Saturday, February 11, 2006

Penguins, Shy Swedish Females and the Non-Speciesist Imperative

Now we have this report from Yahoo! News:

BERLIN (AFP) - Six gay penguins at a German zoo are still refusing to mate with females of the species flown in from Sweden in 2005, the zoo said.

The problem was that the female Humboldt penguins have proven too shy in their advances, the director of the zoo in the northern port city of Bremerhaven said.

"The Swedes will not make the first move," Heike Kueck said.

The females were flown in last year in a bid to bring the males to mate and help save the Humboldt species from extinction.

. . . .

The initiative to "turn" the penguins and make them mate had prompted a furious response from gay rights groups.

I encourage you to read the whole article, which is quite short and is accompanied by a cute picture of penguins cuddling. [Update: if the link does not work, see below.]

So we have a great moral dilemma: the environmentalists want to save the species, and gay rights activists want a "hands off" approach to their sexual orientation. So I wonder: WWDD? (What Would Dawkins Do?).

In a previous post, I chuckled at Richard Dawkins' views (as expressed in this Washington Post article) and his belief that "the fact that humans think of themselves as altogether distinct from other animals -- and the biblical notion that humans have dominion over other animals -- is a sort of racism." He also condemns our culture's "speciesist imperative." However, I completely agree with him that "evolutionary science has a great deal to say about ethics and morality." I am glad that he is willing to stand up and be honest about it. As noted previously, intelligent design is a scientific theory with obvious philosophical implications. And macroevolutionary theory is a scientific theory with obvious philosophical implications. It is also obvious that macroevolutionary theory has ethical and moral implications. It seems to me that people who ignore or deny the implications of both are simply being obtuse (for example, a certain judge).

For these reasons and others, banning any criticism of macroevolutionary theory from the public schools and giving macroevolutionary theory monopoly status is arguably itself a violation of the Establishment Clause.

Dawkins' views on foxhunting and bullfighting are not the only moral and legal conclusions that you could draw from evolutionary theory. It could be (and has been) used to justify killing 6 million Jews, among other things.

* * *

Update: If the Yahoo News link does not work, try a Yahoo or Google search for "gay penguins Swedish Humboldt."

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Celebrating the Arrangement of Deck Chairs On the Titanic

I am rather amused by the celebrations of the Darwin Only lobby over the decision in Dover v. Kitzmiller. They also seem perplexed that the people who are challenging Darwinian fundamentalism are not more distraught over the decision. I am not terribly troubled by it, and I liken Judge Jones' opinion to the work of a deck hand on the Titanic straightening the lounge chairs.

First of all, the opinion is poorly reasoned and, as discussed before, relies on simplistic stereotyping and conspiracy theories for support. The bad logic does not end there, but it is not worth my time to demonstrate other weaknesses. Jones is a single, unremarkable district court judge, and his decision is not controlling outside his district.

The bigger reason why the opinion does not matter much is the new make up of the Supreme Court. The way that the Establishment Clause of the Constitution is interpreted is likely to undergo big changes now that Samuel Alito has replaced Sandra Day O'Conner. She was usually the swing vote on such cases and used an "endorsement" standard that often ignored the "Lemon" test. Now that she is gone, it is almost certain that Kennedy, Roberts or Alito would be the swing vote. As discussed previously, Kennedy supports a very different "coercion" test, which could make it much harder to show a violation. In any case, I think it is very likely that obsessing over the subjective intent of the government officials will play a much less important part of the analysis. We shall see.

I anticipate that the Lemon test, and perhaps the "endorsement" test, are headed the way of the Titanic. The sooner the better.

Recently the New York Times agreed with my earlier comments:
That leaves Justice Anthony M. Kennedy as the court's new fulcrum.

"We changed from a court split 4 to 3, with two in the middle," said Richard Epstein, a law professor at the University of Chicago, referring to the dual swing votes of Justices O'Connor and Kennedy. "Now it's 4-1-4, and now it's Kennedy."

And the Washington Post had this to say:

Conservatives hope the cerebral and relatively young Roberts and Alito will join Thomas and Antonin Scalia to form a long-lasting right-of-center bloc that will frequently attract at least one other justice -- possibly centrist Anthony Kennedy -- to overturn liberal rulings on church-and-state questions, property rights, and many other issues.

"I think their persuasive abilities as conservatives will have an effect on the court as a whole, particularly and hopefully on Justice Kennedy," Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) said in an interview moments after the vote confirming Alito.

Of course, the new justices do not even need to have an effect on Kennedy for there to be big changes.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

The Fear On Her Face Was Palpable

There is a long article in today's Washington Post that opens with a focus on Caroline Crocker and discusses Darwinian fundamentalism:

A woman in the back of the class raised her hand. Her voice shook with emotion. "If science is the pursuit of truth, why is evolution not questioned?"

"I've heard scientists say people won't understand, so they should be told only one side," Crocker replied.

There was a long moment of silence. Finally the student said, "Isn't that lying to the public?"

Crocker declined to answer the question, but someone else grimly observed, "Won't be the first time."

I went up to this last student after the class. She initially agreed to be identified, but moments later, remembering what Crocker had said about the scientific establishment's intolerance of dissent, she begged me not to publish her name. The fear on her face was palpable. She wanted to be a veterinarian and was convinced that dream would be smashed if powerful scientists learned she had dared to question evolution.

However, the subheading of the article contains this:
Religious critics of evolution are wrong about its flaws.

What? In a news article, not an editorial, the Post can assure us that the critics of evolution are wrong about its flaws? And that is neutral factual reporting? That is precisely what the entire debate is about!

Why stop there? Why not assure us: "Scientists who doubt Darwinian theory because of its flaws are wrong." If the religious critics are wrong, the scientists must be wrong too.

As I read further, I discovered that the writer is hopelessly uninformed. He quotes this from Alan Leshner and provides no counter-balance:
The theory of evolution, Leshner announced to the students, was as firmly established as the theory of gravity. . . . [T]he more science learns, the more the living world looks exactly like what would be expected if evolution were true.

This is obscenely misleading and half of America knows it is. Small wonder the American people doubt evolutionary theory. They know that many in the scientific community are feeding them a pile of misinformation and half-truths.

Consider this from one of America's leading paleontologists, David Raup, who was formerly the curator of the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago:
Darwin's general solution to the incompatibility of fossil evidence and his theory was to say that the fossil record is a very incomplete one that it is full of gaps, and that we have much to learn. In effect, he was saying that if the record were complete and if we had better knowledge of it we would see the finely graduated chain that he predicted. And this was his main argument for downgrading the evidence from the fossil record. Well, we are now about 120 years after Darwin and the knowledge of the fossil record has been greatly expanded. We now have a quarter of a million fossil species but the situation hasn't changed much. The record of evolution is still surprisingly jerky and, ironically, we have even fewer examples of evolutionary transition than we had in Darwin's time. By this I mean that some of the classic cases of darwinian change in the fossil record, such as the evolution of the horse in North America, have had to be discarded or modified as a result of more detailed information - what appeared to be a nice simple progression when relatively few data were available now appears to be much more complex and much less gradualistic. So Darwin's problem has not been alleviated in the last 120 years and we still have a record which does show change but one that can hardly be looked upon as the most reasonable consequence of natural selection. (Raup D.M., "Conflicts Between Darwin and Paleontology," Field Museum of Natural History Bulletin, Field Museum of Natural History: Chicago IL, January 1979, Vol. 50, No. 1, pp.22-29, pp.24-25)

So how can anyone honestly say that the fossil record is exactly what you would expect if macroevolutionary theory were true?

Raup's observations are merely the tip of the iceberg of problems with macroevolutionary theory. For more, look here.

More Humor From Richard Dawkins

What is an article about intelligent design and macroevolutionary theory without some juicy quotes from Richard Dawkins? This guy never fails to make me laugh. He always strikes me as a ridiculous caricature of an atheist, but I think he really believes this stuff. Of course, it is the logical consequence of what he believes, and I respect the fact that he has the courage to say it:

"Anyone who chooses not to believe in evolution is ignorant, stupid or insane," said Dawkins, professor of public understanding of science at Oxford University.

Among religious people, Dawkins is known primarily not for his science but for his militant views on evolution's implications, especially as they pertain to religion in general and Christianity in particular. What beneficent creator, Darwin himself asked after his voyage of discovery to the Galapagos Islands in South America, would permit the sort of suffering so widespread in nature? "The God of the Galapagos is careless, wasteful, indifferent, almost diabolical," agreed the American philosopher David Hull, writing in the scientific journal Nature. "He is certainly not the sort of God to whom anyone would be inclined to pray."

. . .

"I honestly think it comes from being clear," he said. "Some people can't bear clarity . . . to say someone is ignorant is not insulting. I'm ignorant of baseball, and I wouldn't be insulted if someone said, 'You don't know what you are talking about.'

. . .

And evolutionary science has a great deal to say about ethics and morality, Dawkins said. Being "pro-life in debates on abortion or stem cell research always means pro-human life, for no sensibly articulated reason," he once wrote. The fact that humans think of themselves as altogether distinct from other animals -- and the biblical notion that humans have dominion over other animals -- is a sort of racism, Dawkins said. Evolution shows that fox hunters and bullfighters are tormenting their own distant cousins, which is why the biologist sends money to anti-bullfighting groups in Spain, and why he notes with pride that fox hunting was banned on the family farm. "The melancholy fact," Dawkins wrote in an essay called "Gaps in the Mind," "is that, at present, society's moral attitudes rest almost entirely on the . . . speciesist imperative."

Unlike Dawkins, I admit to being a "speciesist." On the other hand, (unlike Dawkins, arguably) I do my best to avoid anti-religious bigotry toward others in my own species.