Sunday, January 30, 2011



Under Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, civil penalties that suffice "to deter repetition of the conduct or comparable conduct by others similarly situated" may be imposed on a litigant who files a lawsuit that is not "warranted by existing law or by a nonfrivolous argument for extending, modifying, or reversing existing law or for establishing new law."

The ridiculous Tom Ritter has now gone a long way towards admitting that his suit against the Blue Mountain School District in Orwigsburg, Pennsylvania is frivolous:

While Ritter said his court filings are really made for "popular consumption," he does expect to have his day in court.
Bringing a lawsuit to attract publicity and make a (crazy) point is pretty much the definition of an "improper purpose, such as to harass, cause unnecessary delay, or needlessly increase the cost of litigation," which is the sort of conduct that can trigger sanctions.

Fortunately for Ritter, the courts will usually give wider latitude to pro se litigants (up to a point) and will give him a chance to withdraw the suit or recast it in a viable way ... which is all but impossible for him to do.

But Ritter is less than well-rooted in reality:

"I think it will be taken seriously aside from the fact that I know some science," he said.
With that level of delusion, we may have another case of someone who can't help running afoul of the fact that Federal courts generally believe they have more important things to do than cater to loonies.


Jerry Coyne, Accommodationist

Look who admits that a respectful discussion of views with theists can teach him something:

People like Elaine Ecklund are always urging scientists to "dialogue" with the faithful, expecting that it will benefit both of them. (What people like her really want, of course, is not benefits to science but more tolerance of religion.) I haven't been averse to such dialogue. ...

Before I showed up I had resolved to keep pretty mum about my views on religion—after all, I was addressing twenty religious people who were kind enough to buy and discuss my book. But that resolve lasted only about thirty seconds! How could I sit by when people made the familiar arguments that science and faith are separate magisteria, that atheism and science were responsible for Nazi Germany, that parts of the Bible were metaphorical fictions while others weren't, and so on? To not say my piece would have been intellectual dishonesty. But, to be sure, I tried to be calm and respectful. ...

I did learn a lot. Here are some of my outtakes:

• Because the church members were liberal, urban Methodists, apparently well off, they were obviously not raving fundamentalists. Their approach to faith was far more "nuanced" (I hate that word!) and circumspect. Several of them struck me as being a hairsbreadth from atheism, seeing God as some kind of distant entity who neither concerns himself with the world nor was even involved in creating it. In fact, they spent a fair amount of time denigrating fundamentalists like Southern Baptists, reassuring me that they disliked those folks more than I did!

• It was obvious that for these folks, one of the most important aspects of church membership was a sense of community—and the opportunity to do something to help other people. The church has various intellectual activities (like the reading group), outreach programs like an ecology group, and it feeds the homeless. All of this is obviously good: this is one of those churches for which it's hard to say that, on balance, they create more harm than good.

One has to wonder how open Jerry was to dialogue with theists before, if he is just now learning that some of them are liberal, urbane and not only not raving fundamentalists but opposed to such views; that they value community over evangelicalism, learning over dogma, charity over conformity.

Now, the definition of "accommodationism" has proved slippery, to say the least. But the notion that having a respectful, but no doubt vigorous, dialogue could teach a Gnu Atheist a lot, sounds like a good enough reason to expend the minimal effort involved.


Update: Josh Rosenau noticed my post and had some fun with Coyne. The comments are interesting in that the NCSE is seemingly being criticised for talking about religion or with religionists unless it takes the same line that Coyne does: that they are incompatible with science. Anything less is "patronizing" ... thus assuming that everyone from the science "side" has to agree that they are, even among the sort of liberal theists Coyne seems flabbergasted to discover. It is a puzzlement.

Saturday, January 29, 2011


Thank You Josh Brecheen

In case you don't know who Brecheen is, he is one of the two Oklahoma state legislators who have introduced anti-evolution bills this year. His version, SB554, can be found here (look under "Senate" and "Introduced"). The other, HB1551, can be found at the same site by searching under "House." That bill appears to be all but identical to a bill introduced in the Oklahoma Senate in 2009).

Brecheen's bill contains the usual type of disclaimer for this sort of anti-science legislation:

This section only protects the teaching of scientific information and specifically does not protect the promotion of any religion, religious doctrine, or religious belief.
So why am I thanking him? Because, as is also usual with this sort of legislation, the promoter can't help but state his real intention out loud for everyone to hear, this time in an Op-Ed piece:

I have introduced legislation requiring every publically [sic] funded Oklahoma school to teach the debate of creation vs. evolution using the known science, even that which conflicts with Darwin's religion.

- Durant Daily Democrat, "Brecheen says the religion of evolution is plagued with falsehoods," [date unspecified but other sources date it to Dec. 24, 2010]
As Victor Hutchison, a retired University of Oklahoma zoology professor who tracks such legislation, said, "It's very slickly written." But if, as a result of the poor election choices of the people of Oklahoma, this bill should be become law, the ensuing lawsuits will be made much easier for the forces of good science education by this blatant statement by the author of the bill that its actual intent is the exact opposite of what it claims. I'm keeping a copy in case Brecheen decides in some courtroom to "pull a Buckinham" and suddenly "forget" he was explicitly promoting creationism.

And they keep claiming that "Darwinism" leads to moral corruption.

Friday, January 28, 2011


The Law of Comedy

PZ Myearshertz has already rained justifiable scorn on Tom Ritter's claims about evolution and his suit against the Blue Mt. School District.

Curious, I got a copy of the complaint. Unlike some creationists, he was admirably brief. His entire complaint reads as follows:

1. The Plaintiff is Thomas J. Ritter, Jr., an adult individual residing at [address omitted to protect the loony].

2. The Defendant is The Blue Mountain School District, 685 Red Dale Rd., Orwigsburg, PA 17961.

3. Logically, The Blue Mt. School District does teach that evolution without the possibility of a Creator is the only explanation for the existence of life.

(The Blue Mt. SD does teach evolution. See BMHS biology teacher Anne Creyer's website @
Kitzmiller v Dover SD forbids any teaching of evolution that includes a Creator: "ID Policy violates the Establishment Clause of... the Constitution".-ID is Intelligent Design).

5. This teaching in unscientific.

6. This teaching is actually Atheism (no Creator = no God).

7. Objectively, Atheism is a religion, albeit a silly and unscientific one.

8. This is like teaching Jesus is Lord.

9. Defendant wants to tax Plaintiff to support its scheme. (See exhibit A)

10. Plaintiff does object to supporting this scheme in any way.

Wherefore, Plaintiff does ask this honorable Court to find the Blue Mt. School District is an illegal body so long as it teaches Atheism, and is thus not entitled to pursue any further actions.

And Colleen Hoptak, the District's tax collector, be enjoined from collecting any /taxes until the District is again legal.
I wouldn't exactly call it the soul of wit, but it packs a lot of humor into a small package.

Federal courts have already addressed Ritter's claim, in a slightly different context, in Peloza v. Capistrano Unified School District. There, the plaintiff, a public high school biology teacher, alleged, among other things, that he was being forced by the school district to "proselytize" his students in a belief in "evolutionism" "under the guise of [its being] a valid scientific theory." According to Peloza "evolutionism" is an historical, philosophical and religious belief system, based on the assumption that life and the universe evolved randomly and by chance and with no Creator involved, but is not a valid scientific theory.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals swatted this claim like a fly, quoting the District Court with approval:

Since the evolutionist theory is not a religion, to require an instructor to teach this theory is not a violation of the Establishment Clause.... Evolution is a scientific theory based on the gathering and studying of data, and modification of new data. It is an established scientific theory which is used as the basis for many areas of science. As scientific methods advance and become more accurate, the scientific community will revise the accepted theory to a more accurate explanation of life's origins. Plaintiffs assertions that the teaching of evolution would be a violation of the Establishment Clause is unfounded.
The Supreme Court denied certiorari, which is not as good as an affirmance, but indicates that it considered the issues and found no reason to disturb the Circuit Court's ruling.

Oh, in case you didn't figure it out yet, Ritter is appearing pro se. Fools as clients indeed.

Thursday, January 27, 2011


We're So Screwed

Michael Berkman and Eric Plutzer, professors of political science at Penn State, have done a survey of 926 public high school biology instructors that has been published in Science.

They found only about 28 percent of those teachers consistently implement National Research Council recommendations calling for introduction of evidence that evolution occurred, and craft lesson plans with evolution as a unifying theme linking disparate topics in biology.

In contrast, Berkman and Plutzer found that about 13 percent of biology teachers "explicitly advocate creationism or intelligent design by spending at least one hour of class time presenting it in a positive light." Many of these teachers typically rejected the possibility that scientific methods can shed light on the origin of the species, and considered both evolution and creationism as belief systems that cannot be fully proven or discredited.

The remainder, that the authors call the "cautious 60 percent," tend to avoid any controversy over evolution by employing one or more of three strategies:

Some teach evolutionary biology as if it applies only to molecular biology, ignoring an opportunity to impart a rich understanding of the diversity of species and evidence that one species gives rise to others.

Using a second strategy, some teachers rationalize the teaching of evolution by referring to high-stakes examinations.

These teachers "tell students it does not matter if they really 'believe' in evolution, so long as they know it for the test," Berkman and Plutzer said.

Finally, many teachers expose their students to all positions, scientific and otherwise, and let them make up their own minds.

This is unfortunate, the researchers said, because "this approach tells students that well established concepts can be debated in the same way we debate personal opinions." ...

Berkman and Plutzer conclude that "the cautious 60 percent fail to explain the nature of scientific inquiry, undermine the authority of established experts, and legitimize creationist arguments." As a result, "they may play a far more important role in hindering scientific literacy in the United States than the smaller number of explicit creationists."

The only question is whether we should start studying Mandarin or Cantonese.


Well Deserved Inferiority Complexes

R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, doesn't like "intellectual elites." Presumably, he prefers to be among the "unintellectual inferiors."

To him, evolutionary theory is "is the creation myth of the secular elites."

But, mostly, he doesn't like "theistic evolutionists."

Rather strangely, he agrees with the Gnu Atheists that science is a "worlview" that is "filled only with naturalistic precepts" and that anyone who argues that the Bible tells the story of the who and the why of creation, but not the how, or who supports Stephen Jay Gould's idea of "non-overlapping magisteria" are "intellectually dishonest."

But stranger still, Mohler, after recognizing that some of the "honored and orthodox 'Princeton Theologians,'" who helped found Fundamentalism, held that "there was no necessary conflict between Genesis and Darwin," he goes on to say:

What these theologians did not recognize was the naturalistic bent of modern science. The framers of modern evolutionary theory did not move toward an acknowledgment of divine causality. To the contrary, Darwin's central defenders today oppose even the idea known as "Intelligent Design."
However, as Mohler himself describes it, theistic evolutionists hold that "the evolutionary process is guided by God in order to accomplish His divine purposes." In short, they "acknowledge" divine causality, accept lower-case "intelligent design" and eschew the idea that science is a worldview.

So what's his problem with them? He claims (perhaps in a case of projection) that those Princeton Theologians "were absolutely sure that the progress of science would eventually prove the truthfulness of the Bible." Theistic evolutionists, however, don't pretend that science supports Genesis and, therefore, engage in "the public rejection of biblical inerrancy." It's worth pausing for a moment to consider the fact that, since upper-case Intelligent Design is acceptable to Mohler, he must deem it to support the public acceptance of biblical inerrancy ... one judgment of Mohler's that I'd credit, if, for no other reason, than he probably knows his own.

The bottom line, however, is that Mohler, disappointed that the Genesis creation stories have been disproven time and time again, by many more scientific fields than just biology, has chosen to reject science altogether in the only way he knows how ... by pretending it is a religion and, therefore, no more believable than his own myths.

Talk about intellectual dishonesty!

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Wednesday, January 26, 2011


Stupid Protection Factor

I need more stupidburn protection.

There are massive flares of stupidity and hypocrisy emanating from the environs of Seattle in the wake of the Martin Gaskell affair.

Now, I've already expressed my doubts, both about how the University of Kentucky treated Gaskell, and about whether and how much Gaskell deserved it.

But the ever ridiculous David Klinghoffer is over at the Discoveryless Institute's rather ugly new Ministry of Misinformation kvetching about Richard Dawkins' take on the whole mess.

I'm not interested in defending Dawkins' views, which I find somewhat simplistic and almost wholly ignorant of American constitutional law.

But Klinghoffer starts with a blithe and inartful canvass and, by slathering on thick layers of dishonesty and utter lack of self-awareness, manages to produce a masterpiece of doltishness.

Just warming up, Klinghoffer implies that Gaskell's claim of "academic discrimination" was established by the fact that "UK ultimately felt compelled to cough up a $125,000 settlement to Dr. Gaskell, the university's lawyers reasoning they would fare worse if the case went to trial." How much more, then, was ID established to be religious dogma dishonestly masquerading as science by the fact that a Federal judge, after a lengthy trial, made the Dover school board pony up $1 million?

But then he really hits his stride. Talking about the illustrations of private beliefs that, even if not expressed in a scientist's work, Dawkins would find relevant to a decision to employ that scientist, Klinghoffer says:

Expansive categories like this seek to mislead by gathering together and condemning things or people that are wildly unlike each other except insofar as they share one or two very superficially similar characteristics -- in the present case, being in opposition to some aspects of scientific fact or scientific prejudice. Inventing and wielding such categories is a popular technique among bullies of all types, a technique of evasion and intimidation, mastering other people's opinion by fraud. Darwinists have used it successfully to cow a lot of otherwise thoughtful men and women.

You mean, like condemning people, such as Charles Darwin and all evolutionary scientists (invariably labeled "Darwinists"), by comparing them with those who are wildly unlike them, except insofar as they share one or two very superficially similar characteristics, ... like Hitler, Stalin, Charles Manson, James von Brunn, the Columbine shooters, and many others?

Such pathetic and transparent obtuseness would be laughable if it wasn't for the fact that so many Americans have already been blinded by staring into the glare ... not to mention the danger that our body politic might succumb to the cancer of anti-science from the exposure.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011



The Undiscovery Institute's Ministry of Misinformation is reporting that David Coppedge, a young-Earth creationist who sued the Jet Propulsion Laboratory for religious discrimination because of his advocacy of Intelligent Design among his coworkers, has been "fired."

According to Coppedge's attorney William Becker, JPL claims the firing resulted from downsizing in the face of budget issues, but Coppedge is the most senior member of the team that oversees the computers on NASA and JPL's Cassini Mission to Saturn. Coppedge doesn't seem at all like the first person who would normally be forced to leave in such a situation, but. [sic] Obviously, JPL has other considerations.

Since what is "obvious" to the Discoveroids is not so obvious to rational people, I'll await further developments before opining on the relationship of this layoff to Coppedge's suit ... except to note that "senior" (i.e. overpaid) IT geeks on a computer system for a mission that has been in place since 2004, and running well, might be a prime target for layoffs.

Also, it would be incredibly stupid for the JPL to lay off Coppedge, in the face of his lawsuit, without a solid basis. Unlike Coppedge, I tend to doubt the JPL administrators are incredibly stupid.

Sunday, January 23, 2011


American Nebuchadnezzar

There's a strange piece at The Times and Democrat of Orangeburg, South Carolina. The author is Bill Connor, a lawyer and former senior U.S. adviser to Helmand Province, Afghanistan.

Connor starts by telling the Biblical story of Nebuchadnezzar's attempt to assimilate the Israelites he had conquered:

[W]hen Nebuchadnezzar conquered Jerusalem, he brought the young male Jews to his capital of Babylon "to enter the king's personal service." He forced the young men to take on new names and even attempted a forced change away from kosher traditional Jewish food. The primary means to remake the young men of Israel into Babylonians was through education. The king ordered Ashpenaz "to teach them the literature and language of the Chaldeans."

Then he recounts the usual guff about America being a "Christian nation" and how secular education is the same as Nazism and Communism, equating Nebuchadnezzar to Marx and Engels. And then comes the "solution":

That was then, this is now: Enforced teaching of evolution and major court cases about whether or not "intelligent design" or "creation science" can even be offered as an alternative? ...

One manner of changing society in school is through historical curriculum. American children are generally shielded from learning of the importance of Christianity to American history. They are usually made to feel shame about traditional American heroes and events by focusing on sexism, racism or discrimination to the exclusion of the heroic selfless service. ...

Read what the late Theologian Harold O. Brown wrote in 2005 about the "remaking" of America through our schools. "Since the end of WWII, American society has been suffering decomposition and deconstruction. Consider what we have come to in seven decades: The distinctiveness of marriage has been abolished; prayer and Bible reading in schools has been stamped out; the mother's womb has become the most dangerous place for a baby; the rights of fathers and parents of minor girls have been voided; divorce has become easier than marrying; the Ten Commandments have been banned from public view. ... The structure of American society is being abolished brick by brick." ...

The economy is tied to our education system and the moral fiber of our citizens. We, as a nation, will have to make Herculean efforts to bring public education back under control. The future is with the children and we owe them the society we were given.

One wonders if he advised the Afghanis on how to teach the importance of Islam to Afghanistan's history; to avoid denegrating traditional Afghani heroes and events by focusing on their sexism, racism or discrimination; and how to best give Afghani children the society they were given.

I suspect he didn't. Connor wants only to force everyone else to assimilate into his own idea of an ideal society.

In short, Conner aspires to be Nebuchadnezzar!

Saturday, January 22, 2011


Law Is a Dirty Business

Moral senseI never went into the lawsuit by C. Martin Gaskell against the University of Kentucky ... though I did note elsewhere that some of the claims for and against Gaskell might be exaggerated. It seemed to me that the University's actions were, at best, ham-fisted, and that it was legally in trouble ... a judgment confirmed by the six-figured settlement of the suit by the University and/or its insurance company.

But now I suspect the University is well shed of him at whatever the cost.

In an interview at DailyTech, Gaskell is quoted as gushing:

There is a good book covering this in great detail. It is called "Slaughter of the Dissidents" by Jerry Bergman. I'd highly recommend getting a copy to understand what goes on. The recurrent problem you'll find if you look at the cases documented in the book is that Christian biologists get fired or demoted not because of what they actually teach or do in their research, but because of who they are.
As Denyse (emphasis on the "Deny") O'Leary (the best proof that function does not evidence intelligence ... at least when it comes to "journalism") notes, Bergman's book is a piece with Expelled ... at least when it comes to "truth in advertising."

Bergman is, of course, a young-Earth creationist of the most clueless/dishonest sort ... which is well documented at the Talk Origins site and elsewhere.

Now, it's possible that Gaskell doesn't know that Bergman is a YEC ... which Gaskell disowns ... or that Bergman is pushing the same sort of bogus persecution complex that the Discoveryless Institute does. Certainly, as a person who may have experienced some real religious bias, you can't be surprised that he thought there might be something to what Bergman said.

But, really, if you are going to praise something to ... well ... high heaven ... you might be expected, as a scientist, to exercise a little skepticism, do a little due diligence and, at least, acknowledge that Bergman's case might not be all it seems to be.

But, then again, he may not feel the need to ... in which case, the University of Kentucky might have been justified in not feeling the need to employ him.


Update: It seems PZ had about the same reaction I did.

Friday, January 21, 2011


Welcome Back ... And Not So Much So!

The good news is that the excellent John Lynch has revived posting at a simple prop.

The bad news is that he is posting about this year's crop of anti-science bills in state legislatures.

Funny how that map looks rather like a target has been drawn on the very heart of America. As far as its future economic well-being, its place in the world and its children, it might as well have been.

Use It Or ...

There's a puff-piece in Christianity Today on Roberta Ahmanson, wife of Howard Ahmanson, who are, Ahmanson freely admits, "probably the single largest supporter of the intelligent design movement, and have been since the beginning." Like most creationists, what she really abhors is "theistic evolution" because it "legitimates naturalism as the mode of understanding reality." Riiight! Can't have no scientists explaining what's real to anyone!

But if you want to know about the Ahmansons, this is the money quote:

[I]n a scathing 2004 Salon profile of Howard, "Avenging Angel of the Religious Right," Max Blumenthal took pains to show that the Ahmansons' ultimate goals are theocratic, a charge that has been widely disseminated. Roberta at once denies and defends the claim: "I never was, and I don't know if Howard ever was either. I'm afraid to say this, but also, what would be so bad about it?"

Ummm ... well ... by definition, a theocracy is not a democracy and some of us think democracy is a good idea. The fact that Roberta (and her husband?) don't think it is such a big deal speaks volumes.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011


Relative Morality

Okay, I haven't read Sam Harris' The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values, so I can't comment on it but Russell Blackford has reviewed it and Harris has responded, in a way, at Jerry Coyne's blog.

Russell makes the considerably cogent point, in my not-so-humble opinion, that:

... Harris overreaches when he claims that science can determine human values. Indeed, it's not clear how much the book really argues such a thing, despite its provocative subtitle. Harris presupposes that we should be motivated by one very important value, namely the well-being of conscious creatures, but he does not claim that this is a scientific result (or a result from any other field of empirical inquiry). If, however, we combine this fundamental value with knowledge as to how conscious creatures' well-being can actually be aided, we can then decide how to act. We can also criticize existing moral systems, customs, laws, political policies, and so on, if we are informed by scientific knowledge of how they affect the well-being of conscious creatures.

While this is all coherent, Harris is not thereby giving an account of how science can determine our most fundamental values or the totality of our values. If we presuppose the well-being of conscious creatures as a fundamental value, much else may fall into place, but that initial presupposition does not come from science. It is not an empirical finding. Thus, even if we accept everything else in The Moral Landscape, it does not provide an account in which our policies, customs, critiques of policies and customs, and so on, can be determined solely by empirical findings: eventually, empirical investigation runs out, and we must at some point simply presuppose a value at the bottom of the system, a sort of Grundnorm that controls everything else.

Harris is highly critical of the claim, associated with Hume, that we cannot derive an "ought" solely from an "is" – without starting with people's actual values and desires. He is, however, no more successful in deriving "ought" from "is" than anyone else has ever been. The whole intellectual system of The Moral Landscape depends on an "ought" being built into its foundations.
How often have the Gnu Atheists told us that that there can't be a moral regime in nature (i.e. a God) because of the cruelty and wastefulness of nature, particularly natural selection? You can't have it both ways.

Harris has, so far, avoided the issue:

Blackford (along with everyone else) has gotten bogged down in the concepts of "should" and "ought." We simply don't have to think about morality in these terms.
If we don't, then theists don't either.

Monday, January 17, 2011


Damned If You Do ...

Via the Sensuous Curmudgeon, there's this recognition by Ken Ham of what Intelligent Design really is:

[I]n a world where evolutionary naturalism pervades the culture, we need to show people the evidence for the intelligent Creator. In the public schools, students are indoctrinated in the Darwinian view of the origin of life and man—they're taught that everything arose by natural processes with no supernatural activity involved. These people need to see how obvious it is that life could not have arisen through naturalism.

But it would be disastrous simply to show people the evidence for an intelligent Designer and not to pursue the topic any further. When we talk to people about an intelligent Designer, we must recognize the ultimate need of each human. If we leave the Creator's identity a mystery, we invite people to consider all sorts of gods as this possible intelligence, instead of the one true Creator God. ...

Christians use many powerful arguments to show people that they have no excuse for denying the Creator. Christians must also follow through, however, by sharing what the Bible reveals about the true God and His unique plan of salvation and restoration. Otherwise, their listeners might put their faith in good works and seek after a Hindu god, a New Age god, or the Muslim god.
They know their own ... sometimes they just don't like 'em very much!

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Sunday, January 16, 2011


The Medium Is the Difference

Here is an example of the difference between American media outlets and the rest of the world (at least those parts in the antipodes).

It is Ockham's Razor, a program of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's Radio National (roughly comparable, I gather, to our National Public Radio), featuring my favorite philosopher of science, John Wilkins, which is to be aired January 23, 2011, though there is already a transcript available.

The striking thing to a 'Merkan, like me, is that the host ("presenter" in the quaint, but probably more accurate, Pom/Oznian), asks a single question and then lets John potter on for 12-15 minutes about the arcane (though fascinating) subject of the history of the species concept. Even our NPR hosts would be hard-pressed to keep silent so long and refrain from interrupting with some (likely inane) question.

Anyway, go on over and read John's synopsis of his book, Species - A History of the Idea, soon to come out in paperback ... for those slackers who have failed to buy it yet.

Saturday, January 15, 2011


Learning Conclusions

Dr. Guillermo Paz-y-Miño C., an assistant professor of biology at UMass Dartmouth, has an Op-Ed piece at South Coast Today that is ... interesting.

He and Dr. Avelina Espinosa, a professor at Roger Williams University in Rhode Island, did a survey of university professors in New England (where public acceptance of evolution is highest in the US), which has been published in Evolution: Education and Outreach (behind a paywall):

We surveyed 244 faculty — 90 percent Ph.D. holders in 40 disciplines at 35 colleges and universities widely distributed geographically in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont. ...

Our study revealed that 91 percent of the New England professors were very or somehow concerned about the controversy of evolution versus creationism versus "intelligent design" and its implications for science education. In fact, 96 percent of them supported the exclusive teaching of evolution in science classes and a 4 percent minority favored equal time to evolution and creationism (the latter declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1987). And 92 percent of the faculty perceived intelligent design as not scientific and as proposed to counter evolution, or as doctrine consistent with creationism.
Let's stop here for a clarification. Giving equal time to evolution and creationism has only been declared unconstitutional in primary and/or secondary public schools. While I'm unaware of any cases on point, it is highly unlikely that college-level courses at public universities that gave "equal treatment" to evolution and creationism would be deemed unconstitutional. Of course, any such college-level course would more likely be studies in comparative belief systems than actual courses in "creation science" but public universities can give courses in, say, Catholic theology, and there's no automatic bar to classes in "scientific creationism" or ID. It's possible that the minority were considering equal time to evolution and creationism in university classrooms.

Although 92 percent of the professors thought that evolution relies on common ancestry — or that organisms can be traced back in time to ancestors that reproduced successfully and left descendants — one in every four faculty did not know that humans are apes, or relatives of primates. Worse, 30 percent of the faculty were Lamarckian, or believed in the inheritance of acquired traits during an organism's lifetime, like longer necks, larger brains, or resistance to parasites, which are passed on to the progeny, a hypothesis rejected a century ago.
This comports with the anecdotal evidence recently discussed in an Editorial by Niles and Greg Eldredge in Evolution: Education and Outreach. The simple fact is that misunderstandings and ignorance of evolutionary theory cross political and educational lines.

But what interested me is the conclusion Paz-y-Miño C. derived from his study:

Because attitudes toward evolution correlated positively with understanding of science and negatively with religiosity and political ideology, aspects examined in our study, we concluded that science education combined with vigorous public debate should suffice to increase acceptance of naturalistic rationalism and decrease the negative impact of creationism and intelligent design on collective evolution literacy.
Assuming the survey is correct (as I do) and university faculty and students are more likely to accept naturalistic rationalism (which I think likely) the question is: does that translate to "science education combined with vigorous public debate" increasing acceptance of evolution. It seems to me that there is a crucial step missing. I think it is also likely that people who bother to go to college (even if it is only to improve their earnings potential) and, particularly, those who make a career of education, have already self-selected for a respect for knowledge. That's not necessarily the case with most Americans. As a nation, we have had a long tradition of a love-hate relationship with learning. On the one side, it is often extolled as the way out of poverty and to build a better country but, on the other side it is frequently derided ("academic elites in their ivory tower") and even used as a political bludgeon (as with President Obama). Learning is okay if it is practical and economically oriented. Learning for learning's sake is effete and dangerous.

I think it'll take more than teaching people about evolution or science in general, and debating the subject, to really change American's attitudes. It'll take making them love learning.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011


Ummm ... It's Been Tested Already!

Mother Nature continues to satisfy my wish to try out my new "toy."

Last time, I only included a stand-in picture for my driveway. Here is the real thing:

And here is the end of the driveway, with a snow shovel for scale, where the plows had thrown up a drift four feet high and five feet wide.

And here is the walk to my front door.

I know that my friends from climes farther north (Canada, Minnesota, etc.) will sneer at my discomfiture at this kind of snowfall.

But, hey! I, unlike others, chose to live in what was supposed to be a temperate climate!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


Kicking ID to the Gutter

R. Albert Mohler, Jr., president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, has a problem with Biologos.

Mohler, a young-Earth creationist, uses the same arguments we've all come to know and laugh at:

Dr. Falk, representing the position of BioLogos, insists that the evolutionary "scientific enterprise" is the authoritative world of true science. "For hundreds of years now science has been successfully informing us about the natural world," he insists. Of course, throughout the centuries, many scientific certainties have been embarrassingly overthrown.
... which, of course, is classic "vindication of all kooks." Science was wrong once and, therefore we can safely ignore it! Naturally, he fails to note that the reason we know that past science was "embarrassingly overthrown" was because other scientists came along and corrected it ... not those who deny the very existence of science:

As for me - I am said to represent "a view that takes on the entire scientific enterprise." He then writes: "To this day, I have not been able to identify a single person who holds a science faculty position in any Biology, Geology or Physics Department at any secular research university in the world who would agree with Dr. Mohler's view of creation." Well … ouch. At this point, I am supposed to yield to the authority of science and relinquish my theological concerns and be quiet.

I am willing to accept the authority of science on any number of issues. I am fundamentally agnostic about a host of other scientific concerns - but not where the fundamental truth of the Gospel and the clear teachings of the Bible are at stake.

As I have stated repeatedly, I accept without hesitation the fact that the world indeed looks old. Armed with naturalistic assumptions, I would almost assuredly come to the same conclusions as BioLogos and the evolutionary establishment, or I would at least find evolutionary arguments credible. But the most basic issue is, and has always been, that of worldview and basic presuppositions. The entire intellectual enterprise of evolution is based on naturalistic assumptions, and I do not share those presuppositions. Indeed, the entire enterprise of Christianity is based on supernaturalistic, rather than merely naturalistic, assumptions. There is absolutely no reason that a Christian theologian should accept the uniformitarian assumptions of evolution. In fact, given a plain reading of Scripture, there is every reason that Christians should reject a uniformitarian presupposition. The Bible itself offers a very different understanding of natural phenomena, with explanations that should be compelling to believers.
In short, Mohler will only accept science when it confirms his "presuppositions."

Which is fine. He's allowed, in a free society, to be an ignoramus.

But it also puts the lie to ID. Mohler is not, in any way, seeking a "science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions," as Casey Luskin and the Wedge Document would have it. They are seeking a "science" subordinated to their peculiar theology.

If you think there's a dime worth's difference between Mohler and the Discoveryless Institute, you're not paying attention.

Saturday, January 08, 2011


The Religion of Ignorance

Nancy Godina, of Red Bluff, California is confused.

She can't believe her child is being taught science in a public school ... specifically, the science of evolution.

She believes she has the right to keep her child ignorant.

I called Vista and left a message for the teacher or the principal to call me regarding this issue because it is against our Christian beliefs and felt that I as his mother have the right to decide if I want my son to learn about Darwin's theory of Evolution.

She doesn't.

Worse, she thinks she can "outsource" the religious education of her child to public employees:

I am under the understanding that schools do not teach or talk about God out of respect for the people that do not believe in God, so why do they teach about Darwin? If they were to teach this as a theory and at the same time teach God's teachings as a Christian theory, then this would give our children the opportunity to make an educated choice but they are not doing this. They are stating that Darwin's theory is fact.

Evolution is a scientific fact. Ms. Godina, of course, has the right to teach her children that religious beliefs trump science, but she has no right to expect government employees to do that job for her, much less teach her children sectarian Christian "theories."

I feel like Vista Middle School, Mrs. Brown, Mr. Yates and Red Bluff School District is taking away my rights to teach my child the religion that I want him to learn.

No, Ms. Godina ... you just have to do the heavy lifting yourself, without resource to other taxpayers' money.


Judicial Bombs

Jerry Coyne and I are in complete agreement: Antonin Scalia is an ass.

Scalia is fiercely intelligent and a respectable jurist ... but that doesn't save him from being an ass.

Jerry quotes a question posed to Scalia in the California Lawyer (presently down) and his answer:

In 1868, when the 39th Congress was debating and ultimately proposing the 14th Amendment, I don't think anybody would have thought that equal protection applied to sex discrimination, or certainly not to sexual orientation. So does that mean that we've gone off in error by applying the 14th Amendment to both?

Yes, yes. Sorry, to tell you that. … But, you know, if indeed the current society has come to different views, that's fine. You do not need the Constitution to reflect the wishes of the current society. Certainly the Constitution does not require discrimination on the basis of sex. The only issue is whether it prohibits it. It doesn't. Nobody ever thought that that's what it meant. Nobody ever voted for that. If the current society wants to outlaw discrimination by sex, hey we have things called legislatures, and they enact things called laws. You don't need a constitution to keep things up-to-date. All you need is a legislature and a ballot box. You don't like the death penalty anymore, that's fine. You want a right to abortion? There's nothing in the Constitution about that. But that doesn't mean you cannot prohibit it. Persuade your fellow citizens it's a good idea and pass a law. That's what democracy is all about. It's not about nine superannuated judges who have been there too long, imposing these demands on society.
Let's rework that a tad:

In 1787, when Congress was debating and ultimately proposing the 2nd Amendment, I don't think anybody would have thought that the right to bear arms applied to AK-47s or certainly not to Saturday Night Specials. So does that mean that we've gone off in error by applying the 2nd Amendment to both?

Yes, yes. Sorry, to tell you that. … But, you know, if indeed the current society has come to different views, that's fine. You do not need the Constitution to reflect the wishes of the current society. Certainly the Constitution does not require that you allow anything except muzzle-loading black powder muskets, pistols and cannon. The only issue is whether it prohibits banning modern weapons. It doesn't. Nobody ever thought that that's what it meant. Nobody ever voted for that. If the current society wants to permit weapons never contemplated by the Framers, hey we have things called legislatures, and they enact things called laws. You don't need a constitution to keep things up-to-date. All you need is a legislature and a ballot box. You don't like the death penalty anymore, that's fine. You want a right to abortion? There's nothing in the Constitution about that. But that doesn't mean you cannot prohibit it. Persuade your fellow citizens it's a good idea and pass a law. That's what democracy is all about. It's not about nine superannuated judges who have been there too long, imposing these demands on society.
And yet, Scalia (incidentally, the justice who has been there the longest) recently concurred in a (marathon) decision that found that the right to own modern handguns was protected under the 2nd Amendment and applied to state and local governments by the due process clause of the 14th Amendment, with nary a word about the original intent of the Framers, who necessarily were neither contemplating nor voting for the right to own revolvers and semiautomatic and automatic weapons.

But maybe the Framers of the 2nd Amendment were contemplating state-of-the-art personal weapons? Well, not quite! The 2nd Amendment reads:

A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.
"Arms" would seem to be a broader category than "personal weapons" ... along the lines of what our "Armed Services" have access to. In the 1790s, private individuals, such as ship owners, could own and deploy the ultimate "arms" of the day, muzzle-loading cannons.

There are thousands of people in this country alone who could fashion at least crude atomic bombs, if only they had the plutonium or uranium-235. Can the government place limitations on the sale and manufacture of those items?

Can we imagine Scalia voting to make the government give back an atomic bomb to the nice gentleman in the head scarf?

Wednesday, January 05, 2011


To Coyne a Phrase

I thought about responding to this old bit of news from Jerry Coyne but I was tired and, now, Josh Rosenau has done so already and much better than I would have.

Why Coyne chose to resurrect this issue, when it's already been to the steps of the Supreme Court, is anybody's guess but I do note a certain failure in reading skills involved.

Here is what Coyne quotes from the Understanding Evolution site:


"Evolution and religion are incompatible."

Religion and science (evolution) are very different things. In science, only natural causes are used to explain natural phenomena, while religion deals with beliefs that are beyond the natural world.

The misconception that one always has to choose between science and religion is incorrect. Of course, some religious beliefs explicitly contradict science (e.g., the belief that the world and all life on it was created in six literal days); however, most religious groups have no conflict with the theory of evolution or other scientific findings. In fact, many religious people, including theologians, feel that a deeper understanding of nature actually enriches their faith. Moreover, in the scientific community there are thousands of scientists who are devoutly religious and also accept evolution.

For concise statements from many religious organizations regarding evolution, see Voices for Evolution on the NCSE Web site.
Coyne calls this a "flat assertion that faith/science incompatibility is a 'misconception'."

I don't think Coyne got past the heading ... something any academic should know is poor reading technique. In fact, the site is saying that it is a misconception "that one always has to choose between science and religion." Words are generally considered important in reading and, as far as "flat assertions" are concerned, that "always" is particularly so.

Just recently, Coyne even allowed that those who are "not a raving 'God-poofed-us-into-being' creationist'" might be qualified to be scientists at fairly prestigious academic institutions but, for some reason, talking about it is a bad thing.

Sunday, January 02, 2011



You Left!

before you felt the pain

You Left!

before I could complain

You left!

with no need to atone

You left!

... but left me all alone!


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