Sunday, July 31, 2011


'Round and 'Round the Mulberry Bush ...

I've beem remiss in blogging of late for various reasons, so I thought I'd revive some older posts for those who don't obsessively comb through my previous efforts. Feel free to ignore this.

January 12, 2008:

Anyone who has followed Casey Luskin's "career" ("ministry" would be a better word) knows that nuance is either beyond him or is bludgeoned to death in furtherance of the propagation of the faith. The Discovery Institute's Gofer General is back with a triple play this time. In a screed entitled "Nature Fulfilling Its Charter to Defend Evolution at all Costs," Luskin complains about an editorial in Nature (which he does not bother to link to) praising the new National Academy of Sciences booklet, Science, Evolution, and Creationism (available for free download at the NAS site or here).

Luskin begins by quote mining Peter J. Bowler, the author of probably the definitive history of the notion of biological evolution, Evolution: The History of an Idea, Third Edition. But the quote mine is more subtle than most Luskin has perpetrated and the true story behind Bowler's discussion is not completely flattering to the players on science's side. Luskin quotes Bowler as follows:

By exploiting their position in this network, Huxley and his friends ensured that Darwinism had come to stay. (Ruse, 1979a). They controlled the scientific journals -- the journal Nature was founded in part to promote the campaign -- and manipulated academic appointments. Hull (1978) has stressed how important these rhetorical and political skills were in creating a scientific revolution. The Darwinists adopted a flexible approach which deflected opposition, minimized infighting among themselves, and made it easy for others to join their campaign. Many, like Huxley himself, were not rigidly committed to the theory of natural selection; they were simply anxious to promote the case for evolution.

(Peter J. Bowler, Evolution: The History of an Idea, pg. 185 (University of California Press, 3rd ed., 2003).)
All of which is correctly quoted, ellipses-free and, surprisingly, includes the page number. All that's missing is the history.

British society at the time Darwin published the Origin was still in the throes of the Industrial Revolution and the wrenching changes it was bringing to society. The social order, that had for so long been dominated by class, was breaking up and forming again along new lines. The landed gentry, attempting to hold out against the mercantile elite, were losing ground. The established Church of England had slipped into a bureaucratic slumber where piety was slightly discreditable. The new middle class of technocrats were struggling to carve out a place separate (and above) the proletariat, who were, in turn, beginning to pay some heed to the voices demanding the destruction of the old ways altogether.

One reason Darwin was so ready to see what he did see was that he was positioned at the nexus of these competing forces. As the son and grandson of prominent doctors, he was not unfamiliar with the nobility and could move among them on somewhat even terms. Of course, he was related both by blood and, eventually, by marriage, to the Wedgwoods, who were prominent members of the rising industrial gentry. His experience among the dons at Cambridge was so comfortable he was not adverse to a life, as envisioned by his father, in a country parsonage. Finally, he was thrown into the closest possible proximity to the working and technocratic classes aboard the Beagle for five years.

Huxley, on the other hand, had come from a poor background and would have stayed there, despite his medical degree, if Britain's old class system could have had its way. As Bowler describes it in his most recent book, Monkey Trials and Gorilla Sermons: Evolution and Christianity from Darwin to Intelligent Design (p. 76):

Like Darwin he traveled the world aboard a Royal Navy survey ship, but where Darwin was the captain's companion on the Beagle, Huxley was a lowly naval surgeon on HMS Rattlesnake. Still, he had made a reputation for himself describing and classifying the exotic marine creatures they had dredged up, and in the 1850s he was desperately struggling to establish a career as a professional scientist. This was still not easy -- there were few properly paid jobs, and Huxley was lucky to get a lectureship in paleontology at the newly established Royal School of Mines. Once secure, Huxley threw himself into the campaign to establish science as the main source of expertise that the government of an industrial country should call upon to solve its social problems.
It was this desire to "professionalize" science, which, up to then, had largely been the province of the wealthy and of churchmen with the leisure to pursue it as a hobby, that drove much of Huxley's public activities. Which brings us back to Luskin's quote mine. With the exception of two sentences about Huxley's sitting on government commissions and his leading role in the "X Club," a group of like-minded backers of a new scientific establishment, the following appears directly before the bit quoted by Luskin:

Given that the details of the theory were controversial, the outcome of the debate would be determined not only by the evidence but also by the rhetorical and organizational skills of the rival parties. As a member of the new generation of professional scientists, Huxley was determined to wrest intellectual authority away from its traditional sources. Evolution was useful because it demonstrated that science could now determine the truth in an area once claimed by theology.
So it was certainly true that Huxley had motivations beyond the strict scientific issues of biology. What separates Huxley and his supporters from the IDeologists was that they remained interested in the science and, in opening it up to all capable practitioners, they were, in fact, seeking to improve it. Unlike the drones from the Discovery Institute, the newly professionalized scientific establishment continued to do actual science.

Which leads us to the second, and unintentionally funny, of Luskin's deprecations against sense. Luskin laments

... the National Academy of Science's new version of Science, Evolution, and Creationism because it [in Nature's words] "summarize[s] the reasons why evolution is in effect as much a scientific fact as the existence of atoms or the orbiting of Earth round the Sun." Such statements are saddening because they elevate evolution to the status of an unquestionable dogma and thus threaten the prestige of science as an objective voice in society.
I was unaware that the existence of atoms or the orbiting of the Earth around the Sun were "dogma," unquestionable or otherwise. Similarly, he kvetchs:

... what are scientists who do question Neo-Darwinism supposed to do when the top scientific organization in the U.S. proclaims that evolution is as unquestionable as the existence of atoms or the heliocentric model of the solar system?
Well, the honest thing to do would be to come up with a theory which explains the evidence better than those theories, which can continue to be tested empirically and which can then be used to explain even more of the natural universe -- in the same manner the scientific community did by integrating genetics with evolution or relativity with classical mechanics. Or, on the other hand, you can skip the science part and just go straight to rhetoric, the way the DI does.

Finally, and most weasel-like, Luskin notes that the title of Nature's editorial is "Spread the word: Evolution is a scientific fact, and every organization whose research depends on it should explain why."

Again, we see politics at work: they think scientists should defend evolution because their "research depends on it."
Luskin would have the unwary think that the title is a threat of the "or else" sort but, in fact, as the editorial says:

Evolution is of profound importance to modern biology and medicine. Accordingly, anyone who has the ability to explain the evidence behind this fact to their students, their friends and relatives should be given the ammunition to do so. Between now and the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth on 12 February 2009, every science academy and society with a stake in the credibility of evolution should summarize evidence for it on their website and take every opportunity to promote it.
It is not an attempt to intimidate; it is a request for everyone who uses evolutionary theory in their daily work to do for science and truth what the DI is willing to do for a lie: to speak out forcefully, though with more clarity and honesty, in the public square.

Thursday, July 28, 2011


Please Stand By

Something too weird to begin to explain has just happened in my life that will likely take up much of my time for the foreseeable future. While I'll try to drop in, it may be sporatic at best.

We regret any inconvenience.

Sunday, July 24, 2011


East of Eden

And so it goes:

[Jon Magnus, chief correspondent on the foreign desk at Oslo newspaper VG] said that in Norway's famously open society it is normal for top politicians, including the prime minister, to walk the streets of Oslo without protection.

But he believes that will now change. "From today they will probably have bodyguards and police guards and they will go by car and never again stop and talk to people," he said.

Siri Gulestad, head of clinical psychology at the University of Oslo, said Norway had "lost a kind of innocence."
Expulsion can be a bitch.


No Kidding


Saturday, July 23, 2011



Via Dispatches From the Culture War, the President, the Secretary of Defense, and the Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff have certified that the men and women who we trust to fight and, if needs be, die in order to (in theory, at least) protect all Americans' rights, are grown up enough to themselves accept that gays and lesbians have rights too. The White House press release:

Today, we have taken the final major step toward ending the discriminatory 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' law that undermines our military readiness and violates American principles of fairness and equality. In accordance with the legislation that I signed into law last December, I have certified and notified Congress that the requirements for repeal have been met. 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' will end, once and for all, in 60 days—on September 20, 2011.

As Commander in Chief, I have always been confident that our dedicated men and women in uniform would transition to a new policy in an orderly manner that preserves unit cohesion, recruitment, retention and military effectiveness. Today's action follows extensive training of our military personnel and certification by Secretary Panetta and Admiral Mullen that our military is ready for repeal. As of September 20th, service members will no longer be forced to hide who they are in order to serve our country. Our military will no longer be deprived of the talents and skills of patriotic Americans just because they happen to be gay or lesbian.

I want to commend our civilian and military leadership for moving forward in the careful and deliberate manner that this change requires, especially with our nation at war. I want to thank all our men and women in uniform, including those who are gay or lesbian, for their professionalism and patriotism during this transition. Every American can be proud that our extraordinary troops and their families, like earlier generations that have adapted to other changes, will only grow stronger and remain the best fighting force in the world and a reflection of the values of justice and equality that the define us as Americans.
If you have to go out today, you might want to consider bringing a raincoat ... wingnut heads may be exploding everywhere.

Thursday, July 21, 2011


The Night They Drove Ol' Dixie Down

Here's an oldie but a goodie.

A while (actually, quite a while) ago, I posted about the attempt by the commissioners of Dixie County, Florida, with the assistance of Liberty Counsel and perhaps the worst lawyer in America, Mat Staver, to give taxpayer money to the ACLU.

The mills of the gods may grind slowly ... but they ain't got nothin' on courts.

Briefly, the county permitted a local businessman to erect a Ten Commandments monument on the top of steps of the local courthouse without even an attempt to disguise it as a reference to Moses as one "lawgiver" among many. Instead, it is inscribed with the admonition to "Love God and keep his commandments."

As the blog of Americans United for Separation of Church and State is now reporting, a Federal judge has ordered its removal.


Dixie County maintained that the monument was not owned or controlled by the county, but by a private resident — Joe Anderson Jr. — who paid for, placed and maintained the monument. The county argued that the monument was therefore not an official sponsorship of religion but a private expression of free speech.

After it was erected and after the lawsuit was filed, a plaque was added at the back of the monument that reads, "PLACED OWNED AND MAINTAINED BY JOE ANDERSON, JR." Anderson has not donated the monument to Dixie County and has not relinquished control of it.

After the court denied a Dixie County motion to dismiss the lawsuit, the county placed a sign near the monument that reads: "The items placed in this forum do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the Dixie County Board of County Commissioners and are not sponsored or endorsed by the Board." The Ten Commandments monument is the only "item" in the "forum."
Wait a minute! Keep his commandments? I thought there was something in there about not bearing false witness!

And Staver is claiming "Since 2005, we have won every Ten Commandments case except one," an assertion I'd consider as dubious as those of the county. But the county commissioners should really consider that the defendants in the one loss Staver is willing to admit to are now struggling to pay off over $400,000 in ACLU legal fees. And Liberty Counsel isn't chipping in a dime.


Fight! Fight!

PZ Megahertz is amazed at William Dembski's pretzelish maneuvering, on Hank Hanegraaff's Bible Answer Man radio program, attempting to reconcile the Bible with any part of science ... particularly an old Earth/universe.

That's actually an old story, going back a couple of years.

PZ is also amazed by Dembski's answer to how "evil" (like animals eating each other) could precede the Fall ... namely, "[t]he effects of the Fall work backward through time." Been there. Done that. Have the T-shirt.

PZ then notes Ken Ham's ire at Dembski and Hanegraaff and says:

[P]ut 'em in a cage match and let them tear each other apart.
A little late there too, as Dembski has already been forced to recant his rather mild statement that "Noah's flood, though presented as a global event, is probably best understood as historically rooted in a local event."

There's a rather sad aspect to Dembski's capitulation on this point.

As Dembski says on Hanegraaff's program:

When you have to rationalize something away, you have a problem.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011


More On Education

I've beem remiss in blogging of late for various reasons, so I thought I'd revive some older posts for those who don't obsessively comb through my previous efforts. Feel free to ignore this.

September 30, 2006:

Sometimes you just have to wonder how America keeps its status as the sole superpower in the world.
An award-winning Texas art teacher has not had her contract renewed after taking her fifth-grade students on a school-approved field trip to the Dallas Museum of Art.
The Fisher Elementary School art teacher came under fire last April when she took 89 fifth-graders on a field trip to the Dallas Museum of Art. Parents raised concerns over the field trip after their children reported seeing a nude sculpture at the art museum.
It seems the good people of Dubyaland weren't aware that they can't trust even Texas museums to protect their children from art ... er ... smut.
The parents had signed permission slips allowing their children to take part in the field trip.
So someone must be at fault ... who else but the teacher?
What does this have to do with our status as a superpower? How long can we keep that with a citizenry made up of morons?
I'd be concerned about insulting them, but if any of them stumble across this page, they'll have their eyes screwed tight shut.

Saturday, July 16, 2011


Of Priests and Petards

PZ Myearshertz has pointed to an action by the Catholic Bishop of Toledo, Ohio that I think should be more widely emulated.

It seems Bishop Leonard Blair has banned parishes and parochial schools from raising funds for the Susan G. Komen Foundation, which is dedicated to fighting breast cancer. Why? Because the national organization won't promise that it won't sometime in the future, under the right circumstances, fund fetal stem cell research. To date, the Foundation has not done so.

Why should this be emulated? The Catholic Church has paid hundreds of millions of dollars in recompense to victims of pedophilia by its priests because of the church's attempts to cover up the scandal. Pedophilia and protecting the perpetrators thereof was certainly against church teaching. Right? While the church has "promised" not to do it anymore, it is clear that it is as least as likely to do it again to protect its own ass as it is that the Foundation will fund a scientific procedure to save the lives of women.

Therefore, any good Catholic, who believes pedophilia is wrong, should stop funding the church ... on the off chance it'll do something they consider wrong in the future.


Philosophical Poker

I've beem remiss in blogging of late for various reasons, so I thought I'd revive some older posts for those who don't obsessively comb through my previous efforts. Feel free to ignore this ... although it has some relevance to an ongoing discussion in a comment discussion here.

May 25, 2010:

Jerry Coyne and Karl Giberson are having at each other, which all but guarantees that there will be a lot of talking past each other.

Coyne opens with this interpretation of Giberson:

Science and faith are compatible because there are lots of religious scientists. Some of them have even won Nobel Prizes!

To which Coyne replies:

Hello? Anybody listening out there? Earth to Giberson: no New Atheist has ever denied that faith and science can be "compatible" in the sense that both can be simultaneously embraced by one human mind. The argument is, and always has been, about whether science and faith are philosophically compatible. Do they clash because they deal with "data" in disparate ways? Do they have completely different standards for judging "truth"? I say "yes," and assert that religious scientists exist in a state of cognitive dissonance.
Of course, science and religion are only "philosophically incompatible" if science is a philosophy or "worldview" that requires practitioners to deal with all data in their life in only one way. The real import, which Giberson seems not to appreciate any more than Coyne, of the empiric fact that many good and even great scientists don't treat everything as a scientific problem (indeed, I've argued that no scientists actually do that, ala PZ's love for the Trophy WifeTM), is that science is not a philosophy but a method that, in truth, draws its greatest strength from the fact that it can be practiced by people of many differing and incompatible philosophies, thus all but guaranteeing that any scientific consensus is not based on a particular "worldview" but, instead, on the empiric evidence that has been vetted by people of many differing "worldviews." Any "scientific community" comprised of only atheists or only theists ... or Republicans or Democrats, under 30's or over 30's, left handers or right handers ... would not have this advantage.

Coyne's next complaint is that Giberson accuses him of attacking theists who are scientists personally. Specifically, Giberson complained that:

... Coyne raked Brown University cell biologist Ken Miller and me over the coals in The New Republic for our claims that Christians can unapologetically embrace science.

Au contraire! cries Coyne, he only raked their ideas over the coals and quotes himself from that article:

Giberson and Miller are thoughtful men of good will. Reading them, you get a sense of conviction and sincerity absent from the writings of many creationists, who blatantly deny the most obvious facts about nature in the cause of their faith. Both of their books are worth reading: Giberson for the history of the creation/ evolution debate, and Miller for his lucid arguments against intelligent design. Yet in the end they fail to achieve their longed-for union between faith and evolution. And they fail for the same reason that people always fail: a true harmony between science and religion requires either doing away with most people's religion and replacing it with a watered-down deism, or polluting science with unnecessary, untestable, and unreasonable spiritual claims.

I wonder, if Coyne was running a business and someone accused him of polluting the local river, whether he would think that only his ideas were being attacked or whether the attack included his motives, honesty and integrity as well. Now, I haven't read as much by Giberson as I have of Miller but I know the latter is, in all the examples I've seen, careful not to claim that his religious beliefs are scientific, even when he makes reference to scientific facts about the world, such as quantum uncertainty, in support of those beliefs ... a scrupulousness that the "New Atheists" cannot match. It would be "polluting" science to make such references only if science was the equivalent of atheistic philosophy which, again, simply begs the question of what science is.

I have to wholeheartedly agree with Coyne on one point: Giberson is wrong about this:

For the sake of argument, let us set aside questions about the truth of religion vs. the truth of science. Suppose there is no such thing as religious truth, as Richard Dawkins argued in The God Delusion. Allow that the "New Atheist Noise Machine," as American University communications professor Matt Nisbet calls it, has a privileged grasp of the truth. Even with these concessions, it still appears that the New Atheists are behaving like a boorish bunch of intellectual bullies.

There is something profoundly un-American about demanding that people give up cherished, or even uncherished, beliefs just because they don't comport with science. And the demand seems even more peculiar when it is applied so indiscriminately as to include religious believers with Nobel Prizes. What sort of atheist complains that a fellow citizen doing world-class science must abandon his or her religion to be a good scientist?

Our commitment to pluralism and individual freedom should motivate generosity in such matters and allow people "the right to be wrong," especially when the beliefs in question do not interfere with us. Nothing is gained by loud, self-promoting and mean-spirited assaults on the beliefs of fellow citizens.

The New Atheists need to learn how to play in the sandbox.

There is nothing at all un-American about "demanding" that others agree with our own points of view (i.e. arguing that other people are wrong and bringing all the rhetorical tools to bear on any issue, including ridicule, bluff and misdirection). It is the very essence of Freedom of Speech and was practiced from the very beginning of the US ... including the Federalists "accusing" Jefferson of being an atheist, among many other examples.

Of course, that means Giberson is just as free to play his cards as Coyne is to play his. Only time will tell who has the better hand in that game.

Thursday, July 14, 2011


Purple Pain

I've beem remiss in blogging of late for various reasons, so I thought I'd revive some older posts for those who don't obsessively comb through my previous efforts. Feel free to ignore this.

July 15, 2008:

Ronald Bailey of Reason magazine has a version available of his remarks during the FreedomFest 2008 debate: "Is There Scientific Evidence for Intelligent Design in Nature?" They are good reading.

One point well worth emulating when discussing the subject with doubtful but still open minded people is Bailey's skillful weaving together of various forms of evidence from the fossil record, genetics and development to make a multifaceted case for evolution that is neither too complex to be understood by people with no particular expertise nor too simple to convey the true richness of the evidence for evolution.

In this instance, though, that part of Bailey's case is only the substrate to his real aim. Noting the Discovery Institute's statement: "Unlike creationism, the scientific theory of intelligent design is agnostic regarding the source of design and has no commitment to defending Genesis, the Bible or any other sacred text," Bailey sets the stage:

Near the end of the silly new anti-evolution film, Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed—in which fellow panelist Steve Meyer appeared—host Ben Stein asks Richard Dawkins, who is arguably the best-known living evolutionary biologist on the planet, if he could think of any circumstances under which intelligent design might have occurred. Incautiously, Dawkins brings up the idea that aliens might have seeded life on earth; so-called directed panspermia. This idea was suggested by biologists Francis Crick and Leslie Orgel back in the 1970s. In the film, Stein acts like this is a great "gotcha," like it's the silliest thing he's ever heard. Of course, the irony is that this is precisely what proponents of intelligent design are claiming—that a higher intelligence has repeatedly created life on earth.

So, since our esteemed opponents are agnostic with regard to the "source of design," and because intelligent design cannot rule out the hypothesis that super-intelligent purple space squids are not the "source of design" of life on earth, I will provisionally accept that hypothesis for the remainder of my talk.

Besides defusing a minor embarrassment, Mr. Bailey forges the issue of aliens into a cudgel with which to bludgeon the Intelligent Design Creationists:

As I understand it, intelligent design proponents—such as our distinguished Discovery Institute panelists here—fully accept the fact that the earth is around 4.5 billion years old and that some form of life has existed on earth for about 3 billion or so years. If that is the case, it would seem the record shows that the intelligent designers—which I am hypothesizing are super-intelligent purple space squids—evidently spent more than 2 billion years tinkering with single-cell algae and bacteria before they got around to creating multi-cellular species. Do intelligent design proponents have a theory to explain that? Were the space squid creators just lazy?

Trust me. It goes down hill for the IDers after that. Better yet, don't trust me ... go read it yourself.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011


What If They Held a War . . .

I've beem remiss in blogging of late for various reasons, so I thought I'd revive some older posts for those who don't obsessively comb through my previous efforts. Feel free to ignore this.

January 08, 2006:

There is a nice confluence in the news today. First there is an Op-Ed piece in the Washington Post by Alan Cutler, a geologist and author of The Seashell on the Mountaintop about Nicolaus Steno, a scientific giant who is too little known today. As Cutler explains in the article:

Steno was primarily an anatomist, but he is best remembered for his pioneering studies in geology. In 1669 he published in Florence -- Galileo's old stomping grounds -- a startling proposal: that the fossils and rock layers of the earth, if studied scientifically, gave a chronicle of the earth's history at least as valid as the accepted version in the verses of Genesis.

If some accounts of the relationship between science and religion are credited, this should have sparked cries of "heretic" and caused the oiling of the instruments of torture and the kindling of fires. Instead,

There wasn't a peep of official complaint. Steno wasn't criticized, much less condemned. In fact, he was put on a fast track to priesthood and then a bishopric. To top it off, in 1988 he was beatified by Pope John Paul II.

The reason for this seeming disconnect is that the supposed 'war between science and religion' is largely a myth propagated by John William Draper, in his History of the Conflict between Religion and Science (1875) and Andrew Dickson White, in his A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom (1896), for reasons of their own.*

Meanwhile, we also have the story of the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, the oldest Evangelical Lutheran Church seminary in the U.S., offering a course on the legal case over the Dover Area School District's attempt to inject intelligent design into its curriculum.

The seminary has been especially interested in the Dover story because the Rev. Warren Eshbach, a founder of Dover CARES and one of the most prominent critics of Dover's revoked intelligent design policy, is also an adjunct faculty member.

The seminary touts Eshbach's involvement in the Dover case as one of its most important issues of 2005.

Both Eshbach and Eric H. Crump, an associate professor of systematic theology, have also signed the Clergy Letter Project, in which more than 10,000 clergy signed a petition in support of the teaching of evolution.
Here is an excerpt from the Clergy Letter:

We the undersigned, Christian clergy from many different traditions, believe that the timeless truths of the Bible and the discoveries of modern science may comfortably coexist. We believe that the theory of evolution is a foundational scientific truth, one that has stood up to rigorous scrutiny and upon which much of human knowledge and achievement rests. To reject this truth or to treat it as "one theory among others" is to deliberately embrace scientific ignorance and transmit such ignorance to our children. We believe that among God's good gifts are human minds capable of critical thought and that the failure to fully employ this gift is a rejection of the will of our Creator.

None of this is to deny that practitioners of both science and religion have engaged in profound and bitter disputes. But Cutler sums it up well:

The historical relationship between science and religion has been as complex as any human relationship. There is no reason to think that this will change. The warfare thesis suits the polemical purposes of partisans in certain social and political debates. But it harms religion by portraying it as overly dogmatic and reactionary. It also harms science by portraying it as hostile or at least indifferent to the average person's spiritual needs.

Now if we can all just find a better place to be next time . . .

* Draper's book was a diatribe against the Roman Catholic Church's then recent claim of infallibility of the Pope when speaking ex cathedra and its attempt to exert authority over public institutions' instruction in science and literature. White wrote in response to criticisms of his charter for Cornell University as a nonsectarian institution, a controversial idea at the time.

Monday, July 11, 2011



I have refrained from commenting on Elevatorgate because what Rebecca Watson and Jen McCreight (and, from the distaff side, John Wilkins and PZ Megahertz) have already said seemed so right and true that they needed no help from me. Even when Richard Dawkins showed that he is, indeed, human and said something stupid on the topic, I felt no need to add my voice to the cacophony that has erupted.

But this (via PZ) is worth repeating ... as loudly as possible. People sometimes think poetry is all flowers and treacle. It isn't:

18 years old.
The Army.
Germany, sent out to the field for the first time.
The only woman and 1500 men.
I was the Medic, they were Engineers.
Alone, in the dark being watched, only I didn't know
Vilseck, Germany after two weeks without a shower, we were allowed to go to Tent city for 2 days.
Much Celebrating. Much Drinking. After showers the partying started.
I was invited.
A cute boy
free drinks
more drinks
Something wrong....
Room spinning
can't walk
being carried
pass out
wake up
can't move
tied up
can't talk
gag in mouth
someone on me
wet between the legs
another body on me
another body
all night
over and over again
how many?
Don't know
too many
over and over again
more laughter
in and out of conscience
how many?
could be twenty
could be a hundred
all ranks
all sizes
all ages
all penises
all thrusting
all sweating
lots of pain
smell of greasy tent
smell of booze
smell of tobacco
smell of man sweat
smell of semen
smell of sex
all thrusting
all groping
all squeezing
all pawing
only one, who when he saw my tears, stopped in his tracks
But he walked out, and another came in to take his place
over and over again
no help
none in sight
all night long
in and out of reality
in and out of dreams
more body's
more men
more thrusting
how many hours?
finally the sweet release of awareness
in the showers
bruises and blood everywhere
oh my God the pain
all consuming pain
my clothing in a pile
water is cold
scrub some more
put on uniform
met at door, by commanding Officer
stern words about MY behavior
told if I talked, it would be MY fault
Threatened with prison for "enticing"
handed orders to be transfered
Told to pack my bags
Transportation waiting
Warned again
If you talk, you die
or worse
watching blindly as the trees roll by
curling up inside of me
hiding the pain
hoping the pain will fade
as the bruises do
can't walk, can't sit, can't take a shit
blaming myself
Others have
so why not me?
it weighs on a mind
remembering what was said
silence it is my friend
lock the pain away
never talk they said
never talk I did
The pain it became my friend
To this day, it never ends.

- "Doubting Thomas"
That is one of the greatest -- and most devastating -- poems I have ever read.

Great poetry is not for the faint of heart!

Sunday, July 10, 2011


Hey! Why Haven't I Heard of This Guy?

Gary Johnson is a Presidential candidate who says that he supports gays in the military, a woman's right to choose up until the viability of the fetus, the legalization of pot, and that government should not be involved in the bedrooms of consenting adults.

Oh, wait! ... He's a Republican Presidential candidate!

A reasonably rational Republican, who dares to demonstrate it out loud, has no chance ... so why should the media bother?

Instead, the Republican establishment will sweat and work as hard as it can to camouflage the candidates it prefers as faux Tea Partyites, while hoping the Tea Party faithful are as stupid as they think they are.

The ex-party of Lincoln.


Nobels All Around!

I've beem remiss in blogging of late for various reasons, so I thought I'd revive some older posts for those who don't obsessively comb through my previous efforts. Feel free to ignore this.

October 1, 2005:

In case you have not been paying attention, you are fortunate to live in the time of one of the greatest discoveries ever in science, which belongs to Michael Behe. In his book, Darwin's Black Box, Behe modestly claimed:

The result of these cumulative efforts to investigate the cell -- to investigate life at the molecular level -- is [once you apply Behe's notion of irreducible complexity] a loud, clear, piercing cry of "design!" The result is so unambiguous and so significant that it must be ranked as one of the greatest achievements in the history of science. (p. 232-33)

Why, you may ask, hasn't the Nobel Committee trampled down Behe's door in its haste to recognize this milestone? Perhaps they are trying to work out the little question of priority, for it seems there is another claimant. William Dembski has said, in his article "Science and Design":

The greatest breakthrough in philosophy of science and probability theory of recent years has been to isolate and make precise this criterion [complexity-specification]. Michael Behe's criterion of irreducible complexity for establishing the design of biochemical systems is a special case of the complexity-specification criterion for detecting design.
So it seems that Behe's "greatest achievement in the history of science" is merely the working out of some of the details of the really, really, really "greatest breakthrough" of Bill Dembski in coming up with specified complexity.

How will the Committee ever be able to choose?

Saturday, July 09, 2011


Going Down With Creationists

Michael Flannery is a historian of pharmacy, a librarian and a Discoveryless Institute Fellow.

He is also the chief propagandist of the latest DI trope that Alfred Russel Wallace was "an early intelligent design theorist" and that that fact somehow makes ID "scientific." While it is true that Wallace argued that an "unseen universe of Spirit" had interceded at least three times in history: in the creation of life from inorganic matter; the introduction of consciousness in the higher animals; and in the generation of the higher mental faculties in mankind, there is good reason to conclude that Wallace's views were a more or less direct result of his belief in Spiritualism ... just as Intelligent Design advocates views are a result of their belief in Abrahamic religion. While Wallace's views could be taught in a history of science class -- just as the ideas of a much earlier intelligent design theorist, William Paley, who at least had the honesty to call his work "theology," could be -- they could not be taught as if they represented the modern science of evolution.

Now Flannery is making a rather strange argument that "Darwinian Evolution" is "A Scientific Pip-Squeak in a Suit of Cultural Armor."

Basically, he argues, based on a book by Thomas F. Glick entitled What About Darwin?, that:

The point is, the establishment of Darwinian evolution lodged itself securely only in part because of key support from certain scientific figures. Far more significant was the general captivation of a wide ranging intelligentsia from the arts and humanities on both sides of the Atlantic. It is through this broader based support that Darwinism has become dressed in a kind of suit of cultural armor. As such under this Darwinian "habit of mind" Darwin himself "ceases to refer to the real person and becomes an icon."
Well, no kidding! That's why the DI insists on calling all modern evolutionary scientists "Darwinists," despite the fact that the science has greatly moved on since Darwin's day. They are playing on the overwhelming "cultural armor" that religion enjoys in the US and much of the world and can hardly decry the "cultural armor" of Darwin while they constantly play on the "cultural chinks" in that armor.

Glick (whose book I haven't read) apparently makes the sensible point that "there is no real distinction between the scientific channel and the literary channel: they are cut from the same cloth of common culture and common experience" but Flannery disagrees:

If the scientific strength of Darwinian evolution matches its ubiquitous cultural preeminence--if indeed the two coincide with a harmonious verisimilitude--then perhaps we would be all knaves and fools for denying it. However, a careful examination finds a great disparity between the two. Remember Darwinian evolution itself gained its iconic status chiefly by and through the cultural gatekeepers of the affinity group from which it sprang, the tight-knit, class-conscious blood-ties of the Victorian elite. From the beginning scientists had always pointed out difficulties with the theory--Louis Agassiz, St. George Mivart, Alfred Russel Wallace, even Gregor Mendel to name a few--it was the chorus of approbation from a much larger field that gained Darwin's theory it hegemonic status. Yet its power as a scientific paradigm simply doesn't seem to match its public bravado.
Of course, this is a gross misrepresentation of the history of the science of evolution. While Darwin's marshaling of the evidence for the fact of evolution -- i.e. common descent -- was widely accepted scientifically, his theory of natural selection (which is what the DI objects to, or so they tell us repeatedly) was widely discounted in the scientific community until the 20th Century, when it was realized that genetics strongly supported natural selection.

More importantly, Flannery offers scant evidence of the "vulnerability" of evolutionary theory. One is Steve Fuller's "survey" of the scientific literature that supposedly shows that only 12% of biological papers include "evolution" and its variants. I suspect that, if you did a survey of the literature on planetary astronomy, you'd find even less mention of "heliocentricity" and its cognates. That hardly indicates that the theory of the solar system is on the ropes. Fuller is also cited as stating that most references to "evolution" are in its "noncontroversial microevolutionary sense." Besides the fact that this is a creationist distinction that has no relation to any use of the terms by scientists, there is obvious and justified doubts as to Fuller's ability to determine the import of scientific research when he draws such grandiose -- and false --"conclusions" as "neo-Darwinism could be abandoned tomorrow, and most research programs in genetics--and other biological disciplines--would continue apace," based on a word search.

Another is (surprise! surprise!) a quote mine:

Indeed the scientific literature itself is calling the purported paradigm into question. M. Leisola and O. Turunen at Helsinki University of Technology suggest in a 2007 protein engineering study that there is an "overreliance on the Darwinian blind search to obtain practical results. In the long run, random methods cannot replace insight in constructing life-like proteins."
To his credit, Flannery provides a link to the article, which suggests that any dishonesty involves pretending to understand the article or copying it mindlessly from another creationist. Although the article is behind a paywall, the abstract easily shows what is being said:

The extraordinary properties of natural proteins demonstrate that life-like protein engineering is both achievable and valuable. Rapid progress and impressive results have been made towards this goal using rational design and random techniques or a combination of both. However, we still do not have a general theory on how to specify a structure that is suited to a target function nor can we specify a sequence that folds to a target structure. There is also overreliance on the Darwinian blind search to obtain practical results. In the long run, random methods cannot replace insight in constructing life-like proteins. For the near future, however, in enzyme development, we need to rely on a combination of both.
Well, duh! If you are human beings out to engineer "life-like proteins" and can't take tens of thousands or millions of years to conduct planet-wide experiments, the way the process of evolution can, you might have to take some shortcuts. But that just raises the question why a supposedly omniscient and omnipotent god would take all those millions of years and also had to rely on "Darwinian blind search" (don't forget they accept "microevolution"!).

The rest of Flannery's "evidence" is that "so far" we can't explain the nature and origin of human consciousness. Last time I looked, we still can't satisfactorily explain how gravity works at a distance. Does that justify the theory of Intelligent Grappling (sometimes known as Intelligent Falling)?

It would be pathetic if it wasn't for the fact that so many people will fall for such bafflegab.

Monday, July 04, 2011



I've ... on occasion ... once or twice ... now and again ... made fun of Jerry Coyne, particularly concerning his understanding of philosophy.

It's only fair that I give him credit for trying. At the urging of Eric MacDonald, Coyne is reading theology. I can't say I blame him for finding:

I am spending my middle age reading drivel about beliefs that have no basis in fact.
But when you are going to assert that something is "drivel" it is incumbent on you to know why it is ... or else you wind up like Ray Comfort.

Nor can I disagree with Coyne's assessment that:

Theologians can't write.
I'd only note that scientists are not totally unfamiliar with that failing.

Coyne is free to believe, having spent actual time familiarizing himself with the subject, that:

There seems to be no "knowledge" behind theology, and I haven't learned anything—not even any clever philosophy.
... though I have no confidence in Coyne's ability to recognize "clever philosophy" if it hit him upside the head.

But trying is to be congratulated!


The Fourth

There is a lot of good rhetoric in the Declaration of Independence.

But to me, this is the heart and soul of it:

... deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed ...
The idea that justice flows not from the top down -- from god(s), kings, churches, etc. -- but from the bottom up, is the true genius of the Founders, no matter how much they ... and we ... have failed to live up to the ideal.

Sunday, July 03, 2011




Sometimes you just have to wonder how otherwise intelligent people can let their personal beliefs chigger them into saying silly things.

Jerry Coyne, with a little help from a friend, Mano Singham, is about to instruct the world on the TrueTM meaning of the word "atheist" and thereby "deep-six the term 'agnostic'.” I don't have access to Singham's article, so I'll have to go by Coyne's description of it.

Coyne, like Singham, doesn't like the present dictionary definitions:

atheist: one who denies or disbelieves in the existence of a God.

agnostic: one who holds that the existence of anything beyond and behind material phenomena is unknown and (so far as can be judged) unknowable, and especially that a First Cause and an unseen world are subjects of which we know nothing.
Of course, these are dictionary definitions, which are reflections of how the terms are used, not logical categories. But it is the logical category that Coyne and Singham want to change.

First of all, this dictionary definition of "agnostic" (almost certainly not the only definition in the OED) certainly includes usages by people unfamiliar with any philosophical arguments about agnosticism. In any event, this definition is essentially identical to the logical category asserted by no less a thinker than Bertrand Russel:

An agnostic thinks it impossible to know the truth in matters such as God and the future life with which Christianity and other religions are concerned. Or, if not impossible, at least impossible at the present time.
Of course, Russel might have been wrong but, in matters philosophical, I'd bet Russel was more likely to be right than Coyne, especially based on the past performance of each. Certainly, when Coyne accuses agnostics of the crude assertion of "the [false] claim that “you can’t prove a negative,” he is wrong, not to mention papering over the difficulties of proving a negative.

I think Coyne is actually right when he admits that "this sounds like a rhetorical strategy to force people to admit they’re atheists." Strangely, he likes it because "[i]t subsumes in a logical way both people like P.Z., who don’t think there can be evidence for a god because the very concept is incoherent, and people like me, who think that in principle there could be evidence for a god." The urge to be a "lumper" seems strange for the "Coyner" of "faitheist," a term designed to distinguish one atheist from another.

Coyne has denied that "faitheist" is pejorative but he cannot hide his belief that "agnostic" is. He claims that "those who call themselves 'agnostics' [do so] because they adhere to the 'no -evidence-has-appeared' idea, but want to distinguish themselves from the nasty atheists who say the same thing, as intellectual cowards."

I personally take offense at that. Any reader of this blog knows that I am quite willing, as an agnostic, to confront religious beliefs and believers. My "cowardice" consists of not participating in a stampede of Gnus, who, as is the case with all human beings, fail in their aspirations to be totally rational.

I won't claim to have succeeded myself in that regard but to call me a "coward" for not conforming to Coyne's beliefs is the worst sort of labeling as the "other" anyone who doesn't hold to your ideal.


Here is some good material on agnosticism by John Wilkins:

Atheism and agnosticism... again

Agnostic still

What is an agnostic?

Another kind of agnosticism

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

. . . . .


How to Support Science Education