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January 31, 2005

Creationism "Speciation Event" observed

Over on Joe McFaul's Law Evolution Science and Junk Science, we learn that there has perhaps been a Creationism "Speciation Event". A what?! Well, here's an excerpt:

The lawsuit is filed by lawyer Larry Caldwell of Roseville California against the local school district and board members.  The lawsuit arises out of Mr. Caldwell's proposal to present an alternative viewpoint to the teaching of evolution.

[...]

Most humorous is his effort to distance himself from Intelligent Design. The suit doesn’t mention Intelligent Design” except to deny its involvement.  Apparently Creationism’s Trojan Horse now needs its own Trojan Horse. This appears to be a "speciation event" in the long process of creationism's evolution.

[...]

Instead of forthrightly advocating the teaching of Intelligent design, his proffered plan teaches a "minority Scientific Viewpoint."   Apparently Intelligent Design has become so well identified as a front for religious interference in schools that it can no longer be effectively used. The term du jour for "creationism" is has now become “Minority Scientific Viewpoint.“ I guess this could be termed a “speciation event” in the continuing evolution of “creationism.”

It makes sense, I suppose. In a more conservative state, where the fundamentalists are more prevalent, there's less need to dress the wolf of creationism in the sheep's clothing of science. California, on the other hand, is generally liberal and thus would look less favorably on creationism or ID.

In short, it is a different environment, and evolution quite plainly shows that creatures in different environments evolve differently. How's that for irony? :-)

I suspect it's just an isolated event, however. Intelligent Design probably has many more years of life left in it.

Link: Law Evolution Science and Junk Science: Creationism "Speciation Event" observed.

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January 31, 2005 in Creationism and Evolution | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 30, 2005

Origin of the Specious

A post at Wedgie World directed me to Origin of the Specious from the July 1997 issue of Reason. It's a very interesting article (from a viewpoint seven years in the past) about the interest the neoconservatives are showing in opposing evolution. Here are a few excerpts:

Darwinism is on the way out. At least, that's what Irving Kristol announced to a gathering at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington not long ago. Darwinian evolution, according to the godfather of neoconservatism, "is really no longer accepted so easily by [many] biologists and scientists." [...]

This may seem to some readers to be a personal quirk of Kristol's. Perhaps as he approaches Eternity (he's 77), he may want some grand company there. But Kristol's friend and colleague Robert Bork is claiming the same thing: Charles Darwin and his theories are finished. In his new work, Slouching Towards Gomorrah: Modern Liberalism and American Decline, Bork pins his own anti-evolutionary attack on Darwin's Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution, a recent book by biochemist Michael Behe. 

[...]

But the neocon assault on Darwinism may not be based on either science or spirituality so much as on politics and political philosophy. That is the view of Paul Gross, a biologist and self-described conservative. Gross is much concerned with the interplay of science and politics--he is the co-author of the 1994 book, Higher Superstition: The Academic Left and Its Quarrels with Science--and is puzzled by the attacks on evolutionary biology by people whose political views he largely shares. Regarding Commentary's anti-Darwin article, he says he is mystified that the magazine "would publish the damned thing without at least passing it by a few scientists first."

Gross believes that the conservative attack on Darwin may be a case of tactical politics. Some conservative intellectuals think religious fundamentalists are "essential to the political program of the right," says Gross. As a gesture of solidarity, he says, these intellectuals are publicly embracing arguments that appear to "keep God in the picture."

[...]

But something deeper seems to be going on, and the key to it can be found in Bork's assertion in his book that religious "belief is probably essential to a civilized future." These otherwise largely secular intellectuals may well have turned on Darwin because they have concluded that his theory of evolution undermines religious faith in society at large.

[...]

Kristol restated this insight nearly five decades ago in an essay in Commentary dealing with Freud: "If God does not exist, and if religion is an illusion that the majority of men cannot live without...let men believe in the lies of religion since they cannot do without them, and let then a handful of sages, who know the truth and can live with it, keep it among themselves. Men are then divided into the wise and the foolish, the philosophers and the common men, and atheism becomes a guarded, esoteric doctrine--for if the illusions of religion were to be discredited, there is no telling with what madness men would be seized, with what uncontrollable anguish."

I find that a mindboggling notion -- that many leading neocons might in fact secretly accept evolution and perhaps even the non-existence of God, but that they don't believe that "the common man" should be let in on the secret.

Liberals are frequently accused of being paternalistic, telling everyone else how to live because we know best. What a strange irony it would be if some leading neocons are taking that paternalism to the ultimate level.

The article is quite lengthy, with plenty more information about what neocons have said about evolution and religion. I highly recommend reading it.

Link: Origin of the Specious.

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January 30, 2005 in Creationism and Evolution | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Darwin Day is February 12

So, have you registered your Darwin Day event yet? (We'll be doing something, but we're still trying to get a site!)

Link: Darwin Day Celebration.

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January 30, 2005 in Creationism and Evolution | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The Conservative Voice says Evolution Caused the Holocaust

Jonathan Safarti has written an opinion piece in The Conservative Voice that blames the Theory of Evolution for the Holocaust and the Columbine shootings, among other horrors. Here are some excerpts:

Instead, as documented in the current CEN Technical Journal,3 Nazis eagerly made use of the evolutionary concepts already entrenched in German academia. Note that the subtitle of Darwin’s The Origin of Species by means of natural selection was: The preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. Evolutionary teachings were simply carried to their logical conclusion by the Nazis who tried to exterminate the ‘inferior’ races like the Jews, Gypsies, and Slavs, as well as the ‘unfit’ (e.g. the handicapped).

[...]

However, the Western nations have not learned the lessons of the horrific wars and genocides this century. Evolution is today entrenched in our universities even more than it was in Nazi Germany.

[...]

And our report of the Columbine High School massacre documents the on-going effects of evolutionary thinking in the young (How to build a bomb in the public school system).

Strange. I suspect it is a bad strategy for the creationists to use the argument that, if some people use Darwin's writings to justify their patently evil actions, then we must stop teaching what Darwin wrote. The reason being that the obvious counterargument would be to ask what it means when some people use God's writings to justify their patently evil actions.

Link: The Conservative Voice - Opinion: The Holocaust and Evolution.

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January 30, 2005 in Creationism and Evolution | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 29, 2005

NCSE on Georgia House Bill 179

The NCSE has coverage of a bill introduced on January 27 in the Georgia House of Representatives that would require teaching " factual scientific evidence inconsistent with or not supporting the theory" of evolution -- i.e. Intelligent Design.

The NCSE notes that a similar bill was introduced in 1998, but this one differs by containing "contains a subsection claiming that it is 'intended to strengthen the analytical skills of students' and 'not intended to authorize or promote the presentation of religious beliefs,' apparently attempting to render it constitutional under the purpose prong of the Lemon test."

Apparently the bill's sponsor is hoping that all you need to do to make a bill non-religious is to include a bit of language claiming that it is non-religious.

According to the article, the bill has little chance of becoming law.

Link: New antievolution legislation.

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January 29, 2005 in Creationism and Evolution | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

NCSE on Recent Evolution Disclaimer Sticker Commentaries

The NCSE has posted links and summaries of 3 op-ed columns about the evolution disclaimer stickers in biology textbooks in Cobb County, Georgia, as well as about a recent humor column commenting on the topic in Scientific American.

Link: Op-ed columns on the Cobb County disclaimer.

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January 29, 2005 in Creationism and Evolution | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

"Stealth Attack On Evolution" in Time

The January 31 issue of Time includes the article, Stealth Attack On Evolution. The article describes the ongoing attempts to get Intelligent Design into the classroom, noting recent activities in Kansas, Georgia, and Dover, Pennsylvania. It also quotes NCSE Director Eugenie Scott and to a certain extent it seems to support our side.

A look at where the Discovery Institute gets much of its money and at the religious beliefs of many scientists who support I.D. makes it reasonable to suspect that Scott's assertion is correct: intelligent design is just a smoke screen for those who think evolution is somehow ungodly.

For the most part, however, it just reports on the controversy, without really explicitly taking one side or the other. I always find it frustrating to read articles like that. It's like reading, "Tom believes that we should eat babies, because it will reduce overpopulation and they are nutritious. Karen, on the other hand, finds the idea appalling and is opposed to it." Yes? And? What do you think?

One other bit that I noticed while reading this on Time's web site is that, in their "Sponsored Links" in the right-hand column, there are these three:

  • Proof of Creationism, a book that "offers you, the reader, verifiable proof that the Biblical story of creation harmonizes with science today. It's the first book that offers rationale for beliefin lieu of blind faith."
  • Answers in Genesis, the well-known Old Earth Creationism web site.
  • The Truth is Simple, a book that claims "Who are we really? What is our real purpose? Why is everything the way it is? What will happen to us? The truth is simple. The Answer to the Question."

Three sponsored links, none of them science-oriented.

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January 29, 2005 in Creationism and Evolution | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 28, 2005

Is Banning Intelligent Design a Mistake?

If you have an interest in the creation/evolution struggle, you're probably familiar with the recent decision by the Dover Area School District in Pennsylvania to require the reading of a statement about Intelligent Design in all 9th grade biology classes. The statement says, basically, that evolution is just a theory, that there are problems with it, that an alternative theory called "Intelligent Design" exists, and that interested students can learn more by checking out a book in the library. (The full text of the statement can be found online.)

According to an article in the York Daily Record, Students Miss ID Idea, after the statement was read in their biology class by a school administrator, the students still knew nothing about Intelligent Design. Here's an excerpt from the article that caught my eye:

After students heard the statement, they were told that if they had any questions, they should speak to their parents or contact district administrators, students said. They were also told they could refer to one of 60 copies of the book, "Of Pandas and People," kept in the high-school library.

Yagodich said some of her friends had questions, but administrators left the room before anyone could raise their hands.

"Pretty much on the last word they were headed for the doors," she said.

And later in the article:

After Miller returned to the classroom, she said some students were a little confused and frustrated.

"Students did voice their frustration that they couldn't ask more questions about intelligent design," Miller said.

I think this indicates a big problem with the "ban Intelligent Design" strategy. Imagine for a moment that you're a school student and you've just been told that there's this thing called "Intelligent Design", but that it is forbidden to teach you anything about it. What do you suppose you're going to do? Well, if you're like most students, you're going to forget about it 'cuz you've got better things to do in your life. :-)

But it's possible that you'll wonder about this "forbidden fruit" and will pick up a copy of a book like "Of Pandas and People" to read. You'll then read lots of claims about the alleged shortcomings of evolution — without anyone to explain how those claims are wrong.

If, on the other hand, your biology teacher, in teaching evolution, also teaches Intelligent Design, two things happen. One is that ID is no longer "forbidden fruit". The other is that, as your teachers mentions each claim made by ID, he/she can also explain why that claim isn't valid, debunking ID on the spot.

I've heard that in many European countries, rather than prohibiting religion from the classroom, they teach numerous religious ideas in school. As a result, someone who only knows Christianity is also exposed to Islam, Buddhism, Shinto, Hinduism, Confucianism, Judaism, Zoroastrianism, etc. They supposedly quickly get the point that not all of them can be right, so perhaps they should be a bit more tolerant and open to the ideas of others. As a result, they don't have as many problems with Christian religious fundamentalists insisting that public institutions reflect their beliefs. And in particular, they don't have to worry about teaching creationism in the classroom.

If this is truly the case in European countries (can anyone confirm this?), I'm wondering whether it's something we ought to consider implementing here in the US.

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January 28, 2005 in Creationism and Evolution | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

January 27, 2005

Titan's methane not of biological origin

Scientists analyzing data from the Huygens probe say that Saturn's moon Titan has more methane than they expected, but Jean-Pierre Lebreton, mission manager for the Huygens probe, said "This methane cannot be coming from living organisms." There doesn't appear to be any explanation in the article as to why he said that, not that I doubt him. Anyone have any details?

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January 27, 2005 in Science and Technology | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

NY Times and Washington Post note anti-evolution activities

The New York Times and the Washington Post both recently ran editorials criticizing recent anti-evolution activities in the US. The New York Times article, The Crafty Attacks on Evolution, ran on January 23, while the Washington Post article, God and Darwin, ran on January 25. (via NCSE)

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January 27, 2005 in Creationism and Evolution | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack