Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Michael Behe Presentation at Penn State

Lehigh Professor Michael Behe gave a presentation at Penn State and this article caught my eye: "Author defends intelligent design". There were several things, starting with the title of the article. Apparently the reporter saw this as defensive in nature and I think that was understood from Behe's own presentation or the opinion of the author going into the presentation.

Apparently Behe started with a disclaimer that his beliefs were not supported by Lehigh University nor his colleagues. He supported his position by identifying what he considered obvious indicators of intelligent design. OK, here is one of my many question, 'obvious to whom?'. Just because they are obvious to him doesn't make them obvious to anyone else. in fact if they are so obvious, why doesn't his own colleagues see them?

Well I guess they sort of do because another comment Behe said was

" . . . that those in the science field agree that aspects of biology appear designed . . ." [I am quoting the article, these may not be Behe's exact words].
Please note another point I have made in other posts, 'appear designed'. Since when is the appearance of design the confirmation of design, let alone intelligent design? How about never! Just because things share an appearance doesn't mean they must be designed, nor does it mean even if you manage to prove design, that there is a guiding intelligence behind it! You could make the argument for Natural Selection could very well be the guiding 'force' behind the appearance of design, but you would never hear that from Professor Behe.

Then Behe went off on his usual material on how non-living things that have been obviously designed and how that easily supports his contention. I have to disagree. His whole idea of irreducible complexity has been a non-starter for any serious scientific research, another point behe admitted during the Dover Trial. Neither he, nor anyone he knows, is performing the research to prove his ideas. Of course he claims a massive conspiracy of silence to quiet down his supporters . . . Hmm so how many bills were offered in the Pennsylvania Legislature against him? I am of course referencing Oklahoma State Representatives trying to silence pro-evolution advocate and outspoken atheist Richard Dawkins. Hmm, so which side of this discussion can be accused of a conspiracy?

Here is the fun part, and one he certainly stated during the Dover trial.
"Many people think science should stay away from something beyond nature," Behe said. "I disagree."
So here is a basic question, should science address things beyond the bounds of the 'natural'? I have a better question, by what possible methodology can science do this? None that I know of! This is not a question for science, but a question for metaphysics. Behe did state that for intelligent design to be accepted as part of science the basic definition of science would have to change to include supernatural causation. He's just re-stating the opinion that pretty effectively destroyed his own arguments during the trial.What I also question is this:

"A conclusion of intelligent design is rationally justified," Behe said.

Granted I wasn't there to hear his presentation, but I read the Dover Trial transcripts, I have read his "Darwin's BlackBox" book and a number of other books on Intelligent Design and I do not find a shred of empirical evidence to support his conclusion. It all comes down to 'appearance' and 'belief'.

The final point I found interesting was the two student reactions to his presentation:

"I thought it was very comprehensive but it was chockfull of fallacies," said Tristan Buckley (sophomore-film).

Tim Chopourian (freshman-meteorology) agreed, adding that "it felt like what he was doing was explaining evolution but where we have blanks, he filled those in with God," he said.

'Chockfull of fallacies' and 'filling gaps with God'. Apparently not a very effective presentation. I'm sure other students from the group that sponsored him, the Science and the Bible club, have a different opinion. I would be interested to know if those two are members of the club, or if any members of the club offered any other opinions of the talk. In fact I email the club advisers with those questions and I am very interested in the result.

I do applaud the club for bring such a speaker on campus to give his presentation. I can understand why they would sponsor him and not say the Biology Department, but that is neither here nor there. The fact he has such a forum open to him is a pretty considerable argument against any form of conspiracy. I wish he, and his compatriots, over at the Discovery Institute would do the actual science to support intelligent design and get away from this 'appearance = fact' argument. But so far, the science side has been very quiet!

Monday, March 30, 2009

Hey Kettle, Pot calling!

Phil Plait, the Bad Astronomer himself, had a great post, "The Discovery Institute has no shame", something anyone who has spent any time wading through their news releases will realize. But this one is a cake-topper to be sure. The Discovery Institute, those toothless-piranhas, those orders-of-magnitudes-less-than-stalwart fellows, are claiming religious bias is behind the reason Texas didn't get behind their Strengths and Weaknesses (S&W) argument. I kid you not, religious bias!

Read it for yourself, "Texas Board Meeting Recap for Thursday". I loved how Phil put it, " . . . it’s like Jeffrey Dahmer telling you to be a vegetarian." Luckily the Texas Freedom will not let anyone forget it too soon. It's well documented in their post "Hypocrisy and Faith-Bashing" how the DI is doing their best to push their own religious agenda on other folks, gets upset if anyone talks about a religious belief that doesn't originate at the DI.

I think they better look closer to home as to why their S&W didn't fare too well. Could it be because scientists are not fooled by their hidden agenda? Could it be that the public is catching on to their latest tactic? Could it be their own defense tends to alienate many people? How about all that and more! What are some folks going to think when "Board chairman Don McLeroy endorsed a vicious book charging that scientists who support instruction on evolution are “atheists,” parents who want their kids to learn about evolution are “monsters,” and pastors who see no conflict between faith and accepting the science of evolution are “morons.”"

What I expect to see happening is the whole S&W will go the way of the "Teach the Controversy" and "It's only a Theory" tactics and the 'Critically Analyze" will become the new watch words. That is until the next Dover-style lawsuit and they evolve (pun intended) into some other tactic. Ever since Edwards v. Aguillard the whole Intelligent Design movement has been undergoing a pretty constant evolution. They have been doing their level best to distance themselves from connections to Creationism, they have been claiming the mantle of scientific 'theory' without any actual science. The evidence during the Dover trial, not just the 'crdesign proponentist' cut and paste typo, but the testimony of Michael Behe himself . . . they all show how quickly this particular leopard will change it's spots, usually in response to a defeat.

I heartily recommend that people would read the Wedge Strategy document for themselves and they might also like to read "Understanding the ID/Creationist Movement: Its True Nature and Goals" by Eugenie Scott, NCSE to better place the strategy in context. For fun you can also read what the DI says about the Wedge Strategy. In my opinion this is a wonderful example of spin doctoring, because the original document was never meant to be made public.

Mixed Decision in Texas

While the Discovery Institute is claiming a big win ("Big Win in Texas as State Now Leads Nation in Requiring Critical Analysis of Evolution in High School Science Classes"), anyone who actually reads the news and understands what happened in Texas would view it as a split decision, probably leaning more toward pro-evolution than against it. But as usual their spin doctors are making claims that have little to no basis in reality.

My scorecard calls is a win for Science, but by a decision, not KO. To the good, Texas rejected repeated attempts to insert the whole "Strengths and Weaknesses" argument into the school standards. They also rejected the majority of the little things the Creationist head of the Texas State School Board tried to slip in last January. From that point of view the Discovery Institute failed! They have been banking on the S&W more than any other tactic, as we see in many states where they are leading the charge for changing the school science standards. OK, 'leading the charge' is a bit misleading. They are more shoving from behind than leading form the front. The Discovery Institute does not lead! They prefer to set up other people for failure, as we certainly saw in Dover.

If this is such a victory, why does Don McElroy, the head of the State School Board, chalks it up in the losing column? CNN had a decent article ("Texas board comes down on 2 sides of creationism debate"). John West, of of those less-than-stalwart fellows at the DI, claims that "Texas has sent a clear message", yet the message doesn't seem to be that clear to me. Actually the only message I get from Texas is that the DI doesn't know what a clear message is, as evidenced by their own new releases.

Texas did include language that may result in a Dover-style lawsuit if a teacher tries to bring their religion into the classroom under the guise of science. The blog "Little Green Footballs" has a nice little video that can show you a bit more about McElroy, including referring to the Big Bang as "Darwin's Big Bang" and misrepresenting Stephen J. Gould, as so many Creationists tend to do.

But the bottom line is that the next battle in Texas will be on the teachers and how they try and implement the new slightly more confusing state standards. The stand does say that the material used to critically analyze science has to be scientific in nature, and as long as teachers adhere to that, this Big Win by the DI will be a little fizzle. But on the other hand if the State of Texas approves textbooks that are anything like the DI's own publications, then teachers might have problems because those texts certainly won't be an aid in teaching any scientific theory.

I stand by my previous posts. the High School science classroom is not the right venue to analyze and critique scientific theories. It's the right venue to teach an understanding of those theories, what they are, how they were derived, and why they are so important. You know, the basics! Without that grounding there can be no critical analysis! But the DI still thinks this is a huge victory. The only people that will suffer are the children of Texas and maybe the teachers who try and do the right thing, rather than the politically expedient thing.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Arguments XXIV -- Strengths and Weaknesses Venue

I previously posted what I thought about the whole 'Strengths and Weaknesses' argument last year. Basically I disagree that a scientific theory has weaknesses! I know some folks want to disagree, but let me re-cap and you will at least see where I am coming from. Basically I said that a theory is based on what we know, how we know it, and why we know it. It gets tested, evaluated, measured against the existing evidence until it reaches the pinnacle of science, that of a Theory. Weaknesses in the theory would have been uncovered LONG before reaching that level! That's part and parcel of scientific methodology. Now that is not to say a Theory is perfect, or even complete. There are things that we do not know yet, but are they weaknesses?

Take a Bridge. You are building a bridge across a canyon, you aren't done yet, so does the bridge have a weakness because you haven't finished it? No! A weakness in the bridge would be something that when tested fails the test! A poor concrete poor, rust on a load-bearing truss . . .. That simple fact you haven't reached the end point isn't a weakness, but an indicator of future work to be done.

OK, that's my point about weaknesses in a nutshell, but what I really wanted to address was the most appropriate venue for dealing with the things we don't know. The real question here is the High School Science Classroom the appropriate venue for dealing with those issues? Now keep in mind the usual route to the HS biology class. Students get introduced to basic science methodology and many theories up to the point of studying biology and evolution in the 9th or 10th grade, which seems to be the norm around the country. So here you are, in the 9th or 10th grade, and you are getting into more detail about a specific theory, like evolution. Is this the right place to bring up the list of known unknowns? (The things we know we don't know, as opposed to the things we don't know we don't know.) There is the rub!

I do not believe it is. I think upper-level undergrad and graduate levels need to examine these areas, but the focus of HS science should be on the theories and the things that we do understand, and why we understand them, even how we reached this point of understanding. At best you might list some of the things we don't know yet, recognizing that it would be an incomplete list. But they are not weaknesses!

If you ant, go on Evolution Debate forum on Topix and see what some people think are weaknesses in the Theory of Evolution. Here are a few of the more common ones:

  • Evolution doesn't explain how life started on Earth -- True, but is this something we don't know about Evolution, or Chemistry? Abiogenesis is a separate area of study that is related to evolution, but evolution does not require to know it to understand how life has changed.
  • Evolution violates the Second Law of Thermodynamics -- Not true, for a number of reasons. The most basic is the Second Law applies to closed systems, and the Earth is definitely not a closed system.
  • The odds of Evolution being true are too high -- Are they? Who has calculated these odds with any degree of fidelity? No one, you have to understand the parameters involved to calculate the odds.
  • Randomness cannot explain complexity -- First of all, no one is saying Evolution is a random event. There is a random component (Random Mutation), but there are also components that select the results (Natural Selecting, Sexual Selection . . .) that are not random at all. So no one in Evolution is claiming that Randomness explains all.
OK, here is the rest of my point. Not one of the so-called weaknesses is an actual weakness in the theory of evolution, not one! The first is something we don't know in a related field, but the rest are misconceptions about evolution that anyone who actually understands the theory would know to be false.

This is what I am talking about, introducing a school standard that specifies 'weaknesses' must be covered and you are requiring a teacher to find weaknesses where there are none! What are they to do? Lists these as actual weaknesses when they are not? Create up a few more that make as much sense? Or start a conversation about the things we don't know?

So before we get students to the point of understanding the theory, we are going to start discussing the points of it that we don't know? Seems to violate the basic rules of teaching any subject. Get them well versed in the Theory and the Methodology and at that point they are in a position to understand the things we don't know. That can't happen in a high school science class! It's too soon and to easy to misinterpret as weaknesses.

Which is exactly the reason groups like the Discovery Institute are pushing so hard. They know there are no actual weaknesses in the theory, but if they build enough doubt in someone early enough in their understanding, then it will take much more work changing that preconception. This is nothing more than another gutter-style tactic i have come to expect from those folks over at the DI. They have failed to show how their own pet idea, Intelligent Design, is science, so they are trying to tear down science education!

Don't let them! Science is too important to our future to let it be damaged! The 'Strengths and Weaknesses' argument is a sham, a despicable tactic, and something we should toss out with the trash.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Discovery Institute up to their usual tricks.

I am shocked that the Discovery Institute has any knees left, mainly because of the number and intensity of their 'knee-jerk' reactions to anything that doesn't completely and totally agree with them. So for your entertainment pleasure, the latest set of prevarications from those less-than-stalwart fellows at the DI. A pretty typical press release "San Antonio Express Article Misstates Facts on Texas Board of Education and Kansas" from their website targets an article from the San Antonio News "Theory of Evolution Faces New Debate".

In reality I disagreed with the San Antonio article on two points. First of all the use of the word 'New' in the title. This is not a new debate, this is the same debate we have been having ever since fundamentalist Creationists realized their ideas were based on their own internalized belief system and to the rest of the world they were just flakes. My other minor point of contention is that I think they gave Casey Luskin way to much room in the article. Oh yea, one single word from Casey is way to much, but that's neither here nor there. The fun part is watching the DI squirm and change things to their liking.

In their own article they state:

"But the article also states that the Texas Board of Education "voted with the science experts in January to remove the 'strengths and weaknesses' standard" from Texas science standards. The Board did indeed vote to do this (to its shame). But in repealing the strengths and weaknesses language, Board members did not vote "with the science experts." The Board appointed six science experts to review the draft standards. Three of the experts opposed the “strengths and weaknesses” provision, but three of the experts supported the “strengths and weaknesses” language! So it would be much more accurate to say that the Board in January sided with some of their experts while ignoring others."
I believe the SA article is completely correct, the Board voted with the science expert in removing the strengths and weaknesses argument from the science standards. I think it is rather disingenuous of the DI to claim that West and Meyer, of the DI, should be considered 'science experts'. So the Board did vote with science experts and voted against the three Creationists who got on the board through politics rather than scholarship.

Of course the lies and misdirection continues:

The article also erroneously claims that in 2005 the Kansas Board of Education “approved new science standards allowing the teaching of intelligent design, which posits that a supernatural creator is required to explain life's complexity.”

Actually, the Kansas science standards adopted in 2005 did not include intelligent design. Here is a direct quote from the introduction to those science standards (since repealed): “We also emphasize that the Science Curriculum Standards do not include Intelligent Design, the scientific disagreement with the claim of many evolutionary biologists that the apparent design of living systems is an illusion."

This is the standard whine that just because the standards didn't mention ID, that the Kansas standard would prevent ID from being taught. Again the SA article is honest, that the Kansas standards (since repealed in Kansas) would have allowed the teaching of Intelligent Design and even multiple other variations on Creationism, even though the language didn't specify ID as a curriculum topic. The DI's position is a lie, a canard, pure BS.

You might look to the East slightly and see what is happening in Louisiana. Even though the standard doesn't mention ID as a curriculum topic, the enforcement agency removed all mention of 'not teaching religious-based alternatives' from the rules. In other words a teacher in Louisiana will be able to toes out the science text and bring in the Bible directly -- and there is little anyone will be able to say, short of a Dover-style lawsuit. Sure the DI is sort of right, the Kansas standards didn't advocate ID directly, but the intent was what the SA article was reporting -- and they got the intent right.

The article closed with what I have come to expect from the DI, another restatement of what ID is supposed to be:
"Of course, the article’s definition of intelligent design (ID) is equally fallacious. Intelligent design does not posit "that a supernatural creator is required to explain life's complexity." ID claims that we can use empirical evidence and logic to detect whether some features of life and the universe are better explained as the product of an intelligent cause rather than an undirected cause of chance and necessity."

How many ways have they 'officially' refused to identify who they believe to be the Designer? It's hilarious, they will wink and give a nod to the Christian God, but formally they won't say it because they think no one will take them seriously. I got news from them, as a scientific organization, no one takes them seriously. It's only their politicking and marketing that people worry about -- just watch what has been happening in Texas and their typical reactions to understand that.

Am I against Intelligent Design?

We [evolution supporters] haven't closed the door on anything. What we have said, repeatedly, is that the proponents of Intelligent Design (ID) need to do the research to support their position. Since they are unwilling or unable to do so, it does not belong in the science classroom, it is not a scientific theory, it's apparently a non-starter because they cannot make any headway in doing actual science.

How many real scientists act like they do? Since when do an actual working scientist postulate an idea, declare victory, and dare anyone to disagree with them? Never! Because that's not scientific methodology, but that it what they [ID proponents] are doing. An actual scientist does the legwork, makes the case, and then lets other scientists review and critique the work. They just keep trying to end run the actual work part.

If they want in the science classroom they have to do the work and then I will stand right next to them lobbying for their inclusion, but until they do so, don't come asking for my acceptance, they haven't earned it.

Let's see what do we get when we ask for science, we get long diatribes whining about evolution -- which does NOTHING to support ID.

What else do we get when we ask for science? We get popular press publications where the evidence and methodology is conspicuously missing. Of course in the POPULAR media, there really is no requirement for proof.

What do we get when we ask for science? We get a list of 44 documents CLAIMED to support ID presented to the Ohio State School Board -- however when examined the articles only mention ID and do so in the negative. Even the authors were surprised their work was presented so.

What do we get when we ask for science? We get unsupported conclusions, allegations of conspiracies, political and legal meanderings.

What we do not get is SCIENCE. All they have to do is the work, the real work, support their claims with more than belief, innuendo, and conjecture. Until they are willing to do that we will keep them relegated with the psychics, astrologers, and palmists -- where they belong. You earn a place at the table, and you don't earn it by whining.

So right now today I am anti-Intelligent Design for the simple reason it is not a scientific discipline. Not because it cannot be, but because its supporters have not taken the steps to make it so. They would rather whine, make arguments of logical fallacy, and appeal to emotions -- none of which makes what they have to say in any way science.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Showdown in Texas (25-27 March 2009)

I know, sorta corny title, but entirely appropriate. This week the Texas Board of Education is having their last set of meetings and are scheduled to vote on new school science standards. It will be loud and boisterous, and hopefully productive. Now is a good time for a few highlights:

  • For me things started with the firing of Chris Comer, the former director of science curriculum just before a scheduled review of the science curriculum. That was back in Dec 2007 and is actually the first post I made to this blog (Is Texas Stepping Backwards).
  • In 2008 Texas was 'blessed' with the Institute for Creation Research (ICR) moving near Dallas and asking for permission to award Master's Degrees in Science. It was also this year that they reviewed their curriculum and the experts recommendation was to teach Evolution without any watering down. Apparently this was met with disfavor by some members of the School Board, in particular their president Don McLeroy, a creationist dentist. Gee, wonder how come Chris Comer got canned?
  • So what does Don do? He appoints a 6 member team to re-review the science curriculum and stacks the deck with two members of the Discovery Institute and a Creationist, I believe. I guess there weren't enough Creationists around Texas, Don had to import them. Of course they immediately stated pushing for their version of 'academic freedom', which has little to nothing to do with actual academic freedom.
  • Well heading into 2009 we see the ICR's request to award MS degrees was turned down. The recommendation voted on by the school board eliminated the DI's slant, and things seemed to be calming down. But as we all know, appearances can be deceiving.
  • So far this year McLeroy slipped in several unscientific phrases to the science standards, AFTER the voting has already been done. The ICR got to Leo Berman and he is sponsoring a bill that would alleviate the ICR, and organizations like them, from any possible State oversight -- allowing them to award whatever degree they want in whatever discipline they want, whether or not they actually teach it. Isn't that special! There is also a bill to offer the same sort of 'academic freedom' nonsense passed in their neighbor to the East. What do you know, Texas is following Louisiana's 'lead', they should be so proud!
  • Now this week the School Board finishes their meetings, listens to many public statements and votes on the school curriculum. Steve Schafersman will be live-blogging the proceedings, a chore I would not wish on any sane person. Let's give Steve a vote of thanks and keep an eye on things.
Now why is this of import to you, probably a non-Texas resident. Why am I a native NY'er now living in Ohio care? Well Texas and California are two of the most populous states and what they say influences a lot of textbook publishers. So even if your state doesn't support it, your kids might be exposed to religion in the guise of science simply because your voice wasn't loud enough to overturn the Elephant-In-The-Room Texas when it came to determining textbook contents.

Now I like Texas and the people there are as big-hearted as any I have ever met. I have been in many parts of the State from the desert west to the metropolitan Dallas and many points in between. For a time I lived just over the border in Shreveport and spent many a weekend exploring East Texas. My Mother-in-law lives just outside of Dallas, so my wife and I visit there regularly. I really did find it hard to believe that Texas would fall for this line of non-thinking! I hope the School Board sticks to the vote they has earlier in the year and holds true to the teaching of Science. If they do I can't wait to see how those ID'iots over at the DI spin it. If the people of Texas fall for these machinations, then the people I feel sorry for are the people of the Great State of Texas themselves because they will be hurting themselves and the education of their own kids!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Boojum hunting in Oklahoma

Yes, it's finally time to begin a new Boojum hunt! The object of the hunt is to investigate the 'circumstances' behind Richard Dawkins recent appearance at UO. Seriously folks! Just before Richard Dawkins was scheduled to appear, a very foolish representative of the people of Oklahoma introduced two bills designed to keep him out! I kid you not! I read it first on the PZ Myers blog and this is about the follow-up: "Suspected Criminal Richard Dawkins Under Investigation" and had to read it a second time to make sure it wasn't an April Fools joke a week early.

"Oklahoma State Representative Rebecca Hamilton (rebeccahamilton@okhouse.gov) requested substantial information relating to the speech from Vice President for Governmental Relations Danny Hilliard. Representative Hamilton's exhaustive request included demands for all e-mails and correspondence relating to the speech; a list of all money paid to Dawkins and the entities, public or private, responsible for this funding; and the total cost to the university, including, among other things, security fees, advertising, and even "faculty time spent promoting this event."
Where in the world is this mess going to lead? Are Universities going to have to start getting the OK from the legislature for speakers? Is this sort of activity really what the people in Oklahoma need from their representatives? Sure, there are no other issues facing the people of Oklahoma right now!

This is nothing but a Boojum hunt, which for those of you more literature-minded is a dangerous form of the Lewis Carroll Snark. If you prefer, call it a good old fashioned witch hunt! Pretty soon the only speakers you will be able to get, without significant 'oversight' from the Legislature, are those with nothing at all to say! Forget academic freedom, forget hearing controversial information, forget teaching anything at all! This is ridiculous and I hope all of Oklahoma contact Representative Hamilton and express their displeasure.

Oh and before I forget, it wasn't Representative Hamilton who introduced the two bills designed to prevent Dawkins from coming into the State, but another one of her apparent ilk named Todd Thomsen (todd.thomsen@okhouse.gov). she is just the one apparently engaged in the hunting of the Boojum.

Here are a link to the two bills, read them for yourself. I think they are hilarious! Here is just a sampling:
"A Resolution expressing disapproval of the actions of the University of Oklahoma to indoctrinate students in the theory of evolution; opposing the invitation to Richard Dawkins to speak on campus; and directing distribution.

WHEREAS, the University of Oklahoma is a publicly funded institution which should be open to all ideas and should train students in all disciplines of study and research and to use independent thinking and free inquiry, not indoctrinate students in one-sided study and thinking; . . ."
How can you possibly reconcile in your mind opposing the invitation and yet then follow up right away and talk about free inquiry? Oklahoma, you aren't very particularly OK right now. You need to put a leash on those two! Remember, this is the same group who wished to pass a bill concerning academic freedom? See why I keep saying that bill, and the others like it, have nothing whatsoever to do with academic freedom! Here is more evidence to show you that they care little for freedom of any kind!

Follow up on "Why Science Works!"

The conference is over and while there hasn't been a lot of news released on it, John Lynch, ASU, and blogger extraordinaire (Stranger Fruit) was kind enough to mention that he not only attended, but he gave a presentation on why he felt that evolution was not an unchallengeable orthodoxy and why creationist claims about being stifled or expelled do not hold up when examined in light of scientific practice and the history of science. The list of attendee is quite interesting, representatives from science, philosophy, law, even the British House of Lords was here. Take a gander at the confirmed attendee list. Would have been interesting to attend.

Funny how the DI hasn't yet posted anything about it. Could it be they are too busy whining about not getting an invite to the Vatican to play with the big boys and discuss evolution? Looks like Ben Stein didn't get invited either, I bet the rest of the participants breathed a sigh of relief that it would enable them to get some work done and not listen to unsupported allegations!

Turnabout is fair play!

Kem Ham is off his rocker -- well that's old news, so how about "Ken Ham has provided more evidence he's off his rocker." Does that sound better?

So what has he done now? Well about a year ago Michael Zimmerman was scheduled to do an interview last year on a fundamentalist Christian radio show. Michael is from Butler University and one of the driving forces behind the Clergy Letter Project, which I have mentioned several times. Well when he went on the air he discovered that Ken Ham was also on the line -- fully prepared to debate him. This is the best part:

"When asked why neither the host nor Ken had the courtesy to inform me that I was to participate in a debate rather than in an interview, I was told that they believed that I wouldn’t have accepted their offer had I been told the truth. When I questioned them about the deception, I was told that since the debate was to further God’s wishes, a minor deception of this sort was acceptable."
So Kennie and his buds ambushed Michael. And of course this "minor deception of this sort was acceptable" in the eyes of God! Why, because little kennie Ham says so! How many times have I mentioned the "Liars for Jesus" Club, apparently Ham is a charter member.

OK, so why is this funny a year later? Apparently the BBC turned the tables on one of little kennie's pets, Jason Lisle, who was surprised to find that a scheduled interview on the BBC was actually to be a debate with Genie Scott of the National Center for Science Education. Of course kennie is crying all sorts of moral outrage!

So I guess it's OK for kennie to rig the game, but it's terribly unfair for anyone else to! That takes balls, little kennie! I guess he figured no one would remember. I got the story from the Clashing Culture Blog and also saw it on Exploring our Matrix! I probably should pop over and read kennie's words, but not until I've had breakfast. Can't handle kennie's hypocrisy on an empty stomach.

Addendum: I did wander over to AiG, after getting something in my stomach, and looked at what kennie had to say. He railed against the BBC and even claimed the same thing happened to him -- of course offering no details for verification. So in my opinion Kennie is just cheap version of Bill O'Reilly. You might remember when Bill was railing against paparazzi, yet he had no issue using the identical tactics to ambush politicians? Well Kennie is just upset because someone used his own tactic against him. Seriously hypocritical! As Bugs Bunny would say "What a maroon!"

Sunday, March 22, 2009

DI Mouthpiece and Quote-mining

One of the many targets of opportunity over at the Discovery institute is Casey Luskin. I know I have talked about him a little bit before. But I think he's really out-done himself this time. The sheer number of times he's made himself a target is truly staggering, but this time he's really made it so easy.

First a little about little Casey. First up, he's a lawyer! Yup, that's right, he's a lawyer. His current job is Program Officer in Public Policy & Legal Affairs for the DI, more specifically the Center for Science and Culture, formerly called the Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture at the DI. He does have an Earth Science degree, which I believe he earned specifically because he wanted something to beat up Biologists with. However, I wanted you to know he is NOT a scientist, he is not working as a scientists, and as far as I can tell he has NEVER worked as a scientist. Lauri Lebo identified him as a "staff attorney at the Discovery institute" in her excellent book "The Devil in Dover". No, he wasn't on the legal team, he stood around outside handing out press releases, claiming how everyone against Intelligent Design was lying. Yea, real scientific. I guess his legal skills are as honed as his scientific skills.

OK, so what has he been up to lately. Well the non-scientist has taken it upon himself to critique the work of real scientists. Actually 'critique' seems to be a much stronger word. What Casey has been doing is quote-mining the work of Kevin Padian and Nick Matzk. Now if you aren't sure what I mean by quote-mining, basically it is taking quotes and using them out of context in order a draw a conclusion, usually in conflict with the original work. I discussed it in blog posts "Quote Mining" and "More on Quote Mining", which has my favorite example of quote-mining which shows how Ben Stein did it to Charles Darwin during his mockmentary "Expelled".

Well Casey tried to take on Kevin Padian -- a Professor of Integrative Biology at the University of California, Berkeley, Curator of Paleontology, University of California Museum of Paleontology and President of the National Center for Science Education; and Nicholas J. Matzke currently a doctoral student in evolutionary biology at the University of California, Berkeley. Nick is also the former Public Information Project Director at the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) and served an instrumental role in NCSE's preparation for the 2005 Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District trial. One of his chief contributions was discovering drafts of Of Pandas and People which demonstrated that the term "intelligent design" was later substituted for "creationism". He's also co-authored many papers critical of the DI's work. Needless to say I doubt Kevin and Nick are on Casey's Christmas Card list.

Whatever the reason, rather than do an actual critique, Casey simply did a little quote-mining and tried to change the purpose of their paper. Mike Dumford, a graduate student in the Department of Zoology at the University of Hawaii, Manoa, pointed this out on his blog "The Questionable Authority". in the article "Casey Luskin, Galloping Paranoia, and Not Taking Intelligent Design Seriously" he takes Casey to task over his quote-mining. Take a look, apparently Casey literally grabbed several quotes from different parts of the paper and pulled them together in a way that changed the meaning, or at least in a way that makes it seem to change the meaning. Luskin didn't even make it challenging -- which pretty well sums up little Casey!

In other words he did a Number 3! Do you remember RationalPortion's advice on determining whether or not what you are reading has been quote-mined? Here is a reminder:

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.
See what I mean, Casey pulled a Number 3. Now Mike isn't the only one who has a good handle on just how 'informed' Casey is. PZ Myers, over on Pharyngula posted "Junky Genomes, Again" which brings Casey's honesty into question yet again. Pretty much more of the same. Last year the DI handed out an award named after little Casey, the Casey Luskin Graduate Award. Funny how last years winner remained anonymous! Maybe it's not so prestigious after all! Plus the winner was graduating with a degree in history! You know this would be funny if it wasn't so pathetic!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Conversations with Creationists redux

There is a 'Conversation" that has been making the rounds on many websites and blogs and frequently referenced by many Creationists. It has been attributed to Albert Einstein, who -- supposedly as a young student -- brought a professor to his knees with a dazzling display of 'logic'. However according to many source, it NEVER happened. It is really nothing more than a diatribe written by some Creationist and has become an urban legend.

It goes something like this:

The university professor challenged his students with this question. Did God create everything that exists? A student bravely replied, "Yes, he did!"

"God created everything? The professor asked.

"Yes sir", the student replied.

The professor answered, "If God created everything, then God created evil since evil exists, and according to the principal that our works define who we are then God is evil". The student became quiet before such an answer. The professor was quite pleased with himself and boasted to the students that he had proven once more that the Christian faith was a myth.

Another student raised his hand and said, "Can I ask you a question professor?"

"Of course", replied the professor.

The student stood up and asked, "Professor, does cold exist?"

"What kind of question is this? Of course it exists. Have you never been cold?" The students snickered at the young man's question.

The young man replied, "In fact sir, cold does not exist. According to the laws of physics, what we consider cold is in reality the absence of heat. Every body or object is susceptible to study when it has or transmits energy, and heat is what makes a body or matter have or transmit energy. Absolute zero (-460 degrees F) is the total absence of heat; all matter becomes inert and incapable of reaction at that temperature. Cold does not exist. We have created this word to describe how we feel if we have no heat."

The student continued, "Professor, does darkness exist?"

The professor responded, "Of course it does."

The student replied, "Once again you are wrong sir, darkness does not exist either. Darkness is in reality the absence of light. Light we can study, but not darkness. In fact we can use Newton's prism to break white light into many colors and study the various wavelengths of each color. You cannot measure darkness. A simple ray of light can break into a world of darkness and illuminate it. How can you know how dark a certain space is? You measure the amount of light present. Isn't this correct? Darkness is a term used by man to describe what happens when there is no light present."

Finally the young man asked the professor, "Sir, does evil exist?"

Now uncertain, the professor responded, "Of course as I have already said. We see it every day. It is in the daily example of man's inhumanity to man. It is in the multitude of crime and violence everywhere in the world. These manifestations are nothing else but evil."

To this the student replied, "Evil does not exist sir, or at least it does not exist unto itself. Evil is simply the absence of God. It is just like darkness and cold, a word that man has created to describe the absence of God. God did not create evil. Evil is not like faith, or love that exist just as does light and heat. Evil is the result of what happens when man does not have God's love present in his heart. It's like the cold that comes when there is no heat or the darkness that comes when there is no light."

The professor sat down.

The young man's name — Albert Einstein.
There are variations involving evolution, about whether or not the Professor has a brain, because there is no empirical evidence, ie: no one can see or touch it, and such foolishness.

recently another Creationist put one up on Topix dealing with Evolution, but you can see it's pretty much in the same vein. As a professor myself I have a hard time with the caricature of the professor and even the student in this one, and believe me they are caricatures, grossly exaggerated ones, but that's neither here nor there.

I was passed a link to one where the professor acted a bit more like a real professor would act. I enjoyed it and I thought you might as well. It's also on Topix, and here is the link and here is the text. Now please note that UNLIKE the typical Creationist, this isn't a conversation that actually happened and I am not claiming it did. But it certainly reminds me more of the conversations in Philosophy classes than the first one.
A philosophy professor challenged his students with a form of the Euthyphro dilema: Did 'God' create everything that exists?" A student replied, "Yes, he did!" (The 'bravely' part is removed: civil disagreement is the very point of philosophy courses, no bravery is required for dissent! Civil dissent is rewarded! Agreement is the death of philosophy, disagreement is its life's blood.)

"God created everything?" the professor asked. "Yes," the student replied.(The 'sir' part is removed: no college student in the 21st century addresses a college professor as 'sir'- which demonstrates that whoever it was that made up the original story never went to college. In addition, the use of 'sir' is just a pretense of 'respect'- it comes off as passive aggressive anger more than anything else.)

The professor answered, "Well then, here's a logical puzzle for you: If God created everything, then God created evil; Therefore, according to the principal that 'our works define who we are','God' is evil."

The student became silently enraged over his worldview being 'attacked'. He began to project out his feelings of inadequacy as smugness coming from the professor.

The student then said: "Can I ask you a question professor?"

"Of course," replied the professor. That's the point of philosophical discourse.(The writer of the original story clearly has little experience with a real college classroom. The whole point of a philosophy or theology course is to foster discussion.)

Student: Is there such thing as heat?"
Professor: Yes, the professor replies.
Student: "Is there such a thing as cold?"
Professor: "Yes, there's cold too."
Student: "No, there isn't"

The professor doesn't grin or frown or react with any emotion other than curiosity. After all, he's heard bad arguments like this for more years than the student has been alive.(The desire to see the professors 'smug smile wiped off his face' is just another projection of the feelings of inadequacy found in theists who aren't able to argue their own points well...)

The student continues. You can have lots of heat, even more heat, super-heat, mega-heat, white heat, a little heat or no heat but we don't have anything called 'cold'. We can hit 458 degrees below zero, which is no heat, but we can't go any further after that. There is no such thing as cold, otherwise we would be able to go colder than 458. You see, sir, cold is only a word we use to describe the absence of heat. We cannot measure cold. Heat we can measure in thermal units because heat is energy. Cold is not the opposite of heat, just the absence of it"

Professor:(Nodding his head in dismay, and working out how many times he's heard this bad logic by now. 100 times?). Do you remember the section in your workbook on semantic fallacies?

Student:( gives a confused look a dog might make)

Professor: Let me give you a quick review. Both 'heat' and 'cold' are subjective terms... They are what the philosopher John Locke properly called "secondary qualities". The secondary qualities refer to how we humans experience a very real phenomena: the movement of atomic particles. The terms 'heat' and 'cold' refer to an interaction between human nervous systems and various speeds of atomic particles in their environment. So what we 'really' have is temperature.... the terms 'heat' and "cold' are merely subjective terms we use to denote our relative experience of temperature.

So your entire argument is specious. You have not 'proven' that 'cold' does not exist, or that 'cold' somehow exists without any ontological status, what you have done is shown that 'cold' is a subjective term. Take away the subjective concept, and the 'thing in itself', the temperature we are denoting as 'cold', still exists. Removing the term we use to reference the phenomena does not eradicate the phenomena.

Student:(a bit stunned) "Uh... Ok.... Well, is there such a thing as darkness, professor?"

Professor: You are still employing the same logical fallacy. Just with a different set of of secondary qualities.

Student: "So you say there is such a thing as darkness?"

Professor: "What I am telling you is that you are repeating the very same error. "Darkness" exists as a secondary quality.

Student: "You're wrong again. Darkness is not something, it is the absence of something. You can have low light, normal light, bright light, flashing light but if you have no light constantly you have nothing and it's called darkness, isn't it? That's the meaning we use to define the word. In reality, Darkness isn't. If it were, you would be able to make darkness darker and give me a jar of it. Can you give me a jar of darkness, professor?

Professor: Sure, right after you give me a jar of light. Seriously, "light and dark' are subjective terms we use to describe how we humans measure measure photons visually. The photons actually exist, the terms 'light' and 'dark' are just subjective evaluations, relative terms... having to do, again, with an interaction between our nervous systems and another phenomenon of nature - this time, photons. So again, doing away with a subjective term does not eradicate the actual phenomena itself - the photons. Nothing actually changes. If we humans tend to call 'x number of photons''dark'(while cats refer to it as 'bright enough for me&quotEye-wink those number of photons we denote as 'dark' exist, and they continue to exist even if we do away with the term 'dark.'

Do you get it now?

Student:(gives a look not unlike a 3 year old trying to work out quantum physics)

Professor: I see your still struggling with the fallacy hidden in your argument. But let's continue, perhaps you'll see it.

Student: Well, you are working on the premise of duality, the christian explains.

Professor: Actually, I've debunked that claim two times now. But carry on.

Student: "Well, you assume, for example, that there is a good God and a bad God. You are viewing the concept of God as something finite, something we can measure.

Professor: Be careful. If you want to place your god beyond the grasps of reason, logic, and science and make him 'unmeasurable', then you are left with nothing but a mystery of your own devising. So if you use this special plead your god beyond reason to solve the problem, you can't call your god moral either. You can't call 'him' anything. You can't say anything else about something that you yourself have defined as beyond reason other than that the term you've created is incoherent. So your solution is akin to treating dandruff by decapitation.

Student:(Gulps. Continues on, oblivious to what was just said) Sir, science cannot even explain a thought. It uses electricity and magnetism but has never seen, much less fully understood them.

Professor: You just said that science cannot explain a thought. I'm not even sure what you mean by that. I think what you mean to say is this: there remains many mysteries in neuroscience. Would you agree?

Student: Yes.

Professor: And, along the same line of thought, we accept that there are things like thoughts, or electricity or magnetism even though we have never seen them?

Student: Yes!

Professor: Recall the section in your textbook concerning fallacies of false presumption. Turn to the entry on 'Category error'. You'll recall that a category error occurs when an inappropriate measure is used in regards to an entity, such as asking someone what the color of a sound is... Asking someone to 'see' magnetism directly (and not just its effects) commits such an error. However, there is yet another error in your argument: your assumption that empiricism or even science is based on 'real time observation' alone. This is false. Sight is not the sole means of knowing the world, nor is science merely the study of whatever we are currently looking at. We can use other senses to detect phenomena. And we can also examine their effects upon the world.

Furthermore, you are importing yet another erroneous presumption into the discussion: you are conflating the fact that science is incomplete with the implication that a lack of an answer from naturalism automatically means that your theistic assertion is correct. So you'll also want to review the section on 'arguing form ignorance.'

Do you have more to say?

Student:(The student, continues, mainly unfazed, due to the protection his shield of ignorance affords him.).... Um....... to view death as the opposite of life is to be ignorant of the fact that death cannot exist as a substantive thing. Death is not the opposite of life, merely the absence of it"

Professor: You are really in love with this secondary quality fallacy, aren't you? You are again confusing a secondary quality with the phenomena in of itself. "Death" and "life" are subjective terms we use to describe a more fundamental phenomena - biology. The phenomena in question, however, does exist. Biological forms in various states exist. Doing away with the subjective term does not eradicate the existence of death.

Nonplussed, the young man continues: "Is there such a thing as immorality?"

Professor:(Reaches for an aspirin in his desk) You're not going to again confuse a secondary quality for an attribute, are you? Please... what can I do to help you see this problem?

Student:(Continues on, fueled by ideology and oblivious to reality) You see, immorality is merely the absence of morality. Is there such thing as injustice? No. Injustice is the absence of justice. Is there such a thing as evil?" The christian pauses. "Isn't evil the absence of good?"

Professor: So, if someone murders your mother tonight, nothing happened? There was just an absence of morality in your house? Wait, I forgot... she's not dead... she's just experiencing an absence of life, right?

Student: Uh.....

Professor: You're beginning to see that something is missing in your argument, aren't you? Here's what you're missing. You are confusing a secondary quality... a subjective term that we can use to describe a phenomena, for the phenomena itself. Perhaps you heard me mention this before?(The class erupts in laughter, the professor motions for them to stop laughing.)'Immorality' is a descriptive term for a behavior. The terms are secondary, but the behaviors exist. So if you remove the secondary qualities, you do nothing to eradicate the real behavior that the terms only exist to describe in the first place. So by saying that 'immorality' is a lack of morality, you are not removing immoral intentions and behaviors, or the problem of immoral intentions and behaviors from existence, you are just removing the secondary attribute, the subjective term.

And notice how dishonest your argument is on yet another level... in that it speaks of morality and immorality devoid of behavior, but 'evil' exists as a behavior, evil is an intent to do harm and an act committed with such an intent.

By the way, are you really trying to imply that immorality or evil are merely subjective qualities?

Student: Gulp!(Reeling from the psychological blows to his corrupt worldview....) Have you ever observed evolution with your own eyes, professor?"

The professor soothes his aching forehead, and prepares for the 1 millionth time that he will be subjected to the 'can you see the wind' argument.

Professor: What an interesting turn this conversation has taken. Can I advise you to read Brofenbrenner's suggestion against arguing over subjects over which you are uninformed? It's in your textbook. Page 1.

Student: "Professor, since no one has ever observed the process of evolution at work and cannot even prove that this process is an on-going endeavor, are you not teaching your opinion, sir? Are you now not a scientist, but a priest?

Professor: Interesting indirect comment on the priesthood. But let's leave that aside... We do observe the process of evolution at work, for the process works at this very moment. As for the implication in your argument that one must 'be there' to observe a process at it occurs, surely you realize that we can infer the process through examining the evidence that these processes leave behind? In a sense, we are there when we observe artifacts.

Consider for example the science of astronomy. How do we know about super novas? Because we can observe different supernovas in different stages of super nova, by observing their 'artifacts' in the night sky. The same stands for any historical science. Your mistake here is that you think science is merely 'real-time-observation'. This is a strawman of science. By your logic trees can't grow - after all, who's actually witnessed a tree growing?

Science is both direct and indirect observation... it also allows for inference. If, for the sake of consistency you were asked to follow your own rule, you'd have to concede that we have no evidence tree growth, or mountain formation - after all, I've never actually seen a seed grow into a tree, I've only seen it in stages.

Student: "But professor! You stated that science is the study of observed phenomena.

Professor: No, this is a strawman of what science is... Science is more than just real time observation, we also observe artifacts and make inferences. But continue....

Student:(Responds to this as a goat might respond to a book on calculus) May I give you an example of what I mean?"

Professor: Certainly.

Student: "Is there anyone in the class who has ever seen air, oxygen, molecules, atoms, the professor's brain?"

The class breaks out in laughter. The christian points towards professor, "Is there anyone here who has ever heard the professor's brain... felt the professor's brain, touched or smelt the professor's brain?" "No one appears to have done so", The christian shakes his head sadly. "It appears no one here has had any sensory perception of the professor's brain whatsoever. Well, according to the rules of empirical, stable, demonstrable protocol, science, I declare that the professor has no brain!"

(So much for the student's pretense of respect, clearly his goal is to ridicule).

Professor: You mean, according to your strawman view of science.
I am glad that you are here in my class so that I can help you better understand what you criticize. Science is not merely 'looking' at things. Science is empirical, but also rational. We can make inferences from evidence of things that we do see, back to phenomena that we might not be able to directly see. Such as a functioning brain.

And one inference I can make from observing your behaviors here today is that you've wasted the money you've spent on your logic textbook so far this year. I strongly advise, for your own sake, that you crack open that book today, and start reading. From page 1.
Certainly a fun read.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Weaseling around with Randomness

When I read the Blind Watchmaker, Richard Dawkins, I was impressed with his Weasel program. Just recently I re-discovered it on a website, written in Java, as opposed to the original BASIC. The link is http://home.pacbell.net/s-max/scott/weasel.html. Take a look at it, run it a few times, it's a blast. You can even scroll up and down and look at the results. Change the 'update every' setting from 10 to 1 and you can see each step.
For those of you unfamiliar with the Weasel program, it is a little sample program written by Dawkins to address the role of randomness in evolution. Now before you hoot and holler, it is NOT a representation of evolution, but a simple example designed to refute people who say things like comparing monkeys on typewriters and tornadoes building space shuttles. The point those folks are usually trying to make the entire evolutionary process as nothing but random behavior.

I have posted about randomness before (Arguments XIII - The 747 or a Shakespearean monkey) but this program really is a great way to look at it. It's more an example of how selection, combined with random action, can develop complexity. Again, don't think this is all there is to evolution, but think of it in the terms of selection and it makes perfect sense.

So you start with a completely random collection of letters, numbers, and other symbols. As one changes it is compared to an end result. If it is closer to the result, it's kept and other letters are changed. The idea being that making random changes by itself doesn't get you far, but you have to have some selection mechanism. Here it's compared to an end result, in the real world, nature does the selecting.

Like I said, it's a great way at looking at things!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Arguments XXIII -- Telelogic and Telelogical arguments

Over on Topix I have been seeing a rash of telelogical arguments, more than in recent months. In many ways I wish the word 'logic' had not been used here, but like many things, you can't change the world, but you can change the some folks understanding. So that being said, a telelogical argument is not a logical argument, but a form of logical fallacy. At its heart is the word 'tele, which comes from the Greek word 'telos', which means 'end' or 'purpose'. The whole idea of a telelogical argument is that you can infer some end point or purpose based on the perception of something. For example a simple little logic statement:

If A then B;
B; therefor A

What proof is there that A even leads to B, but even if you accept that as a given, why is A the ONLY path to B? You are making an assumption with the first statement and using it for a conclusion in the second.

I understand one reason folks like this type of 'proof' because as a computer programmer I use this type of If . . . Then statement all day long. But in computer programming, we are using it as a decision statement, in other words evaluating the the answer to the 'if' part to determine an action, we are not using it as proof We are simply evaluating a value. For example in a program I am working on right now there is a statement:

if (a<5)


The way this works is based on the value for 'a'. If it is less than 5, the program runs 'callmethod()', if it is 5 or more, it does not. See the difference? It's not proof, but a decision point. Of course just because the callMethod function runs is not proof that it was called by this particular if statement! BTW, the programming language in use here doesn't use the word 'then', it's implied. Other languages use it.

So how does this relate to the whole Evolution thingamadoohicky? Well many folks use this sort of argument to convince themselves that God must exist. For example:

Life is too complex, therefore God did it;
Since life is complex, God must exist!

First of all you completely disregard the idea that ONLY God could make anything complex. Do you see that assumption? Then you reverse your idea and use your assumption to prove existence.

This form of argument is also called the 'Watchmaker analogy' after William Paley, who in 1802, published his book "Natural Theology". The analogy goes like this:

"In crossing a heath, suppose I pitched my foot against a stone, and were asked how the stone came to be there; I might possibly answer, that, for anything I knew to the contrary, it had lain there forever: nor would it perhaps be very easy to show the absurdity of this answer. But suppose I had found a watch upon the ground, and it should be inquired how the watch happened to be in that place; I should hardly think of the answer I had before given, that for anything I knew, the watch might have always been there. (...) There must have existed, at some time, and at some place or other, an artificer or artificers, who formed [the watch] for the purpose which we find it actually to answer; who comprehended its construction, and designed its use. (...) Every indication of contrivance, every manifestation of design, which existed in the watch, exists in the works of nature; with the difference, on the side of nature, of being greater or more, and that in a degree which exceeds all computation."

– William Paley, Natural Theology (1802)
In a nutshell he says that if he stumbles upon a watch, you can rest assured there had to have been a Watchmaker or else the watch would not exist. Of course he is certainly assuming that complexity could only come from intelligence and then assume intelligence because of the existence of complexity. You hear this same concept in Michael Behe's irreducible complexity argument where he assumes that the level of complexity is such that a natural process could not have caused it, then he uses his assumption to claim only an 'intelligent designer' could have done it. He is less forthcoming than Paley because he refuses to formally identify the designer -- oh he freely admits that he believes the designer to be the Christian God, but he refuses to put that in print. He's toeing the Discovery Institute line in doing so.

The other thing this argument does is disregard experience. For example in Paley's time watches and other complicated devices existed! He knew what a watch was and what it represented in the terms of expertise and even value. It makes it real easy to infer a watchmaker. Behe has the same issue when it comes to his famous, or infamous, mousetrap. How do we know a designer 'designed' his mousetrap? Well we are all very familiar with manufactured goods, wood and metal in particular. It makes it easy to feel that he must have a point! But that is not the brain talking, but the gut. It feels like he has a point, yet imagine if we could take something we know to be manufactured and take it really far back in time before there were manufactured goods? Would someone of that day recognize the design and intelligence behind a watch, or cell phone, even a mousetrap? That is a question that cannot be answered, but it would be needed to show the validity of such an argument. Without it, all we have are assumptions and logical fallacies.

Charles Darwin himself thought Paley's argument had merit, it wasn't until he started studying the diversity of life on the Voyage of the HMS Beagle did he formulate a mechanism that supported the evidence much better than a telelogical argument. In fact this argument was raised during the Dover Trial and Judge Jones, In his ruling, stated that the use of the argument from design by intelligent design proponents "is merely a restatement of the Reverend William Paley's argument applied at the cell level" and that the argument from design is subjective.

Am I prejudiced against the ICR and the DI?

A question was raised recently "Am I prejudiced against the Institute for Creation Research and the Discovery Institute?" The answer is . . . well I will let you figure that out by the end of this post.

First of all being for or against something WITHOUT any actual knowledge is prejudice. Get the point? Here, check out Websters:

Prejudice (1): preconceived judgment or opinion (2): an adverse opinion or leaning formed without just grounds or before sufficient knowledge b: an instance of such judgment or opinion c: an irrational attitude of hostility directed against an individual, a group, a race, or their supposed characteristics.
OK, let's start, 'preconceived'! Did I have a preconceived opinion? No, I didn't even know of these organizations existence until I started looking into this cultural and political debate. Since then I have formed an opinion, but it cannot be said to be a preconception.

Let's try the next part 'formed without just grounds or before sufficient knowledge'. Without just grounds, without sufficient knowledge? While we can get into a long debate about 'just' and 'sufficient', for me you have an organization like the DI that lies in support of their religious convictions, supports other people lying, claims controversy where none exists, and continually misleads anyone who disagrees with them. You have another organization who claims to be doing scientific work without any respect of scientific methodology, one who starts with their preferred answer and either denies the existence of opposing evidence, or mis-represents what the opposing evidence in order to not change their pre-determined answer. I think I have both formed a just and sufficiently knowledgeable opinion.

No, as you can see I have a definite opinion on the ICR, the DI, the Thomas More Law Center, and all the other groups who using the tactics of lies and misrepresentation to achieve their goals. It is not an opinion in favor of any of them! If you want specific examples, read back through my blog, you'll find lots of them!

In my opinion those groups have cornered the market on prejudice! They start is an idea and nothing presented to them can possibly change their tightly closed minds. That certainly sounds more like prejudice to me!

As for my opinion -- I don't think any of those organizations have much value in existing. You might disagree with me, as is your right. But don't tell me I am being prejudiced, because my opinion is based on their own behavior, published writings, and websites. As one friend told me, "It ain't prejudiced when it's based on fact!"

Arguments XXII -- Religion

I normally don't address religious arguments and try and stay on the science side of things, but an editorial/commentary by Leonard Pitts caught my eye this weekend. "Leonard Pitts: I believe that religion is driving people away from God"

While his commentary wasn't directed towards Evolution, it certainly relates to the subject. The point, as I see it, is that religious organizations, particularly the more fundamentalist ones, tend to drive people away, not just form their religion, but from any religion! Just look at this paragraph:

" . . .What is the cumulative effect upon outside observers of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker living like lords on the largesse of the poor, multiplied by Jimmy Swaggart's pornography addiction, plus Eric Rudolph bombing Olympians and gays in the name of God, plus Muslims hijacking airplanes in the name of God, multiplied by the church that kicked out some members because they voted Democrat, divided by people caterwauling on courthouse steps as a rock bearing the Ten Commandments was removed, multiplied by the square root of Catholic priests preying on little boys while the church looked on and did nothing, multiplied by Muslims rioting over cartoons, plus the ongoing demonization of gay men and lesbians, divided by all those "traditional values" coalitions and "family values" councils that try to bully public schools into becoming worship houses, with morning prayers and science lessons from the book of Genesis? . . ."
Of course you know I had to highlight the part about the science lessons, but look at the rest of it. The extremism, the fundamentalist thinking, the belief that no matter what I do, God is on my side is doing more damage than good, and not just to the organized religion!

He also made a telling point with
"God is, for the faithful at least, the sovereign creator of all creation. Religion is what men and women put in place, ostensibly to worship and serve Him. Too often, though, religion worships and serves that which has nothing to do with Him, worships money and serves politics, worships charisma and serves ego, worships intolerance and serves self. "
I think Dr. James McGrath made that same point several times on his blog "Exploring Our Matrix" and discussed, among other things what happens when the 'symbol becomes more important than what it symbolizes, and 'inerrancy'. I know I have talked about it several times under "Biblical Literalism", "Biblical Literalism Continued" and "More on Biblical Literalism"

No, I am not plugging for Religion, but hoping that people of Faith can take a brief step backwards and view their actions in light of the intentions of their faith. I'm not saying toss the Bible, the Torah, or the Koran aside, but I am asking that you take the intentions of those documents to heart when dealing with issues.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Why Science Works!

One of the many claims made by anti-evolutionists is that science, particularly in educational, research, and scientific journal institutions, has become so entrenched in their position no other possible position is allowed and actively discriminated against. Now this certainly has not been my position, nor is it the position of many in academia that I am acquainted with. Of course you all hear stories about academics who are so entrenched that a nuclear blast couldn't get them to see the other side of an issue -- but I think about that more as a personal bias than an institutional one. I mean in any group of people you can find some with a very narrow viewpoint, but that doesn't mean the whole group is so narrowly-opinionated.

So why is this an example of why science works: This is a conference set up at Arizona State to explore the topic. Rather than just ignoring the claim or locking themselves into a position claiming the opposite, the academic community gathers and discusses it! Look at the objectives:

  • To critically examine the precept that American and British universities and the scientific communities in these countries are, and should be places, in which people are free to "think the unthinkable, discuss the unmentionable, and challenge the unchallengeable." (Quoting 1975 Statement of Yale Committee on Freedom of Expression).
  • Specifically, the conference will investigate if there are in fact "unchallengeable orthodoxies" in these communities, and to the extent there are, whether there should be.
  • Case studies of restrictions on ideas and research on racial differences, treatment of dissenters about global warming and the exclusion or marginalization of those who believe in creationism or intelligent design.
They are getting very specific about Climate Change and Creationism/Intelligent Design -- which I think is very intelligently designed of them. I am sure they are going to find examples of Orthodoxy, but the real question will be if there are avenues to challenge such orthodoxy? Again, in my experience, there have been and I believe there continue to be. I'm not sure what the findings of this gathering will be, but at least they are gathering to discuss and verify if there is a problem about unchallenged orthodoxy within the halls of science and academia!

Now on Orthodoxy itself, there is a certain amount that is justifiable and even required when teaching classes. For example in an Intro to Programming class you frequently get a student who has self-taught themselves more than the teacher will ever know about a particular area of IT. It would be detrimental to the entire class to branch into those discussions with that student, leaving the ones who really need the class in the dust. In other words each class has a focus and a set of objectives to achieve and it is not orthodoxy to focus there. Sometimes there just isn't enough time to allow flights of fancy free reign! That has been one of my claims, or even whines, against the Discovery Institute and their campaign in High School Science Classes -- you know the one they CLAIM is in support of academic freedom. Is the High School Science class the place to bring in so much external un-orthodoxy to the table? Of course not, these classes should be even more structured than the University level, and for good reason! The students are just now learning methodology and scientific principles, and even how to approach performing science. It would be horrible to introduce them to scientific concepts and then violate it by teaching a patently unscientific idea as if it met the criteria of science.

I also know what the Discovery Institute would like to come out of the conference, and if they are represented, you know they will see it as a way of legitimizing their claims. I can see the headlines now "See, we have been telling you how close-minded scientists are, they are even having s conference about it." The right thing here is not that the DI has legitimate claims, but that the science and academic community will explore the issue. Have we seen such exploration on behalf of the Di when someone shows how little science there is in ID? Not in a million years -- they would rather whine on how misunderstood and how everyone picks on them!

Of course, if the conference determines that while there are instances of personal orthodoxy, but it is not an institutionalized problem, the DI will whine about it. But I really don't care because the DI whines about anything and everything that isn't in agreement with their viewpoint- just like not being invited to the table at the Vatican where they are discussing Evolution -- They have been seriously whining about that one!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Texas, on a different but related subject

I thought this was a dead deal, but I certainly should know better. The Institute for Creation Research (ICR) wants to give out Master's Degrees in Science Education. Apparently for them to do this, they have to become EXEMPT from the State regulations governing such degrees.

Last year the the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board rejected an application from the ICR to to offer master’s degrees in science education. One suggestion made was they might get approval if the degree was in 'Creation Research', not 'science education'. Well the ICR seemed to be playing to the public and doing the normal whines, but they also got to one of Texas's more conservative representatives, Leo Berman. Apparently he s sponsoring a bill that would exempt organizations like the ICR from regulation and oversight by the coordinating board.

If the bill passes, then the ICR can offer degree programs in pretty much anything they want! Gee isn't that going to do wonders for Texas Education? And we thought using the law to undermine evolution was bad, here it is being used to undermine the protections Texas built into their own education system! The ICR would have free reign to do anything they want.

I wonder how many 'diploma mills' will follow and set up shop in Texas? No, I am not calling the ICR a diploma mill, but when your previous accreditation agency was founded by the founder of the ICR, you have to question the organization's integrity! I know I do!

Text of the bill is here.
Here is the article that alerted me Using the Law to Undermine Science

Texas, please don't do this to yourselves! Don't think this is a free speech issue, this is about the future of science education for your children specifically, and the future of all education disciplines!

Literalism reputed, again

More swiped stuff from Exploring our Matrix:

"Synthetic symbolic religious language has creative potential only to the degree that it is recognized to be symbolic, not literal, language. If it is treated as literal, then the symbols themselves become the focus of attention, and the reality-transforming experience that they were originally coined to express tends to be ignored. Instead of facilitating a process of descent into self-examination and surrender followed by an ascent into a transformed reality, the symbols become logical answers to questions of existence. When this happens, the questions are trivialized. Treated as logical answers to life's questions, religious symbols do not stimulate the process of religious reality transformation; they stifle it by rendering it unnecessary."

-- C. Daniel Batson and W. Larry Ventis, The Religious Experience: A Social-Psychological Perspective (Oxford University Press, 1982) pp. 131-132.

Great quote! How often have we seen the defense of the literal word replacing any defense of the concept the word tried to teach. I have read supposed Christian's LYING to us and themselves to defend the literal words of the Bible. I have frequently pointed out the double standard at work there, but this quote really says it even better. The meaning of the words are completely ignored by some who apparently feel the symbol has become more important than what it symbolizes! Thanks once again Dr. McGrath

Arguments XXI (continued) Kevin Roeten -- Creationist

I got the typical response from Mr. Roeten. He talks about another post, but he ends with

"I'll give you one more chance. No response tells me what I need to know."
I love the phrase "what I need to know", I guess my religious beliefs are of some critical importance to him.

I did respond:
"Hey Kev,

Obviously you fail to get the point, so let me be as clear as possible. What does anyone's belief system have to do with the discussion at hand? Your belief system shouldn't matter either, but you seem to be unable to support your statements without it. That should tell you more about yourself than I ever could.

So let me be frank: I did not answer your question for three reasons, (1) You never asked one, you made an assumption and ran with it, (2) it really is none of your business -- but I probably would have answered if you had bothered to ask, and (3) it is not germane to the conversation. The very fact you have to introduce it into the conversation means you have no credible arguments."
But based on his posts so far, I bet he puts me on his ignore list and fully justifies it to himself in some weird way. Probably continue his assumptions and figure I am beyond saving.

One of the others he accused did respond in his own way. Paul Burnett's response to Kev:

Kevin wrote: "Why don't you just say it if it's true?"

"I believe in God." So there. But my God may not be your God. Does your God have blue eyes or brown? Long flowing white hair or short black hair? Bearded or beardless? Was man made in His image? Or was woman made in Her image? (You can't have it both ways, after all. Which one is true? (Thereby making the other false?) Think about it.)

I believe in the God the Founding Fathers believed in - the God of Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, James Madison, John Adams, Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Paine.

Which God do you believe in?

And what does Kev do? You are really going to love this:

Mr. Burnett,

I appreciate you biting the bullet. Evidently you don't realize there can only be one God. Woman and man were made in God's image. It says image, not total duplicate. Therefore both sexes apply. Please don't be so two-dimensional in your thinking. Maybe that's how you believe in evolution. If you really believe in a God, you would know that He would have a hand in the making of woman and man.

Hence, Intelligent Design. I personally don't even think you know what God many of the Founding Fathers believed in. The God I believe in died and was raised from the dead 2000 years ago. That's the God most of the Founding Fathers believed in.

He starts preaching! He tries to 'correct' Paul to be more in line with his own belief system. How incredible! The sheer arrogance of the man. First he makes an unjustifiable assumption, and then when he gets his question answered, starts preaching!

I think he also needs a history lesson. George Washington was a baptized member of the Church of England, which is considered both Angelical and Catholic. John Adams was a Congregationalist and later a Unitarian. Thomas Jefferson was the most interesting of all. According to two of his many Biographers:

"First, that the Christianity of the churches was unreasonable, therefore unbelievable, but that stripped of priestly mystery, ritual, and dogma, reinterpreted in the light of historical evidence and human experience, and substituting the Newtonian cosmology for the discredited Biblical one, Christianity could be conformed to reason. Second, morality required no divine sanction or inspiration, no appeal beyond reason and nature, perhaps not even the hope of heaven or the fear of hell; and so the whole edifice of Christian revelation came tumbling to the ground."

And that in 1803 Jefferson "did not believe in the divinity of Jesus, but he had high esteem for Jesus's moral teachings."

Now I am not saying that all this is perfect information, I haven't done enough research to be sure. But his blanket statement to Paul: "That's the God most of the Founding Fathers believed in." is pretty much meaningless.