Mullah Pat Speaks Again!

Ruchira Paul has the amazing details.

More Reactions to the Dover Decision on Intelligent Design (with special attention to the unfortunate intervention by Professor Alschuler)

This blog has a rather lengthy compendium of links pertaining to yesterday's court decision.  The New York Times, meanwhile, has run a pleasingly direct editorial:

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. Yet even that minimal statement amounted to an endorsement of religion, the judge concluded, because it caused students to doubt the theory of evolution without scientific justification and presented them with a religious alternative masquerading as a scientific theory.

The case was most notable for its searching inquiry into whether intelligent design could be considered science. The answer, after a six-week trial that included hours of expert testimony, was a resounding no.

The judge found that intelligent design violated the centuries-old ground rules of science by invoking supernatural causation and by making assertions that cannot be tested or proved wrong. Moreover, intelligent design has not gained acceptance in the scientific community, has not been supported by peer-reviewed research, and has not generated a research and testing program of its own. The core argument for intelligent design - the supposedly irreducible complexity of key biological systems - has clear theological overtones. As long ago as the 13th century, St. Thomas Aquinas argued that because nature is complex, it must have a designer.

The religious thrust behind Dover's policy was unmistakable. The board members who pushed the policy through had repeatedly expressed religious reasons for opposing evolution, though they tried to dissemble during the trial. Judge Jones charged that the two ringleaders lied in depositions to hide the fact that they had raised money at a church to buy copies of an intelligent design textbook for the school library. He also found that board members were strikingly ignorant about intelligent design and that several individuals had lied time and again to hide their religious motivations for backing the concept. Their contention that they had a secular purpose - to improve science education and encourage critical thinking - was declared a sham.

Less pleasing is the intervention by Albert Alschuler, a distinguished criminal law expert at the University of Chicago, whose ill-informed and misleading comments on this decision have already been picked up with glee by the Discovery [sic] Institute shills.  (The first commenter on the Chicago site corrects some of the errors in Professor Alschuler's presentation as well.)  Professor Alschuler writes:

The first amendment makes intelligent design unmentionable in the classroom. 

But that is not what the decision held at all:  it held that it violates the Establishment Clause to include Intelligent Design as part of the science curriculum or to teach it to schoolchildren as though it were in competition with Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection. 

While professing to offer no opinion concerning the truth of intelligent design, the court consistently reveals its contempt for this theory. 

But the theory warrants the contempt appropriate to misinformation and deceit, and which the court's opinion detailed:  it has generated no research program or results; it is supported by no evidence; it is creationism for those who have consulted a lawyer and a public relations expert.  (See the summary at 64 of the opinion, which is then amply documented in the subsequent pages.  The court could have put the point about supernatural causation more effectively, but otherwise the claims are sound.)

Most of the Dover opinion says in effect to the proponents of intelligent design, “We know who you are.  You’re Bible-thumpers.”  The opinion begins, “The religious movement known as Fundamentalism began in nineteenth century America as a response to social changes, new religious thought, and Darwinism.  Religiously motivated groups pushed state legislatures to adopt laws prohibiting public schools from teaching evolution, culminating in the Scopes ‘monkey trial’ of 1925.”  When the Fundamentalists (the court often capitalizes the word) found themselves unable to ban Darwinism, they championed “balanced treatment,” then “creation science,” and finally “intelligent design.”  According to the court, the agenda never changed.  Dover is simply Scopes trial redux.  The proponents of intelligent design are guilty by association, and today’s yahoos are merely yesterday’s reincarnated. 

There is no guilt-by-association argument in the court's opinion, and this is a serious misrepresentation of the court's methodical approach in this case, one that can not be rationalized by saying "in effect".  The court did not, in fact, "begin" with a discussion of fundamentalism; that discussion began on page 7 of the opinion in the context of establishing the constitutional standards governing adjudication of the controversy.  To that end, the court, quite correctly, reviews the history of efforts to impose versions of creationism in the public schools and the constitutional standards that evolved in response to legal challenges.  The court's (uncontroversial) interpretation of the "effect" prong of the Lemon test (for Establishment Clause violations) leads it to conclude that to determine whether or not the Dover Board policy "endorses" religion the policy must be considered from the standpoint of an informed, objective observer--an observer who is informed, among other things, about the relevant historical and cultural context in which the policy is adopted.  (See esp. 15-19 of the opinion.)  Because the meaning or "effect" of the Dover Board's actions can only be evaluated against the background of fundamentalist efforts to inject religion into the public school classroom, the court has to attend to that background.  (A technical sidenote:  the court, in fact, distinguished the "endorsement" test from the "effects" test, though noting that "the Lemon effect test largely covers the same ground as the endorsement test."  For reasons of simplicity, I'm just going to refer to the two interchangeably.)

If fundamentalism still means what it meant in the early twentieth century, however -- accepting the Bible as literal truth -- the champions of intelligent design are not fundamentalists.  They uniformly disclaim reliance on the Book and focus only on where the biological evidence leads. 

There is one irrelevant truth here and one falsehood.  It is true, but irrelevant, that the ID proponents are not committed to the literal truth of the Book of Genesis:  that is what they learned won't fly from the last round of successful constitutional challenges in the 1980s.  (As the court demonstrated (p. 33): "The weight of the evidence clearly demonstrates...that the systemic change from 'creation' to 'intelligent design' occurred sometime in 1987, after the Supreme Court's important Edwards decision.  This compelling evidence strongly supports Plantiffs' assertion that ID is creationism re-labeled.") 

It is false, however, that proponents of ID "focus only on where the biological evidence leads," and false for two reasons:  first, no inference to the best explanation of the evidence would support positing an intelligent designer (as the court nicely puts it, "ID is at bottom premised upon a false dichotomy, namely, that to the extent evolutionary theory is discredited, ID is confirmed" [71]); and second, the ID proponents routinely misrepresent the biological evidence, finding inexplicable complexity where there is none; all of this was amply documented at the trial and in the court's opinion (see esp. 76 ff.).  All of this is old news to anyone who has followed these tiresome debates.  All of it, alas, is absent from Professor Alschuler's version.

The court’s response – “well, that’s what they say, but we know what they mean” – is uncivil, an illustration of the dismissive and contemptuous treatment that characterizes much contemporary discourse.  Once we know who you are, we need not listen.  We’ve heard it all already. 

Unfortunately, the only party to this dispute saying "that's what they say, but we know what they mean" is Professor Alschuler, who simply ignores page after page of the court's opinion detailing the expert testimony and the evidence in the record as to the Dover Board's purposes and the scientific standing of ID, and instead says that what the court "really means" is some version of the "guilt-by-association" argument it nowhere makes.

The court offers convincing evidence that some members the Dover school board would  have been delighted to promote their old time religion in the classroom.  These board members apparently accepted intelligent design as a compromise, the nearest they could come to their objective within the law.  Does that make any mention of intelligent design unconstitutional?  It seems odd to characterize the desire to go far as the law allows as an unlawful motive.  People who try to stay within the law although they would prefer something else are good citizens.  The Dover opinion appears to say that the forbidden preference taints whatever the board may do, and if the public can discern the board’s improper desire, any action it takes also has an unconstitutional effect. 

This confusing paragraph seems to conflate the "effect" and "purpose" prongs of Lemon, which are clearly distinguished by the court.  The court argues that the Dover policy had the "effect" of endorsing religion (see esp. 38-42 of the opinion--or the summary at 49-50 [or at 63, for the case of the "effect" on adult members of the commmunity]); that dooms the policy quite independent of anyone's purposes.  The court also argues that, as an independent matter, the Dover Board's policy fails the purpose prong of Lemon (90 ff.), and it reaches that conclusion on the basis of dozens of pages of evidence adduced at trial showing the  clear religious objectives of Board members, as well as their attempts to cover-up those religious objectives.  As the court concluded (132):  "Any asserted secular purposes by the Board are a sham and are merely secondary to a religious objective."  That someone might have had a secular purpose for promoting a policy like Dover's is irrelevant to what purposes state actors actually had in this case.  (Of course, the problem is worse than that:  all the evidence adduced in the context of analyzing the "effect" of the policy suggests that there could be no secular, scientific purpose for adopting the policy.)

Professor Alschuler's intervention into this well-travelled terrain is not as bad, to be sure, as some other law professors who've written foolishly on this subject, but it is perhaps more troublesome because Alschuler is so much more prominent.  Already, as we noted, the Discovery [sic] Institute folks are touting his remarks.  Because the opinion is long, and most will not read it, the potential for unsuspecting readers to take Professor Alschuler's inaccurate presentation of the opinion at face value is real.   Here is hoping he will do better by the court's opinion the next time around!

Federal Judge Hands the Pennsylvania Taliban a Stinging Defeat

A federal judge in Pennsylvania has barred the teaching of Intelligent Design creationism in Dover, Pennsylvania, and in terms that will give the conmen at the Discovery [sic] Institute a migraine:

The proper application of [the relevant constitutional tests requiring that government not endorse a particular religion and that its actions have a secular purpose] to the facts of this case makes it abundantly clear that the Board’s ID Policy  violates the Establishment Clause. In making this determination, we have addressed the seminal question of whether ID is science. We have concluded that it  is not, and moreover that ID cannot uncouple itself from its creationist, and thus religious, antecedents....

To be sure, Darwin’s theory of evolution is imperfect. However, the fact that a scientific theory cannot yet render an explanation on every point should not be used as a pretext to thrust an untestable alternative hypothesis grounded in religion into the science classroom or to misrepresent well-established scientific propositions.

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.

With that said, we do not question that many of the leading advocates of ID have bona fide and deeply held beliefs which drive their scholarly endeavors. Nor do we controvert that ID should continue to be studied, debated, and discussed. As stated, our conclusion today is that it is unconstitutional to teach ID as an alternative to evolution in a public school science classroom.

Those who disagree with our holding will likely mark it as the product of an activist judge. If so, they will have erred as this is manifestly not an activist Court.  Rather, this case came to us as the result of the activism of an ill-informed faction on a school board, aided by a national public interest law firm eager to find a constitutional test case on ID, who in combination drove the Board to adopt an imprudent and ultimately unconstitutional policy. The breathtaking inanity of the Board’s decision is evident when considered against the factual backdrop which has now been fully revealed through this trial. The students, parents, and teachers of the Dover Area School District deserved better than to be dragged into this legal maelstrom, with its resulting utter waste of monetary and personal resources. 

To preserve the separation of church and state mandated by the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, and Art. I, § 3 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, we will enter an order permanently enjoining Defendants from maintaining the ID Policy in any school within the Dover Area School District, from requiring teachers to
denigrate or disparage the scientific theory of evolution, and from requiring teachers to refer to a religious, alternative theory known as ID. We will also issue a declaratory judgment that Plaintiffs’ rights under the Constitutions of the United States and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania have been violated by Defendants’ actions.  Defendants’ actions in violation of Plaintiffs’ civil rights as guaranteed to them by the Constitution of the United States and 42 U.S.C. § 1983 subject Defendants to liability with respect to injunctive and declaratory relief, but also for nominal damages and the reasonable value of Plaintiffs’ attorneys’ services
and costs incurred in vindicating Plaintiffs’ constitutional rights.

It will be recalled that the pathological liars at the Discovery [sic] Institute wanted the Dover School Board to drop its policy, realizing that it would be a loser in the courts given the clear religious purpose behind the Board's actions, which were amply documented in the record.  What is particularly striking about the portion of the court's opinion I have seen, however, is that it does not rest solely on the imprudent candor of the Dover Board members, but states, unequivocally, that ID is not science (which, of course, it isn't...or, with a nod to Larry Laudan, it's obviously failed [or stilllborn] science, for which there could be no secular purpose in teaching to schoolchildren).

The Kansas Taliban Get Violent

Paul Mirecki is the University of Kansas religion professor who proposed a course on Intelligent Design as "mythology," which is actually about the nicest thing one can say about new-fangled creationism.  This, in itself, generated controversy with the homegrown theocrats, but matters got worse when a derisive e-mail about fundamentalists sent by Mirecki to an atheists and agnostics listserve surfaced.  Professor Mirecki has since been physically attacked by "defenders of the faith," and, as a consequence of the general political outcry about the course and Professor Mireckie's remarks, his course has been cancelled, which tells you everything you need to know about academic freedom at the University of Kansas.  Pharyngula has comments and links here, including the following remarkable statement by a Republican state senator in Kansas:  "We have to set a standard that it’s not culturally acceptable to mock Christianity in America."

Gee, why settle for "not culturally acceptable"?  Why not go for "not legally permissible"?  Or perhaps "punishable by stoning"? 

And that's the state of nascent fascist theocracy in Kansas in 2005.

UPDATE:  This story says Professor Mirecki, not the University, cancelled the class, though one still wonders what pressures may have been brought to bear on the decision.

Science and Religious Orthodoxy

Apt remarks by Ruchira Paul:

The real conflict between science and religious orthodoxy through the ages has never been about truth. The ancient scientists understood their role as disseminators of rational empirical knowledge as a liberating force against the dangerous superstitions and politics of religion. Galileo, facing the humiliation and torture of an inquisition, famously asked the Pope to direct his energies towards getting his flock to spiritual heaven and leave it to the scientists to figure out the "nature of the heavens". The explosion in scientific knowledge in the last century and a half and its ready acceptance by society, have led modern scientists to believe that they no longer need to engage the fanatics in the public square because "the facts will speak for themselves". They are sadly mistaken in their complacency, of course. Every new disaster or disease opens another door for propaganda, false promises and religious mind control. Given the right political climate, religious obscurantism exerts its visible, long lasting, harmful influence in turning back the tide of progress. We are fighting a couple of costly wars to counter the effects of bigotry, we are told. Yet we take our own homegrown bigots in stride until their persistent meddling ends in spectacular harm or stupidity . Perhaps the recent circus about Intelligent Design will be a wake up call for the scientific community. Religious bigotry, as I said, has never been about knowledge, freedom of enquiry or truth, although its proponents always couch their challenges to science in that lofty language. Instead, it is about wielding power and control over the psyches and wallets of the credulous among us. When promises of eternal life, kingdom of heaven and other lures don't adequately capture the imagination of the audience, religious bullies use the sharpest arrow in their quiver - fear of death, destruction and damnation. And for bigots through centuries, the most fertile grounds for sowing the poisonous seeds of fear and revulsion have been women's bodies and their sexuality.

More here.

And on a related theme.

Mullah Pat Attacks the People of Dover, Pennsylvania...

...for voting out the ignoramuses on their school board.  Ruchira Paul has the details.

UPDATE:  Keith DeRose (Philosophy, Yale) observes:  "Not an original insight (heard it on the radio), but worth repeating:  If ID really isn't about God, why would Robertson say that Dover is 'voting God out' of the city by voting to get ID out of the schools?'"

Pennsylvania Votes for the Enlightenment, Kansas Votes to be the Butt of Jokes Around the World, and Texas Votes for Mindless Bigotry

In Pennsylvania:

All eight members up for re-election to the Pennsylvania school board that had been sued for introducing the teaching of intelligent design as an alternative to evolution in biology class were swept out of office yesterday by a slate of challengers who campaigned against the intelligent design policy.

Among the losing incumbents on the Dover, Pa., board were two members who testified in favor of the intelligent design policy at a recently concluded federal trial on the Dover policy: the chairwoman, Sheila Harkins, and Alan Bonsell.

The election results were a repudiation of the first school district in the nation to order the introduction of intelligent design in a science class curriculum.

In Kansas:

The fiercely split Kansas Board of Education voted 6 to 4 on Tuesday to adopt new science standards that are the most far-reaching in the nation in challenging Darwin's theory of evolution in the classroom.

The standards move beyond the broad mandate for critical analysis of evolution that four other states [not Texas, happily] have established in recent years, by recommending that schools teach specific points that doubters of evolution use to undermine its primacy in science education.

Among the most controversial changes was a redefinition of science itself, so that it would not be explicitly limited to natural explanations.

And in Texas:

Voters tied the knot Tuesday with a constitutional amendment cementing marriage in Texas as being solely between a man and a woman and barring communities from legalizing same-sex unions.

With close to one in five voters turning out, Proposition 2 won approval by about a three-to-one ratio. Travis County [ed.-where Austin is located], home to a leading anti-amendment group, appeared to be the only county where passage wasn't assured, according to incomplete returns.

The Lone Star State becomes the 19th state in which voters have inserted a marriage definition into their state constitution. The amendment landed on the ballot after being approved by a two-thirds ratio in both the Texas House and the Senate in the spring.

Fourteen of those other states have added gay marriage bans since last year, with anywhere from 57 percent to 78 percent approval, in the wake of court and legislative actions in some states — including Vermont, Massachusetts and California — permitting gay couples to receive legal recognition of their pairings.

"That's overwhelming," said the amendment's author, Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa. "We could have gone home and sat down and still won," he said as he watched election returns with about 100 Propposition 2 supporters at Great Hills Baptist Church in Austin.

Let us recall that Rep. Chisum, a stalwart water boy for fascist theocracy, was aptly pegged by Rep. Thompson of Houston earlier this year:

"This amendment [banning gay marriage] is blowing smoke to fuel the hell-fire flames of bigotry," said Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston.

Thompson, 66, an African-American who grew up with segregation, said the legislation reminded her of the time when interracial marriages were illegal.

"When people of my color used to marry someone of Mr. Chisum's color (white), you'd often find people of my color hanging from a tree. That's what white people back then did to protect marriage," Thompson said.

And that's the state of democracy in America in the year 2005.

UPDATE:  More on mindless bigotry here.

The Right-Wing Battle to Defend "Merry Christmas"

Ron McClarmock (Philosophy, SUNY-Albany) has apt comments.  (And see his earlier comments on the subject here.)

Dover, Pennsylvania "Intelligent Design" Trial Closes

Pharyngula has the highlights.

Biologist Ayala on the "Intelligent Design" Scam

These are notes taken by someone else based on a talk at UCLA by the distinguished biologist Francisco Ayala at UC Irvine; they provide a nice summary statement of the case against the ID nonsense:

1. The fact of evolution -- species change over time -- had been established by paleontology and was common currency when Darwin wrote. His contribution was natural selection as an explanation for evolution.

2. Darwin was responding to William Paley's Natural Theology, which was a standard text at Cambridge when Darwin was a student there.

3. Paley's book deserved its place in the canon. It contains the best summary of turn-of-the-nineteenth-century biology. Contemporary "intelligent design" essays are just bad plagiarisms of Paley. He made the "irreducible complexity" argument (which he called "relatedness") much better than current ID proponents, because he knew more biology than they do.

4. But "irreduciable complexity" is simply wrong, as illustrated by the step-by-step development of the complex eye in marine invertebrates, leading from a simple layer of photosensitive cells in the limpet up to the human-like eye of the octopus....

7. If organisms were the design product of engineers, the engineers ought to be fired for, e.g., making the human birth canal too small for the human newborn head. Intelligent Design would therefore be, to a large extent, Incompetent Design....

9. The evolution controversy is an almost entirely American phenomenon. Growing up in Franco's Spain and attending Catholic schools, Ayala was taught evolution as an uncontroversial fact about the world....

12. With tens of millions of dollars flowing into the Discovery Institute and other organizations advocating ID, some organized push-back is needed, and may be underway.

Blasphemy Still a Crime in Afghanistan

Details here.

"Intelligent Design IS Creationism"

The saga continues.

The Unconstitutionality of Teaching Intelligent Design Creationism

This will, undoubtedly, be an important and much-discussed contribution to resisting the efforts of the new-fangled creationists to wreck science education in the public schools.  The authors have all worked extensively on these issues, and Steven Gey will be well-known to law readers as one of the nation's leading scholars of the First Amendment.

Is Bush's Nominee to the Supreme Court a Young Earth Creationist?

This is worrisome, and should be disqualifying if it reflects her views.  Perhaps she does not subscribe to the brazen scientific ignorance and illiteracy of her church, but membership in such an institution does raise real questions about intellectual competence.

A Priori in the Buckian Sense

NEW UPDATE (10/5/05) AT END.

(ORIGINALLY posted April 11, 2004).

Stuart Buck , another Federalist Society lawyer (like the unfortunate Lawrence VanDyke, who is well-known to readers of this blog) is apparently intent on making sure the Federalist Society gets a reputation as a hotbed of dense apologists for Intelligent Design. Mr. Buck is the non-philosopher blogger Mr. VanDyke invoked, whom I alluded to in an earlier posting on Mr. VanDyke's muddle through philosophical naturalism . Mr. Buck's own muddle, as I noted, provoked a reply from a biologist ( they continue their "dialogue" here), and now also a physicist.

Mr. Buck, needless to say, remains quite attached to his "insight" that there are two different senses of "a priori," one of which he denominates the "Kantian" sense. He explains:

Scientists often say as follows: 'Other scientists have seen that methodological naturalism has worked in the past; therefore I will approach any new problem with a strict insistence that only naturalistic solutions will be considered, because I have decided that only naturalistic solutions count as 'science.' Leiter focuses on the first part of that sentence [note: the sentence is Buck's, not Leiter's], and accordingly insists that methodological naturalism was not collectively chosen 'a priori' in the Kantian sense. That's all fine and well, but it says nothing about whether an individual scientist today approaches new problems having ruled out a particular type of solution without regard for its truth. In that sense, the commitment to methodological naturalism is 'a priori,' because it comes prior to an individual scientist's investigation of any actual new problem or question.

Where to begin? Let's take "a priori" in the new, "Buckian sense." Scientists believe something "a priori in the Buckian sense" if "it comes prior to an individual's scientist's investigation of any actual new problem or question." So, e.g., since most scientists accept the truth of Newtonian mechanics for mid-size physical objects, despite the fact that most of them have never conducted any investigations or experiments to confirm Newtonian mechanics, it follows that they accept it, then, "a priori in the Buckian sense." Needless to say, natural scientists quite generally accept methodological naturalism "a priori in the Buckian sense."

Indeed, it goes farther than that: most of us who are educated accept evolutionary biology "a priori in the Buckian sense" (after all, I'm no biologist, what do I know beyond what I've read and been told about it?). Indeed, I accept that FDR was President from 1932 to 1945, and that Hitler was a genocidal maniac in Germany during roughly those same years, and that Nietzsche was born in 1844 and died in 1900, and that Americans fought for independence from the British in the late 18th-century--I accept all of that "a priori in the Buckian sense," since I've done no empirical investigation to confirm any of it.

What that means, of course, is that for a belief to be "a priori in the Buckian sense" is utterly trivial: huge portions of what laymen and scientists alike accept is "a priori in the Buckian sense." Of course, it is quite rational to continue to accept as true our beliefs that are "a priori in the Buckian sense" as long as (a) the processes by which we acquired the beliefs are epistemically reliable, and (b) we don't encounter conflicting evidence in the course of subequent experience and investigation. The latter, I take it, is Dr. Myers's point when he says to Buck:

If Intelligent Design creationists (or ghost-hunters, or crystal-healers, or zero-point energy advocates) were to actually produce any evidence of the phenomena they claim to study, we'd jump up and take notice. While Buck tries to claim it is irrelevant, it is actually the heart of the matter, and that's the whole point of what I was saying: gathering evidence is the foundation of what scientists do. Rolling your eyes and dismissing the point [as Buck did] while claiming, in essence, that 'it doesn't matter, scientists won't accept evidence of intelligent design even if we had any, so we won't bother' doesn't get us anywhere. Especially since it is false.

In other words, in the absence of any evidence incompatible with methodological naturalism, we have no reason to give it up, despite its being, for most people, "a priori in the Buckian sense." (Let me note, though Mr. Buck does not, that this same issue came up in my earlier posting on VanDyke, in connection with the misrepresentation of Larry Laudan's views. As I wrote then: "Beckwith quotes Laudan [at 25] noting that ID 'is inconsistent with methodological naturalism and ontological materialism...[b]ut that fact has no bearing whatsoever on the plausbility of the arguments for ID.' Why does Laudan say that? Because methodological naturalism is an a posteriori doctrine, which means if ID generated any empirical results incompatible with it—it has not, of course—then so much the worse for MN. The problem is purely a posteriori: ID has no research program and no empirical support, so it presents no challenge at all to the reliance on naturalistical explanatory mechanisms.")

Continue reading "A Priori in the Buckian Sense" »

Shill for the Discovery [sic] Institute Debates Distinguished Legal Scholar

Here.  My colleague, Professor Laycock, is perhaps the nation's preeminent academic authority on the law of religious liberty, who is unusual in having represented almost all sides in religious liberty cases (he was the primary drafter of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, for example, but also represented a group of clergy contending that "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance is, indeed, unconstitutional).  It is obviously a nice public relations coup for the Discovery [sic] Institute when a member of its stable of shills for Intelligent Design Creationism gets to share a forum with someone of this level of scholarly and professional distinction.  Their representative on this occasion is none other than Francis Beckwith, whose intellectual and philosophical dishonesty we have encountered before (here and here, for example).  Many of his standard ploys and lies are already on display, and I may comment on them at greater length next week.  The basic issue, though, about the constitutionality of teaching Intelligent Design Creationism is pretty simple:  since there is no secular purpose in teaching it (since there are no scientific arguments in support of it), it is obviously barred by the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. 

Thus Spoke Hume

A propos the item on the dysfunctionality of religious societies in comparison to secular ones, Huw Price (Philosophy, Sydney) calls to my attention the following sharp observations of Hume:

How happens it then...if vulgar superstition be so salutary to society, that all history abounds so much with accounts of its pernicious consequences on public affairs? 

Factions, civil wars, persecutions, subversions of government, oppression, slavery; these are the dismal consequences which always attend its prevalency over the minds of men.

If the religious spirit be ever mentioned in any historical narration, we are sure to meet afterwards with a detail of the miseries which attend it. And no period of time can be happier or more prosperous, than those in which it is never regarded or heard of.

--Hume, Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, XII, 220

Religious Societies More Dysfunctional than Secular Ones, According to New Study

One suspects the 700 Club won't give this a lot of play:

RELIGIOUS belief can cause damage to a society, contributing towards high murder rates, abortion, sexual promiscuity and suicide, according to research published today.

According to the study, belief in and worship of God are not only unnecessary for a healthy society but may actually contribute to social problems....

It compares the social peformance of relatively secular countries, such as Britain, with the US, where the majority believes in a creator rather than the theory of evolution....

The paper, published in the Journal of Religion and Society, a US academic journal, reports: “Many Americans agree that their churchgoing nation is an exceptional, God-blessed, shining city on the hill that stands as an impressive example for an increasingly sceptical world.

“In general, higher rates of belief in and worship of a creator correlate with higher rates of homicide, juvenile and early adult mortality, STD infection rates, teen pregnancy and abortion in the prosperous democracies.

“The United States is almost always the most dysfunctional of the developing democracies, sometimes spectacularly so.”

Gregory Paul, the author of the study and a social scientist, used data from the International Social Survey Programme, Gallup and other research bodies to reach his conclusions.

He compared social indicators such as murder rates, abortion, suicide and teenage pregnancy.

The study concluded that the US was the world’s only prosperous democracy where murder rates were still high, and that the least devout nations were the least dysfunctional. Mr Paul said that rates of gonorrhoea in adolescents in the US were up to 300 times higher than in less devout democratic countries. The US also suffered from “ uniquely high” adolescent and adult syphilis infection rates, and adolescent abortion rates, the study suggested.

Mr Paul said: “The study shows that England, despite the social ills it has, is actually performing a good deal better than the USA in most indicators, even though it is now a much less religious nation than America.”

He said that the disparity was even greater when the US was compared with other countries, including France, Japan and the Scandinavian countries. These nations had been the most successful in reducing murder rates, early mortality, sexually transmitted diseases and abortion, he added....

“The non-religious, proevolution democracies contradict the dictum that a society cannot enjoy good conditions unless most citizens ardently believe in a moral creator. The widely held fear that a Godless citizenry must experience societal disaster is therefore refuted.”

Of course, correlation is not causation...

The full text of the article, summarized above, is here

How to Understand Intelligent Design Creationism... four easy steps.  (Warning:  this is, quite literally, bathroom humor.)

Why the "Intelligent Design" Con Plays So Well

Here's the answer:

American adults in general do not understand what molecules are (other than that they are really small). Fewer than a third can identify DNA as a key to heredity. Only about 10 percent know what radiation is. One adult American in five thinks the Sun revolves around the Earth, an idea science had abandoned by the 17th century....

Dr. Miller, who was raised in Portsmouth, Ohio, when it was a dying steel town, attributes much of the nation's collective scientific ignorance to poor education, particularly in high schools. Many colleges require every student to take some science, but most Americans do not graduate from college. And science education in high school can be spotty, he said.

"Our best university graduates are world-class by any definition," he said. "But the second half of our high school population - it's an embarrassment. We have left behind a lot of people...."

Lately, people who advocate the teaching of evolution have been citing Dr. Miller's ideas on what factors are correlated with adherence to creationism and rejection of Darwinian theories. In general, he says, these fundamentalist views are most common among people who are not well educated and who "work in jobs that are evaporating fast with competition around the world."

But not everyone is happy when he says things like that. Every time he goes on the radio to talk about his findings, he said, "I get people sending me cards saying they will pray for me a lot."

Venezuelan President Chavez Accepts Apology from Mullah Pat

Details here; an excerpt:

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has said that he accepted a letter of apology from US televangelist Pat Robertson, who called two weeks ago for Chavez's assassination....

Chavez said on Sunday that Robertson had apologised to him in a letter and that he accepted the apology "wholeheartedly, as the good Christian that I am".

Religious Zealots Think Alike

As we approach the anniversary of the 9/11 horrors in the U.S., it is good to know that the homegrown fundamentalist sociopaths are keeping pace with the ones that attacked the country four years ago:

Rev. Bill Shanks, pastor of New Covenant Fellowship of New Orleans, also sees God's mercy in the aftermath of Katrina....Shanks says the hurricane has wiped out much of the rampant sin common to the city.

The pastor explains that for years he has warned people that unless Christians in New Orleans took a strong stand against such things as local abortion clinics, the yearly Mardi Gras celebrations, and the annual event known as "Southern Decadence" -- an annual six-day "gay pride" event scheduled to be hosted by the city this week -- God's judgment would be felt.

“New Orleans now is abortion free. New Orleans now is Mardi Gras free. New Orleans now is free of Southern Decadence and the sodomites, the witchcraft workers, false religion -- it's free of all of those things now," Shanks says. "God simply, I believe, in His mercy purged all of that stuff out of there -- and now we're going to start over again."

The New Orleans pastor is adamant. Christians, he says, need to confront sin. "It's time for us to stand up against wickedness so that God won't have to deal with that wickedness," he says.

This country provides quite extraordinary protections for religious liberty and expression.  We give a free pass--morally and often legally--to all kinds of advocacy of depravity and cruelty as long as it has a religious basis.  Is this really a good thing?  Have we gone too far?  The British have begun to have their own doubts.  And one really must begin to wonder when listening to the vindictive, homicidal malice emanating from the ordained men of God.

As a sidenote, it is a truly interesting, and deep, question why the religious zealots of all stripes have such visceral hatred of all things sexual.  As far as I know, only Nietzsche had a developed explanation in the Genealogy--see esp. Ch. 8 of my Nietzsche on Morality (London:  Routledge, 2002) for a discussion.  Cultural and political developments in many parts of the world, including the U.S., make this an increasingly pressing matter.

Dawkins and Coyne on Intelligent Design and the "Teach Both Sides" Ploy

Nice item here from The Guardian; an excerpt:

One of us spent years as an Oxford tutor and it was his habit to choose controversial topics for the students' weekly essays. They were required to go to the library, read about both sides of an argument, give a fair account of both, and then come to a balanced judgment in their essay. The call for balance, by the way, was always tempered by the maxim, "When two opposite points of view are expressed with equal intensity, the truth does not necessarily lie exactly half way between. It is possible for one side simply to be wrong...."

Why, then, would two lifelong educators and passionate advocates of the "both sides" style of teaching join with essentially all biologists in making an exception of the alleged controversy between creation and evolution? What is wrong with the apparently sweet reasonableness of "it is only fair to teach both sides"? The answer is simple. This is not a scientific controversy at all. And it is a time-wasting distraction because evolutionary science, perhaps more than any other major science, is bountifully endowed with genuine controversy.

Among the controversies that students of evolution commonly face, these are genuinely challenging and of great educational value: neutralism versus selectionism in molecular evolution; adaptationism; group selection; punctuated equilibrium; cladism; "evo-devo"; the "Cambrian Explosion"; mass extinctions; interspecies competition; sympatric speciation; sexual selection; the evolution of sex itself; evolutionary psychology; Darwinian medicine and so on. The point is that all these controversies, and many more, provide fodder for fascinating and lively argument, not just in essays but for student discussions late at night.

Intelligent design is not an argument of the same character as these controversies. It is not a scientific argument at all, but a religious one. It might be worth discussing in a class on the history of ideas, in a philosophy class on popular logical fallacies, or in a comparative religion class on origin myths from around the world. But it no more belongs in a biology class than alchemy belongs in a chemistry class, phlogiston in a physics class or the stork theory in a sex education class. In those cases, the demand for equal time for "both theories" would be ludicrous. Similarly, in a class on 20th-century European history, who would demand equal time for the theory that the Holocaust never happened?

So, why are we so sure that intelligent design is not a real scientific theory, worthy of "both sides" treatment? Isn't that just our personal opinion? It is an opinion shared by the vast majority of professional biologists, but of course science does not proceed by majority vote among scientists. Why isn't creationism (or its incarnation as intelligent design) just another scientific controversy, as worthy of scientific debate as the dozen essay topics we listed above? Here's why.

If ID really were a scientific theory, positive evidence for it, gathered through research, would fill peer-reviewed scientific journals. This doesn't happen. It isn't that editors refuse to publish ID research. There simply isn't any ID research to publish. Its advocates bypass normal scientific due process by appealing directly to the non-scientific public and - with great shrewdness - to the government officials they elect.

The argument the ID advocates put, such as it is, is always of the same character. Never do they offer positive evidence in favour of intelligent design. All we ever get is a list of alleged deficiencies in evolution. We are told of "gaps" in the fossil record. Or organs are stated, by fiat and without supporting evidence, to be "irreducibly complex": too complex to have evolved by natural selection.

In all cases there is a hidden (actually they scarcely even bother to hide it) "default" assumption that if Theory A has some difficulty in explaining Phenomenon X, we must automatically prefer Theory B without even asking whether Theory B (creationism in this case) is any better at explaining it. Note how unbalanced this is, and how it gives the lie to the apparent reasonableness of "let's teach both sides". One side is required to produce evidence, every step of the way. The other side is never required to produce one iota of evidence, but is deemed to have won automatically, the moment the first side encounters a difficulty - the sort of difficulty that all sciences encounter every day, and go to work to solve, with relish.

What, after all, is a gap in the fossil record? It is simply the absence of a fossil which would otherwise have documented a particular evolutionary transition. The gap means that we lack a complete cinematic record of every step in the evolutionary process. But how incredibly presumptuous to demand a complete record, given that only a minuscule proportion of deaths result in a fossil anyway.

The equivalent evidential demand of creationism would be a complete cinematic record of God's behaviour on the day that he went to work on, say, the mammalian ear bones or the bacterial flagellum - the small, hair-like organ that propels mobile bacteria. Not even the most ardent advocate of intelligent design claims that any such divine videotape will ever become available.

Biologists, on the other hand, can confidently claim the equivalent "cinematic" sequence of fossils for a very large number of evolutionary transitions. Not all, but very many, including our own descent from the bipedal ape Australopithecus. And - far more telling - not a single authentic fossil has ever been found in the "wrong" place in the evolutionary sequence. Such an anachronistic fossil, if one were ever unearthed, would blow evolution out of the water.

As the great biologist J B S Haldane growled, when asked what might disprove evolution: "Fossil rabbits in the pre-Cambrian." Evolution, like all good theories, makes itself vulnerable to disproof. Needless to say, it has always come through with flying colours.

The whole essay is worthwhile, and nicely done (better than Dennett's recent piece in The New York Times, though that was fine too).

(Thanks to Andrew Goldfinch for the pointer.)

"The Republican War on Science"

This book needed to be written, and we are fortunate that Chris Mooney, whose fine journalistic work we have noted before, undertook the task.

Move over Darwin: Supernatural Selection is... in words and pictures.

(Thanks to Gary Kemp for the pointer.)

ID Peddler Dembski Replies to Machery on Evolution

Here.  In brief:  scientific illiteracy in the U.S. is a model for the world!

UPDATE:  Professor Machery writes:  "Thanks for your reply to Dembski’s comment. I note that this comment makes even more salient the similarities between ID and Lysenkism: politically-driven rubbish, zero evidence, rampant nationalism, etc."

It Appears Pat Robertson is a "Terrorist" Under U.S. Law

A propos Pat Robertson, Robin Payne calls this to my attention:

Domestic terrorism is the unlawful use, or threatened use [emphasis added], of force or violence by a group or individual based and operating entirely within the United States or its territories without foreign direction committed against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.

Mr. Robertson is no terrorist:  he is, to be sure, an aspiring fascist theocrat, a delusional idiot, and an evil man.  Yet his comments--comments!--might qualify as "domestic terrorism" (according to the FBI, and incorporated, I take it, within an Executive Order) which is one indication of how far this country has gone off the deep end. 

Speaking (yet again) of Fascist Theocrats... of America's leading ones has just called for the assassination of the President of a foreign nation.  At least he hasn't singled out any liberals for elimination...yet...

I do agree, in a way, with one thing he said:  "this man is a terrific danger."  Indeed, the speaker is.

UPDATE:  Reader Ruchira Paul observes:

Muslim clerics accused of inciting violence are being thrown out of the UK, Australia and possibly France for not subscribing to the "values" of those nations.  I have no problem with that.  Where can we deport Pat Robertson for hostile speech not commensurate with our "democratic and peaceful values" which we are fighting a war to preserve?  Or does he in fact speak for many among us who find nothing wrong with hateful speech when uttered by their own (un)holy men?

ANOTHER:  A useful catalogue of the Venezuelan President's "crimes."  Jesus Christ himself would have been appalled, no doubt.

AND ONE MORE:  The Venezuelan Vice-President has responded, noting that Pat Roberton's comments "reveal that religious fundamentalism is one of the great problems facing humanity in these times."  Indeed, it is, as RAWA mentioned quite some time ago.

The NY Times's Gift to the Discovery [sic] Institute

Yesterday and today, the New York Times ran stories about the "Intelligent Design" scam and the Discovery [sic] Institute--except they failed to describe it correctly as a scam and they failed to insert the "[sic]" in the name of the Institute, thus leaving readers with the impression that it is an Institute devoted to "discovery" as opposed to proseltyzing.  Pharyngula was generous in his assessment of the first article, but he's certainly right that the second one is a disgrace.  I leave you to his good offices for an assessment (and his links to other discussions are useful too).

Let us be clear about the lesson to be drawn from this coverage in the nation's "most serious" newspaper.  Any religious zealots with millions of dollars and some committed pathological liars on staff can, without producing any credible scientific research or any scientific evidence, convince the "newspaper of record" for the educated public to present its quackery as raising doubts about matters on which there is no scientific dispute.  As with Nazi "racial science," which also had the backing of the nation's leader, "Intelligent Design" has now entered the public culture as a "serious" topic for discussion, as opposed to what it really is:  creationist nonsense for those who've consulted a lawyer and a public relations expert.

UPDATE:  Edouard Machery (History & Philosophy of Science, Pittsburgh) tells me has sent the following letter to The New York Times:

Like many readers, I am painfully aware that the journalism standards have steadily been lowered at The New York Times. Recent scandals, including your endorsement of the White House’s propaganda on Iraq, illustrate this fact. Your recent article in Sunday’s Times, “Politicized scholars put evolution on defensive” (08/21/2005), suggests, alas, that you may have dropped these standards altogether.

This article is no less than an endorsement of the allegations of the Discovery Institute. Intelligent design is said to be “a scientific hypothesis” (notice that this claim is not attributed to a proponent of intelligent design, but asserted by your journalist, Jodi Wilgoren); we are told that “evolution is on defensive;” that “intelligent design challenges Darwin's theory of natural selection,” and so on. This is nonsense. This is an insult to the intelligence of your readers.

The agit-prop of the Discovery Institute has been refuted again and again by biologists and philosophers of science. Maybe, it could have been useful to mention this fact, instead of reproducing unchallenged Dr. Meyer’s assertion that critics of intelligent design avoid discussing the evidence. Maybe, instead of gasping in admiration at the academic titles of some proponents of intelligent design, the Times could have fruitfully interviewed one of the hundreds, if not thousands, of PhDs or one of the dozens of Nobel Prize winners who take evolution for granted. Maybe, it could have been fruitful to repeat that evolution is a fact, supported by an overwhelming body of evidence. 

It is a fact that the earth rotates around the sun, even if some lunatics believe that the contrary is true. It is a fact that there are no Martians, even if some lunatics believe that the contrary is true. It is a fact that species, including the human species, have evolved from a common origin, even if the Discovery Institute believes that the contrary is true.

In no other industrialized country is evolution a controversial fact. I assume that the mission of the Times is not to further the scientific illiteracy in the United States of America.

"Your atheist, secular, socialist petticoat is showing"

Details here.  One really couldn't make this stuff up.

Dembski in Denmark

Clever "Intelligent Design" peddler William Dembski is here caught engaging in the typical misleading puffery of credentials and accomplishments that are de rigeur for this whole crowd.  This one is really priceless!

First "Intelligent Design," now "Intelligent Falling"

So much for the theory of gravity.

(Thanks to Chris Anstett for the pointer.)

The Flying Spaghetti Monster

As the nice state of Kansas sinks into the dark ages, many folks have kindly sent me a link to this amusing site.  Of course, it is only amusing because there aren't tens of millions of "Spaghettians," let alone a President who shills for their delusions....

"Evolution Outreach Projects"

A good set of links and materials from Colin Purrington (Biology, Swarthmore).  Check it out and let others know.

On the Need to Combat "Widespread Ignorance"

A strong statement, though one might wonder whether this constitutes good political strategy; an excerpt:

According to several recent polls, 22 percent of Americans are certain that Jesus will return to earth sometime in the next fifty years. Another 22 percent believe that he will probably do so. This is likely the same 44 percent who go to church once a week or more, who believe that God literally promised the land of Israel to the Jews, and who want to stop teaching our children about the biological fact of evolution.

As the President is well aware, believers of this sort constitute the most cohesive and motivated segment of the American electorate. Consequently, their views and prejudices now influence almost every decision of national importance.

Political liberals seem to have drawn the wrong lesson from these developments and are now thumbing scripture, wondering how best to ingratiate themselves to the legions of men and women in our country who vote mainly on the basis of religious dogma.

More than 50 percent of Americans have a "negative" or "highly negative" view of people who do not believe in God; 70 percent think it important for presidential candidates to be "strongly religious." Because it is taboo to criticize a person's religious beliefs, political debate over questions of public policy (stem-cell research, the ethics of assisted suicide and euthanasia, obscenity and free speech, gay marriage, etc.) generally gets framed in terms appropriate to a theocracy. Unreason is now ascendant in the United States -- in our schools, in our courts, and in each branch of the federal government. Only 28 percent of Americans believe in evolution; 68 percent believe in Satan. Ignorance in this degree, concentrated in both the head and belly of a lumbering superpower, is now a problem for the entire world.

It is time that scientists and other public intellectuals observed that the contest between faith and reason is zero-sum....

Whether a person is religious or secular, there is nothing more sacred than the facts. Either Jesus was born of a virgin, or he wasn't; either there is a God who despises homosexuals, or there isn't. It is time that sane human beings agreed on the standards of evidence necessary to substantiate truth-claims of this sort. The issue is not, as ID advocates allege, whether science can "rule out" the existence of the biblical God.

There are an infinite number of ludicrous ideas that science could not "rule out," but which no sensible person would entertain. The issue is whether there is any good reason to believe the sorts of things that religious dogmatists believe -- that God exists and takes an interest in the affairs of human beings; that the soul enters the zygote at the moment of conception (and, therefore, that blastocysts are the moral equivalents of persons); etc. There simply is no good reason to believe such things, and scientists should stop hiding their light under a bushel and make this emphatically obvious to everyone.

Imagine President Bush addressing the National Prayer Breakfast in these terms: "Behind all of life and all history there is a dedication and a purpose, set by the hand of a just and faithful Zeus." Imagine his speech to Congress containing the sentence "Freedom and fear, justice and cruelty have always been at war, and we know that Apollo is not neutral between them."

Clearly, the commonplaces of language conceal the vacuity and strangeness of many of our beliefs. Our president regularly speaks in phrases appropriate to the fourteenth century, and no one seems inclined to find out what words like "God" and "crusade" and "wonder-working power" mean to him. Not only do we still eat the offal of the ancient world; we are positively smug about it. Garry Wills has noted that the Bush White House "is currently honeycombed with prayer groups and Bible study cells, like a whited monastery." This should trouble us as much as it troubles the fanatics of the Muslim world.

The only thing that permits human beings to collaborate with one another in a truly open-ended way is their willingness to have their beliefs modified by new facts. Only openness to evidence and argument will secure a common world for us. Nothing guarantees that reasonable people will agree about everything, of course, but the unreasonable are certain to be divided by their dogmas. It is time we recognized that this spirit of mutual inquiry, which is the foundation of all real science, is the very antithesis of religious faith.

I would assume this is, in part, what Dean Rudenstine of Cardozo was getting at in his remarks noted awhile back.

Atheist Blogger Speaks!


Google Bomb "Intelligent Design"

Post something on "Intelligent Design" (which is currently the #1 search on Technorati) which links to the authoritative statement by the National Center for Science Education, which I've linked to here by way of illustration.  This way when those genuinely seeking information start Googling, they'll get to the right place.

Bush Backs Teaching of Bogus "Intelligent Design" Creationism in the Schools

Many folks have sent this item along, and it does warrant brief comment:  it turns out that George W. Bush is as pitifully ignorant as some of you may have suspected.  Who would have guessed?  Pharyngula's comments on this pathetic display are suitably acerbic. 

Proseltyzing Under the Guise of Education

If your child attends a public school purportedly teaching the Bible from a non-sectarian perspective, be sure to read this report by the Texas Freedom Network.   Texas beat back the creationists at the state level, but the Texas Taliban are charging full speed ahead in Odessa.  These battles really are so depressing.  There is a sound moral case for religious liberty, but there is an even sounder case for keeping religious practice strictly in the private sphere.  Why in a country that affords quite extraordinary accomodations to private religious observance do at least some believers feel the need to forcefeed their predilections down the throats of other people's children? 

Well, I suppose we know the answer, but it involves two words ("fascist" and "theocracy") that, shall we say, agitate the self-deceived.  This article is perhaps unusually clear about what these folks are really after.  God help us!

Who said it? A convicted terrorist/murderer or Bush's "base"?

Details here.

Scalia to Atheists: "Drop dead!"

Jack Balkin (Law, Yale) comments.

95 Theses on the Religious Right

Philosopher Peter Ludlow (Michigan) writes:

Here's something you may not have known or suspected. When I grew up my family went to a conservative Christian church and I subsequently went to a Swedish Baptist college in Minnesota.  I recently went back to my home town and was sickened by what became of the family church over the last 20 years.  The received view is that the conservative christians have taken over the Republican Party.  I think the reverse happened.  The right wing of the Republican Party has taken over the church.  Nothing could be more clear to me.  In a fit of revulsion, and with a nod to Marty Luther, I wrote up the following 95 theses on the relighous right:  Download ludlows_95_theses_on_the_religious_right.doc   In lieu of nailing it to the door  of the Wittenburg Church I'm sending it to you instead.  Not exactly the same thing, I realize. I'm not saying I'm a believer and I'm not saying I'm not, but I am saying that what has happened to the fundamentalist church is revolting.

Professor Ludlow invites readers to redistribute it as widely as they'd like.  (Here is an RTF version of the same document:  Download ludlows_95_theses_on_the_religious_right.rtf)

Here are a few of the theses:

1. Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, when He said "love thy neighbor", willed that believers should show *compassion* toward others.

2. This word cannot be understood to mean mere lip service ("I love them, but I hate their sin"), but genuine concern for the welfare of others.

3. Yet the Religious Right has forsaken compassion for a doctrine of institutionalized hatred and violence.

4. Specifically, the Religious Right has taken the Word of God and wrapped it in the flag of Right Wing Politics, replacing God's message of redemption for the entire world with a narrow message endorsing right wing American politics.

5. Item: the Religious Right has neglected the teachings of Jesus in the gospel of Luke, where He instructs that we are to show compassion for the poor.

6. In place of God's words, the Religious Right has substituted a right wing political doctrine in which the poor have only themselves and their alleged laziness and moral weakness to blame.

7. For example, the Religious Right has rejected the needs of poor children of unwed mothers.

8. The Religious Right has rejected the cries for help from the children of impoverished families in the inner cities.

9. The Religious Right, has advocated fewer resources for the elderly poor and for the millions of children now living in poverty.

10. In place of giving to the poor, the Religious Right has advocated political doctrines specifically designed so that individuals may acquire vast sums of money.

11. The Religious Right has thus seized on a contemporary economic ideology as an excuse to ignore the teachings of Jesus.


18. Item: the Religious Right has neglected the teachings of Jesus that "he who is without sin should cast the first stone."

19. In place of God's words, the Religious Right has substituted a doctrine in which perceived sinners are to be persecuted.

20. Gays, for example, are persecuted because of their alleged sins. In some cases, leaders of the Religious Right have encouraged acts of physical violence against gays.

21. While the Religious Right has been eager to persecute others for their alleged sins, they have been blind to their own.

22. While the Bible counsels that a rich man can no more enter the of Heaven than a camel can pass through the eye of a needle, many in the Religious Right have celebrated the acquisition of wealth.

23. While the Bible enjoins us against pride, the Religious Right appears to be flush with pride in it's holier than thou stance.

24. While the Bible asks that we be slow to anger, the Religious Right is quick to anger -- indeed it appears to revel in anger and in fanning the flames of anger in others.

25. While the Bible counsels that we are not to be "revilers," key members of the religious right have consistently and aggressively reviled their political enemies as well as those who are perceived to be sinners.

26. It seems then, that the Religious Right picks its sins selectively, ignoring the clear Biblical message against avarice, pride, and anger, and emphasizing selected “sins” that have little to no Biblical basis.


31. Item: Religious Right has failed to see that God's call to help our neighbors also extends to our international neighbors.

32. International aggression is not a Christian doctrine.

33. Where the Bible calls us to be peacemakers, the Religious Right claims that we have no business trying to bring peace to troubled areas but rather counsels that we should use military might to secure our business interests.

34. Where the Bible, through the story of the good Samaritan, instructs that we are to help our international neighbors -- indeed, even our enemies -- the Religious Right counsels "America First".

35. But "America First" cannot be a true Christian Doctrine.

36. The Bible gives no special status to political entities like the United States of America, and any suggestion to the contrary is to simply lie about the content of the Bible.

37. God does not bless nation states, and if He did, He surely would not bless them for practicing international internal intolerance, and propping up corrupt kingdoms and military juntas that traffic in institutionalized poverty and violence.


Continue reading "95 Theses on the Religious Right" »

Another Student-Edited Law Review Embarrasses Itself by Publishing an Error-Ridden Article Shilling for Intelligent Design Creationism

The sordid details are here; unlike the Harvard Law Review, however, this journal, Washington University Journal of Law & Policy, is not the flagship, student-edited journal at the school.  Still, as biochemist Frank Schmidt (Missouri), who brought this to my attention, aptly remarked:

I wonder about such student-edited journals. In my field, journal
editorship is almost always a signal honor, reserved for accomplished
scientists who are rewarded for their accomplishment by getting more
work to do at minimal or no pay. And all of us review articles gratis,
as a service to the community. As a result, an article based on an
incorrect premise would not be published in a "good journal." Not that
we don't have problems with fraud, etc., but the system works remarkably

On the other hand, an article based on the fatuous claim "Intelligent
Design is a scientific research program teaching that intelligent agency
explains more about complex biological systems than does evolutionary
theory," is published in a journal bearing the name of a distinguished
university, and becomes part of the field's discourse.

Is this a systemic problem in law journals? And does the academy as a
whole need to address it?

There is clearly a systematic problem, as we've discussed previously.  But those in other fields need to be aware that anything can be published somewhere in a student-edited journal, because there are so damn many of them and most of them are desperate for material (and most of them are edited by individuals ill-equipped to evaluate most of the articles they receive, especially those that require knowledge of other scholarly disciplines).  Why are there so many?  Primarily because their main purpose is for training, educating and (often) credentialing students ("Were you on a journal?"), and not because there is a need in the wider community for yet another forum for purportedly scholarly articles on legal topics.

Smithsonian Returns Discovery [sic] Institute Money

We remarked on this case previously; a reader writes to say that the Smithsonian is now sending the following e-mail to those who write to protest:

The Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History recently approved a request by the Discovery Institute to hold a private, invitation only screening and reception at the Museum on June 23 for the film "The Privileged Planet."  Upon further review we have determined that the content of the film is not consistent with the mission of the Smithsonian Institution's scientific research.  Neither the Smithsonian Institution nor the National Museum of Natural History supports or endorses the views of the Discovery Institute or the film "The Privileged Planet." Given that the Discovery Institute has already issued invitations, we will honor the commitment made to provide space for the event, but will not participate or accept a donation for it.

Glad they partly did the right thing.

On Not Understanding Science

Eugene Volokh (Law, UCLA) opines on evolutionary biology and religion, and Pharyngula correctly notes that most of the discussion is a tissue of confusions and mistakes.  (Some of the comments at Pharyngula's site are also rather funny.) 

What interests me in particular here is what this display tells us about the limited understanding of science and scientific methods even among educated people and scholars.  If professional scholars in fields like law have so little understanding of the nature and structure of scientific inquiry, is it any surprise that in the population at large nonsense like creationism and its offshoots, like Intelligent Design, have considerable traction?

UPDATE:  There is a priceless comment by one Bruce Anderson over at the Volokh Conspiracy site; it's worth quoting in full (he is responding to another commenter

Continue reading "On Not Understanding Science" »

Creationists are "just not very bright"

Pharyngula chews up and spits out another one.

You might as well let the animals run the zoo...

Story here:

The Tulsa Zoo will add a display featuring the biblical account of creation...

The Tulsa Park and Recreation Board voted 3-1 Tuesday in favor of a display depicting the account in Genesis, the first book of the Bible, that God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh....

Zoo employees, religious leaders and others spoke in opposition, saying religion shouldn't be part of the taxpayer-funded scientific institution....

The new display will include a disclaimer that says it represents one view of origins....

Shouldn't the disclamier say that it represents one manifestly false view of origins?  Shouldn't an educational institution, like a publically-funded zoo, discriminate clearly between what is true and what is false, at least where that is known, as it obviously is in this case?

U.S. Government "is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion"

Courtesy of the June 10, 2005 D.C. Political Report:

Two hundred and eight years ago today, President John Adams (F-MA) signed the Treaty of Tripoli. Three days earlier the U.S. Senate had unanimously approved the treaty. Why is this important today? Because Article XI of the treaty was a proclamation that the "Government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion...." Upon signing the treaty Adams issued a statement which said, "Now be it known, That I, John Adams, President of the United States of America, having seen and considered the said Treaty do, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, accept, ratify, and confirm the same, and every clause and article thereof."

Ohio State Pulls Plug on "Defense" of Dissertation Shilling for Intelligent Design...

...when it turns out no one who actually knows anything about the relevant science was to be involved in the defense!  Details here.

A Canadian Taliban Takeover of the Conservative Party?

Details here; an excerpt:

Christian activists have secured Conservative nominations in clusters of ridings from Vancouver to Halifax -- a political penetration that has occurred even as the party tries to distance itself from hard-line social conservatism.

At least three riding associations in Nova Scotia, four in British Columbia, and one in suburban Toronto have nominated candidates with ties to groups like Focus on the Family, a Christian organization that opposes same-sex marriage.

But organizers say many more will be on the ballot during the next federal election, a feat achieved by persuading parishioners, particularly new Canadians, to join the party and vote for recommended candidates.

Some Conservatives argue that the selection of a large number of candidates from the religious right is an unfortunate turn for a party that was accused in last year's election campaign of harbouring a socially conservative "hidden agenda...."

Others within the [Conservative] party say they are extremely concerned and wished the party leaders had been more involved in the nominations.

But Tristan Emmanuel -- the Presbyterian minister whose endorsement at the Kentville rally aided the nominations of Andrew House in Halifax, Rakesh Khosla in Halifax West and Paul Francis in Sackville-Eastern Shore -- makes no apologies.

"It's time we stopped apologizing and started defending who we are," he said. "The evangelical community in Canada, by and large, and socially conservative Catholics, are saying we have been far too heavenly minded and thus we have been of no earthly value for far too long, on too many fronts."

Mr. Emmanuel runs the Equipping Christians for the Public Square Centre, which teaches people of his faith to become political. He is reluctant to say how many adherents have obtained Conservative nominations because he is afraid the news media will portray the campaign as the infiltration of the party by "right-wing fanatics...."

Rondo Thomas beat former Conservative MP René Soetens for the nomination in Ajax, on the eastern edge of Toronto. Dr. Thomas is a top official with the Canada Christian College, which is run by Charles McVety, a senior director of the Defend Marriage Coalition.

"The Defend Marriage Coalition engaged in a concerted effort to help pro-marriage candidates become nominated," Dr. McVety said.

"There is a desire to see pro-marriage nominees as candidates right across the country. We know that we have 141 pro-marriage MPs now and our hope is to achieve a pro-marriage Parliament."

There has been no specific drive to infiltrate the Conservatives, Dr. McVety said. Some religious Liberals have been nominated as well. But the Tories have taken the lion's share, he said, probably because of the party's opposition to changing the definition of marriage.

Like Mr. Emmanuel, Dr. McVety expresses no uneasiness with his efforts.

"The distortion of the separation of church and state has driven people of faith out of leadership and this is very wrong," he said.

And now that the government has decided to redefine marriage, faith leaders have been forced to urge their congregations to mobilize politically, Dr. McVety said.

As a result, they "are typically signing up as members of political parties, some of them for the first time in their lives. Many of them even signing up for political parties that they've never voted for in their lives before."

The only good news is that polls still suggest that voters reject the Conservative Party precisely because of its position on issues like abortion and gay marriage.  If the party adds religious zeal to its official bigotries that should only hasten its decline.

UPDATE:  A Canadian philosophy student calls my attention to some new poll numbers, and also adds the following pertinent observations:

While I never thought I'd find myself defending the Conservative Party, it's worth pointing out that their official position on abortion and gay marriage are quite different than the positions of your Republicans. Voters reject the Conservatives not on the basis of their official policices on abortion and gay marriage, but on the basis of a perceived hidden agenda (this is, quite likely, an accurate perception). I'm not trying to say the Conservatives aren't right-wing nuts - they are - but, in all fairness, I think our Conservatives are about as liberal as your Democrats when you look at their official policies. As a matter of party policy, the Conservatives have declared that they will not address the issue of abortion (thus, 'officially', putting them in the same boat as the governing Liberals). On the issue of gay marriage, the 'official' Conservative Party policy is to reject same-sex marriage while supporting civil unions with all the benefits of marriage for same-sex couples. Many other gay rights issues that currently trouble the US have been resolved and are no longer political issues; for example, as of 1992 gays were allowed to openly serve in the military.

Help Oust the Discovery [sic] Institute from the Smithsonian!

The conmen at the Discovery [sic] Institute, as many of you probably know, have "donated" $16,000 to the Smithsonian, in return for the opportunity to show one of their propaganda films about evolution, which, of course, permits them to claim legitimacy by their (paid, of course) association with the Smithsonian.

Meanwhile, James Randi, longtime debunker of the bogus, is offering to "donate" $20,000 to the Smithsonian if it returns the Discovery [sic] Institute's money and cancels the screening of the propaganda film.  Details here.

Of course, the Smithsonian ought never to have agreed to accept money from a fraudulent organization like this with these kinds of strings attached.  What will be next?  Screenings of "The Myth of the Holocaust:  The Mass Murder That Never Happened" or  "Flat Earth:  The Controversy Secular Scientists Don't Want You to Hear About" or "Alchemy:  The Forgotten Science" or  "Heliocentrism:  Secular Dogma"?  Surely some rich nut will pay.

Biologist Orr on Intelligent Design's Two Most Sophisticated Salesmen: Behe and Dembski

Patient and characteristically lucid analysis here by biologist Allen Orr.  (Thanks to Ian Best for the pointer.)  An excerpt from his concluding observations (read the full article for the detailed support):

Dembski’s arguments have been met with tremendous enthusiasm in the I.D. movement. In part, that’s because an innumerate public is easily impressed by a bit of mathematics. Also, when Dembski is wielding his equations, he gets to play the part of the hard scientist busily correcting the errors of those soft-headed biologists. (Evolutionary biology actually features an extraordinarily sophisticated body of mathematical theory, a fact not widely known because neither of evolution’s great popularizers—Richard Dawkins and the late Stephen Jay Gould—did much math.) Despite all the attention, Dembski’s mathematical claims about design and Darwin are almost entirely beside the point....

As it happens, David Wolpert, one of the authors of the...theorems [on which Dembski relies], recently denounced Dembski’s use of those theorems as “fatally informal and imprecise.” Dembski’s apparent response has been a tactical retreat. In 2002, Dembski triumphantly proclaimed, “The No Free Lunch theorems dash any hope of generating specified complexity via evolutionary algorithms.” Now he says, “I certainly never argued that the N.F.L. theorems provide a direct refutation of Darwinism.”

Those of us who have argued with I.D. in the past are used to such shifts of emphasis. But it’s striking that Dembski’s views on the history of life contradict Behe’s. Dembski believes that Darwinism is incapable of building anything interesting; Behe seems to believe that, given a cell, Darwinism might well have built you and me. Although proponents of I.D. routinely inflate the significance of minor squabbles among evolutionary biologists (did the peppered moth evolve dark color as a defense against birds or for other reasons?), they seldom acknowledge their own, often major differences of opinion. In the end, it’s hard to view intelligent design as a coherent movement in any but a political sense.

It’s also hard to view it as a real research program. Though people often picture science as a collection of clever theories, scientists are generally staunch pragmatists: to scientists, a good theory is one that inspires new experiments and provides unexpected insights into familiar phenomena. By this standard, Darwinism is one of the best theories in the history of science: it has produced countless important experiments (let’s re-create a natural species in the lab—yes, that’s been done) and sudden insight into once puzzling patterns (that’s why there are no native land mammals on oceanic islands). In the nearly ten years since the publication of Behe’s book, by contrast, I.D. has inspired no nontrivial experiments and has provided no surprising insights into biology. As the years pass, intelligent design looks less and less like the science it claimed to be and more and more like an extended exercise in polemics.

The Secular History of the United States

One of the more interesting posts in recent months at Left2Right, courtesy of historian James Oakes.  His conclusion (for which his post provides the support):

The wave of evangelicalism that swept the United States beginning in the 1790s was not really a "second" Great Awaking at all.  It was not a continuation of the earlier failure.  It was something else.  What, precisely?  Well, nothing "precisely," but a lot of things.  And one of the things that evangelicalism was in the "New Nation," I suggest, was a reactionary assault on the secular humanism of the Revolution. 

It still is.

Theocracy Watch

Even writers for The New Republic are starting to notice:

Conservatives have been arguing for years that the religious right is simply misunderstood. These vilified godly folks don't want to impose their beliefs on anybody else, we're told. They simply want to defend their traditional beliefs and practices against the aggressive impositions of a secular culture. Therefore any suggestion to the contrary is liberal hysteria or, worse, discrimination against "people of faith."

So how do conservatives explain what's been going on at the Air Force Academy?

As a number of newspapers have documented, the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., has essentially established evangelical Christianity as its official religion. The examples are legion. Last season, the football coach hung a banner in the locker room laying out a "Competitor's Creed," including the lines "I am a Christian first and last" and "I am a member of Team Jesus Christ...."

Campus chaplains have encouraged proselytizing among the students, and younger cadets who skipped out on prayer services have been forced by their seniors to march back to their dorms in a ritual called "heathen flight." On one occasion, every seat in the dining hall was covered with a flier advertising a showing of "The Passion of the Christ," including the tagline, "This is an officially sponsored USAFA event...."

[N]o wonder the conservative media, normally obsessed with the role of religion in public life, would have so little to say about this scandal. It undercuts its long-standing effort to portray the religious right as merely defending itself....

[T]he situation at the Air Force Academy...does not represent random excess by the religious right. It's an embodiment of the religious right's vision of America. When asked about the allegations, a spokesman for Focus on the Family replied, "If 90 percent of cadets identify themselves as Christian, it is common sense that Christianity will be in evidence on the campus."

This comment is telling, because it basically jibes with what religious conservatives have been saying for a long time. Most Americans are Christian, therefore the United States is a Christian country. Therefore, institutions of the state ought to promote the majority's religious views, and everybody else ought to shut up and take it....

[A]lthough the religious right doesn't [at present] have the capacity to impose its views on the rest of the country, it certainly has the intent to do so. Conservatives may dismiss fears of a Christian theocracy as liberal hysteria. Theocracy, though, is not an inaccurate description of life at the Air Force Academy.

Of course, conservatives always dismiss any unpleasant truth as hysteria, hyperbole, overreaction, etc.  How else can they respond to such truths?

Texas to Ban All Marriage!

Jonathan Ichikawa has the details.  Talk about throwing the baby out with the bathwater!

Move over Discovery [sic] Institute!

The creationist conmen now have competition:  welcome the reDiscovery Institute, which, like its namesake, "fosters integration of science education with traditional Judeo-Christian principles of free market, limited government, morality, faith, property, obedience and anti-intellectualism."  However, the new Institute has as its "primary focus,"

to extend and promote Design Theories, which have been so successful in Biology, to the fields of Chemistry, Astronomy, Geology, Atmospheric Science, Oceanography, Material Science, Acoustics, Condensed Matter Physics, Fluid Dynamics, Nuclear Physics, Anthropology and Mathematics.

The reDiscovery Institute has adopted the successful methods of its namesake:

Our goals are to Teach the Controversies, all of them, each and every one. The reDiscovery Institute produces articles and studies on how to better educate children, and on how to re-educate certain adults (you know who you are). The reDiscovery Institute supports Fellows, whom gullible and lazy journalists like Lou Dobbs present to the public as credible scientists. The efforts of reDiscovery Institute Fellows are crucially abetted by the Institute's members, board and an ultra-conservative, ultra-rich, California savings and loan heir who believes that the American democracy should be replaced with biblical theocracy.

Be sure to check out the compelling attack on the Periodic Table!  It's just a theory, after all.

Selecting for Female Orgasm

Nice article here on an important new book by philosopher of science Elisabeth Lloyd (Indiana) debunking adaptionist accounts of female sexuality that overreach the evidence, sometimes wildly.

It's an odd situation in America today:  on one side, we have hordes of ignorant yahoos--driven by various forms of delusion and without any regard for reason or evidence--denying the foundation of modern biology, the theory of evolution by natural selection; on the other side, we have various social scientists, some ill-informed law professors, and a handful of biologists--driven by various forms of intellectual imperialism and with only slightly more regard for reason and evidence--advancing selectionist ("Darwinian") explanations for a wide range of human behaviors, even though these explanations systematically fail to meet the evidential standards well-established in the biological sciences. 

Of course, there can be little doubt as to who is more dangerous.

Humor at the Expense of Creationist Conmen

Reader Justin Weinberg points to this cartoon.

And reader Matthew Bodie calls my attention to this one.

Since facts and rationality have no impact in America, perhaps humor will.

Minnesota Public School Cancels Speaker on Evolution

Pharyngula has the details; his pointed letter to the school principal bears quoting (and saving, so you can send a copy to your local educators, should the occasion arise):

I am a college professor. I teach biology at the University of Minnesota, Morris. You may appreciate how dismayed I was to read about the censorship of evolution at your school in the 12 May issue of the Star Tribune.

Every year, we try to recruit the best and brightest students in Minnesota, and we try our best to push them a little farther and teach them the essential and the advanced concepts in our discipline. In biology, the foundation of our science is evolution. This is not in dispute; perhaps you have been told that this is a "controversial" theory, but if so, you have been misled. It's a concept as indispensable to biology as algebra is to mathematics, or grammar to English. We need our incoming students to be as prepared as possible in these subjects.

Mr Sanderson, you are not helping. You are setting education back for your kids.

I don't expect elementary school children to be taught the details of evolution. I think it's entirely reasonable that the curriculum be managed to present appropriate material at an appropriate age. But I also don't expect young children to be taught that a core concept of my discipline is controversial, offensive, frightening, or in need of censorship. Lisa Peters has written a simple, unthreatening children's book and would have presented it in an apt and pleasant manner. Canceling her speaking engagement because she was going to mention something so central to an important science was a mistake.

Please do me a favor, Mr Sanderson, and help your kids out. Next time a "controversial" topic comes up in your school, could you rule in favor of the side of learning and scholarship, rather than reactionary religious hysteria?

Theocrats Stick Together

Pharyngula has the details.

William Dembski: "Pathological Liar?"

Jason Rosenhouse (Mathematics, James Madison U) is having some fun with Intelligent Design creationism's most sophisticated huckster.

Kansas Taliban Striking a Blow for Ignorance!

Details here.  The Kansas Chamber of Commerce can't be happy:  "Start your business here in Kansas, where highly educated professionals will find a school system run by ignorant yahoos."

Alabama Taliban Out-Hates Their Texas Brethren

Details here.

(Thanks to Blinn Coombs for the pointer.)

Rallies Across the Country Tomorrow to Protest the Attack on the Judiciary... the fascist theocrats.  Details here about the rally in your area (including Austin!).

Hatefest Against Gays in Texas Legislature Continues

Having already tacked on an amendment to one bill to prevent gays from being foster parents (an amendment, which if enacted, would immediately deprive a couple of thousand children of their current caregivers [that's what it means to be "pro-family" in Texas]), the anxiety-ridden repressed homosexuals, as well as the random hate-mongers, in the House of the state legislature have now approved a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, sponsored by Representative Warren Chisum, who, as we know, regularly carries water for the Texas Taliban.  Kudos to State Representative Thompson from Houston for calling Chisum on his disgusting bigotry and moral depravity:

"This amendment is blowing smoke to fuel the hell-fire flames of bigotry," said Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston.

Thompson, 66, an African-American who grew up with segregation, said the legislation reminded her of the time when interracial marriages were illegal.

"When people of my color used to marry someone of Mr. Chisum's color (white), you'd often find people of my color hanging from a tree. That's what white people back then did to protect marriage," Thompson said.

"The Berlinski Badger"

The latest dissembling technique from the creationist conmen involving "the practice of focusing on irrelevant trivia and dancing dishonestly around the issues with unbelievable circumlocutions while maintaining a facade of snooty hauteur."  Details here.

"Teach the Controversy" about Evolution, say the Creationist Conmen

May this response put this dishonest nonsense to rest.

The Texas Taliban Makes a Move to Censor School Textbooks Again!

Unbelievable!  When I started the blog two years ago, we were in the midst of a battle (which the good guys won!) over the treatment of evolution in textbooks for the public schools.  Now those who carry water for the Texas Taliban in the state legislature are back trying to change the standards governing textbook adoption to make it easier for the ignorant and the parochial to destroy public education.  This from the Texas Freedom Network today:

The House Public Education Committee will hear testimony at 2 p.m., Tuesday, April 26, on two bills that would swing open the door to widespread censorship of our children's textbooks. These bills would effectively repeal legislation passed in 1995 to prevent the State Board of Education (SBOE) from censoring content in Texas textbooks. By permitting SBOE members to insert or delete content based on their own political and religious ideology, the bills would give far-right censors free rein to target textbooks discussions on such topics as the theory of evolution, slavery, the civil rights struggle, women's rights and the separation of church and state.

H.B. 2534 by Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, allows the SBOE to determine content requirements and limitations for facts and discussions about theories (such as the theory of evolution), citizenship, patriotism and free enterprise, and divergent individuals and groups ("may not encourage lifestyles that deviate from generally accepted standards of society"). This bill would set into law the kind of textbook censorship TFN has fought before the SBOE for the last 10 years.

H.B. 220 by Rep. Charlie Howard, R-Sugar Land, would give the SBOE the authority to reject a textbook or require its revision simply because the book did not conform to the political or religious beliefs of SBOE members. The bill author tried to attach this bill as an amendment to H.B. 4 on technology and instructional materials for schools earlier this week. Rep. Howard said far-right SBOE members Terri Leo and David Bradley asked him for this bill. Both Leo and Bradley have led efforts to censor school textbooks for years and have frequently called on the Legislature to restore the state board's authority over textbook content.



Give the House Public Education Committee and the media first-hand accounts of how far-right censors on the SBOE have put responsible science, history and health education on trial during battles over the adoption of new textbooks.

Please contact Heather Alden, heather at tfn dot org or 512-322-0545, to get more details about testifying Tuesday.  e can try to accommodate your schedule with a cell phone call before testimony is starting.

Remember:  because Texas is a huge buyer of textbooks, changes to textbooks that the Texas Board of Education mandates will be felt across the country.  That means a change in the law here--which will permit outright politically and religiously motivated editing of textbooks--will affect innocent children not only in this state, but across the country.  Texas residents who can make it Tuesday to the hearings should contact Ms. Alden. 

The Coming Attack on the Independence of the Courts...

...the fascist theocrats are cooking up new schemes; an excerpt:

An audio recording obtained by the Los Angeles Times features two of the nation's most influential evangelical leaders, at a private conference with supporters, laying out strategies to rein in judges, such as stripping funding from their courts in an effort to hinder their work.

The discussion took place during a Washington conference last month that included addresses by House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, who discussed efforts to bring a more conservative cast to the courts.

Frist and DeLay have not publicly endorsed the evangelical groups' proposed actions. But the taped discussion among evangelical leaders provides a glimpse of the road map they are drafting as they work with congressional Republicans to achieve a judiciary that sides with them on abortion, same-sex marriage and other elements of their agenda.

"There's more than one way to skin a cat, and there's more than one way to take a black robe off the bench," said Tony Perkins, president of the conservative Family Research Council, according to an audiotape of a March 17 session....

DeLay has spoken generally about one of the ideas the leaders discussed in greater detail: using legislative tactics to withhold money from courts.

"We set up the courts. We can unset the courts. We have the power of the purse," DeLay said at an April 13 question-and-answer session with reporters.

The leaders present at the March conference, including Perkins and James C. Dobson, founder of the influential group Focus on the Family, have been working with Frist to eliminate the filibuster for judicial nominations, a legislative tool that has allowed Senate Democrats to stall 10 of President Bush's nominations....

The March conference featuring Dobson and Perkins showed that the evangelical leaders, in addition to working to place conservative nominees on the bench, have been trying to find ways to remove certain judges.

Perkins said that he had attended a meeting with congressional leaders a week earlier where the strategy of stripping funding from certain courts was "prominently" discussed. "What they're thinking of is not only the fact of just making these courts go away and re-creating them the next day but also defunding them," Perkins said.

He said that instead of undertaking the long process of trying to impeach judges, Congress could use its appropriations authority to "just take away the bench, all of his staff, and he's just sitting out there with nothing to do."

These curbs on courts are "on the radar screen, especially of conservatives here in Congress," he said....

"Very few people know this, that the Congress can simply disenfranchise a court," Dobson said. "They don't have to fire anybody or impeach them or go through that battle. All they have to do is say the 9th Circuit doesn't exist anymore, and it's gone...."

I am struck that the more items I post regarding the assault on the judiciary by the far right theocrats, the more readers drop me notes saying, in effect, "Gee, I used to think 'fascist theocrat' was hyperbole, but now...."

(Thanks to David McGowan [Law, San Diego] for the pointer.)

Philosophical Critic of Intelligent Design, Shanks, from East Tennessee to Chair at Wichita State

Philosopher of science Niall Shanks, best-known for his (justifiably) scathing critique of intelligent design creationism, will be leaving the Philosophy Department at East Tennessee State University to take up a newly endowed chair in history and philosophy of science at Wichita State University.  (Details here.)

Since Kansas is on the verge, again, of undermining biology education in the public schools, Professor Shanks's special expertise will likely come in handy, assuming anyone on the State Board of Education is interested in arguments and evidence.

Parents of Public School Children: Watch out for books from "Renaissance Learning, Inc."

Eric Muller (Law, North Carolina) has the details on the books published by this company which proseltyze children under the cover of being academic books.  He also has contact details for Renaissance Learning (what a name!  a branch of the Discovery [sic] Institute perhaps?), and is collecting information on public schools that purchase these books.

More Attacks on the Judiciary from the Lunatic Right

Fascist theocrat James Dobson compares the Justices of the United States Supreme Court to the members of the Ku Klux Klan.  (More detail here.)

UPDATE:  The correct link to the actual program is here, under April 11; you must skip ahead to about 22 minutes into the program.  (Thanks to Joe Paxton for the pointer.)

Twilight of the Enlightenment?

Read about it here.

The Attack on an Independent Judiciary, yet again

Several readers sent me this alarming story, in which the fascistic tendencies of the theocratic far right are out in the open:

Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy is a fairly accomplished jurist, but he might want to get himself a good lawyer -- and perhaps a few more bodyguards.

Conservative leaders meeting in Washington yesterday for a discussion of "Remedies to Judicial Tyranny" decided that Kennedy, a Ronald Reagan appointee, should be impeached, or worse.

Phyllis Schlafly, doyenne of American conservatism, said Kennedy's opinion forbidding capital punishment for juveniles "is a good ground of impeachment." To cheers and applause from those gathered at a downtown Marriott for a conference on "Confronting the Judicial War on Faith," Schlafly said that Kennedy had not met the "good behavior" requirement for office and that "Congress ought to talk about impeachment."

Next, Michael P. Farris, chairman of the Home School Legal Defense Association, said Kennedy "should be the poster boy for impeachment" for citing international norms in his opinions. "If our congressmen and senators do not have the courage to impeach and remove from office Justice Kennedy, they ought to be impeached as well."

Not to be outdone, lawyer-author Edwin Vieira told the gathering that Kennedy should be impeached because his philosophy, evidenced in his opinion striking down an anti-sodomy statute, "upholds Marxist, Leninist, satanic principles drawn from foreign law."

Ominously, Vieira continued by saying his "bottom line" for dealing with the Supreme Court comes from Joseph Stalin. "He had a slogan, and it worked very well for him, whenever he ran into difficulty: 'no man, no problem,' " Vieira said.

The full Stalin quote, for those who don't recognize it, is "Death solves all problems: no man, no problem." Presumably, Vieira had in mind something less extreme than Stalin did and was not actually advocating violence. But then, these are scary times for the judiciary....

The conference was organized during the height of the Schiavo controversy by a new group, the Judeo-Christian Council for Constitutional Restoration. This was no collection of fringe characters. The two-day program listed two House members; aides to two senators; representatives from the Family Research Council and Concerned Women for America; conservative activists Alan Keyes and Morton C. Blackwell; the lawyer for Terri Schiavo's parents; Alabama's "Ten Commandments" judge, Roy Moore; and DeLay, who canceled to attend the pope's funeral.

The Schlafly session's moderator, Richard Lessner of the American Conservative Union, opened the discussion by decrying a "radical secularist relativist judiciary." It turned more harsh from there.

Schlafly called for passage of a quartet of bills in Congress that would remove courts' power to review religious displays, the Pledge of Allegiance, same-sex marriage and the Boy Scouts. Her speech brought a subtle change in the argument against the courts from emphasizing "activist" judges -- it was, after all, inaction by federal judges that doomed Schiavo -- to "supremacist" judges. "The Constitution is not what the Supreme Court says it is," Schlafly asserted.

Former representative William Dannemeyer (R-Calif.) followed Schlafly, saying the country's "principal problem" is not Iraq or the federal budget but whether "we as a people acknowledge that God exists."

Farris then told the crowd he is "sick and tired of having to lobby people I helped get elected." A better-educated citizenry, he said, would know that "Medicare is a bad idea" and that "Social Security is a horrible idea when run by the government." Farris said he would block judicial power by abolishing the concept of binding judicial precedents, by allowing Congress to vacate court decisions, and by impeaching judges such as Kennedy, who seems to have replaced Justice David H. Souter as the target of conservative ire. "If about 40 of them get impeached, suddenly a lot of these guys would be retiring," he said....

Invoking Stalin, Vieira delivered the "no man, no problem" line twice for emphasis. "This is not a structural problem we have; this is a problem of personnel," he said. "We are in this mess because we have the wrong people as judges."

I assume the insane Mr. Vieira is now being investigated by the F.B.I. for this public threat against the life of an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court.  But this story deserves to be widely circulated, for it indicates what we are up against in the United States right now.  One of those who sent me this story was an attorney who described himself as a "right-leaning Republican," but he too found this account chilling, and for the obvious reasons:  lawyers across the political spectrum--at least the ones who are not deranged like Mr. Vieira--realize that the independence of the judiciary is crucial to the rule of law, and that to even talk of impeachment because of ideological disagreements is the stuff out of which fascist societies are born. 

UPDATE:  Eric Muller (Law, North Carolina) has more on Mr. Vieira's threat.

When the Texas Taliban Isn't Busy Bashing Science and Public Schools, They're Busy Bashing...

....homosexuals, of course.  UT law student Marc Fellman writes in regarding the latest Texas Taliban initiative in the state legislature:

It is a bizarre and surreal experience to appeal to one's elected representatives and to be ignored because what motivates them is a religious ideology at odds with reality and the Constitution.  Monday, when hundreds of Texas citizens went to the State Capitol to testify against a piece of legislation that forms the basis of a proposed amendment to the state Constitution, they did so on the presumption that their State legislators belived in the separation between church and state.  They also presumed that law was made on the basis of public policy, fairness, and cost/benefit analysis. They were wrong on both counts.

After hundreds testified against the HJR 6 - a proposed amendment to the Texas Constitution that defines marriage as between only one man and one woman - it became clear that except for a single lobbyist, not one member of the public supported this amendment enough to show up and give testimony.    It also became clear that something other than rational thought was supporting the joint resolution, which proved frustrating to those who thought their representatives were amenable to their constituents.

This naivete was corrected by another opponent to the amendment, Rep. Mike Villarreall, also frustrated by its proponents' intransigence.   The following piece of legislative history should be instructive to anyone considering a career in lobbying or even constitutional law:


(9 hours, 34 minutes, 10 seconds into the hearing at

Representative Villarreal: Mr. Chairman, I have a question.
Chairman Duncan: Sure
Representative Villarreal: I want to take advantage of the fact that we have a minister in front of us.
Mary Wilson: Thank you.
Representative Villarreal: I think the source of this bill is a feeling by members of the Legislature that gay relationships are sin.
Mary Wilson:Uh-hm.
Representative Villarreal: And I may be wrong but in my listening to different colleagues there is a feeling that it is a lesser relationship, one that we don't want to encourage, one that we look down on. 
Mary Wilson: Uh-hm.
Representative Villarreal: So how do we, as Members of different communities of faith but all in the same Judaeo-Christian tradition find that the space between recognizing that do we find the space to get Members comfortable with not giving their blessings on a certain lifestyle but finding acceptance ...but maybe finding acceptance that maybe this lifestyle is not a sin.  And I have trouble obvioulsy kind of speaking this language because I don't see it in the same perspective but I am trying to understand and maybe even find a path that would allow us to find a move away from where we are today with HJR 6.
Mary Wilson:Well for me,  I would say that sin for me, my response would be is that sin is what separates us from God. Now sometimes we can identify that as a specific act, or specific attitude, or a specific belief. But in general, to put an umbrella over it, sin is what separates us from God. And I don't know that that particular notion of sin is something that we can legislate for or against.  I am not sure that I have answered your question, but the theological point of view...
Representative Villarreal: How do you respond to a member,  you know,  who says this is against my religion, but I am going to vote for this constitutional amendment because I think it's a sin to engage in these kinds of a relationships?
Mary Wilson: Well, one on hand I'd like to say change your religion, but that's a flippant answer and I don't want to be flippant...


The lesson it appears it that one must also be prepared to argue theology and sin, not what the law is or the Constitution requires. One wonders too why no one else seems to feel threatened by this development.  It cheapens the State Constitution and weakens whatever substantive meaning its equal protection guarantees had. Especially with the Committee now considering a substitute that goes even further in discriminating against gays such that it takes from them even the right to contract. The Committee Substitute  version of HJR 6 contains a subsection (b) proposing that: "This state or a political subdivision of this state may not create or recognize any legal statute similar to marriage for unmarried persons."

Beyond those Legislators who have already abandoned their oath to uphold and defend the Constitution, I wonder how many law students preparing to take the Bar or those who may be thinking of taking it in Texas will be able to swear an oath in good conscience to uphold and defend a Constitution that establishes marriage as a religion institution and denies even the right to contract to gay Texans?

The "Constitution Destruction Act" is Back

We remarked on it before; but it's alive and well in both the House and Senate.

"Conservatives Adopt Ignorance and Irrationality as Official Positions"

Details here.

Center for Naturalism

I've just accepted an invitation to join the Advisory Board of the Center for Naturalism, along with Daniel Dennett, Owen Flanagan, and some other philosophers and scientists.  Do check them out:  lots of good links and information.

Candor in Strange Places

Dover, Pennsylvania pastor and parent Ray Mummert, a defender of the local school board's decision to teach intelligent design creationism as an alternative to evolution in the schools, on opponents of the decision:  "We've been attacked by the intelligent, educated segment of the culture." 

Well, you certainly wouldn't want those kinds of folks determining the content of the school curriculum!

Boycott Imax Theaters...

...until they stop caving in to know-nothings who want the public to be as ignorant as they are.

UPDATE:  Frank Schmidt (Biochemistry, Missouri) writes:  "The Times may be a bit late, since Fort Worth, the most egregious offender, is going to show "Volcanoes" after all. And, since there is no such thing as bad publicity, I predict that it will be a blockbuster. PT Barnum would be smirking. So would Mencken."

Republicans, the Party of Theocracy

Sharp analysis by historian Juan Cole (Michigan):

The cynical use by the US Republican Party of the Terri Schiavo case repeats, whether deliberately or accidentally, the tactics of Muslim fundamentalists and theocrats in places like Egypt and Pakistan. These tactics involve a disturbing tendency to make private, intimate decisions matters of public interest and then to bring the courts and the legislature to bear on them. President George W. Bush and Republican congressional leaders like Tom Delay have taken us one step closer to theocracy on the Muslim Brotherhood model.

The Muslim fundamentalists use a provision of Islamic law called "bringing to account" (hisba). As Al-Ahram weekly notes, "Hisba signifies a case filed by an individual on behalf of society when the plaintiff feels that great harm has been done to religion...."

In this practice, any individual can use the courts to intervene in the private lives of others. Among the more famous cases of such interference is that of Nasr Hamid Abu Zaid in Egypt. A respected modern scholar of Koranic studies, Abu Zaid argued that, contrary to medieval interpretations of Islamic law, women and men should receive equal inheritance shares. (Medieval Islamic law granted women only half the inheritance shares of their brothers). Abu Zaid was accused of sacrilege. Then the allegation of sacrilege was used as a basis on which the fundamentalists sought to have the courts forcibly divorce him from his wife....

One of the most objectionable features of this fundamentalist tactic is that persons without standing can interfere in private affairs. Perfect strangers can file a case about your marriage, because they represent themselves as defending a public interest (the upholding of religion and morality).

Terri Schiavo's husband is her legal guardian. Her parents have not succeeded in challenging this status of his. As long as he is the guardian, the decision on removing the feeding tubes is between him and their physicians. Her parents have not succeeded in having this responsibility moved from him to them....

[T]he most frightening thing about the entire affair is that public figures like congressmen inserted themselves into the case in order to uphold religious strictures. The lawyer arguing against the husband let the cat out of the bag, as reported by the NYT: ' The lawyer, David Gibbs, also said Ms. Schiavo's religious beliefs as a Roman Catholic were being infringed because Pope John Paul II has deemed it unacceptable for Catholics to refuse food and water. "We are now in a position where a court has ordered her to disobey her church and even jeopardize her eternal soul," Mr. Gibbs said. '

In other words, the United States Congress acted in part on behalf of the Roman Catholic church. Both of these public bodies interfered in the private affairs of the Schiavos, just as the fundamentalist Egyptian, Nabih El-Wahsh, tried to interfere in the marriage of Nawal El Saadawi.

Like many of his fundamentalist counterparts in the Middle East, Tom Delay is rather cynically using this issue to divert attention from his own corruption. Like the Muslim fundamentalist manipulators of Hisba, Delay represents himself as acting on behalf of a higher cause. He said of the case over the weekend, ' "This is not a political issue. This is life and death," '

Republican Hisba will have the same effect in the United States that it does in the Middle East. It will reduce the rights of the individual in favor of the rights of religious and political elites to control individuals. Ayatollah Delay isn't different from his counterparts in Iran.

UPDATE:  And more apt comments here:

Chris Shays (R Conn.) says, "this Republican Party of Lincoln has become a party of theocracy."

Damn. Never thought I'd actually here that out in the open from any major politico, much less a Republican. May many more reasonable Republicans recognize that when you mix religion and politics, all you get is fascism batter.

May the Republican party become once again a party of reason, and meanwhile may the Democratic party become once again a party of actually doing something worthwhile instead of flopping around like an earthworm caught in a puddle on the sidewalk.

Texas Taliban Mischief in the Texas Legislature

The Texas legislature has been too busy, so far, with the school financing mess to make too much mischief on behalf of those intent on imposing their religion on everyone else...until now.  The great folks at the Texas Freedom Network--who are doing God's work!--report that the following legislative gem has been filed:

Last week Sen. Jon Lindsay, R-Houston, filed S.B. 843, which would force school administrators to distribute fliers provided by a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, a designation that includes most churches and other religious groups. As written, this legislation would open the doors of our neighborhood schools to religious tracts and other literature intended to proselytize students. S. B. 843 has been referred to the Senate Education Committee, but no hearing has yet been scheduled.

If you're a Texas resident, here's what you can do:

1.      As both of these bills begin to make their way through committees, we will need people to testify to the dangerous consequences the legislation could have. If you are willing to testify, please reply to this e-mail and let me know. As hearings are scheduled, TFN will let you know and provide the information you need to be an effective advocate for religious liberty.

2.      Contact members of the Senate Education Committee to voice your opposition to S.B. 843. Tell them that you do not want students bombarded with religious literature handed out by school officials.
Members of the Senate Education Committee:
Florence Shapiro, Chair  -  (512) 463-0108
Royce West, Vice-Chair  -  (512) 463-0123
Kip Averitt   -  (512) 463-0122
Kyle Janek  -  (512) 463-0117
Steve Ogden  -  (512) 463-0105
Todd Staples  -  (512) 463-0103
Leticia Van de Putte  -  (512) 463-0126
Tommy Williams  -  (512) 463-0104
Judith Zaffirini  -  (512) 463-0121

3.      Please e-mail [email protected] after you make the call so we can track our impact!

Founding Figure in the Texas Taliban Assault on Public Education Dies

Pharyngula has details.

(And for those new to the blog, you might want to take a look at a much earlier posting on the "meaning" of the "Texas Taliban" label.)

Theocracy, Arkansas-Style

Details here; an excerpt:

The Arkansas House of Representatives rejected Friday a resolution that asked it to reaffirm "support of the principle of separation of church and state."

Forty-four of the 100 House members voted against House Resolution 1005 by Rep. Buddy Blair, D-Fort Smith, who said opponents were voting against the constitutions of both the United States and the state of Arkansas. Thirty-nine voted for it. The other 17 House members didn’t vote, which has the same effect as voting against it....

Blair said Friday’s vote on his resolution showed the strong influence of religion in the House. "Apparently, the churches are dictating how they vote, not their conscience," Blair said....

The Truth (at last!) about Intelligent Design

Here; an excerpt: 

The people pushing intelligent design are godless interlopers who want our children taught that the Bible got things wrong....They suggest that the Earth is billions of years old and that animals have evolved pretty much the way Charles Darwin described more than a century ago.

For these folks of little faith, science answers most of the world's mysteries, explaining the history of the universe and the proliferation of life on Earth. The girlie-man God they worship steps in only to fill in small gaps in scientific knowledge and to lend a gentle helping hand in ways that cannot be measured, tested or debunked....

The complete surrender of religion to the onslaught of science [is] a pathetic sight.

The utter defeat was not lost on Celtie Johnson, a God-fearing Johnson County mom who was largely responsible for the last battle over evolution in Kansas schools. Back in 1999, she led an honest fight for biblical truth, attempting to get the Genesis creation story taught to schoolchildren. She's back again, fighting evolution once more, but this time she's standing up for the watered-down ID agenda.

We asked how she really felt about intelligent design's unbiblical assault on the schools.

"It's pitiful. But what can I do?" she told this curious cutlet. "It's not that difficult to understand the Earth being 6,000 years old. But they [the ID crowd] tell me it's an incremental program."

An incremental program. Johnson was referring to people such as lawyer John Calvert and University of Missouri-Kansas City med-school professor William Harris, who have spearheaded the Kansas school effort with a Johnson County organization they call the Intelligent Design Network. Johnson claimed that the ID bigwigs assured her they have the same ultimate goal that she does -- to get religion into science classes -- and that ID allows them to take small, less controversial steps toward that goal.

(Thanks to Frank Cross for the pointer.)

Creationist Public Relations Coup!

Michael Behe--the only academically employed and credentialed scientist to have ever written in support of Intelligent Design Creationism (though not in peer-refereed journals, needless to say), and whose arguments, though long demolished, are still favorites of the ID conmen--has exploited that familiar bit of journalistic pablum about "two sides to every issue" ("You say black is black, but in fact there are good arguments that black is white") and snuck on to the Op-Ed page of The New York Times.  Pharyngula, happily, has already struck back; an excerpt:

From the very first sentence, Michael Behe’s op-ed in today’s NY Times is an exercise in unwarranted hubris.

In the wake of the recent lawsuits over the teaching of Darwinian evolution, there has been a rush to debate the merits of the rival theory of intelligent design.

And it’s all downhill from there.

Intelligent Design creationism is not a “rival theory.” It is an ad hoc pile of mush, and once again we catch a creationist using the term “theory” as if it means “wild-ass guess.” I think a theory is an idea that integrates and explains a large body of observation, and is well supported by the evidence, not a random idea about untestable mechanisms which have not been seen. I suspect Behe knows this, too, and what he is doing is a conscious bait-and-switch. See here, where he asserts that there is evidence for ID:

Rather, the contemporary argument for intelligent design is based on physical evidence and a straightforward application of logic. The argument for it consists of four linked claims.

This is where he first pulls the rug over the reader’s eyes. He claims the Intelligent Design guess is based on physical evidence, and that he has four lines of argument; you’d expect him to then succinctly list the evidence, as was done in the 29+ Evidences for Macroevolution FAQ on the talkorigins site. He doesn’t. Not once in the entire op-ed does he give a single piece of this “physical evidence.” Instead, we get four bald assertions, every one false.

I know there are some New York Times journalists who read this blog.  Please, folks, get your editors to print Pharyngula's comments, or provide a link!  Your newspaper has done a huge disservice to your non-scientific readers by serving up this garbage as though it were anything more than "black is white."

"This country is an embarrassment"

Pharyngula explains.

Wall Street Journal Defense of Creationist "Biologist" Sternberg Demolished... by Sahotra Sarkar (Biology & Philosophy, Texas).

"Wedging Creationism into the Academy"

Useful article here detailing the ways in which the creationist conmen try to establish for themselves a veneer of academic respectability.

Pathological Liars at the Discovery [sic] Institute are at it again!

Details, and demolition, here.

The Texas Taliban Move to England?

Thanks to Michael Otsuka (Philosophy, UCL) for calling to my attention more disconcerting evidence of Tony Blair's blurring of the line between church and state

Tracy Morton and Kay Wilkinson, from Conisbrough, a sometime mining community not far from Doncaster, have been engaged in a passionate fight against the government, Doncaster's elected Labour mayor and Sir Peter Vardy, a man recently described by the Times Education Supplement as a "Christian fundamentalist car dealer". Their battleground: a schools policy to which the government now pledges heartfelt allegiance, namely the replacement of "bog-standard comprehensives" with the gleaming new creations known as "academies"....

Kay and Tracy...both had high-achieving daughters at Northcliffe, a comprehensive school that serves Conisbrough and nearby Denaby....Both had benefited from Northcliffe's so-called Gifted And Talented programme....

In 2001, Northcliffe was inspected by Ofsted and credited with being "a good and improving school". Both that year and the next, the DfES gave Northcliffe a School Achievement Award. In 2003, the school's pupils produced the best SATs and GCSE results in its history. Three months later, however, Northcliffe was placed in Special Measures by the Schools Inspectorate - the category denotes a school that is "failing or likely to fail to give its pupils an acceptable standard of education"....

Five months after that, Doncaster's local education authority (LEA) unveiled plans to replace Northcliffe with an academy run by a charitable organisation called the Vardy Foundation....

Academies, initially known as City Academies, were publicly rolled out in 2000 by David Blunkett, who aimed to use them to replace schools that were either in Special Measures or deemed to be "underachieving". Four years later, the government planted the idea at the core of its education platform for the general election, announcing plans to open up to 200. The idea is roughly this: for a fee of £2m - payable in random instalments - private benefactors are handed effective control of brand new state schools, although the taxpayer meets the lion's share of both building and running costs (which tend to involve an initial sum of at least £20m, and annual payments of around £5m). The relatively small size of their contribution has little bearing on the sponsors' clout: they can appoint the majority of the school's governors and thereby have the crucial say in the appointment of senior management, and shape the school's practices without having to worry about the national curriculum. Stranger still, academies are not bound by national agreements on teachers' pay and conditions.

Among those who had got in early was Sir Peter Vardy, a millionaire car dealer and evangelist from Durham. Under the auspices of the Thatcher government's not entirely dissimilar City Technology Colleges Programme, his Vardy Foundation, run by his brother David, had already seen to the opening of a school called Emmanuel College in Gateshead. Thanks to the City Academies initiative, September 2003 marked the arrival of a second school, the King's Academy in Middlesbrough. The following March, it was ceremonially opened by none other than Tony Blair, who was presented with a Middlesbrough FC shirt bearing his surname. Two weeks later, he enthused about his visit during prime minister's question time. "There is nothing more inspiring," he said, "particularly when one knew the old school that the King's Academy replaced, than to see the brand new buildings, the total commitment of the teachers and staff, and the pupils there eager to learn"....

Vardy's Christian beliefs are shared by John Burn, sometime head of Emmanuel College and now education adviser to the Vardy Foundation, and Nigel McQuoid, principal at the King's Academy. Papers they have co-authored give a flavour of their stance: "If relativist philosophy is acceptable, then sadomasochism, bestiality and self-abuse are to be considered as wholesome activities," runs one. "It is very important that young people begin to realise that activities which are 'private and personal' often degrade oneself and are not necessarily good and acceptable." By way of clarifying the latter position, McQuoid recently told the Observer that "the Bible says clearly that homosexual activity is against God's design. I would indicate that to young folk."

Most notoriously, Vardy schools accord equal importance to both creationism and theories of evolution. According to McQuoid, though state schools are required to teach evolutionary theory, "also, schools should teach the creation theory as literally depicted in Genesis". The 300-year reign of the enlightenment apparently counts for very little: in his view, creation and evolution are both "faith positions". Blair, it should be noted, has claimed to have no problem with such a stance. In 2002, when asked by the Liberal Democrat MP Jenny Tonge if he was happy about creationism being taught alongside evolution in state schools, he replied, "I am very happy. I know that the honourable lady is referring to a school in the north-east [ie, Emmanuel College], and I think that certain reports about what it has been teaching are somewhat exaggerated. It would be very unfortunate if concerns about that issue were seen to remove the very strong incentive to ensure that we get as diverse a school system as we properly can."

This does raise a question for my friends in Britain:  namely, why hasn't Tony Blair been voted out?  Is it simply that the Tories are too ridiculous?  First, Blair joins cause with Bush & his bestiary of madmen in the criminal and immoral invasion of Iraq.  Now the Prime Minister, in a nation of atheists and agnostics no less, throws the government behind schools which teach lies and misinformation, and sponsor religious indoctrination.   Even the Archbishop of Canterbury knows the Book of Genesis is engaging fiction, a "creation myth" not empirical science.  Has not the Prime Minister heard?

UPDATE:  Professor Otsuka sends along a possible answer as to how Blair has survived:

The answer to your question provides a cautionary tale for US Democrats of what can happen when a party sacrifices principles for the sake of electability: The Tories win four successive general elections -- three under Thatcher plus John Major's unexpected victory in 1992. Demoralized by Major's victory and desperate to return to power, Labour elect a Tory in all but name to lead their party in 1994. This strategy works too well, as they go on to win a landslide general election in 1997, thus conferring saviour status on their leader Tony Blair and giving him a huge Parliamentary majority which empowers him to legislate at will. The global and therefore Britain's economy fare better under Blair than under Major, for which Blair and his Chancellor get credit, a modest amount of which is deserved. The Tories haven't helped themselves by squeezing themselves to the right in response to the rightward march of Labour. But what choice did they have? They needed to present an alternative to Labour and couldn't credibly have refashioned themselves to the left of Labour, nor would they have be allowed to by their reactionary Home Counties grassroots members. The Liberal Democrats are now to the left of Labour. But they're a third party without many seats in Parliament or a large base of loyal, habitual voters on which to draw. They've also got an amiable but ineffective leader whom people find difficult to imagine as Prime Minister, and there's no credible alternative to him on the horizon. Therefore, the most likely scenario in which Tony Blair is removed from power is one in which he is deposed as party leader by his Parliamentary colleagues. Like the Pope, however, Blair has managed to promote loyalists up through the ranks during the past several years. Moreover, he will be especially keen to cling to power these next few years. Being an admirer of Thatcher and a shallow and unprincipled man, Blair's main goal in life now is probably to ensure a positive line in the history books by supplanting Mrs T as the 'longest serving Prime Minister in 150 years', for which he will need to win and serve an entire third term. All of his other bids for a flattering place in the history books have failed: Iraq was a complete disaster, he hasn't managed to get Britain into the Euro, he hasn't managed to broker a stable peace in Northern Ireland, etc.

Independent Judiciary Strikes Again, Dealing Setback to the Georgia Taliban

Thanks to the many readers who flagged for me the decision by the Federal Court for the Northern District of Georgia holding unconstitutional the "evolution is theory, not fact" stickers that Cobb County mandated be placed on biology textbooks back in 2002.  (The Court decision is here; news stories are here and here).  This is a big setback for the zealots, since the actions of the Georgia Taliban were, by the standards of the anti-evolution know-nothings, relatively mild, and yet still the court struck it down.  There is a useful legal analysis of the opinion here, which I commend to everyone's attention.

Church and State in Britain?

Alarming information here:

In Britain, many Humanists feel that Prime Minister Tony Blair -- a strong religious believer -- and members of his government are undermining secular traditions.

They point to his promotion of faith schools run by various religious communities, including two financed by a fundamentalist businessman where creationism is taught as science.

Blair's push for a new law that would protect all believers from "incitement to hate" on the grounds of their faith -- a key demand of Muslim activists -- is bound to restrict criticism of religion as such, Humanists argue.

His readiness to bend government policies to the views of "faith" leaders, they say, has led religious hard-liners to demand ever more concessions on social and cultural issues such as limiting the right to stage plays that might offend religion.

And to think most of my friends in the U.K. suspect the Archbishop of Canterbury is an agnostic!

Opposition to Intelligent Design Creationism is an Al Qaeda Plot!

Details here.

Theocracy Watch

Much useful information collected here.

Biologists and Philosophers at Penn Speak Out Against the Pennsylvania Taliban

Sahotra Sarkar (Biology & Philosophy, Texas) has the details here.

Shame on National Geographic, Indeed!

Pharyngula has the story.  Do cancel your subscription.

What passes for "thought" among American Rhodes Scholars

Here.  Yes, I know they're not all this pathetically parochial and trite....

UPDATE:  Apt comments from Strange Doctrines.

Kansas Taliban on the March!

Sahotra Sarkar (Biology & Philosophy, Texas) has the details on the latest efforts by the ignorant to harm schoolchildren.

The Pennsylvania Taliban are being hauled in to court...

...for inserting intelligent design creationism in to the school curriculum in Dover.  An excerpt from the ACLU's press release:

The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, Americans United for Separation of Church and State and attorneys with Pepper Hamilton LLP filed a federal lawsuit today on behalf of 11 parents who say that presenting "intelligent design" in public school science classrooms violates their religious liberty by promoting particular religious beliefs to their children under the guise of science education.

"Teaching students about religion’s role in world history and culture is proper, but disguising a particular religious belief as science is not," said ACLU of Pennsylvania Legal Director Witold Walczak. "Intelligent design is a Trojan Horse for bringing religious creationism back into public school science classes...."

Today’s lawsuit challenges a controversial decision made in October by the Dover Area School Board to require biology teachers to present "intelligent design" as an alternative to the scientific theory of evolution. "Intelligent design" is an assertion that an intelligent, supernatural entity has intervened in the history of life. The lawsuit argues that such an assertion is inherently a religious argument that falls outside the realm of science. At the time of the October vote, district science teachers opposed the policy and three school board members have since quit in protest of the decision....

Teachers are also required to read a statement to students in ninth grade biology classes that includes the following language:

Because Darwin’s Theory is a theory, it is still being 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 for students to see if they would like to explore this view in an effort to gain an understanding of what intelligent design actually involves. As is true with any theory, students are encouraged to keep an open mind.

The lawsuit argues that teaching students about "intelligent design" in public school science classes entangles government with religion and violates the separation of church and state. Of Pandas and People, the alternative book available for students, was authored by advocates of so-called creation science and published by a Christian think-tank that aims to preach "the Christian Gospel and understanding of the Bible."

Note, by the way, that the pathological liars at the Discovery [sic] Institute are calling for the Dover Board to withdraw and revise its curriculum proposal.  They must realize that what the zealots have done in Dover will be a loser in the courts (Chris Mooney has some details on why), and they are worried about the precedent this will set.  Let us hope the zealots stick to their guns, so that we can get a court decision in place.  (Even if the lower court fouls it up, the Third Circuit, where Pennsylvania is located, is still one of the relatively sane and responsible circuit benches in the country; I am optimistic if it goes that far, we will get a good decision.)

Another Fake Religious Right Sob Story

Guess what?  It turns out that the current favorite poster boy of the right-wing liars--the California teacher who was purportedly barred from distributing the Declaration of Independence to his students--was, in fact, a religious zealot engaged in systematic proseltyzing of his students.  In a civilized country, he'd be fired for his professional derelictions, not just barred from peddling his sectarian ideology to children in the public schools.

Some of the treats we can expect from the Texas legislature

Perhaps the best thing about the Texas legislature is that it formally meets only once every two years:  this limits, somewhat, the amount of mindless damage it can do.   But the Texas Taliban is gearing up for big victories in the session that begins in January:

The first bill assigned a priority number in the House isn't about public education or child abuse protection. It's a constitutional ban on gay marriage.

Social conservatives have a firm grip on the levers of Texas government and are determined to steer the legislative session that begins Jan. 11.

Conservatives in and out of the Legislature say the time has come for school vouchers and [an end] for quickie divorces. They will fight the legalization of slot machines and champion a ban on human cloning, including embryonic stem-cell research.

And they will join ranks with some pharmacists and church-affiliated hospitals so they will not have to dispense the "morning-after pill" or other prescriptions that they morally oppose. For some hospitals, that includes not having to provide such pills for rape victims brought to their emergency rooms....

"There's no doubt that conservatives are in a good position," said Kelly Shackleford, president of the Free Market [sic] Foundation....

"Last session was kind of opening the gate that had been blockaded for so long," said Mr. Shackleford, referring to 2003 successes such as state laws prohibiting gay marriage, requiring waiting periods for abortions and allowing a moment of silence in public schools....

Few doubt that a constitutional amendment defining marriage as solely between a man and a woman will breeze through the session and go before the voters.

An alternative proposal backed by Mr. Shackleford and others would define marriage and also prohibit civil unions or any other legal recognition of same-sex couples.

"To me, anyone who stands in front of that is committing political suicide," he said.

Conservatives also want the state to require prenuptial counseling and waiting periods for divorce.

The aim is to make marriage "more protected and more special," Mr. Shackleford said.

Bottom line:  Austin had better secede.

"Atheist": the Perfect Insult

Pharyngula has details.

Waco H.S. Students Fight Back Against the Texas Taliban

Kudos to these brave young people who live in a town that is midway between Austin and Dallas (geographically, that is), and is home to Baylor University, the well-known Baptist university:

The way they saw it, it was as if someone approached you to sell you a vacuum cleaner, and when you declined, the solicitor said you were going to hell.

After enduring such entreaties in front of their school for three days, some students at Waco High decided to do something about it.

They stood with signs across from the people of Church of the Open Door, who had their own signs and pamphlets about salvation and damnation.

The students chanted things like "No more harassment" and "Straight, but not narrow."

To my eyes it was emblematic of a nation's cultural clash. The evangelical right is feeling its oats after the last election. Nowhere might one feel more heady than in a Bible-belt place such as this. But that doesn't mean people here can't be offended by judgmental rhetoric and social invasiveness.

Waco High junior Amanda Whiddon, one of the counter-protesters, said she was furious that people would impose themselves on her classmates in such a fashion.

"These people really scared me. They were chasing people down and forcing pamphlets on them. It didn’t feel safe and it distracted from classes."

One day the message for students arriving at school was about abortion. The next day it was about homosexuality. Students who reacted defensively, they said, were advised they were going to hell....

Whiddon said she took great offense at someone condemning her classmates for a trait — homosexuality — she is confident they did not choose.

But she said she's seen the same dynamic before, growing up in a society where people can be judged by the color of their skin. In an inner-city high school, students learn to deal with difference in a way others don't in cloistered corners of their choosing.

"At Waco High you have to get along with every type of person," she said. She particularly took offense that pamphleteers would say that gay classmates were a "disgrace" to her school.

"That’s not going to work here," she said....

We can see now why public schools can be seen as a threat to those on the social right. Look at how they foster tolerance, respect for individuality and how they navigate a world of difference — the world in which we live.

Theocracy Watch

Reader Stephen Latham flags this one, which is really breathtaking in its stupid venality:

Look for national parks' geology to be written more in the image of creationists over the next four years in the continuing effort to create "faith-based parks." An ongoing dispute at Grand Canyon National Park bookstores is that Grand Canyon, a Different View was ordered to stay on the bookshelves by top National Park Service brass. The book says that the Grand Canyon is 4,500 years old and was formed by Noah's flood. Conventional scientific wisdom has the canyon more around 6 million years old, still rather young compared to the age of the Earth. Despite protests from scientists and the Grand Canyon Park superintendent, the book has stayed on the shelves. The Bush administration said it would review the policy, but the review hasn't even been started since the February complaint. NPS has also ordered bronze plaques with verses from Psalms placed at canyon overlooks, truly emphasizing what a Judeo-Christian religious experience the view can be.

So a government agency orders that visitors be offered a book of lies about the natural history of the Grand Canyon--in order to appease the homegrown Taliban--and is also posting religious messages for visitors to the park.

Question:  is there anyone in the civilized world who isn't laughing at the United States these days?  I guess those who are running in fear for their lives....

UPDATE:  Glenn Branch, Deputy Director of the wonderful National Center for Science Education, writes:

The plaques in question were donated to the park system by the Evangelical Sisterhood of Mary more than thirty years ago. A visitor to the park noticed them and asked the National Capital Area chapter of the ACLU to investigate, and the chapter sent a (non-threatening) letter of inquiry to the park superintendent, who then had the plaques removed. But this decision was then countermanded by the deputy director of the National Park Service, and the plaques were replaced. (All this in 2003.) A final decision on their status has yet to be reached, as far as I know.

So it's still a church/state problem, and the NPS higher-ups are still suspiciously dragging their heels, but in this instance new religious material hasn't been added. Cold comfort, I know.

Creation Museum Coming Soon

As further evidence that America is sinking in to the dark ages, reader Doug Barnes calls my attention to the fact that, in Kentucky, they are building a Creation Museum which will teach children lies and falsehoods about the origins of life.  (See their FAQs page to get an idea what's planned.)

Ain't freedom grand?

David Brooks Whitewashes Religious Fundamentalism...

...and UT law student Tyler Whitmer takes Brooks apart; an excerpt:

To "evangelize" is to teach the gospel. You can do that without believing that the bible must be taken literally and without interpretation. "Fundamentalism" is strict adherence to a very particular reading of a religious text (or, I suppose if you are a fundamentalist, the "true" or "literal" reading of the text).

If we want to be precise about what American Fundamentalists are, we ought to call them American (because they adhere to a reading of the bible with roots in American Protestantism) Fundamentalist (because they adhere to this reading strictly, and often disparage those who do not do so) Evangelical (because they energetically attempt to push this reading on others) Theocrats (because they attempt to do so through the state)....

[A]t the end [Brooks] wraps up the column by saying that politicians ("especially Democrats") must begin their "appealing" to "people of faith" (another very unfortunate euphemism) by "understanding the faith." Clearly he does not understand it, like too many others for whom only the imposition of actual theocracy will force recognition of the fact that American Fundamentalism as it attempts to capture the state diverges from its close Islamic cousin (e.g., the Taliban) only in the book it purports to be absolute truth and the means (though in the case of abortion clinic bombers, even this distinction is blurred) through which it strives for its goal.

I guess someone is going to have to make a Hollywood movie, replete with all the special effects bells and whistles, about what would happen if these people manage to completely tear down the wall between Church and State and rule the U.S. as they would have it ruled (according to their own strict reading of the bible) before people will wake up.

As a civil libertarian, I am finding it harder and harder to defend the right of these people to practice their faith while simultaneously defending my right to be free of it myself, but both are too important to allow either to lapse.

Evangelize all you want, just don't do it through the government of my country.

Disclaimer Stickers for Science Textbooks...

...are available here.  (By the way, the first one was really proposed in Georgia!)  These should come in handy as the United States sinks further in to the dark night of ignorance. 

(Thanks to Doug Barnes for the pointer.)

UPDATE:  Professor Daniel Ray from Eastern Michigan University notes some complications posed by the recommended stickers:

Prof. Leiter:  Enjoy your site tremendously, and I'm laughing (better to do that than cry, I suppose) at the linked disclaimers page.  However, I must take issue with a couple of the disclaimers.  First, the sticker on continental drift is blatantly inaccurate.  We are witnessing this continent drift backwards into pre-Enlightenment with each passing day.  As to the disclaimer on gravity, it's correct as far as it goes, but to make it completely accurate, the following needs to be added:
If you intend to experiment with your childrens' lives using the theory of gravity as you are willing to do with their education using the theory of evolution, you should first acquaint yourself with the principle of deceleration.  This principle posits that a relatively smaller mass accelerating toward a larger mass will, upon contacting that larger mass, rapidly decelerate.  The rapidly decelerating mass, if theretofore living, may thus end up in a theoretical state sometimes referred to as dead.  See the death theory disclaimer.
Of course, this would then necessitate a disclaimer that death is merely a theory that some people believe to be false by reason of the theory of eternal life (meaning, of course, another sticker), and that the theory of death should be approached with an open mind and cautiously.
Sorry to open up such a can of worms here; just trying to be helpful.

More Textbook Mischief by the Texas Taliban

Pharyngula has a (sadly!) accurate roundup of all the harm done to schoolchildren by the Texas Taliban on the State Board of Education and by the disgraceful Terri Leo in particular (do see this riotous letter to Mrs. Leo).  Why do these stupid, petty people want to harm my children?  Why do they want to make all the children of Texas as ignorant as their own? 

On the American Taliban

From Counterpunch, an excerpt:

"The United States isn't immune to the fundamentalist El Niño circling the globe. Iran has its mullahs. Afghanistan has its Taliban. Saudi Arabia has its Wahhabites. We have evangelicals, whose world view is different from those doctrinaire brigades in dress only.

"What they all have in common is the subordination of private and public conduct to God's law as they understand it and the rejection of the secular values of the Enlightenment on which America's constitutional principles were founded, what historian Garry Wills sums up as 'critical intelligence, tolerance, respect for evidence, a regard for the secular sciences.'

"Quashing those principles may not be what we want as a society. But, for now, it's what we're headed toward. Secularism is by nature accommodating and diffuse where zealotry is grasping and single-minded. And George W. Bush's born-again Republican Party (which has very little to do with Ronald Reagan's GOP and nothing to do with Nelson Rockefeller's and Prescott Bush's) depends for survival on its arranged marriage with evangelicals. The two feed on each other in a symbiosis that will survive so long as national values are defined by the fundamentalists.

"Evidence of scandalous presidential deception on, and incompetence in, Iraq; of negligence the summer before the 2001 attacks; of officially sanctioned brutality and torture in military prisons from Guantanamo to Kabul; of routine contempt for due process and other constitutional rights; of wanton cronyism within the administration; of suppressing or faking evidence to manipulate favorable congressional votes (on the true cost of the Medicare prescription law, on tax cuts, on pollution rules) -- none of it matters. What matters is that a self-proclaimed Chosen One is in the White House claiming to be doing God's will and elevating it where he can.

God, if He happens to be listening, help us. Speaking at the University of Chicago Divinity School almost three years ago, Antonin Scalia, the next chief justice of the United States, defined the state as St. Paul defined it: 'The core of his message is that government -- however you want to limit that concept -- derives its moral authority from God. . . . And in this world the Lord repaid -- did justice -- through His minister, the state.' That concept, Scalia said, represents 'the consensus of Western thought until very recent times. Not just of Christian or religious thought, but of secular thought regarding the powers of the state. That consensus has been upset, I think, by the emergence of democracy . . . The reaction of people of faith to this tendency of democracy to obscure the divine authority behind government should not be resignation to it, but the resolution to combat it as effectively as possible.' So they did on Nov. 2.

"For secularism to reassert itself, it's time to doff another veil. Religion has traditionally been a subject commentators address only peripherally and never critically for obvious reasons. Theology was neither a matter of state nor of public concern. Few lay commentators are prepared or capable of addressing it. Evangelicals have taken advantage of that immunity to invade the public sphere unchecked. Now that their theology has become an engine of public policy and national purpose, it's fair to return to the basics of Enlightenment strategies, to tackle theology head-on, to ridicule its political presumptions and condemn its public grabs, where necessary, and to demolish its doctrinaire assumptions when appropriate. To treat it, in sum, on the equal footing it claims to be with all matters public and political."

The Pennsylvania Taliban Has Succeeded...

...where the Texas Taliban failed. What an embarrassment for Pennsylvania, and America.

Laura Bush: "Just Say 'No' to Science"

Details here.

(Thanks to Keith DeRose for the pointer.)

The Bush Administration's "War on the Enlightenment," continued

David Baltimore, President of Cal Tech, has a useful item in the September 24, 2004 issue of Science, which, unfortunately, is not available on-line without a subscription. Here is an excerpt:

"[A]s we approach the election, it is important to examine the most critical issues at the interface of science and politics in the determination of public policy. And on several of these issues, a new pattern of behavior by the administration is becoming clear. The sequence is as follows: A government position is taken on a matter of scientific importance; policy directions are announced and scientific justifications for those policies are offered; strong objections from scientists follow; the scientific rationale is then abandoned or changed, but the policies based on that science remain, stuck in the same place.

"U.S. policy with respect to HIV/AIDS is a case in point. The virus is spreading at an alarming rate, devastating Africa and now making horrifying inroads into the teeming continent of Asia. Stopping the spread, especially among the youngest and most productive members of society, should be the highest international priority. With a vaccine far in the future, stemming the tide requires that we educate people to protect themselves; and although abstinence and fidelity prevent exposure to HIV, under most circumstances the only safe and effective protection is condoms.

"Initially, the Bush administration gave scant recognition to the protective value of condom use. The Centers for Disease Control Web site (which was once changed to suggest, incorrectly, a possible relation between abortion history and breast cancer) contains a confusing mixture: some emphasis on condom failure rates and a plug for abstinence. Complaints apparently led to the addition of a positive statement about condom effectiveness. The U.S. Agency for International Development now promotes condom use. But the emphasis is on use in selected target populations, although the value of much more widespread use has been demonstrated repeatedly in scientific studies.

"Climate change has had a similar history. Repeated administration statements questioned the science behind the position of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that the global warming seen in the past 100 years is associated with human activity. Now, at last, comes a statement from an interagency administration committee, signed by cabinet secretaries, confirming the IPCC position. In the policy domain, however, we still have a long-range research program aimed toward a 'hydrogen economy,' but no commitment to current mitigation of this growing crisis.

"As for stem cells, the arbitrary decision to restrict federally supported research to the few cell lines available before the president's statement in 2001 still holds. After sustained criticism from the scientific community, the administration has conceded that the research is valuable. It has made funding available for research but nevertheless maintains the cell line restriction. And it supports legislation that would criminalize research involving nuclear transfer from somatic donor cells--work focused on making stem cell research more valuable, both therapeutically and experimentally."

First "Intelligent Design," now "Intelligent Grappling"

Details here:

"A Georgia group calling itself Teachers for Equal Time has asked that stickers be placed in all new physics textbooks which note that mutual attraction and relativity are not the only theories available to explain gravity and should not be taken as fact.

"Teachers for Equal Time hopes that the addition of the warning stickers will pave the way for the teaching of its alternative theory, Intelligent Grappling, the theory that certain intelligent and conscious agents 'push' things together."

(Fear not, readers, this is satire. Thanks to Ben Wolfson for the pointer.)

"Masters of Stupidity"

A law professor at another university writes with the following amusing remarks (not to mention nice words, which I get to gratuitously include):

"First, my compliments on your ever-interesting blog. Every day brings worthwhile and often horrifying information, expressed wittily and pungently. The swine in the White House shouldn't seek reelection; he should seek absolution. Keep up the good work!

"Probably I'm the last person in the world to realize this, but I wandered through some creationist sites recently and found that the Institute of Creation Research is authorized by the State of California to award the M.S. degree. If the S stood for stupidity I wouldn't much care, but how on earth can this group purport to give degrees in science, degrees held out as credentials by their brainwashed possessors? A college friend teaches at a little religious college in
[name omitted] where one of the science faculty has an ICR M.S. as his highest
degree. I suspect I learned more and better biology from Mr. Bloomhuff in ninth grade."

Creationist sneaks in to science journal

One of the creationist conmen associated with the Discovery [sic] Institute has an article in a science journal, which, we can be sure, will be broadcast far and wide by the creationist public relations folks. Details on the article and its real merits are here.

The Religious Right and Secular Liberals

This posting in late July on an article by one Dave Belden contesting the depth of a divide between the religious right and the secular left produced an interesting comment from reader Tyler Whitmer that I wanted to highlight; Mr. Whitmer wrote:

" a young agnostic liberal raised Southern Baptist in Texas, I find that this comment, though perhaps generally true, does not represent the reilgion that scares me (or the one I grew up in):

'After all, the popular churches all now stress love over doctrine, sin, or blame.'

"Show me how the religion of Tom DeLay, John Ashcroft, et. al. is about love rather than doctrine, sin or blame.

" casually reference the 'Left Behind' [book] series as some popular fantasy pulp series is to fundamentally misunderstand the method through which fundamentalism operates in this country. The narrative of the end times is a cultural centerpiece, but it is also a call to arms. The series is billed as fiction, but can be read as a socio-political manifesto. If you want to read good fiction about fundamentalism, may I suggest Tom Robbins' 'Skinny Legs and All.' Robbins lambasts from the outside what the 'Left Behind' books are to the core...religious fanaticism alive and well, working tirelessly to bring about the end of the world. I have a problem with that not as a liberal, but as a breathing person.

"That may sound like I'm just buying into the liberal nightmare to the Nth degree, but when my AG and my President both believe that if the world ends they will live eternally in paradise and I will burn forever in misery, I can't help but feel they don't have my best interests at heart.

"I can only hope the leaders are frauds, using the faith of the masses as a leash to lead them against their financial best interest. That is a sad thing for a young man to hope for from his leaders.

"Third...our author acts as though it is 'christians generally' who hold political power in the modern American right wing. He is wrong. Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, John Ashcroft, and gang are not 'christians generally' who are cool with switching churches and the female orgasm. They are modern fundamentalists who have a distinct ideology that embraces none of what Belden sees as moderating forces in modern American Christianity.

"My verdict? Our author here hasn't had much contact with real, American fundamentalism. Sounds to me like he's an Englishman living in the north who is a moderate Christian. Let's see:

"'Dave Belden, an Englishman living in New York State, is a corporate business writer. He has worked as a religious volunteer in India and Ethiopia, as a carpenter in England and America and is an active member, and past President, of a small congregation in Catskills, New York.'


Comments are open. No anonymous postings, as always.

Teaching evaluations

I like getting teaching evaluations at the end of the term. That they are generally quite positive is surely one reason; but they are also informative, and have helped me improve my teaching over time. My favorite student comment from this past term:

"I was concerned about taking your class after viewing your web site because you are so hostile to Christians and conservatives there. I was very glad that you keep that out of the class and think you are one of the best professors at UT Law."

This was the only student (out of about 100 who completed evaluations this past term) to remark on the blog. And while I'm puzzled by the reference to hostility towards Christians (I am hostile to impositions of majority religions on minorities, not to Christians), I'm glad that a student coming in as a skeptic came out with a ringing endorsement. Unlike the Young Conservatives of Texas, I actually believe that the political views of the professor should not intrude in the classroom. In any serious subject, with intellectual content, there is no reason for politics to play any role.

Conservative Front Groups and Their Misleading Names

Pharyngula asks:

"Have you ever noticed how reactionary conservative organizations are so ashamed of their causes that they give them names that represent the ideals of their opponents? For example, 'sound' science has nothing at all to do with good science—it's a smokescreen for hiding a corporate/political agenda under the pretense of legitimate scientific research. Or look at the Discovery Institute; it's about anything other than legitimate discovery, and is all about putting a pseudo-scientific veneer over old-fashioned blinkered religious ignorance.

"Add another example to the list: It sure sounds like it ought to be an advocacy group for stem cell research, doesn't it? When you look more closely at their agenda, though, what you discover is that its purpose is to stop stem cell research. I have no idea why they couldn't have been honest and just taken the domain name ''. It's available."

Texas Taliban Hypocrisy Department

Courtesy of Off the Kuff.

On Stuart Buck

(The following will not be of much interest to anyone but my law readers--unless you want to learn a bit about the pathologies of the far right of American legal thought at the dawn of the 21st century.)

I'm afraid Stuart Buck--yes, that Stuart Buck--has really lost it. When I commented on his idiotic intervention about naturalism, the a priori and Intelligent Design a few months back, I ended on a hopeful note:

"Mr. Buck's indeed quite 'confused': let's see if Mr. Buck, who is plainly more intellectually able than the hopeless Joe Carter, can acknowledge the point."

But now it's been pointed out to me that--on the site of one of those proverbial noxious mediocrities no less--Mr. Buck is still claiming that he was right all along.


But this is just the tip of the iceberg. Look at the difference between how a real scholar at a major law school reacted to my comments on Justice Thomas in the Pledge case and how Mr. Buck responded. Professor Garnett (Notre Dame, Law) wrote:

"Professor Leiter reminded me was not Justice Thomas's *historical* argument about the original meaning and purpose of the Establishment Clause that was characterized as 'lunatic' -- again, many scholars endorse it. Rather, his point was that 'when there are legal arguments on both sides of a question--say, whether the Establishment Clause applies to the states--to adopt the side that has repulsive moral and political consequences is lunatic.'

"Now, as Professor Leiter and I have discussed, I have a more positive view of Justice Thomas's work and views than he does, and I am not convinced that embracing Thomas's position -- i.e., 'the federal establishment clause does not apply against the states, but the free exercise clause does, and prevents state action that interferes with religious freedom and liberty of conscience, while probably permitting some things that today are regarded as "endorsements" of religion' -- would lead to 'repulsive moral and political consequences.' Still, I thought I should clarify any misimpressions I might have created about his argument."

All fair, and it states a clear (and actual!) disagreement.

Now we turn to the imploding Mr. Buck responding on the very same point. Mr. Buck quotes the same passage of mine--"when there are legal arguments on both sides of a question--say, whether the Establishment Clause applies to the states--to adopt the side that has repulsive moral and political consequences is lunatic"--but does not acknowledge that he had mischaracterized my views the first time around. Instead, here are a few highlights of his "response":

Buck: "it is by no means a certainty that one side leads to 'repulsive' consequences."
Leiter: No one said it was "certain"--but it is very likely, for reasons we'll return to below. But this is at least an implicit acknowledgment that advocacy of the "repulsive" consequences might be fairly described as "lunatic."

Buck: "Moreover, Justice Thomas does not believe that the Constitution, by some magical coincidence, commands him to strike down every law that personally displeases him. I, for one, have already made clear where my own political preferences lie here. I don't want the government leading children in prayer any more than anyone else. But what I dislike and what the Constitution bans are two different things."
Leiter: How quickly we have lost the crux of my point, which was premised on there being viable legal arguments on both sides of the questions, not on one side having "the law" on its side, while the other merely comports with "political preferences." As noted in the previous posting (Mr. Buck, perhaps prudently, is silent on this), Professor Laycock disputes the originalist argument that underlies Jusice Thomas's position; does Mr. Buck not think these are good legal arguments (or is Professor Laycock just imposing his "preferences" on the document)? There are non-originalist readings ("moral" and "structuralist" readings) which support familiar legal arguments against Justice Thomas's position. And then there is the simple fact that, whatever the original understanding, for decades and decades, almost all courts and scholars have agreed that the Establishment Clause is incorporated against the states. Mr. Buck is a lawyer; he must surely have encountered this peculiar habit of our courts of treating decades-old precedents as legally binding. It takes a separate argument to show why well-established precedent (even precedent one believes, on the basis of one's preferred theory of constitutional interpretation, is wrongly decided) should be scrapped. No such arguments are even in evidence.

Buck: [quotes Leiter noting that, "Stuart Buck...has collected references to various legal scholars claiming that the 'original intent' of the Establishment Clause was that it not apply to the states. Mr. Buck--who, alas, is a chronically bad reader--doesn't seem to notice that this wasn't in dispute . . ."]. "Technically, he's correct that he didn't dispute the 'original intent' of the Establishment Clause. But that's because he didn't actually dispute anything at all. His one-line comment was more of a spasm than an actual dispute."
Leiter: "Spasm"...ouch! But at least Mr. Buck acknowledges--hiding behind the word "technically" (i.e., in plain English)--his mistake. Might we also mention that the "one-line comment" about Justice Thomas came in a posting that otherwise had nothing to do with Justice Thomas, a fact that might have given a reader less motivated by bile pause before declaring that I must be calling every scholar who has written on the subject a "lunatic." (Some of them are, actually, on something like the "lunatic fringe" of academic opinion, but most are not, and that wasn't my subject in any case.) Since Mr. Buck has taken note of the fact that I've been a visiting profesor at Yale Law School, he might, in a possible world, have reasoned as follows: "Gee, Leiter probably knows what [Yale Law School's] Akhil Amar's views are, at least at some general level. So when he calls Justice Thomas a member of the 'lunatic fringe,' does he also mean to be attacking Amar because on this one point there is a similarity? That would be surprising, so what else might he mean. Oh, now I see, he isn't making any claim about the 'original meaning' of the First Amendment, he's taking issue with whether a Justice of the Supreme Court ought to be overturning decades of precedent, and especially in the current political environment, where the rights of religious minorities would likely be damaged. After all, it's not like there aren't good legal arguments--including, most obviously respect for precedent--for applying the Esatblishment Clause against the states." Professor Garnett, to his credit, acknowledged this point, and then articulated the crux of his dispute with it, as noted. Mr. Buck, alas, has not.

Buck: "In any event, he apparently now [Ed.--"now"? When did I claim otherwise?] wants to claim that the dispute is not over the Establishment Clause's meaning or intent, but over whether that meaning and intent should apply today. But even there, his argument (including his parade of horribles) would just as firmly apply to Akhil Amar, who has also argued that the Establishment Clause should not apply today and on whose work Justice Thomas relied. It's a bit odd to deem the likes of Amar to be a 'lunatic,' but that is what Leiter effectively [emphasis added] did."
Leiter: Careful now, Mr. Buck, we are overreaching again, in rather irresponsible ways. Professor Amar is an inventive, and also generally cautious, scholar; in most of his work he is rather clear that his claim is that the best historically informed understanding of the Bill of Rights is that while most of the Bill of Rights is incorporated against the states as an upshot of the post-Civil War constitutional revolution (and the 14th Amendment, in particular), Professor Amar thinks this is not true for a handful of provisions, including the Establishment Clause. (I suppose it is worth noting, for the benefit of non-law readers, that Justice Thomas's invocation of Amar's views are wholly opportunistic, since on most other points, he subscribes to nothing like Amar's vision of the Constitution.) An interesting scholarly judgment, but rather different from arguing that we should overturn decades of precedent, something that Professor Amar is not in the habit of arguing, but which is at issue when Supreme Court Justices, not scholars, flirt with these ideas.

Buck: "Whatever the original 'intent' was, the fact remains that the Establishment Clause's text is literally written such that Congress can't interfere with state establishments. Textualism is a different theory from 'original intent' originalism, as Leiter knows, and it is the text that is at issue."
Leiter: Now we are getting silly: by this logic, individuals have no free speech rights against the states, and it would never be permissible for any federal law to restrict speech--both "literalist" views of the First Amendment that the courts and scholars have overwhelmingly rejected. We can not, one minute, be invoking a non-literalist like Professor Amar, and a moment later, argue that the whole debate is "really" about constitutional literalism.

But things get even weirder, since it turns out Mr. Buck isn't done.

I made the point that in the absence of the application of the Establishment Clause to the states, we would likely see the theocrats who control the Texas Republican Party trying to impose religious tests for public office; I was thinking, among other things, of the provision of the Texas Constitution which requires that every public officeholder be a religious believer--a provision that isn't enforced because (you guessed it!) it's unconstitutional under the Federal Establishment Clause, the one Justice Thomas would like to exempt the states from.

Mr. Buck, bizarrely, replies
by quoting this exact same provision of the Texas Constitution, which states that anyone who does not "acknowledge the existence of a Supreme Being" will "be excluded from holding [public] office"! So what can Mr. Buck be thinking? He is impressed by the first part of the Texas Constitutional provision in question which purports to bar religious tests for public office--only to then impose one, of course. Mr. Buck's comment (this is verbatim, I'm not making this up): "Granted, the second half of the religious test clause doesn't appear to protect avowed atheists, although I would be surprised if there has ever been an occasion when that provision's exception came into use." Granted, indeed! Yet, as noted already, the reason the clause has not been applied is because of the U.S. Constitution, not the Texas one. Perhaps we will be informed next that since it was not the original intent of the framers to protect atheists, that they are not entitled to constitutional protection. No doubt such an argument will be made without asking what moral standing such intentions deserve.

Continue reading "On Stuart Buck" »

Ignorant Law Professors on the March

One of the embarrassing facts about the Intelligent Design scam is how many law professors are involved in it. Their leader is Philip Johnson, a scholarly mediocrity in his chosen field (criminal law), who found a new raison d'etre by campaigning against Darwin. As mathematician Jeffrey Shallitt puts it in an amusing review of one of Johnson's books:

"Imagine this: a law professor with no scientific training, after a mid-life crisis in which he became a fundamentalist Christian, announces that Newton's laws are wrong. Scientists only believe Newton's laws, he claims, because they have a prior commitment to 'naturalism'. The scientific evidence for Newton's laws is weak, he claims, and depends mostly on clever word games, where scientists first talk about motion of objects on the earth ('micromotion') and then extrapolate to the movements of the heavenly bodies ('macromotion'). We do not see objects on the earth moving about by themselves; any moving object is always the result of an intelligence that set that object in motion. The law professor writes books decrying Newtonism and discussing the social decay it leads to. He organizes conferences and develops a strategy for getting supernatural explanations for motion taught in science classes.

"Sound farfetched? Perhaps. But just change 'Newtonism' to 'Darwinism' and you've got the strange crusade of Berkeley law professor Phillip Johnson, exemplified in this silly and dishonest book.

"Looking for scientific evidence against evolution? You won't find it here (or anywhere else, for that matter). What you will find is the kind of rhetoric lawyers are skilled at: if the facts and law are against you, pound the table.

"You'll also find deep misunderstandings of the nature of science (which doesn't 'prove' its theories, as suggested on p. 42) and information (which, contrary to Johnson's claims on p. 73, can indeed be generated by physical processes).

"This book could be the basis for an easy and fun game called 'liar or fool'. Nearly every page offers a choice. When Johnson claims (p. 94) that 'We know that the Darwinian mechanism doesn't work and that complex biological systems never were put together by the accumulation of random mutations through natural selection', is it a lie or just stupidity? And who is the 'we', anyway? It certainly doesn't refer to people who actually study biology for a living, since 99% of them accept that evolution is the best explanation for the diversity of life as we see it today.

"When Johnson defines macroevolution as 'the vaguely described process that supposedly creates innovations such as new complex organs or body parts' (p. 57), is it a lie or just ignorance of the definition actually used by biologists?"

Or consider John Eastman, a conservative law professor at Chapman University in California, who decided to interject himself in to the Leiter/VanDyke debate, though without, rather clearly, doing any research in to this matter beyond what he "learned" [sic] from National Review On Line. He did so, bizarrely, on a listserve devoted to scholarly discussion of law and religion issues, in which serious scholars of the subject, such as Eugene Volokh (UCLA), Steven Gey (Florida State), and my colleagues Douglas Laycock and Lawrence Sager participate (which is how I learned of it).

Here is what Professor Eastman saw fit to write. And here is what I wrote to Professor Eastman in response (who didn't, shall we say, cope with it too well).

"Dear Professor Eastman:

"A colleague has forwarded to me your astonishing and irresponsible posting attacking me from the Law & Religion listserve. Your posting is astonishing on many levels:

"(1) You misrepresent as my 'key charge' what is in fact the conclusion of my critique of the Intelligent Design proponents, a critique which you nowhere reference or discuss. My detailed critique of Mr. VanDyke, which was the basis for my conclusion, is available by starting here--then follow the links therein.

"(2) You misquote the conclusion, as did National Review Online, which suggests that your only source for your smear job on me was the National Review. Is your practice to attack your professional colleagues based on reports by journalists? And are you aware that the author of the NRO article is one of Francis Beckwith's graduate students, though that is nowhere noted at the NRO site? Might that not warrant greater scholarly caution on your part in relying too heavily on his misrepresentation and selective representation of my views?

"(3) Why do you think a scholarly listserve devoted to law and religion issues is a forum in which to speculate about whether a professional colleague has defamed someone?

"(4) That you think the proponents of Intelligent Design have 'take[n] seriously Darwin's own methodology' suggests that you are spectacularly ignorant about the relevant science, and thus would do well to refrain from comment on these matters. As you are no doubt aware, the overwhelming majority of biologists, the National Academy of Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and on and on, all reject your view of the matter.

"(5) Your reference to 'the tyrannical orthodoxy of the Darwinian crowd' confirms, I'm afraid, the suspicion that you are ignorant about the state of biological science. But let me pose this to you as a hypothetical. Suppose a Note appeared in the Harvard Law Review arguing that the constitution permits a state to enact a law that would bar Christian fundamentalists from serving as law professors; the author argues that this presents no Establishment or Free Exercise issues. The Note, by necessity, is shoddily documented, full of bold assertions, but inadequate support throughout. It is an incompetent piece of work; one might even call it a 'scholarly fraud.' (Let's suppose too, just for fun, that the Note is quickly picked up as ammunition by a political movement in dozens of states bent on barring Christian fundamentalists from serving as law professors).

"Suppose, in response, you called the Note incompetent and fraudulent in its scholarlship, and then others responded by mocking 'the tyrannical orthodoxy of the Religious Liberty crowd.' This would be an odd response, would it not, since views that are correct ought to be orthodox, and they ought to exercise the tyranny appropriate to truth, namely, a tyranny over falsehood and dishonesty. Of course, it would be odd, under those circumstances, to call it, pejoratively, 'tyranny' and 'orthodoxy,' would it not? But that is what you have done with Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection, and the only explanation can be that you have no idea what the actual state of the relevant
biological science is. In light of that, you might be better served by silence on these matters."

Philip Johnson might be well-served by the same advice. Alas...

Continue reading "Ignorant Law Professors on the March" »

The "Demarcation" Problem in Philosophy of Science

Ed Brayton from Michigan--familiar to readers of this blog as one of the "good guys" in the battles with intelligent design creationism--has become interested in the "demarcation problem" in philosophy of science, and is puzzled by some of Larry Laudan's arguments about why Popper's "falsifiability" criterion won't solve it. I know there are readers of this blog who are far more skilled philosophers of science than me, and I invite them to join the discussion at Mr. Brayton's blog.

Branch on the Intelligent Design Scam

Glenn Branch of the National Center for Science Education has a useful piece on the new "teach the controversy" strategy of the anti-evolutionists.

From the mouths of babes...the "American Taliban,"

in their own words.

"Science isn't a democracy"

UPDATE, MOVING THIS STORY TO THE FRONT: Support NPR by e-mailing [email protected] to commend NPR for their correct decision not to give equal time to the anti-evolutionists. Already the forces of reaction and ignorance are mobilizing their troops: Pharyngula and Chris Mooney (see esp. his Update) have details.


Three cheers for NPR for dissing the pathological liars at the Discovery [sic] Institute: Chris Mooney has the details:

"The Discovery Institute is going totally bonkers because NPR has courageously decided to do something that few other media outlets would dare: Refuse to prop up pseudoscience....

"ID supporters don't deserve equal time with evolution supporters, because they haven't successfully shown that their theory is a scientific rival to evolution. By creating the appearance of a one-on-one debate between ID and evolution, NPR would essentially be giving the impression that the two views have equal scientific stature. But they clearly do not....

"NPR needs to stand its ground and refuse to give in, despite loudly trumpeted accusations of censorship. The station needs to realize that these meritless charges are totally predictable: Discovery's goal is to be part of the debate, to claim a seat at the scientific table. When the ID viewpoint is excluded, Discovery's gang can be expected to cry bloody murder. And pretty soon, its media surrogates will take up the accusation (if they haven't already).

"I say let them. Science isn't a democracy, period. NPR needs to keep that firmly in mind as it comes under attack."

An "Interview" (sort of) with Dr. James Dobson...

...right-wing religious zealot and crusader for morality: here. A sample:

FAFBLOG: So! How's the Family?
JAMES DOBSON: The Family is in deadly danger, Fafnir.
FB: Danger? Oh no! I like families!
JD: Yes, danger from the homosexual agenda which has been trying for decades to destroy it.
FB: I never knew homosexuals had an agenda! I just thought they were ordinary people who were easily stereotyped as lovers of musical theater.
JD: So they and the gay-controlled Hollywood elite would have you believe. But the Forces of Gay are now closer than ever to destroying the divine institution of the civil marriage certificate, and with it, the family itself.
FB: You must hate gay people then, since they're trying to destroy the family.
JD: We don't hate gay people, Fafnir. We just want them to functionally cease to exist by having them suppress all their natural physical impulses and force themselves to marry and have sex with members of the opposite gender.
FB: Wow. That's a very loving attitude to take Dr. Dobson.
JD: Yes, it is.

A Defeat for the Minnesota Taliban...

...and a victory for science, education and children. Pharyngula has the details. Meanwhile, the pathological liars at the Discovery [sic] Institute are pretending it's a victory--just as they did when they were squarely defeated in Texas in the fall.

Creationist Genetics...

...and "how much [a certain kind of] conservative Christian identity is tied to the denial of civil rights and opposition to science"--from Pharyngula, who else? Read with care the lesson in micro-evolution and genetics from the Old Testament.

False Objectivity in Science Reporting

Chris Mooney here explains how journalists contribute to scientific ignorance. Sometimes there aren't two sides to an issue, unless you count the lies and falsehoods. (The point could be generalized beyond scientific issues.) Mooney writes:

"In its most simplistic version, journalistic objectivity means that both sides on an issue should be balanced out against one another. But this definition collapses when it comes to scientific issues. Science isn't a democracy, and in practice, one side in a scientific debate is often much more reputable than another. Findings that have survived peer review, been published in leading journals, and replicated or confirmed by other scientists tend to have much stronger weight attached to them. The current consensus view of the climate science community - that humans are heating the planet through greenhouse gas emissions, though it's debatable exactly how much - is a good example of a robust scientific conclusion. It arises from the highly rigorous global peer review process conducted under the auspices of the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and has been confirmed by the United States' own National Academy of Sciences (NAS).

"By contrast, with a few exceptions, the views of conservative contrarians on the climate issue rarely find anything more than superficial support in the peer reviewed literature. However, the media allow these contrarians to get around this problem and keep debate alive through non-scientific channels. On newspaper op-ed pages and in he-said, she-said exchanges presented by news reporters, contrarians battle back against the scientific consensus. They're entirely in their element: Newspaper op-ed pages don't practice scientific quality control. And while career science writers may be well informed about the issues they cover, they may also feel compelled by journalistic canons to present the 'other side' even when scientists themselves have stopped taking that side seriously."

Another apt recent example was the Harvard Law School's newspaper coverage of Lawrence VanDyke's incompetent and dishonest apology for Intelligent Design.

Creationist Theme Park

Many folks were kind enough to forward this story about an amusement park for creationists. (Pharyngula also comments here.) Doug Keller, a UT law student, noted that "a creationist theme park has opened up to combat the propaganda at Disney World, giving the public a fair and balanced viewpoint about evolution that only Bill O’Reily could appreciate." Another reader, a graduate student at NYU, asked, "Shouldn't there be laws against doing this to kids?" There probably should be--there is an interesting book on the subject (Religious Schools vs. Children's Rights [Cornell University Press, 1998]) by lawyer/philosopher James Dwyer (William & Mary Law)--but there aren't. Among other things, as we will quickly be reminded by U.S. friends of liberty, it would violate the religious liberty of the parents in question.

But let's think about what could be next: theme parks devoted to holocaust denial, or to showing that "war is peace," or that the sun really does revolve around the earth--the list could go on.

But the creationist theme park is really just the tip of the iceberg--namely, the vast commercial empire devoted to producing goods and services that reinforce the beliefs of the orthodox, and shield them, and especially their children, from any other sources of information. The consequences for democracy and public culture are potentially very serious.

But religious liberty is religious liberty, after all.

UPDATE: One reader correctly points out that, quite apart from religious liberty, there is the "privacy" right of parents to educate and raise their children as they see fit--one of the issues Professor Dwyer is concerned with, as I recall, in his book. Religious liberty would be most directly implicated in any attempt by the state to regulate creationist theme parks, but it might also be implicated in the issue of parental rights over children. As it is, for example, there are limits on what parents can do to children (you can't deny them education, health care, food; you can't turn them in to slaves or prostitutes or drug runners, etc.). Should there be limits on the lies you can teach them? For institutional and pragmatic reasons, probably not. But should the law mandate participation in institutions (such as schools) that can provide counterweights, and insure a functional, civilized, public culture? Probably yes. But right now the U.S. fails on the second count, with possibly deleterious consequences, as noted above.

Intelligent Design and "Patent Con-Artists"

Pharyngula is having good fun with ID theorist William Dembski's "elevation of patent con-artists to spiritual leaders."

Italian Scientists and Other Citizens Protest the Removal of Evolution from the School Curriculum

Enzo Rossi, a philosophy graduate student at the University of St. Andrews, confirms that the theory of evolution has been removed from the Italian school curriculum, but calls my attention to "an on-line plea against those obscurantist new primary school curricula" here. He notes:

"The plea is hosted by the liberal newspaper 'Repubblica', and it has been launched and signed by prominent Italian scientists (including several Nobel Prize-winners), as well as by some 28,000 other people."

Let us hope this public outcry will result in this shameful decision being reversed.

Meet the Italian Taliban

If this is accurate, Italy should be expelled from the European Union.

Old Dogs Can't Learn New Tricks

On April 6, I wrote: "Some folks don’t know how to cut their losses. Lawrence VanDyke’s complete scientific and scholarly incompetence has been so thoroughly reviewed by me (here and here), biologists, political commentators, and those concerned with science education, that you’d think he might just admit what is now obvious: that he was out of his depth, scientifically and philosophically, and leave it at that. We’re all entitled to make mistakes, after all."

But along comes the April 22 Harvard Law School newspaper quoting VanDyke still not cutting his losses: "'Contrary to most of Leiter and his cronies' [sic] attacks on my piece, the actual argument of my note has really nothing to do with the empirical support for ID,' asserted VanDyke. 'My note addresses a prior question - should ID be damned before ever even getting a fair hearing on the empirical merits? I say no - to do so with consistency would require similarly damning naturalistic evolution.'"

So he's still running the same argument--the one where he compounds his scientific ignorance, with philosophical ignorance--that I discussed on April 6.


UPDATE: Reader Jason Walta writes:

"Ah, the sweet bliss of cognitive dissonance.

"Compare this:

'According to 2L VanDyke's note, the Intelligent Design (ID) movement "insists that "intelligent agency" provides an origins paradigm that is better supported by the empirical evidence and gives greater coherence to our scientific observations and philosophical intuitions than does the philosophy of methodological naturalism (MN) underlying evolutionary orthodoxy." (4/22/04 HLS Record article, page 1.)

"with this:

'Contrary to most of Leiter and his cronies' attacks on my piece, the actual argument of my note has really nothing to do with the empirical support for ID,' asserted VanDyke. (Id., page 2)."

And more apt comments on the article from Chris Mooney here, which makes some important points of general applicability about the pretense of journalistic objectivity.

And finally, more from Pharyngula, who offers the wise maxim: "First Rule of Holes: If you're in one, stop digging."

Reader Reaction on the Federalist Society and Intelligent Design

A distinguished legal scholar and well-known Federalist Society figure reacted to my recent comments on Stuart Buck and Lawrence VanDyke, in which I quipped that they seem "intent on making sure the Federalist Society gets a reputation as a hotbed of dense apologists for Intelligent Design." This reader objects:

"[H]olding the Federalist Society responsible for idiotic design people in its midst is like holding the Democratic Party responsible for Larouchies. More to the point, once someone has bought into theism in the first place, is it really that far a stretch to intelligent design? If someone believes in leprechauns and also thinks that the leprechauns make the marshmallows in Lucky Charms, which is the belief that really requires attention? Similarly, if someone has managed to cross the rational divide to theism in the first place, why spend time criticizing what, compared to the original mistake, is small potatoes?"

This is plainly a much stronger objection to VanDyke et al. than I registered, but it is consistent with something I remarked on in an earlier posting in this series on Intelligent Design, namely, that, "I've already heard from members [of the Federalist Society] who are embarrassed, needless to say, to have their group associated with repackaged creationism. For the record: the Federalist Society has no stake in creationism, even if that is where Mr. VanDyke has chosen to hang his hat."

And, indeed, I can go further than that: the legal academics I know who are involved with the Federalist Society are really much closer in their views about religion, science, and especially Intelligent Design to my correspondent than they are to Messrs. Buck and VanDyke. This is an interesting fact about the academic branch of the Federalist Society, namely, that it is quite clearly (1) more libertarian than socially conservative, and (2) more skeptical about religion, and enthusiastic about science, than many conservatives allied with the Federalist Society outside the legal academy.

If you haven't had your fill of the ignorant peddlers of ID creationism being eaten alive...

...then do check out this demolition of one of VanDyke's defenders. (Those who think rough rhetoric--like noting that VanDyke, or now his defender Joe Carter, is intellectually incompetent--involves an ad hominem will benefit in particular from the explanation of what the ad hominem fallacy actually is. And perhaps we should remember that insulting names, just like other names, have referential content: complaining that they are "names" (as in "name-calling") does not show that they are not true descriptions.)

"The less they know, the less they know it."

UPDATE: Wow, this poor fellow really doesn't know when to quit: now he's getting creamed over here. No doubt, he'll start complaining soon that I called him "intellectually incompetent," not noticing the accumulating evidence for that descriptive proposition.

ANOTHER UPDATE: I spoke too soon: Mr. Carter, aka, "The Evangelical Outpost," indeed jumps again on the ad hominem wagon here, but what is really quite extraordinary is the dialogue in the comments section between "Ian" and "Trunk"--who try to correct Mr. Carter with extraordinary patience--and Mr. Carter's responses, which confirm that he understands naught (admittedly, that might have been clear from the "dialogue" at The Panda's Thumb site--but this one is even more dramatic). Although this is a slightly amusing spectacle, at bottom it is depressing: how can society function if, as one fears, there are more than a handful of folks as defiantly irrational as this guy?

AND ANOTHER: More on this odd display here (fairly amusing)...and now also Pharyngula, who is very funny on the subject, as always.

On Methodological Naturalism and Intelligent Design (or Why Can't Lawrence VanDyke Leave Well Enough Alone?)

Some folks don’t know how to cut their losses. Lawrence VanDyke’s complete scientific and scholarly incompetence has been so thoroughly reviewed by me (here and here), biologists, political commentators, and those concerned with science education, that you’d think he might just admit what is now obvious: that he was out of his depth, scientifically and philosophically, and leave it at that. We’re all entitled to make mistakes, after all.

Not VanDyke. After being sliced and diced, he now comes back, once again, accusing others of “ignorance” and errors: see his latest here. His new fantasy is that his critics, me prominently among them, missed the “real point” of his 8-page book review; in calling attention to his total misrepresentation of the relevant science and the scientific status of Intelligent Design creationism, we were focussing on mere “empirical quibbles” (that’s VanDyke’s new phrase to describe his quasi-fraudulent portrayal of the scientific issues, which are central to the question of the constitutional status of teaching ID in the public schools). It may be that in his initial review, VanDyke was simply handicapped by ignorance and intellectual feebleness, not intentional dishonesty; but this latest reply seems to be more clearly a case of actual fraud (it seems the most charitable explanation for the dishonest rhetoric of the piece, but perhaps there is another story to be told).

According to VanDyke, “Even if I did see fit to attack ID the way Leiter imagines, it wouldn't be in the introduction, where detailed empirical research would be structurally inapposite.” Unfortunately, there was no “imagination” required: I quoted VanDyke, and showed that his claims were either false and/or unsupported. If VanDyke hadn’t repeatedly made claims about the empirical questions, it would not have been possible for me or anyone else to take issue with them.

But now we get to the heart of the matter; my comments are interspersed with VanDyke’s spectacular misrepresentations of the philosophical issues in what follows:

VanDyke: “the only thing [in Leiter’s critique] remotely [sic] related to the actual argument in my Note was Leiter's comment that ‘one line’ from the ‘polemical Richard Lewontin’ does not indicate that evolution has an a priori commitment to Methodological Naturalism. This is false on several fronts. First, regarding the a priori commitment to MN, it is widely accepted by non-ID philosophers of science that Leiter is simply wrong.”

Leiter: The only thing "simply wrong" is the claim that philosophers of science believe science manifests an a priori commitment to MN. Once again, VanDyke has no idea what he is talking about; he knows less about the subject than even an undergraduate philosophy major would know.

VanDyke: “As I previously noted, John Rennie, editor-in-chief of Scientific American, has unequivocally stated: ‘A central tenet of modern science is methodological naturalism.’”

Leiter: Unfortunately, that claim, which is perfectly reasonable, doesn’t show that the tenet is a priori, which is the only issue.

VanDyke: “In fact, I could have included quotes from Churchland, Hull, Searle, Flew, Crick, Rachels, Futuyama, Strickberger, and P. Z. Meyers, to name just a few thinkers who understand evolutionary theory as applied materialism.”

Leiter: VanDyke could not have included quotes showing that the philosophers among them think methodological naturalism is an a priori dogma—that’s the issue. Evolutionary biologists pursue a research program predicated on the search for naturalistic causal mechanisms because it’s turned out, as an a posteriori matter, that such a research program produces spectacular results. By contrast, there is no research program with any research or results utilizing supernatural causal mechanisms. That is why scientists are methodological naturalists. Their reasons are a posteriori. It really is that simple, VanDyke’s astonishing ignorance notwithstanding.

VanDyke: “Leiter's comments in this regard reveal a palpable ignorance.”

Leiter: Things are bad enough, kid, don’t overreach!

VanDyke: “The number of works that have addressed the issue of philosophical presuppositions and non-scientific understandings on the formation and maintaining of scientific theories is enormous.”

Leiter: That, of course, is true: one thinks of Quine, Feyerabend, Bachelard, Kuhn, Hanson, Lakatos, Laudan, Kitcher, Shapin, Barnes & Bloor, and many others. But, of course, I didn’t deny that this literature existed. The difficulty is that the existing literature doesn’t support what VanDyke is after, and he, of course, quotes nothing to suggest otherwise.

VanDyke: “If [Leiter] had even perused Dr. Beckwith's book he would have come in modest contact with some of the leading lights in this literature including Larry Laudan, a philosopher of science who is currently on the faculty at the University of Texas and whose greatness Leiter himself extols (see here).”

Leiter: I’ve not only perused Beckwith’s book, I’ve read large parts of it, and it might be said on VanDyke’s behalf that the book is, in many respects, as misleading as VanDyke’s review (Beckwith is a bit more careful on certain crucial points than VanDyke, to be sure--but a competent book reviewer might have noted, rather than parotting, Beckwith's misleading claims). My colleague Larry Laudan is, needless to say, well beyond being amazed anymore by the gross misrepresentations of his views--and of issues in the philosophy of science--in law reviews and by proponents of ID. (Didn’t it occur to VanDyke that I might walk down the hall and point out his nonsense to Laudan? He just rolled his eyes and chuckled.)

Beckwith invokes Laudan on two main points.

First, Beckwith notes that Laudan, like every other major philosopher of science now alive, thinks that the “demarcation problem” that exercised mid-20th-century philosophy of science—how do we demarcate science from non-science, or genuinely cognitive domains from nonsense—can not be solved. This now banal piece of philosophical wisdom goes no distance, obviously, towards showing that ID and creationism aren’t bad science, with nothing to commend them as research programs--which Laudan clearly believes, as Beckwith correctly notes. Has VanDyke read Beckwith’s book?

If so, he might have also noted that Beckwith quotes Laudan [at 25] noting that ID “is inconsistent with methodological naturalism and ontological materialism...[b]ut that fact has no bearing whatsoever on the plausbility of the arguments for ID.” Why does Laudan say that? Because methodological naturalism is an a posteriori doctrine, which means if ID generated any empirical results incompatible with it—it has not, of course—then so much the worse for MN. The problem is purely a posteriori: ID has no research program and no empirical support, so it presents no challenge at all to the reliance on naturalistical explanatory mechanisms. Laudan thinks talk of "pseudo-science" is misleading in the absence of a solution to the demarcation problem; Laudan has no reservations about talk about "good" and "bad" science as measured by their results and the evidence on behalf of their claims.

Second, Beckwith calls attention to Laudan's acknowledgment of “the existence of a certain degree of dogmatism about core commitments in scientific research [think Lewontin!]" and of the fact that "such dogmatism plays a constructive role in promoting the aims of science.” Now what does this mean? It means that scientists engaged in science make a lot more progress if they take for granted an awful lot of stuff, than if they view everything as “up for grabs” all the time. It goes no distance, whatsoever, to showing that the stuff they “take for granted” at a particular moment in the history of scientific inquiry is “a priori”: this Laudan, like everyone else who knows anything about the subject, denies.

Beckwith obscures this by moving straight from Laudan’s point to one reading of Kuhn’s views (see 26). Since Beckwith isn’t the least bit interested in the philosophical issues—his book, rather obviously, is a brief for a particular position, namely, that teaching ID in the public schools is constitutional--he nowhere notes that one of the major critics of Kuhn is none other than...Larry Laudan! (This kind of opportunistic philosophy of science--invoke Laudan when it suits you, forget him a moment later when he critiques exactly the point you want to make--is all-too-typical of this literature.) But an ignorant reader of Beckwith—of whom VanDyke appears to be one-will be led to believe that Laudan’s points, noted above, are part of the science-debunking program of one reading of Kuhn (a reading Kuhn himself rejected).

Continue reading "On Methodological Naturalism and Intelligent Design (or Why Can't Lawrence VanDyke Leave Well Enough Alone?)" »

It Doesn't Have the Ring of "Texas Taliban"...

...but this article on "the Christian Taliban" comes to the same thing. The author writes:

"During the Taliban rule of Afghanistan the world got a good look at what happens when religious zealots gain control of a government. Television images of women being beaten forced to wear burkas and banned from schools and the workplace helped build strong public support for the President's decision to invade Afghanistan in the wake of 9/11.

"But even as President George W. Bush denounced the brutal Islamic fundamentalist regime in Kabul, he was quietly laying the foundations for his own fundamentalist regime at home. For the first time far right Christian fundamentalists had one of their own in the White House and the opportunity to begin rolling back decades of health and family planning programs they saw as un-Christian, if not downright sinful.

"Since 2001 dozens of far-right Christian fundamentalists have been quietly installed in key positions within the Department of Health and Human Services, the Federal Drug Administration and on commissions and advisory committees where they have made serious progress. Three years later this administration has established one of the most rigid sexual health agendas in the Western world."

Read the whole thing for all the ugly details.

More Fallout from the Harvard Law Review ID Scandal

Details here: "An effective program to prevent misstatements of fact in the context of stating opinions is also a critical component of credibility, even if it is not specifically identified as such. Exhibit A: The raging controversy over Van Dyke's deceptive—even mendacious—'book note', which has probably resulted in serious harm to the credibility of not just the Harvard Law Review, but of student contributions to law reviews across the country."

Having started the raging on this controversy, let me observe that I think the lesson to draw is that, where partisan political or religious positions are at stake, what appears in law reviews--and not just by students--should be approached with caution and skepticism. I also have the impression that most law reviews engage in more rigorous cite-checking than, it appears, does the current editorial board of the Harvard Law Review . But the sins of HLR--which are real in this case--shouldn't be visited on student-edited law reviews generally.

Another Voice on Intelligent Design and the Harvard Law Review

Kevin Drum, aka the Political Animal at Washington Monthly, aka, the former CalPundit, has kindly weighed in with his take on my critique of the Harvard Law Review, and the resulting brouhaha. (For my review of the whole business, start here and follow the links.)

Mr. Drum, it is worth noting, is one of the most mild figures in the blogosphere; unlike present company, Mr. Drum might actually be voted "nicest political blogger alive." Thus, it is all the more striking how the whole affair struck him:

"I've been following the whole thing with one eye, and while I have no sympathy for the ID jihadists I admit that all along I've had a sneaking feeling that, in fact, maybe it really was a bit inappropriate for an influential, tenured law professor to write such a blistering attack on a lowly student. Positions of power and all that, you understand.

"Today, though, I finally got around to reading VanDyke's note (warning: large, slow-loading file) and I immediately changed my mind: Leiter probably went too easy on this cretin."

It's not that often that someone suggests I've gone too easy on my deserving targets, but, suffice it to say, Mr. Drum may be right. I thank him for adding his comments to the debate.

A Poem for George Bush: "Sound Science"

Maybe Laura can read this one to him? Thanks to Mr. Hanrott for sharing it.

"Sound Science"

Robert Hanrott
Washington, D.C.

Three hundred years of Western science
Were intended to reduce reliance
On charlatans and superstition
Improving knowledge, health, nutrition.
Humans were expected to progress
Out of an obscurantist mess,
And, alchemy and ignorance spent,
Proceed to their enlightenment,
At a steady but increasing rate.
Our progress seemed inviolate.

Continue reading "A Poem for George Bush: "Sound Science"" »

A New Group Blog that will put the fear of God into the ID Scam Artists

This is one of those rare moments when the blogosphere makes possible something of genuine importance and societal value: a terrific group of scientists and science educators have gotten together to start a new blog: The Panda's Thumb, devoted to defending the integrity of science and science education.

The participants include two folks well-known to readers of this blog--Ed Brayton and Paul Myers--as well as the following folks:

Wes Ellsberry of the National Center for Science Education (NCSE)
John Lynch of the Institute for Human Origins at Arizona State
John Wilkins of the Hall Institute for Medical Research in Australia
Steve Reuland of the Medical University of South Carolina
Andrea Bottaro of the University of Rochester School of Medicine
Reed Cartwright from the University of Georgia
Matt Brauer of the Institute for Integrative Genomics at Princeton
Richard Hoppe of Kenyon College
Jack Krebs with Kansas Citizens for Science
Nick Matzke of the NCSE

Kudos to these scientists and educators for pooling their talents and providing what will likely prove to be a crucial forum and resource for those resisting the incursions into our schools of the ignorant yahoos, the ID scam artists, and the Discovery [sic] Institute conmen.

Thanks to the National Review... site now gets over 2,000 visits each weekday, with 75% being returning visitors. More importantly, I've made contact with lots of folks who are equally appalled by the campaigns against science and science education, many of whom only discovered my site thanks to the NRO smear job.

One such person is mathematician Jason Rosenhouse at James Madison University, whose own blog has lots of good material related to controversies about evolutionary biology.

Professor Rosenhouse also maintains a site with his own reviews of books by apologists for Intelligent Design, including Dembski. Add his site to the list of resources on Dembski's arguments noted here.

The sad thing is that Dembski's arguments attract all this attention not because of their quality, or his stature as a philosopher, but because his arguments impress the ignorant and serve the interests of a dangerous political movement committed to undermining science education for the sake of religion. That fact necessitates the work of Professors Rosenhouse, Shallitt, Sober, Orr, and many others who have taken the time to show that the arguments are, at the end of the day, bunk.

UPDATE: And here's a terrific resource on Dembski's work compiled by Dr. Elsberry of the National Center for Science Education (thanks to Professor Rosenhouse for calling it to my attention).

"Craven, Ignorant, Despicable Bastards"

See what they did here. America is in bad shape.

The National Review "Tapped"

I'm grateful to Matthew Yglesias for taking note of Hunter Baker's little conflict-of-interest problem in The National Review over at TAPPED, the blog of The American Prospect. As Yglesias notes: "Scientific illiteracy and journalistic dishonesty, together at last. Frankly, they couldn't have picked a better moment in history."

Meanwhile, still no reply, correction or apology from The National Review, which was put on notice about this breach of journalistic ethics two days ago. I'm not holding my breath, but maybe I'll be pleasantly surprised.

UPDATE: I'm also grateful to Tom Smith (San Diego Law) and Steve Bainbridge (UCLA Law) for taking the National Review to task over this issue. Since both these colleagues have far more conservative readers, I'm hopeful they will reach some of those who saw the original NRO item. Of course, this will reduce my damages....

Critics of Dembski's Arguments for Intelligent Design

A number of scholars have, in the last few days, sent me links to on-line sources that critically evaluate Dr. Dembski's arguments for Intelligent Design (beyond the ones I noted originally). Dembski's work is technical (he is, as I noted previously, a clever and well-trained philosopher), and so are these responses at many places, but some readers, I'm hopeful, will find them of interest.

A well-known and important critique of Dembski is by philosopher of science Elliott Sober (currently Stanford, but soon returning to Wisconsin) and his students Branden Fitelson (now at Berkeley) and Christopher Stephens (now at British Columbia) from Philosophy of Science, which is available here. Part of their conclusion is worth quoting, since it bears on the issues we have discussed in recent days:

"Creationists frequently think they can establish the plausibility of what they believe merely by criticizing the alternatives [cites to biologist Michael Behe, philosopher Alvin Plantinga, and law professor Philip Johnson]. This would make sense if two conditions were satisfied. If those alternative theories had deductive consequences about what we observe, one could demonstrate that those theories are false by showing that the predictions they entail are false. If, in addition, the hypothesis of intelligent design were the only alternative to the theories thus refuted, one could conclude that the design hypothesis is correct. However, neither condition obtains. Darwinian theory makes probabilistic, not deductive, predictions. And there is no reason to think that the only alternative to Darwinian theory is intelligent design."

And they add: "What does [the design hypothesis] predict? If defenders of the esign hypothesis want their theory to be scientific, they need to do the scientific work of formulating and testing the predictions that creationism makes. Dembski's [work]...encourages creationists to think that this responsibility can be evaded. However, the fact of the matter is that the responsibility must be faced."

Continue reading "Critics of Dembski's Arguments for Intelligent Design" »

Bertrand Russell strikes again

Michael Drake, upon reading some of my correspondence from readers of the National Review smear job, writes:

"This whole thing puts me in mind of Russell's remark: 'A stupid man's report of what a clever man says is never accurate because he unconsciously translates what he hears into something he can understand.'

"Actually, I'm put in mind of that remark every single day."

"Dr. Leiter: Defend Evolutionism"

I don't generally share my e-mails, but it seems this fellow (reach him at: [email protected]) is keen to take on all comers. The subject line was as above, and here is the "challenge" he issued me yesterday evening:

"Dear Dr. Leiter:

"It is my understanding that you are an ardent defender of Darwinism.

"On behalf of Dr. Joseph Mastropaolo ["creation scientist": details here, and scroll down], I respectfully present you with the following challenge.

"The Life Science Prize

"The rules are like those for a prize sporting event: the winner takes all.

"Rules for the Life Science Prize

"1. The evolutionist puts $10,000 in escrow with the judge.
"2. The creationist puts $10,000 in escrow with the judge.
"3. If the evolutionist proves evolution is science and creation is religion, then the evolutionist is awarded the $20,000.
"4. If the creationist proves creation is science and evolution is religion, then the creationist is awarded the $20,000.
"5. Evidence must be scientific, that is, objective, valid, reliable and calibrated.
"6. The preponderance of evidence prevails.
"7. At the end of the trial, the judge hands the prevailing party both checks.
"8. The judge is a superior court judge.
"9. The venue is a courthouse.

"You must debate or default. If you default it clearly means that you agree that evolution exists only in your imagination.

"Please contact me without delay and we shall begin working out details of the debate.

Karl Priest"

I just don't need $10,000 that badly, but I would pay to attend this event if and when it gets scheduled.

UPDATE: Apparently, our creation scientists have been at this awhile: more details here.

ANOTHER UPDATE: A reader with a business background writes with some apt observations on this proposal:

"This wager is pure marketing. The idea is to sucker some biologist or philosopher of science into providing a public form for a discussion that should and does take place in the laboratories, the field and peer reviewed journals. This discussion, among experts, already has a clear winner. Yes, there are many details to be worked out and yes, at sometime another theory may(!) replace the modern consensus. But that will not happen in any superior court in any jurisdiction.

"Let's assume, and I think this is a big assumption, that some judge would allow the several years that would be required to present the facts and the beliefs in his or her court room and that some county in the US would be willing to pay for it. First, the terms of the wager are unclear about who would decide the case. It is not unusual for creationists to be unclear at important points. Let's further assume that the judge would be the 'judge'. The story comes out a little different (and worse) if there is a jury. It is unlikely that there is a superior court judge anywhere who could understand most of the technical details of the discussion. The judge would need to appoint a special master. Who would that be? Since this is a resolved issue among all but a very few qualified participants, it would be impossible to find an 'unbiased' master or a 'unbiased' judge that would be acceptable to both sides. Even if the 'case' got no further than this, the creationists would have met their goal. They would have 'demonstrated' the existence of a supposed controversy where none exists.

Continue reading ""Dr. Leiter: Defend Evolutionism"" »

To be Defamed You Have to be Damaged

Lawyer/philosopher John Bogart writes: "Not to quibble, but to quibble, don't you need actual damages for a defamation suit? Could a defamation suit be based on statements that enhance the victim's standing in the community? Aren't you actually better off (because better thought of) as a result of NRO/Beckwith?"

A Case Study in How the Right-Wing Slime-and-Smear Machine Works

Imagine this: the on-line version of a national news magazine--in this case, The National Review--deems it worthy to come to the "defense" of a conservative Harvard law student, whose incompetent review of a book by creationism apologist Francis was dismembered on a blog site. The defense, alas, was less a defense--no substantive issue in dispute was even mentioned--than a smear job.

The author of this smear job, one Hunter Baker (identified only as a "freelance writer in Texas"), talked with Professor Beckwith and the Harvard law student, but never bothered to contact me, the target of the smear. The author also never bothered to indicate why I had criticized the review, focusing only on one conclusory passage which he both misread and misquoted. Although he included various links, he never linked to my actual criticisms of the review!

High quality journalism, eh?

The article, unsurprisingly, was highly and uncritically supportive of the Harvard law student and Beckwith, and highly insulting towards me.

And guess what never got mentioned anywhere? Mr. Baker is Professor Beckwith's graduate student and teaching assistant.

Welcome to the world of right-wing slime and smear, where no ethics, journalistic or otherwise, apply, and in which facts or truth are never an obstacle.

A few hours after I "outed" Mr. Baker's connection to Beckwith on my blog, I received the following e-mail from this shameless hatchet man, which is almost breathtaking in its disingenuousness (Mr. Baker invited me to post it, and since he's handed me the rope...):

"The reason I didn't list myself as Beckwith's teaching assistant is simple. I have a long record of internet and print journalism that predates any association with him. That part of my life belongs to me. He has no control over what I choose to cover or how I write stories...."

"Yeah, right," says everyone over the age of 16. This claim might have been more credible, of course, if he'd volunteered this information before I outed him. Indeed, one might find it remotely believable if it had been included in his by-line when the article was published. (Why not let the readers decide for themselves about Mr. Baker's reliability and objectivity given his connection with one of the targets of the critique?)

But journalistic integrity, as noted, is not one of Mr. Baker's strong suits. Indeed, in this context, the word "fraud" seems literally applicable. (Since Mr. Baker apparently hasn't heard of journalistic ethics, here's a useful site; see esp. the section on "Act Independently.")

Continue reading "A Case Study in How the Right-Wing Slime-and-Smear Machine Works" »

Another Friend of the Enlightenment

Here's another good soul doing God's work, and defending science against the forces of darkness: check him out.

The Denouement to the VanDyke Debate about Intelligent Design Creationism

Lawrence VanDyke has penned a response, of sorts, to my criticisms of his review of the Beckwith book, which appears (where else?) on the Federalist Society blog at Harvard. (For my non-law readers, "the Federalist Society" is a national group of conservative law students, faculty and practitioners. I've already heard from members who are embarrassed, needless to say, to have their group associated with repackaged creationism. For the record: the Federalist Society has no stake in creationism, even if that is where Mr. VanDyke has chosen to hang his hat.)

Mr. VanDyke's response is subjected to apt rebuttal by biologist Dr. P.Z. Myers here (and see also here), and by Ed Brayton here and here. Mr. VanDyke has made the error, I fear, of entering in to debate on the Brayton site (see the first link), where he is, last I checked, being eaten alive for his repeated mistakes and misleading innuendos. There's no point "piling on," so let me offer just one brief comment on a point others don't address.

Mr. VanDyke notes that, "Leiter says that evolutionary theory has ‘naturalistic implications.’ Thank you. That is the central premise of my review...." But that was not, in fact, the central premise of the review, as he soon admits.

VanDyke's actual premise--with which I took issue--is that "physics [and biology etc.] doesn’t just have naturalistic implications, it has an a priori naturalistic methodology [emphasis added]. If you a priori pick a naturalistic methodology (which is a philosophical choice, not a scientific one), then of course you will get ‘naturalistic implications’ - i.e. results that only fit within a naturalistic paradigm - all others were excluded to begin with." Thus spoke VanDyke.

The difficulty, however, is that science did not "a priori pick a naturalistic methodology"; it adopted, based on evidence and experience (i.e., a posteriori), the methods that worked: it turns out that if you make predictions, test the predictions against experience, refine the hypotheses on which the predictions are based, test them again, and so on, you figure out how to predict and control the world around you. This is what the Scientific Revolution, the Enlightenment, and a few other ancient events apparently not covered in Mr. VanDyke's education, were about: the a posteriori discovery of the most effective ways to predict and control the world. This, of course, distinguishes the naturalistic worldview of science from the supernatural view of religion, which is genuinely a priori.

I must say that, at first, I was astonished by the "pity the poor student" response of some of VanDyke's defenders. Mr. VanDyke is in the elite of the elite of professional school students (foreign reader: remember that law is a post-graduate degree here, these are grown-ups, not adolescents), a member of the Harvard Law Review, who can, without a doubt, get any job at any prestigious law firm in the country that he wants. He chose to publish an incompetent book review in a prestigious, professional publication; in doing so, he entered the corridors of professional legal scholarship, and may be held accountable, accordingly. His book review was not prefaced by a disclaimer saying, "This review was written by a mere student, and therefore should not be thought reliable or accurate." If one purports to be a professional, one is in no position to complain about being assessed by professional standards.

However, Mr. VanDyke has been so shredded in these exchanges (see the links, above), and has been revealed to be so completely out of his intellectual depth, that even I feel a bit sorry for him now (and my general view--if that isn't clear enough--is that it is almost impossible to be harsh enough on those who want to harm schoolchildren by teaching them lies and misinformation). If Beckwith and his graduate student hadn't dragged this into the National Review On-Line, the whole matter would have no doubt faded away quietly. Now, instead, readers of this site--and the numerous others that have entered into this discussion (including, most damagingly, the Law & Religion listserve, which is frequented by dozens and dozens of legal scholars)--have had it hammered in to their heads, repeatedly, that Lawrence VanDyke wrote a shoddy book review on behalf of pseudo-science. Mr. VanDyke did something both intellectually dishonest and morally reprehensible, but any retributivist would have to agree that he's gotten his just deserts at this point. I herewith let the matter drop, and conclude with Chris Mooney's apt summation of the real point:

"Let's face it: To defend Intelligent Design, you pretty much have to misrepresent what scientists know about evolution. You also have to pretend that a theory which has never been shown to have any scientific backing is nevertheless somehow 'scientific.' Those who perpetrate these falsehoods--especially in scholarly venues--ought to be held accountable for that fact."

Welcome National Review Readers

One reason the right is more successful than the left is that the right sticks together so well. Less than five days after I excoriate Lawrence VanDyke for his incompetent review of Beckwith's apology for Intelligent Design, his friends on the right have enlisted The National Review on-line to come to Mr VanDyke's defense...sort of. I say "sort of," since there is no actual response to the merits of my criticism, which are here (for some reason, NRO failed to link to the actual criticisms).

Further criticisms are here.

A useful, critical review of the standard arguments on behalf of Intelligent Design and Creationism is available from Scientific American: "15 Answers to Creationist Nonsense."

An invaluable watchdog group that monitors the Intelligent Design scam artists is the National Center for Science Education; their site has much useful information.

Finally, an easy way to get educated about the actual state of the biology and science is this splendid site by a Minnesota biologist, Dr. P.Z. Myers.

Anyone educated about this debate knows that VanDyke and Beckwith (an NRO contributor, I've learned) have cast their lot with pseudo-science and intellectual dishonesty. Academic freedom does not, contrary to NRO, protect scholarly shoddiness; my posting documented the shoddy scholarship, and the unsupported, and unsupportable, claims. By failing to respond on the merits, NRO fails to engage the actual issues. (Might the failure to address the content or merits have something to do with the fact that the author of the NRO piece is Beckwith's graduate student at Baylor? See here)

Academic freedom protects the right of Beckwith et al. to cast their lot with pseudo-science; it protects my right to call them on it. It also protects my right to express the view that pseudo-science and scholarly incompetence are, as I put it, "an inauspicious beginning for an aspiring law teacher." Although I'm amused by how much power NRO thinks I have, the fact is I have an impact on hiring at Texas, and that's about it, except to the extent I am asked to evaluate candidates in legal philosophy by other law schools.

NRO seems particularly exercised by this line, which it italicizes:

"And let none of the many law professors who are readers of this site be mistaken: Mr. VanDyke has perpetrated (intentionally or otherwise) a scholarly fraud, one that may have political and pedagogical consequences."

The italicized portion is alluding not to consequences for Mr. VanDyke (what would "pedagogical" or "political" consequences be for him?)--I would have thought that obvious--but to the consequences for public school education and battles over science education by handing the ID scam artists a new weapon in their arsenal: a favorable review of one of their key texts in the Harvard Law Review. Already, as this site reports, this public relations victory is being exploited by the proponents of pseudo-science. Thousands of hours were spent by dozens of Texans like me this past summer and fall defeating the efforts of the ID scam artists to destroy science education in Texas; in a great victory, the Texas State Board of Education rebuffed Beckwith & co., sizing them up for the proponents of pseudo-science that they are. If the reader detects I'm a bit irritated with Mr. VanDyke, perhaps it is because I'd rather not spend significant portions of my time defending the integrity of science education for my children. Mr. VanDyke has made my job and the job of all those who want high standards in education a bit harder.

Mr. VanDyke has injected himself in to a serious political debate by misrepresenting in a prestigious, professional publication the state of the relevant science and empirical evidence. Mr. VanDyke must own his words and own the consequences of those words: he is a professional, publishing in a professional journal. Those consequences include the likelihood that the vast majority of educated readers, knowledgeable about the relevant science, will be astonished that the Harvard Law Review could publish such slipshod work and will likely take a dim view of Mr. VanDyke's scholarly competence. They are correct, in my view, to draw those conclusions.

As my current and former colleagues know, I'm an impossible academic "conservative": I favor high standards and am a relentless opponent of faddish bullshit (postmodernism, cultural studies, etc.). I also know that most conservatives--at least those in the legal academy--are strong believers in sound science and in Darwin's theory of evolution, in particular. They have as little patience for the tripe Mr. VanDyke is serving up as I do. For some reason, the NRO is different; this is not the first time they have cast their lot with pseudo-science. I fear it won't be the last.

Continue reading "Welcome National Review Readers" »

Pharyngula Eats Another Creationist Alive... This stuff is priceless. He ought to put out a book collecting it all. Free copies should be sent to school board members throughout the nation.

Ohio Taliban Cons Its State Board of Education

More details here. Imagine: the Texas State Board of Education rebuffed the pseudo-science, but Ohio, so far, hasn't. Scary.

(Thanks to Larry Garvin [Ohio State, Law] for the pointer.)

UPDATE: More on the Ohio situation from biologist Pharyngula here. And don't miss his hilarious comment on the latest bit of slimy dishonesty from the Discovery [sic] Institute here.

Harvard Law Review Embarrasses Itself

It is sometimes said on behalf of student-edited law reviews that they at least subject articles to rigorous fact-checking. But apparently that doesn't apply to student-authored book notes in the Harvard Law Review. For the January 2004 issue contains a short "book note" offering lavish praise of Darwinism and Public Education: The Establishment Clause and the Challenge of Intelligent Design by Francis, fellow of the Discovery [sic] Institute, who holds a PhD in Philosophy from Fordham University and an MJS (a one-year postgraduate degree in law) from Washington University, St. Louis. The lavish praise is only possible because the book note is riddled with factual errors and misleading innuendo from start to finish. Law professors have long had doubts about the intellectual integrity of student-edited law reviews; incidents like this suggest, if anything, that our doubts have been understated.

The author of this incompetent book note, according to this site, is one Lawrence VanDyke, a student editor of the Review. Mr. VanDyke may yet have a fine career as a lawyer, but I trust he has no intention of entering law teaching: scholarly fraud is, I fear, an inauspicious beginning for an aspiring law teacher. And let none of the many law professors who are readers of this site be mistaken: Mr. VanDyke has perpetrated (intentionally or otherwise) a scholarly fraud, one that may have political and pedagogical consequences.

Mr. VanDyke's book note reads like a press release from the Discovery [sic] Institute--the Seattle-based public relations arm of the creationist movement--and not like a scholarly review of a book. Consider just a few of the factual errors and misleading innuendoes from the opening paragraphs of the review:

Book Note: "A perception common to laypeople, peripheral scientists, and scholars alike is that basic evolutionary theory is inherently an empirical scientific claim that does not purport to address metaphysical claims similar to those addressed by classical religions. In large part because of this perception, naturalistic evolution has long enjoyed a pedagogical monopoly in our nation's public schools."

Reality check: The common perception is, of course, correct, which is why the creationists must disparage it by innuendo. Fore more than 140 years, "the massing evidence from paleontology, genetics, zoology, molecular biology and other fields gradually established evolution's truth beyond reasonable doubt," as Scientific American notes. This is why evolution enjoys a pedagogical monopoloy in the schools, as it should.

Book Note: "However, its dogmatic [sic] presentation has not escaped significant controversy from a diverse group of critics. Most recently, a small but tenacious group of sophisticated and well-credentialed scientists, philosophers, and legal scholars have argued that the common perception of evolution as free from inherent naturalistic philosophical implications is simply mistaken."

Reality check: Note, again, the misleading innuendo: there is no "significant controversy" among scientists about the truth of Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection. There are exactly two credentialed scientists (one not even employed as such), neither distinguished biologists on anyone's account, who have joined cause with the creationists; their arguments have never passed muster in peer-reviewed scientific publications, and the arguments they have published elsewhere have been demolished repeatedly by other scientists (this is nowhere mentioned in the Book Note). Evolutionary theory, of course, has naturalistic implications--so do physics and chemistry as well: science has made tremendous progress by relying on naturalistic explanatory mechanisms. This lends support to a view of how the world works, but it is not an a priori metaphysics like those of religion or non-naturalistic worldviews. That is the crucial difference, which the creationists consistently elide.

Book Note: "This group, known as the Intelligent Design (ID) movement, also insists that 'intelligent agency' provides an origins paradigm that is better supported by the empirical evidence and gives greater coherence to our scientific observations and philosophical intuitions than does the philosophy of methodological naturalism underlying evolutionary orthodoxy."

Reality check: A footnote adducing the empirical evidence on behalf of ID would have been welcome, but there is none to be found, and for an obvious reason: none exists. (Fact-checkers, where are you?) The ID proponents have not published any articles in support of ID in peer-reviewed journals; indeed, they have never even stated a testable hypothesis in support of ID. "The philosophy of methodological naturalism" does not underlie "evolutionary" orthodoxy, it rather falls out of the tremendous success of the theory of evolution by natural selection. The enormous mass of genetic, paleontological, and zoological evidence in support of the theory lends support to evolution's naturalistic view of how the world works.

Continue reading "Harvard Law Review Embarrasses Itself" »

"Texans for Better [sic] Science Education"

Pharyngula wipes the floor with these frauds here. Seriously, how do these people look themselves in the mirror in the morning? How do you carry on day after day living a lie?

Oklahoma Taliban Strike a Blow for Ignorance

Details here.

UPDATE: Do see Pharyngula's delightful demolition of the know-nothings here.

Strictly of local interest...

...the Texas Freedom Network's primary voter guide is here. If you're a Texas voter, do check it out.

Scientists fight back...

...against the Bush Administration attack on science and scientific integrity. Details here. This is an important development, which should make national and international headlines before long. (More details here, including a link to the full report documenting Bush Administration abuses that have undermined science and scientific integrity.)

Ohio Should Learn from Texas

The Texas State Board of Education beat back the creationist liars and charlatans, but the Ohio Board is caving in. Poor Ohio schoolchildren!

Evolution and Religion

Characteristically direct and sensible observations from Pharyngula on the subject:

"Evolution is compatible with many religions. However, if your religion tells you that the world is six thousand years old, that it was created by fiat over the span of six days, that species are immutable, that all existing species are derived from a select few rescued from a flood in a big boat, and any of a host of other silly stories that are directly contradicted by the world around you, you're just going to have to accept the fact that the weight of the evidence from physics, geology, and biology all dictates that your religion is wrong. It's that simple. You are wrong."

More Discovery [sic] Institute Attacks on Science Education

Pharyngula has a revealing case study of how the Discovery [sic] Institute conmen are trying to destroy science education (and despite their stunning rebuke by the Texas State Board of Education several months ago, they're still harassing textbook publishers here).

"Anti-science scum"

Yes, the folks at the Discovery [sic] Institute are at it again, lying about evolution and science, with help from moronic journalists. Fortunately, Pharyngula is on the case. After reading this, the Discovery [sic] Institute "crackpots" shall no doubt be nostalgic for the days when I merely called them "pathological liars."

And now the Florida Taliban...

...go after the judiciary. More from Miami Law prof Michael Froomkin here.

The Missouri Taliban...

...are trying to strike a blow for ignorance, and Pharyngula wipes the floor with them. Bravo!

The Far Right Texas Eagle Forum... plugging my blog (sort of). According to their December updates:

University of Texas Law Professor Brian Leiter refers to Christian conservatives as the "Texas Taliban” on his website:“While Professor Leiter is certainly well within his First Amendment rights, this kind of rhetoric is not only intemperate, but shameful,” says Marc Levin of the Young Conservatives of Texas. “It reflects poorly on the University of Texas Law School and is inconsistent with the scholarly approach to public policy issues that one would hope a professor would exemplify.”

Source: Marc Levin, General Counsel, Young Conservatives of Texas


Marc (who was in my Evidence class as I recall a few years back!) is certainly knowledgeable about shameful and intemperate rhetoric in his role with the Young Conservatives of Texas (about whom I wrote here).

Anyone who's been reading my Texas Taliban Alerts, however, will know that I do not refer to "Christian conservatives" as the Texas Taliban; I use the label for those who want to make the law of their God the law of the land. From my own experience, I know there are many conservative Christians who have respect for religious liberty and separation of church and state. The Texas Eagle Forum is probably not among them, however.

Evolution-Bashing in Minnesota... discussed here. It says something about the sorry intellectual condition of the country that this nonsense occurs even in a progressive state like Minnesota.

The Bush Administration Assault on Science

Useful information here on how the most scientifically advanced nation in the world is being led by corrupt and ignorant politicans. A sample:

~David Kay, Bush's top nuclear WMD inspector, has no science degree at all and was until 2002 the vice president of SAIC, one of the contractors most favored by the Bush pentagon.

~Bush's "stem cell expert" was John Mendelsohn, a former Enron executive who was investigated for failing to inform patients participating in a colon cancer drug trial (ImClone) that he had a major financial stake in the outcome.

~ Bush's choice to head the FDA advisory panel that review's women's reproductive health drugs is David Hager, an obstetrician/gynecologist who recommends Scripture readings and prayers for everything form headache to premenstrual syndrome. Hager was chosen over Donald R. Mattison, former Dean of the University of Pittsburgh School of Public Health and Michael F. Greene, director of maternal-fetal medicine at MAss. General.

~~ Michael Wetzman, chief of pediatrics at Rochester General Hospital and author of many publications on lead poisoning in children, was removed from the CDC's panel on childhood lead poisoning and replaced with a doctor with strong ties to the lead industry.

~~ A team of biologists who had been studying three endangered Missouri River fish species for ten years were removed after their report conflicted with the Bush agenda. They were replaced by biologists unfamiliar with both the fish species in question AND the Missouri River. (Nov 2003)

And for more, see this New York Times story.

The Jewish Taliban...

...apparently want to destroy one of the great achievements of the Enlightenment too, namely, freedom of religion and the separation of public power and religious faith (for their mutual safety). Rabbi Yehuda Levin, head of "Jews for Morality" (and the Jews against morality are....?), angered by the correct removal from office of former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, is quoted here as follows:

"The pseudo-legal gang rape of Justice Roy Moore is an example of creeping Liebermanism.... Just as Senator Joe Lieberman speaks of his religious values while supporting the homosexual agenda and partial-birth abortion,so, too, the judicial dictatorship talks about the Constitution and people's rights while it turns two centuries of America's history and tradition on its head."

The Texas Taliban have nothing on this ignorant zealot.

Choice Quote on Intelligent Design Creationism

"It just absolutely boggles the mind," said Dr. James Langer, a physicist at the University of California at Santa Barbara who is vice president of the National Academy of Sciences. "I wouldn't want my doctor thinking that intelligent design was an equally plausible hypothesis to evolution any more than I would want my airplane pilot believing in the flat Earth."

--from The New York Times.

Texas Taliban Mania

I started using the term "Texas Taliban" to refer to that alarming brand of Texas politicos who want to make the law of their God the law of the land. (The Texas Taliban suffered a big defeat on biology textbooks last week, as noted in an earlier posting.) But it turns out that the label predates me (sigh). For example, it is used here in discussing Texas Governor Perry's flagrant violation of constitutional requirements regarding school prayer; it appears to have first been used in a column by Ellen Goodman about Lawrence v. Texas, the Supreme Court case striking down the Texas sodomy law; in a usage that postdates mine, it is used here to describe the textbook censors whom readers of this blog know well; the Texas Observer used the phrase to describe conservative evangelicals in San Antonio here; it gets a completely different usage at this anti-Bush site and in a similar way in this column.

There's nothing like a good alliteration...

A great day for Texas!

The Texas State Board of Education stood up for science and the future of Texas, voting overwhelmingly to approve all the biology textbooks up for adoption, none of which suggest, falsely, that there are any scientific doubts about Darwin's theory of evolution. In the first vote on Thursday, the Board voted 11-4 to adopt all the textbooks--the 4 "no" votes being the Texas Taliban faction on the Board, all Republicans. Kudos to the 5 Republican Board members who voted for good science and education, including, I'm pleased to say, my representative Cynthia Thornton.

On Friday, the Board then voted unanimously to approve all the books; the 4 dissenters apparently gave up.

Credit for this great victory goes to the terrific team at the Texas Freedom Network, and the many scientists who helped educate the Board, including UT biologist David Hillis, who spent countless hours talking with Board members, and helping them sort through the reams of sleazy propaganda turned out by the Discovery [sic] Institute.

Indeed, conversations with Board Members and with those who've been involved in the process reveal that the pathological liars at the Discovery [sic] Institute succeeded in alienating several of the Republican Board members, who sized them up for the conmen they actually are.

Continue reading "A great day for Texas!" »

Texas State Board of Education sued...

...for their last foray in to textbook censorship back in 2001. The story is here. Kudos to the great trial lawyers at Baron & Budd in Dallas for taking the case (that's Fred Baron UT Law '71 and Russell Budd UT Law '79).

Let's Keep America Backwards

That could be the slogan of the Traditional Values Coalition, which is now busy compiling a blacklist of researchers getting federal money whose research doesn't pass muster with our homegrown Taliban. (Browse the TVC site, and you'll also notice that the group must include a lot of repressed homosexuals as well.) The Texas Taliban have nothing on these folks.

He makes the Texas Taliban look sane...

Guess who said the following:

"The Antichrist is probably a Jew alive in Israel today."

"Communism was the brainchild of German-Jewish intellectuals"

"The Almighty does not hear the prayer of a Jew."

"How can there be peace when drunkards, drug dealers, communists, atheists, New Age worshipers of Satan, secular humanists, oppressive dictators, greedy moneychangers, revolutionary assassins, adulterers, and homosexuals are on top?"

Feminism is a "socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians."

Recently, he declared: "When you get through you say, 'If I could just get a nuclear device inside Foggy Bottom [where the State Department's building is located]. I think that's the answer. We've got to blow that thing up.'" This was his second nuclear terror threat on Washington, DC. "Maybe we need a very small nuke thrown off on Foggy Bottom to shake things up," he said in June.

Was it Osama bin Laden? The Malaysian prime minister? The leader of the Aryan Nation?

Nope. It was Pat Robertson, wealthy televangelist, friend and supporter of the U.S. Attorney General, and founder of the politically influential Christian Coaltion.

[Thanks to Mickey Z. for the references.]

Teachers abandon "approved" textbooks

Thanks to the Texas Taliban, and their allies nationally, not to mention the PC censors, school teachers are apparently giving up on the official "approved" school textbooks altogether, as discussed here.

The "No Bullshit" Approach to the Texas Textbook Debate

Excellent essay here, with lots of apt shots at the conmen at the Discovery [sic] Institute and others who are making a career out of lying about the theory of evolution.

Texas Eagle Forum=Texas Taliban on Steroids

Here's a gem of an e-mail from the Texas Eagle Forum, the folks who take the Texas Republican Platform really seriously:

From: Cathie Adams
To: [email protected]
Date: Mon, 13 Oct 2003 20:34:10 -0500


Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) member Terri Leo wants YOU to be the
best informed PARENT and TAXPAYER concerning the textbooks that will be
used to teach your children and/or grandchildren in Texas classrooms. Did
you evolve from an ape or were you created by God? This is NOT a rhetorical
question. Your child or grandchild WILL be taught according to what you
choose NOW.

Do NOT become weary in well doing. Be informed and influence YOUR SBOE
member with your thoughts.

Cathie Adams, Texas Eagle Forum

And now the Wyoming Taliban...

...strike a blow for ignorance.

The Platform of the Texas Taliban

CalPundit has a pithy and pointed account of the main highlights of the official agenda of the Texas Taliban as expressed in the "platform" of the Texas Republican Party. The only good news is that many of the Texas Republicans who hold elected office ignore it.

Minnesota (!?!) Taliban

...are on the march against science too.

Book Censors on the March

Read about them here. Brave New World is, they charge, "pornographic" and will lead to "sexual arousal." One suspects the critics aren't familiar with the real thing on either count.

Real Scientists Speak out on the Biology Textbook Controversy

The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas has more Nobel Laureates on its faculty than any medical school in the nation, as well as more than a dozen fellows of the National Academy of Sciences. Happily, these genuinely eminent scientists--contrast the coterie of "scientists" rounded up by the Discovery [sic] Institute--have penned an excellent column on the teaching of evolutionay biology here. Somehow that famed "scientific controversy" about Darwin hasn't made an impression on these leading biologists. Could it be because the controversy exists only in the minds of the Texas Taliban and their allies, the pathological liars at the Discovery [sic] Institute?

Baylor Alums Want Discovery [sic] Institute's Poster Boy Out

Interesting development here: some Baylor alumni want Discovery [sic] Institute poster boy Francis Beckwith removed from his directorship of an Institute at Baylor that was founded on the principle of separation of church and state. As I understand their position, they are not challenging his academic appointment at the university, just his administrative position with the Institute. If Baylor were a public institution (it is not, of course), the case would call to mind City College's removal of Leonard Jeffries from the chairmanship of his department, which was eventually held not to violate the constitutional dimensions of academic freedom. Since Baylor is private, this is murkier (at least to me): I'm not sure how the AAUP principles about academic freedom would bear on this case.

Continue reading "Baylor Alums Want Discovery [sic] Institute's Poster Boy Out" »

Cause and Effect

"The acceptance of evolution is responsible for the degeneration of morals in society," said gospel preacher Mac Deever. "People are shooting at each other on the highway. Kids are being taught that they came from dirt. There is no accountability; they say, 'I'm just a product of evolutionary theory. Evolution made me what I am, can't help it.'"

Yes, indeed, one does hear that a lot these days.

UPDATE: The preacher's take on evolution is more ironic than I appreciated; see the Curmudgeonly Clerk for more.

9/10/03 State Board of Education Hearing... reported on in this entertaining article. The quotes from UT physicist and Noble Laureate Steven Weinberg are particularly good.

The word "on the street" is that the effect of the testimony of the pro-evolution/anti-Intelligent Design Baptist ministers and the heavy-hitting real scientists has swayed the two Republican Board members who haven't signed on to the Texas Taliban agenda. So perhaps students will actually get competent biology textbooks? Wouldn't that be something?

The Meaning of "Texas Taliban"

I have received a handful of irate e-mails protesting the use of the term "Texas Taliban," including one from the spouse of one of those so criticized in an earlier posting. (UT law professors have more visibility than law professors at comparable schools in other states, I fear.) Why do I use the term "Texas Taliban"?

I take it the word "Taliban" has now entered our language to characterize those individuals and groups who intolerantly attempt to control the behavior, beliefs, and experiences of others. (In the first post on the subject, I captured that idea by saying the Texas Taliban want "the law of [their] God to be the law of the land.") The far-right in Texas has repeatedly done that, whether it is tampering with textbooks, imposing "moments of silence" in the schools (as a step towards imposing "prayer"--see this press release from the sponsor, with its appalling contempt for the constitutional rights of minorities), or criminalizing certain kinds of sexual behavior. By using the label "Texas Taliban," I am driving home the fact that we're not talking about the real Taliban, but rather Taliban-like attitudes within a Texan context.

Many Republicans in Texas are plainly conflicted about the Texas Taliban; there

Continue reading "The Meaning of "Texas Taliban"" »

More Talibanism, American-Style

No parodies allowed in the Taliban's America it appears.

UPDATE: Two readers suggest that this site is, itself, in fact a parody! As one put it, "I think you've been had." Indeed!

Oklahoma Taliban

A stellar graduate of the UT Law School writes in with the following story (from 1978):

"Having wandered through your Texas Taliban archive, I thought you might
enjoy a slightly-older anecdote:

"In third grade at [name omitted] Elementary School in [city name omitted],
Oklahoma (former HQ of [company name omitted] and so populated with a
disproportionate number of scientists) I had a teacher I rather liked
named Mrs. Smith.

"One day Mrs. Smith was teaching science and told us about the fact that
the Earth was created by God, period. 'There are some people who think
we came from monkeys,' she said, 'but they don't go to church and they
aren't Christians.' (This is very close to a direct quote; it's a
rather distinct memory.)

"Being (a) a Methodist and (b) the son of a Ph.D. electrochemist and a
mathmetician with a masters who had taught me about evolution for some
time, I thought this was rather odd. I mentioned it to my parents, being
naturally concerned about the idea that the fact that we recognized
evolution meant we were going to have to leave our church. My mom had a
rather unpleasant discussion with the school principal; Mrs. Smith
eventually took me out of the classroom for a few minutes one day and
told me that I'd clearly misunderstood her. (I hadn't.)"

"Oddly, she was never quite as friendly the rest of that year."

Houston Chronicle editorial on keeping creationism out of school textbooks

A solid editorial from the Houston Chronicle, which even borrows a few ideas from my Austin-Statesman essay from July. The Texas Taliban are bad for business.

Another Letter to Holt, Rinehart

Biologist and philosopher Sahotra Sarkar received a similar letter from Judith Fowler, President of Holt, Rinehart to the one I received. Professor Sarkar's reply is available here:Download file

The Alabama Taliban (with thanks to Brannon Denning)

The Ballad of Chief Justice Roy Moore
(sung to the tune of “The Ballad of Jed Clampett” and with apologies to Flatt and Scruggs)

Brannon P. Denning

Come ‘n listen to my story ‘bout a judge named Moore
Had a rock so big could barely fit it through th’ door
Had it installed in the middle of the night
Swore he’d never move it, not without a fight
Rock that is! Ten Commandments! Word of God!

Well the first thing you know there’s trouble in the air
Federal courts say, “Roy, move it out of there!” Said
“Yonder in your office is the place it ought to be!”
That brought out all the faithful down to Montgomery
Alan Keyes that is! Jerry Falwell! Operation Rescue!

Judge Roy Moore said his rock was stayin’ put
Said Judge Thompson could come and kiss his foot
Then Roy’s eight colleagues hollered “Not so very fast!” and
Signed their own court order to save the state some cash
Fines that is! Injunctive relief! Contempt of court!

Well now it’s time to say goodbye to Moore’s big work of art
But you’d better be believin’ this’ll only be a start
You’re all invited back real soon down to Montgomery
To have a heapin’ helping of his demagoguery
2006 Y’all! Moore for Governor! Send contributions!

He’ll be back y’all, hear!

Brannon P. Denning is Associate Professor of Law at the Cumberland School of Law, Samford University, which is located in Birmingham, Alabama.

Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them--Round 4

Terri Leo is the leader of the Texas Taliban faction on the State Board of Education; she even exercised her perogative as a Board Member to make a speech before the last public hearing of the Board in Austin to profess her commitment to creationist-inspired skepticism about Darwin's theory of evolution (and this before hearing any testimony!).

She is also, of course, a shameless dissembler, like her tutors at the Discovery [sic] Institute. She now writes to the Dallas Morning News (September 2) to protest the (accurate) coverage of her shenanigans. I’ve appended my usual commentary:

Leo writes: “No board member is advocating removal of evolutionary theory or the inclusion of religion, creationism or intelligent design.”

Leiter: No, of course not, since that’s clearly unconstitutional (they’ve all read Beckwith’s book—or at least had it explained to them, for those that may not read). The goal for now is to force the textbook publishers to give students the false impression that there is significant scientific controversy about evolution, and open the door to their perhaps learning (say, via an Internet search) about “intelligent design” creationism.

Continue reading "Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them--Round 4" »

The Taliban Aren't Only in Texas

That's what makes this present moment in American history so scary. For example...

Other Arguments for Intelligent Design

My colleague Herb Hochberg has reminded me of Ben Franklin's argument for intelligent design:

As for the human elbow, Franklin explained, it was important that it be located at the right place, otherwise it would be hard to drink wine. If Providence had placed the elbow too low on the arm, it would be hard for the forearm to reach the mouth. Likewise, if the elbow had been placed too high, the forearm would overshoot the mouth. "But by the actual situation, we are enabled to drink at our ease, the glass going exactly to the mouth. Let us, then, with glass in hand, adore this benevolent wisdom; let us adore and drink."

An Exchange with Holt, Rinehart about Changes to Their Biology Textbook

Judith Fowler, President of Holt, Rinehart, defends the decision to make changes in their biology textbook (up for adoption in Texas) in response to suggestions from the Discovery [sic] Institute here: Download file

I have replied to Ms. Fowler here: Download file

A New Letter to the State Board of Education

My colleague Sahotra Sarkar is professor of both philosophy and biology here at UT Austin; indeed, he is, to the best of my knowledge, the only philosophy PhD in the U.S. to have published work of such significance in peer-reviewed biology journals that he has now been appointed half-time and with tenure in a top biology department.

Although Professor Sarkar and I have our disagreements (most notably, about ducks--just wait to the SBOE starts reviewing zoology textbooks!), I must commend his thoughtful revisions to the Discovery [sic] Institute letter to the Texas State Board of Education from Texas professors.
You may review the redlined version here: Download file.

UPDATE: Another colleague from the Department of Government, upon reviewing Professor Sarkar's judicious editing, remarks:

"I commend you for the additions to this letter to the State Board of Education. There is, however, a serious omission in failing to address the fashionable, widely-taught and politically correct Spherical Earth theory, which anyone walking flat on the ground knows could not be true. I refer to you to the important work of the Flat Earth Society ."

Why the Holt Biology Textbook Change Matters

Philosopher John Holbo has a useful post documenting exactly why the change Holt is proposing to make in its biology textbook in response to a "suggestion" from the Discovery [sic] Institute is so worrisome. (I will be posting Holt's letter to me, and my own response once I'm back in the office.)

The Discovery [sic] Institute, R.I.P.

We bid farewell to the conmen and pathological liars at the Discovery [sic] Institute, who, like history itself, began in tragedy, but have now ended in farce.

Their August 19, 2003 press release informs us that "two dozen professors from seven Texas universities have signed an open letter to the State Board of Education...urging it to ensure that biology textbooks present both the scientific strengths and weaknesses of biological and chemical evolution."

Who are these two dozen professors?

Although by my conservative estimate there are some 300+ biology professors at the seven universities represented--and close to 1,000 at all universities in Texas--only one (yes, one) signed the letter--an emeritus professor of biology at a liberal arts college, Southwestern University. Not to be cruel, but Vicente D. Villa, the emeritus professor in question, is not, it turns out, a significant figure in the field of biology.

So there you have it: biology textbooks are doing such a bad job presenting evolutionary biology that 1 mediocre biologist out of 1,000 biologists in Texas has called on the State Board of Education to remedy the situation. And thanks to the Discovery [sic] Institute, we now know it. Thanks!!!

What of the other 22 signatories? Let's see now:

We have three Baylor professors (two non-scientists, both of whom are regular poster boys for creationism, plus a retired professor of engineering).

Three professors of kinesiology (that's "exercise science" for the unitiated).

Two professors of engineering.

Two professors of philosophy.

One political theorist.

One journalism professor (yes, journalism).

A professor of marketing (yes, marekting).

A professor of housing research (yes, housing research).

A professor of mathematics at the University of Texas at El Paso.

Assistant professors of forestry, agricultural education, and family medicine.

And three individuals who don't even hold tenure-stream positions (though one is a Cadet Training Officer at Texas A&M).

Yes, indeed, this is an impressive outcry from the scientific community in Texas.
And, thanks to the Discovery [sic] Institute, we now have clear proof that there is no significant scientific dissent to the way evolution is presented in biology textbooks in Texas.

Now to be fair, there is one real scientist, of some accomplishment, who signed the letter: James Tour, the Chao Professor of Chemistry at Rice University. I humbly suggest that of the two hypotheses about why he signed the letter--well-grounded scientific doubts about the theory of evolution vs. strong and sincere religious faith that has corrupted his scientific judgment--one is rather more plausible than the other. For those uncertain, Professor Tour offers some help.

Bruce Chapman, the President and apparently liar-in-chief at the now ridiculous Discovery [sic] Institute, says the letter refutes the claim of Darwinists that "there is no academic debate over Darwin's theory, and that the only objections are religious." But Darwinists never denied that there are academics who dispute evolution--after all, academics include professors of journalism, marketing, housing research, and kinesiology. What Darwinists have claimed, obviously correctly, is that there is no significant dispute among those qualified to judge, i.e., biologists, about Darwin's theory of evolution. And the Discovery [sic] Institute's latest effort, happily, confirms the truth of that proposition ten times over.

The Discovery [sic] Institute, R.I.P.

More Real Scientists Wiping the Floor with the "Discovery [sic] Institute" Creationists

There is an amusing exchange in the Boston Review between biologist Allen Orr and Discovery [sic] Institute propagandist William Dembski. (The debate begins with Orr's demolition of Dembski's latest book here.) Orr, who is a good writer as well as smart, delivers this scathing and apt conclusion to the exchange:

"Dembski, Behe and associates may in the end prove a thorn in the side of not only biologists but also the devout. By promising devastating objections to evolution but delivering half-baked technobabble that disintegrates upon close inspection, they subject certain religious persons to unnecessary and traumatic cycles of expectation and dashed hope. The point is that all skirmishes involve risk of friendly fire and the faithful will, sooner or later, have to ask who poses the greater actual danger: those who merely suggest that life evolves or those who routinely announce “proofs” of the handiwork of an interventionist Designer—proofs that have, so far, been fantastically flawed, noisily imploding almost immediately after their much publicized debuts."

Readers of the New York Review of Books will know Allen Orr as the biologist who also wiped the floor with Steven Pinker's nonsense in The Blank Slate, an entertaining but fanciful bit of polemics on behalf of evolutionary psychology. At least the evolutionary psychologists don't want their stuff taught in high schools.

New Development in the Texas Textbook Wars

I have just received, via e-mail attachment, a letter from Judith Fowler, the President and CEO of Holt, Rinehart, responding to the criticisms here.It is a long and detailed letter, which I won't be able to digest right away because of other pressing duties (involving my *real* job). If I can secure her permission, I will post her reply on this site.

It is good to know that sometimes the blogosphere reaches out in to the real world. And much credit and thanks goes to Jonathan Ichikawa who organized the petition to Holt, Rinehart. The Texas Taliban are well-organized, and it's important for the publishers to know that the other side is too.

Debating Intelligent Design

[Note: a first version of this posting disappeared from the site, for reasons I don't understand...This is my attempt to recreate it.]

Some readers have remarked on my recommendation of Michael Rea's book World Without Design, a stimulating critique of philosophical naturalism that suggests, ultimately, that ours may be a "world with design." At the same time, it is rather obvious that I am livid about the attempt to teach intelligent design in public school science classrooms.

Am I contradicting myself? No, and here's why:

(1) Of course, university researchers and students should be debating Intelligent Design, philosophical naturalism, the nature of evolution, and so on: that's what universities are for, and that's why one of my other obsessions is academic freedom. Rea's important book helps philosophers enter these debates. It's too bad, though probably revealing, that intelligent design theorists don't enter the scholarly fray with biologists in peer-refereed biology journals, or that when their scientific arguments (like those in Michael Behe's book) are refuted, they don't pursue a scientific defense in appropriate scientific fora. But no one ought to object to universities being sites of such debates, if the intelligent design proponents would enter them (again, it is revealing, I think, that they prefer to enter the fray with laypeople on boards of education and state legislatures, rather than with real scientists).

(2) The important academic freedom of university researchers and students to debate all manner of ideas has no bearing, however, on the question what should be taught in textbooks to be used by schoolchildren. There is an important issue here about division of epistemic labor. Textbooks, in all fields, ought to present the expert consensus in a way that is intelligible to those new to the subjects. Where there is expert divergence of opinion, textbooks should present that too. But what I object to is lying about the state of scientific opinion in order to inject religious views in to the science classrooms in the public schools. That is venal and reprehensible.

Who can say what the scientific consensus will be in 50 years? There is no evidence, of course, it will move in the direction of intelligent design, especially given the failure of the proponents of the latest version of creationism to engage in scientific debate. But today's textbooks ought to convey, clearly and unmistakably, that there are no serious scientific doubts about Darwin's theory of evolution. As David Hillis, a distinguished evolutionary biologist at the University of Texas, remarked during a press conference today:

"There is no debate about evolution in college textbooks, where scientists
select the best books for use. The debate is at the level of secondary school textbooks, precisely because that is where non-scientists can exert influence. These objections to the textbooks are not about science or facts; they are about pushing a political and religious agenda."

Let the intelligent design theorists prevail, or even make an inroad, in the marketplace of ideas among scholars and researchers, the marketplace that academic freedom makes possible. Until then, they ought to stay out of the highschool classroom, and save it for Sunday School.

Christian Philosophers and Creationism

Keith DeRose—famed philosopher at Yale, valued member of the PGR Advisory Board, and creator of the Epistemology Page (highly recommended!)—writes with the following comments on one of my earlier posts about the attack on biology textbooks in Texas:

”Regarding your recent post on the treatment of evolution in textbooks by the ‘Texas Taliban’: Since you have the ears of many philosophers, there is another course of action you might fruitfully call for. I think it might help a lot if more Christian philosophers would come out publicly and honestly call things as they see them with respect to various forms of creationism.

Continue reading "Christian Philosophers and Creationism" »

Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them--Intelligent Design round 3

Francis Beckwith, Associate Professor of Church-State Studies at Baylor University, owner of a ".com" homepage (!), and a frequent poster boy for the Discovery [sic] Institute, is the "new face" of the Intelligent Design scam run by the Institute. Quite presentable, he almost sounds reasonable, though he turns out to be as big a liar as "John West, PhD", albiet a bit more subtle. (West's PhD, by the way, is in poli sci, from the Straussian Claremont Graduate School!)

Professor Beckwith writes to a Texas newspaper as follows:

"In his letter to the editor Thursday, Oak H. DeBerg made the completely audacious claim that those who testified at the July 9 State Board of Education hearings on behalf of textbook accuracy in the biological sciences were pushing 'a conservative religious view . . . at the expense of good science.'

"Because I am one of those who testified, I can assure you that DeBerg is making this up out of whole cloth.

"In my testimony I offered the uncontroversial suggestion that textbooks that address the topic of evolution offer to their readers, the state's students, accurate portrayals of current scientific data as well as thoughtful questions that have been raised against the Darwinian paradigm by credentialed scholars whose works have been published by university press monographs and in peer-reviewed periodicals.

"As I have pointed out in my latest monograph, ''Law, Darwinism & Public Education'' (Rowman & Littlefield, 2003) and three recent law review articles, in Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy, Notre Dame Journal of Law, Ethics & Public Policy, and San Diego Law Review, offering arguments critical of Darwinism, or even scientific alternatives to it, in a public school science classroom is not religious as long as the lesson plans rely exclusively on publicly accessible, or secular, reasons."

Let's run through the lies, bald-faced and otherwise, one by one:

Continue reading "Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them--Intelligent Design round 3" »

Pathological liars at the Discovery [sic] Institute Caught Red-Handed

Here's a nice example of the chronic and pathological dishonesty of the Intelligent Design proponents at the Orwellian "Discovery [sic] Institute." John West from the Institute ("John West, Ph.D.", as he's always keen to list himself--by the way, I'm "Brian Leiter, Ph.D., J.D."--don't you feel more confident already in what I have to say?) had the audacity to pen an article in a Texas newspaper called "Institute Supports Accurate Science"!

Since no defenses of intelligent design ever appear in peer-refereed science journals, a favorite trick of these "supporters of accurate science" is to misrepresent the content of articles that do appear in peer-refereed biology journals. Happily, West got caught in his flagrant lie, since the author of the article West misrepresented replied here.

I will wager that West, and the other pathological liars at the Obfuscation Institute, will nonetheless recycle this same misrepresentation of scientific work before long.

Petition in support of sound science in biology textbooks

Many thanks to Jonathan Ichikawa, a recent graduate of Rice University, who has put together a petition aimed at Holt, Rinehart, the publisher of biology textbooks that appears to be caving to political pressure from anti-Darwinians, as I discussed here.

The on-line petition is available here.

I hope many readers will sign the petition, and will pass on the link to it to others. This is a national issue, because of the size of the Texas market: remember, the textbooks that Texas approves tend to be the textbooks that get used in dozens of other states. Please let Holt, Rinehart know that lots of people want sound science textbooks in the nation's high schools. Thanks.

Biology textbooks under attack

Texas is the second largest buyer of school textbooks in the US and, unfortunately for the nation, the power to approve and reject textbooks is vested in the hands of a small State Board of Education, which is dominated by the Texas Taliban, that frightening brand of Texas politicos who are committed to making the law of (their) God the law of the land. The publishers frequently cave in to pressure from the Texas Taliban, and edit and revise their textbooks to appease them, since they can't afford to have their books rejected from the Texas market. The result is that the Texas Taliban affect the content of textbooks in dozens of other states.

Currently, the Texas Taliban are waging war on biology textbooks, and already some of the publishers are caving, as discussed in this article. The "Discovery [sic] Institute" is an organization devoted to reviving creationism as a "scientific" theory, which they've renamed "Intelligent Design." That the theory of "Intelligent Design" generates no testable claims, and that no papers defending it have been published in peer-reviewed scientific journals is not thought to be a problem by the Texas Taliban, since, of course, they're not the least bit interested in science, and are quite interested in promoting their particular brand of religious belief.

What can be done? To start, I'd urge anyone with children in public schools ANYWHERE to contact Holt, Rinehart to demand that their biology textbooks reflect the existing scientific consensus about the theory of evolution. Here is information on the latest dispute courtesy of the heroic Texas Freedom Network:

"After the first public hearing on Biology textbooks, publishers had two weeks to respond to oral and written comments submitted by the public. Textbook publisher Holt, Rinehart & Winston caved to pressure by creationist censors attempting to weaken the study of evolution in the Biology textbooks. Holt made changes at the request of the Discovery Institute, the Seattle-based organization promoting the teaching of “Intelligent Design” nationwide. The changes include a paragraph in the chapter review recommending students use the Internet to research “alternatives” to evolution and the origin of life.
The overwhelming majority of expert testimony at the hearing called for
accurately presenting proven scientific evidence on evolution - in Biology
textbooks, but the threat of having a textbook rejected by the radical
right element on the State Board of Education (SBOE) seems to have
persuaded Holt, Rinehart & Winston to cave to political pressure.

this change be removed. They must hear from mainstream Texans in force.

"Call, email or write Michael Brawley, [email protected], 800-242-5479 1175
N. Stemmons Fwy., Lewisville, TX 75067.

I"n the textbook ‘Biology’ by Johnson and Raven, the chapter review
question on p. 271 was changed from:

"20. Finding and Communicating Information. Use the media center or
Internet resources to learn about the condition on Earth that scientist
think existed before life formed. Identify which compounds Miller and Urey
formed in their experiment…


20. Finding and Communicating Information. Use the media center or
Internet resources to study hypotheses for the origin of life that are
alternatives to the hypotheses proposed by Oparin and Lerman. Analyze,
review, and critique either Oparin’s or Lerman’s hypothesis as presented
in your textbook along with one alternative hypothesis that you discover
in your research."

What will be next? Medical textbooks that recommend students search the Internet for alternate cures?

A nice thing about the Texas Taliban is that they actually publish their "criteria" for evaluating school textbooks. You can read them (and weep) at the web site of Mel and Norma Gabler, a kindly looking couple who have done more than anyone to try to undermine public education in Texas. They do catch the occasional error in school textbooks, but the errors they want to add (about law, about history, about science, about economics) are just breathtaking.

Remember, this isn't just a Texas issue, since the textbooks selected by the Texas State Board of Education are likely to end up in the classrooms of children from Michigan to Florida to Oregon.