Thursday, December 31, 2009


Requiescat In Pace

Shirley Catherine Pieret

Beloved wife of John Pieret, daughter of Edna Lindsey, after a long illness.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009


Irony Whiplash

The PR gold mine the DI struck when the California Science Center cancelled the DI's disingenuous little fauxumentary, Darwin's Dilemma, is continuing to be exploited. But this from John West is just jaw-droppingly clueless:

The debate over whether nature is the product of intelligence or a blind process is one of the great debates of Western Civilization, and significant numbers of philosophers, scientists, and other scholars have espoused some form of intelligent design over the past century, including the co-discoverer of the theory of evolution by natural selection, Alfred Wallace! Comparing support for intelligent design to Holocaust denial is a shameful effort to suppress open debate by smear tactics. This tactic is especially appalling given the clear historical connection between Darwinism and the development of Nazi ideology itself. Given the role played by Darwinism in the ideology of the Holocaust, one would think that modern Darwinists would be a little squeamish in equating their critics to Holocaust deniers.

Of course, as the DI has made clear time and time again, "Darwinism" is its codeword for modern evolutionary theory and "Darwinists" include any scientist who sticks to science and doesn't end every paper with "And that's the way God did it."

In short, according to West, it is a perfectly praiseworthy and civil exercise to accuse scientists past and present with complicity in the Holocaust and to label them promoters of Nazi-esque ideology on highly suspect history but suggesting that ID advocates, who regularly deny the existence of scientific evidence (witness the witless Casey Luskin), are comparable to people who also deny massive amounts of evidence is appalling to West's delicate soul.

West's sensibilities are certainly dead to the sting of irony.


Tuesday, December 29, 2009


Non Sequitur Parade

Trouble, oh we got trouble,
Right here in Mason County!
With a capital "T"
That rhymes with "P"
And that stands for ...
you just never mind what it stands for!

The good folks of Mason County, West Virginia have discovered a s-e-x club in their very midst!

Of course, it took 'em several months to find out about it but that's no reason for them not to be shocked ... SHOCKED ... at such goings-on in their fine community! It seems The Riverside Club is a private, members-only s-e-x club with no signs outside. Nonetheless the good folks are angry!

Tammy Camden grew up in Mason County and is outraged by the club.

"We're a small town," she said. "A lot of the people go to church. Can you imagine what this going to do? What people do at home is their own business. When you put it on the streets, then it becomes our business."

Uh, Tammy ... they aren't doing it on the streets ... that's why they have the club and why you didn't find out about it until now. And if it's okay to do at home, it's okay to do it at a private club. But the non sequitur I'm really interested is the juxtaposition of the number of people who go to church and what the club is "going to do."

Are you expecting a drop in church attendance because a lot of people will be shouting "Oh, God!" down at the ol' Riverside come Sunday morning?

Monday, December 28, 2009


Nagel Redux

I recently gave another example of the Discovery Institute using Thomas Nagel's recommendation of Stephen Meyer's book, Signature in the Cell in the Times Literary Supplement for publicity purposes. In particular, Robert Crowther cited to an article at Lew Rockwell's libertarian site by David Gordon. A commenter, calling himself only "David," but writing as if he is Mr. Gordon, responded to the post and, on the presumption that he is Mr. Gordon, it is only fair to move his reply to the top of my blog.

First of all, here is the criticism I made of Mr. Gordon's article:

[A]s Gordon notes, Nagel doesn't claim knowledge of biology, much less theories of prebiotic chemical evolution. That simply raises the question why Nagel felt competent to pronounce Meyer's book to be a "detailed account of the problem of how life came into existence from lifeless matter – something that had to happen before the process of biological evolution could begin." Gordon's response that "Both Leiter and the chemist [Stephen Fletcher, Department of Chemistry, Loughborough University, who wrote a Letter to the Editor of the TLS] ignored the fact, much emphasized by Meyer, that such resorts to natural selection are controversial."

But it is Gordon who misses the point. As Nagel was competent enough to recognize, Meyer's "argument" is a conceptual one, that "argues that the available evidence offers no prospect of a credible naturalistic alternative to the hypothesis of an intentional cause." In short, Meyer is making a "just not so" argument, much like Behe's "irreducible complexity." Behe and Meyer are both claiming that, because they (supposedly) can't think of any way for some organ or structure to arise naturally, we should stop looking. A fully adequate response is "we can think of a way." And it doesn't matter if Meyer thinks prebiotic chemical evolution is "controversial." Neither Nagel nor, as far as I can tell, Gordon have the expertise to tell how accurate or honest Meyer's account is ... something of great importance, given the DI's penchant for quote mining and other dishonesty.

Nor is there any scientific reason to assume we won't find some other, presently unknown, route to the origin of DNA. Meyer is pushing an argument from ignorance that pales in comparison to the spectacular success science has racked up with the assumption -- methodological naturalism -- that natural phenomena, such as the chemistry of DNA, have natural explanations.

Which brings us to what Gordon calls "the attempt by Leiter and others to block inquiry that challenges naturalism." Really? Criticism is an attempt to block inquiry? That's a strange position for a libertarian to take. Not to mention that, since Gordon is criticizing Leiter and others who defend the scientific process, he must be attempting to block scientific inquiry.
Here is "David's" reply in full:

If I missed the point, I don't think that it's in the way suggested here. In his TLS letter, Stephen Fletcher criticized Nagel for denying that natural selection can be used to explain the origin of DNA. Fletcher said that the RNA World model shows that natural selection exists in the pre-organic world. I am entirely incompetent to evaluate the truth of Fletcher's claim, and I made no attempt to do so. But Meyer has a chapter in his book criticizing the RNA World, to which Fletcher makes no reference. This suggested to me that he hadn't read the book. Had he done so, he would have said, "Meyer wrongly denies that the RNA World establishes the existence of natural selection in the pre-organic world", or the like.

In similar fashion, Meyer discusses the claim made here that he is arguing from ignorance. But Mr. Pieret makes no reference to this. Once more, I am not concerned to defend Meyer, but rather to raise a question about the extent to which a critic is familiar with the book he purports to examine.

I certainly do not believe that criticism blocks inquiry; quite the contrary, criticism is essential. But it seems to me that the verbal assault on Nagel, a philosopher of great distinction, was excessive. Professor Leiter was certainly within his rights in assailing Nagel, from a libertarian standpoint, and I recognize that he feels strongly about the Discovery Institute. But I wish that he had expressed his views without disparaging Nagel.
I still don't think David is getting the point. Whether or not Fletcher has read Meyer's book, Nagel was in no position to judge Meyer's account of the RNA World model and was apparently unaware that scientists don't think it is conceptually bankrupt, though some may not think it is well supported or prefer some other model (of which there are several). And yet Nagel (foolishly, in my opinion) expressed an opinion that Meyer has credibly argued that there is "no prospect of a credible naturalistic alternative to the hypothesis of an intentional cause." Doing that in the popular press is not likely to spark truly academic debate on reductionism but is likely to mislead the vast majority of people who read his recommendation.

I freely admit that I haven't read Meyer's book but I have great familiarity with the arguments Meyer and other Discovery Institute PR hacks make. It's not like this stuff is anything new.

I am glad that David will grant that Brian Leiter is not trying "to block inquiry" but, as a Ph.D. himself, I'm somewhat amused that he is surprised at the venom that can arise between academics.


Blazing Irony


Deepak Chopra accusing Michael Shermer of "bad science"!

That could cause third degree irony burns.

[W]e have reached the state where Shermer's tired, out-of-date, utterly mediocre science is far in arrears of the best, most open scientific thinkers -- actually, we reached that point sixty years ago when eminent physicists like Einstein, Wolfgang Pauli, Werner Heisenberg and Erwin Schrodinger applied quantum theory to deep spiritual questions. The arrogance of skeptics is both high-handed and rusty. It is high-handed because they lump brilliant speculative thinkers into one black box known as woo woo. It is rusty because Shermer doesn't even bother to keep up with the latest findings in neuroscience, medicine, genetics, physics, and evolutionary biology. All of these fields have opened fascinating new ground for speculation and imagination. But the king of pooh-pooh is too busy chasing down imaginary woo woo.

Skeptics feel that they have won the high ground in matters concerning consciousness, mind, the origins of life, evolutionary theory, and brain science. This is far from the case. What they cling to is nineteenth- century materialism, packaged with a screeching hysteria about God and religion that is so passé it has become quaint. To suggest that Darwinian theory is incomplete and full of unproven hypotheses, causes Shermer, who takes Darwin as purely as a fundamentalist takes scripture, to see God everywhere in the enemy camp.

Umm ... science does not include the philosophical musings of people, no matter how famous a scientist they may be. And quote mining scientists doesn't make woo any less woo than it started out.

Chopra has a deep and, no doubt, abiding, misunderstanding of what science is. No matter how much Chopra likes to use the latest findings of science as springboards for his "speculation and imagination," the fact that he is using science as the starting point (to the extent he understands the science at all) does not change the character of his babbling into something other than rank speculation and fuzzy imagination.

That point is well made in the quote Chopra closes with, supposedly from Sir John Maddox, former editor-in-chief of Nature, writing in 1999:

Nobody understands how decisions are made or how imagination is set free. What consciousness consists of, or how it should be defined, is equally puzzling. Despite the marvelous success of neuroscience in the past century, we seem as far from understanding cognitive processes as we were a century ago.

Assuming the quote is in context and accurate, it says nothing more than "we haven't figured it out yet." It took humans a long time to figure out how stars shine and living organisms adapt; what atoms are and how old the Earth is. The "speculation and imagination" used to answer those questions before science could determine them were all wrong and there is no reason to think Chopra is any more right when he taps into his woo state.

Sunday, December 27, 2009


Ideal Christian Moviegoing

The Sensuous Curmudgeon has already justly rained scorn on this "review" of Creation, the British film about Charles Darwin now just coming to American shores, that appeared at the supposedly secular Detroit News website.

The "review" is actually a commentary that appears on the Editorial page. It should have appeared, if at all, on the Religion page. The Curmudgeon has already pointed out the "review's" theological, sermon-like content, such as this gem:

Despite its title, "Creation" is not about God creating the Earth. Instead, it's the story of evolution's founding father, Charles Darwin, and his struggle to write the book that would "kill God."

He left out my favorite part though. After noting that the movie has Emma reading the Origin and telling Charles that she agrees with it and it should be published, the "review" goes on to offer this criticism of the film's dramaturgy:

Another failure is the movie's neglect to tell viewers that Darwin's wife was a Unitarian. Unitarian beliefs are unbiblical and heretical, but they were widespread in England and parts of America at the time Darwin lived.

Opps. One of the icons of the "America is a Christian nation" crowd is John Adams, due to some pious platitudes he served up. But he was one of those unbiblical and heretical Unitarians too. One wonders if the reviewers will warn their audience about David Barton's use of that ungodly man's words.

Curious about the reviewers, Ted Baehr, Jeff Holder and Tom Snyder, respectively founder/publisher, managing editor and editor of Movieguide, I looked up their website. The "review" originally appeared at Movieguide but was edited, for reasons that will become obvious, before it appeared in the Detroit News. In the unedited "review," immediately before the paragraph that begins "'Creation' uses fallacious 'straw men' arguments by crudely depicting the Christians in its story as closed minded, cruel people," appears this:

There is a constant discussion of science vs. religion in "Creation" and evolution as the only rational truth. This is a one-sided bit of propaganda, however, because there is much that is not said. For instance, evolutionists have yet to produce any tangible evidence of intermediary species, that is, evidence that an ape turned into a human. Scientists should have found thousands upon thousands of transitional species in the fossil record, if Darwinism were true, but such fossils have never really been found. In fact, the evidence against the gradual evolution of Darwin is so startling that many alleged scientists have either had to fake the evidence or change the theory completely, as in the "punctuated equilibrium" theory of the late Stephen Gould. Either way you look at it, Darwinism has been proven false.

Also, the movie does not mention that in his book, "The Origin of Species," Darwin wrote about the human eye, "To suppose that the eye with all its inimitable contrivances for adjusting the focus to different distances, for admitting different amounts of light, and for the correction of spherical and chromatic aberration, could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest degree." Evolution scientists have never produced an adequate explanation for the creation of the human eye, much less for the complexity of a single gene or of the human brain, the seat of rational human thought and the physical connection to our individual souls or spirits. Neither can they explain the origin of such abstract concepts as the laws of logic, love, morality, or ethics.

Let's see, outright lies (no evidence that human beings are apes descended from earlier apes; transitional fossils "have never really been found" -- meaning none that creationists will accept and, since they refuse to accept any such transitionals, it hardly surprising that none that they will accept have been found -- changing a theory disproves it; no explanation for our remarkably chimp-like brain, etc.) and a quote mine that is perhaps the hoariest and most transparent in the creationist arsenal.

It seems likely that the editors of the Detroit News could not stand the exquisite irony of people spouting such ignorant drivel in order to deny science immediately before kvetching about being called closed minded. Another gem left out by the newspaper is this:

The Charles Darwin depicted in the movie uses "teaching moments" with his children, telling them stories about Christian missionaries attempting to convert "savages" who only went back to being savages. This part of the movie seems slightly racist.

The only problem is that the story is true in that it is doubtless based on the hostages Captain Fitzroy captured at Tierra del Fuego on an earlier voyage, Fuegia Basket, Jemmy Button and York Minster, who he took back to England to be "civilized." When returned to their native land they soon returned to their original ways. A version sympathetic to the captives, though suffering some fractured English, can be found here.

There's more disingenuous dreck in the "review" but let's close out with a quote from the site's "review" of Avatar, which they also did not like for theological reasons, entitled "Capitalism, Christianity and AVATAR":

When you watch a movie like AVATAR know that the filmmaker is playing with your mind and emotions. Every frame is carefully planned to lure you to come to the conclusion the filmmaker wants you to accept. By the time the final scene comes, you don't just want the bad guy killed; you want him to die some spectacular death. The filmmaker picks the bad guy. James Cameron could have made you hate the Na'vi and love the Colonel. Michael Moore could interview people that make Capitalism look glorious. Al Gore could go shoot a movie about global cooling.

If you want the truth, read the Bible.

Kinda misses the whole point of going to the movies, doesn't it?


Saturday, December 26, 2009


But ID Has Nothing to Do With Religion

... as The Undiscovery Institute keeps telling us ... sometimes.

But, according to the "Events" column of The Oklahoman's website, NewsOK ... among all the announcements for religious physical fitness bootcamps, church quilting bees and the like ... not all DI drones may agree:

Book --> "The End of Christianity: Finding a Good God in an Evil World," by William A. Dembski (B&H Academic, $22.99).

Dembski uses his theological and scientific expertise to prove the existence of a good God. He said the recent surge in the atheist and agnostic movement is actually good for religion because it would be unnecessary if Christianity did not remain a vital force in today's world.

A leading figure in the intelligent design movement, Dembski is a research professor in philosophy at Southwestern Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, where he heads its Center for Cultural Engagement.

"The end of Christianity, as envisioned in this book, is the realignment of our thinking so that we see God's goodness in creation despite the distorting effects of sin in our hearts and evil in the world," he writes.
In other words, ID will get you not to some amorphous unknown "Designer" but will help avoid our "sinful" ways, defeat the philosophical/theological Argument from Evil and let us scientifically prove there is a good God.

But what I'd really like to see -- it might be a good project for the Biologic Institute while we're waiting for them to come up with any empiric evidence for a "Designer" -- is some evidence of Dembski's "scientific expertise."

Friday, December 25, 2009


Happy Holidays!

Particularly you, Bill O'Reilly!

But I'm not conducting a war on anything, so let me also give the true name of the of the holiday:

Merry Conspicuous Consumption Day!

Here's hoping that that we all kept the spirit of the season and helped the economy by going deeper into debt!

The eternal verities are the best.

Thursday, December 24, 2009


Blame Gamesmanship

David Klinghoffer has added to his rogue's gallery of "Darwinists."

In addition to Hitler, Stalin, Charles Manson, James Von Brunn (the lunatic white supremacist who shot up the Holocaust Museum), the Columbine shooters and, of all people, H.P. Lovecraft, Klinghoffer is now blaming Darwin for Josef Mengele.

Klinghoffer confuses "Social Darwinism" (not to mention the Discoveryless Institute's version of "Darwinism") with evolutionary theory, a point made by "Steven J.," a frequenter of Klinghoffer's commentariat, which regularly demolishes his rantings (leading, I suspect, to his often repeating them at the DI's commentless Ministry of Misinformation).

Klinghoffer disingenuously repeats his "Is/Ought" fallacy:

I'm tired of having to explain that an idea's having been put to an evil use, even if that occurred time after time for more than a century and a half, doesn't by itself make the idea a false description of reality. But if that is what happened, as it is here, it's an awfully good reason to think twice and carefully, for yourself, about the evidence said to underlie claims made on behalf of the idea.

It would be refreshing if Klinghoffer would explain once why use (particularly misuse) by any person of some fact about the world is any reason to doubt the fact.

Anyway, my yet-to-be-moderator-approved comment at Klinghoffer's blog is as follows:

Rober Bannister, in "Social Darwinism: Science and Myth in Anglo-American Social Thought" has shown that there was no such "thing" as "Social Darwinism" ... it was a term of abuse used by people of many political viewpoints ... liberal, conservative and everything in between ... to describe viewpoints they didn't like. Applying it to Nazis is nothing more than carrying on a disreputable tradition. Steven J.'s point, if I may make so bold, was that "Social Darwinism" (and your version of "Darwinism") is not the same thing as scientific evolutionary theory.

As to whether Mengele studying the Bible would have been trumpeted by anti-theists, are you actually arguing that two wrongs make a right? After all, we can certainly come up with examples of people who intensely studied the Bible who, over far more than a century and a half, did great wrongs ... Torquemada leaps to mind as one of many examples ... but is that reason to think twice and carefully about the evidence said to underlie claims made on behalf the Bible, rather than about the person who is supposedly "applying" it?

If so, the evidence for evolution far outstrips that for the Bible.


Uh, No!

This is not, apparently, a creationist rant but it does illustrate one of the common errors about evolution. Bob Schmidt, writing in The Sacramento News & Review, in an Op-Ed entitled "Optimism lesson," states:

The world today kind of weakens the argument for evolution, doesn't it? Certainly the world today proves that "survival of the fittest" doesn't mean "survival of the best."

It's 2010, and people are still killing each other and stealing from each other, and there are millions of babies in the world dying of starvation. How can that be?

Greed, incompetence and corruption are plaguing the people of nations all over the world, including ours. And mankind has been evolving for hundreds of millions of years. Evolving toward what?

At the same time, the mess the world is in doesn't do much to support the contention that intelligent design by a supreme being is responsible for its creation. If that were the case, the designer would have a lot to answer for.

Mr. Schmidt goes on to cite examples of good works by local people and counsels against "depression" (though what I suspect he really means is "nihilism").

The "[e]volving towards what?" part is what is seriously wrong. The bad news is that, as far as we can tell from science, no lifeform is evolving towards anything ... except local, and temporary, fitness for a particular environment. The traits that make a lifeform, say a primate in a rapidly changing tropical forest, wildly successful for a time, can wind up being the very same traits that make it unfit as a globe-spanning, technology-dependent, species. Extinction is always an option.

Of course, the good news is we have reason to think that the altruism Mr. Schmidt finds hopeful is an evolutionary trait of social animals. If so, and the environment doesn't penalize the trait too much, we can expect the species to continue the trait as long as it lasts.

As for our present state being evidence against some form of intelligent design, that is just a variation on the Argument from Evil, which I have never found very persuasive.

The fact is that the Argument from Life Sucks is pretty much a wash. I, for one, am much more interested in what we can know than what we can surmise.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009


The Ultimate Poe?

There was a caller to C-Span, during a spot with Senator John Barrasso (R-WY), that expressed fear that those who heeded the call by Senator Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), widely interpreted to be referring to the ailing Senator Robert Byrd, that:

"What the American people ought to pray is that somebody can't make the vote tonight," he said. "That's what they ought to pray."

... might have been misinterpreted by God, who mistakenly struck down Senator Jim ("Intertubes EPA Gestapo") Inhofe of Oklahoma instead, since he missed the cloture vote on the health care bill.

It has been pointed out that Sen. Barrasso did not seem to blink an eye at the suggestion by the caller that Sen. Coburn intended for Sen. Byrd to die but, charitably, that may have been stunned silence ... at least we can hope.

It turns out that the caller may be a Poe, since a person with a very similar voice also called C-Span back in April in a segment with David Brooks. As TPM put it:

Both calls had a certain prankish, over-the-top quality to them. The caller to Brooks said he was at the Jekyll Island Club -- a very high-class location in Georgia -- but sounded more like a caricature of an unsophisticated, racist Southerner. The caller to Barrasso referred to his fellow conservative activists as a "tea bag group," a term that many genuine Tea Partiers regard as an offensive epithet. Both callers got worked up emotionally -- energy and ambition in the Brooks caller's case, and urgency and panic from the Barrasso caller.

Are they the same man? Were they serious calls or pranks -- and with the current state of right-wing activism, how can you tell the difference?

It is a brilliant Poe ... at least we can hope.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009


Bleedin' Obvious

What next?:

[A]ccording to a new academic paper ... [a]ngels can't fly.

A leading biologist has compared the physiology of flighted species with the representations of spiritual and mythical creatures in art – and found the angels and fairies that sit atop of Christmas trees did not get there under their own steam.

Prof Roger Wotton, from University College London, found that flight would be impossible for angels portrayed with arms and bird-like feathered wings.

"Even a cursory examination of the evidence in representational arts shows that angels and cherubs cannot take off and cannot use powered flight," said Prof Wotton. "And even if they used gliding flight, they would need to be exposed to very high wind velocities at take off - such high winds that they would be blown away and have no need for wings.

I breathlessly await the study that shows that painted halos cannot shine by their own light.

Monday, December 21, 2009


Getting It From All Sides

The children of Seattle are not only in the backyard of the Discoveryless Institute, which seeks to keep them ignorant of science, but now they are being targeted by a group that attempts to convert very young children to their brand of Christianity:

Child Evangelism Fellowship plans to focus its Good News Clubs in King County, starting with Loyal Heights and Whittier elementary schools in Seattle, the Seattle Times reported. The group's mission is to covert children to Christianity, according to its Web site.

Group officials estimate they reach about 5 percent of children between the ages of 5 and 12 but by next year, they hope to reach 10 percent with the clubs.

The group uses court decisions that hold that, if a school opens it premises to after-school activities, it must allow all such on a nondiscriminatory basis. However, I pointed out an article last May in the Santa Barbara Independent on the group's tactics, seeking both to blur the line between the official school day and their "club" and to target very young children for proselytizing, including:

~ To target children not old enough to read;
~ To insist on use of the school facility as soon after the end of the school day (including some rather dishonest tricks) to blur the line between official instruction and their proselytizing; and
~ To lure the children with "parties" and balloons and the like.

Get 'em young, they say.


Sunday, December 20, 2009


Posing for Ads

Once again, the Undiscovery Institute is trumpeting Thomas Nagel's irresponsible recommendation of Stephen Meyer's same-ol', same ol' book, Signature in the Cell, in the popular press, which guarantees the opposite of considered academic discussion of Nagel's objections to reductionism. This time, Robert Crowther is pointing to an article at Lew Rockwell's libertarian site by David Gordon, who has a PhD in intellectual history.

Amusingly, Crowther introduces the article with this:

Today, [Brian] Leiter was taken to task for challenging someone obviously his superior when it comes to philosophical arguments.

... implicitly admitting that Meyer's book is, charitably, philosophy (less charitably, theology) rather than science. Of course, this is nothing more than an appeal to inappropriate authority, since, as Gordon notes, Nagel doesn't claim knowledge of biology, much less theories of prebiotic chemical evolution. That simply raises the question why Nagel felt competent to pronounce Meyer's book to be a "detailed account of the problem of how life came into existence from lifeless matter – something that had to happen before the process of biological evolution could begin." Gordon's response that "Both Leiter and the chemist [Stephen Fletcher, Department of Chemistry, Loughborough University, who wrote a Letter to the Editor of the TLS] ignored the fact, much emphasized by Meyer, that such resorts to natural selection are controversial."

But it is Gordon who misses the point. As Nagel was competent enough to recognize, Meyer's "argument" is a conceptual one, that "argues that the available evidence offers no prospect of a credible naturalistic alternative to the hypothesis of an intentional cause." In short, Meyer is making a "just not so" argument, much like Behe's "irreducible complexity." Behe and Meyer are both claiming that, because they (supposedly) can't think of any way for some organ or structure to arise naturally, we should stop looking. A fully adequate response is "we can think of a way." And it doesn't matter if Meyer thinks prebiotic chemical evolution is "controversial." Neither Nagel nor, as far as I can tell, Gordon have the expertise to tell how accurate or honest Meyer's account is ... something of great importance, given the DI's penchant for quote mining and other dishonesty.

Nor is there any scientific reason to assume we won't find some other, presently unknown, route to the origin of DNA. Meyer is pushing an argument from ignorance that pales in comparison to the spectacular success science has racked up with the assumption -- methodological naturalism -- that natural phenomena, such as the chemistry of DNA, have natural explanations.

Which brings us to what Gordon calls "the attempt by Leiter and others to block inquiry that challenges naturalism." Really? Criticism is an attempt to block inquiry? That's a strange position for a libertarian to take. Not to mention that, since Gordon is criticizing Leiter and others who defend the scientific process, he must be attempting to block scientific inquiry.

Nagel has made himself a poster child for ID. You have to wonder if that was what he intended.

Saturday, December 19, 2009


Unconscious Truth

This is amusing. The Sensuous Curmudgeon has already noticed it but, I think, missed the irony of one part.

It is a "sermon" by one Jon Skillman, a deacon at Grace Baptist Church of Oroville, California, whose main point is the incredibly ignorant claim that there are no transitional fossils. But here is where cluelessness can nonetheless speak truth:

Now, before being dragged off to academia to be indoctrinated into an evolutionist, may I offer an alternative? It's called Creation ... Oh, I forgot ... the word Creation has some silly biblical connotations and had to be politically corrected into "intelligent design." This had to be done to remove God from the equation ... The mere intimation of God's involvement throws intellectuals into a conniption fit. God is a very inconvenient truth to them. I think they choose to believe in evolution just so they won't have to believe in God.

Why, yes ... "intelligent design" is a term made up to remove biblical connotations from a religious concept. But it wasn't made up by "politically correct" intellectuals but by dishonest "cdesign proponentsists." And the intent wasn't to soothe those intellectuals but to evade the Constitution's ban on teaching religion as true in government schools.

It is "political," however ... the sort of politics propagated by those intent on breaking the law of the land.

Friday, December 18, 2009


Look out Ohio!

There is a crazy person coming to a polling booth near you!

That would be Paul Schiffer, running for the 16th Congressional seat, who calls himself the "Tea Party candidate." He has now announced, almost a year before the general election, that he "has already written legislation to repeal last Monday's decision by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency calling carbon dioxide a 'pollutant.'" I think the word for this is "hubris" ... especially since, in 2008, he ran in the Republican primary for the seat and lost.

But you'll love his reasoning:

"All life on Earth depends on carbon dioxide. Plants breathe carbon dioxide as the lifeblood of plant growth. Animals cannot exist without plants for food. Carbon dioxide is a harmless, colorless, odorless part of the air that nourishes plants. The EPA's decision makes as much sense as calling dihydrogen monoxide a pollutant."

You know all the dihydrogen monoxide in the Ohio and other rivers in the state? Why should we regulate where it goes or how much accumulates any place? Let's pull the dams and levees off all the rivers in Ohio and see how we do with just letting that lifeblood flow, shall we?

Oh, and too much of a good thing can always be harmful.

And you'll love this too:

True science is violently opposed to 'consensus' of opinion, and devoted to hard, cold, test results that might shatter consensus. Science is based on repeatable experiments. No experiment has ever shown that man-made carbon dioxide affects the Earth's temperature.
Well, science is larger than the laboratory ... repeatable observations count too. And consensus comes from considering all the observations to date. But the very point of the climatologists is that humans have been conducting a long-term experiment in global warming by pumping carbon into our atmosphere and what scientists are doing now is merely reporting on the results of that experiment.

But it is also true that too little of a good thing can be very harmful ... as Mr. Schiffer is demonstrating in the case of intelligence.

Thursday, December 17, 2009


Accounting for Journalism

Let's compare a couple of pieces ... one from The Wall Street Journal's "Opinion Journal" webpage and one from National Public Radio's blog, 13.7: Cosmos and Culture.

First the WSJ piece, by James Taranto, who was a journalism major who never graduated, and who is complaining about "accountability journalism":

[T]he reason "science" no longer "wins" is that what often poses as science today is different from the real thing. To take an easy example, supposedly science-minded people often scoff at those who do not "believe in evolution." The problem with this is not that they are wrong to defend evolution, but that they mistake evolution, a scientific theory, for a belief system. When you demand adherence to a set of beliefs, you are no longer doing science but something that has the form, if not the substance, of religion.

Similarly, what is clearest from the University of East Anglia emails is that climate science has become more political than scientific. Researchers have been abusing the scientific process in order to produce support for an ideologically predetermined outcome.
And from the NPR site, by Marcelo Gleiser, a theoretical physicist, who is Appleton Professor of Natural Philosophy Dartmouth College:

For the past decade, and to the bafflement of the vast majority of scientists, the science of global warming became a topic of political debate. In the name of the "fairness of considering all points of view" (there are obvious echoes of the intelligent-design debate here), the minority opinion of a few scientists was inflated beyond any measure of decency to represent a legitimate contrary opinion flushed with supporting data and the like. Nonsense.

As the thousands of scientists from around the world that contribute to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have argued through many different avenues of research and data gathering, global warming is not only a reality, but it is also caused by human action.
First of all, the few, supposedly "smoking gun," emails (out of thousands stolen from the University of East Anglia) do not show any such "abuse" of the scientific process. At worst, they show scientists struggling, sometimes clumsily, with the politicalization of their science by outsiders.

After all, independent scientists ... who have to spend large amounts of their time writing grant proposals just to fund a few graduate students and who can hardly match in resources the various mega-corporations, like the oil and coal companies and the power utilities, which fund most, if not all of the nay-sayers ... have no shared economic or other motive to conspire to "cook" the science ... unlike those corporations. In short, there is much more reason to accept Gleiser's account than Taranto's.

Nor would most scientists think of "believing" in evolution ... at most they "believe" that empiric evidence is the best evidence and the adherence to such evidence is the only demand they make.

Not, of course, that it has never been phrased that way by any scientist. After all, "belief" is a slippery word that is often used informally. It can mean everything from "a deep abiding faith in a particular religion" to "I believe I'll have another beer."

Taranto is turning the whole process on its head. It has been the opponents of the science of evolution who regularly label it as equivalent to "atheism" and the opponents of anthropogenic global warming who label it as a "religious belief." Pot, kettle, black.

The "accountability journalism" Taranto complains about is nothing more than saying that not all positions are equal. Flat Earth proponents don't deserve equal time or journalistic respect with astrophysicists; Holocaust deniers don't deserve equal time or journalistic respect with historians of WWII; and young-Earth creationists don't deserve equal time or journalistic respect with geologists and biologists. Nor do AGW deniers deserve equal time or journalistic respect with climatologists.

Unfortunately, Taranto and the others peddling "Climategate" either cannot see the difference or ascribe to a brand of journalism with no accountability at all.


Update: Taranto is showing some signs of rationality (scroll down to the section labeled "True Believers?"):

We certainly agree that neither Biblical creation nor "intelligent design" is worth taking seriously as an empirical proposition. Nonetheless, we stand behind our criticism of those who scoff at others for failing to "believe in evolution." Just as it is an error to put forward a religious doctrine as if it were a scientific theory, it is an error to speak of a scientific theory as if it were a religious doctrine--i.e., something to "believe in."
Of course, he is still playing semantic games citing to unnamed "science-minded people" who supposedly urge "belief" in evolution.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009


Right Ways and Wrong Ways

As Glenn Branch kindly pointed out in a comment a few days ago but that I'm only getting around to now, Brian Leiter has expanded on his criticism of Thomas Nagel's decision to lend his prestige to the public relations hacks at the Discoveryless Institute:

I can sum up my actual position in two propositions:

(1) It was extremely irresponsible--a product of some mix of ignorance, arrogance, and laziness--to endorse and thus give crediblity to an incompetent and misleading book, something no one informed about the issues would have done (that was the point of most of the links in my original posting).

(2) Nagel's irresponsibility on this score is especially reprehensible in a context in which his fame, and the credibility he has tried to confer on a snakeoil salesmen, will obviously be used for pernicious ends, in this case, undermining the biology curriculum in the public schools, which is the raison d'etre of the Discovery [sic] Institute and its conmen.

The much harder cases, on which I took no position, would be those in which something like (1) doesn't hold, that is, where philosophers are staking out and arguing for defensible positions on the merits, but doing so might have deleterious consequences for others. (The issue arises more often in science, and what the right answer is is tricky--see, e.g., Philip Kitcher's paper on "The Ends of the Sciences" in The Future for Philosophy volume I edited [OUP, 2004] for a useful discussion.) In general, considerations pertaining to the values of academic and intellectual freedom should counsel in favor of a wide latitude for subjects and methods of scholarly investigation. As I noted in the earlier item, commenting on Nagel's letter:

No one objects to challenging the explanatory completeness of physics, or to asking whether physicalists can explain consciousness, or whether naturalism is the correct meta-philosophy (lots of philosophers, as we recently learned, reject it, yet you can count on one hand the 'target' faculty who would pal around with the ID conmen at the Discovery [sic] Institute). What people are objecting to is lending credibility to individuals and groups whose goal it is to undermine the integrity of biology education for children.

But the latter is all Nagel has accomplished by irresponsibly endorsing bad work by an intellectually dishonest person.

There have already been a spate of Intelligent Design creationists taking advantage of Nagel for propaganda purposes, of which David Kinghoffer is only the latest. To see the pernicious effect of such PR tactics, one need only cast one's mind back as far as early 2009 and the use that was made of New Scientist's "Was Darwin Wrong" cover by the anti-science forces on the Texas State Board of Education to water down the science curriculum there.

Of course there can be serious academic discussion of thorny problems. And serious scholars should be able to defend unconventional and even unpopular positions with no more harm to their reputations than what they garner from the quality, or lack thereof, of their arguments. But if you want to, say, dispute common wisdom on the roots of the Holocaust, you don't do that by taking to the popular press to issue an endorsement of a deceptive book by some Holocaust denier.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009


Bombing Britain

In a typical example of creationist inflationary theory, Anika Smith, the tankwoman in pink of the Discovery Institute, is over at its Ministry of Misinformation touting a Customer Review (of all things) of Stephen Meyer's Signature in the Cell that has appeared on Amazon's United Kingdom site (while also highlighting Thomas Nagel's ill-advised and ill-founded recommendation of Meyer's screed as a Book of the Year in the Times Literary Supplement, of course). The review is entitled: "New Intelligent Design Book A Landmark Assault On Scientific Naturalism."

And who is the "customer" reviewing the book? Why, by a certain Robert Deyes of Madison, Wisconsin, who just happens to be a prolific blogger at the Access Research Network's blog, The ID Report, part of the site entitled "The ID Update: News and Commentary Updates for the ID Community."

Imagine that! A tireless campaigner for ID liked Meyer's jeremiad against "scientific naturalism" (i.e. science)! Who would have thunk it?

To catch a whiff of Deyes' acumen, you might want to see the highly humorous review at Bay of Fundie of one of Deyes posts at The ID Report, in which he compares Darwin to Arthur Conan Doyle's Professor Challenger ... or somthin'.

You might also want to add a negative reaction to Deyes' review, and perhaps a comment or two, to counter, even in a small way, what will doubtless be the creationist saturation-bombing of praise for it.


Update: Michael Barton of The Dispersal of Darwin points out that, in a step beyond saturation-bombing, heading toward the nuking of John Bull, Truth (sic) in Science has sent copies of the Discovery Institute's faux textbook, Explore Evolution, to many if not all secondary schools libraries.

Monday, December 14, 2009


Hot Air

Ya have to wonder how the computers keep working a Faux News, what with all the spittle flecks generated by Glenn Beck.

Still, they've managed to post the transcript of one of Beck's insane rants on climate change. Amazingly, he discounts the summit in Copenhagen because, among over a hundred heads of state attending, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez will be there, supposedly with an agenda to "just hurt the West with some ridiculous climate agreement."

Two words, Glenn: quo bono.

Somehow I doubt that heads of two of the largest producers of oil in the world want to throttle their country's only major source of income.

Then there's this:

The climate cult is just as much a state sponsored religion now, as the actual state sponsored religion was back in the Dark Ages, punishing Galileo for his opinions. And they're again locking away the dissenters in a tower of fear, harassment and atmosphere of discrediting some 30,000-plus scientists.

Just as a note, Glenn, Galileo didn't live in the "Dark Ages." And I wonder where you got that 30,000 number (other than from the voices in your head*). Even Sen. James ("Intertubes") Inhofe only fantasizes 400 or 600 or 700 (depending on just how tight his tinfoil hat is at any one time) scientific dissenters from climate change. But, as the late great Stephen Jay Gould famously said:

[A] man does not attain the status of Galileo merely because he is persecuted; he must also be right.

Beck is so not right, he's not even wrong.


* Apparently it comes from the "Oregon Petition," which is the next worse thing to Beck's voices (thanks to Chris Ho-Stewart).

Sunday, December 13, 2009


Stupid Is as Stupid Does

This is horrifying:

Five people who stared at the sun in the hope they might be witnessing religious apparitions are being treated for serious eye damage, a top eye surgeon has revealed. ...

Dr Eamonn O'Donoghue, of University College Hospital in Galway ... revealed he is treating five patients for serious eye injuries caused by staring at the sun at recent gatherings at Knock organised by Dublin "spiritual healers" Joe Coleman and Keith Henderson. ...

They have since suffered a serious condition called solar retinopathy, caused by the sun's rays burning into the central part of the eye's retina.

Victims have suffered 50pc vision loss which seriously impairs basic abilities such as reading and driving.

Dr O'Donoghue said that it was "monstrous" to mislead people into thinking that altered vision and effects, such as seeing the sun dance, were a religious apparition when they were classic symptoms of solar retinopathy.

"If it did not have such monstrous effects you could describe it as a cheap circus trick," he said.

Dr O'Donoghue, a renowned opthalmic surgeon who also lectures in NUI Galway and works on vision-aid schemes in developing countries, warned that many others could have suffered similar damage to their eyes. And he fears that children attending the next event will suffer loss of vision as they are particularly vulnerable to sun damage. He warned pilgrims that they could accumulate further problems if they repeated the practice of staring at the sun at the next gathering. ...

While some of those who have damaged their vision may recover some of their sight in the short term, the damage this has done could cause serious sight problems as they age, Dr O'Donoghue said. ...

Although the Catholic Church warned against attending, some 10,000 pilgrims attended a gathering at Knock on October 31 in the hope of seeing a vision of the Blessed Virgin -- the mother of God according to Catholic doctrine.

Mr Coleman, of Ballyfermot, Dublin, has again predicted an apparition for this week.

Saturday, December 12, 2009


Blowin' Smoke

A thought:

As Alan I. Leshner, who heads the American Assn. for the Advancement of Science, wrote this week: "It is wrong to suggest that apparently stolen e-mails . . . somehow refute a century of evidence based on thousands of studies. . . . Doubters insist that the Earth is not warming. This is in stark contrast to the consensus of 18 of the world's most respected scientific organizations, who strongly stated in an Oct. 21 letter to the U.S. Senate that human-induced climate change is real. Still, the doubters try to leverage any remaining points of scientific uncertainty about the details of warming trends to cast doubt on the overall conclusions shared by traditionally cautious, decidedly nonradical science organizations such as the National Academy of Sciences and the American Assn. for the Advancement of Science."

Long ago, Cicero suggested that a mysterious public act could be best assessed by asking: Who benefits? Is it really any accident that Palin and most of the GOP lawmakers trying to discredit the science on global warming come from states enriched by petroleum production and industries with sizable carbon footprints? (The delegate from Saudi Arabia has taken a similar position at Copenhagen.)

If you feel like you've been here before, think back on the long and agonizing debate over tobacco regulation and second-hand smoke. As additional tens of thousands died, Big Tobacco produced one eccentric scientific skeptic after another. Every one of them got a sympathetic hearing from lawmakers elected from tobacco-growing states.

- Tim Rutten, "The silliness of Climategate," The Los Angeles Times, December 12, 2009

Friday, December 11, 2009


Pokemon Will Eat Your Soul

In the terminally ridiculous fears of Fundamentalists category:

A little investigative work reveals that that grating voice, dead-rat toupee and podium in the shape of a cross belongs to Phil Arms of Life Reach Ministries of (where else?) Texas. It is also home of perhaps the worst Photo Shopped portrait on the planet.


Giving Ammunition to Ignoramuses

Brian Leiter tries to separate Thomas Nagel's lips from Stephen Meyer's and the whole of the Undiscovery Institute's collective behind.

For once we get outside our comfy Washington Square apartment, and look at the real world, here's what is going on: the Discovery [sic] Institute and its conmen, with hefty financial support from religious extremists, travel the country badgering school boards made up of laypeople to tinker with public school biology curricula. The Discovery [sic] Institute conmen learned in the 1980s that certain strategies for injecting religious viewpoints into the public school curricula won't pass constitutional muster, so they have shifted their strategy: the goal is not "equal time" for creationism, but rather to inject material into the standard curriculum that would leave high school students--high school students (!) in their first real encounter with biology--with the false impression that there is not a scientific consensus about Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection. The laypeople on school boards can as little assess the biology as Thomas Nagel; but unlike Nagel, they do rely on epistemic authorities, but even here they are at a disadvantage in figuring out who those are. The specialty of the Discovery [sic] Institute is to try to create the impression with laypersons on school boards that there is significant dissent among those with the requisite epistemic authority to evaluate the theory of evolution. ...

Thus, it is a certainty that the new addition to the ID lobbying arsenal, that will be repeated again and again in the years ahead, will be the fact that "a famous atheist philosopher" endorsed Meyer's book, so earnest school board members really ought to take it seriously, perhaps require that portions of it be assigned, or at least make sure that they only approve textbooks that suggest (falsely) that there is significant skepticism about Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection among biologists. ...

And if Nagel's latest letter is to be believed, the reason he has given ammunition to ignoramuses and know-nothings in their efforts to mislead schoolchildren, is because he thinks Stephen Meyer's book lends support to a paper that Nagel wrote in 1974!


Wouldn't it have been less destructive to just write another paper?
Like John Wilkins, I think Leiter is spot on.


Crashing Philosophy

Jerry Coyne is doing philosophy again.

Never a pretty sight.

The fact that he is engaged in dueling metaphysics with the even more clue-challenged David Klinghoffer just adds to the sick fascination usually associated with rubbernecking terrible traffic accidents.

To start off with Coyne:

I've discussed before the contention that the bad-design argument is theological rather than scientific. And it is scientific. It's scientific in the sense that that kind of bad design is evidence in favor of evolution and against several competing hypothesis. One is that a divine being designed organisms so that they're perfect.

Really? So divine design of organisms is a scientific hypothesis? Otherwise, how is an argument against it in any sense "scientific"? Coyne's claim is nothing more than a mirror image of the arguments for ID -- take some fact about the world and draw a conclusion based on that fact to argue for a metaphysical position. And if ID, then, is scientific, even if its backers concede that the "Designer" is God ... just bad science, then the Establishment Clause of the Constitution, since it doesn't ban bad science in public schools, does not prevent the government teaching of ID as true.

I won't float an argument from consequences here -- maybe Coyne is right and divine design is a perfectly respectable scientific argument -- but we have at least to consider why so many scientists would disagree.

But how well does the logic of the "bad design" argument hold up? Elliot Sober has pointed out that it doesn't do well at all. It requires that the proponent assert the motive of the God in any particular design ... as Coyne does by asserting that he/she/it would favor "perfect" design (as decided by who? ... Coyne? ... he's perfect?).

Now, I'll certainly grant that "imperfect" design is well explained by evolution. Along with the positive evidence for evolution, it definitely is no impediment to accepting evolution and, in that sense, "supports" evolution. But, as supposedly "scientific" evidence against theism, it is not unlike the fact that the sun appears to rise in the east, travels across the sky and sets in the west. That has been explained by the sun orbiting the Earth or by the Earth orbiting the sun while turning on its axis. There may even be nuances in the way that the sun rises, travels and sets that favors, somewhat, the latter proposition. But to declare the fact of there being a sunrise and sunset is "scientific evidence" for heliocentrism and against geocentrism is, at the very least, a misrepresentation of the claims, since both propositions accommodate the same evidence.

And, then, there is serious question begging:

[I]f life was made by a god, it must have been a certain kind of god: one who designed creators to make us think that they had evolved.

In other words, since Coyne assumes that what he labels as "bad design" is evidence for evolution, any "bad" design must be intended to convince us of the truth of evolution. Such tight circles are likely to result in disappearance up one's own ass.

Dealing with Klinghoffer is much easier. Coyne, for once, is right:

It always mystifies me that people who claim that God works in mysterious ways are nevertheless so certain about his motives.

In for a penny, in for a pound. If God's motives are inscrutable, they are inscrutable. Any attempt to explain them, biblically or otherwise, means your claims to rationality and science... as in the airs adopted by ID ... are bogus. Coyne may be wrong in this particular but, at least, he is up front about what he believes.

Pick a ground on which you want to stand, David. Until then, any honest person will view you as a dissembler.

Thursday, December 10, 2009


Surprise, Surprise!

Ex-senator (a totally deserved title) Rick Santorum doesn't like science.

He recently:

... told students at Spartanburg Christian Academy on Wednesday to heed what they learned in school because soon they would be on the "front lines" of an ideological battle.

"It is, in many respects, a war," said Santorum, who is thinking about seeking the 2012 Republican presidential nomination.

"Not a war that's fought with guns. But it's a war of ideas. It's a war for the heart and soul of America.

"Who are we? And what are we to become? And that war is on many, many fronts. That war is on popular culture, on our movies and television programs and music and entertainment videos.

"The war is in academia, in colleges and universities and now -- increasingly -- in primary and secondary schools. And the war is against people who have an ideology -- a secular ideology, a relativistic, materialistic ideology -- which denies the existence of truth, which denies the existence of a creator and a foundation upon which to build and to seek those truths."

Santorum argued that scientific facts taught in school were simply the beliefs of a secular culture that dismissed the Christian worldview.

So, science is anti-Christian and vice versa? If "Christianity" (by which Santorum doubtless means his own, rather constipated version) is incompatible with science, so much the worse for Christianity, given that whatever wealth and security the world has to offer will more and more go to those who master science. I wonder if Santorum understands or cares that, if those children listen to him and take his advice to heart, he is condemning them and their descendants and, perhaps, the country they live in, to poverty and weakness.

He probably neither thinks nor cares, based on his taking "Climategate" as (in The Sensuous Curmudgeon's excellent phrase) the "vindication of all kooks," a corollary of "crank magnetism":

And he talked about the recent admission that some scientists, in his words, "fudged" data to support theories of climate change -- often referred to as Climategate.

"There are real consequences to climate change, there's real consequences to evolution, that have to do with not just truth, but your own faith: Whether there is a God. Whether this God is sovereign. Whether this God was a creator. As opposed to… That there is no God. That we are all just a matter of random chance to have arrived at where we are. There's no truth. There's no moral law. There's no lawgiver," Santorum said.

"All of these things, whether it's climate science, or whether it's evolution science, have that huge issue hanging over us."

Of course, scientists did no such thing. But the important point is that Santorum is saying that truth is not the sole criteria by which those children should judge science but it also depends on whether or not it conflicts with their faith.

If their faith is such a fragile thing, it may not be worth holding on to.


Update: To see Santorum's position taken to its logical extreme, see the Baptist Press article "Climate expert: Christians should care about debate":

... E. Calvin Beisner told Baptist Press Dec. 17 Christians should have a unique perspective on the global warming debate.

"Other religious worldviews tend to see the earth as the product of blind chance over time and therefore very fragile and subject to being knocked into catastrophe by minor influences," Beisner said.

"But that isn't the proper inference from a biblical worldview, which says that the earth is instead the product of God's intelligent design and is sustained by His omnipotent faithfulness. From that we should infer that earth itself with its various ecosystems and its climate system is robust, self-regulating, self-correcting and admirably suited for human flourishing."
In short, a particular interpretation of the Bible should take precedence over science when determining what policy to adopt about empiric facts of the world. Fortunately, not all conservative Christians are so insane, as shown in this Op-Ed also from the Baptist Press, "Is ‘Climategate’ a crisis of faith?".

Wednesday, December 09, 2009


Good News, Bad News

Cynthia Dunbar, one of the more foaming-at-the-mouth right-wingers on the Texas State Board of Elections (the one who, before the 2008 elections, accused Barack Obama of planning to get the people he "sympathizes" with to pull a terrorist attack on the US as an excuse to declare martial law and become dictator ... and, to top it off, she is a birther) is apparently not going to run for reelection.

The bad news is she has reportedly hand-picked the candidate to run in her stead: Brian Russell. He was the one who got the Texas Republican Executive Committee to pass a resolution calling upon the Republican members of the State Board of Education to support the retention of the "strengths and weaknesses" language in the Texas science standards, officially making the results of science and educational content a partisan political issue ... not that we didn't know it before but, still, no doubt an embarrassment to thoughtful Republicans everywhere.

Pity the poor children of Texas ... between a rock and a hard place.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009


Intelligent Construction

Ah, there's a new entry in creationism.

We've had regular ol' Biblical literalism ("God told us so"); creation "science" ("God told us so and let's see if we can mangle science to fit what we think God said"); and Intelligent Design ("God told us so and let's see if we can mangle science to fit what we think God said without saying God told us so").

Now we have Intelligent Construction:

[I]f one looks at the replacement red blood cells needed for each average adult, approximately 4900 quadrillion (4,900,000,000,000,000,000) atoms per second have to be sorted, selected, assembled and delivered to their bloodstream from the food they have eaten. All that is accomplished for each average adult every second of every day and that is just for the needed replacement red blood cells. And of course an equal or greater number of atoms have to be sorted, selected, assembled and delivered with lightning speed and great precision from the soil, rain and air to make the vegetables, fruit, etc. for our next meals. Again, that is for each adult just for replacement red blood cells alone.

"From dust we are made, in a two step process...From atoms in soil to food, then these atoms in food to human cells". Another thing we have learned is that ‘Dead dogs don't bark'. Yes, even though all the atoms, molecules and cells are precisely assembled for eyes, ears, legs, teeth, etc., etc., something is obviously missing from a dead dog. What is it? That Divine Breath of Life without which no atoms "live" and perform their assigned functions for eyesight, hearing, running, barking, etc.

It can be seen that there is an enormous amount of vital, precision work being done for each person every second of every day. It is not the wind, not magic, not random chance not anything else but phenomenal hard work by someone who must love His creatures and care for them immensely, whether He receives any thanks or not.

In summary, the reason for the absolute breakdown of the Theory of Evolution is this: The precision and speed required for the assembly of atoms into living cells far exceeds the capability of the unintelligent designlessness theorized by atheistic ‘Evolution'. In addition: ‘Dead dogs don't bark', which is to say that although all the necessary atoms, molecules and cells are precisely assembled in a dead dog, without the Divine Breath of Life, atoms do not live and function together as required for life in any living thing.

The author ends with this:

One day atheistic evolution may be moved to the History books and Intelligent Design and Construction will be taught as the science of life.
Of course, the notion that atoms we receive in food (not to mention others we receive though breathing) are directly turned into red blood cells shows a profound ignorance of how life works. Even assuming the author is right about that number of atoms (did he count them?) there is something on the magnitude of 1014 cells in the human body that can do "sorting," processing and transporting of those atoms throughout the body at any one time. So (assuming my math is right ... a big assumption) those 4.9 x 1018 atoms, divided by 1014, means that there are, on average, only 4.9 x 104, or 49,000 atoms being processed per cell into the products that eventually go into making up blood cells. Given that those atoms are largely in the form of sugars, water and other nutrients, already in molecules usable by the body, the amount of work needed to be done by each cell is hardly unimaginable.

As for the dead dog, the reason it is dead is that it has stopped sorting, processing and transporting atoms, i.e. the chemical reactions that we call "life" have ceased. If God has to continually breathe life into living things, then he/she/it has to constantly push atoms together and hold them together in what we call "chemistry" as well. Busy fellow ...

But why would considerations like that stop anyone who is prone to quote mining (I'll leave the reader to work that out) and who adds yet another data point to The Longest Running Falsehood in Creationism?


Givin' 'Em Ideas

James McGrath of Exploring Our Matrix ... oh, and a Professor of Religion at Butler University and a real Bible scholar ... has an Op-Ed piece in The Christian Science Monitor on the terminally lame Conservative Bible Project instigated by the incredibly dense Andrew Schlafly, son of the indescribably incoherent Phyllis Schlafly, being carried out at Andy's laughably cretinous Conservapedia. After noting:

When it first started, it was difficult to tell if it was an authentic conservative phenomenon or a parody along the lines of "The Colbert Report."

... Professor McGrath goes on to say:

[W]hen people set about to radically rewrite the Bible and call it "translating," or deny that what they really are doing is rewriting the Bible, it's misleading and dishonest. ...

A good example is the discussion on the Conservative Bible Project page about whether the manager in Luke 16:8 should be referred to as "shrewdly dishonest."

The discussion on the Web page suggests that he should rather be considered "resourceful," a "better conservative term, which became available only in 1851." No mention is made of what the actual Greek term might mean, much less of whether relevant linguistic parallels or cultural evidence might provide clarification of the Greek term's meaning.

The meaning of words in the underlying languages is simply ignored, and the "translators" make clear that their interest is to make the English text mean what they believe a conservative Bible ought to mean.

The fact that the Greek text in the same verse explicitly calls the manager "unrighteous" or "unjust" is likewise never mentioned. It seems that for a project like this, all one has to do is "translate" that word as meaning something else, and the problem is solved.

Why not go even further and add a parable in which Jesus praises employers who pay their workers as little as possible, or one that extols Caesar Augustus for not providing universal healthcare, while they're at it?

Now you've gone and done it, James! This is a two-way street. A lot of the same people can't tell when they are being parodied. Pretty soon we'll have the parable of the man who fell among thieves telling the Good Samaritan to keep his hands off Medicare.

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