NTS LogoSkeptical News for 5 September 2009

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings


Saturday, September 05, 2009

Religion and evolution at Smith-Cotton High

http://www.examiner.com/x-10853-Portland-Humanist-Examiner~y2009m9d1-Religion-and-evolution-at-SmithCotton-High September 1, 5:34 PM Portland Humanist ExaminerMicha J. Stone

In a minor tragedy for public education, evolution is being treated as religion. School officials at Smith-Cotton High in Sedalia, Missouri, have given into the demands of a few religious parents and forbidden the marching band from wearing t-shirts that depict the "Evolution of Brass." Assistant Superintendent Brad Pollitt claimed the shirts "amounted to an official district endorsement of evolution over other possible explanations for man's origin".

The pale gray shirts, intended to promote the band's fall program, feature the image of a monkey progressing through evolutionary stages, emerging as a man. Each figure in the design clutches a brass musical instrument. The band debuted the T-shirts when it marched in the Missouri State Fair parade. Several parents complained after the parade.

Assistant Superintendent Pollitt said complaints by parents made him take action:

"I made the decision to have the band members turn the shirts in after several concerned parents brought the shirts to my attention. If the shirts had said 'Brass Resurrections' and had a picture of Jesus on the cross, we would have done the same thing."

Pollitt said the district is required by law to remain neutral where religion is concerned. The only problem, evolution is not a religion, evolution makes no religious claim. Evolution is a scientific theory, on par with the theory of gravity. Evolution is, for all intents and purposes, fact.

Evolution is not religious. The only religious aspect of evolution is that evolution contradicts certain religious beliefs. Politt and the Sedalia school district is sending the wrong message. Reference to evolution is not equivalent to a religious reference. One is about science, the other is about religion. Religious references do not belong in public schools. Scientific references do belong in public schools.

The superstitions of religious fundamentalists should not be allowed to influence public education. Education is about escaping ignorance. Banning the shirts is an endorsement of ignorance. Politt and the school district failed the students and staff at Smith-Cotton High, and they failed the truth.

Smarm + Creationist Math = Smath

http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2009/09/smarm_creationist_math_smath.php?utm_source=sbhomepage&utm_medium=link&utm_content=channellink

Category: Creationism • Stupidity
Posted on: September 1, 2009 9:18 AM, by PZ Myers

Which makes this video very, very smathy.

That's Carl Baugh, by the way, who appears regularly on the Trinity Broadcast Network to teach viewers about creationism. It's a good program to watch (I do, now and then) if you want to see how flinking bugnuts insane young earth creationists can be.

This particular episode has all the standard tropes. They bring on a guest gomer, and they go on and on about his credentials — this one is a 'prominent mathematician' who teaches at a high school and part time at a trade school. They puff him up good; creationists really want the Voice of Authority, which is why so many of them chase after bogus degrees…it's for the window dressing.

Then they do a lot of mutual backslapping, where they tell each other how skeptical and scientific they are, and in this case, bray about how mathematics is the language of science (which is true) and how they are going to look critically at the actual data using objective mathematics.

Then they "crunch the numbers." I think that's creation-speak for "diddle the books."

All the guy does is plug numbers into the standard formula for compound interest to calculate the expected number of people in populations after a certain period of time. Seriously. I tried it, and got pretty much the same numbers he did. You can play the same game with his Biblical scenario in a little more detail and calculate populations at various times in history: the world population was about 150,000 at the time of Alexander the Great, 600,000 when Jesus was born, 5 billion when I was born. As usually happens with these kinds of bogus calculations, our smath professor needs to use an invalid formula and apply it inappropriately to get numbers that only match at the beginning and end of the time period he is examining, but are so low as to be laughable at the earliest times in his history, and that don't match up at all over periods where we have good census data.

You might also wonder where he got his growth rate of 0.456%. He made it up. It happens to be the number that, assuming a starting population of 8 4500 years ago, you get a final population of 6.5 billion now.

Leaving death out of his calculations is a tiny omission that makes even that fudged number wrong.

I stand corrected — his growth rate, imaginary as it is, consolidates birth rates minus death rates, so it still works with non-immortals.

Carlos Cerna will someday demand his Ph.D.

http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2009/09/carlos_cerna_will_someday_dema.php

Category: Creationism

Posted on: September 1, 2009 11:48 AM, by PZ Myers

When you tie a university to a religious ideology, you create stresses that show that the modern search for knowledge is the antithesis of religious dogma. I keep telling people that science and religion are in opposition, and here's a perfect example: La Sierra University is a Seventh Day Adventist college. SDAs are fundamentalists and literalists (although, isn't it strange how different literalist sects all seem to come up with different…ahem…interpretations of the Bible?) who as a point of doctrine believe in a young earth and seven day creation. La Sierra has a biology department, as well as teaching other science disciplines.

Let that sink in. Science departments. Six thousand year old earth.

Does not compute. Error. Abort, retry, fail?

How do they do that? Well, a recent controversy has exposed what goes on there, and as it turns out…they teach pretty good mainstream science. From that story, the faculty in their biology department seem to know what they are doing, and they teach that the earth is 4.5 billion years old, and they go over the evidence for it in considerable detail. The professor who teaches one of the courses seems to be no-nonsense and on the ball.

Bradley says he's felt no pressure to change anything about his course, and says bluntly that he doesn't plan to turn his class into a theological seminar, or to present evolutionary theory only to then dismantle it for students. While he's fine with helping students work through struggles of faith, Bradley says he won't undercut decades of peer reviewed scientific research in the interest of religious consistency.

"I am not OK with getting up in a science course and saying most science is bullshit," he said.

Meanwhile, the Seventh Day Advent church and the administrators of the college have a different agenda in mind. They want the scientific evidence taught to the students so they can oppose it, and the whole mission of the college is to eventually lead them back into the worship of dogma and superstition — they are plainly going to undermine the teaching of Bradley and get the students to believe that most science is bullshit.

By June 19, the president of the worldwide church had written a letter affirming the church's belief in a "literal, recent, six-day creation" and that "the Flood was global in nature." Jay Paulsen, the church's president, went on to say that church-sponsored colleges and universities should teach students about evolution, but mindfully steer them back toward the church's contrary view.

"As part of that exercise [in teaching] you will also expose them to elements and concepts of evolution. That is understood," he wrote. "As your pastor, however, I appeal to you that when you take your students out on the journey, you bring them safely back home before the day is over. And their home must always be in the world of faith. You owe it to the students, you owe it to God, you owe it to their parents, you owe it to the church, and you owe it to yourself as a believer to safely guide them through difficult moments on their journey."

Oh, and by the way, you cannot get tenure at La Sierra unless you are a member of the Seventh Day Adventist church. The mind boggles. I know this kind of restriction is fairly common at fundie colleges, but it is such an imposition of ideology on the faculty — it turns academic freedom into a joke.

One thing I cannot understand is how Gary Bradley can stomach investing so much of his career in such a place…but he says he is a practicing Adventist.

This exposure of the slimy underbelly of a religious institution came to light as a consequence of an angry student with a sense of entitlement (I've run into a few of those — we have them even at secular universities). He took one of Bradley's courses which taught the real scientific evidence for the age of the earth, and was expected to understand it and be able to explain it in a five page term paper. He couldn't. In fact, his paper is more concerned with presenting a superficial discussion of a few dating methods and then bringing up creationist objections to them, contrary to the instructions he was given.

You can read Carlos Cerna's paper online. It's not very good; it's 13 pages long, but the treatment is incredibly shallow, it has only 5 references, all of which are used to weakly bolster contrarian claims, and simply regurgitates (with skeptical caveats) what he was told in class as representations of standard scientific opinion. For that, he got an incredibly generous C. I would have wobbled between outright flunking the kid or giving him a pity D for being able to type up sentences that are mostly grammatically correct.

You can also read the post-grading exchanges between the student and professor. He's "flabbergasted" that he only got a C. Yeah, I know those students — the ones who think the grade they should get is the one they want, not the one they earned. Bradley's comments are actually very cogent and helpful; he explains what he expected, and that the included apologetics are inappropriate. Here's Bradley's summary; the student was following standard creationist tactics.

As I said, this paper is unacceptable. When I reluctantly agreed that you could insert paragraphs [single paragraphs!] taking issue with the mainstream data I fully expected you to do a good job with that mainstream data. Instead you have largely ignored it and generated yet another creation apologetic piece that "mines quotes" and ignores volumes of data. You can and must do better than this.

It's a valid criticism. I don't quite know why an unacceptable paper was given a C, but I know grade inflation is rampant everywhere.

Meanwhile, the Seventh Day Adventists are freaking out, and protesting that kids are actually exposed to good science in the biology program at "their" university, which they think ought to be teaching only the dogma of their religion. If you ask me, their kids look to be getting a far better education than they deserve.

WARNING TO BIOLOGY PROGRAMS EVERYWHERE: The student, Carlos Cerna, has announced his intention to get a Ph.D. in molecular biology. If you take him on, be aware that he's going to need a lot of remedial instruction, that he has an attitude, and that he probably just wants a degree from your institution so he can use it to peddle creationism to the ignorant. Don't let him slip through your program without thoroughly grilling him on the basics of biology, or he's going to bring some shame on your program.

What have you done for science education in your state lately?

http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2009/09/what_have_you_done_for_science.php

Category: Communicating science • Creationism
Posted on: September 1, 2009 3:37 PM, by PZ Myers

One of the big issues in science education is the topic of science standards: each state is supposed to have guidelines for the public school curriculum, which are intended to enforce some uniformity and also make sure that key subjects are covered. These standards are often accompanied by big political fights as the religious right tries, for instance, to get evolution (and sex education, and historical accuracy, and …) expunged from the curriculum. Sometimes they succeed, and sometimes the good guys win.

An article in Evolution: Education and Outreach assesses the current state of state science standards, and one of the things they've done is grade each state on their support for evolutionary biology. A centerpiece of the article is this map of science standard scores…how is your state doing?

Minnesota is doing pretty good. We got dinged for weak coverage of cosmology, and also for the inclusion of some waffly language that was included to appease the creationist lobby. Those are productive suggestions that we can build on for the next round of standards revisions, in a few years. We had our recent infestation of creationist yuckiness (ahh, Cheri Yecke…we do not miss you at all), but we got better. We've also built a local advocacy group, Minnesota Citizens for Science Education, that is there to provide support and information in building better standards.

I can't help but gloat over our neighbor to the east: Wisconsin may have an excellent university system, but their politics have been poison to science education. That may change — they've now also got a Wisconsin Citizens for Science group, so maybe someone will be doing some effective lobbying in the future.

I think that's key: you need activists mobilized to work for improvement, good education doesn't just poof into existence. The other interesting cases on that map are Kansas and Florida: if you've been following this blog for a while, you know that those have been two hotspots for creationist inanity for some time now. So what's with the perfect As for those states? How can such hotbeds of creationism be scoring so well?

First thing you have to keep in mind is that state science standards just say what should be taught, not necessarily what is taught. States with great standards can still have many teachers who are doing a poor job and not meeting those standards; similarly, there are great teachers in those failing states that go above and beyond to teach evolution well. The standards merely represent what direction the educational authorities in that state want their schools to take. A state with an A standard is declaring that they are aiming high for their students; the F states have essentially announced that they are giving up and diving for the basement.

The other point is that these reflect recent changes: responsible citizens have been stirred up by the crazies infesting their school boards, and are working hard to improve matters. There is hope: there is a clear message being sent to teachers in those states that they must do better. They also have excellent citizen groups organized there — Kansans should join Kansas Citizens for Science, and in Florida, help Florida Citizens for Science.

As for Texas…hoo boy. Texas is a bad story all around. They have some great advocacy groups working there (Texas Citizens for Science and the Texas Freedom Network), but have deep problems. They have a political history of putting the very worst, most unqualified creationist dingleberries in charge — Don McElroy, for instance — which makes progress difficult, and I suspect there is a lot of external pressure on the state, as well. As one of the largest textbook markets, and with a centralized decision-making apparatus for selecting textbooks, they are a major target of all of the creationist organizations; they know that influence in Texas ripples out everywhere else. We can only hope it will turn around soon.

So look at your state. If your standards are good, don't be complacent: keep them that way, and also work locally to make sure your school districts actually implement them. If your state is shading into the dark grays…look for a state citizens for science group, or if you don't have one, create one. Write to your representatives and let them know what's going on; maybe send them a copy of the Mead and Mates paper and shame them a little bit.

Do something, though. It would be nice to see the United States get straight As someday.

Mead LS, Mates A (2009) Why Science Standards are Important to a Strong Science Curriculum and How States Measure Up. Evolution: Education and Outreach 2(3): 359-371.

At Bloggingheads, Fleeing the Ritual Contamination of "Creationism"

http://www.evolutionnews.org/2009/09/the_contamination_of_creationi.html

The imbroglio over editorial policy at Bloggingheads.tv would be of minor interest if it didn't present such an evocative window on the psychology of the Darwin-believing community. Did you ever think about what actually drives these people?

To recap: Robert Wright, the site's editor-in-chief, was out of the shop when his staff pulled down an interview, six hours after it was put up, between linguist John McWhorter and biochemist Michael Behe. Somehow, pressure was applied to McWhorter resulting in his actually issuing a public apology. He was forced to cringe and beg forgiveness. Anyone could see the reason he had given offense: McWhorter in the interview expressed undisguised admiration for Behe's specialty in the intelligent design field, irreducible complexity. When Wright returned, he reversed the move and restored Behe/McWhorter. The lesson to be drawn is that were it not for Wright's doing the decent thing, then intelligent-design advocate Behe would have remained censored. Whoever intimidated McWhorter would have won the day -- illustrating a dynamic well known to ID sympathizers in the academic science world, and in intellectual life in general. When it comes to intelligent design, silence is the safe policy. The preferable strategy is to align your view with Darwinian orthodoxy.

The next act has involved more public pronouncements -- this time from disgruntled science contributors to Bloggingheads: physicist Sean Carroll and science writer Carl Zimmer. The two participated in a conference call with Wright, demanding that he formulate a policy that would never again allow a "creationist" to speak for himself on Bloggingheads. Wright knows the difference between creationism and intelligent design -- he articulated it nicely in a 2002 article in Time magazine. Carroll and Zimmer seemingly don't. That or they prefer to use the more inflammatory language to refer to Behe, who merely disputes the mechanism of evolution.

As he wrote in a comment on Carroll's blog, Wright wasn't pleased either by the McWhorter interview or by another with Paul Nelson, but he was unwilling to capitulate and make the blanket promise that Carroll and Zimmer wanted, forever to exclude from attention anyone who dissents from evolutionary dogma. So both men wrote preening, self-congratulatory declarations on their blogs that they were through with Bloggingheads. They quit.

Carroll wanted "a slightly more elevated brand of discourse." He wrote, "Certainly none of we [sic] scientists who were disturbed that the dialogue existed in the first place ever asked that it be removed." Yet it should never have been posted. An ID advocate could speak on Bloggingheads if he has "respectable thoughts" on other subjects. But not on ID. That would create a "connection with a brand," that brand would be shared by the "creationist" and Sean Carroll, and that would not be acceptable. Participants should be "serious people." Some years ago he "declined an invitation" to a Templeton Foundation conference because "I didn't want to be seen" at such an event. Harry Kroto was disappointed "that I would sully myself" by indirect Templeton connections. And no wonder: "we all have to look at ourselves in the mirror."

Notes of self-regard peek through again and again in his long blog post. Respect, brand image, the appearance of seriousness, personal associations, sullying yourself by down-market affiliations, gazing upon yourself in the mirror.

In a comment on the blog, David Killoren of Bloggingheads cements the point by unabashedly flattering:

I want to voice agreement with Sean about a few things. I agree that creationists and ID'ers are crackpots. I agree that these crackpots do harm (e.g. by corrupting public perception of science). I agree that appearing on a site that has featured crackpots could damage the reputation and integrity of reputable scientists, so I fully understand Sean's choice to stay away from BhTV (although I'd be very happy if he were to reconsider) [emphasis added].

He concludes: "One Sean Carroll diavlog is worth any number of creationism conversations. If I could rewind and start over I'd aim to do it all differently." David Killoren too is seeking someone's regard, whose prestige should rub off a bit on him. As the guy who himself set up the Paul Nelson interview, he anxiously wants no one to mistake what side he is on.

How much of this is about science and how much of it is about personal status, social and professional esteem? Evolution, the history of life, whether any known material mechanism alone can account for life's development -- these are scientific questions but they are surrounded by auras of psychological and social significance that can't be understood simply in scientific terms.

Everyone wants to be esteemed by others and, more importantly, by himself. Dangers to your status are scary things, for all of us. But in the world of Darwinism, as this Bloggingheads episode reveals, the normal, healthy care for your personal reputation becomes intensified. The touch of "creationism" becomes something weirdly akin to ritual contamination as the ancients understood it. No one is going to think Sean Carroll is soft on "creationism" just because he appears on Bloggingheads, even if the latter were to invite Michael Behe to interview a different intelligent-design theorist every week of the year.

But if he continues his association with Robert Wright's website, even if Wright in fact never again has an ID advocate on, just because Wright has failed to offer the demanded promise, then this does threaten to contaminate Sean Carroll by a mechanism that can only be characterized as magical, occult, beyond rational. Sitting on a chair or bed where a creationist sat, being under the same roof as his corpse, being associated with a website that provided a platform for two "creationists" and won't absolutely promise it will never do so again -- it's all the same.

As for poor John McWhorter, he presents us with the dread spectacle of the person already contaminated, seeking a remedy for his affliction -- and not finding it. This incident will contaminate him with creationism for years to come. He is the man in Leviticus, afflicted with a skin contamination, and compelled to live for some time outside the camp. "His garments shall be rent, the hair of his head shall be unshorn, and he shall cloak himself up to his lips; he is to call out, 'Unclean! Unclean!'"

Am I scoffing? Not at all. Evolutionary psychologists no doubt have their own explanation, another just so story, for why so many ancient cultures share ideas of contamination. We could probably all agree that there is an underlying structure in the human mind that responds to the idea of contaminants. Where did we get it from? You tell me.

One thing's clear. Social anxiety plays some role in the fear and dread that intelligent design provokes among people who are too dedicated to their own brand image. We've long known this. But it doesn't explain entirely the absolute horror not of being thought of as a "creationist" but merely of being touched by the slightest taint, the merest hint, of the idea. For that, I think we need to go a little deeper.

In any case, this is the current culture of science. Does anyone seriously think it doesn't impede the free exploration of ideas?

Posted by David Klinghoffer on September 2, 2009 12:41 AM | Permalink


Friday, September 04, 2009

Evolution education update: September 4, 2009

A good time for back-to-school reading, with a new issue of Evolution: Education and Outreach as well as sneak peeks at four reviews from forthcoming issues of Reports of the NCSE, all now available on-line.

THE LATEST ISSUE OF EVOLUTION: EDUCATION AND OUTREACH

The latest issue of Evolution: Education and Outreach -- the new journal aspiring to promote accurate understanding and comprehensive teaching of evolutionary theory for a wide audience -- is now available on-line. The issue, edited by Kristin Jenkins, Education and Outreach Program Specialist at the National Evolution Synthesis Center, focuses on teaching evolution. As Greg Eldredge and Niles Eldredge explain in their editorial, "Teaching can be a difficult proposition under the best of circumstances, and teaching evolution can present its own challenges but can also bring its own very special rewards. The following pages contain articles that explore many aspects of evolution education, including how state education standards impact science in the classroom, how evolution is taught around the world, how people's education and backgrounds affect their understanding of and ability to teach and learn about evolution, and how methods of teaching evolution impact student success and understanding of evolutionary theory from elementary school to college." There is also a handful of reviews, including a review of Juergen Haffer's Ornithology, Evolution, and Philosophy: The Life and Science of Ernst Mayr 1904-2005 (Springer-Verlag 2007) and a review of Keith Thomson's The Young Charles Darwin (Yale University Press, 2009).

Also included is NCSE's Louise S. Mead and Anton Mates's "Why Science Standards are Important to a Strong Science Curriculum and How States Measure Up," which surveys the treatment of evolution in the science education standards of all fifty states. "The treatment of biological evolution in state science standards has improved dramatically over the last ten years," Mead and Mates report, but the news is not all rosy: eleven states receive grades of D or F for their presentation of evolution in their standards, and the "treatment of human evolution is abysmal," with only seven states providing a comprehensive treatment. In NCSE's regular column for Evolution: Education and Outreach, Overcoming Obstacles to Evolution Education, NCSE's Eugenie C. Scott commented, "On the basis of Mead and Mates's results, there is reason to be pleased by the progress over the last ten years in the inclusion of evolution in state science education standards. That the treatment of evolution is inadequate in almost one in five states still suggests that there is considerable room for improvement, but we should be optimistic that teachers, scientists, and others who care about science education will continue -- as science standards continue to be periodically revised -- to work for the appropriate inclusion of evolution in state science education standards."

For Evolution: Education and Outreach, visit:
http://www.springerlink.com/content/120878/

For Mead and Mates's article, visit:
http://www.springerlink.com/content/9u0610162rn51432/fulltext.html

For Scott's column, visit:
http://www.springerlink.com/content/e41527271423814p/fulltext.html

VOYAGING WITH DARWIN AND RNCSE

On August 29, 1831, Darwin received a letter broaching the idea of his sailing on the Beagle. After his father reluctantly decided to allow him to go and after Captain FitzRoy overcame his qualms about the troubling shape of the young naturalist's nose, Darwin embarked on a voyage around the world -- and the rest is history. To celebrate the anniversary, NCSE is offering advance on-line publication of a handful of reviews on recent books about Darwin.

* Keith Thomson reviews Ralph Colp Jr.'s Darwin's Illness (University of Florida Press, 2008), commenting, "the story of Darwin's health is like a mystery novel from which the last chapter has been deleted ... this is a really valuable book. Everyone seeking to understand Darwin should read it and choose among the rival explanations of what brought him so low while he was achieving such greatness."

* John Waller reviews Adrian Desmond and John Moore's Darwin's Sacred Cause (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009), concluding, "another splendid book from Desmond and Moore, the product of vast learning and deep sympathy, conveyed with often lyrical prose. If there are difficulties with the claims they make, they have at least provided, as Darwin said of his fledgling theory in 1837, a 'theory by which to work.'"

* Leo F. Laporte reviews Keith Thomson's The Young Charles Darwin (Yale University Press, 2009), commenting, "Thomson carefully and economically dispels the apparent paradox of 'an ordinary boy, rather below the common standard of intellect' becoming the young genius in his thirties formulating the outlines of his revolutionary theory."

* And Sander Gliboff reviews Benjamin Wiker's The Darwin Myth, concluding, "the book's claims are unsurprising, since they are mostly Discovery Institute talking points that date back to the mid-1990s and have been rebutted many times since then. The biographical interpretations may be original, though. They also verge on fantasy, so I recommend this book to Harry Potter fans, in case they want to see how a real-life Rita Skeeter operates."

These reviews will all appear in forthcoming issues of Reports of the NCSE. So if you like what you see, why not subscribe to RNCSE today? Reviews such as these, detailed reports on antievolution activity across the nation around the world, original scientific articles and critiques of creationism -- what's not to like? Don't miss out -- subscribe now!

For these forthcoming reviews, visit:
http://ncseweb.org/rncse/advance

For subscription information, visit:
http://ncseweb.org/membership

Thanks for reading! And don't forget to visit NCSE's website -- http://ncseweb.org -- where you can always find the latest news on evolution education and threats to it.

Glenn Branch
Deputy Director
National Center for Science Education, Inc.
420 40th Street, Suite 2
Oakland, CA 94609-2509
510-601-7203 x310
fax: 510-601-7204
800-290-6006
branch@ncseweb.org
http://ncseweb.org

Eugenie C. Scott's Evolution vs. Creationism -- now in its second edition!
http://ncseweb.org/evc

Not in Our Classrooms: Why Intelligent Design Is Wrong for Our Schools
http://ncseweb.org/nioc

NCSE's work is supported by its members. Join today!
http://ncseweb.org/membership

The longest thread evolves

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2009/09/the_longest_thread_evolves.html

By Roger Ebert

on September 4, 2009 12:40 AM | Permalink | Comments (67)

A week or so ago I began to receive feedback that posts weren't being displayed on my entry "Win Ben Stein's Mind," from Dec. 3, 2008. That was my attack on Stein's film "Expelled," which supported Creationism against the Theory of Evolution. I consulted the web gods at the Sun-Times. I was told...uh...ahem...perhaps the thread was growing a tad long, and was maxing out the software? After 2,640 posts and 239,093 words, perhaps this was the case.

Today I received a post from Bill Hays, one of the stalwart debaters on that thread, advising: "Put this puppy to sleep. It's had a long run." A few days earlier, Randy Masters, the most stalwart defender of Intelligent Design, had written to advise that a couple of his posts hadn't gone through. And so perhaps Movable Type was gently informing me that enough was enough.

I was interested in the discussion right up to the end. Remember, I personally vet every post, and so even though I was rarely responding in the last few

months, I was still monitoring. It seemed to me the Evolutionists had won, but then I announced that decision last February, in an entry titled, "Darwin Survives as the Fittest." After all, I have a horse in this race. I believe Darwin's theory is not only sound, but is perhaps the most useful theory in the history of science.

It must be said that Randy Masters debated heroically. He made no attempt to associate himself with the fundamentalists who had, higher in the thread, seriously argued that dinosaurs walked the earth with man and other such poppycock. Drawing from such I.D. defenders such as Michael J. Behe, William A. Dembski and Jonathan Wells, he employed examples of organisms which, in his opinion, could not have evolved, but must have been Intelligently Designed. He was battered by the Darwinians but pulled himself up by the ropes and stepped back into the ring time and again.

The Tree of Evolution. (click to find Darwin)

Since his argument, in my opinion, cannot be won, I was impressed by his persistence. I confess there were times when I wondered if he was deliberately acting as a devil's advocate, spurring on his opponents. Most of his predecessors had fallen out of the discussion, but he was game, ingenious, and sincere. And week after week, month after month, the thread grew. There were perhaps a dozen still involved when the software maxed out.

I almost didn't write that Ben Stein entry. I set out to write an ordinary review of "Expelled" for the excellent reason that I am fascinated by the elegance and insight provided by the Theory of Evolution. I was going to review the film, not write a 4,000-word screed against the clueless Ben Stein. That was until I arrived at the astonishing final passages of his film, and then I grew really angry--as angry as I've been about any film. I quote:

Toward the end of the film, we find that Stein actually did want to title it "From Darwin to Hitler." He finds a Creationist who informs him, "Darwinism inspired and advanced Nazism"...

...Stein is only getting warmed up. He takes a field trip to visit one "result" of Darwinism: Nazi concentration camps. "As a Jew," he says, "I wanted to see for myself." We see footage of gaunt, skeletal prisoners. Pathetic children. A mound of naked Jewish corpses. "It's difficult to describe how it felt to walk through such a haunting place," he says. Oh, go ahead, Ben Stein. Describe. It filled you with hatred for Charles Darwin and his followers, who represent the overwhelming majority of educated people in every nation on earth. It is not difficult for me to describe how you made me feel by exploiting the deaths of millions of Jews in support of your argument for a peripheral Christian belief. It fills me with contempt.

When I wrote the entry, I was naive enough to believe that Stein's association of Darwin and Hitler was an aberration, some kind of personal quirk. Amazingly, it turned out that many agreed with him, and traced what they felt were the logical links between the most influential scientist of all time and the evil monster. Many of their arguments, I found, were borrowed, paraphrased, or sometimes just copied, from right-wing web sites that also retailed other lies and distortions.

I began to realize that almost any position, no matter how absurd, can find support and spurious "facts" somewhere on the web. Consider the current reports that Obama wants to murder your grandmother. And oh, yes, I've received links proving that charge. If you have a living grandmother, it's a wonder she has survived this long. The problem with the debate on the Longest Thread was that the I.D. side was polluted by factoids, fallacies and hyperbole, drowning out those, like Masters, who attempted to engage in rational argument.

Don Rosa's drawing of the Duck Family Tree (clck)

The zealots of Creationism are indefatigable. Even now there are attempts to legislate that the pseudo science of Intelligent Design must be taught in school systems as a "debate" with Evolution. In common sense terms, that debate was over a century ago. Yet there are votes out there for politicians who support such legislation, and at the 2008 GOP presidential debate, no less that three candidates said they do not believe in evolution. I suppose I should be gratified that there weren't more. Some took their stand on religious grounds, but possibly not Mitt Romney, who as a Mormon must know his church has no official dogma about whether or not Darwin's theory is valid. A Mormon can be a Darwinian if he chooses. Romney chose not to.

But it isn't my purpose to take up the debate again. This entry is more of a salute to what will apparently be the longest thread in this blog's history. I wanted to see if Bill Hays' post "put this puppy to sleep" had even made it online--but frankly, I grew tired of trying to scroll down, down, down, to the bottom of the thread.

At one point, about 75,000 words ago, I actually submitted this thread to the Guinness Book of World Records, suggesting (without evidence) that it was the longest single thread on the web. There may be some with more total posts, but are they any longer? Posters on this blog, I don't need to tell you, tend to be wordy. I've received comments longer than the entries that inspired them.

Guinness replied that they don't even consider such web-based "records." That makes sense, because it would in theory be possible to create a thread limited only by your endurance in copy-and-paste keyboarding. So there will be no world record. And no more entries on the Ben Stein thread. And early next week I'll be off to the Toronto film festival, where I'll post more or less daily entries, as I did from Cannes. Entries on movies. Just think.

Of course--if you want to continue the discussion about evolution, this entry does start a whole new comment thread. Smile.


Monday, August 31, 2009

Kansas School District Bans T-Shirts Depicting Evolution

http://www.alternet.org/blogs/peek/142332/kansas_school_district_bans_t-shirts_depicting_evolution/

Posted by Faiz Shakir, Think Progress at 3:30 PM on August 31, 2009.

"I don't think evolution should be associated with our school," said one parent, who teaches in the district.

T-shirts worn by members of the Smith-Cotton High School band have been recalled by the (Kansas) school district because they contained images of evolution. The t-shirts featured an image of a monkey holding a brass instrument and progressing through various stages of evolution until eventually becoming a human. "I was disappointed with the image on the shirt," said Sherry Melby, a band parent who teaches in the district. "I don't think evolution should be associated with our school." Assistant superintendent Brad Pollitt explained that the t-shirts were banned because they were imposing on religious views:

Though the shirts don't violate the school's dress code, Pollitt noted that the district is required by law to remain neutral on religion.

"If the shirts had said 'Brass Resurrections' and had a picture of Jesus on the cross, we would have done the same thing," Pollitt said.

Law professor Jonathan Turley notes, "Evolution is not a religious issue. Extremists want to make evolution into a religious question, but it is not."

Faiz Shakir is the Research Director at the Center for American Progress and serves as Editor of ThinkProgress.org and The Progress Report.


Saturday, August 29, 2009

Voyaging with Darwin and RNCSE

http://ncseweb.org/news/2009/08/voyaging-with-darwin-rncse-005024

* August 29th, 2009 * NCSE * 2009

On August 29, 1831, Darwin received a letter broaching the idea of his sailing on the Beagle. After his father reluctantly decided to allow him to go and after Captain FitzRoy overcame his qualms about the troubling shape of the young naturalist's nose, Darwin embarked on a voyage around the world — and the rest is history. To celebrate the anniversary, NCSE is offering advance on-line publication of a handful of reviews on recent books about Darwin.

These reviews will all appear in forthcoming issues of Reports of the NCSE. So if you like what you see, why not subscribe to RNCSE today? Reviews such as these, detailed reports on antievolution activity across the nation around the world, original scientific articles and critiques of creationism — what's not to like? Don't miss out — subscribe now!

But why would Dawkins want to win a copy of his own book?

http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2009/08/but_why_would_dawkins_want_to.php

Category: Creationism • Kooks
Posted on: August 29, 2009 12:28 PM, by PZ Myers

Denyse O'Leary has a contest: provide a copy of the source code to Dawkins' Weasel demo. The prizes are your choice of a copy of Dawkins' new book, The Greatest Show on Earth, or Meyer's creationist apologetic, Signature in the Cell. It must be like that television game show where you get to choose door #1 or door #2, and one door hides a free vacation in the Bahamas while the other hides a goat.

It's a very silly contest because a) only Dawkins could win it, and he conjures up Bahamas-quality books all the time, and probably doesn't want a copy of Stephen Meyer's rank little goat, and b) the question has already been settled.

The issue that has the creationists so worked up is whether the program used 'latching' or not. That is, this is a simple program originally written in BASIC that starts with a random string of characters, and changes them randomly, retaining the randomized versions that most closely match an arbitrary search string (in this case, "METHINKS IT IS LIKE A WEASEL"). They are hung up on this claim that the program 'cheated' by protecting individual letters that matched the search string from further changes.

It doesn't matter.

If the original program did commit such fudgery (and it clearly didn't), it wouldn't affect the state of evolutionary biology at all. It was a simple demonstration program to help teach a basic concept. Move on, people, move on.

This was also a very, very simple program. Anyone who can write even a simple program in any computer language can whip up a version of this program in hours, and if you have any significant programming skills, it will take you a few minutes. Try it with latching, try it without. Even without it, it works just fine in matching the search string in short order.

People have done just that, it really is trivial. Except, unfortunately, for the creationists at the Discovery Institute, who are still obsessed with and baffled by a short, elementary computer program written by a biologist in a short evening. It's no wonder they're stumped by a cell!

The latest on ICR's Texas lawsuit

http://pandasthumb.org/archives/2009/08/the-latest-on-i.html

By Timothy Sandefur on August 20, 2009 11:56 AM

You'll recall that the Institute for Creation Research—the creationist outfit that purports to award advanced degrees in the sciences—has filed a lawsuit against the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, objecting against its decision not to authorize the ICR's granting of degrees. As I observed earlier, the original complaint in the case was 67 single-spaced pages long, and included 86 footnotes, including one that took up an entire page. It was a masterpiece of how not to write a complaint.

Well, the federal court didn't take lightly to that, and ordered the ICR to file an amended complaint that complies with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, and the ICR has now done so. The new complaint is 20 double-spaced pages…but it is 20 pages of non-stop, thigh-slapping hilarity. It contains language that appears to be randomly cobbled together through some sort of Lawyer Phrase Generator, and which I defy any member of the bar to explain in sensible terms: "There are still 2 state statutes that are potentially dispositive (in a manner favorable to the [ICR]) as to issues of 'first impression', so this Court needs to make some Erie v. Thompkins guesses thereon." What the hell does that even mean?

The word "herein" is sprinkled randomly throughout, rather like the way Miss Teen South Carolina sprinkles "such as." It occurs four times on page 2 alone–including "venue herein," whatever the heck that means. There are italics, boldface, ALLCAPS, and all sorts of different combinations herein, of course. There are delightful spelling errors ("advertizes"), rhetorical flourishes ("as if with a 'scarlet letter'"), and neologisms (I can't decide if "favoritistically" or "applicational bounds" is my favorite). Of course it quotes the Bible. It even has rhetorical questions! In a complaint!

Now, judges get crap like this complaint all the time, and sadly for them, the liberal pleading rules generally require judges to allow the case to proceed if they can find somewhere in the complaint anything that would entitle the plaintiff to relief. That sometimes means doing the work of the plaintiff's lawyers. If the court does anything like that here, it'll face heavy work. But here is really the core of the ICR's complaint: "[ICR] seeks declaratory relief that it may, as a matter of academic freedom…institutionally opine (as a matter of institutional academic speech),–that a given graduate student is worthy to be recognized as having earned [ICR]'s 'Master of Science' in 'Science Education' degree.…"

As I blogged before, I think there actually is something to this objection: the relationship of the state to educational institutions (however bogus) is not a simple one: an organization has a First Amendment right to grant titles to whomever it pleases–to declare John Smith to be a "deacon" or a "scholar" or what have you. And for the state to confiscate the use of certain terms (like "degree") does implicate the constitutional rights of those organizations and the individuals who comprise them. The Texas Supreme Court held as much in HEB Ministries, Inc. v. Texas Higher Education Board, 235 S.W.3d 627 (Tex. 2007).

That's a straightforward constitutional argument, and one worthy of being addressed by a court. But something tells me it won't be addressed in this case, in which the ICR's counsel alleges all sorts of virtually random causes of action. It seems to allege that the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board violates the monopolies clause of the state Constitution, the Fourth Amendment's searches and seizures clause, the due process clause, the equal protection clause, the freedom of speech clause, the freedom of the press clause, the freedom of association, the Texas Government Code, laws against defamation, the public emoluments clause, the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act, anti-discrimination laws, the Texas Education Code, and even the "no titles of nobility" clause of the U.S. Constitution! The complaint even argues that for the state of Texas to regulate higher education "interferes with interstate commerce" (emphasis original, natch).

Writing a complaint is not a hard task for a lawyer. The rules are clear. There are plenty of examples to copy. It doesn't require rhetorical skill or eloquence–indeed, you are supposed to avoid these things. You don't have to write footnotes (in fact, you shouldn't). It's something that any competent attorney can do. But the ICR's complaint is just wackiness through and through. Creationists appear to be no better at law than they are at science.

(By the way, here's an interesting civil procedure tidbit: the complaint seeks to allege causes of action under the Texas Constitution, but the defendants are being sued pursuant to Ex Parte Young. Under Pennhurst State School & Hospital v. Halderman, 451 U.S. 1 (1980), a federal court has no supplemental jurisdiction to hear state constitutional claims in such an action.)

Evolution education update: August 28, 2009

A partial settlement in a legal case involving a teacher accused of inappropriate religious activity in the classroom, including teaching creationism. The HHMI Bulletin discusses ways for teachers to introduce evolution in a non-threatening way. And there are now over 1100 signatories to NCSE's Project Steve.

PARTIAL SETTLEMENT IN FRESHWATER CASE

A partial settlement was reportedly reached in Doe v. Mount Vernon Board of Education et al., the case in which a Mount Vernon, Ohio, teacher, was accused of inappropriate religious activity in the classroom -- including displaying posters with the Ten Commandments and Bible verses, branding crosses into the arms of his students with a high-voltage electrical device, and teaching creationism. The Mount Vernon News (August 27, 2009) reported that "the board's insurance company has agreed to pay $115,500 toward the plaintiffs' legal fees, $5,500 to one of the plaintiffs as compensation and the sum of $1 each to two other individuals." The board, superintendent, and principal of the middle school admit no liability in the agreement, which will have to be approved by a court.

Not covered by the settlement agreement is the teacher himself, John Freshwater. Shortly after the filing of the case, the board voted to initiate proceedings to terminate Freshwater's employment in the district. Freshwater appealed the decision, and administrative hearings have been proceeding intermittently since October 2008. Detailed reports on the hearings by Richard B. Hoppe are available on The Panda's Thumb blog (search for "Freshwater"). Complicating the legal situation, Freshwater filed a counterclaim in Doe v. Mount Vernon in 2008 and his own lawsuit, Freshwater v. Mount Vernon City School District Board of Education et al., against the board and a number of district administrators in 2009, alleging religious discrimination, defamation, conspiracy, and breach of contract.

According to the Mount Vernon News, the school board also agreed to "[p]rohibit staff from discussing the John Freshwater case with or in the presence of students during the school day and at school activities; [p]rovide training to board members and administrators concerning religion and the school, and provide training to teachers on the same topic ... [and] [m]ake a public statement at the conclusion of the Freshwater administrative hearing." A statement released by the board explained, "The resolution of the lawsuit against the board, superintendent and middle school principal has no impact or bearing on the pending administrative hearing with respect to the middle school teacher's employment. Due to pending litigation, the board will not be commenting further."

For the story in the Mount Vernon News, visit:
http://www.mountvernonnews.com/local/09/08/27/school-board-resolves-federal-lawsuit

For NCSE's collection of documents from Doe v. Mount Vernon, visit:
http://ncseweb.org/creationism/legal/doe-v-freshwater-mv

For Richard B. Hoppe's reports on the hearings, visit:
http://pandasthumb.org

For NCSE's collection of documents from Freshwater v. Mount Vernon, visit:
http://ncseweb.org/creationism/legal/freshwater-v-mount-vernon

And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in Ohio, visit:
http://ncseweb.org/news/ohio

THE E WORD IN THE HHMI BULLETIN

How can teachers introduce evolution in a non-threatening way? Nancy Volker's article "The E World," published in the August 2009 issue of the HHMI Bulletin, discusses a number of strategies for introducing evolution gradually and without fanfare. "It's like adding shredded zucchini to a homemade chocolate cake," she explains. "No one knows it's there, and once it's pointed out, people realize it's not at all what they thought."

Among the resources on teaching evolution suggested in the article are NCSE's website, the University of California Museum of Paleontology's Understanding Evolution website, and the National Academy of Sciences and the Institute of Medicine's booklet Science, Evolution, and Creationism. The web version of the article also includes audio interviews with Kelly Smith and Margaret Ptacek, both of Clemson University.

For the article in the HHMI Bulletin, visit:
http://www.hhmi.org/bulletin/aug2009/upfront/word.html

For the cited resources, visit:
http://ncseweb.org
http://evolution.berkeley.edu
http://www.nap.edu/sec

PROJECT STEVE: N > 1100

With the addition of Stephen D. Kinrade on August 25, 2009, NCSE's Project Steve attained its 1100th signatory. A tongue-in-cheek parody of the long-standing creationist tradition of amassing lists of "scientists who doubt evolution" or "scientists who dissent from Darwinism," Project Steve mocks such lists by restricting its signatories to scientists whose first name is Steve. (Cognates are also accepted, such as Stephanie, Esteban, Istvan, Stefano, or even Tapani -- the Finnish equivalent.) About 1% of the United States population possesses such a first name, so each signatory represents about 100 potential signatories. ("Steve" was selected in honor of the late Stephen Jay Gould, a Supporter of NCSE and a dauntless defender of evolution education.)

Although the idea of Project Steve is frivolous, the statement is serious. It reads, "Evolution is a vital, well-supported, unifying principle of the biological sciences, and the scientific evidence is overwhelmingly in favor of the idea that all living things share a common ancestry. Although there are legitimate debates about the patterns and processes of evolution, there is no serious scientific doubt that evolution occurred or that natural selection is a major mechanism in its occurrence. It is scientifically inappropriate and pedagogically irresponsible for creationist pseudoscience, including but not limited to 'intelligent design,' to be introduced into the science curricula of our nation's public schools."

Among the 1101 current signatories to Project Steve are 100% of eligible Nobel laureates (Steven Weinberg and Steven Chu), 100% of eligible members of President Obama's Cabinet (Steven Chu, the Secretary of Energy), at least ten members of the National Academy of Sciences, the authors of widely used textbooks such as Molecular Biology of the Gene, Psychology: An Evolutionary Approach, and Introduction to Organic Geochemistry, and the authors of popular science books such as A Brief History of Time, Why We Age, and Darwin's Ghost. When last surveyed in February 2006, 54% of the signatories work in the biological sciences proper; 61% work in related fields in the life sciences.

For information about Project Steve, visit:
http://ncseweb.org/news/2009/08/taking-action/project-steve

Thanks for reading! And don't forget to visit NCSE's website -- http://ncseweb.org -- where you can always find the latest news on evolution education and threats to it.

Glenn Branch
Deputy Director
National Center for Science Education, Inc.
420 40th Street, Suite 2
Oakland, CA 94609-2509
510-601-7203 x310
fax: 510-601-7204
800-290-6006
branch@ncseweb.org
http://ncseweb.org

Eugenie C. Scott's Evolution vs. Creationism -- now in its second edition!
http://ncseweb.org/evc

Not in Our Classrooms: Why Intelligent Design Is Wrong for Our Schools
http://ncseweb.org/nioc

NCSE's work is supported by its members. Join today!
http://ncseweb.org/membership


Saturday, August 22, 2009

Luskin vs. Luskin

http://scienceblogs.com/tfk/2009/08/luskin_vs_luskin.phphttp://scienceblogs.com/tfk/2009/08/luskin_vs_luskin.php

Category: Creationism • Policy and Politics
Posted on: August 22, 2009 12:14 AM, by Josh Rosenau

Disco. hustler Casey Luskin pleads ignorance to fend off an argument by Ken Miller:

In a recent post, I noted that Ken Miller misrepresented Michael Behe's arguments on the irreducible complexity of the blood clotting cascade in his book, Only a Theory. When I blogged at the end of last year about Miller's similar mistakes at the Kitzmiller v. Dover trial, Dr. Miller responded by making me aware of something I did not previously know: apparently Michael Behe wrote the section in Of Pandas and People on blood clotting.

Under normal circumstances, it would suffice to congratulate Casey for finally acknowledging his ignorance, but alas, we must not pause to revel in that minor miracle. Like so many miraculous claims, it vanishes under investigation.

First of all, it is implausible that Casey wouldn't have been aware of Behe's involvement in Pandas. Casey, after all, has been involved with Behe, Pandas, and the broader ID movement for long enough that ignorance of any widely known fact in any of those three areas is a dubious claim.

Indeed, Casey was at the Dover trial when Behe discussed his involvement in writing parts of Pandas. He even used that involvement to browbeat reporters during the trial itself, writing:

Behe was a contributor to Pandas, it was on the blood clotting cascade section (found in Chapter 6, "Biochemical Similarities")…

Casey completes the passage by whining that "Apparently this reporter wasn't listening when Behe testified as to his limited role in Pandas." Casey clearly was listening in 2005, but has conveniently forgotten that salient fact since then.

This is only tangentially related to Casey's persistent efforts at relitigating a case his side lost – badly – 4 years ago. His immediate point is that "There's nothing wrong with … updating and improving … arguments." A fair point, though not one well served by degrading one's own arguments and attempting to obscure inconvenient facts.

Furthermore, Casey claims (in bold face!) that he "never advocated" using Of Pandas and People in schools. Which may or may not be true, but it is surely the case that the Discovery Institute joined with that book's publisher to oppose efforts which would block the book's use in schools.


Friday, August 21, 2009

Comer Appeals Verdict in Wrongful Termination Suit

http://scienceblogs.com/dispatches/2009/08/comer_appeals_verdict_in_wrong.php?utm_source=sbhomepage&utm_medium=link&utm_content=channellink

Posted on: August 19, 2009 9:23 AM, by Ed Brayton

Chris Comer, the former director of science for the Texas Education Agency who was forced to resign merely for forwarding an email about an upcoming talk by Barbara Forrest, has appealed the district court verdict in that case. The district court granted summary judgment for the defendants in the case earlier this year. You can read her appeal here (PDF).

The Texas Education Agency forced Comer to resign after she sent around an email announcing a talk by Barbara Forrest about evolution and creationism. The TEA "requires, as agency policy, neutrality when talking about evolution and creationism." That is an absolutely ridiculous policy, especially since schools in Texas can't even legally teach creationism.

Can you imagine a policy that said science directors or teachers had to remain neutral whenever they discussed whether the earth was spherical or whether it rotated around the sun? Or required them to remain neutral when discussing whether matter is made up of atoms or whether disease is caused by microorganisms? I doubt you can. Such a policy is both unimaginable and unimaginably idiotic. Why in the world would a government education agency be required to remain neutral on a dispute when one side of the dispute is illegal to teach, for crying out loud?

I'm sure Comer has competent attorneys, but I don't understand why they have chosen to focus solely on an Establishment Clause violation. Why not argue a free speech violation as well? Perhaps there's some technical reason I'm not aware of, but it seems to me there's at least as good a case for that violation as for the one they're arguing.

Atheist defends Intelligent Design

http://www.examiner.com/x-8276-Methodist-Examiner~y2009m8d19-Atheist-defends-Intelligent-Design

August 19, 8:00 PM Methodist Examiner James-Michael Smith

An atheist defends ID? Check the temperature in Hell!

University of Colorado Professor of Philosophy Bradley Monton has openly criticized the decision in the famous Dover case over Intelligent Design.

He has also argued that Intelligent Design is a valid form of philosophical and scientific inquiry that should be undertaken rather than dismissed.

He is also an Atheist.

Yes, you read that last sentence correctly!

Most people, familiar only with the sound-bytes and talking points of the debate believe that ID equals "Creationism" and only Fundamentalist Christians and those with a specific agenda support it.

For instance, philosopher Barbara Forest has stated the prevailing view succinctly:

In promoting "intelligent design theory"—a term that is essentially code for the religious belief in a supernatural creator—as a purported scientific alternative to evolutionary theory, the ID movement continues the decades-long attempt by creationists either to minimize the teaching of evolution or to gain equal time for yet another form of creationism in American public schools.

But Monton is actual living proof that this is simply not the case. A review of his book "Seeking God in Science: An Atheist Defends Intelligent Design" by Tom Gilson states the following:

A new book challenges those assumptions, arguing that ID actually is science, that it is not necessarily tied to belief in God, that it is distinct from creationism, that it is not primarily politically motivated, that it can be appropriate for inclusion in public school science curricula, and that it is not the basis of some deep theocratic conspiracy.

The book argues further that for those who are primarily concerned with the pursuit of truth, those cultural hot buttons are the wrong issues to worry about anyway. Intelligent design is a valid and genuine search for explanation, a quest for understanding, a pursuit of truth; and it is manifestly worthwhile for those reasons regardless of what social issues may be attached to it.

A book like this must have been written by one of the presumed anti-science religious ideologues against which Forrest was warning, probably one of the "creationists" at the Discovery Institute. Right?

It is certainly true that the author has been called a creationist. But he is not a Discovery Institute fellow; he is an associate professor of philosophy at the University of Colorado. And he is an atheist.

Quoting Monton, Gilson continues:

"I've been told that the battle over intelligent design is like a war between two camps," he writes, "but one of the purposes of this book is to transcend that." Perhaps that sounds idealistic. An early reviewer warned him that if he tried to remain neutral on the "cultural war" represented by ID, he would necessarily "serve one side." Monton responds, "my goal is simply to evaluate the arguments on both sides as objectively as I can. If this ends up serving one side more than the other, I don't care; my goal is to do the best I can to get at the truth."

It is hard to describe how refreshing that feels to an ID supporter such as myself. As a writer on science and faith issues, I find that when it comes to intelligent design, most of my energies are focused on getting opponents to see ID for what it is, not as they have misunderstood or distorted it in their own thinking. John G. West, senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, says, "Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of the discussion over intelligent design is that it is hampered not just by ignorance, but also by serious misunderstandings about what the theory proposes and what its supporters want."

Monton is willing to evaluate ID according to what its proponents actually affirm about it. He devotes most of a chapter to working through what the Discovery Institute genuinely means in its most basic statement of the theory. Unlike many others, he sees no reason to suppose--at least until proven otherwise—that ID proponents are mendacious conspirators. He argues effectively that opponents' most frequently-stated dismissals of ID ("it's purely religion," for example, or "it isn't science") fail when subjected to thoughtful analysis.

One can only hope that Monton is not alone in approaching the ID-Darwinist debate from as objective a point of view as possible. The debate needs a lot more light and a lot less heat. Skeptics like Monton are a much needed example of such light.

Evolution education update: August 21, 2009

The Geological Society of America reiterates its support for teaching evolution, and new selected content from RNCSE is now available.

GSA OFFERS ITS VOICE FOR EVOLUTION AGAIN

The Geological Society of America reiterated its support for teaching evolution and deep time, and its opposition to teaching creationism, in the science classroom. In a July 2009 revision of its 2001 position statement on the teaching of evolution, the GSA wrote in part:

***

The Geological Society of America strongly supports teaching evolution and the directly related concept of deep time as part of science curricula. GSA opposes teaching creationism alongside evolution in any science classroom. The evolution of life on Earth stands as one of the central concepts of modern science. During the past two centuries, research in geology, paleontology, and biology has produced an increasingly detailed and consistent picture of how life on Earth has evolved.

***

The Geological Society of America, founded in 1888, is a scientific society with 21,500 members in more than 90 countries. Through its meetings, publications, and programs, GSA seeks to enhance the professional growth of its members and promote the geosciences in the service of humankind.

For the GSA's statement, visit:
http://www.geosociety.org/positions/position1.htm

CATCHING UP WITH RNCSE

Selected content from volume 29, number 2, of Reports of the National Center for Science Education is now available on NCSE's website. Featured are Daryl P. Domning's "Winning Their Hearts and Minds: Who Should Speak for Evolution?" and a response from Sheldon F. Gottlieb. Additionally, NCSE's Anton Mates relates a controversy over a proposal to add creationism to the science curriculum in the public schools of Brunswick County, North Carolina. And Denis O. Lamoureux reviews Karl Giberson's Saving Darwin: How to Be a Christian and Believe in Evolution while Keith M. Parsons reviews James H. Fetzer's Render Unto Darwin: Philosophical Aspects of the Christian Right's Crusade Against Science.

If you like what you see, why not subscribe to RNCSE today? The next issue (volume 29, number 4) focuses on "intelligent design" creationism: Mark Perakh discusses his book Unintelligent Design, Lawrence S. Lerner speculates on the next strategy in the offing, and Norman Sleep and Randy Moore separately consider the influence of William Paley on the "intelligent design" movement. And there are reviews, too, including John Timmer's review of Explore Evolution and Frank Steiner's review of The Cell's Design. Don't miss out -- subscribe now!

For the selected content from RNCSE 29:2, visit:
http://ncseweb.org/rncse/29/2

For subscription information, visit:
http://ncseweb.org/membership

Thanks for reading! And don't forget to visit NCSE's website -- http://ncseweb.org -- where you can always find the latest news on evolution education and threats to it.

Glenn Branch
Deputy Director
National Center for Science Education, Inc.
420 40th Street, Suite 2
Oakland, CA 94609-2509
510-601-7203 x310
fax: 510-601-7204
800-290-6006
branch@ncseweb.org
http://ncseweb.org

Eugenie C. Scott's Evolution vs. Creationism -- now in its second edition!
http://ncseweb.org/evc

Not in Our Classrooms: Why Intelligent Design Is Wrong for Our Schools
http://ncseweb.org/nioc

NCSE's work is supported by its members. Join today!
http://ncseweb.org/membership

Evolution of the appendix: A biological 'remnant' no more

http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2009-08/dumc-eot082009.php

Public release date: 20-Aug-2009

Contact: Michelle Gailiun
michelle.gailiun@duke.edu
919-724-5343
Duke University Medical Center

DURHAM, N.C. – The lowly appendix, long-regarded as a useless evolutionary artifact, won newfound respect two years ago when researchers at Duke University Medical Center proposed that it actually serves a critical function. The appendix, they said, is a safe haven where good bacteria could hang out until they were needed to repopulate the gut after a nasty case of diarrhea, for example.

Now, some of those same researchers are back, reporting on the first-ever study of the appendix through the ages. Writing in the Journal of Evolutionary Biology, Duke scientists and collaborators from the University of Arizona and Arizona State University conclude that Charles Darwin was wrong: The appendix is a whole lot more than an evolutionary remnant. Not only does it appear in nature much more frequently than previously acknowledged, but it has been around much longer than anyone had suspected.

"Maybe it's time to correct the textbooks," says William Parker, Ph.D., assistant professor of surgical sciences at Duke and the senior author of the study. "Many biology texts today still refer to the appendix as a 'vestigial organ.'"

Using a modern approach to evolutionary biology called cladistics, which utilizes genetic information in combination with a variety of other data to evaluate biological relationships that emerge over the ages, Parker and colleagues found that the appendix has evolved at least twice, once among Australian marsupials and another time among rats, lemmings and other rodents, selected primates and humans. "We also figure that the appendix has been around for at least 80 million years, much longer than we would estimate if Darwin's ideas about the appendix were correct."

Darwin theorized that the appendix in humans and other primates was the evolutionary remains of a larger structure, called a cecum, which was used by now- extinct ancestors for digesting food. The latest study demonstrates two major problems with that idea. First, several living species, including certain lemurs, several rodents and a type of flying squirrel, still have an appendix attached to a large cecum which is used in digestion. Second, Parker says the appendix is actually quite widespread in nature. "For example, when species are divided into groups called 'families', we find that more than 70 percent of all primate and rodent groups contain species with an appendix." Darwin had thought that appendices appeared in only a small handful of animals.

"Darwin simply didn't have access to the information we have," explains Parker. "If Darwin had been aware of the species that have an appendix attached to a large cecum, and if he had known about the widespread nature of the appendix, he probably would not have thought of the appendix as a vestige of evolution."

He also was not aware that appendicitis, or inflammation of the appendix, is not due to a faulty appendix, but rather due to cultural changes associated with industrialized society and improved sanitation. "Those changes left our immune systems with too little work and too much time their hands – a recipe for trouble," says Parker.

That notion wasn't proposed until the early 1900's, and "we didn't really have a good understanding of that principle until the mid 1980's," Parker said. "Even more importantly, Darwin had no way of knowing that the function of the appendix could be rendered obsolete by cultural changes that included widespread use of sewer systems and clean drinking water."

Parker says now that we understand the normal function of the appendix, a critical question to ask is whether we can do anything to prevent appendicitis. He thinks the answer may lie in devising ways to challenge our immune systems today in much the same manner that they were challenged back in the Stone Age. "If modern medicine could figure out a way to do that, we would see far fewer cases of allergies, autoimmune disease, and appendicitis."

Colleagues who contributed to the study include lead author Heather Smith, of the Arizona College of Osteopathic Medicine; Rebecca Fisher, of Arizona State University; and Mary Lou Everett, Anitra Thomas and R. Randal Bollinger from the Department of Surgery at Duke.

Catching up with RNCSE

http://ncseweb.org/news/2009/08/catching-up-with-rncse-005008

* August 20th, 2009
* NCSE
* 2009

Selected content from volume 29, number 2, of Reports of the National Center for Science Education is now available on NCSE's website. Featured are Daryl P. Domning's "Winning Their Hearts and Minds: Who Should Speak for Evolution?" and a response from Sheldon F. Gottlieb. Additionally, NCSE's Anton Mates relates a controversy over a proposal to add creationism to the science curriculum in the public schools of Brunswick County, North Carolina. And Denis O. Lamoureux reviews Karl Giberson's Saving Darwin: How to Be a Christian and Believe in Evolution while Keith M. Parsons reviews James H. Fetzer's Render Unto Darwin: Philosophical Aspects of the Christian Right's Crusade Against Science.

If you like what you see, why not subscribe to RNCSE today? The next issue (volume 29, number 4) focuses on "intelligent design" creationism: Mark Perakh discusses his book Unintelligent Design, Lawrence S. Lerner speculates on the next strategy in the offing, and Norman Sleep and Randy Moore separately consider the influence of William Paley on the "intelligent design" movement. And there are reviews, too, including John Timmer's review of Explore Evolution and Frank Steiner's review of The Cell's Design. Don't miss out — subscribe now!

Anna Falling wants the Creation story at the Tulsa Zoo

http://www.tulsabeacon.com/?p=2721

The Tulsa Zoo, which displays a variety of pagan gods and pushes the theory of evolution, should have room for a display concerning Creationism, mayoral candidate Anna Falling said.

In 2005, Tulsan Dan Hicks petitioned ex-mayor Bill LaFortune to put up a display Hicks financed and built to counter a prominent evolution display at the zoo.

The Tulsa Parks and Recreation Board initially agreed and then withdrew its consent and LaFortune, who had the power, declined to put up the Creation display.

"By rejecting the Creation exhibit at the zoo, God has been dishonored," Falling said. "By placing the images of other gods and creation stories, excluding the Biblical account of Creation, the city has challenged the First Amendment that states that… Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof …

"Is the city of Tulsa respecting one religion over another and prohibiting the free exercise thereof?

"Is there any coincidence that this is our First Amendment and Abraham Lincoln used the Declaration of Independence as a framework for interpreting the Constitution?"

Falling said moral decline parallels the abandonment of the Christian values that America was founded on.

"We wonder why Tulsa has nearly twice the national average for violent crimes or the police have been called over 9,000 times in the last 4 years to the Tulsa Public Schools," Falling said. "Where God is not honored at any level, we see the results of these decisions."

Falling, co-founder of Cornerstone Assistance Network, a Christian organization, said it is entirely appropriate to raise this issue in a mayoral campaign.

"Why not?," Falling asked. "Any leader seeking to be in any office - public or private - must humble themselves and call upon the Lord first. This is why this is the first stop on our public campaign. Our city must restore the foundation of faith necessary to rebuilding wholeness in Tulsa by choosing board members who will honor God, love His creation and care about this community by restoring focus on faith and family.

"Specifically, I will look for board members who will not only prosper this zoo tremendously in attendance and improve this zoo's condition and appearance, but we will also look for people who want to characterize the origins of both man and animals in a way that honors the Judeo-Christian science that proves God as creator

"Unless we find ways to engage the church back into public policy decisions we will be lost as a city, state and nation."

The zoo also has a six-foot statue of Ganesha, the primary Hindu god, on display in front of the elephant exhibit. A fence was placed around the statue a few years ago because some Tulsa Hindus complained that zoo visitors were touching their god.

Several pagan deities from Africa and the South American rain forest are on display. There are no displays with a Christian or Jewish heritage at the zoo, which is funded by Tulsa taxpayers. The zoo also has exhibits which promote globalism.

Hick's Creation poster has been on display at Tulsa Bible Church since 2005.

"Over 200 years ago, our forefathers were at a cross roads as they wrote the foundation document of our nation," Falling said. "They were unable to agree upon the direction and old Ben Franklin stood to address the Constitutional Congress asking them to call upon their Creator and Divine Providence just as they did during the Revolutionary War; not forgetting Him as they designed what was to become one of the most powerful documents outside of scripture. Prayer began that day prior to all meetings in order to move ahead according to the Creator's plans so our nation will not be broken.

"What are we doing today to recognize the Creator and call upon Him to intervene in our city struggles? How are we to pursue the Creator's plans for us - plans to prosper us and not to harm us? Unless God's people come together in this city to undergird our leaders and our city in prayer - we will continue to decline as a community.

"We must do this in order that our streets are safer, budgets are balanced, land use and infrastructure are determined wisely for all of Tulsa so that we all have a shot at the 'pursuit of happiness.'

"Now more than ever we must call upon our Heavenly creator and His Church to intervene in our city struggles ahead. The first way we can do this is by humbly asking the city to accept this beautiful rendering of the Creation story from our faith tradition as an act of thanks for the grand design God has had for you and I since the foundation of the earth.

Uniting Tulsans of faith is a key part of the Falling campaign to win the GOP nomination for mayor in a field of 11 Republicans.

"Unless the churches of Tulsa are brought into City Hall to begin to address our community's greatest ills - the City of Tulsa will go bankrupt, spiritually, morally and financially," Falling said.

Zoo officials said the issue is dead and they will not put up the Creation display.

Falling has a petition on her campaign website, www.annafallling.com for anyone who wishes the Creation story to be displayed at the zoo.

This entry was posted on Thursday, August 20th, 2009 and is filed under News Briefs.

GOP's best mayoral choice

http://www.tulsaworld.com/opinion/article.aspx?subjectid=61&articleid=20090821_61_A12_Bsdoid78771&allcom=1

By World's Editorial Writers
Published: 8/21/2009 3:31 AM
Last Modified: 8/21/2009 4:59 AM

Based on his admirable 30-year record of community service and business leadership, Dewey Bartlett is head-and-shoulders the best choice in the Sept. 8 Republican mayoral primary.

Bartlett, a Tulsa native and son and namesake of one of Oklahoma's most beloved Republican leaders, has carved out his own successful career. He began in the oil business as a landman and now is president of an independent energy producing company. Recognized industry-wide for his leadership, Bartlett currently is chairman of the National Stripper Well Association, representing more than 4,000 small-business owners in Oklahoma, and also is chairman of the Oklahoma Energy Resources Board.

Bartlett's record of public service includes two successful terms on the Tulsa City Council, turns on the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority, Tulsa Community College Foundation board and Academy for State Goals board, and spare-time work as a Red Cross volunteer.

He is a Republican Party stalwart, and as such has been endorsed by conservative Republican leaders in the area.

Bartlett is a family man. He is personable and would be a unifying force at City Hall. That is of crucial importance, given the often fractious to downright dysfunctional carrying-ons in city government.

There is no runoff provision in Tulsa municipal elections, so the leading vote-getter Sept. 8 will be the party's nominee, even if there is no majority. In a crowded, 11-person contest, Bartlett's main opposition is likely to come from former city councilors Chris Medlock and Anna Falling.

Medlock, a former talk-radio host, has too much baggage to be mayor. He was a ringleader on one of the most divided and dysfunctional councils ever. As councilor he claimed to have a master's degree that he did not in fact have. And when he left office he continued to receive and monitor e-mails that were intended for his successor. Falling is running a campaign based on trying to get a creationism monument erected at the Tulsa Zoo.

In the Democratic primary, state Sen. Tom Adelson is the obvious best choice and should have no trouble prevailing over a gaggle of perennial candidates.

On the Republican side on Sept. 8, voters should unhesitatingly choose Dewey Bartlett.

By World's Editorial Writers


Sunday, August 16, 2009

Falling trumpets creationism issue

http://www.tulsaworld.com/news/article.aspx?subjectid=262&articleid=20090812_11_A11_Republ227159&allcom=1

The mayoral candidate describes a zoo display as a priority.

By BRIAN BARBER World Staff Writer
Published: 8/12/2009 2:25 AM
Last Modified: 8/12/2009 9:55 AM

Tulsa Elections: Read bios of candidates for mayor, City Council and city auditor and view a map of City Council districts.

Republican mayoral candidate Anna Falling said Tuesday that putting a Christian creationism display in the Tulsa Zoo is No. 1 in importance among city issues that also include violent crime, budget woes and bumpy streets.

"It's first," she said to calls of "hallelujah" at a rally outside the zoo. "If we can't come to the foundation of faith in this community, those other answers will never come. We need to first of all recognize the fact that God needs to be honored in this city."

Falling, who has founded several Christian nonprofit groups and is a former city councilor, also said the next mayor needs to appoint people to boards, authorities and commissions who will "honor God."

"We will also look for people who want to characterize the origins of both man and animals in a way that honors Judeo-Christian science that proves God as the creator," she said.

When asked whether she meant that she would recruit Christians to serve the city, Falling said she was talking about "people committed to their churches." When asked whether she meant Christian churches, she said, "churches, yes."

Falling's campaign has been overtly Christian-themed. But she said she wants to embrace people of all religions, not alienate them.

"I'd love to be able to visit with them," she said, adding that there's common ground. "I know God loves them. I love them. This is an opportunity for us to be able to be friends and make a difference in this community."

Controversy over having a creationism display at the zoo dates to 2005, when it was proposed by Dan Hicks, a Christian activist.

Hicks drew up plans for a 5-by-3-foot panel that would tell the Genesis creation story of God creating the world in six days and resting on the seventh.

It was initially approved by the Tulsa Park and Recreation Board, but the board later rescinded its decision in a second vote after a public outcry.

Hicks' now-finished panel was on display at the rally.

Zoo officials released this prepared statement: "Installation of this exhibit at the Tulsa Zoo was raised in 2005, discussed, vetted and resolved in a very public process involving the entire community. A public vote four years ago by the Parks Board resolved the issue."

The zoo has on display an elephantlike sculpture said to depict the Hindu god Ganesha and an exhibit that deals with the creation of the earth from a scientific point of view.


Saturday, August 15, 2009

A firebrand visits Creation Museum

http://www.startribune.com/lifestyle/53237252.html?elr=KArks7PYDiaK7DUHPYDiaK7DUiD3aPc:_Yyc:aUUr

Mark Lyons, Associated Press - Nyt

Minnesota biology professor PZ Myers and more than 300 scientists, students and secularists take a field trip to protest inaccurate science.

By DEVIN POWELL, Inside Science News

Last update: August 14, 2009 - 10:41 PM

A scientist who scoffs at those who believe that men and dinosaurs cohabited the Earth rode a saddled triceratops last weekend. Paul Zachary Myers, an associate professor of biology at the University of Minnesota, Morris, was on an unlikely field trip to the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Ky.

Myers, who goes by "PZ," brought to the museum 304 scientists, students and secularists who were in town attending a meeting of the Secular Student Association. To this group, Myers is a celebrity, not for his scientific research (zebrafish brain development) but for his often loud and inflammatory defense of science and skeptical inquiry. In 2006 his Pharyngula blog was chosen the most popular science blog by the research journal Nature. It draws more than a million visitors a month.

Why does a biologist known as a fierce critic of creationism travel more than 800 miles and pay $10 to visit a creationist museum in rural Kentucky?

"To gather evidence," Myers said. "You can't just sit in a quiet corner of Minnesota and complain about something."

The Creation Museum presents an alternative to the views of mainstream science. Here the Bible is "the true history book of the universe," a history of a 6,000-year-old Earth based on a literal interpretation of the Book of Genesis. Adam and Eve share the Garden of Eden with dinosaurs, and posters on a variety of topics contrast the explanations provided by "man's reason" and "God's word."

The $27 million Creation Museum was built by the nonprofit organization Answers in Genesis, whose president and CEO, Ken Ham, is on a mission to get creationism into science classrooms nationwide. Last month, for example, Ham attended a meeting of the National Education Association and passed out creationist DVDs and books. He was quoted in a press release as hoping that teachers "see how the Bible is confirmed by observational science."

Book review: Everyday Practice of Science.

http://scienceblogs.com/ethicsandscience/2009/03/book_review_everyday_practice.php

Category: Book review • Methodology • Scientist/layperson relations • Tribe of Science
Posted on: March 19, 2009 4:39 PM, by Janet D. Stemwedel

Everyday Practice of Science: Where Intuition and Passion Meet Objectivity and Logic.
by Frederick Grinnell
Oxford University Press
2009

Scientists are not usually shy when it comes to voicing their frustration about the public's understanding of how science works, or about the deficits in that understanding. Some lay this at the feet of an educational system that makes it too easy for students to opt out of science coursework, while others blame the dearth of science coverage in our mass media.

Rather than casting about for a villain, cell biologist Frederick Grinnell has written a book that aims to help the non-scientist understand what scientific practice looks -- and feels -- like to the scientists. This description of scientific activity connects the dry textbook accounts of scientific method to the vibrant, messy, frustrating yet invigorating terrain scientists inhabit as they try to build new knowledge. Grinnell's book also connects the scientists' world to the vibrant, messy, frustrating yet invigorating world they share with non-scientists as he considers ethical and societal dimensions of scientific practice.

Grinnell starts by shining some light inside the black-box of Science that, from the non-scientist's point of view, perhaps, spits out scientific knowledge. He contrasts the focus in textbook discussions (and journal articles) on the universality of results with the fact that, in real life, actual people (not generalized ones) struggle with scientific questions and produce findings. Grinnell examines the tension between "Professor Anybody" and "Professor Particular" and offers a very nice discussion of how intersubjectivity among particular scientists allows the scientific community to arrive at something like knowledge that can be verified and endorsed by everyone.

Of course, generating new knowledge about the world, and then getting the scientific community to recognize it as knowledge (i.e., to judge your claims to be credible) is not easy. Grinnell describes nonlinearities in the path we might label "discovery," laying out some of the reasons it can be brutally difficult to build knowledge that takes us beyond the comfort of what is already well known. Some of these reasons seem to have more to do with our perceptual and imaginative capabilities: being able to notice outcomes we do not expect, navigating the ambiguity of results in instances where no one knows the right answer (yet). Others are more practical: these are the problems this lab takes on (so interesting issues that crop up that fall outside of this territory may not be pursued); these are the kinds of techniques we apply to our research (so spending lots of time developing new techniques, or investing lots of money in a new instrument, may be vetoed by the boss). Here, Grinnell makes it clear that, rather than being a mechanistic process, discovery depends on insight, persistence, and luck.

Once the scientist's conversation with the world has yielded a discovery, the scientist must enter into conversation with his or her community to establish whether the discovery claims are credible. Grinnell describes the different parts of this conversation, whether oral exchanges between scientists at seminars or informal discussions, or formal peer review of manuscripts submitted to scientific journals. As well, he discusses the broader implications of this conversation: whether a finding is deemed credible affects not only whether your manuscript gets published but also whether you can attract grant money and trainees (both important in generating further knowledge submitted to the community for validation). The process of scientific validation is not without problems -- Grinnell notes the impact of errors in credibility judgments -- but the description of its workings makes sense of its reasonably good track record.

From this picture of the ground-level workings of scientific practice, Grinnell shifts his focus to the interactions between the tribe of science and the larger society. He begins by considering what scientific integrity involves, especially in the context in which society funds a great deal of scientific research and depends on scientists to generate "expert knowledge" that other members of society could not generate. Here, the fact that Professor Particular may have ambitious plans for her career, bills to pay, and offers of lucrative consulting gigs -- in other words, that she's human just like the other members of society -- introduces risks and temptations that might pull against the proper operation of the scientific community in generating and evaluating new knowledge. Yet efforts from outside the scientific community (particularly from federal funding agencies) to define and prohibit scientific misconduct run into problems if they don't fully appreciate the inescapable ambiguities on the frontiers of our knowledge and the honest disagreements and mistakes these can produce.

Next, Grinnell considers the particular ethical issues that arise when human subjects are required to build scientific knowledge. Some ethical challenges are the product, yet again, of ambiguities inherent when new knowledge is built, while others arise because the human subjects being asked to make informed judgments about whether to participate in research understand science as the textbooks describe it, if at all. Grinnell also considers how genetic research may complicate our understanding of the risks of participating and research -- and of who besides the actual subjects enrolled in a study might bear these risks.

Finally, Grinnell considers one of the faultlines between scientists and non-scientists in the larger society: the interaction between science and religion. While noting that certain flavors of religion (like biblical literalism) will lead to unavoidable conflicts with science, Grinnell argues for a complementarity between scientific and religious attitudes, in which the two cannot be completely integrated nor completely separated. Grinnell points out that "science, like religion, requires faith":

My scientific friends dislike this claim a lot. They argue that in science, assumptions are necessary; faith is not. Assumptions can be changed; faith cannot. I suggest that some assumptions are so profound and held with such passion that they appear to me to resemble what we typically call faith. (166)

As you might expect, these assumptions -- that the world has intelligible patterns and structures, that there is a uniformity and continuity to the phenomena of the natural world -- are completely uncontroversial to scientists. They are needed to ground scientific activity, and they seem not to have let us down so far. Are these really assumptions scientists could change and still continue to practice science?

Part of the complementarity between science and religion, as Grinnell describes it, comes from their focus on different kinds of questions about the world (what kind of stuff our world is made up up, how it came to be this way, what can be done with it versus what it means to share the world with this stuff, what kinds of values or purpose should guide me in my interactions with the world). And while science and religion cannot be completely integrated, Grinnell suggests that religion has a credibility process, too:

Credibility in science begins when peer review authorizes that a discovery claim is worthwhile to examine, but the validity of the claim requires testing by the community over time. At the time the discovery is being made, the idea could be quite different from the prevailing beliefs of the community. At the beginning of the process, the outcome will be uncertain. The credibility process in religion, by contrast, requires peer review to certify at the outset that an individual's insights are consistent with the religion's current understanding of itself. (172)

Grinnell is not suggesting that science change its credibility standards, nor does he claim that religion is the only approach to answering non-scientific questions about what we should value or what meaning our lives might have. What he does suggest is that dialogue between people with the scientific attitude and people with religious attitudes might be productive -- at least productive of a better understanding of how these attitudes are concerned with the world in different ways. Given that the people with these different attitudes have to share the world, improving that understanding might be useful.

In a spare six chapters (and less than 200 pages excluding endnotes), Grinnell lays out a picture of scientific activity that is clear and engaging. He draws on his own experiences and on anecdotes from other scientists to make the day to day work -- and play -- of science vivid to the reader. Moreover, he makes impressive use of philosophical materials to set out the dimensions of the knowledge building project to which the everyday labors of scientists are directed -- impressive not because it is exhaustive, but because Grinnell has given just the right non-expert gloss to philosophers whose work goes right to the heart of the question of how we can know anything about our world. Some philosophically inclined scientists (whose readings have been self-directed) make very idiosyncratic choices about which philosophers are relevant to which questions. Grinnell's account of science as seen by philosophers demonstrates that he has been in serious dialogue with actual philosophers of science.

This would be a great book for the lay person who wants a better understanding of where scientific knowledge comes from. It would also be an excellent read for the scientist who wants an introduction to the philosophical underpinnings of (and challenges inherent within) the scientific knowledge-building project. For scientist and non-scientist alike, Grinnell offers some thought-provoking observations on the ways the interests of scientists and non-scientists in our society are tied to each other.

Evolution education update: August 14, 2009

Chris Comer is appealing the dismissal of her case against the Texas Education Agency. A new study conducted by NCSE's Louise S. Mead and Anton Mates reveals progress in the treatment of evolution in state science standards -- but there's still plenty of room for improvement. And NCSE's Glenn Branch reviews the updated edition of But Is It Science? for Skeptic.

CHRIS COMER APPEALS

Chris Comer, whose lawsuit challenging the Texas Education Agency's policy of requiring neutrality about evolution and creationism was dismissed on March 31, 2009, is now appealing the decision. Formerly the director of science at the TEA, Comer was forced to resign in November 2007 after she forwarded a note announcing a talk by Barbara Forrest in Austin; according to a memorandum recommending her dismissal, "the TEA requires, as agency policy, neutrality when talking about evolution and creationism."

In June 2008, Comer filed suit in federal court in the Western District of Texas, arguing that the policy violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment: "By professing 'neutrality,' the Agency credits creationism as a valid scientific theory." The judge ruled otherwise, however, writing, "As a matter of law, the Agency's neutrality policy, if it advances religion at all, only does so incidentally. Further, a reasonable observer of the neutrality policy would not believe the Agency endorses religion through the policy."

In her appellate brief, submitted to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, Comer asked the court to "review the record de novo and reverse and vacate the district court's decision. Specifically, it should grant Comer's motion for summary judgment, and vacate the grant of summary judgment for defendants, as well as the dismissal of plaintiff's complaint. At a minimum, this Court should vacate the grant of summary judgment to defendants, plus the order dismissing the complaint, and remand for further proceedings."

For Comer's appellate brief (PDF), visit:
http://ncseweb.org/webfm_send/1170

For NCSE's collection of information about the case, visit:
http://ncseweb.org/creationism/legal/chris-comer-docs

For NCSE's video about the case, visit:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bpCdQ2Tbf6s

EVOLVING STANDARDS

How is evolution faring in state science education standards? NCSE's Louise S. Mead and Anton Mates pored over the latest standards in all fifty states. In a new study forthcoming in the journal Evolution: Education and Outreach, they report, "The treatment of biological evolution in state science standards has improved dramatically over the last ten years." Forty states received satisfactory grades for the treatment of evolution in their state science standards in Mead and Mates's study, as opposed to only thirty-one in Lawrence S. Lerner's 2000 study Good Science, Bad Science, conducted for the Fordham Foundation.

But the news is not all rosy. Five states -- Alabama, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Texas, and West Virginia -- received the grade of F, and a further six states -- Alaska, Connecticut, Kentucky, Tennessee, Wisconsin, and Wyoming -- receive the grade of D. Moreover, the "treatment of human evolution is abysmal," Mead and Mates lament, with only seven states (and the District of Columbia) providing a comprehensive treatment. Many states "do not reference the Big Bang as the current scientific theory for the origin of the universe," they add, and only 17 states provide a comprehensive treatment of the connections among biological, geological, and cosmological systems.

Mead and Mates also consider a few states that furnish "excellent examples of the successes and failures of the standards-setting process." The grades for Florida and Kansas have vaulted from F to A, although not without controversy: "the Kansas standards have seesawed between abysmal and excellent no fewer than four times in the last decade." In Louisiana, however, the passage of the so-called Louisiana Science Education Act undermined the treatment of evolution in the standards, which now receive the grade of F. And in Texas, the state board of education's revisions in March 2009 served to undermine the treatment of evolution in the standards to the point where they, too, receive a failing grade.

In a companion article introducing the study, NCSE's executive director Eugenie C. Scott commented, "On the basis of Mead and Mates's results, there is reason to be pleased by the progress over the last ten years in the inclusion of evolution in state science education standards. That the treatment of evolution is inadequate in almost one in five states still suggests that there is considerable room for improvement, but we should be optimistic that teachers, scientists, and others who care about science education will continue -- as science standards continue to be periodically revised -- to work for the appropriate inclusion of evolution in state science education standards."

For Mead and Mates's article, visit:
http://www.springerlink.com/content/9u0610162rn51432/fulltext.html

For Lerner's study, visit:
http://www.fordhamfoundation.org/detail/news.cfm?news_id=42

For Scott's article, visit:
http://www.springerlink.com/content/e41527271423814p/fulltext.html

PHILOSOPHERS, CREATIONISTS, AND SERIOUS BRAINIACS

NCSE's deputy director Glenn Branch's review of the updated edition of But Is It Science? The Philosophical Question in the Creation/Evolution Controversy (Prometheus Books, 2009) appeared in eSkeptic for August 12, 2009. The review concluded:

***

But Is It Science? is evidently intended as a sourcebook for university classes in philosophy, the history of science, science and religion, and so forth, and as such it succeeds admirably. But it is, or ought to be, appealing to the general public at large. The creationism/evolution controversy is a perennial feature of life in the United States, with attempts to remove, balance, or compromise the teaching of evolution recurring from the Scopes era to the present day. Even if public interest in intelligent design dwindles after Kitzmiller, as public interest in creation science dwindled after McLean and Edwards, the profound yet misguided discomfort with evolution that actuates such assaults on evolution is bound to remain. Also bound to remain are philosophical controversies over creationism, which -- as the Kitzmiller case illustrated so vividly -- have the potential to affect the quality of science education across the country and indeed around the world. Pennock and Ruse conclude their preface by writing, "We hope that you enjoy this collection and learn from it." I think that you will. And they add, "We hope sincerely that in twenty years it will not be necessary to bring out a third edition." I do, too. But if so, it will be due, despite Mencken's jab, in large part to the philosophers -- Pennock, Ruse, and Forrest, to be sure, but also Philip Kitcher, Sahotra Sarkar, Elliott Sober, and a host of their colleagues -- who have worked tirelessly to expose the philosophical flaws of creationism.

***

The editors of the book, philosophers Michael Ruse and Robert T. Pennock, testified in McLean and Kitzmiller, respectively, and Ruse is additionally a Supporter of NCSE. Branch's review will be published in a forthcoming issue of Skeptic.

For Branch's review, visit:
http://www.skeptic.com/eskeptic/09-08-12#feature

To buy the book from Amazon.com (and benefit NCSE in the process), visit:
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/asin/1591025826/nationalcenter02/

For information about Skeptic, visit:
http://www.skeptic.com/

Thanks for reading! And as always, be sure to consult NCSE's website -- http://ncseweb.org -- where you can always find the latest news on evolution education and threats to it.

Glenn Branch
Deputy Director
National Center for Science Education, Inc.
420 40th Street, Suite 2
Oakland, CA 94609-2509
510-601-7203 x310
fax: 510-601-7204
800-290-6006
branch@ncseweb.org
http://ncseweb.org

Eugenie C. Scott's Evolution vs. Creationism -- now in its second edition!
http://ncseweb.org/evc

Not in Our Classrooms: Why Intelligent Design Is Wrong for Our Schools
http://ncseweb.org/nioc

NCSE's work is supported by its members. Join today!
http://ncseweb.org/membership