Monday, February 28, 2011



Like Jason Rosenhouse, I haven't really been following the latest Gnu stampede over Jean Kazez' anti-Courtier's Reply. Jason gives a limited reply to Kazez and I'll give a limited reply to Jason.

Most of Jean's post is about the impropriety of discussing certain metaethical theories in the public square, specifically moral error theory. The idea is that the issues involved are too complicated, and too easily caricatured to the detriment of atheists, to be worth discussing in public.

Jason agrees that moral error theory, which "commits you to the view that the statement, 'Torturing babies just for fun is wrong,' cannot be described as true" is probably not something you want associated with Gnu Atheism. On the other hand, he makes the reasonable point that many issues of immediate public concern are highly complicated and easily open to distortion. His examples are global warming, the economic crisis and the current political turmoil in Egypt and Libya. Jason goes on to say:

That is how many of us see the issue of science/religion compatibility. We note the excessive respect and power granted to religious institutions and see a serious social problem. We note the existence of well-funded groups relentlessly peddling science/religion compatibility, a view we tend to regard as pernicious nonsense. ...

People tend to be insular. This is especially true of religious conservatives. They tend to keep doing what they've always done, and thinking what they've always thought, until something novel catches their attention. If you want to win people to your way of thinking you must first make them aware that your way of thinking is out there. Sometimes that means screaming and yelling a bit, and not worrying so much about bruising a few feelings.

But are religious conservatives really the target of the Gnus in this discussion? After all, highly visible and astute publicists for religious conservatism, such as R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, already agree with the Gnus that science and their religion are incompatible. The issue is and has always been whether some ... not to put too fine a point on it ... more evolved forms of theism are "incompatible" with science.

Quite apart from the pause that you should get from the tactical agreement your bitterest opponents have with your own arguments, the question is whether it is any better to loudly proclaim, to the kind of intelligent and reasonably educated theists who might be swayed on the plethora of issues surrounding the desirability of a secular society, that we don't need no steenkin nuance on the issue of the compatibility of science and religion, than it is to declare it okay to torture babies.

Put another way, if the Gnus become associated, in the minds of the kinds of people who might be their social allies, with distorting science and religion as a political ploy, are they likely to gain anything for their own cause, much less for secularism in general?

Sunday, February 27, 2011


When Thinking Hurts

A thought:

Aristotle was the creator of formal logic, with its syllogistic form and show of conclusiveness. It was a great discovery, and by itself would have been enough to make the reputation of a lesser man. Aristotle applied his discovery to the theory of science, choosing as examples the mathematical subjects and especially geometry, which had already passed from its early tentative stage, in which perhaps Thales was trying to rationalize the empirical rules of land-surveying, to a later more completely deductive form.

But syllogistic logic is useless for experimental science, where discovery, and not formal proof from accepted premises, is the main object sought. To start from the premise that an element cannot be broken up into simpler bodies would have led to a correct list of known elements in 1890, but by 1920 it would have excluded all those that are radio-active. Thus the premise has been modified, and the word "element" has changed its meaning. But that fact does not destroy its utility, nor does it invalidate modern physics.

Fortunately modern experimenters have not troubled about the formal rules of logic; but the prestige of Aristotle's work did much to turn Greek and Mediaeval science into a search for absolutely certain premises and into the premature use of deductive methods. The results were the assignment of infallibility to many very fallible authorities and much false reasoning in deceptive logical form.

- A History of Science and Its Relations with Philosophy and Religion, W.C. Dampier, 4th Ed.

Saturday, February 26, 2011


Running Starts

The Giles County (Virginia) School Board has, for now, pulled back from the brink. But they may just be circling back around for a better run up to the edge of the cliff.

In a special meeting of the board on February 22, 2011, it reversed (yet again!) it decision on the official displays of the 10 Commandments in its schools.

But things get murky from there.

The board is being advised by Liberty Counsel, the legal arm of the late Jerry Fallwell's Moral Majority, led by Matt Staver:

Liberty Counsel, a Florida-based religious freedom group, had advised Superintendent Terry Arbogast that the school district "would lose" if hit with a threatened lawsuit by the Freedom From Religion Foundation and the ACLU, according to minutes released Wednesday of a Tuesday special school board meeting. ...

Liberty Counsel said it would not provide free legal representation to the school district if the posters stayed up and drew a lawsuit, the minutes said.

The minutes were revised less than two hours later to remove the point about losing in court. Board secretary Amanda Tickle said in a later interview that the original minutes needed rewording but were accurate.
On the other hand:

Liberty's founder, Mathew Staver, disputed that account.

"We made it clear that we would be willing to defend the school whether they kept the current display or altered it," he said. "There are pros and cons to both strategies. We never said, 'Here's the better chance.'"
So, what's going on? Here's this lawyer's educated guess:

Staver was just handed the latest in his long string of defeats, when the Supreme Court let stand the Sixth Circuit's decision that displays of the 10 Commandments by two Kentucky counties, which had previously been found to have violated the Constitution, were still in violation even after attempts to recast the displays as "historical."

The appeals court said it found little evidence that the counties' intent in hosting the Ten Commandments displays had changed from an impermissible religious motive to a permissible secular purpose.

"It is clear that these resolutions, like the previous statements of purpose, were adopted only as a litigating position," the court said.

"Defendants have continuously sought to defend their actions and accomplish what they initially set out to do," the appeals court said.

The majority judges said the officials' overall purpose was still the unconstitutional use of government property and resources to spread a religious message.
Basically, as soon as the board minutes went up, there were frantic calls from Liberty Counsel saying "ixnay on the ruthtay." If you say that you know you'd lose in court and then put the Commandments back up again as part of some allegedly "historical" display, you're admitting that your intent is just a litigation ploy.

Once again, a fine example of the morals that religion instills in people.


... residents are preparing to buy billboards and paint tractor-trailers with the words, "We support the Ten Commandments in our schools.
Which, of course, is their absolute right under that same First Amendment that they just can't quite get the hang of ... as long as they don't try to use taxpayer money for those billboards and trucks.


Scores of students have placed the commandments on their lockers at Giles High School, according to Buckland, who saw them on a recent visit.
Which is also their right ... though you do have to wonder what the reaction would be if some enterprising student was to start to display some of the juicer bits of the Song of Solomon on his or her locker.


Thursday, February 24, 2011


Arcade Science

Oh looky here.

John G. West has whipped out his fun house mirror history of science and is trying to blind the faithful with it. Apparently, it has only been in the last ten years and only at the behest of "New Atheists" that Darwinian evolution has come to the conclusion that evolution, including that of human beings, "is the product of a blind and unguided evolutionary process."

Having set up the "New Atheists" as the bogeymen, he laments the fact that thousands of students at University of Oklahoma "flocked to a lecture by leading new atheist Richard Dawkins," who received cheers and applause. Why does Caiaphas' song from Jesus Christ Superstar keep echoing through my head?

And lest you think atheists are still a pretty despised group in America with relatively insignificant influence compared to Christians, West gives his mirror another powerful twist and the image becomes almost unrecognizable:

The Darwinian view of nature has had a powerful impact on nearly every area of our culture. In public policy, it has encouraged the devaluation of human life. Among Christians, it has led some leading theologians and scientists to argue that God Himself doesn't know how the history of life will turn out. And in science, Darwinian theory has encouraged the censorship of new scientific data as well as discrimination against scientists and students who think nature supplies evidence of intelligent design.

Anyone can see that, before Darwin's book a hundred and fifty years ago, human life was so very much more valued. After all, you could get several thousand dollars for a good slave. And, naturally, it is the business of science to keep theologians in line. As to "discrimination" against scientists who deny science in the name of religion, it's hard to see how they didn't deserve what little they got. But where was there discrimination against students? Has there been a single case where students have been given bad grades because they refused to believe in science, as opposed to being marked on their understanding of the science? Or is it supposed to be "discrimination" to be told something that they would prefer not to believe?

But here is West's funhouse mirror at its craziest:

The good news is that the new atheists are wrong. Far from establishing a blind and purposeless universe, the findings of science increasingly provide powerful evidence that we live in a purpose-driven universe of incredible beauty and design.

But wait a minute ... aren't we always being told that design must be true because "Darwinism" can't produce function (i.e. purpose) piecemeal? In other words, the existence of biological functions demonstrate purpose because purpose is needed for there to be function.

If West keep running in such tight circles, he's likely to disappear up his own ass.

Now, that would be fun!


Killing Kings

Russell Blackford has, to my mind, a rather strange defense to the latest incompatiblist - accommodationist debate sparked by Jean Kazez. You'll have to follow the links to understand the contretemps if you are not already familiar.

[T]here is always going to be a level of very robust debate on the internet, so it's always possible to find examples of people who really are behaving very rudely and perhaps rejecting ideas of politeness. But that's not something unique to people with New Atheist sympathies. You'll find people behaving like this when discussing the merits of political parties, sports teams, movies, comic-book artists, or whatever else people get passionate about. So it's hardly fair saying that the New Atheism encourages incivility any more than these other things. The most that can be said is that the subject of religion is now debated on the internet in a way that was not common a decade ago, so inevitably it attracts the same kind of very robust arguments as, say, sport or politics. Inevitably, some people will let off steam on their own blogs, and we'll see even more robust expression from anonymous commenters. ...

[A] great deal that has happened has had a context. If people who don't believe they have been especially uncivil are chided not to be "a dick", or if lies are told about people like them behaving in public in outrageously uncivil ways, and if stories are told that suggest they are uncivil in the manner of the children in Jean's story, it produces certain emotions. To be blunt, it creates anger and ill-will.

Fair enough. But that also describes how theists respond to atheists and others who discuss the merits of their beliefs.

As I've said before in a [cough] slightly different context:

Poking peoples' emotions with a sharp stick is likely to make 'em squeal and it's no use pretending to be surprised.

But it also has to be remembered how often Gnus regale us with tales of how much more rational they are than theists.

If Gnus can be hurt so much by the anti-Courtier's Reply, then maybe they can at least take a moments' effort to consider what effect what they say has on others.


Wednesday, February 23, 2011


Being of Two Mouths

Casey Luskin is at it again.

He has a disingenuous rant on the supposedly disingenuous arguments of opponents to the latest version of the Undiscovery Institute's campaign to sneak religion into public school science classes ... the so-called "Academic Freedom" bills it has fomented across the country.

This is the part I found particularly amusing:

Despite the talking points of critics, academic freedom bills do not authorize or protect the teaching of creationism or any other religious viewpoint. ...

Such bills also typically contain a provision akin to the following:

The provisions of the Act shall only protect the teaching of scientific information, and shall not be construed to promote any religious or nonreligious doctrine, promote discrimination for or against a particular set of religious beliefs or nonbeliefs, or promote discrimination for or against religion or nonreligion.

Those who claim that academic freedom bills authorize the teaching of religion disregard the actual text of the bills. The plain text of the bill shows that it does not cover or protect the teaching of creationism or any other form of religion.

Riiight! We should believe 'em because it's in writing!

Oh, wait! ... "cdesign proponentsists"!

Monday, February 21, 2011


Stating It Plain

As if we didn't know already, Denise Sewell, in a letter to the editor in the Vallejo (California) Times Herald published February 21, 2011, says it loud and clear:

There are only two schools of thought regarding the beginnings of life. Either non-living chemicals organized themselves out of some primordial soup into self producing organisms -- i.e. evolution -- or life is the result of creation by Intelligent Design, i.e. God. So really, it is evolution vs. Genesis.

Now, if only the flacks at the Discoveryless Institute could be so honest ...

Sunday, February 20, 2011


Petty Principles

The ever ridiculous David Klinghoffer is spinning furiously to try to show that Intelligent Design Creationists are being "discriminated" against. Most of it is the same tripe that was floated in Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, embellished with two more recent claims.

One is Martin Gaskell, who was rejected, rightly or wrongly, for a job, a major component of which was to educate the public about science, because of his perceived denial of the science of evolution, a subject outside his field of expertise of astronomy. Gaskell has since landed an astronomy position at the University of Texas ... rather blunting the claim of scientific or academic discrimination. The other is David Coppedge, a young-Earth creationist, who is suing the Jet Propulsion Laboratory because he claims he was demoted and then fired/laid off because he was merely offering fellow employees ID materials. The JPL apparently thought he was proselytizing his coworkers and, to boot, being insubordinate by refusing to stop. There are not enough facts known yet to make a reasoned judgment on who is right ... but Klinghoffer has never let such a lack stand in his way before.

But this is what I find interesting:

Intelligent design presents scientific evidence that, over billions of years, an intelligent force guided life's evolution. Isn't that as incredible as biblical literalist creationism?

Saying so would require a thorough, searching examination of the arguments offered by intelligent-design theorists: the seemingly insurmountable problems posed to unguided evolution by considerations of population genetics, developmental biology, combinatorial inflation, ontogenetic information and more.
Notice the sleight of hand? Not a single iota of "scientific evidence that ... an intelligent force guided life's evolution" is cited. All that Klinghoffer offers is (alleged) evidence that "unguided evolution" has "seemingly insurmountable problems." Of course, evolutionary science does not claim that evolution was "unguided." Natural selection is, at least, a major "guide" of evolution. Obviously, what Klinghoffer means by "unguided" is "non-intentional."

In short, Klinghoffer, along with the rest of the Discovery Institute flacks, is committing the logical fallacy of a petitio principii ... assuming his conclusion that the conscious intent of an "intelligent" (i.e. supernatural) being is necessary to "guide" evolution. Absent that assumption, all the supposed "evidence" shows, at the very most, is that we don't yet understand everything about evolution. There's hardly a single evolutionary biologist who would deny that.

Saturday, February 19, 2011



Thanks to Ed Brayton at Dispatches from the Culture Wars, we now know of an endless source of amusement ... endless because there is hardly anything that O'Reilly can't explain.

Friday, February 18, 2011


Jumping Off the Cliffs of Dover

The Giles County (Virginia) School Board is about to "pull a Dover."

Rob Boston of Americans United for Separation of Church and State is at its blog, The Wall of Separation, pointing out that the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia and the Freedom From Religion Foundation have warned the district that they have plaintiffs lined up and are prepared to sue over the board's insistence on posting the 10 Commandments in all the district's schools.

The Washington Post's Higher Education column has a history of the brewing fracas:

Nearly 12 years ago, in the aftermath of the shootings at Columbine High School, officials quietly posted the Ten Commandments on the walls of Giles County public schools. It was a natural reaction, said residents of this rural county peppered with churches, to such an alarming moral breakdown.

There the commandments stayed, within nondescript frames that also featured the first page of the U.S. Constitution, stirring little controversy until December. That's when an anonymous complaint prompted the superintendent to order the removal of the displays. The decision sparked such passionate community backlash that the county school board voted to post them again in January.

The Associated Press is reporting that the school board took its action despite the advice of its own attorney that Christian displays represent unconstitutional government endorsement of religion.

Curious, I went looking for information and found what appears to be the official minutes of the school board meeting of January 20, 2011.

With the caveat that the minutes are not a transcript and some of the ideas of the proponents of the Commandment may have been garbled, it is fascinating nonetheless.

There is the usual "Christian Nation" bafflegab. The US is one nation under God (which comes from the Pledge of Allegiance, not any founding document, and only as it was amended in the 1950s) that just happens to be their God. One thing I was looking for but could not find is just which 10 Commandments they put up ... the Jewish, Orthodox, Roman Catholic/Lutheran or Anglican, et al?

And it is the children's God given right to have the state inveigle them with religious beliefs so their parents don't have to be bothered. But it's apparently working because some of the students had a letter read to the board claiming:

Taking down the Ten Commandments is like taking away the freedom of religion for all of us, not just students, not just the parents of these students, but future students. People that don’t believe in God do not have to participate in religious activities at our schools anymore because these have already been taken away. The Ten Commandments is a historical document that is held as a holy document as well to Christians, but first it is a historical document. By hanging the Ten Commandments in our schools, we are showing the history of our nation and what it was founded on, God. No one is forced to read this document.

Because, you see, it's the religious freedom of the majority to have the government make people who don't believe in gods or who believe in the "wrong" God feel like outsiders and second-class citizens. It is also the majority's right to keep the children in public schools ignorant of American history ... at least that is what they've obviously done in Giles County.

Then there was Eric Gentry, who stated he "grew up with prayer still in schools ... still had paddling, which I still think should be done ... [w]e turned out all right" but then went on to say:

Now let me speak to you as Eric Gentry, as a Chairman of the Board of Supervisors of Giles County. I talked to all of my board members last night and today. Don’t remove them. We are behind you. We would rather fight the ACLU or whoever would come up than have one anonymous coward who would not even sign the letter come in and tell us how to run our schools. I don’t know how it’s going to turn out and don’t know if it’s going to go that far, but you know you have our support as county people and citizens.”

Now, dollars to donuts, when Mr. Gentry took his oath of office, he swore, probably on a Bible, to uphold the Constitution of the United States. Apparently, all those prayers and paddlings didn't make him moral enough to fulfill his oath.

But this is the killer:

[School Board Chairman J.D.] Buckland stated that “no board member wanted to do this, but we have an attorney and he advised us. We do try to abide by the law and want our children to understand that there are laws in this country. This law comes from the federal court and we pay an attorney dear, but we have had an assurance from Giles County Board of Supervisors, and most people in this room, if a suit is filed, you will foot the bill, correct?”

So what the school board and the parents want their children to know is that the laws in this country apply unless you don't like them and, if so, you can safely ignore them as long as somebody else is going to pay the consequences.

Putting up the 10 Commandments is supposed to instill morals in the children. The adults of Giles County pretty much disprove that hypothesis.


Thursday, February 17, 2011


Well Done, Good and Faithful Servant

Zachary Kopplin has been getting a lot of good press lately.*

As Barbara Forrest explains:

On December 7, the day that the Student/School Performance and Support Committee (SSPS) of the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) voted to approve new biology textbooks, Zachary Kopplin's letter to the Shreveport Times was published: "La. students need proper scientific textbooks without creationism." Zack is a senior at Baton Rouge Magnet High School who assisted the Louisiana Coalition for Science in making the case to the SSPS Committee for approving the textbooks. (He also testified at the November 12, 2010, meeting of the Textbook/Media/Library Advisory Council.) As his senior project at school, he has chosen to mount an effort to have the Louisiana Science Education Act repealed. Readers of this website will be hearing much more about this effort in the near future.

Go to Zack's website and see if you can help.


* Here's some:

"Our views: Student backs good science," The Baton Rouge Advocate, December 28, 2010

"David v. Goliath: Louisiana Student Girds For Battle On Behalf Of Sound Science," The Wall of Separation, Americans United for Separation of Church and State blog, February 14, 2011

"Louisiana: Repeal the Creationism Law," Panda's Thumb, February 17, 2011

"High School Senior Leads Effort to Repeal Louisiana Anti-Evolution Law," Lauri Lebo, Religion Dispatches, February 17, 2011

"Campaign to Repeal Louisiana's Creationism Law," The Sensuous Curmudgeon, February 17, 2011

"This week in awesome: Zach Kopplin," Walter Pierce, The Independent Weekly, February 17, 2011

Wednesday, February 16, 2011


Reading Railroad

One Phil Drietz of Delhi, Wisconsin has been reading Scientific American but I don't he's been doin' it right.

The Sensuous Curmudgeon has already rained justifiable scorn on Mr. Drietz but there were a couple of points I thought were worth mentioning. Mr. Drietz asserts:

I have found that interwoven in all the neat science stuff there is a constant philosophical under-current in support of macro-evolution, old-age of the earth and universe, etc.

Most of it is the same ol' guff ... DNA has to be designed because it couldn't come about by "pure random additions of increasingly complex genetic information until we have things like the human brain." Of course, that just shows his deep ignorance of evolutionary theory and/or his confusion of "random" with "non-intentional."

And the discovery of soft "tissue" in a few dinosaur bones should, applying "parsimony," lead us to accept that the "simplest explanation for the data" is that "that the 67 million year radiometric generated figure is totally erroneous" ... even though that means that everything we know about subatomic physics, upon which all our our science of electronics, like the computer technology Mr. Drietz is using to display his ignorance for hundreds of millions to see, has to be completely wrong! Not to mention all of geology, cosmology, astrophysics, astronomy, etc., etc. One anomaly is supposedly enough to throw out all that! ... Parsimony, indeed!

But this is what I found funny/appalling:

Is it any wonder that in a recent survey of 900 high school biology teachers, only 28 percent were found to be teaching mainstream evolution effectively? The majority of teachers evidently know it's a philosophical viewpoint with no real science to support it, and so they try to ignore it or even teach intelligent design in place of it or with it.

We now know beyond a doubt that a segment of the "scientific community" has been lying to us about macro-evolution ...

Already, we know Mr. Drietz' reading skills are less than stellar ... only 13% of biology teachers are creationists who think there is no real science to support evolution. The other more or less 60% are, in one way or another, trying to avoid trouble with people like Mr. Drietz.

But, can anyone possibly confuse high school biology teachers with the scientific community?

Monday, February 14, 2011


Not-So-New Mexico

The poor kids!

A local school administrator commenting on the anti-science bill in New Mexico:

[Floyd Municipal Schools Superintendent Paul] Benoit said Floyd teachers present evolution as a concept but don't spend a great deal of time on it. Floyd students would be allowed to choose to study either side of the issue for projects and research papers, he said.

Sure. Give 'em credit in a science course for doing religious studies. And, of course, don't spend a great deal of time on one of, if not the, greatest ideas in science.

What do the little bastards expect? ... To be educated for anything better than flipping hamburgers?

Sunday, February 13, 2011


In the Land of Mary

It's nice to see a sane state legislator for a change, especially when it involves a bill that would legalize same-sex marriage in Maryland:

"I walked into committee and what I heard from the opposition to the bill was appalling," Brochin said. "It was disgusting. I heard that homosexuals and same-sex couples were androids. I heard that they were pedophiles. I just heard hate and venom coming out of that hearing for eight hours."

Previously, Brochin has opposed same-sex marriage bills. He cited use of the word "marriage" as a reason for his opposition. ...

"I'm not going to be part of the vilification of gays on the senate floor," Brochin said. "I'm uncomfortable with the word marriage; but I am much more uncomfortable with the vilification of gays and homosexuality."


Via Religion Dispatches


Accommodating Incompatiblism

This is interesting.

Russell Blackford is explaining "incompatiblism":

[A]nti-accommodationists note the way that religion needs to be constantly reinterpreted to maintain even logical consistency with our empirically-based secular knowledge. This process in itself leaves religious beliefs looking ad hoc and implausible.
But, wait a minute, doesn't science constantly reinterpret itself to maintain consistency with empirically-based knowledge?

So, is the complaint that those forms of theism that try to reconcile empirical knowledge and religious faith are being too damn much like science?


Saturday, February 12, 2011


Kansas vs. Darwin

The producers of the documentary Kansas vs. Darwin, about the 2005 kangaroo court hearings held by the creationist majority on the state board of education, that resulted in the board's "redefinition" of "science" and, ultimately, lead to the election defeat of enough of the majority members to bring the standards back to sanity, have made the film available free on the web for a limited time (until March 12th) in honor of Darwin's birthday.

It is a well done documentary where the protagonists were allowed to speak for themselves. Of course, the opponents of the changes to the draft standards produced by the educational experts were talking about science and the proponents, especially towards the end, were revealing their sectarian religious motives for the changes. Pedro Irigonegaray, the attorney who represented the pro-science side, while refusing compensation because the whole exercise was robbing money from the educational system that could be better spent on the state's children, was particularly impressive, even though the creationists thought him "rude" for asking witnesses pointed questions about their motives. A particularly notable moment was the juxtaposition of board member Connie Morris whining about being called stupid in "vulgar" terms while Irigonegaray was recounting the death threats he had received.

You can also catch a glimpse of Josh Rosenau of Thoughts from Kansas in the audience at around minute 63:15.

In any event, it's well worth the look and the video is so good that it can be watched comfortably in "full screen."


Pot. Kettle. Black.

Ooh! This is interesting!

Tom Ritter, the ridiculous, but unmotivated to lie, looney toons who is suing the Blue Mountain (Pennsylvania) School District for teaching evolutionary science, which he alleges is the same as teaching atheism, is claiming that the Discovery Institute has asked him to drop the lawsuit because he will lose.

The funny thing is that the equally ridiculous Casey Luskin is over at the Discovery Institute's Ministry of Misinformation complaining that Eugenie Scott, the executive director of the National Center for Science Education, was consulted by University of Kentucky faculty about Martin Gaskell's application to be director of its observatory. Luskin calls her "Chief of Darwinian Thought Police." It should be noted that Scott actually gave the UK faculty some good advice back then but Luskin is now complaining about her statements after the story of the lawsuit broke, when a lot more attention was paid to Gaskell's position on the science of evolution.

Of course, the DI has good reason to want Ritter to go away. Ritter also wants to abolish public schools and says things like:

What does unconstitutional mean? Checking the Supremacy Clause of Article 6 we find, "This Constitution...shall be the supreme law of the land..." In other words, anything done against the Constitution is against the law. And the proper term for something that is against the law is illegal, i.e. unconstitutional means illegal. Now someone or some organization that acts illegally is an outlaw, literally, acting outside the law. ...

Thus once parents of children protest that the public schools' charging no tuition infringes on their constitutional rights, the public schools are from that point on, acting illegally; they have become outlaws.

As Luskin admits in his article, he already has trouble being taken seriously. Having Ritter on his "side" can't help.

Be that as it may, it seems the DI has no problem being the Thought Police of the movement to evade the Constitution and sneak creationism into taxpayer funded schools.


Birthday Greetings!

A thought:

A famous Victorian story reports the reaction of an aristocratic lady to the primary heresy of her time: "Let us hope that what Mr. Darwin says is not true; but, if it is true, let us hope that it will not become generally known." Teachers continue to relate this tale as both a hilarious putdown of class delusions (as if the upper crust could protect public morality by permanently sequestering a basic fact of nature) and an absurdist homily about the predictable fate of ignorance versus enlightenment. And yet I think we should rehabilitate this lady as an acute social analyst and at least a minor prophet. For what Mr. Darwin said is, indeed, true. It has also not become generally known, at least in our nation. ...

The biblical Psalmist evoked our deepest fear by comparing our bodily insignificance with cosmic immensity and then crying out: "What is man, that thou art mindful of him?" (Psalm 8). But he then vanquished this spatial anxiety with a constitutional balm: "Thou hast made him a little lower than the angels . . . thou madest him to have dominion . . . thou hast put all things under his feet." Darwin removed this keystone of false comfort more than a century ago, but many people still believe that they cannot navigate our earthly vale of tears without such a crutch.

Denigration and disrespect will never win the minds (not to mention the hearts) of these people. But the right combination of education and humility might extend a hand of fellowship and eventually end the embarrassing paradox of a technological nation entering a new millennium with nearly half its people actively denying the greatest biological discovery ever made. ... Factual nature cannot, in principle, answer the deep questions about ethics and meaning that all people of substance and valor must resolve for themselves. ... [But] for sheer excitement, evolution, as an empirical reality, beats any myth of human origins by light-years. A genealogical nexus stretching back nearly 4 billion years and now ranging from bacteria in rocks several miles under Earth's surface to the tip of the highest redwood tree, to human footprints on the moon. Can any tale of Zeus or Wotan top this? When truth value and visceral thrill thus combine, then indeed, as Darwin stated in closing his great book, "there is grandeur in this view of life."

- Stephen Jay Gould, "Darwin's More Stately Mansion," I Have Landed: The End of a Beginning in Natural History

Friday, February 11, 2011


A New Day

Congratulations and best of luck.

You may need it.


Conservative Bias

Some interestingly juxtaposed links:

Massimo Pigliucci on a claim by University of Virginia cognitive scientist Jonathan Haidt that people holding to conservative values may be discriminated against in academia. Pigliucci notes:

A serious social scientist doesn't go around crying out discrimination just on the basis of unequal numbers. If that were the case, the NBA would be sued for discriminating against short people, dance companies against people without spatial coordination, and newspapers against dyslexics.
Bryan Fischer, the director of issue analysis for government and public policy at the American Family Association, recently argued that Native Americans lost their land and were forced onto reservations because they "continue to cling to the darkness of indigenous superstition" and refuse to come into "the light of Christianity" and assimilate "into Christian culture," which, apparently, includes "a right of conquest."

And, concerning the tizzy some Religious Right groups have been thrown into by GOProud being included at CPAC as a "participating organization," there is the amusingly suggestive boast by a GOProud activist that "we came out on top."

Monday, February 07, 2011


Coyne Is a Better Biologist Than Dobzhansky

Or so Jerry thinks ...

[T]heistic evolution, in which God has a role in the process, is not acceptance of evolution as we biologists understand it. So yes, the true biological view of evolution as a materialistic, unguided process is indeed at odds with most religions. Organizations that promote evolution, such as the National Center for Science Education (NCSE), prefer to avoid this critical point: all they care about is that evolution get taught in the schools, not whether believers wind up accepting the concept of evolution as it’s understood by scientists. ...

Poor Theodosius Dobzhansky didn't understand evolution the way real biologists ... like Coyne ... do.

Somebody here just doesn’t get it.


Sunday, February 06, 2011


The Burdens of Office

Ooh! I just watched Bill O'Reilly "interview" President Obama in the run-up to the Super Bowl.

Actually, it was O'Reilly doing his shtick ... rapid fire "questions" that are really political statements while interrupting the answers with further political statements. While "respect" for presidents and other politicians can be overdone, constantly interrupting the president mid-sentence is nothing but O'Reilly's rampant egotism ... thinking he is more important than the President of the United States.

I'm not into ESP but I think I could read the President's mind when O'Reilly asked "What's the worst part of the job?"

"Talking to assholes like you, Bill, talking to assholes like you ..."

Friday, February 04, 2011


Mooning Science

Is there a more ridiculous "public figure" today than Bill O'Reilly?

O'Reilly once used the Earth's tides as an example of how nature's complexities could only be explained by divine intervention. Then, a viewer dusted off his old earth science textbook and informed the Fox News host that the moon causes the tides. ...

The Fox News hosts asks -- and this is paraphrased: How'd the moon get there? How'd it get there? How'd it get there? And why doesn't Mars have a moon, hmm?? ... Why doesn't science have an explanation for the existence of the moon?

Ignorance as argument!

Oh, wait a minute! Glenn Beck, Michele Bachmann, Sarah Palin ...

Neeever mind!

Wednesday, February 02, 2011


PZ Philosophizes

PZ Megahertz has a (mostly) good rant on some inane arguments that atheists commonly float.

He goes wrong here, however:

The "I believe in no gods/I lack belief in gods" debate. I have heard this so often, the hair-splitting grammatical distinctions some atheists think so seriously important in defining themselves. All you're doing is defining yourselves as anal retentive freaks, people! Get over it. Either way, you're an atheist — and that goes for the over-philosophized fussbudgets who insist that they're agnostics, not atheists, because they aren't 100% positive there aren't any gods, only 99 44/100ths positive. Atheism is such a general club, and it's so easy to fall into the definition, that it's silly to sit around arguing about how close to the fence you're sitting.
First of all, PZ's post, whether he realizes it or not, is one long exercise in analyzing arguments and trying to drill down to their actual meaning and utility ... in other words, philosophizing. Whether he is 'over-philosophizing' is a matter of perspective. Certainly, denying the utility of philosophy while engaged in it yourself is the worst sort of anti-intellectualism.

And, of course, his claim that agnostics believe what they do only because they "aren't 100% positive there aren't any gods" is every bit as much an attempt to define agnostics by (his own) dictionary as the "Dictionary Atheists" he deplores, who are trying to ignore "the practice of atheism."

I am an "agnostic" because I don't believe that there is any human ability -- science, reason or any other -- that can address the question. I don't practice any religion because I see no evidence that it makes any difference to what goes on in the universe and, furthermore, I can't see how anything that I would consider a god would think it would matter whether or not I did. But I really, really, don't think I can know whether or not god exists. It is not that I demand 100% certainty before I'd consider atheism. As PZ says:

If I ask you to explain to me why you are an atheist, reciting the dictionary at me, you are saying nothing: asking why you are a person who does not believe in god is not answered when you reply, "Because I am a person who does not believe in god." And if you protest when I say that there is more to the practice of atheism than that, insisting that there isn't just makes you dogmatic and blind.
If PZ thinks that my failure to practice religion or my denying the possibility of knowledge about god is the same as atheism, how is that different than what the "Dictionary Atheists" do? If not, he'll have to do better to show that we agnostics are the same as atheists.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011


Not So Gnu and Different

I seem to have helped touch off another round of the accommodationist / incompatibleist wars.

Josh Rosenau and Jerry Coyne have been going at it and others are chipping in. The posts I've noticed so far:


Minor Coyne snark

The danger of certainty

Gnus can be gnice!

Accommodationist statements by scientific organizations
Others include Sean Carroll, Russell Blackford and Larry Moran.

As usual, there is much talking past each other.

I think Russell Blackford has, perhaps unintentionally, hit on the problem that we "accommodationists" see with the "incompatibleists." In defending Coyne, Russell says: the "anti-accommodationist camp ... see a genuine and serious difficulty in reconciling a worldview based on science and reason with worldviews based on religion." I agree!

But the question really is whether "a worldview based on science and reason" is the same thing as "science." I fully accept that the worldviews of Coyne, Blackford and the other Gnu Atheists are incompatible with religion of any sort ... and will fight for their right to express it. They do not, however, have a right to identify, particularly in public schools in America*, their worldviews with "science" ... any more than the IDers do.

If the Gnu Atheist "worldview" is not the same as "science," then how is it wrong to point out that science is not incompatible with all religious worldviews? In that regard, Coyne makes a strange claim. He begins:

My view, which is similar to that of people like P. Z. Myers and Larry Moran, is that the NCSE should stay away from what is essentially a theological pronouncement and stick to science itself. If they discuss religion at all, I think they should limit their words to something like, "There is a diversity of opinions about the compatibility of science and faith."

But then he cites as "accommodationist" statements those that include caveats such as:

The sponsors of many of these state and local proposals seem to believe that evolution and religion conflict. This is unfortunate. They need not be incompatible.

Acceptance of the evidence for evolution can be compatible with religious faith.

To be sure, disagreements do exist. Some people reject any science that contains the word "evolution"; others reject all forms of religion. The range of beliefs about science and about religion is very broad. Regrettably, those who occupy the extremes of this range often have set the tone of public discussions. Evolution is science, however, and only science should be taught and learned in science classes.

Clearly, Coyne is demanding more than that there be an acknowledgment of a diversity of opinions about the compatibility of science and faith ... either that, or he is incapable of reading.

The bottom line is that, if Coyne can dialogue with theists with respect, despite his differing worldview, then anyone, including science organizations, can dialogue with theists by recognizing the difference between worldviews and science.

I do agree with Coyne on one point: it is one thing for a science education organization to make broad statements that there may be a way to hold a religious worldview and still accept the results of science and quite another to have a "Faith Project," seemingly dedicated to making theological arguments for accepting science.


* A point Michael Ruse tried to make recently, though clumsily.


This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

. . . . .


How to Support Science Education