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.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Humor III

Not sure how long this will be around, but for now you have to see it:


The telling quote for me was "However one can see around one, in the media, in advertising, in popular entertainment that homo sapiens is, in fact, a Goober."

You know while I am filing this one under Humor, it really does strike way close to home.

Friday, September 5, 2008

And right after the Ft. Worth Article, the DI rebuttal

You can almost set your clock to when the Discovery Institute will respond to any article about Intelligent Design. The fun part is reading their rebuttal and looking for the misleading statements. I think I need to start a pool, how many misleading and misdirecting statements will the DI make? Well I don't plan on counting them right now, but I do plan on bring up some of the more interesting ones.

Of course they are claiming the Ft Worth Weekly piece was short on facts and misrepresented their position -- something I believe them to be an expert in. So let's dig in a little bit and see what we can see. I've already posted my opinion of the Ft. Worth Weekly piece here. Did the DI attack the piece itself, no they did their usual and took specific sections trying to weaken the purpose of the piece. But their very defensive attitude defeats their purpose.

The article stated:

"One of the center’s primary goals is to support research by scientists and other scholars challenging various aspects of Darwinian theory. The CSC’s leaders have advanced degrees — but they aren’t scientists: Director Stephen Meyer has a Ph.D. in the history and philosophy of science, while Associate Director John G. West holds a doctorate in government.

One of the hallmarks of the institute, according to many scientists, is that the CSC generates pseudo-scientific research, done by researchers with Ph.D. credentials, to bolster claims concerning intelligent design, to build support for that idea as a credible scientific theory. Of course the proponents of intelligent design also include those with legitimate hard-science backgrounds, like McLeroy and Maddox."
And the DI knee-jerk reaction is this:
"Discovery Institute has as Fellows nine PhD biologists or biochemists. Additionally, there are several who are chemists, physicists or astronomers. To imply that Discovery’s PhD credentialed Fellows are only in philosophy or some other non-hard science area is untrue, and a disservice to readers."
First of all did the article imply that the DI only employed philosophers, no! The article said the leaders were not scientists and it substantiated that statement. It did say that the 'fellows' of the DI "generates pseudo-scientific research". Did the DI object to the characterization of it's work as "pseudo-scientific research." No, they pull a little legalistic word trick and make an unsubstantiated claim and then change the direction of the conversation. You know by not objecting to the generates pseudo-scientific research, this could be taken as an implied statement that they agree the 'research' done by their fellows is 'pseudo-scientific', right?

No a brief aside. When a DI fellow, one with a PhD or other degree in a scientific discipline, writes a popular press book about ID -- does that count as scientific research? In my opinion No! Sure Michael Behe has a PhD in biochemistry and has tenure at Lehigh Universisty. But when he is publishing books like "Darwin's Black Box", is he acting under his persona as a PhD and University Professor? He uses the titles to add a level of credibility to his popular press publishing's, but that's all. In my opinion it would be the same thing as him writing a cookbook and signing it as "Michael Behe, PhD".

OK, back to the supposed 'rebuttal'.

The article also stated:
"The Discovery Institute was the prime source of information for a group of school board members in Dover, Pa., who, like the seven Young Earth philosophists on the Texas SBOE, wanted to put forth their version of natural history. In 2004, Dover school administrators, at the insistence of the district’s board, added the following sentence to the biology curriculum: “Students will be made aware of the gaps/problems in Darwin’s theory and of other theories of evolution including, but not limited to, intelligent design.”

Adding later: The Discovery Institute’s policy of promoting intelligent design as secular science was thwarted in Pennsylvania, but it may well reappear in Texas."
That's when things really get hincky for me. First of all is it a misstatement to say that "The Discovery Institute was the prime source of information for a group of school board members in Dover, Pa . . ." No. Didn't the DI meet with the School Board in an executive session? Didn't the School Board contact the DI for information? Read the trial transcripts for yourself, the DI gets mentioned quite a few times. The did release a statement in Oct 2004 (which we will get to in a minute) and supporters of the Dover school board were surprised because they had an expectation that the DI was supporting them. Gee where in the world would they get an expectation like that? Again, read the transcripts for yourself! Look for references to exhibit 119, that's the DI press release.

OK, in their 'rebuttal' the DI says that they released a statement that they "actively opposed the actions of the Dover School Board. Indeed, before the ACLU ever filed a lawsuit the Institute released a statement explaining that we did not endorse the Dover board’s action. " By the way here is a link to that statement. So I am re-reading their statement and where exactly does it say that? Hmm no where I can see. What is does say is:

"Recent reports have circulated about Dover Area School District and its consideration of “Of Pandas of People” for optional inclusion by science teachers alongside the District’s required, standard biology textbooks. Although “Of Pandas and People” is an excellent educational resource covering a topic appropriate for inquiry and discussion, the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science & Culture has not endorsed its inclusion in public school science curriculum. "
Now I read that as opposing the use "Of Pandas and People" in the school curriculum. Since they were not actually making a curriculum change, just reading the statement (oh so nicely shredded by Judge Jones in his decision) and making the book available in the library. So in other words the DI is claiming that they didn't support the actions of the Dover School Board, yet at no place in their supposed statement does it say they do not support their actions. You know when you read anything from the DI, you gotta really watch both hands because they are like a magician misleading the audience.

Now the other part of their statement

"The Discovery Institute’s policy of promoting intelligent design as secular science . . ."
They seem to be objecting to this part as well. Yet their own statement says " . . . Center for Science & Culture is the nation’s leading think-tank exploring and publicizing the scientific theory of intelligent design . . ."

Here is what I think happened in 2003-2005. I think the DI met with and encouraged the Dover School Board. But when they realized they were about to get hammered they started damage control. They claimed to not support it, then they had a falling out with the Thomas More Law Center and Senior DI fellow William Dembski didn't testify. And then they changed tactics to "expose weaknesses in evolution" from "promotion of ID". This rebuttal is simply more damage control.

They also attack the journalistic integrity of the reporter by saying
"Never mind that she’s produced an extremely biased polemical piece, as opposed to objective reporting of the issue."
This is another common tactic. When you can't claim they lied about what you said, claim they are not being objective. I thought her piece represented the situation quite well. Being objective in journalism doesn't mean you give the DI free reign to say anything they want. You report what happened and what is happening, and what it means.

They ended with their usual disdain about anyone who disagrees with them.
"Barker’s article is wrong about Discovery Institute, misrepresents what evolution and intelligent design are, and misleads readers about the evidence related to Darwinian evolution. Perhaps she should stick to what she knows enough about to have an informed opinion: restaurant reviews."
Barker's article hit the DI with the one thing they haven't been able to successfully do, deal with the truth. That seems to be what causes the quickest knee-jerk reactions from the DI.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Texas -- right on schedule

I'm sorry to say that my post of almost a year ago is certainly coming true, not that it took the great Karnak to determine which way the winds were being blown in Texas. Read it for yourself "Devolution in Education" The stage for the next battle between pseudo-science junkies and people supporting real science education appears to be in Texas. The Texas Education Agency (TEA) and the State Board of Education (SBOE) have enough members who have professed to supporting Creationism/Intelligent Design to make a fight of it. Luckily they do not have a clear majority or we might see the Kansas debacle.

I'm going to keep this simple and just restate my issue. I don't care what religious group you belong to, I don't care if you want to believe the world is being carried on the back of a giant turtle or whatever! Your belief system is not science and should not be taught as science in a science class. I don't really care how much scientific dressing you put on Creationism, it's still not a scientific concept. The more conservative members of the TEA and the SBOE in Texas should be focusing on teaching the school children of Texas, not pushing their religious ideas.

Teaching 'weaknesses' is a cover for weakening eduction, teaching the controversy is a marketing concept. We don't teach any subject with the idea of letting the kids make up their minds, and we shouldn't offer special protection to teachers who want to bring in un-related material to teach their subject. These are just some of the tactics being used today to allow the teaching of religion in science class. They should be transparent to anyone who isn't blinded by their own prejudices. They should not be allowed to dilute the education of our young!