June 12, 2005 - June 18, 2005 Archives

I wrote this a few years ago, long before Panda’s Thumb. Considering the occasion, I’m posting it here for PT browsers. Have a good Father’s Day! - Dave Thomas

“Father’s Day” by David E. Thomas

Last Sunday [June 20, 1999] was the worst Father’s Day I’ve ever had, because my father didn’t live to see it. He was doing fine just last Thursday, when I made one of my customary stops at his dinosaur studio to swap articles and shoot the breeze. We chuckled at how Bill Buckley had been taken in by a hoax involving postal taxes on internet mail. We looked at pop’s latest sculpture, of the pharaoh Akhenaten, and Dad gleamed as he described his plan to use radiant quartz crystals for the eyes. I gave him an article comparing the democratic spirit of ‘Star Trek’ to the feudal dictatorships (both malevolent and benevolent) of ‘Star Wars.’ We talked over a couple of other things, and then I was on my way. Dad called me at work a couple of hours later to say how much he had enjoyed the Star Wars/Star Trek article. That was the last time we talked.

I got a call from my mom at about 7 that night. In a shaking voice, she said that there were six people working on dad, and he wasn’t responding. After I made it through 40 minutes of driving rain to the house, and then (following a note’s instructions) to hospital, I learned the worst. Even though the medics were there in just minutes, there was nothing they could do.

In the days since then, as Father’s Day approached, I gave some good hard thought to what this day means to me now. And this Father’s Day was, in fact, a really good day for me. Because, on reflection, I can honestly say that my dad is the best dad in the world. The best dad ever. For real.

PT commenter Lenny Flank often asks for IDists to present an actual theory of intelligent design. Well Lenny, an exclusive commentary was just posted by Kelly Hollowell (see her website, ScienceMinistries.org) on WorldNet Daily entitled, “Mechanism behind intelligent design uncovered?

Few e-mails have ever stopped me as cold as the one I am about to describe. In it, the author, a former university professor who wishes to remain anonymous, claims to know the actual mechanism behind intelligent design. That is the mechanism by which God created the universe, our world and all biological life within it.Kelly Hollowell, “Mechanism behind intelligent design uncovered?

With an intro like that, you know it has to be good. Read it here.

From an AAUP press release sent today, June 17:

Faculty Association Speaks Out on Three Top Issues Washington, D.C.? In Washington, D.C. last Saturday, the annual meeting of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) adopted resolutions on three issues of concern to faculty and others in the academic community. The resolutions address the right of graduate student employees to choose representation by a collective bargaining agent, concern over increased attacks on the academic freedom of teachers and scholars across the nation, and the teaching of evolution.

Eugene Volokh has an interesting post here on creationism and what ID proponents are pleased to call "naturalism."

A seventh amicus brief (pdf) in the Selman case has been put up on the NCSE Selman website (www.ncseweb.org/selman – See the previous PT post). This brief is by national and Georgia religious groups (National Council of Jewish Women, Interfaith Alliance, and Georgia Interfaith Alliance), and addresses the question of whether the Cobb County Evolution Warning Label violates the Bill of Rights of the Georgia Constitution:

Paragraph VII. Separation of church and state. No money shall ever be taken from the public treasury, directly or indirectly, in aid of any church, sect, cult, or religious denomination or of any sectarian institution.Bill of Rights of the Georgia Constitution

It is often the case that state constitutions are even stronger on civil rights than the Federal Constitution, so constitutional challenges to policies will often invoke the local state constitution as well as the federal constitution.

The plaintiffs’ brief in the appeal (pdf) is also now available.

Tangled Bank #30

The Tangled Bank

The latest Tangled Bank is now available at The Geomblog.

Spinning the truth the DI way

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On the DI website Rob Crowther spins the following story

OSU graduate student, Bryan Leonard, is suffering a vicious attack from Darwinist who seem bent on keeping him from earning his doctoral degree, precisely because he does not adhere to a strictly Darwinian viewpoint. (see here for more details)

As PT has reported already, this is incorrect

But what really caught my eye was the following ‘quote mine’

Charles Mitchell at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (http://www.thefire.org/index.php/) has posted his insightful take on the situation:

Well, not quite. I’ve been catching up on my Science reading after a lot of travel, and found this very cool little article. (“Cultivating the Third Eye,” Science, Vol 308, Issue 5724, 948, 13 May 2005)

Evolution in Alaska

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This editorial from the Anchorage Daily News is one of the best-informed I’ve ever seen about the creationists’ national strategy to “Teach the [made-up] scientific controversy about evolution!” It appears that a number of scientists and educators turned out for public hearings on Alaska’s new science standards last week, and they educated both the board and the media in the process.

It would be nice if every newspaper was this smart about the creationists’ “teach the controversy” strategy:

Without much fuss, the Alaska Board of Education put an essential bit of science back into the state science standards last Friday. That was thanks to more than a bit of civil discussion that took place the day before.


But to teach the “evolution vs. intelligent design” controversy in science classes would give too much weight to ideas that haven’t earned their scientific keep. There are better challenges to evolution on scientific grounds.

That does not mean evolution is only a hypothesis. As speakers at last week’s Alaska Board of Education hearing on state science standards pointed out, the theory of evolution is as sound scientifically as the theory of gravity. Both raise unanswered questions, but they are generally accepted in the world of science, acted upon in real life and, most of all, supported by the preponderance of evidence.

The serious scientific challenges to evolution or Darwinism are not from creationists or intelligent design theorists who draw their inspiration from faith, but from scientists who draw their conclusions from evidence. Evolution is sound theory, not fixed dogma. It can both withstand and profit by continued scrutiny and revision.Anchorage Daily News, “Board restores reason to evolution studies

While we’re on the subject of Alaska, be sure to check out the website of Alaska artist Ray Troll (www.trollart.com). He did the shark image in this post, and he does some great art on ocean biology, fossils, and evolution.

Also, the Evolution 2005 meeting has been going on up in Fairbanks. I suspect PT poster Reed Cartwright, who is at the meetings, will have a report at some point.

Victory in Gull Lake

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Last evening I attended the Gull Lake school board meeting on a sweltering night when they were to decide whether or not to allow two 7th grade science teachers to teach ID as they had been doing for the last couple of years. I am happy to report that after about a year of effort and controversy, the school board voted unanimously that ID could not be taught in science classes in that district, nor could the book Of Pandas and People be used in the 7th grade class where it had been used as a supplemental text for the past couple years by two teachers there. They did so in the face of a lawsuit threatened by the Thomas More Law Center on behalf of the two teachers, who claim that they have a right to teach ID in their classes even if those with authority over the curriculum do not agree.

I gave a brief talk to the board that focused on two things. First, the fact that many prominent ID advocates had themselves said that it was premature to talk about teaching ID in public school science classrooms because it is not yet a full fledged scientific theory and has not been established within the scientific community to warrant such inclusion. Specifically, I quoted Bruce Gordon's statement that ID had been "prematurely drawn into discussions of public science education where it has no business making an appearance without broad recognition from the scientific community that it is making a worthwhile contribution to our understanding of the natural world." Second, I sought to reassure the board that the lawsuit threatened by the TMLC has little hope of succeeding and that they almost certainly know that. As I wrote on the Michigan Citizens for Science webpage a few weeks ago, there are three precedents for such a suit. In all three, the complaint was dismissed and the dismissal upheld on appeal.

The DI Spins Academic Freedom

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The Discovery Institute has a habit of misrepresenting issues, thereby publicly shooting itself in the foot. The most recent instance is a press release misleadingly titled Attack on OSU Graduate Student Endangers Academic Freedom. In it, Bruce Chapman, President of the Discovery Institute, presents a version of events filled with fabrications and misrepresentations.

Let me first briefly recapitulate the actual sequence of events.

  • Sometime in the past, months or years ago, Bryan Leonard, a doctoral candidate in science education at The Ohio State University, put together a dissertation committee whose composition violated the clear requirements of the program in which he was seeking a degree.
  • On Thursday, June 2, 2005, an assistant professor of French & Italian assigned to Leonard’s defense withdrew from the committee and was immediately replaced by Dr. Joan Herbers, Dean of the College of Biological Sciences and an evolutionary biologist. According to the graduate school, it was Paul Post, Leonard’s dissertation advisor, [corrected in edit] Peter Paul, head of the School of Teaching and Learning, who initially got the graduate school involved, resulting in the change in Leonard’s committee.
  • In a letter dated and delivered on Friday, June 3, three full professors – Rissing, McKee, and McEnnis – transmitted concerns raised by Leonard’s public testimony in the recent Kansas BOE hearings to the graduate school of the Ohio State University. That letter is a public document, available to the press on request (using an official Ohio Request for Public Records procedure if necessary). The formal letter communicating concerns to the OSU Grad School was requested by and sent to a reporter for the Columbus Dispatch on Wednesday 8 June.
  • Also on Friday, June 3, Leonard’s advisor, Paul Post, requested a postponement of Leonard’s defense. In other words, contrary to Bruce Chapman’s claims (discussed below), Ohio State did not prevent Leonard from defending his dissertation; his advisor requested the postponement the day after a qualified faculty member was appointed to his committee and on the same day that questions were raised about the composition of the committee.
  • On Tuesday, June 7, 2005, I posted a description of what was then known about the Leonard affair, together with some reasonable inferences from that description. Notice of my posting was transmitted over my signature to members of the press.
  • In statements since then, the Graduate School has said that it is looking into the circumstances surrounding the composition of Leonard’s committee and questions about the conduct of his research.

So we have a series of events, precipitated by Leonard’s advisor [corrected in edit] the School of Teaching and Learning and by Leonard himself in Kansas, that resulted in his advisor requesting the postponement of Leonard’s defense after a qualified faculty member – Dr. Herbers – was appointed to his committee.

The Tangled Bank looms

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The Tangled Bank

Another Tangled Bank is coming up on Wednesday at Geomblog. Get those links sent in to Suresh Venkatasubramanian, host@tangledbank.net, or me soon.

Also, if you look at our schedule, we're booked up through July…but August is wide open if you want to volunteer to be a host.

A new recruit

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The Discovery Institute is doing a fine job of raising the visibility of creationism and focusing the attention of their enemies. They say things like this:

Although much of the public controversy over intelligent design has focused on the application of design to biology, it’s important to remember that design theory itself reaches well beyond biology, and that some of the strongest evidence for design comes from such fields as physics, astronomy, and cosmology.

And suddenly, scientists in disciplines other than biology perk up and realize that these clowns are coming to pester them next. The Privileged Planet debacle is a sign that the anti-evolutionists are eager to pollute national science institutions and all scientific disciplines with their garbage, and more and more scientists are going to be speaking out harshly against them. The utter vacuity of the creationist responses in Kansas is also a sign of their weakness; the DI has overreached itself, and blood is in the water.

The newest recruit is Phil Plait of the Bad Astronomy Blog. Phil has always been ready to dismantle the abuse of his discipline by the media, but now he's alerted to the bad physics, astronomy, and cosmology of the Discovery Institute, and plans to spend more effort fighting the distortions of the creationists.

Young Earth creationists have let slip the dogmas of war. In the ensuing battles they will use a host of weapons, including misrepresenting facts, mining of quotes, belaboring outdated theories, and dancing around to avoid answering direct questions. Mark my words: their history is clear.

They may have fired the first shot, but we have plenty of ammo on our side as well. And we also have many, many scientists willing to accept this call to arms.

I’m one of them. Over the course of time, you’ll be seeing more rebuttals — no, debunking — of creationist claims here. I’ve had enough, and this threat is real. They want to turn our classrooms in a theocratically-controlled anti-science breeding ground, and I’m not going to sit by and watch it happen.

Every anti-science, anti-education bill in a legislature makes a state full of bitter foes, every national embarrassment creates a horde of angry scientists. I think the only thing we've lost in our war with the creationists so far is our complacency.

Kansas Hearings: Harris

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On page 28, in the Kansas Science Hearing May 5, Mr. Irigonegaray is cross examining witness Harris and exposes the contradictory beliefs.

Harris clearly accepts that science should be dealing with naturalistic explanations and supernatural explanations should not be allowed. And yet he objects at the same time that the science standards should mention something about guided/unguided and the fact that they don’t is a problem…

It seems to me that Phillip Johnson has left a legacy of confusion when he conflated philosophical and methodological naturalism. Too bad that countless Christians are left with an inability to reconcile their faith with scientific fact and theory: Christianity in Crisis…

William Dembski has just blogged about a short comment I made this morning on The Thumb answering someone’s question about whether or not a detailed evolutionary model for the bacterial flagellum would deserve a Nobel Prize. In that comment, I pointed to this long web article I wrote on the evolution of the bacterial flagellum (which is already badly in need of an update), but I said that, no, such a model would clearly not deserve a Nobel, because it would be entirely routine and conventional – simply the application of the current paradigm (modern evolutionary theory) to fill in one more little gap in our knowledge of evolutionary history. Although creationists don’t realize it, discoveries showing how complex system evolved come out all the time in the scientific literature. (A number of examples are linked from my comment here.)

Dembski’s post in reply is entitled “To Explain the Flagellum � Just Look Up All the Homologies.” There are numerous dubious assertions in Dembski’s short post that would take all day to write up, but I just want to focus on one limited point for the moment. Will the ID advocates admit that they made a mistake in asserting that, except for the 10 proteins of the Type III secretion system, they other 30-40 parts of the flagellum were “unique”?

Irony Design in Utah

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Set your irony meter on max. Imagine if someone had pro-ID talking points from someplace like the Discovery Institute, but transposed them to Utah’s new proposal for “divine design” legislation in 2006. The result:

Some will argue that this is an inappropriate mixture of science and religion, but again, divine design does not purport to say who or what the designer was. ”Survival of the fittest theory,” The Spectrum (southern Utah)

Looks like another trip to the irony meter store for me…

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