Friday, March 31, 2006


On Pigs and Lipstick

Things have gotten so bad for ID advocates that they have to try to snatch any sort of victory from the rubble back in Pennsylvania. Anthony Paul Mator is in World magazine trying to dress up the latest school board foolish enough to flirt with paying massive legal fees for little in the way of anti-evolutionist impact as some sort of sign of hope.

After noting both the political and legal victories for science education in Dover, and trotting out the obligatory kvetch about not being allowed to challenge "science's sacred dogma" with religious sacred dogma, Mator rather pathetically says:

But a Southern California school district on March 21 demonstrated that winter is over and spring is bringing new hope to ID proponents: The Lancaster, Calif., school board of trustees unanimously adopted a science policy that allows teachers to discuss problems in Darwin's theory. The new policy, while not calling for the teaching of ID, discourages a view of evolution as "unalterable fact."

While the policy is hardly benign, it is, compared to the Wedge Document’s aims of being in the midst of rectifying "ideological imbalance" in science curricula by the inclusion of design theory, a husk of the Discovery Institute’s dreams. As William Saletan described it, with brutal honesty:

The battleground has been reduced to public schools, and creationism has been reduced to intelligent design -- a pathetic, agnostic, empty shell. Creationists can't teach a dogma, so they "teach the controversy." They accept more and more of Darwin's theory, narrowing the dispute to isolated systems -- the eye, the flagellum, the blood-clotting system -- that they say Darwinism can't explain. They just want science to stop short of denying God's possibility. A little bit of mystery, a parcel of unspoiled divine wilderness, is all they ask.

Mator stumbles over the truth, even though he tries hard not to see it:

The Seattle-based Discovery Institute, a pro-ID think tank, endorses the strategy of exposing the holes in Darwinism rather than offering alternative theories. The reason: True scientific research acknowledges inconsistencies or gaps in data, but when ID is taught in the classroom, the public often perceives this as religious indoctrination.

Sometimes the public just gets it right.

Thursday, March 30, 2006


Not Gary . . . Though It Could Be

There is a nice article recounting a lecture by Edward J. Larson, Pulitzer Prize wining historian and author, among other works, of the book Summer for the Gods concerning the famous "Scopes trial."

The article is a good thumbnail sketch of the evolution/creationism controversy in United States public education in the 20th Century and the beginning of the 21st. As Larson tells the tale, there have been three phases of the fight over science education: (1) attempts to remove evolution from the classroom; (2) attempts to "balance" the teaching of evolution with creationism; and (3) attempts to teach evolution as "just a theory."

In a post-lecture interview, Larson said the future of the controversy could depend on the outcome of the Selman case, which is currently before the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. "The Selman case is definitely worth watching, and also what happens in Kansas with the teaching standards," Larson said.

These latest cases show that the controversy is not likely to die down and can resurface at any time, he said. "The controversy has tapped into a cultural divide. It is an oscillating controversy," he added, referring to its cyclical nature. "If history is any guide, then we’re in for heavy weather again."

"Because fanaticism and ignorance is forever busy, and needs feeding."

Wednesday, March 29, 2006


Massive Complacency

There is an update in the Arkansas Times on Jason R. Wiles’ article concerning how teachers at a science education institution that serves several Arkansas public school districts were forbidden to use the "e-word" with the kids they were teaching. First of all, Wiles’ informant, a geology instructor called "Bob" to protect his identity, has now been revealed to be Tom Maringer. He voluntarily identified himself after quitting the Ozark Natural Science Center, a private, non-profit institution near Huntsville that he tried to protect by remaining anonymous. He left because the directors refused to change their policy against using the word "evolution" or teaching the true age of the Earth.

Maringer said he found a "massive amount of complacency" on the part of science teachers who brought their students to the center. Some said they taught evolution in spite of pressure not to, he said, but some said they didn’t have time to teach everything, so they left evolution out, or said they didn’t teach it because they didn’t know enough about it. One, he said, told him, "Our administrator told us it would be good for our careers if we just don’t talk about that."

While preparation of teachers to instruct in evolution may be an issue, Maringer thinks there is a a deliberate effort to stifle the teaching of evolution:

"The radical Christian right has basically been spurned at the court level time and time again," he said. "They’ve recruited church members to act one-on-one at the principal and individual teacher level. If they can’t get creation in, then they want evolution out.

"I personally find that chilling at a core level, the suppression of information."

He ain’t the only one.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006


God's Publicists?

There is an interesting article by Madeleine Bunting in The Guardian’s Education section entitled "Why the intelligent design lobby thanks God for Richard Dawkins." After discussing the festschrift being published for the 30th anniversary of Richard Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene and the publicity attending Daniel Dennett’s book tour for his Breaking the Spell, she states:

The curious thing is that among those celebrating the prominence of these two Darwinians on both sides of the Atlantic is an unexpected constituency - the American creationist / intelligent - design lobby. Huh? Dawkins, in particular, has become their top pin-up.

How so? William Dembski (one of the leading lights of the US intelligent-design lobby) put it like this in an email to Dawkins: "I know that you personally don't believe in God, but I want to thank you for being such a wonderful foil for theism and for intelligent design more generally. In fact, I regularly tell my colleagues that you and your work are one of God's greatest gifts to the intelligent-design movement. So please, keep at it!"

She also discusses Michael Ruse’s criticism of Dawkins and Dennett, including the sillier depths Ruse has sunk to of late. One charge Ruse levels seems improbable. After noting that the National Center for Science Education thinks that as much as 20% of American schools are teaching creationism in some form, Bunting continues:

Evolution is losing the battle, says Ruse, and it's the fault of Dawkins and Dennett with their aggressive atheism: they are the creationists' best recruiting sergeants.

Unless Ruse can show that a single scientist and a single philosopher are somehow more important in explaining that figure than the fact that something close to 50% of Americans believe that God created species as is, he is just falling for the creationist rhetoric he deplores.

Another charge by Ruse is rooted in ignorance of the case law involving the Establishment clause of the Constitution:

If Darwinism equals atheism then it can't be taught in US schools because of the constitutional separation of church and state. It gives the creationists a legal case. Dawkins and Dennett are handing these people a major tool.

The courts are much more sophisticated in their analysis than Ruse imagines and have no particular problem dealing with the "incidental effects" of valid pedagogy. And if some court wants to find against the teaching of evolution, it will be able to do better than an excuse as strained as pointing at two academics.

That said, it does feed the fears of moderates as well as fundamentalists to hear prominent evolution supporters gleefully proclaim the triumph of science over religion. A touch of humility might not be amiss.

On Public Relations and Pepto Bismol

Robert Sungenis has just completed a 1,000 page book called Galileo Was Wrong, arguing for geocentrism. The fun bit is the reporter's take on it:
Geocentrism is a less known cousin of the intelligent design, or anti-evolution, movement. Both question society's trust in science, instead using religion to explain how we got here -- and, in geocentrism's case, just where "here" is.
You know the supply of Tums just dipped in Seattle.

Sunday, March 26, 2006


A Pawn's Eye View

William Buckingham is back in Pennsylvania and back to whining about his treatment in the wake of the crisis he was largely responsible for creating. According to an article in the York Daily Record, he thinks he was the "sacrificial lamb" at the trial in Kitzmiller v. Dover School District and claims "We never got a fair shake." Cementing the fact that the reality of what was truly at stake in the case still eludes him and may be beyond his capacity to understand, he seems puzzled by the actions of those he thought were on his side:

As a legal strategy during the trial, attorneys with the Thomas More Law Center essentially separated Buckingham from the rest of the board members. Numerous times, they mentioned his addiction to painkillers and said the other board members, who voted in favor of intelligent design, shouldn't be held accountable for his remarks.

... Dover attorney Patrick Gillen summed up the lawsuit by saying it was "built on a molehill of statements by one board member (Buckingham) fighting OxyContin addiction."

Buckingham said he doesn't understand why the district's attorneys did that, "unless they thought I did something along the way that was detrimental to the case."

But he said he understands they had to do what they felt was best. And he still respects them, especially Richard Thompson.

Still, Buckingham admitted, it stung a bit.

As for the Discovery Institute:

At one point - he doesn't remember when - he was contacted by Seth Cooper, an attorney with the pro-intelligent design Discovery Institute.

While the Discovery Institute's opposition to Dover's curriculum policy has been widely reported, Buckingham said at first Cooper was enthusiastic and supportive. Cooper offered to send him materials about intelligent design.

"He'd call me to see if we were going to go forward," Buckingham said.

But gradually, as the publicity continued, the attorney began to suggest that the board should not move forward on the curriculum change because it could lead to a lawsuit.

"He was afraid we were going to lose the case," Buckingham said. "And he thought, if we did lose the case, it was going to set intelligent design back for years.

"He just didn't think we were the proper people to be pushing this at this time," Buckingham said.

The day after the school board voted in October 2004 to include intelligent design in its biology curriculum, Discovery Institute posted a news release saying it didn't support the school board.

"I think they thought we jumped their gun, so to speak," Buckingham said.

William Buckingham learned that it is uncomfortable to be a pawn in a match between cultural forces at war. And he learned that pawns need to fear their own side as much or more than the opponents. Unfortunately, he has not grasped what he learned and, sadly, maybe never will.

They Ain't Making Jews . . .

Kinky Friedman, author, musician, songwriter and now candidate for the office of Governor of Texas, on Intelligent Design:

How can you look at the Texas Legislature and still believe in intelligent design?


Saturday, March 25, 2006


Tap Dancing in California

A school district in California is the latest to try to single evolution out of the science curricula for a disclaimer to the effect that it is only a theory and not "unalterable fact." One good place to see how this is scientifically disingenuous is the late Stephen Jay Gould’s article "Evolution as Fact and Theory." That such a policy is legally improper is demonstrated by the decisions in Selman v. Cobb County School District and Kitzmiller v. Dover School District.

Anyway, here is the text of the new policy:


The Science curriculum of the Lancaster School District is standards-based and reflects the fundamental belief, as stated in the 2004 Science Framework, "that all students can acquire the science knowledge and skills needed to succeed in the world that awaits them." To provide students with a high degree of science literacy the following expectations should be met:

The goal of science education is to encourage inquiry, investigation and understanding.

The domain of the natural sciences is the natural world. Science is limited by its tools – observable facts and testable hypotheses.

The character of science is open to inquiry. The curriculum promotes student understanding of how we come to know what we know and how we test and revise our thinking.

To be fully informed citizens, students do not have to accept everything that is taught in the natural science curriculum, but they should understand the major strands of scientific thought, including its methods, facts, hypotheses, theories and laws.

Students should learn that science never commits itself irrevocably to any fact, hypothesis, or theory, no matter how firmly it appears to be established. Evolution, then, should be taught as theory, as opposed to unalterable fact. Discussions that question the theory may be appropriate as long as they do not stray from the current criteria of scientific fact, hypothesis and theory. Science instruction must respect the private beliefs of students, but discussion in this regard should not be part of the science curriculum.

Students are given opportunities to construct the important ideas of science, which are then developed in depth, through inquiry and investigation.

The three basic scientific fields of study – earth, life and physical sciences – are taught and connections among them developed.

Science is presented with its applications in technology and its implications for society.

Science is presented in connection with the students’ own experiences and interests, frequently using hands-on experiences that are integral to the instructional sequence.

Instructional strategies and materials allow several levels and pathways of access so that all students can experience both challenge and success.

Textbooks are the major, but not sole, source of the curriculum; everyday materials and laboratory equipment, video and software, as well as other printed materials such as reference books and periodicals provide a substantial part of the student experience.

Assessment programs should be aligned with the standards-based instructional program. Student performance and investigation play the same central role in assessment as they do in instruction.

All this will, no doubt, play out in court but the interesting thing is that Alex Branning, the 22 year-old owner of a web design and Internet marketing company, who proposed and promoted the policy, decided to defend the school district's action at The thread can be found here.

Mr. Branning claimed that the policy:

. . . is not an attack on evolution, nor is it a "backdoor" for the creationists. It simply allows (even encourages) the teachers to have discussions about science in the classroom.

He also stated:

Because of the scare tactics and fear-mongering of the NCSE and other organizations, it is an automatic response to put anyone who even resembles an anti-evolutionist in the "creationism" camp - and then to immediately assume that I want to bring the Bible into the science class. These things couldn't be further from the truth. The motives behind this move are the sinking test scores - students don't care about science and they are failing the class miserably. While my idea to promote discussion (and hopefully pique their curiosity at the same time) may be off the mark, we must do something!

And lastly, Mr. Branning said:
Many of you ask why single out evolution? The answer is simple: it is the only scientific theory that people talk about, arguably the only one laymen care about.
We know evangelical and fundamentalist Christians care about disputing evolution, but is there any significant impetus to "talk" about evolution, compared to other theories, outside certain religious groups? It seems clear that this claim is merely an attempt to avoid the uncomfortable fact that the only motivation for this policy is to skew science education to the demands of particular religious groups.
As might be expected, the reception at was skeptical even before it was revealed that Mr. Branning owns a website called Evolution Is Impossible. Mr. Branning did not deny his ownership but said:

I fail to see how running a web site with a catchy title (perhaps too catchy) that questions the science behind evolution makes me a creationist.

Umm, "Evolution Is Impossible" is merely catchy? And he doesn’t see why it raises questions about his motivations, especially since he has refused to disclose his religious affiliations? While he is correct that faith is a private matter, once you enter the public arena on an issue fraught with religious implications, the price you pay may include the sacrifice of that privacy. Mr. Branning himself recognized that his motivations are relevant by putting forth a defense of them.

So, when it comes to catchy titles and creationism, which is it? Does becoming an anti-evolutionist lower your IQ by forty points or does it lower your honesty by 100%?


Phab Philosopher

There is an excellent interview with John Wilkins, antipodean motorcyclist, survivor of teenage children and philosopher, over at the Daily Kos. Subjects include what the philosophy of science is, the nature of "materialism" and the philosophical bankruptcy of Intelligent Design. It is well worth a read.

For those interested in a deeper draught of philosophy, wander over to John’s blog, Evolving Thoughts, and check out his recent discussion of essentialism. I promise your eyes won’t bleed . . . much.

Friday, March 24, 2006


American Science Circling the Drain

Jason R. Wiles has an article in the Arkansas Times reporting that teachers at a science education institution that serves several Arkansas public school districts:

. . . are forbidden to use the "e-word" (evolution) with the kids. They are permitted to use the word "adaptation" but only to refer to a current characteristic of an organism, not as a product of evolutionary change via natural selection. They cannot even use the term "natural selection." Bob feared that not being able to use evolutionary terms and ideas to answer his students’ questions would lead to reinforcement of their misconceptions.

Worse yet, Mr. Wiles’ informant says:

I am instructed NOT to use hard numbers when telling kids how old rocks are. I am supposed to say that these rocks are VERY VERY OLD ... but I am NOT to say that these rocks are thought to be about 300 million years old.

This is not, apparently, an isolated incident in Arkansas schools. Asked about it by a student on his regular question and answer public broadcasting show, Governor Mike Huckabee said:

I’m not familiar that [schools are] dodging it. Maybe they are. But I think schools also ought to be fair to all views. Because, frankly, Darwinism is not an established scientific fact. It is a theory of evolution, that’s why it’s called the theory of evolution. And I think that what I’d be concerned with is that it should be taught as one of the views that’s held by people. But it’s not the only view that’s held. And any time you teach one thing as that it’s the only thing, then I think that has a real problem to it.

Mr. Wiles is exactly right when he says:

Perhaps the most insidious problem with [Huckabee’s] response is that it plays on our sense of democracy and free expression.

When politicians like Huckabee, who is also a Southern Baptist minister and former church pastor, feel free to determine what is and is not science, we can be sure that science, like our public policy, will be reduced to the lowest common denominator.
That won’t be good enough to compete in a global economy.

Thursday, March 23, 2006


Publishing After Perishing

In a rush to publish, the Discovery Institute has already come out with an entire book responding to Judge Jones’ decision in Kitsmiller v. Dover. As usual, the Discovery Institute hacks can’t help tap dancing on their own saucy bits:

Despite Jones's protestations to the contrary, his attempts to use the federal bench to declare evolution a sacred cow -- unquestionable in schools and fundamentally compatible with all "true" religion -- are exposed by these critical authors as a textbook case of good-old-American judicial activism.

But, of course, (all together now!) ID has nothing to do with religion!

Michael Behe apparently can’t wait for the upcoming tenth anniversary reissue of Darwin’s Black Box, which he has already promised will vindicate him and show those nasty Darwinists that they were wrong about how his testimony went in Dover, to mount a campaign to recover a modicum of respect within the ID crowd:

The book also includes a lengthy response to the ruling from Dr. Michael Behe, entitled "Whether ID is Science: Michael Behe’s Response to Kitzmiller v. Dover." Dr. Behe was the lead expert witness for the defense at the trial.

But don’t forget, Michael, that the Discovery Institute has been adamant that "ID did not field its 'A' game in Dover" (even though you were the "lead witness"), which should let you know where you really stand.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006


Mutant Killer College Professors

As if it wasn’t bad enough that his keepers . . . err . . . producers have problems keeping Pat Robertson "on script," they actually let him talk to people who are similarly reality-challenged. Pat was allowed to interview David Horowitz about his new book, The Professors. In case you haven’t heard about it, this is from the publisher’s blurb:

Horowitz exposes 101 academics -- representative of thousands of radicals who teach our young people --who also happen to be alleged ex-terrorists, racists, murderers, sexual deviants, anti-Semites, and al-Qaeda supporters. Horowitz blows the cover on academics who: -- Say they want to kill white people. -- Promote the views of the Iranian mullahs. -- Support Osama bin Laden. -- Lament the demise of the Soviet Union. -- Defend pedophilia. -- Advocate the killing of ordinary Americans.

. . . Not to mention, eschewing the hyphen! The fiends! And what could be worse than alleged ex-terrorists?

As you can imagine, with Pat all stirred to righteous passion, the rather predictable free association resulted:

. . . these guys are out and out communists, they are radicals, you know some of them killers, and they are propagandists of the first order and they don't want anybody else except them. That's why Regent University for example is so terrifically important and why we're setting up an undergraduate program that hopefully will see shortly 10,000 students, and then from there 250,000 because you don't want your child to be brainwashed by these radicals, you just don't want it to happen. Not only brainwashed but beat up, they beat these people up, cower them into submission. Ahhh! "The Professors", read it.

Pat Robertson must have lived a previous incarnation of great tragedy. Because this time ‘round is pure farce.
P.S. Over at Ken Shaw had the best line about Horowitz's book. In his opinion, the book is:
More evidence that Tailgunner Joe did not live in vain but that Santayana did.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006


Turning Mock Turtle

Okay, I'm probably the last person in the evolution debateratti who has heard this but, after Bobby Henderson sent his revelation of the holy Flying Spaghetti Monster to the Kansas School Board, he received replies from some of the Board members. One, from Kathy Martin of District 6, was particularly interesting. In its entirety, it read:

It is a serious offense to mock God.

It just sort of sits there, doesn't it? Commenting would seem like gilding the lily. It has a symmetry that would be spoiled by adornment.
But it can be said that it is a serious offense to take money under false pretenses . . . such as pretending to have a brain in order to collect the pay of a public official.

Monday, March 20, 2006


Good Sense and Faith

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, has come out against the teaching of creationism:

I think creationism is ... a kind of category mistake, as if the Bible were a theory like other theories ... if creationism is presented as a stark alternative theory alongside other theories I think there's just been a jarring of categories ... My worry is creationism can end up reducing the doctrine of creation rather than enhancing it.

Sunday, March 19, 2006


On Whistling and Graveyards II

Continuing where I left off concerning Keith Pennock’s critique, at the Discovery Institute’s blog, Evolution News & Views, of an article by Robert Pennock, "Pennock's Dover response," Keith takes a side trip to criticize Judge Jones for allegedly stating in his decision "that ID proponents have published no peer-reviewed science literature supporting their views." Keith claims the Judge made a "universal generalization" that is "refuted" if a single counterexample is produced.

Right off the bat, this argument merely raises the question of when "vanishingly small" equals "none." As has been noted elsewhere, even if you grant as valid all the supposedly peer-reviewed material that ID supporters claim, the total output after nearly two decades of the modern Intelligent Design Movement is a fraction of the weekly output of peer-reviewed science supporting evolutionary theory. Therefore, at worst, Keith’s criticism is literary one: the Judge should have said "practically no" instead of "no peer-reviewed science literature."

But was that what the Judge was really saying? This being from the Discovery Institute, it is wise to check the source (pp. 87-88):

A final indicator of how ID has failed to demonstrate scientific warrant is the complete absence of peer-reviewed publications supporting the theory. Expert testimony revealed that the peer review process is "exquisitely important" in the scientific process. It is a way for scientists to write up their empirical research and to share the work with fellow experts in the field, opening up the hypotheses to study, testing, and criticism. In fact, defense expert Professor Behe recognizes the importance of the peer review process and has written that science must "publish or perish." Peer review helps to ensure that research papers are scientifically accurately, meet the standards of the scientific method, and are relevant to other scientists in the field. Moreover, peer review involves scientists submitting a manuscript to a scientific journal in the field, journal editors soliciting critical reviews from other experts in the field and deciding whether the scientist has followed proper research procedures, employed up-to-date methods, considered and cited relevant literature and generally, whether the researcher has employed sound science.

The evidence presented in this case demonstrates that ID is not supported by any peer-reviewed research, data or publications. Both Drs. Padian and Forrest testified that recent literature reviews of scientific and medical-electronic databases disclosed no studies supporting a biological concept of ID. On cross-examination, Professor Behe admitted that: "There are no peer reviewed articles by anyone advocating for intelligent design supported by pertinent experiments or calculations which provide detailed rigorous accounts of how intelligent design of any biological system occurred." Additionally, Professor Behe conceded that there are no peer-reviewed papers supporting his claims that complex molecular systems, like the bacterial flagellum, the blood-clotting cascade, and the immune system, were intelligently designed. In that regard, there are no peer-reviewed articles supporting Professor Behe’s argument that certain complex molecular structures are "irreducibly complex."[17] In addition to failing to produce papers in peer-reviewed journals, ID also features no scientific research or testing.

[17] The one article referenced by both Professors Behe and Minnich as supporting ID is an article written by Behe and Snoke entitled "Simulating evolution by gene duplication of protein features that require multiple amino acid residues." (P-721). A review of the article indicates that it does not mention either irreducible complexity or ID. In fact, Professor Behe admitted that the study which forms the basis for the article did not rule out many known evolutionary mechanisms and that the research actually might support evolutionary pathways if a biologically realistic population size were used. (Citations omitted)

Now let’s see . . . Keith claimed that Judge Jones said there was "no peer-reviewed science literature supporting [ID advocates] views." Now that makes Keith’s claim a "universal generalization," doesn’t it? But right there in the decision the Judge is discussing the Behe and Snoke article. Well, that refutes Keith and we can all go home . . .

Okay, going beyond the Discovery Institute form of propaganda . . . err . . . argument, what Keith has done is mischaracterize what the decision said. Judge Jones wasn’t saying that there was no peer-reviewed material that ID advocates have published, he was pointing out that none of the material (that they were willing to talk about at the trial) supports ID as a positive research program. Instead, almost without exception, the cited articles merely question the adequacy of some evolutionary mechanisms to explain some feature of life. Sparse attacks on some parts of evolutionary theory do not qualify ID as itself a science but is merely the manifestation of the updated "contrived dualism," borrowed from "creation science," that claims that everything that fails to support evolution is evidence of design. The Judge addressed that fallacy elsewhere in his decision.

Keith only points to one supposedly peer-reviewed article as his "refutation" of Judge Jones’ decision: Stephen C. Meyer, "The origin of biological information and the higher taxonomic categories," Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, 117(2) (August, 2004):213-239. He also waves in the direction of other articles that were also cited to in an appendix to the amicus brief submitted by the Discovery Institute.
First of all, I hate to break it to Keith but a citation to an article in an appendix to an amicus brief is not evidence in court. The Judge was fully justified in ignoring what, at best, would be an attempt by Discovery Institute to circumvent the rules of evidence.

The history of Meyer’s article, including the highly questionable circumstances of its publication, has been too widely discussed to be rehearsed here. But it should be noted, as a measure of the incestuous nature of the publication history, that Richard Sternberg, the former managing editor of the Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, who shepherded the article into publication with, at best, questionable review, was recently recommended by the Discovery Institute to South Carolina State Senator Mike Fair as a witness to testify in favor of the ploy of adding "critically analyze" to its educational guidelines on evolution. Fortunately, that effort recently failed. In any event, given the Judge’s obvious annoyance with dissembling by ID advocates, the lawyers from the Thomas More Legal Center probably made one of their few good tactical decisions by not wading into that quagmire.

But, even if the Judge had any obligation to consider it, what did Meyer’s article establish about ID? Even as the Discovery Institute describes it, the article was:

An experience-based analysis of the causal powers of various explanatory hypotheses [that] suggests purposive or intelligent design as a causally adequate -- and perhaps the most causally adequate -- explanation for the origin of the complex specified information required to build the Cambrian animals and the novel forms they represent.

In other words, when translated from babble, "a designer could have done it." Well, duh! The most devastating criticism of ID is that there is nothing it can’t "explain," in the sense that, as noted in the first part of this discussion, there is no way to rule out design by an entity with resolutely undescribed abilities and attributes. It doesn’t require naïveté about falsifiability to see that a "theory" that refuses to allow for any limitation on what its proposed force can do can never be ruled out as a cause, making falsification impossible. And while falsification is not a reliable demarcation criteria for science in general, it is still certainly true that any proposition, like ID, that by its own terms cannot ever be falsified cannot be science.

The rest of the articles cited in the Discovery Institute’s appendix suffer similar difficulties. The few articles close in form to actual science argue, according to the Discovery Institute’s own descriptions, that evolutionary theory fails in one way or another without any empiric evidence of a designer or that "design" is a better explanation. Most of the rest come from the book Debating Design edited by William A. Dembski and Michael Ruse (where the only peer review necessary would be "is this an argument actually used for or against design?"); or from Darwinism, Design, and Public Education, a book edited by an ID advocate, John Angus Campbell. Two of Dembski’s books are cited but, as a philosopher and mathematician, it is unlikely that those would have been reviewed by anyone truly familiar with evolutionary biology.

To sum up then, Keith Pennock actually makes the logical error he accuses Judge Jones of, misrepresents what the decision actually said, displays his ignorance of how evidence is handled in American courts, cites to articles and other materials that do not support the idea that ID advocates are actually doing science and otherwise fails to make a case. And I haven’t even plumbed the entire depth of what Keith gets wrong in this article. For example, he accuses Judge Jones of being an activist, an issue I’ve already addressed.

All in all, as a commentator on matters philosophical, legal or scientific, Keith Pennock is well advised to keep his day job.


Stand Up and Cheer

John Wilkins, antipodian philosopher of science and Doctor of Punnery, at his blog, Evolving Thoughts, has pointed to Sahotra Sarkar’s account of his recent debate with Paul Nelson of the Discovery Institute at the University of Texas.

This was too funny:

Nelson had two "arguments." The first was that we naturally detect design in artifacts and, therefore, should extend these intuitions to living objects. Let’s concede this line of reasoning and see where it leads. Thanks to our ears (and other organs) we naturally detect motion when we are in moving objects and we equally naturally detect rest. Now, when we sit in our homes (assuming that these are not mobile homes) we use the same ability. We now detect that the Earth is at rest. (This is wonderful -- finally a real scientific discovery from the so-called Discovery Institute.)

But Sakar wasn’t content to rest on those laurels:

The second was a hackneyed version of the old God-of-the-gaps argument. Nelson claimed that there were many biological cases he found difficult to explain using evolutionary theory. I agree but this only suggests that he needs to learn more evolutionary theory.

It would be funnier if more people got the humor.

Bad Missouri Breaks

Missouri’s legislature is currently considering a bill for the teaching of "critical analysis" that was just approved by the House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee. A pdf file of the bill can be found here.
The bill is convoluted enough that a bit of untangling is in order. First of all it speaks of "best practices":

Public elementary and secondary school science teacher instruction for sixth grade through twelfth grade courses in physics, chemistry, biology, physical science, earth science, and other natural science courses shall comply with the following best practices . . .

And here is what it means by "best practice":

When information other than verified empirical data [defined as: "information representing physical reality based upon repeated independent human observation, measurement, and experimentation with consistent results"] is taught representing current scientific thought such as theory, hypothesis, conjecture, speculation, extrapolation, estimation, unverified data, consensus of scientific opinion, and philosophical belief, such information shall be within the purview of critical analysis and may be critically analyzed.

So far, it is just another example of the watered-down, "teach the controversy" ploy the Discovery Institute came up with in Ohio that at least has the virtue of not singling out evolution and doesn’t even make the "critical analysis" mandatory ("within the purview" and "may be"). However, it makes a simplistic division between experimental science and science involving real-time observation on the one hand and science that makes inferences about processes and events that are not directly accessible on the other. This is just a version of the distinction creationists often make between "repeatable observation" and "everything else" that, in turn, they label "religion" that should be excluded from public school unless creationism is taught too.
Until here, the bill is perhaps allowing bad science education but not requiring it. Then comes this:

When information other than verified empirical data is taught representing current scientific thought such as theory or hypothesis regarding phenomena that occur in the future or that occurred previous to written history, a critical analysis of such information shall be taught in a substantive amount. If a theory or hypothesis of biological origins is taught, a critical analysis of such theory or hypothesis shall be taught in a substantive amount.

The bit about phenomena "that occurred previous to written history" is brilliant, of course, as it will mandate (note the shift to "shall be taught") this sort of treatment of all science, including physics, biology, geology, cosmology, etc. that deals with events before the Bible itself and, therefore, most seriously contradicts it.
So what do the schools have to do with anything dealing with events that occur before writing?

Critical analysis includes the teaching of anomalous verified empirical data, contrary verified empirical data, missing supporting data, inadequate mechanisms, insufficient resources, faulty logic, crucial assumptions, alternate logical explanations, lack of experimental results, conflicting experiments, or predictive failures where applicable ...

And they have to do all that "in a substantive amount". What is "substantive"? It is defined as: "equal to or greater than". In other words, any science class that concerns events before written history that wants to present anything other than "repeated independent human observation, measurement, and experimentation with consistent results" (which, of course, we can't do now about past events and, even if it was done back then, we wouldn't know about it because it was before written history) must spend equal time teaching about supposedly anomalous, contrary and missing data, lack of or conflicting experiments, predictive failures, crucial assumptions and, naturally, the real aim of the law, alternate logical (not necessarily scientific) explanations.

Now the bill does have some safety valves. Its implementation (for 5 years, at least) is subject to the availability of teaching materials, so that they don't have to shut down all science education if they can't find Constitutionally acceptable course materials to teach as "critical analysis." It also allows local districts to modify or expand the definition of "substantive" as necessary for local use, though that could be a two edged sword.

Sometime you just have to admire the craft that went into something like this, even if you don't like it. The only mistake made in drafting it (besides its intent) was that they just couldn't resist driving the point home and, instead of leaving well enough alone, they went ahead and separately mentioned as requiring "critical analysis" any "theory or hypothesis of biological origins." Maybe whoever drafted it looked at Dover and figured that local boards couldn't be trusted to get anything too subtle. Or maybe they were worried the constituency that they are playing to here couldn't be trusted to read between the lines and give the legislators their political reward. But, whatever the reason, that will now be a problem for this bill if it ever becomes law and winds up in the courts.

Saturday, March 18, 2006


On Whistling and Graveyards

Keith Pennock has posted a critique of an article by Robert Pennock, "Pennock's Dover response," on the Discovery Institute’s blog, Evolution News & Views. The point of Robert’s article might best be summed up by the subtitle: "The battle to get intelligent design into school books was lost in Dover, and it is time for proponents to lay down their swords." Keith isn’t beating anything into plowshares, however, and, at one point, he says that Robert is "out of [his] league . . . in understanding the current nature of the debate over the demarcation criteria of science."

Now, I did a search on "Keith Pennock" on the Discovery Institute’s own website and the most I could discover about what "league" Keith plays in is that he once was a "Program Administrator" at the Center for Science and Culture and that, as of the publication of the "Winter 2006" issue of the Discovery Institute Views, he commands the exalted title of the "D.C. Office Manager" for the Institute. The only other obvious qualification he has for writing what he did is that he has the same last name as Robert.

Amusingly, Keith, in his jeremiad, extols Alvin Plantinga’s article on the subject of Dover that, like Robert’s, appeared in Science & Theology News. But in his article, Plantinga says:

[T]aking these notions [of verification or falsification] in a rough-and-ready way we can easily see that propositions about supernatural beings not being verifiable or falsifiable isn’t true at all.

For example, the statement "God has designed 800-pound rabbits that live in Cleveland" is clearly testable, clearly falsifiable and indeed clearly false. Testability can’t be taken as a criterion for distinguishing scientific from nonscientific statements. That is because in the typical case individual statements are not verifiable or falsifiable.

Well, no kidding!
First of all, even Popper didn’t assert that falsifiability was a sufficient criteria for something to be called "science," merely a necessary one. But, contrary to his contention, Plantinga’s example doesn’t test whether or not anything, including 800-pound rabbits, is designed. It merely tests whether or not there are 800-pound rabbits, particularly in Cleveland. The real trick would be to devise a way to refute the mysterious intervention of an unknown designer in the origin of bacterial flagella. Michal Behe took a shot at it but failed. Behe suggested:

To falsify design theory a scientist need only experimentally demonstrate that a bacterial flagellum, or any other comparably complex system, could arise by natural selection. If that happened I would conclude that neither flagella nor any system of similar or lesser complexity had to have been designed. In short, biochemical design would be neatly disproved.

Besides being ridiculous from a practical standpoint (rather like saying the way to test whether or not pixies created the sun is by gathering a lot of hydrogen and seeing if its own gravity causes it to undergo fusion), Behe’s "experiment" doesn’t test the proposition. Even if a flagellum-carrying bacteria crawled out of our petri dish, how could we know that an unknown designer, with unknown abilities, working through unknown methods, at unknown times (all issues ID advocates refuse to address about their "hypothesis") didn’t sneak in and stick a flagellum or any or all of the "irreducibly complex" steps leading up to it on one of our subjects? If we cannot, as the ID advocates assert, know anything about who or how it is done, we can never say that it wasn’t done that way.

And, of course, even if we could overcome those obstacles, it would merely falsify the design of flagella and the ID advocates could (and, based on past behavior, would) simply move on to the blood clotting cascade or some other feature that their ingenuity could describe as too complex to evolve. Maybe we could take Behe at his word that he, at least, would give up the claim under those conditions but, if so, it is only because the idea of testing the actual hypothesis is not important to him in the first place.

So, at best, Keith’s paragon of philosophy is torching a strawman of "naive falsification" that Popper himself abandoned. It is, as Plantinga says, entire theories or, at least, bundles of hypotheses, that have to be testable and ID is clearly not, something that Plantinga never quite gets around to discussing. He merely asserts that "whole theories involving intelligent designers also make verifiable or falsifiable predictions" without any sort of example. You just have to wonder then what criteria Keith uses to judge philosophers knowlege about the demarcation issue.

But what do I know? I’m just a lawyer, not an Office Manager . . .
P.S. See my continued discussion of Keith Pennock's article here.

Thursday, March 16, 2006


Waiting In the Wings

Hal Lindsey, in a match made in . . . well . . . heaven, has an article in WingNutDaily telling SETI scientists that their assumptions are wrong and, therefore, they are looking in the wrong place for intelligent life. Of course, if Hal knew anything about going to the right place for answers, he might not have predicted the Second Coming of Christ in the 1980s.

In the midst of a thoroughly silly argument, Hal outdoes himself with this:

The assumption that random chance is distinguishable from intelligent design is one of those things that needs no further explanation. It is completely observable in our world.

An image of the Virgin Mary appearing in the grill marks of a grilled cheese sandwich is a case of random chance. A painting of the Virgin Mary is evidence of intelligent design.

Um, Hal, if it is so easy to tell random images from intelligent designs, how come so many people wind up venerating faces they see in rust patterns on water towers and the like? And how do you know that cheese sandwiches aren’t the preferred artistic medium of the mice friends of Slartibartfast?

If the best you can offer, Hal, is your personal opinion, those of us who remember your stuff from the 70s might just want to pass.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006


Screw Loose Comedy

Paramount studios is apparently intending to bring out a movie about the Dover School Board case:

According to Variety, the studio just hired Ronald Harwood to write a screenplay based on last year's court decision ruling that a Pennsylvania school board didn't have the right to force teachers to teach intelligent design. (Interestingly, the film's producer was thinking "movie" from the very start, so much so that she actually sent someone to watch and take notes on the trial - does that show clever foresight or a disturbing tendency to turn every major news story into tomorrow's blockbuster? Both?) In Harwood's eyes, his benchmark is Inherit the Wind, the play and film that told the story of the famous Scopes trial, which allowed evolution into (Tennessee) classrooms in the first place. "Our aspiration is to make a film that powerful...We have a highly emotional case that divided a town right down the middle, and a judge whose summary was spectacular."

Harwood is currently doing a rewrite on Baz Luhrmann's mysterious Outback Romance, but as soon as he finishes that, it's all intelligent design, all the time.

Given the makeup of the Board, however, they might do better to make it a comedy. But, then again, who could they get to do William Buckingham justice, now that Curly Howard is dead?

Tuesday, March 14, 2006


Hyperbole on Hyperdrive

The ACLU and the courts are "basically cleansing America of religion and particularly Christianity. It's almost like a genocide. It's a sophisticated genocide."

- Richard Thompson, President and Chief Counsel of the Thomas More Law Center

How does he come to that conclusion when more than 80 percent of U.S. citizens are Christians, and politicians from the president on down publicly and regularly invoke the name of God?

Thompson responds: Don't "look at the words so much, but look at the actions."

Focus on the banning of "nativity scenes, the cross, prayer in schools, bible reading in schools, moments of silence, prayers at football games - it's a very militant attempt to surgically remove religion from the public square and turn us into an atheistic society," Thompson says.

Now, of course, nativity scenes are not "banned." At worst, they are not allowed on public property unless such property has, by law or tradition, been given the status of a public forum and is open to any holiday display. And, as one wag noted, there will always be prayer in public schools as long as there are math quizzes. The only thing that is being limited is the ability of the majority to force their religion down everyone's throat, while making them pay, through their taxes, for the privilege.

But, for some religionists, the persecution complex cannot be denied as easily as reality can be.

Monday, March 13, 2006


Baby Dearest


Pregnancy can be the most wonderful experience life has to offer. But it can also be dangerous. Around the world, an estimated 529,000 women a year die during pregnancy or childbirth. Ten million suffer injuries, infection or disability.

To David Haig, an evolutionary biologist at Harvard, these grim statistics raise a profound puzzle about pregnancy.

"Pregnancy is absolutely central to reproduction, and yet pregnancy doesn't seem to work very well," he said. "If you think about the heart or the kidney, they're wonderful bits of engineering that work day in and day out for years and years. But pregnancy is associated with all sorts of medical problems. What's the difference?"

The difference is that the heart and the kidney belong to a single individual, while pregnancy is a two-person operation. And this operation does not run in perfect harmony. Instead, Dr. Haig argues, a mother and her unborn child engage in an unconscious struggle over the nutrients she will provide it.

Which is the intriguing beginning to an article by Carl Zimmer in the New York Times entitled "Silent Struggle: A New Theory of Pregnancy." (It may require free registration or you can go to for a sign-in.)

The inspiration for Dr. Haig was the work of Robert Trivers, one of the pioneers in sciobiology and also cited by Steven Pinker, as I’ve already noted, as a major influence.

In the 1970's, Dr. Trivers argued that families create an evolutionary conflict. Natural selection should favor parents who can successfully raise the most offspring. For that strategy to work, they can't put too many resources into any one child. But the child's chances for reproductive success will increase as its care and feeding increase. Theoretically, Dr. Trivers argued, natural selection could favor genes that help children get more resources from their parents than the parents want to give.

Haig realized that, if Trivers was right, pregnancy would be a likely arena for such conflict. For example, fetal placentae sprout blood vessels that actively enter the mother's tissues to extract nutrients, instead of waiting passively for them to be delivered.

One apparent success of Dr. Haig’s hypothesis, originally set out in a 1993 paper, that predicted that many complications of pregnancy would turn out to be produced by this conflict, is what has been recently learned about a complication called pre-eclampsia. In that condition, which occurs in about 6 percent of pregnancies, mothers experience dangerously high blood pressure late in pregnancy.

Dr. Haig proposed that pre-eclampsia was just an extreme form of a strategy used by all fetuses. The fetuses somehow raised the blood pressure of their mothers so as to drive more blood into the relatively low-pressure placenta. Dr. Haig suggested that pre-eclampsia would be associated with some substance that fetuses injected into their mothers' bloodstreams. Pre-eclampsia happened when fetuses injected too much of the stuff, perhaps if they were having trouble getting enough nourishment.

In the past few years, Ananth Karumanchi of Harvard Medical School and his colleagues have gathered evidence that suggests Dr. Haig was right. They have found that women with pre-eclampsia had unusually high levels of a protein called soluble fms-like tyrosine kinase 1, or sFlt1 for short.

Other labs have replicated their results. Dr. Karumanchi's group has done additional work that indicates that this protein interferes with the mother's ability to repair minor damage to her blood vessels. As that damage builds up, so does her blood pressure. And as Dr. Haig predicted, the protein is produced by the fetus, not the mother.

Not as well established as that result is work with "imprinted genes" and their effect on children even as they grow into adults.

Scientists have found that some genes are imprinted in the brain after birth, and in some cases even in adulthood. "Imprinted genes and behavior are the new frontier," said Dr. Lawrence Wilkinson of the University of Cambridge. In a paper to be published in The Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, Dr. Wilkinson and his colleagues argue that the evidence on imprinted brain genes — preliminary as it is — fits with Dr. Haig's theory. They call it "the most robust evolutionary hypothesis for genomic imprinting."

One major source of conflict after birth is how much a mother will feed any individual offspring. A baby mammal is more likely to thrive if it can get more milk from its mother. But nursing demands a lot of energy from mothers that could be used for other things, like bearing and nursing more offspring. ...

Dr. Wilkinson suspects that conflict between imprinted brain genes may add to the risk for mental disorders, from autism to depression. Because one copy of each of these genes is silenced, they may be more vulnerable. "If you ask me, do I think that imprinted genes are likely in the next 10 years to crop up as mechanisms in mental disorders, I'd say yes," he said.

Of course, if this work does lead to better treatment of complications of pregnancy or even of mental illness, it would further answer the creationist canard that evolutionary theory has no practical applications, though the gaining of knowledge is sufficient reason to do science to any person with a modicum of sense.

Sunday, March 12, 2006


Extraordinary Confabulations

I have been slowly working my way through Steven Pinker’s The Blank Slate (Viking, 2002), a book I have more than a few qualms about but which has the following discussion (pp. 263-66) that may bear on the entire creationism / evolution controversy.

Pinker quotes biologist Robert Trivers on the subject of self-knowledge from the foreword he wrote to the 1976 edition of Richard Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene:

If . . . deceit is fundamental to animal communication, then there must be strong selection to spot deception and this ought, in turn, to select for a degree of self-deception, rendering some facts and motives unconscious so as not to betray -- by the subtle signs of self-knowledge -- the deception being practiced. Thus, the conventional view that natural selection favors nervous systems which produce ever more accurate images of the world must be a very naïve view of mental evolution.

Pinker continues:

The conventional view may be largely correct when it comes to the physical world, which allows for reality checks by multiple observers and where misconceptions are likely to harm the perceiver. But as Trivers notes, it may not be correct when it comes to the self, which one can access in a way that others cannot and where misconceptions may be helpful. Sometimes parents may want to convince a child that what they are doing is for the child's own good, children may want to convince parents that they are needy rather than greedy, lovers may want to convince each other that they will always be true, and unrelated folks may want to convince one another that they are worthy cooperators. These opinions are often embellishments, if not tall tales, and to slip them beneath a partner's radar a speaker should believe in them so as not to stammer, sweat, or trip himself up in contradictions. Ice-veined liars might, of course, get away with telling bald fibs to strangers, but they would also have trouble keeping friends, who could never take their promises seriously. The price of looking credible is being unable to lie with a straight face, and that means a part of the mind must be designed to believe its own propaganda -- while another part registers just enough truth to keep the self-concept in touch with reality. ...

Though modern psychologists and psychiatrists tend to reject orthodox Freudian theory, many acknowledge that Freud was right about the defense mechanisms of the ego. ...

Pinker then cites to the evidence of people suffering from neurological damage:

[T]he healthy parts of the brain engage in extraordinary confabulations to explain away the foibles caused by the damaged parts (which are invisible to the self because they are part of the self) and to present the whole person as a capable, rational actor. A patient who fails to experience a visceral click of recognition when he sees his wife, but who acknowledges that she looks and acts just like his wife, may deduce that an amazing impostor is living in his house. ...

Nor are healthy people immune:

In social psychology experiments, people consistently overrate their own skill, honesty, generosity, and autonomy. They overestimate their contribution to a joint effort, chalk up their successes to skill and their failures to luck, and always feel that the other side has gotten the better deal in a compromise. People keep up these self-serving illusions even when they are wired to what they think is an accurate lie-detector. This shows that they are not lying to the experimenter but lying to themselves. For decades every psychology student has learned about "cognitive dissonance reduction:' in which people change whatever opinion it takes to maintain a positive self-image. ...

Self-deception is among the deepest roots of human strife and folly. It implies that the faculties that ought to allow us to settle our differences -- seeking the truth and discussing it rationally -- are miscalibrated so that all parties assess themselves to be wiser, abler, and nobler than they really are. Each party to a dispute can sincerely believe that the logic and evidence are on his side and that his opponent is deluded or dishonest or both. Self-deception is one of the reasons that the moral sense can, paradoxically, often do more harm than good . . .

So, the reason that creationists can hold to obviously illogical positions while ascribing Satanic intent to the arguments of clearly honest and upright defenders of science is because of their need to maintain self-deception.

Unless, of course . . .

But no. Right there is one bit of evidence on our side. Science continues to ask itself these questions, as well as conducting reality checks by multiple observers. As Bertrand Russell said once: "The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt." Maybe that won’t always save it in every case and every time but the odds are in science’s favor.


Dressing For the Occasion

I don’t know how I missed this but William Saletan of Slate, who has been hilarious about the Intelligent Design movement before, published another hoot back in December under the title "Fantasy Island." Or maybe I should say "hooter." It seems Saletan had occasion to be in Key West for a twice-yearly meeting about faith and values hosted by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life and the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

Setting aside the incongruity of having serious discussions about morality among the parrotheads, Pulitzer Prize winning historian and former Discovery Institute fellow (from back when it was attempting some academic respectability) had occasion to speak of the "fundamentalist subculture" that resulted from the perception of conservative Christians that they have suffered repeated blows from Darwin's Origin of Species, Biblical criticism, positivism, Marxism, and Freudianism. Following the Scopes trial, the media was less respectful of religion, denominational universities adopted modernism and the courts struck down religious instruction, mandatory school prayer and government sanctioned Bible readings in public schools. According to Larson, the religious right retreated to its churches, radio stations, and home schools. Saletan continues:

I've always thought of subcultures as decadent and left-wing. Key West is full of them. Down the block from the conference site, you can buy penis-shaped lighters and bikinis that say "your face here." In our hotel rooms, the staff has left fliers announcing "Fantasy Fest 2005," which begins the day after we depart. On our coffee tables, Key West magazine shows what's in store: drag, geishas, nudity, leather, S&M. The lobby is already festooned with movie stills from The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

This, more than monkey ancestors, is what alarms creationists. Larson lists the social ills they blame on the teaching of evolution: abortion, eugenics, homosexuality, effeminacy, divorce, communism, long hair. He's been told that Phillip Johnson, the founder of the intelligent design movement, brought up cross-dressing three times in his most recent book. "And those are important issues," Larson adds, trying to sound even-handed, but the journalists laugh. "It is important," a colleague next to me whispers. "There's a lot of shopping involved. You have to buy for two."

So that is what it comes down to? The whole ID crusade against science is because boys in bras give Phil Johnson the willies? Saletan sees a certain victory in that:

What used to be shocking is now just fun or silly, even to those of us who think of ourselves as believers. Fundamentalists have lost the media, the colleges, and the science academies. The battleground has been reduced to public schools, and creationism has been reduced to intelligent design -- a pathetic, agnostic, empty shell. Creationists can't teach a dogma, so they "teach the controversy." They accept more and more of Darwin's theory, narrowing the dispute to isolated systems -- the eye, the flagellum, the blood-clotting system -- that they say Darwinism can't explain. They just want science to stop short of denying God's possibility. A little bit of mystery, a parcel of unspoiled divine wilderness, is all they ask.

I wish that bit of looniness on Johnson’s part signaled the end of religious radicalism as a political force in America but I am not so sure. Reports of the demise of fundamentalism have been made before and proved premature.

Saturday, March 11, 2006



There is a "discussion" presently going on in, involving one of the more delusional creationists that inhabit the place, that was sparked by an opinion piece in American Chronicle by Wayne Adkins, called "Intelligent Design is a Concession of the Inferiority of Faith," that argues:

Intelligent design proponents have conceded the superiority of the scientific method to faith. They know that an assertion based on scientific research is more credible than an assertion based on faith. So they have endeavored to promote their creationist beliefs as scientific.
In response, the creationist claimed (as close as I can reckon -- you have to go see the original to understand the caveat) that faith is, in actuality, based on the correspondence of the Bible to reality or, in other words, on whether the Bible is shown to be literally true. Idly casting about for definitions of "faith" led to me to this from the Correspondence section of Nature (435, 275-276, 19 May 2005):

Seeking evidence of God's work undermines faith
Douglas W. Yu

. . . In the Bible (John 20: 25-29), Thomas doubts that the man speaking to him is the resurrected Christ until Jesus reveals his wounds. Thomas then believes, but Jesus says: "Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed".

The Bible throughout teaches that faith is more valuable when expressed in the absence of evidence. For a Christian, when science is allowed to be neutral on the subject of God, science can only bolster faith. In contrast, and I imagine without realizing it, ID proponents have become professional Doubting Thomases, funded by Doubting Thomas Institutes. When advocates of ID use the vocabulary of science to argue for God's presence in cellular machinery or in the fossil record, they too poke their fingers through Jesus' hands. In so doing, ID vitiates faith.

I especially like the "Doubting Thomas Institute" and wonder if we can get it to stick as a nickname for the Discovery Institute.

But the image of William Dembski with his fingers up inside Christ I could have lived without.

Friday, March 10, 2006


Design Philosophy

Although it was at a college level, there is a report in Science & Theology News, "The Evolution of Intelligent Design," on how to go about teaching Intelligent Design in public schools so as to avoid either the Dover Debacle or the Lebec Laffer:

In December, Martin Roth professor of philosophy of science at Knox taught a short philosophy course titled, "Intelligent Design," to explore the topic historically and critically at the secular college. ...

Roth designed the course to "look at intelligent design on three levels: as an argument for the existence of God, as an alternative to evolution in science, and in the context of the current debate over evolution and religion." According to Roth, it is important to understand that ID is not something recently installed on today’s front page like an ice block to cool the seething evolution-creation debate. Rather, "intelligent design has a long history. The idea originated well before Darwin’s work in the 1850s," Roth said.

The course delves into the history of the intelligent design movement, beginning with Plato, the first philosopher to make an argument for the existence of God based upon the design of this world. Our seemingly miraculous, biological design and the fine-tuning of the universe allowing for the existence of life have become the chief supports for this argument. Second, the class tackled current scientific debates, including Darwin’s argument for natural selection and whether or not intelligent design fits into the category of science as enterprise. Finally, the class discussed the multi-faceted question of how this affects religion and morality.

Now that last discussion would be tricky indeed in a high school setting but much of this could be taught at least in an elective course. And it would be much more impressive to the students than adults spending a million dollars to have a one minute statement read in class.

Thursday, March 09, 2006


The Empty Cat Bag

The Associated Press has published the text of the foreword written by Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum for the book Darwin's Nemesis: Phillip Johnson and the Intelligent Design Movement by William A. Dembski. I found the following interesting :

Johnson's extraordinary leadership also is clear: rather than fall into the trap of building a cult of personality around himself and his own considerable intellectual talents, he has instead helped raise up and promote a whole group of intellectual leaders in the cause of scientific renewal. This kind of selfless Christian leadership is a shining example to us all, young and old.
But, of course, ID isn't about religion . . . no, siree . . ..


Wednesday, March 08, 2006


Vertebrates Exist

The South Carolina Board of Education has voted not to add the phrase "critically analyze" to its evolution guidelines as recommended by the state's Education Oversight Committee. Educators feared that the addition would introduce religious themes to discussion of evolution and compromise standards regarded as among the nation's strongest.

Rep. Bob Walker, a Spartanburg Republican and a member of the Education Oversight Committee urged adoption of the additional language so students can talk about the "holes" in theories on evolution and natural selection. Rep. Walker presented a letter, signed by 67 members of the House, which included a statement that the legislature may intervene if the board rejects the recommendation.

It is good that the Board of Education did not cave to the legislature’s threats. Make them go on record as rejecting the Board’s decision. When push comes to shove they will doubtless debate the issue much as the legislature in Utah did, making it abundantly clear that the real motivation is religious, not scientific or educational.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006



WingNutDaily . . . opps, WorldNetDaily is reporting on the Discovery Institute’s new Zogby Poll (which is what the Discovery Institute spends its money on, since it has no science to actually do).

Zogby’s report is contained in a pdf file that demonstrates how the results are manipulated. Here are the relevant questions and results:

Which of the following two statements come closest to your own opinion?

Statement B: Biology teachers
should teach Darwin’s theory
of evolution, but also the

scientific evidence against it. ...........69%

Statement A: Biology teachers

should teach only Darwin’s
theory of evolution and the

scientific evidence that supports it. .....21%

Neither/Not sure...........................10%

Do you strongly agree, somewhat agree, somewhat disagree, or strongly disagree with the following statement: "When Darwin’s theory of evolution is taught in school, students should also be able to learn about scientific evidence that points to an intelligent design of life."

Strongly agree ..........51%
Somewhat agree ..........26
Somewhat disagree ........6
Strongly disagree .......13
Not sure .................4

Totals: Agree 77%; Disagree 19%

So the poll first begs the question by assuming as part of the premise that there is any evidence against the Theory of Evolution (ignoring for the moment the DI’s equivocations about "Darwinism") and for Intelligent Design. Naturally, Americans, who highly esteem "fairness" will, even if they don’t really know the issues involved, opt for the answer that seems evenhanded. [Update March 9, 2006: It was brought to my attention that Chris Mooney, author of The Republican War on Science, had an article on Zogby polls that discusses one as far back as August of 2001, with the exact same question as the second one above with almost identical results: 78% of respondents agreed, with 53% agreeing strongly. The real import of these polls may just be that the American public doesn't care about the issue and is not listening to either side.]

The problem is that the ID movement couldn't find enough of that supposed "scientific evidence" to even get a conservative Republican judge to say it was close enough to science to give it the benefit of the doubt.
How about a fair question instead?:

Do you strongly agree, somewhat agree, somewhat disagree, or strongly disagree with the following statement: "When the theory of evolution is taught in school, teachers should be able to proselytize your children to join their religion."

Wanna bet that the percentages would change considerably?

Monday, March 06, 2006


Checking the Designer's ID

Robert T. Pennock, professor of philosophy and evolutionary biology at Michigan State University and one of the expert witnesses for the plaintiffs in Kitzmiller v. Dover School District has an article in Science & Theology News on the aftermath of the case. Of particular interest to me are the examples he cites of Intelligent Design advocates revealing what their true agenda is. One thing for sure, the truth isn’t on the list, especially when they go around claiming they are only interested in science and that religion has nothing to do with ID.

For example, we have William Dembski, right after Judge Jones’ decision saying*:

[T]his galvanizes the Christian community. People I’m talking to say we’re going to be raising a whole lot more funds now.

And there was Phyllis Schlafly calling Judge Jones a "false judge" who "stuck the knife in the backs" of the evangelical Christians who elected the president who appointed him to the bench.

Ronald Bailey at Reason Magazine has this from David Klinghoffer, another senior fellow at the Discovery Institute:

There is no coherent reconciliation between God and Darwin. One may choose Darwin or one may choose God.

And just to add one from the last day or so, we have this from Nevada state Sen. Barbara Cegavske (R-Las Vegas) on the effort out there to amend the state Constitution to permit the "teach the controversy" ploy. Cegavske was the only member of an eight-member state council who voted to teach other theories besides evolution in science classes when current standards were passed in 2004.

I'm very sad that we have taken God out of the schools. When I went to school, we had a prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance. Now, they are even disputing the word `God' in the Pledge of Allegiance. It is all very frustrating to a lot of us.

Yeah, Bills of Rights are pesky things . . . aren’t they?
* Other places this statement was reported include: Agape Press and the Lexington (Kentucky) Herald-Leader.


Sunday, March 05, 2006


Bill Gates Quote Mined

This is a quote mine of Bill Gates and the response soon to be in the Quote Mine Project:

DNA is like a computer program but far, far more advanced than any software we've ever created. - Bill Gates

Bill Gates has said, "DNA is similar to a software program" but more complex . . .

Representative quote miners: Tom Bethell: Banned in Biology; Stephen E. Jones: Creation/Evolution Quotes: Origin of Life #3: Information and Professor Knockout Quotes!: Encyclopedic Information.

The truncated version apparently originated in an article by Stephen C. Meyer, "DNA and Other Designs" in the journal First Things that can be found in many places, including the following: Catholic Culture; The Center for Science and Culture and Access Research Network.

This quote mine has been promoted quite a bit recently by intelligent designer advocates. I found an early use of it by Stephen C. Meyer, Discovery Institute Fellow and young earth creationist. He used it this way, "If, as Bill Gates has said, "DNA is similar to a software program" but more complex, it makes sense, on analogical grounds, to consider inferring that it too had an intelligent source." in "DNA and Other Designs" Stephen Meyer First Things 102, April 1, 2000 but without citation..

The correct quote was used in 2004 by "Harun Yahya", the pseudonym of Adnan Oktar, the head of Bilim Arastirma Vakfi ( Science Research Foundation), an Islamic creationist organization based in Turkey. As far as I could learn, Meyer did not correctly quote Gates until just a few months ago. "As Bill Gates has noted, 'DNA is like a computer program, but far, far more advanced than any software we've ever created.'" Stephen C. Meyer, "Not By Chance" National Post, (Canada) December 1, 2005.
In rapid succession the quote was used in several other publications targeted at politically conservative, and religious audiences. These included "What Is Intelligent Design?" by Casey Luskin of the Discovery Institute in Human Events, and "Jefferson, Marx and Intelligent Design" by L. Baer for the Reverend Sun Myung Moon's newspaper The Washington Times, and "DNA Evidence of an Intelligent Designer" by Tom Ashby in the Huntington News. It is nearly certain that these later authors have not read Bill Gates' book for themselves, they all use the mistaken wording used by Steve Meyer's original article.
They all claim that this is somehow "evidence" in favor of IDC, but is it? Bill Gates wrote the sentence (or one nearly like it), but he wrote it in chapter about education and the Internet, and not in the least related to evolution or creationism. Chapter 9 of his book is titled "Education: The Best Investment, and the context of the quoted sentence is how Gates realized that biology was an interesting topic to study. The paragraph follows:

We have all had teachers who made a difference. I had a great chemistry teacher in high school who made his subject immensely interesting. Chemistry seemed enthralling compared to biology. In biology, we were dissecting frogs - just hacking them to pieces, actually - and our teacher didn't explain why. My chemistry teacher sensationalized his subject a bit and promised that it would help us understand the world. When I was in my twenties, I read James D. Watson's "Molecular Biology of the Gene" and decided my high school experience had misled me. The understanding of life is a great subject. Biological information is the most important information we can discover, because over the next several decades it will revolutionize medicine. Human DNA is like a computer program but far, far more advanced than any software ever created. It seems amazing to me now that one great teacher made chemistry endlessly fascinating while I found biology totally boring. (Gates, The Road Ahead, Penguin: London, Revised, 1996 p. 228)
There you have it -- Gates is not investing a great deal of attention to the facts of genetics -- he is talking about his experiences as a high schooler and the importance of good teachers. Further, there is nothing in the sentence or the idea behind it that attacks science or backs supernaturalism.
- Gary S. Hurd, Ph.D. *
It should be noted that this use of the Gates' quote commits the logical fallacy of argumentum ad verecundiam or the appeal to authority. Gates may well know a lot about software, but he is in no position to assess how much DNA is, if at all, like a computer program. In point of fact, anyone who read the above passage would doubt that Gates had even a high school level understanding of biology and anyone interested in honesty would make that clear if they still wanted to use the quote.
- John (catshark) Pieret
* This is adapted, with the kind permission of Dr. Hurd, from a letter to the editor in response to Tom Ashby's opinion piece in the Huntington News referred to above.

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