Monthly Archives: February 2006

Judge Jones in Fast Company

The current issue of Fast Company features 50 people contributing to our future outlook, and Judge John E. Jones III of the Kitzmiller v. DASD case is among them. Unsurprisingly, the magazine’s take fits in with a recurrent theme here: good science education is not just a good idea, it is intimately related to our country’s prospects for continued economic prosperity. Will Bourne says of Jones’s decision in the case,

In doing so, he helped pull U.S. science education back from the brink–and maybe keep the country competitive worldwide over the next decade and beyond.

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Virus

One of the side effects of travelling and talking is getting to meet lots of new people… and being exposed to new viruses. I picked one up this last trip and am suffering through a cold at the moment. I’m sure that if I do everything just right, I can be rid of it in seven days, but if I don’t, it may linger for a week.

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Henry M. Morris, 1918-2006

Henry Madison Morris, the most prominent and influential antievolutionist of the 20th century, died yesterday, February 25th, 2006. Morris and John Whitcomb kicked off modern antievolution efforts in 1961 with the publication of The Genesis Flood: The Biblical Record and Its Scientific Implications. Morris also founded and was president of the Institute for Creation Research. His son, John Morris, is currently president of ICR.

Morris had a large influence upon me. In 1986, I attended a young-earth antievolution lecture, and asked the lecturer afterward if he could direct me to further information on the topic. He gave me a copy of Morris’s The Scientific Case for Creation. Reading this was literally a life-altering experience for me. The thoroughness of the mendacity presented throughout the volume prompted me to act. I have since opposed dishonesty dressed up as Christian apologetics, especially the antievolution materials. I don’t feel that I can do otherwise. Not following through would make me complicit, in my view.

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Talk at Law Review Symposium

The following is the text of my five minute segment about evolutionary biology.

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Evolutionary biology has a big idea, that organisms are linked in a shared history of descent with modification from one or a few original forms. This is the theory of common descent. In examining aspects of common descent, researchers are interested in both the patterns of heritable change in populations and the processes by which those patterns are made. I apologize for simply arguing from authority, but the short time makes any other approach infeasible.

In the 19th century, evolutionary views of species replaced the earlier idea of fixity of species put in place by special creation. Since 1859, the year of publication of Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species, researchers have assiduously put the theories concerning evolutionary pattern and process to rigorous test. The scientific literature developed since then is voluminous. Darwin’s work provided a starting point, but the field has grown in ways that demonstrate the diversity of views of the researchers, incorporating technical work on theoretical biology, mathematical models, observational studies, experimental studies in both the field and the lab, applied work in agriculture, medicine, and wildlife management, and even computational models that serve both theory and practical applications in engineering. The field of evolutionary biology today is state-of-the-art science.

Continue reading

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North Carolina Visit

I’m now in Chapel Hill, North Carolina for the Carolina Law Review Symposium on Religion in the Public Schools. Dan Feldman kindly picked me up at the airport and transported me to the Carolina Inn in Chapel Hill, which will also be the site of the symposium.

Richard Katskee is in another session of this symposium. We were able to meet for dinner at the Carolina Crossroads restaurant in the inn. I got the grilled salmon, which was delicious. In between bites, we ran over our respective presentations and made comments, to the betterment of both.

I need to keep this short, because stuff gets going early in the morning and runs on a tight schedule all day. There are a few fifteen minute breaks and an hour off for lunch, but otherwise it is sessions, sessions, sessions. I don’t even see a proper drinking opportunity in the schedule, which doesn’t quite mesh with the history of “symposium”.

I’m in a session about the scientific legitimacy of “intelligent design”. The person advocating for intelligent design is Prof. Scott Minnich. The whole session is a mere 50 minutes long. There’s five minutes budgeted for the moderator introduction, five for me to present evolutionary biology (!!!), five for Scott to present intelligent design, thirty for a series of questions that Scott and I submitted for each other to be given, and five for questions from the audience. I’m going to suggest to Aaron Young, the moderator, that we alter the format and alternate between the prepared questions and questions from the audience, or at least shift some time from the prepared questions to the audience question period. Five minutes looks way too short for that.

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AAAS, Day 1 Report

Nick Matzke and I set up the NCSE booth at AAAS in the morning. At noon, they opened the exhibit hall to attendees. We had brought 24 copies of Dr. Eugenie C. Scott’s book, Evolution vs. Creationism : An Introduction, and by the evening, we only had four copies left.

Several people familiar to us dropped by the booth during the day: Chris Toumey (God’s Own Scientists: Creationists in a Secular World), John Staver (Kansas Citizens for Science), Lynn Elfner (Ohio Academy of Sciences), Bill Nye (the Science Guy), Phil Plait (Bad Astronomy), and John Brawley (formerly of the FidoNet Science and Evolution Echoes).

A surprise during the day was that I have a fan club. Darlene Snyder came by the booth and warmed up my ego by saying that she had collected pretty much what I have online, including the video from my presentation at the Haverford conference in 2001.

I have some pictures from the day which I hope to get up soon.

Update: I have photographs up now.

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Science Marching On

Diane will be heading out today on the first stage toward the field season in Wyoming. The research group is setting up camp, so we now have an RV, a trailer. We’ve been hurriedly getting it outfitted. The other big thing is getting gear to produce sound for playback to the sage grouse. Here’s the desiderata:

- Use 12V power
- On 24/7
- Reproduce frequencies from low audio (starting somewhere between 20 and 40 Hz) to over 5kHz
- Produce 76 dB re 20 ┬ÁPa SPL at 16 to 32 m from the speakers
- Components are portable (i.e., no single component too heavy for one person to move)
- Weather-resistant speakers (Wyoming outdoors from February to April)

So far, it looks like the combination is infeasible. We’ve got car audio components that do most of the above, but getting to the “on 24/7″ figure is a problem. It looks like each setup would use several fully-charged deep cycle batteries per day, making this a big logistical problem for servicing each of four sites and keeping them running.

We’ve also set up a house-sitter, since I will also be travelling from time to time while Diane is in the field. The first such travel is for me to man the NCSE booth at the AAAS conference in St. Louis on the 16th through 20th. AAAS is the scientific society that publishes the journal, Science. Dr. Eugenie Scott has several talks and panels that she is participating in at the conference, so Nick Matzke and I will handle the exhibition hall work.

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Ohio Wakes Up

On the 14th, the state of Ohio took notice that its “teach the controversy” position, using the phrase “critical analysis”, was actually implemented in such a way that it endorsed creationist argument. The state board voted to remove the “critical analysis” lesson phrase, the part of the benchmark in the standards that set it up for teaching, and charged a committee with looking into what, if anything, needed to be inserted instead.

Along the way, board members discussed the decision from the Dover case and also testimony that was taken in Kansas last year. That’s right, the special hearings that Kansas held to plump for “teaching the controversy” played a role in today’s decision. It was noted that two of the people most closely associated with Ohio’s “critical analysis” lesson plan and benchmark language, Dr. Dan Ely and Bryan Leonard, had testified in Kansas. That testimony included questioning by Pedro Irigonegaray on behalf of the majority draft standards, wherein he asked about the age of the earth. Ely had said that perhaps the earth was only 5,000 years old; Leonard refused to take a stance. In any court case that might result from the Ohio “critical analysis” lesson plan, one could be sure that these two people would be called to the stand. Where would that put Ohio when those who were supposed to verify the scientific value of the lesson plan were shown to have anti-science leanings, or to have refused to answer such a simple and straightforward question?

Of course, another factor was that the Americans United for Separation of Church and State had made an Open Records request for the materials concerning the development, evaluation, and adoption of the “critical analysis” lesson plan. While the process of analysis of materials is still underway, it is already clear that the reviewers of the lesson plan did, in fact, recognize the arguments as the same old creationism material. And it is in the record. This, too, would be certain to be featured in any possible lawsuit.

So the board made its decision, one that helps preserve science-only being taught in the science classes of the state, and aims to remove what clearly is non-science from those classrooms. The Discovery Institute is already whining mightily about this; expect to see a couple of weeks of overwrought prose gushing forth from the DI and IDNet. Will this be the final word in Ohio? It is too early to tell. Currently, the likelihood that Ohio will be the focus of the next major lawsuit over antievolution is declining. It seemed that various ID advocates have wanted to have a test case come about in Ohio or Kansas. At this point, expect a strategic shift of emphasis from Ohio to Kansas.

Update: Anybody who wants the complete set of Waterloos will want something from the Waterloo in Ohio collection.

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Lies, Liars, and Anti-Science

Bruce Salem had a hypothesis on the talk.origins newsgroup: Engineers seem to be disproportionately predisposed to take an antievolution position.

I think I’ve got another sociological hypothesis to put out there: Lying scum seem to be disproportionately predisposed to take an antiscience position.

Some clarification for those ready to jump to erroneous conclusions: The hypothesis is not that antiscience people are always lying scum, nor that lying scum are only found advocating antiscience. It is that of the group of people in the category of lying scum, more of them will tend to associate with antiscience than proscience positions. The hypothesis is based on a statistical distinction, so finding instances of proscience lying scum does not disconfirm it unless those instances become more numerous than instances of antiscience lying scum.

Case in point: George Carlton Deutsch III, until recently employed by NASA in their public relations department. Mr. Deutsch’s resume claimed that he had received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism from Texas A&M University, (TAMU) which happens to be where I got my Ph.D. in 2003. During his time at NASA, Mr. Deutsch helped promulgate policies of restricting access to NASA-affiliated scientists who researched global climate change and insisted that instances of the phrase “Big Bang” on NASA web sites be altered to “Big Bang theory”. Shortly after news reports cited Mr. Deutsch in relation to these policies, people started checking his background. Blogger Nick Anthis learned that there was some question over whether Deutsch actually had the academic credential that he claimed, and contacted the TAMU Former Students Association. (Yes, not an Alumni Association; you don’t want to exclude the dropouts from feeling like chipping in.) They told them that Deutsch had not actually graduated. The New York Times asked the TAMU registrar, and they confirmed that Deutsch had coursework toward a degree, but had not actually completed the degree program.

Something else that Mr. Deutsch failed to take away from TAMU was any appreciation for its “Aggie Code of Honor”: “An Aggie does not lie, cheat, or steal or tolerate those who do.” I do hope that the TAMU administration will permanently bar Mr. Deutsch from registering at any TAMU campus in the future, in accordance with that code.

Other recent notables tending to confirm the hypothesis include some members of the Dover, PA school board in 2004-2005.

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Darwin Day

I’m just home from giving a short talk at Stanford as part of the “Rational Thought” student group’s Darwin Day celebrations. My topic was a brief background on the Kitzmiller v. Dover case.

Mine was the final presentation of the day. Earlier, Frank Sulloway gave a very nice presentation on the influence of the Galapagos Islands in Charles Darwin’s development of his theories on evolution. He was then joined by James Jones and Stephen Palumbi to give a bit of panel discussion and respond to questions from the audience.

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Does ID Get a Pass?

On Friday, Feb. 3rd, I was able to pose a question to Greer-Heard Forum headliners Michael Ruse and William Dembski. Here’s a transcript of that segment:

WRE:Actually I’m interested in a public policy aspect of this whole thing. Last month, I got on the Web of Science database search and looked up the term “cold fusion” and it came up with 900 papers there. “Cold fusion” is the poster child for the “not-ready-for-prime-time” physics theory, something that is not ready for going into 9th grade biology, no, physics textbooks. We see the process of science in things like plate tectonics, and the endosymbiotic theory, the neutral theory, and punctuated equilibria, these are things that have earned a place in the textbooks, because the people put in the work, they convinced the scientific community that they had a point, and that’s why they’re in the textbooks. So, what I’d like to hear from both of you is, is there a justification for giving intelligent design a pass on this process?

Ruse: No.

Dembski: That was short, but I think I can expand on that a little bit. A few years back, I wrote a paper, in fact I think I delivered it at a conference that I think that you attended, what was the title, Becoming a Disciplined Science, Pitfalls, Problems, various things confronting intelligent design, and in that paper I addressed what I thought a real concern for me that intelligent design would become an instrumental good used by various groups to further certain ends, but that the science would get short-shrifted, and I argued that the science was the intrinsic good, and indeed that’s my motivation, ultimately. I could make my peace with Darwinism if I had to, and I’m sufficiently theologically astute to do the fancy footwork, but it’s the science itself that I don’t think holds up, and that’s what motivates me to critique Darwinism and develop intelligent design. But as I argued in that paper, intelligent design has to be developed as a scientific program, otherwise you, you can’t get a pass, I’m with you on that. And I was not a supporter of this Dover policy. Once it was enacted, once the Thomas More Law Center was going ahead with it, I did agree to be an expert witness there, but I think it is premature.

Continue reading

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Greer-Heard Update

I have a few minutes before the plane home loads up, so I
will have to be brief.

The basic thing to know is that the primary things about
this event was that it was a Michael Ruse and Bill Dembski
show. The rest of us were distinctly in the “and many more”
section of the billing.

Bill and Michael led off with talks on Friday night. Bill’s
talk was similar in content to one I heard in 2001, with
many of the very same talkings points: ID being a new way of
doing science, evolution as an incomplete theory that cannot
deal with certain “patterns” in nature. Michael’s talk was
basically that what we see in nature is “design-like”, but that
he agrees with Dawkins that the adaptation of organisms may
be sufficiently explained by natural selection.

Ruse asked Dembski what science stand behind ID. Bill’s answer
was pretty much the same I got in 2002 when I asked about
progress on research for ID: that his own work is laying a
theoretical base and stuff is coming.

Each panelist got to ask a question. Since Ruse had, in essence,
asked what I was going to , I had to think of what to do. I noted
that within the past month or so, I had searched for “cold fusion”
as a term on the “Web of Science” database and got 900 hits. Since
“cold fusion” is the archetypal “not-ready-for-prime-time” theory
in physics, we note that it doesn’t belong in 9th grade biology –
er, physics, that is — textbooks. So, is there a justification for
giving ID a pass on the scientific process and dropping it into
high school science classes.

Ruse simply replied, “No.” Bill had more to say, but basically
agreed that it was premature. The additional stuff was about how
he had thought that the Dover policy was misguided.

OK, I think I will break here and take things up in another
message.

Wesley

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Greer-Heard Forum

I’m headed off very early in the morning Friday to catch a flight to Atlanta, Georgia. Friday evening and the day on Saturday up until 5 PM are blocked out for the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary’s Greer-Heard Forum. This is billed as a non-confrontational but substantive exchange of ideas among scholars on controversial topics. This outing is about “intelligent design”. The star billing goes to Michael Ruse (Florida State University) and William Dembski (Southern Baptist Theological Seminary), while two additional “intelligent design advocates” and two others (the loyal opposition) are on the panel. It’s William Lane Craig and Francis Beckwith for ID, and Matinez Hewlett and me not for ID.

My topic on Saturday will be antievolution and the law. I’m looking to examine the recent ruling in Kitzmiller v. DASD, expanding on precedent as it is used in Jones’ decision.

Sunday I will be spending with my cousin Charlotte and her husband Bob. When we talked on the telephone last week, we worked out that it’s been a mere 21 years since my last visit there, which was when Diane and I were en route to our honeymoon in North Carolina. There’s some catching up to do there.

Update: Over at re-Discovery.org, they have my talk down as, “What I Will Do for Free Airfair” (sic). I might have had that attitude when I was seven and flying in a jet airplane was a novelty, but I can’t say that the prospect of spending six hours packed into a metal cylinder with bad air circulation really appeals anymore. I do have mixed feelings about these kind of setups, but I will do what I can, and that will be that.

It would be a pleasure to meet Loren Williams, even with the dig on his website.

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Censorship as Damage

A Reuters news report has Bill Gates saying the government censorship of web sites will not work.

Microsoft Corp Chairman Bill Gates said on Wednesday that government attempts to censor Web sites or blogs would fail since the banned information could get out in defiance of official efforts.

The spread of private e-mail means online users could distribute banned news despite government injunctions, he told a news conference.

“You may be able to take a very visible Web site and say that something shouldn’t be there, but if there’s a desire by the population to know something, it’s going to get out,” he said.

This is not exactly news. Internetworking was designed to be fault-tolerant, and as one person put it, “The Internet sees censorship as ‘damage’ and routes around it.” During the August Coup of 1991 in the USSR, official news blackouts were evaded using Internet communications, allowing those Soviet citizens with computer connections to pass news and information, contributing to the failure of the coup attempt.

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The Folks Behind the Leak of the “Wedge”

Seattle Weekly has a scathing article on home-town outfit, the Discovery Institute. But the most startling part is that the leakers of the DI “Wedge” document are identified as Matt Duss and Tim Rhodes.

The story begins, so far as the world at large is concerned, on a late January day seven years ago, in a mail room in a downtown Seattle office of an international human-resources firm. The mail room was also the copy center, and a part-time employee named Matt Duss was handed a document to copy. It was not at all the kind of desperately dull personnel-processing document Duss was used to feeding through the machine. For one thing, it bore the rubber-stamped warnings “TOP SECRET” and “NOT FOR DISTRIBUTION.” Its cover bore an ominous pyramidal diagram superimposed on a fuzzy reproduction of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel rendition of God the Father zapping life into Adam, all under a mysterious title: The Wedge.

Curious, Duss rifled through the 10 or so pages, eyebrows rising ever higher, then proceeded to execute his commission while reserving a copy of the treatise for himself. Within a week, he had shared his find with a friend who shared his interest in questions of evolution, ideology, and the propagation of ideas. Unlike Duss, the friend, Tim Rhodes, was technically savvy, and it took him little time to scan the document and post it to the World Wide Web, where it first appeared on Feb. 5, 1999.

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