Saturday, September 30, 2017

Is Michael Behe a Revolutionary Scientist? I Don't Think That Word Means What The DI Thinks It Means!

The Discovery Institute (DI) has a fun, but very misleading post.  The title says a great deal: "Charles Darwin, Michael Behe — Two Revolutionary Scientists"  Really, comparing the relatively unknown -- outside of Lehigh University and Intelligent Design circles -- with someone who truly revolutionized Science.

Michael Behe is one of the few actual scientists on the staff at the Discovery Institute.  He likes to write books and even testified during the Dover Trial -- where he got torn to shreds.  You can read the transcripts for yourself, but when:

  • Behe had to redefine science to claim his ideas are scientific.
  • When presented with over 50 books and articles refuting his ideas, Behe claimed that it was not enough.
  • Did not do any of the scientific work to support his ideas, nor did he know of anyone else who was doing such work.
You get the point?  Behe might be one of the few actual scientists at the DI, but he does them little good other than as a rallying cry.  How many times has the DI pointed to him claiming that "See we have scientists too!"  And yet does Lehigh even let him teach his ideas as part of his biology classes?  This is part of The Lehigh Biology Department's Statement on Evolution and Intelligent Design:
"The department faculty, then, are unequivocal in their support of evolutionary theory, which has its roots in the seminal work of Charles Darwin and has been supported by findings accumulated over 140 years. The sole dissenter from this position, Prof. Michael Behe, is a well-known proponent of "intelligent design." While we respect Prof. Behe's right to express his views, they are his alone and are in no way endorsed by the department. It is our collective position that intelligent design has no basis in science, has not been tested experimentally, and should not be regarded as scientific."
So even Lehigh treats Behe's irreducible complexity idea as nothing more than his opinion and not scientifically valid.  OK, so let's look at the post and see if they say anything new.  Sure doesn't look like it.  Oh look, a quote-mine:
" “If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down.” "
This is a very common issue with Creationists.  They love this quote  from Charles Darwin and frequently screw it up.  How you might ask?   By itself it makes it sound like Darwin himself is doubting his own theory . . . but they drop the very next line:
"But I can find out no such case."
Certainly changes the context of the quote, doesn't it?  When you read the whole quote, including the line they like to drop, you realize that isn't so.  Darwin isn't express doubt at all.  So I guess the next question is "Has anyone found such a case to be true?"

Obviously the answer is 'No!'  Behe's own 'work' has been torn apart on numerous occasions.  But the DI is offering a 'list of essays' that claim Behe's idea of 'Irreducible Complexity' has not been refuted.  Take a look at that list and you might see something more than a little suspicious.  Did you see it?

Let me repeat something I said earlier when I first mentioned Michael Behe, I called him:
"relatively unknown, outside of Lehigh University and Intelligent Design circles "
Look at the authors of all those essays, do the names look familiar?  Yes,  members of the DI and proponents of ID one and all:
  • Michael Behe himself, which shouldn't be a surprise.  He's a DI Senior Fellow.
  • little casey luskin, (lawyer) who spent the Dover Trial handing out pamphlets.  He was never a Fellow, but he working in the PR department before departing the DI.
  • Wild Bill Dembski (philosopher and mathematician), who has since broken away from the DI, another Senior Fellow at the DI.
  • The infamous Paul Nelson (philosopher ), each April 7th is called  Paul Nelson Day, the anniversary of Nelson’s so far unfulfilled promise to provide a detailed exposition of “ontogenetic depth.”, a promise he made in 2003.  Paul's a 'fellow' according to Wikipedia.
  • Bruce Chapman (journalist and politician), one of the founders of the DI
  • Stephen C. Meyer (philosophy and historian),  another founder and currently one of the directors of the DI
Yes, we can see for yourself that outside his little circle of friends, none of whom are actual scientists, there isn't anything to support Michael Behe's ideas . . . and yet the DI wants to put him on the same pedestal as Darwin?

Let me give you the first part of the Lehigh's Statement now:
"The faculty in the Department of Biological Sciences is committed to the highest standards of scientific integrity and academic function. This commitment carries with it unwavering support for academic freedom and the free exchange of ideas. It also demands the utmost respect for the scientific method, integrity in the conduct of research, and recognition that the validity of any scientific model comes only as a result of rational hypothesis testing, sound experimentation, and findings that can be replicated by others."
 I underlined part of the last line to illustrate the difference between Behe and Darwin.  Which one of them has defined scientifically valid theories that is a result of rational hypothesis testing, sound experimentation, and whose findings have been replicated by hundreds, if not thousands, of other scientists?  I'll give you one guess and his initials are not 'MB'.

Friday, September 29, 2017

So You Want to Know What's Wrong with Religion? (5)

So, how many children have to die because of their parents, or caregivers, religious beliefs?  I know what the answer should be -- Zero!  But apparently there are still all to many parents who refuse medical treatment for their children because of their religious beliefs.

"'God ... makes no mistakes': Warned baby could die, couple rejected treatment, police say"
They just happen to live in a state that doesn't offer them a 'get-out-of-jail' card for those beliefs.  The parents are being charged with involuntary manslaughter.  Personally, I am not sure of the 'involuntary' part, I think the charge should be murder.

I am no lawyer, but Involuntary Manslaughter means that there was no malice or forethought about the death.  I disagree!  That child suffered for several days before dying and at nearly any point prior to death, one trip to the Emergency Room could have saved that baby.  Each and every day they made a conscious decision to not provide medical care for their child.  This to me is forethought.  Of course, the longer you wait, the more uphill the battle is, but still have the opportunity to give that child a chance.  With these parent, that child had no chance!  That lack of care should make this at least Second-degree Murder because there is nothing 'involuntary about it.

Don't even bother to tell me that parents suffered enough with the loss of a child.  The child was lost due to their own actions!  I do not and will never sympathize with parents who allowed their child to die from something treatable.  This wasn't some serious disease that struck without warning.  This was jaundice, a fairly common post-birth condition and one treated often.  These parents can't even say they didn't know because they were warned by their mid-wife.

The responsibility for this death lies on their shoulders and I hope Detroit, and the rest of Michigan, hold them accountable!

These parents claim that "God makes no mistakes", well you know my feelings about a deity.  I consider myself an 'Apathist' more than anything else.  But if I do lose Pascal's Wager, the first thing I am going to discuss is the mistake made letting these people become parents!  

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

The Discovery Institute Has a Strange Idea of 'Free Speech'

I really had a hard time reading this foolish post. Little davey 'klingy' klinghoffer is trying to equate the outcry supporting professional football players exercise of their freedom of speech with The Discovery Institute's (DI) desire to teach religion as if it were science in science class! Here is klingy's post: "Freedom on the Football Field – How About in the Science Lab?"

After briefly discussing what's been happening on the football field, klingy says this:

"But I can’t help noticing that many of those suddenly rushing to the barricades for free speech have said nothing about a far more disturbing reality. As we know from years of reporting and hearing from scientists and science instructors in private, the machinery of censorship arrayed against Darwin skeptics is formidable, yet little remarked upon. Most people are hardly aware it exists. Some atheist scientists candidly justify it, or call for more."
Before addressing the idea of censorship, I have to ask, does anyone simply number the DI as a Darwin skeptic?  That is not what the DI is.  They are not simply skeptical of Darwin's work, they are trying to tear down all of science to make it more religious.  Those aren't my words, those are the words from their own guiding document!  Here's a screenshot from it:
These people are not the simple skeptics they call themselves here, but are part of a religious ministry trying to replace actual science.  OK, now on to this idiotic idea they are being censored.

I have to ask what censorship?  Freedom of Speech does not mean you get to publish anything you want, wherever and whenever you want to publish.  If there really was censorship, then would the DI been able to publish their myriad of books, articles, their own pseudo-journals and website postings of their pseudo-scientific concept of Creationism/Intelligent Design?  No!  No one is stopping them from expressing themselves, often to a nauseating level.  They publish everywhere except in the one area where their ideas will be taken seriously as science, scientific journals.

While they like to cite this as an example of censorship, that is very far from the truth.  Scientific journals have scholarship standards, and the Discovery Institute has refused to meet those standards.  I have posted this before, and it still applies:
"Religious studies professor examines Intelligent Design academically", Dr. Mark Chancey, Chair of the Religious Studies Department at SMU said:
"Many religious groups-Christian and other-do not regard evolutionary theory as a threat. For many people of faith, science and religion go hand in hand. When scholars criticize ID, they are not attacking religion. They are only asking ID proponents to be transparent in their agenda, accurate about their representations of scholarship, and willing to play by the same rules of peer review and quality control that legitimate scholars and scientists around the world follow every day."
Little klingy, it's not censorship keeping you relegated to the popular press and religious imprints for your publishing, but your own refusal to be transparent in your scholarship and follow the same methodology actual scientists follow for publications.  If your Freedom of Expression was really being abridged, then where you currently publish would be closed to you as well.  But I can walk down the Christian section in my local book store and see many of your books.  The fact I cannot find them in the Science section isn't censorship, but the testament to what your books represent.

Little klingy ends with this:
"In biology as in cosmology, an ultimate question is at stake: the origin of life and of the universe, with many vital issues downstream from that, including ethics and the meaning of being human. I’m not aware of any comparable stakes in the game of football. Yet about Darwinist censorship you won’t hear a peep across a vast swath of the media, including writers who are currently standing, or kneeling, in solidarity with the pampered athletes, beset by a “troubling assault on free speech.” Pardon me while I gag on the irony."
The only irony is reading this foolishness in which you misdirect and try to redefine the concept of the freedom of speech.  As I said, Free Speech does not mean scientific journals are required to remove their standards of scholarship just so you can publish in their journals!  Free Speech does not mean you can demand a place at the science classroom lectern!

Follow the actual scientific methodology, use real peer-review -- not your bastardized version of it -- and address the actual critiques instead of simply dismissing them.  If you would do these things, you may actually get published in real scientific journals and be taken seriously by scientists as scientists.  But your refusal sends a very different message, one requiring you to use tactics such as imaginary censorship.  But if you did follow the rules of science, that would mean you will have to support your religion with more than just wishful thinking and unsupported conjecture.

To the DI, you need to remember that real science demands evidence.  Failing to provide such evidence is what keeps the you in the religious corner of the bookstore.  It's not censorship keeping you out of the science classroom and scientific journals, but your own continuous failure to provide any evidence.  The real question isn't are you being censored, but is your failure an unwillingness to play by the rules of scientific methodology, or the inability to do so.

Monday, September 25, 2017

So You Want to Know What's Wrong with Religion? (3 and 4)

Just read this: "Church stoked tithing with unemployment scam, ex-members say".

Just want to point out a few things from the article:
  • fraudulent unemployment claims
  • regularly punched and choked
  • ordered by church leaders to lie to authorities
  • forced to work at businesses owned by church leaders
  • beatings administered by fellow church members
  • The church also might mandate that he be cut off from any contact with his family
  • keep tithing regardless of their financial situations
Sure, these are just the type of things you want to hear when discussing a church, any church. The Word of Faith Fellowship Church and it's founder appear to belong in jail.

 Is there some group overseeing this particular church that can take any sort of action?  I'm not familiar with this sort of church, but I am pretty sure a Catholic or Methodist Church does have levels of bureaucracy that can be contacted and possibly take some remedial action.I guess since it seems this isn't an ecclesiastical issue, but a legal one, the real question is what will NC officials do about this insanity?

How about this one: "Ex-Employees Sue TX Doctor, Saying He Forced Them to Attend Bible Study At Work".

Just a few points:
  • he made them practice his version of Christianity in the workplace
  • fired them when they didn’t follow suit
  • held daily mandatory meetings . . .That included attending Bible studies
  • dismissed because she was a single mother
  • fired after saying no to that request [to attend pre-marital counseling for he and his live-in girlfriend]

I recall working with a contractor who I hope never to work near again. A few of his antics:
  • When I declined to join his lunchtime prayer meetings, he was visibly upset and whined a great deal -- to my amusement, which annoyed him even more. 
  • When he tried to co-opt the conference room for those lunchtime prayer meetings, he was told to stop, and he tried to complain up the chain of command and was shocked to get no support from the government bosses who managed his contract.
  • When he harassed a single Mom, his company reprimanded him.
  • When he complained about being reprimanded because of his efforts to 'save' that single mother, the company again reprimanded him and suggested the single mom get a lawyer and sue him for harassment.  He shut up about that subject after that.
  • When the project ended, he was let go -- the only employee who wasn't changed to another contract.  According to him, he was told not to apply with that company again for a new position and to never use them for a reference.
How do I know these things?  It wasn't from secret meetings and hidden messages.  Everything that happened to him, he placed on his sleeve and used it to try and convince everyone within earshot that he was being persecuted for being a Christian and that those of us -- contractor, blue-suit, and government civilians -- that didn't support him were going to Hell.  I happened to have a desk less than 10 feet away, so I got a regular earful whether I wanted it or not.  I pretty much tuned him out and, on occasion got to tell him to shut the hell up because he was being disruptive.  Sometimes, those were the highlights of my day because he would lower his volume for at least the rest of that day.

A few years later, after I retied and became a contractor myself, I heard that he had given my company a resume, but wasn't hired.  If anyone had asked what I thought, they would have gotten my experience dealing with him, but I guess it wasn't needed.  

So You Want to Know What's Wrong With Religion? (2)

So what do you do when you are retired Navy and a natural disaster strikes?  You help out!  Sometimes I think it's in the DNA of military members, especially retired members.  You jump in the middle of things and donate time, money, and expertise.  In this instance Carmen Hix volunteered at the Calvary Church in Friendswood, Texas, following Hurricane Harvey. She brought with her a donation of $500 worth of food, then made further collections and took a week off from work to help with gathering and distributing.

However, when the church finds out you are Jewish and a lesbian, they fire you. Such a Christian attitude! This is a natural disaster and you should take advantage of all the help you can get!  But, I guess if you aren't the 'right' kind of help, you get dismissed. It wasn't just that. Here's a quote after being told she was fired by the Pastor:

"“I asked ‘So if I were a liar with an evil heart, and I told you what you want to hear, that I am a Christian, I would be allowed to continue to contribute to those less fortunate than I?’ I was told, ‘Yes,” Hix said."
When I first heard this, what flashed into my head was a certain hamster-haired serial liar and misogynist holding up a Bible, claiming to have read it.  After this story was reported, Hix claims the pastor in question lied during an interview about the circumstances of her firing and Hix even offered to take a lie detector test to prove she hadn't made up the whole thing.

Organized religions are bureaucracies, and like most bureaucracies the first rule is circle the wagons and protect the bureaucracy.  In a religions case it's either converting people to their way of 'thinking' -- and I use that word loosely -- or get rid of anyone who doesn't agree.

I remind you, it was a NATURAL DISASTER!  The religion or sexual orientation of the person standing next to you giving out water and supplies shouldn't be a consideration, just get the job done!  What I find funny was Hix's follow-up Facebook post, about how she got more acceptance in very different group.  Here is her post:
"I just wanted to share this. After being "fired" from volunteering for a supposedly "Christian " church, Calvary Houston in Friendswood, I looked for another place to volunteer at a food bank, with which I have experience. I was sent a link to SSG Group LLC. I contacted them and told them what I had just gone through and asked if my being Jewish and a Lesbian would be a problem for them. I was told, "absolutely not!" "If anyone gives you any grief, you come talk to me personally." I went the next day to volunteer in Dickinson, and this Company donated their warehouse in order to turn it into a food bank. Much to my surprise, I walked into a warehouse full of gun-toting, Confederate flag T-shirt wearing bikers and others. I thought, "Oh, shit. What have I gotten myself into?" I was greeted by a retired Coast Guard Warrant. I was wearing a Veteran T-shirt, and he asked me what service I had served with. Told him I was a retired Navy Senior Chief, and was straight up with him about my recent volunteer experience. He said, "I don't care who you sleep with or where you worship. Are you ready to get to work?" "Absolutely, Warrant!" Even knowing I identified as Jewish, that I was Gay, and that I am in a bi-racial relationship, I have received nothing but hugs, people with Confederate flags on their shirts thanking me for my service and my volunteering with them, "You are welcomed here". People, that under any other circumstances, we would probably have never greeted each other, not come together. I'm hoping this is a great crossing of a bridge of different opinions. I feel so welcomed there, which I did not at a "Christian "church". We worked together as a great and hard working team, just to help the less fortunate. I hope that this is the future of our society! Look up SSG a Group LLC and thank them for everything they do! I am blessed."
Yet another example of a Church with it's collective heads buried up their collective . . . well, you know the rest.  She was more accepted by a warehouse full of gun-toting, Confederate flag T-shirt wearing bikers that 'good old Christian folks!

I will tell you that I respect Carmen Hix, not just for her military service and willingness to volunteer, but for not being afraid to life her own life as she sees it. She didn't hide her religion and sexual orientation from those pseudo-Christians, as she should never have to do. If they really lived the Christian ideals many of us were taught as children, they would have said "Oh that's nice, now pass me another case of bottled water." As Gandhi once said:
“I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”
Two last things, if I were Hix I would consider sending that church a bill for her donation and her time.  After all, if they rejected her as a volunteer, that's means they should compensate her appropriately.  I know that won't happen, Hix doesn't seem the type -- but it only seems fair to me.  The final thing is that if I were a member of that Church, I would seriously re-think my membership!  I'm sure somewhere there's a group of "gun-toting, Confederate flag T-shirt wearing bikers" that might be more open-minded. 

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Little Kennie Ham is Having a Tantrum (Again!)

Apparently little kennie is upset because someone connected his words with Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.  Here's one of the many articles that offended him: "Hurricanes punish us for gay rights? Who decided that?"  There are a number of Christians who have been blaming the recent hurricanes on many of the things they have decided are sinful, particularly homosexuality.  According the little kennie, he was unfairly lumped in with that group.  Here's the offending quote:

"Franklin Graham, Jerry Falwell Jr., Pat Robertson, Mike Huckabee and now Ken Hamm of Answers in Genesis and the Ark Park state without reservation that disasters like Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma are God’s punishment for homosexuality."
To be fair, kennie didn't specifically say that Harvey and Irma were caused by homosexual behavior.  Not in those precise words.  However, what has he said about hurricanes just a couple of weeks ago (My underlining for emphasis):
"Devastating Hurricanes-reminder we live in a fallen groaning world as a result of our sin against a Holy God-it's our fault not God's fault" (Sep 6, 2017 tweet)
So what is kennie's opinion of Homosexuality?  
  • Well back a few years ago two men were denied entry into a AIG event because they were assumed to be gay.  They weren't as the multitude of articles can attest, but that didn't stop kennie and his folks at one of his ministries from denying them entrance to an event for which they bought tickets.  
  • There are a huge numbers of posts and articles about Homosexuality on his many websites and blogs.  Boiled down, he tries that old trope about love the sinner and hate the sin.  In other words people can be as gay as they want, as long as they don't perform anything that can be construed as a homosexual act, that's the sin according to little kennie.
  • Here are a couple of quotes from little kennie, again I underlined the most interesting parts:
So if kennie views homosexual behavior as a sin, and hurricanes are the result of sin, doesn't that lump kennie in with those pseudo-Christians who claim Harvey and Irma was caused by such sins?  So while he may not have used those specific words, he is certainly a member of that group.

This certainly isn't the first time religious zealots have used natural disasters to drum up support and, more than likely, donations.  I recall Pat Robertson tried something similar about Haiti in 2010 when a devastating earthquake struck the country.  I'm not sure if you will remember, but Robertson even predicted a disaster for Dover PA in 2005:
"Conservative Christian television evangelist Pat Robertson told citizens of a Pennsylvania town that they had rejected God by voting their school board out of office for supporting "intelligent design" and warned them yesterday not to be surprised if disaster struck." (Robertson Says Town Rejects God)
So it's a pretty common theme. I recall a post from 2010 about an Iranian cleric claiming "Women's promiscuity and revealing clothing causes earthquakes".  I guess Iran being located in an Earthquake prone region has nothing to do with it.  Anyone else remember Jen McCreight's "Boobquake"?

I'm a little surprised kennie is trying to separate himself from the group, it's not like he's suddenly changed his mind on sin?  While it would be fun to claim his Rainbow lights on his ark park ministry is a sudden show of support for LGBT rights, it's not, he's trying to re-claim the rainbow for his version of evangelical pseudo-Christianity.

Bottom line is simple, anyone actually believe little kennie doesn't belong in the same group as the rest of the pseudo-Christians who want to blame natural disasters, like hurricanes and earthquakes, on sin and homosexuality?  I didn't think so!

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

So You Want to Know What's Wrong With Religion?

When I first read this post, I was so hoping it was phony, but it sure doesn't look that way: "Air Force Chaplain writes article claiming that Christian servicemen "serve Satan" by demonstrating respect for other religions."

Yes, the USAF, who I was proud to be a member of for over 20 years, has a Chaplain encouraging members to not support the Constitution of the United States.  Not only is this individual a Chaplain, but he's stationed at Wright-Patterson AFB, my last duty assignment before retiring.

The original article is from Newsweek, I caught it off of "The Immoral Minority", one of the blogs I read religiously (pun intended).  What this tells me is that the Chaplain is committing a Courts-Martial offense.  Or did he have his fingers crossed when he swore this oath:

“I , _____ , do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic, that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office upon which I am about to enter; So help me God.’’
Simply put, he has allowed his religious beliefs to trump (pun not intended, but fitting) the responsibilities he swore when he accepted his commission as an officer of the USAF.  It's apparently long past time for him to be held accountable.

When I was in the service, I didn't have a great deal of contact with chaplains, as you can probably tell due to my apathy toward religion in general.  But the ones I did cross paths with, usually as part of dealing with personnel issues, were professional in their duties -- regardless of the particular religious beliefs of the people they interacted with while carrying out those duties.

Writing an article filled with such comments as this:
"Counterfeit Christians in the Armed forces will appeal to the Constitution, and not Christ, and they have no local church home—which means they have no accountability for their souls (Heb. 13:17). This is why so many professing Christian service members will say: We ‘support everyone’s right’ to practice their faith regardless if they worship a god different from ours because the Constitution protects this right." 
"Christian service members who openly profess and support the rights of Muslims, Buddhists, and all other anti-Christian worldviews to practice their religions—because the language in the Constitution permits—are grossly in error, and deceived. "
Statements such as these are in direct violation of the oaths all service members swear and writing this article should put a swift end to his responsibilities as an officer in the USAF.  I have to wonder about this from the USAF FAQ page:
Q: Can someone who is openly gay, lesbian or bisexual join the Air Force?
A: Yes. Air Force applicants are not asked nor required to reveal their sexual orientation. At the same time, statements about sexual orientation will not be a bar to military service or admission to service academies, ROTC or any other accession program. Openly gay, lesbian or bisexual applicants will be evaluated according to the same criteria and requirements applicable to all others seeking entry into the military.
He certainly doesn't comply with current rules and regulations, I have to wonder about what he would  say on this?

In any event, this chaplain isn't acting as a chaplain...and if you disagree, you might take a look at the online comments the article has received, nearly 300 so fr between Newsweek, Facebook, and the BarbedWire site itself.  The best part is the comments are overwhelming against the soon to be unemployed (I hope) chaplain. Here are a couple of examples:
"How deeply offensive. The role of a Military Chaplain is to ensure and support the religious, spiritual or meaning-making practice of EVERY Service Member. Proselytizing or demonization of other traditions by necessity requires they resign their post and find a different way to serve. Mr Hernandez should resign or be removed from his post. Such belief is shameful in the face of Christ's teachings and how a Chaplain serves." 
"If your religious beliefs come before the Constitution you shouldn't be in the military."
In fact the only poster who seems to support the Chaplain is an obnoxious little internet troll who spends more time calling people names than supporting his position. For example when one poster said this:
"As my mother would have said, "bushwah!"
The Chaplain's supporter responded with an ad hominen attack:
"mother" ???????????
Poor woman. Nine months wasted."
Such a perfect example of everything that is wrong with religion!

Friday, September 15, 2017

Imaginative . . . sort of

Just recently one of the DI's Senior Fellows referred to Evolution as:

"merely a loose collection of narratives that are forged to fit the evidence"
I don't recall which talking head said that, we discussed it here.  I would like to introduce you to something that fits that description considerably better. In this post, also from the DI, "Intelligent Design Changes Everything, Thanks to You!".  What post is about is a plea for donations, but the 'loose collection of narratives' is how they try and sell this idea of contributing to the mis-education of America.

They create an imaginary family visiting a museum:
"Imagine taking your family to a museum where you are transported back to prehistoric times. In every direction are recreations of creatures you’ve only seen in books. Unfortunately, in every direction there are placards informing your family that fossil succession, biogeography, homology, and natural selection prove that evolution is responsible for these amazing creatures and their modern day counterparts…including you."
This family just happened to run into Stephen C. Meyer, one of the DI senior guys and have an imaginary conversation:
"He tells you that the sudden appearance of the Cambrian creatures cannot be explained by Darwinian evolution. Rather, the reams of information needed to create these novel life forms point to intelligent design. You’ve never heard of this theory before, but his explanation makes total sense."
Here's where things take an even more imaginary turn, the family thinks that Meyer's imaginative stories, stories that have been shown to be false and the product of poor scholarship, makes total sense? That's the unbelievable part.  They are surrounded by museum artifacts, items supporting the evidence of evolution and biology -- items that are so cavalierly dismissed by Meyer.

No one at the DI seems to think it might be a little weird having a stranger preach to you something without a shred of evidence and then they claim it 'makes total sense'. While they seem to want us to believe this really happened to a family at the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology in Drumheller, Alberta.  I have serious doubts.  Aside from rarely trusting anything the DI talking heads like to say, I would find this much more credible if it happened at the Creation pseudo-museum in Kentucky.  At a real museum, it's much harder to believe.

They further compound the story by having them run into another DI talking head.  Talk about stretching credibility.  This time they claim that the family's son had his picture taken with Meyer.  Sure, that's just the kind of thing you do with strangers at museums, let your child get his picture taken with a complete stranger who just finished preaching his religion to you.

But even if this did happen, I bet Stephen failed to mention a few things, like:
  • How his book has been completely dismissed by actual Paleontologists due to his failure to actually understand or reference any real paleontology.
  • How there is no debate about Evolution within the scientific community, only a cultural debate driven by religious beliefs.
  • How a US Federal Court ruled Intelligent Design was Creationism re-labeled, and that the  judge who made that ruling was a Conservative  by a Republican President. 
  • How, even after opening their own lab, they have failed to produce any evidential support for their ideas.
  • How, even after opening their own publishing group, have failed to gain any traction in academic circles -- and their response to that is claiming a centuries-long, multi-cultural and multi-national conspiracy against them as the reason for their failure.
  • How his organization continually uses tactics like lying, quote-mining, re-defining real science in order to keep financial support coming in.
No, I doubt Stephen would have mentioned any of that.  No, he told them a very loose and unsupported narrative that appealed their their religious sensibilities and then claimed they thought it was a life changing experience.

So just what is life changing about Meyer and his claims?  To date, what, if any, life changes have come about due to Intelligent Design?  Are there any scientific advances based on it?  Are there any new actual scientific theories because of it?  Has anyone invented anything that uses it?  Has a single medical treatment or medicine been developed based on their pseudo-scientific religion?  There is nothing life changing about ID, other than your wallet being a bit slimmer if you cough up a donation.

If it had been my family, I would have been laughing at Meyer and would have kept him away from my children.  Even if he had managed to corner them, I would enjoy watching one of my daughters take him down with a look of either sheer incredulity or significant laughter.  Even better to see the face of one of my nieces, who is majoring in Biology, as she cuts him off a the knees.  I don't know of a family member who studied paleontology, so it might not have been a clean sweep.

Meyer might have tried to engage in a debate, but that would be a waste of time.  DI's folks don't debate, they pontificate and obfuscate, they don't seriously engage in a debate.  They prefer to tell you both sides of the cultural debate, of course heavily bent in one direction while build strawmen out of science for the express purpose of knocking them down and claiming a victory.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Does the Discovery Institute Understand Scientific Methodology At All? Apparently Not!

I've explained this many times, but it bears repeating because the Discovery Institute continues to trot out the same erroneous arguments.  An analogy of a Scientific Theory is that it is like a snapshot in time.  It is the best explanation based on the available evidence we have right now.  In the future, as we learn more, scientific theories change.  While the DI likes to brand this as a weakness, it's actually one of its strengths.  If it were incapable of change, we certainly wouldn't have gone to the Moon, flown a single balloon -- let alone an airplane, nor cured and eliminated many diseases.

In this latest post, new evidence is changing some of the theories around evolution and the DI is complaining.  There complaint goes like this:  Since science is changeable, it means it's wrong, and therefore cannot be counted on.

Here's the post: "With Two New Fossils, Evolutionists Rewrite Narratives to Accommodate Conflicting Evidence".  Without even going into the post, you can see the complaint.  That's why I have to question an organization claiming to be a scientific organization not understanding how science works.  But when you see the DI for what it really is, a religious ministry, it's not so hard to understand.

If you do read the post, it's little new, except for this little gem:

"Dubious procedures like these would be unthinkable in other natural sciences, such as physics."
Yes, Physics and the other hard sciences make no allowances for new discoveries at all.  Scientific theories in Physics, Chemistry, Geology, Astronomy . . . never change when something new is discovered, really?  So Nobel Prizes are awarded for what?  Maintaining the status quo?  I can hear the announcement from Stockholm now "And the Nobel Prize in Physics for 2018 goes to John Smith, for doing nothing at all!" and everyone applauds, except for me -- I mean, I did nothing in Physics at all, so where is my Nobel?

I do find is funny that this post uses Physics as it's example because the DI has frequently poked at Physics, as well as most of the rest of the hard sciences.  Usually they are trying to tear down support for Biology from any of the other sciences, but equally as often they are trying to use new discoveries in those science to disprove biology.  Funny because in this post they claim that the other hard sciences don't change with new discoveries, and yet when new discoveries are made they try and twist it into something against Biology.

Anyone with a functioning brain knows that a scientific theory is not:
"merely a loose collection of narratives that are forged to fit the evidence"
That's what the DI would like people to believe.  Which is why they like using such disreputable tactics as "It's Only a Theory" and calling Evolution 'Darwinism', both designed to make Evolution appear to be less than it is, a Scientific Theory -- which is, just in case you need a refresher:
"A scientific theory is an explanation of some aspect of the natural world that can be repeatedly tested, in accordance with the scientific method, by using a predefined protocol of observations and experiments. Established scientific theories have withstood rigorous scrutiny and are a comprehensive form of scientific knowledge." (Wikipedia: Scientific Theory)
Just a wee bit more than a 'loose collection of narratives' . . . which happens to much closer to the definition of something else:
"The Bible is a collection of sacred texts or scriptures that Jews and Christians consider to be a product of divine inspiration and a record of the relationship between God and humans. 
Many different authors contributed to the Bible. What is regarded as canonical text differs depending on traditions and groups; a number of Bible canons have evolved, with overlapping and diverging contents.
" (Wikipedia: Bible)
Many different authors, collection, different canons . . . certainly sounds more like a 'loose collection of narratives' than a 'repeatedly tested' and 'withstood rigorous scrutiny', doesn't it?

But the DI would have you believe that scientific theories are nothing more than a bunch of stories with no evidence at all . . . exactly what their pet idea of Intelligent Design has always been.  You think one day they might learn . . . oh wait, but anyone who thinks scientific theories should never be able to be changed isn't demonstrating the capacity for learning, are they?

Discrimination, Religious Style in Australia

Caught a report today about an Australian couple who had made arrangements to get married in a Presbyterian Church.  Apparently they had to change their plans because the minister say on one of the bride's Facebook posts support for Marriage Equality.

The minister's message:

“By continuing to officiate it would appear either that I support your views on same-sex marriage or that I am uncaring about this matter. As you know, neither statement is correct. 
Also, if the wedding proceeded in the Ebenezer St John’s church buildings, the same inferences could be drawn about the Presbyterian denomination. Such inferences would be wrong.“
The couple's response:
“We feel this decision is absolutely disgraceful and is a disgrace to you and all the church, especially when we have been loyal and valued members of this congregation for 10 years,” they wrote. 
“You were made aware from the beginning of our proceedings that we had gay friends and also that people in our wedding party were gay. How could you assume that we would abandon them or degrade them with regards to same-sex marriage? 
“We understand we did agree with the teachings of the church in our marriage counselling but just because we agree with that for our own lives, doesn’t mean that we have to push those beliefs onto others.”
So, don't religious groups realize the amount of self-inflicted harm they do their own position when they take stands that revolve around discrimination and intolerance.  Apparently 'Love thy Neighbor as thyself' is just a catch phrase to this Minister and even the Presbyterian Church of Australia who have not only declared homosexuality a sin (1994) but in 2007 called on the government to amend the Sex Discrimination Act "in such a way as to prevent same-sex partners and singles from continuing to access artificial reproductive technology."

Hmmm, the same Sex Discrimination Act says:
"prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, marital or relationship status, actual or potential pregnancy, sexual orientation, gender identity, intersex status or breastfeeding in a range of areas of public life. These areas include work, accommodation, education, the provision of goods, facilities and services, the activities of clubs and the administration of Commonwealth laws and programs."
You know, reading that, isn't the Minister in violation?  After all, he's supposed to be providing a service?  He cannot claim the couple violated his religious beliefs because they agreed to the teachings of the church for their own life.  But this Minister, and apparently the Presbyterian Church of Australia not only want the power to control their members lives, but they want their members to be guilty of discrimination against others as well.

Good for this couple and their decision to leave that church.  I am sure they can find places they will be welcome that don't demand you drop anyone in your life who is LGBT as a requirement.  I have to wonder if this late change of heart by the Minister had a financial impact?  If so, they might consider suing.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Alt-Right is Secular? Anyone Buy That?

One of my favorite targets is the Discovery Institute (DI) and the lengths they will go through to rationalize just about anything.  Today's topic is "The Religion of the Alt-Right", and it appears to be an attempt at disassociating themselves not only from their religious roots, but any connection with Alt-Right groups.

The Alt-Right is collection of people, self organized into a number of different groups who lean to the far-far right of the political spectrum.  Their main weapon, at least according to the DI is Racism.  Their recent activities in Charlottesville Va is a good example of their behavior.  I think that view is quite narrow.  The Alt-Right is against a number of things, like Abortion, Gay Marriage, Antisemitism, Immigration, Civil and Women's Rights, and pretty much a rejection of any American Ideals.  Their tactics are full of violence and hatred for anyone who supports an alternative view.  Yet, the DI just wants to focus on just Racism.

Now why would the DI want to disassociate themselves from such groups and why use a one-trick argument, Racism?  I see two reasons here.  The first is one of the common themes from the DI, the efforts to disassociate themselves from their conservative religious underpinnings.  You see that in this post because what they are doing is to try and claim that the Alt-Right is not particularly religious, but secular.  Most of this post is a rationalization about the Alt-Right's use of religion and how they really aren't religious  -- regardless of all the religious symbolism and right-wing religious organizations that belong to the Alt-Right.

Why is that important?  Remember the DI is really a religious ministry wearing an ill-fitting lab coat and constantly trying to convince people that they are a scientific organization.  If they were not a religious ministry, then why is this part of the post be necessary?  If you aren't sure here is the first line of the DI's description in Wikipedia (my underlining for emphasis):

"The Discovery Institute (DI) is a politically conservative non-profit think tank based in Seattle, Washington, best known for its advocacy of the pseudoscientific principle of intelligent design (ID)" (Wikipedia: Discovery Institute)
From the same Wikipedia page, a few words from the Dover Court Decision:
"The court ruled that the Discovery Institute pursues "demonstrably religious, cultural, and legal missions," and the Institute's manifesto, the Wedge Document, describes a religious goal: to "reverse the stifling dominance of the materialist worldview, and to replace it with a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions."[  It was the court's opinion that intelligent design was merely a redressing of creationism and that, as such, it was not a scientific proposition."
Now, you are the DI, and you are associated with being conservative as well a being a religious organization.  So how to you try and break any association with the Alt-Right?  You disassociate yourself if you can, and if you can blame Charles Darwin at the same time you have a win-win.

That's what the rest of this post is all about.  And since the DI has tried to establish the Alt-Right as a secular organization, then it's just one more step to claim that they are followers of evolution and lay all the trouble they have been causing at the footsteps of Charles Darwin.  They even manage to drag in Hitler for a brief cameo.

So who does the DI turn to for this attempt? Why Richard Weikart, one of their stable of pseudo-historians and also a Senior Fellow at the DI. 
Richard Weikart is best known for his book From Darwin to Hitler: Evolutionary Ethics, Eugenics and Racism in Germany.  The Discovery Institute, the hub of the intelligent design movement, funded the book's research.  The academic community has been widely critical of the book.  Regarding the thesis of Weikart's book, University of Chicago historian Robert Richards wrote that Hitler was not a Darwinian and called criticized Weikart for trying to undermine evolution.  Richards said that there was no evidence that Hitler read Darwin, and that some influencers of Nazism such as Houston Stewart Chamberlain were opposed to evolution. " Wikipedia: Richard Weikart)
Of course the DI doesn't mention that Weikart's book received an almost universal negative criticisms from academics -- historians and theologians alike -- conservative and liberal as well.  The main criticisms focused on his very selective focus on one narrow point of view and failure to regard a host of factors influencing Hitler and the Nazi's.  Bottom line is Weikart's pushing the DI's agenda, and therefore critics don't matter much, after all, the DI and Weikart are doing God's work, aren't they?

So what we have here is not some treatise to be taken seriously.  It looks like nothing more than a rationalization to try and officially disassociate the DI from their religious and conservative underpinnings and at the same time promote an already widely dismissed idea blaming Darwin and Evolution for the abhorrent behavior of some of the DI's philosophical brothers, those in the past and those in the present.

I do have to wonder about the timing of this?  The DI does nothing without a motive.  So why this sudden interest in disassociation with the Alt-Right?  Are they setting the stage for some new argument, or is this just an excuse to trot out Weikart again and his already much discredited ideas?  Guess we'll see what the future brings.

What 911 means to little kennie ham

While many of us were remembering September 11, 2001, little kennie ham was not just trying to make some religious mileage out of it with one tweet, he was trying to re-define the word 'marriage' with three.  Now, why would he want to do that?  Simply put . . . he's homophobic.  Here is the series of twitter posts from the little guy on 9-11:

Now I do not follow kennie on Twitter, I actually caught this reported from the Friendly Atheist: "Ken Ham Thinks He Can Defeat Same-Sex Marriage With a Hyphen", a blog I read often.  Once I read that, I popped over to Twitter to take a look myself, and sure enough, kennie wants to spell 'Marriage' as 'Mar-raige' and use the definition of the word 'mar' because it means 'Damage/Impair'.

I know little kennie only wants to apply it to gay marriage, but I am sure there are others who might like to apply it to all marriages.  The Friendly Atheist had a great suggestion:
" . . .we can all start describing Ark Encounter as mar-velous and he won’t know whether or not it’s a compliment."
I was wondering at all the other words starting with 'Mar' and how people who dislike them can try and convince us to change the way we spell it to publicize their dislike:
  • Mar-athoners - for couch potatoes.
  • Mar-gerine - For dairy purists who insist on butter.
  • Mar-ksman (or Mar-kswoman) - for those who don't like guns.
  • Mar-aschino - for those who hate maraschino cherries.
  • Mar-supial - antikangaroo bigots.
  • Mar-ch - for those years the month comes in like a lion.
    There are many other words starting with the letters 'Mar' that someone, somewhere, has a grievance with.  But just because a minority has a disagreement with a word, that doesn't mean we have to change the spelling.  Actually the whole idea is rather silly and reveals kennie's lack of understanding of English.  Hyphenated words are two actual words whose relationship is hyphenated for a new phrase that may mean something different than the two words individually, for example 'deep-fried',  'one-eyed', and 'same-sex'.  So if 'mar' means 'Damage/Impair', just what does 'riage' mean anyway?

    In reality, there is no such thing as 'gay marriage', it's just 'marriage', little kennie and his philosophical compatriots like calling it that because it makes them feel all warm inside. . . sorta like when he pees on himself while wearing black trousers. Supposedly it's a nice warm feeling, but no one can see it.

    And since little kennie seems to consider himself a martyr for Jesus in the make-believe 'war on Christians', we can call him a mar-tyr see if he gets it.

    Saturday, September 9, 2017

    Theism and Morality, any Correlation? Apparently Not!

    One of the sillier posts from the Discovery Institute's Evolution 'news' and Views site is this: "On Atheism and Morality, Study Confirms Voltaire?"  The basic question is "Can you be good without God?"  Michael Engor, one of the DI's talking heads has a lot to say about it.  I do enjoy his opening line:

    "Can you be good without God? Of the various questions raised in the theist/atheist debate, this question has, I believe, occasioned more witless commentary than any other. "
    You can find a wonderful example of 'witless commentary' than the rest of Michael's post.  He begins with a discussion of what 'without God' means -- and he starts that with an assumption:
    "If God does not exist, you cannot be good. You cannot be evil."
    I think he missed the metaphysical boat on this one -- but then with how often the DI claims not to have religious roots, they, and all their talking heads, love to discuss theistic subjects.  That aside, where I think Micheal blew it by not really addressing what it means to be 'good' or 'bad'?

    If those concepts are really driven by religious beliefs, then Michael might have a point, but if they are not, then the whole 'with and without God' discussion is -- as Michael would say -- 'witless commentary'.

    So, just what is the source of Morality?  Let's do something the DI hardly ever does and define our terms:
    "Morality (from the Latin moralis "manner, character, proper behavior") is the differentiation of intentions, decisions and actions between those that are distinguished as proper and those that are improper. Morality can be a body of standards or principles derived from a code of conduct from a particular philosophy, religion or culture, or it can derive from a standard that a person believes should be universal. Morality may also be specifically synonymous with "goodness" or "rightness"." (Wikipedia: Morality)
    Look at this line in particular:
    'Morality can be a body of standards or principles derived from a code of conduct from a particular philosophy, religion or culture, or it can derive from a standard that a person believes should be universal.'
    So the source of what is determined to be 'good' or 'bad' may or may not come from a religion, it could just as easily come from many other sources.  What that tells me is that the source is unimportant.  That might annoy some, but think it through.  Regardless of the source, the key is how it's defined by society, not a particular religion.  And if you look at the things generally defined as 'moral' and 'immoral', what is the key?  Human impact!

    Murder, slavery, child welfare, among many others have all been codified into a set of morals because of the impact they have on us as people.  Many groups, religious and secular, have defined similar codes.  Is the insertion of a deity required for such a code to exist?

    To support that, look at all of the things we consider 'good' and 'bad' and tell me is there one religion that holds all of those same standards?  Many of today's moral improprieties are not against religious beliefs, but societal ones -- human ones.  Plus many religions conflict on matters of morality.  Is Birth Control a sin?  Depends on which set of religious beliefs to which you subscribe.  What about alcohol?  Some religions call any alcohol immoral, others only claim drunkenness is immoral, and still other standards of morality don't bother with alcohol unless you are driving or acting up in public.  Was it moral to send children to work in coal mines?  Is killing a non-believer murder?  Pre-marital sex, often religiously immoral, but still practiced by many -- including theists. I went to a wedding a few years ago, music was allowed, but dancing was a sin.  Do you know how hard it is to prevent my granddaughter, who was 5 or 6 at the time, from not dancing at a wedding when every other wedding she had been had hours of it.  At my nephew's wedding there were nearly as many pictures of her dancing as the newlyweds. The definitions of 'morality' change from religion to religion as often as they do from country to country and culture to culture.

    So, 'good' and 'bad' are determined by society, not by a religious tradition.  Some of our moral 'standards', for lack of a better word, can trace their history back to various religious beliefs, but that has little to do with those moral standards in place today.  It's the human impact, regardless of apparent source, that matters.  Add in the conflicts between religion and the enforcement of those standards on society, you really see that the source of a moral position matters little.  It's societies' acceptance of those standards that are important, many of them further codified into laws.

    That being said, the question becomes are atheists as capable as theists of leading a 'good' life when the 'good' is not based on a religious tradition, even if a specific moral judgment may have historically been part of one.  So what else would support a contention that theism is a necessary part of such a life?

    I know, how about US Prison populations?  Theists like to claim that without a set of theistic beliefs, usually their own specific set, you have no basis for the idea of good or bad, therefore Atheists are more likely to be criminals.  So the expectation is that Atheists will have a higher percentage within the prison population than Theists.  If it's not true then Theists are just as likely as anyone else to commit crimes.  I know many would like to think their religious beliefs place them on some sort of moral high-ground, but there doesn't seem to be much data to back that up.

    The first question I wanted to know was if there are specific instances of religion having an impact on certain types of crimes.  With one exception, there doesn't seem to be a correlation, and that is fraud, it's apparently a high percentage problem with many non-profits, including churches.  Churches seem particularly susceptible to fraud and embezzlement, mainly because they are exempt from filing annual reports to the IRS.  Forbes discusses it in a 2013 article.  The other reason is religious groups try to keep their legal and moral issues internal . . . yea, we saw how well that works a few years back for the Catholic Church, didn't we.  Other forms of crime, theists seems to commit them more often than atheists.

    In a Wikipedia article, "Correlations of Criminal Behavior", there are few studies that hint people with strong religious convictions may be less likely to commit certain types of crimes, there's not enough evidence to back up that claim.  A 1997 study found little correlation between religion and a lack of criminal activity, or drug use.  Funny it found a much more statistically relevant connection between religion and alcohol.  How about Prison Statistics?

    Hmm, interesting, "Mean religious affiliation of inmates in U.S. prisons, as reported by prison chaplains in 2011" has an interesting graphic:
    It's a little hard to read, but you can see that over half the inmates are reported to have a Protestant religious affiliation, 50.6%.  Only 10.6% profess no religious preference, and only 5% are unknown.  There is no category for Atheists, so making a comparison is difficult.  But form the above statistics, you can see that those with 'no preferences' and 'unknowns' are are less than one-quarter of the total just comparing then to Protestants and Catholics (65.1% v. 15.6%).  While I believe I can safely assume some of those unknowns and no preferences are Atheists, all that would do would make the statistic even more lopsided, in favor of the Atheists being less likely than Theists in committing criminal offenses.

    I found another set of stats from a study done in 2013.  This one actual identified a category for Atheists:
    While the Protestant percentage dropped and Catholics nearly doubled from the previous stats, the percentage of Atheists is 0.1%, or 1/10 of 1%.  So far, the idea of morality requiring a religion seems to be taking a beating.  If being a theist means you were less likely to commit crimes, that doesn't seem to hold up when you actually start digging.  I guess theists simply like to claim it as a point in pride, but the reality is that is just doesn't seem to be true.

    So, looking at the prison population, while Atheists represent 0.7% of the general population, only 1/7th of them are represented in the prison population.  Yet theists of varying types, represent 99.3% of the general population also represent 99.9% of the prison population.  So there really doesn't seem to be much to support the idea that you require a deity to have a standard of good and bad. Society lays out those standards, the historical source is immaterial.

    So, based on all this, Atheists and Theists alike have the choice of what type of life they lead.  Being a Theist doesn't seem to offer any better chance the life led will be morally better than an Atheist.  At best the idea of religion may be a factor that weighs in a Theists mind before heading down a religiously forbidden path, but there doesn't seem to be any evidence to show being aware of that forbidden path actually stops people from treading on it.

    One last thought, if Theism was a viable deterrent to immoral behavior, there should, not only be statistics to back that up, but then many types of these behaviors should be able to be handled by theistic groups.  However, looking the example discussed above, theistic groups don't seem to have a good record of policing themselves.  A quote from the Forbes article cited included this gem:
    "Johnson [the author of the study] told me [the Forbes article author] that "part of it is a reluctance to see the bad side of a nice pastor, a secretary or a board member of the church." Johnson even cited one quote from a church member who knew of an embezzlement and said, "I know he stole my money but I still think he's a wonderful person.""
    'he stole my money but I still think he's a wonderful person'?  And the DI thinks belief in a Deity makes a person more moral than someone who does not believe?  Seriously?  If Theism is a reason to still believe that someone who stole your money is still a wonderful person, then the impact of theism isn't on whether or not a theist can commit a crime, but on the gullibility of theists in general.  I think we are done here!

    A Book Review Invitation, Maybe?

    I need a good laugh every once in a while, and not just at the expense of kennie ham or the Discovery 'Institute'. Today I received an invitation to review a book, here's the basic invite:

    "My name is Cheryl [XXXXX], Communications & PR Manager for David Birnbaum, author of the 3-book Summa Metaphysica series.
    I am reaching out because I noticed you wrote an Amazon review for books similar in theme to ours.
    Accordingly, we would like to invite you to review Summa I and/or Summa II and/or Summa III."
    I don't know the lady, or the author, so I was curious how did they get my name and email. The invite had a little addition, looks like boilerplate to me:
    "This is a highly intuitive work attempting to advance our speculative conjecture about the cosmos but fully comporting to our knowledge of the spectrum of various realities, across the sciences, both physical and social. The work is written within a Jewish context, but its motifs are universal. If the construct proposed herein proves to stand the test of time, mainstream Jewish philosophy and theology will comport to its contours and other belief systems will find ways to accommodate its assertions."
    Ah, now it makes sense.  I have written a number of reviews on Amazon, for both books and various products.  I think it was my reviews of some of the DI's pseudo-science books that caught their attention.  I do find it funny that after the shellacking I gave those books, another theologically-bent publication would even think I would make a good reviewer.

    However, there are two main reasons I will not be participating.  The first is this is not really a request for a review.  If it were the books would have been included.  Instead what the email contains was a link to purchase those three books from Amazon.  So this is less an invitation to review as it is a sales pitch.

    I have reviewed a number of books for my profession and the request ALWAYS either included the book, or an agreement to perform an editorial review with a way of getting a copy of the book -- at no cost to myself.  So, no review.

    The second reason is even simpler, time!  If I am going to spend my time reviewing something, it's not going to be something like this.  At least the DI tried to hide their theological leanings.

    In addition, the email contained a number of images, most of which were hysterical.  Unlike the DI, the publisher of this particular religious tract bought an ad on the back over of several magazines.  Here's one of the images from the email:
    Remember these were ads, not articles that would adhere to the publication standards of these magazines, but ads.  They also included an image the one from the back cover of Scientific-American (SA):

    The small print says:
     "See full length article in HUFFINGTON POST | SCIENCE section"
    Just because it appears on the back cover does not mean SA in any way endorses Birnbaum's publication, just that Birnbaum's publisher paid for the space to advertise.  Which is what tells me they are most likely trying to gain an legitimacy that that cannot get through other means, like actually publishing in a scientific journal.

    Now, I don't know about you, but the Huffington Post is not a place I would go to for Science news.  This is a site that frequently includes articles by supporters of alternative medicine and anti-vaccine activists.

    So what does all this mean?  Nothing much.  We have yet another religious publication trying to pass itself off as science by advertising in some science magazines.  Doesn't seem to be worth reading, let alone reviewing.

    Saturday, September 2, 2017

    Letter to the Editor Pulls No Punches

    A letter to the editor over at the Lexington Herald-Leader tickled my funny bone.  You have to be careful with sarcasm when you are writing, because you can't send to obvious non-verbal clues which help to sarcasm-deficient people from understanding the meaning behind what you are trying to convey.  I do so enjoy things that are clear-cut, like a slap in the face.

    This one hits the nail right on the head: "Ark Park wizardry".  While the facts of the recent debacle over the emergency tax are pretty simple -- the ark park folks have offered little substantiation for their claims that they had always intended to pay it, nor for that matter a reasonable explanation about why the property changed metaphysical pockets- going from kennie ham's for-profit pocket to his non-profit pocket and then back to his for-profit pocket.  Mark Looy, the ark parks communication chief seems to expect us to believe there was no connection with the timing of the property shift or the potential loss of the State's Sales Tax rebate because of the switch.

    So, let me get this straight, Mark.  You get hit with a tiny tax that you claim you never saw coming, and right after the local community reminds you that you are a for-profit business, kennie changes from one pocket to the next, and back again after learning the State was less than amused and offered to pull the $18,000,000 in estimated sales tax incentives  And you expect us to believe all those actions are unrelated?  Really?

    I don't think Daniel Phelps, the writing of this short, but entertaining letter, buys that either.

    Loved how he closed it:

    "Not only are the Ark’s leaders the world’s most holy men and know more about science and religion than anyone else, they are also ace businessmen, financial wizards and philanthropists who want only to help Williamstown and Grant County public schools."
    Sarcasm, my second language.  Actually since I am from Brooklyn NY, English is my second language with Brooklynese my first.  So I guess sarcasm is my third one.  I don't think that is what comes to mind when you think 'multi-lingual'.

    I also recall a Washington Post asking people to add or remove one letter from a common word and define the new word.  One of the winners from a few years ago is now an entry in the Urban Dictionary:
    "Sarchasm - the gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the person who doesn't get it"
    I know which side of the chasm little kennie is probably on, which one are you? 

    Scientific Consensus is Not Just a Raised Hand!

    In a recent conversation, the subject of scientific consensus was raised and their reaction was fascinating.  They immediately dismissed it as something that does more damage than good.  What it told me is they have absolutely no idea how scientific consensus is achieved and what it takes to change that consensus.

    Here's my issue in a nutshell, remember the conversation about the words 'theory' and 'belief'?  In the colloquial sense they mean one thing, but when you look at the scientific sense, they mean something very different.  That's what's going on here.  'Consensus' and 'Scientific Consensus' are incredibly different.

    To them, consensus is nothing more than a group agreeing on something, as if a bunch of scientists sat in a room and the majority raised their hand when a topic was announced.    Suppose someone on the radio says something, and a group of people call in and most agree with it.  A good example of Rush Limbaugh's 'Ditto-Heads', which are people who call in but instead of re-hashing and taking up airtime, they just say 'Ditto!' to show their agreement.  You can say that the group that called in has consensus if the majority who called in agree with the statement.

    But, does that mean the consensus is right or wrong?  Or even closer to right or closer to wrong if you don't want to address absolutes?  With the idea of the colloquial term 'consensus', there is no way to make a value statement.  The only thing you know is that the call-in group agreed.  That's not a scientific consensus.  Like other words often misused by pseudo-scientists, that's horrible example of a scientific consensus.  The idea of a scientific consensus is something much more, considerably more.

    Here's the Wikipedia explanation:

    "Scientific consensus is the collective judgment, position, and opinion of the community of scientists in a particular field of study. Consensus implies general agreement, though not necessarily unanimity.
    Consensus is normally achieved through communication at conferences, the publication process, replication (reproducible results by others), and peer review. " (Wikipedia: Scientific Consensus)
    A few things to note:
    • A community of scientists in a particular field of study -- in other words the only ones who count are the ones who are in a particular field.  These are the people who study a subject and the agreement of people outside the field is simply opinion.
    • General agreement  . . . not unanimity -- which, of course means, that the entire group doesn't have to be agreement, but the clear majority of the scientists working in a specific field agree, but not by a vote, through a number of other mechanisms, including:
      • Conferences -- We aren't talking about a matter of opinion, scientists present to their peers and if you have ever presented to a group of co-workers, you know this isn't just a 'because I said so' presentation.  They present not just their conclusions, but details about exactly how they came to those conclusions -- and then the fun begins.  Their conclusion are not just examined, but their entire methodology.  Scientists do not go into these conferences voicing a simply opinion.
      • Publications -- Similar to conferences, publications are another avenue for communication.  One difference, publications usually go into a great deal more detail than a conference can.  The level of detail has to be enough for other scientists to fully understand and even replicate the work.
      • Replication -- Here is an important piece, scientific conclusions that cannot be replicated never reach a level of consensus.  The details from those conferences and publications are replicated, not by the originating scientist, but others in the same field, often competitors.  If it cannot be replicated, it eventually falls to the wayside (ask the Cold Fusion guys).
      • Peer review --  Here one of the biggest differences between the colloquial 'consensus' and the scientific consensus.  Before publication, scientific papers are reviewed at the request of the publication editor.  It is sent to the author's competitors, again members of the same field, for review.  Most often this is a blind review, the author doesn't know who is reviewing it, and the reviewers don't know who the author is.  These reviewers don't just give a thumbs-up or down, but document issues they had with the paper.  The editor typically has multiple options, commonly:
        • Outright rejection -- which is usually done when the paper doesn't meet publishing standards.  It could be the subject is outside the publications purview or it may have massive technical or procedural errors.
        • Editing the paper -- Normally when the reviewers find minor errors that can be fixed without changing the meaning of the paper.  Many scientists aren't professional technical writers, so often there are editorial changes to clean things up, so to speak.
        • Return the paper to the author -- which is usually done to give the author the chance to address those concerns and re-submit at a later time.
    You see Scientific Consensus is not just a bunch of scientists all nodding their head, but a concerted effort to make sure that there is a general agreement on a specific subject through a number of mechanisms that cause the concept to be evaluated.  Not an absolute agreement, but a general one based on such evaluations.  Scientists are free to disagree with minor or major parts as they see fit, and often that is where future scientific work is directed.  But rarely do scientists go against consensus without some evidence that there is a reason for doing so, evidence is the key.

    Opponents like to build a very rosy picture of the scientific community, how they all work together, all for some altruistic goal.  The reality is much different.  There is a surprising amount of conflict, both professional and personal.  In fact many of the most lauded scientific achievements are done by scientists who buck the consensus.  But the key is they buck it with evidence, not wishful thinking.

    Is scientific consensus a perfect thing?  No, but can anyone name a better process?  The Discovery Institute has tried a couple.  For example, they keep trying to sell the idea that opinion is just as valuable at scientific consensus.  They also like to publish articles and books without a single critical review from anyone outside their own group of believers.  People like Answers in Genesis keep trying to tell you how wrong science is on certain things without a lick of evidence to support their contention.

    But when it comes to explanations that actually match the evidence and are usable and workable, scientific consensus seems to work really well.  If someone has a better idea, let's hear it.  But until there is one, scientific consensus is one of our best methods for understanding the world around us.