You may recall I maneuvered a few people into a little bet to help raise money for Camp Quest, in which they had to pay a few little forfeits if they ‘won’. Here’s Greta, JT, and Jen in a state of bewilderment: didn’t they win? So why are they facing this humiliation?


A victory for reason and good education

A California school teacher, James Corbett, called creationism “superstitious nonsense”, and was dragged into court by a student claiming that was a violation of the separation of church and state. The verdict from an appeals court has come down and they disagree — they sidestepped the whole constitutionality question, and instead made the reasonable decision that it is the teacher’s job to question dogma.

“In broaching controversial issues like religion, teachers must be sensitive to students’ personal beliefs and take care not to abuse their positions of authority,” Judge Fisher wrote.

“But teachers must also be given leeway to challenge students to foster critical thinking skills and develop their analytical abilities,” he said. “This balance is hard to achieve, and we must be careful not to curb intellectual freedom by imposing dogmatic restrictions.”

Here are the kinds of things Corbett was saying in class:

“Aristotle … argued, you know, there sort of has to be a God. Of course that’s nonsense,” Corbett said according to a transcript of his lecture. “I mean, that’s what you call deductive reasoning, you know. And you hear it all the time with people who say, ‘Well, if all this stuff that makes up the universe is here, something must have created it.’ Faulty logic. Very faulty logic.”

He continued: “The other possibility is, it’s always been there.… Your call as to which one of those notions is scientific and which one is magic.”

“All I’m saying is that, you know, the people who want to make the argument that God did it, there is as much evidence that God did it as there is that there is a giant spaghetti monster living behind the moon who did it,” the transcript says.

Corbett told his students that “real” scientists try to disprove the theory of evolution. “Contrast that with creationists,” he told his students. “They never try to disprove creationism. They’re all running around trying to prove it. That’s deduction. It’s not science. Scientifically, it’s nonsense.”

I’m on record saying that teachers should not use the public school classroom to proselytize for atheism, any more than they should be proselytizing for Christianity. But that’s not what Corbett was doing: he was doing something that a science teacher must do, assessing hypotheses against the observable facts and in the context of reason. When people use their religious ideology to make counterfactual claims, a teacher should be able to point out that those claims are wrong.

I am very glad that the court came down on the side of allowing science teachers to teach science, even when it exposes the fallacies of religious claims.

Rhett S. Daniels, litigious bully

Several people have proposed going after Najera’s spineless employers by dunning them with email. Please do not. He has requested that people not jeopardize his job further, so further action is discouraged, OK?

Via Orac comes this amazing story of a thug intimidating a public health employee: it seems Mr Daniels was very upset with René Najera, an epidemiologist, who has been blogging and tweeting about medicine and quackery, and when the two of them got into an argument on the internet, Daniels took the low road. He contacted Najera’s employers, waved lawyers around, and compelled the department he worked for to demand that he stop all these extracurricular internet activities, or be fired.

Mr Daniels has the appearance of a coward and somebody who can’t hold his own in an argument. And because his feelings were hurt by his own inadequacy, he took steps to silence an informed voice on the internet.

And it gets worse. Liz Ditz has a detailed summary of the affair, and Daniels appears in the comments, frantically throwing out more threats, and bragging about his giant penis financial worth.

[Read more...]

Prager persuades? Really?

GilDodgen, one of the lead IDiots at Uncommon Descent, recently posted about how he used to be an atheist and was then converted to Christianity — sound familiar? I think atheists must really be underrepresented in the census, because apparently every Christian larva must go through a multi-year developmental stage of intense atheism, by their account. Anyway, he talks about what persuaded him that there is a god, and it was…Dennis Prager. Seriously? I’ve heard Prager, I’ve read his articles, he’s a simpering godbot, and I can’t imagine anyone who attaches the slightest importance to evidence based reasoning being persuaded by that guy.

Two things: first, here’s one of the videos by Prager that Dodgen claims converted him. It’s titled “The most important verse in the Bible” — yeah, that sounds like something that would suck an atheist right in.

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The epigenetics miracle?

Jerry Coyne is mildly incensed — once again, there’s a lot of recent hype about epigenetics, and he doesn’t believe it’s at all revolutionary. Well, I’ve written about epigenetics before, I think it’s an extremely important subject central to our understanding of development, and…I agree with him completely. It’s important, we ought to spend more time discussing it in our classes, but it’s all about the process of gene expression, not about radically changing our concepts of evolution. I like to argue that what multigenerational epigenetic effects do is blur out or modulate the effects of genetic change over time, and it might mask out or highlight allelic variation, but ultimately, it’s all about the underlying genetic differences.

Coyne mentions one journalist who claims that new discoveries in epigenetics would “make Darwin swoon,” which is a bizarre standard. Darwin knew next-to-nothing about genetics — he had his own weird version of Lamarckian inheritance — and wasn’t even equipped to imagine molecular biology, so yes, just about anything in this field would dazzle him. My freshman introductory biology course would blow Charles Darwin away — he’d have to struggle to keep up with the products of American public education.

(Also on Sb)

Quacks everywhere

David Colquhoun has posted an excellent series of posts on the Steiner Waldorf schools, 19th century crackpottery that persists even now, by hiding their fundamentally pseudoscientific basis under a fog of fancy invented terms. He discusses their goofy philosophy of anthroposophistry, their devious efforts to get state funding, and their unfortunate but unsurprising history of racism. It’s wild and crazy stuff, and it’s been sidling under the radar for a while.

What initially drew me to DC’s site was his article on quackery in retreat: the University of Westminster has discarded some of their previous offerings in naturopathy. There is still a fair amount of junk in their curriculum, but there’s hope that those are waning too.

I needed that bit of solace, because my university’s official listserve sent me a wonderful offer earlier this week.

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Episode CCXLVII: Marry gaily

The Minnesota Atheists’ talk radio show this morning (9am Central) is all about gay marriage — we have a discrimination law suit working its way up the ladder in this state, trying to reverse the official homophobic policies around here. I think we should just bring in Jamie Kilstein to tour the state and explain the situation to everyone. That’ll straighten everyone out. No, wait, what’s the opposited of straighten? Kink everyone up?

(This video is NSFW, at all.)

(Last edition of TET)

Anti-Caturday post

I vividly recall the first time I encountered a cicada killer, the amazing huge solitary wasp. I was in eighth grade; I was bumming about in our backyard, not doing much of anything, when I heard this loud clattering buzz overhead, looked up, and saw this giant beast slowly cruising towards our apple tree. It looked like something that ought to be accompanied by Flight of the Valkyries, an armored predatory monster determinedly homing in on its helpless prey. It disappeared into the foliage and then reappeared a moment later carrying a cicada that looked to be twice its size, and it landed on a branch overhead and started chomping. I could hear its jaws cracking open the bug from the ground. It just shredded its meal — and it wasn’t tidy, either. Bits of dead cicada came fluttering down around me. I was frantically looking about the yard for something I could use as a club in case it turned its dead glittering eyes on me.

And ever since that day it has been my dream to grow up and become a Sphecius wasp, a cold, brutal killer capable of rending my enemies into shattered fragments with heedless indifference, inspiring terror in all who behold me. Until now. A new species of wasp has been discovered in the fierce jungles of Indonesia.

Behold the dreaded killer of Sulawesi.

The male measures about two-and-a-half-inches long, Kimsey said. “Its jaws are so large that they wrap up either side of the head when closed. When the jaws are open they are actually longer than the male’s front legs. I don’t know how it can walk.”

Its jaws are longer than its legs. Awesome. I’m in love.

(via Bug Girl)

(Also on Sb)