Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Mixed messages from Louisiana

While the ICR might contemplate moving to Louisiana after their reverses in Texas, they might be a bit confused by the messages from within the state.

Now I like Louisiana, called the Sportsman's Paradise when I lived there. Both of my kids were born in Louisiana, just outside Shreveport.I made some great friends there. But in all honesty i was very disappointed in the school system when I lived there and recently was further disappointed when Bobby Jindal signed off on a disastrous piece of legislation, the poorly named Louisiana Science Education Act -- which did nothing more but open the door for non-science to be introduced and made it hard for anyone to complain about it. But what do you expect when your best friends are the Discovery institute and the Louisiana Family Forum! I do see a lawsuit in their future.

Well let move ahead from the 2008 signing of the bill and see what the Louisiana Legislature has been up to. Well since they are facing one of the worst ecological disasters in history and one that will reverberate for years in Louisiana's economy, what does the Legislature do -- they unanimously pass a resolution asking for folks to pray for divine intervention. I am sure the ICR will love to hear that message. Just as I am sure State Sen. Robert Adley will claim a victory for God when BP gets its act together and finally deals with the problem and the massive clean-up.

The message the ICR might not like so much comes in the form of an editorial in the Shreveport Times from a couple of days ago. It is directed at the hypocrisy of Gov. Bobby Jindal and US Senator David Vitter are calling for the best and brightest science and engineering minds to help deal with the oil disaster after spending their entire career pandering to the large anti-science constituencies within the State of Louisiana. Isn't it ironic?

Charles Kincade takes no prisoners with his editorial and ends with this:

"Our dismal education system has and will continue to have obvious effects on our economic viability. But more freighting is the inescapable conclusion that unless the anti-science policies of Jindal, Vitter, et al are corrected, and soon, future generations will be unable to function in the modern world."
I wish I could argue with him, but he is one of the few voices talking sense. Louisiana will become dependent on other states for technology and innovation, especially since they still rank near the bottom of the list of States for education (47th of 50). Their educational woes haven't changed since I lived there and unless the people of Louisiana make a change, it's not likely to get better.

Texas scores a big win!

You might remember that back in 2008 the 'Institute' for Creation Research (ICR) moved their national headquarters to Dallas TX from Santee CA. Once they arrived they tried to start awarding a Master's of Science degree. I blogged about this several times (Texas on a different but related subject, Showdown in Texas, Hasn't Texas had enough, and Yea for Texas). Basically they were trying to award an MS graduate degree with, in my opinion, little science involved -- in particular evolution. In all honesty how can an organization award any type of science degree when everything they do is filtered through biblical colored glasses?

Well the ICR made the request, and the Texas Education Agency (TEA) turned them down. It must have been a small surprise, but remember that they were accredited by the Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools (TRACS), which requires candidate institutions to affirm a list of Biblical Foundations, including "the divine work of non-evolutionary creation including persons in God's image." TRACS is not recognized in Texas and they were seeking a non religious-based accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

The ICR took their case to the court of public opinion and tried to work around the law. They got to one of Texas's more conservative representatives, Leo Berman, who sponsored a bill that would exempt organizations like the ICR from regulation and oversight by the coordinating board. In other words if this bill had passed, they would be able to award whatever degrees they wanted without any oversight! Now isn't that scary. I believe the bill died in committee, but this does go to show you the efforts an organization like the ICR will stoop to to spread their anti-science agenda.

The ICR also filed suit against the TEA claiming, among other things "an unconstitutional and prejudicial burden against ICR's academic freedom and religious liberties." Well the results are in:

  • The proposed course of study in no way ‘adequately cover[s] the breadth of knowledge of the discipline taught.
  • The vast majority of the proposed science courses do not resemble any offered for graduate credit by other Texas colleges and universities in breadth, depth, or content, and they would not be acceptable for transfer or credit as a result.
  • The proposed program of study in no way would adequately prepare students in the field of science education, at any level, and certainly not at the graduate level.
  • It is the position of the institute that…all genuine facts of science support the Bible.
  • The phenomenon of biological life did not develop by natural processes from
    inanimate systems but was specially and supernaturally created by the creator.
  • All things in the universe were created and made by God in the six literal days of the
    Creation Week described in Genesis…[.] The creation record is factual, historical, and
    perspicuous; thus all theories of origin and development that involve evolution in any
    form are false.
While the ICR was whining about prejudice, the Judge Sam Sparks disagreed! Read about it here "Court Smacks Down Creationist Institute Suit" I guess the next step is to look for a new state for their 'national' headquarters. Maybe Louisiana?

Sunday, June 13, 2010

When do Rationalizations become a lie?

Like many in Ohio I have been following the Freshwater case in Mount Vernon. Some background -- a couple of years ago an 8th grade biology teacher, John Freshwater, was suspended for allegedly doing a number of things. Basically he used a Telsa coil to brand students with a cross, taught his narrow christian religion as science, and lied about it -- among other things. You can read so much more about it over on Panda's Thumb -- it's well covered as only someone as dedicated

I was reading about some of the testimony at this particular post and something really caught my eye.

"Hamilton is still working hard to make the case that Freshwater used creationist materials only to show that it’s bad science. As I noted some time ago, sooner or later his constituency will catch on and either abandon him or rationalize it as a necessary lie. My bet is on the latter."
How many times has this happened, how openly Christians who take a stand that they know is against the law and are perfectly willing to lie about it! Remember the Dover PA trial? Before the trial things were said -- and documented in print and video -- and during the trial they LIED about it! Read the transcripts and Judge Jones' comments yourself. It's not very subtle. They have to know that they missed a perjury charge for some unfathomable reason. Freshwater seems to be heading in the same direction. He lied to investigators and appears to have lied about everything during his testimony. It's a disgrace!

The worst part of too often Christians will accept his lies as a necessary evil in order to push their religious view point. Why? What makes it OK to lie on one hand and then claim it's a sin on the other? Freshwater has lost any credibility with non-fundamentalist Christians because of his lies, he should also not have any with his normal supporters -- but they won't abandon him. They'll put up with it and 'forgive him'. It's pretty sad! This isn't a goof, a slip of the tongue. These are deliberate lies -- and even lies after putting hands on a Bible and agreeing to testify with the truth.

I do not agree with Freshwater, but I would have a great deal more respect for him if he stood up for his beliefs, admitted his transgressions, and accepted his punishment. But he won't! His beliefs aren't nearly as strong as they are purported. They are strong enough to compromise his teaching, but not strong enough to accept responsibility!

He sure did lose some other Christians, for example Marcia Osborne said, in her testimony,
"She said he replied that he would have to check his Bible because he wasn’t sure Catholics were Christians. She said she made a “loser” sign at him (the finger-spelling form for “L” moved briskly out from one’s forehead). "
In my opinion, to be brief -- which is unusual for me -- but it's an early day tomorrow for me. But in my humble opinion anyone who deliberately lies for their religion have already lost. You cannot lie and expect any sympathy from me! You have already lost Pascal's Wager as well. If there is a God they will get to pay for their lies in a way that they can only imagine. And if there isn't a God -- they wasted their entire life! What a way to spend the rest of your life! A loser for sure!

What does the Biologic Institute do?

You might remember the Biologic Institute, the lab set up by the Discovery Institute to 'do' the Intelligent Design work that so many critics have been asking for. In the Wedge Document there were three avenues of attack for Phillip E. Johnson's minions at the Discovery Institute. The one avenue -- in fact the ONLY avenue -- that could give the Intelligent Design movement some degree of scientific legitimacy was to actually do the science, to follow the scientific method and support their ideas. For years instead of doing anything on down that avenue, they persisted in marketing and whining. Well in 2005 I guess the criticism finally hit home and they opened their own pet lab and, as I and many others have said, it has been conspicuously silent.

Last week PZ Meyers ran an interesting blog post about what they are actually doing. The end result seems to be . . . not much. Gee, what a surprise. Now what really surprises me is the incredibly minuscule budget they have. I mean $300K for everything including salaries? That would barely purchase one year of services form a decent computer programmer and this is an organization that is doing 'computational biology'? Plus their asset lists only two Mac's. Yet their director pulls in nearly 1/3'rd -- not bad for an organization that is heavy on promise and light on actual results.

Based on their 990 form I do have three questions. Why are they tax-exempt anyway? With how incredibly complex this form is, why did they need to file for an extension? And what do they actually expect to accomplish with three directors and only one research scientist? Actually I think they are living up to expectations.

Monday, June 7, 2010

The DI at the center of another bulleye

Maybe I should have titled my last post "Discovery Institute Sh** or get off the Pot! But I was thinking about Intelligent Design more than just those silly purveyors of pseudo-science up in the Great Northwest. I have been reading an interesting critique of Stephen C. Meyer's "Signature in the Cell" by Steve Matheson over on his "Quintessence of Dust blog". Yesterday he posted an open letter to Meyer that I just had to point out. I especially loved:

"3. Your Discovery Institute is a horrific mistake, an epic intellectual tragedy that is degrading the minds of those who consume its products and bringing dishonor to you and to the church. It is for good reason that Casey Luskin is held in such extreme contempt by your movement's critics, and there's something truly sick about the pattern of attacks that your operatives launched in the weeks after the Biola event. It's clear that you have a cadre of attack dogs that do this work for you, and some of them seem unconstrained by standards of integrity. I can't state this strongly enough: the Discovery Institute is a dangerous cancer on the Christian intellect, both because of its unyielding commitment to dishonesty and because of its creepy mission to undermine science itself. I'd like to see you do better, but I have no such hope for your institute. It needs to be destroyed, and I will do what I can to bring that about."
Wow! Personally I think Meyer is too enmeshed in the chicanery at the DI to be able to separate himself. I honestly think anyone with any integrity has already departed that slowly sinking ship. But it will stay afloat as long as it gets funding from gullible Christians, but even gullible Christians have limits -- a lesson the DI will one day find out. In the meantime folks like Meyer will continue on their merry way and be remembered . . . how did Steve put it? Oh yea.
"It would be a shame if your only contribution was as a political propagandist who served as an impediment to the honest consideration of design and intelligence in biological origins and who was remembered as an enemy of science."

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Intelligent Design, Sh** or get off the Pot!

While Christianity Today is not a magazine I read regularly I caught this little article on John Lynch's 'A Simple Prop' blog, something I do read on a regular basis. He linked to an article there by Karl Giberson, director of Gordon College's Forum on Faith and Science. The article "Intelligent Design: Find a Fertile Idea" is one of three that try and offer suggestions on ways intelligent design can gain academic currency.

The first article in the trilogy was by Stephen C. Meyer, author of that disaster "Signature in the Cell" and one of those disreputable Discovery Institute ideologists. Meyer said his usual mishmash of defensiveness. I was not surprised at his opening:

Asking what advocates of intelligent design must do to gain credibility in the academy is a bit like asking a man when he stopped beating his wife. Such a question makes a prejudicial assumption.
Meyer tries once again to convince people that ID has any credibility at all in the scientific community. Tell me how credible is a concept who's own supporters fail to do any actual work to support their idea. The majority of the time they are trying denigrate Evolution rather than promote ID. I'll close this blog entry with another example of Meyer's poor personal credibility, but first on to the other two articles in the trilogy.

The second article was done by a geologist, Marcus Ross, the down side is that he teaches at Liberty University. Liberty is not exactly a place brimming with open-mindedness for new scientific ideas. So I do feel some resistance to Ross immediately, but what he says makes some amount of sense, but I can't see the ID community paying any attention. It's time to give up on the Big tent approach:
It is one thing to argue that an object or organism is designed. But then comes the question of how and when the design was implemented (and also by whom). Because ID is minimalistic, a number of options are available. Was the design implemented over a multibillion-year history of Earth, or in six rotational days several thousand years ago? Was it worked out through a genetic unfolding of a single information-rich cell, or through designed interventions within evolutionary lineages, or by separate, ex nihilo creations? Various ID proponents offer different answers, but none speaks for ID itself, because if one perspective were widely accepted, the other members would be forced to leave the tent.
In my opinion Ross' first mistake was not starting with the basics. Prove design and then you can deal with the different members standing under the tent. Obviously that has not happened at all. Ross does state something that I disagree with. Since when have
" . . . proponents have made progress in advancing design-detection methods, and have been modestly successful in applying them to real biological systems . . ."
I certainly haven't seen any actual progress, certainly not by anyone from the Discovery Institute or Liberty University. If he is thinking Meyer's book is progress, he needs to relearn that progress is considered forward, Meyer's book took his buddies in the opposite direction, so much so that they [the DI] are already publishing a book to address all the criticism. (PZ Myers Pharyngula blog reports "The Discovery Institute is desperately patching Meyer's mind-numbing magnum opus") To bad they don't address the cause for the criticism, instead they seem to want to attack the critics. Typical Dishonesty Institute tactic.

Giberson's article was the third. He is a proponent of theistic evolution, another concept I disagree with, but have fewer issues with it. Basically it surrounds evolution is a religious wrapper, but it does leave the theory pretty much alone. I really liked his summary:

I would love to see ID redirect its energies to developing a genuinely fertile idea. Stop trying to prove that Darwin caused the Holocaust or that evolution is ruining Western civilization. Agree among yourselves that the earth is old, since science has proven that. Do not call world-class scientists "cranks," as Meyer implies in Signature in the Cell. Do not claim that evolution is collapsing, when everyone in the field knows it isn't. Stop claiming that you cannot get your work published in conventional journals when you aren't submitting papers to these journals.

Instead, roll up your sleeves and get to work on the big idea. Develop it to the point where it starts spinning off new insights into nature so that we know more because of your work. Then the academy will welcome you with open arms. Science loves rebels.

This is a familiar theme I read about constantly. Most critics of the ID political and marketing movement have been asking for this for 20 years. I like to put it a little more succinctly:
Quit whining and do some science -- real science not make believe!
However, I can't see anyone from the Discovery Institute paying any attention. They already know they haven't done any science, they even stood up their own lab (Biologic Institute) and still haven't managed to do any science. Yet they stand by their marketing and keep trying to convince everyone how 'scientific' they are. They won't listen, especially not with the apologetic like Meyer leading the charge.

Speaking of Meyer again, here is another quote from his article:
First, the scientific community is not uniformly opposed to ID. My recent book on the subject received enthusiastic endorsements from many scientists not previously known as advocates of ID, such as chemist Philip Skell, a National Academy of Sciences member, and Norman Nevin, one of Britain's top geneticists.
In my humble opinion Stephen C. Meyer is a liar. According to this quote Meyer states that Philip Skell and Norman Nevin were not previously advocates of Intelligent Design. Let's set the record straight, Skell is a Signatory of the very discredited "A Dissent From Darwinism", the list used in Discovery Institute intelligent design campaigns in an attempt to discredit evolution and bolster claims that intelligent design is scientifically valid by claiming that evolution lacks broad scientific support. Meyer is a liar, Skell may not have published a pro-ID fluff piece, but he is an advocate. Nevin is a supporter of "Truth in Science" a United Kingdom-based organization which promotes the "Teach the Controversy" campaign. It uses this strategy to try to get intelligent design taught alongside evolution in school science lessons. Meyer is once again, in my opinion, lying!

Now maybe Meyer should work on his own credibility before claiming how credible Intelligent Design within the scientific community. How can anyone believe a word he says?

But back to the gist of this trilogy and my blog entry -- I think it's time for the DI to get off the pot. How can ID gain acceptance, or as the articles put it 'academic currency'. I believe it's too late for that. ID is an idea that has failed and started failing when Philip E. Johnson wrote the Wedge Strategy Document. It's time the ID proponents faced facts and ID, as a way to get Creationism re-introduced to the science classroom in public schools, is an abject failure. I know they won't, but I can hope.

If they need any more incentive, John Lynch, and the NCSE also reported that the last two anti-evolution bills have died. Two bills introduced in South Carolina have died in committee.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Creationist's Blind Spot

One of the posters on Topix coined an interesting term: Creationist’s Blind Spot. At first glance I thought it was funny but the more I thought about it, the more apropos it seemed as a description.

How the concept of a blind spot was introduced to me is physical limitation made up of the placement of car mirrors that creates a blind spot where a car can sit unnoticed. It’s why we were all trained to turn our heads before doing things like changing lanes.

When I started learning biology I also learned that our eyes have a blind spot, an area where the blood vessels within the eye actual interfere with the function of the eye. This is frequently cited as one example why there is no intelligent designer, because a designer wouldn’t have done something so foolish.

The Creationist's Blind Spot is less a matter of physical limitation and more a matter of mental limitation. No mental as in ‘incapable’, but mental as in 'willful'. A Creationist cannot see any evidence that contradicts their view of the world. When faced with it, they will quite deliberately place it into their blind spot so that do not have to face it. When pressed they will create the most fanciful, or fanatic, refutations in order to avoid examining anything in their blind spot.

For example in the young Earth Creationist Blind Spot is the fact that the Earth is older than 6000 years. When pressed and faced with the evidence of radiometric data he challenges the data and somehow comes to the conclusion that the data must be wrong – after all he KNOWS the world is only 6000 years old. When challenged to prove the data is invalid he creates yet another fallacy and claims the world operated on different rules and the decay rates were different 6000 years ago. So without one shred of evidence, the Creationist is able to rationalize his behavior – all to keep something well supported, easily understood, and perfectly logical in his blind spot.

I have always thought that being ignorant is not shameful, and I still believe that. But being willfully ignorant certainly is something to be ashamed of. It becomes criminal when you pass that willful ignorance to unsuspecting children. Which is why I keep posting on Topix, this blog, and other sites!