Monthly Archives: July 2011

Casey Luskin Doesn’t Do It Again

Casey Luskin has an unenviable track record. Pretty much anytime Casey gets going, you can count on him to shoot himself in the foot someway, somehow.

Yesterday evening’s blog post by Casey is no exception. So if Casey has done it again, why would I give the title I have? Well, because of the way Casey shoots himself in the foot. You see, Casey so often goes off half-cocked because he doesn’t bother to figure out what the person he is critiquing actually said, and here we have Casey not listening to the primary source again, therefore Casey “doesn’t do it again”.

Casey’s target this time was Dr. Eugenie C. Scott of the National Center for Science Education. When Casey is up against a strawman he’s constructed, he pulls no punches, thus his post’s title of “Eugenie Scott Misrepresents the Law on Evolution Education”. What does Casey present as evidence of his claim of the title? Let’s let Casey go on a bit:

Uncommon Descent is reporting that National Center for Science Education (NCSE) executive director Eugenie Scott has stated in a talk: “You cannot teach evidence against evolution. There have been some court decisions that have talked about this including Kitzmiller, but there has not been a really clean test of this idea of teaching evidence against evolution.”

Uncommon Descent? Casey trusts them to get anything right? He shouldn’t, because they didn’t. The snippet Casey gives truncates even what UD managed to relate, and UD was missing a pretty critical word in there. Casey doesn’t note that Genie led into to quote by saying that she had an asterisk on this item, “this item” being text on a projected slide on screen. With the critical text restored, we have this instead: “OK, what else can you not do? I have a little asterisk here that you cannot teach evidence against evolution.” Genie goes on to explain the state of the law concerning this point. It has an asterisk because, as Genie ably explains, the law is not yet settled on this particular point. Casey apparently doesn’t know about this, and about the only way that could happen is if he started foaming at the mouth based only on the UD text and failed to actually listen to Genie’s video presentation. Here’s Casey blowing off a piece of his foot:

Isn’t that convenient for Eugenie Scott that she now claims that the courts have insulated evolution from any form of critique in public schools?

First, Casey fails to note the nuanced presentation Genie made concerning the point of law in question. Second, Casey places religious antievolution argumentation within “any form of critique”. A science classroom is not the appropriate venue for “any form of critique”. Only critiques that themselves have passed scientific muster are appropriate there, and that leaves out the old, moldy religious antievolution argumentation.

In any case, Dr. Scott is misrepresenting the law.

Oh, really? Why didn’t you listen to Genie’s video presentation, Casey? If you had, you would have had the opportunity to not misrepresent Genie.

The Kitzmiller v. Dover lawsuit dealt with the teaching of intelligent design, not teaching scientific evidence against evolution. And even if it had, Judge Jones would have been overruled by a much higher court–the U.S. Supreme Court–which has already ruled that it is legal to teach scientific critiques of prevailing scientific theories like evolution. As the U.S. Supreme Court stated in the 1987 case Edwards v. Aguillard, a case that directly dealt with the topic of origins-education in public schools:

We do not imply that a legislature could never require that scientific critiques of prevailing scientific theories be taught. . . . [T]eaching a variety of scientific theories about the origins of humankind to schoolchildren might be validly done with the clear secular intent of enhancing the effectiveness of science instruction.”

(Edwards v. Aguillard, 482 U.S. 578, 593-594 (1987).)

Eugenie can say whatever she wants but she cannot overrule the U.S. Supreme Court refuting her claims.

Genie claimed that the Kitzmiller decision discussed “evidence against evolution”, not that it provided the final word in law prohibiting presenting “evidence against evolution”. Remember the asterisk Genie mentioned? Oh, of course not, since Casey apparently didn’t bother to listen before making up stuff. Can we find Judge Jones doing what Genie said he did? Of course we can:

ID is at bottom premised upon a false dichotomy, namely, that to the extent evolutionary theory is discredited, ID is confirmed. (5:41 (Pennock)). This argument is not brought to this Court anew, and in fact, the same argument, termed “contrived dualism” in McLean, was employed by creationists in the 1980’s to support “creation science.” The court in McLean noted the “fallacious pedagogy of the two model approach” and that “[i]n efforts to establish ‘evidence’ in support of creation science, the defendants relied upon the same false premise as the two model approach . . . all evidence which criticized evolutionary theory was proof in support of creation science.” McLean, 529 F. Supp. at 1267, 1269. We do not find this false dichotomy any more availing to justify ID today than it was to justify creation science two decades ago.

ID proponents primarily argue for design through negative arguments against evolution, as illustrated by Professor Behe’s argument that “irreducibly complex” systems cannot be produced through Darwinian, or any natural, mechanisms. (5:38-41 (Pennock); 1:39, 2:15, 2:35-37, 3:96 (Miller); 16:72-73 (Padian); 10:148 (Forrest)). However, we believe that arguments against evolution are not arguments for design. Expert testimony revealed that just because scientists cannot explain today how biological systems evolved does not mean that they cannot, and will not, be able to explain them tomorrow. (2:36-37 (Miller)). As Dr. Padian aptly noted, “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” (17:45 (Padian)). To that end, expert testimony from Drs. Miller and Padian provided multiple examples where Pandas asserted that no natural explanations exist, and in some cases that none could exist, and yet natural explanations have been identified in the intervening years. It also bears mentioning that as Dr. Miller stated, just because scientists cannot explain every evolutionary detail does not undermine its validity as a scientific theory as no theory in science is fully understood. (3:102 (Miller)).

Casey’s strawman is taking a pounding, but he still hasn’t demonstrated Genie misrepresenting anything. Casey, though, is plainly misrepresenting Genie’s talk.

More Casey:

Actually, I’ve heard secondhand that Eugenie doesn’t privately believe it’s really illegal to critique evolution. I’m not going to name names, but I’ve spoken with legal scholars who have collaborated with Darwin lobbyists. They’ve told me that what Eugenie Scott fears more than anything is an army of teachers who WILL teach the scientific controversy over evolution because she knows that under current law, it’s legal to do that. There’s a reason why, as Eugenie puts it, “there has not been a really clean test of this idea of teaching evidence against evolution.” That’s because the NCSE and its allies in the Darwin lobby are afraid to file a lawsuit against a policy that requires or permits scientific critique of evolution because they know they will probably lose that case in court.

After all, if the Darwin lobby feels a policy is unconstitutional, they waste little time in filing lawsuits; it took less than two months for attorneys working with the ACLU to help parents file a lawsuit after the Dover Area School Board passed a policy requiring the teaching of ID.

Uh, no, Casey. In the video handily linked in the post at UD, you could have listened to Genie discussing the difference between a “permissive” act and one that is a demand that something wrong be done. For permissive acts, Genie explains that one cannot simply challenge the law on its own, one must instead wait for someone to use the permissive act to implement a curriculum that infringes rights under the Constitution, find out about the infringement, then find someone within the student body who has standing to challenge it and the willingness to challenge it, and all that is much harder than challenging a law that is wrong on its face. Start around 54:50 into the video to hear it. Of course, Casey should have heard it already, but he either didn’t bother … again … or he is lying about what Genie actually said.

But there have been multiple policies requiring or permitting scientific critique of evolution which have remained on the books for years without any lawsuit. For example:

Texas: Students must “analyze, evaluate and critique scientific explanations . . . including examining all sides of scientific evidence of those scientific explanations so as to encourage critical thinking,” and also “analyze and evaluate” core evolutionary claims, including “common ancestry,” “natural selection,” “mutation,” “sudden appearance,” the origin of the “complexity of the cell,” and the formation of “long complex molecules having information such as the DNA molecule for self-replicating life.”

Minnesota: “The student will be able to explain how scientific and technological innovations as well as new evidence can challenge portions of or entire accepted theories and models including . . . [the] theory of evolution . . . .”

New Mexico: Students will “critically analyze the data and observations supporting the conclusion that the species living on Earth today are related by descent from the ancestral one-celled organisms.”

Pennsylvania: “Critically evaluate the status of existing theories (e.g., germ theory of disease, wave theory of light, classification of subatomic particles, theory of evolution, epidemiology of AIDS).”

Missouri: “Identify and analyze current theories that are being questioned, and compare them to new theories that have emerged to challenge older ones (e.g., Theory of Evolution . . . ).”

Alabama: “[E]volution by natural selection is a controversial theory . . . . Instructional material associated with controversy should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully, and critically considered.”

South Carolina: “Summarize ways that scientists use data from a variety of sources to investigate and critically analyze aspects of evolutionary theory.”

Louisiana: Louisiana public schools shall “create and foster an environment…that promotes critical thinking skills, logical analysis, and open and objective discussion of scientific theories being studied including, but not limited to, evolution, the origins of life, global warming, and human cloning.”

Mississippi: “No local school board, school superintendent or school principal shall prohibit a public school classroom teacher from discussing and answering questions from individual students on the origin of life.”

Kansas: “Regarding the scientific theory of biological evolution, the curriculum standards call for students to learn about the best evidence for modern evolutionary theory, but also to learn about areas where scientists are raising scientific criticisms of the theory.”

Ohio: “Describe how scientists continue to investigate and critically analyze aspects of evolutionary theory. (The intent of this benchmark does not mandate the teaching or testing of intelligent design.)”

Each of these policies are still in effect, except for the last two (Kansas’s policy was repealed in 2007 after conservatives lost a majority on the State Board of Education, and Ohio’s policy was repealed in 2006 after its State Board of Education underwent a similar change). The point is this: each of these policies are (or were) on the books for years without any legal challenge from the Darwin lobby. If Eugenie Scott is correct that it’s illegal to teach scientific critiques of Darwinian evolution, why is that?

Genie never said a word about it being illegal to “teach scientific critiques of Darwinian evolution”. What she was discussing was the tendency for religious antievolutionists to present their anti-scientific stuff and try to act as if they have something worth bringing up in a science class. Just because religious antievolutionists call something “evidence against evolution” doesn’t magically change it into something scientific. Scientific critiques have proven to be beyond the capacity of the religious antievolutionists. At best, they present a cargo cult version of critique, adorned with a poor appearance that is, nonetheless, at the limit of what their (mis)understanding of the subject can deliver.

Darwin lobbyists would love to ban scientific critique of evolution in public schools, so why haven’t they filed a lawsuit? It’s simple: They aren’t confident they would win because they know that current law does NOT make it illegal to teach scientific critiques of evolution in public schools.

Sorry, wrong again. Once a bad curriculum turns up and someone with standing to challenge it makes themselves known, then we’ll see how fast off the mark the legal challenge gets going. Casey is trying to equate legal challenges to facially-wrong laws and policies with challenging a law or policy without a facial defect, and that is clearly a misrepresentation of the law. Kinda ironic how Casey ends up doing the bad thing that he claims others do.

What’s most distressing here isn’t just that Eugenie Scott is misrepresenting the law. It’s that in her perfect world, she would apparently prefer that teaching scientific critique of evolution be illegal. What kind of society would we live in if Eugenie Scott and the Darwin lobby had their way, and it was illegal to ask hard questions about scientific theories? Not a good one.

Evolutionary science has a long and distinguished record of asking hard questions about scientific theories. There’s plenty of theories that have been discarded. Casey could read Peter Bowler’s “Evolution: The History of an Idea” to get that background. Or he can continue with not doing it (“it” being due diligence) again… and again.

Good Reason: A Ouija Board?

There’s an essay by Randal Rauser at “Christian Post” offering what’s termed a rebuttal to a criticism of an earlier essay. Rauser seems to be a run-of-the-mill “intelligent design” creationism (IDC) cheerleader.

Rauser defends Dembski’s ideas early on.

Joseph H. Axell posted a long rebuttal in the comment section of my article “Unintelligent arguments against intelligent design: A Primer”. There are a number of claims I’d like to challenge in the response. For instance Axell writes: “Dembski’s ‘explanatory filter’ for detecting design has been shown to be inadequate (false positives being but one problem)….” That’s like saying that an umbrella is inadequate because it is ineffectual in a windy rainstorm. Dembski’s explanatory filter, like an umbrella, can still be a useful tool even if it is not perfect. Is Newtonian physics tossed out as illegitimate because it doesn’t work at the quantum level?

Joseph Axell is right. Rauser, not so much. Newtonian physics is useful somewhere, which distinguishes it from Dembski’s “design inference” that has never had a fully-worked out example applied to any non-trivial problem. So much of Rauser’s original essay is based upon the conflation of ordinary and rarefied design inferences that it seems that he must not have read The advantages of theft over toil yet. The deficiencies of Dembski’s CSI are detailed in this essay. In the appendix, we introduced the concept of Specified Anti-Information and demonstrated that it formed an upper bound on Dembski’s CSI and disproved Dembski’s proposed “law of conservation of information”. A concerned reader wondered why we would bother repairing “specification”, and I replied:

The existence of a minimal program/input pair that results in a certain output indicates that there exists an effective method for production of the output. Since effective methods are something that are in common between intelligent agents and instances of natural computation, one cannot distinguish which of the two sorts of causation might have resulted in the output, but one can reject chance causation for the output. We haven’t so much repaired specification as we have pointed out a better alternative to it.

This leads me to a claim about Dembski’s design inference: Everything which is supposedly explained by a design inference is better and more simply explained by Specified Anti-Information.

SAI identifies an effective method for the production of the output of interest. The result of a design inference is less specific, being simply the negation of currently known (and considered) regularity and chance. The further arguments Dembski gives to go from a design inference to intelligent agency are flawed. On both practical and theoretical grounds, SAI is a superior methodology to that of the design inference.

Back to Rauser:

Second, Axell writes: “So you concede that ID proponents have so far failed to achieve even the preliminary goal of establishing that a causal intelligence has been engaged in creating features of the natural world.”

First of all, whether they have or haven’t suceeded in establishing any particular instance of intelligent design is completely irrelevant to the claim that such a project is, in principle, viable. That’s the point! (And philosopher of science / atheist Bradley Monton makes it much better than I ever could.)

I need to reiterate that ordinary design is not the same as rarefied design, and here we have Rauser explicitly trying to ignore that point.

Now for the relation to the title. Here’s Rauser moving in for the rhetorical kill, at least apparently in his mind:

Finally I turn to the main point. Is it true that a person is obliged to provide “a detailed account of the nature of that intelligent cause and of the time, manner and place in which it has engaged with the natural world” if that intelligent cause is one with which we are not “familiar”?

Axell just invented that stipulation but provided no reasoning for it. He just asserts it. But not only is there no reason to accept it. There is also a good reason not to accept it. Consider the following illustration:

Axell’s friend tells him: “Joseph, I fear that there is some kind of intelligence in my house that doesn’t want me here.”

Axell, being a scientifically enlightened denizen of the twenty-first century is skeptical. “What evidence do you have?” he asks.

Axell’s friend then pulls out a ouija board and sets it on the coffee table. Immediately the planchette begins moving across the board and it spells “Get out of here.” Axell can clearly see that nobody is touching the planchette and immediately he picks it up, inspects it closely. There are no magnets: it is only a piece of wood. There are no wires. There is no draft. He puts it back down. Immediately the planchette begins to move again as it spells out “I said get out of here.”

Highlighting added.

Good reason? Excuse me, but all I see here is a pathetic fantasy, one in which Rauser ludicrously inserts his critic. There is no reason, and further, no reasoning, going on in Rauser’s response. It is, rather literally, the demon-haunted world being given as a basis for the legitimacy of IDC. We all knew that already, Randal.

The Watson Flap

There’s a row going on about continuing sexism within the skeptical community. Rebecca Watson, a speaker at an international skeptical conference, was propositioned by a male attendee… in an elevator… at 4 in the morning. She turned him down, and later used the incident in calling for better behavior out of the male skeptical community. There’s a lot of other people weighing in over the particulars of how Watson did this, but one of the more puzzling to me is a contribution signed off as from Richard Dawkins.

Posted by: Richard Dawkins Author Profile Page | July 2, 2011 11:11 AM

Dear Muslima

Stop whining, will you. Yes, yes, I know you had your genitals mutilated with a razor blade, and . . . yawn . . . don’t tell me yet again, I know you aren’t allowed to drive a car, and you can’t leave the house without a male relative, and your husband is allowed to beat you, and you’ll be stoned to death if you commit adultery. But stop whining, will you. Think of the suffering your poor American sisters have to put up with.

Only this week I heard of one, she calls herself Skep”chick”, and do you know what happened to her? A man in a hotel elevator invited her back to his room for coffee. I am not exaggerating. He really did. He invited her back to his room for coffee. Of course she said no, and of course he didn’t lay a finger on her, but even so . . .

And you, Muslima, think you have misogyny to complain about! For goodness sake grow up, or at least grow a thicker skin.


There’s the whole issue of authentication, since this was a comment entered at ScienceBlogs, and you can pretty much sign whatever name you want to something. I hope that the above is the work of a prankster impostor.

If I just have a look at the content, though, it is really troubling to me. We’re talking about social standards of conduct, so there’s going to be differences of context. The really quite horrible levels of sexism and violence toward women mentioned above that are the norm in some cultural contexts do not inform what we should strive for in the cultural context that we live in. Calling for better behavior here is not a repudiation or diminishment of greater suffering endured elsewhere, at least not in my estimation. The line taken in the “Dawkins” missive, if followed consistently and assiduously, would mean a stop to any sort of progressive social change in our culture, as worse examples on just about any topic are bound to be found elsewhere in the world. Karl Kraus put it this way: “The devil is an optimist if he thinks he can make people meaner.”

Yes, we should be activists to improve the human condition around the world. But we have to live in our own culture, and why not try to make things better here, too?