Friday, April 30, 2010



The West Yellowstone (Montana) School District No. 69 is having an election and the sane candidates actually outnumber the crazies. Unfortunately, one of the crazies is the incumbent, though he may be the least crazy of the crazies. All of them were asked: “Do you believe that creationism or intelligent design should be taught public schools? Please explain.” Here are their answers:

Brad Loomis (two term incumbent):

In my opinion, creationism or intelligent design should be taught in public schools as an option. I find it strange that schools can teach the evolution theory or the big bang theory but not teach intelligent design as an option. This great nation was built acknowledging God.

David Arnado:

First of all, I am a Christian and very proud of it. Second, I believe that what ever you believe as a family or individual should be taught by us as parents in our homes or in church on your day of worship. Third, I believe our county was set up to separate church and state. I feel the teaching of religion should be kept within the walls of our family and that teaching of education should be taught in our school system and by dedicated educated teachers.

Rachael Burden:

No. The First Amendment forbids public schools run by the state from teaching religion. The public school system is created for ALLstudents and supported by ALL taxpayers. For that very reason it should remain neutral on religious issues and all other personal beliefs.

Clinton Fowler:

It is difficult at times for most of us to separate our personal desires from what is right. In our schools, we must avoid the promotion of one religious belief over another (Not all religions support "Intelligent Design" or "Creationism"). The children go to school to learn facts that will help them through life, help them become a better citizen of the World, not to learn about a particular religious belief. That is for the parents to administer outside of school.

Sandi Peppler:

Both theories should be explored in school. Scientifically there are many mysteries of the universe that have not been explained or have "yet" to be explained. Religion/God is a great part of an individual's heritage & should not be discriminated against. God should be allowed in school as an individual's heritage. Our country's beliefs were founded on God and I still believe in those beliefs.

It’s unclear whether Loomis is talking about some sort of elective course on creationism and ID but, if he is, it doesn’t sound like he understands that even elective courses must be religiously neutral.

But, of course, “sane” is a relative term. Two of the anti-creationism candidates want mandatory drug testing of teachers and other school employees and one of them wants to extend that to students. Ah, well.

Thursday, April 29, 2010


The Flood of Noah News

Larry Moran is (justifiably) bemoaning the credulous Canadian media, particularly the Toronto Star, and its reporting on the supposed "discovery" of Noah's Ark (again!). Well, now CTV Toronto has also reported on it, though its report is a bit more skeptical, including in its piece the doubts raised by Dr. Randall Price, an evangelical Christian who was the archeologist for the Chinese-led team in 2008 when it made the alleged discovery, that PZ Myearshertz previously noted.

I'm amused by some of the comments to the story:

If people believe in the ark. Then you have to believe in God. Maybe they should bring prayer back into school and bibles back in the courts may be our world would be a better. If you take God out and then you wonder why the world is like it is. God is a gentleman. He will not show up where he is not wanted.

Hmmm, that would be the same God who showed up with a giant flood that wiped out all the men and women who didn't want him, and even the newborn children who didn't know they were supposed to want him?

Actually Noah had seven pairs of the clean animals, four pairs of the dirty animals, and four pairs of birds. And Noah wasn't stupid, so it is very likely that all the animals were very young. Why bring a 15 foot tall African elephan when you can bring a 3 foot tall African elephant baby? Noah's Ark was also the most clever use of laminate structures that we use in aerospace today. He used gopher wood, which is almost a reed, dried it completely, and sealed it inside and and out with pitch. Today we use a styrofoam with epoxy and glass or carbon fibres. The material use will be an indicator. It is also a very foolish assumption to believe that these guys were cavemen. They had 2000 years to develop, with everyone speaking the same language and having the same culture. Look how far we have come in the last 100 years. These guys had all the science we have today.

Ah! That explains how eight people could build a boat that could hold all the world's species of land megafauna (we'll let 'em slide on beetles). Noah had robots and computers and an advanced materials lab!

This sounds right to me, the Ark was seen from above in 2004 in the same location or about. ThePBS Channel and the TBN Channels have both reported on this in the past. Not that I personally beleive that evidence is needed to believe this, I do not doubt it at all. God Flooded the Earth, not just a section, read the Bible. Intelligent Design is now accepted, there is no myth here.

Of course ... being on television makes it true. And ID, which, of course, has nothing to do with God or religion supports Noah's Ark and a worldwide flood.

Mandosa apparantly u dont believe in god. Who cares theres no evidence. God said there was so there was.

Invincible ignorance.

The "lack of evidence of a catastrophic flood" is easily disputed by the accurate accounting for the flood in the Bible. Carbon dating 4800 year old wood is not easily manipulated. As Christians, we take a lot of things on faith, but the "sight" of the ark confirms a lot to me.

Carbon dating is not easily manipulated, unless, naturally, you don't like the results.

I find it totally hilarious when all these scientists claim there was no worldwide flood. So were did all the water go, when the glaciers covering most of the northern hemisphere, melted? Modern geology shows there were three successive floods beginning around 11,000 bce, releasing massive amounts of water. The rising water levels broke through the straits of Gibraltar flooding the valley now called the Mediterranean Sea, then later the rising water from Med broke through into the Black Sea. With the melting finally finished, the sea levels had risen around 300 to 400 feet worldwide. If this wasn't a worldwide flood or devastating to anyone living at the time, then what was? It's getting harder and harder to believe in these modern educated scientists, as they deliberately ignore the real scientific data, to advance political agendas.

So, three localized floods prove a worldwide flood that lasted for less than a year? And a 300 to 400 foot rise in sea levels deposited the ark "near the peak" of 16,854 foot high Mt. Ararat? And, by the way, just who produced the evidence of the inundations of the Mediterranean and Black seas, other than those "modern educated scientists"?

It is amazing how people do not believe. This world that we live in was designed by God. Anything you have was designed by someone. How could anyone look at the beauty of this world and how everything was placed just right so we could inhabit this world.

And isn't it amazing how well a puddle fits the hole it's in?

Non beleiving scientists assume the world was exactly as it is now 5 000 years ago. If there was that much water on the surface of the earth, and the earth had a single continent, few high mountains, and the pressures of the rain water, caused the "fountains of the great deep" to spring forth, can anyone imagine what this would have caused? An absolute entire change of the earths surface features. Mountains would spring up, Indeed the passage in genesis says when the rains stopped, the land rose, and the seas fell. This alone would explain why less water would be needed than scientists always assume.

Apparently this writer can imagine what the flood caused. Too bad he can't explain why mountains would "spring up."

Well like I said before and I will say it again. I rather believe in a God in this life and die and after see that there is not one then to live this life not believe in a God and die and see that there is one.

Could Pascal's Wager not show up in a thread like this?

When you get down to the very basics of things it takes faith. If you say you don't have faith in something your lying. To honestly think there isn't anything bigger than you and this world is ludicrous.

As long as I can't understand it, it's not true and laughably so.

But only about a third of the comments are like this. Of the others, this is the best:

"Just imagine for a moment what would happen if the powers that be, the governments and the people who dictate rules and life to us actually agreed that it was true. All of it. That the evidence found in archeological sites world wide, etc,etc was supporting the existence of God."

Then the entire world would be like Afghanistan... I've been there... trust me... you wouldn't like it.

Amen, brother! Amen!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010


Mussels Between the Ears

Hoo Hah!

Creationists are a lot of fun!

A small but stunning collection of fossils gathered in a church basement in Goodwood is hoping to change the way many think about the origins of the world and mankind.

Martin Legemaate, in cooperation with Pastor Michael Liew and the Goodwood Baptist Church, has set up the Creation/Flood Evidence Museum of Southern Ontario, and has recently put the museum and its information online.
So what's their big evidence?

"This collection of fossils gives evidence of a flood, a catastrophic event, occurring worldwide, which we call Noah's Flood," explains Legemaate. "These creatures were captured quickly, and the rock formations that grew around them happened quickly," he says, using an example of a fossilized mussel from the Georgian Bay Formation Shale to make his point. When mussels are frightened, they close up.

When they die, they open. The fossilized mussel he is holding is shut, which means the mussel was buried alive and so deep that it couldn't burrow out, and that the surrounding sediments hardened too quickly for it to open up after it died.
But what about dating the fossils?

When asked about carbon dating and the evidence it has appeared to present, Legemaate states: "Carbon dating isn't accurate because it works on the presumption that things have always been the same. Carbon content of certain materials has always been the same. Sediment gets deposited at the same rate over a period of time. This just isn't rational. We can see in our world today just how quickly things can occur."
Forget about the fact that carbon dating isn't appropriate for anything over about 50,000 years old ... that's a common bit of creationist misdirection. What's funny here is the complaint about science's "presumption that things have always been the same." But what about Legemaate's presumption that the behavior of mussels closing up when frightened and opening when they die has remained the same over time? When they like the "result" they are more than willing to apply uniformitarianism but only object to it when it contradicts their beliefs.

There is also this bit of craziness:

Crude oil is formed by masses of plant and animal matter that have been gathered in one spot, are unable to rot because of being quickly covered by rock and sediment, and are compressed over time into oil. Martin maintains that the proliferation of oil all over the earth gives evidence to the fact that the world was once covered in much lush vegetation, and many forms of individual animal life. When Noah's Flood occurred, all this plant and animal life was forced under the water, and then under ground, thereby making the massive oil deposits that we find all over the world today.

"Most people miss the point that, if the plants and animals had died and were slowly covered over time, we would have no oil today," says Mr. Legemaate.
No, there is no explanation of this non sequitur about "rotting." Apparently, Legemaate has never heard of compost heaps ... which is strange, giving the smell coming off this stuff.


Say Wha ...?

Casey Luskin has outdid himself!

His latest burblings over the Coppedge case are truly conducive to catching flies in your open mouth.

According to Luskin, the ACLU promotes "disparate treatment for Intelligent Design" because it argued in the Kitzmiller case:

The purpose and effect of the policy are to advance and endorse the specific religious viewpoint and beliefs encompassed by the assertion or argument of intelligent design. Students will not be told of any flaws or weaknesses in intelligent design, much less that the scientific community does not consider it valid science. (pp. 19-20)

What Luskin leaves out are the immediately following sentences:

The defendants' policy will suggest to students that the scientific theory of biological evolution is false and that the truth lies in the religious beliefs advocated through the assertion or argument of intelligent design. By telling students that there purportedly are "gaps/problems" in the scientific theory of biological evolution, while not presenting any "gaps" or "problems" in the assertion or argument of intelligent design, the defendants' policy exhibits a preference for the assertion or argument of intelligent design over the scientific theory of biological evolution. The defendants are thereby preferring religion over a religion-neutral scientific theory, and are preferring the specific religious views reflected in the assertion or argument of intelligent design.

In other words, the "disparate treatment" was by the Dover school board, not the ACLU. I've already dealt with why it may not be "disparate treatment" to muzzle Coppedge's proselytizing ID, while not preventing JPL employees from expressing the conclusion that ID is not science.

Luskin goes on to quote himself from a law review article:

[Jurists] cannot treat these viewpoints like religion in order to strike down their advocacy, but then treat them like science … when they are being critiqued in order to sanction their disapproval. Either a viewpoint is religious and thereby unconstitutional to advocate as correct or critique as false in public schools, or it is scientific and fair game for both advocacy and critique in public schools.

This is just jaw-dropping nonsense! Luskin himself has claimed:

It has been argued by many critics of intelligent design theory that ID is religion because of the religious affiliations of many groups or individuals promoting intelligent design theory, or because of the nature of the subject. Many have argued that because many theists promote intelligent design theory, it must be a religious concept. However, to attribute characteristics to something just because those affiliated with it have certain characteristics is to commit what is known as the genetic fallacy or to make what is called an ad hominem argument. Neither of these are valid lines of argumentation.

In short, Luskin is arguing that you cannot tell if something is religious by the motivations of the people who support it, a point that the IDers have made explicitly in "Intelligent Design in Public School Science Curricula: A Legal Guidebook":

The controlling legal authority, the Supreme Court's decision in Edwards v. Aguillard, explicitly permits the inclusion of alternatives to Darwinian evolution so long as those alternatives are based on scientific evidence and not motivated by strictly religious concerns. Since design theory is based on scientific evidence rather than religious assumptions, it clearly meets this test. (Emphasis added)

So, the Discoveryoids are arguing that as long as they claim that their religion is scientific, it is unfair to show that it isn't ... and if you can't prove it isn't scientific, you can't prove it is religion. Heads they win, tails we and the schoolchildren lose.

It is not "disparate treatment" to say that ID is both nonscientific and religious, since those categories are not exclusive. And jurists are certainly entitled to consider ID's lack of scientific content in considering its religious nature precisely because IDers claim their motives can be separated from the scientific content of ID.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010


Taking the 19th Century Out of Education

The excellent Lauri Lebo has an equally excellent article, entitled “Texas Textbook Massacre: Deceitful Propaganda Campaign Or Tempest in a Teapot?” at Religion Dispatches.

While Ms. Lebo gives several reasons to believe that the deprecations of the Texas State Board of Education may not be the disaster that all rational observers of that bureaucratic car wreck fear, even for kids in Texas, she concludes that it was not just a tempest in a teapot.

First, the good news:

~ Lemons can make lemonade:

Ken Miller has been through the Texas Board of Education’s textbook review process before. Three times in fact.

So, the Brown University biology professor, who co-wrote the popular high-school textbook Biology with Joe Levine, said he’s not terribly worried about going through it again. Actually, the new science standards written last year present him with an invitation to delve into the issue of evolution and the fossil record more thoroughly.

~ Publishers may not (all) be lily-livered money grubbers ... or they may just realize that they can lose more by caving in:

Pearson publishes Miller’s Biology. CEO Marjorie Scardino, Miller said, has assured the authors that she would rather be known as the publisher who sold no books in Texas, rather than the one who compromised scientific integrity and failed to stand on principle.

David Hillis, a professor of integrative biology at the University of Texas—Austin who co-wrote the textbooks Life: The Science of Biology and Molecular Systemics said no reputable publisher or writer would kowtow to the board’s standards.

“It’s hard to imagine any publishers taking this seriously,” said Hillis, who testified before the education board last year regarding the science standards. “Are they really going to remove Thomas Jefferson from a discussion of the Enlightenment? And are they really going to substitute ‘free enterprise’ for capitalism? That’s ridiculous. They aren’t even synonyms.

“Publishers have reputations to maintain and this is so far off the mainstream of what is taught. They’re not going to add pseudoscience to the books. They’re not going to eliminate key historical figures.”

For the most part, publishers of high school textbooks are reluctant to discuss the Texas controversy, even though it’s acknowledged that they have been following it closely.

~ Push comes to shove, the damage can be limited to the poor kids in Texas:

While Ken Miller acknowledges that publishers are capable of producing different state editions, if they had their druthers, it’s more cost effective to only having to make one version, just with minor tweaks to accommodate state standards.

“Indeed it’s possible to produce a special edition for just Texas, but the reality is that almost all publishers would prefer the same core textbooks,” he said. ...

Sinauer Associates is a small publishing house that publishes college-level science textbooks, some of which are used in high school advanced placement classes. Sinauer, along with W.H. Freeman jointly published Hillis’ Science of Biology and Molecular Systemics. President Andrew Sinauer said his company would never consider inserting anti-evolution language into a textbook to make a sale to creationists.

“We simply wouldn’t do it and our authors wouldn’t tolerate it,” he said.

However, he said that the smaller college textbook market isn’t subject to the same kinds of pressures as the high school publishing houses for which state and regional standards have long required specific editions. So, a company might customize 8,000 copies for Texas, but still sell educationally legitimate copies to the rest of the country.

~ The Board that will be around to measure textbooks against the standards might be quite different:

Interestingly, the person who led efforts to rewrite the standards won’t be around next year to pick the textbooks. McLeroy, the board’s former chairman and the most vocal conservative on the board, lost his primary race last month. ...

Three of McLeroy’s fellow conservatives lost their races as well. Randy Rives and Joan Muenzler, who were backed by groups such as WallBuilders and the Texas Pastor Council, also lost their primary races. In addition, Austin attorney Brian Russell, whom board member Cynthia Dunbar recruited to run for her seat, lost his race to a moderate Republican. Dunbar, who is retiring, is a dominionist and has said public education is evil. Another conservative, Ken Mercer, is facing a serious challenge from a pro-education candidate in the fall election.

~ The bad news:

Even though Hillis is less worried about the board’s impact on textbooks, it doesn’t mean he isn’t concerned about what it could do to students’ education.

Under the standards, the board could require use of “supplemental material” as a way to sneak in creationist and intelligent design documents, like the Discovery Institute’s Signature of the Cell, or books that rewrite history from a distorted and dubious Christian perspective, like David Barton’s America’s Godly Heritage.

Other states have tried the supplemental material language, so far unsuccessfully. “But they keep trying,” Hillis said. ...

So, if the Texas textbook controversy were to end up having little impact on textbooks either across the country or even in Texas, was it all just a tempest in a teapot?

The answer, Hillis says, is no.

Unfortunately, young inexperienced teachers in small districts will look to the curriculum standards for guidance. And while teaching creationism is illegal, someone would have to be willing to challenge it.

“Clearly this is part of an effort to generate a culture war,” Hillis said.

Dan Quinn, a spokesman for the watchdog group Texas Freedom Network, points out that Texas in the next 10 years could become like Kansas; in response to Kansas’ board of education’s decision in the late 90s to eliminate evolution from its standards, voters elected a pro-science board. In the next election, voters elected a creationist board and then back to a pro-science board. “It became like educational schizophrenia,” Quinn said, “where teachers didn’t know what to teach from year to year.”

Hope and danger. Sounds a lot like life.

Monday, April 26, 2010



Casey Luskin is at it again, exhibiting all his logical abilities and legal acumen for the world to see ... or rather, not to see, since they are nonexistent. Once again the subject is David Coppedge’s suit against the Jet Propulsion Lab.

Although acknowledging that religious proselytizing of fellow workers by employees can be restricted by employers, Luskin goes on to say: “part of taxpayer funded JPL’s mission with NASA is to investigate origins making ID (as Mr. Williams puts it) wholly ‘related to work’ at JPL.” The problem is, of course, that Coppedge is not a cosmologist or astronomer. He helps run the JPL’s computers and investigating the origins of the universe is not anymore a part of his work than it is a part of the janitor’s duties.

Next, Luskin states that “JPL had no prior policy prohibiting any form of speech regarding ID nor a general policy prohibiting speech they deemed religious.” However, as I mentioned before, the California Court of Appeal took up this question and what they found, in effect, is that workers subjected to unwanted proselytizing are suffering religious harassment. Thus, all the JPL and/or CalTech needed to have in place is an anti-harassment policy. I haven’t found one on the web for JPL (though its Human Resources department may distribute paper copies of one) but CalTech, who Coppedge alleges is his employer, has one, which defines harassment as:

Harassment is the creation of a hostile or intimidating environment in which verbal or physical conduct, because of its severity and/or persistence, is likely to interfere significantly with an individual's work or education, or affect adversely an individual's living conditions. ...

Harassment must be distinguished from behavior which, even though unpleasant or disconcerting, is appropriate to the carrying out of certain instructional, advisory, or supervisory responsibilities or is objectively reasonable under the circumstances. ...

Caltech also is dedicated to the free exchange of ideas and to intellectual development as part of the campus milieu. Harassment, as defined by the Institute's policy on unlawful harassment, is neither legal nor a proper exercise of academic freedom. This policy is not intended to stifle vigorous discussion, debate, or freedom of expression generally, or to limit teaching methods. Harassment compromises the tradition of intellectual freedom and the trust placed in the members of the Caltech community.

The procedures for making complaints, investigating them and determining the action, if any, to be taken are also laid out. Now, it’s quite possible that Coppedge’s behavior did not reach the level of harassment but it is clear that CalTech’s harassment policy is of the sort the California Court of Appeal held was sufficient to limit proselytizing in the work place and that Luskin was wrong when he said Coppedge’s employer had no policy to limit such religious activities.

Lastly, Luskin says: “JPL employees have in fact been permitted to express ANTI-ID views within the JPL workplace” (emphasis in original). This, of course, depends on what the “anti-ID views” entail. If the anti-ID statements are that ID is not science, that merely begs several questions.

If ID is science, it is hard to see how talking about it (at least if not to the point that you don’t do your own work and/or keep others from doing theirs), could justify any discipline against Coppedge. But that wasn’t Luskin’s previous position that whether or not ID is religion is irrelevant to Coppedge’s case.

If ID is not science, then when Coppedge pretends it is, that makes his behavior neither appropriate for the work environment nor objectively reasonable and, if his behavior rose to the level of badgering and annoying his coworkers, that might well be harassment. On the other hand, saying it is not science is not denigrating a religious belief, since many religious beliefs are not scientific. Thus, the JPL allowing its employees to say that ID is not science is both appropriate to the work environment and objectively reasonable.

Thus, no matter how much the DI drones devoutly wish to avoid “Dover II,” if the JPL feels it can vigorously defend its behavior, the question of whether ID is science or religion is quite likely to be relevant, if not central, to the case.

The really good news about this case comes from a DI propaganda publicity release:
Luskin serves as a consultant to the Coppedge lawsuit.
Poor Coppedge ... he’ll never know what hit him.


Of Morals, Values and Neither

Hoo Boy!

Michael R. Felletter is "a senior majoring in visual journalism" at Penn State University and Multimedia Editor of the student newspaper, The Daily Collegian. In an article entitled "Senior wonders why many look down on Christians," he denies that he, himself, is one but laments a "crazy column about Christianity" without, unfortunately, linking to it. Given his own screed, it might well have been worth reading.

You see, he thinks the following are examples of Christians being "particularly harassed for their faith":

In public schools and government offices, there is a fierce battle taking place to remove any Christian references under the premise that it is unconstitutional.

I don't object to there being a separation of chuch and state, but at what cost? Is that separation even mentioned in the Constitution?

Read it for yourself and let me know.

On the other hand, our government has been accommodating other religions such as Islam. In two school districts in California and Texas, special rooms for Muslim students to pray in on Fridays for Jum'ah have been integrated into the schools, where they are excused from class for this hour-long congregational prayer.

In 2004, 11-year-old Nashala Hearn was suspended twice in the Muskogee Public School District in Oklahoma for refusing to remove her headscarf under the dress code policy. Hearn won in a settlement, and changes were made to the policy adhering to the Islam faith.

Why, yes, it is in the Constitution, right there in the First Amendment (as applied to state and local governments by the Fourteenth Amendment): "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof ..."

In short, government cannot coerce anyone to accept any particular religious practice or religion in general. You cannot have freedom of religion if you cannot reject it altogether. Thus, public schools cannot force students to pray or acknowledge a particular God and cannot express, by word or deed, a preference for a particular flavor of religion.

That does not mean that government should not "accommodate" the free exercise of the religious practices of students. It has been held that Christian students can be allowed to attend religious classes during the school day; Christian students can wear religious items like crosses; Christian students can have Bible study clubs; Christian students can have prayer meetings on campuses; etc., etc.

Thus, Mr. Felletter is wrong when he says "Christians are being prevented from freely practicing their faith in public schools, while Muslims are gaining ground," except in the trivial sense that Muslims are "gaining ground" by being allowed the same rights as Christian students.

Then Mr. Felletter turns really stupid:

If atheism is the way, who has the authority to make the laws. Without religion, where do we find our morals and values? In the government, where the majority makes the laws?

Let's look at this scenario: It's late at night, and there are two routes home. The first is a Christian neighborhood. The second is atheist. Which one would you feel safer passing through? I'll let you make that decision yourself.
Want to ask a Muslim or a Jew that question or, for that matter, a black or Hispanic Christian walking through a white Christian neighborhood? Which is not to say that atheists are more moral than religionists ... just that they are certainly no less moral.

And, yes, it is the majority, within the restraints imposed by the Constitution to protect the rights of the minority, who makes the decisions as to what civil morality and values will be enforced by the state. Who else in a democracy? As for the personal morality and values of people, those should be the decision of the individual. That’s what freedom of religion is all about.

But this is the kicker (and what got my attention):

The theory of evolution is taught in school as fact, though it is full of holes, just like the Christians' Bible. Aren't they both a belief system? Don't both need faith to believe in them?

I’m going to hazard a guess that Mr. Felletter is the product of a school system where Christians were in control of what got taught and their vaunted “morals and values” not only allowed, but compelled them, to have lies about the science of evolution foisted on innocent children.

Sunday, April 25, 2010


IDing Anatidae

Ah, I see that quote mining and arguments from misplaced authority are as alive and unwell among Intelligent Design advocates as they are among more traditional creationists. I wonder why that is? The technique is identical, as this letter by Richard Kirby to the editors of The Newnan (Georgia) Times-Herald shows. The first thing you notice is the near absence of any references and the complete absence of any context.

While Michael Behe's Darwin's Black Box is named, it is not mentioned that Behe accepts common descent (as the Disco 'Tute is fond of reminding us, precisely because it is such an anomaly in their ranks), which is what most people think of when evolution is raised. It is mentioned that "Loren Lovetrup" (actually Søren Løvtrup ... accuracy is not the forté of quote miners) is not a creationist, but it is not mentioned that Behe and David Berlinski are in the pay of the Disco 'Tute or that A. E. Wilder-Smith was a young-Earth creationist. Of course, one contrarian scientist like Løvtrup is evidence of nothing except that science is done by human beings and the necessity of peer review and scientific consensus.

Sir Fred Hoyle is invoked, though why an astronomer's opinion as to biology should be credited is not explained. The opinion of Karl Popper -- a philosopher -- that Darwinism is "a metaphysical programme" is cited, without any understanding of what Popper meant by that or mention of the fact that he changed his mind. Pierre P. Grasse is recalled but not the part where he said "Zoologists and botanists are nearly unanimous in considering evolution as a fact and not a hypothesis. I agree with this position ...".

And there is the mandatory creationist quote mine from Stephen Jay Gould to the effect that "The fossil record with its abrupt transitions offers no support for gradual change," without explaining why that in any way refutes evolution ... obviously because the writer has no clue what evolution is.

But my favorite is this:

Sir Francis Crick, discoverer of DNA, now favors intelligent design.

Since Crick has been dead going on six years, its doubtful, to say the least, to say that he is doing anything now. And his brief flirtation with "panspermia" where it was posited that life on Earth was seeded by extraterrestrials, is hardly compatible with ID, as Ben Stein demonstrated.

So, how much does the duck need to quack before we decide what ID is?


Saturday, April 24, 2010


Santayana Lives

A thought:

When considering the political scene of the moment, it is difficult not to see how historical allegory plays an important role in the public spectacle known as the Tea Party movement. From the name itself, an acronym (Taxed Enough Already) that fuses current concerns to a patriotic historical moment, to the oral and written references by some of its members to Stalin and Hitler, the Tea Party appears to be steeped (sorry) in history. However, one has only to listen to a minute of ranting to know that what we really are talking about is either a deliberate misuse or a sad misunderstanding of history.

Misuse implies two things: first, that the Partiers themselves know that they are attempting to mislead, and second, that the rest of us share an understanding of what accurate history looks like. Would that this were true. Unfortunately, there is little indication that the new revolutionaries possess more than a rudimentary knowledge of American or world history, and there is even less reason to think that the wider public is any different. Such ignorance allows terms like communism, socialism, and fascism to be used interchangeably by riled-up protesters while much of the public, and, not incidentally, the media, nods with a fuzzy understanding of the negative connotations those words are supposed to convey (of course some on the left are just as guilty of too-liberally applying the "fascist" label to any policy of which they do not approve). It also allows the Tea Partiers to believe that their situation – being taxed with representation – somehow warrants use of "Don't Tread On Me" flags and links their dissatisfaction with a popularly elected president to that of colonists chafing under monarchical rule.

... The problem, of course, is that many Americans have at best a shaky hold on the relevant historical facts and are therefore credulous when presented with distortions and fabrications. Even after college graduation, too many students lack understanding of key historical developments. And that's just college students – let's not forget the majority of Americans who last studied history in their high school years, perhaps in a state like Texas, where Thomas Jefferson was just erased from the past because he is now considered too radical and the word "capitalism" has been replaced by "free enterprise" to help smooth out its rough edges.

- Erik Christiansen and Jeremy Sullivan, "The Tea Party Challenge," Inside Higher Ed, April 23, 2010

Friday, April 23, 2010


Bridge to Nowhere

Woo hoo!

It seems that David Coppedge, the computer geek who is suing the JPL is not only an ID advocate but a young-Earth creationist as well. The Sensuous Curmudgeon found an article from the doyen of YEC lunacy, the Institute for Creation Research, defending Coppedge, who is, the ICR notes, a contributor to its Acts & Facts magazine. And here is one of his articles on the ICR website.

Coppedge describes the alleged "surprises" found when the Huygens probe landed on Titan (if we were sure what we'd find, why send a probe in the first place?). But this is the kicker:

In short, Titan turned out to be very different from predictions made using long-age assumptions. The near absence of ethane remains a profound mystery. Now that the data have been published (Nature, 12/08/2005), creationists could do good work modeling Titan's atmospheric dynamics unfettered by long-age assumptions.

Uh, huh! And we're supposed to believe that this guy, who denies the scientific evidence for the age of the solar system, was just interested in informing his fellow workers of the "science" behind ID?

If so, there's a bridge I know you might be interested in buying ...

Thursday, April 22, 2010


Invidious Comparison

Via Dave The Happy Singer, some more excuses from the Catholic hierarchy for the priestly child abuse in their ranks:


What abuse scandal? Oh, look, the Beatles!
And, naturally, my favorite:

It’s a fine kettle of fish when lawyers come off as heroes compared to archbishops.


Be Careful of What You Wish For!

As I noted before, the Undiscovery Institute is trying to make hay out of the case of David Coppedge against the Jet Propulsion Laboratory for his allegedly being demoted for promoting his religion by talking about Intelligent Design with his coworkers and giving them ID videos.

I've now had an opportunity to review Coppedge's complaint.

A preliminary matter:

It seems I may have been wrong before in presuming that JPL employees are government employees. At least according to the complaint, all JPL personnel are employees of CalTech, which is a private university. This does not help Coppedge's case, at least insofar as he is basing it on the California Constitution, which prohibits government action to curtail speech but has no application to private persons or corporations.

As far as a claim under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act, Casey Luskin, Gofer General of the DI, is half-right (a higher percentage than usual). It is, at least arguably, "unlawful for an employer to discriminate against an employee based on what they [the employer] deem is religion" under FEHA. Under Section 12926(m):

Race, religious creed, color, national origin, ancestry, physical disability, mental disability, medical condition, marital status, sex, age, or sexual orientation" includes a perception that the person has any of those characteristics or that the person is associated with a person who has, or is perceived to have, any of those characteristics.

But Luskin is utterly wrong to say that "whether courts have or have not 'viewed intelligent design as a religious belief' is irrelevant to Coppedge's lawsuit."

In fact, California courts have recognized that FEHA does not prohibit employers from restricting religious proselytizing at work. In the case of Ng v. Jacobs Engineering Group, the California Court of Appeal upheld the lower court's determination that, under FEHA, it would constitute an "undue burden" on an employer to "accommodate" an employee's religious creed that she must attempt to convert her coworkers.

Thus, if ID is a religious belief (and there is ample evidence, not only that it is, but that Coppedge thinks it is), and he was generating complaints from his coworkers because of his efforts to proselytize his beliefs, then the JPL would have been within its rights to stop him. It is interesting to note that Coppedge's own complaint states that "he would not violate his conscience" by stopping discussing ID at work (paragraph 43). Why would discussing a scientific theory involve "conscience"?

It's still possible that the JPL didn't handle the problem correctly, perhaps not documenting their actions sufficiently or exaggerating the complaints of Coppedge's coworkers, who may, for example, have reacted more with ridicule than annoyance. But if the JPL defends this suit vigorously, the religious content of ID could well be in for another going over in the courts.

Can you say "Dover II" boys and girls?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010


Bada Boom!

How out of it am I?

I never heard of S.E. Cupp before today.

She is apparently aspiring to take Ann Coulter’s spot in the wet dreams of the looney right and, while she is certainly prettier than Coulter, she shows no sign of being any brighter or more honest.

Josh Rosenau has a gig over at the Washington Post’s “Political Bookworm” column of Steve Levingston dismantling Cupp’s attempt to use the science of evolution as an example of a “revolution” by the American media, “with careful, covert nudges from the Obama administration,” that is “being waged against you and me and every other American, and its goal is simple: to overthrow God, and silence Christian America for good.”

The funny thing is, if Wikipedia is right, she is an avowed atheist herself. It’s also funny that she thinks her degree in Art History makes her qualified to judge the science of evolution.

Just another intellectual stripper trying to tantalize money out of the pockets of political hicks.


Update: Josh expands on his piece at his blog, Thoughts From Kansas.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010


Running Out of Fingers

Via John Wilkins (via Jason Brown, via Dave The Happy Singer and who knows who else) there is a list of the "someone else to blame" for priestly child abuse so far accumulated by the present band of merry moralists in charge of the Catholic Church:


The Jews

Pornography, Television, The Internet

Pope John Paul II

The victims

And from the comments at John's place:

Liberal, secular society

And in a not-totally-fair-to-tar-the-church-leaders-with-loons, we can include the craziness of William Donahue of The Catholic League:

Media sensationalism

The fight against wasteful bureaucracy

The victims' families; Local Authorities; Liberal Bishops

Can anybody buy these guys a mirror?

Monday, April 19, 2010


Spacy Religion


Ed Brayton points out the hypocrisy of Intelligent Design advocates when they "claim that ID is not religious, but if anyone is not allowed to advocate for it then they are being discriminated on the basis of religion."

The latest is the case of David Coppedge, an IT employee who has worked on Jet Propulsion Laboratory's Cassini mission since 1997, who was allegedly demoted for promoting his religion by talking about intelligent design with his coworkers and giving them ID videos.

The complaint states that Coppedge is the victim of religious discrimination and retaliation under California's Fair Employment and Housing Act.

The ever ridiculous Casey Luskin ties himself in knots trying to avoid the obvious:

"Intelligent design is not religion, and nothing in the DVDs that Coppedge shared deals with religion," noted Luskin. "Even so, it's unlawful for an employer to discriminate against an employee based on what they deem is religion."

Another posting at the Discoveryless Institute's Ministry of Misinformation calls the suit the "Intelligent Design Discrimination Lawsuit Against NASA's JPL," as if there is any law against discriminating against a "scientific theory."

I'm not so sure Ed is right on this point:

Let me say this up front: I don't know the facts of this case. I certainly don't trust the DI, which has been flagrantly lying about alleged discrimination cases against Sternberg and many others -- anything to create a false martyr -- since years. But if that accusation is true, if David Coppedge really can show he was demoted because he gave out some pro-ID information to co-workers, Coppedge should win the case.

He would deserve to win the case because he was demoted for reasons that have nothing to do with his performance on the job. He would deserve to win because he is being punished for advocacy that does not diminish his ability to do his job. That's a free speech issue even if it's not a free exercise of religion issue and Coppedge should win his suit.

Ed's right that we don't know enough at this point to answer the question but the determination will be more complicated than what Ed suggests. The JPL is a Federally funded part of NASA and, presumably, Coppedge is a Federal employee (or the equivalent of one). Under the Supreme Court case of Pickering v. Board of Educ., 391 U.S. 563, 568, 88 S.Ct. 1731, 20 L.Ed.2d 811 (1968) and its progeny, a balancing test applies to the freedom of speech claims of government employees. To boil that test down to the parts that may apply in this case, I'll quote from Lewis v. Cowen, 165 F.3d 154 (2nd Cir. 1999) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted):

In balancing these interests, a court must consider whether the statement sought to be protected impairs discipline by superiors or harmony among co-workers, has a detrimental impact on close working relationships ... or impedes the performance of the speaker's duties or interferes with the regular operation of the enterprise.

The "manner, time, and place" in which the speech occurs is important in determining whether it is protected. For example, the Pickering balance is more likely to favor the government when an employee directly confronts his supervisor with objectionable language than when an employee engages in equivalent speech on his own time and not in front of co-workers. ...

The Supreme Court also has explained that regardless of the content of the speech, the responsibilities of the employee, or the context in which the speech was made, an employer is never required to allow events to unfold to the extent that the disruption of the office and the destruction of working relationships is manifest before taking action. The State need show only a "likely interference" with its operations, and not an actual disruption. [The] Court gives substantial weight to government employers' reasonable predictions of disruption caused by employee speech.

However, even if the Pickering balance is resolved in the employer's favor, the employee may still demonstrate liability by proving that the employer disciplined the employee in retaliation for the speech, rather than out of fear of the disruption.

If Coppedge's proselytizing was being done during work hours (particularly if he was using his position as a leader on the system administrator team to facilitate it) and causing complaints from other employees, the JPL would be within its rights to tell him to knock it off. And if he failed to do so, it could discipline him.

We'll have to wait to see what the facts really are.

Sunday, April 18, 2010


Blame Game

Hmmm ...

We all "know" that moderate theists "enable" religious extremists.

But they also seem to enable atheists:

First, there are three positions in the creation-evolution debate.

The Christian biblical view is that God created everything in its present form in six days.

The second is the atheists' view that there is no God and everything just happened by chance, including the Big Bang, spontaneous generation of life, and evolution of all species.

The third is the theistic evolution belief, to which Mr. Connelly ascribes, that says there is a God and he caused the Big Bang, spon-taneous generation of life, and evolution of all species.

True Christians never deny scientific facts, except in the Bible, where God caused miracles. To apply scientific facts to the miracles in the Bible, you'd either have to accept God and deny science or, as atheists do, deny the miracle.

Theistic evolutionists believe that science has proven a Big Bang and millions of years of evolution. None of this has been proven, and those theories require several assumptions.

They claim to be Christians, as many are, and accept the other miracles in the Bible, but deny the miracle of creation. Why?

There is an enormous amount of evidence supporting creation, a worldwide flood, and a young Earth. Marine fossils that are found near the tops of mountains are a fact.

There are no intermediate species today between humans and any other species. The shrinking sun would have been too big and close millions of years ago.

What is wrong with Christians believing in theistic evolution? They destroy any possibility that the Bible is God's word when the first few lines are claimed to be false.

Christianity has been almost destroyed in Europe. The U.S. has degenerated into a post-Christian nation.

Much of this is because of apathy and the actions of theistic evolutionists who aid atheists in supporting evolution.

Another strange confluence between some atheists and Fundamentalists.

Saturday, April 17, 2010


Monkey Shines

A thought:

[M]uch of the so-called evidence that would have been included in the teaching of creation science consisted of attacks on an oversimplified model of evolution theory. But behind this lay the young-earth movement's efforts to replace the orthodox view of the earth's history with flood geology. Once this could be exposed, it was possible to argue that creation science was an attempt to uphold a literal interpretation of the Genesis story. The American Civil Liberties Union was then able to argue that creation science was religion, not real science, and could not be taught in the schools. The dispute came to a head in 1983, when an Arkansas law requiring equal time was struck down after a trial that hit the headlines all over the countiy. Many experts testified for the evolutionists, and the philosopher Michael Ruse was called in to undermine the scientific credentials of the creationists. He showed how the creationists used an oversimplified view of the scientific method to dismiss evolution as "only a theory" while concealing their unwillingness to expose their own alternative to rigorous testing.

It now became clear to the creationist movement that, whatever the level of support for creation science in their own ranks, the young-earth position was an obstacle to their hopes of getting an alternative to evolutionism into the schools. Into the breach now stepped a new form of creationism, still intent on exposing the weakness of evolution theory, but now based on a revival of the old argument from design. This is the theory of Intelligent Design (ID), which has become the focus for a new wave of anti-evolution legislation. To the dismay of young-earth creationists, the supporters of ID make no effort to construct a detailed history of life based on supernatural events. Some are even willing to admit large amounts of evolution in the later development of life. They limit themselves to demonstrating the inability of orthodox Darwinism to explain the complexity of living things. If Dawkins wants to replace Paley's watchmaker God with natural selection, ID wants to shift the focus of debate into the realm of modern biology. Its target is the evidence for design to be found not in the gross anatomical structures of individual species, but within the cell, where recent advances reveal a whole new level of complexity. ...

Despite its central role as the spearhead for the latest efforts to bring anti-evolutionism into the schools, many creationists remain profoundly dissatisfied with ID. At best, it only endorses belief in an abstract Designer for the earliest living cells. It doesn't imply that individual modern species are divinely created, least of all human beings, and its supporters are quite happy with the orthodox scientific model of geological time. Some of them even accept theistic evolution to explain all the later developments in the history of life. For the premillenial Christian groups who depend on the veracity of the Bible to uphold their vision of an imminent Second
Coming of Christ, this is not enough -- indeed it is totally unacceptable.

Peter J. Bowler, Monkey Trials and Gorilla Sermons : Evolution and Christianity from Darwin to Intelligent Design

Friday, April 16, 2010


Of Cats and Dogs

Damn! I hate it when people who I like get to talking past each other and I have to go and straighten out the mess.

Such are the trials of being the only reasonable person on the intertubz.

PZ Myers started it off with a post about Kurt Zimmerman, a Tennessee man who objected to the phrase "the biblical myth that the universe was created by the Judeo-Christian god in six days" in his child's biology textbook.

Michael De Dora, director of the New York Center For Inquiry, demurred, saying:

This means that while I agree with Myers that the Biblical creation story is a "myth," the public school classroom doesn't seem to be the place where our message should be pushed. More specifically, the purpose of biology class is not to reject religious ideas; it is to inform students about biology. There is no scientific reason for the textbook to discuss Christianity or label its creation story a "myth"; it has nothing to do with teaching the theory of evolution or biology generally.

PZ responded in full Pharyngulista style, calling De Dora, among other things, a "wishy-washy, sloppy-thinking," "witless wanker."

Massimo Pigliucci rose to the defense of De Dora, who he acknowledged is his friend. Pigliucci's main point was that:

[T]his to me represents the latest example of an escalation (downwards in quality) in the tone and substance of the discourse on atheism, and I blame this broadly on the rhetoric of the new atheism (the only "new" aspect of which is precisely the in-your-face approach to "reason"). With few exceptions (mostly, Dennett), what we have seen in recent years is much foaming at the mouth, accompanied by a cavalier attitude toward the substance, rationality and coherence of one's arguments. And now we have seen a new low consisting of childish insults to a fellow atheist and writer who is clearly fighting the same battle as the rest of us.

PZ then responded that Pigliucci's complaints about "tone" were belied by the fact that that Pigliucci insulted him.

There is much more that I could address but that's enough for a rain delay in the Yankees game. I may take the rest on later, if I can work up the energy.

First of all, De Dora and Pigliucci seem to be assuming that the word "myth" is the equivalent of "superstitious nonsense." This is not necessarily the case. Merriam-Webster Online defines "myth," in relevant part, as:

1 a: a usually traditional story of ostensibly historical events that serves to unfold part of the world view of a people or explain a practice, belief, or natural phenomenon b : parable, allegory

3: a person or thing having only an imaginary or unverifiable existence
The first definition clearly does not go to the "truth" of a myth and the second is certainly ambiguous on that point. Indeed, at least one of the school board members, who have not (at least yet) upheld Zimmerman's complaint despite some indications that they share his sensibilities, noted that "myth" was appropriately used to describe the Genesis story.

As we recently saw in the case of James Corbett, under our Constitution it is one thing to for a government employee or school to say that something is "scientific nonsense" and quite another to say that it is "religious, superstitious nonsense."

The problem here is that PZ also seems to accept that "myth" is the equivalent of "superstitious nonsense":

This is all about a dunderheaded creationist complaining about a textbook that called his superstition a "myth".

If that is so, then describing Genesis as a "myth" is not permissible for a government employee.

Furthermore, PZ was torching strawmen when he claimed:

If a science teacher can't even flatly state that the earth is 4.5 billion years old, not 6000, because philosophers will complain about epistomological boundaries, we're doomed.

Neither De Dora nor Pigliucci suggested any such thing, as far as I can see.

Nor did Pigliucci "insult" PZ, as least in the same way that PZ insulted De Dora. Pigliucci did entitle his post "PZ Myers is a witless wanker who peddles pablum" but immediately took it back by saying:

No, not really, but I got your attention, yes? On the other hand, these are precisely the words used by PZ in a recent post, aimed at criticizing Michael De Dora's observations about a recent debate in Knoxville, TN on the wording of a biology textbook.

The only other "insults" Pigliucci "perpetrated" were to say:

PZ's post reads like it was written by an intemperate teenager in the midst of a hormonal rage.


[W]e have seen a new low consisting of childish insults to a fellow atheist and writer who is clearly fighting the same battle as the rest of us.

Neither goes to PZ as a person, but to his tone.

I think Pigliucci's point about tone is well taken. I take a back seat to no one in the ridiculing of creationists. Nor do I think it necessary to be gentle with those who I generally agree with when I think they are wrong (as Jerry Coyne can attest). Pigliucci is wrong to suggest that the difference in tone should turn on who is "fighting the same battle as the rest of us."

The real difference is: when dealing with unreasonable or dishonest people, their personalities are fair game; when dealing with reasonable and honest (but possibly wrong) people, then the focus should be their arguments, instead of their personalities.

Thursday, April 15, 2010


The Confluence of All Stupidity

At least so it seems when Denyse (accent on the "Deny") O'Leary starts citing to Sal (Sycophantry-R-Us) Cordova for her fractured English brain dribblings.

This occasion is the National Science Board's strange decision to drop the section of the National Science Foundation's report on science literacy that deals with evolution denialism. De-Leary-ium focuses on the statement by the board member who took the lead in removing that section, John Bruer, a philosopher who heads the St. Louis, Missouri-based James S. McDonnell Foundation, to the effect:

There are many biologists and philosophers of science who are highly scientifically literate who question certain aspects of the theory of evolution.
I don't want to expose you too much to the toxic ooze seeping out of O'Leary's ears but one thing amused me. She seems to think that "few believe" in (whatever she means by) "Darwinism," and says:

In my view, the Darwinists had it coming. Evolutionary biologists, most of whom are tenured, were never willing to denounce "evolutionary psychology". No matter how ridiculous the theses, they refused to state clearly, publicly, and as a profession, that that is not science.
No biologists? She has never heard of Stephen Jay Gould or Richard Lewontin and the "Science Wars"?

Of course she hasn't. Morons rarely know anything about what they are babbling on about.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010


Unphilosophical Scientists II

Jerry Coyne has admitted that he is no philosopher.

For some strange reason, he still insists on proving it.

This time the occasion for doing so is his response to something Massimo Pigliucci (a real philosopher) wrote about Sam Harris' attempt to draw an "ought" from an "is" (which Chris Schoen at u_n_d_e_r_v_e_r_s_e has a good take on). Specifically, Coyne disputes Pigliucci's statement that:

Dawkins and Coyne ... insist in applying science to the supernatural, which is simply another form of the same malady that strikes Harris: scientism, the idea that science can do everything and provides us with all the answers that are worth having.
Coyne then states:

Virtually every religion that is practiced by real people (as opposed to that espoused by theologians like Karen Armstrong) makes claims that God interacts with the world. That is, most religions are theistic rather than deistic. And to the extent that a faith is theistic, it is amenable to empirical study and falsification—that is, it's susceptible to science. (Bold in the original)
Coyne then gives a list of things which he thinks show that "science already has tested the supernatural," about which much could be (and, perhaps, in the future, will be) said. Suffice it to say that science can address some empiric claims made by adherents of religion but the issue remains whether it can test the "supernatural."

But what interests me here is what I want to call "the reverse argumentum ad populum fallacy." Let's look at Coyne's bolded statement above. Assume for a minute that we take a survey of American nonscientists who accept the theory of evolution and then determine, in detail, their understanding of the actual science. If we were to then compare that to the empiric evidence, would their understanding hold up? I rather think not.

If the ad populum understanding of religion is the measure that should be applied to its "truthiness," then why shouldn't the ad populum understanding of science be the measure of its "truthiness"?

If Coyne wants to appeal to the expertise of scientists, he cannot, without special pleading, deny the possibility of expertise in theologians.

In fact, Coyne wants to shoot only at the easy targets ... which should hardly give us confidence in his aim.


Tuesday, April 13, 2010


Unphilosophical Scientists

I have generally held that PZ Myers was more right than wrong when it came to philosophy but I'm afraid that he has a blind spot about the philosophy of science.

In his post "Am I to be the next enemy of the NCSE?," he criticizes the NCSE for having a "Faith Project." I agree with this. It's one thing for an organization dedicated to science education, in a society as religious as ours, to make soothing noises in the direction of believers and quite another to actually set up a theological arm to dispute particular religious beliefs.

That part doesn't interest me. But he has again proclaimed that:

These guys always seem to use "science" as a word demarcating a very narrow field of endeavor involving white lab coats, test tubes, and strangely colored solutions, but it isn't. Science is simply a process for examining the world, and anyone can do it, even if you do't have a lab coat. If something has an effect or influence, you can try to examine it using the tools of science — so when someone announces that gods cannot be detected by observation or experiment, they are saying they don't matter and don't do anything, which is exactly what this atheist has been saying all along.
There is a lot wrong with this.

Besides the scientism ("The only way [God] can escape our probes is if he doesn't exist" ... what scientific evidence does PZ have that nothing exists except that which is amenable to scientific investigation?) and the suggestion that atheism is a scientific result (which would play hob with our constitutional law), the notion that science has no formal aspect and is something that one person can do is flat out wrong.

Sure, you don't need to have a science degree or a fancy laboratory in order to do real science. But you do need to publish your systematized results in such a way as to attract peer review. It need not be in refereed journals and their often leaky peer review, but nothing is "science" unless and until the scientific community has seriously considered it and a consensus has formed that the method of the proposition is "scientific" (even if no consensus on the right answer has emerged). Has PZ ever published his "experiments" in cuddling and has any consensus arisen in the scientific community that what he was doing was real scientific investigation?

Certainly, PZ's cuddling with the Trophy-Wife-to-be is not "science" ... unless Deepak Chopra's "interpretation" of a single PBS program is also "science."

What marks the difference between "thinking about things" and "science" is the engagement of the scientific community. Absent that, you are only aspiring to science.

Strangely, people like Ken Miller understand this while PZ doesn't. Miller doesn't claim his musings about facts of the world such as quantum mechanics supports his metaphysics, only that they do not contradict and may even be amenable to that metaphysics. PZ, on the other hand, insists that any musings whatsoever that he deems to count as "science" positively supports his.


Monday, April 12, 2010


The Evolution of Woo

Deepak Chopra is at it again.

After explaining that red colobus monkeys and their cousins, the white-and-black colobus, subsist on a diet of tree leaves high in cyanide and explaining that bacteria in their intestines help neutralize the toxin, he then goes on:

Yet in the process the colobus has bad indigestion — as the narrator intones, "They don't seem to like their diet very much." And indeed, the monkeys on camera look listless and sour-faced.

But the red colobus recently made a life-altering discovery. They found that if they eat a bit of charcoal from the abandoned fires of local villagers, their indigestion is cured. This had made them happier monkeys, and as a result their numbers have dramatically increased; not only that, but they are free to explore other food sources. These advantages aren't felt by the white-and-black colobus, who haven't hit upon the charcoal-eating trick. New generations of red colobus learn the habit by having it passed on from mother to child.

It's amazing how much critical knowledge is contained in this one anecdote. Self-medication is well known, but here the red colobus has hit upon the same property in charcoal that emergency room doctors use when a patient arrives with acute poisoning. Medical science is able to explain how charcoal absorbs toxins in the stomach. Monkeys can't explain anything or do laboratory research. It is completely untenable to claim that they eat substances at random until they hit upon just the one perfect remedy — such random behavior isn't seen among them. Nor is the behavior genetic, because native tribes moved into the vicinity of the colobus and lit fires only recently compared to the 40 million years that monkeys have existed.

What we are witnessing is an intelligent discovery on the part of creatures who stand far below Homo sapiens on the evolutionary chain, and that discovery is being passed on from mother to child without genetic adaptation. To me, this means that quite a blow has been struck for intelligence being innate in the universe. It suggests that evolution itself has never been random but is guided by the principle of intelligence — not "intelligent design," which is a red herring supplied by religious conservatives. The intelligent universe is a cutting-edge idea, not a throwback to scripture. As a theory, it gives us a much more elegant explanation for many things that are clumsily explained by falling back on randomness to explain every new development in Nature.

At the moment, evolutionary theory refuses to abandon the notion of random selection, and geneticists cling stubbornly to the doctrine of random mutations to explain why new things appear in the unfolding story of life. We all have a stake in this argument, however. Seeing the red colobus evolve before our eyes cannot be denied. It didn't happen randomly, and their new discovery represents a quantum leap forward in their survival. There's much to think about here, since we want to know how early humans made their first discoveries and passed them on to us. Rather than saying that a larger brain made intelligence possible, why not say the opposite, that intelligence dictated a larger brain so that it could expand? Life moves forward inexorably, no one doubts that. Now it's up to us to explain the hidden forces behind evolution, in hopes that we can tap those forces and guide our own future.

The main problem here, of course, is the notion of the "Great Chain of Being." Since monkeys cannot "do laboratory research," therefore they are too dumb to make a discovery. One wonders how Chopra thinks "folk medicine" arose ... oh, never mind, he'd explain it the same way. No doubt he'd also explain how the bacteria "learned" to neutralize cyanide and how the monkeys "learned" how to get the bacteria in their guts the same way.

But it is amusing to contemplate how Chopra thinks he knows enough about colobus monkeys from one episode of the PBS program, Nature, to be able to proclaim that "random behavior isn't seen among them," without which his musings are revealed as mere babble. Not to mention just how he explains why the Universal Mind doesn't like the white-and-black colobus monkeys.

Sunday, April 11, 2010


Godwin Awards

David Gewirtz at ZDNet points to Brandon Invergo's Google search for page hits to see how many pages had the names of the three most recent U.S. Presidents and Hitler on the same page. He also did the same for the Presidents along with the names Lenin, Stalin, Mao, and even Satan.

I did a very informal search for the last three presidents' last names coupled with the last name of various dictators, both for pages and for images separately, and checked the estimated number of results. I also threw in Satan for good measure. This wasn't very careful though: searching for "bush" could certainly find results for that other George Bush (not super likely since that was before the extreme popularization of the internet) and searching for "clinton" results in, of course, many hits for Hillary. So, rather than limiting this to just presidents, we'll say that it roughly encompasses a few of the prominent US political figureheads of the past 20 years. Also, it's likely that not every hit tries to draw a direct comparison between Politico A and Dictator/Demon X. Lastly, I think Google personalizes results these days, so your exact counts may vary a bit (but probably not on the orders of magnitude that we're observing in the graphs).

It's a shame that so many people don't know they are losing their arguments.

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