Thursday, July 30, 2015

Kirk's back on ENV, and this might be fun!

Kirk Durston is posting again at the DI's Evolution News and Views website.  He's the guy I posted about when he tried, like so many others, to sell the idea that macro and micro evolution are different ("Micro-Macro re-dux").  He didn't say anything new, other than complain because there was no precise definition for macro-evolution . . . . which makes sense to me since it's an artificial distinction invented by scared Creationists.

 Anyway, this time around Kirk is going to tell us what bad science really is and what current scientific theories he considers 'bad'.  He asks the question "Should We Have Faith in Science?"  I see it as a very simple question, with a very easy answer, "Yes!".

One of my issues is that he doesn't seem to be addressing Science, but Scientists.  Here is a quote:

"I am increasingly appalled and even shocked at what passes for science. It has become a mix of good science, bad science, creative story-telling, science fiction, scientism (atheism dressed up as science), citation-bias, huge media announcements followed by quiet retractions, massaging the data, exaggeration for funding purposes, and outright fraud all rolled up together. In some disciplines, the problem has become so rampant that the "good science" part is drowning in a mess of everything else."
Before getting into it, I do have to ask why he had to define 'scientism' this way?  It's not the accepted definitioin of the term.  What does atheism have to do with science anyway?  Science does not address the issue of a deity and never will.  But I will say Kirk had to define it this way because it's another one of those made-up relationships that the DI uses to try and convince people they are an issue.  While I have never seem atheism dressed up as science, I have often seen people dress up their theology and call it science.  After all, that's what Creation Science was in the past and Intelligent Design is today.

But in his post, where is Kirk's issue with Science?  What he's complaining about is scientists, at least some of them.  I have news for Kirk, scientists are human beings and when you look at any collective group of humans some of them mess up.  Kirk, if you disagree, I would like you to remember how many issues there have been in recent years with various theists, like Swaggart, Haggard, or a large collection of priests?  I guess if we want to follow Kirk's thinking we should ask why anyone has any faith in religion, right?

What's interesting about Science is that is a self-correcting activity.  Think about it, science works, the explanations match the available evidence and when they can no longer do that, they get discarded.  That's the concept of being self-correcting.  When it doesn't work it gets kicked to the curb.  The road to an accepted scientific theory is littered with ideas and explanations that failed at some point.  Some of the possible reasons include Kirk's little diatribe.  When scientists are guilty of anything Kirk doesn't seem to like, their ideas end up among the discarded.  There is a level of actual scientific support required before ideas move forward, something ID proponents can't seem to reach.

Now a question for Kirk, who determines the viability of scientific ideas?  Yes, the ideas one day may become a hypothesis and maybe reach the level of a scientific theory.  Who uncovers poor methodology like Cold Fusion; hoaxes like Piltdown Man, or mis-classifications like Nebraska man?  Who, Kirk, you?  No!  It's not people at places like the 'Discovery Institute', 'Answers in Genesis', or the poorly named 'Institute for Creation Research'.  It's scientists following scientific methodology, determining the viability and validity of ideas and discovering problems.  Ideas that fail to measure up fall to the wayside by scientists, not pseudo-scientists.  It's how science works and how science has created so much! 

OK, a brief discussion on faith.  Now when I say faith, I am not talking some blind sort of faith reserved for people like . . . well . . . little kennie ham.  When you look at someone like kennie, you realize that his faith absolutely blinds him to the world around him.  He builds monuments to his belief set, always using other people's money.  Think about it, do the majority of theists, even the majority of Christians, agree with the story kennie is busy selling down in Kentucky?  Not in the least.  To most, he's just someone to laugh at.

Faith in science is something that we have have had for many years.  It's not blind faith, but more something called 'acceptance'.  We accept the things science has accomplished for us. Science took us to the moon, science developed the theories we use in our everyday life, including the communication platform many of us are currently using.  It's science that is behind the automobile, the airplane, television . . . imagine how long that list of scientific accomplishments would be if we tried to list them all.  We accept the science, which was developed, lest we forget, by scientists. If you go back in history and study any of the developments we take for granted today.  We will see ideas that didn't work out, we will often see some examples of the very things Kirk is complaining about.  Like I said, we accept science, not everything that occurs along the way, but we do end up accepting it . . . because it works!

Science isn't perfect, scientists aren't perfect, but the bottom line is simple.  We accept what works!  Now Kirk's little post was really a preview.  He's next going to start telling us all the problems with various scientific theories.  I wonder which one he'll start with first.  You can probably guess which one I think he'll start.  I wonder how long it will take him to bring up Piltdown Man?

Since Kirk is going to come down on science, maybe he can shed some light on what creationism has ever really accomplished?  Aside from holding back science for centuries, pandering to people's fears, and trying to ruin science education.  What advances can you place at creationism's feet?  Nothing comes to mind to me, maybe Kirk has some better ideas of the incredible accomplishments of creationism.  I know some folks like to point to famous people who believed in one deity or another in the past who put forth some amazing science.  But what part of their science is based on their religious beliefs?  What part of any theory is 'and here is where God did his magic'?  None that I can find.

So, yes we do have and should have faith in science, but unlike the absolutism of theology, we accept the things that work and ask scientists to keep working on the things that don't measure up.  It's their work that will eventually pan out to workable and useful ideas, or toss ideas by the wayside.  When scientists are guilty of the sins Kirk here lists, then they should be held accountable by science!  Anyone remember Hwang Woo-suk?  He got busted after a series of fabricated experiments dealing with cloning.  Have you heard about him lately?  I didn't think so! 

Not all discredited scientists fade so quickly, take the case of Andrew Wakefield, he was the one whose fraudulent work started the anti-vaccination movement.  Science dealt with him, but non-scientists who seem to be looking for someone or something to blame autism on have kept his foolish ideas alive -- much to the detriment on children suffering from easily preventable diseases.  But again, science has been dealing with such issues long before Kirk dreamed up his little whine. 

It's not people like Kirk who will be uncovering bad science, but other scientists.  When they do, action gets taken.  Can Kirk say the same of his religious brethren?  How many years did pedophile priests get away with their activity?  And who is the blame for that?  Not scientists!

Monday, July 27, 2015

Not Everything an Academic does is Covered by Academic Freedom

Caught a great Letter to the Editor in the Washington State Journal, "Not every action is 'academic freedom' -- Gary L. Kriewald".  It's saying something I have been saying as well.  You might check it out.  The bottom line is simple, just because someone is an academic, that does not give them carte blanche to do/say anything they want and expect the academic community to rally in their defense.

Recently Sara Youcha Goldrick-Rab, Professor of Educational Policy Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, tweeted against Wisconsin's elimination of faculty tenure from state statute.  Now, before we go any further, I have absolutely no issue with her commenting about that subject.  To me, that falls under 'Free Speech' -- which we've discussed before, so I won't get up on my soapbox about free speech and responsibilities.  To be honest, I didn't care for her posts, especially when she compared the governor with Adolf Hitler and discouraged future students from attending the university.  But she has the right to tweet.  But she should also accept the responsibility for what she tweets!

Now, my question is does her actions fall under Academic Freedom?  I say it does not.  If an employee other than an academic had done something like that, they more than likely would have been terminated!  I do not feel that her comments should be cloaked under the guise of academic freedom!  To me that is nothing more than a way for her to avoid taken responsibility for her published communication!  She should be free to offer her opinions, and the University should be free to take the action they feel is appropriate. 

In my opinion her effort to discourage students from attending her university, then she should be making plans to relive herself of what must be an onerous environment and find employment elsewhere.  She should not be able to hide behind the mantle of  'academic freedom' for something unrelated to her curriculum area, but an administrative issue between her and the school. 

To me the issue was compounded by the Faculty Senate Steering Committee when they responded about being "deeply dismayed" by her actions, which they felt had damaged the principle of academic freedom.  In my opinion, by taking the position that they did, the Steering Committee is actually enabling an abuse of Academic Freedom.  What they should have ruled, in my opinion, is that her tweets were not covered under Academic Freedom and she should be help responsible for her communications, like anyone else would have been.

While people, including myself, like to toss around phrases like 'Free Speech' and 'Academic Freedom', everyone should be aware that there are limitations on them and neither of them is a 'get-out-of-jail-free' card.  People should be held accountable for their actions, which include tweets, Instagrams, and blog posts.  Now you also know why my name and email is on this blog.  I originally started it with the id of 'tedhohio', and anyone who Googled that would find it pretty easy to find me.  But a couple of years into it, I changed to use my name!  To me it is a form of taking responsibilities for my opinions!

Thursday, July 23, 2015

That's it? An admission of failure?

OK, a few days ago little davey klinghoffer (klingy) made a pronouncement, he said the Discovery Institute (DI) was planning something special for the anniversary of the Scopes 1925 Trial.  The Scopes Trial is something they should celebrate, since their side [Creationism] won that trial and successfully prevented the removal of the law that outlawed the teaching of Evolution in Tennessee for 42 more years.  I had some hopes for what they were going to do, and as much as I hate to admit it, they exceeded my expectations.  I didn't expect much, but instead I got an admission that Stephen C. Meyer screwed up.

How else do you interpret writing a book called 'Debating Darwin's Doubt'?  This isn't just a new book, but a sequel!  A sequel?  I'm not the one labeling it as a sequel, the DI did that in the press release.  If it were a Director's Cut, for example. it could be defined as a clarification, but no, they called it a sequel.   Now, why do you typically create a sequel?  There are two reasons, a sequel is either a continuation of the story or a re-booting.  So the question is which?  According to the press release, this isn't a continuation but a response to criticisms.  In keeping with the Hollywood-esque theme, it's definitely a re-booting.

What they did was collect all of the critical reviews and comments about Darwin's Doubt, of which there are plenty, and this group is going to address them.  This group is all from the DI, or their pet lab -- The Biologic Institute.  I do have an issue with that, as I am sure anyone who peeked at the list of contributors might have the same question.  Here is the list:

  • William Dembski - philosopher, mathematician, and theologian
  • Douglas Axe - Director of the in-house lab, the Biologic Institute, background in molecular biology
  • Ann Gauger - senior research scientist at Biologic Institute, PhD in Developmental Biology
  • David Berlinski - philosophy, mathematics, and English
  • Paul Nelson - Philosopher of Science
  • Casey Luskin - Lawyer and Research Coordinator at the DI.  He does have a degree in Biology and Earth Sciences.
  • David Klinghoffer - Senior Fellow at the DI, not sure what his academic background is.  Not even the DI mentions it.
Did you notice what was missing in that list?  Why no Paleontologists?  The original book was about the Cambrian Diversification, in other words, Paleontology.  The critical comments frequently cited issues with Meyer's understanding of the basic subject.  For example in "When Prior Belief Trumps Scholarship", by Charles R. Marshall, who is at the Department of Integrative Biology and Director of the Museum of Paleontology, University of California, Berkeley.  The final line in his review was:
"Darwin's Doubt is compromised by Meyer's lack of scientific knowledge, his “god of the gaps” approach, and selective scholarship that appears driven by his deep belief in an explicit role of an intelligent designer in the history of life."
If Meyer is so lacking in knowledge, wouldn't you include someone with a background in the subject to address shortcomings?  That to me sounds perfectly logical.  But instead, what we have is the usual gang of ID supporters, suspiciously minus Michael Behe.  I wonder why?  I haven't seen anything from him lately?  I wonder if he's become less enamored with the DI, sorta like Michael Denton.  I haven't seen anything from him at the DI site since about 2008 or 2009.  Hmmmm!

So, klingy is painting this as some sort of victory, what it means to me is the original was so flawed, they need to try again and don't have the intestinal fortitude to admit it.  This new book is about 350 pages, 2/3'rds the size of the original.  That sounds like a lot of spackling paste and patchwork to me.  Wouldn't it have been more effective to produce something that wasn't so fatally flawed it requires a re-boot? 

So for fun, I went back and looked back at the original.  I read it last year and my objections focused on several things.  First was Meyer's apparently overuse of the idea of an 'explosion', which is certainly not how the 'Cambrian Diversification' is looked at today by real Paleontologists.  He treated it like an actual explosion, where so many organisms appeared at once.  Since the Diversification took something like 80 million years, 'explosion' is not a good way to examine it.  My second objection was that Meyer apparently ignored 150 years of Paleontological science when 'researching' for this book.  My final objection was the publisher, Harper-One, which is the religious imprint of Harper-Collins, is not a scientific journal or press at all.  Why do you suppose he published there and not some place where the standard of support is greater than zero?  I really do encourage you to read reviews of the original book, particularly this one, by Donald R. Prothero -- who is something Meyer seemed to be pretending to be, an actual Paleontologist.  Prothero dismantles Meyer for failing to do his homework.

It would almost be interesting to see how Meyer, and his pals, manage to rationalize his first book in the face of such devastating criticism.  You will note that Prothero didn't seem to have to write a book in order to take down Darwin's Doubt.  He used 4 references and a single post on

What does get mentioned in the press release is "intense controversy sparked by Dr. Meyer's book", really?  While you might call some of the critiques intense, but controversial?  I don't think so.  Meyer takes a less than layman's understanding of the Cambrian Diversification, and fails to make a single valid and supportable scientific point.  He wanes and waxes philosophically, but his point is so full of mistakes and efforts to twist what little evidence he does recognize into his philosophy, that you cannot call it controversial, it's simply more of the same from the DI.

The critiques were not focused on his philosophy as much as it was on his errors stemming from the way he cherry-picked small pieces of support while ignoring larger details of actual science that would have contradicted his claims.

'Debating Darwin's Doubt' is not published by a religious imprint, but by the Discovery Institute Press.  So let's see, the author of the first book and a major contributor to the second book is the boss of the organization that happens to own its own publishing house.  Anyone see any potential conflicts there?  Plus, what level of support and proof does the Discovery Institute Press require?  Since they are not a scientific journal or press, what do you think?

Since the book hasn't been released yet, I was again curious about this 'intense controversy' that it mentioned.  I decided to again look it up on Amazon and sample the reviews.  There are nearly 700 reviews and nearly all the positive ones are from people who obviously are already a believer in Creationism/Intelligent Design.  The negative ones did have a share of people who certainly have not drank that particular kool-aid.  There were also a number of critical reviews that dismantled Meyer's claims in a very detailed manner.  What about the editorial reviews?

There are about 18 editorial reviews of 'Darwin's Doubt' and a few of the names jumped out at me.  [The regular text is how the reviewer was described on the review, the italicized comments are mine]
  •  Dr. Wolf-Ekkehard Lonnig, senior scientist emeritus (biologist) at the Max Planck Institute for Plant Breeding Research.  Isn't he on the editorial board of 'Bio-Complexity', the DI in-house pro-ID journal.  He's written often for the DI and even been interviewed by casey luskin himself!  LOL!
  • Dr. Mark McMenamin, paleontologist at Mt. Holyoke College and coauthor of 'The Emergence of Animals'.  And a long term critic of evolutionary theory.
  • Dr. Norman C. Nevin OBE, BSc, MD, FRCPath, FFPH, FRCPE, FRCP; Professor Emeritus in Medical Genetics, Queen's University, Belfast.  We've spoken about him before.  Stephen C. Meyer once referred to a review by Nevin as not being from a known ID supporter, which turned out to be untrue.  Currently Nevin is President of the Centre for Intelligent Design in Scotland, sort of a low-rent version of the Discovery Institute.  I wrote about Nevin in "Intelligent Design, Sh** or get off the Pot!"
  • Dr. Richard Weikart, Professor of History at California State University, Stanislaus; Author of 'From Darwin to Hitler'.  Did he forget to put on his resume that he's a senior fellow at the DI?
  • Dr. Matti Leisola, Professor, Bioprocess Engineering, Aalto University, Finland (emeritus); Editor-in-chief, Bio-Complexity.  Bio-Complexity is the in-house journal of the Biologic Institute, a wholly owned subsidiary of the DI, in other words their pet lab.
  • George Gilder, Technologist, economist, and New York Times bestselling author.  Who is, among other things a founding member of the Discovery Institute, a Senior Fellow at the DI, and also cited 129 times in the article database.
Hope you see one of my points.  Shouldn't the people who write editorial reviews be honest and up-front about connections to the DI and the modern ID movement?  And was just the names I had seen before.  I wonder what I would find if I Googled the rest of the reviewers?

This is not the first time the DI has played such games.  Remember back in 2008 and the infamous list of 700?  The 'list' was a crowning achievement of the DI.  They claimed to have over 700 Doctoral Scientists who signed a petition called "A Scientific Dissent from Darwinism".  The truth was that they seriously overstated many of the credentials of the signatories and also hid many of their connections to the DI and other Creationist organizations.  Once they were busted, the re-released their list with much more modest credentials listed. (Since the "700" keeps coming up . . .)

So while the press release quotes klingy with:
"We are making progress — in changing minds, yes, but also in deepening the argument for ID. Debating Darwin’s Doubt proves that, unequivocally. As the saying goes, ‘The dogs may bark, but the caravan moves on.’ Darwinist defenders may not realize it, but we are leaving them behind."
I don't have much of an expectation that we will see any actual progress.  I don't see a rebuttal of criticisms will do much to change people's minds, especially if they do not bother getting Paleontologist with the expertise to try and refute some of the criticism.  I also don't expect the see a 'deepening of the argument for ID.  I expect more of what the DI has given us in the past -- rhetoric, wishful thinking, and conjecture dressed up in a poor-fitting lab coat.  Lots of fluff, little to no meat, just like Meyer's last two books.

So what's next, once Meyer's rebuttals start getting critiqued, especially becuase of not having a Paleontologist.  I cannot believe there won't be another sequel? Darwin's Doubt --- Debating Darwin's Doubt --- Rebutting Debating Darwin's Doubt?  Maybe the DI could take a page out of the Hitchhikers Guide and have a 5 or 6 book 'trilogy'?  I guess that would depend on anticipated book sales. 

I do want to point out one last thing.  Why did I read about this book release in the "Religious News Service"?  If Intelligent Design has nothing to do with religion, why was this a press release in the Religious News Service (RNS).?  You might think that RNS just happened to pick up the story, doubtful, this is a press release, which means it was submitted to RNS for publication.  Sent by whom, you might ask?  Well the Discovery Institute, I would have to assume, since this hit my mail before their own press release about the book.  Don't you just love the irony?

Monday, July 20, 2015

We'll see that IC remains as potent a weapon in ID's arsenal as it was in 1996.

While waiting patiently for the posts that will lay to rest any idea that Intelligent Design vs Evolution isn't a viable scientific controversy (as promised by the Discovery Institute here ) I read a couple of new posts over on the Discovery Institute's Evolution News and Views blog.

"Biophysicist Matt Baker Is an Intelligent Design Critic Who Doesn't Understand Irreducible Complexity" was one, and since apparently little casey luskin felt so strongly about it, he had to post a second one three days later: 

Typically what drove little casey to such lengths is an article by Matt Baker: "The bacterial flagellar motor: brilliant evolution or intelligent design?"  Good article and is a pretty typical example of something that happened during the Dover Trial.  Remember when Michael Behe, the father of Irreducible Complexity, was cross-examined?  You can read how he addressed one specific issue here.  He was presented with over 50 peer-reviewed publications, 9 books, and a number of textbook chapters about the evolution of the immune system; however, he insisted that this was still not sufficient evidence of evolution, and that it was not “good enough.”

Just so you know the players:
  • Dr Matt Baker was awarded a John Monash Scholarship to complete a PhD in biological physics at Oxford University studying the effects of low temperature on the mechanism of the bacterial flagella motor. He returned to Australia in 2013 and is currently based at the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute where he uses DNA nano-structures to modify bacterial flagella motors to understand how they have arisen. Matt was one of RN's top 5 under 40 scientists in 2015.
  • Mr. Casey Luskin is an attorney with graduate degrees in science and law.
I know, doesn't seem like a fair fight, on the one hand you have someone who specifically studies bacterial flagellum and on the other you have one of the Discovery Institute's lawyers.  Little casey was mentioned in Lauri Lebo's book about the Dover Trial (The Devil in Dover), he was handing out pro-Id pamphlets during the trial.  But don't worry, casey quotes one of the big guns of the Discovery Institute, Wild Bill Dembski.  Maybe that will help his case.

Now I am not going to try and dissect any of the articles.  First of all, I am not a biologist and have never pretended to be one.  Yes, I know that might someday have the DI comment on one of my posts claiming that I am wholly unqualified to have an opinion.  It's one of my bucket list items that I will annoy someone at the DI enough to respond.  But as for being wholly unqualified, I have to disagree.  I am one of the people who the DI aim their marketing campaign toward.  They don't aim at  scientists, they aim at people who vote for various politicians, are school board members and parents of students who can influence the directions school curriculum can take, they aim people who don't have advanced science degrees because they have never offered any evidence that their 'work' is in any way scientific.  They also prefer to aim at people who already believe in their particular brand of kool-aid.  Well by that list I am mostly qualified then, but since they like aiming at people like me, I feel perfectly justified in shooting back. 

What I am mostly interested in tactics.  For example, what tactic did Michael Behe use in his original books 'Darwin's Black Box'?  He took a short list of very complex things, made some completely unsupported claims about they being irreducibly complex and called it a night.  Do you disagree?   Don't forget that during the Dover Trial, he admitted that no one, including himself, was doing any work to support his claims of irreducible complexity.  Has anything changed since he published in 1996?  Remember that he also said similar things in 1993 (his part of the infamous 'Of Pandas and People'), but hadn't coined the phrase 'Irreducible Complexity' yet.  So in the past 22 years, who has done the research and offered the real scientific proof supporting Intelligent Design or Irreducible Complexity?  No one, particularly not casey!

No support places Behe's claims strictly in the realm of supposition and wishful thinking.  Intelligent Design adherents wants there to be a designer they can later claim to be God (remember the Wedge Strategy made that very clear), so they see design where there is, at best, the appearance of design.  When faced with actual scientific evidence that is contrary to their claims, they simple say 'it's not enough'.  That's what I think it took Casey two posts to say.

Here is where little casey quotes Wild Bill.  He [casey] seems to agree that if the biologist cannot provide a complete evolutionary path, that it's not good enough.  My question is why is that?  Behe offered claims with no support at all.  Baker offers support for his example, as did the 50+ documents presented to Behe at the Dover Trial.  But there seems to be a dichotomy here.  On the one hand if you fail to offer an absolute 100% perfect explanation, along with some level of scientific support, your claim just 'isn't good enough', yet when you offer no support at all, it gets accepted as gospel by people like little casey.

Baker never intended for his claim to be a complete answer, but it does contradict several of the points specified by Behe.  Points that were also presented during the Dover Trial which pretty well ruined Behe's day.  In fact, rarely is real scientific work ever complete.  People work on a part and parcel and other scientists come along and add to the knowledge pool.  This tactic of demanding 100% absolute perfection in evolutionary examples and yet offer no corresponding level of support when pushing forth Intelligent Design is, unfortunately all to common.  These two articles are perfect examples.

I do have one last question for little casey.  Why did he quote Wild Bill Dembski's "Rebuttal to Reports by Opposing Expert Witnesses"?  This was written in 2005 in response to reports of the 6 expert witnesses that were going to be testifying for the plaintiffs in the Dover Trial.  In case you forgot, Dembski was not on the side of the plaintiffs.  Wouldn't Dembski's responses gone over better during the court case itself?  I mean if his rebuttal is such a wonder piece of scholarship, why is it hidden away on a website to be used  a decade later in a very defensive way.  Let us all not forget that Dembski had his chance to testify and backed out.  So I take  his rebuttal with a large bag of salt.  He didn't present it where it might have done his side some good.  but here we are a decade later and little casey trots it out like it is a viable rebuttal.

So when little casey said "We'll see that IC remains as potent a weapon in ID's arsenal as it was in 1996."  I can only agree with him, although I might word it a little differently.  I think the word 'potent' is not used correctly here.  Usually when something has the 'potency' that IC has had over the past couple of decades, the better turn of phrase is 'impotent', unless the object is to sell books to believers, then I guess it did its job.  Hasn't impacted science very much, but it did help Behe's book sales.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Micro-Macro re-dux

Oh boy, I am so excited!  A new post over on the Discovery Institute's Evolution News and Views site, and one by a new poster instead of one of the usual suspects!  Maybe this one will . . . oh who am I kidding.  Anyway a new voice . . . at least one I haven't noticed before.

OK, so what does the new guy have to say.  Here's his post: "Microevolution versus Macroevolution: Two Mistakes", oh and his name is Kirk Durston.

Before getting into it, let me explain my stand on the whole subject.  It's bullshit!  When I learned biology in HS and college, Micro-evolution was the study of evolution on micro-organisms.  There was no such term as Macro-evolution.  Seriously!  I'm not kidding.  Since then, which there have been many changes in evolutionary theory and not one of them describes different evolutionary processes for distinguishing between variation within a currently defined species and changes above the species level -- not one!

So where did the term originate.  Of course Kirk doesn't get into that.  I'll use the words of Dr. Steve Kay, who at the time was the Dean of UCSD's Division of Biological Sciences.  Currently he is the Dean of the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.  From their website:

"Dr. Kay, who is a member of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), is one of the world’s top experts on genes and circadian rhythms. Having published more than 200 papers, he was named by Thomson Reuters as one of “The World’s Most Influential Scientific Minds” in 2014 and has been cited in Science magazine’s “Breakthroughs of the Year” three times since 1997."
He was asked this question during a discussion on evolution and its importance in modern biology:
"Do you feel that the terms micro and macro evolution are simply a dodge, in the sense that creationists and ID'ers are simply looking for a way out when confronted by the evidence of evolution presented in species with much shorter life cycles (and hence generations), such as bacteria?"
His reply:
"dr_steve_kay(A) Yes, i think that micro and macro evolution is used as a dodge. Evolutionary biologists use micro evolution - the study for example of how microbes can change in successive generations, to learn about detailed specific mechanisms that may contribute to the larger picture of how organisms evolve under natural conditions." 
So when Creationists and various Creationist Group, of which anyone with a working brain numbers the Discovery Institute among that list, came up with the whole micro-macro argument.  Now why would they do something like that?

I see things pretty simply.  Scientists didn't start using the term to differentiate between two different types of evolution, Creationists developed the term to save face.  Because when denying all of evolution, something they had been doing since Darwin published, they found themselves being marginalized because they could not seriously deny much of the evidence without sounding like Luddites, or worse.  So in a Public Relations move, they drew a line in the sand and put all the evidence they could not repudiate on one side of the line and evidence they thought that still could have some success against on the other and invented the term.

So after time, more and more people have been using the term, but the reality is no one has yet to define a difference in evolutionary processes that would characterize any real difference between them.  Kirk here doesn't even try.

He claims that there is a common problem by both evolutionary supporters and evolution deniers (he calls them skeptics, but they are well passed skepticism by now, aren't they?).  OK, this common problem is a failure to properly differentiate micro and macro evolution.  He does admit that
"The definition of macroevolution is surprisingly non-precise for a scientific discipline."
 Let me be clear, there is no scientific discipline called 'Maro-evolution'.  No college is teaching a class on it.  They teach evolution.  Macro-evolution is a label, nothing more.  So I would not expect there to be a precise scientific definition for it.  But apparently Kirk seems to think one is necessary.  Of course if a scientist created one, I'm sure Kirk or one of his buddies will find a way to draw a new line in the sand over it.  As a label, it's become convenient, but without an evolutionary process differentiator, there is still no actual difference between micro and macro.

So in a long-winded way, he proposes two definitions:

  • Microevolution: genetic variation that requires no statistically significant increase in functional information.

  • Macroevolution: genetic change that requires a statistically significant increase in functional information.
Even his only difference is 'degree of change', not how the changes come into being.  I do have an issue with his definitions.  Genetic variation within a current species is quantifiable statistically -- so he's the one who uses the vague 'significant'.  Seriously, what is significant?  I feel pretty sure that the differences between Culex pipiens and Culex pipiens molestus is not insignificant.

His use of the term 'functional information' is suspect because of the frequent attempts to use 'information' as some artificial delineation when looking at genetic changes (Dembski for example).

So what we have here is yet another attempt at defining an artificial difference.  Evolution is Evolution and until you identify a different process, or set of processes, for there being an actual difference between larger and smaller changes, the whole macro-micro argument is nothing more than a smokescreen.

Friday, July 17, 2015

The Discovery Institute has something special planned

My Google Alerts for Intelligent Design sent me this little gem "For Next Week's 90th Scopes Trial Anniversary, We've Got Something Special Planned".  It's by one of my "favorite' Discovery Institute (DI) mouthpieces, whom I call klingy.  

Now before reading the article, I tried to think about what would be truly special that the DI should be telling us about.  I know what I hope it is, but I doubt I am correct.  What I think they ought to be doing is some actual scientific research.  I know, I set the bar way too high, but that is the one area in which their pet religious idea might stand a chance of getting a smidgen of respect from the scientific community.  It's also the area in which that have been wholly lacking.  But now let me read the article and see what klingy has planned for us.

Oh wait, I completely ignored a key component in the title, the 90th anniversary of the Scopes Trial.  Hmmm, that does change my thinking.  Based on my experience with the writings of klingy and his buddies, what might they be cooking up?  One last guess and then I will read the actual article.  The DI's treatment of most historical figures and events is to twist them around and make it look like the figure or event in some way supports their pet religious concept.  Let's see, if memory serves, and I really don't feel like doing the research so I am working from memory, but haven't they re-cast Alfred Russel Wallace as an ID supporter?  Yes, OK, I cheated and checked my past blog entries and here it is "DI's next cruel trick -- re-baptizing Alfred Russel Wallace".  They have also done their best to blame Darwin on everything from the Civil War to recent bouts of violence.  I think they also tried to re-christen Thomas Jefferson and Isaac Newton, although that might have been someone else.  In any event there is my new prediction, they are somehow going to take the Scopes Trial and turn it into something that they claim validates ID.  OK, enough fooling around, time to read klingy's little article.

First thing I noticed is klingy apparently gathered the whole crowd and everyone has a part to play.  The names are common ones for anyone who has been reading about the shenanigans at the DI, and their pet 'research' lab, the Biologic Institute:  Berlinski, Nelson, Axe, Gauger, Luskin, and even klingy himself  had a hand in whatever is coming down the pike.  Oh this should be good.  Is it time for another Paul Nelson Day? Oh no, that's in April.  OK, so the gang has been gathered . . . now what are they going to do with their 'brain trust'?  Wait a moment, I noticed Behe isn't on the list.  How could they not invite Michael Behe? 

OK, the next point makes no sense:

" . . . Darwinists' fiction that time somehow stands still and has done so for nearly a century." 
What part of science has made any claims that time has stood still for nearly a century?  I know scientific progress has continued, in spite of what Creationists (including klingy and his buds) have done.  What has pretty well stayed pretty still are the Creationists arguments.  I mean have their arguments changed much since William Jennings Bryan testified at that trial?  Other than new labels, nothing underneath seems to have changed at all. SImply put "God Did It! And if you don't believe that you are going to burn in hell!"  I think that sums it up pretty well, don't you?

Next up, he really stretches things:
"They present the subject of evolution versus intelligent design as if there were no real debate, as if nothing much had happened in science in the past 90 years to challenge Darwinian biology or to suggest an alternative . . ."
First of all, is there a REAL debate?  Sort of!  It's a cultural debate, not a scientific one.  And there have been many challenges to the Theory of Evolution since 1925.  Darwin himself would probably barely recognize many pieces and parts of the modern theory.  Although I do understand how klingy might be mistaken, since they would much prefer to try and poke holes in the 1925 version of evolutionary theory, since their hole-poking has proven so ineffective against current science. 

Oh hell!  Klingy doesn't really say anything else, but he's trying to make us think he's got something:

"The past couple of years have been particularly important. It's the scientific controversy that can no longer be denied. Next week we are going to document that in a very substantial fashion."
Does anyone believe either of those two things.  That they have somehow done something in the past two years that will make their imagined 'scientific controversy' a reality?  Does anyone think if they really had anything, they would have sat on it just to deliver it on the 90th anniversary of a trial they their side won? 

I will borrow a phrase from one of my favorite movies.  Klingy used the word 'substantial',  "I don't not think that word means what you think it means", klingy.  The Discovery Institute, along with their pet lab and even their own publishing group, hasn't been able to provide anything substantial in the way of science yet.  While I look forward to what he will be posting next week, I full expect klingy and his gang will meet my expectations, as usual.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Is Creationism a form of Child Abuse?

By itself that's too vague a question to seriously address, but something like that never stops davey klinghoffer, one of the mouthpieces for the Discovery Institute.  You can read his post, but I'm not sure you really need to.  ('Lawrence Krauss, Influential Physicist and Atheist, on "Creationism" as "Child Abuse')  Now before getting into it, I do have a question that klingy will never answer.  Why is he, in his role as DI cheerleader, addressing an question involving Creationism?

Does that make you think?  I mean after years of trying to distance themselves from Creationism, they can't seem to shake that particular connection.  I'm glad they keep going back to their roots, because it makes their attempts at disassociation transparent.  No one ever bought that Intelligent Design wasn't, and isn't, Creationism.  So does this, and other posts, reveal a change in policy of the DI?  I doubt it, but I do so enjoy reminding them about this dichotomy.

OK, back to the central issue.  Is Creationism a form of Child Abuse?  While Lawrence Krauss toned it down by calling it a mild form of abuse, I'm having trouble comparing Creationism to any other form of recognized child abuse, mild or not.  I don't really think I am in agreement with klingy all that much.  His defense of Creationism isn't based on innate honesty about child abuse, his is more a knee-jerk reaction to anything that smacks of criticism of his religious beliefs.  I can't reconcile Creationism with abuse.  I do have issues with some of the other things klingy said, and we will get to them shortly.  But first I want to discuss the impact of Creationism when taught to children.

What it does do is fail to adequately prepare children for higher education and. in my opinion, the real world.  Creationism, particularly the Evangelical version, is not a good basis for a science education, which ties into so many potential careers.  Look at the kids taught Creationism by John Freshwater in Mt Vernon OH.  In subsequent classes one of the constant issues was teachers having to re-teach that part of the curriculum because of Freshwater.  Is that fair to those children?  Teachers have a responsibility and when you teach a non-scientific subject as if it was science, you are doing a disservice to those students.  To me it would be the same as teaching Astrology or Alchemy.

Another example, a few years ago the University of California won a lawsuit brought about by a group of Christian schools and several specific students.  The gist was those schools used textbooks that declared the Bible infallible and rejected evolution.  The ruling didn't call out the fact they taught Creationism, but the fact that they failed to teach a number important scientific topics.  While the plaintiffs claimed religious persecution, the focus was on what they failed to do.

I recall walking through the Creation Museum a few years back and listening to parents reading the various placards and 'explaining' the exhibits to their kids.  What I felt more than anything was pity for when those kids start hearing actual science. Improperly preparing our children is unfair, but I can't quantify it as abuse. 

Now, back to klingy's comments.  Here is one of the things he said that cracked me up:

"In the controversy over academic freedom -- that is, whether laws should permit public school teachers to share relevant mainstream science with students even if it's critical of Darwinism -- it is precisely the folks wrongly dismissed as "creationists" who would maximize the flow of scientific information, while Darwin defenders like Krauss withhold knowledge from young people."
Davey, you are wrong!  Current laws permit, and encourage, teachers to share mainstream science with students.  The thing klingy can't seem to remember is that Creationism, and it's little brother Intelligent Design, are not mainstream science, they aren't even science.  They are religious propositions.

Davey's claim that Creationism is simply something that is 'critical of Darwinism' is nothing more than a smokescreen.  Since his religion is unacceptable in science class, claiming that is simply being withheld because it's critical to current science is a tactic, a dodge.  The reason Creationism, in all it's forms, doesn't belong in science class is because it's not science.  There is no evidence supporting any of it.  There have been scientific theories that raised issues with Evolution that have been taught in science class.  But these were legitimate scientific theories, not religious ideas dressed in an ill-fitting lab coat.

OK, one final note.  I've said it before and I do believe it.  There are quite a few age-restricted activities like driving, voting, joining the military . . . to name a few.  I firmly believe children should not be exposed to religion until they are old enough to understand it.  I know that won't be a popular concept among theists, but it's the only one that makes sense to me.

Like anything else, you can find extreme examples, like someone refusing medical care to a child because of their own personal religious beliefs.  But the abuse is in the action, regardless of the rationale.  But even saying that, I can't call Creationism/ID 'child abuse'.  Unscientific, yes, Unsupported by evidence, certainly, but not child abuse. 

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

ID Inquiry, seriously?

The Discovery Institute is launching a new segment in their 'ID the Future' podcast.  Aside from questioning the future of Intelligent Design, the new segment is to encourage people to email questions to the editors of Evolution News and Views (ENV) and they will find ID experts to answer them.  It's going to be called "ID Inquiry".

While I am sure they will be able to find ID experts to answer questions, what concerns me is the obvious filtering I believe the questions will go through before any of their 'experts' get to answer them.  I imagine nearly any substantive question requiring any level of actual support and evidence will be overlooked in favor of questions that can be answered with vague generalities, suppositions, or a creative twisting of the facts will be addressed instead.

If anyone out there wants to try and listen to it. you might comment here.  I would love to be proven wrong about what I imagine 'ID Inquiry' will turn out to be, but since I have other ID resource sites (like Dembski's 'Uncommon Decent' and the ENV site itself) that do exactly what I believe ID Inquiry will do, I am not very confident anything will change.

One last note, what do you think the Future of ID will be?  I've made my prediction a while back, but it does bear repeating.  I believe that in the near future ID will disappear in favor of a new label overlaid on the same ideas so the whole argument can be re-packaged yet again.  I mean didn't ID replace 'Creation Science' when it failed to make any real headway?  And didn't 'Creation Science' come about after court rulings against 'Creationism' came to pass.  I see ID doing the exact same thing.  Oh it won't happen as quickly as I would like because of the investment they have in ID, not to mention one of the few biochemists who supports parts of it.  Now that I think about it, didn't it start after the Dover ruling when the DI started saying they weren't pushing ID into the classroom and started their 'critical thinking' and 'academic freedom' arguments?  Getting killed in a lawsuit seemed to be the driver in changes. 

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Probability vs Possibility

The Discovery Institute, more specifically davey klinghoffer, recently thought he was shocking the world by pointing out that Richard Dawkins called himself an 'agnostic'.  ("Richard Dawkins's Roll of the Dice") Aside from the fact he's called himself that before (See The God Delusion), I can't understand anyone being surprised, well that is anyone except maybe klingy.  But then I am always surprised by what klingy things is newsworthy.

I think it comes down to an understanding of what is 'possible' and what is 'probable'.  Let's use one of my personal favorite examples.  My wife believes in ghosts and other paranormal stuff.  When we get into a discussion about it, which we do so rarely, she feels victorious when I have to admit to the possibility of the existence of ghosts.  To me, I am being honest, to her I am admitting that I am wrong in not believing in them.

By honest I am saying that since no one has brought forth evidence which absolutely negates the possibility of ghosts, by leaving that door cracked to the tiniest of margins, I am being honest.  The reason is simply that it is impossible to prove a negative.  Proof requires some evidence, not supposition or wishful thinking.

So while being honest leave the door cracked, what do I think is the probability that someone will walk in with actual evidential support for the existence of ghosts?  While I hate resorting to mathematics, I think the probability is as conceivably close to zero as you can be without actually being zero. I can't say zero because I have to leave that door cracked an infinitesimally tiny amount.

Of course the fact that no one has actually brought forth any real evidence for ghosts doesn't stop someone who desperately wants to believe in them.  But what I believe my wife is doing is confusing 'possibility' with 'probability'.  In normal day to day conversation if the topic comes up, I simply state that I do not in any way shape or form believe in ghosts or any of the other paranormal crap.  It's only when you want to get technical that I admit that the door isn't 100% closed.  But what my wife, and others, fail to realize is that the door might be cracked, it takes real, actual, falsifiable and repeatable evidence to force it open any wider.

That's what I think happened here to Richard Dawkins.  By leaving the door opening the tiniest amount, some people, like klingy, think he no longer considers himself an Atheist, which is ridiculous.  I do wish klingy would take the same advice he tried to pass off to Richard Dawkins in his final line and just be quiet.  But then he doesn't get paid to be quiet, he gets paid to try and find an anti-science spin on  . . . well . . . anything.

I do have to add . . . if Intelligent Design is not a religious proposition, then why is klingy commenting about Dawkins at all?  We all know the reason, but will klingy ever admit it?  That would require the same level of honesty Dawkins used when describing himself as an 'agnostic'.  I wouldn't suggest holding your breath in anticipation.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Atheist or Agnostic . . . or maybe it's time for a new Label

I occasionally get some feedback about my comments and often get accused of being an Atheist or an Agnostic.  Actually I have been accused of much more, but for the purposes of this conversation, let's focus on Atheist and Agnostic.  It recently made me think that neither of those labels actually apply . . . I think it's time for a new category, one that might make more sense when/if opinions are polled.

As I understand Atheism, it is principally the belief that there are no deities.  Often the term is used as a lame attack because they do not share the attackers particular view.  But, again, as I understand it, it is the belief that there are no deities at all.

Agnosticism is more the belief that there are deities, but understanding them is beyond our capabilities.  Rarely have I heard it used as an attack, like 'Atheist!', but it is often used to categorize or pigeonhole someone.

Are there really only two choices if you don't believe in one specific religious tradition?

I disagree, I think there are more than two types of non-theists.  What about those of us who really don't care about the existence of deities?  While that may sound rather strange, think about it for a moment.  Does having a deity supposedly looking over your shoulder really impact many people's behavior?  Really?  How many people who self-identify as Christians behave in a decidedly non-Christian manner?  You probably know as many as I do.  The Sunday piety gives way toward behavior that wouldn't pass muster.  And throughout it all they simple claim to not being perfect and many of them 'confess' their sins and never take responsibility for their actions.  Islam is marketed as a religion of peace, yet the news is loaded with example after example of the opposite?  The less said about Scientology the better!  Is that even a religion?  My experience is that as a group, Buddhists seems to come the closest to their religion's ideals, but even then it's nearly more arbitrary than deliberate.

While I know you can come up with examples of theists acting in accordance to their published standards of behavior, but be honest, is it the norm?  Even the self-proclaimed leaders of various religious groups tend to have trouble maintaining their behavior.  If you disagree, you might Google Grant Hass, Jessica Hahn, or Debra Murphree.  Of course if those names don't ring a bell, you might ask Ted Haggard, Jim Bakker, or Jimmy Swaggart who they are.

So if being a theist doesn't seem to have much of an impact on actual behavior, what about being a non-theist?  I know theists like to claim that their belief systems are the source of all morality, but is belief in a deity required to follow a moral code?  I think not.  While I know theists like to think their rules are the source of our laws and societal mores, that is not a very convincing argument.  Most of the so-called rules were nothing more than standards codified through various means.  Such standards of behavior pre-date modern religions and if some Christian, for example, wants to throw the Ten Commandments as the source of American Jurisprudence, an honest Christian would know that those rules were not original to early Christianity.  But that's one of those annoying little bits of facts too many Christians don't like to hear.  But studying a bit about Mesopotamia and the Hittites could certainly be enlightening.

OK, we are getting a little away from my central point.  Are Atheist and Agnostic the only terms to describe a non-theist?  Since behavior seems less influenced whether you are a theist or not, I think a new term is in order, so how does 'Apathist' sound to you?  I'm not making this word up, it's a valid dictionary word that relates exactly to what I have been saying.  But I want to popularize it's use because I believe it to be much more appropriate than Atheist or Agnostic.  At first I was looking for something else, something more . . . well . . . positive I guess because "Apathy' doesn't tend to be a positive or proactive stance, but I was reminded of an old joke which punchline described Ignorance and Apathy as "I don't know and I don't care" and realized that there is a large category of people, theist and non-theist alike who really don't care.

For the Theist, the existence of one particular deity might not be in doubt, the deity doesn't seem to have much influence on their behavior.  As evidence by the Baptist minister who after preaching against drinking, smoking, and sex smacking a woman (not his wife) on the ass after telling a dirty joke with a beer in one hand and a cigar in the next at the social gathering following his service.  As for the Atheist, I think it's pretty self explanatory.

I think I fall into that category.  For the most part, I do not care.  I don't care what your religion is and I don't care to claim one religious tradition for myself.  I don't live my life according to the rules claimed to be from a capricious deity, I prefer society's customs, mores, and laws -- regardless of source. 

Rather than argue about the existence of deities or whether or not we can understand what they are and what they want, I really don't care about them one way or another.  I do not judge my actions against what one deity or another might expect.  I don't play the WWJD (What would Jesus Do) game when considering options.  I think I am more down to earth.  I consider what would my spouse or my parents think about a possible action of mine.  I try and think how my actions will affect the people around me.  But I don't sweat the idea of being judged on some standard set by someone claiming to speak for a deity. And I do my best to take responsibility for my actions in the here and now!

It almost sounds like I shouldn't care about this whole conversation, but think about this blog.  I do care when someone tries to force me into their idea of what a person should believe or not onto me or others.  Your beliefs are your beliefs and efforts to make other people toe some imaginary line so you can have brownie points with your version of a deity really does piss me off.  When you try and steal a scientific curriculum to push your belief system, I get annoyed!  When a politician panders for votes using his religious beliefs, I know which way my vote won't be going.  Other people's actions define their beliefs much more clearly than what they say about their beliefs.  I think more people than not would fall into the Apathist camp rather than theist, atheist, or agnostic.

So, there you have it.  Next time someone accuses me, I know how I will respond.  Bet it confused the hell right out of them :-)

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Academic Freedom is not the same as Free Speech

"Defend academic freedom -- even when you disagree", a blog entry at  Interesting article, but I think -- at least in my opinion, misses one point.  Academic Freedom does not apply to everything an academic says or does, ONLY to those things they say or do that relate to the curriculum area they work within.

Professor George, the author of the post, discusses Academic Freedom and 'right of freedom of thought and expression' as if they are synonymous.  I disagree.  For example when a Humanities professor espouses an opinion on a biological subject, they are expressing their freedom of thought and expression, but they should not be covered by policies on academic freedom.  I think considering any utterances by an academic as protected by academic freedom is expanding the purpose of academic freedom to dangerous levels.

We consider free speech a right in this country, but it is a right that comes with responsibilities.  You do have the right to yell 'Fire!' in a crowded theater, but you also bear responsibility for what happens next if there was no fire.  You can exercise free speech, but you also have to be able to handle the responsibilities that go with it.  Academics who utter statements, especially statements you might disagree with, are exercising free speech, but if it's not within their curriculum area, it is not academic freedom and deserve no special protection.

If an academic institution takes action against a professor due to comments they made, they should cautious when something truly is within the academic area the professor teaches, but any other comments are subject to different rules.  Academic freedom should not be a shelter behind which an academic can assume protection for anything they might say or do.

I've said this before and I will say it again.  Academic Freedom is not a license to say or do anything you want.  It is designed to allow professors to communicate ideas or facts (including those that are inconvenient to external political groups or to authorities) without being targeted for repression, job loss, or imprisonment.  But in all cases, at least here in the US, the focus has always been within a specific curriculum area

The reason I consider this important does go back to the whole Creationism vs Science issue.  A teacher who teaches Creationism in a biology class is not exercising academic freedom.  Creationism has been found over and over again to not be scientific.  Claiming academic freedom for teaching a specific religious view is false because such a viewpoint doesn't belong in a science classroom.  That doesn't mean Creationism cannot be mentioned in a historical context, much the way Alchemy is mentioned in Chemistry.  But to actively teach it on par with actual scientific theories is an abuse of the concept of Academic Freedom.