Tuesday, November 29, 2011


Of Inflammable Pants

Well, well ...

David Klinghoffer, of all people, is continuing the Discoveryless Institute's latest PR ploy to the effect that the mean ol' "Darwinists" are "ignoring" the "serious" Intelligent Design proponents in favor of making fun of the clueless creationists, such as young-Earthers and those who twist the Qur'an into a science text.

Needless to say, Klinghoffer is among the most clueless of ID proponents, slightly "ahead" of Casey Luskin, who Klinghoffer nonetheless cites as an authority, giving rise to the first painfully obvious irony.

Klinghoffer is rifting on a post by the fine young blogger, Jack Scanlan, at Homologous Legs, who suggested that scientists are feeding the "rhetoricotrophic beast" of intelligent design by exhibiting an attitude that could be construed as "dogmatic and strident." The fact that the Discoveryoids immediately tried to spin Jack's post into a rhetorical lunch is the second massive irony.

There is, of course, a structural irony embedded in all this: namely that science bloggers have, in fact, taken on the "serious" ID proponents at length, as PZ Myearshertz has documented ... and there are many more examples out there to boot. But really, just how many times and in how many ways can you point out that an analogy to human design is neither scientific nor even a cogent argument, given that Kant pointed that out in 1790?

Lastly, there is the question why anyone, not already having drunk the Kool-Aid, should take the PR hacks at the DI seriously? Quite apart from the cdesign proponentsists, the DI has spent the greater part of the last five years, since the Kitzmiller debacle, trying to pass "academic freedom" legislation to allow public school teachers to "teach the controversy." Of course, after their one success in Louisiana, the people who supported the law turned around and made it clear that they fully understood the campaign was just a ploy to teach the religious belief in creationism at taxpayer expense in contravention of the Constitution.

Well, the latest to let that 800 pound cat out of the bag is Rick Santorum, who the DI has praised and endorsed:

Santorum once led the effort in the Senate to require the teaching in science class of intelligent design that would include examining creationism.

On Monday, Santorum said teachers should be allowed to "teach the controversy" between the theory of evolution and any gaps in the study that would allow for dialogue on a divine beginning.

"What I was advocating was teaching the intellectual debate in a classroom that most children would love to have," Santorum said. "Where do we come from? How did we get here?"

- Nashua (New Hampshire) Telegraph, "Santorum claims conservative mantle" by Kevin Landrigan, November 29, 2011.
There is no reason to take habitual liars seriously.

The only real question is why any sane parent would want government employees discussing divine beginnings with their children at the urging of habitual liars.


P.S. You can watch the Editorial Board Interview here, beginning at arount 52:15. It's actually somewhat worse than the article conveyed in that Santorum seems to think that science teachers should be telling children that there are some things that are "better explained by a creator."

Sunday, November 27, 2011


Malpractice in Education

Um ...

A growing number of Muslim students at a leading British university are avoiding lectures on evolution, saying it is contrary to the creationist ideas stated in the Quran.

Professors at the University College London, a leading multidisciplinary university, have expressed concern over the rising number of biology students boycotting lectures on Darwinist theories, which forms an important part of the syllabus, citing their religion, the Daily Mail reported.

These students include three trainee doctors in one of Britain's leading medical courses.
I'm not sure that you can demand that biologists and doctors believe in evolution but you can sure demand that they know about it.

Saturday, November 26, 2011


Willing Determination

Massimo Pigliucci has an antidote to Jerry Coyne's crude pronouncements on "free will" and determinism:

Perhaps surprisingly, there was quite a bit of agreement among panelists on several contentious points concerning discussions of free will. Here is a partial list:

* Neuroscience cannot actually establish the truth of determinism. At best, that's an area of competence of physics.

* Libet's classical experiments have done close to zero to show that we do not make conscious decisions. Indeed, good neurobiological evidence shows that conscious deliberation plays a primary role in some of our decision making processes.

* fMRI data are interesting, but they can only indirectly provide clues to discriminate among different hypotheses concerning human volition (a much better term than the hopelessly marred "free will").

* Nobody any longer seriously defends a notion of free will that relies on dualism or, a fortiori, even more metaphysically suspect concepts like souls. (Well, okay, some theologians do, but then again, astrologers still defend the idea of cosmic influences on our personality...)

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


Relative Fame

John Rennie, former Editor in Chief of Scientific American and author of "15 Answers to Creationist Nonsense," has a nice article on why the controversy over superluminal neutrinos threatens to become another instance of, in the felicitous phrase of the Sensuous Curmudgeon, the Vindication of All Kooks Doctrine.

So why aren't scientists accepting the verification of these seemingly impossible faster-than-light particles? Are they just refusing to acknowledge that the concepts on which they built their careers are wrong? Are they rebelling against a "paradigm shift" in their field, as the historian Thomas Kuhn put it in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions? And does their behavior lend credence to the idea often spread by cold fusion enthusiasts, climate change deniers, intelligent design theorists, UFO believers and others that researchers are more interested in protecting mainstream scientific orthodoxy than in finding the truth?
After discussing why physicists are being cautious, Rennie goes on to puncture the VoAKD:

What's almost absurd, however, is to think that scientists would steer away from iconoclastic discoveries to protect their professional standing. But the career of any scientist who has the evidence to knock down pillars of his or her field isn't ruined — it's made.

The physicists who first prove the existence of faster-than-light particles are instantly in the history books. That credential looks pretty good to tenure committees and granting agencies. The same would be true for any climate scientist who could truly, conclusively prove that worries about climate change from industrial greenhouse gases were groundless, or for any biologist who could knock off evolution as the best explanation for living things' traits. They wouldn't be blackballed by their professions: they would be among the most famous scientists alive and able to name their own appointments. ...

Einstein's theory of special relativity sits on a pedestal of honor, not on an altar. Plenty of physicists would be glad to knock it off and put something else in its place.
Rennie does miss the chance to point out that Einstein himself earned that pedestal and became the most famous and most honored scientist of his age by knocking his most famous and honored predecessor, Isaac Newton, down a notch.

I think most scientists would like to have their names forever associated with Einstein's.


Dumbing Down, Down Dummies

Daniel Fincke of Camels With Hammers has a justified problem with William Lane Craig over the little matter of Craig calling "infidel websites," which no doubt include any sort of secular site that doubts Christianity of the sort Craig espouses, "pornographic (evil writing)."

Read Daniel's deconstruction of Craig's anti-philosophical attitude and insulting attitude towards both "believers" and "apostates."

But, as often happens, there is something others may not notice that amuses me. Craig spends several paragraphs explaining how disappointed he was in his professors at Wheaton College actually trying to confuse him with reason. He eventually decides that reason isn't meant to actually ... you know ... reason. It's an apologetic tool only.

I hold that argument and evidence play an essential role in our showing Christianity to be true, but a contingent and secondary role in our personally knowing Christianity to be true. The proper ground of our knowing Christianity to be true is the inner work of the Holy Spirit; and in our showing Christianity to be true, it is His role to open the hearts of unbelievers to assent and respond to the reasons we present.
Um ... in other words, he doesn't have to believe that his "argument and evidence" are true ... since he doesn't need reason to "know" ... he just has to "set up" others for the Holy Spirit by fooling them into thinking that there's some sort of reason behind Christianity, so they too can, with a clear conscience, chuck reason and just know believe.

A mind is a terrible thing ...

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


A Word to the Wise


I think numerous people telling him how bad he is at philosophy is having an effect on Jerry Coyne. At the end of his latest screed about free will, he says:

And of course I had no choice about writing this post, nor you in whether you agree with me. . . .
Of course, as we Coyne collectors have come to expect, he rather ruins the effect in the paragraph before:

I conclude that philosophers should abandon the term “free will” and use some less freighted term. How about “the appearance of having made a decision”?
The relevant part of the entry in the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary:

con·clude verb \kən-ˈklüd\

transitive verb

3 a: to reach as a logically necessary end by reasoning : infer on the basis of evidence [concluded that her argument was sound]

...b: to make a decision about : decide [concluded he would wait a little longer]
Of course, Coyne must have meant to say that he has only the appearance of concluding. Certainly Coyne cannot “reason” unless he has the choice to accept or reject arguments on the basis of logic. Heck, he can't even recognize what is logical without the choice to accept good arguments and reject bad ones. Nor can he infer anything based on evidence unless he also has the choice to accept relevant and valid evidence and reject irrelevant and invalid “evidence.”

Now, of course, Coyne may be right that he had no choice but to use the word “conclude,” even though it is not compatible with his premise.

But then you kind of have to wonder why we have dictionaries at all.

Saturday, November 12, 2011


Buried in the ... Um ... Sand

Someone named Stoyan Zaimov at the Christian Post has his/her/its head up one nether region or the other.

Faced with a survey that indicates that young Australians "might doubt their religious roots" (i.e. conservative Christianity), she (I'll arbitrarily assign gender if, for no other reason, it might piss the moron off) manages to deploy the classic tools of denialism as to the possible cause.

According to the Olive Tree Media group survey results, the preaching of eternal Hell, accusations that church figures are not stopping sexual abuse, and the stance against the homosexual agenda are identified as the top factors conflicting the younger population between 18 and 31 years old.

The study also shared that 41 percent of baby boomers between 50 and 65 years old still adhere to Christianity, compared to only 24 percent of young adults.
No, no! ... it can't be the ugly and unenlightened teaching of conservative Christianity ... like calling a movement for human rights an "agenda" ... that is turning young people off!

A number of Australian churches, however, denied there is such a marked trend of people turning down Christianity.

Pastor Mike Kwok from the Fellowship Baptist Church in Sydney told The Christian Post he acknowledges the rising support for the homosexual agenda, but he does not believe the problem is so widespread nor that it causes a division among churchgoers.

"While I'm unaware of anyone turning away from a church because of that church's position on homosexuality, it is only natural that someone who practices homosexuality will not come to our church because of our biblical position on the issue," said Kwok.
Riiight! The 76% of young people who are turned off by attacks on the humanity of gay people are, themselves all gay! That won't turn even more people off!

But wait! There's more:

Pastor Don Modarelli from the Northern Beaches Pentecostal Church in Sydney told The Christian Post there are many religious attitudes and a survey of 1,000 Australians is not enough to accurately measure the current trends.
But if a survey of 1,000 Australians said that Pentecostalism was the fastest growing religion in Australia, I somehow doubt that the number would remain "significant." But let's not forget the anecdotal "evidence" too:

The pastor also said, after reflecting on his 11 years of experience in the ministry, the topic of evolution is probably the most debated issue among flip-flopping Christians. Thus, he claimed, evolution theories are the primary reason for people's doubt in faith, not Christianity's stance on the homosexual agenda.
Unfortunately, 76% of young people probably don't understand evolutionary theory ... fortunately, however, 76% of young people may be waking up to the sheer meanness and hatred that animates so much of conservative Christianity.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011



No, really ... Wow!

Here is David Klinghoffer, an Orthodox Jew, who dismisses science because "the dullness, the flatness, the aridity of the evolutionary picture of how the world works" compared to the "enchantment" we experience from religion ... and Dungeons & Dragons ... proves that religion is a better explanation of the natural world:

I just watched the video [of the Coyne-Haught "debate"]. I don't know what Haught -- who I noticed stands about a head taller than Coyne -- is so bent out of shape about. Coyne is a little cartoon Jewish atheist who makes Woody Allen look deep. At one point he calls himself an "apostate Hebrew." Oh please.
I don't care how tall Klinghoffer is, Woody Allen, not to mention Jerry Coyne, makes him look like a shrimp.

Monday, November 07, 2011


Occupy Life


Non Sequitur

Saturday, November 05, 2011


Requiescat In Pace


Death is a distant rumor to the young.

- Andy Rooney


Why I Am an Agnostic

PZ Megahertz has been running a series of posts by people recounting why they became atheists, so I thought I'd give my history (as best I know and can remember) why I stopped being a theist. The caption is a bit misleading. I'm not going to explain why I consider myself an agnostic rather than an atheist and comments by atheist-imperialists will be dealt with severely. Suffice it to say that certain "definitions" of agnostics as "over-philosophized fussbudgets who insist that they're agnostics, not atheists, because they aren't 100% positive there aren't any gods, only 99 44/100ths positive" ain't close.

This whole exercise may be somewhat futile since, as I have already explained, I'm not sure I ever saw the point of religion and may never have been a "theist" in the first place. Still, there was a pretty definite time and place when I no longer assumed the form of a theist.

It was in high school, an institution I roundly hated, not least because it was presided over by the Brothers of Holy Cross, a group of men who were "dedicated" enough to religion to adopt celibacy but either not dedicated enough or, more likely, not talented enough, to become priests. Putting the disappointed in charge of the helpless with few, if any, rules against physical and psychological abuse is a recipe for adolescent disaster. I should make clear that neither I nor anyone I knew suffered sexual abuse. It was solely of the bullying sort, intended to achieve the maximum humiliation, particularly of those who were not in the favored athletic elite.

Needless to say, such an environment hardened the students with the ethos of "survival of the toughest" and woe betide any teacher not able to wield the lion tamer's whip and chair with aplomb.

Enter a very nice man ... a priest, for a change ... whose name has escaped into the mists of time. He was gentle and caring and had genuine humility, uninterested in dominating or controlling others. By this time, I had been struggling with the problems of evil and free will (yes, I was a philosophy geek at age 17) with little success.

His classes were, literally, a joke ... for the budding barbarians, at least. Paper airplanes flew at the turn of a back; messy spitballs were incoming during any audiovisual presentation; there was absolutely no respect displayed by the students to this man. And, yet, he never lost his temper; never struck back; never used his position to intimidate us into civilized behavior. He tried to lead us by argument and example ... to persuade the unpersuadeable.

That's when it struck me. Here was a man who, as far as I could see, was the epitome of the purported attributes of Christ ... kind, patient, willing to suffer the indignities of the world for a higher purpose. If you had to be like him to be a good and true believer, I didn't want that. If you had to be that good to be a good theist, I wasn't willing to pay the price.

The thing that convinced me that I was not a theist was meeting a man who was too good for this world.

Thursday, November 03, 2011


Coyne and What Anyone Haught Not to Do

John Haught's initial refusal to permit the release of the video of his debate with Jerry Coyne, over the 'compatibility of science and religion,' was not only wrong and intellectually indefensible, but tactically stupid.

Haught made a terrible mistake. Long before it was announced that Haught had changed his mind, I signed the Go.Change petition demanding that Haught release the video. In doing so, I pointed out that if he had any intention of defending his decision based on Coyne being 'strident,' mean and nasty, Haught should, instead, want the video released post haste for all to see. The refusal, supposedly to spare the tender sensibilities of the ivory tower crowd, rang, to say the very least, as excessively hollow.

Okay, everybody makes mistakes and Haught, with only minor delay, has permitted the video to be seen but Haught's "excuse" was and is lame.

On the other hand, I've watched Coyne's presentation and gone through his Power Point slides. At the risk of being deemed "strident," mean and nasty myself, I wasn't overly impressed ... which is not to say that Coyne has no good arguments. Coyne notes that he will "have" to speak very quickly. He succeeds. The good arguments are just buried in the welter of what we may have to ... um ... coin as "a Coyne Gallop."

There are the usual Coyneisms:

Science is incompatible with religion because most members of the NAS report that they are atheists or agnostics but the existence of religious scientists is merely evidence of "cognitive dissonance."

Science is, sometimes, a methodology but, at other times, a "worldview."

Hume's problem of induction is no problem at all and because science "works" (except of course, when it doesn't) metaphysical naturalism is, therefore, a scientific result.

Coyne's certainty in metaphysical naturalism isn't an "ultimate truth" as exhibited by religious faith, since he never quite acknowledges the evidence it would it take for him to stop believing in such naturalism.

But the above Power Point slide from Coyne amused me. Apparently it is "unscientific" to say that something doesn't really say what it seems to say.

So, the Origin of Species, when it seems to say that there is an entity called "Nature" that actively "selects" the best organisms, has to be taken at face value and any attempt to deny that it means what it seems to say is "unscientific"?

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