Saturday, September 30, 2006
More On Education
The Fisher Elementary School art teacher came under fire last April when she took 89 fifth-graders on a field trip to the Dallas Museum of Art. Parents raised concerns over the field trip after their children reported seeing a nude sculpture at the art museum.
The parents had signed permission slips allowing their children to take part in the field trip.
I don't want to jump on the Mark Foley story per se. What he did or didn't intend with that Congressional page is a question of fact that I don't have enough evidence on to make even a preliminary judgment. If Foley was being a hypocrite in his noisy crusade against child sex offenders ... well, he was a Congressman.
When you look at how vicious political attack ads have become in this country, it's no surprise how quickly a candidate in Foley's position would say, 'It's just not worth it. The atmosphere is just too poisonous and venomous right now to risk it.'
Behind Foley's Swift Fall From Grace
Friday, September 29, 2006
Bluto's Hour Come Round At Last
Dick Armey, one of the architects, along with Newt Gingrich, of the "Contract with America" and the "Republican Revolution" of the 1990's has apparently seen what he hath wrought, calling the religious right and their leaders -- especially Focus on the Family Action Chairman Dr. James Dobson -- "nasty bullies."
I pray devoutly every day, but being a Christian is no excuse for being stupid. There's a high demagoguery coefficient to issues like prayer in schools. Demagoguery doesn't work unless it's dumb . . . These issues are easy for the intellectually lazy and can appeal to a large demographic.
David French is a senior legal counsel at the Alliance Defense Fund, which describes itself as a "legal ministry" that
... provides regular, extensive, and top-level training through an accredited academy program to help practicing attorneys successfully defend and reclaim religious freedom, the sanctity of human life, and traditional family values.Mr. French has an article at National Review Online that reveals a mode of thought so endemic to the religious right as to possibly represent a reliable diagnostic of the mental processes of those people who will be attracted to conservative theism.
According to Mr. French, the "campus Left" is violating the separation of church and state by taking sides in "religious" questions "over the Left’s currently fashionable civil-rights issue -- homosexuality." I don't want to get into the larger issues of church-state separation in this context, since I'm not familiar with the specifics of the case Mr. French is involved in. Suffice it to say that the courts recognize that schools have more leeway on content with older students not attending mandatory classes.
French complains about statements on homosexuality at the Georgia Institute of Technology and the University of Texas but his complaint about this from the University of Michigan caught my eye:
Some texts of the Old Testament are used to condemn homosexuality. Taken literally and out of context, Biblical passages can be used to justify slavery, prohibit the wearing of red dresses, and eating of shrimp and shellfish, and to reinforce the inferiority of women.French grouses:
So there you have it. At Michigan, religious conservatives are not only like slaveowners and misogynists, they also are as contemptible as those philistines who dislike Benetton’s fall line.Now, try as I might, I don't see where the above statement says or even implies that present day religious conservatives are like slaveowners and misogynists. It is a simple historical fact that the Bible has been used to justify slavery and misogyny. Presumably, Mr. French would agree that such uses were an abuse of the Bible. When addressing the question of a student's attitude, while attending a pluralistic institution, towards homosexual faculty and fellow students, is it amiss to inform young adults of the fact that the interpretations some people have given to the Bible in the past have been abusive and, therefore, perhaps should be taken with a grain of salt?
It is this confusion of mere association with cause and effect that makes some people accept the Looney-Tunes conspiracy theories of the likes of D. James Kennedy that would blame "Darwinism" for Nazism, Communism and the heartbreak of psoriasis. Simply noting the past use of the Bible to bad ends does not make it or its present adherents bad, anymore than the misuse of the language of science by someone like Hitler makes science the cause of the Holocaust. Thinking adults can look at the university's statement and realize that it is a caution against facile readings of the Bible, not against any particular group.
French then compares these statements to:
... the most famous leftist establishment-clause case of this decade: The Dover, Pennsylvania, Intelligent Design litigation. In that case, the national media and the campus Left fretted over the coming dark night of theocracy because a school board required science teachers to read a brief statement that said “Intelligent Design is an explanation of the origin of life that differs from Darwin’s view.” Oh, and the nefarious statement also said, “With respect to any theory, students are encouraged to keep an open mind.” The horror.Now, let's not forget the very statement of purpose of the ID advocates and the justifiable concern that the "brief statement" (which also recommended reference to a religious tome that was to be kept in a science classroom) was intended as the narrow edge of a Wedge for forcing theological instruction into public schools. But more importantly, are any of the statements on homosexuality being required to be taught as theological truth in sectarian religious classes? As has been pointed out time and time again, ID can be offered as an issue of philosophy or sociology in public K-12 schools. But religious statements, no matter how disguised, cannot be forced into science classes without turning them into sectarian exercises only appropriate for seminaries.
So, with respect to a debate over the origins of life, a statement asking students to “keep an open mind” and noting the existence of an alternative view is just too coercive. But when the debate involves sexual morality, it is just fine to compare conservative Christianity to the theology of slavers and to pontificate on the nature of the “God they truly believe in.” Censorship is now acceptable to the free-speech champions of the Sixties, so it only makes sense that those who drove God from the public square are setting up state-run Sunday schools.
French accuses this "campus Left" of "mental agility" because he sees its attitudes as contradictory. When you are ossified, pretty much everything is going to look agile.
Thursday, September 28, 2006
Tom Sawyer (no, not that one) is running for the seat on the Ohio Board of Education presently held by Deborah Owens Fink, one of the leaders of the faction that snuck ID into the Ohio standards under the "teach the controversy" ploy. You can now see Sawyer on You Tube.
Perhaps more revealing of what is at stake in the election is this report being circulated by Sawyer's campaign that Owens Fink was on a local religious radio broadcast by the What's Right What's Left ministry where, besides the usual antievolution babble, one of the participants gushed:
If you are Christian, vote for Debbie. If you believe in evolution, abortion and sin, vote for Sawyer.
But my, my . . . it was only a month or two ago that other supporters of Owens Fink were expressing surprise that Sawyer was being asked to run.
The board got rid of the [ID] language back in February, so I'm not sure why the Democrats are that anxious to replace Deb," said [chemist Robert] Lattimer, who served on the writing team that wrote the science standards.
Wednesday, September 27, 2006
Falling For It
Well, after the Wells gob-smackingly stupid argument, let's reprise an older example that has long been a favorite of mine. The following is the frontispiece for Chapter Five of Henry M. Morris' book, The Troubled Waters of Evolution (1974). The Chapter is entitled "Can Water Run Uphill?"
That's right, Morris, who was a hydraulic engineer, told his target audience that "the most certain laws of nature state that the real processes of nature do not make things go uphill" and illustrates that claim with the metaphor of water not being able to run uphill and a picture of a waterfall.
The Chapter itself is the familiar blather, replete with goal posts flying all over the place. For example, he admits that, in an open system, things can go uphill but, totally ignoring that he just said that the "most certain" law doesn't allow that, he goes on to claim that there are additional requirements for "growth." But he never goes back to correct that mistaken metaphor or point out the fact that water flows uphill every day.
The question is what is more depressing, the cynical contempt that people like Morris and Wells have for their target audience, so that they feel no need to make their arguments even remotely cogent, or the fact that, for large numbers of Americans, they are absolutely right.
Jonathan (Wishing) Wells has scaled the heights of bad argumentation and delivered another milestone in the history of inanity. PZ Myers and Ed Brayton are doing the honors of kicking in the teeth of Wells latest effort but I find myself so utterly flabbergasted that I just have to chime in on this bit. According to Wells, "Darwinists" should be afraid because an interesting new study shows important results on the development of the human brain and its genetic differences from chimpanzee brains, which:
... implicitly acknowledges that the evidence for Darwinism was never as overwhelming as its defenders claim.In other words, when we discover evidence that supports evolution, we are really disproving it because it shows we didn't know everything about it before.
Maybe we should check to see if all humans differ that much from chimpanzees ... and who has the advantage.
Tuesday, September 26, 2006
The Road to Knowledge
The Royal Society is making the contents of its journals, dating back to the Society's beginnings, available to everyone on the web for the next two months:
For the first time the Archive provides online access to all journal content, from Volume One, Issue One in March 1665 until the latest modern research published today ahead of print. And until December the archive is freely available to anyone on the internet to explore.
One example is Darwin's 1839 paper "Observations on the Parallel Roads of Glen Roy, and of Other Parts of Lochaber in Scotland, with an Attempt to Prove That They Are of Marine Origin" about certain geologic features (see above) that Darwin thought were the remnants of ancient beaches. Louis Agassiz, later to become Darwin's great foe in the debate over evolution, quickly showed that the "roads" were, in fact, striations left by glaciation during ice ages. Darwin considered this paper his greatest scientific blunder.
It could be a busy couple of months.
Monday, September 25, 2006
The National Center for Science Education just posted a link to a new resource from the New York Academy of Science based on a a two-day conference on "Teaching evolution and the nature of science" it held in April of 2006. As the NCSE describes it, the conference was:
... aimed at answering such questions as: What are the basic tenets of the concept of evolution and how does understanding evolution play an essential role in comprehending science, and in particular, modern biology? How can science educators from elementary schools to college campuses respond to challenges from those who claim that intelligent design is as valid a theory as evolution? How can we prepare and support teachers so that they will be able to teach evolution effectively despite the controversy? How can state and local officials in charge of education policy respond to attempts by religious groups and others who seek to change the investigative nature of science education?
... divided into three sections: the nature of science and the evidence for evolution; pedagogy: a view from the trenches; meeting the challenges: reconciling evolution and morality.Participants included: the NCSE's Glenn Branch, theologian John F. Haught, Kenneth R. Miller and Robert T. Pennock. The only drawback is that the video and audio presentations are in a rather annoying format but the content appears to more than make up for that.
The Discovery Institute is lauding a "new player in the United Kingdom in the debate over how best to teach evolution," a website called Truth in Science. According to the DI, this organization's educational goals are "clearly outlined on the website and put into context with the educational policies and guidelines of the UK." After, no doubt, an extensive review of the site and consideration of the aims and objectives of the group, the DI says:
Because of the different education and policy environment in the UK, versus that of the United States, TiS endorses teaching both the criticisms of evolution and the scientific theory of intelligent design.It is, therefore, extremely interesting to find out that this organization is, in fact, made up of young-Earth creationists, as revealed in an article by Michael Roberts, an Anglican priest, a geologist and author of a range of articles on religion and science.
What's more, when you go to the site and start poking around, you find that, while it makes all the DI-approved noises about teaching "the current scientific controversy over origins," the point of view they really want to push is "phyletic discontinuity." What is phyletic discontinuity? Enter the phrase into the TiS search engine and the only result you get is a link to an outside site, "Biology Study Group" at Bryan College. As that site describes itself:
The BSG will soon be a formal society of professionals in the biological and related sciences or theology who (1) hold or are working towards an advanced degree in a relevant field (exceptions to this are made on an individual basis) and (2) are Christians accepting the authority of Bible (i.e., Old and New Testament canons) in all areas. Thus, all members accept the taxonomic concept of "created kind" or baramin.In short, TiS is claiming that creation science is a scientific alternative to evolutionary theory. And it's not as if it is particularly hard to spot, when the site uses images like the derogatory caricature of Darwin above.
Now correct me if I'm wrong, but I thought the DI maintains that it is not a creationist organization and claims that ID is not at all linked to things like creation science. But TiS's "scientific theory of intelligent design" includes "bariminology" based on "the authority of Bible canons."
Has the DI come "out of the closet" as a supporter of creation science or are they just displaying their usual "scholarship" by not giving the fine print even a cursory glance?
Sunday, September 24, 2006
There is an interesting evolutionary struggle going on in Hawaii that has nothing to do with creationists trying to undo the Enlightenment.
Somewhere in Hawaii, a population of crickets has grown eerily silent. The culprit? Evolution. To avoid detection by a parasitic fly, the insects have--over only 20 generations--developed wings that don't chirp. But the silence has its downside: The muted males can no longer catch the attention of potential mates.
Zuk noted a decrease, over a number of years, in the mating calls of the cricket and assumed it indicated a decrease in the population. However, starting in 2003, she noticed an actual increase in the population but without a concomitant increase in the mating calls. It turned out that, in the incredibly short period of about 20 generations, or 4 or 5 years, large numbers of the crickets had developed wings that lacked the grooved ridges that, when the wings are rubbed together, causes the characteristic mating chirp.
But then, how do the chirpless crickets find mates?
When researchers played recorded mating calls in the center of a patch of grass, 108 silent crickets came to within 125 centimeters of the speaker--up to three imes the number of crickets that gathered in similar experiments on the big island of Hawaii and on Oahu, where the parasitic flies attack a lower percentage of crickets. That suggests that flatwing males position themselves close to normal males from their local population and intercept females attracted to the call of the normal males ...
Still, whether this struggle for survival will allow the flies and crickets to coexist peacefully or end in mutual annihilation is anyone's guess. The flies have grown to depend on the crickets, but the male crickets are having a harder and harder time finding a mate. Evolutionary biologist Darryl Gwynne of the University of Toronto at Mississauga says he's waiting "with bated breath to see what evolution is going to give us."
Saturday, September 23, 2006
Captain Occam vs. The Prattmaster
PRATT: “Point Refuted A Thousand Times”. It’s a creationist argument such as the claim that nobody has ever observed the formation of a new species, which is completely false, but creationists keep using it anyway.
FACCCO: "Funny Anti-Creationist Comic Captain Occam". The current episode can be found here and the previous ones are here.
Look, up in the sky! ...
Via The Angry Astronomer.
Luskin Goes A-Quote Mining, Part Deux
[This is an article destined to be a "sidebar" at the Quote Mine Project, that is being parked here to assist in editing and htmlization.]
Casey Luskin of the Discovery Institute has posted three articles at the Discovery Institute's blog, Evolution News & Views, entitled "Peer-Review, Intelligent Design, and John Derbyshire's New Bumper Sticker" Part I, Part II and Part III.
Here I want to address his quote (in Part III) of an amicus curae brief that was signed by, among others, Stephen Jay Gould, in the 1993 Supreme Court case of Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals. Luskin has abused Gould's participation in this brief previously in his article, "New England Journal of Medicine Traipses Into the Kitzmiller Decision (Part II)" and it unsurprisingly appears in the Discovery Institute's hastily thrown together attempt to blunt the effect of Judge Jones' decision, Traipsing into Evolution: Intelligent Design and the Kitzmiller v. Dover Decision (DeWolf, D.K.; West, J.G.; Luskin, C. and Witt, J. 2006. Discovery Institute Press: Seattle, WA), on pp. 55-56.
[T]he danger of the TalkOrigins page runs much deeper. It seeks to instill a mindset where concepts must enjoy high levels of support in the scientific community, and the oft-criticized peer-reviewed literature, before being trusted. This mindset threatens to inhibit the progress of science.
In conclusion, this point was made emphatically by Stephen Jay Gould and other scientists to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1993, pleaing (sic) that courts should not disbar scientific evidence from the courtroom simply because it hasn't won a "popularity" contest:Judgments based on scientific evidence, whether made in a laboratory or a courtroom, are undermined by a categorical refusal even to consider research or views that contradict someone's notion of the prevailing "consensus" of scientific opinion. ... Automatically rejecting dissenting views that challenge the conventional wisdom is a dangerous fallacy, for almost every generally accepted view was once eccentric deemed or heretical. Perpetuating the reign of a supposed scientific orthodoxy in this way, whether in a research laboratory or in a courtroom, is profoundly inimical to the search for truth. ... The quality of a scientific approach or opinion depends on the strength of its factual premises and on the depth and consistency of its reasoning, not on its appearance in a particular journal or on its popularity among other scientists. (Brief Amici Curiae of Stephen Jay Gould (and other scientists) in support of petitioners, Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, 509 U.S. 579 (1993) (No. 92-102).)Would Dr. Gould approve of the mindset promoted by the TalkOrigins webpage or would he rightly recognize it as dangerous to science?
Science progresses as much or more by the replacement of old views as by the gradual accumulation of incremental knowledge.
The text represented by the second ellipsis is much more extensive, covering several paragraphs and moving into a completely different section of the brief. Normal conventions for quoting would have at least had the text following the second ellipsis set off in its own paragraph. Among those issues omitted along with the missing text is the fact that the brief is complaining about the Circuit court relying solely on whether or not a proposition has made it into the scientific literature as a mechanistic test of its admissibility. As the Brief put it:
The [Circuit] court thereby converted that editorial tool into something no scientist or journal editor ever meant it to be: a litmus test for scientific truth. This is not the way scientists work in their laboratories and symposia, and it is not the way that science should be used in the courtroom if the goal is to ensure the most accurate and valid judgments possible.Specifically, the Brief complained that the:
. . . Court of Appeals did not even purport to investigate the soundness or professionalism of the expert's approach. Instead, it simply asserted, without reference to any authority drawn from the scientific community, that [a procedure] is "generally accepted by the scientific community" only when it is subject to peer-review and published.
Only then does Judge Jones mention:(1) ID violates the centuries-old ground rules of science by invoking and permitting supernatural causation;
(2) the argument of irreducible complexity, central to ID, employs the same flawed and illogical contrived dualism that doomed creation science in the 1980's; and
(3) ID’s negative attacks on evolution have been refuted by the scientific community.
Thus, Judge Jones clearly recognized that the lack of peer-reviewed publications (or the pathetically few peer-reviewed publications, even allowing for the five whole articles, after almost 20 years, that Luskin cites) was not definitive but was just one, and not the most important, of the diagnostic criteria for a scientific theory. Luskin's failure to reveal the actual argument that was made in the amicus brief Gould signed is quote mining. His attempt to use it against Judge Jones' thoughtful and nuanced decision is merely bad sleight of hand.As we will discuss in more detail below, it is additionally important to note that ID has failed to gain acceptance in the scientific community, it has not generated peer-reviewed publications, nor has it been the subject of testing and research. (Emphasis added)
Labels: DI Quote Mining, Quote Mining
Friday, September 22, 2006
Up a Tree
In another hopeful sign of the demise of Intelligent Design as a viable political ploy, Dick DeVos, a conservative scion of the Amway fortune running as the GOP gubernatorial candidate in Michigan and doing worse than might be expected against an unpopular incumbent, has stirred up a hornet's nest, by supporting ID, that he is now trying hard to run away from.
Since then, the conservative Christian has tried to steer the conversation away from his personal views and stress that deciding what's taught in science classes should be left up to local school districts.
Thursday, September 21, 2006
Digging Out From Under
Kevin Eigelbach of The Cincinnati Post neatly skewers Answers in Genesis in this article entitled "Answers in Genesis raises questions."
Eigelbach notes AiG's quote mining of the Bible:
In 2 Peter 3, Peter warns us that in the last days, "scoffers" will come, saying that all things continue as they did from the beginning of creation. Evolutionists teach this when they say that the processes of nature have virtually been the same from the supposed beginning billions of years ago.
Eigelbach sensibly replies: "One obvious answer is that this Bible passage doesn't concern evolution at all." However, as Eigelbach points out:
The AIG article doesn't answer the question it poses, except to claim that the theory of evolution didn't originate with Darwin.
It goes on to discuss the warning given about the last days, and it picks up on the phrase about things continuing as they have since creation.
Evolutionists tell us the same thing, the article says. They say that natural processes have remained virtually the same for billions of years.
Without explicitly saying it, the article links evolutionists with people who scoff at something that Christians hold dear.
It's a beautiful piece of guilt by association.
The park rangers will tell you that the layers of rock in the Canyon are the result of slow processes that have been going on for millions of years.
But the evidence from the rock layers fits with what the Bible tells us concerning the judgment of the Flood. It is obvious these layers were laid down catastrophically, not slowly.
But then again, who am I to speak, since in AIG's view, the devil has blinded me to the truth and I refuse to submit to God?
Now, what could be more insulting than to say the reason you don't agree with me is because you refuse to obey God? You can't really win an argument like that. If you don't take AIG's position, you're on the devil's side, like it or not.
AIG founder Ken Ham has told me he thinks belief in evolution doesn't preclude one from believing in Jesus.."I'm not saying that such people aren't Christians," he said. "Just because you believe in millions of years (of natural history) and so on."
The author of the Sept. 2 newsletter must not have gotten that memo.
Wednesday, September 20, 2006
On the Good Side
PZ Myers has an article at Pharyngula about the "Tripoli Six," five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor who have been improbably accused in Libya of deliberately infecting 400 + children with HIV. By all accounts they have been badly abused for years now, have been sentenced to death once already and are presently undergoing a retrial which gives little prospect for a better outcome. Nature has issued a strong editorial* on the case.
A Crying Shame
Okay . . . for some reason I can't get You Tube to allow me to upload videos to here. Presumably I haven't sacrificed the proper goat (or is that only good to get scuzzy chains to work?). Anyway, you'll just have to click on regular old links.
The reason you'll want to do that is that You Tube has quite a few clips (and one ABC News story) from and about the new documentary, Jesus Camp, that I mentioned before. It includes the trailer from the film and an ABC News story about it.
As I noted before, the camp's Minister, Becky Fischer, comes across on the printed page in the reviews of the film as very scary and, in fact, morally, if not legally, a child abuser.
Well, the reviews don't do her justice folks! Watch this clip where she bemoans the fact that Muslim children are being sent to camps that teach them to use hand grenades, suicide bomb belts and machine guns and that make them willing to kill themselves for Islam. But what she is decrying isn't that sort of cruelty but the fact that Christians aren't matching the madmen who pervert children that way! She wants to see children as "committed to the cause" of Jesus Christ as those and as willing to "lay down their lives for the gospels" as suicide bombers and terrorists.
What's the Bible's shortest verse?
Now as a comparison to Michael Shermer's pale pass at theology, consider these three articles in The Lutheran by scientists and educators who are also believers:
"'God allows the universe to create itself -- and evolve" by Mark Hollabaugh
"ID remains a legitimate gray area between random evolution and God" by Allen R. Utke
"Religion and science are both about knowing and wondering" by Patrick Russell
As an astronomer, everywhere I look in the universe -- from the largest galaxy to the smallest organism -- I see evolution. As a Lutheran Christian, I also confess that God created me and all that exists. For me, there is no conflict.
Some of my students have told me that God put fossils in rocks to test our faith. But this is a meager and ineffective test.
A much bigger test of my faith was when my 1-week-old godson, Tanner, was rushed to the emergency room because he stopped breathing. ...
When I confess in the words of Luther’s Small Catechism "I believe that God has created me and all that exists," I’m making a statement of faith about our God who exists outside of time and space.
I rather like the idea of a God who allows the universe to come into being, create itself and everything in it -- and evolve. Moreover, God has given us the intellect and curiosity to figure out how the universe does this. ...
My godson recovered. When I held Tanner at his baptism and looked into his tiny face, I welcomed him into our incredible evolving universe.
As our pastor poured the water over his head, I marveled even more at the unconditional love of God given to us in Christ Jesus. That love and grace -- not the scientific inaccuracy of biblical texts -- are what really matter in our lives.
The ... most important reason for taking ID seriously hinges on my belief that without a dramatic infusion of spirituality, responsibility and stewardship in society, the 21st century carries the perilous potential of significant societal decline and even global environmental collapse -- possibly before 2050.
But how can that infusion be accomplished? Can it happen without an increased reverence for life and nature? If not, why is it preferable to say that evolution is a natural, random process in a purposeless, random universe rather than that it is an intelligently designed process in a purposive cosmos?
If holiness is replaced by hollowness in reality, what does an individual and society gain? Lose? Until convinced otherwise, I will continue to interpret Exodus 3:5 literally: "The place on which you stand is sacred ground."
But there is another argument often missed in recent discussions. As [Hollabaugh] points out, Isaac Newton’s laws have been replaced with a more accurate theory of gravity. Why don’t we teach its successor, General Relativity, to high-school students? And for that matter, why not teach the many genuine, fascinating controversies that science does raise?
Simple: Most high school students aren’t yet equipped to understand the theoretical complexities and make their own judgment. This will come with graduate education and experience. Asking students to assess the validity of the major theories of science, Einsteinian relativity or Darwinian evolution, is simply inappropriate at the high-school level. Not only is ID bad science, it is also bad education.
[W]e Lutherans can offer a healthier witness that proclaims the timeless revealed truths of our faith while taking seriously, and even embracing in a holy dialogue, the modern scientific picture.
We can trust the biblical account "In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth ..." (Genesis 1:1) without demanding it supply the natural mechanism. When God said, "Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind ..." (Genesis 1:24) we may safely gaze through the lens of evolutionary history to see just how fruitfully it did.
Is One Dodo a Flight?
In the land of the bizarre the one-eyed man is ... well ... a one-eyed bizarre man.
PZ Myers at Pharyngula and Wesley R. Elsberry at The Austringer are reporting that Wild Bill Dembski has intentionally removed his blog, Uncommon Descent, from the Google indexes, meaning that no search of the web through Google will return a hit on UD. Given past episodes, it is hardly unreasonable to wonder if Dembski wishes to reduce or avoid discovery of his ... uh ... "revisions" of what appears, even briefly, on his site. Oh well, as a wise man once said:
The other day upon the stair
I met a man that wasn't there.
He wasn't there again today.
Gee, I wish he'd go away!
- Ogden Nash
Tuesday, September 19, 2006
More Good Stuff
The good folks at People For the American Way have reminded me that, after I brought attention to their new resource, "The 'Evolution' of Creationism," I neglected to blog about their additional new resource, Defending Science Education in Your Community.
Keep It Up
Tom Sawyer, running for the District 7 seat on the Ohio Board of Education against Deborah Owens Fink, one of the leaders of the attempts to sneak ID into Ohio classrooms under the radar, was overwhelmingly endorsed by the Stow Teacher's Association last week. The Association represents nearly 400 teachers, counselors and other education professionals in the Stow-Munroe Falls School district. As Mr. Sawyer said:
Teachers understand what is at stake in this election. They understand the value of having members of the State Board of Education who will show leadership and creativity instead of resorting to distraction and division.
Clearly people are no longer content to allow those in power to continue to neglect public education in this state.
[Blackwell spokesperson Carlo] LoParo said Blackwell supports offering intelligent design as an elective course in school but not as part of science class.
"He doesn't feel that it's met the necessary academic criteria, but he feels it should be offered as an elective," LoParo said.
Monday, September 18, 2006
An atheist authors an article in a science magazine lecturing believers on what counts as good theology.
As people who pay any attention to me (a small but select group -- selected for what, I won't say) will know, I am no believer myself but am willing to extend respect to other people's beliefs if those beliefs and their holders will extend the same respect to everyone else. But that sort of precludes my telling them, unasked, what they should believe.
But that is just what Michael Shermer seems to be attempting in a Scientific American article. Under headings such as, "Evolution fits well with good theology" and "Creationism is bad theology;" Shermer makes arguments that he could possibly consider good theology but which might strike theists as something else. Some of it teeters close to sophistry intended merely to give a faint gloss of theology to naturalistic theories. This section, for example, is likely to be particularly galling to Christians of more than just the conservative kind:
Evolution explains original sin and the Christian model of human nature. As a social primate, we evolved within-group amity and between-group enmity. By nature, then, we are cooperative and competitive, altruistic and selfish, greedy and generous, peaceful and bellicose; in short, good and evil. Moral codes and a society based on the rule of law are necessary to accentuate the positive and attenuate the negative sides of our evolved nature.
Shermer may be honestly trying to offer good advice but I can't help but think this is the wrong person in the wrong place with the wrong message.
Sunday, September 17, 2006
Luskin Goes A-Quote Mining
[This is a revised article to be used as a sidebar to the Quote Mine Project. The Discovery Institute has become more sophisticated about quote-mining, but they, as good creationists, simply cannot resist the temptation.]
Casey Luskin of the Discovery Institute has reprised complaints, previously made by Keith Pennock, also of the DI, about the alleged mistake made by Judge Jones in saying there was no peer-reviewed scientific literature supporting Intelligent Design. Both articles involve a simple bait and switch with, particularly in Luskin's case, a touch of quote mining thrown in.
Luskin has posted three articles at the Discovery Institute's blog, Evolution News & Views, entitled "Peer-Review, Intelligent Design, and John Derbyshire's New Bumper Sticker" Part I, Part II and Part III. The purported occasion for the articles is "a brief review of Traipsing Into Evolution: Intelligent Design and the Kitzmiller v. Dover Decision by John Derbyshire at National Review Online." Derbyshire's blurb is less a "review" than it is an incidental mention of one claim contained in the book in a reference to an interview with the authors, including Luskin himself.
But the real business at hand for Luskin is an attack on the "Index to Creationist Claims: Claim CI001.4" at the Talk Origins Archive and, more importantly, on Judge Jones' decision. There are many valid objections to Luskin's arguments, not least of which is the real nature of the articles the Discovery Institute cites to, but I want to concentrate on the way the Discovery Institute is misrepresenting Judge Jones in aid of its bait and switch.
Essentially, both Pennock and Luskin make the claim that, since the Judge made a "universal generalization" that there have been no peer-reviewed articles supporting ID, he is "refuted" if a single counterexample is produced. Or, as Luskin put it, "[t]he question of 'complete absence of peer-reviewed publications' is a simple black and white, binary question: either ID has published peer-reviewed publications, or it hasn't."
In support of this contention that Judge Jones made that flat-out claim, Luskin quotes five passages from the decision. Luskin refers to these parts of the decision by the page numbers in the Federal Supplement Second, a case law reporter.  For those without access to a law library, I include below the page numbers from the original decision that can be found in a pdf file on the District Court site or in html format at The Talk Origin Archive. In addition, as a number of Luskin's examples are only sentence fragments, I give the full sentence that they are pulled from, with Luskin's quoted bits in bold:
As we will discuss in more detail below, it is additionally important to note that ID has failed to gain acceptance in the scientific community, it has not generated peer-reviewed publications, nor has it been the subject of testing and research. [p. 64]
A final indicator of how ID has failed to demonstrate scientific warrant is the complete absence of peer-reviewed publications supporting the theory. [p. 87]
The evidence presented in this case demonstrates that ID is not supported by any peer-reviewed research, data or publications. [p. 87]
In addition to failing to produce papers in peer-reviewed journals, ID also features no scientific research or testing. [Judge Jones cites to testimony by defense witnesses Steven Fuller and Michael Behe. Fuller's testimony on this point can be found in the transcript of the afternoon session of October 24, 2005 at pp. 114-15 and Behe's can be found in the transcript of the morning session of October 19, 2005 at pp. 22-23 and 105-06.]
After this searching and careful review of ID as espoused by its proponents, as elaborated upon in submissions to the Court, and as scrutinized over a six week trial, we find that ID is not science and cannot be adjudged a valid, accepted scientific theory as it has failed to publish in peer-reviewed journals, engage in research and testing, and gain acceptance in the scientific community. [pp. 88-89]
A final indicator of how ID has failed to demonstrate scientific warrant is the complete absence of peer-reviewed publications supporting the theory. Expert testimony revealed that the peer review process is "exquisitely important" in the scientific process. It is a way for scientists to write up their empirical research and to share the work with fellow experts in the field, opening up the hypotheses to study, testing, and criticism. In fact, defense expert Professor Behe recognizes the importance of the peer review process and has written that science must "publish or perish." Peer review helps to ensure that research papers are scientifically accurately, meet the standards of the scientific method, and are relevant to other scientists in the field. Moreover, peer review involves scientists submitting a manuscript to a scientific journal in the field, journal editors soliciting critical reviews from other experts in the field and deciding whether the scientist has followed proper research procedures, employed up-to-date methods, considered and cited relevant literature and generally, whether the researcher has employed sound science.
The evidence presented in this case demonstrates that ID is not supported by any peer-reviewed research, data or publications. Both Drs. Padian and Forrest testified that recent literature reviews of scientific and medical-electronic databases disclosed no studies supporting a biological concept of ID. On cross-examination, Professor Behe admitted that: "There are no peer reviewed articles by anyone advocating for intelligent design supported by pertinent experiments or calculations which provide detailed rigorous accounts of how intelligent design of any biological system occurred." Additionally, Professor Behe conceded that there are no peer-reviewed papers supporting his claims that complex molecular systems, like the bacterial flagellum, the blood-clotting cascade, and the immune system, were intelligently designed. In that regard, there are no peer-reviewed articles supporting Professor Behe's argument that certain complex molecular structures are "irreducibly complex." In addition to failing to produce papers in peer-reviewed journals, ID also features no scientific research or testing.
After this searching and careful review of ID as espoused by its proponents, as elaborated upon in submissions to the Court, and as scrutinized over a six week trial, we find that ID is not science and cannot be adjudged a valid, accepted scientific theory as it has failed to publish in peer-reviewed journals, engage in research and testing, and gain acceptance in the scientific community. ID, as noted, is grounded in theology, not science. ...
 The one article referenced by both Professors Behe and Minnich as supporting ID is an article written by Behe and Snoke entitled "Simulating evolution by gene duplication of protein features that require multiple amino acid residues." (P-721). A review of the article indicates that it does not mention either irreducible complexity or ID. In fact, Professor Behe admitted that the study which forms the basis for the article did not rule out many known evolutionary mechanisms and that the research actually might support evolutionary pathways if a biologically realistic population size were used. (Citations omitted)
Thus it is clear that Judge Jones' point was not that there are no peer-reviewed articles that allegedly favor ID (since he discussed the Behe and Snoke article) but that those articles merely attack some aspect or other of evolutionary theory. The critical fact that Judge Jones found was that there are no articles that actively support ID, at least among those the ID advocates were willing to introduce at the trial and expose to cross-examination.  Even if there were such articles (and that is a matter of great dispute ), the Discovery Institute's complaints are hardly fair, since Judge Jones did not have them before him in evidence. Luskin's snippets did not reveal that context and that is the quote mining aspect of his article.
So now we see that Luskin's and Pennock's simple black and white, binary statement that Judge Jones found that there were no peer-reviewed articles at all has itself been falsified. Applying their own standards then, if they can miss so simple a question, how can we trust their understanding of issues which do not have "black-and-white" answers, such as whether those articles they cite really support ID? But let's not rest content with such feeble arguments.
Given that Luskin can only point to five articles after nearly two decades of ID "research," far less than the output of peer-reviewed papers supporting evolution in one week, the whole argument boils down, at most, to a quibble as to when "vanishingly small" counts the same as "none."
But, beyond that, there remains the issue of what it would take to actively support ID. The DI has been sensitive about accusations of argumentum ad ignorantium, as in this response by Jonathan Witt to an essay in the Wall Street Journal by Kevin Shapiro. Stephen Meyer’s article "Not by chance," which is regularly trotted out by the DI as an example of the positive evidence for a designer, has no such evidence at all. In point of fact, Meyer's contentions are a classic argument from ignorance layered over what Judge Jones rightly called a "contrived dualism":
The only "positive evidence" the article advances can be summed up in this analogy from Meyer: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."
DNA functions like a software program. We know from experience that software comes from programmers.Indeed, Luskin just recently  defined ID itself in those very terms:
Luskin said the media often misidentifies intelligent design. He offered this definition: It's "a scientific theory that says some aspects of nature are best explained by an intelligent cause because they are identical to objects we commonly know were designed by human intelligence."
Professor Behe agreed that for the design of human artifacts, we know the designer and its attributes and we have a baseline for human design that does not exist for design of biological systems. Professor Behe’s only response to these seemingly insurmountable points of disanalogy was that the inference still works in science fiction movies (Citations omitted). 
Until they can come up with that, there is no reason at all to doubt Judge Jones' finding that ID completely lacks support in the scientific literature.
 As an aside, Luskin cites to the Federal Supplement, a case law reporter that is rarely available outside a law library rather than to the page numbers contained in the original decision which anyone can obtain on the web. After a pretty thorough search, it does not appear that a copy with the Supplement's pagination is available on the web. It has been frequently noted in connection with the Quote Mine Project that, if there are two possible citations to any work, the one cited by creationists is often, if not invariably, to the one more difficult to find.
 Lest anyone repeat Pennock's mistake (which Luskin, as an attorney, would not, of course) mere mention of citations in an Amicus Curia brief does not constitute evidence in Federal or any other court and Judge Jones properly limited himself to the evidence submitted during the trial.
 Concerning the actual nature of the books and papers the ID advocates point to, see "Claim CI001.4: Intelligent design in biology has been supported by several peer-reviewed journals and books" and, on a more mundane level, my article elsewhere, "On Whistling and Graveyards II."
Other articles generally on the claim of peer-reviewed ID research include:
EvoWiki article "Peer-reviewed ID articles"
The Panda's Thumb: "Peer Reviewed Research"
The Panda's Thumb: "Meyer’s Hopeless Monster"
 "Diverse voices discuss the forces at work on today’s faithful," by Bill Tammeus, The Kansas City Star, July 22, 2006. Accessed July 29, 2006 at:
Labels: DI Quote Mining, Quote Mining
Saturday, September 16, 2006
Don't Look Back
While I think PZ Myers has occasionally gone too far in his criticism of some people of faith, such as Ken Miller, it is only fair to acknowledge the other side of the problem.
I’ve seen people gritting their teeth and balling their hands up while they listen to me. I’ve gotten some loaded statements like, ‘What are you going to do when you find yourself in a lake of fire?’
What frustrates atheists is not that they are outnumbered, but that they are reviled. "We are the last group in the United States who it’s politically correct to hate and discriminate against," said Dave Silverman, a spokesman for American Atheists, a 43-year-old national advocacy group. "In the Bible Belt, it’s even worse."Penny Edgell, a sociologist who led a national survey conducted at the University of Minnesota, said irreligious people often are seen as amoral because Americans’ core values historically have overlapped with religious values. "Religiosity is seen as a proxy for being a good person," she said. The survey found that Americans rank atheists below gay and lesbian people, recent immigrants, Muslims and other minorities in "sharing their vision of American society." Incredibly, "Americans are less willing to accept intermarriage with atheists than with any other group."
A certain testiness is hardly surprising when the scent of burning torches is in the air.
Don't Need No Steenkin' Facts
I've linked before to articles about Michelle Goldberg's new book, Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism. I've read it now and it is every bit as scary as I expected and more. I'm going to give some excerpts from time to time as a warning as to what everyone who thinks the Enlightenment was a good idea is up against. The following is an excellent one to start with:
Goldberg discusses at length the "faith-based" social programs (that she rightly dubs "The Faith-Based Gravy Train") set up through executive fiat by the Bush Administration. These range from local drug addiction programs to funding for large-scale charities such as the Salvation Army where, unlike prior practice, requirements that publicly-financed programs not discriminate in hiring by religion or sexual orientation have been removed. Also missing is any requirement that the programs funded by these executive orders establish that they are effective. While Goldberg says this is partly due to administration indifference:
Evidence doesn't mean the same thing for the Christian nationalists as it does for others. After all, they've already rejected materialistic naturalism -- they've already rejected science -- as the basis for knowledge. The kind of results they're after can't be quantified.
During a presentation on the effectiveness of faith-based providers, Gerard Bradley, a professor at Notre Dame Law School who chaired the Federalist Society's Religious Liberties Practice Group, seemed to concede that what data exists doesn't particularly help their case. "It seems to me that when we're talking about what works, what's effective, what are the numbers, we're talking about objective or even secular outcomes:' Bradley said. Then he added, "It may turn out that the numbers are a wash."
Instead, he argued for a different kind of measurement, one that considered the benefits of conversion. "God does work in the world:' he said, and people "who welcome Jesus into their hearts" will be better off. Most research can't measure that, he said, because most social scientists don't entertain the idea that "grace makes the difference:' not "some secular variable."
To the Christian nationalists, then, publicly funded religious social services auger nothing less than an epistemological revolution. They allow knowledge derived from the Bible to trump knowledge derived from studying the world. No longer would American domestic policy and American civic life be based on facts available to all of us, on the kind of rationality that looks at "objective or even secular outcomes."
It would be based on faith.
Be afraid . . . be very afraid . . .
Friday, September 15, 2006
Adapt or Die!
People For the American Way has a new resource at its website called "The 'Evolution' of Creationism." It is a timeline listing significant events and dates in the battle over the teaching of evolutionary theory in the United States.
The First Baptist Church of Watertown, New York, dismissed a female Sunday school teacher because it decided, after she had taught there for 54 years, to adopt a so-called "literal interpretation" of the Bible. Specifically, the church cited St. Paul's First Epistle to Timothy: "I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent," as justification for the dismissal.
The Rev. Timothy LaBouf, who also serves on the Watertown City Council, issued a statement saying his stance against women teaching men in Sunday school would not affect his decisions as a city leader in Watertown, where all five members of the council are men but the city manager who runs the city's day-to-day operations is a woman.Needless to say, the Reverend's fellow politicians were more than a little leery:
''I believe that a woman can perform any job and fulfill any responsibility that she desires to'' outside of the church, LaBouf wrote Saturday.
Mayor Jeffrey Graham, however, was bothered by the reasons given Lambert's dismissal.Of course, when cornered, people of this mindset always whip out the dark innuendo on their way toward the gutter:
''If what's said in that letter reflects the councilman's views, those are disturbing remarks in this day and age,'' Graham said. ''Maybe they wouldn't have been disturbing 500 years ago, but they are now.''
In a statement, the board said other issues were behind Lambert's dismissal, but it did not say what they were.So, basically, this church board, and the fine upstanding people on it, lied when they issued the original letter. Or maybe they are lying now. But the operative part, that will not bother them one little bit, is that they lied.
Thursday, September 14, 2006
So, other than trying to change the definition of science and cast unwarranted doubt on evolutionary theory, how has the Kansas Board of Education been doing the last two years?
Bacon did not reveal the number of school districts that failed.
"What we're trying to do is make sense out of the information that we get and not overreact," Bacon said.
He disclosed more schools need improvement this year than last.
"We anticipate that there are going to be several more schools 'on improvement' this year," Bacon said.
Weiss said up to a third of Kansas school districts may fail to meet federal expectations and laid the failure on Bacon's doorstep.
"I find it hard to believe that a change of this magnitude could occur in a vacuum," Weiss said.
I'm a little nostalgic today for the days when people made fun of Kansas just because of 'The Wizard of Oz.
Wednesday, September 13, 2006
Where All the Best Little Crusaders Go
Jennifer Merin in the New York Press reviews a new documentary, Jesus Camp, directed by Heidi Ewing & Rachel Grady, about Evangelical indoctrination of children in heartland America.
The documentary follows three
... home-schooled preteens, Levi (12), Rachael (9) and Victoria (10) delivered by their Evangelical parents unto Bible camp at Devil’s Lake, N.D., where Pentecostal Children’s Minister Becky Fischer "hooks them up" (her words) with Jesus.Fischer is the sort that apparently thinks that Satan has nothing better ... uh ... worse to pass his evildoing time than by making the light bulbs in the camp's auditorium burn out. And even that petty bad can be avoided by simply admonishing Ol' Nick to cut it out.
Much scarier than this gelded Lucifer is Fischer herself:
She boasts she can "have kids ‘saved’ in minutes because they’re so open" and comments "they’re so useful to Christianity."And no wonder she thinks so:
Fischer claims her program is apolitical but ...Levi, "saved" at age five, knows Creationism’s the only possibility and science doesn’t prove anything. Rachael thinks martyrdom’s "really cool." Victoria owns guilt about dancing "for the flesh," which leads to damnation. Worse, these and other campers are conditioned to believe they’re soldiers of God -- ready to die for Jesus..To warn children about what Christian America’s up against, Fischer preaches about how al-Qaeda’s kids fast, bare (sic) arms and sacrifice themselves for Islam.
If that’s true, then why are campers instructed to pray -- in tongues -- over a cardboard cutout of G.W.? And why stir them into such frenzied chanting about banning abortion and creating a Christian America that they enter trance-like states, some falling convulsively to the floor? These hair-raising moments are reminiscent of scenes from Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, and it’s imperative to recall the ending of that cautionary tale when Levi receives preacher-to-preacher advice from Ted Haggard (Evangelical pastor to 30-million people and a frequent George W. Bush visitor) who assails homosexuality and boasts he has the numbers to elect our government.This film promises to be a visual -- and visceral -- compliment to Michelle Goldberg's book, Kingdom Coming, which has had a number of press articles (see this) of late, arising out of the book tour. I am now in the process of reading it and it lays out an even more disturbing case than I imagined.
While we shouldn't overstate the danger of Christian Nationalists, neither should we forget that less than 60 years ago no one was worried about "Islamic Fascists" either. One point often noted is the delusion of the Religious Right that they are being persecuted, despite the enormous political and social power they wield. It might not take as much as we might hope to tip any number of these people over into becoming Christian Jihadists.
Stephen King has nothing on this stuff.
"The devil goes after the young," Fischer tells a scared-looking, wide-eyed audience, "those who can't fend for themselves. That's why we're trying to protect you."
Later, we see Fischer creating her audio-visual aids for her next sermon, computer-generated banners that read "SIN" and "DEATH." She manipulates the font to simulate the letters dripping in blood. "There, that's better," she says.
Tuesday, September 12, 2006
Fumbling on the Goal Line
The death-knell of Intelligent Design may have rung. The college football crowd is beginning to take notice that getting involved with ID can be bad for a school's gridiron record.
And what is the cause of this ... uh ... fall from grace?Once upon a time, the name Baylor conjured images of a giant slayer in the Southwest Conference. In the late 70s and early 80s, Bears All-American Mike Singletary, tenacious on the field and a scholar off it, was the exemplar of all that was good about college football.
Nowadays you mention Baylor and you're more likely to get a blank stare or a reference to Charles Darwin rolling over in his grave.
Indeed, on the gridiron, the Bears of the last decade could have used a heavy infusion of intelligent design. They’ve gone 10 straight seasons without a winning record. Last year’s 5-6 showing marked the first time in eight campaigns they won more than three games.
It started with the school’s creation of an Intelligent Design research center in 1999 and ended with what has been described as a pitched battle between moderate and fundamentalist Christians for the soul of the university. In the process, wrote a national magazine, "one university president fell, the theory of Intelligent Design was wedged into the curriculum and then railroaded out, the faculty went to the mat to defend its academic freedom policy, alumni groups splintered, and headlines screamed blow-by-blow accounts."
That does it! There are many things that a university in the United States can stand but angry alumni disappointed on Homecoming Day isn't one of them. And how the college football programs go, so go all those high schools in Texas and Indiana and all the other Red States every fall Friday night.Ironically, Baylor’s public relations woes and internal identity crisis can be traced to the city where the Bears will be playing Washington State’s Cougars this Saturday: Seattle.
The notion of refashioning creationism into "intelligent design," and then pushing it as legitimate science rather than philosophy or faith, was hatched at the Seattle-based Discovery Institute. And Baylor came to Seattle to find a director for its now-defunct Intelligent Design research center.