Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Discovery Insitute responds on Ohio HB 597

Once again the Discovery Institute (DI) decided that the use of the term 'Intelligent Design' requires some sort of response from them.  They have the nerve to ask "Where is the Intelligent Design in Ohio House Bill 597".  Now I could make a flippant answer and say the bill was not 'intelligently designed', but I won't continue down that path and make a more direct response.

If the DI bothered to pay any attention to the words in an article rather than just what items they think they can cut and paste or quote-mine, they might have realized that no one has said the bill itself mentions Intelligent Design.  Much like their tactics in the past ('Critical Analysis tactic for example), they seem to think that not having used the term, the obvious conclusion is that it has nothing to do it.  However, if we borrow an old line and say "And now a word from our Sponsors!", you can easily see the issue.  One of the statements by bill sponsor, Rep Andy Thompson:

"said the goal is not to mandate what must be taught but provide options for districts.“In many districts, they may have a different perspective on that, and we want to provide them the flexibility to consider all perspectives, not just on matters of faith or how the Earth came into existence, but also global warming and other topics that are controversial,” Thompson said."
When Thompson was asked if intelligent design — the idea that a higher authority is responsible for life — should be taught alongside evolution, Thompson said, “I think it would be good for them to consider the perspectives of people of faith. That’s legitimate.”
So while the public goal of the bill is to repeal the Common Core Standards, which, BTW are not science standards, but English and Math, as you can see Thompson stated the goal was to allow different perspectives . . . a follow-up question targeted one of those 'perspectives' and Thompson called it 'legitimate'.  Of course the DI called that type of question "twisting the words of policymakers".  Sure, trying to get to the intent as well as the meaning behind a policymakers actions is OK, but if they do not agree with your organizations agenda, somehow the reporter is twisting the words.  The last paragraph of the DI's response was:
"So the Columbus Dispatch is right about one thing: history is repeating itself in Ohio. In 2006, Darwin activists inflamed groundless fears about intelligent design in the schools. In 2014, they're getting ready to do it all over again."
Let's think back at Ohio's 'groundless fears'.
NCSE's own Steve Edinger said perfectly back in 1996: "Creationism is like a vampire, and every time you think the thing is finally dead, someone pulls the damned stake out again."  Ohio has seen that damned stake removed in 1996, 2002, 2006, and now again in 2014.  Ohio's concerns are not groundless, they are a response to a pattern of misguided and, in many cases, reprehensible behavior by groups like the Discovery Institute who wish to destroy science education.

There are still many misconceptions about the Common Core standards.  But I would like to put it even plainer than the reporter.  What is Representative Thompson's plan to replace the Common Core?  He has none.  He's going to pass the buck back to local school boards.  School boards that had control over their standards up until 2010 and they were failing our students!  How many Ohio students failed out of college for being poorly prepared?  How many had to take developmental classes (this are a re-teaching of the things they should have learned in High School)?  How many businesses complained that High School graduates did not have to basic tools to perform tasks graduates were able to perform 20 years ago?  We aren't talking highly skilled tasks, we are talking about tasks that require basic reading, writing, and math skills.  These are the problems the Common Core can help address.  Since implementing the Common Core, our neighbor to the South, Kentucky, has reported that the high school graduation rate had increased from 80 percent in 2010 to 86 percent in 2013, test scores went up 2 percentage points in the second year of using the Common Core test, and the percentage of students considered to be ready for college or a career, based on a battery of assessments, went up from 34 percent in 2010 to 54 percent in 2013.  (Ripley, Amanda (September 30, 2013). "The New Smart Set: What Happens When Millions of Kids Are Asked to Master Fewer Things More Deeply?". Time. p. 36.)

So now that we've gotten past the typical knee-jerk reaction of the Discovery Institute, I hope it is clear that there are Ohioans who oppose the Common Core standards.  The standards aren't perfect, but I hope folks oppose it for the right reasons.  I also hope that whatever follows the bill does not, by intent or by accident, open the door for a group like the Discovery Institute or the Creation Museum to walk in trying to pass off their religious ideas as if they belongs in a science class. But regardless of the politics, before you complain about the Common Core Standards, make sure you understand them and object based on reality.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

"God is an ever receding pocket of scientific ignorance"

Neil DeGrasse Tyson takes down Bill O'Reilly's use of the God of the Gaps argument.  It's a classic!  I love the line "God is an ever receding pocket of scientific ignorance" because this is how many Creationists actually treat their particular version of a deity.  They defend the idea of God based on there being things we don't understand.  Tyson's argument is a very simple, yet very powerful response to O'Reilly's comment 'tides come in, tides go out, we don't understand that' [I am paraphrasing O'Reilly's comment because I don't have a link to it].  How long have we understood the tides?  Bill O'Reilly, the Ann Coulter for people who cannot read, might not understand tides, but science sure as hell does and has for well over a century.  I remember learning about tides in elementary school science.  Guess Bill missed that day.

Yes, there are things we do not understand.  But can anyone state, with any degree of certainty, that we will never understand something?  Compare and contrast what we knew 2000 years ago to 200 years ago to 20 year ago.  If the idea of God is defined by what we do not know, then in reality, Creationists have placed God in a small box that is getting smaller and smaller. 

Just a small aside.  I saw a Mike Peters editorial cartoon today of Ann Coulter taking the Ice Bucket Challenge and melting like the Wicked Witch of the West from the Wizard of Oz.  My first thought was "I wonder is Bill O'Reilly has taken the challenge"?

For the record, I have not been challenged.  If I am so challenged, I will take it and will also donate to a charity that hits closer to home for me, Multiple Sclerosis.  Nothing personal ALS, just MS has more meaning for me.  I usually donate to MS, Special Olympics, Vietnam Vets, and the American Heart Association annually.  I encourage everyone to donate to a worthwhile charity, whether you dump icy water on your head or not or even if you don't film it and post it somewhere!

Words have meanings

I read a post over on the NCSE's blog, that is the National Center for Science Education.  Normally I really enjoy reading their blog and frequently refer to their site to keep abreast of science education in this country.  Often I learn a few new things as well.  However, this particular entry, Misconception Monday: Hypotheses, Theories, and Laws, Oh My!, left me rather perplexed.  In a nutshell the author, Stephanie Keep, defined Hypothesis, Theory and Law.  I was looking forward to it, especially since I've posted on this topic before (Arguments XIX -- Hypothesis, Theory, and Law), but the article rather blurred the lines between them to the point they were barely recognizable, well at least to me.  Now granted my science education from HS and college was a while ago, but what I learned put a much sharper demarcation between them than was described here.

I understand there is no absolute universal definition of the terms, the generally accepted differences were not simply one of scope, but of applicability.  A hypothesis is an idea, a testable idea about some given phenomena.  It can be very narrow or fairly broad.  Hypotheses are tested and from there they can be rejected, confirmed, or even modified.  Over time, as the modifications grow less and less encompassing, the hypothesis becomes stronger and more well supported.  Hypotheses can get rolled up into a Scientific theory.  Now there rarely is a one for one relationship here, but the Theory is much more encompassing than a hypothesis and has undergone considerable testing and constant confirmation.  In fact pretty much all the evidence supports a hypothesis, or hypotheses, before they can be considered a theory, or part of a theory.  It's a process that's been defined time and time again.

Sure, the reality is less than absolute.  New hypotheses can come out of existing theories, theories can be made up of multiple theories and hypotheses.  But as an explanation or terminology, I think the complicated reality only confuses the issue.  Before you can appreciate the complex reality, you have to understand the basics of the terminology.

Now a law is a manifestation of a theory/hypothesis.  It's much more narrow than either a hypothesis or a theory.  It's an application under a very specific set of parameters.  It's often expressed mathematically, but that's not always true.

What is true is that while hypotheses can become theories, they never 'grow-up' to be laws.  That's a common Creationist myth about science.  I actually have heard people say things like 'If Evolution is so strong, why isn't it a law!"  There I agree with Stephanie!  What bothers me the most about how blurry she defined the terms, it opens the door for this exact sort of behavior.  If we cannot firmly define our terminology, we tend to be fighting an uphill battle when other people misuse the terminology.

Out of curiosity, I searched the NCSE website for 'theory' and found this:

  • Fact: In science, an observation that has been repeatedly confirmed and for all practical purposes is accepted as “true”. Truth in science, however, is never final and what is accepted as a fact today may be modified or even discarded tomorrow.
  • Hypothesis: A tentative statement about the natural world leading to deductions that can be tested. If the deductions are verified, the hypothesis is provisionally corroborated. If the deductions are incorrect, the original hypothesis is proved false and must be abandoned or modified. Hypotheses can be used to build more complex inferences and explanations.
  • Law: A descriptive generalization about how some aspect of the natural world behaves under stated circumstances.
  • Theory: In science, a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world that can incorporate facts, laws, inferences, and tested hypotheses.
I think Stephanie should have consulting the NCSE site before being to vague.

Friday, August 22, 2014

IS it really fair?

I was posting on another forum and someone raised what seemed like a nice, simple, innocuous point.  Isn't the wording of OH HB 597 simply being fair?

I'm reminded of several articles I read about journalistic 'fairness'.  All too often journalists seem to think that presenting both sides of an argument is an effort to be fair and concise.  I tend to disagree.  I know, that sounds harsh, but here is my thinking. 

Say you have a story with two sides.  Can you automatically assume both sides are equal?  No, not without actually examining both sides.  But when they are presented as equal, any examination gets harder to do, because of this artificial perception of equality.  Let's briefly look at one of my favorite examples, racism.  Should someone doing an article on the Civil Rights movement have to provide the Ku Klux Klan with an equal perspective?  Sounds ridiculous, and it is.  Might the article, or class, or film, on the Civil Right Movement mention the KKK?  Sure, probably for about a moment or two.  Without a doubt, the correct balance in any reasonable examination should lean nearly 100% on the Civil Rights side!  No one seems to complain about that.  In fact if you gave the KKK an equal billing, people would be screaming, and rightly so!  But wouldn't it be fair?  Of course not.

Yet, when it comes to science, like Evolution and Climate Change.  One side has tons of actual evidence, the other side has politics, religion, hearsay, wishful thinking and conjecture.  Is presenting them as equal really fair?  Every idea is not automatically on par with every other idea!  Whether we are talking about science vs religion, men vs women, Apple vs Microsoft, artificially inflating one side to give the appearance of fairness is a disservice to one side and offers an artificial -- and false -- support to the other.  Yes, even Apple vs Microsoft.  Some people believe Apple makes better computers.  However in any economic examination, you have to realize that Microsoft has the lion's share of the market and treating them both as equal brings down the market leader while artificially raising up the contender.  It's not fair to either of them.

Looking at HB 597 again, when asked whether "intelligent design" should be taught alongside evolution, Thompson [Andy Thompson (R-District 95)] answered,

"I think it would be good for them to consider the perspectives of people of faith. That's legitimate."
When introducing his bill, Thompson said:
"we want to provide them the flexibility to consider all perspectives,  not just on matters of faith or how the Earth came into existence, but  also global warming and other topics that are controversial."

Sounds pretty fair, huh?  Why didn't Andy mention that teaching Creationism/Intelligent Design as science is unconstitutional?  That kinda tilts the teeter-totter in a different direction.  Did Andy forget to mention that the last time a school district tried this (Dover PA, 2005) they wound up in expensive and time consuming litigation?  Now the it should be at full tilt!  While his words sound fair and reasonable, you need to look a little harder to realize they are anything but.

Several times in the past certain groups and people have tried to inject their religion into the science curriculum.  SO far it's failed here in Ohio and in most states.  Notably, Louisiana has a law that would theoretically allow it, but as far as I know, no one has tried to implement that part of the law.  This bill is another designed to allow just such a thing.  It's subtle, but it's there. 

The National Center for Science Education (NCSE) writes  about the bill:
 "The problem here," explained NCSE's executive director Ann Reid, "is that there simply isn't a debate within the scientific community over evolution or over climate change. Instead, there's a consensus, with the vast majority of scientists, of whatever political or religious inclinations, agreeing on the facts. By encouraging local school districts to misrepresent the overwhelming scientific consensus, HB 597 is a recipe for miseducation." (Antiscience legislation in Ohio)
Patricia Princehouse, director of Case Western Reserve University's Program in Evolutionary Biology, told the Dispatch, "It sounds exactly like the kind of things intelligent design and creationist promoters say." (Update on Ohio's antiscience bill)
 I'm sure we will be hearing much more!  Hopefully sanity will break out again in Ohio!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Common Core Standards

I really hadn't given a lot of thought about the Common Core Standards since they were approved in Ohio in 2010.  What I recall disagrees distinctly with some of what I have been reading since hearing about HB 597, an effort to repeal them here in Ohio.

If memory serves, the Common Core Standards initiative was not a Federally-driven program, but one driven by several states who were looking to set a common set of high standards for Science, Math, and English.  It was not part of the No-Child-Left-Behind nor any other Federal initiative.  Ohio adopted them primarily because of the high level AND the ability to have a common set of standards across the state.  These were standards, NOT curriculum, not teaching methodologies, and also not a ceiling.  Local school boards and districts could use the standards as a starting point and go even further.  The objective was preparing students for both college and their future.

What I have been hearing is that the standards dumb everyone down to the lowest common denominator.  I don't recall that at all.  In fact the minimum required level in most Ohio school districts went up when the standards were adopted.

I've also been hearing how the common core injects too much Federal Government into the local school systems.  Again, this was a STATE initiative, not a Federal program.  A number of States got together to pull these standards into a coherent set.  It has never been, nor is there any intention to mandate this at a Federal level.

Check out the CCSSO website for more information.  CCSSO stands for Council of Chief State School Officials.  The standards are a joint effort with the National Governors Center for Best Practices.  I think all of the made-up objections to the standards are politically driven!

Here's why I think that.  (1) If your district thinks the standards aren't high enough, raise them!  You have that right and in my mind that responsibility.  Don't whine, set a higher bar!  (2) Read the article about HB 597, the words say that they authors want to return school standards to the local level.  HELLO!  That's one reason why Ohio adopted the Common Core in 2010, because at the local level Ohio had a mixed set of some high, mostly low standards that were inconsistently applied and the results were poor, at best. (3) Now read more than just the words of the bill, but read the comments made to reporters questions by one of the bill's sponsors.  Political and religious ideas are going to be put on the podium alongside scientific ideas and the teachers are going to be prohibited from contrasting the ideas for any applicability or validity.  How many times do we have to face tactics designed to put pseudo-science like Creationism/Intelligent Design on par with real actual science?

Let's sum things up.  We give schools a limited budget, limited time frame, and we expect them to bring students to the point where they can be successful at college and in the job market following school.  And HB 597's sponsors want to saddle teachers and school districts with a methodology that was failing 4 years ago and further handicap them by letting school districts bring in their political and religious disagreements about science and use valuable resources presenting these concepts as if they are a core part of the curriculum.  How is this doing anything but a disservice to our students!

I recall a comic strip from 2012 that sums it up pretty well:  Doonesbury!  The final student comment in the strip really brings it home to me:  "Please stop, I would like to get into a good college."  Yes, Ohio lawmakers, please stop HB 597 so our children can get into a good college, so they can get a quality education, so we can compete in the future with other countries whose school standards are putting us to shame!  Please stop allowing a few to use our children to push a political or religious agenda!  Please Stop!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

All not quiet on the Midwestern Front

One of the reasons I started blogging was in response to some of the anti-science activities here in Ohio a few years ago.  I guess things have been too quiet to suit Creationists because the war on science has reared its ugly head again. is reporting that a bill designed to remove the Common Core education standards will also have the impact of not prohibiting Creationism/Intelligent Design in the classroom.  Here's the article I caught this afternoon: "Common Core opposition bill won't limit foreign authors -- or teaching of creationism and 'intelligent design'

Now before I actually read the article, I noticed a little sideline on the page.  You might have spotted it as well, "Common Core is bad for students and teachers: Kelly Kohls, school board member, activist".  I'm not sure if you remember Kelly.  She was the president of the Springboro Ohio school board when they flirted with the idea of Creationism.  The Dayton Daily News had this article.  Kelly said

“Creationism is a significant part of the history of this country,”  . . . “It is an absolutely valid theory and to omit it means we are omitting part of the history of this country.”
That would immediately make me think there was something very right with the common core science standards.  Anyone else read Catch-22 by Joseph Heller?  You might know the part I am thinking about -- when an insane psychiatrist declares you as sane, are you?  To paraphrase, when an avowed Creationist declares the common core science standards bad, are they? 

In my opinion adopting a common core set of standards would annoy someone like Kelly because it would make it harder for a local school board to inject Creationism/Intelligent Design into the science curriculum.  Imagine how hard it would have been for certain members of the Dover PA School Board to push their religious agenda if the common core science standards had been in place.  It might have saved that school system some money and not been such a time waster or generated such negative publicity for Dover.  But then again, the fact the court case went the way it did might well be a silver lining.  As it was, Kelly and her supporters on the board didn't make much headway and eventually less evangelical board members were elected and sanity reigned.  Kelly herself 'retired' from the board and ran unsuccessfully for the State Senate.

OK, now back to this article.  The National Center for Science Education also reported on this new Ohio bill.  They noted this from the article the same points I saw when I read it::
" . . . prohibit political or religious interpretation of scientific facts in favor of another." Thompson said that clause prevents teachers and schools from only presenting one side of a political and scientific debate -- global warming, for example -- without also presenting the other side."
That pretty much says it all. Not only would it make it easy for Creationism/Intelligent Design to be brought into the classroom, it sounds like it would be mandatory to present it -- even though it's a political and cultural debate, not a scientific debate. Plus, as I am sure Kelly likes, the bill's sponsor makes it very clear that it
"the bill gives districts and teachers the freedom to teach religious interpretations of scientific issues as they deem best."
 I'm working on an email to my State Representatives in hopes this bill will die the nice quiet death it deserves.  But even if the death isn't so quiet, as long as it does before dragging the whole state into another round of 'Let's be Fair and teach both sides', 'Teach the controversy', or 'Evolution, it's only a Theory', like we were in 2002.

Darwin is Responsible for . . .

I have a Google News Alert that doesn't seem to be working well.  I have it set that anytime the Discovery Institute posts something newsworthy, it should go off and I would get an email notification.  The problem is that it keeps going off even if they aren't posting anything worth looking at.

I won't give you a link this time because they have done nothing more than repeat a tired old line of theirs.  I'll give you a hint.  If we held a contest and tried to determine who is the single most reprehensible figure of the 20th century, who do you think  would win?  Yes, you already know the name, and he doesn't work at the DI.  Of course, he does appear to be some sort of hero for them because they cannot stop writing about him.  Not only that, but their pet 'historian', you know who I mean as well, has now tried to associate Darwin with the cause for not only the Second World War, but the first one as well.  They even had one of their own 'executives' produce a 12, or so, minute video explaining this most recent 'revelation'.  Of course everything their pet 'historian' has accomplished has met with a much success in historical circles as their pet team of crack 'scientists' has met in scientific circles will never deter the DI from continuing to post foolishness.

So, if you haven't heard by now, the Discovery Institute seems to blame Charles Darwin for the Civil War, WWI, WWII, disease, racism, poverty, crime, infidelity, teen pregnancy, drug abuse, divorce, the sub-prime mortgage debacle, the assassinations of Lincoln, both Kennedy's, and King,  the lack of Congressional term limits, Nancy Pelosi, Barack Obama, Rush Limbaugh, and the failure of the Chicago Cubs, to name a few.

I may have to cancel my Google News Alert because it's sure not doing it's job!  Maybe I'll just set it to go off once a year and hope for a change they actually post something worth reading at once in a given year.  I know, I am being way too optimistic!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Kennie Ham is still making a fool out of Kentucky!

The people in the Great State of Kentucky should be outraged!  Back in 2011 I posted the following "Kentuckians, kennie ham is making a mockery of you!".  It was a post about how Answers In Genesis (AIG), a non-profit Evangelical Christian Ministry, is hiring people for jobs at the Ark Encounter Park, a for-profit business.  That was over three years ago.  Since then little kennie has struggled with funding and Kentucky has offered him even more tax breaks for his Noah's Ark replica.

Here we are in 2014 and AIG is still doing it.  "The dishonesty continues from Ken Ham and Answers in Genesis" lays out exactly what was happening.  Once again AIG, who also runs another ministry, the poorly named Creation 'Museum', is still advertising for positions.  The first part of the job opening says:

"Our work at Ark Encounter is not just a job, it is also a ministry. Our employees work together as a team to serve each other to produce the best solutions for our design requirements. Our purpose through the Ark Encounter is to serve and glorify the Lord with our God-given talents with the goal of edifying believers and evangelizing the lost."
In order to be considered you must also sign a:
  • Creation belief statement
  • Confirmation of your agreement with the AiG Statement of Faith (If you need a real laugh, you really need to check out their statement of faith.  It's hilarious and, in my opinion, should be illegal for a for-profit business who is using State tax money and incentives. 
Why are the people in Kentucky putting up with this?  I believe little kennie is ripping you off and breaking your own employment laws.  He's claiming since the employees will be working for AIG, he can flout the law and have them working on a for-profit business!  If this continues I expect someone to eventually sue AIG/Creation Museum/Ark Park Ministries and also name the State of Kentucky as defendants for letting them get away with it.

Based on this, what I think should happen is any and all tax breaks, subsidies, and incentives should be removed from little kennie and his pet project.  Unless he complies with existing laws and it's proven he has done so.  You shouldn't be subsidizing his ministries.  Plans to expand the roads and upgrade highway exits should be put on hold until his Park is up, running, and drawing in the 'crowds' little kennie has claimed it would.  I believe it was his own study that predicts fairly large numbers of tourists. 

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Shades of Kristin Macguire

What is it about South Carolina?  Remember Kristin Macguire, the homeschooler Mom who ended up heading the State School Board briefly a few years back.  During her tenure, she caused extra expense by bringing in a couple of Young Earth Creationists to question the already selected science textbook.  Yes, the selection process had been followed, decisions were already made and, at the last minute, the incoming school board president, Macguire, brings in a couple of ringers to push her personal religious belief on the students of South Carolina.  That time sanity prevailed and the already selected textbooks were voting in after a number reviews and public testimony and additional time and expense.  I guess every school board has time and money to burn, right?

Well history is sorta repeating itself.  In this article "S.C. Education Department out of the loop in writing of new evolution standard" in the Post and Courier, things are still not kosher in SC.  While the headline tells the story, it's not the whole story.  Apparently in an effort to deal with some of the contentious issues around getting a new science standard approved, a new 'compromise' standard was drafted.  Guess who wasn't involved . . .but more interesting guess who was?  Obviously the Education Department, whose job it is to draft standards, was not involved.  However, a certain organization from the Northwest had inside knowledge of the process and was invited by . . . guess who to play?  You got it, Mike Fair -- yes, that Mike Fair -- he invited the Discovery Institute.  They presented to the group drafting the new standard.

Why am I saying history is repeating itself?  Well just like Kristin, certain players ignore the rules and push a personal religious agenda.  One of the Board members himself didn't know this re-drafting was going on.  That's right the group whose job it is to write the standards and at least one of the people who approve such standards were out of the loop!  Once again South Carolina violated their own rules and procedures for the express purpose of trying to weaken science education.  This time they invited the DI, an organization dedicated to doing just that. Anyone else see a problem here?

Let's hope sanity once again breaks out and this 'compromise' standard goes the way of the dodo.  Is it too much to hope that Mike Fair's political career goes the same way?

Monday, August 11, 2014

Keith Blanchard and Belief

Interesting article "Why You Should Stop Believing in Evolution".  It's by Keith Blanchard who is identified as  the chief digital officer of World Science Festival.  I'm not sure what the World Science Festival is or what a Chief Digital Officer does, but I am pretty sure Keith Blanchard is not a biologist.  Even my high school and college biology wouldn't have characterized a few of the things about evolution as he did.  But to his credit, I think his heart is in the right place and his basic message is sound.  Yes, I said his basic message is sound.

Should we stop 'believing' in evolution?  I would put to you that the answer is yes, we should.  Primarily because evolution is real and it is happening all around us whether we believe in it or not.  Our 'belief' plays little in the value and validity of evolution as a fact.  What I think the term does is open the door for misinterpretations of the term 'Belief'.  I've said this before . . . but it does bear re-consideration.

Since I said belief in evolution in no way impacts it's validity, let's look at that for a moment.  Let's look at any other scientific theory, say one of my personal favorites, Gravity.  If I did not 'believe' in Gravity, would I suddenly go flying off of the planet Earth?  Of course not.  By the same token, If I believed the Earth was the center of the Solar System, would that automatically position the Earth so that everything, including the Sun, would start revolving around it?  Do you see what I mean?  Belief does not impact the fact of gravity, nor does it have much impact in the explanation of how gravity works.

One of my issues with the term 'Belief' is that many Creationists try and equate Belief in things like the Bible, Creationism, and Intelligent Design as the same thing as Belief in Evolution.  I disagree with that completely.  Belief in a theistic concept is also known as faith, and it's a belief without any form of actual support.  Belief in a scientific theory is an acceptance of the theory based on evidential support.  There is a world of difference between no evidence and evidence!  That is why, in my opinion, we should stop using the phrase of 'belief in evolution' and start more saying 'acceptance of the theory of evolution'.  I think it's more accurate and less likely to be abused in word games with Creationists.

My main issue about using the term 'Belief' revolves around those word games and I think continuing to use it might not impact scientists, but it can impact the people who are working with and within the education system concerning science education.  How many school board meetings does this subject come up and one of the standard lines you hear is "I don't believe in Evolution!"  Imagine if you refuse to play that game and agree, "I don't believe in it either, I accept it as the only explanation we have that actually works!"  Not sure if that would help, but the double-take look you would get might make it worth doing.

Like I said I don't think Keith Blanchard is a biologist and while I didn't want to get into all the reasons why I think that.  I will leave you with one thing to consider.  Blanchard makes a comment about common ancestry, claiming that if you go back far enough you can find a direct common ancestor between people, trees, and insects.  I think the weakness of his argument is that he seems to see reproduction as the only method of gene transfer.  He's missing many others, like gene drift and Horizontal Gene Transfer (HGT).  All I am saying is that natural selection is one of the methods of gene transfer, but not the only one.  Therefore, finding a common ancestor to incredibly diverse species might be a bit more challenging that Mr. Blanchard seems to think.  But I do think it's time we stopped 'believing' in a scientific theory because of how easy it is to confuse belief based on nothing and belief based on actual evidence.

Didn't the comic Lewis Black stated that whenever someone tells him they don't believe in evolution, he throws a fossil at them! 

Is this an issue of Academic Freedom?

Just recently University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign rescinded a job offer to Steven G. Salaita.  While I understand rescinding a job offer, especially one made after a pretty significant selection process, is pretty rare -- but my issue is whether or not this is a matter of academic freedom.  I'm confused and hope someone can help me out.

First off, I've written about Academic Freedom before and I have always separated the issue from Free Speech.  Professors, in the conduct of their work, do not have free speech.  What they have is the right and, in my mind the responsibility, to present all facets of a subject area, even the controversial ones.  Academic Freedom means the academic organization cannot take negative action when teachers are doing their jobs.  What teachers do not have is the right to bring in unrelated topics into the classroom under the guise of academic freedom.  So, in other words, bringing Intelligent Design/Creationism into the science classroom as science does not fall under academic freedom because ID/Creationism is not science and therefore not in the subject area.  I know the Discovery Institute disagrees with me on that, but then they will use any tactic no matter how dishonest or reprehensible to push their pet ideas.  Remember the DI is the place who defended John Freshwater and failed to defend Chris Comer!  One was fired for not doing his job and one was fired for doing theirs.  Their idea of academic freedom is not the one shared by:

The American Council on Education (ACE) issued a statement endorsed by a pretty impressive list of collegiate organizations. It's called "Statement on Academic Rights and Responsibilities". Here are a few highlights:
  • Colleges and universities should welcome intellectual pluralism and the free exchange of ideas.
  • Academic decisions, including grades, should be based solely on considerations that are intellectually relevant to the subject matter under consideration.
  • The validity of academic ideas, theories, arguments and views should be measured against the intellectual standards of relevant academic and professional disciplines.
  • Application of these intellectual standards does not mean that all ideas have equal merit.
  • Government’s recognition and respect for the independence of colleges and universities is essential for academic and intellectual excellence.
I posted about this before here. check out the 4th one, all ideas do not have equal merit.  Certainly explains the inequalities between Scientific Theory of Evolution and Religious concept of Intelligent Design/Creationism, doesn't it?

Now Professor Salaita was the associate professor of English at Virginia Tech, he resigned his position to accept a new one, starting this fall, as a tenured professor of American Indian studies at Urbana-Champaign.  So we have basically an English teacher becoming a teacher in American Indian Studies.

After receiving the job offer last year, it did say is still had to be approved by the Board, but it also said that was usually pretty perfunctory.  It became an issue when the professor tweeted some seriously inflammatory comments about Israel and the recent things going on in the Middle East.

Here is my thing.  Is this a matter of academic freedom?  I think not!  I'm not trying to defend or attack Israel or the professor, I'm trying to focus on the actions of the professor and the University.  Professor Salaita has the right, under free speech, to tweet whatever the hell he wants.  The University has the right to hire whoever the hell they want. 

The professor wasn't being hired to teach anything about Israel or the Middle East, so how is this a matter of academic freedom?  To me it's a matter of free speech.  Tweeting, like any form of communication, comes as a right and it also comes with some responsibilities.  You are free to yell 'Fire!' is a crowded theater, but afterwards, you will be held responsible!  There had better have been a fire or you will be help accountable for your actions, including any injuries as a result or even the lost revenue from the theater.  A few years the Dixie Chicks made a few political comments about then-president George Bush at a concert in England.  While I disagreed with their comments, they had the right to make them.  The negative impact to their career is a direct response to their exercising free speech, and accountability.  Now the folks who threatened them and their children I think have serious mental health issues, but that's a different issue.  Was anyone going to tell me I HAD to purchase their music regardless of their political statements?   That if I refused to purchase their music I was violating their rights in some fashion?  Of course not.  But that seems to be what's happening here.

Maybe the underlying question is does a position as a professor of any topic automatically grant you freedom from any level of personal accountability for anything you might say in any forum on any other topic?  Put that way it sounds pretty silly, doesn't it?  But claiming that  Professor Salaita's right of academic freedom has been violated because the University rescinded a job offer because of his exercise of free speech sounds exactly like that!  He is and should be accountable for his tweets, whether the later ripples in the water are to his benefit or detriment.

Does anyone remember when William Dembski was nearly fired?  Back when he was working at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, he caused a mild stir when someone realized that he actually suggested that the Bible might be less than historically accurate.  OK, he didn't actually suggest it, he out and out stated in in his book "The End of Christianity".  He went so far as to say Noah's flood was just a Middle-Eastern phenomena and not a global deluge.  He immediately came under fire by his bosses and recants incredibly quickly.  He even came out and said he was wrong!  No relying on 'academic freedom' for him because he knew exactly what was going to happen if he tried that route . . . it's called unemployment, so said Southwestern Seminary president Paige Patterson (about halfway down the article). 

Should the University be required to hire Professor Salaita ?  Maybe, but not because of academic freedom!  We are getting into a legal issue of acts and actions concerning job offers and offer-ers and who is entitled to what and when.  Complaining about academic freedom is, to me, just foolish smoke!  Be honest, if the University doesn't want to hire him because of his tweets, address the issue as one of free speech, not academic freedom!  If I were to post on Facebook or tweet comments that brought negative publicity to my employer, I would expect to get fired!  If between my acceptance of a job offer and the start of work something came up that would cause a negative reflection on me and my soon-to-be new company, I would expect to see the job offer fade into the dust.  I might not like it and would have potentially legal actions concerning it . . . it wouldn't be an issue of academic freedom!

I wonder if anyone from my current company pays any attention to this blog?  Imagine if the company owners were hard-core Creationists.  Could this blog get me fired?  That might be interesting, but not a fight I would want to get into.  I think as long as this blog didn't detract from me doing my job, my bosses shouldn't have an issue -- just like I shouldn't have an issue of their beliefs.  After all, what does their religious beliefs have to do with my being a computer programmer?  I think that's a lesson Nathaniel Abraham learned a few years back.  Do you remember him?  He was fired from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute for refusing to do the job he was hired to do.  He tried the discrimination route to fight it and sued for all sorts of damages because he said his religious beliefs made it impossible to be an evolutionary biologist  . . . maybe he should have tried the 'academic freedom' complaint. 

Am I off base on academic freedom?  Let me know.  You can comment here or even email me direct at

Friday, August 8, 2014

Programming Children?

A recent article on the Discovery News site kinda seemed more than a bit off kilter.  I know, something from the DI that wasn't quite right, really?  Normally I don't send people to their site, but if you want to read it, here it is: "More Studies Show Children Are Wired for Religious Belief: A Brief Literature Review", by that less-than-stalwart fellow, casey luskin.  I've written about little casey before and haven't been too impressed.  Well, this time casey is joining his brother in arms, David 'I'm Jewish so Intelligent Design isn't about Religion' Klinghoffer and trying to make a couple of cases, first the children naturally are inclined to believe in the idea of God, and second that scientists, those evil bastards, are trying to inoculate children against God.

They reference a Wall Street Journal article: "See Jane Evolve: Picture Books Explain Darwin".  My guess is they are more than a little annoyed with the article's author, Alison Gopnik , especially for closing with this line

"The secret may be to reach children with the right theory before the wrong one is too firmly in place."  
As usual casey and davey are taking the article as an attack on ID, which . . . it is -- but not for the reasons they seem to think.  If you take a step back and actually think you would realize that any teacher will tell you that teaching something is always easier when you don't need to un-teach something previously learned.  People tend to get an idea in their head and the first thing you have to do is get them to remove that idea before they can fully understand a new one.  Or at a minimum get them to set aside that idea so they can at least examine the new one with limited prejudice. One of my favorite examples is discrimination.  How many people have dis . . . no, let's just say it more plainly, how many bigots have no actual experience in dealing with the people they are bigoted against?  Remember the term 'prejudice' means pre-judging!  By the time someone who typifies the Archie-Bunker-like mentality gets some experience with whoever they are bigoted against, it's usually a bit late.  Oh they can learn, but it takes something extremely critical to make it happen.  I remember a presentation by Dr. Morris Massey called "What You Are Is Where You Were When"
used the term a 'significant emotional event' to show it's possible even for the worst of bigots to learn, but it does take something significant to get through years of bigotry.

Children are not born bigoted, it's a learned behavior and one rarely seen in nurseries and child day care centers for young children.  I don't think children are born looking for a deity either.  I think they are born curious and like to seek answers.  The idea of a deity hits them from many directions.  It's the answer they receive from many adults for nearly any question that's tough to answer.  From the simple 'God only knows' to weekly sermons from authority figures.  Kids get bombarded with the message about one deity or another from birth.  The reason, at least to me, is that it's easy.  It's far easier to let 'God' be the answer than digging deeper and determining a better answer or even harder is explaining something to a child that you may not understand yourself.  Even with the best of intentions, adults try and soften difficult things for children..  Think of a traumatic event in any kids life, maybe the death of a Grandparent.  Even if they choose to dig deeper, the odds are they will never know why Gramdma passed away.  But to comfort a child we say things like 'She's in a better place.'  Funerals are most often religious services, as are Weddings, Baptisms, Bat and Bar Mitzvahs, Confirmations,and Upanayana (Hindu rite of passage) ceremonies.

So by the time a child gets to school they have a bunch of ideas already in their head and one of them is about the idea of a deity.  Even children raised as Atheists, aren't immune to this.  Think of the exposure to TV, movies, music, and their friends.  I had two friends growing up in NYC, Issac and his little brother Jay, and while I wasn't Jewish I was curious about their religion.  One of the most popular figures in pop culture today is American Idol winner Carrie Underwood whose first hit single was "Jesus Take the Wheel".  I was raised Catholic and I can assure you, from Baptism through school you get hit with religion on an almost daily basis, especially during times of emotional upheaval (significant emotional events, remember?). 

Is it any wonder that the earlier you reach children with real, although simplified, explanations, the easier it will be for them to understand the more complex realities later?  Do you remember John Freshwater?  The Ohio teacher who was fired for a number of reasons, including failing to teach the science he was supposed to be teaching.  If you read the reports and transcripts of his various hearings (Panda's Thumb probably has the best links to all that material), you might have noticed that not only did teachers in subsequent grades have to re-teach basic science and biology to his former students, but his 'teaching' actually made their job harder.  That's what the article is about.  Of course casey and davey doesn't see it that way, they see it as an attack in their pet religious notion, Intelligent Design..

What caught my eye in casey's article was this line:
"What was intriguing was not just how evolutionary scientists are scrambling to indoctrinate children against perceiving intelligent design in nature, but also how children have an innate tendency to recognize that design and, furthermore, to believe in a personal creator"  
First of all, there is nothing wrong with children perceiving design in nature.  Please note the word 'perceiving'.  How many things have we built that end up mimicking nature whether by intent or as a result of the evolution of manufactured items.  Another recent article "One rule to unite the evolution of birds and airplanes" reminded me that there is nothing wrong with looking at the design in nature.  Little casey and his buddies keep forgetting that the perception of design in nature and their idea of 'Intelligent Design' are two separate things.  There is a great deal of nature that has the appearance of being designed.  It's there in front of us and cannot and should not be ignored.   But does the appearance of design in nature automatically mean intelligence?  Of course not!  That's what casey and his buddies would like you to believe because it's the only arrow in their quiver.  Aside from it being a tautological argument that's been shown time and time again to be meaningless.  It's also been clearly identified as a religious belief, not a scientific theory.  However if you teach Creationism or Intelligent Design, you are making it tougher on teachers later in life to teach actual science. 

That's why casey and david are annoyed.  The article states pretty clearly that if we introduce simplified concepts of evolution earlier, then by the time kids get older and start learning real biology, they grasp the concepts much more easily and a more intuitively.  Casey simply cannot stand the idea that actual science might get in before he's finished doing all he can to make sure they've had first crack at molding children's minds.

One last thing to mention, which is 'indoctrination' teaching science or teaching Creationism/Intelligent Design?  Well according to Merriam-Webster, to indoctrinate is to teach (someone) to fully accept the ideas, opinions, and beliefs of a particular group and to not consider other ideas, opinions, and beliefs.  Does science class consider alternative ideas?  All the time!  However, as we've stated many times.  Creationism/Intelligent Design is not an alternative scientific theory to the Theory of Evolution and thereby calling the teaching science 'indoctrination' is just another word game, like re-defining 'theory' or the idea of a 'belief'.  Many science textbooks mentioned Creationism in a historical context when teaching Biology.  But as an idea that should be taught at any age . . . not as if it were really science!

However, can you say teaching Creationism/Intelligent is anything but indoctrination?  Remember the original Wedge Strategy document, the one where materialistic view of science were going to be replaced by more theistic understanding?   Here's a little snapshot of their goals, check out number 2 under 'Governing Goals'.
If you can't read that poor image quality, it says
"To replace materialistic explanations with the theistic understanding of nature and human beings are created by God". 
And we aren't just talking science, look at the second of the 5-year goals.  Doesn't sound like a whole lot of consideration for other ideas there at all, does it?

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

One of my favorite places on the Web is Jesus and Mo.  Today's strip summed up all the recent comments supposedly in support of Creationism perfectly. 

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

South Carolina and Mike Fair

If ever a politician is misnamed, I think it's Mike Fair.  I'm sure he'll disagree, but in pushing for forcing his religious beliefs on other people, is he really acting in a fair manner?

Forbes online has this article "South Carolina Legislator Wants To Force Students To Learn Creationism" and while I've been out of the fray for a while, it's nice to know some things never change.  Fair is a pretty typical Conservative Christian, in 2008 he he introduced a bill that would have specifically allowed public school teachers to critique evolution in their classrooms. The bill died in committee!  The National Center for Science Education identified this bill, and others like it, as designed to undermine science education rather than actually encourage critical thinking.  I'm sure he's other brushes with changing science education.  I do wonder if he was a support of Kristin Maguire when she was trying to stop the purpose of a science text because it failed to give equal standing to Creationism/ID.  Remember her?  She was the home-schooling Mom who was the President of the SC state school board.

Well in addition to the same old things, I have been commenting about the article on Forbes site and once again, the same old thing.  Knee-jerk reactions from Creationists who claim that evolution has been refuted, yet fail to provide any evidence of that.  Comments claiming scientific support for Creationism and forgetting to tell us what that support is.  Attacks on evolutionary theory form apparently unarmed Creationists.  It's been a while for me, but in some ways it's nice to see some things never change, but I was hoping they would.  Luckily there are some very intelligent and well-thought out rebuttals of the various forms of Creationism attacks. 

In my humble opinion Mike Fair seems to be the type of person who believes in Freedom of Religion providing your religion is the same one he believes in.  If not, well he is perfectly happy spending other people's money . . . State and Federal tax money . . . to make you fall appropriately in line.  Why does he keep getting re-elected?