Wednesday, December 31, 2008

"This Year in Intelligent Design"

I am borrowing this title from another blog, Ford Denison's This Week in Evolution blog. Back only one year ago he published a post called "This year in intelligent design" and showed how little actual work is being done in the field of Intelligent Design, like we didn't already know that. It was an interesting post none-the-less.

Well he's updated it for 2008 and once again searched scientific sources looking for all the work the Discovery Institute and their ilk claims to be doing. Funny thing is in the 2008 installment of "This year in intelligent design" he found . . .nothing. Now please remember he was searching in scientific journals, so you can see why that is the case. He did provide a link over to Allen McNeil's blog and said that ID "never got off the ground as a scientific field and now it seems to be dead even as a religious movement."

Elsewhere on the blogsphere, PZ Myers, over on Pharyngula posted this one, so I had to follow up. According to Casey Luskin, (DI mouthpiece) a Bicycle is Irreducibly Complex! Huh? Well read for yourself, here is the original quote off the Discovery Institute's blog:

"For example, consider again the bicycle. Bicycles have two wheels. Unicycles, having only one wheel, are missing an obvious component found on bicycles. Does this imply that you can remove one wheel from a bicycle and it will still function? Of course not. Try removing a wheel from a bike and you'll quickly see that it requires two wheels to function. The fact that a unicycle lacks certain components of a bicycle does not mean that the bicycle is therefore not irreducibly complex."
It's part of an article doing their best to obfuscate the Dover trial, 3 years now and they are still backtracking and trying to marginalize something. An aside to Casey and his buds . . . if you are still re-positioning yourself after 3 years, you cannot expect anyone to take you seriously. Give up on Dover and move on.

But back to the Bike. So you take off a wheel, does it still function? As a bicycle, no! By definition a bicycle requires two wheels (hence the name BI-cycle). But does that mean a bike is irreducibly complex? Now the way I remember Behe trying to explain it in Darwin's Black Box. It might not function as a bicycle, but how many of us used bicycle parts for something else? I helped build go-carts as a kid using bicycle parts. I've seen single wheeled bicycles converted to generators when placed on an appropriate stand and connected to a generator. One friend used to only watch TV powered form her bike. It's been years since I've thought about her, at the rate she was losing weight, she should be just about gone by now!

Let's look at the evolution of the bicycle, from Wikipedia. Bicycles didn't spring into existence, but have a long history as adaptations from various forms of three and four wheeled carts of the time period.

So what have we learned? That once again something proposed, by one of the pseudo-scientists at the Discovery Institute, as irreducibly complex is nothing of the sort. It didn't spring into being, but evolved over a long period of time. It might no longer function as a bicycle with a wheel missing, but it can certainly have other functions. In other words, Casey flunks again.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Even more on the Odds argument

What is it about calculating odds that people don't understand. It's not that tough, is it?

Over on Topix a real . . . Luddite (a classical reference) . . . posted this:

"Cliff From Florida wrote:
Natural Philosophy = Philosophy based on laws determined by philosophy.
Natural Science - Philosophy that passes the scientific method but usually gets disproven eventually anyway.
Whether you are a natural philosopher like charles darwin, or an equally philosophical natural scientist, you have no claim to any truth unless you get it from God. There is no truth except that which comes from Him.
Any scientific fact is only a scientific fact until new philosophies (evidence) are discovered (or crafted) that disproves it.
And any scientific experiment intended to conclusively dtermine any absolute truths, would have to require every single factor in the universe (an infinite amount) to be present, and the person doing te experiment would have to have infinite knowledge of every single factor from the infinitely smallest to the infinitelety largest. And with that knowledge, you would be able to determine an absolute truth. But modern science is no where near that. So all they do is guess using philosophies to try to understand life which are comstantly replaced with new and equally ignorant philosphies on a daily basis without comming at all closer to attaining absolute truth. Man lacks the capacity to determine absolute knowledge of all things in existance. We can't even remember 10,000 phone numbers much less complete knowledge of even 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000, 000,0000,000,000,000
things in the universe which is actually infinately less then infinity.
For example to make any absolute statement in truth about molecules you would have to have complete knowledge and understanding of not just 1 but every molecule in existance. And we lack that capacity. So complete knowledge of every molecule, atom, and quark, are just the beginning. We'd have to know everything else also. And that is not likely to happen through science/natural philosophy.
The Correct Way to go about it is to ask The One who made everything in existance, the one who keeps the trillions of laws that govern the universe not just every second, or every billionth of a second, or even a trillionth of a second, but the one who keeps the universe running constantly even to the innfinately smallest fraction of a second.
Still not convinced? Lets examine the odds that every law in the universe would remain constant even for 2 trillionths of a second. being that there are over 100 trillion laws in place we'll say just 1,000 laws governing the universe to make this more relative. So here are the odds.
for every .000000000001/second you will have to guess the correct random number between 1 and 1,000 and get the correct number every time.
in other words.
"Quick roll the 1,000 sided dice and hope it lands on 1, wow it landed on 1! Let's hope it does it again!"
"Quick roll the 1,000 sided dice and hope it lands on 1, wow it landed on 1! Let's hope it does it again!"
"Quick roll the 1,000 sided dice and hope it lands on 1, wow it landed on 1! Let's hope it does it again!"
And it would have to be correct at least a trillion times per second, and never guessing incorrectly even once.
This is the logic of the philosophers trying to support a Godless universe."
Anyone else see a basic problem here? Aside from the spelling and grammar errors (which I am frequently just as guilty of making) but the fact he is making a claim that the only reason the Universe works at all is because God has his hand on the control levels and keeps making minor corrections every few trillionths of a second . . . Sounds like the makings of a bad sci-fi movie. "OMG the laws of physics are out of kilter . .God must have fallen asleep at the switch! We're all gonna die unless someone goes and wakes him/her up! This is a job for 'Santa Claus'!" OK, maybe a bad spoof of a sci-fi movie.

OK, but on to my topic, the Odds, some simplified stats for Chad's (a less than classical reference) like Cliff here.

How does one calculate the odds or any occurrence. Well for your calculation to have any validity at all you need to know a few things. Let's take a simple deck of playing cards. 52 cards, 4 suits, ranging from Ace to King (or Two to Ace for purists), no jokers, nothing is wild. Take that simple deck and follow this simple recipe:
Now, without knowing the value of the card, can you tell me the odds of any specific card coming up? Hopefully since we are dealing with 52 different cards, the odds are 1:52, that is there is one chance out of 52 possibilities of a certain card being dealt. If you disagree with that . .you really need some basic Math before you even try a stats class.

The real question is how do we know this? We know it because we know some very specific variables about our problem. We know there are 52 cards, we know we dealt just one out. The calculation is pretty easy. So let's continue:

Again, we knew the odds of the card being the Ace of Hearts because we not only knew the number of cards, but the value of the one we were after. You have to know these things to be able to calculate anything other than a Wild-Ass Guess (WAG). OK, let's continue:
What are the odds of this card being the Ace of Spades? 1:51! We know this because we already removed one card, so the odds change because the number of cards is different. Of course the odds of it being some other card is 50:51. OK, let's try something else.
Simply stated, it would be impossible because I gave you a single deck of Pinochle cards (48 cards, 9 to Ace, 2 of each suit. You see the odds calculation is meaningless if you do not know the parameters. So exactly what are the parameters folks like Cliff like to use? Who knows! They can make up anything they like, because they are meaningless!!

Let's try one last thing. Take the regular deck of cards, shuffle up all 52 and deal out the entire deck face up. You can see that the deck is in a very specific order. Now what are the odds of those cards being in that specific order? Pretty high, actually it's 52! (52 factorial), that is 1*2*3 . . .*52. A huge number.

I need you to think about a couple of things. This particular number doesn't do you much good. Before you dealt the cards out, you didn't have a specific order in mind, so the odds of the cards being in SOME order was actually 100%. The odds of them being in this specific order was astronomical. So if you are planning to run out and buy a Lotto ticket because you just beat astronomical odds . . . don't. You haven't beaten the odds. Sure the cards are in that specific order, but the odds only mean anything if you shuffle up the cards and deal them out again, looking for that same order.

Life is like that. We cannot calculate the odds of human beings being here right now because even if the odds seem high, they are meaningless, we are here. Since we are here, the number is worthless.
I do have a couple of suggestions for those who insist on making the argument. First go learn what odds are and how to calculate them. Cliff from Florida, you need some Basic Math help first. Second please remember what is needed to determine viable and valid odds. If you don't have all the pieces then all you are doing is making a WAG, or even a SWAG. Defending such a calculation does little to enhance your own credibility.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Argument XVII - Equivalent sides?

Here is a simple question, is Evolution, including the theory, and Creationism the same thing?

No, I haven't flipped out. But one of the arguments I have heard a lot of on Topix is that both Science and Religion are using the exact same evidence, they are just arriving at different conclusions/interpretations and each one is as correct as the other.

I don't buy into this one for several very simple reasons. I do understand why Creationists, and Intelligent Design Proponents, like hearing this, I mean after getting your butt kicked in court for years, suddenly someone says you really are equal must get your heart all a-quiver!

But be still your quivering heart, because what we have here is a simple apples to oranges comparison that doesn't hold up. I mean on the surface it does look somewhat reasonable. And the claim is frequently made that they are both simply starting from different books in order to arrive at their conclusions. But is this true? In a nutshell, no! They are not starting from different books, they are not following the same methodology, and they are certainly not equivalent points of view of the same set of evidence.

How many pieces of evidence has been denied and ignored by Creationists and ID proponents? How many times have we heard "There are no transitional fossils", "The Earth is only 6,000 years old", and "the flood actually happened"? I don't know about you, but it seems to me that denial of the evidence is not an interpretation. That filtering your viewpoint based on any presupposition and ignoring evidence to the contrary means that your conclusion cannot withstand serious examination. Therein lies the difference and why the analogy is false.

I am not claiming that science is perfect, but look at the differences. A scientific theory has to be able to withstand scrutiny. It has to address the evidence, ALL the evidence, not just a convenient subset. It has to offer testable and predictable results. That is the difference between the two ideas. Creationism and ID offer nothing but an idea, an idea that has been validated by their religious beliefs. This is not the same thing as an idea that supports all the known evidence, that gets stronger as more evidence is discovered, and that predicts and passes test after test! The scientific side of the whole argument is based on logic, on reasoning, on the work of hundreds and thousands, and on a mountain of evidence that is so overwhelming that the Creationist side had to invent a way to accept a lot of it (micro vs macro). The Creationist/ID side is based on faith and only faith! How can they be equal?

Because Answers In Genesis says so! PZ Myers posted a link to the AIG website "What's the best proof of Creationism?" and that is the basic argument. It suddenly declares victory by co-opting all the evidence for Evolution and claiming that it is also the same evidence that supports Creationism. While it does admit to a certain 'unreliability' with evidences for Creationism presented in the past, but it blows right past those lies and builds a beaut all it's own. It starts simply enough, like most lies, with a kernel of the truth

"Creationists and evolutionists, Christians and non-Christians, all have the same evidence—the same facts. Think about it: we all have the same earth, the same fossil layers, the same animals and plants, the same stars—the facts are all the same."
But then it takes off into flights of fancy and claiming that the presuppositions uses by evolutionists are the same thing as the presuppositions used by Creationists. Now that is a huge assumption! One of the precepts of science is the ability to cast off presuppositions when the evidence doesn't support it. Science does that on a regular basis. In fact it's possible, although unlikely, that all of Evolution might be cast aside for a better explanation. Can AIG say the same for their religious ideas? No they cannot! Everything must match their religious perspective or it is wrong! There is no possibility that their religious perspective isn't perfect! Of course when pressed they fall back on the old stand-by "God!"

This is not an example of two people arguing from the same evidence and simply not seeing each others points of view. One side is based on logic and evidence, the other is based solely on faith and a denial of any evidence that does not support their position. In fact the only evidence they accept doesn't unequivocally support their position, it simply doesn't automatically dismiss it (micro vs macro again)

This paragraph is what really shows me what AIG and little kenny Ham are all about:
"A Christian who understands these things can actually put on the evolutionist’s glasses (without accepting the presuppositions as true) and understand how they look at evidence. However, for a number of reasons, including spiritual ones, a non-Christian usually can’t put on the Christian’s glasses—unless they recognize the presuppositional nature of the battle and are thus beginning to question their own presuppositions."
Of course only the non-Christian is capable of questioning their presuppositions, the Christian, since that's the side that has to be correct -- according to AIG -- their presuppositions are all valid ones. How can anyone actually write this drivel and believe it!

I do think little kenny still seems to forget that the majority of the Cristian world supports evolution and evolutionary theory. He is making yet another assumption and claiming that all Christians see things as he does. Well as PZ Myers put it, the glasses he is looking through are cracked and nearly opaque!

My take is pretty simple. Science looks at the facts and draws conclusions. Little kenny starts with the conclusions and looks for what facts might support it. There is no equivalency here, only the barest most tiny bit of similarity, I mean they each are using facts and conclusions, but certainly not the same methodology.

More on "Biblical Literalism"

From James F. McGrath, Associate Professor of Religion at Butler University, Indianapolis, Indiana, on his blog Exploring Our Matrix. In his latest post on Biblical Literalism, he basically lays out that the limits are the Biblical Literalists really not wanting certain passages to be literally true. I'm not sure I agree with that point of view completely.

I've always seen Biblical Literalists are more just selecting the parts that wish to believe as literally true and ignoring the rest. What I find interesting is that most Literalists don't really seem to be saying they want the Bible to be literally true, but that they want you to agree with their interpretation of the Bible. Genesis is most often the part quoted as them wishing it to be true and then interpretation on things like "how long was a day before the Sun and Earth existed" is supposed to literally mean a 24-hour day. That in itself is an interpretation -- but telling a Biblical Literalist that is like reminding a Marine they are part of the Navy. You can be as right as rain, but the Marine will never willingly grasp what you are saying. :-) No offense Navy or Marine, I have family members serving in both!

But that's my take. It's not so much that they want to change the meaning, but they want their meaning to be the ONLY meaning. And if the Bible contradicts itself later -- which it does too many times to count -- then they just ignore the parts they don't like. Plus several times on Topix I was referred to as being a "Cafeteria Christian" because I do consider myself a Christian, but don't agree with the Bible as being Literal, so I am some sort of 'pick-your-own' Christianity. Yet who seems to be doing most of the picking and choosing? Yea, the Biblical Literalists, that's whom.

I do wonder if there is a Bible version for the Biblical Literalist? You know, one with the passages they want ignored redacted out and the ones they need 'interpreted' footnoted? It would be what . . . about a 100 pages or so? There we go, too bad the Biblical Literalists are such a small group or we could make serious change selling "Biblical Cliff Notes."

I do recall . . . and I can't find my reference . . . about a sanitary practice in the Koran (sp?) about going out away from your tent/town a prescribed distance and burying your personal waste. Yet modern-day plumbing takes the place of that described practice. The reason I am asking is that I wonder if there are Koran Literalists much like the Biblical Literalists who only seem to take the holy book literally, except when they can't.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

IDEA and academic freedom?

Back sometime last year engaged in a bunch of posts on the Cornell Intelligent Design and Evolution Awareness (IDEA) club. The gist of the discussion was they were trying to offer a class on the scientific aspects of Design and for some reason met with some resistance. I had heard of a number of the IDEA clubs forming, with some level of assistance from the Discovery Institute. As far ads I know, one never formed at any of the colleges around here. While the name might sound innocuous, they groups were certainly pro-ID, as the posts revealed.

After a while the posts stopped on the Cornell IDEA club and I lost track of their little group. It turns out that I am not the only one who lost track. Allen McNeill, Biology Professor at Cornell recently posted this:

"not one of the IDEA Clubs affiliated with an academic institution is still functioning. Indeed, only one of the clubs listed has even updated its website during the past year (the Tri-State IDEA Club)."
Looks like the IDEA clubs didn't pan out the way the DI was hoping. I do find it amusing that the DI, just two weeks ago, posted that
"We are teaming up with the IDEA Center (Intelligent Design and Evolution Awareness) to help students in starting IDEA chapters on their campuses. Such campus clubs are a fun and educational way for students to examine all sides of the debate over evolution."
The decline of IDEA clubs seems to also coincide with the Dover decision, something the DI also just posted about recently. DO you like hoe they seem to keep marginalizing the Dover decision. I remember when Behe finished testifying and how he claimed victory because of how devastating his testimony was against the plaintiffs. It was certainly devestating, but not in the direction he was hoping.
"Today marks the third anniversary of Judge John Jones' attempt to ban science classroom discussions of intelligent design in the Kitzmiller v. Dover case. In the three years since Jones' decision was announced, it has not worn well. . . . In the meantime, public interest in intelligent design has continued to grow, as has support for academic freedom to question Darwinism (no doubt encouraged by this year’s theatrical documentary Expelled). Darwinists, alas, have yet to learn the futility of trying to win scientific debates by court orders and intimidation. No matter—although Darwinists may not believe in free speech and debate, the vast majority of Americans do."
Please note that not only have they erroneously claimed that the Dover Decision wasn't devastating to their cause, but they get a plug in got the Stein abortion and their current tactic "Academic Freedom", a subject they clearly know little about. At least they have consistency on their side, consistent denial.

Does anyone see any problem with how "Academic Freedom" is seen as a successful for Intelligent Design? Funny how they keep trying to distance the two . . .just more proof that the academic freedom tactic is just that, a tactic and not honest academic freedom!!!

More on "Academic Freedom"

Scientific American has a great story on what folks like the Discovery Institute mean when they say "Academic Freedom". I previously posted that they mean nothing of the kind ('Academic Freedom' Day), nice to read more support for my position.

"The Latest Face of Creationism in the Classroom: Creationists who want religious ideas taught as scientific fact in public schools continue to adapt to courtroom defeats by hiding their true aims under ever changing guises" By Glenn Branch and Eugenie C. Scott, 16 Dec 2008 Scientific American.

Take a good look at it and you will come to agree that the last thing on the DI's mind is actual academic freedom. This particular rallying cry is nothing more than the latest tactic. These people will stop at NOTHING to advance their agenda! This is another proof of that no tactic, no matter how reprehensible, seems to be beyond them. You tell me, is this ethical behavior of any sort? Is this form of lying even appropriate for an organization dedicated to pushing Evangelical Christian views on the rest of us? Another instance of the ends self-justify the means! Well not to me.

Since the Dover Trial, they have been scrambling. This is nothing more than their current rallying cry. Just a year ago it was "Teach the Controversy" and then they tried and failed with "Strengths and Weaknesses", now they are putting their eggs in a basket labeled "Academic Freedom".

Here is the paragraph that hit home for me:

"The appeal of academic freedom as a slogan for the creationist fallback strategy is obvious: everybody approves of freedom, and plenty of people have a sense that academic freedom is desirable, even if they do not necessarily have a good understanding of what it is. The concept of academic freedom is primarily relevant to college teaching, and the main organization defending it, the American Association of University Professors, recently reaffirmed its opposition to antievolution laws such as Louisiana’s, writing, “Such efforts run counter to the overwhelming scientific consensus regarding evolution and are inconsistent with a proper understanding of the meaning of academic freedom.” In the public schools, even if there is no legal right to academic freedom, it is sound educational policy to allow teachers a degree of latitude to teach their subjects as they see fit—but there are limits. Allowing teachers to instill scientifically unwarranted doubts about evolution is clearly beyond the pale. Yet that is what the Louisiana Science Education Act was evidently created, or designed, to do."
This is an emotional appeal because, well to borrow a phrase, everyone loves "Freedom". It's an emotional reaction when people question why anyone, least of all scientists, would be against academic freedom. But I ask you to read the article, look up the text of the Louisiana so-called "Science Education Act" and see how being able to introduce pseudo-scientific ideas, like Intelligent Design and Creationism "
. . .promotes critical thinking skills, logical analysis, and open and objective discussion of scientific theories being studied including, but not limited to, evolution, the origins of life, global warming, and human cloning."
As found in Dover such topics undermine science, and in reality is the public High School science classroom the appropriate venue to hash out what is science and what is not? And while this bill claims "
. . . shall not be construed to promote any religious doctrine, promote discrimination for or against a particular set of religious beliefs, or promote discrimination for or against religion or non-religion"
It certainly doesn't prohibit the use of religious beliefs in promoting these unscientific view points. There is the bottom line! The public HS curriculum is not the place to be having these debates. The science teachers at the HS level should be teaching science, not engaging in a political debate!

This is NOT academic freedom, and this is not the purpose of academic freedom! But the DI, and their ilk, are certainly not above misusing the term in order to push for an agenda they cannot achieve through honesty or integrity. No, they have to LIE! Oh you might want to call is a 'misrepresentation' as Scott and Branch call it in this article, but what I got taught in parochial school is that deliberately misrepresenting something is a lie!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Scientific American Top 10!

OK, I know I said I was posting my last word on the Ben Stein abortion "Expelled:", but I can't resist this one. Scientific American listed their Top 10 Readers' Choice stories for the year, and slipping into 4th place are "Six Things in Expelled That Ben Stein Doesn't Want You to Know." A couple I have already mentioned, like the criminal mis-quote of Charles Darwin and the staging of his 'speeches'. But I certainly enjoyed the recap of a few of the problems in the mockumentary:

1) Expelled quotes Charles Darwin selectively to connect his ideas to eugenics and the Holocaust.

2) Ben Stein's speech to a crowded auditorium in the film was a setup.

3) Scientists in the film thought they were being interviewed for a different movie.

4) The ID-sympathetic researcher whom the film paints as having lost his job at the Smithsonian Institution was never an employee there.

5) Science does not reject religious or "design-based" explanations because of dogmatic atheism.

6) Many evolutionary biologists are religious and many religious people accept evolution.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Science is limited by its refusal to make stuff up

This is so great! Found it at the Jesus and Mo archive site. A friend emailed me the link. He thought I would get a kick out of it.
You might take a look at a few more of their strips. Some interesting points!

Biblical Literalism Continued

So what is the problem with Biblical Literalism? For me it's really simple. After talking with several Biblical Literalists on Topix, I cannot for the life of me understand why they want to take it so literally. I mean they sit there and say how literal the Bible is and when you bring up an inconsistency, they start 'interpreting' it. How literal is anything that requires interpretation anyway? One of them summed it up for me beautifully "You have to take the Bible literally, except where you don't." And he seemed to actually believe that! So in reality there is no such thing as Biblical Literalism, it's more of a 'cherry-picking' the parts of the Bible you want to take literally and ignoring the rest, which is why I enjoyed the Biblical Literalism Recipe post so much.

One of my other issues is that the Biblical Literalists I have chatted with seem to equate literalism and inerrancy. I find this to be a logical non-sequitor. If the Bible cannot be read literally, that is without any form of interpretation, then how can it possibly be seen as inerrant, that is 'without error'. This doesn't even begin to deal with the inconsistencies in the Bible itself, but just the simple fact of interpretation. How does inerrancy work in the face of interpretation? Makes little sense to me.

Part of this, I'm sure, is certainly my own upbringing. I was taught that the Bible is the 'Word of God', but not that the words of the Bible should be treated as if they came out of God's mouth. Do you see the difference? It makes perfect sense to me how a book written over the course of centuries, by multiple groups of people, bending the stories to fit the time and politics of the day, translated, re-translated, and even the translations have been translated, could be seen as anything other than allegorical in nature.

I do enjoy how some of the Literalists justify themselves. They quote the simple fact that some of the places mentioned in the Bible actually existed. What I don't get is why they see that as proof? I mean Tom Clancy writes about cities and towns that exist in the US, and that doesn't make his fiction a reality. Oh yea, there's a Denver, so the atomic bomb Clancy had exploding there was real! How crazy is that?

It always leaves me shaking my head, especially when a poster starts talking about how carefully the Bible gets copied, as if the men copying it are incapable of error simply because they are copying the Bible. Many have written about how they changed the wording and the tone to be more in line with their thinking -- poetic license! Just research a little on the King James version of the Bible and the changes made for no other reason that the writers could will surprise you. The other fun fact is that there are different varieties of literalists and inerrantists (is that a word?). There are some that only claim it (evangelical inerrantists) for the original source documents, many of which no longer exist. Other claim specific versions of the Bible are the 'one true' version, such as the King James Only inerrantists. There are others still that make wildly divergent claims on exactly what literal and inerrant mean.

So the bottom-line question still exists, which Bible should be taken absolutely literally and inerrant? So far no one seems to be able to answer that. In all honesty I think this whole point is self-defeating. No one has been able to point to an error-free, un-conflicted Bible, one even free from literary problems. So this 'belief' in Biblical Literacy is just that, a belief. I think the problem was summed up best by St. Augustine"

It not infrequently happens that something about the earth, about the sky, about other elements of this world, about the motion and rotation or even the magnitude and distances of the stars, about definite eclipses of the sun and moon, about the passage of years and seasons, about the nature of animals, of fruits, of stones, and of other such things, may be known with the greatest certainty by reasoning or by experience, even by one who is not a Christian. It is too disgraceful and ruinous, though, and greatly to be avoided, that he [the non-Christian] should hear a Christian speaking so idiotically on these matters, and as if in accord with Christian writings, that he might say that he could scarcely keep from laughing when he saw how totally in error they are. In view of this and in keeping it in mind constantly while dealing with the book of Genesis, I have, insofar as I was able, explained in detail and set forth for consideration the meanings of obscure passages, taking care not to affirm rashly some one meaning to the prejudice of another and perhaps better explanation.
The Literal Interpretation of Genesis, Augustine of Hippo, early 5th century AD
St. Augustine clearly seems to understand the difference between 'metaphorical' and 'literal' and I so dearly wish the more rapid believers in Biblical Literalism would realize the damage they do to their own faiths by denying explanations that are not written about in the Bible.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Humor IV - Gnostic Flow Chart

Another great post over at "Exploring Our Matrix", a Gnostic Flow Chart, and the tee-short idea is great!

Imagine the flow chart of the front of the shirt and on the back "And you thought organic chemistry was hard!"

Friday, December 12, 2008

Arguments XVI - Biblical Literalism

Now I plan on talking more on this in the future, but I couldn't resist posting this from Exploring our Matrix, a pretty interesting blog. It's a recipe for Biblical Literalism

"Take one part overly-familiar Bible verses. Repeat these verses over and over again until a thick, opaque layer is formed. Use this layer to cover the remaining 39 parts consisting of Bible verses that do not talk about the same subject as those more familiar verses, verses which seem to disagree with them, as well as verses you don't understand, verses you understand but do not put into practice, and any other verses you could happily live without. Bake until the lower verses are obscured from view.

Avoid stirring and serve."
I would really love to disagree with this, but I cannot. I do not see how anyone with a functioning brain can accept the Bible as the absolutely inerrant Word of God exactly as written. Don't get me wrong, the Bible is a wonderful and fascinating book, but inerrant? That's the part I have issues with. How many inconsistencies are contained in every version of the Bible? Hundreds, thousands? There are whole courses of study of such things. Do you know how many Commandments the Bibles lists? There are certainly more than 10! There are even three different sets of Commandments to just confuse the issue. The Bible has been translated, re-translated, the translations translated themselves. It has been re-written and made more 'politically-correct' in it's day, like the King James versions. It has been translated into more every-day language, like the "New Revised Standard Version".

Yes, it is a wildly popular books and says a great many things in it that are worth reading, understanding and some of them are even worth living up to. But it is not without it's flaws! But Biblical Literalists seem to be able to ignore all of that and take very select parts and declare the whole to be perfect and without change.

Monday, December 8, 2008

"Academic Freedom" Day?

Here we are at the end of another year and the Discovery Institute is starting their pitch for what they call "Academic Freedom Day", in which they quote-mine Charles Darwin and say "A fair result can be obtained only by fully stating and balancing the facts and arguments on both sides of each question."

Let's be clear on this, in no way shape or form is the Discovery institute actually interested in Academic Freedom, because if they were, they would know that the HS science classroom is not the place to have a debate about Intelligent Design (ID) and Theory of Evolution (ToE)! If ID were an actual scientific theory I would agree with them, but according to their own mentor, Phillip E. Johnson, it is not a theory. According to the overwhelming majority of the scientists in the world, ID is not a scientific theory. It does not belong in the science classroom, except maybe as a footnote. Rather than go into the details that I have posted many times of in this Blog, let's just keep it there for now. If you want more detail, there are a bunch of posts and lots of online references explaining the lack of science in ID, including Michael Behe's own testimony during the Dover trial.

So now, what exactly is Academic Freedom? The Discovery Institute has it half right, Academic Freedom is the freedom for students and teachers to explore even the most controversial of subjects. But what the they tend to forget is that academic freedom is not without limits. For example, according to the Statement on Academic Freedom and Tenure, teachers should be careful to avoid controversial matter that is unrelated to the subject. This statement is referenced in many documents concerning academic freedom. Please note the phrase "unrelated to subject". That is the limitation that the DI wants you to forget about.

Students and Teachers today have a degree of academic freedom that seems incredible. But there are still limits. We have free speech, yet walk into a crowded theater and yell "Fire!" without there actually being a fire and you will see how fast your Free speech defense works for you.

Academic Freedom comes with responsibilities, and one of those responsibilities is to keep the discussion on target with educational goals and objectives. Allowing academic freedom to be misused in this way would open the doors for some pretty incredible things. What is a teacher to do when a student in a Astronomy class asks about astrology? Are they supposed to cut off a lesson that is part of the curriculum and branch off into a pseudo-science in the name of academic freedom? Of course not! But that is exactly what the DI is asked for. In fact the DI isn't asked that it be included, they are trying to mandate that it be included.

The main reason the DI is using this tactic is because if it is allowed in the classroom under the guise of academic freedom, then ID will have attained a level of acceptance and validity that is has not managed to achieve through actual science work!

There are two parts to this that aggravate me. First of all the obvious tactic by the DI to use the guise of academic freedom to try and achieve a level of acceptance that ID has not been able to garner through science. I mean they can't or don't do the actual science, yet they are asking for validity to be presented alongside other actual scientific theories. That is just plain wrong!

The other part is that right now today if a teacher wants to bring up ID in the classroom, even a science classroom, they have that freedom today. What they cannot do it raise it as a scientific theory the equal to real scientific theories. ID can be taught in a philosophy or theology class, but it cannot be taught as science in a science class -- which is as it should be until it earns that right through science!

In my opinion allowing ID in the classroom under such a guise is a step backwards for academic freedom. Forcing a non-scientific issue into the science classroom is an affront to academic freedom and will do more harm than good.

I am not disagreeing with Charles Darwin's quote, but I do have a question that people ought to consider. Is a HS science class the right venue to allow a fair result be obtained only by fully stating and balancing the facts and arguments on both sides of each question? No! This should be settled well before any discussion as science. Pardon me if the DI thinks that isn't fair. But is it fair to expect the English teacher to teach English, the Math teacher to teach Math and the physics teacher to teach Physics? Of course it is! It is not academic freedom to demand otherwise.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The final word on Expelled: The Mockumentary

Roger Ebert, film critic, reviewed Ben Stein's "Expelled: . . ." and you have to read it for yourself:

Win Ben Stein's Mind

Now I will admit I don't always agree with Mr. Ebert, I mean "12 Monkeys" and "13 King's", but often I find his reviews interesting and insightful. Today my hat is off to this absolutely scathing review of Stein's foolish film. It dives into areas I would have never thought to look. He turns over rocks that only someone in the movie industry would think to turn over. I am humbled at his review and also laughed through much of it. But not his closing comment. No one could have said it better!

"It is not difficult for me to describe how you made me feel by exploiting the deaths of millions of Jews in support of your argument for a peripheral Christian belief. It fills me with contempt."

Monday, December 1, 2008

Yea! Science 1, Creation Museum 0

A friend of mine mentioned something that I had to see to believe. The Cincinnati Zoo offering a two-for-one ticket including the Zoo's annual Christmas light and decoration spectacular with a ticket to the Creation Museum in Northern Kentucky. Now in all honesty I got the note and went to check it out but couldn't find anything on the Zoo's website about it. I thought it was a joke at my expense. I did not; however, go to the museum's website -- after all there are some things a browser should never be pointed at.

Well I mentioned to my friend that I thought his joke was funny, and he was annoyed to think that I would doubt him. So he sends me a link to the Cincinnati Enquirer and, lo and behold, there was a deal just as he described. But -- and here is why I say Yea! -- there was so many outraged calls that the Zoo killed the deal and pulled it off their website. So I did apologize to my friend in thinking he was pulling a fast one -- which is something he is known for! He accepted in good grace and warned me "Next time you better be ready for something big!" While I dread that day because his jokes do tend to be pretty creative and nerve-wracking, for today I salute the people from the area that called in and complained. If I had heard of it before they pulled it, I would have joined you!

Now I do believe this was simply someone in the advertising department who got a bit excited, maybe someone thinking the Creation Museum was a real museum instead a ken Ham ego-trip. To be sure I have never seen any disregard for science at the Cincinnati zoo. It's one of my favorite places and my granddaughter will be seeing their displays later this month. Whatever the reason, the concerned citizens in this area came through.

Oh and by the way, none of the two-fer tickers were sold, which makes it even better.

If you are interested, the Cincinnati Zoo can he found right here

Addendum: I received a couple of email complaining a little about my post. The gist is that I didn't explain my problem with this apparent two-fer deal. They weren't supporting the deal, but they weren't sure what my issue with it was. Fair question.

What Ken Ham is desperate for is validity, as in the recognition of any organization that clearly supports science. I feel a zoo, like the Cincinnati Zoo, with ecological and evolutionary programs involving wildlife, wildlife preservation, and work with endangered species would offer Ken Ham and his Creationistic Folly a validation that he can never earn through actual accurate scientific work. I feel it would be a detriment for the Zoo to be associated with such a character and it would be a LIE to put in print that the Zoo supports the displays and obvious poor scholarship represented by Ken Ham's Abortion.

That should be clear enough. This is not about tourism, it is not about people being unfair to little Kennie. All it does is sever a relationship that would cause more damage to the Zoo than good. I am sure Kennie will call it an infringement of business, but it no way is the Zoo preventing people from spending good money on a bad idea -- namely visiting his place of worship. They are just refusing to offer him the validity that he wanted. I am also sure Kenny will make some claim about how unfair some people are and that the calls were unwarranted. I wouldn't be surprised if he tries to associate the people who called with Nazi Eugenics. No tactic, no matter how reprehensible, seems to be too low for him. But he is wrong! Severing this business arrangement because of the perception that the Zoo supports his Folly is the smart play by the Zoo and I am glad this was brought to light before any damage was done to the Zoo. Any collateral damage done to ken and his Disaster is just lucky!

I have no plans to search for any reaction by little kennie, because like I said there are somethings you shouldn't ask your browser to display.

Wait, I spoke too soon. PZ Myers has a post with little Kennie's reaction. Apparently he claiming some sort of 'Atheistic agenda', 'Evolution worship', and even claims that it was purely a business arrangement. Yea right! Typical knee-jerk reaction on kennie's part. You can get the link to kennie's blog there.

Quote Mining

Outstanding post by GumbyTheCat, another blogger sincerely interested in preserving and improving science education. His topic is one that seems to plague evolution supporters in the Blogsphere and places like Topix, and that is "Quote Mining."

We've all seen it, quotes from popular figures taken out of context. I know I mentioned when I posted a review of Expelled that I was not happy with the way they used what was portrayed as a quote from Charles Darwin. Gumby caught that one as well. I said I would be posting more on it after seeing the movie again, but I have yet to do so. Gumby got it down, so here it is:

Ben Stein quoted Charles Darwin:

With savages, the weak in body or mind are soon eliminated. We civilized men, on the other hand, do our utmost to check the process of elimination. We build asylums for the imbecile, the maimed and the sick. Thus the weak members of civilized societies propagate their kind. No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man. Hardly anyone is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed.
Made it sound like Charles Darwin was supporting and encouraging Eugenics. But let's place the whole quote in context. The parts Ben Stein used are in bold.
With savages, the weak in body or mind are soon eliminated; and those that survive commonly exhibit a vigorous state of health. We civilized men, on the other hand, do our utmost to check the process of elimination. We build asylums for the imbecile, the maimed and the sick; we institute poor-laws; and our medical men exert their utmost skill to save the life of every one to the last moment. There is reason to believe that vaccination has preserved thousands, who from a weak constitution would formerly have succumbed to small-pox. Thus the weak members of civilized societies propagate their kind. No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man. It is surprising how soon a want of care, or care wrongly directed, leads to the degeneration of a domestic race; but excepting in the case of man himself, hardly anyone is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed. The aid which we feel impelled to give to the helpless is mainly an incidental result of the instinct of sympathy, which was originally acquired as part of the social instincts, but subsequently rendered, in the manner previously indicated, more tender and more widely diffused. Nor could we check our sympathy, even at the urging of hard reason, without deterioration in the noblest part of our nature. The surgeon may harden himself whilst performing an operation, for he knows that he is acting for the good of his patient; but if we were intentionally to neglect the weak and helpless, it could only be for a contingent benefit, with an overwhelming present evil.
This should be criminal! By pulling only particular pieces of a quote they completely changed the meaning and used it to justify the most absurd part of their mockumentary, where Ben Stein blamed the Holocaust on Charles Darwin. But read the actual quote and you will realize that nothing can be further form the truth. BTW, even The Anti-Defamation League has disagreed with Little Benny and called what he did a form of Holocaust Denial!

Sadly this is a common tactic, as we could see by the recent election. So I am going to borrow one more piece from Gumby and reiterate his final comment here:
The next time someone throws you a quote in support of their argument, never take it at face value. Take the time to Google or otherwise research it, and sometimes you'll find out that the quote has purposely been totally taken out of context. And if that indeed turns out to be the case, don't hesitate to publicly embarrass the person who tried unsuccessfully to pull a fast one on you. It's fun!
Please feel free to post your favorite examples of quote-mines here.

Addendum, I have been quote-mined :-)

A Topix troll named 'wilson' tried to explain evolution by using a completely blind chance mechanism. Kinda like using a tossing a dice with several million facets. Well he used part of my response to make it sound like I completely disagree with chance having any role in Evolution.

His quote-mine from nearly a month ago:
"Random Mutation is not based on chance, Natural Selection is not based on chance, Sexual Selection is not based on chance, Genetic drift is not based on chance, allotropic speciation is not based on chance ... and the list goes on."
However in context, here is what I was answering to, and what I actually responded with:

Wilson wrote:

Baloney! I don't "have the evolutionary view!"
You expect me to believe that? You have absolutely no way of proving it.
Molecular biologist James Watson called our brain “the most complex thing we have yet discovered in our universe.” And neurologist Richard Restak said:“Nowhere in the known universe is there anything even remotely resembling it.”
A scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology said:“Today’s computers are not even close to a 4-year-old human in their ability to see, talk, move, or use common sense.... It has been estimated that the information processing capacity of even the most powerful supercomputer is equal to the nervous system of a snail—a tiny fraction of the power available to the supercomputer inside [your] skull.”
Your conviction is that all of this came about just by chance, and now you have my challenge to prove it.
And my original response:
Still bobbing and weaving I see. But you let in too many blows.

One more time, with feeling. No one, but a poorly educated rabid creationalist, claims that the human brain came about by chance. NO ONE in evolutionary circles. Evolution is not a toss of the dice! How many times do people have to explain it to you. But then you get caught in yet another corner of your own building and fall back on arguments already dismantled.

Random Mutation is not based on chance, Natural Selection is not based on chance, Sexual Selection is not based on chance, Genetic drift is not based on chance, allotropic speciation is not based on chance ... and the list goes on.

It's your incredible poor understanding of evolution and the theory of evolution that gets revealed every time you make comments like this.
Just today wilson posts this:

You said that chance does not play a role in mutations, or something to that effect.
Remember this:
You said:
"Random Mutation is not based on chance, Natural Selection is not based on chance, Sexual Selection is not based on chance, Genetic drift is not based on chance, allotropic speciation is not based on chance ... and the list goes on."
Well, check this out, Hohio:
“We call these events [mutations] ACCIDENTAL; we say they are random occurrences. And since they constitute the only possible source of modification in the genetic text, itself the sole repository of the organism's hereditary structures, it necessarily follows that CHANCE ALONE is at the source of every innovation, of all creation in the biosphere. PURE CHANCE, absolutely free but BLIND, at the very root of the stupendous edifice of evolution: this central concept of modern biology is no longer one among other possible or even conceivable hypotheses. It is today the SOLE conceivable hypothesis, the only one that squares with observed and tested fact. AND NOTHING WARRANTS THE SUPPOSITION - OR THE HOPE - THAT ON THIS SCORE OUR POSITION IS LIKELY EVER TO BE REVISED.”(Jacques Monod)
Hohio, tell me that Monod was wrong! If not by chance in nature, then how? By design?

And here, just for grins is my response:
The context I was responding to was that your description of evolution as completely arbitrary chance wasn't the right one. You were treating evolution like a completely random toss of a dice with several million facets -- which is WRONG.

That even random mutation follows the laws of molecular binding and particle physics, so it is not based on chance, that many of the combinations of DNA cannot happen. Natural Selection is certainly not a chance driven change, since the selection is based on environment ... the list goes on. Try reading the context of my post rather than quote-mine me. I have said it many times, read for comprehension, not quote-mines.
Never once did I deny that chance has a role, but no evolutionary mechanism is based on chance. I had any number of other posts showing that while chance does play a role, it is not the role people like wilson ascribe to it. There is a great deal within evolution and evolutionary theory that do not have a component of chance at all. But wilson dismisses all of them either because he is
  • Un-educated and actually believes all of evolution is based on chance
  • Dishonest because he knows it's not and tries to make it seem like it is to add unsupported validity to his comments
  • A troll who is just after an emotional response.
  • Or all of the above :-)

Site meter

Having a little unanticipated fun with the Bog. I just registered on sitemeter and now a few stats are kept on who is reading the blog. I saw Total Drek, one of the blogs I read regularly, did it, so I gave it a try. Wow!

OK, I was feeling a little like a quiet voice in the forest because while I was getting the occasional email about a particular post, most of the posted comments were few and far between. I know I started the blog more to give myself a place to clarify my own thinking than anything else, but I did so like the occasional comment, knowing that some folks were actually reading my posts. I was also using it to test-the-waters of the Blogsphere, so to speak.

But linking to sitemeter changed that. I have been hit from as far away as New Zealand and Pakistan and as near as Michigan and Indiana. While folks aren't commenting, they are certainly reading. I also notice a spike whenever I do post a new article. It's great knowing there is an audience and while I am not after applause (comments in this form) it is terrific knowing that people are reading it.

So today I resolved to change my own behavior. I plan on commenting more on the blogs I read. I figure if I was enjoying the comments, others might as well. I really should have been commenting more all along, but hadn't given it much thought. I also encourage you all to read and comment as well!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Understanding Evolution

Ran across an interesting site, Understanding Evolution, hosted by, which shouldn't be a surprise and one I am sure die-hard anti-evolutionists will ignore simply because of the host. But anyone who wishes to get a little better versed in Evolution, this one and my other favorite Evolution, from, are two places they can go. I know I visit them when I am looking for a different angle on explaining something.

For example a common question is "Why is Evolution important?" Now when asked by a die-hard anti-evolutionist no answer will be acceptable. I know that and I am sure you know that. But to anyone who is actually interested in the subject some parts of the answer might surprise you. I mean most folks, like myself, who address this question tends to think agriculture and medicine.

Those aren't the only answers, just two of the most obvious answers. Here is an interview with Massimo Pigliucci, Ph.D., a professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at State University of New York. He addresses agriculture and medicine, and he paints an even broader picture in those disciplines. In fact he reminded me of something I read years ago -- why did Darwin call "Natural Selection" by that term. He was contrasting it to "Artificial Selection", the specific breeding of plants and animals for preferred attributes. He also stressed that it's not just medicine, but the understanding and development of disease that demands understanding evolution. Some of the advances in evolution were made while studying disease and disease vectors, not just potential treatments.

But then he goes into other areas, including Conservation and Ecology, Biotechnology, and even understanding ourselves. Interesting article and anytime someone asks the value of evolution, you can be armed with much more to tell them. I know, nay-sayers will try and downplay the whole issue, but the irony just kills me. I mean how many times in recent months have I seen someone post anti-science rhetoric while using a computer -- a scientific development. I bet the person has no problem eating meat, vegetables, and fruits that are a direct result of evolutionary sciences as well.

I have a lot of fun when someone points to the Banana as proof of the existence of God, when the banana that we eat today is the result of artificial selection for centuries. In fact the modern yellow banana that many of us enjoy cannot exist in nature because without human intervention, it cannot reproduce on it's own any longer. Gotta love the irony in that. I saw a Cameron/Ray Comfort video that I first thought was a joke, but these two are serious -- they think the Banana is "The Atheist's Nightmare". Well here is a link that explains some of the problems with Kirk and Ray silliness.

In fact the banana is a great example of why Evolution is important us. But it also shows the lengths some people will go to to try and debunk Evolution. That's why I blog, to counter bad information with good!

Friday, November 28, 2008

Kem Ham: "I am not a moron"

While The Discovery Institute is one of my favorite targets, another that I probably do not spend enough time laughing at is Ken Ham, or AnswersInGenesis and the Creation Museum of Kentucky fame. Here is part of a scathing commentary back to him because apparently little Kennie Ham thinks evolutionists pick on him:

You said that unicorns are real. You claim that the Beowulf story is evidence of human cohabitation with dinosaurs. You say that sometimes religious genocide is OK. You think that the government is training people to talk to aliens. You believe that evolution is a random process, a process of blind chance, which is just factually wrong. You target children because they can't defend themselves and trust you (talk about a cowardly act). You believe if a 2-year old understands it, it must be cutting edge science. You believe that observation and measurement cannot trump "common sense." You believe you do the type of science that you need "faith" to understand instead of, you know, "understanding" to understand. You believe...whatever the fuck this is. You employ the nanny-nanny boo-boo defense. Your ilk does not even try to publish outside of its little circle, and you set up a bogus journal to pretend that you were scholars, THEREBY AVOIDING THE DEBATE YOU CLAIM TO CRAVE. You stare at evolution, describe evolution, and then say, "It's not evolution."

And yet you wonder why someone with an education and responsibilities and a reputation would not talk to you? Despite this record of shame (I could have gone on and on just looking at my website alone), you have the balls to claim that you won something by being so catastrophically ignorant as to be not worth speaking to?


The links are all back to other blog posts. It's pretty much a no-holds-barred commentary. It's actually a lot of fun to read. But I'm not sure I could add anything to any description of kennie and his two annoying enterprises. I'm sure one of these days I will go to the Creation Museum myself. But not until I think I can make it through the whole thing without losing my lunch and maintaining a straight face. Right now I really believe I will get kicked out the first time I see a homo-sapien riding on the back of a dinosaur toward Noah's ark.

I picked up the trail for this piece on Pyaryngula. The link is right here.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Arguments XV -- Strengths and Weaknesses

This is something that has gotten a lot of press lately. Rather than mandating Intelligent Design the current tactic from those less-than-stalwart fellows over at the Discovery Institute is to push for examining the strengths and weaknesses of evolutionary theory. In Louisiana they've put this into law, and Texas is doing the same thing. So on the surface, is this a bad thing?

Here is my thinking.

First of all I have no problem covering the strengths and weaknesses of any theory -- even ALL theories. But why only point to one, or even a handful. I do enjoy how Evolution is usually teamed up with Climate Change and Stem Cell Research as a controversial theory. But more on controversy later. Right now I wanted to discuss the strengths and weaknesses issue.

OK, Let's start with an allegory, a simple math problem. say 2(squared), that is 2 raised to the second power. The result is 4? Is there any problem with that? No, OK time to move on.

A much more interesting problem is the square root of -1 raised to the power of the square root of -1. In Math terms this is also known as 'i' raised to the 'i'th power. Do you know the answer? well I don't either. Now the real question is "is this a weakness"?

Here is my point. Just because we may not know all the answers, does that indicate a weakness in basic math? No! It is an indicator that we don't know something. It in no way invalidates what we do know. You see where I am going. There is the Theory of Evolution and it is filled with many things that have been observed over and again, confirmed by experimentation, evidence, and other scientific disciplines. it makes no pretense at being perfect, but right now, today, given the state of our understanding, it is the best explanation for how life has changed from generation to generation and over many generations.

Are there things we do not know? Yes! No one in science will claim that it is absolute 100% perfect. But that is not a weakness! It is not a weakness to admit to things you do not know. the readily agree that it's not perfection. That there is more to learn. In fact if you go back to Darwin's day he admitted a number of things that he didn't know and he wasn't sure we would ever know. But the work went on and many of the things Darwin didn't understand are well understood today. In the process we uncovered other things we do not know. And the work keeps going. Each new thing discovered has supported the things we previously understood and added to them. we know so much more than Charles Darwin did!

Now when I talk to one of these people who are pushing 'strengths and weaknesses' or I read their books and articles, they see anything that is not explained as 100% perfection a weakness. in other words there really isn't anything in the Theory of Evolution they accept.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Is Texas Stepping Backwards? (II)

In my very first Bog post I asked a question, "Is Texas Stepping Backwards?" The focus of that post was the firing of the Texas State Science Curriculum Director about a month before a science curriculum review. Now here we are 10 months later and another piece of the puzzle surfaces. The Texas State Education Agency has appointed a 6 member panel to review the curriculum recommendations. They have stacked it with three out of state 'experts' who all have an ax to grind against evolutionary theory.

So while the SBOE seems to be paying lip service to science, their actions indicate that they are opening the door for things they shouldn't be, like Intelligent Design.

What I find so frustrating is that their whole defense is something like "We're not advocating Intelligent Design", that is a misleading statement. What they are advocating is weakening the science education of our young, a key strategy laid out by the Discovery Institute in order to open the door for alternatives.

I think Texas or Louisiana will be the next Dover-style lawsuit, something no school district needs. But when you use such back alley methods to push an unsupportable religious agenda, lawsuits tend to be the only immediate recourse. Of course the longer term answer is to do what Ohio and Kansas did and let the electorate remove the Creationists from the SBOE. That will certainly make the next election in Texas interesting. I guess the slogan might be: "Texas, the new Kansas"

Thursday, October 16, 2008

New website for the Clergy Letter Project

Apparently Butler Universisty did some re-arranging of their servers. If this link doesn't work, just Google "Clergy Letter Project" and you'll find it.

Arguments XIV -- Logic and Reasoning Fundamentalist -style

Here is a fun little post from Topix that I really liked, so I am stealing it here. Thanks to Nuggin who laid out this little example of logic and reasoning in the style of a Christian Fundamentalist.

You ask if there is a snake in the room.

I search the room, I find no snake. I don't see a snake. I don't smell a snake. I don't see snake skin. I don't see snake poo. I don't hear a snake. I check the temperature to see if it's too cold for a snake to exist. I check to see if there are areas in the room in which a snake could exist.

I don't find a snake. I also find that the temperature is too low for a snake. I also find that there is no place that I can detect where a snake could hide.

I conclude: "There does not appear to be a snake"
You conclude: "There is a snake"

I ask you for evidence FOR the snake.

You say, "I believe there is a snake".

That's NOT evidence.

There may or may not be a snake, but given that I've got MORE EVIDENCE that there isn't a snake and you've offered NOTHING to convince us that there is a snake, we're going to have to go with NO SNAKE.

You say, "No, there really is a snake."

I say, "Where, I can't see it."

You say, "It's invisible."

Do you have any evidence of any other invisible snakes from anywhere in the world?


But rather than provide evidence of invisible snakes, you demand that I prove that there are no invisible snakes.

I go into a long drawn out explanation about matter and how light reflects off objects.

You proceed to claim "the room contains magical light that doesn't behave the same."

I ask if you have evidence of this magical light.

You don't. But you demand that I prove that the room DOESN'T have magical light.

I proceed to explain how light works, how the air works, etc.

You then claim the room has magical properties that negate all this.

I ask if you have evidence that the room contains magical properties.

You don't. But then you demand that I prove that the room DOESN'T have magical properties...

You see where this is going?

You continue to make up greater and greater outrageous claims which have no foundation in evidence then demand that we disprove them.

That's NOT how reasoning works.

. . .

In his final words he stated that in order for someone to make a claim to have used logic and reason, you have to bring out the evidence supporting your position. Demanding that I, or anyone, always find evidence against your position is not how logic or reasoning operate. Logic and reasoning require evidence and an explanation of how you arrived at your conclusions. Yet this example is a perfect logical fallacy that many of the people who argue against evolution fall prey to. You cannot prove a negative, all you can do is present evidence against it. Sooner or later you reach a point beyond futility where the arguments just do not make sense.

Look at the stretches of imagination people have been using to promote a literal reading of the Bible. They change the laws of thermodynamics, planetary motion, gravity, the Moon's orbit, to name a few . . . all to support their literal reading of the Bible. Yet each 'guess' they make is based on other guesses, which are still based on other guesses. And the house of cards reaches not just impracticable levels, but incredulous levels.

Look at the supposed World-wide Flood and the story of Noah. There was this flood, you see. It killed all life in the world, except for the animals on this ark and Noah and his family.

Oh, how did the ark hold all the animals, well it was friggin' huge. Yea, that's it, was was huge!

Oh, how did all the animals come two by two? Ummm, well you see Noah went and found the all. That was his job, he gathered them up. Yea, while he was building this really friggin' huge boat.

How did the animals eat? Well Noah put fodder on the big friggin' boat. That's how friggin' big it was. Well they dumped all the crap overboard. No, I got it, the animals went to sleep. They was in, you know, that suspended animation stuff so they didn't eat, crap, or try and kill each other.

What about plants? I already told ya, fodder, ya moron. So this big friggin' boat had examples of all the plants in the world too!

During the 40 days and 40 nights all the mountains were carved. And you know, that geographical layered stuff, the flood did that too. Also all the seashells and coasts. Yea, the flood did all that!

Just list the incredulous statements. Is it possible for the Earth to be covered in water killing off all life other than what was in the ark? Aside from the fact that much water couldn't have exists, imagine how hard it would be to repopulate life on Earth after such an event. How about poor Noah and his family. Can one gene pool have repopulate the Earth? How is that credulous? How about care and feeding of the animals, many of which would have eaten each other. How about simple waste removal? The latest inanity I heard was all the animals were in a form of suspended animation. Oh yea, and where is that referenced in a literal biblical reading? How about how one event caused all geological formations, strata, fossils, fossil fuels . . . the list keeps on growing.

You see what I mean? The telling stretches the bounds of reality, and ends up being just a story and only a story because the literal facts don't support it. There is no evidence of a single flood event, none! Yet when approached we find ourselves having to prove that a world-wide flood didn't happen. Again, that is not how logic and reasoning works, so quit asking!

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Rabbi Letter

In previous posts I have mentioned the Clergy Letter Project. If you are unfamiliar here is the capsule version. An open letter to Christian Clergy was posted on the Web. It states:

"Within the community of Christian believers there are areas of dispute and disagreement, including the proper way to interpret Holy Scripture. While virtually all Christians take the Bible seriously and hold it to be authoritative in matters of faith and practice, the overwhelming majority do not read the Bible literally, as they would a science textbook. Many of the beloved stories found in the Bible – the Creation, Adam and Eve, Noah and the ark – convey timeless truths about God, human beings, and the proper relationship between Creator and creation expressed in the only form capable of transmitting these truths from generation to generation. Religious truth is of a different order from scientific truth. Its purpose is not to convey scientific information but to transform hearts.

We the undersigned, Christian clergy from many different traditions, believe that the timeless truths of the Bible and the discoveries of modern science may comfortably coexist. 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. We believe that among God’s good gifts are human minds capable of critical thought and that the failure to fully employ this gift is a rejection of the will of our Creator. To argue that God’s loving plan of salvation for humanity precludes the full employment of the God-given faculty of reason is to attempt to limit God, an act of hubris. We urge school board members to preserve the integrity of the science curriculum by affirming the teaching of the theory of evolution as a core component of human knowledge. We ask that science remain science and that religion remain religion, two very different, but complementary, forms of truth."
Over 11,000 Christian Clergy have signed this letter! Just this past month a similar letter has joined the Clergy Letter Project, this one from Rabbis. It says:
"As rabbis from various branches of Judaism, we the undersigned, urge public school boards to affirm their commitment to the teaching of the science of evolution. Fundamentalists of various traditions, who perceive the science of evolution to be in conflict with their personal religious beliefs, are seeking to influence public school boards to authorize the teaching of creationism. We see this as a breach in the separation of church and state. Those who believe in a literal interpretation of the Biblical account of creation are free to teach their perspective in their homes, religious institutions and private schools. To teach it in the public schools would be to assert a particular religious perspective in an environment which is supposed to be free of such indoctrination.

The Bible is the primary source of spiritual inspiration and of values for us and for many others, though not everyone, in our society. It is, however, open to interpretation, with some taking the creation account and other content literally and some preferring a figurative understanding. It is possible to be inspired by the religious teachings of the Bible while not taking a literalist approach and while accepting the validity of science including the foundational concept of evolution. It is not the role of public schools to indoctrinate students with specific religious beliefs but rather to educate them in the established principles of science and in other subjects of general knowledge."
It's been there only a short time and already over 300 Rabbi's have signed it. I do wonder how the DI will spin this, I know, another letter for signature, like the meaningless "Dissent from Darwinism" foolishness. Call this one "Atheists for Intelligent Design". I bet they can gather a few signatures if they forget to mention who they are and what they plan on using it for. You know, just like they did with their first letter.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Scientific Methodology Parable

This incident stemmed from a tree falling in my yard several years ago. One of my neighbors, a devout fundamentalist Christian, and he is indoctrinating his children all too well. I was looking at the tree, trying to figure why it fell when one of his brood informed me that God knocked it down. I did a bit more investigating and turned it into an example of the differences between science and this extreme fundamentalist religious cult pretending to explain the world around them. So it goes something like this:

A scientist and a fundamentalist are standing outside next to a tree that had fallen down overnight. The scientist looks at the fact, he has a tree down across part of his yard and he also looks at all the other trees on his property and wonders why the tree fell down. The fundamentalist says “God knocked your tree down.”

The scientist goes back inside and looks at last night weather report and realizes that late in the night there was a bit of a storm. He hypothesizes that the storm may have been the agent that took his tree down. The fundamentalist says “God knocked your tree down.”

The scientist is again outside looking at his tree when one of his neighbors brings over a CD. Apparently the neighbors security system caught an image of the tree going down and thought the scientist would be interested in it. Together they watch the video and the scientist sees two large pieces of compressed Styrofoam, the kind used to insulate basements, fly in the wind and get caught in his tree. The later storm hit the large area of stiff foam. His hypothesis becomes a theory with the evidence. Not only did the storm topple his tree, but the foam panels acted like sails, providing even more area for the wind to push against his tree. His theory matched the available evidence. When he told the fundamentalist about the panels, the fundamentalist replies, “God knocked your tree down!”

The scientist, not 100% satisfied, contacts a tree expert to examine the downed tree and also to see if any of the other trees on his property are in danger. The tree expert examined the tree, the weather report, and the panels acting as sails and added several more pieces of evidence. He says the trees were originally planted a little on the shallow-side, not giving the tree as much support as it would if it had been planted deeper. That lack of support aided in the effects of the storm and the panels. So the theory, while now different, is a stronger explanation of the fact the tree is down. The tree expert also takes a sample off the tree’s exposed roots for analysis. When the fundamentalist hears about the roots he screams “God knocked your tree down!”

The tree expert gets back with the scientist. “Your tree also has a fungal growth that can weaken root systems. I have a special fertilizer for you to strengthen the roots of your other trees.” The fundamentalist yells even louder “GOD KNOCKED YOUR TREE DOWN!”

Now the theory is even stronger. It was a combination of storm, panels, shallow planting, and weakened roots that brought down his tree. The fertilizer will help insure his other trees don’t fall.

The moral of the story is that maybe God wanted the tree down, but if you end your thinking there, you will lose more trees and can only wonder why God hates you!

Friday, September 12, 2008

Bloggers of the world unite!

Sorry, had to say it. But right now that is how I feel. I received a link to an interesting blog called
"Kickin' the Darkness" which had a fascinating post, "How to talk to an Evolutionist (without being dismissed as ignorant and stupid)". It is a well laid out post which attempts to explain that many anti-evolutionist arguments are self-defeating. In my opinion any Creationist, Intelligent Design proponent, or other form of anti-evolutionist really should read this to avoid the more common arguments that make them look . . . well . . . stupid and ignorant.

The bottom line is really simple. There are many arguments that simply are not only ineffective, but really do make some people look . . . well you know . . .. I have no idea how many times someone has posted, "If we came from monkeys, why are there still monkeys?" A question like this only serves to underline that the person posting it has no understanding of Evolution at all! Add to the fact it has not only been answered a hundred different times in a hundred different ways -- and it is one of the questions many Creationist websites say should no longer be used. But people still use it, and then wonder why no one takes them seriously. The whole urban legend of Darwin recanting his work is another one. It just proves that an anti-evolutionist will grasp any straw, even one proven by other Creationist websites as being untrue. A decent grounding in actual scientific methodology will also go a long way. How many times has evolution been called a religion, or the very definition of a scientific theory been bounced around erroneously? More than I can count by now.

There are many arguments like that. I assembled by own personal top 10 of ineffective Creationist arguments:

10. Why are there still monkeys?
9. But what about Darwin's recanting and Lady Hope?
8. But it violates the 2nd (1st or 3rd) law of Thermodynamics.
7. But you have to have how life began to know how it changes.
6. Now if this tornado touches down in a junkyard ...
5. 'Real' Christians don't support evolution.
4. The 'Great' flood did it all.
3. There are no transitional fossils!
2. The 'Big Science' conspiracy.

and my number favorite Creationist Whine is ...

1. "It's only a Theory!"

After first posting this, a couple of folks asked for a thumbnail sketch as to why these are ineffective, to say the least, so here goes:

10. Why are there still monkeys? Evolutionary theory states that we and modern monkeys evolved from a common ancestor -- not that we evolved from monkeys. The common ancestor was more monkey-like and the cleft point may have been a geological upheaval in which part of the common ancestor population was stranded on one side of a new mountain range where the weather caused to jungle to recede. Hence the changes toward more bi-pedal and so forth.

9. But what about Darwin's recanting and Lady Hope? Pure hoax! 35 years after Darwin died this English Lady addressed a Evangelists group in Connecticut and claimed that Darwin recanted his work and accepted Jesus Christ. There has never been no corroborating evidence and Darwin's own family denounced it. Plus she had many details of his final months wrong!

8. But it violates the 2nd (1st or 3rd) law of Thermodynamics. Simply put, the 2nd law is applicable to closed systems, which this planet certainly is not. Anyone who understands thermodynamics recognizes this argument as based on a poor understanding of physics to go with their poor understanding of biology.

7. But you have to have how life began to know how it changes. Do you have to know how a car is built to drive one? If so most people would be off the road! Evolutionary theory starts with the presence of life. There are other ideas about how life formed, but they are not part of evolutionary theory.

6. Now if this tornado touches down in a junkyard ... The rest of this is an apparent attempt to compare evolution with a tornado passing through a junkyard and building a 747 or the Space Shuttle. In other words anyone who says this has an incredible poor understanding of Evolution because it is not nearly as random as this example would make you think. Now if there was a process to grab each part blown up by a tornado and save it to be used during later storms . . . ie: Natural Selection . . . you might get a slightly better example, but as it is it has nothing to do with Evolutionary theory.

5. 'Real' Christians don't support evolution. Then why do most Christians accept Evolution? Are you trying to say that Catholics, Baptists, and Methodists are not Christians? Only by some imaginary standard that the rest of the Christian world seems to know nothing about.

4. The 'Great' flood did it all. There has never been one shred of evidence of a single world-wide flood event, not one! The evidence that support floods also point to many different flood events, none of the on a world-wide scale, over millions of years. Plus a single event could not be responsible for all the geological features, fossils, strata . . . and all the things Creationists like to justify. In my opinion when they can't explain away a certain piece of evidence supporting evolutionary theory, they just use the Flood as the default argument.

3. There are no transitional fossils! This on is the hardest one to justify in my mind -- because there are hundreds of transitional fossils. In fact every fossil can be called transitional because the past leads to the present which will lead to the future of all organisms. But how the ones I have talked to justify this is they claim either no one has found "The Missing Link" or that there are no "Dog/Bird/Cat fossils". Once again all they are doing is revealing their ignorance of evolutionary theory.

2. The 'Big Science' conspiracy. This one has been bandied around for a while. So let me get this straight, there is some super-secret world-wide, multinational, and multi-generational organization conspiring to keep Evolution in science and keep Creationism out? Does anyone else see the problem here? This argument is nothing more than a smokescreen as to why Creationist (including Intelligent Design proponents) cannot seem to find any scientifically valid support for their wishful thinking. Rather than re-look at their ideas, they blame some conspiracy. So what happens, at some point in your science education 'they' pull you intoa secret room, teach you the secret handshake and send you forth to continue oppressing those who wish to bring religion into the classroom as if it was scientific? Please! Someone go get the credibility stretcher, I think we hit the wall on that one.

1. "It's only a Theory!" This can be explained a couple of different ways. First of all it's a deliberate deception by misusing the word "theory". When it comes to science there is no higher label to put on anything. Theory is it! So a scientific theory is not a guess, or a hunch, or even just an idea. It is a well supported explanation of a given phenomena. It meets the evidence, generates predictable results, and can be falsified. The other way this can be explained is another example of scientific ignorance. People do not understand theory in the terms of science, so when someone claims it's just a theory, that sound right because they are not using it in the context of science. While the two ways sound similar the difference is intent. On the one hand groups making the claim are deliberately trying to deceive people. On the other people simply just don't know any better.

So there is my thumbnail sketch. Many of there have been explained in other blog entries. I know I may have missed your personal favorite Creationist argument, and you can always comment here.