Florida Citizens for Science is liveblogging the Florida Board of Education meeting on science standards.
Florida Citizens for Science is liveblogging the Florida Board of Education meeting on science standards.
It is so sad that millions of dollars are being spent on researching the universe, but the underlying philosophy is often that scientists want to find answers to how life arose, and in this case, “from where diseases come from.” They are “willingly ignorant” that the God of the universe has already given us the answers as to how life arose (Genesis 1:1) and also as to why there are diseases—because of sin.
Ham seems to think that all that money is just pork-barrel spending, and that scientific budgets are larded with needless expenditures. Alas, his concept of science is rooted in a naive caricature of Bacon, and would would keep our society mired in the muck.
At the blog for Expelled: No Intelligence, featuring Ben Stein, the producers insist “We’ll take Lincoln Day over Darwin Day…any day.” The whole thing is a pack of lies, ably dissected by PZ Myers. I couldn’t get past the first sentence before giving up on the rest:
Until the late 1980’s when the generic “President’s Day” became the official holiday that subsumed them, America used to celebrate the birthdays of both George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.
This sentence is grammatically, historically and factually wrong, as is everything else written by the movie’s producers or narrator.
Lincoln’s birthday was never an officially recognized holiday, so their use of the phrase “America used to celebrate” is either wrong or ambiguous. Strictly, the federal government doesn’t recognize a holiday named “Presidents’ Day” or “Presidents Day,” let alone No Intelligence’s “President’s Day.” As Wikipedia notes “President’s Day is a misspelling when used with the intention of celebrating more than one individual.” Next Monday, the feds will celebrate “Washington’s Birthday.”
The law moving that celebration to the third Monday in February was signed into lawtook effect in 1971, during Richard Nixon’s presidency. Ben Stein was, of course, a staffer in that administration, and didn’t have to remain silent on the Lincoln snub for 37 years. He could have insisted that the day be known not as “Washington’s Birthday,” but as Lincoln’s and Washington’s Birthdays,” or some such construction (though that wouldn’t have gone over well with Nixon’s race-baiting Southern Strategy). He didn’t.
Update: I misread the legislative history. Thanks to readers pough and Gemmell for catching the slip.
Disco. Inst. frontman Rob Crowther wonders: Why isn’t anyone talking about the 2/3 of teachers who aren’t hassled for teaching basic science?
You doubt that anyone could be so silly? Gaze in wonder:
the results are cleverly communicated with misplaced emphasis to imply that teachers are under overwhelming pressure to not teach evolution. It just isn’t so. Here they report that, according to the poll, 31% feel pressured to avoid teaching evolution or to include other theories. What they don’t report is that the vast majority, more than 2‑to‑1, 69% don’t feel pressured to teach other theories.
As I pointed out originally, usually, a newspaper leads with the majority numbers when a survey is reported. Most people tend to want to know what the prevailing opinion is. The news in a poll is almost always what the majority is, unless the minority view is so incredibly surprising as to warrant a headline of its own. These polls aren’t that.
First, Rob, this wasn’t an opinion survey, it was a survey of what happens in the classroom, and the appropriate amount of political interference in science education is 0. Not 1/3, or 1/10, but zero. That some teachers teach their subject without interference is a dog-bites-man story. The man-bites-dog story is that some are being harassed for teaching according to the best advice of their professional societies, of the overwhelming majority of scientists, of their state’s science standards, and their textbooks.
Crowther dismisses the reporting done by Ron Matus and Donna Winchester as anecdotes and hearsay. Here’s the passage Crowther picks to illustrate the claim:
Once, when he and another teacher were coordinating lesson plans, they got to the part on evolution and she said, “I’m going to skip that one,” Campbell said. Baylor, the teacher at Palm Harbor Middle, said she knows of two teachers who have avoided evolution because they’re unsure how parents will react.
I think that it’s shameful if there are even three teachers who want to teach good science, but don’t because of political fears. I think it’s even more shameful that a third of teachers fall into that category. If Crowther cared about science or education, he would, too.
Disguised as a middle-manager with the American Milk Solids Council, Sadly, No!‘s intrepid correspondent suffered through the horror that results when American conservatives gather. Along hte way, there was a screening of Expelled: No Intelligence…, and it sucks:
At some point I sneak into a screening of Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, a Michael Mooreian abortion by Watergate apologist/novelty actor Ben Stein. An exciting tour through a number of major logical fallacies, Expelled features the wooden-souled Stein attempting to illustrate how the Stalinist mandarins of academia have systematically excluded the teaching of intelligent design from our universities just because it’s completely unscientific nonsense. Stein soft-peddles this idea, of course, choosing instead to focus on the fact that Richard Dawkins is kind of a jerk (and who among us would not be, if we were constantly being pestered by game show hosts about why voodoo isn’t taught in school?). Dawkin’s quasi-aristocratic hostility makes him look bad, to be sure, which would be relevant if atheism had anything whatsoever to do with the fact that ID is not science. Which it doesn’t. The fact that ID is not science has everything to do with the fact that it is not taught in university science classes, however, a point that seems not to have occurred to anyone in the crowd who hisses when those evil poindexters of academia won’t answer Ben’s questions about how come why for no they teach it. Ben would have gotten the same snippy, defensive answers if he had asked why Lawsonomy is not taught in physics classes, or why the teachings of Trofim Lysenko are not the focus of biology classes, but those questions remained unasked: Ben’s concept of “academic freedom” requires only that his favored brand of buncombe gets equal time. I attempt to wrap my thoughts around the notion that a movement that considers itself the only sane and reasonable guide to the challenges of the post-modern world is gleeful about the idea of demanding academic equal time for ideologically driven pseudoscience, but there isn’t time.
It’s good that at least someone gets it. Send condolences/pills to Mister Leonard Pierce.
Guillermo Gonzalez, Privileged Planet author and self-styled ID martyr, lost his last administrative appeal of his tenure denial. He has previously stated that he is looking for other tenure-track jobs, and I’m confident that some Bible college will be glad to take him.
Whether Disco. Inst. and Gonzalez’ lawyers will follow up on implied threats to file suit over the tenure denial remain to be seen. Such suits are risky business, since they dramatically reduce the likelihood that you’ll get hired for a different job while you’re in the process of suing your former employer. Gonzalez hasn’t got a case, in any event, so such a suit would be staged for the camera crews of Expelled: No Intelligence, not for Gonzalez himself. We’ll see just how many bridges Disco. is prepared to burn for their own allies, I suppose.
Update: New news link, since old ones have been dropping faster than an IDolator’s scientific productivity.
Mike has some astute observations about the Disco. Inst.‘s Dissent from Darwinism List. Noting that Rob Crowther claims:
Signers of the Dissent List have signed the list because it is their professional opinion that the evidence is lacking for the claims for the ability of random mutations and natural selection to account for the complexity of life. Period. Nothing more, and nothing less.
Mike proceeds to point out that most of the signers have no professional basis for such an assessment. This is a fair and important point, but it misses an even fairer and more important point: the barrier to signing the list is far, far less than feeling that “the evidence is lacking for the claims for the ability of random mutations and natural selection to account for the complexity of life.”
In fact, all one has to do to sign the damned list is be “skeptical” of the claim that natural selection and mutation alone can explain this range of biological phenomena. Since I think Mike would agree that neutral drift, gene flow, endosymbiosis, and recombination are also important factors, he would probably have no problem agreeing with such skepticism. Even strong selectionists, people who think that selection and mutation really do dominate evolutionary history would agree that skepticism of that claim, like any scientific idea, is healthy.
Given how trivial the Disco. statement is, it’s truly astonishing that only 700 scientists have backed it. Yeah, examine evidence for every scientific idea, and be skeptical about them, too. It’s important to be open-minded. But, as they say, not so open that your brain falls out. Perhaps scientists don’t want their thoughts misrepresented, and either don’t sign, or ask to be withdrawn from the list after signing.
NCSE has got 861 scientists backing a much stronger statement:
Evolution is a vital, well-supported, unifying principle of the biological sciences, and the scientific evidence is overwhelmingly in favor of the idea that all living things share a common ancestry. Although there are legitimate debates about the patterns and processes of evolution, there is no serious scientific doubt that evolution occurred or that natural selection is a major mechanism in its occurrence. It is scientifically inappropriate and pedagogically irresponsible for creationist pseudoscience, including but not limited to “intelligent design,” to be introduced into the science curricula of our nation’s public schools.
These scientists have examined the evidence, considered it with appropriate scientific skepticism, and drawn that conclusion.
Now, having 161 more scientists may not seem impressive, but we’re a little choosier than the Disco. Inst. We won’t take any old person with a doctorate. No, no, it has to be in a field relevant to evolution.
Plus, the person has to be named Steve, Stephen, Stephanie, Esteban, etc. How many Steves has Disco. got?
Tony Campolo, generally considered a member of the Christian Left, writes a staggeringly wrong essay on evolution. After rightly dismissing typical creationist complaints that evolutionary “theories contradict their literal biblical belief that creation occurred in six 24-hour days,” Campolo jumps onto the Coral Ridge/Disco. Inst. bandwagon, claiming that the “real dangers of Darwinism,” lie in “the ethical implications of Darwin’s original writings.”
After which we get the typical half-literate practice of judging Darwin’s 500+ page opus based on a single phrase in the subtitle: “Favored Races.” Anyone who reads the book would know that Darwin used “races” here to refer to varieties of a species, and to emphasize his idea that species form from such naturally occurring varieties. His usage does not discuss particular races of humans. Of course, someone who had read Darwin’s book would never claim “that among Darwin’s scientifically based proposals was the elimination of ‘the negro and Australian peoples,’ ” since the phrase in quotation marks never occurs in the book, and since he does not present that or any other political proposals.
The lies and misrepresentations continue for several paragraphs, claiming that Nazi abuse of Darwin’s ideas somehow shifts responsibility from the shoulders of the leaders of the Third Reich onto Darwin. I’ve commented before that such claims verge on Holocaust denial, and I stand by that claim here. Nobel Prize-winning biologist Konrad Lorenz is cited for his brief stint in the Nazi Party, rather than for his explicit rejection of Naziism during WWII, nor is any mention made of the impact on evolutionary thinking in his subsequent Nobel-winning work in animal behavior. His explanation that “many [scientists] quickly turned away from [Naziism] with the same horror as I” also remains on the cutting-room floor. Of course, there is no mention of the fact that scientists and medical researchers in the US and Britain used Darwinian principles to protect Allied forces from disease in the trenches and jungles of the fight against Germany, Italy and Japan.
If one truly seeks an evangelical perspective on the implications of evolutionary thinking for morality, one would do better to turn to Presbyterian minister Samuel Stanhope Smith’s comments from 1787. In “An Essay on the Causes of the Variety of Complexion and Figure in the Human Species,” quoted in The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind by Mark A. Noll, Princeton’s seventh president wrote of the moral dangers in thinking of humanity as a population sundered by race, rather than united by common ancestry:
The science of morals would be absurd; the law of nature and nations would be annihilated; no general principles of human conduct, of religion, or of policy could be framed; for, human nature … could not be comprehended in any system. The rules which would result from the study of our own nature would not apply to the natives of other countries who would be of different species. … Such principles tend to confound all science, as well as piety; and leave us in the world uncertain whom to trust, or what opinions to frame of others. The doctrine of one race, removes this uncertainty, renders human nature susceptible of system, illustrates the powers of physical causes, and opens a rich and extensive field for moral science.
My emphasis, from Scandal, p. 89.
Similarly, seeing all of life in this context gives a basis for a moral view of all of life, and justifies the Christian Left’s call for Creation Care, and for responsible stewardship of our world’s natural resources. Not only is humanity united as a family, we are united with all of life through our shared family tree. This insight, central to Darwin’s writing, has profound moral and philosophical significance, even beyond its crucial place in modern biology (a factor which Campolo ignores, to his essay’s great detriment). Darwin saw this, too, famously concluding his magnum opus with the observation that:
There is a grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed laws of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.
Campolo ignores this, as he ignores Darwin’s rejection of slavery and other racist practices of his day, andcloses on a note which falls exactly into the trap Smith described over 220 years ago:
I hope our schoolchildren will be taught that it is up to science to study the processes that gave birth to the human race. But, as postmodern as it may be, I also want them to learn that whatever science discovers about our biological origins, there is, nevertheless, a mystical quality in human beings that makes each of us sacred and of infinite worth.
We don’t need postmodernism or other sorts of relativism to justify human morality. Even before Darwin wrote, common descent was seen as a tool for unifying a moral community. The Christian Left could be, and ought to be, allies in the fight against miseducation in our public schools. Campolo’s dishonesty about Darwin, and his ignorance of his own religion’s theological history do no one any good. They will not serve children, since the grapes of scientific wisdom are not gathered from the thorn bushes of creationist misrepresentation, nor are the figs of moral knowledge gathered from the thistles at the mouth of a quotemine. It’s important to be honest, not to put words in the mouths of others, nor to misrepresent the words they did say.
The Nazis misrepresented and misconstrued Darwin’s work because, like Campolo, they failed to see the moral significance of our shared family tree. We improve nothing by repeating their errors, misrepresenting the state of science and replacing extensively-tested ideas about the world with our personal biases. Part of Noll’s concern in Scandal (cited above, thanks to a tip from slacktivist) is that evangelicals have abandoned the field in terms of the hard work of “patient, comprehensive Christian thinking about the world and life as a whole.” The Christian Left could be allies in the fight against this anti-intellectual strain, and could even find allies in that effort from non-Christians on the left. Instead, Campolo repeats the same lies that his enemies promoted by his enemies and ours, making himself an ally to none.
PZ watches a clip from a creationist video game and wonders:
Now here’s the question: is this the work of a sincere creationist, or is this the product of the evil atheist conspiracy, made with the intent of making creationists look like talentless, tasteless hacks? I can’t tell.
This is an example of Poe’s Law: “Without the use of a winking smiley or other blatant display of humor, it is impossible to make a parody of Fundamentalism that someone won’t mistake for the real thing.”
The Austin American Statesman reports that Ms. Chris Comer, Texas state director of science curriculum, was fired after forwarding an email announcing a talk about intelligent design in the Austin area. The talk “Inside Creationism’s Trojan Horse,” was by Barbara Forrest, a historian and philosopher who has studied the ties between ID and earlier generations of creationism. It focused on her work in the Dover trial and her book Creationism’s Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design.
The Statesman explains:
The call to fire Comer came from Lizzette Reynolds, who previously worked in the U.S. Department of Education. She also served as deputy legislative director for Gov. George W. Bush. She joined the Texas Education Agency as the senior adviser on statewide initiatives in January.
Reynolds, who was out sick the day Comer forwarded the e‑mail, received a copy from an unnamed source and forwarded it to Comer’s bosses less than two hours after Comer sent it.
“This is highly inappropriate,” Reynolds said in an e‑mail to Comer’s supervisors. “I believe this is an offense that calls for termination or, at the very least, reassignment of responsibilities.
“This is something that the State Board, the Governor’s Office and members of the Legislature would be extremely upset to see because it assumes this is a subject that the agency supports.”
Horrors! The state’s science curriculum supervisor supports … science!
Indeed, Comer was fired for exactly that radical interpretation of her job responsibilities. The memo from her boss recommending that she be fired explains:
the forwarding of this event announcement by Ms. Comer, as the Director of Science, from her TEA email account constitutes much more than just sharing information. Ms. Comer’s email implies endorsement of the speaker and implies that TEA endorses the speaker’s position on a subject on which the agency must remain neutral [i.e. “intelligent design”]. Thus, sending this email compromises the agency’s role in the TEKS revision process by creating the perception that TEA has a biased position on a subject directly related to the science education TEKS.
Indeed, we must inquire what the Texas Education Agency (TEA) is supposed to do if not endorse particular positions with respect to science education, especially those related to the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS, statewide science education standards).
Given that the state is gearing up to revise those standards, it is hard not to see this as a shot across the bow of the Texas education community, and an attempt to prevent scientifically knowledgeable folks from participating in discussion of what topics are scientific, and what scientific topics should be presented when in the educational process. I certainly hope this strategy backfires.