all that . . .

Wednesday, April 05, 2006


Is the Brain Drain Supposed to Flush?

In a disheartening example of the spread of American scientific ignorance, Brian Alters of McGill University in Montreal has been denied a grant by Canada's Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council on the grounds that Alters had not supplied "adequate justification for the assumption in the proposal that the theory of evolution, and not intelligent design theory, was correct." Alters, who testified for the plaintiffs in Kitzmiller v. Dover, wanted to study how the rising popularity in the United States of Intelligent Design is eroding acceptance of evolutionary science in Canada. He seems to have gotten his answer without spending a penny.

Maybe we should build a wall around America as our more troglodyte politicians want. Not to keep the rest of the world out, but to keep our stupidity in..

Tuesday, April 04, 2006


Gutter Design

The Discovery Institute is touting an article in The American Enterprise Institute Online by Joe Manzari and Seth Cooper that claims, as the Discovery Institute’s own law student, Michael Francisco, puts it:

[T]he newly elected Dover Area School Board, which campaigned on removing the ID policy actually chose to keep the policy during their first meeting . . . [b]ecause the Board members understood that removing the policy could have ended the legal controversy.

In essence, they are alleging that the new Board members colluded with the ACLU and Americans United for Separation of Church and State to increase the legal fees. I have no doubt that the attitude of the Board towards the ACLU and AUSCS changed after the new members were seated on December 5th. But without more, this attack on the character of the Board members is just another example of the recklessness about the truth that is the hallmark of the ID movement. There is no evidence presented that the new Board members did anything to increase the liability of the District. Almost undoubtedly, if the old Board had still been in place, the ACLU and AUSCS would have sought their full fees which, based on the amount of work done and the personnel involved, would have been well in excess of the $1 million agreed to.

The claim that the Board could have short-circuited the decision and, therefore, the legal fees, is ludicrous. As I have already discussed, a party cannot defend a lawsuit up through the trial and, just at the point that the decision is about to be rendered, simply declare that it won’t do what was complained of anymore and demand that everything be forgiven. The courts are not required to play the fool. With a change back to the old policy only as far away as the next election, Judge Jones would have been totally justified in rendering his decision. Indeed, The test of whether subsequent circumstances have rendered a case moot is said to be a "stringent" one and it must be absolutely clear that the wrongful action could not reasonably be expected to recur before a case is dismissed on that ground.

Even if the new Board was willing to confess a judgment and consent to an order forbidding the policy ever being re-instituted, that would not have prevented legal fees, because the same confession of judgment would be a concession that the Board had violated the Constitution and owed the plaintiff the fees under Federal law. Given that the vast majority of the legal fees had been incurred before the new Board members took their seats, the difference in the amounts would have been minor at best.

This totally unwarranted attack on the good names of people whose only "offense" was to stand up in public for what they believed was right and to oppose the unconstitutional religious aims of the ID movement displays, better than any opponent of ID could possibly do, the bankruptcy of ID both intellectually and morally. It can only remind any thinking person of Judge Jones’ words:

It is ironic that several of these individuals, who so staunchly and proudly touted their religious convictions in public, would time and again lie to cover their tracks and disguise the real purpose behind the ID Policy.

It appears that we can add calumny to the list as well.


Bad as Francisco's post is, apparently it was worse before he or someone else edited it to tone it down. See Ed Brayton's discussion of the . . . well . . . evolution of Francisco's accusations at Ed's blog, Dispatches From the Culture Wars.


Of Clots and Clods

Steve Jones, professor of genetics at University College London and author of Darwin’s Ghost, has an interesting piece on Intelligent design and the blood clotting cascade in today’s Daily Telegraph. First he sets the stage by posing the conundrum at the heart of ID, in its role as religious apologetics:

As I sat down to write this piece, I put on my glasses. They were designed by an intelligent optician to correct my eyesight, which, acute as it once was, is now - like that of most elderly academics - blurred at best. The lens has become less elastic with time and no longer focuses properly. My specs help, but soon I will need a stronger pair.

Well, as we evolutionists say, that's life. Or, to be brutally frank, that's a hint of impending death, for in the good old days of nuts, berries, and sabre-toothed tigers, I would have starved or been eaten by now. It makes perfect sense: evolution cares only about the next generation; I am too old to pass on genes to that unborn tribe and my failing eyesight is hence of no interest to the Darwinian machine.

That thought is not of much comfort, but at least I have nobody to blame for my plight. But what about advocates of Intelligent Design, the notion that the eye is so complicated that it needed a Designer (quite who is best not to inquire) to do the job? Some of them wear glasses. Do they never have doubts about their astral engineer, who could surely have given them a BMW of a visual organ rather than the Austin Allegro they are stuck with?

The answer, of course, is that, unlike Paley’s Natural Theology, no one, least of all its advocates or those they seek to reach, intend to take the modern incarnation of ID seriously:

Intelligent design . . . began as an attempt to promote creationism without breaking American laws that keep religion out of schools.

In my own view, while the subterfuge is an important motivation for the revival of Natural Theology, permitting creationists to promote their beliefs even in situations where proselytizing is inappropriate or outright forbidden, proclaiming a belief in the ID "movement" is also a social signaling device by which believers in a certain religious tradition can let others know of their membership in the group, while retaining the form, if not the substance, of scientific objectivity.

Jones goes on to explain that, when it comes to "irreducible complexity":

Darwin, as usual, got it right: part of an eye is better than no eye at all and any slight modification will improve matters until we get a reasonably effective organ.

On the other hand:

The ID crew, to use Darwin's own phrase, "look at an organic being as a savage looks at a ship, as at something wholly beyond [their] comprehension". The first Hawaiians to cast eyes on Europeans were so astonished by their great vessels that they thought their builders to be gods. The ID argument is just the same. It is the logic of ignorance, idleness and incuriosity: I am very smart, even I do not understand this, so why bother to explain it except by bringing in God (if necessary under an alias)?

Jones then tells the story of how Queen Victoria had an inkling that Darwin had gotten it right, expressed in her reaction upon seeing orang-utans. She found them "frightful, and painfully and disagreeably human." Jones uses this as a segue to the gene for hemophilia that Victoria passed to a number of her descendants and, from there, to the blood clotting cascade.

Jones discusses how sea turtles do rather well with only a part of this supposedly irreducibly complex system and how flies lack fibrinogen, the protein that makes the solid plug in humans, but have another protein quite like it, which is used in their immune system to form a mass around invaders. This similar protein is a perfect candidate for hijacking for use in the cascade.

That, of course, means nothing to Intelligent Designers. Stephen Hawking tells the tale of an elderly lady who came to a talk on the origin of the Universe. Quivering with indignation, she insisted that it rested on the back of a giant turtle. What, the speaker asked, does that stand on? "Young man," she said, "you think you're very smart, but it's turtles all the way down!"

In the case of evolutionary theory, it is supported by turtles . . . standing on flies, on top of hemophiliacs, on top of . . .

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