Thursday, July 26, 2007


The Return of Jim Crow

On June 28, the Supreme Court, led by Bush Administration appointees, restricted the ability of public school districts to use race to determine which schools students can attend. As the court's minority pointed out in sharply worded dissents, that decision will, as the majority no doubt intended, sharply limit racial integration of public schools across the nation.

Where does the Discovery Institute -- you know, the ones who claim Darwin's theory of evolution is racist -- stand on this issue?

Well, John R. Miller, a member of Parents Involved in Community Schools, which sued the Seattle school district over its racial tiebreaker plan, is guess what, a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, and he's written an Op-Ed in the Seattle Times to tell us.

Discovery's Miller wants the country's history of racial segregation forgotten. Where once the opponents of integration blocked the school house doors to proclaim "segregation now, segregation tomorrow and segregation forever" they now demand an absolutely color blind system for placing children in public schools. And if that just happens to re-segregate public schools across the country, as white supremacists such as George,Wallace, Bull Connor, Lester Maddox, and Strom Thumond fought to do, well that's just too bad.

"As someone who grew up in Mississippi and Alabama during the civil rights movement," evangelical theologian Charles Marsh recently told Robin Reid at Politico, "my reading is that the conservative Christian movement never was able to distinguish itself from the segregationist movement, and that is one of the reasons I find so much of the rhetoric familiar -- and unsettling."

Those on the Christian right, such as Miller and the Discovery Institute, standing on the shoulders of the segregationists who came before them, want to whittle away at the gains made by the Civil Rights movement.

To do that they've learned to appropriate the language of the civil rights fighters they once opposed. These days they talk more about Lincoln and diversity than race mixing and miscegenation. Neighborhood schools have replaced state's rights.

They no longer erect billboards calling for the impeachment of Earl Warren, instead they try to take credit for the Warren Court's Brown vs. Board of Education ruling even as they twist its intent and labor tirelessly to lead us back to the days of Jim Crow.


Judgement Day is Coming

NOVA, the PBS science program, will air a two-hour special on the Dover intelligent design trial titled "Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial" on Nov. 13.

We hear Chapman, Myers, Luskin, Egnor, and the boys in Seattle will be going to the mattresses over this one. It seems "Traipsing Into Evolution" and all of Luskin's multi-part posts attacking the character of Judge Jones haven't had the impact -- except in the hermetically sealed world of ID -- of that single ruling and an upcoming public television special.

Although Discovery stonewalled NOVA's repeated requests for a spokesperson to comment for the program, you can be sure you'll hear repeatedly in coming months just how unfair and one-sided the program is.


More Excuses

Red State Rabble and family are going on vacation. Posting will be spotty here until Aug. 6 when we return. I may publish an occassional post between now and then, but after posting without a break for the past two-and-a-half years, I'm going to try to stay away from the computer for the next ten days.

See you in ten days.


Tour de France: RSR Wearing the Blue Jersey

As a former amateur bicycle racer, July is always a big month in the Red State Rabble household. Around here, things are put on hold and we watch the Tour de France on Versus and follow the riders over the stages on the Internet.

As a longtime rider and fan, I have to say I'm sick at heart at what's happening in this year's tour with Alexandre Vinokourov testing positive for blood doping, and the wearer of the yellow jersey, Michael Rasmussen, being kicked out of the tour for avoiding out-of-competition drug tests and lying about where he was training.

And all this comes, of course, on the heels of American tour winner Floyd Landis testing positive last year. Favorites for this year's tour like Basso and Ullrich have retired or been suspended over doping allegations.

No matter what happens, I will ride my bike as long as I'm able, and I'll always be a fan of bike racing. To my mind, there's nothing more beautiful than a fast-moving peloton moving along the open road. I just hope that the riders who are cheating will come to their senses and stop before they kill this great race and destroy a beautiful sport.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007


Science Fiction

A post on the Discovery Institute's Evolution News and Views blog notes that intelligent design supporter Granville Sewell predicts that intelligent design probably won't be taught in his lifetime.

Peering into his crystal ball, ID's Sybill Trelawney devines that "future, biology texts will refer to evolution as an amazing, mysterious ‘natural’ process, which scientists do not now understand."

He's got his first prediction right. The second sounds more like projection.


Behe Debated

Dr. C. Loring Brace, professor and curator of biological anthropology at the Museum of Anthropology at the University of Michigan debated intelligent design activist Michael Behe, a professor of biochemistry at Lehigh University and senior fellow of the Discovery Institute at the Cranbrook Institute for Science recently. Reader DP sent us this report of the debate:

Behe is a very slick presenter, kindly, knowledgeable, and quite calm and patient in responding to questions. He began by stating his agreement with common descent and natural selection, but stated flatly that both are "trivial" to the discussion and that random mutation is simply not a feasible mechanism for evolution.

This is a central point to his discussion, but is presented with essentially no support and he was unfortunately never questioned about why he takes this stand. The omission of natural selection from his model is particularly significant as it is in many ways the most important element of Darwinian evolution and explains quite well how environmental conditions create population level transformations in certain situations and not others.

Behe's main argument is that random mutations may in some cases lead to reductions, but there are no natural forces promoting complex phenotypic developments. By removing natural selection from the discussion a priori, he manages to make this position seem reasonable to the uninformed and I think it will be crucial in future confrontations to force a discussion of natural selection - Why doe Behe insist that it is trivial? Does he believe that natural selection can't produce complex transformations?

Over and over Behe used examples that most of us would say support Darwinian evolutionary theory. He argues that sickle cell anemia as a response to malaria is unlikely as a result of random mutation, but he does so by simply asserting it and describing the advantage of abnormal red blood cells. Of course this is a classic example in Darwinian theory of an otherwise deleterious mutation that becomes advantageous in a high pressure environment and is therefore selected for.

He is also very into nanotechnology now. He has moved away from the flagellum as a micro-machine, but now uses other features in precisely the same way. Fortunately there was a nanotech researcher in the audience that confronted him on this, but he simply talked around the question and moved on as if he had answered it. He also uses a strange metaphor of the Borg from Star Trek (not joking) and their nanotechnology, then suggests that Darwinists are the Borg. I didn't really get the point of this exercise except to tell us that we are all brainwashed.

The major strategy that I noticed, and one that seems to be quite effective, is that Behe never asserts any mechanism, never gives any details, never supports any of his claims except to assert (without any real support) that Darwinian evolution can't explain x y or z.

In so doing, he successfully kept nearly the entire discussion focused on alleged shortcomings in the normative models. By doing this, he takes a fringe theory that should come in on a defensive posture and places it on the offensive with standard evolutionary theory in a defensive position for the entire evening.

This feeds the notion that there are problems with evolutionary theory and that it is in question among scientists and it also keeps his ideas entirely out of the light. He never provided any mechanisms, details, or even vague proposals, and this was almost entirely successful.

When I got a chance to ask a question, the very last one of the night at 1:55, I asked bluntly for a description of the mechanism that Behe is proposing and also for some ideas about how we would go about deriving hypotheses and detecting his mechanism in the natural world. His response is essentially that he doesn't have a mechanism or model beyond saying that he assumes guided mutation.

He also goes on to assert that this is standard scientific practice, citing Big Bang theory and gravity as theories that were proposed without any mechanism or potential to test. I followed up, unfortunately off mic so you have to turn the volume all the way up, by noting that valid scientific theories produce knowledge by describing natural phenomena that can be tested in the world and I asked for even a single hypothesis or a 10 year plan for furthering knowledge based on his paradigm.

Of course he was completely unable to offer anything except to talk in a circle about finding the "edge of evolution" and suggesting that drug resistant bacteria may be stopped once we realize that their transformations are not describable by standard evolutionary theory.

The other major theme of the evening was "buy my book." If you listen to the debate, you'll hear him reference it over and over. Most of his answers and assertions sounded like "well I can't describe it for you here, but if you read my book you'll get it."

I still think every one of these discussions should start and end with an insistence that Behe provide a detailed mechanism and prove that it is testable in the natural world. Otherwise it is not only useless, it hinders the advancement of knowledge. All of the other details are really superfluous to that point.

I have also come to believe that the scientific community cannot be defensive to ID, we must become aggressively offensive and point out to the wider community exactly that point - ID is not just a silly diversion with no explanatory potential, it is extremely harmful to science and the production of knowledge in general.

You can listen to audio of the debate here.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007


The Tangled Web of Creationism

Creationist arguments sometimes create a real problem for those who craft them. Take for example, the argument advanced by young earth creationists that there hasn't been enough time since God created the world 6,000 years ago for the process of evolution to create the diversity of life we see around us today.

All of that life, they say, must have been a product of creation by God, or as those creationists who are familiar with court rulings would say, some intelligent designer.

But then a problem crops up. A problem moreover that the sort of mind that embraces creationism never seems to anticipate. How did all that diversity, all those animals fit on Noah's Ark? How were they fed? What was done with their waste? How did Noah's family manage it all?

Well, they have an answer for that too.

Noah didn't have two of every species we know today. He had two of every "kind" of land animal. "For instance," as some young earth creationists would have it, "two members of the dog kind walked off the Ark. Then, as the number of dogs increased, eventually the population split up and different groups formed."

"As the gene pool was split up, different combinations of genes—inherited from the original dogs—would end up in different groups. Thus, different species would form, such as dingoes, wolves, and so on."

So there was enough time for evolution to operate, after all. And even to operate in a Darwinian manner, but it's still scientists who have it all wrong: "Evolutionists have often insisted that such a process happens slowly, and therefore, the Bible can’t be right when it says that the land animals came off the Ark only about 4,300 years ago."


Over the Edge

Janice Dodd, a molecular biologist and professor of physiology at the University of Manitoba, finds Michael Behe's Edge of Evolution unconvincing, too.

Hat tip to RS.


Insiders and Outsiders

The battle over posting the Ten Commandments in public spaces, which is really a battle over separation of church and state, is between insiders and outsiders writes Peter Irons, author of God on Trial: Dispatches From America's Religious Battlefields in a USAToday opinion piece.

Insiders, "those with deep family roots in the community, [who] belong to its dominant religious group and political party, and play active roles in civic affairs... get upset when outsiders challenge the symbols that reflect the majority's beliefs and values."

Oh, do they get upset.

Monday, July 23, 2007


Oh, Really?

"Evolution says things turned to stone over millions of years, but when you really look at fossils and realize their intricate details of preservation, you realize it can't be a long-term thing -- it has to be quick," says evangelist Steve Grohman.

Grohman knows because he travels across the country to churches every year to present fossils and information he's accumulated through traveling and work with missionaries.


Atlas Shrugged

Over at Slate, Michael Weiss has published a roundup of blogger's responses to the distribution of The Atlas of Creation.


My Excuses

It may be slim pickens on Red State Rabble today. Between getting the boys through a rainy time trial and over the first stage in the Pyrenees, and the final installment of the Harry Potter series -- I was second in line after my oldest daughter -- there hasn't been much time for blogging.

Sunday, July 22, 2007


Ethics in Action

Kansas' Rev. Jerry Johnston has a problem. The pastor of First Family Church in Overland Park, one of the fastest growing megachurches in the country, has been playing fast and loose with the congregation's money, according to a story in this morning's Kansas City Star.

There's evidence that Jerry and Christie Johnston's Overland Park house, originally purchased as a parsonage by the ministry, was sold and a lavish new house in upscale Hallbrook Farms was put into the couple's names. A number of other financial irregularities -- all of which amount to treating the ministry's money as his own -- are being investigated by the attorney general's office.

A previous Kansas City Star article reports the Johnston's live lavishly -- the couple live in a $586,400 house, with an in-ground swimming pool and high-tech security system, take expensive vacations several times a year, and drive expensive sport utility vehicles -- despite demanding that church members sacrifice financially for the ministry.

“Maybe we’re going to decide to wear the same pair of pants for a year because we’re going to honor God with our finances and we’re going to get it right,” Johnston says in a sermon titled “God’s Way to Financial Success.”

“Lordship means I seize the moment regardless of the inconvenience,” says Johnston in calling on church members to give 10 percent of their incomes to the church.

The Rev. Johnston is a staunch creationist because he thinks that evolution corrupts morals. His website features a series of "sermonars" with titles such as "Reasons the Bible is Authoritative," "The Truth About Evolution," and "Missing Evidence for Evolution."

Johnston, who used to place the title of "Dr." in front of his name, is well qualified to evaluate the evidence for and against evolution. While he doesn't exactly have the Ph.D. he once used on church stationary -- he never went to college -- he does have a GED and is reportedly working on a BA at a Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Jerry Falwell gave him an honorary doctorate from Liberty University.

We don't doubt the good reverend when he says that evolution corrupts morals. We just wonder about his excuse.


Tammy Faye

Tammy Faye Messner died in suburban Kansas City Friday night.

Saturday, July 21, 2007


Somewhere in Texas

"Gov. Rick Perry has appointed conservative Dr. Don McLeroy to head the state’s Board of Education," reports Houston Press blogger Margaret Downing, "And the expectation is that McLeroy will lead the way into creationism in the upcoming board debate over state textbooks."

"Looks like Texas is on the move to be as stupid as Kansas," writes Downing.

There's no denying Kansas has its share of stupidity. We've had two run-ins with creationists over the science curriculum. We're home to Phill Kline. We've even had a creationist state senator and candidate for Secretary of State, Kay O'Connor, who opposes women's suffrage.

Even so, there are many who would say Kansas can't hold a candle to Texas in the hotly contested stupidity competition. For example, Warren Chisum, a self-described creationist and chairman of the Texas House Appropriations Committee, distributed a letter to colleagues calling Darwin's theory of evolution nothing more than a Jewish plot.

The letter Chisum distributed was written by a Georgia man who believes, "The Bible teaches that the Earth is stationary and immovable at the center of a 'small' universe with the sun, moon, and stars going around it every day. All observational and experimental evidence - and non-occult math, i.e., true science - supports the Bible teaching."

And Texas, we shouldn't forget, generously allowed its vast stockpile of village idiots to be depleted by one when it sent George Bush, another ID supporter, to the White House.

Hard as it is for Red State Rabble to forgive that last one, we still wish our friends in Texas well. Here in Kansas sensible people have fought back. We've restored real science to the public school curriculum. We've organized to defeat the religious zealots in the elections and won back a moderate majority on the state school board. We're confident that Texas can do the same.

For those who want to follow this developing battle, Texas Citizens for Science, has just posted a PowerPoint presentation on "Textbook Selection, Science Education, and Church-State Separation in Texas" on its site.


Good Fellas

Michael Korn, the Christian anti-evolution activist police are seeking in connection with a series of threats against faculty in the biology dept. at the University of Colorado in Boulder, is on the lam.

"Police visited Korn's apartment, but found that he and his wife were gone," according to Wired News. The apartment had been sublet and his wife had quit her job.

Korn reportedly has been seen distributing leaflets saying instructors are "child molesters" for teaching evolution to students. He's also believed to be responsible for a series of threatening letters and e-mails including at least one that refers to "killing the enemies of Christian society." Letters placed under the doors of faculty offices were decorated with skull and crossbones.

Where has Korn gone? Red State Rabble has no idea. Is it possible Discovery's talent scouts -- the same scouts who saw vast talent in both Casey Lusking and Michael Egnor -- were so knocked out by his writing that they've offered him a fellowship? Could he be sipping latte and writing his first post for Evolution News and Views even as we speak?

If, in the unlikely event that little scenario were true, at least it would give Discovery's Robert Crowther an opportunity to set the record straight on his denial that creationists or "very religious people" had anything to do with the threats, and withdraw his outrageous accusation that the faculty lied to police about the threats.

That would be the decent thing to do. What do you suppose it is that's stopping Crowther from doing it?

Friday, July 20, 2007


Archeology in Your Neighborhood

Over at Aardvarkeology, Martin Rundkvist has posted an archaeoblogging carnival where ten bloggers report from the archaeological sites nearest their homes and workplaces. The posts range from Athens to Arizona.

This is a great idea and could in time become a wonderful resource. Why not take a look, and if you're a blogger consider writing up a post of your own for the next carnival?


My Way or the Highway

Right wing Christians want their Ten Commandments posted in every courthouse and schoolroom in the country. They want their holy book taught in public schools, and they indignantly demand that every student recite their prayers and be taught their interpretation of Genesis.

They're not so keen on extending freedom of religion to other faiths.

When Rajan Zed, director of interfaith relations at a Hindu temple in Reno, Nev. opened the Senate with a Hindu prayer July 12, there was a predictable uproar from the very people who demand all the rest of us pray to their god.

"No one can legitimately challenge the fact that the God America refers to in the pledge, our national motto, and other places is the monotheistic God of the Jewish and Christian faith," says Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council. "There is no historic connection between America and the polytheistic creed of Hinduism."

No one except President John Adams and both houses of Congress in 1797.

Here's an excerpt from the Treaty of Tripoli which they ratified.

"As the Government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquillity, of Musselmen; and as the said States never have entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mehomitan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries."



Like the flu, copies of the Atlas of Creation are going around. The "strange, enormous, beautiful book arrived unsolicited at Foreign Policy magazine and its publisher, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, last month," say the publishers.

On page after page, says Foreign Policy, the same formulaic argument appears. Here's an example:

"Since shrimp first came into existence, they have always displayed all the same organs and characteristics as they have today and have undergone no changes in all that time. This shrimp fossil shows plainly that evolution is an imaginary scenario. (p. 110)"


Hands On

The New York Times reports that after two years of construction the Liberty Science Museum in Jersey City has reopened. Edward Rothstein reports the museum "has been rethought and reshaped, with the goal of doing nothing less than reinventing the science museum."

Thursday, July 19, 2007


Undreamt Possibilities

If you've never seen a photo of Uncommon Descent blogger DaveScot, William Dembski has posted a photo of him typing up a blog post on his laptop here.

It's all part of a promo for an "Intelligent Design in Business Practice" conference to be held in Sept. at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Dembski, apparently, will give the keynote address.

The conference will advise business leaders on how to "promote a synergy between organization and leadership that can actualize undreamt possibilities."

Christ, we are told, drove the money lenders from the temple. The intelligent design folks, it seems, want to sell it back to them.

Jeffery Shallit of Recursivity broke the story. Hat tip to RH for calling it to our attention.


Sound Sense of an Eastern Potentate

A few days after Christmas in 1862, just three years after Origin of Species introduced the theory of evolution to the world, Charles Darwin wrote, as he often did, to his friend and ally, Thomas Huxley.

Darwin's letter continued a discussion the two were having over a technical issue about the degree of sterility to expect in recently formed varieties.

Darwin also told Huxley that a book containing a series of lectures on evolution Huxley delivered to working men couldn't "fail to do good the wider it is circulated," and he somewhat tartly remarked that not "a dunce exists, who could not understand it; & that is a bold saying after the extent to which I have been misunderstood."

Along with his letter, Darwin returned a note from the English novelist and clergyman, Charles Kingsley, that Huxley sent him, and thanked Huxley for letting him "see the sound sense of an Eastern potentate."

Not long before, Kingsley had sent Huxley a little story to show how Darwin's theory of evolution had affected his own natural theology. Here's Kingsley's story from Letter 3878 of the Online Darwin Correspondence Project.

Once on a time, in Tartary, there was a jolly old heathen miscreant of a Khan, who was given to worshipping a horse's scull, & other devotions of a rudimentary nature.

And there came to him two bronzes, Moollahs, or other sort of missionaries, animated with a pious desire of converting him to their faith; but as they worshipped two different Deities, they hated each other accordingly, as in duty bound, & each believed the other was going to Gehanna.

Well. The old Kahn was frank enough with them. He confest that he had no great respect for his horse's scull; that he had totally failed in obtaining from it any rational answer, several times, when he was at a great pinch; & that on the whole, he was ready to take up with any other deity, provided the said deity was wise enough. He demanded therefore of the two Moollahs, wh[ich] of their deities was the cleverest.

Then the first Moollah said, "Oh Khan, worship my God. He is so wise, that he made all things.''

"Wah!" said the Khan "him a great sultan. He is a wise builder. But what can thy God do, oh Moollah number two?"

Then said the second Moollah, "Oh Khan, it is a light thing for a God to make all things. A God who could not do that would not be good enough for a Samoiede who eats blubber, or a Tom-goose who digs mammoth bones. May their mothers graves be defiled! But, Oh Kahn, my God is a God indeed; For he is so wise, that he makes all things make themselves.''

"Wah Wah!" said the Kahn. "He is the Sultan of all sultans; He is the wisest of all Master-builders. He is the God for me henceforth, if he be wise enough to make things make themselves.''

Kingley's story, perhaps a bit too Kiplingesque for modern ears, reflects the enthusiasm many clergymen had for Darwin's explanation of the mechanisms of evolution. Like Darwin, they wanted to replace the old God, who was forced to tinker constantly with with his less than perfect creation, with a new God who, having set the world in motion stepped back and allowed it to operate through natural law.

In the "Sermon V. The Deaf and Dumb," part of a series of sermons he delivered at Westminster Abbey and the Chapels Royal (available from Project Gutenberg) Kingsley observed, "[t]he man of science finds a deeper and more awful charm in contemplating the results of law; in watching, not what seem to be occasional failures in nature: but what is a perpetual and calm success."

Opposition to Darwin's theory of evolution came not just from churchmen, as the old warfare between science and religion template would have it, but from scientists as well. Even Darwin's friend and mentor, Charles Lyell, it should be remembered, couldn't quite bring himself to accept natural selection. And of course, men of the cloth were far from united in opposition. A number of influential clergymen embraced evolution and, like Kingsley, became firm supporters.

Darwin's theory of evolution would not have recieved the wide acceptance it did during his lifeime without their help.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007


Hope Springs Eternal

Tom McVeety has written an unbelievably credulous Op-Ed in the Evansville Courier and Press reporting that "New Facts Could Disprove Evolution."

Could this be a case for our friend Phil Plait and his Bad Astronomy blog?

Update: Astronomer Phil Plait takes 'em on one at a time and patiently explains here. I think he's being a little too kind when he calls McVeety's Op-Ed "another passel of creationist lies."


This Just In

Education Week: Intelligent Design supporter Ken Willard of Kansas to be National Association of State Boards of Education President-Elect.

Willard ran unopposed after another candidate withdrew from the race.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007


Icons Lite

Yesterday, we linked to a World Magazine article touting the effectiveness of Discovery's "teach the controversy" approach to sneaking creationism through the public school house door.

"State school boards in Pennsylvania, South Carolina, New Mexico, and Minnesota along with local boards in Wisconsin and Louisiana have adopted science standards that encourage critical analysis of Darwinian Theory," enthused WM reporter Mark Bergin. "To date, not a single lawsuit has challenged such standards."

The hope that intelligent design might at last succeed in finding its way into public schools may seem slight to many following the Dover ruling, but ID activists are pinning their hopes on a new textbook, Explore Evolution: The Arguments for and Against Neo-Darwinism which proponents claim doesn't address alternative theories of origins but instead "lays out the scientific strengths and weaknesses of the most critical elements of Darwinism."

One prominent ID activist isn't so sure "critical analysis" is on the verge of success.

Here in Kansas, John Calvert of the ID Network, reportedly doesn't "share the Discovery Institute's optimism that this new textbook and the approach it embodies will significantly dent the uncritical Darwinist dogma currently taught in most public schools," according to Bergin.

After all, that was the strategy in Kansas and the voters here seemed more than happy to get back to "uncritical Darwinist dogma."

"Critical analysis" in Kansas -- teaching the strengths and weaknesses -- turned out to be nothing more than injecting a series of recycled creationist arguments, long discredited, into the science curriculum.

We can expect that Explore Evolution will be more of the same. Think of it as Icons Lite.


The Blurb of Death

The critical reception for intelligent design guru Michael Behe's new book, The Edge of Evolution, has been so uniformly dismal that the boys at Discovery have been reduced to hyping three posts by Denyse "Buy My Book" O'Leary.

Under the breathless title "Behe's Edge of Evolution Continues to Attract Attention," Discovery's monthly e-mail newsletter, Nota Bene, boasts O'Leary "actually has three insightful posts related to Behe, and of course Behe's constributions (sic) to the overall debate over Darwinism."

Actually, the attention lavished on Behe by O'Leary is a clear demonstration that the excitement generated by this new "turning point in the evolution vs. intelligent design controversy," which Behe himself all too modestly compares to the discoveries of Newton and Copernicus, is, well, DOA.


Critical Analysis

The online World Magazine, which tries "to see the world as best we can the way the Bible depicts it" has published a cover story on the new textbook from the Seattle-based Discovery Institute. Explore Evolution: The Arguments for and Against Neo-Darwinism.

World Magazine's Mark Bergin writes that the Dover ruling highlights the effectiveness of the Discovery Institute's "critical analysis" approach. State school boards in Pennsylvania, South Carolina, New Mexico, and Minnesota along with local boards in Wisconsin and Louisiana have adopted science standards that encourage critical analysis of Darwinian theory, writes Bergin. "To date, not a single lawsuit has challenged such standards," he asserts.

"This is an approach that if I were a Darwinist I would be particularly frightened of," said John West, associate director of the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture. "The policy that we've recommended turns out to be the precise common-ground approach we said it would be. It reduces the decibel level; you don't get sued; you get good education; and the Darwinists don't have a leg to stand on."


The Book Sent Round the World

It's 11 x 17 inches and weighs in at 12 pounds. It has a bright red cover and contains 800 lavishly illustrated pages with stunning photographs of fossil plants, insects and animals. It's the Atlas of Creation, a tract produced by a Turkish outfit under the pseudonym Harun Yahya that argues "evolution must be impossible, illusory, a lie, a deception or 'a theory in crisis.'"

Take your pick.

And, according to Cornelia Dean of The New York Times, it's "turning up, unsolicited, in mailboxes of scientists around the country and members of Congress, and at science museums in places like Queens and Bemidji, Minn."

Students of the bizarre counterculture of creationism, you know who you are, will love this story.

Monday, July 16, 2007


Missionary Redux

Back on July 3, I posted a piece calling into doubt an article in the Journal of Religious History by Mark Graham titled, "The Enchanter's Wand: Charles Darwin, Foreign Missions, and the Voyage of H.M.S. Beagle.”

Charles Darwin, wrote Graham, was at best noncommittal about the Christian missionary activity surrounding him for most of the Beagle’s voyage. “He emerged from the voyage, however, as an enthusiastic and outspoken proponent of missions.”

I wrote the post based on an article about it by Dan Vergano published in USAToday and the abstract of Graham’s article. I did not, at the time, have access to the full article. Any alarm bells going off yet?

Rushing in where angels fear to tread, I nevertheless wrote that I doubted Graham’s conclusion that Darwin supported Christian missionary work all his life.

A number of readers helpfully sent me the full article to read for myself and, in a couple of e-mails, Mark Graham gently, and generously, pointed me in the right direction, as well. In the weeks since that post, “Missionary Position,” I’ve spent quite a bit of time browsing the Darwin Correspondence Project, reading Darwin’s letters, and learning that I was wrong. Quite wrong.

Having read any number of Darwin biographies, I was aware of Darwin’s religious trajectory from prospective clergyman, to professional scientist and agnostic. The broad outlines of the story are well known to almost everyone.

I had no problem believing that the young Darwin, who was sometimes teased by his shipmates for his religiosity, was a supporter, perhaps even an ardent one, of Christian missionary work, but I doubted that the older, agnostic Darwin would still support their efforts.

As always a little bit of knowledge – especially in a highly combustible mix with ignorance – can be a very dangerous thing.

Missionary work, as Graham points out, was controversial in Darwin’s day and remains so today. While secular types like Red State Rabble might oppose missionary activity as a tool of imperialism that resulted in the destruction of indigenous culture, practicing Christians then and now might harbor their own objections, as well.

There was tension among missionaries in Darwin’s day, writes Graham, over “which should come first: Christianization which would lead to ‘civilization,’ or ‘civilization’ which would lead to Christianization.”

Simply knowing then, whether someone, Darwin let’s say, was a believer is not enough to predict whether or not they were also supporters of missionary activity. Likewise, even an agnostic, such as Darwin became later in life, might well support the “civilizing” of indigenous people – not to mention bringing them into the sphere of British imperialism – without also defending their Christianization.

In writing the post, I allowed myself to become a victim – another in a long line – of a now discredited paradigm. And to add insult to injury, it’s one I’ve argued against many times here at Red State Rabble. This hoary archetype, long discarded by historians and philosophers of science, which nevertheless remains a fixture of nearly everyone’s mental landscape is: The war between science and religion.

The idea that there’s been a centuries-long battle between the forces of enlightenment represented by a clearly demarcated and progressive science, opposed tooth and nail at every turn by legions of reactionary – and equally united – churchmen, persists because it’s simple and seems to explain so much.

It got its start with John William Draper’s History of the Conflict between Religion and Science published in 1874 and Andrew Dickson White’s two-volume History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom published in 1896.

“The history of Science is not a mere record of isolated discoveries; it is a narrative of the conflict of two contending powers, the expansive force of the human intellect on one side, and the compression arising from traditionary faith and human interests on the other,” wrote Draper in launching the conflict thesis on its long voyage.

The problem with uncomplicated explanations that seem, at first glance, to explain much is that they tend, like an advertising jingle, to stick in our minds and, much like a comic book version of War and Peace, they rarely deliver what they promise.

It would be a mistake to assume, for example, that Darwin was a hardened atheist who fashioned evolution to undermine belief. He was not and did not. It would even be a mistake to suppose that Andrew Dickson White – one of the key architects of the conflict thesis – was an atheist, for he was indeed, quite devout.

All truly great stories – like the unraveling of evolutionary theory – are rich, complex, and very, very human in a way that no shorthand can quite capture.

I find it fascinating that the man who creationists caricature as the very devil himself entered adulthood with the ambition to be a clergyman. A pillar of Victorian society, he was never the radical creationists now paint – or perhaps even some of his defenders would like -- him to be. He was a very conservative man who used the decades after he first came to understand the mechanism underlying evolution to gather evidence and build his case.

In the end, Darwin published only because his hand was forced. Origin of Species went into print only because another naturalist, Alfred Russell Wallace also came to understand its workings and intended to publish his findings.

Equally intriguing is the fact, which Graham has now brought to our attention, that a man who lost his faith, perhaps when he lost his beloved daughter, Annie, continued to support the work of Christian missionaries.

The facile tale of the conflict between religion and science simply doesn’t fit the facts. There's plenty of sound and fury there, but in the end they signify nothing.

Note: Although I regret rushing my doubts about Darwin and missionaries into print without having first read Mark Graham's paper, I don’t regret the experience. It’s given me a chance to dig into Darwin’s correspondence for the first time. And that will provide plenty of grist for the mill that is Red State Rabble.

Friday, July 13, 2007


More Creationist Threats

The author of the threats against the faculty in the ecology and evolutionary biology department at the University of Colorado in Boulder has been a busy boy.

He's also been sending threatening e-mails to a science blog called Southern Exposure. These e-mails have been posted on Southern Exposure and you can read them for yourself. Here's a sample:
i urge you to read and ponder this information seriously. it may be the last warning you receive from a Christian who has mercy and compassion upon your errors.

The e-mail is signed Michael Philip Korn, A concerned American and Citizen of the Kingdom of God.


Implausible Denial

Yesterday, RSR commented on Robert Crowther's ludicrous denial that creationists or "very religious people" could have anything to do with the e-mail threats to faculty members in the ecology and evolutionary biology departments at the University of Colorado in Boulder.

"In all the years of the ongoing evolution debates, nothing like this has ever happened that I've heard of," says Crowther, "at least not from creationists."

Naturally, Crowther's evidence free denial was proven wrong almost as soon as it was posted on Discovery's Evolution News and Views blog.

In comments and e-mails readers have listed the names of quite a number of right-wing religious fanatics who've carried out violent acts ranging from bombings to murder, none of which Crowther cares to remember.

One reader sent a link to this July 7 article in the Fort Worth Star Telegram:
Three Burleson [Texas] men who belong to a "radical Christian activist group" were in the Johnson County Jail on Friday night after a church deacon caught two of them attempting to ignite an explosive device on Independence Day at a church under construction in north Burleson ...

They admit to being Christian and being brought up Christian, but they believe there should be one denomination and one church, not multiple denominations," said Cmdr. Chris Havens, a Police Department spokesman.

The suspects said the group has three levels of involvement: Bible study, consensual fighting and destructive acts.
WorldNetDaily, the news source for the lunatic religious right, is currently hawking a book called Shooting Back: The Right and Duty of Self-Defense, which asks the question, "Should Christians be armed?"

One particularly chilling threat included in the e-mails sent to CU faculty says:

Pastor Jerry Gibson spoke at Doug Whites New Day Covenant Church in Boulder.

He said that every true Christian should be ready and willing to take up arms to kill the enemies of Christian society.

The fact is, Christian right fanatics like Timothy McVeigh and Eric Rudolph have already demonstrated a willingness to put their violent fantasies into action.

Those are facts whether Crowther can remember them or not.


An oldie, but still a goodie: Carl Sagan explains evolution on Cosmos.



The opening prayer in the Senate by Hindu Chaplain Rajan Zed was interupted by two protestors who asked for forgiveness from Jesus Christ for the “abomination” of failing to pray to the “one true God," according to Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

According to AU, religious right organizations have been agitating against the Hindu leader’s prayer since it was announced. The Rev. Donald Wildmon’s American Family Association has asked his members to complain to their senators about the invitation.

The group’s news service reported that “Christian nation” activist David Barton said that Hinduism has few followers in the United States and that prayer to a “non-monotheistic god” is “outside the American paradigm.”


Discovery Stonewalls

You would think the Discovery Institute would have learned its lesson when it refused to respond to Randy Olson's repeated requests for a spokesperson to comment on intelligent design for his "Flock of Dodos" film.

But, just as they never seem unable to learn anything about evolution, they've apparently learned nothing from the public relations disaster that resulted from turning a cold shoulder to Olson's widely distributed film.

Producers of the PBS "Nova" series say they went to great pains to fairly represent the anti-evolution point of view in their program on the Dover intelligent design trial, but Discovery stonewalled their repeated requests for interviews.

Expect soon to read how biased the "Nova" special on intelligent design was on Discovery's blog.

Thursday, July 12, 2007


Creato-terrorism? The Duty of All True Christians

Discovery's Robert Crowther has looked into his crystal ball and decided it's unlikely the threatening e-mails and letters placed under doors in the ecology and evolutionary biology department at the University of Colorado in Boulder were put there by creationists.

He doesn't have any evidence, mind you, but when has that ever stopped him before?

Under the hugely ironic title "Thou shalt not lie... " Crowther writes, "(i)n all the years of the ongoing evolution debates, nothing like this has ever happened that I've heard of, at least not from creationists."

Strangely, Crowther fails to mention that Dover judge John Jones and his family had to be put under the protection of U.S. Marshals after creationists threatened following his ruling there.

Crowther also neglects to mention Pat Robertson's not so veiled threat that "Dover was damned" after they voted creationists off the school board there:

I’d like to say to the good citizens of Dover: if there is a disaster in your area, don’t turn to God, you just rejected him from your city…And don’t wonder why he hasn’t helped you when problems begin, if they begin. I’m not saying they will, but if they do, just remember, you just voted God out of your city. And if that’s the case, don’t ask for his help because he might not be there.
Crowther suspects "that if these guys are ever caught, they won't turn out be creationists, or even very religious people."

Did I read that right? I thought this was all about science. It seems as if Crowther and Discovery are speaking here not for science but for creationists and "very religious people."

Update: Matt Young has a long post at Panda's Thumb that includes many of the threatening e-mails. Seems the harrassment has been going on for over a year and recently stepped over the line into threats. From the e-mail:

“Pastor Jerry Gibson spoke at Doug Whites New Day Covenant Church in Boulder.

He said that every true Christian should be ready and willing to take up arms to kill the enemies of Christian society.

But I believe it is far more effective to take up a pen to kill the enemies of Truth.

Oh yeah, guess what? Crowther's wrong again.


All of the above

Do you find Ken Ham's Kentucky Creation Museum:
  1. Bizarre

  2. Biblically Inaccurate

  3. Scientifically Unsound

  4. All of the above

More than half of the people who answered a Campaign to Defend the Constitution survey of 800 likely voters from across the country said all of the above.

The survey choices were, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer: "Literal Word of God," "Biblically accurate," "Bizarre," "Biblically inaccurate," "Scientifically unsound" and "Not sure."

According to DefCon, 95 percent of evangelicals "reject the Creation Musuem's strange, dino-friendly version of Creationism."

Perhaps even more fascinating, only 10 percent of self-identified evangelicals say they support intelligent design.

You can download a PDF of the survey results here.


Stay Tuned

Coming up on PBS this coming season is “Intelligent Design on Trial,” an episode of “Nova” that looks at the Dover trial.


Nobody Understands

First scientists don't understand science. Now creationists don't understand it either. Thank God we have Salvador Cordova.


Gonzalez Tenure Denial

The Discovery Institute is trumpeting Guillermo Gonzalez' appeal of his denial of tenure at Iowa State University.

Discovery's John West calls the denial, "one of the most outrageous examples of academic discrimination and abuse targeting scholars who are supportive of intelligent design."

One thing that you won't hear about at Discovery's Evolution News and Views blog, but does receive some ink in the Des Moines Register is this:

The chair of the physics and astronomy department has said lack of fundraising by Gonzalez was an issue in his tenure denial.

Iowa State University has sponsored $22,661 in outside grant money for Guillermo Gonzalez since July 2001, records show. In contrast, Gonzalez’s peers in physics and astronomy had secured an average of $1,305,580 by the time they were granted tenure, which is essentially a life-time appointment at the university.
RSR has heard some rumors -- and we should say up front we don't know if they're true -- that even the measly $22K was kicked in by Discovery at the last moment to buck up Gonzalez' failing case for tenure.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007


What a Fool Believes

Christian Post reporter Doug Huntington examines the evidence pro and con -- but mostly pro -- that dinosaurs and man walked the earth at the same time. Strict creationists, writes Huntington, have begun to make a strong push toward trying to prove the legitimacy of the co-habitation of dinosaurs with mankind.

Citing arguments "that carbon dating does not accurately place dinosaurs as living more than 10,000 years ago" Huntington claims some creationists look "at the same fossil evidence that evolutionists look at."

Well, if they're looking to carbon dating of dinosaur fossils, they're obviously not looking at the same evidence that scientists are. Anyone who knows anything about carbon dating knows the limit for radiocarbon dating ranges between 58,000 and 62,000 years. The half life of C14 is 5,730. After about 10 half lives (10 x 5,730 = 57, 300 years, get it?) the residual 14C is too low to be distinguished from background radiation.

Since the extinction of the dinosaurs occurred some 65 million years ago -- that's 11,344 half lives -- carbon dating is not used to determine the age of these fossils.

Radiometric dating, on the other hand, can provide accurate dates for dinosaur fossils found in proximity to volcanic rock. In addition, faunal succession and the relative age of rock strata are well known. These concepts are easily grasped by eighth and ninth graders, if not by creationists.

For a good short explanation of radiometric dating of rocks and fossils look here.


Segregation and Conservative Christians

"As someone who grew up in Mississippi and Alabama during the civil rights movement, ... [all ellipses in original, RSR] my reading is that the conservative Christian movement never was able to distinguish itself from the segregationist movement, and that is one of the reasons I find so much of the rhetoric familiar -- and unsettling," evangelical theologian Charles Marsh tells Robin Reid at Politico.

By the end of the civil rights movement, the way was set for this marriage of the Republican Party and conservative Christians. … At the Neshoba County Fair in Mississippi in 1980, (Ronald) Reagan's statement "I am for states' rights" was a remarkable moment in the conservative South. The Southern way of life was affirmed and then deftly grafted into national conservative politics.

White political elites are very good at using the language of faith. The preachers use it to communicate to thousands of parishioners who truly believe that, to be Christian, one must be part of a certain party.

Now compare that to all the nonsense about Darwin, evolution, and the Nazis coming from a certain well-known Christian right outpost in Seattle.


So Simple

A new book, God the Final Frontier, explains how discoveries in science reveal the nature of God.

The crack marketing team at Christian Newswire says it provides answers to difficult questions such as:

The book, we're breathlessly told, "reveals scientific discoveries such as how quantum physics provides positive proof for the doctrine of the Trinity" and "how Einstein's Theory of Relativity fit's the Genesis account of creation."

Not only that, the book is written in simple, easy to understand language. Even "a child can understand."

So simple a caveman could understand, apparently, was already taken.


Creationists and the Gentle Art of Persuasion

First Dover trial judge John Jones had to be put under the protection of U.S. Marshals. Now, campus police at University of Colorado Boulder campus are investigating e-mails and "threatening documents slipped under the lab doors" of the ecology and evolutionary biology departments.

The Denver Post reports "the messages included the name of a religious-themed group and addressed the debate between evolution and creationism."

Does this mean creationists won't be submitting any more journal articles?

Hat tip to CP.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007


Dinosaur Den

According to Baptist Press, Ken Ham's Kentucky Creation Museum has just opened a dinosaur exhibit called "Dinosaur Den" that will feature real dinosaur eggs.

"We are so thankful to have the resources to build a quality exhibit devoted to the very creatures so closely associated with the arguments about creation and evolution," said Ham in a statement.

Ham also announced he will soon begin raising money for an exhibit hall to house Fred and Wilma Flintstone's lovingly restored '00 car.


Scientists Needed

The Clergy Letter Project is looking for scientists who are willing to answer questions about science from clergy and serve as technical support for clergy. The primary goal of the project is to help clergy and their congregations understand that science is not a threat to their faith. If you would like to learn more about the project or become a technical consultant, please visit the Clergy Letter website for more information.


Manchurian Candidates

A lot of creationists don't like the idea of evolution because they believe, for some reason, it eliminates free will. If evolution is true, they say, then we human beings are nothing more than robots who mindlessly carry out the programming natural selection has written into the computer code of our DNA.

And if we're just robots we couldn't -- or shouldn't -- be punished for our sins and that would take all the fun out of fundamentalist Christianity. After, what would life be if you couldn't dream of Richard Dawkins, or Bill Clinton, or some poor little unbaptized baby, drowning in a lake of fire for all eternity

(Denyse "Buy My Book" O'Leary -- the Hildy Johnson of William Dembski's Uncommon Descent blog -- coined the term "Darwinbot" to link this line of thinking with the Darwinian dogmatism meme ID theorists find so compelling.)

Only now it turns out no matter where we poor humans hail from -- moulded by God from the dust of the ground or evolved out of some warm little pond -- we're machines. Just simple products of the programming written into our brains.

Noting that children learn language from the parents, Pastor Rick Jackson, who writes the AiG-inspired Starke Reality blog, explains how Adam and Eve, the first man and woman, learned to speak to each other:

God must have programmed them with a language so they could speak to each other, speak to God, and understand everything perfectly.
Pastor Jackson also explains how Adam and Eve, never having witnessed "death or bloodshed of man or animals before sin" could have understood "what God meant when He said that Adam would die if he ate the fruit he was commanded not to."

He was already programmed with a language so that he could speak to God. Adam knew the meaning of every word perfectly from the beginning—including the word death.
I know the unrepentant purists among you will wonder if knowing the dictionary definition of a word such as death is the quite the same thing as seeing it happen in person, but like so much else, you'll just have to take Pastor Jackson's word for it.

Bye-the-way, God also gave Adam and Eve a Frisbee so they could teach their pet dinosaur to fetch.

Helpfully, Pastor Jackson also provides a list of just a "few of the thousands of modern scientists who have accepted the biblical account of creation."

Hey, that's a lot more than the measly 700 on the Discovery Institute's list of Darwin doubters!

Hat tip to JS.


Luskin: He Coulda Been a Contender

One thing you have to love about the Discovery Institute's Program Officer for Public Policy & Legal Affairs -- the man is everywhere -- Casey Luskin. Like a punch drunk fighter who's been hit too many times he never seems to have a clue where the next punch is coming from.

You would think a person such as Luskin who believes evolution to be a mathematical impossibility would have some sense, some inkling, some itty bitty glimmer that this statement cuts two ways:

Perhaps we need to appreciate that there are many things that seem improbable--but improbability does not, and never has, entailed nonexistence. We may be highly improbable--yet we are here.

But you would be wrong.

It all "sounds like solid reasoning" to our boy Luskin. Well, not quite all. The reason Luskin walks so guilelessly into this particular sucker punch -- just as our wannabe contender has so many times in the past -- is because the authors of the The Dawkins Delusion: Atheist Fundamentalism and the Denial of the Divine, Alister and Joanna McGrath, object to Richard Dawkins' assertion about the improbability of the existence of an intelligent designer when he asks, "Who designed the designer?"

Naturally, the disinterested scientist in Luskin laps up the abuse the McGrath's pile on Dawkins' case against God. He's less enthusiastic about their rejection of ID theory as a "God-of-the-gaps" argument.

As the McGrath's quite accurately point out, improbability isn't the same as impossibility. However, when Dawkins points out the improbability of the existence of God -- aka the intelligent designer -- we don't think he does it, as the McGraths seem to argue here, to prove there is no God. We think he does it, quite reasonably, to point up the erroneous logic of the creationists.

Those who find evolution too improbable to believe -- and assert they do so on the basis of reason and evidence -- are then obliged to show why God, or a some celestial Ty Pennington, is more probable.

This they never do, perhaps because the punches (sometimes referred to as evidence) come a little too fast and furious for the Luskins of the world to see coming at them.

Monday, July 09, 2007


Adam's Heirs

Do you suppose Ken Ham's $27 million creation museum has a set of English scrolls tracing the family of King Henry VI back to the Garden of Eden?

The Big Valley Creation Museum up in Alberta has one.

You can't fight facts like those.


God and Country

As the agony of Iraq is prolonged to prevent our president from suffering the indignity of admitting he's been wrong, fewer and fewer people have been willing to go along.

Over the weekend, three more Republican senators -- Pete Dominci, Judd Gregg, and Lamar Alexander -- joined Richard Lugar, John Sununu, Susan Collins, Gordon Smith, Norm Coleman, and Chuck Hagel in calling for an end to the Iraq fiasco.

In what may prove an even more ominous sign of the erosion of support for the president and his Iraq adventure, evangelical Christians are also beginning to rethink their support for the war.

In Saturday's Boston Globe, Charles Marsh, a professor of religion and director of the Project on Lived Theology at the University of Virginia, draws a parallel between "the church in Germany as it lay in the ruins of its fatal allegiance to Hitler" and Christian fundamentalist support, in this country, for the war in Iraq and all the things -- extraordinary rendition, secret prisons, torture, suspension of habeas corpus, and wiretapping -- that go with it.

"Conservative evangelical elites," writes Marsh, "in exchange for political access and power, have ransacked the faith and trivialized its convictions. It is as though these Christians consider themselves to be recipients of a special revelation, as if God has whispered eternal secrets in their ears and summoned them to world-historic leadership in the present and future."

Marsh sees "signs of hope as an emerging generation of Christian leaders holds out the promise of a more comprehensively just and moral account of faith than the narrow agendas of the Christian right."

Red State Rabble certainly hopes Marsh is right. We can't share his faith but I feel certain that many of the ragtag bunch of skeptics who water here at Red State Rabble share his values.

This is an important read, RSR urges all of our readers to follow the link above and read with an open mind what Marsh has to say.


The Epigones

Over at Uncommon Descent, ID guru William Dembski asks if it's "fair to judge scientific theories by their offspring?" Unsurprisingly, as the theory in question is evolution, Dembski deems it perfectly fair.

"For the greatest theory ever conceived," Dembski divines, "Darwinian evolution has begotten an idiot in evolutionary psychology."

Red State Rabble has never been a big fan of evolutionary psychology as currently practiced. Although, we tend to agree with Stephen Jay Gould that because the human mind is a product of evolution, "all curious people must support the quest for an evolutionary psychology."

Whether or not evolutionary psychology ever proves itself of any value, we'd just like to let the ghosts of George McCready Price and Henry Morris know that we can't quite bring ourselves to hold them completely responsible for their own misbegotten offspring.


Letting Cheri Yecke's Cat Out of the Bag

"Is Cheri Yecke’s advocacy of ID a career-maimer?" asked the Isaac Newton of information theory, William Dembski, in a post published on his Uncommon Descent blog Saturday.

Yecke, as many of you are already aware, is the No. 2 in the Florida Dept. of Education, but she badly wants to be No. 1. That's why she hired an Internet outfit called ReputationDefender to scrub the web clean of references to her support for creationism back when she was Minnesota's Commissioner of Education.

Not long ago, ReputationDefender contacted pro-evolution blogger Wes Elsberry demanding that a quote on his Austringer blog linking Yecke to intelligent design be removed "on the grounds that it was false."

Post Dover, Yecke has taken steps, albeit clumsy ones, to distance herself from her old friends, and that clearly means she sees it, in Dembski's less-than-felicitous phrasing, as a career maimer. It would not surprise RSR if Yecke now wishes that Dembski had answered his question by examining the downward trajectory of his own career rather than dragging her name through the ID mud at this critical juncture.

Until the election of George Bush when it became a virtue, bad judgement was nearly always a career stopper -- the adolescent world of intelligent design excepted. Perhaps even in today's climate, there may be still be some in the Florida education establishment who think it unwise to appoint a commissioner of education who might embroil the state in costly and ultimately unwinnable litigation.

Does this mean young Isaac can now expect a note from ReputationDefender to come his way, as well?


Discovery's Irony Deficient Diet

The fellows of the Discovery Institute, that intelligent design belief tank on the shores of Peugeot Sound, seem to be subsisting on an irony free diet.

Sitting side by side on their Evolution News and Views blog this past weekend are the following:

A post by Robert Crowther blames Darwin and evolutionary theory for the "development of advertising methods to more effectively manipulate consumer behavior."

Nearby, a post by Michael Egnor quotes Pat Sullivan, an entrepreneur and a marketing expert who writes software programs that help businesses with marketing and customer relations, "on the difficulties that Darwinists are having with the public acceptance of their theory."

Pat sez:

If Darwinism is ever going to succeed it is going to have to find ways to explain itself in easy to follow, yet credible ways to get people to believe it. You should not have to be a trained biochemist to understand Darwinism. I expect this won't happen and ID as a scientific idea will gain a lot of ground in the mind of the marketplace.
"When it comes to marketing," enthuses Egnor, "he knows what he’s talking about."

Saturday, July 07, 2007


Is ID the Rodney Dangerfield of Creationism?

First, only three of the nine no-hope Republican candidates for president raised their hands to say they doubted Darwin at the first debate -- and two of those rushed to "clarify" their views in the ensuing uproar.

Then Ken Ham goes out and raises $27 million to build his Creation Museum and brings all the biblical stuff the Discovery Institute has worked so hard to keep hidden-- you know, Adam and Eve, the Garden of Eden, Noah and the Flood, the Ark and its dinosaurs -- back into the news, and sucks up all the PR oxygen in the process.

Then the Institute for Creation Research comes out with a paper that accuses ID of pushing God away: "The Bible has answers to life’s big questions. Likewise strict naturalism has consistent answers, although quite different. ID has no answers at all which satisfy."

The Bible, adds ICR, "insists that God receive glory for His majestic handiwork, and it is not likely that He will bless or grant lasting success to any effort which chooses to omit Him from their thinking."

Discovery, it seems, can't get no respect.


Skeptic's Circle

The 64th Skeptic's Circle is up at the Skeptical Alchemist. You can find here.



Skeptical Inquirer: Charles L. Rulon, a professor emeritus of Long Beach City College, explains why he decided to debate a creationist from the Discovery Institute.


Target Audience

"I've studied every scientific journal and there's no proof of evolution anywhere," says Ed Rockland. "In order to be scientific, it must be testable, supportable and disprovable."

Like the Bible.

Despite the testimony of Rockland and other widely read citizens, the Ventura County Board of Education voted 3-1 last Thursday to approve Pearson Prentice Hall's "Focus on California Life Science" for use in science classrooms there.

A Discovery Institute video video presentation, which followed the board's public comment period, doubts that "high school students have the ability to critically analyze such subjects as evolution in an educational format," according to Darleen Principe of the Simi Valley Acorn.

Could that be why high school students have become the designated target audience for Discovery's intelligent design sales force?

Friday, July 06, 2007


"Who Designed the Designer?"

"Critics of intelligent design theory," writes Robert Crowther on the Intelligent Design The Future website, "often throw this question out thinking to highlight a weakness in ID. Richards shows that the theory’s inability to identify the designer is not a weakness, but a strength. ID does not identify the designer is because (sic) ID limits its claims to those which can be established by empirical evidence."

However, in a 2005 post on the Discovery Institute's Evolution News and Views blog, Crowther singled out as praiseworthy this statement by John Silber in The New Criterion:

"The critical question posed for evolutionists is not about the survival of the fittest but about their arrival. Biologists arguing for evolution have been challenged by critics for more than a hundred years for their failure to offer any scientific explanation for the arrival of the fittest. Supporters of evolution have no explanation beyond their dogmatic assertion that all advances are explained by random mutations and environmental influences over millions of years."

So, according to Crowther, ID "theorists" are under no obligation to identify their "designer," his/her/its origin, or methods, but the failure, so far, of evolutionary biologists to understand the origin of life must been seen as a fatal flaw to the theory.

Crowther, rather cynically says ID "theorists" are limited by empirical evidence. ID's real failure, though, is not that they don't have an answer, but that they won't even ask questions. ID would take a giant step towards genuine science if even one of its advocates would put forward a testable hypothesis concerning the origin, nature, and methods of their designer.

Crowther channels Silber to chastise scientists for their "failure to offer any scientific explanation." This is untrue. The working hypothesis of many scientists is that life arose naturally from inorganic matter.

In an 1871 letter to the botanist Joseph Hooker, Darwin offered these speculative ideas on the origin of life:
It is often said that all the conditions for the first production of a living organism are present, which could ever have been present. But if (and Oh! what a big if!) we could conceive in some warm little pond, with all sorts of ammonia and phosphoric salts, light, heat, electricity, etc., present, that a protein compound was chemically formed ready to undergo still more complex changes, at the present day such matter would be instantly devoured or absorbed, which would not have been the case before living creatures were formed.
What Darwin has rather bravely offered here is a hypothesis. He knows he doesn't have the evidence to prove that it is so -- and to date no satisfying evidence has been produced -- but he has outlined an area of prospective research which we have every reason to believe may someday bear fruit.

Thus it is quite true that scientists do not understand the origin of life on earth. There are many things that science can't yet explain. Perhaps there are things science will never explain.

But that's not a flaw, because science doesn't claim to have all the answers.

But it does have a method.

It asks questions. Lots of questions. Then it turns those questions into educated guesses -- aka hypotheses -- and it goes out and tests them. If evidence from observation and testing bears out the hypothesis, as sometimes happens, then we've learned something. If the evidence overturns the hypothesis, a new guess must be made and the testing process must begin anew.

ID "theorists" on the other hand believe they already have all the answers, and so ask very few questions. Where do they get all these answers? For them the word of God as revealed in the Bible takes precedence over evidence from the natural world.

In fact, for those who rely on revealed wisdom, questions can be a slippery slope. First you're asking how, and the next thing you're wondering if.

This post at Panda's Thumb also takes Crowther to task.

Thursday, July 05, 2007



Creationists see no natural reason for human beings to sacrifice themselves for the benefit of others or even to act on ordinary moral obligations. Belief in God and fear of eternal damnation are the only things, they say, that keep people from each other's throats.

How humans got by in the years before Moses brought the Ten Commandments down from the mountain are, apparently, a mystery.

There are other ways of seeing, and studying, our sense of moral obligation to our fellow creatures. Sam Brown, an evolutionary biologist from The University of Texas at Austin, says, an act of altruism "can continue to give benefits even after the cooperator is dead. Conversely, cheating will have consequences in the future."

Could these benefits play a role in survival? Could the genes of altruistic individuals have been passed along in greater numbers than those who act selfishly.

I find it easier to believe than the notion that human beings ran riot, killing, stealing, and raping each other until they learned God was against it.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007


A Barnum for the New Millennia

Christian Post: Ken Ham's "controversial $27 million Creation Museum located just outside Cincinnati has made a fairly strong start, boasting 40,000 visitors since its opening on Memorial Day."

"Counting the 9,000 visitors that pre-visited the museum, which depicts a literal six-day interpretation of creation from the Bible, the founding ministry Answers in Genesis (AiG) is well on its yearly goal of 250,000 guests, already meeting one-fifth of the total target."


Left Hanging

"Yet, in a very strong sense the explanation of common descent is also trivial," writes intelligent design activist Michael Behe in his latest book, The Edge of Evolution.

Common descent tries to account only for the similarities between creatures. It says merely that certain shared features were there from the beginning - the ancestor had them. But all by itself, it doesn't try to explain how either the features or the ancestor got there in the first place, or why descendants differ. For example, rabbits and bears both have hair, so the idea of common descent says only that their ancestor had hair, too. Plants and animals both have complex cells with nuclei, so they must have inherited that feature from a common ancestor. But the questions of how or why are left hanging.

By all this Behe means that he finds the mechanisms of evolution -- heritability, random mutation, and natural selection -- insufficient to account for the diversity of life we find on the planet.

But that begs the question. If ID activists find evolutionary mechanisms inadequate, what do they propose in their place?

The ID textbook, Of Pandas and People, for which Behe wrote a chapter claims that "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."

If Behe wishes to make a convincing criticism of evolution's mechanisms, he might do so by putting forward a testable scientific hypothesis of how this happened.

Were all Earth's creatures created at once, or were there separate acts of creation stretching over some period of the planet's history. Did this/these acts of creation take place billions, millions, or thousands of years ago.

These are the basic questions any hypothesis about the origins of life must answer in order to be taken seriously. Search Behe's new book, however, and you'll find no answer to these simple questions.

That's because ID is a political and legal strategy, not a scientific theory.

Bye-the-way, contrary to what Behe writes (above) the theory of evolution doesn't say "merely that certain shared features were there from the beginning." It provides a well known mechanism for innovation -- mutation. For those who would like to learn more about what science has learned about how new species evolve from old, RSR recommends Sean Carroll's brilliant books on evolutionary developmental biology, Endless Forms Most Beautiful and Making of the Fittest.

Behe doesn't seem to have read either.


It's About Time

When social conservatives bypassed qualified candidates to appoint anti-tax lobbyist Bob Corkins Kansas Education Commissioner, the reaction was utterly predictable. The news media reported his lack of training and experience for the job.

John Vratil, a Leawood Republican and vice chairman of the Senate Education Committee, said Corkins' appointment seemed "sort of like making Saddam Hussein president of the United States."

Sadly, Corkins actual job performance fully lived up to its advance billing.

Now that Corkins is gone and Kansas has, in Alexa Posny, a highly qualified commissioner who can begin to rebuild the state's Dept. of Education, coverage in the news media has shifted.

We're seeing, at long last, positive stories about Kansas schools.

When she officially takes office this week, writes The Wichita Eagle's Jillian Cohan, "Posny will bring intelligence, compassion and depth of experience to the role, her colleagues said."

What a difference an election makes.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007


Is Darwin Kosher?

Intelligent design cognoscenti insist no one can accept the evidence for evolution and still retain their faith. Evolution, they believe, is nothing more -- and nothing less -- than an atheist plot against God.

However, just as the evidence -- both molecular and fossil -- proves the ID gurus wrong on common descent, the millions who see absolutely no contradiction between evolution and religious belief likewise strongly suggest they're also wrong about the supposed contradiction between science and faith.

In an article in the Wall Street Journal that asks "Is Darwin Kosher?" Evan R. Goldstein writes about the ease with which Modern Orthodox Jews have embraced science. The official line of the Modern Orthodox rabbinical association, writes Goldstein, is that "evolution is entirely consistent with Judaism."

Why do these believers find it so easy to combine traditional faith and values with modern science while many Christian fundamentalists see science and secularism as an assault on their faith?

One answer, writes Goldstein, may be the "towering intellectual legacy of Moses Maimonides," whose 12th-century masterpiece, Guide to the Perplexed, "opened the door to a Judaism unfettered by a literal reading of religious texts."

The real battle over evolution is not between secularists and those who profess their faith in God, but between those who insist on a literal reading of Genesis and those who are open to the evidence of the natural world.


The Weathermen

The Beagle, the ship on which naturalist Charles Darwin made the voyage of discovery that led to the theory of evolution, was captained by Robert FitzRoy, a devout Christian who in later years became an ardent opponent of Darwin's theory.

Ironically, FitzRoy was also "a pioneer in weather forecasting, which attracted criticism from religious leaders who saw it as interfering with divine intentions," notes historian John van Wyhe of the University of Cambridge's Complete Work of Charles Darwin Online.

That's why RSR gets all his weather reports from Pat Robertson. He's got the big guy on speed dial -- probably on his new iPhone.


Missionary Position

In "Darwin's Defense of Missionaries," published in USAToday, reporter Dan Vergano quotes the naturalist Charles Darwin as writing in 1836:

"The march of improvement, consequent on the introduction of Christianity, through the South Seas, probably stands by itself on the records of the world."

We don't doubt Vergano's citation, but we do doubt the conclusion drawn from it by cultural historian Mark Graham, that Darwin "supported Christian missionary work his entire adult life."

Graham's article in the Journal of Religious History, which is the basis for the USAToday report, is hidden behind a subscription barrier and RSR has not read any more of it than the abstract.

Even so, no convincing evidence underpinning the notion Darwin supported Christian missionary work "all his adult life" other than the 1836 quote is presented. And some of what Graham says about the "missionary" mission of the Beagle is, as noted in the article, just plain wrong.

RSR would not find it at all surprising if Emma Darwin had supported the work of Christian missionaries and Charles Darwin had not opposed or even facilitated it. He was, after all, a loving husband and exceptionally tolerant man.

To be convinced by Graham's broader assertion, however, we'd have to see much more evidence.

Still, if true, it would be another bit of contradictory evidence undermining the creationist caricature of the man who formulated the theory of evolution. Not that any evidence, of any kind, in any amount, would ever change their minds on this or any other subject.


Apacalypse 2012

"There’s a growing realization that materialism and the rational, empirical worldview that comes with it has reached its expiration date,” Daniel Pinchbeck, tells The New York Times' Benjamin Anastas.

According to Anastas, Pinchbeck has introduced "a young and savvy audience to the school of millenarian thinking" by employing "viral marketing and a tireless schedule of public appearances."

Just how savvy is Pinchbeck. Well let's just say, he's appeared on "The Colbert Report."

Pinchbeck and a handful of like-minded alternative scholars want to to "free the planet from the dissonant influence of Western science."

Other proponents of Pinchbeck's theory have been going conferences and sending out papers and links to their Web site to selected scholars for years, but their attempts at making contact are usually ignored.

"They really don’t want to engage in a discussion with you," says another of the theory's adherents, John Major Jenkins.

Same old, same old from intelligent design activists?

Well, no.

These guys believe the world will come to and end on December 21, 2012 based on their reading of ancient Mayan calendars.

Monday, July 02, 2007


Red State Rabble's Great American Quote Mine Contest Results

Red State Rabble’s Great American Quote Mine Contest inspired many readers to try their hand at what, until now, had been an undertaking reserved almost exclusively for creationists in all their splendid variety: young earth, old earth, and intelligent design.

The contest was inspired by a Douglas H. Erwin story in The New York Times reporting "there are growing calls among some evolutionary biologists" to revise what has come to be called the modern synthesis of Darwin's theory of evolution. While Erwin noted that "none of these concerns provide a scintilla of hope for creationists," we predicted Erwin’s story would provide fertile soil for creationist and intelligent design quote mining, anyway.

"Maybe we should beat them to the punch (read: mock them) and start pulling out bits and pieces from the NYT collection to show how it's done," suggested RSR reader, Gerry L.

It was a brilliant idea, and so, the contest was born.

Early entries got off to a rocky start. We noted that RSR readers have a marked tendency to belong to the reality-based community and so had a hard time doing what comes so naturally to creationists.

It’s easy to understand why someone who looks at the Grand Canyon’s spectacular aggregation of sedimentary, igneous, and metamorphic rock strata as a byproduct of the Biblical Flood would have no problem seeing what they want to see in a modern scientific text, but our readers, initially, had a harder time freeing themselves from the restrictions placed on them by text they were given to work with.

John Pieret, editor of the invaluable Quote Mine Project, wrote in to give an idea just how daunting the task would be for someone constrained by the heavy burden of a sense of honesty, good judgement, and rational thought. “A good quote mine can cross dozens of paragraphs or even pages,” he noted. The most ambitious quote mine recorded by the project, Pieret adds, was cobbled together from selections more than 100 pages apart.

Let’s face it. We just didn’t have that much raw material to work with. Even so, the entries all of you sent in display remarkable inventiveness, wit, and good humor.

Here they are, the finalists in Red State Rabble’s Great American Quote Mine Contest:

From IW: Darwinist admits Darwinism is "History"

"Many scientists suffer from a kind of split personality," writes Douglas Erwin, and are too busy studying "how genes operate, and evolve" to admit that "The Achilles' heel of the modern synthesis, as noted by the philosopher Ron Amundson, is that it deals primarily with the transmission of genes from one generation to the next, but not how genes produce bodies."

In fact, Darwinists cannot account for what we now know of the complex relationship between genes' information and the development of species. Evolution cannot explain, for example, how "rewiring the circuitry of genes produces different arthropod appendages, or wingspots on butterflies." This is the "Achilles' heel of Darwinism, a fatal flaw that I predict will lead the rise of Intelligent Design and the overthrow of Darwinist Dogma.

One example of this is the genetic sequence of sea urchins and starfish, which have "five core genes, which form what Davidson calls a kernel, cannot be modified: change any one of them and no embryo forms at all." Darwinism claims that genes must be modified to create new life, but these genes "limit the range of possibilities on which natural selection can act." ID predicts just such an occurrence, as the designer would certainly preserve basic elements of his design for long periods of time, but Darwinists, Erwin admits, understanding of what these processes mean for evolution."

What they mean is simple: Darwinism as a mechanism of macroevolution has failed. Only ID can explain the preservation of developmental genes. Erwin, himself a Darwinists, notes that a paradigm shift" is taking place and that this demonstrates "hope for ID advocates]," who correctly understand that Darwinism is incapable of explaining developmental change, and that we must turn to the obvious features of design to explain how organisms develop and change over time.

Darwinist thought, Erwin notes, is "uniformitarian," and ignores the simple truth that while "Evolutionary theory assumes" that species cannot "modify their environment." By failing to understand the role of design in life, Darwinists fail to see that design " changes how selection affects [species]: they construct their own environment." Darwinists can not admit to design by any designer.

The implications of this cannot be ignored, even by Darwinists: Evolutionary theory," Erwin is forced to admit, is "history."
Reader MW asks, Is Darwin due for an upgrade?
There are growing calls among biologists for just such a revision. Studies of the fossil record raise questions about the role of competition. Geneticists, paleontologists and others disagree about the efficacy of natural selection. There is certainly no consensus among evolutionary biologists. These concerns provide hope for creationists. The foundations for a paradigm shift may be in place.
MW submitted two entries. Since there are no rules in the contest – that would run counter to the intent of quote mining – the judges (me) decided to allow it.

"Perhaps the most exciting area in evolution is in exploring wingspots on butterflies."
Frequent commenter GO'C submitted this entry:

The New York Times recently proclaimed that, "Darwin is due for an upgrade." According to the highly regarded author of the article, "In the past few years every element of this paradigm has been attacked." The basis for the upgrade is the surfeit of irrational scientists, because, "Many scientists suffer from a kind of split personality."The upgrade to Darwinism is called a "paradigm shift" (some say that only a pair of dimes is necessary to change scientists' fragmented minds). Raw Ambition drives these lying scientists. "What ambitious scientist would not want to be part of a paradigm shift?" Observed, Douglas H. Erwin, a senior scientist at the National Museum of Natural History at the Smithsonian Institution and a research professor at the Santa Fe Institute.

Because ambition and artifice are the tools of science, the Times states, "None of these concerns provide a scintilla of hope for creationists." Quite rightly where scientists have to cloud issues to take a buck from their grants and creationists don't have, or need, grants to "fund" their knowledge of God's master plan.

In closing, Dr. Erwin opined: "As evolutionary biologists we have little understanding of what these processes mean for evolution." Dr. Erwin follows with this blockbuster, "Does all this add up to a new modern synthesis?" Answering his own question, Dr. Erwin admits that: There is certainly no consensus among evolutionary biologists."

PF submitted this brief but beautiful quote mine:

Transitions between species documented by the fossil record seemed to be ... too abrupt to be explained by ... natural selection occurring within species...
Working with just the final paragraph of the article reader Gerry L. – to whom we are deeply indebted for coming up with the idea for the contest – offers the following, although, as you can see, he wasn’t quite able to let himself go by dropping the ellipses. Honesty is a heavy load which the defenders of science must bear alone in this debate:

These concerns provide (...) hope for creationists.

There is (...) no consensus among evolutionary biologists, but (...) creationists (...) are already providing (...) the foundations for a paradigm shift, (...) a truly novel perspective (...) within an expanded modern synthesis.

There is certainly (...) consensus among evolutionary biologists (...) on how (...) creationists (...) are already providing (...) the foundations for (...) a truly novel perspective (...) within an expanded modern synthesis.
From the full article Gerry was able to fashion the following quote which almost had the Darwinbot in me doubting Darwin for a moment.

Computer simulations have shown (...) transitions between species (...) to be (...) the Achilles’ heel of (...) evolution.
John Pieret walks into this contest like a pool shark who carries his own cue. His vast experience as editor of the Quote Mine Project shows. Here’s his entry:

Darwin’s big idea ... holds that mutations to DNA create new variants of existing genes within a species. In the past few years every element of this paradigm has been attacked. Transitions between species seemed to be abrupt, ... too abrupt to be explained by the modern synthesis.

Doc Bill, another frequent commenter, was so taken with his own entry that he ended his note by saying what a sad day it is. Darwinism is dead.

Erwin writes, "Is Darwin due for an upgrade? There are growing calls among some evolutionary biologists for just such a revision..." of the current Darwinian paradigm which appears to be crumbling from within. Erwin continues by noting, "In the past few years every element of this paradigm has been attacked. the origin of major animal groups, including vertebrates.""Does all this add up to a new modern synthesis? There is certainly no consensus among evolutionary biologists..." Furthermore the article states "...development, ecology, genetics and paleontology all provide new perspectives on how evolution operates, and how we should study it. None of these concerns provide a scintilla of hope..."

So, who are the lucky winners of the Red State Rabble mouse pads? The judges (me again) had such a hard time deciding that we put all the names in a hat and had our youngest daughter, Molly, draw the names of the four winners.

And, the winners are: IW, MW, PF, and Doc Bill.

Who says random processes can't create new information?

Congratualtions to all the winners. Thanks to everyone who entered. Winners, please e-mail me an address that I can mail your prize to.

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