Tuesday, October 31, 2006


A Bird's Eye View

Kurt Wise, former graduate student of Stephen Jay Gould and a man famously called an "honest creationist" by no less than Richard Dawkins, has a revealing and ultimately sad piece about him in the Baptist Press, "Young earth view crucial to Christian doctrines, prof says." Wise has lately taken over William Dembski's place at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary as director of the Center for Theology and Science and has now agreed to serve as a consultant for Answers in Genesis' Creation Museum in Florence, Ky., near Cincinnati, Ohio.

Of the museum, Wise says:

It’s a good balance of philosophy, theology and science with the priority being on Scripture as a starting point. We understand science because we start with the Bible. We understand philosophy because we start with the Bible. [The museum] is an attempt to weave those together.
That is a fair statement of what (one flavor of) theology is but has little to do with science.

[Wise] noted that scientists often have nuanced data that they have difficulty communicating with the public while popular creation speakers often give imprecise scientific data in an effort to present a simple message.

Translation: They mislead the flock.

The material presented in the museum is important for Christians to understand because it shows that biblical inerrantists who take Genesis literally have scientific support, Wise said.

Wise, however, doesn't talk about any scientific support but instead goes into a litany of reasons why some people think that "believing the earth was created by God 6,000-7,000 years ago is the most consistent position to take in light of Scripture."

Roughly, if the Earth isn't young, then there's no Babel origin for modern languages; no global flood; the patriarchs longevity can't be true; no Adam as ancestor of all humans; no Eden as described, with rivers on three different continents coming out in one place; indeed all of Genesis 1 is wrong -- "the order of creation is wrong, not just the days or the length of the days."

Wise acknowledged that the majority of Christians and even the majority of conservative evangelicals believe the world is older than 7,000 years, but he argued many of the foundational doctrines of the Bible -- such as marriage, the literal fall of man, the necessity of a Savior and the end times -- depend on belief in a young earth.
Here is where it starts, for me at least, to turn sad:

The same data which leads geoscientists to the conclusion that the earth is billions of years old, Wise said, also indicate that the fossils on the earth range from thousands to billions of years in age.
But instead of trying to deal with that evidence, Wise just returns to theology:

If humans really date back that far and Adam lived far enough in the past to be their ancestor, then the genealogical record of Genesis 5 is wrong and thus the Bible and its author, God, are wrong.
He never lets any thought that it is the reader who might be the one who is wrong slow him down and just assumes that science being right would mean that Adam's sin was not passed to all human kind and:

... if Adam's sin is not the reason we are sinners and did not lead to human death, then what does Christ's ‘second Adam’ status mean? And if Adam's sin did not lead to a curse -- because death and thorns and toil and disease and suffering preceded Adam's sin by hundreds of thousands or millions of years -- then what is heaven like with ‘no more curse’?
Faced with that, Wise's tune changes. Before he said that it was important for Christians who took the Bible literally to know they had scientific support. Now he says:

"The most important thing is that you ought to be able to trust your God and the claims the Bible makes. I know most people don’t understand what in the world the scientists are saying. That’s OK. Just pay attention to what God says. If you trust what God has given us, it becomes an appropriate foundation for every aspect of our lives."

As believers examine science, the most important thing they can remember is to always pay attention to Scripture above any scientist, Wise said.

"The most important thing is, regardless of what all the scientists are saying, the Bible is true and you can accept it by faith," he said. "God is only pleased with faith, as a matter of fact. To trust the scientists is not faith. It is, in fact, trusting in man’s reason rather than God."
All of which is a perfectly acceptable position for a theologian to take. But it makes a mockery of any claim Wise might once have had to being a scientist.

Monday, October 30, 2006


Scare Quotes

Maybe it's Halloween -- and the curse of the living dead ... neck up division.

Maybe it's the upcoming elections -- kinda like kicking over rocks in terms of what crawls out.

Or maybe -- and this is the most frightening possibility of all -- maybe they're all around us every day, every hour and I'm just noticing it more now ...

Anyway, the truly stupid seem especially ... um ... thick on the ground of late.

First there is the Mike S. Adams matter over at PZ Myers place. Not that Adams is stupid -- he's parlayed supposed victimization (by all-powerful "feminists," no less) into a lucrative gig -- but the people he leveraged to get him the nice speaking dates and honoraria are less than clued. Once the inevitable emails started rolling in, there was a lot of use of "liberal pussy." As PZ noted, that's kind of strange considering that's what Mike S. Adams fears the most.

Then Ed Brayton has the story of Craig Smith (already famous for claiming that that oil is not fossil fuel at all but is constantly regenerated within the earth and, therefore, in no shortage) writing in World Net Daily (not for nothin' widely known as Wing Nut Daily), about a new plot some brave, but unfortunately anonymous, whistle blower has conveyed to him. The message he received (despite his tinfoil hat) is that George Soros, John Kerry, Michael Moore and Howard Dean are plotting to make America godless and devoid of all Jews and Christians by

... the removal of any mention of God in our society. No Ten Commandments. No mention of God in our Pledge of Allegiance. Even ultimately taking ''In God we Trust'' off our money. All prayer at sporting events would be outlawed. The mere mention of God would be punishable by prison. In essence, God would be removed from America.
And the purpose would be:

[T]hat a godless nation, devoid of all Jews and Christians, that didn't allow the mention of God, would no longer be a threat to their goal. Islamo-Fascists would then focus their full attention and fury on countries like Italy that host the Vatican; Australia, with its large Evangelical populations; and ultimately Israel, where the basis of belief in Judaism and Christianity are founded.
In other words, they are supposedly trying to make America safe by making us all non-religious, thus taking away what the "Islamo-Fascists" hate about us -- the fact that we don't share their religion.

Now for the really stupid part ... somebody published that.

Lastly, there is the following that I was tipped off to by Jim Chen of Jurisdynamics, et al. I hesitate to give this link, as simply opening it might cause a drop in the IQs of the non-immunized populace of 10 points or more. Even someone like myself, after years of reading creationist sites in connection with the Quote Mine Project and fully inoculated against the worst sorts of stupidity, could almost feel brain cells withering under the assault.

Those not so inured to the ravages of utter mindlessness should not continue reading. Perhaps you should go and partake of more intellectual pursuits, such was watching a few hundred hours of televised no-rules prize fighting.

Anyway, in response to Professor Chen's eloquent article on the ugly backlash to the New Jersey gay marriage ruling and the decision's similarity to the US Supreme Court's ruling that antimiscegenation laws are unconstitutional, a particular mouthbreather going under the nom de plume of IndustrialBlog wrote this:

[A]bout this nonsensical, incredibly racist concept that somehow homosexual sex is analogous to interracial sex ... just think about the difference between someone asking you whether you've slept with someone of another race and whether you've slept with someone of the same gender. Did that feel like the same fundamental question to you?

Let me put it perhaps more crudely from a white male perspective. If Playboy's Miss November is black with perfect C cups, you'd feel one way. If Miss November is white but has a pair of big hairy balls, you'd feel another way. Really not analogous, is it?

Do they even teach logic in college anymore?
The sheer stupidity of simply offering up his somewhat greater emotional revulsion at the sight of male genitalia than at the sight of the exposed breasts of black women (at least if they are "perfect C cups") and then mistaking the "feel" of that for logic is almost beyond belief. Granting the frightful possibility that this person has attracted a mate of the female persuasion and might actually procreate, has it occurred to him to ask her or any other woman which of the two she'd prefer to see? What about lesbians? And you have to wonder if he ever asked himself just why those antimiscegenation laws were enacted in the first place and what kind of emotional revulsion the people who voted for them felt. No, I take that back ... introspection is definitely not in IndustrialBlog's repertoire.

Isn't the next boloid overdue?

Sunday, October 29, 2006


A Pregnant Analogy

Gilbert Reid has reviews in the Globe and Mail of three books in a new series of "biographies" of ... well ... other books.

Books that Shook the World is a new series of small explanatory volumes on big explosive books -- books the ideas of which, in one form or another, have turned the world upside down. Ideally, these short introductions are an easy way to absorb big ideas.
The first three to be treated are Thomas Paine's The Rights of Man; Charles Darwin's The Origin of Species; and the Qur'an. Janet Browne, who authored the definitive two volume biography of Darwin, Voyaging and The Power of Place, now tells the story of Darwin's most famous work. Reid calls the new book "a limpid and moving introduction to Darwin."

[T]he concepts contained in all three books are central to today's debates about violence, about religion, about conflicting cultures and about whether human rights are universal or not. Can religion and science be reconciled? Is democracy possible without the separation of church and state? And are the values of the European Enlightenment -- values associated with the exercise of critical reason -- still relevant today?

The Enlightenment is now much maligned -- particularly by the politically correct, for whom all unfettered debate is odious, and by those of a religious inclination -- as the source of all our woes.
As one much saddened by that development, I can only hope these books might do some small part to stem the tide. But what attracted my attention in particular was what Reid has to say about Intelligent Design.

Defending scientific inquiry is an essential part of defending freedom of thought and expression, and Charles Darwin, though he was the opposite of a polemicist, has always found himself, willy-nilly, at the centre of fights over the nature of science, the descent of man and the role of religion, and of religious dogma, in determining what people should be allowed to learn, allowed to teach or allowed to think. ...

"Intelligent design" basically says this: "Things are the way they are because God made them the way they are." This may or may not be true, but as science, it's not very useful. It's not something you can verify or falsify; it doesn't suggest further observations or elucidate biological mechanisms. It's magic, not science.
And then comes the striking line:

Putting "intelligent design" into biology would be like spicing up a degree in obstetrics with an obligatory course on the Virgin Birth.
It is a wondrously apt analogy.

Saturday, October 28, 2006


The Real Moral Degenerates

A party that has nothing affirmative to offer voters besides an incitement to hate deserves no votes.
With those words Jim Chen exposes the empty heart of American politics and the hypocritical pretense made by some to "moral values" while they use the recent New Jersey Supreme Court decision allowing gays and lesbians legal rights equal to other committed couples to leverage ill will toward a minority into electoral advantage.

The most obvious analogy supporting legal recognition is Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1 (1967). It's such an obvious analogy that it is futile to cite any of the hundreds, thousands of sources that make the connection. But just because an argument is obvious does not make it wrong. In this instance, the Loving analogy is complete.

I take Loving personally. It was decided before I reached six months of age. I came of age in the geographic center of the American region that historically sanctioned extraordinary, even violent, measures to prevent even the hint of interracial mingling. I was born where all my immediate ancestors had been born themselves, an island at the eastern edge of World Island. My wife traces most of her ancestry to an island at the western extreme. The suggestion that these circumstances of ancestry, none of which either of us chose or could ever control, could bar us from being married is singularly offensive.

And so too is the suggestion that the sex of the members of a committed couple should determine that couple's entitlement to full recognition and protection under the law.
The irony is, if the way to political power in this country is incitement to prejudice and appeals to loathing based on ignorance, any god worthy of the name will make sure of its destruction.


Science Fink

I've written before about the race by Tom Sawyer against Deborah Owen Fink, who was one of the architects of Ohio's former "teach the controversy" public school policy, for her seat on the state Board of Education. This past Thursday there was a radio debate (as usual, more of a joint interview) between them, with the addition of Ken Miller, Brown University professor of biology and author of Finding Darwin's God, supporting evolution, and Chris Williams, who was described as a Ph.D. in biochemistry working in the field of human genetic screening, favoring Intelligent Design. An MP3 file of the broadcast "Evolution's Effect on Voters" can be downloaded from the website of 90.3 WCPN, the National Public Radio outlet in Cleveland, Ohio.

A couple of "jawdroppers," not unlike her previously calling the National Academy of Sciences, perhaps the nation’s preeminent scientific organization, "so-called scientists," escaped Ms. Owen Fink during the hour. One good one, in response to a caller's question (beginning at about minute 26:15) was that Jonathan Wells and his book, Icons of Evolution, "has nothing to do with Intelligent Design" and, if she had had her druthers, she would not have removed it from the original standards. Ken Miller gently smacked that one out of the park by inviting the public to go to the Discovery Institute's site and check out the fellows of the Center for Science and Culture.

Then Ms. Owens Fink (at 42:20), when asked about the letter signed by 75 members of the science faculty at Case Western University endorsing Mr. Sawyer and denouncing her characterization of the National Academy of Sciences, virtually reenacted it by alleging that the faculty members "have no science background" and "don't understand how to do scientific research." Mr. Sawyer's response was both forceful and eloquent and was one of the high points of the show.

But my very, very most favorite moment of all (37:25) belonged to Ken Miller. Dr. Williams, in his best Discovery Institute imitation, decried the harm supposedly done to scientific discovery by following "evolutionary dogma." As an example, Williams cited how the alleged dogma that "junk DNA" had no function supposedly held back the discovery of "small interfering RNA," with its great promise for medicine. Miller first pointed out that a lack of function of junk DNA was not a prediction of evolutionary theory, though the sequence information in such DNA was strong evidence for the theory. But then Miller told of a student he had in the very first class in evolutionary biology Miller had taught at Brown. The student was a young dark-haired man who was always asking questions. Miller then told how, just 3 weeks ago, that student, named Craig Mello, had won the Nobel Prize for discovering small interfering RNA. It seems learning about evolution didn't hold him back one little bit. Game, set, match.

If you want to see the difference between scientific thinking and the thinking of people who hate the very idea, you can't ask for a much better example than this debate.

Friday, October 27, 2006


Gimme an "A"

The Kansas City Jewish Chronicle has an article about Michelle Goldberg, who authored the recent book, Kingdom Coming, about Christian Nationalists, that I have written about a number of times before.

While noting that there is something of a backlash against the religious right, as demonstrated by a number of moderate Republicans defecting to run as Democrats in Kansas, Goldberg does not think there is likely to be any lasting change:

[T]he underlying social dynamics are not going away. Mega churches that serve as the kind of central community spaces, in places where they don't have any kind of public infrastructure, are not going away. Something like 97 of the 100 fastest growing counties of America went for Bush in 2004, and in those counties those cultures are stronger. This movement is not a majority of Americans, or even evangelicals. It's 10 to 15 percent of the population. They are not a juggernaut, and it's not inevitable. But a single election won't make it go away. They'll regroup.
Perhaps more interesting, however, is that:

[G]rowing numbers [of American Jews] are finding themselves making common cause with evangelicals in support of Israel ...

Since her book came out in May, Goldberg said, she has met "Jewish leaders who say 'What do we care what they think? It's a useful alliance.' Leon Wieseltier had the best quote on that when he called it 'a grim comedy of mutual condescension.' This is a movement whose ultimate goals involve a third world war in the Middle East."
Support Armageddon. It's the last aid Israel will ever need.


Raising the Bar

At long last, a practical, one might even say scientific, result of Intelligent Design has surfaced:

The Information Technology for Analysis and Intelligent Design for E-government has announced the Beer Living Lab project which will wirelessly track beer shipped from Europe to the US with the aim of making faster deliveries and reducing costs for international trade.

"The Beer Living Lab project is the first step in building the 'Intranet of Trade', which will help to substantially improve efficiency and security in the global supply chain," said Stefan Reidy, manager of Secure Trade Lane at IBM.
This is an ID project that the folks at the virtual pub, The Panda's Thumb, can really get behind!

Thursday, October 26, 2006


Irrational Numberers

Hey, kids! . . . Know what time it is?!?!?!

It's Forehead Slap Time!!!!

And Chuck ("I found Jesus at my sentencing hearing") Colson is our guest host today.

In an article, "Something Beyond Nature," for The Christian Post, Colson briefly recounts some recent psychology studies. In particular he appeals to an experiment done by Bruce Hood, who asked people if they would take cash to try on a blue sweater. Everybody volunteered. Then Hood informed the people that the sweater had belonged to a mass murderer, "and suddenly, almost no one would put it on, even for money."

Take a moment to savor the possibilities and see if you can anticipate what Colson will make out of this. Ready?:

These studies don’t prove the existence of God or moral absolutes. No scientific study can do that, because materialists are correct: The purpose of science is to study nature, and God is outside of nature. But the studies do something pretty important: They suggest, from scientific evidence, that God may play a role — that is, there is a cause beyond nature. Materialists’ entire view of the universe, and the philosophy that comes out of that, depends upon the notion that nature is all there is. Let science point to even the smallest suggestion of something more, and their worldview falls apart. That’s why materialists fight intelligent design so hard, because that is a case where the scientific study of nature points to a cause beyond nature.
Notice how this proceeds ... Colson starts from a correct notion of science (a bit of a forehead slapper in and of itself) as not being able to study that which is outside of nature, i.e. god(s), but then proceeds, nonetheless, to say that science can "suggest" the existence or non-existence of god(s) (which sounds more like theology than science to me), then equates everyone who fights against Intelligent Design to materialists (totally ignoring Ken Miller, Francis Collins and many others) and brings us full circle to contradict himself, all in the space of one short paragraph, by ending with an assertion that a scientific study of nature can indeed provide evidence of "something beyond nature," i.e. god(s).

Not content with that display of headache inducing prowess, Colson then (more or less) quote mines Professor Hood:

In short, as the Guardian summed up Hood’s viewpoint, "The battle by scientists against [so-called] ‘irrational’ beliefs such as creationism is ultimately futile."
While the quote is attributed to a Guardian article (that is not linked to) and is supposed to be a 'summation' of Professor Hood's views (actually it was the opening of the article, no doubt meant to be a "grabber") and the phrase "so-called," was put in brackets, as presented it fails to remotely reflect Professor Hood's conclusions or opinions. Hood meant "irrational" quite literally and the futility didn't arise from those beliefs being correct:

I think it is pointless to think that we can get people to abandon their belief systems because they are operating at such a fundamental level. No amount of rational evidence is going to be taken on board to get people to abandon those ideas.
Colson tries to put the following spin on the work, quite contrary to Hood's apparent results:

This kind of thinking sends famous Darwinists like Oxford professor Richard Dawkins and the late Carl Sagan into fits. To them, the whole future of mankind depends on being able to coax people away from their so-called "irrational" beliefs and to establish that there are no explanations of human nature that go beyond nature. But there are, and for those of us who believe, it’s just one more sign that if anybody is being irrational here, it’s not us.
Hood did say that he thought that some people, such as the biologist Richard Dawkins and the philosopher Daniel Dennet, had adopted a counterproductive and "simplistic" approach to such irrationalism.

They have basically said there are two types of people in the world - those who believe in the supernatural and those who do not. But almost everyone entertains some form of irrational beliefs even if they are not religious.

For example, many people would be reluctant to part with a wedding ring for an identical ring because of the personal significance it holds. Conversely, many people are disgusted by an object if it has associations with "evil".
Hood does not, in this article at least, suggest in any way that irrational beliefs are immune from reason because they are correct. For example, he certainly doesn't think putting on a mass murderer's sweater is going to harm anyone. While he does not reveal what, if anything, he thinks might or should be done about irrationalism, it's hard to imagine that Hood would agree that mental gymnastics like those Colson displayed above can in any way be called rational.


Do You Think?

The Ohio Board of Education elections have caught the attention of the Gray Lady. The New York Times is carrying a story "Scientists Endorse Candidate Over Teaching of Evolution" (may require free registration) that reports:

In an unusual foray into electoral politics, 75 science professors at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland have signed a letter endorsing a candidate for the Ohio Board of Education.
That would be Tom Sawyer, who is running against Deborah Owens Fink, one of the architects of Ohio's erstwhile "teach the controversy" science standard. Having seen that ploy go down in flames, Owens Fink was deeply involved in the replacement strategy of proposed guidelines to teach "controversial topics." That was merely an attempt to paper over the religious nature of the "teach the controversy" scheme by "broadening" it to include subjects which -- surprise, surprise -- just happened to be other bugaboos of the Righteous Right, such as global warming, cloning and stem-cell research.

What I liked was Owens Fink's display of candor. Speaking of the charge in the scientist's letter that she called the National Academy of Sciences, perhaps the nation’s pre-eminent scientific organization, "so-called scientists," she said: "I may have said that, yeah." I remember that. Funny how she isn't so sure. Funny how she isn't ashamed, either.

If you live in Ohio, vote. No matter where you live, donate. Don't let the fact that Owens Fink has garnered a lot of money be the turning point of this election.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006


Gay Ol' Times

Ed Brayton at Dispatches from the Culture Wars beat me to the New Jersey Supreme Court's decision on gay marriage.

As Ed notes, the Court ordered that, within 180 days:

... the Legislature must either amend the marriage statutes to include same-sex couples or create a parallel statutory structure, which will provide for, on equal terms, the rights and benefits enjoyed and burdens and obligations borne by married couples.
As long as the scheme "provides full rights and benefits to samesex couples" the choice of whether to call the civil union "marriage" or some other term, is "a matter left to the democratic process."

A few other things to note: The decision was based on the New Jersey State Constitution's equivalent of the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Federal Constitution. As such, the ruling cannot be overturned by the Federal Courts, as the New Jersey Supreme Court's interpretation of its own Constitution is definitive. The Federal Courts could only overrule this decision on the basis that it, itself, violates the Federal Constitutional rights of some individual. Mere disagreement as to whether there is or should be a constitutional right to same sex marriage is not enough.

The three dissenters did not wish to deny same sex unions. They wanted to skip the "middleman" of the Legislature and find an outright entitlement of gays and lesbians to marriage in name as well as substance:

We must not underestimate the power of language. Labels set people apart as surely as physical separation on a bus or in school facilities. Labels are used to perpetuate prejudice about differences that, in this case, are embedded in the law. By excluding same-sex couples from civil marriage, the State declares that it is legitimate to differentiate between their commitments and the commitments of heterosexual couples. (Concurring and dissenting opinion by Chief Justice Poritz, and joined by Justices Long and Zazzali p. 76)
That makes it a strong decision that shouldn't be affected by anything less than seismic changes in the personnel of the Court.

Now comes the real question: will this turn out to be, you should pardon the expression, a godsend to the Republicans, energizing the Righteous Right and allowing them to hang onto Congress?

Tuesday, October 24, 2006


Eyes Wide Shut

Professor Jim Chen has an exploration of creationist mythology as an adaptive exercise over at Jurisdynamics.

On closer examination, religious belief appears to be adaptive. In other words, religion persists because at some point in the natural history of the human species, religious belief conferred an advantage at the margin. Believers lived and reproduced. Their counterparts fared less well.

Thanks to the adaptive instincts that enabled our ancestors to survive and reproduce more successfully at the margin, we humans systematically interpret ambiguous evidence as being caused by a living agent rather than an abiotic alternative. Put simply, we never wonder what went bump in the night, but who.

Professor Chen, therefore, dismisses the notion that the reason religion is successful is because it comforts the believer:

Comfort? Like hell. Entire swaths of religious dogma are dedicated to scaring the bejesus out of adherents. Believers might try to persuade themselves that the reward of faith is a guarantee of eternal life. In evolutionary terms, the price of faith is eternal vigilance . . . which in turn might lead to a marginally longer life with enhanced reproductive prospects.

Armed with the expectation that there are active agents bent on his or her personal destruction, the slightly paranoid may be readier for the person or things that are out to get 'em, intentionally or not.

... Karl Marx totally misunderstood the origins of a belief in God and the impact of that belief on broader human society. Stay awake and watch, therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour of the coming of the Lord. Religion is not the opiate of the masses, but rather the ephedrine.

Sleep on it.


Reading Light

The NCSE has a new resource at its website that is most valuable: the Kitzmiller Legal Documents Archive, which is:
... an online archive of all public legal documents filed in the Kitzmiller v. Dover case. Over 300 filings were made in the case, and this does not include exhibits and other documents.

Legal rulings, briefs, etc., are U.S. government documents and so free redistributable. Exhibits of consisting of governmental documents are also public; however, books and articles retain copyright so they are not included here, although the exhibit lists used in the case are available.
Among the pleasures of the archive is that you can now read for yourself William Buckingham's veracity challenged testimony at his pretrial deposition where, among other things, he testified:

Q. The school district received a number of copies
...of the book Of Pandas and People, correct?
A. Yes.
Q. Do you know how many copies?
A. I've been told there were 60. I haven't seen
Q. Do you know where that came from, who donated
A. No, I don't.
Q. You have no idea?
A. I have thoughts, but I don't know.

- Deposition of William Buckingham, January 3, 2005, p. 57

And compare it to his trial testimony:

Q. Now, let's talk about that donation. Pandas and People
...was donated to the school district. Right?
A. Yes.
Q. No taxpayer funds were involved?
A. That's true.
Q. And, in fact, you took up a collection at your church
...for Pandas and People. Right?
A. Not as such I didn't, no.
Q. Well, you did take up a collection at your church.
A. Money was donated, but I didn't ask for it.
Q. You stood in the front of your church, in the Harmony
...Grove Community Church, and you made a statement
...that you were accepting donations for the book Pandas
...and People. Correct?
A. No, I didn't. I'm sorry, I did say that,
...but there was more to it.

Indeed there was.



Wishes Washed and Ironed

The Washington Post has an article by Rev. John I. Jenkins, president of the University of Notre Dame and Thomas Burish, the university's provost, entitled "Reason and Faith at Harvard." It seems that a Harvard curriculum committee has recommended that properly educated college graduates should know "the role of religion in contemporary, historical, or future events -- personal, cultural, national, or international."

The Harvard committee hastens to explain that its proposal is not for "religious apologetics." Rather, the courses it envisions would offer an examination of "the interplay between religion and various aspects of national and/or international culture and society." They would deal not so much with the relationship between reason and faith as with reasoning about faith, religion and religious institutions and their impact in the world.
While agreeing that such courses are needed, the authors hope the university goes beyond that.
[U]niversities can do more than just familiarize students with the world's religions in survey-course fashion. The rise of religious fanaticism stems in part from a failure of intellectuals within various religious traditions to engage the faithful of their traditions in serious and reasoned reflection, inquiry and dialogue. The marginalization of faith within universities contributes to this failure.
A recent survey by UCLA's Higher Education Research Institute found that 79 percent of college freshmen believe in God, and 69 percent pray and find strength, support and guidance in their religious beliefs. Religion will remain a powerful force in the personal lives of these students long after they graduate. If faith is shunned by the institutions whose role it is to foster reason and the life of the mind, if universities do not equip students to integrate their faith with the knowledge and reasoning skills they acquire, we shouldn't be surprised if unreasonable or fanatical forces gain influence in communities of faith.
It is an interesting argument. In effect, it takes the complaint of some atheists, that moderate people of faith are enablers of the sort of fundamentalists who fly planes into buildings, and turns it on its head. It is, the authors say, the secularizer and the atheist who are abetting the outbreak of religious violence by denying the majority of people who are disposed to faith the intellectual underpinnings to prevent the infiltration of unthinking passion.

I think, however, that Jenkins and Burish are, ultimately, wrong. If there is a dearth of intellectual support for believers, whose fault is that? And what does it say about Notre Dame and all the other religious universities and colleges that are out there? Do secular universities have to be all things to all people?

But Sam Harris and other atheists are wrong to blame moderate and law-abiding theists for the acts of terrorists. I'll take the Enlightenment seriously and treat people as rational beings (even if we know they are not) and hold them responsible for their own acts and no one else's -- at least without more in the way of proximate cause than, as Harris would have it, the mere fact that moderates insist that we respect people's religious beliefs.

Sunday, October 22, 2006


Religious Designs

Two Discovery Institute Fellows, Dr. Walter Bradley (described as a co-founder of the Intelligent Design Movement) and Dr. Paul Nelson, along with Dr. Thomas E. Woodward, director of an evangelical teaching and discipleship ministry, the C.S. Lewis Society, are conducting an "Evidence of Design Conference" this November at Calvary Baptist Church in Clearwater, Florida and Calvary Baptist in Tampa. According to the announcement:

While these events will be held at churches, the Evidence of Design Conference will be strictly non-denominational.
But will the conference be nonsectarian?

It will demonstrate practical steps to use design-evidence as a thoughtful bridge to skeptics who have been taught through Darwinian evolution that God is a myth. This conference will enable Christians and others to use simple evidence to demonstrate there is in fact a designer of life and that he is Jesus Christ.
It's not clear to me exactly who those "others" might be or why they are interested in showing that the designer of life is Jesus Christ, but we should all remember, as the Discovery Institute has often told us, that ID has nothing to do with religion.


Pocketbook Issues

According to this story from the Cleveland Plain Dealer:

[L]ast summer ... a group of scientists decided to support pro-evolution candidates and work against those favoring intelligent design or creationism. The group, Help Ohio Public Education, recruited [Tom] Sawyer, the former Akron mayor and 16-year congressman, to take on [Deborah] Owens Fink [one of the leaders of the "teach the controversy" strategy].

"Our hope is to at least put these races on the map," said Patricia Princehouse, co-founder of HOPE and a faculty member at Case Western Reserve University. "Maybe people will at least know the names of the people who are running."

Seemingly unfazed, Owens Fink vows to beat off the challenge. The University of Akron marketing professor, who spent nothing on previous board races, had raised nearly $60,000 for the battle through September, according to state records.

"I'll spend whatever I need to spend to win this race," she said. "I know I've been a target of these people for a long time. It's obvious these people don't care about broad, scientific issues. I've come to the conclusion that for many of them, Darwin is their God."

Sawyer enjoys good name recognition in the 600,000-resident 7th District, which includes his home base of Summit County as well as Ashtabula, Portage and Trumbull counties. But through September, he had raised less than a fifth of what Owens Fink had.

"If I don't get completely avalanched by money, I ought to be able to win this," Sawyer said. "I don't think anyone in Ohio brings a greater depth or breadth of experience than I bring to this. I think Debbie has squandered a great gift and used it for a narrow agenda."

Owens Fink is wrong, of course. Darwin is no god to scientists or to those who value the benefits of science. But anti-evolutionism is a reliable indicator of those who most definitely want to force their god into public schools, as shown in The Plain Dealer story. As a guest on Pastor Ernie Sanders radio show, Owens Fink had no objection to the Pastor's statement:

If you believe in God, creation and true science, vote for Debbie. If you believe in evolution, abortion and sin, you've got Tom Sawyer, right?

I've said it before: if we can demonstrate that support for creationism is a "third-rail" to the professional politicians, the threat to our schools from the radical right will be greatly reduced and not merely on the issue of science education. And there are signs that it is working. The Republican gubernatorial candidate in Kansas is literally tripping over his tongue to distance himself from creationists and the Michigan governor campaign has turned around since the Republican candidate made the mistake of suggesting that ID be taught in public schools, turning the focus from economic to social issues.

Sawyer's problem is easy to fix. Donate. I did.

P.S. Sawyer has a new website (via Red State Rabble).


Two Mouths to Feed

Further evidence has surfaced demonstrating the greater difficulty the Republican Party is presently ... you should pardon the expression ... facing in pursuit of its strategy of playing to its base of radical religious conservatives while hoping the moderates will trust the leadership to go on treating the radical fringe as "nuts" and "goofy."

Kansas Republican gubernatorial candidate Jim Barnett tried to "clarify" his position to the editorial board of The Wichita Eagle on the long-running controversy in Kansas over teaching evolution. He had to openly state: "I believe in evolution." While I cannot see how any educated intelligent person could do otherwise, it was more than a little telling that Barnett felt it necessary to put it as: "I am not a kook."

Barnett, however, in what the editorial board called an "awkward straddle of this issue," tried not to lose the kook vote by saying that

... his campaign comments, which have followed the "teach the controversy" rhetoric of intelligent design advocates, were merely meant to support open discussion in classrooms and letting kids make up their own minds.
Apparently he feels that schools have no duty to prevent children from becoming kooks.

Saturday, October 21, 2006


Ol' Weepin' Willer Is Laughin' At Me!

Not wanting to rest on his laurels, Bill Crozier, Republican candidate for Oklahoma state Superintendent of Education, has improved on his plan for employing used textbooks as shields for children caught in armed invasions of schools by suggesting that book covers be made out of Kevlar, the same material used by the military for body armor.
This will no doubt solve the problem, revealed in Crozier's exhaustive experimental investigation, of the ability of 7.6 ammo from an AK-47 to penetrate even calculus textbooks, previously believed in Crozier's circle to be impenetrable. As Crozier said:
There's no reason why we can't come up immediately with a simple policy until we come up with a better one.
There is no question that, if simple is what you want, Crozier is your man!


The Mind of Hovind


I have been trying to ignore the Kent Hovind trial. As the author of "Kent Hovind's $250,000 Offer" at the Talk Origins Archive, I regularly get email from some incredible mouth-breathers. So I figure, 'wait until (not if) he's convicted before blogging on it' and then at least I'll only have to endure the government conspiracy theories and "the 16th Amendment was never ratified" crap and wouldn't have to hear about the "shrinking sun" and other creationist forehead slappers.

But I can't resist! The latest from his trial is that a lawyer, David Charles Gibbs, affiliated with the Christian Law Association, a nonprofit organization that offers free legal help to churches nationwide and who presumably wouldn't be biased against Hovind, has testified to a social encounter he had with him at Dinosaur Adventure Land, during which the ever resourceful Kent explained that:

... he had no obligation to pay employee income taxes and explained with "a great deal of bravado" how he had "beat the tax system."

Gibbs said Hovind also told him he preferred to deal in cash and that when you are "dealing with cash there is no way to trace it, so it wasn't taxable."
And that is not the worst of it, hard as it may be to believe:

He tried to stress to me that he was like the pope and this [DinoLand] was like the Vatican.
If you have never seen pictures of Hovind's backyard tourist trap, I can tell you that the Sistine Chapel is not the very first thing that you will think of.

Proverbs 16:18 does spring to mind, however.

Friday, October 20, 2006


Forehead Flagellation

Another purveyor of stunning stupidity is loose in America, leaving in his wake a sound of palms striking foreheads that threatens to reach a crescendo loud enough to drown out Niagara Falls.

Nothing much more is needed than to quote from the story carried by KOCO TV in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma:

One of Oklahoma's nominees for state superintendent of education has proposed a unique idea for protecting students from outbreaks of violence.

Bill Crozier, a Union City Republican going against incumbent Democrat Sandy Garrett, said he believes old textbooks could be used to stop bullets shot from weapons wielded by school intruders.

If elected, he said he would put thick used textbooks under every desk for students to use in self-defense.

Just in case you might think that this was some misunderstanding or some political dirty trick, Crozier himself provided a videotape of him and a group of friends "testing" his "idea" by shooting various firearms, including an AK-47 and a 9 mm pistol, at various textbooks.

WARNING: The Surgeon General has determined that watching this video without your hands being restrained or padded can cause severe headaches.

Crozier said he believes his test was not scientific. Instead, he said, he wanted to demonstrate what might happen if a student used a textbook as protection in the event of a school shooting.

"Not everybody would be saved in that situation, of course. But many of them would, and instead of running away or being lined up ... this is a way for the children to fight back," he said.

Representatives for Crozier's opponent said they had no comment on his ideas.

Sounds like they heard the one about not trying to gild a looney.

P.S. I'm moving this up here for the benefit of the lazy types who don't read the comments: Zeno has discovered our hero's ... uh ... miscalculation that, if you watched the video, allowed the AK-47 slug to penetrate his biblioarmor. It seems he was using the pussy calculus book. Zeno then demonstrates the proper building technique for the besieged teaching profession.


Separating the Pseudo from Science

The American Sociological Association has joined the long list of scientific and educational organizations that oppose the inclusion of "Creationism and Related Religious Doctrines in U.S. Science Education."
The American Sociological Association (ASA) supports the teaching of science methods and content in U.S. public school curricula, and affirms the integrity of science education to include the teaching of evolution, a central organizing principle of the biological sciences that is based upon overwhelming empirical evidence from various scientific disciplines. ASA opposes proposals that promote, support, or advocate religious doctrines or ideologies in science education curricula. Religious doctrines and ideology include, but are not limited to, the non-scientific notion of “creationism,” including “intelligent design.” ...
Creationism, as a social movement and pseudoscientific cognitive process, is a legitimate topic for scientific examination (e.g., exploring social factors that influence social movements or documenting the social and behavioral correlates of cult beliefs). There are suitable curricular venues for teaching about these topics (e.g., contemporary social issues, sociology of religion, other behavioral science courses).
Ya gotta love that "cult beliefs."

Thursday, October 19, 2006


Smart Endorsement

In a triumph of dedication to good education over immediate political gain, Republican Martha Wise is backing Democrat John Bender in the race to replace her on the Ohio state school board.

I’ve spent five years of my life keeping intelligent design, or what you might call teaching religion, out of science classes. [Bender's] the only one [out of four candidates] who agrees with me.
That might not be so notable, given that the board election is supposed to be nonpartisan, except for the fact that Wise is herself running for a seat in the state senate.

My party leadership will be upset with me. But I feel it’s the right thing to do.
Just to give an idea of what the local attitudes might be, Kathleen McGervey, an engineer and former religion teacher who is running against Bender, gave the usual blather about there "still a lot of questions about evolution that need to be answered and students should be encouraged to question it." More stunningly, she said she wasn’t surprised by the endorsement because Bender and Wise both agree that because ID is religion it should stay out of science classes. According to McGervey, "They both hold an extreme position."

Too bad we don't have more Wise politicians.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006


Maladroit Metaphor of the Month

Reason magazine has a report on the events at the American Civil Liberties Union annual membership conference in Washington D.C. One of the events was a celebration of the ACLU's victory in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District, the Intelligent Design case. In addition to winning the court case, the entire school board that had approved the teaching of intelligent design was voted out at the election held just days after the completion of the testimony in the case.

Bryan Rehm, one of the plaintiffs in the case and himself a Bible school teacher, was elected to the school board at that time. Rehm related several ugly moments that arose during the campaign, including:
[O]ne voter told him that if the pro-intelligent design school board lost, "the fags are going to come out of the bushes."
There are so many ways to get in trouble with that straight line, I think I'll just leave it to your own imagination.


Of Money and Mouths

Professor Jim Chen, who originated and administers the Jurisdynamics site which I have mentioned a number of time before, most recently in connection with Professor Chen's article on the Enforcement First Immigration Reform Act, as well as the Scientific Lawyer site that is in my links roll and which is a very good resource for science news, now has a relatively new site named BioLaw: Law and the Life Sciences. Professor Chen expects it to deal frequently with issues of science education. It looks to be another valuable and interesting addition to my reading list.

As an example, there is this article on the choice the people of Missouri are facing this November. The Stowers Institute For Medical Research, the second richest private medical research institution in the world, with an endowment fund in excess of $2 billion, already has about 60 000 square meters of premium laboratory space in Missouri, and plans to add an additional 60 000 square meters every decade, "in perpetuity".

But there is a catch involving an amendment to the Missouri constitution to allow, protect, and implicitly promote stem cell research in the state.

[T]he Institute - and its founders - have let it be known in no uncertain terms that expansion can only be assured upon successful passage of Amendment 2. Rumors of expanding in California or Massachusetts have concentrated the minds of politicians and voters alike.
Hmmm ... money or ultra religious purity. Money ... purity ... Stay tuned.
Illustration created by Isaac Yonemoto with pymol, inkscape, and gimp from NMR structure 1ai0 in the pdb. Ref: Chang, X., Jorgensen, A.M., Bardrum, P., Led, J.J. This file is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 License. Image taken from Wikipedia article, "Biotechnology."

Tuesday, October 17, 2006


Doing It Religiously

There is an interesting -- and disturbing -- article in Prospect Magazine by Eric Kaufmann entitled "Breeding for God." The thesis is stated up front:

In Europe, the fertility advantage of the religious over non-believers has historically been counterbalanced by the march of secularisation. Not any more. Secularisation in Europe is now in decline, and Islam continues to grow. Europe will start to adopt a more American model of modernity.

After noting that, for a long time, modernism and the increasing overthrow of religious authority seemed to go hand in hand, Kaufmann then goes into the demographics that lead to the rise of Christianity from "an obscure sect with just 40 converts in the year 30AD [that] became the official religion of the Roman empire by 300." He cites American sociologist of religion Rodney Stark, who points out that the Christian population over that time increased at a rate of 40 per cent a decade for over two centuries. While a part of that upsurge might have been due to the appeal of the new faith, not yet corrupted by power, it also had much to do with other factors:

Unlike the pagans, Christians cared for their sick during plagues rather than abandoning them, which sharply lowered mortality. In contrast to the "macho" ethos of pagans, Christians emphasised male fidelity and marriage, which attracted a higher percentage of female converts, who in turn raised more Christian children. Moreover, adds Stark, Christians had a higher fertility rate than pagans, yielding even greater demographic advantage.

There may be some questions about Stark's sources but the pattern has been repeated many times in modern history, including in the growth of Mormonism, conservative Protestantism and the ultra-Orthodox Jewish population in Israel.

The share of the world's population that is religious is growing, after nearly a century of modest decline. This effect has been produced by the younger generations in the developing world rejecting secularisation, combined with higher religious fertility levels. Throughout the world, the religious tend to have more children, irrespective of age, education or wealth.

Europe is not immune:

In an analysis of European data from ten west European countries in the period 1981-2004 I found that next to age and marital status, a woman's religiosity was the strongest predictor of her number of offspring.

Of course, religious and political affiliations are not genetic traits that can be reliably passed on to one's offspring:

European data show that the religious have had a demographic advantage over their secular counterparts for several generations, but also that this advantage has been balanced out by the secularisation of many of the children of Europe's faithful.

But there has been a sea change:

Much of the 20th-century growth of conservative Protestant denominations could have been lost to secularism or to more liberal, higher status sects like the Episcopalians, as conservative Protestants became better educated, wealthier and more urban. What impeded such an "assimilation" of conservative Protestants into more liberal theologies was a disruption of the pattern linking social and religious mobility. Conservative Protestants, once content to be led by an urbane liberal-Protestant elite, became increasingly conscious of their group identity. They began to reject the leadership of liberal Protestants ... This intensified after 1970 with the so-called "culture wars." Liberal theologies and secularism came to be typecast as the malign "other" against which true Christians should mobilise. As evangelicals gained in self-consciousness, they increasingly erected communal boundaries -- such as their own media -- which could bind the generations regardless of education or wealth.

Add to this the effect of immigration, of Latin American Catholics into the United States and of Muslims into Europe, and there may well be a serious challenge to "that great secular movement of cultural individualism which swept high art and culture after 1880 and percolated down the social scale to liberalise attitudes in the 1960s."
That gives a whole new meaning to the imprecation "F**k politics!"

Monday, October 16, 2006


Wild Bill's New Portrait

Denyse (Just call me "Deny") O'Leary is over at Christianity Today with a short piece about the recently published Festschrift for the Godfather of the Intelligent Design movement, Darwin's Nemesis: Phillip Johnson And the Intelligent Design Movement, where she claims:

Every few months, a wise head predicts the end of Intelligent Design—in time for the next uproar.

First of all, it is the creationists who have been busy predicting the demise of evolution for well over 150 years now, as documented at Glenn Morton's site. And, lo and behold, who should have just joined the long line of delusional folks who think evolutionary theory is going to disappear tomorrow but Denyse herself!
And nobody who is on the side of science against the anti-evolutionists think they are going anywhere anytime soon. It is our universal opinion that, at most, ID will mutate into some other form ... oh, say, like "teach the controversy," perhaps? ... just the way "creation science" mutated into ID with the help of a word processor back when Of Pandas and People was being concocted.
But if that is not enough to show how fast Denyse is losing touch with reality since she started hanging out with the ID crowd, she is also busy crowning Wild Bill Dembski as Phillip Johnson's "successor as informal leader of the id community."
Now, there's a good reason to think ID may be dead.

Sunday, October 15, 2006


Official Conduct

There is an editorial in a local Montana paper concerning the contretemps between Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer and State Representative Roger Koopman, a young-Earth creationist, who amusingly claimed to have arrived at that position not through his religious beliefs but based on his "scientific investigations."

The whole thing started at an event where the Governor spoke to school children, parents and teachers about global warming and, rather strangely, asked how many in the crowd thought the Earth was hundreds of millions of years old and how many believed the planet was less than a million years old. Koopman, who attended the talk, indicated he believed the latter. Only later, in a interview with a newspaper, did Schweitzer bring up Koopman's response, saying he needs support from a state Legislature that will help move Montana's agenda forward, "not people who think the Earth is 4,000 years old."

In this editorial, that I am of two minds about, the Governor is taken to task as follows:

With his scientific background [a Bachelor of Science degree in International Agronomy and a Master of Science degree in Soil Science], it is not surprising that Gov. Schweitzer is not a believer in intelligent design or creationism, but he is governor of all the people including creationists. He doesn’t need to go out of his way to offend people for their religious beliefs or even for their divergent scientific beliefs.

When he said he didn’t want people in the Legislature "who think the Earth is 4,000 years old," he was thumbing his nose not just at Koopman, but at many other Montanans as well (and also mis-stating the age of the earth according to the biblical count, which is more like 6,000 years). Koopman is probably speaking for thousands when he says the governor’s comments were "incredibly bigoted."
First, it needs to be said that neither ID nor young-Earth creationism are "divergent scientific beliefs." They are anti-science positions. That fact renders the the editorial largely wrong:

Gov. Schweitzer is entitled to his own beliefs, but he shouldn’t expect to work with a Legislature that has the same exact philosophy and beliefs as him. He also should not invite ridicule of people for their sincerely held beliefs in any case, unless those beliefs could harm others. Our core strength, after all, is that we cherish our diversity, and rise above it — e pluribus unum.
Anti-scientism can hurt the people of Montana in many ways and should be fought vigorously. Standing up for the best interests, as he sees it, of all his constituents is what Schweitzer is supposed to be doing and the mere fact that people disagree with him on the basis of their interpretation of religious tenets does not make his position bigotry. That is more of the false "persecution" that the religious right claims whenever they are not allowed to impose their beliefs on everyone else.

But it was strange that the Governor would raise the subject in a talk about global warming and then wait until later to comment on Koopman's beliefs in a different forum. It is only natural to wonder if he already knew what Koopman's response would be and set out to make an issue of it.

If Schweitzer asked the question to give himself an excuse to ridicule Koopman and young-Earth creationists, that is wrong. Not that I am saying that such beliefs should not be ridiculed -- Lord knows I do it enough myself. But I am not being paid out of the public coffers and I took no oath to represent all the people. Schweitzer's job is not to be governor of only the Democrats or secularists or liberal theists in the state. Our politics is poisoned enough without public officials unable to muster even basic common respect for the citizenry they rule over.

Saturday, October 14, 2006


The Real Non-Americans

I've been rather neglecting Jurisdynamics of late, which is a mistake. As proof of that, see Jim Chen's moving article, "Born in the U.S.A." about the attempt by the Righteous Right to slam the door shut on America, given that their ancestors already safely made it in.

Specifically, Professor Chen, Harvard Law School graduate, Fulbright Scholar, clerk to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, James L. Krusemark Professor of Law at the University of Minnesota Law School, prolific author and himself an immigrant, addresses the euphemism-drenched Enforcement First Immigration Reform Act of 2005 (EFIRA), H.R. 3938. The law tries an end run around the 14th Amendment that says:

All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.
EFIRA's Section 701, "Citizenship at Birth for Children of Non-Citizen, Non-Permanent Resident Aliens," would amend the Immigration and Naturalization Act to the following:

[A] person born in the United States shall be considered as "subject to the jurisdiction of the United States" if --

(1) the child was born in wedlock in the United States to a parent either of whom is (A) a citizen or national of the United States, or (B) an alien who is lawfully admitted for permanent residence and maintains his or her residence . . . in the United States; or

(2) the child was born out of wedlock in the United States to a mother who is (A) a citizen or national of the United States, or (B) an alien who is lawfully admitted for permanent residence and maintains her residence in the United States.
Professor Chen is both eloquent and right when he points out that children do not ask to be born and have no control over the place or circumstances of their birth. The attitude that the mothers of these children are "driven by a perfidious combination of greed and sloth to enter the United States illegally in order to give birth to 'anchor babies' and thereby to spark 'chain migration'" is nothing but odious demagoguery. As Professor Chen says:

No woman is evil who seeks to bring her child into a world of promise and not of squalor.
What is more, that desire is the most fundamental of American values, the very basis of our existence as a nation, and far nobler than the pious pandering that issues from the so-called "values candidates."

For this affront to core American values, Congressman J.D. Hayworth (R-Ariz. 5), sponsor of H.R. 3938, deserves to lose his reelection bid. So do his 33 cosponsors.
I most wholeheartedly agree!

Friday, October 13, 2006


Merry ... uh ... Xmas

The staid Times of London is reporting a rather surprising candidate for the best selling book this Christmas: Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion. It is already the top seller at Amazon, and is climbing up The Times bestseller chart.

Transworld, its publisher, has had to run several reprints since the book was published just over two weeks ago. More than 100,000 copies have now been printed, making it the year’s top-selling science book.
I can't quite understand how, from the descriptions I've seen, Dawkins' tome qualifies as a "science" book, but never mind . . .

[Dawkins] argues that monotheism and polytheism are equally absurd and attempts to knock down the 13th-century "proofs" for the existence of God drawn up by Thomas Aquinas.

He attacks more modern concepts such as the "God of the gaps", condemns Creationism and blames religion itself rather than religious extremism for manifestations of fundamentalism, such as suicide bombers in Islam.

In the book he writes: "Some people have views of God that are so broad and flexible that it is inevitable that they will find God wherever they look for him. One hears it said that ‘God is the ultimate’ or ‘God is our better nature’ or ‘God is the universe’.

"Of course, like any other word, the word ‘God’ can be given any meaning we like. If you want to say that ‘God is energy’, then you can find God in a lump of coal."

Come Christmas morning, Dawkins might just be able to test that hypothesis directly.


Just a Little More Faith

You may have heard by now of David Kuo's potential blockbuster (in more ways than one) new book, Tempting Faith: An Inside Story of Political Seduction. It is being reported that Kuo, who was the number two man in the White House's faith-based initiatives program, reveals that "President Bush's top political advisers privately ridiculed evangelical supporters as 'nuts' and 'goofy' while embracing them in public and using their votes to help win elections."

What has been the reaction of the White House? Why, they whistled up former speechwriter Michael Gerson, who called Kuo's account "laughable." You might even say that they consider Kuo's account ... oh, I don't know ... "nuts" and "goofy"?
Fool me once ...

Thursday, October 12, 2006



It's forehead slap time again!

I can't tell whether Chuck Colson is merely the conduit or the perpetrator of this bit of stunning stupidity. In an article in the Christian Post entitled "What Has Darwin to Do with Shakespeare?," Colson reports that Benjamin Wiker and Jonathan Witt’s new book, A Meaningful World, has expanded "the narrow concept that many people have of 'intelligent design.'" Supposedly, "Wiker and Witt are arguing against what they call the "poison" of our time: reductionist materialism and the nihilism that stems from it." And what kind of reasoning do they bring to this task? According to Colson, it goes like this:

Most of us have heard someone say that "if a million monkeys banged away on typewriters for a million years, eventually they would generate the entire works of Shakespeare." I have tended to laugh this off as most of us do, not aware that the people who embrace reductionist materialism are really serious.

As Wiker and Witt explain it, "Reductionist materialism seeks to give an entirely material explanation of human intelligence, one that reduces it to a string of pointless material causes. It must kill the soul, and in the process, reduce all the evident genius of humanity to dust."

And that, the authors show us, is exactly why materialists came up with the "million monkeys" idea. Scientific reductionism -- the view that we all came into being by random chance -- is closely linked to literary reductionism -- the desire to "force the beauties of [literature] into [a] box."

Thus, scientists came up with the "million monkeys" theory to show that Shakespeare’s genius was nothing special, that his works could have come about purely by chance. And, the theory goes, "If monkeys could knock out a Shakespearean tragedy given enough time, then what about creating Shakespeare himself? Couldn’t he be almost as easily explained on Darwinian grounds?"
The only problem, of course, is that scientists have never said any such thing. Mathematicians have demonstrated the infinite monkey theorem, which states that a monkey hitting keys at random on a typewriter keyboard for an infinite amount of time will almost surely type or create a particular chosen text, such as the complete works of William Shakespeare. I'll spare you an attempt to explain the proof of this by anyone as innumerate as me. The Wikipedia article can handle that. Nowhere has this theorem been proposed as an explanation for evolution or the source of genius (which would take an infinitely old Shakespeare).

No doubt someone said "if a million monkeys banged away on typewriters for a million years," but only out of ignorance of the real theorem. To base an argument for design on the misunderstanding of mathematics by the "man on the street" is a delicious (but again painful) irony.

As for the ID cohort, methinks it is like a weasel.


Euphemism Euthanized

Denyse (accent on the "Deny") O'Leary is over at Wild Bill Dembski's place trying to convince everyone that a "thinkquote" is something other than a quote mine.

Matt, at his euphonious blog, Pooflingers Anonymous, has taken the time to show that Mrs. O'Leary's cow is still passing the usual product through the same old orifice, when it comes to the quote mine of cell biologist Roger Stanier. We'll be looking at the rest over at talk.origins, where the following comments showed up:

Stile4aly: Did anyone else see "thinkquote" and think that it might be double plus ungood?

John Wilkins: We have always been at war with Rationalia.


Wednesday, October 11, 2006


More Educational Success

More reason for school celebration!

Hot on the heels of the decision concerning the science curriculum in Michigan comes a vote in Ohio to stop a committee's consideration on a replacement to the stealth-ID lesson plan the board eliminated in February and end the debate over teaching evolution, at least for now.
The suggested guidelines were for teaching "controversial topics" and would advise students to form judgments using "critical analysis." In short, they were more of the ID replacement ploy of injecting unwarranted doubt into science education. They feigned "balance" by broadening the subject areas to which critical analysis was to be applied. It was pure coincidence, of course, that the other subjects floated, global warming, cloning and stem-cell research, are also bête noires of the radical right.

Anyway, 14 to 3, the board voted to set aside further debate on this "replacement" policy. That is not the end of it, as might be expected. Co-chairman of the committee, Michael Cochran, said he would keep the debate alive:

I will guarantee you that as long as I am chair of the committee, it's gonna be on the agenda next month.
It seems that these "values candidates" don't include democracy among the values they want to bring to government.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006


Straight A's

The Michigan State Board of Education got it right!

On Tuesday, the board approved public school curriculum guidelines that support the teaching of evolution in science classes – but not intelligent design.

Intelligent design instruction could be left for other classes in Michigan schools, but it doesn't belong in science class, according to the unanimously adopted guidelines.

"The intent of the board needs to be very clear," said board member John Austin, an Ann Arbor Democrat. "Evolution is not under stress. It is not untested science."
In the face of pressure from the state legislature and the accidental injection of this issue into the gubernatorial election by conservative Dick DeVos, the board is to be commended for doing what is right for education instead of what might be politic.

Well done!
Opps, Maybe Make That a B+
It seems I may have spoken a tad too soon. A little more searching around found this:

The board had delayed a vote on adopting the science curriculum standards for one month at the request of the Republican-led Legislature, which wanted more time to weigh in on the issue.

Lawmakers were successful in persuading the state board to make one potentially significant switch. Language that already was included elsewhere in content expectations provided to schools also will be put in a notebooks that are given to teachers.

That language encourages science teachers to emphasize critical thinking, scientific inquiry and the use of relevant scientific data to assess the validity of scientific theories.
Now, nothing bad needs come from this, but those are code words for ID misrepresentations of the current state of the evidence for evolution that, themselves, are borrowed straight from their less sophisticated creationist brethren. Such language may serve as cover for individual teachers who want to introduce creationism into their classes and for local school boards who want to encourage such dishonesty. That, of course, has been the Discovery Institute's fallback position for some time now.

So maybe we have to make that two-and-a-half cheers.

Monday, October 09, 2006


God On the Quad

This is gonna wreck Ann Coulter's day.

Listen to many critics of higher education, and you would think that faith had been long ago banished from the quad — or at least all those quads not at places like Notre Dame or Liberty or Yeshiva.

It turns out though, that there are plenty of believers on college faculties. Professors may be more skeptical of God and religion than Americans on average, but academic views and practices on religion are diverse, believers outnumber atheists and agnostics, and plenty of professors can be found regularly attending religious services.

Those are the findings of a survey that was conducted and analyzed by two sociologists, Neil Gross of Harvard University and Solon Simmons of George Mason University. In short, the study suggests that the "common perception" that professors are atheists is simply not true. Here are the numbers:

Professors and Belief in God

Positions of Belief .................. % of Professors

I don’t believe in God. ................ 10.0%

I don’t know whether there is a God
and I don’t believe there is any way
to find out. ........................... 13.4%

I don’t believe in a personal God, but
I do believe in a Higher Power of some
kind. .................................. 19.6%

I find myself believing in God some
of the time, but not at others. ......... 4.4%

While I have my doubts, I feel that
I do believe in God. ................... 16.9%

I know God really exists and I have
no doubts about it. .................... 35.7%

The survey included religious institutions and, unsurprisingly, there were significant differences between those and secular schools:

Faculty members at religious colleges made up about 14 percent of the sample in the survey and they were more likely to believe in God. While 52 percent of professors in non-religiously affiliated colleges believe in God either despite doubts or without doubt, 69 percent of those at religious colleges feel that way. Professors are most likely to be atheists or agnostics at elite doctoral institutions (37 percent) and less likely to be non-believers at community colleges (15 percent).
Among individual disciplines:

... professors in psychology and biology are the least likely to believe in God (about 61 percent in each field are atheists or agnostics), with mechanical engineering not far behind at 50 percent. Professors most likely to say that they have no doubt that God exists are in accounting (63 percent), elementary education (57 percent), finance (49 percent), marketing (47 percent) and nursing (44 percent).
That may do some damage to the Salem Hypothesis. Other interesting tidbits:
  • A "surprisingly high" proportion (19 percent) of professors identify as "born-again Christian" (and they are not restricted to religious colleges -- the share at secular institutions over all is 17 percent).
  • Six percent of professors view the Bible as the "word of God," 52 percent see it as "an ancient book of fables, legends, history and moral precepts," and 42 percent see it as "the inspired word of God."
The authors of the study suggest:

The fact that a higher proportion of professors are religious than the usual story of academic secularization would have us believe suggests that we need more research on the causal impact of professors’ religious value commitments on the formation of their ideas.

Sounds like a good idea.
Oh, and I was just kidding about Coulter. She's never let facts get in the way before and she's not likely to now.

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