The Skeptical Teacher

Musings of a science teacher & skeptic in an age of woo.

Posts Tagged ‘theology’

The Tenth Anniversary of Dover & the Demise of Intelligent Design’s Wedge Strategy

Posted by mattusmaximus on December 20, 2015

Ten years ago today, on Dec. 20th 2005, skeptics, scientists, and science-boosters celebrated a huge win in the perpetual creationist war against evolutionary science: the historic ruling in the Dover v. Kitzmiller trial. The ruling by federal judge John Jones in the Dover case was a no-holds barred beat-down against the notion of so-called “intelligent design” (ID) as science.

Judge Jones

Judge John Jones – my hero 🙂 (image source)

For those who don’t know, it is important to understand the historical context: in the early 1990s, creationists were trying to figure out a way to move forward after having suffered a major setback when, in 1987, the Supreme Court ruled that creationism wasn’t science and therefore could not be taught as such in public schools. Through the 1990s on into the early 2000s, creationists came up with a new way of branding their ideas, which they called Intelligent Design (ID). The Intelligent Design Movement (IDM – which is just another way of saying “creationist movement”) put together a slick and well-funded think tank known as the Discovery Institute, whose sole purpose at the time was to write about and promote the whole notion of ID as a scientific concept. However, some digging revealed that ID was simply a thinly-veiled attempt to rename and relabel the old-fashioned creationism that had been defeated time and time again through both scientific analysis and courtroom rulings; further investigation also showed that the IDM’s motives were explicitly religious in nature and had little or nothing to do with science. In fact, the IDM’s own stated goals were to, among other things, completely overturn and re-define the entire endeavor of science so as to be in keeping with their narrow religious worldview; in fact, the IDM explicitly stated as much in their now-infamous Wedge Document (an actual PDF of the original document can be found here) in the section titled Goals

Governing Goals

  • To defeat scientific materialism and its destructive moral, cultural and political legacies.
  • to replace materialistic explanations with the theistic understanding that nature and human beings are created by God.

Five Year Goals

  • To see intelligent design theory as an accepted alternative in the sciences and scientific research being done from the perspective of design theory.
  • To see the beginning of the influence of design theory in spheres other than natural science.
  • To see major new debates in education, life issues, legal and personal responsibility pushed to the front of the national agenda.

Twenty Year Goals

  • To see intelligent design theory as the dominant perspective in science.
  • To see design theory application in specific fields, including molecular biology, biochemistry, paleontology, physics and cosmology in the natural sciences, psychology, ethics, politics, theology and philosophy in the humanities; to see its influence in the fine arts.
  • To see design theory permeate our religious, cultural, moral and political life. [emphasis added]

The IDM pushed the idea of ID in the popular press, trying to avoid any religious overtones, attempting to make it look like a scientific concept. But all along, the real goal of the IDM and Discovery Institute was to get a federal court ruling in their favor stating that ID itself was a scientific concept so that they could “push the thin edge of their Wedge” into public school science classrooms as part of their larger goal to, in their own words, have their narrow religious beliefs “permeate our religious, cultural, moral and political life.”

In 2004 the IDM got what it wanted in the form of a federal court case wherein ID was put on trial after the school board of Dover, PA tried to force science teachers in the town’s public school district to teach ID as science. The IDM and Discovery Institute thought this case was going to be a slam dunk for them, partly because Judge Jones was both a Republican and appointed to the federal bench by President George W. Bush and they thought he would be sympathetic to their worldview, but also partly because they really believed they had good arguments. As it turned out, they were wrong on both counts. Here’s just a taste of what Judge Jones had to say in his ruling of Dover v. Kitzmiller (a more thorough break down, including the all-too-predictable reaction from creationists, can be found here)…

(from p. 63 of the ruling):

“After a searching review of the record and applicable case law, we find that while ID arguments may be true, a proposition on which the Court takes no position,ID is not science. We find that ID fails on three different levels, any one of which is sufficient to preclude a determination that ID is science. They are: (1) ID violates the centuries-old ground rules of science by invoking and permitting supernatural causation; (2) the argument of irreducible complexity, central to ID, employs the same flawed and illogical contrived dualism that doomed creation science in the 1980’s; and (3) ID’s negative attacks on evolution have been refuted by the scientific community. As we will discuss in more detail below, it is additionally important to note that ID has failed to gain acceptance in the scientific community, it has not generated peer-reviewed publications, nor has it been the subject of testing and research.”

(from p. 88-89 of the ruling):

“After this searching and careful review of ID as espoused by its proponents, as elaborated upon in submissions to the Court, and as scrutinized over a six week trial, we find that ID is not science and cannot be adjudged a valid, accepted scientific theory as it has failed to publish in peer-reviewed journals, engage in research and testing, and gain acceptance in the scientific community. ID, as noted, is grounded in theology, not science. Accepting for the sake of argument its proponents’, as well as Defendants’ argument that to introduce ID to students will encourage critical thinking, it still has utterly no place in a science curriculum. Moreover, ID’s backers have sought to avoid the scientific scrutiny which we have now determined that it cannot withstand by advocating that the controversy, but not ID itself, should be taught in science class. This tactic is at best disingenuous, and at worst a canard. The goal of the IDM [Intelligent Design Movement] is not to encourage critical thought, but to foment a revolution which would supplant evolutionary theory with ID.”

(and the money quote, from p. 136 of the ruling):

“The proper application of both the endorsement and Lemon tests to the facts of this case makes it abundantly clear that the Board’s ID Policy violates the Establishment Clause. In making this determination, we have addressed the seminal question of whether ID is science. We have concluded that it is not, and moreover that ID cannot uncouple itself from its creationist, and thus religious, antecedents.”

More juicy quotes from Judge Jones can be found here and here.

So after this high-profile defeat of their pet “theory”, what did the IDM do? Sadly, they kept on doing the same thing: misrepresenting evolution and science in an attempt to give ID some thin veneer of credibility. But it was too late, because Dover clearly showed the emperor had no clothes, and only those already committed to the creationist cause kept up their attempt to promote ID as science.

Some years after the Dover ruling, I had the opportunity to attend a talk by Casey Luskin, who at the time worked for the Discovery Institute, and I was interested in seeing whether or not ID’s biggest proponents had lived up to their talk of ID being science. That’s because actual science adapts and evolves, refining theories as a result of observation and experimentation. But I saw no evidence of this in Luskin’s talk; in fact, I saw quite the opposite: little more than a sad rehashing of the same tired old creationist arguments against evolution, lame attempts to label ID as science, ranting against the evils of materialism, and a  general collapse of all arguments under even the barest scrutiny. Here is my more detailed account of Luskin’s talk, and here is his response to my criticism. Lastly, in the spirit of throwing Luskin and his colleagues at the Discovery Institute a bone, I even came up with an experimental method for testing a key aspect of ID, but – ironically – they have yet to take up that (or any other) challenge and actually test out this supposedly scientific concept.

Of course, to say that creationism is dead and buried would be incorrect. After all, once the IDM could no longer promote ID as science, they fell back on the time-honored creationist tactic of attacking evolution and science in general, and these attacks still continue; a great way to keep track of attempts by creationists and others to tamper with science education is to stay tuned to the National Center for Science Education. Fortunately, the evidence suggests that creationists are, slowly but surely, losing the fight as more and more Americans become accepting of evolutionary science and view creationism with suspicion. It’s been a long, hard fight, but it’s one well worth having, given the stakes. And we’ll continue the fight as long as it takes.

Last, but not least, I cannot help but point out the irony of the timing: right around now is when the writers of the Wedge Document stated that they had hoped to have ID “permeate our religious, cultural, moral and political life”, and – thanks in large part to the Dover ruling – that certainly hasn’t come to pass.

Happy 10th birthday, Dover v. Kitzmiller 🙂

 

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Higgs Boson Lecture at Dragon*Con 2012

Posted by mattusmaximus on September 22, 2012

While at Dragon*Con 2012, I gave an incredibly well-attended lecture (standing room only!) on the recent “discovery”(?) of the Higgs boson and our modern theories of particle physics (known as the Standard Model).  The lecture was followed by a very fruitful Q&A session which was made all the more interesting because attending the lecture was an engineer who actually works on a detector at the Large Hadron Collider and a theoretical particle physicist!

I recorded the audio of the lecture in order to share it, and I have embedded that audio into the PowerPoint file I used for my lecture.  Enjoy! 🙂

The Higgs Boson – DC Lecture with Audio

Posted in philosophy, scientific method, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

The “Center for Unintelligent Design” and How ID-Creationists Shoot Themselves in the Foot

Posted by mattusmaximus on March 28, 2012

So I figure that I would make some posts regarding the good old evolution-creationism issue, and I wanted to start with this little gem: The Center for Unintelligent Design.  It’s a website which shows just how unintelligent it would be for some Higher Power (i.e., God) to purposely design organisms in the manner in which they exist on Earth; as such, it decidedly calls into question the whole basis of the so-called “intelligent design” argument by creationists.   While their current list is over 130 examples long, here are some of my favorites:

“The fact that the liver is the only internal organ that can spontaneously regenerate when damaged.”

“Human conception – having to throw 250 million darts at the bullseye!”

“Giving birth through the pelvic girdle instead of through the abdominal wall
is the direct cause of endless horrors. Deaths in childbirth, and, if possible
even worse, brain damage during delivery either mechanically or through
perinatal anoxia. And anyone who quotes Genesis 3:16 in excuse is a moral monster.”

“Putting the recreational area right next to the sewage outflow.”

In addition, on their main page is a very interesting email discussion between the website author and Dr. Steve Fuller, a sociologist who is supportive of intelligent design (as a science, seemingly) and also a proponent of various dubious views on postmodernism in regards to science.  Fuller testified in the Dover v. Kitzmiller trial on the side of the ID-creationists, and his testimony was apparently quite detrimental to their arguments.  And once you read the email exchange below, you’ll understand why…

From: Steve Fuller
Sent: Sep 18, 2011
To: Keith Gilmour

Dear Keith,

Thanks for this. You might perhaps make more headway with ID people if you understood the position better. The problem of apparent ‘unintelligent design’ in nature is one that people with ID sympathies have long tackled. Simply look up the literature on ‘theodicy’.

Steve Fuller

********************************

From: Keith Gilmour
Sent: Mon 19/09/2011
To: Steve Fuller
Subject: Thank You

Dear Prof Fuller,

I am immensely grateful to you for your ‘stunning’ reply to my recent email. In just one line, you inadvertently ‘destroy’ the notion that ID is science:

“The problem of apparent ‘unintelligent design’ in nature is one that people with ID sympathies have long tackled. Simply look up the literature on ‘theodicy’.”

By admitting that ‘unintelligent design’ is a branch of theology, you necessarily admit that ‘Intelligent’ Design is also a branch of theology.

Not quite what I was expecting, but absolutely priceless!

Many thanks again,
Keith Gilmour

[emphasis added]

For those who don’t already know, theodicy is the branch of theology which seeks to address the philosophical and religious “problem of evil” in regards to God’s nature.  Yes, religion… not science.

I love it when the pseudo-scientists shoot themselves in the foot 🙂

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The Higgs Boson, The “God Particle”, and the March of Science

Posted by mattusmaximus on December 14, 2011

You may have heard the recent news that physicists at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider may be narrowing their search for the Higgs Boson.  Here’s an update from The Guardian…

particle collision cern

A graphic showing traces of collision of particles at Cern. Photograph: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images

We may have glimpsed the Higgs boson, say Cern scientists

Scientists believe they may have caught their first glimpse of the Higgs boson, the so-called God particle that is thought to underpin the subatomic workings of nature.

Physicists Fabiola Gianotti and Guido Tonelli were applauded by hundreds of scientists yesterday as they revealed evidence for the particle amid the debris of hundreds of trillions of proton collisions inside the Large Hadron Collider at Cern, the European particle physics laboratory near Geneva. …

Let me just put a few things into perspective here on this potential (and I stress potential) discovery.  First, the data are rather preliminary, and in order to say for sure that there is solid evidence for the Higgs Boson, there need to be more observations to help shore up the statistical analysis.  In particle physics, it is not uncommon to see the occasional “discovery” that eventually ends up being merely a statistical anomaly, so more data is better to weed out the anomalies.  This section of The Guardian article helps to clarify this point:

… Particle physicists use a “sigma” scale to grade the significance of results, from one to five. One and two sigma results are unreliable because they come and go with statistical fluctuations in the data. A three sigma result counts as an “observation”, while a five sigma result is enough to claim an official discovery. There is less than a one in a million chance of a five sigma result being a statistical fluke.

Gianotti and Tonelli led two separate teams – one using Cern’s Atlas detector, the other using the laboratory’s Compact Muon Solenoid. At their seminar yesterday one team reported a 2.3 sigma bump in their data that could be a Higgs boson weighing 126GeV, while the other reported a 1.9 sigma Higgs signal at a mass of around 124GeV. There is a 1% chance that the Atlas result could be due to a random fluctuation in the data. …

So, by these data, while the 2.3 and 1.9 sigma signals are interesting, they don’t really rise to the level of a solid observation (which, recall, is set at a standard of 3.0 sigma), much less an official discovery.

Also, by “narrowed the search” for the Higgs Boson, what the CERN physicists mean is that they may have narrowed down the energy range in which the Higgs Boson might exist.  So, long story short, while these results are of interest, don’t go popping those champagne corks just yet 🙂

The “God Particle”?

I don’t know about you, but I get kind of annoyed at all of this labeling of the hypothetical Higgs Boson as the “God Particle”.  I see it as the kind of mushing of religion into science that leads to all manner of philosophically-challenged kind of muddy thinking.  First off, depending upon how one defines God (assuming the standard monotheistic version of the Abrahamic god), which is usually defined as a supernatural being, you run into trouble by trying to find natural evidence for a thing which is supposed to be beyond nature.

Second, even if we did discover the Higgs Boson, what would that supposedly tell us about this God?  Presumably various armchair theologians argue that such a discovery would be evidence for their view of God (which also begs the question of whether or not it is evidence for one God versus another God).  The logic here simply escapes me, and it smacks of the usual “everything is evidence for God” kind of argumentation that passes the lips of too many religious people.  And this also brings up a potentially sticky question for the advocates of the “God Particle” label…

What if the Higgs Boson isn’t discovered, despite years of detailed searching?  Will these same armchair theologians suddenly give up their belief in their God because the supposed “Particle” which is his/her/its/their fingerprint upon the cosmos was never there to begin with?  Somehow I don’t think so, because these believers will merely rationalize away the lack of evidence for the “God Particle”.  It is in this sense that I find some people who try to stick the round peg of religion into the square hole of science to be particularly annoying: they want to use science as a method of “proving” their religious beliefs when they think it will work for them, yet they completely dismiss science when it works against them.  It’s simply “heads I win, tails you lose” argumentation, and it is both intellectually lazy and disingenuous.

What if we don’t find the Higgs Boson?  Science will march on…

This is the thing I really like about science: it never ends.  The process of scientific investigation never ceases to ask questions, formulate ideas, and test out those ideas.  I think it is entirely possible that in the search for the Higgs Boson, it will never be found; and what then?  What if we never find it?  Well, that’s when I think things will get really interesting, because that means that much of what we think we know about the Standard Model of physics could very well be wrong.  And that would mean that we need to start looking at things differently; this is, to me, the antithesis of dogmatic thinking, and it shows how science is, collectively, the best mechanism we have for stimulating open and free inquiry of the world around us.

Now don’t get me wrong – I would be quite excited if the Higgs Boson were discovered.  But I think I would be much more excited if it weren’t found.  That would certainly open up a lot more questions, wouldn’t it?

To science!  May it march ever onward…

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Are Christian Evangelicals coming around on evolution?

Posted by mattusmaximus on August 21, 2011

It was with much interest that I read the following NPR story on the question of Christian evangelicals acceptance (or not) of evolutionary science. I wanted to just highlight a few key parts of the story and give my thoughts on this interesting development…

Evangelicals Question The Existence Of Adam And Eve

Let’s go back to the beginning — all the way to Adam and Eve, and to the question: Did they exist, and did all of humanity descend from that single pair?

According to the Bible (Genesis 2:7), this is how humanity began: “The Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” God then called the man Adam, and later created Eve from Adam’s rib.

Polls by Gallup and the Pew Research Center find that four out of 10 Americans believe this account. It’s a central tenet for much of conservative Christianity, from evangelicals to confessional churches such as the Christian Reformed Church.

But now some conservative scholars are saying publicly that they can no longer believe the Genesis account. Asked how likely it is that we all descended from Adam and Eve, Dennis Venema, a biologist at Trinity Western University, replies: “That would be against all the genomic evidence that we’ve assembled over the last 20 years, so not likely at all.” …

What I find so interesting about this situation is that these evangelical scholars are going against the grain of the traditional belief in a literal Adam and Eve.  One has to wonder how the broader evangelical community will react: will they seriously reconsider these traditional beliefs, will they dismiss the scholars because their creationist interpretation of Genesis trumps all, or will they seek to label these scholars as “heretical” and seek to purge them?  I think the likely scenario is a combination of all three, but it seems that some prominent Christian evangelical institutions are seeking the second and third possibilities.  On the one hand, some institutions are choosing to ignore scientific reality:

“From my viewpoint, a historical Adam and Eve is absolutely central to the truth claims of the Christian faith,” says Fazale Rana, vice president of Reasons To Believe, an evangelical think tank that questions evolution. Rana, who has a Ph.D. in biochemistry from Ohio University, readily admits that small details of Scripture could be wrong.

“But if the parts of Scripture that you are claiming to be false, in effect, are responsible for creating the fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith, then you’ve got a problem,” Rana says.

Soooo, when hard scientific evidence from nature contradicts you interpretation of Genesis, you ignore what nature says?  Yeah, that’s dumb.  No wonder people who don’t already buy into this particular theology tend to think it’s downright silly.

What’s worse, other Christian evangelical institutions are going even further and actively working to “expel” scholars who don’t toe the literal line on Genesis:

Several other well known theologians at Christian universities have been forced out; some see a parallel to a previous time when science conflicted with religious doctrine.

“The evolution controversy today is, I think, a Galileo moment,” says Karl Giberson, who authored several books trying to reconcile Christianity and evolution, including The Language of Science and Faith, with Francis Collins.

Giberson — who taught physics at Eastern Nazarene College until his views became too uncomfortable in Christian academia — says Protestants who question Adam and Eve are akin to Galileo in the 1600s, who defied Catholic Church doctrine by stating that the earth revolved around the sun and not vice versa. Galileo was condemned by the church, and it took more than three centuries for the Vatican to express regret at its error.

The great irony here is that so many of these same Christian evangelical organizations made such a big deal a few years back when the failed film “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed” came out.  “Expelled” argued that secular academia was forcing out scholars who dared to question evolutionary science; now, in fact, we see the hypocrisy behind these arguments.  For years, we’ve heard these folks bitch and moan at length about some supposed conspiracy to discriminate against them, yet they are the ones purging “heretics” from their ranks because these scholars follow science as opposed to a blind allegiance to certain theological interpretations of the Bible.

Last, but not least, is a word of warning from the article.  Christians, take note:

“When you ignore science, you end up with egg on your face,” Giberson says. “The Catholic Church has had an awful lot of egg on its face for centuries because of Galileo. And Protestants would do very well to look at that and to learn from it.”

Posted in creationism, religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

The Discovery Institute’s Casey Luskin Responds… And Fails

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 2, 2011

I found out recently that Casey Luskin of the intelligent design/creationist “think” tank the Discovery Institute has  responded in print to my takedown of his public lecture last August in Chicago.   I think it is important is to dissect his arguments and point out the utter failure of him to make any headway in his arguments; he is simply recycling the same ol’ same ol’, in my view.  For reference, here is my account of what happened at the event last August.

Me & Casey Luskin, chillin’ after his lecture.  Nobody was hurt in the making of this photo 🙂

And I also wrote a follow-up post specifically criticizing Luskin’s claims of the supposed scientific nature of ID’s so-called “design inference”. It is pretty telling that Luskin never addresses any of these points in his response, but more on that later.

Speaking of which, here is Luskin’s response. Technically, it isn’t really a response to my blog posts, because he never references my blog or the posts in his article, but he does refer to me and the questions I asked at his lecture (though he doesn’t name me).  Allow me to go through his points one at a time…

STUMPED BY DESIGN

ID’s Critics Engage in Motive-Mongering to Avoid the Evidence

By Casey Luskin

In August 2010, the creators of Salvo graciously invited me to speak at the University Club in downtown Chicago. After a short 40 minute presentation on the positive scientific case for intelligent design (ID), we opened up the floor to the audience.

Most of the inquiries led to serious and worthwhile scientific discussions. But one gentleman [that’s me] was confident he came armed with a “gotcha question” that would stump me. His challenge essentially boiled down to this: What about the ‘Wedge Document’?

The Wedge What?

Salvo readers generally believe—quite rightly—that seeking truth requires merely following the evidence where it leads. As a result, they don’t get bogged down in endless debates about personal motives or the religious (or non-religious) beliefs of scientists. At the end of the day, what matters is the evidence. Right?

For many ID critics, that’s not right. In fact those who follow the ID debate closely are depressingly familiar with the fallacious distraction of the “wedge document.”

While the “Wedge document” has no bearing on whether the information-rich molecular machines that underlie every living cell point to an intelligent designer, it’s worth rebutting to help those who are seeking truth understand this debate.

What is now called the “Wedge document” was originally a short fundraising packet compiled in the late 1990s by the pro-ID think tank Discovery Institute (“DI”). Like any good prospectus, it laid out the goals of the DI, centering around using pro-ID arguments to influence various branches of culture, including science, politics, education, and theology. …

Actually, the Wedge Document (and related strategy) is entirely relevant to the entire question of ID and its origins as an explicitly religious enterprise.  That’s because, as I documented earlier & as Luskin fails to note (surprise), during his lecture he stated on multiple occasions that “ID isn’t about religion, it’s about science!”  So when I pointed out the fact that the Discovery Institute’s Wedge Document most certainly shows that the primary motivation for pushing ID is religious in nature (with such notable sections as the “20 Year Goal: To see design theory permeate our religious, cultural, moral and political life.” – yup, that’s a direct quote, entirely within context.  Read it for yourself), Luskin was hoisted by his own petard, so to speak.  In fact, I had a conversation with one of the other audience members in the lobby of the University Club after Luskin’s lecture, and while this fellow wanted to agree with Luskin, he simply couldn’t because of exactly what I’d pointed out.

What was Luskin’s reaction to my criticism?  Well, the next section of his article pretty much spells it out.  Read on… Read the rest of this entry »

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The Hypocrisy of the Creationist “Teach All Views” Argument

Posted by mattusmaximus on March 27, 2011

In my time tracking & critiquing the creationist movement, I have spent much time and many electrons typing articles pointing out the flaws in their various arguments.  I will continue to do so, but every now and then something seems to come along which puts it into perspective.  For example, I recently saw the following headline about a pastor who was fired from his church for not teaching “the correct” view on the afterlife…

Pastor loses job after questioning hell’s existence

Image: Rev. Chad Holtz poses for a photo in Durham, N.C. Holtz

Sara D. Davis  /  AP file — Chad Holtz was fired from his position as pastor of a church in Henderson, N.C., after posting on his Facebook page a defense of a forthcoming book by megachurch pastor Rob Bell, in which Bell challenges millions of Christians’ understanding of the afterlife.

DURHAM, N.C. — When Chad Holtz lost his old belief in hell, he also lost his job.

The pastor of a rural United Methodist church in North Carolina wrote a note on his Facebook page supporting a new book by Rob Bell, a prominent young evangelical pastor and critic of the traditional view of hell as a place of eternal torment for billions of damned souls.

Two days later, Holtz was told complaints from church members prompted his dismissal from Marrow’s Chapel in Henderson.

“I think justice comes and judgment will happen, but I don’t think that means an eternity of torment,” Holtz said. “But I can understand why people in my church aren’t ready to leave that behind. It’s something I’m still grappling with myself.”

The debate over Bell’s new book “Love Wins” has quickly spread across the evangelical precincts of the Internet, in part because of an eye-catching promotional video posted on YouTube. …

So what?  What if some church decides to can their pastor because they don’t like the religious message he’s sending?  I normally might not care myself, except I’m going to guess that the reason why Mr. Holtz is now unemployed is because he was the pastor of a more traditional, conservative congregation which wasn’t receptive to his more moderate view on the afterlife.

In addition, couple this with the fact that many of the more conservative Christian churches in the United States also seem to be rather supportive of the teaching of creationism in public science classes.  How many times have we been subjected to the “teach all views” or “teach the controversy” argument espoused by creationists as they try to wedge their non-scientific, purely religious ideas into the science curriculum?

And therein lies the problem.  You see, the inherent hypocrisy of the creationist movement favored by these conservative, more fundamentalist Christian churches is laid bare when they attempt to make the “teach all views” argument.  After all, look what has happened to Mr. Holtz and those like him who try to teach a different view of heaven & hell in church: they get fired.  In another ironic example, think about how intelligent design proponent William Dembski got himself into trouble when he openly questioned his institution’s account of Noah’s Flood.  Why?  What’s wrong with “teaching all views” in church or at a religious institution?

Of course, I am being quite sarcastic, but I’m doing so to make a particular point.  I don’t honestly care one way or the other if Mr. Holtz’s church or Dembski’s religious school threatens to fire them or actually fires them.  It is the prerogative of those institutions to act in a manner in accordance with their particular religious faith.  On the questions of religious faith, the nature of heaven & hell, and the number of angels that can dance on the head of a pin, I am perfectly content to let the theologians in their various seminaries continually run in circles, threatening each other with eternal damnation because someone else believes something different than they do.  In fact, I’m quite amused by the show they put on in the process 🙂

And while the theologians like to have their (in my view) useless arguments, in the real world it is the prerogative of the scientific community to dictate what is & isn’t science by virtue of the scientific process which has steadily evolved over the last 400 years or so.  Thus, professional scientists rightly have the knowledge & power to dictate the proper and established science that should be taught in public school science classes.  They also have the know-how to point at pseudoscientific notions such as creationism and label them as not suitable for the science curriculum.

So, the next time you hear a creationist say “we should teach all views in the science classroom”, accept their argument.  But only so long as they’re willing to “teach all views” or “teach the controversy” in their church first.

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ID-Creationist William Dembski is Almost Expelled… by Other Creationists!

Posted by mattusmaximus on November 16, 2010

If you’ve been following the evolution-creationism battles over the last few years, then you no doubt heard about the “Expelled” propaganda campaign by creationists. The entire purpose of the “Expelled” campaign, and subsequent movie which it widely advertised, was to give the impression to an unsuspecting public that scientific institutions were overly dogmatic and squashing dissent on the topic of evolution, going so far as to make loony claims of vast conspiracies and even trying to argue that Darwinian evolution was a major cause of the Holocaust!

Well, the movie failed badly, mostly because those people who were not already convinced that Evil-ution is, well, evil rightly concluded that it was a bunch of hooey.  Score one for the pro-science side 🙂

And, in an incredible twist of irony, here is a rather interesting fact: one of the leading thinkers in the Intelligent Design creationist movement, William Dembski, was nearly fired from his theological institution for daring to publicly disagree with them on the age of the universe and details regarding Noah’s Flood as written in the Bible!  Really folks, you can’t make this stuff up…

In the Creationist Universe, Religious Dogma Trumps Scientific Inquiry

… William Dembski, one of the main proponents of intelligent design, has recanted his scientific views in an attempt to keep his job. As philosopher Michael Ruse has said, explaining but not condoning Dembski’s actions, “here he is with a wife and kids to support and the threat of the sack.”

The issue is as clear as any could be and demonstrates the kind of litmus test that proponents of religious fundamentalism impose on their adherents — even on their stars. And make no mistake about it, William Dembski is a first order star in the intelligent design firmament. He is a prolific author who has earned both a Ph.D. in mathematics as well as a Masters of Divinity degree. He is a fellow of the Discovery Institute and a professor of philosophy at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Indeed, you can’t read anything about intelligent design without encountering Dembski’s arguments in support of this version of creationism.

And yet, according to an article in Florida Baptist Witness, even his stellar creationist credentials were not enough to keep the inquisitors from his door. As the article describes it, Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, called Dembski into his office along with “several high-ranking administrators at the seminary.”

At issue were two of Dembski’s beliefs, as expressed in his latest book The End of Christianity and elsewhere: that the earth is 4.5 billion years old and the universe 14 billion years, and that Noah’s flood was regional rather than worldwide.

Again, according to the article in Florida Baptist Witness, “At that meeting, Dembski was quick to admit that he was wrong about the flood, Patterson said.”

Patterson went on to say, “Had I had any inkling that Dr. Dembski was actually denying the absolute trustworthiness of the Bible, then that would have, of course, ended his relationship with the school.” [emphasis added]…

The blatant hypocrisy here is so thick you could cut it with a knife: the ID-creationists spent a huge amount of money & resources on their “Expelled” campaign in an effort to convince the public that the scientific institutions were being overly dogmatic & squashing free inquiry (despite the fact that some pro-ID scientists, like Dr. Michael Behe, still retain their positions at respected universities as they push their crackpot ideas).  Yet, on the other side you have the creationists (not the scientists!) actively seeking to purge their ranks of those who do not march lock-step with the “true interpretation of the Bible”.

The interesting thing here is that I think this whole fiasco proves many of these creationists just don’t get it when it comes down to how science is done.  They think that science is rigid and dogmatic, because they come from a rigid & dogmatic worldview based upon their interpretation of the Bible, and so they naturally conclude that all worldviews (including one based upon science) must also be equally rigid & dogmatic.  To them it seems to be a matter of getting on board with the “true” or “good” system of dogma, and then subsequently recognizing all over systems as “false” or “evil”.  They simply haven’t the capacity to see how fundamentally different science is in the process of how it is done and by the manner in which scientists interact with each other.

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ID’s Next Strategy in the Evolution/Creationism Wars?

Posted by mattusmaximus on October 10, 2010

A little over a week ago, I gave a presentation to the Illinois North Shore chapter of Americans United for the Separation of Church & State about the lecture I attended in August by Casey Luskin of the intelligent designcreationist think tank called the Discovery Institute. Specifically, my presentation, titled “ID’s Next Strategy in the Evolution/Creationism Wars?” was a rebuttal to the various points made by Luskin and the intelligent design movement in general.  I recorded the audio of my talk, and I’d like to share it with you here.  Enjoy!

Click here for the audio of my presentation –

Rebuttal to Luskin ID-talk

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My Challenge to the Discovery Institute’s “Design Inference” Model

Posted by mattusmaximus on October 7, 2010

In an earlier blog post, I gave a detailed rebuttal to a lecture by the Discovery Institute’s Casey Luskin titled “Intelligent Design: Dead Science or the Future of Biology?” – however, it wasn’t until recently that I came up with what I consider to be the real killer criticism of a basic intelligent design argument: their so-called “design inference” model. During his talk, Casey Luskin showed a picture of Mount Rushmore, which he stated the design inference model shows is clearly a product of ID, not the result of natural processes.  The implication is, of course, that much of evolutionary science is false because ID’s design inference model can prove that ID is a better explanation; but there’s a fatal flaw here.

The basic argument is simply a variation of the classic watchmaker argument, which is essentially an argument from ignorance. Not to mention, Luskin has stacked the deck in favor of the ID design inference model because every time an ID-advocate trots out their model it is in the context of a post-hoc analysis: they already know ahead of time that the object/situation they’re analyzing is the product of intelligent (human) processes.  Hell, of course Mount Rushmore is the result of (human) ID, because we have records & photos of humans chipping away at the damn rock!  So they can’t lose – in this sense, the ID folks are proposing a non-falsifiable model, which makes it NON-science.

Read the rest of this entry »

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