Thursday, December 01, 2005

Professor Cancels "Nice Slap In Their Big Fat Face" Course

Well, before I even had the chance to comment on the class and Professor Paul Mirecki's public statements, it has been canceled. The original name of the course was "Special Topics in Religion: Intelligent Design, Creationism and Other Religious Mythologies." From the Washington Post article:
Mirecki recently sent an e-mail to members of a student organization in which he referred to religious conservatives as "fundies" and said a course depicting intelligent design as mythology would be a "nice slap in their big fat face."

He later apologized, and did so again Thursday in a statement issued by the university."I made a mistake in not leading by example, in this student organization e-mail forum, the importance of discussing differing viewpoints in a civil and respectful manner," he said.

Chancellor Robert Hemenway said Mirecki's comments were "repugnant and vile."

"It misrepresents everything the university is to stand for," Hemenway said.

Sounds like Mirecki may have attended the PZ Myers school of civil discourse.

Even though I am not a university professor, I am going to make every effort never to use the phrase "Darwinian Fundies."

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The full Kansas University statement is here.

The full text of the "nice slap in their big fat face" email can be found here. Several other posts on the episode can be found on the Telic Thoughts blog.

The National Review Online has this article, which discusses some of Mirecki's other statements.

Intelligent Design is Frightening

It is not surprising that people like PZ Myers and Richard Dawkins should react the way they do to intelligent design. We must understand that for passionate atheists like them, intelligent design is more than just a scientific theory. It represents a threat to their entire worldview. In the same way that people of passionate religious faith have built their lives around their faith in God, people like Dawkins and Myers have built their lives, their convictions, their purpose, their meaning, and their moral framework around their confidence that there is no God.

Just as belief in God involves a comfort for some of a loving heavenly Father, belief in no God provides the comfort of believing that there is nobody to tell them what to do or to constrain their personal desires in any way. Atheists believe that they can act however they please with no fear of negative consequences in the future or in any spiritual realm. They may develop their own moral framework, but they enjoy the freedom of making exceptions to their self-developed morality whenever it is convenient. And that perception of freedom and convenience is likely extremely attractive and comforting to them. Both theism and atheism provide emotional security for their adherents. The emotional comfort is simply different.

As I have discussed before (also here), both macroevolutionary theory and intelligent design are scientific theories with religious implications. While intelligent design does not say anything about who the designer is, it suggests an obvious philosophical question. Thoughtful people will naturally ask why such evidence of design exists, and what it means for how we live our lives. While many would find such questions fascinating, confirmed atheists are likely to find such questions disturbing and threatening. Because of this, their mean-spirited attacks on intelligent design proponents are understandable.

As I have noted previously, reporters covering these issues who inquire about the religious motivations of the proponents of intelligent design should also consider the ability of confirmed atheists to think honestly and fairly about the evidence for design in nature. In the same way that religious people who insist on a six 24-hour-day creation event and young earth (which does not describe most proponents of intelligent design) cannot entertain the possibility of a multi-million year macroevolutionary scenario, confirmed atheists have great difficulty entertaining even the possibility of an intelligent designer.

How can zealous atheists honestly evaluate the scientific evidence when they believe deep in their hearts that there can be no such design or designer before they even consider the evidence? How can they consider the issues objectively when the mere possibility of a designer is likely so emotionally disturbing to them?

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For another post on how worldviews can affect one's evaluation of the evidence, go here.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Darwin Exhibit at the AMNH

Michael Powell's article in today's Washington Post on the Darwin exhibit at the AMNH contains what you would expect - describing Darwin as an heroic and misunderstood figure. It also includes the usual mantras of the mainstream media: objections to Darwin are religious and cultural in nature and the evidence for evolution (note use of vague term) is overwhelming.

Making some effort at balance, he does acknowledge this:
Darwin's theories gave birth to some misshapen children, from early-20th-century eugenicists intent on selecting out "the feeble and the inferior" through sterilization to the German scientist Ernst Haeckel, who found in Darwin's work support for anti-Semitic and racist notions. The exhibition elides this past. Perhaps that's as it should be, as Darwin harbored no such beliefs.

But in its eagerness to declare the grand evolutionary questions settled, the show takes its lone stumble.

Only four decades ago, most paleontologists rejected the theory, now broadly accepted, that comets and volcanic eruptions delivered mass extinctions and so played a key role in speeding evolution. Nor are scientists clear on the mechanism by which one species evolves into another; curator Eldredge and the late scientist Stephen Jay Gould crafted the once heretical theory of punctuated equilibrium, which holds that species sometimes evolve in grand leaps.

Even in this slanted article, the absurdity of the standard claims shines through. The only reason to doubt "Darwin's insights -- that we descend from common ancestors and that natural selection drives the evolution of living things" is for religious reasons. Yet scientists are currently not "clear on the mechanism by which one species evolves into another." Yep, we know everything about macroevolution except the mechanism. But then, isn't understanding the mechanism overrated?

Powell states that the exhibition "reflects the gnawing worry within the scientific class that it has failed to vigorously present its case in the public arena." I find this quite humorous. Darwinists have been extremely vigorous. Their problem is that they have not just vigorously presented their case, but have also made every effort to stifle any dissent. They have constantly avoided a free and open debate on the merits in the marketplace of ideas. They will never convince the public with such tactics.

Here is a tip: Americans love a good debate. They hate bullies and thought police.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Righteous Fury and Much Butt-Kicking

I do not know who was the first to quote and comment on the remarkable statement from PZ Myers (of Dilbert v. Pharyngula fame) that was originally posted as a comment on the Panda's Thumb web site. Several bloggers have made reference to it. I would be remiss not to include it here, since this blog is dedicated to Darwinian Fundamentalism, and this is such a good example. One might even call it a legendary example. It has even reached the legacy media, thanks to Jonathan Witt's excellent piece that appeared recently in the Seattle Times.

Keep in mind, as you read it, that this is not coming from a crank holed up in a cabin in Utah with 15 shotguns cocked and ready. This is coming from a professor of biology in a mainstream university-- one of the University of Minnesota campuses:

Yeah, I’m afraid the “civilized academic debate” was settled about a century ago. Scientists have been engaging in that ideal, non-militaristic fashion for quite some time, and still are — those discussions go on in the pages of the journals. Unfortunately, while we have been doing everything in the proper civilized way, the forces of ignorance have not; they have lied their way into considerable power.

Here I am, a biologist living in the 21st century in one of the richest countries in the world, and one of the two biology teachers in my kids’ high school is a creationist. Last year, the education commissioner in my state tried to subvert the recommendations for the state science standards by packing a hand-picked ‘minority report’ committee to push for required instruction in intelligent design creationism in our schools. All across the country, we have these lunatics trying to stuff pseudoscientific religious garbage into our schools and museums and zoos.

This is insane.

Please don’t try to tell me that you object to the tone of our complaints. Our only problem is that we aren’t martial enough, or vigorous enough, or loud enough, or angry enough. The only appropriate responses should involve some form of righteous fury, much butt-kicking, and the public firing and humiliation of some teachers, many schoolboard members, and vast numbers of sleazy far-right politicians.

In light of the recent holiday, let me just say that I am truly thankful that I am not a student in Professor Myers' biology class. I am even more thankful that I am not the high school biology teacher who has Professor Myers' child in my class.

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For another post on PZ Myers with a catchy title thanks to his "eloquence," go here.