Rationality Now Rotating Header Image

Science

Cherry Picking

This looks like a good cherry to pick! I recently spoke with a friend who is a fundamentalist young Earth creationist. I’ve known him for quite a few years and we get along great, despite our diametric views on religion and science. We’ve had plenty of discussions about religion, science, God, theology, and the bible and they’re always enjoyable because neither of us takes the points and counterpoints personally and we really listen (mostly) to each others’ views, even if we disagree. We also tend to toss in some humor to the mix to keep things light.

We started talking about science and the age of the Earth again with another friend, though it was really late and we didn’t get into anything in great detail, but one of his comments (which he’s made before) is a common one that I find exasperating. The comment was something along the lines of "We all have the same facts. However, depending on our worldview and our assumptions, we reach different conclusions."

My response was basically that the difference wasn’t a worldview or the starting assumptions. The difference was that science looks at the facts and then tries to come to a conclusion (theory) while religion starts with the conclusion already established and tries to make the facts fit. He denied that was the case (radiometric dating was the point of contention in this particular instance). Before we got any further, it was time to call it a night because we were on the verge of falling asleep anyway.

What struck me as I thought about the exchange was that creationists, fundamentalists, and other groups that deny evolution or the age of the Earth, cherry pick science in much the same way that they cherry pick from the bible.

They’ll trust science when it comes to medicine, happily going to the doctor for a prescription or to the hospital for surgery. They’ll trust science when it comes to the manufacture and operation of cars, trains, and airplanes when they want to go to work or on vacation. They’ll trust science when it provides them with a television signal or allows them to download new music for their iPods. They’ll trust science when it provides them with an inexpensive abundance of biologically improved crops, meat, and dairy products for their backyard barbecues.

They’ll trust and depend on science when it comes to the manufacture of their footwear, clothing, homes, automobiles, medicine, televisions, computers, appliances, cell phones, and a myriad of other things that don’t conflict with their fundamentalist theology… but if there’s a conflict, science is suddenly a flawed methodology where facts are interpreted differently due to worldviews, preconceptions, and baseless assumptions.

It’s hypocritical and it’s an insult to the scientific community. To be so cavalier in dismissing some of the most well-supported scientific theories in the history of science, yet depend upon science for their entertainment, convenience, and sometimes even their very survival, seems to me an irrational position at best.

But I suppose that’s what cherry picking is all about.

Judging theories on their merits

Darwin's Tree of Life DrawingIn Friday’s The Daily News Online in Batavia, NY, John Cantillion wrote a letter to the editor in response to a piece by Reverend Fred Jensen a few days before. I didn’t read the original piece, but the reply by Mr. Cantillion was just so awash with misinformation and theological chest thumping that it was virtually screaming for a response.

The original topic by Reverend Jensen was “Science and religion should cooperate as well as co-exist.” Jerry Coyne and Chris Mooney are currently having their own debate, but I come down pretty squarely in Coyne’s camp. However, they’re both scientists and (I think) atheists, so they’re not that far apart generally. Cantillion, however, seems to have wandered off into the “science and religion go hand in hand and compliment each other” field, one that I don’t believe Coyne or Mooney endorse.

Cantillion starts off with a bang in the first paragraph, claiming biblical scientific credentials because the book of Job describes the water cycle, something he says was not “scientifically” described until the mid 1500’s. For those of you who are biblically challenged, here are the verses in question from Job chapter 36 (NSRV).

27 For he draws up the drops of water; he distils his mist in rain,
28 which the skies pour down and drop upon mortals abundantly.
29 Can anyone understand the spreading of the clouds, the thunderings of his pavilion?

I’m pretty sure those verses don’t qualify as being “scientifically” described, either, but that’s Cantillion’s first bit of evidence for biblical science. More quoting from Job, this time from chapter 26, verse 7.

He stretches out Zaphon [or the north] over the void, and hangs the earth upon nothing.

This passage, he states, is “an apt description of the earth in space.”

I’m pretty sure it’s not.

After his first paragraph of proselytizing, Cantillion continues…

There is a legitimate case for fear when a portion of science is eliminated because it does not agree with the worldview of those in power. Science looks at all the views, and based on empirical evidence, chooses the best one. Declaring one theory to be illegitimate and then forcing all evidence to fit the theory that has been declared to be legitimate is not science.

I wholeheartedly agree with that entire paragraph (as long as it remains out of the context of the rest of his letter). Science should be based on empirical evidence and should not be twisted to suit the political agenda of the day. It should be based on observable facts, should be testable, and should be peer reviewed.

What’s the problem with Cantillion’s view, then? The problem is that, after that one paragraph, the rest of his letter is mind-numbingly anti-science, anti-intellectual, and anti-rationality.

The theory of evolution is just that, a theory, not scientific fact. It has strengths and weaknesses.
[…]
Creation science is a theory just as evolution is. Let it stand or fall based on its merits, or lack thereof, as demonstrated through empirical evidence, not prejudice.

Here’s where things take a turn into creationist-land. The “just a theory” line is a classic creationist talking point and shows a complete lack of understanding of what a scientific “theory” actually is. When the statement is used in conjunction with evolution, not only does it show a lack of understanding of the definition of the word, but it shows an even greater lack in understanding of evolution… what the theory states, and what the evidence is. When that line is trotted out, it’s a pretty safe bet that it will be followed up with Ray Comfort’esque ramblings… which in this case, is excruciatingly true.

Creation science is not “a theory just as evolution is.” Creation “science” isn’t even “science.” If it was to stand or fall based on its merits, it would have fallen decades ago, as it has with reputable scientists, but that’s not what creationists really want. What they want is for creationism to be what is taught in schools. They want creationism to be taught as fact. They want creationism to be exempt from any sort of real scientific scrutiny so that they can claim it as true.

Cantillion continues with this

If evolution is really so superior to creating, why is every effort being made to eliminate the theory of creation from public awareness so that only the theory of evolution is known and believed? If the theory of evolution is truly so superior over creation, then put them side by side and let evolution destroy creation once and for all.

First, nobody is trying to eliminate the biblical account of creation from public awareness. What rational people are doing is removing it from (or rather keeping it out of) the science curriculum, where it has no business. The science curriculum should be teaching science, a branch of which is biology, a part of which is evolution… by natural selection. Evolution is not a matter of “belief” or “faith.” It’s a matter of scientific evidence processed using the scientific method.

As for the second part, evolution and creationism have been put side by side and evolution has destroyed creationism. Sadly, it hasn’t been “once and for all” because the creationists won’t accept anything but the overwhelming victory of their biblical (or Koranic) version of creation over any scientific, evidence-based alternative. So no matter how much evidence is presented, no matter how much “proof” is piled up and presented to a creationist, it makes not a lick of difference because it doesn’t match their beliefs, to which they desparately cling despite the contradictions between the facts and their beliefs.

Cantillion asks…

The strategy being used [to support evolution] is not science, but politics. Why is politics needed to prove and establish the theory of evolution, unless it cannot be established by empirical evidence?

I find Cantillion’s statement strange because what’s actually happening is the exact opposite of what he claims. Evolution is completely supported by science. Creationism is what is desparately seeking political support because that’s the only support it can possibly muster in a scientific world. Cantillion doesn’t seem to get the dependencies correct. Evolution depends on science. Creationism depends on politics.

He goes on to criticize Reverend Jensen for what he seems to think are poorly chosen examples of God’s hand in creation and then really goes off the deep end.

Everyone has a religious faith of some sort. Even an atheist has religious faith. An atheist cannot prove that God does not exist. Therefore, it takes at least as much faith for an atheist to believe that there is no God as it does for a religious person to believe that there is a God. So then, not mentioning God and not praying is not being neutral regarding religion but is, in fact, promoting atheism. All religious faiths do not get us to the same place, unless atheism is true. Then everyone just winds up dead. Atheism, not science, is at the root of evolution.

I find it difficult to not use profanity here. Lack of a belief in a god is not, in any way, shape, or form, religious faith. It’s true that atheists cannot prove that God does not exist. However, most atheists do not make an irrefutable claim of absolute knowledge regarding the existence of God (as Creationists do), so no proof is necessary. As an atheist, I’m not stating that a god does not exist. I’m stating that I have no evidence for the existence of a god… any god. So, no… it takes no faith to be an atheist.

So, contrary to the absurd conclusion at which Cantillion arrives, not mentioning God and not praying is definitely neutral regarding religion. Leaving out religious actions is neutral to religion. Praying, reading bible verses, singing hymns, and teaching creationism are all actions that are most assuredly not religion-neutral.

As for the last sentence, the claim is just absurd. Evolution is based on evidence… factual, observable, testable evidence. Again, Cantillion gets his cart before the horse. Atheism is not the root of evolution. Evolution is, however, quite a gaping hole in the creationists’ claims.

Cantillion goes off on Reverend Jensen again at this point in his letter, but starts his criticism with this bit.

All the religions of the world cannot be held in equal esteem. Christ, Mohammed, Buddha, Confucius, and other great spiritual leaders are not equal and are in contradiction with one another.

I have to agree that great spiritual leaders contradict one another. I’m not sure what point Cantillion was trying to make here, but he inadvertently (I assume) brought up one of the main arguments atheists use regarding the truth of religion. There are so many religions, all of which claim to be true, that it’s not difficult to conclude that the most likely answer is that none of them are.

Cantillion finished with this…

Jesus claimed to be God. It is Jesus who causes the lame to walk and the blind to see, not religion and not science. Science proves what God has already established.

Unsurprisingly, Cantillion is wrong again. Science has long ago created prosthetic devices allowing the “lame” to walk and, just recently, the blind to see.

Go figure

I support stem cell research

Human Stem Cell ResearchNeil Gaimen supports stem cell research, too.

Since President Obama removed the restrictions on stem cell research funding, the National Institute of Health has been working on a set of guidelines for scientists wanting said funding. A draft of the guidelines has been issued and the next 14 days are the public comment period for those guidelines, so this is the chance to let your opinion be heard on the matter.

According to Don Reed, a national stem cell research advocate, the guidelines are a bit more conservative than hoped, but more importantly, are being flooded by stem cell research opponents. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has issued an action alert to oppose the funding and evidently, of the 6,000+ responses received so far, 99% of them are opposed to stem cell research.

You can add your comments in support of stem cell research on the NIH’s website using their comment form.

Don Reed said (emphasis mine)…

Your comment can be as short as “I support embryonic stem cell research, and am glad some of the restrictions are being loosened.“  That matters.

Anyone who clicks on the comment box, and writes in a sentence-that message will be tallied as one citizen in support. Of course, you may say more if you want. If you are a long-term research supporter,  our letter will be put in the expert witness category.

He also notes that more than one person in a family can comment. It takes less than 60 seconds to complete the information in the comment form and add your support to stem cell research.

Let’s not let religious dogma hobble this research… research that has some of the greatest potential for critical healthcare advances in science today.

Please take the time to comment using the NIH form before the May 26th deadline.

Mike Pence says Republicans are not Anti-Science

ScienceRepresentative Mike Pence (R-Ind.) spoke to Chris Matthews in defense of Republicans, saying that his party is not anti-science and that this whole “anti-science thing is a little bit weak.”

That, in and of itself, would not be particularly noteworthy. However, in the same interview, Pence goes on to show that he, himself, is quite anti-science… which seems, to me, to somewhat negate his credibility in defending the Republicans on science issues.

When asked if he believed in evolution, Pence replied…

I embrace the view that God created the heavens and the earth, the seas and all that’s in them…the means that he used to do that, I can’t say.

He also expressed skepticism about the science surrounding global warming.

From an article on Politico

On global warming, Pence said that Republicans are “more than willing to stand for clean air,” but added that “in the mainstream media there is a denial about the growing skepticism about global warming.”

I find the claim of a “growing skepticism” to be interesting. If the skepticism is growing, it’s definitely not among scientists with knowledge in relevant fields of study.

Then Pence drops this bit of joy.

“What is science but an exploration?” Pence asked. “Science is an explanation of demonstrable facts, isn’t it?”

I suppose, as a very simple summary, that’s true. However, it’s not particularly accurate. For instance, creationism (and ID), despite providing an “explanation of demonstrable facts” is not science. Science depends on a method, a series of steps, without which you have no science. If you bypass the steps, as does creationism, you can’t claim to be scientific. Pence, in that one quote alone, shows that he really doesn’t get science.

Here’s the video of the full interview (or at least a large part). It’s kind of painful to watch. Matthews keeps pushing the question about evolution, but Pence refuses to give any answer other than his “God created the heavens and earth” answer. Pence also makes the claim that Democrats put ideology over science regarding stem cell policy (?!?). It’s a lot of dancing around the questions on Pence’s part.

He also intimates that schools should be teaching creationism alongside evolution, but doesn’t say it outright.

So on one hand, Pence says the Republican party is not anti-science, but then on the other, his answers show him to be unequivocally anti-science.

Is that irony or hypocrisy?

Creationism = Intelligent Design = Not Science

Man and DinosaurI’ve done a lot of reading recently about Evolution and Intelligent Design (Creationism) and really, the arguments for Intelligent Design, whether they’re being put forth by unqualified supporters in Texas or by biologists like Michael Behe, are all non-starters. ID supporters have yet to come up with any evidence to support their theory. Their arguments consist solely of attempts to cast doubt upon the scientifically supported theory of evolution, attempts which always fail, but sadly seem to take hold of those who really have no knowledge of evolutionary theory or the evidence that supports it.

I was delighted to find this article at Evaluating Christianity about the nonsense put forth by Young Earth Creationists. It’s witty and insightful and definitely worth taking the time to read.

Here are some highlights. I’ll quote this bit for starters.

If creationists are correct, then not only do we need to scrap all of biology, but we need to throw out everything we think we know about archaeology, anthropology, astronomy, geology (no plate tectonics!), chemistry and physics (since radiometric dating is supposedly unreliable), and probably a few dozen other scientific disciplines. Think about that for a minute. If young-earth creationism is correct, then every single scientist in any of these fields of study is either an idiot or a fraud.

If you find that hard to swallow, you’re not alone.

I find it interesting that, of the Young Earth Creationists that I know (only a few), none of them reject science out of hand. I don’t think any of them deny that the Earth revolves around the Sun or that the Earth has shifting plates that cause earthquakes when they change position or many other science’y ideas. They seem to, out of necessity to support their views, only deny the science that contradicts their bibles. It’s “pick and choose” science… somewhat like “pick and choose” biblical religion, it would seem.

Anyway… here’s my favorite part because it really hits the nail on the head with regard to arguments about evolution and science.

This is why I don’t take creationism seriously. Not because I “reject the Bible” or “have differing views of the evidence,” or whatever. I don’t take it seriously because the people who are qualified to weigh in on these claims — people of varying backgrounds, races, religious and political beliefs — have done so and reject your claims.

I imagine that some (like longtime EC commenter Nathaniel) may try to draw the same analogy to Biblical historians versus Jesus-mythers. But here’s the main difference: by their own admission, 30% of Biblical historians concede that there was no empty tomb. If 30% of biologists denied common ancestry, or 30% of astronomers thought that the stars were 6,000 years old, then we would indeed have a real controversy and those ideas should be engaged on their merits.

For example: a small minority of paleontologists, led by Jack Horner, contend that T.rex was a scavenger rather than an apex predator. This is a highly contested hypothesis and is subscribed to by only a tiny minority of palentologists — but it is, nevertheless, a respectable scientific dispute.

It’s a simple and clear explanation of why some disputes are valid and others are really not (check out the rest of the article for context and additional arguments).

If you’re going to make attempts to refute scientific theories, then you’d better have a scientific argument. Creationists don’t have one, and never will, because the basis of their entire position is thoroughly unscientific. You can’t propose “it was magic” as your explanation and expect to be taken seriously.

Not even by magicians.

So Much for Catwoman

I’m not even sure how to begin with this one. It seems that the Louisiana Conference of Catholic Bishops finds it necessary to have Senator Danny Martiny file a bill that will prohibit Louisiana scientists from creating human-animal hybrids for experimentation. I’m not kidding.

Conference lobbyist Danny Loar said the bill is designed to be a “pre-emptive strike” against scientists who might want to mix “human and animal cells in a Petri dish for scientific research purposes. . . . It is becoming more of an issue globally.”

Then there’s this statement…

Martiny and Loar said they are unaware of any attempts to do that type of research in Louisiana.

However, that won’t stop them from proposing legislation to ban it. I mean, it’s becoming a global issue! It’s not like there’s more important stuff that should be dealt with in Louisiana right now, anyway. Maybe they should also propose legislation banning the use of insects in space-flight research. I’m unaware of any attempts to do that type of research in Louisiana, but it could happen!

Martiny’s bill would make it illegal to “create or attempt to create a human-animal hybrid, . . . transfer or attempt to transfer a human embryo into a non-human womb . . . (or) transfer or attempt to transfer a non-human embryo into a human womb.”

That’s a far cry from doing some stem cell research. It seems that, about a year ago, the British Parliament approved legislation allowing scientists to mix human and animal DNA in cloning experiments. Any human embryos created this way would be destroyed after 14 days, the goal being to create new stem cells for use in research into the curing of diseases. They did, however, reject using sex cells of a human and an animal.

The Louisiana bill, however, seems to take issue with creating growing creatures in the womb… sort of a Doctor Moreau thing (though he was a vivisectionist). There doesn’t seem to be any attempt by scientists to create any sort of viable human-animal hybrid, yet it seems to be a fear of the Catholic Bishops… enough so to persuade a state senator to propose legislation banning it.

I’m not really sure what’s sillier: the fear that scientists are going to make mutant human-animal hybrids or the fact that a state senator actual proposed a legal ban on the act, presumably with a straight face.

At least Vincent gets grandfathered in.

A Dubious Win in Texas

DNS StrandThe Texas Board of Education managed to squeak a vote through that shot down the addition of anti-evolution language into their education standards which would have specified the standard nonsense about evaluating the “strengths and weaknesses” of evolution. However, in a series of equally nonsensical ammendments, the anti-science creationists and IDers added all kinds of detrimental (and somewhat incoherent) language to try to bolster their untenable position.

Don McLeroy didn’t win his big desired change (the “strengths and weaknesses” language), but he was probably reveling in the little jabs that were inflicted by all the amendments. McLeroy displayed a gross misunderstanding of both science and evolution in the now infamous Youtube video. In the ars technica article linked above, John Timmer says…

[In the Youtube video] McLeroy urges the board to join a crusade against the scientific community. “Somebody has to stand up to these experts,” he said, while expressing incredulity about their opposition, stating, “I don’t know why they’re doing it.” Elsewhere, he argued that evolution isn’t science, saying, “it’s an ideology” and “evolution goes back to someone who came up with a philosophical speculation.”

I’m almost speechless… but not quite. How do people like this gain a position that has influence over the education of our children? On one hand, he admits that he’s not an expert, yet he then continues to essentially say that the experts are wrong and that he knows better. I’m not sure where he gets his definition of “expert” but it’s seemingly not from anywhere in this reality.

Timmer also comments:

So, instead of “strengths and weaknesses,” the new standards call for students to “analyze, evaluate, and critique scientific explanations” based in part on “examining all sides of scientific evidence of those scientific experiments.” Not only is the grammar fractured, but scientific experiments are usually notable for not supporting “all sides” of an argument.

As might be expected, the age of the universe came in for some questioning. A standard that mentioned the universe was roughly 14 billion years old was amended to require students to evaluate “current theories of the evolution of the universe including estimates for the age of the universe.” Elsewhere, students are instructed to consider how the data “reveal differing theories about the structure, scale, composition, origin, and history of the universe.” Apparently, the board was unaware that our estimates of the age of the universe have narrowed considerably in the last few decades.

The creationists seem to be attacking science on all fronts now, but we seem to be missing the evolution-specific attacks that are so common from them.

Oh, wait… here they are.

Students are expected to consider the “sudden appearance” of lineages in the fossil record, which the creationist literature argues is an indication that these lineages were instantaneously created.

[…]

[The Board] added a new standard, directing students to “analyze and evaluate the sufficiency or insufficiency of natural selection to explain the complexity of the cell.”

[…]

Teachers now have to ensure that students can “analyze and evaluate the evidence regarding formation of simple organic molecules and their organization into long complex molecules having information such as the DNA molecule for self-replicating life.”

Wow. So much for science in Texas. Fortunately, high school science teachers tend to ignore this type of language and teach evolution the best they can in the tiny amount of time granted for the topic… sometimes as little as three days, from what I’ve read (can’t find the link anymore. Sorry).

Even so, the addition of language of this nature does nothing to enhance science education… or education in general. Creationists spend so much effort coming up with twisted, devious ways to push their mythical ideas into the agendas of otherwise rational education standards that one would have to begin to question their premise.

If their ideas were so scientific and plausible, why have to be so obscure about their intentions? Furthermore, where is the evidence to support their ideas? Where is the grounded thinking and scientific explanation for even a single one of their postulates?

Nowhere.

They’ve got nothing to go on. I’ve said it before. The only thing they have to work with is an infantile attempt to attack the scientifically supported theory of evolution. They prey upon the uneducated with blatantly false propaganda, knowing that anyone who doesn’t understand real science or the actual theory of evolution might, perhaps, think that their position is tenable. Then they’ll get the “Why not teach both sides?” reactions from people and their battle is halfway done.

The solution is education. Real education… based on real facts and real evidence and real logical thinking. The more our educational system descends into this anti-intellecual, anti-science, irrational way of thinking, the more this country will fall behind in this world, not only intellectually, but influentially. Texas seems to be leading the way into the pit.

Way to go, McLeroy.

When will it end?

As if the inanity in Texas wasn’t enough, Senator Steve Wise in Jacksonville, Florida had to go and file more legislation in an attempt to dilute the teaching of evolution. It seems these anti-science, anti-education cretins won’t give up until schools are teaching kids that science equals magic. They aren’t even being intellectually honest about their intent, which just makes it even more aggravating.

Next up, Astrology!

Clueless in Texas

TiktaalikWith the Texas Board of Education narrowly voting yesterday to keep the creationists from adding bogus language to their education standards, the religious conservative frenzy is at a peak. Not only were outrageous (and blatantly untrue) statements made during the school board’s meeting, but creationism-supporting commentators were out in force… and they just keep coming, each one showing just how well they can ignore evidence and misunderstand issues.

The example I ran across today is from Don McDonald, a guest columnist at the Waco Tribune-Herald. His editorial, titled Evolution crowd is censoring science, claims that by disallowing the proposed “strengths and weaknesses” language, the school board is squelching academic freedom and censoring science.

It is heartening to see that in January, the State Board of Education upheld academic freedom when learning evolution by crafting science standards that require students to “analyze and evaluate” the evidence for evolution, and asking students to consider “the sufficiency or insufficiency of common ancestry to explain the sudden appearance, stasis, and sequential nature of groups in the fossil record.”

Two things come immediately to mind here. First, as Kenneth Miller enthusiastically and eloquently points out, everything in science should be critically examined. That’s what science is all about. Scientific theories change, live, and die by the examination of new evidence. It’s one of the things that makes the scientific method so wonderfully effective at explaining the natural world.

Second, given that all science should be critically examined, why was the proposed language focusing only on evolution? What about astronomy? What about chemistry? What about geology? The reason, of course, is that the language is specifically focused on evolution because it’s being used as a creationist weapon. There is no reason, other than religious zealotry, to use that kind of language focused solely on evolution.

By supporting these amendments, the board supported developing critical thinking skills among students. Anything less than analysis, evaluation, and free discussion of arguments for and against any theory amounts to censorship, and censorship never serves the advancement of science.

The first sentence is bogus for the reasons I already mentioned. The second sentence is almost perfect. The phrase “free discussion of arguments” is far too open to be of any use. Perhaps the “free discussion of evidence” might be better? McDonald is trying to make the point that any alternative ideas to evolution should be given discussion time, regardless of their scientific merit (ie… creationism). However, allowing discussion time for any alternative ideas will only serve to confuse students as to what real science is, and would completely waste valueable and preciously-limited time for real science education.

Objectors to the proposed language in the science standards commonly express fear of “creationism creeping into the classrooms.” But the amendments say nothing of creationism or intelligent design. They are about exploring and discovering science.

The amendments really don’t say anything specifically about creationism or intelligent design. However, what other purpose could there be to focusing solely on evolution? Given the history of the creationism and intelligent design “movement,” it’s blatantly evident that the goal of the language is to target evolution and attempt to cast doubt on a theory that has been tested and challenged for more than 150 years… yet has held up under such intense scrutiny without scarcely a blemish. Details about evolution have changed over the years due to additional evidence and study, but the basic premise has remained intact since its inception.

The creationist attempts to throw doubt on evolution and to introduce supernatural explanations for life’s progression are becoming more and more transparent and pathetic… yet they continue, nonetheless. The phrases “teach the controversy” and “only a theory” have become dogmatic mantras of the unscientific and uneducated. The same long-since-debunked issues come up repeatedly (bacterial flagellum, blood clotting proteins, etc) as “proof” that evolution is not valid. The same tired rhetoric is used over and over, ad nauseum, in an attempt to disguise the religious intent of creationism and ID supporters.

Yet, with all the effort put forth by these anti-intellectual snake-oil salesmen, one thing is glaringly missing.

Evidence.

They have none. There is no evidence to support intelligent design. There is no evidence to support creationism. Not a single piece of evidence exists. Their sole strategy is to attempt to discredit evolution so that they can claim “God did it” as the “obvious” alternative. That’s all they have and that’s all they will ever have. It’s called the “God of the gaps” argument… if we can’t explain it, it must be God.

If they want to believe that, they are free to do so. They can believe the Earth is 6,000 years old. They can believe that dinosaurs and humans walked the Earth together. They can believe in talking snakes and virgin births and resurrections as devoutly as they want. They can believe that life was created by an “intelligent designer” and raise their hands to the heavens in tribute.

But do not try to pass it off as science.

Creationism in School… the PZ Myers Way

Over at Pharyngula, PZ Myers posted about how creationism should be taught in the classroom. I assumed that he didn’t mean it in the same way that creationists mean it, but his version was even better than I anticipated (Sorry, PZ. I won’t make that mistake again!). Here’s my favorite paragraph from his article.

A lesson plan that includes creationism should plainly show that experiment and observation have irrefutably demonstrated that it is now a splintered pile of cack-minded gobshite, wrecked by a century and a half of discovery, and that its supporters now are reduced to pathetically feeble rationalizations that rely almost entirely on people’s emotional dependence on the legitimacy of their religious beliefs. A science class isn’t the place to rip into airy-fairy religiosity — we have other venues for that — but it should uncompromisingly demolish every attempt to link natural, material events to pious metaphysics. If a student comes out of such a class believing that maybe there is still something to the Genesis explanation of the origins of life, then the instructor has not done her job. Her job was to explain with science how the world works, and if anyone wants to smuggle in the seven days and the magic fruit tree and the talking snake, it should be so the teacher can show the students that that is not how it works.

That’s just golden.

There are some great comments following his article as well. I usually try to read most of them, as they are frequently insightful and/or entertaining. Here’s a great one from Steve Jeffers.

As the British comedian Chris Addison says, teaching creationism in science classes is like teaching Narnia in geography. If you’re learning Spanish, you don’t learn a load of words that aren’t Spanish but sound like they might be.

I just finished reading 40 Days and 40 Nights by Matthew Chapman (a great read, by the way), which is a book about the Dover, PA trial in 2005. At the end of the book, Chapman says that, after attending the trial, he supports teaching Intelligent Design in Biology class… for essentially the same reasons that PZ Myers does.

If science is taught well, it is taught critically. Any critical examination of  Creationism and Intelligent Design will point a scorchingly white hot spotlight on the complete vapidness of their claims. Perhaps that should be the new direction that biology teachers should take. It could end up being a waste of time, but it also might illuminate the path of critical thinking, the scientific method, and rationality for students. Teaching students how to weed out bad science or pseudo-science from real science would do wonders to improve the anti-intellectualism that has thrived in this country for years now.

I don’t know if using Creationism and Intelligent Design as fodder in Biology classes is the way to do that or not, but it’s an interesting idea.

I wonder what Bill Buckingham would think?

(Bill Buckingham was the school board member in Dover who spearheaded the ID curriculum proposal)