Friday, January 30, 2009

Very cool Quote of the Day

From one of my favorite Blogs, Exploring Our Matrix comes this gem:

"We should not expect the Bible to answer the questions that arise from our own time and culture. Genesis was written to Israelites and addressed human origins in light of the questions they would have had. We should not try to make modern science out of the information that we are given, but should try to understand the affirmations that the text is making in its own context."

-- John H. Walton, "The Creation of Humankind in the Ancient Near East"

This certainly aligns with St. Augustine and many of the folks who do not try and treat the Bible like it was just a science textbook. I repeat one of my earlier posts -- "The Bible is a good book, it might even be a great book, but it is certainly not the ONLY book, nor should it be treated as such. In doing so you demean the purpose of such a book and do more damage to your position than good." Thanks Professor McGrath for posting this quote!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Which Creation story?

Now here is a sticking point most Creationists hate brought up. If you want so badly to teach a form of Creationism in science classes . . . which one? There are an incredible number to choose from -- and odds are you will find a group of people right here in the United States that believes in each one of them.

When I brought this up to a Creationist friend of mine, who still thinks there is some validity to Intelligent Design, his knee jerk reaction was the standard Christian Creation story. But it sort of caught him off-guard when I asked which one. If you look at the major Christian denominations, you will find a surprising number of differences between them. To illustrate look at the Roman Catholic and the Evangelical Christian stories to give yourself an idea how wide the gulf is between them. When pressed my friend retreated to his comfort zone and went pretty Evangelical on me. Compare Young-Earth Creationism vs Old Earth Creationism, contrast Hindu -- Buddhist -- Protestant Creationism. There is a pretty large pool of Creation stories to pick from. What makes one more 'right' than another?

But look at all he dodged away from. What makes his specific Creationism story more valid than any other one? I couldn't get him to admit that the only real difference is that he believes one and allows other people to believe in theirs. But when push comes to shove, his is the only one he considers valid and it's the one that he feels should be taught in public school science class!

Could I have found a better example of the difference between religion and science? I doubt it. He believes; therefore, it not only MUST be true, but he has a God-given mandate to force his belief system on everyone else! Anyone else see a problem with that?

I also recently tugged on the chain of another Creationist and asked that equal time be given for the Islamic Creationist story in his Church! You would have thought I was inviting Satan in for a talk! I told him I would support his efforts to teach Creationism in public schools if he allowed equal time for all Creationist stories, including Islamic. Oh you should have heard the verbal backpedaling!

OK, folks, I am not doing this to tear down any particular belief system -- but I just wish people pushing a belief system, no matter what dress they put on it, would just be honest enough to admit it! Creationism, regardless of religion, is a belief system. Intelligent Design is nothing but a form of Creationism. Neither of them belong in any science class! I know we can't legislate what gets taught in the science class of a private school, but we certainly can for a public school!

This is another reason I am against the 'strengths and weaknesses' argument. Not only are the so-called weaknesses not actual weaknesses, but the point of such legislation has not been the improvement of teaching science. Just look in Louisiana:

The Student/School Performance and Support Committee – which is part of the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, also known as BESE – voted to remove the following section of the new policy: “Materials that teach creationism or intelligent design or that advance the religious belief that a supernatural being created humankind shall be prohibited for use in science class.” (Creationism to be taught in La. public schools)

Even though the so-called Academic Freedom law specified that it would not be used to advance a religious agenda, the implementation policy opens the door for it and appear to encourage it! See why I call it 'so-called'. It's nothing more than a tactic, a reprehensible back-room tactic! Some poor school system in Louisiana is ripe for an expensive Dover-style Federal lawsuit!

Monday, January 26, 2009

So Predictable, Knee-Jerk reaction from the DI on Texas

The Discovery Institute mouthpiece, John West claims that the evolution supporters are mounting a smear campaign against members of the Texas School Board. Interesting that the only thing mentioned about specific school board members I have seen anywhere is calling the Chairman, Don McElroy an avowed Creationist. Since he has publicly stated his position numerous times in the past, is this a smear?

When an evolution supporter claims the last minute amendments passed by the school board 'promotes the inclusion of Creationism', that is an opinion -- a well supported opinion based on history -- but it's not a smear campaign. In fact a number of school board members, as reported in the NY Times, were unhappy with the way the amendments were rushed through. No smear there either, just reasonable reporting. But then isn't anything anyone says that differs from J. West and the DI always represented as some form of smear campaign? Seems like it to me. Smear campaigns and Conspiracies, their stock in trade!

The NCSE, among others, is unhappy McElroy slipped in amendments that expect the student to:

  • analyze and evaluate how evidence of common ancestry among groups is provided by the fossil record, biogeography, and homologies including anatomical, molecular, and developmental;
  • analyze and evaluate how natural selection produces change in populations, not individuals;
  • analyze and evaluate how the elements of natural selection including inherited variation, the potential of a population to produce more offspring than can survive, and a finite supply of environmental resources result in differential reproductive success;
  • analyze and evaluate the relationship of natural selection to adaptation, and to the development of diversity in and among species; and
  • analyze and evaluate the effects of other evolutionary mechanisms including genetic drift, gene flow, mutation, and recombination.
  • Analyze and evaluate the sufficiency or insufficiency of common ancestry to explain the sudden appearance, stasis, and sequential nature of groups in the fossil record.
Is this a potential backdoor for Creationism? It certainly can be used as such, since normally to evaluate you normally have to see other sides of an argument. The negative for the DI is that a real science teacher won't bring in religious arguments -- whereas the 'strengths and weaknesses' argument practically mandates the inclusion of opposing views -- of which the religious views are the only opposition. 'Analyze and Evaluate' is much weaker than the DI wanted, but they are still busy declaring victory!

No smear campaign, just accurate reporting of the things that the Board did approve -- and the objections of the scientific community. I see this as nothing more than the opening salvo of the DI marketing toward the formal vote in March. Let's support Texas and Science Education!

Texas Vote is half-right

On 23 Jan Texas voted to remove the 'weaknesses' argument from their science standards . .Yea! The move is hailed as a victory for science and science education. As Eugenie Scott, NCSE, put it:

"The misleading language [in the original science standards] has been a creationist loophole in the science TEKS [Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills] for decades. Its removal is a huge step forward."
However . . . and isn't there always a however. At the last minute the avowed Creationist Chairman Don McLeroy slipped in the catchphrase "sudden appearance" into the heart of the biology standards. This "misrepresents the state of modern geology. The board should consult with the geologists who work the oilfields of Texas, and then remove this inaccurate amendment." (Steve Newton, a geologist and public information project director at NCSE)

Reportedly, several board members were upset they weren't given time to review these amendments and to seek expert opinion.

Well, we knew the fight wouldn't end here, but at least the immediate threat over legitimizing the whole false 'weaknesses' argument ended well in Texas. For the most part I am proud of Texas and I am sincerely hoping the Chairman hears about it from the Texas Voters . . . much like the Kansas, Ohio, and Dover PA Creationists heard about it when they got voted off their respective school boards.

Can't wait to see the Discovery Institute's reaction. I predict a typical knee-jerk reaction. I am sure they will find some way to claim it's a positive step for them, regardless of the apparent defeat.

Addendum: John West already had one comment to make:
“They did something truly remarkable today,” John G. West of the Discovery Institute, a group that questions Darwinism, said in a statement. “They voted to require students to analyze and evaluate some of the most important and controversial aspects of modern evolutionary theory.”
Lets us not let down our guard, because the vote isn't official until March and you know the DI will be campaigning hard -- after all it's the only thing they seem capable of doing. So let's keep reminding the people of Texas of the facts, because you know their marketing muscle won't!

"Exploring Evolution" or The Evolution "Of Pandas and People"

Hopefully you remember the textbook at the center of the Dover Trial, "Of Pandas and People". It's the one where the 'evolution' from Creationism to intelligent Design showed the very obvious link between the two. Well it's been re-written and it's now called "Exploring Evolution". I had heard of it's new title quite a while ago and I have been dreading it ever since. The main reason for my dread is that the title itself shows a level of dishonesty. I mean do you expect it to actually explore the topic of Evolution? I know I am being very pessimistic here, but nothing that has come out of the Discovery Institute has made me the slightest bit optimistic about their 'work'.

Now I haven't seen the text myself, so I realize I am repeating other posts about it, but so far my pessimism might have been overly conservative. Both the NCSE and John Lynch's blog "Stranger Fruit" have posted parts of a review by Brian D. Metscher, University of Vienna, who described it as

"159 glossy pages of color-illustrated creationist nostalgia," adding, "All the old favorites are here — fossils saying no, all the Icons, flightless Ubx flies, irreducible flagella, even that irritating homology-is-circular thing. There are no new arguments, no improved understanding of evolution, just a remastered scrapbook of the old ideas patched together in a high-gloss package pre-adapted to survive the post-Dover legal environment. The whole effort would be merely pathetic if it did not actually represent a serious and insidious threat to education."
I do think I want to stress his last line: "serious and insidious threat to education." Stephen C. Meyer has been presenting this text as 'supplementary' materials for the 'Academic Freedom' bills being pushed in a few states. He's also one of the 6 members of an Advisory Board that presented to the Texas State Board of Ed last week.

I think Dr. Metscher hit my feelings on the nose with:
"everything about this book is designed to avoid the legal obstacles that have impeded previous anti-evolution efforts. Foremost is the meticulous omission of all red-flag words and any direct statements of the nonscientific conclusions it proffers. And it is surely no coincidence that this book came out just as a number of states began passing legislation allowing supplemental materials for teaching the "strengths and weaknesses" of evolutionary science."
This does nothing more than show the continuing evolution of anti-evolutionists. It is exactly what "Of Pandas and People" became following the Edwards v. Aguillard, 482 U.S. 578 (1987) case which ruled that a Louisiana law requiring that creation science be taught in public schools whenever evolution was taught was unconstitutional and also held that
"teaching a variety of scientific theories about the origins of humankind to school children might be validly done with the clear secular intent of enhancing the effectiveness of science instruction."
"Of Pandas and People" changed immediately after that ruling it became an Intelligent Design text. From Judge Jones Dover ruling:
"By comparing the pre and post Edwards drafts of Pandas, three astonishing points emerge: (1) the definition for creation science in early drafts is identical to the definition of ID; (2) cognates of the word creation (creationism and creationist), which appeared approximately 150 times, were deliberately and systematically replaced with the phrase ID; and (3) the changes occurred shortly after the Supreme Court held that creation science is religious and cannot be taught in public school science classes in Edwards. This word substitution is telling, significant, and reveals that a purposeful change of words was effected without any corresponding change in content."
John Timmer's assessment of Explore Evolution:
"anyone using this as a source of information about science in the classroom will leave their students with a picture of modern biology that is essentially unrelated to the way that science is actually practiced within the biological science community."
This text is nothing more than another evolution after defeat after defeat in the courtroom. It offers nothing new and at its heart is nothing more than a lie. It's very title promises to explore evolution and it apparently does not live up to it.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

A quick update on Nathaniel Abraham and Chris Comer

Remember Nathaniel Abraham? He was the Woods Hole Biologist who was fired when he refused to perform aspects of his job that related to Evolution because he didn't believe in Evolution. I originally blogged about him here in "How about another Firing". I also discussed him a little in "Abraham and Gonzales" and in "Coexistence II -- Liberty University", where he found new employment.

Why am I bringing him back up? Well I was looking back through a few older posts and realized that I hadn't caught any news on his lawsuit. You might remember that after failing to win an appeal before the Massachusetts Board that handles Discrimination complaints -- they found that Woods-Hole had a perfectly reasonable expectation that he would perform the job for which he was hired to do. Well after failing that, he stewed for a while and sued. Well buried in a few places was the notice that his suit was dismissed. To bad it was dismissed on a technicality, apparently he has a limited time-frame to sue, and he stewed about 9 months too long. He's probably working on an appeal, but I can't find anything on it. If anyone else hears about anything, please let me know.

Since I am updating the case of Nathanial, how are things for Chris Comer? She was the subject of my very first post on this blog, "Is Texas Stepping Backwards". She was the Texas State Science Curriculum Director who was FIRED for doing her job. S
he forwarded an email about a presentation by Barbara Forrest, co-author of Creationism's Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design and an expert witness in Kitzmiller v. Dover. Why was this a crime? Apparently the State Board of Education wants to remain neutral in the controversial issue of Intelligent Design/Creationism vs. Evolution.

Well it looks like she has availed herself of her legal rights and is suing. Not sure if/when the suit comes to trial, but I plan to keep my eyes open. Here is a link to the suit itself. It makes surprisingly interesting reading. From my take she is not interested in seeking damages , but she is interested in protecting the science education of Texas school children. She is specifically not asking for damages, her only monetary request is to cover her costs. The other remedies are all policy statements correcting the 'neutrality' policy and she wants her job back. She is one terrific person!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Some good news from Texas

You gotta check out this website: Teach Them Science. It's put together by the Center for Inquiry and also the folks behind the Clergy Letter project, which I have blogged about before.

In other words not everyone in Texas has turned into some sort of Evangelical Fundamentalist who insists on believing that you cannot believe in God and support Evolutionary sciences at the same time.

What's great about the Teach Them Science it addresses the supposed controversy and highlights much of the mis-information about evolution

History shows that creationism and its alleged weaknesses with evolution are inseparable. The alleged weaknesses are creationism. They are false, and to teach them is to teach creationism.

The effort to invent and promote false weaknesses began with the Fundamentalist movement of American Protestantism in the 1910's. For most of the history of alleging weaknesses, anti-evolutionists have tried to replace evolution with some form of creationism. It's only recently that creationism has focused on teaching just “strengths and weaknesses” with evolution, while claiming not to want to teach creationism. Curiously, the Texas State Board of Education may have invented this approach in 1989.

It's a great site. While I really like Talk.Origins, sometimes it gets pretty technical on some of its refutations of many creationism arguments. This site is much simpler for many people to understand and tends to be short and sweet. So my suggestion, especially when someone shoots you an argument you haven't heard before, is check out this site. If you need more ammo, pop over to Talk.Origins.

Look at its advice for reporters! I bet Lauri Lebo would approve of this one :

Reporters: How to Avoid a Trap

Reporters admirably try to avoid taking sides in political battles, but they often fall into a trap set by anti-evolutionists. Reporters can help by avoiding this trap and reporting fairly. It's simple:

Say alleged weaknesses, not “weaknesses”

There are two sides to the political conflict. One side says that evolution suffers "weaknesses," and the other side says that it does not, that evolution is strongly confirmed science. But reporters frequently say this: ”One side wants the weaknesses taught and the other side doesn't.” This is one-sided reporting, as it tells people that there are weaknesses that could be taught. Reporters should instead say, “One side alleges weaknesses with evolution and wants them taught, while the other side says the alleged weaknesses do not survive scientific scrutiny and are false.

And let us not forget Oklahoma

Oklahoma isn't trying stickers, they are trying the same tactic that so far has working in Louisiana, a mis-use of academic freedom. This proposed bill, Scientific Education and Academic Freedom Act, is a thinly veiled attack on various scientific subjects put under the guise of academic freedom.

Someone needs to tell Republican Senator Randy Brogdon that it is NOT academic freedom to encourage dialog on subjects clearly outside the realm of the subject area. Sure, the text of the bill claims not to open the doors for any religious alternatives . . . but look at Louisiana? Their bill claimed the same thing, and yet a provision that "materials that teach creationism or intelligent design or that advance the religious belief that a supernatural being created humankind shall be prohibited for use in science class" was deleted from the enforcement guidelines.

The door is wide open and the rules for making a complaint are confusing and complicated. Read the NCSE response to Louisiana. Lawmakers had the chance to back up the wording in the bill saying that is does "not promote any religious doctrine, promote discrimination for or against a particular set of religious beliefs, or promote discrimination for or against religion or nonreligion,", but they shied away from actually making it clear.

I think there is simply a race for who will be the next Dover: Will it be Texas, Oklahoma, Mississippi, or Louisiana. Oh the suspense is killing me!

And here come Mississippi

Remember Cobb County GA, who tried to put stickers in all their biology books about how evolution was a theory and not a fact? How about Dover PA and the statement which pretty much said the same thing. Well Mississippi is trying it now.

House Bill 25, introduced by Rep. Gary Chism (R-District 37) on Jan. 6, is now before the Education and Judiciary A committees of our state legislature. If passed, the bill would require the state board of education to affix a disclaimer to every textbook that discusses evolution. The disclaimer describes evolution as "a controversial theory".
First off all, within the scientific community, which I have to assume includes schools in MS, there is no controversy. It's a created controversy for the express purpose of gaining support for things like this. Some poor school system in MS is going to try and comply and find themselves on the losing end of another Federal lawsuit. The people of MS would be better served by improving science education rather than trying to weaken it and open the door for religious-based alternatives. And I am not the only one saying it:

"Mississippi's children deserve a quality education, including science education based on the best available scientific data. Affixing misleading disclaimers to textbooks does our children a great disservice. In these dire economic times, we must prepare students to compete in a global economy. This includes teaching evolution as an essential part of sound science education." Eric Dahlen, Evolution shouldn't be controversial

"Are you trying to make Mississippi the state with the least well-educated and most helpless population in this country?" Julie Shedd, An open letter to Mississippi lawmakers
Ms. Shedd also goes on the address the specifics of the sticker's claims and closes with "People: Please follow the lead of other states in this matter and do not support this bill. Debate it if you must (preferably in church, which is where the anti-evolution debate belongs), but please, allow your children to learn." Excellent article!

More concern in Texas

My very first post on this blog addressed the Great State of Texas, and here, over a year later, we are still hoping that Texas will do the right thing, the responsible thing, the intelligent thing. I am still optimistic, but I am concerned.

The 6 appointed reviewers of the Texas State Science Curriculum Standards are split, which should come as no surprise. For some reason the State decided to include two members of the Discovery Institute on the review panel and a chemistry professor from Baylor. These three had publicly supported the whole 'strengths and weaknesses' debate as a platform for their own views and they are still doing it.

I was extremely hopeful when the first draft of the science standards did not include the whole strengths and weaknesses argument, but much politicking later they modified it for the second draft, which now included the word 'limitations' rather than weaknesses. Currently the final draft says "The third and final draft says students should be able to "analyze and evaluate scientific explanations."

Now it's back to the politicking and a hearing set for 21 Jan before the State School Board, whose president is an avowed Creationist. I am still hopefully and I think still optimistic. Texas has an opportunity to not allow politics, religious agendas, and outright deceit from driving its science curriculum and I hope that do the right thing! Teach science as science! Don't get snowed by the Discovery Institute's marketing, support Science not Ideology!

Join in with the 21st Century Science Coalition ( and make your voice heard tomorrow!

Thursday, January 8, 2009

More on Quote Mining

Interesting Blog post over on Palladium-Item, Mining for Quotes, by RationalPortion.

The most interesting part is how to tell if you are reading quote-mined nuggets:

  1. Is the quote being used in a way that incriminates the source of the quote? (i.e. An outspoken supporter of 2nd Amendment rights being quoted as saying something against gun ownership)
  2. The usage of an ellipsis in the middle of the quote (i.e. "Despite what researchers learned of the links between cancer and smoking ... cancer was not caused by cigarette smoking alone.")
  3. "Broken quotes" -- quotes which are split into smaller pieces and arranged like Frankenstein's monster, held together with narrative. (i.e. Senator Clinton said that she supports "withdrawing from Iraq" as quickly as possible because "Iran is a dangerous threat to be reckoned with.")
  4. Poor or absent citation of source. Attributing the quote to someone by name, but not specifying the specific source of the quote.
Excellent rules of thumb for those of us constantly battling anyone who quote mines, especially those who quote-mine out of context. If you find me violating any of these, please bring it to my attention. Now I'm going to have to go back through all my blog posts and see if i missed linking to the original source!

Basic bottom line stuff, because I tend to be a bottom-line kind of guy. Just because someone puts quotes around it doesn't mean it's actually a valid quote and it doesn't mean they are using within the context of the source. So I mean this, don't even take my word for it! When I, or anyone else quote someone, go to the source material and check it out for yourself! Read the quote in context, read what the Author was trying to get across, get a handle on the meaning and intentions of the words -- then you will have reached an understanding.

And of course when you catch someone quote-mining, call them on it! Don't let them get away with it!

"Evolution in Reverse"

Gumby the Cat's blog has a great post, it makes interesting reading and certainly should give Natural Selections opponents pause to think. Unnatural Selection describes the impact of hunting on the evolution of a species. The details mentions, the smaller size of Bighorn sheet and Tuskless elephants show what happens when specific characteristics are removed form the gene pool before reaching their full mating potential. I remember tuskless elephants being discussed in a Biology class years ago. They were seen as a sport, a mutation, with little chance of becoming established in the gene pool. Yet in one population in Zambia, they now make up 38%? In another in South Africa and whopping 98%. Incredible!

It shows how a population evolves as the environment changes. Add in hunting and poaching for ivory and what was once a sport may become dominant, because the genes with prized ivory tusks got rarer and rarer as the elephants with them got taken. Read the source article yourself here in Newsweek. While it refers to 'Evolution in Reverse', it's still Evolution. Look at is this way, "Tusks used to make elephants fitter, as a weapon or a tool in foraging—until ivory became a precious commodity and having tusks got you killed."

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Follow-up to "This Year in Intelligent Design" post

Recently I borrowed a post from another blog to fill you in on just how 'busy' those little beavers have been over a the Discovery Institute. In "This year in Intelligent Design" I noted the dearth of papers published supporting ID. Well someone else took exception and pointed out 4 papers published by the Biologic Institute, and here is something interesting on them in "The Biologic Institute, Bill Dembski, and ID Research". Apparently the Biologic Institute did manage to publish 4 papers, count em, FOUR papers and not only do they offer nothing in the way of support for Intelligent Design, one of them specifically points out there no evidence for design was found, nor could be inferred by the empirical evidence.

Not sure if you remember the Biologic Institute. It's a private lab, set-up about 4 years ago and funding by the Discovery Institute for the express purpose of proving Intelligent Design. Oh, yea, you have to whisper its purpose because the link between the Biologic Institute and the DI is some well kept secret. in fact the original director was fired after too closely associating the BI with the DI. Well it's all pure BS to me. I guess the DI wants the connection to fade from people's minds so when they unveil their breathtaking theory of Intelligent Design, everyone will forget who's paying the freight.

But since none of the four papers provided any support for ID, I guess maybe the DI is late in paying the bills? I'm sure the DI will respond to any criticism of the BI in their typical knee-jerk fashion, which is always entertaining -- in my opinion usually factually deficient, but entertaining.