Monday, April 29, 2013


Officious Prayer

I like this:
Thursday is the National Day of Prayer, and if you want to pray, by all means have at it.

I'll let you in on a little secret: You can pray (or not) as dictated by your very own conscience. You don't need any branch of the government to tell you what to do when it comes to religion.

At Americans United, we find the National Day of Prayer offensive for a number of reasons. In the first place, it violates the constitutional separation of church and state. Congress passed a federal law requiring the president to acknowledge the day. Most governors follow suit, thus giving Americans the false notion that elected officials have some sort of official role in religious matters. ...

There is a little bit of good news here: During the presidency of George W. Bush, the White House usually held a big public NDP event and invited Religious Right leaders. It was Bush's way of letting the Religious Right know that he appreciated the movement's support. President Barack Obama ended that practice. Obama will sign a proclamation (remember, by law he has to), but it's unlikely that any far-right radio and TV preachers will be lurking at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue on Thursday.

Thursday, April 25, 2013


Nits for Picking

Jerry Coyne has an intersting post about a professor at Ball State University who is obviously pushing Intelligent Design Creationism in the guise of a couple of putative science courses.

The reading lists pretty much tell the tale, including works By Discovery [sic] Institute stalwarts such as Michael Behe, William Dembski, Guillermo Gonzelez and Stephen Meyer; out-and-out creationists, such as Hugh Ross, Lee Strobel (!) and even C. S. Lewis (!!); and well known theistic evolutionists, such as Guy Consolmagno, Owen Gingerich and Francis Collins. On the other hand, there is no sign of counter views from people like Dawkins, Stenger, or Krauss.

Intellectually, it sounds bad. The students seem to like the professor personally and think the class is easy which will, of course, make up for a lot in student's eyes.

But here's the nit: Coyne says:
... Hedin's course, and the University's defense of it, violate the separation of church and state mandated by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution ("freedom of religion") and which has been so interpreted by the courts.
Well, not exactly. The leading case in this regard is Edwards v. Aguillard, which specifically dealt with a law concerning only primary and secondary education. Those classes are, for the most part, mandatory and, as a result, Justice Brennan noted in his decision that the Court is "particularly vigilant in monitoring compliance with the Establishment Clause in elementary and secondary schools." That rational is much weaker when it comes to university courses, particularly electives. Just so, public universities not infrequently have departments and even schools of religious studies and no one expects all their courses to be religiously neutral or even nonsectarian.

In point of fact, this course is much closer to a violation of "truth in advertising" laws than it is a constitutional violation. I suspect that a much more effective technique to end it is for students who were looking for real science education to demand their money back for having been lied to as to its scientific content than to bring an action under the Constitution.

Saturday, April 20, 2013


Stealth Creationism

Give 'em credit. They never give up.

The ACLU Foundation of Kansas & Western Missouri and the ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief have discovered that mandatory all-school assemblies will be held at Hugoton (Kansas) Public Schools by people associated with a creationist organization, the Creation Truth Foundation of Noble, Oklahoma.

Au contraire, they cry. According to Mark Crawford, superintendent of Hugoton Unified School District, "someone was misinformed":
Crawford says the speakers visiting next week will hold nonreligious events during school hours and have rented school space to hold events concerning creationism in the evening. ...

Crawford said Matt Miles, one of the Creation Truth Foundation's speakers, was from Hugoton. Community members invited the group to Hugoton for evening events and asked whether Miles also could give presentations during the school day. Crawford said the district agreed but secured a written statement from Miles promising that the content of daytime talks would be "school appropriate."

"Matt is from Hugoton," he said. "The people here know and trust him."

"I completely understand the red flags that the ACLU sees in this, but it's a unique situation," he said.

Crawford said school and district staff hadn't promoted the evening events to students.

The district says Miles' talks during the day will be on behalf of the Foundation for the Advancement of Childhood Education.
Also according to Crawford, the school assembly program won't be Creation Truth Foundation's "The Truth About Dinosaurs" but the Foundation for the Advancement of Childhood Education's "Dinosaurs: Those Terrible Lizards." I didn't bother to watch much of the "The Truth About Dinosaurs," since it starts off with the tired old presuppositional assertion that scientists and creationists are looking at the same evidence but filtered through different "worldviews." On FACE's website,"Dinosaurs: Those Terrible Lizards" is described as:
The program entitled "Dinosaurs: Those Terrible Lizards tm" is a presentation complete with richly illustrated graphics and animations. In the program, the instructor presents a science based hour long investigative and captivating view about the nature and behaviors of these fascinating animals; much of which is not published in textbooks or seen in the main stream media.
That "not published in textbooks or seen in the main stream media" is a large red flag but, ultimately, the real stealth is in the juxtaposition of the school assemblies and the creationist presentations in the evenings. FACE boasts about their ability to hold students "spell bound" for an entire class period and I'm sure they work very hard at that. Even if school and district staff don't promote the evening events to students, the kids not idiots and are surely aware of them. If they had fun in the assemblies, they are more likely to want to attend the evening classes where they will be seriously abused intellectually.

Like luring children with candy or puppies.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013


Methodological Religion


Jerry Coyne has an amusing post at his notblog.

First of all, Jerry reports on Darwin's Doubt, the latest "Game-Changing New Book" on Intelligent Design Creationism by Stephen C. Meyer, that will be "a paradigm shift" in the evolution "debate."

Jerry notes that it is being published by HarperOne, which describes itself as publishing "[t]he most important books across the full spectrum of religion, spirituality, and personal growth."

Wait a minute! Doesn't the Discoveryless Institute keep telling us that ID has nothing to do with religion?


But that's not all!

Jerry goes on to say:
If Meyer can't adduce positive evidence that a designer created the Cambrian explosion—and I can't imagine how he could possibly do this—his argument would rest only on our current ignorance of why it happened (Emphasis added).
You know, I've mentioned once or twice, that Jerry may just not understand the concept of Methodological Naturalism.

But maybe he is getting a glimmer. After all, if he cannot "imagine" how science could confirm the action of a "designer," how could science discomfirm the action of a "designer"?

However, I suspect his own words will fail to sink in.

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Sunday, April 14, 2013



The NRA was controversially a sponsor of a NASCAR race. The NRA got the perfect endorsement:
The death of a man in the infield of Texas Motor Speedway on Saturday night during the Sprint Cup Series NRA 500 has been ruled a suicide from a gunshot to the head, according to the Tarrant County Medical Examiner's office.

The incident happened late in the race when Kirk Franklin, 42, of Saginaw, Texas, apparently got into an argument with other campers, according to the Associated Press. Track spokesperson Mike Zizzo said Saturday night that the incident happened "in or around a pickup truck" in the infield.
Ah, yes ... public relations at its finest!


Designing Creation

The Murrysville (Pennsylvania) Star has an extensive article, entitled "Intelligent design teaching stirs debate," by Daveen Rae Kurutz about Intelligent Design as it is "on the ground" and it is most revealing!

The subject is a six-week "Origins" series that was organized by Cornerstone Ministries that included the Discovery [sic] Institute's Paul Nelson (correctly described as "[w]idely considered a creationist") and the execrable Jerry Bergman saying this:
[Darwin] was a chauvinist pig that never evolved and believed women evolved less than men. Why are we taking a man like that and holding him up as an example to our children?
And Martin Luther was an anti-Semite, so anyone who teaches Protestant Christianity is wrong to hold him up as an example to children? Darwin was human and his attitude towards women was not very enlightened by our standards. But if he is held up as an example, it is because of the meticulous science he conducted, something Bergman wouldn't recognize if it bit him on the ass.

The article is a bit of a mess but not, I think, because of the reporter. Unlike so many of her compatriots, Ms. Kurutz made an attempt to really get "both sides," giving prominent space to Josh Rosenau of the NCSE and making rather strong statements such as:
Considered in the context of the scientific method — the basic process that calls for scientists to observe, measure, experiment and test, revise and, if possible, disprove their hypothesis — intelligent design isn't science at all, opponents of intelligent design say.

They say the notion at the heart of the idea can't be scientifically tested or disproved. If the scientific method can't be applied to the idea, it isn't science and doesn't belong in a science classroom, they say. In essence, it's religion without using the word "God."

In Pennsylvania, the courts agree. In 2005, Judge John E. Jones III ruled that teaching intelligent design in public schools violates part of the First Amendment because it "cannot uncouple itself from its creationist, and thus religious, antecedents."
The contradictions all come from the creationist side.

Donn Chapman, senior pastor at Cornerstone, said he became interested in the subject when a staff member asked about the evolution his child was studying. So Chapman borrowed a copy of the textbook, intending to present the material in a "way that is more akin to our faith."
Chapman, who hosts a weekly show called "Origins" on Cornerstone's Christian TV station, said schools should focus on sharing ideas and learning the truth. In particular, he advocates for teachers sharing alternate ideas — most notably intelligent design — on evolution.
In one of those shows, featuring Paul Nelson, he maintains that the show "Is a forum where we take the evidence of science and use it to validate the truth of creation." (See, "Origins - The Miracle of Development Part 2")

But, of course, he gives the obligatory denial:
Intelligent design isn't the same as creationism, he said. Creationism is a belief that God created man, animals and the earth in six days, Chapman said. Intelligent design, he said, is based on scientific evidence and points to a directed process and a designer, not necessarily God.
Riiight! It's just more akin to his faith to pretend that the evidence of science validates the truth of creation ... without falling afoul of the Constitution by actually mentioning who the "designer" is.

Just in case you think I'm being uncharitable in my interpretation of Chapman's position, he spelled it out plainly:
"Our kids shouldn't have to surrender their faith to get a good scientific education," Chapman said. "That's all I'm saying. The church and home have work to do to teach who that creator is and to bring them to know God."
In other words, teach ID as a way of making it easier for churches and parents to teach children their religious beliefs. Chapman and like-minded pastors and parents have the constitutional right to teach religion but they do not have the right to use taxpayer money to make it easier for them, especially not by having the schools lie to them about the science of evolution.

There's a lot more to the article, so go read it ... but make sure your blood pressure meds are up to date.

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Tuesday, April 09, 2013


Family Research Council Endorses Dishonesty or Stupidity

Robert Morrison, writing at the FRC Blog, lies outright or displays reading comprehension so deficient as to raise questions whether or not he actually can read or write English.

In a post entitled "President Endorses Intelligent Design!" he "quotes" Thomas Jefferson to the effect:
…the Theist, pointing to the heavens above, and to the earth beneath, and to the waters under the earth, asked if these did not proclaim a first cause, possessing intelligence and power; power in the production, and intelligence in the design, and constant preservation of the system; urged the palpable existence of final causes, that the eye was made to see, and the ear to hear, and not that we see because we have eyes, and hear because we have ears…
... and claims:
In this letter, the former president, Thomas Jefferson, one of the leading scientific minds of his day, rejects the atheism of some of the French philosophes with whom he shared so many ideas. He ascribes to the Creator "power in the production, intelligence in the design, and constant preservation of the system…" [Emphasis in original]

Here's the original, To John Adams, April 8, 1816, in which Jefferson is writing to John Adams about a certain Baron Grimm:
Did I know Baron Grimm while at Paris? Yes, most intimately. He was the pleasantest and most conversable member of the diplomatic corps while I was there; a man of good fancy, acuteness, irony, cunning and egoism. No heart, not much of any science, yet enough of every one to speak its language; his forte was belles-lettres, painting and sculpture. ...

Although I never heard Grimm express the opinion directly, yet I always supposed him to be of the school of Diderot, D'Alembert, D'Holbach; the first of whom committed his system of atheism to writing in ''Le bon sens,'' and the last in his "Systeme de la Nature.'' It was a numerous school in the Catholic countries, while the infidelity of the Protestant took generally the form of theism. The former always insisted that it was a mere question of definition between them, the hypostasis [underlying state or substance; fundamental reality] of which, on both sides, was ''Nature,'' or ''the Universe;'' that both agreed in the order of the existing system, but the one supposed it from eternity, the other as having begun in time. And when the atheist descanted on the unceasing motion and circulation of matter through the animal, vegetable and mineral kingdoms, never resting, never annihilated, always changing form, and under all forms gifted with the power of reproduction; the theist pointing "to the heavens above, and to the earth beneath, and to the waters under the earth," asked, if these did not proclaim a first cause, possessing intelligence and power ; power in the production, and intelligence in the design and constant preservation of the system ; urged the palpable existence of final causes; that the eye was made to see, and the ear to hear, and not that we see because we have eyes, and hear because we have ears; an answer obvious to the senses, as that of walking across the room, was to the philosopher demonstrating the non-existence of motion.

I have lately been amusing myself with Levi's book ... His style is inelegant and incorrect, harsh and petulant to his adversary, and his reasoning flimsy enough. Some of his doctrines were new to me, particularly that of his two resurrections; the first, a particular one of all the dead, in body as well as soul, who are to live over again, the Jews in a state of perfect obedience to God, the other nations in a state of corporeal punishment for the sufferings they have inflicted on the Jews. ... He alleges that the Jews alone preserve the doctrine of the unity of God. Yet their God would be deemed a very indifferent man with us; and it was to correct their anamorphosis [a deformed image] of the Deity, that Jesus preached, as well as to establish the doctrine of a future state. However, Levi insists, that that was taught in the Old Testament, and even by Moses himself and the prophets. He agrees that an anointed prince was prophesied and promised; but denies that the character and history of Jesus had any analogy with that of the person promised. He must be fearfully embarrassing to the Hierophants [chief priests] of fabricated Christianity ; because it is their own armor in which he clothes himself for the attack. For example, he takes passages of Scripture from their context, (which would give them a very different meaning,) strings them together, and makes them point towards what object he pleases; he interprets them figuratively, typically, analogically, hyperbolically ; he calls in the aid of emendation, transposition, ellipse, metonymy, and every other figure of rhetoric; the name of one man is taken for another, one place for another, days and weeks for months and years; and finally, he avails himself all his advantage over his adversaries by his superior knowledge of the Hebrew, speaking in the very language of the divine communication, while they can only fumble on with conflicting and disputed translations. Such is this war of giants. And how can such pigmies as you and I decide between them? For myself, I confess that my head is not formed tantas componere lites [to settle such great disputes].
Clearly (to anyone with at least as much honesty as intelligence), Jefferson is not "endorsing" ID, he is comparing two schools of thought, atheist and theist. His sympathy for "traditional" theism can be seen in his description of "fabricated Christianity" in the thrall of pagan priests.

And if you can't see the mockery in "one of the leading scientific minds of his day" declaring himself (and John Adams) to be "pigmies" incapable of addressing such issues, you are so tone deaf that wearing 200 pounds of woofers and tweeters strapped to your head isn't going to help.

Moronic or mendacious ... does it matter?


Monday, April 01, 2013


Methodological Philosophy

Jerry Coyne is doing philosophy again.
As you know if you’ve read this site before, I don’t adhere to the view that science should be wedded a priori to either of these views. Although we do use the methods of reason, experimentation, replication, and so on to study phenomena in nature, we aren’t limited to studying purely natural phenomena—that is, unless, you define “natural phenomena” as those amenable to scientific investigation, in which case the claim becomes a tautology.

And indeed, scientists have studied “supernatural” or “paranormal” phenomena before, including ESP, intercessory prayer, and so on.
This is, again, the issue of whether science practices "methodological naturalism" ("MN") versus "ontological naturalism" ("OM"), also known as philosophical or metaphysical materialism.

Jerry at least has actual philosophers on his side this time, Yonatan I. Fishman and Maarten Boudry. I've discussed Boudry's views before and even had some interaction with him. I respect his views even if I disagree.

Now, it will probably take to the weekend before I can give the Fishman and Boudry ("F&B") paper (49 pages worth) the attention it deserves but, with the above quote from Jerry and the following from the paper itself, I think I can see where this is going.

As in Boudry's previous paper, F&B want to distinguish Intrinsic MN ("IMN"), which they claim "considers supernatural explanations to be off-limits to science in principle" from their favored view of Provisional MN (PMN), "which tends to discount supernatural explanations as a general methodological guideline, on the grounds that they are extremely unlikely given the consistent failure of supernatural hypotheses in the past."

F&B quote Michael Ruse:
[S]cience [makes no] reference to extra or supernatural forces like God. Whether there are such forces or beings is another matter entirely, and simply not addressed by methodological naturalism ... [Emphasis added]
... and conclude that MN holds that "science is necessarily mute on the question of whether or not supernatural phenomena exist" [Emphasis added]. Similarly, F&B quote the National Academy of Sciences:
Because science is limited to explaining the natural world by means of natural processes, it cannot use supernatural causation in its explanations ...
Notice how they are talking past their "opponents"? Coyne and F&B are insisting that science can investigate "supernatural" phenomena while the MNers are talking about "supernatural" causation.

I'd like F&B to give an example of MN proponents who claim that phenomena, for example, the age of the Earth, cannot be investigated by science and, to the extent that religions claim that the Earth is less than 10,000 years old, refute such claims.

I've said this before: there are (at least) two great objectives of science ... 1) to determine if phenomena truly exist and 2) to determine the causation of those real phenomena. MN only applies to the second objective.

For example, in Jerry's example, science can determine if there is a statistical correlation between intercessory prayer and healing (assuming that is actually a claim made by "religion"). If such a correlation was found, however, how, exactly, would science go about determining whether it was the result of a "supernatural" cause rather than an (as yet) unknown "natural" cause?

The issue between IMN and PMN is one of the nature of induction. As Hume pointed out long ago, there is a problem with induction. Stubbornly, not all swans are white.

F&B would ignore the problem and anoint it, philosophically, as science instead. I think science is better ... truer ... than that. It recognizes its limitations and, instead of enshrining those limitations as part and parcel of it, it boldly proclaims them, in the form of MN, and challenges any philosophy or theology to do better ... or even as well.


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