And the chorus of disapproval continues, plus a creo reply

I know I seem like a broken record about this, but the wide-ranging ridicule the TEA is getting over the Comer ouster is deserving of all the exposure it can get. The Houston Chronicle editorializes as follows:

Since Texas policy supports the inclusion of evolution in science curriculum, it’s hard to see how Comer was violating state policy by circulating an event notice sent out by a group that also endorses teaching evolution. Although TEA officials later cited Comer’s attendance at a meeting of the same group, that seems a bogus rationale for dismissal and a violation of academic freedom.

“Maybe [the TEA] must remain neutral to whether or not to lie to students about evolution — but if so, that’s just sad,” Forrest said.

It will be more than sad if the Texas Education Agency is leaning toward taking an anti-evolutionary stance and allowing religious doctrine to be taught side by side with valid science in the state’s classrooms. If intelligent design is a Trojan horse for creationism, the Comer episode indicates Texans need to be wary of TEA bureaucrats bearing undesirable gifts.

Even the Waco Tribune Herald has chimed in, and we all know Waco’s history of religious zanies. Perhaps the town is just feeling burned, and burned out, by having to put with the recent shenanigans old William Dembski has tried to pull on Baylor. The paper opines:

Because the State Board of Education will review the state science curriculum next year and set standards for classroom instruction and textbook selection, Comer’s abrupt removal could signal an opening for the insertion of creationism or intelligent design into science classrooms in Texas.

Texas parents, teachers and lawmakers should be on guard that the state avoids the mistakes that led to the 2005 Dover, Pa., lawsuit.

Meanwhile, some pencil-dicked creationist calling himself John King has sent a whiny email my way in reply to the letter I just had printed by the Statesman, and it’s replete with exactly the kind of dishonesty, fallacies, and scientific illiteracy you’d expect from one of his lot. I was hoping this would happen, since I’ve been in the mood to bloody my knuckles. But interestingly, there’s only been one response so far. Here it is below, with my rebuttal included in bold.

One thing is clear, that you fully embrace censorship in public schools. If Chris Comer was censored, so are those who want intelligent design acknowledged in the classroom.

Except for one detail: Intelligent design is not valid science, and thus has no business being taught in science class, except perhaps as an example of pseudoscience. It isn’t “censorship” to refuse to teach things in schools that are not facts. It wouldn’t be “censorship” to refuse to teach Holocaust Denial in history classes, it wouldn’t be “censorship” to refuse to teach astrology in astronomy classes, and it’s not “censorship” to refuse to teach “intelligent design” or any other form of creationism without a single example of science to back it up in science classes.

The notion that a trial in Dover, Delaware established any scientific truth is nonsense on its face, equivalent to saying that a trial established O.J. Simpson’s innocence.

Except for another detail: Both sides asked Judge Jones to decide whether or not Intelligent Design was science. But if you don’t want to go by his ruling, you can just take the testimony of Michael Behe, who admitted on the stand that in order for Intelligent Design to be considered scientific, you would have to expand the definition of science to include the aforementioned astrology. That’s pretty bad, and coming from the mouth of one of ID’s biggest proponents, how could you blame Judge Jones from deciding any other way?

As for other leading ID supporters, like William Dembski, the Dover trial was the opportunity they all said they had been waiting for to prove in a court of law that ID was soundly scientific and deserved to be taught in classrooms without committing some sort of religious constitutional violation. And not only didn’t they make their best case, most of them didn’t even show up! That should tell you something.

Similarly, the comparison of the solar system to the dogmatic claim that accidents of nature account for life as it exists today is just as arbitrary.

Just as you revealed your ignorance about the Dover trial, you now reveal your scientific illiteracy. There is nothing about evolutionary science that is dogmatic; like every other field of science, new discoveries are made every year that open up entirely new branches of study. And there is nothing in evolutionary science that attributes the process to “accidents of nature.” Evolution is a remarkably complex and wide-ranging field of scientific study, about which you are quite clearly entirely ignorant. And the ignorance you reveal makes a much better case than I could that quality standards for science education need to be upheld in Texas. Because you obviously didn’t get a quality science education.

Your insistence that Darwin was infallible is like Al Gore’s remark that “the debate is over,” the sole meaning of which is that Al Gore is afraid to debate.

Find anywhere in my letter where I insisted Darwin was “infallible.” I didn’t, and you know it, which means this is a typical straw man. That’s the problem with dealing with creationists: you guys can’t make your points without lying. So the whole inherent dishonesty of your character does make it exasperating to deal with you.

But if you’d rather hide behind the self-flattering fantasy that scientists are afraid of you, go ahead. We are all well aware how important martyr/persecution complexes are to you folks. Indeed, the entire PR thrust of the ID movement feeds on those complexes. Just remember, the ID side had its chance to make its case in Dover, and they were the ones who ran away.

Maybe if any of you folks would produce some peer-reviewed research, your claims might finally be worth taking seriously. But this isn’t what you want. ID supporters basically want to cheat, to be allowed to cut to the front of the line without doing any real science to support your position, then whine about “censorship” when people point out just how scientifically vacuous ID is.

So, sorry John, nice try, but we’ve all heard the tired claims you’re trying to make many many times, and they’re just as bogus coming from you as anyone else. Try again if you feel up to it. If you think I have any fear of debating you, you’re in for a humiliating surprise.

Not surprising ol’ Barney Fife here is also a global warming denier, is it? Well, we’ll see if he bites, so that I may taunt him a second time!

Statesman reader response to the TEA debacle

Man oh man. The whole Chris Comer thing is looking like one colossal embarrassment for the Texas Education Association, who are being vilified in editorials and opinion columns everywhere. The Austin American Statesman website has posted a page full of letters to the editor, and not one of them — not even the one written by a Christian referring to God as “our gracious creator” (and it’s quite possible more of the letter writers are believers who just didn’t bring up their thoughts on God) — is supportive of the creationists’ shenanigans. This could be a bigger blot on their copybook than even Dover. While the IDer’s endlessly accuse scientists and academicians of suppressing the teaching of “strengths and weaknesses” or the “controversy” or whatever code words they wish to use to cover their creationist agenda, in actual fact, they’re the only ones doing any suppressing.

Hmm…don’t think so…

Apropos of nothing, I thought I’d make the observation that, for reasons I can’t make out, the “current weather” widget on my computer is telling me that it’s 21° outside, with wintry snowflake icons to drive the point home. And I just walked outside in my shirtsleeves to bright sunlight and gorgeous blue skies. I hope this isn’t some kind of metaphor for the poor quality of science we’re getting right now in Texas under the current leadership.

The Lost Highway, indeed

I really am beginning to wonder if, in order to be an evangelical, there’s some kind of secret, Masonic-style ritual where they haul you off into a darkened chamber and spend ten hours bashing your head in with baseball bats made out of freeze-dried stupid. Because one’s brain really needs to be in such a state in order to swallow malarkey this malarkified.

If you live in Austin, you’ll be well familiar with I-35, that dazzling display of engineering ineptitude designed to maximize wrecks and congestion at all hours of the day and night. This highway actually traverses the entire midwest, running all the way up to Duluth, MN, which ought to indicate that if there’s Somebody Up There, he really really hates us. But not to a clutch of cuckoos in Christianity’s parallel universe, who have decided, based on their reading of this Bible Rhology likes to remind us is infallible and accurate in every particular, that I-35 is some kind of “Highway of Holiness.”

The scripture they’re basing this whole little movement on is Isaiah 35:8, which reads:

And a highway will be there;
it will be called the Way of Holiness.
The unclean will not journey on it;
it will be for those who walk in that Way;
wicked fools will not go about on it.

Exactly why do they think this passage — written centuries before any surveyor ever thought of building I-35 — prophesies the existence of our delightful freeway, which, to anyone who’s ever actually taken their lives in their hands by driving on it, is clearly populated by nothing but wicked fools? Because — and prepare to be bowled over by the breathtaking genius that is Biblical “hermeneutics” &#151 the passage appears in Isaiah 35. Get it!? I-35! It’s so obvious!

So what this means in terms of starting up some kind of revival movement is that Christians have taken to prayer sessions in “prayer rooms” (basically harmless), as well as harassing freeway businesses they don’t like in protests they dramatically call “Purity Sieges,” such as adult video stores, family planning clinics (where nasty liberals kill babies and anoint effigies of Hillary Clinton with their blood, of course), and any business catering to gays and lesbians. They also see signs and portents in recent events, too. Read the following and remember, the gibbering madness you’re trying to wrap your brain around passes for thinking in this revivalist environment.

“I don’t usually send what the Lord is downloading to me, however this is very timely and significant I believe,” Highway of Holiness Community Coordinator Christine Pickett of Little Canada wrote to the movement’s Web site.

Pickett says that last year’s election of U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, a Muslim, and his announcement of a trip to Israel the very same day of the collapse could be an omen. “I think the Lord may be saying that this man and his district and what he is about doing in Israel is connected. I could be wrong — however, I just have to look at the timing and the fear of the Lord comes upon me.”

“I don’t usually send what the Lord is downloading to me…” How can you not love that part? One imagines Hebbin having its own tech support department. Does God also download periodical updates so that Christians can patch their brains with his latest build of crazy? Evidently, being God in the wired generation is a stressful occupation. You gotta constantly be on guard that Steve Jobs and his gang of grinning assholes in Cupertino don’t totally broadside you with a pocket sized iGod and leave you holding onto last week’s obsolete salvation chipsets with your thumb up your ass and a dazed look on your bearded face as millions of impressionable teens backslide into Apple-y perdition! So hey, prayer warriors, don’t forget to lay “purity siege” to any Apple Store you may come across in your quixotic journey! (Only thing is, I think those are generally too upscale to be located along a freeway.)

Anyway, snark aside, one just has to read some of the testimonials at their website to really understand that we’re dealing with the mentally ill here.

My prayer journal entry was dated June 1, 2004, it was 4am and I saw the Lord walking along I-35 into downtown Dallas, Texas. He stood by the Reunion Tower and Arena next to I-35 and began callling [sic] out words of love and encouragement (in Hebrew) to His body and bride, (the Church) that was living throughout the area. He was wearing a prayer shawl (talit) with a “Star of David” over his head. He skin was like blazing bronze and His eyes were full of pure light and fire and a brilliant light eminated [sic] from his nail scarred hands and feet.

Yeah, that’s just…special, isn’t it? Nurse!

So I’ll wrap up with a fun bit of speculation: I wonder just how many of these “prayer warriors” have accounts at the adult video stores they’re picketing? I know…I’m so mean. Anyway, I think it’s too bad they won’t make it all the way down to Austin. Are we just too much of a godless liberal hellhole even for them? Or could they not find anyone down here insane enough to participate?

The New York Times pitches in on the Comer firing

The Old Grey Lady has its article up on the retaliatory firing resignation of Chris Comer from the TEA, and some passages really reveal the boo-scary Orwellian atmosphere that seems to be permeating the agency under its neocon creationist leadership.

Ms. Comer said that barely an hour after forwarding the e-mail message about Dr. Forrest’s talk, she was called in and informed that Lizzette Reynolds, deputy commissioner for statewide policy and programs, had seen a copy and complained, calling it “an offense that calls for termination. ” Ms. Comer said she had no idea how Ms. Reynolds, a former federal education official who served as an adviser to George W. Bush when he was governor of Texas, had seen the message so quickly, and remembered thinking, “What is this, the thought police or what?”

Update: Now there’s an editorial. And it’s nicely uncompromising and, hopefully, deeply embarrassing to Texas.

It was especially disturbing that the agency accused Ms. Comer — by forwarding the e-mail message — of taking a position on “a subject on which the agency must remain neutral.” Surely the agency should not remain neutral on the central struggle between science and religion in the public schools. It should take a stand in favor of evolution as a central theory in modern biology. Texas’s own education standards require the teaching of evolution.

Those standards are scheduled to be reviewed next year. Ms. Comer’s dismissal and comments in favor of intelligent design by the chairman of the state board of education do not augur well for that review. We can only hope that adherents of a sound science education can save Texas from a retreat into the darker ages.

We’ll do all we can, of course. But we’re going up against fanatics who have a religious ideology to protect, and they’re deeply fearful of evolution because they’ve been indoctrinated into believing that if it’s true, they won’t get to live forever playing harps in Heaven’s Fairyland Food Court. When facts go up against psychologically crippling existential terror, it’s always a hard-fought battle.

Yippie, Rho’s back…

…and up to his old tricks — straw men (he accuses us of using them, but as you’ll see, he actually does); tautologies; putting words in my mouth and demanding I defend them; it’s all there — in this comments thread. Go read and enjoy. Click on over to the link he provides to his blog and get a kick out of his arguments for the Bible’s infallibility. Cheers.

TEA castigated in Statesman

They didn’t pick my letter to print, but there are two very good ones in the current Austin American Statesman, as well as a surprisingly smart editorial, attacking the political retaliation against Chris Comer by the creationist-run Texas Education Association. The editorial board opines:

The education agency, of course, portrays the problem as one of insubordination and misconduct. But from all appearances, Comer was pushed out because the agency is enforcing a political doctrine of strict conservatism that allows no criticism of creationism….

Whether one accepts the theory of intelligent design or not, discussion encourages scientific exploration, which is what a science curriculum director should do. Forcing Comer out of her job because she passed on an e-mail about the critic’s presentation is egregiously wrong.

It looks like the Texas Education Agency has fallen victim to a smelly little orthodoxy, to quote author George Orwell. And that cannot be good for the schools or the schoolchildren of Texas.

Apart from the little gaffe of calling ID a “theory,” which is like some no-hoper pointing to a Playboy centerfold taped to his wall and calling it his “girlfriend,” it’s nice to see that the paper is ready and willing to call the TEA on its bullshit spin right away, and tell it like it is regarding Comer’s firing: that she was forced out for not toeing a Christian neoconservative anti-science party line. And that the people who make a big noise about scientists being closed-minded dogmatists who have unfairly “Expelled” intelligent design from fair scientific inquiry are the most despicable of hypocrites and lying frauds. Good on ya, Statesman. Maybe you don’t suck as much as I’ve been thinking all these years.