Tuesday, January 24, 2006

The Clergy Letter

The Clergy Letter is an idea launched by Michael Zimmerman, Dean of the College of Letters and Sciences at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh. Basically it’s an attempt to demonstrate that it is a “misperception that science and religion are inevitably in conflict.”

To date the letter has managed to accumulate over 10,000 signatures from Clergy of various denominations. It’s a relatively short letter comprised of two paragraphs. The first essentially establishes the philosophy of the letter, but it is in the second paragraph where the meat is found. Some excerpts, with commentary.

“We the undersigned, Christian clergy from many different traditions, believe that the timeless truths of the Bible and the discoveries of modern science may comfortably coexist.”

This only works if religion stays in the churches and stops trying to push its view of things onto the rest of us. Let’s remember it’s the religious fruitcakes among us that are trying to redefine science in order to advance their “faith based theories.”

“We believe that the theory of evolution is a foundational scientific truth, one that has stood up to rigorous scrutiny and upon which much of human knowledge and achievement rests.”

That is an accurate statement to which all educated men should agree. So what’s with those that don’t agree?

“To reject this truth or to treat it as “one theory among others” is to deliberately embrace scientific ignorance and transmit such ignorance to our children.”

I can’t find anything to argue with in this statement.

“We believe that among God’s good gifts are human minds capable of critical thought and that the failure to fully employ this gift is a rejection of the will of our Creator.”

I think I said something similar to this a while back except I pointed out that whether or not God existed was an unanswerable question.

“To argue that God’s loving plan of salvation for humanity precludes the full employment of the God-given faculty of reason is to attempt to limit God, an act of hubris.”

Well nobody ever accused the fundamentalists among us as being anything other than arrogant bastards who believe they have a monopoly on the truth and can dictate to the rest of us how to live. Again, I point out that one cannot answer the “God Question,” so I find assuming his existence unsupportable.

By the way, why does God need a plan for our salvation? Isn’t he making up all the rules? If he exists, then my need for salvation is sort of his fault isn’t it? I mean, he was the one that decided to put my existence in jeopardy wasn’t he?

“We urge school board members to preserve the integrity of the science curriculum by affirming the teaching of the theory of evolution as a core component of human knowledge.”

I might point out that voting them out of office and encouraging your congregations to vote them out of office would help too. Oh, and let’s not forget those science illiterate legislatures that seem to want to pass laws about evolution “being only a theory.”

“We ask that science remain science and that religion remain religion, two very different, but complementary, forms of truth.”

They are certainly not complementary and never have been. While I have some confidence that either science represents truth or at least provides a roadmap to get to the truth, religion strikes me as little more than superstition preying upon fear. I honestly believe that the elimination of religion would be a good thing.

A while back I said that there were three camps. Those that thought co-operation between religion and science were possible; those that thought religion and science could co-exist as separate domains and those that believed that religion and science were in a death struggle and that one must inevitably destroy the other.

I would put Zimmerman and his 10,000 clergy in the middle group since they consider religion and science “very different, but complementary, forms of truth.”

Hmmm, I don’t think so. In order for the human race to flourish, it has to rid itself of superstition. Faith is not something to be admired but a form of evil which needs to be eradicated like the ignorance it perpetuates.

The choices are simple, either mankind figures out a way to eliminate religion, or the cosmos will figure out a way to eliminate mankind.

Friday, January 20, 2006

A Bad Month for the Forces of Darkness

Yup, it certainly has been. Besides Dover dumping its ID police and Kansas getting less than an “F” from the Fordham Institute, the Vatican, in L'Osservatore Romano, again voiced its support for evolution and disagreement with fundamentalist Protestant biblical literalism.

The Discovery Institute again displayed its lack of a grip on reality by saying that interpreting the L’Osservatore article that way was an attempt "to put words in the Vatican's mouth." No guys, that’s exactly what the article said and L’Osservatore Romano is THE official Vatican newspaper.

Meanwhile, in California, Frazier Mountain High School will terminate permanently a philosophy class discussing the theory of "intelligent design.” Although it was a philosophy class rather than a science class a number of parents still sued the school district which decided to end the class rather than go through an expensive court fight. Again the Discovery Institute put in its two cents. Casey Luskin, an attorney for the Institute displayed his lack of knowledge about current events by saying "They want complete censorship of intelligent design from state-run schools. It's a problem, because intelligent design is a science. It's not a religious point of view."

You really need to read the decision in the Dover case Casey baby where U.S. District Court Judge John E. Jones stated unequivocally the ID was in fact a religious point of view and most decidedly not a science.

Elsewhere there have been signs of rats deserting a sinking ship as politicians began distancing themselves from the Christian Right.

It all started with the Terri Shiavo fiasco as both houses of the Republican Congress rushed back from Easter recess to allow courts to block the removal of a feeding tube in response to demands from the Christian Right only to discover that the overwhelming majority of Americans firmly opposed any interference in what was viewed as a family affair.

Then Senator Rick Santorum, Republican of Pennsylvania, resigned from the advisory board of the Thomas More Law Center, which defended the Dover school board. I’m sure Rick noticed that the board which instituted the ID policy had been voted out of office wholesale by the voters of Dover.

Last, but certainly not least, Pat Robertson continues to make a jackass of himself. In addition to telling the citizens of Dover they rejected God, calling for the assassination of Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and suggesting that Hurricane Katrina was sent by God to punish the U.S. because of abortion, now the moron has declared that Ariel Sharon’s stroke was because God was furious with him for dividing Israel.

This last idiotic declaration got denunciations from Democrats and silence from Republicans. Not even those who would like Robertson’s support are willing to defend him anymore. Here’s hoping that his “congregation” finds a better use for their donations.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Worse than an “F”

That’s the grade the state of Kansas got in the 2005 assessment of State Science Standards in the teaching of Evolution by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

I kid you not. In a coded map of the U.S. rating states as Sound, Passing, Marginal or Failed, the institute had to make up a new category for Kansas called “Not Even Failed.”

Yoo-hoo Kansas, you know things are REALLY bad when an organization as serious minded as the Thomas B. Fordham Institute feels compelled to ridicule you.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Dover Rescinds ID Policy

The new Dover School Board didn’t waste any time and rescinded the ID policy at the first opportunity on January 3, 2006. Welcome back to the 21st century Dover. Did you happen to see Kansas while you were back in medieval times?

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Is ID Science?

Incredibly the U.S. District court in the Dover case addressed the question as to whether ID is science. I’m more than a little surprised by this as I was certain that the court would not address this question. It states that it does so because:

“…after a six week trial that spanned twenty-one days and included countless hours of detailed expert witness presentations, the Court is confident that no other tribunal in the United States is in a better position than are we to traipse into this controversial area.”

And because:

“…in the hope that it may prevent the obvious waste of judicial and other resources which would be occasioned by a subsequent trial involving the precise question which is before us.”

While I have to agree that the court is in an excellent position to make the determination, I’m certain, unfortunately, that this isn’t going to prevent the future waste of resources.

The court found that on the question as to whether or not ID is science, ID fails on three separate levels “any one of which is sufficient to preclude a determination that ID is science.”

1. ID violates the centuries-old ground rules of science by invoking and permitting supernatural causation.
2. The argument of irreducible complexity, central to ID, employs the same flawed and illogical contrived dualism (to the extent evolutionary theory is discredited, ID is confirmed) that doomed creation science in the 1980's.
3. ID’s negative attacks on evolution have been refuted by the scientific community.

I agree with the judge's conclusions in #1 and #2 but I'm not so sure about #3. It could just be really, really BAD science and still have all of its attacks upon evolution refuted.

“Accepting for the sake of argument its proponents’, as well as Defendants’ argument that to introduce ID to students will encourage critical thinking, it still has utterly no place in a science curriculum.”

Touche! It just ain’t science and doesn’t belong in a science classroom!

“Moreover, ID’s backers have sought to avoid the scientific scrutiny which we have now determined that it cannot withstand by advocating that the controversy, but not ID itself, should be taught in science class. This tactic is at best disingenuous, and at worst a canard.”

In other words, at best only misleading, and at worse a fabricated lie. Canard is a polite word for bullshit. I’ll have to remember that one.

This decision is an absolute unmitigated disaster for the ID movement and I’m certain that we will be hearing howls of indignation and complaints of persecution and censorship but it just ain’t so.

ID is total nonsense and anyone with better than a 9th grade education and an IQ above 90 should be able to recognize it as total nonsense. Judge John E. Jones has had the courage to call a spade a spade. I’m impressed as well as surprised. I can’t wait to hear the reaction from the Christian Right. They'll probably call for Jones' impeachment.

The Decision in Dover

U.S. District Judge John E. Jones absolutely unloaded on the ex-Dover School board in particular and Intelligent Design in general. About the only thing he didn’t do was give the Dover electorate a gold star for voting the school board out of office last November.

A few of the choicer quotes from the decision include:

"Although proponents of the IDM (Intelligent Design Movement) occasionally suggest that the designer could be a space alien or a time-traveling cell biologist, no serious alternative to God as the designer has been proposed by members of the IDM, including Defendants’ expert witnesses."

Yes your honor, but you have to understand that these bozos think we’re all idiots!

"A significant aspect of the IDM is that despite Defendants’ protestations to the contrary, it describes ID as a religious argument. In that vein, the writings of leading ID proponents reveal that the designer postulated by their argument is the God of Christianity."

Again, these guys think we’re all idiots unable to see through the flimsiest camouflage. Actually, I think its more like they hope that Conservative Republican courts will see through the camouflage, but vote in their favor anyway.

"The Wedge Document states in its 'Five Year Strategic Plan Summary' that the IDM’s goal is to replace science as currently practiced with 'theistic and Christian science.'"

Yeah, but nobody paid any attention to “Mein Kampf.” I'm glad to see that people are taking the "Wedge Document" seriously because it calls for nothing less than the demise of science in the United States.

"…the Dover School Board members testimony, which was marked by selective memories and outright lies under oath…"

Ouch. Even though this was obvious to even the most casual observer, I never in a million years expected the judge to be this blunt about it.

"…an educator reading the disclaimer is engaged in teaching, even if it is colossally bad teaching."

“Colossally bad teaching” about sums up the best you can say about ID. Well, at least for the moment the angels have won, but this is just the opening skirmish. Kansas is next on the agenda.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Textbook Sparks Florida Debate

I’m convinced things are getting out of hand. The Miami Herald reports on a brewing debate in Broward county Florida related to a McGraw-Hill first year biology textbook that includes a paragraph, one single paragraph, stating “common to human cultures throughout history is the belief that life on earth did not arise spontaneously. Many of the world's major religions teach that life was created on Earth by a supreme being.''

The Herald also reports that “A teacher's manual that accompanies the book suggests instructors organize an in-class debate on the origins of life.”

And the problem with this is? Well, it depends who you ask. Let’s take a look at a sampling of reactions reported by the Herald.

''Once you start asking public school teachers to instruct on matters of religion in science classes, you're in trouble,'' said one state Representative.

True, but the text doesn’t seem to be doing that. I’m not so sure about the teacher’s manual. Organizing a religious debate in a high school biology class sounds like a REALLY bad idea. Truth is not determined by the most articulate or intimidating spokesperson.

''This book is not presenting creationism in any form as a scientifically credible view, the book is a far cry from the creationist-friendly text (Of Pandas and People) at the center of an ideological brawl in the Dover, Pa., schools.'' said the deputy director of the National Center for Science Education.

Yeah, I think I agree with this observation. I mean, the statement is TRUE and it’s not pushing any particular creation theory of the thousands that exist. On the other hand, we all know the only one the students are likely to be familiar with don’t we?

''When you talk about origins of man, you can't help but bring religion into the classroom. The book is making an attempt to do that; it needs to be applauded,'' 'said the executive director of the Creation Studies Institute, a church-affiliated research group in Fort Lauderdale.

Oh yes you can because evolution is not specifically about the “origins of man” and while teaching about religions is ok, advancing any particular religion is not.

The book's publisher, Glencoe, a division of McGraw-Hill, says the paragraphs do not support creationism or intelligent design and contends the book adheres to mainstream theories of evolution.

What would you expect them to say? I’d like to know the rationale behind including the paragraph in the first place. How does it enhance the teaching of biology?

A member of Broward's biology textbook adoption committee, who has taught biology for 23 years says she would have no problem teaching from Biology: Dynamics of Life, so long as the discussion does not push beyond presenting creationism as a belief, not a scientifically tested theory.

The problem is refer to the previous post related to “Closet Creationists.” While those teachers which accept evolution would not push “creationism as a belief,” those “Closet Creationists” would and are already doing so. Why provide the perfect foil for introducing Creationism as an alternative to evolution?

An executive director of the National Association of Biology Teachers, says teachers should not present a lesson that calls evolution into question. ”Our position on intelligent design is that it should be stamped out and the people who promote it should be stomped on,'' he said.

Stamped out and stomped on? And they accuse me of being demeaning and belittling. Allow me to suggest that the NABT also refer to the post on “Closet Creationists.” Actually while I find this kind of militant quote surprising, I don’t necessarily disagree with making statements of this tone.

To my mind the convention that says it is impolite to criticize or ridicule someone’s religious beliefs goes out the window when a religion tries to impose its beliefs on everyone else as some so-called Christians are trying to do with Christianity today.

Penguins are Fast Evolvers

Seed magazine reports that researchers studying microevolutionary changes in the DNA of penguins are surprised as how quickly the birds have evolved.

In the study, published in the November 15th issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, scientists concluded that not only has evolution among the penguins during the past 6,000 years been MUCH faster than anyone thought, its unlikely that natural selection was the driving force. It’s much more likely that the rapid changes were driven by environmental changes which disrupted migration patterns.

Sounds like an interesting hypothesis to me (*shrug*). What I’d like to know however is HOW changes in migration patterns resulted in DNA changes? Sounds like we’re missing a few links here (no pun intended).

Closet Creationists

The Lexington Herald-Leader reports that Creationism and Intelligent Design are already being taught in some public school classrooms.

Why? Not because of state or local Board of Education mandates but because that’s what the local science teacher believes. Now if you think about that logically it makes sense. How does anyone expect someone to teach something they believe is wrong?

The percentage of teachers that are “Closet Creationists” varies according to the Herald-Leader.

“At least 10 statewide studies into these issues have been published since 1999. In six of them, public school biology teachers endorsed teaching creationism in some form alongside evolution in numbers ranging from nearly 20 percent in Minnesota to nearly half in some Kansas schools and more than two-thirds in Kentucky.

In two states, 40 percent of biology teachers say they allow little or no class time for evolutionary theory, a fundamental part of modern biology. In five states, nearly one in five teachers do not accept the scientific validity of evolutionary theory. In Texas, Louisiana and Minnesota, more than one in five teachers say they accept the scientific validity of creationism.”

Scary huh? Then again if you consider how qualified science teachers need to be at the secondary school level, maybe not too surprising. I think I am willing to concede that the public school should NOT teach evolution as a fact. What should be taught are the following four things.

  1. What is the Nature of Science including a little History of Science.
  2. What is the “scientific method” and what are the different ways that it is applied.
  3. What is the Theory of Evolution.
  4. Why do most scientists, from a wide range of disciplines, accept the Theory of Evolution as probably correct.

I don't see any real need to present alternate ideas. If the kiddies have been attending Sunday School, like they are supposed to, then they already know what they are and where they came from. What the science classroom needs to provide is what are the scientific conclusions and where did they come from. Then, between school and church, the kiddies will have all the information they need to decide for themselves.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Bailing out of DEFCON

I got into a bit of a disagreement with these folks. They seem to think I'm too "disrespectful" of people of faith and that I tend to "belittle" and "demean" their beliefs in my posts.

Yeah, that sounds about right. I plead guilty to that one.

DEFCON's strategy is apparently to form a broad coalition to protect against the more extreme elements of the Christian Right and this coalition is to incude "people of faith" so clearly I don't fit in. I'd probably have a hard time accepting some of the folks they would like to have as allies and I don't have anywhere near the diplomatic skills not to make it obvious. Continuing to post there with my "disrespectful," "belittling" and "demeaning" attitude isn't going to help them or me.

Oh well, their success is certainly not going to be affected one iota by what I think. I'm sure no one will miss me posting comments on their blog. While I'm suspicious of their methodology, I sympathize with their objectives and wish them luck.