Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Um...

From Sullivan, today (emphasis added):
KATRINA AND GLOBAL WARMING: Many emailers have harrumphed that there might too be a connection. In the abstract, you could make a case that warmer waters can increase hurricane ferocity. But every major article I have read on the story says that the pattern of hurricanes is independent of such shifts; that there was a lull in the recent past; and that the worst came in the 1930s and 1940s. When the New York Times is debunking the idea, partisan liberals might want to reassess it.
Much as I respect him, the last sentence is inane. Following the lead of experts on an issue like this is one thing, but I see no reason to make the Times the arbiter of scientific truth, even when they're conceeding a point many liberals would rather not conceed.

Scientific illiteracy

Kevin Drun writes that 25% of American adults think the sun orbits the Earth. Catching Flies responds with a much longer post on whether or not scientific knowledge in the general public is so important.

My take? Knowing factoids is far less important than having a basic ability to tell the difference between good science and bad science. Probably most Americans, while they would say the Earth revolves around the Sun if asked, don't really know what this means. I still remember how stunned I was sophmore year when I learned that relativity had not mooted the difference between geocentrism and heliocentrism. (Among the reasons, circular motion requires inward acceleration, and the Earth accelerates towards the Sun more than the Sun accelerates towards the Earth, though the later happens to a small degree).

People do, however, need some ability to tell good science from bad. As I've noted more than once, doing so can be hard. However, there are basic points like not using testimonial in medical decisions.

Having a few people think the Earth goes round the Sun is okay. It's when people's habits of thought make them vulnerable to deadly quackery that we really need to get in gear with eduaction.

Agenda or opinions?

Found this on a university prof's blog via Technorati:
I received an email today that seemed to provide a "Call to Write," to appropriate the title of John Trimbur's textbook by the same name. Or we could call it an "exigency" for all of you rhetorically savvy folks out there. The "call" came in this form:

"hello sir,
i thought teachers were not supposed to preach their political views. it's obvious that you have an agenda is it not? i cannot believe that state money goes into teaching this garbage. and i am not even some looney right wing guy either. is the u.s. so bad or is it that your politics just make for some more exciting pedagogy? do you flunk students whose views do not reflect theirs?"

If you haven't already guessed, it's an unsigned email sent to me from a mysterious "dk"--yes, it's a hotmail account. Thus far, my question "who are you?" has remained unanswered. But I find it interesting in that it comes with no context. I have yet to have my first class this semester, so chances are, "dk" was checking out my website. Who knows.
What's controversial on his website can be found here.

If this professor is correct to infer that the attack is soley based on what appears on the professor's website, not what he does in class, this is a great example of where calls for "freedom" turn to tyranny, where anyone with an opinion is condemed for having an agenda.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Flying spaghetti monster on Wikipedia

Check it out!

I love how Wikipedians can write about something like this and maintain a solem, encyclopedic prose style.

Hat Tip: Red State Rabble.

Discrimination against atheists

Eugene Volokh writes on the subject, giving the specific example of courts assuming a religious education is in kids' best interests. In the end he brings up, without endorsing, the view that kids are better off raised skeptical of all religions so they'll become rational thinkers. Good for him. His own religious beliefs aren't clear from the post, would I be correct to guess he isn't religious?

Is anyone an originalist anymore?

Jack Balkin says no in Slate.

I'm more persuaded by his arguement against originalism than by the claim that we have enough other checks on judicial power. These didn't stop Roe, a decision that polarized the country for a three decades and counting, while making fine distinctions about what can and cannot be prohibited that could conceivable change with technology (the viability standard). Which is not to say I'm super-eager to see it overturned, my inclination on abortion is to regulate as much as possible under Roe and leave it at that.

Right arguement, wrong time

Michael Reynold's says Christopher Hitchen's defense of the invasion would have been a good piece two years ago:
This year's argument is: why don't we have a strategy for victory?...

The problem here is not Cindy Sheehan. The problem is, in two words: Donald Rumsfeld. Fix that problem, show the American people that you really intend to win this war. Stop talking bullshit and make that case, and Sheehan will fade away. Fail to convince the American people that you know what you are doing, and the people won't need Sheehan to point the way to the exit.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Hitchen's defense

Christopher Hitchen's has a new defense of the decision to invade Iraq. The opener is masterful:
LET ME BEGIN WITH A simple sentence that, even as I write it, appears less than Swiftian in the modesty of its proposal: "Prison conditions at Abu Ghraib have improved markedly and dramatically since the arrival of Coalition troops in Baghdad."

I wish

Earlier this week, I went exploring the city and (mostly window) shopping with some other Madison students I had just met. We went into a new-agey store where I saw, among other things, a book that promised to detail a science of Truth by which any idea could be quickly, easily, and certainly evaluated by its consistency with the great Conciousness, or something like that.

If only it were so easy. After all, I was able to quickly and easily determine that the book was rubbish with as much certainty as I can determine anything. How was that?

Partly, it seems enormously improbable, based on other knowlege, that such a thing would be possible, and very probable that such rubbish could be generated without basis in reality. However, a better reason was that if such a discovery were real, it would have made headlines all over the world.

The second technique is imperfect, however. Creationism makes headlines o'plenty but is false. Even scientific respectability leaves something to be desired; psychoanalysis was once scientifically respectable at least in the public mind.

Analyisis of methodology - is the theory falsifiable? was the experiment controlled? is the experiment repeatable? - is another good tool. However, while it is quicker than going out and getting a degree in the topic, it still requires a good deal of knowlege. Furthermore, such concepts are only approximate descriptions of what science is. Are Newton's laws non-fasifiable because, when the planets were found not moving quite as they should, scientists declared it must be because of a new planet (later found)? Is evolution pseudoscience because, while newly discovered species reliably fit patterns predicted by evolution, one can't repeat the discovery of a new species?

In short, rationalism provides good tools for discovering the truth, and nothing more. We would like a Science of Truth to give us quick, easy answers to everything, but no such thing exists.

Meaning of strength to the left and right

Peter Daou has a powerful critique of the Iraq war based on the idea that the left wants out because the ongoing war damages our moral strength, while the right believes a withdrawl would be a sign of material weakness.

However, it's wrong to suggest that there isn't a moral case for staying. After the chaos we unleashed on Iraq, it's our moral duty to stay to patch things up. Now, I think the invasion may turn out for the better (though Daou's point that there might be a better way to do good with $200 billion gives me pause), but I believed this even in my moments of greatest disgust at realizing what a farce this war was as a WMD-hunting trip. So stay, for the sake of our moral strength.

Hat tip: The Moderate Voice.

Right-wing relativists

From a post at The Moderate Voice:
Note what the proponents of intelligent design — here, the advocates of its inclusion alongside evolution and other scientific theories — are doing. They're arguing that all points of view, all possibilities, all claimants to the truth, even the most absurd, should be considered on an equal basis with one another. Since the truth itself is, it seems, largely indeterminate (except for ardent creationists, who must be willing to go along with intelligent design so as to sneak creationism back into the schools), various "truths" may be put on the table — and into the minds of our children. In short, they — right-wingers all — have become relativists.
Relativism is generally associated with liberal academics, and this may be justified to an extent. But the right is where relativism manifests in a way that could actually do some damage.

Creationists sue university

Some creationists are suing California University for not accepting courses based on a "science" textbook that says it has tried consistently to put science second. Another great moment in the history of academic freedom.

More at The Questionable Authority.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Who doesn't understand the stakes in Iraq?

Michael Reynolds nicely juxtaposes two news stories.

A liberal for shame

Richard Chapell has a good essay in support of shame. Money quote:
Now, shame has a bad name amongst liberals, and I'll grant it's been misused in the past. The problem is that shame serves as a method of general norm enforcement, but of course not all norms are worth enforcing. Indeed, some quite explicitly ought not to be! Still, despite its shady history, I think it's time to bring shame back, and put it to use for good instead of evil.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Can you prove the Earth is round?

A few days ago, Christopher Hitchens mentioned this brilliant little essay by George Orwell on the subject. Enjoy.

It's an interesting question, one I hadn't thought about much until an essay on evolution pointed out that the best evidence that the Earth is round is that many sciences, including navigation, make no sense without it; this is Orwell's final arguement. However, I don't know if as much as 1% of the population would consider that idea. Given that flat-earthism is our epitome of ignorance, the average person's ability to disprove it is something to think about.

The Duh-Files

"Experts warn debt may threaten U.S. economy" - The Ap

Quote of the Time Being

The tension between religion and secularism leads me to probe alternative truths and avoid lapsing into a fundamentalism of my own - be it feminist fundamentalism, nationalist fundamentalism, or multiculturalist fundamentalism.
-Irshad Manji, The Trouble with Islam Today.

Reading The Trouble with Islam, it's obvious that Manji is quite liberal; perhaps the book (assigned reading in one poli sci class) might even qualify as leftist. But there's no strict adherance to any party line: she defends much (certainly not all) of what the U.S. and Israel does and, of course, throws overboard the notion that what we think of as moderate Islam is mainstream.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Conservatives object to science?

InsideHigherEd.com has commentary on some University of Pittsburg professors who suggested that there are fewer conservatives at top universities because conservatives object to the scientific method.

This was in response to a study purporting to show that conservatives are discriminated against in academia. A difficulty I see here is that the study in question found the biggest disparity in the social sciences. However, if it's a matter of fundies (speifically mentioned in the response) hating science, wouldn't one expect the disparity to be biggest in the hard sciences? That's what fundamentalists spend the most time attacking, and as I've noted before, social scientists tend to be more religious.

How 'bout this: conservatives are sensible people who dislike the loopy ideas that have infected social science/humanities, and voluntarily stay out? Worth thinking about, at least.

Here's something I agree with

From Students for Academic Freedom.

Simple misinformation is a far easier question than bad analysis.

Web rumors

Amba writes on the subject of getting misinformation on from the web. One of the most interesting aspects of the subject:
"[m]eme transmission over the network has a much higher copying-fidelity than communication through image, sound or word. Digitalisation allows the transfer of information without loss". So whatever source is originally seized upon, copied-pasted and thrown into the mix, by, say, a high-traffic blogger, becomes the conventional wisdom on that story for all time; its phrasing gets set in digital stone -- and so do its omissions and distortions. The copy is as good is the original -- but only as good as the original.
This is an important idea when considering the number of rumors that come out of the internet. Countless rumors about the Sept. 11th attacks sprung up in the first two weeks. It's easy to say, "well, they were generated by the internet." Someone tells someone something online, the next person tells it to somone else with some changes, and so on and so forth, just faster because of e-mail, right? No, forwarded e-mails copy things exactly. The internet, while great for spreading rumors, does little to create them. This had to be done elsewhere, and as the Sept. 11th attacks shows, "elsewhere" works surprisingly fast.

Education quackery

Earlier this month, James Randi posted two pieces on a quack named Douglas Biklen as dean of its School of Education. One such bad apple might be shrugged off. But then, this week, one of Randi's readers sent in this:
I read your comments on Dr. Biklen in this week's commentary. I would note that his new position is Dean of a college of Education. Speaking as one who has taught at American universities for 27 years, I offer my opinion that the average faculty member in Education is a prime example of fuzzy thinking and "ivory tower" mentality.

On our campus, they wield a great deal of power, thanks to the massive grants from the NSF and Department of Education, most of which generate totally useless research based on false premises. As examples, here are some paraphrased quotes from such professors:

If you properly motivate students, and they put out effort, then every one of them will learn.
Based on my teaching of mathematics and martial arts, I can safely say that this is not true, although motivation and hard work certainly increase the chance of success.

If a student tries hard, they should get an A.
Just look at any university which grants undergraduate Education degrees, and see the proportion of those students who gain academic honors by high grade-point averages.

We should grade students on effort, not ability.
How does that work when students get jobs?

If you teach someone how to teach, they can teach anything.
Even things they don't know, or understand?

Bearing in mind that these are the people who train our teachers, is it any wonder that the US is so far behind in mathematics and science? In those subjects, we try to grade on mastery of the subject matter, not on feelings or wishful thinking. Sad to say, my brother tells me the virus has spread to the UK as well.

The struggle that you have undertaken – battling pseudoscience and lack of critical thinking – is the same as the one that I deal with every day, with the additional joy I have that most of my academic colleagues outside the hard sciences are convinced that mathematics should be "easier," and that we are too hard on their students. When did we get to the point that people used all of this wonderful technology, and simultaneously deride those whose work makes that technology possible?

That being said, you can understand my pleasure at attending the Amazing meetings in Las Vegas, and my regret that I probably cannot attend next year.
We need a system of stopping such nonsense, but one that won't damage good work.

Read this...

...if you think the Academic Bill of Rights is a good idea.

The skinny: liberals salivating over the chance to force economics departments to take take a farther left approach and force Criminal Justice departments to assign a book called Our Enemies in Blue: Police and Power in America.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Alas

McCain endorses ID. Sigh.

Pharyngula has the best post on this:
So this is the guy who is supposed to be the moderate Republican? Screw that. I say we need to write off the whole party.

But before I get too partisan, I have to say that the Democratic party is doing its usual fine job of cowering back and avoiding any conflict with the Republicans, no matter how thuggish and imbecilic they may get. Here's a simple issue on which they could take a stand and differentiate themselves from their opponents—in which they could bravely set themselves apart as the party of the 19th century, rather than the 13th—and all you get is dumb silence. Maybe we need to write off the Democrats, too.
Myers' goes on to tout Howard Dean, a suggestion I was tempted by. Maybe if Dean can avoid making irresponsible "Bush knew Spet.11 was comming" suggestions this time around.

And from Orac:
Three years until the 2008 election, and I'm already screwed as far as picking a candidate.

More on that statistic

Awhile ago, I wrote on a questionable statistic I found in my anthropology text here and here. Yesterday, I got The Skeptical Enviornmentalist out from a campus library, which had a very similar statistic to that from WorldHunger.org. That particular statistic was from the UN's Sixth World Food Survey. Campus libraries have the survey, I'll pick it up later.

I should give a little broader picture of what troubled me about the section of my text book. The chapter started out with a section that said, in short, that the transition to agriculture was one that allowed supporting greater populations at a price. No objection there, an area I'm not familiar with and have no reason not to trust the experts. Then came a section on the industrial revolution that ended like this:
In sum, then, are the people of the world better off now than they were before the industrial revolution? Obviously the answer depends on who you are. If you are fortunate enough to be a laborer, merchant/businessperson, or professional in one of the wealthy countries of the world, you are likely to be materially better off than your counterpart five centuries ago, provided the price you pay in health risks because of a damaged enviornment does not offset your material gains. If you are a laborer or a small farmer in one of the poor countries of the world, it is hard to see how you would be better off than your peasant counterpart of centuries past, and if you are among the landless, unemployed, or underemployed of the world, one of the billion without enough food, one is hard pressed to see how your life could be an improvement overr those of people centuries past.
Mentioning "the billion without enough food" without saying how things used to be gives a false impression that things are getting worse. Later came the statistic I complained about earlier:
In 1950, 20 percent (500 million) of the world's population was malnourished; today some 50 percent (3 billion) of the people of the world are malnourished.
This is contrary to the World Food Survey, and likely based on a shifting definition of "malnourished." This is not a lack of diversity of opinion. This is misinformation. I don't know, however, how this will actually be handled in class. The professor may ignore this section of the book. I shall see.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Carnival of the Vanities

This week's Carnival of the Vanities is up!

In my hands

Irshad Manji's The Trouble with Islam Today. Yup, I couldn't resist returning to the university bookstore to buy it. I don't think I've ever read a book as relevant to an immediate problem of the world today. Subtitled A Muslim's Call for Reform in Her Faith, it shows, largely through Manji's own experiences, the reality that what we want to believe and often unthinkingly claim is Islam's fringe is in fact mainstream.

Observation: she calls for reinterpretation of the Koran and questioning of it's infallibility, but never explicitly rejects infallibility. I suppose it is not absolutely necessary to do so, and some Muslims will find softer interpretations easier to accept than the idea that the Koran is fallible.

Speak softly, carry a wad of money

An interesting (and, I warn you, long) take on the use of donor money as a lever to influence what goes on at colleges.

This is risky business; we do not want to return to the time when someone like Bertrand Russel, top of his field but with unpopular opinions, could be denied a job for those opinions. Perhaps the ideal is for all donors to try to influence what their money supports, but for them to do so as individuals, not one groupthinking mass. Then, an unpopular scholar who cannot get support from most donors will be supported by some. These disagreeing donors, though, would have to find a way of working within the same institutions if the academic community is not to fragment into a thousand pieces. The article above shows signs the later can be avoided by donors chosing to fund specific programs.

This leaves one danger: wealthy business types probably provide a good chunk of the money that goes to private universities. Will they learn to significantly damage hard science whenever it makes them look bad, say, in global warming research? I do not know.

"The Butches, you see, cannot get the nomination without the Pussies."

Michael Reynolds brilliant analysis of what ails the Democratic party. Okay, that sounds sarcastic, but it really is a good post.

I want this t-shirt





















FromEngrish.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Quote of the Time Being

UW - A mind is a terrible thing to enslave
-graffiti seen in Madison.

68% of evangelicals say...

...you don't have to be one to be saved.

A plesant surprise. I knew there were some, but I had no idea they were in the majority. A 1996 poll indicated 39% of the American population believed "All who do not accept Christ as savior will go to hell." The more recent poll says that only 12% of the general population believes those of other faiths can be saved. Can things really have changed that much?

Hat tip: Andrew, again. I really musn't get into the habit of linking to him multiple times per day; this is only the first day I've been able to in a long time, since he just got back from vacation.

Breaking news!

Seven minutes ago, Bush responded to Cindy Sheehan, saying she doesn't represent most military parents and that an immediate withdrawl would weaken the U.S. Took him long enough.

Circumcision

Andrew Sullivan links to a Slate article on circumcision, which he calls "male genital mutilation." I'm sympathetic to his position, but I've always wondered: if a guy doesn't get circumcised as an adult and wants to later, how much trouble is that? Well, accoding to Slate it is a long recovery, weeks in fact. Though as I'm recovering from hernia surgery right now, I can only think that anyone who would complain about it is being whiny. And yes, I'm being whiny by bringing that up.

Three academic freedom columns

Roy Mitsuoka has a good batch of columns on the academic freedom issue. I'm not sure of his position on Academic Bill of Rights, but I agree with most of what David French says in his column. His organization, FIRE, does good work. One charge is false though: there is no ideological uniformity on campuses. Horowitz's 10:1 liberal to conservative ratio was achieved by ignoring half the profs at colleges surveyed. More credible surveys have found ratios of 2:1 or, at most, 5:1.

Neal's column also had a curious statement:
We went right to the student population who are directly affected, who have no reason to misrepresent what is happening there, and asked them about their experiences.
Well, actually, students do have a reason: they don't want to feel responsible when they get bad grades, so they'll invent excuses like political bias. I know this about students. I am one. That's not to dismiss the study entirely, but it shouldn't be blindly accepted as Gospel truth, either.

Evolution discussion at Ambivablog

Amba's post Intellectual Stalinism in the Scientific Establishment spawned some interesting discussion. One particularly interesting comment.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Rumsfeld quoted at evolution conference

There are known knowns. There are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns. That is to say, we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns, the ones we don't know we don't know.
-Donald Rumsfeld.

From Mike Shermer's Scientific American column:
The June conference, hosted by San Francisco University of Quito, was held on the Galápagos island of San Cristóbal, where Charles Darwin began his explorations. Rumsfeld's wisdom was first invoked by University of California at Los Angeles paleobiologist William Schopf, who, in a commentary on a lecture on the origins of life, asked: "What do we know? What are the unsolved problems? What have we failed to consider?"

Creationists and outsiders often mistake the last two categories for signs that evolution is in trouble or that contentious debate between what we know and do not know means that the theory is false. Wrong. The summit revealed a scientific discipline rich in data and theory as well as controversy and disputation over the known and unknown.
This stands in stark contrast to the aproach of proponents of Intelligent Design, who say, "We can't explain this, therefore it must have been the Designer. We don't know who the Designer was, but we don't feel the need to investigate this question (wink, wink)."

Why I'm reading the Bible

This week's Carnival of the Godless (see below) included a post from Seth at Spoiled Honey, advocating taking the Gideon Bibles from hotel rooms, one visit at a time. Regardless of the ethics of this, there's a good reason not to do so, captured brilliantly in this post from James Randi's forums:
I looked at the files of "Deconversion Stories" maintained by Cliff Walker on his positive atheism site. It should be borne in mind that deconversion is usually multifactorial. But roughly speaking, the top reasons include at number four, the multiplicity of One True Religions, at three, the problem of evil, at number two, talking to nonbelievers and reading sceptical literature (especially The Demon Haunted World). But what is the all-time, number one faith-buster?

The Bible.

Yes, you heard me right. Reading the Bible is the cause of more deconversions than any other single factor.
I'm currently in the process of reading the entire Bible. It's something I've tried before, but I really couldn't do it until I approached it like the Illiad or the Odessy. Two pages a day - gets me through the tedious lists of laws and geneologies. Should finish by the end of the school year. Anyway, as I read it the thought that it is the Word of God is both horrific and comic. Horrific, when God is telling people to kill those who've led the Jews astray; comic, when He repeatedly tells we ought to read the Annals of the Kings of Israel. I doubt many could read the whole thing and come out convinced the entire thing was written by the Almighty God.

Profs have it easy? Bullshit.

A university professor shows David Horowit how full of it David Horowitz is when he claims professors work 6 to 9 hours a week for $150,000 a year.

One caveat: Horowitz's claim is not properly a lie, but rather bullshit: made not in defiance of the truth, but rather without regard for whether it's true or not.

Dilbert spoofs Fox News

Enjoy.

Observations on a university book store.

I vaguely remeber David Horowitz complaining that college reading lists are full of works by liberals like Marx and Rawls and don't have enough conservatives like Friedrich Hayek. I arived in Madison yesterday and had to finish buying books, so I decided to wander the aisles and determine if it was true.

Observation one: the shelves included very few books by any famous historical author of any persuasion. The exception was sociology, where there was a lot books by Emile Durkheim, as well as ones by Max Weber, Alexis de Torqueville, and yes, Marx.

More common was readers of many authors. One for political philosophy included Plato, Hobes, Locke, Madison, Marx, and Rawls - no Hayek. I can hardly argue with the list, Hayek, whatever his merits, was not as influential as Marx or Locke, i.e. he did not inspire any 20th century superpowers. (Though I'm not sure Horowitz would aruge with it either, I may be mis-remembering what he said regarding Hayek.)

The only thing I remember finding in the political science department is Irshad Manji's The Trouble with Islam Today, a bit of a challenge to any claims of mindless university multiculturalism.

Finally, I did take a look in the economics section. In the index of the first textbook I picked up, references to Adam Smith not surprisingly outnumbered references to Marx 5:1. I went through more text books expecting this ratio to remain constant; I stopped after the fourth book, when the total ration had reached to 23:1. I also discovered the reference to Marx was a passing reference in an essay attacking taxes on capital gains. This may seem trivial, but it's what counts. Literature departments may be "teaming with Marxist crackpots," but they are also teaming with Freudian crackpots. The best response to both is probably to roll are eyes and avoid giving them grounds to demand acceptance in economics and psychology departments, respectively.

COTG - QOTTB

This week's Carnival of the Godless is up!

Also, PZ Meyer's entry gives me what shall be my next Quote of the Time Being:
I have a higher opinion of most religious people than you may think, while having a lower opinion of religion than you can imagine.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Frist endorses ID

After he endorsed stem cell research, I thought for a moment Frist might be an OK guy. So much for that.

Suddenly, I no longer mind the thought of a Hilary presidency.

"I think today a pluralistic society should have access to a broad range of fact, of science, including faith," Frist said.
ID involves faith? Wonder if ID proponents will call Frist to explain he isn't supposed to make obvious points like this when talking about ID. (At first, I thought another blogger raised this point before I, but now I can't find where. Someone show me the post if that is in fact the case.)

John Cole thinks he's atoning for his support of stem cell research. He also quotes a commenter saying, "So with President Frist, we’ll have funding for stem cell research, but we’ll raise a generation of kids incapable of understanding it." PZ Meyers notes

Friday, August 19, 2005

I'm clairivoyant!

So claim's this site, which I found via Randi's commentary. It was based on questions like this: "There is a word printed beneath this gray card. What is the word?" How this works when the "card" is made of pixels, I do not know.

So I didn't have it so bad...

One of Randi's readers sent in an educational horror story that makes my school's handling look perfect by comparison:
Along the way, I was assigned science books which had the first few chapters deliberately ripped out. I was never taught about the Big Bang, no teacher ever taught the existence of the dinosaurs or the geology and history of the Earth, nor was I taught Kepler's laws or Galileo's discoveries. Every year like clockwork, I started my biology studies with Mendel's experiments after a prayer was said over the loud speaker, even though it was 1980 and the Supreme Court had ruled years earlier that that was unconstitutional (the prayer that is).

It is kinda sick when you think about it...

The Corpose Bride: Hollywood's New Obsession With Necrophilia.

(From a parody Christian website.)

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Curbing pork

Charging RINO has some thoughts on how to do this.

Ten questions to ask your history teacher

On Some are Boojums. Quote:
And remember — when some liberal revolutionist starts spouting off about imaginary events supposed to have taken place in 1776, all you have to do is look him in the eye and ask "Were you there?"

Bitch dog, your cable bill is due

This isn't going to help Comcast's image.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Recovering from surgery

Will not be blogging much, if at all, for the next couple days.

UPDATE: It no longer hurts so much to sit up, so here's posting the details:

Hernia operation. As in my intestines got stuck in the holes left by my testes when they descended, one example of less-than-intelligent design in the human body. But thanks to the genius of modern medicine, they didn't have to make a single cut not coverable by a band-aid, and I got sent home with a bottle of vicadin, so I'm not complaining.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Dean on Islam

Excellent post. Quote:
Islam--the faith as a whole--deserves to be challenged and confronted, just like Christians needed to be challenged and confronted for their own misdeeds in the past. But don't give me this crap about how Islam is incompatible with freedom because it's complete baloney. Cherry-pick all the out-of-context Suras you want--it's Christianity that gave us a "saviour" who declared all men to be slaves, a faith gave us bloody horrible wars that raged for centuries all over Europe, and that gave us the inquisitions--and I do mean both the Catholic and the Protestant inquisitions, by the way, not to mention the quite recent deep Christian involvement in the Rwanda genocide, mostly against Muslims.
Belief in the infalliblity of the Quaran should be opposed, just like belief in the infallibility of any human doccument. But such belief can be made compatible with liberal society, and doing so may be the practical option (not to ignore Muslims who've admirably rejected said belief). Most Christian fundamentalists support racial equality and religious liberty, in spite of Genisis 9:24-27, and support religious freedom in spite of verses where God orders the killing of those who led the Jews to other religions.

I'm now a Slithering Reptile...

... in the TTLB ecosystem.

Why do I have trouble believing becoming a reptile is a good thing?

An idiotic attack on secularism

By Thomas C. Reeves at the History News Network.

Pharyngula took it apart pretty well, but one point he didn't make:
Several things are wrong with this hoary and naive approach to truth. In the first place, there is no such thing as a purely secular person. The innate passion for religion can never be wholly suppressed. Although it wasn’t G. K. Chesterton who said it, this venerable thought rings true: "When men stop believing in God, they don’t believe in nothing. They believe in anything."...

Millions put their faith in horoscopes, cults, gurus...
Yup, atheists will believe anything, just look at James Randi, who... er... rejects horoscopes, cults like scientology, and every other sort of nonsense. Clearly, you don't have to embrace one brand of nonsense to be innoculated from others.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Legendary Lawsuits

The LA times has a legal urban legends:
Merv Grazinski set his Winnebago on cruise control, slid away from the wheel and went back to fix a cup of coffee.

You can guess what happened next: The rudderless, driverless Winnebago crashed.

Grazinski blamed the manufacturer for not warning against such a maneuver in the owner's manual. He sued and won $1.75 million.

His jackpot would seem to erase any doubt that the legal system has lost its mind. Indeed, the Grazinski case has been cited often as evidence of the need to limit lawsuits and jury awards.

There's just one problem: The story is a complete fabrication.
In response, Overlawyered conplains of the implication that the story was intentionally facbricated.

At any rate, it's good to have a reminder that urban legends aren't always apolitical amusements about people's bains leaking out. I once heard a conservative columnist complain that the MSM didn't report an anecdote about George Bush that probably never happened.

More lawsuit legends at Snopes.com.

Sandefur responds to Matzke

Timothy Sandefur responds to the Nick Matzke post I commented on yesteday.

I sometimes forget that Panda's Thumb is a group blog of whose writers don't necessarily agree on everything. Nice to see it home to a debate like this.

Teaching Chemistry 101

I found an anti-evolution post at Hidden Nook and responded in the comments thread. It resulted in a few e-mails back and forth with the blogger, Darnel Clayton. Excerpts:

Clayton:
Basically ever since then many creationists/theists/deists have not been allowed to present alternative discussions for the origin of life because of judicial decree, despite scientific evidence that has surfaced showing that evolution may not be as solid as many text books claim.
(Link contains vague references to thermodynamics) Me:
First, the author of the "scientific evidence" you linked to does not seem to know what he is talking about. Entropy doesn't cause any problems for evolution, the author seems to recognize this, but mentions entropy for reasons I fail to understand. The picture of abiogenisis is distorted as well.

See these links:
http://talkorigins.org/faqs/thermo.html
http://talkorigins.org/faqs/abioprob/abioprob.html
Clayton:
Although the "tomato example" may seem like a good counter towards the Intelligent design argument, the thing it does not mention it that the sun is not an indefinate object—it will run out of energy one day and after that every life form in this solar system (including the tomato plants) will die along with it.

The second law of Thermodynamics (or the law of entropy) can be easily examined not only on Earth but in space as well. One can even view the the slowing down of the Earth rotation (something even Talk Orgins shows) and realize that it will eventually become just as slow as Mercury's or Venus. That is one example of the law in action.
Me:
The tomato will die eventually too, this does not mean it didn't grow. What will happen to the sun in the future has no bearing on whether evolution could have happened.
This got no response.

I'm amazed at how much effort it take to convey a basic fact like the irrelevance of thermodynamics to evolution.

Sheehan doesn't deserve smear, but is dead wrong.

John Cole has an excellent piece in this vein:
Among the many other things I have learned from my so-called friends this week, along with the fact that it is perfectly acceptable to truncate, distort, and misrepresent whatever someone has said, as long as you are on the side of the Righteous®, is that there are people who don’t know why we are in Iraq...

I have also learned that I am responsible for everything the ‘right wing smear machine’ does, that I am merely ‘reciting talking points,’ and that noting it is wrong for people writing and calling the wife and employers of someone who has used the phrase ‘media whore’ is actually defending the smear. I have also learned that an ‘intellectually honest conservative’ is someone who agrees with everything progressives say, and I have learned that the question ‘Why did you kill my son’ ia a legitimate question that Bush should address...

Cindy Sheehan has the answers she wants. She just doesn’t like them, and that is her right. While I understand her acting out in her grief, I refuse to excuse those using her as the galvanizing symbol for anti-war sentiment. If that makes me evil, so be it.
Right on.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Quote of the time being

if Pascal's wager is sound, we've just proved that going down to the pub for a beer has infinite expected utility. A drink sounds pretty good right about now.
-Richard Chappell

This is funny

X Men - Death Becomes Them.

More reason to dislike social scientists

Social scientists more likely to believe in God than natural scientists.

Also, a majority of scientists believe in God. Who wants to bet that <90% of those also believe in evolution?

Hat tip: Milt.

Supporting the insurgents?

The Volokh Conspiracy has a number of posts on Westerners being accused of supporting the Iraqi insurgents, begging here.

The basis for such claims that doing so is wide spread is the inability of the likes of David Horowitz to tell the difference between wanting Abu "democracy is evil" Zarqawi to rule Iraq and wanting our troops out of Iraq. The arguement is that Zarqawi wants our troops out, therefore, wanting our troops out is supporting him. To understand how inane this is consider this hypothetical:

The US president proposes a nuclear attack on North Korea. The whole country tells him he's nuts. His response: Kim Jong-Il doesn't want to be nuked, therefore not wanting to nuke him is supporting his murderous regime. An absurd chain of reasoning.

Saying people who want our troops out support terrorism makes just as little sense. Good to see Volokh and co. telling them where to stick it.

Science v. Religion: a curious arguement

Nick Matzke, on Panda's Thumb:
Jacob Weisberg and Julian Sanchez, who both want to argue that evolution is incompatible with religious belief, have to explain why the same logic does not also apply to meteorology, germ theory, genetics, atomism, etc. All of these contradict certain literal interpretations of fundamental Judeo-Christian-Islamic holy texts. All of these scientific discoveries have experienced objections from certain religious sects, even though, now, it seems silly to almost every religious person that there would be some kind of religious problem with genetics or meteorology.
The reason you don’t see meteorology advanced as a evidence against religion is that theologians never advanced and “Arguement from Rain.” They did, however, advance an “Arguement from Design,” to which evolution is undeniably relevant. And it’s important to see the difference between relevance and proof. Rarely do atheists even come close to saying evolution disproves religion, but they’re right to say it undermies it.

Also, Biblical literalists do not challenge metorology because they think God can be subtley involved in a system that still follows natural laws. Creation, however, is not described in the Bible as involving subtle influence by God. Saying meteorology contradicts biblical accounts of God causing storms comes near to saying science proves Deism - something I don't think harmonizers of religion and science want to say.

CSICOP founder dies.

Phil Klass, founding member of the Committee for Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP) died Tuesday.

Wendy Grossman: "God, if It exists, is getting a bollocking today."

Er, what's a bollocking?

Will the Democrats be the party of reform?

From Daniel Shields:
I'm thankful that there are people like John McCain out there, but it has to also come from the rank and file Republican. Listen, the public won't stand for this; not when gas prices are pushing $2.50 a gallon.

It's time for all of us who are Republicans of conscience to stand up and denounce such tactics. We can't remain silent.

And if the Democrats are smart, they would do as Scott Shields suggests:

"I have a strong feeling that what we're seeing here is the tip of a massive iceburg of corruption that's been growing in the Republican Party for years. If reform is not one of the main rallying cries for the Democratic Party in next year's midterms, I'll be very disappointed."

Will they get a clue? We shall see.
unfortunately, as they proved in 2004, the Democrats aren't smart. I'm uneasy talking too much about an election that's still 3 years off, but the current interest in Hilary doesn't make me optimistic about Democratic smarts in this or any other area.

Let’s hear it for McCain 2008!

Best take on Cindy Sheehan

It's Michael Reynolds':
You know who I can criticize? Mr. Bush as politician, and his spy-outing handler Karl Rove for lacking the simple common sense to march Mr. Bush down the dusty driveway there and have him spend twenty minutes letting Ms. Sheehan berate him. It would cost him nothing. It would finish her off as a political irritant.

A startling realization.

Wired magazine has an article commemorating the 10th aniversary of the launch of Netscape.

An event I don't remember. I was seven or eight at the time. Early grade school. As far as I'm concerned, this internet thing has always been there. I don't think I've written a single research paper for English without it.

They call it the 10 years that changed the world. With change happening so fast, "-ed" is a little inappropriate. This is the revolution that will never stop. Technological advance will probably make the world unrecognizable by the time I retire.

Chapman: Britain expels unwelcome ideas

Steve Chapman has a column on the worrisome side of Britain's new anti-terror policies. Money quote:
If a radical Islamic leader is recruiting suicide bombers, helping them plan their crimes or inciting them to kill people, he shouldn't be deported--he should be convicted and locked up. Blair, however, wants to expel anyone who merely expresses ideas that might conceivably be dangerous.

That prohibition is a net that will catch minnows as well as sharks. It would mean anyone praising Yasser Arafat's leadership could be sent packing. So could anyone expressing the slightest sympathy for the Nicaraguan Contras, who once enjoyed the support of the Reagan administration. Ditto for Nelson Mandela, who led an armed guerrilla group before becoming a symbol of brotherhood.

Providence and ID

Something I overlooked in the Nightline transcript I linked to yesterday:
GEORGE WILL: I would be amazed if the President did not believe in intelligent design because this President believes in a providential view of history. That is, he believes that events, wars and other developments are infused with God’s purposefulness.
The providential view of history is the perfect example of why we don't need to teach ID in biology class to make it comfortable to religion. In history class, schools say what happened, perhaps give some naturalistic explaination, and don't comment on whether God was involved. People have no trouble applying this to history, why not biology? What would be amazing is if Bush didn't believe God was involved in the development of life on Earth. It shouldn't be too much to ask for him to say that this belief shouldn't be taught in biology classes.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Darwin (the man) and religion

A beautiful post on the subject, with an excellent closing:
It is a disservice to Darwin, and to history, to turn his tortured, complex life into a talking point in a culture war.
Hat tip: Evolutionblog.

All hail His Noodly Appendage!

The Flying Spaghetti Monster gets media attention. Hopefully, the members of this religion will soon have their much-abused rights recognized...

Mother of a dead soldier

DarkSyde comments on the story of the mother whose sone was killed in Iraq, and is protesting to get a meeting with the president.

The smear against her, if portrayed acurately in the link Syde provides, is sickening, but I'm really not sure this reflects so badly on Bush. He's met once with the woman, someone's who's quite hostile to him. She's probably not going to be satisfied without a drastic policy change that Bush has decided against. I can't blame her, but I can't blame him either.

What should "atheist" be replaced with?

UTI asks the question.

Current leader (which I voted for): Evil Hellbound Degenerate.

I will try adopting that name for awhile.

In defense of bias

In book reviewers.

You know where I got my interest in politics? Cartoons. There was a time when every day, I'd read every single comic in the newspaper. This led me, naturally, to the editorial page. I soon got hooked on the columns that formed the main attraction. I learned lots about current events through them, rarely setting foot in the dreary, objective front-page reporting.

And why not? Columnists who select facts to make a point are probably better judges of what facts are important than a reporter who's bending over backwords to balance things. That's why I don't buy complaints about bloggers as a news source because they're opinionated. As long as the reader is responsible in listening to different sides, this is a better way to get your info than one supposed fair source.

ID: Why, why, why?

John Cole has part of a Nightline transcript where Cal Thomas and George Will comment on the why of Bush's ID comments.

I still think science fiction gives religious people more reason to feel isolated.

Giuliani: because his one is really big

...strictly in terms of population size, New York city is larger than 40 of the 50 states.
-Dean Esmay

I've noticed that New York is bigger than some states, making Guiliani better suited than your average mayor to be president. Didn't quite realize the extent of the situation.

Attention all geeks!

If you want to understand relationships, an Oxford graduate has an interesting theory.

This makes sense:

From a comments thread at Ygelsias's site:
:The rules for the Three Letter Agencies are just the opposite and I think that they make a lot more sense from a national security standpoint. When one of my gay friends went through the hiring process for the CIA, he had to sign an affadavit swearing he was out to all of his family members, business partners, etc. so that his sexual orientation couldn't be used to blackmail him.

Fracturing culture

David Brooks has a fascinating column. The ostensible message is that young people ought to get into the field of cultural geography, but Brooks has some thoughts of his own worth chewing:
If you look just around the United States you find amazing cultural segmentation. We in America have been "globalized" (meaning economically integrated) for centuries, and yet far from converging into some homogeneous culture, we are actually diverging into lifestyle segments. The music, news, magazine and television markets have all segmented, so there are fewer cultural unifiers like Life magazine or Walter Cronkite.

Forty-million Americans move every year, and they generally move in with people like themselves, so as the late James Chapin used to say, every place becomes more like itself. Crunchy places like Boulder attract crunchy types and become crunchier. Conservative places like suburban Georgia attract conservatives and become more so.
Read the whole thing.

In the wake of the Bush-ID flap, I saw one blogger re-float the suggestion that we should abolish public schools and go to an all voucher system, letting parents decide whether they want their child in a school that teachers young-earth creationism, evolution, or something in between. That would be a disaster, and not just because of what it would do to the status of evolution. Better to delete evolution from school standards everywhere, or give creationists equal time to teach their worst nonsense. At least in such a system everyone would come through with the same primary/secondary school experience. An all voucher system would deepen fault lines with our culture, creating two self-perpetuating sets, one that's been raised on good biology, another that's been stuffed full of propaganda with neither having been exposed to an opposing viewpoint. Obviously, I don't think the on the evolution kids would be as bad, but in public discussions, they'd have that much more trouble understanding creationism.

That is, of course, not the only area where sectarian schools would cause damage: can you say "immigrant assimilation"? Given the problem's Europe is said to be having in this area, this is something everyone should be concerned about.

Of course, there are a hundred other things that already cater to different segments of society: entertainment, TV news, bloggs, etc. But the public school system gives at least one common experience, weak as it is. Let's not take it away.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Sounds like an Eatern religion to me

Shafars. In spite of what it sounds like, it's actually an acronym for secularism, humanism, atheism, free thought, agnosticism, and rationalism.

I think it's an improvement over Atheanity.

Hat tip: Ambivablog.

I hope this becomes a standard message.

Link.

Hat tip: Ambivablog.

Follow ups

Commentaries on the Slate article I posted on a couple days ago on Panda's Thumb and Evolution Blog. This struck me as insightful:
You don't get to look insightful by bashing creationists. No. If you want people to think you're a keen observer who sees past the superficial banalities of an issue, you have to bash scientists.


Also, evidence that Behe is a fool, and that I was too for suggesting he might be helpful.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

"Quit pretending they're compatible.

That's what Jacob Weisberg argues in Slate.

His actual thesis isn't so extreme: "Evolutionary theory may not be incompatible with all forms of religious belief, but it surely does undercut the basic teachings and doctrines of the world's great religions (and most of its not-so-great ones as well)." I basically agree with this, but situation isn't such as to require the change in rhetoric that Weisberg suggests.

Plenty of people accept both evolution and God. My parents fell into this category. Michael Behe, in the TIME article I wrote about yesterday, said he used to fall into this category. C.S. Lewis, perhaps the most famous theologian of the last century, fell into this category, and mentioned evolution quite a bit in his writing.

Weisberg quotes a poll that says 38 percent of the population believes God guided evolution, but seems to count them among those opposed to evolution. Probably, most of those people find Intelligent Design vaguely attractive if they've heard about it. However, probably most would still believe God was involved even if no one was purporting to have scientific evidence of it. Heck, even the young-earthers base their acceptance of young-earth "science" based on their religion, not the other way around.

Furthermore, while some of these people might be willing to hear that Michael Behe is wrong, or even that they should give up their literal interpertation of Genisis, they're all going to hate hearing "evolution disproves God" for a number of reasons, one of them being that it isn't true.

It's worth admiting that evolution is relevant to religion. But surely its bad for the public to accept a false exageration of this effect?

Carnival of Vanities up

At Generic Confusion.

Quote of the time being

Roberts is exactly what both conservatives and liberals say they want. Even if they don't really mean it.
-Kathleen Parker.

And yes, I am a little disapointed that today's column didn't back track on what she said in her last column.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Thanks, but I'm not sure we deserve that honor.

Dick Gregory calls the US, "The most ungodly, unspiritual nation that has ever existed in the history of the planet."

HAT TIP: Ann Althouse, guestblogging at Instapundit.

What to think about Michael Behe?

TIME magazine had an largely unexceptional cover story on Intelligent Design. However, it also asked four people the question, "Can you believe in God and Evolution?". Michael Behe said yes, indicated you don't even have to believe in his Irreducible Complexity to believe in God, and reitterated his belief in common descent.

In other words, he did most of the heavy-lifting of evolution defenders in a few paragraphs, and presents someone who people likely to be hostile to evolution will listen to. It's wonderful to be able to say (as I said to Amba, "every scientist I know of, including Behe, believes in common descent." Sure IC is nonsense, but it's very restricted, easy to refute nonsense, unlike the wide-ranging claims of young earth creationists, who Behe helps refute. I honestly think he does more good than harm to the case for evolution.

This makes me lend a lot of credence to the chatter that ID is on the way out and old-fashioned creationism will make a comeback.

On the other hand, I wonder if he cares if any scientist takes him seriously when I when he says things like, "That's why most people disbelieve Darwinian evolution. People go out and look at trees and say, 'Nah.'" This is an idiotic argument from incredulity that can just as easily be used to argue against the large numbers of atoms we know are in a speck of dust, or the great distace to the stars, or the fact that the Earth spins on its axis. When I first heard about Behe, he held my interest for awhile, then I see things like this and wonder how he got taken seriously for a moment.

Factcheck.org defends Roberts

Against an accusation that he supported an abortion-clinic bomber.

The wrangling over Roberts' appointment bores me. I figure if he isn't good enough for Ann Coulter, he's good enough for me. But Factcheck hasn't had much to work with since the election, and I'm glad to see they're still at work in their non-partisan fight against dishonest personal attacks, a major problem in this country.
A horible piece on evolution from USA today.

John Cole took it apart pretty well, but one thing he ignored:
The campaign to eliminate God from the public forum has been going on for decades, having accelerated greatly since the Supreme Court’s ill-advised decision in 1963 to eliminate prayer from public schools.
The claim that prayer has been eliminated from schools is a fiction promoted by people who want to use schools for religious indoctrination. My old high school has a student-led prayer group. What the Supreme Court said is teachers can't lead prayer, using their position as goverment employees at an institution kids are required to go to to promote their religion. And does anyone believe that schools have magic prayer detectors to catch students from saying a silent prayer before the test they didn't study for?

More on the Bomb

Another great piece at The Moderate Voice.

Carnival of the Liberated

Up at Dean's world.

Intolerating intolerance

Irshad Manji has a op-ed in the New York Times on Blair's
move against Islamic nutjobs, Dan Savage comments.

Manji's gives a good example of a guy who does not deserve free speech:
In 1999, an uproar surrounded the play "Corpus Christi" by Terrence McNally, in which Jesus was depicted as a gay man. Christians protested the show and picketed its European debut in Edinburgh, a reasonable exercise in free expression. But Omar Bakri Muhammad, a Muslim preacher and a judge on the self-appointed Sharia Court of the United Kingdom, went further: he signed a fatwa calling for Mr. McNally to be killed, on the grounds that Jesus is considered a prophet by Muslims. (Compassion overflowed in the clause that stated Mr. McNally "could be buried in a Muslim graveyard" if he repented.) Mr. Bakri then had the fatwa distributed throughout London.

Since then, Mr. Bakri has promoted violent struggle from various London meeting halls. He has even lionized the July 7 bombers as the "fantastic four." He is a counselor of death, and should not have been allowed to remain in Britain. And thanks to Mr. Blair's newfound fortitude, he has reportedly fled England for Lebanon.
I shouldn't have taken Britian so long to get rid of Bakri.

And Savage's comments on the hypocricy of asking for tolerance of Pat Robertson and co are on the mark.

This makes me uneasy, however:
Mr Blair said Parliament might be brought back from the summer recess early to discuss other measures.

These will include advocating violence to further a person's belief, justifying or validating such violence, or fostering hatred.
Stoping people who advocate violence? Sure. Stoping people who foster hatred? Easy to take to far, as I've said before. We might not lose much from the jailing of Pat Robertson, but then Richard Dawkins might be next.

Monday, August 08, 2005

This is what they're fighting?

From a post at Red White & Blue Hens:
"When [students] listen to Democrats and their college professors, they're getting a message that's not what they hear at home or in the mainstream media," said CRNC Executive Director Doug McGregor. "And that's just not what they agree with."...

"I've definitely felt uncomfortable with a professor who was very involved with the Dean Campaign. It was a very small class in my freshman year and I was terrified to let it be known that I was a conservative. I really was afraid that he would attack me and I knew that I would not be able to stand up to him. The man had been a professor for thirty years, and I knew that I didn't know enough then to take him on," said Julie Aud, a junior at the University of Indiana and press secretary for the campus' College Republicans.
So conservative students' rights are being violated when they hear opinions different from those of their parents, and when they feel incapable of arguing for their beliefs.

*Sigh*

A worrisome initiative at Columbia U

Columbia University is adopting a diversity program that sounds like establishing a idealogical litmus test. Todd Zywicki comments:
One important effect of imposing this sort of ideological litmus test for hiring, is that it makes it increasing difficult to protect academic freedom from bad ideas such as David Horowitz's Academic Bill of Rights. The objection to the Academic Bill of Rights--an objection that I share--is that it improperly infringes on academic freedom. But if Columbia is going to override its academic freedom policy for these political purposes, then there seems to be no principled reason not to override academic freedom for the political purposes favored by David Horowitz and other advocates of the Academic Bill of Rights. What can Columbia say in response to Horowitz now?

Savage guesblogging for Sullivan

His sign off:"That’s all for today. Unless Andrew comes to his senses and changes the passwords this evening, I’ll be back with you tomorrow."

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Response to Kathleen Parker

Kathleen Parker had a column defending Bush's comments on Intelligent Design. My e-mail to her:
Several comments on your recent article on Intelligent Design:

1) It doesn't give a clear picture of what the movement is. Philip
Johnson, the founder, rejects evolution wholesale, refuses to take a
position on the age of the Earth, and has clearly said he is working
to support Christianity. This is essentially the position of old-
school creationists. The movement talks about design not only of life
on Earth, but also of design of the whole universe. This leaves
little doubt as to the identity of the creator. Finally, an internal
memo of an ID think tank presented a stated goal of fighting
materialism in American culture. The only distinction between what is
usually called creationism and ID is Johnson's embrace of less extreme
critics of evolution, and some pseudo-agnostocism about the identity
of the Designer.

2)Intelligent Design is not exactly new. Darwin's Black Box, one of
the less extreme texts in the movement, was published a decade ago and
the debate within the scientific community was quickly settled against
it. Standard creationism, of course, is much older.

3) The cardinal attack of the Intelligent Design movement is pointing
out that science cannot explain anything. This is true. However,
there is nothing scientific in saything X is unexplained, ergo a
Designer (or ergo flying saucers or telepathy, for that matter).
Schools should not be giving students the impression that such
reasoning is science.

4) Mentioning challenges to evolution would be less objectionable if
students got a better understanding of why scientists accept evolution
in the first place. Sadly, they don't. I'm a recent high school
graduate, and when I began trying to educate myself about evolution,
reading books and visiting websites like www.talkorigins.org , I was
stunned at the amount of evidence for evolution not even mentioned by
my two years of high school biology. It would be unreasonable to try
to teach students everything, but I wish schools would teach that
there's far more than fossil evidence to support evolution. This is
especially important if objections to evolution are to be discussed

5) You say that "Truth has nothing to fear from charlatans, after
all." This may be true in the long run. In the short run, political
propagandists deceive nations, quacks kill people by convincing them
to reject real medicine, and standard creationism remains strong, even
if it's now hiding behind a different name. Public schools need not
aid assults on truth.

Sincerely,
Chris Hallquist
Parker, though conservative, is no religious fundamentalist. I'll be watching her column to see if my letter, or similar ones by others, get through to her.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Graduation & carnival

I'm having my graduation party tomorrow evening, so I probably won't be blogging. Tomorrow, I recommend people check out the next Carnival of the Godless at Silly Humans. (Did they schedual these on Sundays with intentional irony?)

60 years ago today...

The atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. Orac has a thoughtful reflection on the anniversary.

Hmmm...

I have been demonized beyond recognition by organizations like the AAUP, the AFT and the ACLU, and on hundreds of leftwing websites in a campaign of guilt by insinuation and association that preposterously (but probably permanently) links me to Joseph McCarthy.
-David Horowitz

Horowitz as the target of guilt by association?

Legislating from the bench, c. 1945

Inadvertently, the Constitution made the Supreme Court a branch of the legislature, since nothing is a law if the Supreme Court says it is not. The fact that its powers are nominally only interpretative in reality increases those powers, since it makes it difficult to criticize what are supposed to be purely legal decisions. It says a very great deal for the political sagacity of the Americans that this Constitution has only once led to an armed conflict.
-Bertrand Russel, The History of Western Philosophy, copyright 1945.

Many people think of the "legislating from the bench" complaint as one that has arisen since the 60's and 70's especially since Roe v. Wade; it's interesting to see an earlier example.

Quote of the time being

Asked by the New York Times to comment, [presidential science advisor] John Marburger responded,
"Evolution is the cornerstone of modern biology .... intelligent
design is not a scientific concept." Good response. It would be
nice if the President's science advisor advised the President.
-
Bob Park.

Friday, August 05, 2005

It's worse.

Leia: It could be worse.
Han: It's worse.
-Star Wars

From an article on an attempt to legislate the Academic Bill of Rights, posted at Another Day in Paradise:
"Some professors say, 'Evolution is a fact. I don't want to hear
about Intelligent Design (a creationist theory)..." Baxley maintained.
At first glance, I assumed he was talking about a hypothetical example of what could go wrong with the legislation. Then I realized Baxley was the bill's sponsor.

I doubt there are many people who include the "if you don't
like it, there's the door" part of Baxley's claim, but on the other hand, it isn't "some" professors who see evolution is a fact, it's "virtually all professors in relavent fields." I guess I should note some scientitsts don't like the word "fact," but evolution is as much a fact as any other "mere theory" (atomic theory, germ theory, theory of relativity).

(Note to self: put TalkOrigins at top of sidebar under "Evolution doubters go here.")

Anyway, this is the most severe example of this campagin's excesses/inevitable results, something to make all the complaints of what's come before look like hysterics.

Open letter to Tom Cruise

Dear Tom Cruise,

Your lack of belief in the existence of clinical depression tells me one thing: you didn’t spend $10 to see War Of The Worlds. If vitamins can possibly help me out of this spiraling funk, please let me know which ones. Dinos? Pebbles? Freds?

Please, I’m crying out for help.


Stolen from Randi.

Another view of secularism

From a section of Randi's commentary this week:
I refer you to a thread on this message board... To sum it up: A rep was asking for prayers for her younger sister, who is a drug addict. Many other reps expressed their sympathy and told her that they would include the sister in their prayers... Enter me, saying "Hey, I don’t really believe in prayer, but here are some ideas for how you can deal with the situation."

I was set-upon by many for being rude...

I had been Muslim and said "I don’t believe praying to your god works, but I’ll pray to Allah for you," I would have been praised for being so kind.

I think it boils down to, as long as you’re fooling yourself in ONE way or another, you’re okay... you’ll be tolerated (elipsis a mix of mine and his).
(This is the end of a story regarding praying for someone's sister.)

I'm not exactly sure what to think of this specific case. Part of me thinks this is one of the times when one does not go around telling people they're wrong, but I then I saw this response:
My Prayers are with you I can understand My Family went trough this with a family member,we would go and pick him up when ever he needed us we tried the Tough love did not work but we Prayed and it did.
Things like prayer go from totally harmless to quite harmful the minute they are seen as superior to things that are likely to work.

Dove's cream a fraud

Acording to Majikthise, the cream whose ad campaign I noted earlier is pure quackery.

Holocaust denial and creationism

A comparison up at Unscrewing the Inscrutable.

[sarcasm]Can't believe the dogmatism of historical fundamentalists. Never does the poster bother to defend his claim that the holocaust happened; it is true because the Priests of History have declared it to be so.[/sarcasm]

Another exchange at FrontPage

This time, with Horowitz and Kevin Mattson of Ohio University.

Helping Africa

A local paper ran an interesting column on the subject. Money quote: "The African Union estimated that corruption costs the continent $148 billion each year, enough money to wipe out the debt in just more than two years." I found a citation for that here. If only there were a simple way to eliminate corruption. More democracy might be one answer; Freedom House's Map of Freedom show's Africa pretty clearly to be one of the less free regions of the world.

Quote of the time being

"'values voters' -- what voters do not intend their political choices to advance their values? " - George Will, yesterday.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Creationist evolutionist.

American Centrist has a post, "Evolution is a fact. Here's why I'm a creationist. Reading the post, its clear he isn't using the usual definition of "creationism;" he means that he believes God ultimately created the world, not that common descent is false or even that there's scientific evidence for God. There's another, more common, error here, however. Evolution isn't an absolute disproof of God, but it is relavant re: pre-Darwin watchmaker arguements for God and in pan-Darwinism (all intelligence must evolve in the universe, so the universe cannot be designed). There's nothing wrong with making such connections, as Richard Dawkins often does.

NoteL On pan-Darwinism, it is very similar in nature to the watchmaker arguement. That makes me think it rather weak, if valid to a degree.

Amba's response to Bush

I keep following what has to say on Intelligent Design because she represents people in the middle of the debate. I know I'm not going to win over Michael Behe, but I also know I have persuaded some who simply sit outside, not knowing much about it. (The match up isn't perfect, Amba is far from outside). So I see this. prompted by Bush's ID remarks:
More and more, I think it's too bad that Intelligent Design was first proposed by Christian thinkers with a religious and cultural agenda (some of whose real sophistication as thinkers gets eclipsed in this emotional debate). If the idea had come from demonstrably unbiased scientists, who thought they saw evidence of a creative and responsive rather than blind mechanism at work in life's intricate variation and adaptation, then religious people could have welcomed the new theory without being suspected of having cooked it up to comport with their faith. And secular-minded people might have given it some real mind-time, and thought about how it might be tested, and appreciated its salutary challenge to evolutionary theory -- as Dean says, "If they're proven wrong, then doesn't that just strengthen Darwinism?" -- instead of dismissing it out of hand.
The problem is that scientists gave it "real mind-time," couldn't find any way to test it, and didn't see proponents trying to do so. ID does little beyond say we haven't explained everything in biology, and explaining one thing won't be counted disproof, because it will just cause proponents to focus on a new mystery.

Its worth rehashing this point because the question is open in many people's minds, but it isn't dogmatism to occasionally take the reasoned conculsion of the vast majority of scientists for granted. Dawkins can be an arrogant prick at times, as in the interview where he said, "My American friends tell me that you are slipping towards a theocratic Dark Age. Which is very disagreeable for the very large number of educated, intelligent and right-thinking people in America. Unfortunately, at present, it's slightly outnumbered by the ignorant, uneducated people who voted Bush in," but to complain he's being dogmatic about evolution makes about as much sense as denouncing heliocentric domga when Galileo is discussed. Its not as if he never explains the problems of ID.

Anne D. Neal on academic freedom.

Specifically, an AAUP statement on the subject. Up at Inside Higher Ed.

Textbook statistic

I went to the local library today and paged through its copy of The Progress Paradox. The most I found was that the number of malnourished people went from 1 billion to 800 million in the last generation, though I'm not exactly sure what "generation" means in this context.

Google yielded this, which indicates a decrease in malnutrition in the developing world from 37% in 1969-1971 to 17% in 1997-1999.

Neither of these shows where the bad statistic may have come from. There's a clue in the textbook itself, however: elsewhere, the number of malnourished people is given at 1 billion today, or about 17% of the world's population. Obviously, this conflicts with the 3 bilion I quoted, perhaps because of different definitions of "malnourished." The increase between 1950 and now may be a tightening of definition.

Snopes.com rules!

Yesterday, my girlfriend pointed out two fascinating entries from Snopes.com, an urban legends reference page:
The Mississippi state legislature removed fractions and decimal points from the mathematics curriculum of public secondary schools.
The nursery rhyme "Sing a Song of Sixpence" originated as a coded message used for recruiting pirates.

To round out this entry, here's one that sticks in my memory from a long time ago:
Television's Mister Ed was a horse.

The million-dollar question: what do these three entried have in common?

To those who figure it out, this proves the awesomeness of Snopes. I wish Skeptic's Dictionary did this.

Harry Potter Skepticism

The Fourteenth Skeptic's Circle is up at Be Lambic or Green, with a Harry Potter theme. I'm hosting on October 27th, and am now worrying if I'll be able to keep up the tradition of clever themes.

Why do men have nipples?

The title of a book that comes out Tuesday. I'm not copying the answer here, you'll have to read the story yourself.

It's a nice reminder of the weird, jury-rigged nature of our bodies.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Reynolds' lament

Bush wants to teach Intelligent Design in schools. That's just pathetic... As I said earlier, if only the Democrats weren't so lame.
Sobering comment. The sad truth is that there is no viable opposition to our current fundamentialism-influenced government, hasn't been since the incoherent Democratic response to September 11th. With a dynastic candidate (Hilary) as the favored one for the '08 ticket, the situtation may not improve. But there's still a couple years for that to change.

Orac on Bush's comments.

Yesterday:
Ugh. I wish I could say I were surprised, but I'm not. It's been mind-numbingly obvious since the stem cell debate in 2001 that this President is more concerned with placating his religious base than with advancing science and science education. It's just that, up until now, he's remained cleverly canny about his views on this particular subject.

Balloon Juice on Bush and ID

Balloon Juice had two good posts on Bush's comments, More on ID and even More on ID.

One thing that stand's out is spin from Bush's science advisor:
Mr. Bush’s science adviser, John H. Marburger 3rd, sought to play down the president’s remarks as common sense and old news.

Mr. Marburger said in a telephone interview that "evolution is the cornerstone of modern biology” and “intelligent design is not a scientific concept." Mr. Marburger also said that Mr. Bush’s remarks should be interpreted to mean that the president believes that intelligent design should be discussed as part of the "social context" in science classes...

Mr. Marburger said it would be “over-interpreting” Mr. Bush’s remarks to say that the president believed that intelligent design and evolution should be given equal treatment in schools.
C'mon. If you're the leader of the free world, you should know enough to immediately clarify when your intended meaning is different than the obvious meaning.

Textbooks

Today, I went to Madison to get textbooks and set up my finances. The philosophy teacher didn't have his book list out, foiling my plans to read the text before the start of the class.

I did get the anthropology text. Little mention of Margaret Mead. I suppose that's not surprising since its a 104 rather than 101 class. I had kind of been looking forward to being able to write an essay denouncing her, maybe she did some legit research, but since seeing her naive introduction to a book on parapsychology, I've doubted her caliber as a reasearcher.

Paging through the book, I quickly found one rather questionable statistic: "In 1950, 20 percent (500 million people) of the world's population was malnourished; today some 50 percent (3 billion) of the people in the world are malnourished." The section has other statements to the same general effect, but this one is easily fact-checkable. Something I'll do later.

Overall, the text gives a general impression of touching on far more areas than the author can handle, or can find room to give significant treatment.

I think I'll hold off on further comments until I find out what the class itself is like.

Carnival of Vanities up

At Riding Sun.

Quote of the time being

There are gaps in science everywhere. Are we to fill them all with divinity? There were gaps in Newton's universe. They were ultimately filled by Einstein's revisions. There are gaps in Einstein's universe, great chasms between it and quantum theory. Perhaps they are filled by God. Perhaps not. But it is certainly not science to merely declare it so.
-Charles Krauthammer, in TIME magazine. The most eloquent statement of what's wrong with ID that I've read.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Hey, these women actually look good...

On Slate.

Bush's half-a-brain response to ID

From Pharyngula:
In a wide-ranging question-and-answer session with a small group of reporters, Bush essentially endorsed efforts by Christian conservatives to give intelligent design equal standing with the theory of evolution in the nation's schools...

Bush compared the current debate to earlier disputes over "creationism," a related view that adheres more closely to biblical explanations. As governor of Texas, Bush said students should be exposed to both creationism and evolution.

On Monday the president said he favors the same approach for intelligent design "so people can understand what the debate is about."
However:
Bush didn't seem eager to talk about the topic.
The reason why my title isn't "brainless."

I'm momentarily happy the federal government isn't more heavily involved in education.

EPIMETHIC: Of course, getting students to "understand what the debate is about," i.e. that it is a fight of good science and religiously-driven pseudoscience, would be good if only kids got a solid basic understanding of evolution. But this doesn't always happen.

And your point is?...

A student's teacher horror story is up at studentsforacademicfreedom.org.

The story (taken at face value) shows a horrible professor, but paints a fairly good picture of the university as a whole: the school was fully willing punish the guy, and offered to perform an official investigation. The student turned down the offer, however. This apparently happened without the benefit of ABOR.

However, the coda is bizarre, and makes me wonder about the accuracy of the main part. In short, the student wrote a newspaper column in which he asserted, among other things, that Americans should not support homosexuality because it causes AIDS and atheists should pay their respects to Hitler. Then he got upset because the professor wrote a critical letter to the editor in response. Apparently, the student felt that the promise that the professor not contact him extended to keeping the prof from responding in a public forum. I think the point where this is supposed to reflect badly upon the university is when the student discovered he couldn't take action over a letter to the editor.

I can only wonder at why Horowitz isn't a tad bit more careful about what things get associated with his bill.

Also, why I wonder about the factual accuracy:

Student: "He [in his letter] also reiterated his slander that I believe homosexuals 'should be punishedÂ…as [instructed in] Leviticus where the prescription is that gays should be stoned.'"

Letter: "He believes that homosexuals are sinners and should be punished - although, I hope not as in Leviticus where the prescription is that gays should be stoned."

There's a big difference between saying someone wants to stone people to death and pointing out a book prescribes it.

Memo to propagandists: if you want to play fast and loose with ellipsis, don't link to your sources.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Quote of the time being

I have somewhere heard or read the frank confession of a Beenedictine abbot: "My vow of poverty has given me a hundred thousand crowns a year, my vow of obedience has raised me to the rank of sovereign prince." I forget the consequences of his vow of chastity.
-Edward Gibbon, quoted in Bertrand Russel's The History of Western Philosophy

Huh?

From Centerfield:
A federal judge has ruled that some provisions of [controversial piece of legislation] remain too vague to be understood by a person of average intelligence and are therefore unconstitutional.

Since when has legislation been understandable by the average person?

The comments section on Centerfield is somewhat enlightening, though.

Why our society is secular.

I've made a couple posts giving contradicting angles on where atheists stand in our society. In the first, I argued pop culture, and American daily life in general, is atheistic. In another, I made a joking proposal on improving the image of atheists, but noting that there's a real problem. When making the second, I vaguely felt the true situation was paradoxical, but couldn't exactly describe it.

A recent incident illuminated, for me, exactly what's going on.

I showed this article from InsideHigherEd to my girlfriend, a wiccan, and asked what she thought. Her response was, roughly, "Good. I don't want my doctor telling me ' you can be cured if you accept Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior.'" Perfectly normal type of reaction. Based not on the idea that religion is bad, but the desire not to be told one's own is inferior.

So doctor's refrain from saying "you can be cured if you accept Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior." Ditto saying the Shahadah, practicing Buddhist meditation, or performing a Wiccan ritual. Doctors end up acting as if none of it's true. Repeat for all aspects of society.

End result: mainstream histories of various religions, unobjected to by religious people, explain everything in human terms, treating the possibility of real revelation as too trivial to mention. A reader unfamiliar with Bertrand Russels' attacks on religion could read The History of Western Philosophy without noticing the strong atheistic subtext, but only because such is the subtext of mainstream history. The religious still don't rebel, however, because they'd rather have people act as if their beliefs are false than explicitly say so.

Nonetheless, the country still feels it very important to have a religion, even if it can't decide which one. Hence the inviability of atheist politicians. And, hence, feelings of discomfort in society from both the religious and irreligious.