Thursday, September 30, 2010


How To

John Wilkins has started an important project.

John notes that something called "the scientific method" is often the focus of social and political arguments over the demarcation of science from pseudoscience. Those arguments, in turn, can have enormous consequences, as in the case of global warming or proper education.

However, as was the case with the attempt to arrive at a demarcation criteria between science and pseudoscience, the demarcation between the scientific method and all the other nonscientific methods of investigation will not be some bright-line, easy to draw, sum-it-up-in-10-words-or-less rule suitable for grade school textbooks. Of course, most nonscientists wind up with just such a grade school understanding of "the scientific method," often involving a set of rigid steps, such as: Observation --> Hypothesis --> Testing --> Theory --> More Testing --> Law.

Indeed, as John points out, there is no such thing as the scientific method but, instead, "there are many, but like a family portrait, they all have a resemblance, and there are clearly some that have been adopted from outside the family tree." That is no reason to throw up our hands and declare that there is no way at all to distinguish scientific methodology from nonscientific. It's just a messier and, ultimately, imperfect project but still well worth the effort, in that it will assist nonscientists in evaluating conflicting claims to the mantle of science.

John proposes to aid in this task by producing a kind of "operating manual" for nonscientists:

So when a non-scientist approaches scientific reasoning, it pays for them to know how science is done and why, and if they aren't about to undertake a scientific education, or worse, a philosophy of science education, then they don't want to have to deal with these complexities and nuances. This book will be written for them. We aim to provide simple summary explanations of what science does, and justify those practices. Why, for example, do medical researchers use double blind methods? Why do psychologists test null hypotheses? Why are error bars used? How do physicists come up with these increasingly complex and odd theories? And should they do this?

So scientists should follow the series and assist in formulating the manual and nonscientists can help in making it intelligible to people like them. Everyone can, I'm sure, learn something along the way and have fun in the effort.


Tuesday, September 28, 2010


Of Calliopes and Intellectual Cotton Candy

The Discoveryless Institute’s Stupendous Traveling Circus and Amazing Pandemonium Show recently made a visit to Southern Methodist University. The Sensuous Curmudgeon has already featured the student newspapers’ report of the event, which includes the incredibly garbled statement that:

While some who study geology believe in the Cambrian explosion, in which animals did not evolve from small organisms but were created by a 60-million-year long explosion, Darwin thought otherwise.

If we assume that many of the students at SMU and, indeed, at colleges and universities all around the country, similarly have neither the background knowledge nor the inclination to understand even the simplest facts the DI mangles in its propaganda campaign, there is little wonder that even less well educated Americans so easily fall prey to the snake oil salesmen from Seattle.

On the other hand, it is heartening to see the reaction of the SMU faculty to the charlatans in their midst:

Last Thursday evening, the SMU community witnessed another dishonest attempt to present a particular form of religion as science, entitled "4 Nails in Darwin's Coffin: New Challenges to Darwinian Evolution". It was designed and presented by Seattle's Discovery Institute (and its subsidiary the Biologic Institute). This was a follow-up to their equally dishonest 2007 presentation "Darwin vs. Design".

We were outraged by the dishonesty of Thursday's presentation, but not entirely surprised by it. The Discovery Institute is a well-financed organization that has repeatedly attempted to discredit Darwinian biology and thereby advance its brand of religion called Intelligent Design. We do not object to religion as such. But we do object to blatant distortions of Darwinian thinking, and to pseudo-scientific alternatives to it that are falsely alleged to be better supported by the evidence.

Even better, John Wise, a professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at SMU, has put together a resource debunking the DI's dog and pony show, which features its slickly disingenuous movie, Darwin's Dilemma. There are other resources about ID at professor Wise's faculty page as well.

The final word should go to the SMU faculty:

The Discovery Institute is a fringe group of pseudo-scientists who are busily trying to pass themselves off on the unwary as legitimate scientists.

All-in-all, I think they are being kind.


Updates: The Sensuous Curmudgeon points to where the Empire Whines Back and also to where the Religious Studies Department of SMU has joined the Biology Department in describing the vacuity of ID and the people who peddle it. Then Casey Luskin does the same thing by ... well ... being Casey Luskin.


Creationism's Hot Air

Sunday School Times, June 3, 1922

Another 88 years of bad prognostication.

Monday, September 27, 2010


PZ's Long Arms

Moody Bible Institute Monthly, December 1925

Sunday, September 26, 2010


Taking Care of Education


Sunday School Times, September 30, 1922

Saturday, September 25, 2010


A Little Learning ...

The article begins:

Florida's schools come in for a lot of criticism. But the schools still are full of students who produce thoughtful work.

It is tempting the gods, fate, the blind and random universe, or whatever you want to call it, to start off an article like that ... perhaps especially so when the author of the article, one Jac Wilder VerSteeg, Deputy Editorial Page Editor of the Palm Beach Post, does not seem willing to spend much thought on which examples he finds thoughtful. Take this one for starters:

An individual cannot yell, "Fire!" in a crowded movie theater, but an individual can interrupt a presidential speech by yelling, "Lie!" The first instance, if allowed, would endanger lives by causing a stampede. The second instance would endanger the very core of American democracy if we disallowed it.

The student's ... not to mention VerSteeg's ... confusion is evident in her very formulation. Of course it is permissible to yell "fire" in a crowded theater ... if the theater is, in fact, on fire. Similarly, it is perfectly permissible to call the President of the United States a liar but it may not be appropriate to do so during a Joint Session of Congress. We regularly and properly eject protesters from congressional galleries and meeting rooms when they are interrupting the business of government. Protesters must be allowed to be heard but that right does not extend to being heard where ever and whenever the protesters choose. If you think otherwise, to use my favorite example, just let me show up outside your bedroom window at 2:00 am with a bullhorn.

It is this supposedly thoughtful work, however, which is so confused on so many different levels, that attracted my attention:

The freedom of religion is ideal because believing something in your heart and not being allowed to express it is so limiting. It keeps all of the citizens in the same mindset. All of the modern day theories, like the big bang theory or intelligent design, were created because the people of the United States are allowed to express their religious opinion. Allowing the freedom of religion keeps our minds open for change. It's inspiring and allows us to come together and appreciate what a wonderful country we live in.

Well ... first of all, Georges Lemaître, working at the Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium, is generally credited with formulating the Big Bang Theory. However, Lemaître was expanding on the work of Alexander Friedman, who worked in the Soviet Union. Of course, the math underlying both Lemaître's and Friedman's work was formulated by a certain clerk working in a Swiss patent office. And, as one last fillip, the name "Big Bang" was coined by a British astrophysicist, Sir Fred Hoyle.

Thus the student and VerSteeg are both thoughtlessly laboring under the misconception that every great idea, including the Big Bang, has been the product of the United States, when that is, in fact, far from the truth.

Also, while there was some concern originally in the scientific community that Lemaître was advancing a religious idea of creation, the rigor of the math and astronomical evidence he presented quickly disabused scientists of that notion. While I agree that freedom of religion is a very good idea, neither it nor the American formulation of that freedom had anything to speak of to do with the Big Bang Theory.

Naturally, calling Intelligent Design Creationism a modern day scientific theory on the order of the Big Bang means that you are not merely thoughtless but deeply ignorant as well. The "design argument" is ancient, going back as least as far as the golden age of Greek philosophy, and was formulated, in all the major aspects it sports today, no later than William Paley's Natural Theology in 1802. Naturally, ID is a religious belief that anyone is allowed to hold in the US but which, because of freedom of religion, cannot be foisted on others in public schools by the government.

One thing that must be pointed out is that the proponents of ID, with their constant drumbeat about how "Darwinism," which they claim is a religious belief, leads to all bad things, clearly disagree that it is a good idea to keep our minds open for change. That's why they use every chicanery to try to keep young people from truly considering the evidence for the scientific fact of evolution.


When Science Based Medicine Goes Bad

Well, I had my surgical procedure and am recovering nicely now. I'll probably be napping quite a lot for the next few days but I just thought I'd let my select group of readers know that I'm still here ... whether you like it or not.

Thursday, September 23, 2010


Lose Faith, Get Sick

Here's an interesting report in ScienceDaily, entitled "Losing Your Religion May Be Unhealthy, Research Suggests."

People who leave strict religious groups are more likely to say their health is worse than members who remain in the group, according to a Penn State researcher.

The percentage of people who left a strict religious group and reported they were in excellent health was about half that of people who stayed in the group, said Christopher Scheitle, senior research assistant, in sociology.

The news is even worse for people who ... cough ... gnuly become atheists:

About 40 percent of members of strict religious groups reported they were in excellent health, according to the study. However, only 25 percent of members in those groups who switched to another religion reported they were in excellent health. The percentage of the strict religious group members who dropped out of religion completely and said their health was excellent fell to 20 percent.

Of course, it's never as clear cut as that:

Strict groups typically require members to abstain from unhealthy behaviors, such as alcohol and tobacco use. These groups also create both formal and informal support structures to promote positive health, according to Scheitle. The social bonds of belonging to the group might be another factor for better health.

"The social solidarity and social support could have psychological benefits," Scheitle said. "That could then lead to certain health benefits."

Religious beliefs may also promote better health by providing hope and encouraging positive thinking.

Besides losing connection to these health benefits, exiting a religious group may increase stressful situations.

"You could lose your friends or your family becomes upset when you leave, leading to psychological stress and negative health outcomes," said Scheitle.

It may even be the case that strict religious group behavior is so demanding in terms of participation that people in poorer health tend to drop out.

But that bit about providing hope and encouraging positive thinking seems doubtful to me ... unless the hope we're talking about is hoping to see all the people you don't like burning in hell and the positive thinking is being positive you won't be among them.

Saturday, September 18, 2010


Moran On the Definition of "Accommodationism"

Larry has changed his own definition of "accommodationism."

Today, at least, "accommodationism" means "rhetoric [that] comes from atheists (secularists) who direct a great deal of anger toward the vocal atheists but go out of their way to excuse their religious friends."

Hmmmm ... just 6 months ago, Larry declared the following, from Peter Hess' article "God and Evolution" on the NCSE website, had "all the earmarks" of accommondationism:

Of course, religious claims that are empirically testable can come into conflict with scientific theories. For instance, young-earth creationists argue that the universe was created several thousand years ago, that all the lineages of living creatures on Earth were created in their present form (at least up to the poorly-defined level of "kind") shortly thereafter, and that these claims are supported by empirical evidence, such as the fossil record and observed stellar physics. These fact claims are clearly contradicted by mainstream paleontology, cosmology, geology and biogeography. However, the theological aspect of young-earth creationism—the assertions about the nature of God, and the reasons why that God created the universe and permitted it to develop in a particular way—cannot be addressed by science. By their nature, such claims can only be—and have been—addressed by philosophers and theologians.

The science of evolution does not make claims about God's existence or non-existence, any more than do other scientific theories such as gravitation, atomic structure, or plate tectonics. Just like gravity, the theory of evolution is compatible with theism, atheism, and agnosticism. Can someone accept evolution as the most compelling explanation for biological diversity, and also accept the idea that God works through evolution? Many religious people do.
No anger directed at atheists nor indiscriminate excuse of the religious.

In fact, aren't the people Larry is calling "accommodationists" those people who were dubbed "faitheists" by Jerry Coyne?

Now, of course, Larry is free to make up his own private definition for any word he likes but, out of common courtesy, he might wave a flag or set off a flare or something so the rest of us know ... just so we don't get whiplash.



But It's All About the Science!

David Klinghoffer is over at the Undiscovery Institute's Ministry of Misinformation once again demonstrating that the real aim of Intelligent Design Creationism is theological, not scientific:

Under a scientific view that leaves open the possibility that we really do reflect God's intelligent designing purpose, making us in a genuine sense his "handiwork" and the "fruit of [his] labor," we can make a plausible claim on his mercy. A very plausible claim, perhaps more so even than a child's claim on the mercy of his mortal father.

But under an extremely attenuated vision of God's involvement in our having come to existence, like that proposed by theistic evolutionists, it's much harder to see what claim I have on God's mercy. Not being his handiwork in any meaningful sense, exactly what relationship do I have to him?

Note that Klinghoffer's choice of ID is not based on its scientific merits but based on its compatibility with the theological position he prefers. Of course, that makes ID, in fact, a theological position, not a scientific one. Theistic evolution is also a theological position but it has the advantage of choosing its position based on the scientific facts about the world instead of ignoring, distorting and falsifying those facts.


Via The Sensuous Curmudgeon

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Friday, September 17, 2010


Not Accommodating Stupidity

Larry Moran appears to believe that people who don't think "science" is necessarily "incompatible" with religion (i.e. "accommodationists") are somehow duty-bound to point out that Pope Palpatine Benedict and that pimple on theism's ass, Bill Donohue, are being stupid when they try to lay the blame for the Holocaust on atheism.

What those comments have to do with the question of whether or not science is "compatible" with some religious beliefs is beyond me. But, though I don't feel my accommodationism obligates me to criticize the Pope and the dope, I am happy to do so on the general principle that stupidity should be mocked.

The Pope started it off by lauding British resistance to Nazism and contrasting that to "the sobering lessons of atheist extremism of the 20th century." As John Wilkins points out, that is nothing but historic revisionism*, something that anyone who fancies himself a scholar should be ashamed of.

But the dope, unsurprisingly, multiplies the dopery. According to Donohue, who ups the ante by adding Stalin and Mao, it was the "anti-religious impulse that allowed them to become mass murderers." Riiight! Only those with an anti-religious impulses become mass murderers! So, the genocide against Mesoamericans was carried out by atheists who just happened to be wearing the robes of the Catholic Church and carrying the banners of Christ in the vanguard of the conquistadors? Torquemada was anti-religious? The Malleus Maleficarum was written and enforced by atheists?

To his small credit, Donohue knows he's spouting nonsense but he thinks it's okay:

... since the fanatically anti-Catholic secularists in Britain, and elsewhere, demand that the pope—who is entirely innocent of any misconduct—apologize for the sins of others.

Donohue is no more specific than that but you don't have to be a regular dope-watcher to know that the subject that most results in apo of his plexy is the recent attention given to the pedophilia scandals in the Church. Quite apart from suggestive evidence that Benedict was part of a conspiracy to hush up instances of priestly "love" of children, perhaps allowing some of them to victimize others, he is now head of an institution that engaged in a systematic campaign to allow criminals to escape justice. As such, he should apologize, just as any head of the Nazi Party should have apologized for what their organization did.

We might not expect murderous political thugs to repent the actions of their institution, but the man who claims the moral authority to lecture others on their lives might do a little better.


* See, also, PZ's repost of a list of Hitler's quotes on his "anti-religionism" compiled by Doug Theobald.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


Skimming the Subject

This is a repost from October of 2005 (while I wait for the Percocet to kick in), though I've added a picture as is now my custom.

Apparently conservatives have fallen love with the nature documentary, "March of the Penguins". According to conservative film critic and radio host Michael Medved, quoted by Jonathan Miller in his New York Times article "March of the Conservatives: Penguin Film as Political Fodder" (still available as a pdf file):

[March of the Penguins is] the motion picture this summer that most passionately affirms traditional norms like monogamy, sacrifice and child rearing.

Except, of course, it doesn’t. As P.Z. Myers points out at Pharyngula, penguins only practice seasonal monogamy, getting a new mate every breeding season. Worse, as P.Z. goes on to explain:

It was a movie about pitiless Darwinian circumstances. Drop the egg, it freezes and the embryo dies. Newborn chick wanders away, it freezes and dies. One parent dies of predation or weather, the other has to abandon the young to starve, freeze, and die.

Emperor Penguins are beautiful birds and amazing examples of evolutionary adaptation but if my parents were planning on practicing "penguin family values", I’d be looking for a safer place to live.

John Wilkins, at his Evolving Thoughts site, has pointed out that this is:

. . . an old tradition in Christian treatment of nature. Ever since the classical period, there has been a tradition of drawing moral lessons from organisms. Of course, such people only read into the organisms, like the lion, the eagle or the fox, what they want to find there. It's not like they actually learn from nature or anything.

Or, as Bobby Bryant put it on, they are just quote-mining nature.


Time Wounds All Heels

In particular, mine.

Okay. I already hinted at the fact that I was scheduled to undergo a moderately serious surgery. That was to deal with a blockage in an artery.

So, naturally, the universe, in its infinite humor, decided that I should fracture my heel and be really laid up for a while.

This may or may not affect blogging for the worse but I thought I'd at least post some oldies that might be of interest to my select readership and provide DM with some activity in his pathetic life.

Look for some reruns shortly ... after all, if television moguls can get away with it, why not me?

Saturday, September 11, 2010



Okay, this (via Ed Brayton) made me laugh out loud (even all by myself alone):
Obama wants the government to take over social security. That's why I'm voting Tea Party.
But it's rueful laughter.



It's been 3,287 days since the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania. There's not much more to today's date than that.

While it is probably near the top of the most lives taken by a small, non-governmental group in a single day, on the scale of human self-butchery it barely warrants a blip. The Rwanda genocide, not to mention the Holocaust, Hiroshima, Dresden and thousands of other crimes we have committed against ourselves, make it pale in comparison.

Sadly, many in my home country, which has, at least, aspired to implement the ideals of the Enlightenment, have let this act of hatred, cruelty and unreason drive them from their own senses.

To those who would justify senseless war ... you have let the terrorists win, since that is what they want. To those who would justify torture, supposedly in the name of the "greater good" ... you have let the terrorists win, since that is what they want. To those who would restrict the rights of their fellow Americans to freedom of religion and speech ... you have let the terrorists win, since that is what they want.

Make no mistake, the real significance of this day lies in what we have become, not in what happened back then.

Friday, September 10, 2010


Who To Root For?

It seems a couple of Christian pastors in Ghana got their passports for the hereafter stamped in a rather silly way. It is reported that, coming to a flooded stream, they ignored the advice of the locals and their own driver to wait until the flood receded.

Instead, calling the driver a man of little faith, one of the pastors took the wheel and drove the vehicle into the stream, where it stalled and was overturned in the current. Two of the four passengers died.

But as silly as dying because you think God is going to protect you from rampaging water is the explanation given by one of the locals:

A renowned herbal practitioner cum spiritualist Dr. Ebenezer Adjakofi of Shakina Herbal Science Centre has made a startling revelation that river gods were responsible for the accident which untimely claimed the lives of two senior pastors of the Church of Pentecost. ...

According to Dr. Adjakofi, who got to the scene moments after the accident enroute to Dambai, the gods were angered by the insistence of the two Men of God to forcibly cross over the river ...

Dr. Adjakofi related that the behavior of the pastor and his team angered the river gods who decided to teach them a bitter lesson thus stopping the vehicle midway through the flooded water and sweeping it away. He claims the angered goods spared the lives of the driver and Mrs. Gadzekpo who were also in the vehicle but punished the two pastors for failing to heed to advice and daring them (gods). He noted that the river gods are already angered that the necessary rituals were not performed before the construction of a bridge in the area recently. He also advised motorists to heed advise from local residents of the areas they ply to avoid such avoidable accidents in future.
Now the part about heeding the advice of locals is good but the rest just brings to mind a divine WWF Smackdown.

But I have to admit that I am envious of the title "cum spiritualist" and will, therefore, piously pass on the opportunities offered by Dr. Adjakofi's name.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010


Making Up Your Mind

My, my ... Wild Bill Dembski, at his blog, Uncommon Dissonance Dissent Descent is telling us that "This is an important event. I would encourage all UD readers to try to make it to it. I'll be speaking on ID."

So what event are we talking about? A scientific conference, surely, since we all know ID is science (because the Discoveryless Institute tells us so)!

Not quite! It's the:

National Conference on Christian Apologetics 2010, Defending the Faith and the Family

Not exactly the National Science Foundation is it? But it is sponsored by the Southern Evangelical Seminary and "Taught by Apologetics & Biblical Worldview Leaders," including, none other than, ... wait for it ... William Dembski!

It must be tough to decide whether you are a scientist or an apologist and Biblical worldview leader on any particular day.


Via the excellent Homologous Legs

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Monday, September 06, 2010


They Know Their Own

Wiley Richards, a retired professor of theology and philosophy at The Baptist College of Florida in Graceville, helps by identifying the nature of Intelligent Design:

Arguments to prove God's existence fall under two broad categories, general revelation and special revelation. Christian apologetics in the public arena largely is pursued along the lines set forth by William Paley (1743-1805), an English theologian who used the example of a watch. He argued that its existence demanded a watchmaker. A present-day example has been set forth by Michael J. Behe in his seminal book, Darwin's Black Box, in which he contends that Darwin and his followers posit the existence of the first living cell but have failed to explain how it could come from non-living matter. This view is commonly called the argument of Intelligent Design, the ID approach.
... as if we didn't know that already.

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I Resemble That Remark


The ever wonderful Wiley Miller and Non Sequitur.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010


Ugly Americans

Ugly rhetoric leads to ugly acts.

First there was arson at a mosque ... no, not the one at "Ground Zero," but one in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, about 900 miles, as the Cadillac flies, from "Sacred Ground."

Now there was some convenience store clerk abuse by someone too dense to know the difference between Sikhs and Muslims.

Hate is not supposed to be an American value. Unfortunately, that is something more honored in the breach than in the observance.


Acme Philosophy Corp.

Sometimes you just have to wonder:

I'm starting to realize that my quest for free will in philosophy may be futile, because I have a narrow notion of what I mean by the term. I see free will as the way most of us conceive of it: a situation in which one could have made more than one choice. If that's how you see it, and you're a determinist—which I think you pretty much have to be if you accept science—then you're doomed.

... not to mention that you are unaware of what you are saying.

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