Thursday, July 26, 2007

Special Issue on Dover case

Social Studies of Science has a special issue on the Kitzmiller vs Dover court case. There are several PDFs of journal articles on the case, including two by Michael Lynch who was an expert witness. I haven't read them yet but they should be interesting.

In other news, the Creation Museum in Kentucky has surpassed 100,000 visitors. Now half of them are probably people like me wanting to check out the freak show, but the other half, well I just don't know about them.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Bad news for Texas

Today I heard the news... Governor Rick Perry appointed Dr. Don McLeroy as the Chairman of the Texas State Board of Education. All I can say is Texans, be prepared for another showdown.

In 2003, I testified at the textbook hearings where opponents of evolution tried to water it down by introducing so called "strengths and weaknesses" (when in reality that is a farce). Don McLeroy was on the Board then but not Chair. When I walked in, of the 15 members, he sat there with a huge posterboard displaying:

Copernicus’ “Heliocentric” Hypothesis—Yes

Darwin’s “Common Descent” Hypothesis—NO

Along with various other things on the posterboard refuting Darwin. Whatever. Here's a link to his website which has much of the info. He was utterly horrible in the hearing - interrupting other members, asking very loaded questions of people who did not have the expertise to answer, and then not asking the actual scientific experts - which included Nobel Prize winner Steven Weinberg among other notable experts - the questions that they could have answered. It was done, I'm sure, to create the aura of people not having answers when it comes to evolution. But he'd ask students! Not the professors!

All I can say is, thank God my kids go to a private Episcopal school! (Yes, the Episcopal denomination accepts and teaches evolution). I was thinking about putting them in public for high school but surely not if this guy gets his hands on their textbooks. His behavior at the 2003 hearing was appalling. Here's a quote of his about evolution from the Dallas Morning News article linked below, "It is wrong to teach opinion as fact," he said. So he's not even arguing points about the science, he calls the whole 200 years of evolutionary biology studies "opinion." And he now heads our TX State Board.

Oh, and he's a dentist, not an academic but sure loves to use that doctor moniker.

The Dallas Morning News has this article, Conservative to Lead State Education Board: Perry picks chairman as panel prepares to revisit several course standards.

2007 is the year our textbook standards are up for revisiting. Help us dear God!

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Science and Islam, and Dawkins

My colleague Todd Pitock - who I met at the ASJA (American Society of Journalists and Authors) meeting in New York earlier this year - wrote an interesting piece in the latest Discover Magazine, "Science and Islam in Conflict" - but check out the print mag because it has great photos and as Todd says, the online version lacks the panache of the magazine layout.

The latest Scientific American magazine also has an interesting dialogue between Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss about conflict between science and religion, "Should Science Speak to Faith?" Frankly I get very irritated when magazines continue to give Dawkins so much space to fill the pages of their magazine, radio play, because he is utterly fringe on his beliefs on the incompatibility between science and faith.

As a scientist, Dawkins is fantastic and I love his book The Selfish Gene and his ideas on memes (cultural ideas that transmit from generation to generation in a sort of non-genetic natural selection). However, his belief (opinion, non-scientific in any way) that faith is a delusion and that science and faith are incompatible is held by only a very small minority of people, including other atheists and agnostics. Would Scientific American give as much space to Ken Ham or another young earth creationist? I think not! And they shouldn't! Dawkins gets space because he sells magazines, is charismatic and opinionated, and is well-known - he's like the Ann Coulter of anti-religion! That is not a good enough reason. Giving him space when an article is about his own scientific concepts, or about his books perhaps is ok (his latest, The God Delusion, is not new enough to merit a whole article on him at this stage).

Frankly although the dialogue is interesting, both of these people are very cynical and condemning of religion in their own way. By continuing to give them press, it simply continues to spread the idea that scientists are always anti-God or anti-religion. Krauss also makes the mistake of saying "If one believes that homosexuality is an abomination because it says so in the Bible, one has to accept the other things that are said in the Bible, including the allowance to kill your children if they are disobedient or validation of the right to sleep with your father if you need to have a child and there are no other men around, and so forth" because he's claiming you can't cherry-pick your beliefs from the Bible. But he clearly hasn't read - or understood - the whole Bible or theology behind Christianity - because first of all he's taking things literally (ironically, the same thing he is asking fundamentalists not to do. Many of the Old Testament stories and even commandments have deeper and literary meanings hidden within the most obvious initial read of it) and second of all, according to Christian theology, Jesus came to bring a new covenant that ends legalism (following rules for the sake of it, and thinking one is better than others at the same time such people often treat people very poorly - this is according to the Bible not me, though I wholeheartedly agree) - and Jesus came to herald a deeper, more spirit- and grace-based faith. Somehow many Christians have not grasped or embraced what Jesus was all about. And clearly many non-religious people don't get it either.