Saturday, October 29, 2005

Figuring Out Eugenie Scott: Is She Ignorant, Dishonest, Correct . . . Or None of the Above?

In my last post discussing Eugenie Scott's article promoting a strategy for pushing Darwin-friendly theology on public school science students, I began wondering what was the most offensive aspect. Here is another passage that contends for "most offensive." She begins her article with this remarkable statement:
People don't oppose evolution because they disagree with the science but because it offends their religious sensibilities.

Well, that statement certainly offends my intellectual sensibilities. She then continues:
In most communities, at least some students come into a class wary of the "e-word" because somehow they have acquired the idea that acceptance of evolution is incompatible with religious faith. Antievolutionists, in fact, make a special point of proclaiming that one is either an evolutionist or a creationist, falsely dichotomizing the issue.

Her initial statement is, of course, demonstrably false. Michael Behe has made it quite clear:
I'm a Roman Catholic, and Catholics have always understood that God could make life any way he wanted to. If he wanted to make it by the playing out of natural law, then who were we to object? We were taught in parochial school that Darwin's theory was the best guess at how God could have made life.

I'm still not against Darwinian evolution on theological grounds. I'm against it on scientific grounds. I think God could have made life using apparently random mutation and natural selection. But my reading of the scientific evidence is that he did not do it that way, that there was a more active guiding.

Phillip Johnson said in his landmark book Darwin on Trial:
My purpose is to examine the scientific evidence on its own terms, being careful to distinguish the evidence itself from any religious or philosophical bias that might distort our interpretation of that evidence. I assume that the creation-scientists are biased by their precommitment to Biblical fundamentalism, and I will have very little to say about their position. The question I want to investigate is whether Darwinism is based upon a fair assessment of the scientific evidence, or whether it is another kind of fundamentalism.

So maybe Ms. Scott was simply ignorant of these positions and the numerous other people who publicly question macroevolutionary theory because of the scientific evidence? Well, she reviewed Darwin on Trial and she debated both Behe and Johnson at least once. As noted previously, Scott is arguably the number one lobbyist for the Darwin Only movement, and Behe and Johnson are regarded as leaders in the intelligent design movement. Any casual observer of the current debates would assume that she is all too aware of Behe and Johnson and their positions.

Well, perhaps she thinks they are lying when they make these statements? Maybe, but if that is her position, a reasonable observer would want to know Behe's and Johnson's position, and not just Scott's personal opinion about their positions. A reader would expect this kind of clarification from an honest writer.

Perhaps Scott's view of reality does not permit her to fathom the idea that intelligent people could doubt macroevolutionary theory based on the scientific evidence? Maybe her mental faculties are so impaired that she cannot grasp this possibility? Perhaps, but she seems fairly coherent.

Another possibility is that Scott is both sane and well aware that her statement is false, but is willing to misrepresent the truth in order to further her own religious, political or scientific agenda by misleading children. Gosh, that seems like such a horrible possibility. How could that be true of someone who gets so much support from our mainstream scientific establishment?

I leave it to my readers to decide which is the most plausible explanation.

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For another post discussing Eugenie Scott and the truth, read here.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Standing Up To the Darwinian Thought Police

Another note on the subject of my last two posts, based on this report by the Washington Post. I believe that the American people will admire the bravery of the Kansas school board in standing up to such heavy handed tactics. These kinds of cynical reprisals must also make people wonder: how many other scientists doubt macroevolutionary theory, but are too nervous to speak out? The Darwin Only lobby is creating a climate of pressure and intimidation.

* * *

Another thought: the Post article states that the National Academy of Sciences was chartered by Congress to advise it on science matters. This makes me wonder- do they have the authority to discriminate against a specific state in this manner? Do they really own and control all these copyrights? Is there any Congressional oversight?

More on Science Groups' Attempt to Coerce Kansas Board

The Washington Post has now reported on the attempt by two science organizations to intimidate the Kansas school board by denying permission to use their copyrighted educational materials, which was the subject of my previous post. What is Kansas' crime? Letting kids hear the evidence against macroevolutionary theory when they hear the evidence for it. The Post article contains this remarkable variation of Cornelia's Creed:

Scientific evidence indicates that . . . evolution can explain all of life's biological complexities.

No serious scientist would make this claim. Can evolution explain the origin of life on earth? Of course not. This kind of misconception by reporters is what is being passed on to schoolkids, and is exactly why the new Kansas standards are necessary.

The article does contain this:
John G. West of the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, the major force behind the intelligent design movement, decried the science organizations' latest moves.

"This is clearly an effort to censor the discussion of scientific criticism of Darwinian theory by intimidation and threat," West said.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Science Groups Attempt to Punish Kansas For Allowing Kids to Hear Evidence For and Against Darwinism

The New York Times has an article reporting that two science organizations, the National Academy of Sciences and the National Science Teachers Association have denied the Kansas school board permission to use their copyrighted educational materials. This comes as an apparent attempt to punish the board for its decision to allow Kansas students the opportunity to hear evidence for and against macroevolutionary theory.

They apparently feel that they would rather have kids learn nothing about evolutionary theory than have them learn about the scientific evidence and arguments for and against the theory. They seem to saying, "Play by our rules and give kids only the Darwin-friendly evidence, or we are taking our marbles and going home." Obscurantism strikes again.

They do not seem to realize that stiffling free inquiry and the freedom to doubt is no way to instill confidence in a theory.

Distorting History to Serve Ideological Ends

One comment by Krauze to Mike Gene's post on Hunter Rawling's (Cornell University president) embarassing use of bad history bears repeating because of its enlightening quotation:

In a speech attempting to dispell the polarization of the debate, Rawlings speaks approvingly of White’s A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom . . .

Colin A. Russel, a professor emeritus in the history of science, refers to Warfare, as well as its companion piece, John Draper’s History of the Conflict between Religion and Science, as “polemical tracts”. He continues:

“Draper takes such liberty with history, perpetuating legends as fact, that he is rightly avoided today in serious historical study. The same is nearly as true of White, though his prominent apparatus of prolific footnotes may create a misleading impression of meticulous scholarship. ... His book, which he commenced writing in the 1870s, is no longer regarded as even a reliable secondary source for historical study. It is, however, an accurate reflection of how certain liberal-minded men of his day perceived the relationship between religion and science and of how ‘history’ (or a version of it) was pressed into service for their cause.”
Colin A. Russel, “The Conflict of Science and Religion”, in Gary B. Ferngren (ed.), Science & Religion: A Historical Introduction (John Hopkins University Press, 2002), p. 10

In the post itself, Gene quotes Lindberg and Numbers:
Such judgments, however appealing they may be to foes of “scientific creationism” and other contemporary threats to established science, fly in the face of mounting evidence that White read the past through battle-scarred glasses, and that he and his imitators have distorted history to serve ideological ends of their own.

Is this the kind of history they teach at Cornell?

Bird Flu and Love Affairs

Anne Applebaum has a column on Avian flu here. She criticizes Americans' "love affair with intelligent design," but her slight is based on the common error of failing to distinguish between microevolution, which is non-controversial, and macroevolution, which is. If she were even moderately informed about ID and the current challenges to macroevolutionary theory, she would have known that the kind of evolution she is talking about - microevolution - is not disputed. But then, why should she go to the trouble of getting moderately informed? For many of her readers, her rhetorical flourishes based on ignorance are more effective.

What are they teaching them in school these days, anyway?

Jonathan Witt discusses it here, so I don't need to say more.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Posts On Hunter Rawlings

May I suggest a couple of interesting posts on the speech by Hunter K. Rawlings, III at Cornell? Jonathan Witt gives some information on Rawlings' use of history, and Mike Gene at Telic Thoughts discusses that and various other aspects of the speech.

A statement by Cornell students can be found here.

I hope to weigh in later.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Steve Fuller Testimony

Here is the Washington Post report on the testimony by Steve Fuller. It includes this:

Fuller said intelligent design hasn't been extensively promoted in the scientific community because the process by which articles are published in peer-reviewed scientific journals tends to favor established, mainstream approaches.

"It seems to me in many respects the cards are stacked against radical, innovative views getting a fair hearing in science these days," he said.

Fuller testified earlier that intelligent design is a scientific, not religious, concept because its proponents have used observation to describe biological phenomena. He cited in part the work of Lehigh University biochemistry professor Michael Behe, a leading intelligent design advocate and prior trial witness.

It seems that this case could come down to the credibility of the expert witnesses. This may be a an oversimplification in itself, but it seems that the plaintiff experts rely on simplistic generalizations, stereotyping and conspiracy theories to make their case, while the defense experts are more broadminded and sophisticated in their analysis. For this and other reasons, the defense witnesses seem more credible. We will see if the trial judge agrees.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Defense Experts in Dover

Steve Fuller is on the stand today in Dover as an expert witness for the defense. You can read his witness report here. Lest you be daunted by the length, the PDF consists of his 18 page report, followed by his 38 page CV.

By the way, one the best arguments for teaching the controversy that I have read is Warren Nord's witness report, which you can find here. I highly recommend it.

ID Conference in Prague

The Post has this article on the ID conference in Prague. The article has the usual boilerplate quotes about it not being science and calling the conference "useless." Wish I were there.

Predisposition of Scientists

A further note on Michael Powell's noteworthy article:
Lawyers also peppered Behe with questions about his assertion that those who believe in God are more likely to accept intelligent design. Behe replied that it was a matter not of theology but common sense: An atheist or agnostic will be predisposed to doubt a theory that relies on the possible hand of God.

With this blurb, Powell hints at a topic that I have never seen significantly explored by the mainstream media: how do the worldviews of scientists affect how they view the evidence for and against macroevolutionary theory? Many mainstream scientists have some variation of a naturalistic worldview.

I would love to see the full transcript of the exchange with Behe referenced above. I only hope that the trial judge is sophisticated enough to stop and ask whether a committed materialist will be predisposed to accept macroevolutionary theory, even with less than convincing evidence. After all, their worldview depends on it.