April 2010 Archives

Two Freshwater attorneys ask to withdraw


In the federal suit brought by the Dennis family against the Mt. Vernon school district and John Freshwater, the district’s insurer employed two attorneys to represent the district and1 Freshwater in addition to R. Kelly Hamilton, who is employed by Freshwater himself. Today those attorneys, Robert H. Stoffers and Jason R. Deschler of the law firm Mazanec, Raskin, Ryder & Keller Co., L.P.A., filed a request with the court to withdraw as trial attorneys for Freshwater. They say

On April 23, 2010 circumstances arose which prevent Robert H. Stoffers, Jason R. Deschler and Mazanec, Raskin, Ryder & Keller, Co., L.P.A. from continuing to represent Defendant Freshwater in the within case in accordance with Ohio Rules of Professional Conduct. Defendant Freshwater continues to be represented by R. Kelly Hamilton. Attached hereto are the Affidavits of Robert H. Stoffers and Jason R. Deschler which attest to there being good cause, pursuant to the Ohio Rules of Professional Conduct, which require them and Mazanec, Raskin, Ryder & Keller Co., L.P.A. to withdraw as Trial Attorneys for Defendant Freshwater.

After some identifying information, the identical affidavits say only that

4. On April 23, 2010 I became aware of circumstances which prevent me from continuing to represent Defendant Freshwater in the above-referenced case in accordance with the Ohio Rules of Professional Conduct.

5. There is good cause, pursuant to the Ohio Rules of Professional Conduct, for me to withdraw from my representation of Defendant Freshwater in the above-referenced case.

I learned of this only a few hours ago, and have not yet found out what those circumstances are.

The federal trial was due to start on May 24, but this will no doubt delay that. We don’t yet know what effect, if any, this will have on the administrative hearing on Freshwater’s termination, which is due to resume April 29.

Added in edit: Hamilton has now requested that the hearing be closed to spectators and media, claiming that potential jurors in the federal trial may be unduly influenced by media coverage of the hearing. PDF of the request (4.6 MB) here. (Hat tip to Accountability in the Media.)


1I’ve since learned that a lawyer named Sara Moore represented the district defendants (BoE and administrators) in the Dennis family’s suit against the district, while Deschler and Stoffers were assigned to represent only Freshwater. So the potential conflict of interest hypothesis advanced below doesn’t hold up.


Two spectacular new hominid fossils found in a cave at Malapa in South Africa in 2008 and 2009 have been assigned to a new species, Australopithecus sediba (‘sediba’ means ‘wellspring’ in the local seSotho language). Discovered by a team led by Lee Berger and Paul Dirks, it is claimed by them to be the best candidate yet for an immediate ancestor to the genus Homo. The fossils are between 1.78 and 1.95 million years old, about the same date of the oldest Homo erectus fossils.

The first fossil, MH1, found by Lee Berger’s son Matthew, is an almost complete skull and partial skeleton of an 11 to 12 year old boy. The 2nd fossil, MH2, is a partial skeleton of an adult female, including some jaw fragments. The boy’s brain has a typical australopithecine size of 420cc, compared to the smallest Homo brain of 510cc. Both skeletons are small, about 130cm (4’3”) tall.

Au. sediba is most similar to, and quite likely descended from, Au. africanus. The upper limbs are long, and similar to other australopithecines. Many features of the hip, knee and ankle bones show it was bipedal, like other australopithecines, but the foot bones are still quite primitive. However Berger et al. list many other features of the skull, teeth, and pelvis in which it resembles early Homo fossils.

The discoverers have suggested that Au. sediba might be ancestral to either Homo habilis or Homo rudolfensis, or that it might be a closely related sister group to Homo - not a direct ancestor, but a close cousin. As the authors admit, these two individuals existed after the earliest known Homo fossils (at about 2.3 million years), so they can’t be human ancestors. However, it’s possible that the sediba species had already existed for a few hundred thousand years and that early members of it could have been human ancestors.

Zalophus wollebaeki


Zalophus wollebaeki – Galapagos sea lion. See also here.

The New York Times reported a week or so ago that Arizona State University had paid damages to an Indian tribe for misuse of DNA that had been collected by a University researcher (here, with further analysis here). The tribe claimed that the researcher, Therese Markow, had obtained permission to use the DNA for one purpose but then used it for other purposes. That is, she had not obtained informed consent for wider-ranging research than the original research, which was to study diabetes among the members of the tribe. The Times did not give enough information about the consent given by the Indians to allow a judgment as to whether Professor Markow acted unethically, but she insists that she did not, in part because it is impossible to tell in advance the direction of a research project. Indeed, it is easy to conjecture that the University settled the suit because contesting it would damage its image.

By now everyone has heard how the pro-terrorism group Revolution Muslim threatened South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker by stating “they will probably wind up like Theo Van Gogh,” posting a picture of the murdered film director, and helpfully including their addresses at South Park studios, and the address of Comedy Central’s offices. The threat was issued after South Park’s episode “200” in which all the people that South Park ever made fun of, led by Tom Cruise, teamed up to get back at the town. To protect themselves from the ridicule of South Park citizens, they plotted to capture Muhammad and steal his secret ability to not be made fun of. To avoid breaking the rule against depicting the prophet Muhammad, Stone & Parker dressed Muhammad up in a bear suit.

(Never mind that Muhammad had co-starred sans censorship in the 2001 episode “Super-Best Friends”, since played as a rerun hundreds of times without controversy, and that Muhammad appeared hundreds of more times amongst the other Super-Best Friends in post-2001 intro graphics for the show.)

After the threat was issued, and after Comedy Central began to kowtow to the terrorists by increasing the censorship of the show, the sequel episode “201” revealed that it had not been Muhammad in a bear suit after all, but Santa Claus. Despite the complete non-depiction of Muhammad in the show (in the non-bear-costume shots, Muhammad had been hidden behind a CENSORED box), Comedy Central has now taken even the censored version of episode 201, and the old Super-Best Friends episode, off its website.

Anyway, what’s the connection to evolution? Well, I was watching a CNN discussion which featured a clip scrolling through RevolutionMuslim.com’s blogposts. Here’s the cowardly “kill people who disagree” (I’m paraphrasing, obviously) post…

Two analyses of Meyer’s “Signature in the Cell”


Stephen Meyer’s Signature in the Cell is the latest entry in the “it’s too complicated to have occurred naturally, therefore ID” genre. Signature joins Behe’s Darwin’s Black Box and The Edge of Evolution as the modern-day instances of that strain of argument coming out of the Disco ‘Tute. Paley’s 1802 Natural Theology, of course, is the prototype of that genre.

There have been a number of reviews of the book, some of them favorable (e.g., Thomas Nagel’s controversial plug for it as a 2009 “Book of the year”) and some less so, e.g., Darrell Falk’s review on BioLogos. However I know of no reviews in scientific journals or popular science magazines like Scientific American. (A lawyer reviewed it in American Spectator, though. That’s the same rag that published Wells’ Survival of the Fakest, used by John Freshwater as support for his proposal to pollute the science curriculum in my school district.)

Almost all of the reviews I’ve seen, laudatory or critical, are from theists. And a couple of theists, both scientists, are blogging their way through the book–well, actually, one has finished and one is still in progress. On the new American Scientific Affiliation (ASA) Book Discussion board Randy Isaac, ASA Executive Director, a physicist, has just finished a long series of posts on the book (the link is to the first page of posts; there are three pages). Steve Matheson, a developmental biologist at Calvin College, is up to Chapter 8 (Matheson’s whole series to this point is in this list, along with a few non-Signature reviews as well). I recommend both series of posts to your attention.

Some stray remarks on them below the fold.

Darwin’s Funeral


Today (for a few minutes yet in my time zone) is the anniversary of Charles Darwin’s death. Larry Moran has more, including a contemporary account of the funeral.


PT veterans may remember several posts from 2006, in a summer-long series of articles about Genetic Algorithms, Dawkins’ Weasel, and Fixed Targets.

It’s taken me a few years to get off my duff and write up a proper version for the Skeptical Inquirer. I’m pleased to report that my article has been published in the May/June 2010 issue.

The Good News: Several of my computer-generated diagrams have been professionally redrawn, and look splendid!

The Bad News: Besides the “Web-Extra” sidebar about Solving Steiner Problems using soap films, the article itself, “The War of the Weasels: How an Intelligent Design Theorist was Bested in a Public Math Competition by a Genetic Algorithm!”, appears only in the print copy. You will have to go to your local newstand to get a print copy, or order one from the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI) directly.

So, after almost four years, how has the ID community responded? Are they still fixated on Dawkins’ “Weasel” demonstration? Do they still maintain that all genetic algorithms require detailed knowledge of their solutions, just as the phrase “METHINKS IT IS LIKE A WEASEL” was the “fixed target” in Dawkins’ 1986 exposition?

More below the fold.

Phalacrocorax auritus


Photograph by Peter Psyhos Burns.

Photography contest, Honorable Mention.


Phalacrocorax auritus – double-crested cormorant, Falmouth, Massachusetts.

Michael Zimmerman of Clergy Letter Project and Evolution Weekend fame tells us that his recent article The Nonscience of the Scientific Arguments against Evolution received the seventh-highest number of comments in the history of the Huffington Post. I was frankly very pleased to hear that his contributions are catching on so fast. Richard B. Hoppe commented on an earlier article here.

Mr. Zimmerman’s latest article is called The Danger of Ignoring Creationism. For those who don’t already know, he explains, among other things, why the Discovery Institute is little more than a shill for the billionaire Howard Ahmanson, whom Mr. Zimmerman quotes as saying, “My goal is the total integration of biblical law into our lives.”

Creationism correlates with HIV denial, global-warming denial, and probably many other denials, not to mention Holocaust denial. It is thus easy to argue with Mr. Zimmerman’s contention that creationism is essentially a religious war, not a controversy between science and religion. Why can’t it be both?

Picky, picky! The article is very well worth reading, and if you don’t characterize it as scary or weird, you must not have paid enough attention. I receive Mr. Zimmerman’s e-mails every week or so, and I look forward to a continuous stream of equally enlightening articles.

R. Kelly Hamilton, meet George Orwell


As I noted last week, a federal judge ruled on several motions in the civil suit brought by the Dennis family against Freshwater. Recall that the suit originally named the school district and several administrators as defendants in addition to Freshwater, but the district’s insurance company settled for all the district defendants, leaving only Freshwater. For the most part the judge’s recent rulings went against Freshwater, as did a motion to compel Freshwater to surrender more documents and be deposed again. Watching the spin the Freshwater camp is putting on those rulings has been a lesson in how to violate the 9th commandment.

Much more below the fold.

Flew is of interest to PT readers in part because of his supposed conversion to deism a few years ago. You may find a detailed obituary here. The National Center for Science Education has also run a brief obituary here.

We covered Flew’s conversion to deism here, with an update here. Flew was an influential philosopher and was an atheist for the bulk of his career. His essay Theology and Falsification was widely read and translated into 40 languages. You may see my take on it here. The paper is also available here, with an introduction by Flew, but without the discussion with R. M. Hare.

In later years, evidently influenced by Gerald Schroeder and the intelligent-design creationists, Flew “converted” to deism and was badly misused by creationists. He later admitted that Mr. Schroeder had “mistaught” him, but he continued to believe that life could not have begun without some intelligent or purposeful creator.

According to NCSE, Flew published 2 monographs on evolution, but they say that these works were “arguably marred by a fondness for claims of genetic linkage between intelligence and race.” I do not know anything about these monographs and so will not comment further. I will remember Flew for the essay in which he showed just how foolish it is not just to believe without evidence, but more, to prop up your belief with untestable speculations.

by Joe Felsenstein, http://evolution.gs.washington.edu/felsenstein.html

Cornelius Hunter collects phenomena that he argues represent “failed evolutionary predictions”. He also argues that evolutionary biologists are making a “religious presupposition” when they insist that science must use methodological naturalism. When asked what supernatural methodology he would have us use instead, he admits that methodological naturalism is “generally a good way to do science” [in his comment on that post of January 29, 2010 11:05 PM], and says that he’s only complaining that we’re being unclear about the matter.

But his bottom line is that he wants to test evolutionary predictions without his ever putting forth any alternative scientific theory for comparison. Now, however, there are signs that he may have such a theory. In a post at his blog he invokes Bayes’ Theorem for an observation (O) and a theory (T):

P(T|O) = P(T) * P(O|T) / P(O)

Bayes’ theorem gives us a way to evaluate a theory given a series of observations. A difficulty, however, is that the probabilities are difficult to gauge. What is P(T), P(O|T) and P(O)? What we can do is use a conservative computation, giving evolution favorable treatment at every turn.

For instance, let’s assume we start out with a very high probability that evolution is true. Next, consider the ratio P(O|T) / P(O). If an evolutionist is certain that observation, O, will not be observed, then the numerator should be quite low, say one in a million or one in a thousand. If P(O) is 0.5 then the ratio would be 0.000002 or 0.002, respectively. But to be conservative, and give evolution favorable treatment, let’s set the ratio to 0.2, orders of magnitude greater than is reflected in the evolutionists expectations.

For our 14 falsified predictions, using these extremely conservative values, Bayes’ theorem tells us that evolution is a one-in-a-billion shot (0.000000000164 to be exact).

This is quite correct — if Cornelius Hunter can calculate the overall probability of the observation. He states it as 0.5 in his hypothetical case. But there is simply no way to calculate a value like 0.5 unless you have a non-evolutionary theory as well as the evolutionary theory. If Hunter thinks that such a calculation can be made, he must have his own theory. Let me explain why.

Casey Luskin: Fish in a Barrel


Casey Luskin is blathering about the new Smithsonian exhibit on human origins, playing the hoary old creationist ‘gaps in the fossil record’ tune. He must have been reading Duane Gish again. James Kidder has a nice takedown. Recommended reading.

Chordeiles minor


Photograph by Dave Rintoul.

Photography contest, Honorable Mention.


Chordeiles minor – common nighthawk, resting on a fence post on the Konza Prairie Biological Station near Manhattan, Kansas.

We’ll Be Back


The server for PT will be physically moving to a new location later today. Along with the new place is a new service account that promises higher upstream bandwidth. But it does mean that PT and other domains served here will be off the air for a while. The DNS entries for all those have to be entered and propagate. Some may see PT again in a couple of hours after it initially goes offline, but DNS changes may not fully propagate for up to 48 hours.

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) selected evolutionary biologist Sean Carroll to serve as its vice president for science education. Carroll replaces Peter J. Bruns, who is retiring after serving nine years in that role at HHMI. Carroll is a researcher in evolutionary consequences of developmental processes, or “evo-devo”, and a noted science writer. HHMI is a significant supporter of science education, having invested over $1.6 billion dollars in science education programs over the years.

We congratulate both Carroll and HHMI, and hope this new collaboration does great things.

The song of the title of this post is a catchy and highly amusing piece that suggests that if we’re just mammals we should have sex. It’s sort of a low brow version of Andrew Marvell’s To his coy mistress. Instead of Time’s wingéd chariot, we should do what mammals do on the Discovery Channel. Except, humans don’t. They do something special. Think about it. We aren’t dogs, monkeys, dolphins or bowerbirds, we’re humans. We are a species (which, as I keep reminding folk, is the noun of “special”).

So when Phillip Johnson, the father of the modern intelligent design movement, attacks Christopher Hitchens for calling “great men” “mammals”, and points out:

While Hitchens never refers to the authorities on his side as “mammals,” reserving that category for those whom he wishes to belittle, it will not escape the reader that if “great men” are only mammals, then so are scientists, including the esteemed Charles Darwin and the not-quite-so-esteemed Richard Dawkins, and so, of course, is Hitchens himself. Which raises the question: Why should we take seriously any speculation by a mere mammal, or even the consensus of mammal opinion, about the origin of its species, no matter how much evidence the mammals imagine themselves to have gathered?

… we might be inclined to agree. If we’re just mammals, then we shouldn’t pay attention to Hitchens or Dawkins or Darwin, right?

I call this Darwin’s Monkey Mind Puzzle. Darwin wrote near the end of his life:

But then with me the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man’s mind, which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy. Would any one trust in the convictions of a monkey’s mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind? [Letter to William Graham, 1881]

It is recently the argument presented by Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga against evolutionary theory - it’s self defeating. If evolution is true, then we have no warrant for thinking that evolution is true, ergo Augustine is right. Or something. I would like to discuss this a little, reprising some arguments Paul Griffiths and I have presented in a forthcoming paper. On my blog.

Breaking News: Ontogenetic Depth 2.0!


After recognizing the onset of Paul Nelson Day (link via John Lynch), Nelson has announced that he is going to … wait for it … invent Ontogenetic Depth 2.0!

Of the first version Nelson says

Ontogenetic Depth (OD) 1.0 was – well, it would be beyond charitable to say utterly inadequate.

Yes, we knew that six years ago, Paul.

Now, however, after never telling us just what version 1.0 actually was, Nelson is developing version 2.0. First, though, we have to suffer through a prequel and then (not yet posted) an answer to PZ’s criticism of OD 1.0 way back in 2004. We don’t yet know how much more vamping Nelson will do: My bet is that the fan dance will go on for days. So when version 2.0 will be unveiled is hard to say.

Freshwater: Catching up


The last two months in the Freshwater affair in Mt. Vernon, OH, have been quiet. Apparently R. Kelly Hamilton, Freshwater’s lawyer, has been going through the “new evidence” that supposedly turned up in a black bag in a parking lot, hoping to find something to exonerate Mr. Freshwater. Rumor has it that the administrative hearing will resume late this month, though there’s no word yet on whether it will be closed so the mystery witness can testify in safety from the ravening evolutionist hordes.

There has been some progress on another front, though. More below the fold.

Paul Nelson Day


A few days ago I teased another upcoming ID anniversary. It’s Paul Nelson Day, the anniversary of Nelson’s so far unfulfilled promise to provide a detailed exposition of “ontogenetic depth.” PZ has the details on Pharyngula.

Added in edit: John Lynch also notes the anniversary, and points out that Nelson is aware of it. Nelson also provides the toy model that he thinks shows that developmental biologists are incapable of accounting for cell differentiation. Nelson’s misconception is encapsulated in this sentence:

We need to know the minimal instruction (or command) set, which must be present in the starting cell, for this to happen reliably.

Court Rejects Gene Patent


You may not patent a “product of nature.” You may not, for example, search high and low in the rainforest, find a valuable plant, and patent it. Why then may you patent a gene?

Hirundo rustica


Photograph by Kari Tikkanen.

Photography contest, Honorable Mention.


Hirundo rustica – barn swallow.

Failed Prophecies: An ID Anniversary


The anniversary of some specific predictions by IDist William Dembski has arrived, and Kristine, the Amused Muse, has reminded us that Dembski predicted in 2006 that within 10 years the theory of evolution will be dead. We’re four years on from that prediction and nothing I see tends to confirm it. Anyone else?

The original news article isn’t available on the web any more, but both Kristine and Ed Brayton have sufficient extracts from it to reconstruct Dembski’s hubristic pronouncements. Brayton also supplies a link to Glenn Morton’s invaluable collection of quotations on The Imminent Demise of Evolution. Dembski is a minor figure in a long line of failed prophets.

By the way, another ID anniversary is nearly upon us. Any guesses as to what it is?

Our friend Francis Beckwith has published a new article in the University of St. Thomas Journal of Law And Public Policy, which goes on for some thirty pages to show that he isn’t and never was, and really wasn’t ever and really isn’t and never even came close to being an advocate of Intelligent Design, and so forth. Normally, such self-indulgence would not merit notice, but in the process, he drops a few entertaining knee-slappers.

My own favorite is his criticism of the Kitzmiller decision-or, rather, of the “endorsement test” in Establishment Clause jurisprudence. The “endorsement test” is simply the rule that the Constitution bars the government from engaging in activities that send the message that the government endorses some religious belief or other. One obvious question is, message to whom? The answer can’t, of course, be the hypersensitive, or the complete ignoramus, but our old stand-by, the reasonable person.

Now, the reasonable person is a very old concept-indeed, it’s the cornerstone of whole areas of the law. It is, of course, a hypothetical construct, not an actual person. As humorist A.P. Herbert famously put it, the reasonable person

stands in singular contrast to his kinsman the Economic Man, whose every action is prompted by the single spur of selfish advantage and directed to the single end of monetary gain. The Reasonable Man is always thinking of others; prudence is his guide.… All solid virtues are his, save only that peculiar quality by which the affection of other men is won.…

He is one who invariably looks where he is going, and is careful to examine the immediate foreground before he executes a leap or bound; who neither star-gazes nor is lost in meditation when approaching trap-doors or the margin of a dock…who never mounts a moving omnibus, and does not alight from any car while the train is in motion; who investigates exhaustively the bona fides of every mendicant before distributing alms, and will inform himself of the history and habits of a dog before administering a caress; who believes no gossip, nor repeats it, without firm basis for believing it to be true; who never drives his ball till those in front of him have definitely vacated the putting-green…never from one year’s end to another makes an excessive demand upon his wife, his neighbours, his servants, his ox, or his ass…never swears, gambles, or loses his temper; who uses nothing except in moderation, and even while he flogs his child is meditating only on the golden mean.…

I have called him a myth; and, in so far as there are few, if any, of his mind and temperament to be found in the ranks of living men, the title is well chosen. But it is a myth which rests upon solid and even, it may be, upon permanent foundations. The Reasonable Man is fed and kept alive by the most valued and enduring of our juridical institutions–the common jury.

The reasonable man is not expected–in tort law, constitutional law, or anything else–to be omniscient and perfect. The question is whether a hypothetical rational person, with the relevant information and background, would understand the government school to be endorsing the truth of a religious proposition. While subject to legitimate criticism, this is at least a reasonable way to approach Establishment Clause questions. But Beckwith, whether out of ignorance or a desire to misrepresent the law, would prefer to caricature it. He writes that the reasonable person “would exhibit ideal epistemological excellence,” and would “not be limited by biases.” He oh, so cleverly asserts that the Judge Jones’s use of this common legal device was hypocritical, because “[t]he ROO [‘reasonable objective observer’] would seemingly possess…a ‘God’s Eye point of view,’” and therefore, “in order to expunge the divine, or at least allusions to it, from the public schools, Judge Jones requires the divine’s assistance, or at least the assistance of a hypothetical deity.”

This is worse than a straw man–it is a juvenile attempt to make a joke at the expense of logic and the law. Indeed, it is the only “argument” that Beckwith offers against the use of the reasonable person standard in Establishment Clause jurisprudence. All for the purpose of introducing levity and silliness into a scholarly proceeding, Beckwith indulges himself by mischaracterizing the reasonable man standard, and, without bringing any substantive criticism, or even explanation of his objections thereto, simply throwing this straw man overboard.

Meanwhile, he shamelessly misrepresents what Judge Jones’ opinion actually says. For the record, Jones was not seeking to, and did not, “expunge the divine, or at least allusions to it, from the public schools.” He faithfully applied existing precedent that enforces the Constitution’s absolute prohibition against government funding the propagation of religious opinions, or promoting them as true. Allusions to the divine are perfectly constitutional and perfectly routine, in the context of a literature or history class, where tax dollars may be, and are, spent teaching children about religion. But it is neither appropriate nor legal for the government to spend tax dollars finding clever methods to tell children that some religious doctrine or another is the truth.

Yet Beckwith happily continues stacking straw men. Another–and one that is a constant theme with Beckwith, and fully justifies Barbara Forrest’s dismissal of him as simply a non-epistemologist–comes when he repeats his now hoary assertion that science’s “methodological naturalism” is somehow unjustified, or, to be more precise, that methodological naturalism is just one way of knowing, and shouldn’t be “privileged” over “explanations” of phenomena that rely on supernaturalism and magic instead. Beckwith writes that he once believed

that the best way to understand ID is to see it as a counter to the hegemony of philosophical materialism that some thinkers believe is entailed by Darwinian evolution as well as a particular understanding of science. It is a view of science that maintains that the hard sciences are the best or only way of acquiring exhaustive knowledge of the natural world and its genesis and that these sciences, in order to function, require methodological naturalism.

We’ll lay aside the obvious fact that few if any scientists (or others) claim that the “hard sciences” are the “only way” of gaining “exhaustive” knowledge. As I’ve explained at length elsewhere (and Forrest has explained better than I) methodological naturalism is not just one among other possible ways of knowing. It is employed because it has consistently shown that it yields results–predictable hypotheses, working technologies, and all that. Praying to the rain god doesn’t increase crop yields; figuring out how fertilizers work does. But more. Naturalism doesn’t just produce better results, it is also preferable from the outset. Its “hegemony” is not based simply on the overwhelming evidence that it succeeds where other approaches fail. It is also based on the fact that the world into which we are born is full of natural phenomena that impinge on our senses and call for explanations–that is, accounts. Assertions that magic did it are not explanations, they are mere dazzle and mystery. They account for nothing. Moreover, given the obviousness of the material world, it appears prima facie that such explanations should be in terms of the natural world. Maybe there is some other dimension necessary for explaining natural phenomena, and maybe some other method is better suited to explaining them. But if so, the person who makes that assertion who bears the burden of production to justify that claim. The teapot orbiting Pluto doesn’t just stand for observable entities–it also stands for thought processes. Material explanations for phenomena are a natural baseline; they are the starting point of our knowledge of the world. If there is some other dimension, and some other epistemology, it is up to the person who claims such to prove it. That’s just how logic works…unless Beckwith wants to reject logic, too, as simply one among many possible methods that unfairly enjoys “hegemony.” Don’t laugh. Some of his allies…er, former allies?…er, something.…have done just that.

As long as logic remains with us, it is the person who claims that there is an invisible Man in the sky, tinkering with the physical makeup of animals, who bears the burden of showing that the natural world we automatically see around us falls short for some reason. And Beckwith has demonstrated that if anyone’s going to satisfy that burden of production–it ain’t Frank Beckwith.

(Cross posted at Freespace)

In the beginning of years, when the world was so new and all, and the Animals were just beginning to work for Man, the Lord created the Reptile. And the Lord, for a lark, covered the earth with a blue dome that stretched from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth. And the dome caused the humidity to rise and the plants to grow without limit. And the Reptiles ate of the abundant plants and were fruitful and multiplied and every moving thing that lived was meat for them. And terrible Lizards grew to gigantic proportions and drove Man to the edges of the earth, to the wilderness of Zin, where the humidity was low. And the Lord saw that the dome was not so good and became wroth with himself and said oops. And the Lord removed the dome, and the Lizards died (save those that were covered with feathers). And Man was fruitful and multiplied and colonized the earth, and every moving thing that lived was meat for him (except for the Pig). And God said let the sky be blue* as a token of the covenant which I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for perpetual generations.

* It is not known whether God made the sky blue at the same time as he made the rainbow.

Dedication. I dedicate this essay to Robert Byers.

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