January 16, 2005 - January 22, 2005 Archives

I went back and reread Antony Flew’s essay, “Theology and Falsification,” and the ensuing discussion, and posted an essay about them as a Web Exclusive of the magazine Free Inquiry, http://www.secularhumanism.org/library/exclusive/y…. As I conclude there, the young Antony Flew would never have been swayed by an argument from ignorance.

Additionally, may I recommend Victor Stenger’s piece, “Flew’s Flawed Science,” which has (miraculously?) already appeared in the print version of Free Inquiry (February-March, 2005, pp. 17-18)? You may also find it at http://www.secularhumanism.org/library/fi/stenger_….

For additional references, see my previous postings, “Antony Flew’s Conversion to Deism,” http://www.pandasthumb.org/pt-archives/000687.html…, and an update at http://www.pandasthumb.org/pt-archives/000723.html….

AiG Follows DI

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Well, Answers in Genesis Ministries, whom a Discovery Institute spokesman has referred to as “guitar-strumming hillbillies,” have produced their response to Judge Cooper’s decision in the Cobb Country disclaimer-sticker case. It echoes (borrows, steals?) much of the Discovery Institute’s spin which I have already dispatched. I’ll make three points again.

  • The judge found that the disclaimer-stickers hurt biology education and did not foster critical thinking, despite the board’s best intentions.

  • In fact, he found that the disclaimer-stickers hurt education in such a way that only sectarian interests (creationism et al.) benefited. This caused a violation of the Lemon test.

  • The decision is neither activist nor bizarre. All Lemon prongs must be satisfied, not just one.

Well, folks, the flap over our local (Albuquerque, New Mexico) PBS affiliate, KNME, and its refusal to show “Unlocking the Mysteries of Life” is still going strong.

A local columnist, Jeffry Gardner, wrote a column on Thursday Jan. 20th about the flap. This very strange piece slammed our science group, NMSR, for supporting KNME.

Gardner writes

In making the decision to cancel the show “Unlocking the Mystery of Life,” derisively referred to as “creationism” by the rabidly anti-Christian voices that squeak like greaseless wheels in the so-called science community, KNME-Channel 5’s radio marketing manager Joan Rebecchi said “Life’s” producers had not just an agenda but a religious agenda.

KNME’s decision was cheered by a group called New Mexicans for Science and Reason. The Science and Reason folks slammed the show as “religious propaganda” and made it clear we all benefited from their and KNME’s collective protection.

The Cato Institute's Neal McCluskey has this article commenting on the Cobb County decision. Although I disagree that the decision was "ridiculous," I agree with McCluskey's argument that this controversy simply cannot be settled so long as government runs schools: "the fight over evolution is just one of numerous struggles precipitated by a system for which all must pay, but only a select few control."

Thanks to P. Z. Myers and one of my commenters for directing me to transcript of the O'Reilly segment I reported on yesterday. I have fisked the entire thing in this entry, over at EvolutionBlog. O'Reilly's insanity is so complex and multi-layered, at times it is difficult to compose a reply.

I have also prepared this entry about yet another awful segment on this subject from last Friday's Scarborough Country. Enjoy!

In Academe magazine (which I’m sure everyone has on their coffee table), there’s a new article out by Barbara Forrest and Glenn Branch:

Wedging Creationism into the Academy.

Kind of an all-around smack-down on the ID movement, the Wedge, etc. Most readers here will be familiar with the information presented therein, but it combines a lot of diverse sources into a single (and brief) document. So it’s a good reference. And if you know someone who’s not familiar with the ID movement, it’s a good introduction.

Here's something to give you all the heebie-jeebies: Jason Rosenhouse watches Bill O'Reilly expounding on Intelligent Design creationism. This is quite possibly the most ridiculous, extravagantly bogus mangling of basic scientific concepts I have seen in my entire career, but Jason manages to discuss it far more dispassionately than I ever could. There is also a transcript available online.

Check it out only if you've got your blood pressure under control. Mild sedatives recommended before reading.

Pigliucci Blog

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Massimo Pigliucci, evolutionary biologist at SUNY-Stony Brook, has a blog, (mostly) Rationally Speaking. Pigliucci is well known for his popular writings about evolution, skepticism, and humanism.

Adam Felbers has a hilarious take on the ID movement, a Q&A on the theory of Intelligent Design:

Q: So what is ID doing to research the identity and characteristics of this "intelligence" that it posits?
A: Well, nothing that I've found yet...

Q: Because if they really wanted to research stuff, they'd be saying things like, "Well, could a giant lobster make a flower?" and, "Is there anything about the design of DNA that looks like something a space crustacean would come up with?"
A: I really think you need to get off this whole lobster thing.

Q: But these ID guys aren't looking into just who this intelligence is, are they?
A: No.

Q: Because they think it's God, right?
A: They don't say that.

Q: Because if they thought they saw evidence of giant superintelligent eyestalks peering down on them from under a celestial carapace, they'd be seriously bummed, wouldn't they?
A: I think this Q&A is over now.

It's funny because it is so, so true.

I ran across this cool blog, Law, Evolution, and Junk Science. I thought the FAQ put it very well:

Intelligent Design is a paradigm of junk science and abuse of the legal system, both in court, at the local school board level...and at state and federal [legislative] and executive branches of government. Furthermore, Intelligent Design, and its Scientific Creationism parent, have both been spearheaded by lawyers, from William Jennings Bryan in the 1920s, through Wendell Bird in the 1970s , to Phillip E. Johnson, today. To rebut the spurious claims of these fellow members of the bar, a very large number of scientists have had to take time from productive research to deal with the issue. I feel the obligation to undo the damage these lawyers have done.

Hear, hear!

I just heard through the grapevine that Cobb decided tonight to appeal Judge Cooper’s ruling.

Only two board members objected to appealing.

The appeal is contingent on their lawyers doing it for free.

While wandering the web the other day, I noticed Crux Magazine - "determined to supply a high-quality alternative to the principle tastemakers of our target demographic, young adults aged 25 to 45 ... a creative and trailblazing entity in our own right, the embodiment of a fresh and radical perspective on culture that is gaining adherents by the day, [with the aim of] redeeming the times and redirecting the prevailing orthodoxy of our age." Stirring stuff. At the site you can read a plug for Priviledged Planet [link] and By Design or By Chance? [link].

Things get interesting when you look at the Editorial Advisory Board. There we see Beckwith, Budziszewski, Dembski, Johnson, Meyer, Moreland, Nelson, Reynolds, Richards, and West - a veritable cluster of Discovery Fellows and fellow travellers. Also on the list are Norm Geisler and Hugh Ross.

Only Crux is solely committed to exposing the pernicious ideologies that have degraded the American mind. Only Crux is open-minded enough to look beyond popular assumptions and locate insights that have been buried by the mainstream media. Only Crux is giving a voice to those on the margins, to the academics, scientists, celebrities, and artists who simply will not kowtow to convention or the party line.

Another front in the Wedge strategy, methinks.

The European Space Agency has put up a mosaic of the images taken during the Huygens descent.

I think that Huygens landed in the middle of the dark stuff. If so, the images and data from the surface indicate that this isn’t strictly an “ocean,” rather it is some kind of spongy material. A giant hydrocarbon bog, perhaps? Huygens had a GC/MS on board that took samples for 70 minutes, so we should get a quite thorough analysis of the molecular composition of the atmosphere during descent, and the surface material.

The clouds/fog are also very interesting, if they represent “moisture” evaporating off of the “ocean” and then “raining” on the “land” to form the channels. We may be seeing a complete “hydrologic” cycle, except for the “hydro” part , since the molecules involved are hydrocarbons rather than H2O. It appears that a whole new vocabulary will be needed to describe the physical geography of Titan.

See also this article in The Scientist for what astrobiologists are saying:


There was an article by Bill Toland in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that was published last weekend about “intelligent design” and the situation in Dover. I had the privilege of being interviewed by Toland and quoted a couple of times in the article.

Journalists are people who know a lot about communicating briefly with other people, and usually have no very detailed knowledge of specific topics. So they do research, and interview people, in order to get a fix on just what the story might be. Sometimes this works very well, and sometimes not so well. Errors of fact may be made. Quotes may not be exact. And, sometimes, journalists don’t treat every possible viewpoint as being of equal value.

The Discovery Institute’s Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture has long had a standard method of response when “intelligent design” is mentioned in prominent news articles: the press release. The formula is simple: refer to opinions and reports as “objective” if they credulously take the DI CRSC’s line, and denounce reports as “biased” if they allow even a hint of criticism or skepticism to be reported. They’ve recently discovered blogging. So now there is a blog at http://www.evolutionnews.org where DI staffers let the press know in the bluntest terms possible just how they feel about recent coverage. (I’m not going to complain about the domain name. Fair’s fair, and we’ve picked up http://www.evolutionnews.net and pointed it where it can do the most good.) Blogging is different from doing press releases. For one thing, it is a lot cheaper. This means that, if you have the time, you can do a lot more kvetching than through press releases. And apparently DI staffers have the time. Robert Crowther of the DI has a post up to take Bill Toland to task for his article…

What is interesting is that for a group complaining about inaccuracy in the media, the Discovery Institute shows a curious bias in their complaints. There were a number of inaccuracies in the original article (go to the page and note the corrections at the bottom) which the Discovery Institute passes over in silence, and various things accurately reported by Toland that the Discovery Institute tries to spin its way. This particular spin job is the work of Robert Crowther, an employee of the Discovery Institute, posting on a blog whose domain is owned by the Discovery Institute and which is hosted by the Discovery Institute, and yet the disclaimer at the bottom says the Discovery Institute is not responsible for the content of blog posts. It seems they were prescient in this case, as there is much to disclaim.

According to a report in the AJC, the Cobb County Board of Education will decide Monday in a closed door meeting with their lawyers whether to appeal Judge Cooper’s ruling. I am hopeful that, if their real intention was to improve science education, the board will accept the decision of the Court and that of biologists and biology educators that the disclaimer hurts biology education and should be removed.

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