Thursday, February 4, 2016

Another poll from the Discovery Institute, oh boy, oh boy!

The Discovery Institute (DI) conducted another poll and, just like the last one, the poll came to a conclusion supporting the DI.  Wow, how incredible is that, two for two!

This time the poll was announced here: "For Darwin's Birthday, Poll Shows Broad Support for Teaching Evidence For and Against Darwin's Theory"  You might recall my issues with their last poll, ("A New 'Poll' conducted by the DI says what the DI says, what a surprise!"), where the main issue was how the questions being asked drove the answers in a certain direction.  Well, can't make that complaint this time since they failed to tell us exactly what they asked, they did put a couple of phrases within quotes, so I am going to assume those were the questions, or at least part of the questions.  They are:

  • "when teaching Darwin's theory of evolution, biology teachers should cover both scientific evidence that supports the theory and scientific evidence critical of the theory."
  • "biology teachers should cover only scientific evidence that supports the theory."
Before looking at their conclusion, let's look at the questions.  Pretty innocuous, aren't they?  But look at what the questions imply.  By asking this way they are implying that biology teachers are only considering pros of evolution, not the negatives and that the teachers are also engaging in some sort of cover-up by only teaching the scientific evidence.   What they fail to do is provide any actual context for the questions, yet imply things to lead the respondents in the direction they wish.  Here are a few contextual things that someone should know before answering the poll:
  • Did the DI mention how that in past 150 years, not a single Creationist, including the Discovery Institute, has managed to provide any evidence contradicting the theory of evolution?  Of course not, that wouldn't drive the poll in the direction they want.
  • Did they simply forget to mention that science classes are already encouraged to teach  pros and cons, providing those pros and cons are based on actual science.  No they didn't forget, they deliberately left that part out.
  • Are biology teachers even qualified to teach any non-scientific evidence?  Regardless of the fact non-scientific evidence would be nothing but conjecture and wishful thinking. 
  • Should they have mentioned who the DI is their agenda?  I think so!  It might have affected the result and not in a way the DI would have liked.
One other thing  . . . just what are the possible answers allowed by the poll?  I don't know and they don't tell you.  Often a simple 'yes' or 'no' actually makes the poll harder for people to understand because they don't fully allow people to express their opinion.  For example if a poll asked "Is it OK to yell 'Fire!' in a crowed movie theater?"  Yes or No!  It's impossible to use any data from this poll effectively.  Most people would answer something like "Yes, if there is an actual fire!", but the poll doesn't allow for that.  Go back to the questions themselves and imagine a simple "yes or no" option.  Can you think of things that would make such a simple answer to a complex question worthless?  I know I can!  I do wonder how many people surveyed did not respond on the basis of a lack of context?  Now that would be an interesting statistic.  The only thing claimed is a little over 2,000 respondents out of a pool of something like 6,000,000.  Hmmm, statistically not very significant.

Would the DI ever be guilty of these type of lawyer-word-games?  Let me take you back a few years.  Do you remember this:
"We are skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life. Careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged."
This is the text to a petition the DI put out back in 2001.  Look at the wording, it is fairly innocuous.  The wording can also take on multiple meanings.  By itself this statement doesn't imply issues with current evolutionary theory, but that was exactly how this little petition was used in 2001 and is still used today.  Here is a couple of different points of view on the DI's little petition:
"Southeastern Louisiana University philosophy professor Barbara Forrest and deputy director of the National Center for Science Education Glenn Branch comment on the ambiguity of the statement and its use in the original advertisement:
Such a statement could easily be agreed to by scientists who have no doubts about evolution itself, but dispute the exclusiveness of "Darwinism," that is, natural selection, when other mechanisms such as genetic drift and gene flow are being actively debated. To the layman, however, the ad gives the distinct impression that the 100 scientists question evolution itself."
(Wikipedia: Dissent from Darwinism)
The 'ad' mentioned was a reference to how this list of signatories was advertised in a number of prominent periodicals as a list of over 100 (That was back in 2001, since then they have managed to get over 800 signatories in recent years) scientific dissenters from what the DI called 'Darwinism.  We've talked about this list before, how the New York Times and the National Center for Science Education pretty well ripped it to shreds.  How the majority of the signatories had philosophical (religious) issues with evolution, not scientific ones.  How there were very few biologists, and many had their organizational affiliations inflated, or in the case of folks from the DI itself, hidden.  And how some of the scientists who signed the list didn't know what the DI was or how the list was going to be used.  Skip Evans, also of the National Center for Science Education, noted:
"that when interviewed, several of the scientists who had signed the statement said they accepted common descent. He thus suggests that this confusion has in fact been carefully engineered."(Wikipedia: Dissent from Darwinism)
'Carefully engineered'!  Sound familiar?  A fancy expression for marketing word games.  So, yes, the DI is very guilty of playing those games, and playing them often.  Remember the BS about calling ID a theory and then in the saem breath trying to compare it to an actual scientific theory?  Lots of word games!

Back to their poll, and here is their conclusion:
"Americans agree by an overwhelming margin that students should learn about all of the scientific evidence relating to Darwinian evolution, pro and con," said Dr. John West, Vice President of Discovery Institute.
Do they really?  Since when is 2,117 out of 6,000,000 an overwhelming margin?  Based on these numbers the only thing you can really say is an overwhelming majority did not respond.  If you look at the American population of 318,000,000 the 2,117 respondents start looking even less and less representative.  In addition we have no idea what audience group the DI targeted.  Don't forget, when you run a survey through Survey Monkey, you get to select the type of audience to aim the survey toward.  More information we don't have.  I will even go so far as to agree with the face-value statement I quoted from John West, with a slight wording change.  Students should learn all about the scientific evidence related to the Theory of Evolution.  But since that evidence would not include Creationism or Intelligent Design, I don't think that John really means just scientific evidence.

Here is my main takeaway.  Two things, since science classes already allow, and encourage, an examination of the scientific evidence, asking this as a poll question serves no purpose.  This does not indicate support for teaching Intelligent Design or even support for the pseudo-academic freedom bills like the LSEA.  If this conclusion were not associated with the DI, you might take it as face value, but since it was uttered by John West, you know there is a not-well-hidden agenda! My final takeaway, if the DI says it, you shouldn't place your trust in it!  After years of reading the foolishness that comes out of the DI, if they came out and said the sun rose this morning, I would still look outside to verify they aren't lying to me.

Based on their track record they would like me to believe the sun rose due to the actions of a sort-of unnamed Deity designer that we need to pay homage to with our every waking breath.  Sorry, Johnnie . . . the reason the sun 'rose' is due to a number of factors, chief among them is gravity . . . which is a fact and also a scientific theory.

Monday, January 25, 2016

A New 'Poll' conducted by the DI says what the DI says, what a surprise!

Since the United Methodist Church (UMC) has seen fit to not allow the Discovery Institute to present their marketing material at their General Conference, the DI has been quite vocal about it.  Multiple press releases and posts about their 'banning'.  Now they have hit a new low . . . which before today I wouldn't have believed possible.  I really should know better by now.

A new post on their Evolution 'news' and Views site looks like this:


What the headline forgot to tell you is that Discovery Institute itself conducted the poll.  That raised a question, or several, for me.  The reason is simple, polling, like any human endeavor, can be twisted and spun to produce the results that you want, and the DI are masters of the spin!  A lot depends on what question you ask and who you ask.  I recall a bad joke from years ago, you ask someone "So, when did you stop beating your spouse?"  Of course how you answer that question can be taken a number of different ways.  But no matter what, it immediately puts one on the defensive, intentionally so.

Here is the question that got asked:
"The United Methodist Church recently banned a group from renting an information table at the Church’s upcoming general conference because the group supports intelligent design—the idea that nature is the product of purposeful design rather than an unguided process. Some have criticized the ban as contrary to the United Methodist Church’s stated commitment to encourage “open hearts, open minds, open doors.” Rate your level of agreement or disagreement with the following statements:
  • The United Methodist Church should not have banned an intelligent design group from renting an information table at its conference. 
  • The United Methodist Church’s ban on the intelligent design group seems inconsistent with the Church’s stated commitment to encourage “open hearts, open minds, open doors.” "
Now, if anyone has used Survey Monkey, you know they do not write the survey questions and the possible responses.  They are simply the medium by which surveys can be asked.  They also let you define the type of audience you are trying to reach.  The wording and audience for this is straight from the DI!  Yes, that makes a difference.

But this is quite a long question, but please note the wording.  First of all, they use the word 'banned'.  That tells me which way they want the result skewed.  Anyone, especially people who aren't familiar with the nefarious marketing methods of the DI, would not like the term 'banned', it creates an instant negative connotation.  Many people would automatically vote in opposition to it regardless of the rest of the question simply because of the word 'banned'. 

But did the UMC actually 'ban' the DI?  No, they simply said that this time, the first they have considered outside exhibitors, that the DI couldn't have a table.  Can they, the DI, apply at the next one?  Certainly.  Did they issue some proclamation?  No, the UMC simply said, 'No!' and only for their General Conference.  The UMC holds many meetings at many levels, the DI is certainly free to try and horn in on one of those.  But for this General Conference, the answer is 'No!'  Of course we know how much the DI likes hearing that.

They sort of left out a few things, things that might have framed the question within a very different context:
  • Did the question mention the UMC's stand on supporting real science?  Or that the UMC is a supporter of the Clergy Letter Project?  Which means the UMC already rendered judgement on ID, and that was also something the DI didn't like.
  • Did it mention that Intelligent Design is considered by the rest of the world to be pseudo-science?  That might have had the respondents seeing things differently.
  • Did they forget to mention that the definition the say for ID is not their complete definition, just the soft-soap one, sort of the pablum-version?  Wikipedia defines ID as "is the pseudoscientific view that "certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection."  That certainly reads a bit differently, doesn't it.
  • Now they did mention "Some have criticized the ban  . . .", but did they mention who that 'Some' were?  Guess who they are?  The criticisms I have been able to find, to the tune of multiple posts and press releases, are from the DI itself, or people who already support the DI.  Funny how they forgot to mention that little detail.
 Don't you love how they worked in their main whine, the supposed stated commitment of the UMC, "open hearts, open minds, open doors".  Funny how come I can't find that commitment on the UMC's website?  Sounds like a slogan of sorts.  But of course the DI wants to see it used as if it were carved in stone.  

So suppose it is the UMC's commitment, does that mean the DI should be allowed a table?  Again, let's take into account that the UMC is against teaching Creationism is their schools.  They formalized this doctrine back in 2008.  In other words, they've already considered Creationism/ID and they have already rejected it.  They 'opened their minds' and came to a conclusion and decided it was not for them.  So does the DI expect everyone who has rejected it to have an open door policy based on the words of a slogan?  Not very reasonable . . . but then the DI is never reasonable when they aren't getting their way.

OK, to sum things up.  The DI conducted a poll which, to no surprise, tilted in the way the DI wanted it to tilt.  They are now publicizing the results of their poll while completely disregarding the context of the discussion.  In fact the only way you know they were the ones who did the poll is the read much further down in the article.

I started a poll at Survey Monkey.  I would be curious as to the results.  I did this off-the-cuff and have no intention to pay Survey Monkey for passing the survey out to a defined audience.  But I hope the results are fun to talk about anyway.

My survey looks a little different. First I set the context of the survey:
"The United Methodist Church (UMC) is an endorser of the Clergy Letter Project which takes a stand for science and against supernatural causation. Recently the UMC decided not to allow an organization, The Discovery Institute, from sponsoring a table at the General Conference. Just so you know, the Discovery Institute is an organization dedicated to replacing current science with what they call 'theistically-friendly' science, in direct opposition to what the UMC stands for."
Then I asked two questions:
  • Does the United Methodist Church have an obligation to allow the Discovery Institute to sponsor a table at their general conference?
  • Is Intelligent Design a viable alternative to Evolutionary Theory? Intelligent Design is defined as "is the pseudoscientific view that "certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection." (Wikipedia)
Again, please drop by and take my very unscientific survey.  If nothing else, we might get a laugh.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Why would the Discovery Institute call it 'Censorship'

A few hours ago I posted "Is anyone actually censoring the Discovery Institute?", a post about how no one is actually censoring the Discovery Institute (DI), just presenting an opposing view.  One of my acquaintances read it and dropped me a line that asked "If they aren't being censored, why do they call it censorship?"  Rather than answer it in an email, I am going to address it in a post.  I do highly encourage people to leave comments instead of emails.  That way we can have an exchange in the open.  But that being said, why in the world would an organization like the Discovery Institute call opposition censorship?

Simple answer, it's all about perception.  You see if the DI complained about someone, pretty much anyone, airing an opposition viewpoint, people who call their complaining -- whining.  I mean how can you argue about an opposing view with any teeth in it and not come off as nothing but a whiner?  But . . . if you can build a perception that the person, or group, expressing an opposing view is doing something else, then you have a chance of gaining some level of public support.  So by categorizing people like Jerry Coyne and Neil deGrasse Tyson as censors, they are trying to create an automatic negative perception.  After all everyone knows censorship is usually considered a bad thing, right?

Actually this is a pretty common tactic.  I mean what negative activity of the last century and a half has the DI been trying to associate with Darwin and the Theory of Evolution?  How about all of them!  The obvious one is the association their pet pseudo-historians are always trying to sell is blaming the Nazi's, Word War II, and the Holocaust on Darwin and the Theory of Evolution.  After all, everyone knows the Nazis were bad, so if anyone buys into their bogus connection, it casts Darwin in a negative light.  Of course, it's all marketing.

But it's not just big things, last year in the post that awarded Tyson their 'Censor of the Year' award, they actually tried to blame a shooting in NC on the fact the shooter was an apparent atheist, actually calling him a militant atheist and reminded that he

" . . . is accused of murdering three Muslim students. Since the triple slaying is potentially explosive in an international context, social and other media are abuzz with analysis of the man's views on religion."
So therefore Atheism = violence, so being a theist is a good thing, right?   But . . . if you read the article giving that dubious honor to Tyson, why would an atheist who committed murder be a candidate for censor of the year?  They bring it up, but never support their supposed thinking.  What it looked like they were trying to do is make a connection between Tyson and his less-than-flattering comments during Cosmos about religion and violence done by an apparent atheist.  Did they address Tyson's comments about some of the negative impact religion and religious organizations have had on science?  No, it's easier to make a connection between Tyson and a murderer, you get more mileage out of that.  Even if they deny that was their intention, writing the post the way they did makes the connection for some people.

The DI are masters at Public Relations and Marketing.  Anyone who says something negative about the DI or Intelligent Design is automatically a target.  Do you remember little gem from 2006: "Canadian Quilters Attack Intelligent Design" from Evolution 'News' and Views and "“ID is a Myth” Quilt Wins National Contest" from Uncommon Descent.  Yes, a quilter . . . a single quilter did a quilt that made fun of Intelligent Design . . . and she is suddenly part of a cabal of Canadian Quilters who are attacking ID.  See my point?  They can't even allow someone to make a little fun of their pet version of Creationism without trying to gain some PR mileage out of it.  A humorous quilt is suddenly an attack!

That's why the DI calls Jerry Coyne and Neil deGrasse Tyson their 'censors of the year'.  It's because it offers them a PR opportunity.  Jerry and Neil did nothing that can be remotely called censorship . . . . unless you change the definition of censorship to the airing of an opposing view.  That's also why they complain about the lack of adoption of ID as an opposing view to evolution as a matter of free speech and academic freedom.  It has nothing to do with the lack of science supporting ID, no that wouldn't be something they can whine about.  But if they accuse people of denying free speech and schools going against academic freedom, they can market more and more.  The minor detail that no one is abrogating their right to free speech and that pseudo-science isn't covered under academic freedom having absolutely nothing to do with it makes no difference to them, it's all marketing.  There are plenty of examples:
  • They want ID to be treated as a theory, so instead of doing any actual science, they simply market it as fait accompli and dare anyone to claim it's not a theory.  Of course they forget to use the definition of a scientific theory, but why let details get in the way of their 'reality'.  
  • Guillermo Gonzalez doesn't get tenure at ISU and it must be because of his support for ID, not because he failed in his duties, again why bother with facts!  
  • Nathaniel Abraham gets fired from his job as an evolutionary biologist can't possibly be because of his refusal to do his job, it must be because he supports Creationism/ID.  
  • David Coppedge get fired as part of a downsizing and it must be because he supports ID.  His appeal and lawsuit denied because of him trying to use his workplace to force his religious beliefs on his co-workers and there were numerous complaints.  Again, facts . . . the DI doesn't need them!
  • Can't get your pseudo-science published in real scientific journals, so just open your own journal and redefine peer-review to mean 'having a group of people who already agree with your religious ideas say nice things'.  The minor detail that real peer-review and your pseudo-peer-review have nothing in common matters not at all.
  • Look at the recent debacle they are crying about, the United Methodist Church denying them a table at the UMC's General Conference, something well within their rights to do, especially given their support for actual science.  It's called a 'banning' in a multitude of posts on any site where the DI has influence.
Hopefully now you understand why the DI would call opposing views as censors.  A couple of last thoughts.  Since the DI hasn't been able, or apparently willing, to substantiate ID with anything resembling science, they have nothing other than marketing.  Which could also explain why they have so few scientists working there.  It's mostly lawyers and philosophers.

It also explains why when I read anything coming from a DI-related source, like Evolution 'News' and Views, I try and investigate the real source of the issues.  The DI has proven over and over again that they have no credibility when presenting anything that it will even resemble objectivity.  I mean Canadian Quilters on the attack?  Seriously!

Is anyone actually censoring the Discovery Institute?

It's coming up on Feb 12th, a day referred to as Darwin Day.  Wikipedia calls Darwin Day:

"a celebration to commemorate the anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin on 12 February 1809. The day is used to highlight Darwin's contribution to science and to promote science in general. Darwin Day is celebrated around the world." (Wikipedia: Darwin's Day)
Of course, you know the Discovery Institute (DI) doesn't celebrate Darwin the way the rest of the world does.  They try and co-opt the day and celebrate what they call "Censor of the Year".  While Darwin Day celebrations go back pretty far, sporadically since 1882.  The DI's version is only a few years old.  But before discussing that, I would like to discuss Censorship.  I have a feeling that the DI's idea of censorship and the rest of the world is quite a bit different . . . just like Feb 12th. is celebrated differently.

Just to start on a level playing field, here is the dictionary definition of Censor:
"a person who examines books, movies, letters, etc., and removes things that are considered to be offensive, immoral, harmful to society, etc." (Merriam-Webster: Censor)
We have all seen the effects of censorship.  Prior to a film's release, it gets edited to conform to rules concerning objectionable material.  During wartime, correspondence to and from people within the war zone was censors to prevent the release of sensitive material.  When I was stationed in the Republic of Korea, I purchased albums . . . yes, actual vinyl . . . that were censored by the South Korean government to eliminate objectionable material.  Based on all that, I have a question, just who is censoring the Discovery Institute?

I know they have accused two people as their 'Censor of the Year' previously, and they are currently looking for nominations for this year.  But, based on history, are they being censored?  Is someone taking their publications and videos and removing anything?  No, no one is.  If that was so, don't you think they would be raising an actual hue-and-cry, instead they are inventing things to cry about?

The two previous 'winners' for 'censor of the year' are Jerry Coyne and Neil deGrasse Tyson.  Coyne's 'crime' was encouraging Ball State University to stop teaching Intelligent Design.  That's not exactly true.  What Ball State University did was stop teaching Intelligent Design as if it was science.  Not that you would expect the DI to get the facts straight.  They used their usual tactics, claiming that the University was violating 'Academic Freedom', but as we, and many others have said, actual academic freedom does not include teaching pseudo-science is if it was science.  They certainly targeted Coyne, more as sore-losers than anything else.

But before moving on to Tyson, what is the evidence that Jerry Coyne censored the Discovery Institute?  None at all.  It seems that the DI wants to ability to say whatever they want, but when anyone voices any form of opposition, that's not free speech, but censorship!  How Marie Antoinette of them!  It is not censorship to speak out against something.  Like I said earlier, the DI and the rest of the world have a different definition of censorship.  No one is stopping them from giving presentations, releasing videos, or publishing articles and books.  What they are upset about it that no one is buying into their marketing efforts which means mainline scientific conferences, actual science journals, and most university science programs ignore them.  That's not censorship!  You have to earn your place in science, and to date, marketing is not science.

Now, what did the DI claim Neil deGrasse Tyson did to offend them?  He hosted  the updated Carl Sagan series Cosmos.  Yes, the DI didn't like Cosmos, why?  I'm sure they had lots of reasons, but their main objections seems to be that several segments dealt with some of religions' negative impacts on scientific inquiry.  Of course while they officially claim not to be a religious organization, this shouldn't have bothered them.  But since we all know that's not true, I bet it really aggravated them.  Tyson also had, what I considered, an epic take down of Bill O'Reilly (You know, the Ann Coulter for people who cannot read)  when he said "God is an ever receding pocket of scientific ignorance"
So, once again I would like to ask the DI, just what censorship did Neil deGrasse Tyson do against the DI?  There doesn't seem to be much evidence of censorship at all, just opposition.

So I think we now have a pretty good idea of what the DI calls 'censorship', it is saying anything that the DI doesn't like.  Based on that, I am willing to bet the United Methodist Church will be one of the nominations.  I would have to assume that folks like PZ Meyrs, Larry Moran and Jerry Coyne are perennial nominees.  So will they be predictable, or will they really piled on the silly crap on some other unsuspecting 'honoree'.  I know I won't be, my little corner of the web just doesn't have the readership to really get their goat.  I can only hope that one day I might be so awarded!  That would be fun!

So there we have it.  While the rest of the world celebrates Darwin Day, including many Darwin-centric presentations in Church Pulpits from many of the signatories of the Clergy Letter Project.  The DI will be spinning up a new set of lies against someone who isn't censoring them, just exhibiting some vocal and visible opposition to their version of Creationism.  Whoever they are, I hope they pay as much attention to it as it deserves, nothing at all.

Friday, January 22, 2016

I guess "under fire" doesn't mean what the Discovery Institute wishes it meant.

A few days back I posted about "The Discovery Institute (DI) Doesn't get Invited to the Really Good Parties" about how the DI wanted to have a table at the United Methodist Church (UMC) General Meeting and they said 'No!'.  The DI, in a host of postings and press releases claimed that the UMC was "under fire" for banning them from their general meeting.

Well, I guess 'under fire' means that the DI is whining into a vacuum, because they don't seem to be getting any traction in raising a groundswell of popular support to force the UMC to change their minds.  Although, in my opinion changing their minds would be tantamount to losing theirs, I was hoping they would hold their ground and keep the DI at a distance.  So far the only fire that seems to be lit is the one under posters from the DI themselves.  Since the 18th of January, they have had 10 posts on their Evolution 'News' and Views site about this subject, that's more than half their output for that period . . . plus that doesn't even count the posts at their blog Uncommon Descent and formal press releases.  My, my, they have been very busy.

Well, it seems there has been some external reaction, but it's not what the DI had hoped.  And by 'external' I mean other than people who already buy into the DI's marketing.  For example here is a link to an article in Christian Today, "Prejudice or principle? Why the UMC banned Intelligent Design from its annual conference".  I think the article summed up the situation very well and in the end said (I added the underlines):

"The UMC appears to have taken the view that giving a platform – no matter how small – to a view as mistaken as this undermines the credibility of the gospel because it encourages people to believe things that aren't true. Building a faith around falsehood is putting people's souls in peril. 
The Discovery Institute may not like it, but the UMC is surely right to stand its ground."
Simply and quite succinctly stated.  Not only does the UMC have the right to exclude any outside exhibitor from exhibiting pseudo-science that is contrary to their viewpoint, but the fact this particular exhibitor would actually undermine the credibility of what they believe should also give them the responsibility to do exactly what they have done.

Of course the DI won't accept that.  They are still screaming at the top of their lungs how unfair the UMC is being for excluding them simply because their pet ideas are considered a falsehood by the UMC.  Funny, how come their definition of fairness seems to be "I have the right to do as I wish, but you do not have the right to do as you wish!"

Here is a post from John G. West, one of the powers-that-be at the DI: "If Intelligent Design Is Based on Science, Why Are We Focusing on the United Methodist Church?"  Two things come to mind when I read it,  first of all, is the UMC General Conference the place for any discussion of ID?  Since I believe, and I might be wrong, the General Conference is primarily a business meeting, I do not see this as the right venue.  Maybe it is, since it was at a General Conference when they decided to support the Clergy Letter Project, but that was a business decision and did not specifically address ID.  But that does tell me the DI should have been trying to get in the door back then, they are way behind the power curve waiting until now.

But the second, and more important, thing I see is that I believe the UMC answered Johnnie's question very clearly.  The UMC has not bought into his [the DI's] marketing strategy of being based on science.  I know, Johnnie probably finds that hard to believe, especially with the amount of other people's money he has spent on hiding their religious beliefs, but, Johnnie, the UMC doesn't believe you . . . and by the way neither do over 13,000 clergy and the members of every major science organization in the world.  I realize that won't stop you from your marketing, but I think the message is pretty clear. 

In case you haven't gotten that message, let's keep it simple -- the UMC believes your message to be a falsehood and 'Building a faith around falsehood is putting people's souls in peril.'  You might want to consider that.  You won't, but you should.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Kennie Ham is Pissed!

You gotta love it.  While I didn't predict how nasty he would get, I was waiting for little kennie ham to respond to the Newsweek article I posted about in "Newsweek looks at Ham's Folly 2" and he finally did.  Tracey Moody over on Pathos saw it before I did, "Ken Ham is Wrong; Newsweek’s Article About His Noah’s Ark Theme Park was Accurate" and James McGrath linked to her post on Facebook.  You really have to read Tracey's post, she's been tracking AiG and the ark park in far more detail than I have.  But, you know me, I had to read kennie's response.

Oh, is he pissed off.  I did say that his delayed response might have been to let his blood pressure drop a bit.  I don't think it reached normal when he penned this up, "Newsweek or “News-Weak”?"  At first he tries to blame the report on his ark park as part of an overall editorial bias when covering Christian news items.  Little kennie LIES about following the legal hiring laws of a for-profit business wanting State incentives . . . and when called on it, it's a biased against all Christianity in the news?  Really, kennie?  Regardless of whether or not such a bias exists it doesn't address the issues the article raised.

After that spitball, he denigrates their journalistic integrity and compared Newsweek to British tabloids and claimed the reporter was a commentator more than an actual reporter.  Oh yea!  Little kennie is having a tantrum!  I can even picture him laying on his back kicking his feet and waving his arms!  Now there is a mental image I could do without.  When is someone going to invent 'brain floss'?  The reporter, who he doesn't even bother naming, has a Masters degree in publishing and magazine writing from Emerson College.  Lindsay Tucker is her name and while kennie might not ever say it, I think it's a name he will never forget!

Then he quotes a bit of scripture and rationalizes what he's done based on his fairy tale estimates of attendance at his newest ministry.  As reported a couple of years back, the Creation 'Museum' is in trouble due to declining attendance.  It's also been reported that for the past 4 years, attendance continually drops and that the estimates for ark park keep being adjusted down AND that ark park officials inflated attendance projections . . . yes, those are the projections little kennie is counting on to not drop a big bill on the taxpayers of Kentucky.  See what I mean by a fairy tale!  Then he really loses it with this:

"Noah’s Ark was a vessel of salvation and today we are using it as a picture of salvation in Jesus Christ. Those who went through the door to the Ark over 4,300 years ago were saved. On the other hand, the Titanic ended up being a vessel of death and those like Bill Nye who reject the modern-day Ark of Salvation, Jesus Christ, will sadly experience what the Bible calls a “second death”: eternal separation from the Lord Jesus Christ. AiG is building the Ark to do our best to throw a “life jacket” to people like the Newsweek commentator and Bill Nye so they will be saved from the Titanic of death." 
And here we have the  . . . last refuge  . . . the threat!  Here is the most incomprehensible part of kennie's belief set, if you don't fall in line, you experience "second death".  Of course, most Christians and Christian Scholars debate exactly what that means, but you know kennie, he's going to cherry picks the parts of the Bible he likes and prefers the whole fiery lake of burning sulfur second death from Revelations.  Yes, that's how you keep people in line, you threaten them with stories.

As an afterthought, little kennie's editor 'explained' why kennie was extremely rude when meeting with the reporter, claiming the reason kennie didn't stand to greet her was because he has chronic back problems.  Maybe it's the Aussie in him, but when I have a condition making me act rude, I always explain it to the person there and then instead of something excusing it after the fact.  But then I guess I was raised differently and aren't I glad!.

The Discovery Institute (DI) Doesn't get Invited to the Really Good Parties

If you remember back in 2009 the Vatican sponsored a five day conference to mark the 150th anniversary of the publication of Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species. The subject was the compatibility of evolution and creation. The Discovery Institute was not invited and they were quite unhappy about it.  They made their normal marketing spin on it, claiming that their pet idea, Intelligent Design (ID), was misrepresented . . . which I found funny since the conference hadn't happened before the DI started spinning.  But in any case, the DI wasn't invited.

Well, this time around it's not the Vatican but the Methodists who are annoying the DI.  They are holding a General Conference, and they aren't going to let the DI sponsor an ID information table during their conference.  As I am sure you can guess, the DI is not happy about it.  I caught this from one of my favorite bloggers, The Sensuous Curmudgeon, "Discovery Institute Banned by Methodists".  

If you didn't know, The United Methodist Church (UMC) is an endorser of the Clergy Letter Project.  I haven't written about the Clergy Letter Project in a while so here is a quick reminder in the form of part of the Letter signed by over 13,000 Christian clergy:

"We believe that the theory of evolution is a foundational scientific truth, one that has stood up to rigorous scrutiny and upon which much of human knowledge and achievement rests. To reject this truth or to treat it as “one theory among others” is to deliberately embrace scientific ignorance and transmit such ignorance to our children."
There is also a similar letter endorsed by Rabbis, Unitarians, and Buddhists.  Well, back to the subject at hand.  The DI wanted to have an information table at the annual UMC General Conference and the Methodists said "No!".  Well they might not have used that exact word, but that is certainly the result.  So what does the DI do when they are unhappy?  They whine!

But they don't just whine, they spin!  They posted blog entities and press releases claiming that the UMC is under fire for banning the DI from their conference.  The spin is pretty serious, Bruce Chapman, John G. West, davey 'klingy' klinghoffer, pseudo-historian Michael Flannery and Donald McLaughlin all had things to say about it.  They sure spun up the PR machine in a hurry!  So far the only 'fire' seems to be coming from the DI.  If they were after some groundswell of support, they missed.  They even created a web page listing contact information for leaders within the UMC asking their supporters to "TAKE ACTION: Urge United Methodist Officials to Overturn Ban on Discovery Institute at General Conference".  It's all over Facebook as well, the DI begging for help.  Most of the comments are less than helpful :-).  Still no sign of that groundswell, but it is early days.  I would be willing to wager the majority of comments supporting the DI comes from people who already are associated with the DI and enjoy drinking their kool-aid.

I, being the person that I am, went to their take action page, copied the email addresses for a number of UMC leaders and sent them an email of support!  In fact I encourage you to do the same: 
Ms. Judi Kenaston, Chair, UMC Commission on the General Conference
Bishop Michael Coyner, President, UMC General Council on Finance and Administration
Bishop Warner H. Brown, President, UMC Council of Bishops
Bishop Bruce R. Ough, Chair, UMC Connectional Table
The Rev. Amy Valdez Barker, Executive Secretary, UMC Connectional Table
Here are their email addresses more suitable for cut&paste: 
JudiKenaston@aol.com, bishop@inumc.org, bishop@calnevumc.org, bishop@dkmnareaumc.org, avaldez_barker@umc.org
Go for it, let the Methodists know how you feel about their 'banning' the DI.

Another thing, of course the DI spins, but I really dislike how they are spinning this.  They are claiming that the Methodists are violating their own slogan: "Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors."  Does their slogan really mean that every point of view, especially ones you disagree with, should be allowed in the General Conference?  You know, I might have to defend the right of a group like the KKK or NAMBLA to have free speech, but does that mean I should be required to support their efforts?  Think about it.  Letting the DI have a table would be a form of tacit approval of their position.  The UMC has already made their disapproval known, why would they bother letting the DI push their viewpoint?

Does this particular spin sound familiar?  Remember how the DI has this habit of re-defining things for their own advantage?  Their complaint that teaching ID should be allowed based on Academic Freedom, when actual academic freedom has nothing to do with teaching pseudo-science as if it was science.  How about the tactic 'Teach the Controversy', and by 'controversy' they obviously mean something they dreamed up that doesn't actually exist in scientific circles.  Or the abortive 'It's only a Theory', where they bait and switch the definitions of 'theory' in order to confuse folks.  Yes, this type of spin is simply one of their marketing schemes.

According to the DI's John G. West, one of the reasons put forth by the UMC is:
"Discovery Institute was rejected for violating a policy that conference exhibits "are not to provide a platform to survey or test ideas; rather, to provide products / services / resources which are credible and proven" to help church ministries"
To be honest, that makes perfect sense to me, is Creationism/ID credible and proven?  Certainly not very credible and also not having any evidence to support it.  I guess the UMC should make room for the psychics table, the tarot card reader, and the parapsychologists as well.  After all those groups have as much credibility and proof as the DI has for ID.

The UMC already stated that they opposing the introduction of any faith-based theories such as Creationism or Intelligent Design into the science curriculum of their schools.  While the DI continues to deny it, they are a faith-based organization pushing a form of Creationism into schools.  This is the group who wrote a lesson plans for teachers to use questioning evolution and introducing ID, who 'helped' the Dover School Board in their efforts to bring Creationism back into the classroom, and the same organization who lied about support for ID when petitioning the Ohio School Board back in 2002.  That's only a few of their tactics of mistakes, there are many, many more!

I applaud the UMC for sticking to it's guns.   The DI isn't welcome and that should be the end of it.  After all, the UMC is a private organization and should have to ability to select what groups get represented at their conferences!

Does anyone ever try and horn into a DI sponsored event?  Not that I ever heard.  DI sponsored events are usually to an audience of people who already believe in their snake oil, as we wrote about in "So there is nothing religious about ID? Part V".  They seem to stack the deck when they hold one of their mutual admiration meetings.  That particular example was supposed to be a conference on the Science and God debate . . . and yet not only was no one from the scientific community invited, neither were any theologians.  It was four members of the DI presenting their views, a biochemist, a philosopher, a lawyer, and a political scientist.  Talk about stacking the deck!

Imagine the hue and cry if the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) or Secular Students of America (SSA) wanted to attend one of the DI's Summer Seminars . . . oh wait, look at the Admission Requirements for those seminars (my underlining):
"You must be currently enrolled in a college or university as a junior, senior, or graduate student. Required application materials include (1) a resume/cv, (2) a copy of your academic transcript, (3) a short statement of your interest in intelligent design and its perceived relationship to your career plans and field of study, and (4) either a letter of recommendation from a professor who knows your work and is friendly toward ID, or a phone interview with the seminar director." (Summer Seminar on Intelligent Design in the Natural Sciences)
Gee, they assume they have the right to filter attendees for one of their revival meetings, but refuse to allow other groups the same privilege!  They not only want to have their cake and eat it too, they want to have your cake to eat as well. 

Monday, January 18, 2016

What do Creationists and Anti-Vaxxers Have in Common?

Apparently a complete disregard for the facts.

We've written many times about how Creationists, for many reasons, disregard the factual support for evolution.  While they tend to make-up all sorts of rationalizations, the basics are that they deny that factual support.  While they often cloak their denial-ism under various guises, the fact that evolutionary theory doesn't support their deeply held philosophical (religious) beliefs, so they refuse to accept the evidence.  Michael Behe did exactly that during the Dover Trial, little kennie ham did it during his 'debate' with Bill Nye, the Science Guy.  Denial of facts is an important tactic, particularly when you cannot refute those facts.

It seems anti-vaxxers work the same way.  Recently the University of Woollongong awarded a PhD in Philosophy to Judy Wilyman who uses the same tactic, a complete disregard of the facts.  I first heard about it from PZ Myers over on Pharyngula and then I caught it on several other sites, including Alison Campbell's BioBlog.  Alison said something that rang a bell with me:

"Universities do value diversity and freedom of opinion (it would be a sad state of affairs if they did not), but that opinion should be evidence-based. Academic freedom (another phrase aired in this and similar contexts) is not the freedom to say whatever one likes, whenever one likes, without considering the quality of the opinions being expressed." (BioBlog: freedom of opinion has its place, but this phd thesis goes too far)
It's been another common tactic of the Creationists, such as the Discovery Institute.  Claiming that academic freedom requires, no, demands that alternative views to evolution be taught.  But, like this situation, it is not academic freedom when you are expressing unsupported opinion as if they were as valid as actual research.  A quote attributed to Daniel Patrick Moynihan says a great deal:
"Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts."
Not only did she [Wilyman] create her own facts, but she refused to entertain anything that conflicts with her viewpoint:
"Peter McIntyre, director of the National Centre of Immunisation Research and a WHO adviser, said he had offered to discuss the research with Ms Wilyman but found her “not willing to entertain” evidence contrary to her views." (BioBlog: freedom of opinion has its place, but this phd thesis goes too far)
One of my concerns is what will happen next with the thesis.  As Alison also said:
" But the thesis is highly likely to be held up by organisations such as the 'Australian Vaccination Network' and the 'Vaccine Resistance Movement' as evidence that vaccines are not only useless but in fact bad for us. If this then results in a drop in vaccination rates, then vaccine-preventable diseases will increase in frequency in the community: this is just what happened in the UK after the publication of the now-retracted report that linked MMR vaccination with autism."
(BioBlog: freedom of opinion has its place, but this phd thesis goes too far)
Yes, here in the States we have seen an uptick in diseases that used to be pretty much eradicated.  Most often the source can be traced back to families following the 'medical' advice of people like Jenny McCarthy and refusing to have their children vaccinated.  Andrew Wakefield, the one-time doctor who authored the now retracted report Alison mentioned, is still doing business as an anti-vaxxer activist.  ABC news reported:
"Since Dr. Andrew Wakefield's study was released in 1998, many parents have been convinced the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine could lead to autism. But that study may have done more harm than good. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in the United States, more cases of measles were reported in 2008 than any year since 1997. More than 90 percent of those infected had not been vaccinated, or their vaccination status was not known." (Jasek, Marissa (6 January 2011). "Healthwatch: Disputed autism study sparks debate about vaccines". WWAY Newschannel 3, accessed from Wikipedia: Andrew Wakefield, 18 Jan 2016)
A New York Times profile said:
"Andrew Wakefield has become one of the most reviled doctors of his generation, blamed directly and indirectly, depending on the accuser, for irresponsibly starting a panic with tragic repercussions: vaccination rates so low that childhood diseases once all but eradicated here—whooping cough and measles, among them—have re-emerged, endangering young lives." (Dominus, Susan (20 April 2011). "The Crash and Burn of an Autism Guru". New York Times Magazine, accessed from Wikipedia: Andrew Wakefield, 18 Jan 2016)
Wakefield's report was was retracted and it is still a banner anti-vaxxers wave.  The author of this thesis is poised to become a hero of the anti-vaxxer movement, the only question is how many young lives will she be responsible for ending from a preventable disease.  I doubt she will in any way feel responsible, but she should, just as Wakefield should!

Get your children vaccinated!

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Alice Paul, Pro-life or Pro-choice? Kennie says one way, I disagree


While I was checking out little kennie ham's blog, to see if he responded to the Newsweek article laying bare some of his tactics in trying to get his latest ministry, the ark park, built at taxpayer expense.  I wrote about it in "Newsweek looks at Ham's Folly 2".  Well, in another blog post he identifies Alice Paul, honored recently in a Googe Doodle, as an anti-abortionist/pro-lifer.  I am curious by what standard does he make this claim.  Alice Paul  . . . here is the first line from Wikipedia to give you a better idea:

"Alice Paul (January 11, 1885 – July 9, 1977) was an American suffragist, feminist, and women's rights activist, and the main leader and strategist of the 1910s campaign for the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution which prohibits sex discrimination in the right to vote."(Wikipedia:  Alice Paul)
While Alice Paul might not have been as much of a historical figure like some others, for example Susan B. Anthony or Carrie Chapman Catt, Paul was a leader in the Women's Suffrage movement for many years and was even instrumental in adding women's rights to the 1964 Civil Rights Act.  You can check me on it, but at no point does her biography in Wikipedia mention being an anti-abortionist or pro-lifer.  I did a bit a research on Alice Paul, including Alice Paul Institute, and a number of other sites.  Funny, how none of them mention any opposition to abortion.  So where did Ham get his information?

I think what has happened here is little kennie is making some assumptions.  Alice Paul was born a Quaker and also was an avowed Conservative.  While I don't think being a Conservative means the same in her day as it does today, I do think kennie is making an assumption about her position on abortion to further his own ends.  There is a quote attributed to her that kennie used:
"Abortion is the ultimate exploitation of women." (Wikiquote: Alice Paul)
Not only can I not find a source for this quote, it's not framed within any sort of context or even when she said it.  It can also be taken a number of ways.  Consider what abortion was in the 19th century and the early part of the 20th century, a very dangerous procedure often performed by unqualified people.  Was she talking about abortion procedures that were more dangerous than child birth, or modern procedures that are medically safe.  I don't know and I doubt kennie knows either.  He found one quote and ran with it, promoting her an an anti-abortionist or pro-lifer.  I disagree.
I did find this very interesting quote (I added the underline):

"Throughout her life, Alice Paul remained personally conservative and professionally demanding of both herself and her colleagues. She did not relinquish power readily nor could she be easily persuaded to depart from the methods and tactics she had learned from the Pankhursts in England. But her vision for women always transcended her conservatism and rigidity. ‘I think if we get freedom for women, then they are probably going to do a lot of things that I wish they wouldn’t do,’ she said shortly before her death. ‘But it seems to me that isn’t our business to say what they should do with it. It is our business to see that they get it.’" (History.com:  AlicePaul)

By the above quote, I really think kennie is reaching here.  Think about it, "her vision for women always transcended her conservatism and rigidity".  What that says to me is that she may have held certain beliefs, she didn't allow those beliefs to stop her drive for women's rights.  Based on the part of the quote I underlined, I think the case could just as easily be made that Alice Paul would be much closer to a modern pro-choicer than pro-lifer.

In my opinion she would probably never opt to have an abortion herself, but she would not deny the right for others to make their own decision.  Do you really think kennie would approve of the whole "it isn't our business to say what they should do with it.  It's our business to see they get it."  I don't see him allowing anyone any sort of freedom.  His work has proven over and over again that you either support him or you are the enemy.  Little kennie not only demands that he be free to do pretty much whatever he wants, in the name of religion, and with other people's money, -- but that he is free to make you do whatever he wants as well.  I'd rather kennie consider me the enemy, at least I know I am in excellent company. 

Newsweek looks at Ham's Folly 2

Quite a while ago I referred to the Creation 'Museum' as 'kennie ham's folly'.  As you probably know, he's building a new attraction, the Ark Encounter, which is, in my opinion, his second folly.

Aside from everything going on, I have a serious question to ask.  Before kennie started building his 'ark park', he provided an estimate for visitors that no one seems to actually believe.  I mean 2 million visitors a year?  Really?  My question is what was his predictions for visitors to his first folly and how did his predictions measure up to the reality?  I don't know, but I am very curious.

But on to Newsweek, the article is "Noah's Ark Rises in Kentucky, Dinosaurs and All".  It's a pretty good article, it summarizes little kennie and his Hamians well.  It goes into the issues about the ark park discriminatory hiring practices and Kentucky pulling some of their tax support due to those practices and little kennie's lawsuit of a response.  What I found interesting in the article was a reminder that while kennie says:

“No Kentucky taxpayer money is going to build the Ark Encounter,”
While that is the literal truth, it's not a complete answer.  While no tax money is being used to build the stupid thing, there are millions of tax money, that would normally go into the community, will be funneled back into the ark park to deal with it's debt.  In other words kennie and his followers are off the hook and the taxpayers of Kentucky will be left with the bill.

Later in the article is a great quote:
“AiG is confusing what they have the right to do as a private organization with what taxpayers are required to fund,” says Greg Lipper, senior litigation counsel for Americans United for Separation of Church and State. “They’re saying Kentucky taxpayers should pay for them to expand a religious ministry. That kind of argument would make Thomas Jefferson turn in his grave.”
AiG does it's best to make a mockery of science, and it extends well beyond evolutionary theory.  They mock Chemostry, Geology, Paleontology, and even Climatology.  The summary of the article makes the point that when you look at everything his ministries . . . and don't forget that kennie himself described the ark park as a ministry, may also slow responses to other actual scientific issues, such as Climate Change.

I don't know about you, but I can't wait for kennie to respond to this article.  So far nothing, but the Newsweek post is dated just yesterday.  I bet he has to get his blood pressure under control before he responds.