Tuesday, February 28, 2006


Haraam and Hallaal

Patrick Ainley in The Guardian: "Fundamentalism on campus takes many forms. A colleague reports that during her history lecture on Darwin, quietly at first, an evangelical Christian student began singing hymns to ward off the evils of evolution. Perhaps, if the student had not been asked to stop and enough of her congregation had joined in, she would have drowned out the lecture. Elsewhere, a veiled Muslim student is accompanied to lectures by a minder who tells her what is haram and what is hallal in what she is hearing."

Do you suppose under that burqa her ears perk up just a little so as not to miss any of the haraam?


South Carolina Teachers Don't Suffer IDiots Gladly

Intelligent design activists and creationists, it seems, don't mind looking like idiots. The problem is, they want to make idiots of the rest of us, too. That has some teachers in South Carolina up in arms.

The South Carolina school reform oversight panel recommended last week that high school biology teachers instruct students in how to "critically analyze" evolution -- which would open the door to teaching "intelligent design" and other theories on the origin of human life, according to Bill Robinson of The State.

"This puts the biology teacher in a terrible position," said Linda Mobley, science instruction director at Richland Northeast High School.

"To critically analyze biological evolution would mean that we would have to bring up scientifically irrelevant schools of thought to disclaim the overwhelming relevant biochemistry, molecular biology, molecular genetics, behavior evidence that supports evolution.

"This makes us look like idiots."


Divine Design Goes Down in Utah

Utah state Sen. Chris Buttars wanted to rein in teachers who were teaching that man descended from apes and rattling the faith of students.

"I don't believe that anybody in there really wants their kids to be taught that their great-grandfather was an ape," Buttars says.

Now the Utah House of Representatives has reined Buttars in. They defeated his divinely inspired "critical analysis" bill by a vote of 28-46 Monday.

What's more shocking, learning your grandfather was an ape, or having your state senator prove it?


Broward County: Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea

Broward County science teachers were forced to choose between a biology text that doesn't mention evolution and one that says:
Many of the world's major religions teach that life was created on Earth by a supreme being. A variation of this belief is that organisms are too complex to have developed only by evolution. Instead, some people believe that the complex structures and processes of life could not have formed without some guiding intelligence.

Rather than teach intelligent design, the teachers chose the text that leaves out evolution. Why were they forced to make that decision?


Alabama Ed. Comm. Deadlocked on ID Bill

Rep. Jeremy Oden, R-Vinemont, says the Alabama House Education Committee is "deadlocked on a bill aimed at permitting critiques of evolution. Titled the "Academic Freedom Act," the bill states that teachers 'shall have the affirmative right and freedom to present scientific information pertaining to the full range of scientific views,'" according to David Mackey of the Cullman Times.

RSR agrees that the full range of scientific views should be presented. We just don't think scientific views are really what the bill's authors envision.


Indiana: More Classroom Hours Devoted to Evolution

"Ten years ago, high school biology teachers in Indiana spent little time teaching students about evolution" in Indiana according to Anne Kibbler of the Bloomington Herald-Times.

"Despite controversy over the place of evolution instruction in the classroom, there’s been a shift in the Hoosier state: A new study indicates teachers are devoting more, not fewer, hours to incorporating the concept of evolution into their lessons."

There's more to this article. Take a look.

Monday, February 27, 2006


The Dennett-Ruse Feud: What's a Skeptic to Do?

Last week, intelligent design activist William Dembski published a remarkable exchange of letters between Tufts University philosophy professor Daniel Dennett and Michael Ruse, a philosopher of science at Florida State University.

The testy exchange of letters, between two high-profile defenders of evolution, on the blog of one of the best known exponents of intelligent design has ignited a firestorm of commentary around the blogosphere.

For his part, Ruse decried Dennett's very public atheism – some describe Dennett as both a militant atheist and a Darwinian fundamentalist – and accused both Dennett and Richard Dawkins of being "absolute disasters in the fight against intelligent design."

Dennett responded in kind saying he's afraid Ruse is "being enlisted on the side of the forces of darkness." The fact that Ruse had turned the correspondence over to Dembski lent a degree of credence to that view.

As usual, Red State Rabble is coming late to the game. Last week:

PZ Myers, at Pharygula, wrote that while he disagrees vigorously with many of Dennett's ideas about evolution, he nevertheless comes off better in the exchange than Ruse. Myers doesn't believe "atheists on the side of evolution" should be hidden away like some crazy aunt in the attic.

Chris Mooney, writing on his blog, The Intersection, is concerned that people are being told that they must choose between evolution and their faith in God. That's the real hurdle, Mooney believes, and the publicly expressed views of Dawkins and Dennett don't help much in that respect.

Over at Evolutionblog, Jason Rosenhouse, is upset that Ruse gave the correspondence to Dembski, and writes that he shares both Dennett and Dawkins' "contemptuous attitude towards Christianity." Like Myers, he doesn't believe their atheism hurts the cause of promoting quality science education.

Already this week, there's been a further exchange between Myers, our old friend Josh at Thoughts from Kansas, and Mike the Mad Biologist over what role, if any, atheists and other skeptics should play in the battle to defend evolution.

Myers writes that Josh perpetuates "the usual misrepresentation of atheists in this debate," and he goes on to note "[a]theists reject religion, so we aren't at all worried that the targets of our criticism dislike our criticism. We aren't going to stop."

Red State Rabble unequivocally supports the right of atheists to defend both their beliefs and evolution in the public square. As a practical matter, we don't see men like PZ Myers, Richard Dawkins, and Daniel Dennett hiding their light under a bushel anytime soon.

Moreover, Myers is quite correct, for example, to point out that the metaphysical conclusions drawn from the science of evolution in Ken Miller's book, Finding Darwin's God: A Scientist's Search for Common Ground Between God and Evolution haven't come in for quite the same criticism as books by Richard Dawkins that draw the opposite conclusion from an examination of the same evidence.

However, the strategy of the intelligent design movement is to claim that teaching evolution in public schools is the same as teaching the metaphysical claims of atheism.

"In our greatest universities, naturalism -- the doctrine that nature is 'all there is' -- is the virtually unquestioned assumption that underlies not only natural science but intellectual work of all kinds," says ID strategist Phillip Johnson.

All intelligent design activists want, they say, is equal time to present their beliefs, too.

That's why, as advocates for science, those of us who are non-believers must be quite careful to keep separate the real science we want taught in public schools from the metaphysical conclusions we tend to draw from the evidence.

Some of us secular types have an unfortunate tendency, at times, to conflate Christian fundamentalism with the full range of Christian belief. Recently, we've read complaints from members of Kansas Citizens for Science, who are active and articulate defenders of evolution and believers, about the tendency among nonbelievers to crudely lump all Christians together.

There is a range of Christian thinking that extends from people like Pat Robertson and Sam Brownback on one end of the scale to Ken Miller, Karen Armstrong, and Jimmy Carter on the other.

Christianity inspired the crusades, the inquisition, the Salem witch trials, and the anti-Semitism of Hitler, but it also kindled the imagination of Kepler, Gallileo, Mozart, and Michelangelo.

Western thought is a product of the creative tension between the mysticism of Jerusalem and the rational thought of Athens.

Since nonbelievers make up an infinitesimally small portion of the population, we'll have to make allies among the faithful if we are to successfully defend science education from attacks by right-wing religious fundamentalists. The ability to make fine distinctions between biblical literalists and rational religious thinkers will be the key to building those alliances.

Red State Rabble also thinks it unwise to allow ourselves to be painted in the public imagination as nothing more than a shrill mirror image of Christian fundamentalism. Defense of public science education and the rights of nonbelievers will be more effective in the long run if we are seen, not as unthinking militants, but as the seekers after truth that we are.

Let's leave self-righteous certitude to the Christian fundamentalists and wear our doubt -- our skepticism about even our own beliefs -- proudly on our sleeves.

Those among us who want to promote reason. Who want to convince others – and for the most part that means convincing believers – that our own metaphysical beliefs are superior to religious faith would also do well, we think, to follow the advice of Charles Darwin, who wrote in a letter to Edward Aveling (often mistakenly thought to have been written to Karl Marx):

… I am a strong advocate for free thought on all subjects, yet it appears to me (whether rightly or wrongly) that direct arguments against Christianity and theism produce hardly any effect on the public; & freedom of thought is best promoted by the gradual illumination of men's minds…


Holt Biology -- Dumbing Down Evolution

As we noted in a series of earlier posts, Broward County, Florida teachers were forced to choose between two biology textbooks. One mentions intelligent design the other leaves out evolution. Rather than teach ID the teachers chose the text that leaves out evolution.

When we first wrote about this issue, we asked readers familiar with the Holt Biology text (the one that was adopted in Broward County) to let us know what's in the Discovery Institute influenced Holt text.

Now an RSR reader, who is also a high school science teacher who opposed adoption of the same Holt Biology text in her own district has provided a transcription of the text:

From a "Did You Know?" sidebar:
Radioactive dating is not always accurate. For instance, as heat and pressure are applied to a rock and water flows through it, soluble radioactive materials can escape from the minerals in the rock. Because there is often no method for measuring how much radioactive material is lost, it is difficult to accurately date some older rocks than have been heated and put under pressure or that are partly weathered.

Here's how the text, while not distorting facts, subtly echoes creationist and intelligent design arguments for sudden emergence based on evidence from the Cambrian explosion:
The [Burgess] shale fossils reveal that the earliest multicellular animals included a much broader range of body plans than expected, ­ some so different that they cannot be classified into any group of modern animals. These conclusions about Cambrian life-forms are supported by recent discoveries in China, Australia, and Greenland. Scientists have unearthed similarly diverse and complex fossils dating back to the beginning of the Cambrian period, 500 million years ago. Thus, it appears that a high level of diversity and complexity developed in animals in a relatively short span of geologic time.

Note: As these citations were hand transcribed by our sources from the text, it is possible there may be minor transcription errors.


No Consensus Among Faithful on ID

The often repeated litany of intelligent design activists is that evolution and atheism are one in the same. Still many members of the clergy remain unconvinced according to Phil Anderson of the The Topeka Capital-Journal.

"Some Topeka-area clergy members look at what the Kansas State Board of Education has done about standards for teaching evolution and see that it was good. Others wish the creators of these guidelines had rested on the first through seventh days."

The Rev. Andrew McHenry, of Maple Hill Community Congregational Church acknowledges that while some in the faith community are a part of the ongoing debate, no single viewpoint could be called representative of an entire religious group, according to Anderson. A variety of viewpoints exist within a single religious group -- and in a great many cases, within a single congregation. McHenry would prefer that the school board quit wasting time on a debate that never seems to end.

The intelligent design blowhards at the Discovery Institute claim to speak for people of faith. This article proves they do not.


What Do ID Proponents Really Mean When They Say "Teach the Controversy?"

Have you ever wondered what the intelligent design crowd really means when they chant "teach the controversy" or when they put forward a "critical analysis" curriculum proposal?

Well, now we have an answer -- not from someone as cynical and biased as RSR -- but from the IDers themselves. A Texas group has launched "Operation Teach Evolution Weaknesses!"

Don't take it from RSR. You can see it for yourself here.

Thanks to Texas reader RT for tipping us off.


Dover Settlement May Force District to Borrow, Raise Taxes

The newly elected Dover school board -- they're the ones who inherited the mess, and a $1 million legal settlement, left behind by the the previous board which was dominated by religious conservatives -- don't want to borrow money or raise taxes to pay legal fees incurred by plaintiffs attorneys during the intelligent design trial.

They may find, however, that there isn't enough money in the districts fund balance to pay the bill.

"David Davare, director of research services at the Pennsylvania School Board Association, said when fund balances become too low, the district runs the risk of financial distress in the short term," according to the York Daily Record.

Davare said the association doesn't have a minimum guideline for fund balances, but said financial institutions like to see districts have about 5 percent to 8 percent in the fund balance.

"From a financial standpoint, they are starting to end up on the low side," Davare said about Dover's balance.

The fund balance can pay for emergency costs not covered by insurance, such as a leak in a roof, he said. Davare was concerned about districts building a budget that relies on using money from the fund balance.

"Get out of it - at some point they have to make the tough decisions," Davare said. "They either have to reduce their expenditures or they have to raise taxes. In some cases, it's a combination of both."


Teach the Controversy Myth

The Rev. Michael Jamison, of Unity Church of Christianity, says he can live with both evolution and Intelligent Design being taught.

"I think it'd be nice if both evolution and Intelligent Design were taught," he said, "because the kids will know the difference between what's bogus and what makes sense -- what's logical. By default, they would know the difference.

"I would not have a problem at all with both being taught. Let them teach Intelligent Design long enough and kids will see what it is -- a myth."

From an article by Phil Anderson in The Topeka Capitol Journal.


Dover Trial Judge Interview

The Philadelphia Inquirer published an interview with Judge John Jones who presided over the Dover intelligent design trial. Jones ruled in December that the Dover school board could not order teachers to read a statement referring to intelligent design in biology classes.

This is the first time we have had a chance to hear Jones' views outside the courtroom. Here are some excerpts from the interview.

On what was perhaps the most controversial aspect of his ruling, the judge says the "controversial part of the ruling was whether intelligent design is in fact science. Lost in the post-decision debate was that both sides, plaintiffs and defense, asked me to rule on that issue. Clearly, that was resolved based on the scientific evidence presented at the trial."

Jones comments that until December 2004 he didn't know what intelligent design was. Asked if he read up on the subject, Jones says, "People have asked me, 'Did you sort of make yourself an expert? Did you read up on things?' and the answer is no, I didn't... . I tell my jurors, 'Don't read things outside the courtroom. Don't make yourself an expert. You get everything you need to decide the case inside the courtroom.' We had marvelous presentations in this case, and I got everything I needed during the trial, and before and after the trial, in terms of the submissions, so I certainly have developed a good working knowledge of the issue.

Asked if he was surprised at how weak the scientific case for intelligent design proved to be, Jones comments (in part), "I purposefully allowed the trial to extend and a record to be made... the defendants could never say that they weren't given the opportunity to present their case. I didn't cut off anybody's testimony, I didn't cut off anybody's presentation, and I allowed the testimony to be put forth in the ways the parties wanted it to be presented."

There's much more. It's all very interesting, and highly recommended reading.

Sunday, February 26, 2006


Practical Atheists

If everyone intelligent design activists labeled as an atheist actually was, then the world would be filled with atheists, and there'd be no problem defending science education in the public schools.

A case in point is Kansas State geology professor Keith Miller, a member of Kansas Citizens for Science, one of the most highly articulate defenders of evolution in the state, and a deeply devout Evangelical Christian.

In a letter to the Manhattan Mercury, Richard Smith, an interim pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Manhattan, made these prescient observations in response to a column by Miller defending science education in the state:
Scientists of past years clearly demonstrate in their writings that the modern view of science promotes an atheistic worldview. As expressed in his recent column, Miller's own worldview is atheistic. While he may not be an atheist, his view is practical atheism. Miller thinks that the effort to change the science education standards by the Kansas Board of Education "is firmly rooted in the utterly false warfare view of science and faith." This is an ostrich (head in sand)observation. How can anyone not see that science has been at war with religion for a long time?

All RSR can say Rev. Smith is keep sending all those practical atheists our way. We'll welcome them, each and every one, with open arms. That's our sermon for this Sunday.

Saturday, February 25, 2006


Curb Your Dogma

The discovery in China of a furry, beaverlike animal that lived at the time of dinosaurs has been reported in countless blogs and online news articles as having "overturned more than a century of scientific thinking about Jurassic mammals."

In all these comments and articles, one thing is conspicuously absent: That's any hint of an accusation by scientists that this new evidence must be suppressed because it challenges scientific dogma about Jurassic mammals.

How do the intelligent design theorists account for the open-armed response to this new fossil evidence -- which overturns a full century of scientific thinking -- with their own fable of a close-minded scientific establishment bent on the promotion of dogma and the suppression of new ideas?


Dumbed Down in More Ways Than One

Is the Holt Biology textbook adopted by Broward County designed for "lower ability" students?

From the Holt, Rinehart, and Wilson web page for the Holt Biology text:

So, the textbook that dumbs down evolution is perfect for the "lower ability" student, but don't worry, there are planning resources available fro all. Cutting out evolution is perfect for the time-starved.


Holt Textbook Controversy: Returning Texas to the Dark Ages

Now that Broward County has adopted the Holt Biology text that dumbs down evolution to curry favor with the intelligent design movement's Discovery Institute, reader may want to learn more about the history.

Texas Citizens for Science has a post up about a bill up for consideration in the 2005 Texas Legislative Session that, if enacted, "would return Texas to its Dark Ages of the 1970s and 1980s, when the Texas State Board of Education routinely forced publishers to change textbook content or rejected the books for adoption and use in Texas public schools based on "viewpoint discrimination or special interest advocacy" as determined by individual powerful Board members."

We don't know the current status of this bill, but the article gives a flavor of what's going on with textbooks in both Texas and Florida.


ID and the Jewish Community

"... Darwinism, if accepted, makes any meaningful Judaism intellectually untenable," writes David Klinghoffer, a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute in Seattle.

"In the Jewish community," Klinghoffer asserts, "the discussion [about evolution] remains mostly primitive and ill informed. Surely this embarrassing state of affairs can be corrected," and, of course he has a suggestion for how to "advance" the discussion.

“The leadership of the American Jewish community is not committed to the belief that their ancestral religion is even true and can be defended on rational grounds,” Klinghoffer, an orthodox Jew, asserts in his book, Why the Jews Rejected Jesus: The Turning Point in Western History.

We are all by now familiar with the claims of Evangelicals that Christians who accept the overwhelming evidence for evolution can't, somehow, be good Christians. Now we hear a counter echo from Klinghoffer from within Judaism.

RSR wonders, who placed Klinghoffer and his fellow ID theorists in judgement who is, and who it not, a good Christian or Jew?


New Evidence: Natural Selection Driving Force Behind origin of species

In the last 20 years, studies of a number of specific species have demonstrated that natural selection can cause sub-populations to adapt to new environments in ways that reduce their ability to interbreed, an essential first step in the formation of a new species. However, biologists have not known whether these cases represent special exceptions or illustrate a general rule.

A new study – published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences – provides empirical support for the proposition that natural selection is a general force behind the formation of new species by analyzing the relationship between natural selection and the ability to interbreed in hundreds of different organisms – ranging from plants through insects, fish, frogs and birds – and finding that the overall link between them is positive.

"This helps fill a big gap that has existed in evolutionary studies," says Daniel Funk, assistant professor of biological sciences at Vanderbilt University. He authored the study with Patrik Nosil from Simon Fraser University in British Columbia and William J. Etges from the University of Arkansas. "We have known for some time that when species invade a new environment or ecological niche, a common result is the formation of a great diversity of new species. However, we haven't really understood how or whether the process of adaptation generally drives this pattern of species diversification."

The specific question that Funk and his colleagues set out to answer is whether there is a positive link between the degree of adaptation to different environments by closely related groups and the extent to which they can interbreed, what biologists call reproductive isolation.

Read more here.

Friday, February 24, 2006


AAAS Conference Presentations Online

If you missed all the excitement at the AAAS Conference in St. Louis last weekend, you can still watch the presentations on the AAAS Program Page.

It's all there, including: "Teachers and Evolution on the Front Line," Ken Miller and Eugenie Scott and much, much more.


Discovery Institute Dumbs Down Holt Biology Text

"High school biology students in Broward County will use a textbook next year that watered-down passages about Charles Darwin and evolution theory," according to Chris Kahn of the Sun Sentinel.

"Science teachers picked Florida Holt Biology this month in a countywide vote, favoring it over another book that discussed the controversial idea of intelligent design...

It gets worse...

But publisher Holt, Rinehart and Winston did edit several sections at the request of the Discovery Institute, a Seattle think tank that has peddled intelligent design around the country for years.

The group has made a point of attacking "gaps" in Darwin's theory, lobbying textbook companies to give equal time to experiments that suggest species don't change over time as he predicted.

It focused on Holt's biology book in 2003 when the publisher tried to get it approved for Texas schools. The publisher agreed to make numerous changes, which in some cases were simple clarifications about historical experiments.

But Holt also added one section that introduced students to the "Cambrian explosion," a period in early earth's history that suggests species aren't the result of gradual change over time, as Darwin thought.

"That was a key change," Discovery Institute spokesman John West said. "We want to keep the textbooks honest."

The Texas edits now have wound up in Holt textbooks for other states, including Florida.

RSR would like to know exactly how the Holt textbook introduces students to the Cambrian Explosion -- does it, for example, lapse into discredited ID pseudoscience in this area. Does the textbook, in fact, teach intelligent design under the guise of "teaching the controversy?"

The Texas edition has already been around for awhile. But, following Dover and Ohio, the political context has changed. Do these revisions open up Broward County schools to a suit? We don't know, but we'd certainly like to hear what supporters of science education in Florida or Texas think.

Do any RSR readers have access to the textbook in question? We'd like to see citations from the text, if readers have access to them.


The Ten Commandments (For Evolutionists)

Evolutionary biologist and filmmaker Randy Olson managed to spark a controversy recently that reveals some of the anxieties among those of us who are fighting to defend evolution from its creationist and ID detractors.

Olson's film, "Flock of Dodos: The Evolution – Intelligent Design Circus" has been playing to packed houses on college campus such as Harvard, Stonybrook, and Yale since its wildly successful premiere earlier this month in Kansas.

In March, the film will be screened at Rice University, Florida State University, and Kansas State University. For the full list of upcoming screenings, readers should check the Flock of Dodos website.

Olson's film makes a persuasive case that scientists have been less than effective at communicating science in general and evolution in particular to the public.

And now, Olson has followed up the film with a post, on Carl Zimmer's The Loom, titled "Ten Things Evolutionists Can Do to Improve Communication."

One of Olson's Ten Commandments for Evolutionists is never to "rise above" or condescend. Whenever you do, writes Olson, you lose the sympathy of your audience. "When evolutionists call intelligent designers idiots… it just makes everyone side with the people being condescended towards."

We won't try to capture all of Olson's Ten Commandments here, but we urge readers to follow the link (above) and read it for themselves.

There have been two distinct reactions among evolutionists to the film and Olson's subsequent remarks:

Chris Mooney, who is representative of one reaction to this discussion, writes on The Intersection blog that the film and Olson's comments should "serve as a wake-up call to scientists, alerting them to the fact that they are losing touch with the American public."

PZ Myers, who publishes Pharyngula, is representative of a rather different reaction: "Maybe it's my own high dork factor talking," he writes, "but I'm not too receptive to people telling me I need movie star qualities to be able to support science, or that we have to pander to superficial sensibilities to communicate a message."

RSR reads Dr. Myers every day, and we're not anxious to see him take a leave from writing Pharyngula or teaching classes up in the frozen North to develop abs like Brad Pitt or high cheekbones like Angelina Jolie. In our opinion, Dr. Myers is an extremely effective and tireless communicator.

That being said, Red State Rabble remains convinced that many scientists, educators, and defenders of civil liberties have abstained from this battle for far too long.

Most of us have other important work – not to mention family, community, and social obligations – to attend to.

Some have argued the sudden entry of religion into the political life of the nation is just a passing fad. If we simply wait it out, it will go the way of Hula Hoops, tie died shirts, and streaking.

Until recently, many of us were understandably uncomfortable taking on other people's religious beliefs. Perhaps, some of us still are. Most of us don't think of ourselves as political activists. We may even share a certain distaste for the tawdry spectacle into which American politic life has devolved.

Often, as “Flock of Dodos” vividly illustrates, when we have responded to attacks from the religious right on the separation of church and state and the teaching of evolution in public schools we have been less than effective.

Olson's film, made as a self-conscious exercise in effective communication, touches the viewer on an emotional level that debates and lectures seldom do.

The film – as we writers are fond of saying shows (it does not tell) – that the debate is not, in the end, about science. It's a battle, one of many, in a broader culture war. It will not be won or lost on facts alone.

Science, Olson argues, must adapt to this new reality, or die.

While we think our message must be conveyed to the public more effectively, Red State Rabble does not subscribe to an alarmist view of our current situation.

The recent AAAS Conference in St. Louis demonstrates clearly that our side, at long last, is beginning to mobilize its big institutions to do battle.

Recent statements by a number of university presidents indicate that the deadly seriousness of this battle has become apparent even to those who face certain institutional pressures, such as raising funds from corporations or conservative alumni, for staying on the sidelines.

We have won big victories in Dover and Ohio. And these aren't just legal victories, either. In Dover, we won in the voting booth as well as in the courtroom.

Judge John Jones' clearly written and unequivocal ruling has prompted journalists to penetrate the smokescreen of ID rhetoric and to report more critically on their claims.

The reversal in Ohio reflects, at least in part, the dawning recognition on the part of Gov. Taft that ID was hurting his chances, slim though they may be, for re-election. Rick Santorum, it would appear, has experienced a similar epiphany.

Interestingly, Martha Wise, the woman who led the Ohio board to reject ID-inspired "critical analysis" language in the standards there plans to run for state senate. She describes herself as a creationist.

The success of the Clergy Letter Project and Evolution Sunday reflect a growing concern among mainstream denominations that attacks on evolution are, at the end of the day, attacks on their religious freedom, too. Initial hopes, on the part of those in the intelligent design movement, that a new Pope might move quickly to distance the church from science, have not materialized.

A big election battle between right-wing radicals on the Kansas School Board and moderate Republicans and Democrats who want to take the state back into twenty-first century is shaping up here.

Yesterday, a new candidate stepped forward to challenge rightist Ken Willard. Now each of the theocrats on the Kansas State Board of Education has at least one opponent in the upcoming election.

It's too early to tell how it will all turn out, but the early signs are promising. Many, we think, are beginning to sense, just as we did in 1999, a groundswell of opposition to the ludicrous policy decisions made by the current ultra-conservative board majority.

We can't win every battle, but there is every reason to believe that if we mobilize to defend science education and the constitutional guarantee of church and state separation from attacks by the religious right, and we learn, as we will, how to do it effectively, we will, in the end, win this battle.

RSR would like to ask readers to comment with their ideas for improving communications with the public. We'd like to hear what we're doing right, and what we're doing wrong. This is a healthy discussion. One that, in the end, will help strengthen the movement to defend science and the constitution.

Tomorrow, RSR will take a look at the Michael Ruse, Daniel Dennett exchange.

Thursday, February 23, 2006


Dover: Bake Sale

After the Dover School Board voted Tuesday to pay $1 million to settle the suit over the district's intelligent design policy, Beth Eveland, one of the parents who sued the district, said she was dismayed that the taxpayers and children were left with the bill and believed the old board members should be held accountable, according to Lauri Lebo and Michelle Starr of the York Daily News. The smallest amount of accountability is an apology, she said.

Heather Geesey, the only remaining member from the previous board, said "I don't think I have anything to apologize for."

Former board member Ronald Short also isn't planning to apologize.

"I don't have anything to apologize for," Short said. "I believe in what the board did before."

Reportedly, some former board members -- the ones who adopted the intelligent design policy -- are suggesting a bake sale to raise funds to pay the judgement.

Note: Dover plaintiffs will each receive a check for $1 as their share of the settlement. The rest of the $1 million judgement will go toward paying the estimated $2.5 million in legal expenses incurred by the plaintiffs.


God, Freedom, America, Fiscal Conservativism, and Evolution

A statement by Martha Wise, who played a pivotal role on the Ohio School Board in removing the ID-inspired "critical analysis" language from the science standards there, hasn't received much attention outside of Ohio.

RSR believes it is an interesting example of the kind of alliances supporters of quality science education are beginning to build -- the kind of alliances that must be built if we are to defeat efforts to sneak religious fundamentalism into the public schools.

As a skeptic and a squishy liberal, RSR finds that we have little in common with Ms. Wise other than our agreement that separation of church and state must be defended, and real science must be taught in science classrooms in the public schools.

While we suspect that many RSR readers will find they have little in common with Ms. Wise, as well, we urge our readers to follow the link to the read the rest of her opinion piece in the Cinncinnati Enquirer. Here's how she starts out:

I believe in God the creator. I believe in freedom. I believe in America, and the state of Ohio, and the Republican Party, fiscal conservatism, fairness and honesty.

These values guided me last week to lead the Ohio Board of Education to remove creationism from our state's Science Standards and Model Curriculum.

You may ask: Why would being a creationist make me want to remove "critical analysis"/"intelligent design" creationism from the standards? It's simple, really:

It is deeply unfair to the children of this state to mislead them about the nature of science.


Willard Challenger Announces

"The president of the McPherson school board will seek a seat on the State Board of Education held by a member of the conservative majority that controls it," according to the Associated Press.

Donna Viola said if she unseats Kenneth Willard, of Hutchinson, a priority would be to remove Bob Corkins, the education commissioner who was picked in October by the board's conservatives on a 6-4 vote.

Viola would face Willard in the Aug. 1 Republican primary. Her selection as a challenger was the result of the flip of a coin after she met last week with another potential candidate, Hutchinson attorney Ken Peirce, whose wife is a principal in the Hutchinson school district.

The 7th District Willard represents on the board encompasses all or part of 20 counties in south-central Kansas, and superintendents from some school districts in the area met earlier this year to discuss strategy for finding a challenger they could support...

Viola said she initially took a wait-and-see attitude on Corkins, but her view of him soured after he told school representatives attending a Blue Ribbon School awards program that "we can do better."

"That told me right there that he had no clue what it takes" to win the Blue Ribbon award, she said.

The state board's conservatives have also drawn widespread criticism for their vote in November adopting science standards that treat evolution as a flawed theory.

Viola said she would have voted differently than Willard on that issue but added, "I don't want to make a big deal out of evolution."



A group of graduate students has written to the South Carolina Aquarium to complain about the lack of evolutionary material it had on display, according to the Charleston City Paper.
"If the Aquarium is to excel in education, as its mission statement claims, it must devote resources to explaining the central idea of biology. The theory enables us to describe how the Aquarium's 10,000 plants and animals are related," wrote Natalie Renew, a graduate student in Public Administration at the College of Charleston.

To read the clueless response from Aquarium director Whit McMillan, which mirrors the equally clueless response from a number of programming directors at IMAX theaters located in science museums last year, go here.

For now, here's a sample for those who are growing short on time and patience: McMillan is "fairly certain" there wasn't any conscious omission of evolutionary material during the aquarium's creation.


Darwin Awards: Let's Add a New Category

Here are RSR's nominations for a new category of Darwin Awards. The new category will salute the improvement of state legislatures across the country by honoring those who remove themselves from it in really stupid ways:


Plaintiffs Attorneys Reduce Fees in Dover Case

The three legal organizations that represented the plaintiffs in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District -- Pepper Hamilton LLP, ACLU of Pennsylvania, and Americans United for Separation of Church and State -- have agreed to reduce by more than $1 million the attorneys' fees and expenses that they are entitled to recover for their successful representation of the plaintiffs.

Judge Jones will enter an order awarding plaintiffs' attorneys more than $2 million in fees and expenses. This award reflects the amount of legal work required to vindicate plaintiffs' constitutional rights and protect their religious freedom in this important and complicated federal lawsuit.

Plaintiffs' attorneys have agreed, however, to accept $1 million in full satisfaction of that award.

They made this compromise because the people of Dover voted to remove the school-board members who supported the unconstitutional intelligent-design policy, and the new board, which is committed to acting lawfully, has many other uses for this small school district's financial resources.

The civil-rights laws of the United States permit plaintiffs' attorneys to recover their attorneys' fees when they win cases for individuals whose constitutional rights have been violated.

The law is designed to provide a way for people to secure legal assistance to vindicate their rights. It is also designed to deter public officials from committing civil-rights violations.


Oklahoma Urged to Reject ID

An editorial in the Enid News (Oklahoma) urges the state to reject intelligent design:

We think the state would be wise to avoid going down this divisive road. Intelligent design is not science, and thus should not be taught in science classes. It is better suited for discussion in philosophy or comparative religion classes.

Science teachers would be better off sticking to science, not dealing in theories that border on religion.

The National Academy of Sciences, the agency that advises the government on critical national issues, supports the theory of evolution as “one of the foundations of modern science.”

By permitting the teaching of intelligent design, the Legislature would be opening the state up to time-consuming and costly court challenges.

There is no harm at looking at both sides of any issue, even the origin of life. But a science class in a public school is not the place to do it.

We also oppose a measure authored by Rep. Odilia Dank, R-Oklahoma City, which would allow students to leave their school for one hour each week for religious instruction without being counted absent.

A bill, authored by Rep. Sally Kern, R-Oklahoma City, that would authorize instructors to teach broader views of evolution without fear of legal consequence is pending in the Oklahoma Legislature.

Thanks to reader IB for keeping Oklahoma on our radar screen.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006


Kansas: The Handwriting on the Wall

The Kansas Board of Education hasn't made any move to reconsider science standards even though Judge John Jones ruled it unconstitutional to teach intelligent design in the Dover case, and the Ohio School Board voted recently to take ID-inspired "critical analysis" language out of its standards there, as a result.

Yesterday, the Dover Board voted to pay $1 million in attorney's fees after they lost that case. So, why hasn't the Kansas board acted to keep taxpayers here from footing the bill for a large settlement?

The answer, from board spokesman David Awbrey, may surprise you.

First, the standards haven't been tied to a lesson plan in Kansas as they were in Ohio.

Board members have said they will not revisit the standard this year because the board composition might change, Awbrey said. Four of the six conservatives who supported it are among five seeking re-election, and they face challengers in both the Republican primary and general election."

Conservative board member Iris Van Meter has yet file for re-election, or raise money for a campaign, and no other conservative has announced for her seat.

Other conservatives may have trouble getting re-elected, particularly Connie Morris. John Bacon and Ken Willard have come in for increasing criticism, and both have been slow to raise campaign contributions.

Perhaps, they already see the handwriting on the wall.


A Simple, Compelling Argument

Our dear friend, Casey Luskin, has posted a news item on the Discovery Institute's Evolution News and Views blog -- that fearless defender of accuracy in media located up in rain-soaked Seattle. Luskin's piece calls attention to a letter by Stanford undergraduate Tristan Abbey in yesterday's Stanford Daily entitled The myths surrounding intelligent design. Luskin writes:

Abbey blazes past the ad hominems, motivation-mongering, and labels so commonly promulgated by Darwinists to get right to the core issue: there's legitimate scientific dissent from Darwinism, and students deserve to hear about it. Abbey's argument is so simple, and so compelling, that it makes clear-as-day why the efforts of Darwinists must focus so intensely upon making scientific dissent look "illegitimate."
In her letter to the Stanford Daily Abbey writes that "creationism is not the same as intelligent design." And, she cites as examples Reasons to Believe, a creationist group which accepts that the earth is billions of years old, and dismisses intelligent design as “not science.”

Abbey, obviously a good student, also dutifully compares and contrasts the views of The Institute for Creation Research, which argues for a literal six-day interpretation of Genesis, and she says, similarly criticizes intelligent design for not being biblical.

Abbey is deeply saddened by the caricature painted of intelligent design by cynical neo-Darwinists who stereotype critics of evolutionary theory as religious zealots, and thus reduce the debate to the simplistic but familiar terms of science vs. faith.

Red State Rabble has, from time to time, been accused of bias against both creationism and intelligent design, so rather than offer yet another neo-Darwinist caricature of intelligent design, we'll let the ID theorists speak for themselves.

The 1989 edition of the ID textbook, Of Pandas and People was written by Percival David and Dean Kenyon and edited by Charles Thaxton. Both Thaxton and Kenyon are fellows at the Discovery Institute. What better place to see how intelligent design theorists themselves define intelligent design?

Of Pandas and People informs us that "[i]ntelligent design means that various forms of life began abruptly through an intelligent agency, with their distinctive features already intact — fish with fins and scales, birds with feathers, beaks, and wings, etc. (Pandas 1989, 1st edition, pp. 99-100) [emphasis added]

An early draft, written in 1987, says, "[c]reation means that various forms of life began abruptly through the agency of an intelligent Creator with their distinctive features already intact—fish with fins and scales, birds with feathers, beaks, and wings, etc. (Pandas 1987, creationist version, FTE 4996-4997, pp. 2-14, 2-15) [emphasis added]

So, we needn't rely on the dubious stereotyping of neo-Darwinsts such as RSR to come to the conclusion that for the ID theorists themselves creationism and intelligent design are one and the same. Now that's a simple, compelling argument.

Abbey may be forgiven because she is young and impressionable, but she also asserts that "intelligent design theorists, by and large, do not support the mandating of intelligent design in public schools." Doesn't the production of an intelligent design textbook such as Of Pandas and People, directed as it is toward high school students, suggest, even to those less cynical than RSR, that we might not want to take that assertion at face values, either?

Read more about the history Of Pandas and People here and here.


Ohio: Two Sides Can't Agree

AP: "Committee members re-examining the state science teaching standards agree that any new lessons should not single out evolution for criticism."

"From there, opinions differ, with both sides accusing the other of being motivated more by politics than science. The debate is likely to take months."

... Members will be in a tough spot: trying to stay true to science while appeasing a vocal group that wants students to pick apart evolution, says Jim Craig, of Canton, who leads the committee along with Michael Cochran, a suburban Columbus lawyer and minister who supported the original plan. "The problem is there's more politics involved than real education and science," he said.


Dover Agrees to Pay $1 Million

AP: "The Dover Area School Board unanimously agreed Tuesday to pay $1 million in legal fees to the plaintiffs who successfully sued to end the policy of presenting "intelligent design" as an alternative to evolution."

Tuesday, February 21, 2006


Natural Selection at Work

Kenneth Chang writes in the New York Times: "Few Biologists but Many Evangelicals Sign Anti-Evolution Petition."

No kidding.


Red State Rubbish

For the past few days, Red State Rabble has been basking in the warm glow of having been called a moron by DaveScot, the intelligent design activist who plays Sgt. Shultz to William Dembski's Col. Klink over at the Uncommon Descent blog.

RSR was called a moron because we wrote a post quoting Dembski as having written:

At the same time that research in the Bible Code has taken off, research in a seemingly unrelated field has taken off as well, namely, biological design. These two fields are in fact closely related. Indeed, the same highly improbable, independently given patterns that appear as the equidistant letter sequences in the Bible Code appear in biology as functionally integrated ("irreducibly complex") biological systems, of the sort Michael Behe discussed in Darwin’s Black Box.

The relevant statistical methodology is identical for both fields. As a result, the two fields stand to profit from each other.

In our post, we compared Dembski's touching faith in ID and the Bible Code Hoax to a belief that persists among those in the UFO-alien abduction sub-culture. Namely, that the so-called Mars "face" is also a product of design. We also noted striking similarities between the pseudoscientific arguments offered up for all three "theories" by the faithful to give them a scientific veneer.

Today, however, the warmth went out of RSR's world. Cold reality came rushing in. DaveScot re-published Pat Hayes and the Logical Fallacy of False Analogy over at Uncommon Descent and he inexplicably -- and rather unfairly -- changed this:
When will morons like Pat Hayes cop to the fact... [empahsis added]
To this:
When will uncritical thinkers like Pat Hayes cop to the fact that seeing the Virgin Mary’s face in a tortilla is not the equivalent of seeing design in an interdependent network of subcellular biological nanomachinery... [empahsis added]

In the wake of having been called a moron, RSR received many congratulatory e-mails from readers wishing us well now that we'd reached the big time. Our ticket was punched, we thought. We're going places now.

Now that DaveScot has jerked the rug out from under our feet, we've been left to console ourselves with the cold comfort of what might have been.

Richard Hoppe, who picked up our original post -- "The IDiots Guide to Design Detection" -- on Panda's Thumb was luckier. He and Panda's Thumb still receive a good old-fashioned -- and no doubt well-deserved -- horsewhipping from DaveScot. To make his point about false analogies, he asks:
Does RBH have National Enquirer on his reading list too? There’s a true analogy. At least we found out where Hoppe gets his news and information from.
Disappointed as we are, we comfort ourselves in the knowledge that we're still being called "Red State Rubbish" by DaveScot. Now that's an honor.


Vetting Scarecrows

The "Dissent from Darwin" petition being circulated by the Discovery Institute may not include many working biologists among its signatories, but it does include the signatures of three KU Medical Center doctors: James Harbrecht, clinical assistant professor of cardiology; Gregory Ator, associate professor of head and neck surgery; and Jeanne Drisko, clinical assistant professor of alternative medicine, according to the Lawrence Journal-World.
“There’s no doubt that these scientists represent a minority, but it is a growing minority,” said Robert Crowther, spokesman for the Discovery Institute, which started the petition. Signatures are vetted to ensure those who sign have doctoral degrees, Crowther said.
Ah, but were they vetted to see if they have a brain?


The Two Faces of ID

When they are speaking to the public -- as opposed to the message they convey when speaking to their fellow Christian fundamentalists -- we often hear spokespeople for intelligent design say they want to "teach the controversy." They even say, disingenuously, they want more evolution taught in public schools.

But what's really driving this know-nothing movement is given away by the actions of their supporters on the ground. A case in point:
Ladue [Missouri] middle school teacher Liz Petersen says every year a parent steps close, puts a finger to her nose and says she doesn't want her child to learn evolution. Petersen shrugs it off.


That's More Like It

"Scientists aren't just defending evolution anymore. Over the weekend in St. Louis, the nation's leaders in science went on the offensive," report David Hunn and Tim Townsend in the St. Louis Post Dispatch.


Sour Grapes

Tom Willis, president of the Creation Science Association for Mid America located in Cleveland, Missouri, believes in a literal interpretation of the Bible. Unsurprisingly, he's unimpressed by the ringing defense of evolution demonstrated at the AAAS conference in St. Louis. Willis calls the scientists "desperate."

"Most would be out of a job if they couldn't sell evolution to children," Willis said.

Willis' more sophisticated cousins at the Discovery Institute share his view.

"I don't understand how you can have a discussion of intelligent design if you only invite critics," said John West, a senior fellow at Discovery.

Funny, RSR's sense is that the scientists gathered in St. Louis had a very rich discussion.


Clergy Letter Project in the News

Crosswalk, which describes itself as a "for-profit religious corporation dedicated to building up the Church, which is the Body of Christ," has published a fairly straightforward news report on the Clergy Letter Project, a statement now signed by more than 10,000 religious leaders urging school board members to "preserve the integrity of the science curriculum by affirming the teaching of the theory of evolution as a core component of human knowledge."

The Clergy Letter Project article was written by Jim Brown, a regular contributor to AgapePress and a reporter for American Family Radio News.

Monday, February 20, 2006



As a man of faith, Hans Kueng sees God reflected in creation, but says this does not mean the Almighty tinkers with the laws of nature or creates life forms so complex they could not have evolved.


Ohio Evolution Guidelines Sent to Achievement Committee for Review

Last week when the Ohio State School Board voted to take intelligent design inspired "critcal analysis" of evolution out of the science curriculum, they also decided to refer the issue back to the Achievement Committee.

This morning Catherine Candinsky of the Columbus Dispatch took a look at the people and personalities who will review the standards in the coming weeks.


Belief Filters

"Being a former fundamentalist," writes Will Martin in The Minnesota Daily, "I can sympathize with the intelligent designer thought process; but as a religious studies major, I’m finding it harder to do so. I actually read Michael Behe’s book when I was very strict about my fundamentalist beliefs and grabbed onto every word he fed me. I felt that believing in God required there be a literal Genesis chapter one (and/or two) creation. In retrospect, I realize our amazing abilities to deny evidence when it contradicts our beliefs. I willfully remained ignorant of evolution out of fear of what it might disprove in the Bible. I even had talked with biology professors about evolution but immediately would discard their professional views because of my belief filters. This willful ignorance and denial of facts is a powerful force. I believed because I wanted to believe, not because the facts compelled me to."


Time to Roll Up Our Sleeves and Get Down to Work

"Clearly, Ohio’s board has taken steps to rectify what it sees as a bad decision for its schools. No similar reversal is being considered by the six-person majority on the Kansas Board of Education," says an editorial published this morning in the Lawrence Journal-World.

"If Kansas residents disagree with that judgment they will have an opportunity to express that opinion at the ballot box later this year. Four members of the Kansas board’s conservative majority are up for re-election; most already have announced opposition. It’s up to voters to examine the candidates and make their wishes known."

Nothing would do more to reverse the attacks on science education in Kansas -- and across the country -- than to hand the wingnuts on the Kansas Board of Education a stinging defeat next November. That is the goal supporters of quality science education should be working toward now.

That means raising money for moderate candidates, making sure they're invited to community events such as PTA meetings, writing letters to the editor, and spreading the word among friends and colleagues. It's time for all of us to roll up our sleeves and get down to the hard work of winning this next election.


Suppress This!

After the Ohio School Board voted last week to save the taxpayers of that state from footing the bill for yet another effort to proselytize school children for fundamentalist Christianity through the medium of creation science and intelligent design theory -- now being passed off as "critical analysis" -- the Discovery Institute, fogbound up in Seattle, cried foul.

“The effort to try to suppress ideas that you dislike, to use the government to suppress ideas you dislike, has a failed history,” said John G. West, associate director of the institute’s Center for Science and Culture.

Of course these ideas, if you can call them that, aren't being suppressed. They're in the papers every day. You can find them on the web. Books are being published. ID proponents pop up all across the country to present their views on college campuses.

Moreover, creation science and intelligent design theory, far from being suppressed, are being taught with fanatical devotion to defenseless children every week at Sunday School classes in tiny, impoverished rural churches and glitzy suburban megachurches, alike.

The beliefs of the biblical literalists and their ultra-sophisticated city cousins, the intelligent design theorists -- like fencing, dance, French, debate, algebra, and the semiotics of the modern novel -- have been deemed not part of the high school biology curriculum.

Just as we wouldn't expect to find hamburger in the bread aisle, or boxed cereals in the freezer section with the frozen orange juice at our local supermarkets, we don't teach religious belief in science classes. Science is not unique in this respect. We pick and choose the appropriate elements of the curriculum taught in all elementary, middle, and high school classes.

When we were growing up, RSR's mother was fond of saying that people in glass houses shouldn't throw bricks. If Discovery Institute's John West truly believes what he says about suppressing ideas, he might want to urge that his colleagues on the religious right, as a first step to quieting the doubts of skeptics like RSR, put down their bricks just long enough to set their own affairs in order.

Missouri Citizens for Science reports that Dr. Carl Huser, a long-time biology professor at Southwest Baptist University has been forced to “retire” for not teaching creationism. Dr. Huser, you see, is one of those theistic evolutionists. A devout evangelical and a scientist, he believes in God, teaches evolution, and sees no contradiction between the two.

That makes him a dangerous radical.

You can read this story about the theocracy's touching fidelity to the ideals of free expression and academic freedom, here.


Creation Quiz

Okay, students take out a No. 2 pencil and answer this question: On what day did God create the dinosaurs? Since RSR knows the heathens who read this blog haven't got the chance of a snowflake in hell of getting the answer right, so we're sending you here to find the crib sheet.


Anti-Evolutionism in America – What's Ahead

An organization representing 10,000 Christian clergy from many denominations has joined with scientists and educators to launch The Alliance for Science, which opposes the teaching of creationism and intelligent design in public schools.

The announcement was made at an American Association for the Advancement of Science symposium entitled, "Anti-Evolutionism in America – What's Ahead."

The current legal and educational challenges to teaching evolution taking place at all levels, as well as scientific content of both sides of the issue was addressed by speakers at the symposium. Since the anti-evolutionary movement presumes a conflict between religion and science, the support for evolution among the 10,000 Christian clergy is particularly noteworthy.

The impact of the anti-evolution movement on its primary target: high school students and teachers, with a frontline report from Cobb County, Georgia and Dover, Pennsylvania, sites of successful court challenges to the teaching of intelligent design was also discussed.

"The goal of this symposium," said organizer Dr. Irving Wainer of the National Institute on Aging, "is to set the basis for a united effort of the scientific community, allied with the religious, educational and business sectors, to educate the public about the different but complementary roles of science and religion. We want to improve the teaching of science in our public schools and to restore the excitement about science that once characterized the United States."

Paul S. Forbes, co-chairman of the Alliance for Science also announced that in addition to keeping creationism out of public schools, the Alliance will mobilize national support for a new bipartisan national science agenda that is now being formulated in Congress. This agenda, which is based upon a report from the National Academy of Sciences, includes increased support for basic research; more scholarships for future math, science and engineering teachers; more graduate fellowships in these fields; tax incentives for scientific innovation; establishment of a new federal Advanced Research Projects Agency; and expanded access to broadband communications.

"According to a study funded by the National Science Foundation, 93 percent of Americans are scientifically illiterate," says Forbes. "That is unacceptable in a world in which scientific knowledge, prosperity and security are inseparable. Unless we remain the world leader in science and technology, it is doubtful that our families will be able to continue to enjoy the comfortable, middle class life to which they have become accustomed."


Long Waiting List for Zoo's Evolution Lecture Series

"The Sacramento Zoo's spring lecture series, traditionally a modest event geared for zoo docents, is sold out, with long waiting lists of people hoping to catch talks on the provocative subject of evolution and intelligent design," reports Eddie Lau of the Sacramento Bee.


The Power of Narrative

There is a good story behind science, but no one is telling it in American classrooms. According to Ursula Goodenough, Ph.D., professor of biology in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, science continues to be taught from K-12 to the college and university levels, in fragmented, incoherent bits and pieces rather than a coherent narrative, a history of nature.

"What's totally lacking in the teaching of science is what I call a history of nature, what happened from the Big Bang on," said Goodenough. "In the past few decades, the history of nature has really come together as an integrative story, with theories of the Big Bang, plate tectonics and advances in understanding biological evolution all tying the story together.

Studies have shown that humans learn best when information is packaged in the form of a story. But the historical sciences –cosmology, evolutionary biology and earth science – exist independently in their own domains. There is no linkage."

Goodenough presented her Plenary Lecture, "The History of Nature: Why Don't We Teach It?" at the Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science being held this week in St. Louis.

Read more here.


History and Philosophy of Science Conference: Darwinian Evolution in the 21st Century

The University of Colorado at Boulder will hold the 21st Regional Conference on the History and Philosophy of Science, "Darwinian Evolution in the 21st Century” on April 7th and 8th.

Keynote speakers include Robert Pennock from the Department of Philosophy at Michigan State University speaking on “Organs of Extreme Perfection: The Design Argument meets Evolution, Then and Now” and Vassiliki Betty Smocovitis from the Department of Zoology at the University of Florida, speaking on “Avoiding the Pitfalls of the ID-Evolution 'Debate,' Perspectives from the History and Philosophy of Biology.”

The sponsors are now accepting papers and abstracts. Presentations will be allotted approximately one-half hour each. The deadline for submissions is March 6th, 2006. Please send submissions to Carol Cleland at:RCHPS, Carol E. Cleland, Department of Philosophy, CB 232 University of Colorado, Boulder, CO 80309-0232

Saturday, February 18, 2006


The IDiot's Guide to Design Detection

Intelligent design "theorists" insist we can detect design in nature, and that may be true. The real problem is, we often detect design where none exists. We know Mt. Rushmore,left, was designed, but what about the Mars face, center? Do you see an angel in the cloud, right, some people do.

Over at William Dembski's Uncommon Descent blog, Doug Moran asks, “If an alien found human engineering on Mars, would they be able to detect products of intelligence and deduce that these objects had not evolved from the surrounding materials by chance?”

This, of course, is a refrain we hear commonly from the intelligent design choir. Michael Behe wrote an Op-Ed in the New York Times last year in which he said:

... we know who is responsible for Mount Rushmore, but even someone who had never heard of the monument could recognize it as designed. Which leads to the second claim of the intelligent design argument: the physical marks of design are visible in aspects of biology.

One might reasonably argue that finding design in a statue, even if its as large as Rushmore, is a less than perfect analogy to finding design in aspects of biology, but then the ID theorists have never been our go-to guys when it comes to making logical arguments.

When William Dembski, the Isaac Newton of information theory, spoke at the University of Kansas recently, he also used -- some cynical types might say abused -- the Mt. Rushmore analogy.

Our purpose is not to argue that detecting design in nature is impossible. Rather, we think it is far too easy. In fact, people have been detecting design where none exists for centuries.

Moran's Mars example, reminds us of a fascinating false positive.

In 1976, a photo taken in the northern latitudes of Mars by the Viking 1 orbiter showed an eroded mesa that resembled a human head. Shadows caused by the angle of the sun gave the illusion of eyes, nose and mouth.

After the release of the photo some people insisted that the face seen in the NASA photo was built by intelligent beings. Subsequent flyovers and scientific analysis failed to convince these believers that the pattern of light and shadow was an artifact of naturally occurring geological features and the angle of the sun.

To this day, Meta Research Inc. -- the Discovery Institute of astronomy -- maintains a website offering proof that the Mars face is artificial. Their pseudo-science, like Discovery's, is impeccable:
Strictly speaking, science does not prove physical hypotheses; it disproves them. In that sense, all we have done, technically, is rule out the natural origin hypothesis at the cited odds. However, unless we can formulate some other hypothesis competing with artificiality that makes similar a priori predictions, we are compelled to accept artificiality as the most reasonable explanation consistent with the a priori principle of scientific method.

As Michael Behe and his fellow ID theorists argue,"the strong appearance of design allows a disarmingly simple argument: if it looks, walks and quacks like a duck, then, absent compelling evidence to the contrary, we have warrant to conclude it's a duck. Design should not be overlooked simply because it's so obvious."

To some, design is just so darn obvious, they seem to find it wherever they look, and ID theorists have a track record of finding evidence for design where none exists.

Phillip Johnson and William Dembski, for example, were taken in by the Bible Code hoax a few years back. Believers -- aka, the gullible -- thought they could detect phrases and clusters of words embedded in coded form in the text of the Bible. They even thought this code could predict the future.

Both Johnson and Dembski wrote favorable reviews of Cracking the Bible Code by Jeffrey Satinover. In a 1998 review written for First Things, Dembski wrote:

At the same time that research in the Bible Code has taken off, research in a seemingly unrelated field has taken off as well, namely, biological design. These two fields are in fact closely related. Indeed, the same highly improbable, independently given patterns that appear as the equidistant letter sequences in the Bible Code appear in biology as functionally integrated ("irreducibly complex") biological systems, of the sort Michael Behe discussed in Darwin’s Black Box.

The relevant statistical methodology is identical for both fields. As a result, the two fields stand to profit from each other.
Our Isaac Newton of information theory says the relevant statistical methodology is identical. We couldn't have said it better ourselves.

The real problem for intelligent design is not detecting design, but proving that they are capable of distinguishing evidence of intelligent design from from the wishful thinking exhibited by those who see objects in the clouds, faces on Mars, and secret codes in the Bible.

Mt. Rushmore is a nice rock carving, but its a lousy argument for intelligent design.

Friday, February 17, 2006


Science: A Skeptical Endeavor

"Science is essentially a skeptical endeavor, and over the long run the way science proceeds is to be skeptical of received knowledge, to be skeptical of authority. But there are many interesting questions that don’t lie in the realm of science. For example, is there a God? Or what is the nature of love? Or would we be happier if we lived to be 1,000 years old?"

"These are extremely interesting questions. They are important questions. They are questions that provoke us and stimulate us and express our humanity but they are not scientific questions. They cannot be falsified. They are questions that you cannot test definitively with experiment. So science has its limitations and there’s a great deal of life and human longing that lies outside of science. It’s a mistake to try to lump these questions in with science.
Science is very powerful but it has its limitations."

From "The Future of Science: A Conversation with Alan Lightman" published at LiveScience by Sara Goudarzi. Lightman, a physicist, novelist, and science writer, is the author of Einstein’s Dreams and the recently released The Discoveries: Great Breakthroughs in 20th-century Science.


Toledo: District to Stick With Standards

On Feb. 14, the Ohio ACLU sent a letter to the Toledo Public Schools demanding that they cease allowing staff to teach intelligent design in science classrooms throughout the district.

The ACLU noted that a news article in the Toledo Blade featured teachers in the Toledo Public School system who admitted teaching intelligent design in science classrooms. In the article, teachers acknowledged they taught lessons on various pieces of evidence that seemed to refute evolutionary theory, despite the fact that all were proven to be hoaxes by the scientific community.

The next day, Feb. 15, John Foley, the school district's chief of staff said, "We intend to inform our teachers that they need to stick with the state standards."

"We have sanctioned the state standards, which includes evolution as the scientifically proven theory" of how life developed, Foley added.

Darlene Fisher, president of the Toledo Board of Education, said the district will send a reminder to those in charge of curriculum that all must adhere to the state standards.


UNC: Religion and the Public Schools Symposium

Several of the most prominent voices in the national debate over religion in public schools will take part in a daylong symposium on Feb. 24 sponsored by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Law’s First Amendment Law Review.

The keynote speaker will be William Van Alstyne, Lee professor of law at the College of William & Mary and a nationally regarded expert on constitutional law.

Designed for attorneys, educators and the public alike, the symposium will feature panel discussions centering on three of the most pressing issues related to religion in public schools today.

Speakers will discuss constitutional questions associated with the following topics:

Members of the legal, religious and education communities will give remarks regarding these issues. Dr. Michael Newdow, plaintiff and attorney in the cases challenging inclusion of the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance, will be a panelist. Two prominent scientists also will discuss the validity of the theories of intelligent design and evolution.

Other panelists include:

Get more information here.


You Don't Need a Weatherman

Jim Edwards, a governmental relations specialist with the Kansas Association of School Boards believes the Kansas School Board that takes office in January 2007 could be philosophically quite different from the one setting policy now, according to Carol Bronson of the Pratt Tribune in Central Kansas.

Four of six board members, who Edwards describes as being among the conservative majority, are up for re-election, including Ken Willard, a Republican, who represents Pratt County.

Willard is the only only conservative incumbent who has filed with the Secretary of State's office to date.

Willard defends the new intelligent design inspired science standards as providing an objective way to teach that there may be other explanations for the origin of human life besides evolution, not "a way to sneak religion into public schools." The Kansas Association of School Boards, whose members represent all the local Boards of Education in the state, opposes the State Board's modification of "scientific standards developed by the scientific community."


The Pure Pragmatism of ID

Jon D. Miller, a professor at the Northwestern University Medical School, studies the public's understanding of science. Miller is the organizer of “Science Under Attack,” at the AAAS conference being held in St. Louis.

Miller believes the struggle over teaching evolution in schools has been fueled largely by religious conservatives hoping to secure office in Republican-dominated states.

“There's a very pragmatic reason why these (debates) reappear, and it's not at all accidental that they appear right before major primary elections,” Miller said. “These issues become in right-wing politics a very powerful tool, because it's a way of mobilizing a base. . . . It's a litmus test, and besides, it's kind of a throwaway issue. It doesn't really make any economic difference to anybody.”

From a report on the AAAS Conference by Bruce Lieberman in the San Diego Union-Tribune.



The Washington Post has posted a transcript of an online chat with Robert M. Hazen of the Carnegie Institute of Washington and author of "Genesis: The Scientific Quest for Life's Origins," which examines the debate between scientists over theories on the origin of life.

Interesting discussion that ranges from what we know scientifically about life's origins -- not that much, yet -- to the intelligent design debate and the nature of science.


Love the Logician. Hate the Logic.

James Dobson's Focus on the Family doesn't like the bill against teaching intelligent design sponsored by a Wisconsin legislator. They panned the legislation on their Web site this week, saying:
"If you can't beat them, keep them from showing up for the game," whines Focus on the Family. "That's the tack Wisconsin evolutionists and liberal lawmakers are taking in attempting to ban the study of intelligent design in public schools."
When it comes to sex education, Dobson takes a slightly different view:
One of the problems with sex education... is that it also strips kids - especially girls - of their modesty to have every detail of anatomy, physiology and condom usage made explicit.
ID: Let it all hang out. Prevention of STDs and pregnancy: Cover up. Consistency: What's that?

Thursday, February 16, 2006


Lies, Damn Lies, and Discovery Public Opinion Polls

In the run up to the Ohio Board of Education vote to drop references to intelligent design inspired "critical analysis" of evolution from the standards, the Discovery Institute gave wide publicity to a public opinion survey conducted by Zogby International purporting to show that by "more than a 3-to-1 margin, Ohio residents strongly support public school teachers presenting both the evidence for evolution, as well as the evidence challenging the theory." The survey was commissioned by Discovery.

Yesterday, Red State Rabble wrote that there are good reasons be skeptical about the survey results being touted by Discovery. We offered some of our own thoughts on why the results should be read with a hefty helping of skepticism.

Today, Mathew Nisbet who publishes the Framing Science blog and Chris Mooney over at The Intersection have both posted a pieces on the Discovery poll.

Nisbet's post is titled "Discovery's Pseudo-polling: Public Accountability Emphasized on Both Sides of the Ohio School Board Decision." RSR likes Nisbet's blog, we've been visiting frequently, and recommend it to others. In his post, Nisbet asks:
... [W]hy should anyone trust a poll released by the Discovery Institute, now notorious for pushing religiously inspired pseudoscience on the American public? OR a poll conducted by John Zogby, a pollster criticized heavily in the past for conducting polls that seem to always favor the policy positions of his clients...
Why indeed?

Nisbet goes on to detail problems with the methodology, the sample, and the question asked in the survey. It's well worth reading.

Mooney, who also links to Nisbet's post, adds, "[s]uffice it to say that by touting these surveys, Discovery is undermining the science of polling in pretty much the same way that it is undermining the science of evolution.


Love the Logic

"Sure it's a setback, but this is a case of one board of education essentially being misled," said the Discovery Institute's Luskin. "What this tells us is when the Darwinists can't win on the facts, they have to change them. If the only way they could defeat the lesson plan was by raising false fears about intelligent design, then that shows exactly how strong their position is."



Jim Beckerman of the North Jersey Media Group reports that "unlike a certain other religion in the news, the First United Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster doesn't object to cartoon depictions of the supreme being."

"For one thing, He's easy to draw -- a tangle of pasta strands with a meatball body."


Local Board Refuses to Redefine Science

The Manhattan-Ogden School Board voted 6-0 in favor of a resolution submitted by Kansas State faculty members to reject the new intelligent design inspired definition of science adopted by the state board and use the definition written by the standards revision committee.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006


Ohio: Is Dan Ely a Creationist? Is He a Liar?

A post on the Discovery Institute's Evolution News and Views blog titled "Biologist Dan Ely testifies in Support of Ohio's Critical Analysis of Evolution Lesson Plan" says that Ohio board Member Martha K. Wise repeatedly emphasized the claim that authors of the Critical Analysis of Evolution Lesson Plan were creationists. Wise alleged that during the Kansas hearings, Dan Ely testified that he was "struggling with the age of the earth" and stated “He [Ely] thinks the earth is only Five-thousand years old. That’s not just ID. That’s young earth creationism.”
Ely said that in Kansas, many of the witnesses were asked about their views on the age of the earth. "My answer was ‘We heard today anywhere from five-thousand years to five million years or five billion years,” and everybody laughed, “And most of the evidence looks like it's very old.” Ely called Martha Wise’s alleged explanation of Ely’s views on the age of the earth “totally erroneous.”

The Discovery Institute has always demonstrated utter contempt for the truth. And, as the transcript of Ely's Kansas testimony, reproduced below, reveals almost nothing they say can be believed. You read Ely's side of the story, above, now read what he actually said when he was in Kansas:

Cross Examination by Pedro Irigonegaray: (From page 27 of the May 6 PM transcript)

Q: Welcome to Kansas. I have a few questions for the record for you. First I have a group of yes or no questions that I would like for you to answer, please. What is your opinion as to the age of the earth?

A: In light of time I would say most of the evidence that I see, I read and I understand points to an old age of the earth.

Q: And how old is that age?

A: I don't know. I just know what I read with regards to data. It looks like it's four billion years.

Q: And is that your personal opinion?

A: No. My personal opinion is I really don't know. I'm struggling.

Q: You're struggling with what the age of the earth is?

A: Yeah. Yeah. I'm not sure. There's a lot of ways to measure the age. Meteorites is one way. There's a lot of elements used. There's a lot of assumptions can be used and those assumptions can be challenged so I don't really know.

Q: What is the range that you are instructing?

A: I think the range we heard today, somewhere between 5,000 and four billion.

Q: You-- you-- you believe the earth may be as young as 5,000 years old. Is that correct?

A: Well, we're learning that there's such a thing as junc --

Q: Sir, answer –

A: -- really has a function.

Q: Just please answer my question, sir.

A: We're learning a lot about micro --

Q: Sir?

MR. IRIGONEGARAY: Mr. Abrams, please instruct the witness to answer the question.


Q: (By Mr. Irigonegaray) The question was -- and winking at him is not going to do you any good. Answer my question. Do you believe the earth may be as young as 5,000 years old?

A: It could be.

Q: Do you accept the general principle of common descent, that all life is biologically related back to the beginning of life? Yes or no?

A: No.



The Ohio Board of Education voted 11 to 4 yesterday to eliminate an intelligent design inspired requirement that 10th-grade biology classes there include "critical analysis" of evolution.

A letter sent to Ohio Gov. Bob Taft on Feb. 7 by 24 of the 32 members of the school board's science advisory committee describes the board's "critical analysis" requirement and accompanying lesson plan as "intelligent design creationism poorly concealed in scientific sounding jargon."

The decision by the Ohio board to toss out "critical analysis" is the third strike intelligent design activists have suffered in the past two months.

In December, Judge John Jones ruled intelligent design violates the constitutional separation of church and state. In the decision, Jones wrote, “We find that the secular purposes claimed by the board amount to a pretext for the board’s real purpose, which was to promote religion in the public school classroom.”

Following the Dover decision, the El Tejon school board in California agreed to cancel a philosophy class that proposed taking "a close look at evolution as a theory… discuss the scientific, biological, and Biblical aspects that suggest why Darwin’s philosophy is not rock solid… discuss Intelligent Design as an alternative response to evolution."

If this were baseball, intelligent design would be out. They'd have to put down their bat and sit on the bench. But, this isn't baseball. It’s politics, pure and simple, and we can expect activists from the religious right to stay at the plate and swing wildly for the fence for some time to come.

As right-wing Ohio school board member Deborah Owens Fink told the New York Times, the vote was just another round in the culture war, not a knockout.

"There are no permanent victories in politics," Ms. Fink said. "You do not get paradigm shifts overnight. Whether the ultimate victory is today or it's tomorrow or it's two years from now, people demand that they get open discussion of this issue."

Predictably, Discovery Institute, the Seattle-based intelligent design think tank, was unhappy about the decision.

“This is a completely outrageous slap in the face to the 69 percent of Ohioans just polled who said they want students to hear the scientific evidence for and against Darwin’s theory,” says John G. West, associate director of Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture.

Supporters of quality science education are right to be concerned about public opinion polls that indicate high levels of support for teaching variants of creationism, intelligent design, or critical analysis. We must do more to educate the public about the importance of science and the central role of evolution in biology.

But, there are also good reasons be skeptical about the survey results being touted by the Discovery Institute.

Here in Kansas, voters who'd had a belly full of the antics of creationists and intelligent design activists on the state board of education voted them out in 2000.

Last November, in Dover, Penn., voters in the school board election there reached the same conclusion about intelligent design in public schools that Judge Jones did. They voted out every incumbent member of the board who had voted to mandate reading a statement to students critical of evolution.

Those are the kind of public opinion surveys that really count. Just ask Ohio Gov. Bob Taft.

Taft, an early supporter of the intelligent design inspired "critical analysis" of evolutionary theory in Ohio turned against it for very pragmatic reasons. Public opinion surveys show he is one of the least popular governors in the nation. After reading the tea leaves, Taft concluded that intelligent design was a liability he just couldn't afford.

Since Taft controls the appointment of a number of Ohio school board members, his decision to abandon "critical analysis" to its fate set the stage for yesterday's vote.

Following their defeat in 2000, a number of Kansas creationists and intelligent design activists found their way back onto the board. One of them, Iris Van Meter, ran as a stealth candidate, refusing to speak publicly prior to the election. An election-eve smear against her opponent succeeded in putting Van Meter into office.

The success of the religious right in that election happened because the moderates who became energized by the battle to defend science education assumed they'd won a decisive victory. They became complacent, and failed to recruit candidates, communicate effectively, raise money, and go to the polls on election day.

Today, the situation in Kansas is much different. Moderates are ready to take back Kansas once again. Early indications in the school board race suggest the religious right may be in for the same kind of beating they took in 2000.

We should not be surprised that surveys of public opinion on teaching creationism, intelligent design, and critical analysis, tend to show a high level of support, particularly if they are framed in terms of "teach both sides of the issue."

That frame appeals strongly to the ingrained sense of fairness that most Americans possess. However, experience shows that when voters become familiar with the real agenda of the religious right, they turn decisively against it.

A survey takes a couple of minutes to complete over the phone, but you have to live with a board of education for a number of years. And voters who live with creationists and intelligent design activists on their school boards for any period of time learn the hard way that anti-science agitation comes as part of a package.

Here in Kansas, for example, intelligent design comes bundled with charter schools, vouchers, the appointment of an education commissioner utterly unqualified to hold his job, a cavalier attitude toward the filing of expense reports, foolish statements to the media, and a mindset hostile to public education.

Intelligent design activists are hopeful that Dover, El Tejon, and Ohio will start a backlash against science education. In truth, the backlash was already well underway. Each of those decisions reflects a growing uneasiness with the consequences of the religious right's war on science.

While we see a continuing series of setbacks for ID and its variants, Scientists, educators, and supporters of science education must begin to organize for a long-lasting battle with the right. As Deborah Owens Fink points out, there are no permanent victories in politics

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