Friday, December 30, 2005

On the other hand...

Boris Shpungin, a writer for the Christian Underground, a group that has a reputation for taking Christianity to the streets, has stated support for evolutionary theory.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Jeb Bush weighs in

This is as bad as it gets. A story in NewsMax paints Jeb Bush in a very bad light, scientifically:

Bush said last week he did not think Darwin's theory of evolution needed to be part of the state's public school science standards, according to an account in the Miami Herald.

That is like saying we are going to study astronomy but leave out galaxy and star formation. One can only hope that someone points this out to him. If the GOP picks up this banner as a core principle, they will be seen as unscientific and ignorant and will lose a lot of voters. Bush also stated, according to the story:

Bush, a Catholic who personally believes God created life on Earth, also thinks science teachers should have some discretion to discuss "any scientific theory," Schweiss said.

Does this include atomic theory, quantum theory and gravitational theory? One would hope not, since these form the basis for much of our understanding of the universe around us.

As goes Dover, so goes the rest of the world?

John Witte, Jr. reminds us in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the ruling in Dover is very narrow.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Battle Lines are Drawn

According to an article in the WaPo, natural history museums across the country are gearing up for the coming debate with ID by giving their tour guides crash courses in evolution.

Warren D. Allmon, director of the Paleontological Research Institution at the Museum of the Earth in Ithaca, developed a special workshop and a 13-page guidebook to help volunteers and staff members converse with visitors about the topics. "This is not a defensive reaction or an attempt to change anyone's mind," Allmon said. "It's just that we find most people are uninformed about evolution or have been given misinformation."

My own experience is that Allmon is correct. Hat Tip to R L. Macklin.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Kenneth Miller on ID

Going back a few months, Kenneth Miller, the Brown University molecular biologist has a short, insightful article on the Cobb County evolution sticker. The sticker reads as follows:

Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully, and critically considered.

Miller looks beyond the wording of the sticker, suggesting:

Think about that. The sticker told students that there was just one subject in their textbooks that had to be approached with an open mind and critically considered. Apparently, we are certain of everything in biology except evolution. That is nonsense. What that sticker should have told students is what our textbook makes clear: Everything in science should be approached with critical thinking and an open mind.

True, indeed.

"Intelligent Design Derailed"

A gleeful editorial has appeared in the New York Times (hereafter referred to as "the Gray Lady") lauding the Kitzmiller decision. The tone goes something like this:

By now, the Christian conservatives who once dominated the school board in Dover, Pa., ought to rue their recklessness in forcing biology classes to hear about "intelligent design" as an alternative to the theory of evolution. Not only were they voted off the school board by an exasperated public last November, but this week a federal district judge declared their handiwork unconstitutional and told the school district to abandon a policy of such "breathtaking inanity."

Interestingly, the Times writer, who is not identified, points out the "mountain out a molehill" nature of the whole case:

Judge Jones's decision was a striking repudiation of intelligent design, given that Dover's policy was minimally intrusive on classroom teaching. Administrators merely read a brief disclaimer at the beginning of a class asserting that evolution was a theory, not a fact; that there were gaps in the evidence for evolution; and that intelligent design provided an alternative explanation and could be further explored by consulting a book in the school library.

That the case should grab national attention (a huge front page story in the Knoxville News Sentinel, of all places) shows how much in the spotlight the issue of ID is.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Richard Dawkins in

Back in April, Salon posted an interview of Richard Dawkins, who is, perhaps correctly, described by the interviewer (also Gordy Slack) as being "the religious right's Public Enemy No. 1." For anyone doubting the sincerity of Dawkins, Slack notes:

Earlier this year, Dawkins signed an agreement with British television to make a documentary about the destructive role of religion in modern history, tentatively titled "The Root of All Evil."

Dawkins takes a very reductionist view of life, stating that:

There is just no evidence for the existence of God. Evolution by natural selection is a process that works up from simple beginnings, and simple beginnings are easy to explain. The engineer or any other living thing is difficult to explain -- but it is explicable by evolution by natural selection. So the relevance of evolutionary biology to atheism is that evolutionary biology gives us the only known mechanism whereby the illusion of design, or apparent design, could ever come into the universe anywhere.

He seems unaware of the notion of faith, the belief in things not seen. Or if he is aware, he has dismissed it outright. He makes some other questionable assertions. One of which is that:

Scientists disagree among themselves but they never fight over their disagreements. They argue about evidence or go out and seek new evidence.

Anyone familiar with the history of human palaeontology knows otherwise. A fascinating study of the problems in this field is Bones of Contention: Controversies in the Search for Human Origins by Roger Lewin.

Dawkins also likens George Bush to Osama bin Laden in saying:

We're seeing a rather unholy alliance between the burgeoning theocracy in the U.S. and its allies, the theocrats in the Islamic world. They are fighting the same battle: Christian on one side, Muslim on the other.

This betrays a lack of understanding of what Christianity and Islam are. Christianity, properly practiced, has no theocratic construct. As one of the elders in my church noted, Christians talk of a "personal relationship" with Jesus. A Christian theocracy cannot exist because the closest thing we have to "laws" outside the Old Testament is the Sermon on the Mount and the laws in the OT were meant only for believers. Similarly, Islam has five pillars, none of which is "conquer the world." Dawkins here is identifying all believers with extremists in both religions. I would encourage you to read the whole interview for an example of modern atheism.

Gordy Slack article on

Gordy Black has written a piece for on the Dover decision. He does not start the article promisingly, referring to the "constitutional separation of church and state" but he rights himself by writing a fairly insightful article. For example, he does make a point that ID proponents have hoped would go unnoticed:

Intelligent design did not spread through culture on its scientific merits. It got a big push from religious and political advocates. Funded by millions of dollars from some of the same religious supporters that helped put President Bush in the White House (conservatives like Philip F. Anschutz, Richard Mellon Scaife, and Howard and Roberta Ahmanson), the Discovery Institute has pushed a fringe academic movement onto virtually all the front pages and TV sets in the country. The New York Times has reported that the institute has granted $3.6 million in fellowships to 50 researchers since 1996. Those investments produced 50 books on intelligent design, innumerable articles, and two I.D. documentaries that were broadcast on public television.

As with the WaPo editorial, Slack makes the direct reference to the GOP Whitehouse. Salon's political views are even more left than the WaPo, so this is, again, not surprising. The point is, nonetheless, taken.

Dover News

Jason Rosenhouse has more coverage of the Dover ruling at his blog.

WaPo editorial

The Post also provided an editorial praising the judge's decision but providing no new insight beyond that.

ID advocates will fight.

The WaPo has a follow-up story about the Kitzmiller ruling yesterday. As was to be expected, the comments the ruling stirred up were heated. The Post reports:

"This decision is a poster child for a half-century secularist reign of terror that's coming to a rapid end with Justice Roberts and soon-to-be Justice Alito," said Richard Land, who is president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and is a political ally of White House adviser Karl Rove. "This was an extremely injudicious judge who went way, way beyond his boundaries -- if he had any eyes on advancing up the judicial ladder, he just sawed off the bottom rung."

It is, perhaps, worth noting that the Post writer Michael Powell has emphasized the connections of Land all the way up. Since the post leans rather heavily to the left, this is not surprising. Biochemist Michael Behe is somewhat gloomier about the prospects.

It's hard to say this chills the atmosphere, because if you're publicly known as an ID supporter you can already kiss your tenure chances goodbye. It doesn't help.

I still find it difficult to see how the First Amendment which reads in part "Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion or prohibiting the free expression thereof" can apply to a local school board in the state of Pennsylvania. Congress was simply trying to make sure that the government would never be able to mandate that you had to go to church or that you could not go to church. It seems we have come a long way from that.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

2006 Darwin Day

The 2006 Darwin Day celebration web site is up. It includes, among other things, some pretty spiffy Flash movies explaining the workings of the cell and DNA. The University of Tennessee has always had its own program which has been well received. This year's program will have talks by Michael Shermer and Robert Pollack. Shermer is the author of the book Why People Believe Weird Things and is director of the Skeptics Society. The event's tolerance for religious viewpoints waxes and wanes depending on who the yearly organizers are. 1998 saw Eugenie Scott of the NCSE debating William Provine of Cornell. Scott is an agnostic but is tolerant of theological perspectives, while Provine is an avowed atheist in the vein of Richard Dawkins. The event did not, shall we say, attract very many people of any faith.

The ID Wedge Strategy has come home to roost

It seems that the Wedge Strategy has influenced the trial of Dover vs. Kitzmiller. Part of Judge Jones' ruling (linked below) reads:

We find it incumbent upon the Court to additionally judge Defendants’ conduct from the standpoint of a reasonable, objective adult observer. This conclusion is based, in part, upon the revelation at trial that a newsletter explaining the ID Policy in detail was mailed by the Board to every household in the District, as well as the Board members’ discussion and defense of the curriculum change in public school board meetings and in the media.

The ruling of the judge hinged on what a "reasonable observer" would infer from the proposal to teach ID in the classroom. He wrote thus:

The only apparent difference between the argument made by [original ID creator William] Paley and the argument for ID, as expressed by defense expert witnesses Behe and Minnich, is that ID’s “official position” does not acknowledge that the designer is God. However, as Dr. Haught testified, anyone familiar with Western religious thought would immediately make the association that the tactically unnamed designer is God, as the description of the designer in Of Pandas and People (hereinafter “Pandas”) is a “master intellect,” strongly suggesting a supernatural deity as opposed to any intelligent actor known to exist in the natural world. (P-11 at 85). Moreover, it is notable that both Professors Behe and Minnich admitted their personal view is that the designer is God and Professor Minnich testified that he understands many leading advocates of ID to believe the designer to be God. (21:90 (Behe); 38:36-38 (Minnich)).

Then, in a little burst of humor:

Although proponents of the IDM occasionally suggest that the designer could be a space alien or a time-traveling cell biologist, no serious alternative to God as the designer has been proposed by members of the IDM, including Defendants’ expert witnesses. (20:102-03 (Behe)).

Throughout the rest of the ruling, Judge Jones argues persuasively that, contrary to their stated purpose, the proponents of ID relate it directly to belief in the Christian God.

Kitzmiller Ruling

CNN has posted a pdf version of the 139-page Dover School Board ruling. It is an interesting read.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

More on Judge Jones' Ruling

Scott Ott of suggests a possible timetable for the implementation of Judge Jones' ruling.

ID cannot be taught in classroom, judge says

The ruling has come down from Judge John Jones III, in which he states that the local school board cannot mandate the teaching of Intelligent Design in the classrooms in the Dover, PA school district. In making his ruling, the judge wrote:

We find that the secular purposes claimed by the Board amount to a pretext for the Board's real purpose, which was to promote religion in the public school classroom.

Somewhat less charitably, he also wrote:

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.

Here is the actual text that biology teachers have been reading to students at the beginning of biology classes:

"The Pennsylvania Academic Standards require students to learn about Darwin's theory of evolution and eventually to take a standardized test of which evolution is a part.

Because Darwin's theory is a theory, it continues to be tested as new evidence is discovered. The theory is not a fact. Gaps in the theory exist for which there is no evidence. A theory is defined as a well-tested explanation that unifies a broad range of observations.

Intelligent design is an explanation of the origin of life that differs from Darwin's view. The reference book, "Of Pandas and People," is available in the library along with other resources for students who might be interested in gaining an understanding of what intelligent design actually involves.

With respect to any theory, students are encouraged to keep an open mind. The school leaves the discussion of the origins of life to individual students and their families. As a standards-driven district, class instruction focuses upon preparing students to achieve proficiency on standards-based assessments."

Interestingly, the text avoids the problem I alluded to in an earlier post that, if ID were to be taught in the schools, it is not clear how it would be done.

Monday, December 19, 2005

The mission statement of the Discovery Institute has been posted online. This organization has, as its members, William Dembski and Michael Behe, as well as Jonathan Wells, the author of Icons of Evolution. In many ways, these three men define the current movement of Intelligent Design. This statement, which is self-identified as "The Wedge Strategy," states, among other things:

Discovery Institute's Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture seeks nothing less than the overthrow of materialism and its cultural legacies. Bringing together leading scholars from the natural sciences and those from the humanities and social sciences, the Center explores how new developments in biology, physics and cognitive science raise serious doubts about scientific materialism and have re-opened the case for a broadly theistic understanding of nature.

The idea, of course, is to find the weakest point in the opposition's argument and drive a wedge through it. To its credit, the DI has, as the first phase of its strategy, "...solid scholarship, research and argument."

The second "Governing Goal" lays it out pretty clearly, though:

To replace materialistic explanations with the theistic understanding that nature and human beings are created by God.

All other things being equal, this would be a laudible goal. All other things are not equal, however. This perspective is little different from that of its predecessor, recent earth creationism, in that it presupposes an endpoint to research being done at the DI in that it must find that there is evidence for the existence of God and His interaction with the cosmos. Genuine scientific inquiry may or may not arrive at this conclusion. To state a priori that this is the goal of the research being carried out by the DI is biasing it in that direction.

It further gives those who are filing lawsuits against the introduction of Intelligent Design in the classroom the same kind of ammunition that was given to the defendants in the Arkansas evolution/recent-earth creation case in 1982. Namely, that the goals of the DI are religious in nature and that science education will be subjugated to those goals.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

The Meaning of Creation

I was just rereading Conrad Hyers' book The Meaning of Creation, which is an outstanding treatise on the nature of Genesis 1 and 2 and why modern discrepancies between the creation accounts and science are misguided. He says this about the creation accounts:

Thus, beneath a disarmingly simple surface, the creation texts are a complex interlacing of a number of issues which, if one is willing to take the time to understand them, lead one to appreciate even more the genius of their simplicity. The religious literalist sees the simplicity, and declares this to be the "natural," "clear," "obvious," "matter-of-fact," and even scientific and historical meaning of the texts. The secular literalist sees the simplicity, and declares this to be the primitive gropings of a prescientific era. Little credit is given to the degree of sophistication in such ancient texts or to the knowledgeability of their authors, their capacities for metaphorical and symbolic expression, or their ability to compress issues that could fill libraries (and which subsequently have) into an amazing economy of words. The Bible is credited with stories which, when reduced to their most literal dimensions, are on the level of a child's garden of verses. Instead of the oceanic depths of Genesis, we are shown a small fishpond of space and time: six literal days, a young earth, a small and recent universe, and a reduction of geological ages to the effects of a single flood. It is as if Genesis were a kind of Alice in Wonderland where one is invited to believe at least three impossible things before breakfast!

True indeed. I believe that any person interested in the topic of science and creation ought to read this book.

Friday, December 16, 2005

A possible reversal in the Cobb County, Georgia Case

The Atlanta Constitution reports today that the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals has reacted negatively to a lower court's order to remove an evolution disclaimer sticker from Cobb County high school science textbooks.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Professor says he was forced out

Professor and former University of Kansas Religious Studies head Paul Mirecki, now says that he was forced from his position by the university and has retained a lawyer:

"The University penalized me and denied me my constitutionally protected right to speak and express my mind."

The university's position is somewhat different, claiming that his consitutional rights were not violated and that the university stood by them. Mirecki also claims that the men who attacked him referred to the course he was planning to teach, which was to be called "Special Topics in Religion: Intelligent Design, Creationism and other Religious Mythologies."

More background about this case can be found here.

Dover School Board Vs. Kitzmiller et al.

The National Center for Science Education has more updates on the Dover School Board's battle with ID here.

Discontent in Suburbia

Peter Whoriskey of the WaPo writes that the fight over evolution in Cobb County, Georgia is just the tip of the iceberg.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Cal Thomas and Bob Beckelis on USA Today

Cal Thomas and Bob Beckelis had an exchange on USA Today on the question: "Intelligent Design: What do scientists fear?" Bob, ostensibly the liberal on the show (in opposition to the conservative Thomas) states

Despite the overwhelming consensus of the scientific community that evolution is the sole explanation for all living things, these scientists have yet to prove the theory conclusively. Not only are there still gaping holes in the evolutionary chain from single cells to man, the science crowd hasn't come close to explaining why only man among all living things has a conscience, a moral framework and a free will.

This statement demonstrates many things at once: 1. that science education has completely failed Bob Beckelis. If it hadn't, he would understand that science is not in the business of "proving" anything. Science draws relationships between phenomena and either supports or rejects a particular explanation for events. Very few theories are "proven" conclusively. 2. As far as the holes are concerned, the statement is vague. There seems to be a lack of understanding of the nature of the fossil record. What holes is he speaking of? It is true that there are many areas of the fossil record that are less complete than others, but there are also many areas that show transitions and every major stage is represented by the record. 3. There is not an anatomical disconnect between the morphology of the brain and what its capacities are. When he says that evolution has not explained the cognitive abilities of humans, he is ignoring evidence of progressive encephalization and brain reorganization over recorded time that occurs in areas associated with just these concepts.

An excellent article on the nature of the fossil record can be found here.

Further on, Mr. Beckelis states:

...scientists will say the overwhelming body of evidence supports evolution, and no other theory comes close. Well, of course, it doesn't because no other theory has been studies seriously.

This is nothing short of hogwash. When evolutionary theory was first finding its feet, there was no shortage of competing theories. When the modern, synthetic theory was first formulated in the 1920s and 1930s, it was tested constantly. In a sense, every paper that is written involving the fossil record tests evolutionary principles.

The main problem with Intelligent Design in its current incarnation is that it has no theoretical construct of its own. When William Dembski writes that evolutionary theory cannot explain modern biological diversity, he has no theoretical explanation to impose in its place. ID isn't science because there is no way to practice it.

Friday, December 09, 2005

The problem is especially acute in Christian circles. I go to a Bible Fellowship, which is now studying Genesis. The leader got up a few weeks ago and forcefully stated that evolution had been a "total failure." He did so, of course, without a scap of supporting evidence for this claim because there is none. Within the biological community, of which I am part, evolutionary theory as an explanation for biological diversity is almost univerally accepted. The perspective of my BSF leader makes my position increasingly at odds with many Christian groups.

Science Education in the United States

Michael Janofsky has written an article for the New York Times on the state of science education in the United States. He states:

The report set out to identify how states set academic standards for science, asking whether their courses include suitably challenging content, whether they are properly organized and whether they incorporate "pseudoscientific fads or politics," a reference to the recent drive to teach intelligent design as an alternative explanation to evolution.

It was also pointed out that the "evolution crisis" is only a small part of the problem. Given that there has been an increasing emphasis on teaching only the subjects that students need to get high-paying jobs, it is doubtful the trend will reverse.


Welcome to my creation/evolution controversy blog. I will actually cover more than just these two topics but the posts will be oriented along these lines. I will try to be even-handed, especially in my coverage of Intelligent Design. I hope to post regularly, as the news comes. Enjoy.