Monthly Archives: December 2005

New Phone

I got an Audiovox XV6600 PDA with cell phone capabilities. In order to make it generally useful as a phone I also have a Jabra BT350 Bluetooth headset. So far, things seem fine, though I miss the voice recognition on my old Motorola T720 phone.

Part of the reason for going with this was to give me a good personal reason to learn programming for the Pocket PC, since Pocket PCs are what are being used by Diane for recording sound on sage grouse leks during the field season (mid-February to April) in Wyoming. It looks like it will be a steep learning curve. I have downloaded about half a gig of stuff from Microsoft to get set up for this.

If anyone out there has some pointers for getting started with Pocket PC programming, let me know. I was thinking that maybe I should make a Pocket PC version of the “Finite Improbability Calculator” as a beginner’s project.

I also have (perhaps just for this month) Internet access through the phone, which has me looking at web pages in a new way. It turns out that my pages for and this weblog show up pretty nicely on the PDA, while some others could use some work, including Panda’s Thumb. It also made clear that Squirrelmail is almost unusable on a PDA as it comes out of the box, but someone has already figured out how to turn it into “Squirrelmail Lite”. Frames really are evil, and PDA users would agree wholeheartedly.

A Christmas Thought

Diane and I are visiting our parents. We’ll have the whole family together for Christmas day.

I am filled with gratitude to be here, given how easily I might have succumbed in 2004 to my illness. And my life has been filled with blessings. It is certainly a good time to reflect on these things.

One thing that perplexes me is the whole “War on Christmas” issue. I wonder what it is that is being called persecution. I’m sure that there are Christians in the USA who have suffered because of their beliefs, but I have a hard time believing that the numbers are anything but miniscule. We are easily the single largest group that people identify with here, and by and large we set the political agenda. Sure, there is that language in the constitution aimed at providing for tolerance toward different beliefs, but I think that benefits everyone and is nothing to kick about. I still say “Merry Christmas”, and nobody has offered to repress me yet over it. When there is a real abuse, we should pay attention to it, but what a store’s employees say in a greeting is so far down my list of “offensive things” that it doesn’t even register.

So I’d like to suggest that this Christmas we stop for a moment to look beyond the “War on Christmas”, which if nothing else is a form of group narcissism (instead of “me, me, me” it is “us, us, us”), and think a bit about trying to aid people who are undergoing real persecution right now. I think that helping out Amnesty International might be just the ticket.

“Maybe A New Name”

Quick, go have a look at Tom Toles’ editorial cartoon.

Two primates consider a drawing upon which three identical quadrupeds are drawn. From left to right, they bear the names, “Creationism”, “Creation Science”, and “Intelligent Design”. One of the figures is making the comment, “We’re not making a lot of progress.” In the corner is a closing mini-panel, a frequent feature of Toles’ artwork, where the other figure suggests, “Maybe a new name…”

And that is precisely what the antievolution movement has offered, time and again, when rebuffed by the courts. There is no consideration that perhaps the content is at issue, you know, that collection of classic antievolution arguments. Rather, new strategies simply take up how best to sell what we all know to be pressed sawdust as if it were cornflakes, and the answer has always been, “Change the name. They’ll never guess it’s the same thing we were selling last week.”

Robertson on Dover

Pat Robertson weighed in on the Dover intelligent-design case again during Wednesday night’s broadcast of “The 700 Club.”

Rather than attacking the voters in the Dover Area School District, – as he did last time – this time he directed his criticism toward the American Civil Liberties Union, Judge John E. Jones III and scientists who dismiss intelligent design.

“No scientist was there 15 billion years ago, so how can they say with great certainty that this is what happened?” Robertson asked.

Robertson called on the American Center for Law and Justice, a conservative Christian legal advocacy group that he founded, to find a case where evolution is taught as the only theory on the origin of life, and challenge it on constitutional grounds.

“This is an appalling ruling by a man who has shown unbelievable arrogance,” Robertson said, referring to Jones.

Robertson previously commented on the case in November, after most of the candidates who supported the teaching of intelligent design were swept out of office.

In that broadcast, he stated:

“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.”

That comment led to a segment about Dover this month on “The Daily Show,” Comedy Central’s satirical news show.

(York Daily Record article)

Well, Pat, we know about things that happened in the absence of human observers because evidence is left behind. This is just as true for events of 15 billion years ago as it is for crimes that forensics experts scrutinize every day in the present. If Pat wishes to be consistent in his epistemology, we can empty out the prisons of this country of anyone convicted because of incriminating circumstantial evidence — fingerprints, DNA matches, that sort of thing — as opposed to good old testimony of an eyewitness. In the case of an event of the antiquity Pat states, surely he didn’t miss the announcement of the discovery of the cosmic microwave background radiation, did he? But at least Pat shows some consistency, for he uses the “no one was there” statement in his conclusions about scripture as well as science.

It is interesting that Robertson uses the Big Bang date in the above, given a previous statement that indicates that he accepts the Big Bang:

The current theory which I accept points to a big bang theory as the beginning of creation, when about 15 billion years ago an extraordinarily dense mass exploded, and out of that came an expanding universe. Part of the reason scientists believe this theory stems from the movement of the planets. Study of the cosmos indicates that the planets are still moving away from each other. Imagine that we took a big balloon that had not been expanded, put little dots all around it, and then began to blow up the balloon. As we blew up the balloon, the dots would get farther and farther apart. That is similar to what astronomers observe has been happening to our universe during these 15 billion years.

The big bang theory is not at odds with the belief in a creator or what is called intelligent design. The Bible neither supports or negates such a theory, since the Bible was not written as a science book. (p. 135, bold added)

(Tough Questions, Bad Answers)

[I should note that the above quote comes from a site that is critical of Robertson. While they claim to be quoting Robertson’s book, Bring It On, Tough Questions. Candid Answers, I can’t say that it would surprise me if the quotation were not entirely accurate. If someone could confirm that Robertson’s book actually says this, I’d appreciate it.]

Now, on to Pat’s claim that Jones displays arrogance. Irony is distinctly the wrong word to deploy here. Hypocrisy is, I think, the word that is indicated. How could Pat make any case for arrogance on Jones’ part? When one reads the decision, one finds that Jones is far from arrogant; he is almost not there at all as a personal figure. For every conclusion made, there is one or more items of evidence cited to substantiate the point. That makes a huge contrast to the evidence-free bombast that one can expect from nearly any text penned by Robertson.

I don’t think that Pat gave anything approaching an apology to the citizens of Dover. They should be commended for turning out untruthful public servants who let their personal agendas override consideration of what was best for the students of Dover. Instead, Pat berated them. In doing so, Pat was endorsing the actions of board members who lied under oath. It is not enough for Christians to have good intentions (though it is not at all clear that “good” describes the DASD intent); the means by which Christians take action should also reflect positive morality. And that does not encompass antievolution subterfuges and other forms of lying.

The Galvanic Response

In a response to the KvD decision, William Dembski had a few words to say:

“This galvanizes the Christian community,” said William Dembski, a leading proponent of the theory and a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, a Seattle think tank that promotes intelligent design research. “People I’m talking to say we’re going to be raising a whole lot more funds now.”

Where to start? Well, I do think that the Christian community should be galvanized, but certainly in a way different from what Dembski thinks. Judge Jones’ decision clearly lays out how both the specific actions of the Dover school district and the general tactics of “intelligent design” advocates have been based upon deception, subterfuge, and lies. We as Christians should reject utterly the sort of lies, mendacity, and innuendo that not just characterize antievolution, but comprise it. It is a blot upon the reputation of the body of Christ, an erroneous and injurious digression from the serious business of making our lives an example to the world.

And a positive example of just the sort of response that should be seen is seen in the Clergy Letter Project. More than 10,000 US clergy have signed the following statement:

Within the community of Christian believers there are areas of dispute and disagreement, including the proper way to interpret Holy Scripture. While virtually all Christians take the Bible seriously and hold it to be authoritative in matters of faith and practice, the overwhelming majority do not read the Bible literally, as they would a science textbook. Many of the beloved stories found in the Bible – the Creation, Adam and Eve, Noah and the ark – convey timeless truths about God, human beings, and the proper relationship between Creator and creation expressed in the only form capable of transmitting these truths from generation to generation. Religious truth is of a different order from scientific truth. Its purpose is not to convey scientific information but to transform hearts.

We the undersigned, Christian clergy from many different traditions, believe that the timeless truths of the Bible and the discoveries of modern science may comfortably coexist. We believe that the theory of evolution is a foundational scientific truth, one that has stood up to rigorous scrutiny and upon which much of human knowledge and achievement rests. To reject this truth or to treat it as “one theory among others” is to deliberately embrace scientific ignorance and transmit such ignorance to our children. We believe that among God’s good gifts are human minds capable of critical thought and that the failure to fully employ this gift is a rejection of the will of our Creator. To argue that God’s loving plan of salvation for humanity precludes the full employment of the God-given faculty of reason is to attempt to limit God, an act of hubris. We urge school board members to preserve the integrity of the science curriculum by affirming the teaching of the theory of evolution as a core component of human knowledge. We ask that science remain science and that religion remain religion, two very different, but complementary, forms of truth.

In the second instance, Christians should be repulsed by the notion that we are simply seen as a complicit source of ready cash, ready to be squeezed by sensational broadsides into giving money to people whose aim is to spread misinformation. In these times, there are so many worthy causes to be supported that it should be inconceivable that one would instead send even a dime to folks whose only product is misinformation, and whose claims to be doing Christian work are an offense.

Whether one is a Christian and theistic evolutionist, old-earth creationist, or young-earth creationist, the time has come to reject the false teachings of antievolution peddlers. If one finds the data and theories of science to be incompatible with one’s interpretation of scripture, then say that and there leave it. That at least is an honest difference of opinion, without the pretense that one is trying to cloak theology in a camouflage outfit to try to pass it off as science. Christian belief has weathered previous encounters with aspects of science. Pretense, though, must be set aside. Christians can disagree on whether particular findings of science should or should not be accepted, and how the interface of theology and science should be handled. But Christians should draw the line on the use of untruthful tactics. It is past time to say that we will not put up with lies told in the name of Christ.

A Correction

I’ve come to an understanding that what one says is not necessarily what one will be reported to say. A chunk of that understanding came from my stint as a photojournalist working with reporters. It’s a hazard of life for those who become spokespersons. But the ways in which a reporter can get things wrong runs the gamut from “annoying but harmless” to “actionable”. Generally, I leave well enough alone for small stuff. But sometimes there needs to be a statement of correction.

An article on the Ekklesia site, Theologians and scientists welcome Intelligent Design ban, is overall a good report, and is especially welcome for pointing out how “intelligent design” is bad theology as well as non-science. But there’s a reference to me that overstates things.

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Media Interaction

I was in a three-minute spot on the KRON 4 TV morning show with Phil Matier today. Nick Matzke was on the Channel 2 show, as local TV found the Dover, PA decision of interest.

Matier’s spots are taken on location at the Buttercup Kitchen Restaurant in downtown Oakland. The setup is, as Matier explained, as if the TV camera places the viewer in the midst of a series of over-coffee conversations. I arrived in time to see Matier’s broadcast with the previous guest, who if I remember correctly was a state senator.

The chair I was to sit in was to be taken as being in a fixed position, according to the cameraman. After taking my seat and having a lapel microphone attached, Matier asked for my name and affiliation in order to get them right. I had tried to get Matier to read a York Daily Record editorial as a primer for conversation, but I guess that there was too little time for that. I had on hand the editorial, a printout of Judge Jones’ decision, and a copy of Of Pandas and People.

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Seeing Myself Through Another’s Eyes

Jeff Shallit pointed out to me that a chunk of a article describes a lecture I gave at Chabot College in November.

Elsberry launched the series to a standing-room-only crowd, with a detailed review of the history of evolutionary theory from pre-Darwin days until now. It was thorough and fair and totally lacking in hype or flair. As one who has long studied evolution and natural history, I managed to follow along. But judging by the drooping heads and the dozen or so empty seats when the lights came up, I’m not sure how many of the Chabot students did.

(Gordy Slack’s “Survival of the unfittest”)


On the other hand, it does reinforce the point that public debates aren’t really about the content, but rather about the relative debating skills of the speakers. Of course, it’s a bit hard to take the realization that I’m right in the pack of my peers on the ability to hold an audience’s attention. It would be so nice to have a little bit of the pizazz that Ken Miller brings to a stage. I’m just going to have to work on it. I hope to work my way to a presentation that is lacking in hype, but is thorough and fair with flair.

Update: I corresponded with Gordy Slack, the reporter, who said that he thought my lecture was good, but that his appreciation of it in the article was diminished during the editing process at Salon. He also said that he felt that I earned the respect of the students as they were able to compare my presentation to the others. It’s unfortunate that that information ended up on’s editing room floor.

There was a videotape made of my lecture. I am trying to obtain a copy of it.

There’s something of a mismatch between what Sperling requested in the way of topic of my talk and what seems to be reported in the article. I specifically asked her if she wanted a response to “intelligent design” and other creationist materials in my talk, and she said that I should stick to straight evolutionary biology. The quote from Sperling indicates that she actually would have been better served to have me address the claims of the antievolutionists. However, that was exactly what she had discouraged me from doing.

I’ve had a couple of prior outings. My 2002 CSICOP presentation materials include a Powerpoint file and a text script. Some of that information demonstrates the duplicity of Phillip Johnson, who authored the text of the “Santorum Amendment” but at the same period wass telling reporters that legislating views was something bad that the opposition did, not ID. That would have been useful for the students to know before Johnson appeared to speak to them.

In 2001, I presented at the CTNS/AAAS “Interpreting Evolution” conference at Haverford College. That was videotaped and made available online:

KvD: Plaintiffs (and Science Education) Win!

In a clearly-argued decision, Judge John E. Jones III ruled in favor of the plaintiffs in the Kitzmiller et al. v. Dover Area School District case.

Back in 2004, Casey Luskin and I had lunch. One of the topics of conversation was the legal status of “intelligent design” and how a court case might turn out. Casey argued that since ID had no explicit mention of the identity of the “designer” as God and no explicit use of scripture, it would have no trouble in court. I argued that the history of commonality with creationism and the identity of the arguments between the two would be found to put ID in violation of the establishment clause. I’m happy to report that Judge Jones concurs with me and not Casey.

The decision runs to 139 pages. Within those pages, Jones finds that the DASD “intelligent design policy” failed the “endorsement test” for both a reasonable student observer and a reasonable adult observer, failed both the “purpose” and “effect” prongs of the Lemon test, fails to meet the standards of the Pennsylvania state constitution, that evolution is compatible with belief in a divine creator, demonstrated that “intelligent design” fails to reach the status of science, and finds that “intelligent design” is simply a new label for the old content of creationism. The decision is a wonderful read, reminiscent of the quality of the Overton decision in the 1982 McLean v. Arkansas case.

Panda’s Thumb has several new articles and an update to the “Waterloo in Dover” article. However, server traffic has out-run the available bandwidth this morning.

And Glenn Branch tells me that Dembski may owe him a bottle of Scotch over a wager from 2002.

Scott and Branch add, “… the sectarian orientation of ID renders it unsuitable for constitutional reasons.”

Comment: They are herewith throwing down the gauntlet. I’ll wager a bottle of single-malt scotch, should it ever go to trial whether ID may legitimately be taught in public school science curricula, that ID will pass all constitutional hurdles. To see why, check out the fine Utah Law Review article by David DeWolf et al. at

(William A. Dembski)

Another point: the decision also finds that the “teach the controversy” stuff is illegitimate.

[…] ID, as noted, is grounded in theology, not science. Accepting for the sake of argument its proponents’, as well as Defendants’ argument that to introduce ID to students will encourage critical thinking, it still has utterly no place in a science curriculum. Moreover, ID’s backers have sought to avoid the scientific scrutiny which we have now determined that it cannot withstand by advocating that the controversy, but not ID itself, should be taught in science class. This tactic is at best disingenuous, and at worst a canard. The goal of the IDM is not to encourage critical thought, but to foment a revolution which would supplant evolutionary theory with ID.

(Decision p.89)

SMM2005 Kickoff Pics

We drove down to San Diego and are staying with Andrea, a fellow falconer. So here are all the birds perched out in Andrea’s yard.
Registration on Sunday at the Manchester Hyatt in San Diego. I did an on-site registration for Diane, and it took over an hour of standing in line. The picture shows the advance registration counter.
Don Carder and Ann Bowles at the icebreaker event at Sea World.
A killer whale slides out as it would for medical exam, sample collection, or artificial insemination.
There’s a killer whale performing a behavior, having taken the behavior cue from the image on the display screen. Note the woman in the lower part of the frame. It’s her image on the display screen.
A trainer slides off a killer whale moving into the slide-out area.
A trainer and killer whale perform an acrobatic maneuver in front of the display screen.

The Biennial Conference is On

The 16th Biennial Conference on the Biology of Marine Mammals is on in San Diego, California. I am seeing many of my colleagues from when I worked here, and many friends and acquaintances from much further away. There are over 300 talks scheduled and over 800 poster presentations.

Sunday night had an icebreaker event at San Diego’s Sea World, with a special killer whale presentation on research, including artificial insemination.

Computing Stuff

I’m working on an installation of the new FreeBSD 6.0 release. They promise that the filesystem is more efficient now, which seems like a nice feature. My approach is to use the “dangerously dedicated” (DD) disk mode: why should I mess up FreeBSD with another, mostly-useless, bootable partition gumming up the works? Another nice thing about DD is that one can blow off BIOS limits on disk size. I’m running a 5.4 install on a 320GB disk. The machine that’s in has a BIOS that only recognizes disks up to about 127GB in size. With DD, that’s no problem.

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Back from Visit

Diane and I are back from a visit with our friends from Florida, Tanya and John, who are travelling with their children, Paul (age 5) and Veronica (age 3).

We headed south on Sunday, pausing at the O’Neill Forebay Wildlife Area to take Rusty, Glamdring, Farli, and Ritka out to hunt for pheasant. Rusty did locate one and briefly had it in her talons, but it got loose and made good its escape.

We continued on in the dark to King’s Canyon. We stayed at the Snowline Lodge, a small facility currently being renovated. There were some issues with heating, but things worked out OK.

In two days, we visited Grant Grove, Hume Lake, Giant Forest, Moro Rock, and Stony Creek. When we visited Moro Rock, we were pretty effectively fogged in, so I have pictures of Moro Rock itself, but no stunning vistas, unless you happen to find a wall of fog stunning.

Pictures to be put up later…