Tuesday, January 31, 2006


A layman's view

Upate: My sister gently reminded me that she was stationed in Kuwait, not Saudi Arabia.

My sister was kind enough to share this essay with me, and to give me permission to upload it to the blog. She's currently part way through an undergrad degree, and is taking an anthropology class. She brings a very different perspective to the table than I do since our lives have diverged since we moved away from home. As you'll see if you read the essay she spent five years in the Air Force, and she's raising a family (I'll be there one day, but not just yet). During her time in the Air Force she was stationed in Turkey and Kuwait (and also more mundane places like New Mexico). She took classes when she could, and through a lot of hard work earned an associate's degree last year. I'm really proud of her for that.

I was thrilled when she sent this to me. I didn't know that she was taking an anthro class, let alone discussing creationism. We haven't talked much about it over the years (I'm pretty bad at keeping in touch), so I was very curious about what she thought about the issue. I really like her essay, especially the first sentence. It's really gratifying to see that the relationship between creationism and intelligent design is so transparent.

Without further ado, here's her essay:

Apparently, Intelligent Design is Ridiculous

Being a newcomer into the evolution vs. intelligent design (when did we stop calling it ‘creationism’?!) debate, I must apologize if my remarks in this essay come across as ignorant or presumptuous. After all, I’ve only seen a tiny amount of literature addressing this debate, and I am, after all, still a very green student.

However, the few articles I have read on this subject all seem to point out a glaring fact: intelligent design is nonsense; at least the argument to have it on the curriculum of every science teacher in America is. It doesn’t help things that the argument its supporters are making for its defense doesn’t hold much weight either. Just as an average layman, I would have to support those in favor of evolutionism. Let me tell you why.

The two articles assigned were very much on the side of the evolutionists, and I was aware of that while reading them. However, I did not find anything different from the creationist’s opposing viewpoints to change my mind when doing further research online. Skipping right through where most scientist-evolutionists seem to begin in their arguments, which is the definition and difference of facts and theories, I’ll go to the point I see as the most important one here: that creationists cannot make a solid argument. I picked up a pamphlet in the hallway outside the sociology department today that made its argument by listing various fossils, organisms, and such, and showing how each is missing the link to get from point A to point B, therefore evolution cannot possibly have occurred because scientists have found no evidence of those missing links yet. Naturally, there is no mention of the fact that science is ever-changing, or that it took probably a good deal of time just to collect the fossil samples mentioned. Of course, all this was supported by many important quotes from many important people with lots of credentials. I could not help but wonder if some of these people were being taken out of context, such as Gould described happening to him in his article; how maybe some of these people were making an entirely different point, before they were nabbed by a creationist and stuck in a pamphlet. Anyhow.

Creationists are in favor of pushing our society back into the past by putting religion above all else; and that’s a dangerous way of thinking. The city of Rome was believed, by its inhabitants, to have been founded by two brothers named Romulus and Remus, who were born from a goddess and raised by a she-wolf. For centuries, that is what the leading global power believed. But Rome, whether run by a Caesar or a Republic, had some huge societal flaws. Remember Caligula? Giving power all to one MORTAL person who stands up and declares himself divine is nothing but a recipe for human suffering. (I don’t favor any modern ideas to elevate Graham or Hinckley to divine status; but nor would I support building a shrine to Darwin or Einstein.) How is the concept of the Garden of Eden less far-fetched to those today than the she-wolf tale to the inhabitants of ancient Rome? The details have changed, but the believers are still basing their lives on completely unseen, unverified stories. I understand that religion needs faith to operate correctly, which does not need any evidence for its supporters. I also support the belief that people in society DO need religion- as a guidance system to help society from plunging into anarchy, to help teach its children morals, and as a source of strength and comfort. And that’s not wrong. But no one can deny that man (as in the male of the species) does distort and twist religion for selfish power reasons. A pope once had more power than a king. WWII was barely more than half a century ago. Tying this into the debate at hand, why would we want to start down that old, trodden path where mankind may have progressed but suffered just as much? Bringing intelligent design into the classrooms is like admitting to those religious leaders that we don’t need to continue on with modern scientific study or research (goodbye, cure for the big ‘C’; goodbye solution to global warming). Few leaders, even religious ones, could stand up to the moral promises they’d make to get to the top; even the president is kept in check by congress. There are no leaders among evolutionists who would benefit from elevated status if their side “won” this debate; science would just continue to quietly progress.

And that’s the bottom line I see the creationists’ argument heading toward: a kind of pre-rational, pre-modern thought. The unexamined life and so on. The comparison in one of the articles was really thought-provoking with raising the question of why do these same people kick science to the curb when it comes to evolution, yet if they’re sick, they seek out the most specialized scientist in the field of medicine for answers to their illnesses?
In my archaeology class, we recently watched a video on a 9,000 year-old skeleton that had been found; this man could not be linked definitely to any group of known persons. Yet four days after the archaeologist began his research on this skeleton, a group of American Indians claimed the remains under an act called NAGPRA (Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act) and tried to bury the prehistoric man in an undisclosed grave. No matter to them that this was one of the oldest known human remains found in North America, or more importantly, that no scientist could confirm that this man had been, in fact, even remotely related to them. This argument, like evolutionism vs. creationism, seems ridiculous. Another minority among the population is acting selfishly with hasty, half-baked reasons.

I mention this example because in both instances of the archaeologists with the prehistoric man and the scientists struggling to keep evolutionism on the teaching agenda both have a common, and noble goal in mind: to learn the answers to questions not just for them, the scientists, but for ALL of mankind. It was very selfish of the American Indians to take that man for themselves and deny the entire world the answers he could provide. And it’s selfish for the creationists to send a message to the world (the majority of which, like voting for a presidential candidate, does a minimal amount of research into the subject outside of a few hours of TV) that it’s blasphemy to believe in evolution. Those creationists with the background and the education are not being very responsible leaders to the unlearned, trusting (albeit lazy) masses by ignoring or misinterpreting the evidence given by the evolutionists.

This argument falls in with all the other political correctness sweeping America today and it’s really gotten out of hand (to get on my soapbox for another minute here). I completely agree with the statement that America is losing its place as a world leader because of the growth and acceptance of ignorance today. As a five-year active duty Air Force vet, I can honestly say it’s weakening our military. Our wishy-washiness to defend our borders or oppose those that threaten our country is shameful. Everyone is so scared of offending someone, anyone, that you can’t even chew gum in public anymore without looking over your shoulder. The idea of intelligent design should be in church, just as the Ten Commandments should be kept off the courthouse lawn or we risk returning to the days of the Inquisition.

Yet getting into these scientific debates as of late for me has been kind of reassuring: the archaeologists in the prehistoric man’s case ended up suing the American Indians for the right to study the skeleton, and the scientists defending the evolution theory don’t seem to show signs of backing down. That’s definitely out of step with America’s current fad of quickly backing down and apologizing to anyone who claims they were offended by something; no matter how obviously outrageous their claims. Perhaps there is hope for America after all if we can just continue to weather the storm!

Monday, January 30, 2006


A Scorpion's Tale

You may have read about the scorpion found inside the fossil sample over the weekend. This story is surprising to me in two different ways. First, I am amazed that the scorpion survived in the plaster for 15 months. But I find it a bit more surprising how much publicity the story received. It was picked up by the Associated Press and suddenly the scorpion is a national hero. The story was even linked on Fark.com on Saturday. But I think no one is more surprised than the paleontologist who actually found the scorpion, Don DeBlieux (pronounced de-Blew). He was even amused when local radio personalities made fun of their inability to pronounce his last name and resorted to calling him "Scientist Don."

Don has received emails from biologists all over the world (OK, that may be a slight exaggeration), diagnosing the species of scorpion from this photo. Amusingly, each expert wants to ascribe a different species to the scorpion, based on his or her own area of expertise.

Well, congratulations Don! People all over the world are attempting to pronounce your name.

Friday, January 27, 2006


Climate cycles in the Cretaceous

I should probably start this post by pointing out that I'm not a rock magnetist (although I've been friends and office mates with them), nor am I a paleoclimatologist or a sedimentologist. I don't usually think about those three subjects being related. Paleoclimatology and sedimentology, sure. Same thing for rock magnetism/paleomagnetism and sedimentology, I can see how those could sometimes overlap. I think it's pretty cool when a study can combine all three.

Several parameters of Earth's orbit vary cyclically (precession, axial tilt, and eccentricity – see this article about Milankovitch cycles (go Wikipedia!). These variations result in changes in climate, which cause changes in sedimentation, which result in changes in the geologic record. These changes are particularly clear in materials that have layers deposited annually. The classic example is varves. Changes in climate during the summer and winter result in changes in the types of sediments being deposited in lakes. For example, runoff during the spring and summer could carry more silt into a lake, while during the winter, when the runoff is low, clay would settle out. In that example a pair of silt and clay layers represents one year's worth of deposition. There can be changes in things like pollen concentration and microfossils too. By counting the pairs (called couplets) and tracking changes like couplet thickness and chemistry, it's possible to recognize cycles, and those cycles can be related to climate.

Varves occur in both modern and ancient lakes. For example, at Lake Suigetsu, (where the varves are defined by a couplet with a clay layer and a white fossiliferous layer) not only have varves been counted back 40,000 years (like counting tree rings), but the ages calculated from counting varves were also compared against radiocarbon dates from organic material plucked from the varves. (see Figure 2 at the link). In the Lake Suigetsu study the authors counted 80,000 thin layers of sediments (40,000 couplets). That's an impressive amount of work, but while 40,000 years is a long time from a human perspective, it's not really enough to record Milankovitch cycles (the timings of the cycles range from around 19 to 405 thousand years). If you want to see Milankovitch cycles you need to look at sequences of rock that record very long periods of time. People have done this for varved deposits (see here for example). Very cool stuff, definitely, but it gets better. The article that prompted this entry is about people who found a way to measure Milankovitch cycles in non-varved deposits.

"Magnetic record of Milankovitch rhythms in lithologically noncyclic marine carbonates", by a group of scientists from Lehigh University, Johns Hopkins, and the University of New Mexico came out in the December 2005 issue of Geology (to go off on a tangent, Geology is a nice journal to subscribe to – it's composed of short (4 page or so) articles in all areas of geology). "Lithologically noncyclic" means that there weren't any varves in the rocks they looked at 110 m of a "… thick-bedded lime mudstones with rare chert nodules, nannofossils, and planktonic foraminifera." To me that sounds like they looked at a thick, boring mass of limestone. They took 367 samples, crushed them, and measured their magnetic properties, in particular something called ARM (anhysteretic remanent magnetization – see this site for more information). ARM is a good way to measure the concentration of minerals like magnetite (the greater the ARM signal, the greater the concentration of magnetite). They plotted the strength of the ARM over the 110 m of limestone they measured, and then looked for cycles in the variations of magnetic strength. They found several – the largest at almost 29 m (which they report as 0.035 cycles/meter), and 5 more at closer spacings.

Converting that 29 m (and the other more narrowly spaced cycles) to time is the tricky part. As I mentioned above, the timing of the longest Milankovitch cycle is around 405 thousand years. They assigned this age to the 29 m cycle, assumed a constant deposition rate, and then inferred the time that would correspond to the rest of the cycles, coming up with 405, 123, 51.2, 39.4, 22.5, and 18.6 thousand years (ka). Those ages are about what is expected for Milankovitch cycles in the Cretaceous, which is when the limestone they were looking at was deposited. This does increase my confidence that they really are measuring something Milankovitch-related, but I do wish they had an independent control on the ages. They do have an independent verification that there should be cycles in the limestone they looked at (the San Angel limestone). The San Angel was deposited at the same time as the Cupido formation, which was deposited closer to shore, and has lithologic variations that record Milankovitch cycles. So, it seems reasonable to me to expect that there should be Milankovitch cycles in the San Angel too.

I mentioned above that the cycles are defined by variations in the concentration of magnetite. The authors of the paper used scanning electron microscopy (SEM) to image the magnetite. The grains were small, around 3 microns (3 millionths of a meter), which led the authors to infer that they originated as dust. Dust can make it pretty far out into the ocean. When there are dust storms in the Sahara for example, they can be detected far out into the Atlantic.

The idea is that cycles in the parameters of Earth's orbit (Milankokvitch cycles) lead to cycles in climate, which cause cycles in erosion, which cause cycles in the amount of dust carried out into the ocean, which cause cycles in the amount of magnetite deposited in marine limestones (even though there isn't a change in the lithology of the limestone). I was very impressed that the authors could take a massive limestone formation, just the opposite of the sort of formation that has typically been used to recognize Milankovitch cycles, and recognize cycles that correspond to variations in climate in the Cretaceous.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006


A new member

The Western Geologist (likely soon to be renamed) has a new member. Welcome aboard Capt. Obsidian.


Chris Buttars' "Origins of Life" Bill in Utah.

Well, it looks like Utah State Senator Chris Buttars' Bill on the origins of life (SB96) has passed in the Senate. Ironically (perhaps poetically) Buttars himself was not present to vote on the bill. Apparently, he was ill and spent the day in the hospital. Here's hoping that the House has the good sense to shoot this thing down. Barring that, I have the feeling that Governor Huntsman will veto it, given his previous statements on Intelligent Design (he is against teaching it in public schools).

The Dover ID case made it clear that past statements can and will be taken into account when determining a legislator's intent in crafting a bill. Given his past statements on evolution, I, like others, find it hard to believe that Sen. Buttars is motivated by anything other than religion in introducing this bill. He has been quite up front about his religious objections to evolution. His extremely poor understanding of evolution has also been well documented:

I know of several paleoanthropologists who would disagree completely with this statement. Dr. Ian Tattersall, curator of the American Museum of Natural History has written many books on the subject of human evolution, including The Fossil Trail: How We Know What We Think We Know About Human Evolution, which contains diagrams of all of the major hominid fossils. Additionally, Talk Origins has an excellent page on prominent hominid fossils. To quote from the summary:
"There are a number of clear trends (which were neither continuous nor uniform) from early australopithecines to recent humans: increasing brain size, increasing body size, increasing use of and sophistication in tools, decreasing tooth size, decreasing skeletal robustness. There are no clear dividing lines between some of the later gracile australopithecines and some of the early Homo, between erectus and archaic sapiens, or archaic sapiens and modern sapiens."
The "missing link" argument is simply a straw man. No matter how many intermediate species are found it can always be claimed that there is a link still missing. In fact as more intermediate species are found, a large single gap (with a single missing link) is broken into several smaller gaps, each with their own missing links. And don't even get me started on his "dat" straw man argument.

What's more, Buttars apparently doesn't even understand his own religion's stand on evolution. The reality is that the LDS church has never taken a position on evolution. While individual authorities (Apostles, etc.) have held differing opinions, the only statements ever issued by the First Presidency (the topmost leadership, who alone have the authority to shape church policy) have been to the effect that the church has no official position on evolution. This has been well documented in an excellent article from Dialogue, A Journal of Mormon Thought titled The Mormon Myth of Evil Evolution.

Perhaps his most egregious offense has been labeling anyone who opposes his bill as an atheist. As a devout believer (belonging to the same church as Buttars, even), I am offended that he would question my belief in God. Presenting such a false dilemma only serves to confuse and alienate those who believe that science and religion are not mutually exclusive.

Sunday, January 22, 2006


Editorial in the Herald Journal

The Herald Journal is the daily paper in Cache Valley, located in northern Utah (with a bit of southern Idaho). It's home to the town of Logan, which is where Utah State University is located. It's a very LDS part of the state. The Herald Journal isn't very well known outside of Utah, so I was really surprised to read an entry at Red State Rabble about a letter to the editor in the paper published on January 21. It's a GREAT letter. Here it is:

"On Mr. Maynard’s LDS fatwa ...

To the editor:

Local LDS theologian Joe Maynard issued a fatwa in the Jan. 19 HJ that decreed membership in the LDS Church requires a literal interpretation of the Creation as well as support for intelligent design (Mr. Maynard didn’t bother citing any sources so I will assume his doctrine is derived from D&C 139).

I am LDS - born in the covenant, got my Eagle Scout award, served a mission, love funeral potatoes, was married in the temple and I think green Jell-O with carrot shavings is fetch’n tasty. And I know that the earth is older than 6,000 years and that evolution offers irrefutable facts (a semantic argument about the word “theory” is hardly sufficient refutation).

How do evolution facts and creation doctrine reconcile? A metaphoric explanation seems convenient, but is precluded by a lack of procreation and death before the fall (at which point the creation was complete). This quandary is not a hurdle to salvation or being a good person. I figure after I pass through the veil, I’ll sit down with the Good Lord and ask Him about it. He’ll explain it, and we’ll have ourselves a good hearty laugh about all the unnecessary strife and contention initiated through this controversy by self-proclaimed Christians.

Intelligent design is creationism masked. The widespread popularity of ID has caused some to invoke the principle of welcoming all ideas as justification for teaching it in public schools. Science isn’t about pluralism; it’s about facts, even when they are unpopular and rejected by the general populace. ID cannot withstand empirical scrutiny nor does it find its origins in the scientific method (or LDS doctrine). It has no place in the science classes of public schools.

Speaking of facts, Maynard’s fatwa was apparently so authoritative he didn’t need to cite any sources. I do not pretend to speak with such authority so I will defer to a 1931 First Presidency Statement on evolution: “Upon the fundamental doctrines of the Church we are all agreed. Our mission is to bear the message of the restored gospel to the people of the world. Leave geology, biology, archaeology and anthropology, no one of which has to do with the salvation of the souls of mankind, to scientific research, while we magnify our calling in the realm of the church. We can see no advantage to be gained by a continuation of the discussion to which reference is here made, but on the contrary are certain that it would lead to confusion, division and misunderstanding if carried further.”

Looks like when I get to the other side there will be some members of the First Presidency ahead of me in line waiting to ask the same questions.

Thomas Reed Grover


Here's the link. I tried to look up Maynard's letter, but it looks like the Herald Journal doesn't have a free archive. It'd cost $2.95 to read it, and I don't want to that badly (at least not right now).


Orson Scott Card

I have been a fan of Orson Scott Card's sci fi books for quite a while. Ender's Game is one of my favorite books (I enjoyed reading some of the other books in that series too, but some of them were a little flaky). I came across Card's political writing a couple of years ago. He writes a column titled "World Watch" that also published online. I read it from time to time, and I often enjoy his columns. I didn't enjoy his latest, which I found out about when I read this article by PZ Myers at The Panda's Thumb.It was about this article: Creation and evolution in schools by Orson Scott Card

" A few years ago it was "Creation Science" they were trying to teach in the schools.

Creation Science was an attempt by fundamentalist Christians to give the Genesis account, as interpreted by them, a scientific veneer.

But it was only that -- a thin surface -- and any student who actually believed that Creation Science had anything to do with science would have been educationally crippled.

Now the controversy is between advocates of the theory of Intelligent Design vs. strict Darwinists. And some people want you to think it's the same argument.

It isn't."

Card talks about intelligent design here, but after reading through his essay it looks to me like he's just talking about Behe (there's no mention of Dembski, Johnson, Wells, etc.). For example:

" Behe's conclusion is that since complex biochemical systems in advanced organisms could not have evolved through strict Darwinian evolution, the only possible explanation is that the system was designed and put into place deliberately."

Now, I must admit that I have kind of a soft spot for Behe (although much less of one after his testimony in the Dover trial). He actually proposed testable ideas, which isn't very common among the ID crowd. It turns out that he wasn't very careful about researching his ideas, and that his ideas have been falsified, but still I admired him. I am frustrated that he doesn't really seem to be willing to modify and/or discard his ideas once they're falsified (which is a trait he has in common with many members of the ID crowd). More below.

" The Darwinist answer was immediate. Unfortunately, it was also illogical, personal, and unscientific. The main points are:

1. Intelligent Design is just Creation Science in a new suit (name-calling).

2. Don't listen to these guys, they're not real scientists (credentialism).

3. If you actually understood science as we do, you'd realize that these guys are wrong and we're right; but you don't, so you have to trust us (expertism).

4. They got some details of those complex systems wrong, so they must be wrong about everything (sniping).

5. The first amendment requires the separation of church and state (politics).

6. We can't possibly find a fossil record of every step along the way in evolution, but evolution has already been so well-demonstrated it is absurd to challenge it in the details (prestidigitation).

7. Even if there are problems with the Darwinian model, there's no justification for postulating an "intelligent designer" (true)."

Myers' entry Orson Scott Card, Intelligent Design advocate at Pharyngula examines these claims in detail.

" 1. You have to be ignorant of either Creation Science or Intelligent Design -- or both -- to think that they're the same thing. Creation Science is embarrassing and laughable -- its authors either don't understand science or are deliberately deceiving readers who don't understand it. Frankly, Creation Science is, in my opinion, a pack of pious lies."

Card really needs to read the testimony from the Dover trial. The ID textbook, Of Pandas and People, that was being used in Dover, was clearly a creationist book. The most telling piece of evidence that this is true is that after the 1987 Edwards v. Aguillard decision the words "creation", "creationism", "creationists", were replaced by "intelligent design" and "design proponents" (read Barbara Forrest's testimony in the Dover trial, or this article by Nick Matzke. In one instance, the copy and paste job was imperfect, and the word "creationist" was only changed to "cdesign proponentsists."

Behe and his group don't think we're stupid. They actually make the effort to explain the science accurately and clearly in terms that the lay audience can understand. So who is going to win this argument? Some people bow down before experts; most of us resent the experts who expect us to bow.

The irony is that there are plenty of Darwinists who are perfectly good writers, capable of explaining the science to us well enough to show us the flaws in the Designists' arguments. The fact that they refuse even to try to explain is, again, a confession that they don't have an answer."

I can't add much to Ed Brayton's response to this:

" I could sit here and link to hundreds of critiques of every single claim made by ID advocates. I've written many of them myself, as have dozens of actual scientists. I highly doubt that Card is completely unaware of them, or unaware of the fact that several scientists testified at the Dover trial and delivered detailed critiques of the ID arguments under oath as well. I don't know, or care, what universe Card inhabits, but it sure as hell isn't this one. In this universe, it is preposterous and utterly ridiculous to claim that scientists have not published volume after volume examining the flaws in ID arguments. If Card claims that the world he lives in is one in which scientists "refuse" to explain the flaws in those arguments, he is either lying through his teeth or he is completely delusional."

I don't think Card is lying (I hope that's not wishful thinking on my part), but his research was incredibly sloppy. It really seems to me like Card read "Darwin's Black Box", got all fired up, and wrote an article without bothering to read anything else from either the ID proponents or their opponents.

"Darwin's Black Box", and Behe's response to criticisms of it, are the reason I don't respect him anymore.

1) Behe made a point about how rigorous the peer review of "Darwin's Black Box" was. It wasn't. See here and here.

2) Behe's claims about bacterial flagella, the immune system, and the blood clotting cascade aren't supported. Once again referring to the verdict in the Dover trial:

From page 76:
"As irreducible complexity is only a negative argument against evolution, it is refutable and accordingly testable, unlike ID, by showing that there are intermediate structures with selectable functions that could have evolved into the allegedly irreducibly complex systems. (2:15-16 (Miller)). Importantly, however, the fact that the negative argument of irreducible complexity is testable does not make testable the argument for ID. (2:15 (Miller); 5:39 (Pennock)). Professor Behe has applied the concept of irreducible complexity to only a few select systems: (1) the bacterial flagellum; (2) the blood-clotting cascade; and (3) the immune system. Contrary to Professor Behe’s assertions with respect to these few biochemical systems among the myriad existing in nature, however, Dr. Miller presented evidence, based upon peer-reviewed studies, that they are not in fact irreducibly complex."

From pages 76-77:
"First, with regard to the bacterial flagellum, Dr. Miller pointed to peer- reviewed studies that identified a possible precursor to the bacterial flagellum, a subsystem that was fully functional, namely the Type-III Secretory System. (2:8- 20 (Miller); P-854.23-854.32). Moreover, defense expert Professor Minnich admited that there is serious scientific research on the question of whether the bacterial flagellum evolved into the Type-III Secretary System, the Type-III
Secretory System into the bacterial flagellum, or whether they both evolved from a common ancestor. (38:12-16 (Minnich)). None of this research or thinking involves ID. (38:12-16 (Minnich)). In fact, Professor Minnich testified about his research as follows: “we’re looking at the function of these systems and how they could have been derived one from the other. And it’s a legitimate scientific inquiry.” (38:16 (Minnich))."

I've read Minnich's response before. Quite honestly I don't see how whether or not the flagellum evolved from the Type-III secretory system matters when it comes to irreducible complexity. For IC to matter when one or more parts were removed from the flagellum the result would have to be something useless, and it's not. Sure, if you remove parts from the flagellum, you may wind up with something that's no good as a "motor", but that doesn't mean it's not good for anything else. See The Flagellum Unspun by Ken Miller.

Continuing with the verdict:

From page 77:
"Second, with regard to the blood-clotting cascade, Dr. Miller demonstrated that the alleged irreducible complexity of the blood-clotting cascade has been disproven by peer-reviewed studies dating back to 1969, which show that dolphins’ and whales’ blood clots despite missing a part of the cascade, a study that was confirmed by molecular testing in 1998. (1:122-29 (Miller); P-854.17- 854.22). Additionally and more recently, scientists published studies showing that
in puffer fish, blood clots despite the cascade missing not only one, but three parts. (1:128-29 (Miller)). Accordingly, scientists in peer-reviewed publications have refuted Professor Behe’s predication about the alleged irreducible complexity of the blood-clotting cascade. Moreover, cross-examination revealed that Professor Behe’s redefinition of the blood-clotting system was likely designed to avoid peer- reviewed scientific evidence that falsifies his argument, as it was not a scientifically warranted redefinition. (20:26-28, 22:112-25 (Behe))."

From pages 77-78
"The immune system is the third system to which Professor Behe has applied the definition of irreducible complexity. Although in Darwin’s Black Box, Professor Behe wrote that not only were there no natural explanations for the immune system at the time, but that natural explanations were impossible regarding its origin. (P-647 at 139; 2:26-27 (Miller)). However, Dr. Miller presented peer-reviewed studies refuting Professor Behe’s claim that the immune system was irreducibly complex. Between 1996 and 2002, various studies confirmed each element of the evolutionary hypothesis explaining the origin of the immune system. (2:31 (Miller)). In fact, on cross-examination, Professor Behe was questioned concerning his 1996 claim that science would never find an evolutionary explanation for the immune system. He waspresented with fifty- eight peer-reviewed publications, nine books, and several immunology textbook chapters about the evolution of the immune system; however, he simply insisted that this was still not sufficient evidence of evolution, and that it was not "good enough." (23:19 (Behe))."

Compare this with Behe's description:

" The cross examination was fun too, and showed that the other side really does have only rhetoric and bluster. At one point the lawyer for the other side who was cross examining me ostentatiously piled a bunch of papers on the witness stand that putatively had to do with the evolution of the immune system. But it was obvious from a cursory examination that they were more examples of hand waving speculations, which I had earlier discussed in my direct testimony. So I was able to smile and say that they had nothing more to say than the other papers. I then thought to myself, that here the NCSE, ACLU, and everyone in the world who is against ID had their shot to show where we were wrong, and just trotted out more speculation. It actually made me feel real good about things."

This article at Pharyngula goes into more detail about Behe's testimony.

" 5. The church and state argument is deliberately misleading. First, the Designists are not, in fact, advocating "God." They are very careful not to specify who or what the Intelligent Designer might be. So they are not advocating for any particular religion, or any religion at all. For all anyone knows, the supposed Intelligent Designers might be an alien species of mortal, ungodlike beings."


" Make no mistake: Not just the fossil record, but virtually every close examination of biology at every level reveals utterly convincing evidence that evolution takes place, has always taken place, and continues to take place. There is also plenty of evidence that natural selection takes place.

The Designists challenge only the sufficiency of Darwin's model. The claim only that it does not seem adequate to explain systems that were completely unknown at the time he created his theory."

This is just not true. Behe may accept common descent, but that's not the official ID position. The Intelligent Design camp includes Young Earth Creationists, who not only don't accept common ancestry, they don't accept the 4.6 Ga age of the earth. ID-founder Phillip Johnson won't even take a position on the age of the earth and doesn't accept common ancestry. This account of an ID proponent who was forced out due to his acceptance of common ancestry is particularly telling. In addition, ID proponents argue against "materialism" and "naturalism." The opposite of naturalism is supernaturalism. ID proponents are arguing for a supernatural creator, and argument that the designer may have been aliens is just a distraction.

Again it looks to me like Card read "Darwin's Black Box" and nothing else. Behe might not be explicitly referring to God as the designer, but that's not the case with the ID movement as a whole.

The ID camp doesn't have a coherent "theory" of ID, and proponents of ID hold directly conflicting views (YEC vs. non YEC for example). If the evidence for ID is so clear and compelling, they really ought to come up with a well-defined internally consistent ID hypothesis. Instead it seems like ID is a group of people who have a gut feeling that evolution just can't be right, and if they can only start teaching that to school kids, school boards, and members of congress they'll worry about sorting all the details of their ideas out later. It's obvious ID is nothing but a political movement, the practitioners don't care a whit about backing up their claims with hard science.

" To the Darwinists, of course, this is hypocrisy and deception -- of course the Designists are religious. They must be. Because only religious people would ever question the Darwinist model.

It comes to this: If you question the Darwinist model, you must be religious; therefore your side of the argument is not admissible in the public arena, and certainly not in the public schools.

This is an attempt to shut down discussion by hiding behind the Constitution. It's what you do when you're pretty sure you can't win on the merits."

This seems awfully like an attempt to class all opponents of ID as atheists (as Chris Buttars has done, and as was done in Dover, for example). If so, it's disgusting, plain and simple. Opponents of ID, who include many religious people as well as atheists, aren't opposed to religion. They're opposed to attempts to force religion on others.

Card's essay isn't all bad.

" Here's the thing: If you say that things are as they are because God made them that way, then they are off limits to science. Science is simply unsuited to studying God. Science requires impersonal, repeatable testing. Its business is discovering causal relationships, and it can only work with mechanical cause.

So when the answer to the question "why does this natural phenomenon occur?" is "because God wants it that way," then science simply has nothing to add to the conversation. Any more than when the question is "why are you wearing that combination of colors?" If some person -- divine or otherwise -- chose to make things as they are, then we're talking about purpose and motive; science can only work with mechanical causation.

In other words, until Darwin showed us evolution as a machine that did not require divine meddling to be explained, scientists were blocked from answering what seemed to be (and, in some ways, is) a mere historical, not scientific, question: How did this vast variety of life forms come to be?"


" Real science does not in any way impinge on a belief that God (or some other Intelligent Designer) created the world and everything that dwells in it. At the same time, real science does not -- and never can -- prove or even support the hypothesis."


"Intelligent design uses the evil "must" word: Well, if random mutation plus natural selection can't account for the existence of this complex system, then it must have been brought into existence by some intelligent designer
Why? Why must that be the only alternative?
Just because the Darwinian model seems to be inadequate at the molecular level does not imply in any way that the only other explanation is purposive causation.
There might be several or even many other hypotheses. To believe in Intelligent Design is still a leap of faith.
But the normal answer of the Darwinists is also a leap of faith. In effect, their arguments boil down to this: We have no idea right now how these complex systems came to be, but we have fervent, absolute faith that when we do figure it out, it will be found to have a completely mechanical, natural cause that requires no "intelligent designer" at all."

Well, the last couple of sentences of that last quote are pretty bad. I really hope that this is just a case of Card being really sloppy. It is glaringly obvious that he hasn't really looked into ID or the arguments of its opponents. If it turns out that he has, and he stands behind this article, it'll be hard for me to still respect him.

Saturday, January 21, 2006


Buttars strikes back

Chris Buttars' bill (SB 96) has passed its first senate vote. It needs to pass one more, and then it will go to the Utah House. If it passes there it will still need to be signed by Governor Hunstman.

There were two good articles in the Deseret News and in the Salt Lake Tribune. I've also been trying to find some transcript of the Senate proceedings, but I haven't had any luck. The Utah Senate site has audio files, but the won't work on my Mac. I'll fire up the ol' PC some time today and have a listen.

The articles:
Evolution bill debate revolves around religion
Preliminary OK: Utah skeptics of Darwin's theory won on an initial vote
. Salt Lake Tribune, January 21, 2006. (Abbreviated SLT, Jan 21)

Panel OKs bill to add footnote to evolution
Disclaimer: Committee insists there is no consensus on the origins of people
. Salt Lake Tribune, January 18, 2006. (Abbreviated SLT Jan 18)

Evolution: Buttars bill is an embarrassment. Salt Lake Tribune, Editorial, January 18, 2006 (Abbreviated SLT Jan 18 ed)

Senate gives initial OK to 'origins' bill Deseret Morning News, January 21, 2006. (Abbreviated DMN Jan 21)

Buttars claims that his bill isn't motivated by a desire to include religion in science classes. Apparently he thinks that all of his earlier comments and earlier attempts at bills will just vanish in a puff of smoke. I think that's nuts. Those documents and statements will be used as evidence in the lawsuit that will certainly be filed if this bill ever becomes law.

" Two ACLU attorneys who attended Friday's debate said the bill is obviously fueled by a religious, not scientific, revulsion to Charles Darwin's theory. They contend that courts look not only at the letter of the law but the intent of lawmakers when determining if legislation is constitutional.
"We were disappointed in the vote," said Dani Eyer, executive director of the ACLU of Utah. "But we were sitting there watching them make our case in legislative history.""
(SLT, Jan 21)

Buttars' religious motivations are glaringly obvious. Buttars is wasting time and money working on this bill, and he's going to waste a lot more on a lawsuit defending the bill; a lawsuit that I think he'll very clearly lose. Didn't he pay any attention to the Dover ruling? Board members like Buckingham and Bonsell tried to claim that they weren't motivated by the desire to inject religion into science classes (even lying under oath to do so), but they had made statements that they wanted creationism taught. Even though the disclaimer that they required teachers to read didn't explicitly include the word "creationism" their statements clearly showed their intent. Buttars isn't being clever by keeping explicit mention of "creationism" or "intelligent design" out of this bill. His intentions are very well-established.

"Sen. Chris Buttars has tried to eliminate any possibility that his bill questioning the validity of evolution could allow for religious instruction in the classroom - and avoid the legal risks associated with such teaching.
But religion is the reason he proposed the bill and religion drove most of the debate Friday, as the full Senate gave its initial approval to SB96.
Comments on the Senate floor commending God's creation of man and condemning atheists for pushing their "religion," could potentially end up as evidence in court should the bill become law."
(SLT, Jan 21)

" "I challenge anyone to say that somewhere in those lines that I'm trying to promote religious philosophies," Buttars said. "My bill from the get-go never included anything about intelligent design, creationism or any faith-based philosophy."" (SLT, Jan 21)

At this point I want to remind readers that Buttars' earlier bill was about "divine design." Frankly I question his honesty when he says his current bill isn't motivated by religion. That's also clear from this comments:

" But Darwin's theory of evolution is central to the high school biology core curriculum. Buttars has taken issue with that, saying the idea humans evolved from a lower species is not a proven fact. Friday, he noted a woman told him when her children were told "we evolved from a lower kind in school . . . it totally blew up their faith."" (DMN Jan 21)

" Buttars expressed disgust with the idea that humans could have evolved from some "lower animal." He has said he decided to sponsor this bill after parents called him concerned that the teaching of evolution conflicted with religious explanations." (SLT Jan 18)

Buttars is definitely entitled to be disgusted with the idea that humans evolved from other life forms. Buttars is free to teach that to his children, and he's free to try to convince others to share his ideas. Buttars is free to express his religious views. Buttars, and the senators who voted in favor of his bill, are absolutely not free to try to impose those ideas on others.

Buttars and his supporters also had the gall to say that opposition to SB96 was driven by atheists:

" The preliminary Senate vote Friday was 17-12, with all eight Senate Democrats and four Republicans opposing the bill, including Senate Majority Leader Peter Knudson.
Knudson rejected comments by Buttars and Sen. Sheldon Killpack, R-Syracuse, that the opposition is driven by "secularists and atheists."
"I will tell you that is not the spirit by which we should be debating this legislation," Knudson said. "There is a place in life for evolution."
He said religious people may also believe in evolution, since "we don't know how God created the Earth.""
(SLT, Jan 21)

" Sen. Sheldon Killpack, R-Syracuse, said, "I'm amazed that this religion of atheism and secularism, they are so nervous about being able to simply say, not everyone agrees on this (theory). . . . The slippery slope is that religion's imposing view that we can't have a belief in God. I find that offensive, personally."" (DMN Jan 21)

I was so pleased by Knudson's statement. Killpack's, on the other hand, is nothing short of idiotic. The profs. from BYU who spoke against this bill are atheists? Killpack is the sort of Christian who spits in the face (figuratively) of members of organizations like the American Scientific Affiliation (many of whom accept evolution) and the Affiliation of Christian Geologists (many of whom don't accept Flood geology and who are ridiculed and despised by Young Earth creationist organizations for that reason). If belief in evolution is incompatible with Killpack's conception of God that's fine. Killpack really needs to recognize that an awful lot of people don't have a problem reconciling belief in God with acceptance of evolution. Caricaturing your opponents as atheists (which again happened in Dover) is a disgusting trick (and it's doubly bad coming from a state senator).

" "All it's asking is when you get done teaching your evolution, is (say) there is no consensus, and there are other theories. . . . We're trying to protect our kids," Buttars said. "That professor they brought in from the BYU talking about (how) we evolved from chimpanzees, he don't know that."" (DMN Jan 21)

This quote is the reason I'm particularly interested in seeing the transcripts of the Senate discussion. I'd love to read the comments about the professor from BYU, I doubt Buttars is describing them well. It is pretty clear that Buttars' doesn't understand evolution:

"Buttars and other Republican senators agreed that evolution exists but expressed dismay at the idea of inter-species evolution.
"There is evolution within species," Buttars said. "There are big dogs and little dogs, big cats and little cats, but you haven't seen a 'dat.' You don't see intermediate species."
As Sen. Mark Madsen, R-Lehi, put it: ''Unless there is something out there that I don't know about, the missing link is still missing.''"
(SLT Jan 18)

A "dat" . . . he actually said a "dat." He actually thinks that conventional biologists think there should be "dats" if evolution occurred. I am disgusted that Buttars hasn't taken the time to learn what conventional scientists actually think before trying to introduce his bills.

" Listening to state Sen. Chris Buttars describe the theory of evolution is like hearing Karl Marx describe capitalism. If it were the only description you heard, you'd probably be as against it as he is." (SLT Jan 18 ed)

" The theory of evolution has been refined since it was first put forward in Charles Darwin's 1859 book On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural
Selection, but it remains the rock-solid foundation of biological science. Its core principle, that all life on Earth has evolved from common beginnings and has changed over time to meet the demands of different environments, is not challenged by any scientist or scientific body worthy of the name.
Buttars' constant references to the lack of a "missing link" or his insistence that he's never seen a dog change into a cat display a towering ignorance of the subject. That would be his own business, and perhaps a source of comfort to him, were it not for the fact that he is trying to enshrine his willful misunderstandings into state law."
(SLT Jan 18 ed)

Buttars and his supporters also can't claim that they're just trying to teach critical thinking. They are explicitly singling evolution out (another tactic that failed in Dover).

" Sen. Scott McCoy, D-Salt Lake City, attempted to strip Buttars' bill of any reference to "origins of life," replacing it and similar statements with "scientific." Lawmakers shouldn't single out evolution, if the aim is for students to critically analyze scientific theories upon which some scientists disagree on, he said.
The amendment failed."
(SLT, Jan 21)

" Sen. Scott McCoy, D-Salt Lake, unsuccessfully proposed amendments to replace references to the origins of life or "present state of the human race" with "scientific" theory. So, the bill would encourage students to critically analyze scientific theories, from relativity to plate tectonics.
"If we are actually going to do those things, we should do it not with just one theory in the biology classroom. We should do it with all theories in the classroom," McCoy said. "The fact it does target one particular theory points to the fact this debate is really about something much different than is being represented.""
(DMN Jan 21)

Buttars religious motivations are transparent, and what's worse, they're clearly documented. This bill should be attached to a flashing neon sign that says "Violates separation of church and state." Buttars isn't trying anything at all that hasn't been tried (and failed) before.

I want to be very clear that I'm not using "religious" as an insult. I am not offended that people are motivated by their religious beliefs. I am incensed when they try to impose their religious beliefs on others. It seems obvious to me that this is the case with SB96.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006


Religion in higher education

I'm recently come across a couple of interesting articles dealing with spirituality and higher education.

From Mirror of Justice (a blog I hadn't encountered before) comes: No Catholics at Wheaton?

Wheaton College is a Christian college in Wheaton, Illinois. Wheaton is a Protestant college in particular. Their Board of Trustees, faculty and staff must annually reaffirm a Statement of Faith that states:

" WE BELIEVE that God has revealed Himself and His truth in the created order, in the Scriptures, and supremely in Jesus Christ; and that the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are verbally inspired by God and inerrant in the original writing, so that they are fully trustworthy and of supreme and final authority in all they say." (from here).

The president of Wheaton holds that this statement is incompatible with the Catholic faith, which regards the Pope as fully authoritative as the Bible. This posed a problem for Joshua Hochschild, who taught philosophy at Wheaton. When Hochschild accepted his position at Wheaton he was an Episcopalian, but he later converted to Catholicism. Because of this he was asked to leave Wheaton (he currently teaches at Mount St Mary's, a Catholic school).

The article is a very good read.

I wouldn't be comfortable at a place like Wheaton. My religious beliefs are a very personal thing, and I would get very annoyed at a place that required me to annually affirm my beliefs. I do think that people have a right to form and attend schools like that though, and I think they had a right to fire Hochschild. I enormously admire Hochschild for converting when he knew that it might cost him his job.

" Mr. Hochschild, 33 years old, who was considered by his department a shoo-in for tenure, says he's still willing to sign the Wheaton faith statement. He left last spring, taking a 10% pay cut and roiling his family life, to move to a less-renowned Catholic college.

Mr. Hochschild's dismissal captures tensions coursing through many of America's religious colleges. At these institutions, which are mostly Protestant or Catholic, decisions about hiring and retaining faculty members are coming into conflict with a resurgence of religious identity."

The article has a very interesting discussion about the climate in religious colleges in the US. I was interested to read this about Notre Dame:

" Addressing faculty at the University of Notre Dame, the school's new president, the Rev. John Jenkins, recently expressed concern that the percentage of faculty who were Catholic had fallen to 53%, compared with 85% in the 1970s. Today's level is barely above a line set in 1990 by the late Pope John Paul II, who decreed that non-Catholics shouldn't be a majority of the faculty at a Catholic university."

When I think about it I realize that Notre Dame is a Catholic school, but honestly it doesn't usually cross my mind. I think they do well academically, and that's where I usually stop. I think that's the way a lot of academics (or at least most of the academics I know) are – religion isn't something that we think about in our professional lives. This holds true for the religious academics too – their religious life is separate from their professional life. You don't need the Bible to measure stable isotopes for example.

This leads me to the second part of my post. Spirituality in Higher Education at UCLA.

" What is the level and intensity of spiritual experiences among today’s college students? How are spiritual searching and behavior changing on campus? And what does this mean for higher education institutions and students?"

The reports they have are fairly long, and I'm not done going through them yet. There are several interesting statistics though:

" In 2003, the Higher Education Research Institute (HERI) at UCLA began a major, multi-year research project to examine the spiritual development of undergraduate students during their college years. Funded by the John Templeton Foundation, the study is designed to enhance our understanding of the role that spirituality plays in students’ lives and to identify strategies that institutions can use to enhance students’ spiritual development."

The report is a little fluffy (for lack of a better word) for me, and I wish I could see the raw answers to the questions, but there are some things about the religious beliefs of incoming undergrads that surprised me.

" Table 2. Indicators of Students’ Religiousness
Indicator Percent
Believe in God . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 79
Pray . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . 69
Attended religious services . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 81 *
Discussed religion/spirituality with frien . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . 80 *
Discussed religion/spirituality with family . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 76 *
Religious beliefs provide strength, support, and guidance. . 69 **
Follow religious teachings in everyday life . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . 40 ***
* Occasionally or frequently
** Agree strongly or somewhat
*** Consider it essential or very important"


" Table 7. Students’ Religious Preferences
Religious Preference . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Percent
Roman Catholic . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 28
None . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17
Baptist . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13
Other Christian . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11
Methodist . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6
Lutheran . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . 5
Presbyterian . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4
Church of Christ . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3
Other Religion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3
Episcopalian . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2
Jewish . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2
Buddhist . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . 1
Eastern Orthodox . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1
Hindu . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1
Islamic . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1
United Church of Christ . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1
Latter-Day Saints (Mormon) . . . . . . . . . .4
7th Day Adventist . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .4
Unitarian . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .4
Quaker . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .2"

I would love to a study that tracks the evolution of students' religious views (the report I linked to describes a pilot study of juniors). I would also love to know the percentage of students who hold religious beliefs because of cultural reasons (i.e., they were raised Catholic, they call themselves Catholic, but they aren't practicing Catholics. I would also love to see a study applied to grad students and faculty.


A momentous news day

Well, quite a lot has happened in the world of science, politics and religion today.

I'll start with one of the funniest things I've read in a long time:

Judge Alito shot John Paul II

I was pretty skeptical of this at first, but according to this site the error appeared in the Purdue Exponent, that school's student paper. Sure enough, a correction appears in that paper. Good stuff.

El Tejon settles lawsuit

The school in California that was teaching a class titled "Philosophy of Intelligent Design" dropped the class and agreed not to teach it in the future. I mentioned this class in my last entry. For more background, and for a very interesting history of press releases from the Discovery Institute about this case read this entry at Dispatches From the Culture Wars.

" My oh my, how the tune has changed. On January 9th, the class was a legitimate attempt to teach about intelligent design in a philosophy course and by trying to get it removed, the AU was engaged in "censorship" and trying to "separate students and science". Two days later, the class isn't about ID at all, it's "advocating young earth creationism" and it needs to be changed or cancelled."

US Supreme Court rules on Oregon assisted suicide case (from Orin Kerr at the Volokh Conspiracy)

The decision was 6-3, with Thomas, Scalia and Roberts dissenting.

The assisted suicide initiative was passed by Oregon voters twice. I'm very curious about how long it will take for opponents to label this the result of an activist court.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006


Creationism in California

Well it's definitely an exciting time to be interested in creationism in California. There are 3 relevant lawsuits (and a news story or two).

Intelligent design not an issue in Napa area schools.

"Intelligent Design states that living beings are made up of such complex components that they must have been made by an unspecified higher being. Relying on faith and not methodology, Intelligent Design cannot be considered a scientific theory, opponents say.

"Scientific theory is not a weak speculation," said Migdal. "It's the best explanation the scientific community has to fit the events that takes place in the universe. It involves evidence, experimentation, and peer review."

"Science will never prove or disprove the existence of a God," said Dean Wagner, a biology teacher at Vintage High School.

Several biology teachers in the NVUSD have stated that the national debate over Intelligent Design has not been much of a problem with students or parents.

For those students who have spoken against evolution, Migdal has encouraged them to learn Intelligent Design through their own individual faith learning."

Hat tip to Red State Rabble

Fresno High School Sued Over 'Intelligent Design'

"Frazier Mountain High School officials call the class "Philosophy of Design." They insist it is not being offered as science, but as an opportunity for students to discuss a controversial issue."

Dispatches from the Culture Wars goes into more detail and provides a lot of links.

I think both the first and second syllabi are terrible (although the second is much better than the first, but the second isn't really anything to be proud of. I don't think students will get much accurate information out of the class. I don't think this is as clear-cut as Dover though. It isn't being taught in a science class, which I think should count for a lot. However if it'll be taught from the point of view that both evolution and creationism/intelligent design are both philosophies, and are therefore equivalent that'd be disingenuous. Evolution (and conventional geology, which was attacked in the first syllabus) are based on science, creationism/intelligent design isn't. I don't think that any class that teaches otherwise is being accurate. That'd be awfully similar to the old creationist canard: "Evolution and creationism are both religion." Still, I'm going to wait for more information on this.

There are also a couple of older (but still relevant) lawsuits in California.

Lawsuit against the UC system for refusing to accept creationist textbooks

Covergae From Dispatches from the Culture Wars.

The NCSE also has a few stories. One of them links to an article in the Sacramento Bee that includes the following:

"Still UC is taking the suit seriously, concerned that it might compromise its right to set its admission standards. More important, according to UC spokesperson Ravi Poorsina, is the worry that the suit will create an impression that the university doesn't welcome students from Christian schools, something that she says simply isn't true. It could also bring another fatwa from Pat Robertson."

That's definitely going on my list of favorite quotes.

Lawsuit against UC Berkeley alleging a violation of the establishment clause

Someone is alleging that UC Berkeley is violating the establishment clause for stating "“most Christian and Jewish religious groups have no conflict with the theory of evolution” on its Understanding Evolution website. Honestly I don't think this is worth blogging about much since it's not exactly the most well thought out idea I've ever heard.

Timothy Sandefur has more at The Panda's Thumb


Alito confirmation hearings

I've been partially listening to the confirmation hearings for Samuel Alito the last couple of days. I haven't been paying full attention to the radio broadcasts since I've been listening to them while I've been preparing and loading samples into a triaxial deformation apparatus (maybe I'll blog on that later). I'm pretty new to that, so all of my attention has been focused on making sure I'm not making a mistake (I've made a few, but nothing that couldn't be fixed – I haven't blown anything up). I did hear the opening comments by the members of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Most of what I heard disappointed me. From what I heard (and admittedly I didn't hear all of the comments) the senators didn't care about evaluating Alito. Kennedy opposed him because he hoped that would hurt Bush, and Cornyn wanted to support him because they hoped he would favor their views (using all of the nonsensical catch phrases like "judicial activism" and "liberal agenda").

A couple of the blogs I regularly read have posted entries about the confirmation hearings. Here are a few:

Notes on the Alito Hearings from the Volokh Conspiracy.

Cornyn's Remarks on Alito from Dispatches from the Culture Wars.

Kennedy's Remarks on Alito from Dispatches from the Culture Wars.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006


Letters to the editor in the York Daily Record

The entry about the Dover school board at Pharyngula yesterday made me curious about other letters to the editor in the York Daily Record. I'm glad I looked. I've included a few worthwhile quotes from a few of them.

Evolution believers will be damned

Nothing comes from nothing

Teach ID at home

Shelve 'Pandas' under 'fiction' (which includes the line: "Another idea I have is since the books were bought with money from a church's collection plate, maybe that's how we can raise the money to pay the legal bill for the case?")

Doverites did elect them...
"Bonsell, Buckingham, et al, are part of a nationwide campaign by the so-called Christian right to, by deception, guile and, as is clear from the trial and decision, lies, force its narrow, exclusive and often bigoted brand of theo-politics into virtually every facet of American society with no regard for the Constitution, or anything else. The good people of Dover got sucked right into it. Fortunately, they got it mostly right in the last election. One more to go.

Creationism is truth
"God's people need to settle this issue. You may call creationism "religion," you may call it "science," but if you are truly a blood-bought child of God, you need to call it "truth.""

There's only one real judge
"Well, I guess that settles it. A judge in Harrisburg has determined that intelligent design is "not science." Oh well, throw away the Bibles, close the churches. Man has determined that he is his own god, accountable to no one."

Evolution is a fact
Dec 30, 2005 — Dale Knepper claims evolution is unproven (YDR, Dec. 22). He says they haven't found any new evidence for it in 30 years. Since he's wrong on both counts, I can't help but wonder what kind of "critical thinking" he's trying to promote.
Evolution's a fact, so obviously God created it. Blaming Charles Darwin is like shooting the messenger. Parts of Darwin's theory are debatable, it's true, and scientists debate them. But Darwin's basic premise - that everything, including us, evolved - has been proven beyond all reasonable doubt.

In other words, folks, get over it.

Man designs "from the top down," but God's a lot smarter than us. In God's universe "the first shall be last, and the last first," so he started with a single cell that, like Topsy, "just grew."

But it grew with a purpose. It grew for God's reasons, not ours. Genesis isn't science; we weren't ready for science back then. Most of us aren't ready for it now, and that's OK. Nowhere does the Bible say we have to know how we got here.

But it does tell us how we're to treat each other. And bad-mouthing those who try to understand God's methods isn't very Christian. Christ, in the Beatitudes, didn't bless "those who beat dead horses."

Whether we descended from apes or from dust, God gave us work to do. And arguing who our ancestors were or weren't won't help us to get it done.


Get rid of both theories

Another suit suggested
"Thomas More Law Center solicited the former board to become their clients, then persuaded them to continue in a series of actions that now will cost Dover taxpayers over a million dollars. I suggest that the current board institute civil action against the Thomas More Law Center for legal malpractice, to recoup not only the costs involved in Kitzmiller v. Dover but also punitive damages for the ridicule and abuse our school district has been subjected to."

Let board members pay

Evolution, Torah consistent

Pope supports intelligent design
" When father monkey told his son when handing him a copy of Darwin's theory, "Read this, it will make a man out of you," should have been the Holy Bible."Definitely worth a read.

Intermediate species missing
" Little wonder that the evolutionists get angry when challenged, but name-calling is not an argument. If they can produce evidence of intermediate species, let them do it. They haven't yet. And that's what you should be asking for, instead of accepting everything they tell you like a yokel with a string attached to your hat."

Judge a disgrace to legal system
" It is not promoting religion; it is just teaching the history that our country was founded upon. Judge John E. Jones III is a disgrace to the American judicial system, and I would like him to resign immediately before he is allowed to make another unintelligent decision."

Let kids think for themselves
" Now we have a judge who has protected a "theory" from any other theories just like Hitler protected his followers by burning books that disagreed with his philosophy." It's just not an argument until you compare your opponent to Hitler (Stalin will do in a pinch).

No ID in socialstudies classes

Parents lead in religious teaching
Dec 25, 2005 — I am writing this with Mr. Alan Bonsell and others in mind. He appears to me to be a good-looking, upstanding citizen who wants the best for students in the schools.
The challenge he and others still face is how to preserve for these students a faith in almighty God.

I have an idea, and I hope he will humbly consider it, for "What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God." Micah 6:8.

Since the government (our schools) is prohibited from promoting a religion, we must look to some part of our society to come to the rescue. Churches come to mind as institutions that are available. Sunday schools seem to exist for that purpose. Christian clubs that meet after school or at night, etc., are available in some communities.

But none of these can be as effective as parents. Parents are continually teaching their children something about faith, about reverence, about respect, and about love for God whether these parents know it or not, whether they like it or not, and for better or worse. They cannot escape this fact. Parents who never pray, parents who never or rarely go to church (or synagogue) are teaching their children a lesson far more powerful than any instruction that might be provided by the schools. And the reverse is true. What parents can do is to sit with their children in church as soon as these children begin to read. They can model an attitude of respect and reverence. They can insist their children stay put and follow (participate in) the worship.

So I say to Mr. Bonsell, please do not worry over what may seem a dead end. Change direction and look to the word of God. There are many answers there.


Left-wing court muzzles truth

ID battle a big waste of time

What happened to free speech?

Board members should pay fees

Tuesday, January 03, 2006


Dover Area School Board rescinds intelligent design policy

This was expected given the results of last November's elections, but it's still nice to hear.

From this story

"The Dover school board on Tuesday rescinded its policy of presenting "intelligent design" as an alternative to evolution in high school biology classes, two weeks after a federal judge found the concept was religious and not scientific."

Not to mention the fact that the previous school board was generally less than honest.

FYI. I found out about this from Fark. That site picks up on breaking news REALLY quick.

This story is also covered in the York Daily Record, which provides a lot more detail than the blurb from Fox News. The story is also covered at Pharyngula, and PZ Myers also links to a letter to the editor in the York Daily Record titled "Evolution believers will be damned."


Recognizing earthquakes in the geologic record

People are generally familiar with the relationship between earthquakes and faults – motion along a fault (like the San Andreas) causes an earthquake. However, motion along faults can occur without causing earthquakes (at least without causing large ones). Parts of the San Andreas, Hayward, and Calaveras faults in California all creep. They move slowly and steadily (perhaps through very small earthquakes) instead of moving through a series of jerks, thereby causing large earthquakes (like the 1906 Great San Francisco quake,the 1989 Loma Prieta quake, or the 1857 Fort Tejon event). So, not all faults cause earthquakes.

Ancient, inactive faults are very common, and a lot of geologists (like me, for example) study them since modern active faults can be hard to study. Large earthquakes generally occur at least 10 km below the earth's surface, and are therefore inaccessible (although the San Andreas Fault Observatory at Depth is an example of a project to drill through an active fault). These ancient faults are found in areas where rocks that were originally very deeply buried have been brought to the surface; for example in mountain ranges. So, these exhumed, ancient fault zones are great analogs for modern, active fault zones. If we want to understand the behavior of modern earthquake-generating (seismic) faults, we need to know which of these exhumed faults was seismic. In other words, we need a way to tell which of these faults were seismic, and which were creeping, and that's pretty tricky to do. The only generally agreed upon indicator of seismic motion along a fault is something called pseudotachylyte. Pseudotachylytes are glasses – they're formed when a fault slips fast enough that it generates enough heat to melt a part of the rocks adjacent to the fault. Therefore only seismogenic faults cause pseudotachylytes; creeping faults don't. The problem is that pseudotachylytes are very rare. Since they're so rare, papers describing them generate a fair bit of interest. In a recent paper in the journal Geology a team of geologists describe an unusually thick zone of pseudotachylytes along an exhumed subduction zone in Alaska. Subduction zone earthquakes are an area of intense research, because most of the world's largest earthquakes occur there. The tsunami-generating 2004 Sumatra-Andaman Islands earthquake occurred in a subduction zone, as did the 1964 Alaska earthquake. The pseudotachylyte described in the Geology paper may be a "fossil" of a great subduction zone earthquake. If this is true, this is as close as we can get to a great earthquake-generating fault without drilling through an active one, which is technologically and financially infeasible.


Committee to get religion into the science classroom


I love the inset at the bottom of the comic.

Hat tip to The Austringer


More on the religious beliefs of Dover Plantiffs

I just read this post at the Questionable Authority. It includes a really nice section about the religious beliefs of some of the plantiffs and anti-ID school board members involved in the Dover trial, and how they were harassed. For example:

"Now people stare. They know you're a Plaintiff or they know in this particular case that I'm a candidate opposing the school board, and you can't sit there and not worry about who's looking at you or what's going to happen, you know. You'll go out and regularly be called inappropriate things centering around the concept of atheist.

They don't know me. They don't know that I'm the co-director of the children's choir at church or that I run the music halfway at the second service, or that, you know, my wife and I run Vacation Bible School. Yet they have no problem going around calling me an atheist because my particular religious viewpoint doesn't agree with that of the school board, which is a public entity not a religious one."

The whole article's definitely worth reading.


Reactions to the Dover decision

I've been sick that last couple of days, and while I've been laying on the couch drinking Theraflu I've been making the rounds on the web looking for reactions to the Dover decision. I came across an article written by Phyllis Schlafly, the president and founder of the Eagle Forum. In this column from Townhall.com titled "False judge makes mockery of case for 'intelligent design'" she gives her point of view about Judge Jones. Her article is discussed at Red State Rabble (posted on January 3rd) and at Evolutionblog. Both are worth reading.

Schlafly begins her article like this:
"Judge John E. Jones III could still be chairman of the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board if millions of evangelical Christians had not pulled the lever for George W. Bush in 2000. Yet this federal judge, who owes his position entirely to those voters and the president who appointed him, stuck the knife in the backs of those who brought him to the dance in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District."

As Red State Rabble points out, it's darkly amusing that Schlafly is complaining about activist judges (i.e., judges that render decisions based on their personal feelings rather than based on legal precedents), when she wanted Jones to behave in exactly that way - she wanted him to rule based on some perceived loyalty instead of the law. I'm not the first to write it, but comments like that make me think that people like Schlafly classify judges as "activist judges" not when they "legislate from the bench", but when those judges render a decision that they don't like.

I also don't like Schlafly's insinuation that Jones betrayed evangelical Christians by ruling against intelligent design. This mentality has been around for a long time - it's standard creationist fare: people who call themselves Christians, but who don't consider creationism/intelligent design valid aren't really Christians.

"Contrary to most media coverage, the Dover case was not about whether Darwin's theory of evolution, as set forth in "The Origin of the Species," or the theory of "intelligent design" is correct or should be taught. The Dover school board did not propose to say intelligent design is scientific or valid, or even to decrease its teaching of evolution."

If this is the case I wonder why the defendants had people like Michael Behe and Scott Minnich testify? If the Dover area school board didn't think ID was "scientific or valid" then why were they referring students to it? I suppose Schlafly is right that at least some board members who endorsed ID "did not propose to say intelligent design is scientific or valid", but that's because they didn't even know what ID was.

From pages 121-122 of Jones' ruling:

“In fact, one unfortunate theme in this case is the striking ignorance concerning the concept of ID amongst Board members. Conspicuously, Board members who voted for the curriculum change testified at trial that they had utterly
no grasp of ID. To illustrate, consider that Geesey testified she did not understand the substance of the curriculum change, yet she voted for it. Moreover, as she indicated on multiple occasions, in voting for the curriculum change, Geesy deferred completely to Bonsell and Buckingham. Second, Buckingham, Chair of the Curriculum Committee at the time, admitted
that he had no basis to know whether ID amounted to good science as of the time of his first deposition, which was two and a half months after the ID Policy was approved, yet he voted for the curriculum change.
Third, Cleaver voted for the curriculum change despite the teachers’ objections, based upon assurances from Bonsell. Cleaver admittedly knew nothing about ID, including the words comprising the phrase, as she consistently referred to ID as “intelligence design” throughout her testimony. In addition, Cleaver was bereft of any understanding of Pandas except that Spahr had said it was not a good science book which should not be used in high school. In addition, Superintendent Nilsen’s entire understanding of ID was that “evolution has a design.””
(references removed)

Schlafly continues:
"Jones said that ninth-graders were referred to (although not assigned) a book called "Of Pandas and People" by Percival Davis and Dean H. Kenyon ($24.95; 1993) published by the Foundation for Thought and Ethics, "a religious, Christian organization." Using guilt-by-association reasoning, he implied that books published by religious groups, or by people motivated by religious convictions, can and should be banned from public school."

The "guilt-by-association reasoning" claim is flatly false. From page 32 of Jones' ruling:

“As Plaintiffs meticulously and effectively presented to the Court, Pandas went through many drafts, several of which were completed prior to and some after the Supreme Court’s decision in Edwards, which held that the Constitution forbids teaching creationism as science. By comparing the pre and post Edwards drafts of Pandas, three astonishing points emerge: (1) the definition for creation science in early drafts is identical to the definition of ID; (2) cognates of the word creation
(creationism and creationist), which appeared approximately 150 times were deliberately and systematically replaced with the phrase ID; and (3) the changes occurred shortly after the Supreme Court held that creation science is religious and
cannot be taught in public school science classes in Edwards. This word substitution is telling, significant, and reveals that a purposeful change of words was effected without any corresponding change in content, which directly refutes FTE’s argument that by merely disregarding the words “creation” and “creationism,” FTE expressly rejected creationism in Pandas.”

Schlafly continues:
"He lashed out at witnesses who expressed religious views different from his own, displaying a prejudice unworthy of our judiciary. He denigrated several officials because they "staunchly and proudly touted their religious convictions in public.""

I commented on Schlafly use of tried and true creationist techniques above. This is another example; the out of context quote. Here's the paragraph from Jones' ruling that contains Schlafly's quote:

"The citizens of the Dover area were poorly served by the members of the Board who voted for the ID Policy. It is ironic that several of these individuals, who so staunchly and proudly touted their religious convictions in public, would time and again lie to cover their tracks and disguise the real purpose behind the ID Policy."

It's obvious Jones wasn't denigrating the board members because of their religious views. The board members were motivated to include ID by their religious beliefs (this is clear from the trial testimony)- they're also members of a religion (Christianity) that frowns on lying, and yet time and again board members (particularly Bonsell and Buckingham) lied. Under oath.

"The atheist evolutionists would not have made such a big case out of the four innocuous paragraphs ordered by the Dover school board unless they were pursuing an ideological cause. They converted the trial into a grand inquisition of religious beliefs instead of addressing science or the statement to be read to students."

This is just nonsense.

From page 89 of Jones' ruling:
“Accepting for the sake of argument its proponents’, as well as Defendants’ argument that to introduce ID to students will encourage critical thinking, it still has utterly no place in a science curriculum. Moreover, ID’s backers have sought to avoid the scientific scrutiny which we have now determined that it cannot withstand by advocating that the controversy, but not ID itself, should be taught in science class. This tactic is at best disingenuous, and at worst a canard. The goal of the IDM is not to encourage critical thought, but to foment a revolution which would supplant evolutionary theory with ID.
To conclude and reiterate, we express no opinion on the ultimate veracity of ID as a supernatural explanation. However, we commend to the attention of those who are inclined to superficially consider ID to be a true “scientific” alternative to
evolution without a true understanding of the concept the foregoing detailed analysis. It is our view that a reasonable, objective observer would, after reviewing both the voluminous record in this case, and our narrative, reach the inescapable
conclusion that ID is an interesting theological argument, but that it is not science.”

Schlafly's insinuation that it was only "atheist evolutionists" who opposed the school board is just flat wrong. This is another classic creationist trick - the appeal to emotion. Schlafly's trying to get her readers fired up against those darn "atheist evolutionists" who are out to get religion. The only people who were motivated by religion were the pro-ID school board members, and they behaved in an absolutely despicable manner (including toward other Christians).

From pages 124-125:

“The following excerpt from Casey Brown’s poignant resignation speech speaks volumes about what had occurred within the Board by that time:
There has been a slow but steady marginalization of
some board members. Our opinions are no longer valued
or listened to. Our contributions have been minimized or
not acknowledged at all. A measure of that is the fact
that I myself have been twice asked within the past year
if I was ‘born again.’ No one has, nor should have the
right, to ask that of a fellow board member. An
individual’s religious beliefs should have no impact on
his or her ability to serve as a school board director, nor
should a person’s beliefs be used as a yardstick to
measure the value of that service.
However, it has become increasingly evident that it is the
direction the board has now chosen to go, holding a
certain religious belief is of paramount importance.”

Additionally, at the following meeting, Board member Wenrich, who opposed the expedited vote on October 18, 2004 and engaged in parliamentary measures to have the vote delayed until the community could properly debate the issue while considering the science teachers’ position, resigned and stated the following:

I was referred to as unpatriotic, and my religious beliefs
were questioned. I served in the U.S. Army for 11 years
and six years on the board. Seventeen years of my life
have been devoted to public service, and my religion is
personal. It’s between me, God, and my pastor.”

From pages 129-130:
“Moreover, Board members and teachers opposing the curriculum change and its implementation have been confronted directly. First, Casey Brown testified that following her opposition to the curriculum change on October 18, 2004,
Buckingham called her an atheist and Bonsell told her that she would go to hell. Second, Angie Yingling was coerced into voting for the curriculum change by Board members accusing her of being an atheist and un- Christian. In addition, both Bryan Rehm and Fred Callahan have been confronted in similarly hostile ways, as have teachers in the DASD."
(references removed)

The religious beliefs of those opposed to ID shouldn't matter, but it is worth noting that it's not just atheists. The religious beliefs of those in favor of ID shouldn't matter either, unless they try to force those views on others, which is unequivocally what the Dover Area school board did. The behavior of the pro-ID school board members was disgraceful from start to finish, and I think this was clear to Dover voters too - all of the pro-ID members were voted out of office.

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