Saturday, October 3, 2015

So There is Nothing Religious about Intelligent Design (Part VIII)

Back a few years ago the Discovery Institute (DI) had one of their revival meetings.  It was sponsored and organized by PULSE and Victory Campus Ministries and held at Southern Methodist University.  The reason I bring this up is partially a reminder and also because it does relate.  At the end of that meeting Stephen C. Meyer thanks for SMU Administration for hosting it, which was a lie!  The location was SMU, the host was this PULSE and Victory Campus Ministries.  I blogged about it in "4 nails in the coffin containing the remains of the Discovery Institute credibility."  My point, other than pointing out the basic dishonesty of the Discovery Institute was to also remind you that there is a difference between being the location for an event and hosting it.  The University, like many organizations allow the use of their facilities for a multitude of purposes.

Today caught a post on the DI's Evolution News and Views site, "Register for Christian Scientific Society Conference, Hosted at Discovery Institute".  Not only are they hosting it, but they are advertising it.  So, Intelligent Design has NOTHING to do with religion, yet the Christian Scientific Society is having a conference and the DI is doing more than just being the location.  Hasn't the lie about not having anything to do with religion finally faded?

I do love this:

"The theme of the meeting will be "What is Information?"
Wouldn't it help if the folks at the DI actually knew something about the topic first?  Seriously, to the DI the whole idea of information has been twisted around to the point they pretty much use it as a knee-jerk comment about just about anything, it's gotten so messed up even little kennie ham's folks use it.  I think those self-described Christian Scientists could learn more from "Information Theory and Creationism" than anything they might hear at the DI.  But then since they are already "an ID-friendly organization", they probably won't listen.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Denyse requires intelligence to explain Mick Jagger

Denyse is at it again.  Doesn't her garden get a little crowded with straw-men?  In her latest post she takes on sex, as in "Can Sex Explain Evolution?".  That's pretty silly because by itself, the answer is no, but it's part of a much larger process that certainly does have a part in explaining evolution, and rather well.

She first redefines evolution again:

"The mere process of eliminating unfit examples of a type in a given environment builds up information over time, resulting in huge new layers of complexity."
I would rather not go over it again, can we just say that I think Denyse skipped 6th grade science class and leave it at that.

Here is where I think Denyse loses it.
"But if no one can say what is fit or unfit according to natural selection, because nature has no direction, why must we pay attention to claims about natural selection? "
She seems to assume there has to be something directing traffic, and assumes it must be goal-oriented for some reason because it has to decide fitness.  She can't except the reality of Natural Selection, so she tries to use Sexual Selection to create her strawman of needing an intelligence.  Then when she shows there is no intelligence, she dismisses it as impossible.  The economist who described 'survival of the fittest' was not describing evolution, and even though biologists don't use that term, at least not without a lengthy explanation, Denyse can't seem to grasp that evolution does not equal survival of the fittest in it's barest form.  Come on Denyse, you should be more familiar with your subject by now, shouldn't you?

But what does the selecting?  As it has been explained over and over again, the environment an organism exists within.   It's not that hard to understand, well that is if you actually want to understand.  Another thing Denyse tends to forget is that the process of evolution can be summarized in three sentences: Genes mutate. Individuals are selected. Populations evolve.

We've discusses genes mutating several times.  The simplest example is this, look at a child and look at that child's parents.  Without doing a genetic analysis, you can easily see that a child is not a carbon copy of one parent, but an amalgamation of the two.  But you will most likely see traits that don't exist in either parent.  If you do the genetic analysis you can see the differences more clearly.  This is an example of mutation.  Unlike the comic version, mutations are rarely large scale changes like 4 hands, but most are small differences that have little impact on much of anything.  There are many, many examples of genes mutating, Prof. Richard Lenski's long-term evolution experiment is another excellent example, and one well documented.  Of course about now Creationists like to trot out the odds argument, but in humans there are an average of 150-200 mutations per offspring, when compared to the parents.  That's not 150-200 mutations per generation, but per off-spring.  So when you look at an entire generation of people, there are 150-200 mutations times the total number in that population, a staggering number.  In the US in just one year an estimated 3.8 million babies are born.  That's about 600 million mutations, in one year.   Suddenly the odds argument makes even less sense than usual.

Here is where Denyse gets hung up, 'individuals are selected'.  She seems to think that means literally selected!  Someone has to line 'em up and point to the ones that survive and let the others just drop dead.  Sorry, Denyse, doesn't work that way.

When talking about evolution, we aren't talking about an pointing finger selection, nothing like the life guard at the gene pool, "Hey, you outta the pool, you aren't allowed to procreate!"  We are talking about genes that affect survival and reproductive opportunity.  Genes that increase either, or both of these, will show a demonstrable increase within the population.  Note -- within the population!  Genes that negatively affect either of these will show a decrease.  That's not to say an individual cannot or will not procreate, but that over time the allele frequency within a population will change based on the environment.  In her own example there is nothing in evolutionary theory that says Tom, Dick, or Harry will or will not procreate.  There isn't even anything determining their fitness.  Her view of sexual selection is rather limited, isn't it?

She tries to use 'sexual selection' as a mechanism for major evolutionary changes, yet it is only one of the mechanisms for evolutionary change.  Whether or not it's a major change depends on many factors that Denyse doesn't seem to mention.  For example, I've talked before about Elephants and how for years, if not centuries, large tusked males had an evolutionary advantage and subsequently had more offspring.  The alleles for large tusks increased with the population until it was at something like 90%.  Then along came hunting and poaching.  and now the alleles for large tusks are a disadvantage (a change in the environment).  Suddenly when mating season starts, there are fewer and fewer tusked males, so the tusk-less males, are the only game in town.  Now it's 90% tusk-less offspring.  Can you better see the 'selection' now, Denyse?  Yes, I bet if you ever read this, you'll claim since man is doing the selection for tusks, it's an intelligence.  Although I would debate the use of the word intelligence for hunting a species to the point this happens, but the environment is still doing the selection, regardless of the reason for the decreasing population of tusked elephants.

My favorite example of sexual selection was a joke "Why do rock stars marry super models?  Because they can!"  Think about it and look at some of the rock stars.  Ugly human beings, take Mick Jagger for example!  If he weren't the front man of Rolling Stone, do you really think he would have had 7 children with 4 different women (multiple super models!) if he were not the front-man for the Rolling Stones?  His oldest and youngest are 29 years apart!  That's sexual selection!  His genes have spread further in the human population than my much more modest efforts, but then I can't sing a note.  Well that's not true.  I can sing one note, it's when I try and piece two or more together that people start running from the room.

The reality is the concept of sexual selection has expanded a great deal since Darwin first postulated it.  But of course Denyse can't seem to get the idea that Darwin is not the end-all of evolutionary theory, can she?  It also looks like Denyse is using a common Discovery Institute tactic, demanding a complete and absolute answer or she dismisses anything less.  We've talked about that before.  They offer nothing and expect acceptance, but if a real scientists can't be 100% absolute, they are in the wrong.  Science doesn't work that way, but is anyone surprised that Denyse may be lacking in basic science methodology?

Her last line:
"We are still stuck for a mechanism that replaces intelligence."
Why?  Since intelligence wasn't in the mix to begin with, we don't need to replace it.  Denyse, you haven't made an argument that intelligence is required or even necessary.  All you did was to toss out an argument that you find it impossible to accept that intelligence isn't a requirement and seeing if your argument sticks.  Nope, it slid to the floor like under-cooked spaghetti. All in all, it looks like one large argument from incredulity, that is since Denyse believes intelligence is required, she demands there must be intelligence, regardless of a lack of evidence.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Does the Pope really support Kim Davis?

Reported on Why Evolution Is True, "Pope implicitly supports Kim Davis’s refusal to grant marriage licenses to gays" the Pope made a few comments that appear to support the Kentucky embarrassment Kim Davis.  I think he messed up here!  Here is his comment:

"I can’t have in mind all the cases that can exist about conscientious objection … but yes, I can say that conscientious objection is a right that is a part of every human right. It is a right. And if a person does not allow others to be a conscientious objector, he denies a right."
Aside from the whole "Give unto Caesar what is Caesar's, and give unto God what is God's" argument, let's look at this realistically.  The Pope just gave his consent for anyone who conscientiously objects to anything carte blanche to do whatever they want and cite their conscientious objection as justification.  While I would normally say something like 'he screwed the pooch', but I don't think that wording is appropriate for the Pontiff.  In any event, this is just too wide open, but I am sure someone will be mentioning it in a future case.

What's my objection to it?  I have no problem with a conscientious objector voicing their opinion, but what I have a problem with is their total freedom to avoid responsibility.  One example, obviously, is Kim Davis.  Her objection is noted, but does her objection give her the right to fail in carrying out her duties?  No it does not.  She should have quit her job, but that would require a certain level of moral courage.  But let's look at it from another point-of-view.  During coverage of the Kim Davis idiocy, the owner of a bake shop stated that he would not do a wedding cake for a gay couple because he felt it was against his religion.  Ladies and gentlemen, that's called discrimination and it sounds like the Pope just put his papal stamp of approval on it.  What's next, a racist who conscientiously objects to serving minorities?  A misogynist who refuses to provide a service to women? I had hoped we were past this foolishness, but I guess we are not.  We appear to have an infinite capacity to hate other human beings and are perfectly willing to use religion to foster that hatred through discrimination.

There are already laws in place to accommodate conscientious objectors, the military is an excellent example. But it is not left to the individual to make their own determination.  Back in the mid-to-late 80's two young airmen assigned to Nellis AFB refused to salute the flag or to salute and obey the orders of female officers (The Spokesman-Review) claiming a religious objection.  They were held responsible for their actions.  Imagine trying to run a military based on the Pope's comments?  Or a fire department, police, or any government agency.  What about a business?  Does a business have a right to discriminate based on the business owner's religion?  Up until recently the answer was no!  But everyone now has papal approval.

Are my examples far fetched?  Then let's dial it back down a bit.  Should a parent be able to refuse a vaccination for their child on religious grounds?  Even knowing how that can affect not just their child, but the other children they interact with?  That's legal in two states, it will be interesting to see the illness rates of preventable diseases will be in the future.  How about refusing medical care for a child?  That happens much more often than it ever should.  Anyone who uses their religion to avoid their responsibilities is wrong, regardless of what those responsibilities are, whether it's issuing marriage licenses or raising children.

The Pope said when asked if this principle applied to government officials carrying out their duties, he replied:
“It is a human right and if a government official is a human person, he has that right. It is a human right.”
Sure, a government official can object, but their objection doesn't give them the right to avoid carrying out the responsibilities of their office.  That's what we are talking about, not someone's conscience, but their responsibilities.  When the two are in conflict, you either carry out the responsibilities in spite of your objection, or you resign your position on principle.  If you cannot resign, as in the military, you can either carry out your responsibilities or be held legally responsible, just like anyone who refuses to do their job! 

Anyone else remember Nathanial Abraham?  How about Jean Camara? Nathanial was hired at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute as an evolutionary biologist.  AFTER being hired he revealed that his religion didn't believe in evolution so he couldn't 90% of his job.  After some efforts at negotiation, Woods Hole fired him.  He sued . . . he tried everything, but lost in the end.  Yes, he tried religious discrimination. 

Jean Camara is a new one, earlier this year.  Apparently he was hired by Costco as a cashier's assistant.  His religion said he couldn't handle pork or alcohol, even though he knew Costco sold such items.  Costco transferred him to wrangle the shopping carts in the parking lot.  Two weeks later he was fired for insubordinate conduct.  He's currently suing for  . . . wait for it . . . religious discrimination.

In both cases I think Nathanial and Jean are guilty of fraud, accepting a job knowing full well they were not going to be able to fulfill the job requirements.  Yet in each case accommodation was discussed and apparently rejected in some form.  Nathanial refused to accept 10% of his salary for only being able to do 10% of his duties, and Jean allegedly became insubordinate. 

But I guess the Pope might give each of them more ammunition.  Who's next Guillermo Gonzalez?

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Science Teachers Under Fire for Saying Creationists Are “Trying to Mislead” Students

A blog I had read a few times had an interesting post.  It's from the Friendly Atheist:  "Science Teachers Under Fire for Saying Creationists Are “Trying to Mislead” Students".  A middle school in Florida sent home a reading assignment that included this paragraph:

"Next time someone tries to tell you that evolution is just a theory, as a way of dismissing it, as if it’s just something someone guessed at, remember that they’re using the non-scientific meaning of the word.  If that person is a teacher, or minister, or some other figure of authority, they should know better.  In fact, they probably do, and are trying to mislead you."
Apparently some folks got uptight about the last line, angry at the implication that ministers and parents were purposely deceiving kids:
When parents such as Jennifer Flinchum first read those lines, “the hair on the back of my neck stood up,” she said.
“It’s not so much the evolution aspect of it, it’s just the way they phrased those few sentences how they were kind of taking the rights away from the parents,” said parent, Lisa McNeil.
 Three thingsome to my mind:
  • Isn't that exactly what they are doing?  Deceiving children!  While some may be doing it out of ignorance, the reality is they are in fact deceiving children. 
  • Do parents and ministers have the right to deceive children? I don't think so!  I guess pointing that out isn't very politically correct, regardless of how accurate it is.
  • So instead of putting it in a reading assignment, parents will be up in arms when a student asks the teacher about it in class and the teacher gets to inform the child that parents and ministers who say 'evolution is only a theory' are lying.  No, the teacher won't use those words, but that is the lesson kids will pick up.  Can't you see it?  "Teacher says this, Mom says this, Teacher says that's not factual.  Mom isn't telling me the truth!"  Oh yea, that won't get anyone uptight, now would it?
The principal did send home a letter of apology and I guess they plan on re-wording the statement.  I would be curious to see the newly worded reading assignment.

So There is Nothing Religious About Intelligent Design (Part VII)

Press release announcing a talk by the Discovery Institute's Stephen C. Meyer, you know the one that writes those philosophy books they try and pass off as science.  Now it seems to me that if Meyer and his cohorts were actually trying to distinguish themselves from their religious underpinnings they might  . . . oh I don't know . . . maybe talk to audiences that aren't just as inherently religious as they are?  But that's just me, I guess.  I have discussed this a bit (here, here, here, here, here, and here)

This talk at at Trinity Classical Academy, which is defined by their own website as:

Their Mission: "  The Mission of Trinity Classical Academy is to offer a challenging education grounded in the Christian faith and the Classical tradition to produce young men and women of virtue, wisdom, purpose, and courage."
Their Statement of Faith have nine statements including:
"We believe the Bible to be the only inerrant, authoritative Word of God."
 Of course the press release says all sorts of nice things about Meyer.  It does say a few hilarious things [My comments in braces and italics]
  • ". . .Meyer will share his vast knowledge of the evidence-based scientific theory that certain features of living systems can only be explained by an intelligent cause" [So I guess you have to already be a believer before he will share his vast knowledge.  How long have we been asking for any actual science when it comes to ID and none can be found.]
  • ". . .Meyer was best known was an Aug. 2004 controversial review essay in the Smithsonian Institution-affiliated peer-reviewed biology journal Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington." [Better known as the Sternberg Peer Review Controversy, but they forgot to mention to results of the controversy and how the journal repudiated the article.  I wonder why?  I guess it would be less than flattering to bring up that particular abject failure.]
  • "In 2008, he appeared with Ben Stein in the theatrical-released documentary Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed." [Yes, he appeared, but do they discuss how that particular mockumentary was received?  No, too embarrassing, but you can read an interesting review here, it's nothing for Meyer to brag about!]
I really have no argument if any school wants Meyer to come and talk.  I just wish his talk would be framed is such a way to place it within context.  Passing it off as science is inappropriate.  It is , at best, philosophy and theology.  He'll be preaching to a captive audience and reinforcing the religious aspects of Intelligent Design.  Guess I really can't complain about that.  After all the more he has talks like this, the harder it is for them to sell any distinction between ID and Creationism.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Denyse O'Leary is certainly not allergic to Strawmen

Denyse O'Leary, the recently prolific mouthpiece for the Discovery Institute, tries her hand at 'explaining' a few things, but she certainly does Charles Darwin a disservice.  What she does is build several straw-men, proceeds to demolish them and then pats herself on the back with a conclusion based on her demolition.  Funny how it works.  Make an unrealistic claim, destroy it, the declare victory.  You know, how did she make it through school anyway?  Oh wait, she's some sort of journalist.  OK, that makes more sense.  Someone at the DI tells her to write up something, and I guess she gets creative writing credit from the powers-that-be.  Her post is "Natural Selection: Could It Be the Single Greatest Idea Ever Invented?" is an example, although she needs to work on her creative writing skills.  I was always taught that even creative writing requires a modicum of credibility to be successful.

Here is her opening paragraph:

"Information, according to Darwin's idea (natural selection), can exist without intelligence. Nature produces intelligent designs, just because some life forms survive and others don't. That's it. That's all it takes. How odd that no one noticed."
First of all, Darwin did not mention information, certainly not how she puts it.  The whole 'information argument' is nothing more than one of the many smokescreens put out by Intelligent Design proponents.  Check out the Talk Origins site for more on this particular inanity.  As for the rest of this, Nature does not 'produce' designs, and claiming that they are 'intelligent designs' is pretty foolish.  By using the word 'design', it assumes something not in evidence.  At best the phrase should be 'nature produces the appearance of design', but that would require a level of honesty also not in evidence.

Now, the second sentence shows mainly that little Denyse doesn't really understand evolution very well.  To paraphrase for brevity:  'some life forms survive and others do not'.  If she understood the actual theory she would know that survival is a result, but not of evolution -- the Theory of Evolution (TOE) doesn't determine survival, it discusses and explains populations and alleles within a population.  Some of those alleles aid in survival and reproductive opportunity, others do not, and still other are benign on the subject.  Survival isn't determined by the TOE and painting it as such gives Denyse a target to shoot at, no matter how unrealistic it might be.

And as for no one noticing, if she was talking about 'Natural Selection', someone apparently did.  His name was Charles Darwin.  If she was commenting that no one noticed 'intelligent designs', it's hard to notice what only exists in the wishful thinking of certain stripes of theists, like Denyse.  Throughout history the appearance of design was noticed, and noticed well before Darwin ever walked the Earth.

Next straw-man:
"That distinction can prove relevant if one thinks civil liberties matter. Many of us live in countries where the invocation of a supreme being is a basis for civil liberties (though those liberties may not extend to mosquitoes)."
Civil liberties are based in law, not the invocation of one deity or another.  Now I know various theists like to think their particular religion is the basis for so many things, but most legal systems draw from many sources.  If a Christian wants to point to the 10 Commandments, they really should look more at the historical source for those, as opposed to the stories.  But then, most theists rarely like the look past the stories, I think they are too afraid they might learn something.  So claiming that civil liberties are based on invocations of one deity of another is just another straw-man.

Here's my personal favorite:
"Darwin's theory of evolution (natural selection acting on random mutations) is a cultural icon, like the Big Bang, or e=mc2. One needn't know anything specific about any of these ideas. Indeed, media professionals can be passionately devoted to Darwinism without knowing anything about it at all.
That makes sense. Professed loyalty to Darwin is an admission to good parties. And Darwinism's relationship to modern warfare and eugenics is drowned out by cultural support."
Did little Denyse forget that it is not Darwin's Theory of Evolution (TOE).  I know, I know, I have mentioned it before, but vilifying a man is so much easier than refuting a scientific theory, especially when you and your group never seems to produce anything scientific.  Vilifying a man makes it  so much more personal.  If Denyse was serious about damaging the TOE, she might do the science that could over . . . Oh wait, we are talking about the DI here, what was I saying, plus Denyse is a journalist.

Now, Since when is any scientific theory a cultural icon?  Darwin might be considered one, but the scientific Theory of Evolution is not.  Oh, we all know how much the DI wishes it was so.  Cultural icons come and go, but scientific theories are not so easily dismissed.  As for 'professing' such helps get you invited to good parties, how foolishly dismissive can Denyse get?  Really?  Good parties?  Is that the best she has?  So now we know the real reason the folks at the Discovery Institute refuse to accept the Theory of Evolution.  It's not their religious beliefs as we all thought and even as they explained in their own documentation.  They are blaming not 'believing' in Darwin is the reason they never got to go to the 'good' parties.  Denyse, and the rest of your ID'iots, might look for other reasons you never got invited . . . but then self-examination is harder than rationalization, isn't it.

Little Denyse also needs a history lesson.  Only the DI, and other Creationist groups, are claiming Evolution's relationship to modern warfare and eugenics.  People who actually study this stuff, unlike the DI, know better.  I think she's been reading Michael Flannery (DI fellow who purports to be a historian).  Apparently Flannery is a good a historian as Denyse is a journalist.

Here is her definition of the TOE:
"Here it is: Information can be created without intelligence. That is, natural selection acting on random mutation explains the order of life we see all around us. What can't survive won't, and that explains how very complex life forms and structures -- including the human mind -- get built up.
True: Things that can't survive don't. But why would that fact alone drive nature to produce anything as simple as a kitten, let alone a math genius?"
Once again, with feeling, the TOE does not address 'information' and claiming that it can be defined as 'Information being created without intelligence' is mostly a whole lot of drivel.  Part of evolutionary theory, I will emphasis 'part', is Natural Selection.  Another part is Random Mutation, but little journalist-wanna-be Denyse is leaving out one hell of a lot of what the theory actually says.  But then how can she whine about it, if she actually understood it, she couldn't keep her job at the DI.

As for her play for cuteness, using a picture of a cute and cuddly kitten.  Kittens are not simple.  Have you seen the genome for a cat?  Obviously Denyse hasn't, 20,285 genes, and we humans share something like 90% of them, oh, and Denyse, that includes math geniuses.

Little Denyse does say one sentence that I have to agree with:
"Ideas have consequences."
Yes, ideas have consequences.  Darwin's ideas, and those who have expanded on his ideas, have opened up the biological world in a way that has led to places undreamed of in Darwin's day.  Evolution impacts us all, in food production, medicine, ecology and the environment, just to name a few.  Pretty impressive set of results/consequences!  The Discovery Institute's ideas have consequences as well . . . and their results are listed where exactly?

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Dan Rather: Ignoring science isn't just a Republican problem. It's an American problem.

I was working on how best to build my own response  to some of the foolishness said by the Republican candidate wanna-bes and caught this from Dan Rather: "Ignoring science isn't just a Republican problem. It's an American problem."  Everyone should read it.  What he does isn't try and solve the issue, or even identify all the root causes -- although he does mention quite a few (loss of faith in authority, suspicion of big corporations, a general political balkanization).  He focuses on one of the reasons the anti-science feelings seem to be so prevalent, the one he knows intimately, as you would expect, journalism and how the press covers science.  He identifies some of the problems:

  • Hyping certain "advances" that are more PR than science
  • Shying away from covering important stories because they're "too complicated." 
  • Don't even do a good job explaining how scientific research works
  • Scientific issues don't lend themselves to simple soundbites for TV

He does mention one of my pet peeves, which got my attention [I added the underlines for emphasis]:
"And then there is the danger of false equivalency. Not every issue has two sides, or certainly two equal sides. Yet when you put two people on screen to tell both “sides” of the story, in the viewer's mind it immediately connotes 50:50, even if you say it doesn't. Giving someone equal time to explain their side doesn’t mean there is equal data, research and science behind their view. Often times, the “other side” of the story has very little data to support its very big exceptions to the rules." 
You might recall I have mentioned this a time or two, usually in regards to the Discovery Institute's lack of science and kennie ham's lack of anything.  He also had a link to a John Oliver video, which is a personal favorite.
I wonder if Oliver has done a show about Evolution?  I'm going to have to look!  Hang on a second . . . no, he hasn't addressed Evolution or Creationism, however his take down of Televangelism is a classic.  I would love to see his take on the Discovery Institute!  OK, back to Dan, who says:
"This is not to say that every science policy question has an easy or correct answer. There is a lot to weigh in how we should employ science and what we should fund. But it is not a debate we can afford to shy away from. I think that any politician who doesn't take those questions seriously is not fit to lead our country in the 21st century."
We need to ask our potential leaders more questions about science!  One of the things that has to be important is not only what the candidate says, but where are they getting their information -- from people who are actually doing the work or from folks with a philosophical axe to grind.  Trump failed badly on vaccines, Carson failed on so much!  You just have to love that last line 'I think that any politician who doesn't take those questions seriously is not fit to lead our country in the 21st century.'

I understand they are pandering for votes, but why are they pandering in such a way that makes them seem positively uneducated!  I thought Bobby Jindal and Rick Perry was bad, but Ben Carson and Donald Trump?  It's crossed the pandering line and reached epic stupidity.  Is Donald Trump or Ben Carson fit to lead us in the 21st century?  They certainly haven't shown it yet, have they?  I wonder which candidate kennie or the DI will back?

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Hey Discovery Institute, there is a difference between Criminal and Unethical

Davey 'klingy' Klinghoffer is at it again, trying to make it sound like we should feel sorry for Intelligent Design (ID) proponents.  Sorry, klingy, it's not going to happen.  Here's link to his post:  "Prosecute Darwin Skeptics Under RICO Act?"  Like he has done before, he's drawing an imaginary parallel to gain some level of sympathy. Do you feel sorry for ID proponents? I certainly do not.

First the article he quotes, he does quote, but then he blows it all out of proportion, at least that's how I see it.  Look at his own quotes:

' . . . prosecute groups that "have knowingly deceived the American people about the risks of climate change, as a means to forestall America's response to climate change." ' 
Look at the quote carefully.  No one was advocating prosecuting climate change deniers, but those who are using such denial as a means to forestall our responding to it.  Whether you agree with it or not, Climate Change is a potential danger, and, again whether you agree, some effort should be going into examining that danger and developing plans to deal with it.  Anyone who knowingly is taking actions to 'forstall' a response is not acting in a particularly wise fashion.

A parallel is made, in the original article, to the use of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) is helping to deal with the issues around tobacco and dealing with the actions the tobacco industry undertook to forestall any response on the dangers of tobacco, actions they successfully delayed any organized response for decades.  Would anyone deny that their actions were detrimental to the American public, yet it was certainly good for their profits.

Another example, leaded gasoline.  In the 1920's the dangers of lead as a gasoline additive was known, but the industry that produced the lead additives fought any changes.  They even funded a prominent scientist to stall any serious examination of the dangers of lead.  It took 50 years before the United States finally acted.  Guess who funded most of the research into the dangers of lead additives?  The lead industry, of course.  Again, their actions delayed dealing with a serious problem for decades and yet that industry profited greatly during those decades.

See a trend?  Even when something currently common is found to be a significant danger, there is a core element that continues to profit from it . . . and they fight any changes that will cut into their profits.  Sounds like the current Climate Change arguments, doesn't it.

The article is NOT planning on prosecuting just any climate change deniers, but those who deliberately take actions designed to delay a response.  Now, why would any group want to delay a response?  Guess who funds a great deal of climate change research?  The oil companies, of course.  So the real thrusts of the possibility of legal actions isn't someone who is expressing an opinion, but a coordinated group action designed to profit by America's inaction.  Remember, it was the action of the tobacco and oil companies that eventually led to their legal issues, not simply an opinion.

So now let's get to klingy's whine.  Would anyone put intelligent design proponent actions in the same category?  Not by a long shot.  The main reason is how much impact have they really had?  They are an annoyance more than a danger.  So trying to draw a parallel at this point in time would be ridiculous.  While their actions are self-serving, they haven't reach a point where their danger is more than theoretical.  Again, it's their actions that could lead to some sort of action to censure them, and to date their actions have been pretty minor league compared to the oil or tobacco companies.

Is it possible at some time in the future their actions could present a danger to the point of legal action?  I have to say yes.  Since their actions are motivated by religion, have there been examples, recent examples, where religion was used to interfere with medical services?  If you need a few examples, I posted these last month: Ian, Neil, Matthew, Austin, Amy, Robyn, Andrew, Harrison, Nancy, Dennis, Arrian, Zachery, Troy, Shauntay, and Rhett.  So until the DI's efforts start having a much greater negative effect on biology, medicine, or other sciences to the point where lives are endangered, they will keep being more a mosquito bite than a significant problem.

Climate Change deniers, specifically those funded by the oil industry, have a lot in common with those who denied the dangers of tobacco and lead while continuing to profit from them.  It was their actions and the impact of those actions that caused the various responses.  To date, the DI hasn't done anything that I think could be considered illegal.  Think it through -- when you know tobacco is dangerous and you claim otherwise so you can continue profiting from it . . . that's illegal, hence the use of the RICO Act.  In my opinion the DI's actions fall more into unethical.  For example is it ethical to change the definition of the word Theory when trying to contrast a scientific theory with just an idea?  Or to deny the religious underpinnings of ID?  How about to try and change the explanation of real scientific work, claiming it in some way supports ID?  Or claiming Evolution's imminent demise?  No, these things are not illegal.  Foolish, certainly, and I believe unethical, but not illegal.  You might by what standard of 'ethical behavior' am I using to judge.  ID is a religious proposition, and when asked 'unofficially', ID proponents like to identify the intelligent designer as the Christian God.  Well I was brought up in that particular faith and guess what one of the sins you would confess every week?  Lying, of course.  So when I look at the actions of the DI, I can only call them unethical, because it's not up to me to call what they do as a 'sin'.  I guess they are more like little kennie ham (AiG and Creation 'Museum' infamy) than they would like to admit, especially when it comes to lying for Jesus.

One last comment by klingy:
"I hesitate to even articulate this, for fear of putting an idea in someone's mind. On the other hand, Darwinists don't need me to help them cook up schemes for striking out against dissenters."
Don't worry klingy, no one outside of your little circle of science deniers pays much attention to your ideas.  The real scientists working in evolutionary biology have no problem with dissenters.  Ones who are working with actual science often lead to changes in evolutionary theory (evo-devo, punctuated equilibrium . . .).  Dissenters who push pseudo-science, like the Discovery Institute, tend to get ignored.  It's when they impact science education that they get any attention.  Why do you think they target high schools?  You would expect they to take aim at science, but for that they have to do science.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Anyone else remember the name Emile Zuckerkandl? A reminder from Larry Moran

Larry Moran has a great post over on Sandwalk, "Emile Zuckerkandl and the 50th anniversary of the birth of molecular evolution".  He tells a little of the story of Emile Zuckerkandl, a name I had heard of many years ago but unlike one of his publishing partners, Linus Pauling, his wasn't a name I had heard of much at all.  Luckily for me, Larry not only reminded me of the name, but some of the things Zuckerkandl did, especially when it came to Intelligent Design.

Yes, I am sure folks at the Discovery Institute didn't like anything he said, but to me it was a nice lesson.  Thanks Larry!

Here's a few quotes, but I really recommend you head over and read the whole post.  [I added a little]

  • "To give themselves an edge, the “creationists"—the dominant stripe of anti-evolutionists in the United States—have decided some years ago (Pennock, 2003) to dress up in academic gear and to present themselves as scholars who rise in defense of a legitimate alternative scientific theory, intelligent design. "  [I usually refer to their 'gear' as an ill-fitting lab coat.]
  • "The two biased characterizations [Evolution is just a theory and equating the theory of evolution as nothing but a philosophy, an 'ism'] are cherished by nearly every proponent of intelligent design, because desirably one of the points, evolution as a theory, reduces science to incertitude, and the other, evolution as an "ism," reduces it in practice to an unscientific belief. " [Love it]
  • "The basis of an established scientific field is not questionable: too many competent, critically minded people working in a number of subfields and analyzing phenomena at a number of levels have contributed to it, with their results supporting one another within a large body of scientific knowledge. A field would have collapsed long since, were it not based on extant phenomena. The flood of creationist references to a particular scientist rather than to a field of science conveniently tends to hide this fact from view. "  [How many times, especially recently, have we been subjected to posts that attempt to denigrate Darwin and his accomplishments.  Here are a few: DI's Denyse O'Leary sounds puzzled!, Discovery Institute upset that Darwin didn't have a Crystal Ball, and Sorry Darwin, it isn't your Evolution anymore? Are you kidding?.]
The one quote you really need to read take a different view of Intelligent Design vs Natural processes, and it deals with complexity.  One of the issues frequently raised when anyone objectively looks at ID is the fact the so-called designer was pretty bad at his job.  Seriously, look at the human body, tell me how that is optimal?  We can barely stand upright and anyone who gets back pain knows what I mean.  How about the number one source of germs (the nose) positioned right above the main air intake (the mouth), or one poster put rather indelicately, the playground located between two sewers (think about it :-)) It's not just humans, but life in general, how many different flight mechanisms exist in nature?   Three that I know of: birds, bats, and insects . . . why?  Why would a 'designer' need three different mechanisms to perform the same task?

Zuckerkandl raised an interesting point.  When you look at things actually intelligently designed, you know the type of things folks at the DI like to point to an say "See, we can recognize design, so biology must be designed."  Simplicity is the hallmark of design, not complexity.  Think about it, the best design is usually the simplest design.  Over time simplicity increases, not complexity.  But what do we find in nature?  Increases in complexity over and over again.  Here is the quote:

"Consider something designed by an intelligence: what would its general distinctive character be, as contrasted with products of nature? Would it be increased complexity? No, it would on the contrary be increased simplicity! This pertinent remark, made and discussed by Glenn Ross (2005), removes a basic misunderstanding that is traditionally cultivated by creationists and intelligent designers. Though relative simplicity does occur in nature at certain levels (e.g., in crystals)—if we consider the hierarchical plane of phenomena encountered in every day life it is simplicity that is much of the time a hallmark of actual intelligent design....What should surprise us is not the universally present complexity of natural structures and processes; it is the fact that the human mind can cut through extremely high interaction complexities by showing that they conform to relatively simple relationships, which the connoisseurs experience as “beautiful”."
Can't argue much with that.  Like I said earlier, I am sure the folks at the DI don't like any of this, but then they don't like much of anything that doesn't start and end with an appropriate 'deitification'.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Casey Luskin and Deepak Chopra, brothers under the skin?

Recently I wrote a bit about a post by little casey luskin and how pissed off he is about Wikipedia daring to enforce their policies about Pseudoscience topics, like Intelligent Design.  Wikipedia policy on fringe science and pseudoscience is this policy.  My post (Wikipedia deserves an Award! They Annoyed the DI! Yea!) discussed this.  Little casey, of course, whined a great deal because such a policy makes it difficult for the DI, and other folks, to publish their pseudoscience as if it was actual science.  What they are after is the ability to use Wikipedia not as an encyclopedia, but as a way of marketing their pseudoscience and selling their ideas.  Don't enough people buy into their crap?  I mean the DI certainly isn't spending their own money pushing their religion, are they?  One of the points I made was for anyone curious to examine the history of edits on Wikipedia and see what pseudoscience supporters keep trying to have added to various pages.  That was the focus of little casey's whine.

Well, lil' casey is not alone.  Recently Jerry Coyne wrote a take down of Rupert Sheldrake, which included a small take down of another pseudo-scientist, Deepak Chopra.  It's a great article, "Pseudoscientist Rupert Sheldrake Is Not Being Persecuted, And Is Not Like Galileo".  Apparently Sheldrake made whines about 'militant atheists' editing his bio page.  Basically his whine sounds like: 'Those bullies who edit Wikipedia pages are being mean to me.'  Translated what it means is Wikipedia is following their policies and not allowing unsupported nonsense to be claimed as science.  Sound familiar?  Exactly!

Well Deepak Chopra didn't take it too kindly either and wrote a rebuttal.  It's hilarious!  "Deepak Chopra Responds to Pseudoscience Allegations. Jerry Coyne Fires Back.".  At no time did he try and defend his ideas or even his arguments.  He tries a logical fallacy argument called an "Argument from Authority", not that he is actually an authority, but he tries to sell his credentials to demonstrate that he should be taken seriously.  One of his comments struck me:

"These facts should be enough to convince an unbiased reader that Coyne's pose as a defender against arrant charlatans doesn't pass even the most basic test of fairness and objectivity."
One of the common claims of pseudoscientists is that their ideas should be treated as equal, after all that's fair, isn't it?  How often have we heard similar complaints from groups like the DI?  So, Deepak thinks that voicing unsupported ideas, ideas that have no basis in reality and since Jerry Coyne is painting him with the same brush as one would paint 'arrant charlatans' that is somehow unfair.  Really?

Journalism tends to make that mistake.  We've discussed it before as well, the last time was in the same post about Wikipedia.  Journalists error in thinking just because two ideas are opposite, that they are equally valid and give each idea equal coverage, claiming this is some sort of journalistic neutrality.  My point is that in an effort to be neutral the result is that often journalists tend to inflate pseudoscience by giving equal coverage.  What should be the deciding factor isn't equal time in front on a camera or equal inches in a newspaper article, but the validity of their ideas.  Journalists should do what Wikipedia does and check things out.  When you discover their ideas are made up more of conjecture and wishful thinking, coverage should reflect that.  That would be a better definition of fair and objective, not Deepak's.

The facts are Jerry Coyne represented Sheldrake and Chopra in ways that are honest, but unflattering and it might impact their ability to sell their pseudoscience.  That probably bothers them more than anything, it might impact sales.  They make a very good living pedaling the modern version of 'snake oil'.  As you can tell by the title, Jerry Coyne responded to Chopra and if you enjoy a good take down, you should read it all the way through.

So what it sounds like is two group, one the Discovery Institute, and the other Deepak and his buddy Rupert, are certainly philosophical brothers when it comes to how they feel about Wikipedia.  The basic problem is Wikipedia has standards, and those standards include something the DI, and Deepak and Rupert seem to refuse to understand.  What they want is free rein, but the real question is what have they done to deserve it?  Absolutely nothing!  They are being held to the same standard, not a different standard, but the SAME standard as actual scientific topics on Wikipedia, and that's something they can't seem to handle. 

It would be different if Wikipedia held actual scientific ideas to a different standard, but that's not true.  Wikipedia desired valid references, not pie-in-the-sky foolishness.  Just look at the edits yourself, don't take my word for it at all!