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Saturday, January 31, 2004
Georgia jumps on the bandwagon
Georgia wants to ban the word "evolution" from science classes, replacing it instead with "biological changes over time". The superintendant of schools, Kathy Cox, claims that she wants to do this because the word "evolution" has become such a controversial buzzword that perhaps replacing the term while continuing to teach the substance of the theory will avoid controversy. And if you believe that, I've got a bridge to sell you. First, Kathy Cox is on record when she ran for her position as being in favor of teaching "competing theories" - which is itself a buzzword for the same kind of dual model approach that has been repeatedly smacked down in court. Second, and more importantly, if she's telling the truth about her motivations it would prove that she is far too stupid to have the job she has.
Think about what she wants you to believe. She wants you to believe that she came up with this brilliant idea to avoid controversy arising from the opposition of anti-evolutionists by continuing to teach the same thing, but under a different name. And to insure that such controversy would be avoided, she called a news conference to announce this sneaky little plan to the world. I think we'll file this in the folder marked Oceanfront Property in Missouri.
John Scalzi has an excellent post on the subject on his blog. Check it out.
Ed Brayton | 2:29 PM | | | Permalink
Friday, January 30, 2004
Reply to Rusty on the testable creation model
To continue the dialogue with Rusty Lopez from the New Covenant blog, let's examine his latest posting. I'm going to do this one a bit differently so as not to lose the threads of each specific point of dispute. I'm going to divide this post by those areas and label them as such, and I will put my original argument in plain type, then Rusty's response in italics, then my new response in plain type again. That way each issue can be followed as the argument has developed.
1. The definition of testability
I had written:
"It appears that both he and Ross use what I regard as a rather anachronistic definition of "testable". The primary focus of the article by Ross that Rusty cites as the "testable creation model" was on how to read modern scientific theories IN to the Genesis account, and the technique used to do it was to take vague statements from Genesis and read an infinite amount of detail into it so that it appears that the bible predicted what we have now found to be true."
Ed brings up a good point in that we need to understand how RTB is using the word "testable." Perhaps a bit of clarification is needed here. RTB is stating that if we take the Biblical record on Creation - not just the account in Genesis - but all of the Bible's references to God's activity of Creation, we can then compare what the data of nature is telling us to that record and we can make predictions as to what we should expect to find in various areas of future scientific research.
The important thing, for the purposes of my critique, was (and is) to point out the difference between this and the way hypotheses are tested in science. What Rusty is referring to here is not prediction but retrodiction - it's looking back from the perspective of modern theories and reading those facts back IN to the Genesis account. In science, the initial model or theory that is being tested is used to make predictions about the nature of the evidence. A good example, ironically, is the big bang theory that is accepted by both sides in this discussion as true. As Ross himself points out many times, the big bang theory made specific predictions that had to be true if the theory was true - specific measurements of background radiation, the relative abundances of various elements, the measured density, the degree of red shift, etc. This is what scientists mean when they talk about a theory being testable and falsifiable. If any of those predictions had turned out to be false, the theory would either have had to be discarded or modified to some degree to better explain the data. Alas, they all were accurate predictions, along with others, and the theory has been confirmed.
But let's contrast that with what is being done here. The "testable creation model" that is presented here is nothing more or less than the biblical account of creation as they interpret it (there are of course other interpretations). But no one ever took the biblical account, drew logical inferences from it in the form of predictions, and then tested those predictions against the data. They are not providing a model to be tested but rather, as Rusty said in his first resopnse, trying to prove that the biblical story is consistent with modern theories that have already been tested. From an apologetic standpoint, that may be important; from a scientific one, it is irrelevant. And it is irrelevant because the big bang theory - and evolution, I would argue - are established as successful theories solely on the basis of the evidence and not on whether they agree or disagree with any particular interpretation of any religious texts.
I'm going to skip over the issue of whether the Big Bang implies the existence of God, mostly because I don't dispute it and it detracts from the real issue that I'm disputing. Whether one can infer theism or atheism from big bang cosmology matters very little, as they are both inferences drawn from a scientific theory and are not scientific statements in and of themselves. And also because I accept that the universe was created by god (as opposed to God), so it's not really an issue of dispute. My main point in discussing it in the first place was simply to point out the difference in the two uses of "testable" in this discussion. So, skipping ahead a bit...
2. An unconstrained designer and complex vs simple life
The prediction made by RTB's model is that life, in its earliest and simplest form, will be complex. Here we are considering life in its earliest and simplest form as contrasted with life in its latest and advanced form. For example, contrast the first bacteria with modern humans - simple to advanced. Yet, and here is the catch, the structure of the bacteria is highly complex (as Ed ponders). It is this complexity that is predicted by RTB's model. Got that? The model is not addressing, here, the issue of life going from simple to advanced; it is addressing the issue that simple life is complex.
There are several reasons why this is not a compelling argument. First, it presumes that the first forms of life that were preserved in the rocks - bacteria - were in fact the first forms of life on the Earth, that those bacteria had no precursors that were relatively simple and that the complexity built over time. There is a vast amount of research on the possible pathways that the biochemical precursors to bacteria might have taken, but it is highly unlikely that those precursors would have left behind evidence of their existence the way bacteria did.
Second, I would argue that it isn't really a prediction that flows from the existence of an unconstrained designer at all. Why would one assume that just because a designer is unconstrained, he would automatically start with something complex? He could just as easily have decided to start with something very simple and "work his way up" because, as Rusty opines later, he was "enjoying the process of creation". And this really is the point I'm making, and I think Rusty demonstrates it perfectly by changing his argument in this regard, that starting from the notion of an unconstrained, omnipotent designer, there are no predictions that could be made that could be falsified in any way, which makes it completely untestable. If the data appears in this way, they merely say, "God decided to do it that way". If the data appeared completely differently - let's say all forms of life appeared simultaneously on the planet, with humans and dinosaurs and trilobites and everything else all found in the same strata at the bottom - they would merely say, "God decided to do it that way". The argument over simplicity and complexity masks the fact that there IS an obvious trend from the relatively simple to the vastly more complex in the history of life on earth - no one would dispute that - and that this trend MUST be true if evolution is true. Creationism can be compatible with any set of data because one could simply pass it off as the will of God. But if evolution is true, the data MUST look the way it looks. If mammals were found in precambrian strata alongside anaerobic bacteria, evolution would be dead in the water as an idea. An idea that cannot be falsified regardless of the data cannot, by definition, be tested and hence is not scientific in nature. This just returns me to the overall point that the definition of "testable" that Rusty and Ross are using is entirely different from the way it is used in science.
3. Are early earth conditions consistent with the bible?
Rusty wrote, in one place:
In other words, the text clearly states that the early Earth was without life, covered with water, and in darkness. This corresponds to our best understanding of the conditions on early Earth.
But in another place he writes:
It interesting to note that the late heavy bombardment - that time in our solar system?s history when the inner planets underwent asteroidal bombardment - concluded at approximately 3.8 billion years ago. Up to that point the surface of the Earth is either in a molten state or is subject to sterilization events during the late heavy bombardment. In other words life appears as soon as conditions permit.
There is a contradiction here, both within his statements and with the biblical text. Remember that the biblical text says:
2. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness [was] upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.
The early earth was not "covered in water", as Rusty's initial statement and the bible claim. The early earth was, as Rusty's second statement implied, molten and being bombarded with asteroids. There was no water on the earth for some 600 million years, until the planet had cooled enough for water to remain in a liquid state. The Genesis account does not say anything about this vast break in time between the creation of the earth and the time when God "moved upon the face of the waters". So in point of fact, the Genesis account does not coincide with what we know about early earth conditions.
3. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.
4. And God saw the light, that [it was] good: and God divided the light from the darkness.
5. And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.
6. And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.
Also, note that here again we have an example of retrodiction, not prediction, and another example of a set of data that is consistent with both explanations. It is not a prediction to say "life appears as soon as conditions permit", as that would HAVE to be true no matter what the explanation for it is - by definition, life could not exist before the conditions for life permitted it. The difference, here again, between the mainstream scientific theories and creationist theories is that the creationist theories are compatible with ANY set of data. God could have chosen to simply create the earth without being molten at all. He could have created it to look just like it does today, without wasting 600 million years of a lifeless planet being bombarded by asteroids or having to wait for it to cool off. He could have created humans immediately and not bothered to tinker around with millions of other species, gradually making them more complex and more modern looking as he went. But if mainstream scientific theories about earth formation and the evolution of life are true, the data MUST look the way it looks. So when Rusty writes:
Further the Earth's surface was not optimally ready for advanced life forms in that it was still susceptible to "snowball" events, did not yet have the right land to water ratio, nor the best atmosphere. One of the hallmarks of a good design is optimal timing. Research continues to show that events orchestrating the appearance of advanced life on planet Earth are optimally timed.
It seems to me that this is something that must be true if evolution is true, but could certainly be false if creationism is true. God is not constrained by the earth not being "optimally ready", he could make it optimally ready whenever he chose to do so. So on the one hand, Rusty posits an unconstrained God, then brings up examples of "optimal timing" that are optimal only if one is constrained. If there is an unconstrained creator, then there is no such thing as "optimal timing" - it is a hallmark of "good design" only if the designer is working within constraints, not if the designer can create whatever conditions he chooses at any time by fiat.
4. The order of appearance of life on earth
Here is my initial statement:
"Fossils freeze a specific moment in time, and the fossil record as a whole (the order of appearance of the various species) can only show trends. That order of appearance, I would argue, is a very powerful prediction made by evolution... this order: fish ---> amphibian ---> reptile ---> mammals and birds. Evolution says that they appeared in that order because they evolved in that order. If evolution is true, and each of these major animal groups split off from the previous one, then what would we expect?... the order of appearance within those groups should be as conspicuous as the order of appearance in general - if birds evolved from reptiles, then the first birds must have been very similar to reptiles... And what does the fossil record show? Precisely that...The first birds to appear are so reptile-like that they would be classified as theropod dinosaurs if not for the feathers. We now have multiple feathered theropod species to bridge the gap, and they all appear very early and share most of their traits with reptiles, not with modern birds. Over time, they diversified and became less reptile-like... If modern birds appeared all at once in the fossil record, with entirely avian skeletal structure and feathers and fully adapted for powered flight, there would be no way to link them to reptiles...But they don't appear that way, and the order in which they do appear is precisely what evolution predicts."
I disagree with Ed on most of these points. The fossil record although considered not complete is considered adequate. It reveals periods of stasis and then sudden appearance (or extinction). Indeed, Punctuated Equilibrium was posited to address this very issue.
This is an odd statement, because I didn't say anything about stasis and punctuation. I was talking about the ORDER in which the variety of life forms appeared, not the RATE at which they appeared. Those are two entirely different issues. Rusty does not even attempt to address that order except to say:
Simply because animal forms appeared on Earth in a certain sequence does not mandate that they are related or transitioned from one to another. Another completely valid explanation is that they were designed that way.
But that is not the argument I was making. Of course it doesn't "prove" that life evolved, but my argument was that this order MUST be the way it is if evolution is true, whereas creationism could explain any order whatsoever. And the order of appearance looks very much like one would expect if they are being designed by tinkering, with each successive taxa splitting off from earlier ones, being slightly different than the previous forms and, over time, becoming more distinct. If evolution is true, then the first amphibians to appear in the fossil record MUST look only slightly different from fish, and it MUST show that as new species of amphibians appear they are slightly less fish-like and more adapted to terrestrial life. And this is true of every other lineage as well, and it proves true in every single case. This is an example of a real prediction - it has to be true if the theory is true. Creationism, on the other hand, cannot make such predictions because any set of data could be explained by God just deciding to create that way.
To continue this particular issue of the fossil record, Rusty writes:
The fossil record does not show us transitional forms with regards to the dinosaur to bird sequence. Dinosaurs with feathers do not qualify. They are dinosaurs.
But remember, I didn't mention anything about "transitional fossils", I only brought up the ORDER in which life forms appear in the fossil record and Rusty has not addressed that at all. He can't deny that the order exists, so he only wants to focus on a specific lineage and point out gaps in our knowledge. But my argument is based upon the overall order of appearance, which must look the way it looks if evolution is true but can look any possible way if creationism is true. Nonetheless, let's look at the dino-bird transition in a bit more detail. Rusty says that the feathered dinosaurs are not transitional, they are simply dinosaurs. Yet creationists have been telling us for decades that they are simply birds, not dinosaurs, because they have feathers. Creationists want us to believe that there are no species that are intermediate between dinosaurs and birds, which means that every single species must fit cleanly in either the dinosaur or bird category. But if those groups were as distinct as they want us to believe, then surely they could agree on whether a particular species is a dinosaur or a bird.
They have fully formed feathers. Where are the dino-birds with scales forming into feathers? The evolutionary model predicts they will be found; the Creation model predicts they won't.
This is simply false. Evolution does not predict that there should have existed a species with "scales forming into feathers" because that would contradict what we know about scales and feathers. Scales and feathers are separated by only a single point mutation, and reptiles that have that mutation will grow feathers ("fully formed" ones) instead of scutes. And even if there was, evolution would only predict that such a species *existed*, not that it *will be found*.
Besides, feathers are not the only requirement for a dinosaur to become a bird. The avian lung is a complete reworking of the reptilian lung. Where are the transitional forms?
Lungs are not the sort of thing that is preserved in fossils except under the most extraordinary of circumstances, so it is absurd to demand that this be shown, especially in light of all of the other traits that DO show exactly the trends I claimed.
There is also the issue of the temporal paradox in the fossils claimed to be transitional to birds. The earliest bird fossils date to around 150 million years ago - note they had complete and modern feathers. Yet the earliest dinosaur fossils that best fit into the dino to bird scenario are contemporary with the earliest bird fossils. Where are the transitional sequences? The evolutionary model predicts they will be found; the Creation model predicts they won?t.
I'm not sure what species Rusty might be referring to here when he says the "earliest bird fossils" date from 150 million years ago. The only "bird fossils" that are anywhere near that old are in fact the ones that Rusty has already declared to be "dinosaurs". The first modern birds - without teeth and with primarily avian traits rather than reptilian traits - are from 65 million years ago. And this again supports my point about the trends in the fossil record. The earliest "birds" were very much reptilian in nature - they had teeth and not beaks, they had unfused vertebrae, a reptilian brain structure (cerebellum behind the mid-brain rather than on top), no pigostyle, and a couple dozen other reptilian traits. Between 140 million and 65 million years ago, the new species that appear are less and less reptilian in nature and more and more like modern birds, until the first birds that look like species we see living today are found. And again, this is an order of appearance that MUST be true if evolution is true. An unconstrained God could have created modern birds by fiat, he had no need to tinker with the previously existing design and "work his way up" to modern birds, but evolution can only tinker with already existing genomes. So if every lineage did not look like this, with the earliest forms looking like slightly modified versions of already existing species in just the right temporal and anatomical sequence, evolution would be falsified. The fact that we don't know how every single modification took place does not mean we can't assign any certainty solely on the basis of the data being the only possible set of data that could be explained by evolution.
The fossil record shows species appearing fully formed and functional with long periods of stasis - as the Creation model would predict.
This really is a misnomer. Species MUST be "fully formed" - if they weren't, they wouldn't survive to fossilize. Every single species must be adapted to its environment or it won't survive. And again, it is absolutely false to say that the "creation model" PREDICTS anything with regard to stasis and punctuation - God could have chosen to create every single species all at once, so the "creation model" could predict ANY set of trends. That is exactly why the creation model is not a scientific model at all and is not "testable" by any rational definition of the term.
5. How long have humans been around?
Rusty initially claimed that the bible says that humans were created between 6000 and 50,000 years ago and that's what the evidence shows. I said that this is false, that we have true humans dating back 120,000 years at least, or 2.5 times longer than the longest that the bible allows.
This may just be a definition issue but there is no evidence for homo sapiens (i.e., modern humans) any further back than 50,000 years ago.
I don't think it's a matter of definition at all, other than the question of whether a given fossil is Homo sapiens or not. The fact is that we have several fossils that are classified as Homo sapiens sapiens (modern humans) that date back 120,000 years, and we now have fossils of another subspecies of Homo sapiens (the Idaltu specimen) dated at around 160,000 years ago.
The point of my stating that humanity came from a small group (e.g., two) of individuals is to point out the fact that such an event in the evolutionary sequence is highly problematic. The chances of extinction rise dramatically with the lower the number of starting individuals. It is a prediction in that the evolutionary sequence posits that groups evolve and not individuals.
This is a statement that could easily be misunderstood. Evolution does not posit that "groups" evolve in the sense that an entire species evolves into an entirely different species - that would be extraordinarily rare. Evolution, rather, predicts that speciation almost always takes place among a small subset of a larger population that becomes reproductively isolated from the rest of their species. That group could indeed be relatively small. The mtDNA studies that Rusty is referring to do not, in fact, show that the human species originated with two individuals, a la Adam and Eve, but show that all modern humans share a relatively small group of common ancestors. And this is entirely consistent with evolutionary theory.
In reference to the Mind's Big Bang I again will disagree with Ed. Evidence of the advent of creative expression, ritual burial practice, spirit worship, etc., is recent and can in no way be attributed to any of the primates once thought to have evolved into the human race.
This statement is entirely false. In fact, there is a great deal of evidence that this isn't even unique to Homo sapiens. Hugh Ross has long claimed that while there were big-brained bipedal hominids roaming the earth, the evidence of ritual burial and religious relics only goes back 8-24,000 years. But the evidence betrays this claim on several fronts. Homo neanderthalensis practiced ritual burial, including covering the dead with flowers and ochre. Artwork goes back even further, with the Golan Venus dating back 330,000 years or so. The neanderthals also may have practiced a form of shamanism.
The evidence shows that early primate skull size was tiny and limited in its growth over time. The human skull shows a jump in size that is not consistent with the evolutionary sequence. Bipedalism too is shown to appear suddenly and then remain constant.
I honestly have no idea where these statements come from. They are completely false. Of course "early primate skull size" was small. But that changed over time, and became gradually larger, and the adaptation for bipedalism did too. Rusty seems to think that "early primates" existed, then suddenly "modern humans" appeared. The evidence shows quite the opposite. The evidence shows a clear progression, with each successive species looking more and more like modern humans in all of the key areas - brain size, bipedal adaptation, dentition, sophistication of the tools they crafted, etc. Brain size goes from ~375cc in the early Australopithecenes to ~530cc in the late Australopithecenes to ~500-800cc in Homo habilis to ~750-1225cc in Homo erectus to about 1350cc in modern humans. Of course there are some sidelines that show some variation, but the trend of larger and larger brain sizes, with each species having a range that coincides exactly with the upper range of the previous ones and the lower range of the succeeding ones, is very obvious.
Bipedalism also shows a gradual increase, from the partially bipedal gait of the early Australopithecenes, while still retaining some adaptations to living in trees such as longer and more curved finger and toe bones, to the fully erect bidepalism of all of the later members of the Homo genus. Likewise, the enlargement of the Broca area of the brain, vital for speech ability, gradually increases in this sequence as well. Also, the dentition patterns become less and less ape-like and more and more human-like. You can also see the gradual change in shape of the face, as the skull becomes more rounded, as in modern humans, the brow ridge less and less pronounced until it is almost non-existent in modern humans, the jaw protrudes less and less, and so forth. If you lay the fossils out on a long table, you can see the obvious trends in all of these traits, backed up by the increasing sophistication of the tools they used for hunting and, in later hominid species, in the increased use of ritual and decoration, and the making of art.
All of this, again, is in exactly the order that they would have to be in order for evolution to be true. Creationism cannot make any predictions about this because it would be consistent with any possible set of data. If the fossil evidence did in fact show that there was this huge leap from "early primates" 5 million years ago to "modern man" 50,000 years ago, as Rusty seems to think, then evolution would be falsified entirely. But the evidence shows numerous intermediate species appearing in precisely the right temporal and anatomical order required by evolution. At best, the response from creationists can only be, as Rusty seems to say, "We don't know why God chose to create in a sequence that mimics evolution. He's God and he can do what he wants."
The two primary points I've tried to make remain true. First, that creationism cannot make predictions that are testable because absolutely any set of data can be explained by reference to the whim of God. Second, that evolution can and does make specific predictions about the evidence such that, if the data showed something other than what it does, evolution would be falsified. Hence, evolution meets a rigorous standard of testability that creationism does not, and the evidence is consistently found to show exactly what it MUST show if evolution is true.
Ed Brayton | 12:36 PM | | | Permalink
Wednesday, January 28, 2004
Testable creation model, part 2
In this entry, I will deal only with the brief note that Rusty Lopez made in reference to a testable creation model. In the next few days, I'll post a longer and more detailed critique of the model presented by Hugh Ross that Rusty referenced in his note. I'll put his statements in italic and my own responses in plain type.
A Scientifically Testable Creation Model...How is this possible? Are we saying that science can prove creation?
No. Reasons to Believe is saying that we can test the predictions made by competing scientific models.
We can at least begin with an area of agreement. Testing a hypothesis does not "prove" that it's true, and with historical theories testing is done primarily by either confirming or disconfirming predictions that logically flow from the theory. My only disagreement here is that I don't think it's accurate to say that what either Rusty or Hugh Ross is doing is testing a "scientific model". What they are doing is testing whether or not a particular creation story can be reconciled with a scientific model. That may be valuable in a theological context, but means little in a scientific one. Big bang cosmology, or evolutionary theory, is either true or it is not true, and whether it agrees or disagrees with one's interpretation of Genesis has no bearing on whether it is true or not. Those are models that can be tested against the data and from which inferential predictions logically flow and they are tested solely on the basis of whether they have explanatory power, not on whether they agree with one's religious views. With that caveat, let's get to the substance of the matter...
The Biblical model posits that God exists outside of the created order and that He not only created the universe and all that it contains at a finite point in the past, but that He created Time as well. The prediction made from this would be that space-time began at a finite point in time in the past through a transcendent event. Through data such as the WMAP results, confirmation of the validity of the Big Bang continue to pour in. Such a model is consistent with the statements found in the Bible.
I would argue that this is reading an awful lot of detail into the bible than is warranted by the text, that it's a retrodiction, not a prediction. Nowhere in Genesis 1 does it mention a space-time continuum, nor is there any evidence that the ancient Hebrews had any such conception whatsoever. It says that he created "the heavens and the earth", but it says nothing about "time itself". Nor, I might add, does big bang cosmology say anything about a "transcendant event". I will agree that one can interpret Genesis in a manner that makes it "consistent" with big bang cosmology, but that is not at all the same as saying that it "predicts" big bang cosmology. There is a bait and switch at work here. The syllogism goes like this:
Premise: the bible is consistent with big bang cosmology
Premise: big bang cosmology is supported by a good deal of evidence
Conclusion: the bible is supported by a good deal of evidence
But this is an invalid syllogism, isn't it? Being "consistent" with a scientific theory does not mean that it predicts the nature of that theory and the evidence that supports it, especially when it is consistent with other creation stories as well. The bait and switch comes by not making clear the distinction between a scientific theory and a religious or philosophical inference drawn from that theory. Hugh Ross and William Lane Craig argue that big bang cosmology is evidence for the existence of God; Quentin Smith argues that big bang cosmology is evidence against the existence of God. Those are both non-scientific inferences drawn from the scientific theory. But the strong and growing support for the big bang does not necessarily support the Genesis story that it is consistent with, any more than it necessarily supports Quentin Smith's atheism. I should also note that I do not dispute the argument that the big bang leads one to conclude that the universe was created by something. I am a deist, not an atheist.
If in fact, God is the Designer of all life, then we should expect life, in its most simplest form and in its earliest form, to be complex. Why? Because an omnipotent designer is not constrained to build systems from the simpler to the more complex, as is posited by Evolution.
This is a very odd statement. Of course it would be true that an omnipotent designer would not be constrained to build systems from the simpler to the more complex, but then that leaves one with some difficulty explaining why the natural history of life on earth DID go from simpler to more complex systems. As an old earth creationist, Hugh Ross (and presumably Rusty as well) accepts the validity of radiometric dating and the ancient age of life on earth. But if we start from that point of agreement, it becomes clear that the evidence is against the above claim. The earth is ~4.55 billion years old. The first life appears on earth in strata ~3.9 billion years ago, and those life forms are anaerobic bacteria. Over the course of the next 3 billion years, while the forms of bacteria become more diverse and relatively simple multicellular organisms begin to appear, nothing more complex than algal stromatolites is found on the earth.
If, as Rusty claims, "an omnipotent designer is not constrained to build systems from the simpler to the more complex", then why would he propose that an omnipotent and unconstrained designer DID create life from simple to complex? I'm sure the response will be that even bacteria are highly complex organisms, and relative to non-organic entities, that may be true. But relative to the vast increase in diversity and complexity that took place in the last 800 million years, why did this unconstrained designer only work with the relatively simple bacteria and stromatolites for 3.1 billion years prior to that? Surely an omnipotent and unconstrained designer doesn't need to create starting with the relatively simple and working his way up to the relatively complex, but that is in fact how life appeared on the earth. Clearly 3 billion years of nothing but relatively simple bacteria is not a prediction that flows from it having been designed by an omnipotent and unconstrained designer. At best, one could argue that they're not necessarily inconsistent, but then that only feeds a larger problem - the existence of an omnipotent designer could be consistent with absolutely any set of data. It is, quite literally, untestable.
We should expect life forms to appear quickly in the fossil record.
As opposed to what, exactly? A life form either appears or does not appear, "quickly" has nothing to do with it. Fossils freeze a specific moment in time, and the fossil record as a whole (the order of appearance of the various species) can only show trends. That order of appearance, I would argue, is a very powerful prediction made by evolution that would not logically flow from the existence of an omnipotent, unconstrained designer, and this is an ideal set of data to examine to help us judge which of these two models predicts the evidence better in terms of the fossil record. We'll start with what I assume is a basic agreement on the order of appearance of the major animal groups in the fossil record, in this order: fish ---> amphibian ---> reptile ---> mammals and birds. I don't think either Rusty or Hugh Ross would dispute that this is the order in which those groups appeared on the planet. Evolution says that they appeared in that order because they evolved in that order, that birds and mammals both split off from different groups of reptiles, reptiles split off from amphibians, and amphibians split off from fish. Now this is a perfect example of how we can make logical inferences that predict the nature of new evidence and use them to support a theory...
If evolution is true, and each of these major animal groups split off from the previous one, then what would we expect? Well, we would expect that since each of these new groups split off from an already existing one, the order of appearance within those groups should be as conspicuous as the order of appearance in general. If the first amphibians split off from fish, then the first amphibians could only be slightly different than fish; if birds evolved from reptiles, then the first birds must have been very similar to reptiles; and so forth. And what does the fossil record show? Precisely that. The first amphibians to appear are the most fish-like, so much so that they retained internal gills and were still primarily aquatic. Over time, amphibians become more and more diversified and less fish-like, with later forms being successively more terrestrial and less aquatic. The first birds to appear are so reptile-like that they would be classified as theropod dinosaurs if not for the feathers. We now have multiple feathered theropod species to bridge the gap, and they all appear very early and share most of their traits with reptiles, not with modern birds. Over time, they diversified and became less reptile-like. The same can be said of the first mammals, which are so identical to the therapsid reptiles that they evolved from that where exactly you draw the line between the two groups is largely academic. And just like the other lineages, they start out with only one or two species that looks just like their presumed ancestor, then over time new branches appear that are successively less like those ancestors and more like modern mammals. This is exactly what evolution would predict. Indeed, if it wasn't that way, evolution would be falsified. If modern birds appeared all at once in the fossil record, with entirely avian skeletal structure and feathers and fully adapted for powered flight, there would be no way to link them to reptiles, and the same is true of every other major animal group. But they don't appear that way, and the order in which they do appear is precisely what evolution predicts. But why would an omnipotent and unconstrained designer create that way? Without constraints, why bother to create amphibians that look just like those last fish you made and then tinker with the design a bit, with each new branch of amphibians that you create looking a bit less like fish? An unconstrained and omnipotent designer could have simply created modern birds, not bothered to tinker with reptiles one trait at a time, adding feathers here, unfusing the vertebrae there, etc, until he had a modern bird. Why, in short, would an omnipotent designer choose to create in precisely the order to make it appear as though evolution had taken place? At the very least, it is folly to claim that the order of appearance is predicted by the existence of an omnipotent designer.
Finally, the Bible describes the human race as coming from two individuals, specially created in the recent past - anywhere from 6,000 to 50,000 years ago. The scientific evidence is mounting that humanity came from a small group of individuals in the recent past. Anthropologists refer to the "Mind's Big Bang" when describing how the attributes of humanity exploded onto the scene. Virtually all genetic links to Neandertal and other primates have been eliminated.
This is a mish mash of different claims, but none of it is consistent with the evidence. First, Homo sapiens is far older than 6000-50,000 years. True Homo sapiens remains have been dated as far back as 120,000 years, or 2 1/2 times older than Rusty says the bible allows even at its most generous point. And of course all of humanity came from a small group of individuals, that is true of any species whether it was created ex nihilo or whether they split off from an ancestral group. That is not a "prediction" that validates creation in any way. As far as the "Mind's big bang" goes, the fossil evidence shows that there was no "big bang" at all. Upright bipedal primates with big brains didn't just suddenly appear at some point. The hominid fossil record shows a very clear progression in all of the key human traits - brain size relative to body size, bipedality, dentition, the use of tools, and cultural sophistication - from the miocene primates to modern humans. Again one must ask why it would logically follow that an omnipotent and unconstrained designer would spend the last few million years tinkering with animals, making a series of species with each one having a slightly larger brain and better adaptation to walking upright than the last one, dentition patterns less and less ape-like and more and more like modern humans, each one a bit more culturally sophisticated than the last one, each one capable of making and using slightly more complex tools than the last one, when obviously he could have simply waited until 6000-50,000 years ago and zapped humans into existence fully formed. Was he making rough drafts? That would imply constraint. Was he trying to fool us into thinking that evolution as true? I'm sure that's theologically unacceptable to my correspondent. Lastly, it is simply false to claim that "virtually all genetic links to Neandertals and other primates have been eliminated". Eliminated by whom? Certainly not by scientists. The mtDNA studies on Neandertals show that they are an evolutionary cousin and not an ancestor, but that is a far cry from "all genetic links have been eliminated". That's like saying that you have genetic links to your parents, but none whatsoever to your aunts and uncles or cousins.
In short, the fossil record looks just like what evolution predicts that it would look like. At the very best, one can try and reconcile that record with the whims of an omnipotent designer, but to claim that the evidence is predicted by the existence of such a designer is simply not a tenable position.
I'll be back at some point with a more thorough critique of the views of Hugh Ross that Rusty refers to.
Ed Brayton | 7:06 PM | | | Permalink
A "testable creation model" - does it exist?
Rusty Lopez of the New Covenant blog has an entry in reply to a comment I left him. In a post a few days ago, he made a reference to a new Hugh Ross book that he said contained a "testable creation model approach to the issue of the origin of life". I left a comment on his blog saying that I could not conceive of even a hypothetical way to test a creation model. He replied:
I'll address your inquiry in a new post. Keep in mind that the testing being described is not with regards to a particular law of physics but to a scientific model; i.e., we are not testing to see if water boils at 212 F at sea level but, rather, whether data supports one model of life's origins over another.And indeed he has addressed my inquiry. I don't have the time to address everything in his post right now, but I will post a more thorough response later, hopefully this evening. Rusty specifically refers to the model offered by Hugh Ross. That model can be found here on the Reasons to Believe page. Hugh Ross is an Old Earth Creationist (OEC), as opposed to a Young Earth Creationist (YEC). He believes that the universe and the earth are as old as mainstream geology and astronomy have concluded that they are, but that life did not evolve from a common ancestor, as evolutionary theory maintains. Ross (and presumably Rusty as well) believes that God created life on earth over a long period of time and that the order of creation corresponds with the biostratigraphic fossil record.
For now, I will say just two things about Rusty's post. First, the brief synopsis of Ross' model that he provides doesn't seem to be identical to Ross' model, and in one or two cases appears to contradict it. For instance, Rusty refers to life forms that "appear quickly in the fossil record", while Ross' page refers to the "many transitional forms seen in the fossil record", which he regards, oddly, as evidence that God was active in creating new species. Perhaps over time we can hash out those differences.
Second, it appears that both he and Ross use what I regard as a rather anachronistic definition of "testable". The primary focus of the article by Ross that Rusty cites as the "testable creation model" was on how to read modern scientific theories IN to the Genesis account, and the technique used to do it was to take vague statements from Genesis and read an infinite amount of detail into it so that it appears that the bible predicted what we have now found to be true. For example, Ross takes Genesis 1:2-6, which says:
2. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness [was] upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.
and translated them into this section of his "model":
3. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.
4. And God saw the light, that [it was] good: and God divided the light from the darkness.
5. And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.
6. And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.
2. planet Earth singled out for a sequence of creation miracles. At its beginning, Earth is empty of life and unfit for life; interplanetary debris and Earth's primordial atmosphere prevent the light of the sun, moon, and stars from reaching the planet's surface
It strikes me as a tad bit fanciful to translate "without form, and void; and darkness [was] upon the face of the deep" into a reference to "interplanetary debris and the Earth's primordial atmosphere" or to translate "divided the waters" into "formation of water vapor in the troposphere under conditions that establish a stable water cycle". I somehow doubt there is a Hebrew word for troposphere. Certainly no one took the "model" presented in Genesis 1 and used it to form hypotheses about the earth's primordial atmosphere, or about how interplanetary debris was cleared away and formed planets and so forth. At best, this is only an attempt to interpret a religious text to be compatible with scientific models, it is not by any rational criteria a model in and of itself that makes testable predictions. Testability requires more than a mere appearance of compatability. Testability means that you can take the model itself and use it to draw logical inferences and thereby make predictions about the nature of new evidence. It is a forward-looking process, not one that looks backwards and tries to reconcile non-scientific stories with later scientific theories.
3. clearing of the interplanetary debris and partial transformation of the earth's atmosphere so that light from the heavenly bodies now penetrates to the surface of Earth's ocean
4. formation of water vapor in the troposphere under conditions that establish a stable water cycle
I'll have much more on this later in the form of a thorough critique of Ross' claims. I may do two separate postings, one responding to Rusty's post on the subject and one responding to Ross' claims that Rusty refers to for support.
Ed Brayton | 2:51 PM | | | Permalink
Tuesday, January 27, 2004
And other bloggers think we've got too much freedom?
On the heels of Josh Claybourn quoting another blogger quoting a third blogger about the dangers of unrestrained liberty leading to chaos, I have 3 stories that illustrate that the impulse to control is still alive and well.
The first story comes from The Great Separation, a blog I took to task a few days ago for calling the city councilan who put up a 2000 pound Ten Commandments monument in front of city hall a "hero". But this time, I'm in complete agreement with him on an issue. He has an entry pointing to a resolution that is being submitted to the UN by someone named Anthony Last, the founder of a fatuous and ridiculous website called formulism.org. That resolution would implement a global ban on religion. That's right, read it again - a global ban on religion. The only thing I know about Anthony Last is that he appears to be a complete and utter moron who is incapable of recognizing even the most obvious contradictions. His resolution begins with a vow
*to reaffirm an individual's right to freedom of belief, freedom of conscience and freedom of prayer, and
and proposes to do so by implementing the following:
* to establish conditions under which these freedoms can be privately exercised.
1. To outlaw, with immediate effect, the public expression of religious beliefs, including the use of symbols, clothing or markings which are synonymous with any currently or previously existing religions.
Yes, you see, he intends to "reaffirm an individual's right to freedom of belief" by outlawing all religious expression in the entire world, banning all religious books, magazines and newspapers, and all public expressions of religious belief. Let's not mince words. If you think this is anything but monumentally absurd and contradictory, you are simply incapable of rational thought. If you think this is a good idea, then you shouldn't be making any decisions for anyone. You should be worrying about keeping the shake machine clean and keeping your paper hat on straight and let those of us with an IQ higher than meat make the decisions.
2. To outlaw, with immediate effect, public acts of worship or religious declaration.
3. To outlaw, with immediate effect, private gatherings of three or more people for the purposes of engaging in acts of worship or religious services.
4. To outlaw, with immediate effect, the publication of books, literature or articles which seek to promote religious beliefs or encourage adherence to religious doctrine.
5. To outlaw, after a period of amnesty, the personal ownership of books or materials which seek to promote religious beliefs or encourage adherence to religious doctrine. (Books of academic or social interest will be made freely available to schools, universities and public libraries).
6. To outlaw, with immediate effect, the celebration of religiously significant dates.
7. To begin, with immediate effect, the destruction or reassignment of predominantly religious buildings, such as churches, mosques and temples.
Joanna Grossman has an article on Findlaw about the Texas vibrator case that I reported on a few weeks ago. A woman in Texas has been arrested for selling a vibrator to two undercover cops posing as a married couple with a boring sex life. The title of the article is "Is There a Constitutional Right To Promote the Use of Sex Toys?", but that title tells you exactly what is wrong with the way we tend to think about such things. The question is not whether there is a "constitutional right" to sell sex toys to someone. The question is whether the government has the constitutional authority to ban such a thing. The burden of proof should not be on the individual to show that they have a right to do something or say something, the burden of proof should be on the government to show that there is a compelling interest in prohibiting the individual from doing or saying something. I would love to hear the state's attorney get in front of the Supreme Court and explain why the state simply must ban sex toys.
"Your honor, the butterfly vibrator and the strawberry joy jelly poses a clear and present danger to society and it must be banned. The very existence of American civilization is at stake if you do not throw this wife and mother in jail for willingly selling flavored lubricants and edible underwear to bored couples."Seriously, how pathetic is your life if you spend it going undercover to entrap housewives into selling you a dildo? Or if you think that doing so is a good idea? If this is what our police are doing, it's time to lay off a whole bunch of them because we are obviously overtaxed and overpoliced to pay for such absurdity.
Here is a terrific website that keeps track of so-called "hate speech codes" on college campuses. Where did we get the idea that the first amendment can be limited solely on the basis of the words being spoken being offensive to someone? I'll probably write more on this another time. It's incredible to me that so many people who consider themselves "liberals" support such limitations on free speech.
Ed Brayton | 5:51 PM | | | Permalink
Sunday, January 25, 2004
Humanism and the perfectibility of human nature
Josh Claybourn has an interesting blog that I read now and then, but this morning he has an odd entry on the front page entitled "Libertarian Freedom: Self Destruction?". I think he's engaging in a bit of a straw man - at the very least, in drastically oversimplifying complex ideas. The entry begins,
The consequence of original sin - man's fallen nature - is central to everything in the Christian worldview. Marxists, humanists, and most atheists/agnostics will tell you that human nature is perfectible and that only our faulty societies and social constructs have hindered man's reach for perfection. Therefore these worldviews' psychological theories stress the importance of getting in touch with your "real self" and building self-esteem.I say that he is engaging in a straw man here because he is lumping together 4 very different things (marxism, humanism, atheism and agnosticism) and claiming that they all take the same position on whether human nature is perfectible or not. In fact, these 4 things are not even the same types of categories. Atheism and agnosticism are only positions on one single question, the existence of God. Atheism and agnosticism do not entail adherence to any particular philosophy or system of thought on questions of ethics, psychology, sociology, economics, or political ideology. In reality, atheists and agnostics run the gamut on those issues just like Christians do.
Marxism and humanism are examples of those more general systems of thought to which atheists or agnostics might subscribe, but even then it is a mistake to lump them together. Humanism and marxism are not linked by a common view on the perfectibility of human nature. Perhaps I should note here that I am not an atheist, an agnostic or a marxist (quite the opposite, in fact), but I am a humanist. I don't know of any humanist who believes that human nature is perfectible. Indeed, I know of no humanist who would speak in such simplistic terms. I think most humanists would see that Josh has offered a false dichotomy, as though the only two ways to look at human nature is that it is either "fallen", and therefore unredeemable except by supernatural intervention, or "perfectible". Humanism would argue, I think, that human nature is far more complex than that, that human beings are by nature capable of a vast range of behavior, from the greatest kindness to the most depraved barbarism. There is a big difference between believing that human beings are "perfectible" and believing that human beings are improvable, that through education and cooperation we can generally improve the human condition and build communities more conducive to human happiness than we have had in the past or have at present. Indeed, I would say that we have already done that in many ways throughout human history. We have managed to improve society rather dramatically in very important ways, from stamping out slavery and reducing racism to giving women access to education and economic viability. I'm sure we could all dispute specific details, and some of us may argue that in some instances the pendulum has swung too far or we haven't done so in the correct manner in some particulars, but I don't think any reasonable person would argue the fact that, as a whole, society is more humane and decent today than it was in the days when most people considered it normal and acceptable to own other human beings and to beat them and kill them with no remorse.
Josh doesn't cite any marxists or humanists to support this point, but he does include this statement:
Boris Sokoloff, one of those academic types, writes that inherent in our nature is "a desire for and drive toward unlimited freedom...a protest, often violent and vicious, against any limitation or restriction of freedom in any possible way."I'm not sure why he calls Sokoloff "one of those academic types" other than perhaps to express some form of misology. Sokoloff was a doctor, not a sociologist or philosopher. At any rate, I don't think this statement is representative of either marxism or humanism, so I'm not sure what the point of it was. At the very least, I would point to the counter viewpoint offered by Erich Fromm, who was both a humanist and a socialist, in Escape from Freedom. Fromm argued that inherent in human nature is the desire to escape from freedom and the responsibility that comes with it. Fromm points out that even in situations where political authority is restrained, individuals still tend to voluntarily subjugate themselves to something larger than themselves. Or as Mencken puts it, man is "quite unable to think of himself as a free individual; he must belong to a group, or shake with fear and loneliness - and the group, of course, must have its leaders." Perhaps this is a bit too pessimistic, but my only intent in quoting it is to point out that Sokoloff does not speak even for the "academic types", in whose category the author has placed him, much less for humanism or marxism.
Josh quotes another blogger, who was himself quoting another blogger, to the effect that freedom is, in the long run, inconsistent with freedom, that unrestrained freedom leads to chaos, which in turn leads to the institution of more brutal control to fix the situation. But this, it seems to me, is speculation without a shred of evidence to support it. In every situation where an expansion of liberty led to a crackdown, the crackdown was led by those who were opposed to the concept of liberty in the first place, and those are precisely the people that make expansions of political liberty necessary. And speaking as a civil libertarian myself, I find the notion that we are on some runaway train of rampant license leading to chaos to be relatively silly. American culture, while it celebrates freedom to a great degree, is still imbued deeply with the authoritarian impulse to control what people drink, smoke, eat, say, read, hear and view. It is a constant battle to prevent the forces of reaction from instituting legal penalties on private behavior, and we are still a far cry from the society that Jefferson and Madison envisioned, a society in which the law exists only to protect one person from another while allowing all other actions and thoughts to remain free and unfettered by the majoritarian impulse to control others.
Ed Brayton | 4:03 PM | | | Permalink
Saturday, January 24, 2004
The mind of the zealot
I haven't written much about the (former) Judge Roy Moore situation in Alabama, but as an interesting postscript, I find this incredible. Judge Moore's supporters are now asking President Bush to withdraw the nomination of Mark Pryor for the federal bench. Pryor is the Alabama Attorney General who enforced the federal court ruling taking Moore's monument out of the courthouse. Now mind you, Pryor is a prominent religious right supporter and publicly favored Moore's position - until Moore defied a binding federal court order to remove it. Then, as state attorney general, he simply had to take action. A bunch of pastors from Alabama held a rally at the Alabama state capital against Pryor's nomination to the federal bench.
Are these people so glazed over with fanaticism that they can't understand the distinction between thinking that it's legal to post the ten commandments in the courthouse and thinking that it's okay to defy a binding fedral court order to remove it? The case went all the way to the Supreme Court, for crying out loud, and the Supreme Court refused to overturn the appeals court decision. Case over, folks. Just because you don't like the ruling doesn't mean that a sitting judge can defy the order and refuse to follow it, and it doesn't mean that a state attorney general, especially one up for nomination to the federal bench, can endorse such defiance. If you don't think that the federal courts have jurisdiction, then by all means get busy trying to repeal the 14th amendment. But as long as it's there, they do have jurisdiction, they made their ruling, and whether Judge Moore or his supporters like it or not, that decision is binding and must be enforced. Alabama has a long history of wanting to defy court orders, of course, going back at least to trying to defy the school desegregation rulings. It didn't work then and it won't work now. And no judge who thinks that he has the authority to defy a federal court order is fit for the bench.
Ed Brayton | 6:22 PM | | | Permalink
Friday, January 23, 2004
Bizarre reasoning on another blog
The Great Separation recently posted an article with the headline "A New Hero Emerges and Plants Another 10 Commandments Monument". It then links to a Worldnetdaily article about Vernon Robinson, the Winston-Salem city council member who placed a 2000 pound monument with the Ten Commandments on it in front of city hall on Monday while it was closed for the Martin Luther King holiday. The monument was removed the next day at the city's expense because, obviously, Robinson didn't have the authority to put it there in the first place.
And here's the part that really amuses me...it turns out that the city council passed an ordinance that banned plaques or monuments on city-owned facilities without permission from the city manager and the city council - and Robinson voted for that ordinance, which he conveniently forgot. Yes, he actually told the press that he didn't get permission because he didn't know the procedure. And if you believe that, you're hopelessly naive. Robinson, it turns out, is running for Congress from the great state of North Carolina, and it should be obvious to anyone with an IQ above room temperature that the whole thing was nothing but a cynical publicity stunt designed to put him firmly on the side of God and Righteousness in the election. But apparently that makes him a "hero" in the eyes of the author of that particular blog.
The Great Separation also carried a very strange report on the Hewlett Packard situation that I discussed a couple weeks ago. The title of that report was "Hewlett-Packard Co. Fires Christian" - as though they just found out he was a Christian and said, "Gosh, we don't want any Christians here" and fired him. And the report strikes the ideal martyr pose with this little tidbit:
But he's a Christian and his beliefs don't count for much I guess.Sorry, but that's utter nonsense and totally ignores the facts of the case. He wasn't fired for being a Christian. He wasn't even fired for speaking out against the company's diversity policy - he had already written a letter to the editor of the local paper and put an anti-gay bumper sticker on his car and nothing was done to him. He was fired for refusing to take down a placard declaring that at least a portion of those he worked with (presumably there are at least some gay employees at such a large company) should be put to death. You really have to wonder how this author's persecution complex would deal with the situation were it reversed. If a gay employee put up a placard over his desk saying, "Christians are evil and should be killed" and they got fired for it, do you suppose The Great Separation would have written "But he's gay, so his beliefs don't count for much I guess"? Somehow I doubt it.
Ed Brayton | 6:07 PM | | | Permalink
The JoMo Creationist Challenge, Take 4
It seems I can't get away from this amusing little story. Thanks to one of my readers for reminding me that JoMo and Karl Priest's challenge was featured about a year ago in an article by Richard Dawkins about why he doesn't bother to debate with creationists. He even reprints the e-mail he was sent, which was of course identical to the one that all of the others have been sent. Though I'm not exactly a fan of Dawkins, I did find his article quite amusing. Since it was sent by Karl Priest "on behalf of Dr. Joseph Mastrapaolo, Dawkins muses,
Who, I wondered, was "Dr. Joseph Mastropaolo"? Evidently a personage so grand that somebody else writes his letters for him. Or was Priest/Mastropaolo a Jekyll and Hyde figure, named Mastropaolo but with a fantasy of becoming a priest?Dawkins suggested to them that since the challenge was going to based upon scientific evidence perhaps it would be better to have it judged by scientists rather than by a judge. He was, predictably, accused of trying to rig the results in his favor and that if this is the best he can do he could "count himself in default" on the challenge. Naturally, this leads to the accusation that he is an "intellectual coward" who has "defaulted out of fear", and the story becomes identical to the one told by anyone else who has ever dealt with these Caped Crusaders of Creationism:
Priest/Mastropaolo won't let it drop, and he goes on challenging me, with increasing belligerence, to accept or "default"...
On my side the correspondence is terminated, although Priest/Mastropaolo went on bombarding me weekly with increasingly raucous accusations of cowardice. He reminds me of the Black Knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail who continued, as a stump-waving, blood-spouting torso, to shout "Running away, eh? ... Come back here and take what's coming to you. I'll bite your legs off!" at the indifferent back of the opponent who had successively deprived him of all four limbs.
Ed Brayton | 12:59 PM | | | Permalink
Thursday, January 22, 2004
The JoMo Creationist Challenge, Take 3
The saga of Joseph Mastrapaolo's $10,000 challenge to evolutionary scientists continues. As I noted a few days ago, the True.Origins webpage removed the "debate dodgers" article that so childishly attacked evolutionary scholars who didn't respond to their already-defeated challenge to prove their case in a court of law (though I recently found another version of the article here). I sent an e-mail to Tim Wallace, who runs True.Origins, and asked why it was removed. He replied that it was removed due to "questions about the potential legitimacy of the debate challenge itself". He didn't spell out what those questions were, but I assume they are the same questions I raised about the legitimacy of the challenge recently. I would hope it was also due to the obviously juvenile and ridiculous nature of the article, but then one is forced to wonder why on earth it was posted in the first place. It didn't become any less mature and rational between the day it was posted and the day it was yanked. But as it turns out, the issuers of the challenge will not be daunted by their fellow creationist's decision to pull the article.
My friend Wilfred Elders, an emeritus geology professor from UC-Riverside, was issued the challenge by Karl Priest, the man behind the sending of e-mail challenges cited in the True.Origins article that was pulled. I'm not sure whether Priest sees himself as Mastrapaolo's business manager, or perhaps as Tonto to JoMo's Lone Ranger, but he appears to be the one who spends his time scouring webpages to find anyone who speaks out in favor of evolution to which he can drop the proverbial gauntlet. Dr. Elders, as you can well imagine, took the challenge about as seriously as everyone else who has received it, which is to say, not at all. And despite having his first attempt to crow like a cock on a dunghill removed from the web even by his friends, Mr. Priest is predictably at it again. Herewith, his latest bit of childish nonsense:
Subject: Elders Faces Reality
Well it's nice to know that he "sincerely" utters such banalities (a "pagan Cebelese religion"? I'll take "words that don't exist" for $1000, Alex). Here's the thing that I have to wonder....are there really people out there who find this sort of junior-high-school braying to be in any way a compelling argument? Are there really people out there so deluded that they'll think, "Wow, a scientist I've never heard of refused to debate a scientific issue in a legal forum that wouldn't host such a debate in the first place. Evolution is a scam!"? The answer, unfortunately, appears to be yes. At the very least, Mr. Mastrapaolo and Mr. Priest seem to think that this is a rational statement to make. And for a few days, at least, Tim Wallace did as well.
To: Wilfred Elders
Dear Dr. Elders:
You have defaulted. Your honor should compel you to retract your efforts to censor the Grand Canyon book by Tom Vail. Also, you should publicly admit that:
(1) evolution has been exposed as pagan Cebelese religion as practiced in Greece 2,500 years ago,
(2) evolution is completely absent in the universe today, always has been, always will be,
(3) every item associated with humans, animals and plants are creations, always have been, always will be,
(4) creation is science because it is observable by billions of people trillions of times, always has been, always will be, and
(5) You refuse to defend your ideas in a debate for $10,000.00.
You will now be listed as a Debate Dodger and one who agrees that evolution exists only in your imagination.
Ed Brayton | 12:52 PM | | | Permalink
Wednesday, January 21, 2004
Oh My God, the ACLU are Terrorists!
In today's Carnival of the Vanities is a link to an article on this blog about a strange church/state ruling. The facts of the case are that the Byron, California school district has a very controversial 3 week unit in their World History class for middle school students in which, in order to teach them about the history of Islam, they have students memorize and recite Muslim prayers from the Quran, simulate Muslim worship and even participate in some sort of Jihad game that simulates the Crusades. This naturally got some parents quite irate and they filed a lawsuit to stop it, assisted by the Thomas More Law Center. In December, the district court ruled for the school district and against the parents, saying that no reasonable student would view this as an endorsement of Islam.
For the record, I think that the judge in this case is dead wrong, and I expect the decision to be overturned either by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, or by the Supreme Court if it gets that far. Critics of the decision are right when they say that there is a double standard at work here, that if this teaching method were used to teach Christian history - memorizing bible verses and Christian prayers - it would (and should) be viewed as a blatant violation of the establishment clause. And so it is in this case. The ruling should be overturned and the school district should be forced to adhere to a long line of court rulings about what is and is not permissable in terms of teaching about religion in public schools. But that's not really my point in writing this. For the moment, I'm more interested in the reactions to this ruling and the way it's being spun, both by bloggers and in the media. While I agree with Richard, the author of the above cited blog, about the substance of the decision, his rhetoric is vastly overblown and the inferences he draws about the ACLU are little more than an extended non sequitur. He writes,
You're probably asking yourself, "Why is the ACLU not creating a fuss here? This is right up their alley!" Well, you'd be right to ask that question - unless the ACLU had a hand in the formulation of those religion-in-the-classroom guidelines...At that point, he links to a Newsmax article entitled "Jailed Terror Suspect Helped ACLU Draft Schools' Anti-Christian Rules". It says,
Abdurahman Alamoudi, an alleged senior terrorist operative, is behind bars on an 18-count indictment. But he can take satisfaction in the fact that a court in California has just given the green light to schools following ACLU’s religion-in-the-classroom guidelines, which he helped to formulate.This is an absolutely perfect example of how folks with an axe to grind can completely distort reality by using half-truths and inferences that simply don't add up. Richard clearly implies that the ACLU didn't file a suit in this case because they "had a hand in the formulation of those religion-in-the-classroom guidelines". And Newsmax goes even further than that, implying that these unnamed guidelines were in fact written partly by a Muslim terrorist! My goodness, everyone should be up in arms at that infernal ACLU, shouldn't they? Well, no. Let's compare this hysterically overblown reaction to reality...
First, did you notice that Richard doesn't point out what those "religion-in-the-classroom guidelines" actually ARE? The direct implication, of course, is that the ACLU wrote guidelines for schools that mandated or allowed the absurd Byron schools class. Alas, that is completely false. You have to go to nearly the bottom of the Newsmax article to find out what those ACLU guidelines are, again with that big bad terrorist implication left in:
ACLU has confirmed to NewsMax that Alamoudi in fact represented American Muslim Council among the organizations that helped craft the ACLU document "Religion In The Public Schools: A Joint Statement of Current Law."Well by golly, that document must be the one that the Byron schools were following that told them to make all those kids dress up like Muslims and declare jihad on us, right? Wrong again. The document in question is one that was written in 1995 and sent to every public school in the country. One of the primary motivations for sending this out was that too many school administrators had violated the rights of students to religious expression out of ignorance of the law. The document begins:
The Constitution permits much private religious activity in and about the public schools. Unfortunately, this aspect of constitutional law is not as well known as it should be. Some say that the Supreme Court has declared the public schools "religion-free zones" or that the law is so murky that school officials cannot know what is legally permissible. The former claim is simply wrong. And as to the latter, while there are some difficult issues, much has been settled. It is also unfortunately true that public school officials, due to their busy schedules, may not be as fully aware of this body of law as they could be. As a result, in some school districts some of these rights are not being observed.The full document is available online and I urge you to read it - and I defy you to find anything in these guidelines that even remotely encourages or allows the kind of nonsense that was going on in Byron schools. In fact, I defy you to find anything in those guidelines that is the least bit unreasonable.
Quite simply, the implication that the ACLU was behind the situation in Byron is complete and utter nonsense, and the ridiculous attempt to tie them in with terrorists is beyond contempt. One man from one of 35 organizations that issued this perfectly reasonable document is now accused of taking money from a charity with ties to Libya. And this story leaps from that one fact to the clear implication that the ACLU is attempting to convert our kids to Islam with the help of a terrorist! It makes one wonder why Richard and Newsmax are not ranting about the Christian Legal Society (a very conservative Christian group - they filed briefs defending the Louisiana creationism law that the Supreme Court struck down in 1987) or the National Association of Evangelicals. After all, they were part of the 35 organizations that put this document together along with the American Muslim Council, one of whose members has been accused of being involved with a charity that was also involved with bad guys. I mean, as long as we're drawing connections, why implicate only the ACLU? Because this is the snake oil they're selling, and they wouldn't get very far accusing the Anti-Defamation League or the National Council of Jewish Women or B'nai B'rith of helping a terrorist brainwash our kids for Islam, would they?
Richard ends his screed with this:
The most ridiculous part of this is that it is so obvious to everyone except the psychotic left that they are wrong.No, Richard, the most ridiculous thing about it is that you didn't take even 5 minutes to do a little research to see if what was in the Newsmax article was true, or to think about whether the inferences were logical. In short, this is one gigantic lie. Yes, the Byron school history class is a horrible idea and it should be stopped immediately. But everything after that fact is nothing more than hysterical rhetoric based on half-truths, innuendo and distortions. Those infernal "guidelines" that you and Newsmax ranted about have exactly nothing to do with the Byron schools situation, they weren't written by a terrorist, and they are not, by any possible stretch of even the most deranged imagination, "anti-christian".
Follow up: To the bottom of his entry on this subject, Richard added the following:
In the interest in fairness, you should read Ed Brayton's reaction to this post. He disagrees with me. Strongly.Kudos to Richard for linking to my strongly worded response to his post. That earns instant respect.
Ed Brayton | 4:31 PM | | | Permalink
New Blog List
One of the fun things about blogging is discovering other blogs that you enjoy. Every new blog that one discovers by following a link leads to links to other blogs - and they tell two friends, and they tell two friends, etc. So I think that once or twice a week I'll post links to other blogs that I've run across that I like so that the 12 people who read my page can go and discover other writers who, like me, spend entirely too much time doing this. The ones that I really, really like and read nearly every day will eventually turn up on the link list over to the left.
New blogs I've discovered recently:
Meryl Yourish's blog. I found this through a link from the Instapundit to her article rightly taking Daniel Pipes to task for claiming that veils are a symbol of feminism for Muslim women.
Eschaton, the blog of the semi-famous Atrios. Stridently anti-Bush blog, which doesn't bother me since I'm stridently anti-everything.
Liberty and Power, a blog from the History News Network. A blog I recently discovered, but haven't really explored yet. I have no idea what their political leanings are, or if they even have any. But with a name like that, and a focus on history, my attention is demanded. Looking forward to checking this one out in more detail soon.
PoliBlog, written by Steven Taylor, a professor of political science at Troy State. Site of this week's Carnival of the Vanities, which you should all check out immediately, and not just because he includes 2 of my postings in it.
For those of you who don't know about Carnival of the Vanities, check out Silflay Hraka's page on it. It was all his idea and it's a great one. I will be hosting it here on May 19th.
Ed Brayton | 10:07 AM | | | Permalink
Monday, January 19, 2004
The JoMo Creationism Challenge, Take 2
In a posting last week, I discussed a challenge that has been made by Joseph Mastrapaolo to pretty much everyone he can find who defends evolution. After sending out this challenge and getting no response from scientists who have better things to do with their time than play JoMo's absurd little game, the True.Origins archive predictably posted an article crowing about the lack of response and claiming that those who were challenged were "debate dodgers" who knew they couldn't win. Here was the challenge:
1 The evolutionist puts $10,000 in escrow with the judge.
I have two follow ups to the article.
2 The creationist puts $10,000 in escrow with the judge.
3 If the evolutionist proves evolution is science and creation is religion, then the evolutionist is awarded the $20,000.
4 If the creationist proves creation is science and evolution is religion, then the creationist is awarded the $20,000.
5 Evidence must be scientific, that is, objective, valid, reliable and calibrated.
6 The preponderance of evidence prevails.
7 At the end of the trial, the judge hands the prevailing party both checks.
8 The judge is a superior court judge.
9 The venue is a courthouse.
Follow up #1: The article on True.Origins has been "withdrawn" from the webpage. Personally, I'd love to know why. Perhaps someone realized how juvenile and ridiculous the challenge was and that it made them look infinitely worse than those who turned down the offer.
Follow up #2: Ed Darrell, an evolution activist who was part of the textbook battle in Texas last fall, replied to my entry on the subject on my message board to make a point that I'm embarrassed to say never occured to me until he brought it up. I'll let Ed's words speak for themselves:
First, no judge may offer a court for such a contest. Judges in the U.S. may judge only real legal challenges, not hypothetical ones.
My thanks to Ed Darrell for pointing out something that should have been obvious to me in the first place - this debate has already taken place in a court of law, and the ruling was in favor of science and against creationism. The decision in McLean vs Arkansas is available in the Talk.Origins Archive, and the decision is based entirely on the conclusion that creationism is religious and not scientific and therefore the Arkansas law that required the teaching of creationism alongside evolution in public schools violated the establishment clause of the first amendment. And as Mr. Darrell points out, the Supreme Court extended the ruling in McLean to apply nationwide in Edwards vs. Aguillard in 1987. Mr. Mastrapaolo's "challenge" was in fact answered and defeated 2 decades before it was issued.
But, second, there WAS a real legal challenge just as JoMo states it: The creationists arguing creationism was science or science was religion, or some combination of the two that made it so creationism should be presented alongside evolution in science classes.
The stakes were much higher than JoMo's challenge, and the money involved hundreds of times more.
Judge William Overton issued the decision in McLean v. Arkansas in 1982: Evolution meets the legal tests of what is science, and creationism does not; moreover, creationism is based in religion (according to sworn testimony from creationists), and therefore is religion.
Creationists lost the 1981 trial, and that was the basis for the 1987 Supreme Court decision in Edwards v. Aguillard, which took national the ruling that creationism cannot be taught in science classes because it is religion, and teaching it would be a violation of the Establishment Clause.
Postscript to the follow ups: I am mentioned by name once on the True.Origins site - and it's actually in a positive manner! I am mentioned by the creationist film producer Gillian Brown in her response to an article accusing her of dishonestly editing an interview with Richard Dawkins. It's a situation that I will probably write an article about one day soon, as it seems to be coming up again. Suffice to say for now that Ms. Brown was wrongfully accused by Barry Williams and Richard Dawkins and I and a colleague stood up for her after investigating it for ourselves. It's a story that was supposed to be told in the journal that Barry Williams edited at the time, but he welched on his offer to publish it. I intend to work on that article and post it soon.
Ed Brayton | 3:00 PM | | | Permalink
Sunday, January 18, 2004
Intelligent Design as Roman mythology
It is appropriate that in the month of January, I have made so many entries about the Intelligent Design movement. January is named for Janus, the Roman god of gates, often depicted as having two faces. The more I study the ID movement, the more convinced I am that Janus is the perfect symbol for it. Indeed, the two-faced nature of the ID movement is, ironically, by design. This was the nature of the strategy that was devised by Phillip Johnson to get ID a seat at the table. One face is presented to scientists and legislators and the other is presented to the churches and to the folks who fund the Discovery Institute and other ID organizations. When speaking to legislators or scientists, ID advocates claim that ID is a legitimate scientific theory and that they are merely scientists objectively following the evidence wherever it leads, without a prior commitment to any outcome. But when speaking in churches, on religious radio shows, or in fundraising efforts, they speak bluntly of ID as the wedge that will restore God to his rightful place in American culture and turn the tides against the atheistic hordes. From the very beginning, Phillip Johnson conceived of this as primarily a battle of public relations and was concerned about how to package ID in the most effective way. In an interview in 2000, Johnson said:
So the question is: "How to win?" That's when I began to develop what you now see full-fledged in the "wedge" strategy: "Stick with the most important thing", the mechanism and the building up of information. Get the Bible and the Book of Genesis out of the debate because you do not want to raise the so-called Bible-science dichotomy. Phrase the argument in such a way that you can get it heard in the secular academy and in a way that tends to unify the religious dissenters.In other words, don't talk about religion because it scares people off. And also (he didn't say this, but as an attorney he knows it) because the courts have repeatedly rejected attempts to get creationism into school classrooms because, despite the rhetoric of scientific objectivity, it was at heart a religious dogma and not a real scientific theory. When they speak to Christian audiences, however, they drop the pretense that it's really a question of following the scientific evidence where it leads. On American Family Radio last year, for instance, Johnson knew that he was speaking to an audience of Christians and supporters, so he could be honest in admitting,
Our strategy has been to change the subject a bit so that we can get the issue of intelligent design, which really means the reality of God, before the academic world and into the schools.In times of candor, he even admits that it isn't a battle about science at all, as he told World Magazine in 1996:
This isn't really, and never has been a debate about science. Its about religion and philosophy.Nor is this by any means limited only to Philip Johnson. While he was the general who devised the war plan (Johnson likes to talk in military metaphors), the commanders on the ground follow the plan to a T as well.
For example, Jonathan Wells claimed in a debate with Massimo Pigluicci in 2001 that he was just a scientist who was convinced in college that evolution was false merely because he studied the evidence objectively, and it's really evolutionists who have a prior commitment to a religious position. But his own words contradicted him when someone found his testimony on a Unification Church webpage (Wells is a follower of Rev. Moon's Unification Church:
Father's words, my studies, and my prayers convinced me that I should devote my life to destroying Darwinism, just as many of my fellow Unificationists had already devoted their lives to destroying Marxism. When Father chose me (along with about a dozen other seminary graduates) to enter a Ph.D. program in 1978, I welcomed the opportunity to prepare myself for battle. Certainly being handpicked by Rev. Moon to go to grad school, and doing so having "devoted his life to destroying Darwinism", represents as clear an a priori commitment as it is possible to hold.
William Dembski is much the same way, of course. Dembski gets downright indignant if you dare to mention the religious nature of ID and even talks of "atheistic" witchhunts and compares the scientific establishment to the Soviet Union. But again, when speaking to supporters, he'll be honest about his prior commitments. He told Touchstone Magazine in 1999 that,
Intelligent design readily embraces the sacramental nature of physical reality. Indeed, intelligent design is just the Logos theology of John's Gospel restated in the idiom of information theory.And in a 1999 book, he wrote of the theological basis for his attempts to change how science operates:
If we take seriously the word-flesh Christology of Chalcedon (i.e. the doctrine that Christ is fully human and fully divine) and view Christ as the telos toward which God is drawing the whole of creation, then any view of the sciences that leaves Christ out of the picture must be seen as fundamentally deficient.Let us return, in conclusion, to Phillip Johnson. The last way that that ID movement presents two faces is in disguising its political goals. In a 2001 interview with the San Francisco Weekly, Johnson said,
We definitely arent looking for some legislation to support our views, or anything like that. What our adversaries would like to say is - these people want to impose their views through the law - No' that's what they do. We're against that in principle and we dont need that.But the reality is that the ID movement actively lobbies for such legislation all around the country. Since that 2001 interview, they have pushed for legislation in Michigan (HB4946 would mandate the teaching of "intelligent design theory" alongside evolution); Ohio (in 2002, the State Board of Education voted down an attempt to put ID into science classrooms as an alternative to evolution; Texas (the state board that oversees textbook selection rejected attempts by ID supporters to make wholesale changes in biology textbooks); Georgia (a battle in Cobb County over putting creationism into the schools ended recently with the school board affirming that teachers should stick to the science, while respecting that some religious groups may be offended); and several other states. And at the national level, they pushed to get an ID amendment added to the No Child Left Behind act (it passed the Senate, but was removed in the final version of the bill when the two versions were reconciled). So while Johnson claims that they're against using legislation to support their goals, and that "their adversaries" falsely claim otherwise, they are in fact active all over the country in pushing such legislation. Yet another example of the Janus effect at work. And while Jesus did tell his followers to turn the other cheek, I don't think he had in mind turning an entirely new face.
Ed Brayton | 5:51 PM | | | Permalink
Saturday, January 17, 2004
An Intelligent Design Creationist tells the truth
Intelligent Design Creationists are actively working in several states and at the federal level to get their ideas into public school science classrooms. In their famous Wedge Document, the Discovery Institute's strategic blueprint for overthrowing materialistic science, Phase 1 was supposed to be "Scientific Research, Writing and Publication." Indeed, they say that without this, everything that follows will be hollow:
Phase I is the essential component of everything that comes afterward. Without solid scholarship, research and argument, the project would be just another attempt to indoctrinate instead of persuade.Despite this promise, there has been no original research published in the science journals about intelligent design, and the result has been that ID has made nary a dent in the consciousness of the scientific community. They have yet to offer a single testable hypothesis that flows from their model. In fact, they haven't given a model at all of when and how the "intelligent designer" did what he/she/it allegedly did. Nearly all of their efforts have been negative in focus - trying to poke holes in evolutionary theory. That is an exercise in polemics and public relations, not science. But despite skipping over that first phase that they initially said was so vital to their strategy, they feel no reason to wait until their ideas are tested and established before demanding that they be given equal time in public school science classrooms. But now one of their own has come forward to say that the cart has been put before the horse.
Bruce Gordon is one of the leading intellectual lights of the ID movement. Along with William Dembski, he organized the Nature of Nature Conference at Baylor University, where he teaches. He was also a fellow of the Discovery Institute and Dembski's assistant director of the now-defunct Polanyi Center. In January 2001, Dr. Gordon published an article entitled "Intelligent Design Movement Struggles with Identity Crisis". In this article, Gordon takes his fellow ID advocates to task for overstating the case for ID, for skipping over the hard work of establishing ID as a valid scientific theory, and for paying more attention to the culture wars than to the scientific work required to do so. Gordon writes,
Design theory has had considerable difficulty gaining a hearing in academic contexts, as evidenced most recently by the the Polanyi Center affair at Baylor University. One of the principle reasons for this resistance and controversy is not far to seek: design-theoretic research has been hijacked as part of a larger cultural and political movement. In particular, the theory has been prematurely drawn into discussions of public science education where it has no business making an appearance without broad recognition from the scientific community that it is making a worthwhile contribution to our understanding of the natural world.He also sends a strong message to his colleagues that merely ranting against evolution will not establish ID as a valid and compelling alternative and that their actions only serve to undermine the standing of ID in the scientific community:
But inclusion of design theory as part of the standard discourse of the scientific community, if it ever happens, will be the result of a long and difficult process of quality research and publication. It also will be the result of overcoming the stigma that has become attached to design research because of the anti-evolutionary diatribes of some of its proponents on the one hand and its appropriation for the purpose of Christian apologetics on the other...If design theory is to make a contribution to science, it must be worth pursuing on the basis of its own merits, not as an exercise in Christian 'cultural renewal,' the weight of which it cannot bear.He also points out that even if ID does turn out to be a successful scientific theory someday, it will not negate evolution:
In conclusion, it is crucial to note that design theory is at best a supplementary consideration introduced along- side (or perhaps into, by way of modification) neo-Darwinian biology and self- organizational complexity theory. It does not mandate the replacement of these highly fruitful research paradigms, and to suggest that it does is just so much overblown, unwarranted, and ideologically driven rhetoric.Gordon's article, it seems to me, is a plea to his compatriots like Dembski and Wells, and to the larger ID community, to stop the overheated anti-evolution rhetoric and the attempts to sneak ID into science classrooms, and to knuckle down and do the painstaking and difficult work of putting a real scientific theory together and convincing scientists that it is likely true.
Unfortunately, Dr. Gordon's plea fell on deaf ears. Since it was published in 2001, the Discovery Institute has led the fight for getting ID into science classrooms in Ohio, Michigan, Texas, New Mexico and other states. They have continued to churn out polemics against evolution in the popular press, but have published not a single genuinely peer-reviewed journal article about ID, or offered up a single way to test their model in the real world. Until they do so, ID will continue to be an exercise in public relations and propaganda rather than an attempt to do real science.
Ed Brayton | 11:06 PM | | | Permalink