NCSE’s executive director Eugenie C. Scott announced on May 6, 2013, that she was planning to retire by the end of the year, after more than twenty-six years at NCSE’s helm. “It’s a good time to retire, with our new climate change initiative off to a strong start and with the staff energized and excited by the new challenges ahead,” she commented. “The person who replaces me will find a strong staff, a strong set of programs, and a strong board of directors.”
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Stephen Dilley’s new book, Darwinian Evolution And Classical Liberalism: Theories in Tension, is now available, at least on Kindle. Chapter 12 is by me; it’s entitled, somehwat dully, “Classical Liberalism And Evolution.” In it, I argue that evolution, far from undercutting the premises of classical liberalism, is at least compatible with them, and, as I think, provides a stronger foundation for them than any variety of creationism. But, as I contend at the outset, it doesn’t much matter, because evolution is true. So if it’s incompatible with libertarianism, then so much the worse for libertarianism.
As we reflect upon the amazing body of work left behind by this giant of the movie scene, readers of the Thumb should know (if they don’t already) that Roger Ebert was a passionate defender of science, and of evolution in particular.
His passion was not un-noticed by creationists (of both young-earth and intelligent design categories). William Dembski had this to say about Ebert in an Uncommon Descent blog from 2006:
Roger Ebert: Film Critic, Expert on Evolution, ID Basher, and Overall Supergenius .….. Or is Ebert just another clueless bonehead whose imagined expertise is in exact disproportion to his actual knowledge …
Here are some memorable comments by Ebert on creationism, evolution, and religion.
The more you know about evolution, or simple logic, the more you are likely to be appalled by the film. No one with an ability for critical thinking could watch more than three minutes without becoming aware of its tactics. It isn’t even subtle. Take its treatment of Dawkins, who throughout his interviews with Stein is honest, plain-spoken, and courteous. As Stein goes to interview him for the last time, we see a makeup artist carefully patting on rouge and dusting Dawkins’ face. After he is prepared and composed, after the shine has been taken off his nose, here comes plain, down-to-earth, workaday Ben Stein. So we get the vain Dawkins with his effete makeup, talking to the ordinary Joe.
I have done television interviews for more than 40 years. I have been on both ends of the questions. I have news for you. Everyone is made up before going on television. If they are not, they will look like death warmed over. There is not a person reading this right now who should go on camera without some kind of makeup. Even the obligatory “shocked neighbors” standing in their front yards after a murder usually have some powder brushed on by the camera person. Was Ben Stein wearing makeup? Of course he was. Did he whisper to his camera crew to roll while Dawkins was being made up? Of course he did. Otherwise, no camera operator on earth would have taped that. That incident dramatizes his approach throughout the film. If you want to study Gotcha! moments, start here.
During in all the endless discussions on several threads of this blog about evolution, intelligent design, God and the afterworld, now numbering altogether around 3,500 comments, I have never said, although readers have freely informed me I am an atheist, an agnostic, or at the very least a secular humanist–which I am. If I were to say I don’t believe God exists, that wouldn’t mean I believe God doesn’t exist. Nor does it mean I don’t know, which implies that I could know.
Let me rule out at once any God who has personally spoken to anyone or issued instructions to men. That some men believe they have been spoken to by God, I am certain. I do not believe Moses came down from the mountain with any tablets he did not go up with. I believe mankind in general evidently has a need to believe in higher powers and an existence not limited to the physical duration of the body. But these needs are hopes, and believing them doesn’t make them true. … No, I am not a Buddhist. I am not a believer, not an atheist, not an agnostic. I am still awake at night, asking how? I am more content with the question than I would be with an answer.
The True Believers. Found in both parties. One side declares God without any doubt does exist, and created the universe and everything in it. A much smaller subset of this group is convinced that God did this in fairly recent times–as little as 6,000 years ago, or in any event too recently for Darwin’s evolutionary process to have had enough time to take place. The other side declares that God without any doubt does not exist, and it is equally certain. Both sides frequently quote the Bible, on the one hand citing its truth, on the other side citing its falsity. Christianity is the only religion involved; my blog has readers from all over the world, but apparently those from elsewhere find Intelligent Design a uniquely American notion.
The zealots of Creationism are indefatigable. Even now there are attempts to legislate that the pseudo science of Intelligent Design must be taught in school systems as a “debate” with Evolution. In common sense terms, that debate was over a century ago. Yet there are votes out there for politicians who support such legislation, and at the 2008 GOP presidential debate, no less that three candidates said they do not believe in evolution. I suppose I should be gratified that there weren’t more.
My only purpose today is to state early and often that if a Presidential candidate believes early humans used saddles to ride on the backs of dinosaurs, as they are depicted at the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky, that candidate should not be elected President.
And if a candidate counts among close friends and advisors anyone in communication with the spirit world, that candidate should not be elected President.
And if a candidate accounts for the fact that humanoid and dinosaur bones are never found at the same level in the fossil record by evoking the action of sediment after the Great Flood, that candidate should not be President.
And if a candidate has a spirit guide, consults his or her Chart and takes more than a passing amusement in the horoscope, that candidate should not be elected President.
There’s a category page linking these and other blogs, appropriately titled “Darwin My Hero”.
Comments about Roger Ebert are welcome. Comments that are nonsequiters, religious rants, or are otherwise irrelevant, will be tossed onto the Bathroom Wall.
“Project Steve” is a tongue-in-cheek parody of a long-standing creationist tradition of amassing lists of “scientists who doubt evolution” or “scientists who dissent from Darwinism.”
Conceived in discussions amongst NCSE staffers and members of the old TalkDesign group (several of whom went on to be founding contributors to Panda’s Thumb), the Steve-O-Meter currrently shows 1,239 scientists whose first name is Steve or a cognate, including the two eligible living Nobel winners (Chu and Weinberg), who have signed on to this statement:
Evolution is a vital, well-supported, unifying principle of the biological sciences, and the scientific evidence is overwhelmingly in favor of the idea that all living things share a common ancestry. Although there are legitimate debates about the patterns and processes of evolution, there is no serious scientific doubt that evolution occurred or that natural selection is a major mechanism in its occurrence. It is scientifically inappropriate and pedagogically irresponsible for creationist pseudoscience, including but not limited to “intelligent design,” to be introduced into the science curricula of our nation’s public schools.
Since “Steve” and cognates comprise roughly 1% of first names, that corresponds to over 120,000 scientists concurring with the statement.
Compare that to the wishy-washy Scientific Dissent from Darwinism statement maintained by the Disco ‘Tute:
We are skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life. Careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged.
In association with the Santa Fe Institute, Melanie Mitchell will teach a free online course called Introduction to Complexity starting on January 28, 2013. Mitchell has been working in complex systems research for years. Her Ph.D. advisors were Doug Hofstadter of Gödel, Esher, Bach fame and John Holland, a towering figure in the study of complex adaptive systems, which is the title of his influential 1975 book. According to the intro video and the course FAQ, it’s is aimed at non-specialists:
This course is intended for anyone with an interest in complex systems. For this introductory course, there are no prerequisites, and no science or math background is necessary. The level will be similar to that of an interdisciplinary undergraduate class, though the topics are broad enough to be of interest to people ranging from high school students to professionals.
To register to earn a certificate of completion, go here. One can watch the course videos without registering, though one won’t take the final nor be able to participate in the student forum.
Hat tip to Sean Carroll.
Troy Britain has joined the Panda’s Thumb crew. Troy is a long-time veteran of the creationism wars. He blogs at Playing Chess with Pigeons. He is a TalkOrigins Archive volunteer, was a co-founder of the McLean v. Arkansas Documentation Project, and is a member of both NCSE and the Skeptics Society.
Welcome, Troy! We look forward to your posts.
Charles Darwin in 1816. Detail of a painting by Ellen Sharples. Public domain.
And the Center for Inquiry provides a short list of resources for campus organizations or anyone else who wants to sponsor an event. In particular, you may contact their speakers bureau to find speakers on evolution, creationism, and intelligent-design creationism (it is a complete mystery why hardly anyone from Panda’s Thumb is on that list, but we will not go into that now). Additionally, Center for Inquiry directs you to the International Darwin Day Foundation, where you may find a list of activities near you, and, of course, the National Center for Science Education.
CFI recommends that you try to teach someone about evolution or other scientific principles and notes that the Public Broadcasting System has a wealth of material on evolution, science, and Darwin. The Understanding Evolution Web page is likewise an excellent resource.
Finally, not mentioned by CFI, the Clergy Letter Project lists 400-odd religious congregations that plan Evolution Weekend activities, February 10-12. Indeed, it may be of interest to some that Science can help church keep its young folk.
Upcoming television series on PBS: Inside Nature’s Giants, begins January 18th at 10 PM.
Professor Joy Reidenberg is an unlikely TV star. She’s a comparative anatomist with the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York. Physically, she is diminutive, dark-haired and dark-eyed, and not the sort of slender sylph in morphotype that TV producers seem to favor. But Joy has deep anatomical knowledge and a gift for communicating what she knows, and that led the producers of the documentary series, “Inside Nature’s Giants”, to feature Joy in their program.
(Originally posted at Austringer)
Jonathan Smith, VP of Florida Citizens for Science, will be interviewed by RadioExiles about teaching good science in schools, what is bad science, and the knowledge (or lack thereof) of the presidential candidates. The program “The seven day challenge” will be here at 11:30 am Eastern on Friday, December 2. It looks like the podcast will be available a bit later.
I just found out that Gobind Khorana died November 9 at his home in Concord MA. Khorana won the Nobel in 1968 (along with Nirenberg and Holley) for deciphering the genetic code. Before his work, nobody knew how a DNA sequence could “encode” the information necessary to make a protein macromolecule. His experiments were carried out in the classic bacterial system Escherichia coli. The realization that the genetic code in a single-celled bacterium is the exact same code used in humans is what finally convinced the biological community that all life, from trees to bacteria to elephants, shares common ancestry.
Khorana was also the first person to artificially synthesize a synthetic gene and use it to make a protein. It is not an exaggeration to say that these twin feats form the basis of all modern work on proteins.
Later, Khorana went on to use these techniques to investigate in detail the structure and mechanism of bacteriorhodopsin, which has to be one of the darn coolest proteins in the biosphere (full disclosure — I’m biased, since my lab now studies the evolution of bacteriorhodopsin). Photosynthesis evolved twice, with two very different mechanisms: plants use chlorophyll, and many bacteria use bacteriorhodopsin. While chlorophyll wins in terms of efficiency, bacteriorhodopsin is much simpler and more elegant.
Well, it had to happen sometime. Yet another one of our own, veteran TO-poster, long-time PT contributor, hacker, and guru Reed Cartwright, has taken the academic plunge and accepted a tenure-track appointment. (As if it wasn’t enough being the current Huxley Faculty Fellow at Rice University!) Reed starts this coming January 2012 as an Assistant Professor with the Biodesign Institute (does that have the D-word in it?) at Arizona State University. He will be sharing his lab space with Prof. Steve Steve, of course.
Word also has it that, as all good geneticists should, Reed has successfully replicated himself (albeit quite imperfectly, only 50% genetic identity by descent). As you can plainly see above, these life-changing events have had quite an effect on the poor Reed.
Congratulations Prof Cartwright!
They have TED. We have BILL.
We here at Panda’s Thumb are pleased to announce the establishment of a new video lecture series: Brilliantly Illuminating and Lively Lectures, or BILLs.
Once every two weeks, a new BILL will be posted along with commentary by a PT crew member. Topics can vary widely, with the only criteria being brilliance, illumination, liveliness, and/or financial contributions from members like you. Feel free to nominate lectures for inclusion in this prestigious series by leaving a comment here or by emailing the director of the BILL series at BILL at pandasthumb dot org.
Our first two BILLs are already selected, and the inaugural BILL will be posted on Wednesday 27 July.
TED is cool. But BILL is more excellent. Party on, dudes!
I’ve been organizing Science Pub in Madison, Wisconsin since July of 2009. Each month we invite a different UW Madison science professor to Brocach Irish Pub in downtown Madison. At Science Pub there’s no PowerPoint, no podium or microphone. We just sit our speakers down in a big comfy chair with the beverage of their choice from the bar.
It’s with great sadness and not a few tears that I say goodbye to Steve Gey, someone I never met in person but who nonetheless had a huge influence on my life. Steve was a professor at the Florida State University law school and one of the preeminent First Amendment scholars in the country. He was one of the attorneys for the plaintiffs in Edwards v Aguillard, the case that ruled creation science out of public school science classrooms.
A little over 4 years ago, Steve was diagnosed with ALS, aka Lou Gehrig’s disease, and he had to give up teaching about a year later. He was, according to everyone I’ve ever talked to who took his course, one of the most inspiring teachers in the country. He was revered and adored by colleagues and students alike for his brilliance and his humanity.
Shortly after he was diagnosed with ALS I was able to arrange for him to receive the Friend of Darwin award from the National Center for Science Education. I called Glenn Branch to ask about it and he said that the board had, in fact, just voted unanimously to give him that award but they hadn’t yet found a venue in which to give it to him (they typically like to ambush people who win the award and give it to them when they don’t expect it).
I told Glenn I knew of the perfect time to do it. A group of his students were running a triathlon a few days later to raise money for ALS research in his name and they were going to be having a banquet afterwards. The NCSE rushed the award down to a friend of mine, who was one of Steve’s students and dearest friends. She was so happy to be able to present that award to him.
The country has lost one of its finest teachers and one of its most powerful advocates for civil liberties. And a great many people have lost a man who inspired them.