Monday, December 13, 2010

Did religious beliefs impact a hiring selection?

Here is an interesting case and I haven't made up my mind yet -- probably because of a lack of information. The early stories have me concerned. OK, let me know what you think about this: The Kentucky Courier-Journal is reporting "Job candidate sues UK [University of Kentucky], claiming religion cost him the post". I know the DI will have to stick their know-little-noses in soon, but I wanted to get an idea before they start polluting the Internet.

I actually caught this off the NCSE website at "Creationism at issue in employment dispute?"Please note the question mark. I am not sure of the issues in this yet, but it bears thinking.

Well if you haven't read up on it, here is a summary: In 2007 Martin Gaskell was a candidate to be the founding director of a new observatory at the University of Kentucky. The Courier-Journal is reporting that he was the leading candidate -- but that is something I am not sure can be substantiated. Again according to the suit Prof Gaskell claims that because he gave presentations in which he said that

"he believes the theory [of evolution] has major flaws. And he recommended students read ... critics [of evolution] in the intelligent-design movement."
was the reason he was not selected for the position. So he sued for
"because of his religious beliefs and his expression of these beliefs" in violation of the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1991."
Since ID has been identified by a Federal Court as Creationism in a lab-coat, so it certainly can be argued that one of the factors in his not being selected might have been his support of ID. But how critical a factor was this?

There may very well have been other factors that lead to him not being selected -- UK hasn't said much yet other than his beliefs were a factor -- heck nearly anything can cause you to be non-selected, it's not like he was fired from a position.

Now one of the questions is should they have been a factor? There is my dilemma. It's easy to see why Guillermo Gonzales, Nathanial Abraham, and John Freshwater have all experiences career setbacks -- and while they all claim religious discrimination, so far the evidence hasn't backed them up. Is this one more case in point where someone's religious beliefs may have impacted, but not have been the cause of being not-selected. It will be a case worth keeping track of, that's for sure. It's easy to claim discrimination, as we have seen.

Oh, in case you hadn't realized it, but Prof Gaskell is not a biologist, but an Astronomer. So you might think that shouldn't make a difference. But you should also remember that he is still a scientist, and in the position he claims to have been a leading candidate he would be in a leadership and supervisory position over others. The work of the observatory would also be looked at for publicity and even as a source of recruitment for the University. Do you want someone who questions a field outside his own and directs students to look at non-scientific material running such a facility? There is the question that faced the selection committee and we know how they answered it, they went elsewhere. So was their decisions the correct one?

I don't know -- yet, but I do agree that his beliefs SHOULD have been a factor of his selection. Not for him having them, but for how those beliefs could impact his ability to do his job. That's the question that really needs to be answered. I am sure Guillermo Gonzalez wasn't even on the consideration list and I am sure no one would question that decision. Well like I said, a case worth watching. I am interesting in ALL of the evaluation criteria and see how other candidate measured up.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Things looking bleak for the Discovery Institute -- We can all hope!

In all honesty 'The Huffington Post' is not something I read regularly. While they frequently do have great articles by folks like Michael Zimmerman, they also tend to offer platforms to folks who support such pseudo-science as the anti-vaccine movement, climate change deniers, and Creationism. Today they had a pretty good article by John Farrell: "Intelligent Design: Losing the Catholics". The article does a good job of discussing the . . . well to borrow a quote from the article:

"the vapidity of intelligent design."
It also has a quote from another article that asked and answers "What has the intelligent design movement achieved?"
"What has the intelligent design movement achieved? As science, nothing. The goal of science is to increase our understanding of the natural world, and there is not a single phenomenon that we understand better today or are likely to understand better in the future through the efforts of ID theorists."
I am not sure i would call any of the fellows at the DI 'Theorists', but I don't agree with some of the authors terminology. The author does mention something I have to disagree with:
"The irony about the intelligent design debate today, is that the intelligent design proponents, like the Darwinists, presuppose an opposition between chance and design. They necessitate an opposition between chance and design."
Science does not presuppose such opposition. It does say that the evidence supports chance over design. Science also states that no one, including all of the design proponents, have offered one shred of evidence supporting design. Science is not opposed to design, but has said time and time again that proponents of design need to show the evidence. 'Why is it design?' 'How did it become designed?' 'What methodology indicates design?' These questions, among others, have been sidestepped by design proponents. As such, any opposition to their ideas is based on their LACK of evidence, not on the concept of design. I also wish the author would not use the term 'Darwinist', for reasons I have spelled out many times. There is no scientific discipline or ideology called 'Darwinism'.

The final quote from the article is a nice one:
"So, all is not well in Seattle. For Christians who support solid science education, that's something to celebrate. The more the vapid arguments of the Discovery Institute are exposed, the smaller and smaller their audience will become."
The 'Big Tent' approach envisioned by Phillip E. Johnson, ID's daddy rabbit, is showing signs of significant wear and tear. The problem comes not only from the outside, but from within from their own inability to support their own ideas. Many Christians who were initially positive about Intelligent Design are realizing now that is was an emotional appeal rather than an intellectual one that attracted them. As we all know an emotional appeal tends to fade over time, especially when it is the only appeal anyone is making. All the marketing in the world can only prop up a bad idea for a short while.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Klinghoffer, Klinghoffer, Klinghoffer are you ever right?

OK, I am sure that you have heard the news. NASA scientists have discovered a lifeform that can be coaxed into substituting arsenic for phosphorus. The news had blown it all way out of proportion, claiming things like "Alien Microbes" and "Life from another planet?" But the reality is less exciting than the news reports. PZ Myers has a nice piece on it "It's not an arsenic-based life form". So what does this have to do with the DI's resident excuse? Well Klinghoffer just had to comment on it. And how does he comment on it? In the least honest way possible.

He starts, as he usually does, in the title: "About That Arsenic-Gobbling Microbe...Bad News for Darwinists?" What I am still not sure of is how is this a problem for . . . to use his favorite pejorative . . . Darwinists? I assume he means Biologists. Well he sort of explains

"The bacterium evidently uses arsenic for purposes that all other known organisms would use phosphorus, including incorporating it in DNA. A reporter for Nature News cites UC Santa Barbara geomicrobiologist David Valentine as observing that the discovery may mean "you can potentially cross phosphorus off the list of elements required for life."
First of all, it's not that it uses arsenic for purposes that all other known organisms would use phosphorus -- it is more that is can be coaxing into using it. I think that's a huge difference. Look at the caveat he sneaks in "all other known organisms". So what in biology or evolutionary theory says that there can be no other organisms based on other than the elements we are familiar with? Absolutely none! Yes, we know a great deal about the life forms around us. we've only been studying them for a very long time. We've also been studying organisms we call extremophile (an organism that thrives in and may even require physically or geochemically extreme conditions that are detrimental to most life on Earth.) So back to the original question, why is this a problem?

In reality it is not! Look at it from this direction. Creationists, like Klinghoffer, like to look from the top and and claim that man has some special relationship with God and that we are at the pinnacle of some imagined ladder of awesomeness. Now biologists look more from a bottom-up approach and we are the result of our environment. So according to Creationists this discovery makes no difference. the 'designer' could do anything it wanted to do. Yet according to biologists if the environment had been different, we might have evolved very differently.

So in other words . . . it is no surprise in biology about this discovery. So where does Klinghoffer go next? SETI. Yea, I thought the same thing.
"Yet we still have no indication from SETI or anything else that intelligent or complex life exists anywhere but here. Which makes the existence of life on earth look just a bit more special than it did before, right?"
Does it really? So instead of making an actual case -- or at least building a decent strawman -- Klinghoffer falls on the tired old argument that because we haven't found life out there . . . we are so special. So just how many planets have we visited? None. How much exploring have we done? Not very much. Yes, we are listening to small portions of the sky at a time. The annual budget for SETI is pretty minuscule.

So back to Davey. The SETI argument makes absolutely no sense, so where does he turn? To Guillermo Gonzalez. You remember Guillermo? He was the Astronomer who lost his bid for tenure at Iowa State University for FAILING to do his job. Now he is teaching at a little Christian school in Grove City, Pa, and I guess he still finds time to dabble in Intelligent Design. But he doesn't say anything. Yet Davey thinks that his words offered . . . to use yet another pejorative . . . materialists dodging a bullet.

So where is this imaginary bullet? The discovery is nothing terribly special. Klinghoffer offers no reason . . . well no ACTUAL reason . . . why this is supposed to be a bad thing for biology. Here is the part that just kills me. We open our eyes a little bit future and make a discovery of something potentially wondrous, yet Klinghoffer seems to want us to be afraid of it.

I think he's afraid of it because it really is nothing more than one more successful prediction based on evolutionary sciences. The same sciences that threaten the narrow worldview of people like Klinghoffer.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

DI's next cruel trick -- re-baptizing Alfred Russel Wallace

The Discovery Institute (DI) is starting to remind me of the Mormon Church, at least in one of their gutter tactics. I recall reading how the Mormons have this nasty little habit of baptizing already dead folks into the church, such as Anne Frank and Adolf Hitler, all on behalf of surviving relatives. If you are interested in knowing more about this disgusting practice, you can check out "Baptism for the Dead" over on Wikipedia.

So what does this have to do with the Discovery Institute. Well they are trying to not steal a soul, but they are trying to steal a man's lifework. Michael Flannery, a compatriot of little casey luskin and the rest of those less-than-honest folks at the DI, wrote a disgusting little post called "The Centennial of Alfred Russel Wallace's The World of Life: The Co-Discoverer of Natural Selection Proposes Intelligent Evolution!". In it he claims:

"Forgotten in the glare of Darwin's preeminence is that Wallace went on to craft his own theory, a theory imbued with intelligent design. First announced in April of 1869, Wallace would go on to develop a theory of directed, detectably designed, and purposeful common descent best described as intelligent evolution."
In my opinion Wallace might have been overlooked at one time, but not currently. There have been numerous books and articles on his contributions to Evolution and Natural Selection. Did you know Wallace was the most cited Naturalist in Darwin's "Descent of Man". While they were often in disagreement over the details, Wallace remained a supporter of Darwin and Natural Selection for the rest of his life. He published "Darwinism" as a response to critics of Natural Selection. Here are a couple of quotes I ran across:
"But whether there be a God and whatever be His nature; whether we have an immortal soul or not, or whatever may be our state after death, I can have no fear of having to suffer for the study of nature and the search for truth, or believe that those will be better off in a future state who have lived in the belief of doctrines inculcated from childhood, and which are to them rather a matter of blind faith than intelligent conviction". 1861 Letter from Wallace to Thomas Sims
"I thus learnt my first great lesson in the inquiry into these obscure fields of knowledge, never to accept the disbelief of great men or their accusations of imposture or of imbecility, as of any weight when opposed to the repeated observation of facts by other men, admittedly sane and honest. The whole history of science shows us that whenever the educated and scientific men of any age have denied the facts of other investigators on a priori grounds of absurdity or impossibility, the deniers have always been wrong." Notes on the Growth of Opinion as to Obscure Psychical Phenomena During the Last Fifty Years
Does this sound like someone who would support the modern Creationism-in-hiding Intelligent Design? Wallace could be categorized as a Creationist, but not a Creationist in the same sense as the bunch over at the DI. He had a side that supported various forms of spirituality, some might have even embarrass a modern scientist and theologian -- but he is more like many current Christians where evolution is not an issue. In my opinion, based on the evidence of his work, Wallace is much more likely to have signed the counter-petition "A Scientific Support for Darwinism" than he would the DI's extremely misleading "Dissent from Darwinism". Wallace supported evolution and Natural Selection right up until he died at age 90.

But with Wallace safely dead, just like those poor souls that the Mormon Church is trying to appropriate, the DI is releasing posts that make it sound as if he would support their misinformation campaign. Luckily his work survives and anyone can do only a few minutes to research Alfred Russel Wallace will realize this. The Alfred Russel Wallace page at Western Kentucky University was an interesting place to spend some quality time. Just a couple of years back Olivia Judson, the Dr. J of Biology, wrote an interesting opinion piece on Wallace's place in history, You might like it as well: "Wallace Should Hang" These two sites are infinitely more interesting than the DI's poorly named 'evolution news' site.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Keep running into Dembski-isms

You know as little respect as most of the ID proponents deserve, I keep running across comments about Dembski's unequivocal surrender.

Over at JREF forums, one commenter, AdMan, put it pretty succinctly:

"Here is one of the key proponents for Intelligent Design, dismissing a point that he earlier had argued was supported by scientific findings simply because he's told that the bible is absolutely trustworthy and he must not question it. And he gives in without an argument. Does ID have any legitimacy left?" [I added the italics for emphasis]
Over on Daylight Atheism it is also said quite plainly:
"But just as fascinating, I think, was Dembski's craven response. When threatened with losing his job, he immediately recanted, despite everything he had said before about how his views were founded on the evidence. He immediately surrendered those views and, in his own words, "bowed to the text" - prostrating himself before the Bible and confessing that he believes it, not because that's what the evidence says, but because that's what's written and he knows he's not permitted to doubt or think independently. Regardless of what the facts say, he knows his beliefs must be subordinated to the cold demands of dogma. Is this not a total abdication of intellectual honesty? " [Again, I added the italics for emphasis]
One of the commenters over on Daylight Atheist had a great comment, one I had to repost:
"With apologies to Monty Python.

Brave Sir Dembski ran away.
Bravely ran away away.
("I did!")
When danger reared its ugly head,
He bravely turned his tail and fled.
Yes, brave Sir Dembski turned about
("I did!")
And gallantly he chickened out.

Bravely taking ("I certainly did!") to his feet,
He beat a very brave retreat.
("all truth!")
Bravest of the braaaave, Sir Dembski!
("I did!")"

How in the world can Dembski face any students in the light of such behavior? I do pity any students he has, they deserve better. On the other hand, this isn't all that surprising. Look at the coalition put together by those less-than-stellar folks at the Discovery Institute. There is no interest in actual science, only dogmatic clinging to shreds of various ideologies. Look at a few of the tactics and attacks against evolutionary theory -- completely toothless because of their refusal to step away from philosophy and marketing and engage in science.
  • Teach the non-existent controversy
  • Academic freedom that has nothing to do with actual academic freedom
  • Darwin caused Hitler -- in spite of Hitler's avowed Christianity in his own writings and speeches
  • The math -- that no one has the ability to calculate -- doesn't support evolution
All of it pretty much . . . well as the saying goes no matter how much mayo you use, you can't turn chicken sh** into chicken salad. They certainly seem to use a great deal of mayo. They dress up their ideas in ill-fitting lab coats, pay for it with other people's money, publish in the popular and christian press, whine about impossible decades-long and multi-national conspiracies of millions of scientists, and then lie and misrepresent their ideas to school boards at the state and local level. So Dembski sweating over a paying job is not much more than a ripple in a pond loaded with reprehensible tactics and strategies.

It's not that terribly surprising because of the original Wedge Strategy Document:
  • "To defeat scientific materialism and its destructive moral, cultural, and political legacies"
  • "To replace materialistic explanations with the theistic understanding that nature and human beings are created by God"
Intelligent Design is a shill, it's a cover, it's a thin veneer over Creationism and it really doesn't matter in the long run as long as Creationism can find its way back into the secular classroom -- not matter how! Dembski, Meyer, Johnson, Sternberg, and the rest of them will say anything, stoop to any tactic, any device, any potential selling point not because their ideas are correct, but because they believe in them in spite of the evidence that does not support them and the ends they seek justifies the means.

As one of Dembski's students said of his professor's desires
" . . . theology as the "queen of the sciences" . . . "
And that is the real crime.