Tuesday, December 20, 2016

News Bias . . . Yes, this is a real thing!

A recent conversation came to mind when I saw Prof McGrath's post "What's your Source".  I loved the opening sentence:

"Does it match your perception of these sources?  If not, do you assume that the issue is with the chart, or with your perception?"
Here's the chart in question:

The conversation was mercifully brief with someone who considers CNN a liberal partisan news organization and Fox News as the bastion for truth.  I wish I had this graphic with me during that brief, but memorable conversation.

For me, I find the graphic very close to my own perceptions.  I might have moved the Huffington Post a bit lower on the Journalistic Quality axis and maybe NPR a tiny bit more to the left on the Partisan Bias axis, but for the most part the only thing I really have trouble with is the oval that contains Fox News reaching nearly to the Analytical.  I don't watch much of Fox News, so maybe there is a Fox show or two that lean that way, but my experience would have ruled against that.  The shows I have seen fall much further to the right and at best would rarely come under the heading of 'Meets High Standards".

In fact of all the news organizations, Politifact usually measure Fox News much lower on any scale of truthfulness, rating their average at 60% being untruths, or as I was brought up to call them, lies.  CNN, the news service much maligned by most of the conservatives that I know, came in at 20% untruths.  If you wonder about what political ax Politifact grinds, you might do some homework and find that unlike Fox News, Politifact doesn't seem to care about content, only how the content relates to the actual facts.

So there you have it.  I would be interested in feedback and where you would rate your usual sources for news, as compared to this chart.  So, if you feel like it, leave a comment or two.  My usual sources are NPR, NBC, my local paper (Dayton Daily News -- which my much more right-leaning spouse calls the 'Dayton Daily Liberal'), and Google News.  But, unlike some, I try and trace information back to sources rather than just accept the headlines as gospel.  For example if Fox has a story and cite Reuters, I nearly always find the Reuters story and rarely find it says what Fox News said it did.  But that's just me!  It's not just "What are your Sources", but checking your source material as well.

As for my own political leanings, I would have said more of a Centrist for years, even though I was a Republican.  But recent Republican activities over the past couple of decades has made me an independent.  I still lean a little left on social issues, right on fiscal conservation, and most interested in accuracy from my news sources than any sort of spin.  Which is why my expectation of Fox News, in particular, is pretty low . . . and they seem to meet that expectation quite regularly.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Let's Rename the Discovery Institute to the 'Re-writing History Institute'

I have to wonder what passes for a scholarship at the Discovery Institute (DI).  One of their most common, and typically disreputable, tactics involves a fanciful re-telling of events from the past. Their collective 'recollection' of the Dover Trial is something I've commented on regularly, their re-baptizing historical figures -- such as Thomas Jefferson and Alfred E. Wallace -- as Intelligent Design proponents is another example.  When you look at all the effort they keep spending trying to vilify Charles Darwin as the sole person responsible for Hitler and the Holocaust and you really do get the idea that there is absolutely no one at the DI who bothers with actual history or even what they might remember from grade-school history classes.

I don't know if you are familiar with alt-history, it's a genre of fictional literature where a historical event's outcome is changed and the story that follows chronicles those changes and subsequent events.  For example What if Germany had won World War II, or if the South had won the Civil War.  Amazon Prime Video has an alt-history series called "The Man In The High Castle" about Germany and Japan splitting the United States following a very different WWII.  Alt-history is usually big events with widespread changes and it can make some interesting reading.

The DI's version of alt-history isn't for entertainment, well not intentionally.  Rather than make it clear that it is an alternate version of past events, they present their version as if it actually happened that way.  A good example is their latest from the 'Anti-Historical Society' of the DI.  we have them placing NASA in the middle of a lawsuit that wasn't against NASA to begin with.  They are again trying to market alt-history by re-writing the David Coppedge lawsuit.  Here's their post, "NASA on Trial: David Coppedge Fell Victim to Anti-ID Zeal at America's Space Agency", by one of their regular mouthpieces, davey 'klingy' klinghoffer.

When I say the lawsuit didn't involve NASA, what I mean is Coppedge was an employee of Caltech, not NASA.  NASA was the customer of the CalTech who runs Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL).  Now anyone who knows about government contracts, the government doesn't have much say in hiring and firing.  If the people assigned by CalTech can do, and are doing, the job, the government will say very little.  I know, I spent 20 years as a contractor working on over 12 different projects.  The government-side of that relationship can actually get themselves in trouble if they interfere with the decisions of the contractor, as long as the job is getting done.  The lawsuit itself didn't even name NASA as a plaintiff:

 Do you see NASA listed?  I don't, but since when does the DI allow facts interfere with their re-writing of history.

Before getting into their post, you might think back for a few about David Coppedge.  He was a JPL system administrator who worked there for 12 years (hired in 1996 as a contractor and later directly for CalTech/JPL) before his religious zeal started getting him in trouble.  He was considered senior because of the length of employment and was given an additional responsibility as a Team Lead, which was an unpaid administrative position.  Apparently he wasn't performing it well and there were multiple reports of harassment over California Proposition 8 (gay marriage) and Intelligent Design.  It was the harassment that caused his problems, not his religious beliefs.  If you read the decision you will find that his religious beliefs were well known and weren't a bar to being hired as a contractor and then eventually hired directly with JPL.  If you are familiar with the contracting world, a contractor that gets hired by a client usually shows superior performance and reliability, but you have to keep your skills current and handle your responsibilities.  When you don't, well you find yourself looking for work, just like Coppedge!

Things seemed to start Coppedge's downhill slide when he was first removed from an unpaid additional duty because he wasn't doing it well.  He sued for that, claiming religious discrimination.  Later he was let go as part of downsizing at JPL and he added all that to his suit.  In a nutshell, he became a poor employee, who had a habit of harassing other employees over his religious and homophobic beliefs, did not get a long well with customers, and didn't keep his skill set current -- so when his current project was downsized -- he was let go.  There was no evidence of religious discrimination, other than in the mind of Coppedge and his lawyers . . . Oh, and apparently the Discovery Institute.  If you want more, you can search this blog, there are too many posts to list.  Or, better, you might read the decision in his lawsuit.  It reveals a great deal about Coppedge and why he was removed from a position and eventually let go.  From reading the DI's latest, apparently they haven't bothered reading the decision.

Klingy has forgotten to mention a few things, like the harassment of his co-workers, the customer complaints about Coppedge's work, the conflicts with management, and  . . . best of all . . . Coppedge's own acknowledgement that the people who weren't downsized were superior to him in their skills.  No, the only thing klingy is interested in is painting the man as a martyr for the cause, the Intelligent Design (ID) cause.  it's pretty evident when klingy says things like:
"He had taken a shine to Illustra Media's series of documentaries laying out the evidence for ID in biology and cosmology."
That's a rather tepid view of his interest.  He was an Creationist/ID supporter well before his job at CalTech, it was a known quantity and didn't stop them from hiring him.  But does klingy mention that the trouble with Coppedge's employment started after he was doing more than just offering his opinions, that he was pressuring people to the point of harassment and even had a list of people showing that he needed to approach them again . . . Again?  That his harassing behavior was further exposed when he complained about the Holiday Party not being called a Christmas Party multiple times, or that his opposition to California Proposition 8 caused him to accuse one of his managers that 'he must hate children!'.  No, none of that matters to klingy, just that after years of employment, klingy thinks is ended because of his 'shine' to a set of DVDs about ID.

This isn't the first time klingy has tried to re-write history about Coppedge, the last time was just this
past May, "Time to Re-Write History . . . Again". The last time klingy said that:
"Coppedge's claims that his advocacy of Intelligent Design (ID) was always done in 'the most respectful, appropriate manner' and 'If anyone expressed disinterest, he says, he immediately backed down'"
Yet the testimony from his co-workers found that the opposite was true, he not only was persistent, but had a list of people to approach again . . . approaching someone again isn't something I would consider 'respectful and appropriate'.  The decision specifically stated:
" . . . the evidence reflects that Coppedge was less skilled than those retained, regarding the skills needed on Cassini going forward; Coppedge himself testified that the other SAs [System Administrators] were more expert in these areas."
Yes, so this time around the DI is changing the tune a bit, claiming that:
"Coppedge made the mistake of misjudging one coworker's attitude. Soon she was complaining about him to their supervisor, and before you knew it, the HR department was conducting a full-scale witch-hunt. A mild-mannered individual for whom advancing NASA's mission was a long-held dream come to true, David Coppedge was the witch."
First of all, klingy, it wasn't just one complaint, but multiple, and mild-mannered individuals do not behave as Coppedge did, to the point of having to apologize to at least one manager.  HR also didn't get immediately involved until the managers saw a pattern of behavior.  Once the pattern was established, JPL needed to take action.  Coppedge's religious beliefs might be his rationalization for his behavior, but it was that unprofessional and harassing behavior that got him disciplined and it was his less than stellar skill set that got him downsized.  But klingy and the DI will never admit it.
I do have to laugh at this line:
"Coppedge tells his own story for the first time. "
That's not particularly true either.  Coppedge told his story over and over again to anyone who would listen, he also told his story in court.  The problem is his story didn't match the facts, but --  once again -- when do facts seem to matter to the DI?

In my opinion, religious beliefs do not trump personal and professional responsibilities.  Coppedge, among the other pseudo-martyrs the Di likes to parade, allowed their belief set to drive their behavior until they crossed personal and professional boundaries.  Too often they believe that their religious beliefs will protect them from repercussions, much like the pedophile priests once believed.  Politicians might be afraid of losing votes by holding religious nut-jobs accountable, but businesses can't really afford to keep such people on the payroll.  Coppedge is a bully, and as such was held accountable and removed from a position of administrative responsibility.  His firing was primarily related to his lack of the needed skillset, by his own admission.

Imagine the lawsuits if JPL failed to take action against Coppedge's bullying?  Do you think his harassment wouldn't have escalated over time?  Does it ever not escalate once the harasser believes they will not be held accountable?  What would the impact to CalTech and JPL if they kept poor performers on the books?  Government organizations hire other organizations for their expertise, not for poor performance.

In this case, CalTech did the right thing, the court made the right ruling, and the DI just can't accept it so they do what they always do . . . spin!

Monday, December 5, 2016

Little Kennie Ham Tolerant or Intolerant?

Little kennie has a fun post, but I think he confuses the idea of 'intolerance'.  Before getting into that, let me remind you that in my opinion kennie's idea of religious freedom is that he is free to believe as he wishes and he is also free to force you to believe as he wishes as well.  As I have said before, I disagree with kennie on that idea -- so it should come as no surprise that I disagree with him on this one as well.

Here is his 'Tolerance' post.  You can read it for yourself, but the bottom line is that, according to kennie, he's not intolerant when he argues against something like gay marriage, it's gay marriage proponents who are intolerant of his pseudo-bible-based opinions.  So . . . kennie wanting to take rights away from other people isn't intolerance, but anyone who wants to remove kennie's right to force other people to follow his narrow sort-of-religious viewpoint are guilty of not being tolerant?  See my point?  I think kennie's trying to play the victim card again.  "Oh woe is me because people don't want to follow what I say the Bible says!"

Seriously, look at this quote:

"Ultimately there are only two religions—that of God's Word and of man’s word."
Let us never forget that there are actually hundreds, if not thousands, of religions in the world and they do not agree on what constitutes 'God's Word', so what makes kennie's ramblings the ultimate authority . . . yea, I know, he has a book . . . but then don't most religions have a book?  Also don't some religions use the same book as kennie and yet come up with widely divergent proclamations about 'God's Word'?  I do love how he capitalized the 'G' and 'W', but left 'man's word' all lowercase. To kennie, everything is a binary set, either you agree with kennie or you are the enemy.

So, as you can see I disagree with little kennie.  Let me spell it out more clearly so even he might understand.  I am perfectly tolerant of your views, kennie, and by that I mean I have no issue with you holding those views.  However, that doesn't give you the right to force everyone else to follow your views as well.  If you oppose gay marriage, then don't marry someone of the same gender!  But you aren't happy leaving your belief set as a personal responsibility, you want to have the right to demand everyone follow your belief set.  I have said it before and I will continue saying it, you do not have the right to tell other people who they can and cannot marry!  That's not intolerance of your views, kennie, that what real tolerance is!  I tolerate your narrow religious viewpoint because the Constitution allows actual religious freedom, not just your definition of it.  But I refuse to allow you rights greater than everyone else just because you practice one particular strain of religion.

I see that going far beyond gay marriage.  If you don't support pro-choice then instead of telling people what they are 'supposed' to do, put it in personal practice and never take any actions that would require a woman to make such a choice.  You don't agree with using condoms to prevent disease and pregnancy, then don't use them, but do not dictate their use for other people . . ..  The list is endless!  I don't really care what your belief set is, but whatever it is, you do not have the right to impose it on others.  Waving a book in people's faces and telling them you are the only authority because only you know what the book says just . . . well makes you more laughable than anything else.  Little kennie ham, entertainer!

Yes, that's how I see it.  You [kennie] do not have the right to force your viewpoint onto other people!  That's not intolerance, as you like the claim.  You aren't the victim when I do my best to prevent you from forcing others to toe your particular line, the real victims are the other people that you are trying to attack.  They are your victims, they are the victims of your rhetoric of hate and intolerance . . . yes, intolerance.

It's not 'intolerance' to not allow a religious exemption from vaccinations since the un-vaccinated pose a health threat to us all.  It is not 'intolerance' to require a Kentucky county clerk to do her job.  It is not 'intolerance' to do everything in our power to not allow any form of religious discrimination to flourish in our society.  You, little kennie ham, support many things I disagree with -- but you have the right to support them.  But, once again, you do not have the right to force me to support them!

Yes, you might think I am the one being intolerant as you wave your highly self-edited version of the Bible around, but the reality is you are the one spreading hate and intolerance.  Freedom of Religion also means freedom from your particular brand of religion.  Intolerance would be not allowing you to belief as you wish.  It is not intolerance to prevent you from forcing it upon other people!

Monday, November 7, 2016

Does Intelligent Design Do Anything At All?

In a recent post on the Discovery Institute's (DI) Evolution 'news' and Views blog, one of the posters, anonymously, asked whether or not Intelligent Design (ID) does too much or does too little.  Here's the post: "Horns of a Dilemma: Does Intelligent Design Do Too Little -- or Too Much?"

I have a much more basic question, just what does ID do?  Seriously, how many scientific advances have been made as the result of Intelligent Design?  Anyone?  I certainly haven't heard of any.  Is anything published by any ID advocate supporting ID actually referenced by anyone?  Well, other than another ID proponent creating more than a bit of circular logic.  Dembski citing Behe citing Meyer citing Dembski is entertaining, but not worth very much.   I am talking about real science, not the make-believe green-screen stuff the DI calls science.

While most of the post means little, I have to enjoy this:

"ID may be limited, but if it can show that even one feature in living things is designed by an intelligence (no matter when,where, or how), the whole edifice of materialism collapses."
But has ID shown any single feature of living things is designed by an intelligence?  Have they?  Aside from a great many claims to the contrary, they have not.  They speculate, hypothesize, market and self-publish, but at no time have they accomplished, or come near to accomplishing this.  They have a great many excuses, but woefully short of anything real.

I don't know about you, but before ID can claim to have done anything, isn't this the first step?  Until they accomplish this, they have no accomplishments to speak of, because everything they claim all hinges on this one thing, showing that a feature is designed, and not only designed, but designed by an intelligence.  One of my many problems is that no one seems to be working on this.  They write lots of philosophical material, but none of it means anything until they have success in this one area.

So when they ask if ID has done too little or too much, it's a meaningless question until ID has shown itself to be more than just conjecture and wishful thinking.  Even Judge Jones left that door open when he said this in his decision:
"After a searching review of the record and applicable caselaw, we find that while ID arguments may be true, a proposition on which the Court takes no position, ID is not science." (Wikipedia: Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District Decision)
It is within the realm of the possible that ID might be an actual answer to something other than an obscure Jeopardy question of "What replaced 'creation science' as an alternative to force religion into the science classroom in the 1990's?"  But until the DI does the actual work to support their conjecture and wishful thinking, they haven't done a damn thing.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

A Brief History Of Darwin Bashing (From Forbes)

Interesting article on Forbes "A Brief History Of Darwin Bashing".  Here is my favorite quote form that article:

"The basic pattern most of these pieces follow is simple: Ignore the science; don’t bother talking to working specialists in the field; selectively quote long-dead sources (or emeritus scholars in unrelated fields); enthusiastically cite the work of self-described revolutionaries without critically examining the scientific merit of their work; and impugn the character of the theory’s founder."
Tell me if any of that sounds familiar?  John Farrell, Forbes Contributor, just describes the tactics used by folks like the Discovery Institute, Answers in Genesis, and the Institute for Creation Research in a nutshell: Ignore science, quote-mine, push their own writings without a single critical thought, and denigrate Darwin!  

Farrell's article digs deeper into one specific example, Tom Wolfe's "Kingdom of Speech".  While it has a number of 5-star reviews on Amazon, mostly from folks who apparently already have issues with real science and evolution, it's the 1-star reviews that are much more entertaining.  You might read a few, but here are some of the headlines to whet your appetite: "Preening Ignorance", "His White Suit is Unsullied By Research", "Backward in Every Sense", and "Glad I Could Get a Refund From A Kindle Purchase".  It certainly looks like not everyone is buying into Wolfe's Darwin Bashing!

We seem to live in a time when expertise is less valued than opinion.  Maybe the Internet is partly responsible for at least making us aware of it, but I was always taught that opinions are like . . . armpits (yea, armpits!) everyone has one or two and they usually stink.  But nowadays people seem to think that a voiced opinion should be taken as gospel and when an expert chimes in, their 'expertise' should be distrusted.  

A historical example that I've used before, Leaded additives in gasoline.  In the 1920's it was discovered to be dangerous, but it took 40 years to get it removed and fix some of the damage it was causing.  The leading advocate for lead additives was sponsored by the company who made the additives.  The principle tactic used was to develop a feeling of mistrusting experts on the subject.  That tactic helped delay removing those additives for over 40 years!

We saw something similar with tobacco and we are also seeing it with the current arguments about climate change and vaccinations.  We are developing a culture that mistrusts expertise.  Darwin bashers are doing their best to use that mistrust in pushing their own religious agenda. That appears to be exactly what is happening here.  According to the many critics, Wolfe blatantly ignores current science, takes other things out of context, and gets support from other bashers . . . and many of the folks who wrote those glowing comments on Amazon gush how wonderful it all is . . . because the idea of relying on expertise has become foreign to them.

What I have noticed is that this disregard for expertise seems to be of the cherry-picking variety.  For example anti-vaxxers whine about science, yet use the Internet for their whines.  Vaccinations and the Internet share the same scientific methodology . . . yet one is bad and the other is useful.  People still take their cars to mechanics.  While I see holistic foolishness for people's health, I have yet to see a holistic car repair place.

I feel foolish for having to defend expertise, the most often heard argument is that experts are defending their territory because funding would dry up and they would be unemployed.  In a recent conversation with a climate-change denier I attempted to address this point, but he wasn't listening.  My point is that I find it funny is that, according to him, the whole reason climate scientists support climate-change it because of their funding.  How does he know this?  Well that's what he hears on Fox News.  So . . . as I tried to tell him . . . climate scientists, whose average annual salary is $95K a year are arguing the reality of climate change and you [he] is getting his science from a political pundit who makes millions each year . . . and it's the $95K a year scientists whose expertise is getting ignored because that's how they make a living, yet the millionaire pundit with no expertise is telling you the truth?  (source)  Really?

Experts shouldn't need to be defended, we rely on people's expertise every day.  I work on a computer using others expertise in networking.  I use still others expertise in manufacturing to help me develop the software I build.  Ask any computer programmer, you might have a ton of expertise in programming, but you need subject matter experts to develop software for any industry!  I rely on the people creating the food I eat, not only in restaurants, but what lines the aisles of the grocery store.  I have my car maintained by several car mechanics, just recently I had the windows and doors in my home replaced.  I have made more than one visit to a doctor in the past year.   I do not have the expertise to do all of these things myself, so I have to rely on the expertise of others.

Why is it so hard to accept that same sort of expertise from biologists, climatologists, and the developers of vaccines?

Monday, October 31, 2016

What's Up With the Catholic Church and Cremation?

For decades the Catholic  had no issue with Cremation, that is the burning of bodies forming a clean, whitish ash.  Just recently they've issued 'guidance' on cremation that more than likely has done another layer of damage to the Catholic version of Christianity.  "Vatican issues guidelines on cremation, says no to scattering ashes" (from CNN).

Basically, the Church is worried that scattering ashes doesn't show proper respect and if you aren't planning to bury the deceased ashes in a proper place of holy reverence, you will be denied a Catholic funeral.  So . . . the millions of people that have been cremated and the ashes reside on the mantle or scattered in various places, aren't going to be resurrected at the end of the world?  See what I mean by damage?  I am sure there are many, many people who are now seriously concerned for the fate of their deceased loved ones whose ashes were scattered or something more creative, like being pressed into a diamond or shot into space.

Why?  What is the big deal?  Can't an omnipotent Deity handle such things?  Apparently not . . . or . . . it's the Church itself that can't handle it.  What would the Church's objection to such activities be based on?  The cynic in me has to wonder how much of this is based on their faith or how much is based on using their faith to bolster business?

A lot of people seem to forget that churches are businesses. The Catholic parish I grew up in had three schools, a physical church, rectory for the priests and a convent for the nuns.   It was quite a facility, but today it's down to just the church and some friends tell me it's a satellite church not in regular use. The other buildings have been sold off and all have secular uses now, like a magnet school in what was once my elementary school.

While that's only one example, there have been many where the schools and parishes have been merged to save expenses in running so many facilities, in other words 'downsizing', which is certainly not a theistic term, it's what happens when a segment of any business isn't holding its own. When you think of the Church as a business, you might see some things in a different light. For example:

"But after Henry [VIII] became smitten with Anne Boleyn, English fish-eating took a nosedive. 
You see, Henry was desperate with desire for Anne — but Anne wanted a wedding ring. The problem was, Henry already had a wife, Catherine of Aragon, and the pope refused to annul that decades' long marriage. So Henry broke off from the Roman Catholic Church, declared himself the head of the Church of England and divorced Catherine so he could marry Anne. 
Suddenly, eating fish became political. Fish was seen as a " 'popish flesh' that lost favour as fast as Anglicism took root," as Kate Colquhoun recounts in her book 'Taste: The Story of Britain Through Its Cooking'
Fishermen were hurting. So much so that when Henry's young son, Edward VI, took over in 1547, fast days were reinstated by law — 'for worldly and civil policy, to spare flesh, and use fish, for the benefit of the commonwealth, where many be fishers, and use the trade of living.'
In fact, fish fasting remained surprisingly influential in global economics well into the 20th century."(source)
I am sure there are many examples where business of faith and the business of business intersect.  America's "Blue Laws" are a great example.  A set of laws specifically designed to enforce the religious requirements of one set of religious beliefs! 

The cynic in me has to wonder if the Church has noticed a downturn in the number of burials at Catholic cemeteries and are fixing the blame on the popularity of cremation and the many alternative choices for the remains that don't include a ceremony and internment in a sanctified ground, one that would add to the Church's coffers.  After all, one of the reasons given to me [taught during my Catholic school years] about the Catholic Church's antipathy to contraception was simply that the best way to increase the population of theists is to breed them, so contraception is evil!  One of the reasons for the Fish on Fridays was to bolster the fish industry!  Whatever religious trappings you want to dress things up in, there is a business impact from these many decisions.

So now we have a change in rules governing cremation!  Why would this suddenly become an issue?  USA Today ran an article discussing the changing cultural around burials and cremation, including this shift in the Catholic Church.
 "Although cremation has happened since prehistoric times, for centuries the Catholic Church viewed it as pagan and forbade the practice. Church leaders feared it would interfere with the resurrection of the body and the body reuniting with the soul, which Catholics believe is when Jesus will return to judge the living and the dead.
In 1963, the church changed its policy, though it still prefers a full-body burial, said the Rev. Michael Diskin, assistant chancellor for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix and spiritual adviser for the diocese's Catholic Cemeteries and Mortuaries.
"The church does allow people to choose cremation as long as it is not a formal denial of the church's teaching of the resurrection of the body," Diskin said." (USA Today:  Cremation Trends Changing Death Rituals)
All of this reminds me of an old joke.  
"Muldoon lived alone in the Irish countryside with only a pet dog for company. One day the dog died, and Muldoon went to the parish priest and asked, "Father, my dog is dead. Could ya' be saying' a mass for the poor creature?"Father Patrick replied, "I'm afraid not; we cannot have services for an animal in the church. But there are some Baptists down the lane, and there's no tellin' what they believe. Maybe they'll do something for the creature."
Muldoon said, "I'll go right away Father. Do ya' think $5,000 is enough to donate to them for the service?"
Father Patrick exclaimed, "Sweet Mary, Mother of Jesus! Why didn't ya tell me the dog was Catholic?"
I've heard the joke several different ways, but the punchline is always the same.  Certainly makes you think about the reasons the Church's policy has changed.  I wonder if anyone has done an economic analysis of this?

Monday, October 24, 2016

A Discovery Institute Post that Makes Less Sense Than Normal

My mail beeped and I had a Google Alert for this: "Darwinists and the Fossil Record: Missing a Few Marbles" and instead of making me laugh, it had me scratching my head.  Not because it was something making me think, but more just trying to figure out what they were trying to get across.  Here's a small quote:

"Neo-Darwinism leads us to expect more than just change over time in the fossil record. It anticipates a fossil pattern of very, very gradual evolution of new forms -- evolution by tiny steps. On Darwinian grounds we should expect to find this pattern even given our highly incomplete fossil record."
But . . . isn't that a lot of what we see?  For example, take a look at this:
Paleontologists take the fossils that are found and build a picture.  Yes the fossil record is incomplete, and as we find more and more fossils, the picture changes.  But none of that is unexpected.  What was also discovered was that Evolution isn't always tiny incremental changes, but larger scale changes over a shorter period of time.  The author of the Discovery Institute's (DI) silly piece is Jonathan Witt, he mentions this (Stephen Jay Gould and Niles Eldredge's Theory of Punctuated Equilibrium) but Witt dismisses it.  Which is one of the strange things, but pretty typical of the DI and their talking heads.  They take a valid and well supported scientific theory and dismiss it, offering nothing in return.

Well that's not exactly true, Witt offers the usual "Intelligence did it" argument the DI has been making for 20 years.  But Witt makes the same mistake the rest of the DI makes, he fails to support it.  It's nothing but conjecture.  Where is the evidence, where is the support, where is any sort of validation for an intelligent agent?  What mechanism did this 'intelligence' use?  These and many other questions are ignored because the intelligence Witt and the DI are talking about is their religious belief in a deity.  They keep claiming 'intelligence' to try and make people forget they are talking about the Christian God.

Don't believe me, well how about this definitely not DI review of Douglas Axe's "Undeniable".  Axe runs the DI's pet lab, the Biologics Institute and periodically writes and posts various Intelligent Design (ID) missives.  His latest, "Undeniable" is . . . well let me not put words in Jason Rosenhouse's review:
"For one thing, the book is openly evangelistic. The creator is the Christian God. Period. No subterfuge about the possibility of intelligent aliens or anything like that."
It does make me wonder how long Doug will be associated with the DI.  You might remember that Doug is the second director at Biologics.  The original one, George Weber, was interviewed by the New Scientist, and shortly thereafter left the Board.  Weber stated:
"We are the first ones doing what we might call lab science in intelligent design" and "The objective is to challenge the scientific community on naturalism." (New Scientist)
Axe was the one who explained Weber's departure in an email to New Scientist as
 [Weber] "was found to have seriously misunderstood the purpose of Biologic and to have misrepresented it."(Wikipedia: Biologics Institute)
So Weber is pretty clear on the purpose the DI opened their pet lab and ends up leaving.  After years of denying the religion base of Intelligent Design, Doug publishes a book that is opening evangelistic. My guess is if Doug's book doesn't do well and start helping the fund raising, he might find himself leaving as well. 

The majority of Witt's post is a long attempt at an analogy, but in reality it's more of a strawman.  I mean where are the mechanisms analogous to natural selection?  It reminds me of a restatement of another common analogy, a monkey and a typewrite will eventually write a Shakespearean play.  We discuss how inadequate that analogy is back in 2008 (Arguments XIII - The 747 or a Shakespearean monkey).

Well I guess I can close with wishing Witt wouldn't take the DI and their writings so seriously, but seeing as he's a 'Senior Fellow', whatever that now means, my guess is he'll keep peddling the party line until he either gets bored or the funding dries up.  As an English Major, he might try a bit harder to make a bit more sense.  This post isn't going to help him land his next writing job.  Johnny, you have to keep an eye out for the future, isn't ID's time limited?  You don't think so?  I might caution you with a reminder about 'Creationism" and "Creation Science" and what happened to them after losing court cases.  Yes, they were replaced and the DI and their version of religion, ID, hasn't been doing too well.  Here's one last thought for you, from Jason Rosenhouse again:
"How does ID makes sense of the fossil record, which shows a clear progression from simpler, ancient organisms to more complex, modern organisms? Why did God do His creating over billions of years, and why did He do so in the one sequence that would later suggest evolution to so many? Why did he just watch the unicellular organisms for a billion years or whatever before getting on with the show? What was the point of the millions of years of bloodsport taking place among creatures with enough brainpower to know they were suffering and miserable, but not enough to enter into a relationship with God? What are mass extinctions all about? How is this consistent with the idea that life was designed for a purpose?"
You might do a little critical thinking  . . . not the DI variety, but actual critical thinking before your next post.  You won't, but I can always hope.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

And Here is Why I Feel the Separation of Church and State is Important!

Caught this one a while back but had some other things keeping me from finishing my post:  http://theimmoralminority.blogspot.com/2016/08/satanism-comes-out-of-closet-in-alaska.html

What also got me was one of the comments, it said:

"I'm a lifelong Atheist but in all fairness some churches do some good, be they Satanic, Christian, Muslim or Spaghetti."
What it raised to me was that when a theist gets defensive about their beliefs, they start spouting off about all the good works their church does, like build hospitals or feed the hungry.  What I have to ask is what does the belief set and good works really have to do with each other?

Here's my  . . . well  . . . dilemma I guess is the best word.  You see, it doesn't seem to matter to me what a belief set includes, good works are not measures against your belief set, but against society's standard of good works.  So building a hospital, for example, is considered a good work, but are religious organizations the only ones who build hospitals?  No!  Plus even building a hospital under the cover of a 'religious good work' is no guarantee that the hospital will remain a going concern.  I know of two hospitals in my local area that both had 'St' in their names that eventually closed.

I guess what I am trying to say, the social activities of a church group are separate from the religious activities of the same group and any cross-over is more accidental than deliberate.  Oh they might voice their religion as justification for doing something society considers good, but the reality is that justification is more rationalization than anything.  All sort of community groups can decide to use some of their resources to do things society considers 'good', many groups have done the exact same thing without the need to invoke a deity.  Does the deity really make a difference in medical care?  Sure doesn't look like it, does it?  Theists still get hurt and sick on par with the rest of the human population.

Now what does this have to do with the Separation of Church and State.  If you read the above article you probably had as good a laugh about it as I did.  The Satanic Temple did the invocation at a local government meeting.  Well I say GOOD!  I mean if you are going to practice religion, you should be open to any and all recognized religions.  Sooner or later I imagine a Jedi will be doing a benediction!  What I have to wonder is how many people did the temple piss off?

Here is one of my major pet peeves about most theists.  While they often give lip service to freedom of religion, they don't really mean it.  What they usually mean is freedom for their religion and everyone else gets to sit in the back of the bus.

One of John F. Kennedy's most famous quotes is:
"If we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity."
There is also this quote:
"‘I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it,’ " Attributed to Voltaire, although the wording varies a bit.
Here is where most theists fall short of any sort of ideal.  It is also why I think the separation of Church and State is an important concept.   As I have been told over and over again, "It's not in the Constitution", my response is "So what?"  There are great many things not mentioned in the Constitution, like the 'Separation of Powers' between out three branches of government, but have become part of our everyday lives.

The phrase "separation of church and state" is generally traced to Thomas Jefferson, who wrote:
"I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should 'make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,' thus building a wall of separation between Church & State."(January 1, 1802, letter by Thomas Jefferson, addressed to the Danbury Baptist Association)"

So when the author of the Declaration of Independence states that the intent of the Freedom of Religion part of the Constitution was to build this wall  . . . then the fact the phrase itself isn't in the Constitution isn't that big a deal.

Good deeds are good deeds and trying to claim that your religion is the driver of doing good deeds seems . . . shall we say a bit disingenuous.  I mean take a look at "Whipped, hit and locked in closets: Life inside some religious day cares".  Here the exact opposite, what would be criminal behavior in a secular day care is granted a legal exemption if it's a religious day care. 

But there is why the separation should be maintained.  When your religion expects or even allows you to behave is ways contrary to societies concept of good and bad, you really need to rethink your religion!  Look at this one example from North Carolina:
"In the ’90s, [Maymie] Page operated a secular day care in North Carolina, where she wasn’t allowed to use any type of corporal punishment, even if her Christian faith encouraged it. But she didn’t let that get in her way.
She ran into legal problems in 1997 for being too rough with children and again in 1999 after she smacked a child in the head. She was arrested the following year after she pulled down a boy’s pants in front of his classmates and spanked him so hard on his bottom and arms that he developed bruises and welts. 
That was too much for North Carolina day care regulators. The state used its ultimate weapon and revoked Page’s day care license in May 2000, saying that “children were getting hurt on a regular basis,” according to a news release.
Page soon found a workaround. 
Eight months after the state shut her down, Page requested permission to reopen her day care as a religious one, affiliated with the church where her husband was a pastor, Faith Tabernacle Holiness Church of God in Winston-Salem. 
Now that Page’s day care is recognized as religious, it has the state’s blessing to spank children – the very offense that shut her down in the first place."
See what I mean?  Using religion to justify child abuse!  I am sure some theist will say 'their religion doesn't condone that', but that's point.  If you can rationalize good deeds because of your religion, you can also easily rationalize bad deeds because of your religious beliefs.

Religions should not be a weapon to discriminate nor should it be a cover for anything illegal, especially where it comes to the welfare of children.  A while back I address a question as to whether or not Creationism is a form of Child Abuse.  I am re-thinking a bit of my answer.  In a vacuum, Creationism may not be a specific example of abuse, but it's not operating in a vacuum.  It's part and parcel of a larger belief set and many aspects of various religious beliefs certainly appear to be forms of abuse.  All the good works in the world can't erase that, just ask the Catholic Church.  Also, when you think about it, how many children have to die at the hands of theists parents who refuse medical care before we get serious about separating church and state!

If your religion permits, encourages, or even demands something against the law, theists should remember that it's not the religion that gets held accountable, but the practitioners who committed the crime! In any event, as long as your belief set doesn't infringe on the rights of other people, and as long as it complies with the law, enjoy!  But there must be a limit, and that limit is the law!

Monday, October 17, 2016

Let's see . . . How Many Way Can We Force People to Comply With Our Religion?

The Discovery Institute has been involved with discussions of BioEthics before and for the most part, I ignored them.  But this time I think they have gone a bit off the deep end and decided to use scare tactics to not only allow people to legally discriminate, but allow medical professionals to discriminate based on their own religion -- with a callous disregard to the welfare of the patient.  Check out how they have overblown the whole discussion in "The Ethical Menace of "Bioethics" Grows" There are several things that bother me about this whole post, first of all, is this what is being said?  I don't believe so.

" . . . the [medical] field increasingly targets the right of doctors to refuse to perform an abortion, euthanize patients, or perform other procedures or issue prescriptions that violate their religious beliefs."
I do love how they lump abortion and euthanasia with contraception (remember, many forms of contraception require a prescription), the key here really isn't the procedure, it's the DI's willingness to let Doctors discriminate based on their religious beliefs.  I have several issues, but before getting into them, let's see what has the DI fired up this time.

Take a look at the part of the bio-ethical statement that got the DI so up in arms, the full statement is at: Consensus statement on conscientious objection in Heathcare, here are the first two articles:
1, Healthcare practitioners’ primary obligations are towards their patients, not towards their own personal conscience. When the patient’s wellbeing (or best interest, or health) is at stake, healthcare practitioners’ professional obligations should normally take priority over their personal moral or religious views.  
2.In the event of a conflict between practitioners’ conscience and a patient’s desire for a legal, professionally sanctioned medical service, healthcare practitioners should always ensure that patients receive timely medical care. When they have a conscientious objection, they ought to refer their patients to another practitioner who is willing to perform the treatment. In emergency situations, when referral is not possible, or when it poses too great a burden on patients or on the healthcare system, health practitioners should perform the treatment themselves. 
Do either of these statements look like they are going to force a doctor to perform an abortion, prescribe contraception, or euthanasia?  Really?  Look at the words, when they have an objection, they should refer the patient to a doctor who isn't carrying their religious baggage.  One of my concerns is that doctors with strong religious feelings might opt out of making a referral.  Seriously!  Think it through.  Many theists preach their particular brand of religion to non-believers in an effort to 'save' them.  Do you really think all theist doctors is going to refer a patient to a doctor who is going to do a procedure that violates their belief system?

I don't think some of them will, and they will use their belief system as rationalization.  Can you trust a doctor who places their belief system ahead of a patients welfare to be honest about things that conflict with that belief set?  See what I mean!  Back to the statements, the one exception is in an 'emergency situation', so let's address that.

Can anyone even imagine an emergency situation requiring euthanasia?  Think about that.  Assisted suicide is legal in a number of states and the reasons are normally because of a incurable illness that will not only degrade any sort of a quality of life but place an incredible financial burden on the remaining family or society.  In those states you can request an assisted suicide.  I'm not saying it's a good or bad idea because I am not in such a situation.  But if it is a legal option, it's something that can be considered . . . but is it an emergency to the point where another doctor cannot be consulted? Hardly! It's not an immediate thing, some states require various forms of counseling to make sure the patient is picking this option for, what the state calls, the right reason.

How about contraception, or other potentially religiously-disagreeable prescription, although the only one that comes to mind is contraception.  If a doctor wants to be a doctor, then they have to face the fact that people are going to do things that the doctor himself might disagree with.  That might be smoking, drinking and sex not for procreation.  The doctor cannot and should not be the arbiter for making those decisions.  If that were the case, why not a prescription for condoms?  But no, what we have are theists who are making the decision for someone, and obviously for women.  As far as I know there are no prescriptions for any male contraception (yet!).  The decision belongs, not to the doctor, but to the patient. But, back to the subject, is there an emergency situation requiring contraception?  No, you might need it and not have it, but it's not an emergency unless you are making a bad movie!

How about an abortion?  There is one case where an emergency abortion might be required and that would be to save the life of the mother.  Any other form of abortion is not an emergency!  To be honest, in my opinion that shouldn't even be a question about whether or not it's legal in any location.  You are talking about saving the patient's life.  At that point any decision should be up to the patient and their family, not the doctor.  Once the decision is made, any doctor worth the title should be able to step past their personal objections and perform the procedure.  Yes, it might be personally disagreeable, but then so is the decision to cut off a leg due to gangrene or many other emergency actions!

See where I am going?  The bio-ethics statements on conscientious objections to any medical procedure is not going to force any doctor to do something against their religious beliefs.  Only one of the examples even apply in an emergency, the other examples are not emergencies and can be referred to other physicians . . . providing their are other physicians who can perform the procedure.

That's issue number 2 for me.  The same groups objecting to these procedures are also trying to make them illegal.  How facilities that are licensed for abortions have been shut down due to losing funding, protests, and even bombings?  Regardless of the other services they provide, Christian Conservatives have been too successful is stripping Planned Parenthood of funding in many states and other actions designed to end medical practices that they claim violate their religious beliefs. That's one tactic, in another they have managed to place such restrictions, for example having hallways wide enough for two stretchers to pass side by side.  This is a requirement for hospitals, not clinics.  But by requiring such standards, they are trying to drive such clinics out of business.  My concern is that it might be acceptable to refer a patient to another doctor or facility, but will there be such a facility available?

 Contraception is regarded by many theists as a violation of their beliefs, to the point where even the Pope speaks out against it!  If they are successful, then where is someone supposed to turn when there is no medical professional practiced in these areas?

My final issue is more related to the DI than this specific issue, it's with this quote:
"Would anyone assert that a non-doctor should be able to diagnose cancer or perform an appendectomy?"
Well for one, the Discovery Institute makes such assertions.  Don't you remember this:
"We don't need to rely slavishly on what scientists say because, in an important sense, we are all scientists, capable of judging a big scientific idea like evolution, if not necessarily the technical details, for ourselves." (More Scientists Praise Douglas Axe's Undeniable)
Yes, we are all capable of judging big scientific ideas for ourselves, right?  If that's so, then we don't need 'experts', we can use our intuition, right?  The DI has been peddling this idea that intuition is as reliable as scientific investigation.  But they aren't saying that here, here they are question the idea that someone other than Doctors might be able to function in some roles currently filled by doctors.  However . . .

Isn't that currently happening?  I mean over my lifetime I have seen role changes for many medical roles that used to be strictly in the doctors' purview.  Nursing roles have changes, many       hospitals are using  Physicians Assistants (Certified),  for many treatment and only bring in an MD or other specialist when needed.  Whether or not someone other than a doctor can do any medical procedure is a matter of training more than anything else.  I'm not saying someone other than a Doctor should diagnose cancer, but then the bio-ethics under discussion aren't saying that either.

Take Hospice Care.  Throughout a recent terminal illness, once Hospice was involved, doctors were pretty much hands off.  It wasn't until there was a new medical requirement did any doctors get into things and you had to transfer from Hospice care back to Medical care or there were all sorts of legal and insurance issues.  BTW, that was in Washington State, the home state of the DI.  So it's OK for non-doctors to manage the care for terminal patients, but if your religious views on life are involved, it's got to be a medical doctor?  Why?

This is pretty typical of the DI.  They take a stand not based on logic or even medical necessity, but one based on their religious beliefs.  Then they create a straw man trying to tell you what someone else is says, in this case the Consensus statement on conscientious objection in Heathcare -- only their strawman doesn't give it to you straight, they 'interpret' it for you . . . in other words spin it for their own purposes.  Then they want you to help demolish the strawman!

I don't know where you stand, but where I stand is simple.  A doctor's oath should come before any other considerations up to and including their belief system.  If they are incapable is setting their beliefs aside for the welfare of their patient, then I believe it's time to find another line of work.  That sounds harsh, but how can a profession develop a level of trust that is needed when the patient cannot be sure the doctor has their welfare as their foremost concern.  The rationalization that the doctor is also concerned for a patients spiritual welfare doesn't hold any water for me.  It's not part of a doctor's duties, training, or even job to play that particular card.

When a doctor let's their religious beliefs take precedence over their medical responsibilities, what they are doing is inflicting their belief set on another human being.  If that is allowed, then where is the line drawn?  Parents who allow their children to die because their belief system doesn't accept medical treatment have been, and should continue, to be held accountable.  Shouldn't we be holding doctors to the same standard?

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

'Everything' Does Not Equal 'Anything', unless you are the Discovery Institute

Enough politics, it's been leaving such a nasty taste in my mouth! I have to turn to something much more entertaining, the Discovery Institute (DI) saying foolish things . . . again.  A post over on their Evolution 'news' and Views (EnV) site: "Evolutionists Could Learn a Thing from Dark Matter Physics".  The DI posted, Jonathan Witt, is someone I don't recall commenting about before.  So new blood!  I guess the regular posters were off doing something important, maybe they are working for  . . . wait I said no politics.

OK, so Johnny keyed in on one quote from Johns Hopkins physicist Simeon Bird:
"When you don't know what something is, you have to consider everything,"  
So the rest of the article is pretty much a whine that if Biologists had the same philosophy, then they should consider Intelligent Design.  I disagree!  Look at the list Johnny himself quoted from Bird:
  • Big black holes
  • Baby black holes
  • Electromagnetically neutral particles so tiny they normally sail right through the empty spaces in atoms like a space ship sailing through our mostly empty solar system
  • Ultra-tiny particles tucked away in roly-poly dimensions that curve around themselves.
Bird himself labeled these as pretty wild ideas . . . but did Bird really mean 'everything'?  I don't think so.  Look at the list, do you see them considering any religious propositions?  Come on Johnny, where is the Creation Physics?  I don't see it, does anyone else?

In other words, when Bird said 'everything' he was still framing his everything to include scientific ideas, not actually everything!  Saying 'everything' isn't the same thing as saying 'anything', now is it? 

However; I do believe biologists have considered Intelligent Design -- and they have rejected it for a number of reasons.  One being that it's not science, not matter how many lab coats you try and hide it under.  It's a religious proposition and therefore not a serious contender.  There's a list of other reasons to reject it, including that its own proponents are either unwilling or unable to do the scientific leg work to support it as anything but conjecture and wishful thinking.  

Johnny, if you think it hasn't been considered, you might do a little Googling and see how many actual biologists have rejected it, how many have commented on the various publications from the DI pointing out their many mathematical, scientific, and even philosophical errors and how a Federal Judge determined it to be not science.

If you were new to the DI, you might fall into the trap that they have a couple of in-house biologists who disagree.  They might even quickly waive their 'Dissent from Darwin' petition under your nose.  You might actually try and do more than pay lip service when it comes to critical thinking, I doubt you will, but I can hope . . . especially if you were a newcomer.  But since you are a 'Senior Fellow' at the DI, I doubt you will trouble yourself.

So, bottom line here, Johnny from the DI seems to be grasping at straws and playing word games.  A physicist uses the word 'everything' to include some pretty wild scientific ideas and the DI tried to stretch it to include their favorite religion.  The 'word games' fits into the DI's tactics of deceit and also because Johnny is not a scientist, his Ph.D. is in English and Literary Theory.  Word games from an English major . . . makes more sense than anything in the article itself.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Design v. Intelligent Design, two different things

The Discovery Institute seems to have a language problem, or maybe an issue with defining terms.  I recall an old joke about how the United States and Great Britain, two countries separated by a common language.  I think there is a new divide between the Discovery Institute and the rest of the world.  For a while now I have commented how the DI likes to claim that when there is something intelligently designed, be it a car or a mousetrap, the DI likes to lay claim that it's Intelligent Design 'theory' in action. (Intelligent Design vs intelligent design).

Well they are now doing the same thing for the word 'design'. Take a look: "Michael Behe's Challenge -- Past, Present, and Future".  In the referenced papers they do mention the word 'design' a number of times and that seems to give the DI cause to celebrate yet 'another' example of their Intelligent Design 'theory' in action.  And since the authors didn't discuss evolution, obviously the DI is winning the battle for the souls of the world.  Here's a quote that struck me:

"While these Japanese researchers do not mention Behe or his conclusions, their work underscores the case for irreducible complex molecular machines as prima facie evidence for intelligent design. Nowhere do they credit evolution for the motors of the cell"
However . . . and you just knew there had to be a however . . .
  • Were either of the two papers about the evolution of the structures being replicated?  No!
  • Did either paper cite any of the multitude of Intelligent Design articles or books?  No!
Do you see where I am going?  At no time did the papers discuss evolution because the purpose of the papers were not about evolution, they were basically announcements about two teams artificially creating structures that mimic the function of cilia (nose hairs are an example of cilia).  Now cilia are fascinating things, tiny hairs that actually move material along a pathway in a specific direction.  You can read the abstracts for yourself (Artificial cilia as autonomous nanoactuators: Design of a gradient self-oscillating polymer brush with controlled unidirectional motion and From Biological Cilia to Artificial Flow Sensors: Biomimetic Soft Polymer Nanosensors with High Sensing Performance).  To be honest, little made sense to me after the first line or two because the technical details came fast and furious.  But what I read was two groups built objects that mimic the functioning of human cilia.

How many times in the past has human engineering mimicked something from nature?  Too many to count, right?  So, what we actually have here is another example of intelligence being used to create something  . . . and the DI then come along, well after the fact, claiming that since these were smart people doing smart things, they must have been using Intelligent Design 'theory' and since they didn't discuss the evolution of cilia, we win!

Anyone else's BS meter pegging?  You know my Chilton's Manual for my car didn't go into the evolution of the automobile, so therefore Intelligent Design 'theory' wins?  My Java programming language manual doesn't go into the development of computers since the 1940's, so therefore computers haven't evolved since then . . . obviously.  The papers didn't discuss evolution because it is immaterial to the stated purpose of the papers, but the DI doesn't see it that way.  They prefer to spin it as some weird success for Behe's irreducible complexity and then, by extension, a validation for their whole reason for existing.

However, wouldn't you think someone using the DI's idea of Intelligent Design 'theory' go to the source and reference it in their papers?  That would make sense, now that would be a victory for the DI and actual validation.  So, why didn't they?  I would have to think that the obvious answer is the best one.  That religious claptrap published by the DI simply doesn't apply.  If you want, check out the 30 papers cited in the first and the 48 papers cited in the second and you won't find any reference to the DI's pseudo-scientific publications.

I'm sure the DI will spin that as something caused by their constant whine of some massive prejudice ID proponents face in the world of science -- one often claimed but never substantiated.  The simpler answer isn't some deeply hidden multi-national, multi-cultural conspiracy, but that their idea of Intelligent Design simply does not apply.  Unlike the DI's stable of writers, lawyers, and philosophers, these are actual scientists who seem to apply only things that supported and furthered their research. That's a more honest answer than any spin from the DI, but that's not what you hear from them!

One last comment and then I will go to do something a bit more useful.  If the biology of cilia are so supportive of Intelligent Design, who in the DI's limited sphere of influence is doing the actual scientific work to make that connection?  Instead they prefer to quote a 20-year old book by Michael Behe that was thoroughly dismantled years ago -- as if it is still relevant.

Don't worry, DI, I am sure you can build another green-screen 'lab' and one of your talking heads can present your lack of findings to the world.

I've Been Getting Some Flack Over My Issues With the Republican Party

Ever since I posted "I Believe it is Time to Part Ways with the Republican Party" I have been getting some flack about it.  So I wanted to make my feelings clear.  The Republican Party of today is characterized as RINO.  If you are unfamiliar with the acronym, it stands for Republican In Name Only.

Normally when you hear the word, it's used to describe someone who outwardly is a Republican, but has shown either a streak of independence, or worse, support for some things supported by the Democratic Party.  I disagree with that description.  I believe currently identified Republicans have betrayed the principles that the party was founded on.  I need to take you on a little history tour.  The Republican Party was founded on a number of principles:
"Early Republican ideology was reflected in the 1856 slogan "free labor, free land, free men" . . .. "Free labor" referred to the Republican opposition to slave labor and belief in independent artisans and businessmen. "Free land" referred to Republican opposition to plantation system whereby slaveowners could buy up all the good farm land, leaving the yeoman independent farmers the leftovers. The Party strived to contain the expansion of slavery, which would cause the collapse of the slave power and the expansion of freedom." (Wikipedia:  Republican Party)
The party stressed individual rights, even based its name on the philosophy of Republicanism, which can be explained as:
"It stresses liberty and unalienable individual rights as central values, making people sovereign as a whole, rejects monarchy, aristocracy and inherited political power, expects citizens to be independent in their performance of civic duties, and vilifies corruption." (Wikipedia: Republicanism)
Does this sound anything like the Republican Party of today?  The modern Republican Party should have been leading the charge for a woman's right to choose, for civil rights, for gay marriage!  After all, aren't those individual rights?  But no, it's the modern Republican Party who opposes these things!  

When you point out this to a die-hard Republican, they like to point to Gun Laws as an area where the Party stresses individual rights, but that doesn't hold much water with me.  I believe the modern Republican Party is too indebted to the National Rifle Association that they are willing to tolerate irresponsible gun rights!  How else would you explain why near 500 children so far this year are dead not because of random drive-by shootings but by accidental shootings because of the actions of irresponsible gun owners!  (Latest example: In Georgia 2nd Amendment protected 18 month old from ever making it to his 2nd birthday.)  Yet it is those same Republicans who stonewall even funding to study gun violence, let alone any responsible gun ownership requirements, like not letting people on the No-Fly list have access to guns!

The Republican Party of today would be unrecognizable to the original Republican Party of Jefferson or even the beginnings of the current Republican Party of Lincoln.  It's not just Trump that has soured me on this Party, but a host of actions over the decades since I first registered as a Republican voter.  Trump certainly epitomizes everything wrong with the Republican Party and their lack of cojones, but he's more the results than the cause.

One last reason, reported by CNBC: "GOP says Pence won the VP debate — before the debate even happened" and here is the graphic:
Apparently they took it down after about 10 minutes.  Boggles the mind!

The modern Republican Party needs to simply go away and that's exactly what I see happening as the corrupt, racist, power-hungry, and extremist religious conservatives take it over more and more overtly.  I believe it's strangling itself.  It will be a slow and painful death and history will record that the tipping point was the nomination of a misogynistic, failed businessman, and racist ideologue as their nominee for President.

Monday, October 3, 2016

How much are AIG 'Science' Textbooks Actually Worth? Apparently $1.00!

Checking my news feeds today and I came across something  . . . well depending on your POV on various things it could either be amusing, pitiful, not surprising in the least.  In fact it might be all those and more.  I found it, at first amusing -- which you might have noticed is my immediate reaction to so many things.  Then I did feel a bit of pity for the person involved, and when I thought things through I realized I wasn't surprised in the least.  I guess I should tell you what this is all about.  Take a look:

From the link (Make an Offer) you can see that someone spent over $300 in Answers in Genesis 'textbooks' and is selling them for any amount, and the asking price is $1.  Can you see why I am amused?

I guess the buyer found these 'texts' to be less than useful.  I do have to wonder why they listed them under the 'Textbook' heading, I mean look at the picture.  Do those look like any textbooks you used in school?  They look more like pamphlets. although the seller does say CD's are included.  But still, many of my textbooks came with CDs and those were still actual texts, not a few sheets of paper stapled together.  Maybe the difference is they were stapled through the spine and not just up in the corner?

I don't know about you, but I was never one to part ways with good textbooks.  They remained valuable reference material for years.  Granted the Operating Systems text from 1990 is a bit dated by today's standard, it was still useful for nearly a decade after it was written -- well, the UNIX parts were more so than the DOS, and the less said about Windows 2.11 the better.  But I still have a number of my textbooks and I still have all the electronic texts books from my Master's Program.  I was never one to get rid of something still useful.  While my wife sometimes teases me, telling me my office is one box away from an episode of Hoarders, the books I have are all still useful and used often.  When I started my new job a couple of years ago I was able to being 10 books into office that all were current and applicable to the job at hand!

Plus, when I did get rid of them, there is always a college bookstore around looking for used books or other students who hope to get by with the previous edition instead of shelling out the serious bucks for the latest and greatest.  I can't even imagine trying to sell them for $1 on a trading post website!  If that's all they are worth, you might as well use them in your chimney starter.

The pity I did feel was realizing that someone fell for little kennie ham's excuse for science to the tune of $300.  What was it PT Barnum said, there is a sucker born every minute?  Whoever shelled out real money for these pamphlets must really feel more than  a little foolish.  If not, then I have this bridge in Brooklyn I really want to get off my hands!  Just give me a call!

Like I said, once I thought about it I really wasn't very surprised.  Back in 2009 my wife and I spent a few hours at his first abortion, the so-called Creation 'Museum'.  I described it more of a carnival ride than a museum.  You followed this prepared path that shows kennie's story until you get dumped out into the gift shop.  The books and things I saw there were nothing more than reinforcement for kennie's tale of foolishness and would certainly be worth absolutely nothing when it comes to actual science.  No, I didn't buy anything.  I figured kennie got enough of my money with the admission fee.

As for this offering, if you are the market you might think about it because it seems a good deal.  Over on eBay some of these same books are going for over $22 each.
So if you really want read kennie's ridiculous take on science, you can do it for a better price than on eBay, but at least eBay has the 'Matter' book, which was missing from the first post.  Well, in any event, have fun!  My personal take, as you probably guessed, is that any price over $0.00, you are paying too much, unless you are lining a birdcage or scooping up behind your dog.

Monday, September 26, 2016

John Oliver on Scandals Contrasting Clinton and Trump

Love this show!  It might not be a news program, but it is much closer to news than anything coming out of Fox News!

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Texas, Don't Take This Wrong, But You Are Sounding like South Carolina

I don't know if you remember, but back a few years ago (2007 and 2008) South Carolina elected a home-schooling conservative to head their state school board and one of the first things she [Kristin Maguire] did was violate procedure to try and reject the science textbooks already selected by the school board appointed working group.    It led to more hearing and delays as she brought in a couple of Creationists to object to well pretty much the usual stuff, mainly evolution.

So why would Texas remind me of that?  The state school board set up a panel to streamline science standards.  Even before they started work, members of the school board did their best to stack the deck with evolution-deniers -- much like Maguire did in her textbook complaint.  Even with two confirmed evolution-deniers on the panel, the panel voted to remove some of the anti-evolution rhetoric put in back in 2009 by the school board when it was headed by the creationist dentist, Don McLeroy, who made Texas a laughing stock.  Even with this preliminary vote, creationists are up in arms because of it. (Discussed in the Austin American Statesman and Pandas Thumb)

How I see the parallels:

  1. Creationists do their best to stack review panels with unqualified people (Creationism ideology more important than scientific credentials)
  2. They allow process to run until they don't like the outcome
  3. Then they get all upset and start trying to trash the whole thing.
Texas, you deserve better, but until you let your voice be heard in the ballot box, you are going to continually allow your children's education to be held hostage by Creationists who are trying to make sure your children are taught their philosophy and not actual science.  I really feel for you, each and every one.  Here is something I wrote back in 2007.  It was directed toward South Carolina, but it's just as applicable to you, Texas, today:

"My question is to the people of South Carolina? Is this the direction you want to go? Ms. Maguire and friends are re-treading the direction other states have tried and failed, sometimes in embarrassing and expensive ways. Do you want your Biology teachers teaching religion to your kids? Do you want a narrow fundamentalist Christian viewpoint from determining the contents of your textbooks? Do you want to start the process of removing science from your curriculum?" (Ms. Kristin Maguire strikes)
Well, do you?  South Carolina wound up dropping Ms Maguire for reasons unrelated to conservative and anti-science positions.  You really need to re-examine the people on your school board.  Shouldn't the number one priority be the education of your children?  I would have thought so.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Is the DI Joining the AiG Ministry?

Little kennie ham has some help, apparently he's not the only group pushing how science is not secular and, of course, claiming the mantle of science of his religion. Over at the DI, Michael Engor posted "Atheism Is a Catastrophe for Science", claiming:

"Modern theoretical science arose only in the Christian milieu."
To him, I give the same answer I gave little kennie (Christianity is the Source of All Science, Well According to AiG is it.).
  • Where in the scientific work, from all the names you drop, do you see the part about the Christian Deity?
  • Why are you discriminating against every other religion on the planet? 
  • What do we gain from inserting homage to a deity in a scientific theory?
Micheal, in other words what part of the work is based on their, or your, religious beliefs?  Seriously, where does you version of a deity play in real science?  Little kennie ham claimed that his God's role was establishing the rules, but does that really matter?  How is adding homage to a deity add to our understanding?  Seriously, take any theory, explain how your God fits in and then tell me how the theory changes!

All the Christians you name, all the other Theists you like to ignore, and all the Atheists (Larry Moran over on Sandwalk has a nice list) have made multiple scientific advances and in not a single one of them do you see evidence of any deity taking a hand.  There are no boxes or clouds exclaiming "Goddidthis!"  The best you have is making unsupported claims:
"It is astonishing (and beautiful) that the very retinaculum of the universe, from the subatomic world to the cosmos, is drawn in elegant abstract mathematics. The universe screams intelligent authority. "
Why, because you cling to a belief set so strongly that you demand we acknowledge it for you?  Seriously Michael, what does adding in a deity do for our understanding?  Let's put the ball in your court, take any scientific theory, maybe Thermodynamics.  Look at modern thermodynamic theory and tell me what changes if all the scientists and engineers who work on and with this theory (or set of theories to be more accurate) would change by answering your demand for a universe screaming for your God?  Come on, Mike, put up!  I am offering you a chance here.

Another foolish quote:
"The fact is that during the 20th century atheist ideological systems that "assum[ed] that the world is a product of natural, undirected processes" governed a third of humanity. What's the scientific "track record" of atheism? Atheism had its run: it heralded a scientific dark age in any nation unfortunate enough to fall under its heel. Atheism is as much a catastrophe for science as it is a catastrophe for humanity. The only thing atheist systems produced reliably (and still produce reliably) is corpses."
So now Atheism is equated to economic systems like Communism and dictatorial governments?  You like to build strawman, just like the rest of your Discovery Institute ilk.   Hate to break the news to you, but those systems welcomed religion, after all wasn't it Marx who called 'religion is the opium of the people'.  Didn't Hitler extort and use Christianity to justify all of his actions?  If you don't think so then you are as much a student of history as you are a student of science, more's the pity.  Do your homework for a change! 

Your own link is to North Korea lists the causes of the famine as
"The famine in DPRK is the result of the cumulative effects of a fractured economic infrastructure and inadequate food production."  
It also cites natural disasters and politics as issues acerbating the problem.  They even have a national religion, Cheondoism.  While your religion is illegal, they are not nearly as atheistic as you seem to believe.

How long did Christianity have a stranglehold on  many countries?  How many wars were started, how many diseases flourished, how widespread was starvation and famine under Christian religious regimes?  You really need to read a bit deeper into history, and not just the rosy-colored history that people like kennie ham want you to think, or even the history re-writes from the DI's own 'pseudo-historian', Michael Flannery.  Care to explain the millions who died during the Thirty-Years War directly from the war and indirectly through disease and famine caused by the war.  Go ahead, try and blame that one on Atheists.

I bet you think that's all ancient history, how many people have died from AIDS in Africa due in part to the Christian religious objections to condoms?  Estimates range widely but keep climbing annually.  You own a share of 38,000,000 deaths over that one. How about the religious genocides of the Congo and Rwanda.  You own a share of those 15,000,000 people as well.  Religion is much more to blame for those atrocities than Atheism is responsible for Communism!

The bottom line here is you have a set of religious beliefs and you are trying to demand that the rest of the world somehow justify your own beliefs by inserting them where they are not needed and, in fact, do damage.  Are you forgetting how your Christianity controlled the educational system is many countries for decades, even centuries, and how hard it was to get an idea across if even it was perceived to be contrary to the teaching of the Church.  Disagree, well I would ask you to talk to Copernicus, Galileo, and Kepler, just to name a few. If you have an honest bone in your body, you know the list is much longer!

Not very long ago people believed things like the Sun, the Rain, even the Death of a loved one was all because God did it.  Tell me how scientifically advanced they were?  We know a great deal more about many topics, and all without needing to thrust a deity into the mix.  Must raise some serious feelings of inadequacy -- but it's OK, there's a little pill for that . . . developed by scientists and no one prays over each batch as they are created!

You really had your eyes closed on this one.  Like kennie, you seem to have a thick pair of biblical-colored glasses to view the world through.  You might try taking them off once in a while because they certainly aren't doing you any good.  Maybe I should say they are doing you as much good as they do kennie ham.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Christianity is the Source of All Science, Well According to AiG is it.

Here's something . . . well not new, but certainly consistent . . . from little kennie ham: "Is Science Secular?"  Now before getting into the article, I want to consider just the title, 'Is Science Secular?'.  Looking at all of the scientific advances, from Newton to Einstein, from the Industrial Revolution to today's most cutting edge science, can you find one iota of religion within those scientific theories?

I've asked this before -- when you look at something like Newton's work, where is the part where you say "And here is where God does his thing!"?  You might notice that there isn't one.  There is nothing that identifies where the 'magic' happens.  How I see it is that there are many Theists who have advanced many scientific theories, but when the science conflicts with religious views, they manage to rise above those views and see the world in a much clearer and sharper light.  Does anyone really think this is how Newton did his scientific work:
I don't believe it, but one of the many arguments made over the years is that many of the greatest scientists were Christians.  I would even phrase it differently, many of histories greatest minds were Theists!  I word it that way because often Christians forget that many advances were made by other-than-Christian believers, I do have to wonder if kennie will forget that little item.  OK, with my point made, I have to wonder what direction little kennie is going to take his article?  OK, here goes -- time to get muddy.
"Many people today insist that science can only be done by people who have a secular worldview—or at least by those who are willing to leave their religious views at the door as they enter the science lab."
Strawman alert!  While little kennie and his Hamians may think this, this is not what is being said. Many current scientists are Theists and believe in one religious tradition or another.  What has been said, and proven over and over again, is that if you let your viewpoint blind you to the realities of the world around you, you aren't doing much in the way of science.   This goes for religious or other viewpoints, for example political.

A perfect example is little kennie's concept of the 'same evidence but different conclusions' nonsense. Little kennie's 'creation paleontologists' do not look at the same evidence as an actual paleontologist, his start by rejecting the majority of the evidence because it conflicts with kennie's story of a 6,000 year old Earth.  How is that starting from the same evidence?  An honest answer is that it's not, but don't expect kennie to admit that.  A real scientist starts with a much cleaner plate than one of kennie's.  Imagine if one of his pet 'scientists' put out a paper even suggesting an older Earth.  How long do you think they will be employed by kennie?  Not for very long, I would think.  Or, like what happened to Wild Bill Demski, the 'scientist is question would have to retract any suggestion to the contrary, or he will get kicked out of the club.
"Strictly speaking, my project in The End of Christianity  . . . at the very end of the book, I raised some questions about Noah’s flood in light of an old earth . . . At the meeting with president, provost, dean, and senior professor, the president made it clear to me from the start that my job was on the line.  . . . My questioning the universality of Noah’s flood meant I was a heretic . . . I said just enough to keep my job, and just enough to give me room to recant, as I’m doing here." (Dembki Interview)
What kennie has done here is create a strawman to tell you one thing and then he will try and demolish the strawman and claim victory.  He tried it a few months ago when he was bragging how one of the inventors of the MRI is a creation scientist.  But back then I pointed out that at no point in kennie's bragsheet was any evidence that supported how Creationism was involved in the MRI.  His second sentence compounds his error.
"Several popular atheists and evolutionists have contended that people who reject the big bang and the evolution of living things are so backward that they cannot even be involved in developing new technologies."
No, that is not what is normally said.  What has been said over and over again is that someone's belief set is in no way part and parcel of any scientific breakthroughs.  I don't care how many prominent Theists you can name, and I figure name-dropping is next, but at no point can you point to their work and say "God did this part!"  It's not part of a single equation, it's not listed in the documentation and explanations.  If there is a conflict, the scientist has to be able to see clearly, and Biblical-colored glasses don't allow that.  How many new technologies has kennie and his cohorts actually developed using their religious beliefs?  Again, none!  OK, let's read the rest of the article before commenting further.

OK, a few more comments:
"If science is a strictly secular endeavor without any need for a biblical worldview, then why were most fields of science developed by Bible-believing Christians?"
As expected, kennie focuses on Christians, ignoring contributions from any other religion.  But it does lead me to another comment.  Is kennie forgetting that the education system, for decades and centuries, was dominated by religious groups?  Even Charles Darwin went to religious schools and even once studied to be a Parson (Wikipedia: Charles Darwin Early Life and Education).  

So, now that I think about it, would kennie classify Charles Darwin as a Christian?  Based on his early life and education, an honest person would.  If you look at the details of his religious views (Wikipedia: Charles Darwin Religious Views), you would see he was certainly a Christian in his many viewpoints -- at least a Christian as defined by his times.  What you could never call him is a Christian as little kennie ham see it.  Simply put, one of the areas Darwin and kennie would disagree on is the Bible as a history book.  The list would grow from there.

So the bottom line here is no one is saying Theists or any religious tradition cannot be scientists or perform actual scientific work.  However, that is more than just hanging a label on a door.  You have to be willing to set aside your religious viewpoint if and when it conflicts with your scientific work -- either that of set aside your scientific work and add the label 'creation', as does kennie and his stable of pet 'creation scientists'.
"The U.S. will lose out in “science” when its education system limits science in the classroom exclusively to the religion of secular humanism."
Wow another strawman!  US science classes do not teach secular humanism, science is guided by a philosophy called "Methodological naturalism", which states:
"Methodological naturalism is concerned not with claims about what exists but with methods of learning what nature is. It is the idea that all scientific endeavors, hypotheses, and events are to be explained and tested by reference to natural causes and events." (Wikipedia: Methodological Naturalism)
Science is, and has been for a long time, based on the natural world, on explanations that can be repeated and explained without the involvement of any supernatural causation.  Little kennie hates that because it doesn't pay homage, or even address, his personal deity.  What kennie can't handle is that science does not address such things on purpose!  How do you replicate an occurrence when it relies on the actions of a deity?  It's not possible!  Science may not be the only world view, but it's the only one that gives us repeated results and rational and usable explanations, isn't it?  Drop something, does it fall because a deity wanted it to fall, or does it fall because of the attraction between two objects of mass as explained by the Scientific Theory of Gravity?  Learning about Gravity doesn't require paying homage to one deity or another, and even paying such homage wouldn't advance our understanding of it, would it?

Now when it comes to something like Gravity, kennie tries to tell us that the whole basis for Gravity is his version of a deity.  So, how does that add to our understanding of Gravity?  Think it through, look at current gravitational theory, where does adding in a homage to a deity add anything?  You see my point, science doesn't address it because it adds nothing to our understanding.  Injecting the actoins of a deity does nothing but give kennie a warm feeling.

Little kennie tries to take things up a level and claim this:
"Real science is observable and repeatable experimentation that only makes sense in a biblical worldview where God’s power keeps the laws of nature consistent. In other words, science proceeds from a biblical worldview."
He was close, but he should have ended his comment after the word 'experimentation'.  What has the Biblical worldview offered in the way of explanation?  Does our understanding of any scientific discipline improve when you try and insert a religious viewpoint?  No, it doesn't improve, it degrades.  For example denying geological evidence of the age of the Earth or trying to explain geographic biodiversity using log rafts after Noah's flood.  These viewpoints limit our understanding, they do not improve it.

Here's another quote from kennie:
"In the secular view, where all matter originated by chance from nothing, there is no ultimate cause or reason for anything that happens, and explanations are constantly changing, so there is no basis for science. "
Why does there have to be an 'ultimate cause'?  Seriously, I can't have any answers to any questions until I know absolutely everything 100% perfectly, including how it all started billions of years ago? So science has no basis, and yet science took us to the moon, science built that stupid ark pseudo-replica kennie is so proud of, science cures and treats diseases that would have killed people if they tried to rely on prayer . . . science has more of a basis, and one based on rationality, than any of the thousands of religions that exist or have existed in the world, including kennie's narrow version of Evangelicalism I like to call 'Hamian'.

After all his name-dropping, as expected, he goes on to the tired argument how science is supposedly some sort of religion.  Really?  What religion took us to the Moon?  What religion explains thermodynamics that lets us build engines?  What religion developed this world-wide communications system we call the Internet?  If science was just another religion worshiping a book, meeting once a week to self-flagellate ourselves with guilt, and keep our minds as closed as possible to other people and ideas, we wouldn't have left the cave!  No, I take that back, we wouldn't have gone into the cave to seek shelter, because since God created the rain, seeking shelter is obviously a form of blasphemy!

One final point from kennie:
"Christians will continue to conduct scientific inquiry and invent things, processes, and science fields as we always have."
Again I would say 'Theists' rather than just limiting it to Christians..  I would have to add and just like the past few centuries, not one of those scientific inquiries or inventions will reference any part of ham's, or anyone else's, religious dogma.  If you disagree, I offer anyone another chance to explain how Newton's specific religious beliefs are used in his work?  If you don't like that one, tell me how even little kennie ham's religious beliefs are used in actual scientific inquiries?  What box do they put God in on the diagrams?  If there a PowerPoint clip-art defining 'God'?

Between kennie and his Answers in Genesis (AiG) Ministry, the Institute for Creation Research (ICR), and the Discovery Institute (DI), they have many people on staff they like to call 'scientists'.  Just how many scientific advances have been made by any of them using their religious beliefs?  I believe the answer is a resounding 'None!', not a single one!  Oh they will still make claims, but nothing validated by reality.  Just keep kneeling in front of the Bible, kennie, and maybe one day you will understand the lessons it was trying to teach instead of just worshiping the words.