Saturday, March 31, 2007


Competition at the Bottom

Is Jay Richards trying to take William Dembski's place as the most mealy-mouthed proponent of the Intelligent Design Movement?

In an interview in the Christian Post, that had all the hard-hitting bite that you might expect from a Sal Cordova grilling of the reigning champ, Richards shows real promise as a challenger for the ... uh ... top spot.

The interview focuses on the criticism leveled by the science faculty of Southern Methodist University at the upcoming use of campus facilities for a Discovery Institute publicity tour and blatherfest called "Darwin vs. Design." Jason Rosenhouse, brave of heart and strong of stomach, attended the inaugural performance of the roadshow in Knoxville, Kentucky and has reported at length.

Richards is a theologian associated with the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty* (the interviewer for the Christian Post inexplicably left out the "Study of Religion and Liberty" part), a fellow of the Discovery Institute and co-author of The Privileged Planet with astronomer Guillermo Gonzalez. Richards and his arguments figure prominently in Part 2 of Jason's account of the DI dog and pony show.

Richards begins the interview with a blatant attempt at "framing," by using terms that will be considered pejorative within his target audience, without even acknowledging the arguments and terms his opponents use for the concepts he is criticizing:

The problem is what developed in the 19th Century; the widespread idea called scientific materialism became, essentially, the intellectual orthodoxy. It basically says that, to explain anything scientifically, it has to be explained in purely materialistic terms.
In fact, scientists and philosophers of science speak of "methodological naturalism" as the basis for scientific inquiry. Science, as it has been conceived for at least the last 150 years and as it has actually been practiced for a lot longer than that, is an attempt to discover "natural" (as opposed to "supernatural") explanations for the phenomena around us. This "naturalism," however is only "methodological." That is, it is merely a stance taken solely for the purposes of the limited-in-scope study called "science." It is not an assertion of the nature of any ultimate reality, such as is implied by the use of the term "materialism," long associated with a philosophy that nothing exists but matter. Of course, some scientists are materialists or, perhaps more historically correct in this context, atheists, but many are not, with Kenneth Miller, Francis Collins and Owen Gingrich as prominent counter-examples. Science itself, as far as the arguments between and among atheists and theists are concerned, is secular, standing apart from those arguments no matter how much the various sides try to drag it to their defense.

As philosopher of science, Robert T. Pennock, has said: "Science is godless in the same way that plumbing is godless." Or as John Stuart Mill said for an earlier generation:
To say that secular means irreligious implies that all the arts and sciences are irreligious, and is very like saying that all professions except that of the law are illegal.
Richards continues:

It seems perplexing to people that the faculty at Southern Methodist University would object to arguments from science that would confirm some belief they have as Christians. But the truth of the matter is that scientific materialism is so pervasive that it is almost as common in Christian universities as it is at state universities.
The truth of the matter, as can be seen from the above discussion, is that it only seems perplexing when people are being deliberately misleading about the nature of science or have fallen for such guff.

What Richards is really suggesting is that Christians who are also scientists, and who have honorably pursued science by its internal logic and rules, should now, for political reasons in avoiding the Establishmant Clause of the Constitution, agree to dress up beliefs they have as Christians as if they are science and peddle them at public expense to those who Richards and his ilk think are too stupid to grasp the concept of a naturalistic science as easily as they manage to grasp naturalistic plumbing.

Then Richards goes into a vague tap dance about ID being based on "public evidence," rather than "parochial interpretations" of Genesis. To the extent that any head or tails can be made from this, he seems to be saying that, as long as you strip out any specific references from any particular scripture, an argument is "scientific." Of course, that's nonsense that, if nothing else, fails to deal with materialists and other non-religious scientists who don't accept arguments to a natural "Designer," because of the utter lack of evidence for one who could, as John Wilkins put it, "visualise all possible combinations of chemistry over billions of years," and who won't accept the ("nudge, nudge, wink, wink, know what I mean?") unnatural Designer.

The very point of limiting science to natural explanations is to allow scientists of all philosophies and theologies to have a common, if limited, language with which to interact and a common, if limited, method with which to jointly investigate the natural world. If they want to discuss their philosophies and theologies outside their scientific pursuits, they are free to do so and to appeal to the results of science as arguments in favor of their positions. But it is wrong for either side to pretend such discussions are scientific arguments. ID may be "public" in scope, it's just not "scientific."
Richards can thus agree that ID is "consistent with a variety of different natural histories," including evolution. In addition, Jason Rosenhouse reported that, during a question and answer session at the end of the Knoxville Chautauqua meeting that included Richards, when the question was asked where ID stood on the old-Earth/young-Earth controversy within creationism, the response the panel gave was that it is an "age-neutral argument," with people on both sides within the ID camp. It seems that ID is compatible with everything ... except a universe in which people are incapable of pointing to something and saying "that looks designed to me!" But something so pliable as to be compatible with everything, explains nothing.

So Richards can agree that organisms "share common ancestry with one another." What he objects to is that such ancestry is due to a "purely impersonal process like natural selection." But, hold on! What could be more impersonal than an unknown Designer who you cannot even try to find anything out about?

Huh? ... oh, I get it! Neeeever mind!

* The Center for Media and Democracy calls the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty "a libertarian think tank, part of the Atlas Economic Research Foundation network, which promotes laissez-faire economics and public policy within a Christian framework."

Friday, March 30, 2007


History, Hagiography and Hesitation

John Wilkins, an unregenerate antipodian and philosopher of science, has posted a couple of times in the past few days at his blog, Evolving Thoughts, about two cental myths about Darwin: that he hesitated for 20 years before publishing his theory out of concern about how his theory would be received and that, at the time Darwin did publish, all British naturalists held to divine special creation of species.

The first post is a short review of an article by John van Whye, who is the person behind the happy development that almost the entirely of Darwin's works are online in searchable form. Whye's article is available at the Royal Society's site in both html and pdf form and is entitled "Mind the gap: did darwin avoid publishing his theory for many years?" Whye shows that, not only did Darwin set his schedule for publishing on evolution well before Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation, the scientific reaction to which supposedly caused his "caution," was first published in 1844, but that Darwin's work had already become so well-known in the scientific establishment of the day, that his concerns about its reaction there could not be as great as they are made out.

In his second post, John uses Darwin's comment, at the outset of the Origin of Species, that the book addresses "that mystery of mysteries, as it has been called by one of our greatest philosophers," as a springboard to show that, at the time Darwin published, "it appears to have been a widespread view if not the consensus, that species transformed."

As John points out, we ... and scientists are hardly immune ... like out heroes outsized. Add to that the fact, as one of John's favorite books, David L. Hull's Science as a Process, maintains, there is a "strategy" to the interaction of scientists where, if you tie your work to a "great man" or "great woman," you are then committed to defending and enhancing the reputation of your source of legitimacy. As John recounts it:

The Heroic View of Science was employed by the leaders of the Modern Synthesis at and around the time of the Centenary of the publication of the Origin in 1959. One of the rhetorical moves they made was to use Darwin as the solitary genius, allowing that Wallace was equally so, who changed forever the way science was done.
By painting the scientific community of the time as uniformly (and religiously) against Darwin, the hagiographers make the dragon slain more ferocious and all-encompassing. And explaining the lag between Darwin's conception and the ultimate (and rather harried) publication of Origin as understandable fear on his part, makes his smashing success all the greater.

Scientists are not above myth making. They are, after all, just human.


The Ecology of Politics

You have to go "uh oh" when you hear a freshman politician say something like this:

I’m afraid that people, even elected officials, make decisions they are not qualified to make ... [T]here’s no process requiring a legislator to demonstrate even a basic command of an issue before he or she steps forward to vote on it. Their votes can have far-reaching consequences and they owe it to their constituents to be educated.
He also laments that "there is no peer-review process in citizen politics; no establishment of baseline facts; no arbiter who says that what an elected official says is truth or fiction ... no reprimand for speaking hearsay or gleaning one’s information from the tall tales that swirl in taverns and are later proved to be mythology."

This is, of course, the glaring fly in the ointment of democracy: the people who serve as the peer-reviewers of politicians are the mass of people who populate those very taverns and take their mythology as ... well ... scripture.

Fortunately, unlike so many of his colleagues, State Representative Mike Phillips of Montana appears to have the tools to do what his constituents may not be prepared to do.

By profession, Phillips is a trained wildlife biologist and former civil servant who helped to successfully usher wolves back to the Southeastern U.S. (red wolves) and Yellowstone National Park (gray). He studied grizzlies in the Alaskan Far North, worked under the mentorship of famed wolf biologist L. David Mech, and spent most of his life in the field, on the ground, talking to local residents about the value of wildlife in their lives.
He seems to be learning fast. I'll leave it to you to read of his first few months among the wild politicos:

... the legislator who wants to spend $200,000 in taxpayer funds to have Montana help a private group join a lawsuit to hasten the removal of wolves from the protected species list, an action that the Fish and Wildlife Service already is pursuing ...

... the lawmaker whose website starts off "CAUTION: RAMBLINGS OF A CONSERVATIVE COW DOCTOR" (containing perhaps the scariest picture of a vet in the universe) and who says that the idea that carbon dioxide emissions are a cause of global climate warming is "the biggest hoax of the last 30 years" ...
All I can say, Mike, is, when you are done there, a wolf pack on a hunt is gonna seem like a litter of day old kittens.

Thursday, March 29, 2007


Religion For $100, Alex!

Americans are a deeply religious people who know nothing about religion according to author Stephen Prothero in his new book, Religious Literacy. The following is a portion of Prothero’s test of religious knowledge:

1) Name the four Gospels.
2) Name a sacred Hindu text.
3) Name the holy book of Islam.
4) Name the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, or Old Testament.
5) Name the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism.
6) What is Ramadan and in what religion is it celebrated?
7) What is the Golden Rule?
8) Name the 10 Commandments.
9) What does the First Amendment say about religion?
10) Is the saying "God helps those who help themselves" in the Bible?
Okay, I knew all except numbers 5 and 8 (though I got a majority of the 10 Commandments).

But it seems that, in a country where about 90% of the populace claim to be believers, an agnostic like me is nonetheless in the high end of scorers.

This is not just an amusing embarrassment to American theists, it can be deadly too. As Prothero, chair of Boston University’s religion department, says:

We see it played out every day on the killing fields of Iraq and Afghanistan. The inability of the people leading the "war on terror" to figure out the basics of Islam — Shiites? Sunnis? Kurds? Who knows? — only exacerbates the problem, he said.

"We’re surprised that all of a sudden, the Sunnis and Shiites are fighting, but that’s the kind of thing you would learn in high school," Prothero said.
If you need the answers, you can find them at the bottom of the article.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007


Around the World

Just a reminder that Americans aren't the only ones with creationist infestations:

South African deputy Science and Technology minister, Derek Hanekom, said at the Opening the Sasol SciFest 2007 science festival, that some teachers in his country are refusing to teach the concept of evolution despite the overwhelming scientific evidence that supports it.

In France, warning signals have gone off after Turkish Islamic creationist, Harun Yahya, made a mass mailing of free copies of his "Atlas of Creation" to schools across the nation. This caused concern in the scientific community:

Herve Le Guyader, a University of Paris biology professor who advised the Education Ministry on the Atlas, said high school biology teachers needed more training now to respond to the increasingly open challenges to the theory of evolution.

"It's often taught in a simplistic way," he said. "We have to give them the philosophical arguments they need to respond."
The head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Alexy II, has blasted the teaching of evolution in state schools as "unacceptable and there is the attempt by evangelicals in Kenya to hide away its national treasure consisting of its collection of hominid fossils. Even the highly secular, low in belief British have had their recent contretemps with its version of the Discovery Institute, Truth in Science, which also sent out unsolicited materials to schools.

I guess it comes with the torn jeans and DVDs.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007


Heartfelt Design

Flavonoids are antioxidant compounds found in wine, green tea, fruits and vegetables that are associated with a strong inverse correlation with cardiovascular disease. Among common foods, flavonoids are found in highest concentration in ... wait for it ... cocoa and dark chocolate.

In a study sure to warm the cockles of one antipodian philosopher of my acquaintance, the Yale Prevention Research Center in Connecticut conducted a trial to assess whether the consumption of cocoa would provide any sustained benefits for endothelial function. Okay ... I don't really understand what that is, except that it involves the single-cell lining covering the internal surface of blood vessels and cardiac valves that can "sense" changes in hemodynamic forces and blood-borne signals and "respond" by releasing vasoactive substances. I think we can assume, however, that high endothelial function good, low endothelial function bad.

Specifically, the team measured the function of the brachial artery to relax and expand to accommodate increased blood flow (also know as flow mediated dilation, or FMD) in adults with a body mass index (BMI) between 25 and 35 kg/m2. In the randomized, single-blind, placebo-controlled crossover study, 45 subjects recruited from the general population of southwestern Connecticut were randomly assigned to one of the three consumption groups: eight ounces of either cocoa without sugar, cocoa with sugar or placebo. For six weeks, all participants underwent endothelial function testing, assessing FMD of the brachial artery using high frequency ultrasound before and after the daily cocoa or placebo consumption.
Valentine Yanchou Njike, M.D., a co-investigator on the study, said "dark chocolate ingestion over a short period of time was shown to significantly improve endothelial function, leading our team to believe that greater benefit may be seen" when more extensive studies are done. Typically, the sciencey types have to play spoil sport:

While the findings from this study do not suggest that people should start eating more chocolate as part of their daily routine, it does suggest that we pay more attention to how dark chocolate and other flavonoid-rich foods might offer cardiovascular benefits.
Meanwhile, the Discovery Institute keeps prattling on about flagellum when the news that chocolate is good for you is the best evidence of a benevolent God ... er ... Designer I've heard yet.


So Mr. Cass, Do Your Friends Call You John?

William Dembski, diligently pursuing his new strategy for ID, decided to leave a birthday greeting for Richard Dawkins. I think anyone reading it might come to doubt its sincerity:

Happy Birthday from Ft. Worth, Texas

There are rare times and places, in the illustrious history of science, when outbursts of genius supply human civilization with the supreme wonders of human greatness. It is the contemplation of these that raises the mass of humanity to levels not unworthy of what, in less enlightened ages, we would have regarded as the divine image and which we now, rightly, regard as the pinnacle of evolutionary development. Such moments of supreme scientific achievement are to be found in the works of Archimedes, Copernicus, Newton, Maxwell, and Einstein. However, never before–or since–has scientific genius burst in such profusion on the human scene, as in the 19th century when Charles Darwin propounded his theory of evolution and taught the creatures of evolution to understand that they are products of evolution. If an award were to be given for the single best idea anyone ever had, it would go to Darwin, ahead of everyone else. In a single stroke, the idea of evolution by natural selection unifies the realm of life, meaning, and purpose with the realm of space and time, cause and effect, mechanism and physical law. Natural selection is the greatest, simplest, most elegant logical construct ever to dawn across our curiosity about the workings of natural life. It is inarguable, and it explains everything. Every human good that we enjoy today is, directly or indirectly, a legacy from what Charles Darwin wrought and what Richard Dawkins has preserved.


It is slightly more adult than his turn as sound effects man but lacking the slightest grace or class. Not content to let his juvenile behavior ... cough ... lie where it fell, he decided to post it at his own blog.
Hilariously, he actually felt the need to tell his merry band of sycophants that he wasn't serious, neatly revealing his assessment of their intelligence. Worse, Dembski goes on to complain that his birthday "greeting" hadn't been posted at Dawkins' site when, in fact, it had been, showing that Dembski has yet to master working the alphabet. Do you suppose that this time he'll tell us he acted like a jackass to please Dawkins on his birthday?

If being thought of as a moron is really some sort of advantage, Dembski's evolutionary fitness has gone through the roof!
Oh, and by the way, Dr. Dawkins ... Happy Birthday!
Via Pharyngula.

Monday, March 26, 2007


Hooray For Captain Spaulding!

There is an interesting article about Answers in Genesis' Creation Museum, presently under construction near Cincinnati, Ohio. While I think it is a bit over the top to be quoting Hannah Arendt's The Origins of Totalitarianism in connection with Ken Ham, there is more than a tad of truth in this summary of creationism by Chris Hedges, even if we have to call Godwin's Law on him:

The danger of creationism is that, like the pseudo-science of Nazi eugenics, it allows facts to be accepted or discarded according to the dictates of a preordained ideology. Creationism removes the follower from the rational, reality-based world. Signs, miracles and wonders occur not only in the daily life of Christians but in history, science, medicine and logic. The belief system becomes the basis to understand the world. Random facts and data are collected and made to fit into this belief system or discarded. When facts are treated as if they were opinions, when there is no universal standard to determine truth, in law, in science, in scholarship, or in the reporting of the events of the day, the world becomes a place where people can believe what they want to believe, where there is no possibility of reaching any conclusion not predetermined by those who interpret the official, divinely inspired text. This is the goal of creationists.
The comparison of creationism with Nazi eugenics is remote, in the sense that many lesser evils, more in the same league as creationism, are available for that purpose. Not least of them is the campaign by the Righteous Right to stop stem-cell research or to limit use of the human papilloma virus vaccine. Hyperbole, without a sense of humor, is an ugly sight.

On the other hand, the report of a visit to Hamland has some vivid pictures of how belief can slip the bonds of sense. My favorite, and the one that drew my attention to this in the first place, is the following:

Before Adam and Eve were expelled from paradise, museum visitors are told, all of the dinosaurs were peaceable plant-eaters. The evidence is found in Genesis 1:30, where God gives "green herb" to every creature to eat. There were no predators. T-Rex had such big teeth, the museum explains, so it could open coconuts.
That's nearly as insane as the parody that came out of the usenet site explaining spiders' webs before The Fall as being used to catch falling grapes. Once the spider drained them with its vegetarian fangs, Adam and Eve had nice raisins to eat.

It just goes to show you, as Alan Morgan said, "Any sufficiently advanced parody is indistinguishable from a genuine kook."

And, yes, I know Captain Spaulding was from Animal Crackers ... it just seemed appropriate as a title somehow.
Update: I was always a little concerned about the underlying article, since I couldn't independently confirm that anyone at AiG really maintained that T-Rexs needed their formidable teeth to open coconuts. Thanks to a hint by a commenter at Pharyngula, I checked Ken Ham's blog, which apparently isn't searched by AiG's own engine and found an entry where Ham denies the story. He does say that "all animals, including the T-Rex dinosaurs ate plants originally." Of course, he doesn't say why a vegetarian T-Rex needed six inch carnivore's teeth or how it managed to eat … well … whatever. But, hey! When you are positing a 6,000 old Earth, those kind of things are barely perceptible problems.

Sunday, March 25, 2007


Meeting of the Minds

Wes Elsberry left a brief report on the conference on intelligent design that he participated in, sponsored by Iowans for Religion and Science Dialogue at Wartburg College, that a while ago I surmised the folks at the Christian Post might be a bit disappointed in, given their apparent expectations. I'll just move his report up here:

The conference went well. I only heard about a couple of ID cheerleaders in attendance, none of whom apparently came to any of the workshops I was at.

My talk title was, "A Eulogy for Intelligent Design Brand Antievolution". I'm afraid that I didn't give the folks at the Christian Post what they were hoping for. Since ID brand antievolution began as deception and ended as "breathtaking inanity", I see no reason why any Christian would want to associate with it.

Wesley R. Elsberry

Which, for no reason whatsoever, reminded me of the entomology etymology of "symposium."


William Dembski Wants You to Think He's a Moron!

The doyen of the Intelligent Design Movement, William Dembski, has announced a new strategy (see Comment 4) in their campaign to unseat evolutionary science. He is now urging the proponents of ID to seek to convince their opponents that the movement is made up of morons!

This all started over a quote mine of certain disparaging remarks about the Irish taken from Darwin's The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex (1871), that Dembski posted at Uncommon Descent. I'm guessing that he got wind of this passage from a truly execrable article in Commonweal by Peter Quinn, titled "The Gentle Darwinians."

As pointed out by, among others, John Wilkins,* Dembski failed to reveal that the characterization of the "reckless, degraded, and often vicious members of society" associated, in a roundabout way, with the Irish, was not Darwin's own views but those of Francis Galton and W. R. Greg, with whom Darwin was in the process of disagreeing.

Dembski now claims to have known the correct context of the quote but intentionally did not include it in his attempt "to highlight Darwin’s attitude toward the Irish and underscore the invidious distinctions of race and ethnicity that his theory engenders," as a decoy for the "Darwinists" to chase after instead of the "the gist" of the quote mine.
Besides the fact that it is incredibly dishonest to "highlight" something by misrepresenting the context of another person's words, his claim sinks under its own weight, since, even if Darwin was less than politically correct by today's standards, that's hardly enough reason to ignore a century and a quarter's science since then. As to possible "alternative theories," John pointed out, before Dembski claimed he was only playing a moron on TV:

One might think Dembski is deliberately spinning the truth, or as we call it in technical philosophy, lying.

Denyse (accent on the "Deny") O'Leary has come to Wild Bill's ... um ... "defense" by claiming that the reason The Descent of Man included unflattering characterizations of the Irish was because of "Darwin's Brit toffery"!!! Well, Denyse sure took to Dembski's ploy like a loon to water, didn't she?

Anyway, I think Dembski is really on to something with this plan! In any contest, it's always best to go with what comes naturally!

* John's post is soon to be a major new entry in the Quote Mine Project.

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Saturday, March 24, 2007


Prop Up the Ganda

The evil Darwinist faculty at Godless American universities are at it again, trying to suppress the brave scientists who are just trying to follow the evidence!

It seems that members of the anthropology, biology and geology departments at that bastion of materialism, Southern Methodist University, have written letters protesting the upcoming "Darwin vs. Design" conference, co-sponsored by the SMU law school's Christian Legal Society.

The university's interim provost, Tom Tunks, said that the school won't cancel the event but added that it does not endorse it:

Although SMU makes its facilities available as a community service, and in support of the free marketplace of ideas, providing facilities for those programs does not imply SMU's endorsement of the presenters' views.
The letter from the anthropology department said:

These are conferences of and for believers and their sympathetic recruits. They have no place on an academic campus with their polemics hidden behind a deceptive mask.

Nicely said, that!
The faculty is concerned that holding the conference on-campus could send a message that scientists at the school support intelligent design. Dr. John Ubelaker, former chairman of the chemistry department, said:

This is propaganda. Using the campus for propaganda does not fit into anybody's scheme of intellectual discussion.
Hey! I think they've got it!
Dr. Stephen Meyer of the Discovery Institute claims "We aren't trying to be sneaky."

Sorry, you can't help it as long as you're pretending ID is science.



Would it surprise anyone at all that Dr. Michael Egnor, the Discovery Institute's favorite surgeon for performing brain removals, warmed up for that gig by practicing some unsolicited, long-distance, politically-motivated, secondhand malpractice on Teri Schiavo?

In some ways worse than Bill Frist (who did the medical profession and the sick people of Tennessee a great favor by becoming a senator, even if the country as a whole couldn't say the same), Egnor persisted in misdiagnosing Ms. Schiavo as merely "a handicapped person," even after the autopsy results were in and it was clear to any sentient observer that Ms. Schiavo had died years before and all that had been left was a sad husk.

With all the honesty and attention to facts that we have recently come to expect from Dr. Egnor, he wrote a letter that appeared in the New York Times in June, 2005 that focused on how it was being touted in the media that the report stated that Ms. Schiavo "was probably blind" when she died. Actually, the report said that there was "hypoxic damage and neuronal loss in her occipital lobes which indicates cortical blindness." That's only a detail, of course, but isn't attention to detail something you might just want in a brain surgeon?

More egregious was his attempt to smear the people who brought attention to that part of the report:

Supporters of the decision to starve her to death have hailed this finding as bolstering their argument that withdrawal of her feeding tube was ethical.
I certainly do not remember anyone making that claim. In fact, the question of whether or not she could see was important only because Teri Shiavo's parents had been proclaiming that she could see and that was proof that she wasn't in a persistent vegetative state. In a monumental abuse of his power, Egnor's fellow spiritualist practitioner, Senator Frist, took to the Senate floor to issue a "diagnosis" of Shiavo as not being brain dead because, after watching a whole hour of videos of her, carefully selected by her parents, he could tell that "She certainly seems to respond to visual stimuli."

Thus, the real point of emphasizing that the vision centers in her brain were dead and gone was to demonstrate that idiots with more in the way of a political agenda than medical ethics can make fools of themselves before what is supposedly the greatest deliberative body in the world.

In an excruciating display of irony, Dr. Egnor said of the supporters of the concept that these decisions should be made by patients, their next of kin and their doctors:

Their reasoning is hard to follow.
Hey, Doc ... I have a diagnosis for your problem with that!

Friday, March 23, 2007


Sleep Depravation

If this doesn't strike you with equal parts of dismay and the giggles, you just ain't been paying attention:

[Tom] DeLay has put his deepest thoughts into print.
Fond of blaming the Columbine High School shootings on the decrease in morals caused by teaching evolution, DeLay nonetheless displays his own disrespect for the law of the land that also resulted in his resignation and pending trial:

Because there is a God who has spoken, issues like marriage, abortion, homosexuality and the death penalty are not matters of opinion. They are matters of revelation. There are moral absolutes and public policy should be built upon them.
Is their any doubt that his oath to uphold the Constitution meant absolutely nothing to him? So who was it that was subliminally feeding him evolution at night?

Thursday, March 22, 2007


Getting Flocked

I just got my copy of Flock of Dodos: Behind Modern Creationism & Intelligent Design by Barrett Brown and Jon P. Alston. I haven't gotten far into it but I like it already!

Tired of the Discovery Institute's Weltanschauung of whine? The book has a take-no-prisoners, there's-no-ass-like-a-wise-ass attitude that I, you may have noticed, aspire to. So the next time an incredible weasel like Casey Luskin starts complaining about ID being called "creationism in a cheap tuxedo" or some such, whip this out:

Politeness is wasted on the dishonest, who will always take advantage of any well-intended concession, and the leaders of the so-called "Intelligent Design" movement, as we shall see, are so incredibly dishonest that they could cause a veteran heroin addict to blush -- not out of any moral objection on the part of the addict, but rather out of embarrassment that anyone could be so darned bad at lying.
The only problem is the authors are a tad too nice ...

Wednesday, March 21, 2007


Watch Your Ankles

Casey Luskin, the Discovery Institute's attack chihuahua, is threatening to produce one of his trademark interminable multipart self-immolations. This time, of all people, Casey is taking on Elliott Sober, one of the premier philosophers of science of our times. Casey is exercised about Professor Sober's article demolishing ID that I've previously discussed.

Casey tries to build an argument that, because Fred Hoyle, the late astrophysicist and ... um ... differently saned partisan of some tilts that would have given Don Quixote pause, actually used the words "intelligent" and "design" in that order, that's enough to demonstrate that ID wasn't just a ploy to avoid the consequences of Edwards v. Aguillard. Sir Fred was giving an Omni Lecture at the Royal Institution about "Evolution from Space," his notion of panspermia, when the words passed his lips.

The silly aspect of this argument is that the usage by Hoyle was only discovered by the ID crowd earlier this year by some contributor to the blog Telic Thoughts, so the attempt to claim intellectual descent from Hoyle is transparently false.

And, by the way, the Ministry of Misinformation should really get its act together. Jonathan Witt, discussing the discovery of the Hoyle quote, called Sir Fred an "agnostic" but when the story gets to the overexcited Casey, Hoyle has become "an atheist."

But amusement number one is that, even if we grant Casey's claims for the sake of argument, that means ID aspires to be a "legitimate scientific alternative to Darwinism" in the same mold as pansperrmia ... which may be the only remotely scientific-sounding idea in the last 30 years to have produced even fewer actual results than ID.

Such high ambitions!
This is too rich not to move to up top. Eamon Knight asked in the comments:
[D]oes this mean that ID is (to use Dumbski's logic) a "ground-clearing operation" for Raelianism?

Tuesday, March 20, 2007


He Shouldn't Feel Egnored!


Dr. Michael Egnor is a Paleyist (an only slightly adolescent tit for the thoroughly dishonest "Darwinist" tat) who is busily kicking the props out from under the trope " ... it ain't brain surgery, ya know!"

Bent on proving that you don't need to be overly bright ... or overly honest, take your pick ... in order to be licensed to open up people's skulls and root around, the good doctor has been trying to trade in on the public's respect for the medical profession to spread the totally stale, predictably lame, deeply anti-science, creationist bafflegab about evolution.

Google being what it is, Coturnix has suggested that we make sure that, if you look up Michael Egnor on the web, you get information as well as the opposite. Hence, find below, copied from PZ Myers, some of the people striving to keep America's collective IQ in double figures. Spread it around! As PZ said:

It seems only fair. Teach the controversy! .

Michael EgnorMichael EgnorMichael EgnorMichael EgnorMichael EgnorMichael EgnorMichael EgnorMichael EgnorMichael EgnorMichael EgnorMichael EgnorMichael EgnorMichael EgnorMichael EgnorMichael EgnorMichael EgnorMichael EgnorMichael EgnorMichael EgnorMichael EgnorMichael EgnorMichael EgnorMichael EgnorMichael EgnorMichael EgnorMichael EgnorMichael EgnorMichael EgnorMichael EgnorMichael EgnorMichael EgnorMichael EgnorMichael EgnorMichael EgnorMichael EgnorMichael EgnorMichael EgnorMichael EgnorMichael EgnorMichael EgnorMichael EgnorMichael EgnorMichael EgnorMichael EgnorMichael EgnorMichael EgnorMichael EgnorMichael EgnorMichael EgnorMichael EgnorMichael EgnorMichael EgnorMichael EgnorMichael EgnorMichael EgnorMichael EgnorMichael EgnorMichael EgnorMichael EgnorMichael EgnorMichael EgnorMichael EgnorMichael EgnorMichael EgnorMichael EgnorMichael EgnorMichael EgnorMichael EgnorMichael EgnorMichael EgnorMichael EgnorMichael EgnorMichael EgnorMichael EgnorMichael EgnorMichael EgnorMichael Egnor .......................................

Monday, March 19, 2007


Am I the only one who wonders if Halliburton's move to Dubai is intended to give Dick Cheney someplace to hide once taxpayers no longer have to provide him an "undisclosed location"?


Red Glare

Our old friend, George Deutsch, is getting a 30 second extension on his 15 minutes of fame … er … infamy. He got to testify at the House Oversight and Reform Committee chaired by Rep. Henry A. Waxman to the effect that, under the Bush administration, NASA had standard practices for keeping scientists in check:

Among those practices were that PAOs should listen to interviews as they’re being conducted, that superiors can do interviews in someone’s stead (known as the 'right of first refusal'), and that NASA employees should report interview requests to the Public Affairs office. In fact, one of my duties was to send out a daily email to senior NASA Public Affairs personnel known as 'On The Record,' in which I detailed the day’s media requests.
Hired as a Public Affairs Officer for NASA when he was only 23 years old, Deutsch's "only previous experience was an internship for the George W. Bush reelection campaign and an assistant position on the Presidential Inaugural Committee" and he quit when it was revealed that he had lied on his resume about having a college degree. Mr. Deutsch certainly lived up to the lofty expectations his training engendered.

Dr. James Hansen, director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, also testified:

In my more than three decades in government, I have never seen anything approaching the degree to which information flow from scientists to the public has been screened and controlled as it has now. Review and editing of scientific testimony by the White House OMB (Office of Management and Budget) seems to now be an accepted practice.

There is little doubt that the Administration’s downplaying of evidence about global warming has had some effect on public perception of the climate change issue. The impact is to confuse the public about the reality of global warming, and about whether that warming can be reliably attributed to human-made greenhouse gases.
Hmmm. Did you just hear a loud noise ...

Sunday, March 18, 2007


Backward Nations

There is this story about how the Indonesian Ministry of Health has refused to provide samples of the H5N1 "bird flu" virus to the World Health Organization until it receives assurance that it will have access to pandemic vaccines.

Since then, a WHO official said Tuesday, the organization's international network of collaborating laboratories at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta and three other cities has not been able to obtain samples of the virus from Indonesia, the country hardest hit by bird flu, with 81 laboratory-confirmed cases and 63 deaths.
The reason for this is that Indonesia is afraid that the virus samples they provide to the WHO will be used to make vaccines that are too expensive for their citizens to buy. They have no little cause for concern:

The entire world manufacturing capacity for influenza vaccine is sufficient to immunize only 500 million people, and perhaps only half that if more than one dose is required.

Most vaccine for H5N1 has been sold to developed countries before it is produced - or even completes clinical trials - to be stockpiled in case of a pandemic.

Indonesian Health Minister Siti Fadilah Supari has been quoted in press accounts as saying her government wants to "create a balance between developed and developing countries in facing catastrophe."
"The WHO has been siding with capital owners, which sometimes forget the good of the people," she said. "We want to change that."
As the British magazine New Scientist has said:

In a fair world, Indonesia would send its virus to the best labs and share in any vaccine made from it. In our world, Indonesia sends off its virus, companies make vaccine from it and sell it to countries that can pay. Indonesia is not one of them, and neither are the other countries suffering badly from H5N1.
But why is the WHO worried at all? Why all the interest, even angst, over a vaccine? After all, bird flu is a rather difficult disease for humans to get, requiring intimate contact with birds that is not common in developed countries. Even in a nation like Indonesia, with over 32 million families in a vast archipelago raising chickens in their backyard, there has been only 81 cases and 63 deaths. Worldwide, only 278 people have gotten the disease with 168 deaths. So why are vaccines selling out before they are even made?

Without the samples, flu experts are unable to track changes that are building up in the genes of H5N1, the influenza virus health experts fear could evolve into a human strain and cause a pandemic.
But that eminent doctor and Paleyist theorist, Michael Egnor, has assured us that medicine does not need to understand evolution to deal with such things as bacterial resistance "strategies." Doesn't that go as well for the "strategies" viruses use to change their infection vectors so as to make them more infectious to humans? Why are so many doctors at the WHO and the CDC so worried about this, since an understanding of evolution isn't needed for medicine?

For the record, on the issue of Indonesia sharing viral samples, I agree with the following:

Maurice Middleberg(cq), a vice president of the Global Health Council, a group that advocates efforts to improve the health of people in developing countries, said the practice of sharing virus is essential to confronting the influenza threat - but the needs of developing countries must be considered also.

"The exchange of scientific information is essential to preventing the emergence of a global pandemic, but a way also must be found so that countries that cannot afford vaccine at commercial rates will be able to get it," Middleberg said.
Now, if we can only manage an exchange of scientific information with certain elements within the United States.



National Geographic Channel

Sunday, March 18, 2007

8:00 p.m.

(Eastern and Pacific time)

Also airs:
Monday, March 19 and
Thursday, March 22



Saturday, March 17, 2007


Too Good Not To Steal


From John Wilkins and his correspondent, Søren Delövenbo.


Suffering Through the Snow Job

Just idling along here on a Saturday morning before I have to go out and dispose of the snow sent by a vengeful Saint Patrick who is doubtless ticked at Larry Moran's temerity in questioning just why there are no snakes in Ireland:

The loons are, for the moment, riding at a low ebb, which is why I took notice of the poor students at the Blue Valley School District in the Kansas City, Kansas area, who face the prospect of one Charley Morasch jostling for control of their educational fates.

Quite apart from his answers to inquiries about his ideas on the funding of education, which are too painful to repeat here, Mr. Morasch is asked the obligatory questions about whether intelligent design should be taught in the public schools and, if so, in what context or class. He delivers this:

I certainly support open discussion in the classroom of the evidence for and against evolution or creation. I do not believe that the problems with macro evolution (ex. lack of transition skeletons and the complexity of DNA which negates Darwin’s spontaneous generation of life) are allowed to be freely discussed in the classroom.
After noting that Charley has no trouble identifying the "teach the controversy" ploy with Intelligent Design, despite the Discovery Institute's best efforts to disclaim any responsibility for or even knowledge of it, my next impulse is to admire how much ignorance Charley can pack into such a small space.

Transition skeletons? Damn! There goes all those trilobites as evidence of evolution. But talk about bad timing ... the ink is barely dry on Charley's questionnaire and up pops Yanoconodon, that "transition skeleton" you see above. You can go to PZ Myers' post on the wee beastie for the sciency bits but suffice it to say it is a lovely example of just how we mammals got, in Stephen Jay Gould's delightful phrase, "an earful of jaw."

Darwin's spontaneous generation and DNA? Wouldn't it be fun to make Charley explain that in detail?

Charley goes on to complain about "a federal judge enforcing what some might see as censorship" and about teachers not having "the freedom to follow the evidence," as if he had any clue what evidence there is on the subject.

If only Patrick could do something about the snakes in Kansas ...

Friday, March 16, 2007


Coming By It Naturally

Pat Robertson has gone over to the enemy!

In the "Christian News 24/7" section of the website of his Christian Broadcast Network, he has endorsed a naturalistic, God-denying, "scientific" (falsely so-called) theory pretending to be "fact," that is nothing more than another materialistic atheistic assault on the eternal truths of the Bible.

Robertson misleads the faithful by reporting that:

Millions of children eat in school cafeterias that don't get the twice-yearly health inspections required by Congress ...

Inspections are meant to ensure cafeteria workers wash their hands properly and that they keep lunchtime staples like pizza hot or milk cold to prevent germs from growing.
Godless scientists will try to tell you that these so-called germs cause disease, even though no one has ever observed one of them actually making anyone sick. All Bible-believing Christians know that pestilence is inflicted on sinners directly by God. Just a few of the passages that prove this beyond doubt include Exodus 9:15; Numbers 14:12 and 2 Samuel 24:15.

It is a sad day for the faithful and for America when a former man of God turns to that Satanic whore of Reason to deny God His rightful place as the Creator of disease and pretend that He could be thwarted by merely washing hands! The next time someone tells you the lie about pestilence going from goo to flu by way of food, you just ask 'em:

Were You There?

Thursday, March 15, 2007


Bottom of the Barrel

The once-mighty Discovery Institute has come down to this!

Where once it was hard to peruse a newspaper without seeing some panjandrum of the DI's Ministry of Misinformation waxing oratorical on ID or proclaiming the imminent demise of everything that that had ever issued from Charles Darwin's intellectual loins, they now do battle with ... wait for it ... headline writers!

It seems that Robert Crowther is exercised over a "report" by that citadel of journalism, the Woodland, California Daily Democrat, in an article entitled "Evolution vs. 'Intelligent Design' debated" that:

... only Dr. Maureen Stanton, professor and chairwoman of the UC Davis Department of Evolution and Ecology, will "debat[e]" intelligent design vs. evolution. Apparently that’s the meaning of debate to some Darwinists.
If you go to the article itself, however, the word "debate" appears only in the headline and it is pretty obvious that no debate is, in fact, being advertised. Dr. Stanton's appearance is called a "presentation" and noted to be part of the "Cutting Edge of Science Lecture Series." Nor does the full title of Dr. Stanton's lecture seem in anyway to mislead: "Evolution vs. Intelligent Design: Which is Legitimate Science?" So it seems it was only the person who penned the headline ... and the overheated imagination of Mr. Cowther ... who might have thought a debate was involved.

Poignantly, apparently that’s the meaning of "controversy" to the DI nowadays.



Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English ypocrite, from Anglo-French, from Late Latin hypocrita, from Greek hypokrites actor, hypocrite, from hypokrinesthai
Date: 13th century

1 : a person who puts on a false appearance of virtue or religion
2 : a person who acts in contradiction to his or her stated beliefs or feelings

There's been a spate of examples bobbing to the top of the news of late that demonstrate the falsity of the notion that religion is the basis of morality. Perhaps more correctly, these examples show that public morality bears little, if anything, in common with that ostentatious religiosity that is the hallmark of the Righteous Right. The latest example of the truism that the louder someone proclaims the virtue of religion, the tighter your grip on your wallet and other valuables should be, comes courtesy of Lee Raudonis in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

It appears that some of Georgia's religious conservatives in the Legislature may have unwittingly outsmarted themselves. In their attempt to take a swipe at Charles Darwin and his theory of evolution, these legislators now find themselves in the awkward position of doing one thing and saying another.

On the one hand, they have sponsored Resolution 247 expressing the Senate's profound regret for Georgia's participation in the eugenics movement and the injustices done under eugenics laws, including the forced sterilization of Georgia citizens.

On the other hand, some of these same legislators say they are opposed to the passage of a resolution expressing "profound regret" for the injustices of slavery, claiming that neither they nor any Georgians alive today ever owned slaves, and therefore the state should not apologize for something current Georgians did not do.
As Mr. Raudonis points out, there are few, if any, people left who were responsible for the state's eugenics activity in the middle of the last century either. If death absolves all, then Georgians are about as blameless for forced sterilization as they are for forced labor in chains. So, why apologize for one and not the other?

I admit that I was puzzled when I first heard of Senate Resolution 247. It struck me as somewhat odd that a group of conservative legislators had suddenly become "bleeding hearts" who wanted the state to apologize for a past injustice. But after hearing more about the eugenics movement, I actually thought that the resolution might be worth passing, because the actions of the state truly were cruel and a violation of basic human rights. Then I looked up the bill on the General Assembly Web site, and the pieces fell into place. In the first three paragraphs of the legislation, "Charles Darwin," "Darwinian evolutionary theory" and "Darwinian principles" are mentioned as often as eugenics.

Although Darwin and his theory of evolution are no more to blame for eugenics than Christianity is for the Ku Klux Klan, the resolution's authors seem as interested in building a case that eugenics was "an outgrowth of Darwinian evolutionary theory" as in sincerely apologizing for the sterilizations the state committed.
But that still leaves the other problem:

How can these legislators say with a straight face that the state should express "profound regret" for what it did to several thousand citizens (mostly convicted criminals and the mentally disabled) while at the same time claim that there is no reason for the state to express "profound regret" for what it did to millions of citizens who were held in slavery or lived under segregation laws.
Why, they can simply appeal to that mother of morality, their religious beliefs:

So, here's a hint for any group that wants an apology from the state for a past injustice. Find some way to tie Charles Darwin and his theory of evolution to the injustice and you can be pretty sure that your measure will find several willing sponsors in Georgia's General Assembly.
Strangely, you'll find several willing hypocrites in the immediate vicinity as well.

Definition from the Merriam-Webster online dictionary.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007


Next Out of the Tiny Car ...

Well, our friend from the great state of Tennessee, Republican State Senator Raymond Finney of Maryville, a retired (whew!) physician, is having second thoughts about a resolution he introduced that would require the Democratic Education Commissioner, Lana Seivers, to respond to questions as to whether a supreme being created the universe. After getting considerable attention, much of it doubtless unfavorable, he is now saying "This may not be the time and place for that."

There was a brief sideshow while another Senator asked the state Attorney General if Finney's resolution violated the U.S. Constitution by setting up a "religious test" for the position of education commissioner. It was pretty obvious that it did not, since, as the AG found, the resolution "merely requests" answers and imposes no penalties if Commissioner Seivers declines to answer.

Back to the main circus ring:

Finney lives about 60 miles from Dayton, home of the 1925 Tennessee "Monkey Trial" that pitted evolution against the biblical creation story and resulted in the conviction of biology teacher John T. Scopes for teaching evolution.
Mary Bolden, who has taught biology for more than 25 years at Maryville High School said of Finney's resolution: "This sounds like the Scopes trial all over again." She goes on to show that high school teachers are probably inherently smarter than any politician:

When I have students coming into my class with those kinds of concerns, I always say, I appreciate your perspective, but you need to be aware of the scientific perspective. ... Of course their religious beliefs are their beliefs and we're not going to be discussing religious beliefs in science class.
But this is the really revealing part:

"I probably made a mistake in approaching it from a creation aspect, which raises red flags," Finney said Tuesday. "People get so sensitive about whether children might be exposed to any sort of religious thing."
As far as Finney is concerned, the problem wasn't that he was ultimately aiming to have the state violate the Constitution by using taxpayer money to teach sectarian religion, it's that people caught on too easily and got "upset" about legislators who want to break the law of the land. In other words, he thinks the problem is that he wasn't sneaky enough.

There's the moral power of religion at work!

Tuesday, March 13, 2007


Shown Up

The Missouri House of Representatives was considering a broad measure that would expand the ability of school districts to establish dress codes, dispense medications to students and use force to protect people and property. An amendment was temporarily adopted that would have stripped school districts of the power to prevent teachers from presenting their own opinions on issues in their classrooms.

House Minority Leader Jeff Harris, D-Columbia, warned the amendment would have involved the state in "the discussion of what can and cannot be taught in our classes - specifically, encompassing the teaching of intelligent design."
Originally adopted by a voice vote, the amendment was later removed from the bill by a vote of 142-8.

Rep. Brian Baker denied that he was trying to use his amendment to open the door to teaching intelligent design or creationism in public schools and asked that it be removed from the bill. ...

"The honest intent was to give the teachers some freedom to say these are some varying viewpoints that you can look at without being penalized for that," he said.
Uh huh. Anyway, the rush from the amendment may be indicative of a larger movement away from ID as a failed strategy.

Show me hopeful.

Monday, March 12, 2007


He's Baaack! He's Laaame!

Young master Aaron Vandenbos, over whom the Discovery Institute Ministry of Misinformation was acting motherly because someone said something nasty to him ... about the DI ... has returned the favor by towing the slippery company line over the recent "debate" between some pastor named Bryan Fischer and Witold Walczak, Legal Director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania and one of the lead attorneys in the Kitzmiller case.

Fischer had palpitations over the fact that, when he quoted some tough talk from PZ Myers about those who will lie to children and other intellectually defenseless people, the audience thought that being against educational child abuse was worth applauding. PZ gave Fischer all the attention he deserved but Vandenbos is too naive to have learned any better yet. He's already taking a lot of lumps in the comments to the article.

My interest is naturally piqued by Vandenbos trotting out Fischer's quote mining of Stephen Jay Gould for another go around the block:

For instance, Fischer brought up the (late) famous paleontologist Stephen J. Gould, who published a paper in the late 1970s admitting that the absence of transitional fossils in the record was the "trade secret" of paleontology. Walczak’s incredibly intelligent response included interrupting Fischer to snidely proclaim "He’s dead! (no … really!?), and then dismiss the whole thing as just more "creationist chestnuts."
Since I wasn't there (and I don't trust Vandenbos' memory to be unbiased) I'm guessing that Walczak meant something like 'Gould's dead and can't defend himself and this is just some more quote mining by a creationist.' But it doesn't matter much what Walczak meant because it is a really lame quote mine and Gould left a defense. I'll leave it to you to read it at the Quote Mine Project but Gould not only spoke of transitions often being found in the fossil record (though always less than greedy scientists would like) but expressed his bitterness over being misrepresented, that even a decent respect for the dead apparently cannot stop. Once again the people who try to tell us that you can't be moral and accept evolution lie blatantly about what another person said and/or lie about their familiarity with the person's intent.

The best Vanderbos can do is trot out the ploy of demanding unrealistic amounts of evidence that, in any case, could never be fulfilled. He characterizes Gould's statement about the evolutionary tree in the following terms:

... the nodes and tips of the evolutionary tree are supported by fossils, but not the branches in between ...
Again, you can read what Gould actually said at the QMP but imagine for a moment that you are looking over a valley and can see the tops of trees. You focus on one tree and can see a bit of the trunk, some of the branches where they are joined with the trunk and other places where branches split off from each other. But mostly you see the tips of branches and the leaves at the ends of those tips. Do you demand to see the entire tree before recognizing it for what it is? Anyone who does is gnawing on some agenda that will not admit that any evidence is enough. After all, were you there when the acorn started to sprout?

In a last ditch attempt at what is perhaps self-delusion, he practices projection, claiming the incident proves:

... beyond any doubt that the followers of Darwinism are themselves very religious, and very dogmatically opposed to any view other than their own. If it were conceded that ID is indeed religious, based on last Wednesday night no satisfactory argument could be offered that would demonstrate that evolutionists are any less so.
If it were conceded that ID is religious? It was Vandenbos who was recommending ID just days ago because, he said, "what if some supreme intelligence is the cause behind everything we see? What if God is the creator?"

Being angry at the dishonesty displayed by hypocrites like Fischer is apparently not a demonstration of a religious sentiment ... given the way the likes of Fischer and the Discovery Institute, Kent Hovind and Ken Ham can keep lying over and over again and still be clasped to the bosom of many of the faithful.


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