Thursday, January 31, 2013

New Web Site: Say No To Creationist Vouchers

You knew that once the Loch Ness Monster story hit the airwaves, this was not far behind.  A new site has popped up, Say No To Creationist Vouchers, which lists the school districts across the country that are participating in school voucher programs and teaching young earth creationism.  The list is quite something.  Having said that, it is not clear that all of the schools fall afoul of bad science.  Some are obvious:
Lakewood Christian School, in Auburn, says in its mission, “creation: we believe the Genesis account of a literal six-day creation; we believe man was created directly in God’s image and after His own likeness, and not by evolution (man did not evolve from other life forms).”
Others, not so:
Denver Christian Schools (3 schools, 2 in Denver, 1 in Highlands Ranch), say in their statement of faith that they teach “God reveals himself in all aspects of creation; therefore, all aspects of God’s creation are worthy of study. At Denver Christian, students learn to see this magnificent creation through the “lens” of Scripture.
I tend to view creation through the lens of scripture as well. It is not clear that these guys teach creationism. One can view the creation through the lens of scripture and still teach evolution. BioLogos does that.  I think these guys need to ferret out the ones that are actually teaching creationism (quite a lot of them do) from the ones that simply focus on teaching things from a biblical perspective.  That I have no trouble with.

What does worry me is that, if this really gets a head of steam going, it may spell doom for the voucher programs as a whole, which would be a shame because unless the public schools have competition, they will not improve.  The private schools are over a barrel because they want to provide kids good education but the public schools have the wealth (such as it is) of the U.S. government behind them and aren't, so to speak, on a level playing field.  By funneling money to the private schools in the form of vouchers, it creates the incentive for the public schools to improve.  Young earth creationism could kill that. 

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Bobby Jindal, Stupidity and Creationism

Joanna Weiss has a column in the Boston Globe about Bobby Jindal and his recent comments on the stupidity of the Republican Party (no disagreement here). The article is really more about Zack Kopplin than it is about Jindal but that is her lead-in. She writes:
The first time Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal said that the GOP needed to “stop being the stupid party” — in an interview with Politico last fall, a few days after the presidential election — I got an e-mail from Zack Kopplin.

I had just written that Jindal was an intriguing potential face of the GOP: young, smart, Indian-American, with Southern roots and a background in health care wonkery. Kopplin, a 19-year-old college student from Baton Rouge, wanted to remind me that Jindal had signed the Louisiana Science Education Act, the Orwellian-named law that permits creationism to be taught in Louisiana public schools.
Jindal is sort of between a rock and a hard place. He has made a name for himself by declaring what is fast becoming self-evident—that the Republican party is losing touch with its base and implementing policies that are self-serving rather than people-serving—and gained some of the national spotlight as a result. The catch is that he is also on record as having signed the Louisiana Science Education Act, which has been pilloried as being anti-science and has already led to flirtations with creationism that have made the news and probably countless cases that have not. It was only when a close study was done on neighboring Texas that it was revealed that numerous school districts were teaching creationism as science. Gov. Jindal cannot have it both ways. If he wants the Republican party to be more intelligent, it must divorce itself from laws such as these.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Live Science: Four New "Anti-Science" Bills

Live Science has a post on the spate of “anti-science” bills that have been promoted recently.  Larry O'Hanlon writes:
Anti-science bills are popping up like daisies after a spring shower. Five bills in four states have been introduced with the opening of state legislatures across the United States. All of the bills are aimed at undermining the teaching of biology and physical science — specifically, evolution and climate change — in public schools. Oklahoma has two bills in the hopper, Colorado, Missouri and Montana have one each.
If you look closely, you discover that these bills are not really anti-science bills, they are anti-evolution bills. The promoters could care less about physics or chemistry or even biochemistry. The promoters are also getting them from one place: The Discovery Institute.  When we underestimate this organization, we do so at our own peril. 

Monday, January 28, 2013

Donna D'Errico and The Quest For the Good Ship Noah

I saw this story a bit back and didn't get a chance to post on it.    It seems that Baywatch star Donna D'Errico has shed her wild ways and has had a change of heart, deciding to pursue her lifelong interest: finding Noah's Ark.  Nicki Gostin writes:
“Baywatch” beauty Donna D’Errico made news recently when photos of her battered face, injured climbing Mount Ararat in her search for Noah’s Ark, went viral. The 44-year-old blonde was on a quest taking her even further from her past as the ex-wife of Motley Crue wild man Nikki Sixx and the September 1995 Playboy playmate. Today D'Errico is deeply committed to her Catholic faith, a mother of two... and searching for Noah's Ark?
Yes, apparently so. She wishes to join the untold countless individuals that have gone trekking up the mountain. The interview continues:
FOX411: So you don’t see Noah’s Ark as a legend but a literal event.

DD: Of course. Yes I believe what the Bible says. Plus over the years throughout history there’s historical records of people throughout history seeing the ark on Mount Ararat, so it’s not like it’s just a fable and I’m only just going on the Bible. There’s been historical records by respected people who have gone and seen it.

FOX411: Do you consider yourself a religious person?

DD: Absolutely. I don’t like the term spiritual because I think that’s a cop out. Either you’re religious or you’re not. There’s no spiritual, it’s a silly term that’s become a catchall phrase. If you’re not religious you’re not religious. What does spiritual mean? I go to Mass every Sunday and I pray the rosary every night with my kids.
She is wrong about the first part.  None of the records have ever been verified and wood brought back from the area has always been too young to have been part of the ark.  Additionally, if the ship really is there, it is unfathomable that the vast number of people who have gone up looking for it have come away with nothing.  It is also instructive to remember Carol Hill's admonition:
The ark has been assigned to at least eight different landing places over the centuries including Saudi Arabia, India, and even the mythical Atlantis. One reason for this ambiguity is that the Bible does not actually pinpoint the exact place where the ark landed, it merely alludes to a region or range of mountains where the ark came to rest: the mountains of Ararat (Gen. 8:4). Ararat is the biblical name for Urartu (Isa. 37:38) as this area was known to the ancient Assyrians. This mountainous area, geographically centered around Lake Van and between Lake Van and Lake Urmia, was part of the ancient region of Armenia (not limited to the country of Armenia today). Mountain in Gen. 8:4 is plural; therefore, the Bible does not specify that the ark landed on the highest peak of the region (Mount Ararat), only that the ark landed somewhere on the mountains or highlands of Armenia (both Ararat and Urartu can be translated as highlands.
This is an area of over 190 thousand square miles that is almost entirely mountainous. Even if the Ark really is there, it might be anywhere within that area. One would have to find it almost by accident.  Why don't these Christians read their Bibles carefully?

Friday, January 25, 2013

Saxby Chambliss to Retire

Saxby Chambliss has announced that he is going to retire from office.  At 69, he would be unusual to do so—there have been many congressmen and senators that nobody could seem to get rid of until they kicked the bucket.Kyle Trygstad of Roll Call writes:
In a statement, Chambliss denied that his decision had anything to do with the likelihood that he would draw a challenger from the right in 2014. Instead, he insisted that the partisan gridlock in Congress, particularly surrounding fiscal issues, was the reason for his retirement. Chambliss has been a key member of the bipartisan “gang of six,” which sought to forge a bipartisan solution to the nation’s debt and deficit problems.
Why is this important, you ask?  Because of this:
Some of the top prospects in the GOP primary were already considered potential Chambliss opponents: Reps. Tom Price, Paul Broun and Tom Graves. GOP Rep. Phil Gingrey, who has a substantial war chest but earlier said he would not challenge Chambliss, could also run.
Most of the names I do not recognize, but one leaped right off the page at me.  Paul Broun, if you will recall, said some alarming things a few months back:
Georgia Rep. Paul Broun said in videotaped remarks that evolution, embryology and the Big Bang theory are "lies straight from the pit of hell" meant to convince people that they do not need a savior.

The Republican lawmaker made those comments during a speech Sept. 27 at a sportsman's banquet at Liberty Baptist Church in Hartwell. Broun, a medical doctor, is running for re-election in November unopposed by Democrats.

"God's word is true," Broun said, according to a video posted on the church's website. "I've come to understand that. All that stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology and Big Bang theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of hell. And it's lies to try to keep me and all the folks who are taught that from understanding that they need a savior."

Broun also said that he believes the Earth is about 9,000 years old and that it was made in six days. Those beliefs are held by fundamentalist Christians who believe the creation accounts in the Bible to be literally true.
We do not need yet another scientifically illiterate GOP senator in office. It would be very bad news for Georgia science if this man were elected to Chambliss' seat. This is especially true since he has a post on the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology.  I do not know anything about the other candidates.  I do know that they can't possibly be this bad. 

Thursday, January 24, 2013

"Academic Freedom" Bill in Colorado

Of all places, I did not expect this to occur in Colorado.  The NCSE has a piece on a new “academic freedom” bill that has been proposed. They write:
House Bill 13-1089 (PDF), introduced in the Colorado House of Representatives on January 16, 2013, and assigned to the House Committees on Education and Appropriations, would create "Academic Freedom Acts" for both K-12 public schools and institutes of higher education in the state of Colorado. If enacted, the bill would, in the words of the summary, "direct teachers to create an environment that encourages students to intelligently and respectfully explore scientific questions and learn about scientific evidence related to biological and chemical evolution, global warming, and human cloning."
This should be a reminder that the influence of the Discovery Institute is alive and well and that they will continue to employ useful idiots who can be easily convinced that “academic freedom” seems like the fair and just thing to legislate, not realizing that it opens the door to attacks on evolution. Some, of course, do realize exactly what they are doing and know that this is a backdoor way of getting creationism taught in the schools.  I don't know how well the legislation is going to fly at the higher levels.  I am betting the learned biologists and palaeontologists won't give it the time of day.

Hat tip to The Panda's Thumb.

CORE is Defunct

Todd Wood has been ruminating about this on his blog for some time and now it looks like a reality: financial support for the Center for Origins Research at Bryan College is being withdrawn.  He writes:
On January 11, 2013, I had a meeting with Stephen Livesay, president of Bryan College. He informed me that due to a significant budget shortfall, the college would be discontinuing support for the Center for Origins Research effective June 30. He has offered to continue housing the CORE facilities, but there will no longer be any salary support for CORE faculty or staff. Since we have very little regular donation support, his decision basically means the end of CORE as we know it. You can read the official college statement on this closing at their website
I like reading Todd's work and, even though I have grave philosophical concerns about the fact that he can understand the immensity of the evidence for evolution and yet still reject it based solely on modern creationism theology, he always treats the evidence fairly and honestly. Nick Matzke, writing for Panda's Thumb has this to say about it:
Wood was almost the sole representative of critical thinking in the creationist movement. He also had the virtually unique trait of understanding what modern evolutionary biology actually said before opening his big mouth about it. I can’t think of a time when he quote-mined Gould’s punctuated equilibrium quotes or blamed Darwin for Hitler or used the other careless, bottom-of-the-barrel tactics ubiquitous with creationists of the ID or AIG varieties. And I can think of many times when he called shenanigans on creationists engaging in those sorts of sins.
Indeed, I remember his takedown of Fuz Rana's interpretation of the chimpanzee genome data. One particular quote was memorable:
I would recommend that no one accept any of RTB's arguments without fact-checking their claims first. I do not know whether these problems are due to lazy scholarship, ignorance, intentional deception, or ideological blinders. What I do know is that you cannot trust Reasons to Believe.
For a creationist to say that about an ID organization is quite something.  I hope that Todd continues to write and to post blog entries.  Whatever I think about his theology, he is a joy to read. 

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

An Evolution Resource For Teachers

Len Eisenberg has launched a web site that seeks to help teachers and students who may be unfamiliar or intimidated by evolution.  The site can be found here and looks like it has quite a few good items.  The opening paragraph reads:
This website seeks to promote the teaching and acceptance of the biological theory of evolution by emphasizing one of its great lessons: that life on Earth is one big extended family, and therefore we are related in an exact way to not only every other living thing, but also to every thing that ever lived.
Be sure to check out the "Tree of Life," which is quite something. 

Monday, January 21, 2013

New BioLogos Post: The Rise of Archaic Homo sapiens

My newest BioLogos post is up, called The Rise of Archaic Homo sapiens.  Comments are welcome.

They Are Popping Up Everywhere

Hot on the heels of the Ark that has been built in Dordrecht, is the news that a Colorado group is intent on building a life-size ark. Amanda Miller of the Colorado Springs Business Journal writes:
Honor Hands, a Christian organization, is working on a project of biblical proportions.

Honor Hands Jerry Vinnola said that is finalizing a Southern Colorado land purchase build the Biblical ark according to measurements and directives in the Bible.

Plans include a taxidermy museum accessible to the blind so they could touch and feel the animals. There would also be an amphitheater and office space for other Christian outreach organizations, a science center and restaurant. Vinnola said he also plans to eventually build a water park on the site.

Vinnola said he would not reveal what city or even what county in southern Colorado could be the future home of the project until the land purchase is final because he’s afraid people would begin speculating about where it could be built and start buying up neighboring properties.

“We want to make a difference in the world with this project,” Vinnola said. “And we believe people will come from all over the world to see it.”

That means it will be a boon for nearby businesses and will likely create hundreds of jobs, Vinnola said.
According to the story, the ark will cost $70,000 dollars to build. Really? Then why is Ken Ham having a hard time raising the funds necessary to build his?

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Coppedge Loses Discrimination Suit

The judge has finally ruled in the David Coppedge wrongful termination suit and it did not go Coppedge's way.  Brian Charles of the Pasadena Star-News writes:
JPL officials applauded Hiroshige's decision.

"We are very pleased with the decision reached by the court," JPL officials said in a statement Thursday. "As we've stated from the beginning, the allegations raised by Mr. Coppedge were without merit. After weighing the evidence in this case, the court has agreed."

During the civil trial, attorneys for JPL painted Coppedge as a difficult employee who pushed his views upon his co- workers. JPL said Coppedge's layoff was in line with agency policy.

The court agreed.

"The evidence shows that Caltech has a detailed layoff policy, incorporating a layoff ranking process, which (Coppedge's supervisor) carried out. The evidence clearly shows that (Coppedge's co- workers) were more qualified than Coppedge regarding the skills needed on the project going forward, such as SCO/ ITL, web servers, and Linux, and that Coppedge had a history of poor customer relationships, particularly in comparison to the other System Administrators," the judgement said.
I expected this result and am sorry that he lost his job but it looks like, again, the Discovery Institute backed the wrong horse.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Meanwhile, Back in Texas...

A report has just come out that indicates numerous failures to properly implement the state guidelines for the study of the Holy Bible in public school classrooms. The report generally focuses on the lack of biblical knowledge of teachers who are tasked with these classes. In the middle of the list of deficiencies, however, is this little nugget:
- A number of courses and their instructional materials incorporate pseudo-scholarship, including claims that the Bible provides scientific proof of a 6,000-year-old Earth (young Earth creationism) and that the United States was founded as a Christian nation based on biblical Christian principles. At least two districts' Bible courses include materials suggesting that the origins of racial diversity among humans today can be traced back to Noah's sons -- a claim that has long been an important element of some forms of racism.
Detailed in the actual report are these observations:
Dalhart ISD [Independent School District] features a slide show arguing for a 6,000-year-old earth, and Eastland ISD shows videos produced by the Creation Evidence Museum, a Glen Rose-based organization famous for its defense of a 6,000-yearold earth and claim to possess a fossil of “a pristine human footprint intruded by a dinosaur footprint” from the Paluxy River bed
Never mind that the Paluxy River tracks have been so thoroughly debunked that even the mainstream creationists don't advise using them. Another:
The Noah story also prompts appeals to pseudoscience. In the Boys Ranch ISD, students watch “various videos from You Tube that present different views of the flood in coordination with account from Genesis.” A workbook used in Dayton ISD suggests that biblical characters’ life spans declined “due to major environmental changes brought about by the flood.”
The major environmental changes were, apparently, so widespread that there exists no evidence for them whatsoever. Not to mention that traditional understanding of those lifespans was that they encompassed entire family generations, not individual people.

The findings in this report are probably not unique and, I daresay, could be found in many other states.  How many creationist-oriented courses that fly under the radar is not known but it is probably pretty high in some areas of the country. 

Friday, January 18, 2013

Trouble For the Creation Museum?

I missed this story when it came out in November of last year but it appears that the Creation Museum has been having a bit of a problem pulling new people in.  James McNair of the Cincinnati City Beat reports:
The Creation Museum in Petersburg, Ky., created quite an uproar in 2007 when it opened with exhibits showing early humans co-existing with dinosaurs. Five years later, the public fascination with that take on paleoanthropology seems to be fading.

This week, the museum told CityBeat that attendance for the year ended June 30 came to 254,074. That amounts to a 10 percent drop from last year’s 282,000 and is the museum’s fourth straight year of declining attendance and its lowest annual attendance yet. The $27 million museum drew 404,000 in its first year and just over 300,000 each of the next two.
It is possible that the economy is quite a bit to blame, since they are certainly not the only organization that is having trouble. They have raised ticket prices for adults from 24.95 to 29.95. I still have not darkened their doors. Despite the curiosity, I just can't see supporting such a misguided venture.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Zack Kopplin on School Vouchers

No sooner had I gotten the last post written when an email from Zack Kopplin appeared in my inbox (mailing list, not personal note) about his attempts to get school vouchers vetoed.  Unfortunately, it shows up on MSNBC, a station I generally avoid.  Kopplin writes:
Over the past few months, I’ve learned creationist vouchers aren’t just a Louisiana problem—they’re an American problem. School vouchers are, as James Gill recently wrote in the New Orleans Times-Picayune, “the answer to a creationist’s prayer.”
Liberty Christian School, in Anderson, Indiana, has field trips to the Creation Museum and students learn from the creationist A Beka curriculum.  Kingsway Christian School, in Avon, Indiana, also has Creation Museum field trips.  Mansfield Christian School, in Ohio, teaches science through the creationist Answers in Genesis website, run by the founder of the Creation Museum.  The school’s Philosophy of Science page says, “the literal view of creation is foundational to a Biblical World View.”  All three of these schools, and more than 300 schools like them, are receiving taxpayer money.
Kopplin then proceeds to give a list of examples, most of which are truly hair-raising.  One would hope that these schools are the exception to the rule and, as I mentioned last post, if this becomes widely known, it will spell doom for the voucher program constitutionally, unless each state passes laws such that the vouchers cannot be used at religiously-based schools.  That is a shame since it will leave quite a few schools in the dark that would, otherwise, benefit from the program.  This is nothing more than an end-run around the court-mandated prohibition of teaching creationism in the public schools.  Surely those that are engaging in this deception know this.  

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Zack Kopplin Vs. the Creationists

io9 has a story on Zack Kopplin and his continued war against the teaching of young earth, anti-evolution creationism in Louisiana.  George Dvorsky writes:
Encouraged by Barbara Forrest, a philosophy professor at Southeastern Louisiana University — and a staunch critic of intelligent design and the Discovery Institute — Kopplin decided to write a letter that could be signed by Nobel laureate scientists in support of the repeal. To that end, he contacted Sir Harry Kroto, a British chemist who shared the 1996 Nobel Prize in Chemistry with Robert Curl and Richard Smalley. Kroto helped him to draft the letter — one that has now been signed by 78 Nobel laureates.

In addition, Kopplin has introduced two bills to repeal the LSEA, both of which have been sponsored by State Senator Karen Carter Peterson. He plans on producing a third bill later this spring. And along with the Nobel laureates, he has the support of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), New Orleans City Council, and many others.
Next on the agenda, according to Dvorsky, is the vouchers program. I am of two minds about this because, ordinarily, I support vouchers as a means of getting kids out of failing public schools who would not ordinarily have the opportunity and to push these schools to improve.

I do not, on the other hand, like the idea of the money being used by private schools to teach creationism. The recent Loch Ness Monster story attracted attention to the curriculum that is being used by at least one of the schools receiving vouchers, Accelerated Christian Education.  As this story demonstrates, science is not exactly these folks' strong suit.  It is depressing to see a basically good idea misused by people who should but do not know better.  While Kopplin's campaign won't change the minds of those who will not honestly look at the science, it is the right thing to do.  

Friday, January 04, 2013

Robichaux Gets High Praise on Policies

Outgoing Orleans Parish School Board Chairman Thomas Robichaux is receiving lots of supporting email for his policy changes to keep out the teaching of young earth creationism in the Orleans Parish schools. Danielle Dreilinger writes:
District 7 residents gave sitting Orleans Parish School Board president Thomas Robichaux only 3,072 votes out of 14,688 cast in November's election. But Robichaux is floating out of office on a national wave of support from anti-creationism advocates, who have sent him over 2,000 emails and faxes praising largely symbolic policy changes he championed that take religion out of science and history classrooms. In fact, Robichaux got so many messages he contacted the American Humanist Association, which had issued an action alert, to ask its supporters to stop.
For those of us that saw this as a very hopeful sign, Ms. Dreilinger then rains on our parade:
The national excitement seems to overlook the fact that the policy affects only six of New Orleans' 80-plus public schools - the ones run directly by the Orleans Parish School Board. It isn't even a change: None of those schools teaches creationism, administrators said in November. The district's dozen charters don't have to abide by the policy, and neither do the three quarters of the city's schools that are in the state-level Recovery School District.
On the other hand, given the level of local support that creationism ordinarily receives, we'll take what we can get.

Thursday, January 03, 2013

AIBS State News on Teaching Evolution

The American Institute for Biological Sciences has a web site that tracks "threats to the teaching of evolution in public school science courses" in each state. In most cases, this includes the text of each bill as well as the course of each bill through the state legislatures and the ultimate disposition.  A useful site for finding out where your state is. 

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Higgs: Dawkins is a "Fundamentalist"

The Mail Online has an interesting post on the differences in atheistic approaches to the science/religion debate invoked by Peter Higgs and Richard Dawkins.  Steve Doughty writes:
Professor Higgs has used his new status to pour scorn on 71-year-old Professor Dawkins, a champion of evolution and author of The God Delusion which argues that belief in God is irrational.

Professor Dawkins's contempt for religion has recently led him to suggest that being raised as a Roman Catholic is worse for a child than physical abuse.

But Professor Higgs said that Professor Dawkins has caricatured religious believers as extremists and ignored those who try to reconcile their beliefs with science.

In an interview with the Spanish newspaper El Mundo, Professor Higgs, who is 83, said: 'What Dawkins does too often is to concentrate his attack on fundamentalists. But there are many believers who are not just fundamentalists.

While I would agree that Dawkins' approach to religion and the science/faith interaction is somewhat one-dimensional, I would venture to argue that Dr. Higgs has not visited the United States anytime recently, where fundamentalism is alive and well.  This is not to say there are no non-fundamentalists, but in traditional evangelical Christianity, we are in the minority.

He continues:
'Fundamentalism is another problem. I mean, Dawkins in a way is almost a kind of fundamentalist himself.'

Professor Higgs also told the newspaper: 'The growth of our understanding of the world through science weakens some of the motivation which makes people believers.

'But that's not the same thing as saying they are incompatible. It is just that I think some of the traditional reasons for belief, going back thousands of years, are rather undermined.
I would respond that this is only true for those that believe that the science and faith interaction is a zero/sum game. Sadly this seems to describe a lot of people who do not truly understand either the limits of science or the limitless bounds of faith.  An explanation for why something is the way that it is does not mean that God did not create it, only that we know more of how it was created.