October 2010 Archives

An ID anniversary missed

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Intelligent Design Creationists have given us a number of anniversaries to observe. For example, there’s Paul Nelson’s long awaited “omnibus reply” to PZ Myers’ critique of Nelson’s “ontogenetic depth” notion, later amended to version 2.0 (for which we’re also still waiting). And of course, there’s Nelson’s eternally forthcoming monograph On Common Descent which has been hanging fire for a decade or so.

Now in another recent thread on PT Mike Elzinga provided a link that reminds me that we missed the anniversary of a prediction from William Dembski that Wesley Elsberry first noted in 2004. In the July/August 2004 issue of Touchstone in an article titled The Measure of Design, Dembski made a bold prediction:

In the next five years, molecular Darwinism–the idea that Darwinian processes can produce complex molecular structures at the subcellular level–will be dead. When that happens, evolutionary biology will experience a crisis of confidence because evolutionary biology hinges on the evolution of the right molecules. I therefore foresee a Taliban-style collapse of Darwinism in the next ten years.

Perhaps by coincidence (or design?) I’ve just been reading biochemist Nick Lane’s Life Ascending: The Ten Great Inventions of Evolution, recent winner of the 2010 Royal Society Prize for Science books. In particular, Chapters 2 and 3, on the evolution of the genetic code and the evolution of photosynthesis, respectively, emphatically give the lie to Dembski’s prediction. As a result, his further prediction seems a little iffy:

I therefore foresee a Taliban-style collapse of Darwinism in the next ten years.

Just four years to wait for that one now. But do try again, Bill. You’re already an official contributor to The Imminent Demise of Evolution: The Longest Running Falsehood in Creationism, and with another failed prediction or two you could be the record holder.

And note that another Dembski prediction from 1998’s Mere Creation, is also way overdue:

Intelligent design is a fledgling science. Even so, intelligent design is a fledgling of enormous promise. Many books and articles are in the pipeline. I predict that in the next five years intelligent design will be sufficiently developed to deserve funding from the National Science Foundation. (p29)

We’re now 12 years downstream from that one. Maybe the Templeton Foundation’s evaluation of ID as a research program has also infected NSF.

Cucurbita sp.

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IMG_1237Pumpkin_600.JPG

Cucurbita sp. – pumpkin, Boulder, Colorado, 2004. The juvenile H. sapiens is Noah Young.

The Disco ‘Tute runs a bait and switch on BioLogos

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It’s no secret that the species of Christian intelligent design creationism embodied in the Discovery Institute’s Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture has no love for theistic evolution/evolutionary creationism. It’s also no secret that they’re masters of the bait and switch. As far back as 2002 when Stephen Meyers and Jonathan Wells sprung their “teach the controversy” compromise on the Ohio State Board of Education they’ve sailed under false colors, only to drop their deceptive flag of convenience at the last minute to run up their true theocratic colors. Now Darrel Falk, President of Francis Collins’ BioLogos Foundation, has fallen victim to the Disco Dancers’ bait and switch.

Falk was a participant in the recent Vibrant Dance of Faith and Science conference. The conference was organized ostensibly in order that Christians, particularly Christians who are scientists, could explore common ground. It included a range of people as speakers, Old Earth Creationists all, and featured such luminaries as Hugh Ross of Reasons to Believe. a leading old earth creationism ministry.

Part of Falk’s involvement was to have been as co-leader, with Stephen Meyer, of a breakout discussion on the origin of life, with participation also by Randy Isaac of the American Scientific Affiliation and Douglas Axe of the DI’s Biologic Institute. Falk tells us he sought and got firm reassurances that his participation wasn’t mere tokenism. He writes that the conference organizer said

… the organizers assured me that since they were travelling to personally meet with each speaker, I could be assured that even this session would exemplify Christians working together in a spirit of Christ-centered unity. We might differ on scientific and theological details, but we each would be held accountable to work within this context. I appreciated that.

That was the bait. Then at the last minute came the switch. Less than a week before it was to occur, the Disco ‘Tute publicized the event as a debate, using martial language that doesn’t seem to reflect that “Christ-centered unity.”

Next week the Vibrant Dance of Faith and Science becomes the God and evolution showdown in Austin, as the question of whether faith in God can co-exist with Darwinian evolution will be discussed and debated with people of faith on all different points of the spectrum.

Attendees have three days of speakers and sessions but should prepare for a rumble on Thursday, October 28, when Stephen Meyer and Doug Axe will go up against Darrel Falk and Randy Isaac in a debate on the origin of life, moderated by Walter Bradley.

That was contrary to the assurances that Falk says he received, and he tells us the Disco ‘Tute, in the person of an Associate Director, refused to withdraw the description when asked by the conference organizers. Is anyone surprised? The only person at the Disco ‘Tute who holds the title “Associate Director” is political scientist John West, so the implication is that it was West who approved the martial verbiage under Director Stephen Meyer’s leadership. So Falk, to his credit, pulled out of the session.

Welcome to our world, Professor Falk. Anyone still wonder why we don’t trust the Disco ‘Tute’s apparatchiks? As William Dembski plainly said,

Design theorists are no friends of theistic evolution.

They really aren’t, you know, Professor Falk.

Finally, for a foreshadowing of Falk’s experience see Steve Matheson’s prescient critique of the underlying premises of BioLogos’ participation in the “Vibrant Dance” conference:

As long as Reasons To Believe and the Discovery Institute engage in openly dishonest attacks on science and deliberate distortions of scientific knowledge, discussions about “unity” between them and BioLogos should focus entirely on their failure to meet (or seek to meet) standards of integrity.

Good luck with that!

The Mount Vernon News is reporting this morning that a settlement between John Freshwater and the Doe family in Doe v. Mount Vernon Board of Education, et al. has been signed. Freshwater was the lone remaining defendant in that suit.

This leaves just one formal proceeding still in progress, the administrative hearing on Freshwater’s termination as a teacher in the district, where we are awaiting the referee’s recommendation to the Board.

====================================

Late this afternoon the family released this statement concerning the settlement:

As has been reported, we have settled our claims against John Freshwater. We decided to resolve the lawsuit out of court rather than proceed with a trial for several reasons. The overriding reason for settling was to avoid having to put our son and the other children that would have been called as witnesses through the public spectacle and pressures of a lengthy trial. From the beginning of this process we have always wanted to protect our son and the other kids from the highly public nature of these proceedings. When this matter began, we asked Mr. Freshwater not to publicly disclose the name of our son, but he would not agree to do so. Following this settlement, we intend to continue the efforts we began over a year ago to try to change state law to allow for the protection and privacy of children in these matters. We also decided to settle because we think the record that was developed in the state administrative proceeding and in the depositions and hearings in the federal case unequivocally shows that John Freshwater was in the wrong here. A further trial was therefore not necessary, in our view, particularly in light of our desire to protect our son and the other kids. Finally, we agreed to settle our differences to attempt to put this matter behind us. We likewise hope that the state administrative process will soon end so that all concerned can finally be done with this matter.

Dawkins sues own webmaster

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I have not seen this in the New York Times yet, so I guess it is not Real News, but evidently Richard Dawkins (or the Richard Dawkins Foundation) is suing his webmaster for alleged embezzlement. Dawkins alleges that the webmaster, Josh Timonen, embezzled nearly $400,000, which appears to be most of the money earned by an on-line store that Timonen operated on behalf of the foundation. Timonen has posted a reply here. I also noticed a discussion at the James Randi Educational Foundation and a short article on Pharyngula. The question of who owns certain intellectual property promises to have very interesting consequences. All I know. Thanks to Abigail Smith for the tip.

Sciurus sp.

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Photograph by Mike Elzinga.

Mixed 2B.jpg

Sciurus sp. – possibly a melanistic form of S. carolinensis, or Eastern gray squirrel, Kalamazoo, Michigan. The photographer says, “I was surmising this is a cross between the fox squirrel (Sciurus niger) and the black or melanistic form of the eastern grey squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis). They mingle rather frequently under the bird feeders in my back yard. However, from the clearer close-up with the telephoto lens, I noticed that the ears of the mixed color squirrel are pretty much the same shape and size as those of the black squirrel [S. carolinensis]. The fox squirrels have thicker, stubbier ears.

“I’m sure the more mottled squirrels I saw earlier in the year are nearby, but they haven’t been in my yard in the last few months. I would like to get a close-up of these to compare ears.

“A possible alternative is that the black squirrels simply have these characteristics show up from time to time. I don’t see a lot of grey squirrels around here. I suspect the ears would distinguish them from the fox squirrels. Still another alternative is that adolescent black squirrels sometimes have these mottled coats that eventually change to all black.

“We could use some experts on squirrels here.

“Here is a link to a picture of a fox squirrel with some black features. The ears on this one look more like those of a fox squirrel.”

Freshwater: One federal suit dismissed

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Looks like the subpoena carpet bombing may have had an effect. By agreement among all parties, Freshwater v. Mount Vernon Board of Education, et al. has been dismissed. The filing reads in its entirely

Now come all parties, by and through counsel, to stipulate that John and Nancy Freshwater dismiss all claims contained in the first Amended Complaint with prejudice pursuant to Civ.R. 41(a)(1)(A)(ii).

. I have no details yet.

Several commenters have noted this in the earlier thread; I was working Humane Society Bingo and couldn’t post until now.

Added 10/22/10: I have been persuaded that it’s not accurate to say that Dembski’s statements in the post below necessarily mean that he is now endorsing a young earth. See my comment here.

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In 2000, Dembski wrote an essay, ID Coming Clean that, among other things, got me interested in the whole ID movement issue. In that essay, Dembski “came clean” about his stance on young-earth creationism:

By creationism one typically understands what is also called “young earth creationism,” and what advocates of that position refer to alternately as “creation science” or “scientific creationism.” According to this view the opening chapters of Genesis are to be read literally as a scientifically accurate account of the world’s origin and subsequent formation. What’s more, it is the creation scientist’s task to harmonize science with Scripture.

Given this account of creationism, am I a creationist? No. I do not regard Genesis as a scientific text. I have no vested theological interest in the age of the earth or the universe. I find the arguments of geologists persuasive when they argue for an earth that is 4.5 billion years old. What’s more, I find the arguments of astrophysicists persuasive when they argue for a universe that is approximately 14 billion years old. I believe they got it right. Even so, I refuse to be dogmatic here. I’m willing to listen to arguments to the contrary. Yet to date I’ve found none of the arguments for a young earth or a young universe convincing. Nature, as far as I’m concerned, has an integrity that enables it to be understood without recourse to revelatory texts.

[My emphasis]

Fast forward ten years: Dembski once again comes clean, and times have changed. This time he clearly states he is a Biblical inerrantist, and as such he is a creationist and he does think that Genesis is historically true.

Let’s look at what Dembski has to say now.

[Edit remark: changed “evangelical” to “fundamentalist”, in response to a remark by Wes Elsberry.]

Are God and Keplerism Compatible?

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In view of the Disco ‘Tute’s recent frantic braying against theistic evolution and evolutionary creationism (having joined Ken Ham in that effort), Jeremy Mohn asks Are God and Keplerism Compatible? Some Catholic, Jewish and Protestant Authors Say No. The book’s blurb tells us that

God and Revolution includes chapters by Willard Rembski, author of The Decline of Revolution; Steve Meyerson, author of Signature in the Solar System: Epicycles and the Evidence for Intelligent Design; Denise O’Lambert, co-author of The Spiraling Drain; Davis Hoffenkling, editor of Signature of Controversy: Responses to Critics of Signature in the Solar System; John Wellington, author of Icons of Revolution; and Jonathan East, author of Kepler Day in America. (John Pieret adds Casey Mustuvbeen, co-author of Traipsing Into Revolution.

Enjoy, and remember, it’s all about the science!

via John Pieret,

Freshwater: The defense goes fishing

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And it’s not Freshwater or Hamilton holding the rod and reel.

The defense in Freshwater v. Mount Vernon Board of Education, the federal suit John Freshwater brought against the Board of Education, several administrators, and several Board members, recently issued a series of subpoenas to people ranging from Nancy Freshwater’s physicians to a couple of private citizens. While the former is arguably relevant to the case, the latter are not. Part of Freshwater’s claim in his suit is the adverse effect on his wife and loss of consortium, so her medical records are potentially pertinent. However, in at least two cases, the defense is clearly on a fishing expedition that among other things has chilling implications for the First Amendment rights of the recipients.

More below the fold

Acer saccharum, A. freemanii

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Acer saccharumsugar maple – and A. freemanii “Autumn Blaze”, Boulder, Colorado. Neither is native to this area. Autumn Blaze is a hybrid of silver maple and red maple.

Freshwater: A motion to compel settlement coming?

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The Dennis family has made a request of the federal court in preparation for the filing of a motion to compel settlement in Doe v. Mount Vernon Board of Education, et al., in which John Freshwater is the sole remaining defendant. The request is to be permitted to file a motion under seal to compel settlement, the filing to be under seal because of the Court’s gag order concerning settlement negotiations.

Recall that the trial in that suit was slated to begin July 26, 2010, but Federal District Judge Gregory Frost nixed it under the impression that a settlement had been reached. In his order granting sanctions against Freshwater and Hamilton on August 2, 2010, Frost wrote

In their memorandum in opposition, Plaintiffs request judgement to be entered against Freshwater or for evidentiary inferences to be permitted against Freshwater at trial. That request, however, has been rendered moot by the settlement of this matter. (italics added)

Clearly Judge Frost thought a settlement had been reached, and since he has to approve any settlement he should know.

However, we’ve been waiting since then for an announcement of that settlement, and it hasn’t occurred. Now comes the notice of intention to file a motion to compel settlement. IANAL, but my impression is that a motion to compel settlement is filed when one party to an agreed settlement subsequently fails to adhere to the agreement. (See here for that language.) I infer, therefore, that whatever settlement that was agreed in July 2010 hasn’t been stuck to by Freshwater and/or Hamilton, and hence this request and the prospective motion to compel. Since Judge Frost’s gag order is still in effect concerning settlement discussions, all we have is the bare request to file under seal (pdf). The request to file the motion under seal was granted (pdf) by Judge Frost so the motion to compel settlement may be imminent.

Don’t Make a Monkey out of Me

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Nick Matzke has just directed my attention to this minor trove of sheet music and other documents relating to the Scopes trial. The song, “Don’t Make a Monkey out of Me,” begins with these words:

Now the air is full of language[,] it surely is a sight,

[W]hat is this evolution and is it wrong or right?

They say we sprang from monkeys, why blame it on the monk,

But lots of folks will hope that this is just a lot of bunk[.]

Happy National Fossil Day!

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Today, October 13th, is the very first National Fossil Day!

The National Park Service and the American Geological Institute are partnering to host the first National Fossil Day on October 13, 2010 during Earth Science Week. National Fossil Day is a celebration organized to promote public awareness and stewardship of fossils, as well as to foster a greater appreciation of their scientific and educational value.

This year’s Earth Science Week toolkit includes a “Fossils of the National Parks” poster, featuring a map showing more than 230 parks managed by the National Park Service that contain fossils. The poster also includes a “How to be a Paleontologist” classroom activity.

Fossils discovered on the nation’s public lands preserve ancient life from all major eras of Earth’s history, and from every major group of animal or plant. In the national parks, for example, fossils range from primitive algae found high in the mountains of Glacier National Park, Montana, to the remains of ice-age animals found in caves at Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona. Public lands provide visitors with opportunities to interpret a fossil’s ecological context by observing fossils in the same place those animals and plants lived millions of years ago.

National Fossil Day activities will also highlight fossil fuels to correlate with this year’s Earth Science Week theme, “Exploring Energy” (http://www.earthsciweek.org/).

National Fossil Day is being promoted through partnerships with professional organizations, government agencies, and other groups. Representatives from National Earth Science Teachers Association and Paleontological Research Institution are assisting with planning for National Fossil Day.

On October 13, paleontologists and park rangers will share fossil discoveries at special events nationwide and explain the importance of preserving fossils where they are found, so that everyone can share a sense of discovery!

Join in the celebration of National Fossil Day today!

Pelecanus occidentalis

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Photograph by Richard Duhrkopf.

Photography contest, Honorable Mention.

Duhrkopf.Brown_Pelican.jpg

Pelecanus occidentalis – brown pelican, Galveston Bay, Texas.

The Discovery Institute has long had an interest in promoting itself at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas. An early meeting held there featured several of the future DI CRSC Fellows a few years before the 1996 establishment of the CRSC. More recently, the DI tried to browbeat SMU faculty into validating a dog-and-pony show that would put an official imprimatur on DI Fellows appearing there. And in current events, the DI put on an event on September 23rd sponsored by Victory Campus Ministries at the SMU campus, but have been outraged, yes, outraged, by the critical reception they received from various of the SMU faculty.

Lecturer John G. Wise has put up perhaps the most extensive critiques of the DI’s presentation and co-authored a letter to the SMU campus paper, eliciting DI responses from Casey Luskin (1, 2) and a joint response from several of the DI CSC Fellows.

Wise pointed out problems like the claim that stuff published in ‘Bio-complexity’ meets the standard of peer-reviewed literature. Ouch.

Associate Professor Mark Chancey published a letter in the SMU campus paper discussing some of the reasons that the DI doesn’t get a unanimous vote of approval from the SMU faculty despite the religious background of the university. Chancey reviews some of the history of the DI and its enthusiasm for SMU.

Unfortunately, the Discovery Institute has a track record of using SMU’s prestige and academic reputation to bolster its own claims to legitimacy. Consider this quote from Phillip E. Johnson, a chief ID architect: “The movement we now call the Wedge made its public debut at a conference of scientists and philosophers held at Southern Methodist University in March 1992.”

Johnson goes on to characterize that conference as “a respectable academic gathering.” This language implies that SMU sponsored an academic conference in which ID proponents participated as full-fledged scholars. In fact, the 1992 event, too, was sponsored not by any academic unit of the university but by a campus ministry-a detail conspicuously absent from Johnson’s description.

Yes, annoying details like that often go missing in the DI propaganda. Not getting the official recognition they want from SMU and getting unwelcome critical attention of SMU faculty just doesn’t sit well with the DI.

Cervus canadensis nelsoni

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Photograph by Tom Faller.

Photography contest, Honorable Mention.

Faller.Appalachian Elk.jpg

Cervus canadensis nelsoniAmerican elk, or wapiti, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina. This subspecies has been introduced into the Appalachian Mountains, tagged, and monitored. It replaces an extinct subspecies.

Creationists and Y Chromosomes

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I’ve posted here before about Kevin and Larry, the creationist duo that treks every Saturday from the hinterlands of Wisconsin to downtown Madison and the farmers market around the square. They set up their Young Earth Creationism display and attempt to convert the heathens with claims of medieval knights defeating tyrannosaurus and Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a triceratops.

I have not seen the new movie, “Waiting for Superman,” but I have read a handful of articles about it, most notably those I detail in the Appendix, and I strongly suspect that it is a puff piece that blames the teachers for the supposed failure of the American education system and recommends charter schools as a panacea. Speaking of puff pieces and charter schools reminded me that one of our faithful readers directed me to this very amateurish article in the Fort Collins Coloradoan. The article reads like advertising copy for the Liberty Common School, a charter school in Fort Collins, Colorado. As nearly as I can tell, most charter schools are in effect private schools operated with public funds; the Liberty Common School is a private religious school operated with public funds.

I do not want to discuss charter schools in general, but I will discuss Liberty Common’s science policy, which reads like a Compendium of Creationist Canards. Under the heading, Principles for Teaching Science, they write,

Marion, OH, Science Cafe Reminder

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OSU-Marion’s first Science Cafe of the season is Tuesday, October 5, at 7:00 pm in the historic Harding Hotel at 267 West Center Street in downtown Marion. I’ve reproduced the University press release below the fold. The session features Mike Elzinga, a regular Thumb commenter, presenting on “Order, Disorder, and Entropy: Misconceptions and Misuses of Thermodynamics.” I’ll be there early to have dinner at the Harding before Mike’s presentation: come early too, if you can.

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