May 13, 2007 - May 19, 2007 Archives

Just in from the New York Times:

The National Association of State Boards of Education [NASBE] will elect officers in July, and for one office, president-elect, there is only one candidate: a member of the Kansas school board who supported its efforts against the teaching of evolution.

Who would that be? Ken Willard, someone you may remember.

For you flagellum wonks in the audience, an interesting and fairly detailed discussion of some of the science issues and, for lack of a better word, etiquette issues, took place over here at T. Taxus in “JCVI Evolutionary Genomics Journal Club on Liu-Ochman.”

(The discussion is also good for Esperanto wonks.)

Cover of Science, behavioral science issue, May 18After you have been in the habit of creationism-watching for a few years you become extremely familiar with all of the usual creationist arguments, half-baked talking points, unchecked assertions taken as obviously true, etc. If you really get into it you learn the creationist movement’s long and specific history, and you learn that whatever form of creationism you are studying at the moment inevitably traces back basically to American protestant fundamentalism, and before that to something sometimes called “naive Biblicism.”*

But there comes a point when you don’t think you can learn anything much new about the creationists. You might stumble on a new mutation of a creationist urban legend or quote mine, or a new bit of creationist history like Dean Kenyon actually being a young-earther despite this fact being carefully hidden by the ID movement for 15+ years. But basically, you don’t expect to find out much that is new.

Well, if you thought you were at this point, you would be wrong. A review article in this week’s Science magazine (with a special focus on behavioral science) shows that scholars can ring out yet another twist in creationism studies.

San Francisco’s adoption campaign for older children is featuring “Intelligent Design”, and they have this great “Heather Has Two Mommies” sort of poster.

(Original post at the Austringer)

This just in from Randy Olson. Free to forward:

FLOCK OF DODOS airing on Showtime Thursday May 17 at 8:30 EST/PST

It looks like Wendell Bird‘s lawsuit against the University of California is going to trial. This is the lawsuit bought by some private Christian high schools (Association of Christian Schools International et al., or ACSI) against the U.C. (Roman Stearns, special assistant to the U.C. president, et al.), protesting the fact that the U.C. doesn’t give credit for certain courses taught at these private schools. Not all of the classes involved are science classes, but the science classes at issue make use of Bob Jones University textbooks which are full of fake fundamentalist “science.” Private religious high schools have the right to teach whatever silliness they want (although even many private Christian schools teach evolution without problems), but it is rather dubious to assert that a top institution like the U.C. should be forced to drop all of its standards and give credit for classes that teach creationist falsehoods.

NCSE is not involved in this case so I don’t know much more than anyone else about the details of it. The legal issues are rather different than in Kitzmiller v. Dover – here, the creationists are the plaintiffs, and as I understand it, the constitutional issue is not the Establishment Clause but the Free Exercise Clause. ACSI asserts that the U.C.’s standards amount to religious discrimination. However, I do have a rather direct interest in the case myself, since I will be a Ph.D. student at U.C. Berkeley this fall, and will be a teaching assistant in the evolution course. Will the undergraduates that the U.C. admits be prepared, or will they require tedious remedial education to re-do all the biology they were taught incorrectly the first time around?

Through the grapevine, I have heard a few tidbits about the case that will interest people. It looks like the trial will be another battle of the experts:

Let’s say that you are counsel for the Association of Christian Schools. You are looking for an expert witness to stand up before the court and say that the biology and physics textbooks from Bob Jones University and A Beka are just peachy, and students taught from them should be accorded credit in biology and physics sufficient for admission to the University of California system. Who do you turn to? Naturally, you won’t bother with a biologist and a physicist for this matter; what you obviously need is a biochemist. Fortunately, you know where to find one, and, hey, presto! Discovery Institute Center for Science and Culture Senior Fellow Michael Behe files an expert report on your behalf.

Here’s a sample:

General conclusions concerning viewpoints and biology textbooks

All biology textbooks that were examined, both the approved texts and the Christian texts, contain material which is not strictly science, but which includes viewpoints, and all texts asked students to discuss non-scientific topics, such as religious, legal, political, ethical, or moral topics. In my opinion in this unanimous practice is pedagogically sound. Science does not exist in a vacuum, and students will naturally have questions about how science relates to other aspects of their world. Discussion of how scientific and other topics impinge on each other and interrelate with each other can equip students to integrate seemingly separate areas into a more coherent whole.

Darwin’s Black Box and Icons of Evolution are cited by Behe in support of his expert report. He has a section extolling a “strengths and weaknesses” approach. And, Behe is going to get a cool $20,000 for his participation in the case.

What I’d like to suggest is a little competition for the readers… how many instances of issues raised in the Behe expert report correspond to items in Mark Isaak’s Index to Creationist Claims? Please use the comments to add sightings.

Tinkle%20Giant%20Beaver.jpgAs many have noted, the Intelligent Design movement’s echo chamber has been recently belaboring the connection between Darwinian evolutionary ideas and eugenics. That’s not surprising: the Discovery Institute-headed machine has been on the ropes for a while, unable to make any significant scientific, legal or political headway against evolution science (a.k.a. “Darwinism” in ID/Creationist parlance), and it has naturally turned to what it does best, that is media-based attack campaigns on straw-man stand-ins for evolutionary biology.

The transparent goal of this new P.R. offensive is to tarnish 150 years of scientific discovery with the stain of one of its aberrations, the logical equivalent of attacking experimental medicine by claiming that it is based on analogous principles as Josef Mengele’s experiments in Nazi concentration camps. Oblivious to logic and intellectual honesty, the “Darwinism = eugenics” meme nevertheless has been widely promoted by several ID advocates, most prominently by John G. West, Associate Director of the Discovery Institute’s Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture.

Facts regarding status of tenure case at Iowa State

Partial quote:

Why was tenure not granted to Guillermo Gonzalez?

Dr. Gonzalez was evaluated for tenure and promotion to associate professor by the tenured faculty in the Department of Physics and Astronomy. That evaluation was based on an assessment of the excellence of his teaching, service, scholarly research publications and research funding in astronomy, using standards and expectations set by the department faculty. The consensus of the tenured department faculty, the department chair, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the dean of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and the executive vice president and provost was that tenure should not be granted. Based on recommendations against granting tenure and promotion at every prior level of review, and his own review of the record, President Gregory Geoffroy notified Gonzalez in April that he would not be granted tenure and promotion to associate professor.

You may know by now that Guillermo Gonzalez, the pro-ID astronomer, was just denied tenure at Iowa State. If you know that then you also know that the ID crowd is in full cry and wail at this outrageous persecution. That was predictable, of course; the ID movement, being primarily about public relations and not science, has a long history of false or unsupported claims of persecution (which shouldn’t surprise us, I suppose; after all, their religion has its origin in an act of alleged martyrdom).

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