Friday, February 24, 2012


Slap Shot

You may remember L'Affaire Synthese. If not, you can bone up on it here and here. For amusement's sake, you can see Casey Luskin's fumbling attempts to exploit the matter here and here.

Briefly, the Editors in Chief of Synthese collectively waffled about the "tone" of certain anti-ID articles in a special issue of the journal but it was published online without change or comment. The EICs then went behind the backs of the editors and all the authors of the special issue and a issued a disclaimer in the printed version that deplored the tone of some of the articles (without specifying which, thus smearing all the authors). Because of outrage in the philosophical community, a petition was begun demanding an explanation. The EICs issued a statement that, even charitably, could only be described as a non-explanation. It did, however, reveal that they received messages from unnamed parties "that we take seriously as legal threats." There were then calls for a boycott against Synthese.

The whole mess began as fairly high drama, descended to petty con games by the DI, and now, perhaps predictably, has managed to become slapstick.

One of the EICs, Vincent Hendricks, had pictures taken for a magazine article showing him in "manly" poses with young women dressed scantily as cheerleaders in an apparent classroom and, worse, posted them to his academic website. There was, of course, a minor uproar (see here, here and here) that I was initially ambivalent about ... stupidity is such a common human failing, even among the intelligent, as to hardly qualify as a major crime. On the other hand, I do have sympathy for this position.

In any event, Professor Hendricks has now "apologized" for "offending various parties in the philosophical community," which is more than he ever did for offending various parties in the philosophical community over his mistreatment of Barbara Forrest and the other authors of the special issue.

Maybe Professor Hendricks will give greater thought in the future before taking actions harmful to others, including the innocent, over matters of "tone."

Wednesday, February 22, 2012


... With the Fringe on Top

Oklahoma Rep. Gus Blackwell (R), the Sally Kern cloning experiment, has lied through his teeth about explained the purpose of the terminally ironic "Scientific Education and Academic Freedom Act" that just passed out of committee and is headed to the full Oklahoma House of Representatives.

According to Blackwell, the bill, if enacted, would allow students to look at alternative scientific explanations in "controversial" areas such as evolution and global warming.

Is that like "alternative medicine"? Can we expect homeopathy to be taught in grade schools in Oklahoma?

Somehow I doubt it is meant to be like "alternative lifestyles."

Call me cynical but I bet it will be:

... a positive scientific alternative to materialistic scientific theories, which has come to be called the theory of intelligent design (ID) [which] promises to reverse the stifling dominance of the materialist worldview, and to replace it with a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions.
... as propounded by cdesign proponentsists.

Given the record for honesty displayed by ID proponents, we surely can depend on the bill where it says it "shall not be construed to promote any religious or nonreligious doctrine, promote discrimination for or against a particular set of religious beliefs or nonbeliefs, or promote discrimination for or against religion or nonreligion."

Right? ... RIGHT?!?!?


Here is the text of HB 1551 as amended and passed by the (no kidding!) Common Education Committee on Feb. 22, 2012:


2nd Session of the 53rd Legislature (2012)

By: Kern


An Act relating to schools; creating the Scientific Education and Academic Freedom Act; providing short title; stating legislative findings; directing State Board of Education, district boards of education, and certain administrators to create certain environment within schools; permitting teachers to help students understand certain information about scientific theories; disallowing State Board of Education, district boards of education, and certain administrators from prohibiting teachers from helping students understand certain information about scientific theories; providing for evaluation of students based on understanding of course materials; prohibiting penalizing of students for holding certain position on scientific theories; prohibiting certain construction; directing State Department of Education to provide certain notification; directing superintendents to disseminate certain information; providing for codification; providing an effective date; and declaring an emergency.


SECTION 1. NEW LAW A new section of law to be codified in the Oklahoma Statutes as Section 11-121 of Title 70, unless there is created a duplication in numbering, reads as follows:

This act shall be known and may be cited as the "Scientific Education and Academic Freedom Act".

SECTION 2. NEW LAW A new section of law to be codified in the Oklahoma Statutes as Section 11-122 of Title 70, unless there is created a duplication in numbering, reads as follows:

A. The Oklahoma Legislature finds that an important purpose of science education is to inform students about scientific evidence and to help students develop critical thinking skills they need in order to become intelligent, productive, and scientifically informed citizens. The Legislature further finds that the teaching of some scientific concepts including but not limited to premises in the areas of biology, chemistry, meteorology, bioethics and physics can cause controversy, and that some teachers may be unsure of the expectations concerning how they should present information on some subjects such as, but not limited to, biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning.

B. The State Board of Education, district boards of education, district superintendents and administrators, and public school principals and administrators shall endeavor to create an environment within public elementary and secondary schools that encourages students to explore scientific questions, learn about scientific evidence, develop critical thinking skills, and respond appropriately and respectfully to differences of opinion about controversial issues. Educational authorities in this state shall also endeavor to assist teachers to find more effective ways to present the science curriculum where it addresses scientific controversies. Toward this end, teachers shall be permitted to help students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories pertinent to the course being taught.

C. The State Board of Education, a district board of education, district superintendent or administrator, or public school principal or administrator shall not prohibit any teacher in a school district in this state from helping students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories pertinent to the course being taught.

D. Students may be evaluated based upon their understanding of course materials, but no student in any public school or institution shall be penalized in any way because the student may subscribe to a particular position on scientific theories.

E. The provisions of the Scientific Education and Academic Freedom Act shall only protect the teaching of scientific information, and shall not be construed to promote any religious or nonreligious doctrine, promote discrimination for or against a particular set of religious beliefs or nonbeliefs, or promote discrimination for or against religion or nonreligion. The intent of the provisions of the act is to create an environment in which both the teacher and students can openly and objectively discuss the facts and observations of science, and the assumptions that underlie their interpretation.

F. By no later than the start of the 2012-2013 school year, the State Department Education shall notify all district superintendents of the provisions of the Scientific Education and Academic Freedom Act. Each superintendent shall then disseminate to all employees within the district a copy of the provisions of the act.

SECTION 3. This act shall become effective July 1, 2012.

SECTION 4. It being immediately necessary for the preservation of the public peace, health and safety, an emergency is hereby declared to exist, by reason whereof this act shall take effect and be in full force from and after its passage and approval.

Monday, February 20, 2012


Drowning in the Shallows

I mentioned the amusing comeuppance Richard Dawkins received while himself floating one particularly shallow argument for the supposed irrelevance of religion in Britain. Perhaps inevitably, a response to that incident has arrived that is not only infinitely shallower but ugly in the extreme.

One Adam Lusher, who may have been living up to his name when he wrote his piece about Dawkins' "connection" to slavery (a kinder explanation than the alternative that Mr. Lusher is maximally moronic), had this to say:

He has railed against the evils of religion, and lectured the world on the virtues of atheism.

Now Richard Dawkins, the secularist campaigner against "intolerance and suffering", must face an awkward revelation: he is descended from slave owners and his family estate was bought with a fortune partly created by forced labour.

One of his direct ancestors, Henry Dawkins, amassed such wealth that his family owned 1,013 slaves in Jamaica by the time of his death in 1744. ...

One Dawkins family member was a member of the clergy. Many were MPs including two who became prominent opponents of the abolition of slavery, eventually achieved thanks to William Wilberforce, an evangelical Christian.
Some evangelical Christians opposed slavery. Others supported it with arguments from the Bible. So?

But the terminally silly argument is that Over Norton Park, the "Dawkins family estate" was purchased "at least in part with wealth amassed through sugar plantation and slave ownership." But Lusher himself reveals that the "estate" earned a profit of £12,000 last year. At current exchange rates, that's $19,000. Some "estate"!

But Lusher has to spin even that:

He [Dawkins] insisted: "The estate is now a very small farm, struggling to make its way, and worth peanuts. The family fortune was frittered away in the 19th Century. Such money as I have is scarcely inherited at all."
Why does Dawkins have to "insist" that a property that earns so little as to easily qualify a family of four for food stamps is a small farm?

The claim that Dawkins has to apologize and make reparations for his family's past because "There is no statute of limitations on crimes against humanity" is just ludicrous. Maybe if you could haul Henry Dawkins into court you could make that argument but, last time I looked, Richard never owned any slaves. As PZ Myearshertz points out, we are all descendants of slaveholders and worse and we have all profited, in one way or another, from that history. If reparations are owed other than for our own actions, then we owe them as a species, not as individuals.

Friday, February 17, 2012


Touchy, Touchy ...

Goose. Gander. Sauce.

Jerry Coyne thinks it's fine and dandy to attack theists on (to say the least) dubious grounds. But when theists catch Richard Dawkins on a (to say the least) amusing point, Coyne has to take his high horse out for a gallop 'round the intertubz.

It all began with Dawkins ballyhooing a poll as showing that "religion is largely irrelevant in Britain." Somehow or other Dawkins apparently thought that the finding that two-thirds of those who said they were Christians were unable to identify the Gospel of Matthew as the first book of the New Testament was telling on his stated proposition. I rather thought that the fact that only a third (32 per cent) of self-identified Christians believe Jesus was physically resurrected was much more important (as far as the relevance of Christianity in Britain, at least), but maybe that's just me. Nonetheless, Dawkins was so enamored of the Matthew bit that, in an appearance with the Rev. Giles Fraser, former canon chancellor of St. Paul's in London, on BBC Radio 4's Today program, Dawkins referred to it twice.

The good Reverend then asked Dawkins to give the full title of the Origin of Species. While Dawkins had an inkling, he couldn't do it:

On the Origin of Species , er, with . . . oh God . . . On the Origin of Species , um . . . here is a subtitle . . . er, um, With Respect to the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life.
It's actually (and, yes, I copied and pasted it to make sure) On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life.

The fact that Dawkins evoked God to help him remember was just a minor addition to the merriment.

Coyne's reaction, "People will use any excuse to attack Dawkins" typically misses the point. Jerry whines: "Really, how many of us know that long title by heart?" Of course it means nothing ... but, then, why would it mean anything that many professing Christians don't know, off the top of their heads when asked by a pollster, that Matthew is, under the arrangement of the New Testament, the first book?

Then Coyne complains that the "worst part" is an article at the Huffington Post with the title "Richard Dawkins, Famous Atheist, Appeals To God On Radio Program."

Really? Argumentum ad Title? Going to the article itself demonstrates that it was tongue-in-cheek and fairly reported the exchange, even if it linked to criticisms of Dawkins.

When somebody gets caught on a shallow argument, the best reaction is to grin, bear it, and, with the best grace possible, own up to it ... not double down on the shallow arguments.



Click to enlarge.

Via Philosophy News.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012


Getting a Better View

The Speaker of the Indiana House of Representatives, Brian Bosma (with, perhaps, a little back stage arm twisting by Gov. Mitch Daniels), has proved that there is at least one realist elected to the state legislature. He killed the crazy bill that permitted the teaching of "creation science" in public schools, which then ... ahem ... mutated into an even more bizarre proposal requiring that, if "various theories of the origin of life" are taught, "[t]he curriculum for the course must include theories from multiple religions, which may include, but is not limited to, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Scientology."

Of course, we already knew that there was at least one Indiana legislator who hadn't a clue about the Constitution he had sworn (probably on a Bible) to protect and defend ... Republican (what else?) Senator Dennis Kruse who first proposed the legislation. Worse, for the people of Indiana, Kruse just can't get the hang of this "lying for Jesus" thing:

[Kruse] says he’s disappointed it didn’t even get a hearing in the House. He says schools should get back to teaching a subject he says was accepted belief for most of human history.

“I think God created the world and created man and woman. And I think that is the true truth and we have twisted things,” Kruse says.
"True truth" or not, Kruse has, yet again, made clear that he wants public schools to use taxpayer money to teach sectarian religion. Even the Discoveryless Institute has leaned that lesson.

Kruse says he plans to bring the concept back in future sessions, but he plans to use different language that he hopes will be acceptable to more legislators.
The more important question is whether the courts will see through any bafflegab he concocts to hide what his real intent is ... something he is making more and more likely every time he opens his mouth.

Sunday, February 12, 2012


Ironic Affect

Ken Ham division:

Apologetics does not mean apologise, but (it is) a logical defence of the faith. We are equipping people to give a logical defence of the faith, so people can help others.

People tend to think that our biggest challenge is from athiests and the secular world ... but even though we deal with those, and get those attacks, the biggest challenge is from within the church.

We're seeing the next step, where more and more Christian academics are questioning a literal Adam and Eve, and a literal fall.

If it's wrong, then the whole thing is wrong.

I'll be challenging the people of Bermuda that the church needs to stand on the Word of God, otherwise, 'the salt loses its affectiveness' [sic]. I hope that Christians will realise that it really is important about what you believe about Genesis.
[Cough] Argumentum ad Consequentiam.


The Big Two Oh Three

A thought:

ON RETURNING home from my short geological tour in N. Wales, I found a letter from Henslow, informing me that Captain Fitz-Roy was willing to give up part of his own cabin to any young man who would volunteer to go with him without pay as naturalist to the Voyage of the Beagle. I have given as I believe in my M.S. Journal an account of all the circumstances which then occurred; I will here only say that I was instantly eager to accept the offer, but my father strongly objected, adding the words fortunate for me,—"If you can find any man of common sense, who advises you to go, I will give my consent." So I wrote that evening and refused the offer. On the next morning I went to Maer to be ready for September 1st, and whilst out shooting, my uncle sent for me, offering to drive me over to Shrewsbury and talk with my father. As my uncle thought it would be wise in me to accept the offer, and as my father always maintained that he was one of the most sensible men in the world, he at once consented in the kindest manner. I had been rather extravagant at Cambridge and to console my father said, "that I should be deuced clever to spend more than my allowance whilst on board the Beagle"; but he answered with a smile, "But they all tell me you are very clever."

- The autobiography of Charles Darwin 1809-1882


Tuesday, February 07, 2012


The Laws of Nature and of Nature's God

Moral senseThe three judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, in a 2 to 1 decision, has upheld the District Court's decision that California's Proposition 8, denying the designation "marriage" to same sex couples, was unconstitutional. It's a long decision but here is the summary prepared by the Court's staff:

The panel majority affirmed the judgment of the district court and held that Proposition 8, which amended the California Constitution to eliminate the previously guaranteed right of same-sex couples to marry, violated the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution. The panel majority held that by using their initiative power to target a minority group and withdraw a right that it possessed, without a legitimate reason for doing so, the People of California violated the Equal Protection Clause.

The panel majority held that in this particular case it did not need to decide whether under the United States Constitution same-sex couples may ever be denied the right to marry because under California’s statutory law pertaining to “domestic partnerships” same-sex couples had all the rights of opposite-sex couples, regardless of their marital status. Proposition 8’s only effect was to take away that important and legally significant designation of “marriage,” previously recognized by the California Supreme Court, while leaving in place all of its incidents.

The panel majority determined that in taking away the designation of “marriage,” while leaving in place all the substantive rights and responsibilities of same-sex partners, Proposition 8 could not have reasonably been enacted to promote childrearing by biological parents, to encourage responsible procreation, to proceed with caution in social change, to protect religious liberty, or to control the education of schoolchildren. The panel majority concluded that Proposition 8 served no purpose, and had no effect, other than to lessen the status and human dignity of gays and lesbians in California, and to officially reclassify their relationship and families as inferior to those of opposite-sex couples. The panel majority determined that it need not and did not consider whether same-sex couples have a fundamental right to marry, or whether states that fail to afford the right to marry to gays and lesbians must do so.

The panel held that proponents of Proposition 8 had standing to bring this appeal on behalf of the state. The panel accepted the determination of the California Supreme Court that the official proponents of an initiative have the authority to assert the State’s interest in defending the constitutionality of that initiative, where the state officials who would ordinarily assume that responsibility choose not to do so.

The panel affirmed the denial of the motion by the proponents of Proposition 8 to vacate the judgment entered by former Chief Judge Walker, on the basis of his purported interest in being allowed to marry his same-sex partner. The panel held that Chief Judge Ware did not abuse his discretion by finding that Chief Judge Walker was not obligated to recuse himself on the basis that he could be affected by the outcome of the proceeding.

Judge N.R. Smith concurred in part and dissented in part from the majority opinion. Judge Smith agreed with the majority’s analysis that proponents had standing to bring this appeal and that the motion to vacate the judgment should be denied. Judge Smith dissented from the majority’s analysis regarding the constitutionality of Proposition 8. He wrote that he was not convinced that Proposition 8’s withdrawal from same-sex couples of the right to access the designation of marriage was not rationally related to furthering the interests of promoting responsible procreation and optimal parenting.

Saturday, February 04, 2012


Out of Touch?

I already mentioned the dufus Superintendent of the Mount Vernon (Indiana) Community School district, William Riggs, who apparently thinks its hunky dory to teach creationism alongside evolution in public school biology classes.

It may be that he is just a dufus who doesn't know what is going on in his school.

According to Bruce Kendall, who chaired the science department at Mount Vernon High School for 35 years before stepping down last summer:

We do not have creationism in our curriculum. But students bring it up whenever you talk about natural selection, and you have to be prepared to respond to them. How can a science teacher go into the classroom and talk about the origins of life and the origins of the universe and not be ready to deal with their questions? ...

[W]hen they hear about natural selection, some of them wonder, 'Does that mean my entire religion is wrong?' That's a tough situation to be in for a high school student. ...

You never try to impose your beliefs on a kid. And you never want to attack their faith. I tell my teachers, 'Please don't kill God just to make your point.'
Broadly, that is a correct approach for a public school teacher. They should teach the science, no matter what effect the students may think that has on their religious beliefs, but neither should they attack those beliefs.

The devil, of course, is in the details.

Kendall calls himself "a Jesus man" and perhaps he's trying to cover for Riggs. But one can at least hope the teachers in Mount Vernon are better than their superintendent.

Thursday, February 02, 2012


Not For Long

Well, there's one benefit of the Indiana State Senate's passage of their creationist bill. It's flushed out at least a couple of toe marksmen.

In an article in the Indianapolis Star, the bill's sponsor, Sen. Dennis Kruse, admitted that he knew the law is unconstitutional:

“I believe in creation,” Kruse said, “and I believe it deserves to be taught in our public schools.” ...

Creation science was specifically ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in a 1987 case in which the court voided a Louisiana law that required creation science to be taught alongside evolution in science class. The court found the law violated the establishment clause of the U.S. Constitution because it was designed to advance religion.

Kruse said he is aware of the precedent but isn’t sure it would survive today.

“This is a different Supreme Court,” he said. “This Supreme Court could rule differently.”
Umm ... you took an oath to uphold the law. What the Supreme Court ruled before is still the law ... and you, senator, are an oath breaker.

But even worse is one school administrator. In discussing the possibility that Krause's bill is intended to allow the state to fund the defense of any school board sued for teaching creationism, there was this:

Technically, a school district could teach creationism now — and some do.

“As far as I know,” said Mount Vernon Community School Corporation Superintendent William Riggs, “we’ve always been allowed to do that.”

Riggs said Mount Vernon High School’s biology class already teaches creationism alongside evolution. “We’ve been doing this for years.”

Riggs said the school teaches them as “two theories of the origins of life” and said that in literature classes students often learn about the Bible and the Quran. “The idea is to get kids to think.”
Let me exercise my mysterious powers of prognostication and say, "Not for long!"

It is, of course, (at least potentially, depending on what is being taught) permissible to use the Bible and Quran in a literature course. But teaching creationism in a biology class is not, by any stretch of the imagination, constitutional. The only way Mount Vernon has gotten away with it so far is that no one has complained.

But going out and boldly proclaiming your contempt for the Constitution has a way of pissing people off enough to try to stop it. Not to mention attracting the attention of the state department of education.


Update: The bleeding feet have been noticed:

House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, said he has not made a final determination on whether Senate Bill 89 will get a hearing and vote, but said he believes the General Assembly should not mandate what's taught in science classrooms.

"Delving into an issue that the United States Supreme Court has, on at least on one occasion, said is not compliant with the Constitution may be a side issue and someplace we don't need to go," Bosma said. "Parents, families have a choice on where their children go to school; it's an increasing choice now due to the legislation we passed last year [i.e. "vouchers"]."
You can also bet that Governor Mitch Daniels is furiously twisting arms to make sure he doesn't have to face the Scylla and Charybdis of either vetoing this favorite law of the Righteous Right or having his reputation as a rational, technocratic Republican trashed.


Big and Small

The state senate of Indiana has already secured its place among the ignoratti. But they do not toil alone. The Kiel (Wisconsin) Area School District has its own band of merry troglodytes working to lower the IQ of the local children ... Patty and Randy Kubetz.

Pattie wrote the school board last fall asking why only evolution is presented to freshmen science students. The obvious answer ... that evolution is the only scientific theory about how and why life has changed over time, apparently eluded her. Not that she's going to let that stop her!

The letter no doubt got at least one friendly hearing, since her husband Randy is a member of the school board. The interesting thing is that the Kubetzs home school their children.

Anyway, Pattie has prepared a statement she wants to be read to future Kiel freshmen:

Evolution, as a theory of the origin of life, is only one of many theories you may have heard of. Some of the most widely believed include evolution, intelligent design, creationism or the theory that life began as a series of catastrophic events, namely the Big Bang. We are studying evolution.
Pattie is aware of the Kitzmiller case:

I don’t think the case in Pennsylvania has anything to do with this. I’ve worded it very carefully so we’re not trying to teach it. It is my personal belief that we have a creator (but) I am not looking for that to be taught in the school system. That’s for parochial schools, people who choose to home school.
Worded it very carefully? Let's compare that with the language used at Dover:

The Pennsylvania Academic Standards require students to learn about Darwin’s Theory of Evolution and eventually to take a standardized test of which evolution is a part. ...

Intelligent Design is an explanation of the origin of life that differs from Darwin’s view. The reference book, Of Pandas and People, is available for students who might be interested in gaining an understanding of what Intelligent Design actually involves.

With respect to any theory, students are encouraged to keep an open mind. The school leaves the discussion of the Origins of Life to individual students and their families. As a Standards-driven district, class instruction focuses upon preparing students to achieve proficiency on Standards-based assessments.
Now Pattie hasn't repeated the Dover dummies' inclusion of a reference for ID "research" but everything else is there and a little more ... the equivalence of ID as a scientific theory to evolution (even throwing in "creationism" and a badly mangled "Big Bang") and the implication that evolution is only being taught because the state is making them do it.

But you can be sure that Pattie's plan has nothing to do with religion because ... well ... she tells us so:

Though she acknowledges her family’s strong Christian background, Kubetz said her interest in having this statement read is independent of her religious faith and doesn’t believe it would violate the Constitution.
Because, after all, if you say it isn't about religion often enough and loudly enough, that makes it constitutional.

Unfortunately, the real message keeps leaking through:

My concern is we’re only teaching evolution, we’re not teaching any of the other ideas of the origin of life out there that are common. People believe different things. All I’m asking is that you mention them; I’m not asking they be taught. Maybe it’ll get some kids thinking, ‘Why do I agree, why do I disagree?'
None of those other ideas are scientific. By all means, set up a comparative religion class and feel free to teach about the ideas of Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Scientology, the way the Indiana Senate recommends, so the kids can decide if they agree or disagree.

But be careful what you wish for. The Bhagavad Gītā is a hell of a lot more interesting than Genesis.

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