Friday, November 18, 2005

Brief Blog Break

The scheduling gods have decreed that this semester I have no classes to teach on Tuesdays. That means that after I finish my Monday classes I will be heading off to central New Jersey to spend Thanksgiving with my family. Therefore, there will be no blogging next week.

On the subject of things to be thankful for, I think this is a good time to thank all of the people who stop by to have a look at whatever has me riled up that day. Currently I get around 800-1000 hits on a typical weekday, and about half that on the weekends. That spikes to around 1400-1600 hits on days when I cross-post over at the Panda's Thumb. I'm also gratified by the generally high level of the comments I receive, even the critical ones (well, not that jerk who keeps leaving Viagra ads in the comments section, but otherwise).

So Happy Thankgiving to all! See you in a week.

Krauthammer on ID

Periodically I go off on a rant about the anti-science tendencies of the modern Republican party. I do so knowing that in response I can expect some well-meaning commenter to lecture me about how not all conservatives are anti-science and that I shouldn't paint with such a big brush and all that.

In that spirit, allow me to link to this excellent column from Charles Krauthammer. It gets off to a shaky start, talking up the religiosity of Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein. Einstein, however, was not religious in any sense an evangelical Christian would recognize. In fact, he once ridiculed the idea of a personal God as a childish delusion.

But Krauthammer gets it gloriously right later in the column:


Let's be clear. Intelligent design may be interesting as theology, but as science it is a fraud. It is a self-enclosed, tautological “theory” whose only holding is that when there are gaps in some area of scientific knowledge -- in this case, evolution -- they are to be filled by God. It is a “theory” that admits that evolution and natural selection explain such things as the development of drug resistance in bacteria and other such evolutionary changes within species but also says that every once in a while God steps into this world of constant and accumulating change and says, “I think I'll make me a lemur today.” A “theory” that violates the most basic requirement of anything pretending to be science -- that it be empirically disprovable. How does one empirically disprove the proposition that God was behind the lemur, or evolution -- or behind the motion of the tides or the “strong force” that holds the atom together?

In order to justify the farce that intelligent design is science, Kansas had to corrupt the very definition of science, dropping the phrase “natural explanations for what we observe in the world around us,” thus unmistakably implying -- by fiat of definition, no less -- that the supernatural is an integral part of science. This is an insult both to religion and science.


It's hard to improve on that.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Lying for the Faith

Over at World Magazine, Gene Veith reports on the latest horror from those evil liberal secularists:


Many public schools already use The Chronicles of Narnia in their reading curriculum. But after Florida governor Jeb Bush started promoting The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe in a statewide reading contest called “Just Read, Florida,” the critics are wanting to ban that book.

C.S. Lewis' classic, set to premiere as a major motion picture Dec. 9, has a clear Christian message, culminating in the Christ-figure, Aslan the Lion, giving himself to the devil figure, the White Witch, to die in the place of the rotten little kid, Edmund. Then Aslan rises from the dead, which brings salvation to Narnia.

Such a clear gospel message, according to some civil libertarians, has no place in the public schools. Barry Lynn, director of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, says, “This whole contest is just totally inappropriate because of the themes of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. It is simply a retelling of the story of Christ.”

Ironically, those comments came out a week after Banned Books Week, celebrating books people have tried to censor. (According to the Banned Books Resource Guide from the American Library Association, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is on the list. So is the Bible.)


Chilling indeed. There's just one problem. Veith just made up the idea that Barry Lynn wants to ban anything.

The details on the reading contest can be obtained from Jeb Bush's website here. Basically the contest involves children in grades three through twelve reading the book, and then, depending on their grade level, either writing an essay, producing an illustration, or putting together a video.

So, does Barry Lynn want to ban the book? Of course not. Lynn made his position perfectly clear on Monday's edition of the MSNBC show The Situation with Tucker Carlson. Here's an excerpt:


CARLSON: Welcome back. “The Passion of the Christ” was a huge box office hit. Odds are, “The Chronicles of Narnia,” based on the stories of influential Christian writer C.S. Lewis will do pretty well too, but the first book in the series is hitting some resistance.

Americans United for the Separation of Church and State wants the state of Florida to stop pushing “The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe” in its state-wide reading contest. The group says the state should only permit nonreligious books in reading programs.

Here to defend the group‘s position, executive director, Barry Lynn, who joins us live tonight from Denver, Colorado.

Barry, thanks for coming on.

BARRY LYNN, AMERICANS UNITED FOR THE SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE:

Nice to be back.

CARLSON: Thanks. So you spend your life fighting against religious fundamentalism, and here you find yourself trying to ban a book. You have become what you despise, have you not?

LYNN: No, I have not, because I‘m not trying to censor this book. I‘m not trying to take “The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe” out of any library or classroom in the state of Florida.

I‘m just trying to figure out why it was that Governor Jeb Bush chose this obviously Christian-themed book to be the sole book for his state-wide reading contest that goes from elementary to high school up to high school. All we were asking him to do this year was to come up with an alternative along with this book. I mean, it could have been the book you wrote, Tucker. That would have been an alternative.

CARLSON: I think it would have helped sales. But look, you‘re trying

so you‘re not trying to prevent kids from reading this book in the reading contest?

LYNN: Absolutely not. I love this book. I‘m going to see the movie, but it is inappropriate for the state of Florida to use an obviously Christian themed book. C.S. Lewis, the guy who wrote...


Pretty unambiguous. From here the debate dissolves into Carlson preposterously arguing that The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is not a Christian book, with Lynn showing in great detail that it totally is.

Teaching Evolution in Mexico

The November 4 issue of Science features this interesting essay by Antonio Lazcano, a biology professor from Mexico. He points out that evolutionary theory has been warmly accepted by Mexican culture, despite the strong Catholic tradition of that country. He writes:


I am always amused when I am asked by my American colleagues about the problems and pressures they imagine I face in Mexico because of my interest in life's beginnings. However, pressure to include creationism in public pedagogical and research settings has been primarily a phenomenon in the United States. Only twice during my 30 years of teaching about evolutionary biology and research into the origins of life, have I encountered religious-based opposition to my work. In both cases, it came from evangelical zealots from the United States preaching in Mexico. One of the little recognized U.S. imports into Mexico is a small flow of creationists, who, through religion, are trying to impose their fundamentalist beliefs and hinder the teaching of Darwinian evolution in all levels of schooling.



Lezcano goes on to mention that evolution is a central feature of the science education of Mexican children:


The study of the origin of life and other issues of evolutionary biology run deep in Mexican culture. This shows up in many ways, including Diego Rivera's cheerful mural paintings of Charles Darwin in public buildings and the popularity of Aleksandr Oparin's ideas about life emerging from a primordial soup. More than 70 editions of The Origins of Life, one of Oparin's earliest books, have been published here and read by generation after generation of high-school students since it was first translated in 1937. Perhaps even more important is the nationwide exposure for many decades of Mexico's schoolchildren to evolutionary ideas included in the textbooks published by the Mexican Secretary of Public Education, which are provided free to all students. The lessons based on these materials are a preamble to in-depth teaching of evolution in secondary (middle school) and high schools.


Also interesting was this comment:


In yet another sign that Mexico's educators and students embrace Darwinism, my associates and I are often invited to speak in public and private schools, including those run by Catholic nuns and priests, to talk about the origin and evolution of life. The list of venues includes a conference at the oldest Mexican Catholic seminary. Many of the students and professors at the seminary may have seen evolution as the unfolding of a divine plan, but they also saw no doctrinal conflict between their own personal faith and Darwin's scientific ideas. They even found hilarious the idea of teaching creationism based on biblical literalism.


The whole article is worth reading. Powerful, organized creationism really is an American phenomenon. The rest of the world is right to laugh at us for it.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Creationism in Lynchburg

This past summer I attened a large young-Earth creationism conference in Lynchburg, VA. If you missed my original blog entries on the subject, a condensed version of them is now available over at the Skeptic website. Enjoy!

The Times on Kansas

Yesterday's New York Times featured this article about the Kansas School Board's redefinition of the nature of science. Let's consider a few excerpts:


Once it was the left who wanted to redefine science.

In the early 1990's, writers like the Czech playwright and former president Vaclav Havel and the French philosopher Bruno Latour proclaimed “the end of objectivity.” The laws of science were constructed rather than discovered, some academics said; science was just another way of looking at the world, a servant of corporate and military interests. Everybody had a claim on truth.

The right defended the traditional notion of science back then. Now it is the right that is trying to change it.


Of course, it was not “the left” who wanted to redefine science. It was a handful of terribly confused academics in the humanities who wanted to do that. Likewise, today it is not “the right” that wants to do anything. It is a small group of religious zealots who want to redefine science. But unlike the confused professors before them, the religious zealots have managed to obtain considerable political power. That makes them far more worrisome.

The article then describes some of the changes made by the School Board:


The old definition reads in part, “Science is the human activity of seeking natural explanations for what we observe in the world around us.” The new one calls science “a systematic method of continuing investigation that uses observation, hypothesis testing, measurement, experimentation, logical argument and theory building to lead to more adequate explanations of natural phenomena.”


Later we come to a characteristically insightful comment from Nobel laureate Steven Weinberg:


But many scientists say that characterization is an overstatement of the claims of science. The scientist's job description, said Steven Weinberg, a physicist and Nobel laureate at the University of Texas, is to search for natural explanations, just as a mechanic looks for mechanical reasons why a car won't run.

“This doesn't mean that they commit themselves to the view that this is all there is,” Dr. Weinberg wrote in an e-mail message. “Many scientists (including me) think that this is the case, but other scientists are religious, and believe that what is observed in nature is at least in part a result of God's will.”


Well said. Actually though, the part of the article that really caught my eye comes later:


When pressed for a definition of what they do, many scientists eventually fall back on the notion of falsifiability propounded by the philosopher Karl Popper. A scientific statement, he said, is one that can be proved wrong, like “the sun always rises in the east” or “light in a vacuum travels 186,000 miles a second.” By Popper's rules, a law of science can never be proved; it can only be used to make a prediction that can be tested, with the possibility of being proved wrong.

But the rules get fuzzy in practice. For example, what is the role of intuition in analyzing a foggy set of data points? James Robert Brown, a philosopher of science at the University of Toronto, said in an e-mail message: “It's the widespread belief that so-called scientific method is a clear, well-understood thing. Not so.” It is learned by doing, he added, and for that good examples and teachers are needed.

One thing scientists agree on, though, is that the requirement of testability excludes supernatural explanations. The supernatural, by definition, does not have to follow any rules or regularities, so it cannot be tested. “The only claim regularly made by the pro-science side is that supernatural explanations are empty,” Dr. Brown said.


Actually, I think this has it precisely backward. In practice, most of the time it's perfectly clear how to distinguish good science from bad science. It is in theory that it gets hard to draw clear lines.

Of course, the inability of philosophers to devise a clear line of demarcation between science and pseudoscience simply reflects the fact that there is a continuum between the two. Some thing are clearly science, ohers are clearly pseudoscience, and then there are some things in the middle where things are less clear. But the fact is that Popper's ideas about falsification work pretty darn well most of the time.

As for Brown, he's totally wrong about the scientific method being unclear and not well-defined. There is indeed a well-defined scientific method and it's precisely the one we all learned in high school. It's the one where you gather all the relevant data you can, devise a theory for explaining the data, and then conduct further experiments to see if your theory can predict their results. Scientists, after all, seem to know what they're doing when they do their research. If the philosophers have been unable to describe the process to their own satisfaction, then so much the worse for the philosophers.

Alas, this subject is not solely of academic interest. The wishy washiness of certain philosophers of science on this issue has aided the creationist cause. They seize on statements like “There is no clear definition of science” to act like anything goes.

Philospher Michael Ruse famously testified, in the 1982 Arkansas creationism trial, that falsificationism is a major part of distinguishing science from nonscience. In doing so he reflected the views of most practicing scientists, and gave a criterion that works very well in most cases. After the trial he was castigated by fellow philsophers Larry Laudan and Phillip Quinn. Quinn and Laudan argued that Ruse's testimony was too simplistic, and then, with the sort of misapplied cleverness that is the stock in trade of professional philosophers, devised various examples to show that Ruse's criteria didn't always work.

On several occasions I've had creationists throw the rather florid prose of Laudan and Quinn at me to argue that there is no sound basis for declaring that creationism is pseudoscience. But Laudan and Quinn were wrong and Ruse was right. Very vexing.

There are many philosophers of science who are essential reading for anyone interested in evolution. Daniel Dennett, Elliott Sober and Michael Ruse spring to mind. But there are many others who seem to think their job is to create trouble where there isn't any. On this issue, this tendency leads to real harm.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Photographing Auras on CNN

On yesterday's edition of CNN's Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees the following exchange took place:


COOPER: It certainly is. All right, Gary Tuchman, thanks. I'm actually going to get my aura photographed right now. I want to introduce you to Nancy Stephens, a photographer who says that she specializes in capturing auras, correct?

STEPHENS: Correct.

COOPER: So you sit here. This is your special camera.

STEPHENS: This is an aura camera.

COOPER: An aura camera. All right.

STEPHENS: Put your right hand and left hand on the hand plates. There are pickups that will register your predominant energy centers, which translates as your aura.

COOPER: All right.

STEPHENS: OK.

COOPER: I'm not sure I have any predominant energy centers. But let's give it a whirl.

STEPHENS: Just look straight ahead. Take a nice deep breath. Exhale.

COOPER: OK.

STEPHENS: Just takes a couple of seconds. It's calibrating your energy right now.

COOPER: It's calibrating my energy?

STEPHENS: Yes. Good. OK. We're done.

COOPER: OK. Walk over here with me, if you will. We'll develop the photograph in a little bit.

STEPHENS: OK.

COOPER: How long have you been doing this?

STEPHENS: Since 1999.

COOPER: And -- here, if you'll just come over here. What is the aura that you're alleging you can photograph?

STEPHENS: The aura is a combination of your physical energy, your emotional energy, and important to me, at least, is your spiritual energy.

COOPER: And what can you tell or what do you say you can tell by people's aura? Is it color?

STEPHENS: Everyone has a unique -- it's like a snowflake or a thumbprint. Everyone has an unique aura. Red is your physical energy, to the other side of the spectrum which is purple, which is the spiritual side of you.

COOPER: And what is the benefit of knowing what one's aura is?

STEPHENS: It gives you insight as to what your gifts are, your strengths and also your challenges. Just like in everything in life, there's a challenge and there's a positive. There's a yin and a yang.

COOPER: I'm not sure I buy any of this. But we're going to develop the photograph in a little bit.

STEPHENS: OK. And we'll look at your...

COOPER: And we'll check out my aura.


And later:


COOPER: Earlier in the program we told you about indigo children, kids who some feel are mentally and spiritually gifted or said to have indigo-colored energy fields or auras around them. Aura photographer Nancy Stephens has taken my picture to see what kind of aura I have. And she joins me to talk about it.

How did the photo turn out?

STEPHENS: Fabulous.

COOPER: Let's take a look at it. What do you see in this? Uh- oh, what is that?

STEPHENS: OK.

COOPER: That's yellow, isn't it?

STEPHENS: Yes. The yellow reveals that you are an intellect. You're very intellectual. The white above you, that white arc displays your spirit guides, otherwise known as angelic beings or deceased loved ones.

The purple on the left side reveals that you are a visionary. It's a combination of red and blue, equals purple. Red is grounded strength. It's a chi, vitality, it's leadership and courage. And then the blue which is hidden within the purple reveals that you're very good at communication.

COOPER: So, you basically -- I don't quite understand how your camera works, but I mean it gets these things, are they different for everybody?

STEPHENS: Every photograph is unique, like a snowflake.

COOPER: And what -- do you do this, what, at bar mitzvahs and parties?

STEPHENS: I get called to many unusual events. They range from -- I have done bar mitzvahs. I've done animals. Showers. I just did an Overeaters Anonymous party last weekend.

COOPER: Let's just take a look at the photo again. It is an interesting -- why do you think people want to have your services? What do you think this gives people?

STEPHENS: Because it indicates what their strengths are, their emotional energy, their spiritual energy, and their physical energy. It gives them a lot of insight as to who they are.

COOPER: Hmm, interesting. Well, I'm not sure I buy any of it, but it's -- you know, clearly, a lot of people out there do and I appreciate you coming in and showing us how it works.

STEPHENS: You are quite welcome.

COOPER: Thanks very much.

STEPHENS: A pleasure.


The especially sad thing is I suspect that, actually, Anderson Cooper is quite sure he doesn't but any of it. Probably CNN's producer's made him air this tripe.

It would have been nice to see him ask a few skeptical questions, though. For example, when Ms. Stephens was describing the significance of the various colors in his aura, why didn't Cooper ask her how she knew what the different colors signify? Or why didn't he ask her how an aura camera worked, or what the heck it means to say the camera is calibrating his energy?

And, incidentally, this came at the end of a segment about indigo children. These are said to be children whose auras contain a preponerance of indigo, which is significant for some reason or other. The segment provided an almost completely skeptic-free account of how some people believe that indigo children can see angels and spirits. It featured the following exchange between one such child and a credulous reporter:


TUCHMAN: But from her bedroom on the Jersey Shore, Sandy says she is wired into another universe, sort of supernatural super highway.

(on camera): Your dead grandmother visited you last night?

S. BERSHAD: Uh-huh.

TUCHMAN: In your bedroom?

S. BERSHAD: Uh-huh.

TUCHMAN: And what did she say to you?

S. BERSHAD: Just to say hello, that she loves me. That kind of thing. She usually just visits. Her energy is very, like, nice, like healing.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): Sandy, who spends a lot of her time on the beach believes that guiding spirits surround her.

(on camera): So right now, you see angels?

S. BERSHAD: Yes. TUCHMAN: And where are they?

S. BERSHAD: They're over here.

TUCHMAN: Over here?

S. BERSHAD: Yes.

TUCHMAN: Like near my shoulder?

S. BERSHAD: Yes.


And then CNN wonders why everyone is watching Fox News.

The Templeton Foundation Responds to WSJ

In yesterday's post I quoted an article from the Wall Street Journal that asserted that the Tepleton Foundation, once a major supporter of ID, is now losing interest. The Foundation has now issued this statement objecting to the idea that they have ever been a supporter of ID:


Today the WSJ ran a front page story mentioning the John Templeton Foundation in a way suggesting that the Foundation has been a concerted patron and sponsor of the so-called Intelligent Design (“ID”) position (such as is associated with the Seattle-based Discovery Institute and the writers Philip Johnson, William Dembski, Michael Behe and others). This is false information. In fact, quite the opposite is true. The John Templeton Foundation has provided tens of millions of dollars in support to research academics who are critical of the anti-evolution ID position. Any careful and factual analysis of actual events will find that the John Templeton Foundation has been in fact the chief sponsor of university courses, lectures and academic research which variously have argued against the anti-evolution “ID” position. It is scandalous for a distinguished paper to misinform the public in this way.


The statement goes on to argue that on those occasions where grants have been given to ID supporters, it was not for the purpose of supporting ID research.

In light of this, I apologize for asserting that Templeton has been a principle backer of ID research. I still regard it as significant, however, that a foundation devoted to bridging the gap between science and religion would wish to distance itself, with considerable passion, from ID.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Toles Nails It

The always excellent political cartoonist Tom Toles says all that needs to be said about the Kansas evolution decision. Go have a look.

Santorum Backs Away from ID?

From the Beaver County Times and Allegheny Times comes this interesting article about Senator Rick Santorum's apparent change of heart concerning the teaching of ID in science classrooms:


U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum said Saturday that he doesn't believe that intelligent design belongs in the science classroom.

Santorum's comments to The Times are a shift from his position of several years ago, when he wrote in a Washington Times editorial that intelligent design is a “legitimate scientific theory that should be taught in the classroom.”

But on Saturday, the Republican said that, “Science leads you where it leads you.”


And later:


Though Santorum said he believes that intelligent design is “a legitimate issue,” he doesn't believe it should be taught in the classroom, adding that he had concerns about some parts of the theory.


Santorum is one of the most conservative members of the Senate, and he is a darling of the religious right. So any wavering on this issue will not be taken lightly by his core supporters.

I suspect that this flip-flop represents a desire to move to the center in time for his difficult 2006 Senate campaign against conservative Democrat Bob Casey. With Bush's declining poll numbers, a lot of Republicans are trying to distance themselves from him (and recall that Bush supports teaching “both sides”). Meanwhile, Santorum recognizes that ID stands a very good chance of being defeated in the Dover trial, and he knows that the pro-ID school board there was swept out of office en masse. It will be interesting to see if Santorum flip-flops again in response to a favorable decision in the Dover trial.

This is hopeful news. Perhaps the Republican Party is coming around to the view that being relentlessly anti-science is not good either for them or for America. Somehow I doubt it though.

I should point out that, according to the article, Santorum denies that he is trying to distance himself from Bush:


With Santorum running for re-election next year, and with Bush and the Republican Party taking some significant hits in public confidence in recent months, Santorum insisted he is not trying to distance himself from Bush.

Santorum said he still supports President Bush, even though on Friday, he said in Philadelphia that mistakes had been made in the Iraq war, and that at least a portion of the blame lies with the White House.

Saturday, Santorum said of Bush, “I don't agree with everything he does,” but said that overall, he considers Bush a good president and that he has “done a lot” for the country and for Santorum himself.


Somehow this statement makes me more confident that my assessment is correct...

The Templeton Foundation and ID

Actually, the Wall Street Journal article from the previous post contains a nugget deserving its own post:


In a 1999 fund-raising proposal, the Discovery Institute -- an intelligent design think tank in Seattle -- outlined what it called a “wedge strategy” to replace the “stifling dominance of the materialist worldview” with “a science consonant with Christian and theistic conviction.” Its five-year objectives included making intelligent design “an accepted alternative in the sciences” and the “dominant perspective” at two universities which weren't identified.

While these goals weren't met, some intelligent-design advocates associated with the Discovery Institute, found a receptive ear at the Pennsylvania-based Templeton Foundation. Between 1994 and 2002, the foundation funded nearly 800 courses, including several on intelligent design. It has also supported research by William Dembski, who headed an intelligent-design center at Baylor University, and Guillermo Gonzalez, co-author of a 2004 book, “The Privileged Planet.” The book claimed to discern a designer from the earth's position in the cosmos. Mr. Gonzalez, an assistant professor of astronomy at Iowa State, received $58,000 from the foundation over three years.

Foundation staff members now say that intelligent design hasn't yielded as much research as they'd hoped. Mr. Templeton, who chairs the foundation and will turn 93 later this month, believes “the creation-evolution argument is a waste of time,” says Paul Wason, the foundation's director of science and religion programs. Mr. Wason adds that Mr. Templeton is more interested in applying the scientific method to exploring spiritual questions such as the nature of forgiveness. Nevertheless, staff members remain reluctant to dismiss intelligent design entirely, in part because the doctrine's popularity could help achieve the foundation's goal of persuading evangelical Christians to pursue scientific careers. The foundation also complains that academia is too quick to censor the doctrine. (Emphasis Added)


Of course, I love the blunt statement that the Discovery Institute's scientific ambitions have not come to fruition. But it's that bold face line that really caught my eye. The Templeton Foundation generally supports any quasi-scientific endeavor that can be spun as supportive of spirituality, however you define that term. It is not surprising that they would be supportive of ID.

But it's definitely a welcome development that one of the chief financial supporters of ID is waking up to its total lack of scientific content. Better late than never.

Of course, the reason ID has not produced as much research as they hoped is that ID has never been about scientific research. That's been obvious from the start.

God Bless The Wall Street Journal

Today's Wall Street Journal offers this magnificent reminder of why the excellent WSJ news section must be sharply distinguished from their lunatic editorial page. The article discusses the spate of pro-ID courses, generally not offered for science credit, popping up at various colleges. We consider a few excerpts, starting with the opening grafs:


With a magician's flourish, Thomas Ingebritsen pulled six mousetraps from a shopping bag and handed them out to students in his “God and Science” seminar. At his instruction, they removed one component -- either the spring, hammer or holding bar -- from each mousetrap. They then tested the traps, which all failed to snap.

“Is the mousetrap irreducibly complex?” the Iowa State University molecular biologist asked the class.

“Yes, definitely,” said Jason Mueller, a junior biochemistry major wearing a cross around his neck.

That's the answer Mr. Ingebritsen was looking for. He was using the mousetrap to support the antievolution doctrine known as intelligent design. Like a mousetrap, the associate professor suggested, living cells are “irreducibly complex” -- they can't fulfill their functions without all of their parts. Hence, they could not have evolved bit by bit through natural selection but must have been devised by a creator.


In just a few paragraphs the article's author, Daniel Golden, makes it clear that ID is all about religion and gives a decent summary of the irreducible complexity argument. There is also the clear implication that the goal of ID is to provide validation for students' prior religious beliefs.

Given Golden's very clear presentation of the logic of irreducible complexity, it should be obvious to everyone that the argument is not correct, simply as a matter of logic. Requiring all your parts in the present does not imply that you have always required all of those parts in the past. When you further note that biologists have actually had considerable success explaining a great many specific complex systems, you begin to see just how vacuous ID really is.

Incidentally, I would add that if Golden had written a further sentence giving a wink and a nod to the equally vacuous notion of complex, specified information, he would have, in the space of three or four sentences, explained the entire scientific content of ID.

Moving on:


The spread of these courses reflects the growing influence of evangelical Christianity in academia, as in other aspects of American culture. Last week, the Kansas state board of education adopted new science guidelines that question evolution.

Intelligent design does not demand a literal reading of the Bible. Unlike traditional creationists, most adherents agree with the prevailing scientific view that the earth is billions of years old. And they allow that the designer is not necessarily the Christian God.

Still, professors with evangelical beliefs, including some eminent scientists, have initiated most of the courses and lectures, often with start-up funding from the John Templeton Foundation. Established by famous stockpicker Sir John Templeton, the foundation promotes exploring the boundary of theology and science. It fostered the movement's growth with grants of $10,000 and up for guest speakers, library materials, research and conferences.


Exactly right. ID is about the growth of an especially narrow sort of Christianity; the scienitifc cover story is a sham.


Citing what they describe as overwhelming evidence for evolution, mainstream scientists say no one has the right to teach wrong science, or religion in the guise of science. “My interest is in making sure that intelligent design and creationism do not make the kind of inroads at the university level that they're making at the K-12 level,” says Leslie McFadden, chair of earth and planetary sciences at the University of New Mexico, who led a successful fight there to re-classify a course on intelligent design from science to humanities. “You can't teach whatever you damn well please. If you're a geologist, and you decide that the earth's core is made of green cheese, you can't teach that.”


Folks, we're not very far into the article. But I need to stop at this point to make a note to name my first-born after Mr. Golden. After reading article after article in which the ID folks are allowed to prattle about academic freedom, without any cogent reply from the evolution side, it's alomst too wonderful to see an article include the obvious counter. Academic freedom does not mean you get to teach whatever you want in the classroom. You can't present any old lies and distortions simply because they flatter your religious biases. If you are teaching your students that irreducible complexity presents some kind of challenge to evolution, then you are teaching your students something that is false. False as a matter of fact, not opinion.

We'll be here all day if I pick out every passage I liked in this article, so let me get to my one little nit pick:


At stake in this dispute are the minds of the next generation of scientists and science teachers. Some are arriving at college with conflicting accounts of mankind's origins at home, in church and at school. Many of Iowa State's 21,000-plus undergraduates come from fundamentalist backgrounds and belong to Christian student groups on campus.


Actually, the next generation of scientists is not at stake in this dispute. Anyone wanting to make a career as a scientist will eventually be expected to produce actual research results, and a student who insists on believing nonsense will not be able to that. But the next generation of science teachers is, indeed, at stake. That is why ID must be vigorously countered.

Let me close with this excerpt from the article's closing section:


On a brisk Thursday in October, following the mousetrap gambit, Mr. Ingebritsen displayed diagrams on an overhead projector of “irreducibly complex” structures such as bacterial flagellum, the motor that helps bacteria move about. The flagellum, he said, constitutes strong evidence for intelligent design.

One student, Mary West, disputed this conclusion. “These systems could have arisen through natural selection,” the senior said, citing the pro-evolution textbook.

“That doesn't explain this system,” Mr. Ingebritsen answered. “You're a scientist. How did the flagellum evolve? Do you have a compelling argument for how it came into being?”

Ms. West looked down, avoiding his eye. “Nope,” she muttered. The textbook, “Finding Darwin's God,” by Kenneth Miller, a biology professor at Brown University, asserts that a flagellum isn't irreducibly complex because it can function to some degree even without all of its parts. This suggests to evolutionists that the flagellum could have developed over time, adding parts that made it work better.

During a class break, Ms. West says that Mr. Ingebritsen often puts her on the spot. “He knows I'm not religious,” she says. “In the beginning, we talked about our religious philosophy. Everyone else in the class is some sort of a Christian. I'm not.” The course helps her understand “the arguments on the other side,” she adds, but she would like to see Mr. Ingebritsen co-teach it with a proponent of evolution.


ID laid bare. If you can't on the spur of the moment, devise a step-by-step account of the evolution of some complex system, then you should just chalk the whole thing up to an intelligent designer.

Go read the whole article. And get angrier at other media outlets when they don't rise to this standard.