Sunday, November 23, 2008

fair, or "balanced"?

Check out this absolutely excellent analysis of the media coverage of the Nov 19, 2008 Texas State Board of Education hearing, fair, or "balanced"? by Tony Whitson on his Curricublog. What he says is absolutely right on the money. They give equal coverage to the sides even though that's not an accurate portrayal of the situation.

Only a few newspapers - including the Ft Worth Star Telegram reporter that quoted me in an article - mention the overwhelming number of scientists and pro-science advocates versus the few creationists. The reporters also quote people like someone from the Texas Free Market Foundation, without mentioning that he was a registered lobbyist for Focus on the Family. Sometimes journalism is very discouraging - and the daily and local newspapers tend to be the worst. I'm in the media, but I do believe magazine reporting is often much higher caliber. For one thing, we have longer turnaround times, allowing for more fact-checking. The writers tend to (but not always) have more science background, or know how to research a little better. Anyway check out the curricublog. Very astute observations that should get wider play.

Fox News on TX Evolution Debate

The truth will set you free. But first it will make you damn mad.
- Scott Peck.

I just came across this Fox News video "Evolution Debate Could Decide Children's Future" - which covered the State Board of Education hearing last Wednesday, and I'm in the video at two places: first coming into the hearing room after Clare Wuellner, Director of Center for Inquiry Austin, who they interviewed (she was dressed in the 1860-era getup, and is in the photos posted in my previous blog post). And then later you can see me standing in the audience at the Texas Freedom Network press conference. I would embed the video but I don't think I can... check it out!

Oh, and even though the coverage is decent, the title is kind of stupid, like how exactly is evolution going to decide children's future? The actual video shows that the decision of the Texas SBOE could determine how other states act on textbooks - but that was actually the issue at debate in 2003 and is not up for debate, currently. The issue currently is about the TEKS or standards. Yes, other states sometimes follow Texas' lead in some things, but... do they really? Actually come to think of it this reporter did not do his background research at all.

The other thing he missed is that although this coverage was better than most in terms of repesenting accurately that the science advocates came out in force and the creationisst were few in number, he did allow Mark Ramsey to wave about the "academic freedom" argument, but the reporter never counterpoints to explain that the reality is that nobody is trying to stop academic freedom. That is absurd! The point is that you don't teach *high school* students every brand new hypothesis and idea in science and/or allow them to debate the merits or come up with their own hypotheses. They are simply not equipped for it. Textbooks have always taught the current state of science (or whatever subject), and the process of science. And, if that were heeded, then intelligent design would not be in the textbooks. Nor would there be any "weaknesses" of evolution taught because evolution is one of the most robust theories in science - and if taught thoroughly (as I did when teaching at Kingwood College) it should be quite clear to students that the theory has genetic, genomic, physiological, anatomical, paleontological, and geological evidence - as well as predictive power.

The debate of evolution is a cultural and religious one and NOT a scientific one. So if creationists want it to be taught, they need to have a different class set up, or to teach it in social studies or current events. Dumbing down science is not going to help our children's future.

So maybe the Fox News report got the title right after all. If we remove or weaken evolution education in schools, our children's future IS at stake. As is our nation's future, really. And general concern over America's science lead was clearly shown in the National Academy of Sciences report (that I quoted in my testimony) Rising Above the Gathering Storm.

Friday, November 21, 2008

photos from SBOE hearing

I have never made but one prayer to God, a very short one: "O Lord make my enemies ridiculous." And God granted it.
- Voltaire

I have posted blog posts about my testimony at Daily Kos as Messin' with Texas Education, and at Texas Kaos - where it's currently on the recommended diary list.

Please go and add a comment at Daily Kos, or recommend me in the Tip Jar (the first comment) so that it gets on the Recommended List!

Wendee testifying at the State Board of Education
Claire Wuellner, Director of Center for Inquiry-Austin, dressed in a 1860-era getup to make the point that the only scientific controversy over evolution ended around 1860 after Darwin's theory was first introduced on the scene.

Wendee testifying at the State Board of Education
Dinosaur Barney and Clare Wuellner (as 1860-era woman) were some of the characters who showed up at the Texas State Board of Education hearing.

Wendee testifying at the State Board of Education
At the Texas Freedom Network press conference prior to the hearing, someone holds a sign of the earth, asking "How old am I?"

Wendee testifying at the State Board of Education
Gail Lowe, one of the creationist board members.

Wendee testifying at the State Board of Education
The audience looks riveted. ;)

Wendee testifying at the State Board of Education
Notice all the "Stand Up for Science" stickers on everyone?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

slam dunk at the State Board of Education

A man of sincerity is less interested in defending the truth than in stating it clearly, for he thinks that if the truth can be clearly seen it can very well take care of itself.

-Thomas Merton, No Man is an Island.

I just got home from Austin after a very long day at the State Board of Education hearing. Testimony on science TEKS didn't even start until about 3:45pm, and I spoke about 6pm, about halfway through the speakers. Something like 92 people signed up to testify - overwhelmingly scientists and science advocates. I think in the first 4 hours only 3 creationists spoke. This was a very different situation from in 2003 when I think it was about 60-40 (60% science advocates, 40% creationists). However that hearing was about textbooks, was more widely publicized, and intelligent design proponents flew in from Seattle, and evolution advocates from California. It was a bit more of a media circus.

This year, they are revising the TEKS, which occurs every 10 years. They had a panel of scientists and science teachers who came up with a new version of the TEKS, and it was posted online Sept 15 here. These were pretty good. Then Monday, 2 days before the hearing, they posted a "new" version which had stealthily snuck back in the "strengths and limitations" (formerly "strengths and weaknesses") language which has been in the TEKS for 20 years but it has increasingly been seen and used as a possible place for those opposed to evolution to insert a wedge to criticize the theory - so was removed by the panel in the first (Sep 15) version.

This is the problem with that language. Despite hysterical claims that science advocates and "evolutionists" are trying to prevent academic freedom, the reality is that analysis and criticism of scientific theories belongs in the halls of academia, in the laboratory, and among those scientists with enough know-how and expertise to know what they're critiquing and analyzing. It is not something that middle or high school students are educated enough or equipped to be able to adequately discuss the merits of a theory. I think it would be useful for students to debate or discuss the evolution-creation controversy but NOT in the science classroom, but in a cultural studies, religion, or social studies course, and because of the controversy this would need to be developed in a textbook or textbooks that could present the information in a non-biased manner.

I wrote my testimony a couple days ago. However, during the hearing I got so absolutely disgusted at the behavior of the creationist board members that I added a paragraph to my testimony and called them out on their lies. In a repeat of the antics in 2003, which will be covered in my book, these Board members questioned people just for the sake of making their own points, putting people on the spot to answer questions outside of the testimony-givers realms of expertise and then fail to ask questions of actual scientific experts. They often asked questions of the young people, and those few creationists who agreed with them. Also, three creationist board members in particular, Terri Leo, Gail Lowe, Ken Mercer, and Barbara Cargill - repeatedly denied that the strengths and limitations language and their various changes on the November TEKS update had anything to do with religion. Sure. Whatever.

This is how it went when I gave my testimony.

I open with the same paragraph I wrote and posted previously, giving my background as a Christian and evolutionary biologist, mom, and former college biology instructor. Then I added something like this (it was written down but I spoke extemporaneously so it veered a bit):

Despite what the creationist members of the Board say - Ms Lowe, Ms Leo, Ms Cargill, Ms Dunbar, Mr Mercer, Dr McLeroy and others - everybody in the nation knows that this is absolutely a religious battle, that your dislike of evolution and naturalism and any changes to the TEKs that are supported by the Discovery Institute are religiously motivated. Kitzmiller vs Dover clearly showed that ID and these issues are religious in nature. For you to sit there and tell everyone it is not smacks of arrogance and deliberate willful deception. In other words, lying. I know who the Father of Lies...

At which point Chairman McLeroy interrupts me to say, flustered, "We don't say that word here. You can't say that word."

I look at him, confused.

"Lies. You can't say lies."

"I can't say the words lies?" I ask, incredulous.

So I continue, not finishing the sentence that I was going to say, which was "I know who the Father of Lies is, and it's not Jesus and it's not God." I then continue on with my asking them why they are willing to play dice with our taxpayer money to risk a lawsuit, and why they're willing to play dice with our children's future, and kept to the rest of the testimony I'd written - but because of the time McLeroy took away from me by interrupting me I was not able to read my closing few sentences.

A reporter from the Fort Worth Star Telegram came over to get my testimony and hey, look at this, he quoted me in the article, Evolution proponents descend on State Board of Education.

Last I will say that McLeroy made a demand that nobody clap, hoot, holler, or talk during people's testimony because he and the Board members wanted to be able to listen to those who spoke and it was a show of respect for those who took the time to come and testify. And for the most part this was respected by the audience. However I was not shown the same courtesy by the Board! During my testimony, Terri Leo repeatedly laughed and talked over her shoulder to someone (I think he was a creationist/ID person giving her questions and comments about the testimonies). The laughter and talking by the Board was loud enough to be picked up on the live feed that was streamed from the TEA website because someone emailed me commenting on it.

I felt very good about my testimony afterwards! Got a lot of positive comments and nods from the audience as I finished. I had prayed right before I got up to speak, and had been a bit nervous but I found a calm before going up there and I spoke my truth firmly and clearly. I think it is simply essential to truth to call a spade a spade. These people have their right to their opinions, for sure, but lying to the public about the religious nature of their opposition to evolution is simply ridiculous! EVERYONE knows that the battle against evolution is all about religion! ID proponents may do their best to disguise that and lie about it, but anybody who does even a minute bit of research knows the truth. It's really not that hard to figure out. There was some fantastic testimony given and I was super gratified to hear at least 3 or 4 pastors get up and speak in favor of evolution and the science-advocate position that supports the Sep 15 version, and says get rid of the "strengths and limitations" language. Hallelujah!

I even got my photo on the Houston Chronicle Evosphere live blog from the event (the one I have above). Check it out. And check out this great quiz in the Texas Monthly, "How Well Do You Know Your State Board of Education" - truly frightening.

My original testimony, which was modified by the inclusion of the above-mentioned paragraph:

I’m here to testify as a Christian who is educated as a biologist, and a mom of 2 middle school aged kids – one of whom goes to public school and one who goes to a private Episcopal school, which by the way teaches evolution alongside the Christian faith. I have taught biology at the college level, and I currently work as a freelance science writer. In fact, I am working on a book on making peace between evolution and Christianity which will be published in 2010 and will include some details from this very hearing.

I have 2 quick points I want to make, followed by some more general comments. 1st, I think it’s highly unethical that you did not even put the final version of the revised TEKs online until Monday afternoon – knowing that most people would not even have a chance to look at them, 2 days before the hearing. 2nd, on TEKS C3A. I support the Sep 15th version of TEKS C. 3. (A) which says, “analyze and evaluate scientific explanations using empirical evidence, logical reasoning, and experimental and observational testing;”

The Nov revision introduces the phrase “strengths and limitations” which is no different from the flawed “strengths and weaknesses” argument that has been roundly rejected by scientists. Although I understand the TEKS do not anywhere explicitly discuss Intelligent Design, this “strengths & limitations” language is pushed exclusively by religiously-motivated opposition to evolution, and is used as a wedge to allow teachers to cast aspersions on evolution in classrooms.

My first question to you - members of the State Board of Education – Are you willing to play dice with our taxpayer money on the possibility of costly court battle by introducing religiously motivated language in Texas science standards? The 2005 Kitzmiller vs Dover School Board case cost Dover over $1million.

My 2nd question to you – are you willing to play dice with our children’s education as our nation’s science lead deteriorates? In 2005 the National Academy of Sciences report “Rising Above the Gathering Storm” decried our nation’s deteriorating science education and critical thinking skills. It stated, “Having reviewed trends in the United States and abroad, the committee is deeply concerned that the scientific and technical building blocks of our economic leadership are eroding at a time when many other nations are gathering strength.”

Evolution does not threaten religious belief – including Christianity - except if you read Genesis absolutely literally, which most Christian denominations do not. The Presbyterian, Episcopal, Methodist and Catholic Churches - among others - formally accept an evolving Creation. Nearly 70% of our nation’s founding fathers were either Presbyterian, Episcopal or Congregationalist – (a denomination which later became part of the Presbyterian Church and was associated with founding Harvard Yale and Dartmouth). Our Founding Fathers very much appreciated both logical, scientific reason and religious faith as compatible but also demanded – as Thomas Jefferson said – a wall of separation between church and state. The majority of our nation’s 43 Presidents also have hailed from Episcopal, Presbyterian, and Methodist denominations (over 62%), all of which believe that Genesis is not a divinely dictated textbook. America’s Founding Fathers deeply respected religion and its values, but they equally valued science and reason.

So to summarize, I urge you as elected members of this Board who are accountable to the public: Do not harm the bedrock of science and reason upon which our nation was founded by weakening Texas science standards with the “limitations” language. It’s inclusion will only weaken science education, our state, our children’s future and the ability to create brilliant and critically thinking minds in our state and our nation.

Here's an MP3 of my testimony, where you can hear them laughing when I say their names, and McLeroy interrupting me.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Newsflash to Palin

Palin gave her first policy talk and during this talk which was about special needs funding, she ridiculed fruit fly research... She said:

“…sometimes these dollars go to projects that have little or nothing to do with the public good. Things like fruit fly research in Paris, France. I kid you not.”

This has a clip:

Research on fruit flies may seem esoteric to someone who has absolutely no understanding of science, but, Newsflash: Fruit fly research provided the bedrock foundation of modern genetics. Anyone who paid any attention in biology (that is, if their state's education system wasn't already completely floundering) should know that. Because fruit flies reproduce readily and produce many offspring in short periods of time, you can study the changes that occur when you breed together different strains (red eyes, white eyes, messed up wings, etc - and that allowed scientists to find where the specific genes were and what they were linked to - and that is how modern genetics was born).

Now that the genome of Drosophila has been mapped, fruit fly research is even more valuable - including research on things like autism which is one of "Special needs" that Palin wants to support and fund. She needs to do her research a little better! It does not bode well for science funding should McCain-Palin get elected. Nor for the future of sound science education.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Expelled Exposed

The movie Expelled hit the theatres recently. While I want to watch the movie, I don't want to contribute any money to the coffers of these people who want to undermine science education and science. I recommend everyone check out the excellent website Expelled Exposed. As it says on the banner, "Flunked, not Expelled: What Ben Stein isn't telling you about intelligent design."

Expelled Exposed was created by the National Center for Science Education, a highly reputable organization led by Dr. Eugenie Scott. There's a great video on the website. Educate yourself on this Expelled Exposedvery important issue, and don't be swayed by the flashy Hollywood documentary movie and the mega-millions being spent by the intelligent design supporters.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Science and PR

I have much more to say on this topic, but I'm replying to a comment a friend made to a previous post, and I realized it was worthy of its own post. She said:

"I do kind of disagree with you on the 'science and scientists do not have PR campaigns.' comment. Basically I view a lot of modern medicine to be a PR campaign. Sure I understand that the scientists creating the vaccines aren't necessarily the one's creating the ads but at the same time I often wonder how often medicine gets 'ok'd' just so someone can get their name recognized and the drug put on the market."

She's definitely right that sometimes technology or scientific endeavors DO have PR campaigns. But the pharmaceutical industry and the medical industry are not SCIENCE themselves, but the fruits of research. Companies with an agenda (profit) then take up a scientific "result" and push to get it used or accepted by more and more people so they can "save lives" or "help people" but really, sadly, that is secondary to their primary goal to make more money. I say that because I've seen too many products rushed througH FDA approval and then revoked years later or sold with stringent warnings - from tobacco to DES to DDT to many many more pharmaceuticals that end up in litigation over deaths and injuries.

My main point was that the process of scientific inquiry takes years and many multiple independent studies are required before a concept becomes accepted as a reliable theory with predictive power, like evolution. Even if Intelligent Design WAS "scientific" (rather than having a predetermined conclusion, which makes it not science) it would still be in its infancy, and so their groups' desire to get it into textbooks is as ridiculous as the tobacco industry trying to get into school textbooks that smoking is good for you! However, convincing the public of buying something - whether a product or an idea - THAT is the job of advertisements, which are really just subtle propaganda or "PR". That is why the Expelled movie is not doing intelligent design any favors because it just shows even more that ID is merely a big PR machine and not a genuine scientific endeavor.

If you dig deep enough and are not dead-set on your conclusion, even those convinced either that ID is "God's way" or that evolution is false, can and will see the truth. They usually don't want to dig much though. Many people do not like to challenge their beliefs because it's difficult and uncomfortable.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Evolution Weekend

It's Evolution Weekend and check out the post on the Beacon Broadside, the blog of my upcoming book's publishing house, Dust Off Your Darwin Costume: It's Evolution Weekend! by Glenn Branch. He talks about his book (co-authored with NCSE Director Eugenie Scott), "Not in Our Classrooms: Why Intelligent Deisgn is Wrong for Our Schools." I met Dr Scott when I testified before the Texas State Baord of Education in 2003 regarding the Texas textbook adoption process. She's an amazing person, and NCSE does great work! We're gearing up for another crazy battle this coming school year since Governor Perry appointed Don McLeroy as the chairperson of the SBOE - and McLeroy is a loud and devout creationist.

For an alternative view from a Christian, read my testimony at the 2003 SBOE, which says that evolution and Christianity are fully compatible. Branch and Scott agree with this view. Happy Darwin Day!

Sunday, January 27, 2008

scott peck on reality and truth

Here are some great quotes from a genius, Scott Peck, Christian psychotherapist and best-selling author of The Road Less Traveled. These quotes speak to some very profound truths that the world would be wise to understand.

"By attempting to avoid the responsibility for our own behavior, we are giving away our power to some other individual or organization. In this way, millions daily attempt to escape from freedom."

"If our lives are to be healthy and our spirits are to grow, we must be dedicated to the truth. For truth is reality. And the more clearly we see the reality of the world, the better equipped we are to deal with the world."

"Only a relative and fortunate few continue until the moment of death explorng the mystery of reality, revising and refining and redefining their understanding of the world and what is true."

"We must always hold the truth, as best as we can determine it, more vital to our self-interest, than our comfort."


Saturday, January 26, 2008

the deception and lies of ID

Although I wrote in a previous post: "The whole problem with intelligent design as 'science' is that the concept has a predefined result - that the origins of the natural world must literally match the Genesis Creation account," the slippery snakes of the ID movement do not tell you their intention outright. The original (young earth) creationists did/do not hide this intention, but ID creationists do. Instead, ID proponents say they are looking for "signs of a designer" which may be an alien culture, a purple playdough man, or God (OK I added the purple playdough man idea myself). Why don't we add the Flying Spaghetti Monster to the list, too?

So my point is that they've deviously veiled their intent by claiming they are looking for signs of intelligence using probability theory and signs of "irreducible complexity" which fools their followers but not most scientists. And fortunately, not Judge Jones in the Kitzmiller vs. Dover case who ruled ID is religious-based "creationism in disguise" and not science. Hence, teaching it in schools AS SCIENCE violates the constitutional separation of church and state. Make no bones about it, the proponents of ID want to break down that wall between church and state. The Kitzmiller vs. Dover court case was a resounding victory for science, but ID proponents certainly won't stop there.

As a Christian myself, I always wonder why the IDers don't think for a moment that maybe God *isn't* on their side when he keeps giving victory after victory to the supposedly "other side"? Although God's ways are mysterious and no one can claim to fully know God's ways, God is certainly on the side of Truth (and I do believe that there is Truth), especially since in the Bible the devil is described as the "father of lies."

The extent of ID proponents' lying, hypocrisy, and deception is truly frightening. Of course, isn't it always the case that those who are most guilty of propaganda and lying will cast this stone out to the other side. Have you ever had a cheating spouse or significant other accuse you of cheating? Or lying? It's a very common psychological tool used by the lying, deceiving person or group to sidetrack attention away from themselves. ID and other creationists frequently accuse evolution advocates of propaganda. Of course discerning the truth is not all that difficult, but it requires critical thinking, deeper research and understanding the issues, motives, and truths to all these situations. Unfortunately, most people do not have time for that, so they just tend to accept whatever the group/crowd thinks that they most closely align themselves with. To our country's peril! And to that individual's detriment as well.

I plan to start working on a course, seminar and workshop series that will help people decipher the real story from propaganda, and to discern lies versus truth. Are you being duped? Find out how to find out for yourself! Details coming soon.

I'd support having the "controversy" taught in schools, BUT it should be done in a social studies, religion, or cultural studies course and absolutely NOT in a science classroom!

Thursday, January 24, 2008

is there evidence for macroevolution?

After I cross-posted my last blog entry to The Daily Kos I got some good comments and discussion. The poll was done just for fun, sort of tongue-in-cheek though it did offend a couple of friends! That doesn't bother me so much, but one friend actually said she FORGAVE ME as if a difference of theological opinion is enough to cause a Christian friend of 20+ years to not forgive me? What about Jesus saying forgive 7 x 7 times?! I just wish we could all have a sense of humor here, people! :)

Anyway I believe that we have to stand up for Truth and that is why I am adamant about evolution. I KNOW evolution is fact. I have Faith in God and Christ. There's a big difference.

So the comment from a random person I don't know on Daily Kos was:

It surprises me to here [sic] so many argue against ID and in support of Evolution on the basis of facts when most of the facts I've heard on these posts are either wrong or the arguments are lacking the facts. First it's important to know what the basis of ID is and what the followers believe. Not what the religious conservatives who tried to use ID in there favor to get religion back in school believe it is. It's a story of "really don't be on my side" because the conservatives are not helping the idea behind ID. Also to those who boldly call evolution a fact and not a theory. The science has the evidence to support the evolution of species due to natural selection. However, Evolution remains a theory that has plenty of gaps in going from one family to another. Apparently I must have had a terrible evolution teacher when I took the course in college because the gaps are amazing when you actually look at the details. Probabilities and mathematics are a science. You can prove how statistically improbable something is due to its complexities. How different is that basic concept than ID.

And my response:

You must certainly have had a very bad biology teacher because the evidence for macroevolution - NOT just microevolution and natural selection - is overwhelming not scant.

The very fact of the universal genetic code in itself overwhelmingly supports common descent of all organisms from bacteria to human( That is just the beginning. Other basic facts (not theory) in support of evolution are:

  • the shared muscle & bone arrangements in all vertebrates, which have been modified to fit the function in various creatures (birds versus whales versus bats versus fish etc)

  • evidence from convergent evolution (unrelated organisms will evolve in very similar ways to rspond to similar evolutionary pressures)

  • evidence from similarities of flora & fauna on Africa and South America and other continents due to plate tectonics (the continents used to be connected, so organisms on continents that used to be connected are more similar genetically than continents that were not connected - or in relation to time apart since at one point everything was one land mass which then moved apart into Gondwanaland and Laurasia, and then further split).

  • The fact that geneticists can actually detect specific changes in genes and how that affects traits in one closely related organism to the next.

This is just the very beginning of evidence!!

I get frustrated that people who have had a single Biology class in college, learning evolution for a max of 3-4 weeks, think that they can debunk the whole thing by saying there'e no evidence. Try taking a bio class again, or reading about evolution from a non-biased source (scientists) or take an Evolution class. Or sit in on one. Whether or not there is a God/ "designer" is not a question that science can answer! Trying to redefine science so that it appeases Christians/IDers/anti-evolutionists is doing a grave injustice to our society, our world, Christianity, and Truth itself!

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Expelled: The Intelligent Design movie

Cross-posted with a tongue-in-cheek quiz at the Daily Kos.

The whole problem with intelligent design is that its proponents like to say it is science, and that the status quo of scientists are not allowing this new concept to be introduced into science classrooms, from some sort of discrimination or something. It's a reasonable enough sounding argument, and the premise of the new documentary "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed." And the makers of this film want people to see this movie so badly that they're offering to pay schools and churches $5 per student to see it. I first read about this on The Daily Irrelevant and The Bad Idea Blog.

What intelligent design proponents - in the movie and elsewhere - don't tell you is that science and scientists do not have PR campaigns. They don't have to pay money to people to accept scientific theories and facts. They quietly go about their work in the halls of academia, in the laboratory, using computer models, in the field doing experiments, publishing results in scientific peer-reviewed journals. This is how science works. Scientific ideas don't need a PR campaign, films, and money to promote themselves. They MAY use these techniques as teaching tools, but that is generally after a scientific concept is well established.

Intelligent design is not well-established, and despite what the film may tell people, it's not being expelled. It doesn't have enough data or studies behind it to be put into textbooks. In fact, it's not even science. Somehow we as a society seem to have forgotten what science even is. This shall not do! Science revolutionized the way people thought, paving the way for the amazing scientific and technological advances since then - germ theory, vaccines, antibiotics, traveling to the moon. The key here is that science requires scientists to throw out ideas that don't have supporting data. Every scientific hypothesis is always open to falsification - being shown to be false.

The whole problem with intelligent design as "science" is that the concept has a predefined result - that the origins of the natural world must literally match the Genesis Creation account. Science does not work if you have a pre-set conclusion! No, for a process or idea to be science, those testing the premise have to be able to throw out the hypothesis if the data doesn't fit. Intelligent design is not willing to do that. Because that would mean they are saying, nope, we're wrong. God didn't create the world. At least that is what the fear it means.

People that promote intelligent design KNOW that there is a God who created the universe. And I, myself a Christian, believe that they're right. But that doesn't make intelligent design right. Because ID does not even provide a proper mechanism, or method, through which the universe came into existence other than "God did it," (technically, their terminology is that the world has "irreducible complexity" that could not possibly have been created by anything other than an intelligent designer).

However, evolution by means of natural selection has amazing explanatory power in terms of how the world could have gone from single-celled organisms to complex beings, even human beings. There's no scientific controversy over evolution. There is ONLY a social, religious and cultural controversy.

Another problem with intelligent design proponents is this - very few people who follow it have ever taken a college Biology class in which they learned about evolution and its evidence. Instead they learn about evolution from those attacking it, in the churches and by the "professional creationists" who make money by selling books and making movies to promote their views. And now if you will excuse me, I need to go worship my Noodly master. Ramen!

Saturday, January 19, 2008

When science & faith find common ground

Daily Kos contributing editor Steven Andrews wrote a fantastic Op-Ed in Wednesday Jan 16's Austin American-Statesman, "When science and faith find common ground." He starts by saying
"The age-old, simmering conflict between science and religion is threatening to boil over in Texas with the usual battle lines being drawn around evolutionary biology and public education science standards. Here's a thought: Instead of a long and potentially bitter stand-off between science advocates and creationist proponents, why doesn't Texas skip that mess and go straight to a reasonable compromise? Instead of arguing about fossils, radiometric dating methods or constitutional law, I'd ask those skeptical of evolution what better natural evidence for the brilliance of a Creator could there be than myriad complex processes unfolding over billions of years through countless steps in exquisite order spanning the entire cosmos?"
But my favorite line is when he uses the term "professional creationists" in this paragraph:
"It's no coincidence that professional creationists try to frame the issue as a struggle between science and religion. It's a false dichotomy to be sure, but it's also a powerful public relations tactic, one that serves their goals well. But despite what creationists may say, the choice is not between science and religion, or belief vs. atheism."
I've never heard it put like that, but it's such a perfect characterization of the people who devote their lives to pushing creationism in the classrooms and in society. I strongly believe that despite it being led largely by (right-wing conservative) Christians, creationism detracts from Jesus' message and does far more harm to Christianity than good. In fact, I don't see any good coming from it at all. It wastes taxpayers money (over $1 million spent on the recent Dover court case), tries to insert a religious concept into science classrooms, weakening science education, specifically and our school systems, generally, and last but not least, makes Christians look foolish to educated scientists and academics, many of whom are turned away from religion because of such tomfoolery. And as a concept, it's simply wrong, false, untrue, a lie masquerading as "Christian truth" which is really the most insidious of all things. A wolf in sheep's clothing, if ever there was one. Beware of creationism and inteligent design!

Christianity is about loving God and loving your neighbors of all sizes, shapes, creeds, colors, and religions. And forgiveness and grace. Fighting to get everyone to take a literal view of Genesis creation account should not be the central focus of any Christian's life. Nor should fighting to get schools to remove evolution, or introduce its supposed "weaknesses" or to push intelligent design (another form of creationism). What the Creation tale offers us is not a scientific treatise on Creatoin, but a story of how humanity got a soul, a conscience. Adam didn't eat an apple. It didn't have anything to do with sexual sin. What he did was eat of the "fruit of the knowledge of good and evil." If that is not profound, and clear, I don't know what is.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Call for Presidential Debate on Science

This is sooooo needed!!! For information about ScienceDebate2008, visit:

From the National Center for Science Education newsletter:

A non-partisan coalition is calling for a presidential debate on science and technology. "Given the many urgent scientific and technological challenges facing America and the rest of the world, the increasing need for accurate scientific information in political decision making, and the vital role scientific innovation plays in spurring economic growth and competitiveness," the coalition writes, "we call for a public debate in which the U.S. presidential candidates share their views on the issues of the environment, health and medicine, and science and technology policy."

In a December 26, 2007, press release, John Rennie, editor-in-chief of Scientific American and a member of the coalition's steering committee, explained, "Matters of science and technology underpin every important issue affecting the future of the United States. It's crucial for the nation's welfare that our next president be someone with an understanding of vital science, a willingness to listen to scientific counsel, and a capacity for solid, critical thinking. A debate would be the ideal opportunity for America and the candidates to explore our national priorities on these issues."

The coalition is chaired by Representatives Vern Ehlers and Rush Holt, scientists themselves, who remarked in a joint statement, "We believe a debate on these issues would be the ideal opportunity for America and the candidates to explore our national priorities for the twenty-first century, and we hope candidates will wish to be involved in such a discussion." Among the others calling for the debate are fourteen Nobel laureates, the editors-in-chief of Nature and Science, and NCSE's executive director Eugenie C. Scott. The coalition is accepting new supporters on its website.

Monday, January 7, 2008

news on the evolution front

There was an interesting article in the Washington Spectator, Is Darwin Losing the Battle With God? It covers the battle to keep creationism out of science classrooms, starting with the Dover courtcase and ending with the firing of Texas Education Agency (TEA) Director Chris Comer. I think the most startling point is in the concluding paragraph:

Now, teachers she knows in small towns across Texas have come to her [Chris Comer] to say they've been forced to teach creationism in science class for years. She asked them why they didn't do anything about it. "Come on," they told her. "What can I do? It's Texas."
Yowza. I've heard of high school teachers avoiding evolution in class for fear of being called "spawn of the devil" or other names by enraged parents (never mind that students have to learn these topics to pass their state skills tests). But I've never heard of teachers being forced to teach creationism! That is a major violation of the separation of Church and State. People, this issue of separation of Church & State is what caused Americans had to fight for our independence against the Crown of England! Have we forgotten so soon what America was founded on, and why?

in other news, the National Academies of Sciences & the Institute of Medicine have published a new book, Science, Evolution, and Creationism.

A description from the NAS website for the book:
How did life evolve on Earth? The answer to this question can help us understand our past and prepare for our future. Although evolution provides credible and reliable answers, polls show that many people turn away from science, seeking other explanations with which they are more comfortable.

In the book Science, Evolution, and Creationism, a group of experts assembled by the National Academy of Sciences and the Institute of Medicine explain the fundamental methods of science, document the overwhelming evidence in support of biological evolution, and evaluate the alternative perspectives offered by advocates of various kinds of creationism, including "intelligent design." The book explores the many fascinating inquiries being pursued that put the science of evolution to work in preventing and treating human disease, developing new agricultural products, and fostering industrial innovations. The book also presents the scientific and legal reasons for not teaching creationist ideas in public school science classes.

Mindful of school board battles and recent court decisions, Science, Evolution, and Creationism shows that science and religion should be viewed as different ways of understanding the world rather than as frameworks that are in conflict with each other and that the evidence for evolution can be fully compatible with religious faith. For educators, students, teachers, community leaders, legislators, policy makers, and parents who seek to understand the basis of evolutionary science, this publication will be an essential resource.
A gorgeous and educational 8-page brochure is available online as a PDF and a Press Release from NAS is available also.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

the woman TX creationists don't want you to hear...

"Barbara Forrest: The Woman Texas Creationists Really Don't Want You to Hear"

The long-time Director of TEA, Chris Comer, was fired in November 2007 after she simply forwarded an email about this speaker, Barbara Forrest. It received press in the New York Times, among other places.

These are short 2-minute videos that give you a sample of the longer videos I blogged about 2 days ago at These short clips were put on YouTube to link to the current Texas controversy! Apparently funding to create more science ed videos to SQRE, the organization who put the longer ones together, depends on the popularity of these. So go watch!

And the rest:

The videos or mini-lectures are all free to watch and show in science classes and meetings.

Friday, January 4, 2008

free evolution-creationism podcasts

Nothing's free right? OK well maybe Youtube, podcasts, the web (sort of)... But here's a fantastic FREE resource for teachers, students and anyone interested in the evolution-creation issue, produced by Scientific, Qualitative, Research, & Education, Inc. (SQRE).

Each podcast is a mini-lecture on a variety of evolutionary topics primarily addressing the evolution/Creationism controversy. The videos are well-made, substantive, and scientific. They feature such well-known personalities as Genie Scott, Barbara Forrest, Kenneth Miller, and others who can speak authoritatively about these topics.

They are free to anyone and can be used in schools, colleges, etc. (and in Texas if you dare).

Topics include Is Evolution Just a Theory? and Is Hearing Both Sides Fair? and other hot topics.
Go to or to access these free mini-lecture podcasts.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Huckabee on evolution & creationism

As of 9pm, Texas time, it looks like Huckabee will win the Iowa Caucus. True this is just one state's primary, but I took the time to look up a bit more about him online.

The Wikipedia entry says:

Huckabee has voiced his support of creationism. He was quoted in July 2004 on Arkansans Ask, his regular show on the Arkansas Educational Television Network: "I think that students also should be given exposure to the theories not only of evolution but to the basis of those who believe in creationism." Huckabee also stated "I do not necessarily buy into the traditional Darwinian theory, personally."[145][146][147][148] In the Third GOP Debate in June 2007, Huckabee was asked by Tom Fahey whether he believed in evolution, and he responded, in part: "I believe there is a God who was active in the creation process. Now, how did he do it, and when did he do it, and how long did he take? I don’t honestly know, and I don’t think knowing that would make me a better or a worse president."[149] Huckabee's
position is that acceptance of evolution is not relevant to being President.[150][151]"
Now I don't take issue with his statement, "I believe there is a God who was active in the creation process. Now, how did he do it, and when did he do it, and how long did he take? I don’t honestly know..." with the exception that it sounds a bit too politicalese to me, but I do take exception to the end of this statement which was "...and I don’t think knowing that would make me a better or a worse president."

Science is absolutely critical in our nation, and given the current battle over putting intelligent design in the classroom, understanding evolution is essential for any President or leader. Science fuels technology, medicine, and the future of our environment in many ways. Evolution is central in biology, and that touches on medicine, genomics, HIV, vaccinations, green technology, global warming issues, and so much more. To not understand - or accept as fact - evolution will certainly do a disservice to the Office of the President and the United States. We need strong leadership on science and education policy. We can not afford to weaken our education systems and our children's education because interest groups want to bring religion thinly disguised as "science" into the classroom. And we need strong leadership to guide our nation in all of these issues. Did I say that already?! We need strong leadership with regards to science education!

I read that the rallying of social conservatives - ie evangelicals - was responsible for Huckabee's surprise showing in Iowa when he was in single digits just weeks before. But that scares me a bit. I am a Christian, and I have grave concern that vast numbers of Christians are blindly listening to the Christian leaders telling them how to vote, who to suppport, and who will promote their religious agenda, when in fact, people MUST make up their own minds if we are to have a healthy functioning democracy. And for everyone's own spiritual and psychological health. Sapere aude! Dare to be wise!

When asked "What is Enlightenment," Immanuel Kant replied wrote this in an essay:

“Enlightenment is man's emergence from his self-imposed immaturity. Immaturity is the inability to use one's understanding without guidance from another. This immaturity is self-imposed when its cause lies not in lack of understanding, but in lack of resolve and courage to use it without guidance from another. Sapere Aude! [dare to know] ‘Have courage to use your own understanding!’--that is the motto of enlightenment.”