NTS LogoSkeptical News for 26 June 2010

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Friday, June 18, 2010

Evolution education update: June 18, 2010

Encouraging news from Nebraska, and a preview of Massimo Pigliucci's new book.


"Darwin's theory of evolution would continue as a cornerstone of science classes in Nebraska's public schools if proposed new state science standards are adopted this summer by the Nebraska Board of Education," according to a story in the Omaha World-Herald (June 13, 2010). Moreover, there are apparently no efforts underway to lobby for the inclusion of creationism: "Three members of the Nebraska Board of Education say they're not aware of any effort by board members or the public to include intelligent design in Nebraska's new science standards."

The World-Herald editorially expressed its relief at the lack of any fuss over evolution, writing (June 15, 2010): "The board has included evolution in the curriculum as part of a commendably calm and responsible approach to modern science education. Indications are that the Nebraska standards, which are underpinned by the theory of evolution, will pass muster without the firestorm the same issue has raised in other states. That says a lot about the sound judgment of the elected board members and the common sense of Nebraskans in general."

The editorial added, "Evolution is the bedrock on which much of modern science is built. Everything from government policy to agricultural biotechnology, medical advances to ethics issues can require an understanding of evolutionary principles and findings. Children who lack a solid background in the fundamentals of modern science can be at a considerable disadvantage. In a hyper-competitive world economy, our country depends on a continuing supply of well-educated, knowledgeable and science-literate young people."

Nebraska's previous state science standards, from 1998, received a grade of C for their treatment of evolution from both Lawrence S. Lerner in his 2000 study for the Fordham Foundation and NCSE's Louise S. Mead and Anton Mates in their 2009 study published in Evolution: Education and Outreach. Mead and Mates commented that the standards were "[w]eak on evolution," and also criticized them for including "creationist jargon" -- in particular, using the word "theory" only with relation to biological evolution.

The proposed new standards would still refer to evolution as a theory; Jim Woodland, the director of science education for the Nebraska Education Department, told the World-Herald that the decision was intended not to "stir the hornet's nest." The newspaper added, "In common usage, the word theory has come to mean 'a hunch,' suggesting a conclusion reached based on incomplete evidence. However, the American Association for the Advancement of Science defines a scientific theory as 'a well-substantiated explanation ... based on a body of facts that have been repeatedly confirmed.'"

Woodland said that in the new standards, "We're treating evolution the way that we have it now. ... We expect the students to develop an understanding of biological evolution." Chuck Austerberry, a professor of biology at Creighton University and a member of the Nebraska Religious Coalition for Science Education, which supports the teaching of evolution in the public schools, reviewed the draft standards and regarded them as "appropriately neutral" on philosophical and theological matters. "We just want [students] to learn the science," he said, "to learn it in a neutral, respectful environment."

For the story and editorial in the Omaha World-Herald, visit:

For the Lerner and the Mead and Mates studies, visit:

For the proposed standards (PDF), visit:

For the Nebraska Religious Coalition for Science Education, visit:

And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in Nebraska, visit:


NCSE is pleased to offer a free preview of Massimo Pigliucci's Nonsense on Stilts: How to Tell Science from Bunk (University of Chicago Press, 2010) -- featuring Pigliucci's account of "the bizarre story that unfolded in Dover, Pennsylvania, and culminated in one of the best examples of how science and philosophy of science can play a surprising and fundamental role in our courtrooms." The publisher writes, "Nonsense on Stilts is a timely reminder of the need to maintain a line between expertise and assumption. Broad in scope and implication, it is also ultimately a captivating guide for the intelligent citizen who wishes to make up her own mind while navigating the perilous debates that will affect the future of our planet," and NCSE's executive director Eugenie C. Scott described it as "[a]n eminently readable, insightful, and sensible book," adding, "I enjoyed it very much."

For the preview (PDF), visit:

For information about Nonsense on Stilts, visit: http://www.press.uchicago.edu/presssite/metadata.epl?isbn=9780226667850

Thanks for reading! And don't forget to visit NCSE's website -- http://ncse.com -- 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

Subscribe to NCSE's free weekly e-newsletter:

NCSE is on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter:

NCSE's work is supported by its members. Join today!

In Debate Over Intelligent Design Media Turns No News Into News


[Editor's note: See the above item from the National Center for Science Education. When the creationists don't score any points they downplay it by calling attention to real scientists, who are calling attention to the continued success of evolution in the public schools. Science is not what these creationists do best. What they do best is exemplified in the following:]

Robert Crowther

No news continues to make news. Or maybe it's agenda driven reporting making up news? Either way, this article trumpets the fact that Nebraskans need not worry that evolution will be replaced with intelligent design in science classes. Of course, that wasn't being suggested and discussed anyhow. So, here's a case of the media taking no news and goosing it into a "news" story.

Three members of the Nebraska Board of Education say they're not aware of any effort by board members or the public to include intelligent design in Nebraska's new science standards.

"I've had zero contact from anyone," said board member Robert Evnen of Lincoln, who is on a committee reviewing the standards.

Why is not being asked to do something that nobody is talking about doing worth reporting on? Additionally, the new standards aren't even being significantly rewritten.

Except for slight wording changes, that's the same requirement as the 1998 standards they would replace.

"We're treating evolution the way that we have it now," Woodland said. "We expect the students to develop an understanding of biological evolution. There's no reference to intelligent design at all."

So what's the story? There is simply nothing newsworthy to report here, so one has to wonder what was the driving factor to write this story? Something similar happened in Texas starting in 2007 (see here and here)

The drum beat of these evolutionary rain makers started up last summer when the Dallas Morning News published a thumb-sucker of a story about the majority of the state board of education's opposition to inserting ID into Texas science classes. Even though it was clear that no one was proposing inserting ID into the curriculum, all of sudden Darwinists began chanting that the sky was falling.

Are Darwinists in Nebraska trying to create a controversy so that they can manufacture an unnecessary victory to claim? We shall see.

Posted by Robert Crowther at 1:41 AM | Permalink

San Francisco tentatively OKs cellphone radiation law


Supervisors vote to require retailers to post each phone's 'specific absorption rate.' After a final vote, the mayor is expected to sign the law, which would be the first of its kind in the nation.

June 17, 2010|By Nathan Olivarez-Giles, Los Angeles Times

San Francisco is close to enacting a law that would require retailers to post signs stating how much radiation is emitted from cellphones.

The city's Board of Supervisors voted 10 to 1 on Tuesday to approve the ordinance, which would require stores to provide each phone's "specific absorption rate" — a measurement of radiation absorbed by a phone user's body tissue that each manufacturer is required to register with the Federal Communications Commission.

10 retractions and counting


Posted by Jef Akst [Entry posted at 26th May 2010 03:19 PM GMT]

In an unusually large case of misconduct, an immunology lab at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, has pulled 10 papers so far, with about five more expected, and cancelled a clinical trial after a senior research associate was found guilty of falsifying data.

"I was shocked when I initially got the letter from Dr. [Larry] Pease" -- the head of the lab -- "stating the decision to retract all these papers (approximately 15)," Lieping Chen, co-author on some of the papers, told The Scientist in an email. "It is very unfortunate when anybody has such an associate in the laboratory," said Chen, based at The Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

"It's surprising that a falsification could go on at such an extensive level for so long," added molecular immunologist Gordon Freeman of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. "It's the longest running pervasive falsification that I've ever heard of."

But despite the scope of the retractions, the impact on the field is likely to be minimal, researchers said. The loss will be "not too significant because it was a unique reagent with a unique proposed mechanism of action," Freeman said. "The damaging effect is clear but as far as I know the clinical projects derived were not of key importance for our understanding on how the immune system works," immunologist Ignacio Melero of the University of Navarra in Spain agreed in an email. "From the point of view of scientific knowledge, what will change is mainly the notion that dendritic cells could be stimulated through this pathway."

Starting in 2002, Pease and his colleagues published a series of papers about their discovery of a naturally occurring human IgM antibody, known as sHIgM12 (or B7-DCXAb). This antibody appeared to bind to a particular receptor called B7-DC on dendritic cells and upregulate the immune cells' function by promoting cell survival, enhancing the presentation of antigens, and increasing secretion of cytokines. This was somewhat surprising, as this group of dendritic cell receptors was generally believed to bind to T cells to regulate T cell function, but not dendritic cell activity.

The fact that the antibody appeared to be activating dendritic cell function suggested that it might be a good therapeutic target for increasing the immune response. "The antibody was claimed to be therapeutically active in a wide variety of diseases, [including] asthma [and] cancer, [and] to have really enormously strong effects," Freeman said.

But after continued research in the lab turned up "suspicious patterns of experimental results," according to one retraction notice, Pease and his lab members ran a number of blinded experiments that did not support the findings. The resulting investigation at the Mayo Clinic concluded that one of the lab's researchers, Suresh Radhakrishnan, "tampered with another investigator's experiment with the intent to mislead toward the conclusion that the B7-DCXAb reagent has cell-activating properties," according to another retraction notice.

"I was surprised about this retraction from [Journal of Experimental Biology]" -- the lab's first publication about B7-DCXAb -- "because the groups involved enjoy an excellent reputation in the field," said Melero of the University of Navarra. "The message of that paper was interesting for us because it provided a tool to activate dendritic cells."

"I think [the retractions are] tremendously sad for science," Freeman agreed. "I think if something is too good to be true, it often isn't true."

So far, ten papers have been retracted, including one from Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and six from the Journal of Immunology. All together, the papers retracted thus far have been cited nearly 250 times, according to ISI, and more papers will be retracted "in the coming weeks," said Mayo spokesperson Bob Nellis.

PNAS and the Journal of Immunology both confirmed that the retractions were published at the request of the authors, but did not comment on how the papers slipped through the peer-review system.

Additionally, a clinical trial that planned to test the antibody as a potential therapy in patients with stage IV melanoma, in collaboration with the National Cancer Institute, has been cancelled, Nellis said.

"No other researchers were involved, [and] no patients were harmed," he said. Since the finding of misconduct, the "lab has refocused its efforts along other lines of research."

Pease was not taking interviews, according to Nellis. Radhakrishnan is no longer employed by Mayo, and the institute did not have any information about his current whereabouts.

Read more: 10 retractions and counting - The Scientist - Magazine of the Life Sciences http://www.the-scientist.com/blog/display/57449/#ixzz0rDWkXLj8

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Unveiling bias against intelligent design


Editor's note: Breaking news also indicates bias against astrology. Details to follow.

Charlie Butts - OneNewsNow - 6/17/2010 6:15:00 AM

The California Science Center has settled a lawsuit over intelligent design (ID) information with the Discovery Institute.

The Science Center was under contract to provide a screening of Darwin's Dilemma, a pro-intelligent design film, but abruptly cancelled. Discovery Institute tried to obtain Center documents related to the cancellation, but provided very little -- so the lawsuit was filed. Discovery Institute's Casey Luskin tells OneNewsNow the Center has now settled the lawsuit and will provide a large amount of documentation.

"We think there's pretty strong evidence here of viewpoint discrimination," Luskin shares, "and we anticipate that the CD of documents they're going to be giving to us under the terms of the settlement agreement is going to provide further evidence that they were, in fact, intolerant of intelligent design."

Although ID is a scientific theory, some experts claim it is based on religion -- so they refuse to seriously consider it. Luskin anticipates pointing out that that is unfair treatment of the theory.

"We're certainly interested in defending academic freedom for intelligent design, and so we would certainly like to be able to make publicly known the fact that certain groups are basically unwilling to extend fair treatment to intelligent design proponents, and essentially are telling ID proponents that they need to go to the back of the bus," he says.

American Freedom Alliance, which had contracted with the Center to show Darwin's Dilemma, has filed a separate breach of contract lawsuit.

The Atheist-Dominated National Academy of Sciences


Editor's note: This site also offers The Newt Gringrich Letter (Yours Free).

by Robert Bowie Johnson, Jr.


It is important for us to understand the mindset of the hierarchy of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) because they are the ones whose alleged expertise on "global warming" will justify the Democrats' cap-and-tax legislation. Over the last 50 years, the NAS hierarchy has become one of the most poisonous organizations in America, a nest of atheists who base their pseudo-scientific dogma on the arbitrary rejection of God, and not upon empirical evidence and the scientific method.

As the author of Sowing Atheism: the National Academy of Sciences' Sinister Scheme to Teach Our Children They're Descended from Reptiles, let me tell you what I know about the mindset of the members of the NAS hierarchy and their utter corruption of the search for truth in nature.

In 2008, NAS published Science, Evolution, and Creationism, a book sent to every public school board member and science teacher in America. The book's message: Darwinian evolution is the only acceptable explanation for human origins. The book treats the intelligent-design hypothesis as invalid without presenting a shred of empirical evidence to contradict it.

The pseudo-scientific method of the NAS begins, not with a valid hypothesis or empirical evidence, but rather with the arbitrary rejection of a Creator/Designer and atheist materialism deduced as a fact. One of the 18 NAS book committee members, Neil deGrasse Tyson, revealed this at a friendly atheists' conference in 2006. At 40:45 of his presentation, Tyson remarked to fellow atheist, Lawrence Krause:

"I want to put on the table, not why 85% of the members of the National Academy of Sciences reject God, I want to know why 15% of the National Academy don't. That's really what we've got to address here. Otherwise, the public is secondary to this… Lawrence, if you can't convert our colleagues, why do you have any hope that you're going to convert the public?"

A few moments later, atheist panelist Michael Shermer suggested that the true figure of NAS scientists who reject God is 93%.

Having dismissed the valid design hypothesis as impossible in their atheist/materialist cosmos, the NAS writers feel free to assert over and over in Science, Evolution, and Creationism, that macro-evolution/Darwinian evolution is a "fact."

The beauty of the NAS's atheist/materialist approach is that no empirical evidence is needed to "prove" that mankind evolved over hundreds of millions of years from slime and worms. Once our Creator is denied, all that is left to explain our existence is time and chance.

The NAS writers as much as admit that they lack the empirical evidence required for the two key elements of their "fact:" the alleged evolution of the sexes and speciation itself:

"There remain many interesting questions about evolution, such as the evolutionary origin of sex or different mechanisms of speciation."

Out of the two million or so species on this planet, the NAS writers cannot pick a single one (a pine tree, shark, anchovy, potato, human, eagle, firefly, bumblebee, etc.) and identify, with empirical evidence, the species from which it evolved. Nor can they produce any empirical evidence for the evolution of the sexes.

The NAS writers turn the time-tested scientific method on its head. Instead of beginning with a hypothesis, they begin with Darwinian evolution acclaimed as fact. Working backwards, against the grain of true science, they attempt to develop a theory to legitimize the "fact" of evolution. But they have no empirical evidence for their theory, and so they cannot express what they claim occurs in nature in literal, operational, scientific terms.

The NAS hierarchy must thus resort to metaphor, a figure of speech, to describe what they imagine happens in nature. Darwin's phrase, "natural selection," a personification giving human characteristics to nature, serves their purposes well, for it obscures rather than reveals. Page 23 of the NAS book defines natural selection as "the driving force behind evolution," without specifying what kind of force it is or how it is measured. On page 50, the NAS writers define natural selection as a "process," without explaining how it works. On page 5, they define it as "reproductive success," i.e., as an outcome or result.

Is natural selection a force, a process, or an outcome? In reality, it is none of the three. It is a mere figure of speech, a literary device meant to obscure the reality that no operative, literal, scientific principles relative to evolution have been uncovered since Charles Darwin published his speculative and fanciful The Origin of Species in 1859.

Continuing to work backwards, the NAS hierarchy now needs a foundational hypothesis that addresses the origin of life. Guess what? They don't have one: "Constructing a plausible hypothesis for life's origins will require that many questions be answered."

Competent scientists do not assert that their theory is a "fact" while at the same time admitting that they lack a plausible hypothesis for the foundation of it.

Competent scientists develop hypotheses, and then search for empirical evidence that will develop those hypotheses into valid theories, or cause them to be abandoned. NAS pseudo-scientists, begin with their contrived "fact" of evolution, and then, through sophistry, attempt to bluff their way through a theory that rationalizes their atheist beliefs.

Within the framework of their own book, the NAS writers define themselves as embracing a religious faith: "An important component of religious belief is faith, which implies acceptance of a truth regardless of the presence of empirical evidence for or against that truth."

The NAS writers admit that they don't have a "plausible hypothesis" for the origin of life, and yet they passionately insist that life came about by chance. That is a huge leap of irrational faith. Thus, the NAS ignores objective science, preferring to push its own gloomy atheist faith on our children, in direct violation of the establishment clause of the 1st Amendment.

The so-called science of macro-evolution, or Darwinism, is nothing more than an arbitrary atheistic materialist premise (no Creator/Designer) fueled by arrant speculation, and spread by hearsay. It is a fraudulent, closed-minded, deductive rationalization from atheist dogma. NAS pseudo-scientists are not interested in systematically uncovering the truths of nature; but rather in manufacturing a pseudo-scientific rationale for their own atheism.

The corrupt mindset that rules the field of human origins is the same corrupt mindset that rules the field of climatology. Within the atheists' nest that rules the NAS, empirical evidence is irrelevant. In both fields, their "findings" will continue to bolster their atheist religion and their self-interest, not the interests of true science, or of the American people.

Isn't it about time we stirred up that atheists' nest?

Mr. Johnson, a West Point grad and an airborne ranger infantry veteran of Viet Nam, is the author of "The Parthenon Code: Mankind's History in Marble" and "Noah in Ancient Greek Art." His Web sites are www.welfaregame.com and www.solvinglight.com., where you can find more details on the Obama/Oprah connection.

Editor's note: The Unites States Military Academy at West Point has also produced many fine military leaders and thinkers of which this country can be proud.

Science, civil dialogue, and religion


By Alan I. Leshner
chief executive officer
American Association for the Advancement of Science

I was not surprised by the news that half of 1,700 top U.S. scientists described themselves as religious, in a recent survey by sociologist Elaine Ecklund of Rice University. The scientific community, like any other group, includes people with many world views, from evangelicals to atheists.

Of course, some people in Ecklund's study group, as with the general population, described themselves as atheists. Yet, even within that category, many also identified themselves as "spiritual." This may explain why Ecklund found only five scientists, in 275 lengthy follow-up interviews, who said they actively oppose religion.

Let's hope that Ecklund's unusually comprehensive assessment will help overturn the myth that scientists reject spirituality, or that science and religion are inherently incompatible.

But that myth persists among many scientists and religious believers. In another study by the Pew Research Center, nearly two-thirds of Americans, or 61% said in 2009 that science poses no conflict with their own faith. Nonetheless, 55% of those same respondents said they view religion and science generally as "often in conflict." Evolution, for instance, has divided Americans since 1859 when Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species.

There is a better way, which will be demonstrated June 16 when leading scientists and a respected Christian minister engage in a free, public dialogue at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

A fundamental ground rule for any successful engagement effort is not a required outcome. So, civil discourse will be the only objective for the upcoming event, convened by the association's Dialogue on Science, Ethics, and Religion program. The association also takes no position on whether religion is "good" or "bad."

Americans have long recognized the power of scientific engagement as a neutral tool for improving foreign relations. Science diplomacy in the 1970s resulted in new cooperation with China and the Soviet Union. Similarly, the current Administration launched a major science diplomacy effort, naming science envoys to predominantly Muslim countries in North Africa and Southeast Asia.

But within our own borders, we have tended to overlook another important form of diplomacy that could promote civility by easing political and religious polarization. Increased civil dialogue between scientists and religious leaders suggests a path toward common ground, whether the topic is human origins or climate change.

The need for such diplomacy is clear as U.S. science educators and some in the religious community increasingly find themselves at loggerheads over issues where science can appear to conflict with long-held beliefs. In state after state, those who oppose evolution are introducing legislation to undermine science education. Revised Texas science standards, for example, fail to mention common descent or the age of the universe. These omissions are unfortunate. Understanding evolution is central to science literacy, which in turn affects students' job prospects and American competitiveness.

Climate change skeptics also are challenging science curricula. The Texas standards, similar to a new Louisiana bill and proposals elsewhere, now require students to learn "different views on the existence of global warming." Such attempts to weaken K-12 science education are troubling and perplexing. The science of climate change is clear, after all, and a basic tenet of many religions is the call to be good stewards of the planet.

Various groups are working to mend this rift. As one example, the Scientists and Evangelicals Initiative in 2007 sent religious leaders and scientists to Alaska to see receding glaciers and talk with people affected by climate change. Last year, the group also spoke with U.S. policy-makers about options for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The June 16 event at AAAS will bring David Anderson, founder and lead pastor of Bridgeway Community Church, together with scientists such as William Phillips, a 1997 Nobel Laureate in Physics, astrophysicist Howard Smith of the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, and paleontologist Rick Potts of the Smithsonian Human Origins Program.

Tensions at the intersection of science and society can promote a pervasive atmosphere of disrespect that damages the fabric of our culture: A recent Zogby International survey revealed that Americans overwhelmingly feel "fed up with incivility." In response, Mark DeMoss, a Republican and evangelical Christian, teamed up last year with Lanny Davis, a liberal, Jewish Democrat, to launch the Civility Project, which calls on us to be respectful, despite our differences.

We should all follow their example. Both medical and technological advances and high-quality science education improve human welfare and drive economic progress, creating jobs and better lives for our children. Civil dialogue offers a way for the American public and the scientific community to collaborate more productively on behalf of our communities and our nation.

Alan I. Leshner is chief executive officer of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and executive publisher of the journals Science, Science Translational Medicine, and Science Signaling.

By Alan I. Leshner | June 16, 2010; 4:35 PM ET

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Intelligent Design, Online Edition


Barrett Brown Author of Flock of Dodos, Director of Communications for Enlighten The Vote

Posted: August 6, 2009 08:53 PM

Back in the dark days before ubiquitous Internet, disinformation was sustainable. When you were told that Marilyn Manson is actually Paul from The Wonder Years, it would have been difficult to prove otherwise; one would have had to find someone's old VHS tape on which they'd recorded one of the episodes, check the credits to figure out what that actor's name was, and then find someone's copy of Antichrist Superstar and look for the same name on the liner notes. And it was unlikely that you would find old Wonder Years episodes and Marilyn Manson albums in the same place. It was easier to just half-believe that Paul was Marilyn Manson.

Life is different now, if less interesting. Consider William Dembski, the mathematician and theologian who rose to the top of the nascent intelligent design pack in the late '90s after claiming to have proven that certain aspects of biology can be attributable only to the intervention of one or more intelligent entities. As for who or what those entities might be, Dembski is coy when addressing a potentially secular audience, claiming that there "are many possibilities." Among these possibilities, we may determine, is that Dembski is lying; in a 1999 interview with the Christian magazine Touchstone, Dembski stated unambiguously that "[i]ntelligent design is just the Logos theology of John's Gospel restated in the idiom of information theory." With ID being increasingly under attack as theology clothed in science, Dembski has since been more hesitant in giving due credit to either John or the Logos.

Bits of information are no longer compartmentalized like so many scattered VHS tapes and gothic rock album liner notes, which is why Dembski and company can't get away with trying to portray ID as a scientific theory with no religious intent while having already admitted that same religious intent to sympathetic Biblical literalists. But that crowd doesn't seem to understand this fundamental aspect of the Internet, that Google waits in watch of dishonesty. And thus it is that Dembski's blog Uncommon Descent is among the most interesting things that the Internet has to offer. More importantly, it provides us with a sense of how the leaders of the ID movement would run things if they were ever to run anything other than a blog.

Dembski began blogging in 2005, perhaps as a means of procrastination; 2005 was also the last year in which he and his movement colleagues bothered to put out a new issue of their own scientific journal, although their lack of output hasn't stopped them from criticizing mainstream journals for declining to publish their work, non-existent though it may be. Some choice moments in the years since:

* In conjunction with his friends at the pro-ID Discovery Institute, Dembski decided to commission a Flash animation ridiculing Judge John Jones, the Bush-appointed churchgoer who, despite being a Bush-appointed churchgoer, ruled in the 2005 Dover Trial (known more formerly as Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District and even more formally as something longer and more formal) that intelligent design could not be taught in public school science classes. The animation consisted of Judge Jones represented as a puppet with his strings being held by various proponents of evolution; aside from being depicted as unusually flatulent, poor Judge Jones was also shown to be reading aloud from his court opinion in a high-pitched voice (Dembski's, it turned out, but sped up to make it sound sillier). The point of all of this, as The Discovery Institute explained, was that Jones had supposedly cribbed some 90 percent of his decision from findings presented by the ACLU, and that this was a very unusual and terrible thing for Jones to have done. On the contrary, judges commonly incorporate the findings of the winning party into their final opinion, either in whole or in part, and Jones' own written opinion actually incorporated far less than 90 percent of the findings in question. For his part, Dembski agreed to reduce the number of fart noises in the animation if Jones would agree to contribute his own voice. Jones does not appear to have accepted the offer.

* One of Dembski's hand-picked blog co-moderators, Dave Springer, once received an e-mail to the effect that the ACLU was about to sue the Marine Corps in order to stop Marines from praying; outraged, Springer posted it on his blog in order that his readers could join him in being affronted. After all, the e-mail had told him to. "Please send this to people you know so everyone will know how stupid the ACLU is Getting [sic] in trying to remove GOD from everything and every place in America," the bright-red text exhorted, above pictures of praying Marines. "Right on!" Dembski added in the comments. It was then pointed out by other readers that the e-mail was a three-year-old hoax; the ACLU spokesperson named therein did not actually exist, and neither did the ACLU's complaint. Springer was unfazed by the revelation. "To everyone who's pointed out that the ACLU story is a fabrication according to snopes.com -- that's hardly the point," he explained. "The pictures of Marines praying are real." Dembski himself had no further comment.

* Dembski has spent much time and energy pointing out that Charles Darwin made several racist statements back in the 19th century, even going so far as to call for a boycott of the British ten-pound note due to Darwin's picture being displayed thereupon. Incidentally, Dembski has spent most of the past decade working at universities within the fold of the Southern Baptist Convention, which was founded in the 19th century for the sole purpose of defending slavery.

* Springer, the aforementioned aficionado of e-mail forwards, once noted that he stopped reading an article by a critic of intelligent design because it contained a cartoon depicting the famous Black Knight routine from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. "Anyone who needs to resort to Monty Python in a scientific argument can be safely ignored as not having any legs to stand on," he announced. Springer can be forgiven for not being aware that Dembski himself has referenced Monty Python in the context of a scientific argument more than once. Somewhat more inexplicable is that Springer himself has done the exact same thing,
-- twice. I mean, come on.

* Upon being told that University of Texas Professor Eric Pianka had given a speech in which he'd supposedly asserted that the world would be better off if most of humanity was killed via a global contagion, Dembski announced on his blog that he had just reported Pianka to the Department of Homeland Security out of concern that the elderly biologist was planning to somehow contribute to the destruction of humanity. The FBI interviewed Pianka but took no further action, having perhaps determined that the recipient of the 2006 Distinguished Texas Scientist award was not actually planning on killing off the majority of the world's population.

* Seriously, it was the exact same Monty Python routine.

As much as he puts into his blog, his professorships, and his voice acting, Dembski is still as prolific an author as ever. His latest effort, set for release later this year, takes on the wave of pro-atheist books that have seen publication over the past couple of years. Among the pundits whom he'll be countering is Christopher Hitchens, contributing editor at Vanity Fair and author of God is Not Great. If you happen to spot Hitchens drinking, it's probably just to calm his nerves.


Uncommon Descent contributor Clive Hayden has launched a devastating counterattack against your humble correspondent, referring to me as "Barrett Clown" in one of the few instances that he manages to spell "Barrett" correctly. Although the post is a bit on the abstract side, I shall attempt to decipher it by way of the Logos.

Me: Oh, mighty Logos, hear my call, homina homina homina.

Logos: Yo yo, you be holdin'?

Me: Dude, shhhh. I need to know what Clive Hayden is trying to say here.

Logos: His basic point is that the 1,000-word article you wrote about Uncommon Descent does not include an entire refutation of specified complexity.

Me: Of course it doesn't; I've already written a whole book about that. Clive even mentions it. Dembski trashed it a couple years back without refuting any of the points therein, such as his participation in the blatantly fraudulent activities of the Discovery Institute that came to light with the theft and publication of that organization's once-secret mission statement, the Wedge Document, which itself contradicts what Dembski and his fellow Constantine fetishists have been telling the public about what intelligent design is really intended to be.

Logos: He called you "Barrett Clown," man.

Me: I know, what the f...?

Yet Another Update!

Hayden denounces me as "a comedian;" I would note that we're now represented in the Senate, as we should be. Comedians are the greatest people in the world.

He also asks an astonishing question:

He must really dislike certain outcomes of evolution. Whence comes the discernment between competing worldviews that are all outcomes of evolution? If evolution, to Barrett, admittedly produces false worldviews, such as religion, then why trust it in any other regard?

I don't trust evolution any more than I trust gravity or attractive women. I don't make any claims to the effect that evolution only produces swell things and makes everyone smart and honest. I'm not all totally in love with evolution; I just think it's the case. And I'm amazed that Hayden would ask me to account for the results of the process to which I ascribe when it is he and his fellow intelligent design advocates who attribute divine purpose to nature, not I. And what's up with those airline peanuts, amirite?

Note to the Folks at Uncommon Descent

I posted a comment to the blog post at Uncommon Descent concerning me at 5:59 EST; it was a response to the latest silly, fact-free attacks on me, this time by Gil Dodgen. It is still "pending approval" three hours later, even though several other comments posted after mine are already published and visible. Your blog is already notorious for "disappearing" inconvenient comments, but I believe that this the first time in the history of the internet that an author has been barred from leaving a comment on a post about his own work.

Final Update (Hopefully)

After four hours and some ridicule, the folks at Uncommon Descent have finally approved my comment. Truly, this is a great day for open debate!


I recently promised Uncommon Descent gadfly Clive Hayden and other proponents of the movement that I would respond to several questions and accusations put forth on that blog over the past few days.

Several intelligent design supporters have accused me of slandering William Dembski by asserting that he is lying when he expresses his alleged opinion that the intelligence behind design could be one of many things, including something "natural." The crux of their argument is that it is entirely appropriate to speak on this from a theological context on some occasions and in a scientific context on others. I agree. But it is not appropriate or honest to go in front of a mainstream audience and try to give the impression that he is agnostic on the identity of the designer, when he has already told a sympathetic Christian audience that it is absolutely certain that the designer is Christ, and that science divorced from Christ is invalid.

Dembski has done this repeatedly. Aside from the incident I mention in the above article, he did it again during a CNN debate with Skeptic founder Michael Shermer. After explaining the stunning complexity we see among the components of the cell, Dembski is asked by host Daryn Kagan, "Are you explaining that by saying it's God that answers those questions?" He responds, "No, what we're saying is that there's an intelligence involved." Nonsense. Dembski can validly claim that intelligent design need not be religiously motivated, but he cannot claim, when asked if he explains "specified complexity" with reference to God, that he does not. He does. He doesn't do it when talking to Daryn Kagan, but he does do it whenever addressing a Christian audience.

I would evoke a favorite metaphor of the intelligent design crowd - that what they do when seeking to detect design is much akin to what a police investigator does when trying to solve a crime by way of forensics. Imagine that Dembski is a detective who has spent years studying a crime scene. He determines that the crime was perpetrated by a certain Jesus H. Christ, and even writes several reports to the effect that he is absolutely certain that this is the case. Then he talks to someone whom he'd like to convinced of the soundness of his forensic methodology, but he knows that this person is disinclined to agree that Christ was the perp, so when asked if he explains the crime as having been performed by the perp in question, he says, "No, what we're saying is that there's a criminal involved" and then goes on to list a couple of possibilities without even mentioning Christ. That detective would be lying. Dembski, too, is lying.

At least one intelligent design proponent notes that, had I written the above article in the U.K., I would be on my way to court "to defend a libel charge right now, and with the prospect of having to pay the full costs of the other party and the court too, in addition to damages." I doubt that Dembski would be foolish enough to put the question of his honesty in front of a court.

Clive Hayden, meanwhile, asks that I engage him in a discussion on the subject of evolution and how it relates to each person's efforts to verify his worldview. I am disinclined to do so insomuch as that Hayden appears to have difficulty with his memory to such an extent that to debate him further would be much akin to arguing with a persistent amnesiac; when I mentioned two of Dembski's offenses against logic and civility, Hayden claimed that he had "no idea" what I was referring to even though the incidents together formed some forty percent of the argument I made against Dembski in this very article, which, of course, was the topic of his own blog post. Even when I reminded him of this, he refrained from answering the related questions I put to him, choosing instead to allege that I have written nothing of substance on the subject of intelligent design. How he could possibly know that is a mystery insomuch as that he has not read my book on intelligent design and appears to have had some difficulty comprehending the only article of mine on the topic that he has attempted to read.

Yet Another Damned Update

Mr. Hayden is not satisfied with my responses thus far.

I answered your questions, now you answer mine, and don't weasel out of it by talking about my memory. Can you not answer my questions? Can you not? It certainly appears that you cannot. If you can, do it here and now. Evasion won't work Barrett.

I have responded to this particular question several times both here and on the Uncommon Descent blog, just not to Mr. Hayden's satisfaction. I would remind him again that, contrary to his claim that he has answered my questions, I have just explained yet again that he has not. I asked him if Mr. Dembski's behavior with regards to Judge Jones and his decision to report a fellow professor to the Department of Homeland Security as a potential terrorist constitute "mudslinging." He originally claimed not to know of these incidents, and though I've since held his hand through this twice now, he has still failed to answer the question. Hayden does not want to discuss any of the matters that I discuss in the actual article; he is quite willing to write a lengthy post attacking the article, but he knows perfectly well that it is not to his advantage to respond to any of the charges within, as they are all valid and, taken together, they demonstrate that William Dembski is a degenerate hypocrite who reported an enemy to the government and alleged improper conduct on the part of a judge without first checking to see if the judge had actually done anything improper. Hayden makes for a fitting representative.

Moderately Relevant Update!

I've got a new piece up at Vanity Fair, this time attacking Charles Krauthammer instead of the intelligent design yahoos.

New book blasts intelligent design fraud


Jun. 15 2010 - 6:16 pm

In my first book, Flock of Dodos: Behind Modern Creationism, Intelligent Design, and the Easter Bunny, I attempt to provide an overview of the great amounts of fraud, chicanery, and general nonsense that has come to us from the direction of The Discovery Institute (formerly known as the Discovery Institute for the Renewal of Science and Culture before such time as the entirety of the name was deemed too revealing) in general and from such kingpins of the movement as William Dembski and Michael Behe in particular. Although the scope of the book was such that there wasn't much time to dwell on particular instances as much as I would have liked, I do believe I did an adequate job of demonstrating the intellectual dishonesty of those folks – and Dembski would seem to agree insomuch as that his response was relegated to pointing out that I made a couple of sexually-charged jokes at the expense of the Logos and bonobo chimps (the latter were apparently designed by the former to engage in lesbian tribbing; I understand that at least one theologian has responded to such observations by claiming that the higher mammals were subject to The Fall and thus imbued with sin in a manner similar to mankind, which I think is neat).

Unfortunately, the book is currently impossible to buy in physical form unless you're willing to shell out $75 for a used copy (though Kindle versions are always available), and meanwhile I've moved on to targets better capable of defending themselves, as I am a sporting fellow in my own way. Still, intelligent design, though relatively dormant these days, remains a fascinating subject, one that touches on theology, philosophy of science, biology, chemistry, physics, and, of course, politics. Those interested in a good overview of this subject and others of similar relevance ought to consider picking up a copy of Massimo Pigliucci's Nonsense on Stilts: How to Tell Science from Bunk, which would also make a great gift for any friends one might have in the media, science "journalism" being what it is today.

My colleague Robert Luhn of the National Center for Science Education just sent along an excerpt from this new release, and I in turn provide an excerpt of that excerpt below.

The Simple Statement That Led to a Storm

On 18 October 2004, the Dover School Board passed the following resolution: "Students will be made aware of gaps/problems in Darwin's theory and of other theories of evolution, including, but not limited to, intelligent design. Note: Origins of Life is not taught." That decision came after almost three years of intense political maneuvering on the part of several members of the board, and it eventually led to a historical trial in which proponents of intelligent design were handed a devastating defeat by a conservative judge appointed by President George W. Bush. The 139-page decision by Judge John E. Jones III is worth reading in its entirety, and I will discuss it in some detail because it will guide us through a fascinating tour of human deception worthy of a mystery novel, all the while teaching us something about the nature of science and the difference between science and pseudoscience. It truly is a case study destined to become a classic in the cultural wars.

The story, as Judge Jones tells it, began in January 2002, when Alan Bonsell, president of the Dover School Board, publicly declared that his two main goals for board action were to push the teaching of creationism in the district's schools and to reinstate public prayer. Both goals, of course, violate the constitutional separation of church and state and should have therefore never been on the agenda at Dover, but it is the ignorance and bigotry of local officials that often causes trouble where there should have been none.

The legal side of things is rather simple. The so-called establishment clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (passed in 1791) reads: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." The Fourteenth Amendment, passed in 1868 (i.e., after the Civil War), applies federal law to the states. There is very little room for interpretation of the establishment clause: it is made of two subclauses, the first of which prohibits the government from favoring or forcing religion—any religion—on the citizenry; the second prohibits the state from impeding in any way on the free (but private) exercise of religion. It is hard to imagine how anyone could therefore seriously argue that teaching creationism (which the Supreme Court had determined in 1987 is not science, but religion) or officially sponsoring prayer in schools (as opposed to students privately praying while on recess at school, which is of course perfectly legal) would not violate the First Amendment. And yet, failing to understand this represented the beginning of trouble for the Dover School District.

Bonsell eventually confronted teachers in the district in person about the teaching of evolution in the fall of 2003, an unprecedented administrative step that sent a chilling message to the teachers: stay away from the controversy if you don't want to trigger the ire of the board. This had an immediate effect on one of the teachers who testified at the Dover trial, Robert Linker. Before the meeting with Bonsell, Linker used to tell his students that creationism is based on "religion and Biblical writings," which made it illegal as a subject matter in public schools. After the meeting with Bonsell, Linker dropped any mention of the controversy to his students and even stopped using helpful teaching material to aid students in making the distinction between science and religion. It was the first round of an escalating confrontation that would eventually completely vindicate the teachers and cast a serious cloud of misconduct on the administrators.

Enter another shadowy character: William Buckingham, whom Bonsell had appointed chair of the board's Curriculum Committee. In early 2004, Buckingham contacted the Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based "think tank" devoted to the promotion of intelligent design in public schools. The institute sent Buckingham a video entitled Icons of Evolution (from the title of a popular ID book by author Jonathan Wells), which he arranged to be shown to the teachers to "educate" them about the real nature of ID. Interestingly, two lawyers from the Discovery Institute also made a presentation to the board, obviously a prelude to the sure legal challenge that would ensue if the board kept pursuing this clear breach of church state separation.

Between the summer of 2003 and that of 2004, the board shifted to a delay tactic to force the teachers' hand, refusing to approve the purchase of a standard textbook, Biology by Kenneth Miller and Joseph Levine (Miller later testified as an expert for the plaintiffs at the trial). Despite the fact that the book had been approved by teachers (i.e., those people who actually know something about biology) and by the administration, Buckingham felt that it covered evolution too thoroughly and did not give creationism a fair shake. This is like complaining that a textbook in astronomy is too focused on the Copernican theory of the structure of the solar system and unfairly neglects the possibility that the Flying Spaghetti Monster is really pulling each planet's strings, unseen by the deluded scientists.

In June 2004, some members of the board went even more clearly on the offensive, with Buckingham stating that Biology was "laced with Darwinism," a comment that followed another one made previously by the same character (as reported in the trial's decision) to the effect that the separation of church and state is "a myth" and, at any rate, something that he, Buckingham, personally doesn't support. One has to wonder at the size of the egos of these people who would readily put their own ideological opinions above the constitutional guarantees of an entire nation. But such is the nature of the evolution-creation debate. And speaking of church state separation, it turns out that at the same board meeting, Buckingham's wife gave a long speech7 (beyond the standard allotted time) during which she said that "evolution teaches nothing but lies" and asked the audience how one could teach anything but the Bible to their kids, ending up with exhorting people to become born-again Christians. Her husband came to her aid by challenging the onlookers to trace their ancestry to monkeys (nothing could be easier, as a matter of scientific fact), accusing judges in previous trials against creationism of "taking away the rights of Christians," and ending with a call to stand up for Jesus. The point here, of course, is not that Mr. or Mrs. Buckingham or anyone else doesn't have the right to their religious opinions, or that they cannot express them in public (though a school board meeting hardly seems like the most appropriate venue). But all of this made it into the official documents of the trial because it established a crucial point for the judge: the clear religious motivations of the board in passing its resolution, and therefore the untenability of the board's legal position that its actions were meant in a secular spirit to further education and critical thinking among local students.

Of course, Buckingham himself was never concerned with respecting either other people's opinions or upholding minimum educational standards.The court proceedings relate an earlier episode, in 2002, when a mural about evolution (put up by students as a class project) was taken down and burned. When Buckingham was asked, two years later, if he knew anything about the episode, he replied, "I gleefully watched it burn." This has nothing to do with Christianity or religion; it is simply the ugly face of ideological bigotry.

To amplify on all of this, I should additionally note that, when I again took Dembski & Co. to task for some of their more recent shenanigans, one of Dembski's colleagues responded by calling me "Barrett Clown." Clown rhymes with Brown, you see.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

California Science Center Plays Shell Game to Avoid Disclosing Public Records


As recently discussed on Evolution News, Discovery Institute has settled its lawsuit with the California Science Center (CSC). From our perspective, this is a very favorable settlement because (1) we are getting all of the documents we originally requested but they withheld, and (2) CSC is paying part of our court costs and attorneys' fees. But now that the case has settled, the untold story is the pre-textual explanations that CSC made to rationalize why they refused to disclose public documents from certain employees, documents which might have shown evidence of CSC's viewpoint discrimination against intelligent design (ID).

Our lawsuit filed last December alleged that "CSC has failed to provide a single document reflecting communications from decision makers at CSC who oversaw cancellation of the AFA Event, nor did CSC disclose any documents reflecting its communication with the Smithsonian Institution regarding this matter." We then offered examples of communications from such decision makers which CSC had refused to disclose, including:

•"CSC's October 6, 2009, communication from Chris Sion to the AFA notifying the AFA of CSC's cancellation of the AFA Event"

•"communications involving CSC president and CEO Jeff Rudolph, which satisfy Discovery Institute's October 9, 2009 CPRA Request, such as his October 5, 2009 communication with Shell Amega pertaining to the AFA event and the Smithsonian Institution"

On January 4, 2010, counsel representing CSC responded to our lawsuit by asserting that "Christina M. Sion, Shell Amega, and William Harris are not Center employees. Therefore, while the Center's Response included communications which involve Foundation employees, including Ms. Sion, concerning the subject matter of the Request … it did not include documents that may be maintained by these Foundation employees themselves." In other words, CSC is claiming that Chris Sion and Shell Amega don't work for the California Science Center but for the California Science Center Foundation, a private entity not subject to the document requests under the California Public Records Act (CPRA).

To put it mildly, at least with regards to Sion and Amega, we have strong evidence which led us to believe that their arguments and assertions were sheer bluffs.

For example, CSC claimed Sion was merely a "Foundation employe[e]," even though she is advertised as "Vice President, Food & Event Services, California Science Center." For example, see this online flyer from CSC which calls her, "California Science Center Vice President of Event Services, Chris Sion." This also is seen in the signature found in many of Chris Sion's e-mails:

Sion is not advertised as working for the Science Center's Foundation; she's listed as a vice president of the California Science Center itself. (Note: Actual Foundation employees, such as William Harris, DO advertise themselves as "Foundation" employees. For an example, see here.)

Likewise, Shell Amega is represented as "Vice President Communications, California Science Center," as seen in the scan of her signature below:

Indeed, the California Science Center's website is full of examples of pages that list Shell Amega as the media contact for the "California Science Center"—with no mention of her working for the "Foundation." For just a few of many examples which list Amega as working for the "California Science Center," see:

In these (and many other) examples, the California Science Center lists Shell Amega as a high-level media contact for the "California Science Center." Yet when asked to provide public records pertaining to her actions at the publicly-operated museum, they conveniently claim Shell Amega doesn't work for the California Science Center, but rather for the "Foundation." These sorts of bogus and patently uncredible arguments take the notion of shell game to a new level.

CSC offered even less credible reasons for refusing to disclose all public documents from California Science Center's President and CEO Jeff Rudolph. CSC's counsel asserted that Mr. Rudolph is both "employed by both the Center and Foundation" and thus, allegedly, "The Center produced Mr. Rudolph's correspondence responsive to the Request in his capacity as a Center employee … but did not produce any documents that the Foundation may have involving Mr. Rudolph in his capacity as a Foundation employee."

While it's true that Rudolph works for both the Science Center and the Foundation, CSC offered no principled reasons to explain their apparently arbitrary determinations as to why some e-mails from Rudolph were generated "in his capacity as a Center employee," but others were "in his capacity as a Foundation employee." The very fact that they resorted to such a non-credible arbitrary distinction shows they have no legitimate reason to justify withholding any communications from Rudolph that come under our request.

As we have seen with regards to Sion and Amega, even if Rudolph weren't employed by the Foundation, CSC would have probably found some bogus excuse to withhold his e-mails. But the fact that CSC admits that Mr. Rudolph is a public, California State Employee of the California Science Center, means that CPRA is triggered. The CPRA states:

"The agency shall justify withholding any record by demonstrating that the record in question is exempt under express provisions of this chapter or that on the facts of the particular case the public interest served by not disclosing the record clearly outweighs the public interest served by disclosure of the record." (§ 6255)

Yet CSC has not met its statutory burden to provide us with justification for withholding any communications from Mr. Rudolph that fell under our request. Their arbitrary assertion that e-mails generated by a public employee were not generated by an employee of a public-entity simply because that individual also works for a non-public entity (whose activities, in practice, are virtually indistinguishable from that of the public entity) does not "justify" withholding virtually all of that employee's e-mails. It's a pretext. Given the public's strong interest in obtaining public documents, we felt that CSC's arguments were a shell game contrived to skirt the law.

Thankfully, CSC chose to settle out-of-court. They admit no liability, but in the end we get the documents we requested, attorneys' fees, and court costs. What's unfortunate is that we had to go so far as to file a lawsuit to obtain these public records.

Posted by Casey Luskin on June 15, 2010 6:46 AM | Permalink

Science center agrees to release documents about censorship



Case over criticism of Darwin settled

Posted: June 14, 2010 10:46 pm Eastern

By Bob Unruh © 2010 WorldNetDaily

The public California Science Center has settled one of two lawsuits filed after the facility canceled the scheduled screening of a film that challenges Darwin's theory of evolution.

The Seattle-based Discovery Institute today it is settling a legal action against the science center in exchange for having the center pay its legal bills and provide literally hundreds of pages of documents it had sought.

"After months of stonewalling by the science center, this is a huge victory for the public's right to know what their government is doing, especially when the government engages in illegal censorship and viewpoint discrimination," said John West, associate director of Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture.

While the science center continues to "deny any and all liability relating to the claims," it has agreed to pay Discovery Institute's legal fees and "surrender more than a thousand pages of documents it had been withholding since they were requested under the California Public Records Act," according to Discovery Institute's statement.

The information relates to the science center's cancellation last year of a screening of the science documentary "Darwin's Dilemma" in its IMAX theater, planned by the non-partisan American Freedom Alliance.

The AFA has its own free speech and breach of contract action pending against the center.

The dispute erupted when the AFA planned to use the center to show the pro-evolution film "We Are Born of Stars" as well as "Darwin's Dilemma: The Mystery of the Cambrian Fossil Record."

The museum was chosen for the presentation because one of the two films scheduled to be shown required a 3D IMAX projection system, officials said.

The dispute caught the attention of state Senate minority leader Dennis Hollingsworth, who called the "constitutional implications" of the center's actions "concerning."

"It is fundamental that when a government entity or sub-unit (such as CSC) opens its facilities as a public forum, it is not constitutionally permissible to censor speech based on viewpoint or content," he said earlier.

The Discovery Institute said the documents it will be allowed to see relate to the science center's cancellation of the "Darwin's Dilemma" screening.

According to the institute's report, the science center claimed it had turned over all the documents requested by Discovery Institute. But when institute staff learned the documents had not been delivered, the institute filed suit to compel full disclosure.

CSC officials later "made the incredible claim that its key decision-makers, clearly identified as CSC staff on the museum's website, were really employed not by the museum but by a private foundation and so were immune from the public records request," the Discovery Institute said.

"It was an obvious shell game," asserted Discovery Institute staff attorney Casey Luskin. "The California Science Center is a state agency funded by California taxpayers. The public has a right to expect transparency, not secrecy, in government institutions. The Science Center's attempt to evade public accountability for its actions has been disgraceful."

In the AFA's complaint, officials allege free-speech-rights violations occurred when the science facility abruptly reversed a decision to allow the showing of the films at the museum's IMAX theater.

"The center is a public institution and our event was planned as a debate with both sides of the controversy represented," Avi Davis, AFA's president, said when the case developed. "It is Orwellian when a public institution tries to suppress particular ideas it deems unsavory. It can be likened to a public library removing certain books from its shelves because the librarian disagrees with the viewpoints expressed in them."

Russian Creationism Sounds Frighteningly Familiar


Michael Zimmerman, Ph.D..Founder, The Clergy Letter Project
Posted: June 14, 2010 01:48 PM

Religious fundamentalists have begun promoting creationism in Russia -- and they are doing so using many of the same strategies and buzzwords adopted by fellow extremists in the United States.

According to a news story released by Reuters, Archbishop Hilarion Alfeyev of the Russian Orthodox Church recently called for Russian schools to begin teaching "religious explanations of creation ... alongside evolution." The Archbishop wants to end what he called "the monopoly of Darwinism."

Archbishop Hilarion went even further, noting that "Darwin's theory remains a theory. This means it should be taught to children as one of several theories, but children should know of other theories too."

He made it clear that this attack on evolution was part of a broader mission claiming that he "was dedicated to fighting 'fanatical secularism' of liberals hostile to religion."

All of this is painfully similar to the rhetoric being promoted by the religious right in the United States. Archbishop Hilarion's "fanatical secularism" sounds just like the Discovery Institute's call for the "overthrow of materialism and its cultural legacies" and its related cry for a new type of science: "Design theory promises to reverse the stifling dominance of the materialist worldview, and to replace it with a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions."

Creationists have long argued that evolution is "only a theory," purposefully ignoring the meaning of theory within the scientific community. Simply put, within science there isn't anything better than theory. An idea is elevated to the status of theory only after many multiple studies have provided data consistent with predictions and when the idea has been shown to make useful predictions about the future while comprehensively explaining the past. Evolution does this as well as, if not better than, every other scientific theory across all fields of science.

And the Archbishop's implication that evolution and religion are in direct conflict also mirrors the endless messages spewed forth by creationist organizations in the United States. Take, for example, a couple of the ridiculous comments made by Ken Ham, the president of Answers in Genesis, the folks who brought us the $27-million creationist museum-cum-theme-park where we can view humans and dinosaurs cavorting together in amazingly realistic dioramas.

In a podcast with the intriguing title "Darwinism -- It Can Lead to Satanism," Ham asserts, "I've always said that evolution is an anti-God religion and that the more people believe it and act consistent with it, the more anti-God they'll become."

Similarly, in an article explaining the need for his theme park, Ham argued, "When visiting many secular museums around the world, I've watched thousands of children gaze with wonder at evolutionary displays which were, sadly, indoctrinating them in humanistic, anti-God thinking."

Although the narrative that evolution is anti-God is popular within creationist circles in the States and, apparently, around the world, there's simply nothing to support it -- and there's plenty to argue against it.

In Science, Evolution, and Creationism, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) addresses this issue head on.

Science and religion are based on different aspects of human experience. In science, explanations must be based on evidence drawn from examining the natural world. Scientifically based observations or experiments that conflict with an explanation eventually must lead to modification or even abandonment of that explanation. Religious faith, in contrast, does not depend only on empirical evidence, is not necessarily modified in the face of conflicting evidence, and typically involves supernatural forces or entities. Because they are not a part of nature, supernatural entities cannot be investigated by science. In this sense, science and religion are separate and address aspects of human understanding in different ways. Attempts to pit science and religion against each other create controversy where none needs to exist.

Additionally, the Clergy Letter Project was founded to dispel the myth that evolution is anti-God. More than 13,000 clergy members in the United States have signed the Christian Clergy Letter, the Letter from American Rabbis, or the Unitarian Universalist Clergy Letter. Each of these Letters makes it clear that evolution is fully consistent with the religious belief of the thousands of clergy members who have added their endorsements, and each makes it clear that evolutionary theory, and only evolutionary theory, should be taught in public school science classrooms and laboratories.

The creationists believe that if you repeat a message often enough and loudly enough, people will begin to accept it as accurate, regardless of the truth of the matter. Archbishop Hilarion has either adopted their strategy of vocal dissemination of disinformation, or he has been fooled into accepting this anti-intellectual nonsense. Either way, the world is a poorer place because of his actions, and many more people will be suckered into accepting the false premise that they must choose between religion and science.

Help combat the spread of this disease by joining forces with those clergy members and scientists who understand that science does not attempt to disprove the existence of a deity; indeed, as the NAS has made clear, science does not possess the tools to undertake such an endeavor.

And share with me the outrageous belief that if we repeat the truth often enough it will make a difference in public understanding and in public policy.

Monday, June 14, 2010

California Science Center to Pay Attorneys' Fees and Settle Open Records Lawsuit by Intelligent Design Group


The California Science Center (CSC) has agreed to settle a lawsuit with the pro-intelligent design Discovery Institute and release records that it previously sought to conceal regarding its cancellation of the screening of a pro-intelligent design film last year.

"After months of stonewalling by the Science Center, this is a huge victory for the public's right to know what their government is doing, especially when the government engages in illegal censorship and viewpoint discrimination," said Dr. John West, Associate Director of Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture.

The Science Center continues to "deny any and all liability relating to the claims," according to the settlement agreement. However, it agreed to pay Discovery Institute's legal fees and to surrender more than a thousand pages of documents it had been withholding since they were requested under the California Public Records Act last year.

Documents to be released relate to the Science Center's cancellation of a screening of the science documentary Darwin's Dilemma in its IMAX theater by the non-partisan American Freedom Alliance (AFA) last October. The AFA has filed its own free speech and breach of contract suit against the Science Center, which is still pending. Darwin's Dilemma investigates the intelligent design of organisms during the "Cambrian Explosion" more than 500 million years ago.

The Science Center claimed that it had turned over all the documents requested by Discovery Institute, but when Institute staff learned that this was not true the Institute filed suit to compel full disclosure. In response, the CSC made the incredible claim that its key decision-makers, clearly identified as CSC staff on the museum's website, were really employed not by the museum but by a private foundation and so were immune from the public records request.

"It was an obvious shell game," explained Discovery Institute staff attorney Casey Luskin. "The California Science Center is a state agency funded by California taxpayers. The public has a right to expect transparency, not secrecy, in government institutions. The Science Center's attempt to evade public accountability for its actions has been disgraceful."

Discovery Institute was represented in its lawsuit by Peter Lepiscopo of Lepiscopo & Morrow (San Diego and Sacramento).

Posted by Robert Crowther on June 14, 2010 7:36 AM | Permalink

Bumblin' Midgley babbles again


PZ Myers is a biologist and associate professor at the University of Minnesota, Morris.+
Category: Kooks
Posted on: June 13, 2010 11:55 AM, by PZ Myers

Is Mary Midgley supposed to be the epitome of philosophical confusion and bungling incomprehension? She's like the Emily Litella of science criticism, always going off on harebrained tangents of her own invention, but unlike Litella, nothing ever compels her to offer a meek "Never mind". Midgely has done it again with another tirade against the New Atheists.

Science really isn't connected to the rest of life half as straightforwardly as one might wish. For instance, Isaac Newton noted gladly that his theory of gravitation gave a scientific proof of God's existence. Today's anti-god warriors, by contrast, declare that Darwin's evolutionary theory gives a scientific disproof of that existence and use this reasoning, quite as confidently as Newton used his, to convert the public.

But…but…none of the New Atheists claim to have a disproof of gods! We're all rather explicit in saying that we can't disprove every possible formulation of a deity, and we're not even going to try.

We could just stop there, since especially for a philosopher, she seems exceedingly confused about just what the argument is about, but let's push on and see what kind of point she's trying to make.

In both cases the huge prestige of science is being used not for scientific purposes but to defend an existing general world-view. In both cases that defence is found necessary because this world-view, though prevalent and respected, has been coming under attack. And in both cases the supposedly scientific argument provided is weak. It only convinces people who already share that world-view.

Naturally, Newton's arguments scarcely need refuting today. Though he was not a Christian, he reasoned that gravity cannot be physically caused because it acts at a distance and material causes were believed always to work by contact, leaving God - a "god of the gaps" - as the only possible cause. Nobody thinks like this now.

Say what? "God of the gaps" is the number one most common defense of theism I encounter — people are always saying that if we don't know what happened at the Big Bang or at the instant the first cell appeared, that that is an action by their god. It's the whole foundation of the Intelligent Design creationism movement that poking at inadequacies or incompleteness in evolution's account of the world is the way to identify where their designer god was at work. I'm hoping she is just saying that no one believes that action at a distance is impossible, but her writing is awfully confusing.

Unfortunately, in order to make her case that the New Atheist argument is just like Newton's argument for god, she has to mangle the idea dreadfully.

But is today's evolutionary argument - which is often treated as fatal not just to Christianity but to religion generally - actually any stronger?

I am not questioning that there can be valid objection to theism. (Buddhists, of course, deploy many of them.) The point is simply that this particular argument is irrelevant to it. Appeals to evolution are only damaging to biblical literalism. Certainly the events described in Genesis 1 are not literally compatible with what science (from long before Darwin's day) tells us about the antiquity of the Earth. But this is not news. The early Christian fathers pointed out that the creation story must be interpreted symbolically, not literally.

No, no, no. It is not an evolutionary argument, it is a science argument — you can be a physicist or a geologist or a chemist or a biologist and have the sense to reject religious belief. It is also not specifically a reaction against young earth creationism, except in a very general sense that creationism is an example of the arbitrary unreliability of religious ideas. That people can continue to believe in ridiculous nonsense that has been disproven, such as the idea that the earth is only 6000 years old, merely because it has the support of some religions, is an instance of the corrupting effect of faith.

It's also not scientism. There is no expectation that a system for generating knowledge has to follow a narrowly defined scientific method (although no one has yet shown us a functioning alternative.)

Here's the logic behind the scientific rejection of religion, which is nothing like the weird version Midgley has cobbled up. The success of science has shown us what an effective knowledge generator accomplishes: it produces consensus and an increasing body of support for its conclusions, and it has observable effects, specifically improvements in our understanding and ability to manipulate the world. We can share evidence that other people can evaluate and replicate, and an idea can spread because it works and is independently verifiable.

Look at religion. It is a failure. There is no convergence of ideas, no means to test ideas, and no reliable outcomes from those ideas. It's noise and chaos and arbitrary eruptions of ridiculous rationalizations. Mormonism, Buddhism, Islam, and Catholicism can't all be true — and no, please don't play that game of reducing each religion to a mush that merely recognizes divinity. Religions have very specific dogmas, and practitioners do not blithely shuffle between them. Those differences are indefensible if they actually have a universal source of reliable knowledge about metaphysics.

Again, this is not a demand that religions must conform to science's methods, only that we should be able to assess whether it works. I can imagine a world where revelation, for instance, actually generates useful knowledge, where people independently acquired specific information piped right into their heads, straight from god. I'd expect, though, that there would be some agreement between all the recipients. It could even be strictly theological information, with no expectation of material support. If a host of people all around the world suddenly heard a gong in their heads, followed by the words (in their own language, of course) "The name of God is Potrzebie", well, then…there's something interesting going on. If these kinds of revelations continued and were consistent across cultures and traditions, I'd be willing to consider that there was something outside the human mind that was communicating with us. I'd admittedly be baffled by it all, but the fact that there'd be growing cross-cultural consensus on very specific claims would be hard to ignore.

As for outcomes, it also doesn't have to be something material — religion wouldn't have to be a tool for making better microwave ovens before I'd believe it, for instance. It could provide a universal moral code, or be an effective tool for improving mental health. If the enlightened people of Potrzebie were demonstrably calmer, more peaceful, and better at coping with stress because of the intermittent revelations, then I'd also have to admit that something was up. It's actually too bad that there isn't any such phenomenon taking place.

Basically, we've learned from the example of science that a way of knowing ought to do what it promises to do. They don't have to promise to do exactly the same thing — architecture and botany, for instance, don't have the same goals or methods, so we wouldn't expect physics and theology to echo each other's answers — but they ought to produce something reliable and true.

The fact that no religion can is damaging to them. Biblical literalism is crazy nonsense, but no more so than transubstantiation or doctrines of salvation or any accounts of what happens in heaven or hell. What drives our rejection of religion isn't that a few bits and pieces of specific religious beliefs, like the literal interpretation of Genesis, have been falsified, but that no consistent knowledge comes out of religion at all…yet every religion claims to provide knowledge about the nature of the universe.

Midgley just offers us more gooey jello to play with, though.

Like cargo cults, however, this Bible worship [referring to biblical literalism] is also a spiritual phenomenon, a message felt in the heart. Despite its confusions, it involves a genuine response to the real wisdom which can also be found in the Bible. Serious attempts to answer it need, therefore, to acknowledge that wisdom. They must try to show ways of combining it with more modern thinking.

"Spiritual" is a meaningless word, the last feeble gasp of a foolish faith that has nothing to offer except reassuring sussurations. There may well be wisdom in the Bible because it is a literary work created by people trying to understand their world, but it has no special privilege as a source of that kind of wisdom — it's there in Heller's Catch-22, or Borges' The Library of Babel, or Burroughs' Tarzan of the Apes, or Hitler's Mein Kampf…and just because someone wrote it down does not obligate us to regard it as true. The New Atheists have no problem with treating the Bible as a book, evaluating it as a human work with flaws and glories…but these apologists always want something more, as if it is a grievous insult to religion if we fail to treat a plodding hodge-podge of fantasy with the proper reverence, that we must pretend that it is a special product infused with something holy. That's not going to happen.

There have been many millions of books written, and we do not have to respect them all. No one trots out the Harry Potter books and tells us that we must combine those novels "with more modern thinking". Why does this one holy book get singled out as a source of wisdom? Especially when, if you actually do read it, it's a horror of vicious tribalism and questionable ethics and enduring ignorance. I have read it, seriously and with an effort to extract these jewels of wisdom it's supposed to contain. I think modern thinking would be better off trying to untangle itself from this wicked dogma.

Midgley just has to close with more infuriating nonsense.

Belief in God is not an isolated factual opinion, like belief in the Loch Ness monster - not, as Richard Dawkins suggests, just one more "scientific hypothesis like any other". It is a world-view, an all-enclosing vision of the kind of world that we inhabit. We all have these visions. Though they are always loaded with lumber and often dangerous, we need them. So, when we try to relate and improve them we have to treat each of them as a whole. We would not be right, any more than Newton was, to start by taking our own standpoint as infallible.

Just because the fervency of a belief smothers those who hold it into a vision of the world does not make it true, and definitely does not make it exempt from treating it as a hypothesis, and evaluating whether it is actually true or not. While we all have "world-views", what Midgley is promoting is perilously close to insisting on privileging her Biblical BS as something we must respect…and her real gripe with the New Atheists is not that we claim infallibility, but that we joyously poke holes in her cherished delusion.

And no, no one needs to believe in a cosmic intelligence, let alone the weird squinty petulant psychotic of the Abrahamic religions. It really is possible to say no to myths.

David Coppedge's Critics Take "Ready, Fire, Aim" Approach


Critics of David Coppedge's lawsuit against Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) alleging discrimination against his pro-intelligent design views have been repeatedly misrepresenting the facts of his case. The latest example is an attorney quoted in an article with Federal News Radio who makes a number of factual errors. According to the article, Bill Bransford, a partner at the Washington D.C.-based law firm Shaw, Bransford and Roth, stated, "Coppedge apparently 'believed he was talking to willing people about his theories, but apparently some of these people complained.'" Bransford does not seem to be aware of the facts of Coppedge's case, since Coppedge was specifically told by his supervisors that no one he'd spoken to about intelligent design (ID) had complained.

Bransford goes on to make more misplaced criticisms of Coppedge's suit:

In a workplace where, especially like the Jet Propulsion Lab where they're working on federal money on federal projects, if you're spending a lot of your work time talking about a scientific theory that some people think is like a religion and you're told not to do that, well I think maybe management has the right to make that kind of requirement in the workplace.

Perhaps JPL has the right to ban all discussion of ID if that's what it really wants to do (though this would be quite biased and unscientific, since part of their mission is to study origins, including questions like "How did we get here?"). But no such ban existed. As we discussed here, JPL had no prior policy banning all discussion of ID. Yet they ordered David Coppedge to stop talking about ID.

But that's not all they did. JPL also punished and demoted Coppedge—for violating a ban that didn't exist at the time he was sharing pro-ID videos with co-workers. The article makes it sound like Coppedge was warned then demoted after not following the warning. But that's not what happened. As soon as JPL administrators implemented the ban, Mr. Coppedge stopped loaning the pro-ID videos. But he was demoted anyway. Also left out of the article is the fact that JPL has now admitted that its reprimand was "inappropriate," and has pulled it from Coppedge's file—yet the demotion stays! (See paragraphs 37-39 of the amended complaint.)

What is more, even after JPL administrators punished Coppedge, they never implemented an all-out universal ban on talking about ID. The ban applies ONLY to David Coppedge, and JPL has done NOTHING to penalize or sanction those employees who have attacked ID at JPL, without any penalty whatsoever. While ID-critics should be free to talk about ID, as well as ID-proponents, it's clear that at JPL there's disparate treatment going on here.

Finally, the article makes it sound as if Coppedge was using up valuable office time while proselytizing co-workers. I would suspect that discussions around the office about the previous night's ball games took up more time. Likewise, so might have discussions about the presidential race between Obama or McCain. Even if Coppedge had been going around talking to his co-workers about ID, in the opinion of the attorney consulted by the reporter, this is an uncertain question.

But Coppedge maintains that he would only share pro-ID videos a couple times per month. And the "discussions" were simply asking certain colleagues whether they wanted to be loaned Unlocking the Mystery of Life or The Privileged Planet to watch it on their own time. It seems doubtful that these short conversations were interfering with anyone's work; even if there was nominal interference, it would have been far less than many other around-the-office conversations.

Mr. Bransford reportedly told Federal News Radio, "it's not clear to me who's right." Perhaps that's because he was not aware of the facts of the case before he criticized Mr. Coppedge's suit.

Posted by Casey Luskin on June 11, 2010 7:08 AM | Permalink

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Creationism as postmodernism and Marxism


Category: Culture Wars • Policy and Politics
Posted on: May 11, 2010 12:13 AM, by Josh Rosenau

Those who follow creationism carefully know that after it became clear that Intelligent design would fail in court, the new strategy which took the field often simply called for "critical analysis" of evolution. The practical effect is the same as when creationism is forced into the curriculum, but the phrasing is more pleasant to the ear. I was reminded of this in reading a generally insipid conversation between Margaret Wente (bolded) and Camille Paglia:

But in education today – even in primary-school education – all we hear about is "critical thinking." All the facts are available on the Web, and everybody has a calculator. So why make kids memorize the times tables or the names of the biggest rivers in Canada?

"Critical thinking" sounds great. But it's a Marxist approach to culture. It's just slapping a liberal leftist ideology on everything you do. You just find all the ways that power has defrauded or defamed or destroyed. It's a pat formula that's very thin. At the primary level, what kids need is facts. They need geography, chronology, geology. I'm a huge believer in geology – it's all about engagement in physical materials and the history of the world.

That creationists would adopt the language of Marxist cultural studies to advance their conservative religious and political agenda might seem odd, but this bizarre admixture is actually foundational to the ID movement.

Or as Rob Pennock put it recently in Science & Education: "Intelligent Design Creationism is the bastard child of Christian fundamentalism and postmodernism." By mixing ideas from Critical Legal Studies and postmodernism and deconstructionism with traditional denial of evolution and attempts to justify a fundamentalist reading of the bible, Philip Johnson and others crafted the bizarre mess that is ID creationism, as well as its successors.

Pennock's article only mentions the Kitzmiller v. Dover testimony of sociologist Steve Fuller in passing, but Fuller represents the opposite side of Johnson's coin. Where Johnson adapted postmodern ideas to justify his fundamentalist ideals, Fuller adopts the fundamentalist theology of creationism to fulfill his own postmodern aims. While Pennock does not examine Fuller's peripheral role in the ID movement, you can review Fuller's confusion yourself. He's got a new book on shelves which attempts somehow to argue that science cannot proceed without religious faith, and that the religious public must take science back by tortured analogy to the Reformation.

In the Guardian, Fuller lays out how this vision of science would bear on the question of ID. He starts pleasantly by acknowledging that ID is a form of creationism. It goes off the rails within the next three sentences. After acknowledging the general belief that ID is both bad science and bad theology, he argues that this, somehow, makes "the basis of our belief in both science and God … irrational." It isn't clear why this should be, nor why he "agree[s] with ID" that science and religion are "interdependent."

For all Fuller's talk of "our relationship with God," or his insistence, "Notwithstanding Adam's fall, we are still created 'in the image and likeness of God,'" Fuller is not himself religious, and calls himself a secular humanist. As with our late obsession with atheist S. E. Cupp's defense of fundamentalist efforts to establish an American state religion, this simply makes no sense. I cannot dispute that Fuller harms scientific progress, nor is there evidence he is capable of practicing science. These faults lie not in his religious views, but in his failure to understand what science is, and how science works. In this and many other senses, Pennock rightly speaks of the Postmodern Sin of Intelligent Design.

McCausland avoids the real debate on museum…


Belfast Gonzo,Sun 13 June 2010, 5:05am

I'M not sure what to make of the Culture Minister's latest blog entry on the Ulster Museum controversy. After waiting patiently for Nelson McCausland to address the merits of Creationism's place in the museum, it now appears he doesn't want to talk about the only genuine controversy in his letter to the trustees after all.

This is disappointing, because the Minister freely offered his personal defence of why Ulster-Scots, the Orange Order and other fraternal organisations like the AoH, the Plantation and other matters ought to have their place there.

And – despite his detractors – Nelson has a point. He makes valid arguments, and it's great to see a politician do this online. For good or for ill, all those things listed above are part of our history and society, and are worthy of some form of public exhibition. Perhaps by witnessing our divided past it can, somehow, contribute to a shared future. Properly contextualised, of course, but not omitted or glossed over. (I might even go further and suggest boosting the Ulster Museum's feeble 'Troubles' section by sticking a Saracen where the dinosaur is, pinning a decommissioned Armalite to the wall and instead of knights in shining armour you could have an RUC riot mannequin.)

However, in 11 entries on the controversy, there hasn't been a single word blogged by the minister himself in favour of promoting alternative ways of explaining the beginnings of the universe. In the course of the debate, he has merely quoted others and in his final post he concludes:

It is clear that some people want me to enter into a public debate on evolution, creationism and intelligent design and that is something I have no intention of doing. There are well-known scientists who advocate each of these viewpoints and I leave it to them to debate the matter.

That wasn't exactly worth the wait. Why so coy now? There was certainly a willingness to debate every other aspect of the letter. To now decline to engage on the final matter – the only one worth debating in depth – could be interpreted as a little intellectually dishonest. Or perhaps once the Creationism touchpaper had been lit, the only political option left was to run a mile away from it.

I feel let down with such an unsatisfying conclusion, even if it does make life easier for the Ulster Museum. After all, if the proposer of an argument is not prepared to stand by it, then it can be rejected more easily. (Or, if compromise is to be found, it could be placed in an exhibition in its proper context – alongside other religions or – less charitably – in the myths and legends section.)

The fear that people like myself have, Minister McCausland, is that Creationists – and their fundie Young Earth-believing country cousins – will seek to have faith validated through science by having competing narratives seen as equal. Or in layman's terms, that we could end up hearing – in our showcase museum – how jurassic dinosaurs walked the earth with humans, or how only a week passed from the Big Bang until a couple ate some dodgy fruit.

Equating faith and science is like comparing apples and oranges. I wouldn't deny that religious belief is very real to many people, but one exists because of reason and evidence, the other despite them. They have their places, but probably not beside each other in the Ulster Museum.