The latest edition of the Tangled Bank is online at Greythumb.blog. We are looking for volunteers to host future editions later this spring—drop a note to me if you’re interested in spreading the word about science blogging.
You wouldn’t know it to see it, but we aim to make Morris, Minnesota the Mecca of science blogging. How else to explain how we could draw Grrlscientist away from that boring dump of a town, New York, to visit our lovely prairie village for a week? It’s true: a whole two of us ScienceBlogs people are chattering away from this lonely outpost in the rural wilderness.
Any other science bloggers who want to stop on by, feel free. We’ve got a roomy house with a zippy wireless connection, and who needs anything more? Jay Manifold has been here, Radagast once drove by within a few hundred miles, and now we’re hosting Living the Scientific Life…I think that’s enough to qualify as a Mecca, right?
Anyway, we’re planning to cruise into Minneapolis tomorrow, see the Big City, and check out Drinking Liberally at the 331 Club around about 6—somebody alert the Power Liberal, Tild, and the Wege…we got some tough-talkin’, crazed scientists planning to crash their party.
We’re also hosting an event of our own here at Chez Myers on Friday, with the first
SOFA (Something On Friday Afternoon, a Morris tradition) of the semester at our place. If anyone wants to crash our party, just come on by.
That school in California that tried to teach a creationist “philosophy” course was chewed out by Casey Luskin of the Discovery Institute. Luskin’s statement consisted of the usual folderol, but the outright fraud of several statements leapt out at me.
My name is Casey Luskin and I am an attorney representing the Discovery Institute. The Discovery Institute is a think tank based out of Seattle, Washington that represents a large number of scientists who do scientific research into intelligent design.
A “large number of scientists”? How many?
Scientists “who do scientific research into intelligent design”? Name them. Tell us exactly where they are doing their research and what specific questions they are trying to answer.
But if you do not cancel this course, and if you let this lawsuit go forward, you are going to lose and there will be a dangerous legal precedent set which could threaten the teaching of intelligent design on the national level. Such a decision would also threaten the scientific research of many scientists who support intelligent design.
See questions above. What scientists? What research?
I’m really fed up with this phony baloney the DI keeps pushing. There are darned few scientists backing Intelligent Design, and those few don’t do any research, nor can they tell anyone else what research could be done.
Because of the young earth creationist history of this course, this course is not legally defensible and it should be cancelled. Thank you.
Casey Luskin got his wish. The course has been cancelled. Not without a final irony, though:
Sharon Lemburg, a social studies teacher and soccer coach who was teaching “Philosophy of Design,” defended the course in a letter to the weekly Mountain Enterprise.
“I believe this is the class that the Lord wanted me to teach,” she wrote.
It’s interesting that his source of income is selling cloaks to covens. It’s also distressing that he needs that income because his wife got fired from her job after The Impaler gave a press conference, and her employer admitted it was because of her religious preference—she wasn’t a good “role model”.
A while back, a reader mentioned that my name (or some permutation thereof) was being taken in vain in the letters pages of the Durango Herald. Nothing new there, it’s just the usual half-truths of the Discovery Institute being disseminated.
Challenges to evolution met with scorn
I find that some of the brightest people in the world today (as with some of the brightest people throughout history) disbelieve the theory of evolution.
As Paul Bynum correctly noted in his letter (Herald, Nov. 20), it is true that folks who dare to challenge some of evolution’s claims are, indeed, often ridiculed and maligned. Note the remarks of University of Minnesota biology P.Z. Meyers: that opponents of Darwinism need to be subject to “some form of righteous fury, much butt kicking and the firing and humiliation of some teachers, many school board members and vast numbers of sleazy far right politicians.”
Gary Andersen, Durango
There was more in the letter; the usual protestation that “Darwinists” are afraid, that there are “volumes of evidence of design all around us” (backed up by mentioning that birds fly and cats take naps), and that chance is a “dreary thought.” I responded with a short note pointing out that my quote was taken out of context, and that I’m not against challenging evolution, but am against incompetent teaching.
Creationists weaken science teaching
In a letter by Gary Andersen on 1 Jan 2006, I was quoted misleadingly, in a way that the Discovery Institute has consciously propagated. Yes, I have called for the firing of teachers and politicians, but not because they are “opponents of Darwinism”–but for incompetence. If a science teacher cannot grasp basic concepts of biology, he or she has no place teaching our children in the classroom. We are not afraid of Intelligent Design creationists, but we are getting increasingly angry at the disservice they are doing to our kids by weakening the science curricula in our high schools.
Mr Andersen claims there are weaknesses in the theory of evolution. Yes, there are, but the fact of evolution is not in doubt; there is active argument and research on specific details and mechanisms. Intelligent Design creationists are not participants in that work, and are actively promoting discredited ideas that are not supported by any evidence. Science class is not a place for garbled anecdotes and wishful thinking, yet that is all Mr Andersen has to offer—I think we can do better by our children.
Oh, and the name is Myers. One “e”. It’s bad enough to be misrepresented by the likes of the Discovery Institute and their minions, but they could at least spell the name correctly.
I am amused to see that the Durango Herald has published a reply. It shows the same level of incomprehension as the first letter.
Reaction shows evolutionists scared
In his letter (“Creationists weaken science teaching, Herald, Jan. 10) associate professor P.Z. Myers of Morris, Minn., suggested that anyone believing God created the universe “has no place teaching science in our classrooms.”
What an arrogant statement! Statements such as this reinforce the feeling that evolutionists are indeed quivering in fear.
Paul Bynum, Durango
Of course there is more ranting. I’m accused of “indoctrination and propaganda, and told that “All tyrants, Hitler, Stalin, etc., approve of and use this type of ‘education.'”
I think his argument is greatly weakened by the blatant quote mining of his very first sentence. You can rummage through the entire archive of my site, you can chase down every word I’ve ever said, and you can give me a Vulcan mind-meld and probe all of my thoughts, and you will not find me expressing or thinking that ridiculous sentiment anywhere. But of course, readers of the Durango Herald are most unlikely to even open up a week-old copy of their paper to assess the accuracy of the creationist’s claims. The creationists know their lies can spread faster than the truth, and they will continue to spout that kind of dishonesty shamelessly.
At least they learned how to spell my name properly.
Isn’t that little guy cute?
Me, I’m going to run off and spend my morning getting the first day of classes off the ground. It’s going to be a busy semester, I can already tell.
There are a number of reasons why the current theory of evolution should be regarded as incomplete. The central one is that while “nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution”, some important disciplines within biology, development and physiology, have only been weakly integrated into the theory.
Raff (1996) in his book The Shape of Life(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll) gives some of the historical reasons for the divorce of evolution and development. One is that embryologists were badly burned in the late 19th century by Haeckel, who led them along the long and unproductive detour of the false biogenetic “law”. That was a negative reaction; there was also a positive stimulus, the incentive of Roux’s new Entwicklungsmechanik, a model of experimental study of development that focused exclusively on immediate and proximate causes and effects. Embryology had a Golden Age of experimentation that discouraged any speculation about ultimate causes that just happened to coincide with the time that the Neo-Darwinian Synthesis was being formulated. Another unfortunate instance of focusing at cross-purposes was that the Neo-Darwinian Synthesis was fueled by the incorporation of genetics into evolutionary biology…and at the time, developmental biologists had only the vaguest ideas about how the phenomena they were studying were connected to the genome. It was going to be another 50 years before developmental biology fully embraced genetics.
The evolutionary biologists dismissed the embryologists as irrelevant to the field; furthermore, one of the rare embryologists who tried to address evolutionary concerns, Richard Goldschmidt, was derided as little more than a crackpot. It’s an attitude that persists today. Of course, the problem is mutual: Raff mentions how often he sees talks in developmental genetics that end with a single slide to discuss evolutionary implications, which usually consist of nothing but a sequence comparison between a couple of species. Evolution is richer than that, just as development is much more complex and sophisticated than the irrelevant pigeonhole into which it is squeezed.
In her book, Developmental Plasticity and Evolution(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll), West-Eberhard (2003) titles her first chapter “Gaps and Inconsistencies in Modern Evolutionary Thought”. It summarizes the case she makes in the rest of her 700 page book in 20 pages; I’ll summarize her summary here, and do it even less justice.
She lists 6 general problems in evolutionary biology that could be corrected with a better assimilation of modern developmental biology.
One unfortunate problem with discussing these issues in venues frequented by lay people is, you guessed it, creationism. Any criticism of a theory is seized upon as evidence that the theory is wrong, rather than as a sign of a healthy, growing theory. The Neo-Darwinian Synthesis is not wrong, but neither is it dogma. It was set up roughly 70 years ago with the knowledge that was available at the time, and it is not at all surprising that the explosion of new knowledge, especially in molecular biology, genetics, and developmental biology, means that there are radically different new ideas clamoring to be accommodated in the old framework. The theory is going to change. This isn’t cause for creationists to rejoice, though, because the way it is changing is to become stronger.
Hey, Norbizness is supposed to be a funny guy. So what’s he doing posting an excellent excerpt from a Martin Luther King letter?
I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Councilor or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.
If only he were alive today, I’d have to politely toss that one back in his face and remind him of what freethinkers think of the progressive Christian community. Confrontation and forthright expression is always going to be preferable to meek appeasement by a minority to an oblivious majority.