Wednesday, January 31, 2007


Bad Light from Above

Here's a surprise ...

-- Focus on the Family is not at all pleased with a documentary on evangelicals in America produced by Alexandra Pelosi, the youngest daughter of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.

"Ms. Pelosi describes her film as a lighthearted and nonjudgmental look at evangelical life in America. It is anything but," Gary Schneeberger, Focus on the Family’s senior media director, said Jan. 26. "Her camera comes with crosshairs -- and her sights are fixed on Christians. This is yet another hit piece created by big media to paint men and women of faith as kooky or scary -- or, best of all from the left’s perspective, both."

Hmmm, what might she have done to make non-kooky, non-scary people seem otherwise?

Schneeberger noted that most people who appear before Pelosi’s camera are shot in exaggerated close-ups, from low angles, so as to distort their features.

"The message here is, ‘There’s something not quite right with these people,'" he said.

But Pelosi, as the article and the documentary's web page both note, worked alone with a small hand-held camera, which probably has as much to do with the nature of the shots as any editorial policy. In any event, that's just an excuse. This is the real complaint:

"She feigns just enough interest in her subjects to get them to open up, and then makes sure she presents them in the most unflattering light possible.

Drat her! Actually getting people to open up and recording all their bits, flattering and unflattering! Somebody would think she was ... oh, I don't know ... making a documentary or somethin'. It wasn't like she knew that Ted Haggard was going to be caught with his ... um ... hand in the Fruit of the Loom jar just days after the documentary was finished.

To sum up Schneeberger's attitude, he seems to think it is some sort of insult to allege that Pelosi came from "the Michael Moore School of Documentary-Making."

Tuesday, January 30, 2007


Dog Bites Man

The good news is that it seems that the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee may actually have discovered what "oversight" means.

The bad news is how much we need it:

Francesca Grifo, senior scientist and director of the Scientific Integrity Program for the Union of Concerned Scientists, a science advocacy group, presented the results of a survey of 1,630 top climate scientists at seven agencies responsible for most federal climate research: NASA; the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; EPA; the Energy, Defense and Agriculture departments; and the U.S. Geological Survey.

In 279 responses from federal scientists, 73 percent said they perceived inappropriate interference with climate science research in the past five years, while 58 percent said they had personally experienced such interference and 43 percent said they perceived or had experienced changes to documents that changed the meaning of scientific findings.


Personal Exchanges

The fine-looking fellow to the right is standing next to the guy who just got a nice write-up at his home university.
Unbeknownst to us at the time, Larry Moran was sharing the same country as Richard Dawkins, threating a genecentric/antigencentric explosion far worse than any warp drive meltdown on Star Trek.
Disaster was averted and PZ came home with some nice pictures.

Monday, January 29, 2007


Sittin' in the Corner

There is an opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times by Lawrence H. Summers that makes a very sobering point. After noting that the 20th century was an American century in no small part because of American leadership in the application of the physical sciences, Summers goes on to rightly point out:
If the 20th century was defined by the physical sciences, the 21st century will be defined by life sciences. Lifespans will rise as cures are found for chronic diseases, and healthcare will come to be a larger share of the economy than manufacturing. Life-science advances will lead to agricultural revolutions, profound changes in energy technology and the development of new materials. The "drugs that help you study" that are pervasive on college campuses are just a precursor of developments that will alter human capacities and human nature in profound ways.
It is only prudent, then, to wonder:
As of now, based on investment levels, research output and the prestige of our research institutions, the U.S. is the world's life-sciences leader.
But past performance is no guarantee of future success. In the first third of the 20th century, Europe and Europeans were the dominant source of important discoveries in physics. Yet, for various reasons, Europe became less dominant as the U.S. asserted its leadership.
Summers' first prescription for maintaining this vital lead is the easy to say but perhaps hard to impliment suggestion that we, as a nation, respect the scientific method. But, as he notes, the U.S., unlike other industrial nations, is actually moving away from science.
Polls demonstrate that in the United States, up to a third of high school biology teachers have as much faith in "intelligent design" as evolution. Some surveys suggest that as many as 70% of the American people agree with them. Matters are not helped when the president advocates the teaching of intelligent design alongside evolution as a "different school of thought."
Is it too late to start learning Cantonese?

Sunday, January 28, 2007


Science Lite

Frosty Hardison has a simple philosophy of science ... out of necessity.

To Frosty, if Hollywood is fer it, he's agin' it. Of course, the "Liberal left" is just an offshoot of Hollywood ... or maybe vice versa ... it don't matter much which. A scientific question can be decided based on whether or not you like the people who talk about it.

That's why he set out to convince the Federal Way School Board, in a southern suburb of Seattle, that they should not allow "An Inconvenient Truth" to be shown in his daughter's seventh-grade science class. In an email to the board, he said:

No, you will not teach or show that propagandist Al Gore video to my child, blaming our nation - the greatest nation ever to exist on this planet - for global warming.
Why, then, who should we blame?

The 43-year-old computer consultant is an evangelical Christian who says he believes that a warming planet is "one of the signs" of Jesus Christ's imminent return for Judgment Day.
Just pass over the question of why it is an insult to America to say it is responsible for global warming because it deliberately burns oceans of fossil fuel but it is no insult to Jesus to say he's doing it deliberately, only skipping the fuels part.

The scary part of all this is that the board, in charge of 22,500 students, imposed a ban on screenings of the film, literally at the drop of a propeller beanie. To add injury to an insult to all of our intelligences, the science teacher who intended to show the film, Kay Walls, says that she was told by the principal of her school that she would receive a disciplinary letter for not following school board rules that require her to seek written permission to present "controversial" materials in class.

The board now realizes the hornet's nest it has stirred up:

The ban, which the school board says was merely a "moratorium," was lifted Tuesday night, subject to rigorous conditions. Still, the action has appalled the film's producers and triggered a national backlash.

Members of the school board say they have been bombarded by thousands of e-mails and phone calls, many of them hurtful and obscene, accusing them of scientific ignorance, pandering to religion and imposing prior restraint on free speech.

It has been a terrible ordeal, school board member David Larson said during a long, emotional speech at the board meeting.
Why public officials, entrusted with public funds to educate children, would find it surprising that they are attacked for pandering to ignorance and sectarian religion is beyond me. The real question is why the religious bleating of one parent (plus "complaints from a few other parents") makes for a "controversy" in science when the National Academy of Sciences and nearly all of the world's leading climate experts agree that there is conclusive evidence that human activity is causing the Earth to warm and that there is an urgent need to reduce the amount of carbon being released into the air. This may give a clue:

[S]everal residents buttonholed Larson and asked him if there should be a "balanced" presentation of the Nazi Holocaust, because there are many who deny that it occurred.

"The Holocaust happened," Larson said. "We have evidence and photos. The difference between the Holocaust and the global warming is we don't have photos of what will happen 50 years from now."
Besides the fact that the evidence for warming is overwhelming, the point of those residents is well taken in this case, since Frosty's opposition, based on Christ's imminent return, is just as unevidenced and just as lunatic as any Holocaust denier.

The upshot is that "An Inconvenient Truth" may now be shown only with the written permission of the principal of the school and only if it is balanced by "alternative views" approved by the principal and superintendent of schools. Kay Walls, the teacher, is struggling to find authoritative articles to constitute an "alternate view" so the Gore documentary can be shown.

"The only thing I have found so far is an article in Newsweek called 'The Cooling World,' " Walls said.

It was written 32 years ago.
All of which reminds me of McLean v. Arkansas Board of Education, from almost a quarter century ago:

The testimony of Marianne Wilson was persuasive evidence ... Ms. Wilson is in charge of the science curriculum for Pulaski County Special School District, the largest school district in the State of Arkansas. ... The District Superintendent assigned Ms. Wilson the job of producing a creation science curriculum guide. Ms. Wilson's testimony about the project was particularly convincing because she obviously approached the assignment with an open mind and no preconceived notions about the subject. She had not heard of creation science until about a year ago and did not know its meaning before she began her research.

Ms. Wilson worked with a committee of science teachers appointed from the District. They reviewed practically all of the creationist literature. Ms. Wilson and the committee members reached the unanimous conclusion that creationism is not science; it is religion. They so reported to the Board. The Board ignored the recommendation and insisted that a curriculum guide be prepared.
The Federal Way School Board has failed to heed the warning that you should not keep your mind so open that your brains fall out.

Saturday, January 27, 2007


Speaking of Jokes

This washed up singer and minor movie actor walks into an online "newspaper" and says: "I want to make a fool out of myself in public on subjects that I know nothing about." They say "Okay!"

Maybe it's my delivery.

But trust me, if you go over to WorldNetDaily (not for nuthin' known widely as "WingNutDaily") and check out Pat Boone's latest screed on evolution, called "Charles Darwin's unfunny joke," you'll get a laugh or two, even if only of the rueful sort. Maybe it's the floppy shoes and big rubber nose he's wearing ...

Boone's rant is too ridiculous to try to dissect in detail -- there's no "there" there on which to work -- but a little sampling may wet your appetite for inanity:

With fingers deep in his ears and eyes resolutely screwed shut, he denies the existence of any transitional species in the fossil record but in a humorously naive way:

Wouldn't there be plenty of evolving apes, tending toward homo sapiens (sic), in the jungles and rain forests, possibly developing verbal skills and capable of elementary math and reasoning?
There actually is a paucity of fossils detailing our history at and prior to the chimpanzee/human split. But Boone, like the proverbial blind pig, has stumbled across the likely answer to that lack. Those ancestors probably did live in "jungles and rain forests," environments rich in insects and bacteria that quickly erase remains and prevent fossilization. One might wonder if Boone has even heard the word "taphonomy." Of course, there are plenty of fossils (many above right) that creationists themselves can't agree on as to whether they are human or "ape," some of which may have had language and many of which certainly had some human-like skills, such as tool making.

When all else fails (and in Boone's case, it has), there is always quote mining:

I wonder if any science teachers today ever share with their students that Charles Darwin acknowledged "the extreme difficulty or rather impossibility of conceiving this immense and wonderful universe … as the result of blind chance or necessity." If the originator of the theory of evolution and the author of "The Origin of Species" (the book which later students eagerly used as an excuse to leave a Creator out of the picture) couldn't imagine everything we see and know happening without some design and purpose – why should any of us?
Well, it is easy enough for any schoolchild to look it up, now that Darwin's complete works are in searchable form on the web. Any bets whether or not Boone looked this one up before spouting off about it where everyone could see? The quote is accurate enough, as far as it goes, and can be found in The life and letters of Charles Darwin by Francis Darwin (pp. 312-13):

Another source of conviction in the existence of God, connected with the reason, and not with the feelings, impresses me as having much more weight. This follows from the extreme difficulty or rather impossibility of conceiving this immense and wonderful universe, including man with his capacity of looking far backwards and far into futurity, as the result of blind chance or necessity. When thus reflecting I feel compelled to look to a First Cause having an intelligent mind in some degree analogous to that of man; and I deserve to be called a Theist. This conclusion was strong in my mind about the time, as far as I can remember, when I wrote the 'Origin of Species;' and it is since that time that it has very gradually, with many fluctuations, become weaker. But then arises the doubt, can the mind of man, which has, as I fully believe, been developed from a mind as low as that possessed by the lowest animals, be trusted when it draws such grand conclusions?

I cannot pretend to throw the least light on such abstruse problems. The mystery of the beginning of all things is insoluble by us; and I for one must be content to remain an Agnostic.
Those are not the words of a man searching for an excuse to eliminate God. They speak of a man who seeks to do those things that fall within his talents and knowledge as best he can and who leaves the rest to others with more expertise (if any should exist) on such matters as religious belief. Nor can Boone's "hypothesis," that all the scientists since Darwin who have supported and expanded his theory have sought to disprove God, explain the many scientists, such as Ken Miller, Francis Collins and Theodosius Dobzhansky, who have been both committed evolutionists and committed theists.

As Darwin's son said (p. 305), about his father's reluctance to publish his views on religion, "he was also influenced by the consciousness that a man ought not to publish on a subject to which he has not given special and continuous thought."

Too bad Boone doesn't have equal good sense about evolution.
The image above was adapted from a Talk Origins Feedback article by Mike Hopkins from September 2005, which, in turn, came from Douglas Theobald's Talk Origins article "29+ Evidences for Macroevolution," which itself, in turn, used images from the Smithsonian Institution's Human Origins Program. Like Nature itself, we evolutionists are inveterate adaptionists.


Friday, January 26, 2007


Unfocused Astronomy

Okay, I've admitted before to having been at the mercy, such as it was, of Jesuits during my four years of college and retaining a grudging respect for their intellectual abilities. But frankly, I'm not sure what Brother Guy Consolmagno, S.J., a Vatican astronomer and curator of its meteorite collection, was talking about in the annual Loyola Chair lecture at Fordham University:
He considers himself a member of the scientific class he calls “techies.” ...

Techies, he told the audience, see the world in terms of processes to be understood, jobs to be done and problems to be solved. Their orientation toward the world is pragmatic, logical and functional, and the common assumption is that most of them are atheists. “And no doubt about it, some of us are,” he said. “But, equally, a lot of us are not.
So far, so fuzzy. What makes this "class" of scientists different than any other and why is there a need for a separate term for them? Are there really any scientists worth considering who aren't pragmatic, logical and functional?
... [T]here is a “serious misfit,” he said, between the typical techie and the typical church. American churches simply haven’t done much to understand techies and reach out to them in ways that would be meaningful.
Well, promoting creationism and dishonest political ploys like Intelligent Design probably have something to do with that. But I can't see how the following, from someone (more or less) speaking for a church that avoids such obvious conflicts, can help:
Scientists and engineers don’t necessarily lack faith, he said, instead, they appear to be searching for a “comprehensive set of rules to live by,” which provides an opportunity for organized religion. Organized religion provides a template, just like the worked-out problems in a physics book, he said, against which techies can compare their spiritual experiences with those that are certified to have been experiences of the transcendent.
"Certified"? This is blatant gobbledygook and not worthy of any Jesuit I ever knew. But then there is this non sequitur to top it all off:
"Remember," he added, "Jesus himself was a techie."
One can only hope that the person giving this account of the lecture has seriously misrepresented the Brother's intent.

Thursday, January 25, 2007


Showing Some Spine

This is a good one ...

From The Christian Chronicle:


The more Dr. Don Selvidge learns about the intricacies of God’s design of the human body, the stronger his faith becomes, he says.

“Throughout my career in the health field, I have been awed by the way the human body is ‘fearfully and wonderfully made’ by God,” he said.

A chiropractor and part-time minister for the DeWitt Avenue church, Selvidge writes a regular column called “The Creator’s Design for Health” for the Coles County Leader.

Selvidge said the column presents “the details of the Creator’s intelligent design of the human body” and explains “how God gave careful attention to the food supply created to give the body what it needed for health and healing.”

So, let's get this straight ... someone who makes a living trying to alleviate the pain caused by the fact that the human spine was not well adapted to an upright posture is going on about the way the human body is "fearfully and wonderfully made"?

Talk about not taking your work home with you!

Wednesday, January 24, 2007


Saturday Night Science

Simon Underdown, a biological anthropologist from Cambridge University and lecturer at Oxford Brookes University is less than impressed that Intelligent design will be taught in Religious Education classes in Britain. He conducted a study in June 2006 comparing responses from sixth-form students, including those who had been educated in a Christian faith environment, to a series of questions concerning aspects of creationism and evolution that indicated confusion on the student's part about the nature of evolution.

[E]ven though the debate will take place in the RE classroom, the reverberations will be felt, not just in the science class but also across the educational sector as a whole. The decision to include ID in school curricula will give the impression that ID is a worthy alternative to evolution. ...

ID is not science and, despite the increasingly vocal objections of a small minority, has yet even to fire a shot across the bows of Darwinian evolution. As a human evolutionary biologist, the thought of having to spend time explaining the glaring errors of ID to undergraduates at the expense of more worthy material fills me with dread.
While I sympathize, at least he will be able to officially tell any student who wants to discuss ID that they should ask a theologian. Anyway, I rather thought it was in a teacher's job description to correct the glaring errors of students. ID is not all that different in that regard.

As Roseanne Roseannadanna often said: "It's always something! If it's not one thing, it's another!"


Spiritual Evolution

There are some interesting thoughts about religion from Sally Gallagher, professor of sociology at Oregon State University in this article. First, the reporter sets the stage:

Religion was supposed to fall by the wayside as mankind became more enlightened, according to sociologists during the 1700s, when science and reason were touted as the key to human evolution.

When church attendance began to fall in the mid-20th century after several decades of significant scientific discovery and invention, it looked like their prediction might come true.

Then Professor Gallagher takes over:

We were supposed to ‘grow out of it’ but that’s not what actually happened. Americans are very religious. In fact, they’re all over the map when it comes to religion. ...

Religion provides a moral framework for people to understand and address the biggest questions of life.
After noting that the public's respect for all institutions, including churches, suffered in the wake of Watergate, Gallagher claims "the pendulum is now swinging back" and that the segment of church membership that’s growing the fastest is among people in their 20s and 30s. After a period when people would take their dog for a walk on a beautiful day and call that a spiritual experience, they are returning to traditional denominations and expressions of religion for the benefits they provide: instant community, support and affirmation. Such things look particularly good in an unstable society or when people are experiencing a divorce, losing their jobs or facing some other major change in life.

In a completely post-modern society where absolute truth does not exist, the ground becomes unsettling and there’s no place to stand and decide right from wrong or who’s "good" or not, she explained. Humans are wired, however, to do just that.

People are fundamentally religious in the same sense they are fundamentally social or moral, Gallagher said.
Religion plays a key role in achieving self-identity because it offers that transcendent, outside-ourselves perspective of what’s true about life and mankind, and it helps people figure out "what’s better and what’s best" within the context of community, she said.
You don't have to be a believer to understand the attraction of that.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007


PEERing Over the Canyon

Over at the blog of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), it is apologizing for any misunderstanding it might have caused because its "December 28, 2006 press release, 'How Old is the Grand Canyon? Park Service Won’t Say,' was not as clear as it should have been."

Once we became aware that the press release was being misinterpreted, we took a couple steps to amend this error:
1.) PEER revised the original release on our website, deleting the problematic first sentence. [“Grand Canyon National Park is not permitted to give an official estimate of the geologic age of its principal feature, due to pressure from Bush administration appointees.”]

Although the information was not included in the release, that sentence was based on the fact that since 2004 (until this recent controversy erupted) we heard from reporters that the superintendent’s office at GCNP had answered media questions about the age of the canyon with either a “no comment” or by referring the reporter to Headquarters.

2.) We distributed a second press release that laid out clearly the Park Service’s position on the age of the Grand Canyon, and posted the NPS official statement on our website.

It’s significant to note that the public controversy surrounding our release finally stimulated the National Park Service, for the first time, to go on the record saying it did not endorse the content of Tom Vail’s book, Grand Canyon: A Different View. As with all other statements on this issue, of course, it came out of HQ, and not the park.
Quite apart from the question of how one goes about "revising" a press release that has already been released (is it like a consumer product recall? -- how many newspapers did they have returned to the dealership to have the print revised?), I can't for the life of me figure out what the clarification is clarifying. Is the Grand Canyon National Park permitted to give an official estimate of the geologic age of the canyon or do they, as the "clarification" might still be read, have to, "[a]s with all other statements on this issue," refer inquiries to HQ? Or is it that PEER is withdrawing the claim that it is the Bush Administration that requires that Park officials dodge the issue and, instead, that it is just the usual bureaucratic work avoidance that is at play here? It sure would have helped if they had said just how they thought the press release was being misinterpreted.

Should we look forward to the clarification of the clarification?
Via Evolving Thoughts.

Monday, January 22, 2007


Heavens Above!

In one of the more cosmic ironies of late, texts by Richard Dawkins will be studied in religious education classes in Britain under new government guidelines, according to a story in The Guardian.

In a move that is likely to spark controversy, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority has for the first time recommended that pupils be taught about atheism and creationism in RE classes.
There's nothing like that good ol' British understatement.
The teaching of ID and creationism should prove less contentious in this part of the curriculum (although the scientists who argue that ID is a science may be disconcerted) ...

They obviously don't know the Discovery Institute.

The new guidelines for key stage 3 (11 to 14-year-olds), published yesterday, say: "This unit focuses on creation and origins of the universe and human life and the relationship between religion and science. It aims to deepen pupils' awareness of ultimate questions through argument, discussion, debate and reflection and enable them to learn from a variety of ideas of religious traditions and other world views.

"It explores Christianity, Hinduism and Islam and also considers the perspective of those who do not believe there is a god (atheists). It considers beliefs and concepts related to authority, religion and science as well as expressions of spirituality."

It should be an interesting experience for all involved.

Sunday, January 21, 2007


The Genesis of Woe

Kent Hovind was sentenced last Friday but I haven't written about it up to now because I didn't want to pile on by gloating about his getting 10 years in prison ...

Oh, that was a lie! I just couldn't come up with anything remotely amusing about Hovind's self-immolation up to now.

Please forgive me! I was wrong to tell that fib. I won't do it again.

Too bad Hovind couldn't manage even a superficially credible version of that when he was being sentenced. Oh, he pulled out some tears and comparisons of his state to Job (!) and Jesus (!!!). But when it came to his own behavior:

Hovind blames his problems on lawyers, another pastor, the Internal Revenue Service. His own sins are minor.

"I forgot to dot some i's and cross some t's," he said.
Unfortunately, while he was being held at Escambia County Jail for sentencing, he somehow failed to notice signs on the phones he was using to make eight hours of calls a week that warn that the conversations are recorded.

He vowed to "make life miserable" for the IRS, keep suing the government and promote his cockamamie theory that he's tax-exempt.
The Judge listened to the tapes and they couldn't have helped his plea for leniency, especially on top of his claim that years of clashing with the IRS was just "i's" and "t's".

But as Mark O'Brien at the Pensacola News Journal said:

The one to feel sorry for is his wife, Jo, who is to be sentenced March 1.

"I'm sorry, but I don't get it," she says on tape as her husband of 34 years rants about taxes. She just wants to find an accountant who can help them make peace with the IRS and enjoy life with their children and grandchildren.
No, it is her husband who doesn't get it. Then again, we've known that since long before the tax thing came up.

Saturday, January 20, 2007


An Inconvenient Piece of Paper

Constitution.bFor more on the Bush Administration assault on the American system of justice and the rights it guarantees, there is the non-apology of Charles "Cully" Stimson, the U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for detainee affairs, in a letter last Wednesday to the Washington Post:

During a radio interview last week, I brought up the topic of pro bono work and habeas corpus representation of detainees in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Regrettably, my comments left the impression that I question the integrity of those engaged in the zealous defense of detainees in Guantanamo. I do not.

I believe firmly that a foundational principle of our legal system is that the system works best when both sides are represented by competent legal counsel. I support pro bono work, as I said in the interview. I was a criminal defense attorney in two of my three tours in the Navy Judge Advocate General's Corps. I zealously represented unpopular clients -- people charged with crimes that did not make them, or their attorneys, popular in the military. I believe that our justice system requires vigorous representation.

I apologize for what I said and to those lawyers and law firms who are representing clients at Guantanamo. I hope that my record of public service makes clear that those comments do not reflect my core beliefs.
The International Herald Tribune has exactly the right take on this in an editorial, "Apology Not Accepted":

It is hard to render a convincing apology when you are not really apologizing. Consider Charles Stimson, the U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for detainee affairs, who has been trying to spin his way out of his loathsome attempt to punish lawyers who represent inmates of the Guantánamo Bay internment camp.
Last week, Stimson expressed his "shock" that major American law firms would represent terrorism suspects, hinted that they were paid by unsavory characters and suggested that companies should reconsider doing business with them. On Wednesday, Stimson said he apologized and regretted that his comments "left the impression" that he was attacking the integrity of those lawyers.

It was not just an impression. It was exactly what he did.
Worse than mealy-mouthing, however:

President George W. Bush and Defense Secretary Robert Gates should have fired him. Their silence was deafening, although hardly surprising given the administration's record of trampling on people's rights in the name of fighting terror. But Attorney General Alberto Gonzales was not silent. In an interview with The Associated Press, Gonzales actually expanded the attack on lawyers, claiming that it has taken as long as five years to bring detainees to trial because of delays caused by their lawyers.
In short, instead of any sort of serious attempt to undo the damage Stimson did to the image, both home and abroad, of an American government based on law or to demonstrate that this Administration actually renounces Stimson's subversion of that government, all we get is a shift of the attack to a slightly different front with a thin veneer of "damage control."

As the editorial noted:

The cause of the delay in bringing any Guantánamo detainee to trial is Bush himself. He refused to hold trials at first, then refused to work with Congress on the issue and claimed the power to devise his own slanted court system. Bush went to Congress only when the Supreme Court struck those courts down. The result was a bill establishing military tribunals for detainees that is a mockery of American justice.
But we can hardly expect anything else when the highest law enforcement official in the land actually denies any understanding of the concept of a "right" under the law.

Friday, January 19, 2007



The Parents Television Council has released a handy guide for secularists to the television networks least likely to have religious views intruding into prime time. Well, I guess that probably wasn't the intent, but that's what they wound up doing.

And the good news is that the prime-time programming on the six commercial broadcast networks for the 2005-06 season has seen a 39 percent drop in depictions of religion from 2003-04.

PTC President Brent Bozell expressed disappointment that the box office smash, "The Passion of the Christ," by Mel Gibson, well-known in police circles for favorable depictions of people of faith, has not translated into an increase in televised religion.

[W]e saw a slew of stories about how ‘Hollywood has gotten religion’ and how Hollywood was seeing the value of programs that had religious themes. If you look at the study that we’re releasing today on the state of prime-time broadcast television, you will see that not only did that message never reach the executive suites of the television networks but that, in fact, the television networks have gone in the completely opposite direction from the public mood. [The] television entertainment industry is completely disconnected with American public opinion.
According to the study of ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, WB and UPN the portrayals of religion were 35 percent negative, 34 percent positive and 27 percent neutral or mixed. I know that may sound like rather scrupulously balanced treatment to secularists but who cares about your opinion?

A few lingering questions about the methodology might nag at secularists but all doubts can be erased by going to the Parents Television Council site to see the description of the methodology. For instance, in the "faith" category, you can see how the following examples were highly "negative":

Larry tries to call a woman friend, but dials a wrong number. Larry: "No thank you, I don’t want to accept Jesus Christ as my personal Savior." (Fox, The War at Home, April 16, 2006)

A young patient, Justin, requires a new heart but feels guilty that another child had to die. A priest tells Justin: "God wants you to live. That’s why He sent you the heart. Justin replies: "I’m not stupid, okay? God didn’t send me the heart. There’s no such thing as God." (ABC, Grey’s Anatomy, December 11, 2005)

Bright tries to console Hannah, saying that although bad things do happen good may ultimately result. Hannah disagrees: "If there were no God, man would surely have created one. You either believe God exists and everything else came after, or you believe we were all so freaked out by everything that came after that we invented something bigger than we could explain, so we wouldn’t have to explain it." (WB, Everwood, November 10, 2005)
What could be a more negative depiction of faith than people who do not believe in God and who actually dare to express it? And to say that you don't want to accept Jesus Christ as your personal Savior is ... is ... why, blasphemy!

But enough of that ... here is the good stuff:

In something of a surprise, Fox lead in the negative portrayals of religion, with 50 percent of its depictions in that category. CBS led in positive depictions, with 47 percent favorable.

UPN had the fewest portrayals at one for every five hours, compared to the overall average was one for every 1.6 hours. It also was last in positive portrayals, with only 19 percent. ABC had by far the most overall depictions of religion at an average of slightly more than one per hour.

Reality shows, such as "The Amazing Race" and "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition," treated religion more favorably than scripted dramas and comedies, according to the study's standards. Reality shows accounted for 58 percent of the positive portrayals on the networks while scripted programs had 96 percent of the negative depictions.

The lesson: if you don't want to be bothered, watch non-reality shows on UPN. Or, better yet ... turn the damn thing off. Or does that amount to the same thing?

Thursday, January 18, 2007


Coddle an Atheist and the Terrorists Win

That seems to be the premise of a new book by right wing doyen Dinesh D'Souza. In his book, entitled The Enemy at Home:

D'Souza argues that the war on terror is really a war for the hearts and minds of traditional Muslims--and traditional peoples everywhere. The only way to win the struggle with radical Islam is to convince traditional Muslims that America is on their side....

Which raises the question: "against whom?" Why, against "the American cultural left, which for years has been vigorously exporting its domestic war against religion and traditional morality to the rest of the world...." Apparently, as far as D'Souza is concerned, anti-Americanism among Muslims is not merely a reaction to U.S. foreign policy (or the utter lack thereof) but is also the result of revulsion with the atheism and moral depravity of American popular culture.

In a revealing interview at National Review Online, D'Souza expands on this theme:

In his Letter to America, issued shortly after 9/11, [Osama bin Laden] said that America is the fount of global atheism, and it is imposing its morally depraved values on the world. So Muslims must rise up in defensive jihad against America because their religion and their values are under attack. This aspect of Bin Laden's critique has been totally ignored, and it's one that resonates with a lot of traditional Muslims and traditional people around the world.

Robert Tracinski rightly points out that the ultimate expression of this thesis would be to "try to appease totalitarian Islam by showing that we are willing to subject ourselves to our own religious tyranny."

What is more, Tracinski reports that others on the right, such as Mario Loyola, are now criticizing D'Souza because "[t]he idea that 'justice' should have nothing to do with religion, but must come instead from reason, is a cardinal principle of the Enlightenment and part of the necessary bedrock upon which the democratic state is founded."

But as Tracinski correctly asks: "Since when did conservatives become defenders of the legacy of the Enlightenment?"

For example, how does defending secularism and humanism square with the right's history of condemning "secular humanists"? How does defending the separation of church and state square with longstanding conservative complaints that religion has been excluded from the "public square"--or their claims that the Constitution guarantees "freedom for religion," not "freedom from religion"? How does defending science and reason square with demanding that America be "one nation under God" instead of "one nation under Darwin"?

They don't, of course. But it is always amusing to see someone take ideas deeply held but lightly considered and run them out to their logical consequences. When it is a fellow believer and the results are truly horrifying, the gobbling takes on a sweeter sound.
Update: From the review in the New York Times by Alan Wolfe, who teaches political science at Boston College and is the author of Does American Democracy Still Work?:
At one point in “The Enemy at Home,” D’Souza appeals to “decent liberals and Democrats” to join him in rejecting the American left. Although he does not name me as one of them, I sense he is appealing to people like me because I write for The New Republic, a liberal magazine that distances itself from leftism. So let this “decent” liberal make perfectly clear how thoroughly indecent Dinesh D’Souza is. Like his hero Joe McCarthy, he has no sense of shame. He is a childish thinker and writer tackling subjects about which he knows little to make arguments that reek of political extremism. His book is a national disgrace, a sorry example of a publishing culture more concerned with the sensational than the sensible. People on the left, especially those who have been subjects of D’Souza’s previous books, will shrug their shoulders at his latest screed. I look forward to the reaction from decent conservatives and Republicans who will, if they have any sense of honor, distance themselves, quickly and cleanly, from the Rishwain research scholar at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007



Casey Luskin, in no great surprise, is off again on a tilt after a certain windmill that resembles a certain Federal Judge.

The occasion for this foray into fantasy is an email he claims to have received that was directed to the Editor-In-Chief and Managing Editor of the Rutgers Journal of Law and Religion about the "note" in that publication, by a third-year law student, that the Discovery Institute was publicizing as some sort of vindication for their claim that Judge Jones went "too far" in ruling that ID is a religious, not a scientific, concept. The author of the email apparently closes with a quote from Richard Dawkins to the effect that religion is a "brain virus."

The email author does not, as far as we know, attribute that in anyway to Judge Jones but Luskin nonetheless states, not altogether incorrectly:

Clearly SGB misunderstands the Kitzmiller ruling. Judge Jones emphatically declared it is "utterly false" to believe that "evolutionary theory is antithetical to a belief in the existence of a supreme being." Judge Jones even ruled that evolution "in no way conflicts with, nor does it deny, the existence of a divine creator." (online version, page 136)
Not stopping there, however, Luskin then asks 2 questions:

(1) Do SGB's actions support Judge Jones’ bold holding that evolution "in no way conflicts with, nor does it deny, the existence of a divine creator"? (emphasis added in original)

(2) In light of these quotes from Judge Jones, what business does a federal judge have ruling on the proper theological interpretation of a scientific theory?
First of all, it is hardly a fair reading of the decision to imply that the Judge was saying that no one could believe evolution conflicts with any concept of God. Here is the section (p. 136) Luskin is complaining about:

Both Defendants and many of the leading proponents of ID make a bedrock assumption which is utterly false. Their presupposition is that evolutionary theory is antithetical to a belief in the existence of a supreme being and to religion in general. Repeatedly in this trial, Plaintiffs’ scientific experts testified that the theory of evolution represents good science, is overwhelmingly accepted by the scientific community, and that it in no way conflicts with, nor does it deny, the existence of a divine creator.
The point of the Judge addressing this issue is that there is an element of balancing involved in the Establishment clause. A concept which was absolutely contrary to all religious belief on the one hand and that was marginal science on the other might well require specialized treatment, when taught in public schools, in order for it to remain religiously "neutral." But evolutionary theory is not such a concept. It is accepted by many major denominations of many faiths and it is strong science. Therefore, any effects it might have on religious belief are only "secondary." The Judge was not saying that there are no people who find evolution contradictory to their theology. Nor was he saying that any such theological beliefs are wrong. He is simply saying the opinions of such people are not universal among theists.

Having warmed up it that way, Luskin then gets too close to the giant's arms. He says:

The Kitzmiller ruling thus squares nicely with Judge Jones' publicly stated endorsement of the view that "true religion was not something handed down by a church or contained in a Bible, but was to be found through free, rational inquiry" and stated that such "precepts and beliefs ... guide me each day as a federal trial judge."
What Judge Jones actually said, in a paean to "a broad based liberal arts education," was:

As has been often written, our Founding Fathers were children of The Enlightenment. So influenced, they possessed a "great confidence in an individual's ability to understand the world and its most fundamental laws through the exercise of his or her reason." And that reason was best developed, they clearly believed, by a broad based liberal arts education that caused its recipients to engage the world by constantly questioning and persuading others.

... [W]e see the Founders' ideals quite clearly, among many places, in the Establishment Clause within the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. This of course was the clause that I determined the school board had violated in the Kitzmiller v. Dover case. While legal scholars will continue to debate the appropriate application of that clause to particular facts in individual cases, this much is very clear. The Founders believed that "true religion was not something handed down by a church or contained in a Bible, but was to be found through free, rational inquiry." At bottom then, this core set of beliefs led the Founders, who constantly engaged and questioned things," to secure their idea of religious freedom by barring any alliance between church and state."

As I hope that you can see, these precepts and beliefs, grounded in my liberal arts education, guide me each day as a federal trial judge. I am daily exposed to many disciplines, I must learn and relearn things constantly, and I am at risk of deciding a case incorrectly if I accept that which is presented to me at face value. [Emphasis added]
Luskin might want to dispute the Founders' views on religion, but then it is hardly fair to put those beliefs in Judge Jones' mouth. He could try to dispute Judge Jones' interpretation of the Founders' views, though I think the Judge is merely expressing the majority opinion among historians, and it is still unfair to put the views themselves in the Judge's mouth. But what is really unfair ... in fact, dishonest ... is to claim that Judge Jones was saying that the Founders' views on religion were what guide him in his daily work as a judge. He was clearly referring to the ideals of understanding the world through reason, of the importance of constantly questioning things, and of the power of a liberal arts education, as his inspiration. What else would we want in a Federal judge? ... What less should we accept?

Finally, Luskin hilariously quotes from United States v. Ballard, a case involving a prosecution for fraud of certain "faith healers." Despite the constant claim that ID is not religion, Luskin is quite right to quote the Court:

Heresy trials are foreign to our Constitution. Men may believe what they cannot prove. They may not be put to the proof of their religious doctrines or beliefs. ... The religious views espoused by respondents might seem incredible, if not preposterous, to most people. But if those doctrines are subject to trial before a jury charged with finding their truth or falsity, then the same can be done with the religious beliefs of any sect. When the triers of fact undertake that task, they enter a forbidden domain.
I, too, will defend to the death Luskin's incredible, if not preposterous, belief in the religious concept of Intelligent Design. But nothing, including Ballard, says that I have to let Luskin pretend ID is science in taxpayer-funded schools.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007


See the Pretty Birdie

It seems there is this Iowa man who is supposedly on the verge of unlocking the "code of the universe." Despite being "self-educated," he claims to have "undeniable proof that the spectrum of light is hexadynamic, not the linear structure that it has been long believed to be."

[Allowing that to sink in ... two ... three ... four ... ]

Now one Santa Fe, New Mexico woman is suing another in state District Court for $2 million for allegedly holding DVDs of this genius hostage. The suer said she is applying for a patent on the man's concepts and further stated that he cannot because he has already published books about his ideas.

[... two ... three ... four ... ]

The other woman, a videographer, was hired to travel with the first woman to the man's hometown to record his ideas, apparently in aid of the patent application.

[... two ... three ... four ... ]

The man, 89 years old, agreed to talk about his ideas

... if a reporter would "stop calling them theories -- they're facts."

For example, he said his concept of "intelligent design" isn't a euphemism for Biblical creation, but rather looking at design as the product of the mind, not a physical property that can be measured. "You look at a desk or a chair or a cupboard, you see the design of it," he said. "The wood comes out of a tree, but you've never seen a tree that was growing tables and chairs and stuff like that."

In a self-published book, The Search for Intelligent Design, [selling for] for $30 each, he describes a six-sided atomic structure with parts linked to colors -- red for protons, green for "cosmic ray," blue for electrons, orange for the "energy packet," yellow for neutrons and violet for gamma rays.

"Nobody in this world today knows what I'm just telling you," he said. "This completely revises our science paradigm, and nobody knows that either, but when they do know it, this book is going to be pretty darn valuable."

[... two ... three ... four ... ]

While the videographer, who said she has worked on contract for scientific organizations, thinks the other woman is "a psycho con artist," she believes the man's ideas have merit.

The "kernel" of [his idea] is that "everything is in constant change," she said. "Darwin evolution and Newtonian physics are old paradigms. ... It's no longer survival of the fittest. We've evolved beyond that."

[... two ... three ... four ... ]

Hey! Maybe he's on to something here! I know that if I'm 89 years old and can get two women to cross state lines to visit me and wind up suing each other over what happens, I'll think I'm doing pretty good.
[... two ... three ... four ... ]


Justice Denied

The assault, both covert and overt, official and semi-official, on traditional American notions of our legal rights continues unabated from this Administration. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Detainee Affairs Charles D. "Cully" Stimson sent a not-so-subtle threat to the legal community last week:
Last Thursday, Stimson told an interviewer on Federal News Radio that he found it "shocking" that many of the country's major law firms represent the detainees. After ticking off a list of some of the firms providing free legal representation to detainees, he said corporate executives "are going to make those law firms choose between representing terrorists or representing reputable firms." He also suggested that some of the law firms were quietly taking money for their services.
The American Bar Association and the New York State Bar Association immediately condemned Stimson's remarks, as did Senator Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Now about one hundred deans of law schools around the country have signed a letter calling the remarks "contrary to the basic tenets of American law" and asking the Bush administration to "promptly and unequivocally repudiate" them.
Our American legal tradition has honored lawyers who, despite their personal beliefs, have zealously represented mass murderers, suspected terrorists, and Nazi marchers. At this moment in time, when our courts have endorsed the right of the Guantanamo detainees to be heard in courts of law, it is critical that qualified lawyers provide effective representation to these individuals.
There has been some attempt to distance the Administration from the remarks:
Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales told The New York Times last week that "good lawyers representing the detainees is the best way to ensure that justice is done in these cases." Yesterday, Department of Defense spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Brian Maka said that Stimson's remarks "do not represent the views of the Defense Department or the thinking of its leadership."
But, if they are really serious, the best distance they could invoke is the distance between Stimson's home and the Defense Department, making sure that he has no further need to traverse it.

John H. Garvey, dean of Boston College Law School, put it in good perspective:
What I thought of was, at the time of the Boston Massacre, the British soldiers who shot the American citizens were charged, and John Adams represented them. It's a very American thing to do to make sure that people who might not be very popular are well represented when they're in trouble with the law.
Adams risked much to defend those soldiers and his example is worth more than that of a thousand such mealy-mouthed moral midgets, hanging around the government tit waiting for the resumption of their utter and richly deserved anonymity, that will come with the end of this disastrous Administration.

And one more reminder:

When they came for the communists, I was silent,
because I was not a communist;
When they came for the socialists, I was silent,
because I was not a socialist;
When they came for the trade unionists, I did not protest,
because I was not a trade unionist;
When they came for the Jews, I did not protest,
because I was not a Jew;
When they came for me,
there was no one left to protest.

- Martin Niemoeller (1892-1984)


Via Dispatches from the Culture War.

Monday, January 15, 2007


Sweet Dreams

And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today!

Sunday, January 14, 2007


Something Under the Bed Is Drooling

The delicious thrill of the lurking monster is a hallmark of our species, H. storytellis. From the big bad wolf to John Hurt leaning over the alien pod, from Grendel to the Communist Menace, we delight in frightening ourselves for entertainment ... and more serious pursuits.

I am not immune from this meme. I've repeatedly (um, at least one, two, three, four, five, six times) shared the shiver of the theocrat hiding under the bed, as taken from Michelle Goldberg's recent book, Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism.

Now there is a new book, American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America, by Chris Hedges, a Pulitzer Prize-winning correspondent for The New York Times. And, according to this review by Jon Wiener, a history professor at the University of California, Irvine, there are chills aplenty to be had in Hedges' offering:

[Hedges] joins a five-day "Evangelism Explosion" seminar in Florida to learn tactics for converting people to the Christian right's version of Christ. That conference is run by D. James Kennedy, whose The Coral Ridge Hour is seen weekly on more than 600 TV stations. There, he and 60 other people learn the sales pitch and how to fake friendship for the potential convert. ...

But the key message Hedges and the others are taught to deliver is that conversion obliterates "our fear of death, not only for ourselves, but the fear we have of losing those we love" - for example, children or spouses fighting in Iraq. This, Hedges argues, is "not only dishonest but cruel," because the fear of death cannot be banished.
That kind of strange "comfort," along with other evidence of warped "values," such as "a 'Love Won Out' conference in Boston, sponsored by James Dobson's Focus on the Family, held to 'cure' those who are afflicted by 'same-sex attraction'," are enough bumps in the night to satisfy most any fear junkie. But Hedges is not done:
[T]he goal of the Christian right is "not simply conversion but also eventual recruitment into a political movement to create a Christian nation," where constitutional freedoms would be replaced by biblical law, as interpreted by evangelical leaders. Kennedy has been clear about this goal: "As the vice regents of God," the Florida-based minister has written, "we are to exercise godly dominion and influence over our neighborhoods, our schools, our government," as well as "our entertainment media, our news media, our scientific endeavors. ... "

If the conservative Christians come to power, Hedges asserts, evangelical leaders such as Kennedy, Falwell and Robertson could be "calling for the punishment, detention and quarantining of gays and lesbians - as well as abortionists, Muslims and other nonbelievers." Thus, Hedges concludes, the United States today faces an internal threat analogous to that posed by the Nazis in Weimar Germany.
As Wiener is quick to point out, that is going over the top, rather like Michael Myers getting up from clearly deadly wounds one too many times.

There are problems with this analogy. First, democracy in America is much stronger than it was in Weimar Germany in 1933. Nor is the Christian right as widespread or powerful as Hedges suggests.
That was a point made often by Goldberg in her book and perhaps emphasized by the recent election results. There is every reason to fear and oppose these people without crying dictatorship "wolf."

Hedges concludes that the Christian right "should no longer be tolerated," because it "would destroy the tolerance that makes an open society possible." What does he think should be done? He endorses the view that "any movement preaching intolerance places itself outside the law," and therefore we should treat "incitement to intolerance and persecution as criminal." Thus he rejects the First Amendment protections for freedom of speech and religion, and court rulings that permit prosecution for speech only if there is an imminent threat to particular individuals.

Hedges advocates passage of federal hate-crimes legislation prohibiting intolerance, but he doesn't really explain how it would work.
What's more, if Wiener is fairly describing Hedges' proposal, there is no way I can think of to legally distinguish his claims about the Christian Right from the intolerance and persecution he seeks to ban. If the definition of "intolerance" and "persecution" is to be determined democratically, it is Hedges who would likely be muzzled and his book that probably would be banned. Benjamin Franklin's warning, "Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety," springs to mind. Wiener is right:

Prosecuting Pat Robertson for his preaching is likely to win him more sympathy and support, not less. There is a stronger answer to those who want to prohibit speech they consider wrong and dangerous: The solution is not less speech but more. Argue back. Debate your opponents. Fight arguments with better ones. Challenge them in elections with strong candidates. That's the way to preserve the tolerance that Hedges values.
Let's not scare our own democracy to death.

Saturday, January 13, 2007


The Big Guns?

The Discovery Institute is crowing about the fact that there is has been a "note" published in the Rutgers Journal of Law & Religion that agrees with their position that Judge Jones did not need to reach the question of whether Intelligent Design is a scientific or a religious concept.

The note was authored by Philip A. Italiano, who expects to obtain his Juris Doctor degree from Rutgers University School of Law this coming May. It is diagnostic of the current health of the ID project that they become excited at having one of their arguments endorsed by a law student.

Strangely, however, the DI fails to note one of Mr. Italiano conclusions:

Certainly, Judge Jones’ findings of fact make a strong case for his assertion that intelligent design is a religious concept. (p. 37)*

Still, Rutgers is a very good school and Mr. Italiano is an Associate Managing Editor of the Rutgers Journal of Law and Religion, which would tend to indicate some substantial academic ability. Therefore, his status as a law student does not directly go to whether or not he is right about Judge Jones' decision in Kitzmiller. However, I will argue below that he has made either a "rookie mistake" about the nature of courts and their decisions or is making a sub rosa argument which is invalid.

Mr. Italiano's thesis is well stated at p. 34:

[T]he court [in Kitzmiller] had made its case for invalidating the Dover policy under the endorsement test. The court completely fulfilled the endorsement test requirements set forth in [two prior rulings] first by examining the cultural and legal backdrop of similar challenges to the teaching of evolution in public schools and then by examining policy’s text, legislative history within the board meetings, and presentation to the student body and the community at large before reaching its conclusion. The policy could have been invalidated under the endorsement test on these grounds without the court’s subsequent discussion of whether intelligent design itself is science. [Footnote citations omitted]

In essence, Mr. Italiano is arguing that once a court finds one good reason to rule in a case, it should then stop. This is a misunderstanding of what courts mean when they extol a "narrow" decision. This is similar to the claim made by Michael Francisco, also a law student, on behalf of the Discovery Institute, to the effect that Judge Jones' decision about the status of ID was mere "dicta." I already addressed that claim and much the same arguments apply.

First of all, a narrow decision is not one that only puts forth one and only one rationale for a ruling. It is a decision that limits its ruling to a (suitably) similar set of facts. There is obviously much leeway in what constitutes "similar" and cases are usually given "narrow readings" in retrospect when the court citing the previous decision does not like the potential uses it could be put to if its scope is expanded. As a quick example, some action by a police officer might be deemed to violate a suspects Miranda rights in two or three different ways but a later court might then decide that those same sort of actions by different government employees, say medical personnel questioning a wounded suspect in aid of his or her treatment, would not fall under the earlier decision. Thus, the ruling in the case of the police officers may give multiple reasons why their actions violated Miranda but the ruling is still said to be too "narrow" to apply to similar questioning by doctors.

In Kitzmiller, Judge Jones gave multiple reasons why the policy violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment but he did not try to apply his decision to whether ID could be taught in comparative religion classes or hold that ID could not be taught in state universities. His ruling was therefore narrow in the sense that it was limited to the facts presented to him and based on the extensive evidence the parties presented.

Perhaps more importantly, trial courts almost always give multiple grounds for their decisions if they can. Mr. Italiano admits that Judge William R. Overton's decision in McLean v. Arkansas Board of Education, also addressed the question of whether "creation science" (before it was made over into ID by Of Pandas and People) was, in fact, science. Mr. Italiano says (p. 26) that "the Kitzmiller court’s analysis is most comparable to that of McLean." He makes a stab at suggesting that is not a favorable circumstance:

A problem with the comparison between McLean and Kitzmiller lies with the fact that the U.S. Supreme Court neglected to evaluate both Lemon test prongs in [Edwards v. Aguillard] a case decided five years after McLean, and the Court has continued to limit its Lemon test application in recent Establishment Clause cases after it has discovered a primary religious purpose. [Footnote citation omitted]

The problem with his apparent implication that the decision in Edwards somehow stands for the impropriety of a trial court giving multiple rationales for its decision is that McLean was cited favorably by Justice Brennan, writing for the Court in Edwards, and Justices Powell and O’Connor in their concurrence. If there was a reason to criticize the lower court for the mere citation of reasons for a decision other than those ultimately adopted by the Supreme Court, there would have been ample opportunity for that in Edwards.

The only other case Mr. Italiano compares Kitzmiller to that is not an appellate case is Selman v. Cobb County School District that, ironically, was sent back to the trial court for further proceedings by a panel of the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals. While the problem Judge Cooper encountered in Selman might not have been solved by adding additional grounds for his decision at the trial level, it is exactly that kind of remand for further consideration that trial judges try to avoid.

It is simply not the practice of Federal District Courts to mechanically follow some supposed script, listing, in order, possible grounds for a finding of a violation of the Establishment Clause, and to stop once they have one they think will "stick" with the higher courts on appeal. Even intermediate appellate courts don't do that, as shown by a case Mr. Italiano relegates to a footnote (136 on p. 30). In Modrovich v. Allegheny County, a decision by the Third Circuit (which has jurisdiction over Judge Jones' District), the Court of Appeals noted that, in an earlier case, it had "decided [the issue] under the endorsement test, [but] it also applied the Lemon test, as the Supreme Court could still potentially review the issue under Lemon." The notion of a belt and suspenders is not foreign even to appellate judges.

Mr. Italiano then (not so subtly) shifts his criticism. He started out claiming only that he would show that "though its outcome was correct, the Middle District of Pennsylvania issued too broad a ruling" (p. 4), a position he "achieves" by spreading rather significant misunderstanding of trial and lower appellate court practice. But then he argues that there might be different results in other Circuits (pp. 34-36). Although he apparently concedes that:

... while Third Circuit precedent permitted the Kitzmiller court to evaluate the facts under the endorsement test and the Lemon test, in that order, other circuit courts might still approach a similar fact pattern under the Lemon test and strike down the policy at issue strictly because of the School Board’s religious purpose. [Footnote citation omitted]

Judge Jones sits in the Third Circuit. If, as Mr. Italiano claims, there is or may be a conflict with other Circuit Courts of Appeals as to how they want Establishment Clause cases handled, then Judge Jones is duty bound to follow his Circuit's rulings. Conflicts between the Circuits are to be decided by the Supreme Court, not by District Judges in Pennsylvania. If Judge Jones had tried to usurp the Supreme Court's function, then he would have truly been an "activist judge."

Exploring the Establishment Clause jurisprudence of all the Circuits is more than I have the time or interest in doing in response to a law student's note. I am, however, relatively confident that there will be no case law found chiding trial judges for giving too many grounds for their decisions.

If the Discovery Institute thinks they can make a better case for teaching ID as science, I'm sure they can chivvy some school board in some other Circuit into trying to teach it. Certainly, Mr. Italiano's real thrust seems to be that "the fat lady ain't sung yet" on ID in the courts. By all means, they are free to try again, this time with their own lawyers if they want.

I'll watch with great interest the enthusiasm the DI puts into searching out another test case.
* Citations to Mr. Italiano's article are to the page numbers in the pdf file.
Update: Ed Brayton has also posted a reply to this article and the additional time he took shows, in that he made a number of points that I did not address. It's well worth the read.

Friday, January 12, 2007


Do You Decimal?

We dew ... and dew ... and dew ...

You can tew.

Loyola Americans

There is this report from the bowels of something called WDC Media, a Christian media firm with a motto of "PR with a higher purpose," reporting the wisdom, such as it is, of Bill Wilson, from whatever the Daily Jot News And Commentary might be. Complaining about the recent decision by the Howell Michigan Public School Board of Education not to approve an elective class on the Bible as literature, Mr. Wilson states:

When secular humanists, agnostics, nontheists, and atheists reject God and yet claim to be moral and ethical, they are first lying to themselves. If they reject the origin of truth, morality and ethics, their version of truth and morality can only be a subjective counterfeit. Trouble is, this brand of moral relativism is being taught wholesale throughout the country. And the atheists are organizing to get more of it. Proverbs 22:6 says, "Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it." All the more reason the Bible should be used as a textbook in every school.
Never mind that the proponent of the class said it wasn't intended to teach truth and morality:

Tim Thatcher, a parent who first proposed the Bible curriculum in December, said the stories in the Bible could inspire students. He recounted part of the biblical story of Joseph as an example, and said that the class does not promote any particular doctrine or religious outlook.
Mr. Wilson seems to think that the proponents of this class are lying to themselves ... or someone, at least.

But whose truth and morality is it that we should teach in the public schools? It seems that the plurality religion of Michigan is Catholicism. I'm sure that, if the school district asked nicely, the Vatican would be happy to send out a few dozen Jesuits to "train up" all the children of Howell at public expense.
Mr. Wilson should be pleased.

Thursday, January 11, 2007


Chastity Bible Belt

Continuing to correct the abuses of educational policy in Kansas during the recent past, the new moderate majority will also address the changes made to sex education by the old board:
In June, the board approved a policy stating that human sexuality classes should promote abstinence until marriage, while still giving students complete and medically accurate information about birth control and preventing sexually active transmitted diseases. It isn't a mandate, so districts don't risk losing their accreditation by failing to adopt it.

But the policy does require schools to get written permission from parents for students to participate in sex education courses. In most districts, students previously were automatically enrolled unless their parents objected in writing.
Society has the right to insist that its citizens be educated in basic health issues, including sex and contraception. It is an accommodation (and a not necessarily wise one) to the religious sensibilities of some people to exempt their children from such instruction. The very least that should be demanded of such parents is that they go to the trouble of asking for the exemption. Heck, maybe if they have to do that, they'll have second thoughts about imposing ignorance on their loved ones.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007


Restrained Opposition

There is more about the changes pending in Kansas' science guidelines in the article "Science reversal set in motion" from The Topeka Capital-Journal.

Among the more delusional moments from yesterday:

Conservative board member John Bacon, an Olathe Republican, argued that the current standards allow teachers to teach evolution — criticisms and all.

"We really have the best of both worlds except for a very few folks in the science world who think this is some great sin Kansas has done," Bacon said. "I just don't understand it."

Well, he's half right ... there is a lot he doesn't understand. But the notion that it was "a very few folks in the science world" that opposed the dishonest changes in 2005 is so far out of sight of reality that it is doubtful if you can get there from where Bacon is. As Sue Gamble, one of the new majority, pointed out:

National organizations like the National Academy of Sciences and the National Science Teachers Association opposed the curriculum standards so much that they forbade Kansas from using their copyrighted material in the final science standards document.

Also in opposition was The American Association for the Advancement of Science, which serves some 262 affiliated societies and academies of science, in turn serving 10 million individuals, itself founded in 1848 and publisher of Science, one of the premier scientific journals.

But, hey! In for a penny of fantasy, in for a pound!

Speaking of which, just to make the day perfect, there was this contribution to "The Longest Running Falsehood in Creationism":

... Doug Kaufman, associate pastor of Cornerstone Church in Leavenworth, [speaking before the Kansas State Board of Education on January 9, 2007] said the theory of evolution can be debunked.

"I believe that evolution is dying," he said.

I've emailed Glenn Morton, originator of the list of predictions of "The Imminent Demise of Evolution" and this may become the first entry of the new year ... and here we are, just 10 days in.

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How to Support Science Education