Monthly Archives: February 2008

Legal Revisionism

It’s just prior to the president’s talk concerning FISA lawmaking. The reports are that the president is pushing for retroactive immunity for private parties who provided private information about citizens to the government without warrants, something that is included in the Senate bill, but not the House bill.

Why is there discussion on this? It seems to me that doing this is a form of legal revisionism, a slap in the face to traditional jurisprudence, and certainly it is no expression of conservatism. I forget; is the power of presidential pardon limited to actual persons, and not fictional persons in the form of corporations? Especially if the latter is permitted (not that paying attention to constitutional permissions has been much of a factor so far in executive governance in the current administration), it seems to me that all the protection the president could wish for already exists.

Ah, the speech has started. Bush says that the telecommunications companies have been ‘helping America’ and that it would be ‘unfair’ to let them be exposed to class action lawsuits on the matter. Bush says that they are ‘abusive’ lawsuits. Can’t FISA be used? No, says Bush, it didn’t let us track terrorists quickly and effectively.

I’m not sure about this, but I don’t recall that FISA usage supports the president’s assertions. The great preponderance of warrant requests were granted, and I don’t recall that there was any appreciable delay in the FISA court granting warrants. [Someone with stats said FISA granted 25,000 warrants, and denied 5 warrant requests. That’s about a 0.02% rejection rate. If the warrants were issued randomly, about one in 120 people that you know have been monitored by the government. Since, hopefully, they aren’t issued randomly, you may know considerably fewer — or considerably more — “observed persons”, or be one yourself. My innumeracy corrected by Annyday, see comments. I’ll plead illness. — WRE]

So what recourse would US citizens have against false investigation and exposure of personal communications? If the revision preferred by the president is passed, it appears that this near-impossible task becomes even more remote. The telecommunications carriers who told the government to take a hike until proper warrants were served should be commended, and those who did not respect the rule of law prevailing at the time are properly exposed to the possibility of their clients having legal recourse against them.

At the moment, I’m not impressed with this latest push to erode legal protection of the citizenry. What good does it do to defeat foreign terrorists if in doing so we make our system of governance indistinguishable from the systems those terrorists seem to prefer, with repressive tactics and justice dispensed at the whim of bureaucrats?

The Bug Going Around

Diane had it, and it looked like a misery. Rob, my boss, has it now, and he certainly doesn’t look comfortable. I got a flu shot a couple of weeks ago, and until last night I had no symptoms. But within the space of a couple of hours, I went from nothing to severe shivering coupled with muscle and joint pains.

The clinic said they had a treatment to help shorten the course of this stuff, so I need to drag myself to the clinic today.

Raptor Force

The PBS Nature series looks at the intersection between falconry and science with Raptor Force. The episode airs this evening, 8 PM ET.

Hat tip to Karen Spivey.

I hope to have some comments later when the program airs.

Update: They had a lot of nice photography on the show, though I think that they borrowed some film from the NatGeo “Wolves of the Air” program, or at least it was strongly reminiscent of scenes from that program when they showed Harris hawks in the desert. There were some problems here and there in statements, such as saying that Harris hawk “stacking” behavior has something to do with the top bird having a better vantage due to the few additional inches of height, and not saying anything about the work done that teased out the dominance hierarchies that underlie “stacking”. The other clinker I recall clearly was saying that the near-silent flight of owls was perhaps due to not interfering with the owl’s own hearing in flight, when a fairly obvious alternative explanation would be that they don’t wish to have the prey hear them coming. Or, rather, that noisy owls likely would less often surprise prey items than more silent-flying conspecifics.

I thought the technology tie-ins were fairly weak elements of the show. While military aircraft video certainly makes for guy-gripping TV, there really wasn’t much depth at all in explaining how raptor biology actually was part of some technology transfer to aviation. The whole bit about development of a raptor backpack-cam could have been condensed down to “our tech guys did a great job getting us this video”, rather than sucking up precious program time showing us a guy soldering circuits in his basement. I’ve been that sort of guy before, but even I recognize that that is not what makes for informative television.

All-in-all a better hour of television than most, but it could have been even better than it was without much more effort.

Florida: Some Notes

Back in 2005, I got a wake-up call that Florida was at risk of antievolution efforts concerning the science standards. Within a week, I had a website up to help organize the Florida Citizens for Science organization. Floridians responded, and soon they had a dedicated set of leaders to work toward getting excellent science standards in Florida. The consideration of revised standards got postponed for a year, a move that helped the fledgling FCS organization prepare for the upcoming struggle. It was apparent that FCS had a good group of people, and I could simply advise as requested as they handled the struggle.

And a struggle it was. There was a Discovery Institute-talking-point-spouting mole on the standards writing committee, Fred Cutting. Protests that the opponents of the proposed standards had no religious agenda were disingenuous, as could be seen in Cutting’s record of teaching “intelligent design” creationism materials to Pinellas County students. There were public comments, and FCS worked toward having knowledgeable people help with pro-science commentary to the BOE. There were public meetings, and FCS tried to have representatives speak up at each. There were letters to the media, and dealing with educating reporters on what was at stake, and FCS did marvellously well on this. And, finally, FCS showed up at the board meeting today and helped apprise various other pro-science speakers of the proceedings.

While the standards adopted today are not without flaws introduced at the last minute due to antievolution effort, it has to be noted that they are dramatically improved over the earlier standards. As I said at the FCS blog:

A note to Brandon, Joe, Debra, Jonathan, and everyone else at Florida Citizens for Science: Thank you for the two and a half years of hard work and preparation. While the antievolution forces scored a point with the last-minute word fiddling on the adopted standards, the new standards will support teachers who will approach evolutionary science responsibly. I am pleased and proud to have been able to assist all of you in this effort. This is, overall, an excellent development.

There will be work in the future for Florida Citizens for Science. The wording change will certainly be followed by antievolution exploitation. You will have to be on the lookout for places where non-science is snuck into the classroom as if it were the product of the scientific process. That’s just going to be the usual hard slogging.

But for the moment, I think that you can celebrate that at least Florida’s students will be learning something about evolutionary science. It’s a big step in the right direction for Florida.

Florida: The Board’s Deliberation

I’ll update as things happen.

Board member Martinez rocks. He gave the commissioner a hard time over the last-minute proposal called the “academic freedom” proposal by various anti-science speakers.

Question to the commissioner: when were the “optional” standards written and who was responsible? Did those go through the drafting process? Smith: discrepancy between treatment of “theory of plate tectonics” and “evolution” presented as a concept.

Optional standards evolved very quickly, “it took seven days”. These optional standards were not proposed by the panel of experts. This whole effort was done to placate the people with concerns about the evolution standards.

Smith: That wasn’t the reason for the request for further advice.

When the proposed standards were put up, did the panel of experts have a chance to give feedback. What did they say? 29 said that they opposed them, 2 only if necessary for passage, 7 said OK, remainder had no response. Have any accepted mainstream science group had a chance to review? No.

Why even consider the option B materials? Let’s just vote.

Raulerson said in response that teaching scientific process means that we need to consider everything “open” forever. [That’s anti-science, right there. –WRE]

Smith advocates the “option” version as helpful to teachers. I think that’s a pretty weak argument, and one that various of the framers and writers rebutted.

Martinez asks whether the Option B proposal meets Sunshine Law requirements. Fair says he doesn’t understand the question.

Somebody saying she graduated from UCSD (Shanahan?) that has lots of Nobel Laureates, therefore the Option B standards are just peachy.

Fair: Option B is not the result of the same sort of process as the proposed standards. Board is not bound by what the framers propose; we make the decision. Are we in violation of the Sunshine Law? What about counsel?

Counsel: Agencies can make changes during decision-making, but must post notice afterward of the changes.

Motion made to adopt Option B standards and seconded.

Martinez: Our job is to adopt world-class standards, a simple task. Process of about a year. We can pretend that what we are doing is promoting “academic freedom”, but what the record shows is that this is being done is that we are appeasing opponents of evolution by watering-down the standards. No singling out of evolution in original. Critical thinking is already in the standards. The proposed changes single out evolution. 29 of the writers said they opposed the changes. OK is not good enough. Disagree with watering-down the standards. NAS fully supports the proposed standards. We should supplant their opinion with our own?

Response of other board member (Callaway?): Lifetime spent working with young people. Put them before anybody else. I have my own belief. My responsibility to study, review, and analyze. My stance is not based on religion. Can I make a determination? If so, cannot deny it to the students of Florida. Research can’t hurt me at all. Kids are honest and have a great sense of fairness. Telling them what to think won’t work. If we decide to hide the debate and controversy, we’d need a witness protection system. Children have academic freedom to explore. Option sounds like a good way to do this, to have children investigate. This is important, it tells them where they are and where they come from. Will not vote for scientific theory because it doesn’t address this. [??? –WRE]

Akshay Desai: Knowledge-based economy. Major complaint of industries concerns educational standards. Supports standards the way they were written by framers. Need to let truth come out, debate is good. Support standards with academic freedom aspect, too. [These people are majorly confused about academic freedom, it seems. It is treated as a buzz-phrase here. –WRE]

Shanahan: Research in lab in top academic institution. Evolution is a theory. Theory is different to different people. “Scientific theory” means something specific. I’ve seen theory of evolution evolve. I don’t believe evolution is a fact. Teacher who give opportunity to make sure that students are allowed to ask and question. Things change. Support Option B.

: Underlying principles, not fact. Scientific process leaves doors open on everything. We need openness and ability to challenge. Allow the word theory in places where appropriate.

Callaway: Not sure we need to exclude either one. Academic freedom proposal can speak to this. Evolution is *A* fundamental concept.

: I just think critical analysis is covered in the standards as a component part of every “big idea”. Attaching that to a single concept is not necessary.

: Propose we make the “academic freedom” proposal as an addition.

: Vote now, amend further.

Linda Taylor: Scientific theory and addressing Martinez, I think we are respectful of the document, I don’t think that we are diluting that at all. Public policy that is workable in classroom and for the teachers.

Martinez: That’s already in the proposed standards.

Taylor: The addition carries it throughout the standards. I see scientific theory as a process, that the process produces theory.

Martinez: What is the alternative to “scientific theory of evolution”? “Religious theory of evolution”? Why add things that are not necessary? The record is deep here, and the record is clear that this is about religion. We know where all this criticism is coming from. The purpose here is to single-out and dilute the teaching of evolution. I think it is a mistake to tinker with the wording here at the podium. I think that we are missing the opportunity here.

Callaway: I resent the implication. I didn’t hear advocacy of creation or intelligent design, and I’m not either. Allow students to see… if you tell students that evolution is a fundamental concept, how can they question that.

Martinez: What is the alternative theory?

Callaway: I’m not saying that there is an alternative.

Martinez: Heliocentrism.

Callaway: Prove it.


Callaway: Must acknowledge debate.

Martinez: Not a point of debate or controversy in the mainstream scientific community.

Fair: Audience, please be quiet and do not applaud.

Raulerson: Is there a problem with the use of theory, so why do we say “cell theory”? My concern with the addition is that if we put it in, it needs to be put in everywhere. You have to acknowledge that this is theory. It is open to more discovery, it is not a law yet. [Anti-science confusion over “progression to law” noted. –WRE] The issue touches everything in here.

Fair: Calls for question on Option B adoption. Raulerson Aye… 4 Ayes, motion passed.

Florida gets watered-down standards with the backdoor provided by the Discovery Institute. (The smaller sized door of the two provided, and not the hangar doors of the “academic freedom” proposal. Hat tip to Brandon Haught.)

Florida: Final Final Comments

I know Brandon is covering this, too, but I will make some comments on the comments.

Note: My webcast is going in and out. I’m going to be missing chunks of this.

Legislators first…

First speaker: Important things, faith and child’s education. Getting it right: adopt the standards as written by the framers. Groups applauded the product of the writing process. Florida students deserve the very best.

Second speaker: Why are arguing about how the Creator made this happen? (Pro-standards)

Third speaker: Want most up-to-date scientific information for our students. Letter saying use “theory” with “evolution”. Not recommending deleting information in the standards. “Theory” means there are many unanswered questions. “Strengths and weaknesses”! Not taking anything away. “Balanced” way. [McLean and Edwards echo here. –WRE]

Public hearing… webcast cutouts…

Kim Kendall. Complaining about communication of public meetings and interaction. Critical analysis! [Opposed.]

TR Hainline: [Approve.] Don’t use God as putty to patch up holes we poke in science. God then a spoilsport, a killjoy. Kids love science for the questions we ask.

Next speaker feels strongly about something lost in webcast. Crichton cited. [Assuming that’s not good. Yes, that’s right. –WRE] [Opposes.] Fossil record, Gould “trade secret” quote-mine. John C. Stanford quote that no genes can be created, ever. Proof that macroevolution is false! More evidence that evolution is false! No dogmatism! Darwinian evolution in state of collapse!

Next speaker (Kroto): They [unknown] are both theories. If you turn down the standards, you are negating the $600 million Florida invested in Scripps Florida. [Approve.]

[It looks like they are alternating.]

Next speaker (Laurie Miller?): Both sides make very good points. Agree standards need revision. The nature of science is being removed. New standards eliminate critical thinking. Don’t stifle these skills. Revise in a couple of places. Academic freedom for teachers! [Code-speak for teachers being able to drop in DI arguments without consequence. –WRE] [Opposes.]

Next speaker (Joe Travis): Dean of college of arts and science at FSU. Should evolution be in a world-class curriculum. Only scientific explanation for the diversity of the evidence. Nature of science in standards. [Approve.]

Next speaker (Fred Cutting): Academic freedom! Framer. Evolution works as change in existing species, microevolution. Leap of faith to go broader to microbiology. [Opposes.]

Next speaker (Brent Copeland): Adopt without emendation. Want the children in my congregation as well as all the children in Florida to have a solid grounding in science. Oppose other Christians putting their doctrine in science classes. Christians come in a great deal of varieties. Disagree on how to apply. Agree that God is Creator of all. Don’t invite this debate into the public school classroom, it would be bad science and even worse theology. [Audience applauds.]

Next speaker (terry Kempel?): [Opposes.] Use “academic freedom” proposal. Academic integrity. Avoidance of benchmark on scrutiny. Darwinists are fearful. House of cards! Avoiding the evidence! No proof of how life began! Flimsy foundation for theory! Can’t show one shred of proof! No fossils!

Next speaker: Work on changing antibiotic resistance, other microbial evolution. Dangers inherent in allowing religious specification of curriculum. Muslim world used to be world leaders in science. Christian fundamentalism stifles scientific progress here like Muslim fundamentalism does there. “Muslim science” meshes faith and science with odd results. Let scientists decide what is science, keep faith-based ideas in other parts of school. [Approve.]

Next speaker (David Bracken): Teacher 22 years. Concerned about proposals, especially #15, evolution. Cannot support this in good conscience. Evolution is theory, not a law! Scientists support my ideas! Massive gaps with links missing! Scientists question, DI list! Russian professor says Darwinism seriously hampers science! Darwin quote mine. I should lead students to cracks and holes in evolution! Strengths and weaknesses! Many scientists ostracized, fired from jobs over disagreement with Darwinism! Don’t put us out!

Next speaker (Jonathan Smith): 30-year resident. Egregious claims from opponents show improvement in science education is needed. Personal religious feelings promoted to be propagated in school system. Wedge document. [Late Phillip Johnson? I hadn’t heard that. -WRE] Quotes Wedge document. Not and never has been a scientific debate, it is about getting religion in schools. Approve, or allow wedge to insert non-science. [Approve.]

Next speaker: [Opposes.] Evolution standard denies academic freedom. Prefer teachers and students explore “strengths and weaknesses”. We’re not promoting religion! There are other theories of science that question Darwinism. Those theories won’t be allowed to be taught. Only asking for academic freedom! Numbers of scientists. Issue is not numbers, issue is in point of view. Consider, and give respect to both sides in allowing academic freedom.

Next speaker (Harry Parrott): Baptist minister, retired. Came to Florida in 1982. Expected them to come to an understanding of evolution. Short-change our youngsters if we do not. Where does this idea that evolution is taught dogmatically come from? Not in my experience. Colleagues see this as a danger, an either-or with no middle ground. You might think that is the Christian viewpoint, but that is not true. Clergy Letter Project, evolution and faith are not opposed. This is a religious debate. Religious believers have been the ones fussing about this. Let the religious debate go on, but not intrude into our science classes, and don’t let it determine your decision today. Ask to adopt the standards as they are written.

Next speaker (Clifton Savoy?): [Opposes.] Academic freedom amendment advocate. BS chemistry, biology, MS bacteriology, Ph.D. microbiology. Believer of theory of evolution! Trusted individuals. Belief changed in graduate school. Professors didn’t spend time on evolution. One said there were flaws in evolution, passed out books. “Flaws in the Theory of Evolution”. Builds up author. [Authority a common thread in antievolution reasoning. –WRE] Discuss flaws using “academic freedom”! Darwin: where would he line up? He’d be with me on academic freedom, “fair result” quote mine.

Next speaker (Debra Walker): Monroe County school board member. Worked hard on committee. Evolution issue overshadows our work. Sex. Population thinking, not individuals. Population biology. Intelligent design is a political phenomenon. We are a product of our mammalian quadrupedal heritage. When creationists focus on ID, they overlook jury-rigged body parts that keep surgeons driving Mercedes. Proper framing is between proximate and ultimate causation. Faith handles ultimate causation. Logical fallacy that applied to Galileo continues today. Approve the standards as written.

Next speaker (Robin Brown): [Opposes.] Retired middle-school teacher. Fossil record and gradual change. Gould quote mine, no support for gradual change. Popper quote mine. Hoyle quote. Johnson quote. DI list. Zogby poll. Major scholars won’t break ranks. Sternberg: science only moves forward on controversy. “Follow evidence wherever it may lead.” [DI talking point. –WRE]

[Here’s what Gould had to say about people like Ms. Brown:

“Since we proposed punctuated equilibria to explain trends, it is infuriating to be quoted again and again by creationists—whether through design or stupidity, I do not know—as admitting that the fossil record includes no transitional forms. Transitional forms are generally lacking at the species level, but they are abundant between larger groups. “

Source –WRE]

Next speaker (Jerry Meisels): Writer. [Approve.] NAS unanimously supports the proposed standards. On pain in chest, where do you go for help? You go to the experts. Why not take the issues of science to those best able to judge it? Playing down science to enhance other ideas is bad.

Next speaker (John Stemberger): [Opposes.] Florida Family Policy Council. Advocate of “academic freedom” amendment. Opponents bring up religion, not us. Drafters don’t distinguish between microevolution and macroevolution. Macro-E is only a theory! Never observed a speciation event! No rat-bats! Millions of missing links! Fossil record should be full of links! Dogmatic teaching! Recognize parents in record numbers withhold children from public schools. Increase if “academic freedom” proposal is not adopted.

[The Stemberger comment that the pro-science side brought up religion does him no favors. All the alternatives he supports come directly from religiously motivated antievolution, and thus he is a participant in a cover-up. The whole history of antievolution shows it as a long-running confidence job where they step back incrementally from honest religious doctrine-boosting to progressive stealth wording to hide the same old content. Judge Jones saw this clearly in the KvD case, and commented about not wanting to preside over the trial that took it to the next level of cover. –WRE]

Next speaker (Paul Coddle): Physics at FSU. Writer of standards. Catholic church sees no conflict. Faith at home and church. Approve the standards as written.

Fair declares public portion over.

Florida: Showdown in Tallahassee

In a few minutes, the Florida Board of Education will convene a meeting, and on the agenda is the question of the proposed science standards. Late last week, Commissioner Eric Smith was involved in developing a “compromise” set of changes to the proposed standards, where phrases like “the law of” would preface “gravity”, and “the scientific theory of” would preface “evolution” and some other concepts in the document.

The Orlando Sentinel has an editorial that doesn’t pussyfoot around.

Before the state Board of Education votes today on including evolution in school curriculum, its members should pause and think about their responsibility to the children of Florida.

Today’s vote is not about religion. It’s not about politics. Today’s vote is about science and ensuring Florida’s children get the best education possible.

And that’s why the board should adopt the science standards drafted by a committee of more than 60 scientists and science teachers without changes. It should reject an 11th-hour proposal by Department of Education staff members to add the words “the scientific theory of” before the word “evolution” in the standards.

It’s bad enough that this proposed change is a blatant attempt to inject politics into this decision by serving up this compromise to quiet the objections of Panhandle school boards. What’s worse is that this language would only deepen the general public’s misunderstanding of the word “theory” when applied to science.

In layman’s terms, a theory is just a guess, an unproved idea. In science, a theory is not a guess, but something that has been proved and is almost universally accepted as being true.

Inserting the word “theory” into these standards would be a surrender to ignorance. The purpose of education is not to confuse, but to enlighten.

Last week, the Department of Education also changed the format of the Board’s meeting. Originally, the Board was going to confer amongst themselves on the issues. Now, 20 three-minute first-come-first-served speaking slots for the public are planned, with 10 of those for those opposed to adoption of the proposed standards, and 10 for adoption. This means that despite the opportunities for the public to comment in writing and via a series of five public meetings (the last of which was videotaped for the Board’s convenience), the forces opposing adoption managed to get the Board to provide yet another special opportunity for comments.

Brandon Haught of Florida Citizens for Science is live-blogging the event, so read up on the proceedings. Brandon says a webcast is available, too.

Florida: Anti-Science Via “Neutrality”

The Pensacola News Journal carried an article with the following quote:

Besides the theory issue, Stemberger said he has other problems with the standards including their reference to evolution as the fundamental underpinning of all biology.

“We’re looking for statements of scientific neutrality,” Stemberger said.

Hopefully, Stemberger will not be accommodated. Science is the antithesis of the sort of neutrality Stemberger appears to favor, where any notion, no matter how at odds with the evidence, may be considered a valid “alternative” viewpoint. Science is all about discriminating the things we can find out are false from the remainder of things that might yet be true. It does so based upon the evidence and upon the community of discourse that examines findings, criticizes conclusions, proposes mechanisms and tests, and conducts those tests.

As given, Stemberger’s statement is straightforward anti-science. Its only possible outcome would be to give students a wholly incorrect understanding of the aims and even the integrity of scientific research.

St. Pete Times Demonstrates that Framing Works

Ron Matus and Donna Winchester report on the results of a survey done by the St. Petersburg Times.

First, what they found:

The Times survey – which included questions about evolution and a host of other education issues – was administered to 702 registered voters Feb. 6-10, and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

It revealed a huge gulf between scientists and the public.

While the vast majority of scientists consider evolution to be backed by strong evidence, nearly two-thirds of those polled were skeptical.

Twenty-nine percent said evolution is one of several valid theories. Another 16 percent said evolution is not backed up by enough evidence. And 19 percent said evolution is not valid because it is at odds with the Bible.

This is a different distribution from the nearly-stable numbers found by the Gallup poll over several decades across the USA. Why might that be the case?

A summary of the Gallup numbers shows that 49% of respondents thought humans evolved. 37% of those thought evolution occurred with God’s guidance, and 12% thought God had no part in it.

The Gallup question on man’s origin had these possible answer categories:

Humans developed, with God guiding

Humans developed, but God had no part in process

God created humans in present form

The St. Petersburg Times has a sidebar with the polling questions. People studying survey design could use this as a model of how not to phrase questions. Especially egregious is the last question and its provided answer categories:

Which of these do you think should be taught in public schools?

A. Evolution only: Evolution says that human beings evolved from earlier stages of animals. (22%)

B. Creationism only: Creationism says that human beings were created directly by God. (21%)

C. Intelligent design only: Intelligent design says that human beings are so complex that they required a powerful force of intelligent being to help create them. (29%)

D. All three (18%)

E. None of them (5%)

F. Don’t know (5%)

This comes close to using the rhetorical framing that the Discovery Institute likes. They always talk about “Darwin-only” education. And they know how to use rhetoric, those folks at the Discovery Institute. What the St. Petersburg Times poll demonstrates clearly is that when using the framing preferred by the Discovery Institute, people respond in a way that the Discovery Institute likes.

What if the poll designer actually thought about the issues a moment before drafting that last question? We might have seen something like this:

Which of these do you think should be taught in public school science classes?

A. Science only: Teach only those concepts that have undergone long, rigorous scrutiny by the scientific community and have been found to be useful and productive concepts by the scientific community.

B. Creationism only: Creationism says that human beings were created directly by God, though this concept was considered and rejected by the scientific community in the 19th century.

C. Intelligent design only: Intelligent design says that human beings are so complex that they required a powerful force of intelligent being to help create them, though this concept was considered and rejected by the scientific community in the 19th century.

D. All three

E. None of them

F. Don’t know

Think the numbers would be the same? I don’t think so.

Antievolutionists Wrong About Darwin Yet Again

Antievolutionists make lots of claims about Charles Darwin, seeking to impeach the authority of someone born 199 years ago today. Given that science moves on and leaves no one’s ideas untouched, one would think that they would stick to negative claims that would stand up to some scrutiny. Again and again, though, we find that they continue to espouse negative claims that are just plain silly, at least to those with even the slightest familiarity with the actual record that Darwin left.

Today, I want to look at a common antievolution claim about Darwin, simply put, that Darwin considered the contents of cells to be “black boxes”, comprised of a simple or homogeneous protoplasm. This is expressed in similar ways by a number of antievolutionists. The following is just a sampling of the available instances.

Michael Behe:

To Darwin, then, as to every other scientist of the time, the cell was a black box.

And again:

Scientists use the term “black box” for a system whose inner workings are unknown. To Charles Darwin and his contemporaries, the living cell was a black box because its fundamental mechanisms were completely obscure. We now know that, far from being formed from a kind of simple, uniform protoplasm (as many nineteenth-century scientists believed), every living cell contains many ultrasophisticated molecular machines.

Casey Luskin:

There were other things that Darwin did not know. For example, Darwin assumed that the cell was like a primitive blob of protoplasm that could easily evolve new biological functions. As Behe explains, “To Darwin, then, as to every other scientist of the time, the cell was a black box. … The question of how life works was not one that Darwin or his contemporaries could answer.”

Nancy Pearcey:

To be fair to Darwin, he proposed his theory when scientists knew next to nothing about biochemistry. Living things were “black boxes,” their inside workings a mystery. The cell itself was thought to be nothing more than a blob of jellylike protoplasm. It was easy to draw large-scale scenarios about fins gradually turning into legs, or legs into wings, since no one had a clue how limbs and organs work from the inside. As Behe writes, it is as though we asked how a stereo system is made and someone answered, “by plugging a set of speakers into an amplifier and adding a CD player, radio receiver, and tape deck.”

That’s pretty rich, that “be fair to Darwin” phrase.

Jay Richards:

In addition, biochemists and biologists have discovered a microscopic world of mesmerizing complexity belying the simple blobs of protoplasm that Darwin imagined.

Jon Saboe:

Darwin must be forgiven, however, since he was limited by the science and paradigms of his day. Nobody then could have ever guessed the incredible complexity and information that resided in a living cell; something that was regarded as a ‘blob of protoplasm’.

“Do-While Jones”:

Biochemist Michael Behe says that modern science has made the Darwinian explanation of the origin of complex life forms much less believable than it was in Darwin’s day. In the 19th century, it was believed that a cell was just “a homogeneous globule of protoplasm.” 2 They did not know about DNA or the complex processes that go on inside a cell. Blood clotting, cellular transport, vision, and the body’s method of fighting diseases are “irreducibly complex systems” which could not possibly have evolved.

Jonathan Wells:

How living cells — which Darwin thought were mere blobs of protoplasm — actually consist of countless molecular machines that have all the hallmarks of design

Fuz Rana in Charisma magazine (February 2009):

Researchers have traditionally maintained that hundreds of millions of years would be necessary for abiogenesis. They also claim that the first life to emerge would be extremely simple, evolving toward complexity.

Darwin embraced the protoplasmic theory-the idea that the cell consisted of only a wall surrounding a nucleus and a homogeneous, jellylike protoplasm. This understanding made early evolutionary explanations of abiogenesis plausible. Biologists and chemists easily envisioned chemical routes that could produce the single ingredient believed to form the cell’s protoplasm.

Antievolutionists don’t go looking at the primary sources to come up with these nuggets; one of them creates a “magic bullet”, and the rest pass it around like a game of “telephone”, sometimes resulting in a garbled mess. As Casey Luskin’s contribution here indicates, the likely source of the BS in this case is Michael Behe.

Why call it BS? Because anybody can disconfirm the claim in seconds with a modern Internet search, and only moderately longer using the past technology scholars have long relied upon for substantiating claims about prior work.

An excellent recent source is the Complete Work of Charles Darwin Online website.

One finds there Darwin’s work on pangenesis, his hypothesis that there existed small particles that he called gemmules, each of which contained the heritable information for some particular trait, and which would combine, somehow, into the gametes. His continued advocacy of this wrong idea was a major failing on his part, but along the way we can see that even though Darwin was wrong about gemmules, he did hold an antithetical view to the claim that everything was simple at the most basic levels of life’s organization:

Notwithstanding the astounding complexity of the processes implied by this hypothesis of pangenesis, yet it seems to me to comprehend the several leading facts better than any other view. On this hypothesis we may fancifully look at each animal and plant as being compounded of many beings, in the same manner as a tree or coral is compounded of many similar beings; but in neither case have these so-called beings had a separate existence. Each of these beings, or parts, is supposed to be capable of throwing off gemmules, which whilst within the organism are capable of self-increase, and which can be separately developed at the part or organ whence they were derived, and can be united, as in the case of hybrids, with other gemmules into a single germ or bud, which reproduces the complete parent form. On this view, each organic being may be looked at as a little universe, formed of a host of different self-propagating organisms, almost as numerous as the stars in heaven, and as minute as they are immense.

And here:

As, however, a cell is a complex structure, with its investing membrane, nucleus, and nucleolus, a gemmule, as Mr. G. H. Lewes3 has remarked in his interesting discussion on this subject (Fortnightly Review, Nov. 1, 1868, p. 508), must, perhaps, be a compound one, so as to reproduce all the parts.

Two papers by Darwin published in 1882 demonstrate Darwin’s readiness to experiment in resolving sub-cellular processes, using chemistry and microscopy to aid in the work.

Darwin, C. R. 1882. The action of carbonate of ammonia on chlorophyll-bodies. [Read 6 March] Journal of the Linnean Society of London (Botany) 19: 262-284.

Darwin, C. R. 1882. The action of carbonate of ammonia on the roots of certain plants. [Read 16 March] Journal of the Linnean Society of London (Botany) 19: 239-261.

These papers in the primary literature demonstrate vividly that Charles Darwin not only was aware that protoplasm was not homogeneous, but was at the end of his life working toward elucidating exactly what differences within cells existed.

The antievolution “magic bullet” intended to dismiss Darwin is a dud. Sub-cellular structure elucidation was another part of science in which Darwin was an active participant. Darwin’s own preferred hypothesis of heredity, though now discredited, presumed the sort of immense complexity at small scales that antievolutionists falsely claim Darwin had no “imagination” for. Many antievolutionists have willingly participated in passing along this falsehood and urging changes in public school curriculum policy based, in part, on their false and ignorant claims. I find it significant that I have yet to encounter any instance of an antievolution advocate pointing out the actual facts of the case and remonstrating with their colleagues, even though the disconfirming evidence is easy to locate and describe. I can only conclude that antievolutionists in general have no concern for the truth nor for fact-checking even the simplest of their claims. Trusting antievolutionists to help guide policy and form curricula for public schools would be malfeasance, plain and simple.

(While researching this, I found that Afarensis got here well ahead of me. Pfffbbbt. Visit that page to see some of the illustrations. I have more examples of clueless, unscholarly antievolutionists, though; so there.)

Florida: Final Public Meeting, A Retrospective

Barring any media bombshells, the public commentary phase of responses to the proposed Florida science standards is now over and done with. I have not yet seen every minute of the meeting today in Orlando, but I did sample several hours of it.

There are several things to be said. The first is that I am very proud of the leadership role that the Florida Citizens for Science group played in bringing things to this point. While the pro-science side was numerically under-represented among the commenters, I recognized many of them as members of Florida Citizens for Science. Among those, FL CfS President Joe Wolf presented the petition supporting the standards that so many of you have signed, noting the total number collected in less than two weeks as over 1,500 signatures, and that somewhat more than 1,000 of those were Florida citizens. FL CfS Treasurer Pete Dunkelberg made excellent use of his three minutes at the podium, reminding the Florida Board of Education that they have the opportunity to change Florida’s standards score from “F” to “A” — if only they don’t mess up at the last minute by capitulating to the anti-science crowd. [There’s a blog post out there calling this “blackmail” or “threats”. Actions have consequences. Pointing out those consequences is neither “blackmail” nor a “threat”. It would be like putting a executive officer up for mutiny charges if he offered the observation that the captain could turn to starboard shortly, or run aground, his choice. Actually, the “Longitude” miniseries related the case of the seaman who offered the observation that the fleet was in dangerous waters, because he recognized a headland. The admiral’s navigation placed them in waters safe for sailing, so he had the seaman hanged for his impertinence. Ships did run aground, and the admiral, Sir Cloudesley Shovell, died as well. — WRE]

Continue reading

Florida: Final Public Meeting Underway, Part 9

God and science not incompatible.

32-16-1. [Incomplete count, FYI]

Joe Wolf. Pres. Florida Citizens for Science. Have Christian faith, accept evolution. Over 1500 signers to petition to accept the standards as written. 1000 from FL, rest from around the country. Reads Illinois science teacher comment. Recommending teaching in FL? Depends on whether Florida becomes the next Kansas. Teach all views in science class, need astrology etc. [Thanks, Joe!]


Dallas Madrin. Sci. supervisor. Not just biology, but physics, chemistry, and geology are part of the story. Teachers don’t have time to go over many different ideas. How do you expect teachers to meld all different ideas into one curriculum? Many different religious beliefs. Bad standards can cause lawsuits. Local changes may be illegal. Einstein: things change. I’ll teach my grandchildren religion, evolution, and good science. I approve these standards.


Richard Ellenberg. Teacher. I represent all the children that I teach. I was on the writing team. Four points. Any dilution or revision would be a disservice. Adopt as written.


Cory Cappelle. Southeast Florida. DOE website mission statement. Concern with two phrases. Opportunity to increase knowledge and skills. Credentialed scientists object to evolution! Why not allow the discussion? Argumentum ad populum. Honor the mission statement, reject!


Religion is basis…


Do not confuse science and faith. Most of the evidence for Darwinism has been refuted or disputed. Blood clotting! Flower and bee co-evolution! Following the Pied Piper, is that science? Science said the world was flat. Scientists are indoctrinated by our educational system! I was! Faith in Evolution!


Carl Wilson. Textbook author on science. Not here to debate evolution and creation. I have a conviction on this. I have a great concern. Our problems have been on definition. Micro-changes! A definition of science today that has not always been the definition. Problem in pride. Great shift came with Scopes trial, according to Zimmer. Creationists pushed for laws, law passed. Freedom of speech of evolutionists denied, then overturned the law. The presentation was faulty. Bryan was not a biblical creationist. He was criticizing Darwinism. Marx dedicating Das Kapital! Started in 16th century. Kant nebular hypothesis. Beginning of developmental theories in evolution. Kant’s theory of knowledge says Christians aren’t scientists. Hawking… Christian worldview and definition of science! If board adopts this science definition, there’s country-wide movement mumble mumble hook.


Carol ??. SC912932 and 4 are redundant. Non-consecutive numbering in standards. Starred benchmarks are appropriate for testing. Recommend FCAT be replaced with end of year exams. Fully support life science standards. Interpretation that evolution is being taught as fact is erroneous. The scn4121 wording discusses this. Please consider the quality of the teachers, we will not disregard the sensitivity of our students, and we will present both sides. [So adopt the standards, but disregard them? –WRE]


Genetics and information… didn’t evolve from one-celled animal or undesigned catastrophe. Immune system is evidence for design! Sperm doesn’t get rejected! Body has multitudinous operations. “I’m a scientist in a way” and support design. 17 steps in brain to squash a cockroach that evolution can’t explain! There is a super-intelligence somewhere, of course I believe in God, but a super-intelligence had to design us.


Russell Bryant. History prof. Can’t say “Hitler won the 2nd world war”, it isn’t true. Creationism, ID not true, either. Darwin’s history. Fisher, relative to Darwin, put together the UK educational program that helped Britain survive WWII, “religion rots the brain”. Adopt the standards, needed for our future. [Not sure that the “rot” statement helped. –WRE]


?? Sato. Science teacher. Standards writer. Lack of public understanding of the nature of science. Science does not impose on anyone’s personal religious beliefs. Make FL students competitive in the global community, adopt the standards.


Frank Bessel. Order, accuracy, evidence… Darwin’s theory of natural selection cannot be duplicated, goes against ID. ID brings up order. Everything orderly replicates. Why teach theory that has no order? Random steps cannot be duplicated in study! [Never heard of Monte Carlo simulations, I guess. –WRE] Cannot produce workable device by letting natural selection take its course. [He missed engineering applications of evolutionary computation, too. –WRE] Flagellum! Video!!! Flagellum motor has all its parts and needs all of them! [Didn’t read the lit, either. –WRE] Teach intelligent design, not natural selection!


Nancy Clintworth. UCF law, law and ethics. Please adopt the standards as written. It becomes apparent our students must compete in a global economy. Must be educated in scientific fact, not religious theory. Alternatives have no basis other than religious belief. Children attend by force of law. Captive audience in public school. Public school is inappropriate for theory based on religious beliefs. Phil. or theo. class for ID.


Patricia Kemp. Humanists of Florida. Adopt…


Diane is running a high temp, we are off to the clinic.

Florida: Final Public Meeting Underway, Part 8

Eric Hoffman. Bio prof. Approve of standards as written. Nothing in standards says dogmatic fact, as opposed to mischaracterizations in other statements. Theory is different in science. List of 700 signers just shows everyone else wouldn’t sign it as wrong. Rebuts various Gish Gallop points of other speakers [yay!]. Adopt for the future scientists.


Ken Fedorca??. Prof. Evolutionary biologist. 2 things. What is science? It is an objective method of knowing. Science observes, hypothesizes, tests. Especially tests. Evolution is not a belief. Well-supported by evidence. Base standards on science.


Need to step away… back later.

Florida: Final Public Meeting Underway, Part 7

Joanne Wilson. Opposes proposed standards. Teaching our children an unproven lie! Theory of evolution, fine, but not a fact!


Faye Armitage. Jacksonville. Need to foster a strong biomedical and green technology in Florida. Adopt the standards as drafted.


[Tech difficulties… –WRE] Strongly oppose…

?? Williams. YEC. Believe the Bible is true. Prophesying. Prayer and Bible reading removed, now if you remove creationism, that’s a further distancing from Christianity. How can you insist on discipline? If it hasn’t been proven as fact, but you teach it as such, how can you expect students to tell the truth.


ACLU of Florida rep. Separation of church and state if religion taught in science classes. Protect teachers and students from influence of special interests who promote creationism, SciCre, IDC. Evolved to more vague statements, pushing “theory”. Don’t revise the standards to allow Florida to be seduced by the antievolutionists.


Patricia Weeks. Adult education. Life science standards and evolution as concept underlying biology. Concerned that students aren’t asked to challenge concepts. Denying academic freedom to teach strengths and weaknesses! No recognition of a controversy! Academic freedom exposes all sides of the debate! Want serious critique of evolution! School board member [Walker] exemplifies problem with critical thinking! Don’t send a mixed message where one benchmark doesn’t allow questioning! “Serious scholars”! All theories!


Omar Gonzalez. Three children in schools. Supports standards. If children are to compete, they need a strong science education. Evolution is a fact, and should be taught as fact. There is a lot of misinformation in antievolution, trans. fossil example. He is a Christian, and evolution and faith are compatible. Please pass these standards.


Chip Rolke??. BS info systems. Controversial situation with dogmatic statement on evolution. Studied for 26 years, and everyone takes it on faith! Both are models! [Cue McLean. –WRE] Worldviews, this is a debate of worldviews! Can’t prove nothing! 1986 Dawkins/Wilder-Smith debate cited. Wilder-Smith got votes on debate performance! Wow!


FSU person [missed name]. Supports the standards. Changes could be chaotic. Adopt as-is.


Jennifer Murphy. Ph.D. in experimental psychology. Current science standards have failed; audience shows this. Supports the proposed standards. Problem with teaching IDC in science class is that there is no basis for “my pastor told me so” in science. There’s not much debate in the scientific community; similar debate in Spanish over what the word for “cat” is. It’s critically important the the proposed standards are adopted.


Marjorie ??. Second time before the committee. Env. studies teacher. [Robin in BG talking w/someone, wonder what’s up there? –WRE] How does evolution fit with my Christian faith? It doesn’t. Public schools started so children could read their Bibles. Evolution is unproven, godless! Teach it with the challenges and weaknesses! Why subject children to ungodly theories? Do not approve the standards.


David ??. Educator. Reviewed the benchmarks. Reducing the number of benchmarks is good. However, this creates a problem. Textbooks were adopted using earlier benchmarks. Loses the link between benchmarks and textbooks. So new standards would cost a lot in changing the textbooks. Make some “minor changes” to proposed standards. “Fair and balanced approach”, no dogmatism, strengths and weaknesses of evolution!


Florida: Final Public Meeting Underway, Part 6

I will have to leave before the end of this stuff, but

Teacher. Advocate science. Oppose teaching speculation as dogma, and don’t like the evolution treatment in the standards. Observation and experimentation. Evolution hasn’t been observed … non-life to life, and simple creatures becoming complex creatures. No process in dead bones except decay. [Incompetence should have a reward. –WRE] Include evolution in everything… math probabilities disporve evolution, Hitler!!! Study philosophy, teach students they are random, so how will they become something.


Bill Daily. Dobzhansky quote, disagrees. Board member of First Church of Evolution in Florida. Faith-based organization. Believe it takes faith to believe in evolution. Imagination. Darwin’s writings are a faith-based belief system. [This meeting really has brought them out of the woodwork. –WRE]


James Stewart. Popular meaning of “theory” is exploited by creationists. Science uses theory differently. Hypothesis is an intelligent guess. Theory is well-substantiated. Supports.


Rev. Neil Denzel??. Presbyterian Church. Ask to reject proposed revision. Enshrine a certain viewpoint in public school system. Particular kind of science. “Catechizing influence” yields philosophical Darwinists! Produce narrow-minded viewpoint! Alchemy was considered a ruling theory in Europe! Flat-eathism was wrong, too! This is the same thing! Coercive powers of government! Neo-Darwinian viewpoint taking over! Clarence Darrow or a descendant getting hold of children!


?? Miller. Nobody claiming Newtonian physics is flawed. Nobody saying teach the flaws in physics, or that light’s speed is not always constant? No time to confuse children about current state of research. Question science est. in grad school, not grade school.


Florida: Final Public Meeting Underway, Part 5

Evolution and Hitler! Mein Kampf! Evolution kills people! Hitler’s belief in a master race based on evolution! [Which explains why Hitler expressed that in terms of a Creator and the order established of the Lord God in Mein Kampf, I guess. –WRE] Stalin! Moral consequences!


Matthew L???. College student. The revisions are long overdue. Science education at low priority. Behe! ???! Wells! Legitimate objections must be raised! Cambrian explosion! Irreducible complexity! The standards make no room for these objections! Miller-Urey experiment! No transitionals in the fossil record! Need to acknowledge these objections!


Avi Jain. AP calculus, AP physics teacher. Argue simply that language about evolution needs to be precise. All concepts in science are theories. Inductive vs. deductive reasoning. Science can only provide probability, therefore “theories”. Science creates theories, not laws. Newton’s law of gravity. Einstein challenged Newton’s concept of gravity. First law vs. Einstein. All concepts in science are provisional. Science requires observations.

Not sure how to class that one.


Pete Dunkelberg. “F” grade a motivator. Florida can get an “A” if we don’t mess up at the last minute. Can’t say teach faults or criticisms because there is nothing specific to state or test. Antievolution is a literature full of false claims and bad arguments. Dover trial. Florida could be the next Dover. Creationists will jump ship before trial. What’s left? Get behind the good new science standards. [Thanks, Pete!]


Robin Brown. [The head-shaking woman. — WRE] Zogby Poll: 71% says teach alternatives. “Master designer”… neither side can be answered with certainty. Teach both models and your critical thinking skills will be improved. “Dr.” Richard Bliss book! Dr. Parker and Dr. Gish! Recommend these books for supplemental use… includes “Of Pandas and People”.


Florida: Final Public Meeting Underway, Part 4

Dr. Robert Gentry. Famous YEC. Evolution is disproved! McLean witness. Didn’t respond to my evidence! People don’t respond to me or come to my events! I want a debate on prime-time television!


Robert Aikinson. Frightened by effort to reduce science to majority vote. Let the experts in science decide what is taught to my kids as science.


Margaret Ishee. Science teacher. Pressure because of large number of benchmarks in current standards. Teachers have responsibility to teach all sides. Evolution is theory with good points and faults.


Florida Family Policy Council rep. 1. Not advocating creationism or ID, but want evolution’s strengths and weaknesses to be taught. Concerned about notice and due process. Meetings not properly announced. Avoided the public and press. 2. Standards are not fairly worded. Philosophically dogmatic! 3. Asking, pleading, and insisting that the board directly hear from the parents in Florida. Want fifteen minutes from both sides to present.


Jerry Miesel. Physical science standards framer and writer. Reading letter from framers and writers. Opposition from special interest groups to forthright presentation of evolution. Evolution is the only scientific explanation currently. Claims to the contrary are not correct. Risk that the science-based businesses will snub Florida. Clergy Letter Project cited and statement read. [Woman in audience shaking her head… she doesn’t like it. –WRE] Approve the standards as delivered.


Debra Walker. School board member, UMC member. My God is not small enough to be challenged by scientific advance. Writing the standards, we drew on exceptional resources. Inadequate K-12 education means biology students are learning high-school concepts in upper division. The boards passing negative resolutions have students at the bottom of performance. [Thank you, Debra! –WRE]